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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Interview Did Authorities a Major Favor

Last weekend at the dacha I became convinced once again that the world is full of paradoxes.

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I had settled down on the covered porch to read an article in Novye Izvestia called "Forgotten Voices: Why Western Radio Stations Are Becoming Less Popular With Russian Listeners." The article reported that stations such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Russian service of the BBC have fallen far behind local radio stations in the ratings. As I read, I listened to the radio in the background. My radio at the dacha is always tuned to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, but it was on the fritz. The voices of the station's hosts and guests floated in from my neighbors' dachas.

At the dacha, there is less competition from television. Western stations broadcast on medium-wave frequencies, which can be difficult to pick up in Moscow apartments and automobiles, but out here, medium-wave stations enjoy more of a level playing field with local FM stations in terms of signal quality. This is where the ratings agencies need to do their sampling to determine the true popularity of Western Russian-language radio stations. I'm convinced such a sampling would show that these stations are far stiffer competition for domestic music and news stations than is usually thought.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty made sure that there was never a dull moment last week, and not just with its programming. Last Thursday, the U.S. television network ABC aired an interview with Shamil Basayev conducted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Andrei Babitsky. The broadcast was met with a storm of protest from Russian officials, who accused the United States of double standards, recalling how in the aftermath of 9/11 the U.S. government pressured the authorities in Qatar not to allow Arabic television channel Al-Jazeera to air a taped interview with Osama bin Laden. They said the Basayev interview amounted to supporting terrorism. And Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Sunday that he was barring military personnel from contact with ABC.

I studied the transcript of the interview, which aired on "Nightline," a current events program hosted by Ted Koppel, and I came to the conclusion that both the general context of the broadcast and Basayev's own words merely confirmed that he is a horrific person, a maniac who takes no account of the consequences of his words or his actions. If he's really fighting for freedom and national liberation, then fighters like him need to be eliminated at all costs.

In my view, Basayev did more to justify the official Russian position on Chechnya in the eyes of the world community than any Kremlin spin-doctor ever could. Rather than banning ABC from its press events, the Defense Ministry should give the network, and Ted Koppel, some kind of reward for services rendered.

When the interview aired, August was just around the corner. In August 1999, Basayev led a raid from Chechnya, which was practically independent at the time, into Dagestan with the aim of exporting the Wahhabi revolution. And the raid was a major factor in the Kremlin's decision to restart the war in Chechnya, a war first begun in December 1994. Basayev and his cohorts are terrible people who deserve the harshest possible punishment.

But they are also the nearly inevitable products of the criminal Kremlin policy that led to the beginning of hostilities 11 years ago, and of the brutal methods with which Moscow is conducting its current "anti-terrorist" operation. This operation, in turn, is largely a response to the activities of people like Basayev.

It's a closed circle of violence. Its main victims are the Chechens and the other peoples of Russia. And nothing seems likely to bring it to an end -- not negotiations, not war, not Chechenization.

But for all that, I see no harm in allowing the Basayevs of the world to stand up in front of the world from time to time and expose themselves for what they really are.

Alexei Pankin is opinion page editor at Izvestia.