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Special Issue No. 29. January 2005. Chechnya and Russia-West relations: a post-Beslan symposium

Introducing the symposium
The contributors

1. Vladimir Pastukhov: Beslan: Notes in the Aftermath of Tragedy
2. Valery Tishkov: Terror and Its Observers
3. John Russell: Basayev -- The Beast of Beslan?
4. P. Terrence Hopmann: Russia, Chechnya, and the "War on Terror"
5. Stephen Shenfield: The Northern Ireland Peace Settlement: What Relevance to Chechnya?
6. Valery Tishkov: Afterthoughts
7. Stephen Shenfield: Final Comments


I have already devoted one special issue of the RAS to the conflict in Chechnya (No. 7, April 2002). Though out of date in certain respects, most of the material in that issue remains relevant today. So why another special issue on Chechnya?

Chechnya is perhaps the most salient of the problems that contribute to the current deterioration in the substance, and above all the atmosphere, of relations between Russia and the West. This is especially the case, I think, in Western Europe and at the level of public opinion. And the negative role played by Chechnya in Russia-West relations has become even more significant in the wake of the tragedy at Beslan, which had a traumatic emotional impact in Russia comparable with the impact of 9/11 in the United States.

I hope that this symposium of Rossian, American, and British scholars on Chechnya and Russia--West relations will do a little to clear the air, improve mutual understanding, and keep channels of communication open. Of course, I would be very happy if the symposium also did something to bring closer the restoration of real peace in Chechnya, but that may be an unrealistic aspiration. After all, the contributors themselves frankly admit that they see no clear way forward to that goal.

The Rossian contributors sent me texts in Russian. I translated them and checked my translations with the authors. With their consent I also added some explanatory notes.

As I have now used the nonstandard form "Rossian," I should give here a linguistic explanation. Following a practice long advocated by one of the contributors, Valery Tishkov, I render "rossiyane" (Russians in the non-ethnic civic sense) by the neologism "Rossians" and reserve "Russians" for "russkie" (Russians in the ethnic sense). To emphasize that the Russian Federation (Russia) is not an ethnic Russian state, I also use the corresponding neologisms "Rossian Federation" and "Rossia." I follow this practice in the translations and in my own contributions to the discussion, but have not ventured to make corresponding editorial changes in the texts of other contributions that were written in English.

Others are welcome to respond and join the discussion, within the limits of civilized discourse. I regret that I have not been able to arrange the participation of any Chechen scholars in this symposium, and would especially welcome future contributions from that direction. I also hope that those colleagues who were invited to write and would have liked to do so but were too busy will find the time to contribute their insights in the near future.

Stephen Shenfield

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Vladimir Pastukhov (1)  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Graduate of Moscow State University. A practicing chancery barrister and head of a nonprofit legal and policy-making consultancy organization in Moscow. Author of a book of articles that originally appeared in the journal POLIS (Political Research) in 1991--94.

Valery Tishkov (2)  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Professor of History and Anthropology and Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow). Formerly minister for nationalities in Yeltsin government (1992) and participant in negotiations with the Dudayev regime (1994). Author of many books on ethno-political problems, including "Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society" (University of California Press, 2004).

John Russell  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Senior Lecturer in both Peace Studies and Russian Studies at the University of Bradford (England). Author of a number of articles on the Russo-Chechen conflict and the war on terrorism and has led seminars on the topic for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and (in Russia) the International Institute for Strategic Studies. In 2003, appeared as an expert witness on behalf of the defense at the extradition trial in London of Akhmed Zakayev. Currently writing a monograph on the Russo-Chechen wars.

P. Terrence (Terry) Hopmann (2)  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Professor of Political Science, Brown University (Providence, RI, USA). Main research interests are international negotiation and conflict resolution. Author of "The Negotiation Process and the Resolution of International Conflicts" (University of South Carolina Press, 1996) and "Building Security in Post-Cold War Eurasia: The OSCE and U.S. Foreign Policy" (US Institute of Peace, 1999). Currently Fellow at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Washington DC), where he is completing a book on the role of the OSCE in conflict prevention after the Cold War.

Stephen D. Shenfield (2)  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Freelance writer and translator. Formerly research associate at the Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University. Editor of the Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson's Russia List.


(1) I am grateful to Jeff Gleisner, formerly of the University of Leeds (England), for sending me the text by Pastukhov and thereby putting the idea of this symposium into my head.

(2) Tishkov, Hopmann, and Shenfield have been acquainted for a number of years, having been engaged in joint research into problems of conflict prevention.

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Vladimir Pastukhov (written September 13, 2004)

History teaches nothing, war does not change people for the better, and tragedy does not bring them together. Those are the sad political lessons of the drama in Beslan. Too little time has passed to make rational and reliable generalizations. Too much time has passed to go on painting the horrors of the tragedy and sorting out who is to blame. But on the basis of the first, predominantly emotional commentaries we can jot down some notes -- not so much about the drama itself, but rather about the soil out of which it grew.


Our relations with the West were, are, and in the near future will remain one of the crucial factors that determine the domestic political situation in our country. The events in Ossetia, paradoxical as it may seem, sharply demonstrated that these relations continue to be hostile from both sides.

In no way do I wish to cast doubt on the sincerity of the peoples of Europe and America in their expressions of sympathy for the victims of the act of terror [terakt]. But it must be acknowledged that politically the West has lent support not to Russia but to the Chechen separatists, not to Putin but to Maskhadov. For many Rossians this was a shocking discovery, although there is nothing surprising in it.

The reasons why the "civilized world" kept its distance from us even in these days of biblical grief can be divided into "historical" and "political."

The historical reasons are in essence obvious.

As recent research shows, changes in mass consciousness pertaining to the images of peoples in one another's eyes occur extraordinarily slowly. Often they take centuries. The image of Russia as an enormous and dangerous bear will survive in the subconscious of the large, and especially of the small, peoples of Europe for more than one decade to come. Russia is too big, it "hangs" over Europe too heavily for such ideas to evaporate in a mere fifteen years.

To this it must be added that the consciousness of the generation of Europeans and Americans now living was formed predominantly by the harsh climate of the Cold War. Those who, excited by the giddy prospects of the "new thinking," were quick to bury the heritage of the Cold War deluded themselves. The logic of confrontation was not overturned but only placed in doubt.

And finally, the very passion and haste with which world leaders on both sides tried at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s to formulate the postulates of the new policy proved counterproductive. The pendulum swung too far in the direction of "political romanticism," generating unrealistic expectations. When these expectations were not met, the pendulum, in accordance with the laws of "political mechanics," swung sharply in the opposite direction. Thus, today's freeze is largely the product of the excessively rapid thaw at the beginning of the 1990s.

All this applies equally to the Russians, in whom, as the events in Beslan showed, anti-Western moods may assume the scale of the lost national idea.

The political reasons are also obvious. They lie in the discrepancy between strategic and immediate interests, both in the West and in Russia.

From the point of view of strategic interests, which must be taken to include the necessity of ensuring the survival and development of their peoples in the face of global threats, Russia and the West find themselves in the same boat and must pull together. But, as in the past, their immediate interests do not coincide. Often they clash sharply.

A struggle is underway for markets, for spheres of influence, for resources. In the period when Russia was wholly focused on overcoming its internal discords, its ability not only to defend but even to voice its interests and claims (justified or not) was so small that they could be left out of account. That is why it was thought that the interests of Russia and the West coincide. However, now that Russia has undergone stabilization, albeit temporary and weakly perceptible (whether thanks to Putin's sobriety or the rise in world oil prices is not important), Russia's independent ambitions, which had seemed to disappear, have emerged anew.

On the strategic plane, a strong Russia should be advantageous to the West as a potential ally in coping with the numerous challenges that the 21st century has in store for it. But from the point of view of immediate interests the West needs no such ally. Western policy has already adapted to the realities of the end of the 20th century, when Russia had merely a consultative voice on basic world issues.

Moreover, the West is placed in a difficult and ambiguous position when Russia's former satellites, from Eastern Europe, through the Baltic and Ukraine, to Georgia and Uzbekistan, either convey their "concern" or directly appeal for aid in the struggle against the "imperial threat." Here there is a very great temptation to re-establish the status quo of the 1990s and put Russia back "in its place" by pressing on its "sore points," of which Chechnya is undoubtedly the sorest. A bargain is made: we "swap" Chechnya, now for Kosovo, now for Iraq. And the West is forced to heed the advice of Al Capone that a kind word and a gun work better, as a rule, than a kind word on its own.

That is why close on the heels of the "kind words" about the Beslan victims there come the State Department's statements regarding the continuation of contacts with the Chechen opposition and the European Union's demand for explanations of "how we ended up in this mess."

There is nothing new here except for the fact that these phobias have proven so powerful that the blood of children was unable to muffle them even for a few days. This did not go unnoticed by the Russians. What the nation felt after the initial shock, compassion [for the victims], and hatred was a sense of lonesomeness. The West was surprised at its own reaction, and within a few days of the tragedy there began to appear sobering articles that made an attempt to "analyse our own emotions" and "smoothed over" the declarations of official persons.

However that may be, what had previously been denied open expression at the official level suddenly broke through the surface. The events in the small Ossetian town suddenly "lit up" the end of the era of romanticism and thaw in East-West relations. The future of these relations is uncertain. Russia and the West have reached that point in their mutual relations at which love has ended and a choice must be made between a marriage of convenience and divorce. An urgent need has arisen to clarify matters.


The chief point on which clarification is now needed is the notorious problem of a "political settlement" in Chechnya.

Let me mention right away that I have always been and remain a consistent advocate of the view that the "Chechen question" cannot be solved by force. The war has no prospects. The roots of this war lie in contradictions, including constitutional contradictions, at the level of Russia as a whole. And the individuals on both sides who are guilty of unleashing the war must sooner or later be punished.

At the same time, the plan for a "political settlement" that the "opponents of the war" propose today looks unconvincing.

The unprecedented cruelty of the act of terror in Ossetia has greatly exacerbated the dispute over the possibility or impossibility of a "political solution." In the jargon that has emerged over the years of the Caucasian war, this means the possibility or impossibility of direct negotiations with the "irreconcilables," first of all with Aslan Maskhadov.

On one side of the dispute we have the Rossian authorities and the substantial part of the population of Russia who support them (however unpleasant that may be to some). On the other side we have the ruling circles of the West and the "world intelligentsia," both Western and Rossian, who support them.

Each side found in the Beslan events additional arguments in favor of their case. For the Rossian authorities what had happened was one more proof that no negotiations can be conducted with "such an adversary." (1) For the West the act of terror was yet another indication of "what state of desperation the Chechen people have reached in the struggle for their liberation from the colonizers."

These disputes leave aside the main question -- the substance of the compromise that Moscow is being called on to accept. For some reason discussion of the object of negotiations has been relegated to the background. Everyone is interested only in who will take part. But it is precisely the object of negotiations that has the greatest influence on their prospects.

The paradox is that both Russia and the West, in upholding their point of view, rely on outmoded political theories that make it impossible to outline a framework for a political settlement in Chechnya. It turns out that the problem is not only an absence of political will but also an absence of political thought.

Two "holy cows" graze on the field of political philosophy: the doctrine of "national sovereignty" and what may be called the "Wilson-Lenin doctrine," according to which nations have the right to self-determination "up to complete separation." To be sure, the Rossian government cannot demand non-interference in its internal affairs by referring to the sovereignty doctrine. Under the conditions of today's deeply integrated world, this principle of the Brezhnev era no longer makes sense. But the time of unconditional support for "national liberation movements" has also irreversibly passed. However, the West has yet to take note of this fact.

The principle of the right of nations to self-determination was born in the era of the collapse of the colonial empires, when relatively distinct and distant, mainly overseas, colonies broke away from the metropolis. It cannot be applied to the problem of ethnic minorities, including those who live compactly on the territory of contemporary states with highly integrated economic and political systems. Consistent application of this principle throughout the world, starting with Canada's Quebec, America's Florida, and Britain's Ireland and ending with Turkey's Kurdistan, Serbia's Kosovo, and Russia's Chechnya, would lead to the complete destabilization of international borders and of a rather fragile world order. If the principle is applied selectively, then it ceases to be a principle.

Properly speaking, the theoretical right of nations to self-determination is a myth. Its full realization in practice is impossible. Any ethnic enclave is heterogeneous. When a minority secedes and sets up an independent state formation, new minorities from the former titular nations are created on the latter's territory. Either a further secession will be required or ethnic cleansing and forcible deportation. And so on to infinity, to single streets and houses. Nevertheless, this myth continues to lie at the basis of Western policy, including on the Chechen question.

No one directly questions Russia's sovereignty over its Caucasian borderlands. But nor does anyone condemn demands that Chechnya be given independence. The silence implies that these demands are well grounded and just in light of the notorious right of nations to self-determination. The illusion is thereby created of the theoretical possibility of a "deal on sovereignty." The practical result is the radicalization of the demands of the Chechen opposition, which senses that the "world community" supports the main point of their demands. The radicalism of the opposition brings about a hardening of the policy of the government, and there arises a vicious circle that no one is able to break.

Today we need an official and duly codified decision of the international community to reject the doctrine of the right of nations to self-determination and recognize that the legitimate rights of national minorities must be protected within the framework of existing state borders. (2) This is the only way to remove the antagonism between the positions of the government and of national movements and create real preconditions for a political settlement. Then it will be easier to broaden the circle of participants [in negotiations] and begin to move toward consensus and a real political solution.


The dispute over the possible participants in a dialogue to normalize the situation in Chechnya has been further exacerbated by the fact that Russia and the West have fundamentally divergent views of the juridical status of Aslan Maskhadov.

The position of the West is understandable. To the West Maskhadov is a lawfully elected president who has been forcibly removed from power before the expiration of his term. (3) But Russia's position is also understandable. Maskhadov halted the operation of the Rossian Constitution de facto on the territory of Chechnya. Federal legislation was not in effect during the period he was in office. With Maskhadov's connivance military operations were conducted from the territory of the republic against neighboring regions.

This obvious collision of constitutional norms was not duly resolved in good time. The Rossian authorities are partly responsible for this. [...]

A leader of a subject of the federation who blocks the application of federal laws on his territory and, what is more, takes decisions that crudely violate these laws must be removed from office. However, the Constitution establishes no mechanism for removing the head of a region. Perhaps this collision could have been resolved by the Constitutional Court, relying on general legal principles. But no such request was made of it, and no procedure was implemented to remove Maskhadov from office. The question remained open, and de jure Maskhadov does indeed look like the legitimate leader of the republic.

This collision can only be attributed to the juridical incompetence of Kremlin policy. Another collision has much deeper roots, in the constitutional history of post-communist Russia, and affects the legitimacy of the Rossian Constitution itself.

The mechanism by which the Rossian Constitution was adopted (the national referendum of 1993) does not correspond to its nature as the constitution of a federal state. As only the overall voting totals were officially taken into account, it can always be questioned whether the constitution was adopted by each subject of the federation. Russia's unity must be based on a constitution adopted both by the population as a whole and by each of its territories.

Thus "disputes over legitimacy" can be finally resolved only by renewal of the constitutional process to replace Yeltsin's constitution of the "transitional period" by a constitution based on the political realities of the new Russia. [...]


The fact that the events in Beslan did not overshadow, relegate to the background, or even halt temporarily criticism of the "undemocratic Putin" for not wanting to resume dialogue with the "legitimate Maskhadov" indicates clearly that behind such criticism lies something more than inertia of thinking or a political game. Behind it lie convictions. This is a continuation not only of the historical confrontation of which I spoke above, but also of the ideological one. And the main ideological opponent of the Kremlin is not the White House, Downing Street, or the Elysee Palace, not even the CIA, MI5, or Mossad, but the world intelligentsia, Western and Rossian -- the natural bearer of liberal ideology.

A frequent irony of history is that in a long-term perspective it is not the vanquished but the victors who lose the most as a result of wars. The burden of victory is a heavy one, and bearing it is not easy. The Cold War was no exception. As a result of the apparent ease with which the communist empire collapsed, the Western intelligentsia fell sick with the disease of messianism. While the dust raised by the debris of the Berlin Wall blocked their view of the horizon, they succeeded in believing that the West really is the "last hero," that its history is universal history, its values universal values, its culture the hidden essence of all other cultures. For them history, ideology, culture, development were at an end. (4) With the fanaticism of new crusaders, the Western intelligentsia began to preach its (indeed great) values throughout the world and, first of all, in the former "citadel of evil" -- Russia.

At first Russian society justified expectations, greedily imbibing the new lexicon, the new political and economic forms. The Russian intelligentsia, the bulk of which is traditionally pro-Western, became a reliable conduit of liberal ideas. But the conduit along which all this remarkable energy passed turned out to be a lightning conductor. The bolt of lightning entered "Russian soil" and was dissipated in the broad expanses of our native culture. The forms remained, the lamps hang, the batteries are in place, only they give out no light or heat. The main thing -- people's code of ethical conduct -- did not change. The self-restraint, self-organization, and self-control without which no Western institution can work did not appear. Society, democratic in appearance, began to turn into an ungovernable, criminal, and thoroughly corrupt conglomerate.

However, the intelligentsia, self-assured in its mission, wanted to notice none of this. In vain did more attentive observers warn that parties in Russia were fictive, the press mercenary, elections decorative, and business criminal, that things could not be otherwise in a country that had not passed through the school of Western Christian and humanistic education. The Western elite judge Russia in accordance with their own laws and do not want to see anything that lies deeper than their artificial "criteria of democracy." They are simply no longer able to look at Russian politics from any other point of view than that of correspondence to their "democratic standard." And no children's blood can now shift them from this position. In this regard the Western intelligentsia have proven even more inert than their governments and peoples. This is the victors' tragedy.

But even more tragic is the plight of our own intelligentsia. While in their views they form part of the world liberal movement, they have inherited from Russian culture a Bolshevik temperament and the nihilism of the People's Will [Narodnaya volya, 19th century populists and terrorists].

It cannot be said that the complaints of the liberal press against both the government as a whole and its various branches in connection with the sorry outcome of the drama are baseless. Each complaint can be examined and acknowledged as just to one degree or another. Where were they? What did they do? What were they thinking of before? Who will answer for this, officially and personally? And finally, why do we need Chechnya? Why the hard line? Why the war atrocities?

But one forms the general impression that these questions come from people who have no personal connection with the events. The age-old trait of the Rossian intelligentsia, their alienation from the authorities, has never manifested itself so sharply as in the days of crisis.

Asking the right question is half the job. The other and more important half is asking it at the right time and in the right tone. This skill distinguishes the cultured person from the educated one. In the days of tragedy our intelligentsia again demonstrated that they are not cultured, that they are isolated from society, that they live by their own egoistic clan interests. For the umpteenth time, the intelligentsia laid responsibility for what had happened on the authorities (no doubt they are partly right), but they refused to acknowledge their own responsibility as a part of Russian society. And this is the crudest of mistakes, because the roots of the evil lie not in the Russian authorities, as the Russian intelligentsia traditionally imagines, but in the condition -- first of all, the moral condition -- of Russian society. The authorities are, in the final analysis, merely a reflection of the spirit of society.


The Russian authorities bear the burden of responsibility for the bloodshed. No one denies that the tragedy was the culmination of numerous and proliferating political mistakes and even crimes. The start of the war was itself a mistake. So was its subsequent escalation. It was a mistake to count on rapid victory and to assume the public is naive enough to believe the endlessly repeated legend that peaceful life is being restored in Chechnya. It was a crime to destroy an effective security system in the name of democracy. It was a crime to lie senselessly and incoherently on television, thereby creating an additional threat to people's lives. (It would have been better honestly to limit coverage from the scene and provide no commentaries.) For a decade one mistake has followed another. For some mistakes the current authorities are responsible, for others there is no one around to take the blame. These mistakes were inherited.

All this is so, but there is one circumstance that the Kremlin's critics leave out of account. These mistakes have already happened. There is a tragic logic of political mistakes. Yesterday's mistake becomes today's political reality, which can no longer be changed by admission, repentance, or reversal. A war can be started quickly, but it cannot be ended with equal dispatch, even with a firm will, even if one has realized that it was a mistake and a crime. Those killed, deliberately or accidentally, cannot be resurrected. The generations thirsting for revenge and capable of doing only one thing well -- killing -- cannot be unborn. For ten years the aura of war has pervaded the Caucasus, indeed Russia as a whole. To a great extent it determines the political conduct of the authorities, leaving a very narrow corridor for political maneuver.

A great deal of advice is offered on how to end the Caucasian war. Unfortunately, little of it is practical.

The first piece of advice (from the liberals) is to give Chechnya independence. De facto Chechnya WAS independent in the period from the Khasavyurt agreement to the attack on Dagestan. This led to its transformation into a criminal enclave, a magnet for criminals from all nearby territories, where the main sources of income were the kidnapping of people from all parts of Russia for ransom and the illegal trade in drugs, weapons, and oil. Not only our own but also world experience shows that as soon as a territory without a strong state organization of its own somehow obtains independence the power vacuum in it is filled by criminals and international totalitarian sects. (At present they are Islamic terrorists under the "Al-Qaida" brand, but what a variety of them the world will see in the future!) Independence will not free us from war and terror; the war will simply turn finally from a partly civil war into an ordinary war with a foreign adversary and with even greater losses.

The second piece of advice (from the moderates) is to mount a blockade of Chechnya. In essence this is a form of giving Chechnya independence, but better camouflaged, with an attempt at "saving face." It is even more utopian, because such a "gift" will suit neither friends nor enemies. And besides, a complete blockade in the mountains, given the present state of the economy and the technical capacities and corruption of Russia's state apparatus, is possible only on paper.

The third piece of advice (from Europe) is to internationalize the conflict on the Bosnian and Kosovo scenarios. In this case Russia's sovereignty over Chechnya will be preserved de jure (again -- saving face) but abolished de facto. An international military contingent without Rossian participation will be introduced into the conflict zone and will take control of the situation. This scenario is no less utopian than the two preceding ones.

The problem is that its proponents talk, as a rule, in Europe with representatives of the political wing of the "insurgent army" -- Zakayev, Akhmetov, and, in the final instance, Maskhadov himself. So it seems to them that these "reasonable Chechens" in European suits are ready to recognize the authority of the West and its rules of the game. The problem is that on the territory of Chechnya itself the rules of the game are set not by the political but by the military-criminal wing of the movement. For the latter the authority of the West is no less illusory than that of the Kremlin. They will act in accordance with their own logic. In order to overcome it the West would have to take Russia's place and wage a full-scale war in the Caucasus with all the consequences flowing therefrom.

No one, of course, is going to do this and the whole thing will be reduced to a policy of deterrence by means of small forces. The West will be assigned the role of witness -- only not at a wedding but at endless funerals. In fact, precisely the role that it plays today in Serbian Kosovo. The end result -- the same criminal enclave, the same trade in drugs and people, the same acts of terror, but under European auspices and with the flight of the surviving peaceful population to Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

The advice to win the war quickly (from the deaf, dumb, and blind) is too indecent even to discuss.

No other ideas are on offer, although there is plenty of verbiage from everyone, all talking at the same time.

Yesterday or the day before yesterday the war might still have been stopped. This was not done. Those who through thoughtlessness or for selfish motives failed to do this must be made to answer for it. If the present authorities do not do this it will take the blame upon itself.

But today we are doomed to continue this war. We cannot simply jump out of it just like that. We have been drawn into it up to the ears, and it will take more than one year before we can pull our boots out. Our children are hostage to bandits, but we are all hostage to the glorious policy of the beginning of the 1990s and to mistakes, others' and our own.

However, if we cannot correct our mistakes right away, then at least we must avoid making new ones. Putin in Chechnya, like Bush in Afghanistan (Iraq is another matter), need to be criticized not for what they are doing but for what they are not doing. We must uproot the soil that nourishes war; we must struggle not so much with consequences as with causes. It seemed that after the terrible tragedy Putin began to understand this. God permitting!

(1) The argument that Maskhadov, Zakrayev, and other "civilized" leaders of the separatists may have had nothing to do with this act of terror, precisely in view of its unprecedented cruelty, is irrelevant. It is of no importance whatsoever who planned or carried out the action. Whoever was not "against" and did not make active efforts to resolve the conflict was "for." Maskhadov was certainly able to intervene and influence the situation. Not at the request of the government of Russia, not in exchange for these or those conditions, but on his personal initiative, in order to dissociate himself. This he did not do. That means that he was with the fighters [boyeviki], whatever he may have told the Western press.

(2) The Near East is a special case. Here it is a matter not of national minorities but of a postwar settlement.

(3) Now is not the time to discuss to what extent these elections were "more democratic" than the elections of Kadyrov or of his successor, whom the West does not recognize. At that point in time Russia did recognize the election of Maskhadov and from the juridical point of view this closes the question.

(4) To convince oneself of the correctness of this conclusion, it suffices to go into any big bookstore in Europe or America and look through the titles of sociological bestsellers published over the last ten years, from Fukuyama to Wallerstein.

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Valery Tishkov, director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Rossian Academy of Sciences

It is impossible to reconcile oneself to terror, because terror is directed against innocent people and against human life as the supreme value. It is equally impossible to reconcile oneself to a stance that provokes, supports, and justifies terror or that uses terrorism for utilitarian political purposes. The weeks since Beslan have been filled not only with expressions of sympathy but also with reflections on what lessons society and the state should draw from what happened. [...]

I wish to note some trends that need to be monitored and opposed in the struggle against terrorism. I have in mind one of the more complex aspects of the phenomenon of contemporary terrorism: the broader circle of actors who are drawn into and take part in the production of terror. Terrorism cannot be vanquished unless steps are taken to neutralize or at least limit the influence of these actors.


Beslan confirmed that terror, like armed conflict, has not only its operatives and paymasters but also a broader circle of sympathizers, whose stance encourages terrorists and weakens the capacity to act against them. I concluded my investigation of the Chechen war with a chapter entitled "Chechnya as a Stage and a Role." (1) There I drew attention to the problem of usurpation of the conflict by outside actors, among whom "liberal interventionists" (to use Michael Ignatieff's expression) play an important role.

The events in Beslan demonstrated that terror against Russia and on its territory has the moral support of those for whom our country remains the chief geopolitical rival and of those who thirst for revenge against the former "big brother." The cold warriors and fighters against communism have not disappeared: they have simply become fighters against Russia as the "new empire" or the focus of various evils. If you look at the composition of the "American Committee for Peace in Chechnya," you see all too familiar names: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Stephen J. Solarz, Glen E. Howard, Morton Abramowitz, Nicholas Daniloff, John Dunlop, Paul Goble, Paul P. Henze, Richard Pipes, Peter Reddaway, Marshall I. Goldman, and another dozen or two individuals who have devoted their careers to various kinds of agencies and occupations connected with the USSR and the post-Soviet states, including the new Russia.

It was precisely these people who, in collaboration with the "New Atlantic Initiative" program of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research headed by Radek Sikorski (2), held a conference in Washington in December 2003 on the topic "Catastrophe in Chechnya." The report on this conference and its speakers constitutes both a program for continuing armed secession in the North Caucasus by any means and a collective portrait of the haters of Russia and of superficial experts on Chechnya. For these people an end to the war without secession from Russia is more than "a tragedy for the Chechen people": it is their personal drama. It was precisely Brzezinski and Howard who took in hand Maskhadov's accomplice Ilyas Akhmadov and by granting him a modest allowance manipulate him for their own purposes, securing political asylum for this active member of the terrorist community of Maskhadov and Basayev. And this is merely one example of the multifaceted activity of certain Western NGOs who through sophisticated academic and political formulas encourage terror against our country.

It is unlikely that Brzezinski will ever overcome his lively Russophobia, which may have its roots in his Polish-Jewish family upbringing. Nor is it likely that those who have given a great part of their lives to the struggle against Russia, thereby making of themselves generals, professors, and "leading specialists," will give up that struggle. But why should we Rossians -- whether my colleagues in the expert community, journalists, publishers, or officials issuing entry visas -- express servility or indifference to the views and deeds of those who churn out words of hatred no less murderous than bullets? Why translate and publish the weak scholarly and journalistic works of Brzezinski and others when even in the USA itself the young generation regards them as expiring dinosaurs of the cold war?

Suppose that I had permitted myself even a small part of the same attitude to the USA and in the course of my academic career engaged in anti-American activity. For example, suppose that I had supported the separatist views and even actions of the "Hawaiian Nation" organization during my fieldwork in Hawaii 20 years ago. There is no doubt that I would have had serious problems in my relations both with colleagues from that country and with the office that issues American visas. Why do such anti-Rossian paranoiacs as the American Brzezinski or the Frenchman André Glucksmann have no problems? Partly because in Russia itself we still lack even a minimal civic consensus with regard to our own country and its government and still regard the now permitted "forbidden voices" from the West as the source of "truth" and "insight."

The apotheosis of stupidity was reached with the appearance of a panegyric to Brzezinski composed by the journalist Dmitry Shusharin and published alongside a full-size photograph of the hero under the heading "A True Russian Patriot" (Moscow News, No. 36, September 24-30, 2004, p. 17). The pretext for the publication was a recent article by Brzezinski in The Wall Street Journal entitled "Moscow's Mussolini" and containing vile aspersions on the Rossian authorities and also an attempt to set the country against the "Kremlin parasites." In the Rossian journalist's opinion, the American professor was just expressing his "obvious sympathy for a country that will continue to decline against the backdrop of the Kremlin's oil prosperity."

I may say that after the events of 9/11 in the USA I, like many Rossian experts, was very careful in my comments on the causes and consequences of this tragedy not to offend the patriotic feelings of Americans. In those tragic days, the American nation, including academics and the press, seemed united and were concerned first of all with how to beat the terrorists who had declared war on America. It was difficult, and for outside observers impossible, to cast doubt on this approach without provoking at least moral sanctions in response.

But why then does Russia respond so amorphously to those Western academics and politicians who still tell people that the Federal Security Service (FSS) blew up the apartment buildings in Moscow, that Maskhadov and Zakayev have no links to Basayev, that the act of terror in Beslan is not a part of international terrorism? Why does the head of the radio station "Ekho Moskvy" [Echo of Moscow], Matvei Golenpolsky, talking with a CNN correspondent on what happened in Beslan, diligently replace the word "terrorists" by the almost innocuous "invaders" or "fighters"? And why does this hypocrisy not at least expose this radio station to criticism and make people more reluctant to advertise on it and take part in its broadcasts?


The tragedy in Beslan has proven a moral defeat for many experts and journalists and we must not close our eyes to this. Let us agree that experts and journalists receive guidelines from no one except, probably, their bosses and sponsors. Then we can analyze why The Wall Street Journal published on September 8 an article by Gary Kasparov "Putin Must Go" and previously, after the murder of Akhmad Kadyrov, a vile article by Glucksmann saying that "Moscow's protege" and "the real terrorist" had got his just deserts. The newspaper had at its disposal texts of quite different content on these same subjects, but they were not published.

Who, besides the author Kasparov himself, bears responsibility for the open slander about the continuing destruction of Chechen villages by the Rossian army and for the inflammatory conclusion that the retaliation in Beslan was just? Is it the head of the Moscow buro of this American paper, Gregory White, or his bosses in New York? Knowing Mr. White personally, I do not think that he stands behind this publication. But in any case the community of Rossian journalists should have expressed its attitude toward the crude attacks by an influential Western newspaper on Russia and its president in such a tragic situation. Or is everything permitted in Russia and in relation to Russia?

The great outer circle of sympathizers and moral accomplices of terror against Russia has now been joined by representatives of the new members of the European Community who broke away from the USSR or its bloc of satellites with the birth trauma of anti-Rossianism. Beslan demonstrated that Russia's new enemies have especially sophisticated arguments of their own. In the opinion of the Polish observer Henrik Suchar, author of books on Chechnya, Russia is to blame for the fact that for over 120 years Poland was absent from the map of Europe, nor have the Poles forgotten the shootings of Polish citizens at Katyn (3). "For these reasons we assess events in Russia in the light of our own past, in which many 'unsettled accounts' have accumulated in connection with Rossian-Polish relations" (Izvestia, 9/7/04).

Who will be next to justify terrorism against Russia? Quite possibly it will be the Ukrainian nationalists, demanding that Russia "settle the account" over the victims of the "famine pestilence" [golodomor] at the beginning of the 1930s. Or perhaps it will be Baltic nationalists demanding reparations from Russia. Something has to be done about these new revanchists. Somehow they must be countered, if only at the level of argument and political influence. Their dangerous ambitions to punish Russia through the independence of Chechnya cannot simply be ignored.

One of the arguments and tactical ploys of the supporters of terror against Russia is to make reference to the opinions and writings of the Rossians themselves. Speakers at the aforementioned conference in Washington in December 2003 gave as their most convincing argument "the fact that the Rossian newspapers themselves wrote that the FSS may have been behind the explosions of buildings in Moscow and Ryazan(?)." Even in serious debates about Chechnya, you often hear Western participants exclaim: "But Politkovskaya and Babitsky write about this!" It is also no coincidence that The Wall Street Journal should have published the article by the Rossian Kasparov. If we can't trust such a well-known citizen of Russia as Kasparov, then who on earth are we to trust?


The drama of Rossian society is that its elite is not consolidated around certain basic values that are obligatory for the responsible citizen -- for example, unconditional recognition of the Constitution and of the legitimacy of the lawfully elected authorities. The very concept of the "responsible citizen" is in fact absent from our socio-political vocabulary. Hence the tenor of the commentary on current events from Andrei Cherkizov of the radio station "Ekho Moskvy," who every day instills in his listeners such a free and easy, unduly familiar [razvyazny] attitude toward the state and the authorities. His statements during the Beslan crisis were repeated to me almost word for word by a Moscow cab driver who passed them off as his own opinion: "Those bastards in the Kremlin lie to us shamelessly. They deliberately conceal from us who took the hostages and how many they took!"

"Ekho Moskvy" likes to broadcast "telephone ricochet" -- that is, to take calls from listeners with their reaction to one or another issue. But the real "ricochet" is not the calls from the listeners of the well-known radio station, but the deep impact of such radio propaganda (you can't call a number of programs from this and other stations anything else) on people's ideas and actions.

From the very beginning of the crisis in the North Caucasus at the start of the 1990s, highly placed political figures, and not only academics and journalists, were able calmly to declare that "Chechnya has to be given up," that "sooner or later Chechnya will go its own way all the same," that "we may lose Dagestan," that "the North Caucasus is not Russia," and similar destructive sentiments. What is more, Rossian statehood was undermined not only by armed separatists, but also by local nationalists and supporters of various "national self-determination" schemes, "popular movements," and even "people's militias."

By the way, in Beslan these "militias" again emerged from their semi-legal position. Civilians in tracksuits and toting machineguns were recognized de facto by the federal and republican authorities as participants in the anti-terrorist operation in the role of "liberators of their own children." (4)

As the Constitution of Russia neither permits forcible separation of its territory nor envisages popular militias, BOTH of these phenomena -- armed separatism in the form of terrorism and popular liberators -- are a challenge to the state order. I do not place the civilians with machineguns who ran around the captured school alongside the professional fighters of the special forces [spetsnaz] in the same moral category as the terrorists. But until the North Caucasus starts to live in accordance with Rossian laws its population will suffer from chaos and violence and its politicians will be unable to achieve effective government, let alone success in the struggle against terrorism.

The terror in Beslan has brought to light certain dangerous manifestations of local nationalisms that may be used to set off explosions of interethnic violence. This is one of the terrorists' goals in the North Caucasus. There has already appeared in the newspaper Izvestia (9/7/04) an article in which a Vladikavkaz professor (5) holds forth on the closeness between Osset and Slav civilization and "the solution from below of all the urgent problems" connected with "the influx of terrorism from the territory of a neighboring republic," by which he means Ingushetia. These local views differ little from the views of the outside accomplices of terrorism: they all lead to destruction of the foundations of civil peace and the country's state order.

The events in Beslan must open our eyes to many things that we have up to now ignored or good-naturedly tolerated. We must not allow our indignation and hatred to be confined to tragic stupidities at the top or the bottom of society.

But it is no less important to the struggle against terrorism that we regain our dignity. I would be glad if more of my fellow citizens found it unacceptable to refer to our country by expressions like "the stinking morass of Putin's Russia." This phrase appeared recently in one of the Rossian socio-political weeklies, again with a shameless reference to a similar assessment in The International Herald Tribune. It is necessary to understand that such a description of our country serves as moral legitimization of the next act of terror against Russia. And those who do not understand this must be taught to understand or be duly rebuffed.


(1) See Chapter 14 in Valery Tishkov, Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society (University of California Press, 2004).

(2) Former deputy foreign minister of Poland.

(3) The reference is to the shooting by the Soviet secret police of several thousand Polish officers captured when Hitler and Stalin partitioned Poland in 1939. [SS]

(4) The "people's militias" or "home guards" (narodnye opolchentsy) referred to were unofficial armed groups of ethnic Ossets, many of them parents of children held hostage by the terrorists. Beslan is in the Republic of North Ossetia, one of the North Caucasian subjects of the Rossian Federation, and the majority of the victims were Ossets, not ethnic Russians. See RAS No. 25 item 2 and No. 26 item 8.

(5) That is, an Osset professor. Vladikavkaz is the capital of the Republic of North Ossetia.

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John Russell (University of Bradford, UK)

The official Russian version of the Beslan siege, broadly accepted by Western leaders if not by all sections of the media in the West, is that this was Russia’s 9/11, the latest manifestation within its borders of the assault by international (Islamic) terrorists on innocent citizens in a law-abiding society. Members of President Putin’s administration have argued that the fact that those behind the hostage taking should target children on September 1, celebrated as the first day of school throughout Russia, demonstrates just how inhuman, fanatical and antipathetic to all decent human values the terrorists are. Thus an intensified war on terrorism to eradicate all remnants of this threat remains the Kremlin’s policy towards not only the militant Chechen Islamist Shamil Basayev, who claimed responsibility for the Beslan events, but also those moderate Chechen leaders, such as Aslan Maskhadov, Ilyas Akhmadov and Akhmed Zakayev, who have been at pains to criticise the hostage-taking and to distance themselves from Basayev.

In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, any links with the long­running war in Chechnya or with the recent elections for a new President of Chechnya have been consistently underplayed. Responsibility for the violent death of nearly 400 hostages (half of them children) has been placed firmly, as was the case after Moscow’s "Nord-Ost" theatre siege in October 2002, on the hostage takers. While one can empathise with those politicians and representatives of world public opinion who maintain that nothing can justify the violence inflicted upon these young hostages, it is surely worthwhile, if only to determine whether similar attacks might be anticipated or planned in the future, asking the question: why did Basayev do it?

Of course, if one is convinced that Basayev is merely a sadistic, bloodthirsty, mercenary fanatic bent on revenge and aiming to create as much mayhem as possible before the Russian federal forces finally catch up with him, then the answer is simple. However, he has long been recognised as one of the most able, audacious and adept guerrilla fighters of our age. Moreover, the history of insurgency, indeed, of modern warfare from Hiroshima to Fallujah, is littered with examples of the most brutal of means (from the perspective of the victims) being employed to ends that (in the view of the perpetrators) are honourable. In his widely (though rarely in full) quoted open message of 17 September, (1) Basayev explicitly identifies the main goal of the Beslan operation as bringing an end to the war in Chechnya, an objective shared by many of us. Rather than dismissing all Basayev’s messages as the ranting of a madman, (2) therefore, I suggest that we not only analyse carefully his interpretation of the Beslan siege but also attempt to assess how ‘successful’ the action was in the context of contemporary theories of terrorism.

Inevitably, for a Western scholar committed to facilitating an end to this dreadful conflict, in the interests of both Chechen and Russian peoples, this involves overcoming a fundamental moral repugnance at the violence employed in both the terrorist act itself and the war in which it arose. I do not seek to equate or justify any of this violence. My task is rather to explain it and to place it in a context that lends itself to rational analysis. My argument is not with Russia per se but with the philosophy behind and the conduct of the worldwide "war on terror," which the Putin administration appears to have embraced in Chechnya.

Basayev called the Beslan raid operation "Nord-West" -- a clear reference to the previous hostage-taking incident at "Nord-Ost." The name hints also that the raid was planned not in Nazran or Grozny (the capitals, respectively, of Ingushetia and Chechnya), which lie to the East of Beslan but from the forests of southern Ingushetia, where significant numbers of boyeviki were said to have their camp. (3) The "Nord-Ost" debacle, in turn a failed reprise of Basayev’s strikingly successful raid on the hospital at Budyonnovsk in 1995, ended with the hostage takers being fooled into believing that negotiations were about to ensue and surprised at the use of the gas that killed 129 hostages. There remain so many unanswered questions about this operation that one need not subscribe to conspiracy theories to suggest that we have not been told the full story.

In Beslan, Basayev clearly chose a tactic and a target designed to avoid either of the ‘Nord-Ost’ outcomes. A building full of children was less likely to be stormed; the local Ossetian population served as a further deterrent, with the welfare of the hostages linked to the speed with which the demands made of Putin were met. Even the apparently sadistic refusal to allow the hostages any water, according to the evidence of eyewitnesses, came about only after the Russian authorities had deliberately underestimated the number of hostages at around 300 rather than the actual figure of 1100. (The large number of hostages was an important factor in the intensity of the threat posed by the insurgents.) Similarly, it is by no means clear that Basayev was lying when he asserted that the storm was initiated by the federal forces and not by the boyeviki firing into the backs of fleeing children. (4)

In his message, Basayev admits to committing three mistakes in the Beslan operation:

* He had assumed that the Ossetians would form a human shield between the school and the troops.

* He had taken North Ossetian president Aleksandr Dzasokhov for a more independent and courageous man.

* He had underestimated Putin’s cruelty.

This self-reproach indicates to me that he sought to follow the route of negotiations rather than one of mass slaughter, which is usually the case in major hostage incidents. His demands -- an end to the war, Chechen independence, and Putin’s resignation -- have been criticised as unrealistic and, therefore, as no more than a cynical ploy to force Putin’s hand. However, a closer reading of the demands reveals that all are (a) couched in terms of Chechen self-determination rather than Islamic hegemony, and (b) hedged with conditions, many of which actually address Russia’s security needs.

It is nonetheless my belief that Basayev did not expect his demands to be met. This raises the question of what he hoped to gain. The answer, I think, is that, like so many insurgent movements, he resorted to terrorism as a tactic -- that is, as a means to dramatize his cause. (5) If one accepts, as Laqueur does, that "if terrorism is propaganda by deed, the success of a terrorist campaign depends decisively on the amount of publicity it receives" (6) then like 9/11, the Beslan siege achieved one of its major goals. Yet, as with 9/11, the massive retaliation provoked by the terrorism would appear to have advanced neither the cause that we ascribe to the terrorists (i.e. "the war between Islamic fanatics and the West") nor the military struggle itself.

If, however, his aim was to remind the public in Russia and the West that Putin’s Chechen policy has reached an intolerably bloody and brutal dead end and that no one in Russia, let alone Chechnya, will be safe until a satisfactory political settlement is reached, then the Beslan siege, taken together with the earlier suicide bomb attacks on aircraft and public places in Moscow, at least partly achieved its objective. (7) As for the inadmissibility of using innocent children as a pawn in this game, I think that we have to be consistent and insist that any such blatant violations of international law and norms of war fighting, including those committed by ‘our’ side, have to be condemned and punished accordingly. I cannot be alone in recognizing that, in the absence of any official statistics, even if the much-quoted figure of between 35,000 and 42,000 Chechen children of school age killed in the fighting may be wildly exaggerated, the real numbers must be frighteningly high and totally unacceptable.

This is reflected towards the end of Basayev’s declaration when he asks the whole world:

"OK, we are bad lads and you can wipe out the 7,000 of us. But for what have you wiped out 250,000 peaceful Chechens and continue to wipe them out to this day? They fight against us without any rules at all with the direct connivance of the whole world, so we are not bound to anyone by any obligations and will fight in the manner that suits us and is advantageous to us, by our rules. And if the world community genuinely does not want us to seize a kindergarten in Russia next time, it should insist that Putin observes international law." (8)

As long ago as 1988, terrorism expert Alex Schmid counterposed the options available to state and non-state actors in a time of ‘violent’ politics. If the state resorts to such forms of violent repression as assassination, state terrorism (torture, death squads, disappearances, concentration camps), massacres, internal war or genocide, then one might expect the non-state actor to use violence to contest state power by means of terrorism, massacres, guerrilla warfare and insurgency. (9) The deal that Basayev appears to be offering Putin is "you stop your war crimes and we'll stop ours." That is a rational strategy, whatever one thinks of the morals involved.

The whole question of the rationality of terrorists has been the subject of much debate amongst experts on terrorism of late. Whereas some, like Robert Pape, conclude that "suicide terrorism pays," (10) others, such as Max Abrahms, argue that "terrorism is always a self-defeating strategy." (11) The key concept here appears to be "strategy." There are enough examples of the use of terrorism as a tactic towards a non-violent political end to conclude that it does work; on the other hand, terrorism as a strategy would appear to remain the preserve of ruling tyrants and revolutionary dreamers. It is appropriate to determine, therefore, whether Basayev perceives himself to be using terror as a tactic or a strategy and whether the Russo-Chechen conflict is based on Chechen self-determination versus Russian territorial integrity or is primarily part of an Islamic jihad against Western civilization. My analysis of this message from Basayev indicates that he believes in the former in both cases.

If this is so, the question arises: why cannot a political solution be brokered in Chechnya along the lines of that achieved in Northern Ireland? Let us put to one side the very real differences of scale, history, and location and concentrate upon what the two scenarios have in common. In both cases there existed a clash of cultural traditions, a struggle for self-determination, the rule of might over right in virtually every aspect of life and recourse to extra-judicial violence on both sides. Only by engaging all those across the spectrum who wished to seek a non-violent political outcome, irrespective of the crimes committed in the name of the struggle, was the violence finally ended.

I am fully aware of how improbable it would be for an "Ulster"-type solution to be applied in Chechnya. After all, even the Spanish government cannot bring itself to apply it to the conflict with the Basque separatist ETA. All the same, I feel that the principle needs to be established.

Were such an approach to be applied to Chechnya, it would soon become apparent whether Basayev, let alone Maskhadov and his ilk, were interested only in the armed struggle. If, as I suspect, the population of Chechnya yearns for peace, then those intent on continuing the fight regardless would soon be identified and marginalized, while those who could best deliver peace, with requisite support from both Russia and the international community, would come to the fore.

Of course, this in itself would not solve Chechnya’s problems. After all, progress towards a political settlement in Northern Ireland has been painfully slow, as both sides need to show their own supporters that they are not to suffer the humiliation of surrender. To this must be added the complicating factor of the Chechen’s code of honour, including the blood vendetta, the tension within Islam locally between adat and wahabbism, the crippled economy, and the poisoned and mined environment that the war will leave behind in Chechnya. For their part, Russians must come to terms both with their imperial past in the region and with their Caucasophobia if any North Caucasians, let alone the Chechens, are to feel comfortable enough to remain voluntarily within the Russian Federation.

Doing nothing is clearly not an option, for the Chechens, for the Russians, or for the West. Russians might claim double standards when Western "liberals" demand action from Russia's government in Chechnya but not, for example, from Spain's in the Basque country or Britain's in Northern Ireland. It must be pointed out in reply that neither the Spanish nor the British are currently pounding their domestic rebels with bombs from the air or heavy artillery shells from the ground or terrorizing the civilian population. One will find, however, that many of these same "liberals" will charge the coalition forces in Iraq and Israeli forces in the Middle East with precisely such transgressions, in the firm belief that they are equally counterproductive and actually facilitate the growth of terrorism in these lands. For example, in a chilling account of America's war in Iraq, the experienced war reporter Chris Hedges warns: "If we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, we will not so much defeat dictators like Saddam Hussein as become them." (12)

We would do well do bear in mind the final threat to the world community in Basayev’s message that "this whole world will burn with a blue flame before we will turn our backs on our Freedom and Independence." Giving such a seasoned protagonist a straight choice between a violent death and carrying on his destructive work does not seem to me the most rational of approaches. The beast of Beslan he may be to most Russians and Westerners alike, but to how many others, in the North Caucasus in particular and in the Islamic world in general, does he remain the Che Guevara of Chechnya?


(1) The declaration was published in full, without alterations or editing, by the pro-independence Chechen website "Daymohk" on 17 September 2004, see;idt=17200409;section=1

(2) Basayev does not always use such rational argumentation as he exhibits in this message. Even allowing for any use of hyperbole to rally his own troops, there is a decided lack of rationality in his more apocalyptic and emotional outpourings, such as those in an e-mail in English (purportedly from him) received by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 27 August 2004: "Scoundrel Western crusaders, bogged down in lechery, and you, hoggish Jews, I have ordered my Muslim brothers and sisters, the Chechens, staying in your filthy countries to annihilate you without taking any compassion on you." See Tom de Waal, "Basayev and Maskhadov Under Pressure," Caucasus Reporting Service , No. 252, 8 September 2004.

(3) Basayev was filmed on a video released on a separatist website during an attack on the arms store of Ingushetia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs on 22-23 June 2004, in which he claims more than 570 mujahedeen participated and that provided them with a significant amount of ammunition and weapons, many of which were recovered from dead boyeviki after the Beslan siege. See

(4) "People who got out of the school said there an explosion blew a hole in a wall, through which they escaped. It was not clear whether the blast was caused by explosives laid by the hostage-takers, or whether it could have been done by the security forces. 'I was hiding in a house near the school, and my impression is that the storm did not start spontaneously, but rather that it was planned by the security forces," said Elbrus, one of the local men who joined armed groups which formed outside the school.'" Quoted in Valery Dzutsev and Alan Tskhurbayev, "Beslan Siege Unravels, Slowly and Bloodily," Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 250, 3 September, 2004.

(5) For the aims and targets of terrorism, see Alex Schmid, "Goals and Objectives of International Terrorism," in Robert O. Slater and Michael Stohl, eds, Current Perspectives on International Terrorism, Basingstoke, Macmillan 1988, pp. 47-87.

(6) Walter Laqueur, The Age of Terrorism, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1987, p.121.

(7) Basayev states quite explicitly in his message that the suicide attacks on aircraft and the metro in Moscow in the run-up to Alu Alkhanov’s victory were "our vote ahead of time" in the presidential elections in Chechnya.

(8) Throughout his message, Basayev refers to Russia as "Rusnya," a term intended to be both derogatory and to establish, albeit phonetically, an equivalence between Chechnya and Russia.

[Comment by SS: It may have the additional implication that Russia is the land of the ethnic Russians (russkie) and not the non-ethnic, civic state (Rossiya) that it claims to be.]

(9) Originally published in Alex P Schmid, Political Terrorism, Amsterdam, North-Holland 1988, pp.58-59, reproduced in his "Frameworks for Conceptualising Terrorism" in Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Summer 2004), p.201.

(10) Robert Pape, "The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," in American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, August 2003, p. 355.

(11) Max Abrahms, "Are Terrorists Really Rational? The Palestinian Example," Orbis, Summer 2004, p.549.

(12) Chris Hedges, "On War," The New York Review of Books, Vol. 51, No. 20, 16 December 2004, p.14.

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By P. Terrence Hopmann
Professor of Political Science
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Before commenting on the specific contributions to this symposium, I would like to make one caveat and set forth several basic premises of my argument. First, it is always difficult as an American to comment “objectively” on Russian policy with regard to the Chechen conflict, especially as Americans are frequently accused, often correctly, of holding a “double standard.” I will therefore try to draw comparisons in my comments with US policy in Southwest Asia and the Middle East, especially the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to illustrate the sad reality that the policies of the two former superpowers too often mirror one another in their callous use of violence and in their belief that “the end justifies the means.”

I also begin with several ethical assumptions that I believe take precedence over any arguments about what is or is not “rational” or “practical” or even “necessary.” Here I draw on the long tradition, brought into common principles of international law by the 17th century Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius, that distinguishes between jus ad bellum (justice of war) and jus in bello (justice in war). [1]

For a war (or other forms of state-directed violence) to be considered justifiable it must meet several stringent criteria: it must be undertaken for a “just cause,” be conducted by legitimate authority, maintain proportionality between the means employed and the ends pursued, and it must constitute a last resort after all other efforts have been exhausted. Organized violence that does not meet these criteria may not be justified morally or legally, even if it is conducted by the most humane means. Furthermore, jus in bello suggests that unjust or illegal means may not be employed, even in a just war, and beyond some threshold the use of unjust means may become so great that the war itself may no longer be justified on grounds that the harm done is disproportional relative to the expected benefits. For example, this argument was made by many Americans as they saw the US war in Vietnam, however justifiable it may have appeared to some at the outset, as becoming ultimately unjustifiable due to the terrible means required to prosecute the war. The primary criteria for jus in bello require that every effort be made to avoid the death or even harm to innocent noncombatants and to observe other relevant laws of war, such as the humane treatment of prisoners.

In this light, it seems to me that NOTHING justifies the wanton attack by terrorists on presumably innocent people working at the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11 or attacking innocent school children in Beslan, hospital patients in Budennovsk, or theatre-goers in Moscow. While we should try to understand the reasons behind such attacks, including the many injustices suffered by those people who carry them out, we should be careful that our efforts to explain this behavior, to understand the rationale behind it as John Russell does in his article, does not somehow turn into an ethical or legal justification for such behavior. [2] These acts constitute heinous “crimes against humanity,” and those who perpetrated them, however noble the cause they may proclaim, should be regarded as criminals by the international community and should be treated accordingly. Similarly, even in a war fought for a just cause, nothing justifies soldiers deliberately attacking villages and towns known to be inhabited mostly by innocent noncombatants, nor can a “just war” permit wounded and defenseless combatants to be killed, women to be raped or otherwise victimized, people’s homes to be plundered and burned, nor does it condone torture and maltreatment of prisoners.

Since I do not judge the US war in Iraq to be “just” according to the criteria of jus ad bellum, in spite of the criminal behavior of Saddam Hussein towards Iraqi citizens, I could not justify the huge loss of life on all sides even if the war were fought with the most scrupulous of means, which regrettably is not the case. The military action by the US and other countries in Afghanistan, however, I view as qualitatively different: it came as a direct response to an attack upon US territory by individuals operating with the support of the Taliban regime, it was legitimated by the authority of the UN Security Council, and a concerted effort was made to conduct the war with due regard for the lives of noncombatants.

However, even if this is a “just war,” that does not condone specific US actions in the war that violate jus in bello, such as bombing villages doing nothing more than firing weapons to celebrate a wedding or incarcerating numerous “illegal enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay and other military prisons without providing them the most basic legal rights and protecting them against the use of torture, forced confessions, and violation of other rights guaranteed by the Geneva Convention.

Regrettably, it is even harder to draw a clear, unambiguous judgment about the behavior of the Russian government in Chechnya in the war beginning in 1994 and resuming in 1999 in terms of the criteria for jus ad bellum. Clearly there were provocations both times, and the fact that this was at least formally an “internal affair” within the sovereign jurisdiction of the Russian Federation may be considered as exempting it from the need to secure an international mandate for the use of force. It is, however, doubtful that the military action constituted a “last resort,” as in both cases efforts to pursue negotiations to resolve the issues politically were broken off prematurely, mostly as a result of decisions taken in Moscow, a point to which I shall return below. But even if we were to consider the Russian military action to constitute a just cause, namely restoring law and order within its legal frontiers, it still remains impossible to justify the conduct by Russian forces deployed in Chechnya in terms of jus in bello, since they systematically violated the Geneva convention, the OSCE’s Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Affairs signed in 1994 on the very eve of the outbreak of violence, and numerous other international covenants voluntarily agreed to by the government of the Russian Federation. In this respect, Russian officials cannot complain of interference in their internal affairs when they openly and systematically violated commitments that they had freely undertaken along with other members of the international community.

One of the most difficult challenges for powerful nations like the United States and Russia is that it is extremely hard to meet the criteria imposed by jus in bello when fighting an enemy that does not constitute a state and thus has not subscribed to the vast panoply of international codes and treaties, like both the Chechen rebels and the so-called Iraqi “insurgents.” But this is a necessary, if difficult responsibility that accompanies power, even when one’s enemies in so-called “asymmetrical warfare” utilize heinous means in their effort to overcome their power disadvantage. Sadly military forces, as the US is learning the hard way in Iraq and Russia is learning in Chechnya, are generally not trained to deal with civil conflicts where winning the support of the civilian population is an essential objective. So not only is the use of excessive force not justifiable on moral grounds, but it also makes it virtually impossible to win the struggle by force of arms. And beyond some threshold, as noted above, the use of unjustifiable means undermines the essential justification for the war itself in addition to making it virtually impossible to bring it to a successful conclusion.

The only way to avoid getting trapped in this unsolvable dilemma is to try to resolve the differences that lead to this kind of asymmetrical violence early or to try to end the violence through negotiated agreements when it occurs. In this case, the record of both Russia and the United States is regrettably sorely lacking. Furthermore, in these situations of conflict between states and terrorists it is very easy to reduce the conflict to “black and white” stereotypes, where, as George W. Bush asserted in the aftermath of 9/11, everyone who does not support the “war on terror” should be considered to be a terrorist ­- you are either “for us" or "against us.”

Similarly, President Vladimir Putin has all too often branded everyone opposed to his vision of Chechnya within a tightly unified federation as “terrorists” or boyeviki. By refusing as a matter of principle to negotiate with terrorists, the use of this rhetorical device allows leaders to escape from their responsibility to negotiate seriously to avoid violence or to bring it to an end once it erupts.

Since this symposium focuses on Chechnya, let me turn now to a discussion of the efforts to find a nonviolent solution to the problem that led to this conflict and to some of the reasons for their failure to prevent violence. The framework for a negotiated solution, I think, is clearly spelled out in the vast majority of post-Cold War agreements that recognize, as in the 1975 Helsinki principles, both the “territorial integrity of states” and the “right of national self determination,” two seemingly contradictory principles, but principles that often have been reconciled in the past. Since the initial breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990’s, the international community has been very careful not to recognize any other sub-units below the Soviet “union republics” and the Yugoslav equivalents as “independent” or “sovereign.” The status of Kosovo presents a serious problem for the international community, but any effort to grant full sovereignty will likely meet with broad condemnation, not only from Russia.

Similarly, contrary to numerous assertions in several essays in this symposium, I know of very few analysts in the United States and other Western countries, with the possible exception of a few professional “cold warriors,” who have openly advocated full independence for Chechnya. Western criticisms have generally been directed primarily at Russian violations of jus in bello rather than challenging the basic Russian goal of preserving the territorial integrity of the state, although the critics have too often failed to make this distinction clear. At the same time there has been general support, not only in the West but by many Russian intellectuals as well, for a right to an autonomous status that recognizes a degree of “self determination” for the Chechen people. Autonomy, of course, allows a wide range of possible legal systems, ranging from federation to fully autonomous regions, and the precise nature of autonomy granted to any region is something that must necessarily be negotiated among the parties involved. But the outcome within this broad spectrum should not be determined by force of arms, and neither full independence nor total integration will produce a satisfactory or lasting settlement.

Indeed, before the outbreak of the initial large-scale fighting in December 1994, a series of negotiations between the Russian center in Moscow and Chechen leaders in Grozny sought to arrive at such a solution, perhaps along similar lines to those reached between Tatarstan and the federal center in early 1994. As Valery Tishkov, himself a participant in these negotiations, points out, when Russian troops entered Chechnya in December 1994, all avenues of negotiation had not been exhausted: “As far back as the autumn of 1991, the federal regime left undone many of those things that it ought to have done.” [3] As he suggested, the “myth” of the territorial unity of Russia collided with the myth of the independence of Chechnya, in which options falling between these two impossible extremes were largely overlooked.

The agreement reached at Khasavyurt in August 1996, brokered in part by the OSCE Assistance Group in Chechnya, led to a cease-fire, presidential elections in Chechnya in January 1997 supervised and monitored by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and continued negotiation to resolve the political status of Chechnya within the framework of the Helsinki principles, i.e., respecting both the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation AND the right to national self-determination (not equated with independence!) of the Chechen people.

The January 1997 elections saw Aslan Maskhadov defeat Shamil Basayev, his primary rival. There is no dispute that, despite the legitimacy of his election, Maskhadov was unable to govern effectively and Chechnya fell into further anarchy and criminality. Furthermore, the defeated Baseyev and his allies, some of whom arrived from outside Chechnya, actively worked to undermine Maskhadov’s ability to govern. Not the least of those efforts was the disastrous raid conducted by Basayev and his followers in Dagestan in 1999, which contributed significantly to igniting renewed fighting in August 1999, apparently against the advice of at least some senior elements of the Russian military establishment.

Russia thus plunged the region into another war. Although undoubtedly justified by the necessity of establishing some degree of law and order within the frontiers of the Russian Federation, Moscow effectively destroyed any possibility of a negotiated solution by declaring all of its opponents to be “terrorists and bandits” and refusing to distinguish between the radical followers of Basayev and the more moderate leadership of Maskhadov who, far from being an ally of Basayev, had been undermined by him and his radical associates in order to create the pretext for renewed fighting. Although the two former rivals may have formed a tactical alliance after fighting resumed, this does not constitute proof of active collaboration from the outset, nor does it automatically mean that the only legitimately elected leader of the Chechen people cannot be a valuable partner for negotiations. Assertions of their close links sound strikingly similar to proclamations by George W. Bush to the effect that recent support provided to Iraqi insurgents by members of Al Qaida constitutes proof of a close linkage between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein or proof that Iraq was intimately involved in planning and implementing the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, even though there is no credible evidence that such a linkage existed prior to the US invasion of Iraq.

Following the renewal of fighting in Chechnya in 1999, there were renewed efforts by the United States and Europe, pursued most actively at the Istanbul OSCE Summit in December 1999, to involve the international community once again in efforts to bring a halt to the violence. Although Foreign Minister Ivanov agreed to seek international assistance both to mediate and to find appropriate interlocutors on the Chechen side, he was later rebuffed due to the widespread belief in the Kremlin that there could be no impartial “third party” and that there was no one to negotiate on the Chechen side, as all Chechen leaders were lumped into the category of terrorists.

When the administration of George W. Bush arrived in Washington, especially after 9/11, this Russian worldview was adopted by the United States as well. Contrary to the views expressed by Vladimir Pastukhov in his interesting essay, after 9/11 the United States ceased virtually all overt criticism of the conduct of Russian forces in Chechnya and refused any official contact with Chechen officials. In fact, Bush and Putin subscribed to essentially the same dichotomous worldview that they were allies in the “war on terror,” that Chechen leadership had fallen under the influence of Al Qaida, and therefore the fact that Russia and the US were pursuing a common “just war” against terrorism provided justification for them to use virtually any means necessary to achieve victory against the “terrorists.” This resulted in a tacit understanding that neither would engage in blunt criticism of the other’s behavior in their respective wars against terrorism in Chechnya and Iraq.

Once the conflict in Chechnya became transformed from a complex issue about balancing federal and republican interests into one of absolute good against implacable evil, genuine resolution of the conflict became overwhelmingly more difficult. All involved parties became trapped in their own stereotypes and myths about “us” and “them” that produced a vicious cycle of spiraling violence and deepening hatred between Russia and the peoples of the Caucasus. None of the essays in this symposium proposes any solution to this dilemma, and I do not claim to be able to do any better. But I am persuaded that before we can begin a genuine dialogue to try to find an exit from this minefield, we must first acknowledge how we got trapped in this impossible dilemma in the first place. We must especially acknowledge how jingoistic nationalism, xenophobia, as well as the natural human tendency to simplify and even stereotype that which we do not understand dominated the way in which this conflict became framed in such “black and white” terms. This dichotomous thinking by political leaders of states and of those groups who oppose them exacerbated this conflict and turned it from one that was difficult, but susceptible to a negotiated and peaceful resolution, into one that now appears to offer “no exit.” We must acknowledge that there have been significant unjust and even criminal acts committed by all parties in this conflict, and that the vicious behavior of one side does not justify even more vicious behavior in retaliation in a never-ending spiral.

In a world that follows the dictum of “an eye for an eye,” all people end up blind! And that is exactly where we find ourselves now in Chechnya, where blind men struggle with one another with no solution in sight. Attempts, however plausible, by some of the essays in this symposium to assign responsibility to one side or to justify or even just “explain” the actions of one side contribute little to bringing us closer to a solution; in fact, this too often ends up simply making the analysts as blind to the faults of their own favorite party as the participants are also blind to their own myths and misdeeds. Meanwhile the vast majority of innocent people in Chechnya and in the entire Russian Federation suffer the consequences, just as, in the old African proverb, the grass suffers when the elephants fight.

Washington, DC: December 2004


[1] Although this is a distinction that has a long history, the most comprehensive contemporary treatment may be found in Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust War: a moral argument with historical illustrations (New York: Basic Book, 3rd edition, 2000).

[2] The fact that Basayev may not have intended the death of innocent children, as John Russell suggests, does not change the fact that any hostage taking involving hundreds of school age children runs a high probability of ending up with a large number of dead children, and even placing children in such a precarious position in my view is morally reprehensible regardless of the underlying intention.

[3] Valery Tishkov, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict in and After the Soviet Union: The Mind Aflame (London: Sage, 1997), p. 226.

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Stephen Shenfield

Is it possible for a violent conflict between a central government and a terrorist secessionist movement to be resolved by means of a political settlement that is based on power-sharing and leaves intact the territorial integrity of the country concerned?

The very idea strikes some people as absurd. And yet this is precisely what has happened in Northern Ireland (Ulster), where recent developments demonstrate the further consolidation of the settlement. First, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), an extremist paramilitary organisation based in the Unionist ("Protestant") community, followed the example set by its counterpart in the Republican ("Catholic") community, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), by formally renouncing terrorism. (1) Then came the most astonishing news of all. The Reverend Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and long regarded as the very embodiment of Protestant bigotry, is negotiating with Martin McGuinness (Gerry Adams), spokesman of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, with a view to running together for government office.

"What might count as an equivalent?" commentator Jonathan Freedland enthuses. "Imagine George W. Bush naming Tariq Aziz as his running mate and you get close. Or perhaps Ariel Sharon teaming up with the late Sheikh Yassin. In a world where a Paisley-McGuiness ticket is a serious prospect, truly anything is possible." (2) Like Vladimir Putin offering Aslan Maskhadov the position of prime minister of the Rossian Federation?

When Western experts and diplomats urge the Rossian government to negotiate with Maskhadov, one of the things likely to be on their mind (especially if they are British or Irish) is the successful precedent of the Northern Ireland settlement. It does not necessarily mean that they want Chechnya to be independent of Rossia. After all, Northern Ireland still belongs to the United Kingdom. (3)

The case of Northern Ireland demonstrates that, at least under certain circumstances, secessionist terrorists can be persuaded to renounce terrorism and transform themselves into peaceful politicians without giving in to their basic demand for secession. The crucial question is under what circumstances this is possible. That determines how relevant the Northern Ireland settlement is to other secessionist conflicts.

I won't attempt a systematic comparison between Northern Ireland and Chechnya, though such an exercise would certainly be worthwhile. I'll confine myself to a couple of points that seem to me pertinent.

There are a lot of obvious differences between the two cases that make one feel that the experience of Northern Ireland is not relevant to Chechnya. Above all, there is a dramatic contrast in the sheer scale of violence on both sides. The blowing up of pubs in English cities by the IRA, the shooting dead of 13 Catholic demonstrators in Belfast by British soldiers on "Bloody Sunday"--these were terrible things. But they pale in comparison with the vast savagery of the Chechen conflict. Correspondingly, the bitterness, the hatred, the thirst for revenge must inevitably be that much deeper in the Chechen case.

It is useful to consider who persuaded the IRA to renounce terrorism. Was it the British government? Successive British governments do deserve some credit for bringing the settlement to fruition, but I don't believe it was they who played the crucial role.

The abandonment of violence by the Irish Republican movement was a painful and long-drawn-out process. It occurred in stages, through a series of splits. First, the IRA divided into the "Officials," who opted in favour of peaceful political work, and the "Provisionals," who were determined to continue the "armed struggle." When finally the Provisional IRA in turn gave up terrorism, some irreconcilable militants broke away to form offshoots like the "Real IRA" and the "Irish National Liberation Army." But despite their grandiloquent names these were small isolated groups that no longer posed a serious threat to the peace.

Pressure to give up terrorism was exerted on the IRA by the electoral competition between Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the main party representing the interests of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland through the peaceful democratic process. The SDLP was the main beneficiary of attempts by London to placate the Catholic community by means of power-sharing arrangements. Mention should also be made of the grassroots peace movement that was initiated by women from both communities and succeeded, at least for a time, in bridging the sectarian divide.

And so the price paid by the terrorists in terms of political support within their own community rose so high that they felt compelled to reconsider their strategy. The game was no longer worth the candle. (4)

Is there a Chechen counterpart to the SDLP? Is there an "unarmed opposition" that can be trusted both by ordinary Chechens to represent their interests and by Moscow as a responsible partner in the search for a settlement?

Clearly there is no such coherent and organised political force. But perhaps the potential exists for it to be created. Many Chechens are as disillusioned in the armed opposition as they are in the federal government. And there are respected Chechen public figures who have tried to create a Chechen "SDLP" -- people like former Supreme Soviet chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov and political scientist Jabrail Gakayev. (5) If there is any hope at all for a political settlement in Chechnya, then it will be achieved primarily through the efforts of people like these. It is they, and not the terrorists, whom Western diplomats (official and unofficial) should treat as their principal Chechen partners in dialogue. And it is they, and not despised lackeys like Kadyrov and his successors, whom Moscow should treat as its principal Chechen partners in finally making its peace (with or without the help of the West) with the Chechen people.


(1) Not all Protestants are Unionists -- that is, supporters of the union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain -- and not all Catholics are Republicans -- that is, supporters of an independent united Ireland. Nevertheless, the political divide between Unionists and Republicans does to a large extent coincide with the social and confessional divide between Protestants and Catholics.

(2) The Guardian Weekly, December 10-16, 2004, p. 6. Tariq Aziz was foreign minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Sheikh Yassin was leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

(3) Although from the juridical point of view British sovereignty over Northern Ireland remains intact, London consults closely with Dublin on policy in the province. Some observers interpret the situation as a de facto condominium of Britain and the Republic of Eire (Southern Ireland).

(4) This is a crucial factor in the Palestinian case too. At times when an acceptable settlement with Israel has seemed within reach, political support for terrorism among Palestinians has fallen to a low level, inducing terrorist organizations to reconsider their strategy.

(5) For more on Gakayev and his peace plan, see RAS No. 7, item 10. I had hoped that Gakayev could contribute an article to this special issue of the RAS, but I understand that he is in hospital. I wish him a rapid recovery.

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Valery Tishkov

Terry Hopmann's article contains useful historical reminiscences and topical comparisons of the current post-conflict situation in Chechnya with the real ongoing war in Iraq. It is important to distinguish between these two different situations, for it is my deep conviction that "the war in Chechnya" ended three years ago when federal troops ceased military operations against armed groups of Chechen separatists and foreign mercenaries. For several years there have been no military operations in Chechnya. A difficult but not completely unsuccessful process of post-conflict reconstruction is underway there. A popular referendum has approved a new Constitution for the republic, written by Chechen not Moscow politicians. Two presidents of Chechnya have been elected (Akhmad Kadyrov and Ali Alkhanov). Unlike the election of Dudayev in November 1991, which did not in fact occur, and the election of Maskhadov in January 1997, which took place under the muzzles of the machineguns of armed boyeviki, these elections were more democratic and legitimate. The refusal of Western experts and politicians to participate in monitoring the last two elections in Chechnya signifies their unwillingness to acknowledge that the war has ended and legitimate authority has been established in this region of the Rossian Federation.

Today there is a real government in Chechnya. It was set up by the Chechens in place of the previous regimes of armed separatists and the temporary administrations of the period of active military operations. No one intimidated the population or forced it to take part in the elections. Moscow's support of its preferred candidates and assistance in organizing the elections were no greater than the USA's support of the candidacy of Karzai in Afghanistan and of the future leaders in the Iraqi elections.

The West would like to see a politician elected in Chechnya who is not supported by Moscow. It is no coincidence that all those who recognize and cooperate with federal authority are declared quislings or bandits. This is a longstanding and consistent stance: I do not recall a case in any similar situation of the West supporting the Kremlin's choice and by joint efforts facilitating the establishment of effective government and resolution of a conflict. As the reaction to the presidential elections in Ukraine shows, the very fact of Moscow's support for a candidate in the person of the acting head of government of that country (Viktor Yanukovych) was represented as the imposition by imperial Russia of a political puppet on Ukraine.

Over the last three years a system of local government has been restored in Chechnya. Local administrations oversee the process of restoring life support systems, reconstruction work, and the provision of minimal security in face of the terrorist activity of the "freedom fighters" or "insurgents." Terror against legitimate authority in Chechnya and destabilization of the situation in order to prevent a return to normal life -- that is the main goal of the illegal armed groups and of the individual perpetrators of terrorist acts. It is precisely for this purpose that money is given by those who support the "jihad" against Rossia and the creation in Chechnya of an Islamic state.

A civil service, systems of education and healthcare, social services, courts, and police are being rebuilt and are operating in Chechnya. Despite difficult conditions, some 400 schools and several institutions of higher education are functioning. A theatre and an academic scientific research institute have opened their doors. I mention only those spheres of which I have direct knowledge, including through the Fund for Humanitarian Assistance to the Chechen Republic, which I set up in March 2000. [1]

The refusal of foreign states and international organizations to render real aid to the population of Chechnya is prompted by the same goal of blocking the stabilization and reconstruction of the war-torn region. There are various underlying motives for this, including an unwillingness to acknowledge the failure of the project for a second round of disintegration of Russia through the secession of Chechnya and the striving to limit Russian successes in domestic and foreign policy. Undoubtedly, a role is played by the political and moral engagements of many politicians and experts who have permitted themselves to get carried away by the heroic image of the contemporary "Aeneases with RPGs" who have allegedly laid the tombstone of Rossian power. [2]

The image in the mass media of total destruction and violence that took place in Chechnya continues to exert a strong emotional impact in favor of the "Chechen revolution." Terry Hopmann rightly considers that it is on precisely this argument that the right to external intervention is based and that it is precisely this circumstance that obliges the world community to condemn the policy of the federal authorities in Chechnya. It is hard for me to object to this argument, for I myself consider that the federal army had no right to behave with symmetrical violence in Chechnya. The Rossian military have demonstrated unjustified cruelty toward not only the boyeviki but also the civil population. Indifference to human life -- that legacy of totalitarian times -- has been manifest even in relation to our own servicemen.

However, the USA had even less justification for destroying the Iraqi city of El-Faluja and killing thousands of citizens of a foreign state on which it had not declared war. This was a classic example of unjust war (injustice of war). In order to deprive the world community of the right to condemn the behavior of the USA in Iraq, it proved sufficient simply not to show the devastation in Iraq on the TV screen accompanied by angry commentary. In order to back up the argument concerning genocide of the Chechen people, the Western TV screen goes on showing the ruins of Grozny and nothing else, while commentators and politicians continue to cite fraudulent figures for population losses in the war. If André Glucksmann says that the Chechen people lost in the war (read -- paid for their independence!) 200,000 lives, including the lives of 40,000 children, that is his personal business. But when these fabrications are published in leading Western newspapers, that is the stance of their publishers, who make the lie part of the convictions of millions of readers and lay the basis for political pressure or punishment.

The bulk of war casualties in Chechnya occurred in the city of Grozny. The majority of Grozny's population consisted not of Chechens but of Russians. According to estimates made by my colleague Vladimir Mukomel -- a leading expert on conflict and migration -- and myself, about 40,000 people were killed or injured in the two rounds of military operations in Chechnya. (This is also the estimate of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which does quite a professional job of monitoring armed conflicts throughout the world.) Both military and civil casualties divided in roughly equal proportions between ethnic Chechens and non-Chechens (mainly ethnic Russians). So 40,000 children killed is an immoral lie designed to arouse hatred for Moscow and sympathy for the embattled Chechens.

My dispute over exact figures may also seem immoral, for there whether the number of victims is somewhat higher or somewhat lower makes no fundamental difference: it all remains a tragedy and a crime. However, there is a difference of interpretation and political effect. If the casualties among Rossian servicemen and ethnic Russians in Chechnya are just as great, that is the price not of the independence of Chechnya but of preservation of the territorial integrity of Russia and the struggle against the terrorist plans of the Islamist radicals. This interpretation gives rise to a different "truth-argument" concerning the war in Chechnya, which outside observers of the conflict do not want to write about or acknowledge but which matters a lot in Rossia itself!

We also have the results, unnoticed by Western experts, of the Rossian population census of 2002, which was conducted also in Chechnya itself. These data are more accurate than the estimates of journalists and politicians. Between 1989 (the date of the preceding census) and 2002, the number of Chechens in Rossia grew by 51 percent, from 899,000 to 1,361,000. In Chechnya itself the total population also grew from 1,000,000 to 1,100,000 as a result of the natural increase among Chechens, despite the fact that some 400,000 people (about 200,000 Chechens and 200,000 non-Chechens) left the territory of Chechnya over the years of the conflict. The number of Chechens in Chechnya increased from 702,563 in 1989 to 1,031,647 in 2002. The number of Chechens in other regions of Rossia increased from 164,498 to 233,203.

The census figures for Chechnya itself may be too high due to double counting for the purpose of obtaining federal social grants and compensation. However, in other regions of Rossia Chechens were clearly undercounted, as many of them do not have residence permits and avoid contact with representatives of the authorities. According to the estimates of Chechen organizations, at least 70--90,000 Chechens currently live in Moscow, only 15,000 of whom were counted in the census (2,000 in 1989). [3]

Thus, despite the great losses and suffering among Chechens in the course of the conflict, there are no factual grounds for the charge of "destruction of a people." Those Chechens who left Chechnya preferred to go not to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, or Turkey, access to which was open to them, but to other regions of their own country, including first of all the capital. This fact alone says a great deal.

Terry Hopmann is wrong when he writes that only "a few professional 'cold warriors' ... have openly advocated full independence for Chechnya." In fact, the entire Western expert community and political establishment (their "Eastern" counterparts would need a separate discussion) wanted and actively supported the variant of an independent Chechnya. The sole exception was the highest official level, at which declarations in favor of independence would have contravened norms of international law. Hundreds of non-governmental organizations and societies, the mass media community, and, of course, millions of ordinary people manipulated by reportage from Grozny, wanted the same thing. The first resolution on Chechnya of the European parliament in 1994 was entitled "Russia's Invasion of Chechnya." There is more than enough documentary proof of that kind. I have rich personal observations of the attitude and behavior of Western colleagues with regard to Chechnya. In August 1996, at a conference on Chechnya organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a tele-bridge from Washington with head of the OSCE mission Tim Guldiman, who was in Khasavyurt, discussed "the next steps in building a Chechen state." In the atmosphere of euphoria surrounding the Khasavyurt agreement, no mention was even made of Rossia.

Have we really now forgotten this whole situation of large-scale moral and political legitimization of Chechen secession, including dozens of books and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, not to mention the money collected and sent to the Chechen separatist regime? Does all this now appear to us only as "Western criticism directed primarily at Russian violations of jus in bello"? It seems to me that Western intellectuals are too quick in shrugging off their responsibility for encouraging the project of armed secession and too slow in admitting the failure of this project.

Terry Hopmann, like the overwhelming majority of the Western community, continues to regard Maskhadov as a legitimate and moderate leader and proposes "a framework for negotiations with moderates." Maskhadov cannot be considered a "moderate" and "legitimate" leader after taking part in overthrowing lawful authority in the Chechen-Ingush Republic and setting up an armed separatist regime in 1991. All the more so was such the case after November 1994, when the armed detachments created and commanded by him opened fire on federal troops. "Moderate" politicians do not head military operations and then share their experience of "urban warfare," as Maskhadov did in his lectures in the USA. "Moderate" leaders do not form a single governing and fighting team with the cruelest of terrorists and do not accept financial aid and training assistance from international terrorist organizations.

Maskhadov is one of the most hateful individuals in contemporary Chechnya and among the Chechens of Rossia. To suppose that he may somehow return to legal politics and even occupy some post in Chechnya is absurd and reflects complete ignorance of the real situation. The view of the federal and Chechen authorities that Maskhadov must be captured or killed is no less well grounded than the analogous view of the American authorities regarding the long list they compiled of members of the Iraqi leadership under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Finally, on the problem of self-determination for Chechnya and for the Chechens. Rossian citizens of Chechen ethnicity and the population of Chechnya were given the right to self-determination at the inauguration of the Rossian Federation, of which the Chechen Republic too is a subject. Ethnic Chechens are represented in the federal bodies of power, and the Chechen Ruslan Khasbulatov headed the first Rossian parliament. Like other Rossian republics, the Chechen Republic has a high status of internal self-determination and, according to the Constitution of the country, is considered a sovereign republic (state) with all the institutions and attributes of statehood. The Rossian Constitution makes no provision for any other version of self-determination, and this is a circumstance of no little importance that no one has the right to ignore.

It is another matter that the armed coup of 1991, the separatist regime, and military operations have inflicted huge damage to Chechen self-determination. Statehood and order in Chechnya are now being restored, although the traumas of war will long remain both in Chechnya and in the rest of Rossia. The federal and republic-level authorities are open to international cooperation and assistance for the purpose of post-conflict reconstruction in Chechnya. What is more, they need to learn from world experience in the reconstruction of war-torn societies. They also need additional resources and moral-political support.

The reaction to the events in Beslan and the current perception of the situation in Chechnya leave no room for such hopes. The New York Times responded to the tragedy in Beslan not only with the belated article of Fiona Hill but also with the article of the much more influential Richard Pipes (September 10, 2004), who demanded that Rossia act without delay to "let its tiny colonial possession go free." Native Hawaiian radicals put forward the same demand twenty years ago, and there are hundreds of such "clients for de-colonization" in dozens of countries in the world. My late colleague Galina Starovoitova has already prepared, during her time at Brown University, a plan for global ethnic self-determination. [4] But it would be better to begin its implementation with those countries which have not recently lived through the drama of disintegration and new state formation.


[1] For further information on this fund, see the article by Valery Tishkov in RAS No. 7 (item 12). The banking information needed by those wishing to make a financial contribution to the fund is as follows:

Intermediary bank: ABN AMRO Bank, New York, USA; SWIFT: ABNA US 33; account 574-0-731617-41

Benificiary bank: JSCB Metallinvestbank, Moscow, Russia; SWIFT: SCBM RU MM; in favor of Rosbusinessbank, Moscow, Russia, account 30109840400000000205

Beneficiary: The Fund for Humanitarian Assistance to the Chechen Republic, account: 40703840800010022031

[2] The reference is to the title of Anatol Lieven's book "Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power" (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998) and to the heading of a section in Chapter 10 of this book: "Aeneas with the RPG." Aeneas was a hero in ancient Greek mythology. An RPG is a rocket-propelled grenade.

[3] For further points pertaining to the reliability of the census results for Chechnya, see RAS No. 19 item 5.

[4] Galina Starovoitova, National Self-Determination: Approaches and Case Studies. Occasional Paper No. 27 of the Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI. Starovoitova, an ethnographer and later a politician and member of the State Duma, was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brown University in 1994-95. She was assassinated in 1998.

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Stephen Shenfield

Is a political settlement of the war in Chechnya (or of the "postwar violence," if we agree with the Rossian government that the war ended long ago) "absurd"? It may be unfeasible for specific reasons, but "absurd" suggests something stronger -- an impossibility that is self-evident, at least to those with any knowledge of the situation. But sometimes, as in Northern Ireland, something that everyone (myself included) would always have dismissed as absurd -- and as "reflecting complete ignorance of the real situation" -- ACTUALLY HAPPENS. To some extent also there may be an element of self-fulfilling prophecy involved. An outcome that would otherwise be possible, albeit unlikely, is MADE impossible by people regarding it as absurd and therefore refusing to think about how it just might be realized. So perhaps "absurd" is a concept we would all do well to dispense with altogether.

That said, I am now inclined to draw the conclusion that, whatever may be the objective potential for a political settlement in Chechnya, it is counterproductive for outsiders to put any kind of pressure on the Rossian government to pursue such a settlement. It would be better for the West to declare the whole matter a purely internal affair, avoid contact at all levels with the separatists, and reassure Rossia that its territorial integrity is respected without reservations. That might improve somewhat the atmosphere of relations between Russia and the West, while at least doing no harm to the prospects of peace in Chechnya.

I do not mean that there should be no external criticism whatsoever of the policy and conduct of the Rossian authorities in Chechnya, only that such criticism should focus solely on violations of human rights (and not also on the refusal to seek a political settlement). That is, it should focus on the methods used to suppress terrorism and secessionism, such as indiscriminate roundups and the torture of detainees, but not put the goal itself in question. Thus circumscribed, external criticism would evoke greater resonance in public opinion within Rossia and might produce some results. If so, it would contribute in an indirect but significant way to ending violence in Chechnua, as the number of Chechens who feel the need to exact revenge gradually declines.

The example of penal reform shows that Western criticism of Rossian policy on the basis of human rights can strengthen the hand of domestic reformers and yield fruitful results. (See RAS No. 27 item 8.)

Finally, I would like to protest once more against the habitual practice of dividing Chechen politicians into two categories: those who cooperate with and are supported by the federal authorities and those committed to independence from Rossia. For this is to ignore figures like Khasbulatov and Gakayev, who criticize the policy and conduct of the Rossian government in Chechnya in the harshest terms but accept that Chechnya is and will remain part of the Rossian Federation. From what I have read, my impression is that this is in fact the viewpoint of the majority of Russia's Chechens.

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Special Issue No. 29. January 2005. Chechnya and Russia-West Relations: A Post-Beslan Symposium

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