Daily Archives: July 9, 2008

EDITORIAL: The Enemies Among Us

EDITORIAL

The Enemies Among us

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
April 16, 1963

Canada is a funny place, with funny little people in it. Dr. King would have said it’s full of “moderates” — the kind who are more dangerous to liberty than the KKK.

Take Robert Amsterdam, for instance.

A couple weeks ago, Kim Zigfeld posted on Pajamas Media about the revolting activities of former U.S. Congressman Kurt Weldon, who’s now out of office and facing a massive corruption investigation. Kim wrote that in October 2006

the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the investigation began in response to a 2004 report in the Los Angeles Times about Weldon’s efforts to seek lucrative lobbying and consulting contracts for his daughter Karen involving murky forces in Russia and Serbia. The day after the newspaper report blew their cover, FBI agents raided Karen’s home and office (as well as those of several other Weldon associates) and carted off boxes of evidence. Two days after that, the Washington Post reported that a grand jury had been impaneledNow, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a former congressional aide of Weldon’s has “admitted in court proceedings that his wife received unreported payments from an arms-control group with ties to top security officials in the Russian government. Rep. Weldon had sought a federal grant for the Russian organization, known as International Exchange Group [IEG], according to the people familiar with the inquiry. Rep. Weldon’s former aide, Russell Caso, pleaded guilty in December to failing to disclose payments made to his wife, but the origin of the funds wasn’t identified.”

The WSJ concludes: “The Weldon inquiry is significant in part because it is an element of a broader U.S. Justice Department probe into what officials suspect are efforts by Russian-backed firms to gain influence or gather information in Washington.” That’s the polite way of saying that, knowingly or unknowingly, Weldon may have been spying for the Kremlin.

As our post below indicates, the Weldon story keeps growing because Weldon appears quite determined to sell out his country. Wired.com reports: “Former congressman Curt Weldon is helping broker deals between Russian and Ukrainian weapons suppliers and the Iraqi and Libyan governments as part of his new job with a private American defense consulting firm.”

Coming upon this story, apparently for the first time, blogger (and Khodorkovsky attorney) Amsterdam stated: “Hot stuff. Yet another example of how the Americans simply cannot claim to be any kind of moral authority in discussions with Russia.” Not only did Amsterdam, not link to Kim’s post on Pajamas it seems he didn’t even know about it, nor did he read any of the reports in links to. His blog had never before reported on Weldon’s behavior — so in his words it really was “hot stuff” to him, and he doesn’t seem to have read the article he’s reporting on, which clearly states that the FBI is investigating Weldon, looking to put him in prison. What more is it exactly, Mr. Amsterdam, that America need to do satisfy you and win the high moral ground? Shoot Weldon on sight? Poison him like the Russians did Litvinenko?

A bit dicey to rely on someone that far out of the loop for your main source of information on Russia, no?

But more interesting is the jaw-dropping hypocrisy. Canadians are funny little people, aren’t they? Here they are holding themselves out as being all non-confrontational and cerebral and what not, and yet just give them the chance to bash an other country in a haughty, prejudicial manner and they grab for it like a fat man in a candy store. They dwell in a tiny (population-wise) and largely inconsequential (influence-wise) land, yet they presume to lecture the world’s only superpower from on high. Americans have “no kind of moral authority” over a regime run by a proud KGB spy which has, by Amsterdam’s own assertion, wrongfully and illegally imprisoned his client.

Does it really “represent” the interest of Amsterdam’s client to polarize and alienate the world’s most powerful democracy, and the only one whose influence can possibly free Khodorkovsky, by condemning them as totally lacking in moral authority (to say nothing of the Americans who publish this blog and who have been among Khodorkovsky’s staunchest defenders)? Is America the one that expelled Amsterdam from the country and sent his client to Siberia? One might think so from his haughty, polarizing rhetoric.

Is it really an expression of the sort of “moderation” Amsterdam routinely calls for? Wouldn’t it be more “moderate” (to say nothing of being more accurate) to say that there are things American can do to increase it’s moral authority, rather than engaging in basically insane hyperbole? Isn’t this exactly the kind of hyperbole that Amsterdam routinely scoffs at on his blog, and in fact exactly the kind that most offends those who are offended by Americans?

All this is to say nothing, of course, of the fact that Amsterdam clearly doesn’t understand the Weldon story and is perverting its basic facts beyond all recognition. Weldon is not representing the U.S. government now, to the contrary he’s been summarily drummed out of office and is now facing a criminal investigation that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. What he is doing now is acting like a rogue traitor, and blaming the U.S. government for it is like saying Khodorkovsky deserved selective prosecution, a rigged trial and a Siberian prison sentence because — and nobody disputes this — he has broken the law from time to time.

A week ago, Amsterdam published a post about a column by Professor Steven Cohen in the International Herald Tribune without realizing that the column had been published by the IHT by mistake. It had already appeared in the paper’s pages months earlier, and we commented on it extensively at that time. Looks like Amsterdam missed our issue that day, and missed the boat on that issue as well, just as he did in the case of the Weldon story.

We’d like to respectfully suggest two things. First, the U.S. government should redouble its efforts to get Mr. Weldon into prison just as soon as humanely possible. Second, Mr. Amsterdam should ratchet back his ego and his latent anti-Americanism at least a few notches, if not for the sake of his own reputation then at least for the sake of his client, who’s already well on his way to spending the rest of his life in Siberia.

As we move into a phase of full-blown cold war with Russia, it’s well to remember that perhaps the most dangerous opponents we face, as Dr. King well knew, are those who profess “moderation.” Sometimes they are simply spies seeking to undermine and destroy us; other times, well . . . you know what they say: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Curt Weldon, Traitor

Wired reports:

Former congressman Curt Weldon is helping broker deals between Russian and Ukranian weapons suppliers and the Iraqi and Libyan governments as part of his new job with a private American defense consulting firm, Wired.com has learned.

Weldon, who is currently being investigated by the FBI over alleged corruption during his time in office, visited Libya in March to discuss a possible military deal, according to a letter describing the trip from Weldon to Defense Solutions CEO Timothy Ringgold. In May, Weldon, together with Ringgold and another company representative, traveled to Moscow to discuss working with Russia’s weapons-export agency on arms sales to the Middle East.

Both trips were part of the company’s effort to tap into the growing — and often legally murky — market for selling weapons from former Eastern Bloc countries to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The Russians want to sell weapons to Iraq directly, but “must go slow on Iraq because of political reasons” and want to work with an “intermediary” like Defense Solutions, CEO Ringgold subsequently wrote to colleagues. “They have not spoken with any American company that can offer the quid pro quo that we can or that has the connections in Russia that we have,” he boasted.

A few years ago, an American company proposing to sell weapons to Libya might have triggered a congressional hearing. So, too, would have a proposal to conduct arms deals with Russia, which the United States has accused of selling high-tech weapons to Syria and Iran.

However, U.S. government efforts to rapidly equip countries like Afghanistan and Iraq — which have largely Soviet-origin weapons — have created legal ambiguities and loopholes in export controls that didn’t exist in years past and given rise to a new class of arms trade middlemen. So, even though both Libya and the Russian arms export agency are on official U.S. blacklists, government officials and analysts involved in weapons sales say the rules have become unclear as the push to equip allies in the global war on terror has blazed new but uncertain legal ground.

Eagerly stepping into that virgin territory is Defense Solutions, a Pennsylvania-based company that is carving out a small but lucrative niche in a new international arms bazaar. The firm boasts as its advisors a number of influential Washington insiders, such as retired General Barry McCaffrey, the former White House drug czar.

Helping the firm make key connections is Curt Weldon, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania at the center of an FBI investigation into alleged conflicts of interest during his time in office. Weldon, now a key executive at Defense Solutions, is working with the company to set up these weapons deals.

It’s an unusual, if not an entirely unexpected chapter for Weldon, whose time in office included frequent trips to Russia. As an influential member of the House Armed Services Committee, Weldon pushed for multibillion-dollar defense programs, like ballistic missile defense, and earned a reputation as a foreign policy gadfly, boasting of his contacts with officials in nations labeled by the administration as “rogue states” such as Libya and North Korea. Weldon’s wild claims about a 9/11 cover-up and his sensationalist book warning of an Iranian terror plot, sometimes earned him official scorn and public ridicule, but it was accusations that he steered contracts to Eastern European businesses linked to his daughter’s lobbying firm that drew the government’s attention.

Weldon was voted out of office in 2006 just weeks after the FBI raided his daughter’s home, and that of one of her associates.

Weldon did not respond to e-mails and phone requests to be interviewed or comment for this article. But in a 2006 interview, before the FBI probe was public, Weldon spoke enthusiastically about setting up a “front company” to work with the Russian arms agency, Rosoboronexport. Weldon hoped this company could sell weapons to the Middle East, and other regions, particularly to countries where the U.S. has strained relations. He claimed the director of Rosoboronexport approached him to work with “an American company that would act as a front for weapons these nations want to buy.”

Weldon called the proposal an “unbelievable offer.”

The administration, he acknowledged at the time, did not welcome the idea of an American company selling Russian weapons to potentially unfriendly countries. But two years later, Weldon, now a private citizen and chief strategic officer for Defense Solutions, appears to be working on precisely that sort of deal. And whether illegal or not, Defense Solutions’ business represents a new phenomenon in the international arms trade business.

In years past arms brokers — firms or individuals who serve as middlemen to facilitate weapons sales between countries — were largely the stuff of spy thrillers. Unlike traditional American defense companies, like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, which typically sell weapons directly to NATO countries or other governments regarded as friendly to the United States, brokers are often small outfits run by people with sometimes questionable experience and reputations they will sell to anyone. One of the most infamous arms brokers, a Russian named Viktor Bout, is charged by the United States, United Nations, Interpol and others of funneling arms to terrorists and rebels around the world. He was recently arrested in Thailand. The United States is requesting his extradition on charges of supplying arms to a terrorist organization.

But ironically, Iraq has fueled a new market for these professional middlemen; the United States is funneling billions of dollars into modernizing Iraq’s army so that the country’s government can fend for itself after coalition troops withdraw. And Iraq’s largely Soviet-equipped military is a natural market for Eastern European countries brimming with old or out-of-date equipment they would like to unload. The middlemen, in these cases, serve a key role by allowing the U.S. government to do business with an American company, which in turn buys equipment from Eastern Bloc countries in deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it financed with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

One of Defense Solutions’ sales — a deal to sell Hungarian-owed T-72 tanks to Iraq in 2005 — was typical of these new foreign military sales. But on the more questionable side is the company’s plans to work with Rosoboronexport, which is barred from doing business with the U.S. government, and Libya, which is still on the State Department’s arms embargo list.

The Eastern European-Middle East arms-brokering business, while in some cases sanctioned by the U.S. government, has run into problems, including outright corruption and quality. Defense contractor Dale Stoffel, the president of Wye Oak Technology, and another American were gunned down in Iraq in December 2004 after Stoffel alleged that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense was involved in a kickback scheme. Like Defense Solutions, the company Stoffel worked for was refurbishing the Iraq’s army Eastern Bloc equipment.

Another problem is quality. Weapons from the former Soviet Bloc, which the U.S. military euphemistically calls “nonstandard equipment,” have been flagged as substandard, acknowledges Brigadier General Charles Luckey, who is in charge of security assistance at Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. In an interview from Iraq, Brigadier General Luckey said: “One of the frustrating things about buying nonstandard [weapons], is that I’m the guy who has to deal with the fact that some broker I’ve never heard of allowed weapons to get to Iraq before they were inspected.”

In one high-profile case, Iraqi officials alleged that a corrupt firm sold them $400 million in shoddy helicopters from Poland. More recently, a company led by a 21-year-old and a former masseur was offered a U.S. government contract worth nearly $300 million to sell ammunition to Afghanistan. The ammunition turned out to be outdated and of dubious origin and several people connected with the company have been indicted. A congressional investigation concluded that the company, which was on a State Department watch list, was able to take advantage of regulatory loopholes by using middlemen.

For those concerned about illicit arms trade, this new wave of weapons deals is rife with the potential for corruption and abuse, but for companies eager to pursue markets once regarded as dubious, it represents a lucrative business opportunity. The problem in these cases, according to those familiar with arms sales, is that it’s no longer clear what’s legal and what’s not.

Rachel Stohl, an expert on international arms trade and a senior analyst at Center for Defense Information, says that in many ways, the rush to equip Iraq has led the United States to throw caution to the wind. She points to a report by the Government Accountability Office last year that found that some 190,000 weapons sold to Iraq have gone missing. “I think the reality is we won’t know, until way after the fact, about all of these irregularities with the Iraq weapons provision program,” she said. “We were providing them all these assault rifles that have gone missing. Why? They were not following the standard procedures that were in place.”

But Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t the only markets available to arms brokers like Defense Solutions. The gradual normalization of relations with Libya opens another door into a quasi-legal area of sales.

Like Iraq, Libya has a substantial arsenal of Soviet-origin military weapons, offering a potential market for brokers working with Russia and other former Soviet states. But even when there’s not an outright ban, sales to the Middle East are often fraught with controversy, particularly to countries like Libya, which was under international sanction for more than a decade. Even as sanctions against it have been lifted, European companies proposing to sell arms to Libya have faced steep criticism, particularly since the country is still ruled by dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who took power in a military coup in 1969.

While the United States lifted Libya’s “state sponsor of terrorism” designation in 2006, other restrictions, such as on the sale of arms, remain in place. A State Department spokesperson confirmed that exports of “lethal munitions” to Libya, such as tanks or related equipment, are still banned, although sales of nonlethal equipment are now allowed on a case-by-case basis.

In late March, Weldon traveled to Libya for a weeklong trip at the invitation of the Gaddafi Foundation, a group run by the son of Libya’s leader, and the chairman of Libya’s foreign affairs committee, according to the report he sent to Defense Solutions (.pdf), a copy of which was obtained by Wired.com. The trip reports states: “Agreement reached for Weldon to quickly return to Libya for meetings with son [of Libyan leader Gaddafi] Morti regarding defense and security cooperation.”

A document dated April 16, just two weeks after Weldon’s trip, outlines Defense Solutions’ proposal to Libya to refurbish the country’s fleet of armored vehicles, including its T-72 tanks, BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, and BTR-60 armored personnel carriers. A copy of the sales proposal, also provided to Wired.com, is on Defense Solutions’ letterhead, appears to bear the signature of company CEO Timothy Ringgold, and is addressed to Libya’s defense procurement council. “Defense Solutions is committed to delivering a full end-to-end solution to its clients,” the proposal states. “Besides refurbishing these vehicles, we are capable of providing a full logistics support package, including a two year supply of spare parts, maintenance and repair services, and operator, maintenance, and repair training.”

In an interview with Wired.com, Ringgold admitted that he’s interested in doing business in Libya and confirms receiving Weldon’s trip report from Libya, but denies drafting or signing an arms-sale proposal. “I’ve never made such a document to Libya,” Ringgold insisted, after being read the proposal, and told that his signature is on it.

In addition to the Libyan arms-deal document, Wired.com has also reviewed copies of e-mails from Ringgold discussing the Libyan deal.

While Ringgold denies proposing an arms sale to Libya, he is open about speaking with Rosoboronexport, which has been on a U.S. government sanctions list since 2006, after the Russian state agency allegedly violated the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act. An April e-mail provided to Wired.com describes Ringgold, Weldon and Stephan Minikes, a senior advisor to Defense Solutions and a former ambassador, meeting with Rosoboronexport. The conversations included a number of potential deals, including supplying Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan and spare parts for Iraq’s infantry fighting vehicles. Ringgold wrote to colleagues following the visit, describing the meetings as a “spectacular success,” saying the Russian agency “has the ability to undercut all cost proposals from brokers.”

Ringgold confirmed those discussions and said that his company has sought to do business with Rosoboronexport. Asked whether Ringgold considers his dealings with Russia to be legal, he argued that U.S. companies could work with Rosoboronexport on a “case-by-case” basis. “The particular purpose of the meeting we had — and I want to be crystal clear — was in response to a U.S. government requirement,” he said.

A number of officials at the State Department and in the Pentagon, when contacted for this article, could not say whether working with Rosoboronexport is legal or not. A Pentagon spokeswoman said she was familiar with the issue, but deferred the question to the State Department. When asked about Rosoboronexport’s status on the blacklist, John Herzberg, a State Department spokesman replied: “What’s on there is on there.”

Asked whether, given the ban, there was any way a company could legally work with Rosoboronexport, as Ringgold suggested, Herzberg provided an equivocal answer. “At the stage of the process we’re at, I’m unable to give you an answer,” he said. “You can try elsewhere in government, and maybe they’ll be braver than me.”

In an interview from Iraq, General Luckey conceded it was a murky area, but said, “My understanding is they are currently on our no-go list.”

The confusion over debarred parties has even led the U.S. government into its own legal tangles, according to Jim McAleese, a Washington attorney who specializes in government contracting and foreign military sales. Because the Russian government violated U.S. nonproliferation laws, even NASA had to go to Congress to ensure it could work with Russia on Soyuz flights to the international space station. “What I’m warning you about is, don’t be surprised by the confusion,” McAleese said. “There are a whole bunch of different statutes that were adopted piecemeal and were never intended to be reconciled.”

But it’s the very ambiguity of the law that troubles those who monitor export control. “It’s highly unusual to do anything with the Russians, particularly Rosoboronexport,” said Scott Jones, director of Export Control Programs at the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia.

Legal or not, reputable American companies simply don’t want to work with banned entities, Jones said, for fear of risking their reputations and business. “Even if it’s not an outright prohibition, most companies don’t want to put themselves in a liability situation that has really bad PR … and they stay away from it,” Jones said. “But if that’s your business, pimping out arms from the U.S. or Russia, that’s the way it works, and you push as much as possible.”

Finding any U.S. defense company working with the Russian government at this point would be “remarkable,” Jones added.

In the meantime, the future for Weldon is unclear. The FBI investigation continues and Weldon’s former chief of staff recently pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and is cooperating with the government, notes Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed a complaint against Weldon in 2004. Sloan speculated that Weldon may be charged with “honest service fraud” for misusing his office for personal gain. “It’s an easier standard than bribery,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised [if he’s charged] with bribery, but I think it will be honest services fraud.”

Ringgold insists that he and Weldon are on the right side of the law. “Everything we do is in strict compliance with international and U.S. law and we operate only in the best interests of the U.S. government,” he said. “I didn’t serve 30 years in the United States Army to throw that away on a whim.”

Asked if Weldon is still working for the company, Ringgold replied: “Absolutely, proudly so.”

Capital Punishment, Russian Style

An editorial in the Moscow Times:

Eight employees at a Chelyabinsk region prison have been arrested in connection with a riot at the institution in May that ultimately led to the deaths of four inmates.

The employees, whose arrests were authorized by a local court, were on duty when the riot broke out at Prison No. 1 in the city of Kopeisk on May 31, regional Investigative Committee official Yelena Kalinina said last week, Interfax reported.

Prosecutors said that four inmates had attacked employees with razors and makeshift blades, and that they were ultimately subdued by prison guards with rubber truncheons.

A doctor examined the four shortly after the beatings and said that none of the inmates’ lives was in danger due to the injuries, Gazeta.ru reported.

The inmates, who were then placed in separate cells, all died later that same day, the regional Investigative Committee said.

The arrested guards’ colleagues pleaded with the Investigative Committee that none of the suspects was a flight risk and that there was no need to hold them. Interestingly, the initial reaction of the Federal Prison Service leadership to the events surrounding the riots and the deaths of the four prisoners was to defend the guards, and their immediate commanders even considered rewarding them with apartments, national press reported.

In contrast, local human rights activists welcomed the arrest, noting that they had long received complaints from inmates at Prison No.1 about brutality on the part of the guards.

The regional Investigative Committee should take this investigation seriously and prosecute the guards if evidence is found of wrongdoing. It should also investigate the doctor, who somehow deemed the inmates fit to remain in cells. With no access to medical treatment, the prisoners died hours later.

This incident is one of the few cases in which so many prison guards have been charged with brutality, and this should serve as a signal to the Federal Prison Service that it is time to put an end to these abuses. Rather than maintaining corporate solidarity by rewarding excessive use of force against inmates, those in charge of the prison service would do well to enhance oversight of the conduct of their personnel and develop nonlethal, less violent methods of breaking up riots, which seem to occur regularly in prisons across Russia.

The same goes for law-enforcement agencies whose personnel use force illegally against suspects and witnesses. In one case reported by the national media last year, police officers even beat up a doctor who refused to agree that a suspect they had assaulted was fit to remain in his cell. The doctor argued that the inmate should have been transferred to a clinic.

Unless such horrendous abuses stop, Russia will never become the rule-based state of law-abiding citizens about which new President Dmitry Medvedev constantly speaks, no matter how many times he repeats this mantra.

Britain Declares Cold War against Russia

The Times of London reports:

Britain’s security services have identified Russia as the third most serious threat facing the country, it has emerged before Gordon Brown’s first meeting with President Medvedev. Security officials say that only al-Qaeda terrorism and Iranian nuclear proliferation are greater menaces to the country’s safety than Russia. The services are understood to fear that Russia’s three main intelligence agencies have flooded the country with agents, The Times understands. There is reported to be deep irritation within the services that vital resources are having to be diverted to deal with industrial and military espionage by the Russians.

The disclosures come as Mr Brown prepares to hold his first meeting with Mr Medvedev on Monday amid rising anger about Russia’s treatment of foreign investors such as BP. Russian agents were accused of the murder of the émigré Alexander Litvinenko in London, as well as other attempted killings, and relations between the two countries have deteriorated fast, culminating in a row between Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin, the former President, at the G8 summit last year. As Mr Brown and Mr Medvedev prepare to meet in Hokkaido, Japan, on Monday before the opening of this year’s G8, Russia has displayed signs of wanting to end the rift with Britain. In an interview with foreign correspondents Mr Medvedev said that international relations always required people to come together.

Reflecting the sensitivity of the encounter, senior British officials declined to give details of the issues that Mr Brown intends to raise, clearly not wanting to raise the temperature in advance. One said: “We will talk about that meeting after it has happened.” He added that the Government agreed with Mr Medvedev’s comments about international relations and that Mr Brown looked forward to a “constructive discussion”. Mr Brown seems certain, however, to raise the continuing fallout from the Litvinenko killing, the heightened tension between the security services, and the treatment of BP and its staff in Russia. The FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, raided the Moscow offices of BP and a joint venture, TNK-BP, this year.

The Prime Minister will use his first G8 summit to call on his colleagues to do more to meet their pledges to double aid to Africa. British officials said that the G8 was not on track to meet commitments made at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 to double aid to £50 billion a year worldwide and aid to Africa to £25 billion. They expect the summit to reaffirm that commitment – although the words are not yet in the summit communiqué – but officials said that several G8 countries were not meeting their targets, and only Britain, the United States and Germany were doing so. Mr Brown will say that the richer countries should be doing more at a time of economic downturn as part of the overall solution to the problems facing the world, including food and oil prices. “Too many donors are not keeping the promises they made,” a senior official said.

Mr Brown wants a G8 commitment to helping countries to increase the number of health workers to 2.3 per 1,000 people and providing $60 billion (£30 billion) for health over a set period. He and other leaders want the summit to give much-needed momentum to the world trade talks, which are close to failure. Appearing before a Commons committee yesterday, Mr Brown spoke of the “great responsibility” on the leaders of the G8 to pave the way for a deal by trade ministers at a crucial meeting on July 21. Mr Brown said: “We are a few minutes before midnight. If we can’t get a trade deal within the next few weeks it may elude us for many, many months, if not longer. “I think we have got to show, in a world that is becoming increasingly protectionist, that we are capable of standing up to that and show that the world is capable of reaching an agreement on trade.”

Mr Brown made plain that his old adversary Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, had his full confidence in his battle with President Sarkozy of France over his handling of the trade talks. Pascal Lamy, the director-general of the World Trade Organisation, said yesterday that an agreement on the main points of the world trade liberalisation talks was “feasible” this month, despite the pessimism surrounding the round and significant reservations on the part of France, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. “I called for a ministerial meeting because I think it is feasible [to come to a framework agreement] but it is not a done deal,” he said.

Claims and disputes

November 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security officer and fierce critic of the Kremlin, dies in a London hospital after being poisoned

May 2007 Russia refuses a British request to hand over the prime suspect in the killing, Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB officer who is now a Russian MP

July 2007 Britain expels four Russian diplomats in response to refusal to extradite Mr Lugovoi

July 2007 Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian billionaire, claims that British intelligence thwarted a plot to kill him

August 2007 President Putin reinstates Cold War-style long-range air patrols by strategic bombers

April 2008 The MoD reveals that RAF fighter jets have been scrambled at least 21 times in 12 months to respond to Russian military aircraft encroaching on Nato airspace

Annals of Mass Murder in Chechnya

The following is our staff partial translation of an article from the Russian newspaper Kommersant (”The Merchant”) which appeared on July 3, 2008.

In Chechnya, the first mass grave has been discovered of civilian victims of Russia’s Second War in the breakaway republic.

According to preliminary estimates, it may contain the remains of nearly three hundred people. The Commissioner for Human Rights in Chechnya, Nurdi Nuhazhiev appealed to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika to initiate an investigation. According Nuhazhiev, the grave contains bodies of persons killed by Russian artillery in 1999 [just after Vladimir Putin became Prime Minister and ordered a second military invasion of the republic] while they were attempting to evacuate the region’s capital city of Grozny through a promised route of safe transit.

Nuhazhiev states that residents of the Shelkovskiy region of Grozny reported that in October 1999 they witnessed a massive shelling of refugees moving through the transit corridor along the road between Petropavlovsk and Goryachevodsk. “Our people were fired upon by tank and howitzers located on the Terkovsky Ridge. Many elderly, women and children were among them. They tried to escape bit it was hopeless,” said Nuhazhiev, who interviewed a survivor who is afraid to have her name published for fear of retaliation and escaped by taking refuse in in a drainage pipe and lost seven members of her family in the attack. “The corpses were removed almost immediately after the attack and disappeared,” the survivor related. She was later told the bodies had been disposed of in a mass grave at a concrete plant in Goryachevodsk.

The mass grave was first discovered the following summer when a piece of heavy equipment accidentally blundered into it, but it was never formally excavated. When asked why so many years have passed before any official statements being made about the site, Nuhazhiev stated: “I think people have simply been afraid to talk about it, and have remained silent.” Only when another investigation regarding a mass grave discovered in the Leninsky district of Grozny was publicized did anyone come forward. That investigation was publicized by Kommersant on June 23rd and involved a grave containing an estimated 800 bodies. [60 mass graves of civilians have been discovered in Chechnya to date; at least 100,000 civilians are thought to have been killed in a region that had only 1.2 million people when war began in 1994. The Russian government has attempted to conceal mass graves by building new construction projects on top of them.]

Nuhazhiev appealed to Chaika to create an investigation team and provide scientific support to analyze the remains and identify the bodies. “This, of course, will be a very difficult task, but we are obliged to perform it in order to punish those who are responsible so that the people of our region will have sufficient faith in the system of justice,” said Nuhazhiev.

Chechnya’s prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov told Kommersant that local authorities have already begun their own investigation. He stated: “In Chechnya, Russian military forces have committed many crimes against the civilian population, and unfortunately law enforcement authorities did not respond contemporaneously, giving rise to scandals of this kind.”

Chechen human rights activists say that there are many more such graves. Ruslan Badalov, director of the Chechen Committee of National Salvation, said: “I clearly remember this tragedy and I know the names of the Russian commanders who gave the orders and their unit.” But he stated that he did not believe Russian authorities would be capable of doing justice and believed that the only hope for the victims families would lie in lawsuits before the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg