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Russia: Chechnya Needs To Cooperate To Repair Economy

  • Ben Partridge



London, 7 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A recent report says that authorities in breakaway Chechnya will be forced to cooperate with the rest of Russia because of their "desperate" need to revive the economy of the poverty-stricken Caucasus republic.

The report says a recent hopeful sign was the transport of Caspian oil to the Black Sea through Chechnya, although Russian officials also plan an alternative route to bypass the region.

An analysis of the Chechnya situation is included in the annual report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a London-based think-tank that focuses on global security.

Moscow sent troops into Chechnya in 1994 in a bid to crush its separatist ambitions. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and scores of towns destroyed before the 21-month war was formally declared over with the signature of a peace pact in May last year.

Today, Chechnya remains in chaos and its economy is in ruins. Moscow does not rule there, but Chechnya's claims to independence are "hollow" because they are not recognized internationally,

The report says over the past year Russia showed no disposition to resort to force again in Chechnya despite the dissenting view of its then-Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, who was nominally responsible for internal order in the small mainly Muslim region.

The Russian armed forces were, in any case, in no state to undertake any serious military activity because of their severe economic difficulties, rampant draft-dodging and low morale.

But Moscow has tried to contain the Chechnya problem. It has deployed military units around its perimeter "to prevent Chechen violence infecting the rest of the north Caucasus, particularly neighboring Dagestan, with its significant Chechen minority."

During most of last year there was a "circumspect search" for compromise between the newly elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin.

On a visit to London in March Maskhadov said Russia sent troops into Chechnya because it was "trying to rebuild its empire and regain control over the territories which the Soviet empire has lost over the past few years."

But he also said Chechnya recognizes that Russia is a superpower on its "borders" and they will have to live together "forever." He said the time had come to create "a new kind of relationship."

The IISS report says Maskhadov's moderate line has come under strain at home and he ceded much of his power to field commander, Shamil Basaev, whom he appointed acting prime minister.

Basaev, no less than Maskhadov is "driven by the desperate need to bring economic activity to his poverty-stricken republic, for which a measure of cooperation with Russia is a precondition."

But the appointment of Basaev was a severe public relations problem for the Russian authorities as it was Basaev who led the "disastrous" hostage-taking raid on a Russian hospital in 1995, for which he is on the wanted list in Russia.

The volatile situation in Chechnya is in contrast with what the report calls the improving political stability elsewhere in Russia.

The report identifies three reasons for Russia's improved ability to ride out political crises.

First, there is the determination of opposition communist and nationalist factions in the Duma to preserve their seats and privileges against an ever-present threat of its dissolution. As a result, no-confidence votes routinely fail.

The second factor is the failure of extra-parliamentary opposition groups, such as the trade unions, to champion the cause of "large discontented sections of the workforce". The report says "true to its Soviet heritage" the trade union movement is more interested in sharing power with the political establishment than opposing it.

A third factor is the growing power of regional leaders. All are now elected, limiting Moscow's ability to control them. In fighting for funds, these pragmatic men are often in conflict with the center, but have precluded attempts to undermine the political system.

In this climate of improving stability, the exception is Chechnya which today remains "in limbo, without even a semblance of order."



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