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What the hell is happening in the
? All week it has been racked by political crises. First, Georgia Special Forces were sent into Tbilisi Prison No. 5 to suppress a prison riot. It seems that the riot was a well organized attempted prison break by criminal oligarchs. Seven inmates were killed along with 17 injured. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Republicof Georgia Europehas called for an independent probe into the riot. According to Kommersant, the violence has sparked calls for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s resignation and fear from the Opposition that the accusations could be used as justification to repress them. Perhaps this is already happening as Parliament MP Valery Gelashvili of opposition Republican Party was stripped of his credentials. The ruling majority claims that Gelashvili is running his construction business while a serving as a member of Parliament, which is a violation of the Georgian Constitution. The opposition is claiming that the move is a form of “repression against political opponents.” In response, the opposition is boycotting Parliament. Allegations of repression have also come from other political parties. So writes Kommersant:
“We initiated the protest action,” leader of the Labor Party Shalva Natelashvili, who has been accused of involvement in the prison uprising by several politicians, told Kommersant, “because it is simply impossible to live in modern Georgia. Our maximum program is the constitutional change of power. Our minimum program is freeing business from taxes and requisitions that Saakashvili and his advisers imposed illegally and a guarantee of the inviolability of the media. Since the beginning of the Rose Revolution, two television stations and nine publications have been closed and the director of the 202 television company was recently sentenced to four years in prison. Journalists are insulted and beaten, the free press in
is being destroyed. All of television is the personal holding of Saakashvili. And he says that he is building a democratic state.” Georgia
Next, there are rumors that the criminal oligarchs are plotting to assassinate Saakashvili. The government is accusing the Opposition that has connections to these criminal oligarchs.
The third crisis is based on allegations from Georgian media mogul Badri Patarkatsishvili that businessmen have been subjected to paying government officials bribes to avoid state harassment of their businesses. According to Kommersant,
Patarkatsishvili said that a conflict has arisen over the Imedi television channel, which he owns. Journalists investigated the murder in January of United Gregorian Bank manager Sandro Girgvliani, in which it turned out that high-placed officials of the Georgian Ministry of the Interior involved. (The murder took place after an argument in a restaurant.) The journalists found out that investigators were forced to arrest four members of the Interior Ministry’s department of constitutional security. Patarkatsishvili thinks that that caused displeasure in the administration. “Security and financial organs began to examine the activities of my companies so that I would pressure my journalists at Imdei television company to create a picture that was beneficial to the administration,” he said.
Patarkatsishvili practically accused the administration of running a racket. He said that entrepreneurs were forced to pay large sums of money to various funds founded by state structures whose expenses are unsupervised. The prosecutor’s fund alone gathered 160 million lari ($89 million). But contributions to those funds do not guaranteed businessmen immunity.
It seems that the Saakashvili government has taken up anti-oligarch rhetoric to denounce the opposition. A move that some suggest is a way to discredit the opposition’s legitimate criticisms.
If all this wasn’t bad enough, now the Saakashvili government is claiming that it has unmasked a Russian spy. Yesterday, a low level government official named Simon Kiladze was arrested for spying for an unnamed government. Many suspect the government was
since relations between the two countries have soured since the “Rose Revolution.” As a result, Saakashvili has called for a wider campaign to “root out” spies. Russia
This all came to a head yesterday as 5000-7000 opposition supporters rallied in front of the Georgian Parliament to call for Saakashvili’s resignation.Post Views: 302
The “March of Dissent” has certainly come and gone. The demonstration was modest and certainly ineffective on a political level. And while I don’t think the event should be overblown, I do think the March does raise some interesting questions about the Russian state, how it deals with opposition, and perhaps how it understands its power. In this sense, the “March of Dissent” continues to haunt.
From news reports, it appears that a smorgasbord of Russian security forces were on display for the “March of Dissent”—OMON, MVD, militsia, plain clothes police. Estimates put the citywide deployment at 8500, with 1000 of them at the march. The march itself was with little disturbance. Leaders from the Other Russia coalition simply made speeches denouncing Putin. Few demanded or attempted to break the ban on marching. “We decided to spare your heads,” Eduard Limonov explained the lack of challenging the ban to the crowd. This, however, didn’t satisfy the rank and file Natsbol minions. 200 of them followed by Red Youth Vanguard activists broke the police line and began marching up Brestskaya Ulitsa. Few at the rally followed, symbolizing how unwilling supporters of Other Russia were willing to risk their bodies. OMON officers quickly swarmed the marchers and arrested 40.
Why were so many police deployed for such a small demonstration? And what does it say about the Kremlin?
In an opinion in today’s Moscow Times, Lynn Berry addresses the same question: Why such a display of force?
The OMON officers, wearing camouflage fatigues and black helmets with clear face masks, were joined by units of younger Interior Ministry troops, police and their colleagues in plain clothes, including, apparently, the men sitting next to us. A total of 8,500 troops were deployed for a rally that drew 2,500 people at most, their numbers inflated by journalists, although hundreds more activists might have come if they had not been stopped along their way.
The show of force was impressive. Trucks with water cannon sat on Tverskaya, and a police helicopter thundered over the square, which was encircled by metal barriers and concentric rings of troops.
The question is why.
Perhaps the authorities feared a clash between the demonstrators — led by opposition heavyweights Garry Kasparov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Irina Khakamada, Eduard Limonov and Vladimir Ryzhkov — and activists loyal to the Kremlin. Although such a clash was not inconceivable, it could have been prevented with a far more subtle deployment of police. And on Saturday the only “activists” interested in provoking a clash appeared to be working for the police anyway.
An act of intimidation seems more likely. Many more ordinary people might have come to the rally if they had not had to walk through police lines and metal detectors, or if they had not feared getting caught between metal barriers and surging lines of police if a clash had broken out.
But the main intention appeared to be to create a sense of danger and to suggest the demonstrators were a threat to Russia by casting them as extremists and in the pay of Russia’s enemies in the West.
But in the end, Berry concludes, “this overt demonstration of strength comes off as a projection of weakness.”
One may suggest, as Berry does, that intimidation explains it all. Painting Other Russia as “fascists” and lapdogs fed with Western money is an effective way to discredit their cause, whatever their cause may actually be. The explanation then is easy. The Kremlin is simply authoritarian and the show of force was merely to scare the opposition or others who might join it. Perhaps. This view explains what we already imagine about Putin and his rule.
I think this explanation is too simple. The divide between force and consent is a slippery slope. Effective states seek to build their hegemony on a balance of force and consent. Force maintains the parameters of what is acceptable and unacceptable politics, while consent justifies and reproduces those parameters. A show of too much force, however, can undermine the stability of a state’s hegemony to the point where force can actually be a sign of weakness rather than strength. Moreover, too much force can give legitimacy to a movement that appears fringe and ineffective. It also produces an air of crisis, which the Kremlin certainly wants to exploit, but in the end might not be able to effectively manage. In the end, one must wonder: If the Kremlin was so sure of its power, that is its hegemony, why didn’t it deploy a much more modest force or simply ignored the rally altogether? If anything, this is one big question that results from a rather minor event.
Tags: Putin|Russia|Other Russia|March of Dissent|National Bolsheviks|youth|Russian politics|protest|democracy|hegemonyPost Views: 361
As I wrote in yesterday’s post about the killing of Shamil Basayev (the details of which are still disputed): “Does Basayev’s death signal the end to the Chechen resistance and the Chechen War?” In regard to that, my friend and colleague Johnnie B. Baker makes this important point in the comments section, “The death of Basayev will not bring calm to the area, because that serve’s nobody’s interest. The altruistic fight for independence and freedom ended a long time ago, now it’s about controlling arms and drug smuggling, and other contraband.” According to Andrei Smirnov at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, robbery, the drug trade, kidnapping, and racketeering makes up a good portion of the insurgency’s funds. Insurgencies based on these methods spawn a dynamic of their own which not only terrorizes the population, but can also lead to insurgents eating their own. It is now suspected, for example, that former Chechen rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, who was killed a few weeks ago, was betrayed by a man from his inner circle for 1500 rubles. The man, according to pro-Moscow Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, “needed that money to buy a dose of drugs.”
It is rather unlikely that things will get calmer in Chechnya and surrounding regions despite the serious blow of Basayev’s death. First, insurgencies are rarely the force on one person. There may be main figures that inspire and lead movements, but there are usually people ready to take their place, if killed. In addition, sometimes such people are move effective in death than in life. Basayev will undoubtedly be resurrected as a martyr, despite any disagreements figures in the Chechen resistance had with his methods. The Kavkaz Center is already labeling him a shaheed (martyr).
Second, since the struggle has spread to neighboring regions, it is already apparent that the conflict has already gone beyond Basayev or any one leader. RFE/RL reports that the movement adopted a strategy to widen the conflict while Aslan Maskhadov was still alive. The strategy called for establishing “six “fronts,” four within Chechnya, one in Daghestan, and one for the rest of the North Caucasus — the latter subdivided into separate sectors for Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Krasnodar Krai.” In addition, the State War Council made a decision on July 8 to “establish new fronts in the Urals and the Volga region.” The plan is supposed to carry the movement into 2010.
Lastly, despite headlines that the Chechen resistance has been “decapitated”, “flickered out” or his killing will “bring peace,” sadly such hope is unlikely. Military analyst Alexander Golts thinks that a decentralized resistance poses more danger than a centralized one,
When the actions of the enemy are controlled from a single center, it is always possible to infiltrate it and to learn of his plans. There is always the possibility, with help and technology and good intelligence, of learning where the enemy is concentrated in order to prepared for his blows. When the resistance is decentralized, and this is exactly what will definitely happen if Basayev’s death is confirmed, the problems are only increased, because it is impossible to track the activity of 10 or 20 or 50 field commanders who don’t take orders from anyone and who prepared their operations based only on their own ideas.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also recognized that one death doesn’t mean the death of a movement. Though hailing the killing a “landmark event,” he added that, “The killing of that terrorist doesn’t mean that the fight against militants is over. There is still work to do, and it’s being done.” This raises the important question of what signals the end to such conflicts. Can insurgencies ever be declared over by those engaging in the counter insurgency? The only way I see this happening is if one side simply gives up. And I don’t think “Chechenization” counts. And one side simply “giving up” doesn’t seem very likely anyway.
So what will change post-Basayev? It is of course too soon to tell how events will play out. I hold serious doubts that in the end his death won’t amount to much. The Chechen War has now been raging for ten years. Despite the fact that Ramzan Kadyrov has tight control over the country, his rule of terror could only inspire more ire toward Moscow and more desire for independence.
One plus that could come out of all this, besides the death of a ruthless man, is the demise of the Islamist current in the Chechen resistance. Basayev’s Wahhabism got them little except for talk of supposed links to Al-Qaeda and little sympathy from even religious Chechens. The use of Basayev style terror not only murdered scores of people, it killed much of the international community’s sympathy for their cause. Perhaps any new leadership that emerges will take a more secular outlook toward Chechen nationalism and national liberation. That, however, is wishful thinking . . .Post Views: 604