Even the Tiny Rubicon May Be More Important than the Mighty Tiber (full version)
By Vazha Mtavrishvili, special to Prague Watchdog
What are the options for resolving the Chechen issue? Well, there is a war, so the resolution of the issue could be to make peace. But this particular war started just after the Khasav-Yurt peace agreement. It was clear right from the beginning that this was a truce rather than a permanent peace. To date Russia has not concluded a single peace agreement in the Caucasus, which was not simply a stop-gap agreement until it continued its aggression.
The Georgiev Treaty of 1783 in which Russia recognised and guaranteed Georgia’s sovereignty ended in 1801 with the Russian empire occupying not only Georgia, but also the whole of the Caucasus.
The Peace Agreement of May 7, 1920 concluded between Georgia and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in which Russia also recognised de jure Georgia’s sovereignty ended with Russia immediately annexing Azerbaijan and Armenia. A joint attack on Georgia with the Turks was undertaken already in February 1921.
Russia has even interfered extensively in the internal affairs of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia – countries whose sovereignty has been recognised not only de facto, but also de jure. The whole world, by failing to recognise the Chechen Republic, signalled that Chechnya is an internal Russian matter and that nobody is permitted to interfere. In the Khasav-Yurt peace agreement, Russia recognised de facto the independence of the Chechen Republic. However, it did not recognise its independence de jure and thus could not guarantee peace in Chechnya.
Under these conditions, with no stable peace and the sovereignty of the Chechen Republic recognised, it was clear right from the beginning that the naive acknowledgement by Western counties of the good will of Russia to restore the Chechen Republic could only serve to undermine Chechnya from inside and to establish more favourable conditions for Russia to invade Chechnya for the second time. And the trigger for the invasion was Basayev’s attack on Dagestan financed by Russia.
Putin blames Maskhadov for not curbing Basayev and Khatab. But when we know that Russia was getting ready for the second invasion into Chechnya and Maskhadov already before the war started to sound an alarm about it, the following question arises: how could Maskhadov have prevented the invasion? Let’s say, that he could have arrested Basayev and Khatab, but how could have he prevented the explosions in Moscow? He could have done that only if he had rushed to Moscow and placed patrols on every single building to prevent the Federal Security Service (FSB) from planting the explosions.
In the end, there are some 600,000 Chechens in Russia and if any of them plot an act of terrorism, it is the responsibility of Putin, not Maskhadov, as these Chechens are citizens of Russia or refugees falling under Putin’s jurisdiction, not Maskhadov’s. Was it Maskhadov who declared war on Russia and was thus responsible for Basayev and Khatab invading Dagestan? Russia could, if willing, close the borders and not allow them to return to Chechnya. And if federal forces could not do that or were not willing to do it, how can we claim it is the responsibility of Maskhadov, the leader of a sovereign country?
We need to keep in mind, that Basayev was, no doubt, greatly influenced by Jokhar Dudayev who was also willing to come to an agreement with Moscow, but Dudayev, let us remember, was killed when negotiations had just begun. He spoke over the phone with a member of the State Duma of the Russian Federation when two missiles capable of destroying a cruiser were launched locked on to the signal of his telephone.
Russia, forgetting about the presumption of innocence, declares that Maskhadov is a criminal and a prosecutor is the only person with whom he may talk. But wasn’t it Maskhadov, the moderate candidate for the office of President of Chechnya, who was preferred by Moscow and isn’t it Putin who seeks an alternative to Maskhadov in the jails of Moscow among convicted Chechen criminals?
If we are to ask what kind of Chechnya Moscow would like see, there is an open-ended answer – obedient. And it is an open-ended answer as Moscow needs the obedience of Chechnya not only to keep it within the Russian Federation, but also so that this obedient Chechnya attacks its neighbours and participate in military provocations organised by the Kremlin when Moscow requests it to do so. We must remember that Basayev attacked not only Dagestan, but also Georgia in 1992, at the precise moment when Georgia became a sovereign country and Chechnya remained an obedient part of the Russian Federation. So, if Putin seeks the truth, he should apologise to Boris Nikolayevich for making him rash promises and arrest him for armed invasion of his obedient subject Basayev in a neighbouring sovereign country.
Russia needed Armenians and Azerbaijanis to fight each other and wanted itself to become a peacemaker in this conflict. Russia also wanted the Georgians to fight not only with Abkhazians and Ossetians, but also among themselves in a civil war, with Moscow regulating and controlling these processes for its own benefit. And if anybody believes that sovereign Georgia and Azerbaijan could not think of anything better for their independence but to elect as presidents former members of the Politburo of the Soviet Union, Shevardnadze and Aliyev, they are grossly mistaken. Both Russia and the West wanted it. And if anybody believes that the South Caucasian countries hoped to be sovereign with they borders guarded by Russian border guards, then they are naive. And if anybody thinks that these countries broke free from the USSR to become voluntarily members of the CIS, that is also naivety.
At the end of the 1980s the Caucasian nations started to fight for their independence from Russia for the third time. This time they hoped that the West would support democracy, peace, stability, and adherence to human rights, and chose a non-violent political struggle. However, the West did not support them, it supported Gorbatchov, and then Yeltsin and their collaborators in the Caucasus. It was precisely these collaborators who started to stir up ethnic conflicts and distort both democracy and the principles of sovereignty. These puppets, supported not only by Moscow but also the West, came to power and smashed into smithereens the Caucasian nations’ united resistance to Russian imperialism.
Moscow was not able to keep the Caucasus under its control without exerting military power, as direct use of military power against the Caucasian nations would lead to armed revolt. The Caucasus has ideal natural conditions for conducting a guerrilla war. Beside that, unlike in Afghanistan where people lacked education and had little military know-how, there were some 3 million men in the Caucasus – officers and reserves who underwent quality military training, and were familiar with all types of weapons, including nuclear submarines. If they were to revolt, Russia could not have done anything. Thus, in parallel to Moscow bringing their people to power, the KGB established in all the republics a number of armed groups to support them, supplying the groups with money, weapons, ammunition and drugs.
Moscow was no longer able to keep these groups under its full control, but the groups could destabilise the situation and that was the main objective for Moscow. Thanks to these groups and collaborating political leaders, brought to power in a fixed election confirmed by western observers, Moscow managed to completely destabilise the situation in the Caucasus and turn it into an economically distressed area. This led to the complete impoverishment of the citizens as well as the decline of national democratic political forces. These previously had the support of the majority of the population, adhered to non-violent methods of political struggle and advocated the unity of Caucasian nations in their struggle against Russian imperialism.
Under these conditions, Russian special services were able to bring under their influence a large number of collaborators at considerably lower cost. Between 1989 and 1991, there was not a single political organisation or active political leader in the Caucasus who was not under a certain level of control by the Russian special services. National democratic leaders and political organisations could no longer be financed by the people as they themselves had no resources. They could receive neither political support nor a single cent from the West. And they could do nothing to fight with the Russian black capital that controlled the whole political spectrum of the Caucasian republics.
The existence of large quantities of weapons and black money in the North Caucasus and three North Caucasian republics – Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria – with Soviet generals as their presidents – clearly mean that Russia had established a North Caucasian strike force. Moscow wished to have not only an obedient Chechen Republic as a part of Russia; it wanted Chechnya as well as other North Caucasian republics to participate in suppression of any of the Caucasian republics which might become truly independent.
Let us take the example of the so-called Confederation of Caucasian Peoples, established by the KGB, which declared immediately that it aimed to transform Georgia into an economically depressed area. It was this very organisation that sent Basayev with Chechen fighters to Sukhumi where he, together with Russian troops, fought against Georgians and launched a joint attack on Sukhumi. Dudaev himself had nothing to do with it, although at that time former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia was in Chechnya following his expulsion from Georgia. Gamsakhurdia invaded Georgia, which had been defeated in the Abkhazian war, and initiated yet another civil fratricidal war.
This North Caucasian strike force was formed on the basis of an old model, when the Ottoman Empire and Russia before the 19th century brought the crushing force of the North Caucasian nations to bear on Georgia. At that time, the King of Georgia, Heracles the Second and Prince Levan wiped out a 20,000 strong army of Avars, who raided Georgia with devastating consequences. Moscow no longer needed this North Caucasian force, as firstly, the Russian special services managed to bring to power collaborators, to initiate not only ethnic conflicts, but also a civil war, and there were more than enough armed groupings at that time in Georgia itself doing what Moscow planned to use the North Caucasians for. Also, Moscow could not rely on this strike force completely. Moscow could only use it under extreme conditions, which at that time were over due to strong collaboration.
At that time, Moscow experienced significant changes – the State Committee for Emergency Situations, Gorbatchov’s departure and Yeltsin coming to power. It was Yeltsin who decided to change the future of the North Caucasian strike force. Dudaev became useless and fell into disgrace. Yeltsin, underestimating Gorbatchov’s preparatory work, believed that he could get rid of Dudaev easily and walked into the trap, as planned by Gorbatchov for Georgia, in case Georgia continued with its national liberation movement.
Though the Chechens and Ingushes managed to keep their mutual goodwill and their break-up did not end in tragedy, mainly thanks to the reasonableness of Dudaev. It is not difficult to detect in it a clever intervention by the Russian special services. The State Emblem of Chechnya is a wolf, which is a symbol of freedom. The Ingush state emblem, on the other hand, depicts an eagle holding this wolf in its claws. It is not in the spirit of the Caucasian unity, but it conforms to the principle by which the KGB attempts to break-up this unity.
Even if Russia did not force Chechnya to stay within the Russian Federation and Chechnya had the opportunity to establish its sovereignty under the same conditions as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, it would nevertheless mean that under such conditions Dudaev would have to leave and give his position to a collaborator of some kind, for example Khasbulatov, or to become a puppet leader controlled by Moscow, as the Caucasus is recognised to be under the legal, political, military and economic control of Russia. That means that the whole Caucasus, both its northern part, which is a part of the Russian Federation, and the southern part, with its de jure recognition of sovereignty, is simply being handed over by the international community to suffer at the hands of Russia.
The root of all the tragedies in the Caucasus is that the West underestimates the strategic character of the Caucasus. The West underestimated it previously in the 1920s, when the Caucasus, beside its strategic importance, was of a great economic importance, as at that time more than a half of the world output of oil and manganese was located there. The West then did not handle well the so called „Russian issue" in the League of Nations and sacrificed independent Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia to Soviet Russia. Today, with the discovery of new oil deposits in other regions of the world, the Caucasus has less than a tenth of the economic strength it had in the past.
Today, the West has economic interests in the Caucasus which are related to oil pipelines but they are not of great importance. The strategic position of the Caucasus is more important, and unlike Russia, the West underestimates that. Thus, Russia takes a leading role in the region, as its interests in the Caucasus are different. The Caucasian nations, which are supposed to have their destiny in their own hands, are so downtrodden, that they are unable to resolve anything on their own, mainly due to neglect from the West. It seems that the Caucasian issue has already been resolved on terms favourable to Russia, despite the fact that the West has a different opinion. The West and Russia, by their joint suppression of the will of the people in favour of dictators who seem to be Pinochets but are in fact Fidel Castros, have already decided the future of the Caucasus to the advantage of Russia, irrespective of what the West wants.
It is worth remembering the sad lessons from history, when Tsarist Russia at the end of its occupation of the Caucasus, turned its aggression on Europe. It conquered Poland and Finland and its desire to control the Balkans started World War I.
In the 1920’s, Russia again conquered the Caucasus, which resulted in Stalin starting a war with Finland. With Hitler’s division of Poland, the whole situation led not only to World War II but also to the occupation of Central Europe. If, at the time, the West had not underestimated the strategic importance of the Caucasus, Europe could have prevented the two World Wars.
NATO's enlargement as well as its bombing of Yugoslavia caused Yeltsin's agony and he threatened that Russia would take retaliatory measures. Of course, the membership of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in NATO as well as pressure on Yugoslavia due to Kosovo, were in no way actions against Russia, if Russia is seen as a democratic country. However, this is not the case for Russia. It remains a superpower, an aggressive country, and therefore it perceived the measures as harmful to its own interests and decided to take retaliatory measures. So far, out of these not quite clear retaliatory measures, we can see that Yeltsin temporarily resigned his powers and Putin, replacing him, started to pursue a more aggressive policy in opposition to the West. One of the consequences was the violation of the Khasav-Yurt agreements and the return of war to Chechnya.
Again, considering Russia a standard democratic country, it would be absurd to find a connection between NATO enlargement and the West's intervention in Yugoslavia with the return of war to Chechnya. However, keeping in mind the imperial character of Russia, the connection is clear-cut. Russia worked out that the West took former Russian allies away from the Warsaw Block and would have to pay a price for it. At that time Russia set the scene in the Caucasus and moved to the attack. The logic is simple - well, you, the West, are not aware of the strategic importance of the Caucasus, that we, Russia, have almost lost. We will regain the control over the Caucasus as a countermeasure to losing our position in Central Europe and the Balkans, we will get away with it and will see what else we can do.
Russia will continue restoring its lost balance and will respond to the day-to-day policy of the West with similar measures. Having set the scene in advance, occupation of the Caucasus, both the northern and southern parts may be considered a possibility for Russia; even now Russia is capable of it. Everything is clear about Chechnya. Russia had well prepared preconditions for violating the Khasav-Yurt agreements, despite hiding it clumsily, and wants to destroy Chechnya. But everything in the Caucasus is done clumsily and thus Russia has great chances for occupation of the South Caucasus. During the past couple of years, Russia was getting ready for a comeback of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, hoping that the West not seeing a special strategic importance of the Caucasus, will let Russia off this time. Moreover, let's say, Armenia, that was the first country to start the national liberation game has now, similarly to Belarus, agreed to return to Russia voluntarily.
In fact, for Russia, taking the direction of the Caucasus does not depend on the West taking steps in other regions of the world. Russia will take everything it is allowed to take. It does not matter if the West provokes Russia to take retaliatory measures or not. NATO enlargement or anything similar will only speed up the actions of Moscow. However, the pace Russia takes depends directly on how much space the West naively gives it. The conception the West holds on what Moscow dares to do and the Kremlin's appetite are incommensurable. There will be many surprises, like Russian troops turning up at Pristina Airport and the re-invasion of Chechnya. This has only been a prologue. Russia has a much greater area in mind for its aggressive plans than the West thinks of, and it will be clear only when the satanic symphony starts after the occupation of the whole Caucasus.
So far, by waging war in Chechnya, the Kremlin continues to set the scene for even larger advances. And there is no need for the West to provoke Moscow, even without it Moscow will go on perniciously taking advantage of all the compromises offered by the West in the past and those yet to come. During World War II the West declared Russia to be its ally and a liberator of Europe. Moscow used it immediately for communist occupation of the Central European countries. Well, the West was right to consider Moscow its ally in the fight against nazism and even to come to terms with a temporary occupation of Central Europe by Russia. However, as soon as Berlin surrendered and peace was established, the Soviet troops were to immediately leave, thus demonstrating their respect of the sovereign powers of Central European countries. And when Moscow did not do it and started to occupy these countries, things should have been called by their proper names. Russia should have been treated as an aggressor, the same way as Germany was. However, the West did not do it and Moscow has always claimed that it was the liberator, not an aggressor like Germany.
No such compromises may be offered to Russia, every single one of them might cost dearly. However, the West compromises with Russia even when there is no need to do so. The problem of the second war in Chechnya did not appear independently of other problems. And to resolve it, not touching the rest with which it was connected, is impossible. In theory, one might agree with Moscow on a resolution of a specific Chechen problem, but it would only be self-deception.
Let's all of us in NATO have the KFOR leave Yugoslavia, denounce the membership of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in the NATO and you, the Russians, have your forces leave Chechnya and come back to the starting conditions of the Khasav-Yurt agreements. Perhaps, Putin would agree, if presented to him properly. But it is absurd and one cannot build a relationship with Russia on these grounds. Misunderstanding the essence of Russian politics, that Russia contemplates exactly this type of balance, and considering it a helpless lamb, will only lead to even more disastrous results than if the aforementioned was undertaken. A more realistic approach needs to be found, that is tearing down the old unfit dam and constructing a new one using good-quality cement. That is to take an approach without reciprocal lies, and when Russia tries to hide it clumsily, no approving nods should be offered.
Sincerely, to tell the truth, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary needed their membership in NATO, otherwise Russia would have occupied them sooner or later. In order to prevent this undoubtedly realistic threat, these countries without being members of the NATO, would have to create powerful defence forces to be able to resist the ineluctable aggression of Moscow. Of course, Moscow would not attack these countries unawares exposing itself to international consequences, however it would find a reason for and manner of occupation. If anybody is in doubt, have a look at what Moscow did with the countries of the South Caucasus.
Unlike Central Europe, natural conditions in the Caucasus are ideal for a guerrilla war, that is what forces Moscow to be careful. Should the local collaborators be defeated, tank invasion, as was the case in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, bears the risk of such a strong guerrilla resistance that it cannot be even remotely compared to the war in Afghanistan or wars in Chechnya. That is why the Kremlin has been recently and systematically pursuing its camouflage policy to destroy the Caucasus and this policy is far from peaceful, as interpreted in the West.
The West must understand that membership in NATO or integration of the Caucasian countries with the EU is a very distant issue. Until then the Caucasus may be defended against Russian aggression only by national democratic forces. Both from the military point of view and that of political stability and economic recovery, the Caucasian countries can take care of themselves better than anybody else. However, what could be the role of national democratic political forces when they are deprecated not only by Russia but also by the West, and when the collaborators are supported not only by Russia but also by the West, and these puppet politicians conclude various dubious agreements with Russia in the name of their people. The problem in the Caucasus is the collaboration planted by Russia in order to destroy national democratic forces; the fact that without any help from the West Russia brought into power its political dummies violating all the fundamental principles of state sovereignty, democracy and human rights.
The West has lost any respect for these principles in the Caucasus, relying perhaps on the fact that these nations will bear everything and by the time globalisation and European integration reaches the Caucasus, perhaps even via Russia, a reasonable standard of living as well as democracy will be somehow established as a result of it. And if any of the Caucasian countries has a Moscow collaborator occupying the office of President of a sovereign country, we will declare him a pro-western democratic president and time will heal everything.
Destructive processes enforced by Russia on the Caucasian countries have done so much damage that earnings even of the richest western countries would not be able to recover it. However, even more important is that because of these processes the Caucasus are completely suppressed and Russia can get them under its control with no major difficulties. Europe itself will follow and all the rosy prospects on globalisation and international democracy may end up a total disaster.
In compliance with official international law, the Chechen problem is an internal affair of the Russian Federation. Again, if Russia was a democratic country, the problem would be resolved by internal democratic measures, for example, in a referendum on Chechen self-determination. However, Russia is an imperial country, and even worse, these days military actions in Chechnya are supported even by the so called democratic political forces in Russia. We can see that when building a dam, a low quality cement was used, and thus something went wrong.
It is obvious that conclusion of the Khasav-Yurt agreements that satisfied the West did not mean resolution of the problem. Peace that is praised by the West the highest is not always the best solution. The solution is freedom of the Caucasian nations, and today Chechens are not free and moreover none of the officially recognised sovereign countries of the Caucasus is free. Peace as presented by Moscow in the Caucasus is even worse than war. The West thought that Moscow made the Khasav-Yurt peace as a sign of respect for the West, but in fact it made peace to get even more ready for a successful new war. Yeltsin, on whom the West relied, chickened out and resigned prematurely from his office.
Following the past mistakes of the western policy in relation to Russia, the Chechen problem seems to be totally unsolvable, but only if the West continues with its former blind policy with respect to Russia. Soberly, there are thousands of simple ways to resolve all Caucasian problems. The main principle should not be isolation of Russia or a return to the cold war, but a serious approach of the West to the fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and international law, and what is even more important an abandonment of the blind co-operation with Moscow and its aggressive demonstration, especially in relation to the Caucasus. The Caucasus is the Rubicon for Moscow. Without unjustified compromises and assistance from the West Russia would not have been able to violate human rights in the Caucasus, to have suppressed democratic freedoms and provoke aggression for such a long time.
The West, on the U.S. and EU government level, and what is particularly important, on the level of all research centres on Russia and the Caucasus, must reassess the past perception of Russia, admit its past mistakes and change bureaucratic or biased relations. the West must not support clearly anti-democratic processes in Russia proclaiming them democratic for hidden political reasons, such as choosing the lesser of two evils. So far, this is the day-to-day practice.
The principle of democracy must not be an instrument of aggression. There is a real war in Chechnya. When the weapons are loud, the music becomes silent. If somebody is interested in the free will of the Chechens, they could vote when there is a ceasefire; to vote in a referendum under the international observation on the self-determination of Chechnya. Everybody knows well that Russia will not allow such a referendum and the rest of the world cannot do anything but admit their helplessness. If the international community is not able to force the Russian government to abide the fundamental right of a nation to establish the political rule its people wish to have, it means that Moscow took the right to vote from such a nation and the world must admit it. And not to play a Russian game of democratic elections in Chechnya.
The international law which declared Chechnya to be a Russian territory is unbelievably unfair. And if Russia lacks the good will to leave Chechnya even after two deportations and two devastating wars, we need to admit that Russia does have such a right. However, then Russia may not call itself a democratic country and organise some elections calling them democratic and laughing at Chechens at the same time.
And if Russia does so, the international community must not participate in this dirty game. The only thing the international community can and must do for all the Chechens who would agree is to offer and to provide political asylum and the opportunity to leave Chechnya based on the Geneva convention; of course not leaving for Ingushetia or Belarus, but, let's say, for the G7 countries. Such countries should cover only the initial expenses, the rest should be demanded from Russia.
It is understandable that these countries cannot afford it, as all the nations, including Russians themselves, would start to revolt and ask for political asylum. However, running elections under the inspection of international observers and declaring these elections to be expression of free will of the nation is a crime committed not only by Russia, but also by the whole international community. This is not a democratic peacemaking process, it is the pursuit of hidden forms of aggression and the mocking of principles of democracy and justice.
Vazha Mtavrishvili - born in Tbilisi; one of the leading Georgian opponents of the Soviet regime and one of leaders of the Georgian national movement which formed the base of mass anticommunist demonstrations in 1989.