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#16 - JRL 9271 - JRL Home
Date: Wed, 19 Oct 2005
From: Pavel Felgenhauer <pavelf@online.ru>
Subject: re Nalchik  [click here to jump to column]

Dear David,

I have a serious conflict of opinion with the chief editor of The Moscow Times Lynn Berry, concerning the situation in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria and I believe the public must be informed about it. I have sent several letters to Berry, have got no response whatsoever and would be much obliged if you could put the story on your list.

Berry decided not to publish my regular column this week that was filed Sunday and was about the tragedy in Nalchik, but the story is, I believe, more important than a simple clash of opinion between editor and columnist.

Today there is mounting evidence from eyewitnesses in Nalchik that the rebel attack or uprising on Oct. 13 was followed by a rampage by security forces, by random revenge killings, ethnically and religiously motivated murder of suspects from the minority Balkar tribe by the local police force that is predominately Kabardin. Eyewitnesses (I met and had contact with some) that are in no way connected with the rebels ethnically or religiously, not only report horrific stories of indiscriminate killings, a massacre, but also say that the number of dead in Nalchik is several times higher than officially reported and that there are over 300 corpses in the local morgue.

There is a cover-up of the alleged massacre in Nalchik that is run by the Russian state propaganda machine and it seems that The Moscow Times has succumb to becoming part of this cover-up. Not only have they rejected my column, which could have been a coincidence, but also their reporting of events in Nalchik is a copy-story of government propaganda.

The Tuesday Oct. 18 report in MT on the situation in Nalchik by staff writer Nabi Abdullaev quotes Russian newspapers Izvestia and Gazeta that cite relatives of dead Nalchik residence that the police planted arms and ammunition on their bodies to claim they were terrorists. A disclaimer follows the quote: "The reports could not be independently verified." None of reports or quotes from government and security officials that fill up the rest of Abdullaev's text has the same disclaimer though "independent verification" was indeed lacking in most cases.

The situation is especially urgent and of great public concern, because the killings in Nalchik have not stopped bloody cleansing or zachistki, accompanied by heavy shooting are continuing in residential areas. It is possible that the Nalckik situation, if the repression is left unnoticed, will turn into something like the tragedy in Andigan, where Uzbek solders massacred hundreds of civilians last summer.

Best. Pavel Felgenhauer. Independent defense analyst. Moscow.

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The column. [Nalchik Violence and Government Conduct]
By Pavel Felgenhauer

The attack by rebels last week on Nalchik - the capital Kabardino-Balkaria - was hardly a surprise. Local authorities have been accused by human rights organization of brutal suppression of Islam and of closing mosques in the predominantly Muslim Kabardino-Balkaria. Experts have warned the Kremlin that repressions will backfire.

The security services and their local cadre in Kabardino-Balkaria still do not know for sure where did the rebels come from, how many fighters were involved in the attack, how many fled after the shootout and were to. The official line is that the attackers were Islamic militants or Wahhabis, but nowadays all armed resistance forces in the Northern Caucasus are universally branded by the Kremlin as "Wahhabis" and "international Islamist terrorists."

The authorities have accused well-known Chechen warlords Shamil Basayev and Doku Umarov of contributing forces to the attack on Nalchik. Again, the Russian security services do not seem to know how many if any Chechens were involved or how did they penetrate Kabardino-Balkaria that does not have a common border with Chechnya. It's possible that our security officials are deriving their information on the Nalchik attack from rebel Web sites, because they do not have any reliable agents of the ground.

Small groups of rebels of 3 to 10 men simultaneously attacked police stations and other military targets (9 locations in all) in Nalchik last Thursday at 9 am. Most of the engagements lasted about an hour, and then the rebels melted away before Russian reinforcements could enter the city. Security forces and army units began putting up roadblocks around Nalchik long after most of the action was over and these pickets did not cover the entire perimeter of the city. Three small groups of rebels (less than 20 men, most of them wounded) were stranded in Nalchik and were killed by Special Forces the next day.

The authorities have announced that 92 rebels have been killed, 37 - taken prisoner, 24 security force members and 12 civilians perished and that there are over a hundred wounded. After the Beslan school hostage-taking last year that ended in the loss of over 300 innocent lives, there was much fear that something as bad may happen in Nalchik. Vladimir Putin has praised the security forces for preventing the capture of schools and mass hostage taking, though there is no evidence that the rebels had any intention to capture any school. There is also no evidence that if the rebels would have in fact attack the civilian population in Nalchik, the security forces, could have done anything to stop them.

The Kremlin has declared the entire engagement a victory, arguing that the rate of casualties is strongly in favor of the security forces. But the official body count raises many questions. The history of contemporary urban anti-guerrilla engagements by Russian forces in the Caucasus, Americans in Iraq and so on, indicates that dislodging, killing or capturing over a hundred determined fighters, holed up within a big modern city requires much effort, a week or so of action and lots of tanks, heavy guns and attack aircraft support. The casualty list, the duration of the fight and it's intensify in Nalchik do not match do not match each other.

Information has been coming out of Nalchik that many families are reporting that young men are missing without explanation. It would seem that after the original rebel force mostly melted away, the security forces began revenge attacks against the population, kidnapping and killing suspects more or less at random. This may explain the abnormally large number of "terrorists" killed. Local security officials could have used the occasion to settle old scores with suspected "Wahhabis," while the large number of dead "terrorists" pleased the Kremlin and allowed it to declare victory.

In the past human rights groups have accused security forces in the Caucasus of constantly kidnapping and massacring civilians, including women and children to terrorize local populations to into accepting rule from Moscow. Now Putin, during a televised meeting with his security chiefs last Friday, has indorsed the same policy in Kabardino-Balkaria: "We have acted ruthlessly and will do the same in the future."

Heavy-handed Russian policies have in the past only fanned the flames in the Caucasus. Repression, kidnappings by security forces, mass murder - have increased hatred, recruited new rebels and caused the conflict to spread out of Chechnya over the region. Another victory, another "liberated city," some have been "liberated" so many times, they have been flattened.