The Kremlin Seeks to Legitimize Its Chechen Policy in the Muslim World

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 26

On June 26, an impressive delegation of foreign diplomats visited Chechnya. There were representatives of 31 countries in the delegation, including 20 foreign ambassadors to Russia. What was notable about this visit was that they were representatives of Muslim countries and organizations, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Arab League. The visit was organized by the Russian Foreign Ministry to demonstrate to the Muslim diplomats that life in Chechnya is improving. The Regnum news agency reported that prior to the visit, “Ambassadors of the Muslim world said that they were very interested in what was going on in Chechnya, and that they were looking forward to meeting Chechen leaders and people.” The official program of the visit included tours of newly reconstructed facilities in the Chechen cities of Grozny, Argun, and Gudermes, and meetings with Chechen political and spiritual leaders and intellectuals.

However, the key part of the visit was the meeting of the ambassadors with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. RIA Novosti reported that Kadyrov told the ambassadors at the meeting, “International terrorism has lost the war in Chechnya.” He stressed in his speech that the war in Chechnya was the war against international terrorism and not against any nation or religion. “Powerful forces hostile toward Russia have tried to use Chechnya to make Russia collapse, but they failed,” Kadyrov declared.

The Russian authorities are apparently sending the message to the Muslim world that the war in Chechnya was not a war against Islam and Muslims, and that it is now over. Ramzan Kadyrov told the ambassadors that it was very important for the Chechen authorities to have the diplomats see for themselves during their visit that the region is recovering from the war.

Ramzan Kadyrov showed his guests the construction site of a new mosque that will be the largest mosque in the former Soviet Union, with a capacity to hold 10,000 visitors at a time.

Another idea that the Russian authorities wanted to instill in the ambassadors’ minds is that the republic is an inherent part of Russia and that the issue of separating from Russia is no longer on the agenda. “Now, Chechnya is developing in the same legal and economic space with Russia, and this has allowed us to restore the destroyed infrastructure,” Kadyrov told the Muslim diplomats. He then asked the visitors for money. “We are interested in the economic experience of Islamic states and hope that the visit of the ambassadors will give an additional impetus to attracting foreign investment into the republic,” Kadyrov said.

The Muslim diplomats did not argue with Ramzan Kadyrov during the visit and said what the Russian officials wanted to hear from them.

“I am deeply touched by what I have seen here. You cannot find construction on such a scale even in other Arab states,” said Al-Fardzhani, the head of the Russian mission of the Arab League.

Mohhamed Khalis, Malaysia’s ambassador to Russia, said that the “OIC does not see Chechnya outside of Russia.” Malaysia currently chairs the OIC.

Gholamreza Ansari, the ambassador to Russia from Iran, a country that especially wants to please the Kremlin because of its need for Russian nuclear technologies, declared, “Iran has been supporting Russian efforts to improve the situation in the republic from the very beginning of the Chechen conflict.” He added that the Iranian government believes that it is in the interests of the Chechen nation to remain a part of Russia.

Nevertheless, it is too early to say just how successful the trip of the ambassadors to Chechnya was for the Kremlin. The Russian authorities want Muslim countries to back their words with concrete actions like investments and other material help to the pro-Russian Chechen government. Moscow believes this would legitimize Russian rule over Chechnya in the eyes of the Muslim world.

The Chechen issue has always been the most difficult one in Russia’s relations with many Muslim and Arabic countries. The anti-Wahhabi rhetoric of the Russian political leaders, especially Ramzan Kadyrov and his murdered father, remains a problem for the Russian government in its efforts to set up stable friendly ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, where Wahhabism is the predominant branch of Islam.

Even if all Muslim governments closed their eyes to the repression of practicing Muslims and the continuing human rights violations in the North Caucasus, it would hardly halt the other type of investments that have been flowing into Chechnya since the beginning of the war – contributions to the Chechen rebels that come from ordinary Muslims and organizations. Despite the official position of the Muslim governments, many Muslims and organizations regard the Chechens as oppressed Muslims and Chechnya as a land occupied by Russian “infidels.” Such Muslims will continue to listen to their religious leaders – like Yusuf Kardavi and Sheik Ibn, who declare that jihad is taking place in Chechnya and should be supported by all Muslims – rather than to politicians or officials.