Imagine that on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, an influential Russian newspaper used the previous day's terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon as an opportunity to lecture the U.S. government on its conduct. I suspect that most Americans would have found this patronizing advice to be deeply offensive, and yet this is precisely what The Post has done in its Oct. 25 editorial "Chechnya in Moscow." Moreover, The Post took this position while hundreds of innocent civilians -- including women, children and, yes, Americans -- continued to be held hostage and threatened with mass murder at the hands of their Chechen captors.

The Post claims that Russia's war in Chechnya is different from the American war on terrorism because it could be ended "easily" if President Vladimir Putin had sufficient "political willpower." But the United States could also bring an end to the war on terrorism, for example, by abandoning Israel, closing its bases in the region and withdrawing its troops. Successive U.S. administrations have maintained these policies because they have seen them as important or even vital to U.S. national interests. My country's territorial integrity is no less important to its government and citizens.

Aslan Maskhadov's policies during 1996-99 -- when he was Chechen leader and the Russian military was practically absent from Chechnya -- speak for themselves. During this period Chechnya, which enjoyed de facto independence, adopted Islamic sharia courts, developed an alliance with the Taliban, offered hospitality to al Qaeda representatives and became the scene of widespread kidnapping and murder, including of Western aid workers. Russia's reintroduction of its military forces in 1999 came after attacks by Chechen forces in the adjacent region of Dagestan. It also followed terrorist bombings, linked to Chechen groups, of three apartment buildings; hundreds of innocent people were killed. The outrageous mass hostage-taking still underway should demonstrate to any unbiased observer that the Chechen militants are perfectly capable of such acts.

Muscovites and other Russians closely followed the acts of the Washington sniper in recent weeks, identified with the fear and insecurity of area residents, and have been happy to see the apparent capture of those responsible. As Moscow's crisis unfolded, President Bush was among the first foreign leaders to call President Putin to extend his sympathy and help; he offered not only political but also practical support in resolving the hostage situation. But no less important to the Russian people is the simple demonstration of Americans' broader sympathy during this moment of great trial.

As a Russian -- as a human being -- I am sorry that The Post cannot offer even that much.

YURI USHAKOV

Ambassador

Embassy of the Russian Federation

Washington