Vladislav Bugera
Philosopher, political publicist, and independent left-wing activist (Russia).

Today Chechens and Abkhaz are fighting in the Donbass alongside Russian soldiers and troops of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. Thirty years ago Chechens and Russians were fighting in Abkhazia alongside Abkhaz combatants. Indeed, not only Chechens – representatives of many peoples of the Northern Caucasus took part in defending Abkhazia from the Georgian occupiers. However, they themselves were called occupiers by Georgian nationalists. Just as the Russian soldiers, including the Chechens fighting in the Russian army, are now called occupiers by Ukrainian nationalists.

And it was only two years after the war in Abkhazia that Russian soldiers in Chechnya became the same sort of occupiers as were Georgian soldiers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and as are Ukrainian soldiers in the "Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics" today. And the same Chechen fighters who not long before were defending Abkhazia with Russian support became partisans fighting against the Russian occupiers -- occupiers just as cruel to the civilian population of Chechnya as the Ukrainian occupiers are now to the civilian population of the Donbass. The Russian mass media today often recall ‘Odessa’s Khatyn’ – Trade Unions House in Odessa.[1] But nor should we forget the ‘Chechen Khatyn’ – the village of Samashki.[2]

Unlike the government in Kiev, the Kremlin has shown itself capable of coming to agreements its adversaries. In 1996 Moscow concluded a peace agreement with insurgent Chechnya, and just over three years later, during the second Chechen war, it turned out that most of Moscow’s former enemies were now its allies and their leaders loyal vassals of the Kremlin. In the first Chechen war too, there were some Chechens – inhabitants of the Nadterechny County of the Republic of Ichkeria[3] – who supported Russia, but they were in the minority. In the course of the second Chechen war everything changed. Permanently?

From 1991 to the present Chechens have often fought Chechens. In the Donbass today, for example, some Chechens fight under Russian command while others fight for the government in Kiev. A quarter of a century ago some of them were comrades-in-arms.

Russia and the Caucasus… How different are the attitudes of the various peoples of the Caucasus toward Russia, and how often have those attitudes changed over the last two hundred years!

The Russian state and its policy in the Caucasus have also undergone enormous changes over these two hundred years. But one thing in this policy has remained constant: neither the tsarist empire nor the Soviet Union nor the Russian Federation has ever allowed the various ethnic groups of the Northern Caucasus to unite in anything like a federation encompassing the whole or at least large parts of the Northern Caucasus. St. Petersburg and Moscow have offered the peoples of the Northern Caucasus first tsarist provinces (gubernii), then a conglomerate of small autonomous units within Georgia and the Russian Republic (RSFSR) of the USSR and then within the Russian Federation, and finally gradual recognition of sovereign statehood (as in the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the disintegration of the Soviet Union) – but never a federation. And yet within the framework of a federation the peoples of the Northern Caucasus could try to find a common language not just in accordance with the paternal guidance of the wise northern arbitrator but in direct interaction.

In the absence of a federation this has always somehow not turned out very well. The ethnic groups of the Northern Caucasus continue to quarrel among themselves, not to mention the internal quarrels within each group. Are they really so irreconcilable? And do we not find here another paradox? Does Russia not unite the peoples of the Northern Caucasus while at the same time dividing them?

To unite while dividing. To reconcile while dividing. In Transcaucasia it would seem that Moscow has been trying for the last thirty-five years to reconcile Armenia and Azerbaijan as they wrestle over Artsakh.[4] Yet ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union Russia has been arming both these states, preparing them – as it turns out – for new wars. Efforts to reconcile the Azerbaijanis and Armenians have got nowhere. Does this mean that Russian diplomacy has failed? Or perhaps it has not failed and the Kremlin has simply not been trying very hard?

Or perhaps, if only the Transcaucasian federation (ZSFSR) created in the 1920s had not so soon been destroyed by Stalin and his Politburo, Armenia and Azerbaijan would have grown accustomed to tackle problems arising in their mutual relations peacefully within its framework? Perhaps Georgia too, within the framework of that federation, would gradually have rid itself of that bellicose chauvinism which had already manifested itself in all its repulsiveness under the Menshevik government [of 1918-21], flourished under Stalin and Beria, persisted under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, and during the disintegration of the Soviet Union prompted Georgia to unleash colonial-racial wars of the kind that Ukraine has been waging in the Donbass for the last eight years? Questions worth pondering.

No United States of the Northern Caucasus has ever yet arisen in any form. But does it follow from this that such a slogan is unrealistic in principle? And if such a federation were to take shape, then would it not succeed in bringing the peoples of the Northern Caucasus closer together—including the ethnic Russians, who have long been an indigenous people of the region? And is a federation of peoples of the Northern Caucasus possible inside Russia? And if so, then under what conditions and with what consequences? How many important questions for social scientists to investigate!

Investigations that should aim to resolve a practical question: how to reduce the number of tragic paradoxes in the life of the peoples of the Caucasus?



[1] Khatyn was a village near Minsk where almost all inhabitants were massacred on March 22, 1943 by German troops. On May 2, 2014, some scores of Russian-speaking activists who had taken refuge in Odessa’s Trade Unions House were burned alive after Ukrainian nationalists set the building on fire, or died or were killed while trying to escape.

[2] Samashki is a village in western Chechnya where Russian troops massacred up to 300 civilians on April 7 and 8, 1995.

[3] In northwestern Chechnya, along the border with Ingushetia.

[4] Formerly known as Nagorno-Karabakh.