Thursday, April 20, 2006

Getting to the Truth

Andrei Smirnov, on Moscow's reaction to the recent Jamestown Foundation conference on the North Caucasus:
Clearly, the Kremlin was enraged just by the title of the discussion: "Sadullaev's Caucasian Front." Unlike in the United States, where the government encourages public research on terrorism issues and open analysis of al-Qaeda statements and publications on websites belonging to Islamic radicals, in Russia such topics are the exclusive prerogative of the authorities.

The Kremlin is not interested in providing either Russian society or the international community with detailed information about the Caucasian insurgency. Instead, officials in Russia use vague terms like "international terrorism" or "dark forces" to describe the source of instability in the south of the country. Sometimes some "unknown Arabs" are mentioned, but never actual insurgency leaders such as Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev. Nor does official Moscow recognize the existence of the Caucasian front, preferring to speak about "the criminal underground in the North Caucasus."

The Russian authorities do not want to focus on Sadullaev, as his presence proves that the insurgency across the North Caucasus is directed from Chechnya by Chechen separatists, not by terrorists from Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, as official propaganda claims. The authorities were even angrier about the fact that Vachagaev called Sadullaev the "Chechen president," trying to present the rebel leader as a legitimate figure in the eyes of the Americans. Since Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev succeeded Maskhadov after the latter's death last year, the Kremlin has used a number of devices to hide his name from the West, fearing that one day Western governments will start to persuade Moscow to initiate a dialogue with him. Previously they had called on Russia to negotiate with Maskhadov.

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