Russia's Second Chechen War: Ten Assumptions in Search of a Policy

The military campaign unleashed in Chechnya in September 1999 was portrayed by the Russian leadership as a limited and carefully targeted counter-terrorist operation aimed at eliminating the threat to Russia posed by "international terrorism." In a 14 November article in the New York Times, then Prime Minister Putin sought to deflect American criticism of Russian actions and to win acquiescence, if not sympathy, by likening Russias effort in Chechnya to U.S. anti-terrorist actions. The Russian military, he insisted, had chosen "accurately targeted strikes on specifically identified terrorist bases" to avoid direct attacks on Chechen communities.

But the radical discrepancy between the initial rationale and the actual conduct of the campaign makes it clear that what we are seeing is in fact a deliberate resumption of the 1994-96 war by the Russian Government--and a unilateral abrogation of the agreements that terminated it--now pursued with even greater determination and brutality, with even less regard for civilian casualties, and with a more sophisticated military and public relations strategy.

Not only is there a massive chasm between the professed aims of the campaign and its actual conduct; there appears to be a major disconnect between the real problems of the region and the Russian Government's response. Indeed, the attempt at military subjugation and occupation of Chechnya by Russian forces is likely to exacerbate rather than solve the deeper problems of the Northern Caucasus.

This analysis focuses on three broad issues: (a) the challenge facing Moscow in Chechnya more broadly, and in particular why the opportunity for a political solution of the conflict afforded by the Khasaviurt and other peace agreements was squandered; (b) the assumptions that appear to underlie the actions of the Russian Government and why some of these assumptions appear to be questionable; and (c) the prospects for a political resolution of the conflict and for establishing longer-term peace and stability in the region.

Reprinted in Central Asia and the Caucasus, no. 4, August 2000.

Chapter in Chechnya: The International Community and Strategies for Peace and Stability, edited by Lena Jonson and Murad Esenov.