Sep 9th 2004 From The Economist print edition
Nobody should excuse what happened in Beslan—but Chechnya still needs a solution
“THEY have declared war on us,” said one Russian television anchorman as he began his report on the massacre in Beslan. And indeed, the terrorists who devastated a school and its hostages on September 3rd wrought carnage of proportions usually seen only in wartime: the death toll, in what is only a small town, may exceed 500.
Even wars are rarely this cruel. They have rules, sort of, one of which is to avoid harming civilians where possible, and especially children. The terrorists in Beslan deliberately went for the most innocent and defenceless targets; they timed their attack, on the first day of the school year, to catch the maximum number; they tortured their small captives by refusing them all food and water; and when one of the explosives they had rigged in the school gymnasium went off, apparently by accident, they shot fleeing hostages in the back before blowing the building apart. If this were war, such bestial, inhuman acts would richly deserve the name of war crimes.
Errors and omissions
The world should recognise and affirm that. Yet it is also important to draw other lessons from Beslan. One is that the Russian security forces made mistakes that may have cost many lives. They had not established how many hostages or terrorists there were, they did too little to secure the area and bring in emergency services, they even allowed armed civilians to join the siege. That may have forced their hand when the terrorist bomb exploded (see article).
Just a week earlier, the blowing-up of two Russian airliners by suicide bombers had made little difference to government policies or to Russians' lives, besides a perfunctory increase in identity checks on passengers arriving at Moscow airports from the south of Russia. Beslan, however, has shaken the country's leadership to the core. “This is a total, cruel and full-scale war that again and again is taking the lives of our fellow citizens,” said Vladimir Putin, Russia's president.
The language of war can unify a nation. Like George Bush, who declared “war on terror” after September 11th, Mr Putin is putting his country on a war footing. He has promised “measures aimed at strengthening our country's unity”, better co-ordination of forces in the northern Caucasus, and “entirely new approaches to the way the law-enforcement agencies work.” And, as before, he has striven to link Russia's problems to America's: “What we are facing is direct intervention of international terror directed against Russia.” In effect, he wants “9/3” to be seen as Russia's 9/11.
But that is disingenuous, and may even be dangerous. The verified links between Chechen terrorists and al-Qaeda are few and tenuous. Intelligence sources doubt that the “Islambouli Brigades” that claimed responsibility for the two aircraft bombings last month actually did the deed. The Russians claim that ten of the hostage-takers in Beslan may have been Arabs, but no proof has been offered besides indistinct pictures and some sounds that just might be Arabic. All the signs are that the mastermind was Shamil Basayev, a Chechen who has organised a series of terrorist attacks, including on a hospital in Budyennovsk in 1995 and a theatre in Moscow in 2002.
Governments that go to war have a duty not only to win, but also to stop future ones breaking out. And that means understanding their root causes—which is not at all to imply excusing or condoning them. Stressing the Chechens' links with al-Qaeda lets Mr Putin wriggle out of acknowledging that America's and Russia's terrorist threats are more different than they are alike. Al-Qaeda's jihad is the product of complex circumstances, in many countries, in which America's foreign policy was only one contributory factor.
Russia's conflict in Chechnya is home-grown, nurtured in a republic that has been systematically destroyed in the struggle for power. Russia has tried to wipe out Chechnya's separatists, first through direct military force, and more recently through “Chechenisation”—ie, foisting the problem on to a local strongman (the latest luckless candidate, Alu Alkhanov, was put in place in rigged elections only two weeks ago). But the result has been to breed an anarchy in which soldiers and separatists alike kidnap and murder the innocent with impunity.
Crackdowns on rebels hiding in neighbouring republics have simply spread the lawlessness. The Beslan raiders included not just Chechens but Ingush and other northern Caucasians. Their evil deeds may now revive the old conflict between mainly Christian Ossetians and mainly Muslim Ingush. “Chechenisation” was meant to contain Chechnya; now it threatens to engulf the region. Yet Mr Basayev's Islamic fundamentalism is borrowed from abroad; it would attract few sympathisers were it not for the misery created at home.
Mr Putin said after Beslan that “we showed ourselves to be weak, and the weak get beaten.” The implication is that he will now be even tougher in Chechnya. Not only is that likely to stir up more terrorism; it also ignores one of the conflict's main drivers, which is cash. It suits certain Chechens, particularly the Kadyrov clan that now in effect controls the republic, to keep the war going, in large part because they make money out of it. It suits many in Moscow who connive at and benefit from the corruption, smuggling and worse in Chechnya. And it suits some Russian commanders and law-enforcement bosses who get their cut from Chechen oil wells, arms sales and the bribes that everyone—terrorists included—pays to get through the checkpoints that dot the northern Caucasus.
Part of the solution in Chechnya must be to break today's nexus of perverse incentives that do so much to keep the war going. That means not ever-tougher controls on the whole population, in a vain attempt to root out terrorists, but starting at last to tackle the top-to-bottom corruption that makes a joke of existing controls. Mr Putin seems sometimes to recognise that his armed forces are part of the problem, but his preferred solution still seems to be to impose control, through a Chechen placeman, rather than try a new approach.
What should that approach be? Ultimately, extreme autonomy, possibly leading to properly negotiated independence, should not be ruled out, if that is what most Chechens want. But right now, most just want peace. Simply making the republic independent would not only reward terror; it would not work, as Chechnya is too shattered to function on its own. Pulling the troops out would leave a bandit state, worse than the one that operated in 1996-99. Yet throughout the conflict, Mr Putin has refused to talk to moderate Chechens. Potential interlocutors have either turned extreme or lost support. Moreover, when Mr Putin calls Chechnya an “international” problem, he is right—though not in the way he claims. Ask Muslims around the world what aggrieves them, and they will mention Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, even headscarves in French schools...and Chechnya. Russia's conflict may not have started with foreign terrorists, but it has given them fodder for their own trouble-making.
That also gives western leaders an interest in helping to end it. One thing they must do is to keep telling the truth. They should offer sympathy and assistance to the Russians as victims of terrorism, not least in better training for their security forces. But even after Beslan, they should not condone Russia's human-rights abuses in Chechnya, and they should urge Mr Putin to seek out moderates with whom to talk. Perhaps after an interval, they might look for a more active involvement in the northern Caucasus. Russia has reached a dead end in Chechnya; if western offers of peacekeepers, human-rights monitors, financial or other assistance can help it to back out again, they would be well worth making.
Mr Putin will resist outside “interference”. But the Russians need help in Chechnya. And the one thing more tragic even than September 3rd would be if Budyennovsk, Moscow and now Beslan keep happening, over and over again.
[Economist.com - Thursday September 9th 2004]
Não há indícios de um choque civilizacional, como expressou Huntington? E, em que pese a falta de tática de Putin, os terroristas serão defendidos por algum grupo anti-establishment no Ocidente? Com a Rússia não tem (e nunca teve) lero-lero. O que se verá daqui para a frente será um massacre da população inocente da Chechênia. Tão inocente quanto os massacrados de Beslam. Este é o contra-senso da guerra ao terror, mas haverá outra forma? Espero que sim...
Interessante neste momento de compaixão é ver que nossos jornalistas não tem o mesmo "crivo crítico" contra Vladimir Putin como tão bem expressam contra George W. Bush...