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    Friday, July 20, 2007

    War without end

    I keep hearing that the war in Chechnya is now over, and reading nice features in places like the New York Times and Newsweek about how pleasant it is to visit Grozny these days. Then you scan the news wires and get a very different image.

    With a nod to La Russophobe, here's a look back at the week that was in "peaceful" Chechnya and the neighbouring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

    Interfax: Two policemen killed in attack in Chechnya - July 19 2007

    AP: Drunken Russian soldier in Chechnya kills 1 officer and wounds 3 - July 19, 2007

    Interfax: Seven wounded in blast at cemetery in Ingushetia (AP later puts number of injured at 10) - July 18 2007

    Interfax: Explosion kills four policemen in Dagestan (see above pic of aftermath) - July 18 2007

    Interfax: Ingush president's family residence comes under attack, no fatalities - official - July 17, 2007

    AP: Woman, 2 children fatally shot in Russian region (re: Ingushetia) - July 16, 2007

    And those are just the events that the newswires deemed worthy of reporting on. You can bet that there was plenty more below-the-media-radar violence that didn't make it to the desks of AP and Interfax. For what it's worth, the rebel-affiliated Kavkaz Center website says that five Russian soldiers were killed by the Chechen "mujahideen" on July 14 as well, and that 19 others were killed in fighting the previous week.

    As someone who visited Chechnya more than once, I've always been extremely skeptical that Vladimir Putin's money and Ramzan Kadyrov's thuggishness could bring anything more than a facade of stability to a republic that is no more comfortable under Russian rule now than it was in the 19th Century.

    While we're on the topic of instability in the Caucasus, I recommend that anyone interested check out the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's interesting three-part series on the arms buildup in the South Caucasus.

    Clearly, Chechnya's neighbours don't believe peace in their time has arrived just yet either.

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    Back to the arms race?

    So Russia today officially suspended its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. It's been coming for a while now, but it's still stunning to contemplate: one of the agreements that brought an end to the Cold War has just been tossed out the window.

    Yes, the updated (1999) version of the treaty had never been ratified by NATO (Russophiles will highlight this part). Yes, Russia had never fulfilled its promises to remove its troops from breakaway regions of Georgia and Moldova (Russia-bashers will emphasize this). Yes, there's a 150-day window before the Kremlin's announcement comes into effect (cooler heads will note). But the fact that the withdrawal happened says a lot about how bad relations between Russia and the West have gotten in the past seven years, and is a stark warning about how bad they could get unless both sides find a common language to speak in.

    I for one can't wait until we get some new faces in both the Kremlin and the White House so that they can start undoing what the ex-KGB man and the son of the CIA boss have wrought. Today's announcement again makes plain how little friendly substance there was behind those phony smiles at last week's "lobster summit" at the Bush family residence in Kennebunkport.

    On another front, I don't need to repeat how dismayed I am that the effort to find a single liberal opposition candidate for the 2008 presidential elections has collapsed. But Viktor Andreyev's eyewitness report over at Robert Amsterdam's blog was particularly depressing. Someone tell Oborona that it's all for naught if Russia's dwindling number of pro-Western liberals can't even agree among themselves.

    I'll bet the revolution-makers, oops, democracy promoters over at the National Endowment for Democracy are in full panic mode just now.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Miss one week, miss a lot

    So I decided last week to fulfill a promise I made to my wife when I finished writing my book, and to take a vacation with her without bringing my laptop along. While the Amalfi Coast was a nice break from it all, I couldn't help wishing a few times that I had time to sneak away to an Internet cafe to say:

    Sochi 2014: Hurrah! There will be those who will scrunch their noses and complain that awarding the Olympics to Russia right now is rewarding Putin and Putinism. I'm usually among the Kremlin's critics, but let's put the politics aside for a while and recognize that Russia has come a very long way since the last time it hosted a Games (the 1980 summer version, which was boycotted by much of the West because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) and that this is a nice way of recognizing it. Plus, Sochi's a beautiful spot, and Russians who are beginning to once more feel isolated from the rest of the world needed this far more than the Austrians or South Koreans needed another boost to their national egos.

    The Lobster Summit: What a crock. The only reason Bush was able to keep smiling while Putin drove another nail in his missile-defense plan was that he wasn't yet understanding that Vladimir Vladimirovich was saying (he won't until Condi explains it to him later). I can't help but wondering if some KGB frogman put that poor fish on Putin's hook.

    Proof of a Russian attack on Georgia: This story, by Marc Champion in the Wall Street Journal, likely went unnoticed by many since it was published on America's July 4 holiday. But it's very important and deeply disturbing. Effectively, the United Nations has determined that Russian attack helicopters took part in a March 11 assault on Georgia's Kodori Gorge. While it was made to look like an attack by Abkhaz separatists, the UN has determined that a Russian missile, fired from a helicopter, struck a Georgian government building during the fighting. As Champion points out, not only does it bring back dark memories of the early 1990s, when Russian forces aided separatist forces in Georgia and other former Soviet republics, it suggests problems ahead in Kosovo. Russia's strategy to get the West to back down on the issue of Kosovo's independence has been to link the future of Serbia's restless ethnic Albanian province with that of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two Russian-backed separatist enclaves in Georgia, as well as Transdniestr in Moldova. Anyone know where it went?