At Large

Chechens and Chickens

All quiet on the White House human rights front.

By 7.31.09

Send to Kindle

It was suggested after the initial relatively mild American response to the Tehran demonstrations, one of the key elements of the current Washington administration's foreign policy was to ignore or downplay certain events in hopes that such a pretense would lessen the potential American involvement in difficult international matters.

The lack of a firm diplomatic reaction by the White House to the recent kidnapping and assassination of the well-known Chechen human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, apparently is another example of this calculated effort (other than VP Biden's personal gaffes) not to disturb the status quo with strategic nations. This is as opposed to Hillary Clinton's specific reference to the trial of the political celebrity, Aung San Suu Kyi, of strategically less important Burma.

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, thought the Chechen crime so important she brought up the issue directly with Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, during his recent visit to Germany. Medvedev was forced to publicly acknowledge the problem that he previously had dismissed as simply another incident in a recent spate of violence in the North Caucasus.

Whether Washington is willing to admit it or not, the murder of the internationally acclaimed Estemirova, who had been a close friend of the famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya, also a murder victim (Moscow, 2006), is a symptom of the brutal suppression of dissent that exists in Russia's mountainous regions of Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan. Vladimir Putin for years has been particularly sensitive to any outside interest in the rebellious activities of the people of these areas. He apparently made that clear to President Obama during the latter's recent Moscow trip.

The problems of the North Caucasus, and Chechnya in particular, go back many years. This predominantly Moslem area of Russia was in support of the Bolshevik Revolution from the beginning. Chechen nationalists saw as very enticing the early communist propaganda rhetoric of respect for ethnic identity, religious tolerance, and cultural independence.

By the time Stalin took control, however, these revolutionary slogans had been abandoned by the Kremlin and Russian domination was in full sway. Most importantly, the preservation of Arabic as a principal lingua franca had become characterized as "old regime." That act, along with its anti-Islamic connotation, appears to have become the early touchstone of modern Chechen rebellion.

Moscow in recent years doesn't seem to be able to control its own appointed Chechen politicians, who find excess to be their only means of governance. In his best Machiavellian manner, Putin guided the presidential appointment of Ramzan Kadyrov, son of a former Chechen puppet president who had defected from rebel ranks. Kadyrov has introduced new internal security mechanisms such as roving bands of loyalists to act as law enforcement deputies. These brutal paramilitary squads have earned their own name: "Kadyrovsty."

The Russian action against Georgia last summer actually spurred a renewal of fighting against Russian authority in Chechnya's neighboring Caucasus regions of Ingushetia and Dagestan. In truth, local outbreaks in all three of these states are virtually the norm. A leader is caught, imprisoned, or killed, and another rises to take his place. Going back to the Czars and before, each outside authority has been challenged. These mountain warrior people have a lust for independence in their DNA. The Russians see it as criminality.

The Kremlin is always hard-pressed to find a Chechen leader who has the toughness to take on the job of controlling that state. After the Merkel chiding Medvedev finally took a strong pro-justice position through vigorous lip service condemning the killing of Natalia Estemirova. This has allowed the Chechen president to assume the same righteous indignation and present his own solid pro-law and order position -- while the actual perpetrators are never uncovered.

The human rights organization "Memorial" has openly charged Kadyrov with complicity in the kidnapping and shooting of Estemirova. The head of "Memorial" has said he is standing by his clams against the Chechen president. In turn Kadyrov has announced he is going to sue the human rights organization and its head over the public statements.

The preponderance of publicly known evidence points to involvement of some element of the Kadyrov-controlled security service, but those facts are not expected to make it to court. More likely will be an official whitewash with full Moscow support -- and Washington silence.

One thing that can not be denied is that the opponents of the Kremlin-backed Kadyrov government tend to end up dead. In addition to Natalia Estemirova's recent killing this July, there were two other government opponents assassinated in March -- one in Vienna, the other in Dubai. Apparently under the self-characterized "progressive" Washington administration, human rights is a matter of political selectivity.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.