Month: May 2010

IDF soldiers attacked

An account of the attack is here.

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Missing editor

Andrei Babitsky, Prague Watchdog’s Russian-language editor, has apparently gone missing somewhere in Russia. Sources at PW say that Babitsky’s absence shouldn’t give rise to concern, as he is probably also working for RFE/RL in some capacity, and has simply stopped replying to email. The situation is causing some problems for PW, however – no new material has appeared there since May 5.

Update: a new article (by Valery Dzutsev) has now appeared, though Babitsky has still not returned.

Medvedev, Chechnya and Hamas

Russian President Reaches Out to Hamas despite Links between Chechen and Palestinian Terror Groups

As indirect peace talks take off between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said this week that Iran-backed Hamas should play a role in the peace process.[1] Medvedev made the announcement May 12, a day after meeting in Damascus with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal.[2]

Russia’s overtures to Hamas come despite Israel’s support for Russian counterterrorism operations against Chechen separatist groups.[3] Expressing disappointment over Russia’s behavior, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “Just as Israel unconditionally supported Russia in her struggle against Chechen terror, we expect equal treatment in our struggle against Hamas.”[4]

Chechen terrorists share some of the basic jihadist goals and characteristics of their Palestinian counterparts such as Hamas. For years, Chechnya-based terrorist groups have attacked Russian civilian and military targets, killing thousands. Similarly, Hamas and other Iran-backed Palestinian organizations launched a years-long campaign of bombings and rocket and missile attacks against Israelis. Carrying out suicide bombings against civilians is also a tactic common to both groups.[5]

Russia, along with the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, is a member of the Middle East Quartet, the international body involved in brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.[6] Russia is also part of the “P5+1,” the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany negotiating with Iran to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons.[7]

Iran trains, arms and funds Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States, Israel, Canada and Australia.[8] Russia, however, has not labeled Hamas a terrorist organization.[9]

Following is background on ties between Chechen and Palestinian terrorist groups.

  • Iran-backed Hamas has expressed ideological solidarity with Chechen terrorists. For example, Hamas distributed a poster inside a propaganda CD juxtaposing headshots of former Chechen terrorist leaders Ibn al-Khattab and Shamil Basayev alongside those of former Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.[10] Basayev claimed responsibility for the 2004 Beslan school massacre, in which 186 children and about 150 other hostages were killed.[11]

  • Another image of Chechen terrorist leader Al-Khattab, killed by Russian authorities in 2002, appears on a CD that Hamas distributed. The text says of al-Khattab, “Oh hero, who disappeared from the land of jihad, your eyes covered with a tearful veil of dreams. Allah relieved you of [life in] a time when everything is upside down…”[12]

  • A CD titled “The Russian Hell” that Hamas distributed at two West Bank universities and a Hamas-linked orphanage shows footage of fighting in Chechnya and a jihadist sermon.[13] Comments in the CD include a statement that “fire awaits [the Russian soldiers] in the next world, and the Chechens in this world,” and Chechen rebels are called “jihad warriors.”[14]

  • The Israel Defense Forces in 2005 found a brochure supporting Chechen separatism titled “Chechnya: an excellent people and their hopes,” inside a Hamas “Islamic club” in the West Bank. The back of the brochure displays an image of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem above a picture of Chechen fighters, along with text that states, “From Al-Aqsa to Grozny [the capital of Chechnya], darkness disperses and dawn rises.” The brochure’s introduction encourages the Palestinians’ “brothers” in Chechnya to “follow the path of jihad.” The brochure also includes an article by a Hamas-affiliated professor of Islamic law justifying Chechen terrorism.[15]

  • A jihadist Web site mainly focused on Palestinian militancy and likely produced by Hamas – “AqsaTube” – featured a video of the life of former Chechen terrorist leader al-Khattab. A Russian Internet company began hosting the site after it was removed by a French company that had previously hosted it.[16]

  • Hamas’ official Web site posted a fatwa (religious edict) authored by a Chechen-Muslim cleric justifying suicide bombings alongside similar fatwas by Arab-Muslim clerics.[17]

  • The spokesman of the Abu Rish Brigades, a Fatah splinter group that has collaborated with Hamas, said, “Our banner is jihad everywhere, even Chechnya. Our aim is to liberate every piece of land in Palestine, including what is now called Israel.”[18]

  • Asbat al-Ansar, a Lebanon-based terrorist group connected with Palestinian terrorist Munir Maqdah who has said the group is ideologically similar to Hamas,[19] has dispatched fighters to Chechnya. In 2000, two terrorists from the group – one of whom was Palestinian and said he was “sacrificing himself for Chechnya”– attacked the Russian embassy in Beirut using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), killing a Lebanese police officer.[20]

  • At the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, Chechen terrorist leader Basayev offered to send 150 Chechen mujahedeen (holy warriors) to Palestine to assist with jihadist activities there. He subsequently offered to pay $1,000 to the families of Palestinian “martyrs.” Said Basayev, “The Sharia (Islamic law) requires us to assist those Muslims who are struggling to free the sacred places of Islam—the city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Those belong to all Muslims, regardless of their nation or ethnic group. It is a clear duty of all Muslims to help the Palestinians." Basayev also said the Russian army “had Jews in military ranks both as soldiers and engineers.”[21] “We ask Allah to destroy the heartless Jews and their allies,” Basayev said.[22]

  • Chechen separatists and Palestinian terrorists have at times shared common sources of funding. For example, in 2001 Egyptian authorities arrested a popular Muslim cleric who raised about $1 million distributed to various terrorist groups, including Hamas as well as Chechen fighters. Said a lawyer for another suspect in the case, “The government says this is not just for families or social aid, but was buying weapons for jihad, for Hamas and for Chechnya.”[23]

  • In 2000, then-Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin likened the goals of Chechen separatists to Palestinian terrorists when he addressed a Hamas rally in Gaza in support of Chechen rebel groups. About 200 Hamas activists showed up to the demonstration. At about the same time, Israeli newspapers reported that Hamas had planned to bomb a Jerusalem high-rise apartment in an attempt to emulate a 1999 Chechen attack on a Moscow apartment building.[24]


Footnotes:

[1] Ravid, Barak, “Israel to Russia: Hamas is like the Chechen terrorists,” Haaretz, May 12, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-to-russia-hamas-is-like-the-chechen-terrorists-1.289918

[2] “Medvedev to Hamas: Work quickly for Shalit deal,” Haaretz, May 11, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/medvedev-to-hamas-work-quickly-for-shalit-deal-1.289668

[3] Bourtman, Ilya, “Putin and Russia’s Middle Eastern Policy,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, June 2006, http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2006/issue2/jv10no2a1.html

[4] Ravid, Barak, “Israel to Russia: Hamas is like the Chechen terrorists,” Haaretz, May 12, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-to-russia-hamas-is-like-the-chechen-terrorists-1.289918

[5] “Hamas terrorist attacks,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 22, 2004, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Terror+Groups/Hamas+terror+attacks+22-Mar-2004.htm; IDF Spokesperson’s Unit communiqué, Jan. 3, 2009; “Female suicide bombers blamed in Moscow subway attacks,” CNN, March 29, 2010, http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/03/29/russia.subway.explosion/index.html

[6] “Russia rebuffs Israeli rebuke over open relations with Hamas,” Reuters via Haaretz, May 13, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/russia-rebuffs-israeli-rebuke-over-open-relations-with-hamas-1.290241

[7] Sturdee, Simon, “World powers discuss Iran as sanctions pressure grows,” AFP, Sept. 2, 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5g0V4v_KwXli-4rmoRMCcWFdszrMA

[8] "Council Decision," Council of the European Union, Dec. 21, 2005; "Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs)," U.S. Department of State Web site, Oct. 11, 2005, http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/fs/37191.htm; Wilson, Scott, "Hamas Sweeps Palestinian Elections, Complicating Peace Efforts in Mideast," The Washington Post , Jan. 27, 2006, accessed Jan. 18, 2006,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/26/AR2006012600372.html; Public Security and Emergency Preparedness Canada, National Security, Listed entities, accessed Jan. 18, 2007, http://www.psepc.gc.ca/prg/ns/le/cle-en.asp#hhi18; "Listing of Terrorist Organisations," Australian Government Web site, May 24, 2007, http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/agd/www/nationalsecurity.nsf/AllDocs/95FB057CA3DECF30CA256FAB001F7FBD?OpenDocument

[9] “Terrorist Organization Profile: Hamas,” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, http://www.start.umd.edu/start/data/tops/terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=49, accessed May 14, 2010

[10] “Russian president invites Hamas to Moscow,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Feb. 10, 2006, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/html/final/eng/eng_n/html/hamas_moscow_e.htm

[11] Osborn, Andrew, “Russians claim killing of rebel Basayev, the Beslan butcher,” The Independent (UK), July 11, 2006; “Putin meets angry Beslan mothers,” BBC News, Sept. 2, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4207112.stm

[12] “The Internet and terrorism: a week after AqsaTube was removed from the Internet, it returned in a similar format and with support from a Russian company,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Oct. 22, 2008, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/mt_e005.htm

[13] “Russian president invites Hamas to Moscow,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Feb. 10, 2006, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/html/final/eng/eng_n/html/hamas_moscow_e.htm

[14] Nahmias, Roee, “What Putin doesn’t know about Hamas,” YnetNews, Feb. 10, 2006, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3214119,00.html

[15] “Shamil Basayev, leader of the Chechen separatists and responsible for the Beslan school massacre, was killed by the Russian security forces.His organization is identified with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad. Hamas identifies with and is inspired by Chechen separatist ideology,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, July 19, 2006, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_ch_e.htm

[16] “The Internet and terrorism: a week after AqsaTube was removed from the Internet, it returned in a similar format and with support from a Russian company,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Oct. 22, 2008, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/mt_e005.htm; Thorold, Crispin, “Jihad website AqsaTube goes offline,” BBC News, Oct. 15, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7672162.stm

[17] “Hamas identifies with and supports Chechen and international Islamic terrorism on CDs found in the Palestinian Authority-administered territories. The CDs are distributed by Hamas to Palestinian youth in various educational institutions,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, September 2004, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia//ENGLISH/GLOBAL%20JIHAD/PDF/SEP9_04.PDF

[18] Levitt, Matthew, “Putin’s New Friends: Moscow Hosts Hamas,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 19, 2007, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/print.php?template=C06&CID=1038; “Terrorist Organization Profile: Abu al-Rish Brigades,” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, http://www.start.umd.edu/start/data/tops/terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=4664, accessed May 12, 2010

[19] Abedin, Mahan, “Ein Al-Hilweh: A fruitless search for al-Qaeda,” Asia Times Online, Jan. 7, 2010, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LA07Ak02.html

[20] Murphy, Paul J. (2004), The wolves of Islam: Russia and the faces of Chechen terror, Dulles, Va.: Brassey’s Inc., p. 213; Fisk, Robert, “Chechen allies open fire on Russian embassy in Beirut,” The Independent (UK), Jan. 24, 2000, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/chechen-allies-open-fire-on-russian-embassy-in-beirut-727331.html

[21] McGregor, Andrew, “Distant Relations: Hamas and the Mujahideen of Chechnya,” The Jamestown Foundation, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=3166

[22] Riebling, Mark; Eddy, R.P., “Jihad@Work,” National Review Online, Oct. 24, 2002, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-riebling102402.asp

[23] Schneider, Howard, “Egypt Steps Up Prosecutions Of Fundraisers for Militants; Now in Military Court, Scholar May Face Death Penalty,” The Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2001, accessed via Lexis-Nexis

[24] Copans, Laurie, “Reports: Palestinian militants mimicked Chechen bombings in planned attack,” AP, Feb. 23, 2000, accessed via Lexis-Nexis; Bhattacharji, Preeti, “Backgrounder: Chechen Terrorism (Russia, Chechnya, Separatist),” Council on Foreign Relations, April 8, 2010, http://www.cfr.org/publication/9181/chechen_terrorism_russia_chechnya_separatist.html?breadcrumb=/publication/by_type/backgrounder

Europe, Nationalism and Shared Fate

The Global Crisis of Legitimacy

By George Friedman

This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

The European financial crisis is moving to a new level. The Germans have finally consented to lead a bailout effort for Greece. The effort has angered the German public, which has acceded with sullen reluctance. It does not accept the idea that it is Germans’ responsibility to save Greeks from their own actions. The Greeks are enraged at the reluctance, having understood that membership in the European Union meant that Greece’s problems were Europe’s.

And this is not just a Greek matter. Geographically, the problem is the different levels of development of Mediterranean Europe versus Northern Europe. During the last generation, the Mediterranean countries have undergone major structural changes and economic development. They have also undergone the inevitable political tensions that rapid growth generates. As a result, their political and economic condition is substantially different from that of Northern Europe, whose development surge took place a generation before and whose political structure has come into alignment with its economic condition.
European Unity and Diversity

Northern and Southern Europe are very different places, as are the former Soviet satellites still recovering from decades of occupation. Even on this broad scale, Europe is thus an extraordinarily diverse portrait of economic, political and social conditions. The foundation of the European project was the idea that these nations could be combined into a single economic regime and that that economic regime would mature into a single united political entity. This was, on reflection, a rather extraordinary idea.

Europeans, of course, do not think of themselves as Mediterranean or Northern European. They think of themselves as Greek or Spanish, Danish or French. Europe is divided into nations, and for most Europeans, identification with their particular nation comes first. This is deeply embedded in European history. For the past two centuries, the European obsession has been the nation. First, the Europeans tried to separate their own nations from the transnational dynastic empires that had treated European nations as mere possessions of the Hapsburg, Bourbon or Romanov families. The history of Europe since the French Revolution was the emergence and resistance of the nation-state. Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union attempted to create multinational states dominated by a single state. Both failed, and both were hated for the attempt.

There is a paradox in the European mindset. On the one hand, the recollection of the two world wars imbued Europeans with a deep mistrust of the national impulse. On the other hand, one of the reasons nationalism was distrusted was because of its tendency to make war on other nation-states and try to submerge their identities. Europe feared nationalism out of a very nationalist impulse.

The European Union was designed to create a European identity while retaining the nation-state. The problem was not in the principle, as it is possible for people to have multiple identities. For example, there is no tension between being an Iowan and an American. But there is a problem with the issue of shared fate. Iowans and Texans share a bond that transcends their respective local identities. Their national identity as Americans means that they share not only transcendent values but also fates. A crisis in Iowa is a crisis in the United States, and not one in a foreign country as far as Texans are concerned.

The Europeans tried to finesse this problem. There was to be a European identity, yet national identities would remain intact. They wrote a nearly 400-page-long constitution, an extraordinary length. But it was not really a constitution. Rather, it was a treaty that sought to reconcile the concept of Europe as a single entity while retaining the principle of national sovereignty that Europe had struggled with for centuries. At root, Europe’s dilemma was no different from the American dilemma — only the Ame

rican transcended being a Virginian. One could be a Virginian, but Virginia shared the fate of New York, and did so irrevocably. The Europeans could not state this unequivocally as they either did not believe it or lacked the ability to militarily impress the belief upon the rest of Europe. So they tried to finesse it in long, complex and ultimately opaque systems of governance that ultimately left the nations of Europe with their sovereignty intact.

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, there was no question among the Germans that East and West Germany would be united. Nor were serious questions raised that the cost of economically and socially reviving East Germany would be borne by West Germany. Germany was a single country that history had divided, and when history allowed them to be reunited, Germans would share the burdens. Ever since the 19th century, when Germany began to conceive of itself as one country, there was an idea that to be a German meant to share a single fate and burdens.

This was the same for the rest of Europe that organized itself into nation-states, where the individual identified his fate with the fate of the nation. For a Pole or an Irishman, the fate of his country was part of his fate. But a Pole was not an Irishman and an Irishman was not a Pole. They might share interests, but not fates. The nation is the place of tradition, language and culture — all of the things that, for better or worse, define who you are. The nation is the place where an economic crisis is inescapably part of your life.

When the Greek financial crisis emerged, other Europeans asked the simple question, “What has this to do with me?” From their point of view, the Greeks were foreigners. They spoke a different language, had a different culture, shared a different history. The Germans might be affected by the crisis — German banks held Greek debt — but the Germans were not Greeks, and they did not share the Greeks’ fate. And this was not just the view of Germany, the economic leader of Europe, by any means.

In the past, Mexico has had several economic crises in which the United States intervened to stabilize Mexico. This was done because it was in the American interest to do so, not because the United States and Mexico were one country. So, too, in Europe: The bailout of Greece is designed not because Greece is part of Europe, but because it is in the rest of Europe’s interest to bail Greece out. But the heart of the matter is that Greece is a foreign country.
The Question of European Identity

During the generation of prosperity between the early 1990s and 2008, the question of European identity and national identity really did not arise. Being a European was completely compatible with being a Greek. Prosperity meant there was no choice to make. Economic crisis meant that choices had to be made, between the interests of Europe, the interests of Germany and the interests of Greece, as they were no longer the same. What happened was not a European solution, but a series of national calculations on self-interest; it was a negotiation between foreign countries, not a European solution growing organically from the recognition of a single, shared fate.

Ultimately, Europe was an abstraction. The nation-state was real. We could see this earliest and best not in the economic arena, but in the area of foreign policy and national defense. The Europeans as a whole never managed to develop either. The foreign policies of the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland were quite different and in many ways at odds. And war, even more than economics, is the sphere in which nations endure the greatest pain and risk. None of the European nations was prepared to abandon national sovereignty in this area, meaning no country was prepared to put the bulk of its armed forces under the command of a European government — nor were they prepared to cooperate in defense matters unless it was in their interest.

The unwillingness of the Europeans to transfer sovereignty in foreign and defense matters to the European Parliament and a European president was the clearest sign that the Europeans had not managed to reconcile European and national identity. Europeans knew that when it came down to it, the nation mattered more than Europe. And that understanding, under the pressure of crisis, has emerged in economics as well. When there is danger, your fate rests with your country.

The European experiment originated as a recoil from the ultranationalism of the first half of the 20th century. It was intended to solve the problem of war in Europe. But the problem of nationalism is that not only is it more resilient than the solution, it also derives from the deepest impulses of the Enlightenment. The idea of democracy and of national self-determination grew up as part of a single fabric. In taking away national self-determination, the European experiment seemed to be threatening the foundation of modern Europe.

There was another impulse behind the idea of Europe. Most of the European nations, individually, were regional powers at best, unable to operate globally. They were therefore weaker than the United States. Europe united would not only be able to operate globally, it would be the equal of the United States. If the nation-states of Europe were no longer great individually, Europe as a whole could be. Embedded in the idea of Europe, particularly in the Gaullist view of it, was the idea of Europe as a whole regaining its place in the world, the place it lost after two world wars.

That clearly is not going to happen. There is no European foreign and defense policy, no European army, no European commander in chief. There is not even a common banking or budgetary policy (which cuts to the heart of today’s crisis). Europe will not counterbalance the United States because, in the end, Europeans do not share a common vision of Europe, a common interest in the world or a mutual trust, much less a common conception of exactly what counterbalancing the United States would mean. Each nation wants to control its own fate so as not to be drawn back into the ultranationalism of a Germany in the 1930s and 1940s or the indifference to nationalism of the Hapsburg Empire. The Europeans like their nations and want to retain them. After all, the nation is who they actually are.

That means that they approach the financial crisis of Mediterranean Europe in a national, as opposed to European, fashion. Both those in trouble and those who might help calculate their moves not as Europeans but as Germans or Greeks. The question, then, is simple: Given that Europe never came together in terms of identity, and given that the economic crisis is elevating national interest well over European interest, where does this all wind up?

The European Union is an association — at most an alliance — and not a transnational state. There was an idea of making it such a state, but that idea failed a while ago. As an alliance, it is a system of relationships among sovereign states. They participate in it to the extent that it suits their self-interest — or fail to participate when they please.

In the end, what we have learned is that Europe is not a country. It is a region, and in this region there are nations and these nations are comprised of people united by shared history and shared fates. The other nations of Europe may pose problems for these people, but in the end, they share neither a common moral commitment nor a common fate.

This means that nationalism is not dead in Europe, and neither is history. And the complacency with which Europeans have faced their future, particularly when it has concerned geopolitical tensions within Europe, might well prove premature. Europe is Europe, and its history cannot be dismissed as obsolete, much less over.

Medvedev calls USSR "totalitarian"

The Telegraph reports that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has launched an outspoken attack on the USSR, calling it “totalitarian” and criticizing its human rights record. The text of the Izvestia interview can be read in Russian here. Money quote:

Если говорить прямо, тот режим, который сложился в СССР, иначе как тоталитарным назвать нельзя. К сожалению, это был режим, при котором подавлялись элементарные права и свободы. И не только применительно к своим людям (часть из которых после войны, будучи победителями, переехала в лагеря). Так было и в других странах соцлагеря тоже. И, конечно, из истории это не вычеркнуть.

Taking Liberty

Some observers who regularly seek out sources of news about Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia may have been puzzled in recent years by certain changes that seem to have taken place in the structure, editorial stance and publications of the organization known as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Ted Lipien has some interesting and disquieting revelations of what may lie behind those changes.