Socialist Worker

Coming clean on a dirty war

by Dave Crouch
Issue No. 1761

A FORGOTTEN war is raging on Russia's southern border. Russia is taking revenge on Chechnya for defeating its troops in the 1994-6 war. At stake is control over the oil-rich region of the Caspian Sea. Since Russia invaded Chechnya in October 1999 some 40,000 people have died and 400,000 have been made homeless.

Chechnya is occupied by 80,000 Russian soldiers whose systematic torture, murder and looting have led even members of the Moscow-appointed puppet administration to resign in protest. A new book by a Russian journalist tells the truth about the war. Anna Politkovskaya is a correspondent for a Moscow newspaper. Dirty War is a collection of her reports in which she documents Russia's war crimes.

She exposes the arbitrary violence meted out to the Chechen population. They are forced to live in primitive conditions without food, heat, light or medicines. Behind each statistic lie thousands of unbearable personal tragedies. Politkovskaya allows Chechen men, women and children to tell their stories for themselves.

'My notes are written for the future,' she says. 'They are the testimony of the innocent victims of the new Chechen war, which is why I record all the detail I can.' Unusually for a journalist, Politkovskaya is so moved by what she sees that she constantly finds herself pulled into direct involvement in the situations she describes.

She gives money to desperate people, campaigns to save an old people's home and rages at the Russian generals. Her relentless message to her 'hard-hearted readers enjoying their breakfasts' is to reject the government's sanitised lies about the war.

There are signs that the message is getting through. Support for the war among Russians has halved to 35 percent, while 75 percent say the government's policy has shown no results.

This book does not explain the war, however. And because Politkovskaya isn't clear about why it is happening, she sometimes accuses the Chechen resistance of being as bad as the Russians.

But it is remarkable that this brave author has stood out against the war hysteria in her country. Her reports are unambiguous. This is Russia's dirty war. Vladimir Putin, Russian president and ex-KGB officer, was welcomed by Western leaders with open arms at the recent G8 summit.

This is the man Blair thinks is 'open and refreshing'. And Bush considers a deal with Putin over Son of Star Wars more important than the lives of Chechen people.

Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya, price £12. Available from Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE. Phone 020 7637 1848.


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Sat 11 Aug 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1761
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