Russia's Caucasus Region Ripe For Trouble
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
David, let's begin this primer, this lesson, if you will, on the Caucasus, with geography, because I imagine listeners are beginning to get lost in the Caucasus.
DAVID GREENE: Yeah.
MONTAGNE: In relation to Russia, where is this North Caucasus region that we've been hearing about?
GREENE: It's very impoverished. Unemployment is incredibly high. There's a lot of anger at the world. And so it's become one of these real battlegrounds involving an Islamist insurgency.
MONTAGNE: Okay. So you've just came back from Dagestan and they've been fighting for independents from Russia for, as you say, centuries. What do the people there that you met in Dagestan say to you about the strive to escape Moscow's rule?
GREENE: And, you know, one of the uneasy things to see, Renee, is when people from the Caucasus travel to Moscow and go to some other Russian cities up to the north. You know, you can see it in train stations. They're the first to be stopped and searched for documents.
MONTAGNE: But why are the Russians so determined to maintain their dominance of the region?
GREENE: Part of the deal current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - who's former President Vladimir Putin. Part of the deal he made with the Russian people was, you know, we're going to make life better for you, but you have to accept some level of an iron fist, some level of control. I will keep you safe. We'll have a powerful government. I will protect you from terrorism. And so it's very politically important for Prime Minister Putin to keep control of that area. It's politically beneficial for him to show that, you know, he's sending Russian Special Forces down there to control the region. And so this is a big battle for Putin and his prestige.
MONTAGNE: After hideous wars in Chechnya, the school massacre in Beslan, the theater siege in Moscow where hundreds of people died, airliner, metro bombings - is there any sign of an end to the cycle of terrorist attacks and then state repression?
GREENE: He said he wants to improve the economy in the North Caucasus. That's absolutely vital. Give people, you know, something to look to that is not, you know, joining an insurgent group. And now, you know, we have these two bombings. Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin both come out. They say we're going to go after, we're going to kill these terrorists. And whether Medvedev can return to that policy now in this current climate of actually focusing on the economy instead of just making this something very close to a war will be very interesting. I think people will be wondering right if that effort is going to go by the wayside.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Moscow correspondent David Greene, thanks very much for joining us.
GREENE: Always a pleasure, Renee.
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