Tony from Lagos, Nigeria asked a question echoed
by three other viewers:
Why is Russia not letting Chechnya go since others were let out of the
old Soviet Union?
Thomas de Waal responds:
I think there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the ideas of
"independence" or "letting Chechnya go." I don't think that's really
an option and I don't really think that that is what this war is about.
Chechnya tried to be independent from Russia twice, from 1991-4 and
1997-9. Both attempts were pretty disastrous, albeit in the hardest
of circumstances. Both times Chechens kept on using the Russian ruble
as their currency, traveling freely to and from the rest of Russia,
watching Russian television and so on. In the first period of "independence,"
the Chechen soccer team even carried on playing in the Russian league.
So I think the Chechen independence movement was more about asserting
Chechens' wish for greater dignity and rights after years of being second-class
citizens -- for the mass of the population; and greater economic autonomy
-- for businessmen and mafia. Chechnya was never going to be like Lithuania
or even Georgia.
Nowadays, of course, eight years of warfare and destruction by the Russian
military have alienated Chechens much more from rule by Moscow. But
they have also reduced the republic to ruins, making the idea of Chechnya
becoming independent even more fantastic.
As far as Russia is concerned, it is hard to see it "letting go"
an area right in the heart of the North Caucasus, its most troubled
borderland, which has been a haven in the past to hundreds of Islamic
extremists from the Middle East and elsewhere.
So the only way out seems to be for the Chechens to get some kind of
international security guarantees, but no independence (rather like
what the Kosovo Albanians have) and for the Russians to be able to make
both their internal and external borders safe from infiltration by militants.