Troubleshooting Chechnya, Chapter II

The Unforeseen Consequences of War

“’Are you okay, man?’
‘Yeah, I’m good.’
It’s a lie. I wonder if I will ever be good again.”

–David Bellavia

Multiple consequences stem from Russia’s appointment of an autonomous Chechen leader. This, coupled with Moscow’s lack of recognition of the Chechen people’s only true representative, indirectly led to the region’s current political destabilization. Early on, Aslan Maskhadov became the only intermediary between separatist extremists and the Kremlin. His authority over dissident rulers would have prevented many forthcoming attacks and subsequently, had Russia recognized and compromised with Maskhadov, the current political issues in Chechnya could have been entirely avoided. Furthermore, had Maskhadov not been assassinated, Europe’s largest ongoing humanitarian catastrophe would be completely non-existent. Additionally, current and past humanitarian atrocities directly attribute to the formation of psychologically and violently devastating extremists groups. Consequently, the Moscow appointed government in Chechnya, lacking a true people’s representation and wrought with political corruption, has produced one of the single largest human rights crisis in modern Europe and subsequently fuels the continuation of fanatical insurgency violence.

Following the second Chechnya war, separatist violence increased as a result of the Russian forces’ exploitation of their political immunity. In 1998, Russia’s counter-terrorist law gave legal protection to state officials, military and security personnel engaged in counter-terror operations. Furthermore, due to the absence of a war declaration with Chechnya, Russia was not bound to international humanitarian laws, such as The Hague and Geneva Conventions. Additionally, Russia never became a member of the International Criminal Court, so no international tribunal exists that can hear cases against those responsible for human rights violations. Lack of international oversight, coupled with political immunity, led Russian forces to pursue extreme tactical measures, such as torture and enforced disappearances. Vladimir Putin cleverly attempted to gain global support by portraying the clashes in Chechnya as an international terrorist assault on Russia. In an interview with the Dutch press, Putin likened the fight against terrorism to the fight against Hitler in order to justify the recourse of “all means . . . to destroy terrorists.” As a result of these operations, the U.N. and other organizations continue to attempt prosecution of those responsible for past and current atrocities.

Issues exist not only in prosecution difficulties, but in the pursuance of accountability. Because the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations (UN) lacked initial oversight, massive obstructions from illegitimate misinformation barricaded their attempts to foster legitimate accountability. Essentially, the ECHR’s handling of human rights violations was completely ineffective. Remedies implemented by the ECHR didn’t always suffice in relieving or preventing human rights violations, the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to liberty and security. Although many legal proceedings did not lead to criminal prosecutions, the successful establishment of facts became essential for the legal qualification of the applicants’ allegations. Where the perpetrators of grave crimes deny their responsibility, proper fact finding sheds light on past events and contributes to the implementation of the victims’ right to the truth.

Currently, developing international law allows the European Court to modify its approach by ordering far-reaching non-monetary measures of just satisfaction. Theo van Boven, in his capacity as the Rapporteur of the UN Commission of Human Rights, proposed, besides payment for damages, a dozen non-monetary measures of satisfaction for victims of grave human rights. According to Boven’s Basic Principals, satisfaction should include cessation of continuing violations, public disclosure of truth, search for the disappeared, identification and reburial of bodies, public apology to the victims and punishment against those responsible.

After the first judgments on human rights violations in Chechen courts, the Committee of Ministers of the European Council expressed their unsatisfied views on the following implementations: requests for fresh investigations and prosecutions, legislative reforms, and the improvement of human rights training programs for the personnel of law-enforcement agencies. The Committee of Ministers commenced monitoring Russia’s compliance with the judgments and found no meaningful proposals to the aforementioned measures. Along with a lack of regulation are continued problems with the 2006 Prevention of Terrorism Act, which contains the same blanket immunity for security forces as the 1998 Suppression of Terrorism Act. Responsibility lies not only in those conscripted to carry out illegal operations, but more importantly, in those responsible for ordering aforementioned operations.

The drive for independence began to merge with Islamic ideals and beliefs, producing a new form of devoted extremism violence currently impacting previously uninvolved areas. The advancement of nationalist and religious ideals spawned groups such as the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR), Islamic International Brigade (IIB) and more notably, female suicide bombers known as the “black widows.” Once Russian forces withdrew in 2006, steeping anger among separatist extremists continued to overflow into central Russia in the form of kidnappings and bombings. When comparing separatist violence in parallel to the violence of counter-terror operations, many Russian forces are found to have committed atrocities on a genocidal level. Despite the overall goal of independence and peace, much of the Chechen extremist violence stems from current Russian authoritative abuse. Had Moscow implemented a more reputable government, motives leading to current violence would not exist. As a result of the corrupt centralized appointment system, the only possible opposition became illegitimate opposition, and the only functioning political opposition in the North Caucasus was that of Islamic extremism.

One group of religious extremists continues to have a devastating impact on the Russian psyche and their media.  On March 29th, 2010, Chechen terrorists entered the Moscow underground and stepped aboard two trains which stopped at the center of the Russian capital. The terrorists were young women, referred to as “black widows,” who were strapped with explosives. The bombs went off, killing 39 innocent victims, injuring many more and taking the lives of the suicide bombers. This came as a shock to Russia after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had announced that the threat from Chechen terrorists was wiped out long ago.

Many of these women are widows of rebel combatants who have been killed by Russian soldiers. They feel that they have nothing left to lose, having already lost a husband, a brother, a father, a son – a life. Also, the Chechen independence movement leadership does not offer them any hope of either peace or religious freedom. The extremist rebels, demonstrating political naivety, offer the sort of peace that comes with the death of a martyr. Having lived a war-ravaged life and having no hope of a better one, these women turn to the fate that solves all problems permanently. They have been let down by everyone and therefore think they owe nothing to anyone else. They feel psychologically abused by the local geopolitical circumstances, which coincides with a mass psychosis that spawned from uncompromising politicians and a turn towards religious fanaticism.

The after effects of the Chechnya conflict, although internationally vast and intertwined, can fundamentally be traced to Moscow’s initial inadequate political choices following the Soviet collapse. Although unbeknownst to the Kremlin during those times, the decision to appoint a Moscow backed leader, coupled with the assassination of the Chechen people’s true autonomous representative, directly produced Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis, which consequently spawned the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations. Despite these horrific outcomes, political and humanitarian measures must be implemented to foster the advancement of peace and stability in the Chechnya region.

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