Yeltsin’s bid for domination

THE RUSSIANS are only the majority nationality in a state which includes hundreds of others. Many of these peoples resent Russian domination and some wish to break away. The Chechen rebellion is a tiny part of that picture.

Since the collapse of the USSR the new ‘democratic’ Russia has reached for its guns more than once to try and solve the problems flowing from the disintegration of bureaucratic socialism. But Yeltsin in reasserting Russia’s influence in this crude and brutal way is winning few friends.

The Chechens have lived in the Caucuses for as long as records have existed, with an exception under Stalin, when they were deported en masse, accused of collaborating with the Nazis during their occupation of the Northern Caucuses in 1942.

After being allowed to return to their homeland by Krushchev in the late 1950s, the Chechens were bureaucratically integrated into the newly created Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which they shared with a closely related ethnic group, The Ingush.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the specifically Chechen part of the ASSR declared its independence, under Jokhar Dudayev, a former general in the Soviet army.

By itself, the declaration of independence would not guarantee conflict with Moscow. Many republics exist within the Russian Federation, possessing quite a lot of independence. The difference is that Chechnya does not regard itself as part of the Russian Federation, and Dudayev has been defying Yeltsin for the past three years.

Dudayev does not enjoy the support of all Chechens. A low intensity civil conflict existed even before the direct involvement of Russian troops. Much of Eastern Chechnya is controlled by Umar Avturkhanov, a rival leader. Some of Dudayev’s opponents openly say they want to ride on Russian tanks in a triumphal parade through Grozny, the capital. Much of the more effective opposition to Dudayev is probably being orchestrated by Moscow.

It is not entirely clear why matters have come to a head now. Perhaps Yeltsin feels strong enough in Moscow to flex his muscles on the fringes of the Russian Federation. He may fear other parts which are not ethnically Russian will follow Chechnya. An oil pipe line crosses the area and there are oil reserves, to provide an economic motive.

One justification advanced by Moscow for cracking down is lawlessness in Chechnya. A bulletin put out by the Moscow based Itar-Tass agency on December 16 said 600 murders were committed in the republic in 1994 out of a population of around one million. While there is a lot of organised crime and violence in Chechnya, the same is true of most parts of the country.

Both sides in this war are nationalist and pro-capitalist. The Chechens are a classic example of a non-historic people with a doomed reactionary dream. Nonetheless the right to self-determination means nothing unless it includes the right to be wrong. Rakovsky noted the reactionary role played by the Ruthagerians, a minority nationality in Poland in the 19th century, but in 1917 they answered the call of the workers in Petersburg a thousand miles to their north and fought for their real interests as Ukranian workers - with the revolution. We support the right of secession in order to strengthen the voluntary union of workers across nations.

Steve Kay