On October 18, the Russian public chamber held a special hearing on the exodus of ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus. Poor economic conditions, personal insecurity and the regional political climate were cited most often as the main factors driving ethnic Russians out of the North Caucasus. In a sign that more and more people are resigned to the trend, a well-known Russian expert from Stavropol region, Viktor Avksentyev, stated that Stavropol should be prepared to take in ethnic Russians who leave the North Caucasian republics. According to Avksentyev, ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus do not have “the mechanisms for ethnic consolidation and self-defense,” unlike the North Caucasians (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 20).
The ethnic Russian population in seven republics of the North Caucasus contracted from 26 percent in 1989 to 12-15 percent. At the same time, the overall indigenous population grew from 66 percent of the total population in 1989 to 80 percent in 2002. In Chechnya and Ingushetia, the ethnic Russian segment contracted by a whopping 94 percent, due to the two bloody wars launched by Moscow in the region. The trend has remained the same since 2002, with over 30 percent of young Russians stating in 2006 that they wanted to move out of the North Caucasus (www.valerytishkov.ru). So while the results of the 2010 census are still unknown, they will likely indicate yet another decrease in the size of the Russian population in the North Caucasus.
The Russian government has become increasingly vocal about the departure of ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus. The government fears that the region, known for its strong ethnic identities and separatist aspirations, will eventually slip out from under Moscow’s control. In July 2011, President Dmitry Medvedev appealed to the North Caucasian muftis to help bring ethnic Russians back to the region. Moscow’s envoy to the region, Aleksandr Khloponin, offered to design a most-favored-migrant regime to lure ethnic Russians back to the region. The authorities in Moscow are eager to present this plan as a “developmental project” that would contribute to the modernization of the region.
The journalist and writer Sulieta Kusova, herself from the North Caucasus, dismissed the claims that ethnic Russians are needed in the North Caucasus as a necessary condition for the region’s modernization. “This is a kind of USSR syndrome,” she said at the meeting. “These talks resemble the outdated concept of the Russian people as the older brother and the only source of high-skilled labor.” The distinguished Russian ethnologist Valery Tishkov stated at the same meeting in Moscow that the government must ensure equality before the law, so that both Russian and North Caucasian nationalism is contained (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 20).
Manifestly hawkish opinions were voiced by another participant in the Russian Public Chamber’s hearing on the state of ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus – that of Valery Korovin, who is affiliated with the Russian nationalist-imperialist Aleksandr Dugin and Moscow State University. “The outflow dynamic [of ethnic Russians] is such that the complete abandonment of the North Caucasus from the Russian population’s standpoint is becoming a reality,” Korovin said. He proposed that the North Caucasus should be governed directly by ethnic Russians, while the indigenous populations of the region should be returned to their ancestral lands in the mountains, to “the natural way of life for them” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 20).
Discussions about Russians in the North Caucasus consistently seem to miss the point that ethnic North Caucasians, according to Russian law, are completely equal to ethnic Russians. Technically, therefore, Moscow should not prefer one part of the population over the other, i.e., it should not matter for Russia what kind of people live in the North Caucasus as long as they are Russian citizens. So the way the discussion about Russians in the North Caucasus is framed actually advances a deepening divide between the ethnic Russians and the North Caucasians.
The SKFONEWS agency, which is deemed by some observers to be backed by Khloponin, focuses on the state of ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus. According to a SKFONEWS source in the major Russian news agency Interfax, that agency often shies away from reporting on discrimination against ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus because it is under pressure by the republican governments (http://skfonews.info/article/150).
The Russian government in general is not known for being very supportive of a free press, so it is hardly surprising that the North Caucasian governments replicate at their level of governance what the higher authorities do in Moscow. Since Moscow does not seem to be in a position to improve its own treatment of the independent press, it is unlikely it will be able to make a change in the North Caucasus.
The Russian nationalist writer Andrei Yepifantsev lamented the situation in the North Caucasus, but warned against any quick moves. “Any return of Russians to the [North] Caucasus now is pure demagoguery and federal budgetary embezzlement,” he said. According to the author, the North Caucasian clans on the one side and government in Moscow on the other are in a symbiotic relationship, in which the North Caucasian elites deliver a semblance of political stability in the region and needed election results, while Moscow gives the clans a free hand in reigning over their respective regions (http://skfonews.info/article/151).
Yepifantsev’s thinking is fairly widespread among Russian nationalists. Even if we uncritically accept their view of the relationship between Moscow and the North Caucasus, it is easy to discern that Moscow initiated and has supported the present system and ultimately is responsible for its drawbacks. Reforms in the North Caucasus are unimaginable without reforms in Moscow. However, with Vladimir Putin’s formal return to the Kremlin set for 2012, there will probably be more of the same old solutions for the North Caucasus rather than the implementation of any new novel reforms.