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Chechnya war feeds drive for Yeltsin ouster

By Jim Genova, People's Weekly World, 7 January 1995

As images of the carnage in Chechnya flashed across television screens and radio reports of the brutal house-to-house fighting flooded the airwaves, the outrage and horror of the Russian people rose to the boiling point this week. Even some of Yeltsin's closest allies, like shock therapy advocate and former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, denounced the war as "a mass violation of human rights" and a "massive military crime."

Thousands of people have poured into the streets of Moscow in recent days demanding an end to the bloodshed. Russian soldiers ordered into combat have refused to go. Even some high ranking officers have said that they will not fight and have halted the advance of their columns.

However, Yeltsin remains oblivious to the destruction he is wreaking, not only in Chechnya but in Russia as well. The military is demoralized, the parliament is in open revolt, clamoring for Yeltsin's resignation, and his cabinet is defecting to the opposition.

Yeltsin is willing to go to extreme lengths to maintain control of Chechnya because he has staked his regime on the rapid development of capitalism in Russia. Chechnya, despite its small size and its diminutive population of 1.2 million, is key to Yeltsin's plans. It is one of the richest oil producing regions in the former Soviet Union. The mountain republic, located in the Caucasus north of Georgia and Azerbaijan, is also rich in natural gas deposits and is a major chemical processing center. A pipeline which pumps oil from the Caspian Sea also runs through Chechnya.

It has also become a test case for Yeltsin's regime in the political arena. One of the main charges made against Yeltsin by his opponents has been that he has allowed Russia to become a third rate military power and has failed to take decisive action to preserve Russia's territory. Yeltsin has decided to punish the Chechen people for his own failings declaring that "no one territory has the right to leave Russia."

However, the Chechen crisis is the direct result of Yeltsin's and his allies' actions. The leader of the rebel republic, Dzhokhar Dudayev, is a former Soviet Air Force general who served in Afghanistan. In 1991, as Yeltsin and his co-conspirators worked to destroy the Soviet Union, Dudayev left his post in the Baltics and returned to Chechnya to declare the region independent. Dudayev recruited former mujaheddin mercenaries from Afghanistan and Turkish irregulars to serve in his rebel army. Chechnya's population is mostly Sunni Muslim.

For three years a low-intensity civil war festered between those who favored independence and those who wanted to remain a part of Russia. In the summer of 1994, former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov took over the leadership of the anti-Dudayev rebellion. Khasbulatov, a native of Chechnya, was one of the principle figures holed up in the parliament when Yeltsin stormed the building in October 1993, abolishing the Soviet constitution.

As the fighting grew, Yeltsin, without first seeking a negotiated settlement, decided to throw the Russian military into the fray. Instead of a regional problem, Yeltsin would make it a Russian problem -- a display of his political resolve. On Dec. 11, Yeltsin, almost three years to the day when he abolished the Soviet Union, ordered 40,000 troops into the region to "crush, once an for all, this disturbance." He "promised" the Russian people that he would "go all the way, to the end, sparing no method" to keep Chechnya under Russian suzerainty.

The result has been a colossal tragedy. Yeltsin's own cabinet ministers openly warn that Yeltsin's unilateral actions are leading directly to military dictatorship. Far from restoring the prestige of Russia's military, the small bands of poorly armed Chechen rebels have repeatedly defeated the Russian army, destroying hundreds of tanks and killing thousands of soldiers.

Instead of restoring order, the war now threatens to spill over into surrounding regions and spread throughout Russia. On Jan. 3 Russian planes bombed villages in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, killing dozens of civilians.

The Chechen leadership has declared the fighting a jihad or holy war and is appealing to all Muslims to come to the Chechens' aid.

Yet, Yeltsin continues to ignore the consequences of his bloody actions. He has put himself above and beyond the law. Just as he took it upon himself to abolish the Soviet Union eight months after the people voted overwhelmingly to maintain the Union, just as he overturned the constitutional order by bombarding the parliament, Yeltsin now feels he can solve the Chechen crisis by annihilating the Chechen people.

From the reaction of the Russian people and the world community, the bellicose Russian president has finally overstepped his bounds. Yeltsin has said that there can be no negotiated settlement so long as he is president of Russia. In the eyes of growing numbers of Russians, the time for negotiations has arrived.

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