'GET OUT or die.' That was the barbaric message from Russian forces to people in the Chechen capital, Grozny, this week. Russia is waging a savage war to crush people in the tiny republic in the mountainous Caucasus who are fighting for independence from Russian rule.
The horrific Russian offensive mirrors NATO's war in Kosovo and Serbia earlier this year. Russian generals have unleashed NATO style aerial bombardments of civilian centres. Russian forces have shelled and bombed villages, and last week they massacred a column of refugees just outside Grozny.
No one knows how many Chechens have been forced to abandon their homes or how many have already been killed. Even the Russian government admitted there were at least 220,000 Chechen refugees, a quarter of the population, at the end of November. The United Nations put the figure at one third of the population. The killing and the bombing have intensified since then.
The Russian government has now been saying it plans to obliterate Grozny from the face of the earth, threatening an almost unimaginable slaughter. The Russian media talks of 'surgical strikes' and 'cutting edge weapons' in the same way that NATO spokes man James Shea tried to prettify Western bombing of Serbia and Kosovo earlier this year.
The reality is far more brutal. Russian forces have dropped 'fuel air explosive bombs' on Grozny. These create a sea of fire which sucks the air out of people's lungs, and a blast which can kill people in underground bunkers. The US used these weapons against Iraqi conscripts in the 1991 Gulf War.
West punishing all Serbs
'ELECTRICITY and heating are the concern. People are having a very hard time.' With those words Denis McNamara, the head of the UN refugee agency in the Balkans, launched a £125 million appeal for Serb refugees in Serbia itself. But the US is maintaining strict sanctions against Serbia which are compounding the damage done by NATO bombs during the war.
NATO destroyed every bridge across the Danube river in northern Serbia. It is refusing aid to rebuild them, claiming the bridges are for military use. One of the bridges in the city of Novi Sad carried power for the city's heating system. Most homes there now have heating for only a couple of hours a day. British defence chief Sir Charles Guthrie said in June that Serbia's oil refining capacity had been 'eliminated'.
The European Union is offering oil deliveries only to towns which come out strongly against Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. It is cruel blackmail. There were mass demonstrations against Milosevic before the bombing. NATO, however, rained bombs on centres of opposition to Milosevic such as Nis and Novi Sad. The bombs and sanctions strengthened Milosevic.
Now the West is further punishing the people of Serbia for not overthrowing him. Supplies of milk and meat are scarce. The Serbian Red Cross reports that many hospitals 'lack even basic supplies'. Luxury goods for the state and business elite do beat the embargo. But, as one unemployed factory worker in Belgrade said, 'many people are simply too cold, too hungry and too exhausted to take to the streets against Milosevic.'
MORE PEOPLE are facing a winter under canvas in Europe and the Caucasus than at any time since the 1940s. There are now officially:
About 130,000 people in tents in earthquake shattered Turkey.
Some 30,000 Chechen refugees in tents and disused railway carriages in neighbouring Ingushetia.
There are also 350,000 people sheltering in patched up ruins in Kosovo and tens of thousands more in Serbia, where the United Nations refugee agency says 700,000 Serb refugees have fled from the wars in former Yugoslavia this decade.
Kosovo killing continues
FOR MONTHS Western leaders stayed silent about Russia's war in Chechnya. This week they condemned it and the suffering it is bringing. Yet six months after NATO proclaimed its own war had 'liberated' Kosovo, the result is a humanitarian catastrophe. In the summer Western leaders talked of reconstructing the area. About $1 billion was pledged in foreign aid to Kosovo. So far just $136 million has arrived.
Bill Clinton visited US troops in Kosovo last month. They live in a purpose built complex which has cinemas, restaurants, clubs and many other amenities. It is surrounded by Kosovan towns and villages which often lack even running water. Meanwhile 'ethnic cleansing', which Nato said it was going to war to stop, is continuing. Nato's bombs have succeeded only in refocusing the violence away from the Albanian majority and onto the Serb and Roma Gypsy minorities.
Independent journalist Robert Fisk reports that just 400 Serbs are left in the Kosovan capital, Pristina. There were 40,000 Serbs there before the war. A human rights group in Pristina said last month that 316 Serbs had been murdered and 455 more kidnapped since Nato's occupation. Fisk says, 'If these figures bear any relation to reality-and most of them are accompanied by names and dates-then the number of Serbs killed in the five months since the war comes close to that of Albanians murdered by Serbs in the five months before it.' Albanians opposed to violence against minorities, such as the staff of the main Albanian paper Koha Ditore, have also been attacked.
Independent observers say that the Kosovo Liberation Army, which is supposed to have disbanded, is behind much of the ethnic violence. Kosovo remains the poorest part of Europe while Nato forces sit astride spiralling ethnic violence.
An echo of the Cold War
WESTERN LEADERS have decided to let Russia murder in Chechnya in return for them getting free rein to intervene in other states in the region. It is a grim echo of the Cold War when the world was divided into spheres of influence. The superpowers traded hypocritical insults while brutally intervening in the areas they dominated.
Clinton warned Russian leader Boris Yeltsin last month that the US would delay a new treaty covering arms in Europe if Russia continued to attack Chechnya. That threat has nothing to do with defending Chechen civilians and everything to do with the US wanting to increase its ability to intervene elsewhere in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. The US also wants to rip up a longstanding nuclear weapons treaty with Russia so it can deploy an anti-ballistic missile system which will allow it to further dominate the globe.