Dear Mr. President,
Before the bombs begin to fall, leaving us no time for calm reflections, it seems only natural to step back and try to assess the overall picture as it develops. No, we are not joining those who seek to dissuade you from taking a military action in Iraq. On the contrary, we think that this action is long overdue, and that Iraqi people were left to suffer from the evil regime of Saddam Hussein for too long. Neither can we share the pacifist sentiments expressed recently by many millions of marchers. Our own experience under no less evil regime of the Soviet Union has taught us that freedom is one of a few things in this world worthy of fighting and dying for. And the sooner we do it the better because such regimes, as history proved time and again, leave us no option but to confront them and to destroy them for they, by their very nature, are both oppressive internally and aggressive externally.
Equally, we fail to grasp why is it suddenly so important to obtain yet another Security Council Resolution, if it was not deemed to be important in a far more questionable case of NATO campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. Surely, Milocevic's regime pales by comparison with that of Saddam.
But why is it necessary to fight for such a noble cause in alliance with the states ruled by the regimes essentially no different from that of Saddam Hussein and of the former Soviet Union? Why must we condone near extermination of some nations in order to liberate others? Is it not an unacceptable price to pay for a dubious advantage such alliances may bring?
The case in point is, of course, Russia. Contrary to popular belief in the West, it is not on the way to democracy and market economy. Last presidential elections show you what kind of democracy this country had established for itself, when the voters had a choice between a Communist leader and a KGB colonel. That is elections Russian-style.
Indeed, the KGB has won. After ten years of some hesitant, half-hearted attempts at reform, the power was handed back to them, once again, and they were very quick to re-establish their authority throughout the country, as well as to reinstate the old symbols of the Soviet Union - the national anthem and the Red flag in the Army. The last outlets of independent media were closed down one by one. We did not have political prisoners for ten years; we have them now. Several people are already imprisoned for speaking out against the war in Chechnya, or some abuses of the military powers over there, or about the pollution by the military nuclear waste. Chechnya today is one of the festering wounds of the country, where, in view of many international observers, actually a genocide is perpetrated against the small defenceless nation.
There are plenty of well-documented reports about so-called ''zachistka'' (cleansing operations), when the whole population of villages placed into filtration camps, tortured, murdered and only those of them would survive whose family provided ransom. Corruption today in Russia is something out of the other world. It is not a corruption anymore, it is a system where the KGB (now called FSB) is running most of the organised crime, protection racket, drug trafficking, arms sales and contract killings. In reality, they became something like a crime syndicate, not unlike the famous ''Spectre'' from ''James Bond.''
And yet, as the effort to create anti-terrorist coalition was launched, British Prime-Minister Tony Blair, undoubtedly in consultation with Washington, went to Russia and welcomed aboard this new ally. He expressed his delight that in this war Russia will finally stand alongside the West, particularly he said, "because Russia has such a vast experience in fighting terrorism."
We never thought we will live long enough to hear such words from a leading Western politician. It is almost as callous and ridiculous as to say that Germany has a vast experience in dealing with Jews. Russia, in its former incarnation as the Soviet Union, has practically invented modern political terrorism, elevating it to the level of state policy. First, in order to control its own population, and then, in order to spread its influence across the world.
Their "experience" in dealing with Muslim terrorism is even more spectacular. As you undoubtedly know, they were arming Saddam for decades, providing him, among other things, with facilities for biological warfare. Another Muslim country, Afghanistan, is probably even more appropriate example. There is little doubt in our minds that the current pitiful state of this country, including emergence of the Taliban movement, is a direct consequence of the 1978 Soviet-inspired "April Revolution" there, and when it failed, of the 1979 Soviet invasion which destabilised the country and plunged it into the nightmare of 20-years long civil war. Is this the experience the West seeks to share?
But, of course, the above-mentioned statement by Tony Blair was much more than just a callous stupidity. It was meant to signify a change in the Western attitude toward Russian behaviour in Chechnya. Prior to September 11, Western criticism of Russian genocide there, mild and muted as it might be, still served to restrain the Russian rulers. Now, after making Russia a partner in the coalition, no such restraining influence is provided. Moreover, this senseless genocidal war on a small nation is proclaimed to be an experience the West should learn from. If this is a case now, can anyone explain why Slobodan Milocevic is still in jail in The Hague? In all fairness, he should be instantly released and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, because his "experience in fighting Muslim terrorism" in Bosnia and Kosovo is hardly different from Russian experience in Chechnya, except his achievements in this field pale by comparison with Russian atrocities.
This, however, was only a beginning. The danger of "partnership" with criminal regimes is that they never stop until they make you an accomplice in their crimes. Slowly but surely, the Russian rulers force their Western partners to accept their crimes in Chechnya as a part of common struggle with terrorism. Your administration has already yielded to that pressure and included a number of Chechen groups into your "black list" of international terrorist organisations, although you know nothing about them except for what the KGB tells you. Suddenly, Western law enforcement agencies became some sort of errand boys for the KGB, as they are obliged to arrest anyone Moscow points out as a "terrorist" and to start extradition procedure, even if a person in question is a well-known official representative of the legitimate Chechen government, like Ahmed Zakaev. If this is to continue, you can safely count us all as terrorists, Mr. President: since your new friend Mr. Putin has officially defined any Chechen supporter as a terrorist, we all qualify.
Thus the first casualty of yet undeclared war, its first "collateral damage" is the basic principle upon which your country was built and which is enshrined in your country's Declaration of Independence as a right of a nation to rise up against a tyranic government or a foreign occupation. And we are left utterly confused: was George Washington a terrorist or a freedom fighter?
There is nothing more dangerous in the war of ideas than the "realpolitik" approach which brought us so many disasters in the past. After all, was not Osama bin Laden a by-product of similar "marriage of convenience" at one point? Was it not true also in the case of Saddam Hussein? And is it not true that your new "partners" such as Russia secretly sell military equipment (including nuclear technology) to the Axis of Evil countries even now? Will the United States ever learn this lesson, or will it continue forever to build up new enemies while fighting present ones?
In a few days, Mr. President, millions across the world will be glued to the television screens absorbed in a spectacular drama of the modern warfare, and the bigger picture of the world will escape our minds. Bedazzled by the firepower, fascinated by the "smart weapons" in action, we might only occasionally ask ourselves: "Why is the US government not as smart as its weapons are? Why does it always make it so difficult to support it, even when it fights for a just and noble cause?"
But when the dust settles and Saddam Hussein disappears with it, a far more troubling question will remain: was it a victory or was it a defeat?
Sincerely, Vladimir Bukovsky and Elena Bonner.
Vladimir Bukovsky is a former Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his fight for freedom, and whose works include To Build a Castle and Judgement in Moscow.
Elena Bonner is a former Soviet dissident, human rights activist and widow of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov.