HEROISM... AND DISGRACE
Eighteen months have passed since the Russian attack on Chechnya. During that time, the Chechens, who number a mere million people, have been subjected to massive air attacks, to scorched earth bombardments, to indiscriminate killing of helpless civilians, to the deliberate destruction of defenseless villages, to the torture and then secret executions of hundreds perhaps thousands - of its young men. All that has been inflicted upon them by the rulers of a country of 150 million, rulers who profess to be democrats, to be guided by a concern for human rights, and who are hailed by the leaders of the West as their personal friends.
Yet the Chechens have not been crushed. When the war started, the Russian defense minister at the time, Pavel Grachev - since accused of corruption and dismissed - boastfully declared that the Chechen capital, Grozny, could be seized in two hours. Eighteen months later, he was proved right. The Chechen freedom fighters recaptured it overnight. It is to be hoped that the war may now be nearing its end. Perhaps the more intelligent Russian leaders are beginning to realize the time has come for a peace of the brave, for an accommodation that respects the Chechens' undying desire for freedom. Certainly, it is both noteworthy and encouraging that Russia's Gen. Alexander Lebed - a warrior himself but, unlike Gen. Grachev and the other Russian generals, not a war criminal has paid chivalrous homage to the courage of the Chechens.
And in response perhaps the Chechens will also recognize that geography and economics cannot be entirely disregarded, no matter how passionate and principled their attachment to freedom - and hence that some form of association with Russia will still be needed. With the help of the international community, surely some special status for a sovereign Chechnya, yet in some manner related to the Russian Federation, can be contrived.
Whatever happens, it is more than high time fbr the Weg and especially for America to acknowledge and pay tribute to the heroism of the Chechens. Whatever their faults, this little nation has displayed a courage and a commitment to be free that is worthy of admiration. Even when deprived, through Russian assassination, of their initial leader, Dzhokar Dudayev, the Chechens neither faltered nor fragmented. A younger team stepped forward, of whom Shamil Basayev, the legendary field commander of the bold assault on Grozny, can be cited as an example. His personal courage contrasted dramatically with the shabby corruption and cowardly cruelty of the Russian generals on the other side of the front.
Civic courage was also displayed by some Russians. None stands out more than S. Kovalyov, the former Russian human rights commissioner. He, and others like him (including some journalists) have not niinced words in condemning Boris Yeitsin's mendacity and depravity; in exposing the crimes committed by the Russian army of occupation, and in demanding redress. They redeemed Russia's honor - and it is now Gen. Lebed's task to safeguard it.
Alas, no one in the West truly deserves much praise. Most Westerners have either been silent or worse. The American record is particularly disgraceful. Senior officials of the Clinton administration on background even bad-mouthed the Chechens and made elaborate excuses for their Russian killers.
Some spun an elaborate theory of justification, comparing the Russian genocide of the Chechens to the American civil war - ignoring the fact that a civil war is fought by people of the same nation whereas the Chechens are not Russians and Chechnya is not Russia. Even President Clinton was brainwashed into mouthing similarly inappropriate excuses for Mr. Yeltsin and his fellow killers. Others, like a distinguished professor at a leading American university, made the absurd argument that liberty for the Chechens would mean that Russia's control over its nuclear arsenal would disintegrate and hence the world would be threatened.
In Europe, the record was somewhat better - but not by much. The smaller European nations previously occupied by the Soviet Union were understandably most sympathetic, with the Lithuanians and the Estonians particularly outraged. There was also evident sympathy in Poland. The Germans went some what further than the Americans in expressing concern. Nonetheless in the midst of the Russian bombardment of Chechnya, Russia admitted into the Council of Europe, an organization that makes respect for human rights one of its preconditions for membership. It was only very recently that the American press began to cover the war in a manner that conveyed its deeper historical roots, After Grozny was retaken by Chechens, the New York Times finally published an account that related the current fighting to 100 yearlong Russian efforts to subjugate or eliminate by genocide all the Chechens. Perhaps, finally, the West will now begin to understand that at stake in that war has been both the right to freedom for a small nation and the true soul of Russia. Perhaps the Clinton administration now will move to redeem America's honor by offering the Chechens economic aid in rebuilding their devastated country.
Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and has served in Departments of State and Defense. © 1996, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
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