Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russians Can Escape Chechen Yoke Only by Dispensing with the North Caucasus and Putin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 22 – Russia today is living under a Chechen yoke much as Muscovy once did under a Mongol one, and Russians can hope for a better future only if they allow the North Caucasus to go its own way and dispense with the services of Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin leader built his own regime by helping the Chechens to impose this new yoke on Russia.

            Those are just some of the reflections sparked by Andrey Piontkovsky’s brilliant new article entitled “Russia within Chechnya,” one that deserves the broadest possible attention among Russians and by all who care about the future of the peoples of that country and Eurasia more generally (svoboda.org/content/article/25142628.html).

                Piontkovsky begins his article with a discussion of the latest trial of those accused of killing the pioneering Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.  He suggests that whether those charged are found guilty is “secondary” to the issue of “the relationship of Chechen society and the Chechen ethnos to Politkovskaya and her murderers.”

            For many, including the Russian commentator, Politkovskaya was sainted because she reported about the crimes of war on both the Russian and the Chechen side of the conflict rather than being as most have been cheerleaders for one or the other. But that did not save her; indeed, it may even help to explain why she was killed.

            The brutality of the Russian forces in Chechnya for many Chechens justified the brutality of their response, but most important, this combination meant and means, Piontkovsky argues, that Chechens grew to hate Russians to such an extent that they did not distinguish between people like Politkovskaya and those like Putin.

            “The Chechens killed Anna,” he says, because of that. And that fact, perhaps more than anything else, shows that “Russia has lost the war in Chechnya and lost it forever,” given that “the overwhelming majority of Chechens including those forced to cooperate with [Russians] ‘feels toward Russians something much more than simply hatred.”

            Having recognized that Russia has lost this war, Piontkovsky continues, Putin chosethe lesser evil and began to pay tribute to Ramzan Kadyrov and his military in exchange for declarations of loyalty to the Kremlin and what amounts to “personal union with Putin” rather than trying to continue “the bloody war” to a victorious conclusion.

            But while this exchange was going on between the corrupt structures in Moscow and the North Caucasus capitals, Islamist terrorists spread their influence across the entire region, and that in turn had the effect of transforming the “regional conflict” in the North Caucasus into “an existential problem for the Russian Federation.”

            This problem involves not just Islamist radicalism or migrant workers, he says. “In the Caucasus knot are tied up all the mistakes, failures and crimes of the authorities of post-communist Russia in the sphere of security, economics, nationality policy, and federal arrangements.”

What was Russia fighting for in Chechnya? Nominally, “for the territorial integrity of Russia. For Chechnya within Russia. But territorial integrity is not a scorched earth without people. We fought to show the Chechens that they are citizens of Russia,” but by our actions, “we constantly showed the Chechens just the reverse of what we proclaimed.”

Under Putin, Russians “showed them by all their behavior that they are not citizens of Russia, that for a long time already we do not consider themselves citizens of Russia or their cities and villages Russian ones.” Moreover, Russians “convincingly showed this not only to the Chechens but to all Caucasians.”  And they learned these obvious “lessons.”

Few in Russia appreciated the full extent of this tragedy, and the Kremliln continued to pay tribute in exchange for loyalty and to allow North Caucasian young people either to go into the mountains to fight Russia or to come into Russian cities where they came into contact with a generation of young Russians who had grown up as losers after 20 years of economic reform. 

Today, these two armies of “desperados, deceived and robbed in essence by one and the same group of people are thrown against one another. “ In that conflict, it is obvious that “mentally,” there is an insurmountable gulf between the ethnic Russian young and the Caucasian “which from youth has grown up under conditions of a cruel war.”

The young Russians behave badly, but the young Caucasians do so as well, feeling themselves to be victors because “in their imagination, Moscow lost the Caucasus war” and they are thus entitled to act the way they do.  What is even worse, neither the Russian young nor the Caucasus young have any use for the “false and corrupt” Muscovite authorities.

So far, neither the Caucasus nor Russia is “prepared for a formal separation.”  The Kremlin continues to live with “its phantom imperial illusions of road ‘zones of privileged interests’ far beyond the borders of Russia.” And the local leaders, “beginning with Kadyrov,” have no desire to give up Moscow’s “tribute” to them.

The Islamists don’t want to have a separation either, Piontkovsky says. “They dream about a Khalifate which would include a large part of the Russian Federation. ‘We are Russian citizens, this is our land, and we will never leave’” they declare again and again “in the cities of central Russia.”

As a result, “the post-imperial campaign for ‘Chechnya within Russia’” by a cruel shift of fate has turned into “the nightmare of ‘Russia within Chechnya.’” But, according to Piontkovsky, such a humiliating situation of “hypocritical self-deception cannot continue forever” -- even though there is no easy way out.

What any settlement must involve, Piontkovsky says, is the recognition of “a Chechen state independent of Russia or more to the point a Russian state independent of Chechnya.”  That won’t happen, however, as long as the “bandit diarchy” of Putin and Kadyrov continues to define the relationship.

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