Vienna, January 17 – Over the last two years, more than 1,000 Chechens, both men and increasingly women between the ages of 16 and 30, have gone into the mountains to fill the ranks of independence-minded militants, not only lowering the average age of the Chechen “underground” but changing its political agenda.
According to an article in Moscow’s “Novaya gazeta,” military officials in Grozny say that “these young people are filling the vacancies of those who until recently had fought alongside Maskhadov and Basayev” but who now, having been amnestied, fight on behalf of Ramzan Kadyrov against the new recruits (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/002/00.html).
And that means, the paper says, that in Chechnya today there is “a war of generations,” an older one that at least nominally backs Kadyrov and a younger that opposes his authoritarian rule, but neither of which appears all that interested in the integration of that North Caucasus republic into Russian life, however much Vladimir Putin proclaims victory in Chechnya.
In addition, the paper notes, there is an even more serious potential problem with this new influx of young people into the ranks of the militant opposition: a large number of them are family members of and retain ties to members of the earlier generation who have now gone to work in Kadyrov’s regime, links that call into question the ultimate loyalty of the latter..
The Chechen president himself is very much concerned about these links. A few months ago, “Novaya gazeta” recalls, Kadyrov said that “it is no secret that many of our chiefs and directors are relatives of young people who have gone into the forests. I know that they maintain ties with them and even provide them with food.”
“If in the course of ten days,” he warned, “these young people do not return home, all the chiefs and leaders will be put on trial. [Moreover,] I prohibit burying those who fight against us. If I find out that in some village, they bury someone who was in the forest, no one [there] will remain in their job: not the militia chief, not the administration head and not the imam.”
Kadyrov has acted on this threat, dismissing officials known to have family members fighting Grozny, ordering that 24 of their houses be burned down between July and December 2008 alone, and taking other actions spreading terror within the civilian population, leaving some of its members cowed but far more infuriated, with some of the latter prepared to take up arms.
The paper details what happened in the wake of an assassination attempt against Kadyrov last year. Many people were directly punished for either their supposed involvement in the plot or for failing to stop it, but the upshot of all this was that several young people decided to join the militants, precisely the opposite course of action Kadyrov hoped to promote.
An ethnic Russian who works as a prosecutor in Grozny having been given assurances that he would not be named said that there were three reasons young people are increasingly going into the forests to fight Kadyrov and his regime: “money, the absence of educational and employment opportunities, and good psychological efforts” by the opposition.
Consequently, the prosecutor continued, Russia cannot count on the generation that fought for independence in the 1990s and now works for Kadyrov, and it cannot count on the generation of young people who are now increasingly making the decision to fight against Kadyrov.
Instead, he said, “we will be able to count” only on the generation now being born in Chechnya, although as the “Novaya gazeta” journalists note, they did not ask the prosecutor “who stands behind this ‘we.’” And the ethnic Russian prosecutor in turn did not offer to explain.
Instead, he cut off the interview because it was getting dark and “nights here are not secure.”