The year ahead could see the outbreak of the third Chechen war, which, in turn, could be the death knell of the Russian Federation in its current borders. If, as is imaginable, Russia dismembers itself later this century — the way the Soviet Union did in 1991 — it will largely be a consequence of President Vladimir Putin’s policies.
Putin came to power in the 1990s, when civil war broke out in Chechnya, a constituent republic of Russia in the North Caucasus. The first Chechen war, between 1994 and 1996, was ignited by Muslim rebels demanding independence from Moscow. A second war started in 1999, when Putin was moving rapidly toward Kremlin leadership, first as President Boris Yeltsin’s national security adviser, then as prime minister. With Yeltsin’s health and grip on power failing, Putin emerged as the driving force behind a scorched-earth policy — with massive collateral damage to the population as a whole. That conflict lasted a decade.
For the past five years, the situation has been more or less quiescent, though neighbouring republics have been rocked by violence. The lull in Chechnya, however, ended in early December with a series of bloody incidents in the Chechen capital of Grozny.
The group behind the resurgence of unrest is advocating a “Caucasus Caliphate,” with ties to al Qaeda and, more recently, Islamic State. There is at least an indirect tie between outside support for Islamic radicalism in the Caucasus and Putin’s sponsorship of Russian secessionism in eastern Ukraine.
By proclaiming ethnicity and religion as the basis for Russian statehood and aggression against its neighbours, Putin is inadvertently stoking the forces of secessionism in those parts of Russia that are historically and culturally Islamic.