Russian History


The Caucasus Region in the Federation

The oil-rich region around Chechnya, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, forms a southwestern corridor of Russian territory bounded on the west by Ukraine and the Black Sea, on the south by Georgia and Azerbaijan, and on the east by the Caspian Sea and Kazakstan. The region north of the Caucasus includes seven ethnic republics and four "Russian" jurisdictions: the territories of Krasnodar and Stavropol' and the oblasts of Rostov and Astrakhan'. With the thirty ethnically and linguistically distinct communities of Dagestan the most extreme example of the region's ethnic diversity, much of the region surrounding Chechnya is a cauldron of nationality and ethnic conflicts among warlike mountain clans. On the opposite slope of the Caucasus, the former Soviet republic of Georgia likewise includes a number of ethnic groups, two of which--the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians--declared outright independence in the early 1990s.

Tsarist Russia conducted a centuries-long process of expansion into the Caucasus region, subduing the nationalities of the area gradually and often at great expense. The region has assumed particular importance in the contemporary era because of its oil, its location astride Russia's transportation and communications arteries leading to the Middle East, and the central government's fear of resurgent Islam along the southern border of the former Soviet Union.

Not far from Chechnya, a self-styled Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the North Caucasus emerged in 1992 in southwestern Russia, where the borders of the Russian Federation abut the Transcaucasian republics of the former Soviet Union. That confederation, including representatives from Russia's seven republics bordering the Caucasus, aspires to establish a chain of independent, predominantly Muslim states along the federation's southern periphery. It also has provided a forum for Chechen leaders to enlist support against Russia and for separatist leaders from Abkhazia and South Ossetia to enlist support against Georgia. Terrorist acts in Chechnya and elsewhere have been attributed to confederation members.