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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict
John B. Dunlop

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
234 pp. Index. ISBN 0-521-63184-X. Pb.: ISBN 0-521-63619-1.

This is the first of a two-volume work dealing with the confrontation of the Russian state and the peoples of Chechnya from Imperial times to the present day. In this book, John B. Dunlop, a noted scholar of the anti-Soviet Russian nationalism that began to emerge in various forms in the USSR in the late 1960's, chronicles the Russian engagement in Chechnya through the middle of the last war there, which resulted in Chechnya's de facto secession from the Russian Federation. Dunlop has written a highly competent and comprehensive history of Russian-Chechen relations, exploiting available Russian as well as Western source material exhaustively. The book is focused on the single case of Russian-Chechen conflict and is not concerned with conceptual or theoretical issues that might build intellectual bridges to other cases or to the theory of ethnic and nationalist conflict. Still, the subject is of considerable importance: because of the scale of the recent war and the destruction of much of Chechnya; because of what the Russian decision to invade Chechnya tells us about the state of Russian democracy; because of what the failure of the Russian military and political effort to subdue Chechnya tells us about the state of the Russian state itself; and not least because the Russian decision for war in Chechnya may be contrasted so sharply with Russian agreement to settle relations with the internal republic of Tatarstan - which made Chechen-like claims for independence - on the basis of a federal 'treaty' in early 1994. Moreover, the reader will find Dunlop's judgments sound throughout: on how historical memory shaped the indisposition of Russian and Chechen elites to understand and compromise with each other; on the uniqueness of the Chechen case for the mulitnational and in part ethno-federal state that contemporary Russia is; on the non-inevitability of the war itself; and finally, though more implicitly, on how central, closed patterns of Kremlin decision-making on national security have not changed from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the invasion of Afghanistan to the decision to invade Chechnya in December 1994. A final irony: the sensible Russian argument on Kosovo that force cannot be readily applied to solve deeply rooted ethnic conflicts certainly applied to Russia's conundrum in Chechnya. Russia's objection to the use of force in Kosovo, of course, was not a principled one but based rather on the fact that Russia was being left out.

Allen C. Lynch
University of Virginia

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