The post-Soviet Russia acts under new international conditions that no longer accept traditional patterns of imperial domination. However, Russia’s long history as an empire and its complex relations with non-Russian nationalities make it a challenge to create a new power-sharing mechanism with the regions. A case in point is Chechnya.
Russia’s Chechnya problem was a problem of rebuilding a state under growing ethno-nationalist pressures -- and by a regime that was itself of separatist origin and came to power by toppling the central authority. By the time Yeltsin had decided to intervene in Chechnya in the early 1994, it was already too late. Dudaev was no longer in full control of the republic and had to share power with organized crime. Political instability followed. The society fragmented and could no longer function as a whole.20 And Russia’s army – a state institution that was highly demoralized and humiliated during the protracted campaign to discredit the Soviet system – could not come near to restoring order and exacerbated the situation by engaging in criminal activities, brutalities and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. All of this made it extremely difficult to restore order and the state’s ability to govern in the republic. The peace agreement did not last, and violence returned with renewed force.
Even after the end of the second Chechnya war in 2004, Russia continued to suffer from multiple terrorist attacks, and some analysts projected a further growth of violence in the region.21 Beslan further exposed weaknesses of the Russian state and the rule of law. These weaknesses were all too evident in the corruption of local officials that made it possible for terrorists to safely pass several security check points, inadequate special services and delays to the proper investigation of the terrorist act. The solution therefore was not in negotiating with Basaev, but rather in strengthening state governance and increasing the Chechen people’s involvement in ruling their republic.
The Kremlin proposed a series of steps which included a far reaching reform of the political system. At the heart of the proposed reform was the idea of a further centralization of decision-making. Local governors were no longer to be elected; instead, they were to be nominated by the president and confirmed by local legislative bodies. Russia also stepped up its counter-terrorist activities and promised to continue with its Chechenization policy by holding new parliamentary elections in Chechnya and gradually expanding political rights in the republic. New parliamentary elections in Chechnya took place in November 2005, with the overall voter turnout claiming 60%, far exceeding the minimum 25% mark mandated by law.22 After eliminating the most notorious terrorists, the Kremlin also offered Chechen fighters several amnesties and incentives to lay down their arms, and thousands of them did so. In addition, Moscow allocated more than 2 billion dollars in extra federal assistance to the region. Gradually, Chechnya emerged into a different place, with refugees returning, terrorists leaving the republic and the rest of the Northern Caucasus taking interest in Chechnya reconstruction.
A State-Controlled Democracy
Although Russia’s experience of combining democratization with other state-building challenges has been a mixed one, its overall trajectory is rather positive. Russia has come a long way from communism while preserving some important attributes of state governance. Lacking a strong middle class and political order – conditions that are critical for a functioning democracy – the country has created a necessary macroeconomic environment and abstained from attempts to restore its empire. Partly because of the adoption of radical economic reforms, Russia had almost become a failed state,23 but it subsequently revived its economy and a good measure of political viability.
The fragility of Russia’s political system helps us to understand the Kremlin’s nervous reaction to Western democratization pressures and the colored revolutions. The colored revolutions were strongly supported by the Western nations, but from Russia’s standpoint the revolutions had a destabilizing effect. Georgia under President Mikheil Saakashvili has had problems solving vital social and political issues, and in dealing with separatist regions, Tbilisi increasingly relied on force, while pressuring Russia out of the region. The Orange coalition in Ukraine, for its part, failed to address the root causes of the revolution. Those causes—poor living conditions and unpopular leadership—remained in place, and the country remained unstable.24 Georgia and Ukraine have also expressed their desire to join NATO, which adds to Russia’s sense of strategic insecurity.25In Kyrgyzstan, yet another case of a colored revolution, the situation was arguably the worst, partly because of the country’s location. Sandwiched between the Ferhana Valley and China’s Xinjiang province, Kyrgyz territory was commonly used as a transit route by drug traffickers, Islamic militants, and Uighur separatists. Kyrgyzstan’s change of power in March 2005 was accompanied by violence and looting, and the new regime had difficulties in preventing criminal groups from shaping the political system.
Vulnerable and insecure, Russia has sought to do everything in its power to stabilize its political environment and minimize outside interferences. President Putin insisted on Russia’s right to “decide for itself the pace, terms and conditions of moving towards democracy", and he warned against attempts to destabilize political system by "any unlawful methods of struggle.”26 The Kremlin’s supporters and theorists sympathetic to the official agenda have developed concepts of “sovereign democracy” and “sovereign economy,”27 insisting on the need for Russia to protect its path of development and natural resources. The Kremlin’s leading ideologist, Vladislav Surkov, justified the concept of sovereign democracy by the need to defend an internally-determined path to political development and protect the values of economic prosperity, individual freedom and social justice from potential threats, which he defined as “international terrorism, military conflict, lack of economic competitiveness, and soft takeovers by ‘orange technologies’ in a time of decreased national immunity to foreign influence.”28 The Kremlin has also trained its own youth organizations and restricted activities of Western NGOs and radical opposition inside the country. Russia’s elections too demonstrated the ample fear of outside interference, and the willingness of politicians to resort to an anti-Western rhetoric.