Daily Archives: January 6, 2007

Special Issue: Chechnya in Focus


Today La Russophobe offers a series of posts with a focus on Chechnya (in the above image, from Human Rights Watch, the familes of some of those who the Kremlin has made “disappear” in Chechnya hold pictures of their loved ones — if you click through to the HRW link and then click on the individual photos, you can read more about each family), including from the current status of the Politkovskaya investigation, a review of her most important book, a lengthy backgrounder on the tortured region’s current puppet dictator, information about the formation of a Chechen war crimes tribunal and an essay about efforts to promote international student exchange with the youngest victims of Russian atrocities in the region.

Writing recently in The Guardian, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa had this to say about the state of modern Russia:

The lesson of South Africa’s transition is that no divided country has a future if it insists on going forward without truth and forgiveness. Russia’s transition to democracy began at almost the same time as ours. The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. Nelson Mandela was released in February 1990. But what is happening in Russia today – rampant organised crime, the conflict with Chechnya, and carnage like the theatre hostage disaster and the Beslan school catastrophe – makes South Africa’s transition to democracy look like a Sunday school picnic. By avoiding the truth of the Soviet past, Russians have stored up trouble for the future.

In other words, those who say that Russia has the issue of Chechyna “under control” are, quite simply, mendacious liars, propagandizing on behalf of the dictator in the Kremlin. The following litany of posts makes this crystal clear.

Reporters Demand Justice for Politkovskaya, LR’s Person of the Year

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange reports:

Eleven IFEX member organisations, led by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), have called on the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the free expression groups said resolving the crime is “vital to enable journalists, who are experiencing persecution, to feel safe.” Politkovskaya was gunned down in Moscow on 7 October 2006. She was an internationally acclaimed reporter for the biweekly newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” and a staunch critic of Putin. Another IFEX member, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) has presented a separate petition to the Council of Europe calling for an international investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder. The petition has been signed by 12,175 individuals, including International Criminal Court prosecutor Carla del Ponte, European Parliament member Elmar Brok and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. Thirteen journalists, including Politkovskaya, have been murdered in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) No one has been brought to justice for any of the murders.

Politkovskaya is the runaway winner of La Russophobe‘s year-end “Person of the Year” poll.

On January 3rd, the New York Sun offered the following review of her magnum opus, Putin’s Russia. Notice how she, like La Russophobe, places the blame for Russia’s current state squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people themselves, just as any true Russian patriot would do. Those who blame others are traitors to Russia, m0re dangerous to the nation than any foreign enemy.

REPORTING FROM THE RUSSIAN FRONT

Russia is no longer Russia. It is now “Putin‘s Russia,” a country ruled by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, whose centralization of power and crackdown on the press have alarmed the West and all but stifled dissent.

Who is to blame for the former KGB spy’s election, in 2000, as president of one-sixth of the world’s landmass, and his re-election, with a stunning 70% of the vote, in 2004? Whose fault is it that, as Anna Politkovskaya writes in ” Putin’s Russia” (Henry Holt & Company, 255 pages, $25), “more than six thousand ex-KGB/FSB people followed Putin to power and now occupy the highest offices” in Russia?

According to Politkovskaya, the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people: “It is we who are responsible for Putin’s policies, we first and foremost, not Putin. The fact that our reactions to him and his cynical manipulation of Russia have been confined to gossiping in the kitchen has enabled him to do all the things he has done in the past four years.”

Politkovskaya, for one, did not limit her reactions to gossiping in the kitchen. Through her relentless reporting on the Russian army, the wars between Russia and the breakaway republic of Chechnya, corruption, and subsequent terrorist attacks on Russian soil, Politkovskaya sought to expose what she perceived as the injustices of post-Soviet life and Russia’s current leader. There is no question that her ganglandstyle murder, on October 7, was linked to her work.

The daughter of Soviet diplomats, Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa in New York City in 1958. She graduated from the prestigious Moscow State University with a degree in journalism in 1980 after defending a dissertation on the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and went on to work at the newspaper Izvestia. In the early 1990s — when she reportedly reclaimed her American citizenship — she moved on to Obshchaya Gazeta and in 1999, she landed at the muckraking weekly Novaya Gazeta as a columnist, a position she held until her death.

As the state began to assert more control over the press after 2000 with the highly publicized takeovers of the television channels NTV and TV6, Novaya Gazeta’s outspoken exposés and investigative pieces on corruption and Chechnya put it increasingly in the minority in a sea of positive news about the Kremlin. (The Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev — a member of Mr. Putin’s United Russia Party and also a former KGB agent — and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev bought a 49% stake in the paper in June, promising to keep its voice independent.)

Politkovskaya’s own searing pieces on corruption in the Russian police and army had earned her death threats before; in 2001 she fled for a brief time to Vienna, fearing for her safety. But she refused to give up and soon returned to Russia. Her columns and her books were published in the West, earning her an international reputation that was rewarded with numerous journalism awards outside Russia.

But her opinions and critiques of Mr. Putin, who enjoys an approval rating in Russia topping 70%, earned her a certain wariness among Russians. When she volunteered to mediate with the Chechen hostage-takers during the “Nord-Ost” theater siege in October 2002 — and then investigated the consequences of the poison the Russian special services used to kill the terrorists, which also left 130 theatergoers dead — some saw her as taking the Chechens’ side. Since Politkovskaya even suggested that Russians were to blame for driving Chechens to commit terrorist acts, including the Beslan school attack in 2004, she was vilified in some circles.

“It is arguably we ourselves who allowed Beslan to happen as it did,” she wrote. “Our apathy after the ‘Nord-Ost’ events, our lack of concern for the ordeal of its victims, was a defining moment.”

Politkovskaya had no patience for Russians’ apathy. The stability and order that Russians craved after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the turbulence of the Yeltsin era, and the default of 1998, which left many penniless, came at too high a price for her when it finally appeared, after 2000. In the early Putin years, “Society had become noticeably more orderly, and people even had free time,” she wrote, but it was a “monstrous stability.”

For Politkovskaya, and for many who desired a Western-style democracy for Russia, any positives of stability under Mr. Putin — more wages being paid on time; pensions raised; an agreement, finally, for Russia to join the World Trade Organization — were undercut by his failures to reform the army, the government, the judiciary, and the police. ” Putin’s Russia” contains valuable investigative reporting about the hardships of Russian soldiers, judicial corruption, and the awful situation in Chechnya.

But though Politkovskaya’s voice was undoubtedly important and her death a terrible loss for Russia’s faltering opposition, her shrill tone in ” Putin’s Russia” dilutes the effectiveness of her message, as do her overlong descriptions of Yekaterinburg’s judiciary in the late 1990s, and pages of bile directed at Mr. Putin — who can certainly be blamed for some of Russia’s ills, but not all. ( Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor, gets off easy by comparison.)

More engaging are her stories of everyday Russians, especially a nuclear submarine captain, Alexei Diky, and two victims of “Nord-Ost,” Irina Fadeeva and Yakha Neserhaeva. Politkovskaya is at her best setting out the case of a Russian army colonel, Yury Budanov, convicted of murdering a Chechen girl, and describing how her friends Tanya and Misha have adapted, or failed to adapt, to post-Soviet life.

The brazen killing in late November of Movladi Baisarov — a Chechen FSB lieutenant colonel and foe of Chechnya’s pro- Kremlin prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov — by Chechen police officers on the streets of Moscow puts the loss of Politkovskaya into high relief. Before her death, journalists at Novaya Gazeta say, she had been investigating alleged cases of torture under Mr. Kadyrov. Her computer held unpublished information on those cases, they say, but was taken away by police investigating her murder.

After Politkovskaya’s death, in October, her ex-husband, TV host Alexander Politkovsky, called her a “principled, honest journalist.”

“She was a person from another time,” he said.

Graham Watson, Member of the European Parliament, Condemns Putin over Politkovskaya’s Killing

Reporters Demand Justice for Politkovskaya, LR’s Person of the Year

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange reports:

Eleven IFEX member organisations, led by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), have called on the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the free expression groups said resolving the crime is “vital to enable journalists, who are experiencing persecution, to feel safe.” Politkovskaya was gunned down in Moscow on 7 October 2006. She was an internationally acclaimed reporter for the biweekly newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” and a staunch critic of Putin. Another IFEX member, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) has presented a separate petition to the Council of Europe calling for an international investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder. The petition has been signed by 12,175 individuals, including International Criminal Court prosecutor Carla del Ponte, European Parliament member Elmar Brok and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. Thirteen journalists, including Politkovskaya, have been murdered in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) No one has been brought to justice for any of the murders.

Politkovskaya is the runaway winner of La Russophobe‘s year-end “Person of the Year” poll.

On January 3rd, the New York Sun offered the following review of her magnum opus, Putin’s Russia. Notice how she, like La Russophobe, places the blame for Russia’s current state squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people themselves, just as any true Russian patriot would do. Those who blame others are traitors to Russia, m0re dangerous to the nation than any foreign enemy.

REPORTING FROM THE RUSSIAN FRONT

Russia is no longer Russia. It is now “Putin‘s Russia,” a country ruled by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, whose centralization of power and crackdown on the press have alarmed the West and all but stifled dissent.

Who is to blame for the former KGB spy’s election, in 2000, as president of one-sixth of the world’s landmass, and his re-election, with a stunning 70% of the vote, in 2004? Whose fault is it that, as Anna Politkovskaya writes in ” Putin’s Russia” (Henry Holt & Company, 255 pages, $25), “more than six thousand ex-KGB/FSB people followed Putin to power and now occupy the highest offices” in Russia?

According to Politkovskaya, the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people: “It is we who are responsible for Putin’s policies, we first and foremost, not Putin. The fact that our reactions to him and his cynical manipulation of Russia have been confined to gossiping in the kitchen has enabled him to do all the things he has done in the past four years.”

Politkovskaya, for one, did not limit her reactions to gossiping in the kitchen. Through her relentless reporting on the Russian army, the wars between Russia and the breakaway republic of Chechnya, corruption, and subsequent terrorist attacks on Russian soil, Politkovskaya sought to expose what she perceived as the injustices of post-Soviet life and Russia’s current leader. There is no question that her ganglandstyle murder, on October 7, was linked to her work.

The daughter of Soviet diplomats, Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa in New York City in 1958. She graduated from the prestigious Moscow State University with a degree in journalism in 1980 after defending a dissertation on the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and went on to work at the newspaper Izvestia. In the early 1990s — when she reportedly reclaimed her American citizenship — she moved on to Obshchaya Gazeta and in 1999, she landed at the muckraking weekly Novaya Gazeta as a columnist, a position she held until her death.

As the state began to assert more control over the press after 2000 with the highly publicized takeovers of the television channels NTV and TV6, Novaya Gazeta’s outspoken exposés and investigative pieces on corruption and Chechnya put it increasingly in the minority in a sea of positive news about the Kremlin. (The Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev — a member of Mr. Putin’s United Russia Party and also a former KGB agent — and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev bought a 49% stake in the paper in June, promising to keep its voice independent.)

Politkovskaya’s own searing pieces on corruption in the Russian police and army had earned her death threats before; in 2001 she fled for a brief time to Vienna, fearing for her safety. But she refused to give up and soon returned to Russia. Her columns and her books were published in the West, earning her an international reputation that was rewarded with numerous journalism awards outside Russia.

But her opinions and critiques of Mr. Putin, who enjoys an approval rating in Russia topping 70%, earned her a certain wariness among Russians. When she volunteered to mediate with the Chechen hostage-takers during the “Nord-Ost” theater siege in October 2002 — and then investigated the consequences of the poison the Russian special services used to kill the terrorists, which also left 130 theatergoers dead — some saw her as taking the Chechens’ side. Since Politkovskaya even suggested that Russians were to blame for driving Chechens to commit terrorist acts, including the Beslan school attack in 2004, she was vilified in some circles.

“It is arguably we ourselves who allowed Beslan to happen as it did,” she wrote. “Our apathy after the ‘Nord-Ost’ events, our lack of concern for the ordeal of its victims, was a defining moment.”

Politkovskaya had no patience for Russians’ apathy. The stability and order that Russians craved after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the turbulence of the Yeltsin era, and the default of 1998, which left many penniless, came at too high a price for her when it finally appeared, after 2000. In the early Putin years, “Society had become noticeably more orderly, and people even had free time,” she wrote, but it was a “monstrous stability.”

For Politkovskaya, and for many who desired a Western-style democracy for Russia, any positives of stability under Mr. Putin — more wages being paid on time; pensions raised; an agreement, finally, for Russia to join the World Trade Organization — were undercut by his failures to reform the army, the government, the judiciary, and the police. ” Putin’s Russia” contains valuable investigative reporting about the hardships of Russian soldiers, judicial corruption, and the awful situation in Chechnya.

But though Politkovskaya’s voice was undoubtedly important and her death a terrible loss for Russia’s faltering opposition, her shrill tone in ” Putin’s Russia” dilutes the effectiveness of her message, as do her overlong descriptions of Yekaterinburg’s judiciary in the late 1990s, and pages of bile directed at Mr. Putin — who can certainly be blamed for some of Russia’s ills, but not all. ( Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor, gets off easy by comparison.)

More engaging are her stories of everyday Russians, especially a nuclear submarine captain, Alexei Diky, and two victims of “Nord-Ost,” Irina Fadeeva and Yakha Neserhaeva. Politkovskaya is at her best setting out the case of a Russian army colonel, Yury Budanov, convicted of murdering a Chechen girl, and describing how her friends Tanya and Misha have adapted, or failed to adapt, to post-Soviet life.

The brazen killing in late November of Movladi Baisarov — a Chechen FSB lieutenant colonel and foe of Chechnya’s pro- Kremlin prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov — by Chechen police officers on the streets of Moscow puts the loss of Politkovskaya into high relief. Before her death, journalists at Novaya Gazeta say, she had been investigating alleged cases of torture under Mr. Kadyrov. Her computer held unpublished information on those cases, they say, but was taken away by police investigating her murder.

After Politkovskaya’s death, in October, her ex-husband, TV host Alexander Politkovsky, called her a “principled, honest journalist.”

“She was a person from another time,” he said.

Graham Watson, Member of the European Parliament, Condemns Putin over Politkovskaya’s Killing

Reporters Demand Justice for Politkovskaya, LR’s Person of the Year

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange reports:

Eleven IFEX member organisations, led by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), have called on the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the free expression groups said resolving the crime is “vital to enable journalists, who are experiencing persecution, to feel safe.” Politkovskaya was gunned down in Moscow on 7 October 2006. She was an internationally acclaimed reporter for the biweekly newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” and a staunch critic of Putin. Another IFEX member, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) has presented a separate petition to the Council of Europe calling for an international investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder. The petition has been signed by 12,175 individuals, including International Criminal Court prosecutor Carla del Ponte, European Parliament member Elmar Brok and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. Thirteen journalists, including Politkovskaya, have been murdered in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) No one has been brought to justice for any of the murders.

Politkovskaya is the runaway winner of La Russophobe‘s year-end “Person of the Year” poll.

On January 3rd, the New York Sun offered the following review of her magnum opus, Putin’s Russia. Notice how she, like La Russophobe, places the blame for Russia’s current state squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people themselves, just as any true Russian patriot would do. Those who blame others are traitors to Russia, m0re dangerous to the nation than any foreign enemy.

REPORTING FROM THE RUSSIAN FRONT

Russia is no longer Russia. It is now “Putin‘s Russia,” a country ruled by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, whose centralization of power and crackdown on the press have alarmed the West and all but stifled dissent.

Who is to blame for the former KGB spy’s election, in 2000, as president of one-sixth of the world’s landmass, and his re-election, with a stunning 70% of the vote, in 2004? Whose fault is it that, as Anna Politkovskaya writes in ” Putin’s Russia” (Henry Holt & Company, 255 pages, $25), “more than six thousand ex-KGB/FSB people followed Putin to power and now occupy the highest offices” in Russia?

According to Politkovskaya, the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people: “It is we who are responsible for Putin’s policies, we first and foremost, not Putin. The fact that our reactions to him and his cynical manipulation of Russia have been confined to gossiping in the kitchen has enabled him to do all the things he has done in the past four years.”

Politkovskaya, for one, did not limit her reactions to gossiping in the kitchen. Through her relentless reporting on the Russian army, the wars between Russia and the breakaway republic of Chechnya, corruption, and subsequent terrorist attacks on Russian soil, Politkovskaya sought to expose what she perceived as the injustices of post-Soviet life and Russia’s current leader. There is no question that her ganglandstyle murder, on October 7, was linked to her work.

The daughter of Soviet diplomats, Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa in New York City in 1958. She graduated from the prestigious Moscow State University with a degree in journalism in 1980 after defending a dissertation on the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and went on to work at the newspaper Izvestia. In the early 1990s — when she reportedly reclaimed her American citizenship — she moved on to Obshchaya Gazeta and in 1999, she landed at the muckraking weekly Novaya Gazeta as a columnist, a position she held until her death.

As the state began to assert more control over the press after 2000 with the highly publicized takeovers of the television channels NTV and TV6, Novaya Gazeta’s outspoken exposés and investigative pieces on corruption and Chechnya put it increasingly in the minority in a sea of positive news about the Kremlin. (The Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev — a member of Mr. Putin’s United Russia Party and also a former KGB agent — and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev bought a 49% stake in the paper in June, promising to keep its voice independent.)

Politkovskaya’s own searing pieces on corruption in the Russian police and army had earned her death threats before; in 2001 she fled for a brief time to Vienna, fearing for her safety. But she refused to give up and soon returned to Russia. Her columns and her books were published in the West, earning her an international reputation that was rewarded with numerous journalism awards outside Russia.

But her opinions and critiques of Mr. Putin, who enjoys an approval rating in Russia topping 70%, earned her a certain wariness among Russians. When she volunteered to mediate with the Chechen hostage-takers during the “Nord-Ost” theater siege in October 2002 — and then investigated the consequences of the poison the Russian special services used to kill the terrorists, which also left 130 theatergoers dead — some saw her as taking the Chechens’ side. Since Politkovskaya even suggested that Russians were to blame for driving Chechens to commit terrorist acts, including the Beslan school attack in 2004, she was vilified in some circles.

“It is arguably we ourselves who allowed Beslan to happen as it did,” she wrote. “Our apathy after the ‘Nord-Ost’ events, our lack of concern for the ordeal of its victims, was a defining moment.”

Politkovskaya had no patience for Russians’ apathy. The stability and order that Russians craved after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the turbulence of the Yeltsin era, and the default of 1998, which left many penniless, came at too high a price for her when it finally appeared, after 2000. In the early Putin years, “Society had become noticeably more orderly, and people even had free time,” she wrote, but it was a “monstrous stability.”

For Politkovskaya, and for many who desired a Western-style democracy for Russia, any positives of stability under Mr. Putin — more wages being paid on time; pensions raised; an agreement, finally, for Russia to join the World Trade Organization — were undercut by his failures to reform the army, the government, the judiciary, and the police. ” Putin’s Russia” contains valuable investigative reporting about the hardships of Russian soldiers, judicial corruption, and the awful situation in Chechnya.

But though Politkovskaya’s voice was undoubtedly important and her death a terrible loss for Russia’s faltering opposition, her shrill tone in ” Putin’s Russia” dilutes the effectiveness of her message, as do her overlong descriptions of Yekaterinburg’s judiciary in the late 1990s, and pages of bile directed at Mr. Putin — who can certainly be blamed for some of Russia’s ills, but not all. ( Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor, gets off easy by comparison.)

More engaging are her stories of everyday Russians, especially a nuclear submarine captain, Alexei Diky, and two victims of “Nord-Ost,” Irina Fadeeva and Yakha Neserhaeva. Politkovskaya is at her best setting out the case of a Russian army colonel, Yury Budanov, convicted of murdering a Chechen girl, and describing how her friends Tanya and Misha have adapted, or failed to adapt, to post-Soviet life.

The brazen killing in late November of Movladi Baisarov — a Chechen FSB lieutenant colonel and foe of Chechnya’s pro- Kremlin prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov — by Chechen police officers on the streets of Moscow puts the loss of Politkovskaya into high relief. Before her death, journalists at Novaya Gazeta say, she had been investigating alleged cases of torture under Mr. Kadyrov. Her computer held unpublished information on those cases, they say, but was taken away by police investigating her murder.

After Politkovskaya’s death, in October, her ex-husband, TV host Alexander Politkovsky, called her a “principled, honest journalist.”

“She was a person from another time,” he said.

Graham Watson, Member of the European Parliament, Condemns Putin over Politkovskaya’s Killing

Reporters Demand Justice for Politkovskaya, LR’s Person of the Year

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange reports:

Eleven IFEX member organisations, led by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), have called on the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the free expression groups said resolving the crime is “vital to enable journalists, who are experiencing persecution, to feel safe.” Politkovskaya was gunned down in Moscow on 7 October 2006. She was an internationally acclaimed reporter for the biweekly newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” and a staunch critic of Putin. Another IFEX member, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) has presented a separate petition to the Council of Europe calling for an international investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder. The petition has been signed by 12,175 individuals, including International Criminal Court prosecutor Carla del Ponte, European Parliament member Elmar Brok and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. Thirteen journalists, including Politkovskaya, have been murdered in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) No one has been brought to justice for any of the murders.

Politkovskaya is the runaway winner of La Russophobe‘s year-end “Person of the Year” poll.

On January 3rd, the New York Sun offered the following review of her magnum opus, Putin’s Russia. Notice how she, like La Russophobe, places the blame for Russia’s current state squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people themselves, just as any true Russian patriot would do. Those who blame others are traitors to Russia, m0re dangerous to the nation than any foreign enemy.

REPORTING FROM THE RUSSIAN FRONT

Russia is no longer Russia. It is now “Putin‘s Russia,” a country ruled by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, whose centralization of power and crackdown on the press have alarmed the West and all but stifled dissent.

Who is to blame for the former KGB spy’s election, in 2000, as president of one-sixth of the world’s landmass, and his re-election, with a stunning 70% of the vote, in 2004? Whose fault is it that, as Anna Politkovskaya writes in ” Putin’s Russia” (Henry Holt & Company, 255 pages, $25), “more than six thousand ex-KGB/FSB people followed Putin to power and now occupy the highest offices” in Russia?

According to Politkovskaya, the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people: “It is we who are responsible for Putin’s policies, we first and foremost, not Putin. The fact that our reactions to him and his cynical manipulation of Russia have been confined to gossiping in the kitchen has enabled him to do all the things he has done in the past four years.”

Politkovskaya, for one, did not limit her reactions to gossiping in the kitchen. Through her relentless reporting on the Russian army, the wars between Russia and the breakaway republic of Chechnya, corruption, and subsequent terrorist attacks on Russian soil, Politkovskaya sought to expose what she perceived as the injustices of post-Soviet life and Russia’s current leader. There is no question that her ganglandstyle murder, on October 7, was linked to her work.

The daughter of Soviet diplomats, Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa in New York City in 1958. She graduated from the prestigious Moscow State University with a degree in journalism in 1980 after defending a dissertation on the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and went on to work at the newspaper Izvestia. In the early 1990s — when she reportedly reclaimed her American citizenship — she moved on to Obshchaya Gazeta and in 1999, she landed at the muckraking weekly Novaya Gazeta as a columnist, a position she held until her death.

As the state began to assert more control over the press after 2000 with the highly publicized takeovers of the television channels NTV and TV6, Novaya Gazeta’s outspoken exposés and investigative pieces on corruption and Chechnya put it increasingly in the minority in a sea of positive news about the Kremlin. (The Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev — a member of Mr. Putin’s United Russia Party and also a former KGB agent — and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev bought a 49% stake in the paper in June, promising to keep its voice independent.)

Politkovskaya’s own searing pieces on corruption in the Russian police and army had earned her death threats before; in 2001 she fled for a brief time to Vienna, fearing for her safety. But she refused to give up and soon returned to Russia. Her columns and her books were published in the West, earning her an international reputation that was rewarded with numerous journalism awards outside Russia.

But her opinions and critiques of Mr. Putin, who enjoys an approval rating in Russia topping 70%, earned her a certain wariness among Russians. When she volunteered to mediate with the Chechen hostage-takers during the “Nord-Ost” theater siege in October 2002 — and then investigated the consequences of the poison the Russian special services used to kill the terrorists, which also left 130 theatergoers dead — some saw her as taking the Chechens’ side. Since Politkovskaya even suggested that Russians were to blame for driving Chechens to commit terrorist acts, including the Beslan school attack in 2004, she was vilified in some circles.

“It is arguably we ourselves who allowed Beslan to happen as it did,” she wrote. “Our apathy after the ‘Nord-Ost’ events, our lack of concern for the ordeal of its victims, was a defining moment.”

Politkovskaya had no patience for Russians’ apathy. The stability and order that Russians craved after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the turbulence of the Yeltsin era, and the default of 1998, which left many penniless, came at too high a price for her when it finally appeared, after 2000. In the early Putin years, “Society had become noticeably more orderly, and people even had free time,” she wrote, but it was a “monstrous stability.”

For Politkovskaya, and for many who desired a Western-style democracy for Russia, any positives of stability under Mr. Putin — more wages being paid on time; pensions raised; an agreement, finally, for Russia to join the World Trade Organization — were undercut by his failures to reform the army, the government, the judiciary, and the police. ” Putin’s Russia” contains valuable investigative reporting about the hardships of Russian soldiers, judicial corruption, and the awful situation in Chechnya.

But though Politkovskaya’s voice was undoubtedly important and her death a terrible loss for Russia’s faltering opposition, her shrill tone in ” Putin’s Russia” dilutes the effectiveness of her message, as do her overlong descriptions of Yekaterinburg’s judiciary in the late 1990s, and pages of bile directed at Mr. Putin — who can certainly be blamed for some of Russia’s ills, but not all. ( Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor, gets off easy by comparison.)

More engaging are her stories of everyday Russians, especially a nuclear submarine captain, Alexei Diky, and two victims of “Nord-Ost,” Irina Fadeeva and Yakha Neserhaeva. Politkovskaya is at her best setting out the case of a Russian army colonel, Yury Budanov, convicted of murdering a Chechen girl, and describing how her friends Tanya and Misha have adapted, or failed to adapt, to post-Soviet life.

The brazen killing in late November of Movladi Baisarov — a Chechen FSB lieutenant colonel and foe of Chechnya’s pro- Kremlin prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov — by Chechen police officers on the streets of Moscow puts the loss of Politkovskaya into high relief. Before her death, journalists at Novaya Gazeta say, she had been investigating alleged cases of torture under Mr. Kadyrov. Her computer held unpublished information on those cases, they say, but was taken away by police investigating her murder.

After Politkovskaya’s death, in October, her ex-husband, TV host Alexander Politkovsky, called her a “principled, honest journalist.”

“She was a person from another time,” he said.

Graham Watson, Member of the European Parliament, Condemns Putin over Politkovskaya’s Killing

Reporters Demand Justice for Politkovskaya, LR’s Person of the Year

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange reports:

Eleven IFEX member organisations, led by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), have called on the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the free expression groups said resolving the crime is “vital to enable journalists, who are experiencing persecution, to feel safe.” Politkovskaya was gunned down in Moscow on 7 October 2006. She was an internationally acclaimed reporter for the biweekly newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” and a staunch critic of Putin. Another IFEX member, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) has presented a separate petition to the Council of Europe calling for an international investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder. The petition has been signed by 12,175 individuals, including International Criminal Court prosecutor Carla del Ponte, European Parliament member Elmar Brok and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. Thirteen journalists, including Politkovskaya, have been murdered in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) No one has been brought to justice for any of the murders.

Politkovskaya is the runaway winner of La Russophobe‘s year-end “Person of the Year” poll.

On January 3rd, the New York Sun offered the following review of her magnum opus, Putin’s Russia. Notice how she, like La Russophobe, places the blame for Russia’s current state squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people themselves, just as any true Russian patriot would do. Those who blame others are traitors to Russia, m0re dangerous to the nation than any foreign enemy.

REPORTING FROM THE RUSSIAN FRONT

Russia is no longer Russia. It is now “Putin‘s Russia,” a country ruled by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, whose centralization of power and crackdown on the press have alarmed the West and all but stifled dissent.

Who is to blame for the former KGB spy’s election, in 2000, as president of one-sixth of the world’s landmass, and his re-election, with a stunning 70% of the vote, in 2004? Whose fault is it that, as Anna Politkovskaya writes in ” Putin’s Russia” (Henry Holt & Company, 255 pages, $25), “more than six thousand ex-KGB/FSB people followed Putin to power and now occupy the highest offices” in Russia?

According to Politkovskaya, the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people: “It is we who are responsible for Putin’s policies, we first and foremost, not Putin. The fact that our reactions to him and his cynical manipulation of Russia have been confined to gossiping in the kitchen has enabled him to do all the things he has done in the past four years.”

Politkovskaya, for one, did not limit her reactions to gossiping in the kitchen. Through her relentless reporting on the Russian army, the wars between Russia and the breakaway republic of Chechnya, corruption, and subsequent terrorist attacks on Russian soil, Politkovskaya sought to expose what she perceived as the injustices of post-Soviet life and Russia’s current leader. There is no question that her ganglandstyle murder, on October 7, was linked to her work.

The daughter of Soviet diplomats, Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa in New York City in 1958. She graduated from the prestigious Moscow State University with a degree in journalism in 1980 after defending a dissertation on the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and went on to work at the newspaper Izvestia. In the early 1990s — when she reportedly reclaimed her American citizenship — she moved on to Obshchaya Gazeta and in 1999, she landed at the muckraking weekly Novaya Gazeta as a columnist, a position she held until her death.

As the state began to assert more control over the press after 2000 with the highly publicized takeovers of the television channels NTV and TV6, Novaya Gazeta’s outspoken exposés and investigative pieces on corruption and Chechnya put it increasingly in the minority in a sea of positive news about the Kremlin. (The Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev — a member of Mr. Putin’s United Russia Party and also a former KGB agent — and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev bought a 49% stake in the paper in June, promising to keep its voice independent.)

Politkovskaya’s own searing pieces on corruption in the Russian police and army had earned her death threats before; in 2001 she fled for a brief time to Vienna, fearing for her safety. But she refused to give up and soon returned to Russia. Her columns and her books were published in the West, earning her an international reputation that was rewarded with numerous journalism awards outside Russia.

But her opinions and critiques of Mr. Putin, who enjoys an approval rating in Russia topping 70%, earned her a certain wariness among Russians. When she volunteered to mediate with the Chechen hostage-takers during the “Nord-Ost” theater siege in October 2002 — and then investigated the consequences of the poison the Russian special services used to kill the terrorists, which also left 130 theatergoers dead — some saw her as taking the Chechens’ side. Since Politkovskaya even suggested that Russians were to blame for driving Chechens to commit terrorist acts, including the Beslan school attack in 2004, she was vilified in some circles.

“It is arguably we ourselves who allowed Beslan to happen as it did,” she wrote. “Our apathy after the ‘Nord-Ost’ events, our lack of concern for the ordeal of its victims, was a defining moment.”

Politkovskaya had no patience for Russians’ apathy. The stability and order that Russians craved after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the turbulence of the Yeltsin era, and the default of 1998, which left many penniless, came at too high a price for her when it finally appeared, after 2000. In the early Putin years, “Society had become noticeably more orderly, and people even had free time,” she wrote, but it was a “monstrous stability.”

For Politkovskaya, and for many who desired a Western-style democracy for Russia, any positives of stability under Mr. Putin — more wages being paid on time; pensions raised; an agreement, finally, for Russia to join the World Trade Organization — were undercut by his failures to reform the army, the government, the judiciary, and the police. ” Putin’s Russia” contains valuable investigative reporting about the hardships of Russian soldiers, judicial corruption, and the awful situation in Chechnya.

But though Politkovskaya’s voice was undoubtedly important and her death a terrible loss for Russia’s faltering opposition, her shrill tone in ” Putin’s Russia” dilutes the effectiveness of her message, as do her overlong descriptions of Yekaterinburg’s judiciary in the late 1990s, and pages of bile directed at Mr. Putin — who can certainly be blamed for some of Russia’s ills, but not all. ( Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor, gets off easy by comparison.)

More engaging are her stories of everyday Russians, especially a nuclear submarine captain, Alexei Diky, and two victims of “Nord-Ost,” Irina Fadeeva and Yakha Neserhaeva. Politkovskaya is at her best setting out the case of a Russian army colonel, Yury Budanov, convicted of murdering a Chechen girl, and describing how her friends Tanya and Misha have adapted, or failed to adapt, to post-Soviet life.

The brazen killing in late November of Movladi Baisarov — a Chechen FSB lieutenant colonel and foe of Chechnya’s pro- Kremlin prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov — by Chechen police officers on the streets of Moscow puts the loss of Politkovskaya into high relief. Before her death, journalists at Novaya Gazeta say, she had been investigating alleged cases of torture under Mr. Kadyrov. Her computer held unpublished information on those cases, they say, but was taken away by police investigating her murder.

After Politkovskaya’s death, in October, her ex-husband, TV host Alexander Politkovsky, called her a “principled, honest journalist.”

“She was a person from another time,” he said.

Graham Watson, Member of the European Parliament, Condemns Putin over Politkovskaya’s Killing

Support the RCFS

David McDuff has announced the formation of a Chechnya war crimes tribunal in Russia. His blog A Day at a Time states:

The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) in Nizhny Novgorod (Russian Federation) has formed an initiative to start a tribunal on war crimes and human rights abuses in Chechnya. The group has circulated a draft document outlining the possible form such a tribunal might take, based on historical and current precedents which include the Nuremburg Trials (1945-49), the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of the United Nations, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR),the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal.

The Nizhny Novgorod group has recently founded an identical sister organization in Finland. The intention is to guarantee the continued working of the group even if (or rather, when) the organization is banned in late January by a process in the Russian Federal judicial system.

If you are interested in supporting the RCFS, please send an email message to the group’s deputy managing director, Oksana Chelysheva (mirror_wolfe@hotmail.com).

Heaven only knows how long these heroic Russians have to live if they continue this work. They deserve our support and heartfelt thanks.

Student Exchange Reaches out to Chechnya

Sign and Sight reports on a student exchange program that seeks to reach out a helping hand to the youngest victims of Russian oppression in Chechnya (translated from the original German):

“Man does not live by bread alone. What I missed most in the basements of Grosny, as the hail of bombs fell, were my school books, my films, and all the things that would have freed my soul from this hell.” Milana Terloeva is 26 years old and Chechen. In Russia, that’s a crime. And for us in France? In September of 2003, she left the rubble of Grosny and came to Paris. Three years later, she finished a journalism degree at the Institute for Political Sciences in Paris (Sciences-Po), published a wonderful book (“Danser sur les ruines, une jeunesse tchetchene” Hachette Litterature, Paris 2006) and is now getting ready to return to her homeland. Milana epitomises the success of Etudes Sans Frontieres (Studies Without Borders).

“Man does not live by bread alone.” How many boys and girls have been deprived of an education by the countless wars and dictatorships that cover this planet with blood? In the face of the current threat of international terrorism, could there be a more worthy goal for Western youth than helping students from decimated countries to gain access to knowledge and culture? What undertaking could be more effective in countering these merchants of hatred who exploit the desperation of those who have been forgotten by the West? The handful of French students who grouped together in March 2003 to found Etudes Sans Frontieres had precisely this in mind: extending a hand to those who have been sent into exclusion by the insanity of human history.

They were at a demonstration against the war in Chechnya (200,000 dead in a population of one million), which drew no more than a hundred people onto the streets of Paris, and they asked themselves the obvious but nonetheless unspoken question: “What can we do to rescue young Chechens of our age?” Because foreigners are not allowed to work in Chechnya, they couldn’t act locally, so they decided to adopt some Grosnian students and offer them the opportunity to study in Paris. The sceptics and “realists” laughed sadly: impossible! And yet it became reality. In September of 2003, the first generation of students supported by Etudes Sans Frontieres were taken on.

Our treasured and much missed friend Anna Politkovskaya was a believer in the project from the very beginning and understood its significance immediately. A droplet in an ocean of indifference? Nobody understood better than she the decimation of this merciless war, nobody had risked his or her life as often in order to meet the shadow-dwellers of Grosny. In her upbeat way, she said that ten, twenty, thirty or fifty students who go to Europe are equally a sign of hope for those who stay behind in the ruins. No, they are not alone in the world. No, the word Chechen had not been completely forgotten. The “ghetto” opened a crack. The murderers worked through the night, burning libraries. It’s up to us to build moral bridges. The enemies of freedom murdered Anna but her fight for truth continues. For example, with the young people of Etudes Sans Frontieres, with Milana and the Chechen students who are being invited to Paris and Lille, to Rome, Montreal, Barcelona…

Chechnya was the first task that the group set for itself, and it has remained their main one so far. Rwanda came next. More young people from other countries are waiting. Should the project become financially and political secure and gain widespread acceptance, there seems no reason not to invite young people from Darfur and Iraq to our schools and universities.

A war ends when educated people are free to work on building peace. Finding a way out of a crisis involves creating a democratic balance between power and force. And this balance can be learned in inter-cultural exchange. The murdered Chechen president Aslan Maschadov (the only one to have ever been freely elected) understood this and rallied Western countries to allow Chechen students into their universities. He dreamed of liberally oriented leaders who would be capable of rebuilding a society that had been destroyed by war and annihilated by violence. The West played deaf. Chechnya remained isolated and the factions sowed further chaos. In the meantime, the Wahhabi received scholarships in countries well known for their liberalism and secularism, places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Terrorism is not just an issue for those networks that are supposed to eliminate it. It is fed by an ideology of isolation, hopelessness and hatred. And this ideology cannot be combated with military-police cooperation alone. The psychological straight jacket in which the victims of the political and social plagues of terror and isolation are constrained, must be torn apart.

There are two kinds of engagement. The first seeks to change the world according to a pre-determined dogma. The second, more modest, seeks to bandage humanity’s bleeding wounds. The failure of the first must not prevent young people from applying themselves to the second. Sartre was familiar with both. Towards the end of his life, the member of the communist party who had loudly called anti-communists dogs, supported anti-Soviet dissidents as well as the Boat people who were fleeing Vietnam’s communist dictatorship. He renounced dogmatism and committed himself to the principle of unconditional solidarity with those who enjoy freedom as well as those from whom it has been stolen. Etudes Sans Frontieres follows in this philosophical and practical tradition.

On November 8, 2006, the group celebrated the founding of its Italian branch at the Palazzo Farnese under the umbrella of the French ambassador Yves Aubin de La Messiziere and in the presence of the economic minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa as well as the senator and winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine Rita Levi-Montalcini. It provided a fantastic example for all of Europe. If our flourishing continent doesn’t help the young victims of wars and dictatorships, then it shouldn’t hope to be saved from catastrophes, in fact it can only expect more of them. No civilisation has been able to survive long in a state of wealth and peace without being overtaken at some point by the chaos of the world around it. Since 9/11, we know that problems in Kabul can have an impact on Manhattan. The centre and the periphery are inextricably bound to one another: there are no islands left in this world.

A few dozen students overcoming the general chaos is not a huge deal, but nor is it laughable. Because this is what Europe means. Voltaire ended “Candide” with these words: “Let us cultivate our garden” (Cultivons notre jardin). Many commentators linger for far too long in the garden, forgetting that the task at hand is in fact the cultivation. Cultivating means building cultural communities. In his day, this was the intention of Benedictus (whom the last Pope venerated), who founded several monasteries from his base in Monte Cassino, gentle islands of knowledge and debate where the foundation stones of our culture were preserved.

Our garden has become the world. Let us follow in the footsteps of the anti-clerical Voltaire and the Christian saints. Etudes Sans Frontieres can act as a collective movement of spiritual ecology and solidarity against the theoreticians of the culture wars. Much is being said about planetary dangers threatening our “environment” and rightly so: the over-logging of forests, global warming, endangered species. But let’s not forget that the first human environment is made up of humans. And in the future, the greatest threat to humanity will remain the destruction not of nature but of culture. Of critical importance will be our ability to lend an ear to others and to try to understand.

The Warrior King

Strade’s Chechnya List carries an article, via Jeremy Putley, from the Independent entitled “Ramzan Kadyrov: The warrior king of Chechnya” which exposes the Kremlin’s puppet dictator (pictured, left)in Chechnya as the maniac he unsurprisingly is:

THE WARRIOR KING OF CHECHYA

Ramzan Kadyrov pairs pinstripes with a Kalashnikov. He’s a loving husband who praises polygamy. He counts Mike Tyson as a friend, and President Putin as his closest confidant. Adored by his war-weary countrymen, he’s been accused of torture at home and murder abroad. Andrew Osborn gets a rare audience with the self-styled Che of Chechnya

Published: 04 January 2007

“King Ramzan” swaggers into his Grozny office like a man with the world at his feet. He’s making an odd smacking sound with his lips, but his courtiers – and there are plenty of them – pretend not to notice. The Russian-backed Prime Minister of Chechnya is not a man to be messed with, especially if you work for him.

At the age of just 30, Ramzan Kadyrov counts the Russian President Vladimir Putin as a close ally, wields enormous power in his war-ravaged world-infamous republic, and is the object of a Stalin-style personality cult. He is a man whose fearsome reputation is matched only by tales of his eclectic and unusual hobbies and tastes.

His “pets” include a lion and a rare and endangered tiger. He is a keen boxer who counts the convicted rapist Mike Tyson among his friends, and he has a penchant for ostentatiously handing out wads of 1,000-rouble (£20) notes among his subjects.

Even more unorthodox are his views, which have raised eyebrows in Moscow and beyond. He has advocated polygamy, banned gambling, and clamped down on the sale of alcohol – all policies that would cause a riot if implemented elsewhere in Russia.

Wherever you turn in Grozny, Chechnya’s bombed-out capital, Kadyrov is there. His bearded face smiles down at you Big Brother-style, his penetrating eyes reminding you who’s in charge. One such portrait, an oddly avuncular likeness, gazes across the city’s freshly rebuilt Minutka Square, an oasis of eerie quiet that was the scene of fierce fighting in two brutal and fruitless wars of independence.

“We’re proud of you!” gushes the legend below, one of many flattering pro-Kadyrov slogans that festoon the war-scarred city. Yet admiration of Kadyrov, as he and his image-makers know all too well, is far from universal.

Bereaved colleagues of the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya have suggested that he may have ordered her killing as retribution for her investigations into human-rights abuses in Chechnya. Meanwhile, human-rights groups claim that he has personally overseen horrific torture sessions in several private dungeons said to be near or beneath his homes. And his loyal foot soldiers – nicknamed “Kadyrovites”, to his great annoyance – stand accused of torturing, kidnapping and murdering anyone who has obstructed the Kremlin’s goal of restoring order in the troubled republic.

To the distaste of some politicians in Moscow, there is another entry on his CV that is equally unsettling: he is a former separatist rebel who fought against the Russians, only to change sides and join them – for now.

Meeting the man is a sobering experience, and even our Russian minders from Moscow seem nervous. “Stick strictly to the questions that you indicated you would ask beforehand,” one of them tells me as we wait in the corridors of the heavily fortified Chechen-government compound in the heart of Grozny.

When I suggest that I may have one or two other spontaneous questions, the response is icy. “Yes, I bet I know what kind of questions they will be,” spits one minder. “Disgusting ones.” Silence descends until the moment that we are summoned inside, and the minder’s face becomes redder and redder as the time approaches.

Inside, Kadyrov’s office resembles the boardroom of a multinational corporation, albeit with a few significant differences. The federal Russian flag stands alongside the green flag of the Chechen republic, and from one wall, a framed black-and-white picture of Che Guevara stares down. Kadyrov clearly identifies with the Argentine who made his name in Cuba, since his fan club (yes, he does have a fan club) often waves aloft stencilled posters of the Chechen leader wearing Che’s beret and adopting the same uncompromising stare.

The subtext is clear: Kadyrov wants to be seen as a former freedom fighter who has swapped his camouflage fatigues for a suit. Further along the same wall hangs what looks at first glance to be a gold-encrusted icon but, on closer examination, turns out to be a portrait of his late father. He frequently voices his admiration for Kadyrov senior, a former Russian-backed President of Chechnya who was murdered in 2004 in a bomb attack, and this occasion is to be no different. A tearaway in his youth, Kadyrov explains ruefully how he has always tried – but often failed – to live up to his father’s expectations.

A colourful portrait of a woman wearing a headscarf adorns another wall, presumably Kadyrov’s mother, and I notice at least two likenesses of his benefactor, Vladimir Putin.

Through the window, the green-topped minaret of a newly built mosque reaches up into the gloomy Grozny sky, a reminder that Kadyrov has styled himself as a devout Muslim and adopted elements of shariah for his regime. It’s an image that was dented last year when a home movie put on the internet showed a man of his appearance frolicking in a sauna with two prostitutes. Kadyrov insisted that it wasn’t him, referring to it only as “a provocation”.

When he enters the room, it falls nervously silent and everyone stands up while he takes his seat at the head of a long, polished wooden table. In person, he exudes raw charisma and an oddly unrefined regality – his “King Ramzan” nickname – an epithet chosen by some elements of the Russian military, seems apt. A squat, powerfully built man, he swaggers rather than walks, with his powerful boxer’s shoulders almost bursting out of his pinstriped suit. His press attaché, a small, intense man, keeps an eye on his charge as if he were guarding a stick of dynamite primed to explode if faced with one hostile question. But during this, one of his very rare audiences with foreign media, Kadyrov deals calmly and frankly with the many allegations against him, no matter how grave.

Wincing slightly as he listens to some of the questions, he categorically denies any involvement in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who made her name investigating human-rights abuses in Chechnya. She was gunned down in the lift of her Moscow apartment block on 7 October (coincidentally, Putin’s birthday), and police are still looking for her killer.

Kadyrov appears to find it far-fetched that he had anything to do with it. “Why would I have killed her?” he says, in heavily accented Russian (Chechen is his first language). “She used to write bad things about my father, and if I had wanted to, I could have done something bad to her at that time. Why now?”

Sticking to the Kremlin’s oft-repeated line on the matter, he urged investigators to look instead at the UK-based oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who he suggested had ordered her murder (and that of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko) to create instability and blacken Russia’s name. “She [Politkovskaya] would have done better to stay at home and be a housewife,” he muses, in a typically acerbic aside. “But that [her job and her murder] was her destiny. What can you do? The Almighty is the judge.” When discussing Politkovskaya’s murder, he is clearly uncomfortable, but does his best to put on a brave face.

Yet the fact remains that Politkovskaya was one of Kadyrov’s fiercest critics, calling for him to be removed from power and put on trial for his alleged crimes. “He is an extremely cruel man,” she told Ekho Moskvy radio in one interview, shortly before her death. “I have met several people who told me that Ramzan Kadyrov personally tortured them in his home in the village of Tsentoroi.

“They [the witnesses] said that Kadyrov and the other man with him used very elaborate torture. For example, they peel narrow strips of skin off a person’s back. This is the sort of torture you would call medieval brutality.”

Ramzan’s PR advisers, some of whom hail from Moscow, have clearly prepared him to answer such charges calmly and without losing his cool, and he has a ready-made explanation.It is simplistic, and he repeats it like a mantra when faced with any allegation of wrongdoing, branding the human-rights organisations that accuse him, as “enemies” paid to invent crimes that he never committed. “I don’t consider most of them human-rights activists but con artists playing on people’s feelings for their own glory,” he says, warming to his theme, his small eyes flashing with passion.

“Why would Kadyrov [he is prone to refer to himself in the first person] need this [torture and murder]? I’ve lost everything for the sake of creating order here. I’ve lost the most precious person in my life [his father] in 2004. Let them come up with proof, rather than just words.”

Much of Kadyrov’s power stems from one man: Vladimir Putin. When his father was murdered on 9 May 2004 as a bomb exploded beneath him while he reviewed a military parade in Grozny, the bereaved Kadyrov junior appeared on Russian state television, alongside a sombre-looking Putin, just hours later. It was interpreted as a vote of confidence in the young Chechen, a feeling that was reinforced when Kadyrov was awarded a “Hero of Russia Star”, one of the Kremlin’s top honours.

So it comes as little surprise that Kadyrov is unflinchingly loyal to Putin, who is due to step down in 2008. “Russia has never had such a president [as Putin],” he gushes. “If I had my way, I would make him president for life. He and his team are the only ones who can maintain Russia’s might and its greatness.”

Though Kadyrov is already extremely powerful as Chechnya’s prime minister, it is an open secret that he covets the presidency of Chechnya, a position currently held by a mild-mannered former policeman called Alu Alkhanov. But, like politicians the world over, he is self-deprecating in the extreme when questioned about his ambitions, and styles himself as a humble servant of his long-suffering people. “Why should I have such ambitions? I am a team player.

“I am a son of my nation. It does not matter whether I am prime minister, a soldier, or a policeman. The main thing is to be useful to the people, that I can look into people’s eyes, and that people see that there are real benefits from my activities.”

When asked whether he feels that he may have become the object of an unhealthy cult of personality, his face contorts with displeasure and he is equally dismissive. “Personality cults are an insult to Islam,” he says, bluntly. “It’s ‘non-friends’ who spread such speculation. I am a son of the Chechen people. I am no different from anyone else.”

One of the themes that exercise him is Chechnya’s image on the world stage as a war-flattened kidnap-capital inhabited by terrorists. “In the past,” he says “we [Chechens] weren’t needed by anyone. We were called bandits, terrorists. Even the Russian press said we were fascists. We were used – I don’t want anyone to use us again.”

At this point, the assembled advisers are becoming visibly twitchy and clearly want the audience to end, but Kadyrov appears to be getting into his stride. He warms to a question about Iraq, lambasting the US President, George Bush, for “irritating” Muslims the world over with his policies, and urging him to “find a common language” with Iraqis. “If America does not come to terms with the local population, the Muslims, they will never establish order there. They should find a second Saddam Hussein and come to terms with him. That’s my personal opinion.”

But it is when asked about his government’s claim for a slice of the revenue accrued from oil extracted on its territory that his advisers appear desperate to draw an end to the interview. It is an issue that cuts straight to the heart of Moscow’s relations with Chechnya. At the moment, the republic’s oil reserves are controlled firmly by the Kremlin, but Kadyrov has long been keen to claw back some of that money from the centre. A note is passed, urging him to wrap things up, but he tosses it aside with disdain and barks something at his press attaché in Chechen that silences the man immediately.

“We get little [revenue],” he says, sullenly, looking down at the table. When asked how much he wants, his answer is typically straightforward: “A lot.” In Kremlin circles, such blunt talking is reported to have made certain figures nervous of giving him so much power. Those fears were compounded in November when a special group of Chechen “policemen” shot dead Movladi Baisarov, a prominent critic of Kadyrov, in central Moscow, 1,000 miles north of Chechnya.

One month before his death, Baisarov, who had himself been accused of involvement in murders and kidnappings, gave an outspoken interview about Kadyrov in which he appeared to foresee his own demise. “He [Kadyrov] acts like a medieval tyrant,” said Baisarov. “If someone tells the truth about what is going on, it’s like signing his own death warrant.” On 18 November, Baisarov was shot dead on Moscow’s Leninsky Prospekt while apparently resisting arrest. Many believe that he was eliminated because he knew too much. “Ramzan acts with total impunity,” Baisarov had said. “I know of many people executed on his express orders, and I know exactly where they are buried.”

The frequency and seriousness of such allegations has prompted Kadyrov’s detractors to argue that Moscow has made a Faustian pact that it will come to regret. Moscow may be able to avoid prosecuting wars that end in hollow victories, they contend, but the price for such a peace is too high.

Inside Chechnya, however, Ramzan’s star seems to shine brighter and brighter. Grozny’s main thoroughfare, Victory Prospekt, has been renamed Kadyrov Prospekt, and the city’s centrepiece is a statue to his late father, with a two-man Kalashnikov-wielding honour guard around the clock. Indeed, at times, Chechen state TV feels like Kadyrov TV. “Ramzan: A Hero of Our Time. Discuss”, one channel urges schoolchildren taking part in a nationwide essay competition. A few minutes later, to the accompaniment of rousing Top Gun-style music, the same channel presents this year’s candidates for “Person of the Year”. No prizes for guessing who gets top billing.

Ramzan’s unmistakable features loom over the republic’s schoolchildren in their playgrounds, too.”Ramzan is a role model for youth and a worthy son of his people,” reads a giant banner on one school’s façade.

Indeed, it’s impossible to find anybody with a bad word to say about him. Vaaka Zakayev, who has lived in a refugee hostel in Grozny with his wife and five children without running water or a proper lavatory for the past four years, is typical. He says that he can’t get financial compensation for his bomb-destroyed home, but insists that he doesn’t blame Kadyrov for that, or for his living conditions. “If Ramzan knew our situation, he would fulfil his obligations immediately,” he says. “But they [his advisers] don’t tell him. He’s a good man. He just needs to be allowed to work.”

Anzor Muzaev, the rector of Grozny’s main university, is similarly impressed. “We’ve had many heroes and leaders in our history, but he’s the first person to care for every member of the population.”

Even Zargan Nushaeva, who says that her 18-year-old son was kidnapped by Russian soldiers in 2001 and that she can’t find out what happened to him to this day, doesn’t bear Ramzan any ill will. “We’re relying on him. We have hope in him. I have a good opinion of him.” In his people’s eyes, Ramzan has found a way of promoting Chechnya’s interests that avoids fighting never-ending wars that turn the republic’s towns into a lunar landscape. After two brutal wars, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 deaths, one million newly created refugees, numerous war crimes, and the aerial and artillery bombardment of civilian cities, Kadyrov is portrayed as the man who is picking up the pieces and rebuilding broken lives and homes. But, like his personality, his past is contradictory and complex.

In the first Chechen War, from 1994-96, he led a unit of rebel fighters inspired by his father, a senior Muslim cleric who famously called for a jihad against the Russians, and for every Chechen to kill 150 Russians.

In 1999, the year that Russia launched the second Chechen War, both father and son had a dramatic change of heart, and switched sides to join their former enemies in a battle against rebel forces that they claimed were more interested in radical Islam than they were in independence. Today, Kadyrov’s Kremlin-friendly advisers present that decision as an honourable and pragmatic choice that helped to douse the flames of war while allowing the Chechen people to claim a large measure of autonomy from Moscow.

But, most importantly, in both Russian and Chechen eyes, Kadyrov is the guarantor of peace, no matter how fragile. The man himself insists that Chechens have turned their back on war once and for all, and that the future is bright.

The question is: will he live long enough to see it? Chechen leaders such as Kadyrov’s late father have a habit of dying violently, and the self-styled hard man of the Caucasus has many enemies, including embittered elements of the Russian military who can’t stomach the fact that a former rebel is now backed by the same Kremlin that sacrificed the lives of so many troops. If Kadyrov does decide to slip the Kremlin’s leash, as some analysts believe is inevitable, many in the military would relish the opportunity of bringing him to heel. But that, they know, would probably trigger a third Chechen war.

“The situation seems calm on the surface but it’s not. It could blow up at any minute,” says Timurlan Ibailov, one of a huddle of unemployed men all seeking work at the marketplace in the Chechen town of Argun.

“We’ll only know that things are normal when people stop carrying guns. But look around. At the moment, almost everyone has a gun.”

Strade’s publisher has this to say about Kadyrov:

The international media can’t leave out a single chance to fall into the Kremlin’s propaganda trap. E.g. their never-ending stories about the importance of Ramzan Kadyrov. The author may be critical of the guy, but he clearly didn’t understand what the occupiers of Chechnya wanted him to transport: a) that Ramzan is a very important figure in Chechnya and wielding some real power in the area, b) that he is a “former rebel”, and c) that it isn’t sure he wouldn’t try to use his very real power in order to promote his own version of “independence”.

Regarding a: Ramzan K. might have very real power to murder, torture, rape, loot and rob all over Chechnya and adjacent regions, he also has the right to keep tigers as pets, plan water-lands, win the Miss Chechnya contest and open Potemkin facades in Grozny. But he has absolutely no power to take any *political* decision of his own. He isn’t even allowed to murder important people without an order from his bosses in Moscow. He is a non-entity, intellectual and otherwise, provided by his handlers with a firearm and a gang.

Regarding b: Ramzan is no “former rebel”. He was almost still a kid during the first war. And when the second war started, his daddy quickly declared his loyalty to the invaders and Ramzan became the illiterate spoiled son of a quisling figurehead. Anyone who is in doubt about who is giving the orders ought to recall the scene after the demise of Ramzan’s daddy, when Putin had the little one brought to his office from his Moscow apartment, still in a track-suit, looking dumb and confused, receiving orders – and had this B-movie scene broadcast to the whole world in all its brutal truth.

Regarding c: Another way to implant the idea in people’s heads that Ramzan is the proud owner of an intellect, as well as real powers, enough for him to possibly start his own independence movement. This constantly repeated tune has three objectives: 1) to create the impression that he is a real political factor in Chechnya, meaning that there is an genuine political process going on in that “Russian province”; 2) that Chechnya is still potentially “dangerous”, even if the war is “over”; 3) to provide the Putin regime with a pretext for the day they no longer need the mini-butcher and decide to retire him.