Thursday, August 31, 2006

Porvoo Arsonist Sentenced

Kalle Holm, the 18-year-old arsonist who set fire to Finland's Porvoo Cathedral has been sentenced to three years and two months' imprisonment, Hufvudstadsbladet reports. As a first-time offender, he only needs to serve half the sentence, and so will be released in December 2007.

Malika Soltayeva

Chechnya, according to the Russian Federal authorities, is returning to a state of normalcy after decades of unrest. A process of "Chechenization" is supposed to be underway, transferring the task of law-enforcement to pro-Moscow Chechen officials who are generally assumed to have given up any sympathies they might have had for separatism or national independence. The government they represent, led by the 3-year-old premier Ramzan Kadyrov, is presented to the nations of the West as an example of how radical Islam can be defeated and made to obey.

Yet there are many signs that this is far from what is actually happening on the ground. Indeed, if one looks closely, one discovers that not only is the closure of independent mosques leading, as Anna Neistat reported in the London Review of Books in July, to a re-radicalization of Chechen youth -- the Kadyrov regime itself is increasingly showing itself to be as ruthless and bloody as the Islamists it professes to replace. C.J. Chivers, whose shattering, extensive account of the Beslan tragedy, The School, aroused empathy and horror throughout the world, has written for the New York Times a description of what happened to a Chechen woman who because of some aspects of  her family life managed to incur the violent wrath and vindictiveness of the local security forces:

The humiliation of Malika Soltayeva, a pregnant Chechen woman suspected of adultery, was ferocious and swift.

Ms. Soltayeva, 23, had been away from home for a month and was reported missing by her family. When she returned, her husband accused her of infidelity and banished her from their apartment. The local authorities found her at her aunt’s residence. They said they had a few questions.

What followed was no investigation. In a law enforcement compound in this town in east-central Chechnya, the men who served as Argun’s police sheared away her hair and her eyebrows and painted her scalp green, the color associated with Islam. A thumb-thick cross was smeared on her brow.

Ms. Soltayeva, a Muslim, had slept with a Christian Russian serviceman, they said. Her scarlet letter would be an emerald cross. She was forced to confess, ordered to strip, and beaten with wooden rods and hoses on her buttocks, arms, legs, hands, stomach and back.

“Turn and be condemned by Allah,” one of her tormentors said, demanding that she position herself so he could strike her more squarely.

The torture of Ms. Soltayeva, recorded on a video obtained by The New York Times, and other recent brutish acts and instances of religious policing, raise questions about Chechnya’s direction.

Read it all.

Amnesty International and Lebanon - II

The idea that a country at war can't attack the enemy's resupply routes (at least until it has direct evidence that there is a particular military shipment arriving) has nothing to do with human rights or war crimes, and a lot to do with a pacifist attitude that seeks to make war, regardless of the justification for it or the restraint in prosecuting it [at least if it's a Western country doing it], an international "crime."

Law professor David Bernstein, quoted in Alan Dershowitz's searching analysis of Amnesty International's capitulation to double standards in its repeated attacks on Israel.

See also: Amnesty International and Lebanon

Ten Years since the End of the "First Chechen War"


By Umalt Chadayev

(my tr.)  

Via Prague Watchdog

Ten years ago Aleksandr Lebed and Aslan Maskhadov brought the war of 1994-1996 to a virtual conclusion. The signing of the so-called "Khasavyurt accords" was preceded by the seizure of the Chechen capital and other towns and major population centres by guerrilla forces on August 6.

In Russia today the "Khasavyurt Peace", which in the view of many signified the federal centre’s defeat by the Chechen guerrillas and very nearly its capitulation to them, is usually “attributed” to the late General Alexander Lebed. It is, however, obvious that Lebed, who was then in government service, acted on the direct orders of Boris Yeltsin, the master of the Kremlin at the time.

"By the summer of 1996 the situation in Chechnya had more or less reached deadlock,” a local political analyst believes. “The Russian army occupied almost the whole of Chechnya, but fighting continued all the same. In nearly every population centre there were self-defence groups and Ichkerian government bodies parallel to those of the pro-Moscow forces. The guerrillas were present in practically every town and village. Indeed, after the end of the ‘first’ war Maskhadov and other field commanders said that only 800 guerrillas took part in the seizure of Grozny on August 6, and that the remaining several thousand had already been in the city for a long time. This in itself tells us something."

"In the end Lebed saved the lives of thousands of Russian soldiers and tens of thousand of civilians,” he says. “The fact is that nearly all the places in Grozny where Russian soldiers were deployed were subject to a total blockade. The soldiers’ supplies of water, food and ammunition had run out. General Pulikovsky's ultimatum, which demanded that Grozny’s inhabitants should leave the city in 48 hours, and threatened to wipe it off the face of the earth with air and artillery, was dictated more by the hopelessness of the situation than anything else. The situation was no longer under the Russian soldiers’ control, and many local law-enforcers either went over to the side of the guerrillas or simply fled."

The agreement signed at Khasavyurt between the Russian and Chechen sides was given an ambiguous reception even at the time. The generals spoke of having been “robbed of victory” and "not allowed to finish off the guerrillas”, while the ultra-patriots called the document “capitulatory” and “treacherous” with regard to Russia – even though at Khasavyurt Lebed and Maskhadov agreed only on a cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the joint combating of crime and terrorism, and the future restoration of Chechnya’s social and economic sphere.

Nationalistically-inclined Russian politicians were extremely irritated by the point in the agreement which stated that relations between Chechnya and Russia were to be built on the observance of the principles of international law, and not in accordance with the Russian constitution. In other words, the Chechen Republic was acknowledged as being subject to international law, and this could be treated as a de facto recognition of the republic’s independence.

The original plan was for two Russian military brigades – one from the Ministry of Defence and one from the Interior Ministry – to be permanently deployed on the territory of the Chechen Republic. However, by the end of December all units and subdivisions of federal forces were withdrawn from Chechnya.

In the night of August 31, General Lebed and Aslan Maskhadov signed two documents at Khasavyurt: the "Announcement of a cessation of hostilities in the Chechen Republic" and the "Principles for identifying the foundations for mutual relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic”. These two documents became the basis of a ceasefire which lasted approximately 20 months.

The bottom line under the “first Chechen war” was drawn, however, not by General Lebed but by Boris Yeltsin. On May 12, 1997, Aslan Maskhadov, who had been elected President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in national elections several months earlier, signed the "Agreement on peace and the principles of mutual relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria" with Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin. One of the points of this document made it clear that the two sides forever rejected "the application of force and the threat of the application of force for the resolution of any disputed issues.”

Nevertheless, the signing of the agreement did not prevent the Kremlin from starting a new war in Chechnya in the autumn of 1999. It was now called a "counter-terrorist operation", as distinct from the "establishment of constitutional order" of 1994.

Translated by David McDuff.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Usmanov To Buy Kommersant

A report in Helsingin Sanomat says that Alisher Usmanov, generally considered a supporter of Russia's President Putin, has bought the Kommersant newspaper.

Update: However, RFE/RL Newsline notes:

In the latest in a string of media reports about the possible sale of the business daily "Kommersant," which is one of the few remaining major papers not controlled by the Kremlin, metals magnate Alisher Usmanov said on August 30 that he might buy the daily for about $200 million, "The Moscow Times" reported on August 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5 and June 8 and 9, 2006). Usmanov said that he would not fundamentally change the editorial policy or management but would consider "improvements," such as more color. Self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who once owned the paper, told "The Moscow Times" by phone that Usmanov is a level-headed businessman who "doesn't let political passions get the better of him." Berezovsky added that "the authorities will try to influence the company's policies by leaning on Usmanov, of course, but I know that he is also very protective of his personal reputation. He will try to find a reasonable compromise in the interest of 'Kommersant' [that will] allow him to maintain as much independence as is possible in Russia today, while not spoiling his relationship with the authorities." "Forbes" puts Usmanov's personal fortune at $3.1 billion. He and his partners hold the country's largest iron-ore assets through the Metalloinvest holding company. He also works as a troubleshooter for the state gas monopoly Gazprom. Usmanov said, however, that he is under no pressure from the Kremlin to buy the daily, adding that it is "purely a business deal."

...AND SOME JOURNALISTS ARE CONCERNED. Some Russian websites and news agencies reported on August 31 that Usmanov has already concluded the deal to buy "Kommersant." Interfax, however, said that the "deal will be completed by the end of the week." Whatever the case may be, several journalists told that news agency that the daily will need to maintain its current editorial policy if it is to hold its position in the market. Rodionov publishing house President Aleksei Volin said that "'Kommersant' will lose its influence and its readers if they turn it into another [state-run daily] 'Rossiiskaya gazeta' or the printed counterpart" of the state-run television news program. Igor Yakovenko, who is a leader of the Russian Union of Journalists, said that the sale of "Kommersant" is linked to preparations for the 2007 parliamentary elections. He argued that the daily will either become the mouthpiece of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party or retain a certain degree of independence in order to maintain its credibility. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Interfax that Usmanov's
purchase of "Kommersant" "was carried out as a personal investment
and is not related to his work with Gazprom." PM

Hizballah Rearming

According to Stratfor's Colin Chapman, Hizballah continues to receive a steady supply of arms and ammunition from Syria and Iran -- the principal method of transportation being the mule train, and the principal area of stockpiling the Bekaah Valley.

Chavez in Syria

Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez is in Damascus today, repeating his usual messages of unveiled hostility to the United States and the West in general, and declaring that Venezuela and Syria are united against "U.S. imperialism". On Tuesday, following his trip to China, Chavez was in Malaysia, where the ostensible reason for his current bout of globe-trotting became apparent. Via AP:
In a visit to Malaysia earlier Tuesday, Chavez suggested his country is set to win a UN Security Council seat, saying the support of Malaysia and other nations would help defeat a U.S. campaign to block Venezuela's bid.

"We're going to occupy that seat with the support of countries like Malaysia," Chavez was quoted as saying by Venezuela's state news agency at an event with Malaysian business leaders.

U.S. officials, alarmed by Chavez's deepening ties with countries such as Iran and North Korea, have sought to block his country's bid for a rotating Security Council seat and are backing Guatemala instead.

Over the last six weeks, Chavez has traveled to a dozen countries, including Argentina, Russia, Belarus, Iran, Vietnam, Qatar, Mali, Benin, China, Malaysia and Syria, in what his opponents argue is a costly effort to drum up support for the UN bid.

Chavez insists he has not urged other nations to vote in favor of Venezuela, saying many countries have independently voiced support.

The Bending of Minds

On the Arutz-7 website, David Bedein writes about the new textbooks being issued to Palestinian schoolchildren by the Palestinan Authority, in which Israel does not appear on any of the maps, and in which the very name "Israel" is replaced by "Palestine". This move comes at the same time as PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly launched a new peace initiative with Israel.

As the writer shows, a new generation of Palestinians is being prepared for an erasure of Israel from the map of the world.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Russia-Lithuania Tension Continues

In the wake of the recently-imposed Russian oil blockade of Lithuania, Lithuanian officials have made statements about the need to impose restrictions on rail traffic between Russia and Kaliningrad Oblast. Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov has called the statements "provocative" and "politically motivated":
Titov argued that such Lithuanian "hints" amount to "political repairs..., which are spurious and provocative. Those who came up with such ideas must be aware that threats of this kind could have consequences for bilateral relations." He acknowledged that the Lithuanian statements about the trunk line came in response to the recent Russian shutdown of the Druzhba-1 oil pipeline to Lithuania's Mazeikiu oil refinery, which is the only refinery in the Baltic states and which a Polish firm is about to acquire at the expense of Russian interests. But Titov said that "it is regrettable that an accident on the Druzhba pipeline has given rise to so much speculation. The pipeline cannot be fully restored instantly. The accident [that led to a massive leak] must be investigated and measures taken if an environmental disaster is to be prevented." He claimed that an unspecified amount of Russian oil is still reaching the refinery by "alternative line with signed agreements" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 17, and 22, 2006). PM

RFE/RL Newsline

Beslan: Report Blames Federal Forces

August 28, 2006 -- A member of the Russian parliamentary commission investigating the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis says it may be federal forces, and not the militants orchestrating the siege, who started the final battle that claimed the vast majority of victims.

Yury Savelyev, an explosives expert and a Duma deputy with the Motherland (Rodina) party, says in a report published today in the "Novaya gazeta" weekly that forensic evidence suggests the battle may have been started by Russian soldiers firing rocket grenades from a building across from the school that was the site of the hostage siege.

Some federal investigators say it was the detonation of bombs planted inside the school by the hostage takers that caused a massive fire and sparked a gun battle in which the majority of the 330-plus siege victims were killed. Members of the investigating commission called Savelyev's report a "deliberate falsification."

The report comes just days before the second anniversary of the September 1-3 siege.

More from the Newsline:

The website has posted a 700-page, six-part report by Yury Savelyev, a member of the Russian State Duma commission that investigated the September 2004 Beslan hostage taking, including the events that triggered the storm of the school in which most of the 332 victims died. Savelev claimed that the authorities were aware of the impending seizure of the school at least three hours in advance; that an initial proposal by then-North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov to try to persuade the hostage takers to release the children in exchange for 800 government personnel was rejected, and Dzasokhov was threatened with arrest if he sought to negotiate with the hostage takers; that the authorities decided to storm the school building, but create the impression that they did so in response to actions by the hostage takers; and security personnel opened fire on the school building from mortars and flame-throwers while the hostages were still inside the building. The initial findings of the Duma commission faulted local police and officials for their response to the hostage taking, but Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel said an investigation by his office failed to establish any failings on the part of law enforcement agencies during the siege (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 29, 2005). The commission's official investigative report is expected to be released in September. LF
The Russian text of the Savelyev report is here.

Porvoo Arson Trial

In the Finnish press some details are emerging of proceedings at the trial of the chief suspect in the Porvoo arson attacks in May, which led to the burning down of the town's historic cathedral. Iltalehti reports (my tr.) that the suspect had researched church fires that took place in Norway during the 1990s.
In the view of head prosecutor Petri Vaaja the motive was hatred of Christianity.

While the chief suspect denies that he planned the attack, he admits that his opinion of the Christian faith influenced the night's events.

"Christianity was brought here by force and it holds particular sway in Finland and Europe. But Christianity does not represent European culture in any way, especially in the Nordic countries."

The Rules of the Game

Counterterrorism Blog has a post by Douglas Farah asking: What Is Russia's Real Game?
In an increasingly confused world, it has become apparent that Russia, for all its talk, is consistently positioning itself against the interests of the United States, Europe - and often on the side of Islamist radicals.
Read the rest.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Climate Change

At Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch, a change of attitude appears to be taking place with regard to the role played by Moscow in the war on terror and its connection with Iran. While the arguments traditionally heard on JW have tended to suggest that, while Russia may suffer from problems associated with the implementation of democracy, it's still a reliable ally in the confrontation with militant Islam. Now, however, especially in the comments boxes, one notes a different approach, with the Russian government being viewed less and less in this rather positive light. One or two Russian nationalists still hold forth at length in the comments, but the general balance of opinion has apparently shifted against them.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Britain Involved in Gaza Hostage Release

Debka (a fertile source of well-researched but often speculative information, on the whole to be handled with caution) considers that
Various Palestinian middlemen were used by British agents at the request of the US to bring the Fox journalists [Olaf Wiig and Steve Centanni] home. They worked out a convoluted deal which entailed their public conversion to Islam, an anti-American harangue on air and a six-figure cash ransom paid under the table to Dughmush to fund his terrorist militia’s operations in Gaza. While the first two parts of the ransom were publicly aired, the third part will no doubt be vehemently denied. But the face remains that a terrorist chief who freelances for at least three fundamentalist terrorist organizations walks free with a strong incentive to develop his profitable hostage-taking business.
Whatever the facts of the deal that was struck may be, it seems fairly clear that Britain was involved in the release of the hostages at some level. On August 16, A NewstalkZB/Reuters report confirmed that
The British Consul has contacted the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asking for assistance in securing the pair's release and Palestinian security forces have been deployed.


Prime Minister Helen Clark says New Zealand's diplomats credited to Palestine are based in Turkey and they will work with British authorities to try to secure Mr Wiig's release.

Russia Choking Finland - IV

The smoke from out-of-control forest fires in Russia's Leningrad district (around St Petersburg) continues to drift westward into Southern Finland, causing heavy air pollution. The smoke affects an area as far north as Tampere. (HS)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Energy Bully

Discussing Russia's recently-imposed oil blockade of neighbouring Lithuania, the Washington Post looks at the implications for the rest of Europe:
For consumers of Russian fossil fuels, such as Western Europe, there is little threat that oil prices will dramatically increase because of a "leaky" Russian pipeline -- the continent can easily obtain oil from other countries. But whether orchestrated by Mr. Putin or caused by inadequate infrastructure, a slowdown in the production or transportation of Russian natural gas would be much harder for Western Europe to rectify and could seriously undermine Western economies.

Both the oil pipeline's leak and the way Russia has taken advantage of it should serve as a warning to countries dependent on Russian natural gas. Countries in Western Europe in particular should invest in more liquefied natural gas terminals to accommodate tankers from other countries that produce natural gas. The West relies on Russian energy supplies at its peril.

Slavic Converts to Islam and Islamism

A terrorist group calling itself Karachai Jamaat was recently liquidated by security services in Russia. According to reports, including this one by RFE/RL's Victor Yasmann, the group contained not only ethnic Daghestanis and Karachayans, but also Slavic Russians and Ukrainians:
The Slavic members of the group were devoted Muslims who chose to enter the ranks of militant Islam. As sign of their dedication to the cause, they reportedly destroyed their identification documents and adopted Muslim names.

Among them were ethnic Ukrainian Vitaly Zagorulko, an officer in Russia's Interior Ministry and a graduate of the Rostov High Militia School, and police colleagues Viktor Semchenko, a Russian, and David Fotov. Another alleged Karachai Jamaat member was a former Russian paratrooper, Yury Menovshchikov, and Russian Army veteran Ivan Manarin, an ethnic Russian. All but Manarin, who is now under arrest, were killed in fighting with federal special forces.

Travel Writing from Ukraine and Belarus

Publius Pundit has returned from a visit to Ukraine and Belarus, and posts the first part of a description of his experiences.

Elina Ersenoyeva

Via IHF:

To: Valery Kuznetsov, Prosecutor of the Republic of Chechnya, RF
Via facsimile + 7 (8712) 22 31 44, + 7 (095) 777 92 26
Copy: Yuri Chaika, Prosecutor General of the RF
Via facsimile +7(495) 292 96 00
Vladimir Lukin, Ombudsman for human rights of the RF
Via facsimile +7(095) 207-76-30

Open Letter by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Hommes (FIDH) and Center “Demos”

18 August 2006. Vienna-Paris-Moscow

Dear Mr. Prosecutor:

According to our information, on 17 August 2006, a 26-year-old journalist and civic activist, Elina Ersenoyeva, was abducted by unknown representatives of security services in the center of Grozny. Elina is a staff-member of a local non-governmental organization “INFO-MOST” and a correspondent of the “Chechen Society” newspaper. The Youth Information Center for HIV/AIDS Prevention “INFO-MOST” is a joint project of UNICEF and the Department on Youth Affairs of the Government of the Chechen Republic. Elina Ersenoyeva’s numerous publications in the “Chechen Society” have been focused on social problems, refugee issues, etc.

On 17 August, around nine o’clock in the morning, Elina and her aunt, Rovzan, got off a taxi near the House of Fashion at the Prospekt Pobedy, the main street of Grozny. Elina was planning to go to the office. However, several unknown armed men in camouflage and face-masks approached the women from behind and forced them into two separate cars that were waiting near the sidewalk. Elina and Rovzan had their heads covered with bags and were taken in unknown direction. A while later, the cars stopped. The women were taken out and put into a basement. Soon afterwards, with her head still covered and her vision completely blocked, Rovzan was once again forced into a car and then set free in a street in Grozny. As she reported to the “Chechen Society” editor, “In that basement, Elina was still next to me. I called her and she replied. Then, I called again in a little while and she wasn’t there anymore. After what seemed like two hours, they took me from the basement with the bag still over my head and put into a car again. When the car stopped they pushed me out. I took the bag off but the car was already far away. I asked some passers-by where I was and it proved to be Grozny”.

Around noon, Elina suddenly rang Rovzan from her mobile phone, said that she was allowed to make one phone call and asked to keep things quiet and not to tell her mother. She also said that everything would work out because she wasn’t guilty of anything. Then, at seven o’clock in the evening, Elina called her mother directly and told her she’d be released later at night. She immediately passed the phone to some man who confirmed her words. However, she did not return home neither that night nor the next day. Her mobile phone has been switched off since of evening of 17 August.

On 18 August, in the morning, Elina’s mother, Rita, was urgently summoned to their native village of Starye Atagi. Rita did not give us any details on what she had leant there about the fate of her daughter but stressed that the attention of the competent authorities as well as that of the general public Elina’s abduction may help set her free.

To note, two days prior to her abduction, Elina addressed the International Helsinki Federation and Center “Demos” with a plea for help. In her letter, Elina was explaining that she and her family have been persecuted by local enforcement agencies (“Kadyrovtsy”). She also explained that the persecutions had to do with the fact that in November 2005 she had married a man who appeared to be a rebel-fighter:
“Starting March this year, I and my family-members (mother and two brothers) have been persecuted primarily by the so-called Kadyrovtsy. Those people have been threatening us non-stop for months already. My husband was killed over a month ago but the persecutions haven’t ended – in fact, they’ve grown even worse. The enforcement agencies are threatening us with violence and death because my late husband was a rebel. During that whole time-period, which is less than a year, they took my mother away several times and subjected her to severe beatings, threats and extortion. Mamma is an old woman and her health is poor. She has a heart condition and suffered a heart attack… Every time they took her in, they would beat her and take away her money and jewelry. Nowadays, momma’s even afraid to leave the house…”.


Dear Mr Prosecutor!

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF, Vienna), Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Hommes (FIDH, Paris), and Center “Demos” (Moscow) hereby strongly request you to launch an investigation of Elina Ersenoyeva’s abduction without any delay and to do everything in your powers to ensure her immediate release and to bring to justice the perpetrators in the abduction as well as those members of the Chechen security forces that threatened her and her family.

Yours truly,

Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director of the IHF

Siddiki Kaba, President of the FIDH

Tanya Lokshina, Chair of Center “Demos” and member of the Expert Council under the Ombudsman of the Russian Federation

See also: Basayev "Widow" Kidnapped

Chavez to Visit Syria

Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez said on Friday that he plans to visit Syria "to bolster diplomatic ties", Reuters reports. Chavez has also said that he intends to visit North Korea.

The Syrian visit will come in the wake of Chavez's recent friendly visits to Russia, Belarus, and Iran. He is currently in Communist China.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lebanon War Moves to Central Asia

Registan has a post about Israel's relations with the ex-Soviet Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, noting an RFE/RL report which describes how the Uzbek government has stripped an Uzbek-Israeli joint venture of its exclusive rights to process a strategic metal and has assumed a direct supervisory role over its export contracts.

Meanwhile, AIA presents an in-depth analysis of the rapidly-developing political and military process now underway in Central Asia, involving the transfer of traditional Sunni Islamist loyalties to Shiite Islamic militarism, as Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah becomes a hero not only in the Arab world, but also in the world of Central Asian fundamentalist Islam.

Moscow's Role in the Lebanon War

At NRO, former Romanian intelligence officer Ion Mihai Pacepa discusses Moscow's role in the Lebanon war against the background of the Kremlin's involvement in Middle East terrorism since the 1960s:
The Kremlin may be the main winner in the Lebanon war. Israel has been attacked with Soviet Kalashnikovs and Katyushas, Russian Fajr-1 and Fajr-3 rockets, Russian AT-5 Spandrel antitank missiles and Kornet antitank rockets. Russia’s outmoded weapons are now all the rage with terrorists everywhere in the world, and the bad guys know exactly where to get them. The weapons cases abandoned by Hezbollah were marked: “Customer: Ministry of Defense of Syria. Supplier: KBP, Tula, Russia.”

Today’s international terrorism was conceived at the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the KGB, in the aftermath of the1967 Six-Day War in the Middle East. I witnessed its birth in my other life, as a Communist general. Israel humiliated Egypt and Syria, whose bellicose governments were being run by Soviet razvedka (Russian for “foreign intelligence”) advisers, whereupon the Kremlin decided to arm Israel’s enemy neighbors, the Palestinians, and draw them into a terrorist war against Israel.
Read it all.

See also: Russia's Role in the Lebanon Crisis

Israel Buys 2 More Nuclear-Capable Submarines

From AP: Israel has purchased two more nuclear-capable Dolphin submarines. The submarines are German-made, and provide sophisticated second strike capabilities which should act as a significant deterrent to any nuclear attack by Iran.

AP's correspondent notes:
The purchases come at a time when Iran is refusing to bow to growing Western demands to halt its nuclear program, and after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

The new submarines, built at a cost of $1.3 billion with Germany footing one-third of the bill, have diesel-electric propulsion systems that allow them to remain submerged for longer periods of time than the three nuclear arms-capable submarines already in Israel's fleet, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The latest submarines not only would be able to carry out a first strike should Israel choose to do so, but they also would provide Israel with crucial second-strike capabilities, said Paul Beaver, a London-based independent defense analyst.

Update: The German government is now doing its best to soft-pedal this move, saying that the submarines will not be supplied until 2010, and will be for non-nuclear defensive purposes only.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Iran "Has Advanced Centrifuges"

An RFE/RL report quotes an Iranian dissident group as stating that Iran has already built 15 of the P-2 enrichment centrifuges that lie at the centre of the present standoff between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear program, and that hundreds more could be built in the near future:
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) says the advanced technology could help Iran dramatically speed up uranium enrichment and eventually lead to atomic-bomb material.

The chairman of NCRI's Foreign Affairs Committee, Mohammad Mohadessin, told a news conference in Paris today that his group has located what it believes is a secret production site for P-2 centrifuges near Tehran.

Mohadessin further claims blueprints for the P-2 centrifuges were provided to Iran in 1995 by a black-market network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, then Pakistan's leading nuclear scientist.

NCRI, which is widely believed to be a front group for the Mujahedin-e Khalq (People's Mujahedin) of Iran, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

In August 2002, the group was among the first to alert the world of Iran's uranium-enrichment activities.
Haaretz covers the story here.

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that Germany has joined the United States in condemning Tehran's insistence on enriching uranium, thus bringing a European dimension to the pressure on Iran, and countering the wishes of Moscow.

Basayev "Widow" Kidnapped

In their latest imaginative exploit, the Moscow-backed Chechen primary structures have kidnapped a female journalist, Elina Ersenoyeva, claiming that she married terrorist leader Shamil Basayev a year before his death. While there appears to be no objective evidence to support the claim, the kidnapping represents a novel, though disturbing, development in the curious, shadowy Chechen version of the war on terror.

(via Marius)

Update: members of the journalist's family now say that their daughter was indeed secretly married to Basayev, though the marriage may have been a forced one, and the guerrilla leader was "using" her. RFE/RL has more here.

Katyusha Forest Damage

Arutz-7 has published a photo-essay by Josh Shamsi, showing the damage to thousands of acres of forest in Northern Israel caused by fires ignited by Hizballah's Katyusha rockets.

To Be or Not to Be

Kevin Sites reports from Israel.

Russia Choking Finland - III

Finland's main Swedish-language daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet has published a selection of readers' letters about the serious health problems caused by the smoke that has blown into Finland from the forest fires that have burned just over the border in Russia during past weeks. Some excerpts (my tr.):
- As the country with the EU’s presidency, Finland ought to have been much sharper in its choice of words and should also have taken up the question with other EU countries. Russia has no right to wreck the environment of a neighbouring country, especially when that country is ready to help with the problem.

- Polluting the air of a neighbouring country is a gigantic environmental crime. Finland’s government ought to complain and take the matter to the international court in the Hague. The government should act much more forcefully in the case.

- What do the deadly smoke particles contain? I suffer badly from asthma and allergies. Who is going to pay these extra costs? The Russian Duma or the Finnish parliament?

- I got lung cancer five years ago, and am now starting to get really tired of all this. Our cowardly authorities are seeing to it that the whole of the population of Southern Finland will fall ill. Our politicians, especially the social democrats, are so scared of Putin’s cannons that they don’t dare to do anything.

- The Russians have definitely not done enough. They haven’t even accepted help from Finland. So Finland should send Russia a stiff bill for all the extra doctor’s expenses, all the extra hospital visits and all the personal suffering the smoke has brought with it.

- The government has been asleep for a week. They ought to have reacted at once. And in Russia they ought to put out all the fires immediately. I think we ought to have helped them, even though they didn’t ask for help. Elderly people and asthma patients have found it hard to breathe.

- Our authorities haven’t done enough. When garbage tips and compost heaps burn, it's dangerous. We don’t know what’s burning in them. Our authorities have behaved very badly. I have never known anything like it.

See also: Russia Choking Finland
Russia Choking Finland - II

Personality Cult

In the Moscow Times, Timur Aliyev writes about Chechnya's Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who turns 30 this year, making him eligible for the Chechen presidency. The preparations for Ramzan's enthronement as the country's supreme leader involve poetry contests, plays, the sacrificing of sheep, and a series of commemorations of Ramzan's father, slain President Akhmad Kadyryov, who was assassinated in 2004. The aim is to pass on the father's charisma to the son:
Perhaps the most elaborate celebration of the former president was the premiere of "Vow," a play put on by the State Chechen Theater in Grozny. Set in the early years of the second Chechen war, the play's main characters include Akhmad Kadyrov, Chechen rebel leaders Dzhokhar Dudayev and Aslan Maskhadov, and former Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. The hero of the play is Kadyrov, whose character courageously fights Wahhabi extremists and ultimately breaks with Maskhadov. In the end, Kadyrov triumphs.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Far-Right Terrorism

In the aftermath of Monday's bombing of a multi-ethnic Moscow market by far-right white extremists, a Russian human rights worker reflects :
"What we are talking about is a group that was deep underground and which used techniques that amount to terrorism," said Vladimir Novitsky, legal director of the non-governmental Moscow Human Rights Bureau.

"This is of course a new level of preparation compared to the attacks by skinheads which are usually just opportunistic," said Novitsky, who has represented targets of race-hate propaganda in court. "This is a cause for concern."

The Problem at CiF

Oliver Kamm has reservations about aspects of the Guardian's Comment is Free group blog, which he praises for the imaginative writing of many of the contributors but condemns for the indiscriminate nature of its group identity which, he believes, leads to a situation where the site "in one important respect does not work as it must have been intended to":
But there are serious drawbacks to the site also. Some of those weaknesses are to do with the blogging medium itself, of which I am broadly sceptical (as I've written here). Others are to do with the heavy bias of its contributors towards some subjects but not others (e.g. not much on the elections in Congo). But there is one characteristic specific to CiF that I doubt Ms Henry and her colleagues can have foreseen. The intention of drawing readers into the conversation has had consistently appalling consequences, at least in the posts that I have followed. The threads below the posts have been skewed, and in some cases dominated, by contributors who hold exceptionally peculiar ideas and appear susceptible to anti-Jewish notions. The site invites readers to alert the editors to offensive or otherwise unsuitable comments, but this appears to work only partially, owing to the volume of material. In general, as well as being inadequately moderated (which is not a criticism of the newspaper: I don't see how it's possible even in principle for the editors to keep up with the constant flow of bile), the threads contain much personal abuse and poor English. Full marks to The Guardian for providing the facility, and all sympathy to it for trying to resolve the problem. But there definitely is a problem, and it's one that other newspapers will have to consider carefully before expanding into the blogging medium.

Amnesty International and Lebanon

By accusing Israel of war crimes in the Lebanon conflict, Amnesty International has shown that it has lost its way in the modern world. Once a trusted and respected organization which, among other things, revealed persecution and injustice in the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc and supported efforts to stop them, it has become damaged - party to a disreputable international campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel and give comfort to its enemies. The damage goes much further: Amnesty's other activities, such as its wholly laudable campaigns for justice in Darfur, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Sri Lanka and beyond are placed in doubt and jeopardy by this accusation, which ignores the circumstance that Israel did not deliberately target civilians in the conflict, but tried to defend itself against indiscriminate attack by extreme, fascistic forces that are devoid of regard for human life and dignity. The accusation and the accusers display a nihilism that can only in the end destroy Amnesty International itself.

The Wrong Umarov - II

More on the strained efforts of the Moscow-backed Chechen government to claim the capture of an Umarov, even if it wasn't the Umarov they really wanted. Via Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

Ichkerian President’s brother who surrendered was abducted a year ago

Umalt Chadayev

CHECHNYA - On August 18 the Russian media reported a sensational item of news. Reports linked to the press service of Chechen premier Ramzan Kadyrov announced that Dokka Umarov, who replaced Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev in the post of President of Ichkeria after he was killed in June, intended to lay down his arms.

Some time later, Ramzan Kadyrov’s press secretary informed the Interfax news agency that Umarov had personally given himself up to Ramzan Kadyrov in the city of Gudermes. This did not, however, cause a sensation. Later it was announced that it was not Dokka Umarov who had turned himself in, but his elder brother, Akhmad.

At a press conference with journalists in Grozny, Akhmad Umarov said he had come to Ramzan Kadyrov voluntarily because he believed Kadyrov would deal fairly with members of illegal armed units, and because he trusted Kadyrov’s guarantees of personal safety.

"I’m tired of being constantly on the run. My father has been kidnapped. I am going to try to find him. In 2005 I was arrested by representatives of the law enforcement bodies, and they held me somewhere for almost a year," said the older Umarov. In response to a question about his brother he said he had last met him in 2004. A feature about Akhmad Umarov was shown on local television channels for several days running.

Meanwhile, according to information obtained by staff of a number of human rights organizations it has been established that the brother of Dokka Umarov who "voluntarily surrendered" was abducted by officials of unidentified law enforcement bodies back in February or March 2005, and was thought to have disappeared without trace.

"In reality, Akhmad Umarov could not have voluntarily given himself up to Ramzan Kadyrov, as he was kidnapped by law enforcement officials a year and a half ago. Abducted at the same time were Dokka Umarov’s aged father Khamad, his wife, his six-month-old son, and two of his nephews. Umarov’s wife and son were later released, but until recently nothing was known about the others," says a local human rights activist. "Now they’ve announced that Akhmad Umarov has voluntarily turned himself in. It’s interesting to speculate where he could have been all this time.”

"I consider that what has happened is just another routine PR campaign by the authorities. Since they couldn’t manage to arrest Dokka Umarov, they produced his elder brother in public, saying he had given himself up voluntarily. Though as far as I know, Akhmad Umarov isn’t guilty of anything apart from being Dokka Umarov’s brother. Unlike his younger brother, he hasn’t taken part in any military campaigns, either in the past or currently," the respondent says.

The human rights activist thinks that the authorities will most probably try to bring in Akhmad Umarov as a mediator in negotiations with his distinguished brother. Some residents of Chechnya are convinced that the showing of the “surrendered” Akhmad Umarov on local television channels was primarily intended to demonstrate to the separatist leader that his brother is still alive and that Akhmad’s life depends on how his younger brother behaves.

Contrary to popular belief, the practice of taking the close relatives of separatist leaders hostage was also employed by law enforcers during the first Chechen war. In 1995 President Dzhokhar Dudayev’s brother Makharbi, who worked as a taxi-driver, was arrested in Grozny. Makharbi Dudayev was taken to Moscow and placed in solitary confinement in Lefortovo Prison. It was proposed to exchange him for one of the Russian officers who had been taken prisoner by Chechen soldiers. Dzhokhar Dudayev condemned this seizure in extremely sharp terms and said he would not take part in an exchange of his brother – in every respect a civilian – for prisoners of war. Makharbi Dudayev was later released nevertheless.

In the course of the present military campaign the practice of taking the relatives of field commanders and separatist leaders hostage acquired a much wider scope. In March 2004 law enforcement officials under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov seized several dozen close relatives of Magomed Khambiyev, who was Ichkerian Minister of Defence in the years of President Aslan Maskhadov’s administration. It was proposed that in exchange for the lives of the hostages Khambiyev should give himself up to the authorities, which he was forced to do on March 8 of the same year.

In December 2004 two brothers of President Aslan Maskhadov, his aged sister and five distant relatives were seized in Grozny and its environs by unidentified armed men in camouflage uniform, and taken to an unknown destination. Several months after Maskhadov’s death they all were released again.

Translated by David McDuff.

See also: The Wrong Umarov

Yukos: Moscow Extradition Threat to U.S. Businessman

Moscow continues to slowly ratchet up its campaign against the West, and particularly against U.S. and British interests around the world. Its latest efforts focus on the oil company Yukos, and involve an oil blockade of Lithuania.

Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky is currently serving a nine-year sentence in a penal labour camp essentially for having presented a political challenge to the Kremlin. Now U.S. citizen Stephen Theede, former Yukos chief executive, says that he is being threatened with extradition to Russia if he moves outside the U.S. or Britain.

Stephen Theede resigned from Yukos last month, after the company was declared bankrupt by the Russian authorities. Then last week the Prosecutor General in Moscow launched a criminal case against him and threatened the other Yukos executives, accusing them of stealing the company's foreign assets, principally an oil refinery in Lithuania. Vladimir Socor has a detailed analysis of the current Russian oil blockade of Lithuania here. It's an alarming situation that, as Socor says, is being almost totally ignored "by Western believers in Russia’s reliability as an energy supplier."

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Stephen Theede had the following to say:

We're just appalled at these accusations. First of all, they announced last Thursday that they were going to initiate an investigation into our international assets. The fact of the matter is that company management did set up a foundation in early 2005 to protect our international assets from expropriation by the Russian Federation. And that came on the heels of the expropriation of our largest Russian asset Yukosneftegaz, in late 2004, and it was after that that we concluded there was absolutely nothing we could do to save our Russian assets if the Russian authorities wanted to take them. But we felt we had a strong fiduciary responsibility to take steps to protect the assets that we could protect, and that was our international assets. And so using a long known technique in the Netherlands, we set up a foundation to protect these assets from unfriendly hands.

What about the criminal case that's actually being brought against you? Are you going to fight it, or are you simply going to ignore it?

We're not going to sit on our hands. This is just an amazing move that the Russian authorities have taken, to open an investigation against individuals who are not residents of Russia. They are trying to impose their will on those of us who have spent the last two years doing nothing but trying to do the right thing in protecting the interests of the company. And it brings up, I think, an important point of what I've discovered in the time I've been in Russia, and that is that even though my principles have always been to always do the right thing, time after time, but in Russia today the key to success is more doing what the authorities want you to do rather than doing the right thing.

Do you feel extremely bruised by this whole process?

I just feel angry about this whole process. What complicates it for me personally is I see things that go on in Russia that would be considered illegal in any country in the West, and the results of these illegal activities are then in essence exported to Western countries and the actions that were taken in Russia seem to be forgiven and ignored and overlooked. It's just creating a Russia that is becoming more and more confident that they don't need to comply with Western standards in order to be accepted and get along in the West. And I think it's creating a much harder Russia, I think it's creating a Russia that's going to be increasingly more difficult to deal with - where does it all stop?

You resigned last month as chief executive of Yukos. What do you see your role being now?

Well, I resigned all of my responsibilities with Yukos as president as well as on the board of directors of Yukos Oil Company. I want my role to be reduced substantially to the point where I can put the Yukos saga behind me and move on, with my life. It would appear that the Russian authorities are going to make it difficult for me to do that, at least for a while. The fact that they've announced an investigation may or may not allow them to invoke certain extradition treaties that are in place with a number of European countries. I don't know how serious a threat extradition might be - just my motto here is going to be for a while better safe than sorry, so my travels will be restricted mainly just to the UK and the US. Outside of that I will probably be very, very careful.

Update: In the Washington Post, Peter Finn has a report on the same story. An excerpt:

"We have worked every day to do the right thing, but in Russia doing the right thing isn't what they're looking for," Theede said. "What they're looking for is doing what they want you to do. We're caught in this completely impossible situation where for us, doing the right thing is defending the company from the Russian authorities' attack on it. But if we fulfill our fiduciary responsibility, we are going to be on the wrong side of the fence from the Russian authorities."

The other claimant in the Dutch courts is Rosneft, Russia's state-owned oil company, which acquired Yukos's prime asset at an auction that Theede and others said was rigged. Theede and other Yukos executives unsuccessfully attempted to prevent Rosneft holding a public offering that raised billions of dollars in London earlier this year. Rosneft has pushed for Yukos's liquidation in Russia, and it is expected to snap up most of its remaining assets in the country when the bankruptcy is finalized.

"We felt that it was our responsibility to protect our international assets; I mean that's what management does when they are under unfriendly attack or facing a takeover," Theede said. "We established the foundation they referred to in order to provide protection for the assets and begin a sale process so that legitimate creditors could be paid."

And that includes Rosneft, but also Group Menatep, he said.

The Russian authorities are unlikely to succeed in prosecuting Theede and the others. Foreign courts, including those in London, have repeatedly refused to extradite Russian employees of Yukos to Moscow in earlier cases. But that is little consolation to Theede.

"Many, many people have told me, 'Consider the source; we know this can't be right,' but there are going to be people who don't fully understand, read these things and wonder," Theede said. "I've never had to face a situation like this in my life and I'm quite angry."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Via Ynet:

Larsen calls on Israel to end Lebanon embargo

United Nations Middle East Envoy UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told reporters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday that the United Nations sees it appropriate that Israel lifts an embargo imposed on Lebanon.

Larsen said the world body received no new information on two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah. (Aviram Zino)

I can't help feeling that the statements issuing from this "envoy" sound ever more inappropriate, offensive, and divorced from moral reality.

Meanwhile, the head of Italy's Senate defence committee, who has spoken with Iran's security chief Ali Larijani, has said that the two abducted soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, are alive, though "not in great condition". It appears that Iran wants Italy to negotiate the release of the two men.

Musicians and the Terror Alert

The new travel restrictions at UK airports are having a devastating effect on musicians, particularly string players, according to Britain's Musicians' Union:
It says its members "are reporting significant lost earnings" because they are unable to take their instruments on board aircraft as hand luggage.

Many instruments are too fragile to be placed in the hold of an airliner, the union told the BBC News website.

But the Department for Transport says the security regulations will "be in place for as long as they need to be".
Certainly, it's generally out of the question for violins, violas and cellos to be stowed in the hold, though it's a moot question whether some brass and woodwind instruments would suffer quite so badly from being handled in this way.

But the "devastating effect" on musicians' careers is surely as nothing compared to what could happen if these restrictions were not enforced...

Grass - III

In a Der Spiegel transcript of excerpts from his television interview of last week, German author Günter Grass talks about his recent confession that he was a member of the Waffen-SS. Although the interviewer, Ulrich Wickert, gives him plenty of room for self-justification, Grass's responses are far from reassuring, as the following snippet makes clear:
Wickert: You experienced a horrible situation in 1967, during a reading of "Örtlich betäubt" ("Local Anesthetic") at a church conference. A man walked onto the stage, said he wanted to be provocative, greeted his comrades from the SS, swallowed a cyanide capsule and died. What were you thinking at the time?

Grass: It was a shocking incident. When I visited the Scheub family a few weeks later and spoke with his widow and children, I learned more about this man, who was completely torn. On the one hand, he was still caught up in these Nazi ideas that had shaped him. But at the same time, he considered himself a pacifist as a result of his wartime experiences, and he helped his two older sons, who both wanted to be conscientious objectors, to write their statements. A strange man. A daughter of Scheub's has just published a book in which she quotes the passages I wrote about this incident in "Diary of a Snail," because the matter affected me deeply.

Wickert: Wouldn't it have been a relief for you to be able to write about your own, similar experiences?

Grass: It's difficult to say in retrospect. I didn't do it, and I'll just have to stand by that -- and I'll certainly be listening to these accusations for a long time to come. All I can say about the issue is that it's a topic in this book. I spent three years working on it, and I've written everything I have to say about it, and anything I say now, essentially after the fact, is only by way of explanation as it relates to the book.
(via Marius)

See also: Grass
Grass - II

Night Vision Equipment: More Details

A report by Michael Evans in the London Times newspaper gives some more background to the discovery of military night-vision equipment in a bunker in Southern Lebanon. The Times has managed to locate the company that supplied similar equipment to Iran in 2003:
Sources at the firm, SDMS, of London, said that the published serial numbers on one of the kits found by the Israelis did not match any aspect of the contract that it had won to supply Iran with equipment for counter-narcotics operations on the Iranian-Afghan border.

The Israelis claimed that the equipment they had uncovered in a house in a village in southern Lebanon was for highly sophisticated military use. They confirmed that it was British, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office promised a full investigation.

One source at the company, which is a distribution firm, not a manufacturer, said: “The kit we supplied was actually made in Russia, which makes some pretty rugged equipment. But they were not the sort of systems which the Israelis seem to be talking about.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Airliner Plot: 11 Charged

Eleven people have been charged in connection with the London airliner plot.

Metropolitan police stated that bomb-making equipment has been found, and that the scale of the plot is "immense" and global.

Russia Choking Finland - II

Helsingin Sanomat reports that smoke from forest fires in Russia's Leningrad district has again arrived in Finland. During the afternoon, the smoke content of the air in Finland's capital city Helsinki rose to ten times the normal, and is still increasing. The authorities are urging people who suffer smoke-related symptoms to go indoors and close their windows.

See also: Russia Choking Finland

British Naiveté in the War on Terror

The background to the revelation that Britain has indirectly been supplying Hizballah terrorists with night-vision equipment shows how naive the British authorities have been in their dealings with Iran.

The batch of 250 night-vision systems received a special export licence in 2003 because they were "supposed" to be used by Tehran in efforts to stop drug smuggling. Iran merely forwarded the gear to Hizballah as part of a shipment of arms and equipment. Thus, a policy of "constructive engagement" with the enemies of the West has once again led to a situation where the West is conniving in its own defeat.

Some Finns Show Support for Israel

A section of Finnish public opinion has challenged the anti-Israeli attitudes and policies of Finland's left-wing political leadership.

From Arutz Sheva: a large crowd in central Helsinki, Finland, took to the streets on Sunday
to demonstrate its support for Israel. Almost a week after the end of the war in Lebanon, an estimated 2,800 demonstrators expressed their support at a solidarity rally that was patrolled by dozens of police officers.

Among the demonstrators were many members of the local Jewish community, alongside non-Jewish Finns. “We decided to show the citizens of Helsinki another point of view,” said businessman Yaron Goresh, who has been living in Finland for the past 18 years. “Every day at 5:00 p.m., the Muslim community holds an anti-Israel demonstration opposite the embassy. So we decided to answer them.”
Ynet has a report here.

Hufvustadsbladet writes about the event here (in Swedish).

See also: Finland's Reservists Say No

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hizballah's Russian Weapons

RFE/RL reports on Russian arms shipments that are currently arriving in Syria, containing weapons that are being passed to Hizballah:

August 20, 2006 -- The daily Israeli newspaper "Maariv" says Israel has provided Moscow with documents and pictures that prove Hizballah used Russian-made weapons during the recent fighting in Lebanon.

The newspaper quotes unidentified senior security officials as saying that an Israeli delegation presented the evidence during a recent visit to Moscow. The report says the weapons had been provided by Russia for the Syrian Army.

The officials say a fresh Russian arms shipment is due to arrive in Syria in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Israel has set up a ministerial working group on Syria.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's office said in a statement today the group is to make a diplomatic assessment concerning Syria. The statement said the assignment was not related to "any type of negotiations" with Damascus.

Media reports, however, say the group will submit an assessment on the prospects for renewing peace talks with Syria, which have been stalled since 2000. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war.
See also:
Russia Is Arming Hizballah

Grass - II

In the New York Sun, Daniel Johnson has written a powerful and damning indictment of the Nobel Prize-winning German author Günter Grass:

Open Letter to Günter Grass - Part I

Open Letter to Günter Grass - Part II

(via Melanie Phillips)

The Wrong Umarov

A few days ago, the Moscow-backed Chechen authorities were boasting about the surrender of Ichkerian President Doku Umarov.

However, subsequent statements retracted this claim: the authorities now said it was Doku Umarov's younger brother who had given himself up.

Now it turns out that Doku Umarov doesn't have a younger brother...

Finland's Reservists Say No

It looks as though there may be some difficulty in sending a Finnish peacekeeping battalion to take part in the proposed U.N. force in South Lebanon. Although Finland's former chief of defence General Gustav Hägglund has publicly stated his view that Finland should join the force, Finland's military reservists are of a different opinion, and are opposed to the move.

The Finnish Reservists' Association (Suomen Reserviläisliitto) has issued a statement that concords with the widely held view that Israel is responsible for the death of a Finnish UN observer when the UNTSO post at Khiam, South Lebanon, was hit during an Israeli airstrike on Hizballah positions in late July. The statement, issued by the association's chairman, Osmo Suominen, considers that the attack on the UNTSO post was intentional.

Finland's Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet writes that
Suominen expressed surprise at the Finnish decision-makers' toothless approach to the issue and wondered why the incident did not lead Finland to give Israel a diplomatic note or why the [Finnish] ambassador was not recalled for discussions with the foreign minister.

According to Suominen, as Finland currently holds the EU's presidency, it should have demanded that those responsible be held to account and that the EU should discuss a trade embargo or other sanctions against Israel.

The Reservists' Association has 33,000 members divided among 359 member groups.
Such hostile attitudes towards Israel are widespread in Finnish public opinion. The reservists' statement is all the more remarkable coming from an organization which has as its main aim "the strengthening of the national defense will".

See also in this blog: Finland and the War in Lebanon

Saturday, August 19, 2006


The German novelist Gunter Grass — who served in the Wehrmacht — recently lectured in the New York Times about postwar “power blocs,” in terms that suggested the Soviets and the Americans had been morally equivalent. German problems of reunification, he tells us, were mostly due to a capitalist West, not a Communist East that caused them.
Victor Davis Hanson, writing in 2005

On Anti-Americanism

Anti-Americanism is a phenomenon as old, actually even older, than the United States itself. Although it has gone through various periods and emphases, the main themes have remained remarkably consistent, long predating either the influence of Hollywood or America being a great power internationally. Two of the most important are the vision of the United States as a bad society, which threatens to become the model for the whole world, and that of America as seeking global conquest.

For example, the first clear statement of anti-Americanism came from the French lawyer Simon Linguet in the 1780s. The dregs of Europe, he warned, would build a dreadful society in America, create a strong army, take over Europe, and destroy civilization. If one were to be talking about the spread of notions like democracy and liberty, Linguet’s fear was something of a personal premonition. A few years later, he was guillotined by the French revolution.

Similarly, the first use of the word “Americanization” has been traced to an 1867 article in a French journal which warned that the import of American agricultural machinery would end with the elimination of French culture. It is no accident that France has long been the global capital of anti-Americanism. Indeed, the level of hatred toward the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as other decades, has been arguably higher than today.

Barry Rubin, Understanding Anti-Americanism

Friday, August 18, 2006

Repression of Cuban Journalists - II

Via Reporters Without Borders, an excerpt from the case of one of the 25 Cuban journalists currently serving long terms of imprisonment in Cuban jails:

Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona

Arrested on 18 March 2003 at his home in Pinar del Rio.

Sentenced on 30 March to 26 years in prison (one of the heaviest sentences imposed on the independent journalists) by the Pinar del Rio provincial people’s court. The prosecution asked for life imprisonment. Aged 51.

Arrest and trial

The verdict was announced at the end of a single hearing that lasted 12 hours (for four defendants). The court appointed a defence lawyer because Arroyo refused to choose one, saying the outcome of the trial had been decided in advance. He was accused of "undermining national independence and territorial integrity" and the judge called him a "traitor to Cuba" and "lackey of the US government."

When the verdict was announced, he consoled his mother, Martha Carmona, and wife, Elsa González Padrón, who were present. "Don’t be upset, I’m not going to die in jail," he said.

He was sent to prison in Guantanamo, 1,100 km from where he lived.

Police searched his home and seized a computer, fax, camera and cash and used his Transcard credit card to draw out $100 he had in his account. A TV set and furniture were sequestered in the house.

- Arroyo has belonged to the UPECI (Independent Cuban Journalists and Writers Union) agency since 1996 and contributed to the website CubaNet and Radio Marti.

- He has been in prison twice before.
The first time was in 1996 for publishing an unauthorised article called "El Tabaco," criticising tobacco growing methods in Pinar del Rio, where the famous Havana cigars are produced.

He was jailed again on 14 February 2000 and sentenced this time to six months in prison for "possessing public property," an offence that had been dropped in practice since the dollarisation of the economy. He had bought toys in hard-currency shops in Pinar del Rio that he was going to hand out to poor children in the city as part of the "Three Kings of the Millennium" project funded by the diaspora to revive the traditional Catholic Three Kings Day festival in Cuba. The toys were confiscated and have not been returned.

- He also ran one of the biggest independent libraries in Cuba (part of the Varela Project network), containing about 5,000 books.

In prison

On 14 April, Cubanet printed an open letter from him to foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque describing as a "badly-concocted joke" the minister’s 24 March remarks to the foreign media that prisoners were being treated well and without being humiliated." The journalist noted that the 75 dissidents arrested in 2003 had been imprisoned very far from their home towns. He accused the authorities of keeping them shut up for months in windowless cells, with no right to use the telephone, with bad food and with little medical care that was also used as a means of pressure.

A article on 10 June reported that the health of Cubanet journalist Víctor Rolando Arroyo was very worrying. He has high blood pressure, headaches and diarrhea and has lost between 15 and 20 kg since he was imprisoned. Nonetheless, he was moved to a punishment cell for protesting against the way a fellow inmate was treated. Although the 21-day punishment period established in the regulations has elapsed, he is still in solitary confinement. Most of the letters sent by his wife Elsa González Padrón have not been delivered. reported on 16 July that Victor Rolando Arroyo was not receiving the necessary treatment for the high blood pressure and infection he is suffering from. He has also been banned from leaving his cell.
Read it all.

Ceasefire in Trouble

As the precarious ceasefire in Lebanon continues to look increasingly fragile, GLORIA director Barry Rubin writes in the Jerusalem Post about precedents for the present situation, including the United States response to Pearl Harbor, the Allied resurgence in Europe after 1941, and Israel's own comeback after the Yom Kippur War of 1973:
If the war restarts, Hizbullah is going to face far greater pressures, especially since the Israeli government's leaders have already been harshly criticized for going too slowly in the ground offensive.

And that is not all. Hizbullah may face a two-front war. Lebanese Christians, Druze and Sunnis, the majority of the population, are largely angry at how Hizbullah dragged their country into a war and is increasingly subjugating it to Iran and Syria.

Israel and the British Media

Interviewed in the JC, Shuli Davidovitch, the departing Israeli press attaché in London, talks about her time in Britain and her view of the British media coverage of the crisis. She is heartened by the fact that not all the British press is anti-Israel, and that some papers at least, including the Times, the Telegraph, the Sun, the Express and the Spectator, do try to give a balanced view of the situation. On the other hand, she comments:
"Definitely some papers never give any credit to Israel... for some people, especially on papers such as The Guardian and the Independent, the human face of the Israeli doesn't exist. It's always the helmet, the rifle, the aggressor, the occupier. You can have the most pleasant meetings and lunches with them, but it's frustrating, because you feel that what you say falls on deaf ears."

The Independent, Davidovitch notes, had launched a campaign in conjunction with the Save the Children charity. "Lebanese children, because - of course - Israeli children aren't suffering. When it comes to human misery in Israel, you don't see it. Israeli refugees don't exist." Another example: the mayor of Sderot wrote an op-ed talking about the daily firing of Qassam rockets at his town, but, she says, The Guardian refused to take his article. And, "during the academic boycott, one of the commentators on Ma'ariv offered an op-ed and didn't even get a reply. I mean, be polite."

The Spider's Web

Some faint echoes surrounding the two recent airport security scares.

Several of the intelligence "experts" called in by Sky, BBC and CNN on Thursday referred to the fact that both of the suspect individuals were women, and were at pains to point out a possible link - centred on the notion of precedents - to the "Chechen Black Widows" episode of August 2004, when two Russian airliners were blown out of the sky by what Russian authorities claimed were Chechen suicide bombers, though this has never established by independent inquiry. The expert advice sounded suspiciously like a propaganda opportunity for someone.

Huntington, W. Virginia brings to mind Reston, N. Virginia. It's in Reston that in May this year a server began to host strange mutations of the extremist but also FSB-infiltrated Kavkaz Centre website. Probably quite unrelated, but it's hard to avoid reflecting that the general edginess now afflicting airline travel around the world may be fertile ground for the growing of various intelligence-led fantasies and disinformation campaigns. Countries such as Iran, Syria and the Russian Federation have much to gain in terms of destabilizing the West's security arrangements.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Russia's Role in the Lebanon Crisis

AIA has published a detailed analysis of Russia's involvement in the Lebanon crisis, giving a day-by-day account of the Kremlin's machinations as it sought - somewhat ineffectively - to create the image of Moscow as a "peacemaker" and intermediary. The article reveals the elaborate lengths to which the Russian leadership is evidently prepared to go in the course of this process, showing how it switched between statements that appeared to support "Israel's right to live in conditions of safety" and public utterances and discussions that suggested the exact opposite. Putin's "right to live" statement of July 25 was followed only two days later by a meeting that contradicted it entirely:
In two days the Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Oleg Ozerov, was taking part in a "round table" discussion that had gathered Russian diplomats and experts, Lebanese and Palestinian politicians and journalists. With Ozerov's tacit consent, the participants of the forum declared Israel "the shock-troops of global fascism", and Ozerov himself accused Israelis of the attempts "to bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age". On July 31, the Russian Foreign Ministry subjected Tel Aviv to strictures for "the gross violation of elementary norms of international humanitarian rights". On a level with this, three days later, again in a Foreign Ministry statement, it was marked that "there are no doubts on the necessity of providing security of Israel, preclusion of bombardments of the Israeli territory and acts of terror with the victims among civilians".
The article reaches the conclusion that Russian Middle East policy has not yet greatly evolved since the Soviet era. Moscow still tries to appear as a "mediator" in the conflict, while in general following a pro-Arab line which does not, however, commit it to direct action. Its statements and actions are a balancing act that is founded on simulation. The consequences of this are not without danger:
Fundamental revision of its regional policy is required to change the status of Russia in the Middle East. Most likely, at least up to the 2008 presidential elections, the Kremlin would be not making such a decision. Accordingly, in the immediate future, Russia will continue to simulate an active participation in the further settlement of the Middle East conflict, simultaneously playing no essential role in it. One should expect that, as before, this will be widely used by the conservative regimes and radical elements in the region, in particular Iran, Syria, HAMAS and Hezbollah. Factually not reckoning with Russia’s interests, they are considering the "Russian factor" as one of the elements of restraint of activity of the United States in the Middle East, and also within the frame of strengthening of their own international position.

Repression of Cuban Journalists

Tomorrow, August 18, is an international day of protest on behalf of 25 journalists currently being held in Cuban prisons by the Cuban government. Most of the journalists are in poor health, serving lengthy sentences, and being subjected to ill treatment under harsh conditions.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) lists the names of the imprisoned journalists, who are serving terms ranging from 1 to 27 years, as:

Ricardo González Alfonso; Víctor Rolando Arroyo; Normando Hernández González, Julio César Gálvez; Adolfo Fernández Sainz; Omar Rodríguez Saludes; Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez; Mijaíl Barzaga Lugo; Pedro Arguelles Morán; Pablo Pacheco Avila; Alejandro González Raga; Alfredo Pulido López; Fabio Prieto Llorente; Iván Hernández Carrillo; José Luis García Paneque; Juan Carlos Herrera; Miguel Galván Gutiérrez; José Ubaldo Izquierdo; Omar Ruiz Hernández; José Gabriel Ramón Castillo; Léster Luis González Pentó Alfredo Felipe Fuentes; José Manuel Caraballo Bravo; and Oscar Mario González.

The IAPA is appealing for mass editorials in newspapers and other media to highlight the journalists's case, to urge their release, and to call for an end to Cuban government harassment of independent journalists.



The American Thinker
Val Prieto/Michelle Malkin
Uncommon Sense
Wall Street Cafe

Primakov on Lebanon

Moscow's true intentions regarding the Middle East conflict and Russia's role in it can be gleaned quite clearly from this RFE/RL Newsline report on recent remarks by Yevgeny Primakov:


Middle East expert and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was quoted by "Izvestia" on August 17 as saying that Israel prepared its recent incursion into Lebanon "for a very long bring about the collapse of Lebanon...and a possible civil war." He argued that the Israelis hoped that other elements in Lebanese society would then rally against Hizballah and destroy its power. Primakov believes that Israel was prepared to bomb Syria and Iran if they became involved in the conflict. He said that Israel did not succeed in its objectives, however, and must now return to the negotiating table, where Russia will play a key role. Primakov believes that there is little danger of a major confrontation emerging in the immediate future in the Middle East because the United States has no interest in one in the run-up to the November mid-term elections. He added that he hopes that Washington has "drawn the conclusion" from the latest crisis that it was unwise "to export democracy and revolution around the world. The Trotskyites have already shown that this is a hopeless task." Primakov recently said the United States would not mind seeing Syria and Iran dragged into the Lebanese conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). PM

Israel: the Polish Analogy

In NRO, Jonah Goldberg discusses the role of Israel as the focal point of a struggle that is not only one between the West and its enemies, but also between the twin evils of al-Qaeda and Hizballah:
It’s clear that Israel isn’t going to be a Czechoslovakia thrown over the side by the West. What’s less clear is whether it might eventually become a Poland, a nation carved up under a temporary truce between twin evils (the so-called Hitler-Stalin pact) before they went at each other’s throats.
(via Rumanian Minorities)

Russia Choking Finland

For the past two weeks, scores of apparently out-of-control forest fires raging in Russia's Leningrad district, adjacent to Finland, have caused severe air pollution. A report in the Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet claims that the smoke is costing Finland's health services tens of millions of euros, as more and more Finns, mainly the elderly and the infirm (especially sufferers from lung and heart disease), have to visit hospital for treatment. Some rainshowers in recent days have improved the air quality somewhat, but it is still as poor as in the most polluted regions of Europe, a health spokesman is reported as saying.

See also in this blog: Forest Fires in Estonia

Kuriles Incident

From RFE/RL's Newsline (August 16):


A Russian patrol boat on August 16 fired on the Japanese fishing schooner "Kisshin Maru No. 31" near Kaigara Island in the southern Kuriles, which are held by Russia but claimed by Japan, and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 14, 2005, and February 22, March 23, and August 3, 2006). One fisherman died in the gunfire, the first fatality since October 1956 in an area where maritime incidents are otherwise common. Russian officials took the Japanese ship, the remaining three crew members, and the body of the dead fisherman to Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Interfax reported. The Military Prosecutor's Office in Sakhalin is investigating the incident, in which Russian officials claim that the "Kisshin Maru" ignored repeated warnings to stop. The Japanese authorities are also investigating. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has lodged a protest with the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, calling the killing "totally unacceptable" and demanding compensation and the repatriation of the crew. The Russians rejected the claim on the grounds that the schooner had violated Russian territorial waters, RIA Novosti reported. Russian officials said that the crew lacked documents or other identification, and that the ship carried a large quantity of illegally caught crab and octopus. The Russian authorities will file criminal charges against the Japanese captain for illegal entry into Russian waters. PM

Force Without Justice

From Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

August 16 2006

Lawyer beaten by police official in Chechnya

By Umalt Chadayev

GROZNY, Chechnya – On August 15 the acting head of the police station in Chechnya’s Urus-Martanovsky district struck the lawyer of one of the detained. This has been revealed by members of the Memorial human rights centre.

According to existing information, on the afternoon of August 15, Zhabrail Abubakarov, a lawyer of the Chechen Bar Association, arrived at the Urus-Martanovsky district police station with his client Adam Pidiyev in order to take part in investigative inquiries. After acquainting himself with a number of materials relating to the case, the lawyer accompanied by the investigator went up to the second floor of the building in order to make a photocopy of one of the documents. In one of the offices. Abubakarov noticed some police officials whom he knew, entered the office and greeted them.

"One of the officials in the room, Umalatov, the police station’s acting head, demanded in a coarse manner that the lawyer explain why he had mentioned him in his letters of complaint. (Umalatov was formerly the investigator of the Pidiyev case, which Abubakarov is defending)", a Memorial human rights worker says.

"To this, Abubakarov replied that during the period of the investigation Umalatov had exerted psychological pressure on his client, and because of this he had written a letter requesting that Pidiyev be re-interrogated at Pre-Trial Detention Centre (SIZO) No. 1 in Grozny".

"Thereupon Umalatov, insulting both the lawyer and his client in language that can’t be quoted, leapt up from his seat and punched Abubakarov in the face, after which he grabbed him by the throat and tried to punch him again. However, Abubakarov managed to break free and leave the building," the human rights activist says.

"Abubakarov has written to Russia’s Procurator General requesting that criminal proceedings be opened against the police officer who attacked him, and also that his client Adam Pidiyev be transferred from the Urus-Martanovsky district police station to Grozny’s Pre-Trial Detention Centre No. 1. The lawyer fears that after the recent incident Umalatov may apply physical coercion to his client."

According to information obtained by Memorial, five lawyers have gone missing in Chechnya during the years of the second Chechen war. Two of them were found murdered, while the fate of the others is still unknown.

"What happened to Zhabrail Abubakarov is of course outrageous," said Shakhman Akbulatov, director of Memorial’s North Caucasus office.

"But this is far from the first case of coercion (including physical coercion) being applied to lawyers by the state’s investigative bodies. If those bodies allow lawyers to be treated in this fashion, then it may be imagined how suspects and the accused are dealt with. Confessions are often "knocked out" of them by means of blackmail, threats and direct physical pressure. Unfortunately, this is a widespread practice."

Translated by David McDuff.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Terror Topics

Jamestown's Global Terrorism Analysis has some items of interest today:

1) Abdul Hameed Bakier discusses the easy availability on the Web of instructions for making liquid explosives. Sites offering detailed information include the website of the Palestinian al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade. This is one site that today's meeting of interior ministers and EU officials might have wanted to direct its attention to.

2) Michael Scheuer examines the London airline terror plot, observing that
perhaps most troubling for the West, there is no sign that any of the 24 Islamists arrested last week in the United Kingdom were motivated by their hatred for Britain's or the West's freedoms, liberties and lifestyle—the motivation most frequently attributed to Islamist fighters by the West's political leaders and media. The arrested men, moreover, were not impoverished and uneducated—two more of the factors that Western leaders hold as major motivations for terrorists. Most of the arrested were middle-class individuals with jobs, wives, children and futures; several were ardent soccer fans; one was a record company executive; and another was a university student in biomedicine (Time, August 11).
3) Andrew McGregor looks at Hizballah's creative use of anti-tank weaponry, much of it either Russian-designed or Russian-supplied.

Breaking the Status Quo

George Friedman, in his latest special report for Stratfor on the Middle East conflict, considers that Israel has lost an important psychological battle in its struggle with Hizballah. While in 1973 Egypt withdrew its forces and accepted the arrangement whereby the Sinai was turned into a buffer zone, and Syria stopped making direct challenges to Israeli power in the region, preferring to seek accommodation with Israel, Hizballah has now broken that status quo:
In this conflict, what Hezbollah has achieved is not so much a defeat of Israel as a demonstration that destruction in detail is not an inevitable outcome of challenging Israel. Hezbollah has showed that it is possible to fight to a point that Israel prefers a cease-fire and political settlement to a military victory followed by political accommodation. Israel might not have lost any particular battle, and a careful analysis of the outcome could prove its course to be reasonable. But the loss of the sense -- and historical reality -- of the inevitability of Israeli military victory is a far more profound defeat for Israel, as this clears the way for other regional powers to recalculate risks.
Friedman supposes that neither Hizballah nor its Syrian and Iranian backers expected such an outcome. The question now, he suggests, is how they will utilize that outcome, having achieved it.