Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Chechens’ ‘Extra-Territorial’ Status Said a Threat to Russia

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 6 – In order to help Ramzan Kadyrov build authority and thus maintain some stability inside Chechnya, Moscow has granted to Chechens living elsewhere in the Russian Federation what amounts to “extra-territorial” status, a move that makes more clashes between Chechens and other groups likely.
That is the intriguing conclusion Pavel Svyatenkov, a Moscow analyst who has written regularly on ethnic and religious issues inside the Russian Federation, presents in an article posted on the APN web portal today entitled “The Extra-Territorial Nation” (
Svyatenkov begins by observing that the Chechens are involved in far more ethnic clashes than are other groups. Their involvement, however, cannot be explained merely by their participation in conflicts -- Azerbaijanis, Armenians, and Russians have done so as well – or the fact that the Chechens uniquely fought against Russia as such.
Instead, the Moscow analyst says, “the basic source of the problem is the unregulated status of Chechnya” and particularly Moscow’s current effort to deal with it by supporting Kadyrov who, while illegitimate in the eyes of many Chechens, appears to give Moscow its best chance of preventing a new outbreak of war there.
For Kadyrov to remain in power, he cannot rely on the coercive power of Moscow alone. He must build some “legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Chechens,” and the way he and Moscow have chosen for him to do so, Svyatenkov continues, is to have Kadyrov present himself as the defender of Chechens across the Russian Federation.
Moscow has been willing to meet him more than half way on this issue, and “as a result, Chechen communities have received on the entire territory of Russia extra-territorial status.” This status is not de jure, Svyatenkov says, but it is very much de facto, a reflection of the fact that “there is a political practice that is higher than the law.”
Here is how this works, he continues: If a Chechen commits some crime, the authorities to do use the standard mechanism of punishment according to the law.” Instead, “they enter into negotiations with the representatives of the local Chechen community. Thus it was in Kondopoga; thus it was also in Stavropol.”
This “mechanism,” Svyatenkov argues, “effectively removes “the Chechens out from under the jurisdiction of Russia, giving them a status more like diplomats than members of an ethnic community and making them feel in at least some cases beyond the reach of the law.
This special status for the Chechens, Svyatenkov suggests, is clear if one considers what happens when a crime is committed by a member of any other ethnic group – “someone from Daghestan, an Azerbaijani, a Georgian or an Armenian.” In such cases, “no one would begin to conduct negotiations with their communities.”
“The organs of power” would simply treat them according to the provisions of Russian laws. Members of other ethnic groups know this, he says, and they behave accordingly. The Chechens know they are in a special situation – and, he implies, they too behave accordingly as well.
There are three possible solutions to this problem, Svyatenkov concludes, but none of them is either easy or especially likely given the broader equities in both Moscow and Grozny that are so obviously involved.
First, Moscow could end this “extra-territorial” arrangement, but if it did, Kadyrov’s regime would likely collapse. That almost certainly would lead to a new round of fighting, something neither the Kremlin nor most people in Russia, including the security agencies, currently has much stomach for.
Second, Moscow could allow Chechnya to become independent. But that would not solve the problem either: Most Chechens would keep their Russian passports even as they acquired Chechen ones – and in that case, they could sometimes act as Russian citizens and sometimes with the kind of extra-territorial status they have now.
Or third, Moscow could encourage Kadyrov to rein in the Chechens, to encourage them to become law-abiding. But he seems unwilling or unable to do that in Chechnya itself let alone in the Russian Federation more generally. And were he to try, that might destroy whatever legitimacy the current arrangement has given him.
Consequently -- and in a way that may strike many as completely unexpected -- President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to end the conflict in Chechnya have had the effect of bringing one aspect of its violence into virtually every major city and every major region of the Russian Federation.

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