Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Galloping Lawlessness Sweeps Former Soviet Lands

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Galloping Lawlessness Sweeps Former Soviet Lands

Article excerpt

The horrific murder of four foreign engineers in Chechnya earlier this month emphasized an uncomfortable fact about the former Soviet Union: The real threat to security in the region is not a return to authoritarian government, but the lack of any government at all.

The three British citizens and a New Zealander, working in the north Caucasus republic for a British telecommunications company, were kidnapped by a Chechen gang in October and held for ransom. During a bungled rescue, they were killed.

These four now join a growing list of victims of the everyday violence that has followed the collapse of the Soviet order, including the regular kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder of local citizens as well as foreign businessmen, aid workers, and peacekeepers. In Chechnya alone, some 111 hostages, many of them foreign, are currently being held for ransom. Low-level violence has become endemic across the archipelago of anarchy stretching from the Black Sea to Central Asia. After 1991, armed conflicts - from local violence to full-scale war - destroyed the residual legitimacy of local institutions after the end of communism. These disputes created new security vacuums, ungovernable black holes into which money, drugs, weapons, and people simply disappear. Recognized states are now not so much weak as simply irrelevant. Average post-Soviet citizens have discovered what Angolans and Afghans have known for a long time: In the absence of legitimate state authority, personal security is a self-help game. The inability of the state to guarantee the security of its citizens, though, is not the only problem. Criminal entrepreneurs in these areas are learning how to export their lucrative brand of privatized violence. In response to the recent air strikes on Iraq, Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov issued a statement threatening terrorist attacks against the US and Britain. Last spring, the Trans-Dniester region in eastern Moldova, which declared independence in 1990 and fought a brief secessionist war two years later, announced that it has resumed production of small arms, a mainstay of the region's economy during the Soviet period. Trans- Dniester-produced weapons have found their way as far afield as Kosovo and Macedonia. Abkhazia, whose mercenary army routed Georgian forces in 1993, has carved out an independent country both ungoverned and ungovernable. Abkhazia has become an important transit zone for weapons, drugs, and the increasingly profitable prostitute trade through the Turkish port of Trabzon, and from there to Europe and the Middle East. …

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