An audience of about 40 listened to Sergei N. Khrushchev, senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, discuss his thoughts on fighting terrorists at home and abroad during a speech entitled “Russia, Putin and the War on Terror.”
“Don’t negotiate with terrorists but with people who are dissatisfied so they don’t stay dissatisfied,” he told the audience in his occasionally imperfect English.
Khrushchev emphasized that the current fight against terrorism is by no means unique to the United States and that it will be an arduous struggle.
He gave a historical perspective on fighting terrorism by using Russia as an example.
Targeting the hatred behind terrorism—and negotiating directly with the people—is an important step in fighting terrorist activity, Khrushchev said.
He noted that Russia’s conflict with Chechnya, for example, had its roots in 18th-century imperial policy.
Such deep-seated struggles, he said, prove that military action does not resolve cultural or ideological misunderstandings.
“Defeating the enemy with military strength is often not the solution that eliminates the problem of terrorism,” he said.
Khrushchev also traced current Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s rise to power during alleged terrorist attacks.
In 1999, two apartment buildings exploded in Moscow, killing 150 people.
“Putin was nobody then,” Khrushchev said.
But the national crisis that followed the attacks, which were attributed to Chechen rebels, propelled Putin to popularity when he responded with military retaliation.
Putin had the backing of only 3 percent of the population before the attacks, but after beginning military action against Chechnya his ratings shot up to 80 percent, much like President Bush’s popularity soared during the conflict in Afghanistan.
The Chechen conflict was costly for the Russians, Khrushchev reminded his audience.
Three thousand Russian soldiers lost their lives, and up to 10,000 Russians were wounded.
But military retaliation ultimately solved little, he said.
He warned that terrorists remain dedicated to their cause like true revolutionaries and quoted Samuel Adams, who said that “revolution is in the hearts and minds of the people.”
Khrushchev argued that superpowers like the United States should focus on winning allies rather than defeating enemies.
“The fall of big empires is that they are tired to defeat too many enemies and became exhausted,” he said.
He noted that beating terrorism cannot be accomplished simply with military defeat, as in Afghanistan.
“We should not try to fight those easy to blame,” he said, emphasizing that the terrorist network should be the target rather than Osama bin Laden, “who is hiding in some cave.”
Khrushchev also discussed his own political experience during the 1960s, when he participated in the Soviet missile and space programs.
He mentioned his work in developing cruise missiles for submarines, military and research spacecraft, moon vehicles and the “Proton,” the world’s largest space booster.
Responding to a question about why he teaches at Brown, Khrushchev said that “Harvard never invited.”