AM Headlines: Russia Prepared to Cooperate with US on Syrian Strikes But Not in Aleppo; Churkin Says Chemical Attacks May Be Fabricated

August 31, 2016
Amb. Vladimir Churkin, Russian permanent representative to the United Nations

LIVE UPDATES: Russia’s ambassador to the UN claims information about chemical weapons in Syria was fabricated; Russia also said cooperation with the US in Syria on air strikes will not include Aleppo.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

– What Has Ramzan Kadyrov Been Up To? Quietly Cultivating Regional and Kremlin Officials, Now He Meets with Putin
– RBC Publishes Report Sourced in FSB and Military on Wagner Private Military Contractor with 2,500 Fighters in Syria
– Russian Parliamentary Elections Round-Up: Open Russia’s Baronova Registered; Shevchenko Disqualified
– The Kremlin is Working Hard to Make Donald Trump President


Putin Dispatches Journalists to the Donbass: Will Troops Follow Or Is This All About Russian Domestic Affairs?

Staunton, VA, August 31, 2016 – The major snap inspection of combat readiness announced by President Vladimir Putin on August 25 has sparked concerns of a preparation for a new military move against Ukraine.

It concludes today, August 31, which raises new questions about what the Kremlin leader intends and will do next. 

One new indication is provided by the fact that Moscow has sent into the Russian-occupied portion of the Donbass a group of journalists from Zvezda television, a network that has regularly promoted Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

In normal military operations, the journalists come only after the troops; but in Putin’s “hybrid” war which has made propaganda a centerpiece of his operations, the reverse has often been true; and that makes this new report by Dmitry Tymchuk worrisome, albeit not definitive as to what the Kremlin will do next. 

Indeed, as Russian commentator Vataly Shchigeltsky points out, what Putin is doing may have far more to do with domestic Russian conditions than with any plans to attack. As he writes, “there is no war but there are all the conditions of wartime,” something that generates patriotic fervor and support for the leader. 

“Talk about a possible war in the near future seems empty,” he says. “There is no reason to attack Russia, a country which is rapidly being destroyed by the hands of its very own ‘elite.’ And it is senseless for Russia to go on the attack,” given its defeats and the price it is paying for them. 

But the Russian elite has a compelling reason to gin up wartime emotions: It is only way it can “extend” its rule by justifying in the minds of its own members and the Russian population at large the self-imposed isolation of the country from the outside world, “following the behests of Antonio Salazar,” the Portuguese fascist leader.

— Paul Goble 

Belgium Includes 25 Russian Citizens in Its Database of Potential Terrorists
Belgium has included 25 Russian citizens in its database of potential terrorists, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing the Belgian news site [The original Belgian article said there were 25 Russians, not 29 as reported by Novaya Gazeta.]
The total number of persons on the Belgian list is 614; of these most are citizens of Belgium, after which the largest group of foreigners is from Morocco, followed by Russians. Of the Russians on the list, 11 are believed to be in Syria or Iraq; some have returned to Belgium; one was intercepted and four have left. They are mainly Chechens with a few Dagestanis and Ingush. They are said to be supporters, sympathizers or ex-combatants of the Caucasus Emirate, a group included in Russia’s banned terrorist organizations as well as the US list terrorist groups, whose leaders have been killed by Russian forces.
According to Belgian official Paul van Tigchelt of the Belgian government’s Coordinating Unit for Threat Analysis (OCAM/OCAD):
“In Belgium, they make propaganda and in some cases raise financial support for the Emirate. Sometimes their sons and daughters join in this activity.”
On March 22, 31 people were killed and 300 wounded in a series of terrorist attacks at the airport and metro in Brussels.

Curiously, at the time RenTV, a pro-Kremlin TV station, was the first to report the attack. Then LifeNews, a TV channel and website with close ties to Russian police and intelligence agencies, claimed that two Belarusian Muslims who had once traveled to Brussels were involved in the attack.

The Belarusian authorities had not arrested the pair, who were interviewed by a surprised Belarusian media. One of the suspects asked Euroradio, “if I am a terrorist and a suicide bomber, how come I’m alive and not arrested?”

Belarusian police said they had no claims against the men and when Belgium arrested other suspects, the story with the Belarusian angle was dropped without explanation by Russian media.

Russian officials claimed last year that as many as 2,700 fighters from Russia, mainly the North Caucasus, were in Syria and Iraq. Then after Russia began bombing in Syria on September 30, 2015, President Vladimir Putin began to say that 2,000 of these fighters were killed.  Both the original claim, based on a single source of a terrorist captured by Russia about Russian citizens in training camps, and the later claim that most of them were killed in bomb attacks, have not been verified.

Terrorist attacks have continued uninterrupted, mainly in the North Caucasus, and recently have spread to Moscow and St. Petersbug.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
AM News: Churkin Says Chemical Attacks May Be Fabricated; Moscow May Cooperate on Syrian Strikes But Not Aleppo

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– Human Rights Watch Releases Report on Pre-Election Crackdown in Chechnya

What We’re Reading

– Health Resource: Karimov’s Stroke Sparks Discussion on Difficulty of Transition of Government in Authoritarian Regimes [Russian]

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— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick