“While solving in part the security issues in Sochi by implementing restrictions on the movements of broadly defined hazardous population categories, Russian government also draws the line separating the North Caucasus from the rest of the country. The solution may look attractive to the security officials, but the price for such a solution is that the North Caucasus is de facto becoming increasingly less and less associated with the Russian Federation.”
In connection with today’s atrocity in Volgograd the Russian authorities have once again blamed a “black widow”. This gendered narrative regularly appears in Russia’s state-controlled media. As Amanda Alcott has pointed out:
The monstrous narratives used to describe black widows have become a lynchpin in Kremlin propaganda… and show the world the Russian portrayal of the ongoing war and security services’ operations in the North Caucasus. The narrative is particularly founded in the basic moral superiority of Russian masculinity over femininity, and reinforces the patriarchal power of the Russian government and society by using black widow propaganda as a way to in effect blame femininity for the actions of the black widows, removing any agency, legitimacy or pity associated with their actions and plight.
Also, as I suggested on this blog in 2010:
– Almost without exception, Western media accepted at face value the official statements by Russia’s FSB and other agencies, including the terminology that was used in them. The existence of a “Black Widows” organization dedicated to obtaining revenge for the deaths of slain Islamist insurgents was also treated in some reports almost as an established fact, even though there is little independent evidence to support it.
– The alleged involvement of female suicide bombers – in particular, the “Black Widows” – was a feature of Russian media coverage and official statements (notably the FSB) following earlier terror attacks in Russia, particularly at Nord-Ost and Beslan. In the past, many commentators both in Russia and abroad drew attention to the fact that the “Black Widows” scenario, with its dramatic and even theatrical elements, does not look particularly convincing on close examination. For one thing, among North Caucasus Islamic insurgents shahid or “martyr” operations are usually carried out by men.
Update December 30: Today’s trolleybus blast in Volgograd – the second in 24 hours – was apparently carried out by a male bomber. Some reports say both explosions were the work of male suicide bombers, but others still mention a female guerrilla in connection with the station blast.
On October 24, Russia’s Kremlin-friendly politician LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky went on television, where he shouted and ranted about the North Caucasus, apparently calling for barbed wire to be placed around the region, for the fertility of ethnic North Caucasians to be suppressed, and for an increase in the military presence and level of surveillance in the area. His comments received wide support from viewers, by a ratio of three-and-a-half to one over those of his opponents on the show.
Zhirinovsky’s high-profile intervention came in the context of the suicide bombing in Volgograd, the riots in Biryulyovo, and the recent ethnic pogroms in several of Russia’s cities.
Writing in North Caucasus Weekly, Jamestown analyst Valery Dzutsev commented that
the controversy surrounding Zhirinovsky’s latest comments may not end up being as beneficial to the political players as initially assumed—emotions within society are running high, and the politicians might be forced to actually take some decisive steps beyond simply making a show of their indignation. The Kremlin does not seem to have a good way out. If Moscow reprimands Zhirinovsky, thereby supporting the North Caucasians, it will face a backlash from ethnic Russians. If Moscow does not react to Zhirinovsky’s tirade, it will disappoint the North Caucasians and undermine the positions of the governors in the region. Since the Russian government cannot afford to offend ethnic Russians, the North Caucasians are likely to bear the brunt of ethnic-Russian resentment. This is likely to result in ever greater levels of distrust between non-ethnic-Russian North Caucasians and ethnic Russians, while the governments in the republics of the North Caucasus will have to adopt much more nationalistic stances in order to retain some credibility among their constituents.
Later, on November 12, Caucasian Knot reported Zhirinovsky as saying that his comments had been misunderstood:
“I regret that part of our society got a negative impression. I spoke only about combating terrorism,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky said at a plenary session of the State Duma.
The LDPR leader also stressed that he meant “to take measures if terror acts were committed”, “Interfax” reports.
As far as the statements about birth control were concerned, then, according to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, he was talking about international practice, and did not make them with regard to the Russian Federation.
The LDPR leader expressed his regret about the situation.
In his blog, Berlin-based U.S.-Swiss-Korean journalist Lucian Kim presents a remarkable series of reports on contemporary life and conditions in the North Caucasus – in particular notes and photographs from a journey to Chechnya. He writes:
Before the Boston Marathon bombing, few people had heard of Dagestan. Two years earlier, in April 2011, I traveled to the Russian province and its neighbors Chechnya and Ingushetia. I wanted to see for myself a region that most Russians associate with bandits and Islamic terrorists. And I was dead-set on tracking down Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed warlord who holds Chechnya in an iron grip.
The whole of the blog is well worth reading and studying.
Hat tip: Nina Ivanovna – @ninaivanovna – on Twitter
A recent Levada Center poll indicates that half of Russians would not oppose Chechnya’s secession from Russia:
Meanwhile, a new video by Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov appears to call for a resumption of hostilities on Russian soil, and contains a threat to the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics:
On Facebook – Sochi Watch.
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.