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US Military Forces Build up Strength in Kyrgyzstan

Russia's predicament in its rebellious republic of Chechnya is fast spinning out of control and is threatening to become Russia's second Afghanistan. After ten years of trying to control Chechnya primarily by military force, punctuated by a period of withdrawal from 1996 to 1999, Russia still has not been able to realize its aim of ruling the republic through a compliant local political leadership. At present, the situation in Chechnya is deteriorating so badly that Moscow is increasingly faced with a series of options, all of which are unfavorable to its strategic and security interests. A communist supporter stands with a portrait of the founder of the Soviet state Vladimir Lenin during a demonstration in Russia's southern city of Stavropol, November 7, 2007. Russia marked the 90th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution on Wednesday.

A communist supporter stands with a portrait of the founder of the Soviet state Vladimir Lenin during a demonstration in Russia's southern city of Stavropol, November 7, 2007. Russia marked the 90th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution on Wednesday.

Located in the strategically significant Caucasus mountains, Chechnya's predominantly Sunni Muslim population has never been reconciled to its incorporation into the Russian empire in 1859. Chechens declared an autonomous republic in 1920 in the wake of the Russian Revolution, but were later absorbed into the Soviet Union. In 1944, the Stalin regime accused the Chechens of cooperating with Nazi forces and sent hundreds of thousands of them into forced exile in Kazakhstan from where they were allowed to return in 1957. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Chechens again made a bid for independence under the leadership of air force general Dzhokar Dudayev. The Russian regime of Boris Yeltsin refused to acquiesce in Chechnya's separation and invaded the republic in 1994, setting off a two-year war that ended in Russian retreat and de facto independence for Chechnya without international recognition. During its brief period of independence, Chechnya became a failed state. The elected government of Aslan Maskhadov was unable to contain rampant crime, corruption, warlordism and Islamic revolutionist tendencies, which spilled over into neighboring Russian republics and into the heart of Russia itself. After a series of apartment house bombings in Russia in 1999 that were blamed on Chechen radicals, the Putin regime chose to invade Chechnya once again, driving Maskhadov underground and triggering a second Chechen war that continues to fester and recently has erupted with suicide bombings of Russian airliners and the seizure and bombing of a school in the republic of North Ossetia, resulting in hundreds of deaths and casualties. The recent upsurge of violence in the Chechnya conflict stems directly from the assassination of Chechnya's Russian-backed President Akhmad Kadyrov on May 9, 2004. Elected in October, 2003, Kadyrov had been Moscow's hope for achieving legitimacy for its control of Chechnya. The chief religious leader of Chechnya's Sunni Muslims, Kadyrov had backed the separatist forces in the first Chechen war, but became disenchanted with the failed experiment in independence and collaborated with the Russian occupiers after 1999, becoming head of a Russian-imposed governing authority. With the death of Kadv, Moscow lost the on ly local leader with sufficient support and prestige in the Chechen population to possibly secure legitimacy for Russian rule.

A Russian tank and two helicopters take part in military training manoeuvers in Yurga, 28 September 2007. Russia may increase troop deployments on its western flank after its anticipated suspension of adherence to a key treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, a senior defence official said Wednesday. Widely seen internationally and within Chechnya as a rigged vote, the election detracted from Russia's legitimacy in Chechnya.

A former Chechen interior minister and security operative, Alkhanov has no ties to the opposition and has been ordered by Moscow not to negotiate with it. Unlike Kadyrov, he has no prestige or base of support in the population, although he is linked to the powerful clan led by Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the late president, who controls a formidable independent militia, and is too young to constitutionally assume the presidency. Moscow has attempted to increase acceptance of Alkhanov by permitting him to pursue a policy of diverting all of Chechnya's oil revenues to reconstruction efforts in the republic. Yet with most of the fields depleted and most of the refining capacity impaired, this plan seems to be an effort by Moscow to avoid having to give direct reconstruction aid, which in the past has been frittered away by corruption. By putting up as weak a figure as Alkhanov, Russia has shown the weakness of the hand it has to play in Chechnya. The resistance forces understand this, which is why they have launched their spectacular strikes. After the airliner and school bombings, Moscow is faced with a choice between trying to apply massive coercive power to crush the rebellion, letting conditions go on as they are or attempting to make some kind of bargain with segments of the opposition. Each of those options has more downside risk than upside potential, and each of them has benefits for the resistance.

Massive force will further alienate the Chechens from Russia; continuation of chronic instability will do the same; negotiation will spell a diminution of Russian power if a bargain is made, and will be a sign of weakness that will likely embolden the hard-line opposition. There is also the option of another Russian withdrawal from Chechnya, but that would mean a severe weakening of Russian influence in the Caucasus. The interest of the United States in the Caucasus is control over oil supplies from the Caspian Sea, which involves securing compliant regimes in the southern Caucasus, including Azerbaijan, where the oil is extracted, and Georgia, through which the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will pass. As a consequence of this dominant interest, the United States is also committed to thwarting any attempt by Russia to expand its influence in the Caucasus. From the American viewpoint, Russian failure in Chechnya is welcome, as long as it does not get to the point that Chechnya becomes a base for Islamic revolution worldwide. In the current strategic environment, the United States is constrained to give public support to Russian efforts to curb terrorism, but that does not mean that it takes Russia's side in practice. Not only did the United States criticize the August 29 election as being "neither free nor fair," but it has granted asylum to Ilyas Akhmadov, the foreign minister of Maskhadov's opposition government, leaving him free to pursue diplomacy aimed at winning international support for Maskhadov's Republic of Ichkeria.

The Putin regime has complained of an American "double standard" in the "war on terror," but has been powerless to stop the American support of the opposition. Maskhadov is pursuing a novel strategy of sending his government ministers into exile in different countries so that they can gain maximum diplomatic leverage. Culture Minister Akhmed Zakayev has been granted asylum in Great Britain; Health Minister Umar Khanbiyev is in France; Social Defense Minister Apti Bisultanov is based in Germany. Maskhadov's dispersion strategy has led to publicity for his proposal to internationalize the Chechen conflict through guarantees of the country's autonomy and to contacts with N.G.O.s. Whether N.A.T.O. powers are formally involved with the Ichkerian exile government is unclear, but at the very least they are granting it a measure of legitimacy and sending a signal to Moscow that they are not supportive of its success in Chechnya. The United States and the European Union have called for Russia to negotiate with the separatists. France and Germany have played both sides of the table, distancing themselves from the United States by endorsing the August 29 election, but also urging negotiation.

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