Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 29

In partnership with the Institute of Ethnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Peace Mission in the North Caucasus, the Moscow-based Eurasia office of FEWER (Forum on Early Warning and Early Response) has issued a policy report entitled “Way to Peace in Chechnya” (available from fewer@iea.ras.ru). The report underscores that during the summer of 2002 the situation in Chechnya, already bad, became “seriously aggravated” and that “the growth of [Chechen] popular distrust and hatred toward the federal army, local and federal authorities, as well as towards the [ethnic] Russians in general reached dangerous proportions.” “This trend,” FEWER warns, “threatens to undermine strategic reconstruction efforts by the federal authorities and the international humanitarian community and to bring the inter-ethnic dimension of the conflict to the forefront.”

In its analysis, FEWER unambiguously identifies the positions being taken by the Russian government as the chief obstacle to peace. “The main impediment to the peace process,” the report maintains, “is that the Russian government, as the key actor, sees no political necessity at present to change the status quo. The unwillingness of the Russian government to engage in negotiations in Chechnya is underpinned by a recognition that a conventional military victory over the separatist movement has been achieved.” Continuing guerilla fighting in the republic, however, “makes Chechnya a serious source of threats directed at the entire Northern Caucasus and the Russian Federation in general.” Even though the issues of armed separation and of Chechnya’s independence have, FEWER believes, been taken off the agenda, “deeper and longer-term threats presented by guerilla warfare and indiscriminate responses to it have become no less actual.”

In addition, the report continues, it must be recognized that de facto a stalemate has been reached in Chechnya: “The balance of forces is such that the Chechen militants do not have the strength to dislodge the federal troops, nor does the military contingent have the capacity to effectively defeat the guerillas without resorting to genocide.” The Chechen opposition, including Aslan Maskhadov, has “implicitly recognized their inability to achieve independence and full sovereignty militarily.”

During the past year, from September 2001 to September 2002, the report observes, the federal troops in Chechnya engaged in numerous mopping-up raids (zachistki). Twenty such operations have been conducted in a single population point. As a result, “A high level of violence, extrajudicial executions and tortures, arbitrary arrests, looting and abuse of the rights of civilians were widespread during these operations and had a negative impact on the overall situation in Chechnya.”

The report also emphasizes that “the current [Kadyrov] administration of Chechnya lacks popular support, independence and moral authority.” Furthermore, pro-Moscow Chechen officials are “subject to vengeance attacks by the pro-Maskhadov forces and can only operate under the protection of the federal troops.” At the same time, pro-Moscow officials often experience “very difficult relations with the Russian military stationed in the respective regions of the republic.”

One cardinal point the report stresses: “Profiteering from illegal economic activities, which are possible only in the conditions of war, is the major driving force of the continuing violence. Prolonging the war has become profitable, both politically and economically, for many political and military officials in Russia.” As long as military operations continue, the federal forces in Chechnya “receive abundant budget allowances and increase their lobbying power. According to local observers, groups within the Russian military command are also profiteering from controlling the illegal oil trade in Chechnya.”

The war, the report proceeds to note, has forced 400,000 people to flee from Chechnya into the territory of neighboring regions. Between 75,000 and 111,000 IDPs currently reside in Chechnya. “The pro-Maskhadov position is dominant within the IDP community, and most of the people are only prepared to return [from Ingushetia to Chechnya] after the end of the war.” Many IDPs live in “desperate conditions,” while “political pressure has recently been put on the IDPs by authorities to return, without any serious security guarantees or material support.”

An already poor situation, the report cautions, could soon become worse. Separatists have “issued orders to their supporters within the Chechen communities to start settling in the north of the republic.” The separatists “continue to receive support from radical Islamic organizations, Chechen and Cherkess ethnic diasporas, and foreign states.” However, it must also be realized that, “a significant amount of weapons and ammunition is obtained directly from the federal army.”

The report draws attention to the fact that the Russian public has not been well informed by the media concerning developments in Chechnya. “The success of the socioeconomic and social reconstruction in the republic is being overestimated as well as the degree of control over the territory by the federal military contingent.”

It is clear, the report underlines, that “no solution can be achieved militarily in the near future.” It should likewise be clear that “the continuation of violence will lead to irreparable interethnic enmity and increasing loss of human lives.” Moreover, “At present, no objective reasons for continuing the conflict seem to exist. The majority of the population of Chechnya is exhausted by the war and is longing for peace.”

In a concluding section, the report examines two possible “scenarios” for the timeframe October 2002-March 2003. The first scenario discussed is identified as the “best-case” one. President Putin has already announced that the military phase of the counterterrorist operation has come to an end. “Follow-up activities” to this announcement could include “a negotiated cease-fire, withdrawal of the military units deployed in Chechnya (apart from the military contingent which is to stay in Chechnya on a permanent basis), a transfer of power to the civil authorities, enhancing efforts on postconflict reconstruction, and the initiation of intra-Chechen dialogue.” This could be followed by “negotiations with the armed separatist groups on procedures of reintegration into peaceful life, general parliamentary elections, adoption of the constitution, and further peace-building procedures.” At the same time, both federal and local Chechen authorities could “start the implementation of an interagency program to address the problem of homelessness, unemployment and poverty” and to “initiate a large-scale reconstruction and social sphere restoration.”

The second possible scenario discussed by the report is termed the “Status Quo” one. “If the main policy directions in Chechnya remain unchanged,” the report warns, “the situation will continue to be extremely unstable, with simmering hostilities and guerilla fighting. If a referendum on the constitution and general elections are organized in the republic without an achievement of a cease-fire agreement, the armed opposition and other parts of Chechen society will not accept the results…. Regular explosions, acts of terror against officials, and other guerilla actions will grow until the winter period, only to be resumed in the spring. Separatist intrusions into adjacent regions will remain possible.” A prolongation of the war could also result in “the strengthening of extremist and nationalist movements in the Russian Federation as a whole.”

In an addendum section, the report emphasizes that a comprehensive political settlement to the conflict is needed. The Russian government must “guarantee the right of the Chechen people for political determination within the Russian Federation,” while the Chechen people “must recognize the right of the Russian Federation for territorial integrity.” All “noncriminal elements” within Chechen society must be invited to take part in the negotiation process, while “a comprehensive amnesty will be required for all combatants apart from those who have been sentenced for or charged with crimes categorized as grave breeches of the Geneva Conventions or terrorism.” Groups that refuse to accept the negotiated settlement “should be allowed and encouraged to leave the territory of Chechnya.”

To conclude, the FEWER report represents a commendable effort by authors who appear in the main to be citizens of the Russian Federation to see clearly what is occurring in Chechnya and to find a way out of what is manifestly a dead-end. While one might perhaps quibble with this or that point in the report–for example, a third even more catastrophic scenario for the future might have been sketched out by the authors–the FEWER team is to be congratulated on its clear-headed approach to helping bring about an end to a protracted, intractable conflict.