Coming up

Don't miss




No strategy and a beige suit

Read more


The World This Week - 29 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more


The World This Week - 29 August 2014

Read more


Alain Choquette: A Hilarious Magician in Paris

Read more


France welcomes Iraqi Christian refugees

Read more


Emmanuel Macron: A new economy minister with a pro-business agenda

Read more


More of this year's best Observers stories

Read more

#TECH 24

Changing the world, one video game at a time

Read more


Socialist Party summer conference kicks off in explosive atmosphere

Read more

  • Exclusive: Fabius warns of further sanctions against Russia

    Read more

  • Experimental Ebola drug ‘ZMapp’ heals all monkeys in study

    Read more

  • British killer escapes from French psychiatric hospital

    Read more

  • Ukraine to relaunch NATO membership bid

    Read more

  • Suriname leader’s son pleads guilty to courting Hezbollah

    Read more

  • Police hunt for British boy with brain tumour taken to France

    Read more

  • Chelsea’s Torres set for AC Milan switch

    Read more

  • France shines in IMF list of world’s promising economists

    Read more

  • Mapping Ukraine: Canada and Russia in ‘tweet for tat’ row

    Read more

  • First case of Ebola confirmed in Senegal

    Read more

  • Obama has 'no strategy yet' on potential Syria strikes

    Read more

  • Netflix to woo French with ‘House of Cards’ set in Marseille

    Read more

  • French businesses ‘hoping for a new Thatcher’

    Read more

  • Syrian refugees surpass 3 million, UN says

    Read more

  • West backs Ukrainian claims of Russian incursion

    Read more

  • Libyan PM resigns as Islamists set up rival administration

    Read more

  • UN says 43 peacekeepers captured in Golan Heights

    Read more

  • The deleted tweets of Manuel Valls

    Read more

  • Peru seizes record 6.5 tonnes of Europe-bound cocaine

    Read more

  • Pakistan army to mediate between PM, protesters

    Read more


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.


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