Plus, Russian Hare Krishnas fight book ban and migrants’ money transfers reach new highs.by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 21 February 2012
A week after an outbreak of fighting with militants on the Chechnya-Dagestan border, Russian authorities say they have so far apprehended 25 militants, killed seven others, and located a militant base and four weapons caches, according to RIA Novosti. Interior Ministry officials said among those killed was Ibragimkhalil Daudov, the so-called "emir of the province of Dagestan," who was wanted in connection with several terrorist attacks. As of 19 February, 17 police had been killed in the fighting and another 24 injured, according to Reuters.
Since the fighting began, however, fatality numbers and reports from the region have been less than consistent depending on where they're from. In a blog post on Radio Free Europe’s Caucasus Report, analyst Liz Fuller parsed the information war that seems to be taking place between the two sides, each with widely conflicting reports of how many – and who, exactly – have been killed. The media, as a result, are having a difficult time determining what is actually happening.
Violent clashes broke out 13 February when Islamic insurgents ambushed government forces, killing several soldiers. Authorities responded the following day by launching a special operation to sweep the border region of militants. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said the operations are ongoing, according to RIA Novosti.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has again told the United States it must withdraw its troops from the base used to serve NATO operations in Afghanistan. A U.S. delegation led by Susan M. Elliott, deputy assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs, heard Atambaev reiterate that there must be no foreign military presence at the airport when the current lease expires in summer 2014, RIA Novosti reports.
Atambaev promised to end the U.S. presence at the Manas airbase, near Bishkek, during his campaign for the presidency and repeated the demand soon after his election in October.
Atambaev is reportedly dissatisfied with the strategic partnership with Russia as well. In January he complained that Moscow was four years in arrears on the rent for its military installations in the country.
A quick thaw of the ice covering the Danube brought chaos to Belgrade over the weekend as ice floes damaged boats, floating restaurants, and pontoons, Reuters reports. The thick layer of ice on the river began to break up as temperatures rose after an unusually cold end of January and first half of February. The cold snap contributed to hundreds of deaths throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Most of the 2,800-kilometer (1,740 mile) course of the Danube froze, the Associated Press reports.
Ice floes up to a half-a-meter thick caused significant damage to boats and floating facilities in the Belgrade area. Icebreakers were impossible to use in the past month due to the fast buildup of ice. One floating restaurant sank, several barges were thrust onto the riverbank, and hundreds of ice-bound boats damaged. One boat owner from Belgrade's Zemun neighborhood told Reuters that despite their owners’ best efforts, “only a handful” of about 100 boats in the marina escaped damage.
Remittances in Central Asia and the Caucasus bounced back strongly in 2011 after recording steep falls during the recession of 2009 and 2010.
In Central Asia, a region heavily dependent on money sent home by migrant workers, remittances from migrants based in Russia rose by 29 percent in 2011, the Central Asian News Service reports.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan rely the most on remittance payments. Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks and Kyrgyz work in Russia either semi-permanently or on a seasonal basis. As of late 2010, the amount of money transferred home was equal to 27 percent of the gross domestic product in Kyrgyzstan and 41 percent in Tajikistan, according to the news service.
Similarly healthy rises were recorded in the countries of the Caucasus. In Azerbaijan, remittances rose 19 percent from 2010 to 2011, after an even steeper rise from 2009 to 2010, the Trend news agency reports. The Central Bank of Azerbaijan recorded remittances last year of 1.046 billion manats ($1.3 billion) sent as 1.8 million separate transfers, according to Trend.
In Georgia, remittances reached a record high in 2011 of $1.26 billion, Civil.ge reported. Similar to other former Soviet republics, remittances fell steeply in 2009 after years of rapid growth.
Russian followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or Hare Krishnas, may still face legal efforts to ban their most important text.
On 6 March a regional court in the Siberian city of Tomsk will hear a prosecutor’s appeal against a lower court’s refusal to deem extremist the Russian translation of Bhagavad Gita As It Is, the Russian Legal Information Agency reports. In late 2011 a Tomsk district court ruled against prosecutors’ request to ban the book under a federal law on extremist publications, days after the Russian ambassador to India denounced the prosecution’s case as “madness,” the Forum 18 religious news agency reported in June.
The Tomsk General Prosecutor’s office challenged the district court ruling on 23 January, and on 16 February clarified that the allegedly extremist content is found only in a Russian commentary in Bhagavad Gita As It Is, RIA Novosti reports. The Russian version of the book is a translation of the widely distributed English original by the founder of the Hare Krishnas, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
The Russian commentary is "man-hating and insulting to the followers of other religions," an adviser to the Justice Ministry’s council of religious experts, Alexander Dvorkin, was quoted as saying by the Russian Legal Information Agency.
Publications by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Russian translations of the Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi have been banned from being distributed or warehoused in Russia under the law on extremist publications, according to Forum 18.