AFTER NORD-OST: FUTURE LIFE BEHIND THE GREAT WALL OF CHECHNYA

0
22

According to polls done by the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), only seven percent of respondents were inclined to “reconsider the problem of Chechnya” after the hostage-taking in Moscow. However, 15% of respondents blamed the government for the hostage-taking, since “it is continuing the military operation in Chechnya.” Many respondents – 35% – blamed the security structures for the terrorist act, since they are unable to control the situation, not even in Moscow. Almost half of respondents – 46% – considered that the Chechen terrorists were fully to blame. Thus, as VTsIOM director Yury Levada comments in the Novoye Vremya magazine, overall, the people are blaming “our side” even more than the Chechens. At the same time, most respondents focused their attention on the absence of order and control, while the main issue – the reasons for the event, and whether it may happen again – has been moved to the background.

Famous journalist and politician Yuri Shchekochikhin writes in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper: “We keep thinking: why did it happen in Moscow? There is already a list of Heroes of Russia from this operation. There are already new laws – not against terrorists, but against newspapers and television. They are already considering Putin as ‘another Stalin’: he has been able to defeat terrorism.”

Yezhenedelny Zhurnal says the nation has been frightened: “Expectations of another terrorist attack have become more than a natural response to the tragic event – they have become real fear among the political class which has realized the scale of the threat.” The public and the elite are asking the same question: is the state prepared to protect its citizens from the threat of terrorism?

Those who are able to take action seem not to be asking such questions. After Akhmed Zakaev’s statement at the World Chechen Congress in Copenhagen – that terrorists may target a nuclear facility next time – there was an immediate reaction: at the demand of the Russian authorities, Zakaev was arrested. At the same time, he is unlikely to be extradited to Russia. As famous human rights advocate Vladimir Bukovsky explained, “The Danes have understood that the Russian authorities misled them, and now they are trying to find a solution to the problem.”

Since the Prosecutor General’s Office has withdrawn its own main charges – that Zakaev was involved in the hostage-taking, there is no longer even a formal pretext to keep Zakaev in detention.

However, regardless of further fate of Akhmed Zakaev, the problem of safeguarding Russian nuclear facilities remains. Pavel Felgengauer writes in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper: “There are a great many nuclear facilities in Russia. Some of them, such as launch facilities for ICBMs, are well secured from any external attack, including terrorist attacks. Others are poorly protected, and some are not protected at all.” In particular, Felgengauer notes, there is a nuclear waste dump in Chechnya itself – formerly used by the Moscow-based Rodon enterprise – where nuclear waste was buried in Soviet times. During the years of Chechen independence the dump was not guarded at all. It is known that Shamil Basaev’s guerrillas took some materials from there; however, no one knows what they have taken or how much.

President Putin has mentioned the repeated threats by terrorists to “use weapons equivalent to weapons of mass destruction”, and promised that “Russia will respond with measures adequate to the threat”. Moreover, not only terrorists will face retaliation from Russia, but also all places harboring the perpetrators of crimes and their ideological and financial backers. “Russia will not compromise with terrorists, and will not give in to any blackmail,” the president said. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov elaborated on the president’s statements. He reported that the deployment plans for the Russian Armed Forces have been changed recently, and now include the goal of “being prepared to provide increased security at facilities that may become potential targets for terrorists.”

However, there have always been such plans, says Pavel Felgengauer. For instance, in August 1991, the Taman and Kantermirovsk army divisions were sent into Moscow in accordance with the plan for securing strategically important facilities: bridges, government buildings, railroad junctions – “from American terrorist commandos”. As we know, the result of this operation turned out to be lamentable: it took a long time to prepare the troops, since the soldiers were as usual engaged in harvesting crops in the Moscow region. It took them even longer to get to Moscow, because their hardware was not ready for immediate use. “As a result, the USSR broke up in no time.”

Today, as the military itself admits, the Armed Forces are far less combat-ready than they were in Soviet times. That is why it looks absurd when the Russian authorities try to copy the US manner of responding to threats, according to Felgengauer. The United States has the forces and resources required to consistently follow through on its intentions, including the use of high-precision weaponry.

Russia’s capacities are different. That is why its bellicose statements are unlikely to impress anyone, neither in Russia nor abroad.

Alexander Gorelov, head of the Moscow Department for Combating Organized Crime, spoke in his interview with the Gazeta newspaper about measures for ensuring security in Moscow. It turns out that 10-12 people from Movsar Baraev’s gang of hostage-takers are still at large.

However, Gorelov is convinced that the police know everything about them: “names, nicknames, possible contacts.” The criminals are to be arrested very soon, and so far the police have prevented several terrorist attacks they were preparing. Gorelov did not give any details about these potential crimes.

Another newspaper, Yezhenedelny Zhurnal, noted that the crimes being planned involved a series of explosions in the Moscow subway.

According to the sources of the Kommersant paper, the police discovered that three male and two female suicide bombers came to Moscow in order to carry out terrorist attacks. They bought several old cars, packed them with explosives, and left them in different parts of the city.

A Tavria car beside a McDonalds restaurant exploded first. After this, one member of the criminal gang was arrested by the police, which prevented his associates from blowing up the other cars. A connection between this group and the Nord-Ost hostage-takers has been found, and now the people arrested after the McDonalds explosion will be charged with being accessories in the hostage-taking.

As well as these bandits, according to Alexander Gorelov, there are seven non-Slavic and 14 Slavic organized crime groups in Moscow. The most powerful of them involve 300-400 people. Gorelov says that each of them has “his own colleagues, highly professional.”

So Yezhenedelny Zhurnal notes, “we should prepare for the worst”. The question now is “How?” Zhurnal says that metal detectors and widespread but unsystematic checks along the roads will not save the situation. We need a reliable network of intelligence agents and analysts. However, according to “sources in security structures”, they have a chronic shortage of intelligence agents and analysts. Moreover, experts say it is next to impossible to plant a specially trained agent in a group of Chechen guerrillas.

In short, says Zhurnal, at present the state should admit it is practically helpless: “The nation needs comprehensive structural reforms across all law enforcement bodies.” The same applies to the Russian Armed Forces. Alexander Golts, military observer for Yezhenedelny Zhurnal, considers that the president’s order to amend deployment plans for the Armed Forces demonstrates “Putin’s dissatisfaction with his generals,” and is another attempt to push them to carry out military reforms.

Golts explains that so far the General Staff has carried out all military operations in accordance with the same standard scenario. It is commonly believed that in the event of any attack on Russia, the aggression can only be resisted through the use of nuclear weapons. “With that purpose, strategic bombers would demonstratively hit some targets in a deserted or thinly-populated area on the enemy’s territory – using missiles with some nuclear materials. After that, the aggressor is supposed to fear a large-scale nuclear operation, and to start negotiations.”

If this does not happen, a real nuclear attack would be carried out, which would mean the start of a nuclear war and the end of the world. Most recently, this scenario was drilled in the course of full-scale staff command exercises between October 7 and 13.

Apparently, the scenario has nothing to do with fighting terrorism, or the present situation. “Nuclear weapons can be a deterrent against a potential aggressor who is unwilling to destroy the majority of the population in his own country. However, this prospect will not stop terrorists.” Moreover, such threats will provoke them rather than stop them.

If the Russian Armed Forces are really changing their orientation from opposing NATO to anti-terrorist objectives, the need for military reforms will become obvious. For instance, in this case powerful mobile forces will inevitably be necessary for opposing terrorists; and such forces cannot be formed in an army full of conscripts. Besides, not all of Russia’s present military hardware will be needed, but only certain types, such as: “reconnaissance-attack systems, high-precision firearms, and so on.” So far, Russia does not have any of the aforementioned factors in place – that is why it is obvious that all Russia’s anti-terrorist plans are empty threats.

“Vladimir Putin will never admit it in public, but the real reason for the Moscow disaster was the ineffectiveness of the Russian Armed Forces in Chechnya,” stresses Zhurnal. The evidence is obvious: “Three years after the start of the war, the separatists still have entirely capable mobile groups.”

There is a wide range of opinions in Russian society about solutions to the problem of Chechnya, says Profil magazine. However, they all involve either an “anti-terrorist operation” until the victorious end, or negotiations with “Chechen resistance leaders whose hands are not stained with blood.” Until recently, Aslan Maskhadov was considered a possible candidate for negotiations. However, after the Moscow hostage-taking, no one will negotiate with him. At present, there are no other candidates for negotiations in Chechnya.

Are negotiations better than war? Profil looks back to Khasavyurt: “Chechnya used the three years of its independence for a final transformation into a gangster enclave, with a puppet state, and no one was responsible for observing the agreements reached at Khasavyurt.” Currently, the situation is no better: those who have some power are unsuitable for negotiations, according to the Russian authorities, “since they are stained with blood.” At the same time, it makes no sense to negotiate with those “who are not stained with blood – since they do not represent anyone and cannot influence anything.”

Overall, what has happened to Chechnya? Why has it regressed from the 20th century to the Middle Ages?

In the Soviet era, says Profil, this wild mountainous area was turned into a “normal autonomous republic with its own industrial infrastructure, cities, an intelligentsia, state officials, and a working class.” The overwhelming majority of the population accepted this usual industrial standard and adapted to it. Judging by the number of Chechens in large Russian cities, Chechens turned to be “more able to adapt than other peoples of the North Caucasus.”

However, it is known that under Jokhar Dudaev’s rule, after 1991, peasants from mountain villages flooded into the cities of Chechnya. They became the basis for turning the republic back to the Middle Ages. As a result, not only ethnic Russians but also the most educated Chechens left the republic. This civilizational shift acted to split the society of Chechnya, and Dudaev’s regime had to fight not only against Moscow but also against internal opposition. If Russia had been patient then, the situation could have been resolved in its favor. However, Profil notes, “Yeltsin and his narrow-minded associates were over-confident.” Russian tanks entered Chechnya: and since then, the civil war has turned into a national-liberation war – the nation united against external aggression. Today, it is impossible to turn back time eight years. “However, if there is a solution to the Chechen problem, it lies in turning the national-liberation war back into a civil war,” concluded Profil.

To all appearances, the authorities are trying to do the same. As the Vremya Novostei reports, at a recent meeting with 19 Chechen leaders in the Kremlin, President Putin said that the Chechen police rather than the army should fight terrorism in Chechnya. The order for the creation of the Chechen Interior Ministry has already been signed. “The army must be in the barracks,” said the president (quoted in Kommersant).

In short, “authoritative representatives of the Chechen community” determined the essence of the meeting as “accelerating the constitutional process” in Chechnya. The president agreed with this: the referendum on the Chechen constitution is likely to be held next spring.

Putin also spoke on the topic of negotiating with separatists: “There should be a clear distinction between terrorists and their supporters, and the political process.”

Putin’s main accusations were reserved for Aslan Maskhadov, former president of Ichkeria (according to the media, Maskhadov has rejected his presidential title and has now become “chief mujaheddin emir” in Chechnya).

According to Vremya Novostei, Putin is convinced that Maskhadov led Russia and Chechnya into war: “In 1996, this man received power in Chechnya once Russia had recognized Chechnya’s independence. How did he use his power? What did he do to Chechnya? He led it to an economic collapse, famine, complete destruction of social and religious spheres, genocide against other ethnic groups in Chechnya, and numerous casualties among Chechens.” President Putin admitted that until a certain point, the Kremlin had been prepared to negotiate with Maskhadov. However, recently the situation has changed: “Those who choose Maskhadov are choosing war.”

“The federal authorities is clearly outlining two political agendas: maximal political autonomy for Chechnya, with the strict proviso that it remains a part of Russia,” says Izvestia. According to the paper, in fact this means creation of an “autonomous-puppet regime in Chechnya in order to prevent Chechen terrorism from extending outside Chechnya.” As for how the Chechens are supposed to manage this: “That’s their problem.”

It was stressed that it would not be another Khasavyurt agreement; rather, an “Afghan version of the Chechen war” – what the US is trying to do with the Kabul regime.

Andrei Ryabov, a member of the Carnegie Research Council, said in his interview with the Gazeta newspaper that only international monitoring – similar to Kosovo or Bosnia – can be an alternative to a mini-Afghanistan in Chechnya.

The effectiveness of such a regime in Chechnya is rather important, “assuming that contemporary Chechens are unable to form a state of their own – they are not like the people of the Baltic states, who have separated from Russia and are now ahead of all former USSR republics.”

According to Ryabov, another solution to the problem would mean building a “Great Wall of Chechnya – like in Berlin and Korea.” In this case, Russia would aid Chechnya with the construction; and simultaneously all illegal Chechen immigrants would be deported back to Chechnya, and the remaining ones would face loyalty tests.

Andrey Ryabov thinks it would be possible to raise the money for implementing this plan by a special tax on tycoons, “a national security tax”. The most surprising point is that unlike many other Russian observers, Ryabov thinks there is still a military solution to the conflict: “Naturally, it is not cover-bombing and powerful army operations only.” According to him, the most important thing is to “eviscerate the old elite” that had started this war and “destroy the entire infrastructure of terrorism.”

According to Vremya MN observer Leonid Radzikhovsky, in order to resolve the “Chechen problem” it is necessary to understand its essence.

It is an either-or situation. First alternative: Russia is at war with global Islamic terrorism, and Chechnya is just a pretext, and Chechens are only weapons in the hands of others – in that case, the enemy’s real goal is to break up Russia, “since it is the weakest link among Western nations”. Second alternative: what’s happening in the North Caucasus is only “a drawn-out colonial war”.

In the first case, Radzikhovsky stresses, it is senseless to negotiate with any of the so-called “separatist leaders” – in fact, this would be like negotiating with a hit-man in the absence of the person who hired him. In these terms, Russia should “switch to a different war”, conclude a “military-police alliance” with its natural allies, primarily the US, and break off ties with the potentially dangerous Iran and Iraq.

If we consider the Chechen war as separate from global terrorism, it loses its meaning. “Why are we fighting there? In order to bind to Russia – at any price – such a ‘treasure’ as the criminal, destitute republic of Chechnya, which will never consider itself a part of Russia after all that has happened, no matter what kind of ‘constitutions’ are adopted.”

Apparently, in this case Russia does not need negotiations either: “it should become independent from Chechnya, cut it off both judicially and physically, and create an “impenetrable border – the Great Wall of Chechnya”.

The only clear point here, says Expert magazine, is that “for the foreseeable future, probably decades, Russia is doomed to live with this war.”

However, Russia’s society has not realized this as yet. The Nord-Ost hostage-taking seems to not have taught Moscow or Russia any lessons: “Nothing has changed in our psychology – we have not united in the face of the threat, we have not become embittered; we do not feel a sense of being at war.”

The Kommersant-Vlast magazine attributes the surprising calm of Russians to the loss of “basic faith in the world” due to all the stresses of the past decade.

“The majority of Russians got a sense that their lives had changed and the world would never be the same much earlier than the Americans: they have felt it since all their savings were devalued, enterprises where they had worked for 30-40 years were closed, and the country they had been born in broke up into separate regions, fighting one another.”

Kommersant-Vlast says the hostage-taking has mostly had an impact on the prosperous and well-educated Russian middle class. Only they stopped feeling secure after this terrorist act, like Americans did after September 11. However, as we all know, the middle class is rather small in Russia.

At the same time, says Kommersant-Vlast, the fact that the overwhelming majority of Russians don’t give pay attention to the terrorist threat does not mean that they do not like comfort and stability. “They would also like to have high living standards and a feeling of complete security, which can be destroyed only by such an extraordinary event as a terrorist attack or a flood. However, they realize very well how far they are from such security, and they are unable to fear even the most terrible terrorist act.”

Still, the Expert magazine notes, such a state can be considered almost normal: “As normal as the economic difficulties Russia had to pass through in the 1990s.”

Periods of relative calm and stability in the history of individual nations and the world in general are relatively short – according to Expert, approximately twenty years out of a hundred. The present situation in Russia is not unique: history is full of such wars: France and Algeria, the Northern Ireland conflict, Basque separatists. It is very important that each conflict of this kind transforms the political systems of the nations involved, inevitably and substantially. “Russia will also change after the Chechen war, regardless of its outcome,” Expert predicts.

At present, this seems to be the only forecast that should be believed unconditionally.

LEAVE A REPLY