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Two-Faced Chechnya Policy - Washington Post, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    Two-Faced Chechnya Policy By Anne Applebaum Wednesday, June 30, 2004; Page A21 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16175-2004Jun29.html Who runs
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2004
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      Two-Faced Chechnya Policy
      By Anne Applebaum
      Wednesday, June 30, 2004; Page A21


      Who runs U.S. foreign policy? In a week of historic
      court cases, international summits and the imperial
      spectacle of an American viceroy handing over
      sovereignty, it seems an easy question. Foreign
      policy, as we all know, is controlled by what the
      British call the Great and the Good: senior judges and
      top ambassadors, senators and presidents, and famous
      names and famous faces.

      Yet if you dig beneath the front-page stories, the
      answer is different. Look at the puzzling question of
      who controls U.S. policy toward Chechnya, an
      admittedly lesser but not entirely insignificant
      place. After all, the Chechen war is among the
      bloodiest ethnic conflicts in Europe: Civilian deaths
      are approaching the level of Cambodian deaths under
      the Khmer Rouge. Chechnya is also a breeding ground
      for Islamic terrorists and has contributed to the
      weakening of democracy in Russia. The Russian
      president, Vladimir Putin, came to power on a wave of
      anti-Chechen Russian nationalism.

      Theoretically, U.S. policy toward Chechnya is clear
      enough. Although we consider Chechnya to be "an
      internal Russian matter," we do say that we want the
      war to end by negotiation, and we do believe that
      there is someone for the Russians to negotiate with.
      Indeed, when the Great and the Good speak about
      Chechnya, which isn't often, they usually sound like
      Steven Pifer, deputy assistant secretary of state for
      European and Eurasian affairs. In 2003, for example,
      Pifer told the Congressional Commission on Security
      and Cooperation in Europe that "we do not share the
      Russian assessment that the Chechen conflict is simply
      and solely a counterterrorism effort. . . . While
      there are terrorist elements fighting in Chechnya, we
      do not agree that all separatists can be equated as

      But do the opinions of the Great and the Good matter?
      Cut now from the imperial vistas and the halls of the
      Capitol to another scene: a courtroom in Boston where,
      last month, an immigration judge granted political
      asylum to Ilyas Akhmadov. It wasn't a surprising
      decision. Akhmadov was formerly the "foreign minister"
      of an elected, moderate, separatist Chechen
      government. Since the Russian invasion of Chechnya in
      1999, he has been in exile, advocating a negotiated
      end to the Chechen war, repeatedly denouncing
      terrorism. If he were to return to Russia, he would
      nevertheless be arrested and, as the immigration judge
      pointed out, would probably be "shot without being
      afforded the opportunity to defend himself in a trial,
      as has happened to other members of the Chechen

      But if the Great and the Good recognize the need for
      moderate voices in Chechnya, officials at the
      Department of Homeland Security do not. Two days after
      the judge's decision, DHS lawyers appealed it, on the
      grounds that Akhmadov is a terrorist. Although
      conceding that Akhmadov was part of a government that
      had "spoken out against" terrorism, the appeal argued
      that his "actions and comments" have "furthered acts
      of terrorism and persecution by Chechen separatists,"
      and that he should therefore be deported. To anyone
      who has ever heard them speak, the text of this appeal
      would sound like nothing so much as the work of
      Russian security officers, not U.S. officials. Rumor
      has it that the State Department has protested, on
      precisely those grounds.

      What interests me, though, is not some
      inside-the-Beltway battle for influence between DHS
      and the State Department but rather what this strange
      tale says about how cavalierly we use our own power,
      in Chechnya and anywhere else not on the front pages.
      We may think of these places as insignificant, but the
      feeling is not mutual. On the contrary, every nation
      in the world considers its relationship with the
      United States to be one of its most important. Around
      the world, the words of the U.S. government carry
      extra weight. Phrases from the DHS appeal will be
      quoted in the Russian media, used in other court cases
      and cited as a precedent: "Look, the U.S. government
      thinks Akhmadov is a terrorist"; or "Look, the U.S.
      government is dumping moderate Chechens"; or "Look,
      the U.S. government doesn't care anymore about human

      There are many explanations for the DHS appeal:
      Perhaps it reflects DHS contacts with Russian
      security, or a White House attempt to curry favor with
      the Russian leadership, or even simple ignorance. None
      is sufficient. We may not have the national energy to
      do anything about Chechnya or the national attention
      span even to care much about what happens there, but
      at least we should have the national decency to treat
      Chechens who are trying to achieve peace in their
      country with consistency. For that reason, if for no
      other, Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security,
      should make clear that the U.S. government keeps its
      word, and withdraw this embarrassing appeal


      © 2004 The Washington Post Company

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