Daily Archives: September 6, 2007

Politkovskaya: The Coverup Continues

How neo-Soviet can they get? Who do they think they are fooling? The Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin has shown its true colors on the Politkovskaya investigation:

The lead investigator into the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya has been replaced, her former colleagues said Tuesday, in what they said showed political interference in the case. Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked, said the chief investigator on the case, Pyotr Gabriyan, had been replaced by a more senior official. Politkovskaya’s colleagues and family have praised Gabriyan’s work. Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov said he believed the changes were the result of interference by the siloviki — a Kremlin clan that controls intelligence, law enforcement and the military. “The siloviki are achieving what they set out to achieve,” Muratov said on Ekho Moskvy radio. “They wanted to ruin the case, and now they will remove Gabriyan and finish that process.”

Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported Tuesday that the lead investigator had been pulled off the Politkovskaya case altogether. But Novaya Gazeta said Gabriyan was still on the case for now. It said in a statement that its staff felt “disappointment and bewilderment” that he was no longer in charge. A spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office declined to comment on personnel changes on the Politkovskaya case.

The contract-style shooting in October of Politkovskaya, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, provoked a storm of international condemnation, with critics accusing the Kremlin of failing to protect freedom of speech. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said last week that Politkovskaya was killed by an organized crime group that included serving and former law enforcement officers. He said the crime was masterminded by anti-Kremlin forces abroad whose aim was to discredit Russia. Chaika announced at the time that 10 suspects had been arrested in connection with the killing. The Tvoi Den tabloid later published a list of 11 names. Tvoi Den first reported the replacement of the lead prosecutor Tuesday. Two suspects, however, have been released for a lack of evidence. The detention of a third suspect, Federal Security Service Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, was in doubt, but the Moscow Garrison Court finally sanctioned his arrest Tuesday, Interfax reported. A lawyer for a native Chechen suspect who remains in custody said his client had been assaulted. Dzhabrail Makhmudov had “his kidneys all beaten up,” lawyer Murad Musayev said Monday, Interfax reported.

September 6, 2007 — Contents


(1) Annals of “Pacified Chechnya”: Ingushetia in Flames

(2) Kasparov, Censored

(3) The Mailbag: Paranoid Putin

(4) Sergei Lavrov: Neo-Soviet Man

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya: Ingushetia in Flames

Writing in the Moscow Times, ace columnist and radio commentator Yulia Latyinina blows the lid of the Kremlin’s Potemkin village in Chechnya:

An event occurred Sunday in Karabulak that has become typical for Ingushetia, or for any place where occupation forces apply systematic violence against the local population. A white minivan with tinted windows and no plates drove up to a small casino near a school and, when two young men exited the casino, masked security officers jumped out and began shooting.

One youth escaped, while the other made his way to a kindergarten despite being shot in the leg. One of the masked Federal Security Service officers followed and shot him in the stomach and then the head. A few minutes later, as a crowd of witnesses watched, another agent placed a hand grenade next to the body. The dead youth was then photographed with the hand grenade as “evidence.”

To shoot an unarmed person in the stomach first — to inflict pain — and only afterward in the head is the sign of a professional. Slain Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot the same manner.

It is what followed in Karabulak that was unusual: Local police arrived and nabbed the killers. Then federal officers in armored vehicles arrived on the scene to support their comrades. It might have ended in a shootout had not Ingush Interior Minister Musa Medov ordered that the killers be released. Later, the local prosecutor explained that the shooting had been the “liquidation of an insurgent.”

This kind of “liquidation” has become infamous of late. In Ingushetia in early August, insurgents were blamed for the shooting deaths of ethnic Russian schoolteacher Lyudmila Terekhina and her daughter. The case was solved and the two murderers apprehended almost overnight. They were federal contract soldiers, one Russian and the other Ossetian, who had visited Terekhina’s daughter on the eve of the murder. A witness identified the assailants by their voices. The local police official who ordered the soldiers’ arrest was then shot dead Aug. 11.

No doubt some of the people killed by federal troops were insurgents. But in the case of Terekhina’s killers, it is not as easy to tell. The shooting deaths of Russians in Ingushetia stand out because when federal troops, fueled by the dangerous mix of horrific conditions and carte blanche to respond to them with equally horrific violence, happen to kill an ethnic Russian, they cannot label the victim as an insurgent. In all other cases the dead are, by default, insurgents.

Conditions in Ingushetia worsened dramatically in March following the abduction of Uruskhan Zyazikov, an uncle of Ingush President Murat Zyazikov and the father of his personal security chief. This prompted the authorities to loose a wave of terror on their own citizens, which met with terror as a response.

As early as June, it was clear that the region was moving toward a catastrophe. That was when villagers in Surkhakhi used force to free a fellow villager being held by federal troops. (By this point, federal troops were already moving around the republic in groups of no fewer than three armored personnel carriers and had so thoroughly entrenched themselves in the villages that they had even put up outhouses in the cemeteries.)

It had also become clear that Zyazikov had lost control of both the general population and the local elites: In a secret ballot, a majority of United Russia members voted to dump him as party head in Ingushetia.

It is one thing when villagers take on heavily armed federal soldiers to free a compatriot — and that particular village has a reputation for militancy — but altogether another when federal soldiers are prepared to shoot local police.

The next step could well be an uprising, with not much needed to touch it off. In a republic as small as Ingushetia, the insurgents would not be likely to come out as winners. Regardless of the winner, rivers of blood would likely flow before it was over.

Kasparov, Censored

The Moscow Times reports:

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov is accusing his Russian publisher of axing publication of his self-help book because of his outspoken opposition to President Vladimir Putin. The book, called “How Life Imitates Chess,” has been published in Britain and elsewhere and was due to come out in Russian this year until the Eksmo publishing house announced it was delaying publication. “It is obvious that someone wants to deny the opposition any channel for communicating with Russian citizens,” Kasparov said in a statement. “They have already confiscated the print runs of our newspapers and our leaflets, and now they have gotten to our books as well. I would not be surprised if my book … is not only not published in Russia but is also declared extremist.” Kasparov is a leader of opposition coalition The Other Russia, which accuses Putin of crushing democratic freedoms. Eksmo said publication had been pushed back because Kasparov’s contract for the book, signed more than three years ago, had lapsed, and he had failed to sign a new one. “We find it hard to understand why … a simple technical issue has prompted a desire to find some kind of political subtext,” the publisher said in a statement. “We do not want to think that he is simply using this to attract attention” to his political campaign, it said. Putin’s opponents have been starved of coverage by some parts of the media, especially the Kremlin-controlled national television stations. But the publishing industry has been largely unaffected. Kasparov’s book is aimed at business executives and draws on his experience in the chess world to give advice on how to achieve success in business.

The Mailbag: Paranoid Putin

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

The publisher of Zaxi blog, whose wonderful commentary we are delighted to routinely republish on our virtual pages, writes to clarify his prior remarks about Russia menacing the U.S. and Britain with strategic bombers, in response to a reader comment:

Dear La Russophobe,

Here’s a somewhat belated (partial) response to the mystery of why Putin believes that the United States is flying nuclear bomber operations around Russian borders – and his response to keep a 24-hour nuclear bomber vigil of his own.

The simple answer is that Putin made all of this up. The United States removed all of its strategic bombers from day-to-day operations in 1991 (see here and here). Russia did the same. Then Putin went back to the old Cold War practice last month citing a US decision that simply does not exist.

As your readers can imagine: most of the US strategic bomber information is classified. But it would take months – if not years – for the US military bureaucracy to take the required steps to respond to Putin’s move. It would also make a lot of noise in Congress and the press. The US does not just start flying its nuclear bombers around the world without some initial debate going into the decision.

The United States has two types of strategic bombers: the B-2A Spirit and the B-52H Stratofortress. These are used for conventional operations but could be deployed in case of nuclear war. The bombers are based at three US Air Force Bases: Minot, Whiteman and Barksdale – all of them in the continental United States.

The most important point here is the following: The United States has four nuclear war alert levels. The highest is called Launch Ready. There are also Generated I and II. And finally: the Total Forces alert in case of an Armageddon-type conflict where all US forces get involved.

The US strategic bombers are only intended for use in a Generated II level scenario – that is the third-highest level of alert out of four. The US bombers would get involved only after pretty much all of its ICBMs are used up.

The US would put 64 bombers into operations in case of a Generated II scenario. By that stage 90 percent of its total forces would be on alter.

As you can see – it would take a nuclear war of quite astonishing proportions for armed US strategic bombers to fly toward Russia. For comparison: 95 percent of the US ICBMs are on the highest Launch Ready alert. This is the clear US option in case of nuclear war. The nuclear bombers are a very distant afterthought.

Again – what threat did Putin see? There was and could have been none. But it is not a Russian tradition to question his statements.



Sergei Lavrov: Neo-Soviet Man

Radio Free Europe reports:

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke to students and faculty of the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations on September 3 in an address that revealed much continuity with Soviet-era thinking.

He stressed that Moscow is the diplomatic equal of Washington and sought to highlight differences between the United States and Western Europe, while paying lip service to the importance of some other countries and regional groupings in a “multipolar world.”

Lavrov selectively quoted several prominent Western political figures — mainly Americans and Germans — as well as President Vladimir Putin in support of his points. In classical Soviet style, he suggested that Russia is an aggrieved party whose trust others must seek to win.

Russia ‘Emancipated’

He stressed that Russia embraces the values of “democracy and the market” but did not mention the rule of law. He said that Russia has learned many lessons from its history and abandoned the “hostility and ideology” of the Cold War era. It is others who continue to view international affairs as a “zero-sum game,” he maintained.

Lavrov warned outsiders against seeking to change Russian policies. He said that “with the end of the Cold War, we have acquired full freedom in dealing with our internal affairs…and strengthening our position in the world…. We act in a European way, from a position of a pluralistic political culture, which must by definition be tolerant of debates. Attempts at ‘containing’ and ‘harassing’ Russia hardly correspond to this culture.”

He stressed that it is important instead “to build trust” and quoted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the effect that trust takes a long time to develop but can be quickly destroyed. Lavrov noted that “we track the foreign media reaction to the swift revival of our country as a leading state in the world. We understand that certain political circles in the West were unprepared for such a course of events” and do not know how to respond.

But Russia, he argued, has “emancipated itself” from old doctrines. He quoted Egon Bahr, the leading foreign-policy thinker in Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), as saying that “Europeans” are now seeking to define their own interests and act on their analysis of what those interests are. Lavrov might have added that Bahr has suggested for years that “German interests” are distinct from and often in conflict with those of the United States.

‘We Are Not Adversaries’

It is, in fact, Russian-U.S. relations that concern Lavrov most. He cites “our common responsibility for the maintenance of strategic stability” and adds that “globalization makes it necessary to create relations of positive interdependence.”

He also offers some consolation to Washington, saying that “Russia can understand from its own experience what geopolitical solitude is and what it means [to a country] when, despite the best intentions in wanting to change the world, others either do not understand you or do not accept your methods.” Lavrov stressed that “we are not adversaries with the United States. anymore, so there are no grounds for a new Cold War.”

Lavrov criticized Britain for making a “propaganda show” of its demands for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the 2006 London poisoning death of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko.

But in general, he had warm words for Europe, by which he seemed to mean some major countries of Western Europe. He suggested that “there are matters on which Europe is closer to the United States, but on a number of strategic issues it has more in common with Russia. Take the theme of use of force and other forms of coercion, and also its attitude toward international law.”

Europe’s Concerns

It is precisely because of EU concerns over international law and rules of behavior, however, that Putin’s Russia has raised doubts in Europe about its reliability. European critics point to Russia’s use of energy as a political weapon against several of its neighbors, its refusal to ratify the EU’s Energy Charter treaty that it signed in 1994, its recent dispatch of a mission to plant a titanium Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole, its recent resumption of strategic bomber flights, and the unexplained “cyberwar” against Estonia in April and May.

Nor does Lavrov mention that when the SPD-led German Foreign Ministry sought to draw Russia into a closely intertwined set of relationships with the EU during the German EU Presidency in the first half of 2007, Berlin found that Moscow was interested only in bilateral deals and asserting itself ever more strongly on the international stage.

Lavrov nonetheless cited Putin’s February 10 speech in Munich as an example of evidence of Russia’s interest in “concerted actions” with its foreign partners. But this was a speech that left Merkel and many of Putin’s German hosts visibly displeased and prompted several Western observers to describe it as “a declaration of a new Cold War.”

Lavrov suggested that “the part of the world customarily known as the Euro-Atlantic region [should] have a triple understanding, between the United States, Russia, and the European Union…. Such a ‘troika’ could ‘steer the global boat into untroubled waters.'” He added that “perhaps it is time to think of a new definition of Atlanticism that does not exclude Russia” but did not elaborate.

Policy Of Division

The minister referred to a “common humanitarian space” among CIS countries. He also hailed the international roles of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Lavrov mentioned the possibility of a “concert of the powers of the 21st century…[to provide] leadership by the key states of the world,” as well as “new, flexible forms of collective leadership” that include at least China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa.

He stressed nonetheless that there are “some red lines” in Russia’s foreign policy. He said that Moscow is firmly opposed to U.S. plans to deploy parts of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and to any proposal on the final status of Kosovo that does not meet with Serbia’s approval. He argued that “Russia does not bargain [on matters involving its vital interest], and our international partners must understand this.”

Some Czech and Polish critics have pointed out, however, that Russia’s position on missile defense is not aimed at cooperation but on sending notice to Prague and Warsaw that their relations with Washington are subject to Moscow’s approval.

Germany’s “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” has repeatedly made the point that Russia is trying to split both the EU and NATO with the missile-defense issue. As to Kosovo, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” argued on September 4 that Russian diplomacy has not offered any clear or constructive proposal to replace that of UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, which Russia and Serbia reject.