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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Support for Maskhadov Helps Russia




The failed assassination attempt against Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is the clearest sign yet of the mounting threat of complete anarchy in Russia's North Caucasus.


Not that Chechnya has been a paragon of good government in the two years since it won its separatist war against Moscow. The region has been wracked by kidnappings, poverty and violence. Even the redoubtable warrior Shamil Basayev, whom Maskhadov recently employed as prime minister, failed in his bid to impose some semblance of normal government.


But for all that, Maskhadov's regime, however weak and erratic, has provided the one element of stability in an otherwise unremittingly bleak picture. If Maskhadov, the man whom Chechens overwhelmingly elected as their leader in January 1997, had fallen victim to assassination, the republic could have collapsed completely.


The reasons for the failure of Chechnya as a state are complex. Most of the blame lies at the feet of Russia, whose troops turned the country into a wasteland in the course of the 21-month war.


Given the lack of any economic base for running a state, Chechens have turned to crime -- not just to kidnapping but also to gun running and drug smuggling.


Under these circumstances, Maskhadov's relatively moderate position has become increasingly untenable. He faces pressure from Islamist extremist groups who talk of renewing the war against Russia. He also faces pressure from criminal groups, including figures within his own government, who resent his attempts to impose law and order.


Russia must realize that its interest lies in strengthening Maskhadov's hand against these opponents.


Building a relationship with the Chechen leader who was once Russia's bitter enemy is difficult, but Russia must realize that he is the voice of sweet reason and moderation compared to anybody else in Chechnya.


It would be incredibly stupid if, as some Chechens are saying, Russia was behind the assassination attempt on Maskhadov. But it is just possible that rogue elements in Russia's special services would pull such a stunt.


Russia must crack down on any anti-Chechen provocation and start to find ways of helping Maskhadov. The flow of promised Russian aid to Chechnya, on hold for almost two years, must be quickened.


Of course, it is hard to find anyone to trust in Chechnya, but Russia can only benefit by helping Chechnya's legitimate administration to alleviate poverty and fight crime.


If two years ago the danger was that Chechnya might secede from the Russian Federation, the danger now is that its turmoil will spread into the rest of Russia.