Staunton, May 30 – Now that the Chechens have become involved as foot soldiers in Vladimir Putin’s campaign to destabilize and potentially occupy portions of Ukraine, it is worth comparing Moscow’s “counter-terrorist” campaign in the North Caucasus with what Kyiv is doing in its eastern region.
Such a comparison is especially useful now because it calls attention not only to the very different metrics many in the West are using to evaluate what Ukrainian forces are doing compared to those they have long employed for describing Moscow’s efforts in the North Caucasus but also to thee remarkable success of Kyiv compared to Moscow.
A full comparison of the two conflicts is obviously beyond the scope of a single essay, but three points immediately attract attention. First, Moscow has been engaged in its campaign for two decades without having been able to pacify the region, but almost no one has suggested that Russia was a failed state because of that.
Kyiv in contrast has been fighting for only a few weeks, but it has become a Moscow mantra widely picked up in the West that the Ukrainian government’s effort or even the need it has to make it and enforce its sovereignty shows that it isn’t an “effective” or even a “real” state and thus requires outside supervision or control.
Second, Moscow in the North Caucasus has not been confronted by the effort of any state to annex part of its territory, something that international law specifies is the basis for the use of military force and not just police action. But Kyiv has been faced with exactly that kind of violation and thus is fully within its rights to use available force against the insurgents.
What is sad, even despicable, is that many of those who are now attacking Ukraine for living within the law have in the past defended Russian actions which violate that law, and they are calling for Ukraine to stop using force even though they never issued similar demands to Moscow.
Third, in the North Caucasus, Moscow has faced opposition from the indigenous populations not from armed units introduced by a neighboring state. The militants in many cases enjoy support or at least sympathy from the population. Kyiv’s situation is different in both these regards.
On the one hand, as ever more evidence shows, Moscow is sending forces into Ukrainian territory to seize Crimea and to destabilize what it calls “Novorossiya,” something that because of Russia’s resources means that Ukraine faces a far better armed and organized force than Moscow ever has in the North Caucasus.
But on the other hand, the Russian subversive forces enjoy far less support in the population than do the militants in the North Caucasus. Polls not conducted under the barrel of Russian guns show that majorities and in some cases overwhelming majorities of ethnic Russian or Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens want to be part of Ukraine not Russia.
Fourth, Russian forces in the North Caucasus have engaged in torture and other crimes against humanity and in many cases seem more interested in profiting from a continuation of the war than in establishing peace. Ukrainian forces have not, and Ukrainian leaders have consistently said that they want to use the minimum amount of force possible.
Not surprisingly, given everything else, all too many in the West act as if the situation were just the reverse.
And fifth, unlike the Russian Federation, Ukraine is a functioning democracy where elections are not all predictable in advance. In the North Caucasus, Moscow has taken steps that have exacerbated conditions there; in eastern Ukraine, including Crimea, Kyiv has done just the reverse.
This list could easily be expanded, but even these five differences should be sufficient to call into question the arguments of those in Moscow and elsewhere about Ukraine, given what the Russian Federation has done in the North Caucasus.