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Could there be hidden symbolism found in the Ukrainian war?

What do the Chechen and Ukrainian nations have in common or The deportation of Chechens versus the war in Ukraine

Kristina Valachyová
23.Mar 2022
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9 minutes to read
Ukrajinský prezident Volodymyr Zelenskyj

They lived in the mountains, keeping a clan system. The very mention of the name Ramzan Kadyrov gives people in Chechnya the creeps. Rumour has it, they are gangs of thugs, literal death squads. They run their own prisons, where they detain people without any trial and torture them, extorting their relatives for a ransom. So watch out! The Chechens are the only people of the Caucasus to whom you can never turn your back, Stalin said. Their mentality is militarized through and through, forced to always stay on guard. Their cold-bloodiness and brutality gave them the reputation of true cutthroats. Standing up to the Chechen government really doesn’t pay – especially with Russia on its side.

Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin: Two men of the same mind, with their similarities so striking, that it is hard to tell which statements come from which. Even their life events, happening at almost the same time and with the same dates, just a few decades later, have a lot in common. What role does symbolism play here?

Stalin deported the Chechens from the Caucasus on February 23, 1944. The Russian army's attack on Ukraine was preceded by a cyber attack, also on February 23, 2022. One day later, Putin started the war. Coincidence?

Chechens fighting Chechens in Ukraine

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Čečenští bojovníci
Čečenští bojovníciSource: Profimedia

At the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, another war within a war is taking place, this time between compatriots: the Chechens sent here by Ramzan Kadyrov and those fighting against them on the Ukrainian side. The media reported that the Chechens would support the Russians in the war. However, it is the Chechen emigrants who have long been fighting on the side of Ukraine. And Kadyrov is obviously not happy about this.

Luxusní byt na prodej, Praha 7- Bubeneč - 150m
Luxusní byt na prodej, Praha 7- Bubeneč - 150m, Praha 7

The confusion of Kadyrovites with all of the Chechens has caused a wave of criticism. Fighters from the volunteer battalions have come made statements that the "real Chechens" are on the side of Ukraine. Two days after the Russian invasion, the exiled prime minister of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Akhmed Zakayev, held talks on supporting Ukraine.

There was a response from the other side as well. Kadyrov posted a video of his army soldiers marching on social media, adding that soon they would come for the "Nazis, banderovites and sheitans, who call themselves Chechens."

"Just don't run, I want to finish you all in one place and once for all,"

Kadyrov told the Chechens fighting alongside the Ukrainians.

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Šéf Čečenska Ramzan Kadyrov
Šéf Čečenska Ramzan KadyrovSource: Profimedia

"Why does Putin hate us?" and Stalin's hate for the Chechens

"We want to live in peace, develop our economy. We love our country and have nothing against the Russians. So why does Putin hate us? He's bombing our towns and villages. We are scared of this, please help us."

say the people in Ukraine. Yet, this is nothing new; another leader, the notorious Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, carried a very similar hatred.

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Josif Vissarionovič Stalin
Josif Vissarionovič StalinSource: Profimedia

As part of an operation called Chechevitsa ("lentil"), the communist dictator had approximately half a million Chechens and Ingush deported from the Caucasus on February 23, 1944. This was his retaliation for their alleged treason and collaboration with the Germans. This event is to the Chechens what the Holocaust is to the Jews or genocide is to the Armenians. The day Stalin had the Chechen people herded into cattle wagons and sent to the wastelands of Siberia and Central Asia is ingrained in their collective memory. Up to one-third of the deported population did not survive this journey. Many others perished in the harsh conditions of exile. The demographic consequences were catastrophic. Of the 496,000 Chechens and Ingush who were deported, the remaining quarter perished.

To back his decision, Stalin claimed that the Chechens sympathised with the Nazis.

Overall, the Chechens suffered more casualties than any other ethnic group persecuted by mass deportation in the Soviet Union.

The exile lasted 13 years. They were only able to return in 1957 after the new Soviet leadership led by Nikita Khrushchev ended the Stalinist era, including the mass deportations of peoples. The Chechens and Ingush eventually recovered and are once again the majority ethnic group in the local population. However, the evictions left a permanent scar in the memory of the survivors and their descendants.

The Chechen-Russian conflict, lasting three centuries, is one of the longest conflicts in modern history. It dates back to 1785, when Chechens fought against Russian expansionism in the Caucasus. The Russian Empire eventually succeeded in annexing the region and subduing its inhabitants. In the process, many non-Russian peoples were killed or deported. Russia was responsible for the Circassian genocide. The Circassian, Abazinian and Ubykh peoples were deported to the Ottoman Empire. Other Caucasian peoples were affected as well. In 1865, 39,000 Chechens were expelled from Imperial Russia to the Ottoman Empire.

The European Parliament recognized the Chechen deportation as an act of genocide in 2004:

"... is convinced that the deportation of the entire Chechen nation to Central Asia on 23 February 1944 on the orders of Stalin constitutes an act of genocide within the meaning of the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 and the Convention on the Prevention and Suppression of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December."

Prodej luxusního bytu, Praha 1 - Nové Město
Prodej luxusního bytu, Praha 1 - Nové Město, Praha 1

Is Putin the new Stalin?

Many Soviet leaders publicly declared that the horrors of Stalinism shall never be repeated. Yet today's Russia functions in a similar way to Stalin's era. The political system has not changed much. And it is in this situation that the man who’s often considered to be Stalin's successor, Vladimir Putin, has taken power. The current Russian President shares Stalin's determination to destroy the Ukrainian nation and Ukraine's independence at any cost.

Various cartoons and collages, depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler or the Soviet leader Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, have gone viral on social media.

In one of his speeches, Putin justified his support for the separatist regions in Ukraine by claiming that former Russian leaders Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin gave Ukraine its territory unjustly. According to the Russian President, this region belongs to Russia. He added that Ukraine has no culture or identity of its own. The reaction to his words was not long in coming, and many people compared him to the aforementioned Stalin. There were also cartoons depicting Putin as the lovechild of Stalin and Hitler. People would also often refer to his height, ascribing him the so-called Napoleon complex.

So what do Vladimir Putin and Joseph Stalin have in common?

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Protest v solidaritě s Ukrajinou
Protest v solidaritě s UkrajinouSource: Profimedia

Their paranoiac tendencies, their mystical aura of absolute power or the admiration of an entire nation, stemming from fear and fascination equally, are just a fraction of the similarities they share. But let's look into one very interesting symbolism.

As we mentioned above, on 23 February 1944, Stalin began the deportation of Chechens and Ingush from the Caucasus.

On almost the same date, in the early hours of 24 February 2022, Vladimir Putin launched the war in Ukraine. Symbolic, isn't it? Intention or coincidence?

Let's look into more similarities of these two. As in the case of Stalin, Putin's power comes not from the office itself, but purely from his persona. Apart from being smaller in stature, both leaders dislike having men who are taller around. Another feature they share is that they both surrounded themselves with loyal minions. Putin is very vigilant, fears assassinations, and emphasizes the protection of his person, a paranoia similar to one that Stalin suffered from as well. Both are unpredictable – Putin, much like Stalin, keeps his decisions to himself until the last moment. Russians are as fascinated by Putin as his contemporaries were by Stalin. That is probably the biggest difference between him and previous Russian leaders. His unlimited power makes him more and more like Stalin. However, at this time, no one can yet say for sure whether Putin will become the murderous monster that Stalin was.

Stalin's regime and the deportation of the Crimean Tatars

The Tatar population also had a very bad experience during the Stalinist period, when the Soviet dictator had all Tatars deported to Central Asia after accusing them of collaborating with the Nazis. How did all this come about?

In the past, the Tatar population was the majority on the Crimean peninsula. They have lived here since the arrival of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Yet, Stalin forcibly deported them to what is now Uzbekistan in 1944. The Tatars were herded onto trains and taken thousands of miles from their home. Stalin wanted to cleanse Crimea of its indigenous population, whom he wrongly accused of collaborating with the Nazis. This deportation was the most brutal chapter in the history of Russian and Soviet atrocities against the Tatars. There had been similar attempts since 1783, when Crimea was annexed by Imperial Russia, but they were only carried out by Stalin. The peninsula was occupied by the Nazis between 1941 and 1944, and for Stalin there was nothing easier than to accuse the indigenous population of collaboration. The deportations began on 18 May 1944. The Crimean Tatars did not return to the peninsula until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin only allowed them to return home in the second half of the 1980s during Mikhail Gorbachev's 'perestroika'. Why, then, was Crimea not returned to the Tatars?

Famine as Stalin's punishment for Ukraine

The famine of the 1930s is the greatest national catastrophe in Ukrainian collective memory, as it affected almost every family then. Figures regarding the number of victims speak of approximately 3.5 to 7.5 million people. The Ukrainian famine was one of the consequences of Stalin's policy of collectivization of agriculture. Truth being told, the famine could have been prevented. Stalin even had grain bought in from abroad, which is a huge paradox given that Ukraine was the world's largest exporter of this commodity. Yet, he didn't provide food aid to Ukraine, instead increasing the pressure put on the countryside. There would have been plenty of food, had the state not confiscated most of it for its own use. Discontent reigned all over. When Ukrainian communists demanded the grain production to be increased, the first problems began and the first people started dying from the famine.

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Hladomor
HladomorSource: Profimedia

The famine, which gradually spread during 1932, reached its peak in early 1933, when a farming family of five had 80 kg of grain (1.7 kg/person) allotted for consumption until the next harvest. As a result of food shortages, the farmers ate cats, dogs, mice, bark, leaves, even sewage. Cases of cannibalism have also been recorded. In spite of this situation, the party leaders continued to confiscate bread, without taking into account the consequences of the famine in the villages, where the population kept gradually dying out.

However, Stalin and his associates saw all this in a completely different light:

"A bitter struggle is going on between the peasants and our power. It is a fight to the death. This year has become a test of our strength and their endurance. The famine has shown them who is the master. The famine has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system will keep going forever. We won the war!"

We shall never know how much he himself believed his words, but in any case, the desire to crush the Ukrainian farmers was evident. Some areas were not affected by the famine at all, but Ukraine was the worst hit. One of the contributing factors stems from the first Five Year Plan, stating:

"Ukraine shall serve as a colossal experimental laboratory for new forms of socioeconomic and productive-technical reconstruction of the rural economy of the entire Soviet Union."

Between 1932 and 1933, nearly 10 million Ukrainians died due to famine. Their deaths were the result of the absurd and inhumane policies advocated by Joseph Stalin.

September 1, 2004 – the day Russia's Beslan will never forget

1 September 2004 - the beginning of the new school year - was the moment pro-Chechen gunmen captured 1,128 people, most of them schoolchildren, in the local school No. 1. and held them hostage for three days.

The dramatic situation ended on 3 September with a several-hour gunfight between the attackers and Russian security and special forces accompanied by detonations of explosive charges planted by in the building by the radicals. The incident and its aftermath resulted in the death of 334 people, including 186 children. Chechen terrorist Shamil Basaev claimed responsibility for the attack. Details of the attack are not fully known and there is some disagreement as to who was behind the explosions. In the wake of these attacks, Putin has introduced new and extensive anti-terrorist measures.

The attack at Moscow's Dubrovka theatre

Over 800 people were watching the musical Nord-Ost on October 23, 2002, when dozens of Chechen terrorists stormed the Dubrovka musical theatre in Moscow. Among them were the so-called "black widows", women terrorists dressed in all black. The attackers were demanding the withdrawal of the Russian army from Chechnya. On 26 October 2002, Russian special forces raided the theatre after deploying stun gas. Some 130 hostages were killed in the action. All 40 terrorists also lost their lives. Many of them had gunshot wounds to the neck. A Moscow court sentenced the man accused of aiding Chechen terrorists, Khasan Zakayev, who admitted his guilt - complicity - only in part, to 19 years in prison. In court, he said he was not a member of Shamil Basayev's gang. He claimed that he had no information about the planned attack. He believed that he was transporting weapons and bullets to Moscow, not explosives, adding that he had been promised $800 by the arrangers as a reward for transporting this cargo. He explained that he was only paid half of the amount and therefore refused to cooperate with the terrorist squad any further. In this so-called Nord-Ost case, six other accomplices have previously been sentenced to long prison terms in Russia in the so-called Nord-Ost case.

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Protivládní demonstranti
Protivládní demonstrantiSource: Profimedia

Putin's "friendly fire"

Many Russians are just as dissatisfied with Putin's regime now as people were with the actions of Stalin then.

"I have always supported the opposition, and I knew that Putin endorses corruption in Russia, turning a blind eye to all the problems of the people. Whether it is poverty, the lack of satisfactory conditions in schools, kindergartens or hospitals in Russian cities, low wages and low living standards. Putin does not care about his people, he is a mad dictator who has enslaved our country,"

says Maria Chumakova, who is originally from Russia, in an interview with Interez magazine.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Eduard Heger stressed that in the case of Ukraine, it is necessary to find aid scenarios that will lift Ukraine up together.

"These scenarios must lead to stopping Vladimir Putin and weaning him from the power he is using to enslave Russian citizens as well. Today, they are suffering from his regime greatly and so are all the people of Europe,"

Heger said.

The separatist government of Chechnya has also declared the aforementioned events of 1944 a genocide. To this day, members of the Chechen diaspora and their supporters still remember 23 February as a day of mourning, declaring it the World Chechnya Day to honour the memory of the victims. In the same vein, 24 February is yet again becoming a symbol of mourning for Ukraine.

Do you think this is a coincidence? We all know history repeats itself.

Sources: The Washington Post, Interez, Aktuality, Denník Štandard, Aktualne.cz, RTVS, Extraplus, Teraz.sk, Pravda, Svetobeznik, Pluska, Web archive, Uofa.ru, New Lines Mag, Wikipedia.org, own inquiry

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