Friday, July 31, 2009

Silenced voices

It now looks probable that the Russian government will ban Skype, along with other foreign Internet phone services. Skype, it will be recalled, was born in Estonia, though it's now owned by eBay.

Thursday, July 30, 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 public televised 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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

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 ej.ru 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...

Monday, July 27, 2009

The power of prayer

Today Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, begins a ten-day visit to Ukraine, in what some observers see as an attempt by the Kremlin to exert influence and pressure on the Ukrainian government via the country's Russian-speaking minority.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

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.

Saturday, July 25, 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.

Friday, July 24, 2009

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.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Developing situation in Russia and N. Caucasus

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Monday, July 20, 2009

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

Reminder

Just a reminder that I also blog at Nordic Voices in Translation, a literary blog devoted to the English translation - in several senses - of Scandinavian literary culture. When I'm not here, I'm often to be found there.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Memorial: Kadyrov has made human rights work impossible in Chechnya

Via Caucasian Knot:

"Memorial" links Estemirova's murder to authorities' policy in Chechnya

jul 16 2009, 18:00

The statement of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial" that has arrived to the "Caucasian Knot" runs that Ramzan Kadyrov has made the work of human rights activists in Chechnya impossible. Russia is under state terror; those who try to tell the truth and criticize the regime are assassinated; and Natalia Estemirova's murder is also a result of such policy.
Human rights advocates are sure that the murderers of Estemirova, who was, for almost ten years, the leading expert of the "Memorial" for Northern Caucasus, first of all for Chechnya, wanted to stop the flow of truthful information outgoing from this republic. "Natalia was repeatedly threatened by bureaucrats of all levels; however, she could not imagine herself away from her work in her homeland - in Chechnya," the statement says.

Natalia's latest reports about new kidnappings, extrajudicial executions and a public killing in one of Chechen villages have caused angriness among Chechnya's top leaders. "This is what the so-called Ombudsman in Chechnya Nurdi Nukhazhiev said to the head of our Grozny office. He said that would not like anything to happen, therefore, he would criticize human rights defenders," the statement further runs.

Oleg Orlov, Board Chairman of the HRC "Memorial", directly points to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov as to the person in charge of Estemirova's murder. "Ramzan has already threatened Natalia; he insulted her and treated as his personal enemy. We don't know, whether he gave the order himself, or it was done by his closest allies to please their boss. While President Medvedev is probably satisfied to have a killer as the head of one of Russia's subjects," Mr Orlov has stated.

When Natalia dared to speak disapprovingly that girls are almost forced to wear headscarves in public places, she had a talk with Kadyrov. She said later that Kadyrov threatened her and said literally the following: "Yes, my arms are elbow-deep in blood; and I'm not ashamed of it. I've been killing and I'll keep killing bad people. We're at war with enemies of our republic."

Human rights and political organizations of St Petersburg have also adopted a statement, emphasizing that there are no doubts that the murder is directly linked with Natalia's public work, since she made public war crimes in Chechnya related to execution of peaceful citizens, including women and children; she held numerous investigations and disclosed facts of kidnappings and extrajudicial killings.

"We assert that Natalia Estemirova's murder is another proof of a complete failure of Russian authorities' policy in Chechnya, where unlimited power was vested into Ramzan Kadyrov's hands, and where not a single human right out of those fixed in the Russian Constitution is guaranteed, including the right to live," runs the statement of St Petersburg's organizations.

The authors of the statement from the Scientific-Information Centre "Memorial", St Petersburg Branch of the "Yabloko" Russian United Democratic Party (RUDP), "Civil Control", "Home of Peace and Non-Violence" and the Ecological Human Rights Centre "Bellona" call to a resolute amendment of this policy and demand a careful investigation of Natalia Estemirova's murder and unconditional punishment of those guilty.

The administration of US President Barack Obama has also condemned the murder in Ingushetia of Natalia Estemirova, an employee of the "Memorial" Centre and called Russian government to hold the killers liable.

See earlier reports: "Natalia Estemirova: "I'm sure that human rights defenders are murdered on authorities' blessing"," "In the near future, Chechen human rights activists will advance their version of Estemirova's murder," "HRC "Memorial" confirms Estemirova's murder in Ingushetia."

Estemirova sure that rights defenders were murdered "on authorities' blessing"

Via Caucasian Knot:

jul 15 2009, 21:00

In her last video interview to the "Caucasian Knot", Natalia Estemirova, an employee of the HRC "Memorial", who was shot dead on Wednesday, July 15, expressed her "complete confidence" that the murders of her friends - journalist Anna Politkovskaya and advocate Stanislav Markelov - were committed "upon blessing of those in power." She gave the interview on January 23, at the Ostankino cemetery, the day Markelov was buried there.

According to Estemirova, despite all the threats that Stanislav Markelov received, neither she nor her colleagues could believe that he would be killed. Natalia had also repeatedly received threats during many years of her human rights work in Chechnya.

"Her life was all the time in danger. She was threatened by special power services, by militants, by federal forces and by special troops," Radio Liberty reported back in 2007.

"We, human rights advocates, are defending human rights and fight against the crime, while the state fights against us," said Natalia Estemirova at Markelov's funeral. "Not only that criminal cases are all the time opened against human rights activists, and Stanislav also had problems, we see no investigation into their murders."

See earlier reports: "In the near future, Chechen human rights activists will advance their version of Estemirova's murder," "HRC "Memorial" confirms Estemirova's murder in Ingushetia," "Olga Trusevich claims Markelov accepted cases other lawyers refused to undertake."

Author: Vyacheslav Feraposhkin; Source: CK correspondent

No thaw in sight

Live Journal blogger hasid discusses the impossibility of liberalization with Medvedev (my tr.): 

It's really very strange to see liberals expecting a political thaw under Russia's youngest president, Medvedev.

Surely some historian ought to explain to them that in Russia's history any reform or thaw during an economic crisis leads to an even greater crisis.

Ever since the days of Muscovy, Russia has constantly teetered on the brink of becoming a failed state. Let's leave for another occasion the reasons for this permanent lack of success in state-building. Facts are what matter right now.

On the contrary, during an economic  crisis Russia has to tighten the screws with particular ferocity. During this period Russia must have curfews, prison sentences for being late, half the country must wear uniform on both body and face (sideburns, mustaches or beards, depending on social status).

Even the poorly educated modern youth that now surfs LJ ought to remember what liberalization led to under Gorbachev, during a period of very low oil prices...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Oriental empire

At Prague Watchdog, journalist and historian Kirill Kobrin writes about Orientalism and Imperialism in Russia.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Remembering Natalya

Prague Watchdog's obituary of Natalya Estemirova - the English version, published yesterday:

Today Natasha Estemirova was murdered. I am afraid that the political significance of this killing, about which many words are going to be written, will obscure the tragedy of the death of a very good person, and the intolerable pain, bitterness and rage of hundreds and thousands of people who knew her.

The Russian government no longer restricts itself in its choice of victims. Among those who are abducted, killed, or go missing in Chechnya are Russian citizens of every kind: ordinary people, businessmen, government officials.

In Chechnya there is no longer any question of political rights. Although it does not understand the extraterritorial nature of humanitarian law, Russia’s power elite is nevertheless forced at least sometimes to respond to the protests of Western public opinion about the very serious violations of human rights that take place there. That is why the dissemination of information on such crimes is one of the principal instruments in the hands of human rights defenders.

Natasha had to deal with a system that is hopelessly sick and criminal, trying to ease the burden that oppresses those who live amidst the nightmare in southern Russia.

Now she is no more. It matters little who was behind the assassination – Kadyrov’s forces or some other special service (no one else could have kidnapped a woman in Grozny and then removed her from the republic). The important fact is that it was an agency under the control of the Russian government.

What will happen now? "Memorial" will have to give more thought to the safety of its employees, and possibly limit the organization's activities in Chechnya. Staff members will naturally have to act with caution, knowing that their lives are menaced not by some abstract threat, but by a danger that is real and imminent, lurking round every corner.

Of two things we may be certain. Those who committed this deed will never be caught. On the other hand, the list of those who cannot learn to keep silent will continue to grow longer.

CEE Letter to Obama

A group of former Central and East European presidents, ambassadors and government officials has sent an open letter to U.S. President Obama, appealing for a renaissance and renewal of the Atlantic alliance.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Natalya Estemirova found murdered

The Telegraph cites ITAR-TASS:
Her corpse, which showed signs of a violent death, was found at 5.20pm (1320 GMT) near Ingushetia's main city Nazran, ITAR-TASS news agency said, citing the regional interior ministry.

"The body had two wounds to the head, it was clear she had been murdered in the morning," Madina Khadziyeva, a spokeswoman at the ministry, told Reuters. She did not specify the nature of the injuries.

Natalya Estemirova abducted

natalya estemirova AP is reporting that the Russian human right activist and Memorial Centre worker Natalya Estemirova has been abducted.  According to Caucasian Knot her present whereabouts are unknown, and her mobile numbers are not answering. Caucasian Knot says that [my tr.]

Natalya Estemirova was seized by unknown persons near her home [early on Wednesday] and forced into a white VAZ-2107 car - she only managed to shout that she was being abducted. Natalya was followed from the entrance to the place of abduction by a woman -- possibly a police informant, a report on the website of the "Memorial" Human Rights Centre says.

"Today Natalya was scheduled to meet staff of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Chechen Republic and travel with them to Stavropol Kray," Memorial worker Alexander Cherkasov said on the radio station Ekho Moskvy. "But the law enforcement agencies say they know nothing about what has happened."

According to Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of the Russian branch of Human Rights Watch, several witnesses saw Estemirova being pushed into the car.

Zoo story

While it leaves little doubt as to the depth of the contempt and loathing felt by many Russian intellectuals for the West, and especially for Russia's "near abroad" - in particular, the small Baltic state of Estonia, a recent interview with the Russian economist Mikhail Delyagin in the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda reveals a strange and unsettling twilight zone, where humanity appears to fade and go out of the window altogether, becoming replaced by something else. The economist is asked by one of the interviewers about Russia's plans: perhaps the tanks will go as they did in the 1930s, and be greeted with flowers?

For that , they [Estonians] need to stew in their crazy nationalism for another five to eight years. Secondly, our nation needs to heal itself. And thirdly, what do we need these insane farmers for? What would Russia do with [Estonian prime minister Andrus] Ansip? Show him at the zoo? But then there definitely might not be enough room for Saakashvili ...

U.S. criticizes Medvedev's S. Ossetia visit

DPA reports a US State Department spokesman as saying that President Medvedev's visit to South Ossetia was not "any kind of step forward in terms of establishing stability in the region.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

U.S.-Russian tensions growing over Georgia

The U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Stout has anchored off the Georgian port of Batumi for joint military exercises with Georgian coastguard vessels, the AP reports. Meanwhile, Russian jets flew over the Russian Black Sea port of Novirossiisk, watched by President Dmitry Medvedev, who yesterday made an official visit to Tskhinvali in the Russian-occupied Georgian territory of South Ossetia.

Commenting on yesterday's visit by President Medvedev, Georgian Parliamentary Chairman David Bakradze said (my tr.):

“At a time when the whole of Europe is drawing up an agreement that is aimed at facilitating the diversification of energy supplies, at destroying Russia’s energy monopoly in Europe and at shaping the project that will supply gas to Europe bypassing Russia, the Russian President has made a visit to the occupied territory of Tskhinvali.

“This is not a choice and not a path by which Russia can respond appropriately to the events that are taking place in Europe and the world. I think today's visit to Tskhinvali once again confirms the very sad fact that today there are people in power in Russia who have made the causing of harm to Georgia a part of their plan of action ... The Russian President’s conspicuous visit to Tskhinvali is a step taken against the state of Georgia.”

Bakradze also said that the Russian leadership “was unable to give an answer in the presence of the United States President" to the support that Barack Obama declared in respect of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that "this is the form (the visit to Tskhinvali) they have chosen in which to express their position.”

FrontPage interview with Maglevannaya

FrontPage magazine has published an interview with Yelena Maglevannaya.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nabucco signed

Today's signing of the Nabucco gas transit agreement by Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey is a first step along the way to the construction of a pipeline that will ship gas from the Caspian to central Europe via Turkey, bypassing Russia. But there are some imponderables: if suppliers of gas for the pipeline include not only Central Asian states include Iran, Iraq and Russia, there are likely to be political problems - and the Central Asian states which originally agreed to be suppliers are coming under pressure from Moscow, which is prepared to go to almost any lengths to prevent the pipeline being completed. Another factor is Georgia - President Saakashvili's presence at the signing ceremony in Ankara underlines the EU' leadership's view of Georgia as a natural transit country.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Enemies within

At Prague Watchdog, Sergei Markedonov writes about Russia's "internal aliens" - the peoples of the North Caucasus republics who either live there as native residents, or as migrants to the towns and cities of Russia further to the north. Markedonov believes that a solution to the conflict and tension that has racked the North Caucasus both in the past and in the present could be found if there was a two-way exchange of recognition amd acceptance between the inhabitants of the region and the inhabitants of the rest of Russia:

it is obvious that the formation of a new (non-ethnocratic) Russian Caucasus elite would be strategically far more useful than the introduction of counter-terrorist operation regimes and additional troops in the Caucasian republics (where they will be rejected by the local population and exist in the conditions that were described by Tolstoy in his Prisoner of the Caucasus). But for this, there is one small requirement. It is not only that migrants from the Caucasian republics must see Russia as their Fatherland. Russians themselves must view Chechens, Ingush, Kabardinians or Lezgins as their fellow citizens, and not as aliens or the "enemy within". In their turn, for this to be possible, Russians must perceive the North Caucasus region not only as a place to travel to on temporary assignments, but also as their homeland (as was the case for many generations of Cossacks and peasants who headed for this region after the "Great Reforms").

Saturday, July 11, 2009

House of Commons Defence Committee - 10th Report

The tenth report of the British House of Commons Defence Committee is now online.

From the Conclusion:

39.  Although Russia does not pose a military threat to NATO as an Alliance, some Central and Eastern European NATO Member States are understandably concerned about the military threat that Russia poses to them individually, given Russia's actions in Georgia. It is important they are reassured. (Paragraph 211)

40.  It is in NATO's interests to continue to support the territorial integrity of Georgia. If Russia believes it has carte blanche to disregard international law there is an increased risk of other countries suffering the same fate as Georgia. The credibility of NATO as a military alliance is based on its ability to provide mutual defence to its Member States, as outlined in Article 5. NATO's new Strategic Concept should contain a renewed commitment to Article 5 as well as ensuring that NATO is militarily capable of acting inside and outside of NATO boundaries. NATO is strongest when its Member States are united; the UK Government should work within NATO to ensure that this is achieved. (Paragraph 212)

41.  It is right that NATO, the EU and the UK Government engage with Russia both on areas of cooperation and areas of disagreement. Russia has much to gain from positioning itself firmly within the community of nations. Engagement is important to build trust and avoid a new confrontation arising between Russia and the West. The Government should adopt a hard-headed approach to engagement with Russia, based on the reality of Russia's foreign policy rather than abstract and misleading notions of shared values. (Paragraph 213)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Saakashvili: There will be no war

The following is a translation of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's televised address of July 9 2009:   

Of course we have been watching this meeting in Moscow closely, because we know how high the price of this geopolitical situation is for Georgia, for Georgia’s future, for the security of our citizens and for their welfare.

I think that at last everyone now understands what we have been saying – that Russia had been preparing for last year’s war for a long time. Unfortunately Putin’s government, which was ready to attack Georgia, received some very mistaken messages from the West and from our traditional partners.

Much of what happened did so simply because many people did not believe that this attack would take place. It is a fact that the refusal by some of our partners to grant Georgia a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at last year’s Bucharest summit had very grave consequences; I think that they [Russia] drew ambiguous conclusions from the Sochi U.S.-Russia summit – that was not the intention of the U.S. side, and we are very well aware of that, but the conclusion they [Russia] drew was ambiguous. Their [Russia’s] provocation did not receive an adequate response from the West – and that was another factor which played a part in encouraging Putin to carry out the attack [on Georgia].

The attack, you will recall, was followed by a very strong reaction from the European Union and especially from the United States – although it came with several days of delay; and for several days we prevailed, thanks to the heroic resistance of our armed forces; the figures are now available – the enemy’s ground forces were twelve, fourteen times larger, plus 200 aircraft; in fact, we confronted an adversary which as hundred times stronger than us, and our armed forces allowed us to prevail for several days.

After that, the United States became involved, and this prevented the realization of Russia’s main goals – the collapse of the Georgian state, a move into the Georgian capital and the destruction of the Georgian army.

You will be aware that throughout this period Putin did not conceal his disappointment and loudly stated that there was “unfinished business” to attend to, claiming that he had yet to finish the job of taking complete control of Georgia, which in turn meant control of the Caspian region and the restoration of the Soviet Union; and on the other hand he wanted to completely destroy the Georgian armed forces, as the Russians view it as a serious challenge to them.

In this situation, of course, there was some risk – and frankly speaking a serious risk – of a military attack by Russia on Georgia and on the Georgian capital. But I think that the first serious signal sent by our partners was in the UN Security Council, when for the first time since 1993 Russia used its right of veto in respect of a regional conflict, which meant that Russia acted in complete isolation.

Russia failed to pass a resolution on an issue which was very important for Moscow. It failed to trade this issue for some other issues – the practice to which it has usually resorted in the past, including unfortunately in respect of Georgia as well.

Unlike last February, and unlike at the Bucharest summit, Russia has now received a serious signal in New York [at the UN Security Council] – and here I want to mention the good work of our mission at the UN. But we would have sent that signal alone, even without the very strong position that were taken by France and Germany, which were unusual, and without the very uncompromising position of the Americans, which was agreed with us.

Everyone was waiting for the [U.S. President’s] meeting with Medvedev in Moscow. Russia was ready to pay a high political price, to make deals on issues like disarmament, Afghanistan and Iran in exchange for Georgia. They were ready to engage in the classical kind of trading they adopted in the past, and to trade for control of Georgia other issues on which they were prepared to cooperate with the U.S. and its new administration.

If they had managed to succeed in that, or had received an ambiguous message [from the United States], there would have been a repeat of 1921 [when the Bolshevik Red Army occupied Georgia]. We should be under no illusion that that if we declare neutrality, Russia will calm down and give up its plan of controlling the Caspian, the regions of Central Asia and the energy transportation routes. It is not a question of what kind of relations Russia has with Saakashvili or with anyone else. When a country has imperial ambitious, it is a question of strategy.

Our new strategic partner, the United States, has responded to their [Russia’s] attempts to make a trade-off on Georgia with a firm “no”. There has been no trade-off. Georgia has not been sold.

Russia has failed to destabilize Georgia – attempts were made in this regard beginning in February and March this year, and especially of course in April [when a group of opposition parties launched street protests to demand Saakashvili’s resignation]./ It is an internal Georgian political problem, but [Russia] has been involved, and this involvement has included serious funding. But they have failed with this plan.

If this destabilization plan had been successful, it would have been very difficult to secure the support of our partners, because it is very difficult to support a country that is destroying itself and showing suicidal tendencies.

But the plan has failed. Hence today on the one hand we had this failed plan for the internal destabilization of Georgia and on the other hand the hope of a trade-off over Georgia – and this threat has now disappeared.

So today I can say it very boldly: all the fears and expectations connected with the threat have not been realized and all the hopes of revenge and the carrying out of a new military confrontation on the part of our aggressive neighbour, which of course wants to take over Tbilisi, have not been realized.

In Moscow they are very well aware that if the Georgian state survives and Georgia remains a partner of the democratic world, there is not even a one percent chance that Russia will be able to keep our occupied territories – this is the 21st century, when no one recognizes occupation.

Obama stated it clearly: firm support for Georgia’s territorial integrity; firm support for Georgia’s sovereignty over its entire territory, and the establishment of policy in this direction…

…As a result of last year’s aggression, Russia has received an enormous global foreign policy problem; our problem, which was of local [significance] and was not in fact of the first importance, has now become a primary concern of global politics.

So in fact at the expense of the tragedy of our villages [a reference to those areas of breakaway South Ossetia which were under control of the Georgian authorities before the August war], at the expense of the people who died [in the war] – of course those several dozen of villages are a serious loss for us, as they are temporarily occupied; at the expense of these small territorial gains – and for Russia it was a small territorial gain – Russia has received a serious international problem; Georgia will come out of all this even stronger than before.

And today I want to say boldly that all their aggressive plans for the near future have been foiled, and the war they have been planning and dreaming of will be no more.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Saakashvili: we will integrate our country into the western, democratic world

Georgia's President Saakashvili, in Lithuania for the Baltic republic's Millennium celebrations, said in a televised statement on July 6, following U.S. President Obama's first meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow:

In recent months we have been hearing from some [persons] – including from some of our compatriots, who are blindly repeating a lie thrown in by the Russian propaganda, that Georgia is in isolation, that Georgia has lost the western support because of this government.

But look, the only major issue, which was named [at the meeting] as the major source of disagreement between the United States and Russia was Georgia’s territorial integrity and the United States has unconditionally expressed support [to Georgia] at this very first meeting – usually showing disagreements at first meetings are shunned away.

We all should understand one thing: the occupants will fail to maintain our territories; we will win in our struggle with the support of rest of the world if we stand together and if we ourselves do not undermine [the country].

What we have been saying is now being confirmed: we have maintained the support; we will have even more support; we will integrate our country into the western; democratic world; we will get stronger and we, together with our friends, will definitely de-occupy our territories and definitely expel occupant forces from our territories.

I am absolutely sure in that and I am also absolutely sure that the democratic world will continue supporting us in this, if we remain wise and if we remain united. “

Via Civil Georgia

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Waiting for Obama

As Moscow waits for President Obama's official visit, which begins on July 6, the commentators of Ej.Ru don't take an optimistic view of the likely outcome. Lilia Shevtsova wonders how Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov can square his often-repeated claims that the ending of the Cold War also marked the end of the dominance of Western civilization in the world with his assurances that Russia shares the same goals as the West. And Yulia Latynina remarks that

The United States tries to solve problems. Russia tries to create them. That is the definition of a pariah state. A pariah state is one that is important in international politics because it creates problems.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Russian soldier defects to Georgia

Via civil.ge:

A Russian soldier has abandoned his military unit in breakaway South Ossetia to seek asylum in Georgia – the second case of this type in less than six months.

The Russian Defense Ministry, according to Interfax, has confirmed that one of its soldiers serving in South Ossetia deserted his unit.

The serviceman, identified as Dmitry Artemiev, told Georgian journalists on July 2 that he deserted a post in the village of Perevi on the western part of South Ossetia’s administrative border.

The solder, standing outside the UN refugee agency’s Tbilisi office told journalists that he had been “treated very badly and was beaten” in his unit.  

In January Russian serviceman, Alexandr Glukhov, also deserted his military unit in South Ossetia and defected to Georgia.

In June Lieutenant Alik Bzhania, who served in the Georgian coast guard, appeared on the Moscow-based radio station, Echo Moskvy, and announced that he had fled Georgia to seek political asylum in Russia.