Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 30

Over the past week, President Putin and one of his severest political critics chose to comment on the subject of the events of 1999 that served to spark a second Russian invasion of Chechnya. During a meeting with participants in the “Teacher of the Year” competition, Putin reminded those present that, when an attack on Dagestan had occurred in August of 1999, there had been a real possibility that the Caucasus region would break away from Russia. “All that time,” Putin recalled, “we were one step away from announcing a mobilization and conducting a large-scale civil war” (Strana.ru, October 5). However, in an interview with the chief editor of the weekly Zavtra (October 4 issue), oligarch-in-exile Boris Berezovsky observed: “In 1999, the people of [separatist extremist leader Movladi] Udugov telephoned me. [Sergei] Stepashin had just become prime minister…. They sufficiently unambiguously explained that an incursion by Basaev [into] Dagestan was planned…. Immediately after this secret conversation, I reported its contents to Stepashin… He said: ‘Don’t get upset. We know everything, and everything is under control.’ And this despite the fact that over the course of two years in Buinaksk and Chabanmakhi [Dagestan] the Wahhabis had been digging trenches and creating firing points. How could the FSB not know about that? Later I came to the conclusion that all of that was one big provocation. Both the intervention by Basaev, and the war in Dagestan, and the explosions [in Moscow].” Russia, Berezovsky went on to explain, “had decided to take revenge. And so a provocation was set up. But, even after the beginning of the war, there still remained a chance to localize its tragic consequences. I had a most serious discussion with Putin about that. We had reached the Terek [River] by the end of 1999…. I said: ‘Putin, listen to me-a victory is not raising a flag over Grozny. A victory is the overcoming by [ethnic] Russians of the “complex of the defeated” and the feeling by Chechens that they have lost. Now let’s conclude a peace. Without a storming of Grozny.’ But evidently something very limited and spiteful sits inside Putin: namely, all that pettiness and vanity, as well as a lack of understanding that, for that vanity, one would have to pay a price of thousands and thousands of concrete human lives.”