Chechnya and Kosovo: Equal But Separate

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Chechnya may be shaping up as Kosovo all over again, but even if NATO had any desire to intervene there it would probably hold off for fear of starting World War III. Russia bombed the Chechen capital, Grozny, for a forth straight day Sunday, and the Kremlin said it just might send in ground troops to flush out the Islamic guerrillas who continue to challenge Moscow’s rule throughout the Caucasus. That threatens to rekindle the 1994-96 war there, a struggle made Kosovo look like a pillow fight. An estimated 80,000 people, mostly Chechen civilians, were killed in Russia’s clumsy and ultimately futile bid to suppress Chechen secessionists.

Even though the Kosovo parallel is obvious –- a heavily armed state suppresses a secessionist guerrilla movement in a restive Muslim province by going to war with an entire ethnic population –- don’t expect any international posse to saddle up in defense of the Chechens. Last time around, the West remained distinctly neutral as its ally, Boris Yeltsin, pounded the partisans. And the guerrilla movement’s Islamic fundamentalism and suspected ties to international terrorist networks don’t engender much sympathy in the West. In addition, Chechnya has been part of the Russian empire since long before communism, and even another bloodbath there would be unlikely to persuade the West to get involved. For one thing, unlike Slobodan Milosevic, Boris Yeltsin has nuclear weapons.