Since Apr 15, 1998
my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists,
for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.
Russian President Vladimir Putin finds fighting Chechen terrorism a convenient justification for a brazen power grab and points to America's own war on terror and invasion of Iraq to support his oppression in Chechnya. His twisted reasoning tyranny equals security is worthy of the best Soviet-era propaganda.
In two terms in office, Putin has systematically muted dissent, closing two national independent television stations, choking off opposition political parties and moving to replace direct elections of regional governors with his own appointments. Putin set out a vague but sweeping antiterrorism program that tightened gun laws, imposed travel restrictions, broadened law enforcement authority and provided penalties for officials who fail to prevent terrorist attacks.
However, curbing civil liberties and consolidating power in the hands of the central Russian government will do little to curb terrorist attacks like last month's massacre that killed 338 at a Beslan school. Putin's maneuvers threaten to make Russia more vulnerable by ensuring less transparency and accountability from those responsible for the country's security.
Yet, Putin will brook no criticism of his policies. He cites the U.S. Patriot Act as a similar curtailment of citizen liberties to thwart terrorism. The Patriot Act indeed has its troubling aspects, but shutting down the independent press and ending direct elections are not among them. Besides, Russia has little enough democracy to begin with. Take away any of its few elements, and the Russian people are left with a free society in name only.
Comparing the war in Iraq to Russia's battles in Chechnya is another of Putin's false comparisons. But whatever the Bush administration's failures in Iraq false intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, poor postwar planning and misstating Saddam Hussein's relationship to al-Qaida President Bush clearly would like nothing better than to stabilize the situation, hold reasonably plausible elections and get out.
The contrast in Chechnya is stark. As journalists and organizations such as Human Rights Watch report, Russian troops regularly bomb nonmilitary targets, trap civilians behind battle lines, block fleeing refugees, and arbitrarily arrest and execute Chechen men. Rape and looting are common, yet few soldiers are punished.
Roughly the same can be said of Chechen fighters' role in their people's suffering, leaving outsiders to wonder what exactly are Russia's goals? Bent on preventing secession, Moscow is determined Chechnya will remain part of Russia's family.
In curbing democracy with the excuse of cracking down on terrorism that its own military abuses aggravate, Putin shows his antipathy extends to all but his own power.
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