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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Terror Bears Terror

These days have once again something of the spirit of the past. Russia decided to take a visible stand in the fight against international terrorism, and at the presidential level. President Boris Yeltsin and his retinue took part in the recent anti-terrorism summit in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, where he called for coordinating international forces in the fight against this frightening 20th-century evil. Such a position, of course, raises no doubts.


It is difficult, however, not to draw from the summit some analogies to the Soviet past, times in which the country did not often consider fighting for human rights or strengthening peace and cooperation in its own country but instead preferred to raise such issues on a global level. During that period, there were shameless violations of these rights and much was done to undermine peace and trust on the planet -- which did not prevent Soviet people from sincerely becoming indignant and demanding, for example, the freedom of American political activist Angela Davis or Native American leader Leonard Peltier.


Against the background of the president's appeals to the world community to fight against terrorism, the battle against it in Russia is not going well. The main reason why Russia's internal forces have failed lies in its refusal to recognize the root of this terror: It is the very violence that was unleashed by the war Moscow brought to Chechnya.


Some distinguishing traits of Chechen terrorism include its demands for the end of military activities on Chechen territory, a withdrawal of troops and supposedly peaceful solution to the conflict. In response, the usual objection is that Chechnya is on Russian territory and Moscow itself will chose the form that the division of powers will take.


The main demands made by Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev after the first terrorist acts were carried out in Budyonnovsk were the withdrawal of troops and the start of peace negotiations. Unfortunately, it took such an action to bring Moscow to the negotiating table, which only confirmed the effectiveness of terrorist policies in relationship to Moscow. I am also convinced, however, that only by keeping the negotiation process open can the country create the basis for guarding against terrorist actions.


It seems that the central authorities have not drawn any lessons from the past. The military actions in Kizlyar and Pervomaiskoye turned out to be no less unexpected than the first attack. This time, Moscow did not allow negotiations to take place between the Chechens and the Russian Federation. Instead it chose to carry out a large-scale military operation which demonstrated a complete lack of coordination among the various military departments and sub-divisions. As a result, the hostages themselves and peaceful inhabitants were exposed to the fire and a good number of terrorists were able to escape.


Among the other special anti-terrorist activities Moscow is conducting is what could be called a "cleaning up" operation of populated areas, under the guise of liberating them from bandits and terrorists. It is being carried out in such a way that these territories are strictly off limits to the press and even State Duma deputies. Moreover, the information blockade being erected is also apparently an anti-terrorist tactic of the Kremlin. As a result, the leading and most official of the television broadcasters, ORT Russian Public Television, was obliged to inform its viewers that the scarcity of information did not even allow them to understand what is happening now in Chechnya.


Such ostrich-like policies on the part of the authorities, however, are not enough to conceal the truth. Before long, instead of assertions that the fighters have been completely defeated, there will be reliable accounts of peaceful inhabitants who were victims of the military bombardment. It is estimated that the special "anti-terrorist" tactics are already responsible for the deaths of 2,851 Russian servicemen and some 50,000 Chechen civilians. It is precisely this frighteningly high rate of civilian losses that will lead to future terrorist acts. As retired general Alexander Lebed observed, the survivors of the attacks will become like wolves in search of a place to live. Such people will be a great source for future terrorism.


Clearly, Dudayev is turning into a national hero in Chechnya, and with Moscow's help. Judging from the most recent events, Dudayev is entirely capable of starting at any moment more large-scale military actions in Grozny, notwithstanding the Russian generals' claims that the city is under control and that peace is well secured. Many in Chechnya will not reconcile themselves to a forced military solution to the conflict. The more Moscow "succeeds" militarily, the more likely and widespread terrorists acts will be.


This also suggests that no precautions can prevent acts of terrorism in any Russian city. This was borne out recently by the discovery of a bomb on a bus that passes by government buildings in Moscow, which was made harmless by chance.


Therefore, it is possible only to fight against the sources of terror. This means above all using every possible means to keep negotiations going. But the contradictory presidential peace plan in Chechnya leaves little hope for a successful way out of the crisis. If the president qualified the actions of Dudayev at the meeting in Egypt as an "evil that has not passed Russia by," then it should be acknowledged that the terrorist genie was let out of the bottle only with the help of the Kremlin. It would be good if Russian politicians were able to gain something useful from the Western experience, which attests to the fact that the problem of terrorism, including the kind that Dudayev is carrying out, cannot be resolved by military decisions.





Sergei Oznobistchev is director of the Center for International Security Problems of the USA/Canada Institute. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.