Friday, October 14, 2005

The Chechen Quagmire

The war shattered Chechen republic lies at the intersection of the Russian oil infrastructure in the Caucasus and has large petroleum reserves itself. Chechnya has an area of 5,984 square miles and a largely Muslim population of 800,000. Resistance to Russian rule goes back to 1785 AD with there being eight recorded instances of armed revolt before the latest round of fighting that commenced in 1991. Stalin deported the entire Chechen population to Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1944. They were permitted to return after his death in 1953. The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 and Chechnya was one of several regions that declared its independence. The administration of the break away republic was unable to stem the anarchy and breakdown of governance. 300,000 non-Chechens fled amidst spiralling ethnic violence and attacks on minorities. No country recognized its "independence", except for the Taleban regime.

Boris Yeltsin sent in Russian troops to crush the secessionist movement in 1994. The Chechen capital of Grozny was devastated and a scorched earth policy was pursued. However, Russian troops withdrew in 1996 in the face of a relentless Chechen insurrection while elections were held in the break away Chechen republic in 1997. Chechen sponsorship of Islamist militancy in the neighboring Russian-held area of Dagestan and the terrorist attacks on apartment blocks in Russia triggered the resumption of hostilities. Russia re-invaded the region in 1999 under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. While the Russian military swiftly consolidated control over the region, dramatic acts of Chechen terrorism ensued outside the state.

This included the attack on an opera theater in Moscow that led to the death of 129 civilians, the bombing of the Moscow subway, the destruction of two civilian airliners mid-air by women suicide bombers, the attack on the school at Beslan that led to the death of 330 civilians, earlier attacks on two hospitals that killed 207 persons and yesterday's incidents at Nalchik where 90 people were killed. It is relevant to note that all terrorist attacks occurred outside Chechnya. The Chechen separatists, led by the 40 year old Shamil Besayev, are thought to be linked to Al Qaeda. Some hope to establish a trans-caucasus Islamic state. The war since 1991 has resulted in the death of up to 250,000 persons. This was an unprecedented savagery. Meanwhile, the theft and illegal refining of oil continues on a huge scale while unemployment stands at 76%.

Russia will need to combine an anti-terrorist campaign with a meaningful democratization of Chechnya. Far reaching autonomy and the resumption of the political process are imperative. Traditional counter-insurgency operations are not likely to succeed in this instance. Meanwhile, western criticism of the human rights record of Russia rings hollow in light of its own terrorist campaign elsewhere. Secession is hardly an option for the international community given the complex socio-political dynamics of the extended region. It would merely open a Pandora's box of competing ethnicities in the volatile Caucasus and reward Islamist militancy to devastating effect. The stability of the remainder of the oil rich Caucasus would be at risk.

1 comment:

history_lover said...

Almost old colonial empires have disintegrated except for the Russian empire.When other European powers were trying to colonize parts of Western Hemisphere,Africa and Asia ,the Czarist regime conquered territories in Central Asia and from the collapsing Ottoman Empire.
It is time it broke up


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