Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Scoop Editorial: The Right Thing To Do

Russia this week decided not to blanket bomb Grozny. With the benefit of hindsight it appears the decision not to bomb was taken on Tuesday, right at the beginning of the week, Scoop's Alastair Thompson reports on the motivations behind the sudden Russian change of heart on its "big bang Grozny" agenda.

Officially the Russian Government now says their "leave or die" ultimatum was never meant what it seemed to all the world to mean. That said the words "leave or die" do not appear to leave a lot of room for confusion .

The ultimatum, issued Monday to the residents of Grozny in a leaflet drop, on its face stated an clear intention to commit a war crime.

As has been pointed out by all the talking heads and World leaders this week it is legally and morally wrong to attack innocent civilians during an armed conflict, or to allow them to become caught in the cross-fire intentionally.

And now it seems the Russian army, and even Prime Minister Putin, also recognise this.

This morning the latest news from the siege of Grozny is that no all-out assault on the Chechen capital will take place for "two or three weeks" at least.

And so it seems the remaining pockets of Mujahadin will have till at least after the dust settles on the Russian Parliamentary elections of December 19 before they will again face the full onslaught of the Russian army.

Most probably this will mean the offensive will not be rejoined till after Christmas and the millennium New Year. A Christmas campaign is unlikely as at the end of 1995 the Russian's went on a bloody New Year's offensive in Chechnya that would be extremely hazardous, politically, to risk repeating.

Today the Russian decision is a great relief for the world, and a victory for sanity in what appears to be an increasingly insane time.

Particularly pleasing over the past week has been the swiftness and unanimity of the condemnation of the Russian plans.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this historic military climbdown are the motivations behind the change of heart.

In the West the decision not to bomb will certainly be crowed over as another victory for diplomacy - and it is.

But - like the decision of the Indonesian military to withdraw from East Timor and allow in UN peacekeepers - this decision is far more complex than that, and ultimately the reasons for averting the crisis were probably more domestic than international. In this sense it is more a victory for democracy than diplomacy.

The simple truth is that to have proceeded to commit what would have clearly been a war-crime in Grozny would have endangered the political situation domestically of those involved in the military action, just as much as it would have made Russia an international pariah.

The Chechen conflict is being fed to the Russian people as a just and righteous fight against dangerous Islamic terrorists. Killing thousands of ill, elderly and in-firm Chechens is not part of the screenplay. It seems likely that over the past week the potential of the bombing plan to polarise the Russian public has been reassessed by the Russian political leadership.

But to give credit where it is due the Russian government appeared to realise the enormity of their PR blunder almost immediately they had made it.

Hence the - "the words were only aimed at bandits" - explanation by Prime Minister Putin of the ultimatum early this week. Effectively the message to the Russian people in this was, "we are not the monsters we are being portrayed as in Western media."

On Wednesday morning in New Zealand (Tuesday in the US) when the news of the Russian reinterpretation of the words "leave or die" broke, a BBC reporter said the change of heart was due to "moral" reasons.

Of all the reasons given for the change of heart this rings most clearly.

It seems possible that when the big bang in Grozny campaign was hatched in a Russian army simulations computer it never occurred to military planners that there might be a problem with civilians on the ground. The ultimatum may even have been a last minute afterthought when someone pointed out the error in their ways. We will probably never know.

That said launching a carpet bombing exercise at a large city is no mean feat. Planning for the display of might which has now been effectively cancelled will have been in train for months and the fact that Russian military planners have no plan B is clearly evidenced in their announcement today of what amounts to a millennial lull in hostilities.

Now in the aftermath of the Russian decision - just as we did after UN peace keepers were called in East Timor (contrary to all expectations) - we can only speculate on how close the world came to a far worse outcome.

We can say for sure, however, that events of the past week have thrown a huge spanner in Vladimir Putin's presidential election campaign.

The Russian army generals behind the Chechen offensive - and presumably Prime Minister Putin himself - had been planning for a spectacular "big bang" pre-election victory in Chechnya leading hopefully to positive indications for Putin's future from the ballot box.

The military and political planners always knew when the election would be and their timing appeared close to spot on.

Now however the propaganda effort is coming unstuck. The thread is unwinding and ten days can be a remarkably long time in politics. That said, for Putin, the battle is far from over and he continues to show a fairly deft touch in the game.

With Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin holding a 1950s cold war revival sabre rattling session in Beijing, Putin has very cleverly now made himself look somewhat moderate and reasoned in comparison.

And now, just as the future of East Timor was decided democratically in Jakarta the future for Chechnya is likely to be decided on the campaign trail for the upcoming elections.

The Russian people now have a choice. A path of war, deceit and jingosim , or the probably equally hard - but infinitely more rewarding - path of peace and reconciliation.


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Trump Plays Both Sides Against The Middle

Is he a hawk? Is he a peacenik? The President keeps us guessing . By Reese Erlich President Donald Trump has convinced Republican isolationists and hawks that he supports their views. That’s a neat trick, since the two groups hold opposing positions. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Waiting For The Old Bailey: Julian Assange And Britain’s Judicial Establishment

On September 7, Julian Assange will be facing another round of gruelling extradition proceedings, in the Old Bailey, part of a process that has become a form of gradual state-sanctioned torture. The US Department of Justice hungers for their man. The More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Sorry Plight Of The International Education Sector

Tourism and international education have been two of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. They’re both key export industries. Yet the government response to them has been strikingly different. There has been nothing beyond a few words of ministerial condolence and a $51.6 million package (details below) to get the sector through the pandemic...
More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Google’s Open Letter: Fighting Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code

Tech giants tend to cast thin veils over threats regarding government regulations. They are also particularly concerned by those more public spirited ones, the sort supposedly made for the broader interest. Google has given us an example of this ... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>