The EU has neither presence nor influence in the North Caucasus, which remains Europe’s last war zone.
In 2011, there was a slight rise in stability in the North Caucasus, but the human rights situation remained poor. There was a suicide bombing in Grozny and Russian military and police were killed. The authorities responded with extra-judicial killings, disappearances and threats against activists. Locals complained of indiscriminate retaliation by security forces following attacks. In Chechnya, the enforcement of a strict Islamic dress code for women alarmed activists. There were recorded cases of attacks, harassment and threats on unveiled women by those charged with enforcement. In the Russian parliamentary elections in December, fraud in the region was among the highest in the federation, with Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya each returning over 90 percent support for United Russia. In the North Caucasus, local rulers also held a far tighter grip on the media. One journalist, Yakhya Magomedov, was gunned down in Dagestan. A terrorist attack at Domodedovo airport in Moscow in January killed 36 people.
Europeans have taken an interest in the situation in the North Caucasus since the Russo-Chechen war under former presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. Yet the EU is barely present in the region and has minimal impact on its development. Moscow views the region as a sensitive issue and local strongmen limit foreign influence or access. In 2011, the EU phased out the last of its humanitarian aid, reducing the EU’s financial leverage in the region. However, the absence of parliamentary scrutiny in Russia and of independent media mean that local NGOs – many of which are funded by the EU or member states – continue to be the main source of information on human rights violations. In particular, Denmark continues to set an example on the ground through the humanitarian work of the Danish Refugee Council.