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Moscow Babylon March 6, 2002
The Pankisi Whore
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 2 of 7
* * *

Afghanistan was perfectly understandable as a target for the American Imperial War Machine -- The Talibs didn't just dare us, they literally begged American forces to bomb and occupy their country. Yemen? That's where Bin Laden's family originally came from, so the best way to break bread with the world's only Superpower is to allow a few hundred Delta ops in for some live target exercises. The Philippines? Less logical still (except that The Philippines is one of the few countries outside of Latin America that the US considers its rightful colony), but at least they've had a serious Islamic rebellion for years now, kidnapping the odd dumbshit Western hippie trekker trawling for that elusive off-the-beaten-track experience. "Yeah man, Basilam was totally authentic. There wasn't a single bourgeois tourist, the beer was totally cheap, and they cut my head off with a real handmade machete!" That's not terrorism, folks -- that's doing the world a favor. We oughtta salute the Islamic terrorists for pruning the ranks of annoying Western trekkers... Still at least there's a vague enough connection between Abu Sayyaf and Al Qaeda (both are two-word names, both start with "A" and both have 4 syllables, proof enough that they are intertwined) to justify the War Machine's arrival. If nothing else, American troops will make the Philippines safe for lonely middle-aged American men on their last Viagra-juiced whore tours of Manila, a rare example of tax dollars going to work for regular folks. It's stressful enough for an aging white sex tourist to worry about being made an example of by the pedophile police, photo and name splashed all over The International Herald Tribune following another bogus crackdown on sex slavery that Southeast Asian countries are intermittently obliged to carry out to pacify the turbo-dykes in Geneva -- but if you have to worry about Islamic terrorists as well, even 100mg Viagra slugs might not succeed in bringing your shriveled, gray-garlanded unit to life, forcing you to abandon that one last unprotected fling with a Manila street child...

The point being, we can trace a kind of wartime logic to all of these choices as targets for the American War Machine.

But the Pankisi Gorge? We're supposed to believe that that little ditch -- so narrow you practically have to turn sideways just to move from one end of the gorge to the next -- poses even an indirect threat to the United States of America and the Free World at large?

Tchya, and Chechens might fly out of my butt.

* * *

"Sasha, do you have any idea what a great business you've just destroyed?"

-- Boris Berezovsky to Alexander Lebed in 1996, shortly after Lebed concluded a peace agreement ending the first Chechen War.


The best explanation for what's really going on in Pankisi came to me from my old Georgian friend Pasha. He was a high-ranking official in the Georgian SSR during the 60s and 70s, when he fell victim to a local power struggle with then-Georgian SSR chairman Eduard Sheverdnadze. He's old now, 74, having survived a heart attack, imprisonment and civil war. Pasha is someone whose opinion I deeply trust. Everything he has taught me -- about Russian girls, about the local mentality, about "the way things are done here" -- has proven to be accurate. His is a no-bullshit view of the depths of corruption and depravity in the former Soviet Union, yet he has always remained a cheerful and proud rather than jaded and cynical.

"Let me tell you about the Pankisi Gorge, because it's very simple," he said over an afternoon feast last Saturday in Tblisi. "The local Georgian police in Pankisi and the local Russian military leaders in Chechnya turned Pankisi into a lawless zone specifically to make money. They made deals with the Chechens, even the Russians did. You'll hear this and that about patriotism and terrorism and independence, but it's all crap. It's all about money. The Russians in Chechnya think the Georgians in Pankisi are taking too big of a cut of the drug money, and the Russians are mad. So they talk about Bin Laden and terrorists and anything else to justify what they were planning to do: taking all of Pankisi for themselves, taking the whole business, all the drug business and all the trafficking routes. Vsyo! That's all it's about, getting a bigger cut. Don't believe the garbage about terrorists hiding out there," he said, laughing and wiping his hands. "I'm happy, of course, because I want American soldiers here. But don't believe it."

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