Since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his mobilization order on Sept. 21, the country’s first military draft since World War II, protests have erupted across Russia. From the glittering Russian capital to army recruitment offices in Siberia to impoverished fishing villages in the Far East, thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to express opposition to fighting Moscow’s war in Ukraine. They have also staged a wave of arson attacks on conscription offices and even shot a military recruiter.
Though subject to a steady stream of anti-Ukraine propaganda that paints Kyiv as a fascist state run by “Nazis,” the number of Russians opposing Moscow’s neo-imperialist war is steadily growing. The “partial mobilization” order was ostensibly for some 300,000 Russian army reservists. But it was disorderly and chaotic: Men with zero ties to the military were called up, as well as fathers of multiple children, men in their 50s and men who are disabled. Men from Russia’s ethnic minorities, such as the Buddhist Buryats and the nomadic and reindeer-herding Yakuts, received their papers in grossly disproportionate numbers to the majority white, Orthodox Christian Russian population.
But there is a corner of Russia where these protests are taking on a different flavor. In the mostly Muslim North Caucasus, the protesters’ message for the Kremlin is stark: “This is not our war.”
“Our” says a lot here. The string of small republics along Russia’s southern flank has long opposed Moscow’s rule, resistance that goes back centuries, and the threat of separatism is an ever-present thorn in the Kremlin’s side. A simmering Islamist insurgency, low standards of living and widespread racial discrimination make these most fragile of Russia’s regions a veritable tinderbox.
Now inside Russia’s Achilles’ heel, dissent is gaining momentum at a record pace. War in the North Caucasus brought Putin to power 22 years ago. Then a little-known prime minister, Putin earned his hard-line reputation with a renewed bombing campaign of Chechnya, paving the way for his presidential win in 2000. [Continue reading…]