Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 41

During a televised joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in The Hague on November 2, President Vladimir Putin likened Russia’s problems in Chechnya to attacks by Islamic militants in Europe, such as the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-Moroccan a year ago. “It was a terrible event [that] is of course a sign of a much broader problem called international terrorism,” Reuters quoted Putin as saying. “We are fighting very cruel people—beasts in the guise of human beings who do not and do not want to understand in what time and world they live. Our response must be equal to the threat they present to modern civilization.”

In the North Caucasus and Chechnya, Putin said, Russia is protecting both its own interests and those of Europe: “If we allow terrorists to raise their heads in one region, they will also raise them in others.” Asked about the human rights situation in Chechnya, Putin said the state must use “civilized methods,” but should not allow terrorists to employ the principles of democracy to fight democratic institutions. He added that Russia has held a referendum on the adoption of a constitution and a presidential election in Chechnya and invited representatives of “European structures” to come as observers, but “no one came.”

Putin also said, “Sometimes the following question comes to my mind: Do some Europeans want to be bigger Muslims than Prophet Muhammad himself? You know, we have the following expression: To be a bigger Catholic than the pope of Rome. One sometimes can get the impression that some European politicians want to be bigger Muslims than Prophet Muhammad himself.”

Balkenende, for his part, said he and Putin had talked very openly about human rights but that worries remained. “The topic of Chechnya is a very delicate one,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “With this state visit we have to give attention to the fact that we are concerned about human rights and concerned about human rights activists, and the way they are treated.”

The separatist Kavkazcenter website on November 2 published what it said was a telegram from Akhmad Sardali, head of the Assembly of Protection of the Sovereignty of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (AZS ChRI) to Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the United Nations’ war-crimes tribunal at The Hague, ostensibly informing her that the “international terrorist” Russian President Vladimir Putin had arrived in The Hague. The telegram charged that Putin had destroyed “more than a quarter of Chechnya’s population of a million together with his predecessor [Boris] Yeltsin” and “has continued the genocide of the Chechen people on his personal initiative for six years now.”