Why has Russia been prepared to execute two military campaigns in Chechnya since the mid1990’s in spite of international condemnation

Chechnya is traditionally one of Russia’s most troubled southern regions and in this respect; the area itself has been likened to Sicily with its “strong traditions of banditry and clannishness. ” (Bowker ; Ross, 2000:145).

It has habitually been a turbulent region and with the collapse of the USSR came a heightened sense of nationalism amongst the Chechens. Chechnya had been forcefully incorporated into the USSR during the nineteenth century and it seems that this would constantly be a region of conflict. On 11th December 1994 Russia launched the first of its military offensives.The Russian Government expected an easy victory but unfortunately for them, it was not to happen. The Chechen rebels were not about to lie down and the result was a second assault upon the province. It is the aim of this coursework to attempt to find the rationale behind Russia’s ongoing struggle with Chechnya and why they chose to pursue their course of action. The first of these offensives proved to be very unpopular with the Russian public and did in fact cause demonstrations across the country. However, when it came to the second military offensive, this proved to be more popular with both the public and Boris Yeltsin’s government.

So why had there been this complete change in attitude? This second attack upon Chechnya had been as a result of an apparent terrorist bombing attack that had taken place in Moscow and this meant that the people saw it as a justified response. The support for the second offensive also helped to heal the wounds inflicted upon Yeltsin by the impeachment proceedings that had been a result of the initial loss but it was not long until he was surrounded in controversy once again. It was a bomb strategically placed in an underpass that sparked the second war, however, no one claimed responsibility for this act.Rumours circulated that it was in fact the Russian Secret Service who had placed the bomb in an attempt to create wide-ranging public support for a military campaign.

These rumours were more potent on the worldwide stage and lead to the political condemnation of Russia’s actions. These attacks in Moscow allowed Yeltsin to attempt another military assault in Chechnya and unlike the previous unsuccessful attempt, he now had the full backing of the people as they saw the new campaign as retaliation against terrorism.The people saw only the deaths of innocent Russians and were now behind any move made by the Russian Army. Yeltsin had managed to turn the negative of the previous campaign into the united struggle of the second – the Russian people had been unified behind a common cause. The 1994 campaign was initially expected to be a short, sharp affair but it became evident as it progressed that the Russian Military were not going to have it all their own way. In 1996, the Russian Army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chechen Rebels.This outcome echoed around the higher echelons of the Russian Army and to a certain extent instilled an ambition for revenge. The Russian Military leaders were not about to sit back and accept the embarrassment of the situation and in 1999; they launched the second strike on Chechnya.

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The military now adopted a different tactic in that they chose the style of recent NATO assaults – that of using air strikes to minimize the loss of troops and maximizing the damage on the ground.In a way, the Russian government had chosen a more politically acceptable form of attack for this second war in Chechnya but the fact remained that in general; this war was not popular worldwide. The second war has been described as “a complete disregard for human rights by the nation’s own army” (McFaul ; Zlobin, 14-21/11/2001). Russia was not being seen by the rest of the world as struggling against terrorism as its own people believed it was. The rest of the world saw Russia’s campaign in as an attack upon a lesser nation by a much stronger military power.So why, therefore, did the government choose to persist in this course of action? The definitive answer is not clear but one underlying suggestion is that Russia did not want to see the independence of Chechnya but more importantly, they wanted to undo the embarrassment that had been caused by the previous defeat.

When looking at this situation, we must consider why Russia was not willing to give Chechnya its independence. We must examine why Russia views Chechnya as such an important commodity and what Russia gains from its control of the region. Oil, gas and important rail infrastructure crossed the republic. ” (Bowker ; Ross, 2000:97).Chechnya has a wealth of resources, both natural and man-made. It is important for Russia to maintain its foothold in this region and therefore maintaining some sort of control over the exploitation of these assets. This creates the economic argument that Russia was not fighting to regain a military prowess but in fact fighting to maintain some lucrative assets.

This argument is probably more relevant at the moment with the terrorist attacks upon the US on 11th September 2001.These terrorist attacks have highlighted the fact that the US receives most of its oil from the Middle East and therefore, now it will be looking for other sources of fuel so that their dependency on this particular area is lessened. This is an ideal opportunity for Russia to gain an economic advantage. There have however been links made between the Chechens Rebels that oppose Russia and the terrorists that were responsible for the attacks on the US.

To a certain extent, this has brought Russia and the US closer together and has given Vladimir Putin a justification of his ongoing war on the Chechens. (Kempe, 7/11/2001).If Russia can maintain their hold on Chechnya then they can offer the US an alternative to the Middle East as a fuel source.

Obviously, this will not just benefit Russia economically but also politically in terms of its relationship with the West and possibly even NATO. However, it is not right to suggest that this economic factor was the only reason for the two military campaigns in Chechnya. It is fair to say that both of the military campaigns have provoked worldwide disapproval. This opposition is not only political but goes all the way from the everyday man on the street up to organisations such as the Red Cross.As has already been mentioned, opposition was felt due to the lack of human rights observed by the Russian Army, but was not only charitable organisations that placed pressure on the Russian government but also more importantly, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE is Russia’s preferred organisation to NATO but during the Istanbul summit in 1999, the other members made it apparent to Russia that their actions in Chechnya would no longer be tolerated.

As a whole, the actions of Russia have been thought of as unacceptable internationally.The OSCE suggested that it would not endure actions of human rights violations by its members. Obviously, since that occasion the actions of Russia in Chechnya have taken on a new identity due to the aforementioned Al’ Queida terrorist attacks but the sentiments remain the same. Chechnya was not seen as having any major economic prowess however, it was important to ensure that they were not successful in their struggle for independence as it could potentially cause other more prosperous regions to follow suit.As was mentioned earlier, Chechnya has been likened to Sicily and it is this similarity that allows us to explain how such a region can sustain a prolonged military campaign.

Chechnya has a history of mafia and it is by this method of a criminal underworld that they have managed to find funding for their Rebels. The implications of this are that there is a high degree of lawlessness in the region meaning that any political or economic sanctions that were used were ultimately ineffective. This leads to important ramifications in terms of sustainability.If Chechnya is able to sustain itself during such resource exhaustive periods then there is nothing to say that it would not be possible during times of peace. If other regions realize this then Russia could be faced with the problem of all regions wanting autonomy.

There is an argument to suggest that Russia is fighting in Chechnya to maintain the integrity of the Federation and therefore, giving Russia its best chance at economic and political prosperity. There have been suggestions that it was in fact political elections that forced the cease-fire in 1996 of the first campaign.At the time, not only the worldwide audience but also the Russian people viewed the Chechen assault negatively and it could be said that Yeltsin did not want to have his Presidential-election campaign marred by the unpopularity of the conflict.

It was actually the second Chechen war that helped solidify the seat of Vladimir Putin. By the time Putin became President attitudes to Chechnya had changed however more recently, the Russian public had become increasingly tired of the war, “A year ago 24 per cent of Russians named policy towards Chechnya as one of the things they admired most about Mr. Putin.Early this year, that figure had fallen to 7 per cent. ” (Cottrell ; Peel, 5/10/2001).

It is hard to believe to that Yeltsin ended the initial campaign in Chechnya to save his political career but when you consider the public response and the political resistance he faced, the argument becomes credible. It is a fair argument to say that a President does not want to see the end of his career as a result of sending his army into battle. His eventual aim was to leave a position for Putin where he could take Russia through this transition period and into one of prosperity and a closer relationship with the West.The second Chechen war allowed Putin to take control early in his political reign and therefore inspire confidence in his political and public supporters. In conclusion, Russia has faced and still faces disapproval of its two campaign in Chechnya, both on a domestic level as well as on an international level.

The fact that Chechnya chose not to sign the Federal Treaty and attempted to declare its independence in 1991 can be said to be a major motivation for the actions Russian government.It is clear that Russia sees Chechnya as a valuable asset to the Federation or they would not have chosen to fight for its control. The initial campaign in Chechnya was not popular from any angle and there are arguments to suggest that the cease-fire of 1996 was as a result of the forthcoming Presidential elections. The second of the assaults though was seen in a different light and as a retaliation to a supposed terrorist act in Moscow. Whether is was actually the Chechen Rebels is not clear but it certainly unified the nation against one common enemy.There are suggestions that the second conflict was in a sense a payback-motivated action on the part of the Russian Military and there are also implications that it was in fact to help the early Presidential career of Vladimir Putin.

Whether these suggestions are true or not remains questionable, however, what is relevant, is the fact that there have been two military campaigns against Chechnya. It highlights the fact that Russia sees Chechnya as more than just a state trying to gain independence but also as a source of economic and political asset to use in discussions with the West.