IMF, U.S. Fund Russian War in Chechnya
By Charles Overbeck
Boris Yeltsin's unpopular war effort in Chechnya got a huge shot in the arm recently when President Clinton personally rammed a U.S. loan of $10.2 billion for the Russian Federation through the International Monetary Fund. Approximately half of that money will go straight to the military occupation of Chechnya. Clinton publicly endorsed the war by saying he backed Russia's need to "maintain its territorial integrity."
Chechnya, a small country roughly the size of Connecticut with a predominantly Muslim population of around 1.2 million, declared independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Dzhokhar Dudayev, the Soviet Army general who once refused orders to shut down Estonia's parliament and television, was elected president of Chechnya in 1991.
Russia, woeful of losing control of Chechnya's rich oil and mineral reserves, and fearful of the spirit of revolution spreading to other Muslim regions of the Russian Federation, sent a KGB invasion force in mid-1994 to overthrow Dudayev. Chechen fighters routed this attack with an airport blockade. In December 1994, Yeltsin sent in the Russian Army to quell the rebellion.
Since the December 1994 invasion, the Russian military has killed 40,000 Chechens, and their "scorched earth" policy has laid the countryside to waste. Grozny, the Chechen capital, and Gudermes, the second-largest city, have been razed. At least 300,000 Chechens have been rendered homeless.
According to journalist Eric Margolis, who has spent the past three years covering the war for independence in Chechnya, "two thousand Chechen 'disappeared' after being arrested by KGB and Interior Ministry units. Human rights organizations accuse Russian forces of mass executions, bloodthirsty reprisals, and widespread torture."
Russia's brutal oppression of Chechen Muslims did not begin in 1994. The Chechens have fought czars and dictators alike in their 250-year struggle for independence from colonial Russian rule.
In 1944, Stalin had 800,000 Chechens loaded onto cattle cars and deported them to Siberia. Soviet geographers were ordered to erase Chechnya from their maps. By the time Stalin's deportation order was rescinded in 1957, over 450,000 Chechens had died.
The war has been heavily criticized in Russia as well as the international community. Troop moral is low, and some of Yeltsin's top generals have refused to obey orders against the Chechens and have publicly criticized the war effort.
When the elite troops of the Federal Security Service's Alpha Group were sent in to assist in the devastation of Pervomaiskoye, a town on the Chechen border, they refused to storm the village because of poor organization, according to the Obshchaya Gazeta. These elite commandos then walked away from the battlefield and bought train tickets to Moscow.
One young officer told the Boston Globe, "They used us as cannon fodder. We had no food, no ammunition. We did not even have communications with other units. There was no coordination. Half the time, the federal troops were firing at us."
In spite of the surreal state of chaos surrounding Russia's army, Chechnya's chances of attaining independence are grim. Soon after Yeltsin recently promised to open negotiations with Dudayev, the Chechen president died during an air strike. Dudayev's successor died within days at the hands of "rival Chechen forces." The Chechen resistance fighters, forced out of most urban areas, are currently carrying on a guerrilla campaign from hillside encampments. The 250-year struggle for freedom will continue, but as always, the deck is stacked against Chechnya.
By ramming the $10.2 billion loan through the IMF, Clinton sends Yeltsin a message that mass violations of human rights will not stop the flood of tens of billions of dollars from the U.S. to the Russian Federation. In fact, the funds may give Yeltsin the leverage he needs to bring an end to the Chechnya situation, which (among other things) has crippled the Russian president's chances of re-election in June.
The U.S. funds for the Chechen war go hand-in-hand with the Council of Europe's recent vote to accept Russia as a member, a move heavily criticized by human rights groups. France and Germany are also calling for Russia's admission into the G-7 nations, a club of the world's wealthiest and most powerful industrial nations. These developments will certainly be a political boon for Yeltsin's re-election bid.