Russia's invasion of Chechnya: A Preliminary Assessment

By Stephen J. Blank and Earl H. Tilford, Jr.
Date: January 13, 1995


The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Government of the Chechen Republic.



Our analysis of the Chechnya invasion is that it is indicative of the larger issue of Russia's seeming failure to create a viable state. If that is the case, the implications may go beyond the individual issues of Chechnya's attempted secession and the general complexities of the ethnic conflict problem in the CIS. The Chechnya invasion, and the way it is resolving, have cast doubt on the ability of Boris Yeltsin and his colleagues to create stable, lawful, and legitimate governing institutions in Russia. The extent to which the civilian leadership can control the army may also be in question. At the same time, the government has shown too great a willingness to use military force at home. Indeed, since 1989, Soviet and now Russian armed forces have been used in Georgia, Azerbaijan (twice), the Baltic, in Moscow (twice), throughout the Caucasus, and now again in Chechnya to compel submission to Moscow. All these interventions have failed, along with the covert operations that preceded them. Accordingly, these failures have undermined not only Russia's prestige and power abroad, but also threaten the foundations of the post-Communist Russian state itself.

Even before the Chechen coups and the invasion, two Russian analysts had already proclaimed that settling the minorities issue in Russian society and managing the Soviet legacy are tasks that must also include international institutions, not just the ethnic minorities on the spot and the Moscow government.39 Aleksandr' Konovalov and Dimitri Evstatiev's argument for including international institutions is based on the fact that those institutions alone can provide an objectivity and criteria for settlement that eludes Russia because of the common perception that Russia is "the main heir of the imperial past and the main source of totalitarian practice in inter-ethnic relations."40 This invasion has, if anything, enhanced the validity of this argument and heightened the urgency of international diplomatic and political intervention.

By invading Chechnya despite the aforementioned strategic vulnerabilities, the actions of Yeltsin and his colleagues suggest that they may not be able to manage that Soviet legacy and preserve peace in Eurasia. Similarly, by trampling on Russian democracy's fragile efforts to establish legal controls on government actions and on the armed forces, Yeltsin has seemingly repudiated his own statements of December 6, 1994 in Budapest that "it was too early to bury Russian democracy."

If that is, indeed, the case then Yeltsin may have, in the words of the poet Mayakovsky, "stepped on the throat of his own song" to become the gravedigger of the third Russian Revolution (1905 and 1917 being the first two). If European intervention in Russia due to proliferating violence, and/or the death of Russian democracy come to pass, history will not soon forgive those who have ignited the fire of war on their own territory without having the means to put it out.

39. Alexander A. Konovalov and Dmitri Evstatiev, "The Problem of Ethnic Minority Rights Protection in the Newly Independent States," in Cuthbertson and Leibowitz, eds., Minorities: The New Europe's Old Issue, pp. 159-60. (Back to text)

40. Ibid. (Back to text)


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