Chechnya's agony


By Jeffrey T. Kuhner



http://www.washingtontimes.com/commentary/20040214-112852-4962r.htm



As the media remains fixated on Iraq and the next

outlandish comment to come out of the mouth of Howard

Dean, there is a major news story receiving very

little attention: the slow, creeping genocide in

Chechnya.



Russian President Vladimir Putin insists his troops

are conducting a military campaign aimed at wiping out

"Islamic international terrorism" from the war-torn

southern province. Using the global war on terrorism

as a pretext to consolidate Moscow's iron grip over

the breakaway republic, the Russian army has been

waging a war of extermination against the Chechen

people.



Yet the West has been silent in the face of Russia's

genocidal campaign. Instead of demanding the Kremlin

withdraw its forces and negotiate a peace settlement

with Chechen leaders, the Bush administration

continues its shameful policy of neglect.



President Bush is convinced that, after looking into

"the soul" of Mr. Putin, the former KGB apparatchik is

an important ally in the war on terrorism. Washington

has accepted Moscow's line that the issue of Chechnya

is a Russian "internal matter." Mr. Bush would be

better served if he looked at Mr. Putin's actions.



Before the conflict began nearly a decade ago, there

were approximately 1 million Chechens in the small

mountainous republic in the Caucusus. Since then,

human-rights activists estimate hundreds of thousands

have been displaced, thousands more have simply

"disappeared" and more than one-fourth of the

population is believed to have died.



A report last year by the Council of Europe documented

extensive human-rights violations by Russian forces,

including widespread torture of Chechens.



Also, the Russian army has launched a scorched-earth

campaign, seeking not only to cripple the Chechen

nation, but its economy and physical environment as

well. Its capital, Grozny, is in ruins. Most of

Chechnya's land has been devastated by defoliants. The

remainder of the population is slowly dying through a

combination of war, disease and sky-rocketing suicide.



Sadly, Chechnya's plight is not new. In terms of

proportionate losses and victims of genocide, three

peoples suffered the most during the 20th century:

Jews, Gypsies and Chechens. In 1944, Soviet dictator

Josef Stalin deported most of the Chechen nation to

the icy far east to punish them for their staunch

opposition to communism. More than half of all

Chechens died during the murderous operation, many of

them freezing to death or simply butchered by Red Army

troops.



Following the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991,

the surviving Chechens returned to their native land.

From 1994 until 1996, they fought a courageous war for

independence against Russian imperial rule. An intense

guerrilla campaign by Chechen tribal clans forced

Russian troops to retreat.



But in 1999 Moscow sought to reassert its authority in

another invasion. The conflict continues to this day,

with Chechen civilians the primary victims (about

5,000 Russian soldiers also have died).



Moscow's brutal occupation has convinced most Chechens

to abandon their dreams of national sovereignty; many

now would gladly accept some form of autonomy. Yet Mr.

Putin refuses to even consider the idea. He demands

world leaders accept the notion every Chechen leader

is a terrorist. Therefore, Russia's hawks argue

peaceful compromise is impossible, and the only viable

solution is all-out military victory  regardless of

the humanitarian consequences.



The Kremlin's line is not completely without merit.

During the past several years, Chechnya has attracted

international Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia,

Afghanistan and other Arab states. The goal of the

militants is to forge a fundamentalist Muslim

republic. However, most of the Chechen rebels are not

Islamic extremists, but romantic nationalists seeking

to defend Chechen rights against an increasingly

authoritarian Russia.



The savage war in Chechnya is simply one component in

Russia's evolution from a fledgling democracy into a

repressive corporate state. Rather than a pro-European

Westernizer, Mr. Putin has shown himself to be a

Russian Francisco Franco or Augusto Pinochet: a

right-wing strongman who champions social order and

market-driven economic growth. Under his leadership,

Moscow has begun flexing its muscles against

neighboring countries, leading dissidents such as

tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky have been arrested on

trumped-up charges and basic press freedoms and civil

rights have come under assault.



The West's appeasement of Russia risks emboldening the

Kremlin to continue its anti-democratic and

expansionist policies.



Moreover, failure to condemn Mr. Putin's genocidal

rampage in Chechnya threatens to open Western

governments to charges of hypocrisy. Although it took

decisive action to stop the Serbs' ethnic cleansing

campaigns in Kosovo and Bosnia, the West refuses to

lift a finger to help prevent the tragedy unfolding in

the Russian province.



Yet unlike the discovery of the Nazi death camps after

the Second World War, this time the civilized world

cannot claim the excuse of lacking knowledge of the

horrors occurring in Chechnya. We know. We just don't

care.

    

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a historian and contributing

writer for The Washington Times. 





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