The Chechen separatist movement has been hijacked by Islamic extremists. (If you have chaos long enough, the international terrorists will come, and replicate.) No longer are the Chechens fighting for independence. They are fighting for the destruction of Russia.
This makes the Chechen movement far more dangerous than a rebellion. It makes it the front line of the war on terror.
The recent massacre of hundreds of school children at Beslan by Chechen terrorists was a grim reminder of that fact. The day before, a Chechen terrorist strapped explosives to his body and detonated himself at a Moscow subway station, killing 10 people. In August twin Russian jetliners simultaneously exploded in the air. Investigators found traces of explosives at one of the wreckage sites. Chechen terrorists have since been implicated in the attack.
Next month will mark the two year anniversary of the day Chechen terrorists took 900 hostages in a Moscow theater. 129 hostages and all 41 terrorists died in the bloody siege that followed.
This is not a danger faced by Russia alone. It is a threat that radical Islam presents to the world. That is why Russian President Vladimir Putin bristled recently when journalists suggested that he should negotiate with Chechen terrorists.
"Why don't you just meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or the White House and engage in talks," Putin snorted. "Ask him what he wants, and give it to him so that he leaves you in peace?"
Translation: The goal of the Chechen independence movement is to destroy the north Caucasus. You cannot negotiate with people who have resolved to destroy your way of life. In the post-September 11 world, the United States, of all nations, should understand that.
These are not freedom fighters. They are terrorists, hauled along by a form of Islamic extremism that permits the obliteration of all human rights-blowing up babies, bombing public buses-for what is supposedly a higher cause. Of course, when you do that, you have no morality and no cause and eventually no freedom, because the people who are willing to obliterate all human rights are not going to establish democracy when they win. The examples of Iran and Iraq have since borne out this observation.
And indeed, the situation Russia faces is not unlike that which confronted Benjamin Netanyahu when he became prime minister of Israel. From its inception, Israel has been confronted by nations and terrorist organizations dedicated to wiping it off the map. Netanyahu's response was straightforward: He cracked down. Hard.
For this he was widely criticized. But under Netanyahu's stewardship, suicide bombings nearly stopped, and Israel managed treaties with neighboring Egypt and Jordan. This tenuous peace came about not because Arab societies suddenly recognized the inalienable value of basic human rights, but because Netanyahu had made clear that Israel would not be dislodged.
During the course of a casual conversation last summer, Netanyahu explained to me his thinking: "You couldn't negotiate with Hitler. It didn't matter if you had peace conferences. He meant to destroy. There was never a middle ground. That sort of fanaticism you need to vanquish. .
"We achieved peace with Egypt and Jordan. The reason we didn't make peace with Arafat is because he wants to overrun the Jewish state. He says so quite openly to his people. . Hamas is even more explicit. My hope is that the Palestinians will produce a different kid of leadership that abandons the fantasy of destroying Israel through terror. The test of whether we're moving toward peace will come not when we fight the terrorist, but when the Palestinians fight the terrorists among them."
Putin understands this. He cannot negotiate with terrorists, for they have resolved to destroy him. The north Caucasus is the front line of this battle. But it is a fight that confronts not only the whole of Russia, but the world. It is an attack on the civilized world by terrorists. And it must be treated as such.