The Chechen pro-independence cause is back in the good books of western political and media elites.
Not because of events in Chechnya itself, but due to the war in Ukraine.
The US Congress-financed Radio Free Liberty Europe went as far as producing a sensationalist news report about the arrival of Rustam Azhiyev in Ukraine.
He is a Chechen commander of a Wahhabi militia who was previously active in Syria.
Are we to assume that the Wahhabis are true Ukrainian patriots?
Interestingly, Chechens are becoming prominent players on both sides in the Ukraine war.
Crescent International examined this phenomenon in August 2022.
Since then, the Chechen factor in Ukraine’s war has gained momentum mainly because Kiev is hinting at recognizing Chechnya as an independent state entity.
From the Ukrainian standpoint, this would be a logical response to Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory.
But are the prospects of Chechen independence realistic?
Chechnya secured de-facto independence from Russia between 1991-1994 and then from 1996 to 1999.
In both cases, the newly independent state was unable to overcome the serious challenges it faced to create a functioning state system.
Currently, Chechnya enjoys de-facto independent status, a phenomenon analyzed in detail by Crescent International in October 2019.
Chechnya’s prospects for independence, based on political configuration and orientation of the 1990s, are quite low today.
This is mainly due to the internal political dynamics of Chechnya and the wider North Caucasus region.
Chechen pro-independence forces are quite disunited.
Unlike the 1990s, they do not have towering figures like General Dzhokhar Dudayev or Aslan Maskhadov in their midst.
The mid-level leadership of the pro-independence camp is also no match for the quality of legendary Chechen field commanders of the 1990s who left a huge mark on contemporary military history.
While Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov does not enjoy overwhelming support, there is still significant popular backing for him to stall any serious attempt to turn the political clock back to the 1990s.
Population of Chechens inside and outside Chechnya is at most two million.
Thus, any political trend with even limited backing can throw a wrench into the political ambitions of any other Chechen group.
This was witnessed multiple times in the late 1990s.
Those familiar with people’s thinking inside Chechnya know that the population is exhausted after two brutal wars.
They are not willing to go through a repeat of the 1990s.
This was recently implied by Anzor Maskhadov (the son of Aslan Maskhadov), who currently resides in Norway and leads one of the pro-independence groups of Chechen exiles.
Nevertheless, active Chechen military participation on the Ukrainian side will continue because it carries symbolic importance.
It puts Russia under geopolitical pressure.
For decades, ruling elites of different outlooks in Moscow have considered the Caucasus as Russia’s soft underbelly from where it might begin to unravel.
This is part of the reason why when he became Russia’s Prime Minister in 1999, Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale war on the de-facto independent Chechen state.
NATO’s political and media elites realize the sensitivity of the Chechen factor for Russia in geopolitical sense.
The renewed intense media coverage pushing the pro-independence Chechen narrative points to a thought-out agenda.
However, it is unlikely that NATO’s ruling elites believe that there is a realistic chance to turn the clock back in Chechnya to the 1990s.
Without destabilizing the wider North Caucasus region beyond Chechnya, Russian ambitions in Ukraine will not be curtailed.
At the moment, Moscow can put down any rebellion in the region.
There is no organized mass scale opposition in the North Caucasus similar to what occurred at the end of the 1990s.
The wider region itself is divided and many non-Chechens are still bitter about the emergence of a Wahhabi trend borne out of the two Chechen wars.
Chechnya, like the broader North Caucasus region, has historically followed Sufi tariqahs.
It was these Sufi groups that kept the flame of Islam alive in the hearts of the masses when Czarist brutalities, followed by Communist brutalities were at their peak.
Emergence of Wahhabi groups is seen as an unwelcome intrusion into this predominantly Sufi-dominated region.
It appears that for now the Ukrainian war theater is being used by NATO and pro-independence oriented North Caucasian groups as preparatory ground for potential destabilization of the broader region to deflect Russian attention away from its war effort in Ukraine.
This is a long-term goal with limited prospects of success.
There is not enough popular backing to emulate the rebellious model of the 1990s.
However, the dark horse in this equation is the historic grudge of the people in the region.
This cannot be underestimated.