Month: July 2009

Islamism in Chechnya

In the aftermath of last Sunday’s suicide bombing in central Grozny, Ramzan Kadyrov has blamed a Russian citizen, Alexander Tikhomirov, who goes by the name of “Said Buryatsky”. According to Kadyrov, Tikhomirov’s  father was a Buddhist and his mother a Christian, while Tikhomirov himself is now a Muslim convert and preacher whose ideas are alleged to be widely circulated in the Chechen Islamist “underground”. The suicide bomber, a young man called Rustam Mukhadiyev, is supposed to have come under the influence of Tikhomirov’s Islamist preaching.

In this new televised public statement about the bombing, Kadyrov declares that the terrorists “have made it their aim to spill the blood of the Chechen people, but their days are numbered… The police and other law enforcement agencies are on their trail, and the most severe punishment awaits them, the most severe punishment that is envisaged by Russian laws.”

Kadyrov is also reported as saying about the relatives of wanted insurgents: “Either let them go out and destroy their dogs themselves, or let them give them to us!” Among many Chechens this has led to fears of collective retribution.

NATO, Afghanistan, Russia

On August 1, former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen takes over from his predecessor, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, as NATO secretary general. Rasmussen will begin work on August 3, and on August 4 he will preside over the first session of the North Atlantic Council at ambassador level in Brussels. Itar-Tass reports that Rasmussen will meet with Russia’s Dmitry Rogozin on August 11. In Heritage Review, Sally McNamara discusses Rasmussen’s priorities, which include Afghanistan, NATO enlargement, and the formulation of a new Strategic Concept. Of the latter, she notes that

If the new strategic concept is unfocused and filled with EU priorities, such as climate change and international development, Rasmussen will have failed to sufficiently concentrate the negotiations on NATO’s core purpose and vision. Instead, the strategic concept must address the new threat environment, as well as the willingness and ability of all alliance members to confront these challenges. A separate internal net assessment may, therefore, be needed to address the capabilities gap and members’ capacity and willingness for action, as well as an external net assessment to better understand emerging threats, such as cyber terrorism, ballistic missile proliferation, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

One way infection

Pointing to Rospotrebnadzor, which it sardonically characterizes as “the new federal Russian law enforcement agency that combines the functions of customs service, border control and interior ministry” (the agency has existed since 2004), an editorial in notes that its director has issued a sternly worded instruction that because of the swine flu epidemic in the U.K., groups of schoolchildren and others intent upon visiting Britain for the purpose of improving their skills in the English language will not be permitted to travel there during the month of August. Yet there is no similar restriction on British tourists visiting Russia. The editorial wonders why…

Estemirova vigil

Prague Watchdog has published a photo report on the vigil-cum-rally that was held in Moscow on July 23 to remember the murdered human rights activist Natalya Estemirova.

The New York Times/IHT writes that around 200 people took part, but that after the event, “riot police officers pushed about 15 people into a bus. It was unclear on Friday whether they had been released.”

The misreading of the Resolution

As the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact approaches, the Russian authorities appear to be set on finding justifications for the atrocities that were committed by Stalin’s regime. They are persisting with their plan to bring in a law that will impose criminal liability on anyone – whether individual, group or state authority – who attempts to draw a parallel between the crimes of Nazism and those of Stalinism. At Maidan, Halya Coynash examines the background to the law, and the cynical assumptions that inevitably underlie it. In particular, the proposed legislation represents a deliberate misreading of the PACE resolution:

It is difficult of late to rid oneself of the feeling that the Russian authorities are trying to shout down half the world. Mr Koperov’s point of view regarding the recent OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution “Divided Europe Reunited” (hereafter the Resolution) is repeated by Russia’s Council of the Federation which “strongly condemns attempts to give a biased interpretation of historical facts”. The following is clearly prompted by the Resolution:

“they are resorting to active efforts to reconsider the real reasons for the War and to place blame for the beginning of the War equally on the USSR and Hitler’s Germany and at the same time to absolve those who abetted the Nazis and committed crimes on the territory of countries occupied by the Nazis”.

It would be worth seeking an assessment of the Council’s following conclusions from both political analysts and psychiatrists however there is something else which is even more staggering. There is absolutely nothing in the Resolution which even remotely warrants such an accusation. The Resolution states that:

“in the 20th century, European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, the Nazi and the Stalinist, which brought along genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

It only recalls “the initiative of the European Parliament to proclaim 23 August, when the Ribbentrop –Molotov pact was signed 70 years ago, as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, in order to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations”

Do we have a situation like the statements once made in the Soviet Union about the novel “Doctor Zhivago” – “I haven’t read it but I know that it’s disgusting anti-Soviet propaganda”? Hardly likely: the Resolution is put succinctly and it is difficult to imagine that nobody is following the bemused reactions from various organizations, including Memorial, which have already publicly pointed out the bizarre misreading.

I suspect they were counting on something else. They assumed that the Resolution would not be read and that people would simply be indignant at entirely fabricated disrespect for the soldiers of the Red Army. People would be right to feel indignation – were there even a modicum of truth in the allegations. There is not.

Read it all.

Medvedev makes oblique threats to Georgia, U.S.

In an interview for NTV, Russia’s President Medvedev has made what appear to be oblique threats to the Georgian and U.S. governments:

“We have no diplomatic relationships with Georgia and this is a result of the aggression of the Saakashvili regime. There are no inter-state relations, although very warm, historical relationships tie us with Georgia. We have endured much with this people, we have gone through ‘water, fire and brass pipes’ together. We want these relations to continue. Regimes like that of Saakashvili come and go, but feelings and relations remain.

“There is another issue we are concerned about as well. It is pulling countries into different organizations and military blocs. Our stance regarding this issue is unchangeable and our and America`s positions do not coincide with each other,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

Hatching eggs

The Orwell Prize is publishing a special blog containing the 1939-1942 diaries of George Orwell. The blog is updated each day, with entries on subjects that include Orwell’s recuperation in Morocco, his return to the UK, and his opinions on the descent of Europe into war.

What impression of Orwell will emerge? From his domestic diaries (which start on 9th August), it may be a largely unknown Orwell, whose great curiosity is focused on plants, animals, woodwork, and – above all – how many eggs his chickens have laid. From his political diaries (from 7th September), it may be the Orwell whose political observations and critical thinking have enthralled and inspired generations since his death in 1950. Whether writing about the Spanish Civil War or sloe gin, geraniums or Germany, Orwell’s perceptive eye and rebellion against the ‘gramophone mind’ he so despised are obvious.

Medieval masters

LJ blogger kutuzov has a comment on the political background to Natalya Estemirova’s murder (my tr.):

In the aftermath of Natalya Estemirova’s murder,  the figure of Ramzan Kadyrov has repeatedly come to the surface. He has, for example, been accused of the killing.

I don’t believe it, because, like any other human rights defender, she presented no danger to Ramzan at all. Kadyrov’s position is as solid as a granite rock. The human rights defenders are powerless to move him, he can hurl abuse at them, give them a reprimand (as he did to Natalya Estemirova), but why would he kill  them?

Ramzan kills his enemies, and the rights defenders are not his enemies, any more than the journalists are. Let them write their commentaries, complain to Strasbourg, to him it’s  like water off a duck’s back.

But for some of Ramzan’s subordinates even our human rights defenders can be enemies. That is easy to explain. Their position is not so secure, and Kadyrov, like the typical oriental despot he is, can always remove them from office and put them behind bars. Just like that, to be on the safe side, because they looked at him in the wrong way, didn’t sit or stand up when they were supposed to. And especially because they might have done things in the past that people like Estemirova might be able to dig up.  A few years ago there was Anna Politkovskaya.

Stalin used to put the crooks and corrupt party officials in prison. Mussolini dealt with the Mafia. So Ramzan’s various henchmen and local operatives have reason to be afraid, and they could also have a motive for the killing. .

Another point is that in the case of Estemirova the responsibility still lies with Ramzan. He didn’t kill her himself, he didn’t order her killing, but he did nothing to prevent the ordering, the kidnapping and the murder.

He has not shrugged off this responsibility and has promised to conduct his own investigation.  Let us just hope he conducts it rather more swiftly than our third-rate investigators, who don’t even know the basics of their craft. 

Clearly, Ramzan Kadyrov’s position in the system of Russian government is an abnormal one for the 21st century. It is a classic form of vassaldom, of the medieval kind. 

Ramzan has sworn a feudal oath to his masters and overlords in the Kremlin – he will remain loyal to them, put his armed forces at their disposal when they wage their wars (as in South Ossetia and Georgia last year), but the the overlord – Putin, and now Medvedev –  will not interfere in the vassal’s internal affairs.

But there is no alternative to this situation, nor can there be one. It’s the old system of the Russian governor-general – only worse, and there are no more Yermolovs or even Paskeviches, they have all died out.

They tried with Dudayev/Yandarbiyev, with Maskhadov/Basayev. It’s enough.

So Ramzan is the best way to control Chechnya.

If we are going to be realistic we just have to accept this, and not construct fantastical theories – something I myself am guilty of doing at times.