Aug 25 2004
Chechen cards on the Georgian playing table
The current deputy prime minister in Chechnya’s pro-Russian
administration Ramzan Kadyrov this week announced that 5,000 Chechen
warriors are prepared to be deployed to the conflict zone in South
Ossetia to maintain peace.
The idea that Chechen soldiers are more needed here in Georgia is a
further demonstration of the cynicism and imperialism with which
senior Russian leaders view the independent country of Georgia while
turning a blind eye to their own problems.
The son of the assassinated leader Akhmad Kadyrov who was killed in a
bomb attack in May, Ramzan Kadyrov has excelled in creating his own
security force that both Moscow and Chechen rebels struggle to
control. Thus his threat against Georgia is more than just posturing
and all the more disturbing. On Saturday Kadyrov was reminded of the
unrest in his own land when Grozny became the scene of a massive gun
fight that left over 30 people dead, including as many as 20 police.
While hotspots like Karabakh, Abkhazia and even South Ossetia remain
so-called frozen conflicts, Chechnya remains a bleeding wound for
Russia. However, it appears like Kadyrov, who was snubbed as a
possible successor to his father, still wants to prove his loyalty to
Moscow and join with other pro-Russian groups like the Cossacks that
have entered Georgian territory. The arrival of Chechen forces would
not be the first for Georgia.
In the early 1990’s, Georgian, Russian and Abkhazian interests all
collided with Georgia holding the losing hand. It was there that
Russia played Chechen card for the first time. It equipped Chechen
warriors, trained them, organized them and sent them to fight against
Georgia. The results of the war are clear: under the weight of
Russian-backed militias, Georgia lost Abkhazia.
But the event backfired on Russia threefold. First it equipped North
Caucasus people and particularly Chechens with enormous amounts of
arms and ammunition. Though initially targeted against Georgia,
Chechens later turned their weapons on Russia. Second, it created a
myth about the undefeated victorious Chechen warriors who were able
to defeat any army. And the third, it created the precedent of a
separatist state in a former Soviet Union country.
Today Russia wants to direct its Chechen card against Georgia once
again. As Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze said, she is sure
that the Chechen people have enough common sense not to get involved
in such an adventure. However, some ultra-patriotic leaders of Russia
such as Zhirinovsky are seriously considering this intervention.
The precedent of unauthorized troops in the region has been set by
armed Cossacks and more can be expected under the current struggle
for control. According to Georgian intelligence, there are different
types of mercenaries and terrorists fighting for the separatist side.
The first group represents followers of Zhirinovsly’s Russian
chauvinism who are paid as much as USD 1,000 a month and an
additional USD 100 a day during combat. Georgian intelligence
officers describe them as mainly amateurs and non-professionals.
Another more dangerous group is made up of adventurers led by the
paramilitary leader identified in the Georgian crime journal Kronika
as Timoshenko. At the moment they are creating the most problems for
separatist regime because they are poorly organized, undisciplined
and inexperienced in fighting. In addition, they are demanding
payment from the Kokoiti administration.
As Kronika reports, trained professionals from the ranks of the
Russian army units that participated in either Chechnya or earlier in
Afghanistan are receiving USD 2,000 a month and USD 200 a day during
combat. The best-trained mercenaries and Cossacks are paid USD 5,000
a month each. These special forces units – experienced, well-prepared
and trained under Russian commando instructors – create the bulk of
the separatist armed forces.
At the moment Kokoiti hardly controls these people because he is
short of cash and therefore these paramilitaries, particularly the
Timoshenko group, are suspected of involvement in robberies,
including a massive cattle theft reported on Monday. Of course
officials of the Russian Federation do not confirm the presence of
Russian citizens in the territory of conflict zone. The fact is they
are there and they create an enormous threat to the current peace
that was only achieved with great difficulty.
Since Russia continues its solitary control of the Roki Tunnel, the
only connection between the Russian Federation and Georgia in the
Tskhinvali region, it is surely aware of paramilitary groups
infiltrating Georgian territory. Just as Russia once called Chechens
in the Pankisi Gorge terrorists, these paramilitaries in South
Ossetia are also terrorists. Under the circumstances, the addition of
Chechen groups to the conflict zone would only exacerbate tensions,
and Kadyrov’s threat thus represents another incident of
Russian-backed aggression against Georgia.