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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Avoiding Chechnya

Russians were recently heartened by announcements that the Russian government, at the urging of First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, had made a major decision on building an oil pipeline that would go from the city of Khasavyurt in Dagestan to the Voskresenskaya stanitsa, or large Cossack village, in Stavropol, thus bypassing Chechnya.

The announcement was received everywhere in Russia with a feeling of deep satisfaction and pride in the restoration, at last, of the bygone political will of the Russian government. It should be noted that political will was demonstrated earlier, in December 1994, and for the last time in August 1996, when Lieutenant General Konstantin Pulikovsky issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the rebel leaders and began to bombard Chechnya. (This was a person who, according to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, is the most stupid of the Russian generals, if you can imagine such a thing. But there is no such thing as the most stupid general, just as there is no such thing as the biggest number on earth.) The pipeline will cost $220 million and take several months to build. It is not something a single regiment could do in a few hours.

Our satisfaction and our pride is based on concrete logic. Once and for all, we will avoid the blackmail of the intractable Maskhadov and whims of Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, head of the Chechen oil company Yunko, who asked an exorbitant price for the transit of oil from Baku to Novorossiisk. They thought that under threat of breaking the agreement on transporting Caspian oil, Russia would agree to anything. They picked the wrong people to fool around with! We aren't going to bombard any more, but we will lay a pipeline, just as we laid electric lines so that they would not appropriate energy. We put a shunt into the coronary artery of President Boris Yeltsin and that did not turn out too badly. And now there is all the more reason to put a shunt in the pipeline through Chechnya. In the end, it will cost Russia less to avoid Chechnya. If you want to be independent, that is how it will be.

As Comrade Stalin once said with his Georgian accent about another incident: "It's clear, although a little stupid." And such moves are a lot less harmless than the other famous initiative by Nemtsov concerning making government officials ride in domestic cars. It would seem that recognizing the need to solve the question of transporting oil cheaply and at the same time affirming the country's self respect is a rather natural approach.

But that those who lost the war would compensate the victors with an economic war, blockade and hunger is the most destructive kind of revenge. Russia will still have to give money to Chechnya. I would even go so far as to say that, for all the destruction that the war caused the country, giving Chechnya money would not be the most burdensome of the many subsidies that are extended to the regions. Russia could certainly pay for the war damage in the form of payments for the transit of oil. It is no accident that the former chief representative in Chechnya, Ivan Rybkin, who understands this, reacted so negatively to the proposal by Nemtsov, who himself does not seem to grasp the historical perspectives for relations with Chechnya. And they are plain as could be: For Russia, it is not important that Chechnya be part of the federation at any price, but that it be a loyal and stable republic with a civilized infrastructure.

Chechen terrorism, which is unrestrained by the Chechen authorities, is close to disappearing by itself. What joy can terrorists take in blowing up yet another train station? It results in nothing good, and no one can know how Allah will relate to such actions. And terrorists can expect no applause for such acts. They say that even after the seizure of Budyonnovsk, which had important consequences for the start of negotiations, Dzhokhar Dudayev told Shamil Basayev: "I ordered you to take the Kremlin, and you took a maternity ward."

The Kremlin is protected by a strong medieval fortress, whereas a pipeline would be easy to overcome. It must be supposed that the hard-liners are once again assuring the president that they can fence off the pipeline with barbed wire, and he once again believes them. Rather than pay Chechnya for pumping the oil, it is better to pay the Interior Ministry for security, so the argument goes.

This is how Izvestia writer Sergei Leskov evaluates the chances for sabotage of the pipeline: "Since the pipe will be dug one or two meters into the ground, you won't be able to do it without a bulldozer. And a bulldozer, it can be supposed, could not pass from Chechnya to Russian territory quietly."

For a start, the mechanism that is used for pipelines is not a bulldozer but an excavator. Moreover, it is easier to dig such pits with a shovel. If a bulldozer were needed, it could be hired on the spot, and not taken from Chechnya. But even this is not a problem. I have seen how at strictly guarded check points, entire convoys loaded with contraband have been let through.

The journalist's view of the situation is not necessarily on the same level of understanding as the government's. But it was Yeltsin, not Leskov, who at the start of the war made allegations of 38 foreign snipers working in Chechnya. And it was not he who invented this, but specialists who gave him the ideas.

I have nothing but love (it's true!) and the best wishes for Nemtsov. But it would be wrong to think that he is only lowering the price of the pipeline.

Anatoly Shabad, a former State Duma deputy, is an adviser to Russia's Democratic Choice. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.