Subcontracting Authoritarianism. Peace and Stability in Chechnya and the Russian Federation?
Tracing the political development of the Chechen Republic since its secessionist movement in the 1990s, this essay illustrates that the Islamic republic has been gradually pacified and stabilized by unpeaceful means: Authoritarian Conflict Management (ACM) and subcontracting authoritarian governance to the de facto autonomous ruler Ramzan Kadyrov. Building on concepts by Max Weber, Immanuel Kant, and Johan Galtung, this essay acknowledges that the notions of stability and peace concern two dimensions: 1. federal Moscow-Chechnya relations, 2. Chechnya’s internal balance. Though both dimensions evidently stabilized on a basis of coercion (especially by the use of regional networks and the blood feud system by pro-Kremlin Kadyrov), the emerging institutional framework exposes sources of instability, as it depends on individual relationships. Democratic innovations would even pose a threat to this established stability. Additionally, social integration of Chechnya into the Federation might be hampered by ethnic nationalism and xenophobia in Russian society. On the Chechen side, a ‘Russian’ identity is fragile. The collective memory still remembers Russian repressions vividly. Quantitative figures suggest a pacification alongside the negative definition of peace. However, the case of Chechnya indicates that positive definitions (e.g. by Galtung) cannot be measured dichotomously; structural violence characterizes Chechen society, but, at the same time, a certain form of social integration took place.
Key Words: Authoritarian Conflict Management; ACM; Authoritarianism; Chechnya; North Caucasus; Positive Peace; Stability; Secessionism; Jihadism; Regional Networks; Blood Feud; Human Rights; Identity; Collective Memory
When Europeans travel to Russia, European state departments warn their citizens about the North Caucasus region due to its instability and danger to individuals’ security, especially in Chechnya. Moreover, embassies clarify that, in case of emergency, only limited support will be provided to travellers in the North Caucasian republics. According to these warnings, foreigners should refrain from non-essential journeys (Außenministerium der Republik Österreich 2020; Auswärtiges Amt 2020; Government of the UK 2020). Such disclaimers frame the North Caucasus as a distinguished region of the Russian Federation, in which state institutions are not present.
Does Authoritarian Governance Bring Stability and Peace?
This essay, however, will illustrate how the North Caucasus has stabilized over three decades, and will address the following question: Does authoritarian governance bring stability and peace? First of all, I consider the fact that the notion of ‘authoritarian governance’ embraces two levels: First, the federal tier of the Russian Federation with its legislature in Moscow. Second, the regional administrative level and the power structures of the respective republics. The interrelation between the two tiers makes it a double-edged analysis.
The following analysis will mostly focus on the most prominent case of the Chechen Republic. In the 1990s, Chechnya was Moscow’s main adversary with two wars which exposed both conventional and asymmetric characteristics, with a secessionist movement partly turning into a supra-regional jihadist movement. Today, Chechnya is distinguished by an unprecedented concentration of power in the hands of one regional authoritarian ruler. Its recent history and present status have had a signalling effect on the whole region and federation.
In the first step, I will shortly consider definitions of authoritarian governance, stability, and peace. Then, the second and third following sections analyse how Moscow’s central authoritarian conflict management failed and has been effectively replaced by subcontracting a regional warlord. In the fourth section, I will critically assess the consequent implications on the present post-conflict integration of Chechnya into the Federation; emphasis will be given to the personalized relationship between Ramzan Kadyrov and Vladimir Putin, Chechen identity and the culture of violence.
Stability – Peace – Authoritarianism
Russia has been viewed as a “stable authoritarian state”, which came close to being a “fully” closed authoritarian system over the years, but still is a “competitive autocracy” (Levitsky and Way, 2010: 22). Competitive authoritarianism is defined through “[e]lectoral manipulation, unfair media access, abuse of state resources, and varying degrees of harassment and violence [skewing] the playing field in favor of incumbents. In other words, competition [is] real but unfair” (Levitsky and Way, 2010: 3). Levitsky and Way (2002: 59) highlight that this conflicting “coexistence of democratic rules and autocratic methods” causes instability, since incumbents find themselves in an “autocratic dilemma” . They are challenged through elections, legislatures, courts, and independent media, but repressing them can be costly in legal terms and public perception at home and abroad (Levitsky and Way, 2002: 59). Whereas full authoritarianism is “a regime in which no viable channels exist for opposition to contest legally for executive power” (Levitsky and Way, 2010: 6–7). Apparently, Kadyrov’s Chechnya clearly fits the latter definition of full authoritarianism.
State- and nation-building revolves around these two aspects: stability and peace. Thus, they are indicators of success and failure. For this analysis, stability shall be defined in the sense of stable institutions (both formal and informal) which channel political process and governance in a polity. The “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force” within a certain territory, following Max Weber, is essential for stable state institutions (Weber, 2011: 7).
The most widespread definition of peace is its negative form: Peace is the absence of war. Peace and conflicts studies, however, gave birth to a myriad of positive definitions and peace concepts (Kulnazarova and Popovski, 2019). One of the most quoted authors is Johan Galtung, whose negative definition is linked to the notion of violence: “Peace is the absence of personal violence” (Galtung, 1969: 183). Galtung developed a multidimensional concept of violence, which goes beyond direct (personal) violence and acknowledges the existence of indirect (structural) violence. The absence of the latter is the prerequisite for positive peace – “the integration of human society” (Galtung, 1964: 2; 1969: 183). Galtung’s concept of violence is utmost broad as it understands violence as any kind of “avoidable” influence which inhibits people from realizing their potential (Galtung, 1969: 168-169). Moreover, he refers to positive peace by using the term “social justice” (Galtung, 1969: 183). Notwithstanding its theoretical richness, which allows to include issues like (in)equality and the allocation of resources, Galtung’s conceptualization makes a general, parsimonious operationalization of peace unmanageable. Instead, ‘peace’ appears to become an opaque, perhaps forevermore unreachable goal. Correspondingly, Immanuel Kant pointed out that war is the natural state of life, whereas peace needs to be actively established by the people. In his sketch of “perpetual peace” he stresses the necessity for a common “idea of a law of nations”, believing that states, when they abandon military action, unite in a federation and establish mutual trade, cultural exchange, and eventually democratic principles (Kulnazarova, 2019: 9–10).
- Authoritarian Conflict Management: Moscow Quelling Chechen Separatism
A recent invention of peace and conflicts studies is the term “authoritarian conflict management” (ACM) to which the Chechen case serves as a textbook example (Heathershaw and Owen, 2019; Lewis, Heathershaw, and Megoran, 2018). It calls attention to the spread of illiberal norms by authoritarian peace-builders. Contrary to liberal models, which emphasize compromise, negotiation and power-sharing, “ACM seeks to prevent, de-escalate or terminate violent conflict within a state through the hegemonic control of public discourse, space and economic resources […]” (Lewis, Heathershaw, and Megoran, 2018: 499). The primary goal is the political stabilization of territory, with economic development being secondary. ACMs penetrate space through military operations, accompanied by infrastructure projects. For the sake of controllability, authoritarian conflict managers try to install hierarchical patronage orders in the post-conflict process. Concessions to secessionists and autonomous institutions are rejected as they prolong conflict (Lewis, Heathershaw, and Megoran 2018: 495–99). Against this backdrop, Russia headed for military victory in Chechnya and hence ruled out any international interference and mediation (Lewis, Heathershaw, and Megoran 2018: 489).
With the decay of the Soviet Union, the North Caucasus was disrupted by sporadic violence, resulting in the split of the Chechen-Ingush Republic in 1991/92 and the Ingush-Ossetian war in November 1992 (Taylor, 2011: 253–54). President Yeltsin’s endeavours to counter the Chechen separatist movement and re-integrate the republic by political means failed, and he finally opted for the hardliner approach to quell the Chechen movement by the means of a military invasion in 1994 (Souleimanov, 2006: 94–100).
Human rights violations became evident with Russian “carpet and terror bombings” of Chechen villages causing the death of tens of thousands of civilians. So-called zachistkas (‘cleansings’) were characterized by torture, rape, and mass abuses of the male population (Souleimanov, 2006: 105–6, 110–11; Wilhelmsen, 2005: 40). This undoubtedly stifled the popularity of separatist discourse in Chechnya. The penetration of local life by Russian troops united the Chechens against the occupation, although not completely in their struggle for full independence (Dubnov, 2016). It also catalyzed the radicalization of separatist fighters to Islamism; facilitated by the financial support of foreign jihadist groups which made use of Chechnya’s fragmentation and co-opted several warlords into their ideology (Wilhelmsen, 2005: 37–46).
Yeltsin’s Failure in Bombing Chechnya into Submission: From Secessionism to Jihadism
However, Russian troops relied on the use of indiscriminate violence as they lacked local information to target insurgents. It was not just anti-Russian sentiments but also due to the traditional code of honour, to which the Chechens stuck, forbidding them to tell on compatriots or even collaborate with foreigners. The tradition of blood feud even obliged them to join the insurgency when relatives were harmed, no matter what their political affiliation was (Souleimanov and Aliyev, 2015: 696–97). Chechen customs networks triumphed over Russian hierarchy.
In 1996, the war ended after two years with a preliminary agreement which left Chechnya within federal borders but resulted in de facto independence. Although Moscow supported the regional pro-Kremlin forces, instability remained because political dialogue with the government in Grozny did not happen within the following years (Souleimanov, 2006: 113–20). Instead, Moscow undermined the Chechen president who was not in control of extremists, especially Shamil Basayev, a separatist who turned into a jihadist. Basayev became infamous for attacks on hospitals and hostages beyond Chechen borders. These extremists, despite the Chechen president’s objection, invaded neighboring Dagestan in August 1999 and masterminded a series of apartment building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities (Taylor, 2011: 254; Wilhelmsen, 2005: 45–49). Overall, it showcased the complete failure of Moscow’s first ACM in stabilizing and pacifying Chechnya – in fact, it destabilized the federation beyond Chechnya. In this plight, president Yeltsin handed the power over into the hands of prime minister Putin, who decided to “bang away at the bandits”, in his own words, in order to prevent a “Yugoslavization” of the Russian Federation (Taylor, 2011: 250, 255).
III. Stabilizing and Pacifying (Within) the North Caucasus: Subcontracting Regional Authoritarianism
Putin fought the second Chechen war with the same or even higher intensity of violence than Yeltsin. With the experience of the first war’s outcome, the military advisors held up pressure to rule out negotiations with the Chechen leaders (Wilhelmsen, 2005: 50). But at the end of his first presidential term, it seemed like Putin failed as well. Experts saw the North Caucasus even “on the verge of an explosion” (Taylor, 2007: 6). This verdict was evidenced by a series of bloody events: the Moscow theatre siege (2002), metro and airline bombings, suicide bombings by Chechen women, the Beslan school hostage disaster (2004), the assassination of the pro-Kremlin head of Chechnya (2004), and the overall widening of terrorist warfare by Shamil Basayev over the whole Caucasus and in the European part of Russia (Taylor, 2007: 5; 2011: 256–58). However, crucial changes had taken place in the Russian counterinsurgency strategy, which are distinguished from the instruments of the first Chechen war: the ‘Chechenization’ of the conflict.
The Chechenization of the Conflict: Making Use of Regional Networks
After the Kremlin’s initial power demonstration in the conventional phase of the war, Putin deliberately decided to make use of the local hierarchies and networks of Akhmad Kadyrov, the former chief mufti of Chechnya. Moscow installed Kadyrov as pro-Kremlin administrator in 2000 with the aim to let him integrate the insurgents into the Federation (Souleimanov and Aliyev, 2016: 398–99). Over the years, this led to the situation that 60-80% of the republic’s ministry of interior consisted of former and present members of illegally armed groups (Souleimanov and Aliyev, 2016: 400; Souleimanov, Aliyev, and Ratelle, 2018: 624).
As a separatist who had fought against Moscow in the 1990s, Akhmad Kadyrov’s motivation to side Russia was very pragmatic: he was in a blood feud with Chechen jihadists, against whom he could not stand as long as he didn’t receive Russian support (Souleimanov and Aliyev, 2015: 689–90). However, Akhmad Kadyrov died in an assault in 2004. Yet the Russian army succeeded strategically in the subsequent years by killing the separatist president Maskhadov, followed by his respective successor, and the prominent jihadist leader Shamil Basaev. At the same time, Moscow integrated Kadyrov’s son, the notorious warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, into Putin’s party ‘United Russia’. Moscow eventually helped the warlord become President of Chechnya in 2007 (Russell, 2011: 511–14). No matter where, on Chechen soil or abroad, Kadyrov managed to eliminate all potential competitors successively (Šmíd and Mareš, 2015: 661–70). In addition to military capacities, Chechnya received subsidies worth 30 billion USD from Moscow for infrastructural reconstructions between 2000 and 2010. Gazprom, Rosneft, and several oligarchs started to engage with the region. Hence Grozny became a modern city and the “shopping window for the whole of the North Caucasus” (Laruelle, 2017: 8). In 2001-2005, Moscow accounted for 85% of Chechnya’s state budget (Taylor, 2011: 264).
Since Ramzan Kadyrov’s ascent to power and full control over Chechnya, bribery and abuse of power against civilians without links to insurgents have indeed declined (Souleimanov and Aliyev 2016, 402). In Dagestan, in comparison, law-enforcement structures are characterized by a high level of corruption with police officers abusing their (bought) position for economic purposes. Counterinsurgency actions are widely a farce: only 10% of suspects accused of collaboration or insurgency had actual connections with insurgent groups. Dagestan law enforcement agencies were even said to be the main violators of citizens’ rights. Moscow, therefore, increased its number of police officers up to 25,000 service members, but without achieving its intended effect. On the contrary, regional cooperation between local units and forces from outside of Dagestan is overshadowed by mutual distrust and ethnic conflict (Souleimanov and Aliyev, 2016: 406).
In Chechnya, however, the Russian state retreated. Although large numbers of police are stationed, the realm of counterinsurgency operations is ceded to the paramilitary ‘kadyrovtsy’ forces, replacing federal police and military and operating outside of such legal framework (Souleimanov and Aliyev, 2016: 401). Notably, Chechnya is the only region which is allowed to create its own local military units. This personal army counts 10,000 to 12,000 servicemembers, sponsored by the federal state budget (Šmíd and Mareš, 2015: 671–72). Therefore, it was Ramzan Kadyrov who gained widespread popular support since under his leadership Moscow withdrew federal checkpoints. With Kadyrov, the war-tired Chechens could accept being part of the federation (Dubnov, 2016). Though dependent on Russian funding and legally bound to Moscow, Chechnya remained de facto independent in its domestic affairs and culture.
The Blood Feud System
In this environment, Russian counterinsurgency is conducted differently to previous campaigns. Overall, it shows a change from indiscriminate violence and repressions against the whole population to more discriminate measures (Zhirukhina, 2018). In contrast to the Russian troops, Kadyrov’s militias were able to attain important local intelligence and identify insurgents (Souleimanov, Aliyev, and Ratelle, 2018: 623). As with Chechen resistance fighters in the 1990s, who had been mostly motivated by social norms rather than ideology – like blood feuds demanding retaliation of Chechen relatives against the Russian state –, it was the same pragmatic logic and social values which brought Chechens into the predominant Kadyrov camp: firstly seeking the protection of the clan, and further binding whole families to the kadyrovtsys’ blood feud network (Souleimanov and Aliyev, 2015: 693–95). The Kadyrov clan accomplished this by the systematic use of violence and pressure on insurgents and their relatives. Fighters were henceforth ‘bound by blood’ as they had to commit initiation killings. Once they killed a targeted jihadist or insurgent, they found themselves in a blood feud with the murdered person’s clan – leaving the mighty kadyrovtsy meant to lose all protection against blood revenge. Even pro-insurgent support became costly, hence the social basis for insurgency eroded (Souleimanov, Aliyev, and Ratelle, 2018: 625–32). Whoever tried to rise against the Russian state or fight jihad in Chechnya had to fight the kadyrovtsy from thereon. In sum, the personalized rule by Kadyrov and his use of the blood feud system certainly played a stabilizing role (Šmíd and Mareš, 2015: 659).
Although a spread of violence over the whole North Caucasus occurred simultaneously to the authoritarian pacification by Ramzan Kadyrov, the number of insurgent and terrorist attacks started to decrease at the end of 2010 – sporadic bomb attacks in Moscow notwithstanding. And the scale of repressive measures by state agencies has shown a downward trend since 2008 (Russell, 2011: 510; Zhirukhina, 2018: 379–80). Surprisingly, Chechnya, compared to the other North Caucasian republics, showed a much higher preference for preventive methods and arrests than immediate killings in its counter-terrorism methods: half of all Chechen counterterrorist events consisted of arrests instead of immediate killings (Zhirukhina, 2018: 394). Insurgents and Islamist combatants are mostly pushed to the periphery these days; the most volatile areas of conflict are the mountainous regions of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia (Zhirukhina, 2018: 395).
Signifiers of Peace: Human Rights
Moscow’s institutional withdrawal from Chechnya limits the state’s ability to monitor or guide the regional developments. The access for journalists and NGO’s is also limited. Chechen authorities, therefore, enjoy impunity and are not held accountable for crimes and predatory methods like murder, torture and kidnapping (Kosterina, 2020: 8–13; Memorial Human Rights Center, 2018: 3–4; Taylor, 2011: 279–80). Human rights defenders and journalists find themselves physically threatened when they work in Chechnya (Human Rights Watch, 2019a; Lokshina, 2020). Most recently, LGBT+ individuals fell victim to systematic and arbitrary violence. The Chechen police imprisoned over 100 suspected gay men in unofficial detainment facilities in 2017. The abuse and torture in these facilities were sanctioned and attended by high-ranking authorities. After returning some captives home, the Chechen police urged family members to carry out honour killings against them. Ramzan Kadyrov responded to the international outcry by simply denying the existence of homosexuals in the republic – and Moscow was reluctant to investigate the cases comprehensively (Lokshina, 2017). Leaving the perpetrators unpunished, similar crackdowns and systemic purges were reiterated in 2019 (Human Rights Watch, 2019b).
In its 2018 report on the North Caucasus, the Russian NGO Memorial issued a bleak forecast: “Although the decline of activity of the armed underground […] continues, grievous human rights violations committed during anti-terrorist activities will inevitably contribute to the growth of terrorist activity in the future. Sustaining peace and stability is closely tied to observing human rights” (Memorial Human Rights Center, 2018: 1). It describes Chechnya as a “totalitarian enclave” by pointing to the rights violations on the side of the authorities. Memorial, which itself is affected by harsh repressions (attacks and imprisonments), repeated the allegation of totalitarianism most recently in front of the Council of Europe, claiming that the human rights situation in Chechnya worsened in the past years. Eventually, all present human rights organizations were forced to pull out of the Chechen Republic (Orlov, 2020).
- Peace and Stability – by Political Integration into the Federation?
Seismograph for Social Cohesion: Public Opinion in Russia and Chechnya
Between 2005 and 2012, approximately 75% of Russians perceived the overall situation in the North Caucasus as being tense or even critical/volatile. But the events in Ukraine probably overshadowed the problems of the Caucasus; the number of Russians who view the North Caucasus as being ‘calm’ and having a high likelihood of becoming peaceful suddenly doubled in 2014. And three years later almost every second Russian perceived the situation as being good. Nevertheless, the majority of the Russians did not expect the situation to change – neither positively nor negatively – throughout the last two decades, which exhibits a largely weary or gloomy attitude towards developments in the southern region (Levada Center, 2015: 2017). For the average men and women across the country, strikingly, terrorist attacks are not of particular concern, especially as long as they happen within Chechnya and the North Caucasus region (Levada Center, 2019). Interestingly, more than half of the Russian population actually expresses positive feelings or even respect for Ramzan Kadyrov; whereas just around 14% indicate a negative opinion about the Chechen leader (Levada Center, 2015; 2016). Meanwhile, in Chechnya, young Chechens wear Kadyrov T-shirts and praise the leader for reconstructing the war-torn republic. As a matter of fact, he achieved cult status (Dubnov, 2016; Russell, 2011: 517).
However, an adversary camp exists as well. Nationalist ideas and xenophobia are generally widespread in Russian society, and conflicts tend to become increasingly related to ethnicity and religion (Popov, 2018: 107–8; Russell, 2011: 515). The prominent nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was close to winning presidential elections in the 1990s, articulates the fear that the stark population growth of Chechens – in times of an overall population decline in Russia – will lead to a revival of secessionism and clash with Moscow (Iliyasov, 2019: 1705). Such evocations and symptoms of disintegration tendencies constitute an inherent threat to the systemic peace of civil society and, consequently, to the state (Popov, 2018: 109–13).
Displays of Violence: Demography and Collective Memory
In fact, Zhirinovsky’s supposed causal link between Chechen procreation and conflict with Russia bears some essential truth: the overwhelming majority of surveyed Chechens expressed individual and national security concerns as the main motivation for procreation. Respondents indicate a vivid collective memory, which tells the story of a growing nation which was almost annihilated – primarily by Russia since the 19th century. The decision to found families with many children is consciously linked to ideas of security, preservation of the nation, and identity. Some see an ‘inevitable war’ with Russia looming (Iliyasov, 2019: 1715). Contrary to Zhirinovsky’s claims, however, this unveils a foremost defensive mindset in which the Chechens react to Russian threats (Iliyasov, 2019: 1726–27). Nevertheless, the demographic factor and the power of Chechen collective memory reveal a high conflict potential which Moscow must handle cautiously. The defensive character can turn into aggression, if fears and memories are triggered. And it does not matter if it is done by pressure from the federal centre or by local instigators, who are keen to progress a mission or gain popular support. In order to keep the relations stable and peaceful, Russia needs to promote itself as a patron of the ‘Chechen cause’, as it already does with the help of Kadyrov’s ostentatious pro-Kremlin rhetoric.
The potential for mobilization by religious and cultural feelings was showcased in the events of the Charlie Hebdo assaults in Paris in 2015: 800,000 of the 1.2 million Chechen citizens gathered to protest against the magazine. Kadyrov spearheaded this demonstration and threatened Russian media if they should reprint the cartoons. He even called for the death of Mikhail Khodorkovski who had indicated to do so. The republic had already denied Danish citizens entry to the republic since Mohammed cartoons appeared in the Jyllands-Posten (Laruelle, 2017: 21–22).
Identity, Personal Ties, and Conflict
As we can see, Kadyrov’s attitude is pivotal to Russo-Chechen relations. On the one hand, Kadyrov rehabilitated historical heroes who had resisted Russia. One the other hand, he abolished the official commemoration day for the deportation of Chechens under Stalin to cool down the vivid anti-Russian memory (Laruelle, 2017: 9–10). Regardless of his Muslim aspirations he further embraces the Russian Orthodox Church and seeks its affirmation (Laruelle, 2017: 10–11). The Chechen people are educated with a partial Russian identity. For example, the Russian tricolour banner is frequently displayed next to the Chechen flag, and large billboards present Vladimir Putin closely to Ramzan and Akhmad Kadyrov, inter alia above the entrance of the capital’s city council (for example, see RT Documentary 2016, minute 14:23-14:35).
Regardless of Putin’s personal advocacy, Kadyrov faces a number of opponents, mainly in the power ministries. When the exclusive economic program for Chechen reconstruction expired in 2012, Moscow rejected Kadyrov’s demand for an extension. Instead, Lev Kuznetsov, minister for North Caucasian affairs, privileged Ingushetia and Dagestan. According to pundits, arguing Kadyrov “lost his potency as a symbol” (Dubnov, 2016), Putin’s willingness to use his direct leverage in support of Kadyrov decreased over time, and therefore the Chechen leader has to negotiate with the less benevolent federal agencies – which tightened their control. Although eliminating an unwelcome member of the opposition, the killing of Boris Nemzov by five Chechens in 2015 – just some hundred meters from the Red Square – rose further suspicion about the controllability of Chechen self-empowerment (Dubnov, 2016; Hille, 2018; Oliphant, 2016).
The conflict between the capricious Kadyrov and the so-called siloviki (Russian officials with a military or security background) is also displayed on the Chechen side. Criticizing Russia is anything but a taboo. In August 2018, for example, Kadyrov participated in a public demonstration commemorating a Chechen prisoner who had died in a Siberian prison camp. The inmate became a national hero because he retaliated the murder of an 18 years old Chechen girl by killing a Russian military officer. Kadyrov called the death of the girl a humiliating insult to the Chechen people and declared the imprisonment illegal. He alleged Russian law authorities of anti-Chechen behaviour, demanding that Chechens should be treated as Russian citizens. “We want equality and justice”, he was quoted (Hille, 2018). Regardless of the legitimacy of such accusations, these utterances articulate the demand for positive peace and are evidence for the perceived lack thereof.
First Dimension: Chechnya within the Russian Federation
So, did authoritarian governance bring peace and stability in Chechnya? From the perspective of the relationship between Moscow and Grozny, we can affirm the question with some minor caveats. First of all, there clearly is negative peace: the inter-state war has been settled, there is no significant insurgency left, and no direct violence exerted between Moscow and Grozny. And yes, Chechnya has been successfully stabilized as its borders remain within the Russian Federation and the regional leadership pledged close allegiance to Moscow.
However, this allegiance relies heavily on the personalized relationship between Putin and Kadyrov (Taylor, 2011: 278). A change in incumbency structures might alter formal and informal relations. On the one hand, only the de facto independence of Chechnya under Kadyrov’s authoritarianism led to the pacification of insurgency. On the other hand, this resulted in the absence of the Russian state and its rule of law within Chechnya. To some degree, Moscow’s monopoly on the use of force has been merged with Kadyrov’s troops, but eventually it ended up in Kadyrov’s hands. Both might turn out to be a source of future instability, if the Moscow-Grozny bond weakens.
This is further reflected when it comes to evaluating the positive sense of peace. The results are mixed here. One must take into account the structural violence between Kadyrov and his opponents in the federal power ministries as well as the burden of Chechen memory and identity, which finds public expression. Thus, it is hard to believe that a sustainable positive peace has been achieved so far. Nevertheless, positive partnership and cooperation take place, and a partial Russian identity is endorsed by Kadyrov. However, this social integration process depends likewise on the ethnic Russian society within the next years and decades.
Second Dimension: Chechnya internal balance
Has Chechnya been pacified and stabilized internally? Again, the thesis finds some validation, but this time with major limitations. Yes, negative peace is clearly present as there is no civil war anymore and the insurgency diminished. Further, this finds support in the overall decline in death numbers and violent incidents. Yet, the systemic use of personal violence within Chechen society and the rampant human rights violations by state institutions are evident. Therefore, even negative peace can be questioned here. Structural violence is clearly discernible: the repressions of minorities (homosexuals) and women, the culture of violence (blood feud), and coercion as the basic means of peace-building. Though one argument can be made in support of positive peace: gradual integration of the society happened, even on the basis of unpeaceful means; one result is the integration of former insurgents into state structures, another the public support for Kadyrov.
Last but not least, the existence of stability can be confirmed. The monopoly on the use of force is completely in the hands of the incumbent. The functioning of the state institutions is ensured by the use of this monopoly and by the privatized power structures, mostly through the blood feud system. But: social peace and stability hinges on economic development, which is backed by Russia. Yet, neither Russia nor Chechen incumbents are interested in an unstable North Caucasus. Therefore both governments in Moscow and Grozny will continue the chosen path.
In the end, one can argue that democratic institutions would lead to ‘more’ peace in Chechnya (Popov, 2018: 114); at the same time, one can point to the fact that the stability hinges on personalized authoritarianism, to which a democratic framework is the source of instability (Levitsky and Way, 2002: 59). And instability, in turn, implies eruptions of violence. Overall, the case of Chechnya illustrates that (positive) peace cannot be treated as something dichotomous (present or not). In the long run, indeed, the situation in Chechnya has been gradually pacified and stabilized by unpeaceful – authoritarian – means. The notion of democracy being a process rather than a fixed state applies to authoritarian governance as well. The recent history of Chechnya confirms Kant’s assumptions: the natural state of war demands active efforts to establish peace under the umbrella of a federation – be it on the global level or within the multiethnic Russian Federation.
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