Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, a former KGB agent who became one of the KGB’s harshest critics. He is the author of seven books about the KGB and Japan. His new book is KGB/FSB’s New Trojan Horse: Americans of Russian Descent.
FP: Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about Putin’s war on Chechnya, which we don’t really hear about much these days. Has Russia succeeded in stifling the Chechens? Fill us in on the latest developments.
Preobrazhenskiy: Thanks Jamie.
The situation in Chechnya is full of serious problems, but it is better than during the Chechen war in 1994, which the Russian authorities were not really ready to face at that time. The Northern Caucasus had been the terra incognita for the Kremlin leaders before the war. It may be explained by the fact that the local elite was not included into the higher hierarchies of the Soviet leadership, as was the situation with the Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani functionaries. The Kremlin leaders were very well aware of the situation in these three republics, as they themselves would pay regular visits to these republics, spending their summer vacations there and mingling with the higher echelon officials in informal gatherings. Yet the Northern Caucasus was living an isolated life while being governed by the provincial leaders from the local ethnic groups. The Kremlin bureaucrats hardly ever visited them, as the area was considered the “back seat” of the Caucasus.
It stands to reason why the Kremlin was so much surprised with the staunchness of the Chechen rebels. Some time had to pass before the Russians discovered the vulnerability of the Chechens: their subdivisions into clans. Other republics of the Northern Caucasus follow the same social pattern.
The FSB has now figured out that it only has to stir up the inter-clan rivalries in order to lessen the Chechen threat. This was a totally new understanding for Russia, as the Communist leaders were trying to tolerate the clan differences as atavism of the feudal epoch. Officially, the existence of the clans in the Caucasus and central Asia was totally ignored. Unofficially, it was taken into consideration by those who were allowed to speak about the clans: the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the KGB. But they simply were mostly concentrated on the belonging of this or that local leader to this or that clan and they tried to not allow people of the same clan to be concentrated too much in the local governments. In fact, their tactics were passive because clans were not acknowledged by Communist ideology.
FP: And the current Russian rulers are much more sophisticated, right?
Preobrazhenskiy: Yes absolutely. They are not restricted by ideology and nothing prevents them from stirring up and utilizing the inter-clan conflicts.
This is something that the Soviet authorities had never done before. They had been governing the Northern Caucasus by methods rooted in the Communist ideology, aiming at the softening the ethnic distinctions and at creating “the new Soviet person.” The existence of the clans was altogether ignored. By manipulating the clans, the Kremlin only deepened the rift of distinctions. One clan was intentionally substituted by another in “favors” in order to plant hatred between them. For instance, during both Chechen wars, the Yamadayev clan was collaborating with the Russian troops a lot. In 2000, this clan began fighting on the Russian side after yielding the city of Gudermes to the Russian troops without any resistance.
Similar tactics were utilized in Ingushetia. Ingushetia’s President Marat Zyazikov had been very loyal to Moscow and was disliked by his own people. In November 2008, the Kremlin appointed a new President, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who belonged to another family clan
FP: And what has Putin been doing?
Preobrazhenskiy: Putin has tolerated Chechnya by doing the thing which even the Russian tsars could not do: installing his own “Prince” there. The thing is that the Russian Empire colonized the Caucasus by bribing their princes and introducing them into the highest circles of the Russian aristocracy. This method was very effective: the new members of the Russian nobility were becoming the flagmen of Russian interests in the Caucasus and, inevitably, sincere Russian patriots. They were granted all rights and privileges of Russian nobility.
In 1917, Khan of Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijani national and a Russian General, was the only Russian General to protest against the dethroning of the Tsar Nicolas II, even though all other “true” Russian Generals betrayed their Tsar. General Khan of Nakhichevan refused to take the oath before the new government and was shot. As for Chechnya, its society was free. They did not have any princes. There was nobody to bribe, as everybody was equal. This factor contributed to Russians taking much bloodier methods in order to conquer Chechnya.
But what seemed impossible for the Imperial Russia became reality in current Russia: President Putin has corrected this historic blunder by placing a “Prince” in Chechnya. This “Prince” is none other than President Kadyrov. Unlike the real Prince, however, the latter has not been so much restricted by laws. He has a free hand in anything he wants on one condition only: he must be loyal to the Russian government. In fact, he can be compared to a Russian medieval vassal.
The Kadyrov’s clan is governing Chechnya now. They have supporters there.
FP: We can all remember very well a sincere all-national patriotic burst of the Chechens to get their national liberation in the early 1990s. Can this all-national burst be repeated now?
Preobrazhenskiy: I think, not. The Kremlin put the Chechen Republic under its most strict control.
FP: So how serious is the Caucasus problem then? It can’t really exist independently anyway, can it? It doesn’t have an economy after all.
Preobrazhenskiy: Well Jamie, the Northern Caucasus is an ill-coordinated, multi-ethnic and multi-religious region. Its religions are not only Islam with it various fractions, but also Christianity and paganism. Its republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Northern Ossetia are claiming each other’s territories.
Throughout history, not all people of the Northern Caucasus were forced to merge with the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Some of them did it voluntarily: the Kabardins, Ossetians, and, partially, Dagestanians. The Ossetians are by and large pro-Russian now. They are grateful to Russia for placing Southern Ossetia under Russian political control, the fact that was viewed as the restoration of “The Great Ossetia”. The Ossetians are about to become the promoters of Russian interests in the Caucasus.
The economy of Northern Caucasus is not so much developed. It depends on subsidies from Moscow, making 70-90 per cent of budget of some republics. If they become independent, who will feed them? America? Turkey?
But Chechnya is an exception. It has oilfields. It may exist independently. But Russia will never allow it. Especially nowadays, when the Kremlin has proclaimed the course of restoration of the Soviet Union, while the first Chechen war of 1994 began on the wave of enthusiasm caused by the dissolution of the USSR.
The Kremlin has put its plans into practice. Recently, the Ukraine returned under its control, probably Kirgizstan is next, and sooner or later it will be Georgia’s turn.
FP: Tell us about Georgia.
Preobrazhenskiy: Georgia is a delicate region where interests of America and Russia come into conflict. Chechnya and Georgia have a common border. So the Kremlin will pay more attention to this border. It is very significant and symbolic that during the Georgian war of August 2008, two Chechen battalions “East” and “West” were fighting on the Russian side. Not on the Georgian one.
FP: What is the story on the Chechen terrorists?
Preobrazhenskiy: In Russia, the potential terrorists have had the ground cut from under them. It was done under Putin, who invented the method to cripple the terrorists. In the case of acts of terror, the Russians mostly ignore the victimizing of hostages and concentrate on killing all terrorists. Of course, for the West, this tactic is not acceptable, but in Russia it is effective. It makes terrorism senseless.
The price of human life in Russia is very low. It is our national tradition which has been retained even now, in spite of the shrinking population.
The acts of terror are intended to not just murder people, but to achieve some political goals: to seed panic and to inspire people’s dissatisfaction with their government which can not defend them. Bu Russians do not even expect such protection. They know that the government will never defend them, and it is our tradition too.
The Russia government does not have any special obligation to its people. But the people have a lot of obligations to their government, and army service, aimed at defending the government.
It is only the West, where high positioned leaders are bargaining with terrorists in order to save hostages’ lives. The presidents are afraid of not being reelected. And is it possible that in Russia somebody would say “Let us not reelect Medvedev because he could not defend us from terrorism”? No such a slogan will not get supporters. And also there is no mechanism of people influencing the presidential elections. Russians know that no matter how they vote, the Kremlin’s candidate will win the elections.
Chechens are not chauvinistic. Though sometimes they suffer in Russia some unofficial discrimination like illegal detentions and beatings in the police, they do not hate Russian people.
They understand that common Russians are not responsible for their government. It can not be influenced by the common people.
The recent acts of terror in Moscow have not achieved a single terrorist goal. What did they want to demonstrate and to whom? Did they it stir up anti-governmental sentiments among Russians? Not at all.
FP: It is interesting that the terrorists chose the Lubyanka station where the FSB is located, yes?
Preobrazhenskiy: Yes it is interesting, but the FSB itself did not suffer, as usual. The Lubyanka is a nickname for the FSB, as Langley is the CIA. So we can see something symbolic there.
Maybe this act of terror was needed by somebody in Moscow to demonstrate something to somebody. The real governmental life in Russia is so secret that we can only guess.
FP: Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Leave a Reply