The latest round of violence
At least sixty people have been killed in clashes between police and Islamic militants in Nalchik, the capital of the North Caucasian province of Kabardino-Balkaria. The North Caucasus is a region used to violence. Since the early 1990s, Chechens and other Islamic extremists have waged an incessant war against Russian forces in efforts to secede from Russia and establish an Islamic state in the region. Russia, which comprises eighty-nine provinces, fears that granting independence would set a bad precedent and might spur other provinces to secede, not to mention that a lawless state and exporter of instability could emerge on its southern doorstep. The region also has geo-political importance, given its proximity to the oil-rich Caspian basin and Russia’s stake in nearby separatist struggles in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia provinces.
Which republics are involved?
- Chechnya. The site of on-and-off conflict since declaring its independence from Russia in 1991, Chechnya remains one of the world’s bloodiest hotspots. In two wars with Russia, tens of thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Between 1996 and 1999 there was a ceasefire. But during this time the region descended into chaos, as Islamic rebels like the Jordanian-born Khattab and Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord behind last year’s Beslan massacre, launched a wave of terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital. War with Russia resumed in 1999, after rebels led by Basayev invaded nearby Dagestan. More than a decade later, the conflict in Chechnya shows little sign of waning. More troublesome for Russian authorities, the violence has begun to spill over into neighboring republics and the rest of Russia. A series of apartment bombings in 1999 in Moscow and Dagestan were blamed on Chechen separatists, as well as a theater siege in October 2002 that left 140 dead, many of them poisoned accidentally by Russian authorities.
- Karbardino-Balkaria. A small, mountainous province north of Georgia, Karbardino-Balkaria has a population of just under a million. In 1945, the region’s population of Balkars, ethnically linked to Turks, was deported to Central Asia by Stalin along with its Chechen and Ingush neighbors for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis. They repatriated the province in 1957, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, tried to secede in 1992, a move ruled illegal by the region’s parliament. More recently, Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord behind last year’s Beslan massacre, was reportedly briefly stationed in Karbardino-Balkaria in 2003. The latest attacks in Nalchik are the largest-scale in the republic’s recent history.
- Ingushetia. A mainly Muslim province with half a million inhabitants, Ingushetia shares a porous border with Chechnya. Both provinces also share ethnic, cultural, and linguistic ties stretching back to 1936, when the two were adjoined by the Soviets into a hyphenated province, and 1944, when both of their populations were deported to Central Asia by Stalin. In 1992, the two states split up but Ingushetia, unlike Chechnya, opted to stay part of Russia. That same year, Russian troops were deployed to the region after Ingushetia tried to reclaim Prigorodny, a part of neighboring North Ossetia. Thousands of Ingush were forced to flee the region. Relations between the Ingush and Chechens have 0soured further since, though the Ingush were largely opposed to Russia’s occupation of Chechnya in 1994. In June 2004, a series of attacks against government buildings in Ingushetia, which closely mirrored the most recent attacks in Nalchik, were carried out by Chechen rebels and killed nearly 100, including Ingushetia’s interior minister. Ingush fighters, led by warlord Magomet Yevloyev, were reportedly among the school hostage-takers in Beslan last year.
- Dagestan. The largest of North Caucasus’ provinces (pop: 2.5 million) and home to some thirty ethnic groups, Dagestan is situated along Russia’s main oil corridor to the Caspian Sea. The province has a long history of poor relations with Russia. In the 1920s, its people revolted against Soviet-rule, and later its Muslim populations were repressed by Moscow. After the USSR fell, Dagestan remained neutral during the first Chechen War. In 1999, Basayev and a group of Islamic extremists tried to topple Dagestan’s local government and establish an Islamic state. The insurrection was repelled by the Russian army, but the event triggered the start of the second Chechen War. Dagestan has since seen a number of terrorist attacks and kidnappings on its soil.
- North Ossetia/South Ossetia. A largely industrial, Christian province located along Georgia’s northern border, North Ossetia was the only republic in the region to support Russia’s occupation of Chechnya in the 1990s. Not to be confused with South Ossetia, a tiny enclave that tried to merge with its northern neighbor in 1990 and declare de facto independence from Georgia in 1992, but only after a bloody insurrection resulted in 100,000 South Ossetian refugees fleeing to the north. South Ossetia remained largely peaceful until 2004, when Georgia’s new government began clamping down on the separatist region. Meanwhile, North Ossetia has had a number of terrorist attacks, including a 1999 bomb attack in Vladkikavkaz, its capital, which killed sixty people, and the siege of a school in Beslan, that left 344 civilians dead.