Russian Nationalists on Both Sides of North Caucasus Fight

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 3

Politics surely makes strange bedfellows: Some Russian nationalists now take positions on the North Caucasus that would logically lead to the independence that many non-Russian nationalists in that region seek—in effect forming an implicit alliance of two nationalisms that most on each side of the divide would see as antithetical. But at the same time, other Russian nationalists are working side by side with leaders like Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov to strengthen the Russian state, thus explicitly forming an alliance of statist leaders whom many  nationalists on both sides at a minimum distrust or even despise. Indeed, as journalist Svetlana Bolotnikova writes about these paradoxical situations, “…the Caucasian and Russian nationalists are sometimes so close in their views on what is going on that you can only be surprised” (

Many Chechen nationalists, she continues, heartily support the idea for which Russian nationalist Konstantin Krylov was recently sentenced to 120 hours of corrective labor: his call for Russia to “stop feeding the Caucasus.”  Were that to happen, the North Caucasus could go its own way—an intriguing example of the convergence of two nationalisms often thought to be at odds, and one that might open the way for “a political alliance” between them, with both destroying the united Russian Federation in their pursuit of the benefits of separation.

On her blog, Chechen nationalist poet Zulikhan Magomadova is even more explicit about the ways in which these nationalisms have come together, and thus on why Moscow has no choice but to try to keep them at odds with each other ( She writes that the Moscow authorities came down hard on Krylov because they “understand that if they do not pay the jail keepers”—in this case, the “corrupt” bosses at the top of the Caucasus republics—“the prisoners will run away.” And Magomadova argues that “the scenario of the loss of the Caucasus is so real—it would be sufficient simply to stop feeding it!—that [Moscow] is afraid of it and persecutes Russian nationalists” who broach the subject.

But at the same time, Bolotnikova calls attention to another curious convergence—that between another kind of Russian nationalist and another kind of North Caucasian one.  Dmitry Demushkin, head of the “Russians” ethno-political movement, is working with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to prepare a “Codex of Behavior for Young People” to help save Russia by bringing the two groups together.

Demushkin’s ideas about inclusivity are even broader. He argues that “the indigenous peoples of Russia who have participated in the construction and strengthening of the country can be full members of the party of [Russian] nationalists” and says that he plans to open branches of his party in the North Caucasus and other non-Russian areas. Those are things both Krylov and most North Caucasus nationalists would find absurd. (For additional details on this coming together of the two, see

As Magomadova points out, “A Russian nationalist is someone who first of all thinks about the interests of [ethnic] Russians. Is it profitable for Russians that Russia is an empire?  That is very doubtful. To constantly occupy one’s neighbors […] to be hated by all one’s neighbors, to have enemies inside and out […] and at the end of all this to die a shameful death… A doubtful happiness, that.”

Both such convergences are inherently unstable. Those who, like Krylov, think that ridding Russia of the North Caucasus would solve all problems forget, Bolotnikova says, that “the appetites of the non-Russian separatists spread much further north than the currently existing Caucasus republics. For them, ‘Rus’ is limited to six or seven oblasts around Moscow. The rest of the territory of Russia they divide into the lands of various tribes who are supposedly conducting ‘a national liberation struggle.’”

But those like Demushkin are equally deluded. They do not understand that their presence, in and of itself, undermines the very cause they seek to promote.  Russian nationalists like them may be willing to take under their wing “the younger brothers,” but Chechen nationalists like Magomadova will retort that such a combination weakens not only those seeking to maintain the status quo in the Russian Federation, but also the local North Caucasian bosses they are supporting.

Beyond that, these cases of strange bedfellows among nationalists call attention to two even more important points.  On the one hand, Russians, as an ethnic community, are far more internally divided on what being a Russian means than most non-Russians are about their nations ( And on the other, again as Magomadova notes, Russian President Vladimir Putin operates on the principle of “divide and conquer” and will do anything necessary to ensure that the defenders of various nations will not work together or even work separately against him.