I wish all readers of Sean’s Russia Blog a very happy New Year! I hope all of you keep reading in 2007 and beyond! Let the vodka flow . . .
The postcard, dated sometime in the 1940s, is taken from RIA Novosti’s New Year postcard gallery.
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Kommersant’s English mirror site has an article with the details about Basayev’s death and autopsy. His body was so mangled by a weapons explosion that forensic experts had to identify the corpse through his hands and feet. Details of the explosion that killed him have been pieced together by representatives of the Interior Ministry and Ingushetian Prosecutor’s Office. They are as follows:
According to the investigation, late Sunday evening, several automobiles – three cars and two KamAZ trucks, one of which was towing the other – came to an unfinished house on the edge of Ekazhevo. There was some movement inside the house for a while, said the very few witnesses investigators were able to find, as people in black uniforms went back and forth between the house and the forest, which began at the edge of the yard and stretched all the way to the border with North Ossetia. They unloaded crates from the trucks and transferred other between cars. Then a powerful explosion took place.
Local police arrived to find the smoking frame of one of the trucks with a thick cable tied to its front bumper and a large pit, on the other side of which was the rear part of a car frame. The other truck stood at a distance of several tens of meters and was relatively undamaged. In the back of the truck were 150 unguided artillery missiles and about 100 cartridges of various calibers. Several dozen barrels from RPG-7 and RPG-26 grenade launchers were scattered within a radius of half a kilometer, as well as unexploded warheads from them and a large number of bullets. Those were the contents of the truck that exploded. Four bodies and four machineguns were also found.
Early Monday morning, about six hours after the blast, FSB agents arrived on the scene. They dismissed the local police and prosecutors and declared that the event had been their special operation. Several hours later they announced that Basaev has been killed.
The material evidence gathered by experts indicates, however, that the militants most likely blew themselves up due to careless handling of explosives. Newly built empty houses were being used by the separatists as warehouses where large shipments of weapons from abroad were received and distributed. Representatives from various groups were dividing a newly received shipment among themselves on Sunday. It is possible that the weapons were to be carried away in the two trucks but, after one of them broke down, the weapons had to be reloaded into a car.
So there you have it. FSB special forces did not have a hand in killing him, though I’m sure they will continue to claim it until their dying end. Rather, Basayev’s death was a result of the “careless handling of explosives.” Not the type of valiant death a “shaheed” would hope for.
I also encourage readers to check out Thomas de Waal’s comment on Basayev in today’s Moscow Times. De Waal met with Basayev once in 1998, and while he claims that the terrorist was no “Islamist” or “politician”, he was a “permanent warrior” and “his fearlessness, cunning, propaganda skills and cruelty made him unique.” In Waal’s view, this makes Basayev irreplaceable. He continues:
Two of his kind do not come around twice in a generation. The bad news is that his removal came many years too late — and not just because many hundreds of people might otherwise be alive. The Russian leadership has eliminated or exiled the moderate wing of the Chechen pro-independence movement, which wanted to negotiate and could have brought alienated Chechens back intosome kind of political process.
Consider the situation of a young twenty-something Chechen male who has been part of the rebel movement for the last decade. He has seen friends and family members die and quite probably has been wounded or tortured by Russian security forces. He has almost no education. If he watches Russian television he will see reports of his comrades being “destroyed” as if they were vermin.
Now this man has no leaders left. What route does he follow? One route is collaboration. The so-called “Kadyrovtsy” who comprise Chechnya’s pro-Moscow security forces aremainly ex-fighters, taking a rest from the hills and earning a decent salary in a new uniform. Their loyalty is entirely provisional and on the day after their leader, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, is replaced or arrested, there is no knowing what they will do next.
The other road is radical Islam. In the last five years, a network of shadowy jamaats, or Islamic groups, has sprung up across the North Caucasus, from Dagestan to Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Its adherents are anonymous pious young men from marginalized social groups. Not for them the theatrics of Basayev; they will operate like tiny ants gnawing away at the fundamentals of Russian power in the region.
This last point again raises the question of whether Basayev’s death will be a blessing that goes beyond the demise of a ruthless terrorist. Some, like Timur Aliev of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, are reporting how some in Chechnya hope that Basayev’s death will be the beginning of the conflict’s end. Others, like Andrei Smirnov at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, suggest that the militant’s death in no way means the problems in the North Caucauses are solved. Though the reigns of the rebels’ leadership now passes to Doku Umarov, the course he chooses for the movement could engender rivals to his leadership. Thus the movement could further fracture between a young and old guard. Another worry is that now rebel forces in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Ingushetia lack leadership and an iconic hero. While many in Russia might greet the disarray of the Chechen nationalist movement, that chaos will only make any positives that might result from Basayev’s death difficult to achieve.
This difficulty will in part be exacerbated by the utter misanalysis Russia makes of the conflict. As Stephen Blank, another commentator at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, concludes:
Although official Russia likes to attribute the unrest in the Caucasus in general — and in Chechnya in particular — to Wahhabism, in fact the cause of the unrest remains long-standing Russian misrule and oppression. This situation ultimately led to unbridled Islamic terrorism as practiced by Basaev and his like-minded colleagues, but it is doubtful that Kadyrov and his thugs represent a better prospect or that anyone else has a solution to the problems of the North Caucasus. Undoubtedly Putin has won a big battle here, even if inadvertently, and cut down a tall tree of Chechen resistance. But it is unlikely that a people who have fought Russia for more than 200 years will simply accept defeat now or that Russia knows how and will bring about a peace based upon a legitimate order that compels assent rather than fear either in Chechnya or in the North Caucasus.
Since the mid-1980s it is estimated that over a million Russians have immigrated to Israel. With a population of just over 6 million, this makes the Russian immigrant community a strong voting block in the Jewish state. Politically, they are considered a staple of the Israeli right wing.
But as Lily Galili reports in Haaretz, war can produce combinations that on the surface of Israeli politics seem unimaginable. At the head of Israel’s antiwar movement against the invasion of Lebanon stands Jana Kanapova and Khulud Badawi. Kanapova immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine as a young Zionist 11 years ago. Badawi is an Arab-Israeli resident of Haifa, which for the last month has been the target of Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets (which were ironically made in Russia). Together they have been the leaders of the peace movement on behalf of the Women’s Peace Coalition and the Ta’ayush organization. An Arab and a Russian. The combination defies most assumptions about the politics of ethnicity and the ethnicity of politics in Israel.
The way Kanapova and Badawi view the war and Israeli politics in general is laden with feminist overtones. As Karapova told Haaretz, “The police sees Khulud as a natural threat. In the same exact circumstances, the police refuses to see me as a threat. After all, they also share the stereotype that there are no leftists within the Russians. Khulud will always represent a danger, I’m never a danger; Khulud is the demographic ticking bomb, I am the demographic hope. This is the exact same attitude that views both of our wombs as state instruments, and we will not give them that pleasure.”
The demographic problem and solution that both their respective communities represent to the future of Israel makes their struggle more than over policy and war. Theirs is also a biopolitical struggle over what their bodies represent to the present and future of the Israeli state. Israel’s “Right of Return” law has always had biopolitical elements. The hope is that immigration from the Jewish Diaspora will offset the rapidly growing Palestinian population. Israel’s battle for its future therefore is more than about guns and missiles. It is about the reproduction of bodies. But not just any body. It is about the reproduction of particularly Jewish bodies.
The biopolical analysis that both Kanapova and Badawi make is not the only unique quality about resistance to this war. In fact, it is difficult to say whether this consciousness of the body is the main logic behind the peace movement. However, the fact that the protest against the Lebanon war, unlike Israeli peace movements of the past, has been mostly headed by women inevitably throws issues of gender into the mix. “All the aspects of this war tie the feminist, social, ecological and class struggle closely to the ongoing struggle against the occupation,” they told Haaretz. “Women make this connection naturally. The old left, even that of ‘Gush Shalom,’ did not manage to connect these struggles. We did. The women’s social and political networks are also stronger. This war is taking place in our social arena, in our homes. As women and citizens, we produce an alternative feminine voice to oppose the militant male voice.” “This is a war of men fighting for their honor, both the IDF’s honor and Hezbollah’s honor,” concludes Kanapova. “Women are less into the honor thing. Russian women are instinctively aware that wars are men’s games. That is the society we grew up in, and we find it obvious.”
The significance of Kanapova’s and Badawi’s gender is not the only unique aspect of resistance to this poorly planned and ill fated Israeli offensive. Their respective ethnicities is what makes them attractive to the news. If they were two Ashkenazim, their presence and efforts on the Israeli Left would have perhaps been overlooked. Their presence allows for the peace movement to be conducted in three languages—Arabic, Hebrew and Russian–,and according to Kanapova, this has allowed her to engage, and even convince some in her community to oppose the war. The presence of Russian female activists has ballooned from three to 200. It has also led to more contact with Israeli Russians and Arabs:
In the past, Israeli Arab citizens avoided coming to demonstrations in Tel Aviv in the midst of war. At most they resigned themselves to a symbolic representation in the later stages of the protest. Their demonstrations against the occupation also usually took place in Arab towns. No more. This time, the Arabs were equal partners in the left’s demonstrations in Tel Aviv from the outset of the war. The thousands of Katyushas, falling on them as well, have toppled the old inhibitions. They do not see it as another Jewish war, but as a civilian war in which they have an equal right to speak out. Badawi says that they purposefully bring their voices to Tel Aviv, which they consider to be the Israeli capital.
Another kind of change is happening in the Russian-speaking arena. The community of Russian-speakers has long been considered the hard core of the Israeli right wing. The recruitment of a even handful for leftist Zionist demonstrations was always considered a great achievement. On this occasion, there exists a small but prominent and consistent presence of Russian-speakers in the radical left’s protests. The Arabs learn to shout out the slogan “Vayni nyet” (no war), and the Russian and Hebrew-speakers rhythmically call “Salam na’am, hareb la” (peace yes, war no.) It is safe to assume that these ties will remain long after the sounds of war fade away.
One hopes that they are correct.
The absence of Hama and Hezbollah from Russia’s “List of 17” terrorist organizations was been met with charges of hypocrisy, suspicion, and scorn. The omission certainly didn’t sit well with the Israelis or the Americans. The absence of the Kurdish Workers Party even angered Turkey. Such is the problem with the term “terrorism.” Its application is completely relative in relation to national interests, foreign and domestic policy, and cultural and historical factors. Russia has been curt in its explanation. Hamas and Hezbollah weren’t listed because they don’t pose a direct threat to Russia’s national security.
Andrei Smirnov doesn’t buy it. Writing for the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasian Daily Monitor, Smirnov accuses Russia of listing mostly “virtual groups”, groups whose existence can no longer be confirmed. Two of Russia’s top ranked groups, the Supreme Military Council of the Caucasian Mujahideen and the Congress of the Nations of Ichkeria and Dagestan, have not been heard from since 1999. There is question whether the Islamic Party of Turkestan or the Egyptian Al-Ghamia-al-Islamia still exists. Further, Smirnov charges that the list makes one wonder if Russia really knows who they are fighting in the North Caucuses since they don’t list the three most active organizations in the region: the Chechen State Defense Council-Majlis-ul-Shura, Dagestani Sharia Jamaat and the North Ossetian Kataib-al-Khoul.
In addition, if Russia’s list only includes groups that pose a direct threat to Russia, then how do they explain including the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jamaa al-Islamiya but not the Shura of Iraqi Mujahideen, which claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of Russian diplomats in June. Smirnov goes on to point out more inconsistencies in the Russia terror list.
But the real issue is their leaving Hamas and Hezbollah of the list. This is where politics enters the fray. Even though FSB terror chief Yuri Sapunov admitted that Hamas and Hezbollah both “use terrorist methods in their national liberation struggle,” according to the Ekho Moskvy, this statement was omitted from the published interview in Rossiiskaya gazeta though it was in the original Interfax interview. Here is Smirnov’s explanation why Hamas and Hezbollah are absent:
It is not surprising that Hamas and Hezbollah are excluded from the Russian terror list, as the Kremlin is known to be sympathetic towards these organizations. Earlier this year Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Hamas representatives to Moscow to meet Russian officials, while Hezbollah is supported by Syria and Iran, two countries that have close ties with Russia. Nevertheless, Sapunov hinted that the Russian government could add the two groups to the list in the future. He said, “We recognize international terror lists, for example, the lists of the United Nations and the lists of such superpowers as the USA and the European Union. We consider them when we communicate with the special services of various countries.”
The Russian authorities do not recognize Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations not only because they believe they pose no threat to Russia, but also because the Kremlin is very angry at Western countries that do not recognize the Chechen rebels as terrorists. During a press conference after the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July, Putin crossly said that if Syria and Iran are branded state sponsors of terrorism, then Great Britain should also earn that designation because London refuses to extradite Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakaev to Russia (Newsru.com, July 16).
The Kremlin’s decision to omit Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi insurgency from the list of terrorist organizations sends a clear message that terrorist threats to the West will be recognized only if Western officials recognize the Chechen insurgents as terrorists.
As it stands now, the US State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) does not list a single Chechen or Caucasian terrorist group.
Perhaps a better explanation for certain groups’ absences on Russia list has to do with its policy in the Middle East. According to Pavel Baev, Putin’s Middle East policy has to do with a pragmatic approach to the region that is balanced with ensuring high oil prices and arms sales. Instead of the active role Putin hoped for in nuclear talks with North Korea in 2000, the Kremlin is now much more cautious with the Middle East. Even media coverage of the Hezbollah-Israeli war has been “remarkably balanced.” Writes Baev,
Moscow’s self-confidence is also supported by the assessment of the conflict dynamics in the Middle East that suggest a very probable strengthening of its quietly advanced position in a matter of a few weeks. This position is by no means moral but entirely pragmatic: No international framework for Lebanon could be negotiated without involving Syria; no agreement with the government of Lebanon could be implemented if Hezbollah is not a part of it; no stable arrangement for Gaza could be hammered out against the resistance of Hamas. The Kremlin calculates that it would take a few weeks for Israel to recognize that the spectacular devastation of Southern Lebanon could not significantly weaken the military capabilities and political influence of Hezbollah, much the same way as the full-blown invasion in 1982 did not bring about the destruction of the PLO. Meanwhile, the outrage in the Arab states and the indignation in Europe about the scale of the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe would predictably reach such levels that a ceasefire becomes imperative whatever reservations Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might state. That is why Moscow was not in the least upset by the failure of the Rome conference last week, where Syria was not represented, expecting that the forum would be reconvened when Washington is forced to swallow its objections against sitting at one table with a representative from Damascus.