"Russia's not going to allow any kind of independent investigation of massacres in Chechnya," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "And the harder the West pushes, the deeper they'll dig in. In fact, they're using these charges to get as much political mileage as possible, accusing the Europeans of maintaining Cold War stereotypes and accusing NATO of committing its own human rights violations against Serbia during the Kosovo campaign."
Putin, for his part, did his best to underscore his man-of-action hawkish image Thursday by going down in a submarine to take part in missile test-firings in the Arctic. Unlike Boris Yeltsin, who tried to project himself as a cantankerous but ultimately cuddly pal of the West, Putin has unashamedly staked out nationalist credentials, making it clear that no matter how economically interdependent it becomes with the West, Russia's national interest is primary and will be aggressively defended. The Council of Europe vote is part of a wider effort to apply international human rights standards in situations where, traditionally, the perpetrators' invocation of national sovereignty has been enough to close the case. But in Chechnya, the very fact that he appeared to be defying Western concerns actually made Putin's war even more popular among Russians. In other words, the appearance of getting tough with the West is the political touchstone of a president elected without ever defining a domestic policy agenda, and he's not about to let that go.