Day: December 12, 2006

U.S.-Iranian Cooperation in North Caucasus

In Eurasia Daily Monitor, analyst Andrei Smirnov discusses a little-publicized series of visits by Russia-based senior Iranian and U.S. diplomats to localities in the North Caucasus region which took place earlier this month.

U.S. Ambassador William Burns was in the North Caucasus from December 4-5, visiting Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, as well as Vladikavkaz and Beslan in North Ossetia. On December 7 Iran’s Ambassador Gholam-Reza Ansari visited Dagestan.

Smirnov points out that

The simultaneous appearance of the Iranian and U.S. diplomats in the North Caucasus was hardly a coincidence; the program and purposes of both visits looked almost identical. Burns and Ansari both discussed economic issues with local leaders.

The visits, which concentrated on the particular cultural, political, civil-society and economic interests which Washington and Teheran have in the region, appear to have been co-ordinated by Moscow:

The North Caucasus remains the Kremlin’s most painful issue, and foreign diplomats in Russia are usually very cautious when dealing with this topic. The Russian side likely initiated these visits, but analysts are divided on why. Although there have not been any major rebel raids in the Caucasus in 2006, the Kremlin continues to face severe economic and security problems in its effort to control the region.


On paper, a troika consisting of Russia, the United States, and Iran could function in the North Caucasus. At the moment all sides seem keen to cooperate in the region. “I am convinced that we have much to gain by working together,” Burns told residents of Kabardino-Balkaria. At the same time Ansari told the Dagestani president, “If in comparison with other parts of Russia, Dagestan and Iran are united not only by the common borders, but also by a common culture, this creates a good basis for good-neighborly cooperation (RIA-Dagestan, December 7).


Russian Studies List

Ray Thomas of the Open University is currently trying to revive the UK Russian Studies email list, which looks as though it could be an interesting and worthwhile forum for exchanging opinions on the current situation affecting Russia and the West.

The list – which is rather low-voume – can be joined at the UK jiscmail site. I’ve now joined it.

To give an idea of the sort of discussion that’s currently underway on the list, I’ve appended a few recent messages:

—–Original Message—–
From: On all aspects of Russia and the FSU [mailto:RUSSIAN-STUDIES@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of ray thomas
Sent: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 11:17 PM
Subject: Re: KGBfication

Discussion of the Litvinenko assassination seem to have uncovered further layers of KGBfication within the Russian Government. The assertions that dissidents should not have the right to live in Britain, for example, shows a lamentable ignorance of what civil liberties means in Western democracies. It seems likely that these uncoverings will continue to be part of public discussions in the mass media for a number of weeks. Until the situation has become more stable we don’t have a special need for the atmosphere of this list for calmer and more thoughtful contributions.

But the usual situation is that reports and other sources of information on Russia in the UK are not plentiful. Understanding of developments in Russia, as Oleg has indicated, is limited. We should keep in mind the great potential of this list to contribute to understanding other developments in Russia. I think that this list could do much more in the way of providing useful information and discussion on Russia.

I was surprised, for example, that there has been no review or other kind of mention of Georgi Derluguian’s book ‘Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus’, Chicago UP 2005, on this list. Derluguian’s book seems to me a notable and entertaining academic book that raises the level of commentary and interpretations of developments in Russian and the former Soviet states.

Has anyone else on this list read Derluguian’s book? Did they not think it worthy of mention on a list entitled Russian Studies?
My main source of information on developments in Russia has been postings on the list. Postings are published daily and they go back to the first Chechnya war in 1996. There are a great variety of postings from many countries. The subject matter of many of these posting extends well beyond Chechnya, and events in Chechnya often seem to presage events in other parts of Russia. But the Chechnya list has come to serve purposes very different from those of this list. A much earlier version of chechnya-sl was a discussion list, but the passions expressed led to abusive messages and ‘flaring’. All messages nowadays go through the moderator. Most messages are postings from newspapers with relatively few original messages expressing the views or knowledge of their originators. If messages go through a moderator the stimulus of immediacy is lost and there is little incentive to discussion. Another problem with the Chechnya list is the large volume of messages.

The Russian-studies list does not focus on Chechnya and could perform a complementary role to the Chechnya list by encouraging original messages, messages with references to and comments on published documents on Russia and a modest amount of discussion.

This list has 280 members. But the members do not include Derluguian. Nor do they include David McDuff or Jeremy Putley who contribute a lot to the Chechnya list, Nor Premen Addy, an Oxford colleague of Oleg’s and of Sasha Antonyuk, who gave an excellent and very up-to-date WEA Course on Russian History in Milton Keynes this term. Might the list-owner invite these individuals to join the list? I am confident that they could make useful contributions and they may not know that this list is active.


For those not familiar wwith the jiscmail system I should explain that you can get list of members by sending the one line message: review russian-studies

I note that there are 15 members with .RU suffixes and 8 who conceal their address and identify. It would be nice to think that these hidden members are FSB/KGB ‘observers’ who can convey something of the atmosphere of a free discussion to their benighted colleagues.

Best wishes to all

Ray Thomas, Open University, Milton Keynes


—–Original Message—–
From: On all aspects of Russia and the FSU [mailto:RUSSIAN-STUDIES@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of ray thomas
Sent: Friday, December 01, 2006 10:02 AM
Subject: Re: KGBfication

Thanks Oleg. I’d be very pleased to be purged of KGBfication. The invitation to Oxford as part of this process is well appreciated. In principle I can come at any time and I look forward to the occasion But there are a few matters I’d like to discuss on this list as part of preliminaries.

The first is to point out that Putin has a much more urgent need to be purged of KGBfication. He has shit rather than egg on his face as result of the vehemence of his denials of any Russian government involvement in the Litvinenko poisoning.

Putin’s denials appears to have had the effect of telling FSB staff and Russian government staff not to cooperate with the UK. The BBC yesterday afternoon emanated almost a little bit of glee in noting the high level of cooperation between the NHS, the HSA and British Airways on tracing radiation trails and, almost pointedly, did not mention any cooperation by Russian authorities.

The BBC presented the issue as one of public health. So Russia came out as not interested in questions of public health. Some people in the UK are aware that, even without the assassinations that get a lot of attention in the media, Russians having a lower expectation of life than those who live in any other country of Europe. The absence of Russia from this discussion on public helath supported the perception that life is cheap in Russia. That is another perception I would like to be purged of. But where is the evidence that life is not regarded as cheap in Russia?

By his denials Putin effectively muzzled himself and muzzled his staff in commenting on the ongoing Litvinenko investigation. Anatoly Safonov, Putin’s counter-terrorism adviser, told Reuters yesterday: “As we said before, we are open and willing to offer all the help needed”. Reid said Moscow had promised cooperation to the “highest level”. (see: Neither Safonov’s nor Reids words have much meaning. When was that earlier offer of help? Is Safanov the “highest level”?

The problem seems to be that the Putinisms have been used up. The suicide suggestion did not pass the test of public credibility, There is no longer any point in trying to divert attention by asking what the UK is doing because an inquest has started and British police are busy investigating the radiation trail. The BBC pointed out that the radiation trails lead to Moscow. There is no longer much point in trying to involve Berezovsky because flying between to Moscow is one thing Berezovski would not do.

Reid said “There certainly will be no political prohibition on the police following where the evidence leads them.” But Reid is referring to Britain and British police. Reid has no control over political prohibition by Putin or the FSB.. That means that at the end of the Brtish investigation many questions will be left without any intelligent response from Russian authorities. Just as in the matter the scale of casualties at Beslan and in the Theatre siege, as in the matter of the perpetrators of the destroyed flats, as in the turmoil in Chechnya we shall be left without an answer to the question ‘??? ????????’

It hould be noted that such KGBfication even threatens civil liberties in the UK. Conservative leaders here were yesterday calling for the refusal of asylum to ‘dissidents’.

What suggestions does Oleg – and others on this list – have to find ways of divorcing Putin from KGBfication of the landscape?

Ray Thomas, Social Sciences, Open University

—–Original Message—–
From: On all aspects of Russia and the FSU [mailto:RUSSIAN-STUDIES@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of Oleg Golubchikov
Sent: Wednesday, November 29, 2006 5:49 PM
Subject: KGBfication

I am pleased to see change in Ray Thomas’s discursive attitude in his latest messages to the poster. His tone has obviously changed, and he starts using comparative and academic-like perspectives – a far cry from his two original posts. I am particularly pleased to hear his call for penetrating the layers of journalistic mediocrity to discover a broader picture. It was exactly my intention to inform the public about some developments that were hidden from journalistic immediacy. Unfortunately, Ray Thomas’s is not yet comfortable to divorce himself from a KGBfication of the landscape on which the coverage of Russia is often taking place, but this is hardly a surprise given both the legacy of the Cold War thinking among the public in the West and the popularity of various conspiracy theories in this part of the world (there is, for example, a whole array of literature following Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” – although I am not familiar if literature of this sort exists in the British context).


I, however, admit it can be difficult to change one’s attitude based on a forum like this and it might be worth discussing such issues based on a more direct dialogue. I would therefore like to invite Ray Thomas to meet for a discussion. The Oxford academic atmosphere, for example, may stimulate a productive dialogue. The discussion can be done in various formats, including a meeting with the Oxford University Russian Society or in more private environment if he would like.


Oleg Golubchikov, Oxford University

Muddying the Waters

A report in the Guardian focuses on the threat to Britain’s energy security posed by the Kremlin’s new policies. Though much has already been written in the Western press about the impending Sakhalin-2 takeover by Gazprom (which now looks like a reality) and the trumped-up environmental accusations against BP (which are part of an ongoing attempt by the Russian government to seize back assets that were handed over to foreign energy companies when prices were low), the implications for Britain’s domestic natural gas supply are serious, and the article goes into some of the details.

This appears to be just one more area in which Russia is consciously and deliberately positioning itself against Europe. As the Kremlin launches its new round of “public relations offensives”, most recently in the press conference given by Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov in London yesterday, observers continue to be puzzled by the obvious contradictions in Russian foreign policy. While Peskov complained about “damage to Russia’s reputation” over the Litvinenko affair, and expressed horror and a sense of being “taken aback by the willingness to point the finger at Russia”, his government continued to do all in its power to encourage such damage and finger-pointing – threatening western media and journalists with lawsuits, using using legal pretexts to cover what is really the expropriation of private resources in the energy sector, encouraging Iran in its nuclear ambitions and blocking Western initiatives at the UN, and so on.

It may be that there is a power struggle in the Kremlin, and that the contradictions and dichotomies in official Russian policy towards its neighbours and the rest of the world are currently reflecting that struggle – but there is also a growing impression that what we are witnessing is a carefully orchestrated series of moves and counter-moves, whose primary aim is to confuse and darken the view. As Edward Lucas wrote recently:

But the only thing that is really certain is that we do not know the truth. Russia’s security services are masters in the art of maskirovka” [camouflage]. Whether the aim is to manipulate opinion in Russia or abroad, or to intimidate critics, or something else, enough false clues will be strewn that we are unlikely to see what is really going on until it is too late.