Interviewed by Hanna Trehub
U.W.: Who are these “kadyrovites” and what are they doing in Donbas? Are they merely carrying out orders from Putin and Kadyrov or do they have their own reasons for getting involved in the war in Eastern Ukraine?
– We consider kadyrovites traitors of our nation because they take up arms on behalf of the Russian occupiers. Indeed, we separate ordinary police officers from those who work in Kadyrov’s special forces and continue to terrorize ordinary Chechens. To make it a bit clearer what I mean by ‘terror,’ remember the recent massive burning of the homes of relatives of Chechen partisans? People were thrown out on the street in the middle of winter, many weren’t even given a chance to gather their documents, and their homes were burned down. In other words, the kadyrovites act today using the same methods of the hangman of the Chechen people, General Yermolov (commander of the Russian army fighting the Chechens during the Caucasus wars of 1819-1864 – Ed.). The spiritual heirs of this sadist were the NKVD, who believed in collective punishment.
What’s clear is that Ukrainians shouldn’t expect anything good from them. If they were prepared to terrorize their own people, acting as death squads in the service of the occupier, then what would stop them in Ukraine? Of course, their actions have nothing in common with the attitude of normal Chechens towards Ukrainians, as a nation fighting a just war against the Russian invader. As a nation that suffered unbelievable terror in the hands of the Russian occupiers and their allies, they completely side with Ukrainians. And nothing, not kadyrovites nor Russia’s lying propagandas, should be allowed to get in between our two nations. In our struggle against Russian imperialism, we were and remain on the same side of the barricades.
U.W.: In modern-day Russia, is the Northern Caucasus factor a powder keg or just a local threat? What were the clashes in Grozny and Makhachkali in early December 2014 all about? The reaction of Chechens and Dagestanis to the pressure and terror of the Russian Federation or are we talking about yet another operation by Russia’s special forces?
– In my opinion, Russia’s regions, especially the republics of the Northern Caucasus, will only leave the federation when Russia itself cuts them off. At one time, the USSR did just that by separating the Central Asian republics from it, although their leaders were begging Moscow to keep them in a union. As for Chechnya, the situation there is completely different. The lengthy Caucasus war and the last two Russo-Chechen ones were fierce and uncompromising. Russia won the first Caucasus war because it had much better material and human resources. However, it was not and still is not a strategic victory. 19th century Russian historians were right when they preferred to use the term “the pacification of Chechnya.”
Sure, since it was prepared to use the most violent forms of repression, Russia was able to pacify Chechnya for a time. Then there was an uprising and the abrek movement rolled through occupied Chechnya, but the Russian Federation kept the region under military and police control. But when the Russian Revolution exploded in 1917, Chechnya once again became a powerful center of national liberation movements. An independent Mountain Republic was formed that a slew of western and eastern countries actually recognized. But among all the forces drawn into the civil war, only the bolsheviks promised the nations of the Northern Caucasus independence, so Chechens and many other Caucasus peoples supported them. Many historians think that the resistance of the Chechens and Ingushetis, which Anton Denikin described as “terrible,” prevented him from completing a victorious attack on Moscow and crushing the bolsheviks.
When the Chechens realized that the bolsheviks had conned them regarding national independence, they organized an uninterrupted series of armed insurrections from the early 1920s to the early 1940s. To crush them, even in 1920 the Russians used not only infantry and cavalry, but also artillery and aviation. In 1944, all the Vainakhs were deported to Central Asia, but in bolshevik-occupied Chechnya, the struggle of insurgent groups and abreks did not abate for a single day. The last of these avengers, Khasukhana Mahomadov, was only killed in 1976.
The crisis and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union led to the immediate establishment, or more correctly revival, of an independent state called the Chechen Republic, shortly afterwards renamed the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Russia was forced to undertake two multi-year, genocidal wars to destroy Chechen statehood and occupy our country. However, legally the Kremlin was unable to destroy the state. The CRI government continues to function successfully in Western Europe and I have the honor of being its current head.
So this brief historical excursion provides the answer to your question: The Northern Caucasus and Chechnya in particular remain the source of bloody warriors for Russia and ultimately the detonators of its collapse as long as Moscow does not come to the realization that it needs to recognize the independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Otherwise, Chechnya and the entire Northern Caucasus will not only be a tinderbox for Russia, but the destroyer of its empire. As to the partisan raids on Grozny and Makhachkali, these are just episodes in a North Caucasus war that has been going on, at varying degrees of intensity, for nearly 25 years now.
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U.W.: Chechens have been involved in the conflict in Syria. Some of them even support ISIL. Not long ago, this jihadist organization publicly announced its interest in the Northern Caucasus. How seriously do the peoples of the Northern Caucasus want to become part of the Caliphate and subordinate themselves to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? There have been posts on the internet about Ramzan Kadyrov issuing orders to have him assassinated. Clearly, something about ISIL doesn’t suit him...
– The terror launched against the Chechens, and later against all the peoples of the Northern Caucasus, by Russia was doomed to give rise to the most extreme forms of resistance. Over the last 25 years, our struggle for independence has not received any support from the world community: not materially, not politically, not morally. Humanitarian and human rights organizations regularly report on the heinous actions of the Russian occupiers on Chechen land, about widespread, deliberate killings of ordinary civilians, and about the use of all kinds of weaponry banned by international conventions, including chemical weapons and weapons with depleted uranium. All Chechens keep hearing from the international community in response to such reports is the usual dismissive argument that it’s “an internal affair of Russia’s.”
Although Chechnya’s Armed Forces and insurgents won the first Russo-Chechen war, this position of official governments around the world gave a lot of leeway to various emissaries who came to us from the East to preach extremist religious doctrines to our young people. They tried to tell us they were “pure Islam,” but in fact, they were aiming at undermining the Chechen state from within. Some of these young people, many of whom could properly be called grown-ups, were captivated by these radical religious ideas and went off to join the insurrectionist movement in Syria. My firm position is that is not our war and I have stated this in many interviews and speeches. Chechens in Syria and now in Iraq are paying with their blood for completely alien military and political operations that are packaged in religious rhetoric in order to attract the most impassioned Muslim youth.
As to Ramzan Kadyrov’s announcements that he has supposedly called for the assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, they remind me of the tactics of a certain kind of soviet professor: they took money from many parents whose children were applying to post-secondary institutions, but would not lift a finger to actually help them. If the applicant successfully completed the entrance exam, these professors kept the money while assuring the parents that it was all thanks to their own efforts. If the applicant failed, they would return the money, wringing their hands as though to say that, unfortunately, nothing had worked out. That’s Ramzan Kadyrov: If Al-Baghdadi dies, he will certainly suggest that the hand of his men was involved. If not, then he’ll just drop the subject over time.
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U.W.: How strong is the connection between Putin and Kadyrov and to what extent is Kadyrov being handled by the Kremlin? Are they real friends and ideological allies, as most people see them, and is there something that might break this cozy duo up?
– We do carefully monitor the situation in Chechnya and, of course, relations between Putin and Kadyrov, but I’m not going to get into all the secrets of the royal court. I will only say that, despite all of Kadyrov’s loyal declarations vis-à-vis Russia and his accolades regarding Putin, their relationship can hardly be termed a friendship or a genuine alliance. Putin is arming himself against Chechnya by using a colonial approach that’s as old as the world: fostering a “new elite.” Some might call it collaborationist or compradorist. This elite is not only supposed to be isolated from its people and even sharply hostile towards it, so that it depends entirely on the power of the metropole. Many did not understand that Putin’s slogan, “chechenizing the war” was precisely this approach, thanks to which he established the necessary “new elite.” I already mentioned its attitude towards the Chechen people with reference to kadyrovites.
Today, Kadyrov and his most odious cadres, whose arms are up to the elbows in blood, have no shelter or defenders in the world other than Russia. I should add that criminal investigations launched against many of Kadyrov’s colleagues and assistants are currently on hold, but any of them can be reopened at any time. This is done, of course, so that they will be better at serving their Moscow master. But Chechens never forget or forgive harm done to them if the guilty party does not provide extenuating circumstances and genuinely repent. People in Chechnya suffer and wait, because they are wary of bringing a mortal blow upon their families, who have been turned into collective hostages by the kadyrovites. In fact, Russia looks like it might soon legalize the practice of collective responsibility on the initiative of its Chechen marionettes.
U.W.: How likely is it that the departure of Putin, by one means or another, from power might lead to a change in the current regional leadership in the Northern Caucasus, including that in Chechnya? From where might a renewed Northern Caucasus elite emerge and would it have at least the outline of a vision of the future? Of the direction that Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and the rest might take in the future?
– Kadyrov and Putin are connected by a bloodied umbilical cord, like a pair of Siamese twins. And as soon as Putin’s power collapses or even seriously wavers, it will have an instantaneous impact on the Northern Caucasus and on Kadyrov in particular. I don’t doubt that Putin’s very aggression against Ukraine will lead to his fall. It’s not for nothing that Kadyrov, who understands just how tightly his own fate is tied to that of Putin, is so verbosely nervous about Ukraine.
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U.W.: What is your thought of the current state of the Russian-Ukrainian war? What would you say are Ukraine’s chances, despite all the problems, of getting rid of Russia’s armed forces and mercenaries from its territory and to prevent Donbas from turning into another frozen conflict or a grey zone like Abkhazia or Southern Ossetia? How can Ukrainians win this one?
– Everything depends on Ukraine itself and the fighting spirit of Ukrainians. You need to understand that only a steadfast nationwide resistance can save the situation and repel the aggressor beyond the country’s borders. It’s very dangerous now, for Ukraine to keep living as though there isn’t any war. I think your country must declare a state of war and appropriately tighten legislation and stop playing one step forward, one step back with the enemy. Ukraine has enough strength to overcome the terrorist scum in the eastern regions and their Russian mentors.
But if the current undetermined state continues a bit longer and people don’t see results, there will come a psychological breaking point and Ukrainians will simply acquiesce to the fact that their country has lost considerable territory. The politicians in Kyiv will make wimpy statements, as happened in Georgia, about the country’s right to Crimea and the eastern oblasts, but in actual fact they will become Russian. We Chechens have a saying, “A war can only be stopped through war.” I wish for Ukraine to have a speedy victory!
Akhmed Zakayev is a Chechen military and political professional, a Brigadier General of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who has served as Minister of Culture and Deputy Premier (1998-2006) and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was a colleague of Djokhar Dudayev. At the end of 1994, he joined the Chechen Military HQ. In 1995, he was promoted to Brigadier General and was appointed Commander of the Urus-Martiyan front. In 1996, he became security advisor to CRI President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and secretary of the CRI Security Council. He was involved in the preliminary negotiations and preparations for the Khasavyurt [Dagestan] ceasefire. After the start of the Second Chechen War, he was appointed Commander of the Presidential Reserves of Aslan Maskhadov. In 2007, part of the Chechen diaspora recognized him as the Prime Minister of CRI in exile.
 One of several terms among the Caucasus nations for men who dedicated their lives to battle and in particular to partisan warfare against occupying Russia, sometimes called ‘avengers.’
 Anton Denikin was a general in the Russian Imperial Army who eventually led the Whites against the Reds.
 A subgroup of one-time Caucasus peoples known as Nakhs, that today includes the Chechen, Ingusheti and Kist people. Other Nakh groups have become extinct.