Moscow Appears to Be Losing Its Last Supporters in Kabardino-Balkaria

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 2

In an interview published on December 27, 2011, the chairman of the Circassian organization Khase, Ibragim Yaganov, scathingly criticized the Russian government for its policies in Kabardino-Balkaria. Yaganov, who is based in Kabardino-Balkaria, is a well-known public figure among Circassians. In an interview with the Israeli rabbi and author on the North Caucasus, Avraam Shmulevich, Yaganov stated that Kabardino-Balkaria had been under a counterterrorism operation regime since October 13, 2005. Yaganov described the dismal security situation in the republic with the largest Circassian population in the North Caucasus. “[N]o citizen of our republic has any security guarantees, whatsoever; anytime, people might simply come and gun down anyone,” he said (, December 27, 2011).

On October 13, 2005 an estimated 200 young Muslims took to arms in the capital city of Kabardino-Balkaria, Nalchik. After a short but brutal fight, most of the insurgents were killed and some arrested. The trial of the detained participants of the uprising is going on in the republic to this day (, January 13). The situation in Kabardino-Balkaria has progressively deteriorated since 2005, culminating in February 2011 when, after series of attacks, Moscow finally introduced a counterterrorism operation regime across the republic, lifting it only last fall.

“The majority of the population does not distinguish between the two sides [the insurgents and the government forces] on the basis of which one of these poses greater jeopardy,” Yaganov said. “I would even say that people fear the authorities more than the insurgents, because they [the insurgents] at least abide by some rules.” Yaganov said that the local population especially fears Russian security units from other regions of Russia that are operating in Kabardino-Balkaria, since they “behave like occupiers.” The republic’s police also mimic the behavior of the outsiders, Yaganov said. “[S]peaking frankly, everybody reckons that all this comes from the federal Russian government,” he said. “As a result, against the background of all-permeating fear, we cannot really talk about any civil activism. People are happy that there is no war. We have seen what happened in Chechnya, in Abkhazia, and no one here wants a repetition of the Chechen events” (, December 27, 2011).

If Yaganov’s testimony is correct, it means Moscow relies heavily on fear as its principal governing arrangement in Kabardino-Balkaria. In essence, it indicates that “the Chechen model” of governance has spread further across the North Caucasus. While Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya plays the role of the ruler who instills order of a kind for Moscow, in other republics, such as Kabardino-Balkaria, the Russian security services still act on their own. However, Yaganov’s interview shows that, as time goes by, anti-Russian sentiment is likely to grow even in places outside of Chechnya, and Moscow might revert to quasi-Kadyrov leadership styles in order to redirect criticism from itself to a local leader.

The socio-economic situation in Kabardino-Balkaria is so dire that, according to Yaganov, an estimated 150,000 young, economically active people have moved to other regions of Russia in search of work. The overall population of Kabardino-Balkaria is 900,000. Ethnic Russians are leaving the republic especially rapidly. “All those who can go somewhere and do something leave; only those who cannot [find a place outside the republic] stay behind,” Yaganov said (, December 27, 2011).

The scandalous parliamentary elections that took place in Russia on December 4, 2011 had vast reverberations in Moscow and a few other Russian cities because they exposed the widespread malpractices of the government, which rigged the vote. In Kabardino-Balkaria, according to Yaganov, no more than 10 percent of the voters went to the ballot boxes, but the government effectively rigged the vote in favor of the governing United Russia party. The Kremlin in principle is against leaders being popular with the population they govern “because with people’s support, he [the leader] becomes autonomous and starts to defend people’s rights,” the Circassian activist said. Yaganov reflected on the elections in the breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia, where popularly elected opposition leader Alla Jioeva was not allowed to assume official leadership. To retain its hold on power, the current leadership of Russia might revert to another military conflict, most likely with Georgia, the civic activist alleged (, December 27, 2011).

In the 1992-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz war, Ibragim Yaganov was a battalion commander himself, therefore his opinion about the situation in Abkhazia is of substantial interest. In perhaps the bluntest manner ever used by someone from the North Caucasus, Yaganov asserted that Abkhaz youth were deeply disappointed with Russia, since Abkhazia did not receive real independence as Russia promised. Instead, Abkhaz youth compare Russia and Georgia and increasingly find the latter a more agreeable model for a country. The Abkhaz now receive better treatment in Georgia than in Russia, according to Yaganov, and even those who fought against the Georgians in the 1992-1993 war have drastically changed their opinion about Georgia (

As disillusionment grows among the people of Kabardino-Balkaria, even those who once served as proxies in Russia’s imperialist wars in the South Caucasus are refusing to support Moscow’s actions any longer. Moscow appears to be losing its last supporters in the republic – excluding, perhaps, only those who directly work for the central government and are on its payroll. While Moscow certainly still has much leeway in Kabardino-Balkaria and can play various local groups against each other, its heavy reliance on fear is likely to backfire sooner or later, unless deep political reforms in the North Caucasus are implemented. But as Vladimir Putin contemplates returning for a third presidential term, prospects for meaningful reforms in the North Caucasus and in the Russian Federation remain slim and evanescent.