Discussion at the House of Lords: “Chechnya and Vladimir Putin’s Rise to Power”
On February 5, The Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society has organised a discussion event at the House of Lords in London with the participation of Mr Akhmed Zakaev, Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria; and Mr David Satter, Visiting Fellow at The Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, no region has influenced Russia quite the same as Chechnya. If the first Russian Chechen War (1994-1996) was the culmination of President Boris Yeltsin’s decentralisation strategy, then the second Russian-Chechen War (1999-????) set the stage for Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. Instabilities in Chechnya have guided Russia since Putin took office in the Kremlin; they provided a pretext for the construction of a ‘power vertical’. As part of this, Russia has ploughed billions of roubles into the restive republic and installed in power a local puppet.
During the event Mr Mr Zakaev discussed the two recent wars in Chechnya and explain how Chechnya was important to President Putin’s rise to power. Then, Mr Satter built on Mr Zakaev’s comments, explaining how events in Chechnya have shaped developments in Russia.
We present you the entire event’s transcription:
“Chechnya and Vladimir Putin’s Rise to Power”
Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
Associate Fellow at The Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society
Chaired by Lord Judd, MP
Thursday 5th February 2015
House of Lords, London
Lord Judd :
Well, welcome, everybody. I think we probably better start because we have quite a [limited] period of time, and I should give an apology in advance because there may be a vote. It’s not certain, but there may be a vote quite soon. And in that case I might simply have to get up and go and vote. And it’s always good to vote when you haven’t heard the debate. But I…
Lord Judd :
But I will go and vote. It’s about the BBC and the license fee. Somebody will take over, and I will return as quickly as I can.
Well, congratulations to The Henry Jackson Society for having arranged this meeting. There’s all the more poignancy to it because, of course, of this great inquiry that’s going on, and I am absolutely delighted that Marina [Litvinenko] is here today. And I’m sure we all want to offer our warm solidarities to Marina in what must be a very difficult, but very important time. Congratulations on your perseverance in having brought it all off. Well done.
Lord Judd :
It is actually, for me personally, quite interesting—and [there are] all sorts of people for whom it’s very interesting personally—but I was at the Frontline Club at which this famous and courageous statement was made about who was responsible for Anna [Politkovskaya’s] assassination. It was an incredibly courageous statement to make because he must have been absolutely aware that there would have been all sorts of people in that audience.
Anyway, now to this wider context.
I’m glad that we have the two speakers because Akhmed Zakaev I have known now for fifteen years…?
Akhmed Zakaev, Prime Minister-in-Exile of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria :
Lord Judd :
When I was rapporteur to the Council of Europe on that bitter conflict in Chechnya… Incidentally, [it is] a conflict which is still not, in my view, resolved, and which has in many ways become more sinister than ever, but that’s going beyond my remit.
Akhmed was one of the people with whom I used to talk, and I always found [him] in a very complex, difficult situation when you were never really sure what people were saying—really saying—and why they were saying it and what they were saying to someone else ten minutes later down the road. I always found Akhmed a very reliable person with whom to talk. And we met increasingly often, and we became friends. So, we’re delighted that you’re here.
Then, of course, we have David Satter, another courageous journalist, who has the distinction of being the first journalist… First Western journalist? First journalist?
David Satter, Associate Fellow at The Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society :
Well, first US journalist.
Lord Judd :
… First US journalist since the Cold War to be expelled from Russia. And of course, his background speaks for itself.
They are going to speak briefly, and then we’ll have questions. But I please must ask you to keep the questions brief because we have to be out of this room at two o’clock. So, off we go! We’re going to ask Akhmed to go first.
Akhmed Zakaev :
Thank you. Thank you, my friend.
Good afternoon, friends. First of all, I would like to thank the organisers of our meeting today, The Henry Jackson Society. Thank you very much. And also thank you, friends, for coming. And of course, [thank you to] our great Chairman, my friend, Frank. Lord Judd, thank you very much.
Last year was the 20th anniversary of the start of the Russian-Chechen War. In the past twenty years, the Chechens have lost more than two hundred thousand people of whom more than forty thousand were children. Violations of humanitarian law have included massacres, carpet bombing of populated areas, ethnic cleansing, extrajudicial executions, torture and violence. The methods employed by Russian forces in Chechnya are proof that the purpose of this war was not a fight against international terrorism as claimed by Russian propaganda, but collective punishment of the Chechen people for theie aspiration to freedom and independence.
Massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Chechen Republic have been documented by many international non-governmental organisations. In numerous reports of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, it has been noted that Russia, unleashing the war in Chechnya, was in violation of the statute and conventions of the Council of Europe. Russia has also violated Article 48 – Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 7 of the International Criminal Court.
Despite this, the heads of leading Western countries took to classifying the criminal law in Chechnya as an internal affair of Russia. After that, the entire international community began to view the Russian-Chechen conflict as a domestic problem.
It is my profound conviction that this decision was not only politically mistaken, but also contrary to the fundamental principles of international law. The problem now is that for precisely this reason crimes committed against the civilian population in Chechnya remain unpunished, and this encourages Russia to commit further violations of human rights.
So, for example, in 2013, Russian Parliament passed a new law aimed at victimising the families and relatives of the terrorist suspects. By doing so, the Russian regime legalised the practice of collective punishment in the North Caucasus.
You know, not long ago, official institutions of [the] occupying power in Chechnya burnt down dozens of domestic properties on the grounds that the owners of those homes and their families were close relatives of fighters in the Chechen Republic.
Over the past [few] years, Chechens have been seeking a fair and independent investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Russian forces in the Chechen Republic against a civilian population.
In recent years, the legitimate government-in-exile of the Chechen Republic has undertaken many measures to draw the attention of the international community to the Russian-Chechen conflict.
For example, last autumn, we held a protest march for peace, the rule of law and human rights. It set off on 29 September 2014 from Warsaw and arrived Brussels on the 13 October. The marches passed through fifteen member states of the European Union, in the capitals of which they demonstrated in front of national parliaments, setting up an exhibition of the photos of the victims of the criminal war waged by Russians against the Chechen state.
The protestors handed in a petition to the national parliaments, urging them to support and appeal to the United Nations, Council of Europe, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to examine the issue of Chechnya in terms of the principles and norms of international law; second, [to] establish an independent international commission to investigate war crimes committed by Russia against the Chechen people; third, [to] prosecute war criminals identified by the Commission’s investigation.
I want, finally, to draw your attention to one further fact. Last year, we handed in [an] application for the Hague Tribunal to initiate criminal proceedings against President Vladimir Putin and other military and political figures in Russia who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Chechen people. Because the Chechen Republic is currently under Russian occupation, the government-in-exile of the Chechen Republic is unable to apply to the International Criminal Court in the prescribed manner. However, in order to avoid a dangerous precedent of impunity for war criminals and to restore historical justice, we ask the Hague Tribunal to use the universal jurisdiction available to the International Criminal Court and find a way to investigate the case using the motu proprio procedure on the basis of Article 15 of the International Criminal Court stated in our present application.
Some people may believe that the Chechen issue is now [a] low priority as result of events in Ukraine, which directly affect the European community’s geopolitical interests. I believe very strongly that the occupation [of the] Georgian territories in 2008 and today’s events in Ukraine can be properly understood only in context of events which began in the Chechen Republic twenty years ago.
The lack of any negative consequences for Putin’s regime after the crimes committed in [the] Russia-Chechen war strengthened President Putin and encouraged Russia to invade Georgia and Ukraine.
Today, Putin’s Russia [poses], without exaggeration, a serious threat to the security of the entire international community. I’m quite certain that establishing an international commission inquiring into war crimes committed in the Chechen Republic will be [an] important step towards [preventing] entirely probable future Russian aggression against southern European states.
Crimes against humanity have no statute of limitations; accordingly, I consider the establishment of [an] international commission of inquiry to war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Chechen Republic completely indispensable and more than timely.
I realise that the Chechen government-in-exile will not be able to bring Putin to justice solely through its own efforts. Nevertheless, I am profoundly convinced that only if he is called to account for the heinous crimes committed by the Russian military establishment against the Chechen people will [it be] possible to hold [off] Russia’s aggressive actions in the rest of Europe.
Thank you very much. Thank you for your attention.
Lord Judd :
Thank you for that and not least for mastering the issue of time, but that that was very good, thank you. Please [to David Satter].
David Satter :
Thank you. We are commemorating, in a sense, here, the 20th anniversary of the start of the Chechen War. The date is not exact, but the importance of marking the beginning of this war is very pronounced because it had a profound effect on Russia, and it’s had a profound effect on the world. As Akhmed has just pointed out, the atrocities that are being committed now, the kind of indiscriminate shelling and killing that’s taking place in Ukraine, it had its precedent in Chechnya.
In five weeks in 1995, immediately after the invasion of Chechnya by Russian forces, the city of Grozy was carpet bombed with complete disregard for the fact that it was still an inhabited city. There are various estimates as to how many people were killed in those five weeks. The most reliable estimate that I’ve heard is twenty thousand. Many of those people were also ethnic Russians. So, we don’t distinguish between ethnic Russian and ethnic Chechens, but the point here is simply that the bombing was totally indiscriminate, that the lives of the people who were living in the city were of no importance whatsoever. This is how Russia wages war.
Now, when the Soviet Union fell, what was really critical for Russia was not the transformation of economic structures, and all the emphasis, of course, was put on that, including the emphasis of western advisors; what Russia needed more than anything else was a moral transformation, which of course did not take place. In the absence of that underlying moral transformation, the economic transformation could only turn Russia into a country of criminals and that’s exactly what happened.
When the Chechens declared their independence, they were not doing anything that was not fully justified by the realities of their culture, their traditions, their history and the circumstances of the former Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the new republics were created on the basis of the lines, of the borders of republics that Stalin created. He deliberately did not give Chechnya its own republic because he feared the independence and love of liberty of the Chechens. And [instead] he made Chechnya an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. On the basis of this meaningless distinction, the twenty years of war, which in reality is continuing, took place.
The aspiration of this extremely small country to live its own independent life had the tragic effect of making Chechnya an object in the Russian struggle for power. And that struggle for power actually showed its nature even before the invasion of Chechnya in 1993, when Yeltsin, facing a challenge from the Russian parliament, illegally suppressed the Russian parliament, organised a provocation outside the Ostankino Television Tower, in which dozens of innocent civilians were massacred. That provocation provided an excuse for shelling the parliament, eliminating the parliament as a co-equal branch of government and effectively dooming democracy. Without a parliament, it was no problem to begin a new war in Chechnya, to begin a war in Chechnya, the original war in Chechnya.
Oleg Lobov, who was the head of the Security Council, confided to my deceased friend, Sergei Yushenkov, who was murdered for his investigation of the apartment bombings, to which we will come in a minute, [he] said that “what we need is a short, victorious war, in order to boost the President’s ratings”. The Czar thought the same way in 1905 when they began the Russian-Japanese War, which led to the 1905 Revolution.
In any case, so, it was not a question of principle but rather of opportunism generated by the drive for power inside Russia itself that led to the tragedy of Chechnya, which, in fact, also was a tragedy for Russia, because the Chechen War spawned, in fact, three incidents… In reality, four, if we include the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, but that murder took place not in Russia but in Britain. So, if we confine ourselves right now to three incidents: with the bombings of the apartment buildings, the 2002 October theatre siege and the Beslan school massacre.
Some people may argue there’ve been lots of atrocities since then, and I agree, but these are the cases in which the regime showed its true nature, in which its attitude towards its own subjects was solidified and confirmed, and in which the world failed to react in the necessary manner, thereby setting a pattern, which we’re seeing repeated to this day.
Now, all of these three incidents and, in reality, the murder of Litvinenko, also are connected to the war in Chechnya, [which was] started for frivolous reasons by Yeltsin in order to compensate for the failure and inhumanity of his own economic transformation policies. We don’t have a lot of time, so I’ll simply say a few words about each of these incidents, and then in our discussion hopefully I can answer questions.
First of all, the apartment bombings: Chechens through a display of extraordinary dedication and military skill in effect defeated the Russian army and forced the Russian government to recognise the independence of Chechnya in 1996. For three years, Chechnya had an independent national life. It was sabotaged by the Russians who declined money for reconstruction. In effect, [they denied] money to repair the damage that they themselves had created. And there were terrible internal problems in Chechnya, including kidnapping for ransom and the rise of terrorist, bandit and extremist organisations. Nonetheless, it did have a moderate and enlightened president and an independent life; it had the possibility for a positive development.
But Chechnya was too tempting, too tempting a target for Russian aggression, and in 1999 the apartment bombings took place. The aggressiveness and anger of the Russian population towards the Yeltsin leadership as a result of the looting of the country during privatisation was redirected towards the Chechens and there began a Second Chechen War, which was even more barbaric than the first war.
[In] 2002, an army of Chechen terrorists took over the theatre on Dubrovka in Moscow and took nearly a thousand people hostage. How it was possible for an armed force, a heavily armed force to gather, to concentrate in the centre of the city, to take over a theatre with a thousand people without the authorities noticing is… It just defies imagination; particularly, insofar as there are clear indications of cooperation between the Russian intelligence service and the rebels who were responsible. Same thing was the case, at that…But that theatre siege had the effect of derailing what seemed to be promising diplomatic initiatives towards resolving the crisis in Chechnya, the second war in Chechnya, on an equitable basis that would allow Chechens to realise their national aspirations.
In effect, something similar was repeated in 2004. There were repeated warnings, including on the day of the takeover of school number one in Beslan, that terrorists were preparing to attack a school, and those warnings were disregarded. The guards who had guarded the access roads from Ingushetia to Ossetia had been removed, as if it had been planned in advance for the terrorists to have free access to the school. And, of course, once the crisis began, the Russians made no effort to spare the lives of the hostages, but attacked a gymnasium packed of children and parents with flamethrowers and grenade launchers.
This legacy of barbarism and provocation is what we face now in Russia and in our dealings with Russia. The Chechens, in their efforts to secure their national independence, were used repeatedly by the Russian authorities to advance their internal political goals. For this reason and because of the heinous – as Akhmed has said – the heinous crimes that were committed during the Chechen Wars, we have an obligation to examine everything that has happened during this twenty-year period. This is important for Chechya, not just for the historical record, not just for the West, but really for Russia itself because really only under those circumstances can Russians understand there’s something wrong in their country. But they oftentimes don’t understand the source or the reason. Examining this history is one way to get at the reason.
Lord Judd :
Well, thank you very much for a very…
Lord Judd :
…A very clear and challenging résumé.
Right. Now, we’ve got 35 minutes, and I would like to get in as many people as possible. So, would you please put your question as succinctly as possible? I think it would be helpful if you could give your name when you put it, but that’s not essential. OK? Right.
Question One :
I’d just like to mention two names and ask if either of you have particular comments. The first one is Anna Politkovskaya, which I think everyone knows here. Her books have all been translated into English. The other one is Natalya Estemirova, a name which is not known and should be known. Both… Two women who were murdered because of links with the situation in Chechnya.
How directly can you establish those links? In the first case I’m not sure, but in the second case it was a clear execution; [she was] taken across the frontier into Ingushetia and shot in the head. Can the two of you please comment?
David Satter :
I’ll say something also… Go ahead, Akhmed. I’ll…
Akhmed Zakaev :
OK. I will speak in Russian because it’s a very, very serious discussion we have there, and for me it will be easier [to speak in Russian] about Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova.
[From here forward Akhmed Zakaev’s interpreter provides an English translation]
I think both Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova are also victims of this criminal regime and of this criminal war that started in Chechnya in 1994 and has been going on until this very moment. They opposed this regime. They told the truth. They let the world know this truth, and it is precisely for this truth that they let [it] to be known to everybody [that] they both were killed.
Before the Chechists started the Second Chechen War in 1999 they had prepared themselves very well for it in the way of propaganda. In the three years that were relatively calm between the two wars in Chechnya, the Chechists had been preparing and executing lots of very special FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation] operations, secret operations, mostly targeting journalists, human rights activists and international human rights organisations that came to Chechnya, which the republic needed as much as anything, but they were precisely the target of the FSB.
Unfortunately, when the Second [Russian-Chechen] War started, lots of Russian journalists actually took Putin’s position—pro-Putin position—and there were just a few like Anna Politkovskaya or Natalya Estemirova [and] some others who were still true to their journalistic duty and who tried to do what they were supposed to do as journalists, and these people were annihilated.
Lord Judd :
David Satter :
I agree with what Akhmed has said.
I just want to add, as a journalist, that journalists are dependent on sources of information. Natalia Estemirova was Anna Politkovskaya’s most important source in Grozny. There’s just no overestimating the kind of courage that she showed. They both were very courageous, but Natalia Estemirova, living in Grozny and collecting this first-hand information, which she could then through Anna Politkovskaya make known to the rest of the world, was taking a fantastic risk. I think that all of the evidence in the two cases indicates that one way or the other they were both killed by the Putin regime, whether it was directly carried out by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, with the cooperation of Putin, or whether the initiative came from the Putin regime. This, of course… These details we may not know, but the motivation is obviously very clear to just destroy this flow of truthful information, and by the way, they largely succeeded.
Lord Judd :
I must say that one of the things that always struck me as tricky is how a priority in Russian policy in Chechnya was to isolate Chechnya from the world, and they had done very well. The response of the media in the West is dismal! It is dismal! We ought to be ashamed of it! Something terrible happens and then everything focuses for a short while, but there’s no ongoing basic commitment of analysis and understanding of the real issues there, and I’m ashamed of the media in the West on their performance in Chechnya.
Yes. Next question, please.
Question Two :
Yes, sir, thank you. I have a question for His Excellency, the Prime Minister. I would like to know, what [are] the efforts that the government-in-exile [is] undertaking to achieve international recognition? And if there are any efforts in that sense, what can we do to help these endeavours?
Lord Judd :
Do you want to comment? Or can we go on to the next…?
Akhmed Zakaev :
We can hardly do anything to have our government recognised today. But we do everything we can to stop Putin from achieving his goal of annihilating the legitimate structures of power in Chechnya. We are just trying to prevent him from achieving that. In spite of the fact that within this twenty-year [period] four legitimate presidents of Chechnya were murdered – Dudayev, Yandarbiyev, Sadulayev and Maskhadov – we still manage to keep the legal structures of our government, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.
Russian leadership tried very hard to get rid of the people that were legitimately elected by the Chechen people. Just by physically getting rid of them.
The international community, which should at least have tried to prevent this from happening—because the international community is trying to guard the principles, the legal principles, of state building—they did not do anything to stop this from happening, unfortunately.
The recognition of our republic depends so much on the international structures who are supposed to be guarding the democratic values, but there haven’t been any free elections in Chechnya since 1996. As long as there have not been any other elections, we are the heirs of the symbols of the state and of this flag.
In 2000, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe made it imperative for the members of the Council of Europe to apply to the international tribunal against Russia. Actually, any European country can use this resolution to start a relationship with us, to start a relationship with the government of the Independent Republic of Ichkeria, and that’ll be the most severe, the severest sanction against Putin’s regime because we’ll be able to [make Putin] responsible for the crimes his regime committed in our country.
Today, western leaders have answered this question: “Who is Mr. Putin?” Maybe now someone will do something to recognise our government and to punish the Russian regime for what they have done in Chechnya and Russia also.
David Satter :
Lord Judd has had to leave, so I will take your questions. Yes, please.
Question Three – Tom Fedd, American Journalist :
Has the fact that there are Chechens apparently fighting for the so-called Islamic State … How does that influence Russian policy towards particularly cooperating with Western fight against the so-called Islamic State?
[Akhmed Zakaev’s translator asks for clarification]
Question Three (continued) :
There are a number of Chechens fighting for the so-called Islamic State. How does that influence Russia’s policy vis-à-vis the fight against the Islamic State?
Akhmed Zakaev :
OK, I understand.
It is the Russian policy that [did] a lot to show the people fighting in the Chechen resistance, people fighting for the independence of their republic, as fanatics fighting for Islam and for religion.
As somebody who has been involved in the political processes between Russian and Chechnya for the last 25 years, I can tell you absolutely responsibly: Chechnya had its constitution adopted a year earlier than Russia. On the basis of this constitution, we [held] organised elections, productive elections, in our republic in 1996. Its legal framework was based on the democratic values and on the European values; that is why the power was elected, then the authorities that I today represent were elected under the European auspices.
For twenty years, Chechnya, without any support from outside, has been left on its own to fight this monster without any support from legal European institutions. Can you imagine [a nation with a population of only a million and] only fourteen thousand square kilometres fighting on its own with a huge nuclear state?
Naturally, some people, in this complete isolation from the rest of the world, turned to their religious ideas, which actually had been brought from outside to the republic. I can tell you absolutely responsibly that the creation on the territory of Chechnya of the so-called [Caucasus Emirate] was done with the help of the Russian secret services or their agents of influence.
I’m absolutely convinced that Chechnya will be – once all the legal norms are restored – Chechnya will be a non-religious, democratic state using the basis of the state that were used when it was created. And I hope it will be democratic, and of course, independent and free.
David Satter :
Are there any other questions? Yes, please, in the back. This lady…
Question Four – Amy Knight, Soviet/Russian Affairs Expert :
Amy Knight. This is a question about the President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. As you know, Anna Politkovskaya not only wrote about him when she was down reporting in Chechnya, but she actually had a personal meeting with Kadyrov. She wrote about it, and it was just a rather horrifying picture. She called him, I think, the Kremlin’s little monster.
I’m very curious as to what either of you gentlemen think about the relationship between Putin and the Kremlin and Kadyrov because it strikes me that he is possibly… I know he has been called, and I think I actually called him, the Kremlin’s puppet; but I think he also might be a little bit of a liability because he’s so out of control. I’m just curious as to whether you think he’s going to remain in power, or is he a problem for the Kremlin?
Akhmed Zakaev :
He is not the problem for Putin. He is a small monster that was given birth by the big monster. This man is absolutely loyal to Putin and he’ll stay in Chechnya as long as Putin stays in the Kremlin. Kadyrov knows very well that his fate and his future depend not on the Russian state as whole, but on one person in particular. This person is Putin. And his loyalty is not to Russia; his loyalty is personally to Putin. Whatever he does has been previously agreed with Putin.
Why Putin needs Kadyrov is a slightly different issue. Any empire tries to bring up a new elite on the conquered territory. This elite is very often loyal to the centre, but it’s an enemy of its own people. It’s a classic example of occupational imperial regime, and Kadyrov represents this relationship.
David Satter :
Yes, this gentleman.
Question Five – Karl Dannenbaum :
Could you tell me what is the desire of Putin, well, Russia, strategically? It seems to me that on the one hand all is actually called in the Kremlin. It seems to me it’s efficient. What does Russia want? Do they want to reconstitute the Soviet Union? Do they want mineral resources? Does your country have mineral resources? Is your country viable on its own? Can you go from the emotional to a little bit more of the factual?
Akhmed Zakaev :
I’ll start from the end of your question; from your last question.
The opposition, the clutch, between Russian and Chechnya has been going on for four hundred years. If for one second in this four hundred years Russia would’ve thought that we can’t live independently, they would’ve left us alone.
[The] Chechen Republic is self-sufficient in [every] respect. We could live independently, and [from] 1991 to 1994, we actually showed it – being completely isolated from Russia.
You know, in this particular period, there were queues coming, queues of cars, coming from Russia, from the south of Russia, to get food and other stuff into Chechnya. Chechnya was an industrial centre of the Caucasus. We had five or six theatres. We had the biggest picture gallery in the North Caucasus in Grozny. Just one central library in Grozny had five million books. It was particularly then – when Chechnya was developing so successfully – that Sergey Shakhray, the Russian representative, said Carthage should be demolished. They razed the infrastructure and what we had in the republic to the ground. All the industrial centres, all the cultural centres, factories, plants – all these were demolished by the first bombardments of the republic.
After all this destruction, we had about 300 000 homeless people, and the Russian special services, of course, were right that it would be easy for them to find among these people, among this remaining population, those who would be happy to have easy money. And they did find these people.
In 1996-1997, when the peace treaty was signed by two presidents, by President Yeltsin and President Maskhadov, this was a legal and factual recognition of the Chechen Republic. At this point, Russian Foreign Minister Primakov was asked a question: “What will happen if other countries, like Russia, will start having diplomatic relations with Chechnya and by this actually recognise it? And he said, ‘In this case we’ll break our diplomatic relations with them’. At this point, we were left on our own, and we could not oppose all these special events, special tactics, special services’ strategy and tactics that were actually aimed at destroying the Chechen people.
Coming to your first question, why does Russia need it and what does Russia want? I met here in London a Russian politician who came here specially to meet me and to talk me into coming back to Russia. He was head of one of the subjects of Russian Federation. And I asked him, how did they allow this Chechist, this KGB person, to actually order them about—people from different republics—how did they allow him to do it? He said [that] every national leader has his own mission. Somebody who gets to power, they have their own mission.
Gorbachev had a mission to actually let the Soviet Union go. Yeltsin had a mission to start market reforms in Russia. Putin has his own mission. His mission is to let Russia disintegrate.
In spite of all the declarations that Putin constantly makes about his wish to restore the Soviet Union and to bring back the former might of Russia, what he is actually doing is leading the country to disintegration to stop Russia from existing in the format it has now.
Putin has committed crimes in Chechnya. He has committed crimes against the Russian people. He has committed crimes abroad. His only aim today is to preserve his power. He will go for this aim even if… Or maybe not ignoring the fact that after him the country will disintegrate, but if this happens, he will remain there for forever. He will have his power until he leaves.
Lord Judd :
Thank you very much. We are pushing the frontiers now, but I think we’ve got time for one more question. Yes?
Question Six :
Turning to the Chechen people, when I lived and worked in Moscow in the early nineties – [to David Satter] the time covered by your recent book – I was very surprised to get the sense of racism against the Chechen people, in fact all of North and South Ossetian. Sorry, the North Caucasus. Yes. Caucasus, rather.
I mean, even my driver and my wife’s housekeeper-cook, they even used the word tarakani, which is very insulting. It surprised me. Did you ever sense institutional racism being developed by the government against the people of the Caucasus?
David Satter :
Well, this is very widespread. The Chechens became the scapegoats for everything that went wrong. There were Chechen criminal gangs, but there were [also] Russian criminal gangs. There were gangs of all nationalities, but somehow Russian politicians and the Russian public tried to identify crime with Chechnya and Chechens. There has always been this prejudice, even during the Soviet days, although it was less at that time.
What the Soviet Union had [was] what they called an internationalist ideology, that we’re all brothers. The motto was “Friendship of Peoples”. Of course, the Chechens had a statue of a Chechen, an English and a Russian in Grozny. The Chechens referred to it as “Three Fools” because this international ideology was basically a device of manipulation. When it collapsed, unfortunately, racism just rose to the surface. But of course, under these conditions of war in which all of the ills of the country are being blamed on this small republic, people reacted. And instead of blaming everything on Jews or on other nationalities, they found a new scapegoat.
Akhmed Zakaev :
Yeah, absolutely. I agree with him.
The nationalism that came to the surface after the collapse of the Soviet Union has turned into fascism today. This is something that Politkovskaya wrote about: that we’re just one step from fascism. The war hardens people. It doesn’t harden only the Chechen fighters of Chechen resistance. It hardens everybody, and that is why these people are today fighting in eastern Ukraine. They are fascists.
Lord Judd :
Thank you for that. That’s a nice note on which to finish because all I can say is that… I had those years as rapporteur to the Council of Europe and I visited Chechnya… Let’s be realistic, briefly, but I visited Chechnya nine times and I was in Russia in connection with my Chechen responsibilities eleven times when I was meeting a wide cross section of people in government.
The difficulty the Council of Europe faced, and what led me in the end to resign as rapporteur, [was that] I just felt it was impossible to work in that context on that basis to any effect [because] Russia was a full member, indeed a grand payeur within the Council of Europe. Therefore, anything the Council of Europe was doing had to be with cooperation of Russia or with the tacit acceptance of Russia. It came to be more and more clear that this was a fundamental issue.
When it came to the referendum, I was just so appalled, by the way [that] the world almost seized an opportunity to say, “Ah, well, at least a chink in the… An opportunity…”. The whole thing was fraudulent, top to bottom. That was my moment. I just said I can’t go on with this.
But having said that, it’s been a great privilege to have our two guests today. Both [are] very good spokespeople for the situation and very objective. Both themselves highly courageous. Akhmed was, I think it’s fair to say, almost public enemy number one for a while, [and that] may still be the case. There was an absolute neurotic preoccupation in Russia with Akhmed, and he’s stood up to that and that says a great deal about him.
[Gestures to David Satter]
And you have demonstrated your courage and integrity as a journalist, which is what the high calling of journalism should be all about, and that is a very good example. We want to say a thank you to you for the contribution you’ve made as well.
So, friends, thanks. I can’t say that the outlook is highly encouraging. We were just having an exchange in the [House of] Lords today about the Russian army and we came to consensus in the [House of] Lords, actually, about the Russian army and the implications of the reassertion of the armed services… The flying of Russian bombers down the Channel in English air space without contacting the British air traffic control system and so on…
We are living in an age where Chechnya is vitally important in itself, but it’s also symbolic in an essence and a token of much wider issues which we now confront. We must just keep striving, and I think, as an old man… As an old man, the conclusion I’ve come to is that what we all have to keep our eye on is the cause of truth, and in search for truth the absolute fundamental importance of freedom and of freedom of thought and of expression.
And that’s why in our own society we should be very wary of what is being proposed within the counter-terrorism legislation about our universities. There comes a point at which you begin to reflect those who you see as a threat and by reflecting them you actually give them a potential victory.
It seems to me [that] it’s times like this that if we’re to be able to relate to the issues of Chechnya and more widely similar issues, these are the very times we have to stand resolutely firm and say that the extremists are not going to have a victory. And that, in the context of what I’ve just mentioned, are universities, and the whole tradition of the autonomy and freedom and independence of universities is an absolutely fundamental cornerstone.
So, friends, forgive me for taking the opportunity to bring this into an immediate topical context, but I think there are strong links and indeed as I draw to a conclusion… It didn’t happen overnight that I got to break with my role as rapporteur; something in which people like Anna had played a very big part in my thinking. I just think that we’ve got to be strong in our own society if we are to be effective in the contributions we’re making internationally.
Thank you all for coming! And, again, thank you to The Henry Jackson Society for arranging the meeting.