What's behind the Chechen war?

By Julia Kalinina

Westerners can only guess at the real reason for the Chechen War. Actually, Chechnya's desire to be independent and the criminal activity there are only a cloak covering the struggle between two contending groups in the Russian power structure. Peaceful negotiations with Chechen leader Jokhar Dudayev were quite possible but were not attempted. According to my sources in the Ministry of Defence, it was realistic to negotiate with Dudayev--actually to buy him somehow. He was capable of compromising. That had been verified by the military men several times during the last three years. Moreover, there are no reasonable explanations for Russia's decision to "solve the Chechen problem" right now, not next year or a year ago.

The real situation is the following: There are two main groups inside the Russian power structure now. The first one mainly consists of "power" people--Pavel Grachev, the Minister of Defence, of Militia and Security. Also, Nikolai Yegorov, Minister of Nations' Affairs.(f.1) This group is headed by a clerk, Aleksander Korzhakov, head of the presidential guard. They also include First Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Oleg Lobov, head of the President's Security Service Aleksander Barsukov, and President's Assistant Viktor Ilyushin. All of these individuals are connected with each other by friendship or kinship ties and by mutual financial interests. They view Russia as a great empire that should be respected by all the world for its size and military power. They strongly oppose privatization, which they regard as a process of "robbery of national wealth by foreigners." Though clever and tricky in a sense, they are not educated properly. They were brought up to live in a socialist state and they want to return to that.

The other group is not so well-defined. It includes Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, First Vice-Premier Anatoly Chubais, some ministers, lots of deputies--certainly former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and most of President Boris Yeltsin's counselors, such as Emil Pain, for instance. Those are, let's say, "reformers." They are much more liberal, educated, and advanced, and they see the future of Russia as integration in the world economy and social life.

The question is, who is President Yeltsin? It looks as if he is more with the "power" people than with the "reformers." The fact is, our president is a hard drinker. When he falls into such a period (which happens quite often now) only two people have access to his person (to the hand that signs the president's orders): Korzhakov and Assistant Ilyushin--both members of the "Party of War," as Gaidar called them. Naturally, during such periods the "violent" decisions win the competition. When the president wakes up or when something happens that demands his appearance, the "reformers" can win a slight revision of what was done.

Yeltsin doesn't read newspapers and doesn't watch TV. That is evident; he himself has proved that many times. Nobody knows what he really thinks. Probably nothing at all, because of the full degradation of his drinking personality. Or maybe he is not so bad; maybe now he is demonstrating his amazing intuition, trying to keep a balance between two groups because, if he prefers the "reformers," the "Party of War" can easily put an end to him. Remember, they possess all the weapons and armed people in the country. If he completely prefers the "war people," that will return Russia back behind the "iron curtain" and initiate a new round of dictatorship.

The following interview [from Moscow News, Jan. 13] illustrates an unsuccessful attempt to bring the conflict into negotiation. Ramazan Abdulatipov, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council, is a very honorable person. I really like him. He is quick in his thinking; he knows what is black and what is white, and the Caucasian peoples know and love him. He was born in the Caucasus and spent most of his life there, so he knows more than anybody about the views behind the violent decision regarding the Chechen crisis and he certainly knows how to settle it peacefully. See how he is blocked! The "Party of War" needs to bring the war to an end in the same context in which it had started--to prove the supremacy of the power approach to governing and, at the same time, to prove their own supremacy.

Footnotes:

(f.1) Yegorov has since been replaced because he has pneumonia. It is not known if he'll be back. Grachev is still the Minister of Defence, but the responsibility for the war has been shifted to the Minister of Internal Affairs.

Julia Kalinina is a correspondent with Moskovsky Komsomolets, Moscow.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995, page 12. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Julia Kalinina here

Peace Magazine homepage