Russia weeps (credit: Sergei Dolzhenko/European Pressphoto Agency)
The New York Times in Putin Says Russia Faces Full ‘War’ to Divide Nation covers Vladimir Putin’s first national address to his people dealing with the Beslan tragedy. Putin said something remarkable that encapsulates the utter failure of his leadership in facing the Chechen crisis:
“It seems that we have a choice: to resist or to cave in and agree with their claims, to give up and allow them to destroy and to take apart Russia, in the hope that eventually they will leave us alone.”
Noting his oath of office to protect the nation, he added, “I am convinced that in fact there is no choice.”
“There is no choice.” How many times and from how many embattled leaders have we heard those bankrupt words in the midst of a national crisis? Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War, Ariel Sharon and countless prior Israeli prime ministers calling for a battle to the death against the Palestinian people, and most notably George Bush desperately trying to ‘sell’ the American people on the War in Iraq.
Of course there is a choice in most of these desperate situations. You needn’t see all-out war as the only option. The alternative choice is negotiation. Attempting to understand the goals and needs of your opponent so you can give them enough of what they want to satisfy, but still preserve your own prerogatives and interests. There is an alternative in Chechnya. Putin refuses to acknowledge it. But ducking your head in the sand (Putin’s current response) does not substitute for a real and viable strategy to address ethnic conflict.
My only caveat to the above paragraph concerns Al Qaeda. I would not say that the this threat can be resolved through negotiation. However, there is much that the U.S. could be doing to deflate Al Qaeda in the eyes of the Arab world and we are definitely NOT doing it.
I am delighted to hear that the Russian press (a notably docile group usually) are pummeling Putin and his crony subordinates for their utter failure to protect the Russian people from the Chechen militants. While anger and rage against the Chechens is understandable and completely justifiable, I hope that Russians do not spare their leaders the same cold, hard examination of the causes of this catastrophe.
But of course there is a major and insurmountable obstacle to Russia’s ultimately finding a solution to this conflict. Russia currently has no way to hold its leaders accountable. Russian democracy is nascent at best and Putin holds almost all the reins of power with no one to brook him. There is no electoral, and hardly any parliamentary opposition. The press has been cowed into submission. And finally, there is no history of mass political movements for change. I’d say the outlook for Russia is very grim. I see little likelihood that Russians can bring Putin to change his mind about Chechnya.
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