Tuesday, March 15, 2005


UT’s “Operation Successor” - Garry Kasparov as the Kremlin’s greatest hope

World Chess Master Garry Kasparov claims to have retired (or simply quit) chess for an active role in Russian politics. If Kasparov intends to lead or organize Russia’s liberals against the Kremlin in 2008, Russian liberalism – as weak as it is – may find itself facing extinction for a generation. Kasparov is the Kremlin’s greatest hope to sustain the system Putin has built and keep in power his closet circle.

Again, it is hard to decide whether to cry or laugh when thinking about Kasparov (and liberal boy toy Vladimir Ryzhkov). His comment that he will "do everything possible to fight Putin's dictatorship” is the kind of zinger the “commentariat” lives for. At the same time, the “commentariat” refuses to come to terms with the fact that Putin’s public opinion polls numbers remain in the sixties or that Kasparov (or anyone else) can say anything he damn pleases under this “dictatorship.”Kasparov lives in a fantasy world where only Western news outlets (and the radio station Eko Moskva) have any real interest in what he says. In 2008 Kasparov may become the “Man of the Year” for the ‘New York Review of Books,’ but he certainly will remain a political nobody in Russia – if not simply despised.

I don’t question Kasparov’s genuine hope for Russia, with the exception of how he describes Russia’s political environment today. Unfortunately, most of his agenda is nothing less than anti-Putin. Spearheading and attempting to organize liberal opposition against Putin is even more ridiculous than it may appear at first blush: Putin will officially leave the political scene – voluntarily – in 2008. The “Committee 2008: Free Choice,” including former Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov, political adolescent independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and Irina Khakamada, really has no real reason to exist and appears to be nothing more than foolishness. When Putin leaves power, will the “Committee 2008: Free Choice” take credit for this?

But the farce does not end there. Kasparov’s “negatives” outweigh his “positives” – and that’s among Russia’s liberals! Even among the huge ego world of Russia’s liberals, Kasparov has no peer (and I am not forgetting about Yavlinsky). Kasparov is/was a very temperamental chess player, his political activities to date have been no different. He was once part of the Democratic Party of Russia, then a breakaway faction thereof called the Liberal-Conservative Union. Once a supporter of Yeltsin, he later supported Alexander Lebed's bid for the presidency. Still later, Kasparov appeared to have lost interest in politics all together.

Beyond the “sandbox world” of Russia’s liberals, it is hardly possible that Kasparov will make a positive impression. Much of his vicious political commentary is easily interpreted as decidedly anti-Russian. To the average Russian he sounds like a Western stooge. Add to this, and of course it is impolite say such things, but Kasparov is Armenian – born with the name Garrik Vainshtein. Because Russia’s liberals have not build a Russian liberal ideology that includes the issue of nationality, crude nationalists will continue to make mincemeat out of liberals and Kasparov.

Kasparov is doing the Kremlin a huge favor. If Kasparov really wants to throw himself into politics, I’ll bet the Kremlin will give him all the airtime he wants – even clandestinely fund him. Kasparov will never be able to unite Russia’s liberals – he will only highlight their internal differences. The Kremlin will have every reason to watch on with smug amusement and reinforce its belief that liberalism is best promoted by the state. United Russia (or what becomes of United Russia) will erect a private shine thanking Kasparov for giving them a political reason to address voters.

Garry Kasparov and the buffoon Vladimir Ryzhkov, it is reported, will start a 10-region road show soon. If both can’t politically mature very quickly, the road show sounds like Russia’s answer to the American film “Dumb and Dumber.” This is an exercise that will most likely help many political homeless Russians to finally opt for membership in Rodina.Kasparov (and pinhead Ryzhkov) claim Russia is under a dictatorship. One has to wonder where both will be after their political efforts actually create a dictatorship in Russia. I suppose it doesn’t matter, Russia’s liberals have never shown any national responsibility – we shouldn’t expect that they ever would.

Kasparov should go back to chess. Ryzhkov should hope for the medical breakthrough called a brain transplant – ‘cause his is already dead.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Opps, Yukos does it again

Surprise, surprise Yukos is accused of wrongdoing still again. It is now accused of money laundering in Spain. I am not surprised – Yukos has always be the Russian master of shell companies around the world to clean and steal money. Spanish authorities have also made accusations that a number of Yukos employees were involved in homicide, drug trafficking, illegal arms and prostitution. Impressive, people linked to Yukos have expanded the company’s portfolio into drug trafficking and illegal arms. Yukos’ ambitions appear to be endless.

I have a suggestion for the Menatep Group. Instead of spending all that money buying Western media and toadies in Russia, attempt bankruptcy proceedings in Spain. Yukos can’t prove a strong American presence to advance its case against the Kremlin in a U.S. court. (Though, two years ago Yukos was in an America court claiming that it didn’t have a meaningful presence in the U.S.). Spain’s Interior Ministry has done Yukos a huge favor – it has evidence the Yukos has a strong presence in Spain. Menatep can attempt to sue the Kremlin from Spain as the Spanish authorities prosecuteYukos employees in the same court.

So much for Russia’s “best run company.” Let’s see how “Pravda on the Potomac” (Washington Post) spins this story.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


Rodina and the uslessness of the "commentariat"

Rodina’s ploy…

Yesterday, a Rodina sponsored bill on incorporating separatist regions was handily defeated in the Duma. Rodina commented on "increasing attempts" by Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova to extend their influence over their separatist regions, including Georgia's regions of Abkhazia, Adjara, and South Ossetia, the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transdniester in Moldova. The bill proposed the incorporation of these regions into the Russian Federation - if those regions expressed a desire to join Russia.

Thankfully and logically the bill was voted down during a parliamentary session attended by few lawmakers. The fact that it was voted down was a foregone conclusion. Passage of which would have created international legal nightmare for the Kremlin.

The fact the bill was voted on is what is of interest. Rodina, it seems to me, is becoming Russia’s only real political party and is already campaigning ahead of the 2007 parliamentary elections.

What is Rodina’s ploy? First, it was overwhelmed that United Russia had to vote down recklessly populist legislation. In doing so, United Russia, losing its popularity, is now being forced to secede it “nationalist” credentials

Second, Rodina will continue to call for votes on unrealistic legislation. It is building strong (and certainly hoped for) opposition credentials. None of its legislation will ever before law during this Duma. This suits Rodina just fine. In the mean time, Rodina is creating a coherent political profile (which no political party is close to doing at the moment).

Third, Rodina appeals not to just “run of the mill” nationalism – it’s aiming for radicals it hope it can tame moving forward. Rodina knows there are many political “homeless” Russians. Fourth, Rodina is putting the Kremlin on notice – Rodina is very different from the clumsy and lackluster United Russia. United Russia is a party based on state structures and under state control. Rodina is proving itself as a party of action.

Fifth and last, Rodina is also showing its wares to the Kremlin. Rodina knows that the Kremlin could smash it like a bug at anytime. However, Rodina is not really in opposition, it only wants to become an important, if not most important, party tool for the Kremlin. In a sense it selling itself, the question is only a matter of price.

… New party system? A new and different United Russia?

A superb example of how the “commentariat” continues to purposely ignore me is found in the Moscow Times’ story “Kremlin Mulls Ditching United Russia” by Francesca Mereu. I predicted such a possibility months ago and have commented on this at length in UT’s “Operation Successor 2008” (please check the site).

In of itself, the Mereu story is not informative and surely not original, but is a clear example of how the “commentariat” thinks. The “commentariat” hopes for the worst, while spinning same as objective reporting. The fact the Kremlin is seriously thinking about future (to make sure the likes of Rodina are kept in check) never really crosses the “commentariat’s” mind.

Why pessimism, the in Russian context, is spun as objectivity is beyond me.

Friday, March 11, 2005


Experts – Maskhadov and after

Peter Lavelle engages experts Donald Jensen, Vlad Sobell, Ira Straus, Ethan Burger, Patrick Armstrong, Gordon Hahn, Dale Herspring, and Andrei Tsygankov on the death of Aslan Maskhadov and the future of Chechnya.

Peter Lavelle: The slaying of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov on Tuesday of this week has divided opinion. Has the Kremlin merely closed the door to negotiations with a “moderate” in the conflict ridden republic or won itself a victory by staying the course of not negotiating with “terrorists” and/or “rebels” of any elk?For argument sake, let’s assume Maskhadov was a “moderate.” What does that mean? A moderate compared to whom? Shamil Basayev? Isn’t the usage of the term “moderate” merely an issue of semantics in this case?Additionally, can it be assumed that at the Kremlin refused to engage Maskhadov because it knew Maskhadov couldn’t deliver? Was Maskhadov in a position to be a reliable partner in peace negotiations? His political career since 1997 suggests he was not.After Maskhadov: What is the political future of Chechnya with the passage of Maskhadov? How does his death impact the Kremlin-backed regime in Grozny? Is Basayev the net winner with Maskhadov death?

* Donald Jensen, director of communications at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Maskhadov's death is a serious setback to the prospects that the Chechnya conflict can be resolved through negotiations. While Maskhadov - frequently inept politically -- often sought to obtain Moscow's backing for a settlement that would keep Chechnya within the Russian Federation, Basaev, now the most prominent Chechen commander, has made it clear that he has no interest in peaceful coexistence with with Russia. Little is known about Abdul-Khalim Saidulaev, just named acting President of Chechnya. While Basaev has already indicated he will nominally support the new leader, his influence is likely to eclipse that the new leader and he probably will often act on his own.Maskhadov's death removes one of the last constraints on attacks on Russian civilians and extending the war beyond the confines of the secessionist republic. Until recently, Maskhadov had insisted that his men abide by the Geneva conventions of warfare that forbid the killing of civilians and bar acts of terrorism elsewhere in Russia His orders, of course, were frequently violated). It was only in his communication with RFE/RL last week that Maskhadov indicated he might relax those prohibitions and make common cause with autonomous armed formations in Daghestan, Ingusetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria.Putin's is likely to get a short term boost from Maskhadov's death. Many Russians are likely to see the latter's demise as a vindation of the Kemlin's tough line. This political gain, however, is unlikely to last long. Maskhadov's death will almost certainly increase instability in the North Caucasus and force Moscow to rely on brutal pro-Russian military formations, including the so-called special presidential guard subordinate to First Deputy Prime Ministyer Ramzan Kadyrov. Putin mistakenly seems to already regard Kadyrov as the most credible and reliable source of "objective" information about the true situation in Chechnya.

* Vlad Sobell, senior economist at Daiwa Research, LondonI do not believe that the strife in Chechnya has been a struggle for independence. Had the Chechens really desired it, they would surely by now have been able to achieve de facto, if not de jure, independence. The problem is that this would have to be accomplished by a gradual and peaceful process, on a bilateral basis, with the Chechens demonstrating that they can unite and responsibly manage their own state and economy, without destabilizing their neighborhood. Their leaders would also need to take account of the Kremlin’s difficulties: how to grant independence to Chechnya without undermining the cohesion of the Federation.Tragically, Maskhadov and his comrades have manifestly failed on all these counts, with the genuine and legitimate yearning for independence being hijacked by criminals, terrorists and, more recently, also the international jihadists. Russia might have handled Chechnya more intelligently, but I doubt this would have made much difference, since the criminals/terrorists thrive on mayhem, not on stability and peace. They have a vested interest in chaos, regardless of Moscow’s policies.I cannot speculate on the likely consequences of Maskhadov’s death. However, I am pretty certain that his killing will become yet another stick with which to beat Putin the “imperialist”, who refused to negotiate with a “moderate” Chechen leader, thus closing the door on a possible peaceful settlement. When Basayev commits another outrage, Putin will be implicitly blamed.I don’t believe that Maskhadov was a moderate. All terrorist organisations have their “moderate”, political fronts (which, for some reason, “cannot control” the radicals) and this was Maskhadov’s role in the Chechen set up. How can anyone, in any way associated with Beslan, be in any sense seen as a moderate?

* Ira Straus, U.S. coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO

Russia and the West both exaggerated when it came to Maskhadov. Much of the West talked as if all negotiating with Maskhadov would solve everything. Russia tried to convince the West that Maskhadov was a terrorist no different from Basayev and should not be talked with.Both were wrong. Basayev is not his true successor, but may walk off with the succession due to the destruction of the middle. Talks with Maskhadov might have led to a "settlement" that would have left a messy situation: violence would have been reduced not ended; civil war might have continued among Chechens.Maskhadov was weak politically. He was a moderate even within Dudayev's initially secular context, yet as President allowed Islamist radicalism to flourish alongside crime and chaos. He let Basayev invade Daghestan in 1999, then accepted Basayev's Islamists as comrades in the brewing war with Russia -- arguably a cause of Russia's turn to full-scale war instead of negotiation after limited reprisal. He gave signs of becoming more Islamist as the war dragged on, yet retained an element of the Russian in his identity, talking of being able to resolve everything quickly by direct talks with Putin. Buffeted by forces from all sides, he said contradictory things.He had defeated Basayev by a large margin in the one election that Chechens seem to respect as legitimate. As bearer of such legitimacy as existed, he upheld a middling position that could have yielded, as in 1996, a compromise settlement, this time probably with fewer pretensions to independence.The question for Russia was whether such a compromise would be better than continuation of what at present is small-scale partisan warfare coupled with expanding terrorism. In 1999, after getting fed up with the consequences of letting Chechnya go on degenerating internally, Russia's answer was "No". In recent months, as the consequences for Russia of the second war have grown worse, many Russians have changed their view and would now answer "Yes".Today that option is gone.

* Ethan S. Burger, Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, Adjunct Associate Professor of Law, Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, D.C.Moderate is a relative term, particularly in the midst of conflicts where the combatants do not recognize a distinction between military and civilian personnel (and targets). Though ineffectual as Chechnya’s nominal head of state, the late President Aslan Maskhadov seemed to be pragmatic and possessed some sense of honor. Russian attempts to brand him as a terrorist are unconvincing (I remain open to being proven wrong).President Maskhadov failed to bring order to Chechnya. He was unable to exercise control over armed Chechen bands. This situation gives Russia a pretext for further military action. His failures are in large part due to the Kremlin not providing him with enough financial and political support to permit him to consolidate power (as was originally envisioned at the end of first Chechen War. Russian budgetary funds allocated to rebuilding Chechnya seem to have been largely stolen or squandered.The Russian military’s killing of Maskhadov will almost certainly lead to the country’s greater economic and political isolation. It may provoke more severe terrorist attacks (such as on nuclear facilities, chemical plants, and Russia’s deteriorating infrastructure (as the Israelis and Iraqis know, it is very difficult to defend against suicide murderers).The Russians authorities must forsake their insistence on picking their negotiating partner. If any Chechen cooperates with the Russians, he undermines his credibility and risk death. In the near-term, I expect that Shamil Basayev (assuming he survives) will benefit from the existing political vacuum his principal political rival is out of the picture. Mr. Putin’s popularity with the Russian population in the near-term. The EU would be naïve to think it can play a role as mediator of the conflict.

* Patrick Armstrong, defense analyst for the Canadian government

Despite being elected President in 1996, defeating extremists by a good margin, Aslan Maskhadov was never able to take charge. The crisis came in July 1998 when he banned Wahhabism and ordered the expulsion of Khattab, abu Walid and other Arab jihadists; five days later there was an assassination attempt on him. The late Akhmed Haji Kadyrov, then Mufti, believed that this had frightened Maskhadov into giving up; at any rate, next February, Maskhadov suspended parliament and ordered the imposition of Shariya law. Be that as it may - and experienced observers disagree on whether he supported the jihadist agenda - his significance rapidly dwindled. The jihadists found it expedient to pretend to be under his control but repeatedly showed that they were not. He would announce he was the sole commander and the jihadists would commit an atrocity soon afterwards that he would then have to denounce - for example the most recent cycle of assertion on 1 August 2004, the Beslan atrocity on 1 September, his condemnation on 5 September. After Beslan he stopped pretending. He was increasingly powerless through the present war and, at the end, commanded very little. His death will make little difference: Europeans will have to stop calling for Moscow to talk with him; his people will choose a new leader who will lead nothing; a few fighters will give themselves up. Those who say his death will "radicalize" the fighters haven't been paying attention: from early days the jihadist agenda has dominated. Maskhadov was only a symbol and not a very important one at that. It's a sad and miserable ending for a man I considered brave and honorable in the first war.

* Gordon Hahn, scholar at large and author of “Russia’s Revolution for Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000.”

Maskhadov’s death, as you suggest, is one of a moderate in relative terms only. However, he might have been useful to the Kremlin should circumstances have changed and it needed to defuse resistance swiftly. If pushed into a corner, where Maskhadov felt he was, he would have negotiated (as his recent cease fire suggests he was prepared to do) and with real help from the Kremlin, he could have helped split the resistance and been a stabilizing factor in a post-war Chechnya. The final stage of negotiations could have included a Russian demand that he abstain from political activity for 5-10 years.There has been a contradiction in Kremlin pronouncements on Maskhadov; some blaming him for supporting Basayev’s terrorism, others rejecting negotiations with him because he does not control terrorists like Basayev. Supporting the former view is Maskhadov’s claim before Beslan that he had organized an Ingushetia detachment that turned out to be involved in the Basaev-masterminded June Ingushetia raid and Beslan. Maskhadov also warned: “We are capable of carrying out operations in Ichkeria, Ingushetia and Russia, and we will prove it.” In a pre-Beslan interview with Maskhadov, his chief advisor on Islamic affairs and Chairman of Ichkeria’s Shariah Court, Abdul Khalim, outlined the Islamist Ichkerian ideology behind the expansion of the war and terrorism: “God says that all believers are brothers. There is no separate Dagestani people. There are individual Muslim nations in that part of the Caucasus. The nations of the North Caucasus were united until Russia separated us.As far as the Ingushetians go, we call them and ourselves 'the Vainakhs' (our people) because we are one nation. God says that if your brothers ask for your help, you are obligated to provide help.” If Khalim, who may or may not be a member of the Ichkeria military council from which Maskhadov’s successor will come, becomes the new leader, we will see a the Chechens’ further radicalization and more activity in the North Caucasus and elsewhere.

* Dale Herspring, professor of political science at Kansas State University, former career diplomat, and retired

US NavyOne does not have to be a rocket scientist to know that Chechnya is an extremely complex situation. It would be nice to say, as some of the human rights organizations have, that this means the end of any chance for a negotiated end to the conflict. I am not sure there was much of a chance of negotiations while Maskhadov was with us. True, he called on numerous occasions for a dialogue maintaining that problems could be resolved in thirty minutes if he could sit down with Putin and discuss the republic's problems. Such a statement raises several questions. First, was Maskadov really willing to negotiate or was it a ploy? Second, assuming he did meet with Putin and some sort of an agreement was reached, could he have sold it to people like Basayev? Third, what guarantee was there that Putin and the Russians would have ever agreed to negotiate? It seems to me that the Russians have a pretty firm policy -- regardless of whether one agrees with it or not. "We do not negotiate with terrorists."There are many who believe that this will serve only to intensify the terrorist problem in Chechnya. I wonder. No doubt many Chechens will be furious over Maskadov's death, but based on what I have seen and read, I seriously doubt that the bestiality -- on both sides --could get much worse. Neither side has shown much restraint. Besides, it is no secret that the Chechen side -- even if the conflict originated out of justifiable Chechen complaints vis-a-vis Moscow -- has long been infiltrated -- or joined -- by outsiders. Khattab was only the most obvious case in point. To make matters worse, the problem seems to be spreading outside of Chechnya. While one can blame the Russians for turning a nationalistic struggle into a religious one, it matters little in my mind how we got from there to here. The fact is, it appears to have become part of a much larger fundamentalistic Islamic war.If the foregoing is true, it suggests that the future will probably be as bleak as the past. Basayev and his type will continue do their best to commit one atrocity after another, while interior ministry forces, in particular, will respond in kind. I suspect that the fact that Maskadov was killed will not change that situation significantly. As one Russian officer who had fought in Chechnya put it to me some time ago, "events are beyond anyone's control. We fight and they fight. That is the way it is, and the way it will probably continue to be." Not a particularly good prognosis for the future.

Andrei Tsygandov, professor of international relations at San Francisco State University

Kremlin closed the door to negotiations with Maskhadov a long time ago. Last time Putin's officials met with Maskhadov’s representatives was in 2001. After that Kremlin was only in touch with some warlords (some say, even had them on payroll) in attempting to avert most horrific terrorist acts. The slaying of Maskhadov probably indicates that in the post-Beslan context, the last hope to make use of contacts with him evaporated. He was no longer able to exercise any influence and was being increasingly co-opted by radicals. He admitted in his last interview that "we were constrained to broaden the front of military resistance" beyond the territory of Chechnya. Put differently, Maskhadov was no longer a secessionist fighter even though he might have still seen himself that way.Maskhadov might have been more moderate than Basayev in terms of methods used. However, Maskhadov wanted no negotiations with new Chechnya leadership and probably was responsible for killing Kadyrov. He blasted those who voted for the new Chechnya's constitution and leadership as "traitors," and he threatened to assassinate Alkhanov. He supported Sharia law and full independence from Russia. None of this was acceptable to Kremlin. No less significant, Maskhadov was in no position to deliver peace and after the 1996 Khasavyurt peace agreement proved unable to maintain order. The 1999 invasion of Dagestan showed that Maskhadov’s originally nationalist agenda was hijacked by Islamists with their goal of controlling the entire Caucasus.Eliminating Maskhadov is a symbolic victory for Kremlin and Russia. Nevertheless, just as capturing Hussein did not help Iraq much, killing Maskhadov will only marginally affect the situation in Chechnya. The real issue is not the absence of a negotiation partner, but the fact that more than 40 percent of young Chechen males are unemployed and are actively recruited by terrorists. Without direct investment and job creation any efforts to change the situation on the ground are likely to fail.

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