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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Russian Atrocities in the Caucuses Continue Apace

The Moscow Times reports, quoting the heroic Lidia Yusupova, that Russian atrocities in the Caucus region continue apace. First there is this news report on the appalling number of kidnappings by Russian security forces in Chechnya -- in other words, the Russian government is behaving there exactly the way the terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Iraq behave, like uncivilized barbarians. How can Russia expect anything else in return from the Chechens, or ever hope for peace? But then, perhaps liquidation and not peace is its goal:

Police and soldiers have kidnapped nearly 2,000 people in Chechnya since 2002, according to a human rights report released Wednesday. Of 1,947 people kidnapped, 684 people have been freed and 189 have been found dead. The others have disappeared without trace and are presumed dead, the report compiled by Memorial and the International Federation of Human Rights said. Investigations have only been opened into 34 of the 1,947 cases, the report said.
The data cover 25 percent to 30 percent of Chechen territory. The number of kidnappings reported since 2002 has been steadily declining -- 539 incidents in 2002 fell to 320 last year -- but that does not mean that the rule of law is returning to the region, said Oleg Orlov, head of Memorial. "What we are seeing is that kidnappings are moving into the shadows. People are afraid to report incidents," Orlov said. He said 90 percent of known disappearances in recent years were initially not reported by relatives and friends. "When people are kidnapped, that is when the torture begins," said Lidia Yusupova of Memorial's Grozny office, referring to claims of systematic prisoner abuse in Chechnya that have been widely reported in the media. The 113-page report, which contains specific accounts of kidnapping, unlawful detention and violence carried out by Interior Ministry troops and Chechen forces working for Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, will be presented to the United Nations, Orlov said. An Interior Ministry spokesman said the ministry could not immediately comment on the report.

Next comes an op-ed from the brilliant Georgy Bovt exposing Russia's outrageous hypocrisy and failure in Ossetia:

When South Ossetians overwhelmingly backed a referendum on independence earlier this month, Russian television stations provided extensive coverage of the celebrations in the capital, Tskhinvali. The result -- nearly 100 percent support for independence from Georgia, which is to say joining Russia -- came as no surprise.

The referendum was held during the peak of an anti-Georgian campaign waged by the government in Russia. Pro-Kremlin pundits said the Georgian state was illegitimate, and that its borders had only been established in 1931. You get the impression that the Kremlin is preparing the ground for partitioning Georgia and annexing the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The residents of these regions certainly got the message, especially since most of them received Russian passports during the "distribution of citizenship" campaign a few years back. This campaign was both unprecedented and entirely unfair when you think how hard it is for people in other former Soviet countries to obtain Russian citizenship.

Expectations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are high. Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh is reported to have told his inner circle that President Vladimir Putin promised that within an hour of Kosovo formally declaring its independence from Serbia he would establish diplomatic relations with Abkhazia.

In this context we mustn't forget the self-proclaimed republic of Transdnestr, which held its own referendum a few weeks earlier. Here again, nearly 100 percent of voters supported independence and the prospect of becoming part of Russia. At the same time, however, Putin reiterated Russia's recogntion of Georgia's territorial integrity during a mid-November meeting with European Union leaders in Finland. He said Russia had no interest in annexing the breakaway regions of Georgia and Moldova.

As it happens, a slowdown in the push toward independence in these regions in recent weeks has coincided with a similar slowdown in Kosovo. The point is that a linkage has been created between the fate of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestr and that of Kosovo, as became clear earlier this year in connection with the secession referendum in Montenegro. Many close to the Kremlin railed against the "cynical" law that required 55 percent of Montenegran voters to support the referendum to split from Serbia. In the end, 55.4 percent voted for it. Why 55 percent, they asked. After the referendum passed, these same people explicitly linked the status of Kosovo to the separatist regions in Georgia and Moldova. The logic was simple: if Kosovo secedes from Serbia, Russia will back independence for Abkhazia and the rest. If you can do it, they suggested to the West, then so can we.

Discounted in this tit-for-tat position are the people of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestr, who genuinely wish to become part of Russia. Moscow openly supported the referendums in Transdnestr and South Ossetia, but then it tied the fate of these regions to events in Kosovo, demonstrating that it was prepared to turn its back on these people and their hopes.

And what about Russia's position on independence? Does Moscow truly support an independent South Ossetia? If so, why should Kosovo matter? If Kosovo does not secede from Serbia, Moscow will withdraw its support for secession closer to home.

This is how the fate of nations is decided -- like pawns on a chessboard. Nations and people were manipulated by the Great Powers during the period of "realpolitik," and it seems that Moscow sees no reason to abandon this approach. It views the Commonwealth of Independent States as the same sort of chessboard on which it competes with the European Union and the United States. Russia can only lose credibility and influence in the region as a result. This sort of cynicism will do little to attract new allies and friends now or in the future.



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