|Szaszdi, in essence, demonstrates that the ideology of Neo-Eurasianism would have made the war in Chechnya appear necessary to Russian actors for reasons other than domestic politics. The next section will demonstrate how the Kosovo Crisis, which took place in ‘Russia’s geo-strategic borders’ could have influenced the Russian decision to engage in a full-scale invasion of Chechnya in 1999, showing that geopolitical concerns (other than the security situation in Chechnya) could have motivated the Russian decision to go to war in Chechnya.
The Kosovo War and Its Effect on Russian Decision-Making Related to the Second Chechen War
Parallel to the domestic political developments, NATO intervened against Serbia in Kosovo, much to Russia’s consternation. For Russia, which felt belittled by the Post-Soviet international system, this intervention in a former Soviet satellite state was highly unwelcome and seen as hypocritical.101 The Russians made a small intervention in Kosovo, which was met with NATO vacillation.102 Chechnya and Kosovo had many parallels: both had desired to splinter off and declare independence from their previously existing states during the collapse of the Soviet Union, both were home to Islamic militants, both were nominally part of Russia and Serbia, respectively, and both were geopolitically important to Russia and Serbia, respectively.103
Lajos F. Szászdi emphasizes and provides evidence for the claim that international context of Western intervention in Kosovo contributed to the decision to start the war. He claims that “the Russian leadership appeared to have seen a clear analogy between the case of Kosovo and that of Chechnya. With the influence of the United States and NATO encroaching into Russia’s traditional domain in the Caucasus, the Kremlin would have judged in 1999 in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict an invasion of Chechnya as quite expedient.”104 For Szászdi, the linkage between the Kosovo conflict, where Russia failed to effectively intervene, and the Chechen situation comes from the ideology of Neo-Eurasianism; for Neo-Eurasianists in the Russian government at the time, the United States’ intervention in Kosovo against Milosevic, a Russian ally, would have been perceived as an encroachment on Russia’s geo-strategic borders, inducing Russia to act in an analogous situation within its own borders under international law for the purpose of demonstrating resolve:105 “NATO’s intervention and the desire to demonstrate that Russia could conduct its own punitive military operations against its own Kosovos, as the Serbs did, would have led seemingly to agreement in civil-military relations in the decision to push for an expansion of the limited military operation against Chechnya.”106 Emil Pain asserts that Putin’s war posture in Chechnya would be highly attractive to a Russian public eager to regain a greater world status: “NATO’s military operation in Kosovo also played a distinct role in shifting Russian public opinion. Many thought that if, for the sake of political objectives, NATO was allowed to bomb civilian targets and kill innocent people in a non-member country, then surely Russia has every right to do the same in its own territory.”107
The parallels between the Chechen situation and Russia’s failure to intervene meaningfully in the conflict in Kosovo would have given Russia the impetus to demonstrate that it could deal with ‘its own Kosovos’ (Chechnya) within its border, in an act of defiance towards NATO. Further, an intervention in Chechnya would invite NATO criticism, which would be seen as hypocritical by the international community, considering they had illegally intervened in Serbia.108 Furthermore, Chechnya contained an important gas-pipeline that was being targeted by organized crime in Chechnya and was closed by Maskhadov in March 1999.109 NATO was expanding its influence into the trans-caucasus region and building a pipeline with Azerbaijan that would rival the Russian pipeline through Chechnya, adding to the geopolitical stakes.110 A full intervention into Chechnya (beyond just the cordon sanitaire) would not only be a slap in the face to NATO, but it would also allow Russia to take control of the pipeline through Chechnya, and would be extremely popular to a Russian public that was being targeted by terrorist attacks attributed to Chechens. This analysis suggests that not only domestic political factors, but also geopolitical factors related to Russia’s desire to check NATO expansion into Russia’s geo-strategic borders, motivated the war in Chechnya.
The Individual Level - Why did Yeltsin and the Family Choose Putin?
Yeltsin and the Family were having trouble finding a successor who would be sure to win and was trusted enough to shield the Family from legal troubles. As previously stated, Stepashin was opposed to a strong intervention in Chechnya, but Putin was relatively unknown to the Russian public at the time. He was director of the FSB, but that position is not particularly public, reflected by the fact that there are no public opinion polls on the position. Szaszdi speculates that “perhaps what most appealed to President Yeltsin in Putin was his reputation as someone who would obey and execute order from a higher authority.”111 Putin also had connections with regional governors from previous governmental experience, which would be useful for Yeltsin and the Family, who wanted desperately to undermine Fatherland - All Russia’s political base.112
But what is also essential is that Putin subscribed more staunchly to Neo-Eurasianism than Stepashin did at the time. After Stepashin left the prime ministership, he affiliated with Yabloko, a liberal party that firmly opposed the full-scale invasion of Chechnya.113 Putin’s personal experiences may have contributed to his Neo-Eurasianism. Putin was a KGB agent stationed near the Berlin Wall in East Germany when the wall fell:
“as jubilant citizens took sledgehammers to the Berlin Wall, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, an officer in the Dresden station of the K.G.B., fed a raging furnace with the documentary evidence of Soviet espionage activities in East Germany. Putin was grateful for his Dresden posting. […] Now the happy days were ending. The Wall had been breached, and Putin was shoveling top-secret files into the fire so quickly, he recalled in a book-length interview, that ‘the furnace burst.’ This was early in November, 1989. Later, angry Germans threatened to break into the K.G.B. compound. Putin’s superiors called Moscow for reinforcements, but, he says, ‘Moscow was silent.’ The state was failing even its most resolute foot soldiers.”114
Putin’s experience of the fall of the Berlin Wall probably gave him an obsession with the territorial integrity and power of Russia. When asked to explain his motives to invade Chechnya, he said: “I was convinced that if we didn't stop the extremists right away, we’d be facing a second Yugoslavia on the entire territory of the Russian Federation—the Yugoslavization of Russia.”115 Putin appeared to be a subscriber to Neo-Eurasianism who would actually go to war based on the ideology.
Although this section is cursory, it suggests that Putin’s specific life experiences and personality traits made the Second Chechen War possible. Even though the President had control over foreign policy, it seems that the Prime Minister would become the face of the war in order to build his popularity in order to succeed Yeltsin. If the war was indeed undertaken in order to gain electoral favor, it is not clear that any politician would have gone along with the plan—the Family’s plan would require a particular type of individual. Putin probably appeared to be just the right man for the job.
3.6 Did Russia Manufacture a Casus Belli?
All in-depth analyses of the Second Chechen War consider the possibility that Yeltsin and the Family, including Putin,116 intentionally manufactured the two main casus belli of the Second Chechen War.117 The first allegation is that Yeltsin and the Family met with Shamil Basaev, asking him to organize and launch attacks from Chechnya into Dagestan.118 The second allegation is that the September 1999 apartment bombings in Buikansk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk, which were officially attributed to Chechen terrorists, and rallied Russian public opinion in favor of an intervention in Chechnya, were in fact organized and carried out by Russian FSB.119 As stated previously, Yeltsin, the Family, and other oligarchs were worried that Primakov and Luszkhov’s political alliance had a good chance of winning the State Duma and Presidential Elections.120 This worry was further exacerbated by the fact that “Primakov had already threatened to sue all oligarchs who illegally had enriched themselves.”121 Yeltsin and the Family were implicated in a scandal called the Malbetex affair, and losing power would have meant they would face legal troubles.122 Van Herpen, as well as others, claims that manufacturing these attacks would create the atmosphere necessary to ensure someone sympathetic to the Family would come into office: “Whatever option the Family would choose: a Bonapartist coup d’état or “Operation Successor”—in both cases an appropriate climate would have to be created in Russia: in the first case, to justify a state of emergency, in the second case to boost the popularity of the Family’s presidential candidate.”123 If these allegations are true, it would appear that Yeltsin, Putin, and the Family manufactured an attack on Russian soil and blamed it on Chechen actors, gambling that a strong Russian response to the manufactured casus belli would rally popular sentiment behind Putin and secure a smooth transfer of power.
There is a quite a bit of evidence of varying quality to support the claim that Russia manufactured the casus belli of the war. For the sake of brevity, only the most incriminating evidence will be presented. Regarding the Family’s alleged collusion with Shamil Basaev, the evidence is based primarily on the French, Israeli, and Spanish intelligence agencies’ testimony: “Stanford University’s Hoover Institution historian John Dunlop writes that both French and Israeli intelligence monitored and verified [a meeting between Shamil Basaev and a man ‘resembling Kremlin Chief of Staff Voloshin’ in July 1999].”124 According to Boris Kagarlitsky, coordinator of the Transnational Institute Global Crisis project sources, Voloshin cut a deal with Shamil Basaev: “Basaev would come to power in Chechnya while Russian forces would suppress the conflict, giving them ‘a small war, a border conflict, a big performance with fireworks’ that could be exploited for political gain,” and French intelligence eavesdropped on the entire conversation.125
Additional support for this explanation comes from a Russian General’s complaint that Russian troops were ordered to withdraw from a border area at a time that it was rumored that the area was under imminent threat, “allowing the Basaev forces complete access to two villages the MVD had seized.”126 This claim is further supported by allegations that “Putin and Berezovsky held at least five secret meetings in 1999 that appear to have been at least partially taped by Spanish intelligence.”127 Specifically, CESID, the primary Spanish intelligence agency at the time, claimed “that Putin was in Spain at the invitation of Berezovsky to ‘plan the substitution of Yeltsin.’”128 It is hard to ignore evidence that comes directly from multiple states’ intelligence agencies, and is presented by John Dunlop, a reputed academic and expert on the Chechen Wars.
An incident that occurred in the Russian city of Ryazan on September 22, 1999 raises the most pressing questions regarding the authorship of the September 1999 apartment bombings.129 On that date, after five apartment bombings that caused 301 deaths, Russian FSB agents who appeared Slavic, not Chechen, were apprehended by civilians while the agents were moving sacks filled with hexogen, the explosive used in the other apartment bombings, into the basement of an apartment building.130 On September 24, the FSB finally responded and claimed that it was a training exercise, in essence a test of the vigilance of the population.131 However, even before the operations occurred, as early as June, a Swedish paper reported that “the Kremlin and its associates [considered staging] ‘terror bombings in Moscow which could be blamed on the Chechens.”’132 Additionally, Gennady Seleznev, the Speaker of the Duma, had been informed that the explosion would occur “three days before the explosion [in Vologodonsk] actually took place.”133 Furthermore, the government destroyed the remains of the buildings targeted by the bombings before any sort of proper investigation could take place.134 A State Duma investigation into the bombings “was suspended because the government refused to cooperate with it.”135 Even if it is hard to believe the atrocities the Russian government is alleged to have committed, Szaszdi notes that “there are precedents […] of involvements by the Russian state security-intelligence apparatus in the funding and support of clandestine wars and military operations.”136
Even if Yeltsin and the Family actually colluded with Shamil Basaev to destabilize Chechnya or actually authored the September 1999 apartment bombings in Russia, it would not prove that the war was caused by domestic politics. If the government pursued the war for the geopolitical reasons outlined in previous sections, terrorizing the Russian population would have been an effective way to build support for the war, despite the population’s widespread opposition to the First Chechen War. In other words, even the contention that the Russian government deliberately terrorized the Russian population would be consistent with the claim that the war broke out for geopolitical causes and was used for domestic political purposes.
This paper employed a multi-level analysis of the Second Chechen War to evaluate Mansfeld and Snyder’s claim that the Second Chechen War provides evidence for their theory.
The Second Chechen War provides some evidence that fits Mansfeld and Snyder’s theory that weakly institutionalized, newly democratizing anocratic states have specific characteristics that make them more war prone. However, this case study demonstrates the difficulty of proving that a war was actually caused by the political dynamics of a newly democratizing state. Rather, after my multi-level analysis of the Second Chechen War, it appears that the evidence could support either the claim that the war was caused by a combination of electoral concerns and geopolitical concerns, or the claim that the war was waged for geopolitical concerns, and the political and economic elites used the war for electoral advantage.
The highest level of analysis is the international level; my analysis of this level focuses on the security situation in Chechnya, which Ware considers to be the sole cause of the war.137 It appears that indeed, the security situation required some sort of response, but it is not clear that war was the best response, and it certainly wasn't the only possible response. The other major occurrence on the international level is the 1999 Kosovo War, which commentators claim sharpened the divide between NATO and Russia, giving Russia another geopolitical incentive to take a strong stand regarding Chechnya. These two considerations make it unlikely that the war was undertaken solely for domestic political purposes.
On the domestic level, my analysis is based on determining whether the causal mechanisms Mansfeld and Snyder point out really caused the war. There was no nationalist bidding war, and it cannot be ascertained for certain that the decision to fully invade Chechnya was a gamble solely motivated by a desire to secure a transfer of power from Yeltsin to Putin. However, the fact that the Russian Federation opted for full-scale invasion, which would not be the most effective way to deal with their security concerns, suggests that the decision may have been biased by the Kosovo War or the domestic political situation in Russia.
The individual level is not as rigorously theorized or analyzed as the other levels of analysis, but it seems clear that Vladimir Putin’s personal characteristics played an important role in making the war possible, as he had the will to start the war, which his predecessor did not.
Finally, I include an ideological level of analysis, which focuses on the character of Russian nationalism. This level of analysis plays a role at all of the other levels: it explains why Russia wanted to reassert control in Chechnya, why Russian elites would have connected the events in Kosovo to the situation in Chechnya, and why the Russian public so enthusiastically supported the war. It also partially explains why Putin would become the face of the war.
My disciplined configurative case study of the Second Chechen War shows that Mansfeld and Snyder did not seriously grapple with the possibility that the war was motivated by geopolitical concerns. This case study also demonstrates a new analytical framework for adapting Mansfeld and Snyder’s theory to case study analysis, which would allow for more cumulative scholarship related to appraising Mansfeld and Snyder’s theory through case study analysis. Particularly, my more rigorous analytical framework demonstrates a method that researchers can use to disentangle domestic political causes of war from geopolitical causes of war for future case study research.
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