On June 28, a conference provocatively entitled “Islamic Threat or Threat to Islam?” sponsored by the new social-political movement “Eurasia,” opened in Moscow. The “Eurasia” movement had itself been founded, with much fanfare, in April of this year. Russian mass media at the time had noted among the delegates attending the conference “an unprecedented number of veterans of the special services and [Russian] power structures” (SMI.ru, June 28).
The “Eurasia” organization’s leading ideologist is the philosopher and geopolitician Aleksandr Dugin, whom Stephen Shenfield in a recent book, Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements (Armonk, New York, 2001), has categorized as unquestionably an adherent of fascism. In 1997, Dugin published his most influential work, The Foundations of Geopolitics [Osnovy Geopolitiki], a 600-page magnum opus, which was then reissued in an expanded edition (925 pages) in 1999. The “Eurasia” organization’s chief administrator–who also was the force behind the “Islamic Threat” conference–is Petr Suslov, head of the “Unity” [Edinenie] Foundation, and, until 1995, an employee of the Foreign Intelligence Service [SVR]. Like Dugin, Suslov is said to have “broad connections in the leadership of the FSB… and within the [Russian] presidential administration” (SMI.ru, June 28).
In his address to the June 28 conference, Aleksandr Dugin “formulated precisely the basic ideas of many of the speakers: Atlanticism, in the form of the United States, is trying to implant its usages throughout the whole world, thus threatening [Russian] Orthodoxy and traditional Islam, which will survive only if they unite in a common struggle” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 29). Not surprisingly, conference participants saw the war in Chechnya as a tragic occurrence, strongly in need of a creative “Eurasian” solution.
According to the Russian media, a virtual sensation was created by the appearance at the conference of a well-known Chechen separatist, Kozh-Akhmed Nukhaev (born 1955), who is frequently referred to in the Russian press as “the godfather of the Moscow Chechen mafia,” and who is presently on the federal wanted list (Kompromat.ru, June 27). Under the late Chechen President Djohar Dudaev, Nukhaev served for a time as chief of foreign intelligence operations. Under Dudaev’s successor, acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, Nukhaev served first as Chechen deputy prime minister and then (until February 1997) as first deputy premier. He apparently does not enjoy good relations with the current president, Aslan Maskhadov.
In an interview with journalist Sanobar Shermatova of Moskovskie Novosti, Nukhaev revealed that, a year previously, he had sent Aleksandr Dugin some articles that he had written “about Chechnya and Russia.” Dugin then came to visit him in Baku–where Nukhaev seems to have been living for the past several years–and they had a talk (Moskovskie Novosti, July 3-9). Petr Suslov also entered into contact with Nukhaev while the latter was living in Baku.
What ideas Nukhaev advanced are of compelling interest to Dugin, Suslov, the FSB and the SVR, and to the Russian presidential administration? In an article entitled “Vedeno or Washington?” published in the April 18, 2001 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, at the time of the founding of Dugin’s “Eurasia” organization, Nukhaev focused upon a statement that Vladimir Putin had made in November 2000 at a gathering in Rostov-on-Don. “Putin,” Nukhaev recalled, “made an unexpected declaration: ‘It is not the status of Chechnya which is important; it is important that its territory not serve as a springboard for aggression against Russia.'” Putin, it should be noted, made an almost identical comment while recently meeting with a group of American journalists in the Kremlin. Putin’s Rostov statement, Nukhaev emphasized, constituted “a deep reorientation in Russian-Chechen relations.”
Nukhaev went on in his article to propose that, in the spirit of Putin’s statement, what is presently the Chechen Republic (Nukhaev, it should be remarked, terms it Chechenya and not Chechnya) be divided into two sectors: North Chechnya (the plains region) and South Chechnya (the mountain region). While “pro-Russia” North Chechnya would continue to exist within the frame of the Russian Federation, mountainous South Chechnya would become largely independent from Russia. It would not, however, remain “a springboard for aggression against Russia” (Putin’s term) because it would be have been transformed into a fierce opponent both of the heretical Wahhabi tendency within Islam and of “the ‘Great Satan,’ the United States of America.”
At the June 28 conference in Moscow, these ideas of Nukhaev received further development. In his address to the gathering, Nukhaev underlined that globalization, sponsored by the United States, is the chief instrument for the building of a “new world order” and that, in this process, “the presence of traditions are the main hindrance on the path of the expansion of consumerist values.” Chechnya represents a nation whose traditions “cannot but elicit particular dissatisfaction on the part of the chief ideologists of globalization in the world.” But it is precisely in their mutual steadfast refusal to accept “spiritless Western values” that Russia and Chechnya are de facto already closely bonded (Strana.ru, June 28).
In an interview with journalist S. Norka of Komsomol’skaya Pravda (June 28 issue), retired SVR officer Petr Suslov elaborated upon what Nukhaev seemed to have in mind. Wahhabism, Suslov underscored, “is not Islam but rather extremism wearing the mask of Islam.” In order to counter the serious threat of Wahhabism both in Chechnya and throughout the region, the “Eurasia” movement, Suslov confided, “has worked out an entire project.” The first element of this project is “the strong suppression on the part of the Russian state of extremist tendencies not only where they have fully flourished and exhibited their terrorist and bandit nature but also in cases where they exist only in embryo form.” Such a harshly repressive approach is, however, by itself insufficient.Those Muslims who find themselves attracted to Wahhabism as a form of religious maximalism have to be “reoriented” in the direction of traditional Islam, a tendency represented in Chechnya, by the Sufi brotherhoods.
During the course of the interview with Komsomol’skaya Pravda, Suslov endorsed Nukhaev’s suggestion that Chechnya be divided into a North and South. “The Eurasian project,” Suslov noted, “takes into account the division of Chechnya into a plains and mountain part.” “In plains Chechnya,” he continued, “everything is clear. And it is significant that it is [currently] led precisely by a Muslim clergyman, a representative of traditional Sufi Islam, Mufti Kadyrov.” In North Chechnya, “Chechens who are loyal to Moscow await not only the end of military actions but also a positive plan for the development of Chechnya in a new context.” In South Chechnya, on the other hand, the situation is greatly more complex: “Here, there are two forces. One is represented by traditional Chechens. Their conflict with Russia bears the character of national self-affirmation… They represent a majority among the armed formations. The other pole–the Wahhabis, the Jordanian Khattab, several Chechen ideologists [Basaev, Udugov]–represent a very active group, and, of course, like all the remaining Wahhabis, they are absolutely uninterested in a Eurasian solution. It is they who constitute the motive force behind terror.” The only answer for traditionalist mountain Chechens is to fully break with the Wahhabi leaders while seeking actively to convert rank-and-file Wahhabis to Sufi Islam.
In his interview with journalist Sanobar Shermatova, Kozh-Akhmed Nukhaev elaborated upon this vision of a separate North and South Chechnya. “It is possible that plains Chechnya,” Nukhaev commented, “can construct its life approximately according to the model that exists in Russia. It is not excluded that, in some form, the presence of Russian troops there will be preserved. Mountain Chechnya, on the other hand, must be freed from the presence of the federal army. It has to be afforded the possibility of constructing a clan model of society. In essence, the heads of large clans must direct the life of society and the relations with neighboring regions.” Asked by Shermatova, “How are the people in mountain Chechnya going to live? After all, there is no oil there, and no developed agriculture,” Nukhaev replied: “The main thing is that the people will live according to God’s laws. I am offering them a choice–the Chechens themselves must determine which part of the republic they wish to live in.” Nukhaev revealed that his plan has already been approved both by former Chechen acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and by field commander Khamzat (Ruslan) Gelaev. He has “so far received no answer” from President Maskhadov.
It should be stressed, in summation, that the “Eurasian” project advocated by Dugin, Suslov and Nukhaev, and apparently sympathized with by elements in the Russian power structures, remains at present only one of a number of competing plans for solving the “Chechen problem.” Just one day after the opening of the Dugin-Suslov conference in Moscow, Bislan Gantamirov, formerly the pro-Moscow mayor of Djohar and currently the chief federal inspector in the Southern Presidential Federal District, announced at a press conference that elections will held for a new Chechen parliament in the spring of 2002. All residents of Chechnya, “including participants in the bandit formations who are not on the federal wanted list and have not been stained by blood,” will be invited to participate. The new Chechen parliament will then adopt a constitution and will decide whether or not to hold new Chechen presidential elections. (Gantamirov advocates that the position of Chechen president be abolished and that the speaker of the Chechen parliament become the head of the republic.) The new Chechen constitution, Gantamirov stipulated, “will be based on the Tatarstan constitution” (Itar-Tass, June 29; Kommersant, June 30; Vremya Novostei, July 2). Gantamirov’s “model” presumably has the current inside track with the Russian leadership. If, however, it should fail to accomplish anything-and that seems likely; the “Tatarstan model,” after all, was rejected by Chechen separatists as long ago as 1994–then the more radical and creative “Eurasian” approach promoted by Dugin and Nukhaev might also be permitted a trial run.