Sergey Kovalyev: Return of Realpolitik Portends Horrors for North Caucasus, Russia and the West
The root of the problems in the North Caucasus, famous Russian human rights activist and former political prisoner Sergey Kovalyev argues, is the result of a broader shift in the paradigms governing politics today away from a commitment to universal human values to a Machiavellian Realpolitik that threatens not only the peoples of the North Caucasus but Russia as a whole and the West as well.
In a discussion on Moscow’s current approach to Chechnya, the prominent human rights activist argues that “Moscow is seeking to extend to the entire North Caucasus the political model which has taken shape in Chechnya where the bandits serve as a prop for the federal powers that be” .
There as elsewhere, the longtime human rights defender says, “the root of all misfortunes lies in the lack of correspondence between declared universal values” and “the Machiavellian” approach that governments have adopted, an approach “based on the principle of a war of all against all,” conducted “with loud words about civic and political freedoms.”
This is obvious in the North Caucasus, he argues. “There, the following is taking place: the prop of the powers that be are the bandits — the prop indeed of our Moscow federal powers that be,” who do not see the violence as a problem but as the justification for their approach not only in that region but more generally.
The powers that be in the center have decided, Kovalyev continues, that “that stability which exists in Chechnya now is a model for the entire North Caucasus. And what does this Chechen stability mean? It means murders and hands drenched in blood.” But it does bring a kind of surrogate stability.
According to Kovalyev, “part of the population supports [these arrangements] out of fear, and another part does so lest things become even worse.” Among the latter are people who are prepared to put up with these horrors because they say those involved in them are at least addressing the immediate day to day concerns of the population.
Such an approach “can work throughout the North Caucasus,” he says, “and it is absolutely acceptable for the Kremlin. [The powers that be in Moscow] are not such fools that they do not understand that they will not be able to achieve anything wonderful in the North Caucasus.” Consequently, they are willing to make this calculation.
But the problem is worse than that, Kovalyev continues. “Alas,” he says, “[he] is speaking not only about the Caucasus but about the country as a whole. And even more: this is a question not about the country but about our international political situation,” because Russia is profoundly affected by changes in what is acceptable in the world.
And at present, he suggests, Russia and the rest of the world are “experiencing a moral, historical and legal crisis of global proportions. That shameful line which is called political correctness dominates. Unworthy compromises dominate.” And he points to “a newly minted Nobel Prize laureate” who has entered into such compromises with Russia.
“What does this mean?” Kovalyev asks rhetorically. “It means that one is prepared to pay for the comfortable resolution of private, absolutely petty private problems with the lives and freedoms of other. That is all. And it is acceptable in the world” as it has developed over the last decade.
For “more than ten years,” Russia has been developing its own approach in the Caucasus, Kovalyev writes. For most of that period, the West, “to put it mildly, did not approve. Then the August 2008 war happened.” That should have been an occasion for more than just an expression of disapproval.
“But what did they do? They decided that ‘the reset must not suffer from this. And what did the United States win from this? A somewhat more comfortable interaction with Moscow on a whole number of disputed questions.” And that sets the new norm, one in which governments can trade principles for short term gains while saying they are not doing so.
One “simply cannot mask contemporary political hypocrisy any more. It is evident and obvious to all.” And attacks on extreme cases like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein are an exception to the new rule rather than evidence that the older commitment to the principles of universal human values is being maintained.
Unlike the ideas of Academician Andrey Sakharov, which helped change the world but which are now being ignored, the political crisis that infects the world, one informed by “a new Machiavellianism,” will spread for some time, undermining the possibilities in which so many earlier placed so much hope.
“One should not speak about universal values if we immediately put them in the marketplace and trade them,” Kovalyev says. “Let’s say honestly that the Machiavellian world completely satisfies us. Another world, alas, is not on offer. It is impossible. This at least would be honest.”
*The article was written and published by Paul Goble, a specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia, at his own webblog on July 20, 2010.