America abets Russia's crimes in the Caucasus

From: "Foreign Correspondent"
By Eric Margolis
Date: 8 April 1996


When I began writing three years ago about the Chechen people's seemingly impossible struggle to regain their independence after 250 years of savage Russian colonial rule, few people had ever heard of the tiny Caucasian nation of 1.2 million fierce mountaineers.

Chechnya, then unknown and unlamented, was only worthy of a few, back-page lines. Newspaper editors used to dismiss reports from such remote places as "Afghan stories" - at least until the once obscure Afghan struggle against Soviet invasion finally defeated the Red Army and led to the collapse of the mighty Soviet Union.

Today, Chechnya is front-page news. Russian President Boris Yeltsin publically admits that failure to end the war in Chechnya may cost him re-election in June. This week, Yeltsin declared yet another cease-fire and peace plan. For the first time, Yeltsin offered to deal with the elected Chechen national leader, President Dzhokhar Dudayev.

But no one seemed to believe Yeltsin - except perhaps for President Clinton. In Chechnya, Russian generals openly contradicted their president, declaring the war would go on "until all the Muslim bandits are killed." Russia's military continued its scorched earth campaign, using heavy artillery, rockets and bombs to pulverize any Chechen village, town or city deemed "unfriendly."

When the Soviet Union broke up, Chechnya declared independence. The world failed to recognized the little nation, though its people probably suffered more from Russian savagery than any other on earth. In 1944, Stalin sent 75% of the entire Chechen people to Siberian concentration camps. For the past 250 years, Russia resorted to genocide to crush attempts by Chechen to regain their independence.

After Chechen fighters routed a KGB invasion force in mid-1994, whose goal was the overthrow of President Dudayev, Moscow sent in the Russian Army in December, 1994. Since then, Russian forces have killed 40,000 Chechens and laid waste the country. Two thousand Chechen "disappeared" after being arrested by KGB and Interior Ministry units. Human rights organizations accuse Russian forces of mass executions, bloodthirsty reprisals, and widespread torture.

Shockingly, President Clinton keeps supporting Russia's criminal war in Chechnya. He personally rammed a new, US $ 10.2 billion loan for Yeltsin through the IMF, half of which will go to pay for the war. Clinton even publically endorsed the war, saying that he backed Russia's need to "maintain its territorial integrity."

Last month, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced in Moscow that US-Russian relations were "excellent," - at the very moment Russian forces were exterminating large numbers of Chechen civilians. While Clinton anguished on TV over terror attacks that left 63 Israelis dead, he remained mute over Soviet terrorism in Chechnya that killed 600 times more civilians.

The respected Georgian writer, Melor Sturua, a columnist for the leading Russian newspaper, "Izvestia," wrote recently of America's disgraceful silence over Chechnya: "I remember a time when the arrest of even one Soviet dissident would create a storm of indignation here(in the US). Soviet embassies were picketed, Soviet goods boycotted, Soviet crimes were condemned." Congress imposed trade sanctions on the USSR to force it to allow Jewish emigration to Israel. Today, after Russia slaughters 42,000 Chechens, Washington gives Moscow US $10.2 billion.

In Afghanistan,as I experienced firsthand, Soviet forces targeted and hunted journalists. They wanted to commit their crimes in the dark. Russia follows the same policy in Chechnya: reporters are banned or threatened. Of 42 serious attacks against Russian journalists last year, half were believed to have been the work of the Yeltsin government. Many victims were harsh critics of the Chechen war.

In Chechnya, Moscow is using the same terror tactics I saw in Afghanistan: promotion by KGB of "ethnic turmoil" among different tribes and local leaders. Threats and intimidation, followed by selective assassinations. If these fail, mass destruction of civilian areas, poisoning of fields and water, slaughter of livestock. Mass reprisals and acts of terror, then wholesale genocide.

A campaign of state-directed racism warns the Russian public that all Chechen are "bandits," and "Muslim terrorists." Traditional Russian hatred of Muslims is relentlessly whipped up, aided by the many KGB agents within the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church. The new KGB director, taking a page from Dr. Goebbels, recently declared, "The Chechen can only be a murderer, a robber, or at least a thief."

A horrifying, loathsome spectacle. As lightly-armed Chechen fight like mountain lions against Russian tanks and gunships, Clinton backs Moscow. He needs Yeltsin for his own elections this year. The price of Yeltsin's support is American silence over genocide in Chechnya. Canada, the font of morality, remains mute about Russia's crimes, lest its wheat exports be hurt.

Europe winks at Russian genocide - as it did at Serbian genocide in Bosnia. Muslim nations again do nothing. Malaysia even goes ahead and shamelessly buys Russian warplanes.

Claims by Moscow and the Clinton Administration that Russia faces national break-up if Chechnya is allowed independence are nonsense. Save for handfuls of other subject Caucasian peoples on Russia's southern edge, like Ingush, Cherkass, and Daghestanis, Russia's other autonomous-minded regions, like Tatarstan or Yakutia, are deep within Slav territory.

It's time for the west to tell Russia: Stop your crimes in the Caucasus. Set the Chechens free.


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