Fareed Zakaria ["This Is Moral Clarity?" op-ed, Nov. 5] distorts the history of the Chechen conflict. He claims that Chechens "were granted independence in 1918, but in 1920 the Soviet Union invaded the country again and brutally suppressed periodic revolts."

A Chechen "country" in 1920 could exist only as a fantasy of Zakaria, along with the invasion by "the Soviet Union," which was not founded until two years later. At the time the Chechens were supporting the Bolsheviks against the White Army Cossacks who dominated Russian North Caucasus.

The claim that "no leader can control the increasingly radicalized and lawless youth, such as those who took over the Moscow theater" is nonsense; the Chechen fighters are highly motivated, well organized and disciplined.

The leading Chechen warlord, Shamil Basayev, has admitted his key role in the planning of the Moscow theater terror. The terrorists themselves in an interview broadcast on Russian TV were referring to Basayev and the Chechen "president," Aslan Maskhadov, as their authorities. And Maskhadov threatened last summer what many interpreted as terrorist acts against Russian civilians.

Russian tactics in Chechnya are well known and can't be justified. They are no excuse, though, for Zakaria's conclusion that "terrorism is bad, but . . ."

-- Alexander Massey