Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE DEBATE

Confiscated vote? Escalation over banned Catalonia referendum

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

UN rights chief says Burma should allow in investigators

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

'I asked Macron to invest $300m in girls' education', Malala tells FRANCE 24

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

A French fortune: Lilian Bettencourt's name was synonymous with 'scandal'

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Catalan referendum debacle

Read more

PEOPLE & PROFIT

Brexit and the city: Paris, Frankfurt, Dublin vying for new business

Read more

FRENCH CONNECTIONS

Is the French Senate a retirement club for old politicians?

Read more

FOCUS

Rohingya crisis: Monks with an ultranationalist agenda

Read more

INSIDE THE AMERICAS

Mexico hit by another deadly earthquake

Read more

Europe

Chaos reigns in the North Caucasus

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2009-08-18

Instability in the North Caucasian republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya is intensifying. Violence and corruption are endemic, and Moscow is struggling to maintain a grip on the Russian Federation's restive southern republics.

At one-tenth the size of France, Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya together represent a tiny fraction of Russia's huge landmass.

They may be small, but they are a huge and painful thorn in Moscow's side.

These tiny North Caucasian republics of the Russian Federation are the scene of daily acts of violence. On Monday, 20 people were killed in a suicide attack on an Ingushetia police station.

In June and July, at least 55 members of the federal Russian administration were killed in Ingushetia and neighbouring Dagestan — almost as many as for the whole of 2008.

And as the region becomes increasingly unstable, Moscow seems increasingly overwhelmed by the deteriorating situation.

All-out repression

"Moscow has shot itself in the foot with its policies in the region," Svante Cornell, of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at John Hopkins University, told FRANCE 24.

In Chechnya, the "tacit" agreement between then Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in 2007 was particularly counter-productive, he said.

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said: "Kadyrov was given carte blanche to pursue a policy of all-out repression with little regard to human rights and the rule of law."

The result is a smokescreen behind which "suspect" people — and even their friends and family members — have been abducted, tortured and killed, fuelling a strong sense of outrage and longing for revenge in the local population.

Fertile ground for insurgents

In the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan, Moscow has followed the same model of vertical power, installing its preferred candidates in power, with less than glorious results.

"Dagestan is one of the most corrupt republics in the Russian Federation," said  Lokshina. "State services in Ingushetia simply don't exist."

All this makes the region fertile ground for insurgent groups, which are composed essentially of Islamist jihadists and function as organised crime gangs.

The authorities' reaction has been to consider all Muslims to be potential insurgents and to pursue them mercilessly.

Local tribal disputes, some going back hundreds of years, muddy the water even further. Dagestan contains a mix of almost 40 different ethnic groups, which only adds to the sense of unending civil friction.

"All the elements are there for the North Caucasus to descend into a situation like Afghanistan," said Cornell.

Oil prices and regional stability

All that was needed was the spark to set off the powder keg. According to Cornell, the price of oil is at the heart of Russia's problems.

"The financial crisis has had an impact," he said. "For Moscow, the price of oil determines how much it can invest in creating a veneer of stability. Right now, Russia's coffers are running low."

Lokshina sees a similar correlation between economic stability and growing unrest.

"A year ago we saw a big influx of young men, aged between 17 and 19, joining the jamaat in Chechnya," she said, referring to Islamist groups. "They can't take any more of Kadyrov and have no sense of a viable future for themselves."

At the same time, there has been a significant rise in violence in Dagestan and Ingushetia. Moscow has lost the financial means to sponsor its veneer of stability.

Rebellion

The general consensus is that Moscow needs to intervene as quickly and decisively as possible to bring back order.

"Putin needs to show that Moscow is in control," said Cornell. "But three of its republics are in rebellion. If you can't control your own borders, how can you be taken as a great power?"
 
But Moscow seems to be hesitating. Three months after Ingushetia's President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was badly hurt in a suicide attack, the central Russian authorities have yet to name his successor.

Date created : 2009-08-18

COMMENT(S)