New York, May 1, 2003—Russian government officials have been pressing Estonian authorities to shut down the pro-independence Chechen Web site KavkazCenter (www.kavkazcenter.com) for more than a week, according to local and international press reports.
Sergei Yastrezhembsky, an advisor to President Vladimir Putin, warned last week that, “Countries which aspire to partnership and mutually advantageous relations with the Russian Federation should bear in mind Russia’s categorical objection to the hosting of information resources on behalf of Chechen separatists,” the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has also called on Estonia several times during the last week to shutter the site, but the request was rejected. Estonian prime minister Juhan Parts told reporters on Tuesday that, “The web site is not in the government’s server, therefore the government won’t interfere.”
Russia’s campaign against KavkazCenter was initiated after the site posted a dramatic, two-minute video clip on April 20 that showed a devastating rebel ambush on a bus in Chechnya allegedly carrying special police.
The video, which was broadcast on some Russian television stations, severely embarrassed the government, whose upbeat reports about Chechnya had failed to mention the April 15 ambush. The video provided fresh evidence that a Kremlin-orchestrated peace process in Chechnya has failed to curtail violence and normalize life in the region.
KavkazCenter is currently hosted by AS Starman (www.starman.ee), a private Internet service provider based in the Estonian capitol of Tallinn. The Web site was off-line on Wednesday but is back up and running today.
Henri Treude, a spokesman for Starman, said that because a subcontractor runs the server, he does not know why the site was down on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported. “But I can guess it was because of pressure from various media—and indirect pressure from Russia,” he said. Treude also said that the company had not been contacted by Russian or Estonian authorities.
While KavkazCenter openly supports Chechen rebels fighting for independence from Russia, some Western and Russian journalists rely on it for information due to government restrictions on access to the war-torn region, as well as ongoing security risks for journalists there.
In February, Russian officials mounted a similar campaign against the Web site, which was at that time hosted by MicroLink Data, a private Internet service provider in neighboring Lithuania.