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10 December, 1999

Russia's Enduring Imperialism

There is one fact that is seldom taken into consideration by the rest of the world when it deals with Russia today. It is that all the small nations of the Russian borderlands are newly-liberated erstwhile colonies of Russia. Russian imperialism under the Tsars metamorphosed into Russian imperialism under the Communists, which in turn has metamorphosed, starting in 1991, into another version of Russian imperialism, this one fueled by a mix of nationalism and fascism and bearing a strong resemblance to Mussolini's imperialism of times past.

Since the collapse of the USSR empire in 1991, the ex-colonies have been warned by the West - NATO, European Union - not to evict or mistreat their resident Russian colonizers, and to meticulously conform with the human rights standards of the Western democracies and the United Nations in their treatment of the Russian population living among them. It has been made very clear to the newly independent states that they would get no economic, let alone military, assistance from the West if they provoked the Russian bear into lashing out at them. The West is afraid of Russia.

The provocations that have touched off the current Russian rage against the Chechens may have been the work of the Chechens, or of some other group. Whoever may be responsible for the bombing of buildings in Russian cities, those terrorist acts provided justification for the current rampage by the full might of the Russian military in Chechnya. The West has no proof that it was not the Chechens who committed the terrorist bombings in Russia. Therefore - as per numerous warnings to the ex-colonies - the West is turning its back on Chechnya. The West is afraid of Russia.

The nations bordering on southern Russia in the Caucasus region have endured Russian aggression and oppression for at least 150 years. When Tsarist imperialism was replaced by Communist imperialism in 1918, they were further subjected to a stratagem of deliberate physical and cultural genocide.

An overview of Chechen suffering under the Russian yoke can be gleaned from:

[1] "Chechnya - From past to present", an article by Emil A. Payin & Arkady A. Popov, found at the internet site, and a copyright @ 1999 of Chechen Republic and Amina Network. Emil A. Payin is director of the Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Research, a member of the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation, and (as of September 1996) a special assistant to the President of the Russian Federation.  Arkady A. Popov is deputy director of the Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Research.

[2] "The Black Book of Communism", by Stephane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosec, and Jean-Louis Margolin; English translation published by Harvard University Press (1999).

In [1] we read that,

The conflict between Russia and Chechnya has a long history. Russian imperialism in the Caucasus lasted several centuries and met its most determined and well-organized resistance on the territory of Chechnya and the bordering regions of Dagestan. There, for a quarter of a century, Shamil's Islamic proto-state fought the Russian army until 1864. The Republic of the North Caucasus, that included Chechnya, declared independence soon after the Bolshevik revolution in May 1918 (after September 1919 it was called the North Caucasian Emirate) and fought a brutal war against the Tsarist army commanded by General Denikin. According to Denikin, however, only the Chechens from the Bolshevik-backed mountainous regions resisted the Tsarist forces, while the Chechens from the plains fought on the side of the anti-Bolshevik army. After Denikin's defeat, the Red Army entered Chechnya in early 1920, and a new rebellion erupted, this time against the Bolsheviks. This revolt was not suppressed until fall 1921.

The course of this suppression by the Bolsheviks is described in [2],

(p 138): In the apparently calm years of the NEP [Lenin's 'New Economic Policy'], from 1923 to 1927, the peripheral republics of Russia - Transcaucasia and Central Asia - saw the bloodiest and most massive repressions. Most of these nations had fiercely resisted Russian expansionism in the nineteenth century and had only recently been reconquered by the Bolsheviks ... They were still putting up strong resistance to the process of Sovietization. ... From 1918 until the end of the 1920s, and in some regions until 1935-36, the greater part of Central Asia, with the exception of the towns, was still in the hands of the basmachis [partisans].

(p 139): The basmachi movement was a spontaneous uprising against the "infidel" and the "Russian oppressor," the old enemy who had returned in a new guise and who this time not only wanted land and cattle but also was attempting to profane the Muslim spiritual world. This essentially colonial war of "pacification," waged for more than ten years, required a large part of the Russian armed forces and the special troops of the secret police ... It is still impossible even to guess at the number of victims in this war.

In the first half of the 1920s Dagestan, Georgia, and Chechnya were severely affected by the repressions. ... Under the direction of Sheikh Uzun Hadji, the Muslim brotherhood of the Nakshbandis led a major rebellion among the people of the mountains, and the struggle against the Russian invaders took on the character of a holy war. It lasted for more than a year, and some regions were "pacified" only by heavy bombing and huge massacres of civilians, which persisted into 1924.

(p 140): ... the regime launched a massive "pacification" campaign in Chechnya, where people still went about their business as though Soviet power did not exist. From 27 August to 15 September 1925 more than 10,000 regular troops from the Red Army under the leadership of General Ierome Uborevich, backed by special units from the GPU, began an enormous operation to try to disarm the Chechen partisans who still held the countryside. ... So fierce was the resistance that the GPU leader Unshlikht reported that "the troops were forced to resort to heavy artillery to bombard the rebel strongholds."

(p 220) The Soviet authorities ... launched several punitive expeditions in 1925 to confiscate some of the arms held by the population, and again in 1930-1932 to try to break the resistance of the Chechens and Ingush against collectivization. In March and April 1930, and again in April and May 1932, in a struggle against the "bandits," special troops of the NKVD ... called in artillery and air support. This provoked a strong groundswell of resistance to centralized power and a desire for independence among people who had always struggled against the influence of Moscow.

In [1] Payin and Popov tell the same story from a Russian perspective:

The Congress of the Mountain People that convened in the trans-Caucasus in January 1921 (chaired by Stalin, the People's Commissar of Nationalities at the time) declared the formation of the Mountainous Soviet Republic of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Over the ensuing three years, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and a number of other autonomous oblasts of the Northern Caucasus became independent. A brief period of relative tranquillity was cut short by the mass political repression of the collectivization campaign during the late 1920s and early 1930s. This sparked a new wave of anti-Soviet uprisings in Chechnya that continued for the next ten years, gradually taking on the character of guerrilla warfare.

In the beginning of the Nazi campaign against the USSR, the Chechens, like all other oppressed nationalities of the USSR, hoped to regain their freedom through a German Nazi victory over Communist Russia. This was a false and tragic hope, because the Nazis - if victorious - would not have granted them independence in any case, and in the actual outcome of the war these nationalities paid dearly with hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the Gulag (Soviet Russia's slave labor camp system) for their cooperation with the Germans.

In [1], Payin and Popov show a Russian bias and of course do not mention the deaths of the thousands of victims that resulted from a new wave of brutal repressions and deportation after the retreat of German forces:

The crises intensified at the onset of World War II, with the creation of the rebel government of Israilov and Sheripov. In June 1942, this government issued an "Appeal to the Chechen-Ingush People," to "wait for the Germans as [welcome] guests." The government declared that the Germans would be greeted with hospitality if they acknowledged the independence of the Chechen republic. This was later used by the Stalinist leadership as a pretext for the complete deportation of the Chechen and Ingush population to the eastern parts of the country. (The deportation of other people of the Caucasus - Balkars, Meshedin Turks, and Kurds - was conducted without any such pretext.)

The Black Book of Communism [2] gives more detail on the genocidal operations of the Soviet regime:

(p 219) ... from November 1943 to June 1944, ... six peoples - the Chechens, the Ingush, the Crimean Tatars, the Karachai, the Balkars, and the Kalmyks - were deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kirgizstan on the pretext that they had "collaborated massively with the Nazi occupier."

(p 220) The autonomous republic of Chechnya-Ingushetia was only partially occupied by Nazi detachments for approximately ten weeks, from early September to mid-November 1942. There was not the slightest evidence of collaboration. ... five big deportation movements between November 1943 and May 1944 were carried out ...

(p 221) The deportation involved a huge number of convoys: ... 194 convoys of 64 trucks for the deportation on 23-28 February 1944 of 521,247 Chechens and Ingush. For these exceptional operations when the war was at its height, the NKVD used 119,000 troops. The operations began with the arrest of ... between 1 and 2 percent of the population, most of whom were women, children, and old people. The vast majority of adult men were fighting under the Russian flag.

(p 222) One [survivor of deportation] recalled: " ... We worked hard, and we were always hungry. Many of us could barely stand. They had deported thirty families from our village. There were one or two survivors from five families. Everyone else died of hunger or disease." Another survivor recalled that during the transportation process which lasted several weeks "... in the tightly shut wagons, people died like flies because of hunger and lack of oxygen, and no one gave us anything to eat or drink."

In [1] Payin and Popov give a rather bland account of the post-war relationship of the Chechens with their Russian over-lords:

Thus, prior to the middle of the 20th century, the Chechens, particularly those residing in Islamic mountainous regions, never fully accepted Russian domination. The perceived illegitimacy of Russia's claims notwithstanding, prior to the early 1990s there were no serious conflicts in Russian-Chechen relations following the return of Chechens to their homeland and the restoration of a Chechno-Ingush autonomous republic in 1957. There is no doubt that many Chechens throughout the 1960s-1980s believed that the USSR constituted a "Russian state" in a different guise. The memories of deportation, as well the unwillingness of Soviet authorities to acknowledge full responsibility for these actions, remained deep-seated.

We get a more revealing account from [2] - The Black Book of Communism:

(p 256) On 9 January 1957 the government once again recognized the republics and autonomous regions of the deported peoples ... From 1957 on, the Karachai, Kalmyks, Balkars, Chechens, and Ingush slowly began to return by the tens of thousands. ... Numerous disputes broke out between deportees trying to move back into their former homes and the Russian colonists who had been brought there from neighboring regions in 1945. ... In July 1958 the Chechen capital, Grozny, was the scene of bloody confrontations between Russians and Chechens.

What the Chechens want is simply independence. The current arrangement with Moscow still looks to the Chechens like a '"Russian state" in a different guise.' In light of the tenacity of the Chechen spirit, which has survived even the fires of genocide, it is unlikely that Russia will maintain hold on its colony of Chechnya which has been in nearly constant rebellion against the Russian over-lords for more than eighty years. What is certain is that the post-1991 fighting is a repeat of the fighting in the 1920s, of which The Black Book of Communism says: "This essentially colonial war of "pacification," waged for more than ten years, required a large part of the Russian armed forces and the special troops of the secret police."

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