Sunday, February 20, 2011

Among the Sons of Togarmah, Part 3

In Part 1, we briefly considered the importance of the Caucasus, as well as why the situation in Dagestan was considered unwinnable; in Part 2 we touched on how widespread and urgent unrest in the Caucasus is, by briefly considering a series of terrorist attacks that happened over the past few days in Kabardino-Balkaria.

We now look at Chechnya. Russian forces fought in Chechnya two major wars, one in 1994-1996, the second beginning in 1999 and lasting until... well, I guess that depends on who is asked.

A 2006 article entitled Russian Chechnya Policy: "Chechenization" Turning Into "Kadyrovization"? explains Moscow's strategic move in Chechnya:

BACKGROUND: Even with Vladimir Putin having made, as it turned out retroactively, a strategic wager on the Kadyrov clan, it appears that Moscow has never abandoned its tried and true system of checks and balances. For instance, Bislan Gantamirov, perhaps the most noteworthy "opposition leader" in modern Chechen history, along with some pro-Russian political figures, was long kept in Chechnya as a trump card that could be played as needed if the former mufti, Ahmad Kadyrov, were to become unmanageable. They had been promised a brilliant future in politics, but were told that their time simply had not yet come. At election time, Ahmad Kadyrov and his backers had no real guarantees until the very last minute about whether the Kremlin might not be leaning toward some opponent, whether from among local or the so-called Moscow Chechens.

Indeed, the stirring up of internal Chechen squabbles has been an integral part of the "Chechenization" strategy. As the opposing sides have become less secure (in their disputes), they have become more dependent on Moscow and therefore more loyal to her. The "divide and rule" policy in the fragmented Chechen society created a very tense atmosphere that is especially apparent in the environment of the armed formations that are considered loyal to Russia, especially of the mentioned Gantamirov and Yamadayev brothers (in charge of the Eastern battalion), who represent the three major power centers in current pro-Moscow Chechen forces.

Recruiting and deploying (pro-Moscow) Chechen militia units in combat operations was Ahmad Kadyrov's key mission by which he attempted to demonstrate in practice his loyalty to Moscow. Importantly, this strategy also had and still has a different, no less important significance. Kadyrov's clan had many enemies in Chechnya, and their presence represented a nightmare for Kadyrov's followers; to a certain degree, it was justifiable to claim that as long as at least one of the people that had declared a blood feud against Kadyrov was alive, neither he nor his relatives could feel truly safe. The growing numbers of Chechen militias and the ever increasing intensity of their involvement in combat operations against actual or presumed separatists and their relatives meant that the young men in the militias were becoming, as Chechens say, "bound by blood" to the Kadyrov clan by the constant killings, torture and humiliation that militia operations led to. Then, in order to be able to survive in the conditions of increasing insecurity, namely the very likely attacks by newly acquired enemies in blood feuds, newly recruited Chechen militia troops had to stick together with the Kadyrov clan – thus falling into a trap from which there is no escape as the bridges back have already been burnt.

In other words, Moscow backed one group, headed by the Kadyrov clan; this clan then stabilized Chechnya under its control.

It should be noted that Chechens have developed a reputation for involvement in organized crime, throughout the Russian Federation and even on a global scale. Consequently, what Putin did was put one organized crime faction in charge of running Chechnya; other groups could either be friends or enemies of the most powerful organized crime group, which was powerful due to its ties to Moscow, and which was held in check by Moscow through the availability of other clans that could be placed in charge, should Kadyrov betray the Kremlin.

The results were predictable.

In a November 10, 2005, article (written in the immediate wake of a dangerous October, 2005, terrorist attack in Kabardino-Balkaria) entitled War on Terrorism in the Caucasus: Russia Breeds Jihadists, we catch a glimpse of the cure Moscow imposed on Chechnya, which ultimately only furthered the disease:

The real situation on the ground, however, differs markedly from the picture painted by the Putin's political technologists. Ironically, the "Chechenization" strategy pursued by the Kremlin is reproducing the vicious system of the ethnic clan structures so characteristic of the other North Caucasus republics. This system of thoroughly corrupt clan rule keeps local resources and access to power under its total control and, as a result, causes widespread popular discontent and violence throughout the entire region. As some respected analysts note, at the heart of Moscow's policy in the North Caucasus lies not the principle of the rule of law or efficient management but a primitive bargain: loyalty in exchange for federal subsidies. As Valery Tishkov, director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted in an interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta published on November 9, federal tranches have become the "main source of criminal money," further feeding corruption in the region.

This same formula — loyalty in exchange for significant financial and political privileges — is behind the final phase of the "Chechenization" policy: whatever its "democratic" façade, the republic will be run by the powerful Ramzan Kadyrov clan. Most independent commentators agree that Kadyrov's people will likely control the parliamentary polls, making sure that their clan and its political clients are well represented in the republican legislature.

Developments in Chechnya under the Kremlin's guidance reflect patterns prevalent in the North Caucasus, namely an admixture of two inter-connected processes that steadily undermines Russia's sovereignty over the whole region. The regional authorities and, to a certain extent, the federal center, are experiencing an acute crisis of confidence caused by the clannish and, in many cases, outright criminal nature of the local system of power. This crisis de-legitimizes both tiers of government in the eyes of the local populace. Against this backdrop, a parallel socio-political structure in the form of the Islamist jamaats starts cropping up. Although not every such community necessarily leans toward terrorism or religious fundamentalism, they create a social space in which Russian legal norms are simply ignored. This means, as some analysts persuasively argue, that Russian sovereignty in these territories has effectively ceased to exist.

In the worst-case scenario, disgruntled members of these Islamist jamaats take up arms and attack the state institutions — in particular, the law enforcement and security agencies — which they despise. And this is exactly what is increasingly happening across the North Caucasus region. The October 13 attack in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, and its suppression by Russian security forces were discussed by the Kremlin-connected pundits and the state-controlled media outlets within the context of the war against international terror. Yet Arsen Kanokov, the new president of Kabardino-Balkaria, was surprisingly candid in his assessment of the incident. "It was the expression of [popular] protest," said he in an interview published in the October 31 issue of Novaya gazeta. "There's no dialogue between the authorities and the people... People have to let off steam."

And, here we are a little over five years later. The Kadyrov clan is still in charge of Chechnya, and Kanokov is still president of Kabardino-Balkaria, and we just had another set of obviously coordinated terrorist incidents in Kabardino-Balkaria.

As legitimate authority, whether local or federal, breaks down under corruption and colonialistic policies that give obvious advantage to one organized crime faction with political power, the people look for somewhere to turn, and find a parallel Islamic system that existed all along: that of jamaats and sharia.

However, this happens at a time when the Islamic system is being radicalized by international ideas of jihadism and fundamentalism, and when this "religious" system itself is being corrupted by the proceeds of organized crime, including shaking down local businessmen for "zakat" (charity, which here means "donations" to the guys running the jihad) and trafficking in narcotics from Afghanistan.

There's a jihad to fight, and the Islamic militant community pulls together to fight it, and that means importing jihadis from all over; they bring with them more fiery ideas of a caliphate, global if possible, but local to the Caucasus in the interim, imposed upon the infidels and crusaders by the force of arms and Allah's will.

Skipping up in War on Terrorism in the Caucasus: Russia Breeds Jihadists:

Simultaneously, the Kremlin is seeking to stress the international character of Chechnya's rebel fighters in its propaganda that targets the domestic audience, a leak from the presidential administration suggests. On November 3, the Moscow-based political website posted a remarkable "concise glossary" that was handed out to Russian TV bosses at the recent weekly briefing in the Kremlin. At these gatherings, usually held on Fridays, members of the presidential staff give instructions as to what they want covered and how it should be covered. This time, the administrators of the electronic media were given a list of the "wrong" terms that are used in current broadcasts and the "right" terms that should be used instead. From now on, the instruction stipulates, the term "Chechen terrorism" should be taken off the air and replaced with "international terrorism." Another noteworthy linguistic correction pertains to the word "jamaat" (local Muslim community) which has to be replaced with "terrorist organization or gang."

So, state-owned communist media outlets in Russia are using officially-approved newspeak to describe the situation along Russia's southern periphery.

Fast-forward a few years, and we see the natural outcome. From Russia's Chechnya Pullout: Compromise Over Victory by James Marson, April 20, 2009:

Russia's declaration last week that its counterterrorist operation in Chechnya is over effectively brings down the curtain on a war that began in 1999. The news is being feted in Russia and Chechnya as a victory over the terrorist threat of separatist rebels in the North Caucasus republic. "We have eradicated the threat of international terrorism and extremism, and defended the integrity of Russia," said Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Moscow-backed president.

But analysts in Moscow warn that the insurgency problem in the region is far from finished, and express concern that the decision gives even more control to the heavy-handed Kadyrov. "It's not a victory for Moscow, it's a compromise," says Alexei Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "For Russia, it's necessary to save the money spent on assistance to Chechnya because of the [economic] crisis. For Kadyrov, he now has the chance to become a dictator."


The number of abuses has fallen in the past few years, but Lokshina notes that Kadyrov's security forces continue to commit "serious human rights violations." "Kadyrov plays by his own rules," says Lokshina. "Under his rule, Chechnya became an enclave outside Russia's legal framework where the Kremlin didn't interfere."

And while the insurgency in Chechnya has been subdued over the past two years by Kadyrov's aggressive tactics, violence is on the rise in neighboring republics. "The contagion has spread to surrounding areas," says Aslan Doukaev, director of the North Caucasus service for independent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "The rebel movement and anti-Russian sentiment has spread across the North Caucasus, even into [neighboring] Ingushetia, which used to be loyal."

Nor is Chechnya quite as peaceful as Kadyrov claims. Just hours after the announcement of the end of counterterrorist operation, Russian forces were involved in a gun battle with rebels in southern Chechnya. "I suspect there are still several hundred, perhaps up to 1,000 [rebel] fighters. There are sympathizers in practically every village," says Doukaev, who nevertheless concedes that fighting has dwindled.

The more the Kremlin tried to tighten its grip, using local organized crime as proxies, the more the situation slipped out of control - including the situation in surrounding parts of the Caucasus.

And the Chechen (and other) people are caught in the middle, with corruption and cronyism leading all the way to Moscow on one side, and Islamic extremists tied to the international jihad and organized crime on the other. Official legal and judicial systems work only as a force for those in power, and common criminals align themselves either with separatists or with the authorities. From Caucasus bandits use name of Allah as a shield - presidential envoy, May, 2010:

Criminal groups re-sharing property in the Caucasus wear the mask of terrorism and religious extremism, said presidential representative to the North Caucasian district Aleksandr Khloponin.

In an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta (RG) daily, Khloponin said that "We can deal well with the bandits that are hiding in the woods without imposing the counterterrorist operation regime."

He stated that they will "finish the terrorists off" adding that "our available forces are enough to hunt them down."

The problem, in fact, "is that the mask of terrorism and religious extremism is donned by bandits that have formed organized criminal groups engaged in the re-sharing of property," Khloponin said. "Fighting them is not what a counter-terrorist operation is supposed to do."

According to the official, active efforts should be devoted to solving those crimes and identifying the criminal groups.

"In some republics, criminal groups engage in racketeering and money extortion from businessmen. And all that is 'beautifully' camouflaged with the name of Allah and Islam. But they have nothing in common with real terrorism," Khloponin stressed. "So, I wouldn't speak about some large-scale expansion of terrorism in the territory of my district", he told RG.

One of Russia's worst social illnesses – corruption – hit the Caucasus more than any other region. President Dmitry Medvedev has said that it is so is so widespread in the region that "it is becoming a major threat for national security."

The presidential envoy, Khloponin says there are three ways to fight corruption.

"The first one is to form an independent judicial system, and the president is making very serious changes to the legislation to that effect," he said.

The second refers to "maintaining an ongoing dialogue with public organizations and forming a public opinion, so that people could send feedback to the powers that be and be able to believe that authorities can solve this problem."

The third, Khloponin said, is "staffing policy."

"We must form a staff reserve, information on which should be available from the authorities' informational resources, so people could form their opinions on future candidates for all federal and regional positions," he said, stressing that those positions should be assigned according not to clan affiliation, but to competence.

Much of Khloponin's analysis is right on the mark, except that what we have here is a spokesman for the mice complaining about those who guard the cheese along Russia's southern border.

Also from 2010:

So, corruption is a threat to Russian national security, especially in the Caucasus.

Prehaps President Medvedev could ask his Prime Minister who set these corrupt guys up in the Caucasus to begin with.

Here's what's really happening: The organized crime factions that Putin established to run the Caucasus got too strong, and began to challenge Moscow. So, under maskirovka of an anti-corruption campaign, the Kremlin will make them fall in line, or replace them with criminals more loyal to the rulers in Moscow.

(That's not unlike change we can believe in happening here in Amerika.)

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