September 28, 2004


Putin's Chechnya options narrow: On the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Chechnya, some say there are few alternatives to negotiations. (Scott Peterson, 9/29/04, CS Monitor)

Some argue that unofficial, secret meetings held in Europe in 2001 and 2002 created a foundation for peace that can be built upon today. Others say that the changing face of the conflict - one of deepening violence , corruption of federal forces enriching themselves through war, and the widening grip of Islamists - make a peace deal impossible.

"Ultimately it will require a decision at the top," says Frederick Starr, head of the Central Asia- Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University, who helped mediate those secret meetings in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. "The [Liechtenstein] provisions do not imply a loss of face for anybody. [President Vladimir] Putin could have come out looking like a peacemaker. He still could, tomorrow."

Mr. Putin has vowed not to negotiate with "child-killers" and earlier this month compared demands from Washington to engage Chechen leaders to inviting Osama bin Laden to the White House.

Putin has also lumped together moderate Chechen leaders and warlords, putting a $10 million bounty on both Aslan Maskhadov, Chechnya's president elected in 1997 and militant Shamil Basayev, who claimed the Beslan attack.

The bounty is "absolutely counter-productive, as if [Putin] is systematically closing exit routes for himself, so that he has no one to deal with, except the head of the [Moscow-backed] puppet government," says Mr. Starr.

Mr. Maskhadov - who has often calls for talks - sought distance from Mr. Basayev Friday, vowing to punish the Chechen warlord in court. Russian officials allege the two worked in "close cooperation" over Beslan.

"All these [peace] discussions, blah, blah, blah, led to nothing," says Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center. "If there is a chance now, Putin should accept that Maskhadov is more moderate and the only guy to talk to. But they have completely gotten rid of this idea."

The brilliance of Ariel Sharon's security wall is that it has made him look like he's tough even as he's acceding to the Palestinian demand for a state. Mr. Putin needs to do something similar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 28, 2004 10:47 PM

From his office in the Kremlin, Mr. Putin can look out at St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, with its eight colorful domes. These represent the turbaned heads of the eight Muslim chieftains who were beheaded after their capture at Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan in 1552.

Russia's leader then was Tsar Ivan the Terrible. What is often forgotten in the West, however, is that the Muslim "khanates" would have been no less cruel to the Russians if they had been the victors.

"We showed weakness, and weak people get beaten."
-- President Vladimir Putin, September 2004.

"To maintain 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation, is terrible for Israel, the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy."
-- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, May 2003.

Seems that the approaches taken by Russia and Israel diverge, not converge. Only one of the two countries can afford to wreak unlimited devastation on its enemies, with only token criticism.

Posted by: Eugene S. at September 29, 2004 2:09 AM

It ain't 1552 anymore.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at September 29, 2004 4:06 AM

But what is the scenario if Russia withdraws? Neither Russia or the US is in a position to do any serious nation building in Chechnya; as usual the UN and Europe will not make any meaningful contribution either. So the most likely result is another failed state where islamofacists will have free reign.

Posted by: Daran at September 29, 2004 5:25 AM


In which case we'll know where to find them and kill them, which is why Islamicism can never win.

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2004 8:27 AM

I don't see Chechnya sinking to the level of Taliban Afghanistan, where the terrorists could operate openly. But I predict that Islam extremists will attack the sizable russian minority. With the crashed economy, there will be plenty of anger and resentment, making escalation and recruitment easier. So we might be looking at another Lebanon or Yugoslavia.
A Chechnya mired in civil war would not be a good haven for an international terrorist group planning attacks on America. But terrorists coordinating with local warlords may very well strike at Russia, which may then force Putin back into Chechnya.
But even in Lebanon and Yugoslavia the people eventually got tired of the fighting. It kind of depends on whether the Chechnyan population is at that point (they certainly have seen enough war already).

Posted by: Daran at September 29, 2004 11:36 AM

The creation of havens serves our interest, because they can't be made safe but do draw in and isolate the extremists.

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2004 12:22 PM

An independent Chechnya as another Afghanistan is exactly what I would expect.

Islam is fungible.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 29, 2004 5:30 PM

And Afghanistan fell in a week once we went after the Taliban. Chechnya would be similar as a worst case scenario--best case it's like Palestine and turns inwards.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2004 8:24 AM

Still falling.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 30, 2004 4:39 PM