Kabardino-Balkaria profile - Overview
- 29 January 2015
- From the section Europe
The Russian North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria has fallen prey to the instability afflicting other parts of the region and to the contagion of conflict in nearby Chechnya.
Living standards are low, unemployment is high, corruption is rife and it has had its share of violence, kidnappings and organised crime to contend with.
Since the 2004 school siege at Beslan in neighbouring North Ossetia, Russia has repeatedly targeted what it says are Islamic militants operating in Kabardino-Balkaria.
There have been armed operations against suspected Islamic militants, some of whom have been killed, along with members of the security forces. In 2010, the region's top Muslim cleric was shot dead, in an attack blamed on militants, and in February 2011 suspected Islamists attacked ski resorts in what Russia saw as preparations for assaults on the 2014 Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi.
In October 2005 militants staged a large-scale, armed assault on government buildings in Nalchik. Russia responded swiftly, deploying hundreds of troops and special forces with orders to shoot to kill. Many dozens were reported dead, including militants, civilians and Russian forces.
Yarmuk, a local militant Islamic group with Chechen links, said that its fighters had been involved on the ground as part of a Caucasus Front.
The organisation of a Caucasus Front against Russia was decreed in May 2005 by the late Chechen rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev. The decree was perceived as a bid further to widen Chechnya's conflict with Russia.
Kabardino-Balkaria is home to the two highest peaks in the North Caucasus, Mount Elbrus and Dykh Tau. It shares a border with Georgia. To the east and west lie the Russian republics of North Ossetia and Karachayevo-Cherkessia. To the north is Stavropol region. It lies 50km west of war-torn Chechnya.
The area was contested by the Russian and Ottoman empires between the 17th and 19th centuries when it came under Russian control. After the Bolshevik revolution, the Kabardino Autonomous Region was formed in 1921, and the Balkar district added a year later. The region gained autonomous republic status in 1936.
The population is made up of mainly-Muslim Kabardins, as well as minorities of Turkic-speaking Balkars - around 10% of the people - and Russians. There is friction between the Kabardins and the Balkars, and in 1992 the Balkars voted for secession.
Accused by Stalin of collaboration with the Nazis, the Balkars were deported to Central Asia during World War II and their name was dropped from the republic's title. It was restored in 1957 when they were allowed to return. The region became a federal republic of Russia in 1991 following the collapse of the USSR.
The economy relies heavily on subsidies from Moscow.