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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
August 30, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
‘The Chechen War Isn’t Over’

Staunton, VA, August 30, 2016 - Moscow, Grozny and many in the West like to say that the Chechen war is a matter of history, but Madina Magomadova, the leadesr of the Mothers of Chechnya, points out that “the Chechen war isn’t over” because no war ends until the last victim is buried and its horrors pass from the memories of those who experienced it. 

The Russian service of Radio France International features a remarkable interview with Magomadova, whom the station identifies as “virtually the last person” still living in Chechnya who “is ready to express an opinion different from that of the official point of view of the local authorities”.

She points out that in the first post-Soviet Chechen war, which was begun by Boris Yeltsin, 150,000 people died; and in the second, which was launched by Vladimir Putin, “more than 350,000,” staggering figures for a nation that numbered only approximately a million at the beginning of the 1990s.

Because of the extreme violence of these two conflicts, Magomedova continues, many who died remain missing. To help find their graves, she and her colleagues in early 1995 established the Mothers of Chechnya organization. At the time, she says, “we couldn’t imagine that we would have to work for so long.” 

But far more Chechens suffered than died, she says, putting their number at 99 percent of the Chechen population. “If none of theirs died or went missing, they nonetheless lost their homes and their property and became artificially-created people without residences [known as bomzhi for the Russian acronoym], and have not been able to recover even now. 

“I do not think that the war has concluded,” she says, despite calls by people around the world not to focus on its horrors and despite efforts by the authorities to act as if the rebuilding of apartments and stores is enough. It won’t be over, as Suvorov said, “until the last soldier who died in the war is buried.” 

We have not buried the victims yet; indeed, we haven’t even found those who have disappeared.” And the powers that be in Grozny and Moscow aren’t interested in helping: “Up to now no commission to search for people and determine their fate has been established,” Magomedova says.

In her view, there should be a federal commission like the Truth Commission in South Africa; and until such a commission is set up and operates, until a exhumation laboratory is established in Grozny, “for those families who have lost loved ones, the war will continue” long into the future. 

The Mothers of Chechnya leader notes that “when we studied in school, we were told that the First Caucasus War lasted 25 years,” a seemingly impossible length of time. But now the post-Soviet Chechen war has lasted that long, whatever anyone says, “and for me,” she adds, “it has not ended.”

The government program for rebuilding Grozny is called “’No Trace of the War.’” It is supposed to remove everything that reminds people about the conflict. But that is impossible: “memory remains.” And so too do the ruins, if one goes as little as 2,000 meters from the center of the city, one sees that the destruction has not been touched. Kadyrov and his regime “have tried to hide the traces of the war in the center, but even if you don’t see them,” Magomedova says, “they remain in the consciousness of people, in their memories. They remain even in the memory of those young children who then were all of five or six. They remember everything.”

Magomedova is absolutely right that most of the world has “moved on” and no longer talks about the Chechen war, why it happened, and who is to blame. But there are some exceptions, including the work of a remarkable pleiade of young Russian historians who are now focusing on the conflict because they recognize that the present and future emerge from the past.

The conclusions of some of them are presented in a new 9,150-word article on the Polit.ru portal entitled “Chechnya in Russia: Nationalism and Statehood?”. Among the most interesting and intriguing of their findings are these:

 o The Soviet system imposed a national identity based on language on many non-Russians who until that time had identified themselves primarily on the basis of religion or clans.  The situation with the Chechens and Ingush represents a kind of exception because there is little difference in the languages of the two. But there is an important political one: “the Chechens decided to fight with Russia in the 19th century, but the Ingush did not.” 

o  “Perestroika was above all about de-institutionalization. The institutes of state power simply fell apart or even ceased to exist … Under these conditions, the Chechens were in a better position than the Russians even when they were in Russian cities because the Chechens could ‘resolve’ problems’” on the basis of earlier clan relations. The Russians, however, had to rely on the state, and so when the state collapsed, they were in “a very bad way.” 

o  The Soviet system set the stage for what has happened since 1991. In Tatarstan, Moscow allowed Tatars to take control of the key jobs, but in Chechnya, these remained in Russian hands. That meant that after 1991, the Tatar leadership consisted of people Moscow could work with while in Chechnya, the Russians left and the new Chechen leaders were people with whom Russians couldn’t find a common language. 

o  The post-Soviet Chechen wars, like the deportations earlier, “strongly changed the character of [Chechen] society, intensifying the anti-Russian component in Chechen identity.” And this had the effect not so much of strengthening Chechen national identity but of causing the Chechens to fall back on their earlier identities of religion and clan. In Chechnya today, “for the first time in history a strong state, the Chechen Republic, has emerged. This is already not the Chechen-Ingush Republic or an Islamic state … but a state more or less limited to the Chechen nationality which is quite effective in that it really has a monopoly on legitimate force. The ideology of this state is Islam.’ 

o  The parade of sovereignties by the non-Russian republics in the RSFSR also played a role in developments after 1991.  Had this movement which was inspired by Gorbachev and Yeltsin albeit for different reasons not occurred, Russian federalism and the Russian state would have become very different than they are.  Russia’s loss in the first Chechen war led other regions to pursue greater independence thus threatening the demise of the Russian Federation. Russia’s victory in the second showed that Moscow was not prepared to tolerate that and also showed that most of the regional leaders were not prepared to do anything to block Moscow when it showed its willingness to use force.

o Nonetheless, Moscow’s victory in the second, while enormous as far as the rest of Russia is concerned, was less than total in Chechnya itself. Russia became a unitary state, but Russia’s relations with Chechnya are personal, not federal. What is more important, Moscow is not in a position to change that. 

The reason for that is simple, these Russian historians say: “The present-day Chechen state is stronger than the Russian one,” and both Moscow and Grozny recognize that fact.

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Three More Danger Signs Regarding Putin's Intentions in Ukraine
Staunton, VA, August 30, 2016 - Whether Vladimir Putin will launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in the near future or simply continue to engage in destabilizing sabre-rattling to undermine Kyiv and distract Russians from their problems at home in advance of the Duma elections and the international community from his actions is far from clear.

One survey of regional experts found no agreement on what the Kremlin leader may do next, instead concluding that with Putin, “it is possible to expect almost anything” given that he has made surprise and unpredictability the centerpieces of his approach to policy making.

But in the last 24 hours, three developments represent a further ramping up of tensions by the Kremlin, adding to those it has already put in place as a result of the new military maneuvers and the involvement of large parts of the civilian authorities in them. They thus deserve to be taken seriously even if they do not necessarily point to an expanded war.

First of all, the Kremlin’s favorite polling agency, VTsIOM, reported today that ever fewer Russians are paying attention to events in Ukraine and ever fewer back the regime’s support for the DNR and LNR, with some Russian analysts saying that Russians no longer view this conflict as “’the victory of good over evil’”.

Given how central that trope has been in Putin’s propaganda effort, it is entirely possible that he might think that a new round of aggression would refocus Russian attention on Ukraine and mobilize support for himself. It is unthinkable, given his nature, that he would back down and even implicitly acknowledge his errors and crimes.

Instead, this result almost certainly pushes Putin in the direction of redoubling his bets either in Ukraine or somewhere else.

Second, Sergey Markov, a Russian analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, says that the US is planning to commit aggression in Ukraine both to undermine the G-20 summit in Beijing and to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump.

Accusing Russia’s opponents of planning to do what Moscow in fact is planning to do is standard operating procedure in the Orwellian world of Kremlin propaganda. And Markov is consistent not only with that trope but with another: he says that “Russia’s fate and to a large extent the fate of the world” is being decided in the Donbass.

That also points to a dangerous trend in Russian thinking: It reaffirms what many Kremlin backers have insisted on, that Russia is not fighting Ukraine in Ukraine but fighting the United States or even the West as a whole. That position makes it even more difficult for someone like Putin to back down.

And third, the Russian media are giving enormous play to reports from Kyiv that the Ukrainian army is mobilizing and that secret orders to that effect have already gone out to regional commanders (picking up on this report).

Kyiv “is afraid of provocations. Where one will take place, in Crimea or in the Donbass is still not clear,” according to sources in the Ukrainian defense ministry cited by the Ukrainian media and replayed in the Russian media and a Ukrainian response that the Russian outlets are treating as suggesting that Ukrainian forces may advance.


That is part and parcel of the Markov line, but there is another aspect to this report that Moscow is playing up. Polit.ru quotes Georgy Zhizhov of the Center for Political Technologies as saying that there is no need for Ukraine to mobilize because there is no threat, exactly the kind of calming message that an aggressor would put out before acting.

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
If Russia Plans to Attack Ukraine, It Will Do So in the Next Several Weeks, Felgengauer Says
Staunton, VA, August 30, 2016 -  It remains unclear whether Moscow intends to launch a full-scale military attack on Ukraine, Pavel Felgengauer says; but if it plans to, there are compelling reasons – deteriorating weather in the fall and the new round of the Russian military draft in October – to think that it will begin in the next several weeks.

The Russian military analyst says that “Russian forces have been brought to full military readiness and moved up to the borders of Ukraine.” And while this at one level at least is only “saber rattling,” it is clear that it is possible that this will lead to a full-scale military conflict.

Indeed, if such an expanded invasion doesn’t begin, then it is far from understandable “why all this is being organized because the forces that have been moved forward are very serious.” To be sure, Moscow has not called up the reserves, but it doesn’t have to because “even without them,” Moscow can assemble “more than 100,000 men” for an attack.

Russian generals are in command of the forces of the Donbass, the so-called first and second corps of the DNR and LNR. And all of these are subordinate to the Southern Military District. But the forces in the Donbass will not move independently in any “principally new” direction without support from their Russian rear.

Everything that is taking place now, Felgengauer says, “is very dangerous, but whether there will be a war is something we shall have to wait and see. It won’t be long. Various scenarios are possible,” but “the main thing for Russia will be to achieve strategic and tactical surprise.”

“And if it does not do that now, then it will be [too] late,” the analyst says: In October, the weather will change for the worse, and the fall draft into the Russian army will introduce problems for commanders, including the rotation out of soldiers who have served their time, that would make any attack difficult if not impossible.

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