Russia Overreaches Itself in Struggle to Control the Caucasus – Transitions Online

Russia Overreaches Itself in Struggle to Control the Caucasus – Transitions Online.

Moscow’s inability to rein in its South Caucasian satellites may affect Russia’s posture across the volatile Caucasus region.
by Valery Dzutsev
16 September 2011


A Crack in the Caucasus Wall – Transitions Online

A Crack in the Caucasus Wall – Transitions Online.

Georgia taps its soft power in the North Caucasus to the detriment of Moscow and muted optimism of the locals.
by Valery Dzutsev
17 November 2010

Criminalizing Journalists in the Caucasus: Valery Dzutsev’s Experience

Censorship and criminalization in the North Caucasus forced Valery Dzutsev, a former coordinator for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) to eit…

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The sorrowful charm of things

I have recently read through one of my op-ed articles on Georgia/South Ossetia, that never made it to the media and was struck by the vain attempts of mine to attracts people’s attention to important trends in the Caucasus.

Prague Watchdog was kind enough to publish this piece now, even though it was written in the period between November 2007 and April 2008.

The West’s approach to the Caucasus

By Valery Dzutsev, special to Prague Watchdog

(Note: this article was written in 2008, before the August War in Georgia)

In yet another attempt to get rid of the Russian peacekeepers, Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze stated on 31 October that the country would demand the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their replacement with international peacekeepers. Georgians like to point to Russia as the main obstructer of the reintegration of its breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russians respond with criticism of the Georgians’ conduct in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, arguing that only Russia can sustain peace in the region.


Circassians Look to Georgia for International Support

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 58March 25, 2010 03:54 PM Age: 24 hrs
By: Valery Dzutsev

On March 21, participants in a landmark conference “Hidden Nations, Enduring Crimes: The Circassians and the Peoples of the North Caucasus Between Past and Future” was held in Tbilisi. Participants at the conference appealed to the Georgian parliament to recognize Russian actions in the northwestern Caucasus in the nineteenth century as genocide. The conference evoked a multitude of responses from the public in the North Caucasus and in Russia proper. The Jamestown Foundation and the International School of Caucasus Studies at Ilia State University organized the event (, March 22).

Prior to its start, the conference already caused a nervous reaction in Russia as the Russian website War and Peace published a lengthy article, analyzing the conference. The article credited the conference with the possible impact that could potentially “lead to significant changes in the Caucasus,” calling it “not an ordinary event.” According to the author, Georgia, unlike Russia, did its homework after losing the five-day war in 2008, having dramatically changed its tactics. Namely, Georgia significantly improved its informational policy, launched a Russian language TV channel, which the author referred to as “anti Russian” and reached out to the North Caucasian peoples. The author also alleged that Georgian government efforts were aimed at promoting conflict between the various peoples of the North Caucasus and between the North Caucasus and Russia. The writer warned in the form of prognosis, that if Georgia proceeded with Circassians’ genocide recognition, the Circassians would be pressurized in Russia, while the positions of their rivals, the Karachays, Balkars and ethnic Russians would be enhanced (, March 19).

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Georgia is reinventing its regional policy in the North Caucasus

Georgia is trying to reach out to the neighboring small peoples of the North Caucasus to acquire greater influence in its immediate neighborhood. Following the loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the war with Russia in August 2008, Georgia has indeed little to lose, if it starts its own set of policies in the region.

So now Georgia pays attention to the harsh suppression of dissenters in the North Caucasus, the issue of possible genocide, that some Circassians, Chechens and others raise. The conference on Circassians’ genocide in the XIX century that was held in Tbilisi on March 19-21 evoked anger and exasperation on Russians’ side, so that probably shows, that the step was made in the right direction. The next step for Georgia would be to recognize the genocide. I think, it is quite obvious that Russia deliberately killed civilians and acted to change the ethnic balance of the northwestern Caucasus, so that about 90% of the Circassians currently live outside of their homeland.

It would be worth to return to the issue of Chechnya too. I think, Georgia would do the right thing, if it developed the capabilities for research and monitoring of human rights abuses in the North Caucasus.

All in all, more active Georgia will mean breaking up North Caucasian isolation, better relations with its neighbors, constructive competition with Russian imperialism and more predictability of the processes in the region.

The North Caucasus Receives Unprecedented Attention from Russian Leaders

Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 42March 3, 2010 01:04 AM

By: Valery Dzutsev

On March 1, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made an unannounced brisk visit to the North Caucasus. In the North Ossetian town of Beslan, Putin met the head of North Ossetia, Taimuraz Mamsurov, and in the capital of Ingushetia, Magas, he held a longer meeting with Ingushetia’s President Yunus-bek Yevkurov and other local officials (RIA Novosti,, March 1).

The proximity in time between Putin’s visit to North Ossetia and Ingushetia and Medvedev’s visit to Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia on February 27 is striking. Putin, while he was president of Russia and even before that, was not known for a willingness to visit the region during its multiple periods of crisis, like the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004, political assassinations or massive bomb explosions. The Russian government’s current focus on the North Caucasus might be explained by an increased awareness of the problems that Moscow faces in this region, including political instability, the growth of separatism and the rise of militant Islam. President Medvedev, in particular, stated on February 27 that the entire Russian government had to be involved in resolving the problems of the North Caucasus, not just the presidential envoy to the region, Aleksandr Khloponin.

It is more likely, however, that these series of high-profile visits to the North Caucasus might indicate growing competition between the teams of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin over influence on Russian policies in the region. Despite its small footprint in the economic life of the Russian Federation, the North Caucasus remains a very important region in political terms, because of the terrorist threat and propensity for separatism. If Medvedev were to challenge the authority of Putin, Russia’s strongman, he would likely choose the North Caucasus for political maneuvers –first of all, because Putin’s political career is intimately linked to the North Caucasus, as he made his name during the second Chechen war; secondly, because Moscow’s brutal policies of suppression, frequently criticized by rights activists, failed to bring about stability in the region, but rather antagonized larger layers of the local societies. The struggle over the North Caucasus may be part of a wider phenomenon of the growing disillusionment of the country’s elites with Putin’s leadership and an attempt to find an alternative, as Anders Aslund described in an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post on February 26.

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Civilians die in military operation in Ingushetia

What Russian security services presented as a successful operation against the Islamic militants in Sunzha district of Ingushetia might turn to be one of the biggest disgraces for them. Initially the FSB claimed they killed up to 20 militants, but eventually information surfaced, that at least 4 of the killed were civilians.

In the early spring and sometimes as early as in January traditionally people in the North Caucasus go out into the mountainous forest areas to collect kind of wild garlic, that is considered to be a delicacy. Some people use it for their own needs, others for sale. According to Moskovsky Komsomolets, the FSB law enforcements learned about people in the forests and instead of sending in the troops, they sent in helicopters and as it was hard for the helicopters to distinguish between the militants and the civilians they killed everyone they detected. The claims have additional weight as the official spokesperson for Ingushetia’s president Kaloy Ahilgov confirmed there were four deaths among the civilians.

According to the militants website, there were no insurgents in the area at all, so all killed – FSB gave numbers of 11, 14, 18 and 20 – were civilians, mostly of last grade school ages. According to Kavkazcenter, the FSB launched a massive mop up operation detaining over 200 people, that were thoroughly interrogated, beaten up and tortured, some of them died.

FSB spokesman denied any casualties among the civilians in the area, claiming that all 14 people who were killed were militants. However, president of Ingushetia Yevkurov on his official website talks about 18 killed militants. So the discrepancy in numbers remains an issue.

Given the limited amount of information, it is safe to conclude, that some civilian casualties took place in Ingushetia. The more stubbornly Moscow denies them, the more exasperation it will produce among the local population. So even moderates will be glad to witness, if the radical Ingush elements retaliate.

Russian Government Seeks to Further Limit Access to Information From the North Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 18 January 28, 2010 03:58 PM Age: 2 days

On January 27, two policemen were killed and one was wounded when unidentified assailants driving in a car attacked a police car near the villages of Yandare and Gazi-Yurt in Ingushetia’s Nazran district. On the same day, another police car was attacked near the main mosque in the republic’s largest town, Nazran. Four policemen were wounded in the attack and one of them subsequently died (ITAR-TASS, January 27). The attacks in the Nazran district took place on the same day as the law enforcement agencies lifted the special counter-terrorism regime in the district, which is perhaps indicative of the ineffectiveness of the counter-insurgency regimes in Ingushetia.

On January 26, an explosive device equivalent to eight kilograms of TNT and two Shmel rocket-propelled flame-throwers were found in Magas, the seat of Ingushetia’s government and republican branches of federal agencies. The grenade launchers were reportedly pointed toward the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters and the offices of the republican presidential administration. According to the reports, someone warned the FSB and the attack was averted (, January 26).

Continuing violence in Ingushetia is accompanied by visible restrictions on the independent sources of information in Ingushetia. The most professional and accurate Ingush website,, came under powerful cyber attacks and was displaying only intermittently a non-updated version as of January 27. Even more profoundly, the authoritative Russian magazine Kommesant-Vlast received an official warning concerning the “inadmissibility of extremist activities” from the Russian government agency that oversees the media. The magazine was reprimanded for publishing an interview with the Ingush writer and Soviet-era political dissident Issa Kodzoev in November 2009 (, January 26). Two such warnings against a media outlet allow the government to ask a court to close it down.

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Rose Revolution examined


via Transitions Online.

Different motivations may have been behind the Rose Revolution. I’m inclined to believe that the Rose Revolution had one meaning for the outside world and very different for the Georgian people. I.e. for the West it was democracy’s victory in Georgia, for the Georgians it meant shiny economic prospects and return of Abkhazia, Adjara and South Ossetia.

I equate this situation to a story with St Paul. When St Paul arrived at one of the Greek-speaking cities he encountered a magician, I think his name was Bar Jesus, somewhere in the Acts. The magician was amazed by the miracles, that St Paul and his believer companions were able to perform. So he tried to imitate them, but couldn’t and then he approached St Paul and asked to sell him the gift of performing miracles.

Georgians must have thought: “we will get democracy and get rich, defeat our foes, etc.” Democracy must have been regarded as an overly instrumental thing, rather than a “thing-in-itself”. This part of debate is often overlooked, perhaps because it is a hard thing to do – to distinguish the two aspects: liberal democracy’s ideas and the fruits, it brings.

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