Putin, the Chechens, democracy, and dickheads

(Sorry for the title; I couldn’t resist!)

Well, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to democratic intentions in difficult situations…but good ol’ Vlad at this point has pretty much proven that Russian democracy in re: the Chechens is pretty much just window dressing (as if his administration’s human rights violations hadn’t already sealed the deal).

Still, I’m somewhat surprised that he’s apparently lost his temper for once; he’s normally rather cool under pressure. Guess that under stress, he shows his true colors. How pitiful.

Guess I ought to actually insert a debate in here somewhere: is there any hope for democratic treatment of a) Chechens and b) journalists in Russia under current conditions? If not, what would need to change in order for this to happen?

From everything I’ve read, the Rusians were content to leave Chechnya pretty much alone. Ultimately, the place collapsed into utter chaos, with widespread kidnappings and other lawlessness. Ultimate straw came when Chechen rebels blew up a series of civilian apartment buildings in Moscow, and also invaded a neighboring republic (Dageshtan, IIRC). At that point, the Russians decided that enough is enough - a lot of other countries would have decided the same long before that.

So the answer to A would probably be that it is up to the Chechens.

As for B, I don’t see the connection to this matter. As I understand it there is pretty much press freedom in Russia, although there has been some harrasment of some of the media oligarchs. Russia is a pretty corrupt place in general, and these media oligarchs are pretty much thugs. But - as part of the general corruption - the opposition thugs have been harrassed, while the loyal thugs have not. So the answer to B probably is that if the country becomes less corrupt, press freedom will follow, otherwise not.

IzzyR it’s late, so I won’t go in depth at the moment, but the Chechen story is much more complicated than that…for one thing, there’s never been any good evidence that the Chechen rebels blew up the Moscow apartment buildings (and they never claimed responsibility, as they generally have done in other situations).

In any case, even if a few rebels did commit a few acts of violence, that’s no excuse for what the Russian Army has done to Chechnya, and hundreds of thousands of uninvolved Chechen civilians (who have had their cities and villages leveled and been displaced, extorted, beaten, tortured, raped, and murdered), over the past 10 years. Sounds like you’ve been buying the party line.

Check out www.rferl.org for more info both on the Chechen situation andon press freedoms (or the lack thereof) in Russia. More when I wake up and have coffee tomorrow.

Blah blah killings blah terrorism blah blah murder blah blah blah death blah.

Too many to hang them all.

Well I certainly don’t know of any evidence. But I believe it is widely thought to have been Chechens - I’ve never heard suggestions of anyone else with a motive.

You’ve ignored much of what I’ve said. Again, the Russians did leave the Chechens alone for some time, but the place collapsed into lawlessness, and threatened to spread further. I agree that the Russians play hardball, but much of the suffering in Chechnya is endemic to that region.

And I reject the “few terrorists” and “few acts of violence” bit as well. There was ongoing violence, and leaving things alone had been tried and failed. Next step is to crackdown. A country has a right to defend its people. You can’t just add up the bodycount and say Country A should accept X + ? number of deaths rather than go to a war in which Y + ? others may die.

I don’t know - I’ve never encountered the party - I’ve never read anything other than mainstream news on the subject. But having begun this type of speculation, it would appear from your many posts on the subject that you have an overly romantic view of the Chechens and their great suffering.

The fact that they are limiting information about anti-terrorist operations does not equate to a lack of press freedom. Unless you take an absolutist position WRT press freedom, but you could do the same about any country.

Well, I hardly think that anyone who has “only read mainstream news reports” in Western media is in a position to tell me that I have “an overly romantic view of the Chechens and their great suffering.” Perhaps I have a soft spot for the underdog, but that is largely due to a) my experience interpreting for political asylum cases (the Chechens are far from being the only ethnic/political minority for whom I have a soft spot, but their story is among the most ignored in the Western media, which is why I choose to make attempts at imparting information about them) and b) my academic background, which I’m guessing you’ve seen me mention earlier, and which includes a master’s thesis on the subject of Russian treatment of ethnolinguistic minorities in the North Caucasus, including the Chechens.

The Russian government has done far more in the way of limiting freedom of the press than just limiting info about antiterrorist operations. Please read Anne Nivat’s Chienne de Guerre*, and you will see that they have essentially forbidden journalists access to the region, even in areas where there are currently no specific military and/or “antiterrorist” campaigns. Now why would they do that if they weren’t doing anything wrong? And if you read some of the reports on Radio Free Europe (they have an entire series on press freedom issues in the region), you will see that the government has made threats to cut off broadcasting at TV/radio stations whose coverage they perceive as unfavorable to the government’s position.

** Izzy, ** perhaps you can answer a few questions for me, as I’m trying very hard to understand your viewpoint.

Do you think that displacing perhaps half of Chechnya’s remaining population (CIVILIANS, I might add), plus committing systematic murders and disappearances of adult men and destruction of civilian-inhabited areas, is justifiable retribution for a few terrorist attacks committed by a few individuals? These are war crimes and genocide! How many Chechen civilians’ lives equal one Russian soldier’s life, or even one Russian civilian’s life? How many Chechens do you think were murdering each other before the current military campaign? Do you think there was more violence in Chechnya before the last 2 wars than there was anywhere else in the Russian Federation? How do you figure that a Russian military presence there is going to REDUCE levels of violence under current circumstances? These are not peacekeeping troops; don’t be naive!

And a hint about the Moscow bombings: why wouldn’t the Chechen rebels claim responsibility? They certainly haven’t been shy about it in other instances. Hint: that episode was used as the major reason to recommence military operations in Chechnya. Now who might have a motive for wanting to do that?

What are you suggesting? If indeed there are no specific military or anti-terrorist activities there, what might they possibly be doing wrong?

From what I’ve read, the government’s position has the support of some journalists. They are facing the age-old conundrum of how to deal with the fact that information is a powerful weapon of war.

At any rate, even you would appear to acknowledge that this lack of press freedom is primarily related to anti-terrorist activities, and not at political opponents of Putin.

You’ve left yourself some wriggle room there with that “perhaps”. The refugee figures I’ve seen are 150,000. What percentage of the population is that? Refugees are an unfortunate byproduct of war.

As for the other stuff, I would think it would depend on who was being arrested and murdered. The arrest or murder of any number of terrorists is justified, IMHO. The Russians themselves have lost close to 4,000 people in this war, from what I’ve seen. If there has been widescale murdering of civilians, I don’t think it is justified. But I doubt if this is the case.

As you may know, the Russian government, from Putin on down, repeatedly called for tolerance for Chechens in Moscow in the aftermath of the recent terrorist raid. This does not mean that every single policeman is going to listen. But I doubt if there is a campaign of “genocide” as you assert. (In general, Russia has tended to be decenteralized and disorganized since Tsarist days).

“Quite a lot”, and “don’t know”. (Irrelevant)

By killing many of the terrorists, and causing the rest to give up and go home. Fact is that the rebels do not - from what I read - have the support of the majority of their own people.

Your claim about the Chechens always taking responsibility in other cases is false.

As for your conspiracy theory, anything is possible, as with all conspiracy theories. Believe what you want - though that’s what you seem to be doing already.

Well, I will have to do my point-by-point refutation later (duty calls), but in the meantime, here are a few bits of food for thought from today’s RFE/RL Newsline:

UPPER CHAMBER APPROVES RESTRICTIONS ON COVERING ANTITERRORISM OPERATIONS…
The Federation Council approved on 13 November amendments to the law on the mass media that would regulate the coverage of antiterrorism operations (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” 1 November 2002), RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. According to Interfax, 145 senators voted in favor of the amendments, one voted against, and two abstained. According to RFE/RL’s Russian Service, First Deputy Chairman of the council Valerii Manilov told senators before the vote, “With the help of these [amendments], we can increase the effectiveness of the fight against terror and consolidate our society for this fight.” In a written message to Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov submitted before the vote, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii appealed to senators to reject the amendments, writing that they “would create the basis for limiting freedom of speech and persecuting the mass media.” He called the language in the amendments “slippery and vague” and said the changes would make it possible for the executive branch “to prosecute any journalist writing about Chechnya or terrorism.” RC

…AND AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON COMBATING TERRORISM…
The Federation Council on 13 November also approved amendments to the law on combating terrorism that would authorize the government to refuse to turn over to relatives the bodies of those killed during antiterrorism operations (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” 1 November 2002), RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the council’s Defense and Security Committee, said the changes “are a warning to terrorists that the battle against them will be merciless.” The vote was 133 for and two against. RC

PROTESTORS SENT HOME
Police in Moscow on 13 November dispersed a small, unauthorized demonstration organized by the youth wing of Yabloko outside the Federation Council building, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. About 20 protestors carried signs and banners criticizing proposed amendments to the law on the mass media that would regulate the coverage of antiterrorism operations. Two protestors were detained and taken to a nearby police station. An organizer told journalists the group’s request for permission to hold the demonstration was rejected “on a technicality.” RC

CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS REQUEST REFUGE IN KAZAKHSTAN
A group of more than 300 Chechen families currently facing expulsion from Ingushetia have appealed to Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev to grant them temporary refuge in that country until the war in Chechnya is ended, chechenpress.com reported. The letter, dated 12 November, explains that Chechens consider Kazakhstan a “second homeland” as their forebears were deported there by Stalin in 1944. It adds that the October hostage taking by Chechens in Moscow has triggered a wave of indiscriminate reprisals against civilians in Chechnya, in which “entire families of totally innocent people disappear.” It also says that Chechens are subjected to harassment and arrest elsewhere across the Russian Federation and that Western countries that earlier accepted refugees from Chechnya are no longer willing to do so. LF

Another reasson to be skeptical of reports issuing from Russian government-controlled sources, from RFE/RL again:

http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2002/11/12112002163511.asp

[snip]

Adding to the confusion was the obvious bias of the media, with commentary variously reflecting a publication’s or station’s ownership affiliation. State-controlled channels praised the skills of officials and special-operations troops. Independent stations, in general, were more critical.

Human rights defender Lyudmilla Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said false reports laid bare the authorities’ habit of lying to the public. She cited initial reports that hostage takers were releasing Muslims and Georgians. Those reports later turned out to be false. “What information did we have from the very first moment when the hostages were seized? What was the first information we had? That they released Muslims and Georgians. It wasn’t the media that conveyed that information about the hostages. Official press services said that. Then it turned out not to be true. But it wasn’t denied,” Alekseeva said.

Dmitrii Furman, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Europe Institute, said obscuring the truth is characteristic for authorities in Russia and naturally creates the conditions for different interpretations to circulate. “Everything remains unclear. It remains unclear how [the hostage takers] infiltrated Moscow. It remains unclear why no one was punished for such an obvious act. It’s unclear why [the hostage takers] were all killed. In short, everything’s unclear,” Furman said.

Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said the government has a lot of recent experience in disseminating misinformation. His organization puts at 80 percent the amount of false information spread through state-run news agencies such as ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti during the first war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996.

Panfilov said controlling information during the hostage crisis was much harder because of the large number of journalists, including foreigners, reporting the story and the accessibility of many hostages and other witnesses – hence, official calls from the Media Ministry for control over the media and new measures passed by parliament last week for new limits on reporting on terrorism. “The authorities most likely became very scared that journalists could publish information they uncovered independently and that contradicts official versions of this event,” Panfilov said.

The government has tried to gloss over any inconsistencies by emphasizing it is fighting terrorism. It has even offered what it says is proof that separatist Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov ordered the hostage operation.

[/snip]

Izzy

Your initial post said
"From everything I’ve read, the Rusians were content to leave Chechnya pretty much alone. Ultimately, the place collapsed into utter chaos, with widespread kidnappings and other lawlessness.

Has some factual errors. The Russians weren’t content to leave Chechnya alone until the Moscow building bombings, the bombings to which you refer occurred in 1999. Russia had been fighting in Chechnya since 1994. For an excellent timeline of the conflict see the BBC’s report at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/482323.stm

It is true that the region was lawless and chaotic, but a lot of these problems could be traced to the outbreak of violence that destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and social institutions. Also, Moscow reneged on providing funds for re-building Grozny that was part of the Alexander Lebed brokered peace agreement (1996, IIRC). I think the war has entrenched hardliners and destroyed the middle ground that is vital in establishing a political solution.

Obviously, the conflict is multi-faceted and deep rooted. I am of the opinion that had the conflict been handled differently in the early 90’s, much of the current problems could have been avoided. I have studied and worked in Russia and the former Soviet Union for nearly a decade and I’m only beginning to get a handle on Chechnya, modern Russia’s stickiest question.

For an excellent and enlightened Russian view on the conflict see the movie Prisoner of the Mountains (Kavkaski Plenek). My .02

Eva Luna, I don’t see anything in either of your two recent posts that adequately supports your claims. Similar claims could be made of any other government - and frequently are. And the fact that these claims are being made in Russia and by Russians undermines your claims of a lack of press freedom.

It would be more helpful if instead of copying and pasting large amounts of data with little or no comment, you focused on showing how this data supports your claims.

madmonk, sorry but I’ve not made any factual errors. It is true that the Russians fought in Chachnya from '94-'96, but after they pulled out in '96 as referenced in your own link, they left the place alone - de-facto independence is how it is commonly described - until provoked in '99.

** Izzy, ** most of the claims posted above are being made in Russia and by Russians; however, they are made/disseminated by non-Russian government controlled media outlets and/or non-media connected individuals (academics and human rights activists). And I really don’t see how I need to clarify how a statement like “Adding to the confusion was the obvious bias of the media, with commentary variously reflecting a publication’s or station’s ownership affiliation. State-controlled channels praised the skills of officials and special-operations troops. Independent stations, in general, were more critical.” If that’s not clear, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.

As for the new media law on reporting antiterrorism: I will have to read the full text, but from what I’ve seen so far, much will depend on whether it contains a reasonable definition of terrorism, and so far it sounds like the current version gives the government wide latitude to restrict or even eliminate ANY reporting on the Chechen situation.
Some more stats on the demographic effects of the Chechen war (and IIRC, the population of Grozny before the latest campaign was ~100,000, and the population of Chechnya was ~1,000,000; I have the 1979 Soviet census at home somewhere, which was the last comprehensive one conducted before everything went to hell), as reported by RFE/RL:

http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2002/11/06112002181137.asp

[snip]

“One of the largest points of criticism concerned the [first post-Soviet Russian] census in Chechnya. An initial count registered 1.08 million people now residing in the war-torn republic – higher than the number of Chechens who lived in the Soviet-era Chechen-Ingush Republic. According to a report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, it is also around 300,000 people higher than estimates in 1999, when Russia’s second military campaign began {NOTE: this means that it won’t count people displaced by the FIRST campaign, many of whom may not have returned to Chechnya. Plus it doesn’t count people internally displaced within Chechnya in either phase of the conflict.]. Since that time, around 100,000 Chechens are estimated to have been killed, while another 150,000 have fled to the neighboring region of Ingushetia…[so we’re talking about 25% of the pre-1994 population of Chechnya in the current phase alone; does that help you understand the magnitude of this mess?]

…But human rights defenders reserve their greatest criticism for the federal government, saying it wants to overreport the number of Chechens living in their breakaway region in order to bolster claims that it has established stability in the war-torn region. Yakov Ettinger, a member of Moscow’s Bureau of Human Rights group, says the results are a “clear falsification”: “It’s a clear padding of results, with the aim of showing that the civilian population has practically not suffered at all.” One of the complicating factors, Ettinger says, is that the census makes no distinction between ethnic Russians and Chechens living in the region. Some state agencies speak of 1 million people in total living in Chechnya; others of 1 million Chechens living in the entire territory of Russia, Ettinger adds.”

So yes, there has been wide-scale murdering of civilians. And the 4,000 lost Russians (and how many of those were COMBATANTS, vs. CIVILIANS? The ethnic Russian civilian population of Chechnya was never high, and before 1999 was down to almost nothing) rather pale in comparison.

Your assertion (and cite, please?) about there being a high level of violence in Chechnya before the current conflict is quite relevant, as it has been one of Russia’s primary moral/political justifications for trying to gain control over the region.

And as to my claim about the Chechens always taking responsibility in other cases is false: cite? And I repeat: there has been no conclusive proof of any sort that Chechen rebels were responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings. The conspiracy theory about the FSB planting the bombs holds at least as much water. Yes, the rebels were responsible for the hospital siege in Budyonnovsk and the incursion into Dagestan, but they openly claimed responsibility for both attacks. And again: I DO NOT EVER SUPPORT VIOLENCE AGAINST CIVILIANS as a viable solution to oppression, whether real or perceived. I am not an apologist, but I do believe almost nobody is hearing the Chechen side of the story…and IMO it is this very perception on the part of the Chechen militants that has led them to take terrorist actions, because it is the only way they seem to be able to get the rest of the world to pay nay attention to them. However, I don’t believe the Russian government as a whole (individuals and some governmental subunits have, of course) has ever acted in good faith toward Chechnya.

And yes, I will believe whatever I want, but I like to base my beliefs on a survey of ALL sides of the story, not on Russian government-controlled media reports. If you can come up with specific information from a reliable source that refutes anything I’ve said, I’m all ears.

In the meantime, you can also find a collection of recent articles on the Chechen situation at:

http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/chechnya/2002/index.html

These should prove most enlightening, and are far more detailed than most of what one generally finds in the English-language press. I hope this is enough analysis for the moment, as I am currently sorely in need of lunch.

Izzy,
Sorry, but I still feel your statement is factually incorrect. To say Russia “left Chechnya alone,” ingnores a) an invasion, b) generations of oppresion, including mass forced relocation c) failure to comply with the Lebed peace accord.

Had you said left Chechnya alone after 1996, you might have had more of a case, but that still would be a gross simplification. Even during the cease fire, Russia conducted military and intelligence operations in Chechnya, supported a Russian oppointed government for the region, and obstructed Chechen elections.

As for the 1999 bombings, they haven’t been positively linked to the Chechens, although it is a possibility. Truth be told, prior to the attacks the Russians were fishing for a reason to break the accords.

All this is not to say that the Russians don’t have valid national interests, but so do the Chechens. What I disputed in your post was what I saw as a glib over-simplification of a tragic and complex situation.

[advisory hijack]

Helpful Great Debates hint for Eva: In the past, one of the most annoying so-called “debate” tactics utilized by some of our biggest and most annoying trolls has been the “Can’t post–gotta run” post. “I don’t have time to go into it now, but I’ll be back later with all the facts that will prove you wrong…” And then–they never come back. Or, worse, and even more annoying, they do come back, but without that truckload of facts, and everybody goes, “Oh, yeah? Well, where’s your proof, Goof?” and Goof posts, again, “I don’t have time to look those cites up for you now, but I’ll be back later…”

So, I realize this sounds like I’m accusing you of sounding like a troll and that’s not what I meant at all. But do take a hint, dear. If you don’t have the facts yet, then just wait to post until you do have 'em. We can wait. :wink: I promise that if your return is delayed a bit, nobody’s going to accuse you of chickening out of your own thread.

[/advisory hijack]

What I would like is for someone to explain to me, in 25 words or less, what the Chechens are “rebelling” against. Aren’t they already an “independent republic”? I have the unnerving feeling I’m missing something large and obvious here…

http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/rs.html

Although the CIA says they’re also an “administrative division” of the Russian Federation, so–I’m lost.

Sign me,

NOT GOOD AT THIS POLITICAL STUFF

And BTW, if anybody’s interested, the Russians are on Amnesty International’s shit list, specifically for the “Chechen thing”.
http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/chechnya/

**DDG, ** I know you weren’t accusing me of trolling, but I hardly think that returning within an hour with additional cites would fit anyone’s reasonable definition of trolling. When I say I’ll come back with more facts, I follow through. I’m curious to see whether Izzy can come up with any factual refutations of what I’ve posted so far, trather than his general impressions from the network news or wherever he gets his info.
As for your question: Chechnya is an administrative subdivision of the Russian Federation, at least as things stand now. Many Chechens would like to be entirely independent of Russia, but so far this hasn’t happened in any real political terms. I’m not aware of anyone else who recognizes Chechnya as an independent country.

Sure, the statement was clear. What is not clear is how it supports your claims of lack of press freedom. (Same goes for the rest of your C&P quotes.) Unsurprisingly, the government press is more supportive of the government than the independent press. But the very existence of an independent press undermines your assertion.

This is indeed the claim of some opposition party member in one of your earlier quotes - that the law is too vague, and could be stretched. Maybe yes, maybe no. You hear the same type of claims being made in the US all the time.

Same question goes for the Chechens. And it is also unclear who killed the people (there are some pretty brutal Chechen rebels out there, along with assorted freelance militias), and whether they were deliberately targeted.

My assertion was about there being a high level of violence before the current conflict. This is indeed relevant as you note. My statement about irrelevance was made in response to your slyly rephrasing your second question to ask about “the last two wars” as opposed to “the current conflict” which you referred to in your first question - and to which you refer now. So I suspect that you are fully aware - as is anyone who has followed the matter even slightly - that before “the current conflict” the place was lawless and awash in violence. But, in answer to your most recent formulation, here’s some cites:

From CNN (dates from 1999, so “past few years” means the years preceding that one).

Also from the same year:

And another

Impossible to give a cite. You can dismiss any bombing that the Chechens did not claim responsibility for in the exact same manner as the ones in Moscow. What is true is that the authorities have blamed the Chechens for many bombings that have not been claimed. You can dismiss them all or accept all or some of them. But to claim that it can be established that the rebels always claim responsibility - from which you can cast doubt on the Moscow bombings - is incorrect. (If you want links to unclaimed bombings blamed on rebels, I’ll look them up - but I’m not going to bother if you will reject these on the very basis that they have not been claimed)

madmonk28

Yes. Context, context.

“De-facto autonomy” is the term widely used. I don’t know whether your allegations are true or not, but they are irrelevant. None of them constitute human rights abuses, which is what we are talking about here. Try to remember that we are talking about a part of Russia here. So the Russians let them run their own show but conducted some military and intelligence operations? The horror!

DDG: Russia has splintered into numerous independent Republics. Chechnya is not one of them.

See that? All of 13 words.

[minor quibble; I’ll be back later with the major quibbles, I promise!]

I think you meant “the Soviet Union has splintered into numerous independent Republics,” not Russia. According to pretty much everyone but some Chechens, Russia is still at least nominally in one piece. Some of the other numerous administrative subdivisions of the Russian Federation have been attempting (in some cases, successfully) to assert varying degrees of regional autonomy, but nobody else has seceded from the Russian Federation.

Maybe some of these maps (current and historical) will help clarify the issue of Soviet/Russian administrative subdivisions (UT/Austin is my all-time favorite Eastern Europe map site; lots of historical maps!):

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/commonwealth.html

[/minor quibble]

Yes. Sorry for the mis-statement.

I told you I’d be back! Sorry it took me a little while, but I’ve been dealing with some serious medical/personal issues of my own, and decided to take the night off to recoup and get some relatively stress-free sleep. Well, without further ado:

I don’t see how the existence of an independent press undermines my assertion. There are innumerable ways in which a government can restrict press freedom without committing outright censorship or banning the existence of independent media outlets. A few examples (only the ones directly related to Chechnya, terrorism, and/or the new proposed media law mentioned above) below, from today’s issue of the Radio Free Europe “Media Matters” report, available online at http://www.rferl.org/mm/:

RUSSIA

OSCE MEDIA WATCHDOG CONCERNED OVER INCREASED PRESSURE ON MEDIA IN RUSSIA. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Freimut Duve, expressed his concern over the “recent prevailing climate of pressure on the media in Russia” on 3 November, calling on the Russian Federation Council to reject “highly restrictive” amendments to the Russian media law just passed by the lower house of the parliament. (OSCE, 3 November)

NTV SUBJECTED TO POST-HOSTAGE FALLOUT? Media sources said that NTV’s 25 October “Svoboda Slova” program featuring hostages’ relatives “irritated the Kremlin,” reported the 5 November edition of “The Moscow Times.” Although many media critics praised the station’s coverage of the crisis, the Kremlin reportedly summoned NTV General Director Boris Jordan for meetings at the Media Ministry and the presidential administration, the paper reported, citing unnamed NTV sources. NTV denied it was under any pressure from the government, according to “The Moscow Times.” CC

FSB SEARCHES NEWSPAPER OFFICE… Federal Security Service (FSB) officers on 1 November searched the offices of the weekly newspaper “Versiya” for several hours, Russian news agencies reported. According to TVS, the FSB officers confiscated a server, the computer used by the editor of the national-security desk, and the personal effects of some newspaper staffers. Editor in Chief Rustam Arifdzhanov told TVS that the FSB officers produced a document concerning a criminal case opened in connection with an article published in the newspaper’s 27 May edition about the construction of housing on sites formerly used for secret establishments. However, Arifdzhanov claimed all the information in that article came from open sources. He charged that the raid was actually intended to prevent the publication of an issue entirely devoted to the recent hostage crisis in Moscow, as well as to send journalists the message that “times are changing and you have to behave more quietly.” (“RFE/RL Newsline,” 4 November)

DUMA TIGHTENS CONTROL OVER MEDIA REPORTING ON ANTITERRORISM OPERATIONS… State Duma deputies on 1 November passed in their third and final reading amendments to the laws on the mass media and on combating terrorism, Russian news agencies reported. If adopted into law, the amendments will make it illegal to publicize any information about technical methods and tactics used during antiterrorism operations, newsru.com reported. They also ban the publication, broadcast, or posting on the Internet of any “propaganda or justification” of extremism. They forbid the publication of personal information about security-forces personnel or anyone assisting them in conducting antiterrorism operations. Finally, the amendments would outlaw the publication of information about building weapons or explosive devices. The amendments needed 226 votes to pass and received 231, with 106 deputies voting against. They were supported by the Unity faction, Fatherland-All Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), People’s Deputy, Russian Regions, and the Communist Party. Deputies from the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko either opposed the amendments or abstained from voting. (“RFE/RL Newsline,” 1 November)

…AS SOME THINK THE MEASURES ARE TOO HARSH. Liberal Russia co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov said on 1 November that the amendments will hinder “responsible journalists” and give a “green light” to those who are merely “re-broadcasters for the authorities,” newsru.com reported. Likewise, Deputy Boris Reznik (Russian Regions), who is deputy chairman of the Duma’s Information Policy Committee, said the amendments are “bad for society” and urged deputies to return them to the stage of first reading. Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii told gazeta.ru before the Duma vote that he does not consider the amendments necessary and that his ministry is ready to defend the media from calls for stricter control. (“RFE/RL Newsline,” 1 November)

RSF REFERS NEW ANTITERRORISM LAW TO UN. Reporters Without Borders said on 4 November that it is “greatly concerned” about Russia’s new antiterrorism law, which includes a sharp reduction of press freedom. Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Menard asked the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, and the president of the Council of Europe’s ministerial committee, Lydie Polfer, to stress to the Russian government that the new law, passed by the Duma on 1 November, violates international press-freedom standards. (Reporters Without Borders, 4 November)

MEDIA MINISTRY UNVEILS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COVERING CRISES… The Media Ministry on 4 November released 16 recommendations for media covering situations in which people’s lives are threatened, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. In addition to a general reminder to observe the laws on the mass media and on terrorism, the ministry’s recommendations call on journalists not to initiate interviews with terrorists, offer terrorists live air time without consulting law-enforcement agencies, publicize details about rescue operations, transmit unconfirmed information, nor serve as intermediaries. The Media Ministry recommends that journalists not seek access to secret information from the special services. “Saving lives is more important than society’s right to information,” the recommendations state. The document was posted on the ministry’s website at http://www.mptr.ru. (“RFE/RL Newsline,” 5 November)

…BUT WHAT IS STATUS OF ‘RECOMMENDATIONS’… Officially, the Media Ministry’s recommendations are described as a draft for discussion by the Media Industrial Committee that was set up as a lobbying group by media bosses in September, “The Moscow Times” reported on the 5 November. The Media Ministry reportedly wants this committee – chaired by Konstantin Ernst, general director of Russian Public Television (ORT) – to take responsibility for self-regulation and to discuss these recommendations at its mid-November meeting, gazeta.ru reported on 5 November. According to Mikhail Fedotov, a lawyer and secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, the Media Industrial Committee is a business lobby group and not a journalists union – and thus is an inappropriate venue for discussing the draft recommendations. Furthermore, a year ago the Union of Journalists drew up its own ethical principles for journalists covering terrorist acts and antiterrorism operations. The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations observed that journalists have shown “little interest” in the code of ethics on covering terrorism. Gazeta.ru on 5 November also pointed to numerous inconsistencies in the recommendations. Is the Media Ministry authorized to issue official warnings to media outlets found in violation of its provisions? Who would rule on whether media outlets had infringed security considerations? Who is authorized to switch off offending coverage, such as broadcast interviews with alleged terrorists? CC

…AND HOW DO JOURNALISTS ASSESS THEM? Fedotov said in “The Moscow Times” of 5 November that if reporters follow “quite reasonable ideas” in the recommendations, “they will be told they are bowing to government pressure.” And if they “bow to government pressure, [journalists] will not be trusted.” The paper reported the same day that “Versiya” Editor Rustam Arifdzhanov agreed that details of antiterrorist actions probably should not be revealed during these operations, but he rejected the notion that afterward the press cannot discuss or criticize such operations. Arifzhanov said, “Special forces exist not for the sake of special forces, but for the sake of society, and it is [journalists’] duty to discuss their performance.” He also stressed that a clear distinction should be made between hostage crises and the war in Chechnya, also officially labeled an antiterrorist operation, where it was “absolutely unacceptable” to apply the recommendations. On 5 November, “Kommersant” conducted a poll of some leading Russian editors who expressed a wide range of opinion. Vladimir Sungorkin, editor in chief of the paper “Komsomolskaya pravda,” noted dryly that the views of “the teachers [the ministry]” and the "students [journalists] are rather similar. Tatyana Lysova, editor of “Vedomosti,” observed, “A journalist may know nothing about special operations, but what do special services know about journalism?” The editor in chief of the paper “Novaya gazeta,” Dmitrii Muratov, said he will not “follow recommendations of a small and unconstitutional structure.” CC

IFJ: JOURNALISTS DO NOT NEED LECTURES FROM POLITICIANS. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the world’s largest journalists’ organization, on 5 November condemned the government guidelines for media (see items above), which it warns amount to interference with media coverage of Chechen militants. “The government should keep its hands out of the newsroom,” said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary. “Media and journalists are only too well aware of the horrifying consequences of terrorism, and they don’t need lectures from politicians about how to tailor their coverage to suit the public interest” (see http://www.ifj.org). CC

NEWS VACUUM SAID TO ‘PERPETUATE CHECHEN WAR.’ Moscow journalist Masha Gessen, writing in the 1 November issue of “The New York Times,” noted that during the first Chechen war that began in 1994, hundreds of Russian journalists risked their lives to “cover atrocities” on both sides of the conflict. In contrast, after the Kremlin pressured the media “to stop publishing or broadcasting anything but official reports,” “all national TV stations” and the “overwhelming majority” of publications have obeyed, Gessen wrote. As a result, Gessen noted, “Young people [in Russia] have never seen anything but victorious and hate-filled reports from the military, relayed uncritically by the press.” CC

FOREIGN JOURNALISTS BLOCKED FROM VISITING CHECHNYA? A little-noticed government directive signed on 11 October has made it much more difficult for foreign journalists to visit Chechnya, according to Oleg Panfilov, director of the watchdog Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, writing in the 5 November edition of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.” The directive approves a list of territories, organizations, and establishments that foreign citizens need special permission to enter, including “zones where antiterrorist operations are being conducted.” Panfilov noted that the directive does not specify how foreign journalists can obtain the necessary permission to enter Chechnya nor for what period of time it would be issued. Panfilov also quoted the center’s legal expert Boris Panteleev as saying Russia’s law on terrorism does not include any formal bureaucratic procedure for granting permission to enter such zones. Under Russia’s constitution, “sub-legal acts” like presidential decrees and government directives may not contradict existing legislation. (“RFE/RL Newsline,” 6 November)
**Eva Luna **said:

So yes, there has been wide-scale murdering of civilians. And the 4,000 lost Russians (and how many of those were COMBATANTS, vs. CIVILIANS?
IzzyR replied:
Same question goes for the Chechens. And it is also unclear who killed the people (there are some pretty brutal Chechen rebels out there, along with assorted freelance militias), and whether they were deliberately targeted.

[Eva Luna** continued:

Your assertion (and cite, please?) about there being a high level of violence in Chechnya before the current conflict is quite relevant, as it has been one of Russia’s primary moral/political justifications for trying to gain control over the region.
IzzyR added:

These cites merely mention the existence of violence and criminal activity in Chechnya. There has been violence and criminal activity all over the Russian Federation, which tends to go hand in hand with the rest of the sociopolitical and economic dislocation the country has been experiencing in recent years. I’ve seen no evidence that criminal activity in Chechnya is disproportionate to the level being experienced in the rest of the RF. “We need to restore law and order” is an age-old excuse for sending in tanks and infantry to quell anything the government doesn’t like, such as, perhaps, a struggle for political rights, meaningful decision-making power over their own lives, and financial assistance, which the Chechens have repeatedly been promised by the Russians and have yet to receive.

And even if there were a disproportionate level of violent and/or criminal activity taking place in Chechnya, that is no justification for uprooting half the population and creating a war which has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of internally and externally displaced people. The Russian government is murdering and otherwise punishing huge numbers of CIVILIANS for activity in which they are not involved, and over which they have no control. This is hardly conducive to peace or human rights.

If someone is committing a crime, by all means, prosecute them. But don’t level entire cities and murder civilians.

And another
Quote from IzzyR:

Chechnya won de facto independence after separatists defeated Russian forces in 1996. Maskhadov was unable to establish order and Chechnya descended into lawlessness.

Russian troops moved back into the region last year after militants staged cross-border raids on villages in the neighbouring Russian region of Dagestan, and after Russian cities were hit by bombings the government blames on the Chechens.

See answer above.

Eva Luna said:

And as to my claim about the Chechens always taking responsibility in other cases is false: cite?

IzzyR replied:

Impossible to give a cite. You can dismiss any bombing that the Chechens did not claim responsibility for in the exact same manner as the ones in Moscow. What is true is that the authorities have blamed the Chechens for many bombings that have not been claimed. You can dismiss them all or accept all or some of them. But to claim that it can be established that the rebels always claim responsibility - from which you can cast doubt on the Moscow bombings - is incorrect. (If you want links to unclaimed bombings blamed on rebels, I’ll look them up - but I’m not going to bother if you will reject these on the very basis that they have not been claimed)

Eva Luna responded:

I sincerely have seen zero evidence of any bombing or terrorist attack on civilians for which the Chechen rebels either didn’t claim or denied responsibility, which was later shown to be the work of any Chechen at all. If you have such cites, I’d love to see them.

It’s easy for the Russian government to blame terrorist activity on the Chechen rebels. But what would be the value of that for the rebels? How would it help them achieve their demands? The FSB, OTOH, and other elements in the RF government would have much to gain by being able to cast the Chechen rebels in a bad light, such as justification (however misguided) to the rest of the world, and to their own people for that matter, for bombing the crap out of Chechnya… The rebels are innocent until they either confess or are proven guilty, I say.
And as for your claim that I “slyly” rephrased my second question to ask about “the last two wars” as opposed to “the current conflict”: that wasn’t sly at all, it was intentional. Clarification: when I say “the current conflict,” it is because I consider both the 1992-94 campaign and the 1999-present campaign to be merely two stages of the same conflict (as opposed, say, to the mid-19th century Russian conquest of the North Caucasus, or the brief post-1917 Revolution period of North Caucasian independence, or to the 1943 Chechen deportations to Siberia/Kazakhstan). Two campaigns, one struggle.

Again, I’ve seen no evidence that if it weren’t for the war, that the crime/violence situation in Chechnya would be significantly different from that in many areas of the Russian Federation. I doubt that any statistics collected in either place (and I haven’t seen any at all re: crime in Chechnya) would be reliable, in any case.

Okay, now I’m even more confused. In one part of the CIA factbook, they refer to “15 independent republics” in the Russian Federation. In another part of it, they refer to “21 republics”, under “Administrative Divisions”. Is it just a question of terminology–are they using “republic” different than the way I use it, to mean as in “…and to the republic for which it stands…”?

Okay, anyway, so assuming it’s an “administrative subdivision” of the Russian Federation, and assuming that an “administrative subdivision” can secede from a Federation, why doesn’t it? Why doesn’t the Russian Federation just let 'em go and consider it good riddance to bad rubbish?

Or is it about oil, again? :smiley: