In the eleventh year of conflict in the North Caucasus, the Russian leadership intends (yet again) to radically change the situation to its advantage. With this intent, on February 27, President Dmitry Medvedev unexpectedly arrived in Nalchik (the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria) (www.rian.ru, February 27).
Perhaps the president’s arrival explains why Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov rapidly returned from Libya, where he was invited by the Libyan head of state Muammar Qaddafi to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. All the regional leaders of the North Caucasus Federal District (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai) were in attendance.
The most important part of Medvedev’s visit took place at the North Caucasus development conference, where the Russian President highlighted three main points that, in his view, interfere with the region’s development: unemployment, corruption in government and the ongoing insurgency. However, on the same day, February 27, the focus shifted. At the opening of a new Kabardino-Balkaria Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Nalchik, Medvedev stated that the main problems of the region are continued “radicalism,” “extremism” and the “bandit underground” (www.1tv.ru, February 27). This means that all the statements about fighting corruption and investing in the region are no more than an ideological veil. As in the past, the primary cause of concern for Russian officials is the expanding militant underground of the North Caucasus. Continuing to ignore this underground, to contain it within Chechnya’s borders, and to pretend that nothing is happening is becoming more and more difficult with each passing day.
Today, the armed underground, with a united core and affiliated branches all over the region, does not allow subversive actions conducted against the government and its religious supporters to be hidden. It is hard to say whether the situation has become more difficult in Chechnya, Ingushetia or Dagestan. Counter-insurgency operations are underway everywhere, along with an effort to pretend that everything is going well. It is worth remembering that all this is taking place in a region adjacent to Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plans to undertake the ambitious project of hosting a winter sporting event in a subtropical climate. The selected location is very inauspicious; Putin obviously counted on not having any problems with separatism in the region as the Olympic Games approached. In reality, as the games draw near, the Circassian peoples (Adygei, Kabardin, Cherkess) will have more reasons to support the separatists, since the games will be conducted on the lands of the Circassian peoples annihilated during the Russian occupation.
The areas that make up Sochi and its vicinity are the lands of the Shapsugs, only several thousand of whom remain in the region (several hundred thousand reside in Turkey). These are the lands of the 2,000 remaining Ubykhs, who lost their language and script, and the majority of whom were wiped out in the course of the conquest of the Caucasus in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the multi-million-strong Circassian diaspora (in Turkey, Jordan, Europe, United States, and Canada) demands that the decision to conduct the games in their historic homeland be rescinded. Such actions as “No Sochi 2014” are becoming popular for patriotic Circassians all over the world. Recent demonstrations in Vancouver were organized by Circassian activists from the United States and other countries, who traveled to Canada to protest against Russian plans to conduct the games on their historic lands (www.emiratkavkaz.hiblogger.net, February 15). As the countdown for the Sochi Games begins, the situation may become increasingly heated and will increase in its scope. President Medvedev’s plans for regional investment to curb unemployment and improve the overall situation are removed from reality: unemployment and corruption are not the problem. Both of these exist in other regions of Russia, but they do not result in armed resistance movements. That exists today only in the North Caucasus, because of the mentality and historic memory of the actions Russia took in the North Caucasus during the nineteenth century. Moscow’s unwillingness to acknowledge its past crimes is why its governance continues to be rejected to this day.
The Kremlin does not want to comprehend reality – the armed underground of the North Caucasus is a response to Moscow’s political actions toward the region’s indigenous peoples. The disregard for the culture, religion, customs, and traditions of the North Caucasus’ inhabitants increases the ranks of the dissatisfied. Yet Moscow thinks that the local populace can be enticed by the grandiose construction of religious centers. After Chechnya, Ingushetia is next in line for an Islamic cultural center to be built. This center will be taller than the Grozny Mosque (although it will not be able to hold as many visitors). According to Ingushetia’s president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, this is exactly what will unite the Ingush people (www.regnum.ru, February 27). However, as it turns out, an opulent Islamic center, where mullahs and imams appointed by the government will read sermons about the necessity of submission to the authorities, will suffice to bring an end to the daily bombings in the republic.
The Russian president’s visit to the North Caucasus did not go without powerful actions from the militants. An explosion in the center of Grozny, on Pervomaiskaya Street near the “Raikhana” trading center, wounded a police officer (www.gazeta.ru, February27). The blast was triggered by a remote control device. Another incident took place in the Leninsky district of the city, where a bomb exploded along the route of a police patrol, according to a representative of the regional investigative committee of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s office (www.kp.ru, February 27).
Meanwhile, the Ingush interior ministry reported that on the evening of same day, February 27, a local bailiff, Magomed-Bashir Buzurtanov, was killed in the Ingush city of Nazran and the perpetrators escaped (www.ingushetia.org, February 27). In addition, one person was reportedly killed and another wounded in a small arms attack on a storefront in Nazran that same evening (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, February 27).
Acknowledging the complexity of the situation, Moscow is willing to take risks and undertake various initiatives that, according to its plans, will help alleviate the intensity of the armed resistance. But the focus is on physical elimination, rather than seeking an understanding of what motivates the armed resistance that is engulfing most of the North Caucasus.