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In spring 2000, when the second Chechen campaign reached its peak, The Christian Science Monitor carried a contribution, headed "Media Bias on Chechnya", and co-authored by Robert Bruce Ware and Ira Straus. It was not to everyone's liking. Objections rose in the West, Russia and Chechnya at once in rare unanimity.

Robert Bruce Ware, a scholar of the University of South Illinois, has an experience of Caucasian research. Ira Straus, US coordinator of the NATO committee for Eastern Europe and Russia, taught political sciences and history of international relations in several Moscow institutions of higher learning, 1997-98, on a Fulbright Foundation research exchange programme.

Their long article can be gisted as follows: Russians are violating human rights in the Caucasus as they make war on Chechens, who are bogged down in banditry and slave traffic, while the Western-based media are blatantly lying as they highlight evil done by Russia and turn a blind eye to Chechnya's.

It is hard to say with which of the two the authors are dealing the tougher. As they point out, the lawless and war-stricken area Chechnya is now, the bulk of its revenues come from ransom-hunting, car thefts, and oil regularly pumped out of pipelines on the secret. That has been so ever since 1996, when the republic won over de facto independence from Russia.

Kidnappings forced all international charities and rights organisations give up activities in Chechnya by the end of 1997. Not only Westerners were kidnapped. More than 1,300 Russian nationals--men, women and children, Christians and Muslims, fair northerners and swarthy southerners--were languishing in appalling conditions, locked in cellars all over Chechnya.

Despite all that, Russia brought back its troops and artillery to Chechnya only after Islamic militants based there invaded Daghestan, a republic in the Russian south. Their raids took more than 1,500 lives, and left 32,000 homeless. Many of those unfortunate people have no roof over their head to this day.

As Messrs. Ware and Straus conclude, the West is naive in its conviction that the Caucasus is stranded at a crossroads between human rights and their abuse by Russia in Chechnya. As things really are, the choice is to be made between current abuses by Russians and mass abuses by Chechen groupings in Daghestan and other areas bordering on Chechnya. If Russia fails to reinstate law and order in Chechnya, torture and death will again be the lot of its neighbours. That is how local people see the situation. The West's view is quite different, and its media painstakingly uphold it in defiance of Russian opinions. As the result, the West every day gets its expected portion of information about air raids and human tragedies. Yet the West remains ignorant of the war in a wider context, with all its controversies.

This is what we are intending to do--present that broader context.

Though its references to rights abused may be unpleasant to Russia, this is one of the few professional Western analyses of developments in and round Chechnya. With an extensive coverage of Russian shellings and Chechen refugees' plight, Western newsmen all too often avoid an answer to an essential question: what's the point of Russian shooting in Chechnya? Then, the demand to protect civilians with warfare on is quite lawful and appropriate--provided certain points are honestly agreed upon from the start. Thus, we have to admit that history does not know a single war, which would not trample on human rights. Even the latest Western arms, with their precision homing, took many civilian lives in Yugoslavia. Missiles struck even legations and neighbouring countries. Innocent victims are inevitable in present-day warfare. War is a dirty job whoever might wage it and in what cause. Losses can only be brought to the smallest possible.

It all depends on whether political and military leaders want to do it at all, and whether they can cope.

The current generation of Russian politicians and military experts certainly want to comply with human rights. They proceed from the universally accepted international law in what they do in post-Soviet territories. As to the ability to comply with rights, this matter is far more complicated. All too often, the available political, economic and military means are not enough to implement the best of intentions. Thus, we Russians are willing to reform our judiciary and penitentiary arrangements, and spectacularly improve social welfare, but cannot afford it. Desires and opportunities not always come together--we can cite examples galore. Same about Chechnya.

Here, too, we must first agree on the core of the matter round which arguments go on. Russia may be justly criticised for what it can but would not do, while it is pointless to make prejudiced reproaches to it on what it is willing to but cannot for now correct. If the West does not proceed in the debates from those elementary points, we can conclude that it really does not intend to solve humanitarian issues but is pursuing its political ends. They, too, may come under discussion, but this will revolve round geopolitics, petroleum and dollars, rather than man.

As any other mass of problems and contradictions, the Chechen situation has to be analysed starting from its most spectacular manifestations-air raids and shellings, which the Western press was amply covering. This might not be the surest way, but we cannot help it when observers of the European Parliament and other authoritative international organisations are preoccupied with what shoots and where the shots get to pay far slighter attention to why the shooting started and who is to blame.

Grozny has been a Russian-populated city since its inception as a fortress in General Yermolov's time. Now that its wartime panorama strikes impressionable Westerners with a liking to the eerie cityscapes of Stalingrad during World War II, it speaks not so much of alleged masochism, which makes Russians destroy their own city complete with residents as of bitter fighting. Russian troops took Grozny by storm twice within a few years. Both times, facing them was not a gang of terrorists but troops many thousand-strong. The last years made the city a formidable fortified area, defended by paramilitaries with huge arsenals of the latest firearms, mortars, grenade-throwers, tanks, APCs and Stingers.

That was only to be expected. Among the documents collected here is detailed testimony to Chechen efforts, started by General Dudayev, to establish a full-fledged army whose many commissioned officers went through fine schooling in the Soviet Union's best military academies. Jokhar Dudayev and Aslan Maskhadov, his successor and previously Chechen army chief-of-staff, both had made enviable career in the Soviet Army. Ironically, waging the war on both sides were representatives of the same military school - one of the world's best. Standing by the Chechen army were many warlords whose units were reinforced by mercenaries of many nations, trained in terrorist bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya itself.

Naive in this context is advice coming from rights activists in Russia and other countries to limit efforts against Chechen terrorism and separatism to small-scale operations. Life never follows the patterns of Hollywood blockbusters about miracle-working commandos - and even those movies are about rescuing several hostages not liberating a vast area.

Russian secret services made a good many successful anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya within a few years--suffice it to mention the seizure of Salman Raduyev, one of the most dangerous terrorists, who was snatched from under the nose of his numerous bodyguards within a single shot made, and brought to Moscow. But a great military force was concentrated in Chechnya, and it was no use fighting it without the army and massive air raids and artillery shellings.

Here is just one tragic instance. A whole Russian airborne company was massacred in the Argun Gorge in spring 2000 in an attempt to block the road of paramilitaries breaking out of an encirclement. There were 90 paratroopers against twenty times as many enemies, half of them expat mercenaries. 84 paratroopers and close on 400 paramilitaries died in battle. The enemy did not break through. Bad weather was largely to blame for the massacred company as it ruled out timely fire and air support. The company commander called for fire the last instant, when it was a hand-to-hand affair. The tragic episode clearly shows how bitter Chechen fighting is, and what casualties federal troops would suffer if they had not used all firepower at their disposal.

At the same time, the ruins of Grozny and the heroic battle of the Argun Gorge, where latter-day all-weather military technology was lacking, show how many opportunities the Russian army let slip within the trying reform years. The latest weapons, whose shortage is felt more acutely with every passing day, would make army and civilian victims far fewer in Chechnya.

The Russian military-industrial complex possesses top-notch R&D, often superior to Western, point out experts. Russia's economic crisis, however, makes mass production unaffordable. These problems will be solved as the country copes with its economic problems. Meanwhile, Russia makes do with what it has. So we cannot reproach our artillerymen on lack of marksmanship after the many instances on which NATO troops missed their targets in Yugoslavia.

Then, civilian and federal army losses would be much less if not for open overseas aid to Chechen separatists with money, arsenals and mercenaries. Here are hard facts. Many organisations sponsoring Chechen paramilitaries are legal not only in Muslim countries but in the West, which has efforts against international terrorism on the list of top political priorities. The Supreme Islamic Council of America, for one, determined on urgent assistance to Chechen paramilitaries and appealed to every Muslim US resident to donate a hundred dollars.

It is rather easy to calculate the number of automatics and missiles to be bought thanks to that collection, and for how many soldier and civilian deaths Americans will be to blame.

Recruiting and money collecting centres are very active - putting it mildly - in the peaceful and respectable Great Britain. On one occasion, a police officer was complacently walking to and fro as extremists were battering several Russian reporters in the street.

The West overlooked the emergence of an alarming trend. The Cold War years, when an ideological confrontation with Moscow was on, made it quite sufficient to tell the truth. To bring it down to the Soviet people-in-the-street was the biggest problem. Current information argument with New Russia is quite different. The West recurs time and again to the tricks of Soviet propaganda-mongers of old, now failing to mention certain facts, now using dirty foreign political technologies in information. New Russia, on the contrary, no longer needs lies on the Chechen and any other issue. To bring information down to Western people-in-the-street is its biggest problem now. So the situation is in direct contrast to what the world had several decades ago.

Orders to spare soldier and civilian lives came more than once from the Russian political and military top, clashing with another order, to route paramilitary forces. As war always has it, every battle has its specific situation, and places accents according to it. Many Chechen urban and rural settlements, including Gudermes, the republic's second-largest city, were liberated without fighting--with not a single window shattered--after negotiations with local authorities. Contrasting to it was the plight of the village Komsomolskoye, where a paramilitary force was stationed under the command of warlord Gelayev, with a criminal record for rape. They had two-tier concrete fortifications under every village house, linked with underground passages, and so could afford bitter resistance. Over a hundred surrendered after two weeks in battle, during which the village was razed to the ground by air raids and artillery fire. Gudermes and Komsomolskoye are both true instances of the latest Chechen war--a war, which owes to the federal top the inapt name of "antiterrorist operation"--true as far as the goal goes, and a blatant understatement concerning the scale of fighting.

New democratic Russia never attempted to conceal the Chechen events from the world. That is why it has the right for their objective coverage. In particular, overseas observers ought to think just why the Russian army had twice, within the last decade, to enter the republic for sanguinary fighting - in 1995-96 and 1999-2000. The current transition period put Russia before a lot of baffling political and economic problems as it was shifting from totalitarianism to democracy and making strides from a planned economy into the free market. Why, then, did the Kremlin make exorbitant spendings and channel tremendous efforts to Chechnya?

The answer is no less important than any other - or, probably more important - with reference to rights.

As we see it, the selection of documents we are offering provides this answer with a detailed picture of what was taking place in Chechnya after the Soviet Union collapsed and General Jokhar Dudayev established his regime, of abortive talks between the federal centre and separatists, and the first military operation.

Also in our selection are documents signed by federal and Chechen negotiators in Khasavyurt, 1996, which granted to Chechnya de facto independence. Their signing and an ensuing federal pullout had a variety of public responses, some of them clashing with each other. The first Chechen campaign was not popular. Many deemed it necessary to grant Chechnya secession after the USSR fell apart. It was hard to foresee the results of secession--who would come to the top, and what they would bring to the south of European Russia, bordering on the republic, and to the whole country, for that matter. Even today, certain Russians are saying that the first Chechen war was lost by politicians not soldiers, and that the federal pullout was a downright crime. As we see it, Vladimir Putin, Russia's new president, was more precise to describe it as a "big bungle".

True, the army left Chechnya reluctantly to fulfil political leader's assignment according to the constitution. But then, the assignment was put according to the choice of Russia's public majority and following rights organisations' appeal. Opponents of the pullout from a powder-keg area did not find sufficient proof of their point, and lost the information war round Chechnya to their opponents.

As Russia was letting Chechnya go, it never cared to analyse Western and other foreign experience - alas! We know from recent history the hardships and hazards, which arise even when colonies break away from a centre divided from them by oceans. Secession cannot go at one fell swoop, without firm guarantees of each party's interests and the rights of citizens to both sides of the newly arisen barrier. Last but not least, the centre must be sure that the new country is at all viable. It would be all the more irresponsible to let Chechnya go at once in a painful thrust. Even if we consider it not a part and parcel of Russia but an unwelcome, even painful inclusion, the matter required patience and circumspection. Naturally, Russians who had spent their entire life in the Caucasus, and thousands of Chechens who had felt indissolubly linked with Russia said the federal top was betraying them.

We see many things in a different light now. At that time, emotion was prevailing over reason. Even worldly-wise men and women had a distorted view of Chechnya. Sergei Kovalev, famous rights partisan, was referring as "a kind of Robin Hood" to none other than Shamil Basayev, one of the most cynical Chechen terrorists. The motto of Chechen independence misled many Russians. Movladi Udugov, one of Chechnya's foremost ideologists, became a household figure as he was appearing on the television every day to advertise the Chechen cause and promising to Russia the closest possible friendly contacts with an independent Chechnya. Now, Sergei Kovalev is saying that the Chechen civil society is in an embryonic state, and brands Chechen rights partisans as cowards who do not dare to speak up against slave traffic prospering under their noses. After Grozny was liberated, a hostage prison was found in Movladi Udugov's home, complete with a torture chamber with its hair-raising tools, and cells with blood-stained floors and tiny crosses on the walls, the inmates' makeshift calendar.

Chechnya gained complete independence, though only de facto. A majority of Russians recognised Chechens' right to live as they wish. Federal laws were no longer valid in the breakaway republic, and federal soldiers were pulled out. Chechnya elected Aslan Maskhadov president and starting living on its own. The federal centre, in its turn, still considered it a constituent entity and regularly made sizable allocations for pensions, salaries and social grants.

When federal arrangements were reinstated in Chechnya in 2000, federal officers found upon return closed-down schools, and teachers and pensioners who had not got a kopeck throughout the last four years. The allocations had been pilfered down to the last rouble.

As the Khasavyurt agreement had it, Chechnya's legal status was to be finally determined by the year 2001, with many persistent differences. The republic demanded full independence and a respective legal footing for secession, while Russia was willing to grant it the most extensive possible autonomy - but only within the federation. The matters were to come up at the negotiation table. Another war flared up instead toward the end of 1999.

Chechens proved they could not cope with independence. Russian analysts are all but unanimous on that point. Several years of independence did not bring even an embryo of the civil society, a republic-wide ruling structure, working laws, and an economic basis for progress--if we do not consider the gang law and a thief-ridden economy.

True, an ideology emerged. The West thinks it was based on the freedom drive. Russia mostly preferred another word, separatism. We do not think it was that simple. Independence drive is a noble thing, and cannot go together with salve and drug traffic, banditry and counterfeit money. So the sublime drive was working as a mere motto to entice starry-eyed idealists, and only for a time.

The term "separatism" is more apt in the situation. At any rate, it reflects the drama of the developments, and the ease with which separatism degenerates into extremism. In this, Chechnya outran many. But even this is only part of the truth. Separatism demands secession not aggressive expansion, which was the case in Chechnya. As we know now, Daghestani aggression was mere part of megalomaniac schemes for an all-Caucasian, and possibly even more extensive Muslim fundamentalist enclave--suffice it to mention Chechen paramilitaries' close contacts with Islamic Warriors of the Crimea. So, not Russia alone was prospective target of expansion.

It takes all kinds to make a separatist ideology. Chechen extremist ideology proceeded from racism. In particular, it was single-mindedly instigating hatred of Russians. The statute of the ad hoc judicial board of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Clause 2, alleges that Russia proceeds in its nationalities, domestic and foreign policies from Russism, to which it gives the following definition: "Russism is a peculiar form of man-hating ideology based on Great Power chauvinism, utter lack of spirituality, and immorality. It differs from the known forms of fascism, racism and nazism for its extraordinary cruelty to man, nature and the Maker. It proceeds from scorched earth tactics, aiming to kill all and sundry, and is notable for a schizophrenic mania of global domination. With a slavish mentality, it parasitises on falsified history and on territories and nations which became victim to its expansion. Characterising Russism is permanent political, legal and ideological terrorism."

Chechen racist ideologists loved to repeat Hegel's precept on the Caucasian race, which alone grants to the Spirit as absolute identity with itself; the only in which the Spirit is perfectly contrasted to Nature to know itself and its absolute independence. World history starts its progress with the Caucasian race.

Great Nietzsche never thought Hitler would be using his works. Great Hegel never thought Movladi Udugov and other Chechen extremist ideologists would be treating him as their sworn brother. No comments.

Indicatively, as they were proceeding from the ideas of the German philosopher, Chechen ideologists never noticed--out of sheer ignorance or for the sake of sublime goals--what was meant by the term "Caucasian race" in Hegel's time. Also known as Mediterranean, that race comprised, apart from the mountain folk of Chechnya, Russians, Jews, Germans, Gypsies, and many many else. Many nations left outside it were none the worse for it, whatever Herr Hegel might have said.

All those dubitable hypotheses could satisfy only the few highbrows from among Chechen ideologists. Their racialist philosophy was simplified more and more as it travelled down to the people-in-the-street to boil down to catchphrases simple enough to appeal to every shepherd. They were written everywhere, for instance: "We are high in the mountains. The Lord is above us, billygoats below"--meaning Russians and other non-Wainakhs, i.e. Untermenschen.

As history proved more than once, an ideology of that kind usually boomerangs to strike its carriers. Chechnya was no exception. History's watch was going backwards there. That is an opinion shared by all analysts, irrespective of political siding. This is what Chechens themselves point out: clan identity was receding into the background in the Soviet years, while independence replaced socialism with a tribal arrangement. "Whose you are now matters more than what you are once again in Chechnya as the ethnic has eaten up the social without giving birth to the personal, and capitalism is receding ever farther," remarked an expert.

Close to nature as it was, as we know from our historical sketch, Chechnya made an U-turn and got back to highland woods. It had every material token of civilisation--warlords' cellular phones, propaganda websites on the Internet, paramilitaries dashing to and fro across the Grozny reservoir on waterbikes - yet it was travelling back to the jungle law, which determines a man's right not by common sense but by his wish and might, as Spinoza noted in his time referring to what he termed "natural law". Really, might is right.

As he analysed human conduct based on the natural law, the renowned philosopher said: They live guided by their wish alone for Mother Nature has not given them anything else and refused them the chance to live according to common sense. So they cannot follow its laws just as a cat cannot follow the laws of a lion's nature. So, if we regard man as acting at the bidding of nature alone, he feels justified to take whatever he deems good to himself - whether following his reason or turbulent passions, and he takes it by force, or subterfuge, or by begging, and he regards as an enemy everyone who dares to counter him.

The natural law appears unnatural in the 21st century, and not all were anxious to relapse into it. Over 200,000 Russians and 600,000 Chechens fled the republic throughout its independence years - two thirds of the population. Many thousands of Russians and Chechens could not leave because they had no money, no relations in Russia to stay with, etc., etc. They became the most endangered hostages of separatism. That is why we can say without exaggerating that federal soldiers came to Chechnya as liberators. They not merely eradicate terrorism and slave traffic but free Chechens of the Neolithic laws imposed on them by bandits.

Law and order are inconceivable without federal power to back them, says Mufti Akhmed-Khadzhi Kadyrov, Chechen Muslim leader. He knows what he says as he did not emigrate and was with his flock through thick and thin.

"Maskhadov is an objective reality we do not feel. He was at the helm for three years, and he did not answer the following questions: 'To be or not to be Chechen president? To be or not to be national leader?' The community, which elected him, has since then dispersed throughout Russia, other post-Soviet republics, and other countries. Only big-time gangsters are staying with him," wrote Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Now, the answer is clear: not to be.

In Lenin's time, Bolsheviks discussed in all seriousness whether a cook could make a state leader. Aslan Maskhadov proved in deed that even a former chief-of-staff would not cope. He soon disappointed his Chechen admirers who had hoped that he would start normal contacts with Russia, bridle crime and make Chechnya's natural riches serve the people. All who could fled to Russia while the going was good.

Moscow was also once pinning hopes on Maskhadov. Many saw him as one of Chechnya's most reasonable political leaders. He was known in the Kremlin as a difficult but acceptable partner at the negotiation table. Moscow heaved a sigh of relief with his narrow election victory over notorious Shamil Basayev. Here, too, disappointment came even with his first steps as president.

He revealed an utter dependence on warlords and inability to make independent decisions. War heroes usurped all high offices though they were ignorant of high politics. They compensated for it with underhand enterprise. Chechnya was soon a vast network of primitive illegal oil-processing factories. Schools started drug laboratories to generously send their produce to Russia with counterfeit dollars. Russia reciprocated with a flood of hostages and stolen cash.

Also exported from Chechnya were footages of tortures and beheadings. Many received such cassettes in Russia and the West--kidnapped people's relations were intimidated to ransom out their near and dear. Wide acclaim was received by the tragedy of three English and a New Zealand engineers, all beheaded, and of six murdered Red Cross doctors. Thousands of gory tragedies stayed unknown.

Maskhadov's regime became known as downright criminal. The widely advertised introduction of the Shariah law court failed to bridle crime but made Chechnya's popularity shrink abroad. Not a single Shariah verdict concerned VIPs, however closely they were involved in kidnappings, tortures and murders. Arbi Barayev, Chechnya's richest slave-trader, was ordered to swear innocence on the Koran, and left the court acquitted.

The president never lifted a finger to protect nationals and expats from the violence of criminals, his recent comrades-in-arms. All too often, Maskhadov looked rather like a hostage tied hand and foot than a president. A valiant soldier, he made a helpless and cowardly politician.

Crimes were perpetrated by his men under his very nose. Vice-President Vakha Arsanov, one of the first to be caught red-handed in kidnappings, went off unscathed to become one of the president's worst enemies.

Terrorist and drug-trafficker Shamil Basayev was appointed customs chief--imagine Al Capone as chief of the Chicago police under Prohibition. To the day of his appointment, Basayev had on his record a summary execution of refugees from Abkhazia near Gagry during the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, autumn 1993, and hostage-taking in Budennovsk, 1995.

Other appointments were no better.

Whatever moves on the Chechen top in Dudayev's and Maskhadov's time were illegal as clashing with the federal constitution. Even if we leave that out, his presidency did not make him true national leader--largely through his own weakness and even more for objective reasons.

During his presidency, Chechnya fell into warlords' influence zones, on which he had no influence to speak of. Chaos was raging in Chechen politics with several National Assemblies, each representing a political trend, and all opposed to Maskhadov to varying extends. The Shari'a court was acting as if it was unaware of the country's president.

Maskhadov was trying to rule a country where every clan chieftain ex officio had more power than the president - and there are 130 clans in Chechnya. So Maskhadov was doomed to be outside even the top hundred for public ratings.

The degree of clan autonomy can well be illustrated by the following: the Chinkhoi, one of the richest clans, held a gathering, summer 1999, to declare independence within its lands. The Ghenderchenoi, the Peshkhoi, the Nashkhoi and some other clans soon followed.

Then, there is a contradictory Muslim factor, with extremely influential leaders of mutually clashing religious trends.

Last but not least, there is a Chechen diaspora all over Russia, much more numerous than Chechens in Chechnya.

All told, we can say that Maskhadov was president only in his office.

Accustomed to normal political developments, the West thinks that Russia is to contact Maskhadov merely because he won an election - a pattern, which does not work in Chechnya. Caucasian rules of the game utterly differ from European.

Daghestanis and other Caucasian neighbours gave up Maskhadov as hopeless after he did not deign even to get Daghestani leaders on the phone after Basayev's and KKhattab's gangs invaded the republic from Chechnya. It was a mixed force of Chechens, Daghestani Wahhabites and overseas mercenaries. Warlord Khattab is of Jordanian extraction. Forty Arab volunteers died in the Daghestani warfare, wrote the Kuwaiti-based paper, Al Shark al-Ausat.

The aggression was paid by Osama bin Laden, the world's most notorious terrorist for today. He gave US$30 million to Basayev and Khattab, report Russian secret services. According to American and other information, Osama bin Laden visited Chechnya on several occasions and spent a week in the Serzhen-Yurt terrorist training camp.

Famous Caucasian politeness demanded that Maskhadov talk the matter over with Daghestanis. He never did.

Residential house blasts in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk killed and injured a total 1,500. Maskhadov promptly accused the Russian top--even as detectives were following a clear Chechen track. Later on, during Chechen warfare, explosives and timers were found in a fertiliser factory in Urus-Martan to deal yet another blow on Maskhadov as politician.

A new introduction of a federal contingent to Chechnya was inevitable. Aggression against Daghestan, house blasts in Russia, and Maskhadov's impotence against terrorists and slave-traders convinced the Russian top and public that there was no more chance for peaceful settlement.

The first Chechen campaign was possibly the most unpopular of all wars waged by Russia in the 20th century. The second had extensive public support--even despite casualties. Russians saw now there was no other way to stop crime. In an opinion poll of March 2000 on the Chechen campaign, 34% of Muscovites fully solidarised with the government, while 41% were demanding more resolute action. A mere 15% spoke for a pullout. The rest of Russia shared the mood. It realised it was wrong about Chechnya in 1996.

Russia had been amazingly tolerant of bandits as they were raping women and kidnapping children, Christian priests, federal presidential envoys and Interior Ministry bigwigs. Russia was tolerating it all with Christian humility out of a sense of guilt it developed with the first Chechen campaign.

Independent Chechnya did everything to make Russians change their mind and get cured of their guilt complex.

Maskhadov let slip his last chance of political survival at the very start of the second campaign. He could leave Grozny, join federal troops and help them to track down bandits and slave-traffickers. The president chose to flee to the mountains with the terrorists Basayev, Raduyev and Khattab, slave-trader Barayev and other dark characters, and appealed to the nation for more terror acts. A king for a day, he became a nonentity even the day he was inaugurated.

Russians often say with indignation that the West is attempting to make them meet bandits at the negotiation table. Experts who try to convince Russians to do that do not have exhaustive information about Chechnya. Even though President Maskhadov is criminally liable for complicity with terrorists, even a dark character can make a negotiator if he has political weight. Maskhadov has none. That is why he will be out of place in negotiations.

Knut Wollebeck, Norway's Foreign Minister and recent OSCE chairman, was trying to start secret correspondence with Maskhadov. Moscow-based analysts merely smirked at him.

The West is duly alarmed with Chechen developments. That is understandable when it concerns human rights, rather than geopolitical self-interest. We Russians are baffled at only one thing: why are they convincing us to help Chechen refugees when we are doing everything we can for them, and we are grateful for humanitarian support.

Russia does not conceal Chechen events, and allows overseas observers to see it all. 550 foreign journalists are accredited in Chechnya, to say nothing of delegations flocking there like tourists to Cannes. One delegation was numerous enough to need two Boeings to come to Moscow. Russia never bangs its door on anyone though well aware that present Chechen developments will hardly please delegates. There is no hope they will see what's what within a mere few days-- Chechens have been baffled with their own land for centuries.

No need to call Russia with zeal and ardour to start talks with Chechnya. Russia is interested in such talks far more than the European Parliament and all rights partisans-- after all, Chechens and Russians' neighbours.

Moscow has been for a long time engaged in painstaking analyses of the Chechen situation. Spokesmen of the Chechen diaspora were received in the Kremlin on a number of occasions, just as Chechen elders, members of the clergy, and mayors and governors of liberated areas.

Desolate and disintegrated, Chechnya is to be taken out of a horrible crisis. A search is on for influential, competent and reliable leaders to help it and get to the negotiation table. Moscow is willing to come to it, and does not need to be prompted.





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