[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

The Moscow Times, June 8, 2004

Russia Must Be True to Its Words in Chechnya

By Andrei Piontkovsky

As he flew in a helicopter last month over Grozny, reduced to rubble by Russian airstrikes and artillery during 10 years of war, President Vladimir Putin noted gloomily that the city was in terrible shape. It needed some fixing up, he said, and immediately issued an order to that effect.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, hastily dispatched to Grozny a few days later, echoed the president's Kafkaesque tone. "I was struck by the state of the Chechens," he said. "They are dispirited and resigned." Then he delivered a real doozy: "What we saw today at Minutka looks almost like a set from a Hollywood movie," Gref said, referring to Grozny's main square.

This is not Putin's or Gref's personal theater of the absurd, but the quintessence of an absurd decade. Were Putin or Gref ever to see their native St. Petersburg reduced to rubble, it would never occur to them to compare the ruins to the set of a Hollywood blockbuster. Their reaction, indeed anyone's reaction, would be completely different.

What are we fighting for in Chechnya? For the territorial integrity of Russia, of course. But territorial integrity does not mean uninhabited scorched earth. We are fighting in order to prove to the Chechens that they are citizens of Russia. In doing so, however, we are destroying their cities and villages and kidnapping innocent civilians whose corpses turn up bearing evidence of torture.

Take the case of Captain Eduard Ulman and three other agents of the General Staff's Main Intelligence Directorate, who murdered six Chechen civilians in 2002. The agents first shot up the truck in which the six were traveling, killing one and wounding two others. Ulman then contacted his superiors by radio, and was ordered to kill the survivors and make it look as though the truck had been carrying rebel fighters and had run over a land mine. Jurors in the North Caucasus Military District court acquitted Ulman and his fellow agents because they had simply been following orders. The order was obviously illegal, but Ulman had been taught to follow orders without fussing about their relation to morality or international law.

As commander-in-chief, Lieutenant Colonel Putin must accept both moral and political responsibility for the actions of all the unidentified officers who issued that criminal order to Captain Ulman. All the more so since the order was a distant but unmistakable echo of Putin's own celebrated pledge to "waste" terrorists "in the outhouse."

On behalf of the government, Putin could have apologized to the relatives of those six brutally murdered Russian citizens. Such a gesture would have made an enormous impression on the Chechen people, changing the situation in the republic for the better and helping to prevent further atrocities.

Too bad this never occurred to him. We consistently betray our own grand pronouncements in Chechnya. We prove to the Chechens day in and day out that they are not citizens of Russia, that we have not considered them to be such for some time, and that their cities and villages are also not Russian.

Herein lies the fundamental absurdity of this war. Russian security is threatened not by the Chechen independence movement -- no matter how great -- but by the presence of international Islamist terrorists who penetrated the republic under the banner of Wahhabism at the end of the first war, and particularly between the two wars, with the active cooperation of such figures as Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, Movladi Udugov and Shamil Basayev. These terrorists could not care less about Chechnya and its people. They regard the republic as a bridgehead in the global Islamic revolution, just as for the "internationalists" who flooded into Russia in 1917, the country was little more than kindling to set the world communist revolution ablaze.

As we sink ever deeper into this Chechen-Russian hell of our own making, the slogans that launched the conflict -- independence, territorial integrity -- have lost all meaning. Russian leaders and Chechen politicians must now set themselves two basic goals: To end the suffering of the Chechen people, and to drive out the international Islamist terrorists who are using the republic as a base for attacks on Russia.

We must realize that the classic enemy we have been fighting with -- Chechen separatists such as Aslan Maskhadov, Akhmed Zakayev, other leaders close to them and the portion of the Chechen people that sympathize with their cause -- have now become our allies, because the radical Islamist terrorists are destroying Chechnya first of all.

We will never reach an agreement with international terrorism, but we can reach an acceptable agreement with Chechen separatism. To do so will require an abundance of political will and two simple things: an end to the excesses of federal troops in Chechnya, and a readiness to sit down at the negotiating table with anyone who shares our goals -- including those who have taken up arms against us as the late Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov once did. Finally, we must stop treating Chechens in Russia as enemies rather than as fellow citizens.

If we can do all this, the armed phase of the conflict in Chechnya will quiet down for the next 10-15 years. What comes later will be the responsibility of another generation. As Putin rightly remarked: "At the end of the day, the formal status of Chechnya is not all that important to us. What is important is that threats to Russia no longer issue from Chechen territory."

If Russia is a strong, prosperous state in 10-15 years, it will have no qualms about letting go of a pacified but still resentful Chechnya. And if not, Russia will have far bigger problems than Chechnya to worry about.


See also:

the original at

War in Chechnya

The Moscow Times, June 8, 2004

[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

Project Director: Vyacheslav Erohin e-mail: admin@yabloko.ru Director: Olga Radayeva, e-mail: english@yabloko.ru
Administrator: Vlad Smirnov, e-mail: vladislav.smirnov@yabloko.ru