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Moscow, Make Yourself Heard
By Vladimir Lukin,
Moskovskiye Novosty No 43
November 9-15, 1999

We have begun facing more and more criticism from the West, even without going abroad. This time it is related to the operations in Chechnya. By the way I can't say that this criticism is acute or severe. However, at times we can even detect among the well-known accusations recognition that it is virtually impossible to deal with the present hosts of Grozny. Finally Westerners also have to buy hostages from Chechnya and bury the decapitated corpses of their compatriots murdered in Chechnya.

However, while the West acknowledges that Russia has the right to fight the bandits, it asserts that this task should be done in a more intelligent way, pursuant to European standards. Therefore we have to ask ourselves how we should react to these declarations.

Now we can already detect our two typical "Russian-Soviet" reactions. The first is to rebuff, or as they used to say back in Soviet times to repel all criticisms. For example, you are not saints yourselves, you behave in the same manner when you need to. It is well-known that Washington quickly exhausted the limits of political dialogue both with General Noriega in Panama and the tonton-macoots in Haiti. The final argument of the US in dialogue was reduced to landing troops and holding a trial on the drugs business. So there are grounds for "repelling" such criticism.

However, I would not consider such a response to be correct. Such a method reeks too strongly of old Soviet propaganda. It may only succeed in producing in the West an impact such as a "plague on both your houses": the civilised world will make a helpless gesture, waving its hands in protest at both Moscow and Grozny. Moreover, a different kind of crime flourishes in Russia, and not only in Grozny. The Western public knows this only too well.

The second reaction may constitute classic Russian marginal intelligentsia masochism. Whatever may happen in Russia, the world or even the universe, we are to blame. The term "we" refers most often to the Kremlin, the authorities and in general everyone living here. "We" exploded our houses, trained and sent Dudayev, Maskhadov and Basayev to fight with us, organised the intervention into Daghestan to either curb the elections or ensure that the right person was elected. Naturally, we also take ourselves hostages and pay the ransom money to ourselves.

Consequently, we should apologise before Grozny, the West and the whole world and assume an advance obligation to cede all those parts of Russia's territory to anyone who wants to grab them. Although this opinion has been expressed so far by a small but exotic minority, this position has been spreading and may grow in time.

In my opinion, both these reactions to criticism from the West are wrong. The best reaction is to combine truthful information and invite these countries to participate in humanitarian actions for civilians. We could issue an invitation to them to jointly seek ways to resolve this situation. These should be civilised methods, but should not at the same time adversely affect the interests of Russia's security. This concerns both the painful aspects of western criticism - the extent of our reaction to Chechnian terrorism and the problems of political dialogue.

First of all, we must make an effort and stop lying. If there are cases where we made mistakes and civilians suffered, we must honestly admit this and publicly investigate these cases. This is not only a moral issue: it is even more effective in propaganda terms. While political dialogue is necessary, it cannot act as a substitute to the operations to disarm the terrorists. This scheme has been implemented for years. It has not worked.

We must clearly state that it is impossible to draw a border line between terrorists and armed separatists. It is absolutely useless to guess whether Maskhadov doesn't want or can't curb Basayev and Khattab (Ed. the commanders of terrorist groupings). The only real guarantee of Russia's security and integrity is provided by assurances that there are no military formations on Russia's territory, which are independent of the federal centre. Political dialogue can only begin, once this basic provision has been recognised.

At the same time, we should state clearly that we are ready to conduct political dialogue with everyone who will recognise and implement the aforementioned terms. Here we are not looking for convenient partners and we are ready to accept the results of the Chechnians' choice (in other words, the citizens of Russia who resided in Chechnya before the military conflict of 1994). Such a clear-cut position will differentiate our Western opponents into those who want an end to the conflict and those who want to sever relations with Russia. The latter represent a minority and will never become a majority, unless we are willing to help them ourselves.


ei Stepashin on Grigory Yavlinsky's proposals