Friday, July 31, 2015

North Caucasus about to Explode Again, Kabardino-Balkaria Official Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 31 – The recent decline in the activity of the Islamist underground in the North Caucasus has led some in Moscow and the region to conclude that this time, the fall-off in violence is “irreversible,” Valery Khatazhukov says. But that is “to a large extent incorrect” and makes it more difficult to deal with what is coming.

            “Every two or three years, the leaders of the underground as a result of some kind of ‘happy’ conjunction of circumstances are destroyed, and the situation quiets down for a certain time,” a member of KBR’s Social Chamber told Renata Shabanova of “Kavkazskaya politika” (

            “But in fact, all those objective causes – social, economic and political – which lead representatives of the young to share the ideology of armed jihad are not being addressed. They continue to exist, and therefore,” Khatazhukov says, “the process will continue” given that the number of young people ready to accept that ideology hasn’t been reduced.

            As evidence that a new wave of violence almost certainly is coming, he points to a recent Internet poll in his Kabardino-Balkar Republic which found that 11 percent of 600 young people who took part in it said they were attracted by jihadist ideas and were ready to join the underground. That is a large share, he continued.

            Official claims notwithstanding, however, “no real prophylactic work” among young people is being done. A few media articles have appeared, but “we do not see any serious analytic publications or see any serious statements by authoritative people” or any serious investigations, at least available to the public, of the situation on the ground.

            Any government, including that of the Russian Federation and KBR, has the right to use force if there is a need for it and if “everything is done according to law.”  But “force which is used illegally, force which contradicts the Constitution and so on absolutely does not work” to change values and reduce the threat.

            “We know,” Khatazhukov says, “that there are cases when criminal cases are falsified, when arm, drugs and so on are planted. The people who organize this consider that they are engaged in a kind of prophylactic work.”  However, what they are doing has just the opposite effect.

            Such “illegal methods often increase the flow of new forces into the underground, some of which come from groups which never thought before about taking up arms but have entered on this path in order to take revenge for their friends, relatives, and so on.”

                The KBR has announced plans to create a new minister for the prevention of extremism among young people. Khatazhukov says he isn’t sure how this will work and fears that everything could remain on paper with no real consequences.  One thing he is certain of, however, is that the minister must “not in any case” be one of the siloviki.

            Many people in Moscow think that whatever the problems are in the North Caucasus, they are self-contained to that region and will not affect the country as a whole. But Khatazhukov argues that they could not be more wrong, noting that what begins in his region doesn’t stay there.

            The idea of “a good little war” originated in the Russian Federation in Chechnya; now, it has spread to Ukraine. And the suppression of the media, kidnappings and dissappearances which first appeared in the North Caucasus unfortunately, he points out, have spread across Russia as a whole.

            There is only one way to overcome this situation, he says in conclusion. The population and the government need to recognize that none of the problems in the North Caucasus and by implication elsewhere in Russia as a whole “can be resolved without the restoration of effective control over the organs of power at all levels.”

New Putin Law Eliminates Environmental Protections on Bridge to Crimea, Bellona Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 31 – Vladimir Putin has just signed legislation which “radically simplifies” provisions in existing Russian law governing environmental protection for the planned bridge between the Russian Federation and Russian-occupied Crimea across the Kerch Straits, the Bellona environmental protection watchdog organization says.

            And that means, the organization’s Dmitry Shevchenko suggests, that in the course of the planned construction of this bridge “everything is possible,” including the elimination of environmental assessments, something that opens the way to a possible ecological disaster there (

             The new law, Russian officials say, simply “”lifts administrative barriers”” in order to speed the building of the bridge, the Bellona analyst says; but that is little more than a euphemism for gutting even Russia’s limited environmental protection laws. Consequently, this should be a source of serious concern for Russia, Ukraine and the international community.

            That is just the latest in a long line of steps the Russian authorities have taken in the Kerch Straits that represent a problem. Most people would have expected that the Russian bridge, designed to carry more traffic to Crimea than the existing ferry services can, would at least take the shortest route, as the Germans unsuccessfully attempted in World War II.

            “However, as often happens in [Russia], for inexplicable reasons, another variant was chosen – the most illogical, expensive and ecologically dangerous” one, Shevchenko says, one that crosses the very widest part of the straits near the entrance to the Black Sea.  That will guarantee only that the price will be extraordinarily high – allowing for corruption – and that environmental damage will be massive.

            “Having received carte blanche” from Moscow, Arkady Rotenberg’s firm, Stroygazmontazh have simply plunged ahead and ignored all calls to conduct the usual environmental assessments. The new legislation Putin has just signed simply puts a legal cover over his oligarch friend’s actions.

            This is not the first time Moscow has taken such a step: to prepare for the Sochi Olympiad and to build facilities for the Asia-Pacific summit in Vladivostok, the Russian government declared that work in these places was not to be delayed by ecological concerns. The result was massive destruction of the environment and massive corruption as well.

            The law about the Kerch Straits project was rushed through the Duma, Shevchenko reports. It was submitted by the government on June 10, passed on first reading a week later, and by July 1 passed on second and third reading with little debate. On July 13, Putin signed the measure.

            As a result of this haste, there was little opportunity for and little evidence of any public debate about what the new law will do – and whether it should be passed or implemented.  Groups like Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus which have reviewed the law in detail find it deeply flawed and dangerous, “a fig leaf” covering another disaster.

                The Bellona organization concurs with this finding, Shevchenko says.

Only in Fantasies of Putin’s Party is the CIA Behind Troubles in Karelian Villages, KPRF Deputy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 31 – Embattled Karelian Governor Aleksandr Khudilaynen says that Western intelligence agencies are “interested in destabilizing the social-political situation” there and that they will step up their destructive work in advance of the September municipal elections.

            Speaking in Petrozavodsk yesterday, he declared that he expected the appearance of “extremism declarations, attempts at destabilizing the situation and dirty leaflets,” and he acknowledged that there were places in Karelia, such as the village of Lendery, where there were problems such outside agencies could exploit.

            “Thank God,” Khudilaynen said, “our people are patient” about the resolution of the problems they do face (

            If the Karelian people are “patient” and even long-suffering, the United Russia governor is not. Reacting to his words, Aleksandr Stepanov, a communist deputy in the republic’s parliament, said that on the one hand, Khudilaynen’s words were simply “funny.” But on the other hand, they really aren’t (

            The village of Lendery, with its 168 residents, is in a forest region and has been forgotten by all, Stepanov says.  Khudilaynin implicitly acknowledges this by admitting there are problems there. But his words are disturbing because they indicate he treats complaints about those problems as the work of Western intelligence services and will suppress them “by the most dirty methods.

            Unlike liberals, Stepanov continues, he does believe that the West has an interest in destabilizing the situation in Russia. “But the Western special services, only in the fantasies of the Karelian governor, are going to come to Lendery.”  One simply can’t imagine such services making a movie entitled “James Bond in Lendery.”

            The communist deputy argues that the Western intelligence services have understood that since the end of the USSR, the best way to destabilize Russia is to work with Russian officials and bankers in the capital cities. “Judging from the situation in the wilds of Karelia – and not only there – these ‘special services’ have already achieved great success.”