Why Russia Is Destroying Chechnya
Russia’s ruling elite finds incessant armed conflicts necessary for its own survival. Having claimed that the intervention in Chechnya is meant to "punish terrorism" and defend Russians from Chechen terrorist bombings, Yeltsin’s government is unleashing another genocidal war against Chechnya and other Muslim parts of Russia. This perfectly illustrates the old Russian tradition of creating new problems, rather than solving existing ones.
It also resembles the "Wag the Dog" scenario at least as much as US bombings of the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant on the eve of Monica Lewinsky’s testimony. Bombings of apartment complexes in Moscow and other Russian cities conveniently distract public attention from the grim reality of corruption at the very top of the Russian hierarchy.
In fact, there is little or no evidence linking any of the apartment bombings to "Chechen terrorists." General Aleksandr Lebed, one of the most popular candidates for the Russian presidency next year, believes that the so-called "terrorist bombings" were actually fabricated by the Kremlin itself. Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev has proudly claimed previous terrorist attacks on Russia, including a 1995 attack on a hospital in the village of Budyonnovsk, Southern Russia. This time, however, he denies having anything to do with the bombings.
Like Lebed, Basayev believes these bombings are the work not of Chechens, but of the Kremlin or its politically active secret services, as a way of provoking chaos and swamping the coming presidential elections. Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB operative, may be the lynch pin: he is trying to secure his claim to the presidency in June 2000 in the wake of the present nationalist hysteria.
From Peter the Great to Stalin, the Russian people have been cajoled by their governments to rely upon conspiracy theories to explain why they require a massive government. Today, the politically and economically bankrupt Yeltsin regime is attempting to boost its popularity by conducting a swift, victorious war against a convenient scapegoat: "Chechen terrorist wolves." (A wolf is the symbol of the Chechen Republic. This animal is respected among Chechens as a symbol of freedom and independence).
Another strong motive for the war is to warn the other fifteen national republics of Russia to remain within the Federation. It is obvious that one of the real aims, rather than to destroy guerrilla commanders Basayev and Khattab, is to break Chechnya’s will and bring it back into Moscow’s orbit. More than 100,000 Chechen and ethnic Russian civilians in Chechnya were killed by Russian militarists during the war of 1994-1996.
Russia has, for the third time, fallen into a trap. The first time was in Afghanistan. There, admits Lebed, "we began the war with lofty aims but ended up with a war against the people." A few years later, the same happened in the small, breakaway nation of Chechnya (which had been brutally conquered under both the tsars and the communists). "People are fighting," continues Lebed, "to avenge their killed relatives and ruined homes. No military leader, no matter how brilliant he may be, has ever won a war against the people... That is why I reject all the talk of Russia's integrity and indivisibility. Is it possible to ensure the integrity of Russia by killing hundreds and maiming thousands of people every day?"
"I am often asked," Lebed says, "if I know who is responsible for this war. Yes, I know all of them by name. I am also sure that this war has economic roots camouflaged in politics. Now is not the time to name these people, because chances are rather high that the war may resume with fresh force and on an even larger scale."
The Chechen economy, already in dire straits after 75 years of the Soviet communism, was completely destroyed during two years of ferocious air attacks in 1994-96. Industrial plants, bridges, and municipal utilities were hit along with residential areas. Rapes and murders were carried out by Russian occupying forces. Bombings killed tens of thousands of civilians.
Al Gore visited Russia during the first day of the war in 1994 and promised Yeltsin unconditional US support in his genocidal campaign against Chechens. The next day Russian fighter-bombers and helicopter gun-ships completely destroyed the capital city of Grozny and numerous villages. Cowardly unfocused nighttime bombing went unpunished.
While claiming that Chechnya’s residents were Russian Federation citizens, Russian authorities unleashed an unprecedented racist propaganda campaign against Chechens as a people. Putin publicly accused them of having a "criminal character" and of running organized crime networks in Russia. Russian statists from Aleksandr Barkashov, the leader of the Russian National Unity Party, which styles itself a fascist party, to Alexei Arbatov, the leader of the so called Liberal wing of Russian Duma, all endorsed the war in Chechnya.
After the destruction, on December 27, 1994, Yeltsin announced that the bombing would stop. After all, there remain nothing more to bomb. The US Department of State praised this "goodwill gesture."
The ongoing war on Chechnya brings back the memory of Stalin’s 1944 deportation of Chechens and Ingush. The former speaker of the Russian parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov (a Chechen himself), told me that more than half the Chechens were physically exterminated as a result of Stalin’s policy.
Chechens I met in Grozny told me blood-freezing stories of deportation: people crowded into cattle cars without food, water, or sanitary facilities for several days and killings of innocent protesters at the railway stations by KGB guards. Ethnic and religious cleansing of the Northern Caucasian district was the vision of Josef Stalin–the Great Father of Nations.
It was no surprise that these long suffering people declared their independence upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. So did fifteen other nations recognized today by the United States and the world community. But Chechens were afforded no such favor. According to Stalin’s Constitution of 1936, only sister union republics were granted a right to independence–not autonomous republics like Chechnya. US policy has consistently deferred to Stalin’s Constitution.
Today the Clinton administration is still blindly pro-Yeltsin, and seems to hold that this attack on Chechnya is justified because of the "terrorist attacks," and because of the Chechen rebels' incursions into Dagestan. This position is similar to that of V. Zhirinovsky, who is openly anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish (he spent some time in a Turkish prison as an exchange student there) and the communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov are professing the preservation of Greater Russia and an expansion to the Southern Muslim world at large. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has ordered a crackdown on residency permits aimed at forcing Chechens and all other non-ethnic Russians out of the city.
Today the Russian government, with the tacit blessing of the Clinton administration, continues its aggression against vastly inferior but, apparently, highly motivated Chechen freedom fighters. US taxpayers are paying for this war by financing economic and military aid to Russia. This is the true "money laundering" scam.
Russian airstrikes have hammered Chechnya, killing civilians, destroying homes, taking television and radio off the air, and wrapping the capital of Grozny in the acrid smoke of raging fires. As thousands fled the capital—either on foot or in cars and trucks loaded down with furniture–the Chechen leadership called for emergency negotiations with Moscow. Moscow responded with combative rhetoric and continued the bombing of Grozny.
Russian government statements tend to reinforce fears that another deportation may be soon to come. Those fears stem not only from the sad memory of the 1944 terror deportation of Chechens and Ingush, but also from the 1994 and 1995 ferocious ethnic cleansing of the Ingush population from Prigorodnyi Raion–something completely ignored by the pro-Yeltsen media and governments of the West.
The immorality of Russian actions and of Clinton’s support of Yeltsin are apparent. So is the futility of hoping to win the war: Russia and its army are in decay and Chechens have a long history of resisting tyranny. "Instead of the hammer-blow of a great-power fist," comments the St. Petersburg Times, "what we saw was the clumsy groping of fat blindly spread fingers." The end result will be more corpses of Russian soldiers and innocent Chechen civilians.
There are two possible solutions to these atrocities. The Russian government can immediately curb its military ambitions and dramatically trim its size and role in the lives of its people. Or it can permit independent-minded regions like Chechnya to secede and go their own way. Either would be a humane and peaceful alternative to the bloodshed that is has taken place in the name of nation building.
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Yuri N. Maltsev is a senior fellow of the Mises Institute and professor of economics at Carthage College.