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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Europe > North Caucasus > The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (III), Governance, Elections, Rule of Law

The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (III), Governance, Elections, Rule of Law

Europe Report N°226 6 Sep 2013


Armed conflict in the North Caucasus is the most violent in Europe today. At least 1,225 people were its victims in 2012 (700 killed, 525 wounded), and at least 242 were killed and 253 wounded in the first six months of 2013. The violence is greatest in Dagestan, then in Chechnya and Ingushetia, and the latter situation deteriorated in 2012. Unresolved disputes over territory, administrative boundaries, land and resources are important root causes of the violence, along with ethnic and religious tensions, the state’s incapacity to ensure fair political representation, rule of law, governance and economic growth. The region’s internal fragmentation and insufficient integration with the rest of the Russian Federation contribute to the political and social alienation of its residents.

Since first coming to power in 1999, Vladimir Putin has rolled back the un-prec­e­dented autonomy Russia’s regions secured after the Soviet Union’s collapse and created a highly centralised state. Many residents of the North Caucasus feel estranged from decisions made and carried out by federal institutions based in Moscow. Large-scale local violations and questionable practices during the 2011 parliamentary and 2012 presidential elections further undercut the state’s popular legitimacy.

This feeling is likely to be further exacerbated after 8 September, when new leaders will be indirectly selected in Dagestan and Ingushetia, instead of directly elected, as had been promised in a major reform offered by former President Dmitry Medve­dev. In March 2013, the Duma pulled back the restoration of direct elections of regional leaders in some cases. Citing concerns about their destabilising potential, it gave (elected) region-level assemblies, including the seven in the North Caucasus Federal District (NCFD), the authority to select the chief executives that had been exercised by the president since 2004. Citizens thus continue to have few means to hold their republic’s authorities democratically accountable or to meaningfully participate in political life. Local polls could have offered a way to improve the quality of governance and helped the North Caucasus’s integration with the rest of the country.

Lack of accountability and transparency make the governance system more amenable to capture by informal networks, often based on kinship and ethnic ties that bring together local strongmen, business and politicians. Such networks dominate political life, capture resources and block opportunities for young professionals to advance. Many local interest groups are well connected to federal authorities and represented in federal institutions, where they tend to pursue self-interest rather than constituents’ agendas. Incumbents are challenged in a few republics by the opposition, public associations and religious groups. But these have been unable to secure improvement in governance or restore the checks and balances that might advance effective conflict resolution and development.

Almost two decades of abusive behaviour by law enforcement personnel have eroded citizens’ belief in the rule of law and pushed some victims into the Islamist insurgency, as earlier Crisis Group reporting has described. Impunity has embedded violence in security-service practices, even when investigating petty crimes. Human rights groups have extensively documented enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions, but victims lack effective domestic remedies. The last hope for redress for many is the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), where Russia has the largest docket of pending cases.

All this contributes to the population’s lack of trust in institutions. For a significant number in this predominantly Muslim region, the rules of the game of the secular state have been discredited, increasing the attractiveness of more conservative models based on Islamic and customary law and undermining fledging attempts to win local support for counter-terrorism. Many residents are looking for alternative ways to organise their communities. Especially in the eastern republics of the North Caucasus, both Sufi and Salafi communities are creating parallel realities with alternative institutions.

This report, the third in the inaugural series by Crisis Group’s North Caucasus Project on the challenges of integration, analyses governmental, political and legal issues. It follows two October 2012 studies on the region’s ethnic and national groups, their disputes and grievances; the Islamic factor and Salafi-inspired insurgency; and the government’s religious and counter-insurgency policies. A subsequent report on the economy and social issues will complete the examination of the root causes of violence and deadly conflict. The recommendations that follow relate to the analysis in the first three reports.


To address ethnic conflicts and tensions

To the government of the Russian Federation:

1.  Develop a comprehensive program to increase social, political, cultural and economic integration of the North Caucasus with the rest of the country and reduce xenophobia toward its residents.

To the governments of the North Caucasus regions:

2.  Reduce tensions between ethnic groups in the North Caucasus by:

a) ensuring equal access to government employment, including in local government and law enforcement, in areas of ethnic tensions;
b) developing and carrying out, in consultation with local communities and leaders, comprehensive land reform in the region; and resolving land disputes, beginning with problems related to distant pastures;
c) seeking mutually acceptable solutions to territorial disputes, starting with the less challenging conflicts and building up to more complex disputes; and
d) ensuring inclusive, ethnically-mixed education that promotes tolerance and multi-culturalism aimed at overcoming the concept of “ethnic ownership” of territory and developing civic national identity.
To improve efficiency and local acceptance of counter-insurgency efforts

To the government of the Russian Federation:

3.  Give republic governments greater leverage and authority over security services operating on their territory.

4.  Continue reform of the internal affairs ministry, including changes to the evaluation system for units and individuals so as to discourage corruption and unlawful methods, including falsification of evidence, in pursuit of criminal cases; and increase the professionalism of lower-rank personnel in the North Caucasus by vigorous training programs.

5.  Pursue more resolutely criminal cases on enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and other human rights violations, including by creating a federal inter-departmental commission to locate missing persons in the North Caucasus and increasing the personnel and engagement in the region of the federal Investigative Committee’s special unit for police crimes.

6.  Create a federal psycho-social and medical rehabilitation program for law-enforce­ment personnel who have served in North Caucasus counter-terrorism operations, including by building or renovating rehabilitation facilities in the region; and ensure that all personnel and family members of killed or injured personnel receive compensation entitled to them without bureaucratic hurdles.

To the governments of the North Caucasus regions:

7.  Strengthen the focus of counter-insurgency efforts on soft-power measures that include dialogue with moderate Salafis and negotiations to encourage insurgents to lay down their weapons and reintegrate into peaceful life.

8.  Support and strengthen the mandates of the republic commissions for the rehabilitation of fighters and ex-fighters who have served their prison terms.

9.  Ban people’s militias that become engaged in ethnic or religious conflicts; and prosecute members involved in crimes, including killings and disappearances.

To the National Anti-terrorist Committee:

10.  Avoid creating new insurgents by ensuring the security of the local population during counter-terrorist operations; ceasing punitive actions against insurgents’ family members; and otherwise preventing illegal violence and revenge, including by security officials.

11.  Work toward fighters’ peaceful surrenders by engaging their willing relatives and civil society leaders.

12.  Mediate conflicts of interest between federal ministries and institutions concerning the return and rehabilitation of insurgents.

To the Russian State Duma:

13.  Pass a new amnesty for North Caucasus fighters, to include more serious crimes such as participation in attacks on security services (Article 317 of the Criminal Code).

To improve religious policy

To the National Anti-terrorist Committee and federal and regional agencies responsible for religious policy:

14.  Maintain neutrality toward competing religious groups, including by:

a) ceasing repression of fundamentalists, unless they violate the law;

b) facilitating Sufi-Salafi dialogue in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia, while increasing efforts to integrate non-violent Salafi communities and working with non-violent leaders to make them allies in overcoming extremism; and

c) combating discriminatory rhetoric and practices based on religion.

To religious leaders in the North Caucasus:

15.  Continue dialogue aimed at overcoming sectarian conflicts, prejudices and hostilities between adherents of various strands in Islam.

To strengthen state institutions so as to increase their legitimacy and more effectively moderate conflict

To the government of the Russian Federation:

16.  Reform the political system to reestablish democratic procedures, including competitive free elections at all levels; and as a priority, restore direct election of regional leaders.

17.  Establish and apply administrative and/or criminal sanctions for individuals who engage in multiple voting, ballot box stuffing and other election violations; and simplify requirements for election observation to allow broader domestic civic participation, including by non-party organisations and groups.

18.  Ensure reasonable decentralisation, including greater fiscal and political autonomy of republic governments; simplify bureaucratic procedures for local governments to receive and disburse funds; and streamline reporting obligations, while strengthening the state’s monitoring capacity to combat corruption.

19.  End law-enforcement impunity and investigate systematically and effectively within the framework of the law criminal activities of clan networks.

20.  Increase judicial independence and improve the quality of investigations, including by changing the reporting system and combating corruption.

21.  Invest in a serious effort to introduce the rule of law, open government and political and religious pluralism in Chechnya.

To the Council of Europe:

22.  Continue monitoring North Caucasus conflicts; increase engagement with them; and press Russia to more fully implement European Court of Human Rights decisions.

Moscow/Brussels, 6 September 2013

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