Chechnya: Russia's War in the Caucasus
Pamphlet published 1999
1- Background to Chechen war
The war in Chechnya has a complex
background, tightly tied to the historical and ethnic character of the
Caucasus region. This is interwoven with attempts by various regional and
imperialist powers to shape the coming decades of this new
Simplistically, the battle has been presented either as a
legitimate Russian counter-terrorist operation against Islamic fanatics,
or as the attempt of a crumbling empire to reassert control over a key
colony. The reality is more complicated. In short, the conflict in the
Caucasus has a three-tiered character.
First, since the first Chechen
war of the mid-90s, extreme Islamicist mujahidin have emerged in leading
positions in the Chechen republic and are tied to forces outside the
Caucasus. Second, the Russian establishment is responding to a broader
Western imperialist attempt to isolate the country, divide it and weaken
it. Third, the pro-capitalist elements in the Kremlin cannot afford to
lose out on the energy riches in the Caspian Sea, which make the Caucasus
a key target of imperialist intervention.
The Islamicist groups now
currently spearheading Chechen resistance to Moscow do not see themselves
as fighting national oppression but a jihad or holy war against
'infidels', both Christian and Jew. They do not regard a separate Chechen
state as an end but as a means to establishing an Islamicist state uniting
Chechnya and the neighbouring province of Dagestan, despite clear
opposition from the majority of the Dagestani population. In the previous
conflict, the Chechens were able to draw on support, or at least sympathy,
from other Caucasian nationalities. This is not the case now.
de facto Chechen republic had initially adopted a secular constitution, in
the past couple of years the formal president of Chechnya, Aslan
Maskhadov, turned toward a draconian implementation of Islamic Sharia law,
similar to that applied in Saudi Arabia.
Subsequently, the Chechen
government decreed that all women working for the government or studying
in higher education must wear traditional Moslem dress or risk losing
their positions. People detained for consumption of alcohol in public
could be flogged, Islamic courts' sentences also included the amputation
of thieves' limbs and the public execution of convicts for breaches of
Sharia law. All these were hitherto unknown customs recently imported by
foreign Islamic missionaries and deeply shocking to many local Sufi
Islamic leaders and believers.
As with the Balkans, some on the left
have viewed the Chechen struggle in isolation from its regional context
and failed to recognise the practical impossibility of every ethnic group
establishing its own state in areas of mixed populations. In the current
period, a Chechen Islamicist state, for that is what it would be,
threatens not only the democratic rights of many in Chechnya but, since it
has designs on neighbouring Dagestan at least, would deny the national
rights of others.
Likewise, a Russian military occupation of a Chechnya
reduced to rubble and without popular support is impossible beyond the
One answer could be an entirely renewed Russian Federation,
allowing widespread autonomy for the Caucasian provinces but also ensuring
that the rights of all nationalities in the region, not just the Chechens,
were respected. A progressive and democratic Russian government could help
act as guarantor of the multi-ethnic and secular character of such a
However, the brutal and bloody character of Yeltsin's and
Putin's assaults and the misery it inflicts on innocent civilians is
having precisely the opposite effect. Although the Putin government has
Chechen allies, including military units as well as political figures, it
seems uninterested in seeking to isolate the hardline Islamicist mujahidin
from other elements in the Chechen opposition. This would represent the
most sensible political and military solution, even from Putin's point of
The Russian leadership, defeated in Chechnya before, repeatedly
humiliated as Nato has moved eastward, and alternately defiant and
compliant in the face of the Nato aggression against Yugoslavia, has
Most obviously, Yeltsin wished to head off any
possibility of an opposition victory in the Duma elections and, more
importantly for him, the presidential elections. Assuring a friendly
successor president was essential given Russia's presidential system to
guarantee Yeltsin and his family immunity from prosecution on charges of
corruption and fraud.
The timing and popularity of the war were
therefore crucial in bolstering the entirely unknown Vladimir Putin as
effective head of the right-wing alliance that performed strongly in the
1999 elections, creating the first pro-Kremlin Duma since Yeltsin's bloody
bombardment of the Russian parliament in 1993.
So the deaths of
thousands of Chechens, Russians and other nationalities have been
sacrificed, at least partly, to save the skin of the Yeltsin clan. In
stark contrast to his gung-ho moralising over Kosovo, Prime Minister Tony
Blair eulogised that the world was "more stable and more secure as a
result of Boris Yeltsin's leadership. At every critical moment, his
decisions have reinforced the process of reform and made Russia a closer
partner of the West, both politically and economically."
capitalist class has, so far, failed to steady itself. It has, until now,
had no major mass political party. The revolving doors to the prime
minister's office were at least as much to do with an ongoing crisis of
policy as it was the whims of the erratic Yeltsin. Putin's aim is to
It is only now dawning on the new Russian pro-capitalist
elite that Western policy has only achieved half its major objectives. Its
first aim was to eradicate the socialist states in Eastern Europe and has
largely succeeded in this, at least for a time.
However, the major
imperialist states have intervened in Eastern Europe not only to help
create capitalism, but a particular kind of capitalism – weak, divided and
dependent. That is one reason why all three multi-national socialist
states, Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia have been
While Russia is certainly no longer a socialist society,
neither is it an imperialist power, at least not in the sense Lenin
understood it. The Russian economy is characterised not so much by the
export of capital from a saturated domestic economy but the illicit
salting away of billions of dollars abroad by the 'New Russians'. These
mafia capitalists and speculators have little interest in investing in
production and are unsure of the stability of the system.
Zhugyanov's Communist Party of the Russian Federation has so far failed to
reverse its accelerated shift toward parliamentarianism and toleration of
Great Russian chauvinism and even anti-Semitism. Certainly the party has
reassembled a powerful opposition electoral constituency that has seen its
votes increase at each election since the party emerged out of illegality
in the early 1990s.
However, the CPRF's over-reliance on the Duma when
the Russian CP constituted the main force will be sorely tested now that,
at least temporarily, there is a sizeable right-wing majority. The party's
botched attempt to impeach Yeltsin at the height of the Yugoslav war
allowed the President to dismiss Yevgeny Primakov, the most
independent-minded premier post-Soviet Russia has so far had.
drawn-out conflict, contradicting Russian army boasts of a quick victory,
may yet rebound on Putin.
2 - The Politics of Oil
The break-up of the
Soviet Union released enormous resources that had been denied to Western
transnational corporations for decades.
In the early years of the 20th
century, oil from the Russian Caucasus accounted for nearly half of all
oil produced in the world. The oil district of Grozny was, next to Baku,
the most important Russian oil area before the revolution and by 1915
accounted for about 18% of Russian oil production. The oil fields at Baku
provided almost all the remainder.
More than half the investment in
Russian oil came from abroad. Before World War I, the total investment in
the Russian oil industry was $214 million, $130 million of that
represented foreign capital. Great Britain was particularly active in
Russia, providing more than 60% of the foreign capital.
In the former
Soviet Union, Grozny oil was at one time quite important, accounting for
one-third of national production in 1932. In the post-Soviet era the
importance of Grozny oil for the Russian economy has diminished greatly
but its importance as a regional producer increased. Over the years,
Grozny became a key oil pipeline crossroads, an oil refining centre and
also a juncture for natural gas from fields in Russia and Central
The vast oil fields of Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and
in the North Caucasus of Russia have always been a target for invasion. It
was to secure unimpeded access to these riches, as much as for the
symbolic associations with the city's name, that Hitler threw division
after division at Stalingrad in World War II.
Access to these newly
available resources is an enormous boon for Western imperialism. The US is
determined not to have to rely on the unstable Middle East for supplies.
However, as recent events in Venezuela, now one of the largest national
suppliers of oil to the USA, have shown, nowhere is truly safe.
open the oil fields grouped beneath and around the Caspian Sea have been a
key strategic target of the US in the past decade. BP Amoco, Texaco,
Mobil, Chevron and other US and foreign companies have already spent over
a billion dollars on developing the Caspian oil resources. They are
drawing on a whole spectrum of Cold War foreign policy figures from the US
and Britain to cash in on the region.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, former
National Security Adviser under President Carter and a key figure in
securing initial US support for the Afghan mujahidin, is a consultant to
James Baker, a former US Secretary of State, runs a law practice
in Houston doing business for the oil companies, where he is able to use
his friendship with his former Soviet counterpart Edward Shevardnadze, now
president of Georgia.
Former US National Security Adviser, Brent
Scowcroft, advises Pennzoil and the multinational Azerbaijan consortium.
Dick Cheney, President Bush's Secretary of Defence, is now chief executive
of Halliburton of Houston, the world's largest oilfield services
Azerbaijan is also a favourite destination for the British oil
companies such as Monument and Ramco. Timothy Eggar, who as British Energy
Minister led a delegation to Baku in 1994, is now chief executive of
Monument Oil, while former Foreign Minister Malcolm Rifkind sits on the
board of Ramco.
In October 1997, Le Monde Diplomatique wrote: "The
negotiation of oil contracts enabled Washington to show a direct interest
in the region. The US government sees it as an extra source of energy,
should Persian Gulf oil be threatened. It also wants to detach the former
Soviet republics from Russia both economically and politically, so as to
make the formation of a Moscow-led union impossible. In an article
published in the spring, former [US] Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger
wrote that if Moscow succeeded in dominating the Caspian, it would achieve
a greater victory than the expansion of NATO would be for the West."
policy therefore has both a tactical economic aspect and a longer-term
strategy to further weaken Russia.
The most crucial question for oil
supply though is the route chosen for delivery. Unlike the Persian Gulf,
none of the oil producing states of Caucasus offer the possibility of
shipment to the West by tanker, since the Caspian Sea is essentially a
huge inland lake. The alternative is the construction of a super pipeline
from Central Asia to either the Mediterranean or the Persian Gulf.
several years, two rival pipeline projects have been mooted. US
corporations Amoco, Exxon, Pennzoil and Unocal lead the Azerbaijan
International Oil Consortium (AIOC), comprising Chechnya's neighbour,
Azerbaijan, and 11 Western companies. Its aim is to construct a pipeline
to carry Azeri oil from the Caspian seabed. US petroleum concerns are
currently responsible for more than 50% of oil investment in Azerbaijan.
The government of Azerbaijan is possibly the most pro-US in the region,
offering its territory for US military bases and seeking integration into
Nato through 'big brother', Turkey.
Meanwhile, the Russians put
together a Caspian Pipeline Consortium to run a pipeline from the Tengiz
fields of Kazakhstan across Russia to the port of Novorossisk on the Black
Sea and to link this with a pipeline extending northwest from
However, to do this the pipeline from Baku would have to run
through either Chechnya, which has been virtually inoperable because of
the renewed conflict, or neighbouring Dagestan, itself the target of
several Chechen mujahidin incursions in August 1999.
The US government
insisted from the outset that the pipeline, expected to carry one million
barrels per day, run from the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, to Turkey's
Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. The shortest route to Turkey leads through
Armenia. But Azerbaijan and Armenia broke off all relations after a brutal
war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. This route does, however,
pass through Chechnya's other near neighbour, Georgia, despite the fact
that this detour is double the cost of a shorter path between Azerbaijan
and Iran. Washington's aim is to ensure that oil supplies are free from
Russian and Iranian influence.
The Istanbul Protocol, signed late last
year during the OSCE conference in the Turkish city, is a significant
victory for the plans of the US and Turkey. The New York Times of November
19 1999 bluntly described it as "one of President Clinton's cherished
foreign policy projects, a pipeline that would assure Western control over
the potentially vast oil and natural gas reserves".
While US Secretary
of Energy, Bill Richardson, enthused: "This is a major foreign policy
victory. It is a strategic agreement that advances America's national
Inevitably, many Russians believe that destabilisation in
the Caucasus represents a Western plot to monopolise energy resources in
the region. While this has a certain simplistic aspect to it, ignoring as
it does the other complex factors, it nonetheless expresses a certain
truth. The expansion of Western imperialist influence eastward demands the
further break-up of Russia and the wresting of her rich energy resources
from her grasp, piece by piece.
3 - Ethnic crisis in the
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union into its 15 constituent
republics, the Russian Federation has faced further ethnic and nationalist
strife fuelled by the disastrous return of capitalism. Roughly 20% of the
population of the Russian Federation are non-Russian. In the Caucasus, an
elaborate mosaic of nationalities and minorities make up significant parts
of the population.
Anti-Russian feeling dates back to Tsarist times and
despite genuine efforts by the early Bolsheviks to seek an equitable
solution to the ethnic complexity in the region; the Caucasus was a hotbed
of nationalist and tribal revolts throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
1940 a nationalist revolt broke out which climaxed in 1942, with the Nazi
army just 300 miles away. Chechen nationalist leaders Hassan Israilov and
Mairbek Sheripov issued an appeal declaring that the Nazi invaders would
be welcomed as guests, providing, of course, they were prepared to support
Stalin's response to this rising behind the
front line was severe and undiscriminating, he decreed that hundreds of
thousands of Chechens should be deported miles further east to break the
back of the revolt and secure the key Caucasian front against the
The decree against the Chechens was not revoked until
de-Stalinisation in 1957. Returning Chechens often found that other
nationalities had settled in villages and districts that had been
predominantly Chechen before. Nationalism in Chechnya, therefore, included
not only a continuation of anti-Russian feeling but also resentment
against their neighbours of other Caucasian nationalities.
therefore essential to understand the Chechen separatists' attitude toward
other nationalities and neighbouring Caucasian provinces, particularly the
adjacent territory of Dagestan. While sections of the British ultra-left
now seek to portray the Chechen mujahidin as a essentially a national
liberation movement, their programme is based primarily on establishing a
confessional, theocratic state with a strong imprint of Wahabbi theology,
the most puritanical wing of Islam.
Although predominantly Moslem, the
populations of the Northern Caucasus are followers of an entirely
different movement, Sufi Islam, which is regarded as heretical and
practically pagan by Wahabbi disciples. The leaders of the Chechen
mujahidin have openly declared their intention of establishing an Islamic
state based on 'sharia' law.
Such moves are not universally welcomed.
There have been a number of assassination attempts by the mujahidin on
moderate Islamic religious leaders, including Chechnya's highest religious
leader Mufti Ahmad Kadyrov and a successful attempt on his Dagestani
equivalent. Sufi religious leaders, even those entirely opposed to Moscow,
have been vehement in their denunciation of the mujahidin's
Unsurprisingly, those of non-Islamic faiths have felt
particularly threatened. The last population census in 1989 showed that
the then Soviet autonomous republic (ASSR) of Checheno-Ingushetia numbered
1,270,000 people, of which Russians made up 336,000 people, or one-quarter
of the total. As a result of the deteriorating social and ethnic situation
around 65% of Russians had fled by 1994. They have since been joined by
nearly all the local Armenians and Jews. In neighbouring Dagestan, which
has been a particular target of the Chechen-based mujahidin, one of
Russia's oldest Jewish communities – the so-called Mountain Jews of the
Caucasus – has suffered particularly from heightened ethnic tension. In
Soviet times, Dagestan was the home of more than 40,000 Jews who came from
Persia in the Middle Ages and who co-existed with their Moslem neighbours
for centuries. In the past two years alone, 12,000 have left
By September 1999, there were estimated to be no more than
20,000 Russians left in Chechnya. In the capital, Grozny, the Russians
used to be the majority community in a city of 400,000 people. Indeed, an
Austrian journalist who visited the besieged city in January 2000
estimated that about half of those remaining in the city were
However, it was the Chechen mujahidin activities in
neighbouring Dagestan, which still regards itself as part of the Russian
Federation, that triggered the latest round of fighting in attempts to
detonate an Islamicist insurrection there and unify the two
Chechen Mujahidin commander Shamil Basayev told an Islamic
magazine in November 1999: "Dagestan is our nation and it belongs to both
the Chechens and the Dagestanis. Russia separated us by force and we will
unite by force."
However, it was Dagestani resistance to Basayev that
proved his undoing. Despite the presence of a sizeable community of
Chechens in Dagestan, there are also 33 other nationalities, making it the
most ethnically diverse republic in Russia. This has created a series of
checks and balances that were missing in Chechnya.
system is designed to preserve stability among the ethnic groups. The
State Council is composed of one representative from each of 14 major
ethnic groups. The Constitutional Assembly, which elects the State Council
and makes amendments to the Constitution, also reflects the relative size
of ethnic groups. Moreover, the Constitutional Assembly elects State
Council candidates on a cross-ethnic vote, which encourages them to obtain
support from outside their ethnic group. This has tended to marginalise
ethnic extremists of all kinds.
Despite ethnic divisions, the greatest
destabiliser in Dagestan is poverty. The collapse of the Soviet Union
plunged Dagestan into a deep economic crisis. The unemployment rate
reached 80%. As a result, the average salary in Dagestan is one third of
that in Russia as a whole and over 70% of Dagestanis live below poverty
levels. Unemployment, poverty and corruption have fuelled Islamicist
movements in Dagestan as elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
to feed off this discontent that Basayev attempted to trigger the failed
rising in Dagestan. On 7th August 1999, around 1200 armed Mujahidin
entered the Botlikh region of Dagestan from Chechnya. After three weeks of
fighting, a combined force of Russian Federation troops and local
self-defence units forced the mujahidin to withdraw on 24th August. A
Dagestani political figure, Gadzhi Magomed Gadzhiyev, reported that "The
people of Dagestan are aggressive towards the [mujahidin] fighters.
Volunteer detachments are being set up in all districts of the republic to
squeeze out and destroy the bandits."
The mujahidin from Chechnya
invaded for the second time on 5th September 1999. This time, the attack
occurred in the Novolakskoye region, north of the previous battleground.
Here again local resistance and Russian troops repelled the
The local mixed Dagestani population was crucial in
repelling the mujahidin assaults and this fact goes some way to dispelling
simplistic illusions in the character of Basayev's forces. Certainly, the
Chechen mujahidin have succeeded in raising ethnic tension in Dagestan:
"Grozny has created a bridgehead in the [majority Chechen populated]
Khasavyurt region for seizing all of Dagestan. The local Chechens have
been assigned the role of the fifth column," warned Magomed Tolboev, the
Dagestani Security Council chairman.
Interestingly, some commentators
have noted that the leader of the Chechen republic Aslan Maskhadov had
been due to meet with Boris Yeltsin shortly after the time of the first
mujahidin invasion of Dagestan began. The timing may indicate that Basayev
launched the operation in order to prevent any compromises with Russia. In
the circumstances, this strengthened hardline opinion in Moscow that
Maskhadov was simply a figurehead or, at worst, was now supporting
Basayev's project. It also infuriated the Dagestan government that had
tried to intercede between Maskhadov's government and Moscow to achieve a
peaceful solution. The speaker of the Dagestani parliament, Mukhu Aliev,
said that the anti-mujahidin volunteer units would not be disarmed until
the threat of violence from Chechnya subsided.
4 - A jihad in
Islam is one of the world's great religions and probably the
most misunderstood in the West. Ignorance of Islam has led to an
essentially racist 'Islamophobia', on the one hand, which fears Moslem
populations and states, equating the faith with terrorism.
second error is to ignore the rise of reactionary political and social
movements simply because they express themselves in Islamic vocabulary and
This is like confusing Liberation Theology with the
conservative and even pro-fascist wing of the Catholic hierarchy. For
socialists, determining the nature of these politico-religious movements
must be based on their social outlook rather than their theology.
recent recognition of the breakaway Chechen republic by the Taliban
government of Afghanistan highlights the increasingly open and formal
links between the Chechen mujahidin and outside powers. In November 1998,
a high-level Chechen delegation, led by Abdul Wahid Ibrahim, visited
Afghanistan to lay the ground for open recognition.
As was noted
previously, the populations of the northern Caucasus are primarily,
although not exclusively, Moslem. But it has been the Sufi wing of Islam
that is rooted there. Sufi Islam adapted to local pre-Islamic beliefs and
often incorporated local rites and customs.
However, this places it in
opposition to the Wahhabi school of Islam, an 18th century movement aimed
at purifying Islam and returning to basic Koranic concepts. It is this
wing of Islam that is best described as 'fundamentalist', although only in
the same sense that right-wing Protestants in the US, who hold to the
literal truth of the Bible, can be regarded as 'Christian
fundamentalists'. In both cases, these are conservative social movements
with definite political agendas.
Anatol Lieven, author of a book on
Chechnya noted: "The 'Wahhabis' in the North Caucasus used to number a
few, with minimal influence; but religious radicalisation produced by the
war, the arrival of former Arab mujahidin who had served in Afghanistan
and, above all, Arab money, have since made a strong impact."
the Cold War, Islamic movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, were
encouraged by Middle Eastern regimes to combat secular communist parties
and pan-Arab nationalism. However, three other factors have seen the
emergence of new Islamicist movements since the 1960s.
response to widespread radicalisation caused by the rising Palestinian
struggle, local conservative regimes saw it as essential to push at least
some of these radicals away from a broader anti-imperialist perspective
and to focus on a 'holy war' against the Jews and their Christian
Second, the oil wealth that transformed the hitherto backward
and conservative Gulf states also created a revulsion against consumerism
and the local 'playboy' ruling classes. The Wahhabi movement, which had
its origins in the Gulf, won many new and often rich converts. It was a
Saudi-born millionaire, the infamous Osama Bin Laden, who set up the
International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and
Third, and quite crucially, as part of imperialism's efforts
to roll back communism, vast quantities of arms and foreign volunteers
were made available to fight the revolutionary government of Afghanistan
and its Soviet ally. The US used Pakistan as the conduit for these
efforts. By 1987, some 65,000 tonnes of weapons were being transferred
each year to Afghanistan via Pakistan.
A key source of funding for
these covert operations, as in other CIA-orchestrated ventures, has been
the heroin trade. Gulbaddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami mujahidin faction,
itself backed by the CIA and more directly by the Pakistani military, ran
at least six opium refining centres within Pakistan during the 1980s,
according to Alfred McCoy's 'The Politics of Heroin'. Bin Laden's personal
fortune mysteriously multiplied during the same period. By 1996, the CIA
itself reported that "heroin is becoming the lifeblood of Pakistan's
economy and political system".
Pakistan is now emerging as a nuclear
power with regional ambitions. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence
directorate (ISI) was the main channel for US and Saudi support for the
Afghan mujahidin. Today it has established its own control over the
various mujahidin factions, including of course with the Taliban, which
rapidly emerged from obscurity to fill the power vacuum in Kabul in the
mid-1990s. There are believed to be at least 20 foreign mujahidin training
camps located in Afghanistan and another 80 on Pakistani
Chechen separatist commander Shamil Basayev led a group of
Chechens to ISI-sponsored camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the
mid-1990s. In Afghanistan, the Chechens visited the ISI's training
facilities in the Khost area, then run by Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami.
leading French specialist on political Islamic movements Antoine Sfeir has
stressed the need to distinguish between 'Islamo-nationalists', such as
Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front and the Palestinian Hamas, whose primary
concern is domestic political change, and 'universalists', who regard
existing borders and national distinctions as unimportant. It appears that
a shift within the Chechen separatist movement has seen the increasing
marginalisation of the 'Islamo-nationalists' and the growing predominance
of the 'universalists'.
The unilateral declaration of Chechen
independence in October 1991 by Dzhokar Dudayev was accompanied by the
drafting of a secular constitution. This was now been set aside. The
current Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov, replaced the secular legal system
with Islamic Sharia law tribunals.
However, this was too little too
late for his deputy and rival Shamil Basayev. Explaining the cause of the
recent conflict, Basayev told one Islamicist magazine last year: "We only
see the solution to the crisis of Chechnya with what agrees with the
Islamic Sharia. In 1996, a solution to the problem was found not in
accordance with the Sharia, which is why the war began a second
The Chechen rebel forces have three components. Aside from those
locals still loyal to the breakaway republic's leader Maskhadov, there are
others whose allegiance is to Basayev’s indigenous, but Islamicist,
Chechen and Dagestani forces.
The third distinct force, but working
entirely in tandem with Basayev, is led by an Arab mujahidin commander
known as Ibn Khattab. After several years in Afghanistan, Khattab moved in
1992 to Tajikistan to fight with the Islamicist opposition. In 1995 he
moved to Chechnya and began training Chechen and other Islamicists.
an interviewer, who asked if his forces contained mujahidin from outside
the Caucasus, Khattab replied: "Yes, we do have mujahidin, but not from
outside, because the Islamic nation is one nation that belongs to all the
Muslims. We have one common purpose, which is to expel the Russian forces
and to create an Islamic State for all our brothers." He added that
Russia's military actions are a "Christian war and crusade against Islam
and its people and it is an obligation upon the Muslims, especially the
great scholars, to support their mujahidin brothers in the land of the
Using Sfeir’s approach, we could place Maskhadov in the camp
of Islamo-nationalism, Khattab is clearly a 'universalist', and Basayev’s
group, aiming for a Caucasian Islamicist state, is a hybrid, which in
practice leans toward the latter.
Russia blamed the Chechen mujahidin
for a series of terrorist bombings in Moscow that claimed 300 lives.
Others suspected a pre-election ploy by pro-Yeltsin security forces. The
truth is far from clear. In an interview with Associated Press last
September, Khattab had boasted that: "From now on they will get our bombs
everywhere. Let Russia await our explosions blasting through their cities.
I swear we will do it." Yet on the day of that interview's publication,
Khattab told the Interfax news agency that he had nothing to do with the
Moscow explosions, saying: "We would not like to be akin to those who kill
sleeping civilians with bombs and shells."
Further Russian claims that
the Chechen mujahidin are directly linked to Osama Bin Laden are part of
attempt to win over Western critics. The mujahidin internationally are
deeply factionalised and attempts to establish any central co-ordinating
centre have invariably fragmented.
The common theme is that the various
mujahidin groups seek patronage, arms, training and money, from various
regimes, principally Pakistan, Iran and Sudan. It is the intermeshing of
the fanaticism of the mujahidin with the foreign policy objectives of
their patron states that accounts for the instability and unpredictability
of these armed Islamicist groups. This has
become a crucial aspect of
the current conflict in the Caucasus.
5 - NATO and the EU move East
In his book 'The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its
Geostrategic Imperatives' and other recent writings, Zbigniew Brzezinski,
former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, has outlined
the foreign policy dilemmas facing the US in a 'post-Cold War'
Brzezinski is an authoritative figure in several semi-official
US think-tanks and has also taken to advising US oil interests in the
In an interview entitled 'Europe Is Still an American
Protectorate', he stressed: " We can no longer speak of a European policy,
nor of a Far Eastern policy, America must now design and manage a
comprehensive transcontinental Eurasian policy… As Europe becomes more of
a reality, NATO has to expand also and the two processes do not need to be
simultaneous. In some instances, NATO can expand ahead of the EU, in some
cases the European Union may expand ahead of NATO. "
The heart of this
new policy would be support for the redrawing of frontiers and, provided
of course it dovetailed with US interests, for separatism: "If a country
is itself unstable, because some significant portion of it is highly
dissatisfied with the existing country, then there is no point in
artificially insisting that such a country be maintained because of a
respect for borders or because of the fear of change."
As in the
Balkans, such a strategy is unworkable in practice. The Caucasus region
contains at least 50 distinct national entities, the Russian Federation
almost 100. However, the promotion of an endless cycle of national
separatisms has the advantage of weakening central authorities and, as in
Kosovo, providing a pretext for eventual outside, 'humanitarian'
The pro-capitalist regimes in the region have all
supported separatist forces in rival republics when it has suited them.
Yeltsin backed several pro-Russian separatist forces in Abkhazia, South
Ossetia, and Ajaria in Georgia. Russia likewise accuses Georgia of
tolerating Chechen rebel supply routes on its territory.
occasional sabre-rattling rhetoric, Yeltsin's role during the Yugoslav
crisis was critical, the final cobbled together agreement was jointly
sponsored by Yeltsin crony Victor Chernomyrdin. The US magazine Newsweek
even quoted a US official praising Yeltsin's key role in achieving at
least some of Nato's objectives.
Russia's humiliation over Yugoslavia,
then, was largely self-inflicted but it has led to a growing recognition
among some sections of the Russian right that Western imperialist goals
and Russian national interests, as defined by the new Russian bourgeoisie,
are not entirely compatible.
Still a nuclear force, Russia has not yet
been entirely disempowered in the region. There are approximately 100,000
Russian border guards deployed throughout the Confederation of Independent
States, the body set up in 1991 after the dissolution of the USSR,
specifically on the borders of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and
Armenia. Russia has also had troops and military bases in other CIS states
such as Georgia and Moldova, though these have been subject to much
greater local opposition and constraints.
Georgia is a key rival for
Russian influence in the Caucasus. Former Soviet foreign minister, and now
Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze is entirely pro-imperialist in
foreign policy. In an interview with the Financial Times (October 25
1999), Shevardnadze stated his intention to "knock loudly on NATO's door"
within five years.
In fact, a five-national alliance has already
emerged. Georgia is a member – along with Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan
and Moldova – of the pro-Western GUUAM group, which has grown from an
economic alliance to include military co-operation. This is the first
post-USSR alliance of republics to exclude Russia. It also excludes
Armenia, regarded as a Russian ally and a recent military opponent of
Azerbaijan, with whom it has repeatedly clashed over the disputed
In a statement, signed in Washington on April
24 1999, the presidents of the five GUUAM nations included the following
aim: "To develop interaction within the framework of Euro-Atlantic
Partnership Council and NATO’s "Partnership for Peace" Programme."
Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council is a Nato-sponsored body for discussing
political and security issues, it is a diplomatic talking shop that even
includes Russia. However, the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme is
essentially a 'junior Nato' with two aims, first to accelerate the
military restructuring of prospective Nato members and second to create a
soft periphery of states plugged into Nato.
The PfP aims at
"facilitating transparency in national defence planning and budgeting
processes" and "developing cooperative military relations with NATO, for
the purpose of joint planning, training and exercises in order to
strengthen the ability of PfP participants to undertake missions in the
field of peacekeeping, search and rescue, humanitarian operations, and
others as may subsequently be agreed".
The last phrase is particularly
The 'New Nato' doctrine' had already been outlined by
President Clinton before the attack against Yugoslavia. In February 26
1999 he said: "We are building a NATO capable, not only of deterring
aggression against its own territory, but of meeting challenges to our
security beyond its territory."
Turkey has been particularly active in
the PfP programme, using it as a means to extend its influence,
concentrating especially on offering military training to Turkic-speaking
states of the former Soviet Union such as Azerbaijan.
the European Union is increasingly militarised. The European Defence
Initiative was officially launched at the EU's Helsinki summit last year,
allowing for a 60,000-strong rapid reaction force by the year 2003. Even
aside from those states also applying for full Nato membership, the
expansion of the EU raises the likelihood that Russia may soon face an EU
politico-military alliance encompassing the Czech Republic, Estonia,
Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. EU president Romano Prodi has stated clearly
that invitations to begin initial membership talks with Bulgaria, Latvia,
Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, were speeded up by the war in
Looking ahead, the US is also determined not to be locked into
the Nato alliance should it identify a conflict between its own interests
and those of the European powers.
The Pentagon has therefore
established bilateral military programmes in 13 Eastern European
countries. One recurring complaint during the aggression against
Yugoslavia was the existence of parallel command structures in Albania
where, alongside US forces under the Nato flag, the US had already
stationed its own separate military forces some years
According to a Washington Post article, 'US Military Builds
Alliances Across Europe' (December 14, 1998), the US European Command in
Stuttgart runs a Joint Contact Team Programme, which was "initially paid
for from a discretionary fund held by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff. To work within congressional prohibitions of training foreign
troops, the visits by US military experts are called 'exchanges' and the
experts are called ‘contact teams’ rather than trainers."
article noted the bonanza for US arms firms, a sector that has also seen a
notable acceleration of mergers in Western Europe. Eastern Europe "has
become the largest recipient of US-funded military equipment transfers
after the Middle East".
Any Russian government, regardless of its
political complexion, must therefore deal with the probability of directly
facing Nato-EU forces on several borders from the Baltic to the Caspian
Sea. The populations of neighbouring states are by no means unanimous in
the embrace of Western dominance. Communist parties remain significant
political forces in the southern Caucasus states of Georgia and Armenia as
well as in Belarus, the Ukraine, and Moldova. In all cases, these CPs
favour renewing and repairing economic and political ties with other
former Soviet republics and combating nationalist and religious
The forthoming Russian presidential elections of 2000 were
Russia's second held in the shadow of bloodshed in the Caucasus. Unless,
the region's left and democratic forces can resist foreign interference
and win multi-ethnic support for an alternative social and economic
programme, supported by international solidarity against the onward
expansion of Nato and the European Union, it may not be the