Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 36

Svetlana Gannushkina of Memorial said that feelings of despair are now running so high among Chechens that her own organization was finding it difficult to persuade its Chechen employees to take part in the international human-rights conference scheduled for late September. “They see the situation as almost hopeless,” she said. Contrary to some other observers, she did not see Wahhabism and other forms of religious extremism as growing in influence. “What prevails now is simply desperation,” she said. “Chechens are asking, ‘How can we possibly live together with the Russians?'” Gannushkina also suggested that thefts of humanitarian aid from Western governments and private charities are greater than is generally realized and that the donors have a vested interest in understating this problem.

Andrei Mironov emphasized the moral deterioration on both sides of the war in Chechnya, caused by both sides’ increasingly ruthless attacks. “It is already possible to predict,” he said, “that the next terrorist attack will be even worse than Beslan. Children who are now growing up will be even more adaptable to such horrors.” He noted that on the Russian side the Ulman case showed a new level of brutality—it was a jury of ordinary citizens, not a judge controlled by the authorities, who found this Russian officer innocent even though the facts of his murdering Chechen civilians were not in doubt.

Andrei Piontkovsky clearly shared a sense of despair—not just for Chechnya, but for Russia as a whole. “I had been predicting an economic catastrophe for Russia,” he said, “but now it’s clear that the catastrophe will be one of terrorism.”