Remember how dangerous it is for any Russian to criticize the Putin regime over Chechnya, as best illustrated by the murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and Stanislav Markelov, a recent interview by Boris Nemtsov is truly breathtaking in its courage. Paul Goble reports:
The North Caucasus at the present time is “our Palestine,” Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov says, the result of the deal between Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov in which the former has purchased the loyalty of the latter for cash and at the price of allowing the Chechen leader and his minions to do what they like throughout Russia.
If Russia is to escape from this dilemma, Nemtsov said in the course of an online press conference, several steps are necessary because as the Manezh violence shows the problems of that region are no longer confined to it but rather spreading throughout Russian society.
First of all, the opposition leader says, the deal between Putin and Kadyrov must be annulled and all Kadyrov militants “disarmed and sent back to Chechnya.” Second, Russians must recognize that nothing will change until the current regime is changed because “Putin personally” protects “the banditry” of the militia and by implication that of the Chechens. And third, Nemtsov said, it is imperative that Moscow address recent failures in youth policy by assigning “as the minister for youth policy an individual who enjoys the respect of the fans” who formed a major portion of the participants in the wave of protests that have swept through the Russian capital and other cities.
A second opposition figure who took part in the “Gazeta” conference, Garri Kasparov, expanded on these points. He said that the situation in the North Caucasus and the consequences of developments there for the entire country were now so serious that an increasing number of Russians were thinking what had been unthinkable until recently.
“For very many citizens of Russia, including those far from politicz, a civilized divorce with the North Caucasus” is no longer viewed as “a tragedy” for the entire country. But despite those feelings, Kasparov argued, “after so many years of living together,” separating the North Caucasus out from Russia would not be easy or painless.
“But it is also obvious,” he continued, it is precisely the Putin policy of pacification of the Caucasus which has created a constant source for the reproudciton of the criminal milieu which now is not limited to the geography of the North Caucasus but has spread literally throughout all of Russia.”
These and other questions addressed to the opposition figures arose from growing concerns about what will happen next after the Manezh Square violence. Kasparov said that there will be more such violence, something he called “the natural result of the policy which has been conducted in Russia during the administration of Vladimir Putin.”
Indeed, he said, the Manezh events and those that have followed them reflect the combination of “all the problems of contemporary Russian society, [including] in the first instance the absence of prospects for the overwhelming part of Russian young people,” the failure of social escalators to work, and the increasing economic divides especially in the cities.
But in addition, Kasparov pointed out, “the constant playing of the powers that be with the nationalistic theme” has had its effect. “Sooner or later” that had to produce the kind of explosion which appears to be occurring now and which the current powers that be seem powerless to deal with.
The comments of Nemtsov and Kasparov are important for three ways. First, by drawing the parallel between the North Caucasus and Palestine, the two are highlighting both the need to do something and the difficulty of doing anything, a bind that those more engaged in sloganeering often forget. Second, their linkage of Putin and Kadyrov, while not new, is certain to gain them and the opposition more support because, as they point out, the deal the two authoritarian leaders have concluded not only has not worked – the North Caucasus isn’t really more peaceful – but has made the situation worse by spreading the plague of violence into central Russia. And third, although this was certianly not their intention, their discussion of the inability of the current powers that be to address this situation will simultaneously add to the frustrations many Russians feel about the current situation and inspire those who believe that the only way to change things under the circumstances is to go into the streets.