- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

A top Russian general yesterday claimed the right to strike pre-emptively “terrorist bases” anywhere in the world — a grave warning only days after a school siege in southern Russia claimed the lives of hundreds of children.

The remarks of Col. Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian General Staff, reminded of President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption adopted after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

“As for carrying out preventive strikes against terrorist bases, we will take all measures to liquidate terrorist bases in any region of the world,” Gen. Baluyevsky told reporters in Moscow during a press conference with NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, Gen. James Jones.

Although Gen. Baluyevsky did not specify what kind of terrorists and what parts of the world he had in mind, Moscow blamed the school siege in the Northern Ossetian town of Beslan on rebels in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Yesterday, authorities offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the top rebel leaders, Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov.

At least 326 hostages and 30 terrorists died in the three-day siege.

Chechen separatists are also being held responsible for two plane crashes and a Moscow subway station bombing, both of which occurred days before last week’s attack.

The Russian government claims that Chechen terrorists have bases in other countries, including former Soviet republics such as Georgia.

The initial foreign reaction to the warning was cautious and mixed, as policy-makers from the United States to Europe to the Muslim world struggled to analyze the consequences of such action.

U.S. officials declined to comment publicly on Gen. Baluyevsky’s remarks, citing a need for further clarification on what he meant.

“I have seen some reports of that,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. “I’m not really in a position to interpret it. Any interpretation would have to come from the Russians.”

Russian officials, however, were equally cautious and evasive. One diplomat said he was not sure how much to read into Gen. Baluyevsky’s comments and noted that no political leaders had echoed them.

Privately, U.S. officials said they were not surprised by the general’s warning and did not challenge it.

“We understand that the Russians face quite an enormous threat — something we appreciate,” one official said. “Now they feel renewed urgency to go after the terrorists in a serious way.”

Another official said: “If someone attacks you, you have the right to go after them.”

The officials said that yesterday’s statement reflected previous comments by Russian leaders.

In October, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov referred to pre-emption as part of his country’s military doctrine.

“The specifics of contemporary external threats require that the Russian armed forces be able to perform various duties in various regions of the world,” Mr. Ivanov told a gathering of the Russian military leadership in Moscow.

“We cannot absolutely rule out pre-emptive use of force if this is dictated by Russia’s interests or its commitments to allies,” he said.

The strongest statement of support for Gen. Baluyevsky’s position came from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said that pre-emptive action is in the boundaries of international law.

“I think the reaction is an understandable one,” Mr. Straw said in London. “The United Nations charter does give the right of self-defense, and the U.N. itself has accepted that an imminent or likely threat of terrorism certainly entitles any state to take appropriate action.”

But U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was not entirely convinced of Mr. Straw’s conclusion.

“We need to come up with ways and means of fighting terrorism effectively, but we also need to make sure that these approaches do not undermine the rule of law and basic civil rights,” Mr. Annan said during a visit to Mexico.

In Paris, the French Foreign Ministry said it is a “question that should be debated within the European framework, the Group of Eight and obviously at the United Nations.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said no country, “no matter how powerful,” can combat terrorism “with a one-sided approach.”

In Brussels, a spokeswoman for the European Union external relations commissioner Emma Udwin said: “We all know that terrorism has to be tackled in a variety of means, but probably such statements are not the first instrument that will bring results.”

On Monday, during a visit to Jerusalem by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russia and Israel agreed to cooperate in their respective battles against terrorism.

Yesterday, Mr. Lavrov criticized the United States for urging Moscow to negotiate with Chechen leaders who are not involved in terrorist activity.

“We solve our internal problems ourselves, and there’s no need to search for an American route to political normalization in Chechnya,” the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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