THE NORTHERN CAUCASUS:
FACTORS OF CONFRONTATION AND PROSPECTS FOR STABILITY

Larissa Khoperskaia


Larissa KHOPERSKAIA, D.Sc. (Political Sciences), professor, Rostov University (Russian Federation).


Political processes in the Northern Caucasus in the period 1999–2000 point to a deepening crisis of Russian statehood in the region. The main indications of this are new (political, legal and organizational) forms of conflict between the federal centre and North Caucasian subjects of the Federation, the growing number of participants in the Chechen confrontation, and the struggle between ethnic-based political groups for influence in the region.

Regions–centre confrontation

The most acute political problems, resulting in contradictions between the federal centre and the national republics of the Northern Caucasus, are today closely related to the events in Chechnya. Representatives of ethnic elites are pressing for a political solution—not one based on the use of force—namely, through a referendum on Chechnya’s political status (see, for example, the Ingush newspaper Serdalo of 18 March 2000). Yet certain conditions are to be met to make sure that it is held in a normal environment: ensuring the return of displaced people to their homes as well as security, stability and basic living standards in Chechnya. Only after this has been done can a referendum go ahead, in the course of which residents will state their opinion on the political status of Chechnya: independence, special status as part of Russia or as a republic/Federation subject. According to Ingushetia’s President Ruslan Aushev, Chechens themselves should decide their fate and the fate of their President Aslan Maskhadov. The position taken by many international political and charity organizations—PACE, the OSCE, the Danish Council for Refugees, the German KER, the Arab Social Reforms Society, the non-governmental Peacemaking and Social Development Centre (Great Britain), and many others—does not coincide with the official Russian view of the Chechen problem. Yet they find understanding and support both among republic authorities (above all, in Ingushetia) and non-governmental national and public movements in the region. Thus, in March 2000, the Coordinating Council of Representatives of Sociopolitical Organizations and Movements of the Northern Caucasus appealed to the international community (the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the UNHCR, and so forth) to open international humanitarian assistance and human rights monitoring missions across the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Another category of political conflicts between regions and the federal centre stems from serious contradictions over the interpretation of federalization processes in the Northern Caucasus. The republics are seeking to assert an unequivocal understanding of the country’s ethnic nature as a federation of various peoples. This view is shared not only by leaders of national movements but also by state officials. Thus, M. Dzagiev, Deputy Minister for Justice of Ingushetia, wrote in the Serdalo newspaper (7 March 2000) that the Russian Federation is a federal state based on the principle of ethnicity.

The conflict between the federal centre and the North Caucasian subjects of the Russian Federation in the legislative sphere primarily arises from contradictions between federal and regional laws, which manifest themselves in, among other things, the declaration of the supremacy of national republican laws on the territory of a subject of the Federation, and suspension of Russian presidential decrees, laws and other Federal normative acts and enforceable enactments that are at odds with the sovereign rights and interests of these republics (e.g., Article 64 of the Constitution of the Republic of Dagestan). The list of such contradictions could easily be continued.

Talking about the discrepancy between federal and regional laws, it has to be said that the ongoing processes objectively compel subjects of the Russian Federation to violate outdated or inoperative or ineffectual federal norms.

In the administrative sphere, conflicts manifest themselves in that the republics establish their own national state security agencies while these matters fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Russian Federation (e.g., Security Councils in the republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Kabardino-Balkaria, Stavropol Territory, etc.). Along with republican security agencies, subjects of the Federation set up structures performing judicial functions that are not provided for under the Law on the Judicial System of the Russian Federation, and even republican bodies entrusted with constitutional oversight functions (e.g., the Constitutional Oversight Committee of the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania).

Furthermore, subjects of the Russian Federation adopt laws encroaching on the jurisdiction of federal power agencies on their territory. Thus, Paragraph 3 of Decree No. 45 by the President of Ingushetia (of 29 February 2000), On the Structure of the Executive Branch of Government in the Republic of Ingushetia, establishes that ‘executive power bodies of the Republic of Ingushetia exercising administration in spheres of joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Ingushetia may perform the functions of territorial agencies of corresponding federal executive agencies’. In addition, Ingushetia and North Ossetia–Alania officials have repeatedly called for permanent missions of the Russian president on their respective territories to be closed.

Relations between North Caucasian republics: factors of political instability

Political stability in the region is directly affected by conflicts between subjects of the Federation. The most serious contradictions exist between North Ossetia–Alania and Ingushetia, Stavropol Territory and the Chechen Republic, and Stavropol Territory and Karachaevo-Cherkessia.

The conflict between Ingushetia and the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania over the Prigorodny District is yet to be resolved. A programme of joint action by state power agencies of the Russian Federation, the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania and the Republic of Ingushetia is designed to overcome the consequences of the Ossetian–
Ingush conflict and ensure the return of refugees to their homes. Priority is given to rebuilding houses in the Prigorodny District. Attempts to settle the problem on the bilateral level (between the republics’ authorities), as a rule, yield no results—often thwarted by acts of terrorism or hostage-taking. Solutions proposed by the sides are often one-sided. The Ingush approach calls for the return of all refugees (displaced people) from North Ossetia–Alania to places of their permanent residence. From the Ossetian perspective, the sheer raising of the problem in such terms—returning all Ingush people who lived in North Ossetia before the conflict to their homes—is basically wrong and they should be helped to settle down in places where they live at present. These matters are seen in the context of social security, employment, and rebuilding or putting in place appropriate social infrastructure. The conflicting nature of a large number of proposals made on either side highlights the extreme instability of the current situation, adding to people’s concern and fears for their own security and the security and safety of their relatives.

Tension between Stavropol Territory and the Chechen Republic has been mounting ever since 1991. Numerous terrorist acts, kidnappings, and the stealing of vehicles and cattle by illegal Chechen armed formations were registered in eastern parts of Stavropol Territory, in close proximity to the Chechen border. Territory Cossacks have been repeatedly coming out with political demands: to end the growing genocide of ethnic Russians and Cossacks in and outside Chechnya; to stop prosecution of Cossacks for storing weapons acquired for self-defence; to allow historical Cossack areas to break away from Chechnya and join Stavropol Territory as the Terek region; to officially arm Terek Cossack battalions and to introduce them to the Naurskiy and Shelkovskoi districts; and should Cossacks continue to be evicted from their lands, to take adequate measures throughout Stavropol Territory. In the wake of the Russian president’s decree approving the statute of the Terek Cossack Army, the Territory’s Security Council considered the question of forming Cossack self-defence forces and arming all Cossacks living in border areas.

In 1999–2000, the conflict between the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Territory came out into the open. Relations between them are seriously aggravated by environmental security problems. In particular, the sides disagree over environmental protection of areas in and around the city of Caucasus Mineralnye Vody. The environmental protection zone around mineral water springs in Karachaevo-Cherkessia is subject to federal environmental conservation regulations. Meanwhile, in recent years regional authorities allowed forests to be cut and cattle to be grazed in the region, which is bound to pollute mineral water springs at this unique resort. Deterioration in the quality of mineral water from some Stavropol springs has already been registered.

There are also disagreements over the use of hydrosystems—in particular the Big Stavropol Canal and a network of hydraulic power systems. Furthermore, Karachaevo-Cherkessian authorities are considering plans to increase water intake from the rivers of Zelenchuk, Marukha and Aksaut (up to 50 per cent of the flow) for a network of Zelenchuk hydroelectric power plants. Local experts believe that if this plan is carried out, the Zelenchuk, Khabez and Adighe-Khabl districts will experience severe water shortages, which could disturb the ecological balance of the entire region.

Stavropol Territory was highly negative toward some provisions of the executive directive, On Additional Measures to Stabilize the Situation in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, prepared by a Russian governmental commission headed by N. Aksenenko. The intention was to turn over to Karachaevo-Cherkessia four sanitariums located in Stavropol Territory on the pretext that residents of the republic, who had become ‘foreigners’ to their neighbours following the formation of an independent Federation subject, could not get a place at any of the sanitariums. Up until now such matters were decided ‘at the working level’: Stavropol would ask its neighbours how many places they needed and typically received a standard answer to the effect that they were unable to go anyway because of the low income levels of the citizens of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The territory administration believes that this outrageous decision by the governmental commission was motivated by the selfish interests of some government officials.

Personnel appointments in the Karachaevo-Cherkessia administration give rise to concern in the Stavropol Territory administrative and political elite; the inefficiency of some newly appointed officials creates serious difficulties between them in discussing and resolving outstanding problems.

One long-term destabilizing factor is the problem of migration and the change in the ethnic mix of the population living in the region, in particular, the mass influx of migrants to the Northern Caucasus, which has become a main centre of attraction, primarily for those fleeing from ethnic conflicts. Meskhetian Turks arrived there in the wake of ethnic clashes in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan; Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the wake of the Karabakh conflict and the events in Baku; refugees from South Ossetia as a result of Ossetia–Georgia confrontation; and Ingush after the Ossetian–Ingush conflict. The migration of population in the republic is caused by the notorious events in Chechnya. Furthermore, representatives of North Caucasian peoples who have suffered from acts of repression are returning to their homes; and people are migrating for socioeconomic reasons from northern and eastern parts of Russia, the Transcaucasus and Central Asia.

In the period 1989–99, more than 2 million migrants moved to the Northern Caucasus, including 1.3 million from other regions of the Russian Federation and 0.7 million from newly independent countries. Approximately 790 000 people arrived in Krasnodar Territory, 480 000 in the Rostov Region, and 360 000 in Stavropol Territory. The flow of migration to North Caucasian republics was lower, and mainly comprised representatives of these national groups. The serious problem was posed by displaced people from Chechnya who moved to Ingushetia in 2000 (according to the Migration Service, 172 000 people were officially registered while their actual number was 234 000).

It has to be said that official statistics do not quite accurately reflect the actual situation: Many migrants live illegally and do not register with interior departments or migration services. This applies above all to migrants from the Transcaucasus.

Authorities and residents in a number of regions are concerned about the decline in the proportion of ethnic Russians. And although demographically the growing number of Caucasian peoples in traditional Russian populated areas does not threaten their absolute numerical superiority, nonetheless, this fact is widely used as an argument in substantiating the need to protect the Russian population. The outflow of ethnic Russians and representatives of other, even indigenous ethnic groups, from North Caucasian republics continues. A case in point is Chechnya. In the period 1989–99, its migration losses amounted to at least 500 000 people, virtually all of them being Russian speakers. Since 1997, there has been growing migration from Chechnya of representatives of indigenous ethnic groups, caused by aggravation of the situation and rising crime in the republic.

Migration to the North Caucasian region per se cannot be seen as a catalyst of conflict. Nonetheless, the mass influx of migrants created a number of serious socioeconomic problems. Growing real estate prices, rising competition on the labour market, falling living standards, aggravating education and public health problems, growing nationalist and separatist sentiments, rising crime and overstrained infrastructure that is not designed for such a large population are among them. All of that brought about a highly negative view of migration. Authorities are trying to regulate migration processes through enforceable enactments (local bylaws, edicts by republic presidents, government decrees, and executive orders by heads of administrations). Yet many of them come into conflict with Russian laws and regulations because, among other things, they limit to some extent constitutional rights and freedoms—in particular, the freedom of movement and freedom to choose a place of residence. Local authorities, as a rule, try to justify their decisions by citing the need to prevent open ethnic conflicts. It has to be recognized that uncontrolled migration has already substantially changed the ethnic structure of the labour and housing markets, and affected the crime situation in the region, often leading to ethnic and communal clashes.

The inflow of non-Slavic refugees combined with the absence of adequate information is often associated among the most radically minded sections of society with rising crime, gun running and conflict-related psychology based on the use of force, which provokes a backlash as local chapters of Russian National Unity and some Cossack organizations are taking a higher profile.

Thus, V. Vodolatskiy, the newly elected ataman (chieftain) of the Grand Army of the Don, in his first public move in the sphere of ethnic relations, appealed, on behalf of the Council of Atamans, to the president and prime minister of the Russian Federation and to the population of the Rostov and Volgograd regions, also sending an open letter to V. Chub, head of the Rostov regional administration (September 1999), demanding immediate introduction of a state of emergency and adoption of appropriate laws to regulate migration. In particular, the open letter says that ‘diasporas of Chechens, Avars, Meskhetian Turks, Azerbaijanis, Abkhazians, Dagestanis, non-indigenous Armenians, and other ethnic groups from the Caucasian region that are strengthening their positions in the region, behaving disrespectfully and even outrageously on our territory—with connivance of local authorities and law enforcement agencies—arouse the legitimate concern of local residents, above all, the Cossacks. In the course of incidents and conflicts with local residents, representatives of these diasporas say cynically that they have bribed all authorities and that they feel real masters of the land, thus provoking ethnic strife. The Cossacks of the Grand Army of the Don are firmly convinced that migration to the territory of the Rostov Region is not a spontaneous but an organized and regulated process.’ In response to such tough statements by the Cossacks, Rostov regional authorities adopted new rules of registration on the region’s territory, designed to tighten migration control.

Decline in the number of Russian speakers considerably weakened their integrating importance in the republics’ political and socioeconomic spheres. Slavic peoples constitute the largest ethnic group in the region. Russian plays a consolidating role as a language of interethnic communication. A part of the Russian population can be seen as indigenous residents (others being descendants of migrants in the 19th and especially the 20th century). This applies, above all, to Cossack descendants in the south of Russia. Cossack revival began in 1990. There are different approaches to defining the Cossacks: as a former estate (social class), an independent people, an ethnic group, a subethnic group of the Russian people, and so on. Historically, Cossack troops are organized on the geographic principle: the Don, the Kuban and the Terek Cossack armies. Cossacks live in the Rostov Region, in Krasnodar Territory, Stavropol Territory and in all republics of the Northern Caucasus along the Terek River. At present attempts to replace geographical division by political division are increasing. Federal authorities and subjects of the Russian Federation are seeking to place the Cossack movement under their control. Today there are at least two organizations with the same name on the historical territory of each Cossack army. The split began in the wake of the edict by the Russian president, On State Registration of Cossack Communities in the Russian Federation (9 August 1995). Officially registered Cossacks are supported by official authorities but they are banned from engaging in political activity. Cossack subdivisions that are not included in the state register and consider themselves representatives of a separate people (Cossack ethnic group), align themselves with the opposition and are in conflict with authorities and officially registered Cossack groups.

The Cossacks’ ethnic self-identification is a complex, as yet uncompleted process. But it is generally recognized that Cossacks are already making political demands based on ethnic identity. The Cossacks are pressing for political rehabilitation, including territorial rehabilitation, in accordance with the Law on Rehabilitation of Peoples That Suffered from Political Reprisals, adopted in 1991 by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation. In effect, the Cossacks demand certain privileges in property status, representation in all branches of government, and priority in employment in ‘prestigious’ spheres of activity. Furthermore, considering their geographical proximity to armed conflicts, they insist on legalization of the right to carry weapons. In particular, authorities in a Stavropol Territory district bordering Chechnya considered, under Cossack pressure, the question of arming the entire population—to be overseen by Cossack organizations. It is obvious that the arming of a large group of the population in close proximity to another armed group of the population (the Republic of Chechnya), given weak federal authority, is fraught with serious danger. A conflict between Cossacks in one region—say, Stavropol Territory—and another ethnic group (e.g., Chechens), could effectively consolidate the entire Cossack movement in the south of Russia.

Another regional problem is the spread of Wahhabism. Political instability and unemployment (mainly among young people) activated the Wahhabism factor as an instrument in addressing social and political problems, internal ethnic conflicts (Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan) and interethnic conflicts (Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia). Wahhabism is emerging as a serious ideological and organizational channel to influence the population (above all, youth). The number of its followers is steadily growing in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Ingushetia, and even in Stavropol Territory. One distinguishing feature of the current stage is the Wahhabis’ aspiration to penetrate power structures on all levels. Thus, in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Wahhabis are represented in city assemblies; in Ingushetia, an adviser to the republic president is a Wahhabi while in Stavropol Territory, seven Nogai deputies in the town of Kangly (adjacent to the city of Mineralnye Vody), who fell under Wahhabi influence, declared the town’s secession from the rural district to which it officially belongs.

One special conflict factor comprises the Chechen diasporas in neighbouring subjects of the Federation. For example, in rural areas of the Rostov Region, the first three months of 2000 saw several politically based conflicts between the indigenous population (Cossacks) and representatives of Chechen and Dagestani diasporas. Thus, an unauthorized rally was held in the Martynovskiy District and an action group was formed which collected 2000 signatures of local residents demanding that a referendum be held on the eviction of Chechens from the district. A statement by the action group, elected at the rally, says in part: ‘We cannot live together’. Locals draw a sharp line between ‘their own’ Chechens and forced migrants, being rather wary of the latter, expressing concern that even when the situation returns to normal and the republic begins a rebuilding programme, they will not want to return to their motherland. Indigenous residents stress that even temporary residence on ‘traditionally Russian territories’ shows that migrants indulge in unacceptable practices, including alcohol abuse and disrespect for Russian women. The shrinking of the agricultural sector seriously aggravates the employment problem not only for Chechens but also for the indigenous population in the district. In this situation, employment of migrants at the expense of local residents is seen as discrimination, leading to ethnic conflicts. The absence of stable sources of income leads to theft of agricultural products, committed, according to police, by representatives of all ethnic groups, but public opinion is inclined to attribute it mostly to ‘outsiders’ (the non-indigenous population). It is also important to take into account background factors in the growth of tension: a general anti-Chechen mood provoked by the terrorist act in neighbouring Volgodonsk and current developments in Chechnya (casualties among police forces and so forth).

Tension is exacerbated also by the inefficient organization of humanitarian aid to displaced people. According to once established rules, it continues to be provided at a Red Cross mission in the city of Volgodonsk. After the outrageous terrorist act which killed a large number of civilians in a high-rise building, for understandable reasons, it is now virtually impossible for Chechens to appear in Volgodonsk. It would seem a good idea to move the Red Cross mission in charge of humanitarian assistance to another place—closer to areas populated by Chechens.

Political stability in the region is widely linked to a strengthening of authoritarian trends (the presidency and regional administrations) and state regulation of political, market, ethnic and communal relations. Ingushetia is a pioneer in promoting authoritarian institutions on the legislative level. In 1999, the republic’s president signed a law (approved by parliament), On the Congress of the People of Ingushetia, whereby the Congress of the People of Ingushetia is the supreme representative body in the republic—comprised of the president (chairman of the Congress); deputies of the People’s Assembly; representatives of public associations, religious confessions and artistic unions; and people’s deputies delegated on a residential basis.

The Congress’s powers include ‘appraisal of problems related to the administrative border of the Republic of Ingushetia; consideration—jointly with the People’s Assembly—of addresses and messages from the president to the people of Ingushetia; election of three republican presidential candidates from among persons who have nominated themselves for the presidency; other matters related to the ethnic and historical specifics of the Republic of Ingushetia—as proposed by the president of the Republic of Ingushetia’. Thus, observers note, the adoption of the Law on the Congress of the People of Ingushetia will result in effective abolition of the principle of separation of powers.

Further organization of the vertical power structure is provided for in the Law on Local Self-Government. The head of administration—head of an executive local self-government body—is the head of the municipality in the Republic of Ingushetia. He is appointed and dismissed by the president. A series of other laws defining the functions of state power agencies strengthens the authoritarian trend that is characteristic not only of Ingushetia but also, to varying degrees, of other subjects of the Federation in the Northern Caucasus.

Consolidation processes and alliances

Despite the serious ongoing conflicts, integration trends in the Northern Caucasus remain quite strong. By the year 2000, subjects of the Federation in the Northern Caucasus concluded about 100 treaties and agreements on cooperation and the setting up of missions on a reciprocal basis. In the socioeconomic sphere, these agreements are basically of a uniform character, designed to promote a regional market through the Association for Socioeconomic Cooperation of the Republics, Territories and the Rostov Region. At the same time the Association’s structure contains a pronounced ethnic component: its associated members include the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This approach is also visible in the formation of the Interparliamentary Union of the Republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adigey (July 1997). It is designed to strengthen and consolidate the union of the three republics to deal with common problems. Nonetheless, documents adopted by the union give priority to repatriation of Adighes to their historical motherland and promotion of horizontal links between these republics and Abkhazia, putting a special emphasis on the ‘Abkhaz issue’ in the course of its consideration at the Russian Federation Council. This bloc can increase the Cherkess–Vainakh confrontation in the struggle for political leadership in the Caucasus. At the same time, discontent among Turkic-speakers over this course of events invigorated Karachai and Balkar movements, especially during the election campaign in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Karachai and Balkar representatives are seeking a new strategy and a new line up of forces. In particular, they are talking about the republic’s pulling out of the Interparliamentary Union, and demanding that the Russian Supreme Court judge on its constitutionality within the framework of the Russian Federation.

Another focus of the struggle for leadership is the Northern Caucasus Association, headed by Rostov Governor V. Chub, which is an informal de facto recognition of Rostov-on-Don as an administrative capital of the Northern Caucasus. Rivalry over this status between the Krasnodar and Stavropol governors, known for their Communist leanings, compels them to look for political allies to consolidate their influence, which creates an additional source of conflict—on the purely political level.

Intra- and interethnic consolidation is evolving not only on the official government level but also among public organizations.

A case in point—illustrating interethnic integration on the organizational level—is the 4th Congress of the International Cherkess Association (June 1998, in Krasnodar), which discussed problems of consolidation and mechanisms of preserving the identity of the Adighe-Abkhaz people. The Council of Leaders of the World Assembly of Turkic Peoples devoted its session in Karachaevo-Cherkessia in September 1998 to the promotion of economic, cultural and sociopolitical relations of the ethnic group with other ethnic groups as well as the possibility of opening in the city of Cherkessk a North Caucasian mission of the Assembly of Turkic Peoples to coordinate the integration of North Caucasian Turks. Each political bloc seeks to reach an agreement with the Cossacks, which does little to improve the Cossacks’ standing as a whole, only increasing the outflow of Russian speakers from respective areas. In these conditions, Russian National Unity has been taking a higher profile, in a bid to head up the Russian national movement and to win over Cossacks in the south of Russia as well as Slavic public movements.

Crisis in Karachaevo-Cherkessia

Yet another regional threat is the danger of the spread of the Karachaevo-Cherkess conflict to Federation subjects that have Turkic and Adighe-Abkhaz ethnic groups (diasporas). Political elites in North Caucasian republics, political parties in Russia, and individual politicians and entrepreneurs are pursuing their own political, geopolitical, economic and corporate agendas. Interregional ethnic public movements have already declared their support for one side or the other in the conflict. If an armed conflict breaks out in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, it could have more far-reaching implications than the Chechen crisis as representatives of ethnic groups not only of the national republics but also of Stavropol and Krasnodar territories and the Rostov Region will get involved in it.

The 1999 election of the republic’s head seriously destabilized the situation in the republic, posing a threat of an open armed confrontation between the conflicting parties. The conflict stemmed from the struggle for the top administrative post in Karachaevo-Cherkessia which not only the administrative, political and economic elite but also the population at large associate with full control over the distribution of powers and property—that is to say, with the possibility of gaining (or preserving) some privileges in ethnic/social status.

The main indicator of the crisis was the political struggle between two ethnic groups—the Karachais and the Cherkess. The former was led by V. Semenov, a Karachai and former commander-in-chief of the Russian ground forces, and the latter, by S. Derev, mayor of the town of Cherkessk. Two public organizations—the Alan Interregional Karachai Association (President A. Katchiev) and the International Cherkess Association (President B. Akbashev)—were actively involved in the election struggles, contributing to the spread of the conflict.

The ethnically based split spread to the republic’s parliament, government, electoral commission and supreme court. In the course of the election campaign and after the voting (up until a special federal commission was created in October 1999), confrontation between the parties was mounting: importantly, passions were stirred up exclusively over the candidates’ ethnic backgrounds, not their political platforms or their personal and business qualities.

High electoral activism by the main ethnic groups led to a rapid rise in protests organized in the wake of the election and transformed into serious confrontation that could easily develop into an open ethnic conflict.

After the election, sociopolitical organizations of Russian speakers took a passive line, failing to reach a consensus, and formed political alliances with conflicting parties. Furthermore, the involvement of Don Cossacks (Ataman N. Kozitsyn) on the Cherkess side and Kuban Cossacks (Ataman Iu. Antonov) on the Karachai side (both structures being in opposition to official Cossack movements), not only deepened the split among the Russian speakers within the republic but also bred some highly negative stereotypes with respect to Cossacks as a whole.

Political confrontation was actively joined by representatives of local authorities—
heads of municipalities and deputies of local self-government agencies. An emergency session of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Association of Municipalities heard calls for ‘a tough regulation policy’, adopting an appeal to the Russian and Karachaevo-Cherkessia justice ministries to judge on the constitutionality of the Adgylar and Adighe-Khase sociopolitical movements as well as of the International Cherkess Association, and to ban their activity in the republic. Speakers at the session expressed discontent with the radicalism of the ‘Akbashev group’ and concern about the unity of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia, accusing the interim administration and law enforcement agencies of inaction and demanding that the court make a ‘correct decision’ at once.

Representatives of the other party to the conflict convened a United Congress of deputies on all levels and representatives of ethnic public and political movements: Cossacks, Russians, Cherkess, Abazin and other peoples living in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The congress resolution stated that separate ethnic groups could not live together in the republic, declaring its firm intention (in conformity with the will of the people) to restore their autonomy, abolished back in 1957. The congress appealed to the Russian president and government to render assistance in putting in place a normative/legal base to restore their autonomy in line with the existing federal law and international norms on the right of nations to self-determination.

The Karachaevo-Cherkessia Supreme Court upheld V. Semenov’s victory in the election. S. Derev challenged its decision at the Russian Supreme Court. A series of negotiations followed with the participation of the Russian head of government and the Russian presidential chief of staff. Yet even on that level the parties failed to come to an agreement. Each party pressed its own demands: the Karachais wanted V. Semenov to assume office as soon as possible while the Cherkess wanted the formation of an independent administrative entity as part of the Russian Federation. Before the Russian Supreme Court passed judgement, V. Semenov was inaugurated as head of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (14 September 1999). Then, a regularly scheduled session of the United Congress (16 September 1999) adopted a resolution confirming S. Derev as head of the Cherkess Autonomous Region as part of Stavropol Territory, entrusting him with forming a government and transferring legislative powers, for the transition period, to the Congress and its executive committee.

It is important to note that on the federal level there was no legal base for dividing the republic. Furthermore, such a decision could have set a dangerous precedent and soon other Federation subjects could have followed suit. Territorial claims could have provoked open ethnic clashes.

So, the conflict came to a head while the decisions of either party to the conflict were impossible to carry out. The parties took uncompromising positions. In particular, the Karachai only recognized one solution—namely, that V. Semenov remain head of the republic while the Cherkess insisted that it was impossible for the two ethnic groups to live together. Russian speakers divided, with their leaders siding with conflicting blocs. Both parties had sufficient resources to organize mass disturbances with the use of firearms. Each of them was well structured and well organized, having a ‘political leadership’, headquarters, and mobile action groups provided with arms and means of communication. Leaders of ethnic movements should be given their due for preventing those forces from open confrontation. Yet in the event of a new aggravation of the situation (a conflict on the basis of everyday communication, an act of provocation, undesirable cadre appointments, some publications in the mass media, nationalist statements, and so forth), the likelihood of an open armed conflict was very high. The situation remained under the control of federal power structures but was on the verge of getting out of hand.

The complex socioeconomic and internal political situation provoked a rise in crime. The situation was aggravated by the use of criminal groups to intimidate ‘intractable’ representatives of ethnic elites, and turf wars among criminal groups, also organized on ethnic principles.

The results of elections in Karachaevo-Cherkessia not only stirred up strong interest among the political elite of the whole of the Northern Caucasus and other subjects of the Russian Federation but also affected the line-up of forces in the region, drawing the attention of ethnic elites in Abkhazia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Adigey, Chechnya and some of the Cossacks in the Rostov Region and Stavropol and Krasnodar territories.

On the whole, the division of the electorate on ethnic lines, institutionalization of the conflict, and the rapid growth of the protest movement within the conflicting parties pointed to the absence on the local level of effective consolidating mechanisms and resources capable of stabilizing the situation, which required adequate steps on the federal level (legislative, political, organizational, military, and so forth).

On 22 October 1999, the Russian Supreme Court again upheld the results of the election in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The Cherkess party came out with yet another statement about the need to restore the Cherkess autonomy. It was only thanks to mediation by the Russian head of government that a compromise in the long-standing confrontation was reached.

Yet, even the ‘truce’ did not put an end to the conflict. In the Russian State Duma elections, many observers pointed out that the electorate took a pragmatic view and backed a ‘surprise candidate’—B. Berezovskiy, a well known political figure and businessman. He garnered more than 45 per cent of the vote.

At the same time as the State Duma elections, an election was held for the Karachaevo-Cherkessia People’s Assembly. The ethnic breakdown of the deputies is as follows: Karachais, 31; Russians, 25; Cherkess, 7; Abazin, 3; Nogai, 3; and Greeks, 1. Fifteen members of the previous parliament were also elected. Then—with the participation of the Federal Commission on the Sociopolitical Settlement in Karachaevo-Cherkessia—agreement was reached on the ‘dividing up of posts’ in the republic. The parliament speaker was a Russian, while the head of government was a Cherkess (S Derev). True, for this to happen, the Russian, V. Neshchadimov, already appointed by V. Semenov, had to step down.

Yet, the first session of the new Karachaevo-Cherkessia People’s Assembly (on 6 January, 2000)—contrary to recommendations by the Federal commission—elected B. Suiunov, a Nogai, as speaker (with 44 votes). B. Berezovskiy issued a statement to the effect that either the Moscow-brokered agreement would have to be revisited or a new solution found. In response to that statement, a signature-raising campaign began in the republic to recall B. Berezovskiy from the State Duma.

The split between ethnic groups was compounded by an internal ethnic stand-off. Some of the Russian speakers, who were deprived of representation on the official level, sided with the Cherkess. In the wake of the election, the Alan Karachai movement also divided, and there are now two persons claiming chairmanship of Alan: A. Katchiev and S. Semenov (a relative of the head of the republic).

The present leader is trying to use tough measures to influence the situation. In particular, a statement, On the Sociopolitical Situation in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, made by public organizations under his control (on 25 March 2000), contains some points that are clearly not conducive to settling the conflict: ‘Derev and his inner circle are continuing their hostile activities in the republic’ while the ‘ideologues and masterminds behind the movement are carrying on their intrigues against the peoples living in the republic, acting with total impunity’ as ‘actions by these separatists are supported by some highly placed federal officials, including B. Berezovskiy’.

V. Semenov initiated a number of laws and regulations effectively blocking opposition activity. These include the law, On the Status of Karachaevo-Cherkessia Capital and an amendment to the law on the Karachaevo-Cherkessia government whereby it is virtually impossible to reject a candidate proposed by the head of the republic. On 14 March, Temporary Regulations on the Procedure for Notification of Executive Agencies and Local Self-Governing Bodies in Karachaevo-Cherkessia concerning Marches, Processions, Demonstrations, and Pickets in the Republic’s Streets, Squares, and Other Public Places were adopted. Under the new regulations, notification is to be served 10 to 15 days prior to an event, in writing, with an abstract of the protocol of an organization sponsoring the event. Permission may not be granted if ‘the event is in conflict with the Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms or generally accepted norms of morality or if it coincides in form, time, venue, but not in direction and purposes with another public event, notification of which was served earlier or simultaneously. Refusal may be appealed in a court of law. An executive agency makes a decision, informing state power bodies concerned about it.’ This, in effect, introduces an authorization procedure for public events conducted by the opposition.

In addition, a Council for Economic and Public Security of Karachaevo-Cherkessia was formed, its functions including oversight and appraisal of performance by state power agencies (above all, power structures subject to the federal centre: the Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, and other ministries and departments).

Obviously, such ‘suppression’ methods will do little to resolve the conflict or reduce the level of political instability.

* * *

To sum up, there are a number of destabilizing factors in the Northern Caucasus.

First, relations between subjects of the Federation and the federal centre (considerably weakened federal state organizations tend to supersede regional authorities which build up their own statehood by using mechanisms of authoritarianism and playing up their sovereignty rights). It is critical to ensure effective two-way progress toward legal reform of federal relations.

Second, it is important to ensure political coordination and harmonization between subjects of the Federation (Ossetian-Ingush confrontation, Chechen-Stavropol contradictions, and so forth) in the economic sphere and in environmental and migration policy.

Third, the situation in Karachaevo-Cherkessia has shown the futility of attempts to resolve ethnic conflicts with ‘local resources’. The regulation of ethnic relations in a multi-ethnic republic by peaceful means is only possible with an active presence of the federal centre, including the resolution of political and legal problems that brought about a particular conflict, and continuous negotiations between the lawful parties involved, within the legal framework of the Russian Federation.


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