Daily Archives: March 28, 2007

FSB Implicated in Politkovskaya Killing

Reader Jeremy Putley points to the following horrifying item from the Radio Free Europe newswire on Monday (it was picked up by Strade’s Chechyna List the same day):


Five former members of the now disbanded Gorets armed unit headed by Movladi Baysarov have accused pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Ramzan Kadyrov of sending three of their former colleagues to Moscow to kill Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and of having them murdered upon their return to Chechnya. In a 1,200-word missive sent to Daymohk and Chechenews and reposted on March 23rd by chechenpress.org, the five outlined Baysarov’s collaboration with the GRU and the Russian 58th Army beginning in 1996, and his estrangement from Kadyrov after Kadyrov’s father’s death in a terrorist attack in May 2004. They alleged that Kadyrov personally selected three of their colleagues and dispatched them to Moscow, where they murdered Politkovskaya on orders from an FSB Colonel identified as Igor Dranets. On their return to Chechnya, the three men reported personally to Kadyrov on their mission, after which they were purportedly executed by members of Kadyrov’s security guard. Baysarov protested the killing of his men and then left for Moscow, where he was gunned down in the street on November 18 by police sent by Kadyrov from Grozny.

Murder in Russia

Writing in Forbes Gary Weiss, who has covered business for more than 20 years as an investigative reporter and author, encapsulates the crude thuggery Russia practices against journalists of every stripe and the even more crude silence of the Russian people in the face of this outrage. Gary’s latest book is Wall Street Vs. America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments. He is also a blogger. Importantly, he exposes the absurd Russophile canard that murdered Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov was somehow Kremlin-friendly and hence that his killing was not further proof of Kremlin malignancy.

A delegation of the Committee to Protect Journalists was in Moscow recently–a high-octane one, led by Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger and former Time Inc. editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstein. There were meetings with Russian officials and journalists, but this was not one of your standard feel-good cultural exchange projects.

The subject was–and is–murder. Thirteen journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000, in a brutal and systematic campaign to snuff out free speech and terrorize the former Soviet republics. One of the slain journalists was Paul Klebnikov, an American who was gunned down on the streets of Moscow in July 2004.

Now I’m realistic, or perhaps a bit cynical. I don’t expect most people in this country to be too surprised or even upset about any of this. After all, this is Russia–the country that almost blew us to bits during the Cold War, and where American citizens live and work in an atmosphere of fear, violence and intimidation.

Still, you should care a great deal–you should be screaming and hollering, in fact–about the slaying of Paul Klebnikov, a brilliant investigative journalist who was editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. This brazen murder, which has never been solved, was a crime against America as much as it was against Paul, his family and his information-hungry Russian readers.

The time has arrived for our government to initiate an investigation, with the aim of apprehending and prosecuting Paul’s murderers wherever they may be.

That could open up a hornet’s nest of international complications, which is why a formal U.S. investigation has not been launched. But failure to act would play into the hands of the terrorists who carried out this murder. Let’s review for a moment why Paul was killed, and why it requires a strong U.S. response that–for understandable reasons–has not yet been forthcoming.

Unlike the other brave Russian journalists who were murdered, Paul’s audience was as much this country as it was Russia. He wrote books that shaped American perceptions of Russia’s new elite, in addition to his groundbreaking Russian-language investigative reporting.

At the time of his death, Paul was believed to have been investigating a complex web of money laundering involving a Chechen reconstruction fund, reaching into the centers of power in the Kremlin and involving elements of organized crime and the FSB (the former KGB).

Paul was murdered to prevent you from knowing about any of this. His murder was intended to send a message: No one, not even an American citizen, is immune to the forces in Russia who believe that a free press impinges on their license to steal.

Paul’s murder was, in other words, an act of terrorism, and it needs to be treated as such by this country.

By law, this country can prosecute the murderer of a U.S. citizen overseas when the U.S. attorney general certifies that the murder “was intended to coerce, intimidate or retaliate against a government or a civilian population.” That’s as neat a description of Paul’s slaying as I have ever found.

Ironically, the Russian authorities–for their own purposes–agree that it was an act of terrorism. They’ve maintained that Paul’s death was ordered by Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev, a Chechen separatist leader and organized crime boss who is already branded a terrorist and wanted by Moscow.

Nukhaev is an obvious suspect because he was the subject of a book that Paul wrote, Conversation With a Barbarian–a critical one, as its title suggests. But Nukhaev is just too convenient a suspect, in the view of many Americans and Russians familiar with the case. For one thing, he is, conveniently, missing.

Two Chechens were put on trial as the actual triggermen in Paul’s murder, and both were acquitted. Prosecutors appealed, and a new trial is set for Feb. 15. However, there is no assurance that the defendants will actually bother to attend the trial. Both were freed after the acquittal, and one is believed to have left the country. That alone makes the chances of obtaining justice at a new trial questionable at best.

Russian authorities have maintained that the gunmen were tasked to their mission by Nukhaev. However, Chechen gunmen and killers have been known to perform “muscle” work outside of Chechnya.

The first task of any American investigation would be to clear up the question of Nukhaev’s culpability.

An American interagency group has been monitoring the Russian investigation, and that could be the nucleus for a formal U.S. investigation that would call on the resources of the intelligence community. But there must be a free and open exchange of information between agencies–and that, apparently, has not been happening on the crucial issue of Nukhaev.

Scott Armstrong, a veteran investigative journalist and founder of the National Security Archive, who has been following the Klebnikov case, has been told by law enforcement and intelligence sources that significant intelligence on Nukhaev and on Chechen hoodlum gangs has not been shared with law enforcement.

The U.S. needs to resolve its interagency differences and use the full resources of the intelligence community to determine if indeed Nukhaev ordered Klebnikov killed. If he did, we should find him, arrest him and prosecute him. If not, we should find out who did–and put him behind bars if Russian authorities are unwilling to do so.

Obviously, this will cause (to put it mildly) complications in our relations with Russia, which has resented even the private pressure that has been applied in the Klebnikov case.

One might also argue that it sets a precedent whereby other nations may seek to prosecute Americans under their definition of terrorism. All that needs to be taken into consideration, as does the impact of our relations with Russia. But these factors are, I believe, outweighed by our own national interest in preserving the safety of American journalists and businessmen living and working in Russia.

The parallels between Klebnikov’s slaying and the murder of Don Bolles, an Arizona journalist slain in 1976, are becoming increasingly apparent. Bolles was killed for probing the mobsters and land-fraud schemes that plagued the Southwest in the mid-1970s.

The Bolles murder resulted in the creation of the Arizona Project, a consortium of journalists that was created to continue Bolles’ work. Scott Armstrong and I, along with Richard Behar and others, are members of Project Klebnikov, which has similar aims in continuing Paul’s legacy. (This column, incidentally, speaks only for myself, not for the project.)

Thanks to dedicated and relentless police work, Bolles’ killers were eventually brought to justice. No such outcome is likely in Russia, because Russia today is more akin to the Arizona of the 1870s than the Arizona of the 1970s–replete with robber barons, overnight fortunes, corrupt sheriffs and gunslingers for hire.

That is a domestic affair within Russia, I guess–but not when terrorism against Americans is involved.

Our government has the tools it needs to speak back to the hoodlums who sent that message to America 30 months ago. Time to use them.

Racism in Russia

News24 reports on the increasing horrors of racism in Russia, including state complicity:

Racism in Russia reached a new peak last year with far right groups carrying out more brazen attacks and the state organising a crackdown on ethnic Georgians, said a human rights group on Monday.

In its annual report the respected monitoring centre Sova said that far right skinhead groups were no longer operating in the shadows. Researcher Galina Kozhevnikova said: “In place of knuckle-dusters, knives and fists, skinheads are switching to guns and bombs. “We are seeing crimes of a demonstrative character, not committed under cover of darkness in back courtyards but in the presence of cameras and crowds, with the intention of creating an effect.”

Far right extremists were diversifying outside Moscow and had organised co-ordinated rallies across Russia, she added. In particular, she referred to the break-up by skinheads of a gay rights march last May and a racially motivated bomb attack on a Moscow market in August that left 11 people dead. By a conservative estimate, the number of victims of racist attacks last year rose by 17% to 539, of whom 54 people died, said the report.

‘Discriminatory campaign’

Sova also took aim at President Vladimir Putin’s government over an anti-Georgian crackdown during a diplomatic spat last year and campaigns to restrict foreigners from working in markets.

“For the first time we’ve seen an officially sanctioned discriminatory campaign, which we witnessed against Georgians last autumn,” said Kozhevnikova.

The report said: “Television and part of the print media immediately began to participate in what in essence was racist propaganda. “One can talk about an attempt by the authorities to seize the ‘nationalist initiative’ not only in the form of slogans but their methods of work.” Foreign governments have voiced growing concern at a rising tide of racist attacks in Russia, many of the attacks being on foreigners, typically students in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and elsewhere

Oborona Website Back in Action

LR is pleased to report that Oborona’s website is back up in operation now (Russian language only for now, but we are working on trying to get them to translate). Click the logo above to visit their site, click the text link to read our prior report on Oborona).

Annals of Cold War II: Europe Seeking to Kick the Russia Habit

Radio Free Europe reports on Europe’s efforts to kick its Russian energy habit:

Three meetings. Three cities. One goal: making Europe less dependent on Russian energy.

On March 22, Azerbaijan’s foreign minister was in Washington, Georgia’s prime minister was in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, and a major energy conference opened in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Topping the agenda in all three cities were plans to develop alternative oil and gas transport routes that circumvent Russia and loosen Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies. This diplomatic flurry came just one week after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a deal with Greece and Bulgaria to build a pipeline to transport Russian oil from the Black Sea to the Aegean en route to European markets.

Federico Bordonaro, a Rome-based energy analyst, says today’s scramble for control of energy transit routes is beginning to resemble the Cold War struggle between Russia and the West.

“What we were used to during the Cold War years was a kind of security dilemma,” Bordonaro said. “Powers needed to choose between alliances and between different security strategies. Something very similar is apparently going on in the field of energy security.”

Leading The Charge

In the middle of the scramble are Azerbaijan and Georgia, both of whom are trying to break free from Russia’s sphere of influence and move closer to Washington and Brussels. “The small countries, like Georgia for example, that are very, very important because of their function as energy corridors — they are especially sensitive to the influence of big powers,” Bordonaro said.

In Washington, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement to cooperate closely on energy issues. Azerbaijan is emerging as a major natural gas producer. Mammadyarov was seeking Washington’s political support to build a new generation of gas pipelines to export Azerbaijani natural gas — via Georgia and Turkey — to Europe. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza said the agreement would support Europe’s stated aim of diversifying its energy imports — and help Azerbaijan emerge as a viable alternative to Russia’s natural gas giant, Gazprom. “This high-level dialogue will aim to deepen and broaden already strong cooperation among governments and companies to expand oil and gas production in Azerbaijan for export to global markets,” Bryza said.

Particular focus, he said, will be put on the realization of the Turkey-Greece-Italy gas pipeline, and potentially the Nabucco and other pipelines that can delivery Azerbaijani gas to Europe and help diversify its natural gas supplies.

Thinking Ahead

Meanwhile, in Tbilisi, Georgia was hosting an energy conference aiming to achieve the exact same goal. Officials and industry leaders from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and the United States attended. Alexandre Khetaguri, the head of the Georgian International Oil and Gas Corporation, told RFE/RL’s Georgian Service that presentations focused on projects that could prove “potentially interesting in the future.” These projects, he said, included Nabucco as well as the construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline, which will ensure transportation of gas from Central Asian countries to Europe.

Another project discussed in Tbilisi was the proposed Georgia-Ukraine-European Union Gas Pipeline — or GUEU — which would transport Azerbaijani gas to the EU via Georgia and Ukraine. “This is a very strategic project for the whole area, starting from Azerbaijan and Georgia,” said Roberto Pirani, the chairman and technical director of GUEU. “And from the European point of view, it’s a diversification of supply into Eastern Europe. We’re talking about Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania, which are totally dependent on supplies from Gazprom. So this project will provide an alternative, more than an alternative — a complimentary route of gas, a supply of gas — to Gazprom.”

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, meanwhile, traveled to Turkmenistan on March 22 to discuss gas imports. According to media reports, Noghaideli was seeking to persuade Turkmen officials to export natural gas to Europe via the South Caucasus. Turkmenistan currently exports most of its natural gas via Russia. Bordonaro, the Rome-based energy analyst, says the struggle for control of Turkmenistan’s gas will likely heat up in the coming months.

“One of the major stakes in the next month will be Turkmenistan,” he said. “Because if a group of powers will be able to diversify the direction of Turkmen gas reserves and to avoid Russia’s control of virtually all of these reserves, this will be an important point for these other powers, and for Georgia and Azerbaijan as well.”

Divided On Diversification

Bordonaro said not all EU countries fully back efforts to diversify Europe’s energy supplies away from Russia. Most former communist countries like Poland and Lithuania are pushing Brussels to circumvent Russia. But Germany and France still lean toward making bilateral agreements with Moscow. “Europe is proving unable to forge a really unitary energy security strategy and this will also cause trans-Atlantic relations to suffer,” Bordonaro said.

Earlier this month, Hungary decided to back expansion of Russia’s Blue Stream pipeline. Gazprom plans to extend the pipeline under the Black Sea to Hungary. According to the plan, Hungary would then serve as a hub to transport Russian gas to Europe. Some analysts say Hungary’s move could undermine the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline proposal and other projects that were the subject of so much talk in Washington, Tbilisi and Ashgabat this week.