VIENNA — Moscow regularly insists that it has the right to destroy terrorists working against the Russian Federation but now says that Israel does not have the right to do the same thing, a double standard that is increasingly on view in the Russian media and one likely to entail problems for Moscow in the future.
Having surveyed articles in 20 Russian regional newspapers about terrorism domestic and foreign over the past week, Boris Shirokov, a commentator for the Moscow Institute of Religion and Politics, argues that this “double standard” represents a dangerous “political game” http://I-r p.ru/page/stream-nb/index-6560.html).
Few Russians object when their government adopts the harshest measures to eliminate those like Shamil Basayev whom it has identified as terrorists, Shirokov notes, but officials of that government not only get involved with terrorist groups like Hamas but also condemn Israel for its “disproportionate application of force.”
In the past, the Russian authorities have been able to sit more or less comfortably between these “two stools,” counting on their population not to draw any analogy between what Moscow claims is its right and what it says other states such as Israel do not have the right to do.
But the close conjunction in time between the killing of Basayev, on the one hand, and the visit of Hamas leaders to Moscow and Israel’s response to terrorist attacks this past week, on the other, may make ever more Russians aware that it is likely to prove difficult, if not impossible to sustain such differences in the treatment of terrorists.
Russians who do reflect on these differences, especially given the new wave of coverage of this approach, will quickly understand that Moscow has taken this position in order to play “a political game” in the Middle East to rebuild its influence among Arab countries and weaken the power of the United States and the West at the same time.
However popular those goals may be for many Russians, Shirokov suggests, they should remember the following simple fact: “for aggressive Islamists, today’s secular and primarily ethnic Russian Russia is part of the hated West” and therefore a country against which these same Islamists are struggling in the North Caucasus.
For the followers of such radical Islamist doctrines, Shirokov continues, Russians “with all [their] Byzantine cleverness will forever remain ‘a satan,’ a member of the tribe of unbelievers and oppressors of those struggling for freedom” in the Islamist understanding of that term.
Such people will “smile” at Russians only as long as Moscow is giving them money and “occupying a particular position on two stools at the same time, attempting to ‘balance’ the West. But this will not help our soldiers in Chechnya, and it will not help our diplomats in Baghdad,” Shirokov insists, regardless of what Moscow believes.
At the end of his article, Shirokov appends comments from President Vladimir Putin, Israeli Ambassador to Moscow Arkady Milman, and other officials and commentators. But perhaps the most dramatic comment featured there is by Andrei Piontkovskiy, the director of the Moscow Center for Strategic Research.
He is quoted as saying that “the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact brought Russia to the edge of destruction. The Lavrov-Mashal Pact [a reference to agreements between the Kremlin and the Hamas Palestinian government] may have in the future no less serious consequences.”
What Shirokov’s article suggests in turn is that ever more Russians may now be reaching the conclusion that Moscow should pursue a consistent policy on terrorism, a view that, depending on how things work out, could lead either to a change in Russian policy at home or serve as a constraint on Russian policy in the Middle East.
Moscow’s “double standards” on terrorism could backfire among Russians (2)