Saturday, June 30, 2007

Chechen singer shot in Grozny

Via Prague Watchdog [my tr.]:
GROZNY, Chechnya, June 29 (Ruslan Isayev) – In a shooting incident in the Chechen capital the well-known Chechen singer Milana Balayeva has been seriously wounded, and her mother has been killed. The tragedy took place late at night at an apartment block on the recently rebuilt Mozdokskaya Street, 100 metres from Grozny’s government buildings .

Several men broke into the apartment in which the singer Milana Balaeva lived with her 41-year-old mother. Both women were shot at point-blank range with Makarov pistols. 10 cartridge cases were found at the site.

The mother died on the spot, and her daughter Milana was taken to City Hospital No. 9 with serious wounds to the face and abdomen. The doctors there assess her condition as critical. Later on Russian soldiers came to the hospital and probably took her to a military hospital.

The reasons for the shooting of the two women are not known, but law enforcement agencies say that preliminary reports suggest there may have been a dispute about the apartment in which the two women lived.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sublimating the past

At Prague Watchdog, Dr Dmitry Shlapentokh takes a look at the recent ethnic violence in Stavropol, where ethnic Russians and Chechen migrants fought one another in a mass brawl reminiscent of the scenes at Kondopoga in September 2006. He reveals that to many Russians, the present government of Mr. Putin is seen as actually supporting ethnic minorities at the expense of the native Russian population. And he notes the following:
The presence of tension is also indirectly indicated by Putin’s extreme reluctance to discuss revolutions, even those in the past, such as the February and October (Bolshevik) Revolutions of 1917, which took place exactly 90 years ago. While there are some structural similarities between the revolutions of the past and the present tension, they are separated by one clear difference. Today, much more so than in the past, the social conflicts are sublimated in ethnic conflicts.

It is this fear and dislike of people from the Caucasus, especially Chechens, that has contributed enormously to the general xenophobic thrust of Russian society. One of my old friends from Moscow stated that hatred of people of Caucasian nationality and of Jews has spread. And, indeed, this ethnic animosity has replaced the sense of social hatred that was so strong at the time of the Russian revolutions of 1905-1921; to be precise, the social animosity has been sublimated in ethnic animosity.

My conversation with a young Russian woman on one of my recent trips to Russia could illustrate this point. While travelling, we observed through the train window the nearby villages; and she commented on the houses we passed, saying that some are good and some are bad. In order to check her sense of social animosity, I replied, “Capitalist landlord and poor peasants.” She snapped angrily, “I don't like to divide people along social lines.”

The statement of my casual interlocutor should, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt. It simply means that social divisions have been transformed in the minds of many Russians into ethnic divisions while minorities - including Chechens but not only Chechens - are affiliated with the elite, whereas Russians are implicitly seen as the representatives of the lower class.

The involvement in crime of Chechens and other people from the Caucasus is seen in a sort of twisted way as an additional manifestation of oppression/harassment of ethnic Russians by those minorities and the government/elite on their side. It is not surprising that this feeling of animosity is spreading not just against the “people of Caucasian nationality” but also against the government.
Read it all.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


From late July to late August this year, Daimohk, a children’s dance group based in Grozny and trained by the former first dancer of the Chechen national theatre, will be visiting the US for their first ever tour there. The tour will take them to Boston, New York, New Jersey, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, OR. As a non-profit undertaking, all proceeds will be used to cover expenses incurred or to rebuild Daimohk’s Grozny theatre, which was bombed and looted during the second war. The organizers are looking for partners and sponsors at the locations above (advertising opportunities are available), as well as volunteers to welcome the children, help out at performances and promote the tour. For more details see the CAN website.

See also in this blog: Chechen children in Devon

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bush and Ilves on cybercrime

Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in the United States for an official visit and discussions with President Bush at the weekend, found common ground with the U.S. leader on what proved to be a key issue — the recent hacker attacks on Estonia’s government computer systems. Mostmost of the attacks are thought to have originated in the Russian Federation, and to have been launched with at least tacit Russian government support. From the USINFO report:
“Cyber attack makes us all vulnerable,” Bush said in joint remarks at the White House following their meeting June 25. “I really want to thank you for your leadership, and thank you for your clear understanding of the dangers that that imposes not only on your country, but mine and others as well.”

Ilves thanked the United States for standing by his country‘s quest for independence “even in the darkest of times.”

In the 15 years since regaining its freedom from Soviet occupation, Estonia has built a robust economy with a renowned information technology industry. A majority of its citizens have access to the Internet, where banking, voting and many government services are readily available, leading to a new nickname for the country — “e-Stonia.”

“Estonia is a thriving example of how freedom has transformed the nations of Central and Eastern Europe,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters June 25.

In April, government and commercial servers were hit with a series of attacks by hackers, which Estonian authorities linked to a dispute with neighboring Russia over the recent relocation of a Soviet war memorial from the World War II era in the capital, Tallinn. Moscow firmly has denied any involvement in the incident.

“It is a serious issue if your most important computer systems go down in a country like mine, where 97 percent of bank transactions are done on the Internet,” Ilves said. “When you are a highly Interneted country like we are, then these kinds of attacks can do very serious damage.”

A NATO member since 2004, Estonia received support from computer security experts from the 26-nation alliance who, along with experts from Estonia’s Scandinavian neighbors, helped to contain the hackers.

Ilves proposed establishing a NATO cybersecurity research center in Estonia to build on his country’s experience and help member states safeguard their own computers from future attacks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fox and Hedgehog

Edward Lucas, commenting on the dullness and near-anonymity of many of Eastern Europe’s political leaders, notes that

Post-communist leaders were once big, internationally known figures. Lech Walesa of Poland and the Czech Republic’s Vaclav Havel remain world famous. Poland’s Aleksander Kwasniewski was widely admired abroad for his diplomatic skills. Reformist politicians such as Estonia’s Mart Laar, Russia’s Yegor Gaidar and Slovakia’s Mikulas Dzurinda wowed the policy wonks with their zealous embrace of flat taxes and free-marketry.

Now things are different. Only two leaders really stand out: the presidents of Russia and Estonia. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has many critics, but when he speaks, people listen. Estonia’s president, the Swedish-born and American-educated Toomas Hendrik Ilves, now speaks up for all the Kremlin’s former European satellites. The brainy Mr Ilves is the only senior politician in the region with real experience of Brussels (he was once a member of the European Parliament) and Washington, DC. He has the ear of George Bush: both are keen farmers (although on rather different scales), and both like the same make of Stihl brush-cutter.

Hat tip: Leopoldo

Monday, June 25, 2007

Prior knowledge

On June 19, the (Truth about Beslan) website published copies of faxes written in August 2004 by officials of the North Ossetian interior ministry. These show that the local authorities were aware of preparations for a major terrorist attack involving the movement of convoys of vehicles, and targeting a public building, most probably a school, on "Knowledge Day" (September 1, the day when the new school year begins in Russia). The documents even made reference to the specific demands that the hostage-takers would advance.

One example [my tr.]:

Information has been received concerning the movement of members of illegal armed formations from the plains of the Chechen Republic into an area of mountain and forest on the border between the Republic of Ingushetia and the Republic of North Ossetia.

The gathering of fighters is projected for mid-August this year, after which there are plans to carry out a terrorist action on the "Budyonnovsk scenario" on the territory of the Republic of North Ossetia. According to the information received, the fighters are planning to seize a public building with hostages, and then advance demands to the country's leadership concerning the withdrawal of units of the federal forces from the Chechen Republic. A large sum of money in Western currency is said to have come from Turkey to finance the action.


My move to Kent is now more or less complete, and as I recover from the effects of dust, prolonged series of car journeys, and the lifting of heavy objects, I’m slowly getting back to normal. This blog will soon return to regular posting.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Chechen Society Today

From Prague Watchdog, my summary of the contents of the latest issue of the Russian-language monthly magazine Chechenskoye obshchestvo segodnya (Chechen Society Today):

Continuing a varied analysis of life in Chechnya today, the fourth issue of the magazine this year considers recent events and developments which have affected ordinary Chechens both inside the republic and abroad. In particular, there’s a focus on recent disturbing events in Moscow which involved the targeting by police and special services of young civilian Chechen males. This apparent campaign of persecution by the Russian authorities sits uneasily with federal claims that the war is “over”, with Grozny’s intensive programme of reconstruction and prestigious large-scale building projects, and with President Kadyrov’s assertion that “by 2008 there will be no traces of the war left in Grozny”.

An important feature in this new issue is Tatyana Gantimurova’s interview with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. From it, Kadyrov emerges as something of a split personality. On the one hand, he expresses apparently sincere concern and regret about humanitarian issues like the poisoning of Chechen children by the ecological disasters that the wars have caused. But on the other, he shows an almost total support for and identification with the policies of President Putin, whom he credits for having “stopped the war” – to the point where he can say: “If Putin says the word, I will carry out any of his commands. If you like, I am Russia’s most committed patriot.”

Three linked reports explore the workings of the disinformation and rumour mills that seek to blame Chechens abroad for many of Russia’s problems. Khamzat Saidov discusses an organization that is designed to counter such propaganda. Calling itself the Association of Chechen Public and Cultural Organizations, the body tries to function as a safety-valve in situations of provocation and conflict, giving Chechens a lifeline to which they can turn when threatened. With the recent arrest of two Chechen students in Moscow in mind, Said-Khamzat Gerikhanov interviews the Association’s chairman, Musa Dzhabrailov, who gives a panoramic view of the lies, myths and prejudices that sit at the root of the characterization, deeply embedded in the Russian psyche, of Chechens as “terrorists”, and the associated idea of a “Chechen underground”. He also shows how these psychological factors influence the unfolding of events – in the clashes with skinheads, in the student fights in Moscow and elsewhere, and in the distortions of these incidents that were published by Russian media. Finally, a Caucasian Knot report focuses on the mass fighting that broke out on May 24 between Chechen migrants and local skinheads, and links it with the events at Kondopoga. The report’s author believes that someone is provoking such conflicts in order to sustain a negative image of Chechens, even though the war is over, and that Russian security services may be involved in this.

The remainder of the issue contains articles on Chechen culture, history, politics and society. An interview with a Chechen veteran of World War 2 whose son was recently abducted by Russian-backed security forces is juxtaposed with a conversation with folk singer and musician Ramzan Paskayev. A section on contemporary Chechen writers features German Sadulayev, who was recently selected as one of 15 authors invited to meet President Putin, discusses his life and career; Zareta Osmayeva examines a new collection of poems by Roza Takhigova, with background supplied by the poet herself; and there’s an excerpt from the historical novel by Kanta Ibragimov, which was highlighted, along with its author, in the magazine’s previous issue. Archaeologist Rezeda Dautova reviews a new book on Chechen history, and there’s a feature on a group of Chechen children who are going to spend the summer in the United States as guests of the World Life Institute. There are continuations of Edilbek Matsiyev’s historical study of the Sharo-Argun area, and of Indar Byzov’s exploration of the history of the Vainakh migration. At the back, in the sports pages, Khamzat Saidov takes a look at the Daymohk football team and its participation in the fourth international football championships in Moscow.

Visit this page to see and download the issue.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Message

Perhaps at long last the message is starting to get through. From today's Sunday Times: he left his last G8 summit in Germany Mr Blair predicted a lengthy period of deep freeze in relations between Russia and the West.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


As some will have noticed, posting to this blog has come to a temporary halt. I’m moving house. Normal service will resume as soon as I get a new dsl connection, which hopefully should be fairly soon.

Update: though I don't yet have a dsl connection (or even a landline phone) at my new address, I do have a Nokia, so am going to use that as a modem for the time being.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Taking a careful look

While Western journalists, columnists and politicians increasingly express surprise and disappointment at Russia's apparently new turn to authoritarianism and repression of political dissent at home and political revanchism abroad, it's hard not to reflect that the signals of the "new" policy have been in place for quite some time - certainly for the past two years, and probably much longer. As a correspondent to this blog points out, "Almost certainly there would have been earlier alarm bells than the following from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius about Putin’s Russia but the aspect that seems most relevant to me is in these words: 'the world should take a careful look at what the Russians did here -- and demand that such activities stop.' If that had been done perhaps Marina Litvinenko would not be a widow now and the cyber-attack and other intimidation against Estonia etc, etc, would not have happened."

The March 16 2004 Washington Post article referred to:
DOHA, Qatar -- The tough-guy tactics of Russian President Vladimir Putin's rgime became clear here just over a month ago, when a team of Russian agents allegedly assassinated a former Chechen leader with a car bomb as he was returning home from Friday prayers at a mosque.

The Russians haven't engaged in this sort of "wet work" outside their borders since the bad old days of the KGB. Indeed, in the midst of denying that the new Russian intelligence service was responsible, a spokesman said they "had not taken part in such actions" since 1959.
But the Qatari government caught the Russians red-handed, so to speak. And what's more, rather than cave to intense pressure from Moscow, little Qatar decided to stand firm and insist on the rule of law. A Qatari prosecutor filed criminal charges against two Russians, and a trial is scheduled here this week. U.S. sources say that quiet negotiations have been going on to arrange a compromise. And it's possible that once the trial is over, some face-saving deal will be reached.

The Qatar case, disclosed here in detail for the first time by U.S. and Arab sources, illustrates just how far Putin has gone in unleashing his beloved siloviki -- the security services at the centre of his regime. With Putin's overwhelming election victory last weekend, the world should take a careful look at what the Russians did here -- and demand that such activities stop.

The assassination victim was a Chechen guerrilla leader named Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. He was acting president of the separatist regime in Chechnya in 1996 and '97, and the Russians allege that after he fled to Qatar about three years ago, he continued to help fund Chechen terrorists. The United Nations included him last year on a list of people with links to al Qaeda.

The Russians had been asking Qatar to extradite Yandarbiyev. The Qataris responded by asking the Russians for evidence of his terrorist activities -- saying that they would then try Yandarbiyev in their own courts. Just a week before the assassination, the Russians are said to have agreed that he be tried in Qatar. But by then the car bomb that killed him had already been delivered.

On Friday, Feb. 13, Yandarbiyev went to a mosque with his 13-year-old son. While they were inside, a two-kilogram bomb was attached to the underside of his Toyota Land Cruiser. When the Chechen had driven several hundred yards toward home, the bomb exploded. Yandarbiyev died on the way to a hospital; his son survived with severe burns.

The Qataris cracked the case thanks to good luck and sloppy Russian work. People had seen a van near the mosque, and police were able to trace it to a car-rental agency at the Doha airport, where video cameras had recorded the renters. The Qataris soon closed in on a villa that had been rented recently by a Russian diplomat but that didn't have diplomatic status. The Qataris were also monitoring the Russians' calls, from cell phones that had been falsely acquired in the names of two Europeans.

The Russians, both military officers in their mid-thirties, were captured at the villa several days after the bombing. They had been sent to Qatar as temporary embassy staffers about a month before the attack, and they lacked diplomatic immunity. A third alleged Russian conspirator was saved by his official status at their embassy on Sudan Street here.

The two Russian officers are said to have confessed, and to have named several senior officers who sent them. The confessions apparently were obtained through clever interrogation, not strong-arm tactics. The explosives, it turned out, had been carried in a Russian diplomatic vehicle across the Saudi border about a month before the attack.

After the Russians were caught, top officials in Moscow waged a public and private campaign to intimidate Qatar into releasing the agents. Two senior Russian officials even suggested that military force might be used to free the men. Seeking bargaining chips, the Russians also grabbed two unlucky Qatari wrestlers who happened to be passing through Moscow on their way to a competition in Serbia.

Qatar didn't budge. Perhaps the Qataris shouldn't have granted exile to an al Qaeda sympathiser such as Yandarbiyev in the first place, but that doesn't excuse Russia's outrageous actions.

The war on terrorism is escalating, and authorities from Madrid to Moscow will be tempted to cut legal corners in pursuing a ruthless enemy. At such a moment, it's good to see a small desert sheikhdom insisting on the rule of law.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Appeal to G7 Leaders

Distinguished heads of states and governments ofthe Italian Republic, Canada, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany, the French Republic,the United States of America, and Japan!

On 6-8 June, within the framework of the annual Summit of the 8 largest industrially developed democracies of the world, you will be meeting with Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, and – in accordance with the current Constitution of our country – the guarantor of human and civil rights and liberties. We call upon you to explicitly and unambiguously bring to the attention of Mr Putin – your partner in diplomatic negotiations – your concern about the gross, mass, and defiant violations of the most fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms by the authorities of the country they govern. We call upon you to renounce the practice of “Realpolitik”, turning a blind eye to an anti-democratic course in exchange for shifts of position with respect to political and economic issues. The experience of the Second World War and the confrontation with totalitarianism has shown the vital importance of observing fundamental human rights in order to ensure international security. It is for this reason that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in December of 1948. The Helsinki Act, signed in August of 1976, enshrined a most important principle – that governments do not have the right to violate rights and liberties by pleading state sovereignty.It is precisely for this reason that we insist that the leaders of the world’s largest democracies stress that the suppressions of democracy and the repressions taking place in the Russian Federation today are unacceptable to them. The general directionality of the political evolution of the system of power in Russia is ever more irreversibly approaching a point beyond which is found an already openly authoritarian regime, run by persons who have come from the special services and security structures. We regard as critically dangerous for democracy in the whole world the de facto liquidation of democracy in Russia, and specifically:

- the creation of a managed court and law-enforcement system, which creates unlimited opportunities for persecuting political and civic activists, human rights advocates and their relatives (who in such a manner are transformed into true hostages), for broad-scale persecutions on political, ideological and ethnic grounds. There already exist dozens of persons in Russia who have been recognized as victims of political repressions by human rights advocates;

- the suppression of freedom of the press, and of the freedom of self-expression more generally, the transformation of the principal mass information media – first and foremost the nationwide television channels – into an instrument of state propaganda, based on a cult of the head of state and of military power; - torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment, are widely practiced within the Russian penitentiary agency, and there exist special places of confinement for torture – a “new GULAG Archipelago”. We bring attention to the scandalous situation in connection with the violation of the right of citizens of Russia to the freedom to conduct rallies and meetings and to form associations.This is: - the unlawful prohibitions and barbarous dispersals of peaceful demonstrations in Moscow (16 December 2006, 31 March, 14 April, 5 and 27 May 2007), in St. Petersburg (3 March and 15 April 2007) and in Nizhny Novgorod (24 March and 27 April 2007), the persecutions of participants in a rally in Samara on 18 May – that had been permitted by the authorities – and the demonstratively mocking detainings of those who were preparing to fly out to Samara; - the mass persecution of hundreds of civic and political activists, who were suspected of a desire to participate in “Marches of the Discontented” and Social Forums. We call upon you to:- seek the release of Russian prisoners persecuted on political grounds – those convicted in the YUKOS case, the Chechen woman Zara Murtazaliyeva, the political essayist Boris Stomakhin and – as indicated in a PACE resolution of 19 April – the scientists Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov and the lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin. - pay the most diligent attention to the use of charges of extremism for the persecution of human rights advocates and opponents of the regime; - call upon the President of Russia not to violate the rights – guaranteed by Russian legislation – of the participants in the peaceful Marches of the Discontented planned for 9 (St. Petersburg) and 11 June (Moscow), and to prevent new beatings and cruel detainings of the demonstrators.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva,

Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group,

Foundation In Defence of Rights of Inmates

Elena Bonner, human rights advocate Sergei Kovalev, President, Human Rights Institute Lev Ponomarev, All-Russia Public Movement “For Human Rights”

Yuli Rybakov,

human rights advocate,

member of the Bureau of Yabloko party
Yuri Samodurov, Director of the Andrey Sakharov Museum and Public Centre Clergyman Gleb Yakunin,Public Committee In Defence of Freedom of Conscience Alla Gerber,Holocaust Foundation Alexey Simonov,Glasnost Defense Foundation Malva Landa,human rights advocate Pavel Litvinov human rights advocate Ernst Cherny, Coalition “Environmental Biology and Human Rights” Yelena Grishina, Director of Public Information Centre

Boris Vishnevsky,

Novaya Gazeta columnist, member of the Bureau of Yabloko party Mikhail Gorny, The St. Petersburg Strategy Centre Mikhail Kriger, human rights advocate Elena Sannikova,human rights advocate Andrei Buzin, Chair of Inter-Regional Association of Voters Vladimir Oyvin, “Glasnost” Foundation

Antuan Arakelyan,

Chair of the Saint-Petersburg Intersectoral Coalition “Dialogue and Cause”

Alexander Vinnikov,

Movement “For Russia without Racism”

Sergey Sorokin,

Movement against Violence

Eduard Murzin,

member of the State Assembly of Bashkiria Vadim Belotserkovsky, author, human rights advocate Gregoriy Amnuel, author Stas Dmitiresvkiy, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (Finland) Oksana Chelysheva, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (Finland)