S. Belkovskiy: Putin and the Caucasus (Chechnya is already de facto separated from Russia)
(Путин и Кавказ) Станислав Белковский: «Де-факто Чечня уже отделена от России»Stanislav Belkovskiy, President of National Strategy Institute, Political Scientist
Сaucasus Тimes: - Stanislav Alexandrovich, it is obvious that Vladimir Putin has a special relationship with the North Caucasus. He always got nervous when problem of Chechnya was under discussion. In your opinion, why did Chechnya-related questions result in such an emotional reaction from Putin who generally seems to be quite detached and balanced person?
Stanislav Belkovskiy: First of all, in terms of big politics Vladimir Putin is a fruit of the North Caucasus, a son of the Caucasian mountains. He became President due to Chechen war. Victory or defeat in this war is one of the most important criterions to evaluate Putin’s activities as a President. Also, Vladimir Putin is that type of person who is not going to yield to any illusions and temptations. As a clever and intelligent in terms of everyday life person, Putin is perfectly aware of the fact that North Caucasus in reality is not controlled today by the Kremlin and federal administration of the region is a pure bluff. He is extremely afraid of something that can happen in the Caucasus during his term of office disproving “Putin’s epoch” as a period of relative stability in Russian history.
СТ: - It seems that Putin used to always have a clear understanding of what to do with Chechnya regardless the fact whether this understanding was right or wrong. Situation is changing very quickly. New conflicts are rising while old conflicts are spreading throughout the region. Can those approaches favored by Putin be effective in a changing Caucasian reality?
S.B: Putin’s main approach consisted of two basic components. The first component was liquidation or neutralization of those energetic and popular generals, who could become his political competitors. However, by doing that he deprived himself and the Russian army of the possibility to continue military operations in the Caucasus and to install order by using military forces. The second component of his approach is that Putin tried to find psychologically close to him North Caucasian leaders who could assume all responsibility for the stability in this region and could resolve local questions of minor importance without his own involvement. This illusion of stability in Putin’s view is much more important than the real stability; in other words, illusion of control is more important than real control. One of the leaders he managed to find was Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, who was killed later. Therefore, Kadyrov’s death was a tragedy for Putin, who decided to fully rely on Kadyrov’s son Ramzan after that.
Experts of our institute proposed alternative project of political arrangements in Chechnya. We were trying to persuade Kremlin that Chechnya missed any traditions of autocratic power and that nobody in Chechnya, even such bright leader as Dzhokhar Dudaev were not effective in a long-term perspective. Destiny of imam Shamil is very illustrative in that sense. We argued that parliamentarian republic in combination with Russian military administration would be much more natural for Chechnya. However, by getting rid of energetic generals, which demoralized the army and undermined military administration in the North Caucasus, and by selecting Kadyrov’s clan, Putin made his choice in favor of absolutely different model, which can lead to the explosion in Chechnya. However, Putin wants that happen as later as possible – after his presidential term so that he can remain in Russian history textbooks as pacifier of the Caucasus and not as a governor whose actions provoked the growth of illness instead of proper treating it.
СТ: - Are Putin’s approaches of using force at all applicable in the situation of spreading the armed conflict outside the borders of Chechnya?
S.B: As I said, at present Putin is relying on those who are psychologically close to him and with whom he is comfortable to work with. Those people are claming that they can provide reliable and responsible administration in any region. However, anybody who is familiar with Caucasian mentality is aware of the fact that people in the Caucasus tend to overestimate their possibilities and to mix desires and reality, which is inappropriate and might be dangerous.
Use of force is not effective method any more since Putin lacks the army, which is demoralized and destroyed on the level of managerial structures. Repetition of the second Chechen war in the scale of the whole North Caucasus is not possible due to purely technical reasons regardless of the fact whether President is politically ready for that or not.
As far as Putin’s approaches in general are concerned, they proved to be absolutely ineffective since situation in the region for a long time is not controlled by the Kremlin while six years ago when Putin came to power Kremlin had certain control over the situation.
Apart from that, it is quite clear that under the circumstances of ideological vacuum in the Kremlin and total moral decline and wide spread cynicism, which became characteristic features for the present Russian society, Islamic factor will be getting more and more popular since such ideology as radical Islam can successfully fill ideological vacuum and provide people with so much needed hope.
Control over the region will be gradually decreasing and Putin does not want that to become obvious while he is still in office. By the way, in my opinion, Putin himself does not have any illusions concerning the real state of affairs in the region.
СТ: - There is certain television picture and a lot of people believe that picture – including those quite well informed. This picture shows peace process in Chechnya, even though bayonets support this peace. It seems that Kremlin still believes in the use of force and is sure that terror applied by Ramzan Kadyrov can pacify Chechnya. Is it possible to admit that this can be true?
S.B: At present federal center and Kremlin do not have any power in the region. Kadyrov’s clan has real power, which is being used in its own interests. In a long-term perspective such system cannot be stable and effective. In addition, it is worth of noting that Kadyrov’s clan is de facto not under Kremlin’s control. In fact, nobody knows what is now going on in Chechnya. Kadyrov’s people monopolized the sphere of administration in the republic and federal center is not only involved in the process of administration, but also does not receive any information about real state of affairs. In a sense, Chechnya is already separated from Russia. This situation is not defined legally, but Putin is satisfied with this situation as a sort of compromise. I think that Kadyrov’s system of administration in Chechnya is highly vulnerable and instable, but from Moscow’s point of view this is not important: today Kremlin does not control the situation and tomorrow, if something happens to Kadyrov’s clan, Kremlin will not be able to control this situation either.
As far as power is concerned, without doubt, its availability is the most important factor of ruling the North Caucasus. However, at present North Caucasian peoples lost any belief that Moscow has any power since on everyday basis they are facing the situations when federal structures show lack of power, decline and corruption. Therefore, respect to power and beliefs that this power does exist are gradually disappearing in the region. This indicates that North Caucasian republics are moving away from Moscow’s control and do not perceive Moscow as their capital any more.
СТ: - So you are basically saying that Putin is more or less indifferent to the situation in which he is going to leave the Caucasus after his presidential term?
S.B: I would not say that. Of course, he is not totally indifferent to situation there and would like to have North Caucasus in a better shape while leaving the office. He would very much like to have positive references about his presidency in the future school textbooks on History. I cannot say that Putin is absolute cynic detached from everything. Of course, this is not true. But Putin is simply perfectly aware of the fact that he does not have any real possibilities and resources to make situation in the North Caucasus and in the country in general better. Putin does not overestimate himself and possibly this is even worse for Russia since he does not set any ambitious tasks and goals in the sphere of real politics. Instead, he is compensating lack of goals and lack of successes in the real ambitious projects by information wars, propaganda campaigns and PR actions. He became quite skillful in all of that. When Russia is losing its geopolitical positions, Kremlin’s propaganda is claiming that, on the contrary, Russia is strengthening its position.
Judging by the type of his mentality, Vladimir Putin is just a businessman – but a businessman running not very big business. I am not talking about money he controls – those amounts are extremely huge; I am talking about his way of perception of the outside world. In this respect, he is just an average businessman. Therefore, he understands perfectly well what he can and what he cannot afford. He does not have any illusions and just because of that he arouses illusions among other people. Putin would like to leave presidential office in the best possible way, but there is no secret for him that main tendencies currently developing in Russia are negative.
I am sure he will leave the office not later than in 2008, since his own prognosis as far as Russian Federation’s perspectives are concerned is negative after ineffective management of the last years. For him as a person consisting of PR techniques and minor formal legal details are very important that nothing happens while he is in the office. He is ready to use all resources at his disposal for propaganda; to use drugs instead of proper treatment of illnesses – just to minimize pain while he is responsible for what is going in Russia and in the North Caucasus.
СТ: - Quite sad picture. How do you see the destiny of the North Caucasus in the near future?
S.B: Today North Caucasus is on the verge of explosion, on the verge of separation from Russia. This is connected with two factors. The first one is that there is no geopolitical project coming out from Moscow, which is capable of integrating North Caucasus peoples on the basis of the common interest. In other words, Moscow is not a capital of the empire any more; Moscow as a center does not enjoy respect from its provinces any more. Also, Moscow is not perceived as a source of power. Nobody has respect or is afraid of Moscow. Naturally, this is a way to separation from Russia, first factual separation and later formal.
Destiny of the North Caucasus is dependent on those who will come to power after Putin; on their political programs and their ideas as far as Russia’s future is concerned.
I think that separation of the North Caucasus can become a detonator of the future disintegration of Russia as a whole. As Russian citizen and Russia’s patriot I would very much like to avoid such a scenario, but at present course of events is developing in this direction. Everything is dependent on the nature of post-Putin generation of politicians, on their personalities and their level of understanding the problems Russia is currently facing as well as their readiness to cope with those problems. They should be ready to solve especially those problems and not the problems of private enrichment and welfare at the expense of declining and disintegrating state.