Monday, May 26, 2014

Russia, Chechnia and the Ukraine - the *choice* to keep hoping for the impossible

As you probably know, the two Russian journalists who worked for the LifeNews, Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko, were finally freed and brought back home via Grozny in Chechnia.  You might even have heard that the President of Chechnia, Ramzan Kadyrov, played a special role in their liberation.  I think that the importance of this event might be under-estimated by many observers and I want to briefly comment on that.

It all really began in Crimea where, before the operation of the Russian Polite Armed Men in Green (PAMG), when there were some very serious tensions between the various parties including the Muslim Tatars.  At that time, Ramzan Kadyrov for the first time made a statement from faraway Grozny saying that he will not tolerate any "abuses against the Chechen" minority in Crimea.  Since there are not all that many Chechens in Crimea and since soon thereafter PAMG solved the problem anyway, this statement was rapidly forgotten.  But think again, besides being a statement in support of the Chechens in Crimea, who was that statement directed against?  Clearly, the threatened party was not the pro-Russian one, but the pro-Ukrainian forces, including those Tatars (mainly linked to Turkey) who had been manipulated by the USA to take action against the pro-Russian population of Crimea.  It is now clear that what happened in this instance is that Kadyrov did openly say that which Putin could not (for obvious political reasons).  In the end, it was Putin who eventually engaged his PAMG, but it was Kadyrov who had made the threat.

This time again, Kadyrov got involved by issuing an amazing statement which most commentators overlooked.  Here is what he said about the two kidnapped reporters:
The Ukraine's leadership continues to use Fascist methods. We demand the immediate release of Sidyakin and Saychenko. If the folks in Kiev don't come back to their senses and do not let these journalists go back home, we will not stand by in silence and watch as mock them, for them to their knees and keep them with bags on their heads. We have the forces and the capabilities to influence those who are holding these journalists in captivity. I therefore advise them to free these journalists or otherwise we will have resort to some tough actions.
I don't know about you, but when I read that I went "wow!".  There is a Chechen President (who is also and-ex warlord) who is clearly giving the Ukies an ultimatum which they better not ignore.  They didn't.

During 4 days of secret negotiations a group of Chechen negotiators sent by Kadyrov flew to Kiev in his personal jet and had some very frank conversations with the right people in Kiev.  The Chechens probably used the typical mix of threats and bribes to prevail and, as a direct result of this operation, the two reporters were freed.

What is very interesting, is that there is mounting evidence that Putin was involved all along even though he never said a word about it.  First, it is well know that Putin is personally very close to Kadyrov and that a strong friendship binds these two men who have immense respect for each other.  But now we can also make sense of a comment made by Putin who declared that the kidnapped journalists were kept in a "zindan" (a prison hole in the ground), something which he apparently learned through Kadyrov's people in Kiev.  Finally, one has to know Kadrov's quasi obsession in stressing at every step that he is always acting exclusively with the full support of the Kremlin to completely exclude the possibility of a unilateral action on Kadyrov's side.

This time again, Kadyrov said that which Putin could not say.

It was also interesting for me to hear the testimony of the two reporters who told that they understood that something dramatic had changed in their condition when they heard a voice pick up the phone and say "salaam aleikum".  Soon thereafter their handcuffs were taken off and they were told "take off the hood off your heads, you are safe now, you are under the protection of the President of Chechnia".

Why do I consider this so important?

Because the image of Chechnia and the Chechens is radically changing in Russia.  The media openly calls Kadyrov a hero and Russian citizens rejoice when they hear the Islamic "salaam aleikum" because they know that they are now safe.  This is huge!  What a change from only 10 years ago.

Kadyrov in reality plays a role which is a much bigger one than "just" the President of Chechnia (and a hugely successful one at that!).  He is clearly Putin's "ally number 1", especially in security matters, and the two men clearly work closely together as a kind of "tag team".  This kind of special role does a lot to restore the pride of the Chechen people and it also does a lot to change the terrible image many Russians had of Chechens as a result of the horrors of the time when Chechnia was ruled by psychopathic Wahabis.  Instead of being "terrorist barbarians" the Chechens are now increasingly seen as tough and reliable allies of Russia and of the Russian President.

As for the Chechens, they are still feared, but this time outside Russia.  During the 08.08.08 war the Georgians ran as fast as they could as soon as they heard that the Chechen battalion had arrived.  Nowadays, the Ukraine is full of rumors that Chechens have arrived to support the Donetsk and Lugansk republics.  To my knowlege this has not happened (yet?) and apparently there is some confusion between a "Vostok battalion" (Eastern battalion) in the Ukraine and the Chechen "Vostok battalion" which saw action in 08.08.08.  The former is composed of local volunteers from the Donbass while the latter is now formally part of the 291st Motor-Rifle regiment of the 42nd Guard Motor-Rifle Division of the Russian armed forces.  But I would not put it past Kadyrov to send in Chechen special forces as "volunteers" into the Donbass if things get really ugly there. Of course,  the key thing would be to get Putin's go ahead for such a move.

I find that absolutely remarkable.  By 2000 Chechnia was in ruins, a huge amount of Chechens had been killed, Grozny was was completely destroyed and plans were made to abandon the city and build a new capital elsewhere.  Almost all western experts were unanimous in their conclusion that the guerrilla war and terrorism operations would never stop and that Chechnia would become a "constantly bleeding wound in the soft underbelly of Russia" or some equally stupid cliche.  Now, 14 years later, Grozny is a superb city, traditional Islam has completely replaced Wahabism, Chechen terrorists and warlords have all been eliminated one by one, Chechnia has a very low crime rate, French actor Gerard Depardieu has an apartment in downtown Grozny, Russians increasingly see Chechens as their toughest and most dependable allies and the enemies of Russia literally tremble in fear at the possibility that "the Chechens might come".  Who could have ever imagined that?!

Will that be enough to heal the wounds of the past?

I don't know for sure, but I fervently hope so.  For one thing I will always blame the regime of Eltsin and his Jewish oligarchs more than Dudaev and his Chechen followers for the first Chechen war.  True, what the Chechens did during and after that war was simply beyond barbaric and I fully supported the 2nd Chechen war in which Russia simply did what had to be done (and did so brilliantly).  So I believe that both sides share the guilt and the pain of what happened.  Still, Russia is so much bigger and more powerful that the Chechens who had no chance as soon as the Russian people supported the military action (which was not the case in the first Chechen war) and I believe that Akhmad Kadyrov had the wisdom to see that this war would end up in the quasi-total elimination of the Chechen people and that it had to be stopped.  I think that Putin also understood this and that he believed that such an outcome would also be a disaster for Russia.  So these two men did the unthinkable and stopped a war which was about to turn into a total war until one side would wipe out the other.  It is as easy for me to write these terrible words as it is for you to read them.  But think about it, we are truly talking about an unspeakable horror which almost happened.  And the murder of Akhmad Kadyrov could have made this outcome inevitable had it not been for his son Ramzan who replaced his father and did an absolutely brilliant job to make his dream come true: Chechnia today is both Islamic and free.  It has a huge degree of autonomy, but it also is the most faithful and strongest ally of the Russian President.  I would even say that Chechnia is the single most important factor of stability in the entire Caucasus region.

I am under no illusion about the possibility of a "Ukrainian Kadyrov" appearing on the world scene anytime soon.  But if such a miracle could happen in Chechnia, I want to at least hope that it is possible in a future Ukraine, one freed from oligarchs and Nazis as much as Chechnia is now Wahabi-free.

Hope dies last and this is a hope I simply want to keep in my heart, no matter how naive it might seem to the "realists" out there.  I don't want to believe that a "Banderastan" can survive in what is a Christian holy land for which literally millions of people died to keep in Orthodox and free.  Right now the picture out of the Ukraine is a terrible one.  But Chechnia in 2000 was even worse.  So I will keep hoping.

The Saker