Lessons still to learn

The recent standoff between Russia and the West, when Moscow showed its unwillingness to participate in the meeting of the United Nations "six" and approve further sanctions against Tehran, angered many. When Russia signed contracts on arms sales to Venezuela and Bolivia, these countries expelled U.S. ambassadors, adding to the wrath. Russia was accused of being uncooperative and acting irresponsibly even in matters which concerned its own security, such as the threat of Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons. But does the West always behave in a cooperative way, when its own (and Russia's) security is concerned?

Western (and Russian) leaders should have learned stark lessons from the outbreak of war in South Ossetia. So far, however, there is little sign of this. Vice President Dick Cheney recently traveled to Tbilisi bearing gifts for President Mikhail Saakashvili, America's new darling in the Caucasus. U.K.'s top officials recommended building an anti-Russian coalition.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate John McCain has even proposed an extremely dangerous response to the Ossetian war: assist Chechnya and the North Caucasus in gaining their independence from Russia. Among other things, this would lead to the supporters of the Caucasus emirate (CE) possible rise to power, bringing to fruition what global jihadists call the "third emirate" after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. McCain and his advisors ought to know that the Caucasus emirate has declared jihad against the United States, Great Britain, and Israel, and its websites spew a continuous stream of anti-Western and anti-Semitic propaganda. Thus, jihadists like Al Qaeda would possess a haven from which they could destabilize Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey.

The Western leaders' policy responses to the Ossetian war suggest that they are predisposed to escalate the very policies that created the conflict in the first place. Georgia was and is being groomed for NATO membership, and this remains the main bone of contention between Russia and the West in the "post-Cold War" period. The Bush administration's political support and its training and equipping of the Georgian army played a major role in the development of the South Ossetian war. The U.S. response that the training and equipping was for the 2,000 Georgian troops' "counter-insurgency operations" in Iraq hardly stands up to serious scrutiny.

The American counterinsurgency training the Georgian army made Saakashvili's decision to go to war easier. After the training was complete, U.S. flew the Georgian troops from Iraq back to Georgia so they could fight Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Western support for anti-Russian separatists and jihadists continues. The U.K. has been harboring Akhmed Zakaev, among other Chechen rebels. Zakaev was a member of the former jihadist underground "Chechen Republic of Ichkeria" (ChRI) government, superseded by the Caucasus emirate last year. U.S. and other Western think tanks fund former Chechen separatists and pump out one-sided studies on Russia's war with the jihadists. The Ichkerians, led by the late internationally wanted terrorist and Zakaev's then boss, Shamil Basaev, engineered Dubrovka, Beslan and hundreds of other terrorist attacks against Russian citizens.

Some U.S. government-related and non-governmental organizations, wittingly or unwittingly, provide moral and even material support to Chechen jihadists. Two years ago, for example, the Jamestown Foundation hosted the late Ichkeriyan President Aslan Maskhadov's spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev at its conference on Chechnya's "North Caucasus Front." The front, declared in May 2005, was part of the Chechen jihadists' project to spread their jihad across Russia and create a North Caucasus caliphate.

Given all of the above, the Russian government's charges that Western governments and non-governmental organizations are helping the Caucasus jihadists cannot be so easily waved off as "Russian paranoia" and "anti-Western propaganda."

Dr. Gordon Hahn is a Senior Researcher at the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California. He is author of two books, Russia's Islamic Threat and Russia's Revolution From Above.

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