Coverage of last month's Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, centered on the leadership crisis at the International Monetary Fund and measures to support new regimes in the Arab world. However, the summit's most significant achievement may be the dramatic change in Russia's stance on the conflict in Libya. After months of Russian ambivalence toward the military intervention against Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev not only joined the other G-8 leaders in a statement declaring that Gadhafi has lost all legitimacy and must step down, but also announced that Russia would help mediate an exit for the Libyan leader.
A set of less-noticed sideline deals on a seemingly unrelated but crucial Russian domestic issue suggest that the timing of this turnaround is not a coincidence. On May 26, the same day the Russian government adopted its new stance on Libya, both France and the United States made announcements indicating a newfound willingness to help Russia solve one of its most vexing and longstanding security problems: the ongoing Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus region.
The insurgency in the North Caucasus began as a nationalist struggle for Chechen independence, but in recent years it has transformed into a conflict framed in religious terms, spreading violence across the whole of the majority-Muslim southern Russian region. While insurgents describe their fight as jihad, most analysts of the conflict believe that the region's destitute economy matters more than religious motivation. Russia's federal government has come to acknowledge that discouraging further militant recruitment will require economic development. At the same time, security services continue to carry out a brutal and often arbitrary counterinsurgency campaign that many observers see as further radicalizing the civilian population. While this two-pronged approach of economic development and military counterinsurgency has achieved little progress so far, the G-8 agreements with France and the United States could result in important contributions to Russia's efforts in the region.