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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Twenty years since the first Chechen war: the same KGB style

3 December, 2014 - 17:47

A few months ago I came across a book, Chechnya: Life in War (http://zhaina.com/history/105-chechnya_zhizn_na_voine.html), which its authors, Russian human rights activists, also call “Chechnya for dummies.” It is a collection of evidence about the Chechen wars, a detailed chronicle of events, a historical reference source, and an analysis of cause-effect relations. In essence, it presents all that allows one to understand what this war was like for Russia, what effect it had on Russian society, as well as to fathom the scale of the catastrophe and feel shame.

Why shame? For it suddenly turns out that our life has never been peaceful. The first Chechen war claimed up to 50,000 civilian lives, 20 to 29 thousand of which during the taking of Grozny in the winter of 1994-95. We have these figures thanks to the exclusive efforts of human rights organizations, above all, Memorial which is now being harassed in Russia. Likewise, it is only thanks to research fieldwork that we know the second Chechen war’s approximate toll – 15 to 25 thousand, of which 3 to 5 thousand are still missing.

Chechnya is a colossal tragedy which everybody seems to know and to have heard something about (who has not heard of the Chechen wars?) but which has remained on the fringe, somewhere in the faraway Caucasus, and is of little importance to us and to the West (“business as usual!”). But, in reality, Chechnya was a turning point. It became clear that Soviet authoritarianism was still alive and kicking. It is an outrageous fact that there has been not a single high-profile court trial in Russia in connection with the atrocities the army committed.

After Chechnya, the Russian-Georgian and the Russian-Ukrainian wars were a foregone conclusion. The same applies to the Russian-Western war which will break out sooner or later either in a “cold” or a “hot” form.

Besides, when you leaf through the chronicle of the Chechen wars, you can see that the Kremlin has become outrageously predictable. As years go by and the world is changing, the same KGB style is on the march in Moscow. You can see this both in Vladimir Putin’s crude jokes and in the colonization instruments the Russian leadership is using.

The Moscow-sponsored “opposition” which turns out amazingly to be armed with tanks, Grad and Uragan multiple rocket launchers; troops without identification signs; mass-scale terror, kidnappings and tortures of people, extrajudicial executions… No, it is not about the Donbas. To be more exact, yes, it is about the Donbas, but first there was Chechnya. The same “symptoms…” Even the same Girkin-Strelkov...

Were it not for the book about Chechnya “for dummies,” I, like many of my colleagues, would perhaps be seeking parallels not in the essence of phenomena (Russia’s unwillingness to let certain territories out of its sphere of influence) but in the names. Did Russia conduct a counter-terrorism operation in the Caucasus? It did. Ukraine, too, is conducting a counter-terrorism operation – also against “separatists.” This logic of comparison is easy to grasp, but it is fallacious. Instead of delving into the content, some people prefer purely linguistic parallels, forgetting about who are the aggressor and the defender in this war, ignoring the obvious fact that the DNR-LNR is just a technique of occupation, with due account of all the “buts” and the presence of high-minded individuals on the other side.

Last week, on the day of the 20th anniversary of the first Chechen war, a film was shown in Kyiv about the massacre of Chechens in the village of Novye Aldi in February 2000, which claimed an estimated 56 to 60 human lives. The words of Chechen dissident Mayrbek Vachagayev, who was present at the show (http://www.ukrlife.tv/ video/politika/shemu-zahvata-donbassa-putin-otrabotal-v-chechne-chechenskii-istorik), finally dispelled all my doubts. Mayrbek spoke about the abovementioned parallels between the Chechen and the Ukrainian events, including the information war and “brainwashing” the West. During the first Chechen war, Europeans sided too much with the Chechens and their struggle, but they “corrected” this viewpoint in favor of Moscow during the second Caucasus war. Vechagayev, the former general representative of Chechnya in     Russia, who spent 8 months in the Butyrka jail on trumped-up charges at the beginning of the first Chechen campaign, advises us, on the basis of his experience, not to relax. He forecasts that the Russian-Ukrainian war will go  on. He says we should not harbor illusions about “different tomes,” “Ukraine’s proximity to Europe,” and “Putin won’t bring himself to…”

And, finally, about another potential parallel…

One of the key factors that caused the Kremlin to win in Chechnya is that he managed to destroy the political core of resistance – there remained a small group of those able to conduct an armed struggle, but there are no people left who can produce senses. The impression is that, in addition to tanks and multiple rocket launchers, this is obviously the gravest danger for Ukraine, too.

By Maria TOMAK, Center for Civil Liberties

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