Telegraph: US-Russian detente doesn't stop the murders
- Daily Telegraph
US-Russian detente doesn't stop the murders
Killing of Sulim Yamadayev is unlikely to be raised at the G20 summit, says Adrian Blomfield.
By Adrian Blomfield
Last Updated: 7:46PM BST 31 Mar 2009
Sulim Yamadayev was not a good man. As Chechnya's second-most powerful warlord, he and his men had a penchant for hanging the severed heads of his victims many of whom had been tortured above the streets of rebel-sympathising villages.
So few outside his clan will be mourning his murder in Dubai over the weekend. It is also unlikely that the matter will be raised when Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, holds his first talks with Barack Obama in London today ahead of the G20 summit.
Yamadayev's murder, at the hands of a gunman in the car park of his apartment block, is not something either leader will want to sully the mood of detente that has swept over East-West relations. The noxious rhetoric that characterised the Bush years has given way to a flirtatious lovey-doveyness: instead of Dick Cheney's glowers and Condoleezza Rice's scoldings, we are treated to images of Hillary Clinton and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, giggling together like lovestruck teenagers.
Joe Biden, the vice president and a Kremlin critic in his Senate days, has talked about hitting the "reset button" in relations with Russia. There is real hope that progress can be made on the two biggest sticking points, America's missile defence plans in central Europe and support of Nato membership for Ukraine and Georgia.
But this estrangement cannot be ended simply by ignoring the underlying problems that caused the break-up in the first place. Russia's stridency abroad is in part rooted by its failings at home. Pursuing a policy of national resurgence is a good way of distracting ordinary Russians from the rollback of their individual freedoms. The Kremlin's foreign policy is therefore not going to change as long as its domestic policy remains unaltered which is why, critics say, the US should continue to address Russia's human rights record.
They maintain that Yamadayev's murder is symptomatic of much that is wrong in a country that is ostensibly ruled by Medvedev, but in reality is run by his prime minister and predecessor, Vladimir Putin.
The warlord was the sixth and most significant opponent of Chechnya's president, Ramzan Kadyrov, to have been murdered in the past six months. None of the killings have taken place in Chechnya itself: in one case, Kadyrov's bodyguard Umar Israilov was shot dead on the streets of Vienna, in full view of Austrians eating their lunch and doing their shopping.
Israilov, who had been granted political asylum in Austria, had made some startling accusations to a reporter from the New York Times. He alleged that the Chechen president had both ordered a string of extrajudicial executions and taken part in torture himself, by giving victims electric shocks and shooting them through their feet. Israilov was killed before the New York Times published its interview, although Kadyrov has denied both his allegations and any involvement in Israilov's murder or any of the others.
Three Chechen exiles living in Istanbul have also been murdered since September. All of them died after being shot with a silenced MSP Groza 7.62mm pistol, a weapon favoured by Russian spies. Further evidence that the campaign was to be extended emerged this month, when a man posted a video on YouTube claiming that he had been ordered to kill the leader of Norway's large community of Chechen exiles.
It seems pretty clear that the latest phase of Chechnya's brutal war is no longer being fought inside Chechnya, or even in Moscow, but on the streets of European capitals. Yet so far, no world leader has spoken out about the subject, apparently for fear of ending the budding rapprochement with Moscow.
Human rights activists argue that this is a mistake. Not only do the killings threaten to destabilise Chechnya, but the silence simply encourages a feeling of impunity that could lead to the body count mounting.
Putin, they maintain, should be held accountable for the rapidly deteriorating situation. It was the Russian prime minister who made Kadyrov president of Chechnya as part of a plan to subdue the querulous republic. If Putin can no longer restrain his creation, they argue, his policy of bombing Chechnya into submission, and then imposing a reign of terror to enforce the peace, has failed.
More disturbingly, a number of observers believe that the FSB, the Russian intelligence service once headed by Mr Putin, may well be involved in the killings. If that is the case, it raises the same worrying questions that surrounded the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006: did the FSB act alone, which suggests it is out of control, or was it acting on the orders of the Kremlin?
Adding to these concerns, the Obama-Medvedev meeting is being overshadowed by the start of the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oligarch who is facing 22 more years for the apparent crime of continuing to criticise the Kremlin from his cell.
Russia, the critics argue, remains a country whose rulers have little respect for the rule of law, and is exporting gangsterism into the heart of Europe. By adopting a strategy of appeasement on these subjects, Mr Obama risks emboldening Russia rather than neutralising it.