In Search of Putin’s Russia – Part 3 Reclaiming the Empire
Al Jazeera (2015)
In Part 3, Andrei Nekrasov explores what Russian liberal intellectuals feel are the two major external threats currently facing Russia: 1) a US-sponsored coup in Ukraine that threatens to place NATO troops on Russia’s western border and 2) so-called “radical” Islam. He begins this episode by reminding us that the current Russian Federation is quite a bit smaller than pre-revolutionary Russia.
Nekrasov interviews a Russian Special Forces officer who served as a volunteer trainer for Russian volunteers who fought to defend the newly declared Donetsk Peoples Republic (in eastern Ukraine); a volunteer who fought in this capacity and an recent ethnic Russian immigrant from Ukraine. By 2015, when this documentary was made, over one million ethnic Russians had fled Ukraine into Russia.
The Special Forces officer complains bitterly about the government’s refusal to fund either his efforts or those of volunteer troops – although Moscow does supply tanks to Russian combatants in eastern Ukraine. Only about 20-30% of pro-independence fighters in Donbass are Russian volunteers. At least 70% are Donbass natives.
The Donbass refugee speaks quite poignantly about bombing campaigns by the Ukrainian government that deliberately target civilians and civilian infrastructure.
By deliberately circumventing a government checkpoint that bars entry to journalists, Nekrasov pays a visit to Dagastan, a north Caucasus region under episodic attack by Islamic separatists. He interviews a number of Muslim civilians who complain of being brutalized by Russian forces stationed there. In some cases, troops have arbitrarily sacked civilian homes and permanently destroyed power, water and sewer connections. Some women complain of male family members being “disappeared.”
Officially Putin portrays Islam as essential to the fabric of Russian society, while labeling violent extremism as inconsistent with an essentially peaceful religion.
At the same time Islamophobia is rife among the Russian population and media, which the Russian government does little to discourage.