WHEN independence was again denied in 1991, the separatist jihad revived by the winter of 1994. Its most prominent leader, Akhmad Abdulkhamidovich Kadyrov, was appointed chief mufti of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1995.
The Kadyrovs had been deported to Kazakhstan by Stalin, and returned home in 1957, after Stalin’s death. Born in 1951, Akhmad studied at the famous Mir-i-Arab Madrasah in Bukhara and the Islamic University in Tashkent. He summed up his theory of war in two pithy sentences: “There are a million Chechens, and 150 million Russians.
If every Chechen kills 150 Russians, we will win.” That bruising spirit was a hallmark of the mujahideen, who called themselves Grey Wolves, in the Chechen conflicts of that decade.
Russian morale was in quicksand when Putin, a year younger than Khadyrov, became Prime Minister in August 1999, Acting President on the last day of 1999, and President on May 7, 2000. In a serious of attacks, Chechens spread havoc in Moscow, taking a heavy toll of Russian blood and will. Putin split the Chechen resistance through a deal with Kadyrov.
Kadyrov became head of Chechnya’s Government in the summer of 2000, and was named President of the Chechen Republic on October 5, 2003. Eight months later he was dead.
Ramzan become Prez
On May 9, 2004, an explosion shattered the VIP enclosure during the Russian Victory Parade in Grozny, killing Kadyrov instantly. The attack had been ordered by a former colleague in the jihad, Shamil Basayev.
Putin kept his commitment to the family, appointing Akhmad’s young son Ramzan as President in 2007.
Ramzan Kadyrov has been loyal to Putin, sending troops to the Ukraine battlefront. Helped by generous funds from Moscow, he has turned Grozny into a vibrant city, resplendent with mosque spires. A principal mosque is named after his father.
Those tall spires, and indeed the long beards that Ramzan and his supporters wear, are a reminder that there is an older identity waiting for its moment. The spirit of independence has been subdued but not suppressed. It is not widely known that a battalion of Chechens is fighting on Ukraine’s side. They are not apolitical mercenaries. They are the grey wolves now risking their lives to weaken Russia, for their hopes of independence lie in a degradation of Russia’s ability to defend its protectorates.
Demographics tell the story: 94 per cent of Chechnya, 97 per cent of Ingushetia, 83 per cent of Dagestan, 70 per cent of KabardinoBalkaria, and 64 per cent of KarachayCherkessia is Muslim. One in six Crimeans is a Tatar. At 20 million, there are more Muslims in the Russian Federation than in Malaysia. Unspoken questions hover over northern Caucasus. The central one is: Can the present Russian Army, which promised to seize Kyiv within days and now sits behind deep minefields, survive another Chechen war, particularly if the Chechens are allied to Ukraine?
A number of Russian ‘autonomous republics’ or ‘federal states’ hang on to Moscow by a silken thread. Strong, but not steel. One switch could electrify this volatile space seething with currents, undercurrents and crosscurrents. What happens in Russia does not stay in Russia.
Across the Caspian
Caucasian volatility will not travel from Dagestan on the west coast of the Caspian to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on the eastern shores because the five ‘stans’ took their independence in 1991 and have preserved it. The communist USSR, or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was very socialist and theoretically soviet, but not much of a union. The Soviet Union constituted the largest Asian territory since Genghis Khan. That age of hegemony was replaced by an informal Russian umbrella over Central Asia. This has been punctured after Ukraine. Just as its war in Iraq eroded fear of future American military intervention, Ukraine has nullified dread of any Russian intervention in the ‘stans’.
The five heads were at the Kremlin on May 9 this year: Kazakhstan’s KassymJomart Tokayev, Kyrgyzstan’s Sadyr Japarov, Tajikistan’s Emomali Rahmon, Uzbekistan’s Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and Turkmenistan’s Serdar Berdimu- hamedow. But they went to be heard as much as to listen. The language of discourse had changed.
Difference of opinion
Tokayev reflected the difference when he distanced himself from Moscow’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2022. In an unscripted answer to a question from the floor, he said: “There are different opinions, we have an open society. Modern international law is the UN Charter.
Two UN principles, however, have come into contradiction—the territorial integrity of the state and the right of a nation to self-determination…” He had added that “if the right of a nation to selfdetermination is realised, more than 500 states will emerge on Earth and there will be chaos…” He could not resist taking a swipe at Russian parliamentarians who wanted to meddle in Kazakh affairs. He also praised China for investing over $22 billion in Kazakhstan over the past 15 years and becoming his country’s main economic and foreign trade partner.
Sitting calmly in the waiting room of superpowers, President Xi Jinping hosted the second China-led Central Asia Summit in May this year in Xian, capital of the Han dynasty between 206 BCE and 220 CE. He called the conference the highlight of China’s diplomatic calendar in 2023. One fact is obvious. The only nation which can fill the vacuum left by Russia’s retreat is China.