29 October 2002, Volume
CHECHEN SEPARATISTS TAKE HUNDREDS HOSTAGE IN MOSCOW THEATER...
About 40 armed Chechen fighters stormed a Moscow theater on the evening of 23 October and took as many as 850 people hostage, Russian and Western news agencies reported. During the night, 41 hostages -- mostly women, children, and Muslims -- were released, and officials estimated that about 750-800 people were still being held late in the day on 24 October. The hostage takers have demanded that all Russian military forces be withdrawn from Chechnya within one week and have refused to undertake direct negotiations with the Russian government. Reportedly, they have explosives strapped to themselves and to some hostages and placed throughout the theater. One hostage, who might have been speaking under duress, told RFE/RL by cell phone that "everything in the building is mined." Initial reports on the number of hostage takers were contradictory, but an eyewitness told "Izvestiya" that he saw three jeeps full of armed people pull up to the theater entrance. It is believed that, in addition to the male fighters, there are 15-20 widows of slain Chechen militants also among the hostage takers, RFE/RL reported. Eyewitnesses say the militants have declared they are on a suicide mission. Throughout the day on 24 October, authorities, including Chechnya's State Duma Deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov, attempted without success to negotiate the release of a number of non-Russian citizens who are among the hostages. Reports indicate that among the hostages are seven Germans, four U.S. citizens, four Canadians, two Danes, two Swiss, three French, two Austrians, two Yugoslavs, one Bulgarian, and about a dozen citizens of former Soviet republics, RFE/RL reported. Late on 24 October, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported that a delegation of eight Duma deputies led by Iosif Kobzon (Russian Regions) had failed to secure the release of the non-Russian hostages....AS PUTIN SAYS HOSTAGE TAKING PLANNED FROM ABROAD.
During a meeting with Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov on 24 October, President Vladimir Putin alleged that the seizure of a Moscow theater on 23 October by Chechen separatists was masterminded at "foreign terrorist centers," Russian television reported. "There is no doubt that the terrorist act was planned in foreign terrorist centers. They originated the plan and recruited the perpetrators," Putin said. He also instructed security officials that their main task is to protect the lives and safety of the hostages. "These criminals are provoking us to introduce the same order that they imposed in Chechnya in their time, but we are not going to do this," Putin said.SECURITY CHIEFS ACCUSE MASKHADOV OF 'CONTROLLING' THE HOSTAGE TAKING...
Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasiliev alleged on 25 October that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is the "direct controller" of the Moscow hostage taking, ORT and NTV reported. FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko told journalists that the FSB has a videotape on which Maskhadov allegedly says he is preparing an operation that "will soon change the entire course of the Chechen war." Ignatchenko added that the video will be made public. He said the antiterrorism command center dealing with the crisis has information that Maskhadov is personally guiding the operation, including reports from FSB agents; statements by the alleged leader of the hostage takers, Movsar Baraev; and statements by Maskhadov....AS CHECHEN LEADERSHIP CONDEMNS IT.
Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev, who is President Maskhadov's special envoy, said at a press conference in Copenhagen on 24 October that Maskhadov disassociates himself from the hostage takers and condemns their actions, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reported. He added that Maskhadov tried "until the last minute" to restrain the armed forces subordinate to him from taking such radical action, but that "what was bound to happen, happened," according to chechenpress.com. Zakaev again said that the ultimate blame for the hostage taking lies with the Russian leadership, which has rejected all offers of peace talks.AL-JAZEERA TV BROADCASTS 'TESTIMONY' OF HOSTAGE TAKERS.
Al-Jazeera Satellite TV broadcast the "testimonies" of two Chechen hostage takers on 24 October. The first hostage taker of "the Sabotage and Military Surveillance Group of the Riaydh al-Salihin Martyrs," as he identified himself, said the group is operating under the orders of the military commander of the Chechen Republic, apparently referring to President Maskhadov or Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. Maskhadov is commander-in-chief of the Chechen armed forces; Basaev is head of the military committee and armed forces deputy commander-in-chief. "Our demands are an end to the war and a withdrawal of Russian forces.... Each one of us is prepared to sacrifice himself for the sake of God and Chechen independence," the unidentified man said. Al-Jazeera also carried the "testimony" of a female hostage taker who stressed the Chechens' right of self-determination, saying that Russia has taken away this right. "We have been waiting for a just, humanitarian solution, but humanity is living in a state of slumber and does not care about the killing of innocent people. Old men, women, and children are being killed in Chechnya. Therefore, we have chosen this path, the path of struggle for the Chechen people's freedom," the unidentified woman said. "Our patriots are being wiped out, and they are called terrorists and criminals. However, Russia is the real terrorist." ITAR-TASS on 25 October distributed Baraev's statement to Al-Jazeera, in which he says his goal is to end the war in Chechnya. "We are ready to die for the independence of our fatherland, and we choose to die in Moscow and to take with us the souls of the infidels," Baraev is quoted as saying.PREDAWN RAID ENDS MOSCOW HOSTAGE CRISIS; MORE THAN 750 HOSTAGES FREED.
At approximately 5:30 a.m. Moscow time on 26 October, Russian special forces, including the elite Alfa antiterrorism force, stormed the Moscow theater where armed Chechen fighters had been holding more than 800 people hostage since 23 October, Russian and Western media reported. Deputy Interior Minister Vasilev announced that more than 750 hostages were successfully liberated. According to Vasilev, 67 hostages died during the operation, apparently killed by the Chechen fighters, although some might have died as a result of inhaling sleeping gas that Russian troops used during the operation. FSB Director Patrushev reported that none of the Chechen gunmen escaped from the building, that 37 of them -- including their leader, Movsar Baraev -- were killed, and that at least two -- including one woman -- were taken into custody. Vasilev confirmed that some security troops were also wounded during the operation, but he declined to say how many. None of the estimated 70 non-Russian citizens who were among the hostages was killed, according to media reports.EXPIRATION OF HOSTAGE TAKERS' DEADLINE FORCED THE RAID...
Security forces began the storming operation shortly after the hostage takers began fulfilling their threat to kill their hostages if the government failed to respond to their demands, Russian and Western media reported. Deputy Interior Minister Vasilev said two hostages were executed and two others wounded before the decision to storm the theater was made. In addition, before the operation began, a group of hostages apparently attempted to escape, provoking a firefight between the gunmen and security forces. This incident compelled the crisis-management team to order the building taken by force, Vasilev said. However, a member of the Chechen diaspora in Moscow told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the hostage takers began executing hostages after receiving information that their relatives in Chechnya, including Baraev's nephew, were being arrested....AS SLEEPING GAS IS USED TO DISABLE HOSTAGE TAKERS.
According to a description of the operation published on the website of "Moskovskii komsomolets" (http://www.mk.ru), "in order to minimize the number of casualties, Alfa pumped sleeping gas into the building's ventilation system and immediately broke into the building by blowing up a wall in the rear of the building." Vasilev said there was some panic among hostages, who began to run toward the building's exits. However, an unidentified Alfa officer who participated in the action reported that everyone was asleep when security forces entered the theater's main hall, according to the "Moskovskii komsomolets" website on 26 October. "We killed [the female kamikazes] while they were asleep by shooting them in the head. Of course, this is cruel, but how else can you disarm a person who has a 2-kilogram explosive strapped to their body," the officer was quoted as saying. State-controlled ORT and RTR television showed about a dozen corpses of female hostage takers in various locations throughout the theater wearing traditional Muslim dress and having what appeared to be explosives tied to their waists. Vasilev said the use of the gas had prevented the terrorists from acting on their threat to blow up the building, which would likely have killed everyone inside.PUTIN: ARMY WILL PLAY GREATER ROLE IN FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM.
During a cabinet meeting on 28 October to discuss the recent hostage crisis in Moscow, President Putin said that Russia "is now paying the price for the weakness of the state and the consequences of its inaction [in the past], but the country will make no 'understandings' with terrorists or surrender to their blackmail," ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. Putin also said Russia will more actively use its army to combat international terrorism and that he has already issued instructions to that effect to the General Staff. "If anyone uses weapons of mass destruction or the equivalent against our country, Russia will respond with measures adequate to the threat wherever terrorists, the organizers of their crimes, and their ideological and financial supporters might be," Putin said. Earlier this month, influential political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii wrote that the Kremlin considers suicide bombers to be a new type of weapon of mass destruction (see "RFE/RL Security and Terrorism Watch," 15 October 2002).KGB VETERANS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR PUTIN...
An organization representing the veterans of the elite Alfa unit, which was formerly part of the KGB, published on 24 October an open letter in support of President Putin. The Moscow hostage taking "is not an act of desperation, but a well-calculated step to attack President Putin and his political policies," the letter said, according to strana.ru. Vice Admiral Aleksandr Zhardetskii, a former chief of KGB military counterintelligence, told the website, "The Chechen separatists understand only the language of force." Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, a former chief of the KGB's Analytical Directorate, said Russians should get used to sacrificing human lives if they want to protect "the sacred goal -- the indivisibility of the country."...AS MOSCOW COUNTS AND RECOUNTS THE CASUALTIES...
By the end of 28 October, officials reported that 118 former hostages had been killed as a result of the 26 October operation to end the hostage standoff, according to Russian and Western news agencies. The dead included 63 men and 54 women. According to initial reports citing medical personnel, only two victims died from gunfire, and the remaining 116 died from the effects of the sleeping gas used by security forces during the operation. However, on 29 October, gazeta.ru, citing Moscow Prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov, reported that 45 former hostages had died of bullet wounds. Later in the day, Avdyukov retracted this statement, saying that his figure of 45 included 41 hostage takers and that only four innocent people had died of gunshot wounds. Among the dead were at least one U.S. citizen, as well as citizens of Austria, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Ukraine. An estimated 30 people are still listed as missing and slightly more than 400 former hostages remain hospitalized. Putin declared 28 October a national day of mourning, and the Moscow city government announced it will pay 100,000 rubles ($3,000) to the families of each victim to cover burial expenses. Other former hostages will receive 50,000 rubles....AND EXPERTS DEBATE THE PERFORMANCE OF SECURITY SERVICES.
An unidentified veteran of Israel's elite antiterrorism squad told RFE/RL's correspondent in Tel Aviv on 28 October that the special-forces operation to free the hostages was very successful because "never before in a single operation were so many hostages released and so many terrorists killed." He emphasized that the antiterrorism units faced an extremely difficult task, having to seize a building filled with 2 tons of explosives scattered in more than 30 locations, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. He said that any such operation resulting in fewer than 30 percent casualties should be considered a success. However, dissident former FSB Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was granted political asylum in Great Britain in 2001, said he sees the incident as a failure for the security services, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 28 October. He said he believes the hostage takers could not have pulled off such a raid in the center of Moscow without important accomplices within the security community. Litvinenko also finds it significant that, reportedly, no police or security agents died during the theater takeover. He said that there are almost always police present at events such as this performance. However, there are no reports that the Chechen fighters encountered any police as they approached the theater or that any police officers attempted to resist them, Litvinenko said.SECURITY CHIEFS TAKE A TOUGH LINE...
The heads of Russia's security and law enforcement agencies hailed the success of the storming operation and promised further action against "terrorists" throughout Russia, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported on 26 October. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said he met with President Putin on 26 October and that criminal charges would be filed against everyone involved in the hostage-taking incident. "Everything will be done to clarify how the crime was organized and who helped the terrorists, both in Moscow and abroad," Ustinov said. Interior Minister Gryzlov told journalists that his agency has established connections between the hostage takers and "some foreign missions in Moscow." He said his ministry will work with the Foreign Ministry to investigate these connections....AS POLICE BEGIN OPERATION TO ROUND UP SUSPECTED ACCOMPLICES...
More than 30 suspected accomplices of the hostage takers have been detained in Moscow, gazeta.ru reported on 26 October, citing Interior Minister Gryzlov. Gryzlov told reporters "more than 30 accomplices of terrorists who tried to help them" have been detained by police. He said that people were detained in districts throughout the city, including near the besieged theater. Deputy Interior Minister Vasilev was even more explicit. "We, naturally, have much more information today than yesterday and even just a few hours ago. I am sure that now we will clean not only Moscow, but all of Russia of this filth," Vasilev said on national television. Police in Moscow continue to maintain a high-security regime, the head of the Moscow Municipal Interior Ministry's press service, Valerii Gribakin, said. The number of officers on the streets has been doubled, and all "strategically important points" are under close observation. Schools throughout Moscow were closed on 26 October. Lenta.ru reported on 26 October that police are searching all automobiles entering and leaving the capital, causing kilometers-long traffic jams....AND FSB ARRESTS INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICER WHO ALLEGEDLY HELPED THE HOSTAGE TAKERS.
FSB agents on 28 October arrested a senior Interior Ministry officer who allegedly spoke by cellular phone to the hostage takers from the crisis-management headquarters during the hostage drama, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 October. An unidentified FSB spokesman is cited as reporting that the officer might have been able to reveal information about the preparation of the operation to storm the theater. The spokesman added that the FSB is looking for other possible moles with law enforcement agencies. Moscow's Interior Ministry reported on 28 October that three ethnic Chechens were arrested with weapons, explosives, and a plan of a Moscow railroad station, NTV reported. The Interior Ministry on 28 October also arrested in a Moscow hospital an ethnic Chechen woman who was among the released hostages, charging her with being one of the hostage takers, RTR reported.RUSSIAN FORCES IN CHECHNYA REPORTEDLY LAUNCH LARGE-SCALE 'SWEEPS.'
Russian special forces have begun combing all raions of Chechnya where small groups of militants are believed to be located and have already killed three Chechen fighters near the village of Novogroznenskii, according to newsru.com on 26 October. At the same time, the website quoted Chechnya's military commandant Lieutenant General Sergei Kizyun as denying that a large-scale military operation is under way. Kizyun added that events in Moscow will not have any impact on how military operations are conducted in Chechnya.
RUSSIA UNHAPPY WITH U.S. IRAQ RESOLUTION...
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the latest draft of a new UN resolution on Iraq proposed by the United States is unacceptable to Russia, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported on 23 October. "We want the UN resolution to ensure the efficient work of the UN [weapons] inspectors. It must be realistic and not include a provision for the automatic use of force," he said. Ivanov added that Russia will continue to work on a compromise version of the resolution....AS WEBSITE SUGGESTS MOSCOW MIGHT TOPPLE HUSSEIN BEFORE WASHINGTON DOES.
The Russian government and Russian oil giants, especially LUKoil, have serious concerns that a post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi government installed by the United States might be unfriendly to Russia and its economic interests, pravda.ru wrote on 23 October. LUKoil has more than $20 billion in contracts in Iraq, and company Vice President Leonid Fedun has expressed the fear that a post-Hussein regime might break some or all of those agreements. He said the company has had no reassurances from the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. At the same time, Hussein's regime also irritates Russia's oil majors by urging them to undertake projects that challenge international sanctions against Iraq. Therefore, the website speculated, it is not inconceivable that forces of Russian military intelligence (GRU) could appear suddenly in Baghdad and arrange the quick, honorable surrender of Hussein "in order to save the country from the horror of another war." The website recalled the rapid movement of Russian paratroopers into the Prishtina airport in Kosova in 1999, which took NATO completely by surprise.ENVOY SAYS TRANSITIONAL SOLUTION TO KALININGRAD ISSUE PENDING...
The EU's Council of Foreign Ministers has decided to postpone a final decision on the Kaliningrad issue, presidential envoy to the EU on Kaliningrad Dmitrii Rogozin told reporters on 22 October, ITAR-TASS reported. Rogozin said that Lithuania "will be allowed to find, together with Russia, a form of control over railway transit that will satisfy both sides," and, in the meantime, the current status of such transit will continue until 1 July 2003. According to Rogozin, while a final decision on Kaliningrad will not be adopted in the near future, a solution for the transition period will be "legally formalized." Speaking on the same day, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said a solution to the problem of access to Kaliningrad Oblast following expected European Union expansion will be resolved at an EU-Russia summit in Copenhagen on 11 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2002)....AS ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTER ADDS TO RUSSIAN PRESSURE ON EU...
Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told Ekho Moskvy on 22 October that his ministry is considering constructing a floating nuclear-power plant in Kaliningrad. Rumyantsev said the future prospect of the closure of the Ignalina nuclear-power plant in Lithuania has prompted the ministry to look into the feasibility of building a floating station using nuclear reactors decommissioned from atomic icebreakers or submarines. He said the ministry already has about 20 blueprints. Ekho Moskvy reported that Rumyantsev described the move not as a threat but as an economic necessity....AND PRIME MINISTER ORDERS FERRY SERVICE FOR KALININGRAD.
Speaking at a session of the Naval Collegium in Kaliningrad, Prime Minister Kasyanov said he has directed authorities to launch a ferry service between the Kaliningrad Oblast port of Baltiisk and St. Petersburg by 1 January 2003, Russian news agencies reported. The ferry "Rus," capable of carrying 70 cars, 40 trailer trucks, and up to 400 passengers, will be brought to the exclave from the Far East, Kasyanov said. He also said that, under the terms of a bilateral agreement, Russian cargo trains crossing Lithuanian territory after that country enters the EU will not have to undergo customs inspections.MORE RESOURCES, STAFF DEVOTED TO KALININGRAD ISSUE.
State Duma Deputy Sergei Shishkarev (People's Deputy) has been named head of Rogozin's Kaliningrad office, BNS reported on 22 October. Rogozin, who is also chairman of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, is a member of the People's Deputy faction. It was not clear from the BNS report whether Shishkarev will give up his Duma seat or will continue in both capacities as Rogozin has. Shishkarev was elected from a single-mandate district in Krasnodar Krai.SPS PERSUADES UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER TO DROP DEMAND FOR KUCHMA'S RESIGNATION.
Speaking to reporters after a 22 October meeting in Moscow with Viktor Yushchenko, head of the Our Ukraine opposition bloc, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leaders Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada said they have convinced Yushchenko to drop his call for Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's resignation, ntvru.com reported. Nemtsov also said that Yushchenko was invited to Moscow by SPS in order to strengthen his ties with the Kremlin. Yushchenko has agreed to open an Our Ukraine office in Moscow as part of an effort to dispel his image as a "pro-American" politician.RUSSIANS, IRANIANS DISCUSS NUCLEAR TIES.
A delegation from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization met in Moscow on 22 October with Atomic Energy Minister Rumyantsev, Interfax-AVN reported. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Gholam Reza Shafei also attended the meeting, at which the two countries discussed the possibility of amending the agreement on Russian assistance in the construction of a nuclear-power plant in Bushehr ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). The amendment concerns the return of spent nuclear fuel to Russia. "The Washington Post" reported the same day that U.S. officials have failed to persuade their Russian counterparts to cease work on the Bushehr plant. The U.S. officials reportedly promised that the White House would work on lifting restrictions on Russia's import of spent nuclear fuel in exchange for an end to Moscow's nuclear cooperation with Tehran. The Russians indicated their skepticism of U.S. promises, noting that the U.S. commitment to lift the Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions has not yet been fulfilled. Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Yurii Bespalko said Russia would rather have the $800 million from the Bushehr project than depend on U.S. promises of future benefits, according to "The Washington Post."RUSSIAN-TURKISH GAS PIPELINE COMPLETED.
Turkish Energy Minister Zeki Cakan on 20 October welded together the last two sections of the $3.2 billion Blue Stream gas-export pipeline in the Black Sea port of Samsun, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 21 October. The underwater section of the pipeline extends 360 kilometers from the Russian port of Dzhubga to Samsun. A separate 501-kilometer section extends from Samsun to Ankara. The first test deliveries of gas will be made in December. The agreement to build Blue Stream was signed in December 1997, and construction began in September 2001. The pipeline will increase Turkey's reliance on Russian natural gas from 66 percent to around 80 percent. In 2003, Turkey will import 3 billion cubic meters of Russian gas, rising to 16 billion in 2008.
IRAN AND THE MOSCOW HOSTAGE CRISIS
By Bill Samii
Iranian commentary on the hostage crisis at a Moscow theater has been relatively muted and generally supportive of the Russian government. This reflects Tehran's close ties with Moscow, its dependence on Moscow for military and nuclear development, and its own concern about the destabilizing effect of ethnic sentiments among Iranian minorities. In overall terms, this reflects the emphasis on realpolitik over ideology in current Iranian foreign policy.
An early commentary from Iranian state radio on 24 October noted that the hostage taking in Moscow demonstrates that "the crisis in Chechnya is very complicated." State radio added that military means could not resolve the crisis and other methods are necessary after years of civil war in Chechnya. Later on 24 October Iranian state radio commented that violence has not resolved any of the Chechnya-related issues, and it added, "harsh tactics over the problem of Chechnya will create more violence instead of solving the problem." Turning to the hostage takers' demand of a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya, Iranian state radio opined, "It does not seem likely that such a deep-rooted conflict can be resolved within a week." The only way to restore peace and stability in Chechnya, according to Tehran radio, is to hold talks and to maintain Russia's territorial integrity.
This official Iranian stance in support of Moscow and in support of Russian territorial integrity can be traced to the outbreak of the current Chechnya conflict in September 1999. Tehran condemned the activities of Russian troops in Chechnya that October, but after that it stayed relatively silent, pausing only to reaffirm its commitment to Russian territorial integrity. At that time Iran headed the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and in December 1999 it led an OIC delegation to Moscow to discuss the conflict. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi again said that the Chechnya issue is an internal Russian affair that concerns its territorial integrity.
Tehran maintained this position in spite of criticism from Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries. There was even criticism from religious leaders in Iran. Qom Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini-Najafabadi said on 27 November 1999: "We are witnessing the onslaught of Moscow's Red Army on the Chechen Muslims. This is very distressing. Unfortunately, the Muslims are silent and the Organization of the Islamic Conference is not performing as it should." And after the Friday prayers in Tehran in January 2000 there was a demonstration in front of the Russian Embassy.
The Iranian Constitution states that the Islamic Republic must direct all its resources to, among other things, "fraternal commitment to all Muslims, and unsparing support to the freedom fighters of the world." In this vein, Tehran supports groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that are violently opposed to Middle East peace. In the case of Chechnya, however, Tehran is unwilling to risk its relationship with Moscow.
The relationship with Moscow is important to Tehran for a number of reasons. Russian firms are building the Bushehr nuclear-power station in the face of strong opposition from the United States. Indeed, on 22 October a delegation from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization met in Moscow with Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev and the two sides discussed the possibility of amending the agreement on the return of spent nuclear fuel to Russia.
Iran also is a market for Russian military products, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled howitzers, jet fighters, and submarines. Moreover, assistance from Russia and other countries will remain "crucial to the success" of Iran's ballistic-missile-development program, according to a U.S. National Intelligence Council estimate entitled "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015."
Tehran's repeated comments about the importance of Russia's territorial integrity reflect Iran's own problems with an ethnically diverse population. Iranian minorities -- Azeris in the northwest, Kurds in the west, Arabs in the south, Baluchis in the southeast, and Turkmen in the northeast -- have at different times expressed separatist sentiments. Immediately after the 1978-79 Islamic revolution, Tehran suppressed a Kurdish uprising. It is no surprise, therefore, when President Mohammad Khatami said in a 14 October speech about a potential conflict in Iraq that Tehran respects Iraq's territorial integrity, and the next day Khatami discussed the Kurdish communities in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. He said, according to Iranian state television: "We want the territorial integrity of all countries to be preserved...we oppose any intervention in any area on the basis of ethnicity and religion because this will only create discord and jeopardize the national security of various countries. It is for that reason that we support the territorial integrity and national unity of Iraq."
The degree of Iranian support for different Muslim communities reflects political realism, rather than ideological enthusiasm. Iranian parliamentarian Elahe Kulyai explained the stance on Chechnya in a 19 August speech about Iranian foreign policy. "We can support Muslims in a rational manner. Our lack of support for the Chechen Muslims against the Russians demonstrates our ability to understand and differentiate between our interests and the values that we defend. In different circumstances we use different means to realize these values."
Bill Samii is the editor of the "RFE/RL Iran Report."