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A regime we can trust?

By Steve Farrell
web posted November 11, 2002

The pathetic Russian government and its centuries-old disregard for human life continues.

Who but Russia solves a hostage crisis by methodically setting itself up as the grim reaper and mass-executing its own citizens - and for what end but to save pride and to show who's boss?

As it was under communism, so it is under fascist-styled democracy: In Russia, human life means little. Besides 50 Chechen rebels dead (shot in the head, execution style, after the fact), 117 Russian innocents perished, 68 were unaccounted for and another 150-plus found themselves in critical condition, with 646 hospitalized in all.

Let's not trivialize this. The terrorists threatened to kill a bunch of folks if their demands weren't met, but it was the Russians who could have, like any other civilized government, compromised and then taken care of business after the fact, but who chose instead to do the killing themselves through the release of an unmentionable gas, "a special substance," they called it, which was fed through the ventilation system, Auschwitz-style.

Now the U.S. has convinced Russia to call it an opiate - just as we convinced Russia to call its shoot-down of an airliner with 64 Israelis on board last year an accident when, again, they had no explanation.

Yet there were some other unmentionables going on at the theater - perhaps they were accidents too - what some doctors and members of Parliament have denounced as a "strangely inadequate" medical response. The gas assault had been planned for over 24 hours - but, mysteriously, there weren't enough ambulances, enough medical crews, enough beds, and enough antidotes on hand (the soldiers had access, but the civilians did not).

There are so many unanswered questions, and yet nobody seems to want to ask them. Where are the U.N. human rights activists complaining about collateral damage? One possible answer is that this was less about a desperate attempt to save lives and more about power politics, double games and over-the-top pride, and the pro-thug U.N. knows it.

"We found ourselves having to choose between a horrible tragedy, in which all the hostages would die, and a horrible disgrace [in which Putin would have to give in to the rebels]," said Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

"The special forces' operation allowed us to prevent the disgrace and avoid the horrible tragedy," he said.

An interesting perspective. The body count and the horrible way so many died was, somehow, not disgraceful and not horrible.

Vladimir Putin

Prideful Putin, for his part, apologized to the victims' families, but then politicized the event, lumping the people of Chechnya into one nasty group of animals who are "strong and dangerous, inhuman and cruel. ... They have no future," he said.

Terrorists are strong and dangerous, inhuman and cruel, but is every Chechen this way as well?

Yuri N. Maltsev, a former economist on Mikhail Gorbachev's economic reform team, notes:

"The Russian state-run media have depicted the Chechen nation as thugs and bandits responsible for organized crime and street violence in Russia. Russian 'journalist' Yuri Mogutin wrote in the journal Novy Vzglyad (A New Glance) of the Chechen nation 'that it had given the world absolutely nothing except international terrorism and drugs business' and he remarked also 'that any Russian feels towards the Chechens a zoological, genetic, animal hatred.'

"Russian government propaganda [following the best traditions of Soviet indoctrination and employing the same people] was and is trying to portray all Chechens as criminals and fanatics. Chechens are portrayed possessing special 'national' characteristics: 'brutality, sadism, fanaticism and fascism.' Chechens are even accused of 'making Russians drunk by giving them vodka.'"

Putin's own hatred for these people knows no bounds. Addressing his troops in Chechnya earlier, he noted: "We'll find dark-skinned terrorists even in a lavatory and end them there."

Some, on the other hand, believe the "strong and dangerous, inhuman and cruel" and the "brute, sadist, fanatic, fascist" labels are, in fact, correct, but point to the wrong bad guys. Boris Kagarlitsky, writing in the Moscow Times just prior to the Russian-ordered massacre, asked these questions:

"How many people in Chechnya have disappeared without a trace in the past three years? How many cities and villages have been destroyed? How many people have been forced to abandon their homes because life was made unbearable for them? It is the federal army that over the three years: abducted and killed Chechens; systematically pillaged and destroyed peaceful villages; has been terrorizing innocent people. And it is they who bear most of the responsibility for what has now happened. If you are looking for terrorists, you could do worse than to start the search in the Kremlin."

He remembers that little incident of the bombs going off in Moscow apartments, killing 300. It's what brought Putin to power, what created justification for the latest offensive against Chechnya, what brought about a swift decline in human rights in Russia, and yet what has been described by so many analysts inside and outside Russia as an inside job, the work of Putin's KGB (now FSB).

And with that kind of dirty work in mind, it's just not adequate analysis to admit that real-life Islamic terrorists caused this whole incident, without giving consideration to the "double game" communists and "ex"-communists are accused of playing by certain Russian insiders and experts.

Forbes senior editor and historian Paul Klebnikov noted in his book Godfather of the Kremlin that the Yeltsin regime was responsible for the rise of terrorism in Chechnya, "supporting the extremists financially and politically, consequently sowing the seeds of conflict [that caused the first Chechnyan War], and which deliberately undermined the [Chechen] moderates."

"To make the case clearly," adds Russian analyst J.R. Nyquist, "the Kremlin financed the Wahhabi extremists [i.e., commanders Basayev and Khattab] who invaded Dagestan in August 1999 and triggered the Second Chechen War."

Boris Kagarlitsky in a Jan. 24, 2000, article in Novaya Gazeta (quoted by Nyquist), says that among other things, it's all about politics: "Yeltsin's successor had to be anointed. The Russian people had to be rallied behind their new leader. In addition, the Russian General Staff had a special operation in mind, code-named 'Anti-Terror.' In order to execute this operation [which pitted the Russian government against 5,000 bin Laden terrorists based in Chechnya] a spectacular series of outrages had to be organized."

What we possibly have, then, is the exploitation of terrorism to put a man in power, to undermine a legitimate freedom movement in Chechnya, and perhaps one thing more: allowing weapons of mass destruction to slip into the hands of those Russian government-sponsored terrorists to use, not against Russia, but against the United States and perhaps Israel.

It's not impossible - and when the head of your government is the former head of the KGB, it is, in fact, quite probable. Which compels this reviewer to ask whether or not 177 dead in a theater in Moscow was but one more in the "spectacular series of outrages"?

Kagarlisky asks similarly: "How in the world did the terrorists pull off such a large-scale operation in the center of the capital without the support of influential individuals? This is something that comes to mind to anyone who knows about the constant problems from the police experienced in Moscow by people 'of Caucasian extraction.'"

I trust Russia. How about you?

Steve Farrell is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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