Daily Archives: July 28, 2007

July 28, 2007 — Contents


(1) The Sochi Flytrap

(2) Russia, the Wealthy, Healthy Country

(3) Russia, the Sophisticated, Educated Country

NOTE: Check out La Russophobe‘s latest installment on Publius Pundit, where she rips the Kremlin a new one over its sixth, yes, sixth, conviction for state-sponsored murder by the European Court for Human Rights this year alone, and its dastardly attempts to close off access to the court by Russian citizens. We’ll be posting the source material for this on Monday, but the links are all there for you to read right now. Comments most welcome on this outrageous new display of neo-Soviet barbarism.

The Sochi Flytrap

Blogger Paul Goble explains how the Kremlin may have bitten off more than it can chew in winning the Sochi games, providing its enemies with a huge platform for attack. For instance, it’s going to come out that Sochi isn’t really a Russian city, certainly not a Slavic one, and that its giant population of 20,000 Muslims hasn’t been able to get permission to build a Mosque. Goble points out how the Kremlin has outraged Muslims by opposing independence for Kosovo and, in classically paranoid neo-Soviet style, attempting to cut off their foreign aid.

The International Olympics Committee’s decision last week to name the Sochi as the venue for the 2014 winter games is being widely celebrated in Moscow as a triumph for Vladimir Putin and a recognition by the world community of Russia’s successful recovery. But regardless of how true either of those propositions may be, the Sochi games, even though they are still seven years in the future, are already having an impact on the calculations of various groups concerning three critical ethno-national issues in Southern Russia and the Northern Caucasus.

In an essay posted online last Friday, Sergei Markedonov, one of Moscow’s most thoughtful commentators on the Caucasus, argues that the games themselves and the attention they inevitably attract will affect the Circassians, the Abkhazians, and Georgian-Russian ties. First of all, Markedonov suggests, the games will highlight an issue to which the Circassian nationalities – the Adygei, the Kabardinians, the Cherkess, and the Shapsug – have long been seeking to attract attention: assigning responsibility for the expulsion of their forefathers from the Caucasus in the 19th century and securing redress for that act. In the 1860s and 1870s, the tsarist authorities expelled more than a million Circassians to the Ottoman Empire, an action that Circassians in Russia and abroad insist was a genocide but that Moscow has consistently denied was anything of the sort. Now, the Circassians will have a broader stage on which to make their case.

Although Sochi today lies in an ethnic Russian region, its name and its history are Circassians, facts that the nearby Adygeis and the Circassians abroad are certain to make much of. At the very least, their campaign is likely to tie Moscow’s hands as far as folding Adygeia into the Russian region surrounding it until after 2014.

Second, because Sochi is located so close to Abkhazia, that longstanding “frozen conflict” will become more difficult to address in the run up to the games. Indeed, Markedonov says, for many in Moscow, “when we write Sochi, we have Abkhazia on our minds.” On the one hand, Moscow will be promoting the development of the broader Sochi area that includes Abkhazia, something that will do little to weaken secessionist sentiment there. And on the other hand, the Moscow analyst argues, the Russian government will be reluctant to take any steps, including unilateral recognition or the use of force, that could undermine the positive and upbeat message about itself that Russian propagandists are already insisting upon. Instead, Moscow will certainly want to project itself as a peacemaker, as a country interested in reducing tensions and solving problems rather than exacerbating them. But that may prove more difficult, Markedonov continues, than Moscow may currently assume.

And that leads to the third set of ethno-national issues that the Sochi Olympics are already affecting: relations between Moscow and Tbilisi. The Russian government can reasonably expect that the publicity around Sochi is likely to restrain the Georgian authorities from using force: After all, if Tbilisi did, the whole world would be watching. At the same time, however, Moscow, — which would clearly benefit for purposes of the games in having more cooperative relations with Georgia — may find its hands tied as well: It could seek improved ties by sacrificing Abkhazia and South Osetia – but leaders in both might then act in ways neither Moscow nor Tbilisi would like.

And any retreat from Moscow’s forward leaning policy in these two “unrecognized” states would generate anger among Russian nationalists and imperialists who already believe that Putin has made too many concessions to others for his personal needs rather than for the national interests of the country. But looming behind all of these ethnic situations is the deteriorating security situation across the entire northern Caucasus. As an article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” noted, Moscow is worried about the situation there because of rising crime and greater activism by rebel units. Nonetheless, Putin can count on Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov to stay on message: Over the weekend, Kadyrov claimed there is no war in his republic and invited people from around the world to visit “the Chechen Switzerland” – those cities and towns where the post-Soviet wars were earlier most intense.

But in other remarks at the same time, Kadyrov advanced some demands that suggest he too may be counting on Sochi to affect Moscow’s calculations: He suggested that Chechnya must be allowed to retain more of its petroleum earnings and be helped to build its own refining capability as a step toward energy independence.

UPDATE ON JULY 11. Ethnic communities affected by the Sochi Olympics are already weighing in. A press spokesman for the Abkhaz president said in a Kreml.org commentary posted online yesterday that the Abkhaz are pleased that the games will be held near their territory. But various social organizations in Adygeia have protested the decision, although government officials there say they support it.

UPDATE ON JULY 16. Ravza Ramazanova, the heaad of the Yasin Muslim Organization in Sochi has expresed the hope that media attention to her city will force the local officials to allow for the construction of a mosque for the city’s 20,000 Muslims. She told Regions.ru today that her group has been seeking approval to build a mosque for 13 years without success.

Russia, the Wealthy, Healthy Country

Axcess News reports on wealthy, healthy Russia, a paradise under Vladimir Putin
. . . except of course for small matters like being ravaged by tuberculosis at a rate more than twenty times higher than in the United States, the 11th highest rate in the entire world.

Russia’s high rate of tuberculosis will decline when living conditions improve, experts on health issues said Tuesday during a discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The experts said the main reasons for the TB problem in Russia are that people don’t eat properly and don’t have an appropriate system of health care to diagnose TB. They said it is less possible to overcome this disease without normal nutrition and living conditions. In Russia, high rates of alcoholism and drug addiction also add to the problem, experts said during the discussion. The experts recommended Russians should know more about the problem of TB and its treatment.

In Russia in 2002, according to statistics presented at the conference, 113 of every 100,000 people had TB. In the U.S., five people per 100,000 had the disease. Russia ranks 11th in TB rates in the world after African and Asian countries, according to the 2005 report of the World Health Organization. About 73 Russians die every day because of TB, according to Russian state statistics. Mortality due to TB is three times higher among men than among women in Russia, according to the WHO report.

People with TB suffer from constant coughing, usually with high fever. As they cough, infected people transfer more TB bacteria to those around them. Specialists say that anyone with health problems is susceptible to TB infection. Those with HIV and pregnant women are more likely to become infected. According to the WHO statistics, the rate of TB in Russia remains the same as it was during Soviet Union times. Russia has several state programs to support ill people, but the experts said the system of diagnosis and treatment needs modernization and more money from the state budget. Salmaan Keshavjee, an associate physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, headed a project in the central Russian province of Tomskaya Oblast to support sick people with medication and diagnostics. In 2001, nearly 40 percent of the population of the province had TB, he said. His group worked with about 250 people. At the end of the project, 188 people were cured and 12 died, Keshavjii said. Their patients’ main problems were poverty and alcoholism, he said. Keshavjee said prisons house the most people with TB. There, the rate of sick people is 30 times higher than among civilians. The main reasons for that, Keshavjee said are bad conditions and that the prisons are usually overcrowded.

Most forms of TB can be treated with a variety of drugs. The conference was part of the Wilson Center’s Global Health Initiative, which provides an interdisciplinary forum for examining health issues

Russia, the Sophisticated, Educated Country

Blogger Paul Goble submits more evidence that Russia is a barbaric, uncivilized state on a pathway of racist self-destruction. If Russia’s published scholars think like apes, can you imagine how the unwashed population is thinking? Scary, isn’t it?

Many have pointed to the likelihood that the current Russian leadership will use new legislation on extremism to isolate their opponents and limit free speech. But there is another threat that could prove equally dangerous: badly drawn guidance on such issues for security officials at the working level.

That this danger is all too real is suggested by a reviewer of a new book featuring recommendations on how to identify and counter extremist groups that was approved by some of the most senior officials at the Russian Ministry of the Interior for use by militia officers.

The book, entitled “Contemporary Political Technologies for Countering Radical Extremist Trends” and written by O.A. Korobov, D.V. Sochiyev, and S.N. Fedodorko, was published by the Nizhniy Novgorod State University Press in 2006 with the explicit note that it was intended for the use of Interior Ministry officers.

Among the more egregious and thus disturbing of the authors’ errors are the following: The authors say that the Tuvinians are Muslims and the Bashkirs are Buddhists when the reality is exactly the opposite. They suggest that the Georgian government is running the drug trade in the Caucasus under Wahhabist slogans.

They confuse the Boskurt Turkish nationalist group with the Muslim Brotherhood, argue that Turkey and Iran are quite similar Muslim states. And they cite as an authority for some of their conclusions about Islam and Islamist groups the Russian pagan party Slaviya.

Indeed, their sources for many of their assertions are at the very least controversial: Among the authors most frequently cited is the American writer Daniel Pipes, whose extremely negative views on Islam have been widely criticized by Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike.

No one could reasonably expert militia on the beat to be experts on these questions, and no one doubts that many writers in the Russian Federation on these questions are both accurate and thoughtful (See, for example, the survey of expert opinion by Kaflan Khanbabayev, July 13, 2007). But when a book that is intended to provide guidance on how to identify and then counter extremist groups of all kinds and Islamist ones in particular is so wildly off on even the most basic questions, it is difficult not to conclude that the militia may exceed their brief because their brief is so badly drawn. And when a book full of such errors is so enthusiastically approved by top officials in the Interior Ministry, it is also difficult not to conclude that at least some of those people and even their bosses in the Kremlin may in fact want the militia to do precisely that.