Russia seems to be poised to invest big money in the North Caucasus in an effort to reduce the intensity of rebel activities there. But the target group of Russia’s new policy is not primarily the militants engaged in armed resistance against Russian rule, but rather those who have been contemplating the possibility of living outside Russia. That means in practice that Moscow has agreed to provide unlimited financial resources to the local leaders, hoping that they will be able to strengthen the population’s loyalty to Russia. Moscow’s problem, however, is that while this approach might have yielded some desired result if it had been put in place right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it would be impossible to talk, without some sort of irony, about the potential outcome of such a program years after Russia’s two military campaigns in Chechnya and after a war that has spread across the entire North Caucasus region.
Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin’s plan to create 400,000 jobs for North Caucasus residents over the next ten years is reminiscent of the Soviet period, when the Communist Party used to draft five-year economic development plans (www.news.km.ru, July 6). It is even more surprising that no one has asked what the local population increase might be in the same ten-year period. The initiative of the Russian government thus brings to mind the old Middle Eastern wisdom, which says that by the time something is anticipated to happen, either the shah or the jackass will have died, meaning that in ten years hardly anyone will remember today’s pledges by the Russian government. Moscow’s scheme to create a resort zone across the North Caucasus by building a new resort infrastructure (www.regnum.ru, July 6) has little chance of coming to fruition given the present-day reality that even the existing tourist facilities remain half empty. Only those who are fond of extreme tourism would risk their lives in an environment of intense rebel activity (www.svobodanews.ru, July 8).
Overall, the past week has been replete with statements demonstrating the “success” of the central Russian government’s regional policy. One such statement has been the possibility of announcing yet another amnesty for North Caucasus rebels.
Since 1999, when Russia embarked on the second military campaign against Chechnya, there have already been three official amnesties for rebels –in 1999, 2003 and 2006. In addition to these presidential amnesties, there were amnesties bearing the names of their granters, such as the Patrushev amnesty of 2006 (after then Federal Security Service (FSB) Director, Nikolai Patrushev) that followed the official amnesty, and the Kadyrov amnesties of 2008 and 2009 (after Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov). Given this peculiar Russian practice, the current amnesty of 2010 could be called the Khloponin amnesty, named after the Russian president’s special envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin (Gazeta, July 15). The Ingush leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, has for his part frequently raised the issue of amnesty in his recent public statements. He hopes that by means of a new amnesty he will be better able to lure fighters out of the forests. Yevkurov’s work with Ingush youths has, over six months, only yielded six who chose to return to their families after spending some time with the rebels.
Meanwhile, human rights organizations working in the region who support the idea of an amnesty warn that pardoning alone will have no results if the violence against the civilian population by Russian law enforcement agencies (siloviki) is not brought to an end. A desire to escape the violence is the main reason for young people to join the rebels in the mountains. But this argument is only partially true, since violence is just one reason. The other is that a considerable number of youths are ideologically motivated to fight in the ranks of the armed resistance movement. This very ideological factor is ostensibly downplayed by many human rights groups, who usually portray the conflict in the North Caucasus as some Robin Hoods of the 21ststcentury seeking justice against the oppression from the Russian siloviki. The truth, however, lies in the disapproval of the ideas and principles of coexistence within a common Russian state with different political and religious creeds.
Ramzan Kadyrov’s announcement that “the fight against terrorism has ended” has also been in the news this past week (https://www.regnum.ru, July 7). It is worth remembering that the fight against terrorism officially ended with the termination of the so-called counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya on April 16, 2009 –that is, fifteen months ago. Kadyrov deserves credit for his firm adherence to the same numbers over the years. In 2006 he said that there were some 60 rebels throughout Chechnya (www.lenta.ru, July 18, 2006) and has not changed his mind on the numbers since then. He recently reported to Putin that there are just 70 rebels running around in the mountains, which means that the number of rebels has virtually not changed in four years. Officially, however, several hundred people have been killed, arrested or suspected of collaborating with the militants just over the course of the first six months of 2010. Kadyrov also claims that those rebels who are still in the mountains are willing to leave the forests with their hands raised in the air (www.rosbalt.ru, July 6). It is unclear who the audience of this populist statement is, but what is perfectly obvious is that no rebel exodus from the forests has occurred since Kadyrov’s announcement.
Moreover, the rebels, who are apparently unaware of the improvements in the region, continue to strike Russian interests. The intensity of their strikes has beyond any doubt become the highest since the establishment of the Caucasus Emirate in the fall of 2007.
Take, for example, the events that arose during the past weekend. On the night of July 11, unidentified men blew up a car parked near the Nebo amusement center in the town of Chegem in Kabardino-Balkaria. It is well known that militants often threaten the amusement facilities on the grounds of moral purity (www.regnum.ru, July 11). Early in the morning of July 11, several television communication posts were damaged as a result of an explosion and arson attacks in several areas of Kabardino-Balkaria (the towns of Tyrnauz and Terskol and the village of Sarmakovo) (www.lifenews.ru, July 11). On the same morning, a mobile communication tower was set on fire in the town of Baksan, and later an explosive device was found in the car of the chief of the criminal police in the Elbrus district and was defused.
In Dagestan, the chairman of the federal court’s local branch in the Untsukul district was found dead in his car in the capital Makhachkala on July 10. This happened shortly after the rebels had designated all judges in Dagestan as enemies of Islam (taguts and kafirs) (www.jamaatshariat.com.ru, July 10). A day later, on July 11, a freight train carrying grain was the target of a blast that derailed 13 of its 50 cars. The movement of all freight and passenger trains was cancelled for the entire day. That same day, two police officers were reportedly injured in an explosion in the capital, Makhachkala (Gazeta, July 15).
Given the above developments, it is hard to believe that the North Caucasus will turn into a resort paradise anytime soon. The Russian government’s plans appear to be nothing more than futile promises of a happy future beneath the Kremlin stars.