Bigamy, teenage brides and abortion rights: How ‘tradition’ threatens Russia’s women 

William Echols

Tacit consent for a 17-year-old’s “forced” marriage in Chechnya, apparent acceptance of bigamy and a recent attempt to roll back abortion rights show that those tasked with protecting women and children in the Russian Federation have put a skewed sense of tradition over their citizens’ actual health and welfare.

On May 19, Russia’s lower house of parliament submitted a bill which seeks to criminalize abortions that are conducted outside of state-run hospitals. The legislation would entail administrative fines of up to $4,000 dollars for private individuals, $16,100 for officials, and $50,450, (or a suspension of operations for 90 days) for companies that run afoul of the proposed law.

One stipulation, which reads that “the artificial termination of pregnancy funded by mandatory health insurance will be possible only in the presence of certain medical or social reasons,” has sparked fears the bill is the first step in banning abortions all together.

The legislation would be a massive step back for women’s reproductive rights in Russia, which was the first country in the world to permit abortions for any and all reasons in 1920.

According to the bill’s authors, the widespread availability (and broad public acceptance of the practice), is a threat to national security at a time of national crisis. The Russian Legal Information Society (RAPSI), citing state-run media agency Ria Novosti, claims experts estimate that 5-8 million abortions are conducted in Russia each year. That would be a massive figure in a nation of 143.5 million, though it appears to have been pulled out of thin air.

According to the government’s own statistics, the abortion rate in 2011 was 989,375, less than half the 2.11 million performed in 2001.

As Mark Adomanis recently pointed out, the ratio of abortions to births has actually flipped over the course of the past 20 years, with roughly two pregnancies being carried to term for every termination. That figure lies in stark contrast to the first decade after the Soviet collapse, when the number of live births amounted to half the number of terminated pregnancies.

Source: Forbes

Source: Forbes

The abortion rate, while still high by global standards, has clearly gone down without a need for government proscription. The Kremlin, however, seems reticent to use more effective and less intrusive measures to tackle the problem.

In December, for example, Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said sex education would never become part of the curriculum in Russian schools, claiming such classes would contravene the country’s morals and traditions.

Previously, he had rather quizzically argued that Russian literature was the best kind of sex education for teenagers, adding that schools “must raise children in chastity and with an understanding of family values.”

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This, mind you, coming from someone who once warned that signing onto international agreements intended to protect children from sexual exploitation was the “first step towards the destruction of a child.” In his parallel reality, children being made aware of abuse so that they can hopefully identify it and possibly even prevent it is somehow more destructive than being molested in silence — just as actually being aware of sexual health issues that aren’t covered in Anna Karenina will endanger, and not protect teens.

It should come as no surprise that Russia’s grand defender of children has recently become infamous for justifying a middle-aged Chechen official’s decision to “forcibly” take on a second, teenaged-bride, arguing that in some parts of the Russian Federation, women “are already shriveled at age 27.” 

In a further coup of irony, he washed his hands of responsibility in the matter, saying “the Constitution forbids interference in citizens’ personal matters.”

So Astakhov, who once claimed there was an active pedophile lobby, does not want to get in the way of a 46-year-old man taking on a teenage-bride. But how does the fate of a teenage girl in Chechnya connect with the latest bill seeking to roll back abortion rights?

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As it turns out, one of the conservative lawmaker behind the legislation not only concur’s in Astakhov’s belief that a powerful pedophile lobby is active in Russia, but she has also thrown her tacit support behind polygamy via the case of the Chechen teen.

“To criminalize [bigamy] is ridiculous, because the cause is not connected with an absence of criminal law, but rather the fact that there are not enough men with whom women want to start families and have children,”  Ria Novosti cited Yelena Mizulina as saying.

Mizulina, who heads up the Duma’s Women and Children Committee, seems to believe that controlling abortion and allowing polygamy are the best ways to combat Russia’s demographics crisis.

Yelena Mizulina

Yelena Mizulina

But strangely, for a lawmaker so concerned with upping Russia’s birth rates, Mizulina has also strongly come out against surrogate motherhood, which she said “threatens not only Russia but all of mankind with extinction.”

How exactly surrogacy threatens the human race is anyone’s guess. One thing is for certain: the women and children of Russia are clearly in good hands with such advocates.

Of course, in Russia, where all public politics is virtual, it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff; the stage-managed illusion from the actual policy. But as the proposed abortion bill shows, Russia’s current leadership is definitely holding true to the old adage that one should never let a good crisis go to waste, especially when “traditional values” can intersect with cost cutting measures.

And at a time when most economic sectors are facing 10 percent cuts and where healthcare spending is down 9 percent over the past two years, Mizulina argues that money saved from the state healthcare budget [for “unnecessary” abortions] will be used to support pregnant women in a tough life situation.”

How much money Russia’s austerity-ridden healthcare system could actually save by denying abortions seems nominal, and fails to take into account the cost shifting burden to the states already overburdened and drastically underperforming orphanage system.

But like so many things in Russia, to view this proposed legislation in light of its presumed function is to fall victim to the bait and switch. It was Mizulina, after all, who introduced the 2012 Russia internet blacklist law, ostensibly to protect children from harmful internet content, but which was later used as a tool to counter “extremism,” which is often a code word for the political opposition.

In Russia, the leadership has become deft at creating one boogyman as a smokescreen to attack the last remnants of civil society, or as in the case of limiting abortions, seizing on a legitimate social problem in order to create another mechanism of control. Victims of this approach, women or otherwise, are merely collateral damage.

So instead of empowering people through sexual education and teaching them about properly using contraception (which is to say, treating citizens like citizens and not subjects), the Russian state would rather put the fate of women’s bodies firmly in its hands, forcing further unnecessary government intrusion into their private lives. But when it comes to a 46-year-old police commander taking on a teenaged-bride, well, sometimes a laissez faire attitude is needed to keep the peace.

In the end, the Kremlin is sidestepping real solutions to public health problems affecting society in general and women in particular for the same reason it has abandoned a 17-year-old girl to the wolves in Chechnya: the only thing that really matters to Russia’s leadership is doing whatever it takes to keep the power vertical in place.

That strategy might allow for self-satisfying diatribes on state TV rallying against the “decedent West’, but will do little to alleviate a country racked by crisis, demographic or otherwise.

And sometimes, the pageantry of sovereign democracy entails warping tradition to defend “traditional values”, just as the governments defenders of women and children ultimately have to leave those they are ostensibly advocating for by the wayside.

Traditional values and teenage brides: Russia’s ombudsman for children goes off the rails

William Echols

Recent comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ombudsman for children’s rights, in which he defended a middle-aged Chechen official’s decision to “forcibly” take on a second, teenaged-bride, gets to the heart of Russia’s rotten core of “tradition” and hypocrisy.

The gist of the most recent scandal, which highlights Moscow’s tenuous power over Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, involves Nazhud Guchigov, a 46-year-old police commander in Nozhay-Yurt, and a 17-year-old girl named Kheda Goylabiyeva.

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According to reports, Guchigov, who is already married with children, has prevented Goylabiyeva from leaving her home and threatened her family with reprisals least they hand her over.

On May 5, Kadyrov refuted those claims on Chechen television, saying a trusted envoy had been sent to the girl. The envoy, unsurprisingly, reported back that the girl and her family were kosher with the arrangement.

Earlier this week, Lifenews, a tabloid media outlet with connections to Russia’s security services (and who’s founder infamously resettled in Brooklyn), ran an interview with the taciturn girl, who looks visibly uncomfortable and rarely makes eye contact.

In it, she claims to have known her husband-to-be for a year, saying he is good because he is “manly” and “dependable.”  Goylabiyeva also says she is not bothered by the age difference. It is difficult, based on body language alone, to know if she was coached to give her answers, or if they are genuine.

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According to gazeta.ru, the marriage is set to go forth on Saturday, though it is illegal under Russian law. Georgy Bovt, who regularly writes for the Moscow Times, sounds a note of capitulation, responding to all of the marriage’s critics (and there are many) that attempting to enforce Russian law in Chechnya may lead to “new terrorist attacks on the Moscow metro and other Russian cities, or quite possibly “a third Chechen war.”

He could be right. But what’s really telling is that Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s ombudsman for the Russian Federation, is not only all right with the entire affair, but essentially argued that it was okay for Russian men to take on teenage brides because some Russian women age prematurely.

“Let’s not be prudes,” he said. “There are places where women are already shriveled at age 27, and by our standards they look around 50. And, in general, the Constitution forbids interference in citizens’ personal matters.”

This, mind you, is coming from someone who once claimed there was an active pedophile lobby in Russia, adding that children’s advocacy groups were the leading means through which pedophiles battled for legalization.

Following a public backlash, Astakhov would “apologize,” not for essentially promoting the marriage between a 46-year-old man and a 17-year-old-girl, but rather for offending “the fairer sex” with his “awkward comments” by basically calling some of them ugly.

Astakhov, of course, is the quintessential hypocrite so endemic in Russia’s leadership. He says whatever is required of him — he believes in nothing.

The children’s commissioner, who sent his wife to France to give birth to their third child, once complained that he had to go to Cote d’Azure every weekend out of fear that his son would forget him.

When anti-corruption blogger criticized Astakhov for parking his family in an “elite mansion in Nice” and his money “in a “Swiss bank account,” Astakhov claimed Navalny was employing the “longstanding tricks of the enemies of Russia.”

astakhovThis incident is one of those made in Russia moments where the elite’s hypocrisy and obsession with promoting “traditional values” converge.

Tradition after all, is often a euphemism for justifying the domination of one group over another. When ‘the woman question’ arose in Russia in the 19th century, a bleak picture, whereby Russian men reportedly beat and raped their wives and daughters en masse, while members of the upper classes could molest peasant women with apparent impunity, emerged. As noted by the academic Marianna Muravyeva, instances of rape between a daughter-in-law and her father-in-law in Russian and Cossack communities were so common, the crime received a special name: ‘snokhachestvo’.

Russian nobles were also known to possess harems of women who existed merely to satisfy their masters’ sexually.

Under the Code of Laws of the Russian Empire in 1866, statutory rape could only be committed against a woman under the age of fourteen. In that light, Astakhov is clearly supporting “traditional values” at a time when Russia is doing its best to drag itself back into the 19th century.

And much like every other Russian official, those who question where he sends his children or his money are the “real enemies of the people”.

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of all is that Russia wants to protect children from gay propaganda which does not exist. But when it comes to protecting teenage girls from the sexual advances of middle-aged men, tradition rules the roost. After all, there is only one rule that Russia’s leadership ever abides by: never roll back access to sources of pleasure.

In April, when a group of teenage girls caused a scandal (and incited a federal investigation) simply by twerking, the Kremlin’s chief propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov asked if Russia was “for or against early sex.” 

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Astakhov, it seems, has provided an answer.

Russia’s Pyrrhic victory in Chechnya 

William Echols

The increasingly brazen behavior of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov shows that modern Russia’s two-decade long struggle to pacify the restive southern republic may eventually leave Moscow with ashes in its mouth.

Two brutal wars. Tens of thousands dead. An entire generation ravaged by violence. Cities decimated and then rebuilt with billions of federal dollars. Billions more pour in to pacify a brutal warlord ruling with impunity. A perilous rise in religious fundamentalism. A hotbed of terror forever on its southern flank. A ticking time bomb. This is modern day Chechnya under the thumb of Ramzan Kadyrov.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has often been described as a great tactician but a less adept strategist. He knows how to act ruthlessly, decisively to obtain short-term goals. He is expert at winning battles. He is at a loss for winning wars. Perhaps, one day, Chechnya will come to embody this reality.

Russians have never much liked Chechens, whom even members of the middle class will openly describe with derision.The great 19th poet Mikhail Lermontov would popularize the myth of the “zloi Chechen” —the evil, unrelenting savage who will fight tooth and nail, even in the face of total annihilation. It’s an image in a land-based empire with amnesia regarding its own roots that holds true today. Myths of the “zloi Chechen” were said to have a powerful psychological effect on Russian troops during the first Chechen War.

The Chechen Tomb

Lermontov would also popularize the small tributary Valerik as the River of Death — a place of slaughter — based on his own battles in the region. It was a name that predated the Russians, it is a name that may outlive their hold over the republic. Afghanistan need not be the only graveyard of empires.

No, in one of those strange ironies of fate, the desire to hold onto 6,700 square miles of hostile real estate could one day prove the death nail for the remaining 17 million-plus. And yet, Russia will likely never let it go willingly, though many would rather say good riddance.

In fact, a July 2013 poll showed that 24 percent of Russians would be glad if Chechnya left the Russian Federation. Another 27 percent said they wouldn’t care. The 23 percent who said it should remain within the Russian Federation were unlikely doing so out of some form of shared history, values, mutual respect, or affinity. Rather, it was likely a perennial expression of Russian chauvinism and 19th century geopolitical thinking that treats the world like a chess board; bigger is always better, we must shore up our southern flank, no matter the cost.

And since the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on February 27, the true cost of keeping Chechnya in the fold appears be quite high. The term “stop feeding the Caucasus”, in response to the disproportionate amount of government subsidies to the region, has long been popular with Russian nationalists, and not just. That Russia would destroy Chechnya only to pump billions of rubles into it each year while many Russian regions fall by the wayside is a sin for many. That they would do so while a man who once boasted of killing his first Russian at the age of 16 (and who was also allegedly filmed in the beheading of others) would one day become a “hero of Russia”, that smacked of travesty. Moscow always projected strength in a country pathologically obsessed with strength. One man , however, could make it look weak, its authority uncertain.

And last week, that man, Ramzan Kdyroz, enraged that police from the neighboring Stavropol region fatally shot a man in the Chechen capital, ordered his security forces to “shoot to kill” Russian cops or feds who appear on Chechen territory without their “knowledge.”

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That sounds like the leader of his own country, not the head of a regional republic. Yes, in a country where a cashier at a grocery store can be charged with inciting ethnic hatred for posting documentaries about Ukraine on social media (or sentence a 22-year-old man to 2 years in prison for that matter), the head of a republic can call for the assassination of police and investigators without consequence. This is a textbook definition of what Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson called in their seminal work, ‘Why Nations Fail’, “rule of law vs. rule by law.”

There have been efforts within the Russian establishment to “bring Chechnya” back into the fold, and by extension, pull Russia back from the precipice of legal nihilism. Speculation abounds that Federal Investigative Head (SKR) Aleksander Batryskin’s decision to take the investigation into the April 19th shooting under his control is a sign that the Kremlin (or at least powerful forces on its flank) are not so secretly trying to hem Kadyrov in.

Genuflecting to his suzerain, Kadyrov said he would step down from his post if ordered, perhaps with a smirk. Many experts, after all, say there is no alternative.

All the while, Putin has been left navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of chaos in Chechnya vs. a rogue feudal lord ruling with a massive private army numbering in the tens of thousands (and a cut above the average Russian conscript). As is so often the case in Russia,  a false sense of security wins the day. But the 38-year-old Kadyrov might very well be eyeing more than just the day, but history.

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There have long been rumblings of a Muslim-majority rising within the Russian federation over the coming decades, both Western and domestic.

Mark Adomanis, writing for Forbes, takes a far more measured approach to such claims, saying that while the relative growth of Russia’s muslim population will have “political, economic and social consequences,” it is overall analogous to similar growth trends throughout Europe.

Not that Russia’s growing Islamic population, however you cut it and at whatever clip, is in and of itself a problem. The issue is that many Muslim majority regions, including Chechnya, are not fundamentally integrated into broader Russian society. Add into that soaring rates of poverty, corruption, crime, religious fundamentalism and at times borderline anarchy, and a societal recipe for disaster is in the works.

In this context, Kadyrov has jockeyed to make himself the preeminent leader of Russia’s Muslim world, and perhaps one day, the gatherer of Russia’s Muslim lands.

For Putin, Kadyrov is always effusive in his praise, though he appears to being watching shrewdly as the Russian President exaggerates external threats and turns his attention outwards. Kadyrov from the get go offered to send his troops there (and despite his future denials, he allegedly has done just that.)

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The eventual blowback from the Kremlin’s silent war in Ukraine and other geopolitical meddling, after all, will all play into Kadyrov’s hands. It is one thing to have de facto control over Chechnya. It is another for Moscow to be so overextended it could not bring Chechnya back, even if it wanted to.

It is in this context that Kadyrov made such a large show of Stavropol police operating on his turf. All the while, he has regularly dispatched his security forces into neighboring Ingushetia, at times sparking clashes.

Sensing that Russian officials were potentially using local Ingush forces as a buffer to contain Kadyrov’s ambitions, in February he suggested deploying Chechen security forces to crush “terrorism and extremism,” be it in “Moscow or other regions of the country.”

It all plays into his growing image as a Muslim analogue to Putin —a strong man and defender of “tradition.” Publicly, he expresses support for honor killings and “virtue campaigns” for women. He would also offer thinly veiled threats of violence if the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were ever to be published in Russia, and even used those cartoons as a flimsy pretext behind Nemtsov’s assassination.

Mosque building, schools for hafizes (Muslims who know the entire Qur’an by heart), a clinic for Islamic medicine — all projects spearheaded by Kadyrov as part of his PR campaign to assume the Islamist throne.

But despite these outward displays of piety, he  apparently lives the life of the cookie cutter developing world despot. Gold-plated guns, a race horse stable costing over $367,000 to maintain annually, his own private zoo, a million dollar watch, a fleet of luxury cars (including one of 21 Lamborghini Reventons to ever be produced), and a string of celebrities ready to join his garish birthday celebrations (in exchange for up to half a million dollars) — there is no excess the Russian taxpayer doesn’t pay for on his behalf.  On that score, he may have much in common with his mentor.

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A disillusioned Chechen commander, Molvadi Baisrov, once described Kadyrov as a medieval tyrant who “can take any woman and do whatever he pleases with her” in the style of former Soviet Security chief Lavrentiy Beria. Kadyrov is, in Baisrov’s words, a man who acts with a sense of impunity, as if he was a “law unto himself.” Baisrov, incidentally, was killed by members of Kadyrov’s security forces a couple hundred meters from the Kremlin in 2006.  Apparently Putin believed Kadyrov’s actions were an “internal affair,” even if they happened in the heart of the Russian capital.

People who have a falling out with Kadyrov tend to end up dead, extrajudicially, and even outside of Russia. Take Ruslan and Sulim Yamadayev, the former a Hero of Russia and State Duma deputy, the later the commander of the Vostok battalion (which rivaled his own ‘Kadyrovtsy’.) Ruslan was killed on the streets of Moscow in September 2008, while Yamid was later assassinated in Dubai in March 2009.

And just like in the deaths of Baisrov and Russian Yamadayev, Kadyrov’s men appear to have carte blanche to operate on the streets of Moscow.

On February 3, for example, 30 armed Chechens stormed an office complex in Eastern Moscow. Eleven of the men were arrested, but mysteriously released the following day.

In a country where twerking by a World War 2 monument can get you two weeks in prison, or where an environmental activist can receive a 3-year sentence for spray painting a fence, paramilitary forces can act with impunity in the nations capital if they have Ramzan’s blessing.

But if you attempt to make a film about Kadyrov’s influence on modern day Russia, you just mind find armed men raiding your offices as well.

Once again, rule of law vs. rule by law; an old Russian tale.

But with the murder of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, members of Russia’s security services, allegedly unhappy with Kadyrov’s influence (many would have served in Chechnya during the wars), seemed to target him. Almost immediately, Zaur Dadayev, the former deputy commander of a paramilitary unit founded by Kadyrov, was arrested in Nemtsov’s killing.

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On the day Dadayev was officially charged with murder, Kadyrov would describe him as a “true patriot of Russia.”  The Chechen leader would also laud another suspect who blew himself up with a grenade when police attempted to arrest him at his home in Grozny. While 5 suspects would be arrested in total, (a reality Kadyrov was not at all happy about), another key witness, Ruslan Geremeyev has been hiding safely in Chechnya all of this time. It’s as if Russia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Chechnya; it’s as if Moscow would need one.

In telling sign of where the prevailing winds were blowing, on March 9—less than 24 hours after Kadyrov praised Dadayev — Putin awarded Kadyrov the Order of Honor, one of Russia’s highest decorations. It’s the 12th such state honor Kadyrov has managed to rack up.  Kadyrov reaffirmed his oath of loyalty to Putin the following day, expressing his willingness to die for the Russian leader. By that point, Putin had disappeared from pubic view, sparking a litany of conspiracy theories along the way. When he reemerged on March 16, one such theory seemed to hold water; whatever rumblings among the Russian security services, Putin had thrown in his lot with Kadyrov, perhaps until the bitter end.

“Putin appeared, alive and with legitimacy, at exactly the same moment when Interfax reported that the Nemtsov assassination wasn’t a contract hit,” political analyst Leonid Volkov wrote on his Facebook page at the time.

“Putin had to make a choice. Either feed Kadyrov to the FSB, or surrender the FSB to Kadyrov. It’s a difficult and unpleasant choice, so he laid low like Stalin in June 1941, in order to think and let the smoke clear,” he continued.

“Lay low, and choose. [And he] chose the one and only thing he could choose: Kadyrov.”

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For now, as Caucasian Knot editor-in-chief Gregory Shvedov recently told Newsweek, Putin “single-handedly” controls Kadyrov, which is, in a sense, kind of like saying the right hand controls the left, or that the ego controls the id.

But, with economic instability, a cauldron of ethnic tensions bubbling under the surface of Russian society, and attempts to channel violent Russian nationalism into Eastern Ukraine without it spilling over into broader society, it remains unclear, in Shevdov’s words, “for how long Putin would be capable of controlling the institutions behind the most influential leader in North Caucasus,” or the well-oiled fighting force under his control.

In a way, Putin’s fate is intricately tied up with Kadyrov. His presidency was built on war in the republic, and Kadyrov has become his lynchpin of legitimacy in the region.

Recently writing for The Interpreter, Paul Goble asked whether Putin was about to start a third war in Chechnya to escape the Ukrainian “impasse.”

Even to entertain such a scenario and its relatively best possible outcomes is reminiscent of the 3rd century Greek King Pyrrhus during the eponymously named Pyrrhic War: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”

But to look at the rise of Kadyrov following the Second Chechen War and what modern day Chechnya says about the Russian Federation today, a third conflict in the region might not even be necessary to bring about “ruin.” Through the arch of history, as Russia creeps towards what some alarmists have characterized as impending “implosion,” historians may one day look back on the Second Chechen War, the rise of Putin, and a conflict in Ukraine intended to “gather Russian lands” as the moment not when Russia finally rose from its “knees,” but when 500 years of empire truly began to unravel. For now, under a clear, blue sky, Kadyrov stands on the banks of the Valerik, biding his time.

For him, the question was never “why” we fight. For him, the question has, and always will be, when.

‘Chechen connection’ in Nemtsov murder should surprise no one 

William Echols

The announcement by Russia’s Federal Security Service head that two suspects from ‘Russia’s North Caucasus’ region had been arrested in connection with the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was to be expected, given the long and sordid history of the Chechen boogeyman in the Russian psyche.

Renowned criminologist Kathryn Russell-Brown once wrote that in American society, the black male is oft depicted as a “symbolic pillager of all that is good”. When Susan Smith tearfully found a fall guy in the archetype of the black carjacker before coughing up to the murder of here two small children over two decades back, what was laid bare was less an example of personal bigotry, and more a sociological manifestation of a small-minded and emotionally challenged young woman grasping at the one straw her culture offered her. If not me, then whom? In much the same way, from petty street crime, sexual harassment, religious extremism, and murder, Russia has its own perennial patsy: the Caucasian, and more specifically, the Chechen.

In the West, the racial taxonomy of the 18th/19th century German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach is the reason why those of European descent are known as Caucasians. In his words, the Caucasus, a mountain system between the Black and Caspian Seas on Russia’s southern flank, is home to “the most beautiful race of men…” But while Caucasians (in Blumenbach’s example, Georgians) became the archetype for “the white race”, in a coup of irony, Slavic nationalists deride Caucasians with the ethnophaulism “black asses.”

There is not enough time to venture into Russia’s long and complicated relationship with the region. What’s important about Saturday’s announcement by Federal Security Service Head Alexander Bortnikov, which pinned the crime on two suspects from the North Caucasus, is that it should surprise no one. Less than a day after Nemtsov was shot dead on Moskvoretsky bridge in ‘the shadow of the Kremlin’, Russian state media began publishing images of a  car allegedly commissioned in the murder of the former deputy PM. The car, unsurprisingly, had Ingush license plates.

Following the pacification of Chechnya, neighboring Ingushetia has become the drainage ditch for unexpended militant rage which, barring a defiant attack in December, was mostly stamped out in Kadyrov’s fiefdom. Combined, Chechnya and Ingushetia have just under 1.7 million people. Moscow, in contrast, officially has a population of 12.1 million, though some estimates have put that number as high as 17 million. That two contract killers would drive their getaway car 1,000 miles (from the country’s most restive region to the heavily surveilled heart of Russian power), and then use that very same car to commit the most high-profile assassination in Russia’s post-Soviet history, seems highly problematic to say the least.

The speed with which the car was recovered and the convenience of the license plates had many corners of the internet appropriating the catch phrase of the Kremlin’s chief propagandist and favorite TV host Dmitry Kiselyov:

‘A coincidence? I don’t think so.’

But the coincidental nature of the killers’ alleged nationality is doubly telling, given that both Russia’s infinitesimal opposition and Kremlin apologists alike are critically on the same page in one respect. Just as Junior Soprano hired two black and ultimately incompetent hit men to whack his cousin Tony in an ineffectual attempt to cover up his own tracks (the professional hit as street crime is a well worn device), few on either end of the political spectrum believe that Chechens are both the puppets and the puppeteers in Nemtsov’s death. Thugs, terrorists for hire, yes. But the brains behind the trigger, no.

For those committed to muddying the waters of reality on behalf of the Kremlin, apart from a a slender minority who are seriously proposing that Chechen militants actually gunned down Nemtsov for his position on the Charlie Hedbo shootings in Paris, the rest entertain the notion that Russians national enemies, both internal and external, have commissioned the Caucasian hit men to besmirch Putin’s reputation. Ukrainian intelligence, the CIA, the negligible opposition, some exiled anti-regime businessman, take your pick or even a combination of the above.

For the opposition, the Chechen killers were merely a gun deployed by Putin himself, siloviki acting with or without the Russian president’s tacit consent, or rogue nationalists acting as the golem that Putin created to shore up his power but then lost control over. Nemtsov, of course, is not the first thorn in the government’s side to have allegedly died at the hands of Chechen killers.

The 2004 murder of Forbes journalist Paul Klebnikov and the 2006 assassination of Anna Politkovskaya were both chalked up to alleged Chechen contract hits. In Klebnikov’s case, Russian prosecutors initially accused Chechen rebel leader Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev of planning the attack. Three Chechens were later tried and acquitted in the killing, though no mastermind was ever fingered. In May of last year, five men, including three Chechen brothers, were found guilty of killing Politkovskaya, though the orchestrator of the crime was similarly never identified.

Unlike Klebnikov and Politkovskaya, however, Nemtsov’s connection to the Caucasus was virtually non-existent, partially explaining the particularly flimsy Charlie Hebdo motive to have surfaced in the aftermath of his death. But domestically at least, a flimsy motive will likely be sufficient, in so far that the government has a strong motivation to obfuscate some of the more likely culprits (far-right nationalists with a connection to rebel forces in eastern Ukraine or independent actors who have taken the talk of fifth columnists and national traitors seriously.)

From the government’s position, the Chechen scapegoat is deeply satisfying, both because the population is already primed to believe that a great many social ills stems from this much maligned minority, and because it deflects attention from the government’s incitement of nationalist forces, which it very well might be losing control over.  What’s more, in lieu of an actual investigation where the actual organizer of the hit will actually be found (history teaches us otherwise), the Chechen exists as a template, where by the public can project whatever motive they want onto it without the government actually having to identify a mastermind.

That Chechens can be portrayed as mere puppets of Ukrainian fascists or US intelligence is merely icing on the cake. One is living in very strange times indeed to draw a line between those disparate threads; a stitched up frankenstinian monster in every sense of the word. But in a country willing to believe that dead bodies were packed onto a plane and then shot down over eastern Ukraine to discredit Russia, practically nothing is beyond the pale these days.