Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 34

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov and Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov also diverged in their reactions to the violence in the Karelian city of Kondopoga. On August 30, a fight between an ethnic Azeri bartender and Slavic clients at an Azeri-run restaurant in the northern city led to a brawl between Chechens and Azeris on one side and Slavs on the other that left two Slavs dead, in turn sparking a wave of anti-Caucasian violence.

In reaction to the violence—which targeted, among others, members of Kondopoga’s Chechen diaspora, many of whom were forced to flee the city—Alkhanov announced that he was sending Chechnya’s nationalities minister to Karelia to investigate the violence. Speaking in St. Petersburg on September 4, Alkhanov said that a Chechen parliamentary commission had also gone to Kondopoga to carry out an investigation, and that once it had completed its work, he would set out his views on the reasons for the conflict and the circumstances surrounding it. According to Itar-Tass, Alkhanov stressed that until the results of this investigation were announced, people should refrain from making arbitrary judgments. “Russia is not a collection of feudal principalities, but a single, integrated country,” he said, adding that an outbreak of criminal behavior in a given region is no reason to forcibly deport citizens of a certain nationality from one part of the country to another. Interfax quoted Alkhanov as saying that hundreds of Chechens were living in the Republic of Karelia, and there had never been any instances of interethnic strife there before.

On September 4, Itar-Tass reported that Alkhanov had conveyed condolences to families in Kondopoga whose relatives were killed in clashes with members of the Chechen diaspora in Karelia. According to Itar-Tass, Alkhanov also spoke with Karelia’s regional head, Sergei Katanandov, by telephone. Katanandov’s press secretary told the news agency that Alkhanov had expressed his hopes that Karelia’s law-enforcement bodies would conduct an objective investigation into the violence. Alkhanov also said he supported measures taken by Karelia’s police to enforce law and order in Kondopoga. Katanandov, for his part, praised the Chechen diaspora in Karelia, who had turned over three suspects in the murder of the local residents to Karelia’s police. Katanandov assured Alkhanov that the investigation of the conflict would be conducted in strict compliance with the law and that those responsible for the violence would get the punishment they deserved.

Kadyrov, by contrast, hinted in a televised address that his government would intervene in Kondopoga if violence against the city’s Caucasian minorities continued. “The wide-scale disorder…has acquired a distinctive anti-Chechen and anti-Caucasian character,” the Moscow Times on September 5 quoted Kadyrov as saying in a televised address. “If the Karelian authorities do not resolve the conflict, then we will find methods to bring the situation into the legal field.” The Associated Press on September 4 quoted a statement by Kadyrov as assailing Kondopoga authorities for failing to stop what he called a “mass violation of constitutional rights, looting and pillaging.” “People who are suffering mass persecution in Kondopoga are citizens of multiethnic Russia who have the same rights and responsibilities as others,” Kadyrov said in the statement. “Demands to expel people based on their ethnicity are unconstitutional.”

According to the AP, Kadyrov accused an official with the Russian Movement against Illegal Immigration, which had called for volunteers to travel to Kondopoga to support local residents, of inciting riots. The movement’s chief, Aleksandr Belov, denied the allegations, saying the unrest had been triggered by “aggressive behavior” of people from the Caucasus and their links to corrupt officials. The news agency quoted Kadyrov as urging the federal authorities to stop the growth of “nationalism and xenophobia that is spreading like a cancerous tumor.” He added, “Those who are playing a nationalist card and fomenting ethnic hysteria should clearly understand that they encroach upon the integrity and sovereignty of the Russian Federation.”

Commenting on Alkhanov’s and Kadyrov’s respective reactions to the Kondopoga events, Nezavisimaya gazeta on September 7 noted that the Chechen president had backed the position of Karelian regional head Sergei Katanandov while Kadyrov “subjected the actions of the authorities of the northern republic to sharp criticism.” The newspaper added, “Naturally, the position of the premier received greater support in Chechnya than the position of the president.”