Window on Eurasia: Russian Region to Fight Wahhabis with Targetted Jobs Program

by Paul A. Goble  |  June 13, 2005  |  ARTICLES

The Stavropol region has announced plans to provide targeted job assistance funds for a portion of the northern Caucasus where it says Muslim extremist groups -- including the Wahhabis --  have been especially active, “Izvestiya” reported on Friday (http://www.izvestia.ru/community/article2024509). 

It has taken this step on its own because despite rhetorical support from President Vladimir Putin and the unanimous backing of experts who have studied the issue – including Southern Federal District Presidential Plenopotentiary Representative Dmitriy Kozak -- Moscow has failed to come up with the funds.

Stavropol’s first effort in this direction is slated to involve some one billion rubles (35 million U.S. dollars) over 30 months in the eastern portions of the kray where Wahhabi influence reportedly is strong, Stavropol security council officials told the Moscow newspaper.
 Populated by the Nogay, a Turkic community, that region reportedly has long served as a breeding ground for anti-Moscow Muslim groups and even provided soldiers for the so-called Nogay battalion that has fought for Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev as well as recruits for other units of the Chechen resistance.

One of the reasons young people have listened to the siren song of the extremists, Stavropol officials concede, is that unemployment rates among them are extraordinarily high, and the bankruptcy of most local collective farms and enterprises mean there are few prospects that any young people will be employed anytime soon.

Consequently, when groups, whom the officials call Wahhabis, offer as little as one hundred dollars to those who will join their ranks and support the Chechen resistance, many of the young – who often have been eking out an existence on the pensions of their parents – are only too willing to listen and join up. 

To counter this trend, the Stavropol officials said they planned to invest most of the money in job creation for the young.  But at least some of these new funds will go toward the construction of new roads, schools and hospitals to promote economic development there more generally. In addition, the officials said, they plan to allow young people from this region to attend higher educational institutions without having to meet normal admission standards and to give graduates from this program free housing if they return to their home region and work in the area of their specialization. 

All these measures, “Izvestiya” suggested, will go a long way toward “extinguishing the negative attitudes of the local population” toward the Russian authorities, attitudes that the newspaper said the extremists had been extraordinarily successful in exploiting.

This report is intriguing: On the one hand, despite Putin’s frequent and vocal support for the idea of using economic means to combat terrorism, neither he nor Moscow has provided the money necessary. Instead, one of the hard-pressed frontline regions has been forced to do on its own. And on the other, the regional authorities who are making the investment are targeting an ethnic group rather than the Muslim population as a whole, a strategy that reflects their limited resources but could easily backfire if other Muslim groups try to play the extremist card to attract analogous attention and support.

But even if there are certain to be problems, efforts like this may indeed wean away some young people from Islamic extremists, something few if any other Russian government programs have been able to do.  Consequently, Moscow, other regional officials and the Muslims there will be closely watching what happens in Stavropol.