There’s a fresh insurgency brewing in Russia’s most restive region at exactly the moment Moscow can’t risk more domestic violence.
Following Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s order to mobilize 300,000 troops for the Ukraine War, there are scenes of resistance and even violence in Dagestan and neighboring Chechnya.
Both are in the northern Caucasus region, which could be charitably described as Russia’s own Wild West — but with zero chance of ever becoming fully tamed.
Here is just one of many videos you can find on social media today — you’ll hear automatic gunfire at the five-second mark, presumably from Russian security forces:
Dagestan is rapidly becoming Russia’s most ‘troublesome’ region. This morning locals gathered to protest against the mobilisation on the Khasavyurt-Makhachkala highway near the village of Endirei. Machine gun fire can be heard pic.twitter.com/sfNcH7dxwZ
— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) September 25, 2022
“Dagestan,” the Beeb reminded readers on Monday, “is a mainly Muslim region of Russia with a higher death toll than any other province in the war.”
As I noted last week, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has been leaning hard on minority populations (about 19% of the people) for his manpower needs in the Ukraine War. It’s commonly believed, I wrote on Friday, that “Putin is calling up as few ethnic Russians as possible to avoid stirring up unrest in the better-off segments of the population.”
Moscow-based scholar Greg Yudin wrote on Saturday that when it comes to mobilization, “Putin still treads carefully. He tries not to antagonize the groups that might be able to organize.”
Russia’s minorities are least able to resist Putin’s massive mobilization.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t resist.
In Chechnya, it isn’t just protestors taking to the streets — although there have been plenty of protests. Chechen units have been some of the best performing in Ukraine, but Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has told Moscow his semiautonomous Muslim “republic” has given enough. Kadyrov says that Chechnya had already sent 250% more men than originally had been called for, and so Putin’s mobilization “would not be carried out,” according to Kavkazr (via Safari Translate).
I wasn’t kidding when I called the region Russia’s Wild West. Moscow conquered the Caucasus from the Ottoman Turks in the 19th century in a series of wars lasting more than 60 years. While the more settled nations of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus acclimated to Russian (later Soviet) rule, the tribal peoples in the northern half never really did.
Russia attempted genocide against the Circassians in the mountains, but still never quite eliminated or subdued them until the 20th century. Soviet rule was brutal enough — and the locals left just alone enough — to finally get the situation well under a simmer.
But after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the lid came off the pressure cooker.
Chechnya went so far as to declare independence in 1994, and Russia fought a year-and-a-half-long losing effort to try and get them to submit once more. Not until the end of the Second Chechen War (1999-2000) was the region back under Moscow’s nominal control.
And yet… even with their cities smashed and more than 100,00 of their soldiers and civilians dead, the Chechen insurrection didn’t completely end until 2009.
In a rough neighborhood with long memories, that’s barely even yesterday.
Putin knows he can push only so hard in places like Chechnya and Dagestan before unrest escalates to renewed insurrection.
Complicating things, the various Caucasus nations outside of Russia and the little ethnic “republics” inside Russia all have border conflicts with one another and/or Russia. Georgia wants Abkhazia and South Ossetia back. Ingushetia has claims on Chechnya and vice-versa.
I could go on, but you get the point: About the only thing preventing the whole region from devolving into a multisided war is the appearance of Russian strength. With Moscow’s attention focused elsewhere, the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting one another again.
Where does it all end? Nobody knows, but if Moscow looks weak and the republics feel pushed around, it doesn’t end well.
Maybe “Where does it all end?” is a question Putin should have asked himself — with utmost seriousness — before ordering his “special military operation” last February.
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