Vienna, August 4 – Neither the much-ballyhooed end of Russia’s counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya three months ago nor the call by Ichkeria émigré leader Akhmed Zakayev last week for militants to end their resistance has led to a decline in the number and intensity of militant attacks in Chechnya.
Instead, as Moscow media outlets are pointedly acknowledging, fighting between government forces (both pro-Moscow and pro-Grozny) and the militants has increased not just during the last three months (www.ng.ru/regions/2009-07-28/1_Boeviki.html) but even since Zakayev asked his supporters to stop their attacks (www.vremya.ru/2009/138/4/234471.html).
And that in turn is giving new urgency to efforts by analysts and officials in Moscow to come up with a more adequate explanation for what is going on there not only so they can cope with the deteriorating security situation in Chechnya itself but also prevent the further degradation of conditions across the North Caucasus.
Not surprisingly, as “NG-Regiony” reported at the end of last week, representatives of Russian force structures are playing down the increase in violence, explaining it as a “seasonal” development, that is, the combined result of better tree cover allowing the militants to hide themselves and fewer Muslim holidays when they elect not to engage in attacks.
And in the same issue, Aleksey Malashenko, an expert on the region at the Moscow Carnegie Center, provided a tightly focused explanation of why Zakayev’s call was unlikely to have the impact many expected. The émigré leader, Malashenko said, “has not influenced the situation in Chechnya for a long time.”
He is “a historical-political figure,” the Carnegie analyst continued, and “his return may have some positive importance above all for [Chechen President] Ramzan Kadyrov.” But neither that nor his appeal will have much effect on militants in the field or their clashes with Grozny and Moscow.
“In this situation,” Malashenko argued, “there exist three Chechnyas – the Chechnya of Ramzan [Kadyrov], the Chechnya of the militants and that Chechnya which has acted abroad and provided ideological cover for this affair.” The first and third of these Chechnyas have now found “a common language, but that may not matter as much as many have expected.
That is because, the Moscow scholar pointed out, “the third Chechnya” consists of self-reproducing militants who “do not subordinate themselves to anyone and act absolutely independently. They will act with still greater intensity since now they can count only on themselves as they do not have any cover abroad or someone to negotiate for independence.”
Both these explanations contain important truths, but the situation is sufficiently explosive and disturbing that many officials and commentators are now seeking not only more comprehensive explanations but also better guidance on how the situation in Chechnya and its neighbors is likely to develop now.
As they have done in the past, senior Moscow and Southern Federal District security and law enforcement officials gathered behind closed doors in Vladikavkaz to discuss the matter, a meeting one regional Internet site reported under the headline “The Siloviki in the Searches for Times Lost” (www.vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/politika/6290.html#).
While the thinking of these officials is far from clear, an analysis posted on the Rosbalt.ru news agency site indicates just how serious officials at the center view the situation and why an increasing number of them appear to have concluded that the latest steps in Chechen affairs could open the way to a new war.
In a lengthy commentary, Ivan Preobrazhensky says that “in Moscow and Grozny, officials understand” that the Chechen problem not only is far from resolved – more violence is likely – but that the rapprochement between Kadyrov and Zakayev could make the situation a great deal worse from Russia’s point of view (www.rosbalt.ru/2009/07/29/658911.html).
Although the failure of Zakayev’s appeal to quiet the militants may strike many as the most important aspect of the situation, the Rosbalt.ru commentator suggests that such a focus misses the point. The coming together of the two means that Kadyrov can now “proudly call himself ‘president of all the Chechens.’”
All the Chechens that is, of course, except those “few” who continue to fight. But that is no small thing, Preobrazhensky points out because Moscow “should not forget” that Kadyrov is now in a position to view himself not simply as the head of “that part of the republic which has agreed to live according to the laws and rules of Moscow.”
Now, he is something more, the Rosbalt.ru analyst says. And “if Ramzan Akhmatovich on his own or under the influence of some in his entourage should feel himself more the president of all Ichkerians and not of all Chechens, then Moscow will not have any instruments for influencing the situation in the region except declaring a new counter-terrorism operation.”
Not only will that be a black eye for the Russian government which has sought to portray itself as the victor in Chechnya, but it will encourage the militants not only there but elsewhere as well, especially since they are very much aware that Moscow lacks the funds and most Russians the stomach for a renewal of high intensity conflict.