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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW4316 2006-04-21 14:35 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #4316/01 1111435
P 211435Z APR 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 004316 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/21/2016 
Classified By: Minister Counselor for Political Affairs Kirk Augustine. 
  Reason 1.4 (b, d) 
1. (C) Summary:  The lesson of 500 years of Russian 
statecraft is clear:  when the Center is strong, it 
centralizes, eliminating alternative power structures. 
Putin, seeking to show that he -- and Russia under his 
leadership -- are strong, is seeking to centralize.  He is 
doing so by eliminating ethnically based autonomies, starting 
with those that have caused no problems for the Center.  The 
net effect is to give Slavs more control over former ethnic 
homelands.  While some ethnic homelands have disappeared in 
Siberia, the strategy has run into resistance in the already 
troubled North Caucasus.  Adyge President Sovmen resigned 
April 14 rather than preside over the incorporation of his 
Republic into the surrounding Krasnodar Kray.  He drew 
support from the other Adygh peoples, including the 
Kabardians and Cherkess and their large overseas diaspora. 
Strong ethnic nationalism in the Caucasus, the legacy of 
Soviet nationality policies, and the realization that Moscow 
was unswayed by local concerns promoted an upsurge of 
resentment and unrest throughout the region, already 
suffering from the rapid growth of religious extremism. 
Faced with this prospect, the Kremlin backed down April 17 -- 
for now.  End Summary. 
Who are the Adyghs? 
2. (C) Adyghs are the indigenous population of the Northwest 
Caucasus.  Sub-groups include the Kabardians, Cherkess, 
Shapsugs and Ubykh.  The Abkhaz, further south, are cousins. 
The Adyghs were long linked to the great Middle Eastern 
empires -- Adygh boys became Mamluk Sultans in the 14th and 
15th centuries, and the Adyghs were nominally under Ottoman 
patronage until the Treaty of Kuchuk Kaynarja in 1774.  The 
Russian conquests of the 19th century led to mass migrations 
of a majority of Adyghs to the Ottoman empire.  Adygh 
("Cherkess" or "Circassian") communities are significant 
today in Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Paterson, New Jersey. 
3. (C) Descendants of those who remained in Russia are 
scattered through the North Caucasus, and are a majority only 
in Kabardino-Balkaria.  The Cherkess are a titular, but 
minority, nationality in Karachayevo-Cherkessia.  The 
Shapsugs of the Black Sea coast were unsuccessful in 
obtaining a titular homeland in their native area, near 
Sochi.  The Republic of Adygea was created in 1991 as a 
titular homeland for Adyghs, carved out of the Krasnodar Kray 
that completely surrounds it.  Though Adyghs make up only 20 
percent of the population, legal guarantees give control of 
the political system to Adyghs, including Shapsugs who moved 
The April Events 
4. (C) For three years, the Kremlin has been promoting the 
"amalgamation" ("ukrupneniye") of regions.  Several Siberian 
ethnic homelands have been incorporated into neighboring 
regions, starting with the incorporation of Komi into Perm 
three years ago. The first attempt to implement this policy 
in the North Caucasus ran into resistance. On April 4 Adyge 
President Khazrat Sovmen publicly denounced plans to hold a 
referendum on re-incorporating Adyge into Krasnodar -- a 
referendum that would easily carry on the votes of the 
majority Slavic population.  Two days later demonstrators 
poured into the streets of Maykop, Adyge's capital, in 
support of Sovmen.  Joining the demonstration was the Adyge 
Khase, a Shapsug nationalist organization -- Sovmen is 
himself a Shapsug.  Sovmen gave interviews blaming the crisis 
on Putin's Plenipotentiary Representative in the Southern 
Federal District, Dmitriy Kozak.  After several days of 
jockeying and an April 11 meeting between Sovmen and 
Presidential Administration chief Sobyanin -- with Kozak 
present -- Sovmen on April 14 submitted his resignation to 
President Putin, leaving in charge Dr. Murat Kudayev, head of 
one of the Republic's sub-districts. 
Dire Warnings 
5. (C) The prospective swallowing of this small ethnic 
homeland by a larger Slavic entity sent shock waves through 
the North Caucasus.  Small nations there have kept their 
identities for thousands of years, despite invasions by 
Indo-European and Turkic peoples, by retreating to the 
region's mountains and forests and developing tightly-knit 
MOSCOW 00004316  002 OF 003 
societies, extraordinary toughness and languages no outsider 
can pronounce.  Locals feared this was only the first step. 
The shock waves first hit the other Adygh enclaves, 
Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria, whose Adygh 
populations participated in the Maykop protests.  Kabardians, 
especially, are quick to defend their co-ethnics -- they sent 
hundreds of fighters to Abkhazia in the early 1990s; today's 
Abkhaz "Defense Minister," Sosnaliyev, is a Kabardian. 
6. (C) The concerns were shared in the rest of the North 
Caucasus, where disputes over territory claim lives
to this 
day.  No one considers current territorial boundaries 
optimal, but all fear that attempts to change them could be 
pulling the thread that unravels the whole cloth.  As 
Makhachkala Duma Deputy Gadzhi Makhachev (an Avar) told us, 
"What are they going to do?  Unite us with Chechnya?  Unite 
Chechnya with Stavropol?  It will all end in blood." 
Makhachev himself was involved in a dispute several years ago 
with Chechen warlord Sulim Yamadayev, who drove ethnic Avars 
out of their homes in north-east Chechnya; Makhachev fears 
that attempts to change the boundaries will mask similar 
7. (C) Many Moscow commentators were mystified by Putin's 
insistence on this course of action.  Even Russian 
nationalist commentator Sergey Markedonov -- who is 
virulently opposed to "ethno-territorial formations" and the 
"exceptionalism" granted to the Chechens and other satraps in 
the Caucasus -- told us he regarded the tactics as 
heavy-handed and likely to lead to destabilization.  He would 
have favored a demand that the Russian constitution apply in 
Adygea -- meaning that the special privileges given to Adyghs 
would be abolished by administrative action, allowing the 70 
percent Slavic majority to dominate without changing 
administrative structures. Markedonov challenged the 
strategy, as well, in a recent publication, asking,  "Why is 
"amalgamation" viewed as tantamount to saving the country 
from collapse, and equated with the strengthening of the 
The Climb-Down 
8. (C) Faced with such prospects, this week the Kremlin 
climbed down.  On April 17 Putin met with Sovmen, and on the 
18th a brief announcement reversed Sovmen's resignation.  On 
April 20 Kozak met in Rostov with the Speaker of Adyge's 
People's Assembly, Ruslan Khadzhibiyekov.  In remarks 
afterward he acknowledged that Sovmen would serve out his 
term, but "we will correct him" if his initiatives go too 
far.  Asked about the referendum on unification, Kozak 
back-pedaled fast:  it was a local concern, he said, not a 
federal question at all.  The Speaker, however, was strident. 
 Unification?   "Don't you believe it.  Not today, not 
tomorrow, not in the future." 
9. (C) It is unclear whether the climb-down is permanent.  An 
official of the Presidential Administration, Aleksandr 
Machevskiy, reminded us April 21 that Sovmen's current term 
is up in a year.  After that, he predicted, the referendum 
would be held and the Slavic population would vote for 
unification with Krasnodar.  He believed that Putin could 
calm regional fears by declaring that this would be the only 
such unification in the North Caucasus.  Indeed, Machevskiy 
said, no other amalgamation would be possible in the region. 
10. (C)  In our view, Markedonov put his finger on the 
ideological mindset that sees "amalgamation" as the solution 
to seemingly unrelated problems.  To an American observer 
watching the rapid and unchecked spread of jihadist Islam in 
the North Caucasus, the Kremlin's insistence on making 
administrative changes that reduce the number of local 
governments without changing governance itself looks like 
rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic -- or worse, since 
the move will predictably fan local resentment of Russians 
and exacerbate other inter-ethnic problems.  To Putin, 
however, the prominence of autonomies may have been a 
reminder of Russia's weakness in the Yeltsin era.  As one 
bible-quoting Russian official told us, "There is a time for 
casting away stones and a time for gathering stones together; 
now is the time for gathering stones." 
11. (C) In gathering together the stones of the Caucasus 
Mountains, however, Putin is also trying to reverse the 
effects of 70 years of Soviet nationalities policy.  After 
initial failures (the Soviet "Mountain Republic," including 
MOSCOW 00004316  003 OF 003 
all the North Caucasus except Dagestan, broke up after only 
six months), the Soviets developed a policy of giving 
"titular" nationalities their own homelands.  The policy of 
"korenizatsiya" meant that the "root" ("koren") population of 
any territory received special rights to dominate that 
homeland.  That legacy has become so deeply rooted in the 
already nationalist local cultures that an attempt to abolish 
those privileges is perceived as Russification and cultural 
genocide -- and evokes bitter memories of repeated wars, 
exiles and deportations.  It is that legacy, rather than a 
calming Presidential statement, which is likely to dominate 
regional emotions.   But Putin appears to be following the 
book of Russian statecraft and the 500 year-old dream -- 
never quite realized -- of a unitary Russian state. 


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