International Terrorism and the Crisis in Chechnya: A Russian Perspective

 Today Russians and Americans have a common, insidious and ever-present enemy.

 Today Russians and Americans have a common, insidious and ever-present enemy.  Its name is "international terrorism."  International terrorism is increasingly becoming a factor in global politics.  Unfortunately, no one, and no place, is safe from acts of terror.  International terrorism is like the fabled hydra; a new head promptly replaces one that has been cut off.  This does not mean, however, that we should fold our hands and give up the fight.  Even from an event as tragic as September 11, lessons can be learned and specific measures taken.

The first is that combating global terrorism requires the highest possible consolidation of the will and the forces of all members of the international community.  The second is a repudiation of any attempts to distinguish between "good" and "bad" terrorists--all terrorists are tarred with the same brush.  Finally, there must be a recognition of the plain truth that the terrorist threat--no matter from where it originates, whether from Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Philippines or Pakistan--threatens all of us. 

In September 2001, Ari Fleischer, press secretary for President Bush, said: "There is no question that there is an international terrorist presence in Chechnya that has links to Osama bin Laden."  Fleischer was the first person from the Bush Administration to publicly acknowledge that fact.

Since then, the American press has publicized additional facts detailing the connection between Chechnya and Osama bin Laden and the forces of international terrorism.  Five of the nineteen terrorists who hijacked the American aircraft on September 11 had previously fought in Chechnya. 

 The "Benevolence International Foundation" and the "Global Relief Foundation" are among the so-called "charitable" organizations whose accounts in the United States were frozen for supporting terrorists, including in Chechnya.   Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Morrocan origin, arrested in the United States and charged with involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks, had recruited gunmen to fight in Chechnya.  One of those recruited, Xavier Jaffot, had been trained in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before departing to Chechnya, where he was killed in April 2000.

Recently, in London, terrorists were detained and ricin, a toxic agent, discovered in their possession.  Ricin is one of the most potent poisons available.  Even a small amount is capable of killing many, and there is no known antidote.  Now, reports from the secret services have indicated that these terrorists had been trained in an Al-Qaeda facility located in the Pankisi gorge.  Although the Georgian authorities previously denied the existence of terrorist bases in the gorge, they today acknowledge that a bin Laden confidant, Abu Harsi, operated home laboratories in Pankisi.  Now, the Georgians claim that such facilities have become "a thing of the past," that training camps for the Chechen gunmen did operate--but only up to February 2002.  I do not think, however, that we can be so optimistic.  Pankisi still requires the attention of the international community; it cannot be solved by one or two police operations, no matter how successful these sweeps have been declared.

We have to recognize that international terrorism is using the fight for the "independence" of Chechnya as cover for pursuing goals that have nothing in common with the aspirations of the Chechen people. The true purpose of the international terrorist network has to detach the Northern Caucasus from the Russian Federation and to create an Islamic state stretching from the Caspian to the Black Sea, as a stepping-stone for an eventual world caliphate.

Those who live in Chechnya itself also have begun to understand better the true intentions of the terrorists, especially at this time when the process of trying to restore the political, economic and social infrastructure of the Chechen republic has intensified.  Threatened by the possibility that  life may return to normal, the terrorists undertook a major terrorist attack on December 27, right before the New Year celebrations, when bandits blew up the building housing the republic's government.

The question is often posed as to why Russian Federation authorities will not come to the negotiating table to meet with the leaders of the Chechen separatists; after all, everyone knows that a "bad peace" is preferable to a "good quarrel."  Indeed, negotiations often lead to a final settlement.  The question for us is this; with whom are we to negotiate, and over what?

After all, we already have a track record with Aslan Maskhadov--and nothing good came of the results.  In 1996, you may recall, the Khasavyurt agreement was signed, and Chechnya became, de facto, independent.  First and foremost, it was the Chechen people who lost.  The agreement paved the way for disorder and lawlessness.  Certainly, those Chechens who had worked with Russia and opposed the separatists were grievously affected; many so-called "collaborators" were beheaded.  The activities of the various warlords, whom Maskhadov was unable to control, led to the further death of thousands and widespread destruction.   All of the reconstruction funds earmarked from the Russian Federal budget for Chechnya were diverted to purchase weapons, while the overwhelming majority of the population were driven to extreme poverty. 

The final denoument of the Khasavyurt disgrace came in 1999 when groups of militants attacked the neighboring republic of Dagestan, with the intent to tear this republic--and the entire Northern Caucasus--out from the Russian Federation.  At this point, Vladimir Putin made it clear that there would be no more Khasavyurts.  The Russian president strongly believes that, due to its own weakness and culpibility, the Federal government left the Chechens to their fate in 1999; as he put it, "Russia's state machinery failed to work."