Monday, May 15, 2017

And Who's the 'Wahhabi' Now?


[my tr.]

Secretary General of the World Islamic League allows the thing that made Kadyrov terribly unhappy

Remove the hijab or leave the country. That was the difficult choice faced by observant Muslims outside their native regions, Secretary General of the World Islamic League Sheikh Muhammad Al-Issa said in his speech in Brussels.

It's interesting that a sheikh from a Wahhabi state, Saudi Arabia, allows both options. And this at a time when some Russian officials fighting Islamic extremism do not accept rejection of the hijab under the pressure of secular law.

“A Muslim must respect the constitutions and laws and culture of the countries in which they live,” the Sheikh said in his address, and also in a series of tweets on Twitter.

“Should the laws not allow head-covering, a request to wear the hijab must only be made through the proper and legal channels and if such a request is rejected, Muslim residents have the option either to abide by the state’s regulations or leave the country.”

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has not yet commented on the appeal of his good friend, who presented him with a gift during his December visit to Grozny.

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 81

Staunton, VA, May 5, 2017 - The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore. 
Consequently, Windows on Eurasia each week presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 81st such compilation, and it is again a double issue. Even then, it is only suggestive and far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest. 
1. Putin, Russia’s ‘Teflon President,’ Losing Trust and Support of Many Russians. Even though Vladimir Putin is like Teflon in that everything he could be criticized for seems to slide off of himfails to have his orders fulfilled, and his control of the media ensures that he will be viewed as he wants to be most of the time, new polls show that the share of Russians saying they trust him has declined even among those who say they will vote for him and the share who say they will do so is now under 50 percent. Opposition commentators are increasingly critical of Putin personally: One said that Putin doesn’t have an ideology but does have a religion (war), and another said that he may choose to appoint his bodyguard as his successor. The Kremlin has decided, however, that the next vote on the presidency will be conducted as a referendum in which it needs an overwhelming majority rather than an election in which 50 percent plus one is enough. 
2. Trump Rates as a Russophobe by Upper House of Russian Parliament.  Less than three months since its members were among those in Moscow drinking champagne over the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections, members of the Federation Council held a session at which they reflected the swing in Moscow and considered how much of a Russophobe Trump really is. 
3. The Russian Economy, Already Bad, Is Only Going to Get Worse. Russian economists have concluded that the Russian economy, already in a bad way, can’t grow without radical structural reforms and that in their absence it will get even worse. As a result, the growth in the number of poor people in that country will continue to accelerate and the pension system will collapse unless some way is found to reduce the number of those receiving pensions, something that will require more than just raising the pension age. 
4. Russia has Highest Death Rates Among Working Age Males in World, Experts Say. Not only are fewer young people entering the workforce because of declines in the number of children reaching 18 because Putin’s maternal capital program isn’t working and because ever more women are concluding that having children will drive them into poverty, but more Russian males of working age are dying than in any other country. Russia is also suffering from a severe shortage of critical medications and of specialist doctors like oncologists. Meanwhile, Moscow’s failure to focus on education and its plans to eliminate dissertation requirements mean, experts say, that Russia will never catch up even with Portugal as Putin promised earlier. The Russian government seems set on taking more counterproductive actions: it is considering a measure to prevent anyone who is unemployed or self-employed from travelling abroad, and it has issued an order that bans librarians from talking about religion or politics online. And yet another scandal has broken in Russia’s penal system as officials investigate Sverdlovsk jailors for sexually torturing inmates there. 
5. Petersburgers Ready to Be Friends with Chinese but Prefer to Marry Americans. A new survey in the northern capital shows that Petersburgers are quite willing to make friends with Chinese people but don’t want to marry them, preferring marriage with Americans instead. Other news from the nationality front this week includes complaints that Putin has done nothing to protect Chechens against Ramzan Kadyrov, a group of Russian extremists beat up a Bashkir just because of ethnicity, Kalmyks step up demands that Moscow live up to its law on the restoration of the rights of repressed peoples, Buryats say that the sexual revolution has now arrived in their republic, Moscow cancels a Finno-Ugric festival in Vyborg, movement of people from villages to cities has stopped in Sakha, and Chuvash flashmob calls for protecting national language. 
6. Monument Wars Continue Unabated. As Moscow makes plans to celebrate Victory Day in the most modest way in recent years, the monument wars continued across Russia last week. Among the most interesting: opponents of a new Russian cathedral in Yekaterinburg put up signs that have Lenin declaring he’s against it toothe Nanai nationality pushes for a monument to one of its own, a prominent sniper in Soviet forces in World War II, the Saami nationality want a monument to their reindeer battalion, the struggle between supporters and opponents of the Yeltsin CenterSt. Isaacs and the Roerich Museum intensified; activists want to erect a statue honoring the Czechoslovak legion in Siberia during the Russian Civil War, Russian nationalists want to restore an arch honoring the visit of then tsarevich Nicholas to Khabarovsk, Jewish and Muslim leaders call for burying Lenin, the Old Believers erect a monument to their church in Moscow, and the restoration of a memorial in the Kremlin to a murdered grand duke has sparked serious controversy. 
7. Protests Increase in Number, Targets and Locations.  Over the last week, Russians protested more often, on more issues, and in more locations than at any point in the last five years.  A major reason for this is that while the authorities typically responded with repressive measures, in some cases as in that of the possible demolition of five-storey apartment blocks in Moscow, they responded by making concessions, thus demonstrating that collective action can work.  Among the protests were those by peoples of the North against oil companies, support for Navalny and the Russian opposition in Tomsk1000 Buryats demanded the ouster of a local district head. Nonetheless, the powers that be continued to think about taking steps that almost certainly will guarantee more protests and use various repressive actions and threats against protesters. 
8. Russians Now Prouder of Their Military than Their Culture. A new Levada Center poll finds that Russians are increasingly proud of their armed forces and today are more proud of it than they are of their national culture. But their military faces increasing problems: it has had again to delay tests of the Proton rocket because of problems, its bold plans for modernization are not being met on schedule because of the diversion of funds to corruption and other uses, and reports now say that some 1,500 Russian army soldiers have died in the Donbass since 2014. At the end of the week, Russian officials at all levels expressed outrage at a US Congressional measure calling on the US administration to monitor Russian ports near North Korea. Some compared this action to “a declaration of war”, and commentators in the Russian Far East reminded everyone that Vladivostok is only 100 kilometers from the North Korean border. 
9. Illegal Guns Continue to Flow into Russia.  Russian investigators have uncovered another channel by which illegal guns are flowing into the Russian Federation from Ukraine. Meanwhile, police reported discovering 100 kilograms of high explosive in a St. Petersburg apartment. 
11. What’s a Russian Quartet? The Bolshoi Orchestra After a Foreign Tour. Life increasingly imitates art, and Russian life former Soviet jokes. As a result of Vladimir Putin’s increasingly repressive regime, eight former Duma deputies now live in exile abroad. Not yet a quorum but a remarkable figure nonetheless. 
12. Navalny has a Passport But in Russia Today, That Isn’t Enough to Leave. The Kremlin’s decision to give Aleksey Navalny a passport supposedly so he could go abroad to have his eye treated after persons unknown threw paint and other chemicals in it won Moscow 24 hours of positive stories, but then it turned out that the regime said he couldn’t leave despite having a passport.  The Putin regime clearly doesn’t know exactly what to do with Navalny who is attracting ever more attention: Between December and April, the number of references to him in the Russian media rose 500 percent. [Navalny was ultimately allowed to travel to Barcelona for an eye operation.]
13. Russia’s Northern Peoples Have Been Reduced to the Status of Serfs, Sulyandziga Says.  The Northern people’s activist now seeking political asylum in the United States says that he plans to set up a center in the United States to encourage attention to their plight and thus promote their interests. 
14. Russian Justice Ministry Officially Registers Church of Flying Macaroni Monster.  Even as they repress genuine religions, Russian officials have offered legal registration to a group of people who say they have formed the Church of the Flying Macaroni Monster. 
15. Dress Your Child in the NKVD Officer Uniform He May Eventually Wear to Work.  Children’s stores in Moscow are offering child-sized NKVD officer uniforms for children, something that might be amusing were it not for the fact that Russia is drifting in the direction where such uniforms will be appropriate for all. Worse, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church is now setting up special camps to train young people how to shoot and engage in the martial arts to defeat Russia’s enemies just like Putin does. 
16. Kremlin Ready to Attack Any Anti-Imperial Sentiments Among Russian Opposition. Several opposition activists say Russia needs an anti-imperialist political party, but the Kremlin stands ready to attack any such effort or even opposition to the most extreme imperialist by suggesting that all anti-imperialists are ultimately Nazis. 
17. Forest Fires in Siberia and the Far East Burning Out of Control.  The area of fires in Siberia increased by 600 percent in a single day and forced the authorities to declare a draconian state of emergency across the region in the hope of avoiding a further spread. 
18. Soviets Repressed More than a Million People on Ethnic Grounds in 1930sAlone.  Defenders of the Soviet system and Stalin always insist that it punished people for their specific crimes or their class origins, but in fact, the USSR repressed more than a million people on ethnic grounds alone in the late 1930s and shot more than a quarter of them. Many more died in the GULAG. This figure is for the period before the notorious deportations Stalin carried out during and after World War II. 
19. Moscow’s Divide and Rule Policies Applied by Its Minions in the Regions and Republics.  Leonid Markelov, the now imprisoned former leader of Mari El, promoted divisions among the population of that republic in order to ensure his own power, just as Moscow has done for the country as a whole. Unfortunately, while Markelov is gone, the team that has replaced him consists of people he selected and who are likely to follow the same approach.
20. Fortunately the Russians Don’t Have Votes in France.  A new poll shows that 61 percent of Russians in the Russian Federation would vote for Marine Le Pen, and only eight percent for her more moderate opponent, a reflection of the Kremlin’s tilt to the nationalist leader who is committed to dismantling the EU and pursuing pro-Moscow policies. 
21. One-Third of Russians Say Kremlin Protects Human Rights.  Despite evidence to the contrary, a poll shows that one Russian in three says that the Kremlin is protecting their human rights. Perhaps more important two out of three don’t agree. 
22. Patriarch Kirill Cracks the Whip Over His Subordinates.  Patriarch Kirill has retired a bishop who compared the defenders of St. Isaac’s with a “death group,” presumably to make the head of the church look less out of step with reality, and sent Archdeacon Kurayev to a monastery for a time as punishment for criticizing the Patriarchate’s policies on a variety of grounds.
23.Petition Calling for Expulsion of ‘Russophobic Foreigners’ from Russia Circulating. A new petition calling on the Russian government to identify and expel from the country all foreigners who express in any way whatsoever Russophobic attitudes is gathering support
24. ‘USSR Never Disintegrated,’ USSR Citizens Movement Says. A group of Russians says that they have evidence that the USSR never fell apart and that they, the USSR Citizens Movement, are living proof of that and the basis for the rebirth of the Soviet Union. 
25. Russia Following Post-Colonial Africa in Turning Away from Modernity. Russia today, in its turn away from reform and modernity back toward archaic forms and authoritarianism, is recapitulating a process that has occurred in much of sub-Saharan Africa since the end of colonialism. 
26. When Russian Federation Does Come Apart, It will Do So Quickly.  History teaches that when the Russian state begins to fall apart, it does so very quickly. That was true in 1917 and 1991, and it will be true, an Ingrian activist says, when the Russian Federation at some point follows in their path. 
And 12 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood: 
1. Second Chinese University Offers Belarusian Language Major.  The University of Tsientsin has become the second Chinese higher educational institution to offer a major in the Belarusian language, yet another indication of the extent to which Beijing is outpacing the West in focusing on Belarus.
2. Moscow’s Plan to Make Crimea an Offshore Intended to Weaken Western Opposition to Occupation.  The Russian government has announced plans to transform occupied Crimea into a tax haven, something it hopes will attract more investment there and make it likely that at least some in the West will want to take advantage of that and press their governments to end opposition to Putin’s Anschluss. 
3. Ever Fewer Belarusians Visit Occupied Crimea. The number of Belarusians who have visited Russian-occupied Crimea has plummeted over the last four years.  But the peninsula continues to attract some pro-Moscow politicians from Western countries as well as some Muslim leaders, including the muftis of Belarus and Estonia. 
4. China May Be Big Winner When Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway Opens This Summer.  The railroad linking Azerbaijan and Turkey via Georgia (the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars route) is likely to be exploited by Beijing as a way of shipping goods to Europe bypassing Russia. 
5. Poroshenko Lifts Ukrainian Citizenship from Almost 19,000 People. The Ukrainian president so far in his term has taken action to end the citizenship of more than 18,000 people, the overwhelming majority of whom have chosen to take citizenship in other countries. 
6. Children of Central Asian Presidents Doing Very Well. The princes and princesses of Central Asia as the children of the authoritarian presidents of the five countries in that region are known are doing very well thanks to their involvement in state-assisted corporations. 
7. Russian Occupied Crimea At Bottom of International Press Freedom Rankings. Since Putin’s Anschluss, Crimea has been transformed from a relatively open media environment to one of the least free in the world, according to new international rankings. 
8. Azerbaijan’s Ethnic Russians Tell Aleksandr Dugin Not to Come Back.  After some of his typically outrageous remarks, the leaders of Baku’s ethnic Russian community asked that the outspoken Eurasianist not ever come back to their country again
9. Opposition Activists in Belarus Organizing a Women’s Party.  Belarus may soon have its own women’s party if opposition activists succeed in organizing one. Many of the participants in the anti-government protests there earlier this year were women, and the only two opposition deputies in the parliament are also women. 
10. Estonia’s Narva Puts Russia’s Ivangorod to Shame.  Especially since 1991, Narva has become an ever more modern city while Ivangorod, the city on the Russian side of the border there, has fallen into ruins, something that has so shamed residents that they are calling for government assistance to improve at least the looks of their native city. 
11. OSCE Worried by Yerevan’s Decision to Close Organization’s Armenian Office. The OSCE plays a key role in monitoring developments in many countries. Consequently, Yerevan’s decision to shutter the OSCE office there is worrisome because it will limit the ability of the outside world to track what is happening in Armenia. 
12. Armenian Workers at Russian Base Strike Because They Haven’t Been Paid. Russia’s failure to pay in a timely manner workers within its borders is notorious, but this bad practice has now spread to Russia’s military bases abroad. Now, Armenian employees at the Russian base there have gone on strike for back wages, yet another reflection of and cause for tensions between Armenia and Russia.

See also in this blog A Baker's Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories - No. 78

Friday, May 12, 2017

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Time reports that Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Moscow, the Orthodox Church's representative abroad, held a private meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at a 'summit' organised by evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Billy. The theme of the meeting was cooperation with Russia - and Assad - to combat terrorism in the Middle East.

The four-day get-together assembled a notable collection of far-right political and religious figures - but on the Russia issue there were dissenting voices:
Not all evangelical leaders welcome the idea of a partnership with the Russian Orthodox Church—and, by extension, the Russian government. Last summer Russia passed a law that restricted foreign missionary work. In April, the Russian Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom then recommended for the first time that Russia be named in the top tier of the worst international religious-freedom offenders. Even on Thursday , during the Washington summit, a Russian blogger was convicted of religious hatred for playing “Pokemon Go” in a Yekaterinburg church.
“To say these are the defenders of Christianity belies credulity,” says former Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann. “It’s bizarre.” Putin’s is a “gospel-fighting regime,” says Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Weaponization of Information

This article by Yevhen Fedchenko is a pretty good summary of the techniques employed in the propaganda favoured by Russian sources and media. In particular, the author traces and exposes the connection of what has happened in Ukraine, in Crimea and Donbas, to the realities, practices and ideology of Soviet times, and its underpinning with the themes of the fakes and forgeries that were part of the informational armoury of the Soviet secret services back in the 1950s.

Excerpt:
When Putin speaks of media warfare, he means the war which is conducted against Russia by unnamed countries. Although Russian President does not mention here who conducts this war, he means the West in general, and the United States and NATO in particular. This is also overtly mentioned in Military Doctrine. That puts Moscow reactively in defensive position and necessitates the retaliation:
In a speech to Russia’s Academy of Military Sciences in January 2013, Chief-of-Staff Valery Gerasimov complained that Russian knowledge of asymmetric warfare was “superficial.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the United States in particular, had demonstrated their mastery of non-military campaigns in the Arab Spring and Ukraine’s pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004, Gerasimov said. Such modesty is disingenuous. Disinformation and subversion as weapons of war are as old as catapults and cavalry. The Kremlin’s advantage in the information age is that all of Russia’s major media outlets are under its control, allowing it to hammer its audience with one, unified message. The Kremlin claim that it’s in an “information war” with the West implies that there is vast conspiracy among myriad media in the United States and Europe, public and private, to produce the same lies about Russia[6].
Russia perfectly understands the importance of propaganda and heavily invests with money and human talent into organizations that work for international audience like RT (formerly known as Russia Today), Sputnik International (formerly known as the Voice of Russia), Ruptly, RIA (that still operate as a brand in Russian), TASS, Russia Insider, Russia Beyond the Headlines(RBTH) and myriad of other sources for propaganda, fakes and falsifications. As we see some of these “media” organizations are well-known propaganda brands from the Cold War times, others are quite new.
RT was created in 2005, immediately after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and was fully operational during Russian war in Georgia in 2008.  Sputnik International was launched during Euromaidan uprising in Kyiv.
Both RT and Sputnik International dropped the word “Russian” from their brand names which is quite interesting but explainable. They do not work for Russian market, do not cover primarily Russia and they do not do Russia’s nation branding as many argues.  For example, Shawn Powers calls RT a part of “global engagement strategy that combines Russian and international media platforms to communicate and articulate Russian foreign policy. The most developed of these is Russia Today (RT), which is a Russian satellite television broadcasting system similar to Qatar’s Al Jazeera or France 24[7].
Margarita Simonyan, RT head, explains that it’s not about national branding at all: “To some extent, if you do not have broadcasting for abroad – it’s like you do not have the army. When there is no war you do not need it. But when the war already started you cannot create it in a week”[8].
Sputnik International website says that their mission is “to points the way to a multipolar world that respects every country’s national interests, culture, history and traditions”. In reality it’s just the opposite as Kremlin “has systematically learnt to use the principles of liberal democracies against them in what we call here “the weaponization of information”[9].
In other words, Kremlin is using these so called ‘media’ organizations to deny others to have the right for their own culture, history and traditions through twisting facts and faking stories to undermine the policy making process or compromise their core values and institutions:

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Red and the Green

In the context of the recent chemical attack on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, I came across the following paragraph in Emma Gilligan's Terror in Chechnya (2010):

"Two witnesses spoke of being physically branded at Chernokozovo. The threat of marking foreheads with green iodine (zelenka) was first heard of in Novye Aldy. Victims detained during the sweep in the village of Shami-Iurt in February 2000 were taken to Tolstoi-Iurt. During transportation, a Russian soldier warned Dashaev and another man named Viskhan that if their noses were marked in red, they were being branded for summary execution. He cautioned that it would be better if they were covered in green iodine. Whether this warning was used as a psychological weapon or had legitimate strategic value is unclear. But both Dashaev and Viskhan were later covered in green iodine and released. The full extent of this practice is unclear." (p.61)

While it seems likely that in the case of the attack on Navalny the iodine was mixed with some other more harmful substance (some reports mention a "green dye attack"), it is interesting to note the apparent origin of this practice. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Notes

My Twitter notes, made while reading the Introduction to Terror in Chechnya, by Emma Gilligan:

"Grozny’s civilian population was trapped in a city devastated by a conflagration not seen in Europe since World War II." - Emma Gilligan

"Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, suggested building a wall around Chechnya to protect Russia from terrorists. "Despite five months of bombing and guerrilla warfare, the situation in Chechnya remained largely ignored by the world."  Chechnya is the site of one of the worst human rights catastrophes of the post-Communist era, comparable with Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.

In spite of this work, there has still been no international investigation of the crimes committed, and the role played by racial prejudice.

 Rereading Emma Gilligan's important work on human rights violations in Chechnya 1999-2005

There needs to be a public discussion of what Russia did in Chechnya, and the consequences it brought both to Russia and the world at large.
Chechens were dehumanized with racially bigoted language - “blacks”, “bandits”, “terrorists”, “cockroaches” and “bedbugs”.
Russian propaganda pictured the entire Chechen people as terrorists and "bandits" - and civilians were indiscriminately abducted and killed.
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The Russian pretence: not massacring a population but conducting an "anti-terrorist operation" - to give it international respectability.
The hostage-taking and suicide bombings practised by the separatists against Russian civilians were also war crimes.
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The Second Chechen War coincided with the rise of Russian nationalist propaganda and the establishment of the Russkiy Mir (Russian World).
Chechens were victims of Putinist Russia's reassertion of national and ethnic identity, quest for a new Russian destiny, still continuing.
“After 9/11, Chechnya ceased being a post-Soviet phenomenon and became an issue between the West and the Islamic world." - Akhmed Zakayev
"We did not seek this role, it was bestowed on us by the West’s policies." - Akhmed Zakayev
The West traded acquiescence in Russia's HR violations in Chechnya for Russia's acquiescence in US HR violations in Iraq and at Guantanamo.
There is presently a need for a nongovernmental international commission of inquiry on war crimes in #Chechnya.
Emma Gilligan has made a detailed study of the Zachistka of 2000-2002, in which the Chechen population was humiliated and subjugated.
The Zachistka was a campaign of collective punishment, with torture and ill treatment of civilians in local communities.
The purpose of the Zachistka was to uproot and destroy those communities, thus weakening resistance.
In her book, Emma Gilligan also examines the practice of enforced disappearances as a method used by Russian forces to eliminate their enemy
There is also a chapter on the refugee crisis of 1999-2000, when c. 250,000 Chechens fled into the tiny neighbouring republic of Ingushetia

The refugees were denied the basic rights linked to their status, as the Russian govt assured the West that all was returning to normal.
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On radical Chechen retaliation to Russia's assault - the hostage-takings and suicide bombings did little to advance the radicals' cause.
On reaction of Russian civil society to war in Chechnya by individuals like Sergei Kovalev, Svetlana Gannushkina, Anna Politkovskaya, others
There was extensive activity by Russian civil society, in spite of FSB pressure, to contest the war and monitor the human rights situation

But the international community failed to secure Russian compliance with UN resolutions, and the pressure was eased progressively after 9/11
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Discussing Chechen human rights cases at ECHR, Gilligan shows the lengths that Russia was prepared to go to in order to conceal its actions.
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Gilligan: a detailed list of all current and past investigations into human rights abuses during the two Chechen wars needs to be compiled
A database must be compiled and a survey made to begin the process of determining the no. of civilians who have died in Chechnya since 1994.
A comprehensive documentation project, like the one made by the Kosovo Commission, is needed showing depth of crisis.This is an urgent task.
Emma Gilligan: Terror in Chechnya (Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity) Paperback – 1 Dec 2013 amazon.co.uk/Terror-Chechny…


Terror in Chechnya

Reading Emma Gilligan’s Terror in Chechnya (Princeton University Press, 2010), with its shatteringly vivid yet objective portrayal of the disaster that overcame the small republic of Chechnya in the winter of 1994 and has continued more or less until the present day, one is struck by the realisation that in spite of this comprehensive document, with carefully researched references to military-historical and legal-juridical sources, there has still been no international investigation into the crimes that were committed during the course of the tragic conflict. Indeed, since 2010, the year of the book’s publication, the international community has placed the  issue of Chechnya firmly on the back burner, relegating it to the place it has traditionally occupied in the attention of a West that has been consistently anxious to avoid a confrontation with the Russian state.

Events in Syria have, however, begun to shake that centre of avoidance, with images from Aleppo in Idlib recalling the worst of the aerial assaults on Grozny, Samashki, Serzhen-Yurt, Benoy and elsewhere in the early stages of the Second Chechen War. And books like Terror in Chechnya – though it is almost in a class of its own – have gradually acquired a new relevance, as the world starts to consider once again just what is the nature of the sinister and hybrid regime that took hold of power in Russia so shortly after the demise of Communism, and that appears bent on flouting every norm of international law and jurisprudence. Emma Gilligan has been criticised for allegedly ‘confusing politics and morality’ by Western Russia ‘experts’ who have consistently failed to perceive that the Kremlin’s indifference to a rules-based international order is a threat not only to Russia and Russians, but also to the rest of the world. As a U.K. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee recently noted in its report, “Russian foreign policy aims to undermine the current world order, prevent self-determination and independent decisions by neighbouring countries, which it sees as regime change, and to promote Russia’s world view as a legitimate alternative to western values. The Russian Government’s indifference to human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law underpins its foreign policy challenge to the international order and lies at the root of the collapse in UK-Russia relations.”

The first expression of Russia’s new world view took place in Chechnya from 1994 until 1996 – a state that had formally declared its independence was invaded and subjected to physical destruction in a way that had not been seen since the Second World War. This set the scene for further devastation in the years that followed, for the process of ‘Chechenisation’, achieved through brute force, and for the preliminaries of an extension of the threat to Europe itself, first in Crimea and the Donbas region of Ukraine (in a military assault that shows no sign of subsiding) and then in Kaliningrad and the Baltics. For the countries of NATO and the West, the lessons of Chechnya have still to be learned – after a lengthy period of relative inaction in which the threat was sidelined and de-prioritised, the security issues raised by a resurgent and nationalistic Russia are now actual as seldom before, and the  details of the ways in which Chechnya was, at least temporarily, subjugated need to be studied.

Chechnya - Image and Reality 4

Looking through the New York Times against the background of the recent Novaya Gazeta reports of gay and bisexual men fleeing Chechnya, with a certain amount of relief I came across the article by Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, project director for Russia and the North Caucasus at International Crisis Group – it puts the present events into context in a way that to some observers had seemed no longer accessible, given the West’s apparent acceptance of the Kadyrov-dominated status quo in Chechnya. After giving a detailed account of the persecution of gays in Kadyrov’s Chechnya, Sokirianskaia focuses on the specific characteristics of the Kadyrov regime – its use of collective punishment, of fear and intimidation against entire families, its parallel economy based on bribery, kickbacks and extortion, its fusion of conservative traditionalism, Sufi Islam and Putinism in the service of a repressive, gangster-like state within a state. The regime’s policies are dictated from above, mostly from Moscow, and the new initiatives are carefully harmonised with official Russian state propaganda. Until the recent reports emerged, Sokirianskaia notes, “Chechnya never had any record of organised violence against gays.”

In addition, Sokirianskaia places the current events within the frame of the deceptive image of Chechnya that has been built up by the Kadyrov-Putin nexus. Under the constant invocations of stability, tradition and order lurks a reality that is different and chaotic, governed by the internecine feuds between the teips, or clans, and by the ever-growing hostility of Russia’s military establishment, which sees Kadyrov as a dangerous separatist and wants to put him in his place. What is more, the present security situation is beginning to drift out of control, with attacks claimed by Islamic State becoming more numerous. Given all this, it is hardly surprising that Sokirianskaia sees trouble on the horizon:

Mr. Kadyrov and his clique depend entirely on Mr. Putin. It is within the Russian president’s power to halt the violence against gay men, empty the illegal prisons and force an investigation into this crackdown. If Mr. Putin continues to give the Kremlin’s tacit approval to Mr. Kadyrov’s repressions, he is only storing up trouble for the Russian Federation.

The Chechen conflict has not been resolved but merely contained by brute force and a personal bond between the two leaders. In the long run, such an unstable situation makes a deadly new conflict in Chechnya almost inevitable.

See also in this blog:
Chechnya - Image and Reality
Chechnya - Image and Reality 2
Chechnya - Image and Reality 3