The Russian-Chechen conflict after September 11, 2001
By Musa Tumsoyev, Candidate of Economic Sciences
Special to Prague Watchdog
The tragic US events of September 11 brought the war with terrorism to the very top of the world’s political agenda. The statement of US President George W. Bush that those who are not with us are against us made it clear for everyone who will be in charge of the fight with terrorism.
It was pretty obvious that the US foreign policy would not tolerate a neutral position towards the announced war on terror. This fact made it necessary for many countries to choose a side and to declare support to American actions. Russia was among the most active countries in this respect because - according to its own words - it has been for nearly three years occupied with its own “anti-terrorist operation”.
The US-led anti-terrorist alliance which soon began to emerge comprised a variety of countries with miscellaneous regimes. Some of these countries were democratic, some were not. Some had a legally elected leadership, some did not. Some members of this motley club even accept terrorism as a method of solving political issues. In this context, if a country was not giving its support to the US policy, it run the risk of being pointed out as an enemy and possible target of attack.
Soon after the attack on WTC, it became apparent that it was a lucky choice for Russia to name its campaign in Chechnya an “anti-terrorist” operation, although before 1999 it called the very same actions (in 1994-96) the “reestablishment of constitutional order”. The first traces of an “anti-terrorist campaign” emerged already in 1991 when it was called “the introduction of the state of emergency”. Apparently, the selection of an appropriate name to label the actions in Chechnya does not play a negligible role in Russia’s policy.
Of course, the civilized world has to condemn terrorism and understands the necessity of the struggle against the plague. However, it is equally important not to confuse concepts. One thing is to objectively estimate the phenomena causing the conflict and another to correctly understand the essence of the conflict. Russia’s effort to utilise the tragic events in the USA in order to achieve its own political goals became evident already in the first post-September 11-speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Without hesitation, Putin draw a parallel between the events in the USA and its military actions in the Chechen Republic.
The events of September 11 triggered a massive Russian diplomatic pressure on the West whose goal was to persuade it to reconsider its attitude towards the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. In exchange for Russia's support in the fight with international terrorism, Russia would from the West gain a tacit approval of its policy in Chechnya. It turned out that for Russian as well as Western politicians the lives of Chechen people have considerably smaller value than the lives of Americans or other members of the “civilized world”.
The West quietly enough accepted the new Russian formula of the responsibility for war crimes which was announced by the Russian President during his visit to Belgium. According to this concept, the responsibility for victims among civilians during bombardments, “mopping-up operations” and other various “special operations” is entirely on the side of Chechen “bandits” who use civilians as a shield. The denial of human rights and the opportunity “to legalize” human lawlessness in the Chechen Republic are probably the first Russian “dividends” from the American events.
It is believed that the terrorist acts in the USA promoted the opening of an entirely new epoch of the relations between Russia and the West. However, a more appropriate definition would be that the new political (and military) alliance emerged as a result of the appearance of a “common enemy”. In such situation it is increasingly important for Chechen fighters not to appear as the “enemies” of the West and not to be ranked to the allies of the “international terrorists”.
The appeal of the administration of US President Bush to Chechen leaders to cut all contacts with international terrorist groups was by the Russian government interpreted as a recognition of the “legitimity” of Russia’s actions in Chechnya.
In this respect, President Putin’s visit to Germany played a significant role. The statement of German Chancellor Schroeder on Chechnya was by the Russian diplomacy recognized as the desire of Germany to reconsider its attitude toward “Chechens”.
Then, at the EU-Russia summit, Russia received “support to its efforts to achieve settlement of the Chechen issue by political means”. The West, however, has “not noticed” the fact that Russia had been admitting the necessity of political negotiations since 1999. Russia has spent nearly three years by looking for the appropriate partner for negotiations. However, up to this very day, it has failed to determine who actually represents the other side in the conflict.
Besides, Russia has not been keen on discussing the Chechen problem with anybody else, insisting that it is its internal matter. At the same time, the Russian diplomacy did not hesitate to issue “relevant” statements in order to achieve a positive international reaction. In his comment on the US campaign against terrorist organizations, President Putin “providently” mentioned that the events in Chechnya “cannot be considered outside the context” of the world-wide anti-terrorist campaign, and he drew a plan for the “integration of Chechen civilians into a peaceful life”.
At the session of the Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, where the events in Chechnya were discussed once again, PACE representatives responded to Russia’s “peace initiatives” by remarking on “some positive improvements”.
However, the members of PACE's “Chechen” commission did not regard it especially important or possible to visit Chechnya after the terrorist attacks on the USA to find out how strong these “improvements” are.
Then, MPEs during their visit to Chechnya, did not consider it necessary to pay attention to the status of the inhabitants of the republic deprived of their civil rights, in spite of the contrast between the situation of Chechen refugees and the pro-Moscow Chechen administration (in the day the members of the delegation stayed for a short while with the first, while in the night they stayed for a longer period of time with the latter).
On the eve of the next planned hearings on Chechnya, a Chechen “paratroop” delegation organized by the State Duma landed in Strasbourg. The task of the group was to confirm the desirability of the current status quo in Chechnya. All further visits of international organizations to Chechnya gradually started to bear a formal character.
Thus, the second important consequence of September 11 is that Western countries have lost attention to Chechnya and tended to reassess the essence of the ongoing conflict in a way that pleases their temporary ally.
Chechnya always looked for support to its independence not only in the Christian West but also in the Muslim world. But it was only Afghanistan which, inopportunely, recognized Chechnya as an independent state. However, the Taleban regime had been recognized only by three states. Taking this fact into account, Russia always tried to present Afghanistan and Chechnya as the centres of international terrorism with a single spiritual leader – Usama bin Laden.
In a situation when the Afghan Taleban, “Islamic” terrorists and countries with evil regimes suddenly became the enemies of the entire civilized world, Islamic countries hastened to join the lines of the anti-terrorist coalition. Many of these countries will have to suspend humanitarian, financial and moral support to Chechnya, fearing the accusations – especially by Russia - of encouraging “Chechen terrorism”, allegedly a variation of “Islamic terrorism”.
Simultaneously, the Muslim countries will probably have no time to be concerned about the fait of the Chechen people as they will have enough of their own problems and be concerned with the struggle against real or imaginary terrorists, fearing to be labelled as supporters of terrorism and even terrorist states. In other words, the civilized Islamic world is likely to postpone its support to Chechnya until the war with terrorism is over.
During the second war in Chechnya, Russia has been exerting the strongest political pressure on Georgia. The relatively recent events in Georgia (clashes with units subordinate to Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelayev) have confirmed the ambiguity of the Russian-Georgian relations, contributed to the aggravation of the Abkhazian conflict and draw the attention of the West to the complex situation in the whole region.
The acts of terrorism in New York and Washington have made the USA the chief “arbiter” of on the determination who who is and who is not a terrorist. Russia and Georgia, accusing each other of complicity to terrorism, are both eager for the support of the West and, in the first place, the USA.
Russia insists on the presence of Chechen insurgents in the Pankisi gorge and would not mind to expand its military actions also to the Georgian territory. Georgia, in turn, accuses Russia of supporting “aggressive separatism” in Abkhazia, which in Georgia’s interpretation is synonymous with “terrorism”. The Georgian leadership would certainly welcome Western help in solving the problem of the territorial integrity of the country. Abkhazian leaders’ various statements on the desirability to Abkhazia’s intergration with Russia is nothing else than an indirect form of the Russian political pressure on Georgia whose principal aim is to expel from Georgia Chechen refugees, among whom, undoubtedly, are some guerillas.
The Georgian factor certainly plays a significant role in the Russian-Chechen conflict as Georgia is Chechnya’s only direct neighbour outside the Russian Federation. In the post-Soviet period the relations between Georgia and Russia went through considerable modifications. Russia actively supported Eduard Shevardnadze and paved the way for him coming to power. In the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, however, Russia took the part with Abkhazians - as did some Chechens. In the Russian-Chechen war, Georgians allied with Chechens, while Abkhazians, after initial hesitation, remained loyal to Russia.
Sure enough, the Georgian President discussed all these questions with his counterpart during his last visit in the USA. However, it will be the development of the anti-terrorist operation which will show to what extent the events of September 11 affected the American will to engage in Georgia and support the country’s independence from Russia.
The arrival of US military experts and rendering of military help certainly is a call for Russia. However, at the moment Russia can’t do much as the USA is an ally. Though the momentary ambitions of Russia are limited, the Russian leadership tries to “suppress” Georgia by making use of the war with “international terrorism”. The fulfilment of such scenario would allow Russia to solve the “Chechen problem” and fortify its position in the Caucasus. The loss of its southern neighbour will for Chechnya mean a major loss and for Russia a great victory.
The rapprochement between Russia and NATO, the birth of the anti-terrorist alliance with the USA and other achievements of the Russian diplomacy on the world political stage (including the American recognition of Russia as a country with market economy) are to some degree the consequences of the September 11. However, as regards Chechnya, all Russian political achievements have been to full decree enabled by the American tragedy. Thus, alongside with the USA the main loser of the September 11 events is Chechnya.
In any case, it is not possible to speak about any political or moral dividents on the Chechen side. Pitifully, the destruction of Chechen capital Grozny during the bombardment by Russian military airplanes has not provoked such strong indignation in the civilized world as the events in the USA did.
The recent developments around Chechnya are definitively not in favour of the small North Caucasus country and as the Russian-Chechen conflict is a zero-sum game, Russia’s gains that followed in the wake of September 11 seem to be Chechen losses.
However, that tragedy cannot alter the very essence of the Russian-Chechen conflict. The international “anti-terrorist” coalition seems to understand it as well, regardless of all the Russian efforts. The recent statement of the US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that human rights as well as the rights of ethnic minority in the region are important issues shows that the USA understands the essence of conflict.
The West is aware of that Russia is not fighting against terrorists but rather against representatives of an entire nation, in whose ranks, naturally, are also those who are regarded as gangsters and terrorists by Chechens themselves.
Russia cannot be unaware of the fact as well. Speaking on terrorism in general, President Putin admitted that the conflict in Chechnya has its “own historical context”. Unfortunately, the Chechen issue was left outside the agenda of the latest summit of Bush and Putin. The two presidents discussed only “serious topics”, such as “chicken legs” and “cheap steel”.
The Chechen side always tried to respond to the initiatives of the adversary side which could promote the negotiation process. Vladimir Putin’s statement of September 24, 2001 was by “naive” Chechens perceived as a call for negotiations. However, the “72 hours” assigned for the organization of talks with “people who have armed themselves under the influence of false and deformed values” was nothing but a propaganda gimmick to fool the West, which was gladly accepted by Western politicians.
The insincerity of the Russian leadership was demonstrated by their attitude towards the “long-awaited” meeting of the representatives of the conflicting sides, Viktor Kazantsev and Akhmed Zakaeyv. The meeting was by the Russian side termed merely as a “contact”, which allegedly took place “by chance”. But this is the main reason why the negotiation process was halted.
They say that the world has radically changed after the September 11 evens. The Chechen society has over the last decade changed even faster and more often. It diminished in terms of quantity and, one has to assume, that the Chechen nation has not improved in terms of quality since it is believed that at wars die always the best ones.
The Chechen people have fully experienced the cynicism of the Russian authorities and the incivility of the Chechen authorities. They have experienced the federalism a la Russia and the Chechen-style independence. They have been acquainted with the “enchantment” of the Western democracy and the Eastern autocracy. They have encountered a “militant” atheism and religious radicalism. Last but not least, they have become direct victims of the Chechen state banditry and the Russian state terorrism.
Taking this into account, the Chechens are unlikely to feel much that the world has changed considerably after September 11. But it is certain that the Chechen desire for peace has become even stronger.
Translated by Prague Watchdog.
(T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· Chechnya After September 11th by Anatol Lieven (09-05-2002)
· Toward a U.S. Policy on Chechnya by Center for Strategic and International Studies (8-11-2001)
· Casualties have become acceptable by Leila Khajiyeva (25-10-2001)
· U.S.-Russia Relations after September 11, 2001 (hearing at House Committee on International Relations; 24-10-01)