Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev, a Caucasian Knot correspondent who wrote about massive human rights violations, was murdered in Makhachkala, the capital city of Dagestan. Two policemen were killed in an armed clash with militants in Chechnya. Three others came under fire in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, two of them died and one was wounded. The above is news of just a couple of weeks in late June and early July, and these weeks were not unusual. The North Caucasus is a territory where abductions, subversive acts, and assassinations of police and local administrators have long become routine.

After two atrocious wars in Chechnya, the Chechen militant secessionism has been defeated, but violence and armed attacks have since spilled over to the adjacent territories, Dagestan being the most explosive of all. There is no obvious, identifiable cause for the ongoing fighting. Radical Islam is but one, if the most dangerous, but there are also ethnic tensions, clannish feud, high unemployment (several times higher than the average Russian level), and egregious corruption aggravating the common crime situation, to mention some of the factors. The North Caucasus has become the scene of a vicious circle of militants’ violence and police retaliation.

The North Caucasus problem is all but insurmountable. If there is any solution, it would call for a long-term, consistent strategy aimed at gradual normalization, so at least future generations in this region would have access to other choices aside from joining the militants or engaging in criminal activities. But Russia’s system of manual management, pervasive corruption, and inefficiency precludes strategic thinking. Instead, the Kremlin’s policy in the North Caucasus draws on Moscow-installed leaders and occasional anti-terrorist operations. The Russian government allocates funds to these territories and turns a blind eye on embezzlement, corruption, and brutal ways of local leaders.

Two more factors make things even more hopeless. One is that people in Russia commonly do not regard “those from the Caucasus” as their fellow countrymen. They are generally seen as culturally alien at best, or worse—as suspicious, dangerous, and unwanted in Russia.

The other factor is of Putin’s own making. The decision to host the Olympics in Sochi, not too far from the North Caucasus territories, imposes an artificial deadline to the problem. Putin urgently needs to keep the North Caucasus region secure and reasonably quiet in the short term—during the period leading to the Sochi Winter Games and throughout the actual Games. This makes the Kremlin even more dependent on those who are expected to contain violence within their territories, so it would not put the Games at risk. The most powerful among those men is Ramzan Kadyrov—the ruthless leader of Chechnya known for his region’s abominable human rights record and for his rivals and adversaries getting mysteriously assassinated in Chechnya, Moscow, and even beyond Russia’s borders.

The Kremlin will do its utmost to ensure that the Olympic Games in Sochi be successful and secure. And let us wish the Russian leadership every bit of good luck in this endeavor. But after the Games are over and there is no longer a “deadline” to meet, Russia’s government will inevitably pay less attention to the North Caucasus and will likely cut down the funds allocated to this region. Meanwhile, the problems of the North Caucasus will aggravate even further.

  • Maria Lipman