Report - BCSIA

Ethnic Conflicts in Chechnya and Dagestan (Event Summary)

Summary by Emily Van Buskirk

John Reppert opened the discussion by stressing that the conflict in Chechnya has significance not only for the Caucasus region, but also for greater Russian politics (the proof is in its impact on the Russian elections), and for Russia's relationship with Europe. Dr. Yusupov began his presentation by agreeing with General Reppert, adding that in today's world all conflicts have global consequences.

Dr. Yusupov set out to outline those aspects of the conflict that he believes have gone unnoticed by the public so far, and to name possible scenarios for the future. He argued that the motives behind the latest outbreak of violence are historical, cultural, and linguistic in nature. In the early 1990s, people in Chechnya grew more historically aware as relations with the center worsened. At the same time, social problems-healthcare, education, etc.-were acute. Chechens therefore sought independence as a guarantee against possible future catastrophes.

The first Chechen war began, however, as an internal clash between the emerging elite of the new type and the old Soviet nomenklatura, argued Dr. Yusupov. Only in its second stage did it become a conflict between the federal center and the new republic. Dr. Yusupov chose not to discuss the first war in any greater detail. About the intervening years, he said that while Chechnya had a chance to get on the road to restoration, instead uncertainty gave way to the provocation of further conflict. While Dr. Yusupov credited President Maskhadov with being able to keep a Chechen civil war at bay, nevertheless, he stated that the President failed to prevent a Russian-Chechen war.

Dr. Yusupov outlined three underlying factors leading to the current conflict:
1. Russia's systemic crisis, and the predominance of a militarized way of thinking among the influential power ministries and political elite.
2. The Chechen factor: Under conditions of instability, the Chechen people tend to use force to resolve conflict.
3. The external struggle for influence. Outside powers have competing interests in the Caucasus, and "some countries are trying to gain control by creating conflict." For example, he mentioned, Russia is trying to increase its economic influence in the region by heightening its military presence.

Dr. Yusupov described peoples' perceptions of the current war as a "war against the people," an attempt to eliminate a nation. He himself termed the Russian war effort genocide. He sees three scenarios for the future:

1. There will be considerable damage to the forces of resistance in the region, where all that will be left is guerillas. Moscow will announce a state of emergency and appoint a government. Effectively, Chechnya will be governed by the Russian military. The Chechen people will leave and disperse, and neither the infrastructure, nor the social structure, nor the culture will be restored.

2. The conflict will continue, with the Russian "multi-layered" approach (establishing "order" on "liberated" territories, meanwhile continuing to battle for control in the mountains). Military clashes will intensify in the summer, where the federal forces will hold control by day, and the resistance by night.

3. Further losses among the federal forces will bring about a change in Russian popular opinion. International organizations will exert greater pressure on Russia, bringing attention to the need to solve the crisis by political means.

Dr. Magomedkhanov stressed the demographic impact of the Ottoman, Russian, and Soviet empires on the peoples of the Caucasus: the Ossets, Ingush, Chechen, Dagestani, and other peoples were forced to settle in the Ottoman Empire, and the Cherkess nation was destroyed. While Dagestanis have historically suffered less than other peoples in the region, their population experienced no growth for one hundred years starting from the second half of the 19th century. As for the Chechen population, currently much of it has been dispersed. Genocide, in this context, is not just a theoretical abstraction, he warned.

Relations between Chechnya and Dagestan went from bad to worse when Chechen commanders led an attack on Dagestan last August, Dr. Magomedkhanov argued. One reason for strained relations preceding the August attack was the fact that hundreds of Dagestanis had been kidnapping by their Chechen neighbors. Dr. Magomedkhanov believes that President Maskhadov could have done more to quash this kidnapping industry. As a testament to the fierce reactions to Basayev and Khattab in Dagestan, he pointed out that even 80,000 Dagestani Chechens fought against Chechen bands last August. "It's just a bad time for our good relations," Dr. Magomedkhanov mused.

Dr. Magomedkhanov focused the remainder of his presentation answering the question of why Dagestan has not sought independence from Russia. "We're waiting for the situation when Russia will ask for independence from Dagestan," he joked. Next he explained Dagestan's wait-and-see attitude using an example from the dynamics of village politics. A village judge may be dismissed for making a quick, rash judgment, but by requesting time to weigh a serious decision, he can hold on to his position indefinitely. For Dagestan, he argued, it is too difficult to make a decision at this time, although Dagestan does have weapons (which were drummed up immediately when Basayev invaded). In the case of Dagestan's independence, Dr. Magomedkhanov added, certain of its regions would be in dispute-for example, the part of Dagestan annexed in 1923, which used to be in the Stavropol region. And finally, if Dagestan does try to change, Dr. Magomedkhanov believes that the result will be "worse than Chechnya," in part because of the strong, corrupt militarized groups that, given such an opportunity, would never surrender political control to ordinary citizens.

When questioned by International Security Program fellow Brenda Shaffer about the use of the term "Wahabbi," Dr. Magomedkhanov conceded that those Muslims who are termed Wahabbists do not like the label. However, he persisted to use the term when describing the reasons why Wahabbists are disliked in Dagestan, while they are welcome in Saudi Arabia. Wahabbists are not new to Dagestan-what is new is only their visibility, he said. Under the Soviet oppression, according to Dr. Magomedkhanov, it was the Suffi Muslims who kept religion alive in Dagestan. And only recently, Wahabbists have resurfaced with weapons and money, and are trying to destabilize the country.

Dr. Yusupov fielded a question from RFE/RL Correspondent Michael Lelyveld on Russia's decision to build a bypass pipeline around Chechnya during the war, and on the larger connections between oil and both Chechen wars. Dr. Yusupov commented that decisions about pipelines are often made by different financial-industrial groups in Russia that are vying for influence. Thus, when Boris Nemtsov was in the government, a decision was made to build a bypass pipeline; when a different oligarch took his place, a decision was made to build a new pipeline towards the Baltics; when yet another person was appointed, the Southern route again became favored. Dr. Yusupov also pointed out that Russia's second war in Chechnya in a decade was brought about mainly by political pressure-electoral politics. A combination of Russia's various political, economic, and military interests could just as easily bring about a third war in the region, he suggested.

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For Academic Citation: Magomedkhanov, Magomadkhan, and Musa Yusupov. “Ethnic Conflicts in Chechnya and Dagestan (Event Summary).” BCSIA, .