How the Kremlin Looks at North Caucasus

north-caucasusGordon Hahn, writing in Russia Other Points of View, criticises the alleged “bias” in U.S. and Western media regarding the situation in Russia’s North Caucasus [abridged below]:

The North Caucasus: Through Mainstream Media’s Distorted Lens

The U.S. and Western mainstream print media continued their grossly one-sided presentation of what is happening in Russia’s jihadi-plagued North Caucasus. This time it came in their coverage of the murder of the courageous Russian journalist Natalya Estemirova. It is only when such incidents occur that the North Caucasus jihad makes even the most brief blip on the mainstream media’s radar screen.

To be sure, Estimirova’s life work was courageous and her death despicable, but it is far from the only or even the most urgent problem in the North Caucasus. The main problem is the underground network of jihadi terrorists calling itself the “Caucasus Emirate”.

In 2008, the mujahedin of the self-proclaimed “Caucasus Emirate” committed on average of one terrorist attack per day, killing approximately 410 and wounding approximately 440 federal and local police, military, security, and civilian officials and servicemen. Jihadi attacks also killed 36 and wounded 55 civilians.

The mainstream media has not run one feature or editorial respectively highlighting or condemning Russia’s Caucasus jihadists’ reign of terror. Instead, the media focus exclusively on violence that may or may not have been committed by “state actors”, in particular, those of Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov.

To be sure, Mr. Kadyrov and his local allies are no gentlemen and have likely had a hand in some of the high profile murders of journalists and human rights activists in Chechnya and Moscow.

However, it is not consistent with journalistic standards to jump to conclusions about the perpetrators of an act one day after, without evidence, and without presenting at least in passing the alternative scenarios.

Moreover, it requires a shockingly flexible stretch of the imagination to believe that Moscow and local authorities have been responsible for more deaths in the region than the jihadists, who since the early 2000s have killed and wounded many thousands and perhaps as many as ten thousand people.

The scale of the one-sidedness of the U.S. mainstream media appears to be something much worse than journalistic malpractice; it constitutes a deliberate and ideologically-driven propaganda campaign by an independent but perversely biased media complex.

Those who would be quick to condemn then president Vladimir Putin and present President Dmitry Medvedev for supporting the Kadyrov clan would do well to take into account several factors.

First, in its global war with international jihadism, the U.S. has had to ally with very nasty characters. For example, in order to stabilize Iraq, U.S. forces allied not only with tribal leaders but groups that had formally committed atrocities against Iraqi civilians and even U.S. troops and are only slightly less extremist than Al Qaeda in Iraq. The same is now true for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Second, since Russia is dealing with an Islamist threat that is more internally than externally-driven, there is an even greater imperative to get into bed with unsavory characters.

Third, culture and life in the Caucasus traditionally has been contentious and violent. The Caucasus is a region of numerous mutually antagonistic clans and ethnic groups saturated with a mountain-warrior culture with deeply rooted traditions that include blood revenge, honor killings, brutal violence, bride stealing, etc. In short, there are very few good guys in the North Caucasus – and few if any of those would refrain from violent infighting or even pretend to be able to get a hold over the situation there.

Consequently, Moscow is faced with the choice of either siding with unsavory elements or letting the region descend into absolute chaos, civil war, separatism, and a stronghold for local and perhaps international jihadists.

Instead of covering the complexity and dark side of what are the Caucasus and its jihad, the U.S. and Western mainstream media focus exclusively on the state’s inevitable human rights violations in the region, blaming them exclusively on Moscow and its local allies.

Rather than confront the complex and obvious, U.S. and Western mainstream media use vague phrases to refer to but essentially hide the jihad in the North Caucasus.

For example, when they are mentioned at all, the Caucasus mujahedin are referred to as alleged rebels, militants, military groups or as in the New York Times editors’ recent formulation: “suspected anti-Kadyrov insurgents”! (“Slain for Daring to Report,” New York Times, July 17, 2009)

We should be clear: the said “anti-Kadyrov insurgents” are opposed to much more than president Kadyrov. But no one in the West knows that because the U.S. mainstream media and various political analysts have denied or covered up their explicitly jihadist ideology, their alliance with global jihadists like Al Qaeda, and their record of terrorism and murder, even after Beslan in September 2004!

Western and U.S. mainstream media repeatedly report any real or alleged increase in kidnappings, murders, repressions of suspected jihadists and their families, but they never report on the increase in the number of jihadi terrorist attacks. The fact is that the number of jihadi terrorist attacks has increased continuously since 2006; this year in particular. The Western media bias is simply a mirror opposite reflection of Russian media bias.

One alternative explanation of attacks on activists and journalists like Estemirova is that the jihadists themselves have carried out some of them, precisely because they know the Western media and the most radical Russian liberals will immediately blame Kadyrov and/or Putin. But this possibility could never be mentioned in the Western mainstream media because for them the Caucasus Emirate and its cadre of zealous jihadists do not exist.

In an unbiased media universe, stories like the Estemirova murder and the Caucasus jihadis would get much more equal coverage. This begs the question: If the Western media is free and independent and the Russian media is state-owned, why is the level of bias on both sides not so very different? This would be the subject of media dissertation and cannot be addressed here.

Writing in the Washington Post, Tatyana Lokshina wrote: “We Russians have a saying: The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on. Europe and the United States have found it convenient to let Chechnya slip off the agenda in their meetings with Russian policymakers. The dogs are barking.”

Let the dogs bark and Chechnya be put back on the West’s agenda, but let the dogs bark about the whole complex of issues and not just those facing Chechnya but the entire North Caucasus – first and foremost, the jihadi threat.


Gordon Hahn propagates views streamlined with the Kremlin. His comments reveal the argumentation of the current Russian leadership regarding the Caucasus and the problems caused in the area by their rule. I must make a few remarks.

First, let us look at the magnitude of casualties in the North Caucasus, so that we would not miss the forest for the trees. There are quite adequate estimates telling us that the “short victorious wars” started by Yeltsin and Putin have caused a death toll of 260,000 people, among them some 42,000 children. The overwhelming majority are ordinary civilians, women, children, and old people.

Maybe these figures are exaggerated, but the truth will not be revealed before investigations of mass graves are carried out. Russia has not allowed such investigations so far.

The magnitude of the death toll in Chechnya allows us, without hesitation, to speak about a genocide. One quarter of the population has been murdered. The ethnic cleansing which occured in Bosnia 1992-95 has also been regarded to meet the terms defining genocide.

According to recent calculations, the death toll of the Bosnian genocide was minor compared to the fate of the Chechens – less than 100,000 killed, less than 40% of the killed were civilians, and the population was around 4 million before the war, out of which 2-3% were killed. By all measures, Chechnya and the Chechen people has encountered a far worse catastrophe, which has been imposed on them by Russia.

Analysing the present situation in the Caucasus without mentioning, by a single word, this genocide will make any analysis lop-sided and all conclusions defective.

Mr Hahn calls, without any hesitation, the Mujahideen terrorists. But even the figures he presents show that the Mujahideen mainly have strictly military goals; well over 90% of the victims of their attacks are military or paramilitary personnel.

The figures mentioned above tell us who has been killing civilians en masse. For me, a good definition of a terrorist is a person who kills innocent civilians in order to achieve political goals. Such a definition leaves us without any doubts whom to call terrorist in the present North Caucasus.

For sure, there are also other terrorists in the North Caucasus than the Russian siloviki. In modern world it is quite an amazing deed to make terrorism structural state policy – rewarding the worst perpetrators as “heroes of Russia” and giving complete impunity to officials, whatever crimes against humanity they may have committed.

I suppose this is the main ingredient in the harsh critique against Russia and their marionettes in the North Caucasus.

Mr Hahn is talking about “jihadists” in order to attach prejudiced perceptions on the resistance fighters. He forgets that this fight against the invaders has been going on for almost 400 years, several centuries before Al-Qaida was born.

Basically this fight, the Caucasian Gazavat, is an anti-colonial war against intruders and foreign oppressors. Colonialsim is an obsolete phenomenon in the modern world – almost the only place this relict from dark history still is flourishing is the North Caucasus.

We all know that this situation will not be a long-term reality, sooner or later Russia has to withdraw from the Caucasus. The civilian Russian population, who still lived in Caucasus one or two decades ago, has already left the area, as evidenced by available census data.

The ultimate solution to all problems in the North Caucasus is a withdrawal of all Russian military forces from the area. The Caucasians deserve, as all other peoples in the world, “respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” according to the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations.

Mikael Storsjö

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