Jessica Varat from Wellesley, Massachusetts
Dear Mr. de Waal:
Do you feel that the Russian government's main interest in Chechnya
has been the oil line that runs through the territory? This has been
proposed by various commentators on the situation, but I wonder how
this argument would still hold up based on the new pipe line that has
been constructed to bypass Chechnya. Thank you for your time!
Thomas de Waal responds:
As you say, the pipeline from the Caspian Sea now loops round Chechnya
and it is no longer a major oil centre. Its refineries used to make
Chechnya one of the major centres of the oil industry and Soviet days
and the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline gave it added importance.
There is still a kind of backyard oil industry in Chechnya, produced
in what the locals call "mini-refineries," primitive extraction
units that give out bad quality oil (very damaging to health and the
environment by the way) and earn locals and corrupt soldiers useful
cash. But that it is not a major strategic factor.
In researching the chapters of my book on the causes of the first Chechen
war in 1994, I was struck by how no one talked about oil. Russian politics
is a very short-sighted business and I think the war mostly had to do
with internal Kremlin politics and the desire of the hawks around President
Boris Yeltsin to have him win a "small victorious war" and
boost his popularity ratings.