The Chechen resistance was led by a fellow named Dzhokhar Dudayev-a Russified Chechen, who'd never been to a mosque, drank vodka, didn't know how many times a day a Muslim was supposed to pray, who was married to a Russian woman, who'd been a Soviet air force general. He was fighting to create an independent state based on Western secular models.
What happened during the first war, when the Chechens came to the attention of the Saudis?
There are Saudi quasi-official charities, most notably the al Haramain Islamic Foundation. These are non-governmental organizations with a link to wealthy Saudi families. They gave hundreds of millions of dollars to good causes across the planet, but also to Muslims who were being oppressed across the planet, much as Christians in America support Christians in Sudan or Christians in China. These charities siphoned money to fight for front-line Muslims who were being oppressed-whether they were Muslims in rape camps in Bosnia, or they were being ethnically cleansed in Kosovo, or being killed by Indian security in Kashmir, or being obliterated in Chechnya. I have personally been to mosques where zakat money (charity) was collected "to help the Muslim brothers and sisters undergoing oppression by Christian infidels in Chechnya."
This process began when the West turned its back on Chechnya during the first war. [The West] didn't help them in their resistance struggle as they did the Kosovars or the Bosnians or the Estonians.
The Russian Federation has nuclear weapons. The Russians have mass reserves of oil. They have also become a key player in the war on terror. So Chechnya, which is the size of Connecticut, was sold out. The idea of spreading democracy and the rights of national self-determination were flushed away in the interest of post-Soviet Russia.
I think so. You have what I call the Kalishnikov-ization of their culture. You have no jobs. Factories have been bombed, their fields can't be tilled because of the land mines, and there is a 70-80 percent jobless rate. What's a young man to do when there are no options? They're angry, they have rocket-propelled grenades. They shoot at people roaming around the country oppressing them, and they're often paid to do it by a new source - Arab charities, which see the Chechens as Muslim brothers and sisters.
No one came to help except for these charities-and by the way it wasn't the Arab governments. Russia is too important to them. The private charities began sending fighters to go fight for the Chechen Muslims.
Jihad has been called the sixth pillar of Islam. These jihadi sects believe in jihad as a form of religion. So they are going to fight for the Chechens, but in the process teach them "proper" Islam. The Chechens view [Wahhabism] as a wacko, New Age religion. They saw these bearded Saudi Wahhabis as wackos, but the Wahhabists fought well, they brought money, they brought wireless communication, sniper rifles, and surface-to-air missiles. And they paid you good money if you killed Russians. The Saudis have given local fighting commanders bounties for killing Russians. If you shoot down a Russian helicopter, they'll give you $5,000. If you shoot a soldier, you get $10,000.
How did the money get there?
The money was siphoned in from Baku, Azerbaijan. It came in from the mountains of Dagestan or Georgia and was distributed to field commanders who espoused Wahhabi traditions. They said, "If you guys grow beards and kill Russians, we'll give you blood money." It was hundreds of thousands of dollars. But many Chechens told me that when they finally beat the Russians, they're going to turn on the Wahhabis and throw them out, too.
So they're just pretending to be Wahhabi?
Some may be genuine. They still speak Russian and are products of the Soviet system, but they're more devout, more radicalized. Some find in these brotherhoods of Arab warriors a sense of purpose. They give them something to fight for. And of course they offer heaven.
But don't make the mistake of seeing the money they offer, which feeds the fight, as the cause of the fight. If there was no Saudi money, no holy warriors coming in, the fight would still be bloody and be driven by its own historical precedents.
So what you are saying is that the Chechens are fighting a separatist movement similar to the Palestinians. But there is a subtext, which is that the Wahhabi Arabs are trying to take over the Chechen Sufis.
How successful have they been and what percentage of Chechens have been converted?