Thursday, 31 January 2008

Human rights body says West turns blind eye to abuses in Russia

MOSCOW, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Western democracies are failing to put pressure on Russia over what the U.S.-based NGO sees as human rights violations.

"International criticism of Russia's human rights record remains muted, with the European Union failing to challenge Russia on its human rights record in a consistent and sustained manner," the rights organization said in an annual report, World Report 2008.

The HRW highlighted flaws in December's parliamentary election in Russia, relations between public organizations and state bodies, as well as the situation in the North Caucasus and Russian nationals' right to fair trials.

The report highlighted dispersals of opposition rallies and intimidation of opposition activists as major rights violations by Russian authorities last year.

"Authorities banned or severely restricted a series of opposition demonstrations known as "Dissenters' Marches," which were nonetheless held across Russia," the report said.

"In November the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe cancelled its mission to observe Russia's December 2 parliamentary elections, citing operational concerns. The Russian government had imposed unprecedented restrictions on the size of the mission and did not issue visas to observers in a timely manner."

The organization also cited the barring of Russian sexual minorities from holding public gatherings last year.

"On May 27 several dozen Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and their supporters, tried to hold a peaceful demonstration outside Moscow's City Hall. Police arrested 21 demonstrators and observers as the event's organizers attempted to deliver a petition to the mayor's office protesting its ban on a gay pride parade," the report said.

On the situation in the North Caucasus, the HRW pointed to the activities of Chechen security officers, who allegedly torture terrorist suspects.

"2007 proved a landmark year for international justice on Chechnya. Unable to secure justice domestically, hundreds of victims of abuse have filed applications with the European Court of Human Rights."

"In 11 rulings to date, the ECtHR found Russia responsible for serious human rights abuses in Chechnya, including torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances. In every ruling the court has found a failure by the Russian government to launch a meaningful investigation," the report said.

Russian Peacekeepers Stay in Abkhazia

Kommersant, Jan. 31, 2008

The UN Security Council on Wednesday discussed the situation in Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia. The Security Council did not even consider replacing Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone but accepted Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s suggestion to overview a peacekeeping process.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a report shortly before the session to support an idea to overview the peacekeeping process in the conflict zone, which Mikhail Saakashvili proposed at the UN session last fall. The Georgian president also pressed then for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the zone to replace them with an EU contingent.

Mikhail Saakashvili, however, ditched his hard-line rhetoric after his win at the presidential election. In a news conference at the PACE in Strasbourg last week he said he was no longer considering the idea as valid.

The UN secretary general said in his report that all accusations against CIS peacekeepers proved to be wrong. He also said the resolution of the Kosovo issue may have an influence of developments in Abkhazia. “The Georgian government has made it clear several times that it will be considering the possibility of Russia’s recognizing Abkhazia differently depending to the results of the upcoming discussion of Kosovo’s status.”

Russia’s envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin followed a recent warming in relations with Georgia and praises “some positive statements” which were voiced in the country after the presidential election.
It is still, however, unclear when and how the peacekeeping process will be overviewed. In any case, the Security Council is meeting in April for a session on Georgia to adopt a resolution to prolong the UN presence in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict zone.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

PACE sends mission to Russia to monitor election buildup

MOSCOW, January 30 (RIA Novosti) - Five members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will visit Russia on February 6-7 to observe preparations for the March 2 presidential election, a PACE source said on Wednesday.

The source said the PACE mission will be led by Switzerland's Andreas Gross, formerly the organization's rapporteur on the troubled North Caucasus republic of Chechnya.

Another PACE source said that elections themselves would be monitored by a team of 30 members of the organization.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Tuesday asked Russia's Central Election Commission for authorization to monitor not only the presidential election, but also campaign leading up to the polls.

The OSCE'S main election monitoring arm, the ODIHR, boycotted Russia's parliamentary polls on December 2 citing visa delays and "unprecedented restrictions." The OSCE subsequently declared the polls "not free and fair."

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia will not allow foreign countries to influence its presidential election, due on March 2.

Speaking at a session of the country's main domestic security service, the FSB, Putin urged for measures to deter "attempts to interfere in Russia's domestic affairs."

"It is especially important in the run-up to the presidential election. Russia is a sovereign state, and we will not allow anyone to influence the election campaign from the outside."

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Chechnya's Exodus to Europe

By Mairbek Vatchagaev, Chechnya Weekly, Jamestown Foundation

A sternly worded statement made by the Austrian radical right-wing politician Jorg Haider served as yet another reminder to the world that the Chechen refugee problem remains acute (, January 12). Every day dozens of Chechens try to escape the Putin-proclaimed happy paradise in Chechnya by entering the European Union illegally via the border with Ukraine or Belarus.

Despite the news of general peace and prosperity widely circulated by the news media in the Chechen Republic, more and more people dream of leaving the allegedly problem-free Chechnya. For instance, according to an independent public opinion survey of Grozny residents conducted by the Caucasus Times Information Agency in November 2007, one out of three respondents (or 450,000 people when extrapolating using total population numbers) wanted to leave the region (Caucasus Times, November 20, 2007). Ironically, this widely held public sentiment was reported during a time that the mass media was describing the situation in Chechnya as “peaceful and prosperous."

So why are Chechens leaving behind their homeland, the place to which they always feel an invisible connection? No matter where Chechens happen to find themselves, it is a common practice to request that their bodies be sent to Chechnya after they die. Almost no Chechens are buried in Europe, as all the victims of disease, accidents and other tragic mishaps are transported to Chechnya for final interment. During the Soviet period, burying a Chechen outside of Chechnya was considered an insult to all their relatives, and the same tradition continues today. A Chechen outside of Chechnya still feels like a tourist, and Chechen parents continue to build homes for their kids in Chechnya with the money they earn in Europe.

According to unofficial reports, the number of Chechens in Europe may reach 70,000 by 2008, and in all likelihood, these numbers will keep growing.

The main obstacle faced by Chechens planning to leave Chechnya and Russia is the daunting challenge of obtaining a passport for travel abroad, which costs upwards of $300, or 2-3 months’ salary in today’s Chechnya.

A second barrier is the near-total refusal of European and U.S. embassies to consider visa applications submitted by Chechens, which forces people to seek contacts with numerous mafia groups specializing in the illegal trafficking of Chechens from Ukraine to Poland.

Chechen refugee diasporas are the youngest in Europe and are still being formed, so any estimates of numbers and locations would be premature today. However, a profile of the typical Chechen refugee in Europe is already emerging.

Over the last month, more than 1,200 Chechen refugees were registered at the Paris airport (, January 15), which is the highest number since the start of the second Chechen War in 1999 (, January 14). Chechen travelers usually purchase tickets to countries that do not require a visa, and choose a route with a stopover in Paris instead of flying directly to the destination. Upon arriving at the airport, they immediately apply for refugee status instead of moving to the transit hall. This modus operandi has existed since the communist era and it is still effective.

It is notable that despite the statements made by the pro-Moscow government in Grozny about its intent to arrange the return of Chechen refugees who settled in Europe, today’s refugees usually have first-hand knowledge of the situation on the ground in Chechnya, which human rights organization describe as a near-dictatorship (Caucasus Times, January 15). It is therefore not surprising that people try to escape the place as fast as they can in search of freedom and democracy.

Not all refugees stay in France; many seek to join their relatives in Austria, Belgium or northern Europe. Perhaps the new wave of Chechen refugees pushed the issue to the top of domestic political agenda in Austria, where extreme radical politicians have called for a halt in admissions of Chechen refugees (, January 12). In this particular case, the real issue may have less to do with the Chechens or the problems of Chechen refugees than with the Austrian politician’s attempt to use the Chechen card for his anti-immigration policies.

Apart from the initial discomfort caused by the contrast in lifestyle, Chechens generally face few problems when it comes to adapting to their new countries. Many young people continue to behave as they did in Chechnya or Russia without realizing that many things accepted back home are not only discouraged but perhaps illegal in Europe. Members of the older generation often experience a clash between their traditions and customs and the European way of life. It is therefore not surprising that many older Chechens began to leave European countries and return to Chechnya.

The largest Chechen community in Europe today can be found in Austria, where the diaspora numbers approximately 17,000 people (according to Vienna’s Austrian Immigration Foundation). Austria is followed by France and Germany (approximately 10,000 each), Belgium (7,000-10,000), and so on (Norway, Sweden and even Poland, which most see as a country of temporary, not permanent residence). Other known communities include Canada (several hundred people) and Middle Eastern (in the United Arab Emirates there are 2,000-3,000). It is worth noting that migration is also high inside the Russian Federation—for instance, the Chechen community in Moscow already numbers some 100,000 people.

Chechen communities in Europe are fairly spread out across their respective countries. For instance, the largest communities in France, numbering several thousand each, can be found in Nice, Strasbourg and Paris. Chechens also live in Orleans, Le Mans, Besancon, Montpelier, Toulouse, Tours, and so on, and their settlement pattern in France is still undergoing changes as people move in search of better jobs and places to live. A unique feature of Chechen immigration is a very high percentage of constituents who seek to find a job and graduate from the welfare system. The nature of Chechens is to be competitive in getting better jobs and making more money; they are not affected by the welfare dependence factor so commonly found in other immigrant groups in France. In this community, the mere fact of receiving welfare payments is viewed as a sign of the lack of ability and poor adjustment to society.

Chechen refugees in France usually join cultural centers and try to maintain connections with other members. Political associations are uncommon because these communities tend to be highly heterogeneous; it is therefore the cultural centers, such as the Chechen-French Center in Paris, which today form the hubs of Chechen culture in their new home countries.

The mass exodus from Chechnya will continue until Chechens see peace on the ground made a reality as opposed to propaganda headlines disseminated by Moscow and its emissaries in Chechnya. No bans or legal innovations in the Schengen zone countries will stop them; they will continue to seek and find new ways to enter countries where they believe they will be guaranteed freedom—until the same freedom and stability comes to their homeland in the Chechen Republic.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Circassians Seek Reburial of 1917-19 Mountaineer Republic Leader

Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Baku, January 28 – Circassians across the North Caucasus are uniting behind a Kabardinian call for the reburial of Pshemakho Kotsev, the president of the 1917-19 Mountaineer Republic, who died in emigration and whose grave is now in Istanbul, in his native land.

Because Kotsev and his short-lived government -- it was suppressed by the Whites but also opposed by the Reds during the Russian Civil War -- sought to unite not only the Circassians but all the nations of the region, he remains an important symbol of a unity that the Soviet and the Russian government have sought to destroy.

Consequently, Moscow will oppose this latest effort. But the fact that some Circassians have made it and other Circassians are backing it highlights the limits of the ability of the Russian authorities to control the way in which people in the region define themselves and want to order their lives.

At the end of December, Valery Khatazhukov, a human rights activist in Kabardino-Balkaria, published an open letter to Arsen Kanokov, the president of that republic, urging him to correct an injustice by supporting Kotsev’s reburial in his homeland ( and
Noting that even now, “many of the pages of the history of Kabardino-Balkaria connected with the revolution, civil war and repressions remain closed and unknown to the majority of residents of our republic, Khatazhukov argues that burying Kotsev in that republic would help people to understand their past and thus build a better future.

And there are good precedents for such a step: In post-Soviet Russia, the Kabardinian activist points out, many „who were forced to emigrate after the October Revolution and Civil War (1918-1920)“ and who were buried in foreign countries are now being re-interred at home.

Pshemakho Kotsev (in left) with his brothers. (

The peoples of the North Caucasus welcomed the February 1917 revolution because they believed it would lead to the creation of a federal state in which all peoples would have their rights protected, the activist said. „The mountaineers did not see their future being outside of Russia.

But „the situation changed in a radical way after the Bolshevik putsch in October 1917.“ Immediately recognizing that Lenin’s regime would bring the peoples of the Caucasus „innumerable misfortunes, hunger, repression and terror,“ they on May 11, 1918, proclaimed an independent North Caucasus (Moutaineer) Republic.“

Led by Kotsev, the republic put up what Khatazhukov describes as „a heroic resistance“ against both the Reds and the Whites, but a year later, the forces of the latter, committed to „a united and indivisible Russia,“ suppressed the Mountaineer Republic and forced Kotsev to emigrate first to Georgia and then to Turkey where he died in 1962.

Koptsev and his wife, Lutsi Misakova, were buried in Istanbul’s Fiikur cemetery, where Khatzhukuov said Circassian activists had found their graves in February 2004. Over Koptsev’s grave is a simple marker with the inscription: „Pshemakhov Kotsev, the former President of the North Caucasus Republic.“

Khatazhukov’s appeal was reported by the Russian news agency, by the Turkish press, and by several news portals in the North Caucasus, including And it has clearly touched a chord with many Circassians at home and abroad.

A week ago, the Adyge Khase social movement decided to support the reburial of Koptsev and his wife. The group said that the fact that this couple united in their own marriage two peoples of the Caucasus – he was a Kabardinian and she a Balkar – would help unite the region now (,

And then on Saturday, Circassian Radio reported that this initiative is gaining ever more support, with the Cherkess Congress also planning to send a letter to the Kabardino-Balkarian government urging that it allow Kotsev to be reburied there (, January 26).

Despite or perhaps especially because of this growing support, both Moscow and its officials in the North Caucasus are unlikely to give their backing for this step lest the reburial of Kotsev and the publicity that it would attract in the North Caucasus threaten the ethnic divisions the Soviet system imposed and that they support.

As part of his divide and rule strategy there, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin worked hard to divide the Mountaineers into a variety of ethnic communities and to split up the Circassians in particular into the Adgyei, the Cherkess, the Kabard, the Abaza, the Shapsug, and the Abkhaz nationalities.

To the extent that the people of this region overcome these divisions, such an achievement would present the current Russian government with a far more united front of opponents there, something that neither Moscow nor its local agents like Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov or Ingushetia’s Murat Zyazikov could possibly want.

Consequently, the former president of the Mountaineer Republic will likely remain in his Turkish grave at least for now, but the increasing attention he and his activities are attracting means that the life and activities of the first president of the Mountaineer Republic are continuing to have an impact on his homeland.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Russia: Fears, Tensions Resurface In Adygeya

By Liz Fuller, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - January, 25

At his inauguration on January 13, 2007, as president of the Republic of Adygeya, former Maykop State Technical University Rector Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov said he would oppose any new effort to subsume Adygeya into the surrounding Krasnodar Krai.

But subsequent developments over the past year have raised doubts among the republic's Circassian minority as to where Tkhakushinov's loyalties really lie. Adyghe Khase, one of two NGOs that seek to defend Circassians' interests, opposed Tkhakushinov's candidacy from the outset, appealing without success in November 2006 to Russian President Vladimir Putin to permit outgoing Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen to serve a second term.

The proposed merger of Adygeya into Krasnodar was the subject of a protracted political crisis that was finally defused in April 2005, when President Putin said the issue was no longer on the agenda. Tkhakushinov again ruled out any such merger in April 2007, but just weeks later he signed a friendship and cooperation pact with Krasnodar Krai governor Aleksandr Tkachev that envisaged closer cooperation in numerous spheres, including legislation, trade, agriculture, establishing ties with foreign countries, the use of natural resources, and "preserving a single information space." The Prague-based "Caucasus Times" on April 28 construed that cooperation pact as intended to promote the integration of Adygeya into Krasnodar.

Circassians' collective doubts were fuelled by plans to abolish the Adygeya branches of several federal agencies, including the customs office and the federal veterinary, natural resources, and narcotics-control agencies. Two months ago Adyghe Khase and a second Circassian public organization, the Cherkess Congress, addressed an open letter to President Putin, State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, and Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin protesting those plans as violating the Russian Constitution, reported on November 16.

The Adygeya parliament committee for budget-finance, tax, and economic policy issues similarly drafted an appeal to President Putin not to proceed with the abolition of republican subsidiaries of federal agencies, reported on October 20, citing committee Chairman Rashid Mugu. Mugu stressed the key role played by the agencies in question in developing the republic's economy.

Tkhakushinov not only failed to persuade Moscow to back down, but has since made what the Circassians consider a further, equally unacceptable concession to Moscow by insisting that a Russian should be named as the new chairman of the republic's parliament to replace Ruslan Khadjibiyokov, who resigned to take up his seat in the Russian State Duma elected on December 2. Russians are by far the largest ethnic group in Adygeya, accounting for some 64.5 percent of the republic's population of 447,000; the Circassians, by contrast, account for only 24.2 percent. In line with his pledge at the parliament session in December 2006 at which he was confirmed as president, Tkhakushinov in January 2007 named a Russian, Vladimir Samozhonkov, as prime minister. He also vowed that that Russians would receive 50 percent of all ministerial portfolios and posts as administration heads. But Circassians account for approximately 50 percent of the 54 parliament deputies, noted on January 11.

At a joint meeting on January 18 of Adyghe Khase and the Cherkess Congress, Adyghe Khase Deputy Chairman Nalbi Guchetl argued that since the republic's president is now chosen by the Russian president and his authority is less than when he was popularly elected, the significance of the parliament as the second most important organ of power is correspondingly greater. For that reason, Guchetl continued, a great deal now depends on the choice of parliament chairman.

Arambi Khapai, a member of Adyghe Khase's leadership, pointed out at the January 18 meeting that the process of reducing the number of federation subjects is continuing, and therefore the perceived threat to Adygeya's survival as a separate (and the second smallest) federation subject has not been removed. The meeting participants decided to convene a meeting on January 23 with the Circassian parliament deputies to decide how to proceed.

Tkhakushinov, however, moved first, convening a meeting on January 21 with parliament deputies at which he presented then with a list, endorsed by Moscow, of three alternative candidates for the post of parliament speaker, all of them Russians: Anatoly Ivanov, deputy speaker of the outgoing parliament; Aleksandr Luzin, who heads the executive committee of the local chapter of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party; and Sergei Pismak, deputy chairman of the government Committee for Culture, Sport, the Media and Work with Public Organizations. On December 21, Mugu listed among possible candidates Ivanov and two Circassians: acting speaker Mugdin Chermit and Construction Committee head Asker Shkhalakhov. The parliament speaker is chosen by a simple majority vote; 35 of the 53 parliament deputies are members of Unified Russia.

Khapai was quoted by on January 22 as arguing that Tkhakushinov's insistence on appointing a Russian, rather than a Circassian to head the legislature is further proof that Moscow seeks to use the Circassians themselves to bring about the abolition of the Republic of Adygeya.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Russia downplays Kosovo domino effect

January, 23 - AFP

Sergei Lavrov

MOSCOW (AFP) — Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia would not necessarily recognise two Moscow-backed rebel regions of neighbouring Georgia if the Serbian province of Kosovo declares independence.

"The Russian leadership has never said that after the recognition of independence in Kosovo we would immediately recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Lavrov told journalists.

Kosovo says it is ready to declare independence even without agreement from Serbia and several Western governments have indicated they are ready to back this.

However Moscow warns that the precedent would then encourage separatism elsewhere, particularly in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The warning has raised fears in Georgia, a Western ally, that Russia is preparing to recognise the rebel regions, which already receive substantial Russian financial and political backing.

Lavrov repeated Moscow's position that Kosovan independence would set a "precedent" for some 200 other separatist territories around the world.

However, he appeared to back-pedal on previous statements by Russian officials that strongly linked Kosovo to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Lavrov said "there is nothing more untruthful" than the idea that Moscow was waiting to use Kosovan independence as a pretext "to start recognising all and sundry. There could be nothing less true."

In 2006, President Vladimir Putin said, "If you consider that one can grant total independence to Kosovo, why must we deprive the Ossetians and Abkhaz of it?"

In Moscow on Wednesday the head of the rebel administration in South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, said he wanted to enter "direct negotiations" with Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili, Interfax news agency reported.

The talks should cover demilitarization of the conflict zone, implementation of confidence measures, economic rehabilitation and South Ossetia's political status, Kokoity said at a news conference.

Video: News conference with Russia's Foreign Minister - RussiaToday

Monday, 21 January 2008

New Satellite TV to Link World’s Circassians Together

Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Baku, January 18 – Expelled from their Caucasian homeland by the tsars, scattered throughout the Middle East by the Ottomans, and subdivided by the Soviets, the five million Circassians of the world will soon be linked together via satellite TV, a joint project of Circassian activists in Jordan and Circassian regimes in the North Caucasus.

National Adiga Radio Television – Adiga is the self-designator of the Circassians – is based in Jordan but enjoys the active support of the large Circassian community in Turkey and the leaders of the Circassian republics of the North Caucasus (Adygeia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachay-Cherkessia).

And while NART began broadcasting on radio and over the Internet last summer (, its organizers are now almost ready to begin sending out television programs via satellite first to the entire Middle East and the Northern Caucasus and then to the more than 40 other countries in which Circassians now live.

Because this effort is intended not only to unite this dispersed and divided community and to save its language and culture from extinction via assimilation, NART represents for many Circassians a dream come true and has generated a large number of stories about this broadcaster and the remarkable community behind it.

While leaders of the International Circassian Assembly and officials in the Circassian republics of the North Caucasus have long discussed the desirability of creating such a station, the current effort was led by a group of Circassians working in the Jordanian capital of Amman

Because the head of that country’s radio and television corporation is himself an ethnic Circassian and because Circassians have long played a key role in the life of that country, the organizers, including Nart Nagoi and Khizim Naguar, have been able to secure the funding they need to go on the air.

In this effort, they have enjoyed the support of the International Chechen Association (, Jordanian officials and Saudi bankers
(, and at least some of the leaders of the Circassian republics in the North Caucasus

Perhaps most significantly, they have not been actively opposed by Moscow which apparently does not view this information channel as a threat and certainly is loathe to risk offending the governments of the countries like Turkey and Jordan in which the Circassians have long played such an important role.

Despite this assistance and lack of opposition, the organizers say, their NART television effort has not yet raised all of the 480,000 U.S. dollars it will need to broadcast around the clock during its start-up year and the 200,000 U.S. dollars it will need to continue to do so in future years.

But enough money is coming in, they report, not only from wealthy Middle Eastern investors but also from Circassian communities around the world for them to make plans to begin television broadcasting by this summer. But perhaps more important, NART has benefitted from its connections in Jordan and in the North Caucasus.

In Amman, both ethnic Circassians working in media there and the Saudi prince who has funded the Jordanian capital’s “media city” have given them discounts. And Circassian governments in the North Caucasus are providing them with films and other kinds of programming.

Once its broadcasts begin, NART will help the Circassians parry some of the challenges of assimilation in Turkey and Jordan where few of the younger generation know their national language anymore and in Russia’s North Caucasus where the small size of the individual Circassian republics limits the opportunities of this community.

But to the extent that its broadcasts promotes a renewed sense of national unity among this dispersed group, NART will present some real challenges to some of the countries in which the Circassians now live, however much the governments of those states are willing to support them.

Indeed, in the run-up to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, the place from which the Circassians were deported 140 years ago and in which many died, NART could help catalyze the anger more and more Circassians in the North Caucasus feel about the ways in which the Russian government continues to deal with them and their concerns.

And to the extent that happens – and it is difficult to see how such broadcasts, even on the most superficially anodyne topics, could avoid having that effect – NART, however small a thing it may now appear, is likely to loom larger and larger on the political stage of this entire region.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Tracking the Complexities of the Caucasus

Alex van Oss 1/18/08
A Book Review by Alex van Oss

Most Caucasus writing these days is either journalistic or academic, obsessed for the most part with conflicts or oil. The Ghost of Freedom manages to break the mold: Charles King, a professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University, has produced a work that is at once informative, eclectic, and immensely satisfying.

In fewer than 300 pages King provides a comprehensive and gracefully written account of the South and North Caucasus, plus Black Sea regions of Russia, such as Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus
By Charles King
2008 Oxford Press, 291 p.
ISBN: 978-0-19-517775-6

Excellent maps by Chris Robinson depict political boundaries of 1780, 1890, and 2008, showing dramatically how Persian or Ottoman territory one century became Russian the next, and now, independent. The title, "The Ghost of Freedom," comes from Pushkin’s 1821 poem "Captive of the Caucasus" whose Byronic protagonist, tiring of Mother Russia,

"...quit the confines of his native land, and flew away to a far off strand with freedom’s cheerful apparition..."

… Or its illusion. The hero gets captured by locals, finds romance, and then escapes. The poem inspired sundry other stories, operas, a ballet, a book, plus a film or two--all with the same title; and it prompted thousands of restless Russians to "go West" (go south, that is) and seek love, profit, epiphany, and adventure in the mountains.


So much for Pushkin. When pondering this seductive part of the world, it is useful to keep a couple of points in mind; first, the Caucasus is not Russia, and second, Russia is not the Caucasus. The Ghost of Freedom explains why the region is no longer the "jewel in the crown," or a proving ground for a Big Brother; nor can it in any way be considered a single political entity. Rather, its extremely variegated terrain also harbors distinct cultural ecosystems that at various times have been called a "museum of mankind," a "mountain of tongues," and even a "sculpture" (see below), with a bewildering array of languages, ethnicities, and views of history.

Indeed, the Caucasus can be likened to the classic children’s finger-puzzle in which 15 little sliding squares, enclosed in a frame, must be reconfigured in correct sequence. This is devilishly hard to do. In the living puzzle of the Caucasus there are of course many more pieces, which King rearranges in various illuminating ways, while neatly summarizing vast amounts of history.

King begins at the beginning, 25 million years ago, with the collision of continents that forced up most of the mountain ranges of Eurasia, including the Caucasus and its deposits of oil and gas. (By the way, this geological train-wreck is still in progress, albeit in extremely slow motion.) There has been much cultural as well as tectonic grinding in the Caucasus over the centuries. Scores of indigenous peoples and invaders have collided, traded, and genetically intermingled, leaving remnants and pockets of themselves in valleys, among alpine meadows, and in isolated auls (aerie-like highland villages) between the Black and Caspian Seas. The Caucasus has paid the price of being a cultural crossroads, and has weathered incursions from every quadrant: Persians from the southeast; Greeks and Romans (plus Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and Turks) from the southwest; Huns, Avars, Mongols (and Russians, British, Germans, and so forth) from the north. The result--as cartographers soon discover to their dismay -- is what King describes as "borders on the move" (a concept reminiscent of certain ancient Caucasus legends that describe a time when the mountains could actually walk around...on ’legs’ of clouds!)

Maps are never the territory, of course, but King’s "surfeit of borders" precisely describes a neck of land historically chock-a-block with feudal clans and feuding vassalages, suzereinties, satrapies, and client states--and their shifting alliances. Add to this the poking and prodding by great powers and no wonder Caucasus politics displays a certain operatic quality (Bolshevik Revolution here, Rose Revolution there, charming folk dances and drinking songs over yonder, while oil wheeler-dealers and ’frozen conflict peacekeepers’ wait in the wings). Readers of The Ghost of Freedom will perhaps not be surprised to learn that the maneuvering continues, the United States being but the latest partner (or padrone) active in the South Caucasus. Tomorrow--who knows?--that role may revert to Russia, Turkey, or even China, and once again we would need to redraw the maps.


Astemirov Strikes Back: Background and Implications of the Kyarov Assassination in Kabardino-Balkaria

By Fatima Tlisova, Jamestown Foundation

Before his assassination in Nalchik last Saturday (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 14), Colonel Anatoly Kyarov was in charge of a special unit that targeted the leader of the Kabardino-Balkarian section of the Caucasus front Anzor Astemirov (aka Seifullah). Kyarov’s unit was an independent operation, with its own designated budget and resources, and reported only to the head of the Kabardino-Balkarian Anti-Terrorism Commission. The unit’s plans for their target ranged from persuading Astemirov to surrender all the way up to killing him.

Kyarov’s personal preference was to pressure Astemirov into giving himself up: the consequences of such an action—a moral victory over one of the most charismatic leaders of the new generation of the Caucasus resistance—cannot be overestimated, either for the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) or the Caucasus as a whole. The colonel’s goal was to make direct contact, start negotiations and convince Seifullah to surrender.

Anatoly Kyarov had prior experience in persuading his targets to surrender. In 2004, the colonel arranged for four members of the destroyed Balkar Yarmuk Jamaat—Aslan Babayev, Khizir Bichekuyev, Takhir Osmanov and Akhmat Akhmatov—to surrender. All four were sentenced to terms of varying length in Russian prisons, and the court took the fact that they surrendered into account as an extenuating circumstance.

Starting in summer 2006, Kyarov’s unit embarked on a large-scale search operation in Kabardino-Balkaria and its neighboring regions. Reliable sources reported that Astemirov has been ambushed by Kyarov’s unit on at least three separate occasions, but every time miraculously managed to escape. For example, in late summer 2007, UBOP (Anti-Organized Crime Department) shooters in the Nalchik suburb of Khasanya destroyed with massive direct fire a vehicle that they had surrounded and from which Astemirov had fled minutes before the shooting began.

Just several days later, Kyarov’s unit planned an ambush near Shogentsukov Street in downtown Nalchik at the site of the rendezvous point between Astemirov and his friend Ruslan Odizhev, a field commander and former inmate of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Odizhev and his bodyguard were killed while Astemirov was late for the meeting.

A retaliatory ambush targeting Anatoly Kyarov actually took place at the same location on Shogentsukov Street, which was very near the site of Odizhev’s death. Obviously, revenge was the primary motive for the attempt to assassinate the colonel.

Anzor Astemirov, however, was not the only one with an axe to grind. Ever since Kyarov was appointed deputy head of UBOP, several government agencies as well as human rights organizations had received hundreds of complaints about torture practiced by his unit.

The most infamous cases included Rasul Tsakoyev who died after being interrogated by UBOP in 2004, and Boris Dzagalov who was arrested by UBOP at his home on October 14, 2005, and subsequently found dead and mutilated among those who had been killed during the large-scale armed rebel attack in Nalchik the previous day on October 13. Two more individuals arrested by Kyarov’s unit—Zaur Psanukov and Zeitun Gayev in 2005 and 2007, respectively—allegedly jumped out of the window while being interrogated and sustained lethal injuries.

Kyarov’s unit was highly successful against Kabardinian insurgents in no small part because of the extensive database of Muslim communities in KBR that it had compiled over the past 10 years or so. Kyarov’s records reportedly included comprehensive information on the numbers, personalities, internal and external ties of the Kabardino-Balkarian Jamaat, their sympathizers within the government agencies and even children over seven years of age—potential future members of the resistance movement.

One of the greatest services the late Colonel Kyarov provided the Russian authorities is that, thanks to his agents who had infiltrated the jamaat, the large-scale rebel military operation on October 13, 2005, was disrupted. It is noteworthy that the Federal Security Bureau of Kabardino-Balkaria was essentially isolated from participating in developing tactics and strategies to deal with the October 13 rebel operation. Having been tipped off by Kyarov’s agent ahead of time, the Russian special services were able to use their knowledge of Astemirov’s secret signals system to their advantage. It is widely known that the network-based system employed by the jamaats not only has major advantages but also serious flaws. One such shortcoming is its notification system, which makes it possible to mobilize hundreds of people by using a pre-arranged signal.

Kyarov used his knowledge of the system ahead of time to thwart the brunt of the attack and this strategy was employed by the anti-terrorist headquarters in Nalchik. The result was that in addition to actual combat units, the city streets were filled by dozens of unsuspecting young revolutionaries who wore orange bands on their sleeves. These civlians did not receive even the most rudimentary training but suffered immensely as a result of Kyarov’s forewarning of their plans.

The only thing the special service forces had left to do was shoot at virtually defenseless men, many of whom did not even know how to detonate a grenade. The military action of the resistance fighters was thus used as an excuse to eradicate the most active members of the revolutionary youth and to step up repression directed against the rest of the populace.

During the operation, the UBOP led by Kyarov was the only Ministry of Interior unit that avoided being attacked by the fighters. One of the strongest fighting groups that planned to target UBOP (a second one attacked the FSB) was destroyed at the site of their temporary forest camp the night before the attack.

Colonel Anatoly Kyarov’s participation in the operation earned him an Order of Valor awarded to him personally by President Putin.
The 2005 attack on Nalchik was not the only Astemirov action that was derailed by Colonel Kyarov. In October 2006, Seifullah was preparing to liberate 59 arrested resistance fighters as they were being transferred from a temporary detention facility to the Nalchik Court building. Kyarov’s agents again rose to the challenge and the opening of the trial was deferred for over a year under a false pretext. During that time, the authorities built a special court building connected to the detention facility by a passageway. This tactic, unprecedented for Russia and North Caucasus, is clear evidence of how seriously the Russian government takes the threat posed by Anzor Astemirov.

Considering the presence of tens of thousands of troops in KBR, along with the special units of the FSB and the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate, the Russian military's intelligence body), scores of local law enforcement personnel, and the all-Russia FSB anti-terrorism drills that were taking place in the republic at the time, Kyarov’s assassination cannot be considered a random piece of good luck. It reflected a lot of inside information, planning and access to people close to the intelligence sources who worked for Kyarov. A successfully planned action on that scale is an important moral victory for Astemirov and a serious humiliation of Russia’s anti-terrorism establishment. In many ways, the killing of Kyarov is the most successful assassination carried out by separatists in the North Caucasus since the killing of Akhmad Kadyrov in May 2004.

The next steps of KBR’s law enforcement authorities are quite predictable—there will be nothing new. Following the same old pattern, the investigation of Anatoly Kyarov’s murder will result in the mass repression of Kabardinian Muslims, while his “black list” database will continue to serve Russia and surely be replenished with a whole new set of names.

In the meantime, the jamaat, following the tactic it has already announced, will continue to develop black lists of its own, bask in the publicity created by the assassination and use its success to expand the resistance movement and recruit new members for the separatist cause.

The Struggle For The World’s Languages


All over the globe minority languages are being marginalised by globalisation but efforts are being made to preserve and document what knowledge remains. Whether these initiatives are successful could have a major impact on how future generations look back on the twenty-first century. The time has passed when linguists could afford to be complacent.

Below is an article published by UNPO:

Over the last century alone, the number of languages practised in the world declined precipitously as communities became increasingly interconnected. Those seeking social and economic advancement in the first half of the twentieth century often found themselves adopting European languages to the detriment of their tradition dialects. As globalisation took a firmer hold on the globe in the wake of the World War II, regionalised dialects then had to compete with a burgeoning mass media and consumerism that promoted Western culture and values.

A fight back has been underway however. The fall of the Soviet Union freed countless regions from the cultural diktats that had long subjugated their languages. Many new leaders took the revitalisation of their national tongues as their first priority. In Chuvashia and Tuva this policy has led to a widespread resurgence in art, culture, and often greater international appreciation.

Nevertheless, it has been estimated that by the end of the twenty-first century, over 90% of the languages currently in use will become extinct. Those facing the extinction or marginalisation of their literary culture are widespread and diverse. From the aboriginals of the Australian plains to the Chechens in the North Caucasus, groups are finding their languages under threat.

Sometimes the threat of extinction is a legacy of policy decisions made externally by previous generations. In Abkhazia, the people are still trying to recover from the ban the language received during Stalin’s leadership. Likewise, the children of Tatars long dispersed and schooled in Russian are taking significant steps in resurrecting their language.

The visibility given to language is increasing too. Recognising the threat facing languages, UNESCO has declared 21 February of each year International Mother Language Day. At the state level language is also becoming a potent national attribute. In commemoration of legislation promoting the Chechen language, Chechnya adopted 25 April as its Chechen Language Day.

Scanian and Welsh are just two languages that have also found celebrity through association with successful musicians, writers, and artists. They have gained worldwide exposure through globally distributed media such as art and music, which has increased their support among the traditionally important sectors of young and non-native speakers.

Consequently, just as globalisation once fuelled the decline of dialects via centralised state controlled media outlets, it can bypass state controlled media outlets via tools such as the internet. As a result information on vocabularies, dictionaries and pronunciation are readily available and it has never been easier to broadcast independently to the world’s populations.

As a result, the desire to protect and preserve languages has perhaps never been stronger in the world, nor has it ever been equipped with such powerful tools. But the question now remaining is whether there are the native speakers who will be able to pass on their knowledge.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Interview - Russia must find Chechnya's missing - Red Cross

Reuters, by Michael Stott

MOSCOW, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The International Red Cross appealed to Russia on Wednesday to speed up work in discovering the fate of more than 1,000 people who have disappeared in war-torn North Caucasus over the last 20 years.

Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said in an interview during a visit to Moscow that Russian officials needed to do more to help the families of those who have disappeared to find out about their loved ones.

"Our concern is that the families affected, who have relatives missing ... get information on what happened", Kellenberger told Reuters.

"If these persons have died, that the mortal remains be identified and that they are then transferred to the families."

Russian soldiers marched into mainly Muslim Chechnya in December 1994 to crush a drive for independence, starting a conflict that destroyed the region, forced tens of thousands to flee and killed thousands more.

International groups have long urged Russia and the Chechens to track down the missing. The republic's Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a 31-year-old former rebel, presents himself as a defender of human rights and has pledged to find the missing.

Observers and aid workers believe there are mass graves scattered around the republic where most of the missing will be found.

Kellenberger said Russian government officials should take the issue of those who have disappeared more seriously.

"Some of them may think that what is being done is sufficient", he said. "That is not my opinion. We need a very clear strong political signal at the highest level."

Sporadic fighting still peppers Chechnya and violence has spilled over into neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia but the intensity has dropped away and the Kremlin is now trying to present the region as stable and peaceful.

Kellenberger said the Red Cross had handed over documents to Russian authorities on 1,140 missing people in the North Caucasus on which it wanted information but other organisations had lists of up to 5,000. Individuals were still disappearing.

"The number of disappearances has clearly decreased but I do not think there is now nobody disappearing," he added.

Kellenberger said Moscow should give a single organisation oversight on the issue of the missing and allow that body to coordinate effectively to ensure that cases were followed up.

The Red Cross has reduced its North Caucasus budget this year to around $11 million as its focus shifts from handing out aid parcels to running development programmes.

The Red Cross chief also pressed Russia to allow it to resume teaching international humanitarian law to troops in the North Caucasus. Moscow had allowed this but withdrew permission last year without giving a clear or convincing reason, he said.

Kellenberger also asked Russia to support a Red Cross push to outlaw unreliable and inaccurate cluster munitions which hurt civilian populations.

Russia has not contributed financially to the International Red Cross in recent times. Kellenberger said he had raised the issue but "did not have a concrete success". (Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Monday, 14 January 2008

Russia: Court Charges Beslan Victims' Group With 'Extremism'

by Claire Bigg, RFE/RL | Monday, January 14, 2008

The winter holidays are a difficult time for the many families that lost relatives in the hostage drama that struck the small North Ossetian town of Beslan in September 2004.

For the Voice of Beslan, a victims' group led by women who lost children in the siege, this year's holidays brought further distress: a court summons from neighboring Ingushetia, where local prosecutors had filed charges accusing the organization of "extremist" activities.

A memorial to the victims of Beslan

"We received a telegram around the New Year inviting us to a Nazran court," says Ella Kesayeva, one of the group's leaders. "We think this trial was specially commissioned by someone. A lot has been happening lately around Voice of Beslan. What's happening now is one more attempt to pressure a civil group that is carrying out its own investigation."

More than three years after the siege, many questions remain unanswered. For Voice of Beslan and other groups, the key detail is who sparked the violence that brought the three-day siege to its deadly conclusion -- the hostage takers, most from the North Caucasus, demanding a military withdrawal from Chechnya, or the federal forces brought in to negotiate an end to the crisis.

After a private investigation, Voice of Beslan says it believes it was federal security forces outside the school, using flamethrowers and tanks against the school, that caused the blast that killed many of the 1,000 hostages and triggered a bloody battle with the militants.

Two reports have backed these claims -- one penned by the North Ossetian parliament's investigative commission, the other by Russian politician and explosives expert Yury Savelyev.
The State Duma has yet to release its own final official report on the events. But the chief parliamentary investigator, Aleksandr Torshin, has suggested that militants were responsible for the explosion.

No 'Official' Account
The large number of parallel investigations conducted into the Beslan siege illustrates the extreme controversy and high political stakes surrounding what remains the most horrifying event in recent Russian history.

Voice of Beslan says its campaign to bring senior officials to trial for botching the Beslan rescue operation has angered many. The group's trial -- currently due to begin on January 15 -- is not the first time Voice of Beslan has encountered trouble with the authorities.

A North Ossetian court ordered the organization to close down in December, claiming that Kesayeva was not its leader and that a former member who claimed to be the leader of the group should replace her. That ruling was subsequently annulled by the Russian Supreme Court.

This time, prosecutors' charges are tied to an open letter accusing President Vladimir Putin of covering up the truth about the carnage to protect top officials.

"We are guilty of electing a president who solves problems with the help of tanks, flamethrowers, and gas," Voice of Beslan said in the text, posted in 2005 on its website. "But it's not our fault that the global political elite supports our president, who has become a backer of criminals."

The charges fall under Russia's 2007 amended law on extremism, which broadens the definition of extremist activities to include "slander of public officials" and "humiliating national pride." The legislation can be applied retroactively and has been used to investigate journalists, human rights activists, and opposition figures.

Regional Animosity
Why authorities might seek to shut down Voice of Beslan is obvious. Russian officials have shown little compunction about using the extremism legislation to crack down on their critics. What is less clear, however, is why the charges come from Ingushetia, rather than Moscow -- and more than two years after the text's publication.

Some see the case as a product of the ongoing tensions between North Ossetia's Christian population and the mainly Muslim Ingush following an interethnic conflict in 1992 that killed about 200 people and displaced tens of thousands.

But Marina Litvinovich, who runs Truth of Beslan, an information website dedicated to the case, rejects this scenario. "I closely follow the activities of the Voice of Beslan committee," she says. "Its representatives never allowed themselves any comments against the Ingush people and never raised the question of the involvement of Ingush in the hostage taking."
Whatever the motive behind the extremism charges against Voice of Beslan, stoking regional tensions in the North Caucasus will not work to the Kremlin's benefit.

"The issue here is not only about the scandal," says Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. "This [trial] will inevitably be viewed as an interethnic act, which could have uncontrolled consequences. And that's something the Kremlin definitely doesn't want. Of course the Kremlin believes that Voice of Beslan must be shut down, but they also believe that it's the bureaucracy in Ossetia, rather than another region, that should muzzle this Ossetian group."

Kesayeva says Voice has Beslan has urged Putin to call off the trial. Russian human rights campaigners have already thrown their weight behind the organization, describing the extremism charges as an attempt to silence the group.

Veteran Russian rights campaigners Lyudmilla Alekseyeva condemned authorities for unleashing their "governmental and judicial might" against women whose sole offense is to search for answers to why their children were killed.

(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)

Friday, 11 January 2008

Win a trip to Abkhazia with Rip Curl

Win your Search trip with Rip Curl and Sprite!

Are you an adventurous, thrill-seeking recreational surfer or snowboarder? Rip Curl and Sprite are offering YOU the unique opportunity to participate in an unbelievable expedition!

For the first time ever, Rip Curl has created a unique promotion that will invite 4 amateur riders to travel with Rip Curl’s Pro Surf and Snow Teams on 2 exclusive, secret Search Trips.

A Snow Trip to a powder paradise
17 February – 2 March 2008

Guided by a passion and desire for discover, four snowboarders from the Rip Curl Pro Team will set out in Search of undiscovered powder and unmatched adventure: Abkhazia.

A self-proclaimed Republic of 8,600km2, bordered to the north by Russia and to the south by Georgia, Abkhazia is split in two by the immense Caucasus mountain range and lies open to the Black Sea. The contrast between lagoons, palm-trees, huge beaches and snow-covered slopes offers up many unexpected opportunities…

Go to RIPCURL.TV to create your profile and explain your motivation...

The winner will buddy up with the team riders Darius Heristchian, Rémi Lamazouère, Per Løken and newcomer Nils Arvidsson, and these four riders will also be the jury that will pick the candidates.

You will be part of the team, and heliboarding, backcountry kickers, photos and filming sessions will be the main activities.

You want to be part of it? The selection consists of two stages:

- Firstly upload photos and videos of yourself to, riding, partying with your friends, taking your dog for a walk… The latter two might not help you get on the trip, come to think of it.
Then you cross your fingers and hope the pros watch and like your video and select you up for the second part, which is…
- The 5 best riders selected by the jury will be invited to take part in the Crans Montana Champs presented by Rip Curl, from the 4th until the 8th of February 2008. The best 2 riders from this slopestyle contest will fly the following week to Abkhazia with the team riders.


Russia’s Olympic Marathon

By Oksana Antonenko Special to Russia Profile

Putin’s Legacy May Hang on How his Government Solves the Problems in the North Caucasus

On July 7, 2007, in Guatemala City, the Olympic Committee granted an unexpected victory, giving the 2014 Winter Olympics to Russia’s little known Sochi. The Black Sea resort overtook South Korea’s Pyeongchang, the early favorite, by just four votes in the second round. The reason was simple – on the eve of the vote President Vladimir Putin flew into Guatemala and charmed the Olympic committee. According to Jean-Claude Killy, a French member of the International Olympic Committee and former ski champion, “Putin being here was very important. He worked very hard at it. He was nice. He spoke French – he never speaks French. He spoke English – he never speaks English. The Putin charisma can explain four votes.”

This victory will undoubtedly constitute a major part of Putin’s legacy. Cynics in Russia may view Russia’s Olympic project as a mere money-making opportunity for the elites and their businesses. Nationalists will view it as proof of Russia’s growing international power. Pragmatists could see it as a sign, however tentative, that the Kremlin, which has failed to achieve good foreign policy results by exercising its hard power, including its “energy weapon,” is learning how to win friends by using soft power instead. Indeed, the Olympics have the potential to reshape Russia’s image in the world, from a country associated with economic collapse, corruption, and business without rules, to a modern power with money, vision and national pride. Sadly, it also has a chance to do the exact opposite.

Olympic spotlight

In the race to change attitudes through spectacle, Russia will be following in China’s footsteps. China has invested much of its political capital in the 2008 Summer Games. It has presented the Games as a vehicle to recast China’s image abroad and showcase its infamous Peaceful Rise, which has stirred apprehension around the world. The Olympics are designed to place China firmly in the league of great international powers without making it look threatening. This meant, among other things, that China had to make concessions both in terms of its domestic and even foreign policy.

Even now, a year before the start of Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government is already feeling the heat of international pressure. Powerful international NGOs are using the Olympics, and China’s sensitivity anticipating its success, to pressure the government in Beijing to improve its human rights situation, increase freedom of the press and change its policy in Darfur. Some NGOs have branded them the “Genocide Olympics,” in the wake of Chinese unwillingness to stop genocide in Sudan and Burma. Even Steven Spielberg who was hired as an Artistic Adviser to Beijing Olympics threatened to resign if the Chinese government did not reconsider its position on the UN resolution on Darfur.

Although the official line from Beijing is that the Olympics should not be politicized, it has recognized the fact that there is a price that China could pay if its does not get the politics of the Games right. Therefore, the Chinese government has already hired a Western PR firm to make its case to international media. But more importantly, it has been forced to change policies like lifting restrictions for foreign journalists to travel in the countryside in China and, in foreign policy, by supporting the UN resolution on Darfur and issuing an uncharacteristically strongly worded statement expressing concern over a crackdown on protestors in Burma. Now China is gearing itself up for the fact that among thousands of guests travelling to Beijing, some will represent political activists who could stage protests that would be potentially embarrassing for the government.

Olympic Neighborhood

Russia’s major challenge will be handling external pressure which comes alongside the Olympics. Even some democratic states have not escaped it. In Athens, Greece came under intense pressure over its near failure to complete infrastructure projects on time. Later, the residents of Athens – seeking disprove a national stereotype – ended up with a huge Olympic bill, which they are expected to pay for years to come.

In Russia, neither the cost nor the scale of Olympic construction is expected to present any problem. The government commission headed by Semen Vainstok is showing its determination to throw a lot of money at the project, which will undoubtedly deliver spectacular facilities constructed not merely for the sake of utility, but as a matter of national pride and as a demonstration of Russia’s new wealth. Local people might bristle at the violation of property rights, but in the spirit of Russia’s new patriotism, their individual plight will not stand on the way of the “national project.” As for press freedoms and human rights, these have long been the center of discussions between Russia and the West, with few practical outcomes. If Russia’s G8 presidency is any indication, these issues, along with the overall state of Russia’s democracy, will not deter the international community from embracing Russia’s leadership once again. After all, even the Soviet Union played host to the Games in 1980.

In the regional context, however, the Sochi Olympics might constitute both a challenge and an opportunity for Russia. The games are taking place in a region that: borders on Abkhazia, one of the most protracted regional conflicts in Eurasia; is close to the North Caucasus, a region with a legacy of war, inter-ethnic conflicts and Islamic radicalization; and is on the shores of the Black Sea, which has recently become an area of growing interest and involvement from major powers and international institutions like the EU and NATO.

Russia’s Olympic strategy should not ignore these realities. If addressed strategically, they, rather than new hotels and stadiums, can become the real legacy of the Games. Conflict resolution, opening up and developing the North Caucasus and leading the region-building initiative in the Black Sea could help enhance Russia’s international profile, eliminate both internal and external security threats and make it a much more attractive partner.

If ignored or mishandled, these challenges could present a formidable obstacle for Russia’s new image-making project. In the worst case scenario, Russia’s Olympic dream would coincide with an escalation of major regional conflict, a rise in instability and inter-ethnic violence or even a major terrorist attack. Any of these would be too high of a price for any Olympic project to pay.

The strategy for preparing for Olympic Games should therefore have three important inter-related strands.


First, it should use the interest in the region and potential economic benefits from the Olympics to help advance the conflict resolution agenda in the breakaway Georgian republic of Abkhazia. Sochi is just some 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the border with Abkhazia, or what the international community recognizes as the Russian-Georgian border. As a result of the Georgian-Abkhazian war, the two communities are now separated and engaged in an on-going protracted conflict. At present, the peace process – including official and unofficial negotiations between the sides – is deadlocked. At the same time, the number of violent incidents involving hostage taking, intimidation and murder continues. Georgia has been accused Russia of supporting Abkhazian separatism. It wants Russian peacekeepers stationed in Abkhazia to pull out and be replaced by an international force that would, among other things, guarantee the return of more than 200,000 internally displaced Georgians. Abkhazia, on the other hand, sees Russia as the only guarantor of its survival. They view Georgia’s actions as deliberate and consistent attempts to deprive Abkhazians of their basic rights, including using force to bring the territory back under their control. The conflict has not advanced towards resolution since a ceasefire was signed over 13 years ago. Now it is facing a major test of wills in the context of forthcoming decision on Kosovo’s status, which could give the Abkhaz a new hope for recognition while making Georgia even more vulnerable and eager to prevent this from happening almost by any means. Regardless of whether the conflict remains “frozen” or escalated, Russia cannot fail to notice that its dynamic, or the lack thereof, is bound to have a direct and immediate impact on the Sochi Olympics. Hence Russia cannot merely stand aside and pretend that Abkhazia is not its problem.

In September, President Vladimir Putin addressed the question of the Abkhaz conflict in the context of the Sochi Olympics during a meeting with the Valdai Discussion Club at his residence in Sochi. He said that the resolution of this conflict will take generations and Russia will be prepared to accept the outcome. This implies that Russia is somehow a distant player, that its peacekeepers are not stationed on the Inguri River, that its tourists are not spending time at Abkhazia’s resorts and that the Olympic gold rush has not generated high demand for property as well as construction materials in Abkhazia. In other words, Abkhazia has already become an extension of Sochi’s Olympic village, and this is being done without any reference to conflict resolution that could guarantee the rights of all its residents – past and present – and give Abkhazia a real chance of international attention and investment in the context of reconciliation and peace-building efforts.

If Putin’s answer was sincere, it signals that Russian policymakers do not understand what’s at stake in Abkhazia. Russia’s attempts to exploit the legality gap in Abkhazia have translated into growing resentment among its population.

In Georgia, too, the resentment is mounting and could result in attempts to reverse what they see as Russia’s take over of Abkhazia through military action. Russia’s hands-off mercantilist approach, which demonstratively ignores realities on the ground in Abkhazia, is short-sighted, dangerous and counterproductive. Instead, Russia should think carefully about how to translate new economic opportunities into confidence-building projects, reconciliation initiatives and true development for the region. It should involve both Abkhazia and Georgian communities as well as others, such as the Armenians. In this, Russia should co-operate with or even learn from the EU experience, which has been implementing exactly such strategies in its reconstruction projects in Abkhazia. The Olympics could and should present an opportunity for genuine EU-Russia cooperation on conflict resolution.

The North Caucasus

The second component of the regional Olympic strategy is the North Caucasus. The proximity of Russia’s most unstable and underdeveloped regions to the Olympic sights is obvious, yet there is an impression that Russian officials will seek to separate the Olympic paradise from the post-war mess by constructing a mental or possibly even physical wall (more checkpoints and travel limits). It is important to understand that such separation will not be possible, even if all the troops available to the Ministry of Defense, the Interior Ministry and the secret services are charged with this task. Without correcting some of the problems in the North Caucasus, the security of the Olympics cannot be guaranteed. And if the current trend of instability, violence and corruption continues across the Northern Caucasus region as whole, the conclusion will be obvious, not only for the Russians, but for the rest of the international community as well.

Instead, the North Caucasus challenge should be seen as an opportunity for developing a new strategy and a comprehensive modernization plan for the region. This can be done only under three preconditions. First, the Olympic economic boom must be shared with the people of the North Caucasus by prioritizing their companies and workers, which would require retraining and an enhanced labor mobility scheme that would transcend ethnic boundaries, in major construction projects as well as services before and during the Games. The aims should be to generate economic projects that could provide tangible and sustainable social and economic benefits to the North Caucasus regions, particularly to its ethnic republics.

Secondly, this can be done only if the North Caucasus is finally declared an open region. The openness would mean removing limitations on travel to the region, developing and implementing new education initiatives, new tourism development projects alongside Internet and technology proliferation programs. It also means encouraging foreign investment, as well as international expertise on how to help such a vast and specific region modernize and develop, not in isolation, but within the increasingly globalized economic context. This will also require improving the capacity of regional governments to deal with these tasks as well as to implement drastic measures against corruption and the abuse of power among some regional militias.

Finally, all these regional modernization goals, and hence security for the Olympics, can be achieved only if inter-ethnic peace and tolerance become the norm in multi-cultural regions such as Krasnodar Territory. The Olympics cannot coexist with xenophobia. At present, however, the interethnic violence and anti-migrant rhetoric is increasing around the key Olympic sites, with no clear response from the government.

The Black Sea

The Olympic Games provide an opportunity to focus international attention on the Black Sea region, which remains little known in the world compared to the areas surrounding the Mediterranean or Baltic Seas. Russia’s policy has been very cautious so far in response to demands coming from some Black Sea states to develop regional cooperation and links with other institutions such as the EU.

Despite Russia’s position, the EU adopted a Black Sea synergy strategy in 2006 and has sought closer ties with the region. Other organizations are likely to follow, as will individual states whose energy supplies depend on transportation via the Black Sea. Yet, the recent tragic environmental accidents have highlighted how vulnerable the Black Sea is to potential crises. Therefore, the Olympic Games should serve as a catalyst for reconsidering Russia’s attitudes towards cooperation both within the Black Sea. The Black Sea Economic Cooperation pact (BSEC) should extend further into security matters and learn from EU and other similar regions like the Baltic Sea which have long-standing experience on how to handle similar problems.

While Russia’s previous opposition to opening up the Black Sea to outside powers and institutions could have been linked to the sense of isolation and vulnerability it has felt in the face of EU and NATO enlargement, now Russia has a chance to help reshape the regional agenda as a leader, whose Olympic projects could offer clear benefits to the region as a whole.

Russia’s victory in the contest for the Olympic Games is a clear signal that the international community has confidence in its newly acquired self-assurance and international profile. Now it is Russia’s turn to show that it can approach the task in a way that brings not only money and medals to its businessman and sportsmen, but also stability, security and development to the entire region. If this strategy is not thought through now, Russia’s Olympic dream can never be realized.

Oksana Antonenko is a Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Chernokozovo Prison Inmates Allege Beatings and Torture

The head of the International Committee on Problems of the North Caucasus, Ruslan Kutaev, has said that a group of prisoners in Chechnya's notorious Chernokozovo remand prison colony claim they have been the victims of beatings and torture at the hands of their jailers, Kavkazky Uzel reported on January 9.

Kutaev, a former envoy of Aslan Maskhadov, the late Chechen president and rebel leader, told Ekho Moskvy Radio that 124 Chernokozovo inmates had signed a complaint that was sent to him. The complaint was also sent to Russia's human rights ombudsman, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, charging that healthy prisoners were being held together with prisoners infected with HIV and tuberculosis, and that prisoners had not been issued either underwear or bedding. He also said that prison staff was subjecting prisoners to "torture and beatings," and that it cannot be ruled out "spontaneous disturbances" will erupt in the colony.

Kavkazky Uzel noted that at the start of 2007, Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiev also cited problems at the Chernokozovo remand prison, where, he said, inmates with tuberculosis and psychological disorders were being held together with healthy individuals. Nukhazhiev said 20 inmates had complained that evidence had been extracted from them using "illict and legally forbidden methods" but added that they had refused to register official complaints about torture, citing fears of reprisals by prison staff.

As Kavkazky Uzel then reported, the press service of the Chechen prime minister said the abuses had been committed not by Chernokozovo employees, but by staffers ORB-2, an operative-investigative unit of the Southern Federal District’s main Interior Ministry department. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has also accused ORB-2 of torture and other abuses in Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, March 22, 2007).

Russian Forces Face Serious Problems Hunting Rebels in Dagestan’s Mountains

By Andrei Smirnov, Chechnya Weekly, Jamestown Foundation

Russian security forces continue to comb the mountain areas of Dagestan looking for insurgent groups. Russian security officials believe that the severe cold in the mountains, which is in the minus 15-20 degrees Celsius—unusual for the North Caucasus—and heavy snowfall would make it impossible for the Dagestani guerrillas to survive if they could be isolated from mountain villages and if their dug-outs and bases in the forests were destroyed. On December 15, Russian police and Interior forces sealed off the village of Gimry in the mountainous Untsukulsky district, and as of today the village is still almost completely isolated from the outside world. An independent Dagestani journalist, Abdurashid Saidov, told Jamestown that a source in Gimry had informed him about the current situation in the settlement. According to Saidov's sources, police forces started the sweep in the village by dividing Gimry into several sectors. The locals were allowed to move only inside the sector they lived in and a nighttime curfew was imposed. Policemen, mostly of the Russian origin, conducted house-to-house searches, sometimes inspecting the same house several times. The officials announced that a dug-out full of weapons had been found in a house during these searchers and that some rifles, including a Kalashnikov, had been discovered along with ammunition in some of the other houses. According to officials, 59 residents of Gimry were arrested as terrorist suspects (RIA Novosti-Dagestan, December 24, 2007).

At the same time, the residents complained about police behavior, claiming that the security sources had engaged in looting and carried out illegal arrests. Kavkazky Uzel reported on December 20 that people in Gimry said the policemen deliberately planted weapons during the searches in order to create a pretext for the detention of one man. According to Abdurashid Saidov’s sources, the main problem for the locals now is their isolation from the outside world and inability to buy food. Saidov said that the residents of Gimry used to go to the city of Buinaksk in the neighboring Buinaksk district to sell the fruit they grow and to buy what they needed. Now, a Gimry resident can leave the village only if he or she is on a list, and his or her name can be struck off the list any time without any explanation from the police. Moreover, policemen and the military confiscated wooden cases with persimmon that the locals had prepared for sale, which is the main source of income for the villagers.

Security officials told the residents that the troops would stay in Gimry until “the situation is normalized.” It is unclear what they meant by that, especially considering the fact that a group of rebels that had a base near Gimry had successfully broken through the siege as far back as on December 20. While most of the Russian forces (about 1,000 troops) were concentrated in Gimry and terrorizing the local civilians, mountain routes nearby were blocked by small squads of Dagestani policemen from the Gumbet and Kazbek districts—two Dagestani districts adjacent to the Untsukulsky district. The rebels attacked a police post in the mountains, killing two police officers and wounding three, and left the sealed area under the cover of darkness (Kavkazky Uzel, December 21, 2007).

Unable to confront experienced and diehard insurgents, the police forces are trying to deprive them of the population's support in the Dagestani mountain areas. Gimry village was sealed off precisely for this purpose.

On December 28, Dagestan’s president, Mukhu Aliev, met with elders in Makhachkala, the regional capital. During the meeting, Aliev openly threatened residents of Untsukulsky district. Addressing the residents of Gimry, the republic's president said “for a long time the residents of Gimry did not behave properly.” He added: “I warned you many times that this day (the security sweep) would come to you sooner or later.” Aliev also warned the residents of Balakhoni, another Untsukulsky district village, saying, “we will surround your village and won’t let you rest” if the locals continue to help the guerrillas. Aliev also promised during the meeting “to make mincemeat of Balakhoni village” and said that the police forces would not leave Gimry anytime soon (RIA-Novosti-Dagestan, December 28, 2007).

Despite Mukhu Aliev’s tough rhetoric and the harshness of the mopping-up operation in Gimry, the recent events in Tabasaransky district, another mountainous district of Dagestan, demonstrate how difficult it is for the Russian forces to hunt the rebels in the mountains. On January 8, combined forces of the Russian army, police, Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) Special Forces tried to surround a rebel squad in the Tabasaransky district village of Tsanak. According to official reports, the operation started at 5:00 a.m. and it was only at 9:00 a.m. that the first clash between the police and the rebels took place. This means that it took four hours for the security forces to locate the whereabouts of militants in a village with a population of less than a hundred villagers. Furthermore, the rebels attacked first and after several hours of fierce fighting managed to escape, retreating under heavy fire from helicopters, tanks and heavy machine guns (Kavkazky Uzel, January 9).

The security officials explained their problems by pointing to the difficult mountain terrain, snow and cold temperatures, but it should be noted that the militants face the same natural obstacles. There is a special mountain brigade in Dagestan - President Vladimir Putin’s favorite unit—but it is apparently unable to deal with such “problems” as mountain woods.

The hunt for the rebels is now under way in Dagestan, but its outcome may be different from what the authorities expect. Instead of eliminating the rebels, who find ways to escape every time they are surrounded the security forces, the sweeps will likely create more militant recruits from the villages that are now being swept or will be swept later this winter.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Beslan siege group says faces trial over campaign

Reuters, by Dmitry Solovyov

MOSCOW, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Russian prosecutors have laid extremism charges against campaigners who say senior security officials bungled a 2004 school hostage drama in which hundreds of children and adults died, the group said on Thursday.

Islamist insurgents seized more than 1,000 people in a school in Beslan, southern Russia, starting a three-day siege that ended in carnage. Half the dead were children.

Campaign group Golos Beslana (Voice of Beslan) which is led by women who lost relatives in the siege, said prosecutors had filed the charges over a 2005 appeal the group issued to politicians in Europe and the United States.

The trial is to start on Monday in Nazran, capital of the Russian region of Ingushetia, the group said on its Internet site Beslan is in the neighbouring region of North Ossetia.

"It is self-evident they are carrying out an order from Moscow ... They may now declare our organisation an extremist one and shut it down altogether," Ella Kesayeva, who co-chairs Golos Beslana, told Reuters by telephone.

"What do Ingush prosecutors have to do with a public organisation registered in North Ossetia?" she said.

"We are a thorn in the flesh for authorities because we are holding an investigation of our own and point to the culprits of the tragedy, including top-level officials," Kesayeva said.

Ingush prosecutors declined to comment. A local human rights activist in Nazran told Reuters that the judge due to hear the case had confirmed the time and venue of the trial.

Campaign groups accuse officials of negligence and a cover-up over Beslan and say senior officials, including in the security services, should stand trial over their role in the tragedy.

In its open letter in November 2005, the group said the Kremlin, including President Vladimir Putin, was hiding the truth to protect top officials blamed by Beslan mothers for use of heavy weapons in a chaotic rescue attempt.

Gunmen seized over 1,000 children and parents at a ceremony in Beslan to mark the new school year in September 2004. A total of 333 hostages died in the siege.

Many of the victims were killed when a blast wrecked the school gymnasium, where most of the hostages were being held. Officials say they did all they could to prevent loss of life, but that the rebels were determined to kill the hostages.

"We believe that tanks and flame-throwers fired on the school at a time when the hostages were held there. We believe our children were deliberately killed," Kesayeva said. Kesayeva's daughter, aged 12 at the time, survived the hostage drama, while her sister lost two children and her husband in the siege.

Beslan is in the turbulent North Caucasus region in southern Russia, near Chechnya where Russian forces have fought two wars against separatist rebels and from where the violence often spills over into neighbouring regions.

Putin built his power, first as prime minister and then as president, on a campaign to overthrow a Chechen rebel government and restore Kremlin control.

The trial could aggravate tensions between North Ossetia's Christian population and the mainly Muslim Ingush that are still simmering after an inter-ethnic conflict in 1992 killed about 200 people and displaced tens of thousands of residents.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Jon Boyle)