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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

POWER PLAY: Chechnya's Second Verse Same as First




This week's events don't allow for intellectual discussion. We have to lay them aside.


The Russian military has issued an ultimatum: Whoever is still in Grozny after Dec. 11 "will be considered bandits and terrorists and they will be destroyed." There are 40,000 people left in Grozny. How many of them are bandits and how many are children and the elderly no one knows for sure.


The army is in a hurry: On Dec. 11, 1994, the last Chechen war began - Russia was defeated in shame. The generals are eager to take revenge and it looks like nothing can stop them now.


This is nothing new. They are dropping the same leaflets on Grozny that they dropped during the first war. I saved one of these old leaflets. I picked one up in the village of Bamut: "If anyone in your town opens fire on Russian soldiers," it reads, "we will answer with powerful rocket and bomb strikes without hesitation. Your life, and the lives of your children, are in your hands."


During the last war - as today - tens of thousands of elderly people and children packed basements in Grozny. They were without electricity, heat or food. Food was brought by us, the journalists and human rights workers. Russians bombed the city with vacuum bombs capable of penetrating the basements. They bombed with full knowledge that civilians were there. My most terrible memory of this war is of a blind people's home on Grozny's Ulitsa Bratyev Khutsievikh. These helpless people were living under their cots. Their building had no basement.


The road to the Ingush capital of Nazran out of Grozny was littered with cars loaded with baggage and corpses. The only place that was worse than Grozny was this road: It was under constant fire from all sides. That's why people are staying put in the city now. After my return, I was asked to testify before the U.S. Congress's Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which held hearings on Chechnya on May 1, 1995. I recounted what I had seen there. I tried to convince them that their loans to Russia were financing murder. But the credits kept coming. I also told them the following, which is a quote from my testimony:


"The roots of the Chechen crisis go all the way back to September and October of 1993 when Yeltsin dismissed the Russian parliament, violated the law and Constitution and ended up with a mini civil war in Moscow. It was the turning point at which Russian authorities first chose to resolve a political crisis with tanks and bloodshed ... and ruined any hopes that Russia could be run by the rule of law. Yeltsin crossed the line. But instead of being condemned by Western democracies, he got President Clinton's overwhelming support. Russian authorities got the message: They will be excused for violence as long as they keep economic reforms going. But that view is both ill-conceived and shortsighted. History teaches us that the free market economy is by no means a guarantee for democracy, it may just as easily lead to the establishment of the harshest regimes."


On Thursday, Bill Clinton came out and said that Russia "will pay a heavy price" for its actions in the Caucasus.


He was late by exactly six years.


Yevgenia Albats is an independent political analyst and journalist.