Tonight I will be appearing on the radio show Open Source with Christopher Lydon. The show airs 7-8 EST. The show is also podcast for those who can’t catch the live feed. The topic is “Georgia (and Russia) Off Our Minds.” NYU Professor Stephen Cohen and Edward Lucas, the Central and Eastern European correspondent for the Economist will be guests in addition to myself. I’m told that I will be on during the last segment of the show.
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Today, Human Rights Watch released their report on systematic torture in Chechnya. The report, “Widespread Torture in the Chechen Republic” serves as HRW brief to the 37th UN Commission Against Torture. None of its contents should be a surprise to anyone. Though the Chechen War has been officially declared over by the Russian Government, war continues by other means. Chechen rebels continue to target Russian forces. The most recent reported incident of Russian casualties was on Saturday, when two Russian soldiers were wounded when their vehicle hit a rebel landmine. Despite hopes that violence would abate with the killing of Shamil Basayev in July, many believe that Russia now faces a regrouped force of younger, harder, and even more fanatic jihadis.
For the Russian side, violence continues mostly via proxy. Since 2003, “Chechenization” has increasingly put efforts to eliminate Chechen rebels in the hands of Putin’s man in Grozny, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. According to HRW, since “anti-terrorist” operations came under Kadyrov command, secret detention, disappearances, and torture have become the norm, even overshadowing the methods of Russia’s Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2).
Torture and other forms of ill treatment by ORB-2 personnel appear aimed at coercing confessions from detainees, which then lead to fabricated criminal charges and court convictions. Kadyrovtsy, by contrast, resort to such treatment to secure incriminating information about rebel forces from detainees whom they subsequently release or force to join their ranks. They have also taken hostage and mistreated relatives of alleged rebel fighters.
This is exactly what Anna Politkovskaya’s last article documented, and HRW’s report now confirms.
In regard to ORB-2 tortures, one Sulim S., 29, told HRW in an interview:
For the first five days they kept me blindfolded. I did not know what they wanted. They kept saying, “We know that you know, and you know that we know!” and when I asked what I was supposed to know, they tortured me. They put a gas mask on my face and would cut the airflow until I started suffocating. They repeatedly gave me electric shocks—my head was swinging back and forth; one discharge went through my tongue, and my tongue got all swollen and was falling out of my mouth.
They beat me mercilessly. They put me against the wall with my legs spread apart and kicked me on my privates—I later saw that the entire area in between my thighs was all black from bruises. They pulled my pants down and threatened to rape me.
I kept telling them, “Just kill me!” but they said, “No, we won’t kill you right away—we’ll do it slowly, and we will also rip your brother apart.” I felt like during these interrogations I was dying over and over again, and they would revive me to continue. Finally, after they realized I could not come up with anything, they offered me three crimes to choose from—a bombing of a bus, a killing of two policemen or a killing of one woman. But I refused.
About a week after his detention, Sulim’s brother, Salambek was detained. He described similar torture at the hands of ORB-2:
The men started beating me while we were still in the car, but did not explain where they were taking me and why. Then they put me into a room, and told me to tell them “everything.” I thought they were referring to a short period of time in 1999 when I helped to dig trenches in the city along with everybody else, but they . . . said they were not interested in that—they wanted me to confess to bombings and killings. I said they must have mistaken me for someone else.
They attached wires to my fingers and ears, and started giving me electric shocks—I could not see the device, as they put a gasmask on my head, but heard the clicking sound. They pushed me against the wall and started beating me on the kidneys, and then threw me on the floor—I was lying on my stomach, and one of the men put his boot under my heart area, while [at the same time] another was sitting on my back. As other men pressed the pain zones on my legs I would twitch and the boot would press hard into my heart—I felt like my heart was stopping and couldn’t breathe.
They repeated these interrogations and beatings for several days, and then told me that if I did not confess, they would bring my wife and rape her in front of my eyes, and then do the same with me. They brought a club and said they would stick it up my ass.
I would rather die than be dishonored like that; it is just unthinkable in our culture—I told them I would confess to a bombing of a bus, and made up a story, coming up with the most unbelievable details. When I tried to take my confession back, they started torturing my brother in the adjacent cell, saying, ‘Do you hear? That’s your brother screaming.
The Kadyrovtsy’s methods show little difference. HRW documented 82 cases of torture committed by the Kadyrovtsy, 54 of which occurred in 2006 alone.
Take for example, the secret detention and torture of one Magomed M., 24.
Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch that Kadyrov’s forces brought him and the four other men to one of Kadyrov’s bases on the outskirts of the village of Tsentoroi. Personnel at first put them in a boiler room on the base, and soon thereafter the base commander took three of the detainees out to a nearby field for questioning. Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch:
“There were three or four personnel there—the same ones who brought us to the base. They kept asking about a rebel fighter from our area—they said we should know him since we are the same age. I knew nothing about the man, but they wouldn’t believe me. They kept kicking me and beating me with sticks; it lasted for five or six hours.”
Magomed M. said that he was taken out for questioning and severely beaten every day during his detention.
Relatives of the five detainees learned of their whereabouts through a contact in Kadyrov’s forces and managed to secure their release; four of the men were released the day following their detention, and Magomed M., several days later. “Before releasing me they warned me not to say a single word about my detention,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise, they said they would take me away again and I would disappear.”
After his release Magomed M. spent more than three weeks in a hospital, where he said doctors documented his injuries, including multiple hematomas on his body, kidney damage, and a concussion.
Thus the meat grinder of asymmetrical warfare continues unabated in Chechnya.Post Views: 87
As of Friday, the price of oil on the world market stood at $50 a barrel, the lowest it’s been since May 25, 2005. This is both bad and good news for Russia. As the world’s largest oil producer, Russia’s economy and international standing is measured in its ability to pump and sell crude. Russian independence is in relation to the price of oil. For the power elite in Russia the drop in oil prices bodes as a possible bad omen. But not quite yet. According to statements by Russian Development and Trade Minister German Gref, Russia’s Stabilization Fund, which now stands at $88.5 billion as of January 1, will not begin to take a beating until or if oil prices drop below $27 a barrel.
However, for consumers in Russia, who pay an average of $1.45 for a gallon of gas in Moscow (1 gallon equals 3.785 liters and it is now 38 rubles to the dollar), the drop in oil prices provides more relief to an ever increasing autocentic nation where monthly income averages around $300 a month.
But Russia’s, let alone the world’s other industrial(izing) nations, fortunes and misfortunes in regard to the price of oil might not be fully in their own hands. In the era of globalization, economic (mis)fortune is determined by the strength of the vast economic web that spans to every corner of the globe. Russian domestic economic policy is merely an afterthought when local conflicts in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East can veer the global economic rudder. The power of “peripheral nations” to affect the economic stability of “core nations” is a result of what analysts call the “resource curse.” Impoverished nations who have oil and gas as their sole economic resource are also some of the most politically unstable, making them an increasing factor in determining the economic future of the world’s powerhouses.
Nothing points to this fact more than Sebastian Junger’s excellent article “Blood Oil” in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair. Junger argues that the world’s oil prices could potentially be held hostage by small militant groups like Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. Since January 2006, MEND has intensified attacks on Nigerian oil pipelines and infrastructure and has repeatedly kidnapped oil workers. The effect of one attack on a Shell oil field in early 2006 resulted “in roughly 250,000-barrel-a-day drop in Nigerian oil production and a temporary bump in world oil prices.” The group’s most recent incident occurred Sunday, when MEND members hijacked a cargo ship and took 24 foreign nationals hostage. It is too early to tell if this attack will have an impact on the price of oil when markets open on Monday.
The threat of small power, Junger argues, can have nightmarish economic affects. In one scenario hypothesized by the Oil ShockWave conference:
[A] near-simultaneous terrorist attacks on oil infrastructure around the world could easily send prices to $120 a barrel, and those prices, if sustained for more than a few weeks, would cascade disastrously through the American economy.
Gasoline and heating oil would rise to nearly $5 a gallon, which would force the median American family to spend 16 percent of its income on gas and oil—more than double the current amount. Transportation costs would rise to the point where many freight companies would have to raise prices dramatically, cancel services, or declare bankruptcy. Fewer goods would be transported to fewer buyers—who would have less money anyway—so the economy would start to slow down. A slow economy would, in turn, force yet more industries to lay off workers or shut their doors. All this could easily trigger a recession.
Granted, by Oil ShockWave’s estimation the American economy would most likely be directly affected by such attacks. As of November 2006, the United States imports 10,126,000 barrels of oil a day, 919,000 of which comes from Nigeria and 1, 444,000 from Saudi Arabia. But suffice to say, a slump in the American economy would send shockwaves around the world.
How would regional conflicts affect Russia? If the last year is any indication, the economic prognosis of high oil prices is good for Putin’s state. The war in Iraq, political tension and instability in the Middle East and West Africa, and ecological disasters like Hurricane Katrina has produced a boom for Russia. The macroeconomic success of the Putin Administration is funded by petrodollars. This is not to say that as the world largest oil exporter, global instability is only good for Russia. Multinational oil conglomerates have hardly complained about rising oil prices. At the bottom line, the real beneficiaries of high energy costs are the global elite.
Still, the fact that 60 percent of Russia’s budget comes from oil and gas revenues makes it increasingly hostage to political (in)stability around the world. While, say, attacks by Nigerian militants in the Niger Delta might spike oil prices to Russia’s benefit, “at the same time,” writes Igor Nikolayev, “Russia is gradually becoming integrated into the international economic community. That means it is important to take into account economic-growth trends in industrial nations and emerging markets, the volatility of the world’s major currencies, and the movement of leading stock-market indices, among other factors.”
Thus, a paradox. Economic forecasters in the Kremlin are hedging their bets that oil prices will remain around $61 a barrel for 2007. From this estimate they are predicting that the Russian economy will show a 4.8-4.9% percent growth rate from 2007-2009. High oil prices equal a continued economic boom.
Yet, the maintenance of high oil prices comes at, albeit a long term cost. First, prices will rise at home, cutting into household and personal incomes creating dissatisfaction among the population. This is possibly the least threatening outcome since the Kremlin hardly responds to domestic political pressure. Second, high oil prices will raise tensions between Russia and importer regions like the European Union and its near abroad—Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia. It is no surprise that questions about Russia’s “reliability” come exactly when prices are so high that it gives Russia extra muscle against its customers. Nor is it strange that Russia’s problems with its near abroad have come when energy has become an effective political weapon against its former satellites. The cost of high prices here can potentially be costly, but that cost is more in relation to wider geopolitical struggles. If the English language media is any indication, Russia’s energy supremacy and its willingness to wield it have inaugurated a new Cold War. Third, and perhaps most costly, is that high oil prices resulting from geopolitical instability only hurt Russia in the long term, especially if its economic fate beyond petrodollars is increasingly tied with the economies of the United States, Europe, and East Asia. The Russian state might continue the fantasy that petrodollars can maintain its national sovereignty, but that may one day become a fetter on its economic solvency.
Hence Russia’s crude paradox. Either way you cut it, in the long run oil is more a curse than a blessing.Post Views: 179
The following article was run by Haaretz on February 25. It is the first installment of Moti Katz investigation of anti-Semitism in Israel. I referenced the second article on Israeli punks last week. Again, the culprits appear to be members of the Russian diaspora, especially youths who find themselves unable to assimilate into Israeli society. Beside such cultural difficulties, could the rise in anti-Semitism in Israel also be called a form of blowback from Israel’s policy of encouraging “Jewish” immigration from the CIS as a way to replace Palestinian labor? Maybe. Maybe not. Katz doesn’t broach the subject though it seems to haunt it in terms of the political economy of anti-Semitism in Israel.
By Moti Katz
Six minors, immigrants from the CIS, were arrested early this year on suspicion of burning flags and stealing mezuzahs from Nahshonim School in Bat Yam. They also confessed to stealing mezuzahs from homes in the city on eight additional occasions. The teens attributed their actions to a hatred for Jews and Judaism. In the past three months, there have been five break-ins at synagogues in the southern city of Arad. All of the incidents have involved vandalism, the theft of charity boxes and the scrawling of obscenities on the walls.
In the past several years there have been similar incidents carried out by young immigrants from the CIS, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, throughout the country. Many religious institutions have instituted security measures as a result. In 2006 there were at least six reports of broken headstones, desecration of synagogues and graffiti with swastikas and anti-Semitic sentiments, according to figures gathered by Damir, an organization that assists victims of anti-Semitism.
Vandalism is not the only expression of anti-Semitism in Israel. In 2003 a Web site operated by Ilia Zolotov, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who called himself a “Russian patriot,” was exposed. The Web site, whose name translates to the White Israeli Union, was housed on an Israeli server. Its content included Nazi and Holocaust-denial materials. It was eventually closed down by the police. Zolotov was sentenced to community service and sent on a tour of death camps in Poland.
Haaretz has uncovered Internet sites put up by Israelis in their 30s who immigrated from the CIS that supply Nazi and Russian nationalist content.
Irina, 18, lives in central Israel. She belonged to a group of young people, “Nazi skinheads,” that terrorized the ultra-Orthodox residents of a central-Israel city. “I was a ‘skin girl,'” relates Irina, whose was the girlfriend of the group’s leader, Leonid [a pseudonym – M.K.]. Leonid, who is now about 19, immigrated at age 10 from Azerbaijan on the Law of Return. The only Jew in his family was one of his grandfathers.
Irina says that Leonid’s downslide began in the ninth grade. He felt alienated from Israeli society and decided to join up with a Nazi skinhead group. “We were a bunch of Russian new immigrants, boys and girls,” Irina relates. “Most of the boys had shaved heads and wore army pants.”
A group of about 15 teens who believed in the Nazi ideology coalesced around Leonid. One of their favorite activities, Irina says, was attacking Haredi. “Nazi skinheads hate the religious, especially Haredim, for them the Haredim are the ugly Jews … On weekends we’d meet in the parks, drinking and smoking and listening to Nazi music,” and then they would go out in search of dossim [a derogatory Hebrew term for religious Jews], Irina related. “On Hitler’s birthday we’d met at a cemetery and celebrate,” she said.
Nazi Web sites in Israel
Since the closure of Zolotov’s Web site, his successors have gotten more sophisticated. Now they use servers based abroad, usually in Russia, to evade the authorities. One such site operator is Alex [a pseudonym], who is in his 30s and holds a security-related job. His site, www.rusnatcentre.tk, is hosted by a Russian server. Alex refers to himself on the site as “the Russian tank operator” or “the fighter from Jerusalem,” a tribute to his service in the Armored Corps. In a conversation with Haaretz, he denied that his site carries anti-Semitic messages, asserting that it is pro-Russian only.
“The Russian National Center is a Russian nationalist association that lives in Israel,” Alex explains. “The main mission of our organization is nationalist propaganda among ethnic Russians residing in Israel, encouraging their return to Russia, opposing the return of Jews from Israel to Russia, and opposing conversion to Judaism,” Alex said. He will not reveal membership figures, saying only it is a “global organization whose members are adults, most of them after army service and the majority living in the center of the country.”
A Haaretz probe reveals that the RNC site is indeed Russian nationalist in nature, but it also contains anti-Semitic material. The home page features a Celtic cross, a symbol that has been adopted by neo-Nazis, and warns all Jews who have immigrated to Israel not to dare to return to Russia. It calls on all non-Jewish Russians who immigrated to Israel to return to Russia and to leave the Jews [using the derogatory Russian term zhid] in their country.
Alex is active on other, specifically Nazi, forums, such as www.slavnazi.com, in which he recommended Jurgen Graf’s “The Myth of the Holocaust” to readers in July 2005. There were 118 favorable responses from Israel to that posting.
Alex also regularly recommends films and music in Russian with Nazi content. One of his recommendations in the latter category is Kolovrat, which is known as a Nazi band. About a year ago the band members were arrested and banned for distributing Nazi propaganda when they traveled to the Czech Republic on a concert tour. Alex’s site asks readers to sign a petition calling for the group’s release, which has garnered about 150 signatures from Israeli Internet users.
Alex gets mad when he is asked whether the call to release Kolovrat is anti-Semitic. “Of course such an action won’t please the Jews, like any other action on the part of Russian nationalist!” Alex says.
When asked whether the mass Jewish immigration of Russian Jews in the 1990s was a mistake, he says it depends which immigrants you mean. “The Jewish immigration to Israel is the best and only solution, apparently, to the Jewish question in Russia. On the other hand, the mass emigration of ethnic Russians from Russia is a big mistake that we [the RNC] must correct.”
Dr. Elana Gomel, chair of the English Department at Tel Aviv University and author of “Atem ve’anachnu” (“You and Us”), a book on being Russian in Israel, agrees that there is anti-Semitism in Israel. “After the collapse of Communism,” she says, “states that were part of the Soviet Union licked their wounds and looked for ways to make up for the downfall, and it came in the form of reinforcing their nationalism. The vacuum left by Communism was filled by fascism and Nazism,” Gomel says.
“Their message is, ‘if I’m not accepted here as a Jew, then I’ll remain Russian,'” Gomel said. “The enormous gap in mentality between the cultures of the Sabras and the immigrants doesn’t help their absorption into society and they develop antagonism to Israeli society. The absurdity,” Gomel adds, “is that even if the anti-Semitic nationalists return to Russia, the Russian anti-Semites won’t accept them and will persecute them just as people of Jewish extraction in the Wehrmacht during the Nazi regime were persecuted. The phenomenon is sick because it is a form of self-flagellation that cannot be stopped,” Gomel said.Post Views: 118