Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 51

The newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta this week published an interview with Ruslan Aushev, who was president of the neighboring republic of Ingushetia from 1993 to this past January, concerning the situation in neighboring Chechnya. The interview was noteworthy in that Aushev, who remains a member of the Federation Council, gave a sober view of the situation in the Caucasus, one that differs significantly from the official Kremlin view.

An estimated 120,000 to 200,000 refugees from Chechnya now live in Ingushetia, and it is indicative of the situation in Chechnya that they are afraid to return home. Aushev said in his interview that he would start to believe the federal authorities’ assurances that the situation in Chechnya is stabilizing only when 2,000 refugees are leaving Ingushetia for Chechnya daily. As for the military situation, Aushev said that “if other decisions are not taken, then everything will continue to develop as it is now: neither peace, nor war.” While there are currently no large-scale military operations going on, there are, he noted, daily guerrilla attacks and skirmishes. Aushev said the Chechen problem could be “papered over” by using increased force and stepping up the military presence in the republic and by “foisting” a constitution and an “elected” leader on Chechnya, as happened at the beginning of 1996. However, Chechnya’s constitution from that period has long since been forgotten, and its “elected” president from that period, Doky Zavgaev, is currently Russia’s ambassador to Tanzania.

“Today practically every young Chechen has had a relative who was killed or wounded, or a home that was destroyed,” Aushev said. Such grievances, he predicted, would remain alive for decades and would be used by new Chechen leaders unless a new approach was taken. The initiative for bringing peace to the republic, he added, has to come from Moscow, which must summon up the will to reach a peace agreement with “those who are opposing the federal troops with gun in hand.” He added: “And I will say it openly: 99 percent of the inhabitants of the Chechen Republic morally support the armed [rebel] formations. I can declare that officially.”

Aushev is certain that a compromise can be found between Russia, which says that it wants to maintain its territorial integrity and secure the Caucasus region, and the Chechens, who want a guarantee from the international community that they will not be killed. He added, however, that “in Russia, everything depends on influence,” noting that the war in Chechnya is profitable for some. “During the war in Afghanistan, only two generals were made Heroes of the Soviet Union [Boris] Gromov and [Pavel] Grachev,” he said. “During the Chechen War, more than ten generals have received extra stars … [T]here is also the factor of the ‘shadow economy’. It was recently officially reported that 42 million rubles [some US$1.35 million] disappeared [in Chechnya]. Where do these funds go? Throwing money at a war-torn republic is an easy way to launder money.”

Aushev urged that Russia’s regional leaders be brought into the process of finding a political solution to the Chechen conflict, and that at the federal level, only those officials who were not involved in starting the war should also be engaged. Referring to the recent arrival of U.S. military advisers in Georgia, Aushev said that President Vladimir Putin needs to find a solution to the Chechen conflict sooner rather than later. “Isn’t the appearance of the Americans in the Caucasus a signal that the Caucasus may be lost? Therefore the problem must be resolved quickly and the Chechens must be turned into allies,” he said (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 12).