Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
TUESDAY 8 JUNE 2004
Chairman: We move from the certainties
of international law to the ambiguities in respect of our relations
with Russia. On behalf of the Committee, I welcome Mr James Sherr,
who is a Fellow of the Conflict Studies Research Centre of the
UK Defence Academy, and Mr Tom de Waal, Head of the Caucasus Project
in the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. The Committee will
shortly be visiting Russia and therefore your evidence to us is
Q280 Mr Olner: We all know that,
since September 11, Russia is a very committed partner in the
war against terrorism. 2001 seems a fair way away now. How committed
are they in deploying their armed forces to ensure that the war
against terrorism is their top priority?
Mr Sherr: Let me begin by saying
that, even as of 12 September 2001, we succeeded in developing
only a limited partnership with Russia in the global war on terrorism.
That is because there are a number of considerable differences
in approach. They have developed over many years, and the Iraq
war has intensified them. The first of these is that, from a Russian
perspective, the war on terrorism is a matter of national survival.
Many people in Russia perceive that weparticularly the
United Kingdom and the United States are using the war
on terrorism-as a way of enhancing and extending our domination
of the international system. Secondly, whereas we are inclined
to link the issues of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction,
nuclear proliferation, other dangerous proliferation of weapons
and material, the Russians are not inclined to do this and very
clearly separate these issues. At the same time, they have also
viewed the war on terrorism in some respects as an opportunity,
because it has enhanced their position in Europe and in the world
especially as a major player in energy. It has afforded them a
new set of justifications for enhancing their own influence and
domination over certain countries in the former Soviet Union,
particularly Ukraine and Moldova, and certainly there are strong
aspirations in this regard with respect to Georgia. So whereas
over some issues such as Afghanistan there has been a very firm
partnership, and there is potential for a far greater partnership
in Central Asia and the eastern area of the Russian Federation,
there are some real differences. I have not yet even mentioned
Chechnya, which is Tom's special area of expertise.
Q281 Chairman: Mr de Waal, does Russia
just see these through the prism of Chechnya?
Mr de Waal: As Mr Sherr has said,
my perspective is very much on Chechnya, and I think that you
have to be very careful about terminology here. The Chechen conflict
began in 1994. Terrorism was not an issue there at all. We were
talking about a separatist disputeas it were, Russia's
Basque country or Northern Ireland. The language of the fight
against terror began when Russia fought the second Chechen conflict
in 1999 and they started portraying Chechens as terrorists. In
my view, this is very much the tail wagging the dog. Obviously
there is now an objective terrorist problem in Chechnya, but one
very much that Russia created itself by launching an internal
war on its own territory, which it then subsequently portrayed
as a terrorist problem. If we are going to discuss Chechnya more,
we could try to gradate what is and what is not terrorism within
the Chechen conflict.
Q282 Mr Olner: I am trying to get
a feel as to whether Russia is more involved in its own problems
than in joining the fight against global terrorism, which is what
our inquiry is basically about. Are the old-style generals still
holding sway? President Putin wants to change some of the military
things in Russia, but is the old guard still holding sway?
Mr Sherr: I think that it is fair
to say with regard to the key instruments in combating terrorists
or dealing with Russian national securityand I do, not
simply mean the armed forces of the Ministry of Defence but this
formidable array of other military structures outside the Ministry
of Defencethe Ministry of the Interior, the Federal Security
Service, and so onthat there has been a very concerted
effort, beginning in 2001, to conduct systematic reforms of all
these structures; but there remain very serious problems. I would
put the evolution in the following terms. When President Putin
came to office, the Russian armed forces and security services
had become so deficient in their capabilities and so pathological
in their way of dealing with problems that they were actually
a threat to Russia's national security, rather than an instrument
of national security. Now the picture is much more mixed, but
there remain very deep-seated problems in all of these structures.
Many of them begin and end with morale, training and the quality
of people who are called upon to undertake what we all know are
extremely complex and difficult tasks. If the buoyancy of the
Russian economy fails to sustain itself, I think that the significant
but limited gains which have been achieved will not be sustained
either. This therefore remains an area with which we all have
to be concerned.
Q283 Mr Olner: Given that one of
the biggest weapons we have in the war against terrorism is intelligence,
how effective are the Russians' intelligence services in ensuring
that any threat in terms of global terrorism is countered?
Mr de Waal: Judging by some recent
objective incidents, not terribly good on its own territory. If
you look at October 2002, we had upwards of 40 armed Chechens
seizing a theatre in the centre of Moscow. So its own internal
intelligence system has great failings, and I think is still very
vulnerable, to corruption in particular. I would guess that the
foreign intelligence service is more professional, but I am not
an expert on that.
Mr Sherr: On the other hand, in
Afghanistan there is no question in my mind that we have benefited
from Russian experience and Russian intelligence. There are areas
of the world, certainly that the United States is engaged in,
where, if the Russians were willingsuch as Central Asiawe
might also benefit from intelligence. Part of the collapse of
the Soviet Union has also been a collapse of what had been a global
intelligence entity. There are aspects of it which remain very
strong but areas that are vital to Russia where, as Mr de Waal
said, there are quite a lot of weaknesses.
Q284 Mr Olner: In response to one
of my previous questions, Mr Sherr, you mentioned the morale within
the Russian armed forces. It leads me to a question I want to
ask you on non-proliferation. There is perhaps a perception that,
because of this low morale, there are weapons of mass destruction
that are being carelessly held and that carelessly disappear.
There is perhaps also the threat of nuclear proliferation, using
India, Indonesia, and various other countries where Russia export
their nuclear technology, which could be used for other means.
Do you think that it is a real threat? If it is a real threat,
how do you think it can best be addressed?
Mr Sherr: I would address the
problem at three separate levels. First, there are some very significant
differences in official policy between Russia and ourselves, particularly
with regard to providing the defence and technology, and nuclear
relationship between Russia and Iran. In some respects these disagreements
have hardened since President Putin came to office. They have
not diminished just because our relationship has become stronger.
This remains an open issue between us. There are other Russian
actions which seem to have official backing but which are not
admitted or publicised. For example, as the US State Department
has affirmed in some detail during the recent war with Iraq, they
included the supply of critical equipment to Iraq's armed forces
in defiance of the sanctions regime, and the possible presence
of Russian technicians during the war itself. There are two other
areas outside these most dangerous ones where the issues that
you refer to, Mr Olner, are very apposite. They involve conventional
and smaller munitions. In the Transdniestria, the Pridnestroviye
area of Moldova, the former Soviet Army left arsenals there equivalent
in their scale to what was deployed at Nagasaki or Hiroshima.
The inter-penetration in the so-called Pridnestrovian Moldovan
Republic, between Russian-dominated structures of security, armed
forces, business, and organised crime is very alarming. Without
question, in Chechnyaand again I would defer to Mr de Waal
on this subjectin the past, extremely poor conditions and
a demoralised state of Russian Federation forces have led to Russian
soldiers and Russian units trading their own military supplies
with Chechens, which are then used against them.
Mr de Waal: I can confirm that
I personally saw evidence of weapons trading between Russians
and Chechens in 1995, and I do not believe that the morale in
the Russian armed forces has improved sufficiently that that would
have been eradicated.
Q285 Mr Pope: Perhaps I may turn
to Chechnya, and try to get a clear picture of where we are currently.
Going back to the first Chechen war, as you say, it was essentially
a secessionist campaign. Currently it is not just a secessionist
campaign, is it? On the one hand we have President Putin saying
that it is part of the war on terror and he is very keenfor
understandable reasons from his own point of viewto portray
the Chechens as being part of a wider Islamic terror threat; but
there is also some truth in that. It is not just Russian propaganda,
is it? There does seem to be some evidence that, around the mid-1990s,
there was a move away from traditional Islam to a more extreme
form of Wahabism and so a difference in tactics with the Chechens.
Perhaps you would say a few words on what you perceive the current
situation to be?
Mr de Waal: I will try to answer
that by saying that I think there are at least three conflicts
going on in Chechnya. One is a conventional sort of colonial/separatist
conflict that we could know from places like Algeria, with a rather
brutal government trying to defeat secessionists. The second one
is an internal Chechen conflictagain, a feature much more
of the last two or three yearswhere you have seen Chechens
fighting Chechens, and Chechens becoming victims of bombings.
Again, this is a result of Russia's policy of what they call "Chechenisation"
which is, as it were, subcontracting the war to loyal Chechen
satrapsalthough Chechenisation is in a lot of trouble since
the assassination of Akhmad Kadyrov, its main object, on 9 May.
The third one, as you say, is a terrorist war. When I first started
going to Chechnya before the war in 1994, Chechnya was not an
Islamic place. Even the separatist independent constitution was
based on the constitution of Estonia. It was a recognisable nationalist
problem. Chechens were Sufi Muslims; they did not link Islam with
politics. Slowly, in the 1990s, you saw a radicalisation, as a
result of the appalling destruction of people's lives and homes.
People started turning to Islam. Simultaneously, you saw the arrival
of foreign volunteers, and then you had a period of de facto independence
where more volunteers arrived between 1997 and 1999. Of the two
wings of the Chechen rebel movement during the current war, the
Islamist radical wing suddenly became much stronger. Having said
all that, I think that we should put this into context. We are
not talking about Afghanistan. The number of foreign volunteers
is probably a few dozen, rather than in the thousands. You have
to remember that Chechnya is surrounded by high mountains. It
is very difficult to access. It is very small. Fighters tend to
live in villages. They cannot just set up a camp in the mountains.
Secondly, the Chechnya population is still quite resistant to
radical Islam. I have seen estimates that maybe 10% of them subscribe
to radical Islam. Thirdly, I would go back to my main point: that
even if all the foreign volunteers and all the Islamists were
to die, you would probably still have a conflict in Chechnyain
the sense that fundamentally, underneath, that colonialist/nationalist
Q286 Mr Pope: Can I concentrate on
that minority of the extremists? I wondered to what extent those
extremist elements have strong links with al-Qaeda. Also, when
we were in Afghanistan recently we were talking to a number of
people there about the links between Chechen fighters and Afghanistan,
which, for obvious historical reasons going back a few years,
were very strong. However, there was still concern that there
may be Chechen fighters going to fight Coalition forces in the
south of Afghanistan. Could you say a few words about how strong
you think the links are with international terror groups which,
in a kind of lazy way but understandably, we lump together as
al-Qaeda, and also whether or not there are still links with Taliban
elements who are fighting Coalition forces in Afghanistan?
Mr de Waal: I think that the foreign
Islamist jihad interest in Chechnya is stronger than the other
way round. We have had, for example, Ayman al-Zawahiri trying
to go to Chechnya, in 1997 I think, and actually spending six
months under an assumed identity in a Dagestani prisona
very bizarre incident. His identity was not rumbled. You saw people
trying to go to Chechnya, and there is this Saudi warrior, Abu
al-Walid, who is still believed to be in Chechnya and who had
been in Afghanistan. Obviously there are links there. You also
saw phone calls being made during the Moscow theatre siege to
Chechens based in Qatar and places like that. Having said that,
I am much more sceptical about reports of Chechens fighting in
Afghanistan, still less Iraq. People who have investigated this
have found that, when people came across Russian speakers, they
tended to dub them Chechens, whether they be Tajiks or Uzbeks
or Tartars. There is almost no evidence of real, live Chechens
being found in Afghanistan. Logically, I suppose, if you were
a Chechen fighter and you had a war on your hands, why would you
go to Afghanistan to fight? This is probably just a red herring.
On both sides, again, I would say that the mountains of the Caucasus
have played a favourable role. There were people based in the
Pankisi Gorge in Georgia trying to get across, but we are talking
about the highest mountains in Europe; people going across in
groups of a dozen in the height of summer, dodging Russian convoys
and so on. So a lot of ideological support, some financial support;
but, in terms of actual, logistical, physical support, still fairly
Q287 Mr Pope: Where do the Russians
go from here? It seems to me that their strategy is in ruins really.
They have 80,000 or 90,000 troops in Chechnya. They have had the
senior assassination in May, to which you referred. You mentioned
Northern Ireland and other things. One of the lessons that people
learned was that, in the end, there was no military solution.
It would have to be a political process that would deliver some
kind of peace. Where does Putin go from here? There seems to be
no military solution that will deliver the kind of knockout victory
that the Russians presumably want. I also assume that the Russians
will not walk away from this. Too much blood has been spilt. There
was probably an opportunity for them to walk away 10 years ago,
but that has long gone. They are not going to walk away from it.
Where on earth do they go from here, to take forward some kind
of face-saving solution to it?
Mr Sherr: May I answer this question
and also partially comment on Mr de Waal's answer from my more
lay perspective, although I very strongly agree with most of what
he has said. Beginning in 1996, and more intensively in 1999,
the Russian federal structures systematically eliminated any people,
any networks and any institutions from Chechnya, which had credibility
in Chechnya and which could have secured some kind of stable peace.
The result of this, in my view, has been that a vacuum has been
created into which these forces have entered and which are beyond
the control of anyone. The official Russian view about the number
of foreign fighters that I have seen is about 300 or 400; but,
even when they say they have killed 300 or 400, they still say
that there are 300 or 400. I am slightly more pessimistic than
Mr de Waal about the signs that a lot of this conflict is spreading
to other parts of the North Caucasus. I would therefore answer
your question by saying that, if this has become a black hole,
efforts need to be focusedand I think that international
efforts also could helpfully be focusedon shoring up the
civic orders, which are extremely weak and deficient in other
parts of the Russian North Caucasus, so that Russia could contain
this situation. Solving this situation is a very long-term issue,
but the urgent priority is not to make it worse. The problem that
the Russians continually face, as we see todayand they
face real threats which they are not exaggerating, in my viewdire
threats, but they threats are almost always the fruit of previous
Russian conduct. We have somehow have to help them break that
Mr de Waal: I have had the misfortune
to watch this develop over almost 11 years now, from before the
first Chechen war. I have seen Russia try a new tactic, probably
every six months, usually governed by short-term, domestic Moscow
politics more than a long-term appreciation of the needs on the
ground. They have tried excessive force several times; they have
tried a puppet leader several times, with different stripes; they
have tried surrendera very irresponsible kind of surrender,
which was basically leaving and slamming the door. I think that
there are two groups that they have pretty much entirely ignored
over the last 10 years. One is the international community. They
continually say now that this is an international problem but
deny that there should be an international aspect to the solution,
which seems to me to be a paradox. They do allow, on a limited
basis, the Council of Europe to visit Chechnya; but the OSCE
mandate is now very limited. It seems to me that, if we can push
the Russians on getting an expanded Council of Europe and OSCE
presence in Chechnya to monitor what is going on, that would be
in everyone's interests, including the Russians. The second group
that they have consistently failed to talk to is the Chechen population
as a whole. All elections have been rigged in Chechnya, and Chechnya
actually has a very decentralised, community-based cultureor
at least used to, before it was shattered by war. Everyone who
knows Chechnya says that some kind of parliamentary system, some
kind of Loya Jirga for Chechnya, would be a way forward,
in which different groups could be brought together. Again, that
involves the Russians loosening control, delegating power to ordinary
Chechenswhich is something they are very afraid of doing.
Q288 Mr Pope: Could you say a word
about the human rights situation for ordinary Chechens? Not for
those involved in a jihad but for ordinary Chechens?
Mr de Waal: I have some figures
here from last year from Memorial, the human rights organisation.
In 2002 they recorded 729 killings of civilians; 537 people abducted
and disappeared. In 2003, 500 civilians killed; 470 disappeared.
Most of these people were killed and abducted at night, when it
is very difficult for the rebels to operate. We must therefore
presume that these are either by the Russians or the pro-Russian
forces. Memorial points out that it is only able to cover about
25 to 30 per cent of the territory of Chechnya, and so those figures
are of a limited amount of territory. This year it is as bad,
and last month has been particularly bad since the death of Kadyrov.
To go back to the point made by Mr Sherr about morale, we are
talking about very criminalised security forces who are pretty
much out of control. Civilians continue to suffer a lot of extortion
in relation to these abductions: people being abducted and ransoms
being asked by people who are supposed to be their protectors,
the Russian security forces. So still hundreds and thousands of
people dying every year.
Q289 Mr Illsley: Three or four years
ago the Committee visited Russia and, when we raised the issue
of Chechnya, we were told that it was an internal issue, not for
discussion and completely off limits. When we visit in a few days'
time, are we likely to be given a more accommodating answer or
are we more likely to be told the same thing?
Mr Sherr: I can only underscore
the paradox that Mr de Waal mentioned, which I have seen even
relatively recently. On the one hand, Russia's insistence that
Chechnya be regarded as an important theatre in the war on terrorism,
and therefore clearly an effort on the part of the authorities
to solicit our sympathy and support; but, on the other hand, any
form of criticism or suggestion is called interference. So I would
expect that you will encounter this contradiction again.
Q290 Chairman: What is the reason
for the incursion into Dagestan? Why have the Islamists failed
to make progress in either Dagestan or Ingushetia?
Mr Sherr: May I put that in context,
because I know that Mr de Waal will have a more specific answer?
This is an area totally lacking in transparency. By transparency
I mean the inability to know what decisions are taken, who takes
decisions, where they are taken or why. In the North Caucasus
there are so many different parties with so many different agendas
involved, ranging from Russian businesspeople, to elements of
security structures, to Wahabists, to factions amongst the Chechen
fighters, that not only is the question unanswerable for us. With
many of these episodes and occurrences of this kindand
the murder of President Kadyrov is another oneit is also
possibly unanswerable to people who are there. There are so many
cooks and such a poisonous broth that almost nothing is clear.
I think that any answer focusing on a unique culprit would be
Q291 Chairman: And the failure of
the troubles in Chechnya to spill over into Dagestan and Ingushetia?
Mr de Waal: Unfortunately they
are spilling into Ingushetia. In the last few months Ingushetia
has seen an upsurge in kidnappings and killingsnot quite
on the scale of Chechnya but certainly a worrying phenomenon.
If you look further west than the North Caucasus, it is an incredibly
localised place, with dozens of nationalities in places like Kabardino-Balkaria.
I edit a bulletin on the Caucasus with people from those areas,
and there are reports of growing attachment to Islam amongst unemployed
youth who are not getting jobs, who feel more alienated from Russia
because they are subjected to racism when they go north to Russia.
So, unfortunately, we are seeing a slow spread of Islam amongst
the younger generation. Maybe we do not see it yet, but we may
unfortunately see it in 10 years' time.
Mr Sherr: If it is borne outand
it might well be, because I think that the hypothesis is a very
reasonable onethat President Kadyrov was actually murdered
by elements in the North Caucasus Military District who resented
the complication of these political structures and wished to finish
the job by military means, then I think that even in the short-term
we will see a noticeable deterioration of the situation there.
Q292 Chairman: The report by Memorial
on human rights which you mentioned to Mr Popecould you
possibly pass details of that to the Clerk of the Committee? I
was not aware of this report.
Mr de Waal: I will do my best,
certainly. On Monday, Lord Judd is taking part in a meeting we
are holding on Chechnya, and I can give you the details.
Chairman: The Committee will be in Moscow
at the time. Gentlemen, it has been very helpful, and we thank
24 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Back