Month: August 2006

Porvoo Arsonist Sentenced

Kalle Holm, the 18-year-old arsonist who set fire to Finland’s Porvoo Cathedral has been sentenced to three years and two months’ imprisonment, Hufvudstadsbladet reports. As a first-time offender, he only needs to serve half the sentence, and so will be released in December 2007.

Malika Soltayeva

Chechnya, according to the Russian Federal authorities, is returning to a state of normalcy after decades of unrest. A process of “Chechenization” is supposed to be underway, transferring the task of law-enforcement to pro-Moscow Chechen officials who are generally assumed to have given up any sympathies they might have had for separatism or national independence. The government they represent, led by the 3-year-old premier Ramzan Kadyrov, is presented to the nations of the West as an example of how radical Islam can be defeated and made to obey.

Yet there are many signs that this is far from what is actually happening on the ground. Indeed, if one looks closely, one discovers that not only is the closure of independent mosques leading, as Anna Neistat reported in the London Review of Books in July, to a re-radicalization of Chechen youth — the Kadyrov regime itself is increasingly showing itself to be as ruthless and bloody as the Islamists it professes to replace. C.J. Chivers, whose shattering, extensive account of the Beslan tragedy, The School, aroused empathy and horror throughout the world, has written for the New York Times a description of what happened to a Chechen woman who because of some aspects of  her family life managed to incur the violent wrath and vindictiveness of the local security forces:

The humiliation of Malika Soltayeva, a pregnant Chechen woman suspected of adultery, was ferocious and swift.

Ms. Soltayeva, 23, had been away from home for a month and was reported missing by her family. When she returned, her husband accused her of infidelity and banished her from their apartment. The local authorities found her at her aunt’s residence. They said they had a few questions.

What followed was no investigation. In a law enforcement compound in this town in east-central Chechnya, the men who served as Argun’s police sheared away her hair and her eyebrows and painted her scalp green, the color associated with Islam. A thumb-thick cross was smeared on her brow.

Ms. Soltayeva, a Muslim, had slept with a Christian Russian serviceman, they said. Her scarlet letter would be an emerald cross. She was forced to confess, ordered to strip, and beaten with wooden rods and hoses on her buttocks, arms, legs, hands, stomach and back.

“Turn and be condemned by Allah,” one of her tormentors said, demanding that she position herself so he could strike her more squarely.

The torture of Ms. Soltayeva, recorded on a video obtained by The New York Times, and other recent brutish acts and instances of religious policing, raise questions about Chechnya’s direction.

Read it all.

Amnesty International and Lebanon – II

The idea that a country at war can’t attack the enemy’s resupply routes (at least until it has direct evidence that there is a particular military shipment arriving) has nothing to do with human rights or war crimes, and a lot to do with a pacifist attitude that seeks to make war, regardless of the justification for it or the restraint in prosecuting it [at least if it’s a Western country doing it], an international “crime.”

Law professor David Bernstein, quoted in Alan Dershowitz’s searching analysis of Amnesty International’s capitulation to double standards in its repeated attacks on Israel.

See also: Amnesty International and Lebanon

Usmanov To Buy Kommersant

A report in Helsingin Sanomat says that Alisher Usmanov, generally considered a supporter of Russia’s President Putin, has bought the Kommersant newspaper.

Update: However, RFE/RL Newsline notes:

In the latest in a string of media reports about the possible sale of the business daily “Kommersant,” which is one of the few remaining major papers not controlled by the Kremlin, metals magnate Alisher Usmanov said on August 30 that he might buy the daily for about $200 million, “The Moscow Times” reported on August 31 (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” April 5 and June 8 and 9, 2006). Usmanov said that he would not fundamentally change the editorial policy or management but would consider “improvements,” such as more color. Self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who once owned the paper, told “The Moscow Times” by phone that Usmanov is a level-headed businessman who “doesn’t let political passions get the better of him.” Berezovsky added that “the authorities will try to influence the company’s policies by leaning on Usmanov, of course, but I know that he is also very protective of his personal reputation. He will try to find a reasonable compromise in the interest of ‘Kommersant’ [that will] allow him to maintain as much independence as is possible in Russia today, while not spoiling his relationship with the authorities.” “Forbes” puts Usmanov’s personal fortune at $3.1 billion. He and his partners hold the country’s largest iron-ore assets through the Metalloinvest holding company. He also works as a troubleshooter for the state gas monopoly Gazprom. Usmanov said, however, that he is under no pressure from the Kremlin to buy the daily, adding that it is “purely a business deal.”

…AND SOME JOURNALISTS ARE CONCERNED. Some Russian websites and news agencies reported on August 31 that Usmanov has already concluded the deal to buy “Kommersant.” Interfax, however, said that the “deal will be completed by the end of the week.” Whatever the case may be, several journalists told that news agency that the daily will need to maintain its current editorial policy if it is to hold its position in the market. Rodionov publishing house President Aleksei Volin said that “‘Kommersant’ will lose its influence and its readers if they turn it into another [state-run daily] ‘Rossiiskaya gazeta’ or the printed counterpart” of the state-run television news program. Igor Yakovenko, who is a leader of the Russian Union of Journalists, said that the sale of “Kommersant” is linked to preparations for the 2007 parliamentary elections. He argued that the daily will either become the mouthpiece of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party or retain a certain degree of independence in order to maintain its credibility. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Interfax that Usmanov’s purchase of “Kommersant” “was carried out as a personal investment and is not related to his work with Gazprom.” PM

Ten Years since the End of the "First Chechen War"

By Umalt Chadayev

(my tr.)  

Via Prague Watchdog

Ten years ago Aleksandr Lebed and Aslan Maskhadov brought the war of 1994-1996 to a virtual conclusion. The signing of the so-called “Khasavyurt accords” was preceded by the seizure of the Chechen capital and other towns and major population centres by guerrilla forces on August 6.

In Russia today the “Khasavyurt Peace”, which in the view of many signified the federal centre’s defeat by the Chechen guerrillas and very nearly its capitulation to them, is usually “attributed” to the late General Alexander Lebed. It is, however, obvious that Lebed, who was then in government service, acted on the direct orders of Boris Yeltsin, the master of the Kremlin at the time.

“By the summer of 1996 the situation in Chechnya had more or less reached deadlock,” a local political analyst believes. “The Russian army occupied almost the whole of Chechnya, but fighting continued all the same. In nearly every population centre there were self-defence groups and Ichkerian government bodies parallel to those of the pro-Moscow forces. The guerrillas were present in practically every town and village. Indeed, after the end of the ‘first’ war Maskhadov and other field commanders said that only 800 guerrillas took part in the seizure of Grozny on August 6, and that the remaining several thousand had already been in the city for a long time. This in itself tells us something.”

“In the end Lebed saved the lives of thousands of Russian soldiers and tens of thousand of civilians,” he says. “The fact is that nearly all the places in Grozny where Russian soldiers were deployed were subject to a total blockade. The soldiers’ supplies of water, food and ammunition had run out. General Pulikovsky’s ultimatum, which demanded that Grozny’s inhabitants should leave the city in 48 hours, and threatened to wipe it off the face of the earth with air and artillery, was dictated more by the hopelessness of the situation than anything else. The situation was no longer under the Russian soldiers’ control, and many local law-enforcers either went over to the side of the guerrillas or simply fled.”

The agreement signed at Khasavyurt between the Russian and Chechen sides was given an ambiguous reception even at the time. The generals spoke of having been “robbed of victory” and “not allowed to finish off the guerrillas”, while the ultra-patriots called the document “capitulatory” and “treacherous” with regard to Russia – even though at Khasavyurt Lebed and Maskhadov agreed only on a cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the joint combating of crime and terrorism, and the future restoration of Chechnya’s social and economic sphere.

Nationalistically-inclined Russian politicians were extremely irritated by the point in the agreement which stated that relations between Chechnya and Russia were to be built on the observance of the principles of international law, and not in accordance with the Russian constitution. In other words, the Chechen Republic was acknowledged as being subject to international law, and this could be treated as a de facto recognition of the republic’s independence.

The original plan was for two Russian military brigades – one from the Ministry of Defence and one from the Interior Ministry – to be permanently deployed on the territory of the Chechen Republic. However, by the end of December all units and subdivisions of federal forces were withdrawn from Chechnya.

In the night of August 31, General Lebed and Aslan Maskhadov signed two documents at Khasavyurt: the “Announcement of a cessation of hostilities in the Chechen Republic” and the “Principles for identifying the foundations for mutual relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic”. These two documents became the basis of a ceasefire which lasted approximately 20 months.

The bottom line under the “first Chechen war” was drawn, however, not by General Lebed but by Boris Yeltsin. On May 12, 1997, Aslan Maskhadov, who had been elected President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in national elections several months earlier, signed the “Agreement on peace and the principles of mutual relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” with Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin. One of the points of this document made it clear that the two sides forever rejected “the application of force and the threat of the application of force for the resolution of any disputed issues.”

Nevertheless, the signing of the agreement did not prevent the Kremlin from starting a new war in Chechnya in the autumn of 1999. It was now called a “counter-terrorist operation”, as distinct from the “establishment of constitutional order” of 1994.

Translated by David McDuff.

Chavez in Syria

Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez is in Damascus today, repeating his usual messages of unveiled hostility to the United States and the West in general, and declaring that Venezuela and Syria are united against “U.S. imperialism”. On Tuesday, following his trip to China, Chavez was in Malaysia, where the ostensible reason for his current bout of globe-trotting became apparent. Via AP:

In a visit to Malaysia earlier Tuesday, Chavez suggested his country is set to win a UN Security Council seat, saying the support of Malaysia and other nations would help defeat a U.S. campaign to block Venezuela’s bid.

“We’re going to occupy that seat with the support of countries like Malaysia,” Chavez was quoted as saying by Venezuela’s state news agency at an event with Malaysian business leaders.

U.S. officials, alarmed by Chavez’s deepening ties with countries such as Iran and North Korea, have sought to block his country’s bid for a rotating Security Council seat and are backing Guatemala instead.

Over the last six weeks, Chavez has traveled to a dozen countries, including Argentina, Russia, Belarus, Iran, Vietnam, Qatar, Mali, Benin, China, Malaysia and Syria, in what his opponents argue is a costly effort to drum up support for the UN bid.

Chavez insists he has not urged other nations to vote in favor of Venezuela, saying many countries have independently voiced support.

The Bending of Minds

On the Arutz-7 website, David Bedein writes about the new textbooks being issued to Palestinian schoolchildren by the Palestinan Authority, in which Israel does not appear on any of the maps, and in which the very name “Israel” is replaced by “Palestine”. This move comes at the same time as PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly launched a new peace initiative with Israel.

As the writer shows, a new generation of Palestinians is being prepared for an erasure of Israel from the map of the world.

Russia-Lithuania Tension Continues

In the wake of the recently-imposed Russian oil blockade of Lithuania, Lithuanian officials have made statements about the need to impose restrictions on rail traffic between Russia and Kaliningrad Oblast. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov has called the statements “provocative” and “politically motivated”:

Titov argued that such Lithuanian “hints” amount to “political repairs…, which are spurious and provocative. Those who came up with such ideas must be aware that threats of this kind could have consequences for bilateral relations.” He acknowledged that the Lithuanian statements about the trunk line came in response to the recent Russian shutdown of the Druzhba-1 oil pipeline to Lithuania’s Mazeikiu oil refinery, which is the only refinery in the Baltic states and which a Polish firm is about to acquire at the expense of Russian interests. But Titov said that “it is regrettable that an accident on the Druzhba pipeline has given rise to so much speculation. The pipeline cannot be fully restored instantly. The accident [that led to a massive leak] must be investigated and measures taken if an environmental disaster is to be prevented.” He claimed that an unspecified amount of Russian oil is still reaching the refinery by “alternative routes…in line with signed agreements” (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” August 16, 17, and 22, 2006). PM

RFE/RL Newsline

Beslan: Report Blames Federal Forces


August 28, 2006 — A member of the Russian parliamentary commission investigating the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis says it may be federal forces, and not the militants orchestrating the siege, who started the final battle that claimed the vast majority of victims.

Yury Savelyev, an explosives expert and a Duma deputy with the Motherland (Rodina) party, says in a report published today in the “Novaya gazeta” weekly that forensic evidence suggests the battle may have been started by Russian soldiers firing rocket grenades from a building across from the school that was the site of the hostage siege.

Some federal investigators say it was the detonation of bombs planted inside the school by the hostage takers that caused a massive fire and sparked a gun battle in which the majority of the 330-plus siege victims were killed. Members of the investigating commission called Savelyev’s report a “deliberate falsification.”

The report comes just days before the second anniversary of the September 1-3 siege.

More from the Newsline:

The website has posted a 700-page, six-part report by Yury Savelyev, a member of the Russian State Duma commission that investigated the September 2004 Beslan hostage taking, including the events that triggered the storm of the school in which most of the 332 victims died. Savelev claimed that the authorities were aware of the impending seizure of the school at least three hours in advance; that an initial proposal by then-North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov to try to persuade the hostage takers to release the children in exchange for 800 government personnel was rejected, and Dzasokhov was threatened with arrest if he sought to negotiate with the hostage takers; that the authorities decided to storm the school building, but create the impression that they did so in response to actions by the hostage takers; and security personnel opened fire on the school building from mortars and flame-throwers while the hostages were still inside the building. The initial findings of the Duma commission faulted local police and officials for their response to the hostage taking, but Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel said an investigation by his office failed to establish any failings on the part of law enforcement agencies during the siege (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” December 29, 2005). The commission’s official investigative report is expected to be released in September. LF

The Russian text of the Savelyev report is here.