Friday, April 25, 2014


Reports Of Umarov's Death Have (Often) Been Greatly Exaggerated

Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov during a video statement in which he claims responsibility for the suicide bombings in the Moscow subway in March 2010.

He's been killed and come back to life more times than a zombie in a B movie.

On April 8, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced what they called the "neutralization" of Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov, the alleged mastermind of the horrific 2004 Beslan school massacre and one of Russia's most-wanted men.

Notice that they didn't say Umarov had been "killed."

Even Russia's Interfax news agency was quick to point out that Umarov's body has not yet been found.

"That is why today it is more proper to speak about the 'neutralization' of Umarov's activities," Interfax quoted a source close to the situation as saying.

Interfax is right to be cautious. They themselves erroneously reported Umarov's death in 2009. But not only Interfax. RFE/RL, too, has reported Umarov's ultimate undoing over the past few years.

Here's a rundown of some (if not all) of Umarov's brushes with death:

June 8, 2009 -- Umarov is reportedly "severely wounded" in a special operation conducted by an adviser to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Interfax quotes a source in Russian law enforcement that Umarov has been killed.

"Tests are being made on the remains to make a final identification," Interfax quotes the source as saying.

July 3, 2009 -- A man purporting to be Umarov calls RFE/RL from an undisclosed location in Chechnya to say he is alive, uninjured, and planning future attacks. He says his fighters will attempt to avoid attacks on civilians, while saying that he regards civilians as legitimate military targets.

March 18, 2010 -- RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reports that Umarov is dead, killed in a gun battle on March 10 near Chechnya's border with Ingushetia. The report is based on a phone call made to RFE/RL by a man identifying himself as a Chechen militant and who was known as a reliable source by the Caucasus Service. 

April 7, 2011 -- Umarov purportedly telephones RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service to say that that rumors of his death are, once again, greatly exaggerated. Umarov laughs off Russian media speculation that he is terminally ill, perhaps with diabetes, saying he is "absolutely healthy" and that the Russian authorities "should expect news from me soon," before the telephone connection is cut.

December 18, 2013 -- Kadyrov tells journalists in Moscow, "I officially state that Umarov is long dead." Hours later, a video of Umarov, believed to have been filmed in autumn 2013, is posted on YouTube.

January 28, 2014 -- Kadyrov is quoted by "Izvestia" as saying that he believes Umarov is dead, having been gravely wounded in a security operation sometime in late 2013.

February 18, 2014 -- Israeli scholar Avrom Shmulevich says that Umarov was poisoned last fall while visiting an insurgency winter base in Chechnya.

March 18, 2014 -- A pro-Islamist militant website says Umarov has "become a martyr," but gives no details.

April 8, 2014 -- Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announces the "neutralization" of Umarov's "activities" earlier this year. FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov does not elaborate.

Standing by for the phone call from Umarov.

-- Grant Podelco

Russians Detained For Holding Up 'Invisible Placards'

Moscow police detain Russians holding "invisible placards" of protest near the Kremlin on April 6.

In Russia, even raising your hands in public can get you detained these days, as protesters in Moscow discovered over the weekend.
Police in the capital detained a group of demonstrators near the Kremlin on April 6, several of whom were holding up what they called “invisible placards” calling for the release of seven demonstrators sentenced to prison in the Bolotanaya protest case in February.
After some of the protesters holding actual signs were hauled off by police, one of six demonstrators holding her arms up explained to the small crowd on Manezhnaya Square that police could not detain them because their placards were invisible.
It was the latest in a number of protests by Kremlin opponents who have turned to borderline absurdist demonstrations seemingly to dare authorities to arrest them for innocuous and legal public activities.
One prominent practitioner of this tactic is opposition activist Roman Dobrokhotov. He was detained along with fellow demonstrators in January 2009 while holding up a blank piece of paper with his mouth taped shut outside the Russian government’s headquarters in central Moscow.
In August of that year, Dobrokhotov was detained with his guitar at a protest on Moscow’s Mayakovsky Square while playing and singing “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles, despite his claim that he had come to the demonstration only to play music.

The “invisible placards” tactic did little to assuage police, who dragged the demonstrators away.
In total, 10 protesters were detained on suspicion of staging an unsanctioned demonstration and released later that night, Ekho Moskvy reported. Other Russian news reports put the number of detainees at 12.

-- Carl Schreck

The Week Ahead: April 7-13

April 9 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1989 tragic events, when Soviet troops dispersed a peaceful demonstration outside the parliament building in Tbilisi leaving 20 people dead.

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.

Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

MONDAY, April 7:

Azerbaijan/Russia: Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov makes an official visit to Baku (to April 8).

Council of Europe: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) plenary session opens in Strasbourg (to April 11).

U.S./South CaucasusGerman Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington hosts a discussion titled "South Caucasus: The Dividing Lines Are Shifting."

WHO: World Health Day.

Ukraine: UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsak visits Ukraine to gather first-hand information from minority communities in the country (to April 13).

TUESDAY, April 8:

Armenia/CIS: Yerevan hosts a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Air Defense Coordination Council meeting.

Azerbaijan/CIS: Baku hosts a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Chiefs of Staff Committee meeting.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Croatian President Ivo Josipovic visits Mostar and Sarajevo (to April 9).

IranIran and world powers hold a new round of nuclear talks in Vienna (to April 9).

Moldova: UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri visits Chisinau and Tiraspol (to April 11). 

World: International Roma Day.


: The 25th anniversary of the 1989 tragic events, when Soviet troops dispersed a peaceful demonstration outside the parliament building in Tbilisi leaving  20 people dead.

Russia/U.S.: Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov visits Washington (to April 11).

Ukraine/CoE: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is scheduled to discuss the situation in Ukraine during its plenary session in Strasbourg.

THURSDAY, April 10:

Moldova: Next round of 5+2 talks on the Transdniester conflict settlement is scheduled to begin in Vienna (to April 11).

Russia/CoE: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is scheduled to reconsider the already ratified credentials of the delegation of the Russian Federation during its plenary session in Strasbourg.

FRIDAY, April 11:

Czech Republic
: EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele participates in the conference in Prague titled "Ten years since the EU Enlargement to the East."

SATURDAY, April 12:

: International Day of Human Space Flight.

SUNDAY, April 13:

: Presidential election.

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

Rappers Shine In Afghanistan's First-Ever Election Anthems

A still from Afghan election anthem contest winners Sami and Shaheed

Go to the voting stations without any fear,
Go and exercise your voting right.
We witnessed suicide attacks, bombings, and blasts,
We witnessed the leaves of the trees turning pale.
The women, men, and youth are voting for their county.

Those are lyrics from Afghan rap duo Sami and Shaheed.

Along with Sonita Alizadeh, they are the respective winners of the male and female categories of a competition that developed the first-ever election anthem in the country.

The winners were announced at a ceremony last month in Kabul that was attended by a jury made up of professional musicians and election officials.

We profiled the competition here.

Music promoters Argus and Sound Central awarded the three young artists a lucrative prize of $1,000 each. The three have since recorded their songs professionally and made their music videos ahead of the landmark April 5 presidential election.

Here's Sami and Shaheed's winning song:
Here's Sonita's prize-winning effort:
Sami and Shaheed are two brothers from Herat, in western Afghanistan.

The 18-year-old Sonita is also originally from Herat. Sonita, who lived as a refugee in Iran for years, raps about the tough life of Afghan immigrants in the Islamic republic and the challenges facing women and girls in Afghanistan, a deeply conservative and religious society.

The intention of the foreign-funded competition was to encourage young people in Afghanistan to vote. More than 70 percent of the Afghan population is below the age of 25.

Afghanistan's last presidential election, in 2009, was marked by a low turnout, with election officials saying only 30 to 35 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. And young voters are seen as a important demographic to win over to ensure a high turnout and credible election. 

The leading front-runners in the election have all tried to woo young people. The 64-year-old Ashraf Ghani went so far as describing himself as the "embodiment of the aspirations of the young men and women of this country."

Afghan youth have enjoyed unprecedented opportunities and freedoms in the 13 years since the fall of the Taliban, and many are keen to protect them.

Significantly, young voters are likely to break the country's traditional electoral politics in which many vote for candidates based on their ethnic affiliation. Young Afghans, however, have shown during campaigning that they are interested in modernization and development and less with ethnic loyalties.

-- Frud Bezhan

Crimean Tatars Staging 'Self-Preservation' Patrols

Crimean Tatars with a "self-preservation" patrol warm themselves around a fire on a night shift on the outskirts of Simferopol.

For more than a month, Ruslan Dzhepparov has come home from work, rested, then headed back outside for a night patrolling the streets of Akhmechet, a neighborhood of Simferopol that is home to some 8,000 Crimean Tatars.
"We do this peacefully. We don't have any weapons," Dzhepparov tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "We simply do this to prevent provocations. If there is some kind of provocation, we communicate with our headquarters, and with the police, of course."
The headquarters, located inside the courtyard of the local mosque, stays brightly lit all night, as members of the Crimean Tatar community wait for news from the street patrols, which have operated since the first day the Russian military entered Crimea on February 27.
Dulyaver Reshitov, a representative of the local Ashmechet council, says the patrols' main strength is vigilance. "We're not a self-defense force," he says, referring to the informal vigilante units, often pro-Russian, who sometimes resort to violent tactics. "No one is attacking us. We're more of a self-preservation group. It's not the authorities we're fighting against, just hooligans trying to make trouble."

WATCH: Tatar Night Patrols In Simferopol (In Russian)
Tatar Night Patrols In Simferopol's Akhmechet Neighborhoodi
|| 0:00:00
March 27, 2014
Since February 27, when Russian forces first entered Crimea, ethnic Tatars have been staging self-organized security patrols in the peninsula's capital, Simferopol.
Such "self-preservation" groups have sprung up in a number of Tatar communities throughout the Crimean peninsula. Despite being the territory's native inhabitants, Crimean Tatars are vastly outnumbered by ethnic Russians, a result of World War II-era deportations. Now they fear Russia's military takeover may mean a fresh round of ethnic repressions and rights violations. 
The Crimean Tatar assembly, or Mejlis, serves as the main coordinator of the patrols. Nariman Dzhelyal, the deputy head of the Mejlis, said the night watch isn't aimed at monitoring the activities of professional troops. 
"Primarily, this is meant to work against those who want to take advantage of the situation by consciously attempting to create a conflict or turn things into an open confrontation here in Crimea," he said.
-- Daisy Sindelar

The Week Ahead: March 31 - April 6

Supporters of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah wait for the start of an election rally in Parwan Province.

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.

Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

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MONDAY, March 31:

Belgium: Brussels hosts an international conference on genocide prevention (to April 1).

Kazakhstan: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal visits Astana and Almaty (to April 2).

Kyrgyzstan: Pakistani writer and journalist Ahmed Rashid holds lectures in Bishkek on security issues in Central Asia.

Moldova/Canada: Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird makes an official visit to Chisinau.

Moldova/RomaniaRomanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean makes a working visit to Chisinau on the occasion of the second session of the Moldovan-Romanian Intergovernmental Commission for European Integration.

Serbia/Kosovo: Brussels hosts another meeting between Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

Tajikistan/China: Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan visits Dushanbe (to April 1).

Ukraine: Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev is scheduled to speak at a UN Security Council meeting in New York.

World: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes its report on climate change.

TUESDAY, April 1:

Azerbaijan: The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) holds a meeting in Geneva to review Azerbaijan (to April 2).

Iran: The 35th anniversary of the official affirmation of Iran as an Islamic republic.

NATO: Brussels hosts the NATO Foreign Ministerial meetings (to April 2).

NATO/Ukraine: Brussels hosts a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting (to April 2).

Tajikistan: Dushanbe hosts a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Defense Ministers meeting (to April 3).

Turkmenistan: Ashgabat hosts a regional meeting on the legal status of the Caspian Sea (to April 2).

World: The 10th anniversary of Google's Gmail free email service. 


Kyrgyzstan: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal visits Bishkek (to April 4).

UN: World Autism Awareness Day.

THURSDAY, April 3:

Azerbaijan: An annual international travel and tourism fair opens in Baku (to April 5).

Czech Republic: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits Prague (to April 4).

Russia: Moscow hosts a Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting.

U.S./Eastern Europe: Atlantic Council in Washington hosts a discussion with Anne Applebaum titled "Between East and West."

FRIDAY, April 4:

EU: Athens hosts an informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the European Union member states, known as the “Gymnich” (to April 5).

NATO: The 65th anniversary of the foundation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Russia: Moscow hosts a CIS Council of Foreign Ministers meeting.

Ukraine: The deadline for registration of candidates for the May 25 presidential election.

UN: Mine Awareness Day.

SATURDAY, April 5:

Afghanistan: Presidential election.

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

British Royals Under Fire -- Again -- For Ties To Kazakh Oligarchy

Britain's Prince Harry is no stranger to press controversy. (file photo)

The British royal family has come under fire after Prince Harry, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth, accepted a luxury ski trip to Kazakhstan sponsored by a close associate of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Twenty-nine-year-old Harry and his girlfriend, Cressida Bonas, took a four-day trip to the oil-rich Central Asian nation this week, enjoying heli-skiing, gourmet mountaintop meals, and chairs lined with warm fur blankets.
Britain's " Daily Mail" newspaper reports that the trip was paid for by Burak Oymen, a Turkish-born property developer and the son of senior Turkish politician Onur Oymen.
Burak Oymen and his business partner, Serzhan Zhumashov, have built a number of luxury properties in Kazakhstan. Both men are considered to be close to the Kazakh president.
Buckingham Palace has defended Harry's trip as a "private" holiday, but Amnesty International has condemned the visit, accusing the Queen's grandson of ignoring Kazakhstan's record of brutal rights violations.
"[Harry] might want to spare a thought for the people who aren't going to be sharing the slopes with him," said Amnesty spokesman Allan Hogarth. "Kazakhstan is a repressive country where torture is rife and political opposition is crushed."
It is not the first intersection between Britain's royal family and the Kazakh elite. Harry's uncle, Prince Andrew, came under scrutiny in 2010 when it emerged that he had sold a country house to Timur Kulibaev, a Kazakh billionaire and Nazarbaev's son-in-law.
The purchase of the 600-acre Sunninghill Park estate was notable because Kulibaev, who spent $28.5 million to buy the house, paid nearly $6 million more than the asking price -- fueling suspicion the purchase was more a favor than a simple real-estate transaction. The house, run-down to begin with, remains unoccupied.
Andrew has also been photographed repeatedly with Goga Ashkenazi, a wealthy Kazakh socialite who was also Kulibaev's mistress. The couple had two children together, a fact that did not appear to disrupt Kulibaev's marriage to Nazarbaev's middle daughter, Dinara.
Ashkenazi, for her part, has said she "loves" Prince Andrew.
The apparent coziness between the royal family and the Kazakh elite extends to Britain's top political figures. The firm of former Prime Minister Tony Blair was paid $13 million dollars to serve as a special adviser to Nazarbaev, a deal that earned him jeers from the rights community.
Nazarbaev, who sits atop one of the world's richest sources of oil, gas, and minerals, has courted favor with Western leaders in an attempt to transform his post-Soviet country into an international power.
But its rights record continues to deteriorate, with Human Rights Watch noting in its 2014 global report growing crackdowns on free speech and public assembly, political prosecutions, and the continued use of police torture.

How Well Do You Know Prince Harry?

-- Daisy Sindelar

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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