Month: July 2009

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.

Leaving the Caucasus will make Russia stronger

From Kerkko Paananen, at FinRosForum:

Leaving the Caucasus will make Russia stronger, wrote Igor Averkiev, chairman of the Perm Civic Chamber, in January 2009. Mr Averkiev’s words turned out to be so inflammable that in April 2009, the prosecutor’s office in Perm found that his article contained calls to extremist action. The FSB has now initiated a criminal case against him. Furthermore, the prosecutor has asked a court to recognise Mr Averkiev’s article as extremist and include the article on the federal list of banned publications.

Mr Averkiev regards the accusations as absurd. In Russia, the “fight against extremism” is quite separate from actual extremism, he said. “In effect, what the authorities are trying to do is ban normal, honest discussion about Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime in Chechnya, about the future of the Caucasus, and about Russia’s interests in the region,” Mr Averkiev said. Recent events prove, in fact, that Russia has lost control of the North Caucasus, he concluded.

This is not the first time that Mr Averkiev has been accused of extremism: in December 2007, his article, “Putin is our good Hitler,” published in the Perm Public Chamber’s newspaper, Lichnoe Delo, angered the authorities. Russia’s state censor, Roskomnadzor, found that certain passages in the article could be considered as calls to overthrow Russia’s constitutional order. In the article, Mr Averkiev compared Putin to Hitler before the war. That time, he “got away” with questioning.

Read on for an abridged translation of Mr Averkiev’s original article, “Leaving the Caucasus will make Russia stronger”

Leaving the Caucasus will make Russia stronger

Russia is no ideal country. Not ideal at all, not even a European one. Yet, even for our non-European, non-ideal country, Chechnya is just too much.

What we are witnessing in Chechnya is the creation of either an “Islamic monarchy,” a “feudal regime,” or a “tribal theocracy.” Today’s Chechnya has nothing to do with today’s Russia. Chechnya is not Russian land. Chechnya is not ours, it is a foreign country; be it under Dudayev or Kadyrov.

Our own country, however, under its current leadership, is not some antediluvian empire, which needs to hold on to pieces of useless, foreign, and incredibly costly territories, the population of which do not regard Russia as their homeland.

***

What is happening today in Chechnya does not fit into any norms or perceptions of normality that would be generally accepted in Russia. A list of these “Chechen abnormalities” will sound utterly xenophobic: attitudes towards women as to inferior beings; excessive, fanatical religiosity; obsessive veneration of those in power; and the totalitarianism of clan sentiments.

The question is not, however, about xenophobia. Xenophobia per se, as a natural rejection of those who are alien, is just one of man’s strategies for survival, one method to guarantee one’s own safety and that of one’s family. Xenophobia turns bloody and lethal in the hands of politicians, states, and young do-nothings like our “fascists” and “anti-fascists.”

Ordinary people in “little Russia” have no hatred towards Chechens. There is distrust, suspicion, a wish to insulate oneself, not to have anything in common. Many are simply afraid. Yet ordinary Russians do not wish Chechens dead or that Chechens be wiped off the face of the Earth. “Leave us in peace, do not turn to us” — that is all.

It is quite stupid to play the role of a “Big Brother” if there are no brotherly feelings on either side. It is even more stupid to support a whole nation in exchange for sham loyalty. It is utterly unbearable to burden oneself with responsibility for an alien way of life, for something that is unjust and horrifying to us, but quite normal to others.

As long as Chechnya is marked as being part of Russia, we are all — not just Medvedev and Putin — responsible for Kadyrov with his golden pistol, for the oriental despotism called the Chechen Republic, for the unquenchable fountain of religious fanaticism, for the criminal gangs in police uniform, and for the endless political assassinations.

What do we need all this for? We have enough problems to solve in our own country, Russia, even without the “excesses” in Chechnya. In our own country, — for the very reason that it is our own, — we have a lot in our powers, we can actually do a lot, if only we had the will (which, for now, we have little). In Chechnya, however, nothing depends on our wishes by definition: it is a foreign country. Why pretend that it is not so?

***

Chechnya needs Russia more than Russia needs Chechnya. Chechnya is using Russia to its maximum advantage as an inexhaustible source of all kinds of resources. Russia has no advantage in using Chechnya for any purpose whatsoever. Chechnya is useless and, in fact, harmful for Russia. It has always been so.

Consider the strange outcome of Russia’s supposedly victorious Second Chechen war: having vanquished Maskhadov and Basayev, Russia, in the end, lost Chechnya. In exchange for “no war” and “no separatism,” Putin’s regime handed Chechnya over to the total political control of one of the Chechen clans, the Kadyrovites. Chechnya gained informal independence. “Do as you like, we will pay for everything,” Moscow told Kadyrov. “Just do not make a noise.”

The Russian constitution does not, in fact, apply in Chechnya. Yes, there are all the necessary electoral rituals; criminal, tax, and administrative legislation do formally apply, but they apply only as far as they do not conflict with the interests of the Kadyrovites, pacts between clans, and so on.

This small country gained a lot, but what did we get in return? Problems, problems, and more problems. Problems in the past, problems in the future. What does Russia need all this for? So that less Russian soldiers would die? That is only until the next war. All in all, the last Chechen war ended in political absurdity: with gains for the side that lost.

Supporting Chechnya — a foreign country — is a humiliation for Russia. Today’s Russia has ceased to be an empire for the reason that it can conquer but cannot absorb foreign territory, cannot include it in its “macroeconomic complex” on conditions that would be beneficial to itself.

***

The main point to understand is that this is not about Chechnya. This is about the whole of the mountaineous region of the North Caucasus. Everything I said about Chechnya, goes for all of the mountaineous territories: Ingushetia, Dagestan, and the rest. It just so happens that history placed Chechnya at the helm of the “Caucasian Renaissance.”

It is not our business to stop this process. It is not our responsibility what they are doing in their own country and with each other. It is not our job to reform the mountaineers; their way of life is their own choice. Russia’s task in the Caucasus today is to minimise the damage to Russia from the “Caucasian Renaissance.” Minimising the damage means to leave the North Caucasus.

Russia can never leave the Caucasus in geopolitical, economic, and cultural terms, neither does she have to. What is more, when the mountain peoples finally gain the right to actual statehood, this will allow Russia to increase the efficiency of its economic and cultural presence in the Caucasus significantly.

When nations — like people — gain independence, they develop a new, higher level of responsibility for their actions. An independent nation has a lot more to lose than a subjugated people.

I do realise of course that the political and geopolitical risks of an “exit” would be very high for Russia. Yet the risk of a new Caucasian war is even higher. Bestowing independence on the peoples of the Caucasus, even by forcing it on them, gives us a chance to avoid a new war. Armed militants can fight with whomever they want, however they want, and whenever they want, but states should wage war seldom and with caution.

The danger posed by Russia’s exit from the Caucasus that is brought up most often is that the North Caucasian republics will turn into fundamentalist Islamic states. We must realise, however, that Russia cannot control the Islamisation of the North Caucasus, and that the attainment of statehood decreases the likelihood of nations to go down an extreme path of development.

***

The mountaineous territory of the North Caucasus is an endless geopolitical provocation for Russia. Yet everything there is in our hands, — not in the hands of the mountaineers. If we fail to do anything, there will be war, make no mistake about it. I feel sad that it is all so predetermined. Things will turn out as they always do, only worse.

For Russia to leave the Caucasus now would be to do it from a position of strength. Leaving the region after having burned oneself in yet another war would be to show weakness. Leaving the Caucasus now would force the regional elites to act in a responsible manner in the eyes of their people and the world.

What will the North Caucasus become in the next few years if nothing changes? In population settlements throughout the Caucasus and in Russian cities, we can see the emergence of a new generation of “Caucasian hoodlums,” fed on the Dudayev and Basayev saga. In British and Swiss universities, a “golden generation” of Caucasian youth, eager to fulfil their ambitions, is taking shape. In Russia itself, a Caucasian “fifth column”, contaminated with a sense of national imperative, is flourishing.

When the time is ripe, these three generations will unite in another ecstasy of national liberation. Given their primaeval greed, passionate rage, and impression of Western weakness, the new generation of mountaineers will want more independence and “native land” than they can swallow.

Russia, unfettered by nothing but its new grand role in the collapsing West, will respond harshly (there is no longer any other way), with carpet bombing and with hundreds and hundreds of aerial raids. In such a world, there is nothing to stop us. Israel, Europe, and America are already going through the furnace of barbarically defending their eroded interests. Why do we need this on our conscience?

***

To support a foreign country is to sell one’s own people. To feed a foreign country is to neglect one’s own civilisation. Leaving the Caucasus is our responsibility to our own civilisation.

The ability to contain oneself is the most important ability of countries and peoples of the 21st century. Our planet has become too crowded under the pressure of differing and powerful interests for us to be able to want too much and give in to each and every temptation.

Leaving the Caucasus would allow Russia to limit itself geopolitically in favour of strengthening its geopolitical might. Only a country which finds itself in the peak of modernity, is capable of such an accomplishment.

There are many projects and alternatives as to how and when Russia could leave the Caucasus. The responsible part of Russia’s civic society simply needs to take these alternatives under public discussion, evaluate and improve them.

I think I am aware of all of the main arguments against my proposal: the humanitarian, liberal-democratic, rational-bureaucratic, and imperial-nationalist.

The counterarguments are various, many of them quite rational, but most of them have one thing in common: none of them want any radical change, neither to the political status of the North Caucasian region, nor to the quasimetropolitan role of Russia in the region.

Almost all of the counterarguments are, in the end, in favour of maintaining the status quo, with various caveats. Yet the problem is that we cannot afford not to change. We cannot avoid crossing the Rubicon.

Russia cannot afford not to leave the Caucasus, because our presence in the Caucasus is tantamount to endless conflict. Staying in the Caucasus is equal to a black hole in our economy, responsibility for the obscurantism of others (we have enough of our own), and a perpetual provocation to our “dark side.” The North Caucasus is the most alien and useless part of our country.

Finally, the Caucasus is a source of many social and political infections, from religious fanaticism to despotism. What may be good for Caucasian villages is bad for Russian cities. The Caucasus is like a weight on our feet. How can we not get rid of it?

Igor Averkiev, 25 January 2009

[Translation: Kerkko Paananen]

Original article in Russian:

Уйдём с Кавказа – станем свободней и крепче
Игорь Аверкиев, 25.01.2009
http://www.pgpalata.ru/reaction/0012

Developing situation in Russia and N. Caucasus

  1. Caucasian Knot reports that Natalya Estemirova’s body was found at the same location in Ingushetia where the fatally wounded Magomed Yevloyev was found on August 31, 2008, indicating a carefully pre-planned action.
  2. As of today, Russia’s police, FSB and six other law enforcement agencies will be permitted to open letters and packages and obtain personal data from the postal service. The change in the law will also allow the opening and reading of email correspondence, which is already closely monitored by the authorities.
  3. Jamestown analyst Valery Dzutsev notes that

    It is important for policymakers and experts to understand that even though the situation in the North Caucasus depends very much on what is going on in Moscow, the region de facto is already a different territory, with rules of behavior distinctly different from the rest of Russia. The North Caucasus is a no man’s land for journalists and rights activists in which the Kremlin’s cliques exercise overwhelming control over the flow of information. This means that the North Caucasus in practice should be treated as a territory under totalitarian state control. Even though Russia as a whole still cannot be referred to as a totalitarian state, the North Caucasus is already there – a relatively new development in the territory’s recent past.

Natalya Estemirova’s murder is an indictment of State policy

Via KHPG.Org

The following Statement from human rights defenders, endorsed by a large number of prominent human rights defenders, lawyers, writers and others, is to be sent to the Russian Federation President and Prime Minister on 21 July.

Human rights defender Natalya Estemirova was murdered on 15 July. We have lost a person who strove for justice and who had devoted her life to defending human rights and investigating the murders and abductions of civilians. She had on many occasions received threats however continued her selfless work. Her close friends and colleagues in this task were the murdered human rights defenders Anna Politkovskaya and lawyer Stanislav Markelov.

We can only express our heartfelt sympathy to her daughter, relatives, friends, colleagues and members of Memorial.

The crime was committed openly, brazenly: Natalya was abducted in the centre of Grozny, taken to Ingushetia and shot, with her body flung on the road in broad daylight.

Other murders of human rights defenders exposing the crimes of the enforcement bodies in Chechnya and other republics of the Northern Caucuses were equally flagrant.

This is real political terror since the aim of such crimes is to arouse fear and horror in other civic figures, human rights defenders and journalists, and to force them into silence and submission.

This tragedy is the direct consequence of present State policy.

This is firstly the circulation through information resources controlled by the authorities of an image of independent human rights defenders and journalists, opposition civic figures as a “fifth column” and enemies of the State which is creating an atmosphere among the public which directly incites violent reprisals. The authorities and in the first instance the law enforcement agencies very often try at all costs to cover up the most flagrant crimes by officials which are reported by human rights defenders and the press.

It is, secondly, a continuation of the present irresponsible fundamentally unconstitutional and criminal policy in the Chechen Republic and other regions of the Northern Caucuses. This is epitomized by systematic and mass-scale flagrant human rights violations, including murders, fabrication of criminal charges, torture, abductions. These crimes are committed both by enforcement bodies and by groups close to them, acting as death squadrons. The myth about “stability” in Chechnya has burst like a bubble, and the armed conflict is gradually spreading to adjoining parts of the Federation.

We call on all officials, including the Russian President, the Head of the Government and Ministers, if they do not want the country to turn once and for all into a zone of open political murders, to take clear and unequivocal measures to uncover the crimes against civic figures, human rights defenders and journalists, to identify the organizers and those who order political killings, and to create an adequate system of swift response to reports from human rights defenders about torture, abductions and killings.

There must be a radical change to current policy in the republics of the Northern Caucuses. We demand that an end be put to punitive actions, lawlessness and reprisals and that a real war against corruption be launched. Violations of freedom of conscience and civic life must be prohibited and election rigging stopped.

The Statement has already been signed by a very large number of people – the following are only a few of those most well-known outside the Russian Federation

Ludmila Alexeeva, Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group; and Foundation «In defence of the rights of prisoners»

Karinna Moskalenko, Lawyer for the “International Defence Assistance Centre”

Yury Schmidt, Lawyer for the Russian Committee of Bar Lawyers for Human Rights”

Lev Ponomarev, Executive Director of “For Human Rights”

Yury Samodurov

(Father) Gleb Yakunin

Ernst Cherny

Boris Strugatsky

Ella Kesaeva

If you would like to add your signature, please send it by 21 July to zpch@zaprava.ru