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A Chechen Snake In The Grass


The women explained that normally grass cuttings are transported in special bags, not the Russian flag.

The women explained that normally grass cuttings are transported in special bags, not the Russian flag.

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov is in high dudgeon following the screening by a Russian TV channel of footage showing employees of the Grozny municipal department responsible for parks carrying mown grass wrapped in the Russian national flag.

The two women in question say they were approached by a three-man camera team, one member of whom spoke Chechen. The cameramen said they were making a film about Grozny and asked the women to pick up mown grass they had not previously noticed that was heaped on a piece of fabric they did not immediately recognize as a flag, which they duly did. The women explained that normally grass cuttings are transported in special bags. They said they assumed the footage was intended for the film currently being made in Grozny (by French actor Gerard Depardieu).

Andrey Reut of the TV channel RBK gave a somewhat different account of what happened. He is shown in the footage saying that he and his crew came across the women by chance after what he termed "a long and pleasant conversation" with Kadyrov. It is unclear when that conversation took place, but it was presumably earlier this week, following Kadyrov's meeting on May 27 with a group of Russian journalists. Reut said it was "a shock" to see women using the Russian national flag for such a purpose, especially "when there were Chechen flags hanging everywhere."

Kadyrov for his part first denied categorically that "anything of sort could happen," clearly meaning Chechens dishonoring the Russian flag. Then in the same breath he contradicted himself, telling journalists that "what shocks him most of all" is that Reut, as a Russian citizen, did not explain to the women that they were acting disrespectfully and take the flag away from them. He thus implied that Reut's account was partly true -- although he denied Reut's claim that there were Chechen flags everywhere. Then Kadyrov said no journalist or decent human being should fabricate an episode with the intention of bringing shame on an entire people in whose homeland he is a guest, implying that, on the contrary, Reut staged the entire episode.

Of the various possible explanations of what happened, Reut's claim that he chanced upon the women as they were carrying mown grass wrapped in a Russian flag is implausible. It is more likely that he staged the entire episode, which would have been an egregious breach of professional ethics (although that was not one of Kadyrov's criticisms).

If the incident was indeed staged, the question arises, did Reut act on his own initiative or was he put up to it by someone out to discredit Kadyrov, and if so, who? Even if individual members of the Russian leadership have misgivings about Kadyrov's methods, the fact remains that he is the closest Moscow has to a success story in the North Caucasus and for that reason, is beyond criticism. That Kadyrov himself is clearly aware of his seemingly untouchable status and exploits it to the full is irrelevant.

It is also possible that Kadyrov himself, or someone in his entourage, staged the episode in order to create a pretext for Kadyrov to profess publicly yet again his devotion to Russia's interests. The Chechen authorities have apparently not launched an official investigation into the incident, although Kadyrov said he telephoned Reut to complain.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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