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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

Russia?s Restless Frontier; The Chechnya Factor in Post-Soviet Russia
Dmitri V. Trenin and Aleksei V. Malashenko, with Anatol Lieven

Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2004
264 pp PB $24.85 ISBN 0-87003-203-8.

In a departure from most other works on the Chechen conflict, Russia?s Restless Frontier seeks to examine the wider ramifications, both within Russia itself and internationally, of the ongoing unrest in Chechnya. From the outset the authors, one a former Russian army officer, the other an expert on Islam, and both affiliated to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stake out their particular hard-line take on the causes and progression of the Chechen conflict. Chapter 2 provides a chronicle of the ?unfinished conflict?, while chapters 3-6 look at respectively the appreciation of the conflict in Russian society, the so-called ?Islamic factor?, the military?s approach to the conflict and its international ramifications. Trenin and Malashenko are quite statist and security-orientated in their outlook and are keen to place much blame on Islamic terrorism, for example, while being much less emphatic in their criticism of any wrongdoing by Russia. The result is a sometimes unbalanced look at the relevant issues.

Chapter 7, ?Chechnya and the Laws of War?, is particularly disappointing from the perspective of this author. The chapter is a contribution by Anatol Lieven, a senior associate for foreign and security policy at the Carnegie Endowment and a former Times correspondent. Although Lieven does not condone the suffering endured by the Chechen population at the hands of the Russian Forces, he suggests that such is often ?unavoidable? given military realities. Much Western criticism of Russian misconduct is motivated, in his view, ?only by malignant hatred of Russia?, and he repeatedly points to historic and contemporary examples of similar abuses by other states. After an examination of ?Russia?s Legal Right to War against Chechnya?, the author then turns to the laws of war and the issue of war crimes. Lieven?s discussion of war crimes makes little reference to the law of war crimes, such as the detailed codification in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but rather involves his own appreciation of different categories of such crimes, with predictable results. The bombing of Grozny, for example, comes within his category of ?actions that have been widely described as war crimes but that cannot, in fact, be so described?. His discussion of antipartisan warfare is keen to stress the difficulty of respecting civilian life that this entails.

Lieven favours a veiled apologia for Russian conduct in Chechnya, over the potentially beneficial application of the laws of war to the conflict. Reference is made to only one actual treaty and there is no attempt to discuss the laws of internal conflict as laid down in the Geneva Conventions or the 1977 Additional Protocol II, rules, incidentally, that apply to both sides of the Chechen conflict. These laws prohibit inhumane acts, such as torture, disappearances, hostage-taking and murder, and currently form the basis of the criminal charges being pursued against former rebel leaders in Sierra Leone. The chapter could also have benefited from looking at the implications of Russia?s status as a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Recent judgments of the Strasbourg Court, issued after this book?s publication, have affirmed Russia?s human rights obligations, and failings, in Chechnya.

In a way this book has merit in that it exposes readers to the often uncompromising establishment and military attitude which exists towards the separatist conflict in Chechnya. That said, readers seeking a more comprehensive and balanced analysis of the Chechen conflict and its considerable ramifications would be advised to look further than Russia?s Restless Frontier.

Shane Darcy, Lecturer, Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster

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