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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Review of Race Violence in Russia

In light of the most recent race killing in Moscow, La Russophobe reviews coverage of racial violence in Russia over the past month, reflecting back on the past two years in light of recent developments. La Russophobe dares to wonder why this information can't be found on the JRL website. Mr. Johnson can put the government reports up by himself, and if he doesn't like LR's summary and doesn't want to write his own, surely one of his thousands of readers can provide one, right? That is unless . . .

Recently two major British publications, the Sunday Times and the Economist, have run lengthy pieces focusing on the outburst of race violence in Russia. Despite this, the British Home Office is currently denying requests for asylum under the Geneva Convention from Russian nationals who fear racial persecution, claiming that there is insufficient evidence of chronic racial hostility in Russia. This paper will review these issues, as well as the content of two recent U.S. government reports on race violence in Russia.

The Sunday Times led the way on May 7th with an article by Mark Franchetti entitled “Russia’s Nazis Launch Wave of Racial Attacks.” The article noted nine race-based attacks between April 6th and April 22nd including five in Moscow and one each in St. Petersburg, Volgograd and Voronezh. The victims were Vietnamese, Senegalese, Asian, two Tajiks (one a nine year old girl) two Gypsies and an Armenian, as well as a Slavic Russian anti-fascism activist. The Times contained the following quote from: “‘We need to kill all dark-skinned immigrants,’ explained a young man renowned as one of Moscow’s most radical skinheads who introduced himself as Tesak, Russian slang for ‘hatchet’. ‘We shouldn’t just kill adults. We must get rid of their children too,’ he said. ‘When you squash cockroaches to death, you don’t just kill the big ones. You go for the little ones too.’” The article stated that Sova, an NGO, had reported only 28 race killings in Russia in all of 2005, making this one-month tally from 2006 significant. However, it also stated that “Amnesty International believes the true figure is much higher: the police play down the attacks by recording many of them as mere ‘hooliganism’.”

Four days later came a similar report from The Economist, which stated: “As a recent report by Amnesty International catalogued, police, prosecutors and courts remain too slow to recognise racist crimes and too lenient in their punishment. Typically, the killers of a nine-year-old Tajik girl in St Petersburg were recently adjudged to have been motivated by “hooliganism” rather than racism (another nine-year-old, the daughter of a Malian, was stabbed in the throat in St Petersburg, but lived). A racist attack on an official from Russia's north Caucasus in Moscow last month was also classified as hooliganism, until officials were shamed into thinking again.” The Economist also pointed to polling data showing that a majority of Russians support racial exclusion: “At the last count, 52% of those polled by the Levada centre supported the idea of ‘Russia for the [ethnic] Russians’; large numbers confess to hostile feelings to Chechens, Roma and others.”

The Amnesty International report referenced by the Economist, which was issued May 6th, states: “According to a Russian information centre (the Sova Information Analytical Centre), in 2005 alone 28 people were murdered and 366 assaulted on racial grounds. The actual figure, however, could be much higher as many racially motivated crimes are either not reported at all or not registered as such. Rather, police and prosecution authorities frequently prefer to classify them as so-called “hooliganism”. The perpetrators of racist attacks often come from well-organized groups professing a racist, neo-fascist and violent ideology. According to official figures, there are about 150 "extremist groups" with over 5000 members in Russia, while non-governmental organizations put the membership at 50,000. At the same time, organizations and people researching and campaigning against racism face real threats to their lives.”

The Times’ data, from Sova, did not include the beating of two Mongolian students in St. Petersburg on April 15th as reported by RIA Novosti or the stabbing of an Indian student in St. Petersburg on April 20th, as reported in the Moscow News. In fact, the RIA Novosti report referenced four other incidents not included in the Times’ data, which focused only on the month of April: “a Chinese student was treated after being attacked outside her apartment block Sunday, while a nine-year-old girl of mixed Russian and African origin was hospitalized after being stabbed near her apartment building March 25. On March 24, a 34-year-old Ghanaian man was beaten up in the Kolpino suburb of St. Petersburg. Two young men have been arrested in connection with the attack, police said. Other violent attacks on non-white foreigners in St. Petersburg in recent months include an attack on a man from Mali, who was stabbed to death in February.” This brings the total number of victims in the first four months of 2006 to at least 16 or on average one per week, with half a dozen fatalities. However, as noted above, the actual number may be considerably higher to due to inaccurate attribution of incidents by the police.

On February 8, 2005, the U.S. State Department released a report reviewing Russia’s human rights record for 2004.

The report states: “Despite appeals for tolerance during the year by President Putin and other senior officials, violence and societal prejudice against ethnic and national minorities, as well as against foreigners, increased. During the year there were numerous racially motivated attacks on members of minority groups and foreigners, particularly Asians and Africans. The approximately 1,000 African students in Moscow were routinely subjected to assaults and abuse. An informal 2002 survey of Africans, mostly students and refugees, indicated that nearly two thirds reported having been physically attacked in Moscow because of their race. Fifty four percent were verbally insulted by the police because of their race. The 180 students questioned reported experiencing 204 attacks, 160 of them reported to the police, resulting in 2 convictions. Police rarely made arrests in such cases, although many such incidents were reported by human rights organizations. Many victims, particularly migrants and asylum seekers who lacked residence documents recognized by the police, chose not to report such attacks or experienced indifference on the part of police. Most authorities appeared unwilling to acknowledge the racial motivation behind antisocial brutality. For example, in St. Petersburg, where observers noted an increase in ethnic hostility, law enforcement officials often characterized perpetrators of hate crimes as spontaneous "hooligans," denying the existence of organized skinhead groups there. According to the MVD, 283 crimes were committed against foreign students during the year. Most of the crimes were thefts (about 43 percent) and robberies. This year most of the victims were students from China and other Asian and African countries. One third of such crimes were committed in St. Petersburg.”

The report documented a litany of examples as follows:

· September 20 a group of up to 50 young persons beat and stabbed 4 individuals from the Caucasus region on the Moscow subway.

· There has been no significant progress in the investigation of a group of seven alleged skinheads that attacked a group of Kurdish and Turkish children from Germany in a St. Petersburg subway station in April 2003. An investigation was opened only after the German consulate lobbied local authorities.

· According to press reports, between January and July, four killings, six physical attacks, and three acts of vandalism in St. Petersburg appeared to have been motivated by ethnic hatred. In all cases the attackers were wearing skinhead attire or proclaimed nationalist slogans.

· On October 13, a 20 year old student from Vietnam was killed by a group of about 20 skinheads in St. Petersburg. Several skinheads were detained. Over 200 students from Vietnam gathered next day in protest and demanded that a fair investigation be conducted.

· On October 2, an Afghan native was killed in St. Petersburg. The Afghan Diaspora is certain that militia was directly involved in this murder. The investigation is still ongoing. On May 31, in St. Petersburg a student from Libya (son of the Cultural Attaché from the Libyan Embassy in Moscow), died in a hospital of knife wounds. A criminal case was initiated, but no one was detained.

· In Moscow, in January, an ethnic Nanay student of the Peoples of the North Institute was killed on the way to his dormitory.

· In February, a 9 year old Tajik girl was killed when a group of young men, shouting "Russia for the Russians," attacked a Tajik family of three. The girl died of multiple stab wounds.

· In May, the son of a cultural attaché of the Libyan Embassy was knifed near the apartment he was renting.

· A group of 20 50 skinheads attacked four individuals from the Caucasus in a Moscow metro in September. The victims were brought to hospital with knife wounds and broken arms and legs.

· In Voronezh, in October, a student from Kenya was beaten; two of the attackers were detained. The incident happened 10 days after a first guilty verdict in relation to another hate crime was announced in Voronezh.

· Two adults were sentenced for 17 and 10 years in prison and a teenager was sentenced for 9 years in a juvenile institution for murder of a student from Africa committed in February.

·On June 19, Nikolay Girenko, an expert on hate crimes and senior researcher of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography at the Russian Academy of Sciences, was killed in his apartment in St. Petersburg. An unidentified individual rang the doorbell and shot Girenko through the wooden door with a sawed off rifle. Girenko's colleagues from the Citizen's Watch and Light Center NGOs (where he was a long term collaborator on tolerance programs) were certain that the motive for the killing was Girenko's professional activity.

· In September 2003, the courts acquitted Pavel Ivanov, editor of the Velikiy Novgorod newspaper Russkoye Veche, of printing articles hostile to minorities in his newspaper. Ivanov had been charged in 2002 with inflaming ethnic hatred. Nikolay Girenko, the ethnicity expert who was killed in June, had been an expert witness in this case.

The full report is available here.

The State Department issued its most current report on Russia, for 2005, on March 8 of this year. That report states:

“The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality; however, Roma, persons from the Caucasus and Central Asia, and dark skinned persons and foreigners faced widespread governmental and societal discrimination, which was often reflected in official attitudes and actions (see section 1.c.). Skinhead groups and other extreme nationalist organizations fomented racially motivated violence. Muslims and Jews continued to encounter prejudice and societal discrimination, although it was often difficult to separate religious from ethnic motivations (see section 2.c). Human rights observers noted that racist propaganda and racially motivated violence are punishable by law, but despite some increases in law enforcement efforts, the law was employed infrequently. However, the authorities demonstrated an increased awareness of the problem. For example, on September 27, President Putin stated: ‘We will step up the law enforcement agencies' work in this area and will do all we can to make sure that skinheads and fascist-minded groups are no longer a part of this country's political landscape.’ Federal and local measures to combat crime continued to be applied disproportionately to persons appearing to be from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Police reportedly beat, harassed, and demanded bribes from persons with dark skin, or who appeared to be from the Caucasus, Central Asia, or Africa. Ethnic Azerbaijani vendors alleged that police frequently used violence against them during document checks at markets in St. Petersburg. Authorities in Moscow subjected dark‑skinned persons to far more frequent document checks than others and frequently detained them or fined them in amounts that exceeded legally permissible penalties. Police often failed to record infractions against minorities or to issue a written record to the alleged perpetrators. Law enforcement authorities also targeted such persons for deportation from urban centers. In March the Institute for War and Peace Reporting noted that police arrested illegal migrant workers from Central Asia and illegally took their money and then took the workers to the outskirts of Moscow instead of deporting them. This practice reportedly allowed the police to pocket the cost of the deportation and leave the workers in Moscow for future arrests. According to MVD statistics, 11,100 crimes were committed against foreign citizens and persons without citizenship from January to October. According to the MVD, 557 crimes against foreigners were registered in St. Petersburg during the first seven months of the year.”

Examples of race violence set forth by the report were as follows:

· On February 14, approximately 400 members of the Romani community fled the village of Iskitim, Novosibirsk Oblast, after a group of armed men attacked and burned a number of Romani houses in the village. According to NGOs, similar attacks took place in the village in January 2005 and December 2004.

· On the night of November 10 two more Romani houses in Iskitim suffered arson attacks, in which a Romani women and her child sustained injuries. The child later died from the injuries received during the attack.

·For example it was reported that on July 9, about a dozen skinheads beat a Vietnamese man to death in a Moscow park.

· On September 14, a Congolese student was killed in St. Petersburg. A year ago the same student was attacked and hospitalized, at which time he gave evidence that the attack was racially motivated.

· On October 9, in Voronezh, a Peruvian student was killed and two other students, from Spain and Peru, were badly injured when a group of youths attacked them. There had been several previous attacks on attacks on foreigners in Voronezh.

· Later in October, the authorities charged a Russian student with murder and another 13 youths with lesser crimes for participating in the attack.

· On February 11, two Korean students were attacked and hospitalized in St. Petersburg.

· On March 14, four skinheads attacked an African student of a pedagogical university in Lipetsk.

· On March 26, a Chinese student was attacked during daylight on a major city street in St. Petersburg.

· According to one report, from January to early December skinheads attacked 125 people in Moscow, and 8 of the victims died.

· There were indications that the authorities were increasingly willing to acknowledge racial, ethnic, or religious motivations for such criminal acts. For example, in St. Petersburg authorities have recently been willing to acknowledge the role of ethnic hatred in such crimes. Between January and July, 13 physical attacks were officially declared to have been motivated by racial or ethnic hatred. In all cases the attackers wore skinhead attire or proclaimed nationalist slogans.

· In September, for the first time, a Primorskiy Kray jury convicted a defendant of a crime motivated by ethnic hatred. Skinhead leader Ivan Nazarenko was found guilty of murder motivated by ethnic hatred for the killing of a Korean man in September 2004 and sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment. The same jury acquitted Nazarenko of the 2004 murder of a Chinese citizen.

·In August five skinheads were convicted of murdering migrants in Surgut, Khanty‑Mansiysk Okrug. Two of the teenage defendants were sentenced to 9 years, the rest to 8 1/2 years for murdering an Azeri and four Tajiks in separate incidents December 2003 and September 2004. The skinheads reportedly attacked and beat to death or stabbed people of a non-Slavic appearance on the streets with the aim of "cleansing the city." They allegedly confessed to the killings during the investigation but withdrew their confessions in court.

· Also in August three skinheads were sentenced to one year imprisonment for assaulting ethnic Yakuts in Yekaterinburg. According to media reports, this was the first conviction for a hate crime in Sverdlovsk Oblast. In St. Petersburg, the trials of eight young men accused of attacking a Tajik family of three in 2004 continued, stabbing a 9-year-old Tajik girl to death. Only one of the men alleged to have been involved was being tried for murder.

·In June 2004 Nikolay Girenko, an expert on hate crimes and senior researcher of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography at the Russian Academy of Sciences, was killed in his apartment in St. Petersburg. Shortly after his killing, a previously unknown organization, "Russian Republic," pronounced a death sentence on Girenko on its website and announced that the sentence had been carried out.

· In March Pavel Ivanov resumed publication of The Russkoye Veche, a Velikiy Novgorod newspaper that printed articles hostile to minorities. Ivanov had been charged in 2002 with inflaming ethnic hatred and in February 2004 the court found him guilty and banned him from publishing for three years. Ivanov appealed the ruling and the ban was replaced with a $350 (10 thousand rubles) fine.

The 2005 State Department report is here:

Despite this evidence of racial hostility in Russia, on November 8, 2005, the British Home Office refused an asylum request based on the petitioner’s fear of racial retribution in Russia. Denying the request, the Home Office Stated: Paragraph 3.7.7 of the Russia operational guidance October 2005 states 'In March 2005 President Putin publicly stated that the government would focus on the fight against xenopobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism. The government has established a special police unit in St. Petersburg for crimes against foreigners to monitor skinhead groups and some courts have acknowledged the problems of racism and extremism.' According to a BBC News Article about racial discrimination in Russia (10 October 2005) 'Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged the serious ness of the problem. In a televised question and answer session last month he apologised to foreigners who have been attacked and promised to end racist activities in Russia.' It is considered that the authorities are focused on stopping discrimination and extremism in Russia. It is considered that you could seek the protection of the authorities in Russia if you had any problems. It is further considered that you could also move to a different area of Russia if you had any problem on your return."

The Report referred to by the Home Office is to be found here.


Welcome to Cold War II, The One Russia Won't Survive

First it was military aid and comfort to Iraq, then Iran, and now for the capper, a la Cuban missile crisis, it's Venezuela. If the USSR couldn't win a cold war against the U.S., how insane is it for Mad Vlad to think Russia can do so now? How long before, with perfect justification, America starts arming the Chechen rebels and calling for international recognition? This is the folly that is modern Russia gone completely Neo-Soviet haywire. Reuters reports:

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Russia will help Venezuela build plants to make Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition after the United States restricted arms sales to the South American nation, President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday.

Chavez also told a press conference in Quito, Ecuador, that a delivery of 30,000 Kalashnikov automatic rifles was due to arrive from Russia in early June.

"The Russians are going to install a Kalashnikov rifle plant and a munitions factory. So we can defend every street, every hill, every corner," he said in remarks broadcast in Venezuela.
Washington banned all weapons sales to Chavez's leftist government this month because of U.S. concern about his ties with Cuba and Iran and what it called his inaction against guerrillas in neighboring Colombia.

The sanctions led to a diplomatic freeze with Venezuela, a major U.S. energy supplier and the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

Chavez rattled the White House earlier with a deal to buy 100,000 Russian automatic weapons.Chavez charges the United States with orchestrating a 2002 coup that briefly toppled his government and frequently accuses the United States of planning to invade Venezuela.
"The invasion plan is prepared, we even have part of this plan. They change it of course," Chavez said, although he added he was working to avoid such an attack. Washington denies it plans to invade Venezuela and says Chavez is destabilizing the region. Russia is the world's No. 2 oil exporter. Russia's Gazprom is exploring for natural gas in Venezuela, and Russian oil major LUKOIL says it wants to invest up to $1 billion in developing Venezuelan deposits.

Neo-Soviet Kremlin So Desperate for Allies it is Prepared to Support Genocide

The Moscow News reports that "Vlad the Impaler" Putin is backing the homicidal regime in Uzbekistan. Looks like Russia is getting pretty hard up for friends, first Iran, then China, now Uzbekistan (the banner calls Dictator Karimov a bloody murderer). How Neo-Soviet can you get?:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered rare diplomatic support to Uzbek President Islam Karimov by hosting him at a Black Sea resort on the eve of the first anniversary of the Andijan massacre, AFP reported. Russia’s backing came on Friday amid Western criticism of Karimov’s leadership over massive bloodshed in the eastern Uzbek province of Andijan on May 13 last year.

A protest marking the anniversary in the Uzbek capital Tashkent was nipped in the bud Friday, but demonstrations took place or were planned in other capitals by opponents of Karimov’s regime. Uzbekistan’s government claims 187 people died, nearly all of them servicemen or “Islamist terrorists” behind disturbances which saw armed men free inmates from a jail and large crowds gather in the provincial capital.

Journalists and local witnesses, backed by human rights organisations, say hundreds died when security forces rampaged through the city, firing without warning on a crowd of 10,000 people. The United Nations later described the attack as a slaughter.

Meeting Karimov at the Russian leader’s Sochi residence, Putin hailed a recently concluded symbolic agreement on “allied relations” between Russia and the energy-rich Central Asian nation. The accord marked progress towards “the formation of a qualitatively new level of cooperation between our two countries,” Putin said in televised comments.

Karimov emphasised his desire for closer economic ties between his ex-Soviet nation and Russia, saying that Tashkent was “open to the privatisation of major enterprises,” the RIA news agency said. The effort to renew ties with what was the Soviet Union’s second-largest natural gas producer comes after Karimov halted a short-lived flirtation with the United States, following Western criticism over the Andijan bloodshed.

Uzbekistan last November closed a U.S. air base that supported the international coalition in neighbouring Afghanistan and caused unease in Russian military circles.

The Kommersant daily described the Sochi talks as a “visit of self-preservation” by Karimov, saying the Uzbek leader had “serious reasons to worry about the viability of his regime, due to ever more pressure from the West”. Human rights groups have voiced alarm at Russia’s support for Karimov, who was Uzbekistan’s last Soviet-era leader and has clung to power ever since.

A tiny demonstration bloodshed occurred on Friday in central Tashkent, where activists placed flowers at a Soviet-era monument to victims of a 1966 earthquake, saying the gesture was intended to honour the Andijan dead. Eight of them then tried to mount a demonstration, but had their placards ripped from their hands by unidentified security men.

In Kiev, about 50 Uzbek and Ukrainian nationals demonstrated outside the Uzbek embassy, chanting “Freedom for political prisoners!” and “Uzbekistan without Karimov!” Rallies were planned on Saturday in London, Belgium, Egypt and Moscow, Uzbek activist Shahida Iakoub told AFP. He said the London protest was designed to persuade the British government to support a petition drawn up by Uzbek organisations that calls on the European Union to give a stronger response to the uprising.

In Brussels EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Friday, “It is with great regret that I note the continuing refusal of the Uzbek authorities to heed the calls of the EU and others for a credible investigation into those events.” “I urge the Uzbek authorities to engage positively with the EU and others, and in adhering to the principles of respect for human rights, rule of law and fundamental freedoms,” he added in a statement.

EU foreign ministers were also expected to deplore what they call the increasingly serious harassment of human rights defenders and the persecution, prosecution and jailing of leading opposition figures. Despite Russian worries about Western pressure on Karimov, however, human rights groups say it has been inadequate, particularly from the United States.

On Thursday, the head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, Allison Gill, urged the EU to strengthen existing sanctions against Uzbekistan, which include a visa ban on some top officials but not on Karimov. She urged the United States, which imposed no sanctions at all on Uzbekistan, to follow Europe’s lead.

Various Writers Chronicle the Rise of the Neo-Soviet Union

The New Republic has a review of an avalanche of new books condemning the rise of the New Soviet Union entitled "All That Stands Between Democracy and Russia is . . . Russia!" Here it is via Russia Profile:

I.

Has Russia blown it? The Kremlin's Edward Scissorhands-like deftness in seizing headlines by seizing billionaires and passing their private properties to KGB stooges, eliminating elections for regional executives, dictating national television content, intimidating NGOs, and cutting off the gas to spite its face is dreadfully impressive. By contrast, some former Soviet dominions have grabbed headlines by ostensible strides toward democracy. The question is not whether Russia is headed toward democracy any more than Georgia, Ukraine, or Kyrgyzstan is headed that way. Sure, unlike Russia, Ukraine has a real parliament that (if it lasts) has the power to discipline the executive branch. But all three countries lack an independent judiciary and a genuine civil service-that is, an honest and effective state, without which democracy does not work.

The real issue, rather, is a muffed opportunity (again). Most of the euphoria in Russia in the 1990s-when macroeconomic stabilization, a six-month project, took seven years-emanated from a gross overestimation of actual structural reforms. Despite the leftist hysteria over the neo-liberal bogeyman, economic liberalization in Russia barely took place, and today it remains woefully partial for a normal market economy. But a few analysts, looking beyond the misunderstood 1990s, speculated that with a highly urbanized society, universal literacy, and a formidable education system and R&D community, as well as a policy course of substantial privatization, post-communist Russia was poised for an economic breakout. In 1993, Daniel Yergin and Thane Gustafson published Russia 2010-And What It Means for the World, presenting five plausible scenarios, all of which entailed some version of a stable market economy, and one of which was called "The Miracle." In 1996, Richard Layard and John Parker enthused without equivocation about "the coming Russian boom." These were longer-term views. Two years later, however, Boris Yeltsin's flimflam financial infrastructure defaulted. "Reform" was pronounced dead; the country, finished.

But around 2000, the euphoria returned. Russia boomed, and analysts attributed much of the upswing to President Putin, a supposed "modernizer."

Russia under Putin has gone from a state that was captive of dubious business interests to big business that is captive of a dubious state. Solve a problem, create a problem. Today's ham-fisted dirigisme of individual firms, and of the economy as a whole, may be endangering the country's post-1998 economic roll.

II.

Andrew Wilson's Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World is the best of the recent books on the new Russia, but it misses an opportunity almost as big as the one Russia appears to be blowing. This work, by a smart London-based specialist on Ukraine, draws one of the few accurate portraits of how electoral politics operate across Eurasia. Although the book is choppy-the same campaigns recur in different chapters-its content is scintillating. It notes that Russian journalistic exposйs turn out to be zakazъkha, "ordered up" column inches or airtime paid for, like advertising, by groups smearing business and political rivals with kompromat (compromising material, often completely fabricated).

To siphon votes from targeted politicians, "clones" are deployed who mouth the same platforms. "Doubles" with names nearly identical to those of targeted candidates further confuse voters. "Flies" are swarmed against a powerful opponent to take many tiny bites out of his or her voting base. "Cuckoo birds" are nested into opponents' ranks to sow dissension.

Meanwhile, spaces on the presumptive winning electoral lists, like some appointments in ministries, are outright sold to the highest bidders, who can expect to utilize their purchased offices to accrue fortunes. Of course, entering parliament (federal or regional) also affords immunity from criminal prosecution. This is great stuff, and right on the money.

Welcome to the liveliest sector of post-Soviet market economies-politics, which is business. Wilson attempts indignation, but really he revels in the delicious phoniness, writing "of parties that stand in elections but have no staff or membership or office; of bankers that stand as Communists, of well-paid insiders that stand as the regime's most vociferous opponents

None of this began with Putin. Wilson opens with the czarist-era police tradition of "active measures" to combat revolutionaries by infiltrating their cells and sowing division and demoralization with provocations, then suggests, unhelpfully, that "the denial of truth in the Soviet Union throughout most of the twentieth century created many of the preconditions for virtuality in the twenty-first." Finally, he throws in the explanatory towel by invoking Viktor Pelevin's satire Generation "P" (Generation Pepsi, the last Soviet generation), which depicts all politicos as merely digital, existing only on television.

Most of Wilson's sources on the fakery come from the fakers-"reports" in the dubious media, his own interviews with the slimeballs.

III.

Kremlin Rising, the parting shot of a husband-and-wife Washington Post team after four years as Moscow bureau chiefs, is about Russia falling. Peter Baker and Susan Glasser detail Russia's explosion of HIV (no health care reform), atrocities in Chechnya (no security-apparatus reform), military hazing and avoidance of conscription (no military reform), environmental spoilage (no administrative reform), and the dreariness of U.S.-Russia relations (deep mutual animosity). They revisit the seizure of a Moscow theater in October 2002, which inaugurated a two-year period when "about a thousand people would die in terrorist incidents in Russia, more than in Israel," including more than three hundred at an elementary school in the North Caucasus town of Beslan, which showcased the heartlessness of the hostage takers and the corrupt ineptitude of the government. Every Russian Baker and Glasser follow, and there are a lot, who tries to buck or change the system hits a wall. This is the grim Russia that readers of today's American reportage will recognize.

But within their simple frame of "Western-style liberal democracy" versus "Soviet leftovers," Baker and Glasser stumble upon something interesting. They arrived during Putin's first term, an era of a new flat tax and other economically liberalizing reforms, but as Putin undercuts "democracy" they discover that he is popular partly for that reason. This is the scandalous argument about a Russian "flight from freedom" that Richard Pipes advanced in Foreign Affairs a few years ago, and which Baker and Glasser cite, not quite knowing what to make of it. They hear it in conversations with Russian voters, who time and again "surprise" the reporters: a majority seem to crave order, and view the KGB (whence Putin) as solid preparation to meet that challenge. The mystery is thus not Putin, whom the authors interviewed in June 2001, finding him "distant and calculating," albeit "well briefed." Rather, the mystery, or the disappointment, is the Russian people.

In their best chapter, Baker and Glasser explore the phenomenon of Soviet retro. This is epitomized by the radio station launched in late 1998 called Nashe ("Ours"), whose winning formula of emphasizing the Soviet over the Western became widely emulated.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed tycoon, provides the depressing book's coda in a newspaper article attributed to him from confinement, observing that his putative jailer, Putin, "is probably not a liberal or a democrat, but he is more liberal and more democratic than seventy percent of the population."

Anna Politkovskaya provides an angrier native version of Baker and Glasser's Russia falling. She works for a well-regarded Moscow newspaper, and in 2000 she won a Golden Pen Award from Russia's Union of Journalists for her dispatches from the war in Chechnya. Politkovskaya is often called Russia's best investigative journalist (a distinction that rightly belongs to Alexander Khinshtein). In Putin's Russia, patched together from her reportage, she insists that Russia is undergoing apocalypse, moral as well as social. The army is her special obsession, and she shows that officers press-gang conscripts into slave labor or beat them to death (five hundred such murders were registered in 2002). For her, Chechnya is not a far-off isolated war, but a corrupting infestation on all state institutions and the people.

In sum, the book is a jumble not only organizationally but also intellectually.

IV.

Backtracked reforms and an interminable insurgency in the Caucasus do not make for epic journalism-the kind that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, earned foreign reporters so many top prizes. But the books keep coming. Like his Washington Post colleagues, Andrew Jack, a former Financial Times correspondent in Russia, notes Russians' wounded pride and exhaustion. Gorbachev, one informant tells Jack, "said he would open us up to the world, but we just saw how poor we were. We believed that the Volga was the best car in the world. Now we understand what shit it is." Jack, too, came to understand quite a bit. He details the venality of the private mercantile media before their re-expropriation by Putin's Kremlin, the reasons many Russians are better off than they seem, and the oligarchs' exaggerated political power-more the result, a sociologist tells Jack, "of slick public relations than of reality." Jack even displays an ear for Russian humor, which distills the current political system. "Are you from the Kremlin?" asks a guy standing in a bus. "Are you from the KGB? Are you from St. Petersburg? No? Then get off my foot."

Putin dominates Jack's book even more than the leader dominates Russia, but the portrait we get is fairly acute. Jack sets the stage with the tale of an American's efforts in St. Petersburg in the 1990s to sell donated butter to raise funds for loans to small businesses, a program beneficial to Russia that its bureaucrats stymie until the shrewd, resourceful Putin, who served in the municipal government, brokers a multi-step deal, dancing around Moscow. Then, after being transferred to the capital, he becomes head of the Kremlin's Control Department, responsible for scrutinizing state functions, and begins compiling dossiers on the affairs of everyone at the top, even on mismanagement in his immediate boss's circle. This behavior controverts something that the occasionally too even-handed Jack neglects to dispel-namely, the laughable but still widely bought story line that Putin never sought power and was an accidental president.

V.

Whereas Japan is Western but not European, Russia is European but not Western. Westernization in Russia continues mostly to be decried as antithetical to "national" traditions. That self-imposed handicap is what makes Nicolai N. Petro's book about alternate national traditions seem promising. He contends that Russia possesses a native strain of democracy that thrived in a vibrant commercial setting-ancient Novgorod, an aristocratic-merchant republic with a collective assembly before its late fifteenth-century conquest by autocratic Moscow. After 1991, Novgorod's pols revived this heritage ("our own Russian Florence"), contrasting it to Moscow's despotism, and Petro argues that by redefining "reform as a return to the values of a better and more prosperous Russian past," Novgorodians got a better and more prosperous Russian present. Alas, today's Novgorod-where Governor Mikhail Prusak (who was born in Ukraine) has entered his fifteenth year in power-is neither a democracy nor an economic success. Still, the feral enthusiast Petro is partly right. The Novgorod myth did cast a spell: by the late 1990s, one in three members of the Novgorod intelligentsia had managed to obtain Western funding of one sort or another. And that circumstance, in Novgorod and around Russia, galvanized the Kremlin.

Officials with Kremlin access confirm that its denizens exude authentic pathos about a "fifth column." Putin and his retinue appear genuinely to believe that the West wants to make Russia a vassal, perhaps even break it apart. In the 1990s, this "threat" involved attempted IMF diktat and debt. Now it supposedly emanates from Western-financed NGOs.

Sure, many functionaries are proud that Russia is flexing its muscles again, regaining its "sovereignty."

But is Russia on the path to revival as a superpower? It has collapsed back to its size during the reign of Peter the Great, reversing centuries of imperialism, although imperial ambitions always die hard. Still, the gas cutoffs to Ukraine and Western Europe demonstrated that the "lords of oil and gas" have a knack, as one Kremlin adviser on Asian affairs told me, for "stepping on a rake." Step on a rake and you smack yourself in the forehead. That exercise-repeated over and over by Putin and his KGB cronies-strikes me as worth keeping in mind amid the dire warnings of the threat to Europe and (soon) Asia from energy dependence on Moscow. The Russian military, despite somewhat pumped-up budgets, is still unreformed, a shell. Gazprom, the successor to the Soviet Gas Ministry, remains a different kind of mess: a study in corporate misgovernance. Above all, the Kremlin's oil and gas imperialism (using market leverage to induce asset swaps) goes hand in hand with its lust for secretive, unchecked, unaccountable power-ultimately, the weakest kind of authority, lacking self-correcting mechanisms.

Talk of a new cold war is silly given that Russia, wallowing in nash-ism and nearly friendless, lacks an all-encompassing ideology with global resonance like communism. There is indeed a menace emanating from Moscow, but it is inwardly hazardous. It is the absence in Russia and most of Eurasia of effective formal checks on executive power-a hoary tradition broken by Gorbachev, in part accidentally, but restored in Yeltsin's "presidential" constitution of 1993. Putin filled out that charter's generous autocratic potential. But lo and behold, the document contains a two-term limit on the throne. Much speculation now surrounds the presumed stealth preparations for transcending this constitutional barrier against a third presidential run for Putin in 2008. Nobody expects a real election. But the lack of honor among high-placed thieves who are jostling over the spoils means that anything could happen-except a turnabout toward promoting human rights and equitable business practices.

When affordable substitutes for hydrocarbons are widely introduced, lasting political transformation, as opposed to "revolution," may finally descend upon Russia and Eurasia, as upon much of the Middle East. In the meantime, the Russian elites' internal political scrum continues, with the riven factions of Putin-promoted marketeers still clawing and biting his similarly rivalrous security types for market-oriented policies. Global valuations of Russian companies and of its GDP-which even many Russian officials will tell you is the basis for great power status today, including in former colonies-also exert some pressure for much-needed further reforms: banking, workable federalism, entitlements, education, infrastructure. None of these huge, wrenching undertakings is assured. But if done, and done semi-sensibly (perhaps with WTO accession or after 2008), such structural reforms could be as important in their own way as free and fair elections and free and fair media. More effective everyday governance would be very handy should Russia at some point turn toward democracy.

Democracy? Two Russias mold book after book: one, the Kremlin and the billionaires, supporting or screwing one another; and the other, an impoverished, infirm, criminally neglected populace. (In Russia's unaccountable political system, as Stephen Holmes has quipped, the oppressors have liberated themselves from the oppressed.) But there is a third aspect to "Putin's Russia." Untold numbers of Russians-consumers with money, not citizens with rights-are engaged in horizontal interactions across the country and international borders. Some 6.5 million Russians traveled abroad in 2004, about half of them to affordable Turkey, Egypt, and China. Domestic sales of private cars zoomed over $20 billion in 2005, and the forecast for 2006 is further vertiginous growth-just ask the multi-national producers in Russia, from Ford to Toyota, operating or opening new plants. Russia's explosion in private housing has spread well beyond the capitals, and mortgage mechanisms are just now becoming available. According to Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, the population's income in 2005 increased nearly 10 percent over the rate of inflation-a hefty bulge in real terms, which he forecast would be repeated in 2006. Kudrin also predicted that in 2007 Russia's GDP would finally attain the level of 1990, right before the great depression and hyperinflation of the Soviet collapse.

What about Russian society, then, at least its dynamic elements? Estimates of the size of Russia's middle class-like India's or China's-are all over the map. Some 80 percent of Russians surveyed invariably say they are middle class. Probably 20 percent warrant such status. But anyone interested in broad social trends other than alcoholism-say, property ownership, investment, credit, and savings; educational opportunities and costs; consumer tastes; civic involvement or avoidance-cannot just pick up a book. One has to search out the scientific polls amid the clutter, purchase the uneven subscription-only research produced by investment houses, or read back from the advertising on Russian television. (The stations that cannot show the real war in Chechnya or criticize the Kremlin show a lot for and about society.) In January, the newspaper Izvestia published an overview of Russia's middle class based on an analysis by the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology. (I spoke independently with the scholars at the Institute.) Besides disposable incomes and computer saturation, members of the middle class are distinguished by employment in non-manual labor, higher education, enrollment in ongoing educational courses, knowledge of a foreign language, and a striving to be selfreliant. So far, so promising.

But an accompanying chart in the article on Russia's middle class indicated that nearly half work in the "state sector." One-third work in the "private sector" or at "privatized enterprises." Less than one-fifth work for themselves or foreign firms. To put the matter another way, Russia's middle class chiefly comprises functionaries in the bureaucracy and in large state or private corporations, rather than small and medium business owners-that is, they are partly dependent, not independent, people. Compared to small business-still minuscule, despite the easing of licensing requirements in 2001 and 2002-more of Russia's middle class, fully 15 percent, work in the military, security organs, interior ministry, and state prosecutor's office. Many of these people are owned by, or are owners of, big business. Small wonder that much has been made of the fact that Russia's movers, shakers, and hostage takers generally express a preference for the state to retain control over the economy's "commanding heights."

What should not be overlooked, however, is that these same people mostly do not favor an end to the market. Increasingly, Russian commentators have come to view them, Russia's "middle class," as Putin's social base, while Baker and Glasser remark of Moscow's middle class that "politics seemed increasingly beside the point." This amounts to two different ways of saying much the same thing. Simply put, Russians are acutely aware of the clumsy domination of the executive branch, an absurdity lamented (albeit quietly) even by many people working inside the hydra, yet accepted as inescapable-for now.

VI.

Back in the 1970s, when the Soviet Union began tanking and nincompoop American social scientists were analyzing the "convergence" between the Soviets and the West into "industrial society," China was a dirt-poor, illiterate peasant country bleeding from Mao's thirty million-victim "cultural revolution." Over the next quarter-century, China's economy boomed some 9 percent per year. It just revised its 2004 GDP from $1.65 trillion to almost $2 trillion-a retrospective bonus equivalent to an economy the size of Indonesia's, or almost half of Russia's. Many Kremlin principals, perhaps including Putin, are enamored of the "China model." But they labor under a common misapprehension, exaggerating the role in China's dynamism of the country's central autocratic state, as opposed to regions competing for private investment, entrepreneurs, peasant migrants to the cities, and foreign owners. Russia's political sinophiles also overlook China's deep economic entanglement with the United States. In the 1990s, compared with Russia, China opened itself and its economy less, but it doggedly pursued global economic integration with America, which its rulers view as the indispensable path of advancement, not as surrender. Russia's equally grandiose aspirations have entailed a refusal of the option (to the extent that it has been on offer) of rising on American coattails.

Perhaps for this reason, among others, American media coverage of authoritarian Russia remains preoccupied with state corruption and mass poverty, rather than the expanding middle class and economic growth, while American coverage of authoritarian China is obsessed with the expanding middle class and economic growth, rather than state corruption and mass poverty. Baker and Glasser, who resided and worked in the Post's long-held space in a Stalin-style massif on Kutuzov Street, near where Brezhnev and Andropov lived, seem confounded by the banal physical persistence of the Soviet era in Moscow. But they note that cherished cultural landmarks are being ripped down, faзades and all. They are bowled over by the boomtown quality of today's Moscow. It is not just the skyrocketing prices in intimate neighborhoods such as the Ostozhenka on the Moscow River-once bestowed by Ivan the Terrible on his dreaded oprichniki, later the haunt of Romanov-era aristocrats and merchants. Baker and Glasser also observe that when Putin took office, Moscow had two million square feet of mall space, while five years later it had twenty-one million. They could have added that Moscow is now the world's second-largest construction site, after Shanghai.

In Vilnius a few weeks ago, Dick Cheney ripped into Russia in the run-up to the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg scheduled for this coming July. The vice president launched the equivalent of a confrontational spy plane across Russia's borders-remember the incident with China?-by admonishing the Kremlin for using its natural resources as "tools of intimidation and blackmail" and for the way that the Kremlin, "from religion to the news media, to advocacy groups and political parties," has "unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of [Russia's] people." Cheney is known to hold similar views on China, though on the latter he has publicly been more muted. Other critics, such as the former insider Andrei Illarionov, want to believe that Russia's and China's glaring institutional shortcomings and authoritarianism will at some point start punishing the regimes, not the freedom advocates. A lot of investors, though, are willing to go on betting big that China and Russia will continue to surge while flouting most of the ostensible rules for long-term growth. On one thing the critics and boosters agree: following this trajectory in the long run, we're all dead.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Carnegie Center Blasts Kremlin Assault on Democracy, Freedom and Plain Common Sense


Making up for its woefully misleading article on the Russian economy (apparently some sort of warped attempt to seem fair and balanced) the Carnegie Center has atoned by laying bare the hideous recent assault by the Kremlin on local elected officials, which began with the arrest of governor Alexei Barinov and continued yesterday with the arrests of Senators Alexander Sabadash, Boris Gutin and Igor Ivanov (as reported by the Moscow News). Carnegie's Nikolai Petrov had this to say in the Moscow Times:

Sadly, these events have generated virtually no serious reactions from opposition politicians. There has also been a complete lack of response from nongovernmental organizations, either because they have become paralyzed by the new laws concerning them or because the victims in this case don't evoke any sympathy. This is a shame because the authorities only do what society lets them get away with, and to treat this as merely inconsequential infighting at the top bodes poorly for the long term.

So a further strengthening of the hard-line element within the Kremlin elite appears to have convinced those at the top that they don't really need the governors. The events, coming right after Putin's annual address and happening in regions with economies strong in oil, gas and metals, simply reinforce the sense of the strengthening business-politics linkage.

This seriously affects the dialectical intersection of federalism and democracy. The dismantling of one leads to the weakening of the other. What we are seeing is the direct result of the dramatic weakening of democratic institutions in general -- and the Federation Council in particular -- and the retreat from open, public politics, including from the direct elections of governors. What will be next? The cancellation of presidential elections? Radical revisions to the entire federal system further down the road? Who knows?

La Russophobe would use a stronger word than sad . . . on the other hand, perhaps there is no word which is strong enough to encompass a naked frontal assault on democracy while Russians stand by quietly and let it happen, just as they allowed Stalin to rise to power.

The Kremlin is moving on another front, reports UPI. It is not only arresting and destroying all possible opposition, it is removing the "against all" option from the ballot itself, returning Russia fully to the Soviet position where one could only vote for a single candidate or not at all.

Yet Another Race Murder In Moscow

Radio Free Europe reports that yet another dark-skinned foreigner has fallen victim to a race assault in Russia. The killing occurred May 25th but was hushed up for nearly a week by the authorities.

May 30, 2006 -- A 19-year-old ethnic Armenian has been stabbed to death by a group of young men on a suburban train near Moscow. Artur Sardaryan was killed on May 25, but his death was only announced today. A spokeswoman for the Moscow region prosecutor's office says the group approached Sardaryan as he sat on a regional commuter train and stabbed him for no apparent reason. A lawyer representing the family, Simon Tsaturyan, quotes eyewitnesses as saying the attackers shouted "Glory to Russia!" (the grafitti pictured above reads: "Death to Niggers"). Prosecutors have launched a hate-crime investigation. The killing is the latest in a series of attacks on foreigners and immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia in Moscow and throughout Russia.

This brings the total number of persons killed in Russia so far this year because they were the wrong skin color to an appalling 30.

Supposed "Energy Superpower" Russia Makes its Officers Live in Squalor

The Moscow Times reports on how Russia isn't using its alleged oil revenue windfall:

Nadya, her husband and their 2-year-old son share a room big enough for an inflatable mattress and a television set in a nondescript military dormitory in Moscow.

They are one of 20 families on the floor. Outside each door is a trash can and slippers. Everyone shares two bathrooms with walls that are peeling and stained from flooding. In the morning, children stand in line and anxiously wait to use the facilities. The women prefer to cook at night, when it's easier to find a free burner in the common kitchen (pictured above).

Nadya's family is one of 157,800 families of current or retired army officers across the country stuck in housing purgatory: As they wait for the Defense Ministry to provide them with the adequate apartments they are entitled to or, at least, housing certificates, they must live in temporary and crowded quarters.

Residents enjoy little privacy. Some servicemen are unable to rent rooms of their own, making it impossible for families to stay together. Like the Moscow region facility that burned down last week, killing eight, the dormitories reek of neglect.

Kremlin Shil Seeks to Control World Steel Market

As the New York Times reports, Kremlin shil Aleksei Mordashov's bid to control the worldwide steel industry by merging his steel firm Severstal, dominated by the Kremlin like most significant Russian commercial enterprises, with Luxumborg's Arcelor (thus controlling 20% of the world's automotive steel) has hit a roadblock thrown up by major American investment banker Goldman Sachs. The Times reports:

Goldman Sachs is circulating a letter to Arcelor shareholders, hoping to get support for an emergency general meeting that would call for the Severstal deal to be put to a vote, according to Mittal executives.

Twenty percent of shareholders need to call for an emergency general meeting for it to be held. At issue is the way that investors can weigh in on the Severstal deal. As it is structured now, the deal will go through, unless more than 50 percent of outstanding shareholders vote to prevent it. That situation is unlikely because it is difficult to get that percentage of shareholders to vote on any company issue.

Critics are calling for a more traditional voting structure — asking two-thirds of shareholders present at a general meeting to approve the deal before it can go through, for example. Under local shareholder rights law, Arcelor does not have to put the Severstal deal to a shareholder vote. But Arcelor management is under pressure to prove that it is showing exemplary corporate governance, after criticizing Mittal's corporate governance and refusing to consider the company's offer.

Investors could try to use an emergency general meeting to demand that the company change the way the deal is approved. Mittal is, naturally, supportive of any efforts to strike down the Severstal deal.

"Many Arcelor shareholders had serious reservations about this deal," a Mittal spokesman said in a prepared statement. Separately, Severstal's chief executive, Mr. Mordashov, wants to raise his stake in Arcelor to 45 percent, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Now we see the tentacles of the Neo-Soviet Union grasping out for every scrap of influence it can, by whatever means possible, as the world slowly realizes that is going on in Russia. The same exact thing happened as Stalin consolidated his power. The difference, however, is that now Russia is a bankrupt shell of an entity devastated by the arms race Stalin initiated, and when it falls this time it will fall much harder.

More Athletic Humiliation for Russia

Russia's best hope at the French Open, its highest-ranked and seeded player, Nadia Petrova, has flamed out in the first round of the tournament, winning only four games against an unseeded Japanese player.

Meanwhile Russia's most famous player, Maria Sharapova, was also a disaster in her first match, needing three closely contested sets to overcome unseeded American Mashona Washington.

La Russophobe Unearths a Vast Anti-Russian Conspiracy!

Are you going to FIFA Fair?

Angola will be there.

So will Togo, Tunesia and Iran.

Tiny Switzerland will field a team, and so will Poland.

Ukraine, mind you, is widely expected to advance to the second round in its first-ever FIFA appearance.

But guess who won't be there.

What that, you said? America? No, America will be there with bells on.

Russia won't.

Why will Saudi Arabia be playing, but not Russia, in the FIFA World Cup 2006 international soccer championship?

Well, for starters, because FIFA couldn't care less about who's got nuclear weapons, or oil for that matter, but only cares about who can throw it down on the pitch. And Russia, for starters, can't. And it can't blackmail its way into the World Cup the way it can the G-8.

Now there are two possible explanations for this situation. One is that Russia is hurtling heedlessly down a dead-end street of failure and self destruction, in desperate need of reform but unwilling to admit the need for it, like a drunk or an addict waiting to hit bottom first. The other is that all the nations who participate in FIFA are engaged in a vast anti-Russian conspiracy to deprive Velikaya Rus of its rights and propers.

The choice for Russians, of course, is obvious, just as it was at the Salt Lake City Olympics in pairs skating (and more recently at the Calgary Worlds).

It couldn't possibly be that Vladimir V. Putin, a proud KGB spy, is an oily, toadlike crustacean no more capable of guiding the nation to a bright future than of flapping his arms and flying to the moon.

It couldn't possibly be that the Russian people, by acting more like lemmings than actual lemmings do, have contributed mightily to this humiliation by electing Putin to lead their nation, twice, scant years after his organization brought Russia to the brink of ruin.

No, it's obvious that Russia's only problem is a vast worldwide conspiracy of Russia haters tirelessly working to undermine the otherwise great nation, obviously out of pure jealousy and spite.

Without such a conspiracy working against it, Russia would surely rule the world!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Thank you, Valiant Defenders of Our Freedom!

La Russophobe is on hiatus in observance of Memorial Day and the selfless heroism of American's fighting women (and men). The next post will appear Tuesday May 30th. Happy Memorial Day! Don't forget to honor our fallen champions!

Don't worry, though, she's left you plenty of material to keep your eager eyes busy until she returns, see posts below. (Sorry, no Sunday Funnies this hallowed weekend, the feature will return next week at its regular time.)

Shadow President Illarionov Dogs Putin's Every Step

La Russophobe's dream ticket for the Russian presidential "election" of 2008:

  • For President: Andrei Illarionov
  • For Prime Minister: Gary Kasparov
  • For First Deputy: Vladmir Ryzhkov
  • For Duma Speaker: Mikhail Kasyanov
The London Telegraph reports:

The former economic adviser to Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned that the planned flotation of state-owned oil giant Rosneft would see "the London Stock Exchange being used to distribute stolen assets".

Andrei Illarionov, who quit the Putin government last December in protest at the erosion of Russia's political and economic freedom, said potential investors should be aware of the risks of the proposed £5.4bn float. "This is a crime which will be investigated by a new government and reversed," he said in the latest salvo against the controversial initial public offering. His comments follow denunciations of the sale by investors including George Soros and Foreign & Colonial, which recently raised a warning flag over Russia's corporate governance practices. Rosneft's assets include Siberian oil explorer Yuganskneftegaz, responsible for 11pc of Russia's oil output and forcibly "acquired" by the Kremlin in December 2004 after the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch jailed last year for tax evasion. "We are dealing with a company with a very questionable history. We just don't know what happened," Mr Illarionov added.Speaking in London, he also questioned why Prime Minister Tony Blair had apparently left the door open to a mooted takeover of British Gas-owner Centrica by Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas producer. "I'm puzzled. Many people have expressed concerns, but this is a very clear statement that it is ok for Centrica to be bought by a state-owned company. I do not hear anything similar from anyone else in Europe. "Are G8 members serious about defending the very cornerstones, defining values and institutions of Western civilisation or will they compromise and bow to the demands and caprices of the new energy tsars?" asked Mr Illarionov.

The Iron Curtain, Part II

The Moscow Times reports that Kremlin pressure has forced opera diva Anna Netrebko, a star at St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, to halt her application for Austrian citizenship following a wave of criticism in the Russian media questioning the her patriotism and accusing the charming soprano of being a traitor.

La Russophobe dares to wonder who will be the next Russian not allowed to accept dual citizenship, and how long it will be after that that "certain very important Russians" will not be allowed to leave the country at all, or will do so only with "bodyguards" who speak into their lapels to the Kremlin taskmasters who watch their every move. First legislators are not allowed to say dirty words like "dollar" or "euro" and then the cream of Russia's crop isn't allowed to have dual citizenship. Neo-Soviet Union? You be the judge.

Think about it, Russians. It's not to late to stop your downward slide.

Rest In Peace, Sir






Shocking Inaccuracy from the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Center

In a post on the Carnegie Moscow Center's web site, Andrew Kuchins writes:

The Russian recovery is truly impressive. According to Moscow-based investment bank Troika Dialog, in 1999 Russian GDP in nominal terms was less than $200 billion; in 2006 it'll be close to $1 trillion -- growing at a rate of more than 25% per year, though nominal dollar growth rates will of course taper downward as the ruble appreciates in value.
This statement is so bizarre La Russophobe hardly knows where to begin.

First of all, by what bizarre logic does the Moscow Center choose to rely upon a Russian investment bank, whose raison d'etre is to tout Russia, for statistics about Russia's GDP? Incredibly, Kuchins does not even make an attempt to document the flimsy source he relies on; no person at Troika Diaglog is named much less is a link to the data provided by Kuchins.

Second, was Mr. Kuchins smoking when he wrote that Russia's GDP had "grown at a rate of more than 25% per year"? According to Reuters, which relied on World Bank data, Russia's GDP was $581.4 billion in 2004, up from $431.5 billion in 2003. True, this might appear (to an utter, clueless moron) to be a 34% increase of $149.9 billion, but Reuters indicates that the World Bank reported Russia's rate of GDP growth as only 7.1%. Moreover, Reuters relied on World Bank data published in 2006 which stated that 2004 was the most recent year for which fully reliable data was available. And all that is to say nothing of the fact that $591.4 billion is barely $4,000 per person in Russia, less than $12 per day.

In other words, not only is Kuchin's statement about Russia's 2006 GDP nothing but meaningless speculation, his statements about the growth rate are absurdly misleading, hiding behind the phrase "nominal terms." What Kuchins doesn't see fit to mention is that Russia experienced hyperinflation of consumer prices at a startling rate of 18.1% in 2004, which dramatically undercuts the value of its GDP growth, and changes in the price of oil and currency fluctuations account for virtually all the rest.

Why doesn't Kuchins feel it necessary to mention that, even if Russia's GDP were $1 trillion, that would still only work out to $6,993 per person, $19 per day, five times less than the average for Western Europe.

Why does Kuchins think he can just ignore the fact that the top 10% of Russia's population consumes nearly 25% of its wealth, so that 90% of the population continues to live in squalid poverty?

Above all, how can Kuchins possibly talk about an "impressive" recovery by a country which may have lost as many as 7 million people from its population, 4.6%, over the period of time he is discussing. Some people consider it a crisis that America has taken 2 thousand casualties fighting a war in Iraq.

The only thing that has been remotely impressive about Russia's economic performance over the past seven years is the Kremlin's ability to ride a wave of luck based on oil prices and worldwide terrorism. This wave has allowed it to retain its power and even begin to construct a neo-Soviet Union. But the condition of Russia as a nation, apart from the Kremlin, has dramatically deteriorated in every way that can be measured.

It's understandable that the "Center for International Peace" would be concerned about the world relapsing into a Cold War scenario where it will have little role to play. But perverting facts in order to try to convince the world not to confront the rise of the neo-Soviet state does nothing to advance the cause of world peace. If fact, it only makes things that much worse.





Putin Fails Miserably at Sochi Conference

The Moscow Times reports:

SOCHI, Southern Russia -- President Vladimir Putin and European Union leaders failed to secure an agreement on energy policy at a meeting in Sochi on Thursday in the run-up to the G8's summit in St. Petersburg.

Putin accused European leaders of double standards, maintaining that the EU complained about Gazprom's gas-export monopoly but blocked Russian efforts to tap European energy markets.

The Sochi meeting came at the same time that Russian-U.S. relations have also been strained, with the White House upset with Russia's energy policy, position on Iran's uranium-enrichment program and human-rights record.

"If our European partners expect that we will let them into the holy of holies of our economy -- the energy sector -- and let them in as they would like to be admitted, then we expect reciprocal steps in the most crucial and important areas for our development," the president said.

Putin sounded an optimistic note, too. "The most important thing is that we have a desire to agree on this issue, and we will reach an agreement."

And, for the first time, Putin responded directly to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that Russia is backtracking on democracy, saying Russia was simply pursuing its national interests.

Praise Allah?? Here Come the Uncle Tomski Muslims

Now, the Kremlin seeks to manipuate Islam.

The New York Times reports:

The mosque pictured at the left, now under construction in Chechnya, will hold 10,000 worshipers, making it the largest in the republic. Its minarets will rise 179 feet in the air. It will speak notjust of faith, but of power.

At the dedication of the foundation, the following transpires:

Three circles of barefoot men, one ring inside another, sway to the cadence of chant.

The men stamp in time as they sway, and grunt from the abdomen and throat, filling the room with a primal sound. One voice rises over the rest, singing variants of the names of God.

The men stop, face right and walk counterclockwise, slowly at first, then fast. As they gain speed they begin to hop on their outside feet and draw closer. The three circles merge into a spinning ball.

The ball stops. It opens back up. The stamping resumes, softly at first, then louder. Many of the men are entranced. The air around them hums. The wooden floor shakes. The men turn left and accelerate the other way.

This is a zikr, the mystical Sufi dance of the Caucasus and a ritual near the center of Chechen Islam.

Here inside Chechnya, where Russia has spent six years trying to contain the second Chechen war since the Soviet Union collapsed, traditional forms of religious expression are returning to public life. It is a revival laden with meaning, and with implications that are unclear.

The Kremlin has worried for generations about Islam's influence in the Caucasus, long attacking local Sufi traditions and, in the 1990's, attacking the role of small numbers of foreign Wahhabis, proponents of an austere Arabian interpretation of Islam whom Moscow often accuses of encouraging terrorist attacks.

But Chechnya's Sufi brotherhoods have never been vanquished — not by repression, bans or exile by the czars or Stalin, and not by the Kremlin of late.

Now they are reclaiming a place in public life. What makes the resurgence so unusual is that Sufi practices have become an element of policy for pro-Russian Chechens. Zikr ceremonies are embraced by the kadyrovsky, the Kremlin-backed Chechen force that is assuming much of the administration of this shattered land

Welcome to the Neo-Soviet World Where Lies are Policy

A European food industry website reports that Russia is conducting a food regulatory policy based on absurd lies designed to advance a political agenda. Remember, the Russians who are so concerned about the safety of incoming food have the shortest lifespan of anyone in Europe and any food item produced in Russia may be adulterated with many different types of pollution. Welcome to back to the USSR! If Russians didn't learn that lies won't work as policy when the first USSR failed, they never will.

Russia faking food safety concerns, warns EU

26/05/2006 - Russia is now playing political games with its import ban on Polish meat and vegetables, says the European Commission, warning other member states to tread carefully.Russia's ban on meat and plant products from Poland has become a political matter, Markos Kyprianou, European commissioner for health and consumer protection, told agriculture ministers from the 25 EU states this week.

“Poland has met all the technical requirements legitimately raised by the Russian authorities. Further measures required by Russia go beyond Poland's powers and go against previous agreements with Russia,” Philip Todd, spokesperson for Kyprianou, told Cee-FoodIndustry.com.
The move indicates the Commission is losing patience with Russia, amid concerns the latter has increasingly used food safety to erect trade barriers.

Commissioner Kyprianou warned Europe's agriculture ministers not to “give any kind of reason to Russia to impose a ban”, adding that export controls may need to be strengthened.
Russia has imposed several import bans over the last year, citing food safety concerns, with the most recent coming against Moldovan and Georgian wine.

Russia banned imports of Polish meat last November, following this up with a complete ban on agricultural products. It banned Polish dairy imports the year before that.
Poland normally exports around eight per cent of its yearly agricultural produce to Russia, for around €347m.

Representatives from Poland's new government this week launched an angry tirade against the ongoing import ban at a meeting with agriculture ministers from EU member states. They called again for a united EU front against Russia's political games.

The Commission has already held various discussions with Russia on the issue of food import bans over the last couple of months.

It has so far avoided escalating the dispute, preferring instead to rely on its powers of persuasion. That may change if Russia does not budge, however.

Commission spokesperson Todd said the bloc has insisted that Russia complies with the import regime set down by the World Trade Organisation. “Beyond that, all we can do is raise the issue in a political context,” he said.

Todd confirmed the matter would be pursued further by European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, although the import ban against Poland was not on the official agenda for Thursday's EU-Russia summit.

The EU now has more than a €50bn trade deficit with Russia, although Russia remains the bloc's third largest trade partner, according to Commission figures.

Poland has been trying to make up for lost trade with Russia by selling more in other neighbouring countries, the country's Ministry of Agriculture told Cee-FoodIndustry recently.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kremlin Arrests Russia's Last Elected Governor

The Financial Times reports that the Kremlin has arrested another arch foe, this time the last duly elected governor in Russia's regions:

Alexei Barinov, governor of the oil-rich Nenets region, was arrested yesterday on suspicion of fraud and embezzlement in what local legislators and politicians des-cribed as a politically motivated attack on democracy.

Mr Barinov was the last governor to be elected by popular vote before a new system came into force that allows Vladimir Putin, the president, to appoint regional leaders.

Curbing the independence of Russia's 88 regions and bringing their governors in line with the Kremlin has been one of the main political changes brought by Mr Putin. Mr Barinov is the first regional head to be arrested and detained while in office. The arrest provoked anger in the small region north of the Arctic circle.

Viktor Fomin, a member of local parliament, said it was "a slap in the face" for people who voted for Mr Barinov. "This arrest raises serious questions about the state of democracy in our country."

He said the arrest, coming before parliamentary elections next year and presidential elections in 2008, was meant to show governors what would happen to them if they did not obey the Kremlin's orders.

"First they sent a message to media about what they can and cannot report by expelling Vladimir Gusinsky [the former owner of Russia's largest media holding]. Then they sent a signal to businessmen by jailing Mikhail Khodorkovsky [head of Yukos]. Governors are the next in line."

Victor Turovsky, a spokesman for Mr Barinov, linked the arrest to competition between oil companies. Mr Barinov, a former head of a subsidiary of Lukoil, Russia's largest oil company, had a stormy relationship with Rosneft, an oil group controlled by the state.

According to Mr Turovsky, he had initiated legal proceedings against Rosneft's subsidiary over its alleged failure to pay Rbs900m ($33m, €26m, £18m) to the region under a social responsibility agreement with the company.

Rosneft is chaired by Igor Sechin, the deputy head of the Kremlin administration who is believed to be behind the government's attack on Yukos and who has close links to the country's prosecutor-general.

Mr Barinov has also fallen out with Moscow over the region's representative in the country's upper house of parliament. Sergei Mironov, speaker of the upper house of parliament, demanded that four regions, including Nenets, revoke their sen-ators as part of an anti-corruption campaign launched earlier this month by Mr Putin.

A day after a regionalparliament refused to obey Moscow's order, a team of prosecutors descended on the regional administration, demanding to see the protocols of the parliamentary session, according to Mr Turovsky. He said there was a spontaneous wave of protest against Mr Barinov's arrest in the republic.

Mr Fomin said: "Just because there are only 40,000 people in our region, ourbig brother in Moscow thinks he can wipe his feet on us. People who live here may be small in number but proud in spirit and we will not tolerate it."