Chechnya […] Chechen conflict with Russia, including how it started and when, along with the causes, effects, main events and attacks, and a current perspective on events in Chechnya today. Chechnya has always desired independence from Russia, and continues to fight for its’ freedom today. The tiny country has not been able to shed Russian influence and government, but it has evolved into a world political crisis that has effected thousands of Chechen civilians and continues to cause strife and violence today.
Chechnya is a Soviet Republic that declared independence from Russia in 1991. However, Russia’s leaders refused to acknowledge Chechnya’s independence, and instead sent in troops to subdue the Chechens. They withdrew when they met armed Chechens ready to defend their country, but the current conflict had its beginnings in these events in 1991, which escalated to full-scale war by 1994. However, the roots of the problems between Chechnya and Russia go much, much deeper than the current crisis.
The Chechen crisis has existed in Russia since the 19th century. As these historians note, “This tiny mountainous republic, bordered by Georgia in the south and by the Russian republics of North Ossetia in the west and Dagestan in the east, is the home of a fiercely proud and independent-minded people whose enmity with Russia reaches far back in history” (Brzezinski and Sullivan 559). The Chechens were recognized as a distinct and separate people in the 17th century, and they have continually opposed conquest and government by the many Russia regimes. In the 1850s, the Chechens fought will other Muslims who hoped to create an Islamic state, but they were defeated. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Chechnya declared its independence from Russia, but was quickly “brought into line” by the Bolsheviks, who occupied the country and created the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Region in 1924, and by the mid-1930s, the area became an autonomous republic. By World War II, the Chechens were still chafing under Russian rule, and they sided with Nazi Germany in an attempt to remove themselves from Russian rule. When Russian leader Josef Stalin found out the Chechens supported the Nazis, he deported many Chechens to Siberia and Central Asia, and he continued this practice until his death in 1953. He deported hundreds of thousands of Chechens – estimates range as high as 800,000, and at least 100,000 of them perished during their exile (Shah). By 1956, all of the exiles had been repatriated, and the republic was reestablished in 1957, but the damage had been done. The Chechen people’s anger still seethed, and when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, they were ready to again try for their own independence. The Ingushetia people voted to separate from Chechnya, and they became an autonomous republic inside the Russian Federation in 1992. However, Russian President Boris Yeltsin refused the Chechen’s own bid for independence, and for a variety of reasons (Shah). It is clear the Russian people and the Chechen people have had a longstanding feud, and the current crisis in Chechnya, still unresolved, reflects this longstanding misunderstanding between the two peoples.
Chechnya is made up primarily of Sunni Muslims, and this is the underlying problem with relationships between the Russians and the Chechens. They have far different beliefs and values, and one people do not necessarily understand or appreciate and respect the other. However, religious and cultural beliefs are not the foundation of the problems between the two countries. At the root of the real difficulty is oil. Chechnya has it, and Russia wants it. It is that simple. As one expert on the region notes, “As long as Chechnya is a part of Russia, Moscow would have a say in the oil flowing through it” (Shah). Major oil reserves lay near Baku on the Caspian Sea, and the major oil pipeline from this region runs right through Chechnya. In addition, the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, has a key oil refinery, and Russia wants to make sure the pipeline and refinery continue to provide them with the oil they need, so they feel they must keep Chechnya under their thumb, as it were. To indicate just how important oil is to the conflict, Russia did not invade Chechnya until they received word that neighboring “Azerbaijan was signing a consortium agreement with Western companies to develop and pipe oil to the West, bypassing Russia” (Brzezinski and Sullivan 560). Other outside interests are also accused of using oil as a weapon against Russia. Historian Shah contents,
There are accusations that external (Western) forces have been used to promote and help in destabilizing the region, to promote succession, to ensure a split from Russia. This would allow them to benefit from a smaller, weaker nation (if Chechnya is successful) that will also make it easier for the West to ensure the resources they want can be further controlled (Shah).
These allegations have not been confirmed, but the importance of oil to the world and the world’s economy cannot be questioned, and it is certainly possible that outside oil interests could have had a hand in the Chechen conflict, if they felt it would benefit their economic interests.
Additionally, the Chechens’ past history of anarchy and revolt makes Russia nervous. The Russians have never accepted Chechnya’s autonomy as a republic, and so they refuse to recognize their independence now (Shah). Interestingly, no other state in Russia recognizes Chechnya as a republic, either (Brzezinski and Sullivan 560). Clearly, the problem in Chechnya will not go away, and the two sides must make some kind of compromise, because war continues to pound Chechnya, and there is no sign of agreement or withdrawal by either side. The past in a major player in the present in Chechnya, and the country must exorcise its’ past relationship with Russia in order to move into the future. In the meantime, war continues, and the civilian population suffers the most.
In 1994, discussions of independence broke down, and the situation developed into full-scale war. Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin simply could not come to an amicable agreement, and the result was a bloody war that battered both sides. Historians note, “On 27 October 1991 the Chechen separatist leader, General Dzhokhar Dudayev, and his Chechen National Congress forcibly deposed the republic’s communist leaders, seized power in Grozny, and declared their intent to break away from Russia” (Brzezinski and Sullivan 560). In retaliation, Russian troops invaded Chechnya in Yeltsin’s first major conflict, and it proved a costly disaster. Chechen capital Grozny was effectively pulverized, and between 70,000 and 80,000 people died, mostly civilians. The powerful Russian army was run out of the country in defeat in 1996, but they had devastated the tiny country before they left. The war was a military disaster for Russia, because it showed the weakness of their supposedly impenetrable military force, but it was also a disaster for Chechnya, because it left the country devastated and weak (Shah). In addition, it left the country wide open to new militant leaders and continued reliance on terrorism and fear tactics. As historian Shah continues, “The aftermath of the 1994-96 war further eroded the Chechen government’s control over the militias, while local warlords gained strength. The destroyed Chechen economy left armed but unemployed Chechens. Brutalized by war and atrocities committed by Russian troops, they were easily radicalized” (Shah). Islamic militants and resistance fighters all made their way to the country, and the type of warfare changed from armed civilians and military defending their country to terrorism and stealth. It also changed how much of the world looked at Chechnya and their ongoing fight for recognition and independence. In fact, many believe that Chechnya has become a haven for Islamic terrorists, making it as dangerous as Afghanistan or Iraq. “It has also been suggested that Islamic extremist terrorist groups such as Al Quaeda and others have been involved in some aspects of the Chechen war, and earlier, when such terrorist groups were supported by the west to destabilize the former Soviet Union” (Shah). If this is the case, the war in Chechnya could be even more important to a world that largely seems to ignore the conflict and ensuing human rights violations.
President Dudayev was killed in a Russian rocket attack in 1996, and in 1997, Aslan Maskhadov was elected to replace Dudayev. Early in 1999, Maskhadov declared “Islamic Shari’ah law, to be phased in over the next three years. Some former rebel commanders announced a rival body to govern Chechnya, also based on Shari’ah law, calling on Maskhadov to resign, hinting at internal conflicts” (Shah). Now, instead of a united front against Russia, Chechen extremists created internal conflict that would translate negatively to the outside world and imperil her fight for independence. Russia accused the Chechens of supporting Islamic militants, (which the government denied, but some warlords openly did anyway). In 1999, historian Shah writes,
Former members of the Chechen republican legislature established a Moscow-based State Council of the Republic of Chechnya, affording Moscow a reason to recognize it as the sole legitimate Chechen authority and to refuse negotiation with Maskhadov. In this manner, war could then be legitimized if needed (Shah).
Thus, the factions in Chechnya were split even further, and the conflict began to take a decidedly militant and ugly turn. As strife and war continued between the two countries, many Russian cities have been bombed by Chechen extremists, killing and injuring hundreds of Russians. In addition, the Chechen economy has suffered drastically, and thousands of Chechens have fled the country.
The main attacks of the Chechnya crisis occurred in 1994, when Russian forces first attacked, and again in 2000, when much of the capital Grozny was razed by Russian troops. In 1994, the war lasted 20 months, and much of Chechnya was devastated, along with the 80,000 or more that were killed. In early 1995, Chechen rebels took hostages in a Southern Russian hospital, and over 100 were killed when Russians botched a rescue attempt. The Russians carry out extensive bombing in the country, especially in Grozny, in an attempt to undermine the Chechen economy. Historian Shah continues, “Civilian casualties were high and there was an international outcry at the brutal Russian crackdown and indiscriminate bombing and targeting of civilians” (Shah). In 1997, Presidents Yeltsin and Maskhadov sign a peace treaty, but the treaty does not address Chechen independence, and many are critical of Maskhadov’s relationship with Russian leaders. Internal conflict continues as numerous Russian diplomats serving in Chechnya are kidnapped and/or killed by Chechen extremists.
By the end of 1999, Chechen rebels have bombed Russian apartments throughout the country, and Russian military buildings in neighboring Dagestan. New Russian President Vladimir Putin redeploys Russian troops in Chechnya as a result of the insurgents’ attacks, and thousands of Chechens flee the country before war begins again. The 2000 war resulted in Russia capturing Grozny, and Russian President Putin declaring Chechnya will be governed from Moscow. By June, “Russia appoints former Chechen cleric Akhmed Kadyrov as head of its administration in Chechnya. Kadyrov is answerable to Putin and the presidential representative in the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev” (Editors). This battle ended with Chechnya further under Russian control, and incited many additional terrorism incidents by Chechen rebels, including the downing of a Russian helicopter, and the taking of a Russian theater with over 800 hostages in 2002. “Most of the rebels and some 120 hostages are killed when Russian forces storm the building” (Editors). What was worse, the rebels gained worldwide notoriety for their act, and most of the publicity they received was negative. The world could not sympathize with a group that involved so many innocent civilians, and the rebels’ cause did not seem so heroic or important to the world in the aftermath of the theater affair.
Of course, the Chechens feel they are justified in their terrorism on Russia and its citizens, partly because of the crisis in human rights discovered in Chechnya after the two Russian attacks. Initially, most of the human rights violations occurred with Russian troops in the area, who routinely raped, murdered, executed, and tortured Chechen citizens, while numerous citizens simply “disappeared,” never to return. In 1999, mass graves were found in Chechnya, indicated genocide by Russian troops. Additionally, there are many indications that Russian “authorities covered up evidence of extra-judicial executions” (Shah). It is difficult to say what else they have covered up in their attempt to neutralize and defeat the Chechens.
Today, however, Russian troops are not the only fear the citizens of Chechnya face. Beginning in 2004, “a new and increasingly militant armed group under the command of the son of Chechnya’s President Akhmed Kadyrov, popularly known as the Kadyrovtsy, are blamed for an increasing portion of the ‘disappearances’ and many Chechens say they fear the Kadyrovtsy more than federal troops” (“Situation”). Clearly, the Russians do not only conduct all the atrocities taking place in Chechnya, but there are indications they are still committing the majority of abuses in the country. Studies of victims seeking asylum in other countries consistently show the routine use of rape and torture by Russian. The human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, reports,
During assessment and treatment, sixteen women and one man disclosed rape to clinicians at the Medical Foundation. In thirteen of these cases, the alleged perpetrators were Russian soldiers, in three cases they were said to be Russian police officers, and in one Chechen rebels. Of the seventeen rape victims, ten were Chechens, five of mixed Chechen-Russian parentage (including the woman who described being raped by Chechen fighters), and two were Russians. All rape survivors were interviewed by professionals with years of experience interviewing victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence. The Medical Foundation found their testimony reliable and consistent with that of other rape survivors (“Situation”).
Human rights violations and terrorist activities continue to be the two greatest difficulties the Chechens face at the moment, and talks of peace are still stalled by the question of Chechen independence. Until the question is resolved, there will continue to be widespread violence inside and outside of Chechnya, and it would not be surprising to see the Russian army invade the area again, or begin new conflicts to suppress the Chechen rebels.
Today, Chechnya is at a critical crossroads. Chechen leaders cannot reach agreement with Russia over their status, and in the meantime, thousands of Chechen refugees live over the border in Ingushetia, their lives in limbo. In attempt to return Chechnya to “normalcy,” many Russian and Chechen officials are “persuading” refugees to leave the camps and return to Chechnya, but the refugees are afraid of violence if they return. Refugees report, “officials promised them compensation for lost property should they return, and warned they would lose their right to humanitarian aid if they did not. They also said law enforcement officials threatened to plant bullets or narcotics on them if they did not leave” (“Situation”). Continually, Human Rights Watch has found that those refugees who have returned to Chechnya are living in squalid conditions with no running water or sewage facilities, and little food. The promises of compensation for property also have not materialized (“Situation”). Clearly, the situation in Chechnya has not improved, in fact, it has deteriorated, and the citizens of the country have little hope for the future at this point.
In conclusion, the crisis in Chechnya has roots far back in history, and it continues today unchecked. The future of Chechnya is uncertain, but what is certain is that continued violence and terrorism will continue on both sides as long as the issue of Chechen independence goes unresolved.
Author not Available. ” The Situation in Chechnya and Ingushetia Deteriorates.” HumanRightsWatch.org. 8 April 2004. 23 April 2004. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/04/07/russia8408.htm
Brzezinski, Zbigniew and Paige Sullivan, eds. Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States: Documents, Data, and Analysis. Armonk, NY M.E. Sharpe, 1997.
Editors. “Country Profiles: Chechnya.” BBC. 2004. 23 April 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/country_profiles/2357267.stm
Shah, Anup. “Crisis in Chechnya.” GlobalIssues.org. 2 April 2004. 23 April 2004. http://www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/Chechnya.asp
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