U.S. – Russia Relations After Boston – 2

North Caucasus analyst Alexander Cherkasov, interviewed by Vladimir Kara-Murza on Radio Svoboda’s Grani vremeni programme:

Of course, the fact that the main issue in Russian-American relations might be a topic that isn’t Syria at all  … but rather the Boston attack – has somehow, in my opinion, made the subject of the situation of NGOs in Russia even more relevant. Above all, the organizations that undertake independent expert studies – either the monitoring of civil rights, in particular, civil rights in the zones where counter-terrorism operations are underway, or the work with refugees like that done by Svetlana Gannushkina. The Boston terrorist attack is an event that everyone is trying to duck responsibility for. The Chechen authorities say it’s nothing to do with them, the bombers lived mostly in Central Asia and then in the States, and the one who did come to Russia went to Dagestan. The Russian authorities are washing their hands of the whole affair. I would point out that this is the second time in the last half-century when there has been a need for close cooperation between the two countries. The last occasion was the Kennedy assassination, when the Soviet Union had to provide information about the presence of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Soviet Union… At a time when the powers that be on all sides have interests of their own, only independent expert organizations like Human Rights Watch or Memorial can say how far this terrorist attack may be linked to the North Caucasus underground, or the Chechen sector of the North Caucasus underground. Right now we are seeing that those organizations that are working in the region more intensively are either being called “foreign agents” or are having every square inch of their activities minutely examined.

U.S.-Russia Relations After Boston

North Caucasus situation – 2

In EDM, Valery Dzutsev has commentary on Kavkazskii Uzel’s interview with Emil Pain: 

As instability in the North Caucasus persists, experts are increasingly coming to the realization that Moscow’s present policies in the region can hardly address the pressing issues of the area. Even though Russian authorities appeared to be satisfied with a containment strategy in the North Caucasus for limiting violence to the region, this approach does not seem to work. A territorial dispute between Chechnya and Ingushetia, a revolt by ethnic Russians in Stavropol region, and the expanding conflict in Dagestan and elsewhere in the region indicate that instability is not simply simmering at a certain level, but is proliferating and emerging in unexpected forms and in new territories. Given the current dynamics of the security situation unfolding in the North Caucasus, chances are slim that the Olympics in Sochi in 2014 will not be affected in some adverse way by regional developments and blowback from the ongoing insurgencies in the North Caucasus.

Boston: Leaks and Unanswered Questions

For reasons best known to themselves, the Russian security services are currently leaking a fairly large amount of information about the dead Boston marathon bomber suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A Novaya Gazeta report published on April 27 gives data provided by Dagestan’s Center for Combating Extremism which flatly contradicts an earlier interior ministry statement that Tsarnaev only spent 3 or 4 days in the republic in 2012. The new information says that in April 2012

 aгенты силовиков неоднократно «фиксировали» его вместе с неким Махмудом Мансуром Нидалем

an 18-year old youth of Palestinian-Kumyk ethnicity whom they suspected of links with the Dagestani Islamic insurgency and of taking part in a terrorist attack on a police checkpoint in May 2012 (Nidal was killed during a special operation in Makhachkala on May 19 last year.)

Writing in EDM, Valery Dzutsev notes the NG report’s description of the treatment given to the 21 year-old Russian-Canadian Muslim convert William Plotnikov, who was detained and tortured by Russian/Dagestani security services in the town of Izerbash south of Makhachkala in 2010, provided them with a list of contacts, including Tsarnaev, and was killed by Dagestani police in July 2012:

The Russian security services admitted they extensively interrogated Plotnikov, a suspected radical who was a citizen of Canada and possibly of Russia. The authorities interrogated Plotnikov in 2010 despite the fact that they had practically no incriminatory information on him and thus eventually released him. At the same time, they followed up on Tsarnaev, who allegedly met and had meetings with Mahmud Mansur Nidal, a known radical, but did not even bother to question Tsarnaev, who was even more susceptible to being interrogated by the Russians since he apparently was applying for a Russian passport and did not have US citizenship.

Dzutsev continues:

The Russian media displayed an uncharacteristic attitude toward the suspected terrorists. On April 28, one of the country’s major TV channels, NTV, featured an interview with the mother of suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, in which she again insisted that her sons had been “framed.” The substantive part of the interview revealed little that was new, but what was interesting was the very fact that she was featured on a major Russian TV channel (http://www.ntv.ru/peredacha/CT/m23400/o163397/).

This is not normally the way relatives of suspected terrorists are treated in Russia. On the one hand, Russian media are threatened by the law against “propagating terrorism,” and featuring a suspected terrorist’s mother would count as such an act. In addition, the relatives of suspected terrorists are often treated with suspicion, based on an implicit expectation that they could carry out an attack to avenge the killing of their relative. Zubeidat and Anzor Tsarnaev do not seem to have experienced any of these usual attitudes in Russia. If the Russian security services had prior information about Tamerlan’s attempt to join the North Caucasian insurgency, then they surely cannot trust his parents. Yet the Russian security services appear to be courting the parents instead of persecuting them. Zubeidat and Anzor Tsarnaev reportedly left Dagestan for Moscow. While in Dagestan, the police protected Anzor Tsarnaev from excessive contacts with journalists. This level of protection for someone whose sons are accused of terrorist activities, not only abroad, but also domestically, is highly unusual in Russia.

Update: Minding Russia has a complete translation of Irina Gordienko’s Novaya Gazeta article, with more background and discussion.

Present situation in the North Caucasus and Dagestan

In an in-depth interview for Kavkazskii Uzel, Emil Pain, director of CEPRS, Moscow, discusses the current situation in the North Caucasus. He believes that contrary to the assertions of some in the human rights community, tensions in the region are not diminishing but actually increasing. He ascribes this to a number of factors, but principally to what he sees as a change in the dynamics of political and religious activity: until recently, the types of conflict were localized: in the 1990s, the conflicts were mostly based on ethnic divisions, while in the 2000s they were predominantly religious in nature, especially focused on the division between Sunni and Sufi Islam. Since 2011, however, the different types of conflict have become combined with one another, embracing religious, ethnic and territorial issues. As examples he points to the Chechen-Ingush conflict, the conflict between Dagestan and Stavropol, and the reawakened hostility between Kalmykia and Astrakhan, dormant since the 1950s.

Pain also thinks that the apparent reduction in the level of tension is only superficial, and is due to a change of tactics by the boyeviki, who, instead of organizing large-scale terrorist attacks which tend to alienate the population, have switched to targeted attacks on individual figures in the power structures. He considers that Moscow is failing to suppress the insurgency because it tries to apply to it the same repressive measures and methods that it uses elsewhere in Russia – primarily against the liberals, who enjoy only marginal support in Russian society. And if such repressive techniques are applied to the nationalists, the result is quite the opposite of what is desired:

…они только увеличивают поддержку населения. В России оппозицию сдерживают тем, что ее обвиняют в сотрудничестве с Западом, то есть с Америкой. Попробуйте обвинить в этом оппозиционеров-националистов в русских краях и областях или нерусских республиках – и вас поднимут на смех, поскольку и те, и другие – еще большие антизападники, чем сама власть. Тот ограниченный набор мер, которым более ли менее удается сдерживать и погашать нестабильность в центральной части России, абсолютно неэффективен на Кавказе.

… they only increase popular support. In Russia the opposition is held back by accusing it of cooperation with the West, that is, with America. Try to accuse the opposition nationalists in Russian territories and regions or the non-Russian republics of this, and you will be laughed to scorn, as all those nationalists are even bigger anti-Westerners than the Russian government itself. The limited set of measures that are more or less successful in containing and suppressing the instability in the central part of Russia, is not effective in the Caucasus.

Pain also has an interesting commentary on the profile of the general social and political situation in the North Caucasus and Dagestan, saying that many observers think it is a form of “frozen traditionalism”:

А это неверно, потому что там происходят разные процессы, в том числе и модернизационные. Увеличивается активность и свобода выражения молодежи, чего раньше не было. Но эта активность молодежи не находит реализации в позитивной форме, и она направляется в сторону радикальных действий. Наконец, играет свою роль общая социально-экономическая ситуация в республике, которая далека от позитивной. Здесь дольше и тяжелее проявляются кризисные явления в экономике. Здесь острее, чем где бы то ни было, проявилась деиндустриализация. Сокращение рабочих мест в индустриальной сфере в Дагестане просто разительное, огромное. И, к сожалению, это не та проблема, которую можно решить за месяцы и даже за годы.

But that is not true, because various processes are taking place there, including the process of modernization. There is an increase in the activity and freedom of expression of young people that was not there before. However, this activity among the young is not finding implementation in a positive way, and it is being directed towards radical actions. In addition, the overall socio-economic situation in the republic is playing a role that is far from positive. The economic crisis is longer and worse here than in other parts of Russia. It is more acute than anywhere else, and there has been de-industrialization. The job cuts in Dagestan’s industrial sector in Dagestan have been sweeping, dramatic. And unfortunately this is not a problem that will be capable of solution within months or even years.

Money, Guns, Islam and Football

Sam Knight (GQ), on Dagestan’s Anzhi Makhachkala Football Club:

When you land at Makhachkala airport, the baggage hall is decked out with posters of the team’s Russian and Dagestani players (and Eto’o). Huge posters line the highways and street corners: “Anji: New History”, “Anji: Territory of Peace”. Not subtle, really. Neither is the symbolism of the new 30,000-seat, “Anji- Arena”, built on the bones of an old stadium, and due to open in March – and rumoured to be staging a game at Russia’s 2018 World Cup – which is slap-bang next to the housing complex for the local FSB headquarters (the successor to the KGB). Then there is the academy, which ran trials for 2,000 Dagestani boys last autumn, and the new football pitches being built across Makhachkala, to give young men something to do.

Boston – 2

Andrei Babitsky, in Ekho Kavkaza:

“Вы сказали, что они выходцы из Чечни. Нет, они выходцы из Кыргызстана, насколько я могу судить по информации, опубликованной в СМИ, несколько лет они прожили в Дагестане, а потом переехали в Америку. Я не думаю, что это как-то повлияет на активность северокавказского подполья, поскольку все-таки на Северном Кавказе эта активность заметно снижается, но то, что в такой своеобразной конкурентной борьбе с арабами за право считаться передовым отрядом глобального джихада чеченцы сегодня одерживают убедительную победу, – это очевидно.”

“You said that they come from Chechnya. No. They come from Kyrgyzstan, as far as I can tell from the information published in the media. They lived for a few years in Dagestan, and then moved to America. I don’t think it will somehow affect the activity of the North Caucasus underground, because in the North Caucasus that activity is markedly diminishing. But that in this strange competition with the Arabs for the right to be the vanguard of global jihad the Chechens today are winning a landslide victory – that’s obvious.”


Igor Rotar, writing in Rosbalt.ru:

…очень многие в США не верят, что теракт готовился за рубежом. “Mне кажется, что это просто двое разочаровавшихся американских детей, которые, к сожалению, направили свой гнев против своих же собратьев. Увы, подобные случаи были и раньше”, — говорит “Росбалту” профессор политологии университета Джорджа Мейсона в штате Вирджиния Эрик Макглинчи. Отметим также, что эта версия не только не выглядит совершенно нелепой, но и чрезвычайно выгодна администрации президента Обамы, так как в этом случае можно избежать обвинений в непрофессионализме спецслужб.

…a great many people in the U.S. do not believe that the attack was prepared abroad. “I think it’s just two disaffected American kids who unfortunately directed their anger against their fellow humans. Alas, there have been such cases before,” Eric McGlinchey, political science professor at George Mason University, tells Rosbalt. Let’s just observe that this version not only looks completely absurd, but is also extremely helpful to the Obama administration, as in that case one can avoid accusations of incompetence by the special services.

Versions – 2

– A self-declared spokesman for Caucasus Emirate leader Dokka Umarov has issued a statement dissociating the emirate from the March 29 Moscow bombings and claiming that they were the work of the Russian special services.

– At least 12 people have been killed by two bombings in the town of Kizlyar in the Russian federal republic of Dagestan. One of the alleged bombers is said to have been a man dressed as a policeman.