|Russia's tragic impasse
Today is not the day to offer President Vladimir Putin armchair advice on how to bring a futile war of secession to a peaceful end.
Not when Chechen terrorists have murdered innocents at a school in southern Russia, after taking hundreds hostage. Not after they or their allies have bombed central Moscow, killing 10. And have blown two passenger jets out of the skies, killing 90.
The Russian victims of these attacks deserve the world's sympathy.
And the Russian authorities have no choice but to crack down on Chechen radicals, to manage these crises as best they can and to redouble guards at vulnerable sites such as airports and nuclear plants.
Still, the 13-year-old Chechen war of secession continues to mock Putin's claims to have "pacified" the restive republic.
It remains a tragedy for 150 million Russians and 1 million Chechens alike. It is also a threat to international stability, because the rebels have made common cause with Al Qaeda and other outlaw groups.
After coming to power in 2000 vowing to end the insurgency, Putin has manifestly failed. Just days after he marked his inauguration for a second term this spring by announcing the Chechen problem was solved, a bomb in Grozny killed Chechnya's pro-Moscow president Akhmad Kadyrov, triggering a new crisis.
On Putin's watch, Chechnya remains a rebellious, corrupt, unstable, ruined republic. More Chechens live in desperation than hope, under harsh Russian rule.
Nor does the installation of a new Chechen president, Maj. Gen. Alu Alkhanov, guarantee better days. A career policeman, he is Putin's hand-picked candidate, and shares his aims. The Chechens who voted for "Moscow's man" in Sunday's Kremlin-manipulated election were simply exhausted, unwilling to face more of Russia's wrath.
Still, there's no end in sight to a conflict that has killed 30,000 Chechens and 5,000 Russians.
The mainly Muslim Chechens have chafed under Russian rule for more than a century. The current rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, who was recognized by Moscow after being elected in 1997, provoked Putin by allowing Chechnya to be used as a launching pad for terror attacks on neighbouring Russian regions that threatened to destabilize the federation. He's now in hiding.
Although Putin has promised to give Chechens genuine political autonomy within the Russian federation, more control over their gas and oil revenues and help rebuilding their shattered economy, he has yet to deliver. Nor has he curbed abuses by Russian security forces.
Moreover, Putin resists negotiating with Chechen clan leaders who are in a position to end this war.
Putin has scorned calls by Russian liberals to invite Maskhadov to chair a constituent assembly to hammer out a deal giving the Chechens more autonomy and "parking" the independence issue for a time, although Maskhadov is amenable to the idea.
Instead, Putin has tried, unsuccessfully, to crush the rebels. For that, Russians are paying a tragic price.
- Toronto Star