Western coverage of Russia's latest invasion of Chechnya has been hopelessly one-sidedby Anatol Lieven / January 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2000 issue of Prospect Magazine
Russia’s latest intervention in Chechnya is a crime and a blunder, and the bombardment of civilian targets far from the front line is indefensible. Military occupation will lead only to an endless terrorist war-Russia will never be able to stabilise its rule over Chechnya.
That said, any honest commentary on the d?b?cle must also stress that the Russians, and the Chechens’ Caucasian neighbours, have suffered much at the hands of Chechens over the past two years; the situation could not have continued. This aspect of the problem was spelt out in recent interviews (by myself and other journalists) with Chechen refugees in Ingushetia. Mingled with the condemnation of the Russian killing of civilians were bitter complaints about the anarchy into which Chechnya had fallen. We were especially struck by the hostility of the great majority of refugees to the Chechen commander Shamil Basayev (hero of the last war) for his alliance with the “Wahabi” Muslim extremists which led to the attack on Russian Daghestan in August, and for his failure and that of other commanders to support President Aslan Maskhadov (elected with 65 per cent support in 1997) in trying to create order in Chechnya.
By ignoring this reality, most western commentary becomes empty rhetoric. Imagine for a moment that the Chechens were living on the territory of a western ally, and had revolted-and then imagine the torrents of anti-Chechen prose about “terrorists” and “criminals” that would have flown from the pages of the newspapers now excoriating Russia. The recent writing of Anne Applebaum, Zbigniew Brzezinski and others is motivated not by real sympathy for the Chechens, but by pure hostility to Moscow. Contrast Brzezinski’s support for the Chechens with some of his other positions: his advocacy of early Turkish membership of the EU, without reference to Ankara’s record in the field of human rights; or his advocacy of US support for the ruthless dictatorship of Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan-regarded as a bulwark against Islamic revolution. Have any of these people ever bothered to mention that, in contrast to the Kurds of Turkey, the larger Russian minorities all enjoy full political and cultural autonomy in their own republics, and that this option has always been open to Chechnya?