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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Let Go Of Chechnya, Not Rights




By all accounts the Stavropol region is one of the more Hobbesian horrors to be found on Russia's southern fringe. Terrorists and bandits from neighboring Chechnya are a constant plague. They ambushed a Stavropol police patrol last week, killing four officers, booby-trapping their corpses with explosives, and kidnapping a fifth officer.


This is also the region where Chechen terrorists took more than 1,000 hostages in a Budyonnovsk hospital in 1995, in an episode that left more than 120 civilians dead; and where a 1997 Chechen bomb at the Pyatigorsk railway station killed several people. Violence pours into the region every day from across the border in Chechnya - a patch of land even more hellish these days.


So it is understandable why politicians like the nationalist filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin and Communist Viktor Ilyukhin would join forces in an effort to restore order here. These two sponsored a draft law that was overwhelmingly approved on its first reading Thursday. The bill would suspend some constitutional rights and let local Cossacks arm themselves and organize into defense bands with official police powers.


The bill must be approved in two more readings before it becomes law. But already some State Duma deputies are talking of expanding the bill's suspension of civil rights across the Russian Caucasus.


Now this is a slippery slope.


What is to prevent the Kremlin - which is running scared from corruption allegations and worriedly eyeing, in less than a year from now, the end of Boris Yeltsin's constitutional term as president - from using this logic to suspend civil liberties across the nation?


After all, this week saw the Interior Ministry's headquarters in Moscow suffer its first attempted bombing. The Interior Ministry tells us that 1999 is shaping up to be the year of the contract murder, and not so long ago then-Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin was warning the nation to brace for a coming wave of Chechen terrorism.


In the 1996 election season, allies of Yeltsin advocated postponing the vote. They argued it was time to defend the Russian people from the potential political instability elections might bring. There will surely be much the same arguments made this time around - and the important difference is that Yeltsin has far more reason to be receptive to such logic than he did in 1996.


The Ilyukhin-Govorukhin bill should be trashed. If the Duma wants to bring order to the Caucasus, it should start by giving Chechnya - or what's left of it - independence. Then Russia could close the border with Chechnya decisively - and Chechen terrorists would have less ideological justification for attacking their Stavropol neighbors.