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Russian backlash against Chechens begins

President Putin steps up the fight against the rebels this week, and asks US to blacklist them as terrorists.

By Special to The Christian Science Monitor / November 7, 2002


Russian experts are calling it the "Putin Doctrine."

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In an iron-fisted Kremlin response to a mass hostage-taking by Chechens last month, Russia has launched a major drive to crush Chechnya's decade-old rebellion. And Mr. Putin may ask the United States to accept a greatly increased use of military force – even if it means preemptive strikes into neighboring Georgia by Russian troops.

The doctrine includes new rules allowing the Russian military to attack terrorist threats across international borders, a diplomatic offensive to convince the world community that Chechen rebels are terrorists, rejection of any future peace talks with even moderate Chechen opposition leaders, and tough restrictions on journalists covering the conflict.

"Our answer No. 1 to this terrorist act is: Wipe them out!" says Vyacheslav Nikonov, director of the Kremlin-connected Politika Foundation in Moscow.

Russia has asked the US State Department to add Chechen rebels to its international terrorist blacklist. Moscow is also attempting to extradite an emissary of Chechnya's elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, from Denmark.

Following the hostage tragedy, in which more than 150 rebels and hostages died, Moscow wants the US to see that Russia is engaged in a similar death struggle with terrorism and agree to work more closely with Russia.

"The Americans must see that the fight is the same, and it requires tough methods," says Sergei Kolmakov, an expert with the Foundation for the Development of Parliamentarism, which is linked to the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.

This week Russia's Defense Ministry canceled plans to reduce the 80,000 troop presence in Chechnya and began a security crackdown in the tiny breakaway republic.

"People in Chechnya are panicking," says Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a pro-Moscow Chechen deputy of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament. "The military is greatly mistaken if it believes this is the way. They cannot make people give up by using force."

Refugees are streaming out of Chechnya, after a long period of relative stability, he adds.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Tuesday announced that his forces have received the Kremlin's approval to hit terrorist bases and personnel abroad, much as the US did this week when it killed six suspected Al Qaeda leaders with a missile-firing unmanned drone in Yemen. Mr. Ivanov said that Russia is also developing high-precision weapons for such purposes, capable of dealing "extensive destruction" over large distances.

"This may seem surprising, but a war has been virtually declared on us," Mr. Ivanov said. "It has neither fronts, nor borders, nor a visible enemy. But war it is."

The immediate object of the new policy is likely to be Georgia, a former Soviet Caucasus republic which Moscow has long accused of harboring terrorist forces from neighboring Chechnya and even Al Qaeda members.