Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Winning in Chechnya in the Media But Not on the Ground

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 19 – Claims by pro-Moscow officials in Grozny that there are no more “major armed formations of militants” in Chechnya and promises by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov that he will shut down the underground resistance there by the end of this year now dominate Russian and Western media coverage of the conflict.
But these claims and promises, according to an independent Chechen journalist based in the republic’s capital, are completely contradicted by “daily reports on local television channels” about the latest attacks by militants and the support they still receive from the population (
In an essay posted online yesterday, Grozny-based writer Lema Musayev points out that pro-Moscow forces have succeeded in killing most of the major leaders of the Chechen resistance in the past and forcing pro-independence groups to organize themselves in smaller groups and attack smaller targets.
But he says, those obvious Russian “successes” should not obscure three other realities: First, the number of attacks by militants and the number of their supporters “is not falling” even if the targets of these attacks are no longer as large and mediagenic as they were in the past.
Second, because the pro-Moscow forces are claiming victory so frequently and are now “dizzy with success,” they have reduced their own numbers in many parts of Chechnya, thereby making it easier for the insurgents to operate and to win support from residents who are angry at the nominal authorities for failing to protect them.
And third – and this is far and away the most important development, according to Musayev – there has been a change in the make-up of the Chechen resistance, one that suggests the militants are likely to be even more unrestrained in the use of force against their opponents than independence forces were in earlier times.
Musayev suggests that “the lyrical quality and charismatic nature of leaders of the Dudayev period have disappeared into the past. Having begun their careers as public politicians, [those leaders] even when their were operating in the atmosphere of the underground continued to feel themselves to be leaders whom the people supported.
“In the hopes of recovering this public status,” Musayev continues, “these people thought about the sympathies of the population and attempted not to act cruelly and at odds with the norms of public morality.”
But “now, in place of these relatively humane and disciplined brigade generals have arrived pitiless and cruel young amirs-mujahids, who are not unknown to anyone and who do not recognize the need for support from others. Formed by war, they are pitiless not only to federal forces but also in an equal degree to their compatriots.”
Unlike Chechen President Jokar Dudayev in the early 1990s, “they are not concerned with winning broad sympathy” from the population. And because of that, these new leaders are prepared to act with precisely the kind of unrestrained violence that the Chechen independence movement in almost all cases avoided.
Moreover, these new leaders, who are driven more by religious than by ethnic motives, have little concern with the Chechen national cause. Instead, they are more interested in driving Russia and Russians out of the North Caucasus as a whole and thus move across borders in the region without giving it much thought.
And given this larger goal, the new mujahids are also preparing for a much longer fight than were earlier Chechen leaders, Musayev argues, a fight that could go on for “years” and in many places across southern Russia regardless of whether they gain a victory in one place or another – or even none at all.
But because Moscow and Grozny are winning the war in the media, Musayev concludes, they appear to have little interest in acknowledging these new realities and dangers. Instead, both the one and the other remain committed to proclaiming victory over Chechen separatism “so as not to darken the last year of Putin’s presidency.”

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