ONCE AGAIN THE U.S. MAINSTREAM MEDIA LOOKS PAST THE NORTH CAUCASUS JIHADISTS

by Gordon M. Hahn
Russia: Other Points of View
October 15, 2011

Once again, the New York Times has chosen to pass over the most murderous organization in Russia, the Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin, and instead focus on a political pathology that can be tied to ethnic Russians and Russia.  This time, the NYT, has turned to a favorite – Russia’s ethnic ultra-nationalist skinheads – who have engaged in very little violence compared to the CE jihadists and other elements in the North Caucasus.

The article begins by setting the standard U.S. mainstream biased framework: “Twelve years ago, a little-known bureaucrat named Vladimir V. Putin began a war on Chechnya, vowing to crush a fierce rebellion and return the territory to the Kremlin’s control.  It was a decision that made Mr. Putin, then the prime minister, into the man he is today. In a matter of months, amid a rush of patriotic fervor, he was elected Russia’s president.” 
 
The real facts are that the second war started when in August 1999, a force of some 1,500-2,000 foreign globali jihadists, local jihadists, and Chechen fighters invaded neighboring Dagestan to establish a Sharia law-based state.  Dagestanis joined Russians in fighting the invasion off.  Then the Russians made the decision to end the bacchanalia of kidnappings, murders and beheadings being carried out in Chechnya by Chechen criminal and separatist elements and ‘Afghan Arab’ global mujahedin trained, supplied and funded by Al Qa`ida (see Gordon M. Hahn, “Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right,” CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program Report, August 2011, pp. 1-6).
 
None of this has ever been mentioned in the U.S. mainstream media, no less the NYT.  Although it is true that Putin overstated the global jihadi element in the North Caucasus, he was not inaccurate in saying that there was such an element acting in the region.  And it was that element that organized and led the invasion into Dagestan, kicking off the second war.
 
The NYT article then moves on to its sole concern, Russian subsidies for North Caucasus budgets: “Not a small amount of xenophobia and downright racism underlie much of the criticism of the Caucasus policy.  Most opponents of help for the region are self-described nationalists and soccer fans, for whom ‘Russia for ethnic Russians’ is a common battle cry.” “Resentment over the lavish subsidies paid to Chechnya and other regions in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus to secure loyalty after the war has spawned a movement dedicated to cutting the region off financially.” 
 
There are two problems with the latter sentence in the NYT article.  First, the “war” is not over; there is a jihadi terrorist insurgency spread across much of the North Caucasus and far beyond Chechnya carrying out attacks against civilians, civilian officials, and military, intelligence, and police personnel on a daily basis.  Second, the resentment has not “spawned” any new movement.  Rather, extant nationalist and skinhead groups have simply added the issue of funding for the North Caucasus to their list of misplaced complaints.
 
Curiously, omitted from the NYT article is the fact that the mentioned subsidies are a recent development marking a certain learning and maturation of Russia’s counter-terrorism policy.  This includes amnesties for fighters and large investment and development projects designed to provide young men employment and thus drain the pond of potential jihadi recruits.  To be sure, this shift to soft power measures is somewhat negated by overly brutal Russian hard power counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency approaches, Caucasus traditions of blood revenge among the local police and security organs, and foreign global jihadists’ support of growing theo-ideological influence on the Caucasus mujahedin and some of Russia’s other Muslims. 
 
Nevertheless, changing Russian policies, including Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s co-optation of Islam in addition to more details on Moscow’s vast budgetary investments in Chechnya and other Caucasus republics, might be of interest to readers. 
 
Instead, we get the same narrowly focused explanation: “(Putin) has achieved relative stability in Chechnya in recent years by investing in Mr. Kadyrov, a former rebel, who has employed brutal tactics to bring the insurgency there to heel.”  No causality for the relative calm in Chechnya (and Ingushetiya) is suggested in direct relation to the budgetary and planned other investments made by Moscow.  Instead, the second most-often mentioned cause for the jihadi violence is once more emphasized in the usual generic terms: “Immense social disparities, in fact, are among the reasons experts say violence continues to plague the region.”  No mention of ideology, local customs of blood violence, or global jihadists as usual. 
 
Similarly, this and all other U.S. mainstream coverage of Russia scrupulously avoids mention of the now strong prosecution of Russia’s skinhead groups, including those who have murdered journalists.  The state’s previous lax enforcement of the law against skinhead violence and the murders of journalists are usually favorite themes of the U.S. mainstream media.  The NYT and other U.S. mainstream media usually report that the Russian state and its leaders were responsible for, if not behind, some of these murders and beatings of journalists which turned out to be skinhead crimes. 
 
The NYT’s characterization “separatist violence in the North Caucasus” is off base and obfuscatory.  It is not separatist in the Western understanding of the word.  It is not dedicated to Chechen self-determination or independence.  It is not even aimed solely at achieving North Caucasus independence under the ‘Caucasus Emirate,’ as the mujahedin call themselves and their would-be pan-Caucasus, Salafist, and Sharia law-based ‘state.’ 
 
Rather, the CE seeks no international recognition of such a state or membership in the UN.  Rather, it is dedicated to establishing an Islamist emirate, their self-declared Caucasus Emirate, as part of a global caliphate.  CE amir Dokku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov has said so, the CE’s Shariah court judge of qadi has said so, and many other CE theo-ideologists and amirs have said so.  The CE mujahedin have inflicted 5,000 casualties in just the last few years.  More recently, the CE has branched out into Europe where, in fall 2010 it was involved in the foiled plot to attack NATO targets in Belgium, organized along with an Al Qaida allied group.  A CE Dagestani cell was uncovered in the Czech Republic in spring of this year sending recruits and funds back to Dagestan and planning attacks in a third country [see again Gordon M. Hahn, “Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right,” pp. 6-14 and my reports Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (IIPER)].
 
No matter though.  The New York Times is instead frequently concerned with a hundred or so marchers in Moscow and a relatively small number of skinhead crimes, while it has never done one article focused on the Caucasus Emirate jihadi terrorist insurgency inside Russia.    Indeed, the level of skinhead violence pales in comparison to that perpetrated by the mujahedin by a factor of approximately two or three to one quantitatively and by an even larger ratio qualitatively (see Hahn, “Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right,” pp. 22-23).
 
In contrast, the ratio of NYT and U.S. mainstream media coverage of Russian ultra-nationalism to the Caucasus Emirate is infinite: many articles as compared to none, respectively.    What is needed from the U.S. mainstream media is fair and balanced reporting on the region and not apologoes for jihadism.
 
Gordon M. Hahn is Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; Senior Associate, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.; Senior Researcher, Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program; Visiting Assistant Professor, Graduate School of International Policy Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies; and Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group. Dr Hahn is author of two well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002) and Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine.  He has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and publishes the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (IIPER) at CSIS at http://csis.org/program/russia-and-eurasia-program.
 
ARTICLE IN QUESTION:
 
New York Times
October 9, 2011
Russian Anger Grows Over Chechnya Subsidies
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
 
MOSCOW ¬ Twelve years ago, a little-known bureaucrat named Vladimir V. Putin began a war on Chechnya, vowing to crush a fierce rebellion and return the territory to the Kremlin’s control.
 
It was a decision that made Mr. Putin, then the prime minister, into the man he is today. In a matter of months, amid a rush of patriotic fervor, he was elected Russia’s president, and after more than a decade he has come close to neutralizing the Chechen insurgency.
 
But as he prepares to seek his second stint as president next year – an election he is virtually assured of winning ¬- Chechnya could become a liability.
 
Resentment over the lavish subsidies paid to Chechnya and other regions in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus to secure loyalty after the war has spawned a movement dedicated to cutting the region off financially.
 
In protest last week, hundreds of people, mostly young men, marched across the Moscow River from Mr. Putin’s office, shouting, "Stop feeding the Caucasus!"
 
Their anger was forged not only by continued separatist violence in the North Caucasus ¬ and related terrorist attacks in Moscow ¬ but also by the regional elites’ brazen displays of wealth. For his 35th birthday last week, Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, put on a glittering celebration complete with a troupe of foreign acrobats and a performance by the British celebrity violinist Vanessa-Mae.
 
Some critics have even called for the North Caucasus to be severed from Russia completely, a surprising turnaround given the amount of Russian blood and treasure spent trying to keep it. An opinion poll conducted by the Levada Center, a Moscow polling agency, in May found that 51 percent of the population would not care if the country’s borders were redrawn to exclude Chechnya, higher than at any time during Mr. Putin’s leadership.
 
The protest movement, though still nascent, is potent enough that Mr. Putin has been forced to publicly defend his policies in the region. He has achieved relative stability in Chechnya in recent years by investing in Mr. Kadyrov, a former rebel, who has employed brutal tactics to bring the insurgency there to heel.
 
But violence has spread from Chechnya to other regions in the North Caucasus and beyond, and with elections for Parliament and the presidency months away, it will be increasingly hard to sell the Russian people on continuing these policies, some analysts say.
 
"This will become one of the main issues of the upcoming elections," said Aleksei Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader allied with the protest movement.
 
Speaking of the Kremlin’s predicament, he said: "On the one hand, they have promised the Caucasus elite huge amounts of money in exchange for votes and stability. On the other hand, they see that the Russian population is seriously unhappy about this."
 
The debate has exposed a rift over the main premise behind nearly two decades of intermittent war in Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus. Russia’s leaders say the resource-rich region is fundamental to Russia’s territorial integrity, worth the billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives spent in holding on to it.
 
In recent years, Moscow has financed more than 90 percent of Chechnya’s budget, according to Russia’s Finance Ministry. In April, Mr. Kadyrov, the Chechen president, asked for almost $17 billion in additional federal money for infrastructure projects like rebuilding homes damaged or destroyed in the war. Russian officials justify the expenditures as necessary given the destruction and the security needs there.
 
For Mr. Putin, it is clear that the North Caucasus holds special significance. The fight there is an important pillar of his legacy, linking him with a nearly 300-year struggle to subdue the area.
 
"The North Caucasus is not ballast, but one of the pearls of Russia," Mr. Putin said in August in a meeting with youth activists from the region. "Through it, we affirm and defend a significant portion of our geopolitical interests in this part of the world. For us this is very important."
 
There are signs that the Kremlin is trying to co-opt the anger over the Caucasus ahead of the elections for Parliament, in December, and for president, in March. Kremlin-friendly politicians like Dmitri O. Rogozin, a nationalist leader and Russia’s ambassador to NATO, have begun giving voice to the popular complaints while urging support for Mr. Putin.
 
For many, however, Mr. Putin’s policies in the region appear to have led to an expensive dead end.
 
"Our infrastructure is degrading, the population is getting poorer, and along with many other bad things, we see huge amounts of tribute being paid to the Caucasus," Konstantin Krylov, an organizer of recent anti-Caucasus protests, told reporters last month.
 
"For this amount of money we could buy ourselves an atoll somewhere in the Pacific Ocean," he said. "The climate is better there, and it would be easier to turn into a vacation area. I would seriously consider trading Chechnya for Vanuatu."
 
Not a small amount of xenophobia and downright racism underlie much of the criticism of the Caucasus policy. Most opponents of help for the region are self-described nationalists and soccer fans, for whom "Russia for ethnic Russians" is a common battle cry. No one has protested the large subsidies allocated to the sparsely populated Far East.
 
But their views appear to have begun to resonate more widely. They point out that while there are still regions in central Russia that lack adequate plumbing and regular electricity, Mr. Kadyrov has overseen a construction boom in Chechnya, complete with a multimillion-dollar stadium, an enormous mosque named after his father and a high-rise business center that includes an apartment complex more than 40 stories tall in the capital, Grozny.
 
There is also the matter of Mr. Kadyrov’s fleet of luxury cars, his private zoo and his racehorses.
 
Asked last week where such wealth comes from, Mr. Kadyrov told journalists, "From Allah."
 
Most Chechens, meanwhile, are deeply impoverished. Unemployment in parts of the North Caucasus is as high as 55 percent, according to the North Caucasus Federal District administration. Some independent experts say the figure is above 80 percent. "All the expenditures are made without any control," said Mr. Navalny, the anti-corruption crusader. "We see an absolutely impoverished population and a few bearded men who drive around in Mercedes that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is leading to tensions."
 
Immense social disparities, in fact, are among the reasons experts say violence continues to plague the region. In August, two suicide bomb attacks killed at least eight people in Grozny during celebrations at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Similar attacks occur almost daily in neighboring Dagestan, and Moscow continues to be a prime target of extremists from the region, with deadly attacks on an airport and the subway system in recent years.
 
"Russia has effectively lost the war," said Andrei A. Piontkovsky, a prominent Moscow-based analyst. "Moreover, Russia pays reparations as the losing side."
 
"The most frightening thing," he said, "is that there is no escape from this situation. It is a situation that Putin created, step by step, over 12 years."

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