August 2 marked the sixth anniversary of the incursion by Islamic militants led by Shamil Basaev and Khattab into Dagestan, which was one of pretexts for Russia’s second military intervention in Chechnya. President Vladimir Putin announced as early as April 2002 that “the military stage of the counter-terrorist operation” had ended. Yet polling data show that Russians believe it is still going on. A poll by the Levada Center found that only 23 percent of the respondents agreed that “peaceful life is being put right in Chechnya, while 68 percent said that war is continuing there as before” (see Chechnya Weekly, July 20).
Perhaps more significantly, a poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, which has worked for the Kremlin and is widely viewed as being close to the powers-that-be, found that a majority of Russians believe today, as in 1999, that the situation in Chechnya is “abnormal” and will not improve in the near future. “The only change that we [saw] during these six years [is that] the number of citizens who believe the situation in Chechnya is getting worse decreased from 20 percent in 2004 to seven percent [today],” Public Opinion Foundation sociologist Svetlana Klimova told Izvestia.
According to the newspaper, experts have two mutually exclusively views of the results of the second Chechen war. One is held by Mikhail Rogozhnikov, deputy director of the Institute of Social Forecasting, who told Izvestia: “The war unquestionably ended in a victory for the Russian political and military authorities: a large hotbed of terrorist intervention…was suppressed. The costs connected to this suppression are the result of the depressed condition of our army and the fact that any war on one’s territory injures the people’s spirit.” On the other side, Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told Izvestia: “The main result of the second Chechen war lies in the fact that it is continuing. We are going in a circle: once again conversations are heard about the necessity of resolving the problem only by military means [and] about outside interference at a time when the situation in the Caucasus is obviously worse than the one we had in 1999. Every day – if not in Chechnya, then in Dagestan – people are killed.” Malashenko told Izvestia that not long before his death last year. Pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov remarked that the war in Chechnya would continue for another twenty years.
“Russians believe that Chechnya’s main problem is not bandits,” Public Opinion Foundation sociologist Svetlana Klimova told the newspaper. “In the opinion of the citizenry, both the federal and Chechen authorities have a material interest in the war’s continuation. In society, the conviction dominates: ‘If they wanted it, there would have been peace a long time ago’.”