The Caucasian Dark Circle

MOSCOW – The Russian authorities have recently begun showing off the massive security measures being implemented ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. They have good reason to be worried – and not only for the safety of athletes and spectators.

The violence in the North Caucasus is becoming less a serious regional conflict and more an existential threat to the entire Russian Federation – an evolution that reflects almost all of the mistakes, failures, and crimes of the post-Soviet leadership.

Two horrific wars with local separatists, from 1994-1996 and from 1999- 2006, have been fought over Chechnya, presumably to secure Russia’s territorial integrity. We Russians fought these wars in order to demonstrate to the Chechens that they, too, were citizens of Russia. We did so by destroying their cities and villages with artillery shells and aerial bombardment, and we abducted and killed civilians, their bodies often bearing evidence of torture. It should surprise no one that the Chechens, and other peoples of the Caucasus, do not feel very Russian.

In reality, Russia has lost the war against the Chechen separatists. The winner was Ramzan Kadyrov, one of the field commanders in the fighting. Ostensibly, he is an appointee of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but in reality he is virtually independent of the Kremlin, which pays him substantial financial support, not only for his formal declaration of loyalty, but also for his public embrace of Putin.