Is the war in Chechnya over?
By Ruslan Isayev
CHECHNYA - The views of people on the notion that the war in the republic is definitively over are divided. Some observers believe that the so-called third phase of the second Chechen campaign will begin in the spring or summer of next year. They do so on the basis of their assertion that there is a possibility of unrest in Russia itself. If events take such a turn, they say, there will be major bloodshed, and the conflict will spread far beyond the North Caucasus.
Other more optimistic forecasts for the development of the situation in Chechnya draw a cheerful picture of prosperity under the leadership of President Ramzan Kadyrov. Were it not for him, Chechnya would be unable to make an economic breakthrough of the kind that is now underway, their argument goes. Their opponents, whose mood is less optimistic, believe that the apparent prosperity depends on Kadyrov’s devotion to the head of the Russian state, and has little to do with the idea of an indivisible federative state.
The recent claim by Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov that the guerrillas have been "finished with" is in fundamental denial of several important facts. First among these is the absence from Chechnya of any serious activity by recognized and established business concerns. For major investment in the republic, both Russian and foreign, the situation still remains volatile, despite the assertions of the Chechen leadership and the countless forums and conferences that are organized.
A second factor which confirms that the situation in Chechnya is still complex is the large number of troops on its territory and also the massively inflated local law-enforcement bodies. It is hard to imagine what would happen if the troops were to be withdrawn from Chechnya and the number of law enforcement personnel reduced to the average level for the region. There are many possible scenarios, but none of them are optimistic.
Most Chechen residents are cautious about making comments on the actions or statements of the local government. But some are not afraid to venture outspoken remarks which point to the central problem of today's Chechnya.
Abu, auto mechanic, Urus-Martan:
"Alkhanov is wrong. The guerrillas are there, and there are quite a lot of them. I’m personally not a supporter of these soldiers, but one must look the truth in the face. Our district is located at the foot of the so-called Black Mountains – the beginning of the Caucasus Ridge – and guerrillas calmly come and go here. Visit Komsomolskoye, Martan-Chu, Roshni Chu, Tangi-Chu. The guerrillas go to all those places. I don’t know why they feel at ease there, but they do. Over in Yandy-Kotar a whole group of them burned down the village administration. And they didn’t seem to suffer any consequences."
Ilyes, student, Gudermes:
"Kadyrov is a cool guy! He’ll solve any problem."
Khasan, bus driver, Grozny:
"I don’t understand what’s going on in Chechnya with the guerrillas. One minute they’re doing the shooting and attacking, and the next they’re being shot and killed. It’s a mysterious situation. But on the whole, I’m happy with the situation. I have a chance to feel stable. Everything’s okay for the time being: there’s work to be had, and the soldiers don’t keep stopping drivers like they used to. I wouldn’t like it to get worse again. There’s a limit to how long one can go on living in fear."
Movlady, young murid (Sufi novice), Shalinsky district:
"What are the guerrillas trying to prove? They’re going to die, and the likelihood is that they will take others with them. They’re real bandits now. They ought to surrender, and if they haven’t got the courage to acknowledge Kadyrov as the country’s leader, they should go away. I personally wouldn’t mind that. Don’t they realize that they’ve lost? Perhaps all that Wahhabi doctrine has muddled their heads. If so, then it's better to destroy them than to let them go, as Wahhabism has never done the Chechens any good."
Nurzhan, elderly female stallholder at the market in Grozny:
"Oh, God forbid that the war starts again. They’ve done enough waving their swords about. Surely they’re tired of it by now. All our neighbours are laughing at us Chechens. Why can’t we live like others? We’ve never supported the war, nobody wants it. But the ones who’re behaving badly must be stopped. The guerrillas are hooligans who never obeyed their parents or elders when they were children. Chechens need a strict, tough government. Only then will there be order. Look at the central market now, even. It wasn’t this orderly even in Soviet times."
Islam, journalist for a local newspaper:
"We’ve more or less forgotten that the guerrillas exist. Of course we don’t write that they appeared or that there was an attack and they managed to escape. We’re not allowed to write that. But we can write as much as we want about how yet another guerrilla was arrested and killed. If there aren’t any guerrillas, then where do the members of the illegal armed groups come from? My personal view on the numbers of guerrillas is that there are few active ones, but many potential ones. The high level of unemployment, the difficulty of making a living. Those are the things that don’t change, that make young men go to war, and there are still a lot of those young men in Chechnya. So what if Grozny is rebuilt, what happens after that? How are young people going to get work? Where are we going to find employment for them? These issues must be resolved, for only then will nobody want to be a guerrilla."
Vazrail, unemployed resident of the village of Kotar-Yurt:
"The war‘s not over. It has just slowed down. They’re trying to make us believe that it’s over, but it's not. I know. And everyone knows it all too well. What’s the difference if there’s war in Ingushetia, but peace here in Chechnya? We’ll just be changing places. The war will come back to us. You’ll see, there’ll be a lot of blood spilt. As our old folk say, the new war won’t last long – only until dinnertime. But so many people will be killed that the blood will swell the banks of the River Argun. And then, they say, Paradise will come to Chechnya. Let’s hope it happens soon."