Ending the Chechen Nightmare

Once again, Russia's war in Chechnya - which has rumbled murderously on for a decade - has blasted its way onto Moscow's streets. The horrific death toll among innocent theater-going Muscovites confirms Russia's struggle against Chechen rebels as a distinct and bloody front in the global war on terrorism. That war must be won. But the time has also come for Russia to change its policy. Chechnya should remain part of the Russian Federation. But, clearly, that strategic goal cannot be achieved by military means alone.

Time after time, Russian federal forces deliver devastating blows on Chechen insurgents. But the Chechen resistance is never crushed as was proved, not only by the taking hostage of over 800 Muscovites last week, but by the numerous successful Chechen raids on Russian troops in and around Chechnya. It would be wrong to put the entire blame for Russia's inability to crush the rebellion on our military commanders, although their planning could be better. Why not? Because the Chechen rebellion began in politics and it can only end through a political understanding.

What should be done? The first step must be to separate peaceful Chechens from the rebels. Regrettably, Russia failed to do this at the insurrection's onset, primarily because the bandits resided in villages and towns, which meant that many civilian deaths ensued when Russian forces attacked the rebels head-on.

Today, Russian federal forces are trying to separate common people from the bandits by entrusting the powers of self-government and security in Chechen settlements to indigenous Chechens. But this method is not working and won't work if pursued along the current lines. Most peaceful Chechens have not fully turned their backs on the bandits, perhaps because the bandits hunt down those who collaborate with Russian authorities. Moreover, many Chechens fear Russian officials more than the bandits.