A Change In Chechnya - Part Two
By Tom Proebsting
Aug 6, 2006 - 6:55:00 PM
CHECHNYA—Russia and Chechnya have been at war intermittently for 500 years. In part one of this two-part series, I described the clashing of the two nations over the centuries, culminating in two savage wars which started in the 1990s.
Chechnya is an autonomous republic in the Caucasus region that borders the Caucasus mountains and the Caspian Sea in southern Russia. Its region is rich in oil, is a trans-shipment point for oil from Russia and points east, and is a natural geographic boundary for Russia with its tall mountains.
After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Chechnya declared its independence. Russia and Chechnya fought two wars over the issue as a lot was at stake. Russia ascribed to the domino theory that if Chechnya was allowed to leave, its other 80 republics and principalities would leave also. Chechnya was made an example to the rest of Russia.
One of the major leaders of the Chechen resistance movement was Shamil Basayev who was responsible for 10 years of terrorist atrocities directed against Russian forces and civilians. He was best known for the hostage-taking siege at Beslan School in 2004 in which 344 civilians were killed, 186 of which were school children. Barbarities were committed by both the Russians and the Chechen resistance fighters during the two wars.
Shamil Basayev was killed recently in a bomb attack. The resistance fighters' strong and charismatic leader is gone. It appears there is no one on the horizon to replace him. What is next for Chechnya and its resistance movement?
There are two schools of thought on the future of Chechnya. The first is that the resistance will go on, experiencing its ups and downs and making life generally miserable for the citizens of Chechnya and Russia. But there is a second idea and for more details I contacted a specialist on the subject.
I talked with Yuri Mamchur, a senior foreign policy fellow at the Discovery Institute. His specialty is Russian affairs; he is a Ph.D. candidate, a graduate of the Russian Tax Academy School of Law in Moscow and the creator of RussiaBlog. He knows a lot of people in Russia, specifically Chechens, who are close to the situation there.
First, Mr. Mamchur says Basayev's death will "mellow it [the resistance movement] down." His death is another step in the stabilization of the region. The resistance movement is winding down. "Everybody is very tired of it," he states.
There were thousands of resistance fighters throughout the 1990s and the early millennium. Mr. Mamchur says "over five thousand fighters gave up their weapons in the last two years" and turned to the peaceful life, a life of family, work and religion. Today there are less than one thousand fighters in the region, he says.
There will be no replacement for Shamil Basayev, he tells me. Instead, the citizens are likely to follow their new Chechen Prime Minister, Ramzam Kadyrov, a former terrorist himself. His father, Akhmous Kadyrov, was the president of Chechnya when he was assassinated by Basayev.
Mr. Ramzam Kadyrov fought in the first Chechen war and is very opposed to the anti-Russian resistance. He has a whopping 85 percent approval rating in Chechnya today and full approval of the Kremlin according to Mr. Mamchur. In their latest agreement, Russia is giving autonomy to Chechen production and culture.
As for the remaining resistance fighters, there are two types. Mr. Mamchur said the first type is Chechens, males aged 18 and older. The second is foreign fighters primarily from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Today, there are very few Chechens in the resistance movement; it is comprised mostly of foreigners now. Most of the resistance fighters have laid down their arms. The Kremlin and the Chechen government have agreed on common grounds. And unbelievably, there have been no human rights abuses in the past 6 months.
Economically, there has been a lot of recent progress in Chechnya. Three thousand new businesses have opened up in the last year. The Chechen government will direct one of its agencies to train Chechens in the construction business for future projects, along with the increased availability of agricultural work. Also, financing for restoration projects in Chechnya have been coordinated by both governments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently worked to ease the difficulty of obtaining foreign passports in Chechnya. Members of the remaining resistance fighters have been invited for peace talks with the Chechen authorities. Security forces are increasing: 23,000 men in the army; 17,000 in the police force and 23,000 in the internal troops of the Interior Ministry.
Mr. Mamchur says Chechen Prime Minister Ramzam Kadyrov seeks for Chechnya to become "the most prosperous place on earth two years from now." To accomplish this, he is directing the construction of the largest mosque in the world to be placed in downtown Grozny, Chechnya's capital city. Next to the mosque, a $54 million Presidential Palace will be built along with a 5-star resort. And to think, a few years ago, Grozny was just a pile of bricks.
Mr. Mamchur states that Chechnya's new economy will be fueled by two industries: oil and tourism. Oil production and oil pipelines promise to be booming industries. Tourism is expected to be right behind oil as the Caucasus region boasts the only mountains in Russian. The Russian people love mountains.
Between the two possibilities for Chechnya's future are a continuing resistance movement and peace and prosperity in the region. Neither will be easy to face, but the odds are in favor of peace and prosperity remaining in the Caucasus.
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