DE RUEHMO #2751/01 3351444
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 011444Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5613
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 012751
DEPT FOR EUR/RUS
EO 12958 DECL: 11/29/2016
TAGS PGOV, KDEM, PREL, PINR, RS
SUBJECT: LITVINENKO ASSASSINATION: REACTION IN MOSCOW
REF: MOSCOW 11490
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns: 1.4 (d).
1. (C) The November 23 death by radiation poisoning of former FSB agent Aleksandr Litvinenko in London has spawned a welter of conspiracy theories in Russia. The media have variously traced Litvinenko’s demise to XXXXXXXXXXXX, suicide, Putin’s Kremlin, Putin himself, those determined to undermine Putin, FSB agents unhappy with Litvinenko’s alleged betrayal of their organization, those unhappy with Litvinenko’s cooperation with Israel-based businessman Nevzlin on the Yukos affair, and the United States or “other” countries. This message recounts a representative sample of speculation, much of it self-serving. End summary.
Make Putin Stay
2. (C) Independent radio station Ekho Moskvy Editor-in-Chief Aleksey Venediktov, like many here, linked the murders of Litvinenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya. (Politkovskaya, who had accused the GOR of human rights abuses in Chechnya, was murdered in Moscow on October 7 (reftel).) In his telling, both murders, with perhaps more to come, are part of an effort to force Putin to remain in office beyond 2008 by, in effect, making him persona non grata in the West. (Putin has repeatedly insisted he will leave when his term expires in 2008.)
3. (C) Venediktov pegged the two assassinations to rogue or retired FSB or military intelligence agents controlled by forces either within or without the Kremlin. Putin, Venediktov thought, is well aware of the game being played, but is powerless to stop it; in part because he is not certain whom to hold responsible. Venediktov subscribed to the generally-held view here that Putin values his reputation in the West, and that sabotaging it is one path to having him reconsider his decision to leave the Kremlin in 2008.
4. (C) Venediktov did not exclude the possibility that the culprit in Litvinenko’s poisoning may have been ex-FSB agent turned businessman Andrey Lugovoy, who has loudly advertised his innocence. Lugovoy met with Litvinenko in London November 1, the day Litvinenko was allegedly irradiated. Lugovoy’s rush to the Moscow British Embassy and into the Russian media immediately after the Litvinenko story broke in the press was designed to provide him with a measure of protection, Venediktov thought, should “others” –either those who commissioned the killing or those unhappy with the furor it has caused– want revenge. Venediktov joined National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov in finding it suspicious that a Moscow-based businessman and former FSBer like Lugovoy would want to cooperate commercially with a man like Litvinenko who was on the Kremlin’s –and the FSB’s– enemy list. Lugovoy may have been dispatched to cultivate, and kill, Litvinenko, Venediktov thought.
5. (C) In a separate conversation November 30, the Moscow Heritage Foundation’s Yevgeniy Volk seconded the version of events offered by Venediktov, and was at pains in his remarks to insulate Putin from any association with the murders. Volk described Putin as a “pawn in a larger game” being played by those in the Kremlin as 2008 drew nearer. XXXXXXXXXXXX saw Putin’s fingerprints on both the murders, although he admitted he had no evidence to support his allegations. Noting that Putin had appointed Ramzan Kadyrov Prime Minister of Chechnya, XXXXXXXXXXXX offered us his bleak assessment of Putin with the phrase “you know people by the company they keep.”
Make Putin Play
6. (C) Stanislav Belkovskiy, political analyst from the National Strategic Institute also linked the Politkovskaya and Litvinenko killings, but thought they were designed to influence the succession struggle. In his far-fetched (but indicative of the conspiratorial mood that hangs over Moscow) telling, Kremlin “liberals” XXXXXXXXXXXX had engineered the assassinations in order to embarrass Putin before the West, and force him to sacrifice someone from his inner circle in order to salvage his reputation. Belkovskiy thought that victim would be Presidential Administration Deputy Head and leader of the so-called “siloviki,” Igor Sechin. XXXXXXXXXXXX understand that First Deputy PM Medvedev is a very weak presidential candidate, and that Putin remains unconvinced that he would make an able successor. Undermining the “siloviki” is one way to ensure the inevitability of Medvedev’s candidacy, Belkovskiy told us. He suggested that Putin could portray Sechin’s ouster as the first serious step in the fight against government corruption, noting, “Putin could credibly tar him with the Yukos machinations.”
7. (C) The victims to date, Politkovskaya and Litvinenko, had been selected because they were better known beyond Russia’s borders, where it was important that the murders resonate most strongly. Belkovskiy predicted more murders to come if Putin “failed to get the message.” He suggested that Garry Kasparov’s absence from the Russian media, ties to the U.S., and name recognition abroad made him a likely victim.
8. (C) Belkovskiy offered in support of his theory what he said was indirect proof of XXXXXXXXXXXX involvement. Belkovskiy told us he had been approached the week of October 2 by a longtime contact from XXXXXXXXXXXXX inner circle who warned him that he had been targeted and should leave Russia immediately, which he did. Politkovskaya’s murder that weekend had, Belkovskiy believed, the “liberals’” fingerprints on it. He doubted that he had ever been the actual target, and speculated that his contact knew of a plot to kill someone in journalistic circles, and had warned Belkovskiy “just in case.”
Make Putin Stay
9. (C) The Institute for Globalization Problem’s Mikhail Delyagin added the November 18 killing in Moscow of Movdali Baysarov, Chechen “Gorets” division commander and critic of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov; and the November 4 “Russian March” to Belkovskiy and Venediktov’s lists of recent, linked events. Delyagin joined others here in assuming that Baysarov’s killing had not occurred as described by the Moscow police. (Moscow Internal Affairs personnel claimed that Baysarov had threatened them with a hand grenade when stopped on a busy Moscow avenue. Russian blogs and the internet press are filled with alleged eyewitness accounts that claim Baysarov offered no resistance.) Baysarov’s protective detail had been suspended just before his murder, something that only could have been done, Delyagin said, by the FSB or “someone higher.”
10. (C) According to Delyagin, the killings of Baysarov, Politkovskaya, and Litvinenko combine to create an atmosphere of chaos desired by the “siloviki,” who would like Putin to remain in office. Delyagin discounted XXXXXXXXXX as possible authors of the murder of Litvinenko. XXXXXXXXXX In addition, he said, they lack the connections to confidentially procure the polonium 210 allegedly used in the SIPDIS killing. Delyagin joined Venediktov and Belkovskiy in seeing the polonium as the calling card of someone in Moscow.
No Theory Suffices
12. (C) In a December 1 conversation, the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Masha Lipman cautioned against falling prey to conspiracy theories. None of the ones available, she thought, fully account for what appears to be happening. She found it unlikely that the killings were being staged in an effort to force Putin to remain in office. If so, the strategy seemed shortsighted, as Putin who felt his hand had been forced would surely seek revenge if compelled by circumstances he did not create to remain. With little information available, the only thing that could be said with certainty, she thought, was that Russia had again entered a period, perhaps occasioned by the looming 2008 succession, where problems were being solved by force. Lipman noted that recent murders had not been confined to enemies of the Kremlin; she mentioned the assassination of Central Bank Chairman Kozlov, and suggested that factors contributing to the recent re-eruption of violence in addition to 2008 might be corruption, institutions unable to solve the problems of Russians, and the sense, at least in the Kremlin, that Putin no longer is fully in control as his power wanes with the approaching end of his term.
13. (C) The sense of unease here only deepened with news that former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar had been poisoned November 24 while attending a conference in Dublin. United Energy Systems’ Chairman Anatoliy Chubais, who talked to Gaidar after he returned to Moscow, alleged that Gaidar had been the victim of foul play even before hearing the verdict of the Moscow physicians. Chubais implied that Berezovskiy was the culprit. Gaidar Spokesman Valeriy Natarov reported the evening of November 30 that Gaidar’s Moscow doctors believed that he had been poisoned. Gaidar’s daughter Mariya alleged poisoning as well in a November 30 Radio Moskvy interview. However, she cautioned that a complete diagnosis would have to await the arrival of initial tests on Gaidar conducted at the Dublin hospital. Other media report that Gaidar is recovering and expects to be discharged December 4.
14. (C) Masha Lipman believed that the well-connected Chubais’s early certainty that Gaidar had been poisoned might mean that he knows, or has reason to suspect that he knows, who was behind the attempt. Gaidar, she hoped, might shed some light on this when released from the hospital next week.
15. (C) All of the above putative versions of events are handicapped by a lack of evidence and by the existence of other motives for the killings and other potential perpetrators. Whatever the truth may ultimately be –and it may never be known– the tendency here to almost automatically assume that someone in or close to Putin’s inner circle is the author of these deaths speaks volumes about expectations of Kremlin behavior as the high-stakes succession struggle intensifies. BURNS
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May 30, 2006
P 300927Z MAY 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 10 MOSCOW 005645
EO 12958 DECL: 05/25/2016
TAGS PREL, PGOV, MARR, MOPS, RS
SUBJECT: CHECHNYA: THE ONCE AND FUTURE WAR
REF: MOSCOW 5461 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns. Reason 1.4 (b, d)
1. (C) Introduction: Chechnya has been less in the glare of constant international attention in recent years. However, the Chechnya conflict remains unresolved, and the suffering of the Chechen people and the threat of instability throughout the region remain. This message reinterprets the history of the Chechen wars as a means of better understanding the current dynamics, the challenges facing Russia, the way in which the Kremlin perceives those challenges, and the factors limiting the Kremlin’s ability to respond. It draws on close observation on the ground and conversations with many participants in and observers of the conflict from the moment of Chechnya’s declaration of independence in 1991. We intend this message to spur thinking on new approaches to a tragedy that persists as an issue within Russia and between Russia and the U.S., Europe and the Islamic world.
2. (C) President Putin has pursued a two-pronged strategy to extricate Russia from the war in Chechnya and establish a viable long-term modus vivendi preserving Moscow’s role as the ultimate arbiter of Chechen affairs. The first prong was to gain control of the Russian military deployed there, which had long operated without real central control and was intent on staying as long as its officers could profit from the war. The second prong was “Chechenization,” which in effect means turning Chechnya over to former nationalist separatists willing to profess loyalty to Russia. There are two difficulties with Putin’s strategy. First, while Chechenization has been successful in suppressing nationalist separatists within Chechnya, it has not been as effective against the Jihadist militants, who have broadened their focus and are gaining strength throughout the North Caucasus. Second, as long as former separatist warlords run Chechnya, Russian forces will have to stay in numbers sufficient to ensure that the ex-separatists remain “ex.” More broadly, the suffering of an abused and victimized population will continue, and with it the alienation that feeds the insurgency.
3. (C) To deal effectively with Chechnya in the long term, Putin needs to increase his control over the Russian Power Ministries and reduce opportunities for them to profit from war corruption. He needs to strengthen Russian civilian engagement, reinforcing the role of his Plenipotentiary Representative. He needs to take a broad approach to combat the spread of Jihadism, and not rely primarily on suppression by force. In this context there is only a limited role for the U.S., but we and our allies can help by expressing our concerns to Putin, directing assistance to areas where our programs can slow the spread of Jihadism, and working with Russia’s southern neighbors to minimize the effects of instability. End Summary.
The Starting Point: Problems of the “Russianized” Conflict
4. (C) Chechnya was only one of the conflicts that broke out in the former Soviet Union at the time of the country’s collapse. Territorial conflicts, most of them separatist, erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, South Ossetia, North Ossetia/Ingushetia, Abkhazia and Tajikistan. Russian troops were involved in combat in all of those conflicts, sometimes clandestinely. In all except Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian troops remain today as peacekeepers. Russia doggedly insists on this presence and resists pulling its forces out. Its diplomatic efforts have served to keep the conflicts frozen, with Russian troops remaining in place.
5. (C) Why is this? The charge is often made that Russia’s motive for keeping the conflicts frozen is geostrategic, or “neo-imperialism,” or fear of NATO, or revenge against Georgia and Moldova, or a quest to preserve leverage. Indeed, the continued deployments may satisfy those Russians who think in such terms, and expand the domestic consensus for sending troops throughout the CIS. However, while one or another of those factors may have been the original impulse, each of the conflicts has gone through phases in which the conflict’s perceived uses for the Russian state have changed. No one of these factors has been continuous over the life of any of the conflicts.
6. (C) We would propose an additional factor: the determination of Russia’s senior officer corps to remain deployed in those countries to engage in lucrative activity outside their official military tasks. Sometimes that activity has been as mercenaries — for instance, Russian active-duty soldiers fought on both sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from 1991-92. Sometimes it has involved narcotics smuggling, as in Tajikistan. Selling arms to all sides has been a long-standing tradition. And sometimes it has meant collaborating with the mafias of both sides in conflict to facilitate contraband trade across the lines, as in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The officers and their generals formed a powerful bloc in favor of all the deployments, especially under Yeltsin.
7. (C) This “military-entrepreneurial” bloc soon formed an autonomous institution, in some respects outside the government’s control. There are many illustrations of its autonomy. For instance, in 1993 Yeltsin reached an agreement with Georgia on peacekeeping in Abkhazia. When the Georgian delegation arrived in Sochi in September of that year to hammer out the details with Russia’s generals, they found the deal had changed. When they protested that Yeltsin had agreed to other terms, a Russian general replied, “Let the President sit in Moscow, drink vodka, and chase women. That’s his business. We are here, and we have our work to do.”
The Secret History of the Chechen War
8. (C) The lack of central control over the military, as well as officers’ cupidity, may have been a prime cause of the first Chechnya War. Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, energy prices in the “ruble zone” were 3 percent of world market prices. Government officials and their partners bought oil at ruble prices, diverted it abroad, and sold it on the world market. The military joined in this arbitrage. Pavel Grachev, then Defense Minister, reportedly diverted oil to Western Group of Forces commander Burlakov, who sold it in Germany.
9. (C) Chechnya was a major entrepot for laundering oil for this arbitrage. It appears to have been used both by the military (including Grachev) and the Khasbulatov-Rutskoy axis in the Duma. Dudayev had declared independence, but remained part of the Russian elite. Chechnya’s independence, oilfields, refineries and pipelines made Chechnya perfect for laundering oil. Planes, trains, buses and roads and pipelines to Chechnya were functioning, allowing anyone and anything to transit — except auditors. In the early 1990’s millions of tons of “Russian” oil entered Chechnya and were magically transformed into “Chechen” oil to be sold on the world market at world prices. Some of the proceeds went to buy the Chechens weaponry, most of it from the Russian military, and another lucrative trade developed. Dudayev took much of his cut of the proceeds in weapons. The Groznyy Bazaar was notorious in the early 1990s for the quantity and variety of arms for sale, including heavy weaponry.
10. (C) Chechnya was the home of Ruslan Khasbulatov and served various purposes for his faction of the Russian elite. He took advantage of the army’s independence from Yeltsin’s control. An informed source believes that it was Khasbulatov, not the “official” Russian government, who facilitated the transfer of Shamil Basayev and his heavily-armed fighters from Chechnya into Abkhazia in 1992, and who ordered the Russian air force to bomb Sukhumi when Shevardnadze went there to take personal command of the Georgians’ last stand in July 1993. The Yeltsin government always denied that it bombed Sukhumi, despite Western eyewitness accounts confirming the bombing and the insignia on the planes. Given the confusion of those years, it could well be that the order originated in the Duma, not the Kremlin.
11. (C) After Khasbulatov and Rutskoy were written out of the Russian equation in October 1993, so was Dudayev. Clandestine Russian support for the Chechen political and military opposition to Dudayev began in the spring of 1994, according to participants. When that proved ineffective, Russian bombing was deployed. (One Dudayev opponent recounted that in 1994 a Russian pilot was given a mission to fire a missile into one of the top-floor corners of Groznyy’s Presidency building at a time when Dudayev was scheduled to hold a cabinet meeting there. Not knowing Groznyy, the pilot asked which building to bomb, and was told “the tallest one.” He bombed a residential apartment building.) When air power, too, proved ineffective, Russian troops were secretly sent in to reinforce the armed opposition. Dudayev’s forces captured about a dozen and put them on television — and the Russian invasion began shortly thereafter.
12. (C) Given the gangsterish background of the war, it is no surprise that the military conducted the war itself as a profit-making enterprise, especially after the capture of Groznyy. By May 1995 an anti-Dudayev Chechen could lament, “When we invited the Russian army in we expected an army — not this band of marauders.” Contraband trade in oil, weapons (including direct sales from Russian military stores to the insurgents), drugs, and liquor, plus “protection” for legitimate trade made military service in Chechnya lucrative for those not on the front lines. This profitability ended only with the August 1996 defeat of Russian forces in Groznyy at the hands of the insurgents and the subsequent Russian withdrawal — a defeat made possible because the Russian forces were hollowed out by their officers’ corruption and pursuit of economic profit.
13. (C) Before they lost this “cash-cow” to their enemies, Russian officers went to great lengths to keep their friends from interfering with their profits. On July 30, 1995, the Russians and the Chechen insurgents signed a cease-fire agreement mediated by the OSCE. It would have meant the gradual withdrawal of Russian forces. Enforcing the cease-fire was a Joint Observation Commission (“SNK”). The head of the SNK was General Anatoliy Romanov, a competent and upright officer — very much a rarity in Chechnya. After two months at this assignment he was severely injured by a mine inside Groznyy, and has been hospitalized ever since. Informed observers believe Romanov’s own colleagues in the Russian forces carried out this murder attempt. The cease-fire, never enforced, broke down.
14. (C) When the second war began in September 1999, Russian forces again started profiteering from a trade in contraband oil. Western eyewitnesses reported convoys of Russian army trucks carrying oil leaving Groznyy under cover of night. Eventually the Russian forces reached an understanding with the insurgent fighters. Seeing one such convoy, a Western reporter asked his guerrilla hosts whether the fighters ever attacked such convoys. “No,” the leader replied. “They leave us alone and we leave them alone.”
No Exit for Putin
15. (C) Sometime between one and two years after Russian forces were unleashed for a second time on Chechnya, Putin appears to have realized that they were not going to deliver a neat victory. That failure would make Putin look weak at home, the human rights violations would estrange the West, and the drain on the Russian treasury would be punishing (this was before the dramatic rise in energy prices). Putin could not negotiate a peace with Maskhadov: he had already rejected that course and could not back down without appearing weak. The Khasavyurt accords that ended the first war were the result of defeat; a new set of accords would be seen as a new defeat. In any case, the history of the war (and the fate of General Romanov) made clear that negotiations without the subordination of the military were a physical impossibility.
16. (C) Putin thus found himself without a winning strategy and had to develop one. He has taken a two-pronged approach. One prong was subordinating the military. The appointment of Sergey Ivanov as Defense Minister appears to have been aimed at subjecting the military to the control of the security services. A series of reassignments and firings is the surface evidence of the struggle to subordinate the military in Chechnya. Southern Military District commander Troshev, who led the 1999 invasion, refused outright the first orders transferring him to Siberia in November 2002, and went on television to publicize his mutiny. He was finally removed in February 2003. Chief of the Defense Staff Kvashnin, who had held the Southern District command during the first Chechen war, hung on in a combative relationship with Ivanov for three years until he, too, was replaced in 2004 (and also sent to Siberia as the Presidential Representative in Novosibirsk). The spring 2005 dismissal of General Viktor Kazantsev, Putin’s Plenipotentiary Representative in the Southern Federal District, was reportedly the final link in the chain. Military corruption, and feeding at the trough of Chechnya, has not ended, but the corruption has reportedly been “institutionalized” and more closely regulated in Kremlin-controlled channels.
Chechenization, Ahmad-Haji Kadyrov, and the Salafists
17. (C) The second prong of Putin’s strategy was to hand the fighting over to Chechens. “Chechenization” differs from Vietnamization or Iraqification. In those strategies, a loyalist force is strengthened to the point at which it can carry on the fight itself. Chechenization, in contrast, has meant handing Chechnya over to the guerrillas in exchange for their professions of loyalty, the formal retention of Chechnya within the Russian Federation, and an uneasy cooperation with Federal authorities that in practice is constantly re-negotiated.
18. (C) Chechenization is associated with Ahmad-Haji Kadyrov, the insurgent commander and chief Mufti of separatist Chechnya. After he defected to the Russians, Putin put him in charge of the new Russian-installed Chechen administration. Chechenization was reportedly agreed between Kadyrov and Putin personally. But the seeds of the policy were sown by a split in the insurgent ranks dating to the first war. That split that took the form of a religious dispute, though it masked a power struggle among warlords. The split is the direct result of the introduction of a new element: Arab forces espousing a pan-Islamic Jihadist religious ideology.
19. (C) The traditional Islam of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia is based on Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. Though nominally the Sufi orders were the same as those predominant in Central Asia and Kurdistan — Naqshbandi and Qadiri — Sufism in the Northeast Caucasus took on a unique form in the 18th-19th century struggle against Russian encroachment. It is usually called “muridism.” Murids were armed acolytes of a hieratic commander, the murshid. Shaykh Shamil, the Naqshbandi murshid who led the mountaineers’ resistance to the Russians until his capture in 1859, was both a spiritual guide and a military commander. He also exercised government powers. The largest Sufi branch (“vird”) in Chechnya is the Kunta-Haji “vird” of the Qadiris, founded and led by the charismatic Chechen missionary Kunta-Haji Kishiyev until his exile by the Russians in 1864. Although the historical Kunta-Haji died two years later, his followers believe that Kunta-Haji lives on in occultation, like the Shi’a Twelfth Imam.
20. (C) When Arab fighters joined the Chechen conflict in 1995, they brought with them a “Salafist” doctrine that attempts to emulate the fundamental, “pure” Islam of the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate successors, especially ‘Umar, the second Caliph. It holds that mysticism is one of the “impurities” that crept into Islam after the first four Caliphs, and considers Sufis to be heretics and idolaters. The idea that Kunta-Haji adepts could believe their founder is still alive — and that they worship the grave of his mother — is an abomination to Salafis, who believe that marked graves are a form of pagan ancestor worship (Muhammad’s grave in Arabia is not marked).
21. (C) Wahhabism-based forms of Islam started appearing in Chechnya by 1991, as Chechens were able to travel and some went to Saudi Arabia for religious study. But the true influx of Salafis (usually lumped together with Wahhabis in Russia) came during the first Chechen war. In February 1995 Fathi ‘Ali al-Shishani, a Jordanian of Chechen descent, arrived in Chechnya. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he was now too old to be a combatant, but was a missionary for Salafism. He recruited another Afghan veteran, the Saudi al-Khattab, to come to Chechnya and lead a group of Arab fighters.
22. (C) Al-Khattab’s fighters were never a major military factor during the war, but they were the key to Gulf money, which financed power struggles in the inter-war years. Al-Khattab forged close links with Shamil Basayev, the most famous Chechen field commander. Basayev himself was from a Qadiri family, but he was too Sovietized to view Islam as anything more than part of the Chechen and Caucasus identity. In his early interviews, Basayev showed himself to be motivated by Chechen nationalism, not religion, though he paid lip-service — e.g., proclaiming Sharia law in Vedeno in early 1995 — to attract Gulf donors. Basayev’s initial interest in al-Khattab, as indeed with other jihadists starting even before the first war, was purely financial.
23. (C) After the first war, al-Khattab set up a camp in Serzhen-Yurt (“Baza Kavkaz”) for military and religious indoctrination. It provided one of the few employment opportunities for demobilized Chechen fighters between the wars. Young Chechens had traditionally engaged in seasonal migrant construction work throughout the Soviet Union, but after the first war that was no longer open to them. The closed international borders also precluded smuggling — another pre-war source of employment and income. The fighters had no money, no jobs, no education, no skills save with their guns, and no prospects. Al-Khattab’s offer of food, shelter and work was inviting. As a result, between the wars Salafism spread quickly in Chechnya. (Al-Khattab also invited missionaries and facilitators who set up shop in Chechnya, Dagestan and Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, whose Kist residents are close relatives of the Chechens.)
Battle Lines in Peacetime
24. (C) Chechen society is distinguished by its propensity to unite in war and fragment in peace. It is based on opposing dichotomies: the Vaynakh peoples are divided into Chechens and Ingush; the Chechens are divided into highlanders (“Lameroi”) and lowlanders (“Nokhchi”); and these are further divided into tribal confederations and exogamous tribes (“teyp”) and their subdivisions. Each unit will unite with its opposite to combat a threat from outside. Two lowland teyps, for example, will drop quarrels and unite against an intruding highland teyp. But left to themselves, they will quarrel and split. After the Khasavyurt accords, when Russia left the Chechens alone, the wartime alliance between Maskhadov and Basayev split and the two became enemies. Other warlords lined up on one side or the other — the Yamadayev brothers of Gudermes, for example, fighting a pitched battle against Basayev in 1999. But the rise of Basayev and al-Khattab undermined Maskhadov’s authority and prevented him from exercising any real power.
25. (C) This power struggle took on a religious expression. Since Basayev was associated with al-Khattab and Salafism, Maskhadov positioned himself as champion of traditional Sufism. He surrounded himself with Sufi shaykhs and appointed Ahmad-Haji Kadyrov, a strong adherent of Kunta-Haji Sufism, as Chechnya’s Mufti. Kadyrov had spent six years in Uzbekistan, allegedly at religious seminaries in Tashkent and Bukhara, and seems to have developed links to other enemies of Basayev, including the Yamadayevs.
26. (C) The religious division dictated certain policies to each side. The Sufi tradition of Maskhadov and Kadyrov had been associated for over two centuries with nationalist resistance. Basayev, with his new-found commitment to al-Khattab’s Salafism, adopted the Salafi stress on a pan-Islamic community (“umma”) fighting a worldwide jihad, notionally without regard for ethnic or national boundaries. Al-Khattab and Basayev invaded Dagestan in August 1999, avowedly in pursuit of a Caucasus-wide revolt against the Russians. They brought on a Russian invasion that threw Maskhadov out of Groznyy.
27. (C) The second Russian invasion did not unite the Chechens, as previous pressure had. Perhaps the influence of al-Khattab and his Salafists, as well as the devastation of the first war, had rent the fabric of Chechen society too much to restore traditional unity in the face of the outside threat. (We should also remember that unity is relative. Only a small percentage of the Chechens actually fought in the first war, and many supported the Russians out of disgust with Dudayev.) Kadyrov and the Yamadayevs separately broke with Maskhadov and defected to the Russians. Kadyrov began to recruit from the insurgency non-Salafist nationalist fighters who were highly demoralized and disoriented by the disastrous retreat from Groznyy in late 1999. Kadyrov began to preach what Kunta-Haji had preached after the Russian victory over Imam Shamil in 1859: to survive, the Chechens needed tactically to accept Russian rule. His message struck a chord, and fighters began to defect to his side.
28. (C) Putin appears to have stumbled upon Kadyrov, and their alliance seems to have grown out of chance as much as design. But they were able to forge a deal along the following lines: Kadyrov would declare loyalty to Russia and deliver loyalty to Putin; he would take over Maskhadov’s place at the head of the Russian-blessed government of Chechnya; he would try to win over Maskhadov’s fighters, to whom he could promise immunity; he would govern Chechnya with full autonomy, without interference from Russian officials below Putin’s level; and he would try to exterminate Basayev and Al-Khattab.
29. (C) If the objective of Chechenization was to win over fighters who would carry on the fight against Basayev and the Arab successors to Khattab (who was poisoned in April 2002), it has to be judged a success. The real fighting has for several years been carried out by Chechen forces who fight the war they want to fight — not the one the Russian military wants them to — and who appear happy to kill Russians when they get in the way. The Russian military is “just trying to survive,” as one officer put it. Not all the pro-Moscow Chechen units are composed of former guerrillas. Said-Magomed Kakiyev, commander of the GRU-controlled “West” battalion, has been fighting Dudayev and his successors since 1993. But at the heart of the pro-Moscow effort are fighters who defected from the anti-Moscow insurgency.
The Military Overstays Its Welcome
30. (C) The development of Kadyrov’s fighting force, along with that of the Yamadayev brothers, left the stage clear for a drawdown of Russian troops, certainly by early 2004 (leaving aside a permanent garrison presence). But those troops, still not fully responsive to FSB control, did not want to leave. Especially now that Chechens had taken over increasing parts of the security portfolio, the Russian officers were free to concentrate on their economic activities, and in particular oil smuggling.
31. (C) Kadyrov could not be fully autonomous until he — not the Russians — controlled Chechnya’s oil. He therefore demanded the creation of a Chechen oil company under his jurisdiction. That would have severely limited the ability of federal forces to divert and smuggle oil. On May 9, 2004, Kadyrov was assassinated by an enormous bomb planted under his seat at the annual VE Day celebration. The killing was officially ascribed to Chechen rebels, but many believe it was the Russian Army’s way of rejecting Kadyrov’s demand. Under the circumstances, one cannot exclude that both versions are true.
In the Reign of Ramzan
32. (C) Kadyrov’s passing left power in the hands of his son Ramzan, who was officially made Deputy Prime Minister. The President, Alu Alkhanov, was a figurehead put in place because Ramzan was underage. The Prime Minister, Sergey Abramov, was tasked with interfacing between Kadyrov and Moscow below the level of Putin.
33. (C) Ramzan Kadyrov has none of the religious or personal prestige that his father had. He is a warlord pure and simple — one of several, like the Yamadayev family of warlords. He is lucky, however, in that his father left him a sufficient fighting force of ex-rebels. Though they may have been lured away from the insurgency for a variety of reasons, it is money that keeps them. Kadyrov feels little need for ideological or religious prestige, though he makes an occasional statement designed to appeal to Muslims, and makes a point of supporting the pilgrimage to the tomb of Kunta-Haji’s mother in Gunoy, near Vedeno (though that is in part to show he is stronger than Basayev, whose home and power base are in the Vedeno region). Kadyrov must only satisfy his troops, who on occasion have shown that, if offended or not given enough, they are willing to desert along with their kinsmen and return to the mountains to fight against him. He must also guard against the possibility, as some charge, that some of the fighters who went over to Federal forces did so under orders from guerrilla commanders for whom they are still working.
34. (C) Kadyrov is also fortunate in that the FSB, with whom he has close ties, has by this time emasculated the military as “prong one” of Putin’s strategy. Kadyrov has slowly but surely also taken over most of the spigots of money that once fed the army, and like his father he has started agitating for overt control over Chechnya’s oil (while prudently ensuring that others take the lead on that in public). Kadyrov is at least as corrupt as the military, but the money he expropriates for himself from Moscow’s subsidies is accepted as his pay-off for keeping things quiet. And indeed Kadyrov and the other warlords are capable of maintaining a certain degree of security in Chechnya. The showy “reconstruction” developments they have built in Groznyy and their home towns demonstrate that the guerrillas cannot or at least do not halt construction and economic activity. Moreover, there is enough security to end Putin’s worries about a secessionist victory. That has allowed Putin to demonstrate a new willingness to be increasingly overt in support of separatism in other conflicts (e.g., Abkhazia, Transnistria) when that advances Russian interests.
35. (C) Despite its successes to date, however, Putin’s strategy is far from completed. He still needs to keep forces in the region as a constant reminder to Kadyrov not to backtrack on his professed loyalty to the Kremlin. Ideally, that force would be small but capable of intervening effectively in Chechen internal affairs. That is unrealistic at present. The current forces, reportedly over 25,000, are bunkered and corrupt. When they venture on patrol they are routinely attacked. One attempt to redress this is to position Russian forces close but “over the horizon” in Dagestan, where a major military base is under construction at Botlikh. However, that may only add to the instability of Dagestan. A Duma Deputy from the region told us that locals are vehemently opposed to the new military base, despite the economic opportunities it represents, on grounds that the soldiers will “corrupt the morals of their children.”
36. (C) Another approach is the Chechenization of the Federal forces themselves. Recently “North” and “South” battalions of ethnically Chechen special forces — drawn from Kadyrov’s militia — were created to supplement the “East” and “West” battalions of Sulim Yamadayev and Said-Magomed Kakiyev. Those formations are officially part of the Russian army. The Kremlin strategy appears to be to check Kadyrov by promoting warlords he cannot control, and to check the FSB from becoming too clientized by allowing the MOD to retain a sphere of influence. In Chechnya, that is a recipe for open fighting. We saw one small instance of that on April 25, when bodyguards of Kadyrov and Chechen President Alkhanov got into a firefight. According to one insider, the clash originated in Kadyrov’s desire to get rid of Alkhanov, who now has close ties with Yamadayev.
What Can We Expect in the Future?
37. (C) The Chechen population is the great loser in this game. It bears an ever heavier burden in shake-downs, opportunity costs from misappropriation of reconstruction funds, and the constant trauma of victimization and abuse — including abduction, torture, and murder — by the armed thugs who run Chechnya (reftels). Security under those circumstances is a fragile veneer, and stability an illusion. The insurgency can continue indefinitely, at a low level and without prospects of success, but significant enough to serve as a pretext for the continued rule of thuggery.
38. (C) The insurgency will remain split between those who want to carry on Maskhadov’s non-Salafist struggle for national independence and those who follow the Salafi-influenced Basayev in his pursuit of a Caucasus-wide Caliphate. But the nationalists have been undercut by Kadyrov. Despite Sadullayev’s efforts, the insurgency inside Chechnya is not likely to meet with success and will continue to become more Salafist in tone.
39. (C) Prospects would be poor for the nationalists even if Kadyrov and/or Yamadayev were assassinated (and there is much speculation that one will succeed in killing the other, goaded on by the FSB which supports Kadyrov and the GRU which supports Yamadayev). The thousands of guerrillas who have joined those two militias have by now lost all ideological incentive. Since they already run the country, they feel themselves, not the Russians, to be the masters, and are not responsive to Sadullayev’s nationalist calls; Basayev’s Salafist message has even less appeal to them. Even if their current leaders are eliminated, all they will need is a new warlord, easily generated from within their organizations, and they can continue on their current paths.
40. (C) We expect that Salafism will continue to grow. The insurgents even inside Chechnya are reportedly becoming predominantly Salafist, as opposition on a narrowly nationalist basis offers less hope of success. Salafis will come both from inside Chechnya, where militia excesses outrage the population, and from elsewhere in the Caucasus, where radicalization is proceeding rapidly as a result of the repressive policies of Russia’s regional satraps. There are numerous eyewitness accounts from both Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria that elite young adults and university students are joining Salafist groups. In one case, a terrorist killed in Dagestan was found recently to have defended his doctoral dissertation at Moscow State University — on Wahhabism in the North Caucasus. These young adults, denied economic opportunities, turn to religion as an outlet. They find, however, that representatives of the traditional religious establishments in these republics, long isolated under the thumb of Soviet restrictions, are ill-educated and ill-prepared to deal with the sophisticated theological arguments developed by generations of Salafists in the Middle East. Most of those who join fundamentalist jamaats do not, of course, become terrorists. But a percentage do, and with that steady source of recruits the major battlefield could shift to outside Chechnya, with armed clashes in other parts of the North Caucasus and a continuation of sporadic but spectacular terrorist acts in Moscow and other parts of Russia.
41. (C) Outside Chechnya, the most likely venue for clashes with authorities is Dagestan. Putin’s imposition of a “power vertical” there has upset the delicate clan and ethnic balance that offered a shaky stability since the collapse of Soviet power. He installed a president (the weak Mukhu Aliyev) in place of a 14-member multi-ethnic presidential council. Aliyev will be unable to prevent a ruthless struggle among the elite — the local way of elaborating a new balance of power. This is already happening, with assassinations of provincial chiefs since Aliyev took over. In one province in the south of the republic, an uprising against the chief appointed by Aliyev’s predecessor was suppressed by gunfire. Four demonstrators were shot dead, initiating a cycle of blood revenge. In May, in two Dagestani cities security force operations against “terrorists” resulted in major shootouts, with victims among the bystanders and whole apartment houses rendered uninhabitable after hits from the security forces’ heavy weaponry. It is not clear whether the “terrorists” were really religious activists (“Whenever they want to eliminate someone, they call him a Wahhabi,” the MP from Makhachkala told us). But the populace, seeing the deadly over-reaction of the security forces, is feeling sympathy for their victims — so much so that Aliyev has had to make public condemnations of the actions of the security forces. If this chaos deepens, as appears likely, the Jihadist groups (“jamaats”) may grow, drift further in Basayev’s direction, and feel the need to respond to attacks from the local government.
42. (C) Local forces are unreliable in such cases, for clan and blood-feud reasons. Wahhabist jamaats flourished in the strategic ethnically Dargin districts of Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi in the mid-1990s, but Dagestan’s rulers left them alone because moving against them meant altering the delicate ethnic balance between Dargins and Avars. Only when the jamaats themselves became expansive during the Basayev/Khattab invasion from Chechnya in the summer of 1999 did the Makhachkala authorities take action, and then only with the assistance of Federal forces. Ultimately, if clashes break out on a wide scale in Dagestan, Moscow would have to send in the Federal army. Deploying the army to combat destabilization in Dagestan, however, could jeopardize Putin’s hard-won control over it. Unleashing the army against a “terrorist” threat is just that: allowing the army off its new leash. Large-scale army deployments to Dagestan would be especially attractive to the officers, since the border with Azerbaijan offers lucrative opportunities for contraband trade. The army’s presence, in turn, would further destabilize Dagestan and all but guarantee chaos.
43. (C) Indeed, destabilization is the most likely prospect we see when we look further down the road to the next decade. Chechenization allows bellicose Chechen leaders to throw their weight around in the North Caucasus even more than an independent Chechnya would. A case in point is the call on April 24 by Chechen Parliament Speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov for unification of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, implicitly under Chechen domination (the one million Chechens would constitute a plurality in the new republic of 4.5 million). The call soured slowly normalizing relations between Chechnya and Ingushetia, according to a Chechen official in Moscow, though the Dagestanis treated the proposal as a joke.
What Should Putin Be Doing?
44. (C) Right now Putin’s policy towards Chechnya is channeled through Kadyrov and Yamadayev. Putin’s Plenipotentiary Representative (PolPred) for the Southern Federal District, Dmitriy Kozak, appears to have little influence. He was not even invited when Putin addressed the new Parliament in Groznyy last December. Putin needs to stop taking Kadyrov’s phone calls and start working more through his PolPred and the government’s special services. He also needs to increase Moscow’s civilian engagement with Chechnya.
45. (C) Putin should continue to reform the military and the other Power Ministries. Having asserted control through Sergey Ivanov, Putin has denied the military certain limited areas in which it had pursued criminal activity — but left most of its criminal enterprises untouched. He has done little if anything to form the discipline of a modern army deployable to impose order in unstable regions such as the North Caucasus. Recent hazing incidents show that discipline is still equated with sadism and brutality. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) has undergone even less reform. The Chechenization of the security services, despite its obvious drawbacks, has shown that locals can carry out security tasks more effectively than Russian troops.
46. (C) Lastly, Putin should realize that his current policy course is not preventing the growth of militant, armed Jihadism. Rather, every time his subordinates try to douse the flames, the fire grows hotter and spreads farther. Putin needs to check the firehose; he may find they are spraying the fire with gasoline. He needs to work out a credible strategy, employing economic and cultural levers, to deal with the issue of armed Jihadism. Some Russians do “get it.” An advisor to Kozak gave a lecture recently that showed he understands in great detail the issues surrounding the growth of militant jihadism. Kozak himself made clear in a recent conversation with the Ambassador that he appreciates clearly the deep social and economic roots of Russia’s problems in the North Caucasus — and the need to employ more than just security measures to solve them. We have not, however, seen evidence that consciousness of the true problem has yet made its way to Moscow from Kozak’s office in Rostov-on-Don.
47. (C) We need also to be aware that Putin’s strategy is generating a backlash in Moscow. Ramzan Kadyrov’s excesses, his Putin-given immunity from federal influence, and the special laws that apply to Chechnya alone (such as the exemption of Chechens from military service elsewhere in Russia) are leading to charges by some Moscow observers that Putin has allowed Chechnya de facto to secede. Putin is strong enough to weather such criticism, but the ability of a successor to do so is less clear.
Is There a Role for the U.S.?
48. (C) Russia does not consider the U.S. a friend in the Caucasus, and our capacity to influence Russia, whether by pressure, persuasion or assistance, is small. What we can do is continue to try to push the senior tier of Russian officials towards the realization that current policies are conducive to Jihadism, which threatens broader stability as well; and that shifting the responsibility for victimizing and looting the people from a corrupt, brutal military to corrupt, brutal locals is not a long-term solution.
49. (C) Making headway with Putin or his successor will require close cooperation with our European allies. They, like the Russians, tend to view the issue through a strictly counter-terrorism lens. The British, for example, link their “dialogue with Islam” closely with their counter-terrorist effort (on which they liaise with the Russians), reinforcing the conception of a monolithic Muslim identity predisposed to terrorism. That reinforces the Russian view that the problem of the North Caucasus can be consigned to the terrorism basket, and that finding a solution means in the first instance finding a better way to kill terrorists.
50. (C) We and the Europeans need to put our proposals of assistance to the North Caucasus in a different context: one that recognizes the role of religion in North Caucasus cultures, but also emphasizes our interest in and support for the non-religious aspects of North Caucasus society, including civil society. This last will need exceptional delicacy, as the Russians and the local authorities are convinced that the U.S. uses civil society to foment “color revolutions” and anti-Russian regimes. There is a danger that our civil society partners could become what Churchill called “the inopportune missionary” who, despite impeccable intentions, sets back the larger effort. That need not be the case.
51. (C) Our interests call for an understanding of the context and a positive emphasis. We cannot expect the Russians to react well if we limit our statements to condemnations of Kadyrov, butcher though he may be. We need to find targeted areas in which we can work with the Russians to get effective aid into Chechnya. At the same time, we need to be on our guard that our efforts do not appear to constitute U.S. support for Kremlin or local policies that abuse human rights. We must also avoid a shift that endorses the Kremlin assertion that there is no longer a humanitarian crisis in Chechnya, which goes hand-in-hand with the Russian request that the UN and its donors end humanitarian assistance to the region and increase technical and “recovery” assistance. We and other donors need to maintain a balance between humanitarian and recovery assistance.
52. (C) Aside from the political optic, a rush to cut humanitarian assistance before recovery programs are fully up and running would leave a vacuum into which jihadist influences would leap. The European Commission Humanitarian Organization, the largest provider of aid, shows signs of rushing to stress recovery over humanitarian assistance; we should not follow suit. Humanitarian assistance has been effective in relieving the plight of Chechen IDPs in Ingushetia. It has been less effective inside Chechnya, where the GOR and Kadyrov regime built temporary accommodation centers for returning IDPs, but have not passed on enough resources to secure a reasonable standard of living. International organizations are hampered by limited access to Chechnya out of security concerns, but where they are able to operate freely they have made a great difference, e.g., WHO’s immunization program.
53. (C) Resources aimed at Chechnya often wind up in private pockets. Though international assistance has a better record than Russian assistance and is more closely monitored, we must also be wary of assistance that lends itself to massive corruption and state-sponsored banditry in Chechnya: too much of the money loaned in a microfinance program there, for example, would be expropriated by militias. Presidential Advisor Aslakhanov told us last December that Kadyrov expropriates for himself one third off the top of all assistance. Therefore, while we continue well-monitored humanitarian assistance inside Chechnya, we should broaden our efforts for “recovery” to other parts of the region that are threatened by jihadism: Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and possibly Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Among these, we need to try to steer our assistance ($11.5 million for FY 2006) to regional officials, such as President Kanokov of Kabardino-Balkaria, who have shown that they are willing to introduce local reforms and get rid of the brutal security officials whose repressive acts feed the Jihadist movement.
54. (C) We also need to coordinate closely with Kozak (or his successor), both to strengthen his position vis–vis the warlords and to ensure that everything we do is perceived by the Russians as transparent and not aimed at challenging the GOR’s hold on a troubled region. The present opposite perception by the GOR may be behind its reluctance to cooperate with donors, the UN and IFIs on long-term strategic engagement in the region. For example, the GOR has delayed for months a 20-million-Euro TACIS program designed with GOR input.
55. (C) The interagency paper “U.S. Policy in the North Caucasus — The Way Forward” provides a number of important principles for positive engagement. We need to emphasize programs in accordance with those principles which are most practical under current and likely future conditions, and which can be most effective in targeting the most vulnerable, where federal and local governments lack the will and capacity to assist, and in combating the spread of jihadism both inside Chechnya and throughout the North Caucasus region. There are areas — for example, health care and child welfare — in which assistance fits neatly with Russian priorities, containing both humanitarian and recovery components.
56. (C) We can also emphasize programs that help create jobs and job opportunities: microfinance (where feasible), credit cooperatives and small business development, and educational exchanges. U.S. sponsored training programs for credit cooperatives and government budgeting functions have been very popular. Exchanges, through the IVP program and Community Connections, are an especially effective way of exposing future leaders to the world beyond the narrow propaganda they have received, and to generate a multiplier effect in enterprise. In addition to the effects the programs themselves can have in providing alternatives to religious extremism, such assistance can also have a demonstration effect: showing the Russians that improved governance and delivery of services can be more effective in stabilizing the region than attempts to impose order by force.
57. (C) Lastly, we need to look ahead in our relations with Azerbaijan and Georgia to ensure that they become more active and effective players in helping to contain instability in the North Caucasus. That will serve their own security interests as well. Salafis need connections to their worldwide network. Strengthening border forces is more important than ever. Azerbaijan, especially, is well placed to trade with Dagestan and Chechnya. The ethnic Azeris, Lezghis and Avars living on both sides of the Azerbaijan-Dagestan border and friendly relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are tools for promoting stability.
58. (C) The situation in the North Caucasus is trending towards destabilization, despite the increase in security inside Chechnya. The steps we believe Putin must take are those needed to reverse that trend, and the efforts we have outlined for ourselves are premised on a desire to promote a lasting stabilization built on improved governance, a more active civil society, and steps towards democratization. But we must be realistic about Russia’s willingness and ability to take the necessary steps, with or without our assistance. Real stabilization remains a low probability. Sound policy on Chechnya is likely to continue to founder in the swamp of corruption, Kremlin infighting and succession politics. Much more probable is a new phase of instability that will be felt throughout the North Caucasus and have effects beyond. BURNSPost Views: 463
Update Note: I’ve updated this cable to reflect the one on the Wikileaks site. As Ed Lucas noted (see comments below), the Russian Reporter version which I originally posted, is different from the Wikileaks.
When reading this cable, most will certainly emphasize the statement that “often political factors temper the [FSB’s and MVD’s] enthusiasm for pursuing prominent targets.” This is certainly true, but hardly surprising. As is the idea that high ranking police officials are political players linked in a vertical chain of bureaucratic and personal clans. What I find interesting about this cable, however, is this statement: “Despite the changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s security services hew closer ideologically to the model of the Imperial Okhrana (secret police) than the law-enforcement services of our Western allies.” Unfortunately, Rubin doesn’t elaborate on what exactly this means, except to suggest that the FSB and MVD, like the Okhrana of yore, engage in selective prosecutions and its entrails are thoroughly politicized. Nevertheless, I just appreciate the fact that he even referenced the Imperial state police. It often forgotten, or at least rarely acknowledged, that Russia’s police has a Tsarist tradition, which even the Soviet leaders couldn’t help respecting. As V. V. Molotov said in one of his interviews with F. Chuev, “How many provocateurs—intelligent, capable, well-prepared! The Tsarist okhrana worked excellently,” adding that “they had smarter people than ours.” I wonder what Molotov would think of Russia’s current “punitive organs.”****
C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 002749
FBI FOR DIRECTOR MUELLER FROM AMBASSADOR BEYRLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/05/2019
TAGS: KJUS PINS PREL PTER SOCI RS
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR VISIT OF FBI DIRECTOR MUELLER TO MOSCOW, NOVEMBER 15-17, 2009
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN BEYRLE, REASONS 1.4 (B), (C), (D), AND (F)
1. (C) Summary. Director Mueller: Your engagement with Russia’s top law enforcement and security service officials is a tangible sign that U.S.-Russian relations are improving markedly after hitting bottom in the summer of 2008. Recent visits by President Obama and Secretary Clinton have demonstrated to the Russians that we take their concerns seriously and have produced more positive momentum in our bilateral ties than I have seen in over a decade. The Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) will play a key role in building confidence and giving us regular contact with key elements of the GOR bureaucracy, including the often obstructionist law-enforcement organs. The BPC can strengthen joint efforts to combat terrorism, organized crime and other shared concerns.
2. (C) Summary continued. You should harbor no illusions about your counterparts: FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov, SVR Director Mikhail Fradkov, and Internal Affairs Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev represent institutions that feel threatened — ideologically and materially — by the “reset” in our relations. At the same time, they appreciate the benefits that cooperation with the U.S. provides, not only in achieving their assigned missions, but also in enhancing their country’s position internationally. End Summary.
Domestic Political Context
3. (C) After almost two years of tandem leadership, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin govern based on a still-evolving division of labor. Medvedev, the junior partner, has been a steady advocate of modernization — economic, political and technological. Constitutionally, he has the lead in foreign policy, but makes no major decisions without some form of consultation with Putin, most of which is obscure to the outside world. In addition to governing behind the scenes, Putin has been visible in tackling recent crises such as the conflict with Georgia, gas supply negotiations with Ukraine, and localized unrest due to the economic crisis. Although there is evidence that their closest advisors spar privately over policies and personnel matters, the two leaders appear united and project complete ease with one another in the media. Medvedev has yet to make major changes to the senior staff he inherited from Putin. Putin remains more popular than Medvedev.
4. (C) Russia’s recent economic problems and uncertainty about the future of the Medvedev-Putin “tandem” have reinforced long-standing elite divisions between the “siloviki” (officials from the security and intelligence services) and the modernizers. Your interlocutors are leading representatives of the siloviki; they are Putin proteges who believe a strong state exercising effective political and economic control is the answer to most problems. They advocate tightening the screws against domestic opposition and their alleged external supporters — principally the U.S. and its Western allies. The modernizers recognize that Russia’s future depends on integration with the world economy and that confronting some of the country’s most stubborn problems — such as corruption — requires transparency and the impartial application of the law.
5. (C) The security services are skeptical about the West’s motivations and are the most influential opponents of the engagement agenda. Bortnikov, Fradkov, and Nurgaliyev tend toward a Cold War mentality, which sees the U.S. and its allies intent on undermining Russia — and they have made public accusations to that effect. None of them is within the “inner circle” of Kremlin decision-making, but instead enjoy the reflected power of their sponsors and allies. According to one expert, Fradkov and Bortnikov share a background in dealing with economic issues — working behind the scenes to check the influence of Russia’s powerful business magnates and advance the interests of their allies. Fradkov, a former prime minister under Putin who allegedly worked for Soviet intelligence in the 1970s in brokering arms sales to India, has a mandate to protect the interests of Russian companies abroad. Fradkov works closely with the powerful state corporations and has ties to the influential First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. Bortnikov spent his entire career in the FSB working on economic issues, including a stint as head of the FSB Economic Security Service. In that role Bortnikov worked on the government’s campaign against the oligarchs. Many consider Bortnikov as the protege of his predecessor, Nikolay Patrushev, now the Secretary of the Security Council, and also indirectly allied with Sechin. Of the three, only Fradkov has any real experience in foreign relations gained during his tenure as Russian Ambassador to the EU from 2003-2004 and his work in the Ministry of Foreign Trade during the 1990s.
6. (C) Nevertheless, there are indications that they value work with other services on specific issues of mutual interest. Perhaps most telling, Nurgaliyev has supported cooperative relationships with his counterparts around the globe, demonstrated by his personal efforts to secure an INTERPOL training center in Moscow, and he has been a good partner for the U.S. in its efforts to protect intellectual property rights. Moreover, Nurgaliyev has openly lamented the culture of corruption with Russia’s law enforcement system and has been a strong supporter of Medvedev’s well-publicized campaign against corruption.
7. (C) Despite the changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s security services more closely resemble the model of the Czarist-era Okhrana (secret police) than Western law-enforcement institutions. State security remains the services’ primary responsibility and all three organizations devote considerable attention and resources to counter-intelligence and domestic intelligence work. While the FSB and MVD nominally share the FBI’s responsibilities — criminal prosecution, organized crime, and counter-terrorism — they are also fully immersed in Russia’s political battles. Political factors determine the services’ enthusiasm for pursuing investigations and independent analysts believe individuals within the security services are linked with organized crime.
8. (C) Russian security service leaders play a far more open political role than their counterparts in the West. Your three interlocutors accrue political power in the Russian system by using the legal system against political enemies — turning the courts into weapons of political warfare rather than independent arbiters. They control large numbers of men and resources — the MVD alone has more than 190,000 soldiers in its internal security divisions. Despite their similar outlook and background, they are often competitors for influence against each other — with shadowy conflicts occasionally bubbling to the surface.
9. (C) After the “color” revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, Russian security services stepped up their efforts against the U.S. and other Western powers, whom they blame for inciting the protests and overthrowing the governments in Tbilisi and Kyiv. Their officers maintain constant vigilance against the U.S. government representatives through active surveillance and they have sought to stifle U.S. humanitarian programs in the North Caucasus. MVD forces harass and intimidate political opposition protests while “investigations” against Western-supported NGOs for trumped up charges (like using pirated software) have hindered the work that those organizations seek to accomplish.
10. (C) Concern about potential social unrest associated with the recent economic crisis provided justification for the security services’ push earlier this year to eliminate jury trials and to broaden the definition of “treason” to include the organization of protests against the government; the former became a law, while Medvedev withdrew the treason law for revision. In December, the MVD deployed special “OMON” forces in Vladivostok against demonstrators protesting new taxes on imported automobiles, key economic sector in that region. They have shelved plans to reduce the number of MVD internal troops, ostensibly to retain a security force for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.
11. (C) The marked deterioration of security in the North Caucasus over the past three months has alarmed regional and national leaders. The car bomb that nearly killed Yunus-bek Yevkurov, President of the Republic of Ingushetia, has dampened the initial optimism that Yevkurov could bring ethnic and religious groups together. The continued threat of separatism, extremism, and terrorism — particularly in the North Caucasus — is a priority issue for the security services. Ethnic conflict and social unrest continue to simmer in Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other republics in the troubled Caucasus region. The MVD has more than 15,000 soldiers stationed in Chechnya, an additional regiment in Ingushetia, and has created three “special forces” (spetznaz) counter-terrorism units in Moscow, Smolensk, and Chelyabinsk.
A Challenging Relationship
12. (C) While portions of the FSB are working cooperatively with US law enforcement, some sections, particularly those dealing with counterintelligence, are not. Harassing activity against all embassy personnel has spiked in the past several months to a level not seen in many years. Embassy personnel have suffered personally slanderous and falsely prurient attacks in the media. Family members have been the victims of psychologically terrifying assertions that their USG employee spouses had met accidental deaths. Home intrusions have become far more commonplace and bold, and activity against our locally engaged Russian staff continues at a record pace. We have no doubt that this activity originates in the FSB. Counterintelligence challenges remain a hallmark of service at Embassy Moscow. This fact is unlikely to change in the medium term.
13. (C) Despite the challenges of working with our Russian counterparts, your visit takes place in the context of strong Kremlin backing and a climate of renewed opportunity. Since your 2004 trip to Russia, the success of joint investigation programs with the MVD and FSB on organized crime, counter-terrorism, and cybercrime has demonstrated the potential gains that a cooperative relationship can provide. It is premature to say we have reached a turning point in overcoming security service suspicions about U.S. intentions, but the vigor in which the FSB has pursued your visit (including covering the cost of the over flight and airport landing fees) shows a definite thaw after last year’s war in Georgia. At a minimum, we can expect the Russian side to welcome your continued advocacy for the Joint FBI-MVD working group on organized crime, efforts to work together to fight cybercrime, and other cooperative projects. We also expect them to be receptive to a renewed invitation for a law enforcement officer to attend the FBI’s National Academy at Quantico.
BeyrlePost Views: 382
DE RUEHMO #2688/01 3031153
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 301153Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5229
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 002688
EO 12958 DECL: 10/26/2019
TAGS PGOV, PHUM, KDEM, RS
SUBJECT: IS STALIN’S GHOST A THREAT TO ACADEMIC FREEDOM?
REF: A) MOSCOW 2586 B) MOSCOW 1349
Classified By: Pol Min Counselor Susan Elliott for reason 1.4 (d)
1. (C) Summary: Efforts to sanitize Stalin’s role in Soviet history may be potentially damaging to academic freedom and linked to GOR efforts to increase authoritarian rule. Although some recent incidents have caused concern among human rights monitors, thus far GOR efforts to enlist academics to help oppose “falsification of history” have not been strongly enforced. GOR rhetoric on the subject appears largely aimed at scoring political points in arguments with foreign countries. End Summary.
Stalin’s ghost haunts the Metro
2. (SBU) The specter of Joseph Stalin continues to haunt post-Soviet Russia, as the GOR and average Russians alike struggle to reconcile their pride in past Soviet glories with the harsh fact that the Soviet system, especially under Stalin, destroyed the lives of millions of its citizens. This uneasy and ambivalent relationship with the past is further complicated by a GOR policy of occasionally exploiting nationalistic emotions about Soviet history — especially the Soviet victory over the Nazis — to buttress support for its own, modern brand of authoritarianism (ref A). The latest dispute flared up after Moscow City Hall announced on October 27 that it would add Lenin’s name to artwork in the Kurskaya Metro station which, since August, has carried a restored verse from the 1944 version of the Soviet anthem praising Stalin. Moscow’s chief architect, Aleksandr Kuzmin, told local media that he wanted to “return Kurskaya to its original appearance,” which would include a monument to Stalin. An article in the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, a paper not always known for liberal opposition, noted wryly that if the goal was to return things to their original appearance, it might be necessary to blanket the entire city with Stalin’s image, as authorities had done during the height of Stalin’s totalitarian reign of terror. Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov told Interfax October 28 that the city had no intention of placing a Stalin statue in the Metro, and the Moscow Patriarchate criticized the idea of “Stalinist symbols” in the Metro, calling it “divisive.”
Academic freedom under threat?
3. (C) GOR efforts to sanitize Soviet history have continued throughout the year, and have the potential to reach into numerous walks of life and hence to encroach upon academic freedom. In May, the Kremlin announced that it had formed a “Commission to Oppose Historical Falsification,” and its state Duma supporters introduced legislation to defend Russia’s honor in any discussion of World War II and the subsequent creation of the Soviet Union (ref B). Less than a month later, in June, XXXXXXXXXXXX leaked to us an email allegedly from V.A. Tishkov, the Chief of the History Section of RAN, politely “requesting” all faculty to present him with information in connection with the GOR’s May announcement. The information requested included a list of sources of possible “falsification” in their field of study, and information about activity among their students promoting the spread of “falsification” or of “concepts damaging to Russia’s interests.” More recently, on October 14, the Moscow Times reported that the German government had written a letter to President Medvedev complaining about an investigation into an Arkhangelsk historian, Mikhail Suprun, for “violating privacy rights” by researching deportations of Soviet Germans under Stalin. The police official who gave Suprun access to the archives is also accused of “abuse of office,” while Suprun could receive up to four years in prison, and has had what he called “a lifetime’s work” on computers and research data confiscated by the Federal Security Service (FSB).
4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that she personally knew professors at academic institutions in Moscow who had received such memos during the summer, including memos asking them to “identify falsifiers.” She added that the Foreign Intelligence Service also has a presence at RAN. Discussing this potentially disturbing trend, XXXXXXXXXXXX also alluded to the “unpleasant rewrites” found in officially sanctioned textbooks which whitewash Stalin’s role in the country’s history. While acknowledging the existence of “a broad variety” of history books (approximately 24 schoolbooks on history are available in bookstores), XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that the official version outnumbers the others by 250,000 books to approximately 10-15,000. Furthermore, in Russia as in the U.S., parents do not buy their children’s history books, but rather the schools order them, which XXXXXXXXXXXX said makes the choice “pre-determined.” On October 24, the liberal Daily Journal reported the release of the latest in a long line of history textbooks rehabilitating Stalin; this one, ironically produced by the “Enlightenment” publishing company, denies the existence of totalitarianism in the USSR. The article noted that every time someone brings up the topic of history, it engendered a furious on-line debate.
6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that a “virtual war” has flared up between pro-Kremlin and anti-Kremlin bloggers every time someone published papers on the Internet that they received from state archives 15 years ago detailing Soviet human rights abuses. The papers date back 15 years, XXXXXXXXXXXX explained, because now, “as in Soviet times,” people need to complete special applications to receive permission to read such documents. A brief window opened after the fall of the Soviet Union, and just as quickly closed again.
The past is not dead; it is not even past
7. (C) For XXXXXXXXXXXX, such debates tell as much about the present as they do about the past. He believes that the GOR is “trying to create a newly obedient society,” which “as in Orwell,” only knows history from a standpoint beneficial to the authorities. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, “when the power structure talks about falsification, they are simply attempting to hide part of history.” He added that knowledge of the real history carries significant power. He was struck by the “shock” of people who learned historical facts, because “sometimes just one fact can overturn a person’s whole world view.” For example, XXXXXXXXXXXX daughter, who studied in the USSR and teaches history in high school, upon learning that XXXXXXXXXXXX grandfather had been killed in the 1937 purges, talked of little else for several years afterward. According to XXXXXXXXXXX, “the Kremlin fears people learning about past atrocities and crimes,” and hence “tries to manipulate people’s consciousness.” XXXXXXXXXXX added that he understands the GOR’s policy, because “if people knew the extent of Soviet crimes,” the Kremlin would not be able to control the populace. XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed a similar view, saying that the GOR prefers to present itself as “infallible, making only correct decisions,” and that discussions about Stalin’s misdeeds might lead to unwanted questions for today’s government.
8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX said he suspected that at least some of the pro-Kremlin bloggers who participate in these historical debates were professionals in the pay of the GOR (and perhaps special services). This notion may not be so far-fetched. On October 21, Interfax reported that a supposedly private citizen named Mikhail Baranov had launched an Internet portal called “Runivers” to fight “falsification of history” by creating a historical and cultural electronic encyclopedia and library. The article describes Baranov’s organization as “non-commercial,” and does not indicate from where — during these economically tight times — it receives its funding. However, a State Duma deputy who is a member of the Runivers board, Vladimir Medinskiy, lamented to Interfax that “Russia does not have an institution that would be dealing in historical propaganda, which is why we are losing in the war aimed to falsify Russian history.”
A “wink” is the easiest response to GOR directives
9. (C) The fact that Russia currently lacks such a “historical propaganda” institution has thus far prevented any widespread attacks on academic freedom in the name of “anti-falsification.” XXXXXXXXXXXX, told us October 27 that he had heard no reports from any of his MGU colleagues of any pressure on them to present teaching materials or name names in order to ferret out “falsification.” He attributed this at least in part to the fact that, in contrast to neighboring Belarus, Russia has no Ideological Department which examines all teaching materials in schools and universities. XXXXXXXXXXXX also cautioned against leaping to Orwellian conclusions, reminding us not to “underestimate the cynicism” involved in administrative requests like the one at RAN. “Everyone knows how to take such requests,” she said; the request from the government is “ugly,” but unlike in Soviet times, when professors all depended upon the government for their currently there is no way to enforce such decrees. As a result, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX, “people wink”; the administrators, while passing along the government’s request, make it clear to their subordinates that they themselves do not support it. XXXXXXXXXXXX pointed out that many historians may be outraged at the government’s heavy-handedness and its “real falsification of history,” but they don’t see themselves as a unified force. The simplest response is to use the power of inertia, and to stonewall passively.
Goal of GOR rhetoric: score political points at home
10. (C) For the GOR’s part, it held a session of its Commission during the summer, and its director claimed that participants were “not here to censor, but simply to oppose” perceived attempts by other countries to gain at Russia’s expense on the geopolitical scene. Although the stated focus is on international disputes, the GOR’s primary audience for its hardline stance is domestic. Rhetoric defending Russia’s honor on the international stage scores easy political points for the GOR at home. (Note: This occasionally results in some fancy footwork, as when Putin visited Poland on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and wrote a conciliatory article for his Polish audience, which — according to Lipman, by GOR design — received scant coverage in Russian media. End Note.) As XXXXXXXXXXXX said, “there is a lot of vagueness about the past, but World War II is the one thing everyone in Russia accepts, both liberal and conservative; the narrative is that Germany attacked, and we won.” That Stalin continues to have a following, 56 years after his death, is undeniable. After Aleksandr Prokhanov, editor-in-chief of the ultranationalist paper Zavtra, praised Stalin on the “Honest Monday” political talk show on Gazprom-owned NTV, television audience members were invited to phone in their opinions. Of those who participated, 61 percent called Stalin a hero, 32 percent an enemy, and 7 percent “a great, effective manager.”
11. (C) Recent reports of the death of academic freedom in Russia are greatly exaggerated. GOR leaders have shown that they are willing to adopt nationalistic postures when it buttresses their popular support, but attempts to dictate academic terms thus far appear half-hearted. The GOR is no doubt telling the truth when it claims to place greater focus on external quarrels about its past than on domestic debates. It is undeniable that nationalists continue to link Russia’s past greatness with its past political system, which showed disdain for the value of individual human life and for freedom of expression, and that this approach places these fundamental freedoms under threat. However, there remain enough Russians both in and out of the government who question the nationalists’ logic and strive to keep the memory of Stalin’s victims alive. In the meantime, the GOR occasionally remembers to name a street after Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn just to make sure that nobody confuses them with the Soviets. When discussing this issue, Russians frequently refer to the poet Anna Akhmatova, who, when Khrushchev opened the doors to Stalin’s prisons, wrote that the half of Russia who had imprisoned the other half would now come face to face with its victims. Since according to a recent Levada poll, 27 percent of current Russians have relatives who perished under Stalin’s rule, that “other half” is not going away any time soon. BeyrlePost Views: 380