Saturday, March 31, 2007

Combating Press Freedom

From a recent Reuters report (via LN):

The United Nations top human rights body condemned “defamation” of religion on Friday and, in an apparent reference to the storm over the Prophet cartoons, said press freedom had its limits.

With the support of China, Russia and Cuba, Moslem and Arab states comfortably won a vote on the 47-state Human Rights Council to express concern at “negative stereotyping” of religions and “attempts to identify Islam with terrorism”.

RFE/RL has a further report.

And there's a graphic comment here. (hat tip: JP)

Friday, March 30, 2007

RCFS at Vienna

Although its relations with NGOs in general are increasingly frosty, the Russian government seems to have taken an especial dislike to the Russian Chechen Friendship Society, which a Russian court recently ordered to be dissolved. The main reason for the hostility -which exceeds the norm in such cases - appears to be the fact that the Society once published some public statements by Aslan Maskhadov (murdered by Russian forces in March 2005) and Akhmed Zakayev (now living in London, England). This, it appears, is enough to brand the RCFS as an “extremist organization”.

Now Russian representatives at the OSCE are objecting to an invitation issued to the RCFS to attend the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Assembly, Association and Expression that is currently taking place in Vienna, Austria.

Oksana Chelysheva writes (via JP):
I am in Vienna now at the OSCE meeting. The day was really horrible as the Russian official delegation kept labelling us terrorists. One “political technologist from the Kremlin’s public chamber even insulted me in public…

Their behaviour is so absurdly stupid that all the delegations here are expressing their indignation. Except the Spanish who want “to make the balance” and not “offend their Russian friends”. I am coping with it although it really hurts.
As an honorary member of the RCFS, I protest against the behaviour of the Russian authorities, which is surely counter-productive, and will only serve to increase antipathy between Russia and the West.

Dudayev's Man

In Chechnya Weekly, political analyst Mayrbek Vachagayev has some interesting comments on the recent appointment of Supyan Abdullayev as Ichkerian vice-president:
After the First Chechen War, Supyan Abdullaev held the rank of colonel and following the appointment of Islam Khalimov to the post of minister of internal affairs in 1997, became his deputy. Both of the men left the ministry following the gun battle in Gudermes between the Salafites and the supporters of Aslan Maskhadov on July 15, 1998. In the aftermath, Abdullaev grew distant from politics and was well known as a “second stringer.”

During the Second Chechen War, Supyan entered the ranks of the resistance in the very beginning, and even though he was a dzhamaat member, remained loyal to Aslan Maskhadov. Known for his calm and deliberate manner, Abdullaev never became part of any internal disputes and reached the level of brigadier general by the end of the conflict. He also started out as a leader of a dzhamaat and eventually became the commander of a front and a member of the Maskhadov government (, August 5, 2004).

The choice was made in favor of Abdullaev because he is a member of the old guard who began his career with Dzhokhar Dudaev. Even though he was not one of the primary figures during that time, his involvement with the resistance traces back to the early 1990’s; today, there are very few remaining who have experienced both of the Chechen wars. And it is because of this that Dokka Umarov chose this man out of his group of comrades that have been in close contact with him for almost twenty years.

This is not, however, the only reason for Abdullaev’s new position. The leader of the Chechen resistance movement understands that Supyan has significant influence over the Salafites, who are one of the best-organized groups within the Dagestani dzhamaat. This is an important concern for Umarov, since the “Shariat” dzhamaat of Dagestan has recently followed in the footsteps of Karachai’s dzhamaat by creating its own website. This is a notable departure from the times of Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, when all of the dzhamaats were united in using the services of the “Kavkaz-Center” internet portal controlled by Movladi Udugov.

Imperial March

On April 8 Moscow will be the scene of an “Imperial March”, organized by the Eurasian Youth Union.

It will be interesting to see if police take action of the kind that was taken against the recent “March of the Dissenters” (Marsh nesoglasnykh) in St Petersburg, and even more so against a similarly-titled march that took place in Nizhny Novgorod on March 24,and was actually broken up by police.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The President and the Ambassador

A press release from the office of Estonia’s President:

Today, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves received Dr. Reza Nazarahari, Iran’s Ambassador to Estonia, who presented his credentials to the Estonian Head of State.

During the conversation that followed, the President of the State revealed that the European Union is concerned regarding Iran’s extended presence in the international spotlight in association with the problems surfacing in co-operation with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and now also due to the arrest of the British marines.

“We are anticipating that all the British marines that were detained on 23th March, would be released as soon as possible,” told the Estonian Head of State to the Iranian Ambassador.

In addition, President Ilves expressed his hope that in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1747, Iran will transform the Iran’s nuclear programme to comply with the requirements of IAEA.

“Estonia has high hopes that Iran would lean towards the diplomatic solution, opting for the so called stimulus package presented by the European Union in June last year,” stated the Estonian Head of State. “The very package could form a basis for a long term agreement that would allow Iran to develop modern civilian nuclear technology in compliance with the IAEA standards.”

Dr. Reza Nazarahari, Iranian Ambassador, affirmed that Iranian authorities are working to address the issue of the arrested British marines.

Ambassador Nazarahari, residing in Helsinki, Finland, took an opportunity to introduce the various possibilities of economic partnership and tourism between Estona and Iran.

(via LN)

Islamism and Communism

At Counterterrorism Blog, Lorenzo Vidino discusses the links in Italy between Islamist forces and those of the extreme left, and focuses his attention on recent statements by a prominent Islamist and former militant Communist who gave a speech in which the example of the street riots in France two years ago was held up as a model for other radical forces around the world to follow. Vidino concludes:

Piccardo’s speech seems that of a Communist leader, rather than that of the leader of one of Italy’s most important Muslim organization. An explanation can be found in Piccardo’s past involvement in the militant Communist underworld. Before his conversion to Islam in 1975, Piccardo had been a member of Autonomia Operaia, one of Italy’s most radical leftist formations during the 1970s. Piccardo, like other UCOII members that come from the radical left, dreams of a fusion of Communist and Islamist ideologies, with anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism as the glues for this odd marriage. The UCOII case is not an isolated example of the alliance between far left and radical Islam in Europe. Another notorious example is Respect, the unlikely political formation borne out of the alliance between the Brotherhood-linked Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and fringe leftist groups headed by George Galloway. The phenomenon needs to be monitored, as the repercussions for both the security and the social cohesion of Europe can be serious.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Estonian Coalition Formed

The leaders of three Estonian political parties have now initialled a coalition agreement, Postimees reports. Andrus Ansip, Pro Patria and Res Publica Alliance (IRL) leader Mart Laar and Social Democrat chairman Ivari Padar finalised their discussions at the government residence on Toompea today. Not all cabinet positions have yet been assigned, but the run-down so far looks like the following:

IRL: speaker of parliament, five ministerial portfolios (ministries of defence, education, agriculture, economy, regional development) as well as heads of three parliamentary commissions (EU, environment and law commission).

Reform Party: prime minister and deputy speaker of parliament, five heads of ministries (ministries of foreign affairs, justice, environment, culture and social Affairs), plus chairs of four commissions in the parliament (financial, economic, defence, constitutional).

SDP: three ministerial positions (ministry of finance, interior ministry, ministry of population), plus heads of four commissions: foreign affairs, social affairs, cultural affairs and rural life.

(hat tip: LN)

Litvinenko: Russian investigators now in London

Interfax reports that

Russian investigators probing the murder of former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Litvinenko are in London, where they are expected to question more than 100 people, including exiled businessman
Boris Berezovsky.

Interfax learned on Tuesday that a delegation headed by Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev left for the United Kingdom a day earlier.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Avoidance of the Past

Commenting on Russia’s recent criticism of the March 25 commemoration of the 1949 deportations in Estonia, Vladimir Socor writes that

At the societal level […] Russia has not experienced the post-totalitarian process known in post-totalitarian Germany as Vergangenheits-Bewaeltigung, the paradigmatic “coming to terms” with history, including its crimes. Absent such coming to terms, many Russian officials and citizens tend to confuse occupations and annexations with liberations, cling to symbols of brutal conquest as attributes of national prestige, and seem startled when confronted with these issues. The aborted coming to terms with Soviet history is casting shadows on Russia’s relations with its neighbors.

Pictures of Grozny

Julia at Kunstkamera LiveJournal blog has posted a remarkable series of recent photographs taken in Grozny, the capital city of Chechnya.

(hat tip: TV)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Review of a review of a review

Norbert Strade has written a review of Edward Lucas’s Economist review of Tony Wood’s new book Chechnya - The Case for Independence, of which I’ve only so far read excerpts.

I think Norbert’s comments are justified with regard to the obvious tendency of Western media to apply to the Chechen conflict criteria and priorities that are simply not adequate to its nature. After all, it’s a conflict that really belongs, in a certain sense, to an earlier phase of modern history, and is more akin to events like the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

On the other hand, there may be other, additional reasons for the “resistance to information” of which Norbert writes. It’s unfortunate, for example, that the cause of Chechen independence should have been taken up by organisations in the West - mostly on the left wing of politics - whose commitment to democracy in general is shaky, to say the least. And sources like the propaganda website of Kavkaz Center, with its extreme anti-Western bias, also do little to help in this regard.

It still seems to me that the best hope lies with the non-political watchdogs and NGOs, both inside and outside Russia, which can at least record the humanitarian situation in Chechnya on a week-by-week basis, and can provide the missing information, even if it’s often ignored by the rest of the media.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shooting in Urdyukhoi

A news report which shows that atrocities by federal forces against civilians in Chechnya continue. The noncombatants in this case were three women gathering wild leeks (cheremsha) near their home village of Urdyukhoi in southern Chechnya.

An interesting but tragic detail not included in the Interfax report, but mentioned in a REGNUM bulletin cited by, is that two of the women were apparently wearing camouflage jackets.
Military suspected of firing at noncombatants in Chechnya - ombudsman

GROZNY. March 24 (Interfax) - A group of soldiers suspected of firing at noncombatants has been detained in Chechnya, Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, Chechnya’s ombudsman, told Interfax.

“Law enforcement agencies arrested Lieut. Col. Alexei Korgun, the commander of a reconnaissance squad of the Shatoi military commandant’s office, and several of his subordinates,” the ombudsman said.

“Materials gathered by investigators show that Korgun’s group deliberately opened fire at women gathering wild leeks,” he said.

“This happened in the afternoon. The military clearly saw that they were females, and any mistake should be ruled out,” Nukhazhiyev said.

According to earlier reports, one woman was killed and two others wounded.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov held a conference in Grozny on Saturday, at which he instructed the Chechen prosecutor’s office, the military prosecutor’s office of the combined forces in the North Caucasus, and the Chechen police “to carry out an investigation into the death and wounding of the women.”

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Street Children in Chechnya

Via Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

Large numbers of street children discovered in Chechnya

By Ruslan Isayev

CHECHNYA, March 23, 2007 – The Chechen Interior Ministry’s “Operation Homeless Child” has identified 1,000 children who are involved in vagrancy. Even allowing for the fact that the republic has experienced two wars, this figure is a very large one.

In the scramble for the political dividends to be obtained from various amnesties, reconstruction projects and other much-bruited activities, street children have escaped the attention of Chechen society and the Chechen leadership.

But even now, when a peacetime mode of existence is becoming quite clearly established, the numbers of such children are increasing rather than the reverse. Over the past year, some 800 of them have been discovered. And about a thousand parents have been taken to court for child neglect.

The “difficult” children, as they are called by the staff of the republic’s juvenile rehabilitation inspectorates, are now approaching their favourite time of year, when it becomes possible for them to sleep out in the open. With the arrival of spring, their numbers usually increase.

The lives of such children have a rather narrow focus, which is centred mostly on begging, stealing, or at best a job at a gas station. Many of them start smoking or experimenting with alcohol at any early age. The most common activity is glue-sniffing. Before the war, foreign cameramen could literally “smell out” the places where such children were hiding, and the estranged faces of young drug addicts often appeared in the world’s television news.

Rustam was only 10 when the second war began. His was the usual fate of the neglected child : divorced parents, a bad stepmother, a drunken father. Now he is almost 17. He has a job as an ancillary worker on a construction site, and earns around 300 roubles (about $12) a day. He is going to get married. He likes to remember the time when he was homeless. “They were the freest years of my life,” he jokes.

“For example, there are an awful lot of homeless kids in the village of Chernorechye [on the outskirts of Grozny], where I live. They live in basements and abandoned houses. I know some of them. I even tried to drag one of them out of there. I told a police officer I knew, and he took the boy home. But then he ran away from home again. Now he’s in custody, charged with a criminal offence. A lot of kids end their childhood like that – behind bars.”

He is sure that such children bring shame on all Chechens, who have always been proud of their traditions. When adults see street children, they pretend not to notice them, and some just swear at them.

At one point, Rustam was put in a children’s home in Ingushetia. But a few days later he ran away from there. He said he didn’t like it when the staff shouted at him. He thinks it’s a good thing that the children’s homes are being closed down, because the children in them were not being educated but morally crippled.

The measures taken by the authorities to identify neglected children in Chechnya have shown the seriousness of the problem this situation could lead to. Many observers are of the opinion that children of this kind need an individual approach, and a special program.

Although many Chechens would be glad to adopt children from the disbanded orphanages, it is doubtful that any families would take in children whose mental and physical health has been already been ruined by smoking and drinking, or who are addicted to glue-sniffing

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cuba-Sweden row deepens

Via the BBC:
Sweden’s foreign minister is standing by his criticism of Cuba’s human rights record, as a diplomatic row between the two countries shows no sign of abating.

Cuba responded to Carl Bildt’s comments at the UN by deriding what it called Sweden’s imperial past.

Mr Bildt has hit back describing Havana’s response as “a desperate attack by a desperate regime”.

He also told the BBC that diplomatic mail at the Swedish embassy in Havana was being tampered with.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chechen Society Today

My digest of items in the new issue (from Prague Watchdog):

Tenth issue of the monthly Chechen Society Today released

PRAGUE, March 22 - The tenth issue of the monthly Chechenskoye obshchestvo segodnya (Chechen Society Today) has been released.

The second issue of 2007 presents a wide spectrum of writing about people and events associated with the past, present and future of Chechnya. Personal memoirs and historical studies rub shoulders with informal articles about contemporary life in the republic and interviews with Chechen celebrities.

In an opening editorial column, Zara Osmayeva describes the advent of spring in Grozny, a time of change given special emphasis this year by the appointment of a new president, and discusses the links between Grozny and Moscow, two cities that seem to exist in a symbiotic, “love-hate” relationship.

Kommersant’s Musa Muradov discusses the possibility that the new Chechen president really will keep his promise to reconsider the cases of Chechen residents who were jailed on fabricated charges during the two recent wars, and to bring them back to Chechnya from the prisons in other parts of Russia where they are currently being held.

An article on 20th century Chechen history by Professor Isa Kasin discusses the geopolitical trading at the Cecilienhof Potsdam Conference of 1945 in the context of the Caucasus deportations and Stalin’s territorial designs on Turkey, and this leads on to a remarkable set of memoirs by two female witnesses and survivors of the Chechen deportation of 1944, transcribed and edited by Tamara Chagayeva.

Other notable items in this issue include the story of Malika and her daughter Dzhamilya, who survived the holocaust of the two recent wars, told in a moving essay by Tatyana Gantimurova; a report on a new exhibition and associated website based in Catalonia, Spain, that aim to break the silence about the human rights situation in Chechnya; a feature about a Chechen orphan’s search for her family – a quest that ultimately had a happy ending; a selection of readers’ letters; an interview with Chechen singer Elina Murtazaliyeva in which she talks to Amina Gelagayeva about her early training, her career and and her hopes for the future; an account of the musical past of well-known photographer Mikhail Patalov; a portrait of Chechen athlete Rustam Dzhabrailov; and the first part of Elimbek Matsiyev’s historical study of the Sharo-Argun valley in south-eastern Chechnya – a place with an ancient past whose people and scenery once inspired the writing of Russian authors like Pushkin, Lermontov and Tolstoy, and which was the scene of heavy fighting in the second Chechen war.

Visit this page to see and download the latest issue of the Russian-language journal (2(10)/2007).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ilves Extends Condolences

Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has extended his condolences to President Putin in connection with the tragic accidents at the Ulyanovskaya mine in Russia’s Kemerovo region and the Kamyshevatskaya nursing home in the Krasnodar Krai.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kodori Night Attack

Vladimir Socor writes that

Increasing direct evidence as well as strong circumstantial evidence suggests that the air attack on Georgia’s upper Kodori Valley during the night of March 11-12 was carried out by Russian helicopters. An investigative report is due for release in the next few days under a United Nations imprint. The political issue at hand is whether the UN would, as usual, seek to obscure Russia’s responsibility.

Two or three helicopters violated Georgia’s internationally recognized air space over the upper Kodori Valley that night, flying in from Russia’s Karachaevo-Cherkessia region. The helicopters, apparently of the Mi-24 type, fired at least 20 guided projectiles, damaging the local government headquarters, a school, and some other civilian administration buildings in several villages. The damaged building in the village of Chkhalta is shared by the government office and a school.

Shrapnel from those projectiles was collected after the strikes. Some additional shrapnel seems consistent with a reported strike by a ground-launched unguided rocket from the Abkhaz-controlled lower part of Kodori, which is monitored by Russian “peacekeeping” troops. No human casualties were reported (Rustavi-2 and Imedi televisions, March 12-16).
In two closely related articles for EDM, Socor suggests that one of the main reasons for such attacks is that Moscow resents the relative prosperity that has come to the upper Kodori valley area under Georgian protection, showing up the rest of Abkhazia in an unfavourable light. He also notes that if the United Nations report fails to point out Moscow’s responsibility in the matter, and the UNSC takes Russia’s side as it did in October 2006, the Russian authorities - and particularly the Russian military - may feel emboldened to launch more attacks, increasing the escalation still further.

Anna Politkovskaya In Memoriam

Today a worldwide reading of texts and reports by Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered on October 7 2006, will be held in many countries. The event will take place at locations in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Luxemburg, Palestine, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Sweden, the USA, and elsewhere.

For details see the web site of the Peter Weiss Foundation for Art and Politics.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Russian Diary

This week the Guardian is publishing extracts from Anna Politkovskaya’s last book. Today’s excerpt is about the Beslan hostage siege.

Replying to Propaganda

On Friday, Estonia’s London ambassador replied to the propaganda article in the Guardian newspaper by Konstantin Kosachev about Estonia’s role in World War II, and Estonia’s plans to move a war monument from the centre of Tallinn to a cemetery.

Today, a Guardian reader has pointed to the existence of another Tallinn memorial:

There are three memorials in Tallinn which mark not the controversial period
of the second world war for Estonia but Britain’s role in her prewar independence (Letters, March 9).

One is the submarine Lembit, taken by the Soviet navy on the occupation of Estonia in 1940, retired in 1979 and now restored to her 1930s appearance. It is the only British-built submarine of that era preserved afloat anywhere.

A plaque on the city wall near the port, unveiled by Prince Andrew in 1998, commemorates the Royal Navy’s presence in the Baltic in 1918-20, which enabled Estonia and Latvia to declare independence from the Bolshevik USSR.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Misunderstandings from Afar

A recent article by Daniel Pipes called Europe's Stark Options contains paragraphs which clearly show that there is a deep divide between perceptions of reality in some circles on either side of the Atlantic. As one of the “options”, Pipes suggests the following:
A nativist movement throughout Europe is forming largely unnoticed beneath our eyes. However meager its record so far, it has huge potential. Parties opposed to immigration and Islam generally have neo-fascist backgrounds but are growing more respectable over time, shedding their antisemitic origins and their dubious economic theories, focusing instead on the questions of faith, demography, and identity, and learning about Islam and Muslims. The British National Party and Belgium’s Vlaamse Belang offer two examples of such a move toward respectability, which may one day be followed by electability. The presidential race in France in 2002 came down to a contest between Jacques Chirac and the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Not only does this strange article contain no reference to the real problems that beset Europe at the present time, most of which are associated with the resurgence of a powerful Russia and the vicissitudes of energy politics - it fails to acknowledge that Europe is currently undergoing one of the most dramatic and profound changes in its history, changes that are bound up with the reassociation of countries such as Poland, Czechia, Hungary and the Baltic States, the reorganization of NATO, and the future accession of Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states to the European fold.

Instead, the reader is presented with the notion that neo-fascist parties may somehow become “respectable” in Europe, and that this may help to resolve the social problems of the region…

To be fair, however, at the end of the piece, Professor Pipes does acknowledge that from an American perspective
The novelty and magnitude of Europe’s predicament make it difficult to understand, tempting to overlook, and nearly impossible to predict. Europe marches us all into terra incognita.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Partners and Pure-Breds

On April 22 French voters go to the polls for the first round of the 2007 presidential election, with the final round two weeks later. In NRO, Denis Boyles takes a sardonic look at what he calls “The Villepin Effect”:
The most likely outcome, at least at the end of this week, appears to be a Sarkozy-Bayrou match-up in the final round of voting in May. That’s an interesting prospect for two reasons: First, it will demonstrate yet again the irrelevance of any modern political party with pretensions to “socialism” as a guiding economic and political theory. But more important for France, it will be a contest between two candidates who are not énarques—members of the odious, self-serving, pure-bred political élite who have dominated French politics since World War II. Royal is an énarque, as is her “partner,” François Hollande, the leader of the French Socialist party. A defeat of the candidate representing the two most destructive forces in modern French politics will be a victory for the French, no matter who wins.
(hat tip: LN)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Kadyrov accuses Moscow of torture

AP is reporting that Chechnya’s Moscow-backed President Ramzan Kadyrov is accusing Russian federal authorities of torturing detainees at a federal-run facility in the town of Urus-Martan. The facility is controlled by a southern district federal unit known as ORB-2.

The Chechen government website is running a report that a criminal case is to be opened into the matter, and will be handled by the Chechen judicial system.

Anti-Americanism in Britain

Jonathan Foreman, writing in NRO:

I have met senior judges and lawyers who really, truly believe that Blair and Bush lied about WMDs. I pointed out to one top barrister that if Saddam’s WMD threat had been a lie rather than an error, then surely the Coalition would have been better prepared for the moment when no WMDs turned up. Or if the Bush-Blair alliance was so evil, would it not have been willing to fake the discovery of the forbidden weapons? It was clear the barrister had never even thought the matter through.

Moreover the British chattering classes are convinced almost to a man (or woman) that Guantanamo is at best a gulag in which all the detainees are innocent victims of paranoia and aggression, and where the quotidian tortures rival those of the Gestapo. They “know” that the war in Iraq is really about stealing oil, doing Israel’s evil bidding, boosting corporate profits, or some vicious combination of all three. The war in Afghanistan is equally “pointless” and “unwinnable.”

They fully buy the media line that radical Islamism is somehow a creation of these wars rather than a phenomenon that predated 9/11, and that solving the Palestinian question will somehow bring peace between Shia and Sunni and end bin Ladenite dreams of restoring the medieval caliphate.

But even if the Blair haters did have a clue about the reality of terrorism and today’s wars, the really important thing about anti-Blairism is that it is a cipher for the envious, ill-informed, elitist, and bigoted anti-Americanism that is endemic among the British upper middle class. Blair is constantly, endlessly condemned as “Bush’s poodle.” Supposedly he is so keen to win Washington’s favor that he has ignored and even endangered British interests. Indeed by (allegedly) uncritically siding with the U.S. on all foreign policy and security questions, he has supposedly provoked Islamist terrorism in the U.K. — as if Islamist extremism didn’t exist here before the Afghan and Iraq wars. There are shades here of the Nuclear Disarmament hysteria of the 1970s when British governments were said to have endangered an otherwise safe island by allowing the basing of U.S. nuclear bombers in the U.K.

Read it all.

(via Melanie Phillips)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Setback for the "Healthy Forces"

Last week, Jamestown’s Vladimir Socor published a thorough analysis of the Estonian election result in which he pointed out that “this election’s political ramifications — like those of Estonia’s elections in the early and mid-1990s — transcend the country’s confines. A decade ago, election winners turned Estonia into the most successful among the countries navigating the transition toward the market economy and Western institutions. Estonia’s March 4 election helped bring to the fore Russia’s problem of coming to terms with the legacy of Soviet crimes — an unresolved issue no less salient than the long-resolved issue of Germany coming to terms with Nazi crimes.”

From later in the article:

With this election the Center Party has completed its transformation into a left-leaning populist force. It moved accordingly to capture most of the local Russian vote while retaining much of its traditional support among Estonian urban pensioners and rural voters in poorer areas. The party’s campaign called for steep progressive taxation of incomes, public-sector wage increases by more than 20% annually, and other inflationary spending proposals. The Center Party introduced politically targeted patronage by ministries under its control, aggressive recruitment of public-sector employees, rent-generating arrangements with favorite businessmen, and highly personalized decision-making by Savisaar.

Savisaar positioned himself as Moscow’s political partner in Estonia and signed a cooperation agreement with the United Russia party of power. Moscow obliged by urging Estonia’s Russian voters to support Savisaar, which they largely did. The goal was to lift the Center Party into first place and capture the prime-ministership for Savisaar, then to form a new coalition government more to Moscow’s liking.

This election (as that of 2003) pulverized Estonia’s Russian parties, all three of which totaled this time some 2% of the votes cast countrywide and some 3% in heavily Russian-populated districts. The leader of the leading Russian party (1% country-wide) complained that Russia’s First Baltic Television Channel and a galaxy of Moscow politicians had been guiding Estonia’s Russian voters to back the Center Party.

Assured of such support in advance, Savisaar declined to form a bloc with the Russian parties, thus amassing those votes for his party, but not enough to reach the top. Voter turnout in Russian-inhabited districts was considerably lower (e.g., 52% in the Ida-Viru county around Narva) compared to the countrywide turnout of 61% and probably a two-thirds turnout among ethnic Estonian voters.

Moscow officials assail Estonia for withholding the right to vote from Russian residents who lack citizenship status or hold Russian citizenship. As Federation Council chairman Sergei Mironov remarked, “If 200,000 non-citizen [residents] had been able to vote, the election’s outcome would have been totally different” (Interfax, March 5). Such comments reflect the goal to change Estonia’s (and also Latvia’s) election outcomes and policies by demanding an automatic, blanket grant of citizenship to those residents. This strategy in itself vindicates Estonia’s (and Latvia’s) existing policies of naturalization at a measured pace that the political system can accommodate.

In the elections’ wake, some Russian officials such as Konstantin Kosachev and Mikhail Margelov, chairmen respectively of the Duma’s and Federation Council’s international affairs committees, openly demand that the Center Party be included in Estonia’s new government — “in consideration of Russia-Estonia relations” as Kosachev put it. Otherwise, Mironov warns the pro-Western parties, “the people of Estonia will sooner or later remove these gentlemen [from government]” (Interfax, March 5).

(hat tip: MAK)

Back from Strasbourg

Vedomosti writes that Russia is to recall its representative to the European Court of Human Rights, Pavel Laptev. Although there is no formal reason for the withdrawal, the fact remains that Russia loses most of the cases of complaint that come up for consideration, with total losses last year amounting to more than 1 million euros.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Roles in the Region

Via Stratfor :

Two Busted Flushes: The U.S. and Iranian Negotiations

By George Friedman

U.S., Iranian and Syrian diplomats met in Baghdad on March 10 to discuss the future of Iraq. Shortly afterward, everyone went out of their way to emphasize that the meetings either did not mean anything or that they were not formally one-on-one, which meant that other parties were present. Such protestations are inevitable: All of the governments involved have substantial domestic constituencies that do not want to see these talks take place, and they must be placated by emphasizing the triviality. Plus, all bargainers want to make it appear that such talks mean little to them. No one buys a used car by emphasizing how important the purchase is. He who needs it least wins.

These protestations are, however, total nonsense. That U.S., Iranian and Syrian diplomats would meet at this time and in that place is of enormous importance. It is certainly not routine: It means the shadowy conversations that have been going on between the United States and Iran in particular are now moving into the public sphere. It means not only that negotiations concerning Iraq are under way, but also that all parties find it important to make these negotiations official. That means progress is being made. The question now goes not to whether negotiations are happening, but to what is being discussed, what an agreement might look like and how likely it is to occur.

Let’s begin by considering the framework in which each side is operating.

The United States: Geopolitical Compulsion

Washington needs a settlement in Iraq. Geopolitically, Iraq has soaked up a huge proportion of U.S. fighting power. Though casualties remain low (when compared to those in the Vietnam War), the war-fighting bandwidth committed to Iraq is enormous relative to forces. Should another crisis occur in the world, the U.S. Army would not be in a position to respond. As a result, events elsewhere could suddenly spin out of control.

For example, we have seen substantial changes in Russian behavior of late. Actions that would have been deemed too risky for the Russians two years ago appear to be risk-free now. Moscow is pressuring Europe, using energy supplies for leverage and issuing threatening statements concerning U.S. ballistic missile defense plans in Central Europe — in apparent hopes that the governments in this region and the former Soviet Union, where governments have been inclined to be friendly to the United States, will reappraise their positions.

But the greatest challenge from the Russians comes in the Middle East. The traditional role of Russia (in its Soviet guise) was to create alliances in the region — using arms transfers as a mechanism for securing the power of Arab regimes internally and for resisting U.S. power in the region. The Soviets armed Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and so on, creating powerful networks of client states during much of the Cold War.

The Russians are doing this again. There is a clear pattern of intensifying arms sales to Syria and Iran — a pattern designed to increase the difficulty of U.S. and Israeli airstrikes against either state and to increase the internal security of both regimes. The United States has few levers with which to deter Russian behavior, and Washington’s ongoing threats against Iran and Syria increase the desire of these states to have Russian supplies and patronage.

The fact is that the United States has few viable military options here. Except for the use of airstrikes — which, when applied without other military measures, historically have failed either to bring about regime change or to deter powers from pursuing their national interests — the United States has few military options in the region. Air power might work when an army is standing by to take advantage of the weaknesses created by those strikes, but absent a credible ground threat, airstrikes are merely painful, not decisive.

And, to be frank, the United States simply lacks capability in the Army. In many ways, the U.S. Army is in revolt against the Bush administration. Army officers at all levels (less so the Marines) are using the term “broken” to refer to the condition of the force and are in revolt against the administration — not because of its goals, but because of its failure to provide needed resources nearly six years after 9/11. This revolt is breaking very much into the public domain, and that will further cripple the credibility of the Bush administration.

The “surge” strategy announced late last year was Bush’s last gamble. It demonstrated that the administration has the power and will to defy public opinion — or international perceptions of it — and increase, rather than decrease, forces in Iraq. The Democrats have also provided Bush with a window of opportunity: Their inability to formulate a coherent policy on Iraq has dissipated the sense that they will force imminent changes in U.S. strategy. Bush’s gamble has created a psychological window of opportunity, but if this window is not used, it will close — and, as administration officials have publicly conceded, there is no Plan B. The situation on the ground is as good as it is going to get.

Leaving the question of his own legacy completely aside, Bush knows three things. First, he is not going to impose a military solution on Iraq that suppresses both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite militias. Second, he has successfully created a fleeting sense of unpredictability, as far as U.S. behavior is concerned. And third, if he does not use this psychological window of opportunity to achieve a political settlement within the context of limited military progress, the moment not only will be lost, but Russia might also emerge as a major factor in the Middle East — eroding a generation of progress toward making the United States the sole major power in that region. Thus, the United States is under geopolitical compulsion to reach a settlement.

Iran: Psychological and Regional Compulsions

The Iranians are also under pressure. They have miscalculated on what Bush would do: They expected military drawdown, and instead they got the surge. This has conjured up memories of the miscalculation on what the 1979 hostage crisis would bring: The revolutionaries had bet on a U.S. capitulation, but in the long run they got an Iraqi invasion and Ronald Reagan.

Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani already has warned the Iranians not to underestimate the United States, saying it is a “wounded tiger” and therefore much more dangerous than otherwise. In addition, the Iranians know some important things.

The first is that, while the Americans conceivably might forget about Iraq, Iran never can. Uncontrolled chaos next door could spill over into Iran in numerous ways — separatist sentiments among the Kurds, the potential return of a Sunni government if the Shia are too fractured to govern, and so forth. A certain level of security in Iraq is fundamental to Iran’s national interests.

Related to this, there are concerns that Iraq’s Shia are so fractious that they might not be serviceable as a coherent vehicle for Iranian power. A civil war among the Shia of Iraq is not inconceivable, and if that were to happen, Iran’s ability to project power in Iraq would crumble.

Finally, Iran’s ability to threaten terror strikes against U.S. interests depends to a great extent on Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it knows that Hezbollah is far more interested in the power and wealth to be found in Lebanon than in some global — and potentially catastrophic — war against the United States. The Iranian leadership has seen al Qaeda’s leaders being hunted and hiding in Pakistan, and they have little stomach for that. In short, Iranian leaders might not have all the options they would like to pretend they have, and their own weakness could become quite public very quickly.

Still, like the Americans, the Iranians have done well in generating perceptions of their own resolute strength. First, they have used their influence in Iraq to block U.S. ambitions there. Second, they have supported Hezbollah in its war against Israel, creating the impression that Hezbollah is both powerful and pliant to Tehran. In other words, they have signaled a powerful covert capability. Third, they have used their nuclear program to imply capabilities substantially beyond what has actually been achieved, which gives them a powerful bargaining chip. Finally, they have entered into relations with the Russians — implying a strategic evolution that would be disastrous for the United States.

The truth, however, is somewhat different. Iran has sufficient power to block a settlement on Iraq, but it lacks the ability to impose one of its own making. Second, Hezbollah is far from willing to play the role of global suicide bomber to support Iranian ambitions. Third, an Iranian nuclear bomb is far from being a reality. Finally, Iran has, in the long run, much to fear from the Russians: Moscow is far more likely than Washington to reduce Iran to a vassal state, should Tehran grow too incautious in the flirtation. Iran is holding a very good hand. But in the end, its flush is as busted as the Americans’.

Moreover, the Iranians still remember the mistake of 1979. Rather than negotiating a settlement to the hostage crisis with a weak and indecisive President Jimmy Carter, who had been backed into a corner, they opted to sink his chances for re-election and release the hostages after the next president, Reagan, took office. They expected gratitude. But in a breathtaking display of ingratitude, Reagan followed a policy designed to devastate Iran in its war with Iraq. In retrospect, the Iranians should have negotiated with the weak president rather than destroy him and wait for the strong one.

Rafsanjani essentially has reminded the Iranian leadership of this painful fact. Based on that, it is clear that he wants negotiations with Bush, whose strength is crippled, rather than with his successor. Not only has Bush already signaled a willingness to talk, but U.S. intelligence also has publicly downgraded the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons — saying that, in fact, Iran’s program has not progressed as far as it might have. The Iranians have demanded a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, but they have been careful not to specify what that timetable should look like. Each side is signaling a re-evaluation of the other and a degree of flexibility in outcomes.

As for Syria, which also shares a border with Iraq and was represented at Saturday’s meetings in Baghdad, it is important but not decisive. The Syrians have little interest in Iraq but great interest in Lebanon. The regime in Damascus wants to be freed from the threat of investigation in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and it wants to have its interests in Lebanon guaranteed. The Israelis, for their part, have no interest in bringing down the al Assad regime: They are far more fearful of what the follow-on Sunni regime might bring than they are of a minority Alawite regime that is more interested in money than in Allah. The latter they can deal with; the former is the threat.

In other words, Syria does not affect fundamental U.S. interests, and the Israelis do not want to see the current regime replaced. The Syrians, therefore, are not the decisive factor when it comes to Iraq. This is about the United States and Iran.

Essential Points

If the current crisis continues, each side might show itself much weaker than it wants to appear. The United States could find itself in a geopolitical spasm, coupled with a domestic political crisis. Iran could find itself something of a toothless tiger — making threats that are known to have little substance behind them. The issue is what sort of settlement there could be.

We see the following points as essential to the two main players:

1. The creation of an Iraqi government that is dominated by Shia, neutral to Iran, hostile to jihadists but accommodating to some Sunni groups.
2. Guarantees for Iran’s commercial interests in southern Iraqi oil fields, with some transfers to the Sunnis (who have no oil in their own territory) from fields in both the northern (Kurdish) and southern (Shiite) regions.
3. Guarantees for U.S. commercial interests in the Kurdish regions.
4. An Iraqi military without offensive capabilities, but substantial domestic power. This means limited armor and air power, but substantial light infantry.
5. An Iraqi army operated on a “confessional” basis — each militia and insurgent group retained as units and controlling its own regions.
6. Guarantee of a multiyear U.S. presence, without security responsibility for Iraq, at about 40,000 troops.
7. A U.S.-Iranian “commission” to manage political conflict in Iraq.
8. U.S. commercial relations with Iran.
9. The definition of the Russian role, without its exclusion.
10. A meaningless but symbolic commitment to a new Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Such an agreement would not be expected to last very long. It might last, but the primary purpose would be to allow each side to quietly fold its busted flushes in the game for Iraq.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Last King of Chechnya

Russia Profile has a panel discussion on the subject of the appointment of Chechnya’s new president, Ramzan Kadyrov, and its wider significance for the future of the North Caucasus.

From Stephen Blank’s contribution:
Putin’s approach updates the classical Russian strategy of empire-building under the tsars, in that it finds elites who are willing to cooperate with Moscow, co-opts them by giving them power, and then uses them to bring the province in question to heel.

Kadyrov is a particularly brutal example of this. While there is no doubt that his Chechenization has worked better than has American strategy in Iraq (and I know of nobody who disputes this), it may be saving up problems for the future because Kadyrov’s ruthlessness and power hunger may not be able to confine itself to Chechnya. But it should be remembered that Chechnya is not Iraq. Putin did what America failed to do by insulating the theater of operations form hostile media. His army is permitted to act much more brutally than any American force ever could. If the kind of systematic brutality applied in Chechnya was available as a strategy to the United States, it would be a different nation and this would be a different world.

Estonia: Coalition Talks Continue

The talks between the Reform Party, the Res Publica/Pro Patria Alliance, the Social Democrats and the Greens are continuing at Tallinn’s SAS Radisson hotel, Postimees reports. Most of the problems being discussed are technical ones, the paper says, and it looks probable that a coalition will be announced by the formal deadline of March 26.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Zvyagintsev: "We want to interview over 100 British citizens"

RIA Novosti reports that
The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office wants to interview more than 100 people in London as part of an investigation into the poisoning of ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, a deputy prosecutor general said Monday.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The KGB's Guide to the UK

During the Cold War the Soviet KGB produced detailed maps of most of the countries of the world. These included Great Britain: with the help of aerial photgraphs, satellite images, local knowledge and espionage, 16,000 square kilometres of the United Kingdom were mapped, including 103 major towns and cities.

The maps have now been made available by the UK’s Landmark Information Group, and although most of them are to be released on a commercial basis, some are being offered free during the month of March on the company’s website.

One expert comments:
"Realising the military, economic and political benefits of topographic information, the Soviet military set about mapping the whole world - a mammoth task which took over 50 years before, during and after the Cold War to complete. Today, very little is known about how the organisation was structured and how such incredible results were achieved. Certainly the operation was militarily driven, very well controlled, achieving spectacular results. Ultimately, futile of course, if the purpose was world domination, but for mapping professionals they provide a fascinating and invaluable insight as to the structure of our towns and use of land during this period.”
(via ML)

Friday, March 09, 2007

U.S. State Department: No Discrimination against Russians in Estonia

Postimees discusses the recently-released annual U.S. State Department report (or series of reports) on human rights around the world, and notes that it clears Estonia of the charge of discriminating against its Russian-speaking citizens. From the report itself:

Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are the largest ethnic minorities, making up 29 percent of the population. The government pursued a policy of social integration, particularly through its language policy which requires knowledge of Estonian in order to obtain citizenship and mandates that all public servants and public sector employees, service personnel, medical professionals, and sole proprietors use the Estonian language. Actual proficiency is usually determined through examination; however, citizenship applicants who have previously passed the basic level Estonian language proficiency examination or the basic school final examination for Estonian as a second language no longer have to take the citizenship language exam. Some noncitizen residents, particularly ethnic Russians, continued to allege that the language requirement resulted in job and salary discrimination.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Estonia: No EK-SDE Talks

In the aftermath of the Estonian elections, the parties continue to seek alliances with a view to the forming of a government coalition. In the latest development, Social Democrat (SDE) leader Randel Länts has rejected overtures by the Centrists (EK) aimed at talks on a Centrist-Social Democrat alliance.

Update (March 9): The Reform Party hopes to begin coalition talks on Sunday, with possible partners now including the Res Publica/Pro Patria Alliance, the Greens and the Social Democrats, Postimees reports. Centrist Edgar Savisaar has announced his intention of leading the opposition in the new parliament.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ingush Language Course

A thorough and comprehensive course in the Ingush language (Ghalghaaj mott) can be found at this site. The language of instruction is Russian, and the course covers a lot of ground, all the way from elementary conversation to fairly advanced texts. The course editor is Tanzila Kostoyeva of the Ingush State University.

Estonia: Coalition with Centrists "Not Excluded"

Postimees reports that Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is to meet with all the parties that won seats in the recent elections, to discuss the forming of a new government coalition. The parties to be consulted on cooperation with the liberal Reform Party include both the right-wing IRL and the left-wing Social Democrats - but also the traditionally pro-Russian Centrists led by Edgar Savisaar.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Estonian Election: Analysis of Results

Mari-Ann Kelam of the Pro Patria/Res Publica Alliance (IRL) has compiled the following analysis of the election results:

There were 977 candidates contesting 101 seats from 12 different election districts. 895,760 eligible voters, 550,098 or 61.9% of the people voted. Now it remains to be seen if the biggest vote getter - the Reform party led by Ansip - forms a coalition with Savisaar’s Center party or with Pro Patria Union & Res Publica Union and perhaps the Social Democrats and/or Greens. We are relatively happy with our result, but if we had gotten three more seats we would have been in a much stronger position to make a coaltion with Reform and to prevent the current government (Center & Reform) from re-grouping.

Erakond Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit
Jaak Aaviksoo 4224
Ene Ergma 3980
Andres Herkel 1249
Kaia Iva 888
Tarmo Kõuts 2847
Mart Laar 9525
Tõnis Lukas 3922
Marko Mihkelson 2694
Erki Nool 3178
Mart Nutt 889
Juhan Parts 2968
Marko Pomerants 3144
Urmas Reinsalu 1886
Helir-Valdor Seeder 4089
Peeter Tulviste 2366
Toomas Tõniste 909
Ken-Marti Vaher 2312
Trivimi Velliste 2984
Taavi Veskimägi 5792

Erakond Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit asendusliikmed (those next in line if the person ahead of them leaves the Riigikogu for some reason, perhaps to become a government minister. NB: only those who received more than 500 votes qualify) Depending upon the district, some people were elected with 800+votes. On the other hand, there were three of us in the IRL who each received over 2000 votes, but didn’t get in because there were not enough other votes in our districts to form one more mandate.

Asendusliikmed ja hääled (vaid 500 häält ja enam)/ Substitutes and their votes

Valimisringkond nr 3
1) Lauri Vahtre 2054
Valimisringkond nr 4
1) Mari-Ann Kelam 2403
2) Elle Kull 2078
Valimisringkond nr 5
1) Andres Ammas 763
2) Toomas Takkis 613
Valimisringkond nr 6
1) Mihkel Juhkami 574
Valimisringkond nr 8
1) Tiina Oraste 692
Valimisringkond nr 10
1) Margus Tsahkna 785
2) Peeter Laurson 558
3) Mihhail Lotman 557
Valimisringkond nr 11
1) Ülo Tulik 920
2) Tiit Niilo 740
Valimisringkond nr 12
1) Külvar Mand 1609
2) Mati Sutt 603
3) Jüri Kask 569
4) Ela Tomson 526
5) Mart Alliku 501

Erakonnad - mandaadid ja hääled
Parties - how many seats and how many votes

Eesti Reformierakond Reform
153 031

Eesti Keskerakond Center Party
143 554

Erakond Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit
98 203

Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond Social democrats
58 347

Erakond Eestimaa Rohelised Greens
39 303

Eestimaa Rahvaliit People’s Party
39 217

Erakond Eesti Kristlikud Demokraadid Christian Democrats
9 445

Konstitutsioonierakond Constitution party
5 466

Eesti Iseseisvuspartei Independence party
1 275

Vene Erakond Eestis Russian party in Estonia
1 085

Eesti Vasakpartei Estonian Left party

Üksikkandidaat Single candidates

Some of Pro Patria and Res Publica’s votes were lost to the small parties which didn’t get any seats and probably to the Greens. The Christian Democrats seemed to have a LOT of money this time - even for TV advertising - but no big vote getters. We could have used those 9445 votes to be in a stronger position for the coalition negotiations.

Update: Meanwhile, the Estonian Foreign Ministry has issued its own official run-down of the results, which can be accessed here.

Russia Revising Military Doctrine

FT notes that on March 5

Russia said it was revising its military doctrine to reflect other powers’ growing use of military force, while a Russian general warned again that Moscow could knock out elements of the US missile defence system planned for eastern Europe.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Estonia Election Results

Results of the Estonian elections - with some 99 per cent of the vote now counted - can be read here.

In many ways a close result - as Prime Minister Ansip’s margin of victory over his nearest rival, Edgar Savisaar (Centre Party), is quite a slim one. None the less, this result holds Savisaar at bay for the time being, and there is still a possibility that President Ilves may ask the IRL (Pro Patria/Res Public Alliance) to join the Reform Party in a coalition.

Postimees’s Russian-language election coverage is here.

(hat tip: Leopoldo)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Estonia: Reform Party Ahead

With votes still being counted in the Estonian parliamentary elections, it looks probable that the centre-right Reform Party of current Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip will form the next government, possibly in a coalition with Mart Laar’s Pro Patria and Res Publica alliance, which has put in a stronger performance than expected, Postimees reports.

Update: the Reform Party is now the official winner of the elections, with 27.7% of the vote. Edgar Savisaar’s Centre Party has 26.2, and the Pro Patria/Res Res Publica Alliance 17.8 per cent of the vote.

MSNBC on Litvinenko - III

At chechnya-sl, Norbert Strade notes:

Daniel McGrory, one of The Times’ leading reporters on the Litvinenko case (we have lots of his articles in our archives), was found dead in his home on 20th February. He allegedly died from a heart attack. Daniel McGrory participated in the same MSNBC program on Litvinenko as American journalist Paul Joyal, who was shot near his home on March 1 (Cf.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

MSNBC on Litvinenko - II

The Financial Times reports that Paul Joyal, the former U.S. Senate intelligence committee security director and political analyst who last weekend alleged on NBC television that the Kremlin was involved in the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, has been shot near his Maryland home.

Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman, said the law enforcement agency was “assisting” the police investigation into the shooting.
Police would not confirm details of the shooting or of the condition of Mr Joyal. However, a person familiar with the case said he was in critical condition in hospital.

See also: MSNBC on Litvinenko

Friday, March 02, 2007

Avoiding Ramzan

Yesterday many Russian and foreign human rights organizations boycotted the human rights conference - arranged by Chechen prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov - that opened in Grozny. Although Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, who is on a three-day visit to Chechnya, did attend the gathering, most of the big-name organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Memorial, stayed away.

“It’s impossible to discuss human rights with Kadyrov. I don’t want to pose with him in front of the cameras, making people think that human rights defenders have given acceptance to Kadyrov,” Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organization, told the Interfax news agency. (Postimees, my tr.)

Meanwhile, the Chechen parliament looks set today to approve President Putin’s nomination of Kadyrov - currently acting President - as the new Chechen leader.

Update: Kadyrov's appointment as President has now been confirmed.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

E-lection in Estonia

Postimees reports that as of this morning, 35,605 Estonians have already voted in the parliamentary election which takes place formally on Sunday. They did so via the Web. Estonia is the first country in the world to hold such a parliamentary election by a web-based system in which voters can cast ballots online. The process involves a card reader hooked up to a computer - the voters swipe their electronic ID cards through the reader, and that registers the vote on the website. AFP noted yesterday, Wednesday, that

The 940,000 Estonians eligible to vote in Sunday’s parliamentary election can cast their ballot electronically until Wednesday. After that, they will have to wait until Sunday to vote in the more traditional manner.

In response to fears from critics of possible pressure at home or in the workplace on e-voters, the law provides voters with a chance to override their Internet vote on election day by filling in a paper ballot.

“The opportunity to change the e-vote should dissuade those who are thinking of pressuring Internet voters,” Madise said.

The AFP report also says that the new online voting system presents some problems for election monitors. A representative of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is quoted as saying that although her organization can ask questions about transparency and security, it will be very difficult to get into the system itself, as that would require a high level of technical expertise not available to most monitors. In the end, she says, it boils down to a question of trust: the system will only be effective if it has the trust of the electorate. Ivar Tallo, director of the e-Governance Academy in Tallinn says that since Estonians already trust their financial transactions to the Internet by filing tax returns online and transferring money via online banks, there’s no reason for them not to trust their vote to the Internet.

See also in this blog: e-Governance