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31 March, 2011

Nightmare on Caucasus Street

On the need for a “strong hand” and the role of “Chechen terrorism”

Chechnyais not Afghanistan. Doku Umarov is not bin Laden. That’s what makes it so unbelievable that the combined efforts of Russian and Chechen Special Forces are failing to find this “Emir of the Caucasus,” arrest him, set up a high-profile investigation, and show the “real Chechen terrorist” to the world. For some reason, too, none of the enormous terrorist attacks in Russia has ever been investigated properly. As to who might have commissioned most of these attacks, there are more questions than answers.

After the explosion at Domodedovo airport on January 24, why did Russian police rush to declare Vitaliy Rozdobudko the terrorist? Only later did some journalists, not investigators or the police, follow the trail to Ali-Yurt, a village in Ingushetia, whose 20-year old resident, Mahomed Yevloyev, turned out to be the real suicide bomber. Having compared evidence from his house with evidence at the airport, investigators discovered identical DNA. Meanwhile, the Ingush Interior Ministry claimed that during the search, nothing had been found in Yevloyev’s house that proved he had taken part in the attack.

A few days later, Umarov, the Emir of the Caucasus, proudly claimed responsibility for the explosion at Domodedovo. His “testimony” was a long and boring blather about revenge for the murder of “brothers in Allah” all over the world, from Afghanistan to Iraq, but there was barely any hint of Moscow in all this babbling. In March 2010, it had taken Doku almost two weeks to take responsibility for the attack on the Moscow subway. The Emir also claimed he had been involved in the incident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydroelectric Station back in 2009. Shamil Basaev, who was trained by the Russian intelligence service, the GRU in Abkhazia in 1992, also tended “to claim responsibility for acts” some time after the incidents. Insiders claimed that that was exactly how long the negotiations with real organizers of the terrorist attacks lasted. Indeed, looking for who was really behind these attacks took the lives of journalists Anna Politkovskaya, Yuriy Shekochikhin, Otto Latsis, Sergei Yushchenkov, who chaired the committee investigating the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings, and Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB/FSB officer.

Is Emir Doku Umarov really so omnipotent, or is this just a pretence? On October 31, 2007, he posted an announcement at the Kavkaz Center, the website of the Chechen fighters, that the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria no longer and was now called the Caucasus Emirate. The Chechen portal Chechenpress responded thus: “The Caucasus Emirate is a terrorist organization run by Putin and Surkov. It was created under their direct orders to eliminate the foundations of independence developed by presidents Dudaev, Yandarbiev, Maskhadov and Sadulaev within the Chechen resistance environment.” NB: These men have all been killed.

With his announcement, the “Emir” declared that the fighters were no longer struggling for the independence of their state, but for Allah. This cost him many supporters who did not wish to follow such an ideology and caused a split among “the mountain people.” Fighters for their country’s independence from the Russian neo-empire found some support in the West, while Islamic fundamentalists were hated and feared, especially after 9/11. Moreover, rightly or wrongly, they are associated with Al-Qaida by default. 

Young Chechens who flee to the mountains sneer at the ideology. It’s not ideology that forces them into the wild and a life of poverty, but sky-high unemployment—70%—, insurmountable, deeply entrenched corruption, —and fear. Of what exactly?

On January 24, the day of explosion at Domodedovo, a young man called Mahomet Yedilov came to the Memorial Society in Grozny saying that he was being persecuted by the FSB because he had tried to find out why his friend Nikita Blashkov had boarded on the Grozny train in Moscow on October 21, 2010, but never got off it. A few days later, Blashkov’s body was found with signs of torture.

The problem that Memorial, Yedilov and all of Chechnya have been living with years is the monotonous repetition of facts like this, not dozens or even hundreds, but thousands of times. Was a random young man like Nikita Blashkov kidnapped to be tortured and forced to claim he was part of a criminal gang and thus to scare everyone who sympathized with the Chechen movement? Was he kidnapped on orders from the FSB or the Chechen police, or maybe even Ramzan Kadyrov himself, who keeps private prisoners in Tsentoroy, his family nest, and pro-Kadyrov Gudermes? No one will ever know. 

Plenty of politicians talk about the ugly repetitiveness of history. Russia is on the eve of another presidential election that could turn out end same as the one in 2000, after the nightmarish events of September 1999. The September that persuaded ordinary Russians that they needed a “strong hand” to bring order to their lives. One way or another, it’s hard not to keep getting the feeling that the “Chechen terror” serves the Kremlin awfully well.


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