Chapter 13: The Northern Caucasus Anchoring in the Northern Caucasus has been a goal of the Russian government since the days of Muscovy, as the Greater Caucasus range is the most secure place the Russians might be able to concentrate their defensive forces. However, that range is not only far removed from Moscow, to its north are the vast open spaces of the Eurasian steppe, which allow invaders access to the northern slopes of the range with ease. As such, the inhabitants of the Northern Caucasus have been in constant battle against foreign rule for the length of their recorded history. Over the ages they have struggled against the Romans, Huns, Mongols, Ottomans and Russians, just to name a few. The local inhabitants have viewed the Russians as their primary foes since the Russians first ventured into the area in the 17th century.
The most numerous and powerful of the many nations that inhabit the region are the Chechens. The Chechens typically have enjoyed reliable food supplies in a somewhat arid region, courtesy of the lowlands of the Terek River. The Argun and Vedeno gorges give the Chechens reliable fallback positions in the mountains from which to wage guerrilla warfare. The result is a hardy and often disagreeable people who extract the maximum possible price from any entity that seeks to use their lands. For the past 200 years, that entity has been Russia.
<> Chechnya is only one of Russia's Northern Caucasus republics. The region as a whole is a murky ethnic stew split into seven territories: Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. The most troubling of the republics is obviously Chechnya. Russia has already fought two brutal wars in the past 20 years to prevent Chechen independence, a development which Russia fears would lead to Chechnya conquering or absorbing many of the other Northern Caucasus republics and eliminating the Russian anchor in the region.
Chechnya's rebellion is both nationalist and religious (Muslim) in nature. To the west of Chechnya lies the republic of Ingushetia, which has tight cultural and religious links to the Chechens. Ingushetia also has both secessionist movements and movements that want Ingushetia to merge with Chechnya (whether as part of Russia or independent of it). East of Chechnya is the predominantly Muslim Dagestan. Ingushetia and Dagestan are the next two largest problem areas for Moscow. In recent years, Ingushetia's instability and militancy has been connected to Chechnya, with political and social bleedover between the countries fueling radicalism. Dagestan's radicalization has been first in reaction to Chechnya, though now it is targeting Russia as well.