Russia and Chechnya - what's it all about?

The title pretty much says it all.
What’s the source of the conflict? I’ve done much web research and can only come up with the fact that Chechnya really wants independence. But why?


(No, of course I’m not using the board to help me with a research paper!)

Chechnya = Muslim
Russia = Orthodox Christian
See Yugoslavia for further details

That’s what I thought, but I wasn’t sure at all.

Oh Jesus Christ.

The war in Chechnya is not reducible to the simple formula that the Chechens are all Muslim and the Russians are Eastern Orthodox and never the twain shall meet. Nor is Yugoslavia, for that matter, but that’s another subject.

The tsars of Russia, especially during the nineteenth century, carried out an active campaign of colonialization and conquest in the areas of Siberia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and all the neighboring regions fell under the rule of Moscow. None of this is at all surprising, seeing as how Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany had been doing the same thing for at least two hundred years beforehand. Russia just didn’t have the financial and economic wherewithal to head seawards and carve up other continents so they made do with what they had.

All too briefly after the Russian Revolution these countries, like the Baltic republics, were given political independence but the needs of Stalinism and the impending war returned them to their old status of economic cash cows for the Moscow political machine. Of course, if you get a taste of freedom and then have it taken away from you again you kind of develop no small amount of resentment over it. Nationalism was kept in check fairly effectively until the end of the Soviet Union when everything fell apart and the power vacuum allowed the nationalists to move to the forefront. Some of the bigger republics, like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and the Ukraine, were large enough to be able to say “We’re independent and stuff what you think about it.” Places like Ingushetia and Chechnya aren’t so lucky, so they have to fight like hell to gain any sort of independence.

Russia isn’t so keen on this because of oil. Chechnya either supplies a large amount or is the territory over which the major Russian pipelines cross (or both), so the country’s independence from Russia threatens the oil supply. Hence we have Russian troops occupying the territory and the military forces bombing the living daylights out of Groznyy. And we have the Chechen rebel forces doing some serious dirty work themselves.

All you could ever want to know, even more, and then a cherry on top.

I heard something very interesting about Chechnya awhile back. Dunno if it’s true or not, but supposedly most of Chechnya’s “rebels” are Muslim fundamentalists recruited from places like Afghanistan and Iran. This is because most of Chechnya’s young men are already dead

Read John LeCarre’s excellent novel Our Game. Yes, it’s fiction, but it’s set among the mid-90s Chechen revolt, and he knows his stuff.

You’ll not only be entertained and well-read, but be brought up to speed on the conflict.

Otherwise, be cheap and read Olentzero’s similarly well-thought out post. :slight_smile:

*Originally posted by Olentzero *

I’d also like to add the Chechnya is (was?) an autonomous region within Russia. An independent Chechnya is a threat to the Russian government - if the Chechnyans are allowed to become independent, then what stopping the Tatars, the Dagestanis, the Inguestians, the Keralians, the Yakuats, the Tuvans, and a host of other groups with varying levels of autonomy in doing the same? It was bad enough that the Soviet Union collapsed into the 15 countries we have today (the former republics). Olentzero,I’m not disagreeing that there has been an economic component in Russia’s campaign to crush the Chechnian rebellion, but I see it more as the Russian government trying to protect their sovereignity.

eponymous - you’ll get no argument from me regarding the “domino theory”, i.e. that Russia wants to hold on to as much territory as possible and therefore sees independence movements it can affect as dangerous.

But I disagree that it has anything to do with sovereignty and everything to do with empire.

Montfort - cheap and well thought-out. In the fight against ignorance, no nobler title can be claimed. Tip o’ the pint to you, sirrah! :smiley:

Sorry about the terseness of my original reply.
Everyone seems to have covered everything in excellent detail. Thank you all.
One point I would like to make though is that the Russian campaign in Chechnya is really just a complete mess. I agree that originally there were concerns about sovereignty and maintaining the bounds of the empire, but for the last five years or so, the whole thing is no more than a political football. Soldiers on both sides are fighting for virtually nothing (in political or economic terms), but to stop fighting means to lose face. And in Russia (or the Caucasses if you prefer) losing face is worse than losing life.

And maybe someone would like the homepage of the Chechen Government at

And there is also a great page on the BBC website.

There is a line in the world’s funniest and greatest novel, DEAD SOULS by Gogol. Tchitchikov, or Chichikov, who is travelling, says, “I hope I’m not attacked by Chechens.”
This was written around 1834. One wonders if the Chechens
had a bad reputation then. Although of course every group of people has always had a bad reputation, for that matter, except for the pygmies.

I think I read an article a few years ago that contained a supposedly Russian saying. It was along the lines of, “If you have a problem with the Russians, talk to the Azeris, if you have a problem with the Azeris, talk to the Georgians, if you have a problem with the Georgians, talk to the Chechens, if you have a problem with the Chechens, talk to God”.

Is anybody else familiar with the line? I’m not sure exactly which nationalities were involved but I DO know the Chechens are supposed to be the baddest of the bad.

Well, this isn’t at all surprising: the Russian Empire initially moved into Chechnya in 1818 (?) or thereabouts, so by 1834 the fighting had already been going on for sixteen years.

The Chechens continued actively resisting the immensely stronger and larger Russian state (sound familiar?) until 1859. Yikes - that’s forty-odd years of continous warfare. That can’t be comforting for Putin.

there’s an interesting article here on the historical background of the Russian-Chechen conflict. The parallels between the 19th-century campaign and today are many and depressing:

Hope that’s not too much to count as fair use, but the article’s worth a look.

Read peter hopkirk’s the great game. In that, the Chechen’s have always been fiercely independent. Quite a moving piece where sometime in the 1800’s they were waiting in vain for help promised by the British.

There’s a legal distinction between Chechnya’s claim for independence and the departure of Georgia, Uzbekistan, etc. from Russian control.

Under the old Soviet constitution, each of the component SSRs (Soviet Socialist Republics) had the legal right to secede. That meant about as much as the legal right to vote as long as the central government was strong, but toward the end of the Soviet regime a lot of theoretical rights took on more practical meaning.

Chechnya never had SSR status under the Soviets, so its claim is far more threatening to the government in Moscow.

To use an admittedly flawed analogy, it’s something like the difference between the United States giving up its colonial rule of the Philippines in the 1930s vs. the state of Texas trying to declare independence.