Can Russia be trusted?

Human rights: Moscow's refusal to investigate brutalities points to future conflicts with the West.

March 05, 2000

RUSSIA'S acting President Vladimir Putin has borrowed a page from the handbook of Soviet political behavior: His government insists all human rights issues are Moscow' s internal affairs.

Post-communist Russia's interpretation of human rights continues to clash with the Western concept. The bizarre case of Andrei Babitsky is a classic study.

The Russian correspondent of U.S.-operated Radio Liberty ran afoul of the Russian authorities, who handed him over to presumed rebels in Chechnya. He eventually resurfaced in a Russian interior ministry jail. But as his lawyers and wife rushed to see him, he was whisked to Moscow on orders from President Putin.

Talk about due process.

Human rights concerns in Chechnya are certain to keep causing friction between Moscow and the West, even though Russian troops have now retaken much of that Caucasus mountain republic.

Several watchdog groups have charged Russia with atrocities. Moscow's official response has been to deny all responsibility. "It's impossible," one Russian general declared. "Atrocities are against the nature of our soldiers."

Yet the problem will not go away. In a recent incident, 20 Russian soldiers were killed in a clash with rebels who lured them to a presumably pacified village, allegedly using reassuring women and children as accomplices. The videotaped carnage, which included footage of strewn clothing and body parts of women and children, was horrendous.

The United States was forced to deal with similar excesses during the Vietnam War. Unless President Putin is willing to investigate battlefield atrocities, trusting relations with Russia on other matters will be difficult to achieve.

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