Daily Archives: July 18, 2007

July 18, 2007 — Contents

WEDNESDAY JULY 18 CONTENTS


(1) Barbaric Russian Hypocrisy in Estonia

(2) The Neo-Soviet Attack on Lawyers Continues, Apace

(3) Annals of Dubrovka

(4) Dmitry Prigov, RIP

(5) A(nother) Year of Humiliating Failure in Russian Ladies’ Tennis

Barbaric Russian Hypocrisy on Estonia

When the West wants to impose sanctions on a country Russia likes, Russia says sanctions are ineffective and counter-productive. It favors negotiations with states like Iran. But what happens when a country Russia doesn’t like is involved? Then Russia is free to pursue sanctions and the world must butt out of Russia’s business. And, of course, Russia is free to use its only weapon, energy, to apply the sanctions despite its claims of being a “reliable partner” who will not weaponize energy. Russia is polarizing the entire world against it by picking on smaller countries who cannot defend themselves, just as in Soviet times. How can Russia expect meet any fate other than the one met by the USSR? TVNZ.com reports:

Russia’s state railways have ordered exporters to halve shipments of refined oil products, metals and coal via Estonia amid renewed political tensions with Tallinn, industry and trade sources said. “There was a meeting chaired by (Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei) Ivanov and he ordered that transit via Estonia be limited,” one industry source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A source close to Ivanov denied his boss had ordered the cut and state railways declined to comment.

But oil traders said major exporters of refined products on the route had already halved shipments. “It seems very similar to what we had earlier this year, although more exporters are likely to be affected,” one source said. Moscow’s relations with Tallinn hit a low in April when Estonia removed the statue of a Red Army soldier from the centre of its capital, angering Moscow and prompting state railways to order a complete halt of rail deliveries to Estonia. The ban was lifted after 10 days.

Trade sources warned that if supply disruptions last longer this time, exporters would be hurt by traffic backlogs and supply gluts inside Russia. Estonia is the transit route for 25 million tonnes per year of Russian fuel, or around a quarter of the country’s total oil products exports. It is also an important transit route for coal, metals, timber and chemicals. Many Russian politicians have called on state officials to stop re-exports of goods via Estonian ports, while Tallinn has said Moscow should be kicked out of the G8 Group of most industrialised nations for its controversial energy policies.

Glut fears

Problems have eased since May, although small firms had faced problems with gasoline and naphtha exports via Estonia. The new cuts will affect the most important product, fuel oil, mostly used by power stations. “All major fuel oil exporters – TNK-BP, Gazprom Neft and even Surgut’s Kirishi – have been told to re-route half their volumes to other destinations,” said a trader with a major operator on the route. “But I still don’t understand how it can be done, because nothing has changed since the last cut and there are no alternative routes for these volumes.” Russian Railways said in June it would cut the number of rail cars plying the Estonia export route to 980 per day from the usual 1,500.

It asked oil products exporters to seek alternative ports in Lithuania and Latvia and requested that timber cargoes go via Finland and coal via Ukraine and Russia’s Ust-Luga. Trading sources at Estonian terminals said they believed the new ban would not last long again: “What will Russia do with fuel oil, especially in the middle of summer? It doesn’t look serious to me,” said one. Russia has drastically cut transit shipments of oil via neighbouring states, especially Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, in recent years after President Vladimir Putin called on the government to stop subsidising its neighbours with transit fees. Oil supplies are now mainly concentrated in Russia’s biggest Baltic Sea port, Primorsk. Russia also wants to build a major refined products export outlet there in addition to the ports of St Petersburg and Vysotsk, which already compete with Estonia.

The Neo-Soviet Attack on Lawyers Continues Apace

An editorial in Vedemosti, via the Moscow Times, shows how the cowardly cohorts of the Kremlin are attacking the attorneys of dissidents just as was done in Soviet times:

Lawyer Boris Kuznetsov fled Russia after Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court initiated a criminal case on Wednesday, charging him with the disclosure of state secrets. How could the lawyer have gained access to state secrets? The intelligence services and prosecutor’s office believe that Kuznetsov violated the law by copying and distributing secret wiretap recordings of his client, former Federation Council Senator Levon Chakhmakhchyan.

Having copied the wiretap records, Kuznetsov sent a copy of the tapes by mail to the Constitutional Court. There, employees — who had no security clearance — were able to analyze the material in the tapes and make them available to journalists.

Kuznetsov and his defense team point to Article 7 of the law regarding state secrets: “Information regarding the violation of a citizen’s rights and freedom shall not be regarded as classified.” Nonetheless, the district court made the decision about the purported criminal nature of Kuznetsov’s actions in two weeks. Moreover, even before the district court’s decision, authorities demanded that Kuznetsov sign a statement that prohibited him from disclosing facts of the case. This means that the authorities deliberately intended to classify the information on the tapes.

“The Kuznetsov Affair” is a fairly typical case. But it also represents a significant development because law enforcement agencies have recently intensified their battle against high-profile lawyers. Kuznetsov is one of them. This is how Kuznetsov articulated his credo: “If the evidence of innocence is located in a pile of crap and my hands are tied, I will obtain the evidence with my teeth.”

He fights to defend the rights of people whom the government has already predetermined to be guilty — for example, the scientist Igor Sutyagin and the founder of The Educated Media Foundation, Manana Aslamazian. Kuznetsov also investigated sensitive cases that the government has been trying to forget — for example, the reasons why the Kursk submarine sank in 2000, killing 118 sailors. In 2005, Kuznetsov published his findings in the book “It Sank: The Truth That Prosecutor General Ustinov Concealed About Kursk.” He also filed with the European Court of Human Rights the complaints of family members of sailors who died in the Kursk accident.

As a rule, there were previous attempts to remove lawyers from sensitive cases or revoke their licenses under fabricated pretexts. This was exactly the situation with the lawyers defending Yukos and with Karina Moskalenko, who represented Russian plaintiffs against the government in Strasbourg.

After being confronted with the corporate solidarity of lawyers, the intelligence services have resorted to initiating seemingly absurd cases against them. But these cases have very sharp teeth and threaten lawyers with the real risk of serious punishment. Kuznetsov could receive up to four years in prison (up to seven years under aggravated conditions) and a three-year prohibition against practicing law.

The KGB took similar measures in the 1970s and 1980s against lawyers who defended dissidents. The battle against lawyers is counterproductive because it undermines the authority of the entire judicial system. This could very well mean that an even higher number of cases will be sent to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg by Russians claiming that they have been denied their right of legal defense at home.

Authorities should remember that Russian defendants, who have become victims of persecution as a result of clan struggles or the fight for the ownership of property, will turn to “kamikaze lawyers” such as Kuznetsov who are not afraid of fighting against the system.

Annals of Dubrovka: Just When you Think They Can’t Possibly Sink Any Lower they Sink so Low that . . .

The Times of London reports:

A young Chechen who tried to negotiate the release of hostages during the Moscow theatre siege five years ago, only to be arrested on terrorism charges and imprisoned in the Arctic, has said he was drugged by the Russian security service so that it could claim to have caught one of the perpetrators.

Zaur Talkhigov, 30, is half way through his eight-and-a-half-year sentence. He vehemently rejects claims by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, that he was an accomplice of the Chechen terrorists who took more than 800 theatre-goers hostage.

Independent observers who attended his trial insist that the charges were trumped up and his lawyer is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Last week he said that FSB agents who had used him to pass messages to the hostage-takers, drugged him before detaining him. Since his arrest he has been moved 15 times between different prisons, he says.

According to Talkhigov, he has been severely beaten by guards. At one point he was held for a year in solitary confinement. He has caught hepatitis C, apparently after doctors used an infected needle on him.

“I still cannot believe I am living this nightmare,” he said. “For four years and eight months I’ve been kept behind bars for absolutely no reason. I’m 100% innocent. I tried to help release some of the hostages. No one knows this better than the FSB officers who were there. They arrested me and put me on trial so that they could claim to have arrested one of the terrorists.”

Talkhigov is now in a cramped cell with 18 inmates sharing one lavatory in Komi, a remote and forbidding region that became infamous under Stalin for its many forced-labour camps. In winter, temperatures drop to -30C. In summer, the cell is a stifling 30C plus.

He is allowed out of his cell for just an hour a day and permitted to wash once a month. The food consists of buckwheat porridge, rancid fishbone soup and the occasional plate of boiled meat.

His mother Tamara can visit him only once a year, for three days. The return train journey to the prison from her home in Chechnya takes 84 hours.

“Conditions in the prison where I am now are relatively good,” said Talkhigov. “In Moscow I was held in a cell so cramped that we took it in turns to sleep. Tuberculosis was rampant. In another prison, where I was held in solitary confinement, two guards came into my cell shortly after I arrived and beat me all over my body with their truncheons as their way of welcoming me. I’ve been under constant psychological pressure.”

Anna Politkovskaya, the fearless investigative reporter who was murdered by a gunman last year, believed in his innocence and wrote about his case. She argued that he was framed by the security service, which after failing to prevent the terrorist attack was anxious to demonstrate some success.

“From day one Talkhigov’s case was about finding him guilty,” she wrote. “His guilt appears to be that he spoke to Chechens inside the building to negotiate the release of some foreign hostages.”

Talkhigov, who worked as a meat wholesaler, went to the scene of the Moscow theatre siege out of curiosity on the second day of the stand-off between the Kremlin and 40 heavily armed Chechens.

There he met Aslambek Aslakhanov, a Chechen member of parliament, who at the time was an adviser to President Vladimir Putin. Aslakhanov allowed Talkhigov to pass through police cordons to an emergency headquarters set up by the FSB’s antiterrorism branch less than 200 yards from the theatre. By his own admission, Aslakhanov gave him a mobile phone and a number for Movsar Barayev, the leader of the hostage-takers.

With permission from the FSB, he asked Talkhigov to ring the terrorists in the hope of establishing a line of communication that could be used to secure the release of women and children.

“They were desperate to establish contact with the hostage-takers and thought that as a Chechen, who speaks the language but is not linked to the security services, I’d have a better chance,” said Talkhigov.

“I spoke to the Chechens many times. I knew the phone calls were being listened in to and after each call I was debriefed by the FSB, which took detailed notes.”

At first the Chechens reacted angrily to Talkhigov’s calls. In an effort to win their trust, he told them to be careful because there were snipers and armed personnel carriers outside.

“It was a general comment, nothing specific and I knew perfectly well that the FSB was listening,” he said. “All I wanted was to help release a few hostages.”

The next day, as Talkhigov was trying to negotiate the release of foreign captives, he was led into a room by several FSB officers.

“They started shouting at me, pushed me around and accused me of being one of the terrorists. One guy cocked his gun and threatened to shoot me.”

Another FSB officer offered him a glass of orange juice. Within minutes of drinking it the young Chechen became incapacitated. “I had no idea of what was going on,” he said. “I was in a trance and to this day I have memory loss.” He woke up in a prison cell.

The siege ended after three days when Russian security forces pumped gas into the theatre. They stormed the building and killed all the terrorists. Some 130 hostages also died.

Most of the victims perished as a result of the emergency services’ slow response in the aftermath. Relatives of the dead are still demanding that prosecutors investigate those in charge of the rescue operation.

At his trial, which was held behind closed doors, prosecutors who accused Talkhigov of being an accomplice produced only the recording in which he mentioned the snipers and personnel carriers. All other evidence, including the debriefing notes and other recordings, had been destroyed, the prosecutors claimed.

While the siege was underway, I met Talkhigov in the emergency headquarters. He told me Barayev’s number, which he had clearly been given by the FSB.

Eventually, I was able to enter the theatre and interview Barayev, but Talkhigov declined to accompany me: he feared the Chechens would not trust him.

“At first I thought this was just a big mistake,” said Talkhigov. “Then I realised that they had decided to let me hang. I still can’t believe this happened to me. I wanted to help and got nearly nine years in jail. I still dream that somehow the truth will come out and that the state will accept that I was framed. I’m innocent.”

Annals of Dubrovka: Just When you Think They Can’t Possibly Sink Any Lower they Sink so Low that . . .

The Times of London reports:

A young Chechen who tried to negotiate the release of hostages during the Moscow theatre siege five years ago, only to be arrested on terrorism charges and imprisoned in the Arctic, has said he was drugged by the Russian security service so that it could claim to have caught one of the perpetrators.

Zaur Talkhigov, 30, is half way through his eight-and-a-half-year sentence. He vehemently rejects claims by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, that he was an accomplice of the Chechen terrorists who took more than 800 theatre-goers hostage.

Independent observers who attended his trial insist that the charges were trumped up and his lawyer is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Last week he said that FSB agents who had used him to pass messages to the hostage-takers, drugged him before detaining him. Since his arrest he has been moved 15 times between different prisons, he says.

According to Talkhigov, he has been severely beaten by guards. At one point he was held for a year in solitary confinement. He has caught hepatitis C, apparently after doctors used an infected needle on him.

“I still cannot believe I am living this nightmare,” he said. “For four years and eight months I’ve been kept behind bars for absolutely no reason. I’m 100% innocent. I tried to help release some of the hostages. No one knows this better than the FSB officers who were there. They arrested me and put me on trial so that they could claim to have arrested one of the terrorists.”

Talkhigov is now in a cramped cell with 18 inmates sharing one lavatory in Komi, a remote and forbidding region that became infamous under Stalin for its many forced-labour camps. In winter, temperatures drop to -30C. In summer, the cell is a stifling 30C plus.

He is allowed out of his cell for just an hour a day and permitted to wash once a month. The food consists of buckwheat porridge, rancid fishbone soup and the occasional plate of boiled meat.

His mother Tamara can visit him only once a year, for three days. The return train journey to the prison from her home in Chechnya takes 84 hours.

“Conditions in the prison where I am now are relatively good,” said Talkhigov. “In Moscow I was held in a cell so cramped that we took it in turns to sleep. Tuberculosis was rampant. In another prison, where I was held in solitary confinement, two guards came into my cell shortly after I arrived and beat me all over my body with their truncheons as their way of welcoming me. I’ve been under constant psychological pressure.”

Anna Politkovskaya, the fearless investigative reporter who was murdered by a gunman last year, believed in his innocence and wrote about his case. She argued that he was framed by the security service, which after failing to prevent the terrorist attack was anxious to demonstrate some success.

“From day one Talkhigov’s case was about finding him guilty,” she wrote. “His guilt appears to be that he spoke to Chechens inside the building to negotiate the release of some foreign hostages.”

Talkhigov, who worked as a meat wholesaler, went to the scene of the Moscow theatre siege out of curiosity on the second day of the stand-off between the Kremlin and 40 heavily armed Chechens.

There he met Aslambek Aslakhanov, a Chechen member of parliament, who at the time was an adviser to President Vladimir Putin. Aslakhanov allowed Talkhigov to pass through police cordons to an emergency headquarters set up by the FSB’s antiterrorism branch less than 200 yards from the theatre. By his own admission, Aslakhanov gave him a mobile phone and a number for Movsar Barayev, the leader of the hostage-takers.

With permission from the FSB, he asked Talkhigov to ring the terrorists in the hope of establishing a line of communication that could be used to secure the release of women and children.

“They were desperate to establish contact with the hostage-takers and thought that as a Chechen, who speaks the language but is not linked to the security services, I’d have a better chance,” said Talkhigov.

“I spoke to the Chechens many times. I knew the phone calls were being listened in to and after each call I was debriefed by the FSB, which took detailed notes.”

At first the Chechens reacted angrily to Talkhigov’s calls. In an effort to win their trust, he told them to be careful because there were snipers and armed personnel carriers outside.

“It was a general comment, nothing specific and I knew perfectly well that the FSB was listening,” he said. “All I wanted was to help release a few hostages.”

The next day, as Talkhigov was trying to negotiate the release of foreign captives, he was led into a room by several FSB officers.

“They started shouting at me, pushed me around and accused me of being one of the terrorists. One guy cocked his gun and threatened to shoot me.”

Another FSB officer offered him a glass of orange juice. Within minutes of drinking it the young Chechen became incapacitated. “I had no idea of what was going on,” he said. “I was in a trance and to this day I have memory loss.” He woke up in a prison cell.

The siege ended after three days when Russian security forces pumped gas into the theatre. They stormed the building and killed all the terrorists. Some 130 hostages also died.

Most of the victims perished as a result of the emergency services’ slow response in the aftermath. Relatives of the dead are still demanding that prosecutors investigate those in charge of the rescue operation.

At his trial, which was held behind closed doors, prosecutors who accused Talkhigov of being an accomplice produced only the recording in which he mentioned the snipers and personnel carriers. All other evidence, including the debriefing notes and other recordings, had been destroyed, the prosecutors claimed.

While the siege was underway, I met Talkhigov in the emergency headquarters. He told me Barayev’s number, which he had clearly been given by the FSB.

Eventually, I was able to enter the theatre and interview Barayev, but Talkhigov declined to accompany me: he feared the Chechens would not trust him.

“At first I thought this was just a big mistake,” said Talkhigov. “Then I realised that they had decided to let me hang. I still can’t believe this happened to me. I wanted to help and got nearly nine years in jail. I still dream that somehow the truth will come out and that the state will accept that I was framed. I’m innocent.”

Annals of Dubrovka: Just When you Think They Can’t Possibly Sink Any Lower they Sink so Low that . . .

The Times of London reports:

A young Chechen who tried to negotiate the release of hostages during the Moscow theatre siege five years ago, only to be arrested on terrorism charges and imprisoned in the Arctic, has said he was drugged by the Russian security service so that it could claim to have caught one of the perpetrators.

Zaur Talkhigov, 30, is half way through his eight-and-a-half-year sentence. He vehemently rejects claims by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, that he was an accomplice of the Chechen terrorists who took more than 800 theatre-goers hostage.

Independent observers who attended his trial insist that the charges were trumped up and his lawyer is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Last week he said that FSB agents who had used him to pass messages to the hostage-takers, drugged him before detaining him. Since his arrest he has been moved 15 times between different prisons, he says.

According to Talkhigov, he has been severely beaten by guards. At one point he was held for a year in solitary confinement. He has caught hepatitis C, apparently after doctors used an infected needle on him.

“I still cannot believe I am living this nightmare,” he said. “For four years and eight months I’ve been kept behind bars for absolutely no reason. I’m 100% innocent. I tried to help release some of the hostages. No one knows this better than the FSB officers who were there. They arrested me and put me on trial so that they could claim to have arrested one of the terrorists.”

Talkhigov is now in a cramped cell with 18 inmates sharing one lavatory in Komi, a remote and forbidding region that became infamous under Stalin for its many forced-labour camps. In winter, temperatures drop to -30C. In summer, the cell is a stifling 30C plus.

He is allowed out of his cell for just an hour a day and permitted to wash once a month. The food consists of buckwheat porridge, rancid fishbone soup and the occasional plate of boiled meat.

His mother Tamara can visit him only once a year, for three days. The return train journey to the prison from her home in Chechnya takes 84 hours.

“Conditions in the prison where I am now are relatively good,” said Talkhigov. “In Moscow I was held in a cell so cramped that we took it in turns to sleep. Tuberculosis was rampant. In another prison, where I was held in solitary confinement, two guards came into my cell shortly after I arrived and beat me all over my body with their truncheons as their way of welcoming me. I’ve been under constant psychological pressure.”

Anna Politkovskaya, the fearless investigative reporter who was murdered by a gunman last year, believed in his innocence and wrote about his case. She argued that he was framed by the security service, which after failing to prevent the terrorist attack was anxious to demonstrate some success.

“From day one Talkhigov’s case was about finding him guilty,” she wrote. “His guilt appears to be that he spoke to Chechens inside the building to negotiate the release of some foreign hostages.”

Talkhigov, who worked as a meat wholesaler, went to the scene of the Moscow theatre siege out of curiosity on the second day of the stand-off between the Kremlin and 40 heavily armed Chechens.

There he met Aslambek Aslakhanov, a Chechen member of parliament, who at the time was an adviser to President Vladimir Putin. Aslakhanov allowed Talkhigov to pass through police cordons to an emergency headquarters set up by the FSB’s antiterrorism branch less than 200 yards from the theatre. By his own admission, Aslakhanov gave him a mobile phone and a number for Movsar Barayev, the leader of the hostage-takers.

With permission from the FSB, he asked Talkhigov to ring the terrorists in the hope of establishing a line of communication that could be used to secure the release of women and children.

“They were desperate to establish contact with the hostage-takers and thought that as a Chechen, who speaks the language but is not linked to the security services, I’d have a better chance,” said Talkhigov.

“I spoke to the Chechens many times. I knew the phone calls were being listened in to and after each call I was debriefed by the FSB, which took detailed notes.”

At first the Chechens reacted angrily to Talkhigov’s calls. In an effort to win their trust, he told them to be careful because there were snipers and armed personnel carriers outside.

“It was a general comment, nothing specific and I knew perfectly well that the FSB was listening,” he said. “All I wanted was to help release a few hostages.”

The next day, as Talkhigov was trying to negotiate the release of foreign captives, he was led into a room by several FSB officers.

“They started shouting at me, pushed me around and accused me of being one of the terrorists. One guy cocked his gun and threatened to shoot me.”

Another FSB officer offered him a glass of orange juice. Within minutes of drinking it the young Chechen became incapacitated. “I had no idea of what was going on,” he said. “I was in a trance and to this day I have memory loss.” He woke up in a prison cell.

The siege ended after three days when Russian security forces pumped gas into the theatre. They stormed the building and killed all the terrorists. Some 130 hostages also died.

Most of the victims perished as a result of the emergency services’ slow response in the aftermath. Relatives of the dead are still demanding that prosecutors investigate those in charge of the rescue operation.

At his trial, which was held behind closed doors, prosecutors who accused Talkhigov of being an accomplice produced only the recording in which he mentioned the snipers and personnel carriers. All other evidence, including the debriefing notes and other recordings, had been destroyed, the prosecutors claimed.

While the siege was underway, I met Talkhigov in the emergency headquarters. He told me Barayev’s number, which he had clearly been given by the FSB.

Eventually, I was able to enter the theatre and interview Barayev, but Talkhigov declined to accompany me: he feared the Chechens would not trust him.

“At first I thought this was just a big mistake,” said Talkhigov. “Then I realised that they had decided to let me hang. I still can’t believe this happened to me. I wanted to help and got nearly nine years in jail. I still dream that somehow the truth will come out and that the state will accept that I was framed. I’m innocent.”

Annals of Dubrovka: Just When you Think They Can’t Possibly Sink Any Lower they Sink so Low that . . .

The Times of London reports:

A young Chechen who tried to negotiate the release of hostages during the Moscow theatre siege five years ago, only to be arrested on terrorism charges and imprisoned in the Arctic, has said he was drugged by the Russian security service so that it could claim to have caught one of the perpetrators.

Zaur Talkhigov, 30, is half way through his eight-and-a-half-year sentence. He vehemently rejects claims by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, that he was an accomplice of the Chechen terrorists who took more than 800 theatre-goers hostage.

Independent observers who attended his trial insist that the charges were trumped up and his lawyer is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Last week he said that FSB agents who had used him to pass messages to the hostage-takers, drugged him before detaining him. Since his arrest he has been moved 15 times between different prisons, he says.

According to Talkhigov, he has been severely beaten by guards. At one point he was held for a year in solitary confinement. He has caught hepatitis C, apparently after doctors used an infected needle on him.

“I still cannot believe I am living this nightmare,” he said. “For four years and eight months I’ve been kept behind bars for absolutely no reason. I’m 100% innocent. I tried to help release some of the hostages. No one knows this better than the FSB officers who were there. They arrested me and put me on trial so that they could claim to have arrested one of the terrorists.”

Talkhigov is now in a cramped cell with 18 inmates sharing one lavatory in Komi, a remote and forbidding region that became infamous under Stalin for its many forced-labour camps. In winter, temperatures drop to -30C. In summer, the cell is a stifling 30C plus.

He is allowed out of his cell for just an hour a day and permitted to wash once a month. The food consists of buckwheat porridge, rancid fishbone soup and the occasional plate of boiled meat.

His mother Tamara can visit him only once a year, for three days. The return train journey to the prison from her home in Chechnya takes 84 hours.

“Conditions in the prison where I am now are relatively good,” said Talkhigov. “In Moscow I was held in a cell so cramped that we took it in turns to sleep. Tuberculosis was rampant. In another prison, where I was held in solitary confinement, two guards came into my cell shortly after I arrived and beat me all over my body with their truncheons as their way of welcoming me. I’ve been under constant psychological pressure.”

Anna Politkovskaya, the fearless investigative reporter who was murdered by a gunman last year, believed in his innocence and wrote about his case. She argued that he was framed by the security service, which after failing to prevent the terrorist attack was anxious to demonstrate some success.

“From day one Talkhigov’s case was about finding him guilty,” she wrote. “His guilt appears to be that he spoke to Chechens inside the building to negotiate the release of some foreign hostages.”

Talkhigov, who worked as a meat wholesaler, went to the scene of the Moscow theatre siege out of curiosity on the second day of the stand-off between the Kremlin and 40 heavily armed Chechens.

There he met Aslambek Aslakhanov, a Chechen member of parliament, who at the time was an adviser to President Vladimir Putin. Aslakhanov allowed Talkhigov to pass through police cordons to an emergency headquarters set up by the FSB’s antiterrorism branch less than 200 yards from the theatre. By his own admission, Aslakhanov gave him a mobile phone and a number for Movsar Barayev, the leader of the hostage-takers.

With permission from the FSB, he asked Talkhigov to ring the terrorists in the hope of establishing a line of communication that could be used to secure the release of women and children.

“They were desperate to establish contact with the hostage-takers and thought that as a Chechen, who speaks the language but is not linked to the security services, I’d have a better chance,” said Talkhigov.

“I spoke to the Chechens many times. I knew the phone calls were being listened in to and after each call I was debriefed by the FSB, which took detailed notes.”

At first the Chechens reacted angrily to Talkhigov’s calls. In an effort to win their trust, he told them to be careful because there were snipers and armed personnel carriers outside.

“It was a general comment, nothing specific and I knew perfectly well that the FSB was listening,” he said. “All I wanted was to help release a few hostages.”

The next day, as Talkhigov was trying to negotiate the release of foreign captives, he was led into a room by several FSB officers.

“They started shouting at me, pushed me around and accused me of being one of the terrorists. One guy cocked his gun and threatened to shoot me.”

Another FSB officer offered him a glass of orange juice. Within minutes of drinking it the young Chechen became incapacitated. “I had no idea of what was going on,” he said. “I was in a trance and to this day I have memory loss.” He woke up in a prison cell.

The siege ended after three days when Russian security forces pumped gas into the theatre. They stormed the building and killed all the terrorists. Some 130 hostages also died.

Most of the victims perished as a result of the emergency services’ slow response in the aftermath. Relatives of the dead are still demanding that prosecutors investigate those in charge of the rescue operation.

At his trial, which was held behind closed doors, prosecutors who accused Talkhigov of being an accomplice produced only the recording in which he mentioned the snipers and personnel carriers. All other evidence, including the debriefing notes and other recordings, had been destroyed, the prosecutors claimed.

While the siege was underway, I met Talkhigov in the emergency headquarters. He told me Barayev’s number, which he had clearly been given by the FSB.

Eventually, I was able to enter the theatre and interview Barayev, but Talkhigov declined to accompany me: he feared the Chechens would not trust him.

“At first I thought this was just a big mistake,” said Talkhigov. “Then I realised that they had decided to let me hang. I still can’t believe this happened to me. I wanted to help and got nearly nine years in jail. I still dream that somehow the truth will come out and that the state will accept that I was framed. I’m innocent.”

Annals of Dubrovka: Just When you Think They Can’t Possibly Sink Any Lower they Sink so Low that . . .

The Times of London reports:

A young Chechen who tried to negotiate the release of hostages during the Moscow theatre siege five years ago, only to be arrested on terrorism charges and imprisoned in the Arctic, has said he was drugged by the Russian security service so that it could claim to have caught one of the perpetrators.

Zaur Talkhigov, 30, is half way through his eight-and-a-half-year sentence. He vehemently rejects claims by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, that he was an accomplice of the Chechen terrorists who took more than 800 theatre-goers hostage.

Independent observers who attended his trial insist that the charges were trumped up and his lawyer is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Last week he said that FSB agents who had used him to pass messages to the hostage-takers, drugged him before detaining him. Since his arrest he has been moved 15 times between different prisons, he says.

According to Talkhigov, he has been severely beaten by guards. At one point he was held for a year in solitary confinement. He has caught hepatitis C, apparently after doctors used an infected needle on him.

“I still cannot believe I am living this nightmare,” he said. “For four years and eight months I’ve been kept behind bars for absolutely no reason. I’m 100% innocent. I tried to help release some of the hostages. No one knows this better than the FSB officers who were there. They arrested me and put me on trial so that they could claim to have arrested one of the terrorists.”

Talkhigov is now in a cramped cell with 18 inmates sharing one lavatory in Komi, a remote and forbidding region that became infamous under Stalin for its many forced-labour camps. In winter, temperatures drop to -30C. In summer, the cell is a stifling 30C plus.

He is allowed out of his cell for just an hour a day and permitted to wash once a month. The food consists of buckwheat porridge, rancid fishbone soup and the occasional plate of boiled meat.

His mother Tamara can visit him only once a year, for three days. The return train journey to the prison from her home in Chechnya takes 84 hours.

“Conditions in the prison where I am now are relatively good,” said Talkhigov. “In Moscow I was held in a cell so cramped that we took it in turns to sleep. Tuberculosis was rampant. In another prison, where I was held in solitary confinement, two guards came into my cell shortly after I arrived and beat me all over my body with their truncheons as their way of welcoming me. I’ve been under constant psychological pressure.”

Anna Politkovskaya, the fearless investigative reporter who was murdered by a gunman last year, believed in his innocence and wrote about his case. She argued that he was framed by the security service, which after failing to prevent the terrorist attack was anxious to demonstrate some success.

“From day one Talkhigov’s case was about finding him guilty,” she wrote. “His guilt appears to be that he spoke to Chechens inside the building to negotiate the release of some foreign hostages.”

Talkhigov, who worked as a meat wholesaler, went to the scene of the Moscow theatre siege out of curiosity on the second day of the stand-off between the Kremlin and 40 heavily armed Chechens.

There he met Aslambek Aslakhanov, a Chechen member of parliament, who at the time was an adviser to President Vladimir Putin. Aslakhanov allowed Talkhigov to pass through police cordons to an emergency headquarters set up by the FSB’s antiterrorism branch less than 200 yards from the theatre. By his own admission, Aslakhanov gave him a mobile phone and a number for Movsar Barayev, the leader of the hostage-takers.

With permission from the FSB, he asked Talkhigov to ring the terrorists in the hope of establishing a line of communication that could be used to secure the release of women and children.

“They were desperate to establish contact with the hostage-takers and thought that as a Chechen, who speaks the language but is not linked to the security services, I’d have a better chance,” said Talkhigov.

“I spoke to the Chechens many times. I knew the phone calls were being listened in to and after each call I was debriefed by the FSB, which took detailed notes.”

At first the Chechens reacted angrily to Talkhigov’s calls. In an effort to win their trust, he told them to be careful because there were snipers and armed personnel carriers outside.

“It was a general comment, nothing specific and I knew perfectly well that the FSB was listening,” he said. “All I wanted was to help release a few hostages.”

The next day, as Talkhigov was trying to negotiate the release of foreign captives, he was led into a room by several FSB officers.

“They started shouting at me, pushed me around and accused me of being one of the terrorists. One guy cocked his gun and threatened to shoot me.”

Another FSB officer offered him a glass of orange juice. Within minutes of drinking it the young Chechen became incapacitated. “I had no idea of what was going on,” he said. “I was in a trance and to this day I have memory loss.” He woke up in a prison cell.

The siege ended after three days when Russian security forces pumped gas into the theatre. They stormed the building and killed all the terrorists. Some 130 hostages also died.

Most of the victims perished as a result of the emergency services’ slow response in the aftermath. Relatives of the dead are still demanding that prosecutors investigate those in charge of the rescue operation.

At his trial, which was held behind closed doors, prosecutors who accused Talkhigov of being an accomplice produced only the recording in which he mentioned the snipers and personnel carriers. All other evidence, including the debriefing notes and other recordings, had been destroyed, the prosecutors claimed.

While the siege was underway, I met Talkhigov in the emergency headquarters. He told me Barayev’s number, which he had clearly been given by the FSB.

Eventually, I was able to enter the theatre and interview Barayev, but Talkhigov declined to accompany me: he feared the Chechens would not trust him.

“At first I thought this was just a big mistake,” said Talkhigov. “Then I realised that they had decided to let me hang. I still can’t believe this happened to me. I wanted to help and got nearly nine years in jail. I still dream that somehow the truth will come out and that the state will accept that I was framed. I’m innocent.”

Dmitry Prigov, RIP

Dmitri Prigov, one of the most influential poets of the post-Soviet era, died early Monday in a Moscow hospital, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported. He was 66. Prigov had been in intensive care since suffering a heart attack July 7. He and his close friend Lev Rubenstein were leaders of the so-called conceptualist school, which arose in unofficial Soviet art in the late 1960s. They were the first in Russia to see performance as a form of art. Prigov was a prolific poet and his work has been widely published since the late 1980s. He was perhaps better known in the West for his live performances, which incorporated visual and musical elements. Until he fell ill, Prigov was planning to return to the ideals of his youth and to participate in a performance where he would sit in a wardrobe as it was hauled up the 22 flights of stairs of Moscow State University, reading poems all the way to the top, The Moscow Times reported.

LR: An uninitiated person would think that Prigov passed away quite young, and sense a tragedy. In fact, he was very old by the standards of the average Russian man, and that’s the real tragedy.

A(nother) Year of Humiliation for Russian Ladies Tennis

So far this year there have been sixteen significant tennis tournaments played on the WTA Tour circuit and eight truly major Grand Slam and Tier I events (excluding the lowly tier-III and tier-IV events eschewed by top players except as tuneup opportunities).

Although Russia has four players ranked in the world’s top 10 over the past 365 days (Sharapova #2, Kuznetsova #5, Chakvetadze #8, Petrova #9), so-called “dominant” Russia has prevailed in only one of those 16 contests and has not taken a single Grand Slam or Tier I event this year, while America, with only one top-ten player, has won three of the eight majors and two of the three Grand Slams (38%). Belgium, also with only one top-ten player, has totally dominated the Tier II events. Russia’s best player, Maria Sharapova, hasn’t won a single tournament of any kind all year long. She’s played eight tournaments and lost them all, losing every time to a lower-ranked opponent. She lost her ejection match in easy straight sets in six of the eight contests.

The results so far are as follows:

GRAND SLAM

Australian Open – USA
French Open – Belgium
Wimbledon – USA

TIER I

Tokyo – Switzerland
Indian Wells – Slovakia
Miami – USA
Charleston – Serbia
Rome – Serbia

TIER II

Sydney – Belgium
Antwerp – France
Dubai – Belgium
Amelia Island – France
Paris – Russia
Berlin – Beligum
Warsaw – Belgium
Eastbourne – Belgium

Russia’s only “consolation” is, as it always is for Russia, illusion. When highly-ranked Russian players go up against the dregs of the tennis world in lowly Tier III and IV events, they unsurprisingly do better. For example, in May two-time Grand Slam finalist (and two time loser) Yelena Dementieva won the Istanbul Cup, a Tier III event, by beating Aravane Rezai of France in the finals. Rezai is not ranked in the world’s top 50 whilst Dementieva is #15. In January, world #8 Anna Chakvetadze won the Moorilla International event in Australia, a Tier IV event, by beating Vasilisa Bardina, a fellow Russian ranked #70 in the world. This is how top Russian players collect ranking points, grinding out obscure tournaments against pathetic competition and once in a while catching a top player on a bad day, not by being champions. In the major events, as we’ve documented here on this blog, over and over and over again when Russians have faced lower-ranked non-Russian opponents they’ve been humiliated, blown of the court like Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open and Wimbledon or like Svetlana Kuznetsova at Berlin and Indian Wells.

The same thing happened at the recent Fed Cup tie in Vermont. Russia won the event, just barely, because it recorded victories by two of its four top-ten players, ranked #8 and #9 in the world, against Americans ranked #41 and #84. Impressive stuff. When faced with singles matches against a lower-ranked player ranked as high as the top 20, Russia’s top 10 players could not handle the challenge and lost both those matches. Exactly as happened on the WTA Tour, in Fed Cup play Russia’s best players could only be competitive when faced with third-string competition. In the decisive doubles match, Russia fielded two seasoned players ranked #29 and #26 in the world in doubles, while one of the two players fielded by America has no doubles ranking at all because she never competes in doubles. Her partner was not ranked in the top 450 in singles (though she’s a top doubles player). Now, Russia will face Italy — of all countries — in the finals. Not Belgium, with the world’s #1 player, or Serbia, with the world’s hottest. Not France, not America. Italy. Taking pride in beating Italy at tennis is like taking pride in beating Russia at cricket. But you can be sure Russians will still do it (if they get the chance).

Ever gracious in victory, unlike the ugly Americans they look down on, the Russian team attacked their hosts as “inhospitable” and offered pathetic excuses for their two singles losses, citing “jetlag, fatigue and a lack of preparation” while proclaiming they “kicked America’s butt.” Not a word was mentioned about the fact that, based on the rankings of the players involved, the tie was not even close to being a serious challenge for Russia. Russians, given their humiliation on tour this year, are understandably bitter, and looking for any smokescreen they can find.

But Russia can’t even fall back on the old canard about its women at least being the most beautiful. Comparing the Serbian and the Slovak at left to the dog-faced Kuznetsova and Petrova doesn’t leave Russia faring any better than in the statistics columns.

This is classic Soviet stuff. The Soviets always used to be proud of the facts such as that their professional hockey teams could beat American teams comprised of college kids at the Olympics — well they were, right up until one of those professional teams got their butt kicked by the collegians at Lake Placid. Instead of realizing that they are in fact weak and need reform, Russians routinely choose to imagine they are strong and try to sit on laurels that aren’t there, humiliating themselves over and over before the world and using their closed society to hide from the truth. Don’t they read “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in Russia?

It’s the same old sad story for Russia, a nation consumed by humiliating failure and unable to break free from its vicious cycle. If Russia goes on this way, it will surely meet the same fate experienced by the USSR — oblivion.

July 17, 2007 — Contents

TUESDAY JULY 17 CONTENTS


(1) Another Original LR Translation: Essel on Estonia in Russian History

(2) A Russian History Lesson

(3) Mighty Great Britain Kicks a Little Rooskii Ass

NOTE: Talk about annals of Russian failure! This one’s really a doozy: You may have heard that Russia recently attempted to launch a PR blitz to improve Russia’s image, including hiring a pricey Western firm to do the dirty work. Results? Well, how about this week’s Newsweek International. Its screaming cover reads PUTIN’S DARK DESCENT over a picture of a brooding, menacing, dictatorial Putin and there is a story inside headlinedThe Tyrant’s Turn.” The Soviet goons couldn’t have blown it any bigger if they’d tried. Amazing as it seems, this time the truth is ahead of the Russian lie. Hopefully, this time the West will see the need to play for keeps.