OpinionMeister

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Chechnya a Growing Problem

The Washington Times has an article by Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation that covers both the background and the present situation in Chechnya. Link. It gives a very good review of the post-Soviet period, but it also includes some older history that I was not familiar with.
Analysts in Moscow speculate (Putin) is repeating the mistakes of the czars who brutally suppressed the Chechens. In 1850, Nicholas I ordered his Caucasus viceroy, Prince Michael Vorontsov, to "firmly follow my system of destruction of dwellings and food supply, and bothering them with incursions."
Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian writer who served in the Caucasus in the mid-19th as a military officer, had this to say about the reactions in Chechnya in his classic "Haji Murat":
"Nobody even discussed hatred toward the Russians. The feeling that all Chechens experienced, from a child to a grown up, was stronger than hatred. It was not hate, but the lack of recognition of these Russian dogs as human beings. It was such a revulsion, disgust and noncomprehension, facing the irrational cruelty of these creatures, that the desire to exterminate them was a natural feeling, as natural as the instinct of self-preservation. [This] was like the desire to exterminate vermin, poisonous spiders and wolves."

The Russians are dealing with two distinct enemies that they seem unwilling to consider separately. There are the Chechen nationalists who want an independent state, but may settle for an autonomous one, and there are the Islamist terrorists who want to establish an Islamic Califate.

The Russians are making a big mistake in equating the two. The desires of the Islamists are just as anathema to the Chechen nationalists as is the Russian rule. The Islamic terrorists cannot be reasoned with, but the nationalists can. If the Russians are willing to accept autonomy with Russian sovereignty, they might have a local ally in defeating the Islamists.

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