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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Learn From Chechnya, Not Kosovo




Russia has a mess on its hands in the Caucasus. And there may be no real solution. After all, sometimes corrupt or lazy actions create situations that cannot be reversed. Look at the decisions to give all of Russia's industrial wealth to a few insiders, helping to create overnight an oligarchy. Or Boris Yeltsin's failure after the collapse of the Soviet Union to launch political reforms - to hold new elections, to reform the KGB and rewrite the Constitution. Or, for that matter, at Yeltsin's failure to act on breakaway Chechnya until it had spun out of control, and then to bomb it to rubble.


The consequences of such actions will be with Russia for decades. They cannot be simply wished away - and neither can Shamil Basayev and his followers in Dagestan.


Nevertheless, Russia must respond intelligently to Basayev's latest invasion. At issue is whether the crisis in Dagestan can be contained, or whether it will erupt into a Caucasus-wide cataclysm.


We would start by joining former general Alexander Lebed in asking: Why are Russia's elite troops in Bosnia and Kosovo? The KFOR forces should be brought home and redeployed in the Russian south. Or alternatively, some of them should be brought back and put in leadership and training positions. Greener Russian troops could then also be rotated through KFOR for training in modern peacekeeping.


This second option would work particularly well if the Western nations could be induced to pay for the upkeep of Russian troops in KFOR - which seems fair, and follows the logic the U.S. White House used in cajoling money out of other nations during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.


There are military lessons to be learned from Chechnya. But learning them involves an introspection and self-criticism that the Russian General Staff has yet to indulge in. The U.S. military was scathing about itself after Vietnam - and today has remade itself entirely. Russia's generals seem to have learned nothing in Afghanistan and nothing in Chechnya.


Now the theater is a few remote villages in Dagestan. But the Russian military leaders are the same, and the "lessons" they've learned are only those of envy - of NATO's war in Yugoslavia about "the might of air power."


So once again, the Russians are bombing Chechen guerrillas - with the same dismaying inaccuracy that in Chechnya claimed so many civilians and roused so much anti-Russian sentiment. Once again, green troops will be sent in to mop up - or be mopped up. And once again, the Russians are feeding arms to the local civilian "opposition" - arms that will surely be turned upon those green troops before too long.