[Marxism] Chechen rebels were not Chechen

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 18 14:22:46 MDT 2005


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9738732/
Russia's terrorists: Now it's not just Chechens
Heavy-handed Kremlin tactics have expanded number of rebel groups
By Preston Mendenhall
Updated: 2:30 p.m. ET Oct. 18, 2005

NALCHIK, Russia — In their haste to blame Chechen terrorists for a bold 
attack on government buildings in this faded resort town last week, Russian 
authorities initially failed to reveal one crucial detail: the gunmen were 
not Chechen.

Residents who encountered the 100 or so militants said they spoke with 
local accents, suggesting that the attack was home-grown in 
Kabardino-Balkaria, an impoverished Muslim region in southern Russia.

The eyewitness accounts are a disquieting reminder to the Kremlin that 
terrorism in Russia no longer originates only from the war-torn republic of 
Chechnya.

And if that message wasn’t clear, in a statement on a rebel Web site 
Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev — Russia’s most-wanted man — praised the 
“forces of Mujahideen” from Kabardino-Balkaria, and not from Chechnya, for 
the assault.

‘Total failure’

Analysts say the heavily armed gunmen who took part in last Thursday’s 
attack represent a new wave of militancy in Russia whose ability to arm and 
organize in local Muslim communities is now a bigger threat to the Kremlin 
than bands of Chechen rebels sneaking through the mountainous terrain of 
Russia’s southern Caucasus region.

“It’s a total failure of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s policies in 
the Caucasus,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst. 
“Putin began with having a problem in Chechnya. Now he has a problem in the 
entire northern Caucasus. The war that began in Chechnya has spread out to 
a number of other local republics.”

(Meanwhile, there were further clashes Nalchik on Tuesday as Russian 
security forces continued their search for suspected militants in order to 
gain control in the town. Gunfire was heard and a suspect in last week's 
attacks was reported killed in a clash with police.)

Fanning the flames of historic mistrust of the Kremlin, locals say, is the 
combustible combination of high unemployment, easy access to weapons and 
frustration with endemic government corruption.

This summer, in a report leaked to the Russian press, a senior adviser to 
President Putin warned that some areas of the region were close to anarchy.

“When all the mosques are closed down except for the one with a 
Kremlin-friendly imam, extremists seize on discontent and recruit more to 
their ranks,” said 28-year-old Ruslan, a Nalchik resident who, fearing 
repercussions, did not want to give his last name.

Brunt of Belsan

The Nalchik attack took place only 60 miles down the road from Beslan, 
where 331 hostages, mostly children, were killed when Russian forces 
stormed a school held by Chechen rebels. In the year since the Beslan 
tragedy, Nalchik has borne the brunt of Kremlin’s crackdown in the region.

Following Beslan, the Kremlin began to impose strict rule from Moscow. 
Elections of local leaders were abolished in favor of Kremlin appointees, a 
policy that has alienated local ethnic groups. Reports of human rights 
violations have increased.

Amid accusations that police planted weapons and ammunition on civilian 
corpses in Nalchik in an effort to support their claims that dozens of 
terrorists were killed, grieving families have yet to recover relatives’ 
bodies. Russian anti-terrorism laws allow the government to bury bodies of 
terrorists in unidentified graves, a policy that has aggravated the Muslim 
community.

“The oppression of Russia’s Muslim population, using heavy-handed tactics, 
has backfired,” said analyst Felgenhauer.

‘Underground’ threat

Despite Moscow's brutal tactics, there are signs the Kremlin is beginning 
to acknowledge that brute force and central rule are weakening its hold on 
the region.

In a rare acknowledgement that anti-terror policy could be flawed, the 
pro-Putin president of Kabardino-Balkaria, Arsen Kanokov, admitted that the 
government might be reaping what it sowed.

“It will get only worse if we continue to forbid them to pray, close their 
mosques and force them underground, where it is harder to control them,” he 
told the daily Kommersant newspaper. “This will only harden them. And what 
is banned always seems to be right to people.”

Kremlin coordination
The government’s reaction to the assault on Nalchik certainly reflects a 
policy in crisis.

Although senior Moscow officials quickly claimed Basayev was behind the 
Nalchik events, Kabardino-Balkaria Prime Minister Gennady Gubin has 
reiterated, “There is no information that Basayev participated in this 
raid, even indirectly.”

And while other Russian officials were pointing to the Chechen leader’s 
role, defense minister Sergei Ivanov stated categorically that the 
militants posed as “peaceful citizens” in Nalchik, without the help of 
outsiders.

The lack of coordination extended to official reports of the number of dead 
militants. The Kabardino-Balkaria president said 70 were killed by security 
forces. The Russian Interior Ministry reported 92. Meanwhile, Basayev said 
41 militants had died in the attacks.

Preston Mendenhall is an NBC News Correspondent based in Moscow.

© 2005 MSNBC.com

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