Russian Leadership Forced to Personally Monitor the Situation in the North Caucasus

On June 14, President Dmitry Medvedev made an unannounced visit to Chechnya. This was his first trip to Chechnya as president of Russia. The trip resembled a state visit, with the Russian president laying flowers at the grave of Akhmad Kadyrov, the first pro-Moscow president of Chechnya and the father of the current Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov. Medvedev praised the way Ramzan Kadyrov dealt with the Chechen insurgency: “The struggle with the bandits is not ceasing and some good results have recently been achieved,” he said (ITAR-TASS, June 14).

Medvedev also pointed to what he said were the impressive results the pro-Moscow Chechen government had achieved with large-scale cash injections from Moscow. The Russian president also urged the local government to transition from fighting the insurgency to paying more attention to the socio-economic development of the region, noting that $4 billion was allotted for Chechnya’s development in 2008-2011 (ITAR-TASS, June 14).

Medvedev appeared to be cautiously instructing Kadyrov to place more emphasis on Chechnya’s socio-economic development and shift away from his notoriously bellicose rhetoric. The economic development of the North Caucasus, largely through the establishment of Kremlin-friendly Russian oligarchic control over the local economies, seems to be the latest mantra in the Kremlin’s approach to the region. Aside from that, Russia’s ability to send budget money to improve living conditions in the North Caucasus is projected to decrease dramatically in 2010-2011. According to Finance Minister, Aleksei Kudrin, Russia’s reserve fund will be depleted by $45 billion in 2010 in order to cover the budget deficit, and the fund is expected to be completely used up by 2011 (, June 2).

In order to retain control over the North Caucasus, Moscow needs to adapt to changing realities, given that it may not be able to afford injecting the necessary billions of dollars into the region in the very near future. So Moscow’s newly-found interest in the development of the North Caucasus is most likely a reflection of the dire economic circumstances. Understandably, the Russian government is not willing, for political reasons to admit this openly.

On June 9, Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, had an unusually heated discussion with the president of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, at a meeting in Moscow. While explaining the negative trends in Dagestan’s economy, Magomedov casually referred to the complicated socio-political situation in the republic and was harshly interrupted by Putin who suggested that the causal link was likely the other way around: “Maybe, it [the situation in Dagestan] is so complicated because the conditions for the development of small and mid-size businesses are not being created,” Putin said, adding, “I know there are issues with land distribution, for instance.” Magomedov tried to limit the issue to isolated cases, but Putin further insisted it was a serious problem (, June 9).

Putin also asked Magomedov to increase his efforts to lower the unemployment rate in Dagestan –where, according to official statistics, 20 percent of the working age population is jobless. This may prove to be a challenge, given that 50,000 young people reach working age every year in Dagestan, the most populous republic of the North Caucasus. The industrial output per capita in Dagestan is less than $500, while in Russia as a whole it is $5,000. Average salaries in Dagestan are half the average salaries in Russia as a whole and barely exceed $300 per month (, June 9).

High unemployment is seen by many social scientists as crucial to the spread of the insurgency in the North Caucasus. While the overall unemployment rate in Russia in March 2010 was estimated at 8.6 percent, the average unemployment rate in the North Caucasus regions was 20 percent –Ingushetia, at 53 percent, and Chechnya, at 45 percent, had the highest rates of unemployment in the country (Interfax, April 23).

The emphasis on economic development does not mean that Moscow is paying less attention to the hunting down of insurgents. Moreover, while some observers have commented in regard to the recent capture of Ingush rebel leader Ali Taziev that Moscow, in marked contrast to its previous policies, was now inclined to capture rather than kill the insurgents, it is premature to talk about a change in Russian tactics. In particular, the Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, stated that a majority of the perpetrators of the attacks on the Moscow metro in March and the railways station in Derbent, Dagestan in May had been killed (, June 15). While Ali Taziev’s capture is clearly a success story for the FSB, the death of the perpetrators of the attack on the Moscow metro looks rather like a failure, given the high public interest in Russia in the attack in the capital.

The meetings Medvedev and Putin had with North Caucasian leaders highlighted the Russian leadership’s interference in essentially local affairs, as if they were the local governors. While it may be good for PR reasons, in practice it may indicate Moscow’s distrust of the local governors and a breakdown of the government institutions that should supposedly take care of everyday governance issues.