Month: June 2006

Character Assassination

Edward Lucas takes an incredulous look at the mysterious assassination of Georgia’s President Saakashvili.

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Friends Extradited

Extradition issues have recently been figuring in the news, particularly in connection with the attempts by Russia’s Federal Security Service and law enforcement agencies to secure the extradition from Britain and Israel of Russian businessmen and politicians perceived to be hostile to Moscow and the Kremlin.

It’s sad to see, therefore, that the use of extradition as a political and judicial weapon is not confined to states like Russia. The West, too, has its own political ideologues and agents whose commitment to personal liberty is shaky, to say the least – and this is particularly true of Britain and the United States.

On March 31 2003, David Blunkett, the then UK Home Secretary, signed an Extradition Treaty on behalf of the UK with his United States counterpart, Attorney General John Ashcroft, which was promoted on the basis of the need for a streamlined extradition process to deal with the new global terrorist threat after September 11. One of the first cases to arise for consideration under the new treaty was that of three British NatWest investment bankers, who were charged with having conspired to commit “wire fraud”, sending faxes and emails across US federal borders in furtherance of an alleged conspiracy to defraud NatWest. If convicted, the men face up to 35 years in a US penitentiary.

As the Friends Extradited website makes clear, no charges – either criminal or civil – have ever been lodged against the men in the United Kingdom, and all three protest their innocence. It appears that a law intended to trap terrorists has been misapplied in a way that is reminiscent of the judicial system in states where democracy and the following of due process are held in low regard.

In a letter to the Financial Times today, Jeremy Putley has commented on the NatWest Greenwich case. Though the letter was published in the paper edition, it did not appear in the FT’s electronic editions, and the author has asked me to give it an airing here:

The Editor
Financial Times
London

Sir

A treaty unequal in execution and content

With respect, it is not the lack of reciprocity that is the chief concern over the US-UK extradition treaty of 2003. A more fundamental consideration is that it is wrong in principle for this country to hand over its citizens under extradition arrangements where there is no requirement for prima facie evidence that there is a case to answer. It is particularly wrong for the courts to rule that human rights considerations do not give grounds to refuse the US request. This is not solely because extradited individuals will probably be incarcerated for extremely lengthy periods while the cases are prepared for court hearings.

It must also be considered relevant that in recent times the American administration has routinely denied detainees in its custody access to courts, legal counsel and relatives; it has engaged in deceptions in order to subvert basic human rights protections and the rule of law, by moving detainees around and keeping them in secret locations; it has been involved in the secret transfers of detainees between itself and countries known to use torture; and it has unlawfully abducted individuals from other countries. Documented conduct towards prisoners of the US administration includes instances of treatment indistinguishable from torture.

Amnesty International wrote last year: “The USA’s continuing penchant for secrecy in the field of detentions betrays a lack of genuine commitment to its international obligations on human rights and the rule of law.”

This country must pay heed to its own standards. The extradition of three former investment bankers should now be urgently reconsidered.

Jeremy Putley

Update: the letter is now available in the electronic editions, but only as a restricted access item.

Presidential Tit-for-Tat

Moscow is blaming the United States for the deaths of the four abducted Russian embassy workers in Iraq at the hands of an Al Qaeda group. Following up on the FSB’s recent assassination of ChRI President Sadulayev, President Putin has ordered Russia’s secret services to find and kill the kidnnappers.

Meanwhile, in EDM, Andrei Smirnov notes that Shamil Basayev, now Ichkeria’s vice-president, has created a new assassination strategy that targets the FSB:

On June 21 assassinations rocked the city of Khasavyurt, in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. Saigidsalim Zabitov, head of the local police organized crime division, was shot dead together with Shamsudin Kachakaev, a policeman who was accompanying him. Rebels ambushed their car late at night as Zabitov returned home.

According to Kommersant, the rebels had been hunting Zabitov for two years, finally succeeding on their fourth attempt. In 2004 gunmen planted an explosive device on a street that Zabitov usually passed on his way to work, but that day he took a different route. Next the rebels tried to plant a bomb near his house, but the bomb detonated accidentally, killing the rebel planting the mine in front of the gate to Zabitov’s house. In 2005 Zabitov was shot in the hip but survived. He was regarded as one of the most ruthless fighters against local militants, and had helped eliminate Chechen field commander Anvar Visaev and Abdullah Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen and Dagestani rebel groups in Khasavyurt. On October 1, 2005, Zabitov headed a special operation against a rebel group in the village of Tortuybi-Kala Kommersant, June 22).

Zabitov’s death follows that of his colleague, Dzhabrail Kostoev, in Ingushetia, another restive North Caucasus republic. Like Zabitov, Kostoev had battled the Ingush insurgency, although his drive was fueled by the deaths of two of his brothers, policemen who were killed during the rebel assault on Ingushetia in June 2004 (Kommersant, May 18). The first attempt to kill Kostoev was made in 2005, when he was the police chief of Nazran. A roadside bomb hit his car, wounding him, but Dzhabrail managed to survive. Kostoev refused to be cowed by the militants and did not hesitate to assist the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in fighting the Ingush and Chechen insurgents. Before he was killed by a car bomb in May, Dzhabrail Kostoev had been named first deputy interior minister of Ingushetia.

The assassinations of Zabitov in Dagestan and Kostoev in Ingushetia were not the only insurgency operations this year targeting senior police officers in the North Caucasus. In March Magomed Magomedov, a deputy head of Dagestan’s criminal investigation department, and two other senior officers from the organized crime division were killed. Musa Nalgiev, commander of the Ingush police special-task unit was shot dead in Ingushetia on June 9, and two months earlier, on April 12, rebels fired two shots at the headquarters of the anti-terrorism department in the city of Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, using disposable grenade launchers. Official reports say that a soldier in the watch tower near the headquarters was killed, but locals told Regnum news agency that the second shot had destroyed a car parked at the facility, killing two officers inside the vehicle (Regnum, April 12). The officers were likely the primary target of the attack.

In May rebel leaders described their new tactics to the media. Just two days before the assassination of Kostoev, the Kavkaz Center website posted an interview with Amir Magas, the commander of the Ingush insurgency. Magas said that Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev had convened a meeting of the North Caucasus rebel commanders in Chechnya during which he called on rebel factions to set up “special operations groups all over the Caucasian front, which should target personalities and conduct operations to destroy objects planned in advance.” Magas called the formation of these groups an adequate response to the FSB activities in the region (Kavkaz Center, May 15).

Indeed, their name, Special Operations Groups, sounds very similar to the Unified Special Groups (or SSG in Russian) of the FSB and the Russian Interior Ministry that operate in the North Caucasus. These SSGs are subject to the Operations and Coordination Directorate of FSB whose headquarters are located in the town of Pyatigorsk in Stavropol Krai (the ethnic-Russian-dominated region of the North Caucasus) or to the Regional Operations Anti-Terrorist Staff headquartered in Khankala, a Russian main military base in Chechnya (Novaya gazeta, January 19). These Unified Special Groups are usually those unidentified masked men whom human rights organizations like to talk about and who enter houses in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, or Dagestan to detain those whom they suspect in rebel activity. By giving a similar name to his special squads Basaev wants to demonstrate the capability of his forces and that the rebels are not weaker in the Caucasus than the Russian security officials.

Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen rebel leader killed last March, often said that the Russian army is just a primitive force and the FSB and Russian military intelligence are the brains of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus. However, the FSB will also become a benign force without information provided by local police in the region. That is why the rebels target senior police officers, diligent individuals who work hard against them. Basaev and his commanders know that weakening local police forces will in turn weaken FSB activity in the region, and weak Russian intelligence will ultimately weak the Kremlin’s control over the North Caucasus.

Narrowing the Options

From Prague Watchdog

June 28 2006

[My tr]

Basayev’s appointment as Ichkerian vice-president may narrow separatists’ options

By Umalt Chadayev

CHECHNYA – On June 27 Chechen pro-guerrilla websites published a decree of the new President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI), Dokka Umarov, appointing Shamil Basayev, former first deputy chairman of the Ichkerian government, as its vice-president. In the opinion of a number of observers this appointment may significantly reduce the political options of the Chechen armed resistance.

“In my view, Shamil Basayev’s appointment as ChRI vice-president may not leave the Ichkerians the option of any political maneuver. Russia refused any dialogue with the democratically elected Ichkerian President Aslan Maskhadov, so they’re not likely to talk to Umarov, and even less so to Basayev,” says a Chechen political analyst.

“Basayev has long been declared an international terrorist, and now the Kremlin will have plenty of opportunities to say how “the other side” now consists exclusively of bandits, the terrorists and murderers, with whom it’s impossible and pointless to talk about anything.”

“Dokka Umarov may be a good soldier, an expert in guerrilla warfare and so on, but neither he nor Shamil Basayev can really be considered politicians. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to characterize Basayev as an Islamic fundamentalist or a Moslem fanatic. He was born in the Soviet system and lived and grew up in it, and that “Soviet-ness” can’t be eradicated. Yes, he is probably a man of deep religious faith, but he’s not an expert on religion as Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev was, for example, and at the same time he’s not as ‘Sovietized’ as Dzhokhar Dudayev or Aslan Maskhadov were,” he says.

“I don’t think the change of Ichkerian leadership will cause any fundamental realignments in the guerrillas’ tactics and strategy. After Maskhadov’s death, Basayev and Umarov effectively took over the leadership of the guerrillas. Now these two principal guerrilla leaders, the last of the Ichkerian ‘Mohicans’, have merely formalized on paper the real state of affairs in the separatists’ camp”, the political analyst considers.

The republic’s law enforcement agencies are certain that the separatists’ actions following the death of Aslan Maskhadov and his successor Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, who was killed in the town of Argun nearly two weeks ago, show that they have now completely exhausted their resources.

“Umarov has made Basayev his vice-president not out of any great love for him, but because there was no one else to appoint. The Zakayevs, the Udugovs and other ardent ‘Ichkerians’ ran abroad long ago and have not done badly for themselves there. Now Umarov and Basayev have the whole of Ichkeria at their disposal, since the other serious figures simply didn’t remain with them,” an officer of the Chechen police is convinced.

At the same time, many in Chechnya recognize the fact that Basayev is a rather charismatic personality, with indisputable authority in the separatists’ camp.

“No one mentions it now, but after the first Chechen war Shamil Basayev was a very real hero for most Chechens (and not only Chechens). It shouldn’t be forgotten that he came second to Aslan Maskhadov in the Chechen presidential elections of January 1997. And even now he retains the highest authority among the guerrillas. One must give him his due, he’s a man of courage, and one who is out of the ordinary, though I personally don’t excuse many of his actions, such as the seizure of the school in Beslan, for example,” says Khalid Movsarov, a 22-year student at the Grozny Pedagogical Institute.

Shamil Basayev’s biography

Shamil Basayev was born in 1965 in the mountainous Vedensky district of what was then still the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. After his return from the army he attended the Moscow Agriculture Institute, but was dismissed in his second year for poor academic performance. Basayev’s name first became known in Chechnya in the autumn of 1991, when Russia declared a state of emergency in the republic and made an attempt to send in troops. Then, as a sign of protest against Moscow’s actions, three Chechens hijacked a Russian passenger aircraft to Turkey. One of those three Chechens was the then still unknown Shamil Basayev.

After the beginning of the war in Abkhazia Basayev, headed the first group of Chechen volunteers, who left for this republic and took part in armed confrontations with the Georgian army. In 1993 Basayev became commander-in-chief of the forces of the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus (KNK) and deputy Abkhazian defence minister. On his return to Chechnya, he was appointed commander of the reconnaissance and sabotage battalion of the ChRI armed forces, which was usually called the “Abkhazian battalion”.

With the outbreak of war on the territory of the Chechen republic in 1994, Dzhokhar Dudayev made Shamil one of the front-line commanders. In June 1995 Basayev’s unit seized the town of Budennovsk in Stavropol Territory, southern Russia. In exchange for the lives of the hostages Basayev demanded the cessation of military actions in Chechnya and the opening of negotiations between Moscow and the ChRI leadership. Military actions stopped for several months. In August 1996, guerrilla units under the command of Maskhadov, Basayev, Gelayev and a number of other commanders took the city of Grozny, which led to the signing of the so-called Khasavyurt Accords and the ending of the first Chechen war.

In 1997 Shamil Basayev was appointed vice-premier of the ChRI government, and later acting head of the Ichkerian government. At the beginning July 1997, he resigned.

After the beginning of the second Chechen war, Basayev was again appointed commander of one of the fronts, and one of the leaders of the defence of Grozny. As he was leaving Grozny, now surrounded by Russian troops, in the winter of 2000 Basayev was blown up by a landmine, and part of his leg was subsequently amputated. Several times the Russian military reported the his death, but on every occasion this information was not confirmed.

In June 2004 guerrilla units claimed by Russian law enforcers to be under the general command of Shamil Basayev carried out attacks on a number of military and police targets in the republic of Ingushetia. He also took responsibility for the seizure of hostages in the North Ossetian town of Beslan in September 2004, and the attack on Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, in October 2005.

Shamil Basayev is a recipient of the highest awards of the ChRI: “K’oman Siy” (honour of the nation) and “K’oman Turpal” (hero of the nation). He bears the title of Ichkerian Divisional General.

Translated by David McDuff.

Goodbye Moscow

A contributor to scb has posted an account of the recent split between Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain, which is joining the Constantinople Church:

Senior members of the Diocese and Bishop Basil have decided that it is necessary to move away from the Moscow Patriarchate in order to preserve what exists in this country.

Here are couple of quotes from the letter I received today.

“There are many in the newly liberated Church in Russia who do not or cannot understand the different situation in which we find ourselves in Great Britain and in Western Europe. This has lead to an attempt to impose, with a heavy hand, Russianess which does not fit with the local Russian Orthodox Church set up in this country.”

“There is also a section of the present Church Hierarchy in Moscow which seeks to impose a firm hand on parishes and dioceses across Western Europe which is perceived as oppressive. We feel unable to accept and collude with this. It is a misguided quest to make all things Russian and conformed to what is in reality a non Orthodox mind set”.

Gas Hike Protest In Ukraine

Via BBC:

Ukrainians protest over gas hike

Ukraine is dependent on Russia for most of its gas

Tens of thousands of people have protested in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, against plans to sharply raise gas and electricity prices.

A BBC correspondent in Kiev said the protests were as big as those during the 2004 Orange Revolution, which swept President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Consumers face a near doubling of gas and electricity prices from 1 July, Ukraine’s trade unions say.

Russia doubled the price of gas supplies to Ukraine earlier this year.

Russia-Belarus Military Exercises

On June 22 the Washington Post published an AP report from Minsk, Belarus on the sixth day of military exercises between Russian and Belarusian forces, categorizing them as “the largest ever for the two former Soviet republics.”

The exercises envisage a joint response to an unnamed, outside military threat. Russian MiG-29 fighter jets practiced intercepting enemy planes over western Belarus over the weekend, as part of the drills.

Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko – who has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by the United States and other Western nations for his relentless crackdown on dissent – has repeatedly accused the West of harboring aggressive intentions.

Russia, meanwhile, has watched warily as former Soviet bloc countries bordering Belarus – Poland, Latvia and Lithuania – have joined NATO. Russian military officials have announced plans to set up a permanent air base in Belarus and deploy air defense missiles there.

Russia and Belarus signed a union agreement in 1996 providing for close political, economic and military ties, and their armed forces have held frequent joint drills.