Two news items today:
One, the consistently excellent Caucasian Knot has released its count (R) of casualties resulting from the North Caucasus armed conflict for the first half of 2011. Total: 656, of which 396 were killed and 260 wounded. (The 2010 year-end total was 1710 (R).)
There have been 93 terrorist attacks and 110 armed encounters between the military and the insurgents. There were also 28 recorded instances of kidnapping, unexplained disappearance and illegal detainment. Of the victims, 78 civilians died and at least 89 were injured.
Two, Russia ranks fourteenth in risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft‘s newly-issued Terrorism Risk Index, a measure of risk of terrorist attack based on “the frequency and lethality” of attacks. That places it in the “Extreme Risk” category, along with Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen, the Palestinian Occupied Territories, DR Congo, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Algeria, Thailand, the Philippines, Sudan, Iran, Burundi, Nigeria and Israel.
I call this “the other Russia” because this conflict and the terrorism it engenders are largely invisible to us in the West, and to most Russians as well. People don’t conceptualize Russia as similar to most of the other “Extreme Risk” countries, and indeed, most of Russia isn’t. The North Caucasus conflict consists of extremely localized fighting in one remote corner of the country, with insurgents killing conscripts and vice versa; both the insurgents and the conscripts are generally poor, young men with few prospects. The civilians the conflict affects are also largely poor, not ethnically Russian, and without connections to other, richer parts of the country. The conflict is at a slow burn, and because of this it receives almost no news coverage. Caucasian Knot and groups like the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus do an excellent job of keeping their finger on its pulse, but their reports don’t reach a wider audience unless the terrorists strike Moscow or a journalist or rights worker is killed.
This is the obvious problem with the concept of news; the status quo, even if it’s a status quo of terrible suffering and daily violations of human rights, is not news. But even if we can’t report on every bombing, this war – Putin’s war, they call it, and whoever started it, it’s been prolonged by a decade of bad and brutal policy – should have far more influence on our basic understanding of Russia than it currently does.
Big hat tip to my friend and colleague Dave, who compiles daily North Caucasus media reports and thoughtfully sends me his findings.