Could there be anything finer on a sunny spring day, with birdsong and drifts of pink blossoms competing for the attention of one’s senses, than another serving of comic nonsense from Paul Goble? Ha, ha!! Bring me another beer, Darya!! No, I’m kidding – we’re not allowed to drink beer at work, and Daryana isn’t a real person. But a cold beer is about the only thing that could improve on this. Connoisseurs of classic rock will have recognized the first half of the title as a snatch of Golden Earring’s, “Twilight Zone”, and indeed that seems to have been the point of origin for Mr. Goble’s post.
I have to say, though, the guy puzzles me. If you read the “About Me” column to the right of the articles, you’d be compelled to draw the conclusion he’s quite well-credentialed: a salad bar of academic appointments, as well as some pick-and-shovel work in the trenches of government service, including the CIA. On second thought, perhaps that explains a lot, on both counts. Curiously, his Blogger profile lists his field as “Accounting”, although the list of credentials and accomplishments is the same.
Anyway, for a guy who’s supposed to be an academic, not to mention a researcher, and who apparently considers himself an analyst, the material he often chooses to feature is predictive in about the same context as me telling you, “You’re going to die”. Eventually, I’ll be right. Meanwhile, nobody is going to be blown away by my psychic precognition, are they?
With that, we turn to “Russia’s Colonial Rule of the North Caucasus Approaching Its End, Israeli Analyst Says”.
Is it really. Define “approaching”. Are we talking, like, Earth’s sun “approaching” supernova and burnout? Or cutoff of my telephone service “approaching” if I didn’t pay my bill last month? I hate to be a wiseass, but if you predict a significant change in the status of the North Caucasus, odds are that someday you will be right. But not anytime that could be described as “approaching”.
Meanwhile, we’re just going to have to do better than Avraam Shmulyevich’s scholarly analysis. About that; just who is he, anyway? According to my impromptu research, he’s a Russian-language journalist based in Israel. According to Gobel, though, he’s an analyst, a researcher and most lately, an “independent scholar”. What is that, exactly? Is an independent scholar somebody who studies something, but is not actually enrolled in any insitution of learning or a part of any academic syllabus? I only ask because I’ve noticed a tendency on Goble’s part to pad the qualifications of his sources to make them appear more credible.
Look at this, for example. According to the intrepid Shmulyevich, the Circassian diaspora is setting up a “government in exile”, to press Moscow for eventual independence. He apparently came by this information in an interview with movers and shakers in the Circassian diaspora, although we have only his word that an interview of any kind took place. That’s because he never actually mentions anyone else – all his sources are “unnamed”. The article mentions that the journalist “cites unnamed backers of this move”. Umm….Avraam? If you “cite” somebody you can’t name, it really isn’t a citation at all. Even a title would do, like “Undersecretary to the Grand Vizier”, or something. With nothing like that, it’s really no more newsworthy than saying “some guy told me”.
This trend continues throughout the article. Circassian “activists” interviewed? Unnamed. Armed groups with whom the diaspora is in regular contact? Sorry, can’t tell you. Members of the government-in-exile? Nope; secret. Is this journalism, really? Let’s say I put an article in the Boston Globe: I aver that the reason nobody of any significance saw or spoke to President Obama over the past weekend is because he took Air Force One to Kenya to participate in his illegitimate son’s circumcision ceremony. Government insiders told me that’s the truth, but I can’t name any of them. Kenyan immigration authorities pre-cleared his plane, but I can’t tell you who any of them are. What it boils down to is, I want you to take my word for it.
And you might, if I had a solid reputation for unearthing amazing stories that almost invariably turned out to be true. Which brings me to another aspect of Shmulyevich’s analysis. If anyone repeats what he says, they’re somehow confirming its authenticity, and the more mentions it gets, the more “worried” Moscow is. You can see a good example of that technique – if that’s what you want to call it – here: Shmulyevich almost laughs himself into some sort of fit because the clodlike, plodding Russian law enforcement agencies cannot define the membership in the Caucasus Emirate organization any closer than “between 50 and 1500”. For the record, outside analysis puts their numbers at “about 1000”. Shmulyevich goes on to chuckle that these unnumbered terrorists must be some kind of “cyborg terminators, each of which is worth 10,000 federal soldiers “. Yes, Avraam, that is comical, maybe we could get you on Saturday Night Live. I like a guy with a sense of humour – I bet you’ll hardly be able to stay in your chair when you read this. Maybe you remember Donald “War Drums” Rumsfeld pegging the strength of the Iraqi insurgency at around 10,000 “dead-enders” and “no-hopers” back near the beginning of the invasion, when everything was still going more or less swimmingly. By 2006, when things had grown a little more ugly, he was unwilling even to say how many casualties the Iraqi insurgency had sustained, although presumably the U.S. Army was capable of distinguishing the difference between a live Iraqi and a dead one, settling for “The data is (sic) so imperfect that anything I said would conceivably be misleading”. He did allow that the insurgency was taking casualties at “roughly twice the rate of all coalition forces”.
The first thing that must strike you, Avraam, if you could stop giggling for a second, is that the best-equipped army in the world really had no idea at all the size of the insurgency it was facing. Estimates went from 15,000 in 2003 to as many as twice that number only a year later, to 70,000 in 2007.
The next thing that should become evident from data analysis of figures provided is that the U.S. military has already killed everyone involved in the insurgency at least twice, not to mention capturing them all several times over. After 7 years, the insurgency is still grinding along, and at its peak deployment the USA had more than 161,000 troops in Iraq. That was in 2007, although major combat operations were declared at an end in May of 2003. Gee, those Iraqi insurgents must be some kind of super-cyborg terminators or something, what? Especially given their apparent ability to come back from the dead over and over – hey, perhaps they’re cyborg terminator zombies!
So you see, Avraam, that while it might be fairly easy to calculate the exact numbers of persons involved in an insurgent or terrorist movement from a desk in Israel, it’s considerably harder in the field. It isn’t easy in Iraq, obviously. As I’ll show you later, the Caucasus Emirate has been pushed out of the cities in the Caucasus, and now mostly operates from heavily-forested mountain areas. Keeping tabs on them must be a nightmare, but since you seem to have devised a stunningly accurate system yourself, perhaps you would share it with those hopeless boobs in Russian law enforcement. Unless, of course, you support the terrorists, in which case you’ll probably want to keep it to yourself.
Another recurrent theme in the Shmulyevich Chronicles is, if you laugh at his work and mock it, you’re probably members of the FSB on a disinformation spree, or “trying to silence him”.
Think I’m exaggerating? Check this out. According to Shmulyevich (and, by extension, Goble), the fact that the 145th anniversary of the expulsion of the Circassians from the North Caucasus went unremarked in the federal press was due to a suppression campaign by the FSB. No, no, come on – stop laughing! Seriously. Not only did the FSB lean on the media in Russia, they also personally contacted Shmulyevich by message and told him to keep his mouth shut. Surprisingly, no evidence of this is offered, because it’s rare the FSB is so careless as to actually leave one with written record of its manipulations. As if that were not sinister enough, the FSB also revealed its hand in a number of internet articles defaming Shmulyevich. One of these is a blog by a group calling itself, “Supporters of Public Security”, which you must admit is a damned clever cover for the FSB. Others originate with “stringer.ru”, whose traffic is estimated by MetaHeaders at 136 visits per month – obviously, the FSB has never heard the expression, “Go big, or go home”.
I think we’re done with Shmulyevich. Goble likes him as an analyst of shadowy events and motives in the North Caucasus that are hidden from media outlets with much greater resources, not to mention those clowns in Russian law enforcement. Except for Goble, nobody seems to take him very seriously – however, if you pay attention to his journalistic meanderings at all, you’re confirming their deadly accuracy…and if you laugh, you’re a secret agent trying to silence him. Suffice it to say it makes about as much sense as an Israeli journalist arguing for the furtherance of Muslim tactical objectives.
What’s really going on in the Caucasus? It’s difficult to say, because of problems already described with getting accurate information. As often happens with an insurgency, the claims are comically far apart – the forces tasked with smothering the insurgency say it’s just a few crackheads with big dreams and even bigger mouths, while the spokesmen for the insurgency claim out-of-control recruitment, staggering enlistment and fundraising numbers and a list of hit-and-run successes that would make Erwin Rommel green with envy, if he wasn’t already green with decay. As I mentioned, current estimates have the Caucasus Emirate numbering about 1000. That’s nothing to laugh about, since they can cause violence and destruction far out of proportion to their number, but it’s certainly not a threat that is going to storm the Kremlin, and it doesn’t represent nearly enough display of public will for Russia to consider Caucasian independence, as much as basket-weaving therapy candidates like Shmulyevich might wish that were so. In fact, the great majority of Caucasians want to stay with Russia.
So say John O’Loughlin and Frank D.W. Witmer, authors of “The Localized Geographies of Violence in The North Caucasus of Russia, 1999-2007“. The descriptions of their “geographically weighted regression predictive model of violence” and occasional skipping departures into spatial-statistical analysis are a little dry, but there are plenty of good, solid and well-supported conjectures. Looming large among these are (a) violence peaked in summer 2001, and has been steadily declining since, and (b) the Caucasus Emirate is a tiny but vocal minority, and Caucasians in large majority wish to remain part of Russia.
By far the dominant region in violent events was Chechnya, although Ingushetia began to show a significant rise toward the end of the event (2007). The Kernel Density of Events maps featured in Figure 6 (Pg. 188) clearly display a crescendo of violence in 2001, with a steady and measurable decline since. Even though there was an uptick in violence toward the end of the event measurement, the Moran’s Index of Spatial Autocorrelation diagram at Figure 8 (Pg. 191) indicates clearly that the ratio of violent incidents is lower than at at the beginning of the event (1999) and considerably less than half what it was during 2001.
That should not necessarily be linked to success – the Russian methods are heavy-handed and often counterproductive, while any collective punishment, anywhere, is possibly the worst option. The authors point out that a low-intensity conflict over a broad area is potentially more destabilizing to the region than outright war in a smaller area. There’s definitely room for improvement. However, although the authors cite the zachistki mass arrests by federal authorities as a major cause of discontent and hostility, they are at pains to point out that regional destabilization was initiated by the 1999 invasion of Dagestan by Chechen rebels. That sort of undermines the moral high ground, if you get my drift. Paul Goble likes to hammer on the fact that Russia supplies by far the biggest part of the Caucasus budget via federal handouts, and it’s true a great deal of progress needs to be made in employment for the region – however, I’m at a loss to imagine how that correlates with a supposed desire on the part of the majority to break free of Russia and form a Caucasian Homeland.
Russia is not going to grant the region independence, regardless how Goble and his Israeli sidekick yearn for it. For one thing, it’s the most direct oil corridor between the Black and Caspian Seas, and the longer a pipeline has to be, the less attractive it is to producers. The west is a one-note band on the subject of energy security, and unfettered acccess to the Caspian Basin and its oil and gas deposits (bear in mind that the Caspian Basin has never been properly explored, which might account for the up-and-down accounts of its potential enormous riches followed by perhaps more pragmatic assessments that say there might not be much oil there at all) would achieve the doubleplusgood situation of boosting western energy security while taking it away from Russia. According to this 2006 CRS Report for Congress, development of the Caspian Basin and, ultimately, realization of its full potential from a western perspective are constrained by (1) disruption of projected pipeline routes by regional conflicts, (2) requirement for drilling rigs, and (3) the unresolved legal status of the Caspian.
For another, the stated goal of the Caucasian Emirate is a united Muslim Republic that incorporates the whole of the North Caucasus. Yes, there’s a goal Russia can stand up and cheer for, right? Especially when this is the expressed wish of about 1000 people of the more than 9 million who make up the population.
Meanwhile, in the “comes as no surprise whatever” category, subsequent western (read American) reaction to Russian attempts to bring Chechnya to heel are as different as night and day, and based entirely on who is in charge in Russia. In 1994, when Boris The Incredible Grain-Alcohol Storage Unit Yeltsin was running the show and kicked off the First Chechen War, official American reaction compared him to – I’m not kidding – Abraham Lincoln, and suggested “…no state has the right to withdraw from [the] Union”, drawing an obvious and deliberate parallel with the South’s secession and the North’s victory in the American Civil War. But when Chechen War number Two opened up, under exactly the same penumbra – fighting terrorism – but led by Vladimir Putin…you guessed it. “Brutality” and “war crimes against the Chechen people”, and Washington beltway pundits dancing into the streets with their arms full of candy and flowers to welcome Chechen writer Lyoma Usmanov, so he could tell them all about how Putin’s government has “nothing to do with democracy, nothing to do with the problems of the Russian people”. One of which, incidentally, was being blown up by Chechen terrorists.
Golden Earring brought us in, perhaps they’d like to take us out.
“Help, I’m steppin’ into the twilight zone; place is a madhouse…“