Looking the other way

Posted in Russia , United States | 15-Oct-03 | Source: The Guardian

There are reasons why Russia's oppressive policy in Chechnya receives relatively little high-level attention these days. The Bush administration wants President Vladimir Putin's help, and if not his help, his acquiescence over Iraq. It is also increasingly interested in Russia as a non-Opec supplier of cheap oil. Russian support for the US "war on terror" is another factor.
During his recent meeting with George Bush, Mr Putin waspishly suggested that Moscow, if it chose, could make life difficult for US and Nato forces in Afghanistan. Washington wants Russia to take a harder line over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons; likewise over North Korea. Given current concerns about WMD proliferation, implementation of bilateral agreements to reduce Russia's nuclear stockpile and secure radioactive material are strategic priorities. In Mr Putin, the US sees an ostensibly democratic leader who has proved himself obligingly pragmatic over Nato and EU enlargement, ballistic missile defence, and even Kyoto. Little wonder Mr Bush likes him so much.
Such calculations are shared to a lesser degree by EU countries that had worried that the chaos and corruption of the post-Soviet, Yeltsin era could have led to the country's physical disintegration. That may also help explain why Chechen separatists have received short shrift in the west. Militant fundamentalist activity in largely Muslim Chechnya has meanwhile made it all the easier for Mr Putin to claim that the conflict is simply part of the global fight against terrorism. Tony Blair bolstered that misleading analysis in last Sunday's Observer interview, lumping Chechnya together with violence in Palestine, Indonesia and India and conjuring an all-justifying al-Qaida link. Like Mr Bush, the EU frets in public over gross human rights and other abuses perpetrated by Russian forces and their Chechen stooges. But in practice, the west does nothing.
In Chechnya, the west looks the other way. And it is set to do so again at the weekend when the Kremlin will install its chief quisling as Chechen president in a bogus "election" that makes Robert Mugabe look like a model democrat. This contemptible travesty will lead to more, not less violence, to more injustice, to more suffering. It could yet provoke a civil war and wider acts of terrorism. But - and this is the key - it may help Mr Putin's re-election bid next year. He will claim to have fixed a problem he himself exacerbated in order to get elected in the first place. And who outside Russia will tell him nay? As ever, it seems, the rights of man must submit to reasons of state.