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Opinion: Is Chechnya Russia's Palestine?

Russia has suffered a spate of terrorist attacks over the past week, the cause for which lies in Chechnya. The renewed attacks raise the question of whether the conflict between Russia and Chechnya can be resolved.

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After 10 years of war, Chechens live in desperate conditions

Attacks on Russian passenger flights, a suicide bombing in the center of Moscow, and now, a hostage-taking at a Russian school in North Ossetia. Within a week, the Chechen conflict has worked itself back into the consciousness and everyday lives of Russians in the most horrific way possible. And once again, the question has arisen: Can the conflict be solved?

Some Western commentators are certain to revive the suggestion that there should be an "internationalization" of the Chechen conflict, even though that suggestion is unrealistic. For the Russian leadership, such proof of weakness would be amount to admission of its ineptitude. The super-power mentality of Putin and the political elite -- not to mention large parts of the Russian population -- speaks against taking such a step.

Several observers are also likely to demand negotiations with the President of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov. But in the meantime, it's become completely unclear which group of rebels he actually represents. If it turns out that he is harboring the terrorists responsible for the latest wave of attacks -- something he has denied -- then he would immediately cease to be a negotiating partner. Even if he really had nothing to do with the attacks, it's still questionable whether negotiations with him would help prevent further acts of terror or bring Chechnya's guerrilla war to an end.

A disillusioned generation

Instead, President Vladimir Putin is likely to continue pushing his politics of power and issuing decrees to step up security measures. Essentially, it's the right choice. Putin cannot avoid using the law to pursue terrorists. But that shouldn't be all he does, as that's not enough to stem the spread of terrorism at the social and psychological level.

After years of war, most residents of Chechnya live in desperate conditions, with little hope of finding regular work. Corruption, nepotism and widespread abuse of power are preventing the situation from getting any better. Added to this is the brutal behavior of criminal Russian soldiers or Chechnyan security personnel loyal to Moscow. Murders and kidnappings by the "masked men" have created a climate of fear. Young Chechens in their early 20s have, after a decade or war and lawlessness, experienced little else in their lives. A disillusioned generation is coming to the fore -- a generation that sees terrorism and suicide bombings as their only way out.

Decisive action needed

That's why President Putin must ensure that criminal Russian security officers feel the full punishment of the law. Crimes have to be avenged in open and fair court proceedings, so that Chechens can begin to trust the Russian state. In addition, considerable financial support is necessary. And instead of being embezzled by corrupt civil servants, the funds should be handled transparently, and lead to a real reconstruction of Chechnya. Given the high price of oil, Russia has enough money, as the 28 percent rise in military expenditure for the 2005 budget shows.

Such steps demand strength, long-term vision and decisive action from the Russian leadership. Otherwise, there is a real danger that Chechnya will become the Palestine of Russia, and that terrorist attacks will -- as in Israel -- become an everyday occurrence.

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