The Russian print media has continued to devote much ink and many column inches to the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and the impending U.S. response. While both ordinary Russians and officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have expressed their condolences for the victims of those attacks and called for a united front against international terrorism, a significant portion of the press coverage and commentary has begun expressing doubts over America’s planned military response.
Moskovsky Komsomolets, for example, today featured a long article with Boris Gromov, the governor of Moscow Oblast who commanded Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Gromov, who has already warned that the involvement of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan could turn out to be a “second Vietnam,” refused to give any concrete advice. He did say, however, that “intelligence of all types” would play the most important role in any possible conflict in Afghanistan. Gromov added that while the use of nuclear weapons would “simplify the task of liquidating terrorists in hard-to-reach regions,” it would also endanger the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, put the world on the edge of “full-scale war” and never be forgiven by Muslim countries. While Gromov expressed deep sympathy for the United States, he ruled out completely the possibility that the Russian army would assist the U.S. armed forces if they entered Afghanistan (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 20).
For its part, the weekly Argument i Fakty featured an interview with Valentin Varennikov, who was deputy head of the Soviet General Staff from 1979 to 1984 and a key planner of the Soviet Union’s military campaign in Afghanistan. Varennikov said that it would be “simply ludicrous” for the United States to introduce ground forces in Afghanistan. He also claimed that Russia has long been fighting international terrorism, “in both Afghanistan and Chechnya,” but that no one has supported Russia, including “the Americans,” who “only spoke about violations of human rights.” Varennikov urged the creation of an international coalition against terrorism, but said he considered it “inadvisable” to urge Russia’s “allies” in the Commonwealth of Independent States to allow U.S. forces to use their bases. “Let the United States launch surgical strikes from the territory of Pakistan, bomb the Taliban from [aircraft carriers] located in the Indian Ocean,” Varennikov said. “There is no need for Russia to be drawn into another war in Afghanistan” (Argumenty i Fakty, September 19). The Gazeta.ru website, meanwhile, posted an article chronicling the latest developments surrounding the U.S. attempts to build an antiterrorism coalition and the latest statements from Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. While the article was basically a straight news story, it was headlined: “America prepares for its second Vietnam” (Gazeta.ru, September 19).
Meanwhile, the Russian authorities continued their efforts to try and link the Chechen rebels with Osama bin Laden. Vladimir Kalamanov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for human rights in Chechnya, said yesterday that Chechen rebel groups were unquestionably “part of the international terrorist movement” and claimed that former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev had lived in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and was closely linked to bin Laden. Kalamanov, who was on a visit to Switzerland for talks with Council of Europe officials, said the Russian authorities have information that bin Laden, among others, was financing the Chechen rebels through front companies, using the international banking system, and that new funds could lead to a new upsurge in “terrorist activity” in Chechnya, which has already escalated over the last two weeks (Strana.ru, September 19).
Meanwhile, the pro-rebel website Kavkaz.org, which is run out of Qatar and connected to Movladi Udugov, who served as foreign minister under Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, today ran a commentary scoffing at such claims by Russian media and officials–although not Kalamanov’s claims specifically. The website noted it had run comments from rebel field commander Shamil Basaev expressing condolences to the families of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks while expressing solidarity with the Taliban “against possible Western attacks” (Kavkaz.org, September 20). The Chechenpress news agency, which is connected to Maskhadov, suggested that the September 11 attacks were aimed at provoking the United States into a war with Afghanistan. “The Afghan state has enough enemies, particularly many in the Kremlin,” the news agency noted. Another pro-rebel website today denied Russian television reports claiming that one or more of the hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks had fought in Chechnya (Chechen.org, September 20).
SECURITY HEIGHTENED THROUGHOUT CHECHNYA.