Charlottesville, April 21 – Thirteen years to the day that Russian forces killed Dzhokhar Dudayev, Chechnya’s first president, Ramzan Kadyrov, that republic’s current one, has gained yet another concession from Moscow: The Russian military will not take Chechens this year into Russia’s uniformed service despite increasing the number to be drafted elsewhere.
That announcement in Grozny comes on the heels of Moscow’s declaration of the end of the counter-terrorism operation there, an act that has prompted some to talk about another “victory of Chechnya over Russia,” others to point to the continuing activity of anti-Russian militants there, and still others to argue that Moscow is making a third Chechen war “inevitable.”
But the most serious immediate consequence is likely to be a new outburst of anger by groups like the Russian Soldiers Mothers Committee who are already upset by Moscow’s decision to set higher draft quotas in predominantly ethnic Russian areas than in historically Muslim ones an arrangement that means ethnic Russians are more likely to have to serve.
The military commissariat of the Chechen Republic has announced that Chechens will be tested but not drafted this spring, thus removing from the country’s potential draft pool more than 80,000 youths of military age. Officials said they expected Chechens to be drafted in one of the next rounds (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/153184).
But no Chechens living in the republic have been drafted in significant numbers since 1991, a reflection both of the reluctance of parents to send their sons to serve under officers who passed through one or both of the Chechen wars and of a desire on the part Russian officials to avoid the problems of dedovshchina and crime that they would expect if Chechens were drafted.
There were a small number of inductions from Chechnya in 2002 and 2005, but there were protests from within the republic and from commanders as well. And consequently, both Grozny and Moscow have moved very cautiously on this front. Indeed, the very act of checking young Chechens this year to see if they are capable of serving may yet cause problems.
Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, the republic’s human rights ombudsman, says that the young Chechens are healthier than many had expected but that they are “children of war who have not yet passed through social rehabilitation.” And consequently, he says, that they should not be sent into other regions of Russia where “xenophobia” is widespread.
In his opinion, what Moscow should consider is “the formation of military-construction and railroad battalions from among the natives of the republic which would be involved in the recovery efforts directly inside [Chechnya]. That might solve some problems, but it would be virtually certain to create others.
Allowing future Chechen draftees to serve in their home area would almost certainly generate demands by other ethnic and regional groups to allow their draftees to follow suit, something that would if it spread make it difficult if not impossible for the Russian uniformed services to function and could contribute to separatist impulses elsewhere.
Yesterday, in an article published under the rubric “Far from Moscow,” “Yezhednevny zhurnal’s” Yuliya Latynina described the decision to end the counter-terrorism operation as “a victory day of Chechnya over Russia,” a retreat of Russian power even though anti-Moscow forces continue to operate (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=8999).
Indeed, she wrote, there is growing evidence that the militants are once again becoming more active at a time when more and more of them are simply joining Kadyrov’s government without really changing their views. Consequently, for many of them, Moscow’s action represents a victory, but not a victory for Russia.
Meanwhile, new reports indicate that Moscow is not living up to its promises: Since Moscow declared the end of the counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya, Russian forces have continued their operations in parts of the republic, highlighting the threats the militants still represent and making a mockery of Moscow’s claims (www.nr2.ru/incidents/229648.html).
And finally, Viktor Alksnis, the outspoken deputy president of the Popular Union Party in Russia, said that Russia’s concessions to Chechnya now are dangerous mistakes because they will, like the Khasavyurt accords of 1996, make yet another war in Chechnya “inevitable” (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=730784).
Alksnis said that Moscow’s decision to lift the counter-terrorism operation will only cause its opponents to increase their activity, something that will lead to more “victims” among the pro-Moscow population. Indeed, he said, “it is already possible to raise the question about when the third Chechen war will begin.”
“If you fight with terrorists,” he continued, “you must really do so. For this, one needs to declare a regime of martial law, to officially recognize that in the North Caucasus there is an armed revolt and not to invent some new juridical terms like counter-terrorist operation and thus put military people who are fulfilling their obligations in an impossible legal situation.”
But far worse, what Moscow has done by lifting this operation is to grant Kadyrov precisely what Dzhokhar Dudayev sought 15 years ago like control over customs and that Moscow first under Boris Yeltsin and then under Vladimir Putin said had to be retrieved if Russia’s territorial integrity and common legal space were to be maintained.
What does the latest action by the Russian government of Putin and Dmitry Medvedev thus say not just about where Chechnya may be heading but about where the Russian Federation is proceeding as well? Alksnis implicitly asks, a question ever more people in both places seem likely to be asking in the coming days.