Quagmire of convenience: The Chechen war and Putin’s presidency

Published: 2005    |    By: Robert E. Johnson    |    Volume 62, No. 4


“We share your pain,” declared Vladimir Putin to George Bush on 12 September 2001. Russians had indeed felt the terrible consequences of terrorism long before the 9/11 attacks. In September 1999, several hundred civilians died in a series of bombings in Moscow and several other cities. But pain and suffering were not all that the two presidents shared. For both, terrorist attacks raised fundamental questions about how their countries should be governed and what should guide their relations with the rest of the world. For both, the response was to wage war on an adversary that was not directly implicated in the terror. Both wars were accompanied by a vigorous assertion of executive power at home as well as by a go-it-alone approach on the international front.

As Bush’s presidency has been defined by the war in Iraq, so too has Putin’s by the Chechen campaign, which can serve as a lens for examining how he has governed Russia and where he may lead it in the years to come.

About the Author

Robert E. Johnson is professor of History, University of Toronto, and former director of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the Munk Centre for International Studies.