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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Terrorism as a Skeleton Key

People who have endured a shock often say that their lives have changed, that they will never be the same again. Unfortunately, this only applies to those who lived through the crisis personally, not to those who watched it unfold on television, and even less so to the politicians and officials involved in resolving it. These people didn't change one iota, and they have no intention of doing so.

The "Nord Ost" hostage crisis changed little in the end, but it made a lot of things clear. The Kremlin's political philosophy was put on display in all its terrible consistency.

Russia's political analysts and intellectuals are divided into liberals and patriots. The liberals admire President Vladimir Putin's engagement of the West and his friendship with the United States, but they are at a loss to explain why the administration doesn't give a tinker's damn for human rights or freedom of the press, why it is bombing Chechnya and blessing rigged elections. The patriotic public, on the other hand, is stirred by the reprisals in Chechnya, but complains that the president has allowed the Americans into Central Asia and that he won't stand up for Iraq.

The official press has reflected this divide, especially after the hostage crisis. The state-controlled television stations reported on the world community's overwhelming support for Putin's policies, citing statements made by all sorts of foreign leaders. And then five minutes later the same news anchor, in the same steady voice, would rail against the "unprecedented anti-Russian campaign" being waged by the Western press.

It should be kept in mind that the statements of sympathy and support were made after the hostages were seized. The anti-Russian articles started appearing after Russian law enforcement poisoned the hostages with gas. But the more important distinction is that politicians made the official statements in line with the official policy of their respective countries. The articles were written by journalists reflecting the mood in society, which turned out to be entirely different.

The Bush administration has every reason to be pleased with developments in Russia. It is now clear that Putin's policies contain no contradictions whatsoever. The war in Chechnya and support for America's Middle East policy are two sides of the same coin. The more the Russian authorities cover themselves with gore and grime in the Caucasus, the less they are able to conduct an independent foreign policy. The critics of Washington's planned military operation against Iraq are now European moderates and leaders of the Arab world. Both groups condemn the war in Chechnya.

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The unresolved Chechen conflict leaves Moscow no room to maneuver. It has little choice but to follow Washington's lead and hope for encouragement from Big Brother. Putin never misses an opportunity to stress that the sweep operations in Chechen villages are Russia's contribution to the war on international terrorism. He's right in a way, and not just because every drop of blood senselessly shed in the Caucasus makes Russia more dependent on Washington. Bush's Iraq campaign bears no more relation to the war on international terrorism than the looting of Chechen villages. The politicians have their own agendas. And the "war on terrorism" slogan has become an ideological skeleton key that can be used to justify any actions that might seem dubious from the perspective of international law and democratic norms.

Unfortunately for the Kremlin, Western society is ideologically diverse, as the hostage crisis in Moscow demonstrated once again. In backing Putin, Western politicians followed the lead of hawks in Washington. Liberals and the left, who are critical of the plan to attack Iraq, made no secret of their indignation over the gas attack. The Kremlin's yes-men in the State Duma and the press quickly figured out which way the wind was blowing. They appeared on television to explain that the United States and Russia were the only countries truly committed to fighting terrorism. The spineless Europeans, they said, were little better than accomplices to terrorism.

This line had been worked out long ago in circles close to the Kremlin. Dmitry Rogozin and deputies of the Unity party have been singing this tune for some time. Now the entire Kremlin chorus has joined in.

The Kremlin belongs to the international party of war. And its chief opponents in this war are not those engaged in armed resistance, but those who stand up for human rights and respect for human life.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.