Russian Grizzly Politics and Chechnya

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
February 22, 2004

Chilly Russian Politics

Russian winter is bitter. Severe wind-chill cut through flesh and bones and piles of snow cover streets, roofs and trees. While the winter may last a few more months or weeks, which is already in fazing out period for this year, Russian politics is gearing toward more cold and chilly wind.

When the Berlin Wall collapsed more than a decade ago, the old Gorbachev’s Perestroika was in the headline news, and the vigilant Yeltsin brandishing democratic flags in between his drunken stupors, there was hope in the beginning, amidst the starved Russians and also the cold-war threatened the rest of the world, that possibly a better future awaited the Russians, democracy might get its hold on Russia for the betterment of the entire population.

It did not work out quiet that way. In the recent days, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s turning away from the cogent democracy, his unwillingness to listen to criticisms, silencing the oppositions with the old tactics of intimidation, bribes and other not-to-be-mentioned means, are beginning to take a lucid shape for the observers from near and far.

What democracy? The ordinary Russians may mumble while huddling around a heating furnace, or standing in a line for baked bread, but albeit in lower tone. Vladimir Putin’s Government has stranglehold on virtually all Russian news media, newspapers, television and radio. The editors, program producers, journalists are being threatened with legal actions unless they implement self-imposed censorship. There are allegations that, whoever crosses the line in criticizing Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule, may be in danger of losing their dear life or livelihood.

Recently, a popular Russian writer, Elena Tregubova, who wrote a book on Vladimir Putin with her opposing point of view, had narrowly escaped from an assassination attempt, a bomb exploded outside her apartment.

Popular Putin

Putin does have measurable popular support. And why he shouldn’t be? All the media is censored, like the old communist days, and the fear of Chechen rebels, justified and unjustified, stoked whenever any major violence erupt in the streets of Moscow, the old comrades emphatically beat the drums of Chechen involvement without the due process of any investigations. A few weeks ago, Vladimir Putin was quick to point finger to Chechen rebels for the deadly suicide bombing in Russian metro without first adopting a thorough inquiry.

It is true that Russians are feeling the burnt of false promises made by the Western nations in propping their democratic infancy, capitalism’s journey in Russian soil was all but rocky.

In the past after the communism collapsed, no more iron curtain of Communist dictators was available on the streets, there were chaos in the Russian cities, there were skyrocketing crimes and corruptions, Russian economy took a tumble.

Millions of Russians found themselves in poverty stricken days, no old government support for their collapsed pensions, newly privatized factories could not provide steady paychecks to their employees, there were loss of domestic trades because people could not afford to purchase high flying priced of necessary commodities. There was massive inflation caused by the price reform implemented by the previous Russian government, and that caused millions of Russians lost their savings.

“Even as they witnessed Russian suffering, most Western experts showed little concern for the pain inflicted and urged Russia to stay the capitalist course. The West held this position until the very day the financial dam finally burst in August 1998, when the Russian government devalued the ruble and suspended payment on most of its foreign debt.” [2]

One aspect of Putin’s growing support among many Russians is for his success in economic growth, “Consumer goods are again being manufactured at home. Russia has paid off most of its foreign debt. And if high oil prices have been the single most significant factor in reversing Russia's fortunes, so what? Russians still credit Putin with the reversal, pointing to an impressive growth in domestic production and sound taxation policies that have also contributed to both growth and the restoration of health in public finances. Russians are pleased that their country is again a major player in foreign relations and that foreign leaders take Putin seriously in a way they never did his predecessor, Boris N. Yeltsin.” [2]

In spite of supposed ending of cold war years ago, Russians feel threatened being subjected to Western nuclear targets; many in Russia see the vast arsenals that the Western nations, mainly United States, possess, whose unmistakable purpose is the destruction of Russia.

Russians yearn to be part of NATO, Germany already proposed this issue but no result was obtained, instead, NATO intends to establish military bases in Eastern Europe that many hard elements of Russian Federation see as a clear threat toward their sovereignty and existence.

Can the world afford to slide back to the old treacherous and vicious cold war era? Absolutely not. It would make our already fragile world more susceptible to deaths and destructions, wars and killings of innocents like that occurred in Vietnam, Korea, Africa, South America and other places in the name of preserving capitalism or communism.

But can the rest of the world stay silent while antidemocratic forces erase all the previous incremental progresses Russians made toward a more democratic and accountable society and government? Surely not. And this is the reasons, United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and other major democratic powerhouse of our world, should be clear in their expectation of democratic reform in Russia, in their unified voices against brutal repressions against the Chechens in Moscow and Grozny.

Chechen Predicament

Putin is abusing the age-old rule of stoking fear, the same old gambit of demonizing a minority segment of Russians, in this case, the Chechens, to boost his support for his autocratic rule.

After the February 6 metro blast that killed 41 Russian civilians, instead of calming the understandably restless populace by implementing a detailed investigation of this ruthless terrorism, discriminatory steps and rhetoric are being used against the Chechens. Putin’s instant accusations of Chechen rebels for the blast sounded curiously spurious and infantile. While the Chechen rebels were indeed responsible for other prior attacks in the Russian capitals, there are other extremist elements, domestic and the foreign, who might very well get benefited by creating instability in Russia prior to its national election.

Amnesty International reports, “it has been reported that an extremist organization has been calling upon people to attend a public meeting, under the slogan "Cleanse Moscow of Chechen bandits!" Amnesty International is concerned that this may amount to incitement of hatred on grounds of nationality and incitement to racially-motivated violence. Prominent Russian human rights groups have also expressed their concern regarding the demonstration. "In the current climate, we are concerned that the meeting could lead to incidents of racially-motivated violence. Such inflammatory slogans appear to be aimed at inciting racial hatred and should therefore be immediately removed from all public places in the capital", Amnesty International said.” [4]

Chechnya has remained a burning unresolved issue. The brutal war that begun in 1999, still raging in Chechnya, killing innocent civilians in Chechen cities and villages. Russia never implemented any safeguards for the noncombatants that resulted deaths and injuries of high number of Chechens.

What can the devastated Chechens do in their destroyed cities? Many Chechens had to abandon their homeland, living depressing lives in refugee camps in Ingushetia. Many of them are still living in shocking condition, trying to survive among destroyed buildings and collapsed infrastructure. [1]

A war without ending, furthermore, has its toll on Russian soldiers, the underfed military fighting against the Chechen rebels, have plunged in “torture, rape, pillaging and hostage-taking”. [1]

And the Chechens, the victims, the remaining loved ones of slaughtered and crippled Chechens, the widows who have lost their husbands, the mothers who have lost their children in the war, the young and the old, are distraught, disenfranchised, who have only seen injustice and sufferings in their lives, are more than “willing to engage in suicide bombing and other acts of terror in Moscow and other parts of Russia.” [1]

What Can the World Do?

The United Nations and the world’s industrialized nations must pursue its commitment toward preserving human rights in the world, which includes addressing the Russian Federation’s grossly inadequate handling of Chechen issue. In the post September 11 world, under the disguise of “war against terrorism”, along with handful genuine cases of thwarting back the murderers and thugs, there are decidedly far more repressions imposed on the minorities, and strict censorship enacted on opposing views to the direct contradiction of democratic norm.

While it is paramount in keep supporting the Russian Federation’s journey into the democratic world, offering all the cooperation they can for making sure that the old cold war does not reappear, it is likewise significant to use all the available diplomatic and marketable means in dissuading Putin for not legitimizing repression as normal Russian code.


1. Rajan Menon, “Cold Political Wind Blows Across Russia”, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2004.

2. Charles William Manes, “Losing Russia”, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2004.

3. Susan B. Glasser, “Chechens say blasts reignites Backlash”, Washington Post, February 15, 2004.

4. Amnesty International, “Russian Federation: Out of Control: Anti-Chechen Sentiment in Moscow Post-Metro Blast”, February 18, 2004.


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: