Publication: Russia and Eurasia Review Volume: 1 Issue: 14

By Pavel Baev

Last week Vladimir Putin issued orders for a constitutional referendum to be held in Chechnya, paving the way for presidential and parliamentary elections there. However, fighting in the secessionist region continues, and President Putin’s efforts to portray a return to normality are unlikely to succeed.

In the pronounced trend of Russia’s stabilization and recovery, Chechnya appears to be an aberration. It is certainly a drain on resources, slowing the country’s economic growth, and posing a high hurdle on the track of military reforms. It is poisoning Russia’s relations with Europe, and spoiling Moscow’s cherished dreams of civilizational “belonging.” It requires effort to shake off the habit of accepting that there was, is and will be a “Chechen problem,” and see anew how much greater is the scale of the problem compared to the modest size of territory at stake between the Great Caucasus Ridge and the River Terek–some 4,000 square miles [about the same size as Connecticut].

The durability of this huge discrepancy calls for an explanation that goes deeper than presenting Chechnya as the “original sin” of Putin’s regime: a gimmick–or, as the Russians say, an “electoral technology”–used to win the State Duma and then the presidential election, but now stubbornly refusing to go away long after its political expediency has expired. On the other hand, it is also not that tempting to subscribe to the claims of frustrated liberals in Moscow that Chechnya is just a micro-model of Russia that reflects the violent nature of the dominant political culture.