We believe that we constitute a state in every aspect except international recognition. Therefore our strategy is to persuade outsiders that we can behave like a normal state and should be treated as such. During the first war and at the beginning of the present war we fought with the strategies and tactics of a conventional army. We tried to maintain command and control, hold a front line, hold territory and hold onto the capital for as long as possible. This strategy was almost suicidal in view of the unequal size of the forces. Guerrilla warfare would have been to our advantage but we sacrificed many of our best fighters to fight as a conventional force precisely because we wanted to demonstrate our capacity for statehood. Our constant lack of personnel, weapons and supplies was compensated only by tremendous force of will. For many observers this connoted heroism, for others fanaticism, but for us it was necessity. We had to maintain the norms that would allow outsiders to perceive us as a state. And even since the guerrilla war began, the Chechen resistance has held on tenaciously to all possible attributes of statehood. It is important to note that until summer 1995, our resistance was exclusively fighting conventional warfare. There was strict subordination to the President, who was the commander-in-chief and who supervised the head quarters of the armed forces, and four commanders responsible for different fronts or directions, who had responsibilities in their sectors and whose duties were carefully delineated. From December 1994 until June 1995, we held a front line and despite the huge superiority of Russian forces they moved that front line in the direction of the mountains very slowly and at the cost of high casualties. Our foreign policy is oriented toward persuading international institutions – the UN, OSCE, European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) – to pay greater attention to the war and ultimately regulate it. Despite our status as a party to the conflict and our constant efforts to be understood, we often meet a refusal to talk to us. For instance, the PACE held a roundtable to discuss Chechnya in March 2005 that included only the Russian government, Russian NGOs and the Russian-installed government of Chechnya. This was counter-productive. If the Russian delegation cannot sit at the same table as representatives of the Chechen warring side, then PACE should organise separate meetings. But PACE should not act as if all the sides are represented or progress is being made if there is only a pretence of multilateral discussion. This is particularly disappointing for us, because the PACE is one of very few international organisations that has been even marginally involved in trying to observe and resolve the conflict.
This is indicative of a fundamental error in the Western perception of the conflict and of Russia: namely, the habit of making unilateral concessions to Russia and hoping that it will reciprocate. Typically, Western politicians focus on utterly superficial improvements – such as new internet cafes or cell phone use – in Chechnya and pretend that these are indicative of a lower level of violence, which of course they are not. Proceeding from such illusory "improvements," the West makes small concessions to Russia and then hopes that Russia will reciprocate with substantive concessions. This approach can never work, because the Russian side is getting everything it wants without having to make any substantive improvements.
The most damaging concession that PACE and many other international actors have made is to follow the Russian line of "Chechenisation." Russia pretends that there is internal conflict between different Chechen groups and poses as the mediator. In fact, one of the Chechen "sides" comprises ethnic Chechens appointed by Russia and who should not be seen as an independent actor. Hence PACE pretends that Alu Alkhanov, a Russian appointee, is a "side" in the conflict and utterly ignores the warring side.
The representatives of Chechnya abroad try to resolve issues of state without access to any of the resources of a state, such as diplomatic immunity. My most elementary need is to be granted visas to enter different states, but every application process is a major battle. Western bureaucracies fear Russia's hysterical responses and invent the most absurd obstacles. For instance, in November 1999, I was invited by Noel Mamer of France's Green Party to speak to the National Assembly, but the French Foreign Ministry would not issue a visa. Eventually Pax Cristi invited me to Holland, which gave me the opportunity to go to France. Mamer secretly took me into the parliament and in front of the Prime Minister publicly demanded to know why I was denied a visa. There was a huge furore but ultimately Foreign Minister Uber Vedrin apologised on behalf of the government and the following day I was given a visa. I wish I could say that every time I applied for a visa it ended with such a success, but I have missed many important forums and events because I could not obtain the proper documents.
Last but not least, Russia's use of Interpol is a huge problem. As many human rights groups have noted, Russia uses its Interpol membership not to combat organised crime but to harass political opponents. The Russian 'Procuracy' fabricates cases against Chechen representatives such as Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev and myself in the crudest manner. These cases, although blatantly false, damage our image, waste our resources and impede our ability to travel.
There was only one period in recent history when the way we were perceived corresponded to the way we perceive ourselves. This was during the negotiations of 1995-1997, which were conducted with OSCE mediation and ended the first war. The negotiations demanded that the Chechen side become unified and that the various armed units demonstrate loyalty and subordination to the political authorities. Only by so doing could we persuade the other parties of our ability to carry out the obligations we were undertaking. We felt we were being included in the sphere of inter-state or inter-government relations which stimulated us to observe the standards of that community. The ceasefire which Maskhadov announced and the Chechen fighters kept in February 2005 showed that this subordination and loyalty were still in place. What was lacking was a similar degree of international involvement. The tragic death of President Maskhadov turns a new page in this conflict and at present we can only speculate about its algorithms, its duration, and its geography. What is clear is that with his passing there seems little possibility of a civilised end to this conflict in the near future.