The Chechen Problem
Updated September 2004
The Russian fixation on the small yet rebellious region of Chechen is both a test of Russian resolve and its cohesiveness. The Russian’s were badly embarrassed by the determination and courage of the Chechen Rebels during the 1994-96 conflict. This sense of embarrassment was not lost on the Russian Military and security apparatus. While the Russians had some success when the Chechen leader Dudayev was killed in a spectacularly propitious air strike during a visit by the US President, back in 1996. Yet and still, the overall ‘war’ at that time, was lost. This left an already ‘psychologically’ damaged Russia with more wounds to its pride and those who prosecuted the war were left humiliated by a group of people commonly referred to in the Russian media as ‘bandits’ and ‘thugs’.
Chechen, at one time, was one the richest oil producing regions in the world. The Russians realize the strategic and economic value today of having total control of the entire caucus region and have decided it is in its own interest to bring the rebellious republic firmly under Moscow’s control. The stakes are enormous, these are primarily, transit routes for oil pipelines from which Moscow can extract hard currency. This is a major factor for conducting military operations here. Recent oil finds in the Caspian sea need transit routes in order of it to be shipped to the consuming western nations. Proposals have been pushed for pipelines from the Caspian sea through the Caucuses to the Black sea, which would provide the most direct route to the West. Other proposals have included a pipeline through Iran, which the US finds unacceptable primarily for political reasons. Another proposed route through Georgia is also a direct route, however the instability of Azerbaijan and the tension with Armenia over the region of Nogorno-Karabkh precludes an expeditious building of a oil pipeline there. Another proposal put forth by Exxon, Mitsubishi and China National Petroleum would transit Turkmenistan to China is another option being considered by those who posses the capital for such an expensive undertaking. Turkey also is a prospect, as it’s consumption needs and relative stability make it an ideal choice for the west, but less so for the Russians whose hasty claims to the Caspian Sea reserves must also be considered.
Russia needs to show the world that is it is capable of remaining cohesive, as the threat of fragmentation along ethnic and religious lines are becoming increasingly apparent. Additionally, Russia’s desire for hard currency from any of the natural resources located within Chechen itself is also a factor which gives more conservative elements in the Kremlin a chance to expropriate the riches of Chechenya.
Russia is using the only method that has worked in the past when dealing with the Chechens, i.e., force. The Russians used force to subdue Chechenya in 1922, 1929 and 1940. In 1944 Stalin ‘resettled’ the people of Chechen in the east. The Chechens have been oppressed by the Russians for many years and now, in an hour of perceived Russian weakness, are challenging Moscow for its right to self-determination and perhaps the right to exploit the regions rich natural resources without Russian interference. The Russian operation in 1999 is not a repeat of its failed operations in 1994-6 when Russian commanders were reported to have been hamstrung by a the need to request permission, even to fire back at attackers. The new Russian Prime Minister, has taken a no-nonsense approach to dealing with Chechens and is staking a great deal on the eventual success of the war. While speculation is rife regarding a palace coup and the subsequent ascension of Mr. Putin, it is clear that his influence in the Kremlin has been keenly felt. Abandoning the less nationalistic and confrontational policies of his predecessors, Vladimir Putin has shown that the ‘old guard’ in the Kremlin has a strong desire to ensure the territorial integrity of the Russian Republic. He has shown few qualms with using force, even to the visible consternation of the West and Russia’s international creditors.
The Chechens are largely stereotyped by ordinary Russians as criminals. Organized Crime is rampant in the breakaway republic and little sympathy is generated by Russians for the plight of the Chechen people. Indeed, the operations in Chechenya are quite popular with ordinary Russians, if for no other reason than to do away the criminal elements in a region from which so much criminality seems to breed. Ostensibly this is a major reason given by the Russian Government to eradicate secessionist elements in Chechenya. While from a Russian point of view this may be desirable it is not worth risking a confrontation with the west which Russia is very much in danger of doing if its operations become too brutal. Images of Russian brutality in the Chechenya have been controlled by Russia by limiting access by Western Journalists to the war zone, and perhaps exaggerating the very real threat of kidnapping by Chechen rebels for random.
There will be no Russian salvation from a victory over the Chechen rebels, a victory which is by no means guaranteed. Russia will still find itself with deteriorating economic, political and international situations. This exercise in securing the un-securable will prove costly, bloody, and reinforce the idea in the west that Russia is still uncivilized, militarily incompetent and remains politically fragmented and oblivious to civilized resolution of conflicts.
While America Slowly bleeds to death in Iraq, Russia is having much he same problem in Chechnya. Russia has taken a strong arm approach in the break-away republic and has paid terribly for its heavy-handedness. Chechnya now has a new form of terrorists, ready to kill and be killed for their cause. They are called the black widow bombers. It appears that not even the Chechens' are desperate enough to use their women in such a manner which has led many to surmise that outside interests are behind these new developments. Putin’s tough policies are making a bad situation much worse. One incident was reportedly carried out by a woman in her 20's who attempted to bomb a cafe. Another incident was carried out at a Russian Rock Concert, the accomplices are reportedly two women.
RIA Novosti - EU CHANGING POSITION ON CHECHNYA
08.07.2003 - 18:30
Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Russian president's aide, has said the European Union has somewhat changed its position on the Chechnya problem.
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US and as new evidence surfaces testifying to financial and other links between Chechen developments and the international terrorist net, the EU political establishment is changing its stance on the problem, Mr Yastrzhembsky has said in a RIA Novosti interview.
The EU gets to understand that apart from Chechen separatism, which is Russia's internal problem, the republic poses the global-scale problem of international terrorism, said Mr Yastrzhembsky.
"This is, by all means, a step forward," he said.
The presidential aide is currently in Rome taking part in the conference EU-Russia: Common European Policy and New World Challenges.
Since the September 11th Attacks on America, the world is far less reticent to deal with terrorism specifically, Islamic terrorism. Nevertheless, even in this environment the EU and the council of Europe have stopped short of condoning what it views as a policy of systemic human rights abuses in dealing with the breakaway republic. Recent visits by members of the Council revealed evidence that many Chechen's had been tortured. These actions may win Moscow points with the Bush administration which has shown a willful contempt for human rights world-wide, but it will not pass muster on the European continent where the specter of the last centuries human rights abuses have not been forgotten. Indeed many Chechen's in the custody of Russian Security Forces simply 'disappear', as if by magic (or a small piece of metal in the skull), never to be seen or heard from again.
Putin's activities in this region call into question his judgment. It appears, not only with hindsight, that some sort of accommodation could have been reached with the rebels before so much blood had been shed. Now it seems, too much ill-will and and too many blood-oaths will keep any reasonable leader in Chechenya from being able to enforce any conciliatory agreement with Moscow, should such a leader arise.
The reticence of Moscow to come to amicable terms with the
Chechen's comes not so much from the remains of imperial arrogance,
but from a dogged Machiavellian practicality that has always been
part of Russian foreign policy. It is generally believed that there
can be no peace with the Chechen's and that their ties to radical
Islam, such as they are, are a very serious threat to Russian
stability. The ethnic makeup and the notable criminal elements
located within that republic are contrary to the fabric of what
Russia should be, if she is to be a stable and important
international power on the world scene. Hence the less conciliatory
policy was implemented.
"You should not believe people who say Chechens are not being exterminated. In this Chechen war, it's done by everyone who can do it. There are situations when it's not possible. But when an opportunity presents itself, few people miss it." -A Russian Soldier
The Chechen's have long history of warfare with the Russians. As far back as the early 1600's , the Russians were defeated in Daghestan in which led to the the Chechen clans moving steadily northwards. The geographical features of Chechnya provide natural fortifications against invaders. This is one of the reasons Russian troops have has some difficulty in quelling Chechen dissent in the present. However this military isolation has also left it socially and politically backwards. It is still a clan based society and did not even posses a written language until the 1920's. Its history has been largely relayed through the years, not by Chechen's, but by their enemies. It was during the next 200 years that Islam slowly began to enter into the Caucuses. During the reign of Catherine the Great, Russia's famous commanders Suvorov and Potempkin began a military campaign that was designed to secure its lines of communications to the Black Sea and beyond. Yet the Chechen's never acknowledged or really accepted Russian domination of their small enclave. The Caucasian War in this region ended in 1864 and was fought by those mountain tribesman who did not want Russian invaders ruling over them. However despite their resistance and fighting, essentially the region of Chechnya was 'ruled' by a Russian vice-regency until the Russian Revolution in 1917. After this however, a series of wars took place between Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan that brought forced deportations, starvation and other crimes against civilian populations. Some 30% of the population in the Caucuses perished during these wars.
However it was under Stalin that we begin to see where the real hatred that now is a part of the Chechen political psyche begin to form and solidify. Stalin deported the Chechen people in 1944 after the brief Nazi occupation of the North Caucuses. Half of the over 400,000 people who were deported died in on the way to Central Asia (Kazakhstan). The graves stones of Chechen's were reportedly used to pave the streets of Grozny by the occupying Russians.
However, it was the recent Chechen war that started in 1992 under President Yeltsin that the modern Chechen nationalist movement really began to show itself as a resilient and potent force on the battlefield. After calling for the dissolution of the Chechen-Ingush Supreme Soviet in 1990, the Chechen National Congress called for a civil uprising which eventually ended with the seizure of the Chechen-Ingush Supreme Soviet. A power struggle took place and calls for full Chechen independence from Moscow were made.
"No territory has the right to leave Russia." - Yeltsin
A war of many sorts has been underway since then and it is unfortunate that the Russian Government did not come to the table with some real proposals way back then. Yet Yelsin's regime was beset by many problems internal and external and the last thing Russia wanted was a break-up, not of the Soviet Union, which had already happened but of the Russian Republic itself. Yet even to this day Russia under Putin has not shown one bit of creativity or foreign policy acumen on this important issue. It is the same old 18th Century 'blunt instrument' foreign policy that has led to so much bloodshed and irreconcilable hatred. The recent attacks on the school in Breslan and the dual suicide hijacker attacks in the late summer of 2004 is beginning to show the world the deep incompetence of the Russian foreign policy establishment. The only non-violent option used was essentially what America is trying to do in Iraq, where an equally incompetent administration is failing miserably fighting so-called 'terrorists'; that being the use or attempt to use surrogate rulers in as a kind of proxy to a quasi-imperial authority. This strategy may have worked 100 years ago, but cannot work now. To add insult to injury, Russia has attempted to overly politicize the security forces and have used them to commit atrocities including Argentina style 'disappearances'. This type of repression has driven the silent majority of Chechen's to the fringes of the resistance and feeds their hatred of government Security Forces. Yet and still much of the population of Chechnya are weary of war.
“Its easier to kill them all, it takes less time for them to die than grow” - A Russian Soldier
The farcical election in Chechnya that 'elected' Alu Alkhanov took place just a few days before the hostage drama in Breslan is, in this authors estimation, an important development that led to this barbarous act. It impossible to separate the two. While a direct connection between the lack of democracy, Moscow's determination to ensure that no free and fair elections take place and terrorism may not fall within the purview of the corporate funders of the American media, it is this fundamental lack of justice and democracy coupled with the myriad atrocities committed by Russian troops that leads to the incredibly desperate and violent acts that the world witnessed in September of 2004. The obvious silence by many in the American media on Russia's continued brutality (that many argue make the Breslan massacre look like a Sunday walk in the park), seems to stem from an almost unspoken quid-pro-quo between Russia and the US not to criticize each other as they commit atrocities in the name of 'fighting terrorism'. There have been some of the most hideous and unspeakable acts committed by Russian troops fighting in Chechnya against rebels and civilians alike. Yet the specter of using children as targets of violence, as in the Breslan massacre, is one that has not been used before to this degree. Yet, America is also targeting children in its war on terrorism. At least one child was killed in US custody, murdered by US soldiers. America's detention (and torture/rape) camps at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay have had children inmates. So while the world rages at the Chechen's for targeting children in their war, it has really been the US and Russia that has 'upped the ante' and defined these new rules of 21st Century warfare with their wanton acts of barbarism against children.
The danger here, as it has always been when brute force is the major foreign policy tool, is that the lingering resentment for Russia and her legitimate interests eventually take a back seat, in the minds of the aggrieved, to acts of vengeance and the overwhelming desire to rid themselves of what is seen by them to be an invader. A lesson from the Israeli occupation should be remembered. Despite the genuine willingness of certain elements of the Palestinians to negotiate a settlement, a significant element within the so-called occupied territories continue to deliberately undermine these moves via carefully timed acts of terror.
Barring a miracle, this will be the future of Chechenya. It does not appear that Moscow is willing to cede any degree of sovereignty to the breakaway republic and that now , the conflict has become a major test for Russia's ailing international machismo. This, in this authors opinion has driven Russia on a course that is contrary to her long term interests, which include stability for the Russian Republic and peaceful relations with those Former Soviet States and ethnic minorities that form her periphery.
In closing let it not be said that this author does not have the deepest loathing for terrorism and terrorist acts. It is my firm contention that modern terrorism is an outgrowth and reaction to injustice, tyranny and terrorism committed by those who hold the reigns of power. It is absurd to think that people who have been terrorized by western governments and their surrogate regimes around the world will not react when they children are tortured, their wives and daughters raped and their men 'disappeared'. The violence that Russia is now reaping is the bitter harvest of its own reprehensible violence.
By Mark S. Watson
Copyright © 2000 Mark S. Watson
Chechenya: Tombstone of Russian Power (Leiven). A good history and analysis of the Russian campaign in Chechenya by a journalist who spent time there. Offers interviews with leaders in the field and historical perspectives of the fighting, Russian nationalism and the destiny of the Russian Empire.
Chechnya : Tombstone of Russian Power
CIA Fact Book - Russia
Chechen Republic Online