Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cossacks’ Contradictory Demands Suggest Kremlin Meddling

By Valery Dzutsev

On November 18, an association of southern Russia’s Cossacks issued a strongly worded address to the Russian leadership. The Cossacks demanded that Moscow provide preferential treatment for ethnic Russians in comparison to other Russian citizens, in particular, the North Caucasians. The Cossacks warned that “the loyalty of the [North] Caucasian corrupt elites [will] disappear, when the money they receive from the 80 percent of the Russian population of the country [ethnic Russians] runs out.” Instead, the Cossacks proposed that Moscow support them as the protectors of Russia’s unity, especially in the North Caucasus region. The Cossacks also attacked Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin: “The empty promises to Russians and Cossacks of the Plenipotentiary Representative of the President in the North Caucasian Federal District made everybody wonder. Perhaps, the abandonment of the region by Russians, Cossacks and other Slavs is the strategic goal of his [Khloponin’s] activities?” the Cossack address questioned (http://www.ng.ru/regions/2013-11-18/1_kazaki.html).

Russian nationalists in Stavropol region have been voicing their concerns about the changing ethnic makeup of the region for some time. Large swaths of eastern Stavropol region are especially vulnerable to the influx of North Caucasians, especially Dagestanis, in the opinion of the Russian activists. One Russian activist, Sergei Popov, told the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta that, according to official data, about 25,000 “indigenous people” (i.e. ethnic Russians) left the eastern areas of Stavropol region since 1995. At the same time the population of ethnic Dagestanis reportedly increased to 50,000 or even 100,000 people (http://www.ng.ru/regions/2013-09-06/6_stavropolie.html). Ethnic Russians still comprise over 80 percent of the total population of Stavropol region, so ethnic Russians’ concerns are hardly well-founded but, over the long term, the population dynamics indeed do not favor ethnic Russians (Russian census 2010).

The Cossacks’ address reflects the contradictory wishes being expressed by the Russian community of Stavropol. On the one hand, ethnic Russians want to keep at bay the North Caucasian population, but on the other, they call on the central government to disband the titular ethnic republics. A disbandment of the republics and an increased effort to assimilate the North Caucasians would result in an even greater influx of people from the North Caucasus to the Stavropol region. So the ethnic Russians of Stavropol would have to deal with ever larger numbers of non-Russian migrants. Therefore, the Stavropol ethnic Russians’ genuine discontent notwithstanding, arguably it appears that their protests are being used by Moscow to advance the federal government’s goals to diminish and eventually eliminate the republics of the North Caucasus. 

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