Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 45

On December 14, six specialists on the Caucasus region sent an open letter to the editor of The New York Times taking exception to an article by correspondent Michael Wines appearing in the December 9 issue of the newspaper. The six signatories were: Charles H. Fairbanks, Jr., Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University; Fiona Hill, Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Program, The Brookings Institution; Glen Howard, Executive Director, American Committee for Peace in Chechnya; Chris Kline, journalist, ABC News; Miriam Lanskoy, Boston University; and Johanna Nichols, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of California at Berkeley. “No sources,” the authors underscore, “are given for the key assertions that the guerilla leader Khattab has ties to Osama bin Laden or that Chechnya’s guerillas are financed by a web of Islamic charities that are cash conduits for terrorist groups. The only Western scholar cited, Dr. John Dunlop, argues against the thrust of Wines’ article.”

The authors proceeded to maintain that Wines’ article was “misleading on five crucial points.” “First, by far the largest part of the rebels’ financing comes from inside the Russian Federation… Second, as Dr. Dunlop said in the article, nationalism is far more important than religion as a factor in the Chechen struggle… Third, since this war began, Chechen fighters appear to have foresworn terrorism, in the sense of acts against noncombatants…Fourth, Mr. Wines’ article says nothing about the extent to which the Russian intelligence agencies, by past financial sponsorship and political manipulation of many of the current Wahhabi fighters and their allies, worsened the problem of Islamic extremism in Chechnya and Dagestan…. Finally, the article does not differentiate the rebel government in Chechnya from the extremist elements, although President Maskhadov ousted most of the Islamic-oriented figures from his government in 1998…”

“It is important,” the authors concluded, “to draw attention to the problem of Islamic extremism among the Chechen rebels, and Arab support for it. But to misstate the extent and nature of that extremism can deflect our attention from the terrible human suffering now taking place in Chechnya. As in Afghanistan, it is endless war that has created a place for extremism in Chechen society.”