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Liberals Support Chechen Campaign

Asked about Yabloko's position on an explosion last week in a Grozny marketplace that killed more than 100 people, a spokesman for the party said Yabloko simply has no position.

How about Yabloko's stand on Russia's decision this week to close off the Chechen border with Ingushetia, turning back thousands of refugees trying to flee the fighting? Yabloko's press secretary, Vladimir Broginsky, said this is a "security measure" that is "probably just temporary." Pressed further, Broginsky dismissed the border closing as a "detail."

Press reports of thousands of civilian casualties? Western propaganda, Broginsky said.

"The West is not objective, they are paying attention only to one side and not the other," Broginsky said. "There was aggression against Russia and Russia is answering that aggression."

Yabloko was a harsh critic of Russia's 1994-96 war in Chechnya. This time around, like the rest of the elite, they are on board with the Kremlin.

"Our goal is not to fight Chechnya, not to conquer it, not to kill everybody there," Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said in an interview on ORT television Sunday. "Our goal is to defend the security of Russian citizens in Chechnya and the Chechen border."

That seems to mean that Yabloko is willing to accept an unspecified number of civilian deaths as the means to that end. And Yabloko is not alone. Liberals who opposed the first Chechen war have swallowed several mass civilian killings with quiet equanimity.

Back in 1996, then Nizhny Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov gathered signatures on a petition to end the war and gave them to President Boris Yeltsin. Today, Nemtsov's opposition is less fiery. He has floated the somewhat odd idea that no conscripts should be sent to Chechnya without their parents' permission; otherwise, he and his other allies in the Union of Right-Wing Forces, led by Nemtsov and former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, support the war.

Unlike Yabloko, Nemtsov and Kiriyenko have decried last week's explosion in the Grozny market.

But in an interview on NTV television Sunday, Kiriyenko's outrage was directed not at the unnecessary civilian deaths, but at how the blast might embarrass Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was in Helsinki, Finland, trying to spin the war to the European Union leaders.

"It was, in all likelihood, a provocation that cost Putin very dearly," Kiriyenko told NTV television Sunday. "It was an attack on Putin in the first instance. It happened at a time when Putin was negotiating with the world community. It was an attack, if not on Russia's prestige, then definitely on Putin's."

Like Yabloko's Broginsky, Kiriyenko also said the West was treating Russia unfairly by playing up civilian casualties and the plight of refugees.

"They don't understand us in the West. There, they have different pictures on their television screens," Kiriyenko said. "We see pictures of blown-up buildings in Moscow, while they see refugees and are only talking about a humanitarian catastrophe."

Over the past week, everyone from the Taliban to the United States to Iran to the European Union and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has criticized Moscow's conduct in Chechnya. The Russian elite responds with comparisons to NATO's air war against the civilian infrastructure of Yugoslavia.

On Sunday, Fatherland-All Russia released a statement accusing the West of employing a "double standard." The statement called it "strange" that the West is demanding that "the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya be stopped and negotiations begun with a partner that does not exist."

"These demands are interference in Russia's internal affairs and seem particularly cynical against the backdrop of NATO's recent actions in Kosovo," the Fatherland-All Russia statement said.

Likewise, Gennady Seleznyov, the Communist speaker of the State Duma, said no NATO country has the right to criticize Russia over the war in Chechnya, after the alliance's actions in Yugoslavia.

In a recent interview in the newspaper Vremya MN, human rights activist and Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalyov turned this logic on its head.

"In Chechnya, Russia is using NATO's methods to achieve Milosevic's ends," Kovalyov said.

Others, like Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, turn reality on its head. LDPR spokesman Oleg Yakhimov said there were no civilian casualties in Chechnya because Russia is only destroying terrorists.

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