Moscow Renews Accusations Against Neighboring States for Harboring Chechen Fighters

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 130

"Stop Feeding the Caucasus" rally in Moscow, April 2011 (Source: AFP)

Events in the North Caucasus today increasingly are forcing more experts to review their forecasts for this region as militant activities intensify and the mood in Russian society shifts. Today, the question of splitting the North Caucasus off from Russia is discussed in wide circles of society (on Internet-forums, among journalists and even politicians; for example see: http://forum-msk.org/material/video/2855985.html). The results of a survey by the Novy Region newspaper were very instructive in this regard.  Of 11,481 respondents, 73 percent unequivocally supported separation of the three North Caucasian republics – Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan – from the Russian Federation (www.nr2.ru/voting/218.html).

The fact that society is already prepared to discuss such an outcome testifies to great progress made during the period of the second Chechen campaign. The “stop feeding the Caucasus” protest action in the center of Moscow is just the tip of the iceberg and a real opportunity for the government to know society’s reaction that is not affected by propaganda (www.23aprel.org/).  Xenophobia toward people from the Caucasus has become an integral part of Russian society today and generates a chain reaction that the government increasingly will find more difficult to keep in check (www.bbc.co.uk/russian/russia/2010/12/101217_russian_extremism.shtml). By far not all actions of the Russian nationalists should be perceived as a mechanism for exerting pressure used by the state apparatus. As the nationalists evolve further, certain nationalist outbursts will be out of the government’s control, such as attacks in the metro, murders of Tajik janitors, ethnic fistfights in Moscow and beyond, etc. While Vladimir Putin came to power under the slogan of preventing the Russian Federation from disintegrating and Chechnya from seceding, today Russia’s policy has acquired features of the completely opposite trend – the evident disintegration of those parts of the Russian Federation that the Chechens could not even imagine. Attitudes in parts of the North Caucasus such as Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygea, are shifting in favor of self-rule separate from Russia. Meanwhile, many Russian nationalists already have started contemplating what Russia would be like without the North Caucasus (www.apn-spb.ru/publications/comments8878.htm).

Gearing up for the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, Russia is attempting to present the North Caucasus region as a fairly decent place even fit to receive foreign investment. This is why Russia succeeded in convincing France to invest in building tourist clusters across the North Caucasus (http://lenta.ru/news/2011/05/26/france/) in exchange for Russian concessions in Libya and Syria (www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/9110/russias-libya-reversal-began-in-the-north-caucasus). In Moscow’s view this exchange of interests should facilitate the involvement of other countries in the North Caucasus, given provisions for a 100 percent Russian state guarantee against possible losses resulting from attacks by the North Caucasus armed resistance. And such guarantees are necessary given the multiple news reports about thwarted terror attacks (for a recent such report, see www.rosbalt.ru/kavkaz/2011/06/30/864518.html) or successful ones (www.rian.ru/incidents/20110219/336036427.html). The head of the Russian Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, has been forced to admit that terrorism-related crimes in Russia grew by 35 percent in the country in the first half of 2011 in comparison to the same period of time in 2010. In the North Caucasus, the number of such crimes grew by 16 percent (http://volgograd.kp.ru/online/news/924361).

The Georgian factor also has been alleged to be one of the causes of instability for Moscow in the North Caucasus over the past 12 years, and that has only intensified since the August 2008 war. As soon as the militants in the North Caucasus become more active, the Russian security services, not burdening themselves with presenting proof, repeatedly try to tie the Georgian government to the Chechen rebel fighters, putting forward the theory that additional armed resistance forces cross over from Georgia in the North Caucasus (www.gazeta.ru/news/lastnews/2011/07/02/n_1907493.shtml).   Recently, Moscow has asserted that 70 militants crossed over from the Pankisi gorge in Georgia into the Russian Federation. The Georgian foreign ministry was forced to react with a degree of irony, stating that in the Pankisi area “[…] there were neither underground, nor overground, nor balcony forces” (www.apsny.ge/2010/mil/1309585524.php).  The constant presence of representatives of international humanitarian missions in the area and monitoring by foreign embassies stationed in Georgia attest to the truthfulness of Georgia’s statements. Those who have visited this pleasant corner of Georgia are baffled by Russia’s insinuations about the Pankisi’s inhabitants, the Kists, who are related to the Chechens and have lived in this area for 200 years. International organizations and foreign states have been active in the Pankisi region’s development (http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2011/04/16/n_1796453.shtml). For example, Japan and China invest considerable resources into the infrastructure of the region, where schools and ethnographic museums have opened. Tbilisi is working on developing a program to support small businesses as well. So the Pankisi Gorge that people in governmental offices in Moscow are imagining and the real Pankisi Gorge are completely different things, like night and day. The case against Pankisi and Georgia was so biased that even the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) was forced to reject this lie in the end (www.vz.ru/news/2011/7/2/504275.html).

Russian media erupt with false reports about the whereabouts of Doku Umarov, the leader of the North Caucasian militants, several times a year. The media usually alleges that Umarov left the region and is in Turkey or in Georgia (www.regions.ru/news/2354984/). It is hard to imagine that those who provide such information even remotely trust these allegations by the Russian FSB. Having such information, the Russian government somehow does not ask the supposedly complicit foreign governments to hand over to them a man who is on Interpol’s wanted list and has been designated as one of the most dangerous and wanted criminals. After not finding Umarov in Turkey, the Russian media hurriedly announced that he had returned to Chechnya and was plotting new terrorist attacks. However, it is hard to imagine even theoretically the leader of the North Caucasian insurgents crossing from Russia into a foreign territory without the Russians knowing about it. Therefore, it is quite convenient for the Russian government to explain away the problem by referring to the foreign support of terrorist forces rather than try to explain to the Russian public why the army, security services and the huge interior ministry cannot cope with the militants. This provides Moscow with an opportunity to shun the blame by claiming that even the US is unable to have a complete victory over the militants, so Russia should not be judged too harshly for its failure to provide safety for its citizens.