conflicts that we are always hearing about in the media and reading about in the newspapers is the Chechen Conflict. At times bloody war, now insidious terrorist actions on behalf of Chechen nationalist, the conflict has never been as recent as we may thing. For centuries the relation between Chechnya and its larger neighbor Russia have been full of turmoil.
If we have a look at the history of the region, the Chechens were recognized as a distinct people in the area as far back as the 17th century. During the 19th century, however, Tsar Nicholas I attempted to conquer the region and met fierce resistance. However, the Islamist fighters had to recognize defeat in 1858 and the Caucasus area was incorporated into the Russian Empire. A brief period of independence from 1917 to 1923 was followed by the region's invasion by the Bolshevik troops that created the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The World War II only worsen the existing relations, as Stalin deported several hundreds of thousands (the figures range between 400,000 to 800,000, with 100,000 people dying
) of Chechens to Siberia, under the accusation of having collaborated with the Germans.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought hope to the region for independence. Ingushetia became an autonomous region, but the Chechens were refused independence by president Yeltsin. The conflict escalated into war in the late 1994 and proved a disaster, both for the Russian army, who was eventually defeated (at least the battle became a guerilla stalemate), and for the Chechen civilians, 70,000 to 80,000 being killed.
What happened afterwards was a classic example of chaos. Local warlords fought to gain control in the region and the presence of armed experienced soldiers could only be seen as a threat to the local community. Economy was going nowhere, as it had been partly devastated during the Russian invasion. Many of the warlords I have mentioned supported several extremist terrorist factions in Dagestan and elsewhere, which brought about a significant re- escalation of the conflict in 2000, with the Russian intervention. The installation as president of Akhmad Kadyrov, somewhat of a Russian supporter, was seen as a step towards peace. However, on the 9th of May 2004, he was killed in a bomb blast and things seem as confusing as ever in the area.
I have chosen to write this brief timeline because several conclusion and elements of the problem can be drawn here. First of all, one of the causes of the Chechen conflict is historical. As we have seen, ever since Nicholas's invasion in the 1830s, the region has fought against the Russians and there have never been any signs that this conflict may have come to a common denominator. Additionally, Stalin's massive deportation and hostility only helped enflame even more the Chechen nationalism, more than other Muslim minorities in Russia anyhow (notice that the conflict in Chechnya is the only conflict at such a scale opposing Russians and Muslims within the Russian boundaries).
Second of all, there are geopolitical reasons for the Chechen conflict. Russia could have never accepted the Chechen independent republic for fear other regions might attempt the same thing, somewhat on the domino principle. If we look into history, the Western powers reacted the same way in the beginning of the dismantlement of their empires (military interventions in Vietnam, for example, or reactions in India and parts of Africa).
Another political thing to be considered is the fact that Russia believed from the very beginning that independence in Chechnya would be a source of instability in the area and the events following the Russian intervention only strengthened this belief. As we have seen, the increased influence of local warlords brought anarchy in the region and Russia could only see this as an element of discomfort.
Another element that needs to be taken into consideration and discussed refers to an economic aspect. There are several elements here. First of all, there is a major pipeline that carries oil from the oil fields around Baku on the Caspian Sea to Ukraine. This means that the Russians have every strategic interest to have some sort of control over the area and an independent Chechnya might damage this, not to mention the fact that an independent Chechnya means an anarchic region, which I have already referred to. Additionally, Grozny's major refinery is along this pipeline.
However, strategists and theoreticians have discovered other hidden oil- related interests in the area and Western companies and the American government are not complete strangers. They have every interest in keeping the Russians as far away from the oil spoils as they can and, unfortunately, Chechnya has somewhat come in the middle of this larger size strategic conflict of interests. A small, independent Chechnya may be in the interest of Westerners and Western companies, because it would be much easier to work on and manipulate than if the Russian giant was behind.
We shouldn't miss the religious and cultural elements of the conflict. As I have mentioned before, the Chechens have a crushing Muslim majority population and, as we all are aware, the Muslims may sometimes have a different view on conflicts and conflict situations. I am referring here to the Jihad, the Holy War, which was proclaimed during the conflict against the Russian invader. Such a proclamation could only inflame the spirits and augment the already hard to handle situation. It is more than likely that if (supposedly), Russia had a majority Muslim population, the conflict could have been solved much easier or rather would have never had started.
After describing some of the elements that stand behind and are direct causes of the conflict in Chechnya, it is now time to address some of the transsovereign issues that are affected by it. We will be identifying three major areas of concern: economy, poverty and security. Let's take the first area of concern.
I have already mentioned some ideas in the lines here above, regarding the oil pipe and the major Grozny refinery. The first thing that we should keep in mind is the huge importance of this particular pipeline. The oil fields in the Caucasus have had a particular economic importance throughout the history. During the Second World War, for example, one of Hitler's major plans was to reach this oil field, which would have provided the ever necessary fuel for his vehicles and tanks.
The situation doesn't seem much changed nowadays. The world has already experienced two oil crises in 1973 and 1979 and every oil resource is vital to humanity. The conflict in Chechnya poses several transsovereign threats that need to be discussed. First of all, we should only try to image the consequences of an insecure area around the pipeline, with different tragic scenarios like rebels taking control of some part of it. Even so, it doesn't seem to me that the area provides the necessary security for a highly strategically important pipeline. We have already discussed the anarchy that is about in Chechnya and hearing on the news that gallons of oil are being stolen everyday does not seem to be something that should surprise us too much.
However, this is only one way to look at the problem and it shows the influence that the conflict in Chechnya can have on Westerners. What about the other way around? Are we not fit to ask ourselves whether Chechnya has not become, like many other small countries before it, a gamble between the leading power of the world and between Western companies?
Having analyzed everything I have already discussed here above, it seems only natural to make such an assumption. It seems highly probable that after 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Western democracies would have much rather had a small, independent Chechnya than one that belonged to Russia, even if it would have had some level of autonomy. An independent Chechnya would have meant Western control over the pipeline, refineries and oil fields and a start in a highly strategic area of the world.
It also seems highly probable that both the Western democracies and Russia played for Chechnya and none of them actually won. These different interests in Chechnya did not actually start the conflict (we have talked about several of its causes and it seems only reasonable to state that the conflict had been going on for a century and a half), but they certainly helped fuel it up. It seems rather strange, however, that never along the way, the parties interested in the region did not find a suitable solution for all, given the fact that the situation obtained today is much worse than anything that could have been settled (considering that everything related to oil is harder to obtain and negotiate given the anarchy state of the country).
If we are to refer to security, then we should make a brief reference to the global security environment nowadays. During the Cold War, the security issue was…