And so, it has finally come to pass. In Moscow this May, Boris Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov, the recently elected President of Chechnya, signed an agreement “On Peace and the Principles of Relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.”
The High Contracting Parties—this is how they refer to themselves—announced their desire to “cease centuries of confrontation,” “to establish equal relations” built on “commonly recognized principles and norms of international law.” The italics are mine and I think they are indispensable. The terms used in the agreement are entirely unambiguous and can only mean that Russia has recognized that 1) Chechnya was never willingly part of Russia; 2) the Chechens have always resisted Russian dominion; and 3) today Moscow officially views Ichkeria as an independent state.
The word “independence,” however, is missing from the agreement. This is probably as it should be: last year, in the Dagestan town of Khasavyurt, Alexander Lebed and Maskhadov signed a document ending the war but postponing a final decision on the status of Chechnya until the year 2001. There’s no reason to rock the boat right away. But it is clear that such a decision (if, of course, nothing extraordinary occurs) will only strengthen de jure what is Moscow’s de facto recognition of the independence of its former province.
It is time to do a preliminary summing up of the Chechen crisis, the most significant event to have occurred so far in the history of the new Russia.
The most important thing, of course, is that the first article of the agreement renounces the use of force or even the threat of force in the resolution of disputes. If we set aside the unpredictability of Russian politics and imagine for a moment that the Kremlin (and the Chechen government in Grozny, for that matter) will keep to the principle that “treaties should be observed,” then we can assume that there is little danger of war breaking out again.
And since the war is over, the time is right to attempt to answer some of the questions that inevitably arise at the end of any war.
Why was the war begun, and how was the need to continue it justified?
What were the goals of the warring sides, and what did they actually achieve?
Who was the victor in this war, and who the vanquished?
What does the future hold for both sides?
I will try here to answer some of these questions.
The Kremlin officially maintained on many occasions that it resorted to the use of force in order to liquidate the illegitimate and undemocratic regime set up by the Chechen leader General Dzhokhar Dudayev; to prevent Chechnya from separating from Russia; to reestablish law and order and put an end to criminal activity in the republic; to protect human rights (in particular, the rights of Chechnya’s Russian-speaking population); and to prevent the creation of a dangerous center of Islamic fundamentalism in the North Caucasus.
In fact, of all…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.