The degree to which Russia will participate in the anti-terrorist coalition remains murky at best, with Moscow suggesting it will fall in line only if the U.S. acknowledges its right to fight “terrorism” in separatist Chechnya.
Even though Moscow has publicly stated that “participation in the global anti-terrorist coalition has nothing to do with bargaining,” according to a statement issued by official Russian sources, there is a rather strong caveat.
“What form such cooperation might take … will depend on Russia’s relations with the West” and a “mutual understanding in fighting terrorism,” especially U.S. acceptance of Russian conduct of its war with the rebels in Chechnya.
The remarks were carried by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.
The war with the Chechen separatists is a battle “which Russia can’t see separately from the struggle against international terrorism,” Moscow stated.
Recognition of Moscow’s self-described anti-terrorist role in Chechnya is seen not as a “price,” but a justified acknowledgment of its activities. Moscow denies any desire to exert pressure over issues such as Russia’s foreign debt, or the U.S. proposed anti-ballistic missile defense program.
“Moscow … has a right to wait for the United States to admit that Russia has been fighting terrorism for several years now” in Chechnya, and cooperation with the West “should be based upon unconditioned help to Russia as it fights terrorists in Chechnya,” according to the broadcast.
Observers note that characterizing the Chechen war as only a war against terrorism would give Moscow a free hand in prosecuting the war in the Caucasus republic and deny to the Chechens any basis for a negotiated settlement.
Moscow compared its willingness to assist the West with “Russia’s … participation in the anti-Hitler coalition in the early 1940s.”
The war in Chechnya – a republic within the Russian Federation – has continued for 10 years, costing thousands of lives, displacing thousands and resulting in the devastation of Chechnya.
In April 2001, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights condemned Russia’s conduct in the Chechen war. The resolution was presented by the European Union and was Russia’s second condemnation by the commission on the issue of the manner in which the Chechen war has been prosecuted.
The U.S. State Department recognizes “the indiscriminate use of force by the [Russian] government troops,” which has resulted in “widespread civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands” of Chechens. The U.S. government also stated that there have been “numerous credible reports of human rights abuses and atrocities” committed by Russian forces in Chechnya.
In December 1994, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent troops to bring the separatist Chechen government firmly under Moscow’s control, resulting in a humiliating withdrawal.
In September 1999, Russia again entered into Chechnya. Although the second attempt to subdue the region has been more successful than the first, Russian troops are still encountering significant resistance.
Chechen militants have been associated with terrorist bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities, as well as with an aborted invasion into the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan.
The U.S. has denounced the presence of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization but also recognizes the political significance of the Chechen struggle.
During a briefing on Wednesday, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher stated that the U.S. considers it “very important” for the Chechens to end all ties with Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaida group, and any other terrorist group.
Boucher continued, stating that “there are also legitimate political causes and legitimate political grievances on the Chechen side that need to be addressed through political negotiations.”
After many years of bitter fighting, Chechnya was forcibly annexed into the Russian empire in the mid-19th century. During World War II, the communist dictator Josef Stalin suspected the Chechens of disloyalty and deported the population of the region to Central Asia.
Only in 1957 did the Soviet government allow the Chechens to return.
Russia – more accurately the Soviet Union – joined the “anti-Hitler coalition” during World War II, but only after June 22, 1941, when German forces invaded the USSR.
Until the German attack, Moscow was an ally of Hitler, and Soviet armies joined Nazi forces in the invasion of Poland in 1939.