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The Feds Aren’t Just Russians In North Caucasus: And Five Other Keys To Understanding Region – OpEd


Leonid Nikitinsky, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, who accompanied a delegation of that body to the North Caucasus May 30 – June 9 offers six lessons for Russians who know less about that region than people there know about Russia (

First of all, in the North Caucasus, the journalist says, “the feds have no nationality” and thus are “not the same thing as ‘[ethnic] Russians.” They include all those, Russian and non-Russian alike who do not develop relations with the local people, and therefore do not understand how the locals think but instead impose the standards of outsiders on them.

“The secret dream of all residents of the Caucasus is that ‘the feds’ will disappear from there as in Chechnya, preferably of course without shooting.” But the senior officials in the republics there know that if that happens, “the sleeping volcanoes” of traditional life will erupt and create instability everywhere, as in fact is the case in Chechnya as well.

Nikitinsky says that “the problem of the federal center is also that if [Moscow] appoints someone who does not understand this and does not like it” there will be problems too. “The heads of the republics are something like bilingual ‘feds’ who know the [local] customs but also have obvious and secret channels with Martian Moscow.”

Second, he says, in the North Caucasus more than in other parts of Russia, people don’t like to put up with lies. That is why so many journalists are killed there, the Moscow journalist says. Russians view the entire region as “a world of fake” institutions, “but ‘for internal use, a lie here is impossible” and those who engage in lying will pay a price.

Third, Nikitinsky argues, “the Caucasus understands Russia much better than Russian understands the Caucasus.” That is because many people from that region have lived in other parts of Russia, while few Russians have lived in or even visited the region and so view it through a false optic.

Among the consequences of this imbalance is that the most effective ways to resolve conflicts in the region “significantly differ from those which are taken in the rest of the Russian Federation,” but Russians assume they can use the same methods or simply employ military force.

Fourth, he points out, “the laws of the Russian Federation often don’t function in the Caucasus.” More than in other parts of the country, people in the North Caucasus simply ignore the flood of laws and regulations Moscow sends out, seeing them often as “without any sense” compared to “the norms of shariat and customs (adats).”

Fifth, if the feds in the North Caucasus have no nationality, Nikitinsky says, it is always the case that a person who commits a crime does and that people there will focus on that, something that restricts the growth of crime in many cases but that increases the dangers of ethnic explosions when any crime is committed.

And sixth, he insists, “’Islamic terrorism’ is a scarecrow” used to frighten people. In reality what one has across the region is a revolt against Russia, “against the federal center” because in the final analysis “the Caucasus is not Russia” and can’t be understood by those who assume that it is or can be.

Dealing with this reality won’t be easy, he suggests. More federalism is fine, but the reality is that if it includes the right or the possibility of self-determination, there will be more war. The best one can hope for, he suggests, is that ultimately Russians will understand the North Caucasians as well as the latter understand themselves – and act accordingly.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

One thought on “The Feds Aren’t Just Russians In North Caucasus: And Five Other Keys To Understanding Region – OpEd

  • June 22, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Paul, if the Caucasus is not Russia, neither is Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico American. Your articles have such a slant but then if you want to be employed you must write what your boss wants.


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