The conditions that we currently see in the Northern Caucasus regions including Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia are much more different and improved, at least, compared with what we saw during the 1990s. Recently, Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic’s has said that the Third Chechen War won't happen anymore. I indeed agree with him. This was a massive task that Mr. Putin and his entourage managed to accomplish within Russia’s political space. A region that during a period caused numerous difficulties for Russia is now one of the strongest advocates of the Russian administration, endorsing Moscow’s policies.
Presence of Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces in Syria is one of the clear signs of the new such context. These major changes are due to the fact that the federal budgets of these regions have been increased significantly, in the recent years. Yet, the Russian government hasn’t had any interference in the old-fashioned relations which have existed between the people in these regions. In Russia, church and state are separated and religion has officially had no impact on the government’s interactions with these regions. However, the religion of Islam continues to play a major and fundamental role in regions such as Chechnya. In fact sharia law and religious teachings are fully practiced in those areas. These are all despite the fact that the number of individuals with terroristic tendencies in the said regions, has decreased substantially. Although I claim that followers of radical Islam were never plentiful in these regions. More so, most Muslim-dominated regions other than Chechnya are applicable to my claim; for example Urals, the region in which I live or the regions adjacent to it. Many Muslims live in these regions, but these Muslims are followers of a specific branch of Sunni Islam, which condemns joining terrorist groups and involvement in radical activities.
During the 1990s, we have had many difficulties in the region of Chechnya. During the Soviet era, belonging to a minority religion was not allowed and even insisting on the religion of Islam was prosecuted by law. During that period in the Soviet ruled territories, they’d shut down Islamic religious schools and mosques. Now, in the era after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Muslims were allowed to return to their religious roots and principles, basically no remnant of their past existed for them to identify with, and build upon. Everything had been destroyed. In these circumstances, the doors were open for Muslims from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries to enter. As a result, in regions such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, they were viewed by the people as symbols of true and authentic Islam, especially by the youth, who lacked a clear idea of what Islam was. Those individuals would claim that “We’re graduates of the Al-Azhar University” or that studied in other Islamic universities. “We know what true Islam is and we’ll show you the right way” they said. Thus they would spread their own particular ideology among these people. On the other hand, the Soviet policies had made it so that we did not have anyone left to teach and advertise Islam to the people instead of them. But our views have now changed and the people of Russia have realized that what needs to be done. Our people now consider these individuals to be dangerous. But I don’t deny the unfortunate fact that groups of Russia’s Muslim populace travel to the ISIS Occupied territories of Iraq and Syria, in order to join with them. After these youth return from their experience operating among terrorist groups, they could attract even younger individuals to themselves, becoming a new role model to them. But due to the extensive political efforts of the regions and the activities of Russia`s Federal Security Service, their ranks has not risen and the scope of their activity has remained limited.
For example if we’re to speak of the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan or Bashkortostan, the Russian Government, similar with region of Chechnya, does not interfere in the traditional Islamic relations that have formed there and are ongoing. Perhaps the situation that exists there is hard to understand for the Elites of that region or the individuals belonging to different classes of the society; Perhaps it won’t be comprehensible for an individual who is of Russian descent but not a citizen of Russia. Relations have formed in an old-fashioned manner in a way that the central government does not interfere with them and their Issues are dealt with, and settled among themselves through their own efforts. In other words, problems in these regions do not drag out and the people settle their Issues between themselves. Therefore, these issues will not extend the other regions of Russia and so the other areas are not exposed to these threats.
Alexey Antoshin, is a Professor at the Institute of Social and Political Sciences, Ural Federal University (UrFU).
This article is an excerpt of his recent interview with The IRAS Institute.