THE CHECHNYA PROBLEM: THE PEOPLE ARE SILENT

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“The Russian authorities are lucky they have their people,” said the Nezavisimaya Gazeta recently, “No matter how inconsistent the government’s actions, it doesn’t need to worry – the minds of the Russians are even more chaotic.”

The paper published results of a poll done by the National Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM). VTsIOM asked residents of 33 Russian regions about their attitude to the idea of a “great power”. According to 67% of respondents, the most significant determinants for a “great power” are living standards and the level of industrial development. About a third of respondents also mentioned observing rights and freedoms and possessing nuclear weapons. This means, in accordance with the aforementioned opinion, Russians do not consider Russia a “great power”: the first two conditions are not met in our country.

However, as is known it is hard to understand Russia with one’s mind: 43% of respondents are convinced that despite everything our country is still a superpower – even despite the statistical data that about a third of the Russian residents live behind the poverty line. Moreover, there are not very many rich people among the rest of Russians.

By the way, this also explains the fact that the issues of democratic rights and freedoms are not considered the prior ones in Russia. According to the same Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “according to statistics”, the democracy is needed after a person makes no less than $3,000 a year, “the sum which is absolutely unreal beyond the Moscow circle road”. All this is a clear signal to the authorities: so fat it is unnecessary to pay special attention to the issue of democratic freedoms. It should be said that the Russian authorities actively use this opportunity.

There is another important thing: the chaos in the voters’ minds means that all popularity ratings of the authorities are, mildly put, conditional indices. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, there are more likely to be momentary and are hardly likely to reflect the real situation.

Nonetheless, according to the Kommersant magazine, Moscow sociologists concluded on the “Russian society in the beginning of the third millennium” that today Putin’s popularity rating is in no danger. Even the bad Chechen problem is not a real problem, “Russians have realized that this problem is impossible to be resolved with one strike.”

Besides, it occurred that Russians are much more interested in their own private lives than in politics. According to President of the Public Opinion Foundation Igor Klaymkin, “the majority of people do not correlate themselves with their countries having plunged into their family issues.”

At the same time, unlike the Soviet times, people are led by their material incentives only – in short, they work for the sake of money not for the sake of ideas. As an employee of the independent institution for social and national issues Leonty Byzov said, “the society wants everyone to leave it alone and it does not want another president.”

President of the Public Opinion Foundation Alexander Oslon explained in his interview with the Vek weekly that Vladimir Putin’s high popularity rating leans on the stability the Russian president brought to the lives of ordinary Russians.

Over a decade of endless changes, the society has grown tired. Today there is a very calm period in the Russian politics, which the Russian elite does not like very much as they are used to be the center of events. Still, this is the fact: no more than ten percent of Russians permanently watch all political and social events in the country, “The rest of people hardly try to think of them at all.”

This frame of mind that is very convenient for the authorities cause lots of issues for the presidential team. According to the Izvestia paper, the Kremlin and the political scientific centers have started working at the annual presidential address to the Federation Council. According to our data, President Putin insists on inclusion to some extent answers to the questions that participants of the TV program “Direct Line” asked the president last December. By the way, there are hundreds thousands of such questions and interpreting, grouping, and analyzing the questions are likely to take a long time. Currently, it is already clear that the presidential department for people’s applications is unable to cope with the volume of work, which causes a financial issue: where will the presidential administration take additional means to pay for the work of a whole army of hired workers who are to fulfill the presidential errand? Besides, the presidential administration also worries about a political issue: as it turned out the Russians are not in the least interested in the course of the Russian party construction or in the federative reform – of which the president said in his pervious address to the Federation Council. People asked many other questions, for instance about homeless children or Chechnya.

Overall, Izvestia notes, people who are working at the address to the Federation Council have a hard task: they will have to combine global issues of the state with everyday issues of ordinary citizens.

Recently, Vladimir Putin’s US colleague, President George Bush demonstrated how to do it. The press informed that his 45-minute speech with the address “On the situation in the country” at the meeting of the two Congress houses was interfered with applauses 77 times. No wonder, even the Russian translation does not lose the pathos of the presidential speech. In particular, the speech was published in the Gazeta daily: “Our country is fighting, our economy is in recession, the whole civilized world encountered an unprecedented danger. However, the position of the United Stated is as stable as never before.” Another interesting passage says, “Governments of some countries are frightened by the terror…. Remember: if they do not act, America will start doing their work.” Finally, to erase all doubts, the US president said, “Our war against terrorism had a good start, but it has just started….”

To Russian taste, Bush’s speech sounds Hollywood-like, as well as most of the US life, judging by television chronicles. And this Hollywood standard made an impression in the US that the Wall Street Journal observer Peggy Noonan called astonishing. Ms. Noonan considers the key moment of the presidential speech the so-called “Bush’s doctrine”, the essence of which is that the US “will no longer hope for a better outcome and respond only after someone attacks it.” As the Vedomosti paper cites, Ms. Noonan explains that instead “we will act in accordance with requirements of the mass annihilation weapons era, we will actively find out our potential killers, no matter where they are and who patrons them, and we will annihilate them on the spot.”

The paper also cited a statement of CNN commentator Bill Schneider, “People know that is Bush says he is going to do this or that, he means it.” Besides, a television host from another channel compared President Bush to John Kennedy and the New York Times wrote that Bush “has rocketed to a new height”.

The US elite has completely reconsidered its opinion on George Bush as no longer considers him a “shallow person, who managed to come to power due to his good luck and the family”.

At the same time, Ms. Peggy Noonan agrees that “it is bad for presidents when everyone praises them,” they get “dizzy of their successes” and they lose landmarks and the sense of proportion. “However, the Wall Street Journal observer is convinced, Bush has deserved this support. In any case, as war is the best time to unite around the president.” This is the result that Putin’s speech-writers can only dream of.

Naturally, the Russian press was much more skeptical that the American one. The Vremya Novostei paper, run by the presidential administration, noted rather sourly that the present address of the US president had not “a foreign political aspect. The situation on the world arena is considered only through the prism of US’s own issues.”

On the other hand, according to the paper, foreign issues are much less complicated for President Bush than internal issues – in particular, the economic recession that has deteriorated after terrorist attacks. In particular, President Bush did not mention the scandalous bankruptcy of the Enron company – while the US experts consider its consequences more disastrous that the actions of Al Quaida. At least the paper notes that it is generally believed that “it is defeating of internal enemies of the US’s economy that is a much more important objective for president Bush than triumphal defeating terrorists all over the world.” From the standpoint of an Expert observer, senior economist of the Renaissance Capital investment company Aleksei Moiseev, the essence of Bush’s sppech is rather simple, “America will have to put up with budget deficiency for the sake of its security.”

According to another expert, senior economist of the German Commerzbank AG Peter Dickson, “Bush was insistent and his insistency is quite understandable: he is unable to ‘squeeze through’ the most important tax initiatives of his presidential administration without an approval of the Congress. That is why his speech contained little concrete things and lots of appeals and emotions.”

The Kommersant paper responded, “No analysts have hardly any doubts that President Bush will be able to pass through the Congress his plans on almost doubling the defense spending.” At the same time, the paper thinks, far from all the additional means are to be spent on fighting against terrorism, “establishment of the national anti-missile defense system will eat the lion’s share of the means.”

The triumphal success of Bush’s speech impacted very positively the popularity rating of the Republicans (50% against 43% of the Democrats), let alone the personal popularity rating of President Bush: now it is higher than Putin’s popularity rating at the peak of his popularity.

However, Kommersant reminds that in 1991, after the victory in the war against Iraq the popularity ratings of President Bush-senior were also very high, which did not help him lose the 1992 presidential elections to Bill Clinton. “So, if his son is not a success in tying the victorious war against the international terrorism with real day to day economic hardships of the US citizens for a long enough time, the situation is likely to cardinally change.”

It is very vital for the Russian observers the note that even a victorious war with economic issues at the background cannot guarantee a stable people’s love. Especially, according to the Vremya Novostei paper, if take into account that the Russian war against terrorism has passed from its acute phase into chronic, but it is disturbing the society even more than before.

Judging by VTsIOM polls, over the past two years the opinions of Russians on the situation in Chechnya have radically changed. In February 2000 about 70% of respondents supported continuation of the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya, and only 22% of respondents supported beginning of peace negotiations. A year later, in 2001, the number of supporters of the war decreased down to 38%, and the number of peace negotiations supporters grew to 50%. Today these figures have hardly changed: 38% of respondents demand the war to be continued, 51% of people demand peace negotiations to start. At the same time the number of respondents who believe it is necessary to pay more attention to restoration of the republic’s economy decreased to 17%, against 19% last year. It seems the majority of Russians imagine Chechnya as a “black hole” that is impossible to be defeated or restored.

It is strange, but here the opinion of Russians coincide with the opinion of Akhmed Zakaev, a representative of Aslan Maskhadov at another session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Zakaev said in his interview with the Obshchaya Gazeta paper, “We have not a problem with funding neither with replenishment of weapons and ammunition. The money that are allocated for construction and other peaceful goals is spent on our units, first of all through present Kadyrov’s ministers.” So, Zakaev stressed, the federal forces counted in vain on ceasing financial aid to Chechen terrorists on September 11, “There are no more weapons that in Chechnya anywhere in the Caucasus. Money is Russian, weapons are Russian, ammunition is also Russian. As long as there is an abundance of all this in the republic, we will not stop resisting.”

Recently, the Nezavisimoye Voyennoe Obozrenie newspaper noted that despite numerous confirmations of the Russian military that the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya is close to an end, the war is in fact in full swing. “If sum up the information from Chechnya over the past six months, the situation turns to be rather gloomy: hundreds of people have been killed from both sides, the current of confiscated weapons and ammunition is endless.” Nezavisimoe Voyennoe Obozrenie writes, “Separatists are obviously not exhausted yet, especially now, when they again started receiving moral support from Western Europe and the US.” Now, even the most radical supporters of continuation of the military activities in the republic realize that there will be no rapid and final victory in the war in the near future.

The Yezhendelny Zhurnal weekly comments, “The idea of negotiations with Maskhadov has suddenly become out of fashion.” Even Vladimir Kazantsev, who after meeting with Akhmed Zakaev in Sheremetievo – 2 airport stated that the contacts are to be continued, now firmly states that only law enforcement bodies are to contact with Chechen guerrillas.

Meanwhile, the magazine reminds, before the meeting, Aslan Maskhadov actually repeated in his interviews the words of the Russian military, “There will not be another Khasavyurt”. Russian interpreted these words as a decision to fight until complete victory. However, after meeting with Kazantsev, Zakaev explained: in 1996 the Chechens believed the Federal forces when the latter called them victors. However, later it turned out that the victory was imaginary: the republic was completely destroyed. That is when the Chechens decided that there would be no “another Khasavyurt”. In fact, the magazine notes, “it is equal to a confession than an inter-military dependence is an evil for the Chechen people.” It seems to be good grounds for continuation of negotiations, but Moscow missed the chance. The Kremlin once again ignored political maneuvers.

Overall, the weekly believes until it is the security services that determine all the cardinal decisions on Chechnya, all the attempts to put the republic in order are to fail.

Apparently, working a political course out is not a matter of the military; on the other hand, today it is hard to speak of any state politics in Chechnya. The magazine notes, “There are no person or a body in the Kremlin or in the Putin’s surrounding that would think of what should be done in Chechnya beside “purges”. Instead of hard negotiations, instead of fighting for Maskhadov, and the most important for the Chechen population, we again listen to fairy-tales about magnificent victories and statements that very soon we will finish them.” According to the magazine, it is a “road to nowhere”.

The Novaya Gazeta paper titled its interview with Ruslan Khasbulatov “Why does Russia need Chechnya?” Khasbulatov is a person, who not only “knows exactly who and why started this dirty war” but also has real plans who to stop it.

According to Khasbulatov, today the attempts to preserve Chechnya as a member of the Russian Federation are doomed to fail, “It seems to me that even the hope to restore prior relations between peoples are lost…. Arbitrariness, marauding have caused such a hatred of local residents toward the federal forces that it has become irreversible.” Moreover, the author does not rule out that even after the war is over its participants cannot feel secure for themselves and their families, “Vendetta is a very complicated institution. Retribution is inevitable, but no one knows when it will come. Perhaps, in ten years.”

On the other hand, Ruslan Khasbulatov does not doubt that if the federal forces are withdrawn from Chechnya, the Chechens will finish it up with guerrillas themselves, “The majority of the Chechen population have always considered Dudaev, Maskhadov, Basaev, Khattab, Gelaev, Baraev and many other field commanders to be secret service agents,” and it is only the presence of the Russian military that saves them from the deserved revenge. According to Khasbulatov, this theory is wide-spread in Chechnya and it is hardly likely to be denied.

Thus, it turns out that from the standpoint of the Chechen residents the federal government is uninterested in ceasing the war. At the same time, it acts only to its own interests, as the destroyed republic is of no interest for the federal Center. Oil pipelines, railroads, communication means have bypassed Chechnya over the years of the war – even oil industry and a unique oil-chemical complex have lost their practical significance.

Nonetheless, Khasbulatov is convinced that if Chechnya that will never agree to join Russia as a “subject”, has a special international status, there will be no issues with investments in restoration of the Chechen economy: the “world community” will participate in it. By the way, Khasbulatov noted that for many years Chechnya has in fact been an independent state, “and nothing terrible has happened to Russia”.

The Vek weekly called Khasbulatov’s scenario Kosovo-like: “with withdrawing all the federal forces, legalization of separatists, fake elections, and forming pseudo authorities, that would have Moscow increase their legal status with the help of the world community.”

According to Vek, for the US the Chechen problem is important, but still it is a particular. The US diplomacy always poses the question broader: the situation at the Russian Caucasus is a part of the general process of national self-identification that is being on all over the planet. “The US supports such self-identification as long as it is advantageous,” writes the newspaper. The US is ready to admit some concrete facts of banditism and terror – but in fact, the US persistently refuses to admit that the territories inhabited by the Chechens belong to the Russian Federation. This is the essence of the fundamental disagreement between Russia and the US, “no matter how much the leaders of the two countries flirt with each other.” Today the US insistently makes it clear to Moscow that the Chechen issue has not been resolved yet and that the Russian government must do its best neutralize the Chechen separatists, “preferably with the help of political methods, or if with the help of force, then in the near future and for good.” Otherwise, Washington does not rule out the possibility of more regular contacts with representatives of former Chechen authorities. So, Vek concludes, “disagreements between Russia and the West are back again.”

On the other hand, as Ilya Milshtein notes in the Novoe Vremya magazine, the Chechen topic has long become a ritual for the West. When the US again accepts Ichkeria “foreign minister” Ilyas Akhmadov, the Russian Foreign Ministry imitates wrath. After which Washington diplomats once again calmingly explain that they had just wanted to listen to the opposing side. This happened in 1999, 2000, 2001. “It is a ritual. There are no least diplomatic consequences: neither for the Kremlin, nor for the White House, or Maskhadov, or particularly for the refugees in the Ingush refugee camps.” Despite all PACE statements on the positive dynamics in the Chechen situation.

Besides, it is not ruled out that the Russian authorities have their own concept of positive changes in the Chechen situation. As right leader Boris Nemtsov said recently in his interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, Putin seems to have a “more rainbow imagination of the situation in Chechnya that it really is.” The authorities have not realized yet that paying pensions and wages does not resolve all the issues. Nonetheless, Nemtsov hopes that the political process is to continue: “We had better negotiate than fire.”

Recently the Kremlin’s constant opponent Boris Berezovsky also spoke out his opinion on the Chechen situation in his interview with the Gazeta paper. The “London outcast” stated that the latest decision of PACE is a “verdict to Russia”. According to Berezovsky, the fact that the European Community divides Chechens in terrorists and separatists is a “consequence of an absolutely stupid and not thought of politics carried out by the Russian leadership.”

In fact, Berezovsky says, from the very beginning it was clear that the root of the conflict is yearning for independence. However, Berezovsky does not support this idea – he believes separating Chechnya from Russia is inadmissible as this will be the first step to “breakup of Russia”.

In short, all said something about Chechnya, including the Kremlin, politicians, the media, America, Europe, Nemtsov, Khasbulatov, and Berezovsky.

Traditionally, only the Russian people are silent – as long as no only purposely ask them. Despite the growing anxiety of the society, Chechnya is not on the top lines of official ratings of issues that bother Russians.

Evidently, people have gotten used to the sore. However, as doctors say, transition of the illness to a chronic phase does not mean that the patient is guaranteed from a lethal outcome.

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