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The Russian-Chechen conflict: Factors that triggered the conflict to become an armed conflict in 1994-1996 and then again in 1999 (Part I)

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With help from Anders T Carlsson viewpoint-east.org has the possibility to investigate factors for the Russian-Chechen conflict. Anders T Carlsson is a project manager with a lot of experience from culture exchange projects in Georgia. He has also worked in Russia a few months. At the moment he works as Programme Coordinator for the Göteborgs Dans & Teater Festival.

This text focuses on the Russian-Chechen conflict and suggests what factors that triggered the conflict to become war in 1994-1996 and then again in 1999-2008. An analytical model, by Michael E. Brown, that has gathered a set of underlying and proximate causes of internal conflict has been used as the analytical tool.

This article is divided into two parts and Part II will be publish tomorrow.

Part I

What makes a conflict become an internal war?
You have probably heard the story before as Michael E. Brown tells it: – in a weak state a risk complex is created by irresponsible leaders driven by intensifying elite competition in a context with different ethnic groups with problematic historic relationships and economic problems. In such a context a rapid change in any important field increases the risk that the conflicts in the area escalates into war. What finally start the war, due to Brown and the instrumentalist perception, are decisions taken by political leaders. Sometimes though mass-triggered riots is the triggering cause. But that is much more rare.

In this text we are reading the Russian – Chechen conflict with the two analytic tools provided by Michael E. Brown: they are a list of underlying causes that can turn into triggering (proximate) causes just by the changes being rapid. The factors are structural, political, economic, social and conceptual. Brown also urges us to analyse if the conflict is internally or externally driven and in both cases by whom – the elite or the masses.

Conflicts are extremely complex and when they have emerged into killings they become horrible and extremely hard to solve. As a help to keep the balance and hope it is essential to remember that most internal conflicts do not escalate into war. In Post-Soviet Russia for example the conflicts in Tatarstan and Baskortostan was solved by negotiations. Why that not happen in Chechnya can be understood by reading this text.

How come that people in a conflict area that are pushed into war by their leaders are prepared to participate in and perform the horrors of war? Browns model does not explain the psychological aspects that make internal war possible. The scholar Stuart J. Kaufman investigates and explains this. His work gives us a good complement for our understanding and for what actions that could be taken to prevent war. Even though this text is limited to analyse the Russian-Chechen conflict using Browns analytical model the work of Kaufman is important even though it is not present in this text.

Just a short historical background before we continue. Since Tsarist Russia invaded Chechnya there has been a persistent resistance and almost permanent warfare from 1783 to 1943. In 1943 the Chechens were mass deported to Siberia and Central Asia or killed on the spot if it was to difficult to move them. The Chechens were able to return after the death of Stalin. The experiences and memories of hundreds of years of war and the horrors of the deportation that killed a third of the Chechen population sets the historical and psychological background for the two wars that were fought from December 1994 to august 1996 and then 1999-2006. The two latest wars killed over 100 000 Chechens – about 10% of the population at that time.


Photo from Georgia, near the Chechen border. Thank for photo from cinto2.

Proximate Causes for the Russian – Chechen wars 1994-1996 and 1999-2008

Structural Factors that triggered the conflict to war
Michael E Brown argues that rapid changes transform permissive causes to proximate (triggering) causes. In the case of the Russian-Chechen conflict the collapsing state is the most important structural factor. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Russia became an independent state. In Chechnya the communist leader Doku Zavgayev was overthrown and Dzhokhar Dudayev won a presidential poll and proclaimed Chechnya independent of Russia. The unilateral proclamation of independence was only recognized by Afghanistan.

The new Russian state was weak. It took over a bankrupt entity with a bad infrastructure tormented by merciless inner strife for power and economical gains. The parliament blocked the possibility for the president to start a war in Chechnya. When Yeltsin had won the struggles for power and was supported by a new constitution with a strong presidential power he choose to invade Chechnya in December 1994.

The Caucasus area has a significant importance in the military agenda of Russia since the 18th century. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a major military-strategic set back for Russia on its southern border against Iran and Turkey. It also created a new threat against the Russian dominance in the area when the military equipment of the Soviet Union was confiscated and used by the Chechens to establish military capacity to protect the contested territory. The three newly independent states in Southern Caucasus and the situation that Chechnya was left to govern itself between 1991 and 1994 changed the intra-state and international military balances drastically in the Caucasus region. The Russian political agenda has been very clear since 1994. Restore dominance. The war in Chechnya was also a result of this agenda.

Another proximate cause that Brown presents is changing demographic patterns. When Chechnya declared independence the vast majority of the Russian population left. The Russians were to a large extent skilled labour like doctors, engineers and teachers. This increased the economical crisis in both a short and long term perspective and was part of the destabilisation process.

Tomorrow you can read Part II of this article. Anders will then continue to highlight Political factors, Economical and Social factors and also Conceptual and Perceptual factors that triggers the conflict of war and his finial conclusions.

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20 Responses to “The Russian-Chechen conflict: Factors that triggered the conflict to become an armed conflict in 1994-1996 and then again in 1999 (Part I)”

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