Saturday, April 27, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘Chechenization’ Has Produced a Unique State in North Caucasus, Russian ICG Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, head of the Russian office of the International Crisis Group, says that “Chechenization” has led to a unique state in the North Caucasus, one that has largely ended the egalitarianism of traditional Chechen society and combined Islam and nationalism in unprecedented ways.

            “Chechenization,” the policy launched by Vladimir Putin in 2003 in which Moscow ceded control of key force structures to the Chechen leadership in an attempt to end the insurgecy, has transformed the nature of the Chechen state and Chechen society, according to Sokiryanskaya (

            One of the few outsiders who has been able to study the situation in Chechnya on the ground in recent years, Sokiryanskaya says “a completely special political regime has been formed in Chechnya,” on where “the laws of the Russian Federation operate, let us say, far from completely.”

            As a result of “Chechenization,” “there is a new legal space, a new political space and certain new social realities,” although she says that she would not “call these processes a manifestation of a new autonomous cultural space” because the Chechens “have always had their cultural and historical characteristics” which “did not arise today.”

            Some have suggested that “Chechenization” represents a form of “’soft exit’” by Chechnya from the Russian Federation, but Sokiryanskaya argues that the situation is “in fact much more complicated.”

            Under the new system, “there are people for whom the laws do not apply. There is a certain category of crimes which cannot be investigated by investigative organs located in Chechnya,” she says.  “This regime did not arise just yesterday, it was laid down from the start of the second Chechen war” when federal forces established control over most of the republic.

            But the system was institutionalized in 2003 when Putin began the process of “Chechenization, when the chief functions for administering the republic and the law enforcement tasks were placed on the shoulders of pro-federal Chechen groups,” the strongest of which was Kadyrov’s group, which then established “a harsh authoritarian” regime.

            The law enforcement organs of the republic are “subordinate de facto” to Kadyrov, “the only one of the leaders of the republic who controls the force structures on his territory.” Thus, “is being realized a unique project of Chechen statehood within Russia.”
            “This project,” Sokiryanskaya continues, “is based on a special ideology which [Kadyrov] was able to formulate that is based on a synthesis of Chechen nationalism and traditional Islam,” two ideologies which are usually at odds and whose competition is responsible for many tensions in the North Caucasus.

            But Kadyrov’s innovations are not limited to that. “In Chechen society, there had always existed a harsh age and teip hierarchy. This was a typical ‘mountaineer democracy’ in which a culture of eastern-style leadership with a despotice but justice master of life could not arise.” But now with Kadyrov, a “Chechenbashi” has appeared.

            Kadyrov actively appeals to traditional Chechen culture or more precisely to “certain external symbols of this culture” such a marriage costumes, the ICG expert says, but his approach has “destroyed the system of relations typical for Chechens.” Chechen society, always egalitarian without an aristocracy, is now subordinate to a single center with a monopoly of force.

            “The regime which exists in Chechnya now,” Sokiryanskaya adds, “did not arise naturally. It was imported the outside and established by the Kremlin.” Not completely rooted in society, it nonetheless has seen the formation of a new and different elite, which of course “would not be in power if the situation had been defined by Chechen society itself.”

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