Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 16

The Financial Times reported on April 19 that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak had lodged a formal protest with the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, William Burns, the previous day over The Jamestown Foundation-sponsored conference held in Washington on April 14 entitled “Sadullaev’s Caucasian Front: Prospects for the Next Nalchik.” RIA Novosti reported on April 18 that the Foreign Ministry had summoned the U.S. ambassador to, in the news agency’s words, “hand him a note of protest against a seminar in Washington which it said called for new terrorist attacks in Russia.” According to RIA Novosti, the ministry claimed that during the conference “the floor had been given to speakers who called for new terrorist acts in Russia.” The news agency quoted the ministry as saying that “[t]he organization of such events in the United States contradicts the country’s international obligations in the sphere of counter-terrorism” and that “[s]uch concessions on the part of Washington to Chechen militants and separatists also run counter to the spirit of partner-based bilateral anti-terrorist cooperation, and damage bilateral relations.”

The Foreign Ministry’s demarche was preceded by a report on the Jamestown conference by Russian state television’s First Channel (Pervy Kanal)—often still referred to by its old initials, ORT—which was posted on the channel’s website, The report suggested that The Jamestown Foundation is guilty of double standards vis-à-vis terrorism and had only “sparingly” covered terrorist attacks such as the September 2004 Beslan school seizure, the downing of two Russian passenger jets in August 2004 and the October 2002 Dubrovka theater siege, responsibility for all of which was claimed by Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev. (The four issues of Chechnya Weekly that immediately followed Beslan were almost entirely devoted to the tragedy. An August 30, 2004 article in The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor detailed the FSB’s discovery of the explosive hexogen in the airliners’ wreckage and information provided by investigators and Chechen officials concerning the women thought to have detonated bombs aboard the planes. In 2002 alone, two entire issues of the Chechnya Weekly were devoted to the Dubrovka siege.)

In an April 18 press release, The Jamestown Foundation dismissed the ORT report as “distorted, manipulative and patently false.” The Foundation’s president, Glen Howard, said that “ORT’s false reporting on The Jamestown Foundation is a throw-back to Soviet-style manipulation and propaganda. Far from advocating terrorism, Jamestown’s publications and public events provide American and Russian policy makers with the insights they need to prevent catastrophes like the September 2004 hostage crisis in Beslan and the October 2002 Moscow theatre siege.” The Jamestown press release stated that the ORT report “falsely alleged that The Jamestown Foundation is advocating future terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus and incorrectly implied that the United States government is supporting Muslim separatists in the region.” Howard added: “The notion that Jamestown and the U.S. government are promoting terrorism in Russia is not just absurd, it also shows just how paranoid the Kremlin’s repressive regime has become.”

Referring to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s protest to the U.S. ambassador and the allegation that the U.S. supports terrorist attacks in Russia, the Jamestown press release noted that the conference “did not feature terrorists, but included a group of independent experts to discuss recent developments in the North Caucasus. The participants included two Americans, a Canadian, a Paris-based Chechen historian and an independent journalist from Russia.” Howard added: “The Russian Foreign Ministry’s protests come at a time when the Kremlin is shuttering independent media, systematically repressing human rights organizations and funding the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. Accusing Jamestown and the U.S. government of promoting terrorism in Chechnya and the North Caucasus is not just ironic, but blatantly hypocritical.”

Commenting on the controversy surrounding the Jamestown conference, Nikolai Rudensky of the website wrote on April 19: “There are strange approaches in our Foreign Ministry. On the same day that the U.S. ambassador was handed a note with accusations of supporting terrorism in the North Caucasus by means of scientific conferences, the media, with reference to the Foreign Ministry’s press service, reported that Russia is allotting $10 million to Palestine, whose government is headed by terrorists from Hamas… ‘We are convinced that refusing aid to the Palestinians only because they chose in democratic elections a government completely comprised of members of Hamas is a mistake,’ said the head of our diplomacy [Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov. In his view, in order for the government of the [Palestinian] autonomy to fulfill the peace agreements, ‘it is necessary to work with Hamas, not to boycott it.’ This tolerance on the part of Sergei Viktorovich did not waiver after the recent bloody terrorist act in Tel Aviv, which was justified and approved of by the leaders of Hamas (and maybe organized with their participation). However, the Russian leadership behaves in the spirit of Christian humility and charity only in relation to events in the Holy Land. If what is happening in the North Caucasus is at issue, the policy and rhetoric changes sharply. Here no one speaks about the need to honor the democratic choice of the Chechen people and to work for the sake of peace together with the leaders of the separatists. And, after all, Djokhar Dudaev and Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and Aslan Maskhadov were not such convinced and consistent terrorists as [the members of] Hamas, yet all three presidents of Ichkeria were killed in various ways by the Russian special services.”