Putin: Commissar of Russian Resurgence

(Dr Shujaat Ali Quadri)


The disintegration of the great Soviet Union was so disheartening for communist commissars that Boris Yeltsin, former President, the last popular and successful product of Politburo and a supporter of the perestroika reforms of legendary Mikhail Gorbachev, drowned himself in alcohol. Disgruntled, he stepped back from holding reins of Russia, making way for a young, but well-groomed administrator, “economist”, and former KGB spy as Prime Minister in 1999. That young and dapper upstart – Vladimir Putin – became President in 2000, never to be unseated from power thereafter.

Since then, Putin has been commanding a cult following in Russia; his reputation puts him in the first-row of world leaders. In fact, he sometimes stands tall above all, dwarfing even US and Chinese Presidents. Russia, under Putin, resurged even faster than post-WWII Germany and now despite being besotted with conflicts of almost all hues is making giant strides in the global arena.

Overcoming Chechnya Challenge, With Force and Embrace

The first task before Putin when he ascended the Russian etap was to counter insurgency emanating from within and the neighbouring countries that had split from the Soviet Union. The Putin’s Kremlin had to subdue and eliminate Salafi-Wahhabi militancy, most notably in Chechnya. Chechnya is a tiny, oil-rich province in Russia’s North Caucasus region.

A 2002 Brookings Institution report says that despite deep antagonism, both Putin and then US President George W. Bush had one common agenda in 2000’s: “Putin pushed the idea of a concerted campaign against terrorism with American and European leaders. He was one of the first to raise the alarm about terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and to warn of linkages between these camps, well-financed terrorist networks, and Islamist militant groups operating in Europe and Eurasia.”

But both the US and Europe chose to pick and pursue their own “war on terror” and Russia slayed its demons alone.

For Putin’s forces, Chechnya, where they fought two wars, was not the only challenge; they in fact had to face in their neighbourhood the Salafist-Wahhabi jihadists who were baying for Russian blood as they deemed Moscow responsible for slaughter of lakhs of Muslims in the region.

Putin’s forces launched a massive, all out and full-fledged conventional military assault that did not have any trace of limitations or restraints in space, time and scale or weapon employment and force usage. This action, known as the Second Chechen War, was organised by Putin and his generals keeping in mind the humiliating defeat in the First Chechen War (1994-96). The Russian defeat had bolstered the jihadis, whose majority was already inflated with victorious hubris because of Soviet capitulation in Afghanistan, and later its collapse. It was a galling humiliation for once, and still, a mighty military power.

The Russian failure provided a tremendous filip to the morale of Salafi-oriented Islamists. A large number of ex Afghan Jihad veterans also entered Chechnya. A number of Arab fighters like Emir al-Khattab saw the territory as another laboratory for their “project jihad”. Some Chechen fighters were also described as having been trained in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries.

In August 1999, Chechen militants led by Shamil Basayev, the Chechen Islamic warlord of Wahhabi leanings, mounted an invasion of the neighbouring Russian province of Dagestan. It followed a number of terrorist strikes and bomb blasts across Russia, leading to deaths of hundreds. These terrorist bombings created uproar in Russia. The Russians launched a counter-offensive that was an all-out military invasion of Chechnya as a full-fledged proactive option to carry the war to the enemy territory and liquidate the Islamist fighters in their own lair.

In April 2009, the Putin government announced a halt to successful operations in Chechnya. Before that, President Putin had managed to reconcile with many moderate Chechen groups, and as part of “deal”, released political prisoners, and kicked in policy of “glasnost” with Russia’s most restive backyard.

Today, Ramzan Akhmatovich Kadyrov, son of former anti-Russia Chechen President and cleric Akhmad Kadyrov, is President of Republic of Chechnya. While he leads an independent Republic, he is also a colonel general in the Russian military and has played a pivotal role in sprucing up Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine ever since the conflict broke out in 2022.

With last month’s ISIS terror strike in Moscow suburb may however test Putin’s ability to eliminate religiously-inspired terror from fomenting troubles in Russia and its neighbourhood, anew.

Architect of New (Multi-polar) World Order

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, which reportedly is tilted towards Russia as of now, is an illustrating example of how Russia, under Putin, has become a robustly belligerent power that is not ready to allow the emergence of any future threat on its borders. Late secretary of state and grandmaster of diplomacy Henry Kissinger had said on the outcome of the Ukraine war in 2022: “When this war is over, the issue will be whether Russia achieves a coherent relationship with Europe — which it has always sought — or whether it will become an outpost of Asia at the border of Europe.” Kissinger, however, was clear that Russia, along with China, has shaped a non-US, non-West new world order that is slated to give rise to multiple global powers which will also include India.

Kissinger in fact considered Ukraine an integral part of the Russian sphere of interests. In a speech in Moscow in 2016, Kissinger said Ukraine should serve “as a bridge between Russia and the West, rather than as an outpost of either side.”

Another non-Russia country where Putin’s government has put its foot deep down is Syria. As soon as the Bashar al-Assad regime, with strong Iranian backing nevertheless, was almost on the verge of collapse in 2016. Groups like ISIS had emerged with extremely menacing intentions. Had Russia not sent its forces (both ground and air force), the Assad regime’s ouster seemed a sure-shot possibility. Russian forces in collaboration with the Iranian Quds Brigade and Iran-backed militias saved Assad from the brink.

Even though the civil war in Syria continues, and the quagmire has become direr after the onset of Israel-Gaza hostilities, the role of Russian forces to save Assad remains crucial.

Russia and China have repeatedly backed resolutions in the United Nations – both in the General Assembly and Security Council – calling for immediate ceasefire, supply of humanitarian assistance to suffering Gazans and implementation of a two-state solution to the ever-festering crisis in West Asia.

Russia’s relations with the Middle East have largely been limited to trade with Arab states, and strategic and military cooperations with Iran and Syria.

Proving Kissinger’s observation right about the new world order, China and Russia tend to back (or at least not oppose) each other at the UN Security Council, where both are veto-wielding permanent members. Neither has vetoed a Security Council resolution without the other’s support since 2004.

Although they have different interests in Central Asia — Russia has focused on supporting the security and political stability of allied former Soviet republics, while China has focused on bolstering trade and economic development — they have avoided conflict with each other and have collaborated to maintain regional security through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Similarly, both the countries have successfully shepherded another non-West, non-US grouping called BRICS, which is rapidly adding new members from the developing world or the Global South.

A new horizon, albeit hazy, is in sight under the leadership of Putin for a world that seeks an order, free of bigpower hegemony and US-led unipolarity.


(The Author is the Chairman of the Muslim Students Organization of India and can be reach at shujaatquadri@gmail.com His Twitter Handle is https://twitter.com/shujaatQuadri)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *