Magazine article Russian Life

Chechnya: A Gordian Knot

Magazine article Russian Life

Chechnya: A Gordian Knot

Article excerpt

Among Moscow's political elite, and indeed amongst Russian society as a whole, there seem to be few who believe that the Chechen conflict can ever be resolved, much less in the near future.

And while it would be wrong to conclude from this that the Kremlin has given up on Chechnya, it is not clear what the Powers That Be plan to do about it.

Over a year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin set out on a course of "Chechenization"--transforming the conflict from one between Moscow and Chechnya into one that pitted Chechens against one another. Akhmad Kadyrov was elected president of Chechnya and given wide-ranging powers. The republic was given billions of rubles to revive the economy and social sector. Federal forces were to remain in Chechnya to assist Kadyrov's government in its fight against the rebels.

Then 80 percent of the cash sent for Chechnya's reconstruction was embezzled (Kadyrov himself admitted this); the war and terrorist attacks never ended; and the Chechen president, who, incidentally, did not enjoy overwhelming public support, was assassinated in May 2004 in a blast at a Grozny stadium.

Kadyrov's elected (in fact, appointed) successor. Alu Alkhanov, appears to be an interim figure. Behind his back looms the assassinated president's son. Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's first deputy prime minister and chief of the republic's presidential security service, is an ambitious young man, quite outspoken about Chechnya's economic autonomy, about creating an offshore zone, and about taking full control of the republic's oil.

Kadyrov seems to consider himself Putin's "partner"--that he has a right to dictate terms. So the Russian president will have to educate the young man, to make sure that Kadyrov does not exceed the role he has been assigned. Or Putin could try to do without Kadyrov. But that might anger the powerful Kadyrov clan and exacerbate the situation.

Yet the Kadyrov question is not the only difficult piece in the Chechen puzzle. Military actions are still raging in the rebel republic and peace is nowhere in the horizon.

It is axiomatic that force is not an answer. Yet, talks with separatists are also not an option. First, they would be a fiasco for Putin's policy in Chechnya. Second, the Kremlin cannot talk to the warlord Shamil Basayev, and without this, any dialogue with separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov will be useless. Third, Moscow will never agree to discuss Chechen independence, and Maskhadov, who is constantly reported to be "on the verge of being captured," will never surrender.

Even if we suppose the impossible, that talks are begun with moderate elements and yield some kind of positive results, the extremists will still be there, continuing their Wahhabite cause. In fact, the Kadyrov clan would surely shun any talks with Maskhadov, fearful that the result might be sharing power with "moderate" rebels.

Some liberal politicians in Moscow suggest that Western middlemen and maybe even an international peacekeeping force in Chechnya could help resolve the conflict. But this is impossible. Moscow would never assent to foreign involvement in its domestic affairs. For Putin, this would be not just a sign of a weakness, but tantamount to political humiliation, something he would never allow. Everyone knows the Caucasus has little respect for the weak. Outside interference in the region might actually stir up separatist spirit in the other republics.

Meanwhile, one cannot help feeling that, while the Kremlin tries to untie the Chechen knot, it is also using Chechnya as leverage over domestic and foreign policy. …

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