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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ingushetia: Not a New Chechnya but Something Even Worse

Blogger/scholar Paul Goble on Russia's looming crisis in Ingushetia:

Most commentators on the upsurge in violence in Ingushetia have suggested that this North Caucasus republic is set to become the next Chechnya. But two of the more thoughtful argue instead that Ingushetia is not Chechnya, with one of them suggesting that it represents something far more dangerous. Sergei Markedonov, a Moscow expert on ethnicity and ethnic conflict, argued earlier this week that it is important to recognize just how different the causes of the violence in the two non-Russian republics are in order to be able to come up with an effective response. In Chechnya, he points out, those challenging Moscow in the 1990s did so in order to achieve an independent Chechen state, a goal that made the balance of coercive power between the Russian state, on the other hand, and the independence movement, on the other, decisive. Later, as this drive for independence failed, some Chechens turned to Islamic radicalism, Markedonov notes. But in almost all cases, they did so in the hope that Islam as a set of ideas and as a community of interests could help them overcome their weakness and allow them to achieve their original goal, national independence.

But the situation in neighboring Ingushetia now, he points out, is fundamentally different. There, most of those engaged in protests, even violent ones, are not seeking independence at all – he acknowledges there may be a few exceptions -- but rather protesting against injustice and the inability of the authorities to do anything about it.That leadership, the Moscow analyst continues, is doomed to failure because it insists on lumping all those who are against it as part of an undifferentiated Islamist radicalism, something that guarantees that even Muslims loyal to the Russian state are turning against the Ingush government. In such a situation, Markedonov suggests, force is obviously a necessary but far from sufficient condition. Instead of believing that force alone can solve the problem, the authorities in Ingushetia – and even more their Moscow backers -- need to recognize that they have to address the mouting social and economic problems of the region. While there is no evidence that either group of officials is prepared to act on the basis of this analysis and thus he implies that conditions may deteriorate, Markedonov is insistent that the situation in Ingushetia does not represent nearly as significant a threat to Moscow as the Chechen independence movement of the early 1990s did. But a second analyst, Islam Tekushev, at the Prague-based Caucasus Times, suggested in an essay published yesterday that the situation in Ingushetia is developing in ways that appear likely to make it far more threatening than Chechnya ever war.

Ingushetia, he argues, represents “a new challenge in principle for the federal center, one which requires different approaches than those which were used for suppressing Chechen state separatism.” The Chechen challenge, he points out, was almost entirely confined to places where Chechens lived, a feature typical of national movements more generally and one that limits their ability to win allies from outside their communities and to decide where and when to engage in battle.While the Chechens were pleased with the weakening of the Russian state in the early 1990s and quite prepared to do what they could to weaken it further, Tekushev suggests, they did so not to destroy it – something that was behind their capacity in any case – but rather instrumentally to achieve their own independence.In such a situation, the Prague writer argues, the Chechens could win their goal only if the Russian state decided to allow them do, either because Moscow was tired of fighting or because the international community pressured the Russian state to give way.

But neither happened, and as a result, the Chechens lost.Unfortunately for the Russian Federation, however, during the second post-Soviet Chechen war, ethno-nationalism across the North Caucasus was eclipsed by jihadism, a Muslim movement which not only is capable of mobilizing people more effectively but mobilizing people beyond the confines of a single national community. Jihadism, Tekushev points out, is universalist in its pretentions but directed “above all” at individuals who feel “existentially lost” in the modern world. It calls on individuals to join this “elect” group and promises them a free hand against everyone else once they are part of that elect.For the jihadists, he says, neither Chechnya nor Ingushetia is important, but destroying the secular Russian state is. That means that those calling for jihad one place today can and will call for it another place tomorrow, giving the movement the kind of mobility that will make irrelevant the superior coercive power of the Russian state.Once one understands the nature of this far more widespread and insidious threat, Tekushev concludes, one can see that both of the proposals many in Moscow are now making for dealing with Ingushetia have any serious chance for success – if success is defined as maintaining the Russian Federation’s effective control of that region. On the one hand, those who argue for reuniting Ingushetia and Chechnya and thus allowing Ramzan Kadyrov to deal with the situation or finding an Ingush leader who could act like the Chechen leader fail to recognize that doing so would dramatically expand the portion of the North Caucasus not under effective Russian rule.And on the other, those who want to unleash the Russian force ministries to crush the jihad movement as they did the nationalists in Chechnya do not understand that the jihadists will simply move on to other regions, possibly carrying the battle directly to the Russian heartland where many Muslims now live.

The only way out of such difficulties, the Caucasus Times writer concludes, is a massive effort to address the economic difficulties and unresolved ethnic problems in Ingushetia and elsewhere all at the same time, something that may be beyond Moscow’s capacity and is certainly beyond the Kremlin’s current imagination.

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