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October 3, 2003

Looking Into Putin's Soul


Bush Backs Russia's Dirty Chechen War

by Anthony Gancarski

So there's a Presidential election Sunday in Chechnya. Haven't heard that much about it? Not surprising; it's not much of a contest, really. As the Radio Netherlands website drolly put it in an article entitled "Soviet-style Polls in Chechnya," "There's no question that Akhmad Kadyrov will win Sunday's presidential election in Chechnya. The current head of the pro-Russian administration in the breakaway republic is the candidate favored by the Kremlin and, indeed, the only candidate running."

If I could bet on such elections, I might be able to pay my rent on time. Unsurprisingly, some in the world community don't see the deterministic approach to elections in the breakaway Soviet republic as legitimate. As Council of Europe spokesman Franz Timmermans said to a Radio Netherlands reporter, "it's a Soviet-style election with only one candidate," and therefore unworthy of even having the result recognized by his pan-European organization.

"Because these are not free and fair elections, and if you send observers to elections that are not free and fair, all you do is justify a flawed process. Because they can organize the ballot correctly, they can organize polling stations correctly, but if the whole process is flawed, then you have to make that clear from the outset," claims Timmermans, a Dutch MP and Parliamentarian of the Council of Europe.

When addressing the continuing Russian occupation of Chechnya, Timmermans was likewise blunt: "People are dying every day, and the Russians have refused to start a dialogue." Likewise, "as long as Moscow is unwilling to enter intro dialogue with real representatives of the Chechen people, there is no peace process."

Timmermans doesn't see much improvement on the Chechen front any time soon: "[The Russians] know Europeans or Americans won't be critical simply because it's felt we need Russia's support in the fight against terrorism in Central Asia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere. Under those circumstances, the Russians know that neither Europe nor the US will be very critical of what they're doing in Chechnya. And that's a big shame, because people in Chechnya are paying a huge price for the fact that we're not willing to address the issue."

What has the unwillingness of the world community to address the Chechen issue wrought? The Guardian of 29 September reports that "the prime minister of Chechnya was flown to a Moscow hospital Monday after apparently suffering food poisoning, and he said investigators were trying to determine if it was an assassination attempt." Prime Minister Popov "was hospitalized in Chechnya on Saturday evening after complaining of stomach pain as his motorcade was returning to the capital, Grozny, from Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city, following a ceremony to open a new gas pipeline."

Would Popov be in this position if he weren't a Muscovian lickspittle? Possibly not. But it can be argued that America, as much as any other country in the world, has legitimized Russian involvement in Chechnya. Ken Fireman of Newsday wrote on 28 September that "President George W. Bush yesterday all but endorsed Russia's controversial war against secessionist rebels in Chechnya, placing it squarely within the orbit of the global battle against terrorism." Such an endorsement doesn't surprise this writer, given the framework in which it was rendered.

"Russia and the United States are allies in the war on terror," Bush said during a joint news conference. "Terrorists must be opposed wherever they spread chaos and destruction, including Chechnya."

What is terrorism? Increasingly, it's become defined as simple resistance to rule imposed from on high in Moscow, Washington, or any other place with which the Bush team has a security arrangement. That said, Fireman quotes a senior Administration official's claim that Bush "wanted to raise Chechnya but [he] wanted to do it in a polite way."

Washington's Chechen position has much to do with US strategic needs; one of the outgrowths of the recent Bush/Putin talks at Camp David was a unified position on Iranian nukes. As Bush said, "We share a goal, and that is to make sure that Iran doesn't have any nuclear weapon or a nuclear-weapons program." As has happened time after time, Bush's freedom-loving rhetoric has been exposed as a flimsy cover for a desperate strain of realpolitik. Perhaps it's fortunate for Bush that most Americans don't follow international affairs seriously; to the "silent majority," one more Bush capitulation to the forces of tyranny doesn't matter either way.

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Anthony Gancarski, the author of Unfortunate Incidents, writes for The American Conservative, CounterPunch, and LewRockwell.com. His web journalism was recognized by Utne Reader Online as "Best of the Web." A writer for the local Folio Weekly, he lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

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