Has a new Russian Mob War started in Abkhazia?

Hasta la vista, Hasan

Hasta la vista, Hasan

Could the murder of a no-more-than-moderately infamous local gangster in Abkhazia, Astamur Gulia, ‘Astik Sukhumski,’ mark the start of a wider gang war following the murder of Aslan Usoyan, ‘Ded Khasan’? Usoyan’s death inevitably sent shock waves through an underworld already in a degree of turmoil. The long-running feud between Usoyan and Tariel Oniani (‘Taro’), the hungry encroachments of Rovshan Janiyev (‘Rovshan Lenkoranskiy’) for dominance over the Caucasus gangsters, new disagreements with Zakhar Kalashov (‘Shakhro Junior’), sparked by rows over the distribution and management of his assets after he was arrested in Spain in 2006, all these helped ensure that the ‘mountaineers’ — the gangs from the North and South Caucasus — were increasingly at daggers’ drawn. However, it’s important to realize that for all the airtime they get, the ‘mountaineers’ do not comprise the majority of Russian organized crime and the extent to which there are wider, economic and political pressures also bearing down on the status quo that has held for the past decade.

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Exit Pavel Grachev, Russian defense minister 1992-96

His master’s voice

So Pavel Grachev died today, age 64. It may be frowned on to speak ill of the dead, but I would be hard pressed to say anything positive about Grachev — “Pasha Mercedes” — the over-promoted and under-achieving defense minister of Russia 1992-96 and the man who, I would suggest, deserves perhaps the greatest share of the blame for the military’s slide into corruption, indiscipline, ineffectiveness and conceptual bankruptcy. This is, after all, a legacy with which Russia is still struggling. That’s not to say that without Grachev there would not still be problems (there would, especially as a result of the Soviet legacy), but his time in office undoubtedly worsened them. He was a fine, courageous tactical paratroop commander by most accounts, deservedly made a Hero of the Soviet Union for his exploits in Afghanistan. But his elevation to minister when Yeltsin was looking for a pliable yes-man to keep the military in check was a terrible move, for everyone concerned.

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Room for Chechens in the global jihad?

Three news items last week raised again the thorny question of how far the current insurgencies in the North Caucasus may be linked with a global Islamic extremist jihad. (more…)

The Chechens Under The Bed

As a little light relief from the presidential election and the subsequent punditry, I was contemplating the place of Chechens as a Russian folk devils. For once, this was not so much about terrorists and criminals but the recurring alarum of Chechen police being sent to Moscow for the election.

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First thoughts on the Putin assassination plot

There have already been some excellent first-response pieces on today’s news of a Chechen plot to kill Putin being busted in Odessa, of which perhaps the best I’ve come across so far was from Ben Aris in BNE. (I’m sure there are other, equally splendid pieces already out there , too, for that matter.) I don’t want to reinvent any wheels here, so instead just want to make a few initial observations:

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The not-really-so-mysterious deaths of Chechens in Turkey – and towards a future of ‘extrajudicial killings’

My latest Moscow News column looks at the assassination of three Chechens in Istanbul and the likelihood that it was a Russian intelligence operation (whether by the FSB, SVR or GRU). Obviously, assassinations are essentially Bad Things, and criminals ought to have their guilt proven in a court. While writing it, though, I did come to wonder how and why this was different from the drone strikes we see every week, Mossad (presumably) killing a Hamas leader in Dubai or, indeed, the operation against Osama Bin Laden. That’s a real, not a polemical question: in an age when terrorism is commonly transnational, and when the mechanisms for having insurgents (or their fund-raisers, logistical managers and ideological recruiting sergeants) arrested, tried or extradited are so often complex and legally- and politically-fraught, are we heading into a future in which such actions will become more, not less common? There’s already quite a solid body of academic literature in law, politics and intelligence journals on assassinations – ‘extrajudicial killings’ as the favored euphemism goes – which also reflects policy discussions. In an age in which high-speed communications has conditioned us and our masters also to high-speed responses, the temptation to reach for the quick kinetic fix must often be hard to resist for those powers with the covert capacity to carry out such operations and the geopolitical muscle (or indifference) to pay the potential political price.

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