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Analysis & Opinion
06.10.08 Look Who Is Talking
Comment by Gordon Hahn

Western (and Russian) leaders should have learned stark lessons from the outbreak of war in South Ossetia. So far, however, the post-Ossetian war period does not raise optimism that Western leaders will act to prevent a possible explosion of ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus. Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to Tbilisi bearing gifts for President Mikheil Saakashvili, America’s new darling in the Caucasus. Great Britain’s top officials recommended building an anti-Russian coalition.

The Republican U.S. presidential candidate John McCain has even proposed a most dangerous response to the Ossetian war: assist Chechnya and the North Caucasus in gaining their independence from Russia. Among other things, this would lead to the supporters of the Caucasus emirate (CE) possible rise to power, bringing to fruition what global jihadists call the “third emirate” after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. McCain and his advisors ought to know that the Caucasus emirate has declared jihad against the United States, Great Britain, and Israel, and its websites spew a continuous stream of anti-Western and anti-Semitic propaganda. Thus, jihadists like Al Qaeda would possess a haven from which they could destabilize Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey. It is hard to fathom that an American hero would adopt such a cynical strategy in order to light a fire under the Russian bear’s belly.

The Western leaders’ policy responses to the Ossetian war suggest that they are predisposed to escalate the very policies that helped push the conflict over the top in the first place. Georgia was and is being groomed for NATO membership. The expansion of NATO, at least in Russian eyes, remains the main bone of contention between Russia and the West in the “post-Cold War” period. The George Bush administration’s political support and its training and equipping of the Georgian army played a major role in the development of the South Ossetian war. The U.S. response that the training and equipping was for the 2,000 Georgian troops’ “counter-insurgency operations” in Iraq hardly stands up to serious scrutiny. The counterinsurgency training the Georgian army received could be turned against South Ossetia and Abkhazia; it made Saakashvili’s decision to go to war easier. American-trained Georgian troops killed 20 Russian peacekeeping soldiers in the first salvos after Saakashvili unleashed war by bombing and invading Tskhinvali. Then we flew the Georgian forces from Iraq back to Georgia so they could fight the Russian forces.

Support for anti-Russian separatists and jihadists is also a continuation of a recent practice in some Western quarters. Great Britain has been harboring Akhmed Zakaev, among other Chechen rebels. Zakaev was a member of the former jihadist underground “Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” (ChRI) government, superseded by the Caucasus emirate last year. U.S. and other Western think tanks fund former Chechen separatists and pump out one-sided studies on Russia’s war with the jihadists. The Ichkerians, led by the late internationally-wanted terrorist and Zakaev’s then boss, Shamil Basaev, engineered Dubrovka, Beslan and hundreds of other terrorist attacks against Russian citizens. By the way, until nine months ago, Zakaev and his company were taking orders from CE emir Doku Umarov.

In recent months, Zakaev has suggested that he, his “ministers” and an unidentified “Chief of the General Staff of the ChRI Armed Forces” “control” fighters in the North Caucasus. At least one amir, Mansur, has declared his allegiance to the Zakaev’s ChRI, rejecting Umarov’s CE. Although Zakaev has denounced Umarov’s declaration of the CE, though not his declaration of jihad against the United States, his website “” proudly reports on the same daily murderous terrorist attacks on Russian police and military personnel, as well as on fellow Muslim local civilian officials. The attacks are carried out by the CE’s combat jamaats and reported no less proudly on the CE’s own sites.

Despite all this, Zakaev was given the honor of addressing a joint session of the House of Commons and House of Lords last year. Yet, as Whitehall should know, the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism requires either the prosecution or extradition of persons suspected of having committed terrorist acts.

At a London conference a few months ago, Zakaev was again the featured speaker. Analysts from or affiliated with Chatham House (London), the Hudson Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Russia Foundation, the New School in New York, the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, British Member of the Parliament, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Russia Mark Pritchard, and two Western authors of pro-Chechen books also spoke. Not one specialist on the jihadi element in the Caucasus was present. Given the attendees, it is not clear who if anyone discussed this aspect of the issue, much less offered a point of view different from that put forward by Zakaev.

This sort of cavorting with Chechen militants who maintain ties to jihadi terrorists probably explains certain biases in the “research” of such institutes and foundations on Chechnya. Since the main security threat facing the United States and the West is global jihadism, one would think that U.S. and Western government-associated and non-governmental organizations would be as interested in exposing Russia’s jihadists as they are in criticizing Russia.
If you thought so, you would be wrong; they are not. The CE jihadists’ theology, ideology and goals are never detailed in the thousands of pages of “research” and reports in mainstream Western media.

The critical tone is reserved for Moscow. When the jihadists attacked Moscow and Beslan, research and media reports focused on the Russians’ faults, such as allegations of collusion between the terrorists and the Russian security services.

Moreover, some U.S. government-related and non-governmental organizations wittingly or unwittingly provide moral and even material support to both Russia’s Chechen separatists and perhaps their one-time allies, the global jihadists. Two years ago, for example, the Jamestown Foundation hosted the late Ichkeriyan President Aslan Maskhadov’s spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev at its conference on Chechnya’s “North Caucasus Front.” The front, declared in May 2005, was part of the Chechen jihadists’ project to spread their jihad across Russia and create a North Caucasus caliphate. In his presentation, Vachagaev revealed that soon a new jihadist cell would emerge in Russia’s Republic of Adygeya; something that occurred but days later and something he could have only known about with continuing ties to the Caucasian jihadists.

In early August of 2004, Ilyas Akhmadov, the then “foreign minister” of the underground government of the “Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya,” was granted political asylum by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which lifted an appeal challenging this decision filed a year earlier, after Russia issued an international arrest warrant for Akhmadov on terrorism charges in September 2003. Not surprisingly, the Russian government objected when Akhmadov applied for political asylum in the United States, and warned that relations between the two countries would be damaged should asylum be granted. Akhmadov not only received political asylum, but was awarded one of the much sought after Reagan-Fascell grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Now Akhmadov is enjoying more Western academic largesse. The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies is sponsoring his book on the post-Soviet Chechen wars. The Smith-Richardson Foundation, which specializes in supporting research serving U.S. defense and national security challenges, is funding the work. It is worth noting that Akhmadov’s sponsors, the NED and SRF, both turned down and ignored, respectively, grant requests from an independent and well-published Russia scholar who had already concluded a contract from the prestigious publisher, Yale University Press, for a scholarly book on Russia’s Muslim challenge and the North Caucasus jihadists.

In 2006, the NED website noted that its grantees, the Chechen Committee for National Salvation (CCNS) and the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) “continued their efforts to make available accurate, timely information” about the situation in Chechnya. Included in the “accurate” and “timely information” were reprinted speeches by Chechen jihadi leaders. When Russian authorities prosecuted RCFS director Stanislav Dmitrievsky in an attempt to close down the organization, Amnesty International contended that closing the society "appears to be the latest move in a carefully calculated strategy to get rid of an organization that has been outspoken on behalf of victims of human-rights violations in Chechnya." Unfortunately, the organization also had clearly tainted this noble goal by legitimizing terrorists.

Similarly, the Chechen Committee for National Salvation (CCNS) website, in addition to links to the NED, RFE/RL and European Union websites, included at the time a link to Zakaev’s At the time, regularly reprinted messages supporting jihad and threats from various jihadists cells tied to the ChRI. For example, on October 21, 2006, the same year NED praised the CCNS, carried a posting that promised to post a video clip of a beheading of an infidel.

This may seem like a drop in the ocean of support for the ChRI jihadists, but it might be worth at least considering whether to the Russians, it might seem as rather serious business. Moreover, it gets worse.

Given all of the above, the Russian government’s charges that Western governments and non-governmental organizations are helping the Caucasus jihadists cannot be so easily waved off as “Russian paranoia” and “anti-Western propaganda.” At the very least, it cannot be regarded as unreasonable to suspect that these institutions are backed by elements in Western governments, including the U.S. government.

What is particularly disturbing is the tendency of many think tanks and individual scholars to be driven by the exigencies of their country’s domestic and academic politics. Many are interested more in protecting their area or functional programs and specializations than in defending their countries and the Western civilization. This sort of nefarious activity by authoritative government-tied and funded organizations is a grave misuse of talent and funding.
Worse yet, it increases the distrust between Russia and the West exponentially. The only winner in all this is the jihadist movement and a few blind scholars, who refuse to see the real enemy.

Dr. Gordon Hahn is a Senior Researcher at the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California. He is author of two books, Russia’s Islamic Threat and Russia’s Revolution From Above.
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