A Tale of Two Wars: United States in Afghanistan and Russia in the Caucasus

Posted May 4th, 2011 at 9:39 pm (UTC+0)

Oddly, the death tolls in both wars stand at 440.

In Afghanistan, 440 American soldiers were killed by hostile action last year.

In Russia’s Caucasus, 440 Russian police and soldiers were killed by Islamic insurgents last year.

Abzulit Shauxalov, 31, a former policeman, was shot in the back while on duty in Ingushetia, a republic in the Russian Caucasus.. Islamic militant violence has killed 400 police officers over the past five years in Ingushetia alone. Photo: Diana Markosian

The death of Osama bin Laden has many Americans thinking: let’s declare victory, crank up the brass bands, and get out of Afghanistan.

The billions of taxpayer dollars for nation-building in Afghanistan and Pakistan could be far better spent at home, some think, rebuilding America’s rust belt regions. And, on Nov. 6, 2012, the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan will not be voting in American elections for president and congress.

Here, much closer to Afghanistan-Pakistan, positioning for a post-America Afghanistan is already getting started.

It was maybe a coincidence, but just a few hours after President Obama announced the death of bin Laden, Moscow announced the appointment of a Russian heavyweight to co-chair a Russia-Afghan trade and aid commission. The leader of the Russian side will be Sergei Shmatko, minister of energy and arguably the most powerful cabinet member for Russia, the world’s largest oil and gas producer. Russia has plans to run gas pipelines and electric power lines through Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Back to the 440 dead in the Caucasus.

Russia cannot declare victory and go home.

For the last 150 years, the Caucasus have been part of the Russian homeland.

The death of bin Laden, may speed up thinking that, in the age of the Arab Spring, the Saudi outlaw was yesterday’s man and that his suicide bombings were yesterday’s perversion of a great religion.

But 20 years after the breakdown of pax sovietica, the rag tag rebellion on Russia’s southern fringe persistently bubbles in a deadly stew. Ingredients include:
 a profound sense of ethnic, religious, and regional alienation from Russia’s Slavic, Christian core;
 age-old, Sicilian-style vendettas between mountain families and clans;
 and lunges by ambitious men to get a slice of the billions of rubles that Moscow pumps yearly into the region.

What young man is going to be happy herding sheep, if he dreams of earning $30,000 a year working as the fourth bodyguard for Chechnya’s deputy minister of postage stamps?

Google “Kadyrov cars” or “Kadyrov palaces” and you’ll get a Technicolor picture of the action flowing the way of Chechnya’s 34-year-old playboy prince, Ramzan Kadyrov.

People are starting to grumble in Moscow.

“Stop Feeding the Caucasus!” was the rallying cry at a nationalist demonstration on a recent sunny Saturday in Moscow. Addressing 500 protesters — largely young men in black jackets — one speaker shouted: “We spend too much money and too much blood on the Caucasus.”

Russian nationalists now talk openly of cutting off the four majority Muslim republics on Russia’s southern edge – Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino Balkaria. Let them eat independence, they cry.

Dream on.

The people who run Russia face (their own kind) of elections this December and next March. With Russian oil selling for 50 percent over last year’s prices, the Kremlin can easily afford to keep irrigating the Caucasus with billions of rubles. Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Putin announced the launching this year of 37 development projects for the Caucasus. The price tag: $15 billion, about $2,000 per inhabitant.

So while the Washington can start quietly cutting the American blood and treasure spent on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russian taxpayers are condemned to keep spending, and Russian soldiers, police and civilians are condemned to keep dying.

According to Caucasian Knot, a regional website, 211 people — a mix of soldiers, civilians and rebels — were killed due to armed conflict in the Caucasus during the first three months of this year. For Russian security forces in the Caucasus, their 2011 death toll could be on its way back to 440.

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

2 responses to “A Tale of Two Wars: United States in Afghanistan and Russia in the Caucasus”

  1. Pyotr says:

    Yes, the caucasian region is the seemingly unhealable wound of Russia. People are fed up with the Putin’s politics in the region that many are seriously considering is the handful of mountains and a bunch of savages really worth those biilions while we here in Russia have poor healthcare, education, lack of kindergartens and lack of almost anything what an average person in Europe takes for granted? And this is when the gush of oil and gas money is overflowing! People just cannot understand where does all the money go? All we hear from Putin and medvedev are promises. The promises are echoed throughout Russia for almost 12 years, and nothing’s done. But everybody sees that people near power in moscow and in provinces are getting richer and richer with their palaces, cars, property abroad and so on while the rest’s real salaries are dwindling. Everyday it is harder to believe in Putin’s lie. Somewhen and somehow it must stop. But when and how nobody knows. Russians now are very afraid of revolutions, they didnt bring us anything good. Best people of our nation were sistematically weeded. Now we dont like each other, we expect any kind of meanness from our neighbour. We cannot come to an agreement with each other on any even most trivial subject. We dont trust each other. Putin is one of us, and he is not the worst one. Every nation deserves its leader. Actually, the main our problem is not putin or oligarchs or caucasus, it is in our heads. we are a really phsychologicaly traumatised nation. And no revolution can solve the problem, only time and evolution if we are lucky.

  2. […] (This time around we offer you a guest post by our friend James Brooke, who reports for Voice of America from Moscow. You can see his original piece here.) […]



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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