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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Uh-Oh, Mr. Putin: Here Come the Chechens

Prague Watchdog reports:

The Chechen underground, it seems, has got its second wind. The beginning of the spring and summer campaign has been marked by several high-profile attacks. However, in the absence of any plausible statistics it is rather difficult to judge to what extent the current activity of the saboteurs is unique. Does it exceed the figures for the same period last year, or the year before? While it would obviously be wrong to jump to conclusions, the frequency and scale of operations during the past month are none the less unprecedented. The Alkhazurovo raid in May, the similar attacks in Benoy, the shelling of a convoy near the village of Chishki, the shooting-up of an armoured personnel carrier near Bamut: such is the list – doubtless an incomplete one – of sabotage actions by the Chechen underground.

While there is, of course, a possibility that this tightly-packed series of events may have been accidental, it is not too great. What is certainly not open to doubt is the fact that the death-knell of the Chechen resistance, which the Kadyrovite and federal authorities have been trying to ring for many years, entirely without its consent, will once again be indefinitely postponed.

Ruslan Martagov, a consultant for the Moscow-based Anti-terror Foundation, says that bold and large-scale attacks by the guerrillas should be expected this summer. He is convinced that the current aggravation marks the beginning of a new phase of armed struggle. "A resistance movement,” he explains, “cannot for long remain a thing in itself, because it then turns into a secret masonic lodge that has to influence the course of events by means of hidden political levers. The underground possesses no such levers, and the only way it can introduce correctives into the system is by making a substantial military impact. Accordingly, it needs new supporters, and these can only be attracted by a demonstration of strength and heroism, a commitment to ideas of revolutionary change in society and the ability to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of those ideas."

Martagov does not place much credence in the notion that young people will take part in an armed rising under the influence of the ideas of radical Islam. "There is no particular ban on religious faith in the republic,” he says. "Of course, so-called ‘traditional Islam’ occupies the dominant position – it’s advocated by the authorities and imposed from above, but for the most part heterodox Muslims in Chechnya are not subjected to such a degree of harassment that the only way out for them is to take up arms." According to Martagov, the mass discontent of young Chechens has quite a different character. "We’ve appointed a Bey, a medieval Sultan. When everything revolves around one man and for one man, Chechens radically rebel.”

The Chechen political analyst Zaindi Choltayev puts this idea even more strongly. "Chechen society has always been characterized by a high degree of capacity for consensus, which forms the basis for the solution of all problems. The tendency of the authorities towards control in every sphere conflicts with our national mentality."

Choltayev believes that that there are now fewer and fewer objective reasons for discontent in Chechnya. The republic is completing the process of its reconstruction, while the level of violence and arbitrariness on the part of the local and federal law enforcement agencies is steadily declining. While there may only be a meagre growth in the number of jobs, the most important thing is that there are now some rules which, although they are imperfect, make it possible for people to achieve at least some degree of interaction with the authorities. There can be no doubt that this situation is more comfortable for the republic’s residents than the one that has prevailed there for many years. However, relative social prosperity is unable to provide the much-needed confidence that all is right with the current Chechen world.

"One-man authoritarian government is perceived as something alien, something that’s been imposed on us and is therefore felt to be an extremely offensive form of government," Choltayev says. What is more, Chechens are stubbornly unwilling to reconcile themselves to conditions that are inferior to those experienced by people in the rest of Russia. Of course, in the scheme devised by the Kremlin authors of the Chechen ghetto, the entire Chechen people are guilty of trying to secede from Russia, and must therefore be kept under permanent control. But the Chechens are unlikely to consent to having the principle of collective responsibility applied to them. They are demanding a more civilized approach, based upon law – each person must be answerable for actions committed.

"Beyond Chechnya’s borders,“ Choltayev explains, “there are political freedoms, even though they’ve been reduced to miserable proportions. In Chechnya such freedoms don’t exist. Here people have not been left the opportunity of expressing their disagreement with the existing state of affairs through the courts or the media. There was one “St Yury’s Day” – the presidential elections, but even that has been taken away from them. So the only way to oppose the current regime is to pick up a cobblestone or an automatic weapon."

Choltayev is convinced that the alien system that has been introduced into Chechen society by means of military force and political diktat will remain a constant source of active dissent and military conflict. Until the Kremlin realizes that it has no option but to reckon with the foundations and essence of the Chechen way of life, the underground will continue to operate, drawing the republic’s youth into its ranks. "The older people find it easier to tolerate what’s going on, because they remember the Soviet times and the violence back then. The present system is unpleasant, of course, but it’s almost a rehash of Communist totalitarianism. In addition, the older people are burdened with families and obligations to relatives. But the young can tear up bonds which are still fragile and proceed regardless – to fight injustice."

Another Chechen expert, who is currently living in Moscow, believes that the current explosion of activity by the guerrillas is linked to structural changes in the Chechen resistance. He wishes to remain anonymous, as he was earlier closely connected with former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov and was subsequently forced to leave Chechnya in order to escape persecution. In his view, after the deaths of Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev and Shamil Basayev (particularly the latter), when the underground formed a new military strategy, the new leadership of the guerrilla movement was for a long time unable to decide on the planning of its military goals. The seizing of major population centres seemed to Dokka Umarov too expensive a way of demonstrating the mojahedins’ military effectiveness, and terror against the civilian population was not justified, as Putin had given the understanding that he was ready to make any sacrifices in order to preserve the government and its reputation.

The resistance is returning to large-scale operations in Chechnya precisely now because the work of internal unification has been completed. An announcement by the Caucasus Emirate has permitted the obtaining of support from abroad. New resources, both financial and human, have made their appearance. The influx of young men to the guerrilla movement over the past year has been very high. And finally, having tasted money and luxury, the Kadyrov regime has grown lazy and has lost its overtly repressive nature. The Kadyrovites have stopped feeling like medieval mercenaries, and want to become civil servants and oligarchs.

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