THREE RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS FROM DIFFERENT POINTS ON POLITICAL SPECTRUM WARN THAT WAR IS HEADING TOWARD A “DEAD END.”
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 36
During the first week of October, three Russian journalists, representing different points on the political spectrum, published analyses of the situation in Chechnya suggesting that Russian policies toward the republic are deeply flawed. Leading military journalist Pavel Felgenhauer, writing in the weekly Moskovskie Novosti (no. 40, October 3 issue), maintained that by de facto siding with certain aspects of the Putin regime’s benighted “antiterrorist” effort in Chechnya, the United States was itself setting out on a mistaken course of action.
“Today,” Felgenhauer began his analysis, “the West, and first of all the [United States], is not in any way in a mood to condemn Russia for its ‘harsh’ mopping-up operations, its infringements of human rights, and so on. Washington has even obligated itself to help cut off the sources of financing of the rebels and to put pressure on the moderate wing of the rebels so that they will make peace with Moscow.” This approach by Washington, Felgenhauer emphasized, is wrong-headed: “The root sources of the Chechen resistance are located within Chechnya itself; the weapons and ammunition for the partisan war are basically purchased within Russia itself on the ‘black market,’ from those who produce them and in [military] units often located directly in Chechnya.” Other financial support for the separatists comes from “the illegal oil business in Chechnya,” as well as from some donations stemming from the Chechen diaspora in Russia, and from Turkey and the countries of the Middle East. “It is obvious,” Felgenhauer concluded, “that the edict of the American president will seriously influence no one. On the contrary, the financing of the rebels might even increase if influential and rich anti-American forces in the Muslim world come to believe that the Chechens are more worthy of their support now that America has openly come out against them.”
The Chechen separatist president, Aslan Maskhadov, Felgenhauer continued, has indicated that he is prepared for negotiations with Russia without any prior conditions. It is clear, however, that Maskhadov will insist during such talks “on the withdrawal of troops, on international guarantees that Russia will not introduce them again and on rapid international recognition of Chechen independence.” It should, however, be clearly understood, Felgenhauer underlined, that Russia, too, is de facto “interested in a partial withdrawal of forces from Chechnya no less than is Maskhadov.” Why? Because the General Staff of the Russian Ministry of Defense wants to have a force of 50,000 troops available for use in Central Asia in light of the current charged situation both there and in Afghanistan. But Russia today has only 5,000 troops in that region; another 1,500 contract soldiers began to be rushed there last week. The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan is being supported by Moscow. “Central Asia,” Felgenhauer summed up, “could at any moment require more serious reinforcements, first of all paratroopers, but for the time being the majority of Russian battleworthy units are connected with Chechnya.”
In order for the operational groups needed in Central Asia to be withdrawn from Chechnya, Moscow must choose among the following three options: “to bleed dry the underground resistance in Chechnya through a series of ‘harsh’ broad-scale mopping up and special operations; to negotiate with Maskhadov and others concerning a new ‘Khasavyurt [Accord]’; or to be prepared to wage a hopeless war on two fronts.” Felgenhauer concludes that the confused Russian leadership is in effect mindlessly choosing all three options at the same time: “In Chechnya there are taking place ‘harsh’ mopping up operations…. In response, the rebels are delivering blows to the federal forces. Simultaneously, there are taking place some kind of ‘consultations’ with representatives of Maskhadov, while reinforcements are also being thrown into Central Asia.” This chaotic and dangerous situation “reflects the complete disorder within the top rulers [of Russia] concerning what should be done further.”
If Felgenhauer represents a type of Russian “democrat,” Aleksandr Tarasov, whose piece “A Diffuse Low Intensity War” appeared in the October 3 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, is a kind of political centrist. He, too, believes, albeit largely out of economic considerations, that Russia is headed toward a dead-end in Chechnya. “Hardly,” Tarasov writes, “will Russia resolve the problem of terrorism with military operations in Chechnya. The reason for today’s Chechen terrorism lies in the previous policy of the [Yeltsin] Kremlin.”
The 1994-1996 war, Tarasov recalls, left Chechnya a destroyed country with an “enormous army” of unemployed males, who “did not know how to do anything other than to fire a gun and set explosives.” There was no employment available for them, because “the economy of Chechnya had been totally destroyed.” The Chechen populace was required to seek out sources of funding so as to survive and “not die of hunger.” One source of financing has come from Islamic radicals.
“The second Chechen war,” Tarasov continued, “has shown how low is the professional level of the Kremlin advisors. It is as if they are inclined once again (as under the tsars) to take Chechnya by conquest, not understanding that this would require them to destroy virtually the entire male population of the Chechens. And the main thing–even that would not guarantee a ceasing of terrorist acts. Those who are killed will surely leave fathers, brothers and sons behind who will take revenge for them.”
The fact is, Tarasov goes on to stress, that “a destroyed, bombed-out, and hungry Chechnya” must inevitably represent a threat for Russia, no matter what juridical status it has. In order for Chechnya to cease constituting a threat for Russia, what is needed are “plants, factories, schools, hospitals, institutes, stores, transport etc.” Unfortunately, however, “practice has shown that money earmarked for the restoration of Chechnya is immediately stolen (most of it being embezzled in Moscow).”
Given this gloomy economic and political analysis, Tarasov contends that “in Chechnya, the foundations are being laid for an extensive partisan war. From world practice, it is well known that such a partisan war can drag on for decades.” Russia consequently faces “an unsuccessful and hopeless war with all its consequences.”
Aleksandr Chuikov, a journalist who has been covering the present war for Izvestia, engaged in an email dialogue with readers of that newspaper on the subject of the conflict (posted on Izvestia.ru, on October 1). Unlike Felgenhauer and Tarasov, Chuikov is an unabashed Russian “hawk,” who holds a “sharply negative” view of the Khasavyurt Accords and believes that the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan constituted “a political mistake.”
In response to one query from a reader, Chuikov underlines his view that Putin’s 24 September televised statement on Chechnya should not be seen as any kind of a serious step. “Evidently,” he writes, “it was a political action taken on the threshold of the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and of Putin’s visit to Germany…. That the rebels would not turn in their weapons was clear. These were purely political games.”
And Chuikov continued: “In my view, the leadership of Russia is not prepared for open negotiations with Maskhadov, and Maskhadov himself is not prepared for negotiations. At the present stage of a low intensity war, negotiations are not needed by anyone: neither by Maskhadov, since he would lose his last levers of control over his ‘armed forces’ and would lose adherents, nor by Moscow, since Moscow has nothing to propose to Maskhadov other than capitulation, and he will not accept that. A new Khasavyurt is scarcely possible today. The army would not forgive one more betrayal. Therefore the situation has in principle reached a dead-end.”
“In my view,” Chuikov sums up his analysis, “the partisan war will continue for decades more, though possibly not as actively as now.”
As can be seen, three Russian journalists from different points on the political compass have arrived at a common conclusion: namely, that the Russian leadership lacks the necessary intellectual and moral resources to come up with a realistic, workable plan to end the war. The Chechen conflict will, therefore, likely go on and on, perhaps for decades.