#15 - JRL 7040
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2003
Subject: Yastrzhembsky on Chechnya
From: Nikolas Gvosdev <email@example.com>
International Terrorism and the Crisis in
Chechnya: A Russian Perspective
By Sergei Yastrzhembsky
Sergei Yastrzhembsky is assistant to the president of the Russian Federation. His previous posts in government have included service as Russian Ambassador to Slovakia and as press secretary to President Boris Yeltsin.
Today Russians and Americans have a common, insidious and ever-present enemy. Its name is │international terrorism.▓ International terrorism is increasingly becoming a factor in global politics. Unfortunately, no one, and no place, is safe from acts of terror. International terrorism is like the fabled hydra; a new head promptly replaces one that has been cut off. This does not mean, however, that we should fold our hands and give up the fight. Even from an event as tragic as September 11, lessons can be learned and specific measures taken.
The first is that combating global terrorism requires the highest possible consolidation of the will and the forces of all members of the international community. The second is a repudiation of any attempts to distinguish between │good▓ and │bad▓ terrorists--all terrorists are tarred with the same brush. Finally, there must be a recognition of the plain truth that the terrorist threat--no matter from where it originates, whether from Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Philippines or Pakistan--threatens all of us.
In September 2001, Ari Fleischer, press secretary for President Bush, said: │There is no question that there is an international terrorist presence in Chechnya that has links to Osama bin Laden.▓ Fleischer was the first person from the Bush Administration to publicly acknowledge that fact.
Since then, the American press has publicized additional facts detailing the connection between Chechnya and Osama bin Laden and the forces of international terrorism. Five of the nineteen terrorists who hijacked the American aircraft on September 11 had previously fought in Chechnya.
The │Benevolence International Foundation▓ and the │Global Relief Foundation▓ are among the so-called "charitable" organizations whose accounts in the United States were frozen for supporting terrorists, including in Chechnya. Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Morrocan origin, arrested in the United States and charged with involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks, had recruited gunmen to fight in Chechnya. One of those recruited, Xavier Jaffot, had been trained in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before departing to Chechnya, where he was killed in April 2000.
Recently, in London, terrorists were detained and ricin, a toxic agent, discovered in their possession. Ricin is one of the most potent poisons available. Even a small amount is capable of killing many, and there is no known antidote. Now, reports from the secret services have indicated that these terrorists had been trained in an Al-Qaeda facility located in the Pankisi gorge. Although the Georgian authorities previously denied the existence of terrorist bases in the gorge, they today acknowledge that a bin Laden confidant, Abu Harsi, operated home laboratories in Pankisi. Now, the Georgians claim that such facilities have become │a thing of the past,▓ that training camps for the Chechen gunmen did operate--but only up to February 2002. I do not think, however, that we can be so optimistic. Pankisi still requires the attention of the international community; it cannot be solved by one or two police operations, no matter how successful these sweeps have been declared.
We have to recognize that international terrorism is using the fight for the │independence▓ of Chechnya as cover for pursuing goals that have nothing in common with the aspirations of the Chechen people. The true purpose of the international terrorist network has to detach the Northern Caucasus from the Russian Federation and to create an Islamic state stretching from theCaspian to the Black Sea, as a stepping-stone for an eventual world caliphate.
Those who live in Chechnya itself also have begun to understand better the true intentions of the terrorists, especially at this time when the process of trying to restore the political, economic and social infrastructure of the Chechen republic has intensified. Threatened by the possibility that life may return to normal, the terrorists undertook a major terrorist attack on December 27, right before the New Year celebrations, when bandits blew up the building housing the republic's government.
The question is often posed as to why Russian Federation authorities will not come to the negotiating table to meet with the leaders of the Chechen separatists; after all, everyone knows that a "bad peace" is preferable to a "good quarrel." Indeed, negotiations often lead to a final settlement. The question for us is this; with whom are we to negotiate, and over what?
After all, we already have a track record with Aslan Maskhadov--and nothing good came of the results. In 1996, you may recall, the Khasavyurt agreement was signed, and Chechnya became, de facto, independent. First and foremost, it was the Chechen people who lost. The agreement paved the way for disorder and lawlessness. Certainly, those Chechens who had worked with Russia and opposed the separatists were grievously affected; many so-called "collaborators" were beheaded. The activities of the various warlords, whom Maskhadov was unable to control, led to the further death of thousands and widespread destruction. All of the reconstruction funds earmarked from the Russian Federal budget for Chechnya were diverted to purchase weapons, while the overwhelming majority of the population were driven to extreme poverty.
The final denoument of the Khasavyurt disgrace came in 1999 when groups of militants attacked the neighboring republic of Dagestan, with the intent to tear this republic--and the entire Northern Caucasus--out from the Russian Federation. At this point, Vladimir Putin made it clear that there would be no more Khasavyurts. The Russian president strongly believes that, due to its own weakness and culpibility, the Federal government left the Chechens to their fate in 1999; as he put it, "Russia's state machinery failed to work."
Never again will Moscow leave Chechens to the mercy of fate. We have come to the conclusion that half-measures in dealing with the problems faced by Chechnya are much more dangerous than firm and consistent ones. Federal armed forces will remain on the territory of the republic. The 42nd division and a brigage of the anti-terrorist forces of the Interior Ministry will permanently stay in Chechnya. They will perform their military duties as in any part of the Russian Federation. The main burden of the task of establishing order so far has been borne by special units of the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of the Interior, but, increasingly, these functions are being transferred to local enforcement bodies, primarily to the (Chechen) republican Ministry of the Interior. However, the Federal government will continue to completely assist these local structures.
Over the past two years, a number of illegal military formations operating on the territory of Chechnya have been liquidated and their command-and-control networks destroyed. A number of militant and terrorist leaders have been killed, among them major illegal military formations were liquidated in the territory of Chechnya and their control system has been completely been destroyed. Many separatist leaders have been killed, including Khattab, Khattab's lieutenant Abu Darr, Arbi Baraev, Abu Sayaf and Magomed Tsagaraev, as well as fifty other mid-level operatives, including those wo were responsible for the explosions that destroyed apartment houses in Russian cities in 1999. In all, more than 2000 militants have been killed, hundreds of bases and hiding places have been located, and more than 6000 firearms and over four tons of explosives have been seized. One can easily realize how many human lives could have been lost if these preventive measures had not been taken.
Do Federal servicemen commit crimes in Chechnya? Yes, they do. But lawbreakers are held to account no matter whether they wear a uniform or not. Since the start of the counter-terrorist operation the Military Prosecutor╣s Office has opened investigations into 162 cases; so far, 97 investigations have been completed, of which 57 (including 14 murder cases) proceeded to a full court martial. At present, 47 servicemen, including seven commissioned officers, have been convicted for offenses against the Chechen people. It would be inappropriate, however, to conclude that all Federal forces are filled with hate for Chechens and that there is an implacable antagonism between them.
Indeed, the military is assisting in the reconstruction of the republic╣s infrastructure, building bridges, highways, and railroads. Repairing the fabric of life in Chechnya is difficult, but it is continuing. 18,000 students are engaged in coursework at institutions of higher education, while 459 secondary schools, serving some 200,000 pupils, are functioning. In 2002, in Grozny alone, 11 municipal apartment buildings were constructed, as well as over 2000 private homes in the city and the surrounding rural areas. The government of Chechnya notes that more than 3000 families returned to Chechnya from the refugee camps in Ingushetia. The republican authorities assist those who chose to return by providing funds, foodstuffs and housing. (I would also like to note that claims that refugees are being "driven back" into Chechnya are untrue. Unless a displaced person has made a personal application to return to the republic, nobody can force him or her to move; those displaced from Chechnya as a result of the fighting are free to return or to stay in their present location.)
The question has been raised as to whether the local Chechen units will be staffed with people who may have, in the past, fought against Federal forces, and if so, will they be able to establish order and ensure the supremacy of Federal laws on the territory of the republic? I think that we can be optimistic in this respect. After all, Ahmad Kadyrov, the current head of the Chechen republican administration, had himself in the past also engaged in the armed struggle against the Federal government. Today, however, he has proven himself to be a determined leader in favor of establishing order and ensuring Chechnya's position as a full-fledged constituent entity of the Federation. We should be realistic. Chechnya is undergoing a difficult period in its history. Every chance should be used to establish peace in the republic and attract all people who wish to contribute to the normalization process.
The main task today is to make Chechnya a normal constituent entity of the Russian Federation, enjoying broad autonomy effectively provided by the Russian Constitution. Full authority should be transferred gradually to the Chechen people. It would not be possible to achieve that goal without a constitution for the republic. Therefore, a referendum will be held in Chechnya on March 23. The new draft constitution and two draft laws (on presidential elections and on parliamentery elections) will be put on the table. In this way, the declaration of the will of the people should give the green light to the establishment of legitimate authority for the republic.