Moscow. Jan 27, 2007. Vladimir Putin was about to sign something that he never thought possible just one year ago. He was about to make it possible for Chechens to vote on their independence from Russia. They would almost certainly opt to leave. In the moments before he put pen to paper, he reviewed the events of the last year that led him to this point.
It all began with the crack down on Chechen guerrillas after the slaughter in Beslan. The counter-terrorism efforts were working. Chechen guerrillas were on the run. It was perhaps the weakness in the face of these successful attacks that led the guerrillas to change their strategy of terror, or it may have been Basayev's willingness to learn from the events in Iraq. It didn't matter, change came and the rapidity of its impact surprised the Kremlin and the world.
The new Chechen strategy, enabled by a small percentage of the tens of thousands of Chechen exiles scattered throughout Russia, emerged with multiple attacks on the critical sections of Gazprom's natural gas pipeline network to the north and south of Moscow. The simplicity of the attacks were alarming. Many were done merely with a propane tank. In one hour, access to 500 b cubic meters a year of output was cut off. The damage in the attacks was extensive enough to require 2 weeks of repair work.
This would have been containable, given the system's forward storage system, if it only occured once. However, attacks continued along the hundreds of miles of vulnerable natural gas pipelines in the critical sections. This radically reduced supply. The net effect was a 70% delivery shortfall to critical European export markets and western domestic customers in the first three months of the new campaign. It couldn't have been planned better -- storage levels were are their nadir following a particularly cold winter.
The attacks didn't stop with Gazprom. Transneft, the Russian oil pipeline monopoly, was next. This time, critical sections to the northeast of Moscow stopped the flow of 3 m barrrels of oil to western export markets. The attacks were so perfectly selected that the average delivery loss was 1/2 of Transneft's capacity or 2 m barrels a day. Losses from oil alone were running at $80 m a day.
Despite a massive manhunt, there were few meaningful arrests. The areas were too vast and the vulnerabilities too numerous to defend. This was a bloodless campaign.
Where it was bloody was in the financial accounts of the federal government and major corporations. Government revenue shortfalls of as much as 20-30% were expected if this campaign continued. This, in combination with the added costs of the security effort was about to drive Russia into deep deficit spending.
Internationally, the outcry was deafening. The German, Italian, and Eastern European ambassadors were virtually camped outside Putin's office with demands that he resolve this conflict quickly. Their economies were being devastated by the shortfall in irreplaceable deliveries. Something had to give.
It did. Putin, faced with the option of a decade of delay in Russian economic progress or Chechen independence, chose independence. A cease fire was called in October of 2006 to negotiated the referendum. It culminated in the document he was to sign today. Chechnya would be free. Global guerrillas had won.
Author's note: This is a bare bones, unedited scenario overview. It will become more detailed in time. Next: How they did it... (part 2 of Chechen Independence)