There isn’t too much to add by way of news on the militant attack in Nachlik, the provincial capital of Kabardino-Balkariya republic. Other obligations kept me from writing about it as things were unfolding. I can, however, point readers to a few places that give links to news stories as well as some analysis. Andy from Siberianlight.net has a good rundown of events as well as his take on the incident here and here. My friend and colleague Dave a.k.a. “Johnnie B. Baker” also has some thoughts on the subject. For up to date news on the incident I highly recommend periodic checks of the Interfax News Agency. Finally, as always David Johnson’s Russia list is an invaluable place for a collection of latest news and analysis.
In fact, there are a few articles worth commenting from today’s JRL #9267. The first is from The Economist on the expansion of the conflict into neighboring regions. The article points out the obvious—the conflict is and has been spreading for a while now, threatening to engulf the entire North Caucasus region. However, I think the article makes an excellent point in this passage:
“Mr. Putin runs the risk that more and more of the north Caucasus may slip into lawlessness and out of Moscow’s sphere of influence. This and signs of discontent in other of Russia’s far-flung regions will heighten fears that Russia may disintegrate just as the Soviet Union did. Soon after the tragedy in Beslan, Mr. Putin attempted to reassert a measure of control. He sent Dmitry Kozak, a trusted aide, to be his representative in the region and to foster economic development. And he announced that regional governors would be appointed by him, rather than through direct elections, in an attempt to wrest back powers ceded by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Given the corruption and unfitness of many of the elected governors, it seemed a reasonable move, though his dubious choices of replacements offer little by way of reassurance.”
As anyone who’s spent time in Russia knows, corruption is a systematic problem. But the corruption is facilitated by some deep structural problems in Russia’s economy. The problem stems from the fact that economic development is highly centralized in Russia. Moscow is the heart of the beast, but the blood flow of capital thins as it reaches Russia’s outer regions. Thus, for local governors and other politicians, aid from Moscow comes at a trickle. The result is similar to how things were in Soviet times, regional leaders either horde resources from the center or plunder them from their localities. The result has been the continued underdevelopment of its periphery. This chronic centralization is bound to lead to the very break down The Economist is predicting.
Another article worth noting is an interview with political analyst Alexei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center of Political Technologies, in Gazeta. Makarkin basically reiterates The Economist when it comes to local governors. When asked if appointees from Moscow could have prevented the attack, he said this:
“[W]e can install a Russian general in every region of the Caucasus that depends on federal subsidies. Install and wait to see what will follow. There are only two scenarios really. Either the appointee finds himself in isolation soon, without any power levers to wield or he joins the local elite and stops taking orders from Moscow. We already saw it in Chechnya when prime ministers appointed by Moscow were forced to leave the region soon.”
When asked if the clan system of Russian politics is to blame, he responded further:
“The clan system and poverty, this latter is a fertile soil for Islamic radicalism. Federal subsidies make up 72% of the Kabardino-Balkarian regional budget’s revenue. The officially-admitted unemployment rate is 2.5 times the national average, but the actual rate is much higher. According to official statistics, one in 20 residents of Kabardino-Balkaria have TB, which claims 10 lives a week.” [Translated by A. Ignatkin]
In addition, Makarkin argues that this attack was more about regional political clans fighting rather than “Wahhabis”, though the latter are a real danger and will always be blamed.
Maxim Shevchenko, from the Center for the Strategic Studies of Modern Religion and Policy, echos Makarkin’s argument adding,
“I am 120% sure that it was not a revolt by extremists but an attempt by a group of local elites dissatisfied with the recent appointments in Kabarda (Kabardino-Balkaria( to destabilize the situation in a bid to regain some of their lost powers or get new ones.”
Whether Makarkin’s or Shevchenko view is correct is hard to say. All accounts point to the involvement of militants either based in Kabardino-Balkariya, or from Dagestan or Chechnya. Rumors abound of Shamil Basayev’s presence and even death. News reports have denied the latter. Whatever the circumstances or whoever the perpetrators and their demands or origins, the whole incident points to the further destabilization of Russia’s south. Which, of course, raises many questions about the political fallout of the attack. According to RIA Novosti, Russian politicals are suggesting the incident demands further measures to strengthen vertical flows of power. All of which adds only to an already flood of speculation about who, if anyone, will succeed Putin in 2008.