Tuesday, January 22, 2019

‘Chechnya was in State of War Twice’ – Grozny’s Dangerous Argument about Gas Debt

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 -- Gazprom has appealed a Chechen court’s decision to forgive the massive debts Chechens owe for communal services, and Moscow officials, except for the Kremlin which waffled, have signaled that they are on the gas giant’s side, especially as other regions are demanding equal treatment.

            Because other regions are arguing that they deserve similar treatment and because Moscow appears set to order Grozny to reverse course, the Chechen government has been compelled to make an argument as to why it is a special case and should be allowed to do what it has done (kavkazr.com/a/chechnya-gas-pay-money-war/29724110.html).

            That argument, rooted as it is in the fact that over the last quarter century, Chechnya has been the site of military conflict, is potentially dangerous not only between Chechnya and the rest of the country but within Chechnya itself because it implies that the Chechens won something by resisting Russian aggression.

            Dzhambulat Umarov, Chechen minister for nationality policy, the media and information said that the republic has the right to right off “hopeless debts” because it has lived through two military campaigns. It is not claiming any “super rights relative to the federal center.” But rather asserting a position which “corresponds to the interests of the Chechen people.”

            If other regions can make similar arguments, Umarov suggested, they should do so, rather than being critical of what Grozny is doing.  Needless to say, neither Gazprom nor the Russian government nor many Russians find that Chechen argument persuasive. Instead, the first two view it as unwarranted special pleading and the second as benefitting from resisting Moscow.

            Russian popular opposition to Chechnya’s move has been so unreservedly hostile that Chechens in turn have been infuriated, arguing that Russians would be saying something very different if the region in question were an ethnic Russian one rather than Chechen (kavkazr.com/a/dudaev-kak-vyyasnyaetsya-hotel-nam-dobra/29721982.html).

            That will only further deepen the divide between Chechens, on the one hand, and all the other peoples currently within the borders of the Russian Federation, on the other – something that will ensure Chechens will be inclined to back Ramzan Kadyrov as their chief defense against those many of them describe simply as “the Russians.”

                But this standoff may have another and even more dangerous consequence, leading Russians to reflect on how and why they are treated as they are while Chechens are treated differently.  In the words of Russian commentator Viktor Shenderovich, it turns out that Dzhokhar Dudayev and the Chechens “wanted to do good for us” by fighting for independence (facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=2074369389298460&id=100001762579664).

            Now, however, he continues in a Facebook post, “it’s time for Russia to begin a war to separate itself from Chechnya.”

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