Jun 30, 2001

The peaceful regulation of Russian-Chechen relations: Is it possible at all?

Article by Akhiad Idigov, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman of the Chechen Parliament, and Jeanette Groen, Assistant Coordinator: UNPO Research Department

The Russian-Chechen struggle, now in its second war, has a long history going back to the late 19th century. The conflict, in its current form, started after the former Soviet Union collapsed and a Chechen National Congress was formed with the approval of Doku Zavgaev, the leader of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR.

The Russian-Chechen struggle, now in its second war, has a long history going back to the late 19th century. The conflict, in its current form, started after the former Soviet Union collapsed and when in 1988, a Chechen National Congress was formed with the approval of Doku Zavgaev, the leader of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. This Congress meeting passed a resolution calling for self-government of the Chechen state and elected Jokhar Dudaev, a high-ranking Chechen in the Soviet Air Force, to be its Executive Committee Chairman. Russian Federation authorities in fact did legalise Chechen claims to independence, but does not approve of Chechnya being self-governing. However, Chechen negotiators are not satisfied with the mere legalisation of Chechen independence claims. They will insist that Chechnya is self-ruling.

The existence of the right of the Chechen people to establish an independent state is not to be confused with the de facto emergence of a state. This is determined by the international customary law principle of effectiveness and follows the four accepted criteria for statehood, i.e., a claim to a clearly defined territory, the presence of a permanent population therein, the exercise of jurisdiction over this territory and its population, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states and international organisations. Also the state must be recognised by the foreign states.

Why are both parties fighting? For Chechnya this war is holy, for it is their religion and their self- determination that they protect. For Russia the most important topic is land and power. According to Russian authorities Chechnya is needed for some of Russia's major oil pipe-lines running between the Caspian Sea and Russia, through Chechnya.

Russia wishes to show the world that they can counter the "terrorists", as they view the Chechens. Vladimir Putin, the current President of the Russian Federation, wants to show the world that Russia's military power is not to be challenged.

During the Cold War, Russia has had great prestige in terms of military power. The country still feels it has the same esteem as it had then, and therefore must show proof of that. For Russia it is taking longer than expected to defeat the Chechens, though, they may never be defeated. This is not only due to domestic problems and an “unwilling” and cash-strapped army, but also due to international forces. There are very few, if any countries that approve of Russia's actions against Chechnya. Russia has to take these aspects into consideration when deciding whether to continue this war or not. This means that Russia should not only keep an eye on their military prestige, but also at their future position in the world as a respectable democratic country. There is thus more at stake than just the Russian-Chechen war.

Continuation of the war for a long period of time cannot be in the interests of Russia. There is a risk of confrontation with the Islamic world and discontent within the country, due to the unending war. Sheltering behind the notorious concept of “internal affairs of Russia” the authorities in this empire are far removed from the human rights principle of granting equal freedom and protection to persons regardless of nationality. These crimes against the Chechens are an indicator of the attitude of Russian authorities towards observance of fundamental rights.

Both parties have been asked to sit down at the negotiating table, and have done so, but in the end the implementation of the negotiations and the outcome of agreements have not been successful. In future negotiations this will certainly play a significant role. Chechen negotiators will refer to treaties signed by both parties and oblige the Russian side to stick to the principle of pacta sunt servanda. The Russians, for their part, will probably take less a legalistic approach, stressing the need to consider new political and economic “realities”. Against Chechen attempts to force through substantial decisions, the Russian side will most probably prize “the value of dialogue in itself”, or more concretely, delay negotiations as long as possible. This has been the case with the Khasavjurt Agreement. It was an agreement on the mutual relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Chechnya, in accordance with the universal principles of international law. The agreement confirmed the full withdrawal of federal troops agreeing to a cease-fire and termination of all fighting. An exchange of prisoners was to begin immediately. According to the Khasavjurt Agreement, the issue of mutual relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic should have been resolved before 2001. However, the two parties have interpreted this provision somewhat differently. While the Russians claimed that settlement of the issue be delayed until the year 2001, the Chechens insisted that it be clarified before 2001.

Another attempts to end the conflict were the Moscow and Nazran negotiations in 1996. During these negotiations an agreement was signed to try and control the armed conflict. According to the agreement, a cease-fire was to come into force. People held in custody were to be released within two weeks from the signing of the agreement, and the negotiating commissions were to continue their work. However, the implementation of the Moscow and Nazran Agreements went slowly. There was in fact no cease-fire and the negotiating commissions could do little to stop another outbreak of the conflict.

As can be seen Chechnya is willing to try and stop this war. For this party the existence of the state is legal and there is no question about the legitimacy of the government. In 1992 for instance, Chechnya already drew up a draft Treaty on the “Basis of Interstate Relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic”, in order to stop the war. Both parties were to recognize each other's right to independence. It also proposed coordination of foreign policy, cooperation in international organizations and an agreement on defence cooperation based on the sovereignty of both parties. Russia did not even bother to further consider this treaty.

In future negotiations the Chechens will insist that they are independent. They will stress that Russia, by recognizing elections, also have recognized the attributes of the independent Chechnya: her organs of state power and her Constitution. Attempts to withdraw the legal basis of the elections can be said to be misleading by references to the Nazran Protocols, which recognize the elections of Chechen organs of power to be an own internal affair. References to the remarks added to the Nazran Protocols by the Russian Commission, stating that the Russian Commission do not recognize the legality of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, can be refuted by the fact that the Russian side nevertheless signed it, and that no such remarks were added to the May 1996 agreement, signed by President Selimkhan Yandrabiev and Victor Chernomyrdin, nor the Khasavjurt Agreement.

Now that we know where both parties stand, and we know what their respective view points are, it is of importance how we visualize an end to the conflict. What steps are necessary to let both parties sit around the negotiating table and start talking. Of course, the Russian authorities are stubborn, stating that they will not sit at a negotiating table with the (lawfully) elected authorities in Chechnya, asserting that President Maskhadov supports international terrorists. In fact, the Russian authorities do not wish to sit at a negotiating table and explain relations, due to the untenable position they have adopted. Their statements accusing the Chechen side are disputable and Russia is ignoring the resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of 6 April 2000, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights of 25 April 2000, in respect of the question of negotiations. War has been forced upon the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, and President Maskhadov has distributed a statement of peaceful intentions, constituting a basis for the “Treaty on Peace and Principles of an Interrelationship between Russia and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” of 12 May 1997.

For Chechen sovereignty this is a means of ensuring their safety from the genocide by the Russian authorities. Peace and cessation of resistance against force are possible only on condition that there is an absence of such force and a guarantee of the nation's safety. After all, Russia violated the Treaty on Peace and Principles of an Interrelationship between Russia and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Who can become the guarantor of future peace? The international community and particularly the UN? How shall this take place? There are a number of possible options, such as:

Rejection of persecution for political beliefs. It is important for both parties to take each other's views in consideration. Both parties must be willing to see each other as equal.

Exchange of prisoners. This is necessary to let one another see that they are willing to stop fighting. Imprisoning people assumes that one does not approve of who that person is or what that person does.

Provision of a humanitarian corridor in all corners of Chechnya.

Creation of temporary authorities by representatives of both parties. It is sometimes necessary to have outsiders, people who are not active in the conflict, to take a fresh look at the situation.

The creation of an international judicial body concerned with questions of war and ensuring that both parties shall implement the agreements.

Commencement of restoration of all that has been destroyed and assistance to those who have suffered most.

Resettlement of the demobilized military in civilian occupations, and job creation.

The creation of adequate medical services.

The creation of conditions for preferential entry into academic institutions of European countries in the territory of the former USSR. Education is most important; it creates opportunities for economic growth, jobs and prosperity.

The provision of opportunities for those who have left Chechnya to return home.

Allocating compensation to those who have suffered as a result of war, wherever these citizens of Chechnya live now.

The provision of a guarantee of safety to the Chechen nation by the international community.

Without taking these important steps, future peace in the Caucasus will remain elusive.