July 05, 2020
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Russia And Chechnya

The roots date back to Tsarist Russia, when the Northern Caucasus was invaded in the 18th Century and Sheikh Mansur improvised an army of Caucasians to fight the enemy, but was subdued.

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Russia And Chechnya

At the core of the Chechen Problem, and many years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, such factors as oil production, secession, religious fanaticism, ancestral rifts, clan fights and foreign geopolitical interests have been colliding periodically, culminating in the present violence.

The roots date back to Tsarist Russia, when the Northern Caucasus was invaded in the 18th Century and Sheikh Mansur improvised an army of Caucasians to fight the enemy, but was subdued.

Two hundred and nineteen years have gone by, yet the struggle for independence has remained a sore subject in the long, convoluted relationship between Chechens and Russians.

The most distressing chapter of the Soviet era was the brutal deportation of Chechen and Ingush people decreed by Stalin in 1944, shipping them off to the barren mountains of Kazakhstan, which resulted in the loss of nearly 200,000 lives.

Former President Boris Yeltsin, during his face-off with Mikhail Gorbachev, took every opportunity to investigate all sources of dissension to him available in the vast Soviet land to destabilize his rival before installing into power General Dzhokar Dudayev as president of Chechnya in 1991.

The soviet collapse created favorable conditions for Dudayev's government to declare independence that same year, but Yeltsin decided to crush that effort three years later by force. The first Chechen-Russian war ended with an embarrassing capitulation from Moscow, inked on the Khasavyurt Peace Agreement in 1996.

When Dudayev was assassinated later that year, separatist ideals remained a high priority for the new leadership, although it seemed apparent that a moderate and pragmatic stance was favored by Aslan Maskhadof, the following president, who in an effort to strengthen the Chechen Republic, developed an agenda seeking to obtain recognition from Moscow as an independent Caucasian nation based on the Khasavyurt statutes.

Maskhadof failed and was unable to avoid that Chechnya, at heart a tribal society based upon clan and lineage, ended up fractioned in many small townships where the chieftains decided to loot national oil reserves and other natural resources.

Eventually, a rupture occurred in the leadership when Shamil Basayev, on the radical wing of Chechen defense, sought aid from abroad and became a stalwart advocate of Abdul Wahab's fundamentalist doctrine of Islam, foreign to most Chechens.

The main difference between moderate and radical separatists stems from the latter's notion that the struggle against "Russian Imperialism" must proceed regardless of the peace agreements in order to attain not only an independent State, but also to create a platform to launch a crusade and liberate the entire Northern Caucasus.

While Maskhadov and Basayef were busy disagreeing and Yeltsin continued to distance himself from reality due to his lack of leadership and his decaying health, Chechnya fell into a quagmire where all sorts of smuggling activities, as well as kidnappings of the rich throughout the country became the modus operandi of the many paramilitary factions that exercised a de facto control over the communities which lacked management and support from Moscow and Grozny, therefore unable to stop such pillage and allowing Russians to condemn the whole nation as supporters of the Chechen mafia.

Yeltsin's hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin, arrived at the Kremlin a complete unknown to most Russians; he immediately claimed that he would end the Chechen Problem by "(pursuing) the terrorists everywhere. Forgive me, but if we find them in the toilet, we will rub them out in the outhouse," he said.

Such momentous statement has its precedent on August, 1999, when Basayev invaded the republic of Daguestan, which he then proclaimed an "Independent Wahabian Republic," which didn't last long after the Russian army intervened.

Soon after, there were several bombings in Moscow and other cities which haven't been ascertained to this day. Hundreds of people died as a result of the explosions, blamed on Chechnya by Putin during his campaign, which created a mood of suspicion towards all things Chechen.

One of the most prominent campaign commitments from Putin was to stop the bombings against Russian civilians, launching the second Russian-Chechen war in October, 1999.

Five years later, Putin has not made good on his promise. On September 11th, 2001, when the US was attacked, his so-called "Anti-terror Operation" was already swamped because the Chechen rebels had opted for a guerrilla campaign against the 80,000 soldiers which Russia maintained in Chechnya.

When Putin jumped on Bush's bandwagon and joined his "Coalition of the willing," he was able to benefit from the process by diverting international criticism from him concerning the abuses which Russian troops were committing against Chechen civilians, which were documented by renowned NGO's and were considered egregious violations to human rights.

When the controversial bureaucrat Ahmad Kadyrov switched sides, he instrumented a phony political compromise which translated into benefits for a single Chechen clan, disguised as an effort to abate the conflict. Kadyrov was killed by rebels last May.

Faced with the necessity of imposing a loyal pro-Moscow leader in Chechnya, the Kremlin took political advantage of the events at the Dubrovka Theater in October, 2002, when a massive hostage crisis took place, suppressing any possibility of a peace agreement with the moderate sector of Chechen separatists.

Moscow performed an authentic farce in order to "legitimize" Kadyrov's victory at the booths and has just done it again with his successor, Gen. Alu Alkhanov.

By accomplishing such feat, Maskhadov and Basayev are now, in spite of their clash, on the same side of the fence, which only intensified the attacks, the suicide bombings and the ambushes, not only in Chechnya anymore, but also in many other cities.

The embarrassing acts of repression attributed to Ramzan Kadyrov's Praetorian Guard, made up of almost 7,000 former rebels who obtained pardon in exchange for their "loyalty" have also contributed to deepen the fracture of the Chechen nation.

The most grievous consequence of all these actions is the vicious cycle of reciprocating violence which only prolongs the armed confrontation in a war that has already spanned a whole disastrous decade and which most recent episode, the Beslan massacre, will surely not be the last.

Unfortunately, and to the detriment of Chechens and Russians alike, the Kremlin will not be able to implement political charades with the pretext of "international terror" as a link to separatist efforts; neither will it be able to avoid further casualties.

Originally published in La Jornada;  translated by Miguel Alvarado. Courtesy, Znet

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