It is hardly possible to envisage an orgy of terrorist savagery more depraved than that staged by Chechen jihadists and their foreign cohorts, who butchered, tortured, and raped hundreds of Russian children in the town of Beslan last September. The bloodbath at School No. 1 came at the end of a week in which two Russian passenger planes were blown up in midair and a lethal bomb exploded outside a Moscow metro station.
All of these attacks were terrorist in character and Islamic in the method of execution. And yet the reaction of the elite class in much of the Western world was steeped in visceral Russophobia. In blaming the victim, ridiculing Russia’s claim to be battling the same enemy that caused September 11, and advising “dialogue” with the Chechens, opinionmakers in Europe and America have displayed a surprising identity of cultural assumptions and ideological preferences. The tone was set firmly by the New York Times and the Washington Post, parroted by countless local Gannett clones, and replicated at both ends of Europe’s political spectrum.
On the right, London’s conservative Daily Telegraph opined that, “given the deep-seated corruption of the Russian security forces and bureaucracy, this is unlikely to be the last incident of its kind.” France’s Catholic La Croix also found the cause of Beslan in Russia’s shortcomings, declaring Putin responsible “for the perpetuation of the war,” the “dirtiest” since Yugoslavia. Le Figaro fumed at Putin’s claim that Russia is a victim of the same terrorism that has hit the West, “as if the dirty war the Russian army is waging had nothing to do with the determination of terrorists.” In Stockholm, Svenska Dagbladet condemned Russia’s attempt “to disguise the war in Chechnya as one part of the war against terrorism.” It would be immoral “to shut one’s eyes to Russian atrocities,” it said and called for “a tougher approach from the U.S. and the EU” to pressure Putin to seek a “peaceful solution.” Financial Times Deutschland lambasted Russia’s stated intention to attack terrorist bases anywhere in the world by preemptive strikes as “an attack on the sovereignty of other countries.” “Even a mature democracy like the U.S. has its problems with such a war,” it opined, reminding us of Abu Ghraib, and concluded that “an autocratic country like Russia” must not be allowed to embark on a similar path. Frankfurter Allgemeine also advocated “dialogue”—“Is every Chechen a child murderer?” it asked ironically—and blamed “Putin’s policy of oppression” for the attacks.
The left, for once, abandoned its usual penchant for the pornography of compassion, since, at Beslan, the victims were real Christian Orthodox children, rather than the fictitious Muslim victims of Kosovo’s “genocide” or the Bosnian “rape camps.” The Guardian thus insisted that Russia had to “seek political dialogue that promises some slender hope beyond the bloodshed.” France’s Le Monde wondered why Western leaders “give so much support to Vladimir Putin,” while Liberation accused him of having “excluded every option and reverted exclusively to repression . . . in the famous Russian tradition.” The editor of Belgium’s Le Soir accused Putin of acting “in a Stalinist—and therefore frightening—manner.” Die Tageszeitung of Berlin went even further, accusing the Kremlin of “acting as a gravedigger” in the Caucasus because Putin “does not see any link between the hostage-taking in Beslan and the barbarian war Moscow has been waging in Chechnya.” The paper ridiculed the Russians’ claim to be “innocent victims of international terrorism.”
The U.S. government added insult to injury, two days after Beslan, by expressing willingness to talk again with “moderate” Chechen separatists. “We do have a policy that says we will meet with political officials, leaders who have different points of view,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. “Our view of some of these political figures has been different than [sic] the Russians,” he added, but a “political solution” must be found. U.S. officials, however, “don’t meet with terrorists . . . with people who are involved in violence or fomenting violence.”
The second part of Boucher’s statement was untrue. Numerous U.S. officials not only met with the KLA—a terrorist group par excellence that was “heavily involved in violence”—they also actively aided and abetted the Albanian campaign of terror in Kosovo that paved the way for Clinton’s war against the Serbs in 1999.
The first part of Boucher’s statement reflected the continuation of a long-standing policy that is as harmful to American interests as it is immoral and illogical. After September 11, President Bush told the countries of the world that they were either on the side of the United States or on the side of terrorists. Continuing to receive any Chechen separatists—formal denials of a “terrorist” label notwithstanding—is tantamount, in this case, to being on the wrong side.
The same mind-set appeared a week before Beslan, in the aftermath of a general election in Chechnya that was won by Alu Alkhanov, who supports his republic’s autonomy within Russia. His claim that turnout was at 85 percent appeared exaggerated, but the election passed peacefully—in spite of earlier warnings by separatists that they would disrupt the proceedings—and thus represented a success for Putin’s policy of “Chechenization.” Some separatists predictably dismissed the election as fraudulent, but international monitors from the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that there was no evidence of ballot-rigging or voter intimidation.
That a jihadist-infested hot spot in a sensitive area was a step closer to a political solution should have been considered good news for America. The Bush administration was nevertheless quick to criticize the election, claiming it had “serious flaws.” Mr. Boucher said that it “did not meet international standards for a democratic election,” demanded more “pluralism in the political process,” called for “an end to human rights abuses in Chechnya,” and urged that “those who committed such abuses be held accountable.”
Righteous insistence that all those responsible for human-rights abuses should be held accountable sounds hollow in the aftermath of the Iraqi prison scandal. The U.S. demand for greater “pluralism in the political process” is even less convincing, since it does not apply to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s fastidious refusal to talk to the “unreformed” and “corrupt” Palestinian Authority. As for the Bush administration’s concern about “serious flaws” in foreign elections and insistence on “international standards,” it did not condemn the referendum in April 2002 that gave Pakistan’s ruler and self-appointed president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a five-year extension of his “mandate.” If Mr. Boucher thinks that 73 percent of votes for Alkhanov was suspiciously high, it is curious that Musharraf’s “victory” with over 97 percent of the vote was accepted at face value.
Musharraf was left alone because the United States still looks on him as an ally in the “War on Terror.” By any token, Putin should be seen as a much more important and reliable ally in the same struggle. His constant complaint that the United States is reluctant to call Chechen terrorists by their right name (“there cannot be good and bad terrorists, our terrorists and others”) needs to be addressed in the spirit of appreciation of Russia’s importance to the global struggle we all face.
Putin’s complaint of American hypocrisy is not new. The Clinton administration effectively supported the Chechen separatists in the late 1990’s, even blocking a proposed $500-million loan guarantee from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to a Russian oil company that was going to be used to purchase American-made equipment.
The proponents of a tough line on Moscow in Washington—notably Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—continued this policy under Bush. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Alexander Vershbow, conceded that “Osama bin Laden and other international networks have been fueling the flames in Chechnya.” Only weeks later, however, the ubiquitous Mr. Boucher commented that “the lack of a political solution and . . . massive human rights violations” in Chechnya fanned terrorism.
Such rhetoric did abate temporarily toward the end of 2001, when Moscow’s full cooperation was needed in getting the Central Asian republics on board for the war in Afghanistan. As soon as the first phase was over, however, the old ambiguity was back. Exactly four months after September 11, Mr. Boucher accused the Russian forces in Chechnya of “disproportionate use of force against civilian facilities” and “further human rights violations.” To the Russians’ dismay, State Department officials received Ilyas Akhmadov, a self-styled foreign minister in Chechnya’s separatist leadership.
Terrorist attacks in the United States stopped after September 11, but, in Russia, they have continued at a steady pace over the years. In May 2002, a bomb blast killed at least 41 people, including 17 children, in the southwestern town of Kaspiisk near the Chechen border. In October 2002, over 700 hostages were seized by Chechen attackers in a Moscow theater, and 120 died in the rescue operation. In December 2002, a dual suicide-bombing attack on the government building in the Chechen capital, Grozny, killed 83 people. On May 14, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s trip to Moscow was accompanied by a suicide bombing in Grozny that killed 20 people, only days after a similar attack killed 59. The parallel with three suicide bombings in Riyadh (May 12) that killed 29 people, including seven Americans, was obvious. Only weeks later, on August 1, 2003, a hospital in the city of Mozdok was destroyed in a suicide attack, killing 42 people.
The willingness of the Bush administration to offer refuge to top Chechen leaders accused of masterminding terrorist attacks—most recently last August, when the United States granted asylum to the aforementioned Mr. Akhmadov—is incomprehensible. Such people are a danger to the national security of the United States. Under them and their ilk, gangsterism and radical Islam went arm-in-arm in Chechnya, just as they did in Bosnia and Kosovo. While they were in power, following Russian withdrawal in 1996, hundreds of Westerners and Russians—including women and children—had been taken hostage. Ransom was extracted through the use of videos that record torture and dismemberment. The Chechen leaders, like their Balkan counterparts, enjoyed the support of Islamic militants from abroad, including Osama bin Laden’s network.
The harmful ambiguity of U.S. policy on Chechnya needs to be ended immediately. It compromises the War on Terror, jeopardizes U.S. national security, and gains nothing.
The amazingly hostile reactions to Russia after Beslan by the Western elite class are not necessarily rooted in prejudice, however. Their vehemence hints that the cause is not in a misunderstanding of the Eastern European tradition but in the elite class’s accurate assessment that that tradition is an obstacle to the realization of their political, economic, and cultural preferences in the modern world.
As the shadow of global jihad grows darker, the Bouchers, assorted editorialists, and talking heads of the Western world are following in the footsteps of their ancestors that are exactly 800 years old: the sack of Constantinople during the infamous Fourth Crusade. The Franks did not understand, or care, that New Rome was the guardian and protector of the West against the same enemy we face today. Their treachery opened the way for the jihadist onslaught against Europe that did not stop until it reached Vienna in 1683. Replicating the same folly with Russia today brings to mind Talleyrand’s comment on Napoleon’s execution of the Duc d’Enghien: “It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.”