Russia must commit to anti-imperialism to combat terrorism
Published: Sunday, January 26, 2014
Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 21:01
Late December last year, two suicide-bombing operations in Volgograd, a southern Russian city - claimed the lives of 34 civilians and exponentially increased security concerns as the Winter Olympics in Sochi rapidly approached. A 49-minute video released on Jan. 19 contains footage of the bombers before their attack, identifying themselves as members of Vilayat Dagestan, a militant Islamist group seeking to construct an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus, the Caucasus Emirate.
In response to the twin bombings, Russian President Vladimir Putin dramatically increased the presence of security forces within Sochi’s 1,500-mile “Ring of Steel” to 40,000 personnel, in addition to a bolstered police presence within Volgograd. President Obama extended an offer of U.S. assistance to Russian security forces including the presence of two Navy warships in the Black Sea; and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey is in negotiations with Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov to sell high-tech American signal scramblers, to thwart potential attacks. What no one seems to be discussing, however, is the fact that Russia’s security concerns have a very simple fix: reverse the centuries old imperialistic domination of the Northern Caucasus and commit Russian forces to aiding in a peaceful transition of power.
Tensions between Russia and the people of the Caucasus originated in 1577, when Tsar Ivan the Terrible had Cossacks–a Slavic minority group–colonize the lowlands of the Terek River Valley as part of an imperial expansion. The people of the Caucasus relied on agricultural production supported by the Terek river to maintain their economy. The Terek Cossak Host, which had pledged loyalty to the Tsar were more aggressive in their expansion. Additionally, the Turkish Ottoman Empire and Persian Safavid Empire began contending for control of the Caucasus, which lead to factions among the indigenous populations into three groups. These factions can be broken down into pro-Safavids, pro-Russians and pro-Ottomans, the overwhelming majority.
The Russian Empire began a horrific genocide of the Caucasus people for the following three centuries. The crux of the Russian strategy was to drive the natives into the mountains, cutting the resistance off from the Terek river, in the hopes they would starve or surrender. The resistance managed to continue under the leadership of Imam Shamil, a tyrant in his own right, but ended when Shamil was captured in 1859. Natives converted to Islam en masse in hopes of courting the favor of the Ottoman Empire, but the Turkish imperial state had already begun to steadily collapse, and prospects for independence declined in hand.
The protracted annexation and resulting Russian occupation of the Caucasus witnessed a massive wave of emigration from the Northern region. According to writer Amjad Jaimoukha, the Chechen population of the Northern Caucasus dropped from 1.5 million people to 116,000 individuals in 20 years. Various attempts at armed resistance were made while Russia was distracted by foreign wars. This resulted in the Soviet government’s permission for persecuted minorities to move freely back to their homelands in 1957. The Chechen struggle for independence became fully revitalized after the Soviet Union collapsed, but Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin refused to grant anything more than “de facto” autonomy, which is ultimately what lead to the First and Second Chechen Wars in the 1990s. In both conflicts witnessed egregious war crimes committed by the Russian fforces as well as the Chechen separatists, including torture, rape and indiscriminate killing of civilians.
The centuries of violence, however, have not managed to quash all avenues for peaceful reconciliation. In spite of Chechnya’s example of nigh-success through violent resistance, the more ethnically diverse states in the Caucasus, such as Dagestan, remain open to diplomatic dialogue. Dagestan exemplifies a growing trend within all Islamic countries, as they attempt to shed dictators while simultaneously avoiding descent into fundamentalism, and this internal struggle provides ample opportunity for Russia to gain credibility with its Islamic minorities. Rather than protecting athletes, security forces should be assisting Sufis in maintaining a secular Dagestan and preventing Salafists from being oppressed. Russia has a real chance to reinvent itself and the struggle against international terrorism; hopefully it isn’t lost over a bunch of meaningless games.