Staunton, June 24 – At least since the beginning of the Soviet period, Moscow’s security services have sought to penetrate, divide and disorder ethnic organizations by covert means, an approach that has given the Russian government deniability because these actions typically are exposed only by inference from what is taking place or by opponents or defectors.
But now the Russian government has become so openly contemptuous of the West and how it will react to such subversive policies that it has accepted a public bid from the International Circassian Association, a pro-Moscow group, to engage in such actions against other Circassian groups in the North Caucasus and elsewhere.
The Russian Civic Chamber has posted on its NGO grant application page a request for funding from the International Circassian Association. Not insignificantly, the site says that the application is “consistent” with the purposes of the Chamber’s program.
Saying that it will engage in Internet activities to oppose “ethno-centric ideology” by groups promoting nationalist views in the western and central North Caucasus, the International Circassian Association says that it will thereby promote “the strengthening and preservation of tolerant relations among the peoples of Russia” there.
Among the step the group intends to take are monitoring of Internet sites, analysis of nationalist declarations, “the preparation of materials” to oppose these declarations, “the placement” of positive materials online, and “the development of methods” to fight nationalist groups via the Internet.
To that end, the ICA says it will involve media specialists, scholars, and “owners and creations of regional electronic mass media.” When the project is completed, the ICA says it will provide a final report to increase the effectiveness of “information-propagandistic activity” more generally.
“Translated into normal language,” Andzor Kabard, an independent Circassian analyst says, what the ICA is doing is seeking “state financing for a project to neutralize the Circassian political factor on the territory of historical Circassia” via the Internet and other means and thus reduce the influence of Circassian groups opposed to Moscow.
Indeed, what it shows, he suggests, is that the ICA has shown itself to be nothing more than “a subdivision of Russian forces engaged in information operations. At a practical level,” this application “represents the completion of the mutation of a onetime serious structure” into a Moscow “troll” working against those it claims to represent.
With Russian government support and the increasing popularity in Moscow of using trolls against its opponents, Kabard says, “the ICA will be preserved and in demand in its new form for some time.” But it will last “only as a political instrument used by Russia for the transmission of its influence in the Circassian work and in governments connected with it.”
As a representative of the Circassian community, he continues, the ICA “no longer exists.”
In addition to the blatant nature of what Moscow is doing in this case, two things about this are disturbing. On the one hand, at least since the time of the Trust in the 1920s, Moscow has always planned to use the exposure of its penetration of such organizations as part of its strategy to weaken its opponents.
Consequently, in this case, as when the Trust was exposed as a Chekist project in 1927, the ICA is weakened or even destroyed, an outcome Moscow may have intended all along.
And on the other, last week, Moscow news outlets reported that the Russian Interior Ministry is developing a strategy to “combat extremism” on the Internet, an indication that what the Russian security services are doing in the case of the Circassians may be extended to other groups as well.