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|West must not allow Russians free rein in Chechnya|
|01/01/02 at 06:49:48|
|Subject: TS: West must not allow Russians free rein in Chechnya (K.Ernhofer)|
The Toronto Star
Dec. 30, 2001
West must not allow Russians free rein in Chechnya
The news is filled these days with hopeful stories about the resurgent
closeness between the West - more specifically NATO - and Russia.
However, we should be aware that the milder climate between these two
historical adversaries could come at a great price: Western blindness,
deafness, and even acquiescence to Russia's checkered record in its
breakaway province of Chechnya. Chechnya has emerged as one of Russia's
greatest tests since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. It is also a test for
the West. The strategic Caucasus mountain republic has always rebelled
against Russian colonialism, whether under the czars or the Communists.
Stalin even tried to rid himself of the Chechens by breaking up the
population and sending them away. The Chechens survived, but remained
fractious, even among themselves. In the last decade, Chechnya became
ungovernable. In 1994, Chechen separatists resumed their historic battle
for independence against Russia, even as Chechen warlords battled each
other. Russia has been mired in a renewed Chechen conflict ever since.
It has cost Russia the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians.
Chechnya is important to Russia because it is a vital transit point for
Caspian Sea oil. Russians see also Chechnya as a potential domino; if
Chechnya gains independence, other similarly nationalistic areas could
also fall away and reduce Russia to a fraction of its current size. This
terrifies nationalistic Russians who long for the day that their country
will once again be a "great" power. Russia is also terrified that
Chechnya could be a beachhead for a new fundamentalist, Islamist state
in the Taliban mould. Chechnya may seem quiet these days, but Russia's
war there rumbles on. The rebels are conducting a low-level insurgency,
with sporadic explosions that more often than not send Russian boys home
in body bags. Nobody talks much about it. The Russian press is virtually
controlled by the Kremlin and dissident voices don't get much air time
or editorial space. Last week Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov announced
that Russia would stage a winter offensive to smash resistance in
Chechnya. Meantime, the story here was how the West and Russia were
forming "a new relationship," creating a joint council to take action in
"areas of common interest," such as peacekeeping, counterterrorism and
arms control. It is ironic.
When conflict broke out, there was vocal criticism
When the Chechnya conflict broke out in 1994, the West was a vocal
critic of Russia's tactics. It noted that Chechnya quickly became a very
dirty war, replete with atrocities committed by combatants on either
side. Russia, however, equated Chechen separatists with bandits and
terrorists. In fact, it defined the entire Chechen campaign as a war on
terrorism. Indeed, Ivanov repeated the contention recently. "This winter
we will seek to finish off the remaining bandit groups and capture or
destroy their ringleaders. This I promise you," Ivanov said in remarks
reported by Reuter. Some Chechens are terrorists and bandits. Many
others, however, are fighting what they perceive as an occupying Russian
force that has subjugated their nation for hundreds of years. Throughout
this campaign, Russia has secured agreements from Western politicians
that terrorism cannot be allowed to flourish. When those agreements
came, the Kremlin always used them to justify its Chechnya campaign.
"disappeared" and - with winter approaching - 170,000 refugees
languishing in horrid camps. Now, Russia is poised to start a new
offensive in Chechnya. The difference between now and 1994 is that
Russia is fully engaged in another war on terrorism - one led by the
Americans. Did Russia join the U.S. campaign partly to stifle criticism
of its Chechnya strategy once and for all? It is an intriguing question.
We may never know the answer, but it is interesting to note the Western
silence about Chechnya these days. Where Chechnya is, indeed, a real
fight against terrorism, this war is justifiable. The danger, however,
is in neglecting the evidence that this is also a fight, littered with
human rights abuses and multiple atrocities, by a fading colonial power.
As a result, the downtrodden Chechen people are in danger of being
victimized once again. This time, it isn't just through atrocities and
colonialism, it is through Western neglect, blindness and expediency. If
the West is to have any sense of morality, it must hold Russia
accountable for its actions in Chechnya, even as both the West and
Russia legitimately fight terrorism. Otherwise, our high-minded
principles of justice and humanity are hollow shells. The innocents of
Chechnya - and, indeed, everywhere - demand it. It is a test that the
West cannot afford to fail.
Ken Ernhofer, a Toronto-based freelance journalist and media consultant,
is a former Moscow correspondent for CTV News.
Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights
Comment by Norbert Strade, moderator of Chechnya news group and vocal defender of Human Rights abuse in the part of the world.
Even a relatively objective article like the above one apparently *has
to* repeat two of the main current propaganda stories, namely a) that
the Russian campaign against the Chechen people is a "fight against
terrorism" (I wonder if any of the journalists who constantly write such
lines has ever seen some proof for non-Russia-affiliated terrorism in
Chechnya), and b) that the Chechens took up arms against Russia
("resumed their historic battle") - though everybody knows that it was
Russia which invaded Chechnya in 94 and 99. Why is this necessary? It
really begins to sound like a "standard disclaimer" for journalists who
are trying to transport a few realistic points through a censorship
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