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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Casualty List A Late, But Worthy Start

Nothing but congratulations are due to Defense Minister Igor Rodionov for allowing the official publication, for the first time, of the names of those soldiers who have died while serving in Chechnya.


It should, of course, have happened much earlier -- in fact, every time a soldier's death was confirmed, his name should have been published. But this cannot be blamed on the Defense Ministry's current leadership.


The list's publication means that representatives of the mothers whose sons are still missing in Chechnya will now be able to check against their own records and begin in earnest the process of accounting for every soldier who was sent to the republic and failed to return.


But this is also important as a simple issue of counting costs. It is vital that a government that has launched an unpopular war should be forced to account for the blood spilled, especially when -- as is the case today -- there is a real possibility that the authorities could be tempted to restart the conflict.


A reckoning of the dead is also an important gauge of the value a government places on the lives of its soldiers and citizens. No true account was ever made, for example, by the Soviet authorities at the end of World War II. The fact that even today debate still rages over exactly how many millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians died during that conflict speaks volumes concerning the attitudes of the leaders of the time.


Many Russians saw the assault on Grozny in January 1995 -- when hundreds of untrained and ill-equipped Russian conscripts died in a disorganized attempt to seize the Chechen capital -- as another example of such callous attitudes. They were certainly right.


Krasnaya Zvezda implicitly acknowledged the unpopularity of the war as it honored the dead Saturday, commenting that the soldiers would doubtless have preferred to die in some other, more inspiring war if they had to die at all. But, the paper said, as soldiers they had no choice. They did not pick the war.


On such a candid note, one can only recall that the 30,000 or 80,000 or perhaps even more civilians who have died in the Chechnya conflict did not choose the war either. Most of these people died at the hands of the federal forces, and while the politicians in Moscow bear the most responsibility, the army alone is responsible for its tactics.


It is hard to imagine how there can ever be an accurate accounting of all the civilian dead in Chechnya -- or to picture how many pages of newsprint would be needed for the job if a full list ever could be compiled.