Extremists of Putin's own making
“What, one might think, do the irrational acts of two young American citizens of Chechen origin have in common with the Syria war,” asked the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta in an editorial.
To most in Washington, the quick and easy answer to this bizarre question is: nothing. But for Vladimir Putin and much of the Moscow elite, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are indistinguishable from the rebels who are trying to bring down the blood-drenched regime of Bashar al-Assad.
It's worth exploring this twisted logic. It explains why Russia continues to support and supply Assad even as he systematically uses artillery, Scud missiles and, most likely, deadly sarin gas against his own people. But it also shows why Russia and the United States should never become full partners in counterterrorism, as Putin has proposed.
The wars in Syria and Chechnya have quite a lot in common. In both countries, decades of repression prompted a popular rebellion with democratic goals. In both, the old regime refused to accept a new order. Instead, the predominantly secular independence movement of Chechnya, like the predominantly secular democracy movement of Syria, was subject to a massive military onslaught that made no distinctions among peaceful protesters, militants and innocent bystanders.
Putin oversaw the second Russian invasion of Chechnya in 1999, after the failure of an earlier campaign. The Chechen capital of Grozny, like the Syrian cities of Homs and Aleppo, was targeted indiscriminately by tanks and artillery and reduced to rubble. Thousands of suspected Chechen militants were abducted, tortured and killed. Villages where rebels were suspected to be operating were sealed off and subjected to sweeps in which all men and many boys were taken away. Though an accurate death toll has never been established, tens of thousands were killed.
Like Assad, Putin from the beginning of the war had claimed that the only resistance was terrorist. His brutality eventually made his propaganda mostly true; since 2002, attacks by extremist Chechens have haunted the North Caucasus as well as Moscow. Putin has responded to those with an equally heavy hand.
From Putin's point of view, Assad is simply and appropriately following the Chechnya playbook. All opposition is deemed terrorist; overwhelming force is the sole response, without regard for civilian casualties. What enrages the Kremlin is its perception that the West draws distinctions among the rebels of Syria — or Chechnya.
As Putin sees it, the United States is “dividing terrorists and extremists into friends and foes,” as Nezavisimaya Gazeta put it, using drones to kill some in al-Qaida, backing others in Syria and granting asylum to Chechens like the Tsarnaev family. The right response to the Boston bombing, he suggested, is to cease making such distinctions: “If we truly join our efforts, we will not allow these strikes and suffer such losses.”
Here's another way of looking at it: It was Putin's own refusal to distinguish legitimate Chechen demands for independence from terrorism that created the jihadist movement in the North Caucasus, which in turn helped to radicalize the Tsarnaevs. By refusing to support secular demands for democratic change in Syria, Putin is now helping to produce a new generation of extremists. Far from being a partner in counterterrorism, Vladimir Putin is one of the larger sources of the problem.
Jackson Diehl is a columnist for The Washington Post.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Photo of suspect in Greendale Tavern burglary/fire released
- UPMC researcher died of acute cyanide poisoning, medical examiner says
- Ambridge police chief went undercover in attempt to catch person who robbed 2 people at knifepoint
- Icy roads cause accidents, slow traffic across Western Pa.
- No decision yet on charges against elderly driver who struck and killed pregnant woman
- Washington Co. couple sues Range Resources over drilling, water
- Ray Rice wins appeal, suspension vacated
- Penguins GM prepares for emotional series against Carolina
- Comeau’s hat trick leads Penguins; Crosby reaches 800 career points
- Earlier openings make Black Friday shopping easier for bargain-hunters
- Aerobics center offers services to Greensburg VFD