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September 08, 2004


I find myself astonished by the magnitude of the Ossetian crisis, and I don't like to be. Yet I am not familiar with the history of armed conflict which must inform military commanders; surely there must be some.

Are there not massacres of this sort throughout history? Where? When?

As I listened to the latest report the other day, the BBC reporter suggested that there were about 700 hostages, double the original number reported. Now I am hearing the number was around 1200 and the Russian news deliberately deflated the number. Now there are some 300 plus dead, half children and another 450 hospitalized and 200 missing. This is the sort of madness that can inspire generations of hatred. What to do?

It seems to me that the Russian people must be appeased. Now is the time for grand gestures. I'm never going to be Putin, but if I were, I would do two very large things. I would destroy a city and I would offer unconditional independence. I hesitate to even say.. this is the level of atrocity that make people crazy. I'm glad I'm not Putin.

Posted by mbowen at September 8, 2004 06:49 PM

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I'm glad I'm not Putin, too.

As horrifying as 9/11 was, I think GWB would have found this situation much more difficult to deal with.

I'm trying to remember - didn't Chechnya try to break away at the same time that the USSR broke up? Russia tried to hold onto Estonia and Latvia and so forth, and ended up having to let them all go, but it held onto Chechnya with a death grip? Why? Just because it could? Do they have oil, or what? Obviously the cultures aren't compatible.

There've been lots of articles on the internet, with different information. While the crisis was still underway, some hostages who escaped said that the gov't was wrong about 350 hostages, that the number was more like 1300. The gov't didn't correct their number at the time, and frankly, I thought those hostages might have been confused or mistaken. Didn't the gov't think the truth would come out? You can at least count corpses, right? Remember how they lied about Chernobyl, even as the Geiger counters in Finland were clicking away - why? We think our gov't lies to us, and I'm sure it does, but nothing like this.

Also, I read in one article that some hostage-takers balked and possibly had to be shot when they discovered that the plans involved harming children; and in another article that a girl who was being herded into the gymn saw one of the terrorists turn her back, and understood that she was being given a chance; she and some others ran and locked themselves in the boiler room, and waited out the seige there where the terrorists couldn't get at them. You really have to look at different sources to connect the dots and try to understand what really happened and is happening.

Well, sorry for the long post. Everybody around here is tired of listening to me talk about this.

Posted by: Laura at September 9, 2004 03:58 PM

What I heard was that Putin let Chechnya be after '96, and they were technically independent. Bombed out, but free. Then he put up with 3 years of kidnappings and beheadings (basically) in which 2000 Russian citizens were killed by Chechen separatists and lunatics. In 99 Putin rolled the tanks again and basically let his army do their worst, which according to what I hear did not preclude your basic raping, pillaging and burning.

There's no way that Russian hands are clean, but in the end, they are the most powerful and therefore the most responsible for the most lives. Ultimately they have to keep open some kind of backchannel (what other country wants to mediate?) and meanwhile Chechnya seems to have descended to a new state of misery.

Posted by: cobb at September 9, 2004 04:24 PM

CFR's "There is a Way Out of Russia's Chechen Nightmare, Says Council's Fellow Rajan Menon" looks promising.

Also: I'd like to hear what you have to say if you get to browse Bruce Sterling's "Tomorrow Now" in a library or bookstore soon.

Posted by: George at September 9, 2004 06:49 PM

George, thanks for the link. That article is interesting and informative. I didn't realize that Chechnya wasn't necessarily historically Islamic.

Unfortunately, Putin can't give the Chechen separatists what they want now. I don't mean to trivialize what's happened, but it's like, if you planned to give your child some treat, and then your child threw a screaming, hair-raising tantrum for it, you can't give the kid the treat after all because you'll be guaranteeing more tantrums in the future. Smart kids (who have smart parents) learn that tantrums set up a no-win situation and they stop throwing them.

Posted by: Laura at September 9, 2004 08:16 PM


I do a monthly Russia briefing for WindsofChange.net. The next installment is due out on September 14th. I am still putting it together, but will discuss Beslan.

To my way of thinking, this is not an equivalent of "armed conflict" as such. This was an attack on unarmed non-combatants. At the same time, Russia has been guilty of atrociuosly poor "targeting" in their military campaigns in the Caucasus.

If I'm right, your point question was: Why is this a surprise to the Russians? Why were they not prepared?

I believe Russia felt no threat from Islamism - even though there have been many reasons to believe otherwise over the past several years. The reasons, I feel, they have been apathetic are:

First, Russia has tried to disown the Afghanistan war of the Soviet Union and they probably felt they had succeded - especially given their stance on the WOT and Iraq. They have worked on the premise that if you leave the bee alone, it won't sting you.

It also seems, based upon my Russian sources, Russia has tried to clean up its policy with regards to Chechnya - maybe for the same reason. Putin has tried to win politically where Russia has had no success militarily.

Russian forces are responsible for a large number of civilian deaths in Chechnya and the separatists-cum-wahhabists are not letting them get out of the fight.

More on this later. I am getting tired. :)

Posted by: Joel (No Pundit Intended) at September 10, 2004 10:07 PM