Could the Chechen Wars Have Been Avoided? – Part III

Dear Readers:

This will conclude my 3-part work-through of this piece by Evgeny Krutikov for VZGLIAD magazine.  Where we left off, a series of “strange men” were passing, one by one, into the vacuum of power in Grozny, Chechnya.  A vacuum  left when central power began to disintegrate.  As in many regions, the Soviet government had dug its own grave when it cultivated national elites and a non-socialist-minded intelligentsia.  This intelligentsia, all cut from the same cookie cutter, militantly promoted non-socialist and anti-soviet belief systems including an abstract nationalism.  With the disintegration of the socialist economy and purposeful sabotaging of the federal government, then it was inevitable that the regions would fall to various separatist forces.  The only remaining question was the ideology of said separatists, would they go with a nationalist secular idea; or maybe something else entirely?

We Must Remember Our Mistakes

With that subhead, Krutikov reminds his readers, once again, that the ensuing bacchanalia of nationalism in the emerging Chechen Republic, as embodied in the pacifist history professor Hussein Akhmadov, had nothing to do with non-traditional (i.e., Wahhabi) forms of Islam, which is basically the state religion of the Saudi Arabian monarchy.  The Chechen people had always adhered to the more Persian brand of Sufi Islam, hence the Wahhabi version, which is also associated everywhere with violent terrorism, was not native to them.  It was an import.  Just as this particularly nasty variety of terrorism was a later import.

Should Yeltsin have made a deal with Dudayev?

Krutikov believes that, in retrospect, the Russian Federation government could have made a deal with Dudayev.  Rumors to the contrary, Dudayev wasn’t a crazy man.  If (Russian President) Yeltsin had treated him with respect, then he (Dudayev) could have become Russia’s point person in the North Caucasus.  Unfortunately, once the armed rebellion had begun, then the Russian methodology no longer allowed the possibility of negotiations with the rebels.

To this day people debate this issue.  One point of view:  If Russia had recognized Dudayev as the legitimate leader in Grozny, then this would significy a formal admission that the Russian Federation itself had dissolved into pieces.  One needs to keep in mind, that the main advisors and counselors of the Russian government, had no clue what was really going on, and yet were motivated by blind ideological notions of THEIR vision of Russia’s future.

Professor Emil Pain

Example:  Emil Pain.  [pronounced in Russian “pa-yeen”, not like the English word “pain”]  Hailing from Kiev originally, then, like his CV mentions, Pain received his doctorate in Ethnography from the Soviet Academy of Sciencies in 1983.  His field of specialty was “urban development”.  During the “Times of Trouble”, namely in 1993, Pain took the post of Head of the Center of Ethnographic and Regional Studies, then soon became a member of the President’s Advisory Board.  Pain had direct access to Boris Yeltsin, and advised him on international and inter-regional issues.  Pain filtered the news coming out of Chechnya and ignored information which didn’t fit into his preconceived notions.  [Jumping forward a few years, here is a selection of Pain’s later essays on the issues of Russian nationalism and multiculturalism.]

On the other side of the fence, in Grozny, there was a serious group of people, these were the puppet-masters who pulled Dudayev’s strings and manipulated the military coup.  These people had their own ideology:  Their plan was to transform Chechnya into a modern Kuweit.  They regarded Russia as an invading colonial power.  This group too emerged from the womb of the Soviet intelligentsia and manipulated Soviet terminology and ways of thinking to their own advantage.  They spoke Russian fluently and purely, without the typical Chechen accent.  It is also within the realm of possibility that Russia could have cut a deal with these people.

Russia and the North Caucasus

The reality was that Moscow did not have the physical capability of crushing the revolt in its infancy.  And, as is typical of these affairs, Dudayev himself soon lost control of the situation, once the chaos theory kicked in.  Dudayev possessed only a faint conception of the various class and social forces operating in his own society; therefore he quickly became a target of less principled individuals such as Udugov.

Imam Shamil, an effective anti-Russian leader

The responses of the Center to these events was not helpful.  There was a lame attempt to create a shadow “ministry” consisting of academics and bureaucrats of the third ranking.  Nobody paid any attention to them; and meanwhile Dudayev started to acquire grandiose ambitions.  Well, he saw himself if not as a new Napoleon, but at least a new Imam Shamil, who had fought against the Russians in the early 19th century.  Unlike Dudayev, Shamil was a highly effective military and political leader against the Russian army and Empire.  But eventually the rules of Reality dictated that Shamil lose to the superior army.  The Russian people at their best being a fairly forgiving bunch, the captured Shamil was allowed to live in a comfortable exile, first near Moscow, then in Kiev; and was allowed to perform the Haj to Mecca in 1869, where he died in Medina in 1871, at peace with himself and his God.

Dudayev’s end was not quite so ennervating.  As his wiki entry describes:  Dudayev was killed on 21 April 1996, by two laser-guided missiles when he was using a satellite phone, after his location was detected by a Russian reconnaissance aircraft, which intercepted his phone call. At the time Dudaev was reportedly talking to a liberal deputy of the Duma in Moscow, supposedly Konstantin Borovoy. Additional aircraft were dispatched (a Su-24MR and a Su-25) to locate Dudayev and fire a guided missile. Exact details of this operation were never released by the Russian government. Russian reconnaissance planes in the area had been monitoring satellite communications for quite some time trying to match Dudayev’s voice signature to the existing samples of his speech. It was claimed Dudayev was killed by a combination of a rocket attack and a booby trap. He was 52 years old. He died six days after his 52nd birthday.

Again, things could have been different, but most of the blame goes to Yeltsin and his monstrously incompetence entourage, with Defense Minister Pavel Grachev being singled out by Krutikov for a special razzie award.

First Chechen War ended with Chechen win. Peace treaty signed in 1996 in Moscow.

Here is my translation of Krutikov’s concluding paragraph, which ends on a curiously upbeat note:

Now, a quarter of a century later, it must seem like it is relatively easy to judge the mistakes of that time; the mistakes are completely obvious to all.  And yet in September 1991 all that could be noticed were the wandering eyes of Khasbulatov, the brutal inadequacy of (Alexander) Rutskoi, the mini-Uzi in the hands of (Dudayev’s) underage bodyguard, and the dancing of the zikr in the public square.  Nobody could have imagined in just over two years, all of this would be turned into Hell on Earth, a Hell from which nobody emerged renewed or even unscathed.  In the final analysis, this putsch in the Chechen-Ingush Autonomy, which started off as just another local rebellion, similar to a whole series of similar ones, boiled over into probably the most significant internal political event of Russia in the 1990’s.  Which, in conclusion, transformed this dying nation into a new nation-state.

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