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The Chechnya conflict: freedom fighters or terrorists?

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The term terrorism is one of the most politicized and contested concepts in the modern era. Russia has consistently framed the conflict in Chechnya as an issue of terrorism and banditry. Western policy has been inconsistent, oscillating between criticism of Russia's excessive application of force and sympathy for Russia, in particular after 9/11 and the start of the war on terror. This article examines the debates over the nature of terrorism and explores whether terrorism is an analytically meaningful and useful concept to explain the conflict in Chechnya. It demonstrates that if we employ the most widely accepted and plausible definition of terrorism—the targeting of noncombatants—then the use of such tactics has been peripheral to the Chechen resistance, although it has gradually becoming more systematic in response to Russia's disproportionate brutality against Chechen civilians.

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