Staunton, September 30 – Thirty years ago today, Vladimir Putin sent tanks into Chechnya and launched the second Chechen war, a conflict few talk about anymore. But overcoming the results of that war will be even more difficult for Russia after Putin than making peace with Ukraine, according to Konstantin Eggert.
Few Russians talk about the second Chechen war or even the first for understandable reasons, the Russian commentator for Deutsche Welle says. They have gone through so many chances so fast that they have adopted “a short memory” as a defense mechanism (dw.com/ru/комментарий-забытая-но-незаконченная-война-в-чечне/a-50620204).
But the second Chechen war, Eggert continues, “undoubtedly is the most important mile post in the contemporary history of Russia. And not only because it was precisely the event that transformed Vladimir Putin, a hitherto unknown FSB chief into almost the single ruler of Russia.”
It also enjoys that status because it was the second Chechen that laid down “the beginning of neo-Soviet imperial policy of the Kremlin which remains one of the foundations of the regime founded by Putin.” According to Eggert, “today’s ‘we can repeat it!’ is a direct extension of the Second Chechen.”
Russians of course wanted stability and predictability after the revolutionary years between 1989 and 1999, he says, but their desire for a strong hand does not explain what happened, although it is entirely possible that such attitudes made the second Chechen war “inevitable.”
But even if that is true, the consequences of that war have hardly been those people expected 20 years ago, the commentator continues. It wasn’t simply “’a short victorious war.’” And it arrived at an armistice only with Moscow becoming the chief subsidizer and supporter of the Kadyrov clan.
“According to official data,” Moscow provides “more than 80 percent” of Chechnya’s budget. Grozny looks better than most regional capitals elsewhere in Russia, and its elite is far richer, hardly what one might have expected if the Second Chechen was all about highlighting Russian power and Chechen defeat.
Moreover, “Ramzan Kadyrov, being nominally the head of one of almost 80 Russian regions in fact looks like the second most influential politician in the country to whom no one can give an order except Putin. His opponents have either been expelled or they are dead,” Eggert says.
“Under the pretext of guaranteeing security during that war, the Putin regime over the course of several years eliminated all the structures which guaranteed democracy and the supremacy of law in the country and of those few forces and influence which they had from the courts to the regional and central officials to the media.
According to Eggert, “the children and even grandchildren of those who 20 years ago were glad that ‘the empire had struck back’ in Chechnya, today are reaping the fruits of that delight, even though many of them may not think about that connection or even guess about this linkage.”
All this heritage of the second Chechen war is “the problem that will be almost the most difficult of all for a new Russian democratic power too deal with when it arrives on the historical scene. Even ending the war with Ukraine,” the commentator says, in his opinion, “will be simpler.”
That is all the more the case for another reason as well. Up to now, the Russian opposition prefers to remain silent about that war. “And this silence is the best indicator of how long and painful it will be to overcome it.”