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Russia Report: November 18, 2005

18 November 2005, Volume 5, Number 33
By Victor Yasmann

Russian demographers have long foreseen the country's population crisis. A low birthrate combined with a high mortality rate means that in 2006 the number of pensioners will exceed the number of young men starting their working lives.

The gap is almost certain to grow in the future. According to UN experts, the Russian economy needs up to 2 million new workers every year; Russian experts put the figure nearer to 700,000.

To address the population deficit, demographers have advised the Russian government to expatriate ethnic Russians from the CIS and other countries, and legalize non-Russians who are currently living and working illegally in Russia.

Not everyone agrees. Pro-Kremlin commentator Dmitrii Kiselev, speaking on RTR on 7 November, said there are not enough ethnic Russians in the world for this plan to be successful. And measures to stimulate the birth rate inside the country will not help either, he added.

Kiselev claimed the Kremlin sees no alternative to regulated mass immigration. He quoted President Vladimir Putin, who at a meeting of Russia's Security Council in March said: "Today's most important goal is the stimulation of the immigration process. The demographic situation in the country has dictated the necessity of calculated measures to attract foreign labor to the Russian economy."

The most viable group of potential labor migrants is the Chinese, primarily because of overpopulation in some Chinese provinces and the countries' extensive common border. "Whether we like it or not, more and more Chinese are coming to Russia," Kiselev said. "According to a recent demographic study commissioned by 'Kommersant-Vlast' magazine, more and more Chinese migrants are coming to Russia and this year their number will reach 500,000 -- both legals and illegals."

If that trend continues, by the middle of the 21st century, Russia could be home to 10 million ethnic Chinese. That would make them the second-largest ethnic group in the country after Russians. Such an influx could exacerbate xenophobia among the local population.

Most Chinese migrants in Russia tend to be either unskilled seasonal workers or small-time traders. Duma Deputy Otari Arshba (Unified Russia), an Interior Ministry migration expert, argued on 7 November that Russia needs to attract a more skilled Chinese workforce. He proposed the introduction of selective immigration for qualified workers and specialists modeled on the point system that was adopted in Canada. Despite some hostility toward foreigners, he said, Russian society should be able to absorb the newcomers.

At a press conference in Moscow on 8 November, Vyacheslav Postavnin, the head of the department overseeing labor migration at Russia's Federal Migration Service, announced plans to introduce an amnesty for illegal migrants in 2006. Postavnin noted that there are two ways to deal with the illegal migrants: deport them, which is costly, or allow them to stay legally in Russia.

The proposed amnesty would affect 1 million people, while the total number of illegal migrants in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union is estimated at between 7 million and 14 million. Eighty percent of all illegal immigrants come from CIS countries, with which Russia generally has porous borders. In addition to the CIS and China, many illegal immigrants come from Southeast Asia and Africa.

Immigrants from Central Asia and the North Caucasus have increasingly become targets of physical and verbal abuse -- not only from nationalist groups, but even from mainstream politicians. A negative public attitude to newcomers from the south has been fortified by what many commentators have described as government-sponsored Islamaphobia.

The recent riots in France have added fuel to this fire. Migration chief Postavnin recently called "the Islamic factor" the main reason behind the riots in France. Aleksandr Privalov, a columnist for "Ekspert" magazine, said on 8 November that "most of the rioters [in France] are young Islamists," Radio Mayak reported. It was not just a question of "social protest," Privalov said, but the "Islamist element prevailed." Dmitrii Rogozin, the leader of Russia's nationalist Motherland party, said on 8 November that he has demanded that his Russian counterpart, Rashid Nurgaliev, take "preemptive measures against potential rioters in Moscow," RIA-Novosti reported.

Such views have also made inroads into the world of fiction. A new bestseller by Elena Chudinova, "Mosque Notre Dame de Paris," imagines Paris in 2048 ruled by Shari'a laws. In the novel, Frenchmen who refuse to convert to Islam are herded into ghettoes.

"A religious war between Christianity and Islam is not only inevitable, but has already begun," Interfax quoted Chudinova as saying on 8 November. The same day, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote that in the Russian imagination there are graphic images of migrants from Central Asia and the North Caucasus fighting against the Chinese for influence in Siberia. "Unfortunately it is not a fantasy, but a bitter reality," the newspaper noted.

Many disagree with such catastrophic predictions, of course. At the Moscow news conference on 8 November, Postavnin said that race riots could not happen in Russia, as "it is a tolerant country."

Gavkhar Dzhuraeva is president of Migration and Rights, a Moscow-based nongovernmental group that provides legal support to migrants. From Tajikistan herself, she monitors human rights abuses against migrants across Russia and is regarded as a leading expert on migration issues. She spoke recently with RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Claire Bigg about a system that fosters abuse, Russia's "dependence on slave labor," and failures of the "democratic" media.

RFE/RL:Please tell us what problems immigrant workers encounter in Russia.

Gavkhar Dzhuraeva: [Many] immigrant workers in Russia are former Tajik refugees. Tajikistan is the only republic in Central Asia that went through a violent civil war; this dealt an enormous blow to the country's economy. This is why the emigration of the labor force is forced. Some of the people that come here are refugees looking for work. We have already categorized them as the group that is in most acute need. After a truce was signed between the Tajik government and the opposition, the refugees became known as "immigrant laborers."

The key problem associated with this category of people is their attempt to survive outside the boundaries set by Russian laws concerning foreigners residing on Russian territory. The law doesn't differentiate between the various categories of immigrants, so oftentimes those who are in real need suffer with those who really do deserve the sanctions -- including deportation -- that are used against them. This, in brief, is the position of immigrant workers in Russia. That is to say, the present legislation concerning foreigners residing in Russia does not permit these hundreds of thousands of individuals to overcome the difficulties posed by various bureaucratic processes: registration forms, work permits, and the search for a job where the employer has a legitimate permit himself. We know from various sources that the overwhelming majority of employers do not carry permits for the employment of foreign laborers. Nevertheless, they have been employing foreigners for over 10 years. This means 10 years in which they have been working illegally and have been subjected to various offenses and, as such, created potential for increased crime.

RFE/RL: How is this reflected in the emigrants' lifestyles? How would you describe their standard of living?

Dzhuraeva: I would describe it like this: A man crosses the border and is a legal alien for three days; however, in airports, Tajik citizens are treated with a certain prejudice, which expresses itself in more rigorous attention. In front of my own eyes, 15 or so Tajiks, who looked timid and ignorant, were taken away in an airport. When I asked why, I was told that they were going to be subjected to a more detailed questionnaire concerning drug possession. There is no definitive figure, but Tajiks are allegedly the leading smugglers of narcotics into Russia. Starting with the airport, the immigrant worker's every step is associated with the violation of his human rights. He is unable to access the registration system because no homeowner wants to house him for three days and thus enable him to register under his name.

His nationality plays a large part in this: Tajiks are registered very reluctantly, and even if they are, it is only for a short period of time. Any inspector [assumes] that there is a 95 percent chance that the Tajik isn't actually visiting someone but rather is looking for work -- for even the lowest possible wage and probably the most difficult work possible. Tajiks are at the bottom of the work hierarchy in Russia. The Tajik is unable to obtain an adequate form of registration. Then he either becomes a slave somewhere in Astrakhan or, during the summer, as was recently documented, they take him to work in the fields. His "owner" holds his passport, so nobody knows where he is. When he gets to Moscow, through friends, family, etc., he finds some construction site or a market, where he works carrying heavy loads.

Everywhere he goes, [the Tajik immigrant's] status is illegal. And this illegal status is exactly what makes him vulnerable to further abuse from the government, from his employers, from his own people. He becomes a slave, someone without rights. He becomes enslaved to the circumstances. So he either manages to pay his way out or he dies of illness or insanity. Many people die every day of exhaustion, especially at construction sites, or in confrontations between various minorities. Because in the past 12 years, we have done nothing to help the legalization of these peoples' status or the improvement of their condition, we have created a vicious cycle. Step by step, this increases the criminal potential both in the governmental institutions, which should be responsible for the welfare of these people, and among the minority itself, where various criminal associations are formed. These include shady registration companies, traffickers, and so on. It's a whole system.

But this Gordian knot can be destroyed by a simple experiment, which has already started in Moscow but which has not yet been resumed. It appears as though they are discussing the results now. That experiment is the legalization of workers in their respective work locations. This was the dream of all the human rights activists in this sphere. Now the question is whether it will continue and whether the immigrants will finally be able to improve their standard of living -- which is terrible, given the treatment and low pay they receive from their employers. They can be paid as low as 100 rubles per day, or sometimes not paid at all. They cannot get health insurance, because it costs too much money. They become victims of landlords.

These people are trying to survive in inhuman conditions -- there's no other way to describe it. The work these people do is very hard, but they have no other choice. They come here, they build, they dig, they carry things, and so on. My prerogative is the protection of laborers. If I can protect them, then I will serve my function, at least partially.

RFE/RL: A recent survey showed that over half of Russians view immigrant workers negatively. Do you think this statistic accurately reflects the situation?

Dzhuraeva: Of course not. It doesn't show Russia's dependence on slave labor. There are millions of these workers. Neither does it show the political implications of this process. The immigration issue is part of policymaking between various countries. There are many underlying issues here. But I can personally testify to the fact that 80 percent -- if not 100 percent -- of the negative view of these people is inspired by our "democratic" press and its xenophobic journalism. When they say that "some wretch from Tajikistan did this and that," and the ethnicity is so strongly emphasized, it cannot provoke sympathy in people.

In Uzbekistan, they say that the war with the Turkmens started because of strawberries. Well, in this case, the "strawberries" are being planted by the press, which is often very inadequate in the way it expresses itself. Instead of trying to overcome the international conflict that this issue poses, the press simply tries to make money by being provocative. Oftentimes, things that come out of the press become weapons in the hands of various extremists, who think that immigrants are a threat to Russia.

For years our organization has been appealing to various national organizations. We told them that we should calculate, from a strictly scientific point of view, the value of these half-slaves for Russia. What if we started paying these people the money that their labor was worth? Our own profit increase would be in the billions of dollars. Instead, these workers send pennies back home and [survive] on bread and water.

We really need a more benevolent press. They are the ones who form the nation's conscience. When you talk to the owner of a construction site, he's always happy with the way the Tajiks work. When you talk to someone whose dacha the Tajiks built, he's always happy. But when you watch television or open a newspaper, or listen to politicians, you literally start to feel sick.

RFE/RL: In your opinion, do immigrants know all these things when they choose to come here? To what extent do their lives in Russia match their expectations?

Dzhuraeva: They know everything, but they are forced to come here to feed their large families. There is widespread unemployment in Tajikistan. Of course, you can make money by smuggling drugs, but the fact that so many people come to Russia -- sacrificing their health and strength, [and] performing extremely difficult work -- shows that there is an inherent desire to live an honest life. They're not as bad as how the Movement Against Illegal Immigration is trying to portray them. People in this movement know how dependent they are on Tajik labor, and they know that Russian drug barons are just as well off as the Tajik ones.

By Liz Fuller

There is still no sign of Ruslan Nakhushev, a former KBG officer and head of the unregistered Islamic Research Institute in Nalchik, who went missing on 4 November. His disappearance has shed some light on alleged connections between the Chechen resistance and the djamaats (religious communities) in the Kabardino-Balkariya Republic (KBR).

Local police have identified the participants in the 13 October armed raids on Nalchik as members of the Yarmuk djamaat -- a group with reported links to the Chechen resistance. Ninety-five militants were killed in the violence, according to KBR police. Police had earlier claimed that they had killed Yarmuk members, including its alleged leader Muslin Ataev, in two shoot-outs in Nalchik in January and April of this year.

The Chechen resistance website on 17 October posted a statement from Yarmuk's press service confirming, first that its members participated in the Nalchik raids, and second, that Yarmuk is part of the Kabardino-Balkar sector of the Caucasus Front. The front was proclaimed in May by Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, the successor to slain Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov.

Even prior to the October raids, the predominantly ethnic Kabardian police force systematically targeted young men suspected of belonging to underground Islamic organizations. There are reportedly over 20 Muslim youth organizations in the KBR that are not under the control of the republic's Muslim Spiritual Board.

But many have questioned whether the authorities are targeting the right people.

In a recent article for "Novaya gazeta," Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote that many of the young men rounded up by police since 13 October on suspicion of participating in the attacks belong to a different underground organization, the Kabardino-Balkar djamaat.

The Kabardino-Balkar djamaat was headed by Musa Mukozhev and Anzor Astemirov, both of whom were reportedly close to Nakhushev. Mukozhev is reportedly a protege of former KBR mufti Shafig Pshikhachev, who sent him to study Islamic theology in "the Arab East." Mukozhev reportedly developed into a brilliant and charismatic preacher who on his return to Nalchik began preaching at the mosque in Volnyi Aul, a Nalchik suburb. He swiftly won a large following and a reputation as the republic's spiritual leader, according to Politkovskaya.

There was reportedly little or no contact between members of the largely peaceful Kabardino-Balkariya djamaat and the ultra-secretive Yarmuk. Politkovskaya claimed in her article that, at least until last year, the Kabardino-Balkariya djamaat simply sought freedom of worship, in contrast to similar organizations in Chechnya and Ingushetia whose members want the creation of an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus.

In fact, Mukozhev's insistence on the purely peaceful study of Islam earned him criticism from both Yarmuk and radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. But after the September 2004 hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia, the KBR police began systematically warning members of the moderate Kabardino-Balkariya djamaat to abandon their faith. And both Mukozhev and Astemirov were identified as suspects in the December 2004 armed raid, for which Yarmuk claimed responsibility, on the Federal Anti-Narcotics Service in Nalchik.

Early this year Mukozhev and Astemirov went underground. Astemirov joined Basaev, and is seen with Basaev on a video that was posted on the website in late October. The footage showed a meeting of field commanders prior to the Nalchik raids. Basaev subsequently claimed to have participated in the planning of that operation.

In an interview given to "Kommersant-Daily" shortly before his disappearance and posted on 7 November on, Nakhushev emphatically denied that Basaev exercises any authority over the Kabardino-Balkariya djamaat. Nakhushev said that the djamaat has its own amir, but declined to name him. "Basaev is a nobody here," Nakhushev said in that interview. Politkovskaya for her part quoted a member of Mukozhev's congregation as suggesting that Astemirov joined forces with Basaev only because he was forced into a corner and had no alternative.

Nakhushev's role as a mediator was well known. His institute served as a center for debate among Islamic scholars both from within the KBR and elsewhere.

Nakhushev reportedly worked to bridge the gap between young believers and the KBR authorities, trying to persuade the latter to halt police reprisals against the former. According to on 7 November, Nakhushev was not a practicing Muslim; he was also a member of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party.

Arsen Kanokov, who was confirmed as KBR president in late September, acknowledged Nakhushev's positive role, referring to him in a 3 November interview in "Novaya gazeta" as someone "who has offered help and assistance." Kanokov's plans to meet with Nakhushev were thwarted by his disappearance.

If Kanokov considered Nakhushev a potential ally in his efforts to neutralize the perceived threat of an upsurge of radical Islam, who sought to prevent that alliance, and why? on 7 November quoted Nakhushev as reasoning that the "siloviki" -- the republic's law-enforcement and security agencies, whose heads were appointed by Kanokov's predecessor Valerii Kokov -- have a vested interest in perpetuating the perception of an Islamic threat in order to be able to demonstrate to their superiors in Moscow their success in countering that threat.

There are also signs of differences of opinion between Kanokov and the Russian Interior Ministry. on 7 November quoted "Kommersant-Daily" as writing that Kanokov wants to fire KBR Interior Minister Khachim Shogenov and other unnamed "siloviki" whom he "inherited" from Kokov, but the Russian Interior Ministry refuses to endorse those dismissals.

By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Last month's armed raid on Nalchik has left the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkariya in a state of shock. Although the Chechen separatist leadership and a local militant group known as Yarmuk have both claimed responsibility for the attack, it is now known that nearly all of the 95 militants that were killed during the violence were young Muslim dissidents who had never taken up arms before. What prompted those untrained, ill-equipped teenagers to defy death and attack Nalchik's police buildings remains unclear. Residents blame the brutal antireligious campaign of late President Valerii Kokov for the recent raid. Kabardino-Balkariya's newly elected leader has vowed to fight non-official Islam with other methods. But it seems that the cycle of violence is continuing.

Following the 13-14 October raids on Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkariya's newly elected leader Arsen Kanokov indicated that he was willing to amend the heavy-handed policy of his predecessor.

Ailing Soviet-era president Valerii Kokov stepped down in September after 15 years of repressive rule. He died a week ago, leaving the small Northern Caucasus republic in a state of alarming instability.

In comments to Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" newspaper on the day that followed the Nalchik bloodshed, Kanokov implicitly blamed Kokov for ruthlessly banning all forms of religious life that did not fit into the framework of the government-controlled Spiritual Board of Muslims.

In particular, Kanokov criticized the closure of nearly all of the republic's mosques, saying it only contributed to driving young Muslims underground. Most of the mosques were closed in the last two years.

In subsequent remarks to Russian media, Kanokov has announced a string of measures he said would help keep religious life under control. He has mentioned a possible reshuffle among the leadership of the Spiritual Board of Muslims and starting religious courses in schools.

Addressing Nalchik university students on 3 November, Kanokov called for restraint in the struggle against non-official Islam.

"We must make a clear distinction between believers and those who take radical steps. We must separate the terrorist from the believer," Kanokov said. "I've repeatedly told Interior Minister [Khashim Shogenov] and Prosecutor-General [Yuri Ketov] that if we continue taking such tough measures we will end up turning even those people who just want to pray and worship against us."

Kabardino-Balkariya's residents have greeted Kanokov's statements with optimism. Yet, whether the new president will be able to stop the republic's cycle of violence remains uncertain.

In the days that immediately followed the Nalchik raids, Russian state-controlled media reported that security forces were combing the republic in search of militants suspected of links with the attackers.

Larisa Dorogova, an independent lawyer who has been defending the rights of Kabardino-Balkariya's young Muslim dissidents for many years, told RFE/RL that the arrests are continuing unabated.

"It continues. People are being arrested every day. In some cases, the detainees are beaten up. Some of them died in custody and their bodies have been put into wagons, where there are bodies [of the militants killed on October 13-14]. According to our, unofficial, estimates, nearly 2,000 people have gone through these mop-up operations. Some are being released after being beaten up. But they are being replaced by others in a kind of rotation," Dorogova said.

Kabardino-Balkariya's government officials were not immediately available for comment as 4 November was a national holiday in Russia.

Dorogova said she has been able to identify "several" detainees who reportedly died in custody. She did not elaborate further.

She also said that, as in the past, the arrests are primarily targeting those young Muslims who are opposed to the Spiritual Board of Muslims.

"They are forcibly hauled away from their homes. They are being tortured. Some of them are in hospital in a very serious condition, but there have been cases when people left the [Interior Ministry's Anti-Religious Extremism] Department on stretchers and hospitals refused to admit them for treatment," Dorogova said. "But these people [Muslim dissidents] are not complaining. They're not turning to private doctors for help, they're simply staying home."

Ismail Boziev is a representative of Kabardino-Balkariya's Balkar ethnic minority and a parliamentarian from Khasanya, a Balkar village located on the edge of Nalchik.

In comments to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, he confirmed that the Nalchik raids have triggered a new wave of repression against young Muslims dissidents. But he said other people feared being arrested and taken away to Nalchik.

"There are relatively few [of these young Muslims] in our village. However, some people have been arrested. People are afraid. They've heard a lot about the torture that is awaiting those who are being taken there [Interior Ministry's Anti-Religious Extremism Department]. Many people, for fear of finding themselves in such a situation, for fear of torture, are hiding outside the village," Boziev said. "Personally, if I were to end up there, I would prefer death. Not anyone can endure such humiliations and tortures."

Under Kokov's iron-fisted rule, Kabardino-Balkariya's police have gained a reputation of ruthlessness that reportedly surpasses that of law-enforcement agencies in other North Caucasus republics.

Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, a researcher for Russia's Memorial rights group based in Ingushetia's main city of Nazran, says police brutality has certainly contributed to the recent upsurge of violence in Nalchik.

"Police arbitrariness has reached fantastic proportions [in Kabardino-Balkariya]. The Interior Ministry in general, and the interior minister in particular, have gained a frightening reputation, not only among those Muslims who are being continuously detained, tortured, and have fabricated criminal charges brought against them, but also among non-Muslims. No one feels safe against this arbitrariness and that, certainly, contributed to heightening the tension," Sokiryanskaya said.

Yurii Shanibov, a lecturer in political science at Nalchik University, says Kokov's heavy-handed religious policy has antagonized young Muslims to such an extent that many of them chose to commit what he calls a "collective suicide" by raiding Nalchik.

"We've lost an entire generation. Many young people, aged between 14 and 20, would prefer a horrible death to the endless sufferings [Interior Minister] Shogenov is promising them. This is why they decided to fight unto the death and got killed [on 13-14 October]," Shanibov said.

In a statement carried a few days ago by Russia's Regnum news agency, the Nalchik-based Human Rights Center of Kabardino-Balkariya expressed concern at the new wave of repression directed against young Muslims.

The group said it feared the situation in Kabardino-Balkariya might develop according to a scenario similar to that which has been taking place in Ingushetia, or Daghestan.

In those two republics, the statement read, "innocent people are being persecuted, 'death squadrons' have appeared, and extra-judicial executions are taking place."

It continued: "We must state that, today, events in Kabardino-Balkariya are threatening to develop according to an Ingush or Daghestani scenario, where explosions, killings, and abductions of people have long become a reality -- just like in Chechnya."

27 November: Chechnya to hold legislative elections.

1 December: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plans for reducing traffic accidents, alcoholism, and drug addiction, as well as its proposals for improving health care.

1 December: Date by which President Putin has ordered the government to submit its plan to increase state-sector wages by 50 percent within three years.

4 December: Moscow City Duma elections to be held.

4 December: State Duma by-election to be held in single-mandate district in Moscow.

28 December: Federation Council will hold its last session in 2005.

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg.

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved.