"I know concretely that no Chechen groups were sent to Afghanistan. And the Russians haven´t produced a shred of evidence to prove a single Chechen was fighting there." - Ilyas Akhmadov.

Chechnya's tragedy

6 February 2002

EDITORIAL, The Washington Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have taken the horrors inflicted on the American people on September 11 as a cue to step up the Russian military's genocidal atrocities in Chechnya. For Chechnya, the burning embers at Ground Zero flicker with distinct familiarity. "I just want to tell you that the [Chechen] population felt the consequences of September 11 in their own hides," said Ilyas Akhmadov, foreign minister of Chechnya. "Behind me stands the grief of my whole nation, where hundreds of people are being killed."

Clearly, Mr. Putin has overseen genocidal atrocities in break-away Chechnya ever since he launched Russia's second military campaign there in 1999, as then-President Boris Yeltsin's prime minister. But the brutality has intensified, with civilians, even pregnant women, bearing a greater brunt of the military's aggression, Mr. Akhmadov told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. Prior to September 11, the Kremlin tried to at least commit its acts of brutality discretely, said Mr. Akhmadov, whereas today, government and military officials appear to have lost all fear of international rebuke.

The change in the Bush administration's relationship with Chechnya can be traced to September 11. When Mr. Akhmadov visited Washington in March, he met with the highest-ranking State Department official ever to receive him, the acting assistant secretary of state for the region. During his visit in January, the State Department would meet with him only unofficially, and refused to even confirm to The Times that such a meeting took place. Even this unofficial meeting drew the Kremlin's ire, though.

"Such contacts, no matter what the justification, cannot be seen as anything other than an unfriendly step toward Russia, contradicting the spirit of cooperation and partnership of both countries in acting against international terrorism," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. This is the language of tyranny. If the Kremlin has done nothing wrong in Chechnya, it has nothing to fear of Washington- Chechen contact. While Washington should continue to actively court Moscow's cooperation, pressing the concerns about the ongoing campaign in Chechnya is critical.

But the White House appears to have made a Faustian bargain, buying into Russia's fabricated rumors of a Chechen-al Qaeda nexus. "I know concretely that there were no [Chechen] groups that were sent [to Afghanistan]," Mr. Akhmadov said. "And most importantly [the Russians haven´t] produced a single shred of evidence to prove a single Chechen was fighting there, much less thousands."

Mr. Akhmadov's claims are backed by Andrei Babitsky, a Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe reporter, who reported out of Afghanistan and investigated Russia's claim.

Clearly, then, the Chechen pleas to America are reasonable, and it would be our shame if they are not recognized.