Ukraine’s revolution and the war in Chechnya: is Moscow next?


The events in Ukraine have nearly made the Russian media forget an anniversary: on December 11, 1994, Boris Yeltsin signed his notorious decree on measures to ensure law and public order in Chechnya. A war broke out in Chechnya, which former defense minister Pavel Grachev promised to end in two hours using a single unit of paratroopers.

Now, a decade later, no end to this war is in sight.

Moreover, says Novye Izvestia the country has realized: the Caucasian war has no borders. Following the terrorist attacks in Budennovsk, Kizlyar, Pervomaiskoye, explosions in residential buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, Avtozavodskaya and Rizhkskaya subway stations, at the Moscow theater and in a Beslan school, we no longer have the feeling that the war is a long way off; the frontline has come close.

Nevertheless, nobody denies a statement by Federation Council member Ramazan Abdulatipov, directly involved in the events of 1991, who told Novye Izvestia that during the years that passed neither the Russian authorities nor the public “have learned a single lesson from this entire tragedy.”

According to Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal, Chechnya has been easily “making the most horrible propaganda fairy tales come true.”

Indeed, as a result of the first war, which was called “disarming the gangsters,” Chechnya became a “gangster enclave, a haven for extremists and abductors.”

The second war, proclaimed as an “anti-terrorist operation,” has turned Chechnya into a permanent source of a terrorist threat.

“The war has been boomeranging to Russia from Chechnya. This includes a new generation of generals in politics – just watch the gallery of presidential envoys; hundreds of thousands of servicemen, who have gained experience of unpunished violence over their fellows – almost the entire personnel of the Russian security structures takes trips to Chechnya,” stresses Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal.

Finally, says the magazine, this “is the style of work of the authorities, when instead of attention and an attempt to realize first and then act, we observe the same: the prevailing force, which takes no debating and knows no doubts.”

Meanwhile, Novye Izvestia publishes figures for general familiarization – the casualties in Chechnya, according to various sources.

Officially, the casualties in 1994-1996 totaled 4,103 servicemen; 19,794 were wounded and 1,906 were.

Alexander Lebed, who was Federation Council secretary in 1996, used to announce different figures: 100,000 casualties in the first Chechen campaign, 80,000 of them being civilians.

There are figures from Aslan Maskhadov, then president of Ichkeria: 120,000 kills among civilians plus 2,870 among guerillas.

The disparity is striking concerning the second Chechen war also. FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev said that from October 1, 1999 to late 2002, the casualties among servicemen totaled 4,705. According to the Defense Ministry, 15,549 persons were wounded during that period. According to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, 291 servicemen were killed in Chechnya in 2003 and 148 servicemen – over January-October 2004.

At the same time, Tais Dzhabrailov, chairman of the Chechen State Council, told the journalists in November that the death toll for the conflict in Chechnya has exceeded 200,000.

Given below are figures from Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal: “The first Chechen war has claimed up to 50,000 lives of civilians and up to 6,000 lives of Russian servicemen, policemen and agents of other security structures. Some 15,000 to 25,000 civilians have been killed in the second war.”

It is impossible to answer the question with regard to the cost of this war: according to Novye Izvestia, the finance allocation for revival of Chechnya since 2000 exceeds 62 billion rubles ($2.2 billion).

According to the State Accounting Chamber, over 5 billion of this amount was spent “with rough violations of the legislation,” i.e. embezzled. Such trifles as additions worth of 69 million rubles during construction are out of the question.

At the same time, specifies the newspaper, no spending on combat operations are counted.

Nikolai Rogozhkin, commander-in-chief of the Internal Troops of the Russian Interior Ministry said on December that in 2004 his subordinates have averted 780 acts of terror in Chechnya. Meanwhile, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev said on October 5 that in 2004 the special services managed to avert 500 terrorist attacks in Russia. It appears that the Internal Troops are averting 2.3 acts of terror in Chechnya daily, while the special services – 1.8 terrorist attacks daily throughout Russia,” says Kommersant-Vlast.

The difference is not actually that striking.

Ilya Milshtein states in Novoye Vremya magazine about the inanity of mentioning “historic experience which teaches nothing,” as well as the “guerrilla war, which can be assigned any name, even international terrorism, but cannot be won.”

In the opinion of the author, there’s the only urgent topic – concerning the defeat оf Moscow: “I.e. the situation, in which Russia has crawled and will stay for long, at least for decades.”

On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore a natural desire to get answer: if Russia has lost, who’s the winner?

Basayev, which has never been caught, can regard himself as the only winner among the Chechen separatists. Izvestia dedicated a series of articles to this topic by exploring Basayev’s routes across Chechnya, his “back-up groups,” consisting of relatives and friends of youth, his financial sources and even the ideology, to which Russia has nothing to counter.

According to Izvestia, “our spiritual positions are so weak in Chechnya, that compared to us the odious Wahhabism looks a just and socially-oriented ideology.”

At the same time, other Chechen leaders (Maskhadov included) hardly seem to be winners, Ilya Milshtein says.

As for the Chechen nation on the whole, “it hasn’t experienced a similar nightmare during its entire sad history, even during the deportation under Stalin,” Milshtein notes. Even under Stalin Chechens “were not eliminated for many years without distinction – with the aid of frontline aviation, tank fusillades, total abductions with tortures and executions.”

However, Russian society cannot regard itself as a winner either. We should recall the soldiers killed and injured in Chechnya and civilians who suffered in terrorist attacks, as well as those who are yet to suffer. According to the author, sad is the fate of Russia on the whole, its historic perspective – as a consequence of the Chechen war: “The chronicle of the past five years – is a list of infinite defeats of Russian society in clashes with terrorists and the Kremlin.” The scheme of political development over past several years has been simplified to the utmost: “Narrowness of civil rights under the simultaneous strengthening of the notorious power vertical is a consequence of the war against terror.”

According to Milshtein, for a start, unless the Chechen war “a person named Putin” could have failed to become president of Russia: “The protege of unpopular Yeltsin has negligently small chances.”

However, for some reason Basayev rushed into Dagestan; this all followed explosions of buildings in Moscow and Buinaksk, and Putin accepted the powers from Yeltsin. Later on, following a renowned phrase of a necessity “to rub terrorists out in the outhouse,” he gained unprecedented popularity, which still remains.

Everything the authorities are doing inside the country is justified with the military necessity, Vladislav Surkov, deputy director of the presidential administration unambiguously stated in his article in Komsomolskaya Pravda.

“The terrorists have killed children, which means the gubernatorial elections must be canceled. The link is implicit, but in the framework of the vertical scheme: war – terror – fingers on the neck,” Milshtein is saying ironically. It is not ruled out that Dzerdzhinsky Monument might be restored in Lubyanka following another terrorist attack and, following one more terrorist attack in 2008 uselessness of the presidential election becomes clear.

It is hard to say that the authorities have won this war.

“There’s a notion in modern Russian politics: a managed hot spot. This is a place which is being heated and exploded strictly according to schedule, for instance by the next election campaign – or, on the contrary, in conformity to the political routine,” says Novoye Vremya.

If no explosion is arranged, says the magazine, it is quite easy to predict the moment and correct it slightly, especially “if the cauldron is boiling in the public eye, like Dagestan on the eve of an outbreak of Wahhabism.”

The trouble is that similar hot spots get out of control and begin living according to their own laws. The cause is simple: “in addition to informed people, who make the minority, involved in the war are thousands of simpletons, who wage war, kill and die in earnest, even before they read the script.”

“Entire generations, which don’t suspect that they are only involved in a game” and can do nothing but wage war grow in similar hot spots.

The metastases of conflict are springing up across Russia, says Novoye Vremya, “the authorities are ready to drop but take the Chechen track, though it’s too late and no new explosions can be averted.”

A hot spot gets out of control in this phase and not to lose the initiative the superiors have to use “infinite, rather than local terror – although to suit the same goals: to keep the power and strengthen the hierarchy.”

“There’s no such thing as a magaged war,” notes Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal; but it is impossible to get the war genie back into the bottle.

In the opinion of Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal, as a tool for resolving various problems the Chechen war came to be unnecessary for the authorities by as early as summer 2000: “The Kremlin doesn’t need hostage crises, landmines laid along communications lines, or female suicide bombers in Moscow.”

However, the Kremlin has got accustomed to these “costs” and is trying to take the best use of any crisis: Are you mentioning the Moscow theater hostage-taking? Get a new round of tightening the screws at television. Beslan? The time is right to appoint regional leaders from Moscow.”

Nevertheless, stresses the magazine, it is evident that “for the Kremlin the Chechen war has exhausted its resources in domestic politics. It is no more necessary even as a screen for a multitude of initiatives aimed at strengthening various hierarchies. The regime has been so solid that it won’t need a plea to decide to strengthen anything else.”

Most likely, it will decide so. In vain, Novoe Vremya speculates that under the current circumstances, only the resignation of the incumbent president, “if it entailed an absolute rejection of his policies, and mass public protests,” might become a signal to cease hostilities: “If this was announced at the proper time, even the dumbest guerrillas in Chechnya must pause to think: which Russia are they fighting?”

Despite the current troubles for the authorities (the embarrassment of the Ukrainian elections has been the latest and the biggest trouble) “the president himself remains almost immune to criticism.”

It means, says Milshtein, “we are doomed to live with this president until he decides that he has had enough of this.”

Versions are possible after that – the observers are justly saying that an option of a political reform is being tested in Ukraine – transformation of a presidential republic into the parliamentary one – which is most likely to be implemented in Russia in 2007.

According to a widespread opinion, the outcome of the long-drawn drama in Ukraine is not evident yet. If the “orange opposition” wins, as Dr. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Elite Studies Center at the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Novaya Gazeta, that would lead to President Putin losing some popularity in Russia. It would inevitably make the opposition in Russia more active.

“Revolutions are contagious. The ‘orange attitude’ will boost the enthusiasm of our lethargic democrats,” Kryshtanovskaya noted.

The victory of Viktor Yushchenko, of which Kiev and Moscow have little doubt, would be a “colossal failure” for the Kremlin.

This goes beyond Putin’s personal approval rating; according to Kryshtanovskaya, this would lead to citizens becoming discontented with the state’s policies and disenchanted with the government and its leaders – what the author labels as a “geopolitical failure for Russia.”

The Russian media have noted that the notorious “Kremlin political consultants” have done their best to make this outcome true.

As in Chechnya, Russia displays an inflexible stance, an inability to accept outcomes other than the planned outcomes for Ukraine and is disrespectful for opinions of Ukrainian citizens. “This kind of behavior is called fundamentalism. We’re prepared to do a great deal to achieve our goals; but there aren’t many options left,” Olga Kryshtanovskaya notes.

Meanwhile, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, there was more to Yulia Timoshenko’s promise of being ready to spread the “orange mood” to Russia than a natural eagerness to boast.

Reports in the electronic media indicate the appearance in Russia of branches of Pora: Russian supporters have already formed Red Pora, Russian Pora and Orange Moscow. Moscow liberals admit, however, that consultations with Ukrainian revolutionaries are already under way, while groups from the youth wings of Yabloko and URF members participated in protests on Independence Square.

At the same time Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that Pora activists themselves learned their skills from the Otpor organization in Serbia and the Kmara Enough! organization in Georgia.

“The Ukrainian revolution seriously resembles the Georgian revolution, which, in its turn, resembles the Yugoslavian one. It seems the post-socialistic world has again entered the era of velvet revolutions. The next presidential elections in the CIS are supposed to take place in Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan,” says Vlast.

In the opinion of the magazine, the “Chestnut revolution” of Kiev will be followed by the “Vine revolution” (Moldova), “Poppy revolution” (Kyrgyzstan) and “Tulip revolution” (Kazakhstan).

“Russia has been besieged. The “arc of instability” has approached Russia. There are NATO troops and shaky regimes in Central Asia. The Caucasus where tension is high indeed is ready to go to war on everyone and particularly on Moscow. There are NATO troops in the Baltic states,” gloomily concludes Zavtra, a newspaper of the left-radical opposition.

In the opinion of the newspaper, the elections in Ukraine “is the last element in geopolitical preparations for an attack against the Kremlin.” Techniques tested in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine have been recognized most efficient “at the backstage,” says Zavtra.

“Sure, mobs and pressure from abroad cannot be relied upon to bring about a coup in a country with a strong regime like Belarus; but Russia is different.” According to the newspaper, Russia is as much resembling a colossus: “just shove and it will go to pieces.” Since “Russia has more discrepancies than Ukraine, the knots of conflicts in the social, ethnic, confessional and economic spheres, would suffice for ten states like Ukraine.”

The preconditions of the upcoming collapse are ultimately clear to the left. First of all, this includes mounting social tension (as a consequence of soaring prices of bare necessities soaring, replacement of social benefits with a pittance of sums, reforms in the sphere of communal services). “Add here the forthcoming absence of central heating in cities this winter and the population’s hatred towards state officials of all levels. That means demonstrations in the streets for just about anything that will do away with the hateful bureaucracy,” says the newspaper. Just like in Ukraine.

Caucasus is the second significant precondition: “Pro-Moscow regimes in the Caucasus are barely holding up… We learned this summer that guerrillas can easily overrun Grozny and Nazran because they have the support of the people in Chechnya and Ingushetia.”

According to the newspaper, thousands of locals would take up arms, given half a chance.

Moreover, a script from the left-radical opposition, at zero hour, the entire Caucasus goes up in flames: from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. The Russian military is in a difficult situation and will be forced to fall back to Rostov and Krasnodar, abandoning tanks, helicopters and encircled colleagues en route. The reputation of the authorities and approval ratings will be swept away.

The regional elites won’t stay apart from the conflict in case it occurs; for a while they’ve been deprived of freedom to act as under Yeltsin and, since the new year – the opportunity to control governors. They are supposed to realize their defeat to the central authorities and their complete feebleness by spring.

At any rate, oracles Zavtra, in case of mass unrest in big cities, primarily in Moscow, “nobody will come to protect Putin in the square, but for those taken by buses by trade unions.”

On the contrary, in this case (and support of the West) mobs might appear in the streets and “scream for resignation of Putin, who has driven the country to a complete collapse, disgrace and poverty.” The mobs will lay siege to the Kremlin and other control points, the newspaper says.

“And then we will see in Moscow what we have already seen in Kiev,” promises Zavtra.

The events in Ukraine have actually become the topic for each statement at the Civil Congress, held in Moscow on December 12, says Kommersant.

As it turned out, members of various trends of the opposition interpret the experience of Ukraine differently (participating in the Civil Congress were representatives of Yabloko, the Free Choice 2008 Committee, Our Choice Party led by Irina Khakamada and even the Communist Party). “One thing was evident: they were all envious,” reporter Valery Panyushkin of Kommersant specified.

Leading political consultant Georgy Satarov said at the Congress that mass street protests might be arranged in Moscow, as in Kiev, but this is senseless since “on Independence Square a part of elite is using the people to strip another part of the elite of the power.”

Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of Yabloko disagreed Satarov: “This power won’t reckon with us until we learn how to take masses into the streets.”

The debating then developed in the framework outlined by Satarov and Mitrokhin, says Kommersant: “are the authorities must be threatened with potential street protests and convinced into a dialog with potential street activists, or the street actions must be arranged first, as a result of which the authorities will agree to negotiate?”

The topic of the dispute proves unavailability of the revolutionary enthusiasm – at any rate, among the opposition leaders.

However, fears were expressed that the authorities might suspect them of superfluous passionarity.

As Sergei Kovalev stated at the Congress, “no orange revolution is possible in Russia, but the irrational fear of an orange revolution might prevail over the common sense among the authorities and lead to repressions.”

Therefore, it is required to form civil society: “This is long and hopeless work to which the human rights organizations are accustomed.” Irina Khakamada, leader of Our Choice, proved to be supporter of evolution, rather than a revolution; she proposed to cease the dialog with the authorities and try to explain the people how they are being deceived. And, enlisting the support of enlightened mobs it will be possible to resume the dialog with the power from other positions following this “long and hopeless work.”

Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky also offered his option of a “long and hopeless work;” as the practice shows, its goal – unification of the opposition – is hardly achievable.

In short, the matter at the Congress didn’t concern reparations for a revolution. Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov promised that a Committee of Actions would be set up in the near future to take up creation of a unified party for the opposition and organization of street actions. However, as noted by Kommersant, no Committee of Actions was outlined on the session agenda: “Apparently, this committee was meeting in secret.”

The events in Ukraine have split the political class in Russia, Andrei Ryabov concludes in Gazeta.

Some keep saying that the “orange events” will soon get over to Russia, since the causes which had generated them, exist in Russia to the same scale as in Ukraine.

On the contrary, others are saying that no ground exists in Russia for similar upheavals: “civil society is weak and is unwilling to become an independent political player.” However, the “successful layers” are more numerous in Russia than in Ukraine and they feel quite comfortable.”

No coalition of the dissatisfied, which would include various layers of the population, will be formed in the immediate future. On the contrary, according to Ryabov, the power elite will continue tightening the screws “to secure the country from various revolutionary experiments.”

However, there’s another method to avoid a potential rise in the indignation – democratization of Russia. According to Ryabov, the Russian leaders are nether economically, nor politically concerned for that. The Kremlin has long ago concluded that it is enough to observe a semblance of democracy, in order not to irritate the West.

A logical conclusion suggests itself: that the events will develop “under a certain medium script which will last endlessly – a step to meet supporters of the hard line and then an attempt to meet liberals halfway.”

Similar scripts have been repeatedly used in the history of Russia “when implementation of a certain type of policy threatened negative aftermaths to the tops,” but they rejected the “alternative course.”

To all appearances, the new “era of unrest” when neither the top nor the bottom, neither the opposition nor the Kremlin have yet determined, won’t end any time soon in Russia (unlike the the holiday of November 4, bestowed from above). It is contrary to Chechnya, where every person knows who the enemy is, and everybody wants to become president.

Once again, we have to admit that Russia is obviously not Ukraine. We can only hope that it never turns into Chechnya.