Chechen refuse to bow to tyranny
By Eric Margolis
From the burning ruins of Grozny came what may be a final, heartbreaking message from its Chechen defenders: "At a time when the world has left us entirely, we ask Muslims around the world not to forget the ordeal of their brothers in Chechnya fighting the jihad (holy war) against Russian oppression."
Look at Grozny and you see a second Warsaw Ghetto. Like the valiant Jewish defenders who held off the might of the Nazi SS, Chechens, another forgotten people facing extermination, are fighting to the death against impossible odds.
I've been a combat soldier and have covered 12 high-intensity wars from the front, but I have never seen anything that equals the heroism and boundless courage of the Chechen mujahedin.
For the past four months, 5,000 lightly-armed Chechen warriors fighting on flat, open terrain that favours air, armour and artillery, have held off 160,000 Russian troops, backed by regiments of heavy guns and rockets, helicopter gunships, ground attack aircraft, and thousands of tanks and armoured vehicles.
Chechen mujahedin, most without any formal military training, have no heavy weapons and are chronically short of radios, anti-tank rockets and even small-arms ammunition. There is almost no medicine or morphine for their wounded, and no shelter from massive Russian bombardment that includes banned fuel-air explosives, toxic gas and napalm.
Grozny -- which Russian generals vowed to storm by early December, and President Vladimir Putin promised to take by New Year's -- still holds out at this writing.
Mujahedin are defending every ruined building and mined street while some 40,000 civilians cower in cellars under non-stop Russian shelling.
Still, overwhelming Russian numbers and firepower must eventually prevail. Losses are high on both sides -- about one Chechen for every four Russians.
Renowned Chechen field commanders, sheiks Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab, admit Grozny has no strategic value, but insist: "We want to prove to the world and the Russians that despite the size, power or technology of any enemy, there is no way they could defeat the people of belief, principal and land." Brave words from the world's bravest people.
In the first Chechen war, 1994-96, Russia killed 100,000 Chechen civilians, razed much of the small country, and, in an act of monumental terrorism, scattered 17 million anti-personnel land mines across the tiny nation.
Russia was driven from Chechnya in 1996, but its hardliners vowed to "exterminate the Chechen bandits."
Their man Putin's first act as president was to declare a crusade -- blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church -- against Chechnya. Moscow demanded revenge for 1996 and for defeat at the hands of Muslim mujahedin in Afghanistan.
While Russian troops fought their way into Grozny, elite Russian forces were pushing into the southern mountains.
Chechen units are battling ferociously, under intense shelling and bombing, to defend the strategic Shatoi and Vedeno gorges. Outnumbered 20-1, the Chechens' defence of mountain passes vividly recalls the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae.
At least the mountainous terrain gives the mujahedin some cover; in the flat, barren north, they can only move at night.
The Clinton administration, which is largely financing Russia's genocide in Chechnya, supplied Russian attack helicopters with advanced U.S. night-vision devices -- "to combat terrorism," says the White House.
If the West's response to Russia's Mongol-like behaviour in Chechnya has been shameful and hypocritical, the Islamic world's reaction is even more disgraceful.
Important Muslim nations -- like Egypt, Malaysia, and Iran -- are negotiating arms and aircraft deals with Russia. No Muslim state has dared challenge Russian brutality or anti-Muslim racism.
The only nations to recognize Chechnya's declaration of independence from Russia are brave little Estonia and Afghanistan, both of which know full well the terror of Russian occupation.
Those who observe a monstrous crime and do nothing share guilt for it. We begin the 21st century watching silently as a brutish Russia, which knows neither shame nor mercy, crushes the life out of a tiny but heroic people who refuse to bend their knees to Moscow's tyranny.