Roots of Chechnya Separatism


Towards the end of the Soviet War in Afghanistan (1980-88), Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew troops from what was Russia’s Vietnam. He proceeded in 1988 to advocate reform from within, as he promoted glasnost (openness) and perestroika (rebuilding). Open elections in the Soviet Union followed in 1989, for the first time in 70 years. 200,000 marched in 1990 before the Kremlin, calling for an end to the central Soviet government.

Independent satellite states, like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and others that had been occupied since the end of World War II, insisted on freedom and demanded that the Russians get out.

More significantly, the Soviet Union itself, comprised of 14 Republics, forged together in the 1920s after the Russian Revolution, also demanded independence from centralized Soviet control. The USSR soon imploded from within, as states like the Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia, and 11 others gained independence. A reactionary coup tried to reassert control, but the Soviet egg had been broken, and it couldn’t be put back together again.

After Russia lost control over the states occupied since 1945, and the 14 Republics that formed the Soviet Union, all that remained was the Russian land that predated the Russian Revolution. The problem was the separatist spirit was alive and longstanding religious or ethnic forces sought to break up Russia. This is where the Russians drew the line and fought to hold their territories.

After Boris Yeltsin replaced Gorbachev in 1991, as President of the new Russian Republic, he presided over the 1st Chechen War (1994-96). He tried to stop a secessionist revolt in Chechnya, which borders North Ossetia to the west, and the Republic of Georgia to the south. When a 2nd Chechen War (1999-09) erupted, Islamic forces invaded Dagestan, and the Russia people turned to former KBG Chief Vladimir Putin to replace Yeltsin. Putin promptly took a hard line to subdue the separatists, as he bombed the Chechnya capital at Grozny. The war later migrated into Ingushetia in 2007, located between Chechnya and North Ossetia.

Although Chechnya is a part of Russia, its people differ ethnically and have beliefs at odds with the Russians in Moscow. While they say they are freedom fighters, Russia calls them terrorists.

After the World Trade Center attack in 2001, the U.S. and Russia became allies against their respective terrorist enemies. Since Chechnya is opposed to the Russian government, and the U.S. is allied with Russia, the U.S. is now a target of some Chechnyans.

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One Comment to “Roots of Chechnya Separatism”

  1. Concise history lessons like this can be helpful for contemplating current events within a context.

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