- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Some Russians have become tired of watching in horror as their military forces ravage the Chechen people and, in doing so, damage their country's image as well. They are taking their own initiative putting pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to play catch-up. Europe's role, meanwhile, in helping to broker unofficial Russian/Chechen peace talks is making America's failure to speak out against Russian atrocities glaringly conspicuous.

Over the past few weeks in Moscow, Russian lawmakers have met with Chechen leaders in hiding. This round of talks has been mediated by the Council of Europe. These unofficial talks follow a breakdown of negotiations between the Putin administration and Chechen leadership last fall.

Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov has declined to participate in the latest talks until they make some headway. "It would be absolutely immoral for us to maintain contact with Putin and the Russian side against the background of the escalation of atrocities," Akhmad Zakayev, Chechnya's European envoy, told the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin is unwilling to reign in his thugs in Chechnya. In fact, he is deploying the widely feared Khanti-Mansiisk special-police brigade back to Chechnya, which committed widespread abuses there in the past. "This is worse than the SS going back there," said Glen Howard, executive director of The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, of the brigade's return.

But as the Chechen crisis grows worse, the Bush administration has fallen silent. Clearly, the White House has bartered its criticism on the Chechen issue for the Kremlin's support of U.S. counter-terrorist initiatives. This is a Faustian bargain.

In late February, the administration demonstrated how far it was willing to go to oblige Mr. Putin. In a move that seems rather Kremlinesque, the administration blocked Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from launching 15-minute broadcasts in the Chechen language, as requested by Congress last year. Although Mr. Putin has long demonstrated his eagerness to crackdown on freedom of the press to expose the ferocity of Russia's onslaught of Chechens, Washington hardly needed to contribute by blocking our broadcasts.

Russian lawmakers are showing Mr. Putin they won't stand idly by. Europe is sending Russia its own signals. If the White House is unwilling to lead, when will it at least follow?


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