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Felgenhauer’s Nalchik column canned

Pavel Felgenhauer’s regular Defense Dossier column wasn’t published in the Moscow Times this week. By the looks of things, his views on the Nalchik raid were considered unacceptable to the editor, who rejected it.

Felgenhauer sees conspiracy, both in Nalchik, and at the Moscow Times, and has sent his version of events to Johnson’s Russia List:

Berry decided not to publish my regular column this week that was filed Sunday and was about the tragedy in Nalchik, but the story is, I believe, more important than a simple clash of opinion between editor and columnist.

Today there is mounting evidence from eyewitnesses in Nalchik that the rebel attack or uprising on Oct. 13 was followed by a rampage by security forces, by random revenge killings, ethnically and religiously motivated murder of suspects from the minority Balkar tribe by the local police force that is predominately Kabardin. Eyewitnesses (I met and had contact with some) that are in no way connected with the rebels ethnically or religiously, not only report horrific stories of indiscriminate killings, a massacre, but also say that the number of dead in Nalchik is several times higher than officially reported and that there are over 300 corpses in the local morgue.

There is a cover-up of the alleged massacre in Nalchik that is run by the Russian state propaganda machine and it seems that The Moscow Times has succumb to becoming part of this cover-up. Not only have they rejected my column, which could have been a coincidence, but also their reporting of events in Nalchik is a copy-story of government propaganda.

You can find his full, and unedited column at the Johnson’s Russia List site, but here’s a brief excerpt, so you can see what all the fuss is about:

Small groups of rebels of 3 to 10 men simultaneously attacked police stations and other military targets (9 locations in all) in Nalchik last Thursday at 9 am. Most of the engagements lasted about an hour, and then the rebels melted away before Russian reinforcements could enter the city. Security forces and army units began putting up roadblocks around Nalchik long after most of the action was over and these pickets did not cover the entire perimeter of the city. Three small groups of rebels (less than 20 men, most of them wounded) were stranded in Nalchik and were killed by Special Forces the next day.

But the official body count raises many questions. The history of contemporary urban anti-guerrilla engagements by Russian forces in the Caucasus, Americans in Iraq and so on, indicates that dislodging, killing or capturing over a hundred determined fighters, holed up within a big modern city requires much effort, a week or so of action and lots of tanks, heavy guns and attack aircraft support. The casualty list, the duration of the fight and it’s intensify in Nalchik do not match do not match each other.

Information has been coming out of Nalchik that many families are reporting that young men are missing without explanation. It would seem that after the original rebel force mostly melted away, the security forces began revenge attacks against the population, kidnapping and killing suspects more or less at random. This may explain the abnormally large number of “terrorists” killed. Local security officials could have used the occasion to settle old scores with suspected “Wahhabis,” while the large number of dead “terrorists” pleased the Kremlin and allowed it to declare victory.

By the looks of things, Felgenhauer is basing his analysis largely on his belief that the numbers quoted do not add up to what one would expect in such a battle. However, I’m not so sure he’s right in this case. Felgenhauer argues that it is difficult to dislodge “holed up” fighters, and in this assertion he is correct. However, by all accounts so far, most of the attackers involved in the raid on Nalchik didn’t manage to hole themselves up anywhere. Other than the 20 or so men stranded in Nalchik overnight, and killed the next day, it looks like all of the other attacks were repulsed by entrenched (or “holed up” perhaps?) Russian soldiers. (Note: I don’t mean entrenched in the sense that they were necessarily expecting an attack and well prepared – I mean this in the sense that they were physically in the buildings under attack, and all things being equal, would usually be expected to successfully defend their position.

I have a great deal of respsect for Pavel Felgenhauer, and I usually find his analyses spot on. He is generally anti-government in his stance, although in my experience, usually also willing to give credit to the government when it is due, and for him to write a column on Nalchik which is critical of the Russian government is not surprising. But, this time, I think he has probably stepped over the line, by giving credence to rumours that are almost entirely unsupported by evidence. Not only does his basic hypothesis not stand up to even my simple scrutiny, but I can’t seem to find any other evidence to support his claim from what I would consider a reputable source.

The Russian media could, I suppose be colluding to keep news of a massacre from reaching the outside world, but I can’t imagine that every other credible news organisation in the world would fail to spot this, or at least to spot the rumours flying around and do some investigating of their own.

[Thanks to David from A Step at a Time, for the link to the Felgenhauer article]

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