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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What's Worse in Russia: Drinking, or Lying about Drinking?

Last week the Kremlin admitted that Russia has 2 million alcoholics, that more than 40,000 Russians are killed each year by alcohol poisoning, according to the Kremlin's data, and it was reported that over the past three weeks 400 people have been hospitalized by alcohol poisoning in the region of Pskov alone, with 15 fatalities. Sound horrific? It would be anyplace other than Russia. In fact, though, this data likely underestimates Russia's problem by several orders of magnitude.

Indeed, the Kremlin's brazen dishonesty is perhaps an even greater problem than drinking. According to experts, "in an adult population where at least three-fourths are drinkers, about 6 percent of the total group are probably alcoholic." That means Russia must have over 6 million alcoholics as defined by Western standards (Russia's adult population is about 110 million), and Russia is one of the most severe abusers of alcohol in the world, so the actual share of its population that is afflicted is probably far greater. So either Russia is defining "alcoholic" in a way so extreme as to exclude two-thirds of the population, or it simply lying about the number. Either way, it's not suprising that the problem only gets worse. At the same time, it's perfectly possible that the government is simply incapable of determining what share of its population is afflicted, and just guessing. This kind of thing is what passes for "social policy" in Russia and explains why the population falls by up to 1 million each year.

The simple fact is that, being governed by a clan of proud KGB spies, not one single word the Kremlin utters can be taken at face value. This lack of credibilty alone is good enough reason to condemn the election of a proud KGB spy as president. Without basic information that is credible, it's impossible to establish a civilized, prosperous society.

Annals of Cold War: Russia is #1 . . . in selling weapons to the world!

The New York Times reports that Neo-Soviet Russia is now the world's leading arms merchant, surpassing the U.S. in dealing instruments of destruction. Nearly one out of every four dollars spent on weapons by developing nations goes to Russia.

Russia surpassed the United States in 2005 as the leader in weapons deals with the developing world, and its new agreements included selling $700 million in surface-to-air missiles to Iran and eight new aerial refueling tankers to China, according to a new Congressional study. Those weapons deals were part of the highly competitive global arms bazaar in the developing world that grew to $30.2 billion in 2005, up from $26.4 billion in 2004. It is a market that the United States has regularly dominated.

Russia’s agreements with Iran are not the biggest part of its total sales — India and China are its principal buyers. But the sales to improve Iran’s air-defense system are particularly troubling to the United States because they would complicate the task of Pentagon planners should the president order airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

The Bush administration has vowed a diplomatic solution in dealing with Iran. But as United Nations diplomats argue over potential sanctions against Iran for its nuclear ambitions, Russian officials have expressed reluctance to vote for the most stringent economic sanctions, partly owing to Moscow’s extensive trade relations with Tehran.

Russia’s weapons sales to China also worry Pentagon planners. Although China has joined the United States in partnership to press for a resumption of six-party talks to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program after its recent test, Taiwan remains a potential flash point between Beijing and Washington.

Thus, China’s ability to refuel its attack planes and bombers to enable them to fly farther from Chinese soil could require the United States Navy to operate even farther out to sea should the United States military be called to deal with a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. That would have an impact on the range and number of air missions of United States Navy aircraft launched from carriers.

Details of the specific weapons deals in the global arms trade last year are included in an annual study by the Congressional Research Service that is considered the most thorough compilation of statistics available in an unclassified form. The report was delivered to members of Congress on Friday.

Among other arms transfers described in the study was a statistic that a single, unnamed nation — but one identified separately by Pentagon and other administration officials to be North Korea — shipped about 40 ballistic missiles to other nations in the four-year period ending in 2005, the only nation to have done so. Transfers of these weapons are prohibited under international agreements to control the trade of ballistic missiles.

United Nations sanctions passed earlier this month after the North Korean nuclear test include a new and specific ban on trade or transport of ballistic missiles and missile parts to or from North Korea.

The report, entitled “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations,” found that Russia’s arms agreements with the developing world totaled $7 billion in 2005, an increase from its $5.4 billion in sales in 2004. That figure surpassed the United States’ annual sales agreements to the developing world for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. France ranked second in arms transfer agreements to developing nations, with $6.3 billion, and the United States was third, with $6.2 billion.

The leading buyer in the developing world in 2005 was India, with $5.4 billion in weapons purchases, followed by Saudi Arabia with $3.4 billion and China with $2.8 billion.

The total value of all arms sales deals worldwide, when counting both developing and developed nations, in 2005 was $44.2 billion.

The Russian sales in 2005 included 29 of the SA-15 Gauntlet surface-to-air missile systems for Iran; Russia also signed deals to upgrade Iran’s Su-24 bombers and MIG-29 fighter aircraft, as well as its T-72 battle tanks. “For a period of time, in the mid-1990s, the Russian government agreed not to make new advanced weapons sales to the Iran government,” wrote Richard F. Grimmett, author of the study by the Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress. “That agreement has since been rescinded by Russia. As the U.S. focuses increasing attention on Iran’s efforts to enhance its nuclear as well as conventional military capabilities, major arms transfers to Iran continue to be a matter of concern.”

Russia also agreed in 2005 to sell China eight of the IL-78M aerial refueling tanker aircraft, according to the study.

In 2005, the United States led in total arms transfer agreements, when deals to both developed and developing nations are combined. The total was $12.8 billion, down from $13.2 billion in 2004.

The report charted no blockbuster military sales deals by the United States in 2005, and the total in many ways was reached by sales of spare parts for weapons purchased under previous contracts.

France ranked second in total sales, with $7.9 billion, up from $2.2 billion in 2004. Russia was third when sales to developing and developed nations were combined, with $7.4 billion, up from $5.6 billion in 2004.

The study uses figures in 2005 dollars, with amounts for previous years adjusted to account for inflation.

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Empire

A fellow in the former Soviet slave state of Macedonia, an other such place now actively seeking to join NATO out of fear of Russian imperial designs, has given a group of Russian diplomats "five good reasons" to consider leaving his country, as ITAR-TASS reports:

Four employees of the Russian embassy in Macedonia have been attacked, a source at the Macedonian Interior Ministry told Itar-Tass on Sunday. The incident happened on Saturday evening. The four diplomats were about to leave a cafй on the central square of Skopje when a young man approached them and suddenly hit one of the diplomats. The cafй security joined the brawl when the diplomats went out. All in all, ten to twelve people took part in the attack. The diplomats were injured. They received medical aid at the Skopje hospital and were discharged for further treatment at home. The police are looking for the attackers. The Russian Foreign Ministry will make a protest, the source said.

Meanwhile, Russia has censored a Georgian television station operating in Moscow, knocking it off the air. Red Orbit reports from Echo Moskvy:

A cable TV channel broadcasting news and programmes in the Georgian language has been taken off the air in the town of Lobnya, in Moscow Region. Ajaria TV has now been replaced with a music channel. The [cable network] operator switched the channel off after it had received a phone call from the authorities telling it to stop anti-Russian propaganda, a member of the cable network operator's staff has told Novaya Gazeta [newspaper]. The source did not specify the department where the phone call had come from.

John McCain slammed Russia's "nostalgia" for Neo-Soviet imperial designs:

Arizona senator and likely presidential candidate John McCain charged Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “seeking to re-establish the Russian empire using petro-dollars to do it as he bullies and threatens his neighbors.” The Republican senator made the comments during a rally at the Elks Lodge in support of U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District. McCain, in warning his listeners that “this is a very dangerous world,” included Russia along with the usual suspects, such as Iran and North Korea. McCain said that given the dangerous complexities the nation faces, it is paramount to return Simmons — a man with military and CIA experience — to office. Simmons faces Democratic challenger Joe Courtney, a former state legislator, in the Nov. 7 election. At a brief news conference following the rally, McCain said he was not suggesting that Russia is a military threat to the United States, as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. But it is troubling, he said, that Russia is not following the path to democracy that had been hoped for when the Soviet Union collapsed. “Every indication is that Putin has gone the way of autocracy and is nostalgic for the days of the Russian empire,” McCain said. “It's obvious the path they're on is certainly not one toward democracy.” He cited the repression of the independent press, the slaying of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and continued presence of Russian military bases in Georgia, against the Georgians' will, as reasons for concern.

And they say AMERICA has no culture?


What does this look like to you? Does it look like the world's largest monument to utter incompetence? Is it simply the ugliest thing you've ever seen?

It's actually Russia's proof of how much more culture, taste and style it has compared to America. It's a 100-foot tall "monument" by Moscow sculptor Zurab Tsereteli called the "Tear of Sorrow" and supposedly commemorating victims of terrorism in the United States as a gift of the government of Russia. It's so ugly that when in September 2003, the mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, agreed to have the monument erected on a Hudson River peer overlooking the World Trade Center redevelopment site, there was such a violent outcry from the local residents that the mayor was forced to rescind his offer. Tsereteli then spent the next two years trying to find a spot to erect his monstrosity, and ultimately got persmission to raise it in lowly, woebegotten Bayonne, where it was dedicated on September 11, 2006 -- but only after it was discovered that the plaque on the monument listing the names of those killed in the 9/11 attack included dozens of people who were still alive. At the ceremony, Tsereteli propagandized by stating: “All that I can say is in front of you. This Tear of Sorrow will become a tear of joy if the U.S. and Russia unite in the fight against terrorism.”

So let's see now. Two one-hundred-foot-tall presents in the area from foreign governments to the U.S. for Americans to review and compare (not that anyone is actually going to drag themselves all the way out to godawful Bayonne, but just theoretically speaking). One is the French Statute of Liberty and one is the Russian Tear of Sorrow. Well, perhaps the ghastly thing will serve a useful purpose after all. And if Russia continues down the path it is currently on, it will make a perfect tombstone for the nation that destroyed itself.


Averko and Guillory Sitting in a Tree?

Here's what esteemed Economist analyst Edward Lucas says on his blog about wacko Russian nationalist Mike Averko's e-mail "newsletter" -- which Averko started sending out because of his belief that David Johnson's e-mail newsletter didn't contain enough pro-Russian propaganda:

I disagree with every word in it. [His] oddly forgetful approach to important facts may undermine in some eyes Averko’s argument about “censorship” in “Anglo-American mass media”

Lucas was commenting on Averko's argument that America is just like Russia, killing off famous journalists like Politkovskaya right and left, so there's no reason for Americans to get all worked up about her killing.

Here's how Averko characterized Lucas's statements about him on Sean's Russia blog, where he's now apparently come to roost, without linking to to them so readers could see the full context:

Please give my regards to Edward Lucas, who (at his blog) endorses my Quick Takes mailing list on Russia and other international issues.

In other words, typical Averko dishonesty and propaganda. Lucas clearly stated that he disagreed with every word in Averko's posts and that they were not reliable because of Averko's "oddly forgetful" approach to facts. So although Lucas did write that " I strongly recommend [Averko's email] for anyone interested in Russia and the neighbourhood," it seems quite clear that, in context, he meant that it's a rich resource of crazed Russophile propaganda which those interested in Russia must contend with when they screen information about the country.

The fact that Sean Guillory has attracted the interest of Averko is not surprising given Sean's amazing recent statement that America is a threat to Russian security, ignoring any possibility that the opposite could be true, and his statement that America isn't a democracy. Sean writes: "After how the US treated Russia in the 1990s and the history of American foreign policy, I really don't see that ever happening. I think that Russia views the US penetration in Central Asia and the Caucauses as a threat, and rightly so in my opinion." Indeed. US penetration at Normandy on D-Day was a threat to Hitler, too. And rightly so, in La Russophobe's opinion. Perhaps Sean thinks Hitler ought to have been left well enough alone.

David McDuff exposes the shockingly anti-American attitude of academics like Sean (who has recently called President Bush and "idiot" and said "take a look in the mirror, sister" to Secretary of State Rice). McDuff reports:

Shmuel Rosner has a post on a new survey of attitudes to world affairs among U.S. university and academic staff. As he says, the results are either funny or sad. They certainly make for reflection. Excerpt: Faculty see the United States as a greater threat to world stability than Russia by a ratio of 7-to-1. Nearly half of humanities faculty, 46%, see the United States as a threat to international stability, as do 34% of social science faculty. Faculty attitudes toward America look very similar to the attitudes of Europeans. A recent poll for the Financial Times reported that 36% of Europeans identify the United States as the greatest threat to international stability. About 12% of faculty see Israel as a great threat to international stability. Looked at another way, 41% of faculty see the United States and Israel combined as the greatest threats, compared to China and Russia combined, with 23%. For humanities faculty, 56% list the United States and Israel, compared to 20% who name China and Russia combined, or 41% who list China, Russia, and Iran combined.
Isn't it strange how these folks think Americans commit a crime when they express Russophobia, but see no problem in their own anti-Americanism? Perhaps this is the reason that Republicans have dominated American electoral politics for so many years. These people are so far out of touch with the people in their own country that they might as well be living in a different one, but they haven't got the courage to make one of their own so they are left stewing in their own hatred, which is really self-loathing. An academic like Sean might ask in response what America has done to provoke all this ire. Yet, he doesn't ask that question of Russia when it comes to America's "penetration" in Central Asia, now does he? What has Russia done to make America think it must take such action? Sean apparently couldn't care less (or maybe he thinks Russia is simply innocent as a lamb). He doesn't mention whether the U.S. should see Russia's providing of massive economic assistance to Cuba and massive military assistance to Venezuela as a threat, either. If they are, perhaps Sean thinks Russia is perfectly justified in threatening the US in this way, if the US has the audacity to try to help the former Soviet slave states break free from Russian imperialism.

Sean states: "[A]nyone still believing that there is still democracy in America is still stuck on gazing at the trees despite the forest." His source for this shocking news? Why, it's the that heavyweight journal of democratic politics Rolling Stone magazine and the brilliant "analysis" of Matt Taibbi, former "reporter" for eXile. Taibbi's view of the U.S. Congress, which Sean finds worthy of extensive quoting, is that it is a "Belarus-style rubber stamp" and that Republicans exhibit "some of the most mind-blowingly juvenile behavior seen in any parliament west of the Russian Duma after happy hour." It's not surprising that the only outlet for "analysis" of this kind is Rolling Stone.

Neither Sean nor Matt nor Mike seem to have even a basic grasp of the American Constitution; under it, Congress is supposed to be highly inefficient and unproductive. That's why it creates an elaborate system of two radically different bodies which must both agree before any initiative can be taken. The purpose was not to advance policy agendas but to prevent dictatorship. Most of the legislative power is reserved by the Constitution to state governments. This is, of course, very frustrating to left-wing socialists types with grandiose schemes for national salvation, but in two hundred years they've not succeeded in altering it because it's what the vast majority of the people in the country want.

La Russophobe is prepared to make a little wager: She bets that Sean can't name his representative in the California assembly, and has never tried to communicate with her/him on any policy issue. She bets he's never attended a local school board meeting, never campaigned for a candidate for his city council or attended a council meeting, never worked in a democratic way one single day in his life to solve any kind of real problem in people's lives. In other words, he doesn't have a shred of real information about whether democracy exists in America or not. He seems oblivious of the fact that control of the corridors of power in Washington DC has peacefully switched back and forth dozens of times between rival American parties over the past two hundred years, while neither Russia nor Belarus have ever done that once in their whole histories, and that most of the real political power in America lies at the state and local level, not in Washington, the level to which Sean pays no attention whatsoever.

Sean's seething, mouth-frothing hatred of Republicans (in the classic model of scholarly, enlightened discourse he calls them "incompetent, lazy, and corrupt assholes that have driven American democracy into the ground") is rather ironic -- his attitude towads them smacks of exactly the attitude he purports to condemn in them. Sean's problem isn't that the U.S. isn't democratic, it's that it is. In other words, what he objects to is not that the government doesn't do what the people want, but that it does. His actual problem is that the government doesn't do what Sean wants. Sean is an unusual person, dramatically different from most Americans, who don't choose to spend most of their time studying Russian history. The vast majority of Americans are religious, Sean is an athiest. The vast majority of Americans give different answers to key political questions than Sean gives, think differently than he does, and he just can't stand that. If Sean had his way, the vast majority of people in the U.S. would feel that the country wasn't democratic, but it seems that wouldn't bother Sean one little bit. Perhaps he's a "democrat" in the same way Lenin was; he thinks he knows what's best for Americans and that they themselves have no clue. He thinks America is a bigger threat to world security and democracy than Russia is, and he wants to declaw America for its own good. And he'll "handle" anyone who thinks differently, branding them an "idiot" or an "asshole" and sending them off for reducation, all the while claiming he's a "democrat."

It's more than a little ironic, too, that America's America-hating academics like Sean continually preach the gospel that America is evil and yet continue to profit from it by working in universities sponsored by that government, and meanwhile hypocritically continue to castigate America for preaching the gospel that any other country is evil, arguing such an attitude is narrow-minded and ignorant. Sean's blog has a counter showing the rising cost of the war in Iraq (what this has to do with a Russia blog is anybody's guess, Sean hasn't got a counter for the rising cost of the war in Chechnya), yet he attacks America in exactly the same way that he claims America has attacked Iraq, harshly and recklessly. Where's the counter for the damage done by that?

The seething contempt Sean seems to have for present-day America can't help but color his judgment where Russia is concerned, and it clearly does. That's why he's attracted the likes of Mike Averko as a commenter to his blog. But Sean's a smart guy in many ways and his blog contains a good deal of helpful information about Russia, so perhaps he'll reverse course before it is too late and Averko starts quoting him in his emails. We shall see.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Day of Soviet Political Prisoners!

Interfax reports that today used to be the annual day in Russia for commemorating Soviet political repression. Apparently, Russians now think that repression was a good idea, as the subsequent post on Vladimir Rakhmankov illustrates.

There are some 900,000 victims of political reprisals in Russia, according to the Memorial international charitable human rights society. "Among them are those who suffered political repression and also members of their families, and most of them are elderly people whose ranks are thinning," the Memorial's Executive Director Yelena Zhemkova told Interfax on Sunday.

Victims of political repression will be commemorated in Russia on Monday, October 30. This date was formerly observed as the Day of Soviet Political Prisoners. Zhemkova complained that authorities have not been attentive enough to victims of political reprisals. "The recent shift from social benefits to cash payments had an impact on the Law on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, passed 15 years ago, causing the victims' living standards to fall. Matters related to social benefits for victims of political reprisals were relegated to regional authoritieis. Of course, those residing in Moscow and St.Petersburg are better off than in poorer regions. Therefore, ex-prisoners of the same concentration camp, who live in different regions, are entitled to different cash benefits," Zhemkova said.

Rakhmankov Convicted

The International Herald Tribune reports that only days after the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya blogger Vladimir Rakhmankov has been convicted of "insulting the president" and fined the equivalent of two and half months' average salary by an Ivanovo court (that's like fining an American journalist $10,000 after he watches Mike Wallace get assassinated -- how much more reporting do you think he'd do?). In the post that follows this one, we see more evidence of the Kremlin's crackdown on the Internet.

A media rights group on Friday denounced the conviction of a Russian journalist who has been fined for writing a satirical article about President Vladimir Putin, saying the court's decision underlined shrinking media freedom in Russia. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders condemned the conviction of Vladimir Rakhmankov as "utterly grotesque." Rakhmankov, editor of the online publication Kursiv in the city of Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow, was sentenced earlier this week to pay a 20,000-ruble (US$750, €600) fine by a court on charges of insulting the president in an article headlined, "Putin as Russia's phallic symbol."

"Prosecuting a journalist on a charge of insult because of a satirical article is a flagrant violation of free expression," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "The situation of Russian journalists in the provinces is often very tough because of the high degree of concentration of authority," it added. Rakhmankov's article, published in May, poked fun at Putin's state-of-the-nation address, in which the president called for measures to boost the country's birth rate, which is dwindling. The publication suggested that animals at a local zoo eagerly heeded Putin's call, Russian media reported. Local prosecutors launched an investigation on their own initiative and without the Kremlin making any public statements about the case. Since taking office more than six years ago, Putin has presided over what critics say is a steady rollback in press freedoms won since the Soviet collapse. Top independent television stations have been shut down and print media have also experienced growing official pressure. The shrinking press freedom in Russia was spotlighted by the Oct. 7 killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed killings, torture and other abuses against civilians in Chechnya. Politkovskaya's contract-style murder in her apartment building set off a chorus of protest from foreign governments and international organizations.

Sharp & Sound on the Blogosphere Brouhaha

Sharp & Sound's Evegeny Morozov, a columnist for the Russian newspaper Akzia, had a piece in the International Herald Tribune with more detail on the "Zhe-Zhe" brouhaha. It turns out that what's actually happening is yet another Kremlin push to control the Internet, with a smokescreen attacking America for doing the same.

If you are an aspiring dictator looking for ways to muzzle the independent media, do a stint in Moscow. The Kremlin's successful recipe has been at work for a decade. First, take a reclusive oligarch who made his fortune by financing murky privatization deals in the 1990s but remained loyal to the regime. Then, throw in some elections, for which the regime would require media assistance. Have the oligarch buy some lucrative media asset enshrined by the Russian intelligentsia. Finally, find a controversial figure to run it.

Russians have been eating this cake ever since former President Boris Yeltsin's reelection in 1996 was at stake. A decade later, the consolidation of Russian media in the hands of people and institutions affiliated with Kremlin has been almost completed. But as independent media were fighting for survival, many dissidents found asylum online. Banned from television, radio and many newspapers, they had no choice but to start blogging. Liberals and nationalists, Communists and reformers - all sorts of commentators that never fit with the Kremlin-controlled media - became not only visible, but appealing to the most dynamic sector of the Russian electorate: the youth.

By 2006, the number of Russian blogs hit the 1,000,000 mark. Surprisingly, most of them are hosted on a popular American service LiveJournal, not on a domestic blogging service. There are quite subtle explanations for LiveJournal's popularity: Many Russians would not trust a Russian company to handle their personal information like passwords and credit cards, nor would they want to be subject to Russia's draconian legal system and "dialogues" with the secret services. Therefore, when a two month-old Russian start-up with the funky name of Sup ("soup" in English) announced last week that it would take over the Cyrillic segment of LiveJournal from its American parent, the Russian blogosphere exploded with buzz.

Plenty of speculation about the Kremlin's vicious plan to control and censor the blogosphere flooded the Internet. In a country that still mourns over the recent murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of its most critical voices, many think that a crackdown on bloggers is long overdue. What's so pernicious about the deal is that it replicates the very Kremlin model that poisoned the rest of the Russian media. All ingredients are in order. The oligarch (Aleksandr Mamut, one of the few oligarchs who made a smooth transition between the regimes, owns Sup); the upcoming 2007 and 2008 elections; the independent media asset with tremendous popularity; and the controversial figure in charge (Sup's chief blogging officer is Anton Nossik, the father of the Russian Internet and, among other things, a former associate of Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin's spindoctor).

Sup already announced the creation of an "abuse team." Typically, abuse teams monitor, warn and suspend blogs that post inappropriate content; prior to the deal, this function was performed by LiveJournal's American abuse team. Given Sup's roots and potential ideology, one can hardly expect that the scope of discussions allowed on the Russian Internet will increase. If history is anything to judge by, the days of the Russian blogosphere buzzing with criticial opinions are numbered. Unfortunately, a simple solution of migrating to another blog service would only disrupt the existing communication networks that have made LiveJournal so popular.The truly extremist bloggers represent very tiny and rather isolated communities, which will easily migrate elsewhere.

But thousands of more mainstream bloggers, who have filled in the void left by the disappearance of independent media, will become divided, some of them falling for the Sup offer, some of them migrating to other services, and some of them stopping to blog altogether (a trend that has started after Sup's announcement). Thus, with the direct or indirect assistance from Sup, the Kremlin will manage to burden and, perhaps, even reverse the process that has made opinion-sharing in Russia so easy. Who would be to blame for destroying a viable and vibrant public forum and turning it into another Kremlin- medicated sanatorium? Nossik, Sup's blog boss, who increasingly resembles Ivan the Terrible killing his son in that famous Repin painting, should top anyone's list of suspects.

Annals of Managed Democracy

The Moscow Times fills us in on the details of a Neo-Soviet "press conference":

"After the words 'his citizens' -- uproarious applause.

"After the words 'Ask a question to the president of Russia' -- hands should go up.

"First question -- from a veteran. Then -- from the plant."

These were just some of the instructions doled out to Irina Yashina shortly before watching President Vladimir Putin in a live, televised Q&A session Wednesday.

Yashina, an editor at the Zavodskaya Pravda newspaper, run by the Dagdizel heavy machinery plant in Kaspiysk, Dagestan, was assigned the "plant" question.

The question, as it turned out, was a plea for the president to press the Defense Ministry to order more torpedoes and other military hardware made in Kaspiysk.

The city in the North Caucasus was one of 10 locales specially selected for television uplinks during the three-hour session with the president, which was broadcast on state-run Channel One and Rossia.

Within hours following the afternoon call-in show, reports surfaced of officials' behind-the-scenes efforts to make sure the president's PR offensive came off without a hitch.

Natalya Krainova, a Dagestani journalist, said in an interview Thursday that when she asked Yashina how the uplink with Putin had gone, Yashina gave her the piece of paper with the instructions on it.

Krainova said Yashina insisted she had written the instructions herself last week and learned them by heart.

"This sounds strange, given that the instructions on the paper included how to behave during the uplink," Krainova noted.

Orders not to drink, smoke or chew during the broadcast were issued to a crowd in Irkutsk that had gathered for the uplink there, Regnum News Agency reported.

Regional authorities and Rossia television crews carefully managed everything that respondents in Bryansk, Baltiisk and Nakhodka said and did during their exchange with Putin, Gazeta.ru reported.

A Kremlin official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said preparation for the uplinks was handled by television reporters, who traveled to the uplink sites well in advance of the seemingly informal show. The official added that no one in the presidential administration told questioners which questions to ask.

Spokespersons for the All-Russia Television and Radio Broadcast Company, which runs Rossia, declined to comment.

Yashina could not be reached in her office Thursday.

On multiple occasions, a call was put through to her phone, and each time someone on the other end picked up and immediately hung up the phone.

Russian Racism: Does the Right Hand Know What the Left Hand is doing in Britain?

The International Herald Tribune reports that the British Foriegn Office has issued a report stingingly attacking Russia's human rights record, and Russia has responded with typical defensiveness and lack of reform. Now if only the Foreign Office would speak to the Home Office and convince them to stop denying reqests for asylum from the victims of racial injustice in Russia because, according to the Home Office, there isn't any.

Russia on Friday angrily dismissed British criticism of the nation's human rights record, saying it reflected bias and "double standards." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement that the criticism of Russia contained in the British Foreign Office's annual human rights report was "based on distorted perceptions of the real state of affairs and fraught with gross mistakes and references to unverified sources." In its report, the Foreign Office voiced concern about the human rights situation in Russia, which holds the rotating chairmanship in the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations this year and hosted its summit in St.Petersburg in July. "Nationalism, public mistrust of the criminal justice system and state influence and control of the media are all increasingly worrying issues in Russia," the Foreign Office said. It also reaffirmed concerns about continuing human rights abuses in Chechnya and other provinces in Russia's restive North Caucasus region.

"The North Caucasus remains the region where human rights abuses give rise to the most serious concern," it said."Notwithstanding a reduction in the number of reported human rights abuses, the situation in the region remains one of Europe's most serious human rights issues." Kamynin angrily dismissed the criticism and sought to turn the tables on British authorities, accusing London of the failure to extradite people who were facing terror charges in Russia — an apparent reference to Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev. Moscow was angered by the failure to obtain the extradition of Zakayev who is wanted in Russia on murder and kidnapping charges. Zakayev, who had served as aide to the late Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, was given refuge in Britain in 2003. "One has the impression that London is still unaware of the counterproductive and fruitless character of attempts to use double standards in the human rights sphere and to politicize the human rights theme," Kamynin said in the statement. Russia has bristled at Western criticism of a rollback on democratic freedom under President Vladimir Putin, again highlighted by the Oct.7 contract-style killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed killings, torture and other abuses against civilians in Chechnya.

Read the full Foreign Office report here. Read the Russia report starting on page 86 of this document.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Sunday Photos: Marina Litvinovich, Russian Patriot















If you don't know Marina Litvinovich (above, pictured), you should. For starters, there's no page in Wikipedia about her, and somebody should consider writing one (being a crusader, La Russophobe herself is not a suitable candidate, too easily accused of bias). For another, there are only 500 hits for her name on Google. La Russophobe has 20,000. That's a cosmic outrage. Her only defense against Kremlin violence is notoriety and direct support from the West, clearly indicating there will be a price to pay if she is harmed. This must begin now. We are responsible. Her name and story needs to be injected into the mainstream media, where she has had virtually no recognition. That's negligence on their part, plain and simple.

Marina is a genuine Russian patriot and hero, in the mold of Anna Politkovskaya and Lidia Yusupova (isn't it an interesting pattern that so many modern Russian heroes are female?). She operates a blog (in Russian) called Abstrict2001 at Live Journal and has a played a number of significant roles in the modern Russian political debate. She has served as chief of staff to Irina Khakamada, liberal legislator. She is a key advisor to liberal presidential challenger Garry Kasparov. She publishes a website called The Truth About Beslan (also in Russian) in which she investigates the Kremlin coverup of its outrageous conduct during the Beslan hostage crisis. Like Politkovskaya, she has defiantely probed the truth about Beslan by interviewing key figures involved in the events and publishing their accounts. She's been arrested by the Kremlin for taking part in public protests over its conduct regarding Beslan and she's participated in wide variety of other protests, including those to oppose the cruelty of hazing in Russia's military. Finally, she heads the Aid to Victims of Terror Foundation, whose work has been praised by Freedom House. In other words, she does more in any given day (indeed, any hour) to serve the interests of Russia than Vladimir Putin will do in his entire lifetime.

For her service to her country, Marina has been repaid in the classic Russian manner: Brutal physical assault by cowards in the darkness. On Monday, March 20, 2006, for instance Marina was attacked from behind as she headed her car just after 9 pm. She had valuables on her person which were left untouched. Here's how Masha Gessen described the incident:

Monday night, Kasparov's right-hand person, the political consultant Marina Litvinovich, left the United Civil Front office just after 9. About an hour later, she opened her eyes to discover that she was lying on a cellar awning and someone was trying to ascertain if she was all right. She was not: She had apparently been knocked unconscious by a blow or several blows to the head. She had been badly beaten, was bruised all over, and was missing two of her front teeth. Nothing had been taken from her: not her notebook computer or cell phone or money. She spent three or four hours in the emergency room that night, and she spent another three or four at the police station the following day. She found the police to be extraordinarily polite and considerate -- and, as the organizer of many of Kasparov's public speaking events and any number of protests, Litvinovich is something of an expert on police behavior. Some higher-up had apparently been sent down to the station to handle her case. At the same time, she told me, "I am not stupid and I could see what they were getting at: that I was just walking down the street and passed out. That I must be in poor health." Litvinovich is 31 years old and healthy. "And that I fell in such an unfortunate manner that I got bruised all over." Litvinovich has a bruise on her leg that, the doctors told her, was probably caused by a blow with a rubber baton. The police suggested it may have been a car bumper. Litvinovich pointed out that her clothes were so clean that she was wearing the same trousers and coat the following day. She clearly was not hit by a Moscow car. Moreover, this is one of several signs that she was attacked by professionals: She must have been held while she was beaten, then laid carefully on the awning on which she found herself. In other words, the attack was a message. The pristine execution and the fact that Litvinovich's valuables were not touched serve to underscore this. So what's the content of this message? Another young political consultant, an up-and-coming member of the Kremlin's Public Chamber, Alexei Chadayev, put the message forward in his blog: "Women should not be in this line of work. ... Marina is on the warpath, and no one ever said this war would be conducted according to rules." This is this country's ruling regime speaking. Its message is crude: as simple as a rubber baton, as brutal as a blow to a young woman's face. If you are going to oppose the Kremlin, it is saying, this will happen to you.
That wasn't the first time Marina has been physically attacked, proving the power of her work and the utter cowardice and impotence of those who oppose her, who cannot face her on any remotely civilized terms and can only resort to the crude violence of an animal.

Like Politkovskaya, Marina is also working to document the horrors of the Kremlin's conduct in Chechnya. Reader Jeremy Putley directs us to some recent photos she has taken there, documenting the Kremlin's total failure to rebuild the country after its brutal assault.



A building in the center of downtown Grozny,
Capital of Chechnya, Spring 2006, with Marina in the foregoround.


Another such building.


Marina writes: "In Grozny the people live in half-wrecked houses. Bomb craters are the only places left vacant. Any building somehow left standing contains occupants, even where there are gigantic voids in the structure that make them unsuitable and unsafe for living. The city is full of waste piles and rats, and the homes are without utilities or sanitary facilities."

An interior from such a "home."

A billboard urges Chechens to "crawl out of the darkness, it's time to pay your taxes."
Marina adds: "It's also time to rebuild their homes."

You can find other photographs of Chechnya, including these, taken by Marina here, here and here.

More (and more, and more) Racial Outrage in Russia

The Moscow News reports on not one not two but three more ghastly setbacks for the cause of racial justice in Russia, showing only too painfully how necessary Russian heros like Marina Litvinovich (see above) really are. Both Russia's civil and criminal courts repeatedly fail to deliver basic justice to its citizens of color.

RACE KILLER ACQUITTED

A Russian non-guilty verdict for all the accused of the murder of a Vietnamese student went against the evidence and public opinion in the two countries, Vietnam ’s Foreign Ministry has said, the Vietnam News Agency reported. The verdict, by which a St Petersburg court acquitted 17 young men of the 2004 killing of student Vu Anh Tuan last week, could “negatively impact the feelings between the two peoples, seen as a valuable asset,” the ministry said in a diplomatic note which was conveyed to the Russian Ambassador to Vietnam Vadim Serafimov.The defendants were charged with gang-murdering Tuan, then a 20-year-old student at the St. Petersburg Polytechnic Institute out of racial hatred.An autopsy revealed Tuan suffered 37 stab wounds.The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry expressed its “deep concern” over the murder case, asking the Russian side to take measures to quickly investigate and determine the identity of Tuan’s murderer.Ambassador Serafimov told Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Phu Binh, who conveyed the message that the investigation into the death of Tuan was not yet over.The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a message to the Supreme Procuracy, the Supreme Court and the Interior Ministry informing them of Vietnam ’s opinion, the Russian diplomat said.He pledged to forward the diplomatic note to Russia immediately and ask relevant authorities to bring to court quickly the persons responsible for Tuan’s death.

COMPENSATION FOR RACE ATTACK DENIED

A court in Moscow rejected a claim filed by a Tajik migrant who had been injured by a Moscow policeman in the city metro two years ago, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported. The worker, Rustam Baibekov, had claimed 1 million rubles in moral damages from the Interior Ministry of Russia after he was wounded by a policeman. The policeman, Boris Kostruba, was found guilty of a murder attempt and sentenced to 9 years in prison last year. He had been charged under several articles of the penal code envisaging punishment for attempted murder, abuse of office and storage of illegal arms. On July 31, 2004, Kostruba shot a 20-year-old migrant worker from Tajikistan , Rustam Baibekov, in the mouth for attempting to enter a subway station without paying the fare. Baibekov attempted to enter the station together with his friend by paying only for one person. According to the investigation, Kostruba detained Baibekov, found he had no Moscow registration, demanded money from him and after a refusal shot him in the mouth. The sergeant was detained immediately after the incident.Baibekov survived after being taken to the hospital. The bullet hit his neck and passed out over his shoulder-blade.After the incident, senior subway police officers lost their posts. Police in Moscow routinely stop people from the Caucasus and Central Asia for identity document checks.

UZBEK DEPORTED

A leading international rights group has harshly criticized Russia’s decision to deport an Uzbek national to his home country despite a last-minute order by the European Court of Human Rights that the deportation be stayed pending a review.Russia has deported an Uzbek man to his home country despite a last-minute order by the European Court of Human Rights that the deportation be stayed pending a review, Washington Post reported. Rustam Muminov was sent back to Uzbekistan on Tuesday evening, about 20 minutes after the court, whose decisions are legally binding on Russia, issued an injunction to stop the deportation.“Our greatest concern is for Muminov’s protection from torture or other ill treatment,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Russia must take immediate steps to reverse its action of placing Muminov in harm’s way.”Muminov was detained on Oct. 17 at the offices of a migrants’ rights group in Moscow. He is wanted in Uzbekistan on charges of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organization that is banned in the Central Asian republic. Uzbekistan has a documented history of torturing prisoners, according to human rights organizations.In August, Russian authorities halted the deportation of 13 Uzbeks after the European Court intervened. The court, located in Strasbourg, France, enforces the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, drawn up by the Council of Europe, an international body founded after World War II to defend human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.Russia ratified the convention in 1998, agreeing to accept the court’s decisions as binding. It is unusual for Russia to openly flout court rulings, and it was unclear whether officials here were aware of the ruling in sufficient time to stop the deportation.“The very fact that the European Court urgently issued an interim measure in Muminov’s case indicates just how serious his claim to harm is,” Cartner said. “It’s astounding that Russian authorities could have permitted this deportation to go forward.”Russia currently holds the rotating chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.Human Rights Watch said the deportation also appeared to violate Russian law because it took place before Muminov had a chance to appeal the deportation order. A hearing was scheduled to be heard in Moscow on Thursday.Muminov was first detained in Lipetsk, about 250 miles southeast of Moscow, in February. The Russian prosecutor general’s office declined to press Uzbekistan’s extradition request, but local officials detained Muminov again after his release in September, this time on a charge that he lacked a residence permit.

Uh-oh . . . How far from another meltdown is Russia?

Despite being a so-called "energy superpower," Russia continually faces nationwide brownouts and blackouts of electricty. Is demand outstripping supply, forcing nuclear stations to work overtime and risking another Chernobyl-like meltdown? RIA Novosti reports:

The second generating unit of the Leningradskaya nuclear power plant near Russia's second largest city of St. Petersburg was shut down Saturday by an emergency protection system due to heavy winds, a Rosenergoatom spokesman said. "An emergency situation was caused by a storm which hit the region," the spokesman for the state-run nuclear power generating monopoly said. He said emergency shutdown of the unit's turbo generator No.3 took place at 6.58 Moscow time (2.58 a.m. GMT) after a 350-KV high-voltage cable short circuit. The turbine No.4 was shut at 7.15 Moscow time (3.15 a.m. GMT). Background radiation at the plant and surrounding areas does not exceed the permitted level, he said.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Annals of Russian Failure Part I: Yet Another Conviction for Russia in the ECHR

The AFP reports that on Thursday Russia received yet another conviction for the violation of human rights, this time regarding Russia's critical problem of environmental contamination. How much evidence of the total failure of the Putin regime do Russians need before they will replace it?

The European Court of Human Rights condemned Russia for not taking appropriate measures to protect four women against toxic emissions from a steel plant. According to the judgment, the four Russian nationals all lived within the buffer zone of the Severstal steel plant in Cherepovets, where the concentration of by-products of steel production regularly exceeded recommended limits. Vladmirovna Zolotareva and three other women launched a complaint against Russia for its failure to protect their private lives and homes from severe environmental pollution, as guaranteed in article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. During the proceedings, the Court referred to a previous case in which it had already established that the plant's operations did not fully comply with Russia's environmental and health standards. In that case, the court had emphasized that authorities had the option of either resettling the plaintiffs outside of the buffer zone, or reducing toxic emissions. In Thursday's judgment, the court concluded that the Russian authorities failed to take appropriate measures to protect the plaintiffs from serious environmental hazards. The women were awarded damages ranging from 1,500 to 8,000 euros, (1,900 to 10,000 dollars) and were allotted another 800 euros for costs and expenses.

Read the EHCR's full decision here.

Annals of Russian Failure Part II: Exploding Missiles (again)

The New York Times reports: The navy confirmed that a test of Russia’s new submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile, the Bulava, failed when it veered off course, exploded and fell into the sea. A similar test last month also failed. The military maintains that the new weapon can evade missile defense systems.

And it can, too. If it explodes on launch, the enemy systems will never see it, now will they. Now that's classic Russian ingenuity.

YT and LR

La Russophobe is trying on YouTube for size. Here's a video (hat tip to EnglishRussia) of Russian "President" Putin being offered "semichki" (sunflower seeds) by Viktor Yanukovich, then the Prime Minister (and now) of Russia, and a Kremlin stooge. The former corrupt leader of Urkaine, who Russia tried to replace with its stooge Yanukovich, shares the podium. Apparently, even Putin smells something fishy about Yanukovich, one of the first Neo-Soviet con men exposed on La Russophobe.



Here's another one. The opening caption reads in Russian: "Just watch until the end, the first part isn't important." A fine encapsulation of Russian humor.

Annals of Wacko Wally Shedd, Idiot Savant of the Blogosphere

In a further demonstration of his profound ignorance and utter disregard of pesky little things called facts, Wacko Wally Shedd praises Maria Sharapova's recent victory at the Zurich Open as "red hot." This illustrates that Wacko Wally, like most lunatic Russophiles, has quite pathetically low standards. To win the tournament Sharapova, ranked #3 in the world, only had to win three matches and never had to face a player ranked in the world's top 20. She faced the world #22 in the finals, and she needed three sets to beat her. Her victory, in other words, meant nothing except that she's quite adept at picking out tournaments to play in where she won't face much serious opposition (well, adept at picking someone to do it for her). Some tiny little facts that Wally, as is his wont, simply chooses to ignore (next time the US basketball team squashes Trindad and Tobago, see if Wally calls them "red hot"). Not that he undertakes any actual defense of Sharapova's game either in terms of its watchability or its technical quality. Instead, his main point of emphasis is what she's done in the past and the fact that her T&A is spread all over Maxim magazine. No question that when it comes to selling her body for money she doens't need, Maria's a star.

And when discussing her recent history, does he mention how Maria was crushed at the Birmingham tournament by a player not ranked in the world's top 75? No. Does he care to mention how she was blown off the court at the Tokyo tournament by a player not ranked in the world's top 100? Uh-uh. Is he the least bit interested in how she barely even showed up at the Moscow tournament, in her "home" country? Nope. And does he care to mention that, to the extent Maria's game is "red hot" its only because she moved to America when she was child and learned how to play there, making her about as Russian as democracy (and, in fact, proving Russian incomptence, the exact opposite of his point)? Of course not. Russophiles lie so ritualistically, and so few people other than other Russophiles pay attention, that to them these lies seem like the truth. It's this fact, more than anything else, that has brought Russia to her knees. Russophiles, in short, are Russia's worst enemy. The net result is that Wally achieves the opposite of what he wanted, to compliment Russians, and ends up showing how pathetic they are. In the field of substance abuse, this is called "enabling." Wally's a classic enabler of decline in Russia. Enablers kill the ones they imagine they're helping.

La Russophobe must admit, though, that Wally's post was amusing in one regard: Watching his tiny little peabrain struggle with the injuries that have crippled America's triumverate of hall-of-fame greats, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Lindsey Davenport. The America-loathing Wally would have so loved to trash America, but in doing so he would be admitting that the Russians were facing no serious competition and therefore degrading the value of their success even further. Praise the Russians to the hilt and you have to let the Americans off the hook. She felt his pain. It was delicious.

LR got a new dress!

La Russophobe's post tags are now fully operational and posted in the sidebar. By clicking on a tag you can access all posts in that category over the past month. Older posts are still being upgraded to the new system and for now can be accessed in their usual place in the sidebar. The sidebar has also been somewhat reorganized. Any suggestions for further design changes are welcome.

Two different search engines are available on this blog. At the top of the page is the Blogger search window, which will provide the actual posts related to your search term. At the bottom of the page is the Technorati search window, which will provide you with an indexed list of posts to review.



Friday, October 27, 2006

Riddle Me This

Guess which country had significantly greater economic growth last year:

(a) Russia
(b) Vietnam

ANSWER:

Russia: 5.9% Vietnam: 8%

Can you dare to imagine what the Vietnamese would be doing if they had gobs of oil to export? Can you dare to imagine what the Russians would be doing if they didn't?

Annals of Russian Failure: The Sochi Olympics Sham

Hey Dmitry Chernyshenk, leader of Russia's bid to make Sochi the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, what's the best reason you can think of for Sochi to be selected?

"It's one of the safest cities in Russia and all of the world," he said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Forum of Sport. "Not only because it's the summer residence of our president, but because it's also the home of the training center for all our emergency services. "It's a very special place that has recently hosted more than 27 international events. "The whole of Russia is behind this bid, including President Putin. He's the best promoter of our bid because he spends one-third of his time there. It's like Russia's second capital."

So let me see if I've got that straight. Nothing about mountains or snow or anything, and I mean you're not saying any of those 27 events were in skiiing or anything (for all we know it was body surfing), in fact Sochi is famous among Russians as a beach resort, and anyway the word "international" to Russians usually means Russia, Armenia and Belarus, but you think the world should flock there because it has lots of KGB agents and "President" Putin, who is slaying Russian democracy as if it were a dragon and he were St. Georgi, loves it. Uh, OK.

Now, about this safety thing, any truth to the rumor that Russia has the fifth-highest murder rate on the planet while true international tourism is virtually non-existent and airplanes are dropping out of the sky at an alarming rate?

No comment.

OK. Is it at all possible that Chechen terrorists, just a stone's throw away in Ingushetia, would take the Olympics as a red flag for a massive assault that would make the Munich games look like a walk in the park?

No comment.

Are you even remotely serious about hosting the games, or is this just a cheap publicity stunt like they used to run in the USSR, for domestic consumption only?

No comment.

Is it true that in the last week "President" Putin launched slurs against Italians and Spaniards and joked jovially about rape? Do you think that will endear Russia to the hearts and minds of Olympics voters?

"You're under arrest."

Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that Russia was awarded the games and some of the visiting athletes tried to carry naked photos of "President" Putin out of the country. What would you do to them?

"Didn't you hear me, I said you're under arrest."

Well, what if they joined forces to commemorate Anna Politkovskaya or express solidarity with oppressed Georgians?

*Sound of a gun being loaded*

Quoth the Raven

"This is a situation that calls for great responsibility and restraint on all sides. Only a fair and all-encompassing settlement adopted by all the region’s peoples can provide a reliable and long-term solution. The only way to break out of the vicious circle of violence is to end mutual accusations, free the hostages and resume peaceful negotiations. It is extremely important to protect the civilian population of Israel and its neighbours from terror."

Who do you think said that? Do you think it was Shamil Basayev, warlord of the Chechen terrorists, during one of his hostage seige confrontations with the Russian government? No. Maybe you think it was Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, as the Russian government encircled his regime from within and without? Uh-uh.

Nope. It was Vladimir Putin, "President" of Russia, speaking to the press about his meeting with an Israeli diplomatic delegation (where he made crude jokes about rape that humiliated him before the eyes of the world, jokes which like a coward he then refused to speak about at a "press conference," blaming journalists instead for listening).

That's right. Putin doesn't have to negotiate with Chechens or Georgians, but Israel must surely negotiate with Hezbollah.

Russia: A country that's going places (i.e., straight to h-e-double-hockeysticks).

Was Politkovskaya Killed Due to Kremlin Power Struggle?

The Jamestown Foundation surmises on the causes of Anna Politkovskaya's killing:

Various theories have circulated regarding who might have murdered the journalist Anna Politkovskaya on October 7, and why. According to these, she was targeted by nationalist extremists, or by Russian military officers that she had named in connection with human rights abuses in Chechnya, or by Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whose alleged abuses she had chronicled in great detail.

Two days after her murder, the website of Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya gazeta, said it was either an act of revenge by Kadyrov or carried out by “those who want suspicions to fall on the current Chechen premier, who, having passed the 30-year old boundary, can aspire to the post of [Chechen] president” (Novayagazeta.ru, October 9). Kadyrov turned 30 -- the Chechen constitution’s minimum age for a president of the republic -- on October 5. However, the comments about the murder being the work of either Kadyrov or his enemies were subsequently removed from the Novaya gazeta website.

Putin himself, meanwhile, suggested the murder was connected to exiled opponents of his government who wanted to blacken its -- and Russia’s -- reputation. A pro-Kremlin newspaper was more explicit, suggesting that former Yukos official Leonid Nevzlin and Boris Berezovsky -- exiled in Israel and Britain, respectively -- were somehow involved (Izvestiya, October 9).Another line of thinking – towards which Novaya gazeta may now be leaning -- is that Politkovskaya was the victim of a Kremlin power struggle connected to Russia’s 2008 presidential election and the issue of Putin remaining in power beyond his second and final constitutionally mandated presidential term. (Putin himself, it should be noted, has repeatedly said he will not amend Russia’s constitution to permit a third presidential term.)

On one side is a group of what might be called “pragmatists” (relatively speaking) who support maintaining procedural democracy, at least formally, and are seeking to pick a successor to Putin. (Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who chairs the board of Gazprom, is widely seen as the front-runner to succeed Putin, followed by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Other potential Putin successors reportedly include Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin, Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin, and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko.)The other group, widely referred to as the siloviki, is said to include deputy Kremlin chief of staff Igor Sechin, a KGB veteran who also chairs the board of the Rosneft state oil company; Federal Security Service (FSB) Chairman Nikolai Patrushev (Kommersant reported on September 13 that Patrushev’s son, Andrei, had been made an adviser to Sechin on Rosneft’s board); and deputy Kremlin chief of staff Viktor Ivanov, another KGB veteran, who is also chairman of Aeroflot.

The siloviki apparently have no candidate to succeed Putin and actually want him to remain in office to ensure that they retain their power and property.Yet, in a move widely seen as aimed against the siloviki, Putin this past June fired Prosecutor General Dmitry Ustinov, whose son is married to Sechin’s daughter (EDM, June 5). While Ustinov was subsequently made justice minister, the siloviki undoubtedly viewed his sacking as a hostile act and a threat.The siloviki, some observers believe, are fighting back.

“The political situation in the country is being determined today by a fight between two groups: supporters of a third term and its opponents,” chess master and opposition activist Garry Kasparov wrote on his website on October 5. “Those forces that connect their future with Putin’s departure, and thus with the possible reapportionment of the political balance and redistribution of property, are, to all appearances, yielding their positions to those who cannot envision their political and financial well-being after the current president’s departure. Putin can leave only if he personally makes a firm decision to do so.

But making a decision is alien to the very mindset of the current president, who always prefers to remain above the fray, even when the situation demands his direct participation. This traditional passivity of Putin in the question of his presidency can ultimately lead to the victory of forces aiming to keep him at the top of the vertical [hierarchy] of power. This group’s advantage consists in the fact that they are staking on the current president, while the supporters of change, belonging to various bureaucratic clans, cannot put forward one leader, who would be ready to replace Putin.

The ‘anti-Putinites’ are not consolidated and will most likely give way to the ‘third-termers’ in the apparatus battles.” Kasparov added: “All of the most recent events, from the public aggression against Georgia to the hyperactivity of the DPNI [Movement Against Illegal Immigration], logically fit into the idea of a total incitement of international and inter-ethnic tension. Artificial support of hysteria in society and a harsh reaction to any activities of the opposition that is stepping forward under democratic, anti-Putin, and anti-bureaucratic slogans are needed only to replace the alternative of ‘Putin or democracy’ with ‘Putin or fascism and chaos’ ” (Kasparov.ru, October 5).

Two days after Kasparov’s analysis was published, Politkovskaya was murdered, and some analysts quickly linked her killing to the issue of a third Putin term. One of them, Novaya gazeta columnist Yulia Latynina, was quoted as saying the murder had two aims -- to prevent Ramzan Kadyrov from becoming Chechnya’s president (reportedly the FSB oppose his ambitions), and to keep Russia “in international isolation” and thereby force Putin “to run for election again” (Komsomolskaya pravda, October 9).

Meanwhile, Novaya gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov wrote in reference to Putin’s now-infamous comment that Politkovskaya’s murder had caused his government greater harm than her articles: “The president, it appears, understands that it [the murder] is a blow not only to Anna’s children, sister, mother [and] family -- to us [the newspaper] -- but also to him. But I don’t know whether he imagines precisely from what side. I also don’t know whether a ‘Third Term Party’ exists now in the country. One that is ready -- at any price, for the preservation of their businesses -- to make the president an unacceptable figure to the world community and, in that case, capable, as a ‘Lukashenko’, of remaining for any term” (Novaya gazeta, October 16).

Much Ado about Zhe-Zhe

Here's La Russophobe's comment in response to Russian blogger Two-Zero's analysis of what he terms an ongoing "Russian blog war" involving the so-called "zhe-zhe" blog forum ("live journal" or ZHivoi ZHornal in Russian) being purchased by a new owner, allegedly dangerous to Russian freedom of expression in the blogosphere.

Two-Zero claims that Russian bloggers will find a way to make their views known because "they are young, ambitious and they are long infected with the blogging virus, that’s all what counts."

La Russophobe responds:

I can't agree with your statement. In fact, I think the things you mention don't really matter at all. Courage and ethics are far more important to the development of a free press in Russia than youth or ambition, and it hardly matters if the bloggers are infected with the desire to write if readers have neither the inclination nor the ability to access the writing. The vast majority of Russians have no access to the Internet.

Even Russian print media lacks standards of responsible journalistic ethics, and courage like that of Anna Politkovskaya is very rare. What has the Russian blogosphere done to respond to the attack on Politkovskaya? What has it done to stand up for bloggers like Rakhmankov and Zelenyak who have been arrested? In fact, what has it done to take any blogging beyond the blogosphere and into the real world?

The vast majority of Russians are far too poor and ignorant to have regular access even to the internet much less to the blogosphere, making Russians bloggers much more like a social club than political force to be reckoned with.

How is it possible that Russian bloggers haven't already developed their own soverign blogosphere and protected it from Kremlin incursion? This failure makes your comment seem just like a pipe dream.

The fact is, the Kremlin can make mass arrests and even build gulags and Russians will not stand up and fight back. The blogosphere is not going to change this, because bloggers won't take the risks necessary to do so. That means that sooner or later the Kremlin will destroy the blogosphere and it will become a footnote in history.

If Russian bloggers were really serious, they'd now be joining forces with bloggers outside Russia, like me, and seeking to move their commentary into more mainstream media sources in English, seeking to rally worldwide opposition against the onset of a Neo-Soviet Union in Russia. Instead, you're clamboring like children about foreign intervention in your blogosphere, exactly what the Kremlin wants you to do.
If you're not familiar with this brouhaha, Global voices explains:
The Russian-language blogosphere (commonly known as ZheZhe) is on fire: some users are shutting down their blogs, others are emigrating to the virtual Trinidad & Tobago - all because LiveJournal.com’s owner Six Apart has decided to team up with the Russian internet company Sup, founded this year by Aleksandr Mamut, a Russian “oligarch,” and Andrew Paulson, an American entrepreneur. This isn’t the first time that ZheZhe (an abbreviation of ZhivoyZhurnal - “LiveJournal” in Russian) is in rebellion: the first “blog war” has been documented by Anna Arutunyan in the July 2005 issue of the Exile.
The 2005 storyreferredt to says that Americans were accused of censoring Russian posts in 2005. How did Americans get this opportunity? Apparently Russians are incapable of creating their own blogosphere on their own servers subject to their own control, either because they are too incompetent to achieve it or because their own government would shut them down for freely expressing their ideas. Yet, these same Russians complain about “censorship” by Americans? The 2005 story actually claims that some of Russia’s “most important journalism” was to be found on this Live Journal forum, yet Russians are complaining about OUTSIDE censorship? This seems completely unhinged. Didn’t it ever occur to them to solve whatever domestic problems keep them from creating their own soveriegn blogosphere? It seems to La Russophobe that here, in microcosm, we have a perfect illustration of all that is wrong with modern Russia. If Russians can’t figure out who their actual friends and actual enemies are, then they are surely doomed

Felgenhaur: U.S. Sanctions Bite Russian Aircraft Industry

Writing in the Eurasia Daily Monitor, the brilliant Pavel Felgenhaur reveals the effect of U.S. sanctions on Russia over Iran:

Russian aircraft producer Sukhoi and the official arms trader Rosoboroneksport are beginning to feel the sanctions imposed last July by the U.S. Department of State for violating the Iran Non-Proliferation Act of 2000 (EDM, August 7). Sukhoi Civil Aircraft announced that the restrictions might hamper component supplies for the company's planned SuperJet-100 regional airliner (Moscow Times, October 23).

U.S. companies that are directly involved in the SuperJet-100 project have indicated that the sanctions will not hamper their participation. However, the French Snecma company, which is contracted to make the jet's SaM-146 engine, is concerned about the delivery of a U.S.-made component used in the SaM-146 electronic control system.Sukhoi's civil aircraft chief Viktor Subbotin told reporters in Moscow on October 20: "If the sanctions are switched fully on, everything will stop."

The already fuzzy situation with plans to begin SuperJet-100 production has an additional factor of uncertainty: According to Rosoboroneksport chief Sergei Chemizov, all foreign contractors are supplying parts and services to Sukhoi through Rosoboroneksport (RIA-Novosti, August 7). Sukhoi could stop its arms business with Iran and the State Department could take it off its sanctions list. But Rosoboroneksport has multi-billion-dollar arms contracts with Iran that it will be highly reluctant to scratch, still leaving the SuperJet-100 in limbo.The 75- to 95-seat SuperJet-100 is scheduled to enter service in late 2008 with the first deliveries designated for Aeroflot.

The SuperJet-100 project is the most promising attempt to restart the practically defunct Russian aircraft industry with the help of Western partners and technologies.Russia is a vast country with very poor roads. Air traffic is the only practical way to access most of Siberia and the Far East. Russia as a state is more or less held together by a network of several thousand jets and helicopters inherited from Soviet times. But these planes are old and, even more important, their Soviet-designed engines are extremely fuel inefficient (Moscow News, August 4).

There are also 46 foreign-made jets in operation, but a 42% tax and import duty barrier prevents the purchase of more foreign-made jets.Currently the Russian aircraft industry is able to produce no more than a few Il-96 or Tu-204 passenger jets a year -- planes that were designed in the 1980s and cannot be considered truly modern. The Russian industry has failed to produce a modern reliable and fuel-efficient jet engine.The collapse of Russian aircraft production is not unique, it is part of the overall crisis in high technology and the defense industry.

After 1991 production units continued to produce weapons, helicopters, and jets at levels that were only a fraction of Soviet-era orders. To minimize costs, pre-1991 stockpiles of components were used to make new planes. After more than a decade with virtually no orders, the Soviet components industry disintegrated.Technological capabilities have been lost and, in many cases, Russia has lost the capacity to reproduce many of the items that were made in Soviet times.

In 2004 the last heavy An-124 Ruslan transport plane was built in Russia using Soviet-era components that were fit on the last remaining Soviet-made air-hull. This last Ruslan was procured by one of Russia's most successful private air transport companies, Volga-Dnepr, which specializes in heavy and oversize payloads, such as NATO shipments to Afghanistan and other distant destinations.Because of its unique capabilities to transport heavy and oversize cargo, the An-124 is today the only internationally commercially successful Russian-made plane, despite the fuel-inefficiency of its engines.

There is a market for more An-124s, but production has stopped and cannot be resumed without finding component producers and redesigning the plane. The design bureau that developed the original An-124 is in Kyiv, Ukraine, which poses further complications.In 2005 the Kremlin officially declared the resumption of An-124 production to be a national priority. Yesterday, October 24, in Kyiv Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov discussed the resumption of An-124 production as a joint Russo-Ukrainian venture with his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych (strana.ru, October 24).

Yet plans call for An-124 production to not resume until 2010 or 2011, and further delays are possibleRussia’s inability to produce even the An-124 -- a successful, but not very modern plane -- exposes the true state of the country’s high-tech industry. The problem is not only that the collapse of Soviet components industry stifles production: Even if work were somehow resumed, the industry would be manufacturing obsolete items, designed in the 1980s and 1970s.

Many analysts in Russia realize that without Western technologies and components and Western licenses to produce dual-use and dedicated defense equipment, Russian industry is doomed. At the same time, Moscow embraces a military doctrine that considers NATO to be the main enemy and therefore the use of any Western-made components is strictly forbidden. Military-industrial entities experience great difficulty getting licenses that allow production and R&D cooperation with NATO countries.

The SuperJet-100 is unique in that it is the first major Russian aviation joint project with the West. Of course, the jet is a civilian passenger plane, but the Sukhoi Company is also a major producer of military jets. If the SuperJet-100 project is a success and a commercially valid jet to cover Russia's internal regional transport needs is produced, it could be an important step in promoting further cooperation. Seeing the endeavor fail because of differences over Iran and its nuclear program does not seem to be in anyone's interest.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Barbaric Russia Sends Bakhmina to Mordovia

In an act of crude barbarity that surprises even La Russophobe, the Kremlin has sent YUKOS executive Svetlana Bakhmina to prison in the remote region of Mordovia (300 miles from Moscow) for six years, where she will be far removed from her two small children and rarely if ever able to see them. This is torture, pure and simple, of the most uncivilized and cowardly variety. RIA Novosti reports:

A former Yukos executive convicted on embezzlement and tax evasion charges has been sent to serve her six-and-a-half-year sentence in a women's penal colony in the Central Russian republic of Mordovia, a lawyer for the convicted executive said Wednesday.

On October 2, the Simonovsky Court in Moscow rejected a request from Svetlana Bakhmina's defense lawyers, who asked that the former deputy head of the legal department at the embattled oil company's Yukos Moskva unit be allowed to serve her six-and-a-half-year prison term after her younger child, now aged five, turns 14.

One of Bakhmina's lawyers, Olga Kozyreva, said the decision to send her defendant to the penal colony was illegal, because the court's decision had not yet come into force.

Bakhmina, the mother of two small children, was charged with failing to pay 606,000 rubles ($22,600) in taxes in 2001-2002 and of diverting 8 billion rubles' worth ($298.73 million) of property from Yukos subsidiary Tomskneft in the late 1990s. She has maintained her innocence throughout the litigation process.

"I am innocent, but a question of even greater importance to me is when I will be able to see my children again," Bakhmina said in early October. "I think the time I have spent in detention has already covered what can be qualified as guilt."

Another lawyer for Bakhmina, Alexander Gofshtein, said they appealed the decision of the Simonovsky Court to the Moscow City Court, which scheduled hearings on the request for November 8.

Legal proceedings, launched against Yukos in 2003, are seen by many as having been politically motivated. So far, they have resulted in the conviction of Bakhmina and other executives and shareholders of Russia's once largest oil producer, including its ex-CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year prison term in a Siberian penal colony.


Kremlin Tries to Blame Politkovskaya Killing on Russia's "Foreign Enemies"

An interview from the BBC contains the following:

It might be interesting to hear the thoughts of the Lithuanian Government on this. In the spring they announced plans to sell the only crude oil refinery in the Baltic (Mazeikiu Nafta) to a Polish company, against the wishes of the Russian government who wanted a Russian firm to take it over. At the end of the summer oil supplies were halted because of damage to the oil pipeline. The Lithuanian government described this as a "political accident". In the last few days a huge fire caused about 45m euros' (£30m) worth of damage to the plant. The Lithuanian Prime Minister says the fire was probably caused by a "technical fault" rather than "external factors". But in Brussels eyebrows have been raised. In such a climate, will European leaders dare raise freedom of the press and human rights? They always say they do. The Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, smiles genially when I put this to him. "Do they?" he grins. He argues that Europe is conditioned to be scared by Russia. Not long ago the fear was of a strong Soviet Russia threatening invasion. It never happened. Then it was a weak Russia flooding Europe with starving refugees. It never happened. To him, energy is the latest trendy worry and it too will come to naught. I ask him about the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and the perception of many in the West that the Russian government was behind her killing. He says: "Of course the killing produced a negative image in the world but that's no reason to believe anyone in the government was behind it: it's like shooting yourself in the foot. Two weeks before that killing took place there was a piece on the internet about preparing for a coup d'etat in Russia and step one was killing that journalist. One should look in another direction than the Kremlin beyond Russia's borders there are people who want to force a change in Russia and some of them are living in your country."

"Some of them are living in your country," huh? Apparently, he's referring to Boris Berezovsky. OK. That's one theory. But isn't it just as credible that the Kremlin would kill Politkovskaya and blame it on Berezovsky, who it has been unable to reach by legal means so far? Maybe if the British government believed Berezovsky killed Politkovskaya, they'd be willing to extradite him?

How neo-Soviet can you get?