Staunton, August 6 – Twenty-five years ago this week, the forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria drove out the Russian occupiers of their country’s capita and forced Moscow to come to the negotiating table and sign the Khasavyurt Accords 24 days later, an agreement that had Moscow lived up to it would have opened the way to Chechen independence.
The Russian military defeat and this agreement ended the first post-Soviet Chechen war, but they were such a shock to the self-image of Russians that demands for reversing them spread and helped power Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in 1999 with the FSB-faked apartment bombings and the vastly more brutal deployment of military power against the Chechens.
As Moscow commentator Aleksandr Skobov pointed out some years ago, “the first Chechen war was stopped not by the protests of society but by the universal shock from the unexpected defeat of a major occupation grouping in Grozny by the units of Besayev and Gelayev (graniru.org/blogs/free/entries/221287.html).
But some Russians did protest against the actions of the imperial forces both in the first Chechen war and in the second. Among the most prominent was longstanding Russian human rights campaigner Sergey Kovalyev who died this week just after this anniversary (graniru.org/War/Chechnya/m.81181.html).
During the first post-Soviet Chechen war, Kovalyev criticized Yeltsin’s use of unbridled force against the civilian population of Chechnya and event travelled to Grozny to try to help find a way out of the disaster. He offered himself as a substitute hostage at Budennovsk in exchange for the hostages that Shamil Basayev had taken.
As Kavkaz-Uzel and other outlets have noted, the human rights campaigner “spoke out categorically against the continuation of the war in January 1996 and in protest resigned from his position as chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Commission in Russia. After that, he never agreed to serve in any government position” (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/366875/).
After Putin restarted the war in 1999-2000, Kovalyev was one of the most consistent critics of the incoming Kremlin leader’s policies, seeing what he was doing in Chechnya as opening the way to a return to the worst kinds of repression of the Soviet past and a betrayal of all that many Russians thought they had achieved in 1991.
Not surprisingly, the Russian government and the Russian media have been silent about this anniversary and also about the heroic actions of people like Kovalyev. They would like all this kind of resistance, including its triumphs as well as its defeats, to be forgotten. But as they say in another context, “no one and nothing will be forgotten.”