. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition Is Fickle on Chechnya

Friday is the day anointed for the communist and nationalist majority in parliament to judge the Kremlin for its decision to pull the last Russian troops out of Chechnya: It will not be the opposition's finest hour.

Virtually every politician outside the government has spent the past two years berating President Boris Yeltsin and his administration over the war in Chechnya and demanding that it be stopped-- and rightly so.

The war was brutal, unnecessary and evil, they argued. It reflected the incompetence and amorality of the powers that be. It should not have happened in the first place, but now that blood had been shed the fighting should be stopped as soon as possible.

Now, at long last and thanks to the crucial intervention of Alexander Lebed, the Kremlin has complied. The army leadership is doubtless furious over the debacle as a whole, but it is fully behind the troop withdrawal. The army knows there are only two roles for it to play in Chechnya -- either total war, or total withdrawal. Anything in between would, as it has in the past, end in the humiliation and aimless death of its troops.

But the withdrawal is a political disaster for the opposition, removing the most effective stick they had to beat Yeltsin with and forcing them to show their true colors. The pullout also has the disadvantage of redounding to the credit of Lebed, who represents a cardinal threat to the presidential aspirations of opposition leaders.

But whatever the political calculations of the communists and their allies, the hypocrisy shown by their new stance is astounding. After all, it seems, they were not primarily interested in ending the war, but in ensuring -- by military means -- that it ends with Russia in charge.

The communists presumably are not foolish enough to want a continuation of the status quo, in which Russian soldiers are hostages to the good will of Chechen rebels. Instead, what they are tacitly suggesting is a full re-commitment of troops to restart the war, only doing it right this time. It's the kind of argument heard so often from frustrated "patriots" after America's defeat in Vietnam.

By comparison, Grigory Yavlinsky on Thursday appeared as a paragon of integrity. While making clear that he held Yeltsin personally responsible for the slaughter and destruction in Chechnya, he also gave full endorsement to the president's decision to pull the troops out.

That does not make Yavlinsky unpatriotic, any more than Lebed was unpatriotic in finding an exit from the bloodshed. But it does make both men look pragmatic, humane and honest next to the hawkish hypocrisy of the communists and their People's Patriotic Union.