POST-SOVIET CHECHNIA: SOCIOPOLITICAL REALITIES
Musa Basnukaev, Ph.D. (Econ.), senior research associate, Center for Socioeconomic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Economics (Russian Federation)
On 1 November, 1991, D. Dudaev issued an edict, On State Sovereignty of the Chechen Republic, while as early as 8 November, RF President Boris Yeltsin introduced a state of emergency in the Chechen-Ingush Republic. Prior to that, however, on 15 September, a session of the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush Republic had passed a resolution on its self-dissolution. This and presidential and parliamentary elections in the Chechen Republic would have been “valid” had new branches of government recognized the Russian Constitution. All of that taken together provoked Russian-Chechen confrontation, which continues to date.
Pathways to State Independence
When crisis broke out Russia and Chechnia were still part of the Soviet Union. Declarations, adopted in 1990, On State Sovereignty of the R.S.F.S.R. (12 June) and On State Sovereignty of the Chechen-Ingush Republic (27 November), came as a turning point in the life of Russian and Chechen societies. They in effect triggered the evolution of new state formations. Subsequently, a less-than-lawful path to political independence emerged with Russia ignoring Union laws and with Chechnia (at the time the Chechen-Ingush Republic) ignoring Russian laws.
Moreover, in a bid to assert itself as a newly independent democratic state, Russia refused to reckon with the interests of national/state formations. The laws, adopted in the same year, 1990 — On Basic Principles of Economic Relations between the U.S.S.R. and Union and Autonomous Republics (10 April) and On Division of Powers between the U.S.S.R. and Federation Components (26 April) as well as the draft Union Treaty, the Chechen-Ingush Republic being a signatory, among other Union republics — effectively guaranteed it the legal status as part of a single Union. “Clearly, the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 along the lines of its former Union republics has created considerable anxiety among Russian elites that Russia itself is similarly vulnerable to disintegration, despite the very fundamental differences in the ethnopolitical structure and policies of the two systems.”1
Taking advantage of the crackdown on the State Committee for the State of Emergency (GKChP), which staged a coup in August 1991, the Russian leadership accelerated the formation, and recognition, of a new state. For its part, the United Congress of the Chechen People took advantage of the “restraint” exercised by the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush Republic in supporting “democratic” Russia to come to power. The Congress, supported by Russia’s “democratic” ruling authority, began to “dismantle” the Soviet system in the republic. The “constitution” of the Russian state defied the results of a Union-wide referendum while Chechnia’s independence was proclaimed without any referendum at all: Its residents had not participated in any RF referendum nor did they vote on seceding from Russia.
The evolutionary, i.e., lawful, path of forming new states, through the signing of a Union treaty, was doomed by the inaction of the Russian authorities. The historic chance for Chechnia as a state to become a component of a new Union state, on a par with Russia, was effectively destroyed. Meanwhile, the revolutionary, i.e., unlawful, path, taken by Russia, not simply led to disintegration of the U.S.S.R. and emergence of newly independent countries in its place, but also deprived Chechnia of the right to become a full-fledged component of a new Union state. The Belovezhskaia Forest (Minsk) accords brought about political/legal problems in Russian-Chechen relations, which could have been resolved through a Union treaty.
The revolutionary aspirations of the new Chechen authorities were no less ambitious than those of the Russian authorities. Their objective was not simply to retain power, but also to create a state outside of Russia. Apparently, the ultimate priority at that historical period was Chechnia’s status as a full-fledged component of a new state formation, but not as part of Russia. Yet, unlike Russia’s, Chechnia’s legitimacy was called into question. That was the main argument cited by the Russian side in the controversy over the legality of Grozniy’s actions. Moscow took a hard line on the legitimacy of the Chechen authority because of its position on the status of Chechnia, predicating the legitimacy, and democratic character, of the 1991 elections on those circumstances. That line was followed up later on in Russia’s stand on the 1997 presidential and parliamentary elections in the republic.
Considering the complexity of the post-coup situation, the 1991 elections could have been brought into challenge, but one could not have doubted the sincerity of the Chechen people’s aspiration to create an independent state. Even so, the republic’s new leadership sought for ways and methods of translating those aspirations into reality outside the legal area. Neither did the Russian leadership invoke the power of the law in addressing outstanding problems. On its path to independence, Russia itself defied Union laws, setting an “example” for other ethnic republics. That, however, did not mean that Chechnia should have renounced such a democratic procedure as referendum and entered into open confrontation with the Russian leadership.
Having declared its secession from the Soviet Union, Russia had every reason to expect the world community to recognize its independence since the omnipotent Union Center had already ceased to exist. Following the August 1991 events, the Center was in effect overwhelmed by Russia’s “democratic wave.” Meanwhile, Chechnia’s secession from Russia did not at all mean disintegration of the Russian state and recognition of Chechnia’s independence by the international community. Quite the contrary, that coincided with the strengthening of the Russian central authority and the intention by the “civilized” world to support “democratic” Russia. At that historical period, Russia was allowed to use “democracy” at its own discretion. Chechnia, on the other hand, did not have enough “democracy” or “democratic” support or experience in using “democracy.”
Thus, despite Russia’s unlawful path to state independence, Chechnia’s lawful path did not at all guarantee recognition of its political independence. The erroneous perception that “sovereignty or independence for Chechnia would set off a chain reaction of separatist claims and result in the disintegration of the Russian Federation itself” as well as disregard for the fact that Chechnia was indeed an exception and “its assertion of sovereignty reflects a combination of circumstances—historical, cultural, ethnopolitical, and geopolitical—which are unique to Chechnia and unlikely to recur elsewhere,”2 in fact brought about the Russian-Chechen conflict that has yet to be resolved.
Political Evolution: From Revolution to War
The events unfolding in Chechnia in the late 1980s-early 1990s were triggered by the sociopolitical conditions created by the Soviet system throughout the preceding period. Invigoration of political life made for an open discussion and criticism of subjects that had until then been off-limits: the concept of “Chechnia’s voluntary accession to Russia,” deportation and rehabilitation of peoples that suffered from Soviet-era reprisals, and issues of social and ethnic justice. The situation in the republic was greatly affected by public protests against the building of environmentally hazardous production facilities, which gradually acquired a political character. Subsequently, environmental campaigning developed into big-time politics, which in effect ruined the environment.
Changes in the political sphere precipitated liberalization of the power establishment, which, for its part, sought to address acute sociopolitical and economic problems in an effort to stabilize the situation. For all the complexity and ambivalence of the situation, following a tense and prolonged debate, as mentioned earlier, on 27 November, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the autonomous republic adopted the Declaration on State Sovereignty of the Chechen-Ingush Republic, which lived up to public expectations and strengthened the credibility of the ruling authority. Yet that was the end of the evolutionary path in reforming the republic’s sociopolitical organization.
Subsequent attempts by the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush Republic to play on contradictions between the Union and the Russian leadership weakened the ruling authority and were not conducive to consolidation of the declared status. That was taken advantage of to the max by the republic’s public-political movements that had opted for a revolutionary path to power. In the struggle between “evolutionists” and “revolutionaries,” growing contradictions between the Union and Russian leadership played a fateful role. The conflict between the Union (“evolutionists”) and the new Russian (“revolutionaries”) center projected on to the autonomy’s political life. The Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush Republic ended up in a no-win situation following the August 1991 events. The GKChP expedited the victory of “revolutionaries” both in Russia and in Chechnia. In that respect, “democratic” Russia and “revolutionary” Chechnia proved to be similar not only ideologically but also in their objectives and methods of attaining them.
The republic’s residents backed the revolutionary push. Decisive action to revise the country’s political system gave cause to suppose that Chechnia also would be in a position to deal with matters of its state organization single-handedly. The political events that brought about not only a change of government but also changes in the republic’s public life, were nothing short of a revolution. In response to the R.S.F.S.R. president’s edict On Introduction of a State of Emergency in the Chechen-Ingush Republic, its citizens came down on the side of the Chechen revolution, in effect legitimizing Chechnia’s new ruling authority.
As of that moment, the conflict in Chechnia ceased to exist as merely a tool of coming to power. The struggle took on an ideological dimension: The change of ruling authority meant in effect a change of the republic’s status. Having supported the victory of the Chechen revolution, Russian “democrats” ended up with adversaries in the emerging Russian-Chechen conflict, which continues to date. After the revolutions in Moscow and in Grozniy (in the absence of their former opponents), both sides headed for confrontation.
While accepting the Chechen revolution, the Russian leadership refused to recognize the right of its leaders to legitimate authority. On 2 November, 1991—the day when the Congress of Russian Deputies elected Ruslan Khasbulatov speaker of the Supreme Soviet—a resolution was adopted, declaring the 27 October, 1991 presidential and parliamentary elections in Chechnia unlawful and the acts issued by the Chechen president and parliament, invalid. Nonetheless, the new Chechen leadership could not be less concerned about Russia’s recognition of the elections: It was engrossed in self-admiration, oblivious to the obligations arising from the mandate issued by the republic’s people.
By a quirk, one top-level member of the Russian ruling establishment was a Chechen—R. Khasbulatov, who was strongly opposed to Chechnia’s secession from Russia. It is still unknown what was behind his efforts—Russian state interests or selfish interests — but they certainly put Russian-Chechen confrontation on a higher level. The speaker’s subsequent activity, however, led him to fall by the wayside, to be left untapped by either Russian or Chechen “big-time” politics.
On 12 March, 1992, the parliament of the Chechen Republic voted in the Constitution of a sovereign, democratic state based on the rule of law, while on 4 June of the same year the R.S.F.S.R. Law on Formation of the Ingush Republic as Part of Russia was adopted. A little over half a year later, on 10 December, it was decided to dissolve the Chechen-Ingush Republic. Despite the fact that Chechnia effectively ended up outside the jurisdiction of the newly independent Russian state, Russia always considered it to be its component. An attempt to resolve the problem by signing a Federation Treaty (31 March, 1992) produced no result. Participation by the Chechen leadership in the act not only would have confirmed Chechnia’s status as a component of Russia, but the Russian authorities would also have thus demonstrated their recognition of the legitimacy of the republic and its leaders.
The Chechen authorities should take much of the credit (of course given the aspiration of the Ingush people) for the establishment of the Republic of Ingushetia as an independent ethnic-state formation. During that period, Russia not only was not in a position to control Chechnia, but for a long time was unable to “accept” Ingushetia as part of its own territory, as evidenced by the Ossetian-Ingush conflict (the fall of 1992).
Neither did the adoption of a new Constitution in Russia facilitate the adjustment of political-legal relations with Chechnia, which did not hold a referendum on the Russian Constitution. In the meantime, Chechnia once again waived its right (as a republic that had not signed the Federation Treaty) to normalize its relations with the Russian federal center. For its part, Russia continued to be affected by an “inferiority complex” over Chechnia’s refusal to join it, still seeing the republic as its rightful component. Neither was the republic’s leadership interested to elicit the opinion of the Chechen people on the issue of statehood.
Nonetheless, despite the conflict of laws and declarations, both sides also took action pointing to the virtual recognition of their legitimacy, on each side. The 1992 intergovernmental agreement on the withdrawal of Russian troops and transfer of a part of the military arsenal to the Chechen side could be seen as Russia’s de facto recognition of an independent Chechen Republic. Such accords and moves strengthened the confidence of the Chechen authorities that they had chosen the right path to independence.
Be that as it may, during the period in between the revolution and the war (1991-1994), both sides looked for ways to maintain relations. In March and May 1992, Russian and Chechen experts met to work out corresponding recommendations. The experts’ briefs, however, did little to advance the negotiating process. The Chechen authorities sought to upgrade the status of negotiators—an aspiration that was not matched on the Russian side.
First of all, the negotiating process was strongly affected by the involved internal political situation both in Russia and in Chechnia. Russia all the time had “objective” reasons preventing it from tackling the issue of Chechnia in earnest. Second, the Russian “democratic” authorities were swayed by the idea of resolving the Chechen problem through the use of force, but the circumstances were not right for that. Thus, the lifting of the state of emergency (the first attempt to use pressure) was followed by a period of “indifference” to Grozniy. Having emerged as a successor to the Soviet Union and an independent entity of international law, the Russian Federation engaged in dividing up Union assets. For its part, Chechnia, having proclaimed independence, but with no effective levers to enlist international support, went ahead with nationalizing the part of the FSU property that remained on its territory. “The Russian federal center accepts the rather ambiguous position of D. Dudaev, combining anti-Russian rhetoric with the absence of concrete moves on the international arena toward political independence and statements condemning the disintegration of the Soviet Union and swearing loyalty to the idea of a single Soviet state.”3
Second, Russian-Chechen consultations had no follow-up owing to the complexity of the situation in light of the Ossetian-Ingush conflict. Having passed through North Ossetia’s Prigorodniy District and Ingush territory, Russian troops intended to move on to Chechnia. Presumably, it was a second attempt to use force to resolve the Chechen problem. At the time Russian and Chechen governmental/parliamentary delegations managed to reach agreement on disengagement of forces. Those developments went to show that the Russian authorities had not abandoned the idea of using force to settle the problem while the Chechen side had come to believe that it could uphold its sovereignty by force of arms.
Third, a Chechen settlement was impeded by Russia’s internal political crisis. A meeting of Russian and Chechen delegations (Grozniy, January 1993) gave hope that negotiations would continue. In political/legal terms, such negotiations (not consultations) with representatives of the Russian ruling authority were of fundamental importance to the Chechen side insofar as the republic’s power structures were recognized as full-fledged subjects of negotiations while the Chechen Republic was officially recognized by Russia as a subject of law. Nonetheless, the mounting confrontation between the executive and the legislative branches in Russia impeded continuation of the dialog.
From the spring to the fall of 1993 the political crisis in Russia grew exponentially, and the Russian leadership “forgot” about Chechnia. It has to be said that B. Yeltsin and D. Dudaev had similar ideas about methods of fighting the opposition (in that case, parliament). Thus, in April 1993, D. Dudaev announced the dissolution of the Chechen parliament and introduction of presidential rule by fiat, later, in June, dissolving the Grozniy City Assembly and canceling a referendum. For his part, the Russian leader, B. Yeltsin, in September of the same year, dissolved the country’s Supreme Soviet, and in October removed it from its premises by force.
The strengthening of the Moscow and the Grozniy regime and the weakening of the opposition made for not only a normalization of relations but also a breakthrough in negotiations. Following the Moscow events, including the use of force against the “White House,” one of the “Chechen” factors in Russian politics (i.e., R. Khasbulatov in the negotiating process) effectively disappeared. Even so, when a new Constitution was adopted in the Russian Federation and the internal political situation stabilized, B. Yeltsin, in his turn, became convinced that Chechnia could be pressured into taking the question of self-determination off the agenda under the threat of the use of force.
Russia’s new Constitution stated that the Chechen Republic is a part of the Russian Federation. In January 1994, the republic began calling itself the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. That was a primitive form of challenging Russia. This time around, breaking with “tradition” — amending the Constitution — the Russian authorities chose not to “edit” the name of its component. Terminological distinctions did not really matter since Russia had already placed a bet on the use of force in settling political disagreements with Chechnia. The RF military doctrine, adopted in November 1993, identified the country’s adversaries — among others, “illegal armed formations.” The term referred to Chechen citizens who were armed to a very large extent through Russian efforts.
Yet no one had an inkling of the protracted armed confrontation that would be brought about by forcible measures. “The Chechen crisis emerged and developed into a full-blown Russian-Chechen war as a result of a series of unlawful actions on the part of both the Chechen revolutionary leadership and the Russian authorities. Systematic violation by the Russian authorities of any laws in relations with Chechnia and the destruction of the constitutional order itself, which the introduction of troops to Chechnia was supposed to restore, is the main driving force behind the Chechen crisis.”4
Throughout 1994, many believed that a one-on-one meeting between B. Yeltsin and D. Dudaev would help avert the imminent threat of an armed conflict. The meeting could only have been scuttled by the RF Presidential Staff since there were no opponents to top-level negotiations within the Chechen leadership. D. Dudaev could afford not to coordinate the matter with the opposition. At the same time B. Yeltsin was bound by a State Duma resolution, adopted 25 March, 1993, On Political Settlement of Relations between Federal Bodies of State Power and the Authorities of the Chechen Republic, which ruled out any direct negotiations with D. Dudaev, predicating a treaty with Chechnia on elections in the republic, held under international supervision.
Although Russia repeatedly declared its intention to resolve the crisis peacefully and the president tasked the government with holding consultations with the Chechen side with a view to drafting a treaty with the Chechen Republic, Moscow was thoroughly preparing for war. A political opposition was being prepared in Chechnia with Russian special services forming armed groups there. Given high crime in Chechnia and the anti-Russian mood among its population, the activities by Russian authorities only further aggravated the explosive situation in the republic. In the summer of 1994, D. Dudaev cracked down on armed opposition elements that were making political demands as well as criminal groups that were in cahoots with the opposition.
Thus, 1994 was marked by contradictory, conflicting moves on the part of both Russian and Chechen authorities, ruling out the possibility of political agreement. Meanwhile, slowly but surely, a large-scale military campaign was being prepared as a means to resolve the issue of Chechnia’s political status. By the fall of that year, no one any longer believed in negotiations on the top level. Not even the danger of an imminent war could compel D. Dudaev and his supporters to look for compromise. Both sides headed for the first Russian-Chechen war.
The evolution of Chechen society was affected by an array of socioeconomic, political, military, and religious factors. The societal balance, ensured by the Soviet system of centralized administration, was beginning to unravel. Prior to the past decade, by far the most trying ordeal for the Chechens was the repression and deportation of 1944-1957. During that period consolidation of society played a positive role in preserving the nation’s “gene pool.” Declaration of a whole nationality as “enemy” was conducive to its integration and cohesion, strengthening the legal institutions of the Chechen ethnic community, which continue to perform social self-regulation functions to date.
Recent changes began at a period of considerable social differentiation, but were not as yet conspicuous. Property related stratification brought about social conflicts. The aspiration, in that context, to take advantage of one’s financial (social) status in the power struggle and redivision of property gave those conflicts a pronounced political coloring.
By the early 1990s—i.e., a period of revolutionary “upheavals”—Chechen society was using customary law, resolving conflicts that arose between representatives of individual clans on the familial/domestic level. In seeking their objectives, the authorities also used the institution of elders, resorting to popular law since the attempts to eliminate the adats and Shari‘a law proved ineffectual.
Efforts to revive old customs and traditions, codify them into law, and apply them to state building given the republic’s uncertain political status, proved not only premature but even fatal to Chechen society. The early 1990s were punctuated by repeated attempts to hold teyp (clan) congresses and elect elders councils, artificially reviving the past. All sorts of meetings began to be used for purely political purposes despite the fact that over quite a long time (even by historical standards), legal institutions in Chechen society had operated only on the everyday, domestic level: clarification of ties of relationships, maintenance of the purity of conjugal/familial relations, and settlement of disputes or conflicts between individual members or groups of the community.
The lack of possibilities to apply customary law in state governance within the framework of the existing ethnic/territorial formation was highlighted as one of the main sources of social injustice. Given the situation that had evolved, creation of independent statehood was seen not only as a prerequisite to consolidation of Chechen society but also as a possibility of restoring national justice and social equality.
At the same time there were assertions to the effect that “a long chain of mistakes, ill-considered decisions, and even downright crimes related to covert arms, oil, and financial operations was the real reason behind a phenomenon known as Chechen separatism,” and that those “processes were not objectively predetermined.”5 Such assertions precipitated the division of society along political lines. It seems, however, that the period under consideration saw an accumulation of social, ethnic, and political problems, which ultimately brought about such phenomena as the “Chechen revolution” and “Chechen separatism,” further dividing society.
Those phenomena were not accidental or artificially induced from above. The key problem was that the ruling political elite was unable to keep the situation under control. Transfer of power occurred not in an evolutionary way, as was the case in other parts of the country, which compelled the republic’s party and economic nomenklatura to move to the “aggressive” opposition. Division of society was caused not by the content but form of achieving independence and building an independent statehood. In that context, a considerable part of the Chechen intellectual community preferred to wait-and-see, thus letting marginal elements into a dominant position in politics and the newly established power structures. “The situation in Chechnia was marked by a peculiar confluence of circumstances, including the weakness of local authorities, confusion in Moscow, the socio-demographic specifics of a semi-industrialized Checheno-Ingushetia, but most important, the memory of genocide.”6 In that situation, “revolutionaries” and “evolutionists,” in the power struggle, began to tear society apart.
The unwillingness of the old elite to reckon with new reality aggravated the social conflict. The “defeatist” mood among the Chechen intelligentsia was conducive to consolidation of the ruling authority relying on “revolutionary” methods of governance. The sole “flash” of social unity in that complex prewar period was observed at a time when Russia declared a state of emergency in the republic. At the time there was still a chance for the “old” political elite to integrate into new power structures. The fear of non-recognition “in perpetuity” by Russia deterred many representatives of Chechen society from getting involved in state administration, weakening its public institutions.
The early 1990s saw a vigorous revival of Islam in Chechnia. Nonetheless, along with positive trends, the process was marked by negative phenomena, causing serious divisions among Muslims. That had to do with, above all, the emergence of an entirely new religious/political movement in the life of Northern Caucasus Muslims: Wahhabism. The penetration of the new ideology had most negative implications for the Chechen Sunni Muslims who traditionally adhered to Sufi tariqats. Some basically different ideological and ritual specifics of Wahhabism and Sufism brought about serious conflicts, leading to bloodshed. The Wahhabi ideology was also responsible for violation of human rights. The Chechens’ traditional way of life, their customs and social relations were always based on adats (customary law), not on Shari‘a canons. Those contradictions were especially pronounced in the 1997-1999 period, which seriously impeded the process of state building, but was in no way a cause of a new military campaign. Conflict situations that regularly emerged in the process of reforming the polity facilitated the introduction of Shari‘a rule, but did little to resolve the dispute between the ruling authority and the opposition. Amid the postwar devastation and chaos, rising crime, and weak state institutions, society proved unprepared for such drastic changes.
The gap between the aspiration to artificially establish Shari‘a rule and reality only exacerbated the protracted sociopolitical conflict, giving it a religious coloring. At that period, the republic saw a rapid Islamization of politics, or politicization of Islam. “Just as Dudaev failed to establish effective state institutions in place of disintegrating Soviet institutions, in 1991 through 1994, likewise Maskhadov, in 1996-1998, proved unable to preserve and tap the spirit of cooperation and discipline that had emerged in the process of fighting against Russia.”7 Shari‘a rule, introduced by the republic’s president, was but an unsuccessful attempt to curb Wahhabi ideology.
The ongoing Russian military campaign pushed all matters related to Chechnia’s political/state organization to the sidelines. The crisis situation fully tapped society’s customs and traditions, enabling it to survive and endure in present-day conditions. That manifested itself in, above all, the fact that many Chechens gave refuge to relatives fleeing from other parts of the country, providing them with accommodation, food, and medical assistance. A substantial part of refugees, who were sheltered in Ingushetia and other regions, depend on financial and other assistance from their relatives, who have a stable source of income.
Ethnic identity, based on laws, customs and traditions, enabled the Chechens to avoid internecine strife and survive amid cold and famine in the course of military operations. Even so, presumably for the same reason, they failed to avert Russian-Chechen confrontation and military losses. Generally, on the borderline of the centuries, Chechen society was affected by a “loosening of moral/ethical values.” The Chechens “took a dim view of Shari‘a, Islamic laws, did not adopt European standards, and largely lost respect for their adats, ending up in moral limbo.”8
Contemporary Political Realities
In early 2001, against the backdrop of an ongoing guerrilla war, the Russian leadership made a number of decisions bearing directly on Chechnia. Thus, President V. Putin issued an edict on the executive power structure in the republic and on measures to fight terrorism in the Northern Caucasus. The government approved a federal program to rebuild the economy and the social sphere of the Chechen Republic in 2001, also deciding to downsize the Russian force contingent based there. All of that was supposed to show that the intensity of Russian-Chechen confrontation was diminishing and that a return to normalcy was quite possible.
The newly appointed commander of the antiterrorist operation in the Northern Caucasus said there were approximately 5,000 fighters in Chechnia at the time while the top military and political leadership cited a figure of 1,500 and 2,000. The discrepancy showed that Moscow did not know the situation on the ground while “serious” decisions on political, military and economic settlement were little more than a statement of good intentions or wishful thinking.
The edict on executive power structures in Chechnia establishes that the head of administration is the top official in the republic—i.e., the administration is a legitimate ruling authority. Nonetheless, all the shots are called by Russian generals. Under the edict, the government is formed by the head of administration, on the nomination of the prime minister, subject to coordination with the RF president’s envoy in the Southern Federal District. Considering that the head of administration may not appoint the prime minister, the top official has rather limited powers on personnel and other matters.
As is known, the head of administration wished also to hold the position of prime minister (or to appoint the prime minister). Nonetheless, the government is formed on the interethnic and ideological principle, which increases the likelihood of uncommitted ministers and other high-ranking officials being appointed who could not care less about either the republic’s economy or population. This procedure is little better than the so-called clannish principle of forming the administration.
There is good reason to say that formation of the government ended up in defeat for the head of administration, who sought to uphold his powers. The attempt to straighten out with the federal center the issue of who owns mineral resources—above all, oil—in Chechnia also produced no result. Under a Russian government resolution, the republic’s oil complex effectively passed under the control of the Rosneft oil company.
The decision to introduce the position of RF minister to coordinate the activity of federal agencies on Chechnia’s socioeconomic development has yet to have any effect on economic recovery and social security programs. Generally speaking, the practice of appointing political figures who have lost elections and failed to get public support in their respective regions as top officials on Chechnia—be it a federal minister or prime minister—looks dubious.
When the shots continue to be called by the military while the power structures do not obey the head of administration, he has to make do with various consultative bodies. This of course does not mean that the administration, being formally in control of federal budget funds disbursed to the republic, will be content with the position of observer and put up with a lack of real powers.
Many plans of the RF authorities remain on paper not because there are no effective levers to run the republic but because the conflict defies solution. Revision of the administration’s status (dropping the attribute “temporary”) does little to stabilize the situation. Say, the administration planned by May 2000 to reopen the Grozniy-Moscow railway line; by August, to open the air space to civilian flights, and by November, to move its headquarters from Gudermes to Grozniy. Almost two years have passed since but the first two points of the plan have yet to be carried out: It is impossible to ensure the security not only of ordinary citizens but even of the administration itself in the republic.
Apart from decisions made on the federal level, there is also the so-called plan to rebuild Chechnia, prepared by the republic’s administration and approved by the RF president. The plan in particular calls for a legal framework to be put in place to bring Chechnia back into Russia’s political/constitutional area. This approach to settling the Russian-Chechen conflict is in line with V. Putin’s position: “The Chechen president was elected in violation of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and we (Russia.—M.B.) do not see him as legitimate.”9
Nonetheless, the intention to rewrite the Constitution of the Chechen Republic and organize “elections” to state power bodies may not sit well with those who have already elected their president. In addition, one cannot ignore what other North Caucasian republics think. “Representatives of ethnic elites are pressing for a political solution—not one based on the use of force—namely, through a referendum on Chechnia’s political status.” Supposedly, under certain conditions, “a referendum can go ahead, in the course of which residents will state their opinion on the political status of Chechnia: independence, special status as part of Russia or as a republic/Federation component.”10
Oftentimes some statements by Russian political figures come into conflict with other statements they make. “Even if it is presumed that Maskhadov is president,” and “should someone be interested to negotiate with him, we would not stand in the way, but I do not think that this is a constructive solution,”11 says V. Putin, believing that the Chechen president’s term expires in January 2001. To be sure, the official refusal by the Russian leadership to conduct political negotiations with the legitimate Chechen authorities suits the republic’s present administration. It is interested in early “elections,” which will help it legalize its powers in the public eye, come January 2002. Yet the administration thus perforce recognizes the legitimacy of the warring side.
The aforementioned edicts and resolutions on Chechnia (for the umpteenth time, in the run-up to a PACE session) were merely an attempt by the Russian leadership to have the international community and the Russian public believe that a turning point has occurred in the settlement process. Although the declarations about the cessation of military operations (true, that was announced back in the spring of 2000), about the downsizing of the Russian military contingent in Chechnia, about placing the antiterrorist operation in the charge of special services, about the creation of the republic’s administration and government, about the adoption of programs to rebuild the republic’s economy, etc. may reassure those sympathizing with the Chechen people, they do not address the root cause of the conflict — viz., the political status of the Chechen Republic—and cannot therefore be accepted by the Chechen nation.
The conflict in Chechnia “is an asymmetrical conflict-not only in terms of relative size/strength/resources, but also in terms of how the conflict is perceived by the parties.”12 It is, therefore, vital to look for a model of settlement that would help avoid extreme judgments of actions by each party to the conflict.
Evolution of Political Elites
So, the idea of introducing presidential or federal direct rule in Chechnia eventually transformed into establishment of an administration (initially, temporary), which raised a good deal of questions. Amid ongoing hostilities, real powers in Chechnia could only rest in the hands of Russian army generals. Yet that was the choice made by Russian President V. Putin, who also appointed A. Kadyrov, a long-standing proponent of Chechen independence, as head of administration. That appointment raised as many questions as did the creation of the administration itself. The appointment came across stiff opposition from B. Gantamirov, who in the ongoing military campaign has been the first among the pro-Russian Chechens to be tapped to fight anti-Russian Chechens. Thus, initially, the administration’s entire activity consisted of adjusting the conflict between these two political figures, of whom B. Gantamirov is by far the most controversial. It should be borne in mind that earlier, he was known as a proponent of Chechnia’s independence. In his time, D. Dudaev appointed him the mayor of Grozniy, launching B. Gantamirov’s political career. Subsequently, the Russian authorities had no problem recognizing him as Grozniy ex-mayor while refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the person who had appointed him to that position.
Furthermore, during the “restoration of the constitutional order” in the republic, in 1994-1996, the legitimacy not only of the Grozniy city executive, headed by B. Gantamirov, but also of City Assembly deputies, elected during the period of “independence,” was confirmed, as was the legitimacy of the 1990-style Chechen-Ingush parliament, but not of the Grozniy city council, elected in the same year. Such selective approach to judging the constitutionality of actions by individual politicians played a determining role in the career of B. Gantamirov and other political figures in Chechnia.
In regard to the ex-mayor, the Russian authorities were motivated primarily by political expediency. Charges of embezzlement of public funds—ridiculous by Russian standards—enabled the authorities to “suspend” the mayor’s political activity. That might have been expedient considering that the “old-new” ruling authority returned to Chechnia at the time, which reaffirmed its legitimacy in fresh elections. Meanwhile, B. Gantamirov ended up outside both the Russian and Chechen “constitutional areas.”
In the context of the “dictatorship of the law,” Russian ruling authority can be not only stern but also humane. That enabled B. Gantamirov to stage a political comeback. The “ridiculous” charges against him were forgotten, and the federal center once again placed a bet on him in a bid to “pacify” its component. It seemed that the ex-mayor’s military deserts and loyalty to the Russian Constitution could land him the position of Chechnia’s “governor general.” Nonetheless, Lt. Col. Gantamirov lost to cleric Kadyrov, who had not recognized the Russian Constitution until recently. Thus, the Russian authority once again demonstrated its unpredictability, turning its erstwhile adversary into what it saw as an ally. It has to be said that none of those actions had anything to do with the Chechen administration since, it will be recalled, real powers in Chechnia are still in the hands of the military.
The conflict between the head of the republic’s administration and the former mayor of Grozniy, which began in June 2000, is far from being over. As a result of their first reconciliation, A. Kadyrov retained the position as head of Chechnia’s administration while B. Gantamirov was appointed head of the Grozniy city administration. That outcome could at the time be seen as B. Gantamirov’s political victory in the struggle against his opponent although it did not bring him any closer to achieving his aspiration to become head of the pro-Russian administration in Chechnia. The post of Grozniy mayor, held by a “loyalist,” returned to him. Apparently, at the time he could not have realistically counted on more. Despite statements by V. Kazantsev, the RF president’s envoy in the Southern Federal District, to the effect that all contradictions between those two politicians were resolved, their continuing standoff resulted in B. Gantamirov’s appointment as chief federal inspector in the Southern Federal District. The two politicians were “disengaged,” but that did little to bring about a rapprochement between them.
The Chechen administration is not at all the real power in the republic. At the same time, any appointments in this structure indicate a lineup favored by the Russian leadership. A. Kadyrov and B. Gantamirov are “doomed” to be in power as long as this is politically expedient. Although key figures in Chechnia’s pro-Russian administration, they will never enjoy the complete trust of the federal authorities. It is only his credibility in the republic that can guarantee a political leader’s authority.
Limited choice of compatible political figures in Chechnia points to the weakness of Russian positions in the republic. Engrossed in spreading the rumors about the conflict and divisions within the Chechen armed formations, the federal center has yet to form an administration enjoying the support of the local population and capable of wielding real powers.
In the summer of 2000, an RF State Duma deputy from Chechnia was elected, which marked yet another step toward tying it up to the Russian constitutional area. Over the past decade the Federation has failed to bring its 89th component back into its fold. Today the republic has a formal representative in the Russian parliament although the federal authorities were not really interested whether the elections were in effect democratic and legitimate. The experience in previous election campaigns shows that these considerations are irrelevant to big-time politics while electing a Chechen representative in the State Duma is without a doubt big-time politics. So, the republic’s citizens have a deputy in the Russian parliament, but they do not have anyone there representing their interests.
The elections themselves failed to become a meaningful political event in the life of Chechen society. At the same time it would be wrong to underestimate the role that this deputy could play. For all their passivity and virtual defiance of the elections, the republic’s citizens were not entirely indifferent to who would actually become their deputy, even though they had no freedom of choice. The electorate wanted to see an acceptable person in that position. All the indications are that A. Aslakhanov is in fact the most acceptable figure among all aspirants to the position of State Duma deputy. It seems that his performance objectively plays a positive role in bringing about a cessation of hostilities.
A. Aslakhanov’s election precipitated consolidation of a certain interest group with real clout and an ability to impact sociopolitical processes in the republic. The evolution of a new political elite marks the beginning of a new power struggle in Chechnia. The position of the incumbent head of administration is predicated on support from Russia’s top political leadership. Kadyrov’s attempt to gain support among influential Chechen teyps and religious figures have thus far been to little avail. The lack of real powers also effectively rules out popular support. The federal center is the main force that the emerging political elite can rely on in the event of a real threat arising to its authority or when it has to deal with its political adversaries.
The status of the head of administration, appointed from above, sharply weakens the chances of his political survival. Many take a wait-and-see position, realizing that a change of the head of administration is bound to lead to a change of the “ruling” elite. In this context, administration supporters are interested in early local elections. The federal center, however, believes that the situation in Chechnia is not right for that. This approach looks lame given the “election” of the State Duma deputy. What Russia’s military-political authorities are really concerned about is that “elected” leaders will have greater political clout, intensifying their confrontation with the military-police regime in the power struggle. At the same time, Chechnia’s political elite is not in a position to exert political influence Russia-wide, its integration into the federal political elite being all but impossible.
There is no doubt that by far the most influential political force shaping the situation in Chechnia is represented by the republic’s president, A. Maskhadov. The public perceives his supporters as leaders of the resistance movement. Confrontation with Russia is key to their political influence. Despite the contradictions that exist between them, in the war context they emerge as a consolidating force. This part of the political elite, unlike others, which are still in the process of evolution, has a hard core, represented by the military. The influence and authority of A. Maskhadov and his supporters is to a very large extent contingent not only on their own performance but also on the action (or inaction) of the Russian authorities in the socioeconomic sphere, especially in ending the lawlessness in the republic as well as on the readiness to negotiate with the warring side on a peace settlement and on Chechnia’s political status.
The emerging political forces will be constantly fighting for popular support and will not be able to attain their objectives without it. Both within and outside each political force there are other political figures who will be laying claim to leadership.
Thus, the political elite that is emerging around A. Aslakhanov will apparently gravitate toward such politicians as R. Khasbulatov and S. Khadzhiev. Although such a political heavyweight as R. Khasbulatov has yet to be tapped, he has far greater potential than other Chechen politicians. Presumably, the Russian side fears R. Khasbulatov while the Chechen side is unable to get him to support its political aspirations.
A. Kadyrov’s rivals on his political turf could be B. Gantamirov and L. Magomadov. Considering that the head of administration has co-opted A. Zavgaev into his team, appointing him as Chechnia’s representative in the Federation Council, A. Kadyrov is obviously seeking to expand his political clout also among his potential opponents. At the same time, this game could seriously impair his positions should D. Zavgaev stage a real political comeback in Chechnia.
A. Maskhadov’s influence on the warring side could also be challenged by warlords Sh. Basaev and R. Gelaev. Today, however, they can ill afford to erode his positions: They have to reckon with him as the republic’s president.
Thus, at present there are three major political forces that can effectively impact the sociopolitical situation in Chechnia: Maskhadov, Kadyrov, and Aslakhanov. Over time, the role of each of these political figures is likely to change and new political names are bound to appear. A separate factor is Russian military and political figures in confrontation with whom the aforementioned political elites could develop common interests.
Today Chechnia’s nonpolitical elite (both ethnic Russians and Chechens) and civil society structures remain untapped. People prominent in the sphere of science, culture, religion, and so forth have no way to precipitate an end to the war and a return to normalcy in the republic. Chechnia is under the control of the military with republic’s citizens having no say whatsoever.
1 Gail W. Lapidus, “Russia’s Second Chechen War: Ten Assumptions in Search of a Policy,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 4, 2000, p. 106.
2 Gail W. Lapidus, op. cit., pp. 106-107.
3 V. Kogan-Yasniy, Chechenskie perekrestia: statyi, ocherki, dokumenty, Moscow, 1995. Quoted from: Rossia-Chechnia: tsep oshibok i prestupleniy, Moscow, 1998, p. 104.
4 A.-Kh. Sultygov, “Pravovye problemy Chechenskogo natsionalno-gosudarstvennogo samoopredelenia,” in: Chechnia i Rossia: obshchestva i gosudarstva, Moscow, 1999, p. 351.
5 R. Khasbulatov, “Ot nesvobody k tiranii. Raskol v chechenskom obshchestve i ego posledstvia,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 110 (2420), 21 June, 2001.
6 G. Derlugian, “Chechenskaia revoliutsia i chechenskaia istoria,” in: Chechnia i Rossia: obshchestva i gosudarstva, p. 219.
7 A. Liven, “Voina v Chechne i upadok rossiyskogo mogushchestva,” in: Chechnia i Rossia: obshchestva i gosudarstva, p. 251.
8 See interview with S.-M. Khasiev, Novaia gazeta, No. 36 (679), 28-30 May, 2001.
9 See interview with V. Putin, Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 244 (2305), 26 December, 2000.
10 L. Khoperskaia, “The Northern Caucasus: Factors of Confrontation and Prospects for Stability,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 4, 2000, p. 125.
11 See interview with V. Putin, Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 244 (2305), 26 December, 2000.
12 Odd Gunnar Skagestad, “How Can the International Community Contribute To Peace and Stability In and Around Chechnia?: A Pessimistic Reply,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 4, 2000, p. 166.