On Russia and Chechnia

11. 12. 2008 / John Dunn

Those who would like to learn more about life in Chechnia might find it useful to read an article published last week in Novaya gazeta.

This serves as a reminder that there are some questions that might be asked more often. Such as:

Given that it was necessary to end the first Chechen war to ensure the re-election of President Jelcin in 1996, why was it necessary the start the second Chechen war in 1999 to ensure the election in the following year of Vladimir Putin?

Who won the second Chechen war?

The first is too complicated to answer here, but the second is worth some attention. The outcome of the second Chechen conflict would seem best described as some sort of devils' pact between the Kremlin on one side and Ramzan Kadyrov and his associates on the other.

According to this, Kadyrov keeps Chechnya at least notionally within the Russian Federation and provides periodic demonstrations of loyalty to Moscow (such as near-100% support for the 'right' candidate or party in national elections), in return for which he receives large sums of money and is given a more or less free hand to run the Republic as he wishes. There may be other implicit conditions, concerning, for example, how far Kadyrov may go in reimposing Islamic values (or, perhaps more accurately, 'the traditional values of the mountain peoples'), but there appears to be little restraint on how the Chechen president deals with any remaining opponents and little effort to ensure the application within the Republic of the constitution and laws of the Russian Federation. So who did win the second Chechen war?

Meanwhile, the continuing low-level conflicts in Ingushetia, Dagestan and parts of the North-West Caucasus are a reminder of the problems that the area presents. The ethnic, religious and political complications of the Caucasus make the Balkans look like Scandinavia on a wet Sunday afternoon, and if the Western powers have been able from time (in 1912/13 and the late 1990s) to impose peace on the Balkans, in the Caucasus a Pax Rossica was maintained for over 100 years, until it collapsed in about 1990. There are signs that Russia is trying to reimpose the Pax Rossica, and the events of last August can be interpreted in this light. The commentator Pavel Felgengauer has recently suggested that Russia might try to complete unfinished business by provoking another war.

A more positive sign, however, might be the announcement of a Russian plan to set up a Commission for the North Caucasus, though since this is intended to include a parliamentarian from each of the three independent nations of the Transcaucasus, this may remain no more than a pious hope.

In any event, recent history suggests that the Western powers will not object too strongly to anything Russia might do within its own borders, but will not accept Russian interference (and certainly not Russian armed interference) in those states whose independence is generally recognised. But the question is: if it is not acceptable for Russia to maintain peace in the region, who else is willing or able to take on the task?


Obsah vydání | Pátek 26.2. 2010