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In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

The North Caucasus in 2009: A Bleak Forecast, CU Issue 19, January 26, 2009

Any analysis of the North Caucasus inevitably becomes a grim list of bombings, murders, and shootings. A discussion of 2009 so far is no exception. On January 18, two ex-police officers were gunned down in Ingushetia and a military officer was killed in Dagestan. Four days earlier, a member of parliament in Karachai-Circassia republic was murdered. On January 13, an explosion blew up the regional bailiff’s offices in Ingushetia, with terrorism suspected as a cause. Perhaps even more disturbingly, January saw the murder of two vocal opponents of the Chechen authorities. On January 19 Stanislav Markelov, a noted human-rights lawyer whose clients included several victims of government human-rights abuses, was gunned down in Moscow.  One of those clients was shot dead just four days previously, in Budapest. Umar Israilov had been outspoken in his criticism of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, claiming that Kadyrov had personally tortured him after arresting him as an insurgent.

Against this dark backdrop Russian President Dimitri Medvedev visited Ingushetia on January 20 for a brief – 90 minutes, to be exact – visit. The trip was apparently intended to do two things – check up on the progress of the recently appointed Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and to promise the republic’s leader the firm support of the federal centre – support worth $877.8 million.           The money is intended to improve Ingushetia’s dire economic and social problems, reducing the 57% unemployment rate and thus drawing the sting from the republic’s insurgency. It will also probably be used to improve the inefficient local security forces.

The money will be delivered over the next years, but as a single sum the money is equivalent to three years of Ingushetia’s state budget. Whether or not all of it goes to its intended source is another matter. In a region notorious for corruption, the opportunities for embezzling such a huge inflow of capital are clear. Not that President Yevkurov himself is likely to divert money into his own pocket. A decorated war hero and a notoriously tough character, shortly after his appointment in October 2008 he spoke out against corruption in the local elite and ‘cowardice’ in the police force. But stamping out corruption, and delivering economic progress, will be an uphill struggle. Even if President Yevkurov succeeds, this alone will not solve Ingushetia’s problems whilst the broader troubles of the region remain.

Quelling the Islamist insurgency in one republic does not solve the problem, but simply shifts it. As violence in Chechnya decreased after 2005, so it rose in Ingushetia (and to a lesser extent Dagestan), which indicates the regional nature of the movement, expressed most clearly in calls for a united ‘Caucasus Emirate’ and in inter-republic co-operation during ambushes and raids. Furthermore, the inter-linked nature of the region’s economy means that building a prosperous economic climate in one republic is of limited use without addressing the corruption and structural economic problems in neighbouring republics.

In other words, the financial bounty being lavished on Ingushetia, and President Yevkurov’s zeal for good governance, will be of limited use without a much wider, more intensive program of investment and reform, as well as a concerted effort to deal with the insurgency throughout the North Caucasus and a commitment to human rights that neither Moscow nor the republics themselves demonstrate. Nor can it solve the territorial disputes between Ingushetia and its neighbours, Chechnya and North Ossetia. In the case of the former, the two republics are at odds over the delimitation of their formal border. In the case of the latter, both regions are still dealing with the brief Ingush-Ossetian conflict of 1992, in which ethnic Ingush were forced from their homes in the Prigorodny district in North Ossetia, leading to the deaths of 600 civilians: thousands are still displaced within Ingushetia itself. A recent rise in insurgent attacks in North Ossetia has been blamed on Ingush forces determined to reclaim the Prigorodny district. President Yevkurov will have to find a solution which is acceptable to his Ingush constituents without risking a new confrontation, especially since administrative borders within each republic have to be finally drawn up by the end of 2009 – if Yevkurov divides up his republic without making any claims on Prigorodny, he will provoke the murky nexus between Ingush nationalists and Islamist insurgents. The federal centre will probably have to hold the ring between competing political forces, a job it has not done particularly well in the past.

Some commentators have stressed, in the context of the August war between Russia and Georgia, that a deterioration of security in the North Caucasus could spill over into the South Caucasus, or vice versa, and that the war has precipitated a major decline in the security of the North Caucasus. Beyond the obvious fact that Moscow’s recognition of ‘independence’ for Abkhazia and South Ossetia has emboldened the arguments of separatists in the North Caucasus, this is disputable. Indeed, what is striking is how littlethe geopolitical earthquake in Georgia affected the dynamics of the North Caucasian insurgency. The region has continued its gradual collapse into violence, regardless of events south of the Caucasus mountains. It is, furthermore, unlikely that the situation in Ingushetia or Dagestan will ever reach a point comparable to the Chechen wars of the 1990s. The federal government is, financial and social problems notwithstanding, far stronger than it was then. The money promised to Ingushetia will not solve its urgent problems, but it will function as a sticking plaster to patch them up and keep the republic stumbling along.

But whilst the North Caucasus may not dissolve into anarchy, the future is nonetheless bleak. The slide into violence will be accompanied by a descent into authoritarianism and further abuse of human rights by the security forces. A ‘tough approach’ by President Yevkurov is unlikely to change this pattern, even if it addresses corruption and greed amongst local officials. As the country’s economic situation worsens, the federal subsidies which prop up the North Caucasian republics will become less and less effective, whilst xenophobia against Caucasian immigrants in the rest of Russia will cause remittances to drop and lead to further unemployment as migrant workers return home. For all President Yevkurov’s good intentions, the North Caucasus is in for another bad year.

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