Clashes between ethnic Russians and non-ethnic Russian Dagestanis erupted in the village of Remontnoe in the southern Russian region of Rostov on September 13. Eight people reportedly were hospitalized as a result of the violence. The authorities said they prevented a much larger collision between the local ethnic Russians and the newcomers from Dagestan. The conflict was just the latest manifestation of the tensions between ethnic Russians and North Caucasians. The authorities dispatched 200 additional police officers from other areas of Rostov region to quell the disorder. The conflict was reportedly triggered by an argument between two people that spiraled out of control as both sides called for support from their respective friends and communities. The authorities said the situation was under control and promised to impose peace and order in the village. “The residents’ mood appears to be okay, but nobody puts much trust in the authorities’ promises,” a local resident told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/213049/).
According to the ethnic Russians, the newcomer Dagestanis—most of whom are ethnic Dargins—occasionally threaten to kill Russian passers-by in the streets, and Russian girls fear being in the streets after dark. The head of the Dagestani diaspora in Rostov region, Seidula Magomedov, said that non-ethnic Russian Dagestanis were invited long ago to develop sheep farming in the region and that the current Dagestani residents of the region are the third generation living there. Magomedov said that there are 1,740 Dagestani residents living in Remontnoe village. He suggested that because Dagestanis have large flocks of sheep and are more affluent than the local Russians, the latter resent the Dagestanis’ success and cause conflict (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/213049/).
Rostov region, with its population of 4.3 million, is one of the most populous regions of the Russian Federation. Prior to the establishment of the North Caucasian Federal District in 2010, Rostov region was part of the unified Southern Federal District, which also included all the North Caucasian republics. Because of the way Russian railway and highway networks were built, Rostov region is along the route of those traveling from the North Caucasus to Moscow and Central European Russia. Not surprisingly, several North Caucasian diasporas reside in the region, although none of them is very large. According to the 2010 census, there were just over 8,000 ethnic Dargins and nearly 10,000 ethnic Chechens living in the region. Figures for the other North Caucasian ethnicities are apparently even lower (Russian State Statistical Service, www.gks.ru). Yet these small numbers appear to cause major problems for Russians and certainly cause regular public outcries.
The village of Remontnoe has been the scene of a number of fights in recent years, local experts said. The Dagestani side of the conflict further alleged that the local police not only failed to prevent the fights, but actually orchestrated Russian mob attacks on Dagestanis (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/213049/). This anecdotal evidence fits very well with the infamous statements by the Alexander Tkachyov, governor of Krasnodar region, located south of Rostov. In August, Governor Tkachyov announced the official establishment of a Cossack force that would explicitly harass and expel North Caucasians from the region. Tkachyov openly said that the Cossacks could do things that police were not allowed to do and therefore would be more effective in cleansing Krasnodar region of North Caucasians. In Rostov region, a local Cossack commander immediately expressed his organization’s interest in pacifying Remontnoe—apparently, by targeting its Dagestani population specifically (http://www.regnum.ru/news/fd-south/rostov/1571177.html). Regular reports from various parts of Russia suggest that the police and security service regularly use Russian nationalist organizations to pressure North Caucasians.
It is hard to say whether it is Russian public opinion that is driving the security services to fuel nationalist sentiment, or whether the security services have an agenda of their own. It may be a combination of the two: rising Russian nationalism as an independent social phenomenon combined with the security services’ responding to and making use of popular sentiment. The prestigious Levada Center polling organization’s estimates show that North Caucasians top the list of those most disliked by ethnic Russians. Chinese are next on the list, followed by Central Asians. Needless to say, unlike the Chinese and Central Asians, the North Caucasians are citizens of the Russian Federation. That, however, seems to have no effect on Russian public opinion (http://www.levada.ru/06-09-2012/v-rossii-usilivayutsya-natsionalisticheskie-nastroeniya-prichiny-i-posledstviya).
One after another, Russian nationalist and nationalist-leaning writers and analysts are coming to the conclusion that the North Caucasus should be excluded from Russia. The well-known analyst Andrei Yepifantsev, who previously stood against the separation of the North Caucasus from Russia, is the latest convert. Yepifantsev wrote on his personal weblog that the North Caucasus, and especially Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia, have practically “exited from the Russian constitutional, mental, civil and any other space. This is no longer Russia. The generation that grew up there does not equate itself with Russia. In the first place, they are not Russians, but the carriers of Islamic, ethnic, clan or some other identities.” According to Yepifantsev, the Kremlin “robs ethnic Russian regions” of resources and redirects them to the North Caucasus. The North Caucasian clans take these resources and reinvest them in ethnic Russian regions, buying up businesses, land and other property. While back in 1990s, Russia went to great lengths to drag the North Caucasian republics back into Russian Federation, now the Russian masses want to separate from the North Caucasus, because they are not happy with the economic inequalities and financial redistribution, according to Yepifantsev (http://kon-budenogo.livejournal.com/360054.html).
The growth of Russian nationalism is becoming crucially important to the ability of Moscow to control outbreaks of ethnic-based tensions in the country. While the Russian authorities appear to be using Russian nationalism, it is unclear to what degree the interests of the government and Russian nationalists converge. At some point the government might find it more beneficial to agree with the bulk of Russians, who increasingly seem to be on a collision course with the North Caucasians, and separate the region from Russia.