Monday, September 06, 2004

Chechnya/Beslan: Scotsman Commentary and Report

Today's Scotsman has a succinct leader on the situation in the North Caucasus;

Crumbling Russian empire

The crisis in Chechnya has a simple cause and it is not a lot to do, at least in principle, with al-Qaeda. Unless President Vladimir Putin grasps this, everyone - Russians, Chechens and even those of us in the West - will go on suffering as did the children of Beslan. Russia - Czarist, Bolshevik and "managed democracy" under Mr Putin - is determined to assuage its dented national pride by retaining as much of its old colonial empire as possible. But, as Europe discovered long ago, unwilling empires are expensive to run and ultimately futile to try and hold on to.

The Russian Empire annexed the Caucasus region, and with it the Chechens, in 1858, the year Britain put down the Indian Mutiny. Britain eventually left India in 1947. Two generations later, few in the UK remember, far less care, that Britain was split for years over the question of Indian independence. The British Empire has been consigned to Lenin’s dustbin of history. But not so the vast empire the Czars built from Poland in the west to Vladivostok on the Pacific, an empire then ruthlessly consolidated by the Bolsheviks. On the fall of the Soviet Union, the Chechens temporarily evicted Russia and elected their own president in January 1997 - Aslan Maskhadov, a former Soviet officer. But Mr Maskhadov was unable to control his more radical supporters and the breakaway republic descended into anarchy. Rather than help, Mr Putin seized the excuse to send Russian troops back into Chechnya in 1999, to avenge the earlier humiliation and to re-exert Moscow’s control over the oil-rich Caucasus. We are now living with the consequences.

It is understandable that Friday's hellish massacre has caused Mr Putin to threaten retribution. Certainly, the perpetrators involved should be hunted down as a threat to everyone. But if over a decade of Russian scorched earth policy in Chechnya has failed, what more repression short of an outright Carthaginian peace will stabilise the situation? Far better for Mr Putin to recognise that the roots of this conflict lie in Chechen nationalism and Russian colonialism, and solve the problem by starting a dialogue with more moderate Chechen figures like the ex-president Mr Maskhadov, who has said that his forces were not involved in the school siege.

The rest of the article is


Also in the Scotsman, a report that Raf Shakirov of Isvestia newspaper, Moscow, "was sacked today after his newspaper published pages of photos of wounded and dead children and other victims of the school hostage crisis. Ekho Moskvy radio and other Russian media said the exit of Raf Shakirov, 44...was connected with the newspaper’s Saturday issue, which contained the photos."

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