WINDOW ON EURASIA: PUTIN SAYS NEW SECURITY PUSH IN NORTH CAUCASUS NEEDED BEFORE SOCHI

WINDOW ON EURASIA: PUTIN SAYS NEW SECURITY PUSH IN NORTH CAUCASUS NEEDED BEFORE SOCHI

Paul Goble
            Staunton, September 9 – Vladimir Putin today called for a new security push in the North Caucasus before the Sochi Olympiad, lashed out at the West, but implicitly acknowledged Moscow’s current approach in that region isn’t working by suggesting that the country needs to “look for new approaches to the struggle with terrorism, extremism, and criminality.”
            The Russian president to the Security Council today that “despite obvious positive advances, the situation in the North Caucasus is improving too slowly” and that, as a result,
Russia “must mobilize all force structures and improve the coordination, quality and results of their joint efforts” (itar-tass.com/c1/870371.html).
            “The suppression and neutralization of the terrorist and criminal threat,” a necessary condition for “stabilization and increasing business and investment activity,” the Russian leader continued, “is especially important in connection with the holding of the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.”
            Putin said that Russia must focus on combatting “the anti-Russian activities of foreign countries and international organizations in the North Caucasus” and “more harshly block such efforts and always give an adequate answer” both to such efforts which are intended to undermine Russia’s authorityand to criticism of the human rights situation in that region.
            Such foreign sources must be reminded, Putin said, that they should be looking in their own backyard, one “full” of violations they should be addressing before criticizing Russian policies in the North Caucasus.  He added that Russia “will harshly react to the violation of human rights and freedom in the North Caucasus and hold those guilty responsible.”
            And at the same time, the Russian president said that “the main priority” for Moscow is “to increase the tempos of social and economic development” in the North Caucasus so that the peoples of that long-troubled region will be a proud and flourishing part of the Russian Federation in the future.
            Most of what Putin said today simply sums up themes the Kremlin has been pushing for some time, but his call for a search for “new approaches,” whether he intended this or not, has opened the way for some in the expert community to comment and provide a different perspective on the situation in the North Caucasus.
            One of the first to do so is Irina Pashchenko, a longtime specialist on the region who heads the North Caucasus laboratory for the North Caucasus at the Institute for Social-Economic and Humanitarian Research at the Southern Academic Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences (odnako.org/blogs/show_28191/).
            She said that Putin’s suggestion that the situation in the North Caucasus is improving is broadly correct.  “Yes, there are positive trends, and in certain republics they are quite significant.”  She pointed to a marked decline in the number of “criminal-terrorist” actions in Ingushetia.
            At the same time, she said that “today the situation on the territory of Daghestan is very serious and is not improving.”  The same thing can be said about Kabardino-Balkaria, although in that republic there have been some successes. She added that nowhere have the re-adaptation centers for militants worked: the number of people who use them is far too small.
            But Pashchenko made three more important points, apparently in response to Putin’s call for new approaches. First, she said, Russian officials have been convinced that “administrative reforms plus reforms of a social-economic character can change the situation.” The resources for this today “are exhausted” and something new must be identified and applied.
            Second, there are human rights problems and there are collateral innocent victims of the counter-terrorist effort, but she argued they are not as numerous as many think. She said many who are not victims and may not even have been present during attacks claim to be to get attention or to get assistance from the government.
            And third, Pashchenko said, “as far as corruption is concerned,” all reports and research demonstrate that this is not a problem specific to the North Caucasus. This is simply a specific case of what is true” of the Russian Federation as a whole.
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