Alex Alexiev: Russia’s losing the North Caucasus31 March 2010 | 17:38 | FOCUS News Agency
FOCUS: Mr. Alexiev, in 2009 you forecasted that as a result of the policy of Vladimir Putin, the ethnic Russian population in the Northern Caucasus has almost disappeared, which would lead to the Islamization of the region. Has your forecast come true?
Alex Alexiev: It has, to a great extent and continues coming true. The percentage of Russians that have remained in North Caucasus is constantly diminishing. For instance, regions like Dagestan have less than 5% of Russian. In Chechnya – the percentage according to some is 2%, and according to others – 3%. There is only about 1% of Russian in Ingushetia. A great part of the region of North Caucasus, its eastern part in particular, has almost been left without residents of Russian origin. This, of course, means that the local Muslim population becomes the absolute dominating factor. To the east of Ingushetia, there are still more Russians – in Kabardino-Balkaria and Cherkezia. However, the same process is being observed there, too. After all, when we reach to the situation that these parts of Russia are not Russian anymore in any extent, the conclusion is fully logical: that they would hardly be able to preserve their influence there. The radicalization of the Islamist movement in North Caucasus is to a great extent due to the fact that very few Russians have remained in the region. They constantly flee from the region, which is becoming even dangerous for Russian people. In addition, when there are no Russians, the locals feel no affiliation to Russia. This would after all, lead to a situation in which Russia, as a state, would lose North Caucasus as part of its territory.
FOCUS: What is your forecast – when could we expect that to happen?
Alex Alexiev: It is hard to say something like that, but according to me – the logics of development is such that at least the eastern part of North Caucasus would hardly remain de facto part of the Russian territory in up to 10 years.
FOCUS: Let’s go back to what happened Monday. What are the main conclusions for you from the bomb attacks in the Moscow metro?
Alex Alexiev: What happened in the metro was not a surprise at all, at least for me. I would even say that to a certain extent it was normal. What I’m saying is that we could hardly speak about normal attacks, but it is a fact that since 2005 there has been a strong radicalization, both of the Islamist resistance in North Caucasus and the policy of Putin against that movement. This leads to such attacks becoming inevitable, at least in my view. In view of all the events I think that since the attack against the Nevsky Express on November 27, we are now facing a new wave of terrorist acts, which would mainly be in Russia.
What exactly happened after 2005? In 2005 the last leader of the Chechen resistance – Aslan Maskhadov, was killed, as he was perhaps the last leader that was ready to negotiate for Chechnya’s autonomy, but not for the total separation from Russia. Then Putin decided he could arrange the issue in a military way, that he could crash the resistance and even refused to think about some peaceful solution. With the next leaders of the Chechen resistance -- and this was a key moment -- it turned into a national Chechen resistance, a common North Caucasian Muslim resistance. This is a very important moment. As early as last year Putin stated that the offensive against the terrorists had ended successfully, but he had in practice failed to achieve that. On the contrary – there is currently some revival of this resistance. Putin, through his marionettes in the region, as well as in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, is leading a really brutal policy, which in practice radicalizes not only the Islamists, but also the non-Islamist ordinary citizens into a strong anti-Russian direction. There are almost no people left in North Caucasus that sympathize not only with the policy of the government in Moscow, but with the Russians as a nation, as well. This leads to an inevitable and lasting conflict.
FOCUS: Who supports these people in North Caucasus and where do they get financing from?
Alex Alexiev: As I already said, a common national resistance movement of Chechnya was to a certain extent conquered by the Islamists and turned into a common North Caucasian resistance, and Islamist resistance. Even now, Doku Umarov, the current leader of this resistance, does not mention Chechnya anymore, but speaks only about a Caucasian emirate – a Muslim Islamist state in North Caucasus. There are in fact very strong signs that the whole situation in North Caucasus is getting strongly radicalized into an Islamist direction. In addition, many of the important leaders are not only Chechens anymore, but from different nationalities. Only a few days ago, two of the most pronounced leaders of this Islamist resistance were killed. One of them is Said Buryatskiy, who is a Buryat in nationality, and the other is Anzor Astemirov, who was a Kabardinian.
As far as the financial side of the issue is concerned, there are several sources of financing. The key one is Saudi Arabia and the Wahabbite centers in Saudi Arabia. This is a fact from the very beginning of the resistance and still is. In that context, of course, it is very hard for the Russian services to do something because the whole organization in North Caucasus of the Wahabbites in Moscow and North Caucasus is very-well developed. There is evidence that part of these huge subsidies that Moscow allocated for North Caucasus, where there is almost no economic development, or even economic activity, go also in the hands of the resistance in one way or another, as it is strongly infiltrated in the governments in the region. So, there are several sources and it seems they are secured very well in terms of finances.
FOCUS: We saw the reactions of the Russian President and Prime Minister, who stated that the terrorists would be severely punished. There are similar attitudes in the Russian society as well. Do you think a change of Russia’s policy towards North Caucasus is possible?
Alex Alexiev: According to me, we could hardly expect such a thing while Putin is in power. I think he suffers the fiction that he could solve the issue in a military way. This is impossible. These brutal methods, such as setting houses on fire over suspicions that a member of that family is part of the resistance, as well as people going missing, constant murders… We could hardly imagine that a nation where such things happen regularly as part of the Russian power’s policy, could reconcile with that. That is why I see no military solution. Of course, terrorists must be eliminated. But when you’re waging a war against the whole Caucasian nation, you could hardly expect winning it unless you decide to fully destroy this nation, which also hardly possible. As I already mentioned – considering the fact that the almost whole population is not Russian anymore, it is even harder to think of some truce. The only way, according to me, though it I hard to imagine something like that now, is if Russia has a government that starts tying to look for some peaceful methods for solving this set of problems. To turn part of the population, which is currently strongly anti-Russian in their attitudes, to a more conciliatory position, through economic development and to gradually try to make some modus Vivendi between these two rivals. Now, I don’t see hat, at least until Putin is in power. Another solution, which they are currently trying to make, is according to me, to join North Caucasus to regions with more Russian population, such as the Stavropol region, for instance. Thus they think they would find the exact way to solve the problem. This was also the idea to appoint Alexander Hloponin, who was former governor of the Krasnodar region, as a head of a new region – the North Caucasus region. It includes all the Muslim regions in the Stavropol region. In my opinion, this is absolutely unreal and I don’t think such a solution could be achieved.
FOCUS: You said that a series of terrorist acts could be expected, mainly on the territory of Russia. Is there a variant these acts could spread outside the territory of Russia, and if so, where could they head for?
Alex Alexiev: The fact that these things happen in Russia is due mainly to the fact that a great part of these Islamist, and not only Islamist, forces are motivated by the desire for revenge against Russia. Just like many of those that have caused the attacks, the so-called ‘black widows’, many of them are people that have lost their husbands, brothers, members of the family as a result of the brutal actions of Putin, etc. We have the motivation and the financing for such actions to be successful. Perhaps you remember that one of the first actions of Doku Umarov when he came to power as an emir of the Chechen resistance was to revive the so-called battalion of suicides, which was organized many years ago by Shamil Basayev. In fact, this was in the basis of what we see now and it is hard to assume that there would be no similar acts in future. Moreover, considering that the services in Russia, such as FSB, as well as the ordinary police, are quite inefficient. Unfortunately, it is very probable similar attacks to occur again. When and where – no one could say. And whether these terrorist acts would spread outside the territory of Russia – it is not much probable according to me, but is not impossible, because as you know, in Europe, in Turkey, and almost everywhere around the world there is a huge number of emigrants from the North Caucasian nationalities that sympathize to a great extent to the anti-Russian events of their co-citizens.
FOCUS: Was there any element of demonstration in the place that was chosen for the blasts – the Lubyanka metro station, where the HQ of KGB is situated?
Alex Alexiev: There are such speculations in the Russian press. The Lubyanka metro station was of course the place where KGB was doing its job for decades on end. But we could hardly expect that one blast, with the power of the one that occurred, could cause some damage on the street, above the ground. But it could have some similar symbolic character. I cannot comment for sure whether there had been such motivation or not.
FOCUS: Can you draw some parallel for the Balkans and Bulgaria on that case?
Alex Alexiev: The parallel that I have drawn for many years on end is that, unfortunately, on the Balkans a process has been running for many years of the penetration of Wahabbite Islamist elements, who make their best to radicalize the Balkan Muslims, including the Bulgarian Muslims. Unfortunately, they achieve certain successes, for instance in Macedonia and in Bosnia. It is beyond doubt that these people, mostly extreme Islamist and extremist organizations, that are financed and sponsored by Saudi Arabia, are working hard in that direction. It is highly irrational to think that such things can never happen on the Balkans. That is why it is very important that the responsible authorities in Bulgaria and on the Balkans as a whole try to make everything possible to neutralize these organizations before they become able of perpetrating such acts.
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