Thursday, December 10, 2015

Turkey Can Create Real Problems for Moscow in North Caucasus -- But Not the Ones Russians Expect, Kazenin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – In the current crisis, Turkey has the ability to create problems for Moscow in the North Caucasus but not the ones many Russian analysts have been predicting on the basis of Ankara’s involvement in the region in the first decade after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, according to Kontantin Kazenin.

            Then, many of the Turkic nations of the region looked to Ankara and even played with the idea of pan-Turkic groupings, but now the situation has changed; and few if any of these groups are interested in taking the kind of risks that such actions would entail, the Regnum commentator says (

            Instead, Turkey can and will work in different directions, Kazenin argues; and if Moscow is to be in a position to counter Ankara effectively, it must recognize what those are rather than continuing, as many are now urging, to focus on groups no longer being targeted and thus ignore the new ones that are.

            Under current conditions, he suggests, “the likelihood that the Turkic communities of the North Caucasus will somehow orient themselves toward Ankara is most likely equal to zero.”  And that is true not only of those groups which have integrated themselves well the current powers that be but also of those who define themselves as the regional “’opposition.’”

            There are two main reasons for that conclusions, Kazenin suggests. On the one hand, most Turkic groups in the North Caucasus Kumyks in Daghestan and the Balkars in Kabardino-Balkaria are focused on issues like land redistribution that have little if anything to do with pan-Turkic aspirations of any kind. Raising that issue would preclude the solution of the other.

            The Karachays in Karachayevo-Cherkessia are in a somewhat different position, but just now, Kazenin points out, they are focused on the upcoming decision of Moscow about who will be the next head of that republic. They know very well that any mention of pan-Turkic notions would lead the center to go against them.

            Indeed, so much aware are the Turkic peoples of the way in which Moscow would react to pan-Turkic ideas, the Regnum commentator continues, that in recent years they have avoided cooperating with one another lest such cooperation appear to be the basis for someone to charge them with “pan-Turkism.”

            As far as the Circassians are concerned, a group that is not Turkic but that has a sizeable community in Turkey that Ankara might be expected to use, it is unclear, Kazenin says, whether the Circassians in Turkey are all that united and whether Turkey has any real resources with the Circassians in the North Caucasus.

            And on the other hand, he continues, ethnicity as a mobilizing factor is far less important than religion. “Ethnic ideology as such now is not nearly as popular in the North Caucasus then it was 20 years ago.  The language of social protest there now has become in a large degree religious rather than ethnic,” and Turkey can’t change that quickly.

            “However,” the Regnum commentator continues, “all this does not mean that the current conflict with Turkey is not capable of creating serious problems in the North Caucasus,” only that those problems are different than many think. They involve the dependence of many firms in these areas on imports from Turkey and the failure of Moscow to focus on how to provide alternative supplies.

            If supplies stop, firms contract and unemployment grows as appears likely in several cases, the Turkic origin of the workers involved “will not have any importance;” but the anger of these people will nonetheless be very real.  And if they begin discussing this in terms of their economic interests, that could ultimately lead them back to nationalist concerns.

            “The deterioration of relations with Turkey is hitting precisely that part of the local economy in the North Caucasus which exists outside of all possible federal programs and doesn’t receive any support from the state,” Kazenin says. The peoples there can see that, and unless something changes, they will draw conclusions unfavorable to Russia.

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