Russian president Vladimir Putin, in a vain attempt to exploit the Beslan school siege in North Ossetia on September 3, in which more than 340 people died, has sharply increased the scale and intensity of executions, tortures and kidnaps in Chechnya that are already a part of the Chechens’ lives. His exploitation of the tragedy to acquire dictatorial powers has ostensibly strengthened his hand and that of his agents in Grozny. But the Chechen people refuse to be intimidated, resolving to step up their resistance not only against the Russian occupiers but also against the pro-Moscow Chechen government. Even those Chechens who are opposed to separation from the Russian federation are furious about Putin’s war, claiming that it is strengthening the hand of the “extremists”. Many Russians who earlier backed Putin’s war on the Chechen movement are having second thoughts, fearing that he may be playing into the hands of the “separatist terrorists”.
On September 24 pro-Russia Chechen officials made an unprecedented criticism of the abuses against civilians. Taus Jabrailov, a senior member of the government, condemned “10 years of war which destroyed 80 percent of the infrastructure [of Chechnya], killed thousands of people and trampled on Chechens’ rights.” It is widely believed that Putin’s stepped-up ‘security measures’ can only succeed in increased persecution; human-rights activists say so openly, as has Sultan Ibraev, director of Memorial, a human-rights group in Sernovodsk, 15 miles west of Johar-Gala: “Putin is talking about increased security measures, but all that will mean is more repression.”
But Putin, a former head of Soviet intelligence, who naturally believes that only concentrated power and intimidation can enable a ruler to defeat “separatists”, is sticking to the promise he made when he came to power: that he would end the Chechens’ challenge by force. To counter criticism of his programme he is presenting the conflict as between terrorism and the rule of law. He presented the Beslan siege as another version of the attacks in September 2001, which are supposed to have made worldwide cooperation against “international terrorism” necessary. Like George Bush, he declared war on terrorism, putting his country on a war footing. “What we are facing is... international terror... against Russia,” he said in a feeble attempt to link the Chechen movement with al-Qa’ida.
Putin’s attempts to make this link have drawn criticism even from the Western media. It is true that Western leaders have not taken Putin to task for his Chechen policy as they have over his plans to acquire dictatorial powers; Bush, for instance, publicly criticised Putin for putting back the “democratisation” of Russia, but failed to censure him for his reign of terror in Chechnya. However, a number of Western journalists have been led to examine the nature of the conflict; they have concluded that it is not linked to al-Qa’ida or international terrorism.
One magazine report on September 11, for instance, described it as “home-grown, nurtured in a republic that has been systematically destroyed in the struggle for power”, and then criticisedRussia’s methods. “Russia has tried to wipe out Chechnya’s separatists... through direct military force, and... through Chechenisation,” the report explained.
Putin’s “Chechenisation” policy is naturally even more corrupt and clandestine than his approach to politics in the rest of the Russian Federation. In late August, for example, he held a rigged election in Chechnya, in which Alie Alkhanov emerged as the winner and successor to Akhmad Kadyrov, the late “president” who was assassinated in May. Putin uses corruption as a weapon: senior officers of the Russian army and local politicians, policemen and army officers are milking the country and enriching themselves. As a result of the uncontrolled, unrestricted use of power in Chechnya, the late Kadyrov’s family and clan now in effect control Chechnya.
Alkhanov will no doubt try to put his family and friends in a similar position while implementing Putin’s policies. As before, the heads of the military, judicial, administrative and political establishments will cooperate with enthusiasm. In the former Soviet Union, corruption was rife because of the unchallenged power of the Communist Party and the secrecy in which power was wielded. That corruption continues in the former republics of the Soviet Union. Indeed, in other former communist countries, such as China, corruption and dictatorial rule continue to be the norm, unabated.
In Chechnya the use of corrupt practices as an instrument of public policy means that war will continue. Political leaders appointed by the Kremlin, army- and police-chiefs and clan-leaders, all profit personally from the conflict, and have no interest in ending it. Opposition to this will always continue, quite rightly. But the Chechen people need outside help, particularly from Muslim countries and peoples, to break the stranglehold of the Kremlin and the local mafia.
It is certain that the rulers of Muslim countries who participate in the war on Islam and, like Putin, also use corruption as an instrument of public policy, will not aid the Chechen resistance. But Putin and his allies would be well advised to end their intervention in Chechnya, for the local resistance is determined to take the war to Russia itself. Western and Muslim rulers would be equally well advised to persuade the Kremlin to end its war crimes in Chechnya; otherwise the global Islamic movement will gain more tried and tested recruits in yet another part of the Muslim-majority territories.