Vienna, September 6 – Chechen separatism, defined as the drive for an independent state enjoying international recognition, is no longer a threat to Moscow either in the short or medium term, according to a leading Russian analyst of the ethno-politics in the Caucasus.
But what Sergei Markedonov calls “the systemic separatism” of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov – his efforts to sharply limit Moscow’s control over his republic while not seeking independence as such –threatens Moscow’s control of that republic now and may become more of one in the future.
And in an article today on the 16th anniversary of the overthrow of the communist regime in Grozniy, Markedonov argues that Kadyrov’s approach is gaining Chechnya greater freedom of action than that enjoyed by his predecessors and could trigger a new drive for secession in the event of a crisis of state power in Russia.
In his essay, he advances seven reasons for thinking that few Chechens are likely to push for the independence of that republic anytime soon and then three reasons why Kadyrov’s “systemic separatism” not only enjoys support but also represents a threat (http://www.polit.ru/author/2007/09/06/chechnya.html).
The first reason for thinking that secession is unlikely to gain much support is that the Chechens have not been permanent enemies of the Russian state at least as compared to other nations in the North Caucasus. Instead, they like most nations of this region have responded to the various situations they have found themselves in.
When it was obvious that the Moscow-based state was the only game in town, the Chechens like most other groups there have tended to work with the Russian authorities. But when that state weakened or even failed, then the Chechens have tried to find a way to defend their particular space.
That is what happened in the 1990s: the Russian state had collapsed, and the Chechens sought to take advantage of this development, copying the work of independence movements elsewhere rather than relying on a homegrown national movement as did the Balts or Georgians.
The second reason is that Chechens today recognize that the effort to secure independence in the 1990s failed less because of the efforts of the Russian military and security services than because Grozniy was never able to establish the institutions of effective statehood.
Third, the Chechens also recognize that they are not able to defeat the Russian state on the battlefield. The best they can hope for is that Moscow might decide to cut its continuing losses and withdraw, something that seems ever less likely to most in both Moscow and Grozniy.
Fourth, he continues, separatism has become virtually impossible because of the large demographic losses the Chechen nation has suffered during the wars with Moscow and the flight of many Chechens beyond the borders of the republic and especially into the cities of the Russian Federation.
Fifth – and Markedonov suggests this is particularly important – the Chechens are linked to and embedded in Russian society, unlike the Abkhaz or Karabakh residents who are tied in the first instance to another state. That makes any effort to leave far more problematic.
Sixth, unlike the Baltic movements at the end of Soviet times or the “unrecognized states” today, Chechnya does not have any “influential international protectors.” Almost all who backed its “freedom fighters” earlier, he continues, have been repelled by the rise of Islamist radicalism and terrorist actions like Beslan.
And seventh, the Chechen elite, having lived through the post-Soviet period, has chosen a nation building strategy that is not based on open secession. That strategy, Markedonov argues, deserves to be called “systemic separatism,” and the rest of his article is devoted to why it may prove more threatening to Moscow than open secession.
According to Markedonov, this strategy deserves to be called “systemic” because it is “being realized within the framework of the Russian state (from a formal point of view).” But it should be acknowledged as “separatism” because Kadyrov’s regime is already not “under the control of the federal authorities.”
First of all, Kadyrov, Markedonov points out, regularly calls for “the national rebirth” of Chechnya, seeks to speak for Chechens throughout the Russian Federation. Second, he conducts his own foreign policy, traveling abroad especially to the Middle East and encouraging foreign leaders to visit Grozniy.
And third – and this is by far the most important reason for thinking that his “systemic separatism” may grow into something else – Kadyrov and the Chechen elite around him are working hard to produce a genuine “intra-national consensus,” a precondition for united action that Chechens have not had up to now.
As long as the Russian political situation remains relatively stable, Markedonov suggests, the only real danger to Moscow from Kadyrov’s strategy is that other regional leaders may seek to copy all or part of it – even if the Kremlin continues to insist that Chechnya must be treated differently lest the war heat up again.
But if the Russian Federation were to enter a new period of crisis or even state failure, then Markedonov concludes, there is a very real possibility that Chechens would quickly drop the adjective “systemic” from their strategy and again pursue independent statehood, this time quite possibly with far greater chance of success.