Friday, January 31, 2014

Too Far, Too Fast: Sochi, Tourism and Conflict in the Caucasus

Source: International Crisis Group

Moscow/Brussels  |   30 Jan 2014
The recent bombings in the south of Russia could prove a precursor to more violence and instability in the Caucasus if Moscow does not abandon repression for political dialogue.

In its latest report, Too Far, Too Fast: Sochi, Tourism and Conflict in the Caucasus, the International Crisis Group explores the opportunities and dangers that the Sochi games and the North Caucasus Resorts project hold for the region’s security. While earlier efforts to engage moderate Salafis showed promise, President Vladimir Putin’s heavy-handed religious policy and security measures risk increasing tensions in the conflict-torn area. Recent attacks, including two in Volgograd, suggest that Islamist terrorists may try to strike across the country and embarrass Moscow during the Olympics, the preparations of which have been beset by allegations of abuses against the local populace. Beyond the immediate risk, they underline the urgent need to achieve a comprehensive political solution to the North Caucasus conflicts before rolling out fully an ambitious tourism project in republics that still have active insurgencies or have been seriously affected by conflict.The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • To improve North Caucasus security during and after Sochi, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee should prevent human rights abuses and intimidation directed against moderate fundamentalists. It should also end collective punishment for insurgency-related crimes; integrate moderates into socio-economic life; facilitate Sufi-Salafi dialogue; and promote rehabilitation of ex-fighters.
  • To improve the reputation of the Winter Games, the authorities should guarantee fair compensation to Sochi residents whose homes were destroyed or demolished during the preparatory phase. The government also should investigate complaints of violations of rights by citizens and migrant workers and put an end to the harassment of peaceful activists.
  • The Olympics are a curtain raiser for an expensive and risky plan to develop tourism across the North Caucasus. This will only succeed if the communities involved are actively supportive and directly included in decision-making. In Dagestan, the Federation government should refrain from launching the resort project as long as the republic is an active insurgency area. The same is true in Chechnya until there is more progress on security and rule of law improves. Elsewhere in the region, further security improvements need to go hand-in-hand with resort development.
“The Sochi Olympics risk turning into a duel between the state and the Islamist insurgents Moscow has fought so hard to destroy since 1999. Moscow’s harsh security measures may temporarily suppress the symptoms of the North Caucasus insurgency, but they cannot solve the core problems”, says Paul Quinn-Judge, Crisis Group’s Program Director for Europe and Central Asia. “The region needs dialogue and reform, justice and rule of law much more than drones and special forces”.

“The most promising contribution to the North Caucasus Resorts project would be a major effort by Moscow to seek a long-term, comprehensive solution to violence in the region”, says Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Crisis Group’s North Caucasus Project Director. “Tourism development requires clear legal frameworks and protection of property rights and local economic interests, as well as population participation in decision-making, so as to generate local support”.