Putin's Flexible Definition of Terrorism

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Who, exactly, counts as a terrorist? If you're Russian President Vladimir Putin, the definition might just depend on how close or far the "terror" is from Moscow. A court in the Nizhniy Novgorod regional center last week gave a suspended two year sentence to Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, Chair of the local Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, and editor of Rights Defense bulletin. Dmitriyevsky was found guilty of fomenting ethnic hatred, simply because in March 2004, he published an appeal by Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov — later killed by Russian security services — and Maskhadov's envoy in Europe, Akhmet Zakayev.

Maskhadov, you see, is officially a terrorist in the eyes of the Kremlin. Hamas, however, isn't. Putin said so at his Kremlin press-conference on Thursday, where he extended an invitation — eagerly accepted — to Hamas's leaders to Moscow for an official visit.

Putin's hospitality is understandable; after all, Russia does not have many friends. Those still left, like Belarus, or those now coming back after a long estrangement, like Uzbekistan, are ones who share Putin's views on how to deal with terror closer to home. Yesterday, the Uzbek authorities officially confirmed that a month ago they clamped a seven-year jail sentence on the lawyer and human rights activist Saidjahon Zainabitdinov. His official crimes were conspiring with terrorists and defaming the state. But Human Rights Watch and others believe that his real offense was telling the world — including in an interview with Time — the truth about the mass slaughter of hundreds of civilians in the Uzbek city of Andijan last May.

And so perhaps Hamas, if it wants to stay in Russia's good graces, should learn from this pattern. Terrorism is in the eye of the beholder — so if you can view the world through the cross-hairs of Putin's myopic lens, you'll do just fine.