Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Power Plays: Kremlin Fears Disarming Its Own Generals




The talk around town is that Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and General Anatoly Kvashnin have threatened to resign if the Kremlin tries to constrain their aspirations in Chechnya. The Kremlin and the president, who usually react harshly to such ultimatums, are keeping silent and apparently don't know how to get themselves out of the dead end they've driven themselves into. On one side, they have the reputation of the Kremlin in the eyes of the world community - which passed its friendly judgment on the brutality of military actions in Chechnya and the don't-give-a-damn attitude of Russian authorities toward the refugees. On the other, we have the Kremlin's fear of causing an explosion in the military.


It may be that the Kremlin could not care less about its reputation - but on Dec. 2, the deadlines for payments on London Club loans are coming up, and it had better not be counting on leniency this time. Western democracies will use this opportunity to make Russia understand it has a choice: either to have credits and indulgences on debts, at which point it should bring its imperial ambitions into proportion with its financial possibilities, or not to have credits or indulgences and become a pariah nation. However, Kremlin fears that the generals could react harshly to attempts by civilian authorities to lower tensions in the war are also founded.


"The military won't allow Moscow politicians to take away its victory" is the slogan of the past few weeks. This slogan, endlessly repeated by the generals in Mozdok, testifies that the military's hands have been untied, that it has been given the opportunity to avenge its defeat in the last Chechen war and that it is ready to exploit it to the fullest.


The last few weeks have clearly shown that the solving of political problems in the Caucasus has been farmed out to the military.


The evidence: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin finds out about this or that special operation there post factum; the government and the Kremlin are constantly forced to adjust to decisions made and executed not by them but by the men in epaulets. Today it seems that no one any longer recalls the original goal of the new Chechen war - creating a "sanitary" zone around the rebellious republic. It is now obvious that storming Grozny is only a question of days. It is just as obvious that neither Moscow nor military headquarters in Mozdok has any idea of how - or why - they would storm it. One feeling moves everything: revenge.


But no one is asking this question: What happens if the generals - having vented their revenge on Chechnya - want to vent it elsewhere? Like, for instance, on the Moscow politicians about whom they couldn't care less and whom they are in no hurry to obey? Can it really be the Kremlin didn't understand that handing political decisions over to the men in epaulets jeopardizes not only the democratic achievements of the country - small though they may be - but even their own survival?


It is clear that there is no simple solution anymore - things have gone too far. To stop the generals like they were stopped in 1996 is too dangerous: They won't tolerate such an insult again. But the current state of affairs is intolerable. The Kremlin has a difficult choice ahead of it.


Yevgenia Albats is an independent political analyst and journalist. Party Lines will now appear on Saturdays.