Putting Putin on the Spot

Having promised stability for Russia, if not full democracy, since becoming president five years ago, Vladimir Putin has lately come up short on both.

His problems have already spilled across Russia's borders, mainly in boosting world oil prices. Now he needs help from established democracies.

Europe and the US so far have largely made empty complaints as Mr. Putin has, among other things, silenced most independent media, and legally assaulted oil giant Yukos for challenging him (creating hikes in oil markets).

Most of all, his foreign friends have done little about his attempt to "normalize" the breakaway province of Chechnya with rigged elections and continuing Russian military operations. Putin's actions in Chechnya have failed - if failure is defined as an inability to prevent the kind of terrorism inflicted on Russia's civilians in the past two weeks by what appear to be Chechen separatists.

Those attacks have included downing two airliners, blasting a subway, and now taking hostage some 300 adults and children at a school. Putin is asking the UN Security Council to endorse his claim that Al Qaeda is involved with the nationalist cause of Chechnya terrorists. Evidence is slim to support that claim.

Any UN nod toward Putin's notion that he's up against "international terrorism" would give him license to pursue even rougher tactics against Chechnya than Russia has used since the conflict began there soon after the fall of the Soviet Union. (Chechens have suffered terribly through two phases of the war.) UN approval might also give license for Russian forces to oust Chechyna militants supposedly hiding in neighboring Georgia.

It's urgent that Europe and the United States push Putin to try new peaceful methods to resolve the Chechnya crisis before such terrorist attacks escalate further. Already attacks have been made on international oil pipelines in the region. Perhaps an international peace conference should be proposed.

Putin's increasingly despotic ways in both ruling Russia and ignoring Chechnya's interests do not deserve foreign support. But he can be more vigorously urged to change his ways.

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