Source: Prague Watchdog
Publication time: 20 August 2008, 22:01
The fighting in South Ossetia and the subsequent invasion of Georgian territory by Russian troops have become the most widely-discussed topic in Chechnya. Unlike the early 1990s, when Chechnya unconditionally supported the Abkhazians and South Ossetians, the majority of Chechens are nowadays sympathetic to the Georgian side, even though the GRU spetsnaz Vostok and Zapad battalions, which are composed of ethnic Chechens, fought on the South Ossetian side.
Even some veterans of the fighting in Abkhazia have told Prague Watchdog’s correspondent that they have regrets about the past and that today they would take up arms to defend Georgia. According to one of them, 46-year-old Murad, who fought against Georgian forces in Abkhazia under the well-known Chechen commander Umalt Dashayev (who was killed near Grozny in December 1994), in those days Moscow used the Chechens to attain its goals, and succeeded in sowing discord and hatred among the peoples of the Caucasus.
“In 1992 the Russians really brought Georgia to its knees at our hands, the hands of Caucasians. The war in Abkhazia was won by volunteers from the North Caucasus republics, and everyone knows it. There were Chechens, Kabardinians, Adygs, Ossetians and representatives of other North Caucasian republics. In those days we thought we were defending Abkhazia, which was striving for independence, and only later did the realization come that the Kremlin was trying to solve its problems here with our hands and our blood. Many of those who fought in Abkhazia later died in the fighting against Russian troops, including the three best-known Chechen commanders, Umalt Dashayev, Khamzat Gelayev and Shamil Basayev. In 1992 Russia called us heroes, but in 1994 they said we were ‘bandits’ and ‘illegal armed formations’. Now I regret that I fought against the Georgians back then,” says Murad.
“Today, after the two bloody wars that have rolled over Chechnya, I understand what’s happening in Georgia. Russian propaganda says one thing, while the Kremlin and the military leadership do another. It was Moscow that led the provocations by South Ossetia against Georgia, and when Tbilisi was forced to launch a military operation, Moscow immediately sent its troops onto the territory of another state and began to bomb and shell Georgian cities. That’s real international terrorism,” the veteran says.
The majority of Chechens share this opinion. “Where the peoples of the Caucasus and indeed of anywhere else are concerned, Russia has always stuck to one principle: ‘divide and rule’. What’s happening in South Ossetia and Georgia today is a continuation of the imperial policy of enslaving peoples at the hands of their neighbours. Any reasonable person can understand that wars don’t just happen spontaneously. They’re prepared for months and sometimes even years in advance. I realized that Russia was preparing to wage war in Georgia several years ago, when the Russian authorities began to hand out Russian passports to the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That’s more or less the same as if the Americans were to give US passports to the Chechens, and then announce that it was going to protect its ‘citizens’ by force of arms,” says Grozny lawyer Umar Khankarov. “What Russia has done in Georgia is an open challenge to the entire international community.”
“Even though a peace agreement is now being signed between Russia and Georgia, I don’t have much confidence that Moscow will give up so easily what it has gained. After all, Winston Churchill was right when he said that an agreement with Russia is not worth the paper it’s written on. The Russian soldiers are not just going to leave Georgia like that, and that wasn’t why Moscow sent 15,000 troops there. I fear that the Russian military will resort to any provocation and do anything in order to unleash a full-scale war. The Georgians must be constantly alert, because they can expect a stab in the back at any moment. In 1997 people also believed that the Kremlin was sincere, when Yeltsin and Maskhadov signed a peace agreement. And what happened next?” asks a former deputy of the parliament of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, who wishes to remain anonymous.
“I have no doubt that the Russian media will now do its best to create an image of Georgians as enemies of Russia. They’ll do it all with the same methods as they used on us Chechens. A mass zombification of the public at large, the preparing of public opinion, perhaps one or two bloody terrorist attacks with a lot of human victims, which will of course be carried out by “persons of Georgian nationality”, and Russia will once again enthusiastically respond to an incendiary call to ‘wipe out the terrorists in the toilet'”, he says with conviction. “The Kremlin will seek at any cost to overthrow the regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, who is stubborn enough to lead his country into NATO, and they’ll put their puppet in Tbilisi. And there’s a suitable candidate to hand – an ‘opposition figure’ who’s been kept warm by Moscow, Igor Giorgadze, Putin’s colleague in the KGB. In my view, some serious ordeals await Georgia in the near future. Very serious ones,” he says.
“In this situation I find the West’s position totally incomprehensible. One or two calls for peace, some half-hearted resolutions, an eagerness to persuade Moscow, rather than take tough measures against Russia as an aggressor state,” Salamu Dikayev, a Chechen student of journalism, says angrily. “I’m afraid that Europe has ‘given up’ Georgia, as it did Chechnya, for the sake of cheap gas and oil. I fully support Georgia in this conflict and wish its people one thing: peace.”
“Russia has behaved and goes on behaving in the Caucasus like a bull in a china shop – breaking and smashing everything around. I find Putin’s speeches and his comments on the events in South Ossetia particularly repulsive. This bloody butcher of the Chechen people, who has the blood of tens of thousands of Chechen women and children on his hands, pretends today that he’s very concerned about the loss of life in South Ossetia. If I had the chance, I would ask him about it. And I have another question for Medvedev and the Russian leadership as a whole: “Why can the Chechen Republic not be independent, while South Ossetia and Abkhazia, whose population and territory are several times smaller than ours, can? Where is the logic in that?”