By German Sadulayev, special to Prague Watchdog
Russia is greeting the New Year in a state of depression. The real standard of living is falling, unemployment is rising, there is a massive budget deficit, manufacturing output is exhausted, the country has neither the means nor the energy to modernize, nanotechnology and other intricate projects have failed, society is split and stratified and unwilling to gather its forces in one single "army". If no drastic measures are taken, 2012 will be a year of disaster for Russia. In order to save the country we will have to reduce our "non-core" aspirations, to abandon our ambitions.
I think that Russia needs to leave the Caucasus. There needs to be a public admission that the integration of the Caucasus with Russia has failed. In tsarist times, Russia held onto the Caucasus by three methods: diplomacy, bayonets, and Russian immigrants. In addition, Russia had the idea of empire, the "Third Rome", which involved Christian education and a civilizing mission, and brought its own benefits to the smaller nations that belonged to it. The Soviet Union can be called an "empire" only figuratively. The USSR was a grand historical project aimed at creating a global workers’ state, with the subsequent demise of the state and a transition to Communism. In the national question, the official ideology combined the principles of political unity and cultural diversity. Socialist internationalism was a second chance to achieve the integration of the Caucasus. To some extent, this project was a success. However, the USSR has ceased to exist. In the absence of the unifying concept of socialism, even Christian Georgia and Armenia are neither able nor willing to live in harmony with the new capitalist Russia. Modern Russia has no general civilizing idea, no basis that might help it to keep territories that are ethnically and culturally different together within a single state. Where the USSR had a plan to build a society of equality and fairness, the new Russia has condemned Communism. Where the United States and other Western democracies are based on the rule of law and civil society, our New Russia has announced that Western democracy does not suit us, that we have a special path of our own. And while that is perfectly possible, it does not necessarily apply to Ukraine, Georgia or Ingushetia, for the simple reason that the path is special, unique, and Russian.
Russia is spending too much effort trying to hang onto the Caucasus and not succeeding. In Transcaucasia there is neither peace nor harmony. De facto, Russia's North Caucasus has become a set of territories. each of which has a special status: Chechnya is a state within a state, Ingushetia – a hot spot, Dagestan – a mass of contradictions, and so on. Nothing seems to work, and Russia’s strength is running out. In such a situation, a good manager needs to make a decision to change his priorities. After the breakup of the USSR, Russia (if Russia is considered as the USSR’s successor) lost all of Eastern Europe, the Baltics, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. That was a defeat, but it was not a collapse. Now there is reason to suppose to think that the separation of the former republics and protectorates was not only inevitable but also desirable, like the process of reorganization in a bankruptcy case. Otherwise, Russia might have torn itself apart. Russia will be able to survive the separation of the North Caucasus without any prejudice to its status as a world power. Moreover, such a separation would not necessarily mean a complete loss of influence. In the Caucasus the interests of various global actors – Europe, United States, the Islamic world – collide. By playing on these contradictions Russia might be able to maintain a presence in the region. As in the former British Empire, a division of diplomats would be able to do the job better and at lower cost than an army, thus avoiding war and bloodshed.
But there is a territory whose loss would present a far greater danger to Russia than a withdrawal from the Caucasus – that of the geopolitically different Far East and Siberia. It would not be surprising to learn that China and Japan have already signed a secret agreement on the division of spheres of influence in eastern Russia. There will be no maneuvering, no room for diplomacy. Should Russia show weakness, it will lose most of its land to the east of the Urals, which will fall into the hands of the Chinese and Japanese, and this would bring about a complete collapse. Without Siberia and the Far East, Russia really would become a Third World state. These sparsely populated but vast and resource-rich expanses represent the most important part of Russia’s inheritance, its capital and its potential for development. They are its hope for the future for Russia. Without the Caucasus, Russia will remain Russia, but without Siberia and the Far East it could change its name to "The Moscow Federation of the Central Russian Upland”. And the process of disintegration would not stop there. If Russia were to lose the resources of its Eastern territories, neither the Bashkirs not the Tatars nor the Buryats would see much sense in remaining within such a small, weak Russian principality.
If Russia is unable to keep all its territory and influence in all the regions along the perimeter of its borders, it should concentrate its forces on the main, vitally important area – the East. If Russia had an administration that was intelligent and patriotic, it would have done just that. But we see quite the opposite. Russia continues to deplete its last resources in an attempt to hold onto the Caucasus: it carries out endless "mop-ups" in Ingushetia and Dagestan, enables the despotism of the regime in the Chechen Republic, supports the self-declared republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in defiance of the international community, and so on. But it is giving up the Far East! A large piece of territory has been transferred to China, Russia inclines towards giving back the Kurile Islands to Japan (the official line is that Russia is ready to "make compromises" in this territorial dispute with the Land of the Rising Sun), Siberian deposits are being conceded to Chinese capital, and a temporary "lease" is preparing the ground for a change in the jurisdiction. It seems that despite all the slogans, Russia's current government is not patriotic and not even efficient, guided more by ambition than by the interests of its own country.
The total destruction of Russia will only bring problems and troubles to the world community, and especially to Russia’s neighbours, because a disaster of this magnitude always entails armed conflict, humanitarian disasters, refugees, poverty, hunger, death and the tragic fate of ordinary people. Russia would do better to take care of its eastern regions, e, to prevent chaos and catastrophe, to save itself and the world – and to let the Caucasus look after its own destiny. The “freedom” of the North Caucasus from Russia is a perfectly real historical perspective. It is quite probable that our homeland will acquire a different political configuration. But what will it be?
The people of the Caucasus, and especially Russia's North Caucasus, need to think long and hard about the possible future alternatives to government by Russia. Our future development should be discussed, we must think and choose, and not simply take what is offered to us. “The worse, the better” is a slogan that is familiar to us. It was the slogan of the Bolsheviks and Bolshevism. What it really means is that the worse things are for the country and the people, the better they are for the party that seeks to seize power. Contemporary Russian nationalists – the National Bolsheviks – like to say that they have no ideology, that they need no ideology in order to live their homeland, and that they have no political program but that when they take power they will do the right things. This is all too similar to the theses and statements of the supporters of the Caucasus Emirate who say that their ideology is the Koran and the Sunna, that they have no program, but that what matters is to crush the apostates and infidels. That way Sharia law will be established in natural fashion – the good people will be treated well but the bad people will be treated badly. And, given the Emirate’s predilection for violent methods, the assumption is that all the good people will get together and kill all the bad people. Thus we will end up with a form of Islamic "Bolshevism" – the Communist idea with the addition of God. There are those who believe we have had enough of such experiments.
The Caucasus Emirate persistently presents itself not as a narrow religious and partisan network organization, but as a fully-fledged political project. Therefore we need to know: what is that project? A future article will endeavour to find out.
(Translation by DM)
© 2010 Prague Watchdog (see Reprint info).