Russia's prime minister made statements yesterday that seemed to confirm rumors of a plan to split Chechnya into two parts -- a loyal district in the north cordoned off from an isolated south. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini looks at the possible split and its implications.
Moscow, 6 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- What does Russia think it can achieve in Chechnya, where the population seems to agree on one point -- their hatred of Russian power? The nagging question received a partial answer yesterday when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin outlined his plans for the parts of Chechnya that "are under the control of the federal armed forces."
The government's strategy seems to be a "carrot and stick" approach implying a de facto partition of the republic. A Russian-controlled north would receive benefits in exchange for its loyalty. The south would be cordoned off.
In the districts already occupied by Russian forces, federal authorities plan to build a Chechen haven. The people who are going to live there are being promised simple things like salaries and constant electricity -- things Chechens haven't experienced for years. The Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying that "local authorities, Interior Ministry organs, schools, and hospitals" will be reopened in those regions and "salaries will be paid there."
These plans seem to concern first and foremost several districts in the north of the breakaway republic. Since last Friday, Russian armored vehicles and infantry have crossed the northern steppe and are holding positions on the Terek River. The river forms a natural border between the heart of historical Chechnya in the mountainous south and the Nadterek plains in the north, traditionally inhabited by Cossacks and more conciliatory Chechens. However, despite Moscow's claims of supremacy, it is not clear to what extent the Nadterek region is indeed under its control.
The Russian Migration Service says the Chechens who have fled the republic -- now estimated at 124,000 people -- are expected to be the first "settlers" in the Nadterek district.
According to analysts, this region is expected to become the seat of a potential puppet government to be set up by Moscow. Putin announced last week that he sees the old Russia-friendly Chechen parliament, which was elected in 1996 in doubtful conditions, as a legitimate Chechen authority.
Meanwhile, the heart of Chechnya, the mountainous region south of the Terek River, is supposed to be isolated by the "sanitary cordon" that Russian armed forces have been trying to establish.
The idea, formulated by Putin last month, is to isolate the region completely. This means no passage, no gas, no salaries, no commerce. Since the end of September, Russian pensions and salaries have not been paid out there. Russian gas deliveries have already been cut off. And the head of the electricity monopoly UES, Anatolii Chubais, has said that his company should also interrupt its services there.
Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin discussed the strategy yesterday after a meeting involving Putin, Duma factions, and former prime ministers. In an interview on Russian television station NTV, Stepashin said the strategy will demonstrate to the population in the north "you can go to school," while in the south "just anything can happen."
Sergei Markov, a political analyst with the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, told Interfax that Russian authorities will seek to make Checehns choose between the rebels or "bread, water, pensions, and other blessings." Markov explains that in order to achieve this "Russian authorities have to implement a scheme of tangible social measures in the territories occupied by the Russians."
Abdul Khakim Sultygov is a Chechen sociologist with the Moscow-based Institute of Humanitarian and Political Technologies in Moscow. He agrees that Putin's plan can work, convincing Chechens to leave their villages to settle in a region ruled by Russian-friendly authorities. Speaking with RFE/RL, he called the plan "pure human logic," saying, if you "starve someone, of course he will go where there is food -- whatever the price."
However, Sultygov says such a policy would demonstrate what he calls a "hopeless cynicism." He compares the "sanitary cordon" to the Leningrad siege by the German army during World War II.
Sultygov asks, "What is the difference between what the Russians are planning and the Nazis' tactics during the Second World War?" He points out that although many civilians fled Leningrad, the city didn't surrender to the Germans. Therefore, he says, "the lessons of history grant Moscow at best a short-term victory."