Blood, boots and business: Growth prospects for Chechnya?

In this exploratory conversation, one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics discusses prospects for economic and political independence


World Finance speaks to Akhmed Zakayev, prime minister in exile of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria – officially referred to as the Chechen Republic, a Russian state – on whether a rising Eurasia front undermines the independence he and other Putin critics seek.

The rise of a Eurasia pact is increasingly being buoyed by the western world’s alienation of Russia. Now as continental Asia becomes the focal point for this new power base, what happens to historically entrenched relations in the region? Akhmed Zakayev, Prime Minister in-Exile of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, officially referred to as the Chechen Republic, a Russia state, joins me with his thoughts.

European CEO: If you were given the opportunity to be at the helm of Chechnya tomorrow, tell me what economic policies would you put in place?

Akhmed Zakayev: You know that, as a result of wars, the Chechen economy, the whole infrastructure of the republic, has been ruined. So if we get to rule the country, the first things we’ll need to do is to bring the whoel law-making basis, the whole framework of laws, into the accordance with the internationally accepted legislature. This will help us to develop the economy.

If you are asking me whether Chechnya is self-sufficient, the answer is yes. Before the wars started we had a very developed oil industry, we had a developed gas industry, wood industry; we had very developed agriculture.

European CEO: I’m happy you brought up the issue of oil. Love him or hate him, we’ve seen Vladimir Putin of course monopolise power through this natural resource. As a result, he’s also been able to entrench trade ties with China as well as India. What do you make of this relationship?

Akhmed Zakayev: To answer your question about Putin and what he has been doing in these 15 years with oil, with all these incredible prices and incredible development of oil, he did not use this money to develop the economy, and as they say in Russia, he was like a junkie who has a needle with oil actually pumped into Russia.

European CEO: Yes, but you can’t negate the reality that we live in today. Of course President Vladimir Putin has strong allied relations all around you. So how would you then be able to resurrect your economy given the current state of affairs?

Akhmed Zakayev: I can’t imagine Putin actually blocking it all by his exports, although he does have export with, very often, Russia itself, has problems with oil. I just don’t want to concentrate on this only, because for us, the future of the republic will depend much more on new technology and not on natural resources, but rather on human resources.

Our young people have been living abroad, lots of our young people got their education in the West, and they have the cutting edge of technologies available. So, if this knowledge and skills and ability to use this new technology is put back into Chechnya, this would be something that would really develop its economy.

European CEO: That’s not a direct response to my question, so let’s move on and talk about the composition of Chechnya. You’ve been out of the country for a long time, since then we have seen the rise of an extremist sect. How can you even begin to talk about how the country can move forward, how you want to broker trade relations with other countries in the region and beyond, when you’re still very much dealing with this community?

Akhmed Zakayev: Obviously, as a bad consequence of wars, we do have some extremists in the country. This problem exists, you can’t avoid admitting it. But, I am absolutely sure that once Chechnya is free from Russia’s influence in every repsect, this problem can be solved.

European CEO: So you’re talking about building a robust economic system, and in building a program you want to promote the local talent as you just mentioned and sell your goods, so where would you turn to? For instance, is the Eurasian economic union, which is Russia backed of course, one option?

Akhmed Zakayev: Putin’s Eurasian union is a myth, which I’m sure will go as soon as Putin goes. The countries that are supposed to be joining it and are supposed to be in it are the countries that are still influenced by Russia. I’m sure that Chechnya will outlive Putin, will survive after Putin goes. This is my hope, and that’s why I don’t read the Eurasian Union as something tangible or lasting, but on the other hand the European Union will not go if Putin goes.

European CEO: If there’s a change, and perhaps Chechnya is given quasi-independence, would you be turning to the European Union, being of course Russia’s largest trading partner, so would the nature of this relationship then be one in which EU member states would have to turn away from Russia?

Akhmed Zakayev: We don’t want to treat Russia as an enemy state or to get rid of any contact with Russia. On the contrary, Russia is necessary but I want to make a distinction between Putin’s regime and Russia proper.

When I’m talking about contacts and trade with Russia, I’m talking about contacts and trade with free Russia, Russia that has freed itself from today’s regime. I think maybe the mistake that we made about 25 years ago, and this is probably the first time I’m actually formulating it publicly, is that we actually ran ahead a little bit. We thought that we could become free before Russia becomes free.

I think it must have been a mistake because the freedom of Chechnya is related to the freedom of Russia, and when Russia is free it can have it’s own normal relations with the European Union and trade and economic exchanges of all sorts, and this would be beneficial for everybody.

European CEO: You really seem to hold out that there will be a change coming in the near future, how long are we going to have to wait?

Akhmed Zakayev: Forecasting is rather an ungrateful business, so I don’t really want to predict things, but looking at how things are today in Russia, I think that it might be a year or two before changes for the better might start happening, and this will change the situation in Russia, in Europe, and of course in Chechnya.

European CEO: I have to go back to that two year timeline that you set out. Are you suggesting that there’s going to be a western backed broad consensus that brings down the current regime?

Akhmed Zakayev: Changes in Russia will happen not due to the external factor, but due to the processes that are happening internally in Russia. This has always been like this in history. Neither the Tasrist Russia, nor the Soviet Union could actually be influenced from outside.

Whatever happened was due to the internal processes, and the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia are doing their job, but they won’t be able to do the changed we’ve been talking about.

European CEO: Well only time will tell if this hypothetical conversation becomes a reality. Thank you so much for joining me today.