Volgograd has a long history of violence. Originally Tsaritsyn, it was a key southern outpost founded in the 16th century to serve as the guardian of the Volga River and a gateway to the Caucasus. It location at the empire’s underbelly also meant it was repeatedly subject to attack. The peasant rebel Stenka Razin held it for a month in 1670, and it was repeatedly sacked by Cossack chieftains in the 18th century. But it is perhaps best known for the Battle of Stalingrad (the city was renamed for the Russian dictator in 1925), one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, resulting in 850,000 casualties and building-to-building fighting that reduced the city to rubble. The Red Army’s victory in February 1943 here turned the tide of World War II. This blood-soaked battle is so central to the city’s identity, in fact, that last year local officials ruled that every February, Volgograd would be renamed Stalingrad for six days to commemorate the victory.
Today, Volgograd has become a battleground yet again, but this time the military front lacks definition and the targets could be anyone. The enemy moves silently and the attacks are sudden and intermittent. They serve no strategic purpose nor seek to capture territory. Rather, their impact is affective: to spread terror to disrupt the workings of the modern city.
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- By Sean — 11 years ago
A new section has been introduced to the Russian anti-terrorism law. The long winded titled “The Use of Weapons and Military Technology by the Russian Armed Forces to Eliminate the Threat of Terrorist Acts in the Air or to Thwart Such an Attack” details how Russian security forces are to engage terrorists employing passenger airplanes as possible weapons. The revised section is part of the Russian “Combating Terrorism” law that the Duma adopted in March 2006. However what perks the ears of many is not the forgotten law as a whole but what the new sections say about hostages caught in the middle. According to Kommersant:
[T]he decree concerning the use of armed force “to eliminate threats of terrorist acts in the air” suggests that antiaircraft defense forces should attempt to influence an aircraft that is in violation of airspace rules using radio commands from the ground to before trying to knock the aircraft off course. If the radio commands don’t work, fighter jets will be deployed to intercept the plane. Before firing warning shots, they will first give the plane “visual signals” that it must land immediately. If the plane fails to respond to all of these signals, the military has the right to take measures to “intercept its flight by means of destruction.” Thus, passengers on a hijacked plane will have half an hour to two hours, depending on the efficiency of the military, to come to grips with their inevitable doom as a result of a successful counter-terrorism operation.
Those who are flying in a plane that is hijacked far from large cities and strategic objectives are the only ones who have additional chances at survival. The decree forbids the military from shooting down a plane “if there is no real threat to people’s lives and/or of an ecological catastrophe.” So a plane flying from, let’s say, Moscow to Thailand, over the vast unpopulated expanse of Siberia, should have nothing to worry about. But this ban is effectively annulled by a provision that “if there is credible information about the possibility of the airplane being used to commit a terrorist act,” the plane can be destroyed without warning. Considering that such credible information, according to the decree, “is defined by officials according to the procedure set down by theand the ,” it can be assumed that the plane will inevitably be shot down, even if its pilot swears that it has drifted off course due to instrument failure.
That is not all. In the resolution’s third provision which regulates “the use of weapons, military technology, and special devices by the Russian armed forces during counterterrorism operations,” speaks directly to anti-terrorist operations in places like Chechnya and Dagestan. Even though we are told that the situation in those regions are under control, nevertheless, Russian forces can use heavy military weapons
to defend civilians and free hostages, to repel an attack on a secured facility, to stop a vehicle or vessel “if its driver refuses to stop despite orders from military personnel,” to give “warning of the intent to use weapons, give a signal, or call for help,” and finally to detain persons who were involved in terrorist activities and are attempting to hide themselves. Special devices cannot be used “near visibly pregnant women, persons with obvious signs of disability, and children,” except in situations in which “such persons are putting up armed resistance or carrying out an attack that threatens the lives and wellbeing of others.”
Though Kommersant states that these provisions have produced an outcry among some, apparently these are already the rules of engagement for military. Their adoption by the Duma would only make military engagement consistent with Federal law.
Given Russian security forces “success” in rescuing hostages, I fail to see how these provisions will bring anyone any comfort.
- By Sean — 6 years ago
This morning I received a odd question in my daily Vedomosti alert: Would you be more careful associating with foreigners because of increased secrecy in Russia? What a curious question, especially since I am one of those foreigners who relies on Russians help to find places to live, access to archives, academic correspondence etc. Why would they have to suddenly be more careful? A click on the link took me to the Vedomosti article “Law on spies enters its second reading.” The article reports that a new spy law moved to the second pit-stop on the road to legality after the Russian Duma unanimously accepted its first version. Introduced way back in December 2008, left dormant by Medvedev, but now gaining new impetus, the law seeks to revise the existing high treason and espionage statutes (Article 275 and 276 of the Russian Penal Code) by broadening their scope. For the new law’s framers, the need for revision was practical: high treason is too “difficult to prove especially because its necessary to demonstrate the hostile character of the activity.” Among other edits, the new law conveniently removes the phrase “hostile activity” and inserts “harmful to the security of the Russian Federation” in its place. According to Vedomosti the implications are:
On the details and means of obtaining state secrets: [a secret] can be “entrusted” to the accused or become “known [to them] in service, work, or school,” and “in other instances stipulated by the laws of the Russian Federation.” It’s not specified what these other instances are. It will be considered criminal to provide “financial, material, technical, advice and assistance.” And instead of saying “damage to the external security,” the law now simply says “damage the security” of Russia. This includes activities against the constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.
The article continues:
The new statute expands the punishment for the collection of information deemed a state secret (it describes a case where information is gathered, but not passed along or advanced). One aggravating factor, among others, will be the means of distributing such information (For example, in the media or on the internet.) as well as “the movement of those possessors of information outside the Russian Federation.” In other words, a person in illegal possession of secrets, but does not go abroad will be punished less severely (up to four years) than those who take sensitive information abroad, regardless of the purpose of the trip (for example on vacation or meeting with a resident).” This last instance carries a sentence of three to eight years.
But let’s not take Vedomosti‘s word for it. Here’s the old Article 275 and 276 and proposed revisions:
High treason that is espionage, disclosure of state secrets, or any other assistance rendered to a foreign State, a foreign organization, or their representatives in hostile activities to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation, committed by a citizen of the Russian Federation.
High treason that is acts that are hostile to the security of the Russian Federation committed by the citizen of the Russian Federation: espionage, the delivery to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or to their representatives information considered a state secret entrusted to persons or have become known to him in service, work, or education, or rendering financial, material-technical, consultation or any help to foreign states, international or foreign organizations or their representatives in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.
Article 276 goes from:
The transfer, and also collection, theft, or keeping for the purpose of transfer to a foreign state, a foreign organization, or their representatives of information constituting a state secret, and also transfer or collection of other information under the order of a foreign intelligence service, to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation.
The transfer and also the compilation, abduction or storage for the purpose of transferring to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or to their representatives information considered a state secret, and also the transfer or compilation by assignment of a foreign secret service or persons acting in its interests any information for their use to harm the security of the Russian Federation (espionage).
From the pithy to the verbose, and from the “hard to prove” to legal elasticity. It’s no wonder the proposed law has Russian NGOs in the tizzy.
- By Sean — 12 years ago
Yesterday I received the new issue of the New Left Review in the mail. NLR is one of my favorite journals and its arrival in my mailbox is always eagerly welcomed. One article immediately struck me; a short piece by Susan Willis titled “Guantanamo’s Symbolic Economy.” The article is empirically horrifying as it is theoretically compelling. Since authoritarianism and totalitarianism are subjects of concern on this blog, I thought I would point readers to it.
Unfortunately, the article is only available to subscribers. I urge readers to get their hands on it. In the meantime here is a short excerpt:
A lawyer representing some of the Guantanamo detainees has argued that, in conjuring the category of ‘illegal enemy combatant’, the US Administration cast the detainees ‘outside the law’. But is the terrorist suspect really outside the law or is he, as Giorgio Agamben defines it, homo sacer: he ‘who may be killed and yet not sacrificed’; a being whose exclusion from the law is the very means by which the law constitutes itself? At stake here is an idea of sovereignty founded on distinguishing the simple fact of life—‘bare life’ itself—from the polis. But the act of making bare life into the state of exception that grounds all law also incorporates it into the political order. Was not Dilawar rendered homo sacer by reason of the state of exceptionality that shrouds Bagram? Agamben’s historical referent is the Nazi concentration camp, but he might have had Guant?namo in mind in distinguishing the camp from a prison: ‘while prison law only constitutes a particular sphere of penal law and is not outside the normal order, the juridical constellation that guides the camp is . . . martial law and the state of siege.’ Among the bleakest effects of Patriot Acts I and II is the way they serve to cast terrorist suspects into the legal limbo of the banned. As Agamben puts it, ‘he who has been banned is not, in fact, simply set outside the law and made indifferent to it but rather “abandoned” by it.’ Certainly, the detainee, bound in a foetal position, would have to feel that life and law had become indistinguishable, if not indifferent.
, it seems, is becoming the nation of the foetus—both the sacred and the banned. Besides those that pro-lifers carry about in jars at anti-abortion rallies, may we not also consider the brain-dead Terri Schiavo to be in some sense a foetus? ‘Better to err on the side of life’, was George Bush’s pronouncement over Schiavo’s inert body. For the Christian right, Schiavo was a sacred foetus, whose death would be forever remembered as a sacrifice; a martyr in the holy war against abortion. For others—including, it seems, her husband—she was simply a body whose organs continued to function. The Schiavo case dramatized the polarization of United States with respect to definitions of life and death. But her status as a sacred foetus has fast been superseded in the American psyche by the mass production of microscopic foetuses produced in fertility clinics. Homo sacer has migrated into genomics. Are embryos now to be killed by the thousands in the attempt to develop remedies for the elderly? Or is each cluster of cells a being whose murder will reverberate throughout the nano-sphere as a crime and a sacrifice? America
 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford 1990.