Mon, 14 Jul 2003

Chechen peace: Near or far?

Yuri Filippov, Political Analyst, RIA Novosti, Moscow

It is still a long way to go to peace in Chechnya. Last weekend's Moscow tragedy proved that point as two suicide girls killed 14 and injured 40 in open-air rock concert blasts. One of the dead terrorists was tracked down to her brother, Chechen militant who had died in battle.

Political settlement efforts go on as scheduled, despite all. Its progress may stun many who have firsthand knowledge of many years' fruitless efforts to settle other violent conflicts-in the Middle East and elsewhere. Bloodshed on a par with Saturday's in Moscow leads, in an overwhelming majority of instances, to political dialogue abruptly stopped, previous understandings canceled, and return violence triggered off.

Russia responds in a contrasting way. The political top is merely shrugging terrorists off. True, they are never asked to the negotiation table as Moscow has chosen not to give up or suspend political efforts, terror or no terror. Meanwhile, masterminds of the atrocious acts are, to all appearances, provoking them to stop peace efforts.

The federal top is rather tough in Chechen settlement. Only such who have certainly stopped armed resistance are welcome to political negotiations. That has been so ever since autumn 1999, when Chechen militants and foreign mercenaries attacked Daghestan, a North Caucasian constituent republic of the Russian Federation, which borders on Chechnya. The invasion provoked a second Chechen military campaign within ten years.

Moscow's policies have their pros and cons. On the one hand, terrorism does not thwart the political dialogue. That is good. On the other hand, Chechnya has extremely few tentative negotiators to offer, while those whose way to the talks has been barred are taking their revenge with ever more innocent victims.

Terrorism is powerless because it is primitive savage vengeance. It does not work -- unlike well-pondered policies that really can shift the arrangement of forces. The Moscow concert blasts came the day after federal President Vladimir Putin announced the date of a forthcoming presidential poll in Chechnya. No terror act would change the resolution concerning a republican presidential election even if the toll of lives were 10 times greater than it actually was. Such are the harsh facts.

The blast masterminds might have meant to provoke federal violence in Chechnya. If so, their plotting was too primitive to have an effect. The Kremlin values political settlement progress too dear to assuage Russian public wrath with reprisals against innocent Chechen civilians.

Nothing has upset the routine in Kurchaloi, the native village of one of the women suicide terrorists. The villagers will go to the presidential polls, Oct. 5, with the entire Chechnya. That will be the republic's second universal ballot within this year, considering a referendum of March 23, when close on 80 percent spoke up for a republican Constitution, which qualifies Chechnya as a sovereign and democratic law-based state within the Russian Federation.

Will political efforts prove stronger than terrorism? Will they put an end to bloodshed? Yes and no, if we are to be honest about it. Political settlement is peaceful work, while war on terrorism remains its cruel and violent self. The two may coincide in time yet they are utterly different things.

There are an approximate 600,000 ethnic Chechens resident in Chechnya, says last year's population census. Political settlement concerns an overwhelming majority, and promises to benefit them. There are 1,200 militants in mountain and woodland dens, say rough estimations by the Federal Security Service. They have taken the road of bloodshed to doom themselves to violent death. They have made their choice.

Still, there is a link between political settlement and victory over terrorism. Settlement aims to offer life in peace and plenty. Such life seldom prompts one to become a homicidal suicide. That is why militants' patrons from among global terrorist chieftains hate like poison the prospect of Chechnya getting back to peacetime patterns -- that means the war-scarred republic will no longer be their best bridgehead, which it has been throughout the 1990s.

Terrorism will not surrender. It still can give battle. That is clear.