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Analysis & Opinion
18.11.09 Understanding Insurgency
Comment by Sergei Markedonov

On November 11 President Dmitry Medvedev made his annual State of the Nation Address to the Federation Council. But if a year ago, the head of the Russian state focused on the challenges of foreign policy, this year the central theme of his speech was internal politics. Medvedev attempted to answer the question of what’s to be done to make Russia into a modern state that is not aiming to preserve and execute its old potential, but to achieve new tasks. Part of the president’s answer was dedicated to analyzing the situation in the Caucasus.

In his first annual address, Medvedev viewed the “five day war” in the Southern Caucasus as a challenge to European security and as grounds for its systematic modernization. In November of 2009, Medvedev assessed the status quo in the Northern Caucasus as “the most serious internal political problem in our country,” a conclusion that logically follows from his previous addresses and speeches. In June of this year, following the murder of Dagestan’s Interior Minister Adylgirey Magomedtagirov in Makhachkala, there was an emergency meeting of the Security Council where Medvedev formulated his vision of the problems of the North Caucasus for the first time. It was then that he named the three main “systemic reasons” for instability in the region: corruption, unemployment and poverty.

These ideas were then refined and further developed in the course of the president’s many speeches, addresses and meetings, and a preliminary summary of his observations was presented in his “Go Russia!” article published in September. “Terrorist attacks against Russia keep taking place…Certainly, these crimes are committed with the support of international criminal groups. But let’s admit the fact that the situation would not have been so acute if the socio-economic development of Russia’s south yielded some real results,” he wrote.

Thus, for the first time in the past few years, the Russian head of state has acknowledged the fact that the main source of instability in the Russian Caucasus lies not outside, but within our own country. The president himself views his second annual address as the logical continuation of his article, and the above-quoted thesis received an extensive explanation in his address.

Although I won’t list the president’s main points regarding the Caucasus here, it is important to examine the main ideas and conclusions that the president voiced, especially since in his article he called all interested parties, including his opponents, to a meaningful dialogue.

Let’s start with the president’s identification of Russia’s main enemies in the North Caucasus. He calls them “bandits,” but is this definition rational? Doesn’t it look a bit oversimplified? Doesn’t this definition belittle the Russian state’s current battle against the terrorist threat? By this token, we can logically derive the conclusion that our country has been unable to overcome simple organized crime for 18 years, which is not the case. Yet the text of Medvedev’s speech does not point out whose hand is throwing explosives at our policemen, soldiers, and ordinary Ingush, Chechen, Avar and Russian citizens. Who is morally and ideologically justifying these assassinations? Possibly it would have made sense to name these ill-wishers in an honest address to your fellow citizens, so that we could be armed with knowledge and prepared for the tough struggle against this threat.

If society is headed for modernization (and this is the main point of Medvedev’s message), then we should be prepared to understand not only the contemporary economic realities, but also the threat of terrorism, who is behind it, what these people’s goals are, their morals and their Achilles’ heels. Unlike the populist and anarchic terror of past centuries, contemporary terrorism is not aimed at the state as much as at suppressing society’s will to resist. And thus there is no way to resolve the acute problems of the North Caucasus without a dialogue with society and without making the right diagnosis. But for this we have to acknowledge the fact that the enemy is not a simple bandit, but a politically-motivated opponent (a nationalist or a religious extremist), who cannot be overcome by deploying more military contingents to the region. It is necessary to counter him with your own values and moral imperative, which cannot be done without establishing “soft power” (a system of secular education, a united informational space, a network of a civil society, non-governmental institutions) that is nearly non-existent today.

The president talks justly and extensively about corruption and cronyism. Sometimes you wish to stand by his every word. But at the same time it is impossible to ignore the fact that in his message, this corruption is not connected to the all-Russian “administrative market.” The Caucuses is perceived as an isolated region, a sort of an ethnographic reserve. But without some patrons in the federal government, many corrupt regional officials would not have been so strong and free in their actions. Therefore, strengthening security in the Caucasus is impossible without combating corruption on the national level.

The president’s message also centered on military officials and the “siloviki” in general. There is no arguing that these people should feel supported by the state. But we mustn’t go to another extreme: today, the Caucasus is synonymous with the words terrorist, Islamist, militant, radical and nationalist. But not everything is black and white in the region. Experts estimate that only about five percent of the regional population has extremist sentiments, so the government should look for allies not just in the administrative and military milieu, but also among responsible and pro-Russian citizens living in Dagestan and Ingushetia, in North Ossetia and Chechnya.

The president’s initiative to introduce a special post for someone “responsible for the Caucasus” into the Russian bureaucratic system attracted the attention of experts and politicians. However, at present this idea breeds more questions than answers. What structure will the “Caucasus boss” be part of? What will be the scope of his responsibilities and his ability to make his feelings known to the head of state? And, most importantly, what’s to be done with the establishment of the Southern Federal Region and the Ministry of Regional Development, which have their own “Caucasus bosses,” and who will take to personally resolving such a touchy issue? It’s no secret that that the “Caucasus boss” Dmitry Kozak is one thing, and Ramzan Kadyrov quite another. But the essential thing is understanding that the “most complex internal political problem” cannot be resolved by one, even the most talented, person.

As Medvedev himself correctly noted, the problems in the Caucasus have a “systemic character,” and they must be resolved systematically - not at emergency meetings or ministerial panels held after one terrorist act or another. And thus it would be much more useful if instead of looking for “the perfect boss,” the Russian authorities sought to boost the quality of the management and political decisions in the Caucasus while preferring preventative measures and profound analysis over emotions and simplified propaganda.
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