Volgograd Forum, November 1, 2002


It came to pass that October 25, at the peak of the hostage crisis in Moscow, we held an international seminar at the Volgograd Academy for Government Service titled symbolically "International Collective Security: Aspects and Problems of Development of Partnership Relations of Russia with the USA and Countries of Western Europe".

This seminar had been planned by the Academy and us long time before the hostage- taking but it turned out to be very timely and provided a lot of opportunities for debate and discussion.

The seminar was sponsored by the NATO information bureau in Moscow, which was represented by Mr. Peter Lunak. Two officials of the US Embassy in Moscow took part in the event as well. Secretary of the Political Department of the Embassy Vincent O'Brien spoke on "USA, Russia and NATO: Common Security Interests in the New Age".

The Russian side was represented by political scientists from Volgograd, Moscow, Astrakhan, activists of non-government organizations and major political parties.

It was pleasant to hear the introductory remarks of Head of the International Department of the Academy Mr. Vyacheslav Yagubkin who said that the idea of such open discussions originated from the Volgograd Free-Speech Forum.

The NATO, US Embassy persons and a merited political scientist from Moscow Dr. Regina Yavchunovskaya made initial addresses, which generally outlined the problems concerning security aspects in our states.

The most interesting part of the seminar began when we passed to free discussion.

All participants agreed that modern states, though they possess large armed forces and sophisticated weaponry, cannot protect their citizens from such threats as terrorism. A new strategy dealing with these challenges must be worked out by governments.

There was much talk about double-standards that hamper mutual trust and understanding between Russia and the West. For example, those whom Russia considers terrorists are still "fighters for independence" in the eyes of the Western public opinion. US participants pointed out to Russia's continuing nuclear cooperation with Iran.

Of course, the problem of disarming Iraq was also on the table and debated.

In general the discussion was interesting and fruitful.

On the next morning there was the upshot of the hostage drama. You know all the details.

I think in Russia there was too much politicking around it. Politicians of all sorts tried to earn points on that tragedy and especially afterwards. Of course, no one, including the authorities, expected there would be so many victims among the hostages. There is no doubt that investigation is necessary. But while criticizing the government we must not forget who is to blame for this tragedy.

Opinion polls show that President Putin enhanced his popularity. It is not because, as some Western mass media put it, "life means nothing in Russia", but because most Russians understand now that there is no other way of dealing with those who resort to such methods.

After Russian troops entered Chechnya for the second time in 1999, such acts as explosions of apartment houses in Russian cities, kidnappings of civilians to Chechnya for ransom stopped. Now I am sure there will be no hostage-takings in Russian cities, because prospective plotters know it would be of no avail.

As for the reaction in the West I am satisfied with statements by top US and British officials who said President Putin had no other choice. On the other side, I am upset by comments in Western, especially European media, which made not the Chechens, but President Putin the main culprit. As if he deliberately poisoned his fellow-citizens. At the same time, according to the Western media, the terrorist act itself was committed by people who became desperate by Russian "atrocities". This is what all terrorists usually say.

If someone wants to read correct but independent comments on that crisis, one had better refer to Israeli media. They understand the developments here much better and provide adequate and accurate interpretation of the events. All leading Israeli politicians, including former Soviet dissident Nathan Sharanski, spoke in favor of President Putin' actions.

If we need somebody's advice from abroad in dealing with Chechnya we must listen not to Western sermonizers but to Israelis who tell us there can be no bargains with terrorists whatever cause they say they defend.

In this particular situation the Western public and the Western mass media seem to be lagging behind their governments in understanding the importance of good relations with Russia at the present stage. If we are allies in an anti-terrorist coalition, then we have common enemies. This was the case in World War II.

Russia provided an unprecedented support to the United States after September 11. If it needs to preserve this alliance, its behavior must be reciprocal.

The rebel Chechen "president" Maskhadov is waging war against Russia by guerilla and terrorist methods. At the same time his emissaries travel freely in Western countries raising money and recruiting fighters with the help of Islamic organizations and mosques. Only last week Britain banned four Moslem organizations that had been engaged in such activities. The United States must follow.

If the USA behaves like a true ally, it would surely meet more understanding in this country in its position on Iraq, Iran, SDI and other problems.

Alexander Yevreinov
Director, Volgograd Free Speech Forum


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