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Putin The Boot In

article - SchNEWS,  1 Nov 2002

"Is it a real victory - so many victims? The tragedy of the musical did not spring out of the blue. It is not the end, but the beginning. Now we shall live in fear, as we see our children and our elderly go out into the street. Perhaps this is how Chechen people live?" - Anna Politkovskaya, Russian journalist who went in to talk to the hostage takers.

SS War On Terror
Russia's very own war on terrorism came back to haunt it last weekend when Chechen rebels took hundreds of people hostage in a Moscow Theatre. Their demand was that Russia pull out of Chechnya which over the past few years has been bombed back to the iron age - retribution for a number of bomb attacks in Moscow that were blamed on the rebels. Russian troops captured the capital Grozny - already a pile of rubble after the last war with Russia five years earlier - and in the process killed up to 40,000 civilians. Although the conventional war has largely ceased, human rights organisations have reported a rise in the disappearance, torture and summary executions, in what is called the Wild West of Russia.

There is a catalogue of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Russian Army: In June, a ditch containing 50 mutilated bodies was discovered near the Russian army post in Chankala. The corpses were missing eyes, ears, limbs and genitals. In July in the village of Meskyer Yurt, 21 men, women and children were bound together and blown up, their remains were thrown into a ditch. The list goes on...

Some those who survive sometimes wish hadn't. In Zernovodsk this summer, townspeople say they were made to watch women being raped. When the men tried to defend them, 68 were handcuffed to an armoured truck and raped too. After this episode, 45 of them joined the guerrillas in the mountains. One older man, Nurdi Dayeyev, who was nearly blind, had nails driven through his hands and feet because it was suspected that he was in contact with the fighters. The Russians do not deny that these things happen, there's even an official order issued banning such abuses.

Theatre of War

Last weekend s tragedy has refocused attention on the conflict, which Russia has repeatedly claimed is winding down, even though its soldiers continue to die at a rate of two to three a day. Russia's President Putin has tried to sweep the embarrassing brutalities of the ongoing anti-terrorist operations under the carpet, whilst the West has turned a blind eye so they could get Russian support for their own wars of terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

The problem according to Krystyna Kurczab-Redlich, a Polish reporter, is that the brutality of the Russians has also resulted in a growing radicalisation of their opponents. Russia has tried to link the rebels to al-Qaeda, as some of the Chechen leaders no doubt see the conflict as a holy war. Now Chechens everywhere face a further crackdown. Soldiers are surrounding refugee camps, while Chechens in Russia are being rounded up and arrested. Russia has tried to stop the World Chechen Congress in Copenhagen: they persuaded Denmark to arrest Akhmed Zakayev, Chechnya's top European representative, who was to be the main speaker, who they accuse of playing a part in the theatre siege. As one Russian journalist commented "the search for participants in the terrorist act is turning into a cleansing operation to rid Moscow of all Chechens".

More Shit in the Pipeline

Both Russia and the US are fighting the war on terror to justify attacks on (largely) Islamic societies with racist rhetoric about the need to combat fundamentalism, but the real reason behind it is justification for anything the state does to protect its interests. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Back in July, this tiny country was granted $64 million of aid by the US government, making it the third largest recipient of US aid in the world. The reason? Both the US and Russia reckon that Georgia is in the frontline of the war on terror. Russia argues that Georgia's mountainous Pankisi gorge, which sits along the border with Chechnya, is a hideout for Chechen rebels, who are able to move across the border to launch attacks on Russian troops. The US reckons that amongst these fighters there might be as many as a dozen Al-Qaeda members. The $64 million is for counter-insurgency training and equipment for the Georgian army, allegedly so that it can flush out these bad guys. Russia was furious about this move, which amounts to the US establishing a base for its Special Forces on the Russian border. Russia accused Georgia of complicity with international terror and Putin wrote to the UN saying that Russia reserved the right to use pre-emptive strikes on Georgia to defend itself.

The US claim that it is pouring money on the Georgian military so that they can take out al-Qaeda, one journalist wrote, so why would the dozen or so suspected al-Qaeda terrorists hang around until a new force is trained? But what other reason would there be for making sure the Georgian army is tooled-up like the Green Berets? Hmmm, maybe it's got something to do with the massive oil and gas pipelines that the US and Britain want to run through Georgia, to take oil from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Ceyhan in Turkey. For the last 10 years the US and Britain have been investing in central Asian oilfields, but have been struggling to find a way of getting the oil to the West without taking it through Iran or Russia. The proposed solution is the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which if built would transport 1 million barrels of oil a day along a route that runs across (amongst other things) 20 major rivers and 2 dense primary forests, and borders on several zones of conflict.

The consortium of companies backing the pipeline is only offering to provide 30% of the £3 billion costs. BP, the company heading the consortium, has said that the project would not be possible without masses of free public money (i.e. our money), including £65 million from the UK's own Export Credit Guarantee Scheme. It will also need military or paramilitary patrols all along the route to protect the pipe from sabotage and theft. Campaigners opposing the pipeline say that the proposed route as well as passing through war zones, cuts through villages and bisects people's lands. Many will be evicted, or forced to trespass on oil company property in order to lead their daily lives. Similar situations in other countries (such as BP's pipeline in Colombia) have led to major human rights atrocities. Whilst Georgian peasants worry that Russia s new hard-line approach to Chechnya will drag their villages back into conflict, Western greed for Central Asian oil is driving plans that, if carried out, will ensure that Georgia is threatened by war and environmental crisis for decades to come.

- SchNEWS  (1st November 2002)

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revised 18 November 2005