TEN YEARS AGO Russian President Boris Yeltsin's government made the catastrophic decision to launch an invasion of Chechnya. Although the government said it aimed to put down a separatist rebellion in what had been an autonomous republic in Russia, the invasion instead set off an endless and vicious circle of violence. On Mr. Yeltsin's watch, the Russian army turned Grozny, the Chechen capital, into a ghost town of corpses and rubble. Tens of thousands of Chechens fled the country. As we wrote on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin has since made the situation worse, launching a second invasion, cutting off the region from aid groups and journalists, refusing negotiations, and allowing Russian troops to torture and torment Chechen civilians.
None of this, however, minimizes our condemnation of the acts that Chechen terrorists have inflicted on Russian civilians this week. Chechen terrorists have been held responsible in the past week for two airline crashes and a horrific suicide bombing at a Moscow subway station. On Wednesday a group of heavily armed guerrillas stormed a school in a town near the Chechen border. Hundreds of children and adults were taken hostage.
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The Chechens do themselves no favors by using this kind of terrorism to fight their war. Terrorism radicalizes public opinion in both Russia and Chechnya, making it difficult if not impossible to end the war by negotiation. Terrorism discredits the Chechen cause, allowing Mr. Putin to garner international support for his failed policy. Most important, though, terrorism harms innocent civilians -- in this case possibly hundreds of children -- adding new layers of horror to what is already a bloody, poisonous conflict. The Russian families who have suffered so dreadfully and so arbitrarily in the past week deserve nothing but American sympathy and solidarity.