Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Moscow Bombing, CNN Blunder

By now you’ve heard about the twin suicide bombings in the Moscow subway system that killed at least 38 people. Almost immediately the mainstream media outlets in the United States pointed to independence-minded Chechen separatists as the likely bombers.

It’s a narrative though that ignores recent history. In 1994 Russia fought a bloody two-year long guerilla war against a rebel army fighting for an independent Chechnya. In 1999 the two sides resumed hostilities, only this second conflict was also marked by the use of terrorist attacks against civilian targets outside of Chechnya, including high-profile attacks that included the siege of a Moscow theater, the slaughter of children at a south Russia school and bombings of subways and jetliners. By 2004 though things changed when a pro-Moscow warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov became president of Chechnya and began his own brutal crackdown of his political opponents, many of who were the same nationalists that had spent most of the past decade fighting against Moscow (for more on the tactics and history of Kadyrov, click here).

The result is that by 2009 most of the Chechen separatists from the first two wars had either been absorbed into Kadyrov’s ruling elite or had been otherwise “eliminated”; while the official position of the Chechen government was that they were now happy to be part of the Russian Federation. Left in the nationalists’ place is a radicalized remnant operating across the Southern Caucasus region (not only Chechnya, but also the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan) who are not fighting for independence for Chechnya but rather to create a fundamentalist Islamic state along Russia’s southern flank; the movement’s leader is Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed “emir” of the would-be Caliphate of the Northern Caucasus.

During CNN’s coverage on Monday morning, noted Russia analyst Masha Lipman tried to give a quick thumbnail sketch of the recent history of the Caucasus region – including the important bit about how the insurgency has morphed from an independence movement into drive to create a fundamentalist Islamic state. She spent about two minutes explaining this to CNN host Kyra Phillips, who then ended her segment by saying “and there’s the Chechen separatists too.” So much for actually listening for your guests, Kyra… CNN spent the rest of the day touting “Chechen separatists” as the likely force behind the bombings.

It’s good to see our news channels actually covering important events that happen outside of the United States; it would be even better if they took the time to learn a little about the situations surrounding these events before reporting on them, rather than relying on some outdated bits of conventional wisdom.
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