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Lana Estemirova

Research Fellow

Lana Estemirova is the presenter of the Trouble with the Truth podcast and works for the Justice for Journalists Foudnation. She is a graduate in International Relations from London School of Economics. She writes on Chechnya and human rights issues in Russia and is working on her first book.

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5718 [post_author] => 73 [post_date] => 2021-04-21 14:15:22 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-04-21 13:15:22 [post_content] => While Russia is cracking down on investigative journalists exposing corruption amongst its political elites, the UK’s political elites are failing to do enough to crack down on corruption exposed by investigative journalists.  The arrest of Roman Anin, Founder of iStoriesOn the evening of April 9th, the founder of investigative news website iStories, Roman Anin, received an unexpected visit from the police. In what has now become a routine occurrence for many Russian journalists, his house in Moscow was searched for seven hours, his electronics were seized and thoroughly examined. The investigators were especially interested in all non-Russian materials: documents in English, articles and even Roman’s photo from Stanford University, where he is posing with his course mates.[1] There’s been some speculation on whether it is another attempt to forge a foreign intelligence agent story - something that’s already happening to a former Kommersant journalist, Ivan Safronov.[2] The following day the office of iStories also suffered from a police raid. Roman himself was taken in for questioning in connection with a privacy invasion case, where he is listed as witness. The lawsuit was filed in 2016 by oligarch Igor Sechin’s ex-wife Olga, following Roman’s investigation about the family’s luxury yacht that served as a backdrop to many of her Instagram posts.[3] The timing of the new onslaught on the Pulitzer winning journalist is intended to send a signal to him and his colleagues. Roman is also a member of the OCCRP network that investigated Panama Papers leaks, there little doubt that he is being harassed because of his work.[4] Russia is going through something of an investigative journalism boom. In 2020 alone, outlets such as iStories, Proekt media, the Insider and many more, produced an array of investigative blockbusters exposing the corrupt underbelly of the Russian elite. The mushrooming of these newsrooms corresponds to the Government’s tightening of the screws – increasing attempts to control the internet, a severe clampdown on civil protest and the persecution of independent journalists. The work that these new media organisations produce is a fightback against the increasingly authoritarian stance of the Government. In a country where citizens’ private data can be bought and sold on the black market like an old watch, the classic definitions of journalism are being replaced with something that is closer to private investigation work.[5] And it pays off – among the most famous revelations of 2020 were the unveiling of Putin’s palace in Gelendzhik and his Crimean summerhouse;[6] a peek inside the questionable dealings of Putin’s former son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, that landed him an immense fortune; [7] and the discovery of Ramzan Kadyrov’s mysterious wife and her luxury properties in Moscow – to name a few.[8] The rebuttals issued by the Kremlin (including Putin himself) frame investigative media outlets as puppets of Western regimes with no agenda of their own. However, the backlash against anti-corruption activists and journalists shows that their work is perceived as a serious threat to the status quo. The whole world watched the saga of Alexei Navalny: from his Kremlin-backed poisoning and unmasking of his own murderers, to his return to Russia and inevitable arrest. Alexei’s health is deteriorating rapidly as he is being denied proper medical attention, while prosecutors propose to label organisations tied to him as extremist. This feels like a very critical moment for Russia. As of now, journalist Roman Anin is walking free but if his witness status is changed to the defendant, he will need all the publicity he can get to ensure his safety. Russian corruption and British ‘Sleaze’The UK has condemned the treatment of Alexei Navalny and imposed a new set of Magnitsky laws that target Russian individuals implicated in human rights abuses. But the critics note that the sanctions are not targeted enough.[9] A new set of additional sanctions to be announced in spring is set to tackle corruption by introducing asset freezes and visa bans.[10] Nonetheless, London remains a playground for rich and powerful Russians with unexplained wealth, who enjoy a plethora of financial and legal services to protect their status and reputation. The coveted ‘golden visa’ for individuals who invested £2m in the British economy has not been curtailed, despite the evidence that this fast track to residency does not have a sufficient enough screening process.[11] The lack of effective pushback implies that the British political and business establishment is easily seduced by dirty money from countries with poor human rights record. Furthermore, the Russia Report that concluded that there was foreign interference into the Britain’s domestic politics was largely dismissed by the Conservative Government.[12] In 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s appointed the son of an ex-KGB agent, Evgeny Lebedev as a life peer in a much criticised gesture. Those who try to challenge the London ‘laundromat’ may expect a call to court. Journalist and writer, Catherine Belton, is currently being sued by Roman Abramovich for defamation over claims in her book, Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West, that the oligarch bought Chelsea football club on Putin’s orders.[13] The Foreign Policy Centre’s report Unsafe for scrutiny details the ways in which London enables the flow of dirty money and offers legal services to reprimand journalists who investigate them with SLAPP lawsuits.[14] The recent Greensill revelations and a string of exposes surrounding the awarding of COVID-19 contracts to close contacts of the Conservative Party reveal that Britain has its own problems when it comes to corruption and the trafficking of influence.[15] Terms such as ‘sleaze’, ‘chumocracy’ and ‘cronyism’ are euphemisms that obscure the true nature of the problem. Britain is in no position to wag its finger at the elite of other nations when it is mired in its own controversy and questionable dealings. In fact, the two are very much interlinked – those with the right political or social connections, including those with dubious links with foreign governments, are able to buy influence at the highest levels of government for relatively small amounts of money, with ex-civil servants, senior government advisors and former politicians happy to lobby on behalf of their paymasters. Britain readily employs the language of human rights and civil liberties, but it is little more than window dressing if it allows itself to be compromised by the ill-gotten cash and blood money of Russian elites, complicit in the destruction of civil liberties in their homeland, while enjoying the prestige of wealth and the protection of British law in London. [1] Alexey Kovalev, Not everyone has what it takes Roman Anin, whose home and newsroom were raided by federal agents last week, explains the challenges of investigative journalism in Russia today, Meduza, April 2021, https://meduza.io/en/feature/2021/04/15/not-everyone-has-what-it-takes[2] BBC News, Russian space official Safronov charged in treason probe, July 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-53319545[3] Roman Anin, The Secret of the St. Princess Olga, OCCRP, August 2016, https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/5523-the-secret-of-the-st-princess-olga[4] OCCRP, OCCRP Newsletter, April 2021, https://mailchi.mp/occrp/newsletter-april15?e=3faf659e43[5] Ben Smith, How Investigative Journalism Flourished in Hostile Russia, The New York Times, February 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/21/business/media/probiv-investigative-reporting-russia.html[6] Palace Navalny, Palace for Putin, https://palace.navalny.com/; Ekaterina Reznikova with Elizaveta Surnacheva, The story of how Vladimir Putin’s entourage bought the palace of Leonid Brezhnev, which he liked, Proekt Media, February 2021, https://www.proekt.media/guide/dacha-putina-krym/[7] Roman Anin, et al., Love, Offshores, and Administrative Resources: How Marrying Putin’s Daughter Cave Kirill Shamalov a World of Opportunity, iStories, December 2020, https://istories.media/en/investigations/2020/12/07/love-offshores-and-administrative-resources-how-marrying-putins-daughter-gave-kirill-shamalov-a-world-of-opportunity/[8] Maria Zholobova with Roman Badanin, Investigation into how Russia got its own sultanate, Proekt Media, April 2021, https://maski-proekt.media/vtoraya-zhena-kadyrova/[9] Luke Harding, UK’s Magnitsky law does little to stem flow of dirty money from Russia, The Guardian, July 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/10/uk-magnitsky-law-does-little-stem-flow-dirty-money-from-russia[10] Dr Susan Hawley, The UK’s new corruption sanctions regime – Can it help end the UK’s role as a global money laundering centre and what role will journalists play?, FPC,  March 2021, https://fpc.org.uk/the-uks-new-corruption-sanctions-regime-can-it-help-end-the-uks-role-as-a-global-money-laundering-centre-and-what-role-will-journalists-play/[11] Will Bedingfield, How the golden visa scheme let Russian money pour into the UK, Wired, July 2020, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/russia-report-golden-visas[12] BBC News, Russia report: UK 'badly underestimated' threat, says committee, July 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-53484344[13] Murad Ahmed, Roman Abramovich sues HarperCollins over Chelsea acquisition claims, Financial Times, March 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/b79f2c82-6974-4fd7-8899-266025b7436b[14] Susan Coughtrie, Unsafe for Scrutiny: Executive Summary & Recommendations, FPC, December 2020, https://fpc.org.uk/unsafe-for-scrutiny-executive-summary-recommendations/[15] Peter Walker, What is the Greensill lobbying scandal and who is involved?, The Guardian, April 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/apr/14/what-is-greensill-lobbying-scandal-who-involved; Toby Helm and Michael Savage, The return of Tory sleaze: a scandal set to haunt Boris Johnson, The Guardian, April 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/apr/18/the-return-of-tory-sleaze-a-scandal-set-to-haunt-boris-johnson This piece was produced as part of the Unsafe for Scrutiny project, which is kindly funded by the Justice for Journalists Foundation. [post_title] => Crackdowns on investigative journalism in Russia versus the lack of crackdown on corruption in the UK [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => crackdowns-on-investigative-journalism-in-russia-versus-the-lack-of-crackdown-on-corruption-in-the-uk [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-04-21 14:15:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-04-21 13:15:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=5718 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4662 [post_author] => 73 [post_date] => 2020-05-29 10:00:05 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-05-29 10:00:05 [post_content] => On April 4th 2020 Keir Starmer was voted in as new leader of the Labour Party by a considerable margin against his rivals. One of his key campaign pledges was a promise to put human rights at the heart of his foreign policy, calling for a return to what he called an ‘ethical foreign policy’ in line with the commitments expressed in Labour’s 2019 manifesto. [1] This is a laudable aim, but if the Labour Party is committed to pursuing ethical foreign policy, it must be more pro-active in exposing Putin’s regime – in contrast to his predecessor’s leadership. Russia has long meddled with British politics, whether it is oligarchs laundering dirty money though the City of London or assassins operating on British soil. Since human rights based foreign policy occupies such an important space in Labour’s commitments, it must ensure it is vocal in holding to account countries that abuse them. Labour will be out of power until at least 2024 and as Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party appears unlikely to seriously scrutinize Putin’s Russia, given the circumstances surrounding its refusal to publicise the infamous Russia report, Labour MPs and shadow cabinet ministers must step in. With Labour’s emphasis on the NHS and the Green New Deal during the 2019 election campaign in a vain attempt to move the national conversation away from Brexit – scrutiny of Labour’s foreign policy, other than on this central issue – was largely obscured. Within the 2019 Labour Manifesto, under the moniker of ‘New Internationalism’ Labour listed policy proposals to place human rights and international humanitarian law at the centre of decision making as part of an ‘ethical foreign policy.’ This included the deployment of human rights advisors to work alongside the Foreign Office. In a bid to place a curb on foreign adventurism, a key plank of the policy platform Corbyn had stood on, a War Powers Act was promised – alongside full implementation of every recommendation made by the Chilcot enquiry into the Iraq war[2]. In step with the political currents from which Corbyn hailed, the policy proposals contained within the document presented a serious attempt to get to grips with Britain’s colonial legacy and re-orientate its role in foreign affairs away from the interventionism[3] (overt or otherwise) for which it is condemned by a broad swathe of the Labour left – for whom a long litany of involvement in CIA-backed coups in the Middle East, alongside more recent examples in Iraq and Libya are key points of contention. For the demographic that backed him within the Labour Party, condemning and ending complicity in these sorts of affairs is a long-desired policy outcome. While from Corbyn’s team and the broader left movement there was a strong critique of the Western Imperialism perpetuated by Britain and its allies – as well as the West’s willingness to support despotic regimes where it suited their interests; this level of critique was found wanting when it came to scrutinising the actions of other imperial powers – of which Russia is a crucial example. Much of Corbyn’s political career has been spent immersed in struggles against foreign adventurism, which is why he faced difficult questions on his links to Hezbollah and other groups[4]. Similarly, his opposition to what the left deems to be Western Imperialism has in the past led him to call for the abolition of NATO. Opponents cited his willingness to criticise Britain and her allies as proof that he could not be trusted to act in Britain’s interests[5] – and his handling of the Skripal poisoning only served to reinforce this perception. In March 2018, Corbyn drew criticism from across the British political spectrum over his response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia. Despite evidence clearly indicating Russian involvement, including the fact that the Novichok nerve agent used had been manufactured in the country, the Labour leader called for the evidence to be examined carefully in order to avoid "hasty judgements that could lead to a new cold war"[6]. In one interview, he even suggested the poison sample be sent to Russia for its own examination. Even if Corbyn was acting with best intentions in an attempt to portray himself as statesmanlike and level-headed, this was obscured by poor communication, with his response perceived as weak and sympathetic to Kremlin. Corbyn’s caution would perhaps have been more justified had there not been a trail of assassinations left by the Kremlin on the British soil; the most notorious case being the murder of the former FSB officer turned regime critic Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned by radioactive polonium-210 on 1 November 2006[7]. Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s operatives have also been linked to numerous high-profile assassinations across Europe[8]. In such a context, Corbyn’s comments made him appear naïve on foreign policy – and weak in the face of an opponent who had famously called the collapse of the USSR ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ and made the overriding goal of his presidency the preservation of Russian territorial integrity and spheres of influence, along with the revival of its superpower status. Ironically – Corbyn had been one of the first in the United Kingdom to condemn Putin for his bloody mindedness and appetite for repression. The start of Putin’s presidency was characterised by the launch of a bloody campaign of the restive breakaway republic of Chechnya, which had humiliated Russia during the first Chechen war 1994-96 when Russian President Yeltsin invaded after it declared independence from the Russian Federation. After the start of the second war in 1999, the capital, Grozny, was carpet bombed and virtually destroyed in a display of overwhelming firepower and disregard for civilian life which has since been replicated in the Russian intervention in Syria. Human rights abuses were extreme and atrocities against civilians commonplace, drawing heavy international criticism – including from a certain backbench Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn criticised Tony Blair in 2000 for flying to meet Putin in St. Petersburg, stating:“When Tony Blair went to St Petersburg recently ... that was certainly used [by Moscow] to indicate there was a sort of tacit approval of what the Russian government was doing in Chechnya… We have to say bluntly to Russia, you've signed up for all these international conventions, you have to abide by them, you have to stand by them otherwise we're not going to do business with you."[9] At a time when many Western leaders still perceived Putin as a potential partner and liberaliser, Corbyn questioned whether Britain had raised sufficient concern over bombings in Chechnya and whether Western intergovernmental organizations were doing enough to advance peaceful solutions to the conflict[10]. It is this which made Corbyn’s silence on Putin’s Russia throughout his leadership all the more questionable – and one wonders why a similar position was not advocated during his tenure as Labour leader. Today, Chechnya is a tightly controlled dictatorship run at Putin’s behest by the strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov presides over a reign of terror in Chechnya – with critics humiliated and silenced over the slightest infraction. A spate of assassinations, beatings and consistent harassment has driven all human rights organisations from the region, while abuses have continued unabated since the end of the second Chechen war. Kadyrov is permitted a free reign in Chechnya in exchange for so-called stability and support for Putin’s rule. The centuries-long anti-colonial resistance of a small nation has now been altogether crushed.  As the leader of a movement founded on international solidarity, anti-imperialism, human rights and ethical foreign policy, not including Russia’s position on Chechnya in its critique of international affairs was a glaring omission. After Chechnya Putin continued to aggressively police what he perceived as Russian interests along its periphery. As his grip on power strengthened, the pillars of his new Russia were set, in his narrative, to be autocracy, orthodoxy and militant patriotism. Putin viewed the ‘colour’ revolutions which swept through the former Soviet Union removing clientilist networks and replacing them with new Governments less sympathetic to his regime (in the case of Georgia and Ukraine) with extreme hostility and alarm.[11] The efforts to remove corrupt authoritarian governments and shift towards greater democracy and transparency alongside an orientation towards the West is seen by Putin as an attempt to encircle Russia by NATO in an ongoing campaign that had persisted since the fall of the USSR. In this vein, the 2008 invasion of Georgia after the overconfident Mikhail Saakashvili, armed with American weaponry and courting NATO, made the mistake of provoking Russia[12] – was a prelude to Putin’s actions to annex the Crimea and then invade Eastern Ukraine after it had the temerity to sign a trade deal with the EU over that proffered by the Kremlin. Fearing that he might also someday be subject to his own colour revolution – a view reinforced by the 2012 protest movement that shook his regime, Putin set about clamping down on freedoms and dismantling human rights organisations and NGOs within Russia under the notorious ‘foreign agents’ laws before turning his eyes on the West[13] – whose presence he saw lurking behind the populations of the Eastern Bloc’s greater demand for more freedom, transparency and economic justice. Having learnt that control over information flows within Russia was central to maintaining his power – he initiated a disinformation campaign abroad: powered by networks of troll factories on social media platforms, and the flagship Russia Today news channel on all the major European satellite networks. [14] In the aftermath of Brexit and Trump – alarm from what was considered by many on the left as the ‘centrist-neoliberal establishment’ about Russian interference was dismissed as an attempt to excuse their own failings and the intellectual exhaustion of neoliberal ideology by pointing the finger at the old enemy: a revived ‘red menace’ in the form of Putin. In avoiding this new feature of the political landscape post-2016, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party made a strategic error. The very fact that a hostile state power could so easily disseminate disinformation and sow discord within British territory and interfere with its most sacrosanct democratic ritual could have been leveraged as evidence of the failings of the free-market orthodoxy they were criticising. In this instance, anybody with sufficient funds was permitted access to Facebook’s and the other social media platforms’ advertising algorithms – which could then be manipulated to try and produce outcomes perceived as advantageous to the Russian state. Once again, Labour could have wrapped its economic critique within the broader context of national security and sovereignty: Putin believes everyone has a price – and so far, he has not been proven wrong. This brings us neatly to Russian influence in UK affairs through the constellation of oligarchs with links to the Kremlin that mingle with the highest circles of power in Britain. This is a relationship which permeates to the extent that the day after his landslide 2019 election victory Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds dropped into a caviar-fuelled Christmas Party in London hosted by former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev[15]. It was revealed that Russian nationals had donated about £3.5 million since 2010[16] fuelling speculation that this is the motivation behind the government’s continued refusal to publicise the ‘Russian Report’ into Kremlin meddling in British affairs. British intelligence agencies have been known for some time to be concerned about the penetration of Russian organised crime in London and its murky and hybrid links to the Kremlin. Despite the surface hostility and diplomatic exchange of censures over the Skripal affair, the UK and Russia are intimately connected. The Russian rich provide funds and investment and in return the UK offers them a luxurious existence, accompanied by elite law firms they can hire to ensure that the British justice system work in their favour[17]. This relationship was called out by shadow chancellor John McDonnell in the aftermath of the Skripal poisioning[18] – who called for Labour MPs to stop making appearances on Russia Today. But as identified above, weak messaging from the outset saw Labour lose control of the narrative and this critique did not form a consistent plank of its criticisms against the Conservative Government. Corbyn was frequently accused of being soft on Russia because many in his leadership team were portrayed as former USSR sympathisers or seen as accepting of the Kremlin’s narrative. Many on the left dismissed this as another example of the smears used to discredit their leader, but in the context of Labour’s continued failure to engage substantively with the Russia question, it does warrant further examination – and raises some troubling links. In the context of resistance to what they characterised as Western Imperialism, there were some on the left in Britain who bought into Putin’s story about Russian resistance to an unfair unipolar order. In his 2015 article for the Guardian, Seamus Milne – who later became Jeremy Corbyn’s director of strategy – justified Russian aggression in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by arguing that NATO’s expansion in elsewhere in Eastern Europe had left Putin little choice but to intervene[19]. He made no mention of the Crimean Tatars, many of whom were expelled from their homeland for the second time in living memory (the first being under Stalin’s deportations.) Writing about the victims of non-Western aggression did not appear to fit into Milne’s narrative. A year earlier he had shared a stage with Russian president Vladimir Putin as he made a speech at the notorious pro-Kremlin Valdai discussion club. His views and affiliations might have been acceptable for an independent journalist but his later proximity to the leader of the opposition may leave one wondering what kind of advice he was giving regarding Russia. In the aftermath of Russia-Ukraine conflict, one of Corbyn’s closest advisors, Andrew Murray, founded a “Solidarity with Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine” group: “A new campaign in the UK against Western backing for the far-right regime in Kiev and in solidarity with those resisting fascist repression in Ukraine”. A quick browse of their Facebook reveals a screening of a documentary ‘MH17: Call for Justice’- ‘The first detailed documentary to challenge the Dutch-NATO version of events about the tragedy’. Directed by an ex Russia Today journalist Yana Erlashova, the documentary makes crude speculations about the MH-17 disaster and overinflated stories about ‘Fascist’ pro-Ukraine squads is the exact rhetoric deployed by Russian state channels, including Russia Today.[20] By choosing to view Russia’s geopolitical gambles solely through the prism of Western imperialism and suspicion for its motives, these key Labour advisors paid little regard to the victims of Putin’s political decisions. They also left themselves susceptible to the outputs of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign. Missing an open goal Labour – pursuing a supposedly radical and humanist agenda with its foreign policy – missed out on a crucial opportunity to reiterate their economic message within the context of the controversy caused by the Conservative Party’s cosy relationship with Russia’s oligarchic class and the threat to British national interests that represents. In seeking to promote a human-rights based foreign policy, they failed to pay attention to abuses committed by states outside of Western spheres of influence. Yet human rights are universal in their claims – and any party seeking to act in their name must ensure the universal application of their principles regardless of where they fall across the fault lines of geopolitical boundaries. Advocacy and condemnation of abuses, even where more substantive support is not available is meaningful to victims – holding out the promise of justice and the reassurance that their suffering is seen and acknowledged. The same issues regarding Russia that Corbyn faced remain substantively the same, while the political opportunity against the Conservative party, in whatever context it is used, remains unchanged. The appointment of Lisa Nandy as shadow foreign secretary was taken as a surprise in some quarters – yet past remarks provide encouraging reading for those that would want to see the Labour Party adopt a clearer, more definitive approach towards Putin’s regime:“We stood with the Russian government, and not with the people it oppresses, who suffer poverty and discrimination. We failed the test of solidarity.”[21] Condemning an oppressive regime while demonstrating compassion and solidarity with its citizens does not equate to demonization of its people – nor does it simply provide a scapegoat for our own failings. Labour has a chance to occupy the moral high ground on this issue, let us hope that it can take it. At a time when anxiety is high in the West over Putin’s expansionist ambitions and evidently malign intent, Labour could weave a critique of Putin’s repressive mafia state and support for the dictatorship of Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya into a powerful narrative. Labour could make an argument that the Conservative’s pursuit of and comfort with excessive wealth left Britain compromised to outside interference: a narrative that would be consistent with Labour’s ambition under Starmer to be seen as more visibly patriotic and strong on defence. The Conservatives have continued to refuse to publish the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament Russia report that was so controversial during the 2019 campaign, leaving fertile ground for this kind of claim.[22] The Covid-19 pandemic will undoubtedly shape Russian domestic affairs and geopolitical dynamics, with the IMF predicting a global recession worse than the Great Depression. Putin’s plans to vote for amendment on constitution that would allow him to stay in power until 2036 have been stalled by the crisis, as was the Victory Day parade on 9th of May – an event intended to symbolically cement the constitutional changes[23]. Much remains uncertain about the future of Russia but with mercenary regiments deployed in Africa and Syria and intermittent talks over integrating Belarus into Russian territory, it is highly unlikely that Putin will abandon his geopolitical ambitions. If Starmer wants to lead on the global stage he needs to have a cognizant appraisal and strategy for dealing with a regime actively waging hybrid warfare against Britain and her allies and taking increasingly bold and dangerous steps on the world stage. A situation that will undoubtedly be exacerbated by Putin’s sense of anxiety at home over his disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic – the annexation of Crimea was also perpetuated against a background of declining domestic support. This is not to advocate a return to the ‘great game’ of European competition but to stress the point that any leader looking to champion human rights and democracy on the world stage will need to have a strategy and appreciation for those illiberal forces that will oppose him. Photo by Rwendland Keir Starmer speaking at the 2020 Labour Party leadership election hustings in Bristol on the morning of Saturday 1 February 2020, in the Ashton Gate Stadium Lansdown Stand. Licensed under Creative Commons[1] Keir Starmer, Leadership Campaign Website, https://keirstarmer.com/plans/10-pledges/[2] Labour Party 2019 Manifesto, It's time for a real change- Labour's manifesto 2019[3] ibid[4] Rajeev Syal, Jeremy Corbyn says he regrets calling Hamas and Hezbollah 'friends', The Guardian, July 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/04/jeremy-corbyn-says-he-regrets-calling-hamas-and-hezbollah-friends[5] DW, UK election: What would Jeremy Corbyn's foreign policy look like?, December 2019, https://www.dw.com/en/uk-election-what-would-jeremy-corbyns-foreign-policy-look-like/a-51211613[6] BBC News, Jeremy Corbyn: Salisbury attack 'evidence points towards Russia', March 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43414185[7] Luke Harding, Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder, The Guardian, January 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/19/alexander-litvinenko-the-man-who-solved-his-own-murder[8]Shaun Walker, The Guardian, September 2019, ‘We can find you anywhere’: the Chechen death squads stalking Europe, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/21/chechnya-death-squads-europe-ramzan-kadyrov[9] Putin visit hit by war atrocities law suit, April 2020, Kim Sengupta, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/putin-visit-hit-by-war-atrocities-law-suit-279869.html[10] Jeremy Corbyn, Written Question: Chechnya, January 2000, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmhansrd/vo000117/text/00117w20.htm#00117w20.html_sbhd3[11] In a post-Soviet context it particularly refers to the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan[12] Through the killing of Russian military personnel stationed in South Ossetia as part Georgia’s attempt to retake the region, a military operation that followed months of escalating tensions between Russia and Georgia and increased border violence between Georgian and South Ossetian forces (Russian provides support to the defecto authorities in South Ossetia)[13] BBC News, Russia to label individuals as 'foreign agents' under new law, December 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-50643705[14] BBC News, Powerful 'Putin's chef' Prigozhin cooks up murky deals, November 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-50264747[15] Luke Harding and Dan Sabbagh, Johnson visit to Lebedev party after victory odd move for 'people's PM', The Guardian, December 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/22/johnson-visit-to-lebedev-party-after-victory-odd-move-for-peoples-pm[16] Seth Thévoz and Peter Geoghegan, Revealed: Russian donors have stepped up Tory funding, Open Democracy, November 2019, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/dark-money-investigations/revealed-russian-donors-have-stepped-tory-funding/[17] Belton, C 2020, Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, HarperCollins publishers[18] BBC News, Spy poisoning: Putin responsible for attack, says John McDonnell, March 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43448563[19]Seumas Milne, The demonisation of Russia risks paving the way for war, The Guardian, March 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/04/demonisation-russia-risks-paving-way-for-war[20] The rise of far-right groups in Ukraine is a real problem but one that has both been exaggerated in Kremlin propaganda and has been exacerbated by the ongoing war with Russia.[21]Andrew Sparrow, Labour leadership contest: We failed on Russia under Corbyn's leadership, says Nandy, The Guardian, January 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2020/jan/15/pmqs-boris-johnson-corbyn-labour-trump-praises-boris-johnson-for-suggesting-us-should-draft-new-iran-deal-live-news[22] Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament Russia Report, http://isc.independent.gov.uk/news-archive/17october2019[23]Matthew Luxmoore, 'It All Depends On The Body Count': Pandemic Threatens Putin's Spring Of Political Pageantry, April 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-victory-day-coronavirus-putin-pandemic-political-pageantry/30546645.html [post_title] => If Labour wants to put human rights at the heart of its foreign policy, it needs to talk more about Putin’s Russia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => if-labour-wants-to-put-human-rights-at-the-heart-of-its-foreign-policy-it-needs-to-talk-more-about-putins-russia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-28 16:55:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-28 16:55:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=4662 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4481 [post_author] => 73 [post_date] => 2020-02-12 12:42:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-02-12 12:42:31 [post_content] => As Britain was shaken by its third terrorist attack in as many months, the Conservative government was quick to respond by calling for tougher sentencing for all those convicted of terror offences.[1] Michael Gove suggested that terrorist should be ‘jailed indefinitely’[2]– while opposition politicians and academics have emphasised the total inadequacy of rehabilitation programmes running in prisons[3]. Waiting lists are long, even when offenders ask for help, with programmes woefully underfunded and unable to meet demand. This is not a problem isolated to just the United Kingdom (UK). Unexpected terrorist attacks carried out using primitive weapons, single-handedly or in small groups have become a part of reality across the world. As the UK contemplates these moves, it is worth looking at the example of Russia’s North Caucasus region where we can see the results of both punitive and preventative approaches to dealing with the issue of domestic Islamist terrorism. Roughly 3400 people, mostly from Russia’s Muslim Northern Caucasus republics, have left Russia to join ISIS since the start of the conflict.[4] In response, local governments alongside the Federal Security Service (FSB) have designed a series of soft and punitive measures to tackle extremism. While many tactics (especially Chechen) involve violent threats, illegal imprisonment, torture and intimidation[5], there is also a less-known pool of constructive approaches with a focus on preventing radicalisation. While some methods to counter-violent extremism are similar across republics, they vary depending on regional context. Chechnya’s complicated political landscape, shaped by two wars with Russia and pro-Kremlin Ramzan Kadyrov’s iron fisted rule, requires a separate look. The underlying causes of radicalisation are similar across the regions – ethnic conflicts, police brutality, corruption, unemployment and a general lack of prospects are among the external factors. Internal factors often include a personality crisis, low self-esteem, an inability to fit in and a desire for adventure.[6] Compassion for the victims of Assad’s regime was also an important motivator for people to go to Syria. According to Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, director at Conflict analysis and prevention centre, a single ‘terrorist’ type doesn’t exist, radicalisation depends on a range of individual factors that can equally affect people from London to Grozny. A big focus across the predominantly Muslim republics, is an emphasis on prevention, with a lot of recourses poured into programmes that are aimed at averting the radicalisation of the youth before it occurs. There are ‘heavy weapons’ such as mandatory seminars and presentations for students carried out by government officials, accompanied by slideshows and reports. This counter-radicalisation state propaganda is largely ineffectual, often deemed dull and boring; there is a general sense of fatigue amongst young people when it comes to the topic. Other state-sponsored religious programmes, whereby state-affiliated imams attempt to use theological arguments to dissuade against extremism also fail to resonate due to their close association with the authorities. Many officials handling counter-extremism programmes in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic are beginning to accept that repetitively hammering in a blunt anti-radicalism message is not the most effective method at prevention – and at times can even spark interest in the forbidden fruit.[7] Other more successful state-funded programmes aim to channel young minds towards other pursuits. The range is quite diverse; it involves volunteering, summer camps, sports, military training for teenagers and even expeditions to recover relics from the Second World War. The overall aim is to divert young people in a more patriotic direction.[8] An abundance of government grants for counter-extremist initiatives encourages competition between NGOs, who have produced a range of nuanced and creative approaches to capturing the minds of young people. The high levels of unemployment and corruption in the North Caucasian republics provide gloomy prospects for young people, leaving some of them more prone to radicalisation. One approach is the ‘Own business’ [9] programme, which helps people get their small enterprises off the ground, whether that’s developing a business plan or providing them with a microcredit. It also offers a range of courses and seminars that attract entrepreneurs from different regions, giving them an opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other. This is an example of a positive initiative that focuses on developing skills and bringing like-minded people together. Ingushetia seems to have one of the most thought-out series of programmes targeting extremist ideology – one of them is ‘DISlike extremism’ that targets high school and university students. Unlike other programmes, ‘DISlike…’ has a Q&A session in the end that gives young people an opportunity to express themselves, explore topics that are relevant to them and tell the organisers how it could be improved. The obvious pattern here is that creatively engaging young people in activities where they can prove themselves and be treated with dignity is a more successful strategy than simply patronising and lecturing them. Multi-targeted approaches that encourage cooperation and cross-cultural dialogue are crucial in a highly volatile region with raging inequality. It’s also vital to have an open, democratic discussion that is open to the public’s suggestions and constructive criticism. This appears to have worked for a time with those groups deemed most at risk. ‘At risk’ groups, which can be defined as those who have showed an active interest in radical ideas and non-traditional strands of Islam such as Salafism, receive a very different treatment from local government and security officials. Salafism is an ultraconservative branch of Sunni Islam that preaches the return to a purer form of Islam as shown by the first three generations of Prophet Muhammad. The followers of Salafism are treated with suspicion by the security officials but in Ingushetia and Dagestan (up until 2012 Sochi Olympics) Salafi mosques were allowed to function alongside others. The overwhelming majority of Salafis do not show interest in joining ISIS or carrying out jihad at home. Khamzat Chumakov, a popular Salafi preacher from Ingushetia used religious arguments to dissuade his followers from even considering going to Syria. He claimed that a true believer should not put himself in the place where there is fitna (disagreement) between Muslims, providing examples from religious texts to prove his point. That appeared to be very effective in deterring people from going to Syria.[10] Unfortunately, Russian security services have greater faith in more repressive methods for tackling radicalisation. In an attempt to wipe out any sign of insurgency before the Sochi Olympics in 2012, massive ‘cleansing’ operations were carried out throughout the North Caucasus, especially in Chechnya and Dagestan. Hundreds of people suspected of holding radical views were illegally detained, beaten, tortured and even murdered. In Dagestan, the authorities had introduced ‘profuchet’ (a preventative register) for Salafis, with regular police check ups and interrogations, merely because of their religious beliefs. Those who ended up on the list struggle to find a job and often find themselves in social isolation. The ‘profuchet’ had become a tool of repression, often used unjustifiably to make innocent people’s lives difficult. Despite significant pressure, the ex-president of Inguhsetia, Yunus-Bek Evkourov refused to shut down the re-integration programmes for ex-militants and did not support the crackdown on Salafis prior to the 2012 Olympic Games. That possibly explains why Ingushetia has one of the lowest radicalisation rates in the Northern Caucasus. Unlike most of the European states, Russia has been surprisingly willing to allow the wives and children of ISIS fighters[11] to return from Syria. The calculation behind this move is that leaving those children to grow up in conflict zone will make them more prone to future radicalisation. However, no easy life awaits them back home: many women are arrested and interrogated by the police. Families receive barely any psychological support and rehabilitation upon their return. The treatment of ISIS women and their children varies depending on the republic, for instance in Chechnya and Ingushetia their re-integration in society is allowed and welcomed, whereas in Dagestan they often end up on the notorious ‘preventative registry’ list. Driving Salafis underground does not stop their beliefs but rather strengthens it. Religious crackdowns, arrests and persecution is a quick-fix that doesn’t tackle the root problems causing radicalisation. In Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkarya, where officials act within the law and don’t use heavy-handed repression, the numbers of radicalised individuals is much lower, as measured by the low numbers of attacks on policemen and government officials.[12] There has been a steady decrease in radicalisation over the past several years, as demonstrated by decreased terror attacks across the republics. However, as ISIS is largely defeated on the ground in Syria and Iraq, it is difficult to predict how exactly this will affect domestic radicalisation levels across the country. Tackling any anti-social and criminal behaviour, ranging from religious radicalisation of youth, to knife crime and the drug trade requires a complex approach that should focus on prevention, not only punishment. Radicalisation is often a symptom of a deeper societal malaise, often perpetuated by inadequate, corrupt local government and law-ignoring security officials. A ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ approach to terrorism ignores the multi-faceted influences that lead to radicalisation. Leaving offenders to languish in prison, without targeted and well-funded interventions leaves them prone to even deeper radicalisation and commitment to act upon their beliefs – a point poignantly underscored in the UK by the recent terror attack within the walls of a prison itself. A patient, nuanced approach focused on prevention that seeks to learn from effective de-radicalisation programmes across the world will produce more effective outcomes – closing the gaps through which fundamentalist ideas often seep with devastating consequences for the population as a whole. Lana Estemirova is a graduate in International Relations from London School of Economics. She writes on Chechnya and human rights issues in Russia and is working on her first book. [1] Peter Walker, London attack: PM says terrorism sentence changes may be applied retrospectively, The Guardian, February 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/feb/03/prison-cuts-rishi-sunak-terrorism-suspects-streatham-attacker[2] Simon Murphy and Rowena Mason, Terror offenders should be jailed indefinitely if necessary, says Gove, The Guardian, February 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/feb/04/terror-offenders-should-be-jailed-indefinitely-if-necessary-says-gove[3] Pen Mendonca, The London Bridge attack must not stop our vital work to tackle terrorism, The Guardian, December 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/dec/03/london-bridge-attack-2019-not-stop-work-prisoners-tackle-terrrorism[4] Program: Hotspots, Experts discussed the prospects for radicalisation in the North Caucasus and measures to prevent it, ‘Memorial’ Human Rights Center, January 2019, https://memohrc.org/ru/news_old/eksperty-obsudili-perspektivy-radikalizacii-na-severnom-kavkaze-i-mery-po-ee[5] Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Will new waves of radicalisation in the North Caucasus be prevented?, Conflict Analysis and Prevention Center, January 2019, http://cap-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/CVE_En.pdf[6] Ibid[7] Ibid[8] Ibid[9] Caucasian Knot, Own Business and reality shows as methods of preventing extremism, Conflict Analysis and Prevention Center, December 2018, http://cap-center.org/виктория-гуревич-свой-бизнес-и-реалит/[10] Ibid[11] Andrew E. Kramer, Raised by ISIS, Returned to Chechnya: ‘These Children Saw Terrible Things’, The New York Times, February 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/24/world/europe/chechnya-russia-isis-children-return.html[12] IbidPhoto by President of Russia. No modifications to photo and under creative commons licence. [post_title] => De-radicalisation tactics in the North Caucasus can serve as a lesson and a warning [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => de-radicalisation-tactics-in-the-north-caucasus-can-serve-as-a-lesson-and-a-warning [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-03-13 10:10:44 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-03-13 10:10:44 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=4481 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw ))
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