By Paul Goble
President Vladimir Putin said today (February 10) that the West is using the Circassian issue as part of its broader effort to “contain” Russia and “hold back” its development. This has been the Russian president’s most definitive comment to date on the Circassians, whose ancestors suffered mass murder and expulsion in 1864—which the Circassians and their supporters call a “genocide”—in the place where Russia is now hosting the Winter Olympics. Moreover, Putin’s remarks were the clearest indication yet that Moscow will not make any concessions anytime soon to Circassian calls for justice, including either greater rights for that nation in the North Caucasus or the return of members of their nationality from war-torn Syria.
Putin made his comments at a meeting of the Social Council, which has been involved in organizing the Olympiad. They were reported by Forbes (https://www.forbes.ru/news/250741-putin-obvinil-zapad-v-sderzhivanii-razvitiya-rossii) and have been replayed by Russian and Circassian outlets (aheku.net/news/society/5573; https://www.forbes.ru/news/250741-putin-obvinil-zapad-v-sderzhivanii-razvitiya-rossii).
The Russian president said the West’s effort has no prospects and is doomed to fail: “I know the attitudes among the Circassians, I am familiar with the leaders of Circassian organizations, and I know how they relate to their small motherland and to their large one, Russia.” According to Interfax (February 10), one of the Circassians present, from the Republic of Adygea, said that was absolutely true. But of course, if he had not been prepared to say that, he would not have been at the meeting.
Despite the requirement in the Olympic Charter that hosts of the Games recognize the autochthonian peoples of the place where the competitions are held, Moscow has not done so. Instead, it has limited the presence of the Circassians at the Sochi Games to those who are fully prepared to follow the Kremlin’s line but who do not represent the Circassian community in the North Caucasusor abroad. And, indeed, the Circassian community leaders have already described those who have gone as traitors to the cause.