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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fatherland Speaks Out Against Chechen War




Opposition to the war in Chechnya gained political momentum this weekend, when the centrist Fatherland-All Russia coalition joined the liberal Yabloko party in criticizing the Russian military's actions in the breakaway republic.


In a discussion on NTV's current affairs program Itogi, newly elected Fatherland-All Russia deputy Georgy Boos said that what began as an "anti-terrorist operation" had escalated into a full-scale war, which the bloc could not support.


Throughout the election campaign, Fatherland-All Russia leader and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov wavered in his position on Chechnya. The bloc as a whole was reluctant to take a unified stance and most of the members, including bloc leader Yevgeny Primakov, did their best to steer clear of the subject. It seemed as though Luzhkov & Co. were not ready to question a popular war and the popular prime minister waging it.


But on Sunday's "Itogi," Boos, who headed the Fatherland-All Russia's campaign headquarters, laid out the party's criticism.


"We supported the government as long as we were dealing with an anti-terrorist operation, and not a large-scale ... war, which was not prepared for, on a territory with a large civilian population. And right now that is what is happening," Boos said.


In the hodgepodge coalition of Fatherland-All Russia, Boos is allied with Luzhkov, who is hardly known to be a champion of rights, let alone the rights of Chechens. When two Moscow apartment buildings were bombed in September, Luzhkov further tightened his restrictive registration system for nonresident "guests of the capital" and Chechens in Moscow said they were harassed by the police and denied registration.


But in the last weeks of the election campaign, Luzhkov was quoted in the Russian press criticizing the high number of civilian casualties in much the same tone as Boos used Sunday, though he later retreated slightly.


Boos extended his criticism to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose popularity left him virtually untouchable during the often harsh campaign.


"At this point his actions are only the actions of a strong hand bringing order to Chechnya. There are no economic actions, no victories on the international arena," Boos said. "Here we see only - and I apologize - inaction."


Boos said that if the government did not rethink its strategy in Chechnya, "we may have to review our support of the government in this area."


It is not clear to what extent Fatherland-All Russia will remain a unified force in the State Duma.


The bloc essentially split last week, when its leaders decided to create one eponymous faction and two smaller groups. One of them, Russia's Regions, will unite regional forces supported by powerful governors who tend to be more willing to cooperate with the Kremlin than Luzhkov. The other gro up will consist of Agrarians who broke from the Communists to join Fatherland-All Russia.


While most commentators are portraying the bloc's plans to form separate groups as a schism, the bloc's leaders maintain they are still allies and will form a joint council to coordinate the work of all three groups.


Among the other four politicians participating in Sunday's "Itogi," only Yavlinsky was critical of the government's Chechnya policy.


Sergei Kiriyenko of the Union of Right Forces, flamboyant nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky - who declared Sunday he would make a third bid for the presidency next year - and Ivan Melnikov, deputy leader of the Communist Party, all reiterated their support for the government's policy.


As a self-proclaimed liberal, Kiriyenko was put in a tough spot during Sunday night's discussion, during which host Yevgeny Kiselyov asked him if his party might become an ally of Yabloko's on the Chechnya issue.


"I don't think this is a topic for discussions about allies or enemies. This is a tragedy for the country," he said.