Stop all aid to Moscow

In strict terms of moral equivalence, Nato forces should now be massing in Hungary ready to launch precision bombing raids against selected military targets in Moscow, while Guardian, Independent and Observer leader-writers demand that a ground invasion force be prepared in Turkey and Georgia. But the argument that we cannot intervene everywhere was always the weakest argument against the Kosovan war. It would be as absurd to say that western forces should drive the Russians from Chechnya as to say that they should drive the Chinese from Tibet. Nevertheless, if western leaders are to retain any credibility, they must surely acknowledge that the bombing of Serbia (which even the Guardian now admits to have been "not . . . much of a solution or even any at all") compels them to consider some response, however small, to savage oppression elsewhere in the world.

Put simply, they should look at any forms of support or comfort - straight aid, arms sales or trade - that they provide to an oppressive regime. In particular, they should ensure that our money is not actually financing military brutality. Pour encourager les autres was supposedly one of the justifications for the Kosovan war: in future, political thugs would think twice before throwing their weight around: they would have regard to the long arm of international law and to the ethical sensibilities of the British Foreign Office. To ignore now a threat to raze a capital city sends a morally odious message: that the west will intervene only where the cost to itself - in lost soldiers, in trade and so on - is insignificant.

Our indignation over Chechnya is diluted because it is so difficult to establish where the truth lies. According to one account, this lawless province (nobody accuses the Chechen government, which has wide autonomy within the Russian Federation, of anything except ineffectiveness) has become a haven for terrorist gangs who, in the past few months, have kidnapped some 1,300 people, including the British engineers who were later found dead. The terrorists are also accused of planting bombs in Moscow and killing dozens. According to another, only slightly less plausible account, the bombs were planted by the KGB and its cronies and the kidnappers are in receipt of Moscow gold. In short, the whole Chechen conflict is portrayed as an attempt - an apparently successful one - to boost the popularity of the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, and put him on course for the presidency. But the west does not really have to decide between these competing versions. Even if the first is true, you only have to contemplate the idea of the British carpet-bombing Belfast or Dublin in response to IRA attacks in London to grasp the simple moral principle at stake.

The trouble is that, once you get further from home, the west's own record isn't exactly honourable. The Americans in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the Israelis in the Lebanon (an instance almost precisely comparable to the official account of the situation in Chechnya), the Turks in their Kurdish areas - all have behaved much as the Russians do now. If Mr Putin is using bombs to boost his presidential campaign, one may observe that American presidents have not always been above such things. The Russians may well conclude that a western stand against their actions in Chechnya is just an example of double standards.

But let us, if we are serious about human rights and new world orders, risk it. Russia, after all, now has just about the worst government it could possibly have. Since the first Chechen war broke out in 1994, the west has supported Boris Yeltsin because his successor might be far worse, someone who would . . . well, bomb Grozny and let mafias run his country. It is a preposterous position.

What can be done instead? Bilateral aid schemes, notably a $500 million loan to an oil company from the US Export-Import Bank, can be stopped. So can the next instalment of the IMF's $4.5 billion loan - although it would not in any case be transferred to Moscow, being intended merely to repay existing loans, it could free up an equivalent sum to finance the war. Quite possibly (but far from certainly), Russia would default, causing pain to western investors and even triggering an international financial crisis. But this is the true test of our commitment to the victims of thuggery; we know we are willing to risk the lives of Serbian children, but are we prepared to risk our own financial interests? If we are not, the war in Kosovo will be exposed for the hubristic humbug that many of us suspected.