Boris Nemtsov has an aggressive piece running in the Wall Street Journal today criticizing the Russian government’s handling of the escalating violence in the North Caucasus. Agree with him or not, he is pointing at a very important problem which has the potential to become much larger.
One of the biggest myths perpetrated by Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine is that during his 10-year rule over Russia, the former president and current prime minister succeeded in “pacifying” the North Caucasus. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we are witnessing today is the start of the third Caucasus war in 15 years, following the two Chechen wars of 1994 and 1999. (…)
Another important reason for the Kremlin’s Caucasus failure is the elimination of democratic procedures. “Elections” in which Mr. Putin and his party receive 100% of the vote on a 100% turnout in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan are a throwback to Soviet times. They have left citizens without any real influence over their governments. The Kremlin’s stubborn insistence on retaining former KGB Gen. Murat Zyazikov as president of Ingushetia despite overwhelming local opposition has no doubt greatly contributed to the recent upsurge in violence in that region.
Finally, Russia’s recognition of theindependence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (cheered on by separatistsin the North Caucasus) after last year’s Georgian war could come backto haunt Moscow. With this action, Mr. Putin and his successor in theKremlin, Dmitry Medvedev, signaled that threats and blackmail can go along way in achieving the separatists’ goals. If and when the federalgovernment, crippled by the economic crisis, stops its generous flow ofmoney to the corrupt North Caucasus elites, Chechnya, Ingushetia andother republics of the Russian Caucasus may be tempted to follow thepath of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The main lesson of recent tragedies issurely that cynicism, brutality and propaganda will not solve the veryreal political, economic and security problems of the North Caucasus.These problems can only be solved with honest policies based on therule of law, democracy and respect for the rights of citizens.