Journalism in N. Caucasus – Executions and censorship

In the troubled North Caucasus, free uncensored journalism is intrinsically intertwined with the denouncement of human rights abuses, which are still taking place on an almost daily basis.

Below are the stories of a few of the journalists committed to documenting realities of life in North Caucasus republics – in many cases at the price of their own life.

Beyond the sacrifices of a few brave men and women, what’s left behind is the never-ending lack of reaction from the international community and the same brutal reality, hidden behind flashy photographs of  a rebuilt Grozny and Russian news reports of a miraculous return to normality in the region.

UPDATE: Human Rights NGO’s decapitated by Kremlin

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Anna Politkovskaya Russian journalist Chechnya warsAnna Politkovskaya – born on August 30, 1958 to a family of Soviet diplomats of Ukrainian origin. She graduated Moscow state University with major in Journalism.

In 1999 she was invited to work as an observer to an independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Since then, Anna Politkovskaya dedicated herself to uncovering human rights abuses and denouncing the corruption in Kremlin.

In November 1999, she organized the evacuation of 89 residents of Grozny Nursing Home (ethnic Russians) from the war zone, and helped them settle in various regions of Russia. In the summer of 2000, 22 elderly where forcefully returned to Grozny by the Russian authorities. Politkovskaya wrote: “the purpose of this action was to demonstrate to the world that the conflict in Chechnya is over”. The elderly found themselves without water, medication, food and clothes. On her initiative, Novaya Gazeta collected 5.5 tons of humanitarian aid and 5000 dollars to help them.

In 2001, while reporting on the war in Chechnya, she was detained by Russian troops. During the interrogation, she was reportedly beaten and threatened.

Seven years on the front line – Anna’s 7 years of work with exclusive footage

One of the cases she worked on was a false amnesty promised by Putin in 2000. See video below and full story here Cruel amnesty

In October 2002, Anna participated in negotiations with the Chechens who had seized the theater in Moscow. Together with Doctor Leonid Roshal, she was allowed into the building of the Theater. They handed fresh water and other food and drinks to the hostages.

When the Beslan school siege happened, Politkovskaya flew to Beslan in hope to speak with the terrorists and prevent the final tragedy. She was heavily poisoned in the plane, but survived the assassination attempt.

On October 7 2006, she was shot dead while entering her apartment block.

Anna Politkovskaya Funeral

Books by Anna Politkovskaya (click on photo)

Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy

Putin's_Russia_book_cover

A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya

A Small Corner of Hell Dispatches from Chechnya war north caucasus

Is Journalism Worth Dying For?

Is Journalism Worth Dying For Final Dispatches

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Natalia Estemirova in Grozny Chechnya war Russia victim

 

 

 Natalya Estemirova – born on 28 February 1958 to Russian and Chechen parents. She graduated from Grozny University with a degree in history.

In 1991 she started her journalism career; during the first Chechen war she started to document human rights abuses on civilians by the Russian army.

Estemirova was a frequent contributor to the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and personally collaborated with Anna Politkovskaya.

Her documentation of human rights abuses continued as she became a board member of the Russian human rights organisation Memorial.

On 15 July 2009, Estemirova was abducted in front of her flat in Grozny as she was leaving for work. Two days later, her body was found in neighboring Ingushetia.

Testimonies of Novy Aldy massacre survivors, interviewed by Natalya

In 2007, Natalya was the first person to be awarded the Anna Politkovskaya award for her work

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“Accident” during which an opponent of Russian policies is killed while in police custody

Maksharip Aushev, the man who continued his work, was assassinated one year later

Ingush Opposition Activist Laid to Rest

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Pulitzer Center’s project “Journalism and Censorship in the Caucasus”

Elena Maglevannaya exposed the torture of Chechen detainees in Russian prisons. Read more here

Zurab Markhiev (of Ingushetia): “If you are a journalist in the Caucasus you have to be a human rights defender at the same time.”

Read more here

Fatima Tlisova on reporting journalist murders in the Caucasus

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Caucasian Knot, one of the few independent newspapers in North Caucasus – which reports both in Russian and English – has lost two journalists in the last 4 years. See their news website here

Murder reports Caucasian Knot correspondent assassinated in Dagestan

Akhmednabiev, "Caucasian Knot" correspondent murdered in July 2013

Akhmednabiev, “Caucasian Knot” journalist murdered in July 2013

NOTE: The above stories reflect only a few examples of brutality against journalists as the real numbers of abuses are countlessly multiplied.

To read about ongoing human rights abuses in North Caucasus, click on the links below

Chechnya today – “Worse than war”

Clean up anti-terror operations

Enforced disappearances (kidnappings by the authorities)

Analysis on Russian media censorship (minute 11:35)

Cruel amnesty

On 20 March 2000, Russian president Vladimir Putin urged Chechen fighters to take advantage of an amnesty offered by the Russian parliament.  He was speaking after arriving in Chechnya by fighter jet on a surprise trip ahead of this weekend’s presidential elections.

Vladimir Putin flying a jet in Chechnya

Vladimir Putin flying a jet in Chechnya

After a brief tour of parts of the devastated capital Grozny, Mr Putin indicated that Moscow was willing to discuss the republic’s future with rebels who laid down their arms.

He said that those “who have not stained their hands with the blood of Russian nationals, have not killed or robbed, have a choice”.

 

A Russian pilot taken hostage several months before was freed in Komsomolskoye, a Chechen town captured by federal forces after two weeks of heavy shelling. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Zhukov had been captured in October when his jet went down in Chechnya during a mission. Zhukov was freed in Komsomolskoye on Sunday when rebels there tried to break out of a Russian encirclement. He was said to be in good physical condition.

Not much was left of Komsomolskoye village

Komsomolskoye Chechnya Russia war chechen rebels russian men soldiers fighters

In March of 2000 federal officials announced that 72 rebel guerrillas had surrendered at Komsomolskoye and that all were being amnestied. Two women were also among them, a Chechen woman by the name of Biluyevna Lipa (who appears in the video below) and an ethnic Russian woman who identified herself as wife of one of the Chechen hostages. Ruslan Gelayev, the commander, had escaped 2 days earlier.

The prisoners were taken to Chernokozovo filtration camp, where despite the public declaration of amnesty – they were tortured and killed. Three men survived  – two disappeared (disappearances are a common phenomenon in Chechnya) and one committed suicide, according to Novaya Gazeta.

One of the survivors, Rustam Azizov, told his story to Memorial Human Rights Center before he disappeared.

War in Chechnya: a Chechen militiaman tells his story

He also described the tortures they were subjected to; a short video shot by Russian army captured the treatment described click here for video segment (contains disturbing scenes)

 

 First part of the video below captures the hostages after the surrender; 2 females are part of the hostages. Russian officer also describes the killing of “snipers’ girls” – it’s unsure if it refers to these 2 females

 

A different version of the prisoners  footage

 

Chechen woman by name of Milueva Lipa is being asked to identify herself and admit on video that she was a sniper. She is in a visibly worsened state compared with the previous video

 

The male hostages captured on a 30 minute film, shortly before they died. The women can no longer be seen.

 

To read more about Chernokozovo filtration camp, click here Torture. atrocities (Emily Gillian’s excerpts)

 

The hostage video was made public in 2004 by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. According to her, making the video public was the idea of the Russian officer who had filmed it, as he hoped it will help “free him from a nightmare which continues to torture him right up to the present.”

The news report and video download link are still available on the newspaper website where Anna Politkovskaya worked.

http://politkovskaya.novayagazeta.ru/pub/2004/2004-031.shtml

Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in Moscow in 2006, supposedly for her human rights work and her open criticism of Kremlin’s corruption.

 

It was only through this video tape that the truth was revealed and the families of the prisoners finally learned of the faith of their missing relatives. It also reinforced declarations of Komsomolskoye witnesses like journalist Owen Matthews, who described seeing bodies with hands tied back and severe signs of torture.

The War in Chechnya had an extreme level of violence. To understand what role “violence” plays in Russian military culture, below is a so-called disciplinary video with young Russian conscript soldiers.


War crimes are a sad reality and a fact of every war. However, this particular event involved a declaration of amnesty from the highest state authority – the Russian president himself and the Parliament, and also involved a public statement from military officials of the prisoners “being amnestied” once they had surrendered.

The fact that the amnesty proved to be a false promise and that the real outcome was purposely disclosed from the public by the authorities – most probably with the knowledge of the President himself, affects the credibility of the authority in the Russian state on the highest level, not only in relation to the Chechens but also on international level.

Chechnya war veterans – How Russia treats its heroes

« One shared assumption is that the way a society treats soldiers will reflect its humanity by measuring the value that it places upon compassion »

Russian soldiers were often young boys coming from poor backgrounds; they usually received little or no military training

Russian soldiers were often young boys coming from poor backgrounds; they usually received little or no military training. Photo by Heidi Bradner from the “Lost Boys” series

Forgotten Victim of Chechnya: Russian Army

Soldiers in ripped sneakers and frayed uniforms beg for food at city markets from here to Moscow. Outside the Chechen war theater, suicides accounted for one-third of the army dead last year. As many as half of all Russian draftees now simply refuse to serve. For those who do, housing shortages have become so acute that thousands live in boxes or forage for space in abandoned factories. Even the general staff in Moscow acknowledges that a quarter of all servicemen have no place to live.

”Anya, I have solved my housing problems,” Capt. Andrei Golubev, based in remote eastern Kamchatka, wrote in an all-too-typical suicide note to his wife last month. He then drew his service revolver and blew his head off. (read the full article here)

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Report on the situation of Chechen war veterans

source: http://www.pipss.revues.org

Veterans of local wars in post-Soviet Russia consider themselves as victims of negligence and bad treatment, often exposed to unnecessary risks on the battlefield.
Once returned to civil life, they speak about rejection and abandonment. Although the history of the Soviet Union demonstrates that lost wars lead to the social abandonment of veterans as much as victorious wars, the fate of disabled veterans seems to be conditioned by the cultural heritage of the Soviet period which glorifies a muscular body and favors work capacity as a criterion for Russian citizenship.

The fate of disabled veterans seems to be a particularly unhappy one, conditioned by a Soviet cultural heritage which glorifies a muscular body and favors work capacity as a criterion for citizenship.

1. Sending conscripts to the battlefield with a minimal training
Sergei, 35 years old, was born in Novokouznetski, Kemerovo Oblast. He was conscripted during the first Chechen war he was sent to the front with one week of training. He was badly wounded during the storming of Grozny in 1994.
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Officers knowingly allowing conscripts to use defective weapons:
Aleksandr, 28 years old, was born in Kovrov, Vladimir Oblast. He volunteered to fight in the second campaign in Chechnya, serving as an artillery sergent.. A few weeks before his demobilization Kovrov’s gun was ordered to fire despite being in dire need of maintenance. He was assisted by four newly arrived volunteers, his old crew having already been discharged. The gun exploded. Sergei was the only survivor.

2. Aberrant orders given under the influence of alcohol leading to accidents and injuries.
Valentin is 27 years old. He chose to go to Chechnya deliberetely. He loudly and clearly insists: « We were betrayed by our commanding officer ». Valentin and his fellow soldiers were ordered by their commander to pursue Chechen guerillas on February 23rd, Defender of the Fatherland day in Russia – a day many servicemen celebrate with alcohol. They were dropped by helicopter and told they would be picked up again three days later.
But on the third day, his commanding officer, obviously still drunk, refused to pick them up. The only other route back for the patrol required them to cross an extensive Russian laid minefield of 12 km. Unwilling to send a helicopter, the commander ordered them across the minefield.
Their sergent was the first to activate a mine. Valentin was the second, suffering severe leg and foot injuries. He also lost his right eye. Vision in his left eye is now also declining.

Russian soldier in Chechnya war North Caucasus checkpoint

The currency of passage at Russian checkpoints in Chechnya was often cigarettes. Sometimes it was food to fight off starvation. The Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia joined with Chechen women in Nazran to find their lost sons, often lacking even basic information such as the regiment name. Critics claimed that the Russian army treated its conscripts as cannon fodder or slave labour for officers.
Source: theaftermathproject.org

3. Neglect by medical staff

Valentin, mentioned above who tripped a mine was treated with improper surgical materials in a military hospital; the doctors using corroded needles instead of stainless steel needles to bind his bones together. .As a result of thismedical negligence, Valentin developed severe complications and almost died.

Sergei was a conscript who was sent to Chechnya during the first war against his will . He was trapped during the storming of Grozny and shot in the stomach. He lay unattended for several hours and was conscious enough to hear the medic say that there was no use doing anything for him as he would not survive until the next morning.

4. Rehabilitation in a State sanatorium (or any psychological care) is an alternative rarely offered to veterans.
Most do not even know they are legally entitled to this service and never file an application for admission.
Several of the interviewees mentioned that they were sent to a sanatorium (dom otdykha) in Abkhazia, in an ironically improper environment.
Albert fought in Chechnya as an officer, where he was wounded and sent, along with his wife and daughter, to the sanatorium in Abkhazia. A war was fought here between 1992 and 1993 between Georgian government forces and Abkhaz/ Russian forces. Albert recalls that the medical complex was surrounded by signs « Beware of the mines », by destroyed houses and signs of gunfire and artillery. « From a walking distance towards Sochi, there is a river Psu in which you could see the skeleton of a tank ».
During his stay in hospital which lasted more than a year and a half, Valentin was visited by a young female psychologist who asked him all sorts of questions and records their conversations.
He says of her : « She exhausted me, she tormented me », and he recalls : « she left. Then two days later she showed up again and said – ‘you are all sick, you need to get help’ – and she never came back ».

5. The state denial of responsibility towards wounded soldiers.
In January 2005, a regional court of the Orel region overruled the decision of a lower court compelling the Ministry of Defense to compensate Gennadi Uminsky, a military contractor gravely wounded during the battle of Grozny during the first Chechen war.
Young Russian soldiers in Chechnya, year 1995

Young Russian soldiers in Chechnya, year 2000

Cut off in a cave, his section remained isolated there until the end of the war. Left for dead, Uminsky and his companions survived, although they were officially declared “killed in combat”.

After a year in hospital he was released, and classed as an “invalid of the second group”, implying that he would be in need of constant medical supervision. After having tried in vain to obtain a pension from the Ministry of the Defense, Uminsky went to court. No pension was granted and compensation was awarded to Uminsky. Some plaintiffs demanding compensation for war wounds were asked to provide proof that the Federal Army was responsible.

In the end, they were told to request compensation from the Chechen combatants, those in fact responsible for the wounds.

Ex: Disabled Soldier Sues Rebels “I know Basayev (chechen rebel) will laugh when he learns about this, and I will laugh with him over this idiocy. But what else can I do if the Russian government and the Russian courts have put this absurdity on me?”

6. The idea that veterans themselves are responsible and that the state cannot be held responsible for their resulting suffering.
Valentin was told by medical authorities that his loss of eyesight due to an exploding mine could not be linked to his service in the Federal Army. Therefore he was ineligible to be treated in a military hospital nor would his expenses not be met by the State.
Chechnya Russia wars russian soldiers chechens North Caucasus
7. Delegating social and medical care for the disabled to private networks (family, friends) and to Philanthropic Organizations

The economic crisis of the 1990s led Yeltsin’s government to neglect the social services and to transfer the economic burden of the army to the local authorities. Some local authorities provides assistance for disabled veterans, while others were unable or unwilling to become involved.

Pensions granted by the state are not sufficient to cover medication, prostheses, wheelchairs etc. therefore associations and personal networks are solicited to compensate for the failure of the state.

Veterans organization struggle to get funding for medical equipment and medication for disabled veterans.
In the December 2004 issue of Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, the case of a disabled veteran from Afghanistan is mentioned. This veteran is able to survive only thanks to the support of his former comrades. The man lost his sight and his two legs as a result of his service in Afghanistan.
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In 2003, The All Russia Organization of Invalids of Afghanistan (joined also by Chechen veterans) conducted a survey among its members and found that

  •  -46% of them have an income only sufficient to meet basic needs;
  • 90,7% have a difficult time finding a job;
  • 87,7% have no professional qualification for use in civilian life;
  • 50,7% have no apartment and will have to wait several years before getting one;
  • 91,4% have received no monetary allowance whatsoever.

Half of the respondents had never been to hospital or to a sanatorium despite having obtained invalidity status.

From 1990 to 2005 the Center for Sociological Research of the Ministry of Defense conducted a series of annual studies showing that war invalids constituted the most underprivileged citizens of Russia.
  • 26,6% are forced to live with parents or relatives;
  •  35,2 % have been waiting for housing for more than five years;
  •  79,6%, their disability pension is their only means of subsistence.

Only 5.8% of disabled invalids receive financial support for civil life rehabilitation; 5.2% are cared for in military hospitals; 4.3% in convalescent homes 1,5% receive help in psychological and medical centers in their district; while more than 80% do not receive any medical and psychological help from the government.

As Sergei, aconscript who served during the first Chechen campaign, says:

« The soldier who is going to war to serve his country has to give up his health, although he would like only to adapt and find himself in a social environment, but the state does not want this. You are left to your fate, and you are not needed by anyone. You are given a miserable allowance on which you are supposed to live.
When my mother found out how much I was given, she burst into tears […] and then she said : « Sergei I will send that money to the Kremlin, to Yeltsin with the following note : – take this money and just give him back his health ».
Today, the only rehabilitation home for invalids of local wars in Russia (Dom Sheshira) is a philanthropic organization which has struggled for its survival since its creation in the 1980’s.

8. There is no official data on the number of victims in the Russian Army for the Chechen wars.

Although veterans associations estimate that the counting of the missing and dead in Afghanistan is not finished, official figures that have nonetheless been published and tend to coincide with Western estimates.

The situation is completely different for the campaigns in Chechnya: here the only estimates are those made by Russian military journalists or Western military specialists. The absence of statistics testifies to the total disregard by the State for the veterans.

9.The Non-Recognition of the Chechen war

 (how Non-Recognition of the Chechen war affects the other side of the conflict – read here Difference between combatant and insurgent “Fighter” or “Terrorist“)

The status of veterans and the social policy depends on how the state defines war: if it refuses to call a conflict a “war”, then the war does not exist and there are no veterans. The official aim of the first Chechen conflict was to “restore constitutional order” and the second, beginning in 1999, was fought as a “struggle against terrorism”. It was only in 2002 that Chechnya was added to the list of “operations outside Russian borders”, granting veterans a legal status, along with rehabilitation measures and financial compensation. As noted by Sergei Oushakin, prior to this amendment, veterans of Chechnya were handed documents in which they were categorized as invalids of the Great Patriotic War. The “absence” of war led to the denial of the existence of veterans and their sufferings, and therefore a belated response to the needs of this population.

10.Hiding the failure of Social Policy -Victorious war veteran vs Crippled reality

From the 1920s to the aftermath of WWII, the state tended to hide the crippled veterans that tarnished the image of the Soviet Union as a nation free from social problems.

In 1947, the cities were cleared of beggars (most of them veterans). These unfortunates were allegedly sent to Valaam Island in Karelia. The Samovary – men without legs and arms – died there during the following winter in terrible conditions. Working Camps were created for invalids of the civil war, WWI and WWII.

“There are no invalids in the USSR!”

A more recent account of the state relationship to disability was made by a journalist who was in Moscow in 1980 on the Olympic games. The journalist asked an official organizer of the Olympic games if the Soviet Union would participate to the paralympic games. The Russian official responded « There are no invalids in the USSR ! ».

Some of the interviewees, when complaining to their fit companions about their impossibility to find work in their physical condition heard themselves told: “Well, stay at home” (“Nu, sidi doma”).

The culture of Heroism opposed the image of the Mutilated Body
December 1995, Russian soldier wounded in Chechnya

December 1995, Russian soldier wounded in Chechnya tries on a prosthesis

Post-Soviet Russia has inherited a culture which glorifies heroes and muscular bodies. Post-Soviet cinema and State patriotic programs glorify heroes of Russian history. The persistence of a heroic, militaristic conception of masculinity is still perceptible in today’s Russia. One need only look Putin’s press photographs flying military planes, riding horses, firing weapons etc.
As far as newspapers are concerned, there are very few accounts of the fate of disabled veterans of the Afghan war and none from the Chechen campaigns. The subject remains taboo in the Russian media.

11. The capacity of Work as a criteria for Russian Citizenship
Since the Second World War, pensions aim to compensate for the loss of income rather than physical damage, and that does not cover the expenses of medical care.

The state sends two messages: work has healing virtues and veterans have duties, even debts, to the state.

As if it were not enough to have risked their lives in the service of the homeland, veterans discovered on their return that having a place in society was linked to continued work and that they will be receiving social benefits and state aid only after additional service (work).

Chechnya

In Chechnya

The military press has also continuously to refer to the additional obligations of veterans:

“Veterans must take part in the organization of special days for conscripts, in competitions for the best preparation of citizens for military service, in the organization of the draft in municipal establishments and schools. They must to the best of their ability aid in the training of youth for military service. They must organize the implementation of the State Program in the Armed Forces “Patriotic Education of Citizens of the Russian Federation, 2006-2010”. It is also evident that they must contribute to the preparation of manifestations linked to the 65thanniversary of various events of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.”

As far as disabled veterans are concerned, being unable to be useful to the state – they are not included in those state patriotic project and therefore not promised any examination of their situation.

Conclusion

Most of the disabled veterans interviewed have internalized the idea that they cannot be useful to society and describe themselves as the waste:

Sergei « […] When I came back home, I had a strong inclination for alcohol. I drank really a lot. For a year I kept drinking. My mother tried to make me stop : « Sergei stop, your health is not good, do you wish it to worsen? » You feel completely rejected, abandoned to your fate. You are not useful to anyone, you are similar to waste… »

Valentin when questioned “Why does Russian state refuse to care about us ? Because they don’t want to, that’s why. Maybe we are not indispensable. The state, they probably see us as the scum of society ».

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Russia-Europe-US economic relations and implications

source: U.S. Department of State, New Republic, Agence France-Presse

Russia is one of the largest import and export merchandise trade partners for US and Europe. The following is a summary of economic relations and dependency, which automatically affect political relations.

Germany Russia

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin in 2012

One of the two largest oil producers in the world, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia again by pumping almost 10.4 million barrels per day (BPD). It is also one of the world’s largest exporters of oil, with nearly 5 million BPD. With the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas, Russia is also the top producer of natural gas, accounting for about 20 percent of the world’s total. This makes Russia’s oil and gas supply the best geo-strategic tools.

Since Rosneft bought Russia’s third-largest private company, TNK-BP, it has become the largest publicly traded oil company in the world by output. As a result, the state share of Russia’s oil production increased from 20% in the early 2000 to 56% today, with Rosneft accounting for 48% of the total. The increase in the state ownership paralleled a steady rise in overall production.

Click on the image for a detailed look (PDF file)

Oil and Gas pipelines from Russia to Europe

RUSSIA – EUROPE

Russia is Europe’s biggest single energy supplier and its natural gas pipelines mainly run through Ukraine, where some is used and the rest passes through to major Western economies such as Germany.

From the International Energy Agency, here is the breakdown of Germany’s oil imports by country of origin:

German oil imports by country

The same chart for Germany’s natural gas imports:

German natural gas imports

Germany’s position in the European Union is particularly important as Germany often dictates monetary policy set by the European Central Bank, basically controlling the markets and policies in its favor.

Other than being a major oil supplier, Eurostat data shows that Russia is also European Union’s third most important trading partner, behind the USA and China.

RUSSIA – UNITED STATES

Last year, Russia was a $11.2 billion market for the US as well according to Commerce Department data.

Over the period from 2004 to 2011, U.S. exports to Russia rose an average of 16 percent per year; in 2011 U.S. exports to Russia rose by 40 percent. U.S. companies reported numerous major business deals in Russia, including Boeing’s sale of 50 aircraft to Aeroflot and 40 planes to Russian airline UTAir, a joint venture between Exxon-Mobil and Rosneft to explore for oil and gas in the Arctic, and GE’s joint ventures with Russian partners Rostekhnologii and InterRAO. In December 2011, after 18 years of effort, Russia was invited to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). This major accomplishment will bring the largest economy outside the WTO into the organization.

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POLITICS

According to the Wall Street Journal, Phillip Missfelder, a senior member of the German legislative body, said,  (referring to the recent Russia-Ukraine crisis) “Economic sanctions against Russia would damage Germany itself. Sanctions are always bad for Germany as an export-driven nation.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also said on Sunday that the G7 countries should not kick Russia out of the G8.

Late 2013, while Ukraine protests were unfolding, Russia also threatened the tiny country of Moldova (ex-Soviet republic) for seeking closer ties with Europe.  During a visit to Moldova’s capital, the Russian deputy prime minister declared “We hope that you will not freeze this winter”, referring to Moldova’s dependency on Russian gas.

Read full article here Russia Putting a Strong Arm on Neighbors

“Being nice to Mister Putin – Chechnya”

Documentary made by Marcel Theroux

“With moves to increase Russian influence within Nato, it seems that Chechen suffering will go virtually unchallenged by Western governments. What seems important is that Russia is kept open for business.”

Difference between combatant and insurgent “Fighter” or “Terrorist”

References: European Journal of International Law (ejil.oxfordjournals.org)
Ruslan Gelayev, nicknamed 'Black Angel"

Ruslan Gelayev, Chechen commander turned to”terrorist” by the Russian federal forces, who also nicknamed him “the Black Angel”

The qualification of a  conflict as a whole makes the difference between “conflict” and “terrorism”.

The international human rights law provides that during an armed conflict, every individual is classified as either a combatant or a civilian.

A civilian has the right not to be targeted for attack and the right to receive protection from attack.

If the civilian joins the armed forces, he exchanges the rights of a civilian for the rights of a combatant. A combatant has the right to take part in hostilities. The combatant also loses any right not to be attacked.

However, if a combatant is captured or surrenders, he may not be prosecuted as a murderer for killing enemy combatants; instead, he becomes a prisoner of war, and can be held only until the end of active hostilities.

In order to apply international human rights law regarding combatants – the states in question (in this case the Russian federation) have to accept the notion of “armed conflict” in the region.

Since the second Russian-Chechen war when Russia regained control over Chechnya – it denied that it faced an internal armed conflict in Chechnya anymore, characterizing the events simply as terrorism and banditry and, consequently, it denied that international humanitarian law applied.

Russia refused to accept the “combatant” status anymore, and from then on it treated the hostile subjects as “insurgents” – which falls under penal code and they can be classified as criminals.

A combatant who kills a soldier is guilty of nothing; an insurgent who kills a soldier is guilty of murder. 

Under humanitarian law, the rules apply to all parties in a conflict – government forces and dissident armed groups alike.

Under human rights law (where the existence of a conflict is denied), the rules apply only to the government.

 

Therefore, by refusing the existence of armed conflict in the area and by treating the hostile subjects as “criminals and bandits”, Russia gave itself full legality over its own actions without need of justification.

Any opposition to Russia is classified as “terrorism”, “banditry” or “insurgency”, any talks to the opponent sides are refused – and according to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s declaration – they will all be “fully eliminated”.

 

Chechen rebels

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Chechen fighters tell their stories in a 25-minute report

 

Chechen rebels during a Russian helicopter attack near Goragorsk, during Russia's second war in Chechnya. October 1999

Chechen rebels during a Russian helicopter attack near Goragorsk, during Russia’s second war in Chechnya. October 1999

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Click below for other related stories

 The rebel “mole” – story of betrayal

Chechen rebel spies infiltrated in the rebel group

Chechen rebel spies infiltrated in the rebel group

 

Chechen rebel captured (video)

chechen rebel captured chechnya north caucasus fighters

Georgian villagers irate as fence goes up on South Ossetia boundary

SOURCE: www.rferl.org

Members of Georgia's Special Forces Police secure an area near wire barricades erected by Russia in the village of Dvani.

Members of Georgia’s Special Forces Police secure an area near wire barricades erected by Russia in the village of Dvani.

With its gently rolling hills and sun-drenched orchards, the small Georgian village of Dvani could easily be described as picturesque, were it not for a barbed-wire fence that runs through it.

Dvani, home to around 1,000 inhabitants, straddles the demarcation line that separates the breakaway region of South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia.

The village’s unfortunate location has placed it on the front line of a territorial dispute that has pitted Tbilisi against South Ossetia’s Russia-backed separatists since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2008 — almost two decades after an armed conflict between Georgian government forces and South Ossetian rebels — Dvani was shelled and looted during the brief Russia-Georgia war over the divisive region.

And when Russia subsequently recognized South Ossetia as a sovereign state, Dvani found itself, in Moscow’s eyes, sitting on a fully fledged national border — one that Georgians say is creeping deeper into their lands.

Last month, Russian troops began unfurling barbed wire along the boundary line, effectively separating people in Dvani from their farmland, ancestral homes, and cemeteries.

“Russia should leave our territories to us. We will solve our own problems, be it with Ossetians, Armenians, or Azeris, and we will live alongside each other as we always have,” said Leila Januashvili, a resident of Dvani. “Russians should not interfere and must stop setting people against each other.”

Russian Border Patrols

After the 2008 war, South Ossetia delegated the protection of its borders to Russia on the grounds that it does not have its own border patrol.

Metal barriers went up two years later on portions of the 400-kilometer boundary line, but the project was quickly abandoned and Dvani was spared.

Tensions have been simmering, however.

When news came that a fence was being built in some neighboring villages, Januashvili and her husband, Teimuraz Kopadze, wasted no time harvesting apples from their orchard, which lies on the other side of the boundary.

Like many local residents, the family relies heavily on apples as a source of income.

They returned to inspect the boundary line last week with a heavy heart and little hope of ever setting foot in their orchard again.

To their surprise, the border guards had disappeared.

Gone, too, were the fence poles and rolls of barbed wire that had been strewn on the grass waiting to be assembled.

“Everything was removed, including the poles, which made us very happy,” Kopadze said. “They removed the pillars along one-and-a-half kilometer. Even the [poles] that were planted but not permanently fixed have been pulled out and taken away.”

Although the fence remains incomplete, much of what has already been built is still in place. Likewise, in the neighboring village of Ditsi, work on fences has also abruptly ended.

Russian authorities have remained tight-lipped about the developments, declaring only that South Ossetia was marking out its true territorial boundaries in line with maps from the Soviet-era, when the province was an autonomous region within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also dismissed Tbilisi’s claim that the boundary line was being shifted further into Georgia proper and warned of “serious consequences” if Tbilisi continued what it described as “political speculation.”

A view of a newly constructed fence along Georgia's de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

A view of a newly constructed fence along Georgia’s de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Western Criticism

The apparent decision to halt the fencing came amid a mounting barrage of criticism from the West.

The United States, the European Union and NATO all voiced concern last week over Russian-backed efforts to seal South Ossetia off from the rest of Georgia.

The U.S. State Department said the initiative was “inconsistent with Russia’s international commitments and Georgia’s territorial integrity” and created “hardship” for local residents.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned that such activities “seriously challenge” stability and security in these regions.

All reiterated their call on Russia to rescind its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s other pro-Russian separatist region.

Whatever the reason, the departure of Russian troops, however temporary, has met with a deep sense of relief in Dvani.

Some villagers hope the incident and the international attention it has attracted will breathe new life into efforts to find a negotiated solution to the dispute.

“Nothing can ever compensate for our losses, but we started hoping again that there will be new negotiations,” said Ano Makhachashvili, a Dvani resident. “I think this could be a sign that the Russians are retreating. Hope dies last. We are not going anywhere.”

In Tbilisi, authorities remain more skeptical.

Georgia and Russia still do not have diplomatic relations, and Moscow’s recent statements on the border issue have been less than conciliatory.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili raised his concern at the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, condemning what he described as “the annexation of Georgian lands by Russian troops” and accusing Russian forces of “dividing communities with new barbed wire.”

A Split Within Georgians Too

The fence has also deepened divisions within the Georgian leadership itself, with Saakashvili accusing his rival, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, of failing to visit the affected Georgian villages and of pursuing a policy of appeasement with Moscow.

But memories of the war are still fresh in Ivanishvili’s camp, too.

Reintegration Minister Paata Zakareishvili, who oversees efforts to bring South Ossetia and Abkhazia back into Georgia’s fold, says there is no indication that Russia is backpedaling on the border-fence issue.

Georgians, he said, must still brace for a possible escalation of the dispute.

“We should not have any illusions about improving the situation. We should not expect any positive steps in this direction from Russia,” Zakareishvili said. “If it happens, all the better. But we must be prepared so that our citizens are safe.”

Reports have since emerged that a border fence was going up in the nearby village of Adzvi.