News / Europe

Behind Moscow Airport Bomb, Insurgency Grinds On in Caucasus

The suspected suicide bomber at a Moscow airport last week was a 20-year-old man from the Caucasus region of southern Russia. Ingushetia is in the heart of this remote region where Islamic radicals are waging a slow-burning insurrection.

Interior Ministry officers patrol a motorway from the town of Malgobek to Nazran in the Russian southern region of Ingushetia, January 28, 2011.
Interior Ministry officers patrol a motorway from the town of Malgobek to Nazran in the Russian southern region of Ingushetia, January 28, 2011.
James Brooke

The flight south from Moscow to Ingushetia takes only two-and-a-half hours, but on the ground it is sometimes hard to remember you are still in Russia.

Here is one of the three "Green Republics" of the Caucasus, the green flags of Islam flap against snowy mountains, women wear silk headscarves in public, and the sale of alcohol is now forbidden.  In a demographic decolonization, the ethnic-Russian population has dropped from one-third at the end of the Soviet Union to less than one percent.

Traditional culture has rebounded as can be seen by the popularity of legzina - a dance where women float like long-necked swans, and men strut like eagles, wearing swords and imitation cartridge belts.

Recently, some of those cartridge belts have not been imitations.

Last year, insurgent violence across the Caucasus claimed 754 lives and more than 1,000 wounded.  In that context, the toll of 35 dead and 168 wounded in the Moscow airport attack amounted to the visible tip of a largely hidden war.  This conflict plays out in a daily grind of assassinations and bombings across Russia’s southern fringe.

In the capital of Ingushetia, Magas, security precautions speak of the invisible violence.  Key government buildings are boxed in by six-meter fences.  Police convoys aggressively move down roads, pushing oncoming traffic onto the shoulders.

Slide show reflecting on the culture of Ingushetia Republic

Traffic police stand tensely at intersections, automatic weapons at the ready.  In Ingushetia, a republic smaller than Rhode Island, the smallest American state, 400 policemen have been killed in the past five years.

Behind layers of fences, Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov explains the enemy is the Caucasus Emirate, a loose franchise of groups rooted in the five main regions of the Caucasus.

Mr. Yevkurov, a former military intelligence officer, said the units are largely independent, but they are capable of joining up for joint actions.  The compact leader bears the aches and pains of one Emirate action, a suicide bomb attack on his car 18 months ago that killed two people and put him in the hospital for two months.

He says the Caucasus Emirate wants to create an Islamic state, ruled by Sharia law, stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.

To take this banner away from the fundamentalists, local leaders have created a region of Russia where traditional Islamic precepts prevail over Russian law.  In Chechnya, where two wars in 20 years sharply reduced the male population, the government now encourages polygamy.

Government economic development officer Akhmed Paragulgov gave up drinking when he moved home two years ago from Moscow.  He says there is more to the anti-alcohol campaign than police closing night clubs and rebels burning vodka stores.

He says there has been a radical change in society.  Twenty years ago, people who drank were cool.  Now they are social parasites.

Unemployment and poverty also push many young men to go to the forest, as the insurgency is called here.  Officially, unemployment in Ingushetia is 50 percent.  Incomes are around 20 percent of Russia’s national average of $10,000.

In the clan-based societies of the Caucasus, a lot of work is off the books, but the region still has Russia’s lowest incomes and its highest birth rates.

In the Ingush town of Malgobek, Lydia struggles to support her family on the $15 a day her son sometimes brings home from working on road-paving projects.

As in much of the Muslim world -- from Tunisia to Egypt to Ingushetia -- population expansion puts thousands of young people every year on a job market with few prospects.

In the Caucasus, the solution is to migrate North, or some people here say, "to Russia."
Russia’s work force is aging and shrinking.

Last year, it shrank by almost 1 million workers.  Increasingly, Caucasus villages are populated by women, children and retirees.

The men are working up north.

But cultural clashes and the region’s reputation for violence has led some Russian cities to reject migrant workers from the Caucasus.  The city councils of Moscow and St. Petersburg are debating codes of conduct in which migrant workers would be asked to only speak Russian in public, and to not wear national dress or perform national dances, like the Lezginka, in public.

Economic development official Paragulgov says the government has to walk a line between cooperating with host cities and coping with critics who say that migrant worker programs encourage cultural destruction.

He says the brand of the Caucasus is not very positive right now.

This alienation of Russians from the Caucasus is becoming a political issue.  Russian nationalists increasingly say the country should retreat into a mono-ethnic state of its own.

They say that Russia pays almost 90 percent of the budgets for the Green Republics, while very few Russians still live in them.

A leader of the Slavic Union nationalist group, Dmitry Dyomushin, said in an interview in Moscow that he wants to say goodbye to the Caucasus.

He says, "I want a total separation of the Causasus from Russia - the Chechen, Ingush andDagestan republics."

For geostrategic reasons, the Kremlin clings to the Caucasus.

Stretching for 1,000 kilometers, the Caucasus range has 10 peaks higher than the highest peaks of the Alps.  For two centuries, these mountains have served as a natural barrier between Russia and its southern rivals, Turkey and Persia.

Russian loss of control of the northern slopes of this mountain barrier, this theory goes, would open the flat plains of Russia’s Slavic Christian heartland to a Muslim thrust north.
Russian poet Alexander Pushkin captured his nation’s wariness of the Caucasus when he wrote, "Cossack!  Do not sleep!  In the gloomy dark, the Chechen roams beyond the river."

While the line was written 200 years ago, the sentiment fits modern Moscow.

You May Like

Video Getting to Zero AIDS Infections

More than 35 million people around the world are infected with HIV, a disease that is both preventable and treatable

Children, Childhoods Lost in European Refugee Crisis

According to UNICEF, 190,000 children applied for political asylum in Europe in the first 9 months of this year - twice as many as last year

What Happened When I Landed in Antarctica

Refael Klein chronicles what it's like to visit one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs