Day: January 6, 2007

The FSB in a Positive Light

At Prague Watchdog, a report which shows the FSB in Chechnya for once in a positive light, reforming itself:

Practice of extortion at „Kavkaz“ checkpoint stops

By Umalt Chadayev

CHECHNYA – Renewed bribery at the sadly well-known „Kavkaz“ checkpoint located on the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia has stopped again after the Federal Security Service (FSB) intervened.

„Ever since the very beginning of the war, the „Kavkaz“ checkpoint has been notorious for its policemen collecting exorbitant tribute from people wishing to pass through it. A self-styled „tariff“ of fees ranging from 10 to 50 roubles was even developed. The practice had continued almost until this past summer when policemen, apparently from the Kirov region, were deployed at the checkpoint. At that moment everything changed and the bribe-taking stopped. „They‘ve even hung up a notice warning that an attempt to offer a bribe is a criminal offence,“ says Souleiman, a 47-year-old mini-bus driver from Grozny.

„However, these guys were replaced in October. Policemen from Kursk who used to serve here at the very beginning of the war arrived, and it all started again. They demanded a fee from mini-bus drivers as well as from any vehicle passing through the checkpoint. The absence of a military registration stamp in an identity document “cost” 20-50 roubles. Of course, people tried to protest and refused to pay, but the policemen had their „methods of coercion“. For example, they could block the road, thus creating a column several kilometers long, and then let vehicles through at a rate of one or two an hour,“ Souleiman says.

„We (mini-bus drivers) were even forced to make a detour round this checkpoint through the village of Sernovodsk in Chechnya’s Sunzhensky district. Repeated complaints were sent to the Prosecutor’s Office, to the Russian Interior Ministry and so on. And finally last week our efforts brought results. Representatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) arrived at the checkpoint and made an inspection. Then one of their officers remained there on duty for several days, warning each driver against paying any bribes to the policemen and saying that if the policemen create artificial problems, we have a perfect right to drive through without stopping, and so on. A notice was posted up with a telephone number which one can call if problems arise. Now everything is back to normal. No one is demanding bribes and everyone is working as they’re supposed to,“ says the mini-bus driver.

According to an unnamed human rights defender, the main reason for the bribe-taking is the juridical illiteracy of the local population. „People are so tired of it all that they‘re ready to pay 50 or 100 roubles if that will get them where they need to be more quickly. It’s most likely a peculiar war syndrome from the early years of the so-called „counter-terrorist operation“, during which law enforcers at checkpoints arbitrarily detained people and subjected them to torture and insults. Some people disappeared without trace, while others were freed for ransom. Even now Chechen residents fear and distrust law enforcers, seeing them more as a source of possible danger than as representatives of law and order who are summoned to defend their rights,“ he is convinced.

„Residents of Chechnya, especially the young, have only a very faint notion of their rights and duties. They don’t know, for example, that policemen checking their documents must first of all introduce themselves. Or that the absence of a military registration stamp in one’s identity document is not a crime. Or that no one has the right to detain people at checkpoints without sticking to certain law procedures and so on. And unscrupulous policemen make use of this,“ said the human rights defender.


Hunt and Kill

Neil Mackay, writing in Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper, has published a very long and thorough account of recent developments in Russia’s international intelligence operations. In particular, he focuses on the law passed by the State Duma on July 9 2006, which was unanimously approved and which allows Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to hunt down and kill enemies of the state anywhere on the face of the earth.

One British intelligence source said: “This marked a blatant return to the bad old days of the cold war when the KGB thought it could act with impunity anywhere it pleased.”

These so-called “Hunter-Killer” powers also curtailed the right of the Russian media – already cowed and under the control of the Kremlin – to report on these operations. However, the enactment of these new laws only put on a legal footing powers which Russian intelligence had been using extra-judicially for years.

In Chechnya, the assassination of enemies of Russia is now so common that it scarcely bears comment, and in 2004 two Russian agents were arrested and sentenced to death in Qatar for the killing of exiled Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian team hunted him down and planted a bomb in his car. The Qatari court ruled that the killing was sanctioned by “the Russian leadership”. The men were not executed but sent back to Russia following promises from the Kremlin that they would be imprisoned. Rumour has it that they were decorated for the assassination operation.

Akhmed Zakayev, a friend of Alexander Litvinenko and a former field commander in the first Chechen war who later became the deputy prime minister of Chechnya, says the killing of Litvinenko proved to the British people that Putin was “destroying democratic freedoms in Russia and beyond”.

Mackay also draws attention to a disturbing aspect of the Zakayev extradition case that has not been widely covered in international media:

One UK source closely linked to British intelligence told how he had a conversation with a Russian intelligence officer in 2004, in which the Russian spy spoke of the killing of a British citizen carried out by Russian agents. In January 2004, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Workman was found shot dead on his doorstep in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Furneux Pelham. The killing seemed completely motiveless.

However, the Russian intelligence source told his British contact that Robert Workman was killed in a case of mistaken identity. The real target had been a judge called Timothy Workman who lived not far from the scene of the murder.

In late 2003, Judge Workman infuriated the Kremlin when he rejected Russia’s extradition request for Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen leader in London. Workman said that Zakayev faced a “substantial risk” of being tortured if he was returned to Moscow to stand trial. The Kremlin accused Workman of playing “cold war politics”.

Also in 2003, Judge Workman called a halt to Russia’s attempt to have Boris Berezovsky extradited from Britain. The billionaire oligarch had fallen out with Putin and has bitterly criticised the ruling regime. Berezovsky was also a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko.