Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 1 Issue: 8

The December 14 issue of Nezavisimaya gazeta, an influential Russian daily, carried an article entitled “The State, Politics and Separatism,” authored by Ruslan Khasbulatov, a former speaker of the Russian parliament (until October 1993), and one of the best-known Chechens living in Russia. The subtitle of his piece is: “The Chechen Tragedy Was the Result of a Deformation of Federal Power.”

While a proponent of Chechnya’s remaining within the Russian Federation, and therefore objectively a pro-Moscow Chechen, Khasbulatov, as his article makes clear, has become a fierce critic of the way the war is presently being conducted and of how Chechens and other dark-skinned “peoples of the Caucasus” are being mistreated and indeed demonized throughout Russia. “Separatism,” Khasbulatov begins his essay, “is a phenomenon in the life of states which is not new and which is universal, making its presence felt in many countries.” Something which is unique to Russia, however, is that “here, as in nowhere else in the world, a factor contributing to separatism is state policy and the massive, thoughtless propaganda which is being directed against small peoples.” This results in the media’s speaking and writing contemptuously about “persons of Caucasus nationality” and “blacks.” If a crime is committed by someone from the Caucasus, then the media comment: “a criminal of Caucasus nationality.” But no one would even think of using the term “a criminal of Slavic nationality.”

Khasbulatov contends that this discrimination against dark-skinned people from the Caucasus is the result of de facto Russian state policy. “In this way,” he writes, “the [Russian] state does battle against itself, that is, destroys itself.” Russia’s current policy toward Chechnya and the North Caucasus region is benighted, and it directly contradicts Russia’s interests as a state.

Much that has been written in Moscow-based newspapers about Chechens, Khasbulatov contends, is both ill informed and out of date. For example, they “repeat absurd nonsense about clans in Chechnya and about what an enormous role they play.” They also expostulate at length about Chechen elders, while in fact “for a long time neither in Chechnya nor in the North Caucasus republics have… respected old people played any public role.” The fact of the matter is that Chechnya, like other regions of Russia, changed fundamentally during the 1980s and 1990s. Now in Chechnya, as in other parts of Russia, “everyone and everything is subordinated to the power of money.”

“Of course,” Khasbulatov went on, “it is not very pleasant for a Chechen to speak about this to a visiting journalist,” and so Chechens generally keep silent about this subject. As a consequence, “there appear inventions about the exclusiveness of clan influence, about certain bloodthirsty traditions, about a general hatred for ethnic Russians, about such ‘popular heroes’ as the Basaevs and Khattabs (these ‘heroes’ are actually hated and held in contempt by almost the entire populace of the unfortunate republic, but there is nowhere for them to get away from these cutthroats).”

As opposed to outdated myths disseminated by the Moscow-based media, the lives of present-day Chechens, Khasbulatov writes, in fact “differ little from the situation obtaining in other regions [of Russia], in spite of the war and the military destruction. And that situation is this: hunger, a lack of the possibility to work, to study, to receive medical care, and to eat normally, plus there is terrible child mortality and so on.”

The post-Stalin period of the Soviet Union, in Khasbulatov’s opinion, did witness undeniable advances made by the minority peoples of the country, though, up until the mid-1980s, ethnic Chechens were not admitted to the ruling organs of even the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous republic. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the prospects for many minorities living in the Russian Republic dramatically worsened. A key step backward, in this regard, was the 1994-1996 Russo-Chechen war: “A natural result of the war which the federal forces conducted in Chechnya in 1994-1996, and in which they were defeated, became a loss of the authority of Russia and a loss of respect for its strength and might-these factors had a major significance for the [Muslim] mountaineers of the Caucasus.”

The second Russo-Chechen war of 1999-2000, “which began de facto with the incursion [into Dagestan] of various international rabble [that is, the Wahhabis],” soon became insulting and demeaning for the Chechen people. Russian opinion-makers failed to make a necessary distinction between the riffraff who had invaded Dagestan from Chechen territory and the Chechen people in their entirety. “This war offered a possibility openly to jeer at a people, to insult its honor and worth, and to slander its history. Some journalists on the pages of Moscow newspapers ‘substantiated’ even the idea throwing a ‘small’ atomic bomb on Chechnya.” There also followed “a justification of the Stalin repressions and deportations, and the most bloodthirsty and antiscientific ‘conclusions,’ justifying mass murder in Chechnya.”

“This war,” Khasbulatov maintained, “was simply necessary for the ruling regime, for achieving its goals.” But the war resulted in the “badgering of the Chechen people, its extermination within Chechnya itself, and its persecution over the entire territory of the Russian Federation.” “Chechenophobia,” Khasbulatov summed up, “has become a long-term tendency in the internal politics of Russia, possibly as an alternative to xenophobia, and to the traditional persecution of the Jews.”

In addition to massively alienating ethnic Chechens–including those who had formerly been pro-Moscow in orientation–the current conflict, Khasbulatov believes, has also objectively begun to weaken the ties of all the Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus region to Russia. For the initial three or four months of the 1999-2000 military campaign, these peoples generally sympathized with the stated objectives of the Russian military. But then the opposite feelings began to emerge: “This was a direct result of the cruelties, violence, pillaging and robberies carried out by the army (and, first of all, by its ‘contract soldiers’) and especially by the internal troops [of the MVD]. Marauding and robberies, violence against the civilian populace–these motifs have become fundamental in the carrying out of military actions.”

The obvious moral collapse and loss of discipline in the Russian military and MVD forces have resulted in the deaths of many of their number. “From this stems a majority of the deaths of the soldiers–drunk and half-drunk, in quest of alcohol or of valuable objects, losing any sense of caution, aggressive, they become an easy prey for death.” Not only has the Russian military morally declined but so, in a sense, has Russian society as a whole: “[Russian] society is becoming more and more militarized, and the country is becoming transformed into a scarecrow for its neighbors…. Why is society surprised that our friends in the CIS strive more and more to enter the European Union and NATO?”

If Russia, Khasbulatov concludes his essay, continues on its present misguided and self-destructive course, then throughout the North Caucasus there will take place “a more or less lengthy and inevitably intense ‘squeezing out’ of Russia from the North Caucasus region. And no local presidents will be able to cope with such a turn of events-they, like certain former rulers of Chechnya, will be required hastily to move to Moscow for permanent residence.”

Khasbulatov ends his analysis by noting that the region of Russia which has traditionally been labeled the “North Caucasus” is now being termed “South Russia.” Thus one of the seven new federal districts recently formed by President Putin (and headed up by General Viktor Kazantsev, based in Rostov-on-Don) is called the “Southern Federal district [of Russia].” The term “North Caucasus” is rapidly disappearing from the Russian political and geographic lexicon. “Perhaps the Kremlin,” Khasbulatov concludes caustically, “is preparing a re-carving of the map of Russia, but already minus the North Caucasus?”

What is one to make of Khasbulatov’s essay? On the one hand, Khasbulatov evidences the strong egotism which has characterized his political activity in the past, seemingly convinced that he is the only politician who could possibly sort out the current mess in Chechnya. But in fact he has no concrete prescriptions concerning how to end the war.

On the other hand, Khasbulatov emphasizes absolutely central points made by other perceptive critics of the Kremlin policy in Chechnya (for example, Emil’ Pain and Pavel Felgenhauer, whose views have been discussed in earlier issues of this newsletter). Through its harsh and brutal treatment of the Chechen civilian populace, Russia, he contends, has already succeeded in alienating perhaps a majority of ethnic Chechens living in Russia, suggesting that the present conflict may not end soon. Furthermore, as he notes, Russia may also, unwittingly, be weakening the ties connecting the Muslim populace of the North Caucasus region to the rest of the country.