The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, September 06, 2004

A Bear Market

The Beslan massacre is Russia's 9/11. It is Islamism's Abu Ghraib. It is the moment when the cause becomes filth. Images of abused naked children will now always be associated with it. It has already been denounced across the Middle East in unprecedented terms.

The atrocity doesn't subtract one iota from the justice of the demand for an end to the long catalogue of horrors Russia has inflicted on the Chechens. It does make any progress towards that end far harder. The Chechens might seem to have already suffered everything that Russia might inflict. They haven't.

The BBC's live coverage seemed intent on finding evidence of anger against the Russian authorities in Beslan. This anger exists, but I don't think it's that particular anger that will find its expression in the weeks and months to come, and I don't think the emphasis on it is particularly helpful.

What happened at Beslan was not just Russia's 9/11. For Ossetia, it was a massacre of the kind that is permanently burned into a nation's memory, like Lidice and Deir Yassin. And Ossetia is the last place in the world where you want that to happen. The Caucasus is where the next world war could begin.

Yesterday's Mail on Sunday (not online) carries an article by Mark Almond, Lecturer in Modern History at Oriel College, Oxford, who wrote presciently about the Caucasian tinderbox last month. Almond notes that 'old Trotskyists' and 'old Cold War warriors' and neocons are among Chechen separatism's Western supporters, and claims that Western tolerance of Chechen separatist websites and exiles doesn't go down well with the Russians. Nor does the habit of former Soviet states such as Latvia to name streets after Chechen rebels, as well as after their own local SS men. The Russians don't see themselves as the imperialists. They see themselves as the targets of imperialism.

Vladimir Putin's speech included a heavy hint that he shares this view:
We showed weakness, and the weak are trampled upon. Some want to cut off a juicy morsel from us while others are helping them.

They are helping because they believe that, as one of the world's major nuclear powers, Russia is still posing a threat to someone, and therefore this threat must be removed.

Others are quite explicit about who this 'they' and 'someone' are:
The situation in North Ossetia needs to be viewed in the context of the growing battle for control of the Transcaucasus between Russia and the Anglo-Saxon powers... The Anglo-Saxons need to squeeze Russia out of the Transcaucasus, and to do that they need to destabilise the situation in the North Caucasus and in Russia in general.

Mikhail Alexandrov in Defence Ministry daily Krasnaya Zvezda

Putin's speech should be taken as a serious warning.


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