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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya: 52 Years, No Change

Fifty-two years ago today, Soviet soldiers appeared in every Chechen town and hamlet, ordered the entire population into trucks and trains and banished them -- an entire nation -- to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Roughly half died on the journey. Such was Josef Stalin's solution to the Chechen question.


Today, President Boris Yeltsin will address the State Duma on the state of the nation, and because today is Defense of the Fatherland Day, much of the focus of his address will be on the military. He is expected to dwell on a peace plan for Chechnya, but it is unlikely that he will recall Stalin's mass deportation of the Chechen people.


That would be a shame, because at the very least Yeltsin's defense minister, Pavel Grachev, is in dire need of a reminder. On Wednesday, Grachev celebrated a "victory" over rebel forces in Novogroznensky by announcing that Chechnya is a "cancerous tumor" that needs to be cut out before Russia can be healthy again.


That language, coming just two days before the very day when Stalin attempted precisely such surgery, is deeply worrying. And while Grachev loyally repeated Yeltsin's formula that a settlement to the conflict must be found soon, he clearly favored the kind of peace that comes after death. First, he said, the Chechen rebel leaders must be shot, then negotiations can start.


Not only are these ideas disturbing, but they are also self-delusions -- like the victory Grachev declared in Novogroznensky. Who knows how many rebels were killed in the battle -- Grachev says 200 -- but no sooner had Russian forces taken the town than the supposedly wiped-out rebels turned up in the next town and started shelling the victors.


One would have thought that Grachev, the man who said he could take Grozny in a few hours, would have learned by now. But then one would have thought that the country's leaders, after Russia's brutal experience in first conquering Chechnya in the 19th century, would have known better than try to resolve the Chechen question by force again.


With elections approaching, Yeltsin has another opportunity to show good judgement and stop the war. If Mikhail Gorbachev could retreat from Afghanistan, then why should not Yeltsin set a firm, unconditional date for withdrawing troops and begin serious, direct negotiations with both Chechen leaders -- the pro- and the anti-Moscow?


This was the plan that General Boris Gromov, who led the retreat from Afghanistan, favored in a television interview Wednesday night. How appropriate it would be, on the anniversary of Stalin's genocide against the Chechen people and on Russian Army Day, for Yeltsin to announce such token of his real intent to stop the slaughter.