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.