A Question of Double Standards
President Vladimir Putin's decision to invite the leaders of Hamas for talks in Moscow has angered Israel and raised many eyebrows in the international community. Such a reaction should come as no surprise to Moscow, given that Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since 2000, killing hundreds of people.
Israel and the United States have classified Hamas as a terrorist organization, refusing to make a distinction between its political and militant wings. Just as the Kremlin has refused to make a distinction between Chechens such as Shamil Basayev, who has ordered the most horrendous terrorist attacks in Russia's history, and separatist envoys like Akhmed Zakayev, who has been granted political asylum in Britain. Both are terrorists in Putin's eyes.
Even Aslan Maskhadov, who won a popular election to become president of Chechnya in 1997, was branded a terrorist following the Dubrovka hostage-taking in 2002. Notably, Maskhadov denied any involvement in the seizure of the Moscow theater. He condemned terrorism and more than once suggested he would seek the prosecution of Basayev over the attack.
Yes, Maskhadov said his willingness to bring terrorists to justice was conditional upon the withdrawal of troops from Chechnya and restoration of his presidential rule. But even if his words were only empty rhetoric, Maskhadov, who was killed last March, did say these things. The Hamas leadership, on the other hand, has shown no willingness to condemn its militants for their suicide bombings.
Moscow has called for a united international front against terrorism, arguing that there should be no double standards and that one man's terrorist should not be another man's freedom fighter.
The invitation to Hamas has weakened Russia's argument, and the Kremlin is playing a risky game if it is betting on its capacity to influence Hamas in spite of having lost its clout as a global superpower.
But Putin -- who met Wednesday with an envoy of the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn -- will still come out ahead if he unequivocally demands that Hamas renounce terrorism and acknowledge Israel's right to exist. He will then have to be ready to cut all ties with the Palestinian organization if it refuses to meet these demands.
Otherwise, Moscow will no longer be able to complain about double standards. Its only hope will be that the United States and other members of the international community turn their backs on whatever is left of the moderate wing of Chechen separatism.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
An editorial from today's Moscow Times: