Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Factoids and Forgetting

On September 9, 2004 Caucasus analyst Pavel K. Baev wrote:

Putin's counter-terrorist spin on the Beslan tragedy involves three specific points that, taken together, should explain away the lack of leadership and the inefficiency of the security services in handling the hostage situation.

First, it is considered essential to prove the international connections of the band of hostage takers. The news about ten dead Arabs broke on Friday afternoon, when the firefight was still underway and it was impossible to identify the bodies. Putin quickly recycled this factoid to the foreign journalists despite the contrary evidence given by the former hostages, GazetaRu reported on 7 September.

Second, every effort is being made to establish that the assault was neither ordered nor planned; the chaotic bloodshed broadcast live to the whole world provides strong evidence of that failure. However, the demonstrated lack of willingness to enter into any meaningful negotiations with the terrorists means that a forceful assault was the only available option, the question was just about the timing, Moskovsky komsomolets reported on 6 September.

Third, with every possible stretch of argument, the Beslan tragedy should be separated from the war in Chechnya, which was not mentioned once in Putin's address, according to Izvestiya on 6 September. Since it is impossible to hide the fiasco of the Kremlin's massive propaganda effort trumpeting "normalization" in Chechnya, the theme has to be closed. Any attempt at offering a political way out of the deadlocked war will now be rejected with righteous rage.

Now Dr Baev has pointed to Moscow's latest tactics in this strategy of "factoids and forgetting":

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was certainly in his element at the UN General Assembly last week, packing a full schedule of meetings and delivering a hard-hitting speech. Admittedly, he had little to say about the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, the deepening gap between rich and poor nations, or about the uphill struggle against the AIDS pandemic. His unwavering focus was on the war against terrorism, where he was not so much recruiting new allies as seeking to establish that Russia, as a "frontline" state deserves more sympathy for its suffering and more support in its struggle than it actually receives because of the "double standards" adopted by Western governments and media (GazetaRu, September 24). Lavrov may be one of the few elite professionals in President Vladimir Putin's government, but his skill cannot eliminate or even hide the inconsistencies and logical contradictions in Moscow's anti-terrorist discourse.

Accepting war as a fact of political life after years of denial, President Putin is inevitably falling into many of the same traps that President George W. Bush discovered after his declaration of the same war. If terrorism is just an instrument (as Putin established in his first post-Beslan statement), then who is the enemy? Lavrov does not feel obliged to repeat Putin's hints about "those who want to tear from us a juicy piece of pie" and others who help these pie-lovers because they want to remove the threat represented by Russia as "one of the world's major nuclear powers." The anti-Western smack of these hints is unmistakable, as is the anti-Islamic context of the accusations against sponsors of terrorism, based on the eagerly spinned rumors about ten "Arabs" being among the terrorists killed in Beslan.

At the same time, the whole Russian political establishment has apparently forgotten the word "Chechnya" and insists vehemently that every attempt to establish a connection between terrorism and the deadlocked brutal war in that not-to-be-named place is nothing but "provocation" (Novaya gazeta, September 16). That leaves Lavrov with empty statements about "our whole civilization" that should stand united against terrorism and without any clue about how this war against a handful of "barbarians" could possibly be won.

The whole article can be read here.

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