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
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
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Report / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

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

Stronger democratic institutions are crucial to easing violence in Russia’s North Caucasus, where Europe’s worst armed conflict claimed at least 1,225 victims in 2012 and 495 in the first six months of 2013.

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Executive Summary

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.

Moscow/Brussels, 6 September 2013

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