Fareed Zakaria Doesn’t Know Anything About Chechnya

I normally do not respond to specific articles that I think misunderstand Russia.  But I just cannot resist responding to Fareed Zakaria’s latest piece in Time, which purports to explain to readers this week’s Domodedovo bombing.  I like Zakaria.  I think GPS is the only Sunday show worth watching.  Even the episodes on Russia are unusually sophisticated and thoughtful.  That is why I feel the need to call out Zakaria’s ignorance here.

According to Zakaria, “Russia created its own Islamic Terrorism problem” basically because Russians have brutalized the Chechen population since the days of the Russian Empire.  No argument there.  But Zakaria’s history lesson collapses when it gets to the 1990s.  Zakaria writes, “In 1990, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, a national convention of all Chechen political groups united in a call for immediate independence from Moscow. In response, the Russian government invaded Chechnya. Over the course of the past two decades, it has fought two ferocious wars, killed tens of thousands of Chechen civilians and razed large parts of the republic, flattening its capital, Grozny” (emphasis mine).  Notice how those two wars seem to just flow together, as if the two sides agreed to take a breather in between the two.

What Zakaria’s lesson omits is that the First Chechen War ended in 1996 with the Khasav-Yurt Accord, which provided for full Russian withdrawal by December 31, 1996, gave Chechnya autonomy and paved the way for independence of the ‘Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.’  So when and why did the Second Chechen War start?  Well, in the 1996-99 interim period, Chechnya essentially descended into Somalia-like anarchy, with warlords taking control of various pieces of territory.  In March 1999, the Parliament was shut down and Sharia law was introduced (you know, like the Taliban), in order to appease Islamic militants. But Chechnya’s independent, so no Russian response.  A tipping point came in the summer of 1999 when Chechen Islamic militants invaded neighboring Dagestan (i.e., Russia).

Just imagine, Mississippi secedes from the United States, descends into chaos, and imposes Sharia law.  Islamic militants in the Republic of Mississippi then invade the neighboring state of Alabama.  What would Zakaria, or any sane person, recommend as the appropriate response?  Yes, Russia’s methods – including the leveling of Grozny – have been deplorable.  But the idea that post-Soviet Russia has pushed Chechens into a corner where the only rational choice is to self-detonate in crowded Moscow locations is ludicrous.

Finally, I would point out that Zakaria was a key ‘liberal’ cheerleader of the Iraq war.  When he spoke at my college in March 2003 – in a speech with the unintentionally ironic title, “Why do they hate us?” – Zakaria said he “reluctantly” decided to support the Iraq war.  Huh?  Based on what?  Certainly not an Iraqi invasion of a U.S. state.  And I seem to remember a few civilians dying during the Iraq War.

This is the insane thing about American commentary on Russia – even someone who clearly has no standing to oppose another country’s fight against terrorism can completely fabricate historical narratives to support his point.  This double standard feeds into Russian paranoia over a secret desire among the American elite to see Russia crumble into multiple pieces that can be played against Moscow.

So next time, Fareed, get your facts straight – you should know better already.

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34 Responses to Fareed Zakaria Doesn’t Know Anything About Chechnya

  1. tewonder says:

    It’s also not as if Russia invaded Chechnya as the Soviet Union was collapsing, it took three years after the Soviet Union broke up for them to start the first war in 1994. In the those three years, there was a similar break down in law and order in Chechnya to what occurred between 1996-99, at least in the sense that it was a hotbed for smuggling, arms dealing and other not-so-nice illegal activities. I completely with your point that Russia’s means for prosecuting the campaigns in Chechnya are impossible to defend and have ultimately been counter-productive, but, with regards to the goals of the Chechen wars, Russia didn’t have any kind of attractive alternative to the course they took.

    • hologrm says:

      A missing part of the narrative is the reliance of 90s era oligarchs on Chechen “security” (aka hitmen) who were supposed to share the spoils in their homeland. Therefore they became part of the Moscow-allied Chechens whose interests were threatened by the separatists. Boris Berezovsky was trying to control all the businesses in the Caucasus, and he even purportedly paid Shamil Basayev to start the second war.

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  4. Zimbru says:

    Zakaria isn’t wrong, he’s just over-simplified things.

    Then again, so have you. While the Chechen incursion into Dagestan may have presaged the second war, it was the Moscow apartment bombings that were the immediate trigger. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that the bombings were carried out by Russian security services so that the Russian army could have an excuse to intervene militarily in Chechnya.

    As for there being no alternative to the course Russia has taken, that’s a load of codswollop. The course Russia has taken is one of brutality and corruption. Targeted military incursions, focussed only on miscreant warlords and executed by disciplined and professional soldiers, would have been far more effective.

    • jesseheath says:

      As I explained, the alternative – leaving Chechnya to its own devices – was tried and failed. I would be interested in seeing this ‘strong evidence’ you cite in support of the apartment bombing conspiracy. Also, the counter-offensive against Chechnya started in August 1999, the apartment bombings were all in September, which last I checked comes after August.

      • Medved says:

        Russia has done a lot of damage in Chechnia. The fact that it withdrew its forces in 1996 does not mean that Chechens will stop hating Russia for the initial invasion. There is a lot of poverty there and it is easy to turn the anger on a former invador. Chechnia is not alone in its dislike of Russia. Ask other former USSR rebublics and see what they think of a big neighbor.

      • Medved says:

        There are good neighbors, like Canada, and bad mean neighbors, like Russia. Chechnia and Georgia are small and poor, and big Russia always acts like a big bully.

  5. SIAFU says:

    “Targeted military incursions, focussed only on miscreant warlords and executed by disciplined and professional soldiers, would have been far more effective.”

    You are SO right! You may name Afganistan as the very successful example of this BS. LOL

  6. Peregrinus says:

    I normally do not respond to specific comments that indicate misunderstanding the idea of article they comment. But I just cannot resist to point out that only person with little or no understanding at all would deem Fareed Zakaria either liberal or supporter of war in Iraq. Obviously you did not reed much of “Newsweek” Jesse.
    While Zakaria oversimplified quite a few things, he makes a good point. And, I know it is hard for you to get, but he also speaks of Bush tactics too. Shock and awe, forceful resolution often backfire, and Zakaria praised at some point in media attempt to find popular local mediators in Iraq while sidelining hardcore fanatics.
    That pretty much what Zacaria, himself, means speaking of staking up only violence and domination in Chechnya and Dagestan. And do kid yourself thinking that he speaks of Russia only.
    Next time, Jesse, try to do your homework about how well “strong hand” tactic worked for Russia in Caucasus, and for US and Israel in other in some other regions.

    • jesseheath says:

      I didn’t say the strong hand tactic worked. I said Zakaria’s understanding of the two chechen wars is wrong. Also, if you truly think Zakaria didn’t support the war, I suggest you read this press release on the event that I attended – http://www.lawrence.edu/dept/communications/media/release/0203/zakaria.html

      “A contributing editor at Newsweek for the past six years, Zakaria’s first column for the magazine, “Thank Goodness for a Villain,” argued why America needed Saddam Hussein in order to sustain American policy in the Middle East, but today he supports military action in Iraq.”

  7. Daniel says:

    hm!!!! mississippi and chechnya. is a fundamentally wrong comparison.
    just think how different they are.
    Comparing them is only a pirouette to exaggerate the colours.
    Mississippi was formed as a colony. Colonists never felt the pain after loss of the freedom. Chechens do know the pain after occupations and resettlements.
    It is hardly probable to impose sharia law in mississippi.
    In chechnya it is logically probable cuz islam had spread there from the middle ages.

    The probleme has the roots deep in the history. It is a tangle where both russians and chechens have a lot of offences to each other.

    Zakaria knows very much about Chechnya. Not less than Jesse Heath.
    But he thinks about this subject deeper.

    • erasure says:

      “hm!!!! mississippi and chechnya. is a fundamentally wrong comparison.
      just think how different they are.
      Comparing them is only a pirouette to exaggerate the colours.
      Mississippi was formed as a colony. Colonists never felt the pain after loss of the freedom. Chechens do know the pain after occupations and resettlements.”

      Very well then, picture AMERICAN BLACKS turning to Islam and announcing Mississippi as their “place,” their colony. ( After all they did feel the pain of slavery and injustice – right? Besides, since they’ve been forcefully “imported,” they have nowhere to go after a couple of centuries, so why not claim Mississippi?) From here on follow the scenario – they receive independence, establish Sharia law and THEN proceed to invade Alabama. Why? Because there are Black brothers in Alabama as well you see; they need “freedom fighters” to liberate them from the White oppression and to unite with them under the banners of Islam. Now how is that for scenario? Does it hit close(r) to home?

      • marknesop says:

        Dovetails nicely with Mohmad’s observation, below, that Islam is Russia’s second-most-pervasive religion. It also supports my contention elsewhere that if Russia were to give up the Caucasus to an independent Islamic republic or group of nation-states, that would prove ultimately unsatisfactory to the new neighbours. Eventually their attention would fall upon all the other Muslims “crying out for liberation” beyond the new border.

        Doubtless such a desire would have the enthusiastic approval of the wewstern press, which is a staunch supporter of Islam provided it is creating a problem for somebody they don’t like.

  8. Mohmad says:

    As a Chechen and Sufi Muslim who lives in Kazan, Russia I am confused by that article. How are they freedom fighters and fighting for the freedom of my homeland if they kill Chechen? They bomb Chechen Mosques, markets and target Sufi clerics who stand up against terrorism. Oh wait they consider Sufi the native faith of Chechen infidels since we are not Wahhabist Islam like Saudi Arabia. Wahhabist consider everyone who is not like them including other Muslims infidels. Sorry Fareed Zakaria I do not want Chechnya to be under the control of Wahhabist Muslims and Strict Sharia law that allows honor killing, bride napping or other acts of abuse toward women. I do not want people hate all of Islam or innocent lives dead because of a few coward who hide and cant act like men.

    As a Muslim this article disgust me. Terrorism is a threat to all life and Islam as whole. It should be never justified it anyway and never used as a pretense for freedom fighters.

    It’s also worth noting that Islam is actually Russia’s 2nd largest religion. Many millions of muslims live in Russia in perfect peace with their Orthodox neighbours. Regions such as Kazan and Tatarstan are muslim majorities and even in Moscow, you can find high-profile Mosques. Compared to the US, it would be fair to say Russia has a very harmonious relationship with their muslim citizens You can here the call to prayer in cities in Russia. In Kazan Muslims attend church and Orthodox religious holidays and Orthodox Christians uphold Muslim feats. You can see Imams playing Chess with Priests or talking and conducting prayers together

    • erasure says:

      “Wahhabist consider everyone who is not like them including other Muslims infidels.”

      Yep, I remember very well certain episodes described by the survivors of Beslan, when mothers were begging to let their older children go with them ( they were allowed to leave with infants, while their 6-7 year old kids were ordered to remain in school.) When one of these mothers told thugs (oops sorry – “freedom fighters” ) that she was a muslim, they’ve pointed her at one of the women terrorists in their group dressed in black garbs and told her “this is a true muslim.”

  9. Amit-Atlanta-USA says:

    After reading your response and also checking out the facts myself, I can see to what extent Mr. Zakaria is willing to over simplify things to support people of his Muslim faith. Please don’t mix that up with American arrogance. Lot of knowledgeable Americans believe that his purported support for certain American positions and values are an effort at reaching higher alters of US public life including the position of the US Secretary of State. They cite as proof a web site that appeared out of nowhere and whose owners were unknown appealing to the US president to make Mr. Zakaria the US Secretary of State.

    Please read the rest of my feedback here at Time.com

    While I don’t claim to be an expert on the Chechen issue and only now am trying to understand it, what I absolutely can say is that Mr. Zakaria cannot be trusted to be an impartial judge on matters relating to his Muslim faith whether in Chechnya, US, Europe, India, Pakistan or anywhere. I am not saying that he falsifies information but he has developed a unique knack of stating the obvious to capture readers imagination, selectively choosing or even ignoring facts, and then slicing & dicing the facts to suit his story, thus making the entire story sound fair & balanced to an average reader.
    In this story, I see that Mr. Zakaria conveniently omits some of the most horrific crimes of the Chechans when they butchered over 200 innocent school kids in one of the most heinous human acts in recent memory. The other example of Chechen barbarity which Mr. Zakaria does not find important in this story was the Moscow theater siege, and the ethnic cleansing of 100’s of thousands of Russians by Chechan rebels. He also fails to state that after the first Chechan war Russia pumped in billions & billions of roubles into the Chechan economy and rebuild Grozny, even building some of the grandest Mosques there, all of which was of no avail.
    So while I do try to read most of the analysis of my former countryman Mr. Zakaria, I am always careful to read between the lines, verify the complete picture, as also important omissions, before taking the article at face value.

  10. fynjy says:

    очень интересно выслушать стороны…..Религия Ислам в России занимает второе место как сказал выше сказанно человек я так понел проживающий в Казани….но процент Русских в стране составляет 80% не считая что здесь живут славянские народности как Беларусы , так и Ураинцы в общей сложности ещё 3-5% и все в основнм Православные…Подругому бороться с экстремизмом нельзя в осбенности Северо- Кавказкого региона в 96-99 годах …. Чечня стала ГОНГРЕННОЙ в России , а её боевики постулаты , и только как удаление гонгренны принесло бы спокойствие России…

    • chechen says:

      около 300 000 человек из них около 40 000 дети! были убиты вашими идиото ‘миротворцами’, какое нафиг еще удаление тебе нужно?

    • chechen says:

      Чечня не стала ГОНГРЕННОЙ, ваше руководство, под ваше молчание ее таковой сделало, ВЫ КОГДА ЛИБО ДО 90-х ГОДОВ СЛЫШАЛИ ПРО ТЕРРОРИСТОВ – ЧЕЧЕНЦЕВ? НЕТ? АХ ТЫ ЕЩЕ НЕ ДУМАЛ НАД ЭТИМ?!
      Вашему самогоночному народу всегда было плевать что с ним делают, а теперь кто то крикнул – “Мы крутые славяне!”, и вы похлопали, вы жалки…

      • ramone89 says:

        А про геноцид русских в чечне все забыли?

        • chechen says:

          Геноцид русских при много преувеличен, его не было, были убийства наряду с чеченцами, но никак не геноцид, ни кто из чеченцев не выставлял 1000 человек по нац принадлежности и не расстреливал из за оного!

          В нашей школе завуч была лет 20 уже работает – русская, у меня по соседству русские живут (в селе), со мной работают русские, тут живут выросшие тут русские, у них такие же как и у нас бывают проблемы с милицией когда видят в их паспортах место прописки…

          Вам по телевизору показывают что тут нет ни единого русского, а тем временем у вас тут поколение растет, и они никогда не говорили про геноцид русских по тому, что знают по отношению к кому был и остается этот геноцид!

          Чеченцы никогда не вторгались не стого – не с сего в чужие квартиры в москве ростове или еще где либо…

          А сколько семьей в Чечне было убито опьяневшими русскими солдатами, которым скучно стало по средь ночи в 3 часа? И эти твари те что выжили после войны, те которые получили медали за отвагу, вот какие твари у вас в герои записаны…


          Вы русские никогда не смотрите на причины, потому что для этого нужно иметь мозги и терпение, вы видите только то что вам показывают и верите только в то что велят верить, а я с 5 лет вижу как ваша власть врет в глаза и не краснеет, и мне от этого становится СМЕШНО))

        • chechen says:

          и вообще ты даешь ссылки на википедию, ты в курсе что любой желающий может изменить ее содержимое???
          год назад там в статьях про чеченские войны была статистика, а именно статистика про вторую было написано ~2000 солдат ~27000 чеченцев погибло!))))))))))))))))))))))
          Даже моим носкам стало смешно от этой статистики!)))))

      • самогоночному народу says:

        Чего-ж ты за бугор то уперся, может к твоим наклонностям в России плохо относятся?

  11. stiletto says:

    Survivals of the past – between 1996-99 – in the low tradition of
    There was even a relatively open “slave market” in Grozny. Some of the kidnapped (most of whom were Russians) were sold into indentured servitude to Chechen families.

  12. marknesop says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Jesse – not only with your conclusions and their substantiation, but with your liking of Zakaria on most matters. In the past he has been extremely courageous in supporting controversial viewpoints, and has been known to admit when he’s wrong. He certainly is this time, and hopefully he will acknowledge it.

    There has been wrong on both sides – but you’d never know if you read nothing but mainstream western press sources. All the stories seem to be tearjerkers about how the Russian thugs smashed their way into someone’s home and shot the head of the household – for no reason except that he was obviously Chechen – in front of his wife and children. If that’s the way it happened, I’m sorry and it’s a terrible thing. But I invite readers to consider (a) Chechen insurgent leaders always say the dead were innocent, and that they were killed in the most gruesome and public fashion despite the purity of their innocence, and (b) where are the pitiful stories of the Russians blown to pieces by Chechen terrorists when they weere just going about their business, unaware? Were they sponsors of state terrorism just because of their nationality? If you are tempted to say “Yes”, be careful; you’re on a slippery slope.

    Zakaria needs to be jerked up short on this one, because he’s wrong: mostly because he wrote a story based on inadequate knowledge of the circumstances and an overreliance on subject material that panders to the same viewpoint. Good post.

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