A controversial presidential bill on combating
extremism was pushed through the State Duma by On June 6 the Duma
resolutely voted in favour of a law to counter extremism in the
first reading. The law was passed despite its clearly draft" nature
and the views of some parties that this law Clearly Chechnya is
the most sensitive issue for the Russian leadership. The situation
there may well be described as stagnation or a cul-de-sac. The
federal government is incapable of establishing firm military
and political control over Chechnya; the armed opposition lacks
the strength to inflict a major defeat on the federal troops.
Many observers come away with a paradoxical impression. The situation
seems fairly hopeless; if the war is not ended within the next
few years, an escalation of the conflict is likely, in view of
the instability in the rest of the North Caucasus and Trans-Caucasus,
both geographically and in terms of the scale of the forces involved,
with unpredictable consequences for Russia and other nations.
At the same time, another defeat for Moscow in Chechnya and the
federal government's withdrawal would probably entail the collapse
of the entire North Caucasus, with catastrophic consequences for
the Russian state.
The following would appear to be the fundamental causes and negative
factors in this cul-de-sac.
First of all, the overwhelming majority of the people in Chechnya
do not support the federal government: a substantial number assist
the rebels and constantly replenish their ranks. As is usually
the case in partisan warfare, many guerrillas are not engaged
in war full-time; they are often close to home, interspersing
battle with civilian labour, and even maintain contacts with federal
forces and the government of Chechnya. In addition, there is a
complex web of intra-Chechen relations - personal and business
ties - beyond the borders of Chechnya. Therefore, the boundary
between guerrillas and civilians is fairly arbitrary, as is the
boundary between loyalists and Chechens hostile to the federal
government. Neither does it inspire optimism to note that local
government in Chechnya, which cooperates with Moscow and the federal
forces, often becomes a target for vengeance from the guerrillas.
This also used to happen in Afghanistan and during the first war
in Chechnya. Without a federal military presence, the local government
authorities and Chechen police force would be unable to resist
the armed opposition.
Furthermore, "preventative operations" (clean-up operations,
searches, or purges) and revenge taken by federal troops for guerrilla
attacks most often target civilians - thus motivating them to
support the armed opposition. Therefore, despite official figures
about heavy casualties among guerrillas, the numbers in the field
at any given time (2,000-3,000) remain virtually unchanged.
In addition Chechnya's borders are completely open, with the
paradoxical exception of the 82-kilometre external border with
Georgia which is kept comprehensively and securely closed by the
Federal Border Guard Service. Outside this sector of the border,
the guerrillas are virtually able to move unrestricted in and
out of Chechnya, to keep their troops supplied with weapons, ammunition,
medicines, supplies, reinforcements, money, drugs, etc.
Another important factor is that the troops, federal forces and
agencies, along with the entire population of Chechnya, are living
in a state of war - but without any kind of legal definition that
would regulate the lives of civilians or the actions and status
of government troops. The law on countering terrorism, the basis
for the second campaign in Chechnya, is too narrow - and too dubious
- to serve as a legislative foundation for such an extensive and
destructive operation which has lasted for almost three years.
Under these circumstances, specific decisions are left to the
discretion of division and sub-division commanders, or quite often
even ordinary soldiers, who constantly face the threat of attack,
are incapable of distinguishing ordinary townsfolk and countryfolk
from armed separatists and frequently make no attempt to do so.
Moreover, as full-scale warfare was discontinued in spring 2000,
the federal troops have been experiencing shortages of weapons,
ammunition, and military hardware (multiple helicopter crashes
represent the most glaring example). The living conditions of
the troops are unsatisfactory; confusion and abuses abound in
wage payments; the rights and benefits of military personnel are
not clearly defined. All this facilitates corruption, demoralization,
growing anger, declining discipline, and crime among the troops;
sometimes it encourages them to loot and commit crimes and other
unlawful actions directed against the civilians in CChechnya.
Another ubiquitous factor is the extreme confusion and disorder
in the federal and region government in Chechnya; the actions
of the military and intelligence agencies are poorly coordinated
and are often arranged "via Moscow". This leads to government
inefficiency, competition between government bodies at federal
and regional levels, conflict between the pro-Moscow Chechen leaders,
internal quarrels and unreliability in the Chechen police force.
This creates fertile ground for corruption and the theft of financial
and material resources - within and en route to Chechnya.
Clearly, the problem of Chechnya can only be permanently resolved
by political means. This means negotiations and agreements with
the leaders of the armed opposition, including Aslan Maskhadov.
This might take the form of a peace conference in Moscow, where
the president, opposition leaders, and Chechen loyalists would
sign some relevant agreements that are acceptable to all parties.
However, such negotiations must not become a smokescreen for the
continued war on both sides; at the same time they cannot entail
another case of capitulation by the federal government.
Therefore, a number of measures are required to create a favorable
political foundation for negotiations and improve the situation
in Chechnya. There are three main goals: firstly, to reduce support
for the armed opposition among the people in Chechnya as much
as possible; secondly, to isolate the guerrillas from the outside
world and sever their supply lines; thirdly, to eliminate support
for the rebels abroad - at least in the United States and Western
Past experience of counter-partisan warfare clearly indicates
that if these conditions are not met, the rebels usually win in
the end, despite the vast military superiority of organized government
The following represents a list of measures; some of them correspond
to specific goals. To implement them, however, the first thing
that must be done - no matter how difficult it may be - is to
admit that the "stabilization" policy in Chechnya has
failed and demand a decisive change of course.
Firstly, a clear legal foundation must be created for continuing
the operation. This would involve the declaration of a state of
emergency in Chechnya and surrounding districts, based on the
state of emergency law passed in May 2001, listing the rights
and obligations of civilians, troops, the federal government and
government of Chechnya. All armed resistance or violation of emergency
regulations must be firmly and lawfully suppressed, in line with
the state of emergency. At the same time, all possible measures
must be taken to limit collateral damage for civilians.
The system of government in Chechnya must be regulated, including
tight coordination of all military and special operations, reconstruction
and social welfare measures, humanitarian aid, the formation and
protection of local government. As long as there is a state of
emergency, there should be one sole representative of the president
in Chechnya; all military and civilian bodies should be subordinate
to that person, with a stringent and distinct system of accountability,
management and hierarchy.
Another important step is to use the Federal Border Guard Service
to completely cut off guerrilla movement across the borders of
Within Chechnya, search operations should be stopped; fixed location
checkpoints should be acknowledged as being counter-productive
- their numbers should be reduced and partially replaced by mobile
checkpoints. Apart from exceptional cases, the practice of shelling
and air strikes on villages should be stopped; guerrillas ought
to be destroyed as they cross borders or travel within Chechnya,
or should be surrounded and blockaded within villages. The focus
should shift to intelligence operations, espionage, precision
air strikes and the shelling of guerrilla bases outside villages.
The present condition of the Russian Armed Forces and Interior
Troops makes it impossible to improve the effectiveness of military
operations, reduce combat or civilian casualties. The troops in
Chechnya must be provided with everything they need in terms of
military hardware and weapons, the best available in Russia, as
well as communications and computer systems, high salaries and
full benefits. The use of all-contract divisions, with no conscripts,
should be maximized; coordination of military operations under
unified command must be improved. More frequent and regular rotation
of troops is also required. It would then be easier to take stern
measures to stop breaches of discipline by military personnel,
corruption, and crime - within the troops and against civilians.
Finally, Moscow should clearly and openly state its position
for the negotiations it proposes to hold with leaders of the armed
opposition. Chechnya's status as part of the Russian Federation
is non-negotiable. This also holds true for the supremacy of the
Constitution and federal law and the need for a long-term presence
by federal troops and law enforcement agencies; but there should
be as much flexibility as possible in deciding specific issues
of status and programmes for the rebuilding of Chechnya.
All this would make it possible for the federal government to
stop being on the defensive in foreign policy on the issue of
Chechnya; Moscow could go on the offensive, stepping up its diplomatic
and public relations efforts to discredit the armed opposition,
publicize its crimes and links with international terrorism. This
issue should be placed on the agenda at all talks between Russia
and other nations or international organizations; the stance they
take on Chechnya will be a deciding factor in the development
of Russia's relations with them.
in Chechnya (1996-2002)