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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Better Chechnya Policy

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

The war in Chechnya made Vladimir Putin president. And the same war may, in the end, bring down his administration. The authorities simply have no idea how to escape from the present dead-end. As one Western journalist perceptively stated, Chechnya may play the same role for Russia as Algeria did for France in the 1950s.

On the one hand, officials are demonstrating a firm commitment to holding the territory while, on the other, they clearly don't know why they need it or what they will do with it if they get it. The main argument put forward in favor of continuing the war is that if Russia pulled out, a power vacuum would form in the region that would be filled by the field commanders ("warlords," "bandits").

Such considerations would seem pretty convincing if it weren't for one thing: There is just no way that Russia can win the war in Chechnya. It doesn't have the strength, the will or the psychological resources. Even those who are reluctant to see this obvious truth are forced to confront its unpleasant manifestations on a daily basis.

In such a situation, it is just a matter of time before the troops are withdrawn. And the longer the authorities try to postpone the inevitable, the longer they refuse to begin negotiations, the worse matters will be for Russia and the greater that risk that we will end up with — a power vacuum that will be filled by "bandits" and, most likely, destabilization in other parts of Russia.

Theoretically, there could be another resolution to the Chechen problem. Global experience shows that such conflicts can only be ended by means of negotiations. A cease-fire is the first step, followed by free elections under international control and, finally, a negotiated settlement on the status of the territory with a government holding a recognized mandate.

The term of President Aslan Maskhadov is expiring and a new administration could be formed under local and Russian laws in keeping with international norms. The only problem is that, under Chechen law, Maskhadov's term is automatically extended indefinitely as long as the fighting continues. If anyone is interesting in having a legitimate regime take power in Chechnya, a cease-fire is the first step.

Incidentally, it is by no means certain that a new Chechen administration would necessarily be radically nationalist. During the war, the population has been stuck between the rebels and the army. Considering what the army has been doing down there, it is not surprising that so far they have generally supported the rebels. However, this does not mean that their sympathy runs very deep. Moreover, within the rebel camp there are a large number of views concerning the future of the republic. As long as the Russian army is there, they are working together. However, under a cease-fire, instead of simply acting against a common enemy, these people would begin advancing their own views.

Ultimately, a solution depends on the level of democracy and civil equality within Russia itself. Moreover, ending the war demands negotiations with the Chechen fighters. Without them, any negotiations are simply a farce, although the Kremlin still refuses to acknowledge this.

Rational arguments do not sway the racists and fascists who are essentially the only remaining loyal supporters of Russia's Chechnya policy. Whenever talk turns to civil rights or a peaceful settlement, they respond sarcastically that no Chechen ever won the Nobel Prize for mathematics. By that token, Luxembourg should also be considered a potential target for planned extermination.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.