The war in Chechnya
The question of Chechnya and the attitude one should take towards the bloody unrest in the region is not one amenable to solution by the facile application of formulas. According to formulas, one is obliged to support each and every national minority in its bid for independence from each and every bourgeoisie of a national majority, ignoring the complexities of the real world, and freeing oneself of irksome tasks such as collecting the evidence and thinking through where the real benefit lies as far as progressive humanity is concerned.
Before applying such formulas and proclaiming the unrest in Chechnya to be a freedom struggle of an oppressed minority worthy of our support, it is necessary to look at some quite well known truths regarding what is happening in the area. We know that US and British imperialism are determined to monopolise the oil of the whole world to the exclusion of all rivals. They support – and indeed have fomented – the Chechen insurgency, which conveniently redirects at least some of the resources of Muslim fundamentalism away from “the great Satan”, America, against one of the major obstacles standing in the way of western imperialism’s monopolisation of the world’s oil, namely, Russia. What could be better for western imperialism than that two of the main obstacles in its path towards that world domination that it needs to achieve in order to survive should be fighting each other? To support the Chechen rebels is objectively to fight on the side of US imperialism and British imperialism, to support “our” imperialists in their nefarious global strategy. We need to be careful.
To gain our support western imperialism is making heavy use of Chechen national grievances, real, imaginary and grossly exaggerated, such as they have developed over some 200 years against the “great Russians” who ruled the region in which they live. As a backdrop to the present troubles, let us review briefly the history of this region.
The people now called Chechens appear to have lived for centuries as free peasants in the mountains of the south Caucasus. Their social organisation was free of exploitation, and everybody was organised in families, which in turn belonged to clans. They were aware of their free status as compared to others, and were proud of that freedom. They liked to compare themselves to wolves as regards their manner of organisation. Disputes arose between clans and between Chechens on the one hand and outsiders on the other. These tended to be settled in blood. Hence male Chechens were traditionally trained in martial arts so that they would be able to put up a good show in the vendettas that are thought to have affected one in ten Chechens at any one time. They also had a reputation as bandits, suggesting that they were not averse to adding to tribal wealth by a spot of marauding. They were nevertheless seen as leading a life of romantic simplicity, fired by virtues of great personal valour and honour. A German traveller, Moritz Wagner, visiting the region in the 1850’s spoke of the Chechens as the aborigines of the Caucasian isthmus who had preserved uncouth customs and were still, as in the time of Aeschylus “Wild troops, terrible in battle”.
Chechens had no concept of nationality. To them the family was everything. And they were dependent on the family for everything too. Were they to fall short in the matter of family duty or valour, they would be disgraced and possibly killed. Virtue was therefore unavoidable. Hence their romantic image.
Because what they had was so little, and they defended it so fiercely, there was little attempt by outsiders to subdue the Chechens for the purpose of extracting tribute from them, and they had no interest in subduing outsiders as they had not developed slavery, let alone feudalism. As a result, the Chechens were largely left alone until Russia started to develop as a feudal imperial power towards the middle of the 18th century. There were brief periods when Russia occupied the Caucuses as part of its campaign to overthrow the feudal power of the descendents of Genghis Khan and expel them from their country, but no real interest was taken in the region until Russia took over the protection of Georgia, under threat from Persians and Ottomans. In 1799 the Georgians actually asked to be annexed to Russia, after Tiflis had been attacked and pillaged by Persians. In 1804 Russia went to war with Persia, and in 1807 with the Ottoman empire. During these two wars, Russia seized various Khanates in the South Caucasus, areas which are today part of Azerbaijan and Dagestan. They included Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, Derbent in Dagestan and Karabakh, which while settled largely by Armenians is geographically situated in Azerbaijan. However, there was, as can be imagined, a great deal of resistance to Russia on the part of local people, and its access to its Georgian region was not always secure. To maintain control, Russia naturally sought allies among local people and readily found them among Christian communities, such as the Armenians and the Ossetians who consequently became the object of hatred among all those who were resisting Russian suzerainty.
As Russia began to move into the Caucasus, resistance to their expansion began to be organised. The first well known organiser was Sheikh Mansur, a warrior priest, who used Islam as a means of uniting the local tribes, Islam being a religion specifically created to create unity among tribes in Arabia and therefore particularly suited to bring about unity in the face of outside incursion. Mansur was elected imam in 1785 in a Chechen village called Aldy. The following year a division of Russian troops was sent to destroy Aldy and kill Mansur. They failed hopelessly, which attracted other peoples in the region to rally to Mansur. The Mansur-led army again defeated the Russians in 1788, but in 1790 a force of 25,000 Russian troops stormed the Turkish fort of Anapa, where Mansur was based. They took him captive and he died 4 years later.
In the 1820’s another imam, Mohammed, took up the gauntlet. He was an effective military leader, who pioneered guerrilla tactics against the Russians which were subsequently used to great effect by Shamil and other leaders of the mountain peoples’ struggle. He was, however, killed in combat in 1832 after unsuccessfully suing for peace. Shortly afterwards his place was taken by the legendary leader, Shamil, an Avar who led the mountain people to many a victory against the Russians. In addition, he was instrumental in setting up a Chechen/Avar state, organised in such a way as to maximise its fighting potential. He was able to create an army of trained men who were freed of all agricultural duties, for instance. By this time, the Russians were determined to secure the area if for no other reason than that it was important from the point of view of reaching the areas to which it needed to expand its influence, at the expense of the dying Ottoman empire. It also had its eye on British India. To pacify the Chechens the Russians resorted to extreme measures which only succeeded in inflaming their hatred and sharpening their resistance. They thought it should be child’s play to eliminate these uncouth bandits, but the bandits were extremely well organised, well motivated, and prepared to sacrifice everything in the struggle against the hated oppressor.
After the Crimean war ended, however, the Russians turned a massive 200,000 strong armed force against the mountain people. In 1859 Shamil was captured, and eventually died in effective captivity in 1871. The mountain people’s resistance continued, and they naturally joined with the Bolsheviks in fighting the Tsar in 1905 and 1917. They also fought Denikin’s whites during the civil war, as the whites were determined to defend the Russian empire while the Bolsheviks were offering national liberation. However, many Chechens were it seems unready for the process of rapid Sovietisation that was necessary if a socialist economy were to be built up fast enough for the Soviet Union to be able to defend itself against its imperialist enemies, in particular the expansionist plans of German imperialism.
Chechnya in the Second World War
Chechnya lies in an area which was particularly important in terms of who was to win the Great Patriotic War, as it was a centre of the oil industry. Hitler needed to control the whole Caucasus area in order to secure for himself the fuel needed for a German victory. Clearly the Soviets needed to keep Hitler out and to secure the fuel for themselves. At the beginning of the war, when the Germans launched their surprise attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, they were able to occupy a large part of the Caucasus. Although this did not include Chechnya – they were stopped in fact at the gates of Grozny – many Chechens did collaborate with the Germans. Indeed, according to Alexander Dallin German Rule in Russia 1941-1945: A Study of Occupation Policies, London, 1981, early in the Soviet-German war, “revolts broke out among some of the Caucasian Mountaineers. Most widespread in the Muslim areas, particularly among the Chechens and Karachai, these rebellions prepared the ground for a change of regime. … Faced with a concentrated German onslaught and a lack of support from the indigenous population, the Red Army retreated from Rostov to the Greater Caucasus Mountains without giving battle.” Although others did not, their culture precluded them from informing on those that did – leaving the area far from secure against enemy infiltration and internal uprising.
As a result, after the Soviet army managed to drive the Germans out of the area, it decided to deport from the area all potentially treacherous populations. Bill Bland in his presentation on this subject to the Stalin Society quoted the Bulletin of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, no 38, dated 2 September 1941, stating that “many Chechens and Crimean Tatars, at the instigation of German agents, joined volunteer units organised by the Germans and, together with German troops, engaged in armed struggle against units of the Red Army; also at the bidding of the Germans they formed diversionary bands for the struggle against Soviet authority in the rear; meanwhile the main mass of the population of the Chechen-Ingush and Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics (ASSR) took no counter-action against these betrayers of the Fatherland.”
Thus it was not only the Chechens who were deported from the area for security reasons. Those transported were (as pointed out by Bill Bland in his speech):
The Karachai (of whom there were some 76,000 in 1939) who speak a Turkic language and are mainly Sunni Muslims. Their area, the Karachai Autonomous Region (KAR), was occupied by German troops between August 1942 and January 1942. They were resettled at the end of 1943 and the KAR was incorporated into the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Kalmyks (some 134,000 in 1939) whose language is Mongol and who are mostly Buddhists. The Kalmyk Autonomous region had been briefly occupied by Germany between late 1942 and January 1943. They were resettled at the end of December 1943, and their territory was ceded to a new Astrakhan Region of Russia.
The Chechens (some 408,000 in 1939) and the Ingush (some 92,000 in 1939). Both are predominantly Sunni Muslims, speaking a Turkic language. German troops occupied the western part of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Republic in the Autumn of 1942, but never reached the oil refineries of Grozny, where some 18,000 people worked. Resettled in March 1944. Their territory was transferred to a new Grozny Province of Russia.
The Balkars (some 42,000 in 1939), Also mainly Sunni Muslims speaking a Turkic language. The Kabarda-Balkar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was also briefly occupied by the Germans between October 1942 and January 1943. Resettled in April 1944. Most of their territory was ceded to Georgia.
The Volga Germans, numbering some 382,000 in 1939. Their area, the Volga-German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, was not occupied. Resettled in August 1941, their territory was transferred to the Saratov Province of Russia.
The Crimean Tatars (some 202,000 in 1939) speak a Turkic language, are mostly Sunni Muslim and inhabited the Crimean peninsula. This area was occupied by German forces between 1941 and 1944. Resettled in about June 1944. Their territory became the Crimean Province of Russia.
The Meshketians, covering various ethnicities, but all Sunni Muslim speaking Turkic languages. They lived in the part of Georgia closest to the Turkish border. Resettled in 1947.
Clearly the Meshketians are in a different category from the rest as their deportation took place after the war was over. Their loyalties lay with Turkey, and post-war developments suggested there was a danger to the Soviet Union from that direction.
Use by Khrushchev of deportations as part of his vendetta against Stalin
When Khrushchev denounced Stalin in his secret speech at the 20th Party Congress in 1956, he denounced the 1st four of these deportations as great crimes of Stalin’s, and subsequently arranged for them to return to the areas they came from. In fact Khrushchev was present at the Congresses which decided on the deportations and did not object at the time. He did not mention groups 5-7 in his speech as these he never did allow to return.
Of course, Khrushchev used these particular events as part of his vendetta against Stalin because it appeared that Stalin (although also Khrushchev) had been guilty of violating the national rights of various Soviet people, but it must be remembered that “… the interests of Socialism are higher than the interests of the right of nations to self-determination” (Lenin, ‘On the History of the Question of the Unfortunate Peace’, January 1918, SW Vol 3 p. 533). What would have happened to the national rights of the various Soviet minorities had the Germans succeeded in conquering the Soviet Union? For a start, the Chechens, being rather dark in colour, could certainly expect to have headed straight for the gas chambers. What Stalin, along with the Politburo of the Soviet Party, did was to take a very bold step that would secure the greatest benefit to the maximum of people – even if it was very hard for the Chechens who so love their territory to be moved in the way that they were.
Deportation has been depicted as a “punishment”, but in fact this was not its purpose. Securing the state boundaries was. Deportees were resettled and provided with homes, work, education, health care, etc. From the time of liberation of the Soviet Union until its collapse, the Chechen people as a whole benefited greatly from being a part of that great endeavour, and anti-Russianism largely fell off their agenda. Even in the present conflict, most Chechens have very little interest in keeping old traditions of anti-Russianism alive and have even moved back to the areas of Kazakhstan in order to escape the wars ravaging their homelands.
Effect of the restoration of capitalism
Of course, since the restoration of capitalism in the ex-Soviet Union, the masses of the population who have remained in the working class and peasantry have seen a dramatic plunge in their standards of living, and we know from the experience of Yugoslavia how the new bourgeoisie revives nationalism in order to “explain” this fall while mobilising the masses to support their own bids for power.
After the Soviet Union fell apart thanks to the treachery of Soviet revisionism, a hugely divisive free-for-all ensued with regard to appropriation of Soviet public property was concerned. Victor Tyulkin of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party has quite rightly said: “The real reason for these events is the annihilation of our socialist society, in which political power and our laws aimed to achieve the equality of our people both at the social and the national level. However, at present a society is being built on the basis of overt inequality of person and of property. This has brought out the worst in people and has lead to a cruel power struggle, the separatism of national elites, and, crucially, to the reign of the principle of ‘divide and rule.” Those who had been in powerful positions in the old Soviet Union sought to grab means of production for themselves. Those who succeeded were very largely former party bureaucrats. However, in national minority areas, it would sometimes happen that would-be bourgeois from minor national communities were vying for control with Russian bureaucrats. Sometimes it was just a question of local bloodsuckers fighting each other. In order to gain support for the whole idea of the restoration of capitalism, and personal support for his own ambitions to be in power, Yeltsin promised the Soviet national minorities as much independence as they wanted. It has even been argued that the bureaucrats planning to take over capitalist Russia were happy to see the back of peripheral republics that they regarded as nothing more than a burden on the Russian economy.
Be that as it may, the Chechens did opt for secession and initially Russian troops were withdrawn from the area altogether following the 1991 declaration of Chechen independence by its self-appointed President, Dzhokar Dudaev, a former Soviet Air Force General – a transportee Chechen who nevertheless did rather well for himself!
As is well known, however, the Russians subsequently changed their minds and in November 1994 tried to retake Chechnya by force. The question is why?
The answer, of course, lies in the oil! There was no problem letting Chechnya have independence so long as Chechnya was happy with the deal it negotiated with Russia for Caspian oil pipelines to continue to pass under its territory. Grozny is at the crux of a pipeline network through which Russia brings Caspian oil to Russia. Until the western alternative pipelines are not only built but come on stream, the West remains dependent on these pipelines crossing Chechnya through which Caspian crude is pumped. Therefore even the oil sold by Azerbaijan to Amoco (since taken over by BP) in what was called the sale of the century, which took place in October 1994 (four weeks before the Russian invasion of Chechnya), could for a long time only be transported to the west via these pipelines and through Russia, enabling Russia to charge high transit fees to the imperialist oil companies involved, and also to exert some pressure on Azerbaijan to have at least some regard for Russian interests (not just American ones), as Russia was in a position to frustrate its oil sales.
Everything in this situation conspired against sufficient stability being maintained in Chechnya for Russia to be able to maintain its interests, no matter how reasonable the terms that Russia offered Chechnya for oil passage rights. On the one hand, law and order collapsed under Dudaev as everyone scrambled to enrich themselves. The Russian mafia was able to infiltrate the oil business, while anyone with access to the pipelines, including the managers of the refineries, stole whatever they could. Above all, the US, anxious to deprive Russia of Chechen oil, pipelines and other facilities was busy financing and arming rebellion. It is not surprising that the Russian government found the situation particularly exasperating. It was therefore important to Russia to ensure the security of its pipeline network.
After the war started, the reports and television pictures on the brutal and appallingly inhuman Russian aerial bombardment of Grozny produced mass anger and opposition to the Yeltsin clique’s imperialist venture in Chechenya. The All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, as well as Victor Anpilov, leader of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party, denounced this war and appealed to the Russian soldiers to disobey orders. In an interview with the correspondent of a US weekly, this is what Anpilov had to say on the nature of this war, the character of the Yeltsin regime, and the tasks of the Russian proletariat:
” … that the cause of the war is the destruction of the Soviet Union and the attempt to return to the capitalist system.
“Peace can only come when we restore social property, social ownership of the land and the factories – which were built through the efforts of all the Soviet people.
“Politically, there is no difference between Boris Yeltsin and Chechen president Dzokhar Dudayev. They both helped to destroy socialist property and Soviet power.
“We must fight against the war in the interests of the working people. We must do as Lenin did in the First World War, when he called for the defeat of the Tsar’s army.
“We are for the defeat of Yeltsin’s army. It is no longer the people’s army; it is the army of the bourgeoisie.
“Many ordinary Russian soldiers have been captured in Chechenya. It is not their war. The officers, on the other hand, are paid – they are paid very well. Many of them are warmongers.
“One of the first officers to be captured in Chechenya was Igor Rusakov. In October 1993 he was a Lieutenant, and he drove one of the tanks that shelled the Russian parliament.
“He was paid 240,000 roubles for every shell he fired. Now he is being paid six million roubles to do the same thing in Chechenya, to kill people.”
Was it correct for Russian communists to call for the defeat of their ‘own’ bourgeoisie?
When we recall that the perspective of the communists in the territories of the former Soviet Union is to restore socialism, it is perfectly understandable that their first concern is to unite all the working people of these territories for that purpose. At the time that Lenin was fighting to overthrow Russian feudalism, he pointed out that only by standing for the rights of all those nations oppressed by Great Russia to throw off that oppression, and indeed if they so wished to actually secede, could one bring about the necessary unity of the oppressed for the overthrow of czarism.
There are many similarities between the situation today and the situation faced by Lenin. Capitalism has been restored in Russia – once more the overwhelming majority of the people have been reduced to the status of exploitees, with the fruits of their labour being appropriated privately by the new bourgeoisies of the former Soviet territories. It is not true, however, that the Russian exploiters are standing in the way of the emergence of the national bourgeoisies of former Soviet territories, although they no doubt favour some contenders at the expense of others. Russia is not trying to keep the former Soviet Republics from developing capitalism as was the case in Lenin’s day when these former Soviet Republics were nations oppressed by Great Russia. What Russia is trying to do is to preserve her territorial integrity in the face of US imperialism’s attempt effectively to neo-colonise Russia herself.
In actual fact, in the struggle against neo-colonisation by western imperialism, it has to be said that the Russian bourgeoisie are a wavering element, as are the new bourgeoisies of the ex-Soviet Republics. Wherever the bribe is large enough, they tend to go for it. Communists need to be in the lead of the struggle to defend the economy of the territories of the ex-Soviet Union from hostile takeover by foreign imperialist powers which will subject the whole of their countries’ economic activity into service of a foreign master. Ultimately this struggle cannot be successful without restoring communism, since the logic of being a weak, non-imperialist, capitalist state such as Russia, is that you are considerably at the mercy of strong imperialist powers.
The people of Russia and the people of Chechnya in fact have a common interest in preserving their economic independence of western imperialism.
To the extent that Russian capitalists have used heavy-handed and antagonistic methods to protect these common interests, then it has to be admitted they are doing nothing but helping the enemy. But it must not be forgotten, too, that the enemy has billions of dollars at its disposal to create “facts on the ground” like in the various ‘peaceful’ revolutions where they openly bought votes for pro-US candidates in various elections in ex-Soviet republics, enabling the US to instal a government friendly to its looting. It is not too difficult for US imperialist strategists to finesse situations so that either the Russian government resorts to force or it loses positions to pro-imperialist elements which it will be very difficult ever to recover – and of course when the Russian government does resort to force it also tends to lose support among the population of the area imperialism is targeting.
Lest anyone should doubt the involvement of US imperialism in this whole debacle, which certainly is being kept very quiet, there is evidence that the US has been behind the arming of Chechen warlords, Shamil, Basayev and Khattab. As Jef Bossuyt of the WPB pointed out in ‘Towards a Balkanized Russia’, “The two thousand soldiers mustered by Shammil Basayev to invade Daghestan were remarkable professionally trained, supplied, and armed. They had at their disposal Stinger-2 rockets, reserved by Nato for its most loyal member states. With these rockets they destroyed three helicopters in front of the TV cameras. During the invasion in Chechnya they used them to bring down a Sukhoi-25 warplane as well as a Sukho-25 bomber, one of the best in the world. It recalls the period when the CIA overtly supplied Stingers to the Afghan resistance opposing the Soviet troops. The money appears to come from the pro-western regimes of the Arab oil countries. General Khattab originates from Jordan, where he organised King Hussein’s Chechen bodyguard. The invasion has allegedly been sponsored with 20 million dollars from Jordan (information obtained from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, of 09 October 1999). An American Major, Finch, has spoken in support of the Chechen terrorists: “the methods Basayev has employed are cruel and vicious, and have often been in violation of recognised laws of warfare. At the same time, however, his actions, when cast in the light of Chechen independence, are courageous and praiseworth.” (R C Finch, ‘A face of future battles, Military Review, June/July 1997).
War against Chechnya
Because of the hand of US imperialism behind the scenes, the Russian invasion of Chechnya was very far from the “small victorious war” that they were expecting. The terrain is also favourable for small armed groups to be able to cause havoc. The 1994 invasion ended in 1996 following 2 bloodbath years that cost the lives of 50,000 Chechen civilians, 6,000 Russian soldiers and 4,000 others. Dudaev himself was killed as a guided weapon homed in on signals from his mobile phone. More strategically intelligent members of the military, such as General Lebed, always opposed the use of force in the area. In the end the result was a negotiated cease-fire, under which Russia agreed to pay $2.20 per ton transit fees for use of the pipelines running under Chechnya, a hefty amount, which was more than fair to Chechnya. Nevertheless, the Russians also took the precaution of building another pipeline which by-passed the area.
Chechnya was allowed to maintain its independence under the presidency of Aslan Maskhadov, elected president in 1997, but he was unable to return Chechnya to normalcy. Although very generous transit fees were being paid, the would-be Chechen ruling class were still fighting each other to a standstill. Saudi inspired Wahhabis, surreptitiously backed by US imperialism, were stirring up the unemployed and disaffected youth with the aim of creating more Islamic states. In 1999 a Chechen rebel army attacked Dagestan in the hope of being able to export Islamic revolution to that area. They failed miserably, but their attempt became the basis of yet another Russian assault on Chechnya. Grozny was bombed to hell, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, and Chechnya became “pacified” by virtue of a brutal occupation that cost hundreds of innocent lives every week.
As is the case with most hostile occupations, this one has been brutal and demeaning to both sides. Not having either communist or religious ideals to guide them, the Russian soldiers are extremely prone to corruption. They regularly kidnap young men from Chechen families on the pretext that they are suspected of being terrorists, and then demand a ransom for their return – or even for the return of their corpses. They do not, of course, know who among the population is a terrorist and who is not, so they harass and torment everyone. In doing so, they obviously force people into the arms of the terrorists, since there is nothing to be gained from co-operating with the Russians. They are doing incalculable harm to the anti-imperialist struggle in the region.
The terrorists themselves, however, also involve themselves in brutality. They exact horrible revenge on anyone suspected of being too ‘co-operative’. It has been argued that the Russian bourgeois class would naturally call all national liberationists fighting for independence terrorists, much as the US imperialists refer to those fighting against them in Iraq as terrorists. However, the fact is that the Chechen rebels have little support among the broad Chechen masses. People who have spoken to them report that this is so, with the Chechen masses being as little enamoured of these rebels as of the oppressive Russian troops. More importantly, the ‘rebels’ have been trying to increase support for their actions by terrorist assaults, hoping that these will prod the Russians into further atrocities against Chechen civilians, the better to recruit them to that section of Muslim fundamentalism that is objectively – regardless of its protagonists’ intentions – assisting the Great Satan. This is what lies behind the various atrocities committed by Chechen terrorists within Russia. There have been no demands, just terrorist attacks:
According to the Financial Times of 02 September 2004:
In June 1995 Chechen rebels seized a hospital in the southern town of Budennovsk. 129 people were killed.
In January 1996, hundreds of hostages were seized at a hospital in Dagestan and then taken to the Chechen border. 78 were killed as Russian forces attempted to free them.
In September 1999, apartment block bombs killed 300 people.
In July 2000, five suicide bombs were launched on Russian security force bases. At least 54 people were killed in the deadliest attack, which took place at Argun near Grozny.
In October 2002, guerrillas seized a theatre in Moscow, taking 700 hostages. 129 hostages and 41 terrorists were killed during a security force raid.
In July 2003, two female suicide bombers killed 15 people at a Moscow rock festival
In August 2003, a suicide bomb killed at least 50 at a military hospital in North Ossetia.
In December 2003, suicide bombers killed 46 on a commuter train near Yessentuki, south-west Russia
In February 2004, a suicide bomb on a Moscow underground train killed at least 39 people.
In June 2004, an interior ministry building was seized in Ingushetia. At least 92 people were killed.
In May 2004, Akhmad Kadyrov, elected president of Chechnya, was one of at least four killed by a bomb inside a Grozny stadium.
In August 2004, two passenger aircraft crash almost simultaneously near Moscow and Rostov-on-Don, killing 89 people. Traces of the explosive hexogen were found in the wreckage.
August 2004 also, a female suicide bomber killed 10 people outside a Moscow underground station.
In September 2004, militants seized over a thousand hostages in a school in North Ossetia. At least 200 died as Russian soldiers tried to save them, and 500 were wounded. 10 of the hostage takers were said to be Arabs.
Chechen rebels can therefore in no way be described as liberation fighters.
Meanwhile Russian General Vladimir Moltenskoi has complained (in March 2002) that Russian troops are co-operating with oil bandits to siphon off large amounts of oil. According to The Economist of 06 June 2002, “even the Russian-backed local administration, run by relatively ‘loyal’ Chechens, acknowledges freely that the army has behaved appallingly, sabotaging any moves by the Kremlin to prevail by consensus rather than brute force. The more sophisticated of President Vladimir Putin’s advisers seem now to accept the need for most of the Russian troops in Chechnya to be withdrawn … But there are strong signs that Russian commanders … are undermining that proposal; and there is a nasty suspicion that their motives are financial. War in the Caucasus provides ample opportunity for greedy soldiers to make money through oil and drug deals, as well as extortion from local people desperate to play ransom to secure the freedom of loved ones.”
The present Russian strategy is trying to support the moderate Chechens representing the majority of the population which does not want war, but who hate the fundamentalist guerrillas as much as they hate the oppressive Russian military occupation. In elections on 29 October this year, admittedly held under Russian military occupation, voters overwhelmingly supported Alu Alkhanov, the candidate favoured by the Russians. Eliminating the terrorists, however, is going to be difficult:
“A decade of fighting has destroyed the country’s employment base, devastated its infrastructure and agriculture and left many people with appalling living and working conditions. Unofficial estimates suggest that unemployment stands at 70%. Poverty is higher than in surrounding regions and there are few prospects. These factors, with the trauma of the conflict and little schooling for a generation of young adults, have provided a fertile recruiting ground for criminals and Islamist radicals” (FT, 07 September 2004).
Assuming that Russia either withdraws its troops from Chechnya or brings them under control so that they desist from their criminal behaviour, we should oppose all attempts to balkanise Russia. Russia is, as has been noted above, the one capitalist power which is able to challenge US military hegemony at this moment in time. When the imperialists fight each other this creates opportunities for socialism, and it suits us that no imperialist’s power be overwhelming. Hence, we do not want to see even capitalist Russia balkanised and thereby incapacitated. It has been argued that we are arguing in favour of strengthening capitalist Russia at the expense of the Russian working class. We disagree. We consider that the struggles of the proletariat and oppressed people the world over will only be strengthened if US imperialism is denied its desired monopoly of the world oil supplies. We would prefer to see the fight to preserve the independence of Russia and the ex-Soviet republics being fought under the leadership of the working class, as it would then be conducted far more effectively. In the meantime, while supporting the democratic rights of the Chechens, and demanding the harshest measures against those who sabotage the struggle by acting in a way that cannot but alienate allies, we call on everybody to recognise that the major contradiction in the region today is not so much the contradiction between the proletariat and Russian capitalism – important though that is – but the contradiction between the people of the ex-Soviet Union and US imperialism.