Many analysts have called it realpolitik, but really it isn't. It is sheer moral perversity that makes the Western governments and their international counterparts remain so cozy with Vladimir Putin, the former KGB intelligence chief who is now acting president of Russia.
It is not realpolitik that prompts the Western leaders and their international protégés to welcome Putin aboard. They must know what Putin is all about. A recent commentary published in the Moscow Times summed it succinctly: "In an ideal world, which Russia is definitely not a part of, people with resumes like Vladimir Putin's would be forever banned from running for public office, especially if it's not something like the mayor of a small town or a local deputy, but the presidency of a huge country with a 1000-year record of authoritarianism, massive secret police abuses of power which ended only 10 years ago, 25,000 nuclear warheads and most importantly, a senseless and cruel war conducted now on Putin's orders."
It is not realpolitik because the Western governments' support for Putin at this time must erode their ethos as defenders of human rights. People know that the battle of Algiers is now being repeated in Grozny, unfortunately under the brutality of modern Russian weaponry.
It is moral perversity that bewitches Western leaders to support Putin despite his savagery. St. Augustine, the Middle Ages guru of the Western world, explained this perversity in reference to torture by saying, "If the accused be innocent, he will undergo for an uncertain crime a certain punishment, and that not for having committed a crime, but because it is unknown whether he committed it." It is absolutely unknown whether Russian accusations of Chechen terrorism have any shred of truth. The Russian government has produced no evidence to back up their claims, and many Russian citizens have argued that Kremlin staged the terrorist bombings in Russian cities to justify the military campaign in Chechnya, to divert attention from their massive corruption, and to catapult Putin into the presidency of Russia. Yet, Western leaders have accepted the "Chechens are terrorists/bandits" conspiracy theory.
In essence, this perversity is a primitive barbarism that advanced societies revert to, according to Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), the Italian philosopher who is recognized as a forerunner of cultural anthropology. In Vico's vision, human society goes through stages of growth and decay, beginning from what he called a "bestial stage" (a primitive barbarism in which people possess only an obscure form of reason) and culminating in "the age of men" (in which people of lower social classes achieve equal rights but problems of corruption and dissolution creates a possibility for reversion to primitive barbarism). For Vico, this second stage of barbarism arises from an excess of reflection or from the predominance of technology, heralds an imminent new beginning of history, and becomes more dangerous than the first because people hide their evil intentions behind "flattery and hypocritical wheedling."
Consider the patterns of "flattery and hypocritical wheedling:"
This past Saturday the G-7 finance ministers meeting in Tokyo didn't even mention Chechnya. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who will be in Moscow on January 30 to sweeten the estimated $1.1 billion U.S. aid to Russia for this fiscal year, has already hailed Vladimir Putin as "one of the leading reformers'' in Russia.
Last week, Lord Russel-Johnston, president of the 41-nation Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, said after visiting Russian occupied areas of Chechnya: "We learned more about the nature of the regime that had existed in Chechnya, in particular the widespread criminality, which we condemn, and the collapse of the social and economic fabric.'' He saw what the Russians wanted and told him to see. He never saw the remnants of Russian war crimes that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported, nor did talk to any Chechen government officials.
Contrast Russel-Johnson's report to what Robert Young Pelton, an ABCNEWS.com reporter wrote on Jan. 12 after visiting Chechnya: "The 40-foot crater in the middle of a food market, laughing children who went out for water and came back screaming, shattered middle-aged women in fetid hospitals, the skeletal remains of a once industrious city . . . the countless deaths and wounding of soldiers and civilians every day. I say countless because there is no one to count or verify the casualties. There are more than combatants being killed. People who are not fighting a war. People who want to live to play with their grandchildren, who were living peacefully, trying to get by. Until the Russians began methodically destroying their homes and killing the people with rockets, artillery, gas, cluster bombs, napalm, mines, vacuum bombs and Scud missiles with the pretense that they are after terrorists."
This carnage has intensified now into a real holocaust, with the plight of 40,000 Chechen civilians trapped in Grozny resembling that of the Jews left at the jaws of Hitler's soldiers in Poland or of the Bosnian Muslims left in at the mercy of Mladic's troops in Srebrenica. All this is due to the fact that the government leaders of the West and rest of the world have become reverted to the 'primitive barbarism,' becoming incapable of a moral decision.
Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com