Mr. Speaker, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov demonstrated a fine sense of irony recently when he criticized the United States for an “excessive tendency to use force” in resolving international issues.
Let me state clearly that I do not believe my country should reach for its huge arsenal of weapons and troops every time we are faced with a difficult situation abroad. To everything there is a season.
Nevertheless, it is ironic that the Russian Government should accuse the United States of taking military action when back home in Chechnya the Russian Government has demonstrated not only an excessive tendency to use force, but also a tendency to use excessive force.
This is not meant to ignore or justify the human rights abuses of the Chechen separatist movement. The Russian Government is entitled to defend its territorial integrity and defend its citizens against civil disorder. But the fact remains that with its “anti-terrorist operation,”Moscow has unleashed a massive and brutal military campaign that frequently makes no distinction between combatants and non-combatants. As Newsweek’s distinguished commentator Fareed Zakaria wrote in August of this year, “Over the past ten years, Russia’s military has had a scorched-earth policy toward Chechnya. The targets are not simply Chechen rebels but, through indiscriminate warfare, ordinary Chechens…. Over time, the Chechen rebellion has become more desperate, more extreme and more Islamist.”
Not only are such tactics inhumane and cynical, they lead not to peace in Chechnya, but to a more protracted conflict. In this week’s National Interest online, Seva Gunitsky reports on how the tactics of the Russian military has radicalized a population that might otherwise have rejected the armed militants: “For by refusing to distinguish between fighters and civilians, the Russian army fused together the interests of previously disparate groups… [and] created a far more dangerous foe.”
Besides the widespread civilian casualties and property destruction caused by the indiscriminate use of force by Russian military and security forces, the Chechen conflict has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons. Moreover, the recent presidential elections in Chechnya were so obviously flawed that they could hardly be said to reflect the will of the people.
I welcome an exchange of opinions with other government leaders and parliamentarians regarding U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, I hope that Moscow will reexamine its own excessive tendency to use force in Chechnya and make every effort to reach a legitimate political settlement there.