Russia as a Divided Society

Vlad Shchukin

Chechnya and Russia

“Vostok delo tonkoe” says the famous line from the Soviet film “White Sun of the Desert,” in a moment of untranslatable Russian folklore. In English, we may agree, though less poetically, that “the Caucasus is a delicate matter“ indeed. The history of Russia’s Southern reaches is rich and complex. In the case of Chechnya, this history has also often been tragic. In the post-Soviet era alone, this small republic has experienced two wars. This paper will speak of the post-war situation in Chechnya and the Russian Federation.
Currently, major actions in Chechnya have ceased; the decimated republic has been rebuilt. The contemporary Russian state has more control – in general, and particularly over its outlining areas – than at any time since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Cessation attempts are not feasible for the rebels in the short term. In Chechnya, the pro-Russian Republic President, Ramzan Kadyrov, has gained control – his security forces are the only major military formation left in Chechnya. This increased state capacity has put major constraints on the operation of the insurgents.
The insurgency has largely removed itself from Chechnya, but it has not been made harmless. It has transformed from a nationalist organization with a goal of an independent Chechnya to an Islamic organization with the goal to liberate the Northern Caucuses from Russian rule. Its members are becoming less Chechen and are increasingly Muslim persons from neighboring republics. Its funding is predominantly from the Middle East and North Africa. The actions of the insurgency have expanded throughout the region and shifted away from Chechnya.
This paper begins by briefly addressing the relevant history of the conflict. Next, it analyzes the current condition of the Chechen and Federal state forces. Lastly, it addresses the factors that continue to stand in the way of lasting peace in the Caucuses. Key among these is a social divide among the Slavic and non-Slavic citizens of the Russian Federation. Throughout the paper, several solutions are offered.

Lead up to the current conflict

Chechnya was not high on the agenda for the nascent Russian Federation upon the break up of the Soviet Union. The new state had many fires to put out and the lack of attention paid to Chechnya in the early years of the Russian Federation can be attributed equally to incompetence and lack of interest, as well as the chaos surrounding the times. Additionally, corruption played a prominent role and the ambiguous position of Chechnya within the Russian Federation – de jure incorporation matched with de facto independence – allowed for the embezzlement of billions of dollars from state funds. In all, when Yeltsin got around to dealing with Chechnya, the Republic’s President, Jakhar Dudaev, could no longer be easily removed.
Yeltsin’s attempts to overthrow Dudaev only built up the resilient Dudaev’s prestige, and increased the availability of weapons in Chechnya, which were already widely accessible. Although the Russian power structure believed the majority of Chechens would greet the Russian forces as liberators, the dispatching of federal troops to remove Dudaev in 1994 was a moment of national unity for Chechnya. The Russian weaponry turned on Russian soldiers, mainly conscripts with little training and no experience, and a two-year war ensued. Russia withdrew in 1996 having accomplished only massive destruction. The Khasavyurt agreement that ended the war left the status of Chechnya undetermined, but it was seen as a Chechen victory because the Russian forces withdrew and left the republic with de facto independence.
The Chechen people voted for moderation in 1997 and elected Aslan Maskhadov, who was expected to normalize relations with Russia and rebuild the republic; his presidency was recognized by the Russian Federation. Maskhadov, it is often said, proved ineffective. However, his was an unworkable situation. Chechnya was not recognized internationally, and thus did not qualify for international aid. Federal money, coming from the Russian government, disappeared in corruption. Maskhadov was simply not in a position to gain control and was unable to reign in civilian problems, like unemployment, or military problems, such as the activities of Chechen ‘opposition leader’ Shamil Basaev[1]. It was the latter that proved more problematic.
In 1999, in reaction to a foray made into Ingushetia by Basaev, federal troops crossed over into Chechnya to halt the ‘criminality’ in the republic under the auspices of an anti-terrorist operation. Maskhadov went into hiding among the rebels with members of his government. Putin appointed Akhmad Kadyrov, the former spiritual leader of the Maskhadov government, as president[2]. In 2004, Kadyrov, after having previously survived several assassination attempts, was killed by an explosive device placed under his box while he was watching a Victory Day Celebration in Groznyy.


Currently Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of assassinated Akhmad Kadyrov, is the president of Chechnya. The capital of Chechnya, Groznyy, flattened in the two wars, has been rebuilt and the fear of renewed hostilities has evaporated[3]. Chechnya is no longer what it was when General Aleksander Lebed called it an “open bleeding wound” for Russia[4]. However, the much-lauded progress needs to be qualified.
The economy has improved and unemployment has decreased. However, even conservative figures put unemployment at over 50%[5]. There is a large informal economy, mainly in construction, but major informal employment has obvious downfalls – informal jobs are temporary and exploitative. The majority of the formal, permanent jobs found in Chechnya are offered by the state (e.g. security forces).
Criminality has declined and by 2006 it was lower than the average in Russia[6]. Yet there are still major problems, such as assassinations of officials[7]. What is the most important improvement is the return of order to Chechnya. If there was a time during which when prompted, residents would respond, “no one is in charge,” it is clear now that Kadyrov is in charge[8].
Through increased capacity, the state has managed to weigh down on the rebels as much as it has on general criminality. First, the state has brought many of the far off areas utilized by the rebels under its control. One prominent example is the Pankisi Gorgelocated in the mountainous border between Georgia and Chechnya. The Gorge was used for fundraising, training, and smuggling fighters into Chechnya between 1999 and 2002[9]. Further, many of the former rebels have been killed or amnestied including Ruslan Galaev, Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basaev killed in 2004, 2005, and 2006 respectively[10]. Maskhadov’s successor, Abdul Halim Sadulaev, was killed within a year of assuming the leadership of the rebel forces. The current head is Doku Umarov. Though not a spent force, the rebels have been hard hit, and Kadyrov has for some time claimed that their forces are made up of 50-70 men hiding out in the forests[11].


As in Chechnya, in Russia, order has been restored.In the “Putin years,” the Russian state has become more capable by centralizing power and concentrating it in the office of the president. During Putin’s presidency, the position of oblast governors changed from an elected official to a presidential appointee. The rules of parliamentary elections have been modified to favor national parties, at the expense of local parties and independent candidates. The opposition of the Communist Party has been diluted by the creation of various social parties –such as Just Russia – and all of the major parties now back Putin and Medvedev. Finally, the Federation has been reorganized into regional districts led by presidential appointees[12].
These changes have popular support. The majority of the people stand behind the prime minister and president. The pair is viewed as doing what is best for Russia – through prerogative when necessary, because, it is believed, the use of prerogative is necessary to get anything done in Russia. To a major degree, the Chechen war has been used to justify the above centralization and gain popular backing[13]. The changes of the Putin years have created a strong central state, however, they have done it at the expense of governmental accountability, transparency, and other characteristics of democratic government.

Continuing destabilizing factors

Regardless of the increased state capacity of the Russian Federation and Chechnya, there are still a number of factors that make the Russian North Caucasus unstable. First, the status of Chechnya in the Russian Federation continues to be based on the personal understanding between Putin and Kadyrov[14]. Kadyrov has continued to express that his allegiance is to Putin personally, not to his role as Russian President.
Further, Kadyrov’s rule in Chechnya is not based on a legal framework but on his private prestige and power. Even at the expense of increasing the power of Kadyrov, his power must be legalized; it needs to be conferred on him because of the status of his office.
The most important aspect of this change would be professionalizing the police force[15]. Kadyrovtsy, as Kadyrov’s private security turned state police forces are called, continue to be accused of abuses[16]. As long as Kadyrov is allowed to have a private army, there will not be rule of law in Chechnya.
The rebuilding of the Chechen economy is also necessary to permanently incorporate Chechnya into the Russian Federation. The republic’s economy has been demolished by the two wars and Chechnya’s neighbors have filled its place in the market[17]. Seventy percent of Chechnya’s roads have been destroyed, its oil pipelines have become ineffectual, and the major highway passing through the region now circumvents the republic[18]. Those lifelines that integrated Chechnya into Russia during the Soviet period have to be rebuilt for Chechnya to be a part of Russia now.
The current reconstruction process is lacking. First, much of it is funded by the generosity of the foundation opened by Kadyrov in the name of his deceased father. In addition to the obvious downfalls of the President privately funding Chechnya’s reconstruction, it is also troublesome that the foundation’s sources of revenue are dubious,[19] the information of its assets is lacking,[20] and the expenditures it mentions are often puzzling[21]. Moreover, a large portion of Chechnya’s budget is in the form of federal subsidies and is therefore also controlled by Kadyrov. As long as Chechnya remains isolated and economically dependant on redistribution headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, either in his role as the benefactor of the Akhmad Kadyrov fund or the Chechen president, it will be difficult to legalize his power.

Rebel forces

The most important destabilizing force is the continuing insurgency. The rebels have been significantly diminished as a force by the actions of the Chechen and Federal government. However, they are far from insignificant. While the exact capacities of the rebels are unclear, a study quoted in “The Wars in Chechnya” notes that it found 17 insurgent groups throughout the North Caucuses, each with forces ranging from 50-2000 individuals.
It is clear that the insurgency has spread[22]. By 2008, the majority of incidents occurred in the nearby republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia (Kabardino-Balkaria nearly beat Chechnya). Despite the increased pressure, the rebels are still capable of carrying out sophisticated operations[23].
In 2009, Umarov denied that the rebel forces were diminishing and said that on the contrary there was an influx of manpower[24]. If there is such an influx, it undoubtedly comes from the neighboring republics where popular discontent is ubiquitous.While Chechnya was undergoing its revolution, the neighboring regions were ruled by former-Soviet elites and lived under often oppressive and generally conservative, anti-Islamic, governments. The economies of these republics have fared little better than Chechnya’s. The corrupt and ineffective governments of these republics have created ripe conditions for popular disenchantment and rebellion.
The two Chechen wars have created social tension between the “Slavic” and the “non-Slavic” persons within the Russian Federation. The portrayal of Chechen insurgents as criminals and terrorists in the media was diffused to the Chechen population and eventually to “non-Slavic” persons in general.Such views were not a major change of the already somewhat xenophobic views of many Russian people, however, the combination of terrorist attacks, massive war casualties, high levels of immigration from the South into Russia, and reinforcement of xenophobia in the media made the situation particularly dangerous[25]. Especially since these developments, there is little reason for the Muslim, “non-Slavic” residents of the Caucasus to identify with the Russian Federation.
This tension is reflected in the insurgent force. In one of her articles, Politkovskaya outlines the split in the Chechen forces between secular secessionists and Muslim nationalists[26]. It is the latter who now lead the insurgency. In part it was Kremlin’s strategy of non-negotiation and demonization of the rebels that reinforced the isolation of moderate elements of the resistance and the increasingly Islamic nature of the movement.
The rebels have become an Islamic organization. The insurgency now draws its funding from Muslim countries in the middle east and North Africa. It has a goal to unite the Muslim North Caucasus and remove Russian presence by destroying the Russian state[27]. Such an organization appeals to many of the disenchanted Muslim citizens of the Caucasus and the majority no longer comes from Chechnya, but from throughout the North Caucasus.

Barring a major state crises in Russia, the rebels are not in a position to overthrow any of the Russian governments in the region, much less the Federal government. Nevertheless, they have proven to be resilient. They have adjusted themselves to the loss of leaders[28].Unless these citizens can be accommodated into the Russian Federation, there seems little resolution to the rebellion. The rebel forces embody the popular disenchantment with the Russian Federation in the Caucasus.


Organized violent conflict has been suppressed in Chechnya and the Russian North Caucuses. The groups that remain lack the capacity overthrow the government forces through direct means. However, the stability of the region continues to be precarious. The insurgency is far from defeated or made harmless. The short-term goals, such as economic growth and change of the government, seem possible, though entirely dependent on the goodwill of the Russian federal government. Yet the necessary inclusion of persons of darker complexion as equals into Russian society seem so long-termed as to be impossible. The only real solution seems to be outreach.
There is a museum dedicated to Lev Tolstoy in Chechnya, one of many memorials to him in the Republic. This museum has been recently renovated and reopened in a new building. Through the destruction of the past 15 years of violence, a period during which Groznyy became flat, this museum – a museum to a Russian officer, it may be added – remained not only intact, but also (during much of the time) operational. Even today Tolstoy is thought of kindly in Chechnya because he acted genuinely and decently toward Chechens[29].
The Caucasus, it may be reiterated, is a delicate matter. Delicate approaches, however, have rarely been tried, but as the example above demonstrates, these approaches have potential. The peace in the Caucasus is dependent on the Russian government. The Russian government must first find sustainable peace in the region in its interest. Once it decides to make a genuine attempt to bring peace to the North Caucasus, however, it may find this to be less impossible than the history of the Caucasus portrays it to be.

[1] Derluguian, Georgi. The structures of the Chechen quagmire, 5.

[2] Haji Akhmad Kadyrov was the first person to call for a gazavat, holy war, against the Russians in the first Chechen war.

[3] Matveeva, Anna. Chechnya: Dynamics of War and Peace, 6. (Dynamics)

[4] Aleksander Lebed, quoted in Dunlop, John. Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict.

[5] BBC, Conflict in Chechnya far from over. John Russel puts the figure at 78% unemployment among the working age population in 2007. Ramzan Kadyrov: The Indigenous Key to Success in Putin’s Chechenization, 670.

[6] Dyanamics, 4.

[7] Dynamics, 15.

[8] A Dirty War, 201.

[9] Wittig, Timothy S. Financing terrorism along the Chechnya-Georgia boarder, 1999-2002. (Financing Terrorism)

[10] Often the regular amnestied fighters are included into the armed forces, stationed in the areas where they were previously located, reissued the weapons they gave up to the state upon amnesty, and are left with their old commanders at their head.

[11] BBC, Conflict in Chechnya Far From Over.

[12] This is interesting not only because it made Russia more centralized, but because it was a constitutional change that was made by presidential decree.

[13] This is a practice that has supposedly stopped, but continued at least until 2007.

[14] “The relationship of the Chechen Republic and the Russian Federation is determined through the Constitution of the Russian Federation, federal laws, the Constitution of the Chechen Republic, as well as determined in accordance with agreements between bodies of state power in the Chechen Republic and bodies of state power of the Russian Federation about the demarcation of objects of authority and competencies between bodies of the executive power of the Chechen Republic and federal bodies of executive power as well as about the transfer to each other of parts of their authority” Chechen Constitution. Article 58.

[15] Chechen police are in essence “armed detachments loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov” Dynamics, 9

[16] They have “reportedly been involved in abductions, disappearances, extortion, trading in contraband, and the maintenance of unsanctioned prisons and torture chamber.” UNHCR 2009 Report;,,FREEHOU,,RUS,,4a6452c528,0.html

[17] Vendina, et al. The Wars in Chechnya and Their Effects on Neighboring Regions, 188.

[18] Vendina, et al. 186-7.

[19] One example would be mandatory voluntary donations to the fund for state employees. Dynamics, 5.

[20] One may see the expenditures of the Akhmad Kadyrov fund from 2004-2007 on Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal website.

[21] One recipient of the fund’s charitable giving is Groznyy’s football club “Terek.” See Terek’s official site here, The Akhmad Kadyrov fund is a general sponsor.

[22] The wars in Chechnya, 181.

[23] For example a 2009 bombing of a Moscow-St. Petersburg train,,8599,1945253,00.html

[24] Interview with Doku Umarov, Prague watchdog, July 6 2009

[25] By the time of the second war in Chechnya, there were no major independent news outlets. All televised news is presently state owned. Though there are a number of independent newspapers, the state is not devoid of ways of censoring them. Moreover, the majority of Russia gets its news from two television channels, 1st (First) and 2nd (RTR) Channels, that are the only television stations available everywhere in Russia.

[26]Poitkovskaya, Anna. “S kem vesti peregavori v Chechne”

[27] See. Dispatches, pt3.

[28] New Chechen Leader to Push Nationalist Agenda,

[29] See and