Russians Fleeing Adygea, Threatening Moscow’s Control of Region

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 23

Since the end of Soviet times, the percentage of ethnic Russians in the Circassian republic of Adygea has fallen from 78 percent to 52 percent, the result of the dominance of the minority Circassians in republic institutions and the failure of Moscow to address the issue in any serious way. Now, the Adygeis are seeking the repatriation of 60,000–160,000 of their fellow Circassians from Syria, a group whose arrival would tip the ethnic balance in their favor, accelerate the departure of more ethnic Russians and set the stage for the Adygeis to join with other Circassian groups and form Greater Circassia (see EDM April 18, September 5).

Such a chain of events would end with Russia’s loss not only of the Circassian regions but also of the entire North Caucasus, analysts say. That is all the more so, these researchers add, because the developments are below Moscow’s radar screen—the Kremlin only takes action when in a crisis—and because neither the center nor the Russian communities in Adygea have any conception of what is happening or what they should do to redirect it. Even if Moscow does focus on this issue, the analysts conclude, the central authorities seem likely to take steps that will be counterproductive to the interests of the ethnic Russians in the region and of the Russian Federation as a whole (

In an extensive article on the Svobodnaya Pressa portal this week, Aleksey Polubota surveys the situation of ethnic Russians in the Adygei Republic, a small Circassian outpost entirely surrounded by Krasnodar Krai. Because of this geography—one that Soviet leaders from Stalin on insisted upon—Moscow has long assumed that Adygea is fully under Russian control just as it has assumed that the central authorities fully control the republics of the Middle Volga because they too are surrounded by predominantly ethnic Russian territories. And consequently, the center has ignored the rise of an ethnocratic regime in Maikop and the resulting departure of ethnic Russians (

The Russians in Adygea feel oppressed by the Adygeis and ignored by Moscow, Polubuta says. Nina Konovalova, the president of the Union of Slavs of Adygea, told him that “in order to understand the situation of ethnic Russians in the republic, it is enough to look at who runs it. We have an Adyg as head of the republic, an Adyg as prime minister and the issue of the appointment of an Adyg as head of the State Council is being discussed.” Even the head of the local branch of the ruling United Russia Party is an Adyg.

The ethnic Russians of Adygea petitioned Moscow for uniting Adygea with Krasnodar Krai, she continued, citing discrimination against the Russian population, “but even after this, no one paid us any attention. How are we to protest? With firearms in our hands? We do not intend to do that. The Federal Center has closed its eyes for one simple reason—here there is still no shooting” (

Organizing local Russians “from below” is practically impossible, Konovalova added. Any efforts to do so are treated by the republic authorities as “a manifestation of extremism.” Moscow needs to act, but there is no indication it is ready or able to do so. As a result, Russians will continue to flee and those who stay will “remain hostages.”

Adygea is unlikely to become a “hot spot” anytime soon, however, the Russian activist said. Too many Adygeis know that they cannot afford to go it alone. But they are talking ever more frequently about the unification of “three Caucasus republics into one” by combining Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Adygea to form Greater Circassia—a process that could trigger a war in the entire region, Konovalova suggested.

Natalya Makeyeva, an activist of the International Eurasian Movement, confirms that the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria is similar to that in Adygea. The ethnic Russians there are largely ignored by Moscow and have not been able to unite to defend their interests. Only the Cossacks have made much progress in that direction but they remain divided by those who are animated by Orthodoxy and those who are not. And all of them are frustrated that Moscow’s attempts to promote the return of ethnic Russians to the region have failed.

Makeyeva says “Moscow is not interfering because it does not know how to resolve it.” Indeed, she suggests “[Russian] political elites in principle poorly understand the country in which they are living.” For them, the notion that Russia is “a poly-ethnic land” is “something exotic and cloudy.” They need the services of the expert community, but that community is divided between those like Valery Tishkov of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology who believe that Russia can be “a melting pot” like the United States, and others who want to do away with the republics and organize the legal status of the non-Russian ethnic groups in some other way (

The ethnic Russians in these republics, she argues, unfortunately are not in a position to do much. “Russians are a large people, a strategic people,” while “the Adygeis are an ethnos.” Furthermore, she adds “the smaller the nationality, the more it is tightly held together.” Conversely, the Russians, precisely because of their size and dispersion, lack that social and political glue. When they find themselves in small non-Russian republics, the Russians “lose their identity and their sense of direction spatially.”

Given all that, there is likely to be “general chaos, war and a bloody re-partition” of the North Caucasus, perhaps starting in Adygea. When that will occur, Makeyeva goes on to speculate, depends “on how strong and legitimate the federal authorities will be. “As soon as they lose their legitimacy in the eyes of the population, the processes of the disintegration of Russia will proceed in a geometric progression,” involving not just Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, but the Circassian republics as well.

Right now things are being held together “only on the basis of a harsh vertical of power relations between Putin and the leaders of these republics. If any element of this changes, or if there is “one incautious move,” Makeyeva concludes, “the Caucasus will be lost.” And if there are a few more “idiotic” moves, “all of Russia” will go as well.