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Moscow Diary: Southern discomfort

The Georgia conflict has grabbed international attention, but Moscow does not escape the violence blighting other parts of the Caucasus, the BBC's James Rodgers says. His diary is published fortnightly.

A RUSH-HOUR SHOOTING

I could not hear every word the policeman said. I did hear "Chechen", "security", and the term for a unit of the police or army.

Moscow police next to car with body of Ruslan Yamadayev, 24 Sep 08
Yamadayev's car was attacked when it stopped at a traffic light

I was walking down a side road running off the Arbat - the main pedestrian street in the centre of the Russian capital. It was a perfect Moscow autumn morning. The sun was shining, the sky was a clear blue, and the air was as fresh as it ever gets in this increasingly car-clogged city.

The policeman was standing outside a police station. Four or five of his colleagues were listening to him. The storyteller rested an elbow on the machine gun slung from his shoulder. He rocked gently on his heels as he spoke.

I only heard the briefest snatch of his tale, but, given where we were, I think I guessed the rest. He was comparing his experience of guarding a high-profile Chechen visitor with the fate of the man shot dead the evening before, at the height of rush hour.

Ruslan Yamadayev was killed down the hill from the police station. Opposite the end of the Arbat, in the shadow of the Stalinist skyscraper which is the Russian foreign ministry, the road runs down to the river. A right turn takes you past the British Embassy and the Moscow "White House", the offices of the Russian government.

It was on this embankment that a "killer" - in post-Soviet Russian, they use the English word - shot Mr Yamadayev in his car while it waited at traffic lights.

The assailant escaped. So far no clue as to his identity or motive - if investigators have any such lead - has been made public.

Theories continue to multiply. Mr Yamadayev was a member of a prominent Chechen family who had fallen out with the region's president, Ramzan Kadyrov. His brother, Sulim, is a military commander whose followers were involved in an armed confrontation with Mr Kadyrov's supporters this spring.

Mr Kadyrov has strenuously denied any involvement in Ruslan Yamadayev's death.

I was last in Chechnya at the end of April. It was my first visit for almost eight years. I came away with the strong impression that the region, still scarred by fighting, could explode again.

CAUCASUS CONFLICT IN MOSCOW?

There's little sense of urgency among people in Moscow. If they think about the Caucasus at all, they think about Russia's recent military campaign in Georgia. The ever-rising approval ratings for President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin suggest that most Russians believe their leaders did the right thing.

Police car wrecked by bomb in Nazran, 30 July 08
Bombings have targeted police in Ingushetia in recent months

Flicking though an old notebook last week, I came across some remarks from a meeting I had with a foreign diplomat about 12 months ago. The discussion had been about whether Russia might eventually recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and what the circumstances might be.

The diplomat suggested - and this was long before the recent conflict - that Russia might eventually be in a difficult position. Recognition of the regions in the South Caucasus might lead to renewed restlessness on the other side of the mountains - in places like Chechnya and Ingushetia.

As it surveys with satisfaction the results of its recent campaign, the Kremlin will be hoping that analysis is wrong.

Violence in Ingushetia may have been overshadowed by the fighting between Russia and Georgia, but it is on the increase. And the investigation into Mr Yamadayev's death may yet discover that battles begun on Russia's southern edge are spilling over into the capital.

A VERY BRITISH EDUCATION

It was only earlier this year that British Council employees in Russia got late-night visits from the FSB, Russia's modern-day secret police.

The body which promotes British culture around the world suffered as a result of the row between London and Moscow following the death of former Russian secret agent Alexander Litvinenko.

So the British Council was probably relieved that its 10th annual education fair went ahead in Moscow at the weekend. None of the previous ones can have been held at quite such a difficult time for Russia-UK ties.

It seems 18,000 visas were issued last year to Russians wishing to study in the UK. If relations don't improve, at least the Russian politicians of the future should be able to criticise Britain in flawless English.


Your comments:

This is a very nice first hand experience of the ground realities in Russia, but at the same time I would say that the article is biased in Britain's favour. The writer is looking at the issue from Britain's perspective. Bottom line: the article is very biased.
Rajesh, Rolla, USA

In your latest edition of Moscow Diary you wrote: "It was my first visit [to Chechnya] for almost eight years. I came away with the strong impression that the region, still scarred by fighting, could explode again." Could you please be more specific? It would have been much more informative to the readers had you actually mentioned what gave you such an impression. Also, I was bewildered as to why you mentioned the issues of the Caucasus region and the British Council in the same article since the two issues are completely separate and unrelated. It would have been better if your articles only dealt with one subject matter at a time but instead had more depth to them and more analysis.
Justin Hewitt, Uxbridge, MA, USA

Moscow bears the consequences of Russian, Western and Arab affairs in Caucasus for more then 10 years. As for Georgia they hosted Chechen terrorist camps in mid 1990. As for Ingushetia and Dagestan they fought against Chechens terrorists when they attacked there villages after destruction of Moscow residents blocks, just before the second Russian-Chechen war. Thinks are complicated. PS: As usual a polarised report.
Boyko Nikolov, Manchester, UK



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JAMES RODGERS IN MOSCOW

James Rodgers Leaving for good
Our correspondent's valedictory entry before departing Moscow


MAY - OCT 2008
 

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FEBRUARY - AUGUST 2007
 

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