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Ramesh Yadav asked: What could be the solution to the Chechen issue?

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  • Amit Kumar replies: The acts of terrorism in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia involving Chechens are indicative of the revival of terrorism as an instrument for promoting the cause of Chechen separatism. These acts of terrorism have also underscored the threat posed by Islamists, for whom Chechnya has become the rallying point to propagate the idea of Caucasus Emirate and which has started to find resonance in other predominantly Muslim republics of North Caucasus, like Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria. Though the Islamist phenomenon is a late addition, the quest for Chechen independence is not new.

    Broadly, there are three choices before Russia: recognise the independence of Chechnya, suppress the secessionist forces, or work towards better federal relations within the ambit of the Russian Constitution to durably resolve the Chechen separatist problem. As far as the first choice is concerned, it can be said that Russia cannot afford to allow Chechnya to secede as the same could be replicated in other adjoining Muslim republics, undermining Russia’s territorial integrity. The second choice involves coercion and is fraught with the danger of inviting retaliation from the Chechens who are not alone in their fight against the Russian central authority. The third choice entails skilful use of democratic politics and appears to be the most desirable one.

    President Putin’s logic that democracy can be delayed in a crisis-ridden state, does not appear to be convincing in the present scenario where Russia seems to have emerged stronger than ever before since 1991. Russia should, therefore, explore the possibility of strengthening the democratic process in Chechnya and elsewhere in the country without much delay. Delaying democracy can be counter productive. In the short-term, though democracy may not appear to be effective against disgruntled elements who might still engage in anti-state protests and even insurgency, but then suppression too may not prove to be a viable conflict resolution method either.

    In the longer run, broad based and consensual democracies are often better at problem solving than autocracies. It is democracy which often leads to a stable polity and has better chances of resolving secessionist conflicts. A case in point is J&K, where the restoration of the democratic processes has led to a more peaceful and stable polity. It is noteworthy that President Putin, of late, has emphasised the importance of democratic polity and has outlined plans to modernise the mechanisms of Russian democracy in order to develop a more effective, accountable and transparent governance.

    Also, please refer to my following IDSA publication:

    Amit Kumar, “The Chechen Imbroglio: An Update”, IDSA Issue Brief, October 05, 2011.

    Posted on January 16, 2014