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Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010

The failure to tackle the persistent North Caucasus has left the Russian government in search of a strategy. Repeated terrorist attacks – such as the recent suicide bombing at a Dagestan police station which left 6 dead and over a dozen injured (BBC, January 6) – prompt tough, uncompromising statements from the Kremlin.

One can be forgiven for a sense of déjà vu with regard to these reactions. Officials are fired or publicly chastised; firm declarations are made about the need to “liquidate” the rebels; new counter-terrorist operations are launched; the insurgents are dismissed as bandits and criminals, possessing “neither nationality nor a human face” (in the words of Russia’s Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev (RIA Novosti, January 8)).

This is, perhaps, not so different from counter-terrorist rhetoric anywhere else in the world. However, the constant need to repeat such statements shows that the methods being used by Russia in the North Caucasus are evidently not successful. Years of ‘tough measures’ have achieved nothing except to intensify the violence; stating simply that “As far as bandits are concerned. . .They simply need to be eliminated” is adding fuel to the fire.

This is unfortunate, since at times Moscow does acknowledge the need for more sophisticated methods to end the insurgency. As well as his statement about eliminating bandits, President Medvedev also stressed the need “to create a normal living environment” in the North Caucasus, in particular improving the socio-economic environment (Kremlin.ru, January 8).

The need to improve the region’s economic prospects has been highlighted repeatedly, including in President Medvedev’s address to the Federal Assembly in November. Similarly in a December 24 television broadcast the President recognised the links between poverty and violence. He reiterated his declaration from the Federal Assembly address that a special official would be appointed to coordinate development programs for Russia’s southern republics (RIA Novosti, December 24 2009).

Such an appointment is sorely needed. Accurate data on the region’s unemployment rate is difficult to establish (which, in itself, illustrates the levels of corruption and grey economic activity there), but most estimates put the unemployment rate at between 40% and 60% across the region.

Some analysts, such as Arbakhan Magomedov, argue that the employment rate (specifically with regard to Dagestan) is significantly higher than official figures indicate, due to the region’s significant grey economy and the large number of economic migrants (Russian Analytical Digest, 21 December 2009). However, the lack of formal economic opportunities, and the social infrastructure that comes with it, is clearly a driver behind the insurgency. Illicit economic activity contributes to a shadow state, encourages corruption and undermines the sustainability of economic development.

It is believed that Mikhail Gutseriyev, the Ingush billionaire whose business dealings were being investigated by the Russian authorities, has been let off in return for massive economic investment into his homeland (RFE/RL, January 10). This would be welcome.

However, more money across the region (not just in Ingushetia) for ‘visible’ economic development, infrastructure, social services, and job creation programs is necessary, but not sufficient. Retaining the current aggressive counter-insurgency strategy - which regularly sees the arbitrary detention, harassment and even execution of innocent civilians – and failing to tackle endemic corruption will ensure that economic assistance is either wasted or inadequate to overcome other problems.

In any case, there is no guarantee that the economic assistance called for will be delivered at all. In September the North Caucasus regional envoy, Dmitri Kozak, stated that the ongoing recession would force the federal government to shift funds earmarked for the North Caucasus away to other regions of Russia (Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 16 2009). This is significant, since the region’s republics are hugely dependent on federal subsidies for their budget.

In this respect, President Medvedev’s call for more financial support for the region seems an empty promise. Suspending criminal charges against Mr Gutseriyev in exchange for his private investment appears to be a sign of desperation by Moscow.

Nevertheless, as the Russian economy gradually improves, primarily as a result of higher gas demand and oil prices, the Kremlin may feel able to increase the financial assistance it can provide to its southern republics. However, the economic help will then most likely be deployed in much the same way as military force: in huge, mis-directed amounts which focus on the wrong targets and prove counter-productive.

The rhetorical weight now being given to social and economic development is designed to complement, rather than replace, the Putin-era tough talk of wiping out bandits. It suggests that someone in the Kremlin, at least, is trying to tackle the causes, rather than the symptoms, of the insurgency. But without deep-cutting political reforms, tackling corruption, addressing the issue of clan grievances, preventing religious harassment and – above all – curbing the use of aggressive, counterproductive security tactics, Moscow cannot prevent the terrible procession of terrorist attacks.



"Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010" | 1 comment | Search Discussion
The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.

by Rick on Mon Dec 12, 2011 11:52 am
A twofold feeling. On the one hand there is federal funding for the region, indicative support for what is called "bread and circuses." On the other .. for handouts region is stagnating. It does not develop fully. Russia is doing in Northern Caucasus an outskirts, which they throw sops to shut up dissatisfied. But what is a dual-purpose: I do not see initiatives of Caucasians for full development. Such a feeling that they are already accustomed to living by helping the federal government.

Best regards, RcSt
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