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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Litvinenko Special Edition

Today (below) La Russophobe is pleased to present a special edition, a set of posts devoted to following up on the Litivinenko killing. We begin with a translation original to La Russophobe from the Russian press, followed by a set of blog posts and media articles analyzing this latest neo-Soviet ourtage. Also included is YouTube footage of Litivenko's last speech, at the Frontline club. This focus could not be more timely in light of, as La Russophobe notes with horror, the recent news that Yegor Gaidar has fallen ill in Moscow with a "mysterious illness" that doctors cannot diagnose after a vist to Ireland. Gaidar was the driving force behind the "shock therapy" move towards democracy under Boris Yeltsin, believing that Russia was fully capable of blacksliding into a neo-Soviet state and therefore needed to rapidly disperse assets away from the center. As such, Gaidar is obviously a major target of Kremlin ire, and his sickness coming in such close proximity to the demise of Litvinenko is horrifying indeed, and even more so in close proximity to the actions of his daughter, previously documented on La Russophobe, in hanging a public banner calling the Kremlin thugs "bastards" for altering the elections law. Even if the illness is purely natural, it's a reminder of the nature of the problem we face.

Gaidar's colleague Anatoli Chubais was quoted as saying on NTV: "Yegor Gaidar on 24 November was in the balance between life and death. Could this be simply some sort of natural illness? According to what the most professional doctors, who have first-hand knowledge of the situation, say -- no. A poisoning, an attempted murder: this is precisely the version that needs to be examined. For me there is no doubt that the deathly Politkovskaya-Litvinenko-Gaidar chain, which by a miracle was not completed, would have been extremely attractive for the supporters of an unconstitutional, forceful change of power in Russia." He told RIA Novosti: "This deadly design would have been extremely attractive for those supporting unconstitutional, violent means of changing power in Russia."

Gaidar's daughter told Kommersant: "The doctors are leaning towards the conclusion that all the symptoms... point specifically to poisoning." The doctors will make their final diagnosis on Friday, with “a poison unknown to civilian medicine” deemed the most likely cause of his illness, she said. The Novye Izvestia daily quoted Maria Gaidar saying that her father had eaten a “simple breakfast of fruit salad and a cup of tea.” Shortly after, Gaidar fainted. “I went up to him. He was lying on the floor unconscious. There was blood coming from his nose, he was vomiting blood. This went on for more than half an hour,” Maria Gaidar said. According to Novye Izvestia, Gaidar then remained unconscious for three hours in hospital and for a full day his life was considered in danger.

The Russian Press on Litvinenko: Another Exclusive LR Translation

La Russophobe's translator-in-residence offers another wonderful insight into the pages of the Russian presses, this time on the Litvinenko fiasco from Moscow pundit Leonid Radzikhovskiy:

“The People are Ready”
Leonid Radzikhovskiy
Yezhednevnyy Zhurnal
November 24, 2006

In the case of Litvinenko, there are so many things that are absolutely incomprehensible – especially from the sidelines – that to try and play the role of a self-styled Dr Watson would be absurd. And I wouldn’t dare to try my hand at Sherlock Holmes. But there is something I would like to talk about – the reaction of “The People”.

Once again there is the bloodthirsty animal roar that we got to enjoy after the murder of Politkovskaya. On the radio, over the Internet: “Traitor! Enemy of Russia! Kill him!” This is the wild crowd in the Coliseum screaming, “Kill, kill, kill!”

Two thousand years of Christianity has greatly pacified the spirit of our countrymen. Twenty years of talking about a “just government” has even more developed their minds. Here it is – the JUBILANT crowd of 1937. “Kill the mad dogs – to the last one!” But there was some hope that A) back then the people were forced out on the street, and B) since then something has changed. Nowadays no one is forcing the “advanced patriotic public” to show they can “suppress the fine impulses.” No! They sing it themselves. No one has been publicly executed for some time – “the people are tired of waiting.”

I could be told that one must not judge everyone by a few bad apples. One must not do that. Only there’s so many of them. And the voices of others cannot be heard. And then again, why not? No, not everyone is LIKE THAT. But that’s not good enough. In that case it would be impossible to live. But if even 5% are LIKE THAT, it’s pretty unhappy.

About the dead – and the more so about those who died SUCH a death – we should say only good things or nothing at all. For that reason I will say nothing about a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB who was ordered (supposedly?) to kill Berezovskiy – that is, about someone who was, apparently, capable of it… (ellipses in original – TN) But one small thing can be said.

Litvinenko – as far as can be judged from his biography – NEVER worked in the external intelligence service, never had anything to do with the terrible “military secrets of the Motherland” (secrets which, today – are secrets, but tomorrow – are the subject of joint seminars with our NATO partners). Hence, prattling on about “betrayal of the Motherland” is devoid of ANY content. Even a hint of content.

But who in the raging crowd worries about that? Who in the crowd would take it into their head that the very idea of “betrayer of the Motherland” is the same sort of juridical MISCHIEF as the marks Stalin used to make on interrogation records – “Bastard?” – to which Ezhov would reply: “Bastard!” This is the concept of justice: there are “bastards” and there are “non-bastards”. The Criminal Code – “Bastard”! For a portion of our citizens, everything is clear: They, of course, have nothing to do with “The Bastards”.

As I understand it, the Criminal Code has definitions for espionage, terrorism, murder, and so forth. But there is NO definition for “betrayer-reptile-bastard”. In the boring old Criminal Code, there is nothing. But in the fiery heart of the patriot, there is. Discussing the possibility that the murder of Litvinenko was the work of the intelligence services, our citizens note philosophically, “That’s part of the order of intelligence activities.” Such is their concept of “order” (I hope, in any event, it is not the conception of intelligence officers themselves, but only of their admirers). For these people there is no conception of courts, laws, due process, sentence, etc. Although, let them find themselves in a difficult situation, and see what happens – people suddenly understand all too well the meaning of jurisprudence and the law when in reference to their own little selves.

I hope, nonetheless (without this hope, it would be tough to live in this country!) that the practice of non-judicial punishment in Russian government agencies does not exist (one could argue about the quality of the courts – but that’s a different issue). Too bad it doesn’t! – cry out my countrymen (not all of them, no, not all of them; I won’t over-generalize!). And they take comfort – You’d better hope it doesn’t, gentlemen of the fifth column! “Bourgeois prejudices” about “so-called rights” – that’s all well and good… in the West. But really there is, fortunately, non-judicial punishment, we know it! “In one’s own soul it finds its source.” (Well-known quote from Faust – TN)

Yes, well…

It’s a primitive tribe. The highest LEGITIMATE law is one’s place in the tribe. There are “Our Own” and there are “The Foreign”. “The Foreign” are devoured, in order to fatten our own. The murderers of a Tajik woman are our own, she herself – foreign. Ulman* is one of our own (no, no – his last name is not the thing, he’s not one of them, you see, he’s… well, he’s one of ours, generally!); the people he shot dead – foreign. Politkovskaya – well, what’s there to say… (ellipses in original – TN) Litvinenko – would have been all ours, but he was a traitor.

It’s a good world. Comfortable. It lacks just one thing – genuine democracy. Once in awhile you have to “suppress the fine impulses”.

P.S. – On 25 June 2002 the military court of the Naro-Fominskiy garrison sentenced A.V. Litvinenko in absentia to three and a half years in prison for unlawful activities.

*Translator’s Note: GRU Captain Eduard Ulman was twice tried and controversially acquitted for his involvement in the killing of six unarmed Chechen civilians in January 2002, on the grounds that he and his men were only following orders.

Wall Street Journal on Litvinenko

National Review posts a quote from Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens that just about says it all:

Bret Stephens, who is becoming one of my favorite columnists, in today's WSJ (no free link):

It's time we start thinking of Vladimir Putin's Russia as an enemy of the United States.

This isn't simply because a former KGB agent turned Putin critic died last week in London after ingesting a dose of polonium 210, an element that usually functions as a neutron trigger in atomic bombs. Nor is it that Alexander Litvinenko's death is the latest in a series of killings, attempted murders, imprisonments and forced exiles whose victims just happened to be prominent opponents of Mr. Putin. It is because the foreign policy of Russia has become openly, and often gratuitously, hostile to the U.S. ...

There is no case for Russia's continued participation as the eighth member of the Group of Seven, once a club for mature democracies only. Putting Mr. Putin on notice that only gentlemen belong in gentlemen's clubs would be the right first step. Treating him for what he is — "unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women," as Litvinenko wrote from his deathbed — would be the next.

Latynina on Litvinenko

In her November 25 broadcast on the Ekho Moskvy radio station, Yulia Latynina explored the Litvinenko killing, as reported by BBC Monitoring:

The death of former Russian intelligence officer, Aleksandr Litvinenko, has once again changed the political landscape in Russia, Russian Ekho Moskvy radio commentator Yuliya Latynina has said. During the course of her one-hour weekly commentary, Latynina frequently quoted a British police statement that Litvinenko's death is the work of "state-sponsored terrorism", though she said she cannot say who actually gave the order to kill him. Elsewhere in the commentary, she spoke of the "moral fear" that the incident had engendered in the Russian opposition, and said that its effect would be to divide the nation. She concluded the programme by saying that if the Russian authorities do not respond appropriately to Litvinenko's death the "atmosphere of the witch-hunt" would engulf the country. The following is an editorial report of parts of Latynina's "Access code" broadcast on Ekho Moskvy on 25 November:

Latynina began by noting that whereas this is the top story on newscasts around the world leading Russian TV companies Channel One and NTV are leading their bulletins with a story about a bomb at the Moscow State University. She then focused on Scotland Yard's statement that the killing of Litvinenko is "state-sponsored terrorism". She repeated this sentence a number of times during the programme. She went on to say that regimes can now be divided into the following categories: those who torture their enemies with polonium-210 and those who do not.

This is another case of Russians waking up in a different state, she observed, just as they did after the arrest of Khodorkovskiy, Beslan and the abolition of direct gubernatorial elections.Furthermore, this has happened three times in recent months: after the anti-Georgian purges, the murder of Politkovskaya and the poisoning of Litvinenko, she said. "This is happening too often," she concluded. She reminded viewers of her scepticism about the Litvinenko poisoning, when the story broke two weeks ago, but indicated that there is no doubt about what happened to him now."This is state terrorism, Scotland Yard has announced," she intoned again.

"Why did this happen? I really don't know if Putin gave the order for this or not. If he did, then it is to do with the third-term and a fundamental change in Russian foreign policy," she observed. If he did not, she continued, then what is being decided by him in this country, if Litvinenko can be liquidated with polonium-210 without the need to ask for his instructions.It would show just what is meant by the hierarchy of power in this country, she added.

Irrespective of whether Putin actually gave the order, the system is such that instructions of this kind are possible, she declared. Latynina then went on to speculate on the Kremlin mind-set in the light of Litvinenko's death. It is important to realize, she said, that this happened because among other things the world in which the Kremlin and President Putin live is very different from the world where Condoleezza Rice lives.

"This is a paranoid world. It is the world where the Jews poisoned Arafat, Saakashvili liquidated Zhvania, where comrade Nevzlin wants to kill Putin, and where Bush personally sentenced Saddam," she continued. She characterized the reaction from the Russian state to accusations about the Litvinenko death as follows: "You forgive Saakashvili for Zhvania and you forgive the Jews for Arafat and you raise a cry against us".

"One of the causes of Litvinenko's death is a fundamental divergence between the West's conception of the world and the conception of the world held in the Kremlin," she concluded at the end of the first section of the programme. She began the second part by saying that in the light of Litvinenko's death, the British police will more than likely revisit the case of Stephen Curtis, the Yukos executive who died in a helicopter crash.

She then said that one hypothesis of Litvinenko's death is that an operative of the rank of major wanted to earn some stars for his epaulettes.

A caller took her to task for rushing to judgment in assuming the Russian state or special services were behind Litvinenko's death. She countered by quoting Scotland Yard's statement that this was "state-sponsored terrorism".

She then identified one key question regarding the murder: "Who could obtain polomium-210?" She thought it unlikely that the exiled enemies of the Kremlin could have got hold of this substance.

Latynina then turned to the impact of Litvinenko's death, saying that it would produce "mortal fear" among the opposition. She noted how guarded opposition politicians such

Vladimir Ryzhkov and Irina Khakamada are in commenting on the Litvinenko case. "They are fully aware that they could be next," she said.

She added that the nation will be divided over the death: some will think it is the "enemies" of Russia, while there will be others who do not believe this and as a result are enemies themselves, and "can be liquidated as the agent of enemies".

She went on to consider how the Russian authorities might respond to the situation. A way of apologizing for Litvinenko's killing might be to purge the Federal Security Service (FSB), she suggested. This would also be a way of distancing the Russian authorities from what happened, she said. "This could include the sacking of [FSB chief Nikolay] Patrushev and [Kremlin aide Igor] Sechin," she added. She predicted that if this does not happen, there will be "an unavoidable increase in the number of these terrible things".

She suggested that these could include "massive terrorist attacks" in South Ossetia or the killing of Khodorkovskiy. "This would cut off Russia from the civilized world," she observed.There could also be political spy trials against human rights activists or campaigns to put pressure on foreign companies, Latynina suggested. She concluded the programme as follows: "Finally, one of the main and practically inevitable consequences is the mounting atmosphere of the witch hunt: an atmosphere in which every person will be forced to choose who he really is. Does he think that everything that goes on is done by the enemies of Russia to put Putin in an awkward position and ruin Russia, and that this is being done by Nevzlin or Berezovskiy? Or will he call a spade a spade and say that Russia is going down a path on which stands the signpost to a Dictatorship, a road with one end, including for the current authorities? If he does, then this man will himself risk being an enemy and be subject to liquidation. And it will be very easy to say who liquidated him: The enemies, of course!"

Latynina also dealt with Litvinenko in her weekly Moscow Times column:

Alexander Litvinenko died last week in a London hospital from polonium-210 poisoning. I won't waste time on the rumors that Litvinenko was poisoned by enemies of President Vladimir Putin. Or that Litvinenko, like the noncommissioned officer's wife in Gogol's play "The Inspector General," "flogged" himself.

On a number of occasions in the last few years, we went to bed in one country and woke up in another. The first was the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. Then came the Beslan school siege in 2004 and the subsequent elimination of direct gubernatorial elections.

After Ukraine's Orange Revolution in late 2004 and early 2005, we went to sleep in a country that was not terribly intelligent, and whose president personally bullied its neighbors and worked as a tub-thumper for Viktor Yanukovych. We awoke in a country surrounded by malicious imperialist enemies.

But in the last two months, we have awoken in a different country three times: following the government's anti-Georgian campaign, the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the death of Litvinenko.

These events are just signs along the road to a place filled with prison camps. By a strange coincidence, they followed major economic changes. As recently as last summer, the Kremlin seriously thought that Europe would let Russia buy into its gas distribution networks and that it would invest in developing gas and oil fields in this country. But there was no rush to invest, and there was no question of letting Russia buy into distribution networks.

The great political illusion exploded. And as happens any time an illusion explodes here, the leadership responded with personal annoyance and finger-pointing at external enemies. With the illusion gone, only the road and its ominous signs remained.

Litvinenko's death could have three consequences. First, an apostate has been silenced, potentially sending a warning to anyone who might betray the security services. At shooting ranges where intelligence agents hone their skills, pictures of Litvinenko used to hang on the targets. Perhaps when the great illusion fell apart the pictures were swapped for the original.

Second, his death could turn Russia into a rogue state. In the final analysis regimes are not divided into parliamentary and presidential. They are divided into regimes that are capable of poisoning the opposition with polonium-210 and those that are not. I doubt that President Vladimir Putin will find it easy to explain to his buddy, U.S. President George W. Bush, that Politkovskaya was whacked by renegade thugs. Were the people who slipped Litvinenko the polonium-210 no more than thugs, too?

If Russian agents carried out the operation to eliminate Litvinenko, they did so with no more elegance than we saw in the case of Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was killed in 2004 in a car blast in Qatar.

There was no need for elegance in the Litvinenko case, however. The polonium seems to have been left like a spy's calling card -- not to prove to the world that Russia is run by the security services, but to prove this to Putin.

Putin has surrounded himself with friends who were not trained to run businesses or to run the country. They were trained to carry out special operations. They were trained to eliminate enemies of the regime. And when there aren't any real enemies, they have to be created.

For some reason, as more enemies of the regime are eliminated, their number continues to grow. And Putin is left alone, surrounded by enemies from whom only his friends can save him.



Litvinenko Speaks

Lucas on Litvinenko

The brilliant Edward Lucas laid the post-Litvinenko Cold War II course in the Saturday Times of London (to read the analysis of former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray on Russia's pervasive attempts to infiltrate Britain with espionage, click here).

The One Way to Fight Putin's Menace

How was Alexander Litvinenko murdered? We don’t know yet; we may never find out, but what is clear is his death marks the start of a new Cold War. The question is how to win it.

Vladimir Putin’s thuggish and arrogant rhetoric; the routine use of murder in business and politics; the bullying of neighbours such as Georgia; energy blackmail; authoritarian behaviour by the Kremlin — all have crystallised a growing unease with the wishful thinking that has marked outsiders’ attitudes to Russia in the past 15 years.

It is still possible — just — to argue that this is a messy but necessary transition period, and that stability will produce a middle class in Russia that will want liberal politics and friendly relations with Europe and the US. Those hopes hang on a thread: that the 2008 Russian presidential elections will bring a real contest, rather than a fixed coronation.

But the overwhelming likelihood is that Russia will get worse not better. The Economist recently cautioned that Russia was heading towards fascism: blustery, bossy and brutal. It will have particular Russian features too, chiefly extraordinary corruption, waste and incompetence.

So what do we do? Fighting the last Cold War was easy in comparison, particularly towards the end, when it was clear that communism meant not just dictatorship, but poverty, injustice and backwardness. Now Russia is rich and strong, while the West, and particularly the alliance between Europe and America, is demoralised and discredited.

Russia no longer needs our money. Nor does it care much for our approval. The past few years have taught Mr Putin that when he needs something from the West, he gets it. Jacques Chirac, of France, is a Russian cheerleader, like Silvio Berlusconi and Gerhard Schröder before him.

The first response must be not to panic. For all its bombast, Russia’s strength rests on sand. Its demographics are disastrous: in the minute you may have taken to read to this point, five Russians died, and only three were born. Its roads and railways are still rickety, its pipelines and powerstations clapped-out. The much touted gas weapon may not be loaded: decades of neglect and under-investment may mean that Russia is an energy beggar, not an energy bully.

Then the West must stick together. Russia expertly plays off one country against another. British eurosceptics must drop their defeatist disdain for a common European foreign policy, especially in the field of energy security. Without it, we risk losing half the continent to the Kremlin’s new empire, one built on pipelines rather than tanks. Europe must dump its self-indulgent anti-Americanism and rebuild its alliance with an administration chastened and looking for friends.

That alliance’s big task will not be military defence, but diversifying energy supplies. We need new pipelines in the Balkans and the Caucasus to bring the oil and gas riches of the Caspian basin and Central Asia to European markets, bypassing Russia’s capricious, greedy and monopolistic oil and gas companies. We must also build more liquefied natural gas terminals, and interconnecting pipelines to hook up national gas grids. It sounds just as boring as the jargon of the last Cold War but it is just as important.

Similarly, we must give unflinching support to the countries in Russia’s viewfinder, such as Poland, Georgia and the Baltic states. They face hate campaigns in the Russian media, meddling in their energy supplies and arbitrary sanctions on their exports. All too often, the EU says that problems its new members have with Russia are “merely bilateral”. In future, the message must be: “If you mess with Estonia you mess with the whole of Europe.” These are brothers-in-arms and know a lot more about Russia than we do, and we have been slow to recognise it.

We must continue to expand Nato and the EU. Enlargement of both bodies has been an unsung triumph, spreading peace and security. The next phase will be more difficult, because the countries concerned are weaker and poorer. But that makes it all the more necessary. If our doors are not open, then the only choice available is Russia. It is a tragedy that this week’s Nato summit in Riga is hamstrung by division and timidity on the question of enlargement.

Thirdly, the West must recover the moral self-confidence that ultimately proved far more important than our guns and missiles. We believed in our system: it was not just richer and freer than theirs, but kinder, fairer, cleaner, healthier, more innovative, more tolerant and more truthful. It had flaws, certainly. But it also had the built-in capability to remedy them. In a market democracy, the crooked and cruel stand a better chance of being fired or jailed than they do in an authoritarian state-run economy.

So the most powerful weapon we have now is to to make our own system truly worth admiring. Integrity in public life would not only contrast with the Kremlin’s sleaze, but also immunise us against its bribes. Speedy justice, efficient government and public-spiritedness are lacking in Russia — and just what we need to make our system envied at home and abroad. It will be a long slog: but so was the last one.

Nossik on Litvinenko

According to Technorati, the most significant Russian language blog which discusses events in Russia is the Live Journal blog of Anton Nossik, who goes by the screen name "dolboeb." Here's what Nossik wrote about the Litvinenko killing:

Теория и практика заговора. Вчера вечером в лондонской больнице умер Саша Литвиненко.Всё, о чём ему интересно было говорить при жизни — заговоры спецслужб, покушения, тайные козни.Звучало это как чистой воды паранойя, нажитая на почве слишком долгой работы в органах.Но ведь прав оказался в итоге.А жаль.К тому, что пессимисты выигрывают все пари, я уже привык понемногу. Теперь главное пари своей жизни (и смерти) выиграл параноик. Хочется снова сказать "Нет, ну, Саша, ну, ты не прав, ну, так не бывает". А некому сказать-то.
Here's how Veronica Khokhlova over at Global Voices translated it:
A Conspiracy: Theory and Practice. Sasha [nickname for Alexander] Litvinenko died last night at a London hospital. While he was alive, all he was interested in talking about were special services’ conspiracies, murder attempts, secret plots. It sounded like pure paranoia, acquired as a result of too many years of work in the organs. But he ended up being right. A pity. I’ve slowly gotten used to pessimists winning all the bets. This time it’s a paranoiac who has won the main bet of his life (and death). I feel like saying this again: “But no, Sasha, you are wrong, it can’t be so.” But there’s no one to say it to.
To be sure, it is encouraging that the leading Russian-language blog puts forth these thoughts. One might have hoped for a bit more detail and some attempt to fix blame and suggest solutions, but after all this Russia.

The post generated a heap of comments, and Veronica translates a representative sample. They divide into three groups: (a) Litvinenko deserved it, it's perfectly normal to kill defectors, Russia is no different than any other country; (b) Litvinenko killed himself just to have the last laugh on the Kremlin; (c) as Nossik wrote, it's a "pity."

What Nossik meant by "pity" is a typical Russian mystery, a riddle wrapped in a mystery surrounded by an enigma. Perhaps it was also just a "pity" that millions of Russians were sent by Stalin to be exterminated in the Gulag Archipelago. Veronica quotes Litvinenko as stating to the Kremlin in his final words: "May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people." She then characterizes Nossik's statement as "nowhere near as straightforward as Litvinenko’s last statement - but as telling."

Telling, indeed. La Russophobe couldn't find a single commenter expressing pointed outrage directed at the Kremlin. The first commenter states:

"It all resembles the [Soviet times]. Russians, aren’t you scared to live??" {Всё напоминает славноприсные , не такие далекие времена. Россияне, вам жить не страшно??}

But nobody makes any attempt to suggest practical steps Russians should take to prevent themselves from becoming the next victim of this neo-Stalinist purge. There seems to be some hope when someone responds to this question by stating:

"Let me answer your question with a question: Aren't the Russian people ashamed of themselves? I myself am only Russian on my mother's side and I'm not a "non-Slavic Russian citizen" (a very strange word for me), but I'm still ashamed of myself. It seems to me that I'm somehow to blame for this killing. :(" {Позвольте немножко иначе поставить вопрос: Русские, вам не стыдно?Я сама только по матери русская и не россиянка (странное для меня слово), но все-таки стыдно. Каким-то своим бездействием и я виновата в этой смерти :( }

And yet, it seems the only ones who can actually see and speak the truth are those who are not "fully" Russian. Nobody really develops this theme, and many others blame democracy for Russias woes (as if France and American didn't suffer hugely before creating stable, prosperous democratic states). Thus, one commenter responds: "Aren't the Russian people ashamed of themselves?" The ones who should be ashamed are those, including obviously some who are commenting here, who helped pull down the USSR, a great and powerful country, and exchange it for one where life with human dignity is impossible. This is what democracy has brought us, so that now the word is just profanity to Russians."

The Guardian on Litvinenko

The Guardian offers a stinging condemnation of the Putin regime in light of the Litvinenko killing, from someone obviously not ill-disposed to Russia. It clearly shows the extent to which Russia, as usually, alienates even those who might befriend it.

Corruption, violence and vice have triumphed in Putin's Russia

The president may not have personally ordered Litvinenko's murder, but he is overlord of a culture which legitimised it

Max Hastings
Monday November 27, 2006
The Guardian

In Moscow shortly after 9/11 a clever Russian academic told me: "Don't believe all that stuff Putin is dishing out about how sorry we all are about what has happened. A lot of people here are thrilled to see the Americans get a kicking." A few months ago I heard a cluster of diplomats lament the difficulties of doing business with the Russians. "They still see negotiation in the old cold-war way, as a zero-sum game," said one. "If the west wants something, it must be bad for Moscow."

Few of us today want to see the Russians as enemies. We admire their music and literature, sympathise with their appalling history and, a few years ago, delighted in their emergence from the sour, brooding seclusion in which they languished for most of the 20th century.

It is precisely because we feel goodwill towards them that there is something of the bitterness of rejected courtship in our response to their recent behaviour, of which the apparent murder of Alexander Litvinenko is a bleak manifestation.

Why, having tasted freedom and democracy, should they wish to return to the murderous practices of Stalinism? How can they acquiesce in Putin's restoration of tyranny? Here is a nation suddenly granted wealth which might enable its people to become prosperous social democrats like us.

Instead, to our bewilderment, Russia is institutionalising a state gangster culture which promises repression and ultimate economic failure for itself, fear and alienation from the rest of the world. We hear of few Russians at home or abroad who have achieved wealth through honest toil. Instead, the tools of success in Putin's universe are corruption, violence, vice and licensed theft on a colossal scale.

"Complex feelings of insecurity, of envy and resentment towards Europe ... define the Russian national consciousness," wrote Orlando Figes, the outstanding British historian of the country. Underpinning all Putin's dealings with the outside world is a demand for respect, a rage at perceived western condescension. This is shared by his people, in a fashion which goes far to explain why so many support his policies.

Frustration about lack of respect has been woven into Russian foreign policy for centuries, accentuated under communist rule. A Romanian who visited Russia in September 1944 was awed by the hardships accepted by Stalin's people. He noted a blend of arrogance and inferiority complex in their attitudes to the outside world: "They are aware of their great victories but at the same time fear they are not being shown sufficient respect. This upsets them."

Russian responses to western failures of deference have often been indistinguishable from those of the yob on a suburban train who assaults an innocent commuter because he dislikes the way the man looks at him. State violence has been an unembarrassed part of the Russian polity since time immemorial.

There was much hand-wringing in the west earlier this year when Russia's parliament formally endorsed the principle that its government enjoys a right to hunt down state enemies overseas. Moscow dismissed the foreign reaction as bourgeois hypocrisy. Had not President Bush publicly committed the US to a doctrine of preventive war against entire countries which he deems a threat to American security?

It is possible to believe, as I do, that Putin did not personally order the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, while regarding the Russian president as overlord of a culture which legitimised it. Putin cannot shrug off a simple truth about his society: his friends and supporters walk the streets in safety and wealth; his foes perish in horrible ways, with dismal frequency. The murder of one Russian journalist critical of his regime might be dismissed as mischance. The deaths of 20 mock Kremlin protestations of innocence.

The end of the cold war looks more and more like one of those practical jokes the gods play upon mankind. We rushed to celebrate the fall of the wall, the passing of an era in which east and west threatened each other with nuclear annihilation. Yet we now perceive that dealing with a Russia rich in energy wealth presents more complex challenges.

It is a notable irony that the RAF will soon get the first of £20bn worth of Typhoon fighters, an idiotic cold-war legacy. All the participating European governments involved flinched before the diplomatic difficulties and job losses which would have followed cancellation. We are to possess a formidable force of aircraft designed to shoot down Soviet bombers.

It is hard to conceive any scenario in which Moscow will launch bombers against the west. Instead we must confront a defiant new Russia, fortified by possession of a substantial part of the world's oil and gas reserves in an era when energy competition will be critical. Even if Scotland Yard delivers a report on the Litvinenko death which concludes that the Kremlin was directly responsible, it is hard to see how Tony Blair could respond by ordering the scrambling of Typhoons.

Thus far, the response of European governments to Russian gangsterism and intransigence can either be dignified as temperate or scorned as appeasement. Blair has sought to forge a personal friendship with Putin. The former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder has been rewarded for his support of Moscow policies with a directorship of Gazprom - the company building a pipeline that will supply gas directly from Russia to Germany. At the G8 in St Petersburg earlier this year, other world powers sought to treat the Russians as if they were people like us, in the lingering hope that they will become so.

This seems fanciful. At the heart of Putin's policies is a determination to restore the old Soviet Union's might and influence. It is hard to see how these would be exercised towards ends that the west would consider benign.

Though George Bush's follies have debased the coinage of freedom and democracy, these remain noble objectives, never likely to be shared by Moscow. This is a city where taxi drivers see no embarrassment in carrying miniature portraits of Stalin on their dashboards, where the British historian Antony Beevor is denounced because he speaks the truth about Soviet excesses in the second world war.

The Russian archives, which provided such a bonanza for western researchers for more than a decade after they were opened, are now largely closed again. There is no pretence that this reflects national-security requirements. It is merely because Putin was disgusted by the revelations which the files yielded to us about the horrors of the Stalinist era. The collapse of the Soviet Union, which the world perceived as a triumph for freedom, is described by the president himself as the greatest calamity of the 20th century.

Western revulsion from Russian behaviour, including the murder of Litvinenko, merely feeds Russian paranoia. Our hopes that contact with the west will persuade the new Russia to adopt civilised behaviour look threadbare. "We sometimes say that one must be very unlucky to be born in Russia," a melancholy tourist guide said to me in St Petersburg a couple of years back. The west has no choice save to continue the weary struggle to engage with Moscow. It would be naive, however, to anticipate that freedom and respect for law will triumph any day soon in that tragic, sometimes apparently accursed society.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One Day in the Life of Malika Umazheva

Four years ago today, as the Jamestown Foundation reported, Malika Umazheva, the head of the administration of the village of Alkhan-Kala, was shot and killed. Let's remember her, and all the thousands of people like her whose names remain unknown. And let's think about the tens of thousands who will follow her unless immediate action is taken to reign in the crazed neo-Soviet state.

A BRAZEN WAR CRIME BY RUSSIAN FORCES IN CHECHNYA.

"Malika Umazheva has been murdered," the human rights organization Memorial reported on December 4, "a person well known in Chechnya and beyond its borders, the [ormer head of administration of Alkhan-Kala, who boldly opposed the arbitrariness of the Russian soldiers in her village." Observing that official Russian news sources were claiming that Umazheva had been killed by separatist "bandits," Memorial sent a group of its own investigators to the village, "where they questioned the fellow villagers of the murdered woman (her relatives refused to speak with anyone, accusing human rights activists and journalists of not proving capable of defending Malika). It is completely obvious that Malika Umazheva was murdered by those who had more than once made threats against her--by representatives of the federal forces."

From the words of the villagers, the Memorial investigators were able to reconstruct what had happened on the night of November 29-30. "On [that night] there burst into the home of Malika Umazheva, the former head of administration of Alkhan-Kala, Grozny Village District, four Russian soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms and armed with snipers' rifles with silencers. Having knocked in the door with the shout: 'Where are the wahhabis?' they broke into the house where Malika was present with her son, Said-Akhmed, and two of her nieces, whom she had been raising since they were very young. They ordered everyone to lie down on the floor. Malika asked for permission to light a lamp, but they did not permit it. Two of the soldiers then turned everything upside down in the house, not saying what they were looking for. They then proposed that Malika accompany them to the barn, so they could conduct a search there. The girls became frightened and began to plead: 'Don't kill mama!' Malika tried to quiet them down."

"One of the soldiers," the Memorial account continued, "said: 'I give you my word that she will come back.' Malika took a lantern and went out ahead of the soldiers. Soon a shot was heard. The neighbors ran up and saw Malika's body. They report that Umazheva's house was surrounded by soldiers." Not far from the Umzhevs' garden they saw an armored vehicle and military truck standing.

"Several days before the murder," Memorial recalled, "at 3:00 a.m., according to her nieces, Russian soldiers came and proposed that Malika Umazheva go with them to identify several wahhabis who had supposedly been taken into custody in Alkhan-Kala. Malika refused to go with them because she was no longer head of administration (on September 9, 2002 she had been removed from her post for 'systematic non-performance of her duties').... Later it emerged that no one in the village had been taken into custody that night" (HRO.org, December 4).

In a tribute to the slain Umazheva, award-winning Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya wrote in the December 5 issue of Novaya Gazeta: "Malika was a true heroine, a unique and marvelous one. She became the head of administration of one of the most complex Chechen villages--Alkhan-Kala (a 'Baraev' village, the subject of endless 'cleansing operations,' executions and disfigured corpses) after the former head had been murdered. Reason would have told her: 'Sit quietly. Be careful.' But she did the exact opposite--she became the boldest and most committed village head in that murderous zone of military anarchy which today is Chechnya. By herself, unarmed, she went out to meet the [Russian] tanks that were crawling into the village. Alone, she shouted to the generals who had deceived her and, on the sly, were murdering the residents of the village: 'You scoundrels!' She relentlessly fought for a better fate for Alkhan-Kala. No one else permitted himself to do that in present-day Chechnya. Not a single male."

"She, a humble village head who had been elected by a popular assembly," Politkovskaya continued, "earned the wild hatred of the chief of our General Staff, the much-decorated General Kvashnin. He hated her so much that he invented the vilest stories about her, using his access to the television cameras to spread them. And she? She continued along her chosen path and, in response to Kvashnin's lies, she sued him in court, knowing perfectly well that almost everyone is afraid of him.... But Kvashnin does not forgive those who do not fear him."

In another tribute appearing in the December 2 issue of Der Tageszeitung (Germany), posted in Russian translation on Inosmi.ru on December 3, journalist Klaus-Helge Donath wrote: "At the beginning of this year, Russian soldiers searched the home of the head of administration of Alkhan-Kala nine times. Each time they demanded the same thing: They demanded that the 55-year-old former schoolteacher affix her signature to a statement affirming that during the course of the 'cleansing operations' there had been no violations of legality. Malika Umazheva refused."

"It is clear," Donath went on, "that this crime will never be solved. Umazheva was for the Russian FSB and soldiers a beam in their eye. She not only knew how to keep the residents calm, despite their sufferings, but she also was able to pass on information concerning the horrors endured by her community, which numbers 20,000 souls, beyond the borders of Chechnya. After the atrocities at the beginning of the year, a delegation from the Council of Europe visited Alkhan-Kala. Umazheva has died, and with her has died a voice calling for the curbing of anger and for reconciliation."

On December 4, Musa Khasanov, a correspondent for Radio Liberty, reported that: "More than 4,000 residents of the Chechen Republic... gathered today for the funeral of Malika Umazheva in the settlement of Alkhan-Kala, and almost all of them signed an appeal to the [pro-Moscow] leadership and procuracy of the republic asking that they locate and punish those guilty of murdering a courageous Chechen woman who, despite all the threats from the Russian special services, the MVD, and the soldiers of the Combined Group of Forces in Chechnya, always stood in defense of the rights of the populace of Alkhan-Kala, documenting all illegal actions committed by the soldiers during their many special operations and raids on that population point" (In HRO.org, December 4).

In January 2003, Amnesty International protested the murder of Umazheva. Amnesty has released a massive report documenting the outrageous litany of attacks by Kremlin forces on civilians and human rights workers. Read it here. Human Rights Watch has also documented her case, stating: "The murder of Malika Umazheva was the first clearly retaliatory murder of its kind in Chechnya. Until September 2002, Umazheva served as head of administration for Alkhan-Kala, a village on the outskirts of Grozny that has been the scene of repeated, abusive sweep operations. Unlike many other village administrators, Umazheva had been very outspoken about abuses by Russian forces in her village, worked with human rights defenders to document abuses, and repeatedly confronted the Russian military about them. his earned her the personal rancor of high-ranking Russian military officials, including General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, who accused her on state television of corruption. On September 9, 2002, Umazheva was removed from her post by pro-Moscow officials on the pretext of 'systematic nonperformance of duties.' Prior to her murder, she successfully challenged her dismissal in court. She was to have resumed her post on December.

If you think the world has learned any kind of lesson from this brutal killing, just try to find a photograph of Malika on the web. Just one. In your fruitless struggle, you'll begin to appreciate the horror of Neo-Soviet liquidation and Western cowardice.

UPDATE: La Russophobe thanks the reader who has provided a link to a picture of Malika in the comments section. It is displayed at the left. The tiny size of this picture, on a Russian human rights website (Human Rights Online) strongly emphasizes the failure of the West to give Malika her due, just as it failed to award Lidia Yusupova the Nobel Peace prize, failed to protect Anna Politkovskaya from assassination and is failing generally to stand up for human rights and democracy in Russia.

Uh-Oh: Here Comes the Holy Russian Empire

ITAR-TASS reports:

A six-meter-high Orthodox cross was mounted and consecrated on Monday in the Baikal region, at the junction of Russia’s border with China and Mongolia.

There is the inscription “Save, Oh God, Thy People!” on the metal cross weighing over one ton. The cross can be seen from China, as well as from Mongolia. Bishop of Chita and the Baikal Region Eustathius blessed the cross.

“The cross will become a symbolic periapt of Russia’s eastern borders, and will serve a noble cause of the revival of spirituality of the population on the Russian border and the strengthening of the moral spirit of its guards,” the head of the Federal Security Service’s border department in Buryatia and the Chita region, Major General Nikolai Volkov said.

Border guards of the Baikal region protect about 3,000 kilometres of the Russian-Chinese and Russian-Mongolian border in adverse climatic conditions of Eastern Siberia, where temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius above zero in summer and drop to minus 40 degrees in winter. The region has diverse topography, including steppes, desolate taiga and major mountain ridges.

This year, border guards of the Baikal region have stopped over 1,200 attempts to smuggle 7.5 million roubles worth of cargo across the border. One hundred transgressors have been detained, border department sources told Tass.

Russia is Strangling its Economy

The Australian News reports that "Russia is strangling its economy" according to yet another international study that has condemned Russia:

RUSSIA'S bureaucracy is corrupt, its health system is in crisis and the expansion of the state into the private sector bodes ill for the country's future, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In an analysis of Russia's prospects, the OECD survey provides a damning critique of the country's efforts at reform and gives a stark warning of the state's aggressive intervention in strategic industries, notably the expansion of gas monopoly Gazprom.

Structural reform of the Russian economy is slowing, the OECD says, with modest achievements over the past two years.

But government intervention is accelerating in sectors regarded as strategic, such as oil, aviation, power generation, cars and finance.

"Increasingly, policy seems to have been focused not on market reforms but on tightening the state's grip on the commanding heights of the economy. This bodes ill for Russia's growth prospects," the OECD says.

Of particular concern is Gazprom's "seemingly insatiable appetite for asset acquisitions, often at the expense of a focus on its core business".

The report points to a sharp expansion in state ownership of stock-market-quoted enterprises, from 20 per cent in mid-2003 to 30 per cent this year.

At the same time, there has been a doubling in state ownership of oil production to 33 per cent, a period that included the bankruptcy of the Yukos conglomerate and its partial takeover by the state oil company, Rosneft.

The OECD argues this a step back, saying the state's track record as an owner is poor.

And the absence of significant reform of the gas industry constrains the growth of rival gas producers at a time when concern is mounting about the sustainability of Russian gas supplies.

"The expansion of state ownership in important sectors will probably contribute to more rent-seeking, less efficiency and lower growth," the report concludes.

The OECD's warning comes after mounting concern that Gazprom is being distracted from its core gas business by investments in the oil and electricity sectors, as well as by political ventures into the media.

This month, the International Energy Agency called on Gazprom to bring more supplies on stream. Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oil tycoon and partner of BP, estimated last week that Gazprom's output would fall five billion cubic metres short of demand next year.

Russia faces a loss of competitiveness from rapid exchange-rate appreciation and the inflationary pressure of petro-dollar surpluses.

Russia's health and welfare picture is grim, the OECD says, with life expectancy now just 65 years - five years lower than its late-Soviet peak.

Endemic corruption is a deterrent to investors, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises. The OECD survey condemns Russia's state bureaucracy as "inefficient, largely unresponsive to either the public or its political masters, and often corrupt".

The report urges the Government to implement its new administrative reforms, and calls for wider changes, including the strengthening of the rule of law, civil society institutions and an independent press.




Annals of Cold War II: The Big Picture

The Sunday Herald offered a two-part special on the new Cold War with Russia.

PART I: Russia's New Cold War

To dissident Russian intelligence officers now in exile or in hiding around the world and British intelligence operatives, July 9 this year was a seismic date. On that day legislators in the Duma - the Russian state parliament - unanimously approved new laws which allowed Russia's Federal Security Service to hunt down and kill enemies of the state anywhere on the face of the Earth.

One British intelligence source said: "This marked a blatant return to the bad old days of the cold war when the KGB thought it could act with impunity anywhere it pleased."

These so-called "Hunter-Killer" powers also curtailed the right of the Russian media - already cowed and under the control of the Kremlin - to report on these operations. However, the enactment of these new laws only put on a legal footing powers which Russian intelligence had been using extra-judicially for years.

In Chechnya, the assassination of enemies of Russia is now so common that it scarcely bears comment, and in 2004 two Russian agents were arrested and sentenced to death in Qatar for the killing of exiled Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian team hunted him down and planted a bomb in his car. The Qatari court ruled that the killing was sanctioned by "the Russian leadership". The men were not executed but sent back to Russia following promises from the Kremlin that they would be imprisoned. Rumour has it that they were decorated for the assassination operation.

Akhmed Zakayev, a friend of Alexander Litvinenko and a former field commander in the first Chechen war who later became the deputy prime minister of Chechnya, says the killing of Litvinenko proved to the British people that Putin was "destroying democratic freedoms in Russia and beyond".

Zakayev, who beat an attempt by Russia to extradite him from the UK, added: "Putin is exporting his terror tactics in Chechnya to the UK and to London streets." Pointing out that Litvinenko had recently been granted British citizenship following his flight from Moscow after exposing criminal activities by Russian intelligence, Zakayev said: "Putin is now carrying out acts of terror against British citizens. Britain should see this as an act of terrorism against this nation."

British intelligence estimates that at least 30 Russian spies are operating in the UK. Most are from the GRU, Russian military intelligence, and the SVR, the overseas intelligence service equivalent to MI6. Most are based at the Russian embassy and have diplomatic status. As well as carrying out "traditional" espionage activities such as gathering military, political and industrial secrets, they are also believed to be focusing on Russian dissidents and Chechen rebels who are living in exile in the UK.

British intelligence sources are fearful of the UK's ability to tackle the gathering threat from the Kremlin. Counter-espionage - monitoring the actions of foreign spies in the UK - now accounts for just 6% of MI5's budget. This drastic reduction in resources since the days of the cold war is down to MI5 being recalibrated to tackle the al-Qaeda franchise. The director of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, told parliament's intelligence and security committee that "there's not less of it foreign espionage about, but we are doing less work on it".

MI5 has stated that at least 20 foreign intelligence services are "operating against the interests of Britain ... and the greatest concern is aroused by the Russians". MI5 has also said that the number of Russian intelligence operatives in the UK has not declined since the Soviet era.

Putin has put spying at the heart of his foreign policy since his rise to power in 2000. The UK is a key target because of the country's status as "American ally number one", Britain's role as a key leading member of Nato and due to the fact that so many of Putin's enemies are now living in exile in the UK.

MI5 has issued bulletins to staff and other security and intelligence services asking them to keep track of the movement of Russian diplomats thought to be engaged in spying. One bulletin said that Russian intelligence posed a "substantial" threat to the UK. It also told recipients to keep a look out for Russian diplomatic car licence plates.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, has had first-hand experience of the continuing attempts by Russia to spy on Britain. In 1996-97, he was first secretary to the British embassy in Warsaw, Poland, when Russian intelligence made a clumsy attempt to recruit him using sex as the lure.

He was due to attend a friend's stag night at an Irish bar in the centre of Warsaw but because of work commitments arrived two hours late. The barman informed him that his friends had moved on to a strip joint nearby. "When I arrived at the strip club," says Murray, "this Russian guy jumps up and calls me by my name and says I know you drink malt whisky, can I get you a Glenfiddich?'. With him were two beautiful Russian girls dressed in their underwear. He told me he was with a Russian trade delegation and said there was a limo outside and that I could take the girls to a house in the suburbs. I declined, made some small talk, finished my drink and then left."

Murray reported what he calls "this blatant attempt to recruit me" to British security officers at the embassy. They showed him a photo album of known Russian spies in Warsaw. "Unsurprisingly, my friend from the trade delegation' was in the book," Murray adds. "It was an astonishingly up-front and unsubtle approach." To this day, Murray is unsure whether the offer of sex with the Russian girls was an attempt to bribe him into working for the Kremlin or whether it was the set-up for a blackmail sting which would have coerced him into working for Russian intelligence.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a former lieutenant colonel in Russian intelligence. In 2003, after levelling harsh criticism against the Kremlin and its spying services, he came under harassment from the state and fled Russia. He now has political asylum status in the USA.

He has revealed to the Sunday Herald some of the key methods used by Russian intelligence to mount spying operations in Britain. The chief tactic is to target members of the huge Russian diaspora - made up of an eclectic mix of the descendants of White Russians who fled the country during the revolution, dissidents and their families who defected during the cold war and Russians who left the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

One route to the diaspora is through the Russian Orthodox Church in countries such as Britain and America. According to Preobrazhensky, Russian intelligence has long infiltrated the church and used it as a means to recruit emigre Russians and spy on dissidents and exiles.

"In the Soviet period, the Kremlin treated Russian refugees as traitors and enemies, but now it is turning them into its fifth column'," he says. "Specifically for this purpose, Putin has founded directorate EM' in his Foreign Intelligence Service. Its officers are working in every Western country, concentrating on local Russians."

Intelligence officers attract Russians overseas by appealing to their patriotism. "The communist idea has been replaced with the nationalistic one," Preobrazhensky says. The former spy adds that Putin aimed to turn the Orthodox Church abroad "into outposts of Russian state interests. Russian intelligence has penetrated the Orthodox Church and is utilising it for spying abroad."

Preobrazhensky, who plans to write about this phenomenon in his forthcoming book The KGB And The Russian Diaspora, points out that around a third of Russian Orthodox worshippers outside the borders of Russia are not native Russians but the children and grandchildren of immigrants. This, he says, gives the intelligence service a route to "ordinary" Britons and Americans who have no understanding of Russian life and are more vulnerable to exploitation.

"Westerners would think it unbelievable that a priest could be a spy - but in Russia is has been going on for almost 100 years," he adds. "Believe me - Russian Orthodox churches in the UK are infiltrated by Russian intelligence." The Sunday Herald contacted one Russian Orthodox church but the clergy there declined to comment on the allegations.

Preobrazhensky says that Russia's intelligence services had "dared" to kill Litvinenko as Putin "isn't afraid of the West at all. He believes they will never scold him as they think he is their friend". Preobrazhensky's words seemed to ring true last Friday when EU leaders met with Putin on the eve of an EU-Russia summit. Not one word was raised by Western leaders about the killing of Litvinenko. It was taken as an indication of just how dependent Europe now is on oil and gas-rich Russia.

"Russian intelligence is now very brave and bold," says Preobrazhensky. "In that way it differs from the old KGB as the KGB was afraid of condemnation from the West. Today, Russian intelligence is more like it was under Stalin - back then it ignored what the West felt and had no fear of the West."

Apart from spying on dissidents and exiles in the UK, Russian spies are effectively gathering intelligence on anything they can get their hands on. "They just gather intelligence for the sake of it," Preobrazhensky says. "They follow Trotsky's maxim that motion is all, the final point is nothing'. When I spied on China, intelligence could not explain why we were doing the spying.

"There are plenty of Russians in Britain - posing as businessmen or dissidents - who are working for intelligence. Great Britain is not prepared for this at all. Putin really does want to gain primacy over the West."

Preobrazhensky also believes that Russian intelligence has taken to working with organised crime around the world and suggested that criminals - either British or Russian - could have helped in the assassination of Litvinenko.

Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian dissident who was a friend of Litvinenko and is close to the most famous KGB defector to Britain, Oleg Gordievsky, believes that Russian intelligence is also working hand-in-glove with the Russian mafia both at home and abroad.

"Litvinenko told me how Russian intelligence was merging with the underworld. In Soviet times, the motive was ideological, now it is simply about expanding influence and making and extorting money. He says that when dissidents or businessmen fled Russia because of persecution they were often pursued by intelligence agents.

"They recruit them by threatening to harm their families back in Russia." As many of these exiles fled Russia because they were facing trumped-up criminal charges, Russia also intimidates them into working for intelligence by threatening to have them extradited back to Moscow and imprisoned. Bukovsky and other dissidents have warned the British authorities that some extradition attempts are often politically motivated.

Once recruited, many Russian immigrants are forced to assist in money-laundering and drug-dealing, Bukovsky claims. They can also be used for more straightforward "traditional" intelligence-gathering. Bukovsky compares the modern Russian intelligence service to the criminal-terrorist network "Spectre" in James Bond movies. He says his friend, former top-ranking Russian spy Gordievsky, has told British intelligence the same thing. "Many in the intelligence services are also key figures in organised crime," Bukovsky adds.

Bukovsky is deeply disappointed in the West for not tackling this "emerging monster" despite warnings from dissidents such as himself. "Russia is now just implementing laws that the West didn't take a stand against."

Bukovsky's friend Gordievsky, once the head of the KGB in London before his defection, says that Russian intelligence is strengthened by the number of Russians living in the UK and working for British companies. "Each second Russian in a position of some importance is acting as an informer," he says.

Russia has also successfully bribed British citizens in order to gain UK secrets. Russia is desperate to stay a big defence industry player and has used spying to get commercial secrets in order to remain in the same league as Britain and America. In March 2003, Ian Parr of BAE Systems was jailed for 10 years for attempting to pass military secrets to the Russians. Parr, a former soldier from Essex, wanted £130,000 to provide secrets on a new stealth cruise missile. MI5 later trapped him.

But industrial espionage is the least of Britain's worries. One UK source closely linked to British intelligence told how he had a conversation with a Russian intelligence officer in 2004, in which the Russian spy spoke of the killing of a British citizen carried out by Russian agents. In January 2004, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Workman was found shot dead on his doorstep in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Furneux Pelham. The killing seemed completely motiveless.

However, the Russian intelligence source told his British contact that Robert Workman was killed in a case of mistaken identity. The real target had been a judge called Timothy Workman who lived not far from the scene of the murder.

In late 2003, Judge Workman infuriated the Kremlin when he rejected Russia's extradition request for Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen leader in London. Workman said that Zakayev faced a "substantial risk" of being tortured if he was returned to Moscow to stand trial. The Kremlin accused Workman of playing "cold war politics".

Also in 2003, Judge Workman called a halt to Russia's attempt to have Boris Berezovsky extradited from Britain. The billionaire oligarch had fallen out with Putin and has bitterly criticised the ruling regime. Berezovsky was also a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko.

British MEP Gerard Batten, of the United Kingdom Independence Party, also became an acquaintance of Litvinenko, who was his constituent. Earlier this year, following briefings with the dissident Russian spy, Batten relayed claims made by Litvinenko on the floor of the European parliament.

Batten said that before fleeing Russia, Litvinenko spoke to his friend, Colonel-General Anatoly Trofimov, a former deputy chief of the FSB the successor organisation to the KGB, seeking advice on which country he should seek asylum in. Batten told the European parliament: "Trofimov reportedly told Litvinenko, Don't go to Italy, there are many KGB agents there among the politicians. Romano Prodi current prime minister of Italy and former head of the European Commission is our man there'." Trofimov and his wife were murdered in Moscow in 2005.

Batten called for an inquiry into the claims, and later told the European parliament that Russian intelligence "is central to the institutionalised web of organised crime and corruption that dominates Russia. It is not possible to resign from Russian intelligence anymore than it is from La Cosa Nostra ... It is not acceptable that this situation is unresolved given the importance of Russia's relations with the European Union."

Alexander Litvinenko was known to want to testify about allegations regarding Russian intelligence links to European political leaders and Russian intelligence involvement within organised crime in Europe prior to his assassination.

Part II: The New Gulags

The Expression"rape rooms" has become synonymous with the torture chambers of the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and some of the other more brutal third world dictatorships that litter the planet. But it isn't just tin-pot tyrants who employ the most sadistic and cruel methods of repression - if Amnesty International is to be believed, then the authoritarian state controlled by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin is also committing acts of torture against civilians that beggar belief.

In a new report, entitled The Russian Federation: Torture And Forced Confessions In Detention, Amnesty details a multiplicity of human rights abuses by the Russian state against its own citizens.

The organisation has "documented dozens of cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment with a view to extracting a confession in police custody and pre-trial detention across the Russian Federation since May 2002. The confessions then formed the basis of the criminal case against the accused, on the basis of which they were convicted." In 2005, Russian human rights groups documented at least 114 cases of torture supported by medical records.

Most torture occurs in police stations and holding centres. Methods involved the use of ropes and truncheons, plus electrocution. Victims have also had gas masks put over their heads and the air supply cut.

Many have been held incommunicado in secret detention centres. One victim was Aslan Umakhanov, a lawyer from Yekaterinburg. He was detained and beaten on March 29, 2006. Despite showing signs of torture in court, a judge authorised continued detention. He was subjected to electric shocks for six hours and made to sign a confession.

Prison colony IK-2 in Yekaterinburg is infamous for torture. Amnesty says that in IK-2, convicted prisoners are used to force confessions out of other detainees. And in exchange for early release or privileges, groups of up to six convicts beat and raped detainees who refused to confess. Amnesty adds that victims "described a room where suspects were allegedly raped. They say it is a small room with a metal table fixed to the floor and straps to secure the suspect's wrists and ankles."

In Rostov-on-Don, 15-year-old "Sergei" was savagely beaten and suffocated until he lost consciousness twice because the police wanted him to confess to stealing earrings. He signed a confession at knife-point.

Some prisoners who have complained to the courts about being tortured have been sent straight back into police custody to suffer reprisals. State prosecutors routinely fail to charge officials with acts of torture.

On June 27, 2005, 500 prisoners conducted a "self-harm protest" against abuse in the prison colony at Lgov.

The worst case of police brutality occurred in Blagoveshchensk in Bashkortostan in December 2004. After a minor riot between police and locals over arrests, security units rampaged through the town from December 10-14. At least 1000 people were injured, and 2000 rounded-up.

The "extraordinary sweep" was sanctioned by the internal affairs ministry and the local mayor. Some 40 masked police special units terrorised the town, beating detainees. There is evidence that girls were stripped naked in the district internal affairs offices and that rapes took place in a specific room. Marat Khayrullin, a correspondent with the dissident newspaper Novaya Gazeta on which the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya worked, said: "The sanctuary of totalitarianism is what lies in store for us."

The local prosecutor refused to organise medicals for police victims; a local newspaper which reported the events was closed down, and a man pursuing a claim against the authorities over the abuse of his teenage son was fired from his state job.






Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Time Magazine Cover Story on Neo-Soviet Russia

In yet another example of the total failure in public relations that characterizes the Putin regime, Time magazine has devoted a cover to "the chill in Russia" showing a matrioshka doll with tape over its mouth, an indelible image.

The issue contains a number of wonderful features, including a piece on dissidents like Mikhail Khodorkovsky (accompanied by a terrifyingly ghoulish photo of the man in Siberian prison) and a profile of dissidents that leads with focus on Lidia Yusupova that also includes a great photograph, as well as a linked article on Litvinenko. It's just too bad that Time couldn't have given Yulia this much-deserved coverage while she was still contending to win the Nobel Peace prize rather than only afterwards. Click through to read the stories, Time deserves the credit and attention. Time sums up the problem succinctly when it states of the neo-Soviet crackdown, as La Russophobe has been saying for months now:

Has anyone noticed? Some dissidents complain that, now that the cold war is over, Russia can get away with anything. "At least in the Soviet Union times there was a steady drumbeat of people in the West talking about the problem. Today, lots of Russian activists feel isolated," says Gill. That's not to say there's no support; the European Union and the Council of Europe hold regular discussions about human-rights issues with Russian authorities, and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, recently raised the matter of Khodorkovsky's imprisonment directly with Putin, saying the conditions of the oil boss's detention were "unacceptable."
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?

Remembering Soviet Genocide as UN Condemns Russia Yet Again

A new website called Genocide Curriculum has been created as a repository for documenation about communist atrocities in the former USSR. This could not be more timely, as we enter Cold War II, remembering what the first one was like and why it was fought. The site contains, for instance, a copy of the voluminous report on famine in the Ukraine issued by the U.S. Congress via a commission was chaired by James Mace -- who ironically died unexpectedly in a Kiev hospital and was an outspoken critic of Russia. One cannot discount the possibility that he was Litvinenko was "another Mace."

We need to be constantly reminded of this history, because we are reliving it, as the International Herald Tribune reports:

GENEVA: A U.N. anti-torture panel told Russia on Friday to outlaw the alleged practice of secret detention and kidnapping in the restive southern province of Chechnya. In a 12-page report on Russia's compliance with a global ban on prisoner abuse, the U.N. Committee Against Torture said it had "reliable reports of unofficial places of detention in the North Caucasus."

The committee, comprised of 10 independent experts, said it had learned of "allegations that those detained in such facilities face torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." In addition, the committee's report highlighted "numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations that abductions and enforced disappearances" in Chechnya were carried out by or take place with the consent of officials, and that perpetrators go unpunished.The incidents were linked with anti-terrorism operations, the panel said, adding that it was aware of allegations that relatives of terror suspects were also regularly detained.

Last week, Human Rights Watch told the committee that torture in Chechnya was both widespread and systematic. The New York-based rights group said it documented 115 torture cases in Chechnya between July 2004 and September 2006, with most of the incidents being carried out by security forces under Chechnya's Kremlin-backed prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov. The group also said it had received descriptions of at least 10 unlawful detention centers used by the forces, known as the Kadyrovtsy, throughout the republic. At the time, Interfax quoted Deputy Chechen Prime Minister Ziad Sabsabi as denying the allegations.

The U.N. anti-torture panel did not specify who carried out the reported acts of torture, but said the incidents allegedly have taken place in facilities run by the Second Operational Investigative Bureau, an agency formed in 2002 to work against organized criminal groups — which in Russia includes militant groups. The committee, which periodically reviews the record of each of the 142 signatories of the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture, also highlighted "numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations" of torture by police officials elsewhere in Russia. It urged Russia to address reports of hazing in the military and the harassment and killing of human rights defenders. Citing the case of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed on Oct. 7 while apparently investigating reports of torture in Chechnya, the panel said Russia should enforce national and international laws to combat human rights abuses, investigate all torture allegations and punish those responsible.

The Utter Failure of Putin's "Energy Superpower" Regime

Not only has Vladimir Putin failed miserably to deliver on his promised "law and order" platform, he's also utterly failed to capitalize on Russia's energy resources, as Edward Lucas makes clear in the following post. Yet, Russians continue to favor this malignant little troll with 70%+ approval ratings in polls. In other words, they are getting exactly what they deserve.

EUROPE has accustomed itself to a version of Russia and of Russian policy which goes like this: post-Soviet Russia is not only awash with oil and gas, it is using that energy wealth to promote its great-power ambitions through bullying and bribery. But what happens to the calculation if Russia is not an energy bully, but an energy beggar?

Russia reckons it will be short of 4.2 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas next year—enough to fuel a couple of small countries. Alan Riley, a competition lawyer, argues in a report for the Centre for European Policy Studies that Russia's gas shortfall will increase to 126 bcm a year by 2010, only slightly less than Russia's annual exports to the European Union. Vladimir Milov, a gutsy former energy minister who runs one of the few independent think-tanks in Moscow, agrees.
At first sight this sounds preposterous. Russia’s gas reserves amount to 47 trillion cubic metres, a colossal amount. But like so many things in Russia, the gas industry, which means mainly a state-run monopoly, Gazprom, is as wasteful as it is wealthy. And Gazprom is so secretive that outsiders find it hard to say whether the wealth or the waste is winning.

Russia has not developed a big new gas field since the Soviet Union collapsed, and those it inherited are depleting fast. The pipes are clapped out (just over half are more than 20 years old). The compressors are so inefficient that they waste 42 bcm a year. Yet, for political reasons, the government is pressing ahead with “gasification”—the extension of gas supplies to private households. That means more domestic demand, just as supply is falling.

Gazprom's finances are notoriously murky, but there is evidence enough that revenues have long been siphoned away by intermediary companies with anonymous beneficial owners. Costs are colossal by world standards. Much money goes on activities such as yachts, property and sporting events, which investment bankers primly describe as “non-core”. Gazprom owns, for example, a large chain of hotels (remarkable, when your correspondent stayed in one, for the richness of the fittings, the indolence of the large staff, and the absence of guests).

In theory Gazprom can develop new fields. In practice it needs foreign help, but it hates to see the foreigners sharing ownership, which bogs down negotiations. The rich Shtokman field beneath the Barents sea was discovered in 1988, but exploitation has been slowed by technical challenges formidable enough even before Russia’s capricious and xenophobic investment regime takes its toll. Foreign companies might risk a billion dollars here or there in Russia, but in the present climate of uncertain property rights they are not going to commit the tens of billions needed to develop a whole new gas field.

Gazprom’s main stopgap is to buy gas from Central Asia. Leaving aside the irony that a country as gas-rich as Russia should need to import gas at all, there are particular snags here. The implied quantities are huge. Purchases from Turkmenistan are supposed to rise more than tenfold, to 80 bcm a year, by 2009—and the Turkmen gas industry is even worse-run than Russia’s own. Independent producers inside Russia might offer some relief, save that Gazprom is twitchy about allowing independents to use its pipelines. Instead, it likes to buy them up, preserving its monopoly. When that happens they tend to fall to Gazprom’s own woeful standards of inefficiency.

Already Russia is cutting back gas supplies to soft targets such as Belarus, and trying to raise prices wherever it can. Things will get worse before they get better. A badly-needed new power plant in St Petersburg is not yet running because there is no gas arriving to fuel it. If Mr Riley is right, this will be a fascinating winter, and a most uncomfortable one for some households. Will Vladimir Putin decide to freeze his own voters, or those of neighbouring countries? One choice risks provoking a political explosion, the other a diplomatic one. If you live anywhere between Aachen and Amur, do check your stocks of candles and coal.

The Utter Failure of Putin's "Law & Order" Regime

The one thing Russians were supposed to guarantee themselves when they elected Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, to office was law and order, safe streets, just like they had in Soviet Times. The Kansas City Star reports that Putin has utterly failed to deliver on this promise, even as he has launched the nation into a second cold war with the West that it cannot win, in classic neo-Soviet fashion diverting the nation's resources to a fruitless, self-destructive arms race. As the article makes clear, just like his Soviet predecessors Putin can't admit that there are criminals in high-ranking positions of power because it would discredit his own regime to do so. When asked whether it was possible that any member of the KGB could have planted the bombs which exploded in Moscow apartment buildings just before Russia's second attack on Chechnya, Putin laughably claimed the giant agency did not contain even one such person. The problem begins with the fact that the fish is rotting from its head. Russia's police are infamously corrupt and incompetent, and the president is a proud KGB spy with a secret resume, hardly a model of transparency and respect for the rule of law.

SMOLENSK, Russia - The era of brutal score-settling is far from over in Russia, especially here in this hard-bitten western city where the nexus of business and politics usually yields volatile results. Eduard Kachanovsky, a freshman city councilman who rankled city officials and their moneyed business allies with investigations into shady real estate deals and missing cash, recently learned that lesson. He had been warned by city officials for months to stop digging. Each time, he ignored them.

On the morning of Oct. 17, Kachanovsky was walking through his apartment building lobby on his way to work when two men dressed as laborers blocked his way. Before Kachanovsky could move, one of the men threw a container of sulfuric acid at his head. The attack burned much of his face and blinded him for several days. "Unfortunately, I never paid much attention to the threats I was getting," said Kachanovsky, who now lives in hiding. "Now I understand it's a pity that I didn't pay more attention to them."

With disturbing frequency, Russia's intersection of politics and business is spawning the kind of coldblooded payback that characterized 1990s Russia under Boris Yeltsin. So far, the magnitude of the violence doesn't match the gangland frenzy that made Russia's first post-Soviet years internationally notorious. Still, a recent wave of attacks and contract killings reinforces doubts among Russians that their country has edged closer to an era of stability and rule of law.

In many cases, today's targets are reformers hunted because they tried to fix the system and thought the country had matured enough to allow change to happen. Andrei Kozlov, first deputy chairman of Russia's Central Bank, had shut dozens of banks with connections to organized crime and investigated money launderers. The 41-year-old banker was gunned down as he left a soccer stadium in Moscow Sept. 13. He died a day later in the hospital.

One of Russia's leading investigative journalists, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot to at death in her Moscow apartment building Oct. 7. Politkovskaya, 48, was one of the Kremlin's harshest critics and wrote extensively about human rights abuses and atrocities committed by Russian soldiers fighting separatists in the rebellious southern republic of Chechnya.

Friends of another Kremlin critic, Alexander Litvinenko, claim that the former Russian spy's death Thursday in London amounted to a different kind of score-settling. Litvinenko was poisoned by a rare radioactive substance, polonium 210, an act Litvinenko's family and friends believe was engineered by Russian authorities and ordered by President Vladimir Putin. Putin called the accusations groundless and said his government would cooperate with British investigators probing Litvinenko's death.

In Russia, seven people have been slain in apparent contract killings in the last 10 weeks. The victims include a mayoral candidate in the Russian far east city of Dalnegorsk, a Moscow regional tax official, two Moscow bank executives and a Russian oil executive. The violence hearkens back to post-Soviet Russia's wobbly first steps, when disputes were ironed out not with lawsuits but with bludgeons and bullets.

The country's transition from communism to capitalism became a tailspin into lawless chaos; more often than not, politicians and businessmen relied not on savvy but on their leather-jacketed goons and firepower to come out on top. Turf war assassinations and armed takeovers of businesses became commonplace, the by-product of a mad scramble for billions of dollars in property and assets freed up by the Soviet collapse.

With Putin as president, all of that was supposed to end. He called his approach to governance "dictatorship of law." In recent weeks, it's becoming increasingly clear that Russia's Wild West days are far from just a bad memory. "The measures taken by Putin so far are superficial and shallow," says Yevgeny Volk, an analyst with the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation. "They don't address the area that is most profitable for state officials - corruption."

In Smolensk, a small provincial capital dominated by vodka distilleries and a diamond cutting plant, corruption threads through much of civic life, including businesses, municipal government and law enforcement. Elected in January 2005, Kachanovsky quickly began poring through city records in hopes of ferreting out City Hall wrongdoing. One of his principal findings, he says, involved the 2004 transfer of roughly $338,000 from city coffers to Tasis-Agra, a company co-founded by the daughter of Smolensk Mayor Vladislav Khaletsky. A city document drafted by Khaletsky that authorizes the transfer makes no mention of what the money is for. Kachanovsky, the City Council's deputy chairman, also dug into Khaletsky's 2005 authorization of the sale of five parcels of municipal property officially appraised at $300,000 to an undisclosed individual for $1,900.

Khaletsky declined a request for an interview. Kachanovsky turned over his findings to a city prosecutor, Leonid Zhuchkov, who agreed there was a basis for the allegations and pursued the cases. When Zhuchkov tried to convince his bosses that the cases had merit, he and two of his investigators were fired. "It's not about our jobs," says Zhuchkov. "It's about two concepts clashing: the criminals in positions of authority, and the men of principle who try to resist them. The fact that there are criminals in power discredits the government in the eyes of citizens. It leads to a lack of confidence."

Kachanovsky says he had been warned on numerous occasions by city officials to stop investigating. The last warning came in September, a day before his 33rd birthday, when a city aide grimly warned Kachanovsky to drop the probes. "He said if I don't stop, I'll face the same fate that Christ faced," said Kachanovsky, who believes the remark was a reference to the belief by some that Christ was 33 when he died. On the morning he was attacked, Kachanovsky gave no thought to the two men dressed in overalls in the lobby, since several apartment buildings were under construction nearby. "They stepped in my way and splashed this acid in my face," Kachanovsky said. "They said something to me, but at that moment I could not quite hear. After that they ran away."

Kachanovsky darted back upstairs, raced past his horrified wife, Svetlana, and quickly doused his head and chest with water. "What my wife saw was really awful - clothes burned, my face burned," Kachanovsky said. "It was a great stress for her, and she's pregnant." He has regained his eyesight, but he still bears deep crimson scars across most of his face. He would like to return to his work on the City Council, though he's not sure when. As for the hunt for his attackers, he doubts much will come of it. "There has been no progress, and I don't think there will be any progress," Kachanovsky said. "I gave them a list of suspects as I see it, but I don't think the people who ordered this and carried it out will be found."