The Thorny Way to Freedom (The Chechen Problem, the Recent Attack in Moscow and the Contemporary Russian State)

November, 2002

By Dar ZHUTAYEV and Denis SELIVYORSTOV, specially for Umut Yayıncılık. This is article does not necessarily represent the current views of the Russian Maoist Party

To the memory of the hundreds of innocent Russian civilians,
including women and children,
as well as Chechen freedom fighters,
butchered in cold blood by the semi-fascist Russian regime
in the early morning of October 26, 2002

This article is sadly underdocumented. Before the October 23 attack in Moscow, there was quite a developed Chechen Internet culture, with a lot of various Web sites in different languages, some of them official, i.e. expressing the viewpoint of the guerrilla government, others independent and of varying political orientations, e.g. the popular news service that had a pronounced Islamic fundamentalist slant. These sites contained a wealth of factual information, historical records, as well as various official documents and writings by the ideologues of Chechen independence.

This situation changed radically during and after the October attack in Moscow. “Server not found” is the message you most frequently get when you connect to the Internet and try to read an independent view of the Chechen problem. None, or almost none, of the pro-Chechen sites exist anymore. According to the Russian media, the site was destroyed on the first day of the Moscow attack by a “patriotic” group of “freelance” Russian hackers based in California. We seriously doubt this theory. Hacking a site that had mirrors worldwide, including Africa, is not an easy task technically and a small group of freelancers could hardly be responsible for destroying almost the entire Chechen Internet. We suspect the Federal Agency for Government Communication and Information (FAPSI) — the Russian counterpart of the American NSA1FAPSI was made part of Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2003.. This would be quite in line with the position of top-ranking Moscow officials that the “terrorists” are “not to be given any voice” anywhere and with the recently adopted legislation that practically means the introduction of censorship in Russia.

Therefore, unfortunately, this article is based on official Russian sources, as well as, possibly inaccurate, personal memories and assessments.

1. Our class assessment of the Chechen independence movement

Chechnya is, and has been throughout most of its history, a predominately peasant society. During the Soviet times, this region, especially its capital city Grozny (called Dzhokhar by the separatists), had a considerable industry, mostly connected with oil, as well as important scientific research institutions. The industry and other infrastructure of the country have been almost totally destroyed by the war and, when that industry did exist, it was disproportionately serviced by non-Chechens: Russians and Russian-speaking people (e.g. Jews, Armenians). There exists a Chechen urban and rural proletariat and semi-proletariat (transport workers, hired field-hands, etc.), but their weight in society and role on the political arena are, so far, negligible. And there is of course the Chechen national bourgeoisie divided into various clans with different economic and political interests2Highlanders clans are the closest equivalent to Chechen teips.

The independence movement has always had an overwhelming support from the broad masses of the population. Under a military occupation, it is impossible to have any sort of a meaningful referendum, but the fierceness of the resistance to the Russian aggressors both in the first and the second Chechen campaigns3First Chechen war lasted from 1994 to 1996 and ended with peace agreements which established Chechnya as autonomous part of Russian Federation. Second Chechen war started in August, 1999 and ended in February, 2000, when Russian army took control off the last separatist enclave. Armed resistance of the separatists lasted decades after that. and the inability of the Kremlin to find any credible Chechen figures to head its puppet administrative bodies in Chechnya speak for themselves4This problem was solved with the help of the Kadyrov clan. The state Chechnya under Kadyrov’s dynasty should be analysed in a separate article.. International support for the Chechen cause is comparatively small, as will be detailed below, and the resistance forces are largely left to their own devices.

Currently the Chechen movement is largely led by Islamic fundamentalist forces and such formerly secular/democratic figures as Aslan Maskhadov or Shamil Basayev have changed over from a revolutionary-democratic position to either a formal recognition of Islamism (Maskhadov) or an actively fundamentalist position (Basayev, whose hero, in the initial stages of the struggle, was Che Guevara, but who is now a diehard Wahhabi and thinks in terms of Jihad and shahidism). The volunteers or mercenaries coming to Chechnya from all over the Muslim world and partly from Europe are for the most part Islamic fanatics, like the well-known militant leader from Jordan, the late Amir Ibn-al-Khattab. Whatever financial and logistical help the Chechens receive from abroad also comes, as far as we know, mostly from fundamentalist regimes and individuals.

This situation, when a just struggle for national self-determination is being waged under false and reactionary slogans, is, in our opinion, the result of three factors: (a) the lack of a revolutionary leftist tradition in the ex-USSR, brought about by the long years of domination of the social-imperialist Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite clique; (b) the weakness and isolation on the international arena of the separatists themselves, who cannot afford to reject aid from whatever source it comes; (c) the sustained efforts of the Russian authorities to undermine their movement.

Dzhokhar Dudayev, the first President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, was a passionate advocate of a secular, democratic Chechnya. We consider him a revolutionary nationalist leader, something like the early Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat. When Dudayev was still a general in the Soviet Air Force, he was stationed in the Estonian city of Tartu, where he was brought into contact with the scholar Linnart Mall, later the founder of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), who introduced him to modern national liberation ideas. Dudayev’s book, “The Thorny Way to Freedom,” details his vision of the equality of all peoples in a liberated Chechnya and his resolve to get rid of the totalitarian traditions of the Russian Empire. Dudayev and his comrades-in-arms (many of whom still remain leaders of the guerrillas and partly preserve the traditions of his epoch) tried to shape the political life of the newborn Republic of Ichkeria according to these principles. The Kremlin saw the danger of the Chechen movement developing in a revolutionary-nationalist direction and so it spent more than $1.3 million on a hi-tech special operation to assassinate Dudayev in April 1996. This operation was personally supervised by President Boris Yeltsin.

To sum it all up, we consider the national liberation struggle in Chechnya to be a movement expressing the interests of the broad masses of Chechen toilers, i.e. peasants and workers (in that order), led, as is often the case in Third World liberation struggles, by the national bourgeoisie and characterized by class peace and a relatively strong unity of the entire nation. The situation in Chechnya is a classic illustration of the words of Chairman Mao Zedong:

“When imperialism launches a war of aggression against a country, all its various classes, except for some traitors, can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all other contradictions among the various classes of the country… are temporarily relegated to a secondary or subordinate position.”

2. What is economically at stake in Chechnya?

The main natural wealth of Chechnya lies in its oil, which is of comparatively good quality. The amount of oil drilling in Chechnya peaked in the early 1970s, when it reached circa 20 million tons per year. After that it was steadily decreasing due to the exhaustion of the oil wells and amounted to 7 million tons per year in the late eighties. As of now, the known oil wells have been exhausted by 90% and more. At present, independent Russian experts estimate illegal oil drilling in Chechnya at 1 million tons yearly (financially, the yearly turnover of illegal oil trade in Chechnya is estimated at $100,000,000) plus 0.5 million tons per year is extracted by the “state”-owned (i.e. controlled by pro-Moscow quislings) company Grozneftegaz, formed in April 2001, i.e. a year and a half after the beginning of the second Chechen war. Compare this to the circa 300 million tons extracted yearly in the whole of Russia and, e.g., the 20 million tons drilled in the Republic of Tatarstan alone. The prospected oil reserves in Chechnya are estimated at 50 million tons. Therefore oil production in Chechnya is on the scale of a small-sized Russian oil company.

The oil processing industry in Chechnya has been almost totally destroyed by the war. There is not much sense for anyone in restoring it now, since the neighboring regions of mainland Russia (Stavropol Territory, the Republic of Daghestan, etc.) have oil processing plants that are in full working order and whose facilities are not loaded 100%.

We believe that oil played a certain part in the unleashing of the first Chechen campaign. Even before Russian troops entered Chechnya in December 1994, there was an abortive coup attempt in October 1994 on behalf of the pro-Moscow Chechen opposition (Bislan Gantamirov and others). That coup attempt was, in our opinion, really about the re-distribution of oil revenues between different clans of the Chechen national bourgeoisie. The attempt was actively supported by Moscow. The scenario played out in 1994 was really similar to that of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, with the difference that the coup attempt failed in the case of Chechnya. However, the Kremlin chose to ignore the lessons of history and invaded that country anyway. As can be seen from the above, there was even no real pressing economic need for the Russian oligarchy to do so. Just like in the case of Afghanistan, the Russian authorities underestimated the Chechen people’s will for independence, which resulted in their shameful defeat in the first Chechen campaign in 1996.

As to the second Chechen war, we regard its motives as purely political. It was part of the massive PR campaign to get Vladimir Putin elected President and to preserve in power the same old oligarchy in the Kremlin — with a different program and resorting to open dictatorial methods instead of the “democratic” facade of the Yeltsin era. Resorting to tactics similar to those of Hitler in the beginning of the Second World War, the Russian authorities provoked an invasion of Daghestan by Chechen volunteer forces under Shamil Basayev and Ibn-ul-Khattab in 1999 and used it as a pretext to invade Chechnya themselves. In contrast both to the first Chechen campaign and to the present-day situation, the Russian bourgeoisie made no serious attempts in 1999–2000 to play on the differences within the Chechen national bourgeoisie and on the differing vested interests of its various sectors.

The current situation with oil in Chechnya is one of an ongoing re-division of the oil market. Although, we repeat, the sums concerned are comparatively insignificant for Russia as a whole, they are not insignificant by the standards of Chechnya. The Russian occupying forces extract heavy profits from illegal oil drilling, in escorting oil caravans to processing facilities outside Chechnya and also in carrying out “cleansing operations” (anti-“terrorist” crackdowns when an entire village or town is systematically searched for armed fighters; such operations are accompanied with all sorts of brutalities), a major part of which is believed to be concerned with settling scores among Chechens involved in the black oil market. Grozneftegaz head Baudin Khamidov said the Russian army pockets as much as 10% of the profits from illegal trade, but we believe that in reality this share can be several times larger, the major roads in Chechnya being totally controlled by the Russian military. Therefore the occupying army has a very real economic interest in the continuation of that trade. For the guerrilla leaders and those sections of the national bourgeoisie standing behind them, illegally drilled oil is also a major source of revenue. The creation of the “state”-owned company Grozneftegaz can be seen as a compromise solution, attempting both to cut the economic ground from under the separatists and to elevate a certain section of the Chechen bourgeoisie that could be, relatively speaking, called “pro-Moscow” (or not openly separatist). All this, by the way, explains the tension existing between the Russian military command and the puppet pro-Russian administration of Ahmad Kadyrov.

3. What roles do the US and Turkey play in the Chechen conflict?

Our feeling is that the US imperialist presence in Chechnya is negligible. There is an American committee in support of Chechnya consisting of such reactionary politicians as P.J. O’Rourke and Zbigniew Brzezinsky. Some state officials of the Chechen Republic were given official receptions in Washington. But that is practically all. We regard these things as an attempt on Washington’s part to put a pressure on Vladimir Putin, to show him his place, so to speak.

There are no weapon deliveries from the US to the Chechen separatists. It is much, much easier for them to lay their hands on weapons arsenals left behind by the Soviet Army or to “clandestinely” buy arms and ammunition from the present-day Russian troops (a situation one can see everywhere in Chechnya). You can actually buy arms in broad daylight in the bazaar of the capital city of Grozny. The guerrillas have no financial assistance and virtually no diplomatic support from the US. There are no American vested interests in Chechnya and it is easier for the States to realize its geopolitical interests in the region through Georgia and other independent states of the Transcaucasia5Transcausacia is an old term which was later substituted by South Caucasus.. In contrast, some European states, primarily England and to some extent Germany, do have some geopolitical stakes in Chechnya proper.

We do not know how real is the support of the Turkish government circles for the Chechen separatists. Some reactionary circles here in Russia (such as the pro-Putin youth movement “Going Together”6An infamous group, later disbanded.) suggest that this support is considerable and actually have called on the Russian public to economically boycott Turkey because of this. But, no matter who and to what extent supports the Chechen movement in Turkey, we want the Turkish progressive circles to understand two things: (1) the Chechen war of independence is a just national liberation struggle, similar to that of the Kurdish people; (2) the war in Chechnya and the anti-“terrorist” hysteria in Russia are having an extremely harmful effect on our country, taking a heavy toll in human lives (Russian, Chechen and many other nationalities), allowing its government to turn more and more to the right, justifying tough repressive and in fact fascist measures. The Turkish and Kurdish working classes are not interested in the increased aggressiveness and brutality of Russian imperialism and therefore they have as real an interest in stopping the war in Chechnya as the Russian proletariat.

4. The Death Toll

The second Chechen campaign has been going on for already three years. During this time, according to official Russian sources, the army and Ministry of the Interior troops have lost about 4,500 killed. According to independent Russian and foreign sources, this figure is in fact 1.5 to 2 times greater and actually amounts to 7–10 thousand. It should be observed that the dynamics of Russian losses in Chechnya is higher than that during in the Afghanistan campaign (1979–1989), where, in a little less than 11 years, the Soviet Army lost 13,000 killed.

The official Russian figure for losses among the civilian population in Chechnya during the second campaign is 14,000 killed, but observers believe the actual figure is 80,000. Add to this the 80,000 civilians officially admitted by the Russian authorities as killed during the first Chechen campaign. Bearing in mind the fact that the census of 1989 lists about 1,000,000 persons as Chechens, we obtain the result that, in the period 1994–2002, the Russian Army and Ministry of the Interior troops have destroyed either every tenth Chechen (official statistics) or every sixth (reality). If this is not genocide, what is?

The losses among the Chechen separatist fighters during the same eight years are estimated by the Kremlin at 40,000 killed. Is this what they call an anti-terrorist operation? 40,000 terrorists means one out of every twenty Chechens, including women and children…

What has been going on in Chechnya for three years now is a full-fledged guerrilla war. It is in the context of this fact that one should regard the recent hostage-taking in the Theater Center in Moscow.

5. The attack of October 23–26

The principal events in Moscow during these days were reasonably well covered by the world press (in many cases better than by the Russian press) and must be familiar to the Turkish readers. It is not much use to repeat the whole story here.

What is important to state is: the Russian authorities lied about the situation with the hostages throughout the 57 hours that they were held captive in the Theater Center. They are continuing to lie about it now, a week since the storm of the building. It would be quite a futile business to debunk all those lies in detail: there were so many of them that their refutation would fill several good-sized volumes. Therefore let us dwell on a few points that we believe are significant:

  1. There was no reason, and even no formal pretext, to storm the building. The Chechens under Movsar Barayev had not begun, and had no intention of beginning, systematically executing the hostages, as they had threatened. The last shots in the building were heard on October 26 at 2 A.M.: one of the male hostages had broken down under the strain and acted hysterically. And the storming operation began at 6 A.M.The Chechen rebels killed three (according to certain reports, four) persons. These deaths were connected with the overall nervous atmosphere in the hall and the incorrect (in the given circumstances) behavior of certain hostages. In the course of the storm, the Russian spetsnaz (special purpose forces) destroyed either 118 (official figure) or 160 (semi-official figure: the opinion of doctors that were engaged in rehabilitating the people poisoned with gas) or, which is much more probable, more than 200 persons (today, a week (!) after the operation, 100 former hostages are still officially considered missing).
  2. The overwhelming majority of the victims among the hostages actually died after the storming operation due to the lack of coordination and frequent contradictions in the actions of the spetsnaz groups (“Alpha,” “Vympel,” SOBR etc.), the Ministry for Emergency Situations, the militia, ambulances and hospitals. The authorities refused to reveal the identity of the gas used in the storming operation until German doctors found it in the bodies of “their” hostages four days later. It turned out to be a preparation based on fentanyl, an opiate 100 times stronger than morphine. The identity of the gas was concealed in spite of the fact that scores of lives could have been saved if the correct antidotes had been used in time.
  3. According to eyewitness accounts, the guerrillas had quite enough time, even after the gas was let into the hall, to blow up the building. They did not do it. Moreover, Deputy Minister of the Interior said October 26, a few hours after the storm, that some of the “kamikaze” women had been wearing dummies, not real belts with explosives. The “booby traps” near the entrance to the Theater Center also turned out to be dummies. Which leads one to the question: had the building been mined at all?

Let us sum up. There were no executions, there was not even a formal pretext for the storm, many hostages died after the storm, the issue of whether the building had been mined at all and whether the militants were prepared to blow it up is extremely debatable. Ahmad Zakayev, spokesman for the Chechen guerrilla government who was arrested during a recent Chechen congress in Denmark, said Movsar Barayev and his group intended to release all the hostages in the afternoon of October 26 and then to accept battle without them. In spite of all this, the Russian leaders have declared the operation a success and the casualties among the hostages minimal. Ex-KGB colonel, President Putin, general Patrushev (director of the new Okhranka, the FSB), Minister of the Interior Gryzlov were swearing since the very beginning of the Moscow attack that their top priority was saving the lives of the hostages. An old bourgeois-democratic maxim says: “War is too serious an affair to entrust it to generals.” This is still more true of politics.

6. Aftermath. Summing up

The Kremlin swears it will not allow a repetition of the events of October 23–26. How does it propose to achieve this? As it turns out, it intends to follow the old, “tried and tested” prescriptions from three years ago: continuing the “cleansing operations,” conducting “special operations” in Chechnya (which in plain English means arresting or liquidating anyone who may resemble a guerrilla to the smallest degree — men, women, teenagers, old people), tightening the residence registration regulations in Moscow and all the major cities. From these “concepts” there logically and naturally follow the tacit support of Russian fascists, censorship of the media, etc. Three years ago, following the explosions of apartment houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk, in which the FSB had played a very, very suspicious role, the Kremlin pulled troops into Chechnya and began pursuing the very same policies — of “strengthening,” “increasing,” “squeezing,” “destroying” — which it proposes to pursue now. The consequences have been a three-year-long nightmare for the peoples of Chechnya and the North Caucasus (including the Russians living there), a strengthening of fascist and anti-democratic tendencies in the Russian society as a whole, a stagnation of the Russian Federation economy that currently stays afloat only because of the high world prices of oil. By storming the Theater Center the Kremlin has sent out a signal that it is going to repeat the same old routine all over again. Generals/politicians, who think in terms of the conspiracy theory (Themselves vs. Everybody Else!) and the “large-scale limited-scope nuclear war” (what else could they have learned in their Brezhnev-era military academies?), turn out to be organically incapable of acting in the interests either of their own particular bourgeois clans or of the Russian bourgeoisie as a whole. The ruling Russian regime has a lot of rhetoric on the civilized middle and small bourgeoisie as its social base, but it is acting as if doing its utmost to antagonize the entire petty-bourgeoisie and a considerable part of the middle bourgeois.

The storming operation conducted in Moscow means the automatic continuation of the war in Chechnya, although opinion polls show that no less than 60% Russians favor ending it. And while the war goes on, one doesn`t have to think about a reform of the army — an army where junior officers receive smaller salaries than salespeople in street kiosks; an army from which its half-starved soldiers desert every week taking their weapons with them; an army with an ever-increasing amount of morally and physically obsolete military equipment7Most of these problems was rectified by now.; an army, finally, which poses a threat to the people of Russia and the whole world by its very existence — with its giant and practically unguarded waste dumps of nuclear, bacteriological, chemical and conventional weapons. While the war goes on, one doesn`t have to think about the degradation of the Russian science and education system, about the ever-increasing infant mortality, about the growth of drug addiction and crime. While the war goes on, one doesn’t have to think…8This is still true. War since the very beginning was a convenient way for Putin regime to divert attention from the real problems to imaginary ‘enemies’.

But what one can do very well is strengthen the interior troops that are always ready to suppress not only separatist movements on the fringes of the already rather tattered Empire, but also workers’ protests in its heartland. One can curb the democratic institutions, one can keep teachers and students on a starvation diet, one can keep raising the rents and the prices of electricity and gas for the population, one can demand the prohibition of abortions and homosexuality (so as to raise the birthrate — the production of fresh cannon fodder)9Abortion is still free althoug under constant threat, while homosexuality was indeed banned., one can… One can do a lot of things. The Russian regime has good teachers in this respect: Pinochet, Somoza, Salazar, Kenan Evren …

It may seem to our readers that we don’t love Russia. This is wrong. We do love Russia. What we don’t love is the Russian Federation.

First published on Maoism.Ru


  • 1
    FAPSI was made part of Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2003.
  • 2
    Highlanders clans are the closest equivalent to Chechen teips
  • 3
    First Chechen war lasted from 1994 to 1996 and ended with peace agreements which established Chechnya as autonomous part of Russian Federation. Second Chechen war started in August, 1999 and ended in February, 2000, when Russian army took control off the last separatist enclave. Armed resistance of the separatists lasted decades after that.
  • 4
    This problem was solved with the help of the Kadyrov clan. The state Chechnya under Kadyrov’s dynasty should be analysed in a separate article.
  • 5
    Transcausacia is an old term which was later substituted by South Caucasus.
  • 6
    An infamous group, later disbanded.
  • 7
    Most of these problems was rectified by now.
  • 8
    This is still true. War since the very beginning was a convenient way for Putin regime to divert attention from the real problems to imaginary ‘enemies’.
  • 9
    Abortion is still free althoug under constant threat, while homosexuality was indeed banned.