Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 169

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addressed a special session of the State Duma yesterday concerning the situation in the North Caucasus. In a programmatic speech, he essentially put forward a new Kremlin policy in regard to Chechnya, based on the premise that the Khasavyurt agreements ending the 1994-1996 Chechen War had not been realized, and thus that Moscow has to stop being guided by these agreements in dealing with Djohar. Putin called for the creation of a strict quarantine zone around Chechnya and for tough economic sanctions against the breakaway republic (NTV, RTR, ORT, September 14).

This plan has already been partly implemented: All railway lines and highways connecting Chechnya with the outside world are under strict control by Russian troops. The Khasavyurt and Kizlyar crossing points between Chechnya and Dagestan have been shut for two weeks (Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 14).

It would seem that if the Kremlin manages to implement Putin’s program, it will mean the complete death of the Chechen state. Economically, Chechnya is completely dependent on Russia: even its electricity continues to come from Russia, even though Djohar pays nothing for it. There are practically no jobs to be had in the republic, and virtually all of Chechnya’s work-capable population makes a living outside the republic, either in criminal businesses, such as hostage-taking and robbery, or in legal private businesses. Besides Russia, Chechnya borders only Georgia, but the so-called “road of life” connecting the two regions, to which Djohar gave great significance, is not functioning, given that Tbilisi fears attacks by Chechen fighters and wants to avoid problems with Moscow.

In reality, however, Moscow’s economic blockade of Chechnya is only worsening the situation in the North Caucasus and in Russia as a whole. If Russia is incapable of preventing Chechens from finding legal work on its territory, it is doubtful that it can prevent guerrillas from penetrating its territory.

Moscow has been trying for a long time now to isolate the mutinous region. Immediately after the Khasavyurt agreements were signed, Interior Ministry troops set up posts along the Chechen border with the goal of preventing fighters from penetrating Russian territory. But the borders in fact remained porous. In April of this year, then Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin announced a tough blockade against Chechnya and that any Chechen fighters penetrating Russia would be destroyed on the spot. This and other such declarations, however, remained empty. If Putin’s new plan is realized, it will bring not only radical Islamic fighters onto Russian territory, but also peaceful civilians hoping to avoid the prospect of starvation.