Pro-Moscow Circassian Organizations Express Support for the 2014 Sochi Olympics

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 163

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Kabardino-Balkaria head Arsen Kanokov (Source: kremlin.ru)

On September 3, the Russian security services killed four suspected rebels in the town of Baksan, Kabardino-Balkaria. Two servicemen, a woman and a child were injured in the special operation. This instance of killing suspects was unusual because it highlighted the Russian security services’ tactics. As soon as it became known that a house with alleged rebels in Baksan had been surrounded by security services, mothers of the suspects went to the police and asked to be allowed to talk to their sons and convince them to surrender. The police turned down the mothers’ request and all four people in the house were killed (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 3).

It is hardly news that the Russian security services kill suspected rebels during operations rather than capturing them. Officials usually claim that the surrounded suspected militants refused to surrender and shot at the police. However, the events in Baksan give credence to the conviction long held by rights activists that Russian law enforcement agents consciously skirt the law, invariably trying to kill rebel suspects and leave them no chance to surrender.

Meanwhile, the well-known Russian journalist Yulia Latynina has raised questions about the role of the head of Kabardino-Balkaria, Arsen Kanokov, in the republican insurgency. Besides being the administrative head of the republic, Kanokov is also known as a very successful businessman. Latynina asserted on September 3 that some of Kanokov’s own bodyguards are simultaneously rebels. She said that when a local businessman asked Kanokov for protection against extortion attempts by the militants, the head of Kabardino-Balkaria told him to take care of his security on his own. Latynina also shed light on what is going on behind the scenes in the republic, where Russian law enforcement is trying to undercut the local ruling elite’s economic power by shutting down alcohol producing factories (http://echo.msk.ru/programs/code/808239-echo/#element-text).

The irony of the situation is that Moscow now seems to be fighting the very people it brought to power in Kabardino-Balkaria. If Moscow is seriously trying to restrict the power of the local elite in Kabardino-Balkaria, then the elite will have less of a stake in maintaining order and destabilization in this republic will continue. Alternatively, Moscow may be reasoning that the republican elite should be dependent exclusively on the money sent to the region from the central government and does not want that elite to have any significant locally generated revenue. Yet another explanation may be even simpler: according to the same report by Yulia Latynina, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s close associates have moved to solidify control over the alcohol market in Russia and are gradually eliminating small producers (http://echo.msk.ru/programs/code/808239-echo/#element-text).

Decreasing the opportunities to do business in Kabardino-Balkaria will be perceived especially badly in this republic given that nearby, in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi, billions of dollars are being spent to prepare for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Circassians comprise a majority in Kabardino-Balkaria and many of them would like to see Moscow recognize the Russian empire’s mass killings and expulsions of Circassians from their homeland on the Black Sea coast, including Sochi, in the nineteenth century, or move the Olympics to another location.  In turn, Moscow is trying to manipulate the Circassian organizations based in the North Caucasus. On September 2, the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website reported that a group of Circassian organizations in Kabardino-Balkaria had announced a memorandum in support of the Olympics in Sochi. The Olympics, according to the Circassian organizations’ statement, should foster “harmonization and improvement of interethnic relations” and ultimately facilitate “consolidation of the statehood of the Russian Federation.” The coordination council of Circassian organizations, Adyge Khase, and the Union of Abkhaz Volunteers signed the statement. Reportedly the Circassian Congress is the only organization manifestly opposed to holding the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Circassian Congress has branches in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygea (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 2).

Most of the Circassians were displaced by the Russian army’s incursion into the North Caucasus in the nineteenth century and are now scattered across many countries. Circassian activists abroad as well as in Russia have been trying to stage global protests to attract world’s attention to their plight. In May 2011, the Georgian parliament officially recognized the genocide the Circassians suffered at the hands of the Russian empire.

It appears that Moscow plans to bridge the increasing economic gap between the flourishing ethnic Russian-populated Sochi and impoverished republics of the North Caucasus with more propagandistic exercises. On September 2, for example, the Russian state corporation responsible for the creation of modern ski resorts in the North Caucasus announced that the “stage of active construction” of resorts will start in 2013 and be completed by 2019 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 2). Given the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia — in 2011 and 2012, respectively — and the longevity of the talk about ski resorts, which began as early as last summer, the declarations about investment resemble more and more to be simple electoral campaign promises. Ekho Moskvy radio editor-in-chief Aleksei Venediktov said that the emerging consensus within government circles in Moscow is that whoever comes to power in 2012, will have to institute significant reforms, including severe cuts in government spending (http://grani.ru/opinion/piontkovsky/m.189030.html).

These trends preclude any significant investment in the tourism sector of the North Caucasus, even if the security situation in the region were good. Kabardino-Balkaria was officially closed for tourists following major attacks in February 2011. Few can predict what the security situation will be like in the republic by 2013, and the Russian government’s predictions in this regard are particularly unreliable.