Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series providing background on and context to the recent abuses suffered by the LGBTQ community in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
The atrocities to the LGBTQ community in the semi-autonomous republic of Chechnya foreshadow things to come.
The actions there are the result of decades of war, warlordism, chaos and terrorism, not because of Islam. Some of this is of course influenced by the Islamic fundamentalist Wahhabist elements friendly to the Kadyrov regime that want a stricter enforcement of Sharia law. But much more of this is because Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov finds LGBTQ individuals opposed to his vision of Chechnya, and Chechnya’s vision for a greater Russia.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t interfere if it doesn’t negatively affect Moscow. As long as Moscow believes Chechnya is safe for Moscow, one can continue to expect these types of human rights abuses – not just against the LGBTQ community, but against anyone that is perceived to be a threat to the cultural values Kadyrov and Putin identify with.
Recent reports are surfacing that family members of LGBTQ Chechens are being encouraged to deal with the “problem” themselves, to “preserve family honor” or allow the government to do so. This is resulting in honor killings in which gay and lesbian teenagers in Chechnya are being killed by family members. One report details an uncle throwing his gay nephew off a nine-story building to preserve the uncle’s “honor.”
This is humanity at its worse. Reports suggest that the government of Chechnya deals with LGBTQ members by rounding them up and sending them to detention centers, where they are tortured and killed. Other individuals found in their lists of cell phone contacts are investigated for their sexuality. They are then rounded up, and the cycle continues.
If these reports are authenticated, this would be one of the vilest violations of human rights today.
What can the U.S. do? House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to President Trump asking him to take action in Chechnya regarding these human rights abuses. But unfortunately, the LGBTQ community there is caught in one of the fiercest geopolitical chess matches the world has ever known, one where even the great political strategy master Niccolo Machiavelli would have trouble dealing with.
Chechnya causes problems for Russia. Putin gives carte blanche to Kadyrov to rule Chechnya how he wants. Kadyrov keeps Chechnya safe, or defined as safe for Russia. Russia is asserting its power globally, which challenges U.S. power. Chechens are involved in ISIS. ISIS is based in Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is anti-ISIS. Putin is pro-Assad. Kadyrov, hence, is pro-Assad. The U.S. is anti-Assad and anti-ISIS.
You get the picture. There is no move the U.S. can make here without causing potential disastrous consequences. If it opposes one side, it helps the other in Syria. And both are antithetical to U.S. policies. Because of decades of the U.S. forgetting about Chechnya generally and a decade of unsophisticated foreign policy decisions toward Syria and especially toward Russia, the U.S. is in a no-win situation.
What is occurring is not the fault of the U.S. But perhaps the U.S. could have paid more attention to its foreign policy to Russia’s near-abroad over the past decade or so. Tragically, regardless of the causes, human rights lose. Also losing are the 99 percent of Chechnya’s population who are amazing individuals who have suffered some of the worst tragedies humanity can cause. LGBTQ inviduals lose. Humanity loses.
Expect worse events to surface in Chechnya. There will be another conflict there. Everything is simmering. Multiple groups are positioning themselves for power. This is what happens when those who have the power to act, don’t. The U.S. forgot about the sufferings of Chechnya after Sept. 11, 2001. It got grouped with the global war on terror, and the U.S. left it to Putin to handle. And handle it he did.
And now, an area where most Americans have no knowledge has set itself up to be the place where the entire global balance of power could be decided in the coming years.
The U.S. cannot turn a blind eye to abuses of power around the world if it can act responsibly to prevent human rights abuses. The U.S. must oppose tyranny of any kind, even if that tyranny is anti-ISIS. America must never again forget any group suffering at the hands of authoritarian leaders. America’s policymakers must remember the Chechens. Remember groups the U.S. chooses to ignore because they aren’t its problems. The nature of political philosophy and international security predicts that, one day, they will become America’s problems.
The writer is an assistant professor of political science at Augusta University. You can follow him on Twitter, @polscountrydoc.