Wrong target

It was no surprise that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, declared the recent killing of Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected president of Chechnya in 1997 as a major victory in the Chechen war. Russia has badly needed a success since the massacre at the Beslan schoolhouse last September, and the Foreign Ministry was indignant that the outside world did not entirely accept the “liquidation” of an “international terrorist” at face value. The fact is, the Russians killed the one Chechen leader with whom they might have begun a political process.

It is true that when Russians pulled out and left Maskhadov to run Chechnya from 1997 to 1999, he proved largely ineffective, especially at reining in Shamil Basayev, who really is the terrorist responsible for the Beslan slaughter. It’s dubious that any negotiations can bring Basayev under control; he must be hunted down. It’s also true that much has to be done to make Chechnya capable of any real self-rule. This is in great part the result of the damage and carnage done by Russia in its crude attempts to crush Chechen resistance, a campaign that has made it that much harder for the Chechens to develop any useful civic institutions.

Chechnya needs time, peace and help to develop those institutions, and leaders. Now that Maskhadov is dead, Putin must understand that it is in his interest to start that process. — The New York Times