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The Chechen Struggle: Independence Won and Lost

Submitted by on Monday, 13 December 2010.    2,392 views No Comment
The Chechen Struggle: Independence Won and Lost

The Chechen Struggle: Independence Won and Lost
Writer: Miriam Lanskoy, Ilyas Akhmadov, Zbigniew K. Brzezinski
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (November 15, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0230105343
ISBN-13: 978-0230105348
288 pages

The Russian-Chechen war has been the longest, cruelest, and bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II, surpassing even the level of destruction of Bosnia and Kosovo. Told from the perspective of its former Foreign Minister, this uniquely candid account of Chechnya’s struggle for independence and its two wars against Russia will revise our understanding of the conflict and explain how it continues. Ilyas Akhmadov delivers a comprehensive history including new details about the start of the first war against Russia, the crises within Chechen society, the splintering and radicalization of the Chechen leadership, the incursions into Dagestan, and his own efforts to bring about peace. Akhmadov provides intimate portraits of key personalities including General Dzhokhar Dudayev Chechnya’s first charismatic president; Shamil Basayev who was transformed from a talented rebel fighter into radical who was responsible for many terrorist attacks including the hostage takings in the theater Nord Ost and the school in Beslan; and the tragic personality of Aslan Maskhadov, the principled president who tried to maintain unity and coherence despite enormous difficulties. The book shows the impossible dilemma of the moderate nationalists in post-Soviet societies, who are challenged by radical Islamic ideology, social deprivations, Russian aggression, and international neglect. By giving voice to the moderates, the book seeks to shift the balance in their favor.

About the Authors

ILYAS AKHMADOV was the Foreign Minister of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria during the second war with Russia where he represented the legitimately elected government of Aslan Maskhadov. He authored a peace plan, launched a negotiations process, and sought to bring attention to the tragic fate of his nation through a variety of international forums. His work has appeared in The Washington Post and in The Boston Globe.

MIRIAM LANSKOY works at the National Endowment for Democracy on programs in Eurasia.

ZBIGNIEW K. BRZEZINSKI served as National Security Advisor to the President of the United States from 1977-81. He is a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor of American foreign policy at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced.

Chronicle Of a Lost Cause

Autocratic rule, dreaded security forces, benefactors in the Kremlin: so much for the dream of Chechnya as an independent, democratic state.

The center of Grozny is intersected by grand, tree-lined boulevards and anchored by an exquisite mosque. In June, I sat at a new cafĂ© on Prospect Putin, sipping a cappuccino. It was not an unusual way to pass an afternoon in a European capital—Grozny is the capital of [the Russian republic–Waynakh Online: Grozny is the capital of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria] Chechnya—except that the scene had the eerie serenity of a Hollywood back lot: People with lost, vacant eyes shuffled along under the shadow of freshly painted apartment blocks empty of life or noise.

A decade ago, Grozny was largely a mound of rubble. It had been the site of two vicious wars as Russia countered a Chechen separatist movement [Waynakh Online: There is no seperatist, because of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is an independent state according to the international law rules]  after the fall of the Soviet Union. The conflicts left Chechnya’s infrastructure in ruins and much of its population dead or in refugee camps. Rebuilding began under Akhmat Kadyrov—the mufti, or religious leader, of the Chechen rebels before he switched sides to support the Russians—who was installed by Moscow as Chechnya’s [puppet] president in 2003. He was killed by a bomb a year later; his son, Ramzan, now 34 years old, has been [puppet] president since 2007. Under the younger Kadyrov’s autocratic rule, Chechnya has regained at least a façade of security and economic growth.

The republic’s embattled post- Soviet history is the subject of “The Chechen Struggle,” a bleak chronicle of, as the subtitle has it, “independence won and lost.” The author is Ilyas Akhmadov, a former Chechen separatist who was a government minister during Chechnya’s short-lived autonomy from Moscow. His book, written with Miriam Lanskoy, is an on- the-ground account of how Russia’s indiscriminate violence and infighting within the rebel movement destroyed any hope for a negotiated end to the long-simmering conflict.

It is a bitter irony for Mr. Akhmadov that Chechnya today has managed partly to divorce itself from Russia, though not in the way that the separatists once envisioned. [Puppet] President Kadyrov, guided by his own garbled vision of Chechen tradition and Islamic code, has turned the republic into his personal fiefdom. In an attempt to outflank the region’s growing Islamic militancy and to present himself as a protector of religious observance, Kadyrov has introduced an Islamic tinge to his governance. He has demanded, for example, that women wear headscarves in government buildings and has instituted periodic bans on alcohol. He has allowed many aspects of family law to be decided by shariah, or Islamic law.

An unofficial amnesty policy has brought into the Chechen security forces thousands of former rebels, known as the kadyrovsty, who are loyal not to the Kremlin but to Kadyrov. Perhaps even more worrying for Moscow, Kadyrov runs his own foreign policy. He visits Persian Gulf countries with all the fanfare of a head of state, and his regime has been linked to assassinations in Austria, Dubai and Turkey.

Yet in the ways that matter most to the Kremlin, the republic remains very much within Moscow’s orbit: Chechnya is still part of the Russian Federation [Waynakh Online: Chechnya is still under military occupation of Russian Federation], and Kadyrov—who maintains a stranglehold on Chechen politics—is loyal to his benefactor, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has steered billions of rubles in reconstruction funds to the republic. Mr. Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, tolerate Kadyrov’s excesses because they fear the Islamist fighters who oppose him and the power vacuum if Kadyrov were to fall.

For Mr. Akhmadov, who lives in the U.S. as a political refugee, Chechnya’s post-Soviet history is an especially personal tragedy. He was a sergeant major in the Soviet army but then took up arms during the First Russian-Chechen War in 1994. When a ceasefire ended fighting two years later, Mr. Akhmadov became a close adviser to separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president. However unrealistically—given Russia’s willingness to use extreme violence and its determination to retain a hold over the republic—Mr. Akhmadov dreamed of Chechnya’s national self-determination.

Hostilities flared anew in 1999, this time with a Chechen resistance that had become infused with radical Islamism. Still, Mr. Akhmadov clung to the hope that the United Nations would recognize the legitimacy of the Chechen bid for independence and send help. As the government’s foreign minister from 1999 to 2005 (he fled abroad in 1999), he met with representatives from the European Parliament and the U.S. State Department, most of whom offered little hope of Chechnya’s rescue.

Then came the news in 2004 of the grotesque terror operation—directed by Shamil Basayev, Mr. Akhmadov’s onetime mentor—against an elementary school in Beslan, Russia, that left more than 300 dead. The “deliberate killing of children,” Mr. Akhmadov says, was “evil beyond any moral code.”

After Beslan, he writes, “the Chechen cause lost all of its supporters overnight.” The insurgency has continued, but it has replaced the goal of Chechen national independence with the creation of an Islamic “emirate” in the Caucasus. Mr. Akhmadov feels disgusted by both Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule and the jihadists who hijacked the independence movement. He nurses a vision of the Chechen people one day resurrecting the idea that animated their initial revolt in 1994: the establishment of Chechnya as a secular, democratic state.

He may have a long wait. When I was in Grozny a few months ago, I didn’t meet a single person with any interest in fighting for independence. Instead, Chechens seemed preoccupied with keeping their sons alive and safe from abuse at the hands of the [puppet] president’s kadyrovsty.

13.12.2010 – The Wall Street Journal

Joshua Yaffa

*Mr. Yaffa, an associate editor at Foreign Affairs, traveled to Chechnya this summer with researchers from Human Rights Watch.

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