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September 7, 2004
Are We Encouraging Chechen Terrorists?

Vladimir Putin, obviously angry from the massacre in Beslan that left hundreds of children dead at the hands of militant Islamists, lashed out at both the European Union and at the US for refusing to take the Chechen insurgents seriously as terrorists rather than freedom fighters. Regarding American policy, Putin charged that the US encourages the ongoing rebellion by maintaining diplomatic ties to the insurgents:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that mid-level officials in the U.S. government were undermining his country's war on terrorism by supporting Chechen separatists, whom he compared to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. ... But Putin said each time Russia complained to the Bush administration about meetings held between U.S. officials and Chechen separatist representatives, the U.S. response has been "we'll get back to you" or "we reserve the right to talk with anyone we want."

Putin blamed what he called a "Cold War mentality" on the part of some U.S. officials, but likened their demands that Russia negotiate with the Chechen separatists to the U.S. talking to al Qaeda.

These are not "freedom fighters," Putin said. "Would you talk with Osama Bin Laden?" he asked.

I understand the need to walk a fine line with Russia, especially since the promise of a true democracy has faded there since Putin took power. Russia has moved backwards towards autocracy, with far too much power accumulated at the presidency. In fact, in the reaction to Beslan, Putin has acted swiftly to muzzle the media, having the editor of Izvestia dismissed, and rumor even has it that one journalist was poisoned for her critical reporting on Russian policies:

Alarm bells are ringing in Russian media circles after the alleged poisoning of Anna Politkovskaya, one of the most outspoken critics of Vladimir Putin's policy on Chechnya, and the apparent sacking of the editor of Izvestia today. Politkovskaya, who writes for the current affairs magazine Novaya Gazeta, was on her way to the siege in Beslan from Moscow when she collapsed mysteriously.

According to the Moscow Times today, "Politkovskaya was flying from Vnukovo Airport to Rostov-on-Don and fainted on the plane. Immediately after landing, she was taken to a local hospital, where doctors found she had been poisoned, Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists."

Even given all that, if the US is conducting talks with Chechen separatists and giving them asylum, then we need an explanation why we want to negotiate with the same terrorists who held a theater full of hostages in 2002 (129 died in the botched rescue attempt) and the child-killers of Beslan. It seems at least a little inconsistent with our policy of non-negotiation with al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups. (Then again, so does our policy of negotiation with the Palestinian Authority.) If the Chechens have a legitimate right to rebel against outside oppression, then surely they would choose a different battleground than elementary schools and theaters. Their target selection reveals them to be no better than Osama and his goons, and we should adjust our foreign policy to reflect this.

The Europeans, at least, have the virtue of consistency in their push to surrender to Islamist aggression:

The European Union expressed solidarity with Russia on Monday, trying to defuse a row after Moscow reacted angrily to a request by the Dutch EU presidency for an explanation for the carnage at Beslan.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin qualified this, telling a radio debate France wanted to express solidarity "but also we want to have all the necessary information and we remind Russia every time we meet of the need to respect human rights."

You have to love the EU, demanding that Russia "explain" the carnage caused by terrorists while the families are still burying their dead children. Did they demand that the US "explain" the devastation of 9/11? Probably not, but I wouldn't put it past them.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 7, 2004 5:51 AM

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