Imperialist Tensions in the Caucasus: massacres in Chechnya
Reality has demonstrated again and again that the end of the old bloc system in no way meant an end to war and that the "new world order" promised by president Bush was nothing but a lie. Today the whole planet is militarised and armed to the teeth; there are around fifty bloody conflicts going on at the same time, conflicts in which imperialist powers large and small slug it out, while whole populations are subject to the threat of extermination and mass exodus.
The cynicism of the great powers
Since October 1, the new war in Chechnya perpetrated by the Russian army has proved to be even worse than the first intervention in the region in 1994-6, and the region in 1994-6, and that one resulted in 100,000 deaths. The frontiers have been closed; the civilian population, isolated and encircled, has been massacred blindly by missiles, fragmentation bombs and, according to Brzezinski, former adviser to president Carter (Le Monde 18 November), the "fuel air" bombs which were used to such murderous effect in the Gulf war. At the beginning of this new intervention, Russia justified this butchery with the claim that it was seeking to wipe out the bases of "Chechen terrorism". Today, backed by a Sacred Union of the bourgeoisie which goes from Stalinists like Zuganov to the champions of 'democracy' like the major of Moscow, Louijkov, Russia is openly proclaiming that its aim is to reconquer Chechnya and bring it back into its fold.
The western bourgeoisie pretends to be concerned about the fate of the local population and has remonstrated with Russia at the recent summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held in Istanbul. The sending of a few OSCE observers to Chechnya (which Russia accepted without difficulty) was in fact no more than a humanitarian pretext and has changed nothing. This was a summit of hypocrisy.
The Moscow government promised a 10% reduction in non-nuclear weapons, therenon-nuclear weapons, there was a charter proclaiming a general de-escalation of military spending, and in the meantime the summit closed its eyes to the intensification of the bombing of Chechnya. And above all, as with East Timor, we had the vague disapproval of the bourgeois 'community' two months after the massacres began. Why? Here, in contrast to Kosovo, the 'right to interfere' or the principle of 'humanitarian intervention' have never been invoked, even though it's patently obvious that Yeltsin and his prime minister Putin are using the same methods as Milosevic.
The fact is that Russia has enjoyed the total complicity of the big western powers who have coldly, cynically stood by while the Chechen population has been murdered en masse. This is one more proof that humanitarian arguments are just excuses for the use of armed force. As for the so-called Non-Governmental Organisations, which have always served as the bridgeheads for military intervention by the great powers, they have been almost totally absent, even Medecins Sans Frontieres which has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but which seems to have looked the other way as far as Chechnya is concerned. Behind their statements of indignation, all the western leaders have wanted, covered, and supported the Russian offensive in the northern Caucasus. There has beerthern Caucasus. There has been a wide consensus among the western bourgeoisie not to cause problems for Russia and to allow it to carry on with its methodical slaughter. The western powers want at all cost to avoid the disintegration of what remains of the Russian Federation, which is still the biggest country in the world, stretches across two continents and is stuffed with nuclear arsenals. This is why the French spokesman Fabius declared that
"France supports the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and condemns terrorism, operations of destabilisation and fundamentalism, which are threats to democracy" (Le Monde 7.10.99).
The present threat of the disintegration of Russia is a consequence of the collapse of the USSR. It represents a new step in the aggravation of world-wide chaos and the decomposition of capitalist society. It also points more clearly than before to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which is a product of this decomposition and has manifested itself in numerous countries (Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, etc; and, within the Russian Federation, through the Islamic troops of the Chechen Bassaev and of Khattab in Dagestan).
However, compared to their reaction at the beginning of the Russian he beginning of the Russian intervention, we have seen a harder tone coming from the western powers, an increasing pressure on Russia. But this has nothing to do with any concern about the fate of the local populations and everything to do with their sordid imperialist interests.
The big imperialist powers continue to aggravate barbarism and chaos
Through the war in Chechnya, Russia is also trying to recuperate its imperialist interests in the southern Caucasus, and it's here that it is coming up against the majority of the other big imperialist powers who have been trying to eject it from this eminently strategic region. If today certain European states like Germany and France are beginning to have 'disagreements' with Russia and to make gestures towards the Chechen leaders, it's solely in order to advance their own imperialist ambitions in this region.
The big powers are, as a matter of fact, being confronted with their own contradictions. They all have an interest in preventing a new explosion of what's left of Russia, in stopping it from sliding into uncontrollable chaos. But at the same time they have an interest in drawing the maximum profit from the weakening of Russia and in limiting its imperialist influence in this zone. This is notably the case wit. This is notably the case with the USA. The director of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Kazakhstan has declared that
"The USA is trying to exploit the myth of vast oil reserves around the Caspian sea in order to eliminate Russian influence from central Asia and the Caucasus" (Financial Times, 10.11.99).
As for France, it's fear of being left out of the game and its need to find a foothold in the Caucasus has led it to more and more espouse the "Chechen cause", complete with increased TV coverage about the effects of war on the Chechen population.
Today, more than ever, the control of this strategic region made up of the Caucasian countries of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea has become a crucial prize. The USA and its oil companies have a controlling hand on all the big energy extraction projects from central Asia to Turkey and including the southern Caucasus. Whether we're talking about the export of gas from Turkmenistan or the oil pipelines, the policy of the US is to create for itself the widest possible network, incorporating a number of points of access. One of the two main oil pipelines is the one that links the oil of the Caspian to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan.
The other, which was only completed in May 1999, goes through the Georgian port of Soupsa. The USA's main aim is to undermine rival Russian projects. To carry though this enterprise, the other main beneficiary of which will be Turkey (and behind Turkey, Germany), the USA has also supervised the settlement of the conflict in High Karabakh, a zone situated close to the pipeline. This has resulted in a reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, involving concessions towards Armenian claims on this territory, which was the object of a very bloody war between 1992 and 94. This agreement will also make it possible to detach Armenia from its alliance with the Kremlin.
As for Russia, for whom the Caspian oil reserves remain of vital economic importance, its two ways of access have been blocked. The first, which went right through the middle of Chechnya, was ruined last year by mysterious acts of sabotage. Russia then built a new section going round Chechnya and through Dagestan, leading to the Russian port of Novosiisk on the Black Sea. The incursion of Chechen rebels into Dagestan in August cut off this route.
Just as it launched its offensive in Chechnya, Russia also increased its threats towards the independent countries of the southern Caucasus. Azerbaijan, which hascasus. Azerbaijan, which has close links with Turkey, has for months been accused by Moscow of backing the Chechen and Dagestan terrorists. Since 1991 Russia has also been supporting the Abkhari and Ossetian separatists in Shevardnaze's Georgia. Gorbachev's ex-foreign minister Shevardnaze has himself escaped several assassination attempts carried out on Moscow's orders, notably in February 1998. Georgia has borders with Chechnya, and has a potential ally in Turkey.
Above all, pressure has been stepped up on Armenia, which has been accused of treason. At the very moment when an agreement on oil was signed under US tutelage between the three Caucasian states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the Armenian prime minister and six other political figures, including the parliament's chairman, were assassinated in a full session of the national assembly by a commando group which was probably acting on behalf of the Kremlin. Finally, Russia has found another way of exerting pressure on Georgia. Despite the difficulties of passing its mountainous frontiers, Georgia is the only port in the storm for Chechen refugees who have found that neighbouring Ingusetia is already saturated.
It could therefore also be a haven for Chechen rebels. Russia could easily use this as a pretext for threatening military interven threatening military intervention against Georgia. This has upped the stakes of the whole situation. Far from backing off, the Americans have rushed to confirm the oil agreement between the Caucasian states, Kazakhstan and Turkey, an agreement which clearly excludes Russia from the region, and which was publicly ratified at the OSCE summit. There are other definite signs of a sharpening of tensions. Under US pressure, the head of the IMF, the Frenchman Camdessus, who symbolised the policy of generosity towards Russia even after the scandal of the misappropriation of IMF funds by the Yeltsin clan, suddenly announced his intention to retire.
Parallel to this, the Pope's visit to Georgia was very coldly received by the orthodox church which is under Russian tutelage (a communiqué from the patriarch of Tbilisi forbade its faithful from taking part in a mass presided over by Jean-Paul).
Today, the whole Caucasus region is threatened by a conflagration involving rival imperialist powers. But the future of Russia itself is also directly linked to this. Russia is caught in a real dilemma:
- either, and this is not very likely, it accepts a new humiliation by withdrawing from Chechnya, which would encourage other territories to break away from Russia. Thisk away from Russia. This would open the door to chaos and the disintegration of Russia;
- or it carries on with its headlong flight towards war in the southern Caucasus, where it will more and more find itself up against the immediate interests of the USA and Turkey. This would set alight an equally dangerous powder-keg that could drag in the former Soviet republics of central Asia.