Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 22

Writing in the July 16 issue of the weekly Novoe Vremya, Emil Pain, a former advisor on nationality affairs to President Yeltsin, subjected Russia’s present course in Chechnya to withering criticism. “A state,” Pain began, “that regularly employs its own army in zones of ethnic and religious conflict and in civil wars always runs the risk of being drawn, in uncontrolled fashion, into an extended armed conflict. Under such conditions, such a state loses the ability to determine the necessary time to withdraw its forces and stands before a threat of a full loss of control over the situation.” This phenomenon, Pain noted, is known in the scholarly literature as “a slippery slope.” The Americans encountered such a phenomenon in Vietnam and in Somalia. As for Russia, the current “antiterrorist operation” being conducted in Chechnya “is replete with examples of the loss by the Russian authorities of an ability not only to plan their actions there but also adequately to assess the situation that has developed in Chechnya. More than once representatives of the Russian leadership have announced a conclusion to the military stage of the operation, after which it has emerged that the rebels are not only capable of seizing some remote settlement but are even preparing to take possession of Grozny.”

In 1995-1996, an authors’ collective, of which Pain was a member, proposed to the governments of the United States and to Russia certain principles governing the use of force. “The first and basic principle,” Pain recalled, “consisted in refraining from the use of armed forces, particularly in land operations, in cases where there was no firm certainty that such a use would not be relatively short (no longer than one year).” An extended military presence on a territory on which the populace is hostile “is, as a rule, doomed to failure. Under such conditions, an army gradually becomes demoralized and its relations with the surrounding populace constantly grow worse. Precisely this is what is occurring with the Russian army in Chechnya.”

General Moltenskoi’s well-known Order No. 80 contains some good rules, “but the misfortune is that they cannot be carried out. Everyone understands that the [Russian] army cannot conduct cleansing operations openly [without masks]–they are afraid of revenge. A partisan war strengthens the mutual mistrust of both sides.” Among Russian soldiers “there is developing a complex of suspicion toward Chechens.” Retired army general Viktor Kazantsev, President Putin’s representative in the Southern Federal District, has stated that all Chechens “from age 10 to 60” must be regarded with suspicion.

The situation in Chechnya, Pain continued, is now manifestly deteriorating. Summary executions and marauding by the federal forces take place but so do kidnapping for money and “the trade in corpses which are sold to relatives so that they can be buried.” There are also numerous cases of “senseless murders and manifestations of sadism.” The murder of a young Chechen woman by Colonel Yury Budanov represents such an instance.

Public opinion polls show clearly that present-day Russians do not believe that the Russian army has won “decisive victories” over the Chechens, while two-thirds of respondents “admit the possibility that the Chechen rebels could return to power in Grozny.”

It is important, Pain stressed, to understand that “the main goal of the Russian army is not a struggle with terrorism but a desire to keep Chechnya within the [Russian] Federation. It is precisely this goal that foresees the keeping of a force of 100,000 within the republic…. For a struggle with terrorists a completely different tactic is needed: the concentration of the efforts of small mobile groups of Special Forces and of a network of agents. (Incidentally, precisely in this way was the terrorist Khattab destroyed.)” The current Russian strategy of maintaining a large army in Chechnya and of constructing numerous garrisons in the republic must inevitably lead to large losses. The network of garrisons will lead to increased hostile contacts between the army and the civilian populace. There is, thus, “a need to refrain from confusing the functions of counterterrorist operations with other political tasks.”

Pain awards the United States considerably higher marks for the way it has conducted its “counterterrorist” campaign in Afghanistan. “America is not trying to drag Afghanistan into becoming ‘a subject of the American Federation’ and it is not pretending to armed control over the entire territory…. In Afghanistan, which exceeds the territorial size of Chechnya by forty times, the U.S. soldiers comprise 3,000 persons in all, according to official figures. The struggle against the Taliban and al-Qaida is being conducted in the interests of a majority of Afghans and relies on the support of the Afghan armed forces whose numbers exceed many times over those of the American forces there.”

“The situation in Chechnya,” Pain underscored, “is precisely the opposite-only a tiny part of Chechen society is cooperating with the federal authorities.” The largest element among such Chechens are the pro-Moscow police, who, however “are caught between two fires and are subjected to pressure both from the side of the rebels and from the Russian army.” An overwhelming majority of the pro-Moscow heads of administration in Chechnya, Pain noted, have moved their families out of the republic. Akhmad Kadyrov and the pro-Moscow government “are housed in a complex of government buildings which are fortified and surrounded by three levels of protection.” There is a helicopter-landing pad at the complex, and the pro-Moscow leaders travel about by helicopter. “All of this shows how far they are from the people.”

The chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, General Kvashnin, recently declared, “There is no stability in Chechnya. The Chechens don’t believe us.” But Kvashnin then drew a faulty conclusion from his analysis: namely, the need to completely destroy the “bandit formations” and achieve military victory in the republic. “This is a dead-end situation inasmuch as the conducting of military operations draws a greater and greater part of the populace into the resistance movement.”

What, then, is the way out of this dead-end situation? “I think,” Pain wrote, “that it can only be found on the basis of creating a movement in Chechnya recalling the Afghan Northern Alliance and providing guarantees that the struggle with terrorism does not grow into a war with the populace. Let us conditionally call it a ‘Chechen anti-terrorist alliance,’ whose enemy would be terrorists of all kinds: those like Basaev and such as Budanov.”

At a press conference in June, Pain recalled, President Putin declared, “It is impossible to perfect cleansing operations. They must be ended.” This statement was then followed, however, by footage on Russian state television in which “masked representatives of the FSB and the army began to frighten viewers with the prospect of legalizing the rebels through official [pro-Moscow Chechen] police formations.” Russian state television was thus objectively undermining the president.

Who could enter into the Chechen antiterrorist alliance advocated by Pain? “It would be desirable,” he wrote, “for Aslan Maskhadov to enter into it, as he is until now recognized by a majority of Chechens as the sole legitimate leader of the republic. Judging from polls conducted in the Chechen refugee camps, his popularity has grown during the time of the war. Maskhadov also pretends to respectability in the international arena. He has publicly distanced himself from the terrorist actions of Basaev and Khattab. But Maskhadov by himself is incapable of stabilizing the situation in Chechnya.”

“My hopes,” Pain continued, ‘were in much strengthened after Aslan Maskhadov sent in June of 2002 a letter to the well-known Chechen politician Ruslan Khasbulatov with a request that the latter use all of his authority to create a coalition of Chechen peace loving forces from representatives of various political directions.” This, Pain noted, is clearly the direction to go.

But what if Russia does not move decisively to end the war? Nationalist organizations in a number of Russian autonomous republics, Pain remarked, have been watching the war closely: “If Moscow over the course of many years cannot pacify the Chechens by force and the Chechens number only about 600,000 in their own republic, then how will they be able to pacify much larger communities?” The present war is also proving politically and spiritually devastating for Russia. “The war is diminishing the value of human life, which was already low in Russia.” Cleansing operations are now being conducted not only in Chechnya but also against “undesirable elements” residing in the Russian capital itself. Political extremism is growing in Russia. “The Chechen war,” Pain concluded, “represents a slippery slope on which Russia is slowly sliding into a police state and the antithesis of democracy.”

To conclude, it is welcome to have this well-argued defense of the Khasbulatov peace initiative, authored a distinguished Russian specialist in ethnic affairs, appearing in a major media forum.