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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

West Sells Out on War




A Russian student I knew in Grozny told me: "Russia always wins its wars. Everyone is afraid of it.'' These words, spoken by a 14-year-old girl several years ago, still reflect the feelings of many Russians today who want to continue to believe that the world is afraid of Russia, despite the country's bankruptcy. And maybe they are right: The West's timid response to the slaughter of thousands of Chechens on the pretext of fighting terrorism is a sign of fear, of weakness in the face of Russian aggression. It could have dire consequences for the cause of freedom and human rights in the world.


It is not the first time Russia has destroyed our land. Every 40 or 50 years in the past four centuries of Russian colonization of Chechnya, Russia has attempted to annihilate the Chechen people. In February 1944, the entire Chechen population - men, women, children and the elderly - were packed into freezing cargo trains bound for Kazakhstan and Kirghizia.


More than half of the deported people perished. Russian strategists believed that it was necessary to remove bothersome Chechens and other Caucasian peoples to secure unfettered passage southward for the Soviet empire. Even when the surviving Chechens were allowed to return to their destroyed homeland in 1957, they continued to be branded as "traitors of the homeland." The Chechen language was banned in schools, culture was repressed, and Chechens were blocked from the professions, only able to earn a living through manual labor.


Today's massive and indiscriminate onslaught against the Chechen people is, once again, a retaliation for the humiliation of defeat at the hands of those same Chechen people when Russia attacked Chechnya in 1994-96. During that bloodbath, Chechnya lost 12 percent of its population of little more than 1 million. As was true in the past, today's actions are also a move aimed at securing unobstructed passage to the southern "near-abroad," as Russia refers to former Soviet republics. The pretext used this time is terrorism. Russia claims that Chechens were responsible for explosions in apartment buildings in Russian cities, but there is no evidence to support this allegation. Many, in fact, believe that the Russian authorities themselves were responsible in order to muster public opinion for a slaughter of Chechens. The other excuse was the incursion of Shamil Basayev into Dagestan, which the Chechen government itself condemned.


After the conclusion of the peace agreement between the Russian and Chechen governments signed in 1997, Russia blockaded Chechnya, depriving its people of any means for reconstructing a country devastated by Russian bombings. Common criminals freed from Russian prisons were paid generously to carry out provocations in Chechnya to make the country ungovernable. Yet the so-called "Afghanistan scenario," in which Russia provokes civil war and religious conflict in a country that it has been forced to abandon, has not succeeded in Chechnya, where the people continue to support the constitution adopted in 1992.


The failure of Russia's policies in crushing resistance led to the decision for an all-out attack timed to raise Boris Yeltsin's popularity before last month's Duma elections. Propaganda against Chechens could not be effectively countered by our government. Authorities prevented most foreign journalists and human rights advocates from entering Chechnya, and we lack experience in international diplomacy and public relations. The West stood by in silence as Russia violated the peace treaty it signed only a few years ago. How can the democratic West tolerate the bloodbath in our villages and cities today when it claims to act in defense of human rights and freedom elsewhere? For Russians, the answer is simple: It is contained in the famous fable of the Russian poet Krylov, "The Wolf and the Lamb": "You are guilty of the fact that I am hungry."


The war crimes committed against the Chechen people continue unabated. The New Year's appointment of Yeltsin's designated successor, Vladimir Putin, as acting president has not changed the situation, and may make it worse. Civilians are the war's main victims, despite the protection they must be given under international law. The Chechen state did not violate international law or Soviet laws when it declared its independence in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Chechen state, which had obtained the status of a union republic of the Soviet Union, had every right to declare its independence, as did the other union republics, which were later recognized by Russia and other countries. Who then is violating international law? And why does the West continue to court Russia while denying us, the legitimate representatives of the Chechen people, the political support we deserve and the opportunity to state our case? Today we are being denied visas to enter the United States even for brief visits to meet members of Congress and discuss ways to end the carnage in our homeland. What crime have we committed that we should be punished in this manner?


Fear of offending Russian feelings could cost the West, and also the Russian people, dearly in years to come. Russia itself cannot become truly democratic as long as it is permitted to behave with impunity against non-Russian peoples. All this does not bode well for the future of Russia and for the West's relations with that country.


It is in the interest of the West, indeed of all peoples, that international law be applied and enforced uniformly and without discrimination. This, more than any appeasement, will contribute to global peace and stability.


Akhyad Idigov is chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Chechen parliament. He contributed this comment to the Los Angeles Times.