Russia: Putin Says Europe Soft On Terrorists
By Breffni O'Rourke
Russian President Vladimir Putin today opened a state visit to the Netherlands, one of Russia's most important trading partners and a senior member of the European Union. In remarks to journalists before his arrival, Putin accused Europeans of being soft on terrorism, with what he called a traditional tendency to appease. Do Putin's comments have merit, or could he be seeking to deflect criticism of Russia's human rights record in Chechnya?
Prague, 1 November, 2005 (RFE/RL) -- President Putin has made unusually frank comments about what he sees as Europe's weaknesses in tackling terrorism.
In an interview appearing today in the Dutch daily "NRC Handelsblad," the Russian president points a finger at EU nations, accusing them of a "traditional tendency" to appease aggressors and extremists and to negotiate with them, in order to be spared violence.
Putin, who began a state visit to the Netherlands today, described such an approach as dangerous and one that has led to many tragedies. He did not give examples of appeasement, whether historical or contemporary, but he may have been thinking in part of Chechen rebels who have received shelter in Europe.
Political analysts, however, see the former KGB functionary’s remarks as an attempt to deflect criticism of Russia's own problems in and around Chechnya.
"That statement [by Putin] doesn't surprise me because the situation in Chechnya of course defines the bottom line of his counterterrorism strategy; his main concern is the situation in Chechnya, and he is trying to find a basis for obtaining support for his policies there," Dick Leurdyk of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations told RFE/RL.
But it isn't easy to draw a comparison. The sheer scale of what is happening in Chechnya goes far beyond the terror attacks Europeans have seen on their own lands -- namely, the Madrid train bombings and the London metro strikes. Together, those attacks killed fewer than 300 people.
By contrast, the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen parliament, Taus Djbrailov, said in August that up to 160,000 people have been killed in the two Chechen wars since 1994, including federal troops, rebel fighters, and civilians. And human rights groups say they view the figures as a gross understatement of the real toll in Chechnya.
French activist and philosopher Andre Glucksmann, speaking to RFE/RL in Prague last month, said the Chechen conflict cannot be compared with any other conflict in Eurasia since World War II. "You don't often see a situation where an army razes a city of 400,000 people such as Grozny [the Chechen capital]," he said. "The last time this happened to a European army -- and I think it was the last time in the world -- was in 1944, when Hitler razed Warsaw."
The Russian conduct of the Chechen wars was a focus of criticism by human rights groups and governments before the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington. But since then, Moscow has sought to portray the Chechen resistance as a purely terrorist action with no political legitimacy.
In his Dutch interview, Putin reiterated what he called the West’s "double standards" when it comes to terrorism. Putin says the West has no grounds to criticize Russia for fighting terrorism when the West is -- or should be - adopting the same tough policies.
As to Europe being soft on terror, analyst Leurdyk said the EU is vulnerable to such criticism because the 25-nation bloc has yet to adopt a common policy on combating terrorism. Counterterrorist policies are still being formulated at the national level.
"It takes time to come forward with a unified antiterrorism strategy, but this is the price for having our European Union functioning as it does; if you want to come forward with a common policy, then you need time. And this is something Putin does not like to see," Leurdyk said.
Apart from the terror issue, the Russian leader will be meeting with Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and other Dutch officials to discuss improving trade. The Netherlands, an economic powerhouse for its size, is Russia's second biggest trade partner, after Germany. Putin will also meet Queen Beatrix.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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