Russia’s Chechen war—storm clouds over the Caucusus

The new war in Chechnya is a further evidence of a shift of power in Russia in the direction of the military. The generals are now clearly in the saddle. Not only are they deciding the war agenda in Chechnya, but they are doing so without regard to the opinions of the Kremlin clique. Boris Yeltsin is now an irrelevance. But the army caste will not pay any attention to the rest of the so-called government of Russia which they regard as the source of all their troubles. Once having got a taste of political power, they will be all the more inclined to go one step further.

The last time Russia tried to launch a "small victorious war" against Chechnya in the mid-1990s, it ended disastrously. It dragged on for two years, was a huge financial drain, caused at least 80,000 dead, and ended in a humiliating defeat. Since 1996 Chechnya won a temporary and unstable de facto "independence". But this situation could not last. On its own, landlocked Chechnya could hardly be viable, even without the external pressure from Russia. Moreover, the reactionary nature of Chechen nationalism played a fatal role. Freed from Russian control, Chechnya immediately fell into the hands of a monstrous clique of gangsters and warlords, closely linked to the Russian Mafia capitalists, and engaged in all kinds of shady business: drug running, money laundering and kidnapping.

As Fred Weir points out: "Though Chechnya defeated the Russian army in the last war, it failed to build on its de facto independence. Its elected president Alslan Mashadov proved incapable of establishing a viable government or doing anything about the tiny country’s economic ruination. Local warlords, based in Chechnya’s fractious clans, made their living by kidnapping and stealing oil from Russia’s Caspian-Black Sea pipeline." (Morning star, 17/11/99)

In August and September, one of the main warlords Shamil Basayev, tried to play the Islamic card and intervened in the neighbouring state of Dagestan, attempting to link up with local Islamic fundamentalists. But here the secessionists seriously miscalculated. To begin with, most of the people of Dagestan, as in Chechnya itself, are not Islamic fanatics, but inclined to secularism. More importantly, the threat to establish Islamic fundamentalist regimes on its southern borders was too much for Moscow to swallow. The invasion was beaten off, though with heavy losses, by Russian troops and Dagestani militias. These events, about which the Western media have remained silent, made a Russian offensive against Chechnya inevitable.

Now the Chechens stand to lose the de facto independence they had won. Russia cannot accept the total loss of the Caucusus, which would mean the entry of American imperialism into its strategically important Southern flank. There is also the little matter of the enormous oil and mineral reserves to consider. it is clear that the Russian army is prepared to carry matters to the end in order to "pacify" Chechnya—even if that means laying waste the whole country.

The offensive in Chechnya was preceded by a series of bomb explosions in Moscow and other Russian cities. This caused widespread panic in the population and was immediately blamed on Chechen terrorists. However, to this day no clear evidence has been produced to confirm these accusations. No Chechen group has ever claimed responsibility. The nature of the targets is also very strange. In the past, Islamic terrorism has been directed against targets such as American embassies. But this time the targets were residential flats, mostly in poor areas. The bombings produced results that were useful to the Russian government and the general staff, but not to Chechnya. The mood of anti-Chechen hysteria whipped up by the mass media served to prepare the masses psychologically for the new offensive. In all likelihood it was a provocation organised by a section of the ruling clique. The deaths of ordinary working class Russians would be a matter of small consequence to these elements. As a result, the war has been generally popular in Russia and Putin’s support in the opinion polls has increased to the point that he is being spoken of as a possible candidate for the presidency.

The war has proceeded with spectacular brutality. It is being carried out with the traditional unconcern for human life that has always characterised the Russian general staff. They have never treated the peoples of the Caucuses very gently, as the bloody history of the tsarist conquest of the region shows. In their efforts to destroy the enemy forces, while avoiding Russian casualties, they have launched a ferocious bombardment which has hit civilian targets. Around 200,000 Chechens have fled to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. Jim Ron, a member of the Human Rights Watch team, has concluded on the basis of interviews with Chechen refugees: "My sense is that Russian forces are trying to hit Chechen military targets, but they are not being discriminate about where they aim. They don’t seem very concerned that they are hitting so many civilians."

But the anti-Russian propaganda in the West reeks of hypocrisy. They are no more concerned with the fate of the Chechens than they were with the Kurds or the Kosovar Albanians. To the degree that the present conflict is part of a wider struggle for control of the Caucuses, the West is also an interested party and largely responsible for the wars that plague the region. Its aims have nothing to do with morality or humanitarianism, but consist of a cold, calculating manoeuvre to undermine Russia’s influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia in order to get possession of the oil and mineral wealth of that region.

The West looks on in pretended horror as the Russian army proceeds to reduce the towns and villages of Chechnya to rubble—conveniently forgetting that they did exactly the same in Yugoslavia. But whereas the Americans lost no time in issuing threats and ultimatums to Belgrade over Kososvo in order to justify their aggression against Yugoslavia, this time they are extremely reticent. After all the hue and cry over Kosovo, the Americans and British have fallen strangely silent over Chechnya. That is because of the shameful way they bombed Yugoslavia. How can they complain now about the Russian bombing of Grozny? That Christian moralist Tony Blair has limited the extent of his moral outrage to two letters to Moscow, which no doubt will have the Russian generals trembling in their boots!

The Russian generals will only answer—with every justification—that they have only followed the example of NATO in Yugoslavia. True, some politicians in Moscow are getting concerned about Western calls for negotiations with the Chechens. After all, this will cause difficulties with the IMF! But in fact the response from the West has been muted. After Yugoslavia, what can they say? More to the point, since Russia is not Yugoslavia, what can they do? In any case, the opinions of western governments is not uppermost in the minds of the Russian military at this moment in time! The reason for Western reticence is obvious. NATO dares not issue a direct military challenge to Russia. This, indeed, was one of the main motives of the Russian army—to show the world that they are still "masters in their own house", and no longer prepared to be humiliated before the entire world. The Chechen war is intended as a display of Russian military power, to show the world—not just the Caucuses—that Russia is not to be trifled with.

 

The military and the Kremlin

The last time they were at war with the Chechens, Russia was pressurised by the West to give up its invasion of Chechnya. But times have changed. While the Kremlin clique, with an eye to new credits from the IMF, is open to pressure from the West, it is not likely that the military will capitulate to this pressure. On the contrary. The generals are determined that the humiliating defeat will not be repeated. They are publicly demanding that they be allowed to run the war with their own methods and complain bitterly at any attempted interference by civilians. This is a new departure and has very serious implications for the future.

Increasingly, the line of the military clashes with that of the government. On November 11 Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev told the Interfax news agency that the Russian offensive in Chechnya might be over by the end of the year. Later, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters that the Russian government was eager to end the conflict quickly and "start the process for a political settlement." These statements are contradicted by the statement made by general Viktor Kazanstev on November 10 that the conflict could continue for as long as three years, unless the full might of the military was unleashed, in which case the war would take one week!

So far, the war has been going well for Russia. Having concentrated enormous forces in the region, they have imitated the tactics used by NATO in Kosovo, using heavy artillery, rocket and air bombardments to subdue the enemy, while avoiding costly fighting on the ground. They have showed themselves prepared to use the most brutal methods, razing villages and even towns. They appear to have surrounded Grozny, the capital, as well as other towns. From the standpoint of the military, therefore, there is no point in calling a halt or accept Alexander Lebed’s offer to come and negotiate a peace, like last time. Having made a mess of his governorship in Siberia, Lebed wants to enhance his reputation as a peacemaker. But this kind offer has been met by loud guffaws in the headquarters of the Russian general staff. Any suggestion of peace initiatives at this stage will only infuriate them. The Russian commander in Chechnya, General Vladimir Shamnaov, has publicly stated that he and his colleagues would resign rather than obey an order to stop fighting. If a cease-fire were called, "some believe the country would be driven to the brink of civil war," he warned ominously.

With astounding insolence, Western governments are increasingly pressing for negotiations between Moscow and Grozny. For his part the Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is desperate to negotiate—for obvious reasons. It is possible that negotiations may begin. But this will not mean an end to the war, but quite the opposite. It is a very old trick to call for negotiations when one wants to gain time or a respite to strengthen its position and prepare for a new attack. The only settlement that interests Russia's military is the reincorporation of Chechnya into the Russian Federation. Even Grigory Yavlinsky, the most outspoken critic of the war, has demanded that the rebels lay down their weapons before any peace talks begin. As the rebels are unlikely to do this, there is little chance of any kind of negotiated settlement. The purpose of offering to negotiate under such circumstances is merely to put the blame for breakdown on the other side before relaunching a new offensive.

With the approach of Winter the Russian Army faces certain difficulties. It wants to get a quick victory, before conditions deteriorate further, even if this means levelling the capital, Grozny. The Russian army is not well prepared for a Winter campaign which would cause problems for its planes and reduce advantages it derives from its domination of the skies. On the other hand, the Chechens, who have so far been heavily defeated and pushed back, may regroup and resort to guerrilla tactics, leading to significant Russian losses. This, in turn, would produce a loss of support for the war in Russia. Stratfor reports: "The Russian military has Grozny in a state of siege, subject to air, rocket and artillery attacks. Novye Investia reports as many as 100,000 Russian troops are deployed in the breakaway republic, many occupying the Terek range above Grozny, and surrounding Chechnya's second largest city, Gudermes.

"Some of this military advantage will disappear with the onset of winter. Some of Russia’s front-line aircraft—such as the Su-25 and Su-24 warplanes, and the MI-25 attack helicopters—are not well-suited for winter sorties. In addition, a long, cold winter siege is both expensive for the army and hard on personnel. These concerns argue for pushing the military campaign forward, and soon." (STRATFOR.COM Global Intelligence Update November 12, 1999)

For all these reasons, the officer caste is determined to press on and attempt to end the war as soon as possible. They will simply use the ploy of negotiations as cover for an intensified offensive. They will aim to seize the main towns, not just Grozny but Gudermes and Bamut as well. Gudermes, the second-largest city in Chechnya, is surrounded and troops are reportedly set to occupy the city. Tanks are now within range of Grozny, according to the military. And 200 tanks are reported in the area of Bamut.

 

Crisis of the regime

The war in Chechnya is a turning-point for the Russian military. They have decided to go their own way, regardless of what Yeltsin and his clique think or say. But, having got a taste of political power, the officer caste will soon get used to it. Eventually, they will ask themselves why they need the civilian politicians—that corrupt pack of thieves and traitors—at all. The perspective of a coup grows more likely as the crisis becomes deeper and no party shows a way out of the mess. Here the leaders of the so-called Communist Party have played a fatal role. Having capitulated to capitalism and limited themselves to playing games in parliament and flirting with the military and nationalism, they are preparing the way for a coup.

So far, because of the tactics employed by the Russian army, the war has cost relatively few (Russian) lives. But as time passes the war's popularity will begin to decline. This would especially be the case in the event of a bloody conflict on the ground. Putin’s popularity has sharply increased. The private Public Opinion Foundation reports 29 percent of voters intend to vote for Putin in the presidential election—up from just two percent in September. This compares with about 20 percent each for CPRF leader Zyuganov and ex-Prime minister Primakov. But this is not necessarily an unmixed blessing for the Prime Minister. Boris Yeltsin is notoriously jealous of popular prime ministers, and has a habit of suddenly removing them. After three months in office, it may soon be time to get rid of him! The constant crises and in-fighting at the top is a reflection of the impasse of the regime. This must be resolved one way or the other. If Putin is removed in the middle of the war, it may turn out to be one governmental crisis too much.

The tendency towards Bonapartism is clear. Moscow is buzzing with rumours and the press is full of the type of comments tending to justify dictatorship: "Society is ready to accept an iron hand," says Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at the Carnegie Institute in Moscow. "Democratic needs are on a back-burner," adds Igor Mintusov, chairman of Moscow political consulting agency Niccolo M. Putin, a KGB bureaucrat, is not too much bothered about democracy, in any case. He has already reinstated controls on the media—as if they were not sufficiently controlled already!

A fight to the finish in Chechnya sooner or later will mean extensive ground fighting. This will entail many Russian casualties, which will affect the mood at home. There are certain indications that this process may already be beginning. According to some opinion polls in Russia (although these are often unreliable), only a third of Russians surveyed said that they believed their forces would win the conflict. In another poll, reported by the Guardian on November 11, two-thirds of Russians said that they were concerned or "ashamed" about the conflict.

From a purely military point of view, the outcome of the present war is not in doubt. The Russian steamroller will flatten all opposition. If in the process they also flatten the whole country, they will not be much concerned about it—just as the British and Americans were unconcerned about the flattening of Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Having taken all the main centres, Russian forces will push the remaining rebels into the southern mountains, isolating them in the Winter and then chopping them up piecemeal. As one Russian officer explained:

"We will lay siege to Grozny, Gudermes and other towns and force the bandits to break up and flee into the mountains. There they can starve and freeze to death in the winter."

However, the perspective then opens up of a long guerrilla struggle. The Chehchen fighters will try to use Georgis as a base for their operations. The Georgian government is secretly backing them. This could easily lead to Russian incursions across the Georgian border in hot pursuit of Chechen rebels. Thus, the war will tend to spread, with far-reaching implications for the whole region.

 

Chaos in the Caucasus

The war in Chechnya is part of a broader picture, as Russia starts to reverse its national retreat in the Caucasus in Dagestan and Chechnya. But Russia cannot impose its will on the northern Caucasus without also securing control of the southern Caucasus, where it has come into collision with Georgia and Azerbaijan. In Central Asia also there is a ferocious struggle for the possession of the region’s rich supplies of oil, natural gas and raw materials. Russia is continually coming into conflict with America and Turkey. The Americans have tried to put together a bloc called GUUAM—an acronym for Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Moldova. They also want to get the Ukraine involved. They are trying to attract these countries away from Russia.

The pro-Western GUUAM group started out as an economic alliance, but has since been expanded to include security co-operation. They have even formed a joint force to defend the new Baku-Supsa pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Black Sea coast of Georgia. The declared aim of the Baku-Supsa pipeline and the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline through Georgia to Turkey is to create a route for oil from Central Asian countries outside the control of Russia.

This poses both an economic and strategic threat to the interests of Russia, and Moscow will not tolerate it. The resulting conflict is the underlying cause for the present bloody chaos in the Caucasus. That is why in Central Asia and the Caucuses war has been raging for the last ten years without respite. The Russians, who regard this region as their traditional sphere of influence, are continually coming into conflict with America and Turkey. Moscow has responded to the provocations of US imperialism on its southern flank by reasserting its influence in the region. The new offensive against Chechnya, with its brutal display of force, is part of this strategy. There has been a series of wars, and more are in preparation.

There is the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in which Armenia is supported by Russia, Iran and Greece, while Turkey, quietly encouraged by America, supports Azerbaijan. Turkey is linked up with America and Israel. Having already overreached themselves, the Americans are afraid to get directly involved in this conflict, but they are very interested, particularly in the oil of Azerbaijan and of Turkmenistan. At the centre of this conflict is a struggle over an oil pipeline. The Americans are encouraging Turkey and Turkey has ambitions over a wide area, since many of these peoples both in Central Asia and the Caucasus speak a language similar to Turkish. Azeri, the official language of Azerbaijan, is really a dialect of Turkish, Uzbek is also close, as is the language spoken in Turkmenistan. Turkey is a medium sized imperialist power, which is trying to expand in this area and is coming into conflict with Russia as a result. This is a very serious matter.

Georgia is crucially involved in this struggle for the Caucasus,. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, the former minister of foreign affairs of the USSR and crony of Gorbachov, is an enthusiastic admirer of the West. In an interview with the Financial Times( 25/ 10/ 99), Shevardnadze stated his intention to "knock loudly on NATO's door" within five years. Since this is like a red rag to a bull as far as Moscow is concerned, this was not a particularly intelligent thing to say. One wonders in what school of diplomacy Shevardnadze graduated from! Russia was certain to react violently, and has a few cards of its own to play in the region. Shevardnadze has already escaped several attempts on his life. His luck may not hold for long. Like the CIA, the Russian secret services do not hesitate to resort to murder to remove individuals who get in its way.

Moscow has accused both Georgia and Azerbaijan of helping the Chechen rebels. This is certainly true. Georgia and Azerbaijan have made it clear that they want to join NATO. Apart from providing routes for the movement of people and supplies, Georgia is the only country that accepts the presence (albeit discretly) of a Chechen foreign mission. Thus, at the same time as its campaign in Chechnya, Russia has stepped up its pressure on Georgia. In addition to supporting the Georgian opposition, it is also backing the separatist movements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia which threaten to tear Georgia apart. Until recently Moscow had troops in Georgia Recently they withdrew, but this is only a temporary step. Moscow is preparing to serve up a very peppery dish for Georgia. In its usual caustic way, Stratfor commented:

"Russian border guards, withdrawing from offices in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, left behind a little present - an anti-personnel mine. The Russian gesture is a small example of a much broader concerted campaign by Russia to reassert its influence over Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus region. Russia must reassert control over the southern Caucasus in order to ensure its continued control over the northern Caucasus and continued influence over Central Asian resources. The current Georgian government is an obstacle to Russia's goals - an obstacle Moscow is now committed to removing." (STRATFOR.COM Global Intelligence Update October 29, 1999) This appraisal is not far from the truth.

Moscow still has several cards up its sleeve. It is threatening military intervention on Georgia's border with Chechnya. it is backing the major Georgian opposition party. And it is giving aid to the three separatist regions: Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ajaria. Shevardnadze has alleged—doubtless correctly— that Russia is financing the opposition Union of Georgia's Democratic Revival, which is headed by the pro-Russian Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze. Abkhazian leader Vladislav Ardzinba stated his intention to ally with Russia against Georgia and its NATO aspirations.

In late September, Russia abrogated a bilateral agreement and opened its border with the breakaway region of Abkhazia, providing economic and military opportunities. After temporarily resealing the border in October, Russia reopened it Oct. 26. Furthermore, withdrawing Russian frontier guards allowed their material—which should have gone to the Georgian frontier guards—to fall into the hands of the Abkhazian rebels. For its part, South Ossetia has also come down on Russia’s side. Its President ,Lyudvig Chibirov, told Georgia's Prime-News on Oct. 25 that his government fully supported the Russian campaign against "terrorists" in Chechnya. Another secessionist region, Ajaria, has been withholding taxes from the Georgian government and refusing to allow representatives of the ruling party into the region. Russian border guards also reportedly left behind artillery in the region that has since been taken over by that region's government.

Russia has already warned Georgia to cease its support for the separatist Chechen government and its armed forces. Moscow has accused Georgia of providing safe haven and free transit for Chechens in the past. It also alleges that Chechen guerrillas have joined the refugees fleeing into Georgia and are now regrouping in Georgian territory. In an Oct. 26 interview with Moskovsky Komsomolets, Lt. Gen. Gennady Troshev, leader of the Russian army in Chechnya, warned that, if Georgia does not seal off its 80-km border with Chechnya, Russia would "slam shut" the border. Russian aircraft have already "accidentally" bombed a Georgian village en-route to targets in Dagestan ("the Omalo incident").

Meanwhile, Russia is using every means at its disposal to tighten its grip on the Caucusus. Armenia is Russia's main ally in the southern Caucasus. On October 27 a group of gunmen entered the parliament in Yerevan and murdered the prime minister and several other members of parliament. faced with political destabilization, Armenia immediately appealed to Russia for help. This was predictable, as was Russia’s response. Only one day after the killings, the Russian Federal Security Service's elite Alpha commando unit was sent to Yerevan. The pro-Russian Armenian military has issued a public warning to the government that it will not stand with its arms folded while the country's security is threatened.

It is not clear who was behind the assassinations. But it is very clear who has gained from them. The net result is that Armenia is more firmly bound to Moscow than ever by the assassinations crisis, which has further intensified the pressure on Georgia. In response to events in Chechnya and Armenia, Georgia's State Border Guard Department announced Oct. 28 that it had doubled the number of troops and mobilised all officers along the Armenian border. But closing off the Armenian border will not keep Russian influence out of Georgia. And after Georgia comes oil-rich Azerbaijan. In short, Russia has launched a full-blown campaign to reassert control over the southern Caucasus, and NATO cannot lift a finger to stop it.

 

The effects on Russia

The Kosovo conflict had a big effect in Russia and the repercussions of it are still being felt, especially in the Russian army. The Russian generals were badly shaken by this war against their traditional ally. The Russian military watched with horror as the Yugoslav air defences were being smashed by advanced technological weapons. Ten years of privatisation and "market economics" have not only bankrupted Russia. They have led to a serious deterioration of the army’s fighting capacity. The military have not received proper investment for ten years. This means they are probably ten years behind America now. And it is clear that they are seething with discontent.

Moscow is in the grip of a constant crisis. This is now affecting the most sensitive centres of power, including the army, which is rapidly becoming alienated from the ruling clique that has bankrupted and humiliated Russia. This was shown at the end of the Kosovo war when Russian troops unexpectedly entered Pristina before the Americans. It is clear that this was not planned by the Kremlin, but was the work of Russian generals who had decided that enough is enough, that NATO has been permitted to get away with too much, and that the time had come to teach NATO and the Americans a lesson. Whoever gave the order to the Russian forces in Bosnia to enter Pristina, it was certainly no joke. They were stopped in time with some horse trading and some discussions and some conferences, but at the time the risk of conflict was serious enough. Certainly the West took it very seriously, as shown by their panic reaction to the news that the Russian troops had seized Pristina airport. It indicated that the Russian generals have had enough.

The ferment in the armed forces is only a symptom of a wider discontent. Years of so-called market reform in Russia have bankrupted the country, to the point where Moscow relies on money from the West to stave off a complete collapse. A year before the Kosovo war the West would not give them any money, but now they are afraid of a collapse in Russia. They are afraid that the whole of the reform program will go into reverse; that the military can take over with the Communists and Nationalists, recentralising the economy and possibly reverting to a nationalised planned economy. The West knows that the situation in Russia is very unstable.

Although Russia has achieved a partial stabilisation after the collapse of August 1998, it is clear that the situation in Russia cannot be maintained. The August economic collapse was a mortal blow against the market reformers, and the war in Kosovo was a further nail in their coffin. Moscow is in the grip of a constant crisis. This is now affecting the most sensitive centres of power, including the army, which is rapidly becoming alienated from the pro-western clique that has bankrupted and humiliated Russia. At a certain point there will be a further economic collapse, which will have the most profound effects. Already there is a massive reaction against the market, against "reform", against capitalism, against the West and against America. The Kosovo crisis acted as a catalyst which brought all these tendencies to the surface. Now the Chechen war has carried matters one stage further.

No matter what happens, a new conflict between America and Russia is inevitable. Both sides are preparing. In Moscow, the general staff, has drawn the conclusion: "Yesterday it was Yugoslavia, tomorrow it will be us! Therefore we must prepare, we must rearm." And they will rearm. That has serious implications for the future of market economics in Russia, because on the present basis a serious programme of rearmament and national recovery is impossible. The situation in Russia is very unstable. Serious commentators in the West are under no illusions about the perspectives. They are afraid that the whole of the reform programme will go into reverse. In fact the only way to begin to solve the crisis would be through the restoration of a nationalised planned economy. Such a perspective is not certain, but a world slump would give a powerful impulse to the tendency towards re-statisation of the economy, not only in Russia, but in China and parts of Eastern Europe as well. Under such conditions, the movement in the direction of reconstituting the Soviet Union would probably be irresistible because of the loss of markets in the West.

Given the degree of collapse, it is astonishing how the nascent bourgeoisie has managed to hold the line for so long in Russia. The only thing that is propping them up is the behaviour of Zyuganov and the leaders of the Communist Party which permitted them to achieve a temporary and very fragile stabilisation. The war in Chechnya was clearly provoked by the Kremlin as a diversion. This can have a temporary effect but will eventually turn into its opposite. At a certain point there will be a further collapse even without the slump in the West, which will have the most profound effects. The Russian working class will inevitably enter onto the road of struggle again. They will rediscover in action the revolutionary traditions of 1917 and 1905. What is needed to guarantee success is a genuine Bolshevik party standing on the programme of Lenin and Trotsky.

 

For a Leninist policy!

The devastating bombing campaign in Chechnya has caused terrible suffering among the civilian population. A large part of the population has fled the country and sought refuge in the neighbouring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia. This will not solve anything, but can be a spawning ground for terrorism in the future. The indiscriminate use of brute force by Moscow will sow the seeds of bitterness and hatred which can last for a generation. This is not in the interests of either Chechens or Russians. Although Moscow can take Grozny and occupy the country, it can be faced with years of terrorism and guerrilla activity costing countless lives and further embittering relations between the peoples. But the ruling clique in Moscow, true heirs of the old Stalinist school, do not care about the sufferings of millions, as long as their power and privileges remain intact. They will answer terrorism with more repression and violence, irrespective of the cost in human lives and suffering.

All this is a very long way removed from the internationalist policy of Bolshevism. Lenin was always the enemy of Great Russian chauvinism. He stood for the maintenance of fraternal relations between all the peoples of the former tsarist empire, and especially the sacred unity of the working class of every nationality. Precisely for this reason he stood for the right of nations to self-determination. He stressed a hundred times that it was the duty of Russians to uphold the rights of small oppressed nations. Only in this way could relations based upon genuine fraternity and equality be created, overcoming the fear and suspicion of the past. He particularly stressed the need to treat the peoples of the Caucusus with sensitivity. It was on this question that he broke with Stalin and his clique in 1922. Lenin was profoundly shocked by reports that Ordjonikidze and Stalin had used violence against Georgians. What would he say about the present conduct of Moscow in Chechnya?

The Stalinist regime that emerged from a Bureaucratic reaction against October trampled underfoot the national feelings and aspirations of the peoples of the Caucusus and other parts of the USSR. During the Second World War, Stalin ordered the wholesale deportation of the Chechens and other peoples of the Caucasus to Siberia. A large number died in the process of carrying out this monstrous and inhuman policy. The Stalinist Bureaucracy, that true inheritor of the rotten traditions of tsarist Great Russian chauvinism, was directly responsible for destroying the Leninist policy of internationalism and thereby undermining the bond between the peoples of the Soviet Union. This was the poisonous soil upon which bourgeois nationalism and Islamic reaction could flourish. The price is now being paid by Russians and Chechens alike.

Only a return to a genuine Leninist policy can offer a way out of the present bloody impasse. If the CPRF stood for such a policy, the problem would be solved. But Zyuganov and the other leaders of the CPRF have nothing in common with Marxism-Leninism. The Duma clique is only interested in preserving their comfortable positions. In effect, they have accepted the present position, while occasionally playing hypocritical lip service to socialism.

It goes without saying that Marxists condemn the bullying of small nations in the Caucusus and defend the right of self determination of the Chechens and all the other peoples of the region. But this does not exhaust the matter. Lenin was for the defence of the right of self-determination, but he was also implacably opposed to bourgeois nationalism and separatism. We are opposed to the attempt to compel the Chechens to accept rule from Moscow by the use of naked force. But that does not mean we support the madness of the separatists or Islamic reaction. In fact, the actions of the nationalists, which have brought nothing but ruin to Chechnya, have lost them the support of the people.

As Renfrey Clark points out: "There is little reason to doubt that three years of independence have left the Chechen population bitterly disappointed. Dudayev promised that Chechnya would be prosperous, democratic, secular and socialist. By 1999 the Chechens had received poverty, chaos and the uncontrolled rule of corrupt warlords, along with religious extremism, to which Maskhadov has made repeated concessions." On a capitalist basis, so-called independence has turned out to be a cruel trap for the Chechens.

The only real solution to the problems of the Chechen people would be the fullest autonomy within a Socialist Federation of the Caucasus in a voluntary union with a socialist Russia. Separation on a capitalist basis would represent no solution. There cannot be a vacuum in the Caucasus. If Russia withdraws, the whole region would immediately fall under the control of US imperialism, together with its Turkish and British stooges. The plunder and exploitation would continue. Nothing would be solved. The experience of Chechnya over the past decade has shown that along that road there is no way out for the Chechen people—only a never-ending nightmare of wars, slaughter, impoverishment and suffering.

At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, we predicted that Russia would inevitably move to re-take all its lost territories and spheres of influence. Events have shown this to be correct. We predicted that Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine would rejoin. That process is already under way. Market reform has virtually collapsed in the Ukraine. The flirtation with capitalism there has been even more disastrous than in Russia. The Economist recently had this to say about it: "Corruption is rampant, investment is nearly non-existent, public services are abysmal." There is a big movement in the Ukraine to link up with Russia. In fact, most Russians do not think of the Ukraine as an independent country. A foreign policy adviser to Yeltsin once referred to the Ukraine as "a temporary entity". That adequately expresses the attitude of Moscow to the Ukraine. In Belarus, one cannot maintain that capitalism was ever established, and there has never been much of a change in the last ten years. There is a movement to link up with Russia again.

The collapse of the USSR has proved to be a disaster for all the peoples. There were and are sound economic reasons for maintaining the union. But on the basis of a totalitarian bureaucratic regime, this became synonymous with oppression from Moscow. Now any attempt to forcibly re-unite the old republics of the USSR on the basis of gangster capitalism in Russia would be an even greater disaster. It is a crime to support the actions of the reactionary ruling clique in Moscow allegedly on the grounds of Russia’s national interests. The political representatives of Russian Mafia capitalism can never represent the interests of the people of Russia, only the enslavement of Russia to western imperialism. Even while they bomb the Chechen towns and villages, they hold out their grubby paws for more subsidies from the IMF. They are the enemies of the working people of Russia and all other countries. So long as they remain in power, no solution is possible.

The prior condition for the emancipation of the peoples of the ex-USSR is the overthrow of capitalism—above all in Russia, but also in the Ukraine, Georgia and all the other former republics of the Soviet Union. What is required is a democratic socialist regime in which all the peoples of the former Soviet Union can voluntary come together on the basis of complete equality and fraternity. By pooling their colossal human and natural resources in a common plan of production, they could quickly eradicate all the poverty, backwardness and suffering which now condemns millions to a life of fear and misery. On the basis of modern technology, it would be possible to do what could not be done after 1917—to begin to move in the direction of socialism. The old oppressive state would be replaced by a free association of the peoples united in the common purpose of building a new and genuinely civilised society in which the nightmare of war, chauvinism and ethnic strife would be merely bad memories of a barbarous past. The vision of a genuinely democratic soviet federation would have a tremendous impact on all the oppressed peoples of Asia, beginning with Iran and Turkey. As in 1917-20, the example of the Soviet Union would kindle a beacon of hope that would ignite the flames of socialist revolution throughout the world. That is the only goal worth fighting for at the dawn of the new millennium.