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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Should Speak Out on Chechnya

The response from the Clinton administration to the slaughter and destruction in Chechnya has amounted so far to little more than token hand-wringing, invariably tempered by a recitation about respecting Russia's right to maintain its territorial integrity.

Such platitudes are hardly in keeping with Washington's usually robust attitude toward human rights. During the Cold War, the fact that Moscow's persecution of dissidents and Jewish refuseniks was an internal affair did not deter America from condemning it. Even at the height of d?tente, U.S. presidents did not hesitate to criticize what Ronald Reagan described as "this evil empire."

And Moscow's repeated protests about interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, trotted out more from of a sense of obligation than with any real conviction, simply cut no ice.

Similarly, Washington did not deem it necessary to remain silent about the massacre of peaceful demonstrators in Beijing's Tienanmen Square -- an internal affair, if ever there was one. And when it came to the violation of democracy in Haiti -- no less an internal matter -- the United States was prepared to put words into action.

The fact is, as Washington is usually more than willing to point out, that human rights should transcend international boundaries, and every civilized nation ought to speak out when those rights are abused. Inevitably, Realpolitik plays a part, too. The West willingly points a finger at Iraq or Iran, but remains reticent on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Israel.

As far as Chechnya is concerned, the question is not whether the region's aspirations to independence have any validity but whether Moscow should be given impunity to crush those aspirations without regard for the resultant bloodshed and suffering.

The White House apparently believes it should. The strongest objection expressed yet by the administration is over the fact that Russia did not provide the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe with due forewarning of its intentions.

Washington's reluctance to voice any stronger criticism can be attributed to its commitment to supporting a centralized Russia under President Boris Yeltsin as a prerequisite to stability and the further development of economic and political reform.

That is understandable. Stability and continued reform are vital to Russia's survival, and until recently Yeltsin stood out as the man best equipped to achieve both goals. But at a time when he has ignored the advice of the country's leading reformist politicians and mounted a bloody and extremely expensive military operation that flies in the face of public opinion and threatens to cripple the country economically -- this is surely not the moment to offer him carte blanche.