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Russia and the Caucasus Region: Part I

In this episode of the Russia in Context Podcast, host Jeff Hawn talks with researchers Ivan Klyszcz and Harold Chambers about issues affecting the North Caucasus region. Their discussion focuses on the threat of insurgency, the October riot at a Dagestani airport, and the effects of the war in Ukraine on the region.

Jeff Hawn:

Hello and welcome to Russia in Context series of the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policies Contours podcast. This is your host, Jeff Hawn. Three decades ago, the Cold War ended and the red flag was lowered over the Kremlin. The USSR was dead and Russia was reborn, but history did not end as some thought it would. Over the last three decades, Russia has once again become a persistent challenger to U.S. global leadership. How this is happening and why is what we seek to answer in our new subseries on the Contours podcast, Russia in Context. I’m joined today by Ivan Klyszcz, who is a research fellow at the International Center for Defense and Security in Tallinn, Estonia, and Harold Chambers, who is a Ph.D. researcher of political science at Indiana University. Welcome both of you.

Ivan Klyszcz:

Thank you for having me.

Harold Chambers:

Yes, thanks for having us.

Jeff Hawn:

All right, so I’m going to start off by actually quoting one of you. Harold, you once told me that you really can’t understand modern Russian politics without understanding the Caucasus, and let’s briefly unpack that. Russia’s Caucasus region consists primarily of three regions. I’ll let you name them because I’m sure I’ll butcher the pronunciation. But why don’t you tell us some about the role the Caucasus region has played on modern Russian politics?

Harold Chambers:

Yeah, so the crux of the North Caucasus role in Russian politics today is really in facilitating the rise of Putin. In the mid to late ’90s, you had Chechnya decide to assert their independence after the fall of the Soviet Union. Eventually, Yeltsin decided, “No, this can’t be allowed.” So he launched the First Russo-Chechen War and lost the First Russo-Chechen War, and so this opened the way for Putin to attempt to succeed where he had failed. So in 1999, Shamil Basayev and Omar Khattab, a Chechen militant and Saudi Arabian militant respectively, were operating in Dagestan, trying to provoke conflict there. This provided an opening for Putin to position himself as this strongman, as this man of power and started to reopen the conflict that has formed the basis of his legitimacy for power.

Ivan Klyszcz:

May I add a couple words to that really excellent overview? I want to stress that the Caucasus region and what we call today the North Caucasus has been for Russia a key place for its claims to being a great power, maybe not as much as say, Ukraine or Poland in the past and Central Asia, but during the Imperial Era, it was the region where it would pursue a type of colonial empire that would put it next to the European empires at the time.

On the Soviet Union, Muslim minority regions such as in Central Asia, and the Caucasus were part of the Soviet proliferation or propaganda of the industrialization model of the Soviet Union. Essentially, the Soviet Union going around the world saying, “Look how we developed these regions. Imagine what that can do for you.” So it holds a special place in Russia already from much time in the past. Of course, in that sense, it’s no coincidence that Putin in his first or second term in office, relatively early in his long reign said that historical mission is to bring order or stability to the the North Caucasus. So I think building on what Harold mentioned, Moscow’s leadership is aware of the historical significance and the value of this region for Moscow.

Jeff Hawn:

That’s an interesting point. Thank you both for that wonderful summary. But one of the points that opposition activist Alexei Navalny made earlier in his political career was this criticism of,” Stop feeding the Caucasus,” which many have interpreted to have very nationalistic or even racist connotations, but also speaks to the amount of resources that the Kremlin invest in the region. So Ivan, can you give us an idea of ballpark, how much the Kremlin invests in this region generally speaking, and why it sees it so strategically significant that it’s worth that investment?

Ivan Klyszcz:

So I don’t have in front of me the figure of what proportion of the Russian federal budget goes to this part of the Russian Federation, maybe Harold has. But there’s no doubt that the part of the Russian Federation that is the North Caucasus, which consists of several autonomous republics, which are in essence, federal subjects on paper, much like states in the U.S. or Länder in Germany and other federal governments, their finances are overwhelmingly dependent on direct transfers from the federal budget. There are at capacity to collect taxes locally under unemployment rates, under lack of true strategic industries means that they don’t have much sources of income locally. Chechen and Ingushetia while a lesser extent used to have a large oil industry, but today, that’s mostly depleted. Even the larger region, Dagestan, which is the largest in terms of population and surface doesn’t really have a large industrial base that would make it a true economic powerhouse. So this is a region that’s highly dependent on Moscow just to carry out its basic governance functions in terms of financing.

Jeff Hawn:

Harold, do you want to elaborate on why they see this investment as so important then?

Harold Chambers:

Yeah, so the whole idea of the investment is not just that it is supposedly bringing about stability through economic development. It’s that it’s bringing about stability through funding a massive repressive apparatus and by buying off the elite. Obviously, there have also been some other more high-profile investments such as all of the construction surrounding the 2014 games in Sochi. While technically the area where Sochi is was moved out of the North Caucasus from a bureaucratic standpoint where they separated Krasnodar Krai and the Republic of Adygea from the North Caucasus Federal District moving it into the Southern Federal District, geographically, it is still the North Caucasus. So it’s been this hyper fixation and you could almost say old school imperialist romanticization that you could find and take your choice of classical Russian writer.

This idea that the the North Caucasus is this place of wild rugged beauty and for that, you can only invest in tourism, unless if they have oil. Oil is obviously always full game. But that is how we’ve seen these patterns of investments spent. Since the very early 1000s, the commitment really was this heavy focus on ski resorts, and this was including in areas where you had ongoing insurgencies. So it’s the, “If you build it, they will come mentality,” when realistically, that has been just proven utterly false. Now a lot of the region lacks basic infrastructure for gas, water, electricity and such. So it’s really been this misallocation of funds to do short-term payoffs rather than any attempt to actually create long-term stability.

Jeff Hawn:

So no economic viability, but an important strategic position, thus, Moscow continues to focus on the region. But let’s try to also discuss this from a viewpoint of the people who live in that region and also the issues that they deal with. I know, of course, from just… it’s impossible not to follow Russian politics and not see the names of several prominent people in Caucasus politics crop up in discussion around national politics or issues relating to that. So there’s a couple of ones that come to mind, but Harold, maybe you can give us just a general summary of how, for example, Chechnya’s political elite interact and interface with the criminal elite and how that has changed or shifted since the war in Ukraine. Because obviously, if you are on social media at all, you will see the Chechen forces supposedly in Ukraine at some point. They do seem to have time to make a lot of TikTok videos.

Harold Chambers:

Yeah. So the relationship between the Chechen officials and officials at the federal level has really substantially changed during the war or since the most recent full-scale invasion. Definitely, it’s softened relationships. Obviously, historically they’ve been extremely tense. Nobody trusts the Kadyrov regime. The Kadyrov regime is openly antagonistic, especially towards the Federal Security Services. Even though Chechnya has not been the number one recipient of federal subsidies in some time. Just in terms of the North Caucasus, most of them have actually been going to Dagestan. Chechnya is always still that focus because it’s just such an open secret how much is getting embezzled.

So it’s these historically very antagonistic ties that because of the rally around the flag effect and just the very public contribution by the Kadyrov regime through the initial troop commitment to the assault on Kiev, the creation and then continued existence of the Akhmat group and just this continual propagandizing of the Kadyrovcy as this elite central unit, be it the capture of Mariupol, that would be the main one. But they’ve maintained this idea that they are the ones that need to go where it’s hottest and play the biggest role, which is why they were the ones responding to Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner’s mutiny. So at this point, they’re able to throw their weight about to secure these demonstrations of appreciation for their contributions. Whether that’s getting official acknowledgement of that in the Duma or all of the different awards that have been granted to Ramzan’s son, Adam, they’re all symptoms of the same phenomenon of just asserting the buildup of influence gathered by the wartime events.

Jeff Hawn:

Just a quick question here. Do you think that there is in the back of their mind translating that influence to more sustainable power when the inevitable transition happens in Russian politics? Because some people have said Ramzan has ambitions to be president of all Russia.

Harold Chambers:

So it’s definitely there are attempts to diversify their financial assets and especially pick up some new ones in occupied Ukraine. Those are not going to uphold, really, realistically, even whether he actually views those as long-term. Obviously, Kadyrov has also picked up some major assets in the national economy in Russia such as the Dannon Yogurt factory. He’s definitely trying to hedge his power. He’s not trying to move up to the federal level. You just simply cannot move his whole regime apparatus and move it up to the federal level. He doesn’t have the men, he doesn’t have the goodwill among officials, and it’s just not going to happen.

Jeff Hawn:

Ivan, you had something you wanted to add?

Ivan Klyszcz:

Yeah, just to really stress this, Harold already mentioned really all the key elements here. But I just really wanted to stress that indeed Kadyrov is not really a beloved figure in Moscow. By that I mean in the Kremlin and among the so-called Kremlin Towers. I don’t know how of much it is true, but supposedly really, his only ally in Moscow is really Putin himself. It’s important to remember that Putin elevated Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad Kadyrov, to be president of this puppet regime in Chechnya, and of course, Kadyrov rise to power. I don’t want to project some sort of sentimental bond between the two men. I’m confident it’s a political relationship like they all are, but this is definitely a longstanding partnership between the two. I’m sure that there’s no intention from Kadrov’s side to really change the way it’s arranged at the present time.

Jeff Hawn:

For those of you who’ve been listening to our podcast, you’ll know that Russia typically functions on a patronal political system where you have a patron such as Putin, and he deliberately picks people who will be loyal to him but will also work against one another, which is, as Harold mentioned, the animosity between the Chechen and the federal services is well known and well pronounced and often breaks forth into very public displays of violence. But yeah, Ivan, we’ve kind of focused on Chechnya now, but can you give us an idea about the role and the importance of the other regions in the South Caucasus, because you don’t hear about these as much? Give us an idea of how they’re governed or how they’re managed ’cause I’m sure most people are aware Chechnya is essentially a totalitarian police state. Is it the same in the other regions in the South Caucasus?

Ivan Klyszcz:

Yes, certainly. I would say that the other regions are also totalitarian police state in as much Russia itself is a totalitarian police state. Let me mention just these so-called republics. It’s Adygea to the most in the west, then Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Karabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. These are republics. Most of them are, one would call majority minority. So these are mostly inhabited by people who are not ethnic Russians, not Russki in the terminology. They’re what would be called Rossiisky, which there’s no good translation into English of this nuance. Unlike Chechnya, these regions are governed by the similar federal system of governance as the rest of the Russian Federation. In other words, the people who are assigned by governors are assigned by Moscow, are mostly powered from other positions under Moscow’s sanction if not outright direction, and their task tends to be just to implement federal policy.

They’re not given that much autonomy to manage the affairs of their respective regions beyond what Moscow just expects them to do. That’s not to say that they don’t have a personal impact and they don’t try to carry out these instructions in different ways. Just to give one prominent example, between the late 2000s to the early 2010s, Ingushetia was led by Yunus-bek Yevkurov, who has been recently back in the news as deputy minister of defense, if I’m not mistaken. But he was briefly governor, or not briefly, actually for many years, governor of Ingushetia. In that role, his primary task was to stand the rise of violence connected to the extremist insurgency across the North Caucasus, that at the time, by late 2000s had moved decisively in terms of intensity from Chechyna to other regions, notably Dagestan, but also Ingushetia. As governor, his mission was already set. He had to control the violence and had to do it according to certain parameters that the federal government expected.

But he did innovate in some ways by opening a dialogue with Salafist communities, which up until then were marginalized and discriminated and targeted in some ways, being conflated with Wahhabism, which is a different current in Islamic thought and extremism altogether. So he opened the dialogue with some of these communities, which helped to reduce the instability that Ingushetia was facing, to put it in modest terms. This is all to say that, like I said a bit ironic at the start, these regions are not governed all that differently from the rest of Russia. It’s just that their circumstances because of their demographic profile and because of their, let’s say, developmental needs in terms of economy and institutional development, they are governed differently. But it’s a difference of a matter of degree rather than a difference in terms of, let’s say, quality in the case of Chechnya where it’s state within a state or any other way that you want to classify it.

Jeff Hawn:

Yes, I had previously been told that the closest analogy to Chechnya was the Stasi regime in East Germany where there is a complete and constant police presence coming from the Kadyrov paramilitaries. On that vein, let’s discuss more broadly this Islamic insurgency. Now obviously this dates back to the 1990s, as you both mentioned, and it’s been on again off again. Putin has frequently cited it as one of the reasons why Russia has actually aligned with the U.S. war on terror. How much of a current threat is this Islamic insurgency, and how much of it is a fiction used to continue to justify Russian oppression in the region? We’ll start with Harold.

Harold Chambers:

So the insurgency at this point is very much very low grade, especially considering how it used to be. We’ve seen a couple upticks when you look at the data over the past few years, and it was very, very low. It was virtually non-existent in 2022. There were only six deaths from armed conflict in the North Caucasus during that time. You had two in Dagestan, two in Chechnya and two in Kabardino-Balkaria. Of that, the two in Kabardino-Balkaria were not Islamist insurgents. They were partisans against the war that got into a shootout with the FSB. But then this past year, you’ve started to see that rebound out of the shifts in Russian domestic situation. Stemming from the war, this year we had, or this past year in 2023, we had 14 deaths, 14 injuries, and almost all of them were in Ingushetia. Ingushetia just wildly won there with 20 casualties total. Chechnya had two and Dagestan had two.

So part of this is really that the internal situation inside Ingushetia has really shifted. That’s not the only answer here, but there’s also a few cases of young men in small groups coming to Ingushetia. They’re Ingush natives. They are somewhere else for school like Astrakhan, in a not too far away region, and then they’re radicalized. They returned to Ingushetia to fight and eventually get into shootouts and die. But the real change in terms of Ingushetia’s internal domestic situation was that the current governor basically went to war with one of the former alternative power holder, the Batalkhadzhintsy Sufi brotherhood basically went to war with them and fully cleaned them out. They’ve been tied to gun smuggling, narcotics trafficking and even the assassination of the former head of Center for Countering Extremism in the Republic.

So it’s been this long time evolution of the understanding between the authorities and the Batalkhadzhintsy brotherhood, and basically they decided to finally break that covenant or the understanding that they had together. Just generally, we’ve seen back in 2022, Ingushetia’s male population largely just refuse to acknowledge that mobilization happened. We’ve just seen generally Kalimatov, the governor, has just failed to really implement any federal policies to the point that year after year, those that watch the region basically are just waiting to hear about his forced retirement, but it just never comes. So this has affected how much of this is lone wolves? How much is there an operational environment for an actual more organized insurgency? I would say that as far as things go, things would just have to break.

There would just have to be a snapping point to trigger anything actual large scale. For now, we’re likely just to see this continuous, very low grade insurgency. It will probably continue to pick up some, especially as there have been a lot more guns and various other munitions available throughout the region as they’re just not being checked as … The whole area is reasonably very, very close to the war, and so that has provided a lot of unregistered weaponry to just be throughout the entire North Caucasus. So that’s partially why we can see this uptick in 2023 in militant activity as well, but it’s still such a repressive area. All of these checkpoints in between the regions that were established as part of a counter-terrorism strategy, they’re still in place. So it’s still not an actual insurgency taking place, but so we’ll likely continue to see these low-grade, more lone wolf type actions.

Jeff Hawn:

Ivan, do you have any thoughts to add?

Ivan Klyszcz:

No. I think Harold really gave a comprehensive look at what’s the current state. I would just emphasize that point that for the situation to change and to shift into a rise in conflict intensity or a renewed push for some sort of insurgency, a lot of those organizations that actually led the violence about 10 years ago from its peak, a lot of them have been just dismantled. Many of them went to Syria with covert, not assistance, at least encouragement from the federal government as a way to diffuse the situation at home.

So despite the fact that we are talking about a region that is heavily impoverished, highly repressed and highly dependent on federal transfers with few local industries other than tourism and maybe a few other services, a little bit of industry and agriculture, it would be hard to see from where could a renewed push for bottom-up contestation of the type we saw 10 years ago or 15 years ago. I think if we were to see violence rise again, it would take a different shape. It would be led by different people, different ideas, different forms of organization. There would, of course, be some continuity, but it wouldn’t be just a revival of what we saw in the recent past.

Jeff Hawn:

So actually, that was my next question. So as you’ve outlined, the region is very reliant on funding from the central government and also there’s a constant maintenance of control to essentially what is a occupation and also the regional administrators, but they’re also reliant heavily on fund transfer from Moscow. Now, Harold, you mentioned mobilization, and this is something that I want to discuss with you both in the broader context of what’s happening with the escalation of the war in Ukraine. The Russian central state’s obviously under a lot of pressure.

There’s less money to go around, fewer resources. There’s a need for more manpower at the front lines. What effect is this having on the Caucasus region? Have we seen a diminishment in those funds transfer, and have there been efforts to mobilize the young men of the region? We obviously know the Kadyrovites have been volunteering, though my understanding is, as you mentioned earlier, Harold, even with the accolades they’ve been receiving, they’ve mainly been tasked for rear area security because they’re not good for much else. So what is the effect the conflict in Ukraine or the escalated invasion of Ukraine having on the political dynamics of the region? Ivan, why don’t we start with you?

Ivan Klyszcz:

Well, one of the main points that rose in the last almost two years now is that some of the region’s most targeted for mobilization and quote, unquote, “volunteer recruitment,” are this minority-majority regions such as regions in the North Caucasus, but also in Siberia. One of them that has stood out is Dagestan, which is one of the poorest regions of the Russian Federation where the income or the average salaries, I don’t have the number in front of me, but it’s about half of what average person in Moscow would gain or even less; plus, which a much higher unemployment rate, which is even harder. The regions such as this with such economic need, the military presents a viable career for young people to manage the unemployment situation.

Then, of course, with very generous, or I don’t don’t know if generous is the right word, but very substantial enlistment bonds, some promised salaries, many of which are never delivered, the launch of the full scale invasion against Ukraine attracted some more people into the military, although, and made Dagestan and other regions similar overrepresented in the mobilization and in the previous volunteer recruitment. That said, I would be very interested to see good quality opinion polls that would try to capture the general mood in these regions in the North Caucasus regarding the war, whether the trends of a latent support, if not open support for the invasion that we see across the federation are replicated there with the same intensity or less so. So that’s an item that has been recurring, the overrepresentation of people of minority background in the invasion. We can talk about other elements, but maybe there are other aspects that can be also emphasized.

Jeff Hawn:

Harold, do you have anything to add?

Harold Chambers:

Yeah, I completely agree with Ivan. That is by far the main point that they’ve just been so overrepresented in terms of manpower contribution both through mobilization, through other means of moving people to the front. For that, they’re overrepresented in casualty rates, and they’re just generally overrepresented in the military itself. I think one of the big things was just how much public sentiment was against the mobilization, and that provoked actual public protests for multiple days in Kabardino-Balkaria, the Ingush just refused to mobilize, which they just covered up instead. Chechnya had an actual protest. Dagestan had days of very intense protests and the crowd’s clashing with police there. I was looking back through videos from those days not that long ago, and it was still just so shocking how nobody got shot during the protests in Makhachkala and Dagestan.

So I think that’s one of those things that needs to just be remembered is that there is still a point where people will mobilize against the state. The state is getting better at figuring out how to prevent that and how to counter it. But just like the anti-Semitic mob that attempted to storm the international airport in Dagestan just a matter of months ago, they’re still struggling to deal with some of these spontaneous acts of discontent or resistance. But I think it’s one of those dynamics that definitely needs to be kept in mind, especially as the situation across all of Russia reasonably is getting worse.

We’ve all seen the stories in the past few days about all of the heat and power outages around Russia. These are the types of problems that literally are occurring year round throughout Dagestan. Despite the fact that Sergey Melikov, the governor, recently promised to modernize the electricity grid, that’s not going to happen. That’s just not going to, and certainly not fast enough. So you’ve had smaller actions and more localized in communities that have, they’ve been protesting on and off basically, all of last year, fair amount of the year previous. This is no new thing, but just as the socioeconomic situation continues to just deteriorate, the fact that there is indeed a breaking point and a point at which society will demonstrate, that fact really just needs to be kept in mind.

Jeff Hawn:

Yeah, absolutely. Especially, and it’s when it’s in one of the most heavily-repressed regions of Russia, yet we’re still, as you say, seeing demonstrations. That is very interesting. One point, though, that you mentioned that since this is called Russia in Context, the anti-Semitic mobs storming the airport just a few months ago, can you explain to us what was the driving force behind that? Obviously, many people in the West still see this as a heavily Islamic region and think Russia’s continued presence is good because it keeps a lid on a new potential source of jihadist radicalism. What exactly was going on with that airport storming? ‘Cause that seems quite an extreme escalation for a region that’s so heavily policed.

Harold Chambers:

Yeah, so basically, what was happening was there were these rumors that, “Oh, there’s a plane full of Israeli citizens that will be landing and seeking asylum here in Dagestan.” Dagestan, the general population being very pro-Palestine and very much in the days leading up and the weeks leading up reasonably, not able to demonstrate their support for Palestine, and the government was not allowing for there to be any release of public sentiments. I’ve seen the pictures, I’ve been on the popular Telegram channels that were in part responsible for organizing some of the storming of the airport and other channels of a similar flavor, this anti-government or more religious Islamist nature. The pictures that have been shared constantly, they are just positively horrific. So it’s very easy to see how this anger built up, and you’re not really being able to do so much as demonstrate a support for Palestine and the ability to do anything a bit more substantial as, I’m not exactly sure to what degree they were able to.

Then you find out, “Oh, they’re flying in Israeli citizens,” and so basically they just snapped and decided to try to stop it. The spreading of these rumors was basically an organized campaign because you have this similar rumors taking place across the North Caucasus, and the Chechen authorities mobilized to prevent any organizing of a similar mob there. I’m pretty sure we even had that rumor in Ingushetia who doesn’t even have a connecting flight to Israel. So it’s basically just playing off of the raw emotions surrounding the conflict and the extreme repressiveness in the region that doesn’t really allow for any public demonstration of any kind. So that and some other factors all combined to lead us to the storming of the airport.

Jeff Hawn:

That’s very interesting. Ivan, here’s my question for you on that. So obviously, the elite in this region are very much in the pocket of Moscow or in cahoots with them. Is there kind of any opposition or counter elite in exile or domestically that is agitating for separatism for even just the region to be governed more democratically or perhaps still opposition in the Islamic sense?

Ivan Klyszcz:

Yeah, certainly. Here, I will mostly talk about the regions other than Chechnya, because I think Harold might be better suited than me to talk about Chechnyan government in exile or Chechnyan opposition abroad. When it comes to the conflict external factor, let’s say, it varies and it’s mostly connected by the arms of, let’s say, ethnic solidarity between the large Circassian diaspora. Now, Circassian are one of the groups native, let’s say, are in the North Caucasus. They are native to the regions of Adygea, Krasnodar Krai as well, the Black Sea Coast more generally, but also Kabardino-Balkaria where they’re called Kabards, Karachay-Cherkessa where they are called Cherkess, but these are all names for the same group called Circassian. In the 19th century, the Circassians were massively expelled by the Russian Empire in an act that many historians argue was one of the first modern era genocides. They were killed or forcibly expelled from the land along the Black Sea Coast, and the survivors found refuge in the Ottoman Empire.

So there are Circassian settlements and populations all settled throughout the Ottoman Empire from what is today Kosovo to throughout the Anatolian Peninsula and beyond. These Circassian diasporas have created organizations for solidarity with their homeland for decades. On the top of my head, I know that the end of the Soviet Union was seen as a period where these bonds would be rebuilt and there would be a new trans-border solidarity among the diaspora and the homeland. However, this is a very diverse group. When it comes to their politics and their contemporary politics, they are very diverse. Their views on Moscow, on the state of Russian politics vary widely between those who are more accommodationist to Moscow. Some would even accuse them of being co-opted by Moscow. There are some organizations that are indeed patronized by either the local governments in North Caucasus, if not Moscow outright.

There are as well organizations and individuals, activists that denounced, for instance, the declaration of the presence of the Circassian language throughout the region as well as other elements and minority rights in the North Caucasus. So this is to say that that external element has been there for many decades, and now with the war, the division is still there. We haven’t seen really a coalition of Circassian groups really for or against Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But this is definitely a factor that can sometimes complicate Russia’s policy in the broader Caucasus region, but also Turkey and really anywhere with Circassian diaspora. So we can talk about also other diasporas, but Circassian one is the most notable one precisely because of its size. I don’t remember the number on the top of my head, but it might very well be that there are more Circassia Asians or people of Circassian background or that can trace some Circassian heritage outside of historical Circassia in what is today the Russian Federation more abroad than in the homeland, I want to say.

Jeff Hawn:

Really interesting. Thank you. Harold, can you tell us something about the Chechnyan government in exile?

Harold Chambers:

So the Chechens in exile, there are a few different forums, I will say, for their organization. Basically, there are three former officials that from the independent Ichkeria era, that all claim to have the legal right to inherit power. The main one is Akhmed Zakayev and his London-based government-in-exile. He’s been very public in his role in Ukraine and organizing fighters there and generally doing pretty substantial international outreach for the Chechen cause, both with respect to getting Chechnya recognized as occupied, recognition of the multiple genocides of the Chechens committed by Russia. So you have that faction or you have some younger, more independent factions that are just more out of this blogger activist grouping of Chechen political actors. You just generally have a sizable fighter contingency in Ukraine, it’s spread out across a variety of different units. So it’s a rather politically diverse group, but definitely one that is united by this bottom-line objective of freeing Chechnya.

Jeff Hawn:

Wow, so a very dynamic and interesting region. This only entails the part of the Caucasus that is officially within Russia’s territory. So we are just about out of time, but thank you both very much for attending and looking forward to following up with both of you as we can discuss Russia’s policy in its near or broad in the broader Caucasus region. Thank you everyone who tuned in. This has been Russia in Context with Jeff Hawn.

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