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Russian Dissident Warns Against Terrorism - 2001-12-13

A famed Soviet dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky, warns that Communism is by no means dead and continues to inspire terrorism around the world, including Muslim nations.

Vladimir Bukovsky says he experienced Soviet terror first hand as a political prisoner in the Gulag for 14 years. Released in a prisoner exchange, he has ever since worked against the system that tried to destroy him.

In a speech at a dinner held by the Victims of Communism Memorial Fund, he said the system is still operating, if under cover. The KGB now rules Russia under President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer. Repression is increasing, while the Russian army marches under the red banner to the strains of the Soviet national anthem.

In his opinion, Russia is moving back to something approximating the Soviet Union. "Ten years of Yeltsin's rule were, from my viewpoint, the years of lost opportunities," he said. "Instead of radically departing from the past, and above all, instead of putting the communist system on trial, Yeltsin preferred to retreat year by year until he ultimately and predictably surrendered to the KGB."

Mr. Bukovsky says he is amazed the west is recruiting Russia in its coalition against terrorism. Some of the worst terrorism in the world today is practiced by Russia in Chechnya, but the west chooses to overlook it. "Prior to September 11, Western criticism of Russian genocide there, mild and muted as it might be, still served to restrain the Russian rulers," said Vladimir Bukovsky. "Now after making Russia a partner in the coalition, no such restraining influence is expected."

Mr. Bukovsky notes Moscow even says the west should learn from the Chechen war how to deal with Islamic terrorists. This advice comes from the chief instigator of terrorism in the 20th century. "Russia in its former incarnation as the Soviet Union 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," he said. "The aftermath of their activities we can observe now in Africa and Latin America, in Asia and any other continent except Antarctica."

The terrorist groups working for the Soviet Union are gone, says David Satter, a senior fellow at Washington's Hudson Institute. They disappeared with the Soviet Union. But they have their imitators, even if the cause has shifted from communism to Islamism. "A terrorist international was created which has had influence on the tactics and psychology and behavior of the terrorists who are operating today, particularly the Islamic terrorists," he said.

Mr. Satter says the United States needs Russia's help on a pragmatic basis in the war on terrorism, but should be under no illusions. "We have tended to convince ourselves that Russia is more liberal and by its fundamental nature more suitable as a partner for the United States and as a participant in the western community of nations than it really is," said David Satter. "We always see Russia as better than it is when the Russians are in a cooperative mood."

Terrorism is different today and so is Russia, says Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russian and Eurasian program at Carnegie Endowment. Despite his KGB origins, President Putin is first of all a nationalist looking out for his country's interests. "Mr. Putin certainly desires to bring greater order and stability to the Russian state, and that has involved a marginally increased willingness to step on independent media, to curtail democratic institutions," he said. "But still this is nothing close to what the Soviet Union was in 1985, let alone what it was in 1935."

Mr. Kuchins says Russia can make plenty of mistakes, but it cannot go back.