- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2000

The Russian flag now flies over Grozny. Triumphant Russian forces have "liberated" the city. Those troops didn't get a hero's welcome, though. Most of the city's residents have either fled or been killed in the crossfire. Besides the rubble, there is little left of Grozny.

The Russian shelling of Grozny was so intense, that the Russian military reportedly had difficulty finding a building whole enough to put up its temporary headquarters. The Chechen campaign has created hundreds of thousands of refugees and homeless. Thousands of Chechen civilians are feared dead and the Chechen war has claimed the lives of about 1,000 Russian soldiers.

In the face of escalating Western condemnation, Russia has insisted its war on Chechnya is justified for two basic reasons: Chechen militants attacked the Russian village of Dagestan in August. In addition, Moscow claimed terrorists from Chechnya launched bombings on apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities in September, killing more than 300 people.

To be sure, the Russians were provoked. Chechen militants caused considerable damage in Dagestan, murdering civilians and displacing more than 32,000. The Kremlin has provided no proof, however, that Chechen terrorists were behind the September explosions. In addition, Russian military tactics in Chechnya have been so brutal that it has become difficult to distinguish the methods of the military from those of terrorists.

The Russian approach to its Chechen campaign is well summarized by the leaflets that were distributed by the Russians in December, after fighting made it difficult for civilians living in Grozny to leave. "All those who do not leave the city will be destroyed," said the leaflets dropped over Grozny. "Those who remain will be viewed as terrorists and bandits," it said. "They will be destroyed by artillery and aviation. There will be no more talk. All those who do not leave the city will be destroyed." As it turns out, the Russians were true to their word.

But the Russians haven't stopped with Grozny. On Monday, Russian troops fired artillery rounds into civilian areas near the Chechen capital. According to Russian officials, there are still 2,000 to 7,000 Chechen militants still alive. The officials said they could complete their destruction in another few weeks. In the meantime, civilian casualties in Chechnya will mount.

It's appalling the international reaction to the war on Chechnya hasn't been more proactive, particularly in view of the mysterious disappearance of Andrei Babitsky, a Russian journalist critical of the Kremlin's tactics in the conflict. The director of the International Monetary Fund, Michel Camdessus, has said that the member countries of the international organization might not approve of the release of fresh funding to Russia if it continues with its genocidal onslaught on the Chechens. The West should have made it clear long ago that this was indeed the case. Instead, the international community has rebuked Russia with toothless rhetoric.

With the so-called liberation of Grozny, Russian forces captured a long-sought military prize. More importantly, though, President Vladimir Putin has scored a significant political victory, just in time for the presidential election to be held in March. The Chechen war was waged with Mr. Putin's political future in mind. It is written in Chechen blood.

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