Russian forces have killed Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist responsible for the Beslan attack, in counterinsurgent operations in Ingushetia on Monday. Ingush Deputy Prime Minister Bashir Aushev confirmed his death. “Fragments of the bodies of two militants were found on the scene of the explosion. Basayev’s body has been identified through some of the fragments, including his head,” Aushev told Interfax. Putin said that Basayev “?deserved retribution” for Belsan and for taking hostages in Budyonnovsk in 1995. Chechen President Alu Alkhanov called the killing a moment where Chechnya could finally turn “one of the blackest pages in [its] history” and that his death means the end of antiterrorist operations in the region. The Chechen rebel site, Kavkaz Center, reports that the rebel Chechen leadership has yet to release any confirmations or comments on the matter.
As one can imagine, the news keeps coming out faster than it can be consumed. For a list of articles on the matter, go here. Most of the reports are short on details. Be sure that over the next day or so analysts and commentators will deal with the obvious question: Does Basayev??s death signal the end to the Chechen resistance and the Chechen War?
More later . . .
Update: According to the Kavkaz Center, Basayev did not die as a result of Russian counterinsugency operations as the FSB claims, but from an accident. A cargo truck carrying explosives blew up next to a vehicle carrying Basayev. Not the glorious death one would hope from a terrorist. I guess the Russians can’t really complain too much. Dead is dead . . .
It’s been a great week for Putin. He’s scored points with the global public with his BBC/Yandex.ru sponsored webcast, the Russian state has $76.8 billion in its , and that is expected to grow to $110 billion by the end of the year, Russia is hosting the G-8 this weekend, and will probably reap mucongratulationsons and respect for fighting terrorism.
However, some think that declaring the Chechen nationalist movement dead is premature. The violence did not stop after the deaths of Dzhokhar Dudayev or Aslan Maskhadov. The conflict has alreaspreadard to neighboring regions under Basayev’s inspiration, but not necessarily under his direction. So the aftermath and impact of Basayev’s death remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I think Rolling Stone, of all places, put it best, “Putin got his Osama.”
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By Sean — 11 years ago
The execution by hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein reverberates beyond the civil war in Iraq or even American imperial politics. Praise, unease, and criticism has come from all over the world, including opinions about what the execution symbolizes about the war, America’s role, and the possible future impact it might have for the teetering Iraqi state. Russia has been one such place that has offered its views. So here I want to point to what some Russian commentators are saying about the execution. Before I do that I want to provide some general context and comments about the execution and its aftermath.
The trial of Saddam Hussein was one of the few things the Bush Administration could claim as a success of the Iraq debacle. Making the “Butcher of Baghdad” accountable to his crimes is undisputedly a good thing. But the trial was flawed from the start as the Americans had to balance imperial rule with colonial sovereignty. The desired conviction of Hussein came with a price. The limits of America’s ability to re-forge Iraq into even a nascent shadow of itself proved daunting as the trial quickly became a microcosm for sectarian strife. No one would have imagined even two years ago that a “turning point” such as the capture and trial of Saddam Hussein might signal a turning point of a different sort; one that could ultimately be to the Untied States’ detriment.
The taunting that Hussein endured before and at the scaffold has proved an embarrassment for the United States. So much so, that it has distanced itself from the hanging with statements that it tried to delay it. In a news conference in Baghdad, US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters, “Had we been physically in charge at that point we would have done things differently.” Adding, “At this point the government of Iraq has the opportunity to take advantage of what has occurred and really reach out now in an attempt to bring more people back into the political process and bring the Sunnis back.”
No such luck. For many Sunnis, Hussein’s execution only proves what they already suspected of the Shia controlled government—that it is a state where the Shia majority seeks to exact revenge on the Sunni minority. The al-Maliki government is also embarrassed and is now investigating the abuse. The guards were Sadrists, who chanted the name of their populist Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr just before Hussein hang.
It now appears that one of the prison guards was arrested for making the grisly cell phone video of the hanging. However, some are claiming that Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie was the one holding the phone. In all, Hussein’s calling the whole scene the “gallows of shame” rings eerily appropriate.
Shame is the same word Christopher Hitchens, who supported the invasion of Iraq used in a commentary on Slate. Far from bringing anything like “closure,” he wrote, “the hanging ensures that the poison of Saddamism will stay in the Iraqi bloodstream, mingling with other related infections such as confessional fanaticism and the sort of video sadism that has until now been the prerogative of al-Qaida’s dehumanized ghouls. We have helped to officiate at a human sacrifice. For shame.
Hitchens is correct to point to the American’s complicity but unfortunately his move to political morality is overshadowed by his Orientalism. His usage of biological vocabulary–“bloodstream,” “infections,”—suggests that an Iraqi civil society is foul’s gold since the “Iraqi” are of a lesser species.
That said, many are wondering whether Hussein has become exactly the opposite of what his hanging was supposed to be. Instead of becoming a means of reconciliation, he has become a martyr, an image that he himself cultivated as he stood calmly, yet defiantly, with a noose around his neck.
In regard to Russia’s views on the event, it should first be stated that Russia opposed the United States’ invasion of Iraq from the beginning and there is no doubt that every failure on the part of the Bush Administration has been an opportunity for Russian officials and pundits to lob criticism. Russian views on Hussein’s execution prove no different in this regard.
It is true that when it comes to human rights, Russia has few legs to stand on. A quick rebuttal would be to remind Russia that the pot is black too. The violence, torture, and treatment of the Chechens parallels Iraq, though not equal in scope of death or devastation. Tit for tat gets one nowhere especially since the list of “tits” is as endless as the “tats”. The truth of the matter is that Russia is the nearest geopolitical power in the region. It is both a partner and an adversary in the Great Game. This makes it important to review how the Hussein hanging is being viewed in Russia.
Even before the execution Russian political analysts were warning that it could increase inter-religious tensions and violence in Iraq. In an opinion for RIA Novosti, Russian law professor Mikhail Barshchevsky argued that any verdict by the Iraqi courts could be questioned because they were not independent from either the al-Maliki government or the American occupying forces. Hussein’s execution could make him a martyr that could be exploited by the insurgency and could lead to an increase in the violence.
Another commentator for RIA Novosti, Marianna Belenkaya, drew similar conclusions. While all nationalities in Iraq can celebrate the end of a bloody dictator, the execution, she maintains, “has left a bitter aftertaste.” “The situation,” she adds, “reminds me of the recent death of another dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who, although charged with crimes against humanity, was never tried. The trial was called off because of the dictator’s old age. When he died, hundreds of his opponents said they were sorry Pinochet had died without a trial and a sentence. They wanted a legal punishment rather than his death. Unlike Pinochet, Hussein was sentenced to death, yet not all of his crimes have been proven in court.”
Writing in Izvestia, columnist Maksim Iusin asks why Hussein was tried for a crime he was least known for—the revenge killing of 148 inhabitants of Dujail in 1982 following a failed assassination attempt on his life. “It turns out,” Iusin writes, “that the most horrific crimes of Saddam’s regime remain in the shadows. No one carries any kind of responsibility for them. A “Nuremburg Trial” of the dictatorship did not happen.” In the end he argues that the Americans chose the crime that was easiest to ensure conviction. It also allowed American complicity in Hussein’s regime to also be left in the shadows.
In a statement after the hanging, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin told reporters, “The situation in Iraq is heading into a worst-case scenario. The country is slipping into violence and is on the verge of a large-scale civil conflict. Saddam Hussein’s death can further aggravate the military-political situation and increase ethnic and religious tensions.”
And finally, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDRP staged a minor protest in front of the Iraqi embassy in Moscow to oppose the execution. Forty four people attended to the demonstration, which wasn’t sanctioned by the police and no one was arrested.
These views are par for the course in that they echo much of what everyone outside of Russia is already saying. Still, there is something being said in Barshchevsky’s and Belenkaya’s commentaries that is different from the rest. Interestingly, both made the same conclusion as to the symbolism of Hussein’s trial and execution. Both argued that they were important signal to heads of state, “a warning that sooner or later they will be called to account for their actions. Nobody will get away with crimes like the ones for which Saddam was tried. Heads of state are not immune and will have to answer for their deeds.”
This all sounds good but I can’t help seeing such a view as hopelessly na?ve. Hussein is hardly the last villain to torture their own population. Nor should Hussein’s trial and execution be seen as a product of any international consensus. The fact that Hussein was tried in Iraq and not in the Hague like Slobodan Milosevic suggests that either there was no international outcry over Hussein or the Americans and their Iraqi puppets wanted to stage manage the trial to their own political benefit. It seems that on this last point Hussein has had the last laugh.
The view that Hussein’s conviction says that the world will hold dictators accountable also masks America’s role in all this. After all, Europe stood and watched ethnic cleansing and murder in the former Yugoslavia until the Americans got involved. No one cared about Rwanda just like there is little real concern about Darfur. One should point out that Pinochet, a US ally, though tried did not get similar and arguably deserved treatment. Finally it is highly unlikely that George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield will ever be held accountable for Iraq. Just like Yeltsin or Putin will never pay for Chechnya.
It is possible to imagine that if Hussein didn’t fall out of the favor with the US, he would have died a natural death. That is, if his own population didn’t rise against him first. No, the trial of Saddam Hussein is a message for sure, but not as Barshchevsky and Belenkaya suggest. It shows that human rights and being held responsible for their violation are politically conditioned. Their enforcement only involves lip service to Enlightenment notions and not their practice. If the trail and execution of Saddam Hussein is any indication, accountability for violating human rights has been made a farce altogether.Post Views: 45
By Sean — 12 years ago
One of the main architects of perestroika, Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev died on Tuesday. He was 81. Born in the village of Korolevo near Yaroslavl in 1923, Yakovlev was of the first generation reared under the Soviet system, and ironically, was instrumental in bringing its collapse. Like so many of his generation, he fought in the Great Patriotic War at 18 years old, where he sustained disabling wounds in 1943 fighting near Leningrad. He joined the Communist Party in 1944 and his Party membership gave him the opportunity to earn a doctorate in history from the Academy of Social Sciences in Moscow. Like so many ambitious Party members of his generation, Yakovlev was quickly shot up the State apparatus. When Khrushchev gave his “secret speech” denouncing Stalin’s cult of personality in 1956, he was a member of the Central Committee. In 1958 he studied at Columbia University as part of an exchange program. In 1965, he joined the Party’s propaganda department. Eight years later he became an ambassador to Canada.
It was then he met Mikhail Gorbachev, another young rising star in the Communist apparatus. They formed comradeship which would lead to the institution of the most sweeping reforms the Soviet Union had known since Stalin’s Revolution in the 1930s. However, while Stalin’s revolution entrenched Communist hegemony over Russian social, political, economic, and cultural life, Yakovlev and Gorbachev’s “revolution,” which was encapsulated in the terms “perestroika” (reconstruction) and “glasnost” (openness), unlocked the remaining vestiges of Stalin that more moderate reformers like Khrushchev failed to undo. At the time, they had no desire for their reforms to become revolution; perestroika was an attempt to save the Soviet Union, not destroy it. But history got the better of both men. Their policies took on a logic of their own, and like so many other times in history, the men’s firm grip on its reigns slipped their grasp.
The question now is how Yakovlev be remembered. His death brings another opportunity for Russians to continue to revaluate perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a process which began earlier this year with the 20th anniversary of the reforms. I was in Russia then, and it was interesting to see interviews and discussions with Gorbachev and Yakovlev dominate the television. For many Russians who lived through those changes, there was a deep ambivalence to the anniversary. The television images of long lines and Gorbachev’s insane ban on alcohol brought back mixed memories of a simpler and predictable time. It was also interesting to see the family I was staying with try to explain life under the Soviet Union to their 18 year old daughter. It was difficult for them to convey the complexity of life then, and how it wasn’t so easy to completely praise or condemn it. In the end, Gorbachev, who for the last 15 years has been reviled by many Russians, got a more favorable assessment from the family. Without Yakovlev and Gorbachev, they wouldn’t be living as they do now. A life they view as much freer and open to opportunity for their daughter, though without the guarantees of security.
The place of Alexander Yakovlev will continue to plague Russian’s historical and national consciousness. His memory will continue to spark controversy as will the question of whether he was a traitor to the system that created him or a patriot because he dared to fix it. When asked to evaluate how Yakovlev felt about his demon/savoir status, Gorbachev told Kommersant, “He was hated by a lot of people who were trying to accuse him of betrayal because he was persistent. But he was a real man who was fighting and warring for the country. He was a real patriot—not like those who just like to talk.”Post Views: 66
By Sean — 12 years ago
Putin economic advisor Andrei Illarionov resigned yesterday, citing reasons that will surely confirm the fears of Russia watchers in the West. Illarionov said all the right things to reaffirm his liberal economic credentials, saying that Russia isn’t the liberal economic darling that the West hopes for, but instead, in his words, is “corporatist.” No surprise there. Corporatism harkens to the state controlled economics of the early 20th century, especially that of Mussolini’s Italy, where the state placed a variety of political controls on industry, regulating competition, investment, and in some cases, production.
Nothing shows this more than the current dispute between Gazprom (which is controlled by the Russian state) and the Ukraine. The former is engaging in nothing less than a muscling of the latter to accept higher gas prices under threat that the pipes will be shut off. This type of leverage has increased the already political riff between Russia and Ukraine. But some will argue that the political independence Yushchenko’s government seeks from its eastern “big bother” means that it must also accept an end to economic dependence and pay natural gas prices closer to “market value.” Ukraine has continued to enjoy the Russian gas subsidies at a rate of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters, but a few weeks ago Gazprom upped the price to $160 to begin at the new year. When Ukraine resoundly rejected this as blackmail, Gazprom raised the price again to $230 in retaliation. If one thinks that this is simply Russia adjusting to the laws of supply and demand and is not punishment for Yushchenko’s independence, keep in mind that Belarus, which is soundly in Moscow’s political pocket, will continue to get gas for $46 per 1,000 cubic meters.
The Russia-Ukraine gas dispute is just one example of the corporatism that Illarionov is speaking about. He already publicly blasted his boss for the Yukos sell off to Rosneft , which he referred to as “swindle of the year.” Public criticism is a big no-no in Russian politics and Putin punished Illarionov with removing him from Russia’s G8 envoy. But Illarionov’s statements concerning his resignation follow a typical narrative of how Putin’s has conducted his second term. He stated to Gazeta.ru that Putin has moved away from “liberal or even mainstream policies” adding, “It’s one thing to work in the partially free country that Russia was six years ago and another thing to do so when the country has ceased to be politically free.” Translation: I don’t really care about political freedom, only that I’m listened to. But when asked whether his criticisms will cause him to go into politics, Illarionov answered, “I haven’t done any politics, I’m not doing any politics, and I’m not going to do any politics.” Illarionov may be a fool, but he isn’t stupid. He knows that going into politics could mean ending up like other former Putin men who made public criticisms—suddenly faced with criminal “investigations.”
But all of this goes beyond Illarionov and to the nature of capital itself. The issue is more about what type of capitalist state Russia really is and how it differs from capitalist states elsewhere. Is it merely capitalist in form, but not in content? Or is it simply a capitalism that is more overtly corrupt and more openly based on gaft without the empty platitudes to free market ideology? I think capitalism in Russia is no different in that there are really two capitalisms at work. One for the rich and one for everyone else. The latter is where the average citizen is subjected to the “free market” in all its ruthless forms: free market in prices, labor, housing, etc., with a few caveats. Capitalism for the rich is the selective application of free market principles under the guise of “free market” rhetoric. The rich subject everyone else but themselves to it. And when the market doesn’t suit their purposes or profits, they resort to corruption and hypocrisy. After all, just take a look at the James Griffen corruption case where several American oil companies, with possible collusion with the CIA, funneled $80 million in bribes to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials for exclusive rights to Kazakh oil. Given this, can someone explain to me the difference between what Russia is doing to the Ukraine and this? I guess that in many ways Illarionov’s charges of “corporatism” can be applied elsewhere as well, leaving Russia more in line with the rule, rather than the exception.Post Views: 41