Tuesday, June 13, 2017

‘A Common All-Russian Space’ No Longer Exists, Sokolov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 13 -- The republics of the north Caucasus are only the most extreme form of a phenomenon that now affects the entire Russian Federation: each federal subject is in fact what the Baltic republics were in Soviet times: a piece of foreign territory and culture within the borders of the country ruled by Moscow, according to Denis Sokolov.

“The megalopolises in Russia are radically distinguished from the provinces and even from their own suburbs,” the RAMSCON director tells Rosbalt’s Tatyana Khrulyeva, “although of course the level of alienation of Daghestan’s rural society from the all-Russian institutional milieu than in many other regions” (rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/06/13/1621457.html).

Sokolov begins his analysis by discussing the North Caucasus, arguing that Moscow needs to recognize that that region consists of two parts, a relatively modernized, Sovietized and largely irreligious western portion and a pre-modern, non-Sovietized, and extremely Muslim eastern section.

For historical reasons including the killings and expulsions of the peoples in the West and the arrival of far more ethnic Russians there, only about one percent of the population in the western half of the North Caucasus attends mosques regularly but in Daghestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia, “almost every resident” associates with a religious community or brotherhood.

As a result, the republics in the western half of the North Caucasus are recognizable to those from other parts of the Russian Federation even though they too are distinctive, but the republics in the eastern half are completely foreign, with their own reliance on informal and “hybrid” powers which play by their own rules that Moscow does not understand.

Sokolov’s observation on this last point prompts Khrulyeva to ask where the eastern North Caucasus republics are “in principle included in an all-Russian space,” to which Sokolov replies with a question of his own: given how great the differences are between the major cities and the provinces, “is there in general some ‘all-Russian space’?”

Daghestan and Chechnya have two legal systems operating in parallel,, a small official one that gives a nod to Russian law and a larger unofficial one based on customary law and practice.  But Sokolov warns against viewing the eastern North Caucasus as something different in kind from the rest of the country: it is different only in degree.

In his view, “the level of understanding of a legal state throughout Russia is approximately the same.” It is very low and “there are only cultural differences” in how it is misunderstood and applied.

“Today,” Sokolov argues, “almost every region of Russia can be called ‘an internal abroad,’” much as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were in Soviet times. There are no real “institutional bindings” holding the country together: “there is only the Soviet man who is living his last decade,” along with the aging Putin elite and the decaying power vertical.

As far as the North Caucasus is concerned, the future is extremely problematic. The ethnic Russians who played a key role are going home, and they are moving north rapidly even within the region.  According to one scholar, the ethnic Russian center of gravity in Stavropol kray alone is moving north and west at the rate of 10 kilometers a year.

The eastern North Caucasus is already “de-russified,” and the western segment is following. And alongside these demographic processes, there is “active re-Islamization.”  But there is no one in the local elites capable of defining and carrying through a local agenda beyond simply continuing as now, a strategy fraught with danger.

The entire region lacks “a real political elite,” something that limits its development. Everyone recognizes that it is sitting on a volcano, the large number of unresolved territorial disputes within and between the republics.  And the role of foreign players like Turkey and Iran is growing.

Unfortunately, “the chances for a bloodless resolution of the possible conflicts” in the North Caucasus “is not very large, and if the state weakens, there is a great possibility that the region will enter into a period of a war of all against all.”

And that leaves the region in “a very strange situation. That status quo which exists interferes with the formation of a political elite and the foundation of institution. But the destruction of this status quo will involve bloodletting” – a pattern in which the North Caucasus is only an extreme form of a pattern that now exists throughout Russia.

The problem in Russia today, Sokolov concludes, is that “there is no simple way out of the existing situation” and as a result, the country exists in “a certain asymptotic tail of degradation, one that could go on forever or blow apart at any minute.”

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