Another interesting article from the Jamestown Foundation, via it's Eurasia Daily Monitory website. Andrei Smirnov writes about the Russian reaction, with a few interesting tidbits regarding the Russian presence at the meeting:
Two officials from the Russian Embassy to the United States attended the event as observers. They were accompanied by journalists from the Kremlin-controlled ORT television network. ORT broadcast a story about the event on the popular 9 pm news program that night. The panelists were surprised to learn from the ORT story that they had planned new terrorist acts in Russia during their discussion in Washington.It was pointed out by Sean Warner of Sturmovik earlier this week that a simple transcript would answer the question of what was (and wasn't) said at the conference. Mr. Warner has written to Jamestown requesting a copy of the transcript, but I believe this hasn't yet been forthcoming. However, neither has the Russian TV shows transcript of what was said at the event.
"The statements that are made in the USA imply that new, large-scale acts of terrorism in Russia are necessary," according to the ORT headline. "As a matter of fact, the presented subject of the event is ‘Perspectives of the New Nalchik.' These perspectives were treated with sympathy" (ORT, April 14).
The note of protest from the Russian Foreign Ministry likely had been prepared in advance so that Russian authorities were ready to condemn the discussion irrespective of its content. The ORT report about the conference was needed to provide grounds for a protest to the American ambassador. ORT and the Russian authorities likely had coordinated their actions.
Clearly, the Kremlin was enraged just by the title of the discussion: "Sadullaev's Caucasian Front." Unlike in the United States, where the government encourages public research on terrorism issues and open analysis of al-Qaeda statements and publications on websites belonging to Islamic radicals, in Russia such topics are the exclusive prerogative of the authorities.
Andrei Smirnov further writes his opinions about what the Russian governments attitudes towards information and free speech:
While I was in Russia for New Year's, I actually had a small conversation with Sergei about Chechnya (our language skills limited us). But we both agreed that perhaps Russia was better off to let Chechnya go, rather than continue to engage in conflict. The price is high for both Russians and Chechens, and neither really wants to be part of the other. Sergei seems rather practical and not particularly aggressive in terms of his politics, so other Russians might have strongly different views. However, Russians have no love of Chechens, seeing them as predominantly and historically criminals or "bandits". It seems it is just the Russian government which wishes to retain control of the region - with or without the Chechens who call it home.
The Kremlin is not interested in providing either Russian society or the international community with detailed information about the Caucasian insurgency. Instead, officials in Russia use vague terms like "international terrorism" or "dark forces" to describe the source of instability in the south of the country. Sometimes some "unknown Arabs" are mentioned, but never actual insurgency leaders such as Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev. Nor does official Moscow recognize the existence of the Caucasian front, preferring to speak about "the criminal underground in the North Caucasus."
The Russian authorities do not want to focus on Sadullaev, as his presence proves that the insurgency across the North Caucasus is directed from Chechnya by Chechen separatists, not by terrorists from Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, as official propaganda claims. The authorities were even angrier about the fact that Vachagaev called Sadullaev the "Chechen president," trying to present the rebel leader as a legitimate figure in the eyes of the Americans. Since Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev succeeded Maskhadov after the latter's death last year, the Kremlin has used a number of devices to hide his name from the West, fearing that one day Western governments will start to persuade Moscow to initiate a dialogue with him. Previously they had called on Russia to negotiate with Maskhadov.
Russian authorities are also afraid of any accurate, thorough analyses of the situation in the North Caucasus. As it increasingly loses control over the region, Moscow has tried to make it off-limits to foreigners by deporting journalists and humanitarian-aid workers. Public discussions like the Jamestown forum on April 14 are considered as threatening to the Kremlin as independent, inquisitive journalists who try to enter the volatile region.