Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

The American Red Cross is accepting donations for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This is probably at present the best way to help from outside the United States.

Instapundit has a growing list of other places that are taking donations.

Beslan Mothers Blame Putin

From the most recent MSNBC/Reuters report on the upcoming meeting:

Susanna Dudiyeva, whose 12-year-old son Zaurbek was among 331 people, half of them children, killed after Chechen rebels seized their school in southern Russia, said late on Tuesday her grief gave her the right to speak frankly to Putin.

She and her Beslan Mothers’ Committee will tell him in the Kremlin on Sept. 2 -- a year and a day on from the start of the siege -- that official blundering which made the bloodshed worse is being covered up, she said.

“I will say that we think President Putin is to blame for what happened. As for what else I will say, well I am unpredictable and I can’t tell the exact words I will use but it will be serious,” she said in the group’s office, where black-clad women meet daily to discuss their plans.

Basayev: Beslan Raid Prompted By FSB Sting

via RFE/RL:

Basaev Says Beslan Raid Prompted By FSB Sting


The catalyst for the Beslan hostage taking on 1 September 2004 was an attempt by the Federal Security Service (FSB) to infiltrate the Chechen resistance and to provoke them to try to seize the parliament building in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, according to a 30 August statement by radical field commander Shamil Basaev that was posted on the resistance websites kavkaz-tsentr and

Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel promptly rejected Basaev's claim as the "delirium of a terrorist murderer of children," AFP reported. Shepel told Interfax on 31 August that the official investigation into the Beslan events has not revealed any evidence of FSB involvement.

Basaev claimed responsibility for planning the Beslan hostage taking shortly after it took place. In an interview made in June that was broadcast last month by the American television network ABC, Baseav argued that "the entire Russian people share the responsibility for Beslan in that their silent consent is tantamount to approval of this war." At the same time, Basaev admitted that "to be honest, I did not expect" that the Russian authorities would risk the lives of hundreds of children by storming the school building where they were being held hostage.

Basaev said he would welcome "an open international investigation" into the circumstances of the hostage taking, and that "we have a survivor of that operation who is ready to give evidence." That assertion calls into question the Russian authorities' assertion that Nurpasha Kulaev, currently on trial for his participation in the hostage taking, was the sole militant to survive the storm of the school.

In his 30 August statement, Basaev asked why he should disclaim responsibility for "a successful operation that demonstrated the true face of 'Rusism,'" a concept that he subsequently defined as "a people-hating, schizophrenic imperialistic ideology, a mutation comprised of elements of fascism, racism, chauvinism, and other 'isms.'"

Basaev then proceeded in his statement to outline the developments that culminated in the Beslan operation. He alleged that the special services in North Ossetia had infiltrated into the ranks of his men an agent, whom he identified as Vladimir Khodov. Khodov was instructed to win Basaev's confidence, which according to Basaev he succeeded in doing by participating in several bombings in Vladikavkaz. Khodov then proposed to Basaev seizing the parliament and government buildings in Vladikavkaz. But shortly afterward, he confessed to Basaev his relations with the FSB, and agreed to function as a double agent.

Basaev said preparations for the operation in Vladikavkaz got under way in the spring of 2004. That operation was scheduled for 6 September, the anniversary of the declaration in 1991 of Chechnya's independence. The plan was for the FSB to intercept and neutralize Basaev's men on the outskirts of the North Ossetian capital. To that end, a safe corridor was made available to Basaev's men, which Basaev said they took advantage of to reach Beslan without being intercepted.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Putin Overture Angers Beslan Mothers

August 30, 2005

Putin overture angers Beslan mothers
From Jeremy Page in Moscow,,171-1755863,00.html

President Putin of Russia has offended many mothers of Beslan victims by inviting them to meet him in Moscow on Friday, during a vigil marking the first anniversary of the school siege.

The Beslan mothers’ committee said yesterday that it would accept because it had been asking for a meeting for more than a year to protest against the failure to punish any senior officials involved in the tragedy.

But the committee accused the Kremlin of being grossly insensitive or trying to deflect media attention from the ceremonies in Beslan on September 1 to September 3.

“To invite us on September 2 is the height of cynicism,” said Susanna Dudiyeva, the head of the mothers’ committee. “But we are putting our pain and sense of insult to one side for the sake of our cause.”

Her son Zaur, 13, was among the 331 people killed when the three-day siege of Beslan’s Middle School No 1 ended in a hail of gunfire and explosions on September 3.

She and other Beslan residents had been planning to spend Friday visiting the cemetery where the victims are buried and the remains of the school where they perished.

The mothers’ committee, which has 200 members, had asked Mr Putin and other senior government officials to stay away from the commemorations.

Many in Beslan blame negligent or incompetent government officials for allowing 32 terrorists to occupy the school and then botching the rescue operation. They are furious that the only person to be put on trial so far is Nurpashi Kulayev, the one hostage-taker captured alive.

They also accuse investigators of covering up, or failing to consider, key evidence that contradicts the official version of events.

The mothers’ committee said that it had asked for a meeting with Mr Putin at least three times but had received no response until now. Mr Putin confirmed that he was willing to meet the mothers. “I know about their request. I am ready to meet them,” he told reporters in the southern city of Sochi. The invitation was for 20 Beslan mothers to accompany President Mamsurov of North Ossetia, on a trip to Moscow. But Julietta Basiyeva, another leader of the mothers’ committee, said that only seven would join him as the majority wanted to take part in the commemorations. Mrs Dudiyeva would be in the group, but some of the others would not be from the mothers’ committee. “We want the group to reflect the views of many different victims, not just ours,” she said.

Mr Putin has kept his distance from Beslan until now in what analysts see as an attempt to prevent bad publicity denting his popularity elsewhere in Russia. His only visit to Beslan was a hurried trip to a local hospital in the early hours of September 4 last year.

Russian media reported last week that Mr Putin may be unhappy with the pace of the investigation. A federal parliamentary commission was supposed to announce its findings in time for this week’s anniversary but has postponed its report indefinitely

Solidarity Anniversary

A three-day celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Solidarity, the union led by Lech Walesa, is underway in Gdansk, Poland. The BBC alao has an interview with Mr Walesa. An excerpt:
Let me ask you about the fears of many Polish people. There were fears that you might win at the negotiating table but that would not be the end.

There were 200,000 Russian troops based permanently in Poland and a million more on our borders. And they had weapons of mass destruction as well. We knew all about that. But we were determined not to go back to work. They could kill us but they could not defeat us. They could us disperse us but they could not force us to work. So in fact the Communists did not have very effective weapons to use.

When the moment of victory came how did you feel?

When we were approaching the end of our battle I stood up and said 'You're all happy but I'm worried and frightened of what lies ahead of us'. Those who were carrying me on their shoulders then could soon be throwing stones at me.

So in a way the difficult part started after 31 August?

You've got to understand. It was clear to us that following this way would eventually lead to the collapse of Communism, the Warsaw Pact would cease to exist, but the whole pleasure of that would be at the expense of our economy, our cooperation, and our markets.

So how much was it the action of Solidarity which eventually brought down the Berlin Wall

It did more than anything else that happened anywhere in the world. The further history moves on, the clearer it becomes how important that moment was.

The European Union couldn't have expanded, the unification of Germany would not have been possible. And other countries wouldn't have got their freedom if the Poles had not broken the Soviet bear's teeth. When other countries did their own thing, the bear could no longer bite.

Monday, August 29, 2005

North Caucasus in Crisis

The world fiddles as the North Caucasus simmers

By Fiona Hill and Sarah Mendelson
Published: August 29 2005 03:00 | Last updated: August 29 2005 03:00

This week, the one-year anniversary of the hostage siege and massacre of children and parents in the Beslan school gym is tinged with a specific sorrow; it could happen again. The political situation in Russia's North Caucasus region is dangerously unstable but few outside the region are paying attention.

Beslan was an especially depraved example of what has spread well beyond Chechnya. Acts of intra-communal violence, brutal assassinations, explosions and armed clashes are the norm in places such as Dagestan and Ingushetia. Local politics is circumscribed by corruption, incompetence and a lack of interest in the wellbeing of ordinary people. Many regional leaders are running their fiefdoms into the ground. While some in the Russian government claim that the situation has "normalised" (the Putin administration plans "parliamentary elections" in Chechnya this November), a recently leaked document from the Kremlin's own representative to the North Caucasus asserts that the situation is perilous.

Unlike other conflicts where expertise, political will and millions of dollars have been deployed to contain regional violence, this has not happened for Chechnya or the North Caucasus. The international response to date has been grossly inadequate. There are many explanations for this, including, chiefly, the Putin administration's ambivalence over international engagement on the issue. But it is also difficult to determine what will actually help. About three months ago in Berlin, we gathered representatives of key international organisations, several European governments and representatives of the younger generation of human rights activists from Russia to discuss exactly that. One answer given by many was to focus on the next generation. Young people in the North Caucasus have known nothing but war, leaving many vulnerable to extremism.

The international community must create opportunities for young people from the North Caucasus to be integrated with their peers from around Russia and other countries. Donors should support the creation of networks of young people that focus on common concerns, establish political dialogue about the future and address issues of reconciliation. Students from the North Caucasus need scholarships for study abroad, and universities and schools need assistance packages.

In addition, monitoring needs to be improved. For years, local organisations have tracked tens of thousands of detentions, killings, disappearances and incidences of torture in Chechnya. The shocking details have not moved the international community (with a few exceptions) to pay attention. As atrocities spread beyond Chechnya, local groups need help finding novel ways of conveying this information to the international community. The security implications of abuse need also to be addressed. Events in Chechnya and the North Caucasus are often depicted as peripheral to developments in Russia. In fact, human rights abuses and impunity have had profound security implications. Of grave concern are the links between the buses experienced by civilians, the lack of response from local and central authorities, and the growth in support for insurgents and terrorists among local populations. Clearly this is not a set of circumstances exclusive to this region.

International donors need to co-ordinate their activities in the North Caucasus. At the same time, donors need to get better at learning what types of humanitarian and developmental assistance are most effective in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, including from non-governmental experts. An international working group must be created on the North Caucasus. The conflict resolution community should be engaged to draw lessons from other regions. Many donors that support work in Russia have not made conflict resolution an area of funding. This should change.

The conventional wisdom that we can do nothing to tackle the problems of the North Caucasus must be challenged. On the anniversary of Beslan, and in memory of the tens of thousands of other Russian civilians and military personnel who have died or been affected by the war in Chechnya, the international community must dedicate new leadership and resources to persuade and assist Russia in addressing the crisis of the North Caucasus.

It needs to happen before another Beslan turns the region into a full-scale conflagration.

The authors are senior fellows at, respectively, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brookings Institution

(via chechnya-sl)

Chechnya the Draft

The Chechen Society Newspaper, #17, August 30, 2005

Chechnya the Draft

Until very recently there has been no precise or considered strategy in Chechnya for managing the Republic. To use an analogy, Chechnya is like a draft that the administration of the President of the Russian Federation is using for practice. Neither are the political leaders defining the course the Republic should follow themselves definite. The current leaders, President Alu Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov - the Vice Prime Minister with security responsibility, are just strokes of the pen on this draft.

By Timur ALIEV

Alkhanov – Kadyrov

In the year since the death of Akhmat Kadyrov at the stadium in Grozny, the Kremlin has still not taken its final decision on whom to appoint in Chechnya and how. This is shown by the apportionment of power in the Republic, with no one leader or person striving for the leadership having been completely taken out of the fight. Apart from those who stand for the separation of Chechnya from Russia, naturally.

Meanwhile, the temporary option to manage the Republic - the fairy tale combination of Kadyrov-the-Younger-Alkhanov - is currently still in the lead.

Alkhanov is doubtless a decent man, a fact which seems to have won over the Kremlin for his candidacy. The general public can see the weakness in their President but still have some confidence in him. This support, however, has not been won over his Presidency of now almost a year, but was trust given like credit to the new leader of the Republic, which has still not completely run out.

Ramzan Kadyrov is patriotic in his own way – many of his actions bear witness to his desire to be useful to his Republic and his people. Examples include his recent decision to close all gambling arcades and the various building sites around Chechnya.

However, despite his achievements in the past year, Ramzan Kadyrov cannot compete with his father, for example, in his ability to lead external political affairs. Saying this, Kadyrov is still useful for the Kremlin as Moscow cannot see any other power in the Republic at present.

It is possible that Ramzan Kadyrov’s position will soon become a burden for the Kremlin because his resources are needed here and now, whilst punitive measures are necessary. The “Kadyrovtsy” [troops under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov] are their own kind of propaganda of the understanding that “it is better to be with us than against us”.

In any case this is not a question that can be solved in a day, especially after the Sochi meeting between Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov, which showed that the position of the latter in the Republic is as strong as ever.

The Opposition

Despite the large number of believers in the theory that Moscow decides everything and that Moscow is supporting someone particular in Chechnya, the Kremlin only decides the general line taken – the rest is decided by concrete individuals.

As a matter of fact it is in the Kremlin’s interest for new political figures to come through in the Republic, people capable of influencing the situation, as long as they fall within the current boundaries. I.e. the Kremlin needs opponents but not to the authorities in the Republic but to several figures within the authorities, namely Ramzan Kadyrov. If any new politician can prove he is indispensable, then it is possible he will be able to gain the support of the Kremlin.

However, this opposition should again not become military, and should not become a conflict, putting in doubt the current “stability” in the Republic, as the recent conflict between Ramzan Kadyrov and the former vice-Prime Minister of Chechnya, Bislan Gantamirov, showed. When the conflict escalated beyond the Cabinet boundaries through the mass media, the Kremlin was forced to intervene and “reconcile” the politicians, calling them to the Kremlin offices and ordering them to calm down.

Good vs. Evil

The only definition that exists, is in regard to the separatists. After the destruction of the separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov it became clear that no contact at all with them was expected (of any kind – no talks, nothing). The elimination of Maskhadov allowed for the strict division of Chechnya into two political camps – the pro-Moscow and the pro-Ichkeria. At one end of this conflict there is the Kremlin and the pro-Moscow leadership of Chechnya, whilst at the other there is the terrorist and leader of the radical wing of Chechen separatists, Shamil’ Basaev and his supporters. There is no longer any middle, the moderate fighters who prefer a political resolution to the conflict and whose leader was Aslan Maskhadov.

This has turned into a classical type of opposition: the “good” and the “evil”. The Kremlin is good, as it proclaims a peaceful future for Chechnya, Shamil’ Basaev is bad, calling for total Jihad. Basaev is the kind of enemy the Kremlin wants to see in the Caucasus. He takes hospitals and schools hostage, constantly threatens new acts of terrorism and calls Muslims to a global jihad. Basaev is bad. He is a classical enemy who needs to be destroyed and that will be Russian policy in the Caucasus.

Europe Against a Sovereign Chechnya

European policy on Chechnya is quite straightforward. Europe is against the violation of any human rights in Chechnya and is prepared to announce this firmly in recommendations to Russia from European institutions. However, Europe is equally firm in its objections to the acquisition of full independence for Chechnya, particularly by non-political means, being wary of creating an international precedent. In supporting Chechnya in its attempt to gain independence, the world could get other conflicts, for example in Kosovo or in the State of Punjab. Europe does not want to redefine the world’s territorial boundaries and so will not support the Chechen separatists in their military struggle with Russia.

The Economy

For the future Chechnya will remain an “additional supply of raw materials” for Russia – there are no plans to restore Chechen oil-refining plants. The process of signing the Agreement on the division of power between Moscow and Chechnya, which all regions need to sign, is also being dragged out. Official Chechnya is trying to win back its own resources within the framework of this agreement, so far unsuccessfully.

All operations concerned with oil (extraction, transport) are currently still handled by the Federal State Company “Rosneft’”. Part of the money is returned to the Republic, but only through Moscow and only in the form of grants.

This happens mainly because Moscow is worried that if Chechnya comes off the grant “hook” and gains economic independence, it could easily start wanting political independence too.

Lobbying aimed at the Kremlin by Chechnya’s neighbours in the south of Russia may also be partially to blame for this, as they do not want a strong economic neighbour either and do not want to see a redistribution of economic benefits in favour of Chechnya.

Restoration and Corruption

The restoration of the Chechen Republic is happening extremely slowly for two reasons. The first is bureaucracy and how as a result of a lack of co-ordination of instructions any important decisions to be taken are delayed. The second reason is corruption at every level of authority. Every bureaucrat in Chechnya comes to office having paid the person above him. This means that instead of working normally at his post he has to earn the money to pay off the amount he paid for it.

Any inhabitant in Chechnya wanting to find him or herself a prestigious or well-paid job finds themselves in virtually the same position. The ability to get a job by handing over a bribe also leads to a situation whereby positions managing the republic are sometimes taken by people who do not have the necessary knowledge to do the job.

The lack of permanent jobs forces many inhabitants of the Republic to work in the “grey economy” as it is called – either as a private cab driver, small trader, day work on a building site or elsewhere, or working for semi-criminal or criminal “businesses” – extracting or refining oil, transporting the oil products, or stealing non-ferrous metals.

Military action and the violation of human rights

There has been a marked decrease in the militarization of the situation in the Republic in the last two years. There are no longer any large-scale military actions being run in Chechnya. The separatists continue the partisan war – damaging military equipment and small diversions, whilst the federal forces run special operations combing the woodland and foothill tracts.

Tactics of mass mop-up operations in populated areas of Chechnya, changed several years ago to targeted operations to detain those suspected of belonging to the separatist forces, have not brought much success. At the same time it is precisely these tactics used by the federal forces that have provoked the most criticism from the public and human rights organisations, as innocent people often suffer.

The policy of “Chechenisation” whereby Chechens fight Chechens, which was conceived by Moscow, has already started to bite back. This was shown by the situation in Borozdinovskaya. Having given weapons and a carte-blanche to destroy fighters to loyal Chechens, Moscow has created a force in the Republic that it cannot control.

Military presence

The federal military [forces] are no longer a force that can completely influence the situation in the Republic. The tactic of controlling the situation through federal check-points, set up on key roads in Chechnya, has gone forever, never having justified itself. Some of the check-points have been removed, others take care of routine checks on road vehicles.

At the moment we can say that the military have “gone into the shadows” but that they are still carrying out their activities as before. Their strength does not depend on the 80,000 troop contingent which is based in the republic, but on their contacts with the Chechen security forces and politicians. Some of the military, including the former head of the General Headquarters of the Russian Armed Forces, Anatolii Kvashnin, and the current head, Yury Baluevskii, support Bislan Gantamirov. The military have known him since the beginning of the Chechen war in 1999, when Gantamirov created the Chechen police detachments, which came forward on the side of the federal troops against the fighters. He is also trusted because he does not use former fighters as his military support.


The future Chechen parliament, the elections to which have been set for the end of November this year, will not become a political force, capable of changing the situation in Chechnya or even influencing the share of power in the Republic. This is mainly because any power the parliament could have in reforming Chechnya will depend totally on the Kremlin and as yet there are no preconditions for that.

No one trying to get into parliament is actually aiming for that anyway. Gantamirov himself wants to get back to the Republic any way he can as he has too much money invested in there. He owns a market and several buildings in the centre of Grozny and could lose them if he has no support within the republic leadership.

The future parliament will more likely become an auxiliary resource. If “Unified Russia” gains the victory then it will mean a strengthening in the position of Ruslan Yamadaev in the Republic, the former deputy of the Russian State Duma from Chechnya and his brothers. Ramzan Kadyrov is actively trying to stop this and is ready to create a new social movement and promote it to parliament.

The point of view of President Putin’s Official Representative in the South of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Kozak, could also win the day. Dmitry Kozak is not against the parliament becoming a multi-party entity as this would allow [Russia] to demonstrate the democratic nature of power in the Republic and at the same time weaken Kadyrov and Yamadaev’s position there.

The Kremlin can allow itself this as from the very start no political forces that could stand for independence will be allowed to take part in the parliamentary elections. From Kozak’s point of view any democratic and liberal forces in Chechnya who could be guaranteed a place in the parliament if they won, would stand at most for a broad mandate for Chechnya within Russia, but would not stand for full sovereignty on any terms.

Civil society

At the moment there is no stable, active civil society that could become a new force in these conditions of an extreme centralisation of power in Chechnya. The rare sparks of civil action at events like demonstrations and human rights conferences do not aim to create this civil society either, but are more like PR for several public leaders who would not be against going into politics themselves.

The situation for civil society in Chechnya is similar to that in Russia generally. So in Moscow President Putin is trying in vain to create a Public Chamber which could control the vertical of power which he has created, without destroying it completely. In Chechnya the situation is worse because the local authorities have not still fully understood the importance of civil society.

The official number of inhabitants in the Chechen Republic is one million and eighty thousand people (according to information from the Russian Census of 2002). According to unofficial figures there are around 800,000 people living in Chechnya today.

As far as the demographic situation in the Republic is concerned there is a characteristically high birth-rate. In 2004 there was a natural growth in the population of around 25 babies for every one thousand inhabitants, whilst the birth-rate was around 3.9 times higher than the death-rate.

The average wage in 2004 was 3,600 roubles. Those who worked in finance, credit and pension provision earned the highest salary – ten and a half thousand roubles. Next came: branches of the authorities – six and a half thousand roubles, material production – six thousand roubles, material-technical supply and sales – four and a half thousand roubles. The lowest wages were for agricultural workers – one and a half thousand roubles.

The number of children in the Republic aged under 16 is 416,000. The overall number of pensioners of different categories is just over 200,000. The average pension is 1,400 roubles.

The high level of unemployment can be explained mainly by the lack of industry and developed agriculture. Just over 150,000 people out of 550,000 economically active people who are fit to work have work. Out of this number just over 100,000 inhabitants of the republic have permanent work. The highest number of jobs is found in the education sector- almost 34,000, the health sector – 16,000 and agriculture – 10,000. Seven and a half thousand people work in industry, which is one thousand less that those working for the republic’s authorities - eight and a half thousand. (According to figures from the publication “Business Chechnya”).

This article is based on the author’s material for the Rosbalt information agency.

Translated by Claire C.RIMMER

"Chechen Society" newspaper, #17, 30 August 2005

The Prague Watchdog Weekly Newsletter, No. 35


1) THE WEEK IN BRIEF (August 22 - 28)
August 22 - A vehicle was blown up by a mine near a hospital in Nazran, Ingushetia. One passer-by was killed.

August 23 - Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree setting the date of parliamentary elections in the Chechen Republic to October 27. He also signed a government resolution removing Batukhan Kurganov, the head of the federal state-run company in charge of reconstruction in the Chechen Republic, from his post.

August 23 - Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, successor to the slain President of independent Chechnya Aslan Maskhadov, appointed the members of his new cabinet. Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev became the First Vice-Premier.

August 23-24 - About fifteen representatives of the Beslan Mothers Committee staged a sit-in inside the building of North Ossetia's Supreme Court, where the process with the "only surviving terrorist" Nurpashi Kulayev is underway, in protest against the alleged failure of the authorities to investigate last year's Beslan tragedy properly.

August 25 - Ingushetia's Prime Minister Ibragim Malsagov was seriously wounded in a mine attack on his vehicle in Nazran. One of his bodyguards was killed.


September 1-3 - Russia: The first anniversary of the school hostage tragedy that took place in the North Ossetian town of Beslan.

September 2 - Moscow (Russia): Representatives of the Beslan Mothers Committee will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

September 3 - Russia: Various events in memory of the victims of last year's Beslan school siege will take place throughout Russia. A minute of silence will be held at 13:05.

For more upcoming Chechnya-related events go to


Attempt on the life of Ingushetia's prime minister (by Timur Aliyev, August 26)
As a result of the two explosions, Malsagov was injured in the leg and one of his guards was killed.


Results of survey carried out by Caucasus Times in Karachay-Cherkessia (by Caucasus Times, August 26)
The results testify to, i.a., a high degree of dissatisfaction of the population concerning the republic's leadership, a pessimistic mood with regard to the republic's future and a high degree of tension in society at large.

Monitoring attacks on the rights defenders whose work is connected with the Chechen conflict.



Golos Chechenskoi Republiky (

For more Chechnya-related links go to our Links library ( ), which is being continuously updated.

Prague Watchdog Weekly Newsletter is a publication of Prague Watchdog. If you wish to subscribe (unsubscribe) to it, please send us an e-mail to The newsletter is usually sent out on Monday evenings.

Prague Watchdog launched its website in August 2000 and its aim is to collect and disseminate information on the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, focusing on human rights, media coverage, political situation and relief aid.

Visit us at For the Russian version, go to

Defence of Free Speech

At Free Thoughts, Stefania has some disturbing news about developments in the Italian blogosphere.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Beslan: Putin Told To Stay Away

The Sunday Times, London:,,2089-1753404,00.html

August 28, 2005

Beslan mothers tell Putin: stay away
Mark Franchetti, Beslan

THE heartbreaking three-day vigil will begin at dawn. Thousands of wailing mourners are expected to gather this Thursday at Beslan’s bullet-ridden School Number 1 to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s worst terrorist attack.

Dressed in black, they will carry flowers and bottles of water as a symbolic way of quenching the thirst endured by their loved ones in the last hours before death.

Yet as the inhabitants of the nondescript southern Russian town come together to remember the 330 people — 171 of them children — who died after Chechen terrorists stormed the school and took more than 1,200 hostages, one man has been told to stay away: President Vladimir Putin.

The Committee of Beslan Mothers, a group of 150 women who lost children and grandchildren in the attack, has banned the Russian leader from the memorial service in protest at what they claim is a Kremlin-led cover-up of mistakes made during the siege.

The women, who have written three times to Putin pleading for a meeting but have so far received no reply, are demanding that several senior state officials be put on trial for criminal negligence.

They accuse the men — who include the local head of the FSB, the Russian security service — of failing to prevent the attack and of lying so blatantly throughout the siege that they compounded the danger faced by the hostages.

They suspect that two powerful explosions inside the school and a subsequent fire which killed many hostages could have been set off by the Russians, not the terrorists, as investigators claim.

The mothers have denounced the continuing trial of Nurpashi Kulayev, the only terrorist to have been caught alive, as a farce and are angry at what they regard as the incompetence of the rescue operation, arguing that many more people could have been saved.

“We don’t want Putin here during the memorial,” said Ala Khanayeva-Romanova, a former hostage whose daughter, Marianna, 15, died in the siege. “He and his state bureaucrats would come here only to try to rehabilitate themselves. He is not sincere and feels no grief. He should have come to save our children during the siege. It’s too late now.

“The Kulayev trial, the investigation, it’s all a smoke screen, a farce. It’s a cover-up. We are fed up with this show. We want the truth and won’t stop fighting until we know it.”

Angered by the Kremlin’s silence, Khanayeva-Romanova and dozens of other grieving mothers are planning a 1,000-mile protest march to Moscow to secure a meeting with the president. Last week they also briefly occupied the court where Kulayev is on trial.

Despite a year-long investigation, the identity of 12 of the 32 terrorists is still not known. A parliamentary inquiry set up reluctantly by Putin has repeatedly postponed the publication of its findings. In any case, most of the people of Beslan have already dismissed it in advance as a whitewash that will clear the security forces of any blame.

The women have compiled their own dossier condemning the authorities’ handling of the attack. How, they demand to know, was a large group of heavily armed terrorists able to cross from Ingushetia to North Ossetia, where Beslan lies, and reach the town without being challenged by police? Five police officers are being tried for negligence, but victims’ relatives believe they are scapegoats and want more senior figures to be investigated.

Throughout the siege, the Russian authorities lied about the number of hostages, claiming there were only 300 even after locals reported that at least 1,000 were inside. Survivors said that when the terrorists heard the official headcount on the radio they taunted their captives, saying the state had buried them alive.

Officials from the emergency headquarters set up to deal with the hostage crisis also said the terrorists had not made clear demands, but that negotiations with them were on course. Both claims were false.

Early on the second day of the siege, Ruslan Aushev, the former Ingushetian president, who was the only person allowed into the school, was given a list of demands to end the war in Chechnya signed by Shamil Basayev, Russia’s most wanted terrorist, who claimed responsibility for the attack.

The paper was kept secret, however. And although he negotiated the release of 20 toddlers and children, Aushev was later falsely accused by some officials of colluding with the Chechens.

It has also emerged that the terrorists named four high-ranking state officials with whom they wanted to hold talks, but by the third morning none of them had come to the school. Frustrated, the gunmen — who had already executed several male hostages and dumped them out of a window — stopped giving the hostages water. Held in sweltering heat, they resorted to drinking their own urine.

“On the second day, we were all very thirsty,” said Malik Kalchakeyev, 14, a former hostage who burst into tears as he gave evidence against Kulayev last week. “Women told us boys to pee into plastic bottles so the children could drink our pee. Small children, even babies drank it.”

Investigators claim the gunmen deliberately set off bombs wired around the gymnasium in which the hostages were held, or that one fell to the ground accidentally. They say the explosions, on the third day of the siege, precipitated a gun battle with security forces that caused a fire, bringing down the gym roof on hundreds of hostages.

Others died in the crossfire. Many in Beslan believe the explosions were triggered by Russian forces. Kulayev, a 25-year-old Chechen carpenter, has testified they were caused by a sniper shooting dead a terrorist standing with his foot on a detonator. The Russians, who lost 12 elite anti-terrorist officers in the battle, have rejected the accusation.

Prosecutors initially denied eyewitness claims that the soldiers used flame throwers that could have set fire to the roof. Only recently, after residents presented them with empty shells, did investigators confirm that they had been used.

They denied the flame throwers could have caused the inferno as they say they are incendiary grenade launchers which create a small ball of fire lasting only a few seconds.

The relatives are also demanding that officials in charge of the rescue operation be investigated because there were only two ageing fire engines on site when the blaze broke out.

A year after the siege, two new schools have been built and money has poured into the town from the state and abroad. Yet reminders of the tragedy are everywhere — chief among them the old school building that remains as it was on the last day of the siege.

People in tears, including many children, visit every day, roaming the bullet-riddled corridors, writing messages to the dead on the walls, leaving flowers and bottles of water. The place where the terrorists executed the men on the first day is still marked by trails of dry blood. Clumps of black hair dangle from the ceiling above the spot where a female suicide bomber blew herself up.

The psychological scars run so deep that many children are terrified at the prospect of returning to school this week.

Makharik Tskayev, 4, one of the youngest survivors, still does not know his mother and sister were killed, because his father cannot bring himself to tell him. The little boy, who was hit by shrapnel, was in a state of panic when his grandmother signed him up to the local kindergarten. He said he feared “the men in masks” would be waiting for him.

“He is a difficult child now, often throwing tantrums,” said Svetlana Tskayeva, his grandmother. “Whenever he passes a TV set showing a war film or shoot-out, he watches it mesmerised. He still asks about his sister and mother but we can’t bear to tell him they won’t be coming back and say simply that they are still in the school.”

Since the Beslan attack, the Russians have intensified their hunt for Islamic rebels. In the spring they killed Aslan Maskhadov, the former Chechen president, and several other senior rebel commanders.

Basayev remains at large, however, and only recently defended his men’s actions in Beslan in an interview in which he threatened further attacks.

The violence continues across Chechnya and in Ingushetia — whose prime minister narrowly escaped an assassination attempt last week. There have been more than 70 terrorist attacks since the beginning of the year in neighbouring Dagestan, a clear sign that the conflict is spreading.

“I used to have great respect for Putin,” said Ludmilla Jimiyev whose son, Oleg, 15, died in the siege. “Even Oleg used to look up to him because, like the president, he loved judo. I hate the terrorists for destroying my life but with his policies Putin has failed us.

“His government only worried about killing the terrorists, not saving our children. That is why he doesn’t want to meet us. Because then he would have to look into our eyes and would not know what to say.”


Many questions asked by victims’ relatives remain unanswered -

Why have investigators failed to establish the identity of 12 of the 32 Chechen hostage-takers?

Why did police not prevent a busload of heavily armed terrorists driving into the town?

Why did the authorities play down the number of hostages held during the siege?

Why did officials claim the terrorists had made no demands when they had, and insist negotiations had begun when they had not?

Did Russian forces trigger the final explosions by opening fire on the school?

Why were only two ageing fire engines stationed at the school?

Why have no officials been put on trial for their mishandling of the siege?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Get There If You Can

Have things gone too far already? Are we done for? Must we wait
Hearing doom's approaching footsteps regular down miles of straight;

Run the whole night through in gumboots, stumble on and gasp for breath,
Terrors drawing close and closer, winter landscape, fox's death;

Or, in friendly fireside circle, sit and listen for the crash
Meaning that the mob has realised something's up, and start to smash;

Engine-drivers with their oil-cans, factory girls in overalls
Blowing sky-high monster stores, destroying intellectuals?

Hope and fear are neck and neck: which is it near the course's end
Crashes, having lost his nerve; is overtaken on the bend?

Shut up talking, charming in the best suits to be had in town,
Lecturing on navigation while the ship is going down.

Drop those priggish ways for ever, stop behaving like a stone:
Throw the bath-chairs right away, and learn to leave ourselves alone.

If we really want to live, we'd better start at once to try;
If we don't it doesn't matter, but we'd better start to die.

W.H. Auden (April 1930)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Basayev Joins the Cabinet

Basaev Named To Chechen-Resistance Cabinet

26 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen President and resistance commander Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev has appointed radical field commander Shamil Basaev as first deputy prime minister in the new Chechen government, and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 August.

Basaev was named to that post in early 1997 by Sadullaev's predecessor,Aslan Maskhadov, but he stepped down months later because of disagreements between the two men. He was reappointed acting first deputy premier in early 1998, but resigned a second time six months later, after which he launched an unsuccessful bid to impeach Maskhadov.

In the summer of 2002, Maskhadov named Basaev to head the State Defense Committee, a post he resigned from following the hostage taking at a Moscow theater in October of that year. Basaev has claimed responsibility for that raid and for the September 2004 hostage incident at a school in Beslan that left more than 300 dead. The United States government has declared him a terrorist.

Maskhadov's killing in March 2005 has left Basaev and Doku Umarov, whom Sadullaev named deputy president, the two most experienced and senior field commanders.

Sadullaev also reappointed as minister of information Movladi Udugov,who served in that capacity under Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev. Udugov served briefly as Maskhadov's foreign minister, and then as a member of the Security Council; Maskhadov fired him from that latter post in August 1999 following Basaev's incursion into Daghestan.

Udugov left Chechnya shortly after the outbreak of the second Chechen war and in recent years has lived in Turkey, where he ran the website.

Since the beginning of this month, Sadullaev has issued a series of decrees dismissing the government and envoys in exile he inherited from Maskhadov.

Beslan: the Unanswered Questions

Writing in the New York Times, C.J. Chivers examines the situation and state of public opinion in Beslan, a year after terrorists laid siege to School No. 1. He gives attention to the officially discouraged work of the regional parliamentary investigation led by Stanislav Kesayev:
After months of denials, the prosecutor's office admitted this summer that the Russians had fired powerful shoulder-fired rockets, known as Shmels, at the school. Some families believe the rockets caused or accelerated the blaze, although this is not clear.

Whatever the rockets' actual effect, the bereaved mothers say, their presence demonstrated the government was willing to use indiscriminate force where children were present.

There is similar anger and disbelief over the use of tanks. One witness, Teimuraz Konukov, said that at about 2:30 p.m. he lay behind a tree across the street and watched a Russian tank fire its main barrel into the school's facade. Hostages remained inside at the time.

Prosecutors insist the tank did not fire until evening, after all the hostages had escaped or were dead. Konukov, whose version aligns with what was witnessed by two journalists from The New York Times, is incredulous. "I was right here," he said, pointing to the spot.

No full explanation has been given for the even more extensive tank shooting later in the day that destroyed one of the school's wings.

Nurpasha Kulayev stands in a cage in the courtroom, rarely raising his eyes. Russia claims he is the sole surviving terrorist from the siege; his trial had been expected to bring a deeper understanding of those days. Instead it has become a showcase of contempt for the government.

Families contest even the authorities' most basic claims. The prosecutors, for example, say 32 terrorists seized the school - 30 men with automatic rifles and 2 women wearing suicide bombs. Thirty-one of them died, according to this account. (They are not counted among the 331 victims.) But many survivors and participants insist they saw at least four other men who were captured and have not been seen again, and a third woman. Their faith in the official version has been further undermined because Russia has not publicly identified all the terrorists it says were killed.

The trial's conduct has also perplexed the families. The officers who arrested Kulayev have not testified, but people who knew little of him are regularly on the stand. At a recent hearing the slate of witnesses so frustrated one woman that she stood and loudly scolded the judge.

The trial is only one example of what families here regard as official incompetence and callousness.

A crime-scene video taken the morning after the battle, leaked to the Mothers Committee, shows investigators shoveling ashes among the dead. At one point two men discover a dead girl, and unceremoniously toss her blackened body into a bag.

Families say evidence was lost or mishandled, a conviction that deepened in February when residents found charred items from the school in a local dump. In the mess were human remains: tangles of hair and dried skin.

They also wonder why the school was secured for less than 36 hours after the battle - scant time for forensics work. Instead of serving as a resource for investigators, Kesayev said, the bloody ruins were converted "to a place for pilgrimages and excursions."

The prosecutors have responded by declaring his commission illegal - a declaration of no legal standing, and one that Kesayev said fits a pattern. "Every agency wants to be first in line for their medals," he said. "And last in line to take responsibility for the failures."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Masha Gessen on Beslan

Beslan Demands Words, Not Silence

By Masha Gessen

At the Aug. 16 hearing in Vladikavkaz, where the lone accused hostage-taker is standing trial for last year's attack on a school in Beslan, a remarkable exchange took place. A man named Eduard Adayev testified as a witness. A well-known and, apparently, well-connected athlete in North Ossetia, he arrived at the school soon after it was seized. Then, two days later, he was one of the people saving children from the burning school. He says he saved two children before he was injured.

Adayev's description of the rescue effort was blood-chilling. But something else he described was perhaps even more important. One of the prosecutors asked Adayev what he knew about the origins of the figure 354. This was how many people Russian officials claimed were inside the school -- when in fact there were more than 1,000. Former hostages have testified that when the hostage-takers heard the figure on television, they concluded that Moscow was laying the groundwork for a planned storm of the school by lowering the estimate of potential casualties. This, say the hostages, was when their captors stopped giving them water.

Here is what Adayev said: "When we heard that figure, 354, we started asking, 'Where did that come from anyway?' ... Ordinary people thought that if there were 354, then there would be a storm, and if there were 1,500, then, naturally, nobody was going to storm the building. We thought so, too, but then we asked ... someone and then someone else, and they were all saying, 'We put a person there to make a list of people.' He was writing down the relatives of people who were in there. That's where that figure came from." Adayev added that the person making the list was a policeman and that the figure 354 held until the standoff had ended, despite the fact that Adayev and others made up a huge poster claiming there were no fewer than 900 people inside and held it up for the cameras.

I think this is probably the truth, if not necessarily the whole truth. And it is a terrific illustration of how things work in this country. The figure 354 arose accidentally. Law enforcement officials and Kremlin representatives seized on it out of a combination of laziness and expediency: No one could be bothered to get the true figure, and the low estimate was handy. The question is why initially the media continued to reproduce this number. One of the main exceptions was Izvestia, which provided outstanding coverage of the tragedy, for which the editor was promptly ousted. Because the default setting for many Russian journalists these days is to report what they are told, not what they see -- to participate unquestioningly in a conspiracy of silence.

This conspiracy is everywhere -- perhaps nowhere more evident than at the Beslan trial itself. Adayev's testimony is atypical: He is a well-respected and well-informed citizen of North Ossetia, who clearly commands the court's respect. But if you read the trial transcripts, all too often you will see remarks to other witnesses from the prosecutors and judge like: "Don't talk," "That question cannot be answered," "Now is no time for that" and other variations on "Shut up."

This is also what we are all invited to do next week, on the first anniversary of Beslan, when the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi is organizing a silent rally. "No Words" says the white-on-black poster advertising the event. It looks beautiful. But here is the thing. When it comes to the memory of Beslan, the right things to do are to listen -- or read the transcripts of the trial online -- remember and tell others. Silence, when it comes to Beslan, is not dignified. Silence is the opposite of truth.

Masha Gessen is a contributing editor at Bolshoi Gorod.

Basayev Interview Video Download

A video download (92 MB) of Andrei Babitsky's interview with Shamil Basayev is available here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Babitsky: CT Interview

A Caucasus Times interview with Andrei Babitsky - the Russian journalist who recently interviewed Shamil Basayev - makes interesting reading. The interview dates from 2003, yet the insights it offers are still valid, and increasing in validity with each day that passes:

Andrei Babytsky: "The long-standing war resulted in Islamic radicalism in Chechnya"

Caucasus Times: Andrei, prior to now you had been to Chechnya quite often, but this time the Chechen rebels movement became your main interest there, while the mass media is focused on elections in Chechnya?

Andrei Babytsky: Actually, very few have an idea what is brewing in the Chechen rebels underground since the resistance movement has mutated in the course of four years of the second war campaign. There have been a lot of speculations on this account, but no foreign journalist has ever been able to get to the guerillas camps in the mountains thus far. As to the Russian journalists, they are not interested in what's going on the other side, at that restricted by the Russian legislation that vetoed any contact with the Chechen mujahideens as an enemy party. The western journalists have very limited opportunity to get in contact with rebels and are at constant risk to be expelled from the country. Actually, as of now the rebels remain quite isolated that are not interested themselves in any contacts with foreigners. All this also has induced me to go to Chechnya.

CT: What is the main cause of the growing radicalism in Chechnya?

AB: The Chechen rebels movement is being radicalized and the process got into high gear. The anti-Russian movement for self-determination has mutated into a jihad. The national liberation movement turned into a religious war. This is quite natural when the movement was secluded and the rebel underground is stewing in its own juice. There is no channel for accruing fury, where no exchange of ideas or emotional contacts with the outside world. On the other hand, just think of it, in a week I had spent over there in the mountains it was raining all day long. A warrior there needs to be constantly on a move, loaded with munitions. Therefore, one must be motivated and to have an aspiration for an emotional objective to survive somehow. The more radical, plain and rewardable the doctrine is, the easier the war path becomes for the holy warrior who might get killed next morning but would gain his reward and relish in paradise gardens. Such harsh conditions originated the doctrine, which appeals to an experience of the first Islamic communities. It has not gone too far yet, but the course is clear and constant.

CT: Prior to now scores of observers have paralleled the Chechen conflict to the Palestinian long-term conflicts, since the counter-terrorism warfare has been declared round the world. Do you find any analogy between these two conflicts?

AB: I would say, there is absolutely no similarity in both examples in historical perspective. Since such radicalism and methods do not correspond to the Chechen national traditions the populace as well on plain as in the mountains would never accept these religious doctrines. And the majority of the Chechens do support the rebels not as a group of the people with definite religious beliefs but as the field police, as those who are capable to resist and fight off anyhow the bloody arbitrariness in Chechnya. The Islamic radicalism in Chechnya was ensued as a result of this long-term war. Actually, the longer the war continues the more radical the Chechen armed resistance will get. It is a little bit complicated to grasp, but there is the Palestinian conflict does not match our case.

CT: As of now almost all observers consider Kadyrov to be a winner in the upcoming presidential elections in the republic. How good are chances for Kadyrov that he will win?

AB: The Russian authorities actually have granted Kadyrov a free hand in Chechnya who managed to create an enormous, powerful administrative machine, which has been killing the people unabatedly. And now Kadyrov's forces have turned to be a more awful scourge for the populace than the federal forces. That's the way things are. So far, a man detained by the Russian troops could have chances to get away battered, crippled but alive. Not with Kadyrov's gunmen. They leave nobody alive. As a matter of fact, Kadyrov's loyalists have all resources to make the election results predictable. Therefore, I consider Kadyrov is going to get the presidential office in Chechnya.

CT: Is there any precondition giving hope for the situation in Chechnya will ever get better?

AB: I just do not know. The situation there is quite complicated. Today it is almost impossible to predict all factors, which would influence the situation in Chechnya, there are lots of them. Thus far, there are several groups in Russia, which are interested in the war to go unabated.

Islam Tekushev, Prague, Caucasus Times

Caucasus Times ® 2003. All Rights Reserved. contact us:

Monday, August 22, 2005

Graveyard Talk

My better half died in this bed, he just slumped against that wall without saying anything. He died so suddenly that I didn’t have time to do anything. We’d been in the sauna and when we came back into the house again he complained about his chest and said he had a pain in it. I tried to get him to lie down, but he’s never listened to what I say. He just kept walking about, and he looked terrible, I noticed that, for I was keeping an eye on him. I pretended to be watching some sports show on the telly before going to bed. After a bit, my hubby came to bed too, and then he was dead. He didn’t even have to time to pray to have his sins forgiven, he went godless to his grave, even though I told the priest that he’d said sorry for his sins and had called on God. I couldn’t bring myself to ring for a taxi so late at night to take him to the church but fell asleep beside him like I usually did, and only made the call after I’d had my morning coffee. The taxi driver arrived after the school run, put hubby’s corpse on the back seat and then drove it to the church, probably straight to the morgue. I made sure it was buried quickly, and I didn’t bother with much of a funeral. Me and my hubby didn’t have much to do with other folk. We kept ourselves to ourselves and it was best that way. We didn’t run around the village and we didn’t keep the coffee-pot warm for strangers. We were able to live in peace, because it’s a long way from the village to our place and nowadays people are so lazy that they can’t manage to walk more than a metre on their own legs. It was the second half of the winter when he was buried, and I thought everything would go on like before, but right enough there was a change. I started coughing, and the cough just got worse and worse. I couldn’t sleep in any more, for as soon as I went to bed it started, really bad. I kept the radio on loud from morning to night and tried to stop coughing. Of course I knew that it’s not a good sign if you’re coughing all the time and can’t get any sleep. I started taking hubby’s pills, I don’t know what they were but at least I began to sleep again. As soon as I woke the phlegm would come up from my throat in bucketfuls, but I slept as sweet as a baby. I only got up to put more wood in the stove and make meat broth. Then it was summer, and since I didn’t need to heat the place I just lay in bed and drank sour milk and swallowed pills by the handful. Hubby had stuffed the medicine cabinet full of them, for over the years the doctor had prescribed thousands of them for him, but he never wanted to take them. Well, I took them all, and slept like a log. By the autumn I was full of phlegm up to here and the trouble was that I couldn’t manage to get to the medicine cabinet. What else could you expect, since I’d been living on nothing but pills and sour milk for months. I don’t know what I was thinking of, I suppose I just wanted to slip down into the grave and lie beside my better half. That’s probably how I saw it, and I didn’t care about anything, never did any housework or anything at all. I just lay there, listened to the radio and the TV at the same time, waiting for death and coughing blood. But then one day that damned taxi driver came to the door and knocked. I was convinced it was the angel of death who’d come to collect me, but no it damn well wasn’t, it was the taxi driver and he dragged me out into his car. He took me to the health centre and they immediately took me into the clinic and began to examine me. And of course they found a thousand and one things wrong with me. They began giving me more pills and yelled at me for not looking after myself. They even said I’d been on the point of dying. I was that weak, I was practically nothing but skin and bone. And they yelled at me for peeing in my pants and lying in my own shit for months. I mean, there was nothing I could say. I don’t even understand myself how it happened. That it all went so badly wrong. Anyway, I lay in the hospital for months and they fed me through a funny kind of tube and linked me up to all kinds of machines. I put a bit of flesh on my bones there and started to get better. I’m in really good shape now that they’ve sent me home. They send a woman from the council to clean for me and bring me food. The nurse always comes when I need her, so they’re looking after me. And now I understand why they keep an eye on poor old ladies like me. What’s behind it is that the council want my flat, but they’ll wait in vain. I’ve left everything to hubby and he’s left everything to me. When I die, hubby will inherit it all. So then they’ll just have to bury the house with us in the graveyard.

from: Rosa Liksom, Tyhjän tien paratiisit (Paradises of the Open Road, 1989)

Sunday, August 21, 2005


Sheaves from Sagaland


The Icelanders are human

`They are not so robust and hardy that nothing can hurt them; for they are human beings and experience the sensations common to mankind.'-Horrebow.

Concerning their hair

`The hair which belongs to the class Lissotriches, subdivision Euplokamo, seldom shows the darker shades of brown. The colour ranges from carroty red to turnip yellow, from barley-sugar to the blond-cendre so expensive in the civilised markets. We find all the gradations of Parisian art here natural; the corn golden, the blonde fulvide, the incandescent (carroty), the florescent or sulphurhued, the beurre frais, the fulvastre or lion's mane, and the rubide or mahogany, Raphael's favourite tint.' -Burton.

Concerning their eyes

`A very characteristic feature of the race is the eye, dure and cold as a pebble - the mesmerist would despair at the first sight.'-Ibid.

Concerning their mouths

`The oral region is often coarse and unpleasant.' -Ibid.

Concerning their temperament

`The Icelander's temperament is nervoso-lymphatic and at best nervoso-sanguineous.' -Ibid.

Concerning their appearance

`The Icelanders are of a good, honest disposition, but they are at the same time so serious and sullen that I hardly remember to have seen any of them laugh.' -Van Troll.

Concerning their character

`This poor but highly respectable people.' -McKenzie.

Letters from Iceland - W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice (1937)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Prague Watchdog

The Prague Watchdog has resumed publication after a break of several weeks. Two of the latest posts are about human rights initiatives in Chechnya (my tr.):

Grozny residents demand resumption of compensation payments (August 18 2005)

By Timur Aliyev

GROZNY, Chechnya - On August 18, a picket took place outside Chechnya's Government House in Grozny. About 50 people held placards demanding that the republic's leadership resume the payment of financial compensation for lost homes and personal belongings.

The placards bore the slogans: "Give us back our compensation", "Change your minds! We'll declare a hunger strike" and "Shame on Russia and Chechnya".

In connection with the picket, during the first half of the day the police closed the section of the motorway that runs past the government building.

Payments of financial compensation in Chechnya were stopped on the decision of the local authorities several months ago, as it was officially explained, "in connection with numerous instances of infringement and abuse on the part of officials".

Thursday's action on was a continuation of the picket held a week ago. Then a similar picket closed the road in front of the Rosselkhozbank building in the centre of Grozny. Last time the demonstrators dispersed after receiving promises that as soon as the money for the payments reached the republic, it would start to be paid out.

The payments of financial compensation to the citizens of the Chechen Republic for residential property and personal belongings lost in the course of military actions involve a sum of 350,000 rubles (300,000 for lost residential property and 50,000 for personal belongings). In all, 142,000 applications have been filed, and scarcely more than half of them have been paid.


Organization created in Chechnya for women whose relatives have disappeared without trace (August 19 2005)

By Timur Aliyev

GROZNY, Chechnya - Chechen women whose relatives have disappeared without trace have decided to create their own association. This was decided at a constituent assembly which took place in Grozny on August 18.

Approximately 60 women and about ten representatives of human rights organizations spoke about the possibilities of searching for their disappeared relatives and of punishing those responsible for their disappearance. According to them, the recently created organization will work precisely in this direction, with priority given to an investigative response to cases of fresh disappearances of Chechen residents.

The organization will include only women whose relatives have disappeared during "mop-ups" and night round-ups in Chechnya. The human rights activists who were present at the meeting are ready to help the women in the formation of the association.

"In the initial stage we will help the new organization with its registration. We also intend to actively co-operate in getting the members of this organization invited to human rights conferences in Russia and beyond its borders. We hope for a partnership with the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia. Furthermore, we have already scheduled an appointment for a meeting with Chechen President Alu Alkhanov," said Minkail Ezhiyev, one of the initiators of the assembly and cochairman of the regional branch of the Society of the Russian-Chechen Friendship.

According to the data of the "Memorial" human rights centre, in the first half of 2005 142 residents were abducted in Chechnya. Of these, 53 were freed, 5 were found murdered, 2 are under investigation, and 82 have disappeared. In the five previous years of military actions in Chechnya approximately five thousand people have disappeared without trace.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Yearlong Party

In her study of the community of world-renowned writers, composers and artists who, for a dozen intense and anxious months during 1940 and 1941, the early years of World War II, lived at No. 7 Middagh Street, Brooklyn, New York City, biographer Sherill Tippins has filled in many important lacunae in our knowledge of the early career and state of mind of some of the leading figures in American and European culture and thought. February House – the book draws its title from Anais Nin’s characterization of the place, so many were the February birthdays of the house’s occupants – presents a composite portrait of intellectual and creative development as it affected young and iconic pioneers such as the poet W.H. Auden, the novelist Carson McCullers, the composer Benjamin Britten, the singer Peter Pears, the composer Colin McPhee, the poet, essayist and political activist Klaus Mann, the novelist Richard Wright, and the painter Salvador Dali, all of whom lived under this one roof. The tenants also included Paul and Jane Bowles, the stripper and thriller writer Gypsy Rose Lee, and the Broadway set designer Oliver Smith. George Davis, the writer and Harper’s Bazaar editor whose project and inspiration the house was, organized the practical side of things together with Auden, who ended up as the unofficial manager of the premises, collecting rent from the tenants and acting as the house policeman, imposing hours of silence and controlling the logistics of multiple occupancy with a firm and sometimes inflexible hand.

While it can’t be denied that the book is above all remarkable for its human interest – the accounts of the affair between Auden and his lover Chester Kallman, the relationship between Davis and McCullers, and the bond that united Pears and Britten in themselves constitute narratives of almost Balzacian intricacy and fascination – it also throws light on some of the burning political and social issues of the day. In particular, it shows how the threat and subsequent outbreak of war in 1939 utterly changed the lives and outlook of people for whom the interpretation of the world and the channelling of it to others was central to their preoccupations. Auden, Britten and Pears, who had left Britain in the late 1930s, came under attack in their home country for supposedly “running away”, and the methods they employed in order to cope with this accusation and prove its falsehood became the underpinning of the evolution of their creative talent, which flowered in ways that could never have been expected in the pre-war situation. Britten found his way towards Peter Grimes, Auden began to write in a new, transatlantic vein of civic populism, while the portrait of Carson McCullers that emerges from the book is a most powerful one: from obscure beginnings as a 22-year-old literary prodigy from the American South, at Middagh Street she came under Auden’s influence and developed a moral and intellectual sensibility that more resembled that of a Central European writer.

It’s perhaps in this pinpointing of the fusion of British, European and American artistic and intellectual life that took place in this strange and impermanent crucible – the house was torn down in 1945 to make room for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway – that Sherrill Tippins’ book makes its most valuable contribution. It was a fusion that depended above all on raw, creative energy, which made itself felt in every aspect of the house’s life: there seems to have been never a moment’s rest or lapse, as the “babble” of voices at the dinner table, the “cheerful and unhygienic mess”, and the obsessive sound of pianos and gamelans and the rattling of typewriters indicated. In conclusion the author writes: “Perhaps in the end what was produced is not as important as the fact that these bold young artists, believing in and committed to the importance of their work, took action to pursue the truth as best they could before the events of history conspired to redirect their efforts. In coming together, they placed their faith in a creative energy that, at the very Ieast was bound to send them off on exciting new trajectories. And it was this journey that was the point of 7 Middagh Street, more even than the results. As Colin McPhee wrote in the sad, silent days after the house at 7 Middagh was torn down, ‘My few friends admire or love me, not for what I've accomplished, but for what they think I might have done. And ultimately, a work of art that does not exist is the most beautiful of ­all - it's a rich blend of nostalgia, stoicism, and futility. Shake well, add fresh ginger, and pour through a fine sieve.’"

February House – the story of Carson McCullers, W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Jane and Paul Bowles, and Gypsy Rose Lee living together under one roof in 1940s Brooklyn. Hardcover. 317 pp. Houghton Mifflin Company 2005.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Basayev - Putin's Accomplice

- I have no sympathy for Basayev. I do not consider him to be a victim. He is more like a puppet of Russian politics. He served with the FSB in Georgia, got money from the Executive Committee in his time from Yeltsin, then from Putin, and particularly from Berezovsky. He served as the spark that enabled Putin to unleash the second Chechen war and today he is helping him in the most monstrous way to turn the face of Chechnya in the world into the face of a blood-thirsty monster.

I think that he is working for Putin (whether this is voluntary or not, I don’t know). If he isn’t working of his own volition, which is quite possible, then it shows how incompetent he is. If he is working of his own volition then this has to be the limit. The Beslan terrorist act served Putin as an excuse to silence all his critics in the democratic west as far as his policy in Chechnya is concerned. This is the best thing that he could have done for Putin through the inhuman taking of hostages. I think that if Putin has an ally, it is Basayev.

- André Glucksmann

Chechnya 1994: Daytime Bombing of Grozny

The bombing escalated sharply with the first daytime raids on the city on 22 December [1994]. It was mid-morning when seventy-five-year-old Alexander Shevchenko ventured outside for a breath of fresh air. The Russian pensioner moved carefully over the ice on his walking stick towards a few stalls where women were selling bread and chocolate. Traffic was moving along the street, crossing the river to the main square just 100 yards away.

The apartment next to Shevchenko's had been bombed in the night. He stared in disbelief at the mound of rubble and at the broken rafters sticking skywards that were all that was left of his neighbours' building. The earsplitting blast had rocked his own building and his neighbours had urged him down to the basement. 'It was terrifying, terrifying,' he said, his whole body shaking, still in his pyjamas under his coat. `They are not people who are doing this, they are wild beasts, savage.'

As he spoke, the sound of jets sent the crowd of people running for cover, suddenly diving right overhead, the roar of the engines escalating to an urgent scream, People fled in panic, not knowing where to run, bumping into each other as they scanned the skies and looked round for friends. Two huge explosions shook the ground with a deafening bang. Then followed a moment of complete silence as debris, branches, brick dust rained down on figures crouching on the ground. The sound of falling glass tinkled to a stop. Then people were shouting. The women running the kiosks were hurriedly packing away their chocolate bars and sweet drinks with shaking hands. This was the first time planes had bombed in daylight hours, and suddenly no one felt safe. A column of black smoke rose above the trees. A truck and car on the bridge just 300 yards away were on fire, the bodies still inside. More mangled bodies lay in the street. The missiles had blown a huge crater in the black earth of the river-bank and sliced into the trees of a small park. A man's body lay where he had been walking, a red stain in the snow where his head should have been. The death toll was least six; the bridge, presumably the target, was untouched

Across the city at a crossroads in the Mikrorayon district half a dozen cars and buses were blazing after another terrifying bombing raid. People were out clearing the debris from the previous night's bombing when the jets returned. At least twenty people were killed, including American photographer Cynthia Elbaum, a young freelance. It was the first war she had covered and she had not even told her parents she was going to Chechnya. Like many of the Chechens at the bomb site, she had absolutely no warning and no chance to take cover. That day the planes ran sortie after sortie on the city centre, flattening houses and apartment buildings, rocketing major intersections and roads. The city centre now looked, felt and smelled like a battlefield. Ash from the burning fires and explosions turned the snow black, broken glass crunched underfoot and torn-down trolleybus wires trailed in the streets. Trees snapped off by the explosions left ragged, gleaming yellow stumps and the acrid smell of burning and explosives hung in the air. Incredibly, the Russian government press office denied there had been any bombing or any damage to apartment buildings. [Sergei] Kovalyov sent Yeltsin a telegram from Grozny, calling on him to stop `this crazy massacre' and pull the country `out of this vicious circle of despair and bloodstained lies'.

from: Carlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal, Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus, 1998

Sino-Russian Military Exercises

Today, Russia and China started their first-ever joint military exercises.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Kulayev Trial: victim says gunmen 'had accomplices outside'

From Caucasian Knot:

Victim says gunmen 'had accomplices outside'

The case of Nurpashi Kulayev charged with involvement in the attack on the school in Beslan continued to be heard in North Ossetia's Supreme Court today.

Eduard Adayev, a district prefecture official, was interrogated as a victim. Adayev had not been in the school, but he had been near it during the onslaught. He told in detail how he rescued two girls and what was going in the school and outside it during the onslaught.

"The first two days, Lev Dzugayev (spokesman for North Ossetia's former president Alexander Dzasokhov - ed.) was constantly coming out to us, repeating one and the same, that they demanded Dzasokhov, Roshal, Aslakhanov, and Ziazikov without any other demands. The people were agitated and everyone demanded that Dzasokhov should come out to meet the people. They went to the headquarters which Dzasokhov headed, but even then he did not come out, but Mamsurov (the former speaker - ed.) did. He said they would do everything to prevent an onslaught. Then blasts thundered. In a while, I ran into the school. Children were lying all over in the hall, some burning, some still alive. They were no longer able to cry and just stared, all sooty, half-naked... I took out two girls. Then came the third blast."

To the prosecutor's question about fire on the school, Mr Adayev answered evasively: "If the terrorists had no large-calibre weapons, it turns out such were not fired at the school. If they had, then I don't know. I know as much as ordinary people." (Being an official, Eduard Adayev might be afraid to tell what he really thought. - ed.)

Inga Kharebov was taken hostage together with her son. She told the court in detail what was going on in the school: "In the school, they videotaped us. When we asked why they needed it, a gunman said, 'Maybe, they will tell the truth at least now that you are more than 350.' One woman then asked reproachfully how they could do that, seize a school. In reply, he said, 'You would be even more surprised if you knew who sold you. But you will never know that."

Inga Kharebov managed to escape during the onslaught. She met her mother in a Beslan hospital. "With my mum, we went out the hospital and got into a car. The driver was a man in a police uniform, but he had no shoulder-straps. At once, a man in black clothes, unshaven, sat down near him in front and another one looking the same way sat down near us. There were already rumours that the gunmen had escaped, so I suspected something. When I told them the address, it looked like they had not heard me and they continued to go in the opposite direction. The driver was like a robot. I gave the address louder and the man in black then turned round and said, 'I don't know where it is.' They were trying to go to the first school. My mum and I got out nearly in motion. I was not capable of thinking after the shock I had experienced in the school, but now the picture is getting clearer. I am sure they had accomplices outside and very many managed to escape."

See earlier reports:
Kulayev thought to have 'mission'
Author: Regina Revazova, CK correspondent
See also:
Information of Caucasian Knot correspondents
Hostage-taking in Beslan, North Osetia
To main page

A Mobile President

from today's RFE/RL Newsline:

PUTIN TAKES SUPERSONIC BOMBER TO NORTHERN FLEET GAMES... President Vladimir Putin flew on 16 August in a strategic Tu-160 bomber (Blackjack) from Moscow to a military base in Olegegorsk, Murmansk Oblast, to take part in the naval exercises of the Northern Fleet,Channel One and NTV reported. During the five-hour flight it was reported that Putin briefly endured up to 2.5 times the normal force of gravity and observed the launch of a new long-range cruise missile while aboard the bomber. Before the flight, Putin, 52, was found by a doctor to be fit for such a high-speed flight and was instructed about flying by Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov, the commander of 37th Air Army that belongs to the president's strategic reserve. Upon arrival in Olegegorsk, Putin said that the new "high-precision cruise missile" hit its target, RTR reported. Putin then boarded the flagship of the Northern Fleet heavy cruiser, "Peter the Great," where he and Ivanov watched the launch of a ballistic missile from a nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea on 17 August that landed at a testing ground in Kamchatka. Putin has previously flown in a Sukhoi fighter to Chechnya and went under Arctic waters in a submarine. VY

...AFTER OPENING INTERNATIONAL AIR SHOW NEAR MOSCOW. President Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Rosaviakosmos (national space agency) head Anatolii Perminov, and other members of the Russian government were at the opening of the annual aerospace fair MAX in Zhukovskoe, near Moscow, international media reported. Some 700 companies from 40 states are displaying the latest models in civil and military aircraft. Some of the best pilots from many countries are also taking part in an air acrobatic show, including U.S. pilots who flew on two strategic B-1B Lancer bombers. Putin visited the Chinese exhibition as well as the MiG and Sukhoi aircraft company stands and was shown the prototype of Russia's new space shuttle Clipper, slated to be ready for a moon flight by 2013, Channel One reported. Putin said he supports the idea of opening a kind of free economic zone in Zhukovskoe that would contain the offices of all the biggest Russian aircraft-design and aircraft- building. VY

A Deadly Mistake - II

At, Robin Grant, who blogged the July 21 attempted terrorist attacks in London, examines the damage caused by the police error in identifying the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes as a terrorist on July 22, and insists that [Ian] Blair must go:
CCTV footage clearly shows that Senhor de Menezes was wearing a thin denim jacket so he could not be concealing a bomb and nor was he carrying any bag.

Far from running to avoid police who were tailing him, the electrician did not realise anyone was following him. He used his season ticket and did not vault the barrier. He only began to run when he saw a train pull into the station and as many commuters do he quickened his pace to catch it.

Estonia: Changed and Changing

The International Herald Tribune has published a Letter from Estonia, documenting the changes that membership of the EU has wrought in that country, as well as the changes that Estonia is making to the European Union itself:
Membership in the European Union has changed Estonia, this small country of coastlines, forests, and wet plains, since it joined on May 1, 2004. Membership accelerated a transformation that began when Estonia emerged, limping and gray, from communism 14 years ago.

But Estonia has in turn changed Europe. In a way that could hardly have been foreseen last year, the entry into the EU of 10 new countries - eight, including Estonia, from behind the former Iron Curtain - triggered a tumultuous year and a crisis of confidence among the EU's old guard. The trends they imported - their rapid growth, fueled by low wages and low taxes, as well as a competitive zeal to make up for the last 50 years - threw into relief the moribund growth of older economies such as Germany and France.

The competitive threat posed by the new members alarmed Western voters, who feared for their jobs. That fear contributed to the defeat of the European constitution in France and the Netherlands. It led to the public's waning appetite for further EU enlargement - bad news for Turkey and Ukraine, even perhaps for Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, all yearning to join the EU's ranks.

Germany and France now engaged in debates about how to confront globalization and save their comfortable social models. But the view from this cool, northernmost tip of the group of new EU states suggests that the pressure for change that the new members are bringing to bear across Europe's broader political landscape is not about to abate.

In Estonia, roughly the size of the Netherlands - with less than a tenth of its population - one area where EU membership has had a big effect is politics. It has led to a political renaissance for a country that for centuries was a vassal state tossed between Scandinavian and German overlords. Most recently it smarted under the even stricter lash of Russia's Soviet empire.
Read the whole thing.

(Hat tip: Leopoldo)

Worm Attack on ABC, CNN, NYT, FT

The Financial Times reports that

An internet virus targeting computers running Windows 2000 software struck companies across the US and Europe, including several top media outlets. Joe Hartmann, director of anti-virus research at Trend Micro, said the Zotob virus had hit several large news organisations including CNN, ABC News, the New York Times and the Financial Times.

The virus - known as Zotob - tries to target every computer on infected networks, causing computers to shut down and reboot repeatedly preventing a user from logging on. Security experts said the virus had overloaded networks at several large corporations as of late Tuesday.

It's probably no coincidence that the organizations hit by the worm are precisely the ones that have been most consistently informative and honest about what is taking in place in Russia - this is especially true of ABC, which recently broadcast Andrei Babitsky's interview with Chechen leader Shamil Basayev. Other, non-media, corporations and companies were also affected, but the focus of the attack seems to have been ABC.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

PW Newsletter



1) THE WEEK IN BRIEF (August 8 - 14)

August 8 - Sergei Abramov, Premier of the Moscow-backed Chechen government, said that main streets in fifteen Chechen towns and villages would be renamed after Akhmad Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed President of the Chechen Republic assassinated in May 2004.
August 9 - Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov said that gambling houses should and would be closed in the republic.
August 10 - The Russian Defence Ministry announced that a total of 3,459 servicmen had been killed since the beginning of the second war in Chechnya in September 1999, and 67 of them were killed this year, but an independent monitor, the Union of Committees of Mothers of Russian Soldiers, said the count is several times lower than the real figure. The count does not include killed servicemen and members of the Russian Interior Ministry and other agencies.
August 11 - Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev, successor to the slain President of independent Chechnya and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, issued decrees sacking the separatist government and cancelling the posts of foreign envoys, according to reports by websites close to the resistance.
August 12 - Natasha Khumadova, sister of top Chechen guerrilla commander and Vice-President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Doku Umarov, was kidnapped from her house in Urus-Martan. Human rights defenders suspect the incident to be another case of retaliatory hostage-taking by government forces aimed at making the abductee's relative to surrender.
August 14 - Five Russian soldiers, including the commandant of the Urus-Martanovsky district, were killed in a clash with the guerrillas in the village of Roshni-Chu.

August 20-23 - Chechnya: The Moscow-backed Chechen leadership will organize celebrations marking the 54th birthday of Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, the late leader of the republic, whom the Kremlin made President in October 2003 and who was assassinated in May 2004.

August 25 - Chechnya: Deadline for the closure of all gambling houses in Chechnya as set by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed Vice-Premier of the Chechen Republic.

For more upcoming Chechnya-related events go to


Dear readers, we apologize for the absence of new reports in August. Things should be back at normal after summer holidays are over. PW editors.
Monitoring attacks on the rights defenders whose work is connected with the Chechen conflict.



Russian-Chechen Information Agency (
A new on-line project of the Nizhny Novgorod based Society of the Russian-Chechen Friendship. In Russian.

For more Chechnya-related links go to our Links library ( ), which is being continuously updated.

Prague Watchdog Weekly Newsletter is a publication of Prague Watchdog. If you wish to subscribe (unsubscribe) to it, please send us an e-mail to The newsletter is usually sent out on Monday evenings.

The Gaza Withdrawal and Israel's Permanent Dilemma

The Gaza Withdrawal and Israel's Permanent Dilemma

By George Friedman

Israel has begun its withdrawal from Gaza. As with all other territorial withdrawals by Israel, such as that from the Sinai or from Lebanon, the decision is controversial within the Jewish state. It represents the second withdrawal from land occupied in the 1967 war, and the second from land that houses significant numbers of anti-Israeli fighters. Since these fighters will not be placated by the Israeli withdrawal -- given that there is no obvious agreement of land for an enforceable peace -- the decision by the Israelis to withdraw from Gaza would appear odd.

In order to understand what is driving Israeli policy, it is necessary to consider Israeli geopolitical reality in some detail.

Israel's founders, taken together, had four motives for founding the state.

1. To protect the Jews from a hostile world by creating a Jewish homeland.
2. To create a socialist (not communist) Jewish state.
3. To resurrect the Jewish nation in order to re-assert Jewish identity in history.
4. To create a nation based on Jewish religiosity and law rather than Jewish nationality alone.

The idea of safety, socialism, identity and religiosity overlapped to some extent and were mutually exclusive in other ways. But each of these tendencies became a fault line in Israeli life. Did Israel exist simply so that Jews would be safe -- was Israel simply another nation among many? Was Israel to be a socialist nation, as the Labor Party once envisioned? Was it to be a vehicle for resurrecting Jewish identity, as the Revisionists wanted? Was it to be a land governed by the Rabbinate? It could not be all of these things. Thus, these were ultimately contradictory visions tied together by a single certainty: none of these visions were possible without a Jewish state. All arguments in Israel devolve to these principles, but all share a common reality -- the need for the physical protection of Israel.

In order for there to be a Jewish state, it must be governed by Jews. If it is also to be a democratic state, as was envisioned by all but a few of the fourth (religiosity) strand of logic, then it must be a state that is demographically Jewish.

This poses the first geopolitical dilemma for Israel: Whatever the historical, moral or religious arguments, the fact was that at the beginning of the 20th century, the land identified as the Jewish homeland -- Palestine -- was inhabited overwhelmingly by Arabs. A Jewish and democratic state could be achieved only by a demographic transformation. Either more Jews would have to come to Palestine, or Arabs would have to leave, or a combination of the two would have to occur. The Holocaust caused Jews who otherwise would have stayed in Europe to come to Palestine. The subsequent creation of the state of Israel caused Arabs to leave, and Jews living in Arab countries to come to Israel.

However, this demographic shift was incomplete, leaving Israel with two strategic problems. First, a large number of Arabs, albeit a minority, continued to live in Israel. Second, the Arab states surrounding Israel -- which perceived the state as an alien entity thrust into their midst -- viewed themselves as being in a state of war with Israel. Ultimately, Israel's problem was that dealing with the external threat inevitably compounded the internal threat.

Israel's Strategic Disadvantage
Israel was at a tremendous strategic disadvantage. First, it was vastly outnumbered in the simplest sense: There were many more Arabs who regarded themselves as being in a state of war with Israel than there were Jews in Israel. Second, Israel had extremely long borders that were difficult to protect. Third, the Israelis lacked strategic depth. If all of their neighbors -- Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon -- were joined by the forces of more distant Arab and Islamic states, Israel would find it difficult to resist. And if all of these forces attacked simultaneously in a coordinated strike, Israel would find it impossible to resist.

Even if the Arabs did not carry out a brilliant stroke, cutting Israel in half on a Jerusalem-Tel Aviv line (a distance of perhaps 20 miles), Israel would still lose an extended war with the Arabs. If the Arabs could force a war of attrition on Israel, in which they could impose an attrition rate of perhaps 1 percent per day of forces on the forward edge of the battle area, Israel would not be able to hold for more than a few months at best. In the 20th century, an attrition rate of that level, in a battle space the size of Israel, would be modest. Israel's effective forces rarely numbered more than 250,000 men -- the other 250,000 were older reserves with inferior equipment. Extended attritional warfare was not an option for Israel.

Thus, in order for Israel to survive, three conditions were necessary:

1. The Arabs must never unite into a single, effective force.
2. Israel must choose the time, place and sequence of any war.
3. Israel must never face both a war and an internal uprising of Arabs simultaneously.

Israel's strategy was to use diplomacy to prevent the three main adversaries -- Egypt, Jordan and Syria -- from simultaneously choosing to launch a war. From its founding, Israel always maintained a policy of splitting the front-line states. This was not particularly difficult, given the deep animosities among the Arabs. For example, Israel always maintained a special relationship with Jordan, which had unsatisfactory relations with its own neighbors. Early on, Israel worked to serve as the guarantor of the Jordanian regime's survival. Later, after the Camp David Accords split Egypt off from the Arab coalition, Israel had neutralized two out of three of its potential adversaries. The dynamics of Arab geopolitics and the skill of Israeli diplomacy achieved an outcome that is rarely appreciated. From its founding, Israel managed to prevent simultaneous warfare with its neighbors except at a time and place of its own choosing. It had to maintain a military force capable of taking the initiative in order to have a diplomatic strategy.

But throughout most of its history, Israel had a fundamental challenge in achieving this preeminence.

Israel's Geopolitical Problem
The state's military preeminence had to be measured against the possibility of diplomatic failure. Israel had to assume that all front-line states would become hostile to it, and that it would have to launch a preemptive strike against them all. If this were the case, Israel had this dilemma: Its national industrial base was insufficient to provide it with the technological wherewithal to maintain its military superiority. It was not simply a question of money --all the money in the world could not change the demographics -- but also that Israel lacked the manpower to produce all of the weapons it needed to have and also to field an army. Therefore, Israel could survive only if it had a patron that possessed such an industrial base. Israel had to make itself useful to another country.

Israel's first patron was the Soviet Union, through its European satellites. Its second patron was France, which saw Israel as an ally during a time when Paris was trying to hold onto its interests in an increasingly hostile Arab world. Its third patron -- but not until 1967 -- was the United States, which saw Israel as a counterweight to pro-Soviet Egypt and Syria, as well as a useful base of operations in the eastern Mediterranean.

In 1967, Israel -- fearing a coordinated strike by the Arabs and also seeking to rationalize its defensive lines and create strategic depth -- launched an air and land attack against its neighbors. Rather than risk a coordinated attack, Israel launched a sequential attack -- first against Egypt, then Jordan, then Syria.

The success of the 1967 war gave rise to Israel's current geopolitical crisis.

Following the war, Israel had to balance three interests:

1. It now occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which contained large, hostile populations of Arabs. A full, peripheral war combined with an uprising in these regions would cut Israeli lines of supply and communication and risk Israel's defeat.
2. Israel was now dependent on the United States for its industrial base. But American interests and Israeli interests were not identical. The United States had interests in the Arab world, and had no interest in Israel crushing Palestinian opposition or expelling Palestinians from Israel. Retaining the industrial base and ruthlessly dealing with the Palestinians became incompatible needs.
3. Israel had to continue manipulating the balance of power among Arab states in order to prevent a full peripheral war. That, in turn, meant that it was further constrained in dealing with the Palestinian question by force.

Israeli geopolitics created the worst condition of all: Given the second and third considerations, Israel could not crush the Palestinians; but given its need for strategic depth and coherent borders, it could not abandon the occupied territories. It therefore had to continually constrain the Palestinians without any possibility of final victory. It had to be ruthless, which would enflame the Palestinians, but it could never be ruthless enough to effectively suppress them.

The Impermanence of Diplomacy
Israel has managed to maintain the diplomatic game it began in 1948: The Arabs remain deeply split. It has managed to retain its relationship with the United States, even with the end of the Cold War. Given the decline of the conventional threat, Israel's dependency on the United States has actually dwindled. For the moment, the situation is contained.

However -- and this is the key problem for Israel -- the diplomatic solution is inherently impermanent. It requires constant manipulation, and the possibility of failure is built in. For example, an Islamist rising in Egypt could rapidly generate shifts that Israel could not contain. Moreover, political changes in the United States could end American patronage, without the certainty of another patron emerging. These things are not likely to occur, but they are not inconceivable. Given enough time, anything is possible.

Israel's advantage is diplomatic and cultural. Its ability to split the Arabs, a diplomatic force, is coupled with its technological superiority, a cultural force. But both of these can change. The Arabs might unite, and they might accelerate their technological and military sophistication. Israel's superiority can change, but its inferiority is fixed: Geography and demography put it in an unchangeably vulnerable position relative to the Arabs.

The potential threats to Israel are:

1. A united and effective anti-Israeli coalition among the Arabs.
2. The loss of its technological superiority and, therefore, the loss of military initiative.
3. The need to fight a full peripheral war while dealing with an intifada within its borders.
4. The loss of the United States as patron and the failure to find an alternative.
5. A sudden, unexpected nuclear strike on its populated heartland.

Therefore, it follows that Israel has three options.

The first is to hope for the best. This has been Israel's position since 1967. The second is to move from conventional deterrence to nuclear deterrence. Israel already possesses this capability, but the value of nuclear weapons is in their deterrent capability, not in their employment. You can't deal with an intifada or with close-in conventional war with nuclear weapons -- not given the short distances involved in Israel. The third option is to reduce the possibility of disaster as far as possible by increasing the tensions in the Arab world, reducing the incentive for cultural change among the Arabs, eliminating the threat of intifada in time of war, and reducing the probability that the United States will find it in its interests to break with Israel

Hence, the withdrawal from Gaza. As a base for terrorism, Gaza poses a security threat to Israel. But the true threat from Gaza, and even more the West Bank, lies in the fact that they create a dynamic that decreases Israel's diplomatic effectiveness, risks creating Arab unity, increases the impetus for military modernization and places stress on Israel's relationship with the United States. The terrorist threat is painful. The alternative risks long-term catastrophe.

Some of the original reasons for Israel's founding, such as the desire for a socialist state, are now irrelevant to Israeli politics. And revisionism, like socialism, is a movement of the past. Modern Israel is divided into three camps:

1. Those who believe that the survival of Israel depends on disengaging from a process that enrages without crushing the Palestinians, even if it opens the door to terrorism.
2. Those who regard the threat of terrorism as real and immediate, and regard the longer-term strategic threats as theoretical and abstract.
3. Those who have a religious commitment to holding all territories.

The second and third factions are in alliance but, at the moment, it is the first faction that appears to be the majority. It is not surprising that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is leading this faction. As a military man, Sharon has a clear understanding of Israel's vulnerabilities. It is clearly his judgment that the long-term threat to Israel comes from the collapse of its strategic position, rather than from terrorism. He has clearly decided to accept the reality of terrorist attacks, within limits, in order to pursue a broader strategic initiative.

Israel has managed to balance the occupation of a hostile population with splitting Arab nation states since 1967. Sharon's judgment is that, given the current dynamics of the Muslim world, pursuing the same strategy for another generation would be both too costly and too risky. The position of his critics is that the immediate risks of disengagement increase the immediate danger to Israel without solving the long-term problem. If Sharon is right, then there is room for maneuver. But if his critics, including Benjamin Netanyahu, are right, Israel is locked down to an insoluble problem.

That is the real debate.

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