Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#14 - JRL 7256
[AIF PRESS CENTER, 13:06, JULY 15, 2003]
SOURCE: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE (http://www.fednews.ru/)

Moderator: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, the guest of Argumenty i Fakty today is senior editor of Forbes magazine and the author of the widely known bestseller Godfather of the Kremlin Paul Khlebnikov. At this press conference today we will talk about a new documentary research effort called Talking to the Barbarian. To be more precise, it will be about the origins of today's terrorism in Russia. Yes, Paul, you have the floor for a word of introduction.

Khlebnikov: Thank you. Firstly, I would like to say that there is some kind of a misunderstanding. On the one hand, there are all kinds of reviews but it is clearly not about the book of today because the book has just been released in Russia and it has yet to appear in the West. I mean my first book called Godfather of the Kremlin.

So, the book is based on my conversations with a certain Khozh Akhmed Nukhayev who was a "bandit authority" among the Chechen community in Moscow in the 1980s. I met him in Baku in December 2000 and I had very many interesting conversations with him and I decided to make my impressions into a book. He is a man who is quite outspoken in narrating the establishment of the so-called Chechen mafia in Moscow in 1980s. He recounts his "exploits" of all kinds and some instances of infighting in the world of banditry. He then served in Dudayev's government in independent Ichkeria and under Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev he held the post of deputy premier. He then departed into emigration and he got down to theological studies, politics and geopolitics and philosophy. He became an Islamic fundamentalist. Overall, he is a person who is quite well read, strange as it may seem. It is because of this that we had with him quite an interesting conversation because that single personality combines the bandit world, the struggle for Chechen independence and Islamic fundamentalism.

I don't know whether he as a personality represents a serious movement, whether he himself wields some serious forces among the Chechen diaspora, and so on. I did not decide to verify this and this is not especially interesting for me. It is not a historical essay and thus it is not important to what extent it reflects the world outlook that became known also in the circles of Islamic extremists of all kinds and in general in the world. Incidentally, I heard that after the terrorist act in Dubrovka he was announced as wanted internationally. But at least myself, I tried to call him on the phone in Baku but his office was closed there. All the telephones were switched off and according to my information, he is now residing in Qatar where Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev is also living.

That man, who openly refers to himself as a barbarian, is calling for a new barbarism, a return to barbarity, he negates all state laws, negates the civil fundamentals, even the idea of civilization. And he does his negation in an interesting way: he does it in a well-pondered manner, his position is very well thought out in this sense and that position caused me to ponder as to why I, for one, disagree with this; why do I prefer to live under the state organization of society; why do I prefer to live in conditions of civilization; and what does legality mean for me; what does the obedience of the law and the civilian morality mean to me?

I also hope to cause the reader to ponder because it comes from the origin, from the lips of a person who represents a trend, which manifests itself consciously or unconsciously in many different parts of the world today. For instance, we are all suffering from the wave of terrorism at the present time. In my opinion terrorism is a manifestation of the new nomads-bandits. If you borrow imagery from Russian history, you may think about the Polovtsi, the Khazars, people who would attack and who had their mind set on plunder, extermination and so on.

Banditry and terrorism are the things spawned by bandit culture. What will, for instance, the bandit take, a person with bandit thinking, from Islam? Naturally, he will not take the peaceloving or law-abiding things for the Muslims. He will borrow those extracts from the Koran that are the most bellicose and he will thus believe that this gives him the right to declare Jihad and to carry out the most hideous crimes against other people. We can thus see how rapidly the organized crime at the household level grows into organized crime in politics and an ordinary bandit grows into a terrorist.

One can also say that a society poisoned by crime and corruption is the most fertile ground for the emergence of terrorism because -- what does it mean? I means that in society there are no solid pillars of civil morality, law abiding and awareness of laws. That means that the resistance forces of society are at a low level and this, of course, tends to attract all kind of terrorists, all kinds of revolutionaries -- to try to leave their traces here. So, I think that bandits and terrorists, banditism and terrorism are the two sides of the same coin. And it is partly because of this that it is very important to spotlight the world outlook of such people, because in my opinion, we hear for the first time from the original source about what such people believe in, what they strive for and where they hail from.

What kind of ideology do they have, if I can put it that way? Because it is not Islam, pure and simple, but an interesting blend. Incidentally, Nukhayev speaks about different Caucasian traditions, Chechen and Caucasian traditions. I do not always take a negative posture in regard to this. For instance, he raises here in a very interesting fashion a topic subconsciously or consciously raised by many Russians. Why do Caucasians have so many children? Why do they create such big, strong families? Or, why do they show such great respect for senior citizens? That does that mean? What is behind it?

And here he explains it very interestingly and there are many things to pause and ponder over. Nukhayev as opponent of any statehood, believes in a society built on blood relationship and he speaks a lot about the importance of blood relatives. To him, a people is a gathering of families and tribes that fought each other.

In the Caucasus, just like in the Roman world, one's kinship goes seven generations back, in other words, when there is a common ancestor seven generations back. Historically, Russia and Russians had a broader interpretation of the notion of kinship and successfully fought neighboring nations, never losing their "Russianness". But because of this Rus grew from a small tribe into a world-level civilization.

We must not forget blood relationships because they are at the base of every nation. Now that preparations are underway for new elections, everybody is beginning to think about democracy, what it really means, whether it is genuine here. Democracy is when every citizen has the same voice. This is a very important foundation.

But I believe in something more than this. I believe our ancestors also have a voice, just like our descendants will. It's democracy plus, if you wish. A healthy society is a society that will defend the honor of its ancestors and take care of its descendants. This is one of the conclusions I arrived at after my conversations with this strange person. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you. If you don't mind, we will move on to questions.

Q: I just want to clarify something. Perhaps, I overheard it. Did this person take part in the second war too?

Khlebnikov: No, he didn't. By that time he was either in Turkey or in Baku. It was said he had played an important financial role in financing Chechen fighters.

Q: My second question is a follow-up on the first one. So much has been said lately -- some agree with this, some don't -- that Maskhadov is a moderate force, but extremists are a force that -- (inaudible) -- is not controlled by him. Is this really so?

Khlebnikov: I cannot say I am an expert on Chechnya and Chechen policy. I published this book because this is a rather specific point of view that is widely spread around the world. He has much in common with the philosophy of al-Qaeda supporters although he strongly resists the Wahhabite movement for religious reasons.

But still, this principle of barbarism, of new barbarism -- I wanted to explore this principle rather than find new evidence that would suggest how to resolve the Chechen problem.

Moderator: By publishing this book and thus promoting this person's point of view, don't you think that you promote terrorism?

Khlebnikov: I don't think so. When the threat of terrorism and extremism has become obvious and this is not of course a problem to be handled solely by law-enforcement agencies, special services or the military. It's a problem of culture in the first place. It must mobilize not only law-enforcement agencies in America, Western Europe or Russia but it mobilizes the ideology of society, society should demonstrate its ideological and cultural opposition to this phenomenon.

I think it is correct to provoke such a process in order to get first-hand evidence from this people of what their beliefs are and what spurs them. The purpose is to make people think in what they believe.

Q: You talked with this person. Do you have now your own forecast for further developments? And one more question, if you don't mind. How would you assess recent events in Moscow in the light of this person and his theory?

Moderator: And how will the situation develop in the future?

Khlebnikov: Even before I met with this person, and that was one of the reasons I had an interest in him, I knew that the problem of Islamic terrorism was mounting, that the Western world was looking in the wrong direction. At the time when everybody's eyes were fixed on Yugoslavia, a very strong threat of new international terrorism was growing. This terrorism has no one patriotic turf. This is why I call them nomads. These are people who very often break all ties with their families and their countries in order to promote jihad around the world.

I think this threat is still growing, and West Europeans are those who have turned a blind eye to this threat but will wake up to it in the not so distant future. They hope this wave of violence will not touch them. But of course, it will because Western Europe is a very good target for that for reasons I stated before.

As for the recent events, I can't say anything definite about them. However, it's clear that this is a nihilistic culture that has nothing to do with Islam and only uses certain episodes from the Koran and uses the flag of Islamic jihad. It has nothing to do with patriotism.

Q: What do you think Russia should do with those whom you call barbarians? Russia after all is a half-Muslim country with Tataria and Bashkiria, don't you fear that if one incites anti-Muslim sentiments, this may create very big problems?

Khlebnikov: I don't think this is an anti-Islamic work. It exposes problems in modern Islam. For example, why people with the mentality of bandits take certain pieces from the Koran and use them for their own purposes in order to prove that they are right? I think it is not my task is to protect real Islam from distorted Islam. I think this is what Muslims themselves, the spiritual leaders of the Islamic world should do. They should express themselves on this issue stronger and clearer.

As for what Russia should do about such barbarians it depends on whether or not they have violated the law. If a person just shares his philosophical reflections, he should be tackled on the ideological front and this is the main task of my book. Naturally, if these people go on to put their ideas into practice and truly break the law and kill people then of course law enforcers should enter the picture.

Q: As far as I understand part of the book is devoted to Boris Berezovsky. In what light do you represent him?

Khlebnikov: I have searched out Nukhayev partly because I was looking for every kind of witness who could testify before the London court regarding the early career of Boris Berezovsky. At that time the Berezovsky criminal procedure continued. And I learnt that Nukhayev, a Chechen crime lord of the time, was one of the people who was helping Berezovsky. But as you will see from the book, he keeps silent about it. He speaks about it in general way but he does not mention the concrete names and structures with which Berezovsky was dealing. He declined to give them to me despite my repeated attempts.

Q: What are the most salient facts that have to do with Berezovsky?

Khlebnikov: You know, when I started talking with him, I felt that Berezovsky as a figure has not significance to me at present. To me what matters is the broader and more fundamental threat to the civilized world, to European civilization. This became more important to me than some concrete claims regarding a concrete oligarch.

Q: Have you personally met with Boris Abramovich Berezovsky or did you only meet him in the courtroom?

Khlebnikov: No, I took a big interview from him when I was first writing an article for Forbes magazine and then when I published my book.

Q: What was your impression from communication with him?

Khlebnikov: Well, this is not a press conference about him. Read my first book and it describes all my perceptions of him very clearly. I have described his career with great thoroughness and you will find everything in that book.

Q: I have two questions. You have said that Europe does not treat the threat of terrorism seriously. What do you mean? Do you think it was wrong in not supporting the war in Iraq well enough?

Khlebnikov: No. I think Iraq is only indirectly related to the war on terrorism. I think that Europe has not made up its mind about its own values. A new Constitution has been agreed and it does not even mention the role of Christianity as the basis of European civilization during the last two thousand years. And the fact that Europe is descended from the Greco-Roman civilization is mentioned, but again Europe, to my great regret, because I consider myself to be a European, has lost faith in itself, it has lost its religion, faith in God, it has lost all sense of martyrdom. It is a retired civilization. And I am afraid that the sooner or later the bitter enemies of civilization will begin tearing it apart.

Europe is morally weak.

Q: -- (inaudible) --

Khlebnikov: This is, I feel, the prevalent trend of thought in today's Europe. Political correctness is very prevalent in Europe. To me, political correctness is a synonym of cowardice. One can treat other cultures and civilizations diplomatically. That's one thing. But when political correctness is totally at odds with self-determination and the declaration of its own values then it becomes cowardice.

Q: -- (inaudible) --

Khlebnikov: I am just now completing a translation into English and I hope to publish it in Europe, like in America.

Q: -- (inaudible) -- Did you have his authorization for publishing any interviews with him?

Khlebnikov: In what sense? I think from time to time when I write articles or books, of course I can agree my text with them --

Q: -- (inaudible) --

Khlebnikov: Well, the conversation started and it continued.

Q: -- (inaudible) --

Khlebnikov: Yes, he was on the wanted list, then he was stricken off the list so he could come to Moscow and after Dubrovka he was again put on the wanted list.

Q: You presented him as a criminal, a barbarian.

Khlebnikov: You will read in this book, I cannot guarantee the authenticity of all his claims, but he brags about his -- he almost claims to be the founder of the Chechen Mafia in Moscow. I give it to you for what it is worth, but he says that that was just sowing his wild oats, and that now he has moved into a different area, first politics and then religion.

Q: -- (inaudible) --

Khlebnikov: No, I am not saying that he is the founding father of banditry and terrorism. I am saying that he is personally expressive of a certain point of view. For instance, if I were to write a book about how the Russian press works and I took an interview from you and if it turned out to be interesting, which I am sure it would, I would have written a book about you and it would be, in format, like a days in the life of an Izvestia correspondent as a sample of how the Russian press works.

Q: Why did you chose Nukhayev as a typical barbarian? He is not currently number one or number two in Chechnya. How influential is he? Why did you choose him to depict as a barbarian?

Khlebnikov: First of all, I described him as a barbarian because he himself calls himself a barbarian. And this is his ideology, a return to barbarism. I wish I could hear at least one barbarian give me a definition of "barbarism." What sort of ideology is it? You see, barbarians like bandits have their own scale of values, they have their views on life. What is it? I am not just interested to know these people who are a menace to the public because they are prowling and stalking their prey. I am not saying that he is a latter day Dudayev or a new Maskhadov or Yandarbiyev. This is not the reason why the book was written. It just seem to me that he expressed it very aptly. And he has articulated an idea that is very widespread not only in the Chechen diaspora but in the world at large.

Q: You claim on page 15 that many Chechens collaborated with Germans during the Second World War. Our scholars say it is a lie circulated by Stalin. Have you studied this issue?

Khlebnikov: You know, I once saw a propaganda magazine of the Third Reich during the war and it showed all the peoples wearing their national garb in their national uniforms in the Waffen SS structures. There are Chechens among them. There are also Ukrainians and Russians and so on. I have not studied this topic, but further on in this book I say that the deportation of Chechens in 1944 was a manifestation of the principle of collective responsibility.

Nukhayev himself when he discusses the principles of vendetta, vendetta is based on collective responsibility, not individual responsibility that forms the basis of Christian civilization. Nukhayev advocates collective responsibility. But it is an irony of fate that the Chechens have suffered because of the principle of collective responsibility. Perhaps, there were a handful or several thousand Chechens who collaborated with the nazis. So, all the Chechens are automatically guilty. I reject the principle of collective responsibility. And I think that the principles of European civilization traditionally rejected it too.

Q: Many Chechens during the Second World War helped Germans.

Khlebnikov: Well, maybe, maybe.

Q: -- (inaudible) -- aren't you afraid of being sued by the leadership of Azerbaijan? And secondly, who apart from Nukhayev is in that "lair"?

Khlebnikov: Well, there were certain individuals, those who have been introduced to me by name, but then there was also my overall impression that there were a lot of people, elderly people and people who to me appear to be thugs, frankly. As far as I know, I think they had several floors. Specifically, I saw one floor that was overcrowded but there was also the second floor which they also use.

As far as I know that office has been shut down in the wake of the latest events.

Q: Can you see a full-scale military showdown between the Islamic world on the one hand, and the Christian world on the other?

Khlebnikov: No, not now. Again, I think this is a long process that starts with cultural and ideological struggle and then it will be struggle inside Russia, inside Western Europe.

Voice: -- (inaudible) --

Khlebnikov: It is easiest for the European, American and Russian armed forces to cope with the external enemy. But it is far more difficult when the enemy is within.

Q: You have said you don't want to talk about Berezovsky, but what do you think about Litvinenko who has mentioned you in his ...

Khlebnikov: I don't remember what he said there.

Q: That you are a secret agent.

Khlebnikov: Russian or American? Initially, in 1997, I was accused in connection with North Korea. Well, all I can say is that as I wrote in this book, and there are a lot of sources where there is a clear attribution of what was said and by whom. As for who the reader chooses to believe and not to believe is up to him, but it says everything clearly.

Q: And are you still in litigation with Berezovsky?

Khlebnikov: No, he has withdrawn his law suit.

Voice: So, he didn't win his case?

Khlebnikov: No, he didn't.

Q: Govorit Moskva radio station. I have two questions. It is assumed that practically all the terrorists acts in Russia are perpetrated by the Chechens. And Nukhayev is also a Chechen and you say that he is in favor of a society that is based on bonds of kinship. At the same time you say that most terrorists have no roots, that is, they have no homeland, they are prepared to betray their families. Could you explain?

Khlebnikov: Yes, there is a fine distinction there. For instance, I have a whole chapter about Wahhabism, what Nukhayev thinks about Wahhabism. Wahhabism was born in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century and this current of Islam is zealously opposed by the Chechens and most of the Islamic world. There is opposition to this current. And one of Nukhayev's accusations he levels at Wahhabites is that they "tear people away from their native soil, from "native-groundedness." They "exterminate" traditions, popular and religious traditions, above all in the Islamic world. And of course, their attitude is the toughest against the non-Islamic world. Not knowing any specific details about these latest terrorists, I assume they are of the Wahhabite brand of terrorism.

Because of this, I don't see that Nukhayev fully reflects the movement of the nomads -- bandits that are indeed at the basis of today's terrorists because he is very much a "man of the soil," he believes very much in his popular traditions and so on. And in this sense he has nothing in common with, for instance, Osama bin Laden, as a Wahhabite, let us say.

Q: Are Chechens very much "native-grounders"?

Khlebnikov: Yes, it seems to me it is like this and it benefits them. I am a strong believer in the sedentary ways of nations and I believe in the "native groundedness." When nomadic tendencies appear, this is always accompanied by huge and various violence. Of course, there are peaceful "native grounders" but when it is a massive "soil" movement, this is the worst movement.

Q: It is probably necessary to combat terrorism by the whole world. Say, it is Iran, Iraq and so on. But Russia should not be the only country. And how terrible is this terrorism for Russia?

Khlebnikov: The penetration of Georgia by US special troops in part aims at achieving this objective, to at least liquidate the terrorist Chechen bases in Pankisi Gorge. So, to some extent, there is assistance but one should say that this again is an example of the policy pursued by the Western world which was not looking in the right direction in the 1990s. It is because that Egyptian Al-Zawahiri, who is No. 2 in al-Qaeda, he was detained in Dagestan by the Russian law enforcement authorities and he wouldn't talk for half a year and when they learned who he was, I think they let him go, to slip through his fingers. At that time he was already a confirmed terrorist and so they let him go because there was not sufficient coordination between the special services, including American and Russian at that time.

Moderator: Other questions? First, this young man.

Q: In your opinion, the "political correctness" is always cowardliness, to what extent is this supported in the United States or you are considered to be a marginal person?

Khlebnikov: No, I think there is a strong current existing in the US, especially among the most conservative circles, in the Republican Party, and this impression is only heightened by September 11, namely, that a spade should be called a spade. And of course, the term "political correctness" came into being in the United States and there are even books about that, of a popular nature published there. I think there are even some very popular TV shows that poke fun at the term "political correctness" and on and on. So, no, I would say it is quite a widespread phenomenon in the United States and this in part manifests itself the strength of American spirit, as I see it.

Q: I heard you say that the appearance of US experts in Georgia was due to the need to fight in Pankisi Gorge. The Georgian leadership did not say this outloud.

Khlebnikov: But I am not an expert on that, so, I apologize... Yes, it is because both actions were carried out simultaneously. I mean the mopping up of the Pankisi Gorge and the start of the US military assistance to the Georgian government.

Q: -- (inaudible) --

Khlebnikov: Yes, it is correct, everything is interlinked.

Q: You link this or how is it?

Khlebnikov: The mopping up of the Pankisi Gorge is partly a military operation, isn't it? So, there is a link. And in order to decide in favor of such serious forces or to frighten them enough to make them run away takes a certain professionalism and a high level. And the things are interlinked, I think.

Q: Is it clear to you why Berezovsky has revoked his claim and that man, in addition to being linked with Berezovsky, because he knows about Chechnya -- (inaudible) -- it remains unclear -- (inaudible) -- and what natural things have survived in this country after so many wars?

Khlebnikov: You know, you came in rather late to this press conference. I think I have been answering questions for about 30 minutes.

Moderator: And indeed, the question has already been posed several times as to why you are organizing publicity campaigns around that personality. And it looks as if Paul said that man was interesting only as an average statistical Chechen and not as a key figure. Am I correct?

Khlebnikov: Not quite an average statistical Chechen. As an ideologist of new barbarism.

Q: -- (inaudible) --

Khlebnikov: Correct, I don't know, I think he has been trying already for a long time to revoke his claim. And our magazine in February or in March decided to accept his request. I will also point out that it was not an apology, there were no material recompenses and there were no refutations of the article itself. The article was put in the Internet and it is still there. Although now the access to it might have to be paid for. I think the article is there for more than six months.

Moderator: Thank you, distinguished colleagues, if we have no more questions to pose to our guest, let us thank him for finding time to come here and talk to us. He is now distributing his autographs.

Top   Next