THE 20th century is ending with the horror of Russia’s barbaric war against Chechen civilians. As Socialist Worker went to press 40,000 people were still trapped in Grozny after Russian generals threatened last week to annihilate the Chechen capital. Most of those sheltering from the onslaught were too old, sick and frail to leave the city.
Since September Russia, a major nuclear power, has used its might to relentlessly pound the tiny Chechen republic, with a population of under one million people. Russia has slaughtered countless civilians and totally destroyed towns and villages throughout Chechnya. In the town of Alkhan-Yurt, for example, jounalists report that every single building has been smashed and ripped apart by Russian bombs.
Over one third of the Chechen population has been made homeless and over 200,000 refugees are facing cold, disease and squalor in neighbouring Ingushetia. The Halo Trust mine clearing agency says the Russian onslaught on Chechnya has been more devastating than anywhere else it has been-including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Somalia and Angola. A spokesperson said, ‘Grozny is not the only front and the Russians are directly targeting refugees fleeing from the fighting in other areas. Grozny itself is hell on earth.’
Western leaders have shown nothing but hypocrisy in the face of Russia’s slaughter of civilians and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of refugees. US president Bill Clinton and British foreign secretary Robin Cook say Russia has a right to deal with ‘bandits’ and ‘terrorists’, despite Russia labelling every Chechen civilian a ‘terrorist’.
The nightmare in Chechnya has exposed the lie that the leaders of NATO fought the war in the Balkans earlier this year for ‘humanitarian’ reasons. Even commentators who were in favour of NATO’s war have admitted as much. Hugo Young in the Guardian, for example, argued last week, ‘As moral obscenities, the fates of Chechens and Kosovans are on a par. But as political challenges to the West they are quite different.’
The Russian onslaught in Chechnya is a direct result of the disorder unleashed by NATO’s Balkans war. NATO fought in the Balkans to further its own interests. In doing so it has not only created more ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but has made the whole world a far more dangerous and unstable place. The Russian ruling class, which felt humiliated and sidelined by NATO, is attempting to reassert its role as a major world power.
Terrifyingly, Russian leader Boris Yeltsin raised the spectre of nuclear conflict in response to US president Clinton’s criticisms of Russia’s tactics last week. ‘It seems he has for a minute forgotten that Russia has an arsenal full of nuclear weapons,’ Yeltsin warned.
The war is also a product of the West’s intervention in the region. Russia wants to assert control over its own ‘backyard’ in the Caucasus and Central Asia, which border the rich oil and gas reserves of the Caspian Sea. The US has also been trying to grab its share of the spoils of the Caspian Sea. It was recently at the centre of a deal for a pipeline to pump oil from the Caspian to Turkey, sidelining Russia altogether. It also wants to tear up a nuclear treaty with Russia in order to push ahead with plans for an anti-missile defence system which will enable the US to further dominate the globe.
It is this rivalry for profit and power at the heart of the capitalist system which lies behind Russia’s barbaric war and the terrible suffering of ordinary people in Chechnya, Kosovo and around the world.
IT IS just eight years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then we were told that market capitalism would usher in a New World Order of peace and prosperity. Western leaders hailed Russian leader Boris Yeltsin as a ‘great democrat’. But market capitalism has meant more poverty, economic crisis and war for the people of the former Soviet Union.
Over 80,000 people, mainly Chechen civilians, were slaughtered when Russia fought against Chechnya’s demand for independence in the war between 1994 and 1996. Millions of ordinary Russians have suffered from ‘shock therapy’ market reforms and from the economic crisis that hit the country last year.
Russian prime minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin wants to use the war to whip up nationalism to try to divert blame for plummeting living standards. Parliamentary elections are due to take place on Sunday. Putin is Yeltsin’s preferred successor as Russian president in elections next June. But the Russian ruling class is playing a risky strategy. Despite its vast military might it could still find itself bogged down in Chechnya for months to come.
So far there has been overwhelming public support for the war. There has been a relentless barrage of pro-war media propaganda-much of it learned from NATO’s operation in the Balkans. But that could change if the killing continues, as it did in 1994-6 when public opinion turned massively against the war. The Economist magazine reported last week, ‘There is little sense of war fever now: one recent opinion poll showed that less than a fifth of those asked would like their close male relations to fight in Chechnya.’
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