Speech by Ivar Amundsen, Director Chechnya Peace Forum, London
Finnish-Russian Civic Forum Conference
Helsinki 4th July 2007
As a director of the Chechnya Peace Forum in London, human rights and the rule of law in Chechnya and the Caucasus are close to my heart. However, on this occasion I shall concentrate on the underlying situation in Russia, because it is important to understand what role the suppression of Chechnya plays in the Russian political power play and the Kremlin’s real ambitions.
Before the G8 meeting in Germany last month president Putin invited prominent journalists to a private dinner to air his views on international matters.
Asked by The Times in London whether he considered himself to be a true democrat, the president gave the following answer:
“Of course, I am a pure and absolute democrat. But you know what the problem is – not a problem, but a real tragedy – I am alone. There are no other such pure democrats in the world. Since Mahatma Gandhi there has been no other.”
Mahatma Gandhi! – I am a little surprised he did not make a comparison to Jesus Christ, because since him, – for the last two thousand years, there has not been a truly kindhearted person around until – Vladimir Putin.
When viewing the Russian wars on Chechnya it is important to try to understand what purpose they serve, and how they are linked to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the current power base in the Russian Federation.
In 1991 the greatest geopolitical miracle in history happened:
The Soviet Union was dissolved. It happened as a result of a multitude of circumstances that each was essential to the end result. After Brezhnev’s death in 1982, Andropov and Chernenko assumed power. They both died after about a year of office – probably with some help! That paved way for Gorbatchow, Perestroika and Glasnost, and subsequently Boris Jeltsin.
In April of 1990 three remarkable resolutions were adopted in the Supreme Soviet. They did not only allow – but actually urged the Soviet republics to hold referendums, elections, adopt constitutions and declare independence. By the end of 1991 fifteen states had done this, and they were internationally recognized. The exception was Chechnya.
The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has later termed the dissolution of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe in history” – so he and I have a difference of opinion!
In 1994 Russia went to war on Chechnya – “to establish constitutional order.” After two years of Jeltsin rule, the country was sinking into chaos and poverty. The president’s support had slipped to a minimum, and he needed a “quick victorious war” to re-establish authority and power. As we all know, the Russians eventually lost the campaign and had to pull out two years later. However, 100.000 innocent people had died and the country had been bombed to gravel. At the time Russia went to war on Chechen separatism. Only after 9/11 2001 was it redefined as “war on international terrorism.” This, of course it never was. It was – and is – Russian state terrorism against the Chechen civil population and have carried characteristics of genocide.
In 1999 Jeltsin’s second term of presidency drew to an end, and both he, and the nation was marked by a significant hangover; he from vodka, the nation from more economic chaos. The Russian secret police – FSB – was determined to regain control and rebuild an authoritarian and strong regime. To find a loyal and dependable person who could execute powers, they went, as so many times before in Russian history, to the top of KGB – Vladimir Vladimovitch Putin.
Prime minister Primakov was sacked in May, he was too strong. In early August Stapashin was sacked, allegedly because he was too weak. The truth, however, is that he strongly opposed the next Russian war on Chechnya, which was already in the planning. It is interesting to note that the new war was being carefully prepared in the Kremlin and Lubyianka months before the provocations that were to serve as a justification for it!
Putin was served to president Jeltsin on a silver platter by the power elite. The upside for the president was that he would be given amnesty for all the corruption he had been involved in during the privatization of state enterprises. Jeltsin had no choice, even if he probably had a preference for Alexander Lebed as his successor.
When Jeltsin announced his appointment of Putin as his new prime minister, he made two statements. First: “This is also the man who will succeed me as president.” To this, – the Russian people laughed their heads off. This little grey mouse, totally unknown to the public, had no chance in hell to become sufficiently well known to be elected president eight months later.
Also he said:”Putin will find the final solution to the Chechen problem.” To this, the new prime minister replied: “Yes, Mr. President, – and we will chase the last one, even if we have to pull him out of the shithouse.”
Some political statement!
In September there were five bomb explosions in Moscow and other Russian cities that killed altogether 294 innocent Russian civilians in their blocks of flats at night time. Terror, fright, confusion and hate were stirred up. There was a state of emergency in the country!
Prime Minister Putin put the blame on Chechen separatists, he went to war on the republic and its people, became well known and popular for his resolve. Jeltsin resigned on New Year’s Eve and Putin became acting president. He brought the presidential election forward from June to March of 2000, and won it – alas, with the help of some considerable election rigging! FSB had their man in place!
Later it has been evidenced that the FSB themselves planned and executed these crimes as part of the plan to bring Putin to power. I recommend you the book by Litvineko/Feltshisnky, two documentary films, of which Andrej Nekrasov has made one, David Satter, John Dunlop, footage from NTV at the time, etc. The evidence is overwhelming, particularly from the circumstances around the bomb in Ryazan that was found before exploding. These heinous acts with their evil purposes were conceived in Lubyianka, the FSB headquarters back in April of 1999. Their top man at the time was Vladimir Vladirmirovich Putin – now, more recently known as the new: “Mahatma Gandhi!”
Here I want to draw a conclusion: In the FSB political power game human lives have little value – they are merely instruments that can be manipulated or killed for whatever political purpose. So, if 294 innocent own citizens need to die to create a situation for power – then the extreme cynicism takes priority for it. Also, the subsequent slaughter of one or two hundred thousand people in Chechnya becomes a vehicle of such a political crusade for power.
The power elite in Russia do not want freedom, civil liberties, human rights and democracy for their people – they want CONTROL for themselves. This means they must exercise an authoritarian regime. In order to obtain public acceptance for this, they also need a perpetual situation of emergency in the country to justify the absence of freedom.
Enemies, terrorism, fear and a war within its own national borders is such an emergency. That allows the regime to forbid NGO’s, apply extremist laws that can eliminate critics, exercise press censorship, eliminate political opposition and kill political dissidents. All this is orchestrated in a cleverly symbiotic building of a nationalism that is strongly related to fascism. This emergence of elements of extreme nationalism in itself represents a certain destabilization of civil society – and therefore contributes to a stronger, more authoritarian rule. The Russian are completely manipulated by their leaders – who do not serve their people – but themselves and their own continuation of power.
Many people ask why Russia takes the international burden and the heavy bill of the Chechen wars. Is it for geographic or economic purposes? Is it to prevent a domino effect and a breaking up of Russia? Probably not. A prominent Russian human rights activist gave me an answer: CONTROL – POWER. The war in Chechnya brought Putin to power, and somehow it keeps him in power. Putin without a war in Chechnya and a state of emergency around him is very fragile, very vulnerable. Also, Putin on his own has limited powers, his political strength only survives as long as he remains syncron with the real elite in the Kremlin and Lubyianka.
Peace in Chechnya would stabilize the Caucasus and shift priorities on the political agenda. Demands for civil liberties and democratic institutions would grow, which in its turn would topple the FSB controlled regime, including Putin himself and the corrupt power base that surrounds him. Putin has in fact become his own prisoner over Chechnya. One of the greatest Russia experts, Anders Aaslund of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington said a few months ago that the “Putin regime is a gangster regime, and Putin heads for eternal political life. Whatever he now may say, he will aim at continued presidency.”
I also ask you to consider two significant ongoing developments. First, the increased Russian military rethoric against the West, which we must consider as a possible attempt to building a new cold war. Second, the preparation for longer terms of presidency in Russia, from the current four years to either five or even seven years of office.
Unlike the situation in the US, a president of Russia can in fact be re-elected back to office after two presidential terms – if only there is an interval. So, if Putin should have the intention to crown himself as something like president for life, he simply has to put in a puppet president for a while. If that puppet should resign, die or no longer be able to perform – there will have to be a new presidential election.
Vladimir Putin now enjoys the popularity franchise to obtain acceptance and success for such a venture. So, guess who would win that election! Russia could in this case with small manipulations move to have a constitution that is built around a president for life, much the same as in North Korea. It would in actual fact kill off the last resemblance of Russia as a democracy. Russia is by far the greatest producer, owner and exporter of weapons of mass destruction in the world. Therefore, if Russia resorts to institutionalizing the abandonment of democracy, this represents a very considerable danger for international conflict.
As a director of Chechnya Peace Forum in London I have on this occasion spent little time on Chechnya and North Caucasus – and much time on Russia, where the underlying problems prevail. I hope my colleagues in the panel will balance it.
Chechnya Peace Forum will highlight three targets:
One: A free and fair election in Chechnya, monitored by international inspectors. There has not been a legal and orderly election in Chechnya since Aslan Maskadov was elected in 1997. Four consecutive resistance presidents have been murdered by the Russians, – also this to the total silence of the international community. The country is occupied by Russian forces and Ramzan Kadyrov has never been elected to anything. He has bee appointed president of Chechnya by the president of Russia. Tension must be taken out of the conflict. There will only be peace if the Chechens themselves can elect their own political administration.
Second: To mobilize an international alert to prevent the re-election of president Putin, with, or without constitutional changes. It must not be tolerated by our international community.
And finally: The conflict in Chechnya has no military solution, only a political one. Chechnya Peace Forum therefore actively supports the Chechen resistance movement’s foreign minister Mr. Akhmed Zakaev in his endevours for peace talks for establishing rule of law and democracy in Chechnya with peaceful relations to all its neighbour. The Chechens deserve it, – so do the Russians. And the world would become less dangerous.
We will highlight these issues at a conference in London later this year.