An empire on the verge of collapse
By Sergei Gligashvili, special to Prague Watchdog
U.S. presidential candidate John McCain recently made a statement which was bound to appear at the present time. He said that after Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the countries of the West ought to think about the independence of Chechnya. McCain was the first to put into words what is very soon certain to become a subject of the most partisan discussion. The senator seemed to be concerned less about the restoration of international law and uniform standards than to point to the vulnerability of Russia itself, if it becomes the target of its own moves.
However, the problem touched on by the American politician is a significantly wider one. The Kremlin has given an impetus to processes that no one is capable of controlling. And it looks as though Russia may turn out to be the principal victim of a new world order, or – more precisely – disorder. At some point events will evolve spontaneously, since Moscow’s recognition of Georgia’s autonomous regions is setting in motion a mechanism that revises the basic principle of territorial integrity in the post-war world.
The example of Kosovo, which the Kremlin likes to invoke as it tries to prove that the West has brought down the system of legal norms which ensure the priority of a nation’s territorial integrity over its right to self-determination, does not constitute a valid argument. Serbia’s Albanians gained the right to secession not because their separatism was somehow particularly compelling from a legal point of view, but because of exceptional circumstances. The genocide to which they were subjected was proven and obvious. It gave the ethnic group an incontestable right to separate from a state that had become the source of an inhuman programme of extermination. In the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the military actions were on each occasion conducted under the slogan of restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity, and although both sides engaged in ethnic cleansing, there are today insufficient grounds for speaking of a total extermination of Abkhaz and Ossetians carried out by the Georgian government.
The nub of the matter is that there are so far no serious legal arguments in favour of the recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian national autonomy. Russia’s decision opens the way for the arbitrary launching of centrifugal forces – above all in Russia, where the problem of the federal structure still contains many concealed hazards. Vladimir Putin used force to resolve it, by simply reducing to a minimum the rights of constituent entities of the Russian Federation. By abolishing elected regional governors on the pretext that after the events in Beslan a situation had developed in the country that threatened national security, and by ensuring that the party of power had a privileged position in local parliaments, Moscow took the regions under its full control.
In reality, however, the regional movement managed to hold its own, though it was forced to keep itself hidden. Triumphant centralism in no way extinguished the wish of the Federation’s constituent entities to gain autonomy, the desired extent of which varies from region to region. Thus, first and foremost, the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia undermines the state structure of the Russian Federation. Because they received no support from the outside world, Russia’s numerous separatist movements quickly shrank to nothing, but they will once again return to life if their right to exist, even if only in the distant future, is confirmed by the precedents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
And here the example of Chechnya may prove to be formative. The scope of the powers accorded to the Chechen authorities many times exceeds the limits that Putin’s regime set for the government of constituent federal entities. For several years now, political analysts have argued that the "systemic separatism" of Kadyrov’s Chechnya long ago took the republic beyond the limits of Russia’s constitutional jurisdiction, and that Kadyrov’s formal loyalty was merely a cover for aggressive sovereignization. That is a controversial assertion, since the Kremlin has never viewed the Chechen administration as a civil body functioning under normal conditions. All the preferential powers Kadyrov received were given to him so that he could fulfil specific repressive tasks, since Chechen society could only be governed in the form of a dictatorship.
But however that may be, entirely new opportunities are now opening up for the Chechen government. If, contrary to expectation, Kadyrov really does decide to cease his obedience to Moscow, he can count on strong support from outside. Moreover, the assistance to be offered to the new Chechen separatism, will not only be political. There have recently been calls in the American press for the U.S. government to equip Georgia with Stinger missiles.
Where specific actions are concerned, the West will have to play a delicate and difficult game, given the fact that today's Chechnya is a conglomerate of forces and interests. It is obvious that direct cooperation with Kadyrov’s dictatorial regime is impossible. Likewise, the Caucasian Emirate, with its doctrinal connection to Al-Qaeda, cannot act as a partner to which open assistance may be provided. The only body that may be easily granted the status of an already existing government in exile which may exert a serious influence on the course of events inside Chechnya is the national-separatist group led by Akhmed Zakayev, which over long years has defended the controversial thesis that the struggle for national independence in no way contradicts the ideals and norms of a democratic society.
It is also obvious that if Zakayev becomes a source of serious material assets, it will not only help him to strengthen his own position and breathe new life into the Chechen separatist project, but also to create his own national liberation front in Chechnya, and then gradually take the fighting units of the Caucasus Emirate under his control – for one cannot really talk of a serious conflict or divergence of outlook between the various wings of the Chechen resistance. The real reason for Dokka Umarov’s decision to take the plunge into the radical waters of Islam was his realization that no support by the West for the armed underground was possible – it had nothing to do with any desire on his part to become a fanatical assassin. The quest for patrons from the Arab world was a step forced on him, not one that was mandatory.
There will also be a place for Ramzan Kadyrov in this new, bizarre conglomerate, if he enters into open conflict with the Kremlin. While it is true that Kadyrov will probably not be required to play the role of an independent figure, if he builds himself one way or the other into Zakayev’s government he will also become a full participant in the war with Russia.
Moscow’s current actions give the West a perfect right to remember once again the so-called "Brzezinski plan" for the break-up of the Soviet Union and to apply it to Russia, which is once more becoming a serious threat to the civilized world. And this means that all the separatist movements in Russia are now the subject of constant interest and assistance from Western governments.
It is worth pointing out that the Russian separatist front of today is much broader and more diverse than it was in Soviet times. The so-called “regionalists”, who uphold the right of the individual Russian regions to independence, can stand shoulder to shoulder with the national movements. Chechnya has the leading position in this process, but it will very soon be overtaken by the separatists of Ingria, eastern Siberia, the Urals, and all who hate Moscow and find the burden of its power intolerable. In London, Tbilisi, Warsaw and Washington, led by Western special services, parallel separatist bodies will act, their main task being to drain the political power from Russia in such a way that the country, devoid of internal structure, crumbles to pieces like wheaten crackers.
(Translation by DM)