Elena Milashina: The Roots of Moscow's Chechen Problem

tags: terrorism, WSJ, Russia, Chechnya



Ms. Milashina, an investigative journalist for Novaya Gazeta, is a recipient of Human Rights Watch's 2010 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

The terrorist attack at Domodedovo airport last week, likely organized by Islamists from the North Caucasus, claimed 35 lives. Less than a year ago, 40 people died in the March 2010 bombing of the Moscow metro, also carried out by Chechen Islamists.

Prior to the metro attack there hadn't been a bombing in Moscow for nearly six years. In the summer of 2004, militants acting on orders of Chechen leader Shamil Basayev, organized a series of terrorist attacks in several Russian cities. The culmination of these attacks was the seizure of a school in the small Ossetian city of Beslan in September 2004. When Russian troops stormed the school, 333 hostages died, including 186 children.

Anna Politkovskaya, my courageous colleague from Novaya Gazeta, was supposed to be the reporter covering the Beslan hostage story. However, she was poisoned by Russian special services on her way to the region. So I was sent instead.

In 2004, Basayev's bargaining chip was Ossetian children: He demanded that the Kremlin release a group of Chechen separatists, and, more importantly, he demanded recognition of Chechnya's independence and a complete cease-fire in exchange for the lives of the hostages.

Yet the school children were merely a new twist on an old practice. In 2002, Chechen militants seized a theater in the center of Moscow and demanded an end to Russian military activities in Chechnya. Terrorists put forth similar demands in 1996 when they seized a maternity ward in Kizel, and in 1995 when they took control of a hospital in Budenovsk. (Both of these events occurred during the first Chechen War, 1994-1996.)

Since the horror of the Beslan massacre, Russian authorities have insisted that they eradicated practically all terrorist threats....



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