Daily Archives: May 5, 2007

The Latest on Estonia

The lastest development in Estonia is a probe into calls on various websites for armed insurrection against the Estonian government by Russian nationalists. AFP reports:

Estonia has launched a criminal probe to try to identify who has posted calls on the Internet for the armed overthrow of the Estonian government, officials said Thursday. “The security police have opened a criminal inquiry to identify the persons who are issuing calls on the Internet for violence targeting the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Estonia,” Piret Seeman, spokeswoman of the prosecutor’s office, said in a statement. “The text of the appeal repeatedly refers to the violent seizure of power and to violent changes to Estonia’s constitutional order,” Seeman said. The appeal calls for the creation of a “Russian Resistance Army” to fight the Estonian government. Interior minister Juri Pihl said Thursday that while he hoped “the most difficult point has passed” since two nights of rioting last Thursday and Friday, “we have to be vigilant about possible breaches of the law May 9. “There are many Internet appeals and SMS messages calling for rallies on that day, but I am asking everyone not to submit to provocation,” he said. May 9 is the day Russia, and the large ethnic Russian minority in Estonia, marks the 1945 defeat over Nazi Germany in World War II. Estonia marks the allied victory over Hitler May 8 together with the rest of Western Europe. Demonstrations have been banned until May 11 in Tallinn and the surrounding region, following last week’s riots over the removal of a Soviet war memorial. The removal of the statue has plunged Estonia into a bitter row with Moscow, which ruled over the Baltic nation for five decades after World War II, when Estonia was a Soviet republic. Russians see the statue at the heart of the row as a sacred memorial to Red Army soldiers who defeated Nazism, while Estonians view it as a bitter reminder of the long Soviet occupation.

Russians are quick to condemn and silence any such calls when they come from Chechen freedom fighters. But now that the tables are turned? The Kremlin is silent, implicitly lending its approval to the idea of insurrection. Welcome to the neo-Soviet Union!

Meanwhile, writing in Windows on Eurasia and his own blog, Paul Gobel (caricatured at left) has the following analysis of the Estonia issue based on Russian-language sources:

The dismantling of the Soviet war memorial in central Tallinn continues to reverberate throughout Russia, with most of that country’s residents – including Muslims – outraged by Tallinn’s decision and especially by its timing immediately before the May 9th commemoration of the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

But some analysts in Moscow are already seeking to draw broader lessons from the crisis – see, for example, Sergei Markedonov’s essay on Politcom.ru — and one Muslim analyst there has pointedly warned that Moscow’s current approach in neighboring countries like Estonia not only weakens Russia abroad but undercuts its unity and stability at home.

In an essay posted on the Islam.ru webpage, Muslim Abdulkhakov declares that he shares the outrage of all people of good will toward what the Estonians have done in dismantling the Soviet war memorial, but he adds that Moscow’s approach has led it to fall into a trap set by the West. According to Abdulkhakov, the United States and Western Europe, instead of advancing their interests directly, use their “petty satellites” to provoke Moscow into reacting in ways that have the effect of reducing Russia’s influence by alienating the countries around the periphery of the Russian Federation. That allows the U.S. and Western Europe, he continues, to avoid responsibility for what they do, and to weaken Russia without directly challenging it, a step that could backfire on them. Moreover, if their satellites go too far, the Western countries are in a position to back away from them in order to prevent any crisis from getting out of hand.

But there is a more significant aspect of this Western policy Moscow neither fully understands nor is willing and perhaps able to copy, Abdulkhakov writes. While the West has invested in developing alternative pro-Western elites in the countries neighboring Russia and even in Russia itself, Moscow has not. Indeed, he continues, Moscow’s failure to do so – “there does not exist in any of the neighboring countries that very stratum on which [the Russian government] could rely” to promote Russian interests – combined with its obsession about its image is creating a disaster. Without such supportive alternative elites in these countries, Moscow must act unilaterally and often in ways that offend not only the countries it hopes to influence but the broader international community as well. And Moscow’s approach in these matters profoundly affects the way those who could be its allies behave as well.

In Estonia, Abdulkhakov writes, the ethnic Russian community instead of accepting “the rules of the game” of politics there, something that would give it a chance to influence Tallinn in ways that would help Moscow, has simply and unproductively “stood in opposition to other Estonians.” Unfortunately – and this is the crux of Abdulkhakov’s argument – Moscow is not in a position to do much anytime soon. Indeed, its approach to its neighbors mirrors its approach at home, reflecting in both cases a concern about face rather than about achieving its goals. When potential or actual pro-Western elites in the countries neighboring Russia look West, the Muslim analyst continues, they see regimes that are concerned about them and are interested in protecting the rights and interests of ethnic and religious groups linked to these elites but live abroad.

“With us,” Abdulkhakov says, “everything is just the reverse – as soon as this or that people begins to think about what would be not bad for itself … [Moscow] immediately seeks to put it in its place,” something that elites in the non-Russian countries can readily see.
One of the most important of these groups, he suggests, consists of the Muslims, who form majorities in six of Russia’s neighbors and an increasing fraction of the population of the Russian Federation. When the former see the latter mistreated, they are less inclined to support Moscow. And when the latter recognize that they are being mistreated or that some in the Russian leadership want to promote a “Third Rome” ideology, then they too react, and Abdulkhakov adds, the Muslims of the Russian Federation will not allow themselves to be driven back to a situation in which they are merely “tolerated.”

Consequently, Abulkhakov argues, the only way out for the Russian authorities is to develop a genuine civil society at home, one in which all citizens are treated equally and to promote its interests abroad not by unilaterally and sometimes brutally insisting upon them but rather by using the tactics the West has used against Moscow. “It is impossible to catch up and pass a Mercedes on a bicycle even if a world champion is pedaling it,” Abdulkhakov says. “But if one shifts into another Mercedes, then the chances for success are equalized.” Moscow might try something else, he concedes, but given the West’s success, there is no defensible reason for it to do so.

Moscow Times Rips Nashi a New One

The Moscow Times condemns the Nashi youth cult in an editorial as follows:

When activists from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi broke into the offices of the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty on Wednesday to disrupt a news conference called by Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand, it represented a radical departure from the group’s origins.

After the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Kremlin heavily criticized what it saw as improper foreign involvement in Kiev’s affairs, including the major role of youth groups that it said were being funded from abroad. The Kremlin also made it clear that it would not tolerate such activities at home. At about that time, Nashi rose out of the ashes of another pro-Kremlin youth group, apparently to defend the country from a possible foreign threat.

What happened Wednesday, however, had nothing to with defending the country’s sovereignty. The incident at Argumenty i Fakty was not defensive but offensive — in every sense of the word.

The Kremlin was clearly involved in the creation of Nashi, and regardless of whether it is behind the group’s threatening and aggressive behavior toward Kaljurand and staff at the Estonian Embassy, it is to some degree responsible for what is happening now.

If the Kremlin has played a role in orchestrating Nashi’s campaign against the embassy and its staff, then it is acting in direct violation of its international obligation to provide for the security of foreign missions in Russia.

If Nashi is taking the initiative on its own and the authorities are simply turning a blind eye, the government is still responsible under international law for protecting the embassy, Estonian diplomats and the embassy’s employees.

The third possibility is that authorities are trying behind the scenes to bring the Nashi activists to heel, but with little success. While this would exonerate the authorities from direct responsibility, it might actually be the worst scenario of all. Stoking the passions of youth groups with the righteousness of their ideas and then using a very broad brush to paint different countries or groups as the enemies of that idea poses the danger of an extreme — or extremist — reaction that spins out of control.

Just last month the Moscow City Court banned an anti-Kremlin youth group, the National Bolshevik Party, for “extremist activity” that included storming news conferences held by government officials and breaking into government buildings to stage protests.

Nashi, however, remains free to operate against anyone it feels has threatened the country’s interests. For the foreign community, this must be disquieting in the extreme.

Beslan Mothers Beg For Justice

The Moscow Times reports:

North Ossetia’s top judge promised on Thursday a fair hearing into possible misconduct by senior officials in the Beslan hostage crisis after former hostages and their relatives camped out overnight in the republic’s Supreme Court.

Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov said a lower court would objectively consider their appeal to investigate officials’ conduct during the 2004 school attack, which killed more than 330 people, more than half of them children.

Last month, Vladikavkaz’s Leninsky District Court ordered the local prosecutor’s office to open an investigation, paving the way for the possible prosecution of former North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov and the former head of the Federal Security Service’s local branch, Valery Andreyev.

But prosecutors — whom Beslan survivors and relatives accuse of ignoring evidence that might incriminate officials — appealed the decision to the republic’s top court. The court on Wednesday sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing, citing procedural violations.

Beslan petitioners from two organizations, the Mothers of Beslan and the Voice of Beslan, refused to leave the Supreme Court in central Vladikavkaz after the ruling, spending the night in the building and demanding to meet with Aguzarov.

Voice of Beslan head Ella Kesayeva said she was glad the judge had met with them for an hour and offered assurances, but she expressed doubt that an investigation would ever be opened.

“We think there will always be a way to stall our pleas,” she said by telephone.

“We think the prosecutor’s office will not open a criminal case because it would require summoning high-ranking officials to court as witnesses, and the prosecutor’s office is acting in the interests of the Kremlin, which is not interested in digging into the Beslan tragedy,” she said.

The republic’s Supreme Court last year convicted the sole known surviving hostage-taker and sentenced him to life in prison. Several local police officers are now on trial on charges of failing to heed warnings of the attack and take action.

But some survivors and their relatives maintain that the officials in charge of running the crisis headquarters botched their duties, significantly increasing the death toll.

Prosecutors have refused to investigate anyone overseeing the operations. They have also maintained that there is no evidence to suggest that explosions inside the school could have been triggered by flame-throwing projectile fired by federal commandos.

French Elections are Bad News for Russia

The Moscow Times reports:

Even before the votes are counted in this Sunday’s French presidential runoff election, one thing is certain: Russia’s relationship with France is going to change. During his 12 years in office, outgoing President Jacques Chirac, an admirer of Russian culture, proved a reliable ally of Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. Chirac, along with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, often sided with Russia in major international disputes.

Both candidates in the runoff, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal, have proven during the campaign to be more critical of Russia than Chirac ever was and more committed to forging a united front within the European Union on critical issues, including defense and energy policy. From Russia’s perspective, “neither of the two candidates is a positive,” said Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee. “But we are ready to have good relations with whichever candidate wins,” said Slutsky, a Liberal Democratic Party deputy.

Although the French president exercises considerable control over foreign policy, Chirac’s successor will face resistance to sharp shifts in direction from the tradition-bound foreign policy establishment. French businesspeople in Russia say their interests will not be significantly affected by the outcome of Sunday’s vote. During the campaign, Sarkozy and Royal broke most dramatically with Chirac’s support of Russia on the issue of human rights, indicating that the rhetoric coming out of the Elysee Palace over the next six years could have a sharper edge. Francois Fillon, a top adviser to Sarkozy, said during a televised debate last month that the conservative front-runner “wants to change the way foreign policy is conducted.”

“Sarkozy will tell Russian leaders with utmost frankness that the manner in which the Chechen crisis was handled was unworthy of a great country like Russia,” he said. Spokesman Axel Poniatowski said by telephone that Sarkozy’s pragmatism in foreign policy would be tempered by his concern over humanitarian issues. He added, however, that Sarkozy, whose father fled the Soviet occupation of Hungary during World War II, would reserve his sharpest criticism for private meetings with the president.

Royal has been more outspoken on human rights. In a major campaign speech, she hailed the slain investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya as an “exceptional woman” who was “assassinated.” Royal promised to be “uncompromising” as president in denouncing the rollback of rights in Russia.

Thomas Gomart, director of the Russian/NIE Center at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, said by telephone that Royal was “likely to become even more critical” following the recent crackdown on the Dissenters’ Marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg and in the run-up to the State Duma elections in December. The issue most likely to affect Russian-French relations is not Chechnya, however, but the European Union — specifically, French solidarity with its European partners. The EU was central to the campaign. Chirac was often criticized for his reluctance to push for enlargement of the EU, economic reform and the draft European constitution, which French voters rejected in a 2005 referendum. Sarkozy and Royal both support closer integration with the EU, much as Chancellor Angela Merkel has done in Germany. Both candidates advocate working more closely with the EU to develop common defense and energy policies, which will directly affect relations with Russia.

In their responses to the U.S. plan to install elements of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Moscow fiercely opposes, both candidates emphasized common European security concerns. “I don’t see how we can say that this is a Czech or Polish issue,” Sarkozy said in an interview published last month in Le Monde. “It is an issue faced by Europe as a whole unless we renounce all aspirations toward a European defense policy.” Sarkozy has also spoken of his admiration for the United States, leading his opponents to dub him an “American conservative with a French passport.”

Following a visit to Washington last September, Sarkozy responded to criticism with a swipe at Chirac’s close relationship with Putin: “When I think that those who disapprove of my visit with Bush are the same ones who would shake hands with Putin, it makes me quietly laugh,” he said, Reuters reported. Defense has not been a priority in Royal’s campaign, but she has called for renewed efforts to develop a common European defense policy. Russia prefers to deal with European countries one-on-one, however, enabling it to play EU member countries against one another. Yuly Kvitsinsky, first deputy chairman of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, said a good relationship with the EU was in Russia’s interest. “But with a weak EU, because a more unified EU could start to throw its weight around. The possibility of further [European] economic integration poses a threat to Russia,” he said.

The impact of such integration could be felt most acutely in the area of EU energy policy. Both Sarkozy and Royal support the participation of state-owned Gaz de France’s participation in the Nabucco pipeline, which would reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas. France’s highly developed nuclear power industry affords it greater independence in making energy policy than many of its neighbors, particularly Germany. Under Chirac, France went out of its way to avoid confrontation on energy issues, even when oil major Total, along with other foreign companies, was cut out of plans to develop the Shtokman gas field. As the French political elite smarted from Moscow’s abrupt decision, Chirac awarded Putin the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.

The next French president may well face a new challenge. The Arctic Kharyaga oil and gas field, which Total is developing under a production sharing agreement, has recently come under pressure from the Russian government. In the first round of the election, nearly 50 percent of French citizens in Moscow voted for Sarkozy. Royal finished a distant third with just 17 percent, said Jean-Pierre Lallin, a representative of Sarkozy’s party who was present when the votes were counted. Lallin predicted that his man would receive more than 60 percent of the votes here on Sunday. While the new president is likely to adopt a more critical stance toward Russia and to promote integration with Europe, most observers believe business will continue as usual. “I think we will come to an understanding with whichever candidate wins the job,” Kvitsinsky said. “Experience shows that the French president operates within the tradition of relations with Russia, actively developing commercial ties and exchanges.” In 2006, France became the eighth-largest exporter of goods to Russia and the fifth-largest European foreign direct investor, according the economic mission of the French Embassy.

May 4, 2007 — Contents


(1) NATO Rallies to Defend Estonia

(2) Bovt on the CFE Treaty

(3) A Reader on the Estonia Crisis

(4) Annals of Russian Tennis