Chapter 5
Vladimir P. Averchev
Deputy of State Duma of Russia


The War in Chechnya, being dramatic and even a tragic event in recent Russian history, is by no means an isolated or unique outcome of the functioning of the Russian society and Government. The most striking characteristic of the present state of affairs in Russia is a high degree of disintegration and mutual isolation of various components at societal, institutional, and organizational levels. The destroyed integrative mechanisms of totalitarian state have not yet been replaced by the democratic feedback and coordinating systems in Russia. Instead, this gap is increasingly filled by the substitutes like political myths and phantoms of different kinds. They are the myths in political and bureaucratic elites about value orientations and motivations of ordinary people and vice versa, widespread phantoms of great empire that no longer exists, but nonetheless exercises powerful influence on the attitudes and decisions of important elite groups. This inevitably produces widespread misperceptions, communication breakdowns, unintended outcomes, social and political anomies and crises of various kind and magnitude. War in Chechnya is a special case of such breakdowns in the sphere of the national security policy making.

NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY making and implementation is a complex process that is focused on the President of Russia and involves numerous institutions branches of executive and legislative branches of government at the national and local levels. Rationality of this process depends on the degree of consensus reached in society, among political elites, and branches of government regarding the national security interests and goals in particular situation and/or in particular region of the country or of the world. Its effectiveness (in terms of accuracy of assessments of a situation, adequacy of means chosen to reach the objectives, implementation control, etc.) depends on the state of the government machinery - efficiency of decision making and implementation structures and procedures, coordinating mechanisms and the like. In the case of war in Chechnya we are dealing with a breakdown of virtually all of these components.

The Chechnya crisis has lasted for several years and to the fall of 1994 there had been a broad consensus in Russia regarding the goals of the governmental policy toward Chechnya. With the exception of a small minority, the Russian public and political elites agreed that the goals of preserving territorial integrity of Russia and securing its geopolitical interests in Transcaucasian region are of such importance that they justify use a wide spectrum of political and economic pressures to reintegrate Chechnya into constitutional, political, and economic structures of Russia. But Russia turned out to become deeply divided regarding the means chosen by the President to reach these objectives. Public opinion, major political parties, legislature and even part of government have been against the use of armed forces or at least against the particular way they were being used in Chechnya. This division embraces the whole range of issues beginning from more technical ones that divided Russian military establishment and to the fundamental constitutional and ideological issues like limits of legitimate use of force, parliamentary control over the executive, precedence of individual human rights over interests of state, the right of an ethnic group to a territory of its own, etc. These divisions in themselves were not the outcome of one particular decision by the President but in fact preceded his decision to use military force in Chechnya. They existed implicitly or explicitly as a side effect of the breakdowns in the subsystems of Russian society and government mentioned above and made this fatal decision possible and even inevitable.

Constitution that granted to the President vast, practically authoritarian powers, led during 1994 to a growing isolation of his office from the rest of society. All attempts of Yeltsin's entourage to create feedback and communication mechanisms and eventually to secure a popular support for him without the help of political parties were inconsistent and eventually failed (the Treaty on National Accord, Presidential Council, President's Public Chamber, etc.). On the side of a general public it resulted in a growing sense of alienation from and helplessness in the face of the government bureaucracy to even a greater degree than under communist regime. On the Presidential side we witnessed the formation of myths about the mood and expectations of society. In particular, the idea that a decisive use of force in Chechnya would appeal to the Russian public and would help to restore President's popularity was widely cited as one of the main motives of his decision. Even more, after the initial failure of military "quick solution" of the Chechnya's problem, the President could proceed along the same road despite active protests and widespread passive rejection of his policy.

The Constitution had . the same institutional effect on the relationship between the President and the parliament in the case of the war in Chechnya. From the very beginning both the State Duma and Council of Federation opposed the brutal use of force in Chechnya. But the absence of an effective balance of power in the Constitution did not allow the parliament to check presidential decisions and ensuing governmental actions. The Council of Federation was unable to exercise its authority to approve or disapprove the introduction of the emergency rule in Chechnya and hence the use of force inside the country simply because the President did not ask for it. Later it even lost its case against the President in the Constitutional Court which ruled that the President did not violate the Constitution by issuing an executive decree to disarm "illegal" armed "gangs" without specifying the methods to be used to fulfill this goal. This case highlighted the existence of the vast "gray zones" in Russian laws that regulate the use of armed force and which were skillfully used by the government to avoid parliamentary control. The majority of factions and groups in the State Duma also condemned the President for the launching the War in Chechnya, but the Duma failed to exercise its limited powers of control over the government. First, there were several attempts to pass a law that forbade the use of armed forces in Chechnya or, more generally, to stipulate the use of force by a requirement to pass a special law in each particular case. The Duma failed to create a legal basis for its control over the government due to various political reasons. But the main obstacle are the above-metioned constitutional provisions granting vast powers to the President. Second, budgetary control --the only potentially effective instrument of Duma's influence over the executive branch -- has also proved to be useless in this particular case. The beginning of the Chechen operation coincided with the final stage of the budget consideration in the parliament. Several factions tried to stop the war by banning any additional appropriations for the military operations. But the government argued that the limited operation in Chechnya both in terms of scale and duration could be implemented without any additional funding above already agreed upon appropriations for the "power" ministries. Later on when the grave miscalculations by the government of the costs of the war in Chechnya became obvious, the situation of the government was saved by the inflation, which turned out to be much higher than the projection used for the budgetary calculations. As a result, the government accumulated large nonallocated funds which it could use at its own discretion since the law also does not contain provisions for the such situation. Third, the State Duma created special investigative commission to look into the roots, causes, and consequences of the Chechnya crisis. But since the Constitution does not provide control powers to the Duma outside the budget control, the activities of this commission from the very beginning were little more than an exercise in public relations. Nonetheless, it served its role as a standing public forum for discussion and clarification's of positions of various groups toward the War in Chechnya. On the positive side, the lessons from the Chechnya crisis have given strong impetus to the legislative process to close loopholes in the laws that regulate national security matters.

War in Chechnya dramatically highlighted serious flaws and breakdowns in the architecture and functioning of the administrative machinery of Russian government in the matters of national security policy making and implementation. Formally, the President is the focal point of an elaborate network of units and positions intended to provide information support and coordination for making and implementing major security decisions. It includes the Security Council, the National security assistant, the President's Administration, various intelligence agencies, etc. In practice, this network lacks clearness in terms of authority, subordination, and procedural coordination. Thus, the Security Council, being a constitutional body, still does not have a law that would define its status and authority. The accounts of the Council's meeting where decision on launching Chechnya operation was made, show its inability as a collegial body to seriously discuss all alternatives available and to monitor the implementation process.

A brief analysis presented here shows that the most pressing problems in the national security policy sphere in Russia lie not so much in the substantial as in the institutional, organizational, and procedural aspects of functioning of the Russian state. Without fundamental changes in these areas crises will be inevitably repeated in the domestic as well as in the international security matters by the institutional and organizational failures. It is not a coincidence that reestablishment of internal cohesiveness and integrating mechanisms of Russian society and state has being become one of the core issues of political debates and the election campaign for parliament in 1995.


© 2007 Chechen Republic Online