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Mysterious Shifts in Chechnya

Published: May 23, 2008 (Issue # 1375)




  • Photo: Bogorad

Like one of those dark mysterious beech forests of the Caucasus, Chechnya still contains many secrets and most of what is going on there is hidden from outside view.

From a distance, it looks as though war is over and the republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is firmly in control. Kadyrov is now busy eliminating the threat posed by the last substantial visible armed group operating in Chechnya, the Vostok battalion run by the Yamadayev brothers.

Somewhere in the shadows, a much less visible armed resistance numbering perhaps a few hundred men still flickers on in the southeastern mountains, but they are the hardest of a hard core: There can be little motivation to sustain a partisan war in current-day Chechnya.

Some important shifts are occurring, and I got a glimpse of this last week from an address given in London by exiled Chechen pro-independence leader Akhmed Zakayev.

To my astonishment, Zakayev, who is supposed to be leading a separatist struggle, gave a very upbeat assessment of the current state of affairs in his homeland.

“The decolonization of Chechnya is now a fact,” said Zakayev, adding for good measure, “The Chechen people have won this war.”

I was sitting next to well-known political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, and we both practically fell off our chairs. We pressed Zakayev to say more. He said the conclusion should be self-evident. At great and tragic cost, he said, Chechnya had now become separate from Russia. Colonial rule was dead, and Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin had achieved exactly the opposite of what they wanted. Twenty years ago, Zakayev said, a Chechen child on a bus in Grozny would have been clipped behind the ear for speaking in the Chechen language. Now the ethnic Russian population had virtually all left — something Zakayev said he regretted — and Chechen culture is predominant. Kadyrov, Zakayev said, had played his part and “done very important work for the liberation of Chechnya.”

Could it be that an exiled pro-independence leader, whom the Russian government wants to extradite, is praising the work of a loyalist, whom that government installed in office? Madness surely — but actually quite logical within the internal dynamics of Chechnya.

Kadyrov and Zakayev are in fact cut from the same cloth, both springing from the same nationalist movement of the early 1990s. Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad, was once a rebel fighter and associate of Zakayev’s — before he dramatically switched sides in 1999 to serve the Russians. In fact, the purported crimes over which the Prosecutor General’s Office tried and failed to extradite Zakayev from London in 2003 all date back to the years 1994 to 1996 and could just as easily have been laid against Akhmad Kadyrov.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekhov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekhov's books will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.



Friday, Jan. 30



The Lermontov Central Library, 19 Liteyny Prospekt, will screen 'Almost Famous’ in English with Russian subtitles at 6:30 p.m. Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning comedy from 2000 stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, and tells the story of a budding music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. Admission is free.



Meet renowned Russian poet, journalist and writer Dmitry Bykov, famous for his biographies of Boris Pasternak, Bulat Okudzhava and Maxim Gorky, and winner of 2006 National Bestseller Award. Bykov will read old and new poems as well as answer questions about his works at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Main Hall, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles and are available at city ticket offices and the from the Philharmonic website www.philharmonia.spb.ru.



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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