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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Break Cycle of Violence in Chechnya

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The seizure of nearly 800 hostages in Moscow by a band of armed Chechens brought the war home.

Relatives of the hostages and others, who said they had stopped paying attention to a war that seemed so far away, publicly called for an end to the fighting. Some young women hostages said they came to sympathize with their veiled female captors, who told them how their loved ones had been killed in front of their eyes.

Politicians and pundits who see no military solution to the conflict were being listened to again. The issue returned to the pages of Moscow's newspapers.

But after special forces succeeded in killing most of the hostage-takers and decisively putting an end to the standoff, any glimmer of hope that President Vladimir Putin would agree to peace talks died a sure death.

We can expect to see Putin take an even tougher line in Chechnya and his troops there to behave even more ruthlessly, with even greater firepower.

But does it have to be this way, even if we accept the political and practical impossibility of peace talks?

Boris Nemtsov, who was among those trying to mediate with the hostage-takers, said that while the negotiations were going on, the zachistki, or mopping-up operations, in Chechnya were stopped.

Nemtsov, who spoke in an interview to the Gazeta newspaper, said he proposed a gradual approach to resolve the standoff, in which for every day of peace in Chechnya, without zachistki or bombings, the hostage-takers would release some people.

Movsar Barayev, their leader, initially found the idea acceptable, Nemtsov said, and calls to Chechnya confirmed that only one arrest had been made on Friday. But when they last spoke that night at about 11 p.m., Barayev was agitated and angry, and told him to call separatist president Aslan Maskhadov for any deal. The raid began six hours later.

But Nemtsov was on to something. If the military and law enforcement were to treat Chechens the same as other citizens of Russia every day, and not just when Chechen gunmen are threatening to blow up a theater filled with hostages, it would go a long way toward easing tensions. It would be a small but decisive step toward peace.

If Putin decides to treat all Chechens as terrorists and inflict even greater pain on their republic, he is playing into the hands of the militants. He is justifying their cause and creating new militants bent on revenge.

Or Putin can try to break the cycle of violence and start treating Chechens as fellow citizens.