Belmont Club

Shaken and Stirred

Imagine a Chechen whose leadership of secret GRU units earned had earned him the highest award the Russian government could bestow; then double crossing the Kremlin and going over to the other side. What might happen?  That man, Sulim Yamadayev, was shot in a luxury hotel in Dubai according to the New York Times as part of a campaign of assassination that is being waged against Chechen insurgents wherever they might be, their deaths coming with the full approval of Russia. Those who have recently died include Yamadayev’s two brothers. Sulim himself ran, but as events in the Gulf proved he did not run far enough.

Sulim B. Yamadayev was a former general in Chechnya and foe of the republic’s Kremlin-backed president. He was killed in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai on March 30, 2009, in what appeared to be an assassination, the police said. He was 36.

The attack evoked others on Chechens, in Russia and abroad, who ran afoul of President Ramzan A. Kadyrov. The Kremlin has invested Mr. Kadyrov with almost unchecked authority in a bid to return stability to Chechnya after nearly a decade of bloody war and political turmoil. With Moscow’s blessing, Mr. Kadyrov has created a personality cult and imposed his own interpretation of Islamic morality in Chechnya, whose population is predominately Muslim.

Although Kadyrov might concern himself with the correct interpretation of Islam in Chechnya, the message sent to Yamadayev was From Russia With Love. The parallels with fiction don’t end there. The AFP reports that Yamadayev was shot by a Man With a Golden Gun.

The killer fired three bullets from a gold-plated gun at the victim’s chest as Sulim Yamadayev climbed from his car in the private car park beneath his luxury residence in Dubai. … The March 28 murder was the latest apparent contract-killing in an extraordinary trail of blood leading from Chechnya that already stretched to Istanbul, Moscow and Vienna. And now the bustling emirate.

Yamadayev was the fifth person to be murdered in recent months seen as an opponent of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed president of Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region of Russia’s southern fringe that fought two wars with Moscow.

President Ramzan Kadyrov is himself a former Chechen rebel and rose to power shortly after he had turned 30. He’s a colorful sort of gentleman who runs horses in the Melbourne cup and owns a stable of thoroughbreds in Dubai when he’s not ruling on Islamic morality. Kadyrov wears a million dollar wristwatch and his personal sidearm, perhaps not so coincidentally, is a gold plated automatic pistol. Despite these refinements some Australian academics feel a little uneasy about letting the Chechen President run his horses a proper club, observing that it constitutes a “moral dilemma. If Kim Jong-il applies to have a horse run next time, what should we do?”

Why, approve it. So long as the applicants aren’t from Israel or America, it’s all right. But if anyone who killed Yamadayev were suspected to hail from from the Jewish state or America oceans of ink would be spilled and the international human rights crowd would be howling for blood. Since the suspects are not it’s hardly likely to cause a ripple. In fact, the AFP notes that it’s like Yamadayev didn’t die at all. “Bizarrely, the Russian foreign ministry said that the Dubai authorities have still not informed them of Yamadayev’s death, although the press has reported Tamin saying he was buried earlier this month.” But why tell them, since they already know?

The Washington Post notes the absence of publicity surrounding these hits. Jackson Diehl writes that while the Dubai police have been even handed, stories of hits by Russia on Islamic rebels just have no legs. They’re below the fold.

To his credit, police chief Tamim tried to subject Russia to the same treatment he has given Israel. At a press conference last April, he named the author of the crime as Adam Delimkhanov, a Kadyrov associate who is a member of the Russian parliament, and said he would ask Interpol for his arrest. It is, he said, “Russia’s responsibility in front of the world to control these killers from Chechnya.”

The difference, of course, is that the audience for a story about a Russian-sponsored assassination in Dubai is nothing like that for an Israeli hit. Relatively few stories were written about the Yamadayev case; there were no angry editorials in the Financial Times. Perhaps it’s needless to say that Delimkhanov and the other suspects identified by Dubai have not been arrested or extradited. As Shmuel Rosner summed it up in a dispatch for Slate: “The consequences for the assassins? None at all. For the Chechen government? None. For the deputy prime minister? None. For Dubai-Russian relations? None.”

It’s a fact that Western armies and intelligences agencies are held to different standards than those of the rest of the world. This means that for the foreseeable future, the use proxies will be increasingly necessary to carry out operations. Caught between the Scylla of preventing attacks on their constituents and the Charybdis of maintaining their carefully manicured images, politicians may simply opt for cut-outs to perform electorally impermissible acts at acceptable PR costs. Political correctness has made decency an operational burden.  Israel is a democracy it simply can’t do for reasons of frank military necessity what Chechnya might do on a whim. America’s laws mean that terrorists who recognize no law must given the the benefit of every due process, and more so to remove every suspicion they’re not getting their “rights”.  There are some things they can’t do which their opponents can.

Political correctness, which has already driven open debate on subjects like race, education and healthcare underground and substituted coded speech in its place, will increasingly substitute hypocrisy for morality in international affairs without reducing the brutality of the battlefield by one whit.  But perhaps its purpose is to craft an asymmetric battlefield, not reduce its savagery. The terrible struggle will continue, each side playing by a different set of behavioral rules.  To even things up, a reliance on proxies and combat drones plus the increasing use of euphemism and subterfuge are likely to be used to meet the touchy-feely requirements of the 21st century. The other side, with fewer material resources, will retain the advantage of being able to operate unapologetically. Ian Fleming who created the character of James Bond, described his first mission of his fictional hero as that of discrediting an enemy agent protected by the Press by the Rube Goldberg method of bankrupting him at the Casino Royale. James Bond may have had his Bentley, wholewheat toast, Tiptree “Little Scarlet” strawberry jam and china egg cups, but he could never do anything directly; and it was always his foes who had the advantage of terror, useful in the hard places of the world. And 007 would have lost too, even at the Casino Royale simply because things had to be just so. Strangely enough, one reason why the intellectuals of the West find their enemies so attractive is that they are so brutal. It’s the audacity that bewitches them.

It was extraordinary to hear the third voice. The hour’s ritual had only demanded a duologue against the horrible noise of the torture. Bond’s dimmed senses hardly took it in. Then suddenly he was half-way back to consciousness. He found he could see and hear again. He could hear the dead silence after the one quiet word from the doorway. He could see Le Chiffre’s head slowly come up and the expression of blank astonishment, of innocent amazement, slowly give way to fear. ‘Shtop,’ had said the voice, quietly. Bond heard slow steps approaching behind his chair. ‘Dhrop it,’ said the voice. Bond saw Le Chiffre’s hand open obediently and the knife fall with a clatter to the floor. He tried desperately to read into Le Chiffre’s face what was happening behind him, but all he saw was blind incomprehension and terror. Le Chiffre’s mouth worked, but only a high-pitched ‘eek’ came from it. His heavy cheeks trembled as he tried to collect enough saliva in his mouth to say something, ask something. His hands fluttered vaguely in his lap. One of them made a slight movement towards his pocket, but instantly fell back. His round staring eyes had lowered for a split second and Bond guessed there was a gun trained on him. There was a moment’s silence. ‘SMERSH.’ The word came almost with a sigh. It came with a downward cadence as if nothing else had to be said. It was the final explanation. The last word of all.


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