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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

LR on PP

Check out La Russophobe's latest installment on Publius Pundit, where she reviews the Kremlin's assault on the Russian-Chechen Friendship Association, an early indication of how the Kremlin plans to use last year's Law Against Extremism to shut down opposition political organizations. Reader comments on the best way to deal with this ever-increasing outrage are most welcome; as we also report today, the Kremlin is simulatenously moving to attack formal political parties, denying them access to the 2008 political process. What we are seeing is nothing less than the formalization of the neo-Soviet state, and it's quite horrifying.

Some people (well, morons) accuse LR of hating all Russians. But it's obvious this isn't true. The above post, for example, is a tribute to a Russian, Stanislav Dmitrievsky, and LR has published many tributes to other Russians in the past whom she greatly admires. For instance: Anna Politkovskaya, Marina Litvinovich, Yevgenia Albats, Yulia Latynina, Svetlanna Gannushkina and Lidia Yusupova. She will never have enough praise for them or for their thousands upon thousands of supporters in Russia. The Russians she hates are the ones who actively oppose them and, like Martin Luther King, even more the ones who passively sit by and enable the rise of malignant little trolls like Vladimir Putin, who loves Russia the way a spider loves a fly (to paraphrase Politkovskaya in the New Yorker).

NB: LR's new chatbox has already begun to acquire content. A commenter has posted a link which purports to show the luxurious interior of Vladimir Putin's version of air force one. Check it out!

Kremlin Seeks to Obstruct All Political Parties

La Russophobe is always mightily amused at the way that malignant little troll Vladimir Putin and his clan of KGB spies profess strength, talking about stomping Chechen rebels in their outhouses, and yet when it comes to things like elections they show as much yellow as a stream of urine, cravenly afraid of anything remotely like a fair fight. In other words, like the cowards they truly are, they cheat. The Moscow Times reports:

With the exception of United Russia and A Just Russia, just about every political party that has tried to register for the parliamentary elections scheduled for March in 14 regions across the country have run into difficulties. Pro-Kremlin parties United Russia and A Just Russia are on the ballot in all 14 regions. But opposition parties have been barred from races in a number of regions in what analysts call an attempt by local authorities to settle score with dissident groups and demonstrate their loyalty to the Kremlin.

"The Kremlin has no interest in all these scandals. The only explanation is that regional bosses are making a show of loyalty to Moscow," said Sergei Mikheyev, a regional analyst at the Center for Political Technologies. The affected parties are hardly on the political fringe. The Communist Party was not allowed to register in the Tyumen region and the republic of Dagestan. The Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and Yabloko have also been stricken from the ballot in Dagestan.

St. Petersburg election officials refused to register Yabloko as well as the People's Will party and the United Socialist Party of Russia, which emerged from the breakup of the Rodina party. Some 40 Yabloko activists rallied Monday on Red Square to protest the party's exclusion from the election for St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly. Election officials ruled that 12 percent of some 8,000 signatures submitted in support of Yabloko's application to register were invalid. The party collected some 40,000 signatures in all. Election law says no more than 10 percent of submitted signatures can be invalid.

Yabloko plans to appeal the ruling to the Central Elections Commission this week, and, if necessary, take its case all the way to the Supreme Court, Maxim Reznik, head of the party's St. Petersburg branch, said Monday. Boris Vishnevsky, a senior member of Yabloko's organization in the northern capital, said Monday that he was convinced the ruling had been ordered by City Hall. "I see the hand of Governor Valentina Matviyenko in all of this," Vishnevsky said. "She has clearly had enough of Yabloko questioning her controversial decisions. The governor has decided that it's time to block Yabloko's access to the only political forum in the city: the Legislative Assembly." Yabloko irked City Hall recently by pushing for a citywide referendum on the proposed construction of a 396-meter-tall glass tower that would become Gazprom's new headquarters. If Yabloko is not restored to the ballot, liberal voters will probably put their support behind SPS, Mikheyev said.

The decision by Dagestani officials to bar the Communists and SPS from the upcoming parliamentary election was based on similarly technical grounds. Under regional law, parties must field candidates in all 53 of Dagestan's districts in order to contest the election. Last week, four SPS candidates suddenly withdrew from the race, as did three Communists, leaving the parties without candidates in several districts. Dagestan's Supreme Court rejected appeals from both parties despite the fact that the candidates in question had agreed to re-enter the race. "The election law in Dagestan is terrible. It allows the authorities to exclude a national party just because one or two of its candidates got cold feet," said Enver Kisriyev, a political analyst with the Center for Civilization and Regional Studies, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Gazeta.ru reported late Monday that Dagestani election officials had relented and would allow the Communists to contest the March election after the presidium of the regional Supreme Court reinstated the party's withdrawn candidates. This report could not be confirmed late Monday. The Communist Party has traditionally been a major power in Dagestan, winning more than 25 percent of seats in the regional legislature in 2003. If the party were barred, most of those seats would likely go to United Russia, Kisriyev said. United Russia in Dagestan is backed by President Mukhu Aliyev. In the Tyumen region, the Communist Party has filed a new party list in an attempt to get back on the ballot. The party was denied registration last week because its candidates had not fully disclosed their incomes and property.

Luzhkov Condems Gays as "Satanic"

Maybe you don't care for homosexuals. But even if you don't, you probably don't feel the need to condemn them to hell as long as they leave you alone, right? And even if you felt that need, you probably wouldn't do it because, if they get condemned today, then who knows, maybe you'll get condemned tomorrow, right? But unfortuantely, the Mayor of Moscow can't grasp this logic. Today the homos, tomorrow the Jews, and the day after that . . . the bell tolls for THEE, my friend. The Moscow Times reports:

Mayor Yury Luzhkov on Monday denounced gay rights parades as "satanic" and vowed that he would never allow such events to be held in the city. Speaking during a Russian Orthodox Church conference at the Kremlin, Luzhkov said the city would reject any application to hold a gay pride parade and crack down on anyone who chose to march in defiance of the ban, just as it did in 2006. "Last year, Moscow came under unprecedented pressure to sanction the gay parade, which can be described in no other way than as a satanic event," Luzhkov said in televised comments. "We did not let the parade take place then, and we will not allow it in the future."

At last year's parade in May, marchers were overwhelmed by militant Orthodox Christians and ultranationalists throwing smoke bombs. The parade had been banned by Luzhkov, and more than 100 gay rights activists and their opponents were arrested by police. Nikolai Alexeyev, the chief organizer of last year's march, said it was "shocking" that such a high-ranking government official could publicly express such sentiments. "To compare us to a satanic cult is not worthy of the top official of Europe's largest city," Alexeyev said. "It is a personal insult." Alexeyev said the parade organizers would file a libel suit against Luzhkov in the coming weeks. Alexeyev also said that on Monday the organizers of last year's parade had filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, seeking 20,000 euros ($26,000) in damages for the violation of their constitutional right of free assembly.

Gay activists will march again this year regardless of whether Luzhkov bans the parade, Alexeyev said. Ahead of last year's march, the Council of Europe issued a statement that offered support to gay rights activists in Moscow in their struggle against homophobia. The statement also called on city authorities to ensure the safety of the marchers.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a top spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, said Monday that a majority of Russians were against gay rights parades. Chaplin called Luzhkov a "responsible politician" for upholding the will of the people in his remarks at the Kremlin on Monday. "Satanic" was not an exaggeration by Luzhkov, Chaplin said. "The forces of evil are always emboldened by the propaganda of sin," Chaplin said.

A number of gay rights activists opposed last year's parade and labeled Alexeyev a self-promoter who sought to use the event to build his own reputation at home and abroad. Gay activist Ed Mishin, director of the gay rights organization Together, said the gay parade dispute in Moscow was merely a personal conflict between Alexeyev and Luzhkov. "This is not a conflict between city authorities and the gay community at large," Mishin said.

Luzhkov on Monday also accused countries in the West of trying to force their liberal values on Russia, thereby corrupting its children and its traditions. Luzhkov said it was unfortunate that "religious institutions at various levels" in European countries had teamed up with governments to "bless same-sex marriages" and provide "manuals of a sexual nature" for use in the education of children "starting in the first grade." "Supporters of such education appear in Russia propped up by generous grants from thoughtful Western 'educators,'" Luzhkov said, Interfax reported. In April 2005, Luzhkov suggested that the construction of a golf course in the bucolic Strogino area in northwestern Moscow would help prevent homosexuals and barbecuers from frequenting the area and damaging the environment.

Kudrin for President?

Konstantin Sonin, a professor at the New Economic School/CEFIR in Moscow, seeks to jump-start the debate over the 2008 succession issue by touting Alexei Kudrin in the Moscow Times:

When political activists Masha Gaidar and Ilya Yashin draped a banner that read, "Return the elections to the people, you scum!" over the side of the Great Stone Bridge facing the Kremlin, they were expressing in a very clear manner a thought that fills volumes of texts written by political scientists today: Russia is no longer a democracy. Although, formally, elections continue to be conducted, neither the rules --– thanks to United Russia -- nor the process -- thanks to President Vladimir Putin's administration -- meet the broadly accepted criteria for democratic elections. The system may be democratic in form but is hardly so in content.

The idea that elections are something that the political leadership grants the people is a fairy tale: In fact, those in power only agree to hold elections when they have exhausted all other options. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev continuously held freer and freer elections with the sole goal of guaranteeing his own political survival through his struggles with the more conservative wing of the Politburo. And President Boris Yeltsin used the mandates that he had won in elections as weapons -- first against Gorbachev, and later against the Communists and other opponents.

So, if the people want genuine elections, the only way is to compel those in power to hold them. Given this, I have a suggestion to would help improve the democratic bona fides of the 2008 presidential vote. Now, before anyone gets too excited, let's remember that rendering the election fully democratic in one fell swoop is probably too tall an order. But it still might be possible to develop some of the requisite elements, such as a public discussion of the way the different candidates propose to develop the country they hope to lead. In developed democracies, political campaigns and party platforms play a major role in determining the course the country will ultimately take.

The idea here is that the candidates looking for Putin's blessing ahead of the 2008 vote would discuss their programs as if they were actually running a campaign.

We have already been seeing this to some extent in the cases of the current favorites: First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Before the plan put forward last week by Medvedev, the discussion had been free of verbose party manifestos, focusing instead on analysts' projections for the policies each of the figures might follow as president. The suggestion was that Sergei Ivanov, for example, would follow a policy of even greater state intervention in the economy and open confrontations with governments in other countries. There was a fair consensus on this among analysts, despite the fact that Ivanov had yet to make any public comments on these subjects.

And there's no reason to confine our discussion to these two candidates. There could be other interesting options. If any of these people can get their message out and convince a big enough portion of the elite that Putin should endorse someone other than Medvedev or Ivanov, the president would be obliged to do so. In other words, it isn't true that any person's only hope for success rests on a word from Putin: A candidate who can suggest a popular program also stands a chance.

One such candidate could be Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. No other government member has such obvious and solid strengths. His ability to keep spending under control, and the development and defense of the stabilization fund at a time when Russia is reaping unparalleled revenues from oil and gas sales, is a feat few finance ministers in the world could have pulled off. Last year's substantial capital inflow, though driven by excess global liquidity, is a good indicator of Russia's macroeconomic stability.

So, let the discussion begin.

.

Dear, dear eXile!

La Russophobe is proudly awaiting the day, several weeks hence, when she records the 100,000th page view at this blog (we're now at 90,000). A "page view" is not the same as a visit, one visit can generate more than one page view depending on the interest level of the visitor, so it's a more general indication of how the blog is being received by its audience. But it's still a really big number for a little specialist blog like this, and it's going to come before we're even one year old. Readers should be just as pleased as LR, since they are responsible for the number as much as LR is. When this day arrives, it'll be the biggest milestone in the history of this blog to date, so naturally we are on pins and needles. Perhaps it's because any hopeful sign where Russia is concerned, in the midst of so very much darkness, is so valuable.

Thankfully, the charming fellows over at the eXile tabloid have stepped in to fill the void, providing us with yet another milestone to tide us over whilst we patiently wait for the big one to arrive, like little kids waiting for Santa Claus (it's as if there were a National Enquirer in America written in Russian by Russians; here's how the earthshaking lead item in the most recent issue begins: "For years Moscow has been known as the cultural Cheese Capital of Eastern Europe, a hotbed of sh**ty disco pop music and style so shamelessly lame that it made Milan or the Castro District seem like grimy punk zones by comparison." Heavy stuff there, heavy.) . They've said they don't like us! In fact, they've devoted a whole article to a typically scatalogical personal attack on us! There really couldn't be any more convincing proof of what we've achieved in the short amount of time we've existed so far than the eXile's disapproval, so we humbly thank them for it. We're very proud to be now keeping company with other vile villains hated by the eXile, such as the Moscow Times and Yevgenia Albats. And the free publicity can't hurt either (yup, we can hardly believe that all nine of the eXile's readers have now been clued in to our existence! is that cool or what? we're looking to see a major surge in visitation over the next few days).

To thank the (very little) boys over at the eXile for their charming and most welcome recognition, we've consulted a journalism professor and are pleased to offer them a series of free lessons in the finer points of their craft, which will hopefully lead to even more brilliant success for them in the future, maybe even Russia's version of the Pulitzer Prize (if such there be).

To wit:

1. Interviews

We know it probably sounds like a bizarre notion to the boys, but when you want to know about somebody (David Johnson and Kim Zigfeld are mentioned in the eXile's screed by name), our professor says one of the first things an actual journalist will do is speak to them. If, for instance, the eXile had interviewed David Johnson before going to print, they'd have found out that, far from being the recipient of "crazed" letters from Ms. Zigfeld, he recently wrote to her and asked permission to run our translation of the Novaya Gazeta piece "Spare Organs," which she was happy to grant. Ms. Zigfeld herself has never received any inquiry from the eXile about, well, anything. Maybe they'll try this technique one day, a whole new world might open up for them! For instance, instead of asking readers "Who is this freakish ghoul who haunts the blog world with her Russophobia, and what is his/her/their purpose?" they could have asked us, and then they could have printed the answer. Journalism at this sophisticated level is really amazing, isn't it?

2. Sources

Often times, the professor says, it's considered a good idea to check out one's sources of information before going to press. The mention by the eXile of the name "Oliver Bronsen" is a sure tipoff that information has been fed by them by the wacko Russophile pair of Kiril Pankratov and Mike Averko. Relying on these keystone cops for information is like relying on Vladimir Putin for the milk of human kindness. Perhaps not such a good idea, especially not when making statements about "one of those psychos who writes obsessive letters to their local newspaper complaining about 'big government.'" Those who have read LR's post about Mr. Averko will understand why (that's quite a large number, as you will see if you Google Mr. Averko's name). Little wonder the eXile chose not to name their sources, but the professor says that conscientious journalists frown on the use of anonymity in such cases. It's the sure tipoff of quackery.

3. Consistency

According to the professor, one of the most important features of journalism, and the single most important feature of editing, is consistency. If, for instance, you at one point say "La Russophobe is an NGO project run by an angry, fat-assed Anglo/American chick who hates Sharapova" and you then post the picture at left, well, people are bound to be confused. Even by anorexic standards, that ass isn't fat. And if you then go on to say that Ms. Zigfeld is actually a guy named Oliver Bronsen, your readers are bound to drift away to . . . oh . . . let's just say the Moscow Times. Also, you might then notice that it's just a bit odd to refer to the source of your story about LR anonymously as "a reader" and to publish the story itself without a byline whilst simultaneously screeching about how odd it is that LR might be anonymous. You might notice that if you say you're about to list "two theories" and then list (a) and (b) and (c), that's not actually two. Likewise, it might have occurred to somebody that expressing hatred of all things La Russophobe (to say nothing of all things George Bush and, indeed, all things America) while attacking LR for expressing hatred of all things Russian is bound to be a bit confusing for many. And lastly, you might realize that if you pontificate about LR being obsessed with attention and then give her some, you're kind of undermining your own theory (or at least showing a pretty childish lack of self control -- then again, maybe that's a point of pride over at the eXile).

4. Conflict of interest

Granted, journalistic ethics is an advanced topic, and it's probably way too early to mention it. But we can dream, can't we? If you're going to write a critique of somebody (let's say something thoughtful and reasonable like: "La Russophobe is a compulsively unironic, humorless hate blog, with said hatred directed at All Things Russian. Sort of like one of those psychos who writes obsessive letters to their local newspaper complaining about 'big government.'"), the professor says, it's considered standard operating procedure to disclose the fact that the person has previously written such things about you. You know, as La Russophobe did five months ago about eXile editor Mark Ames. The same thing holds true for the rather sharp attacks LR has launched against the eXile's sources, Averko and Pankratov. What's more, in the blogosphere it's considered basic to post a link to those comments, so readers can see them for themselves. This not only follows good ethics, but it avoids the appearance that you're scared of what was said about you and don't want anybody to read it. LR must say she was a bit disappointed, but not surprised, that the eXile didn't do so.

5. Research

Last, but certainly not least, the professor points out the many benefits of actually doing research, instead of just blowing smoke out of your butt, which is amusing for a while but gets old pretty fast. If, for instance, the eXile had done any research about this blog they would have learned. just for instance, that:

  • Far from being "obsessed" with Maria Sharapova as they claim, only 25 posts out of 1,250 that have been published so far over the course of ten months had Maria as a topic. In other words, 98% of our posts are not about Sharapova, only 2% are. Given that she's the most famous Russian in the world (and the wealthiest female athlete of any nation), we hardly think that's overkill. Now, we understand that the little horny boys over at the eXile are annoyed that we've dared to mess with their wet dreams (they refer to Maria as "tennis-babe" in the article), but come on guys. There's lots of fish in the sea! And anyway, Russia is full of cheap prostitutes and vodka to ply them with.
  • Maybe it's not such a good idea to say "just about every non-cash-earning blog is totally f**ked up." They might have found out, you see, that La Russophobe has more links from blogs and more traffic than any "cash-earning" Russia blog of its kind in existence. A little more research might have revealed that a "non-cash-earning" educational/political blog can make freer use of source material than can one which operates for revenue. Still more research might have led to the realization of how many people feel using profanity isn't really very impressive. In fact, often, quite the opposite. Especially when you follow it up with childish and incomprehensible analogies like "a Scooby Doo situation." Plus which, no matter how jaded and cynical you might be, is it really such a good idea to trash volunteerism, particularly in a country like Russia where 1 million people are lost from the population every year? Is even the eXile capable of being THAT evil? Maybe. Maybe they revile Gandhi because he didn't keep on being a tax lawyer and raking in the big bucks. Perhaps they're just that sick. But if so, it's rather odd that they spend so much time screeching about the establishment and the Bush adminstration, isn't it?
  • Probably could have done better than to say that LR "hates all things Russian." After all, everybody within earshot knows how much LR loves Anna Politkovskaya, Yulia Yusupova, Yevgenia Albats, Marina Litvinovich and Svetlana Gannushkina -- to say nothing of Stanislav Dmitreivsky. They're about as Russian as you can get! The tribute in our sidebar and our special piece on Publius Pundit clearly show our awestruck admiration for them, and many other Russians who struggle to stop the rise of the neo-Soviet Union in Russia. This blog was created for one purpose: to support them!
We hope this little lesson has been valuable to our friends over at the eXile and look forward to lots more free publicity from them in the future.

And here's a little personal advice, just because we're feeling so good.

Dear eXile,

Guys, if you really wanted to "get" us, you would have praised us to the sky. Had you done so, we would have (a) felt a bit guilty about trashing you as incompetent loons who crashed and burned in America and then went to the one place in the world where you could actually feel superior and started pimping Russian women to foreigners for profit as mail-order brides under the guise of "journalism" and we would have (b) had to reevaluate our whole existence, since your approval would be the same as getting a letter from a hero like Yulia Latynina saying we suck. So, as far as can be seen, you accomplished the exact opposite of your purpose. That is unless you actually do like us, and know how we think, and wanted to throw us a bone. But since we don't want you to like us, we prefer to think you're not remotely close to being that clever.

Love and Kisses,

La Russophobe

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Russian Special Forces Used Litvinenko's Image for Target Practice

You may recall how various Russophile wackos have claimed that Alexander Litvinenko was too small a fish in the Kremlin's eyes to justify taking any action against him; in essence, they say, the Kremlin couldn't care less about him. Reader Jeremy Putley directs us to a report from the Polish newspaper Dziennik, which reports that the FSB has been using Litvinenko's image for target practice. A video is available here and below is an image from a Russian website with more photographs of the target practice scenes.

One must say that Mr. Putley is far more than just a "reader" and is in fact an important driving force behind the movement for democratization and justice in Russia as a contributor not merely to this blog but also to David McDuff's A Step at a Time and Norbert Strade's Chechnya List. La Russophobe is indebted to him for his invaluable contributions to this effort and to this blog, as are all those concerned with opposing the rise of the neo-Soviet Union in Russia.

Putley offers, via Strade's Chechnya List, the following translation from the Polish press (if any reader has a facility with Polish language and can translate the entire Dziennik article, LR would be delighted to receive it): "Sergei Mironov, the Chairman of Russian Federation Council, the third person in the country, visited a shooting range with targets that had portraits of murdered former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko. On the internet site of the Center of Russian special services Vityaz we have found a photo of Mironov against a background of targets with Litvinenko. Sergei Mironov visited Vityaz on November the 7th. On one of these photos he wears earmuffs and safety glasses. We don't know if he was actually firing or just wore shooting acessories, because someone else was firing at targets standing beside him."

This information about Mironov (pictured, below left) was subsequently censored, according to SCL, which adds more translation as follows:

Our source, a person connected with special units, explained to us that this videoclip was taken during practice of spetznaz in the Vityaz Centerm 10 km from Moscow, in the town of Balashikha. Exactly 2 days after the attack on the theater at Dubrovka (23 Oct.2002). This is the base of Russian special units, assembled from veterans of spetznaz, Alfa (units of the former KGB, now FSB) and Vityaz (Interior Ministry anti-terrorists unit). Soldiers of these formations were extracting hostages in Dubrovka and Beslan.

Nervous reaction of Russians

Reaction of Russians when we asked about that videoclip in the Center Vityaz was very fast. From Center's webpage immediately has disappeared that picture on which a shooting target with Litvinenko's silhuette can bee seen. We were able to copy it from the site (see above right, photohere)

Colonel Sergei Ivanovich Lysiuk, the commander of the Center, belittles the issue: "It appeared to you (that was him). Nobody fires at picture of Litvinenko" - he told to our journalist. "But on the Center's webpage we also found a picture on which a target with Litvinenko can be seen" - we were inquiring. "Where it is says that this is Litvinenko? - he asked ironically.

When we phoned him one more time with a question why after our call that picture has disappeared from the Center's webpage, colonel Lysiak reacted nervously:" Girl, you just think (that was him). Goodbye" - and he hung up the receiver. Military attache in the Russian embassy Vladimir Bietekhin, asked by dziennik.pl to comment about this, he first send us to the department of Interior Ministry in Moscow, and then asserted that he didn't know Litvinenko. Also added that there's nothing unusual in firing by the commandos at human silhuettes. "To think like this, we can go too far, because putting questions if soldiers shoot at human silhuettes, to learn to kill something concrete, that's a complicated philosophy" - he put us off.

UPDATE. Now, Jeremy Putley points out that the AP has got the story. Here's their report:

A private facility that trains security personnel used pictures of poisoned Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko's face for target practice during a competition for special forces, the center's chief said on Tuesday. In video circulating the Internet, trainees dressed in camouflage maneuver between slats in a wall, leap through an obstacle course, then tumble to a semi-sitting position with outstretched arms aiming their weapons at a black-and-white target showing Alexander Litvinenko's face. Several black holes appear on the target near the ex-spy's nose before the video goes black. Click here to watch video of trainees firing at the Litvinenko target.

Sergei Lysyuk, Vityaz Center's chief, said the video is from 2002 and shows military recruits. He said he was unaware the target depicted Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning after eating at a sushi restaurant. The former spy was an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and from his deathbed accused the leader of pulling the strings in a plot to kill him. "The fact that it was Litvinenko, we only found out later from the press," Lysyuk said. "We did not shoot at Litvinenko; we shot at a target."

Use of the target at the center, which held a competition for Russian special forces, became known this week after Russian media published photographs of Sergei Mironov, head of the Russian parliament's upper house, visiting the center in early November. His visit, to present awards in a competition for Interior Ministry special forces, came about a week after Litvinenko fell ill; one photo shows the Litvinenko target in the background behind Mironov.

Lysyuk insisted his company does not normally hold such contests and was granting a favor to former Interior Ministry colleagues, whose own training ground was being repaired. Litvinenko, once an agent in the Federal Security Service, the Soviet KGB's main successor, fled to Britain and was granted asylum after accusing his superiors of ordering him to kill Boris Berezovsky, a Russian tycoon and one-time Kremlin insider who also has been granted British citizenship.

Dmitry Peskov, a senior Kremlin spokesman, said using a person's face as a shooting range "was ethically incorrect," but stressed it was that company's responsibility and insisted government troops were not involved in the exercises. "There is no talk of such shooting ranges being used by Russian special forces or by the Vityaz unit," Peskov told AP in a telephone interview. "This [company] has no relation to the elite Vityaz troops."


Unfiltered Chat (and game!) Now Available

LR is pleased to announce another new feature offered by this blog: If you are not a member of Blogger, you may be interested to know that you can now talk back to La Russophobe (or to other LR readers) by means of a scrolling chat located at the bottom of the sidebar (it also has its own webpage). Anyone can enter text in the chatbox any time she/he feels like it, with complete ease and anonymity. However, if you want LR to pay attention to your remarks, you should identify them with a unique name when you post and you should avoid vulgarity. You will not get a reply otherwise. Remember, Blogger membership is free and easy, so consider signing up and joining us in the blogosphere! Note that the chatbox is supplied free to LR by a host company and is funded by tiny advertisements appearing on the box. LR receives no revenue of any kind as the result of these advertisements and continues her policy of refusing financial support from any source and charging readers nothing for her content. LR assumes no responsibilty for the content of the chatbox and, since it is unfiltered, warns those who may be faint of heart or weak of stomach to ignore it.

You may also want to try your hand at our new game, Russian Life, just above the chat box. Use you mouse to aim your telescopic site and click to blast away at the lurking KGB agents before they liquidate you.

Update on Svetlichnaya-Heartfield

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

When last we heard, little miss Julia Svetlichnaya was planning to sue Aftenposten and the Sunday Times for reporting that she had connections to the Kremlin which might have caused her to shade the truth when she reported that Alexander Litvinenko was a corrupt wacko (only after his demise, when he couldn't defend himself) in the British paper The Observer. As you may recall, her collaborator in the nasty business of smearing Litvinenko was one James Heartfield, whom we had identified as a wacky Marxist with a shadowy past. Turns out, the fellow is even more far out then we imagined. A reader writes with some additional details:

On the subject of James Heartfield, I looked at the sourcewatch link, and what caught my eye was the Living Marxism reference. But first I looked at his membership of the (British) Revolutionary Communist Party and saw the claim that he actually co-authored their manifesto! Well, to see what kind of Party they were, you can look at the quote below from the website of an ordinary regular leftie who was once a member of them:

......I attended a London-wide planning meeting at which the RCP's attitude towards the crisis in the Middle East was worked out on the basis of a thirty minute presentation, 'what is the rest of the left not saying?' It's hard now to convey the oddity of that experience. For the RCP then claimed some 500 members (and would peak two years later at over 1000). To calculate the errors of the entire British left meant taking into consideration not just Labour, and the larger Marxist parties (Militant and the SWP), but even the smallest of the sects (Socialist Organiser, Workers Vanguard, Workers Hammer): the views of each of these group had to be considered before an RCP line could be drawn.....
It really makes me wonder how he became the almost mainstream journalist and writer that he now is. Anyway, on the subject of the Living Marxism magazine, I happen to remember the fact that they went bankrupt after losing a libel case brought against them by British news agency ITN. This was because the magazine falsely claimed that ITN had fabricated evidence to make a television programme about concentration camps in Bosnia in 1992. I understand that the programme was instrumental in pursuading NATO to attack Serbia in 1995.

The reader suggests the Guardian's March 15, 2000 report "Poison in the Well of History" for further fascinating details.

Meanwhile, what about Julia's threatened lawsuit? Suddenly, she seems to have gotten very quiet. Hmmm, wonder what that means . . . it's either the calm before the storm or the hiding after the fraud.


More Orphanage Horror Stories from Russia

The Binghampton (New York) Press reports:

Ann Marie Schaeffer had never been to Canada or Mexico, so contemplating a mission trip to Russian orphanages seemed like a wild -- and maybe pointless -- idea. Her mind kept returning to one question, Schaeffer, 42, says: "What can smiling for a few hours at these children really do?" The answer came from her father, Tom Rittwager of Deposit, who had lived in an orphanage himself as a youngster. "You can't think that way," he said. "If someone spent an hour with me, it meant everything." So last November, she went. And in many ways the trip changed her life.

Sponsored by the Bainbridge Rotary Club, she traveled as part of the nonprofit Orphan Cry ministry established in 2003 by Ken Wilcox of Bainbridge and David Ford of Binghamton. Volunteers travel to the places where the region's most challenged children can be found: orphanages, boarding schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and youth prisons. They hand- deliver "Care Paks" filled with toys, school supplies and messages of Christian faith, as well as food, clothing and medicine. Sometimes the Orphan Cry mission unfolds in the shape of one-on-one encouragement and small gifts; other times it means working toward building new facilities, and acquiring beds, medical equipment and supplies to care for those children.

Schaeffer was horrified to learn of the fate awaiting many of the young teens she met: As outcasts in their society, they are generally ineligible for more education and thus unable to get good jobs. Too often, their only options in life can be found in the underbelly of their world -- in drugs, organized crime and prostitution -- or in homelessness, incarceration or suicide. And because of the number of such children and the cost of housing them, young teens are often asked to leave the orphanages to find their own way in life.


Orphan Cry is scrambling to gather money for scholarships, so it can give at least a handful of the children the golden opportunity of education. Memories from the trip are etched indelibly in her mind and thoughts of the children she met cross her heart every day.

A 20-something woman named Tanya was older than most of those Schaeffer and her companions met, but her story was no less poignant. Afflicted with multiple inoperable brain tumors, Tanya lives in a hospital whose stench almost made Schaeffer gag. Tanya is blind, but must go on a bus to get her own medication -- and when she returns to the hospital, she must dodge the "bandits" known to wander its halls.

"I felt so overwhelmed with grief for her situation," says Schaeffer, who -- with husband Mike -- has three children of her own. "I cried in the van; it was too much to bear that night." She no longer wonders if she wasted time and money in taking that overseas trip. Instead she's spurred by her awareness of all that's left to be done. "The fact that she went there may have touched one of those children or one of those who worked there," Rittwager says. To those in the orphanages, she represented a world of possibility they were ordinarily unable to grasp. Those who never experienced such a life might not understand, but in extending her smile and her heart to those children, he says, she gave them an unfathomable gift.

Cartoon: Putin Gets His Balls

Recently, the Kremlin decided that nobody would be allowed to have flashing lights on their personal vehicles, so as to allow them to speed through Moscow's nighmarish traffic jams, except the President and certain high government officials. Specifically, this meant stripping the flashing lights from members of the Duma, Russia's parliament. Here's one Russian take:

Actual Translation:

Apparachik: "Mr. President, we've finally managed to get those
blinkers* away from the Duma members, like you asked"
Putin: "I was talking about the flashing lights on their cars."

*A play on words, the Russian word "blinkers" could mean
either eyes or the flashing lights on cars like police vehicles have,
but which many Russian government officials are known to have appropriated.


Alternate caption from LR:

Apparachik: "Mr. President, we've finally located those items
everyone says the Duma urgently needs."
Putin: "Who said anything about EYE balls?"


Source: Ellustrator.

NB: LR's in-house professional translator has nothing to do with this post. So don't blame her/him! It's the amateur effort of LR herself and, as such, undoubtedly fraught with errors of which LR will be delighted to be advised by Russian readers and linguistic efforts (they in turn will no doubt delight in informing her). However, the general gist is correct and LR finds them both amusing and insightful. Other "alternative" captions are welcome in the comments.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Status Report on Human Rights in Russia: Prisoners' Skin Stripped with Pliers, Russians Spied on Everywhere

Prima News Agency, a leading source of information about human rights abuses in Russia, reports:

Prisoners Skin Stripped with Pliers

FRANCE, Strasbourg. On January 18, the European Court for Human Rights found Russia guilty of torture in Chechnya, reported the organization "Legal Initiative on Russia", which represented the complainants - brothers Adam and Arbi Chitayev. Russia must pay them 35 thousand Euros each for moral damage and 7629,90 Euros for judicial expenses.

The court established that the Chitayevs were subjected to torture and that the Russian authorities did not properly investigate their statement about this. “I am satisfied by the decision, but I worry, that what happened to me can happen to my relatives who still live in Russia,” stated the Arbi Chitayev, who now lives in Germany.

On April 12, 2000, Russian soldiers detained the brothers in their house in the village of Achkhoy-Martan in Chechnya and took them to the police, where they were accused of being rebel- separatists and subjected to severe torture. Later they were to taken to the SIZO (remand prison) in Chernokozov in the northwest of Chechnya, where they were also subjected to torture and brutal treatment.

They handcuffed the brothers to chairs and beat them; they used electric shock on different parts of their bodies; they made them stand at attention for long periods of time; they twisted their hands; they beat them with rubber batons and plastic bottles filled with water; they suffocated them with cellophane packets, Scotch tape, and gas masks; they set dogs on them; they stripped pieces of their skin with pliers.

The brothers were freed on October 5, 2000, after almost six months in prison. The criminal case against was dropped on January 20, 2001, but then renewed. In the end, they were not charged.

The Strasbourg Court did not examine the brothers' compliant of poor conditions in prison, since their application was too late. The court also did not examine statements about intrusion and the illegal seizure of their property during searches of their house, since they did not complain about this to Russian authorities.

The application of torture in the Chernokozov SIZO is documented by the human rights organization "Human Rights Watch" and the European Committee Against Torture. INJuly 2001, the Committee expressed deep regret in connection with the absence of investigations of complaints about torture and brutal treatment in Chernokozov.

«We have received numerous appeals for judicial help from victims of torture in Chechnya; Russian and Chechen authorities are now obligated to relate to this problem and to make a serious decision to put an end to this monstrous practice,» stated the chairman of the administration of "Legal Initiative on Russia" Jan Ter Laak.

In conclusions and the recommendations made at a its 37th UN session in November 2006, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern in connection with "accounts of unofficial prisons in the North Caucasus and the information that prisoners there undergo torture and severe, inhuman or degrading treatment".

To date, Russian authorities have refused to register "Legal Initiative on Russia". The director of "Legal Initiative" in Nazran, Arsen Sakalov reported to a correspondent of PRIMA-News that this week the organization again presented its documents for registration in Russia and should receive an answer in two weeks from the Federal Registration Service.

If Slavs in Russia proper think they are safe from the Kremlin's abuses during the neo-Soviet crackdown, they should think again. Prima reports:

The Revival of Political Monitoring

One of the good intentions of Perestroika, the liquidation of political monitoring in Russia, has disappeared into oblivion. In 1991, when the "great powerful Soviet Union" began to tear at the seams, and the fate of the KGB was uncertain, leaders of Perestroika and chiefs of state security hurried to assure Russian society and political activists that state security services would no longer conduct political monitoring. At first it seemed that this would be so. Although even then it was explained that even with former dissidents by no means everything was at an end - some investigations remained in operational development.

For a long time "work" on political opposition, if it was being conducted, was sufficiently unnoticeable. The Administration of Constitutional Safety of the FSB of Russia, created in 1998, did not advertise its activities. Data about political organizations and their activists did not become a weapon for suppression of the opposition, which acted and still acts by legal methods within the framework of the Constitution.

Today, the situation has changed considerably. Collection of information about the opposition is conducted no longer only in the interests of judicial- investigation organs and not only for reports about their position in the country. Information is now assembled and analyzed for urgent operational measures. And these measures concern not only combating terrorism, but also "political extremism", as colleagues of the Special Services understand it. The UFSB in Moscow is combating terrorism and fighting political extremism.

The traditions and methods of the 5th Administration of the KGB, created in the USSR for dealing with dissidents, are being revived before our eyes. Early on the morning of December 5, colleagues of the KGB, with the support of police and Komsomol officers blocked in the apartments of dissidents, who according to data available to State Security Agents, were planning to go to the Pushkinskaya area at 6:00pm to participate in a silent demonstration of solidarity with political prisoners. Those who were not found at home were snatched from the crowd as they approached the Pushkinskaya area. On December 16 of this year, some demonstrators approaching Triumfalnaya Ploshad for the "March of Disagreement", were stopped and taken away by police based on absurd and fabricated charges.

Who precisely, what "law-enforcement" service, could know the potential participants in an oppositional meeting? Who tracks the movement of buses headed to Moscow for participation in such a meeting? Who manages information throughout the entire country and operationally makes absolutely unlawful decisions about detentions? There is no doubt that it is not the police, who would never have sufficient opportunity, coordination, or determination to so roughly and publicly act in spite of the law. No. It is the service which stands above the law and which does not doubt its impunity that is occupied in such actions. There are no doubts whatsoever about the fact that the heirs to the 5th Administration of the KGB work in today’s FSB.

It goes without saying that political monitoring in one form or another always existed in Russia. However, today the relation of the authorities to such monitoring has changed; shadowing political organizations has ceased to threaten scandal. It has become distinctly evident that the methods which the Soviet regime used to punish dissidents have been adapted now for the suppression of opposition. It is shameless, it is demonstrable, and it is happening on a large scale.

The Rooski Who Cried "Wolf!"

Last week, La Russophobe reported on the fact that, as the LA Times reported on Sunday, "Russian national Oleg Khintsagov was arrested Feb. 1, 2006, after he smuggled about 3.5 ounces of weapons-grade uranium into Georgia from his homeland, expecting to receive $1 million for it, Shota Utiashvili, chief of the analytical department of the Georgian Interior Ministry, said Friday in a telephone interview from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Khintsagov, who thought he was dealing with "an extremely wealthy customer" wanting to buy nuclear bomb-making material, claimed that he would be able to provide up to 6.6 pounds at the price of $1 million for each 3.5 ounces, Utiashvili said." The Times stated: "Utiashvili charged that Russia had not cooperated in the investigation of the incident, which was first made public this week by Georgian and U.S. officials. These officials said the CIA, the FBI and the Energy Department had assisted in the case. Utiashvili said Georgia had requested help from the FSB, or Russian Federal Security Service, immediately after the arrests were made, but that the agency never responded. 'We think it is extremely dangerous that such material can get into the hands of terrorists,' Utiashvili said. 'We think it is in everybody's interests, and especially in the interests of Russia, to get to the bottom of it and assist us in this investigation.'"

Not only has Russia "failed to cooperate," but according to the Times Russia has characterized concern over the issue as an "overblown propaganda ploy," a conspiracy of Russia's foreign enemies. The Times reported: "'It appears obvious that Georgian 'hawks' were consciously trying to deal a painful blow to the prestige of Russia in the international arena,' the state-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper declared in an unsigned commentary. Georgia's actions in the case were "a planned information provocation," said Andrei Cherkasenko, board chairman of Atompromresursy, a manufacturer of nuclear power industry equipment, according to RIA Novosti, the state-run Russian news agency."

Now where have we heard this &#^!@% before? LR is getting oh so very tired of listening to Russians talk about their foreign enemies each and every time Russia's hand is caught in the cookie jar. First hardened Kremlin foe Alexander Litvinenko is poisoned with Russian polonium, and Russia says he was killed just to make the Kremlin look bad, and now Russian nukes are passing into Georgia and the story is the same. Over and over again, we're being told that we're the ones who have the problem, not Russia -- yet, when an issue like the NATO action against Serbia comes up, Russia explodes in frenzy against the West which it claims is fully justified.

Welcome to the neo-Soviet Union.

Kasparov Mumbles to the Journal

The Wall Street Journal reports, at long, long last, on the doings of presidential contender Garry Kasparov, who has been conspicuous by his absence from the Litvinenko fray. Even now, however, his remarks are exceedingly guarded and unsatisfying. It's unclear just how much he is willing to risk for Russia and when, if ever, he is prepared to put his major pieces at risk. The time is soon coming for Mr. Kasparov to fish or cut bait, history is passing him by. To be fair, Garry may have all manner of threats made against him by the Kremlin, which become exceedingly credible in light of the attacks on Politkovskaya, Gaidar and Litvinenko. The question of whether Russia is worth risking one's life for is a open one. But it's high time Kasparov stated his opinion on it.

The Other Russia
The man who would checkmate Vladimir Putin.

As the longtime world chess champion, Garry Kasparov was a famously aggressive player. His latest game is politics, and his style is equally aggressive. "Our goal is to dismantle the regime," he says, speaking of the political coalition he leads to bring down Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Kasparov's Putin antipathy is well known to readers of this newspaper, of which he is a contributing editor. "I Was Wrong About Putin," was the headline on his Jan. 9, 2001, op-ed article for this page. One year into Mr. Putin's presidency, Mr. Kasparov sounded an early warning about a man whose "KGB roots have informed a style of governance that is neither reformist nor particularly democratic." Since then, Mr. Kasparov has scarcely let up, retiring from chess in March 2005 in part to devote himself to politics.


Mr. Kasparov's new occupation is not without its perils--a thought that occurred to me as we arranged to meet earlier this month at his newly refurbished apartment in an art deco building on a smart street in Midtown Manhattan. It's a neighborhood replete with sushi bars--of the sort that bring to mind, ghoulishly, the late Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium 210. The doorman announces me, and Mr. Kasparov greets me at the door. We are old interlocutors--I was present at his first meeting with the editorial board in March 1990 and was his editor at the Journal for years. So we kiss--twice, once on each cheek, not three times, as is the custom in Moscow. After his wife serves tea--in bone-china English cups, not à la Russe, in glasses--I ask Mr. Kasparov about the risks: "Look," he says, "there are certain moments in your life when you should forget calculations and do what you believe is your moral duty. I knew that the choice would be dangerous. That's why our baby was born here. I'm prepared to take all the risk, but if I can avoid some, I do." The Kasparovs have a three-month-old daughter.

"The Other Russia" is the name of the unlikely left-right coalition conceived by Mr. Kasparov in 2005 and founded last year. It is composed of groups that would normally be at political odds--democrats like Mr. Kasparov, nationalists, socialists, even Bolsheviks. Mr. Kasparov predicts that the Communist Party will join up before the end of the year. "There's still a lot of distrust," he says, with more than a modicum of understatement. "It's a problem, but I don't think it's insurmountable. The big advantage of the Other Russia, and I think it's our biggest accomplishment, is that we've established the principle of compromise, which was not yet seen in Russian politics. It was always confrontation. It was a mentality of a civil war. We eliminated it."

A declaration at the time of the Other Russia's organizing conference last summer reads, "We are gathering together because we are united in our disagreement with the current political course of the Kremlin and united in our alarm for the present and future of our country." The group's sole objective is to find a candidate to run--and win--in the March 2008 presidential elections. Or as Mr. Kasparov puts it with characteristic bluntness: "When a liberal democracy is re-established, everybody goes his or her way."

The Russian Constitution forbids Mr. Putin from running for a third term--though that doesn't quell widespread speculation that the president will ignore the rule of law and do so anyway. He "has the administrative resources" to do so, Mr. Kasparov agrees, but it would be at the price of his legitimacy--both in the West and at home. "I don't think Putin wants to take such a chance."

Mr. Kasparov believes Mr. Putin's "mentality is just to run away--with all the Russian billionaires. This is the richest ruling elite in the world. They are way ahead of the Saudi princes. They are mega-rich. When you're so rich, you have to make sure that your funds are safe." But "if Putin goes, then who will be in charge? That's a big problem. Then it's instability. An authoritarian regime cannot have a successor while the big name [Mr. Putin] is still alive, much less well, young and strong."

As the new year unfolds, Mr. Kasparov predicts "a political crisis" in Mr. Putin's government, along with "less stability, more uncertainty." That's the opening for the Other Russia. "We should keep our group together, close to the wall, to get into the hall when it's broken. But not too close to be buried under the debris." And then? "If the Other Russia wins, who cares? The victory of the Other Russia candidate destroys the legacy of any institution built under Putin. You have to start from scratch. You have to call new [parliamentary] elections. You have to introduce new laws. You have to undergo judicial reform. You have to destroy censorship." In short, you have to start over, back to where Russia was before Mr. Putin took over, building democracy, block by block.

The next step for the Other Russia, Mr. Kasparov says, is to come up with a platform and work out the rules for selecting a presidential candidate, tasks that are on the agenda for a conference planned for April. The candidate will likely be chosen in another conference in September or October, Mr. Kasparov explains. At the moment Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister, "looks most prominent."

And what about Garry Kasparov? Is he a candidate? It's the only time in 15 years of conversations with Mr. Kasparov that I've known him to be less than confident in a reply. "So far . . .," he says--note the "so far"--"so far, I don't think my personal participation helps the coalition because so far"--another one!--"I keep the position of moderator. . . . I keep balance of different forces. If I step into the game, that might jeopardize the whole coalition."


In the course of our discussion, Mr. Kasparov refers often to the lack of a free press in Russia. So how, then, will the Other Russia get its message across? "The role of Internet is growing," he says. "Mobile telephones are not unique anymore, not even in rural villages." But--and the master chess player may have too much confidence in the analytic abilities of ordinary Russians here--"more important is growing malcontent. People are getting really unhappy. And if they're unhappy, they'll listen."


Mr. Kasparov is far more worried about money, which is short; but "I think in 2007 we will see a major influx of our financial support from within Russia because people can see that the ground is shaky." The Other Russia won't touch "politically exposed money," he says--and emphatically denies that exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky is a donor. But in the end, he says, "You know, you can't buy political support. Either you are the right man at the right place at the right time or no money helps you." More political naïveté?


Our hour nearly at an end, conversation drifts back to the early '90s and the discussions we used to have about Russia and its future. Is there something the U.S. might have done differently back then, I ask, that would have helped keep Russia on the path to democracy?


Mr. Kasparov gives a wry smile. "I think the best thing [the U.S.] could have done was to get Saddam [Hussein] 15 years earlier," he says. "By going after Saddam in 1991, I think we could have saved Yugoslavia from a civil war and could have sent a message, a very powerful message, to many dictators. . . . In 1991, the United States was much stronger and everybody else was much weaker."


The decision to let Saddam stay in power happened under the watch of President George H.W. Bush, whom Mr. Kasparov isn't shy about criticizing. But he's far more scathing about President Bill Clinton. "During the Clinton years, the United States did virtually nothing in the international arena. . . . There were a lot of activities, but when you look at the core events, I think the influence was irrelevant. . . . Leadership. There was no leadership. . . . There was a big window of opportunity to show leadership, in 1992-93. In those years the whole world was in an ambiguous state after the Cold War. It was a new world, and it required leadership. The way Winston Churchill and [Harry] Truman showed it in World War II. . . . Missing this chance and playing sporadically--you know, boom, boom, you play one move here, one move there. The United States was asleep."

What advice does he have for George W. Bush about helping Russian democracy today? "Stay neutral," comes the swift reply. The "worst thing" that happened to the democracy movement, he says, was the inclusion of Russia in the Group of 7 democracies, now the G-8, a designation he can't bring himself to utter. Now, Washington should take that position that "there must be an election under the Russian constitution. Putin must go, and elections should be held. Period. That's enough. There's no double standard. Obey the Constitution. That's it."


In addition to his work with the Other Russia, Mr. Kasparov continues to write books about chess--he's up to Volume Six in a series about his great predecessors--and he has a mass-market book coming out this year called "How Life Imitates Chess," about the decision-making process in chess, business, politics and history. But at least for now, politics has taken the place of chess as the big game in his life: "I just don't see any other choice for me," he says. "As I used to say for 25 years, I am defending the colors of my country. I'm still doing the same, just not at the chessboard. At a much larger board."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Sunday Photos

Courtesy of the Russian blog Xoxotyshka.com, faces from the Moscow Metro
















Swan Song for Stalin airs on Russian TV

Reader Steven Montgomery has noted a report in the Moscow Times on a Russian TV series about mass-murderer Josef Stalin. Guess what the Russian view of Stalin is under neo-Soviet dictator Putin? The program states: "According to the information that we have, Stalin in the last months of his life came to repentance. He rethought his life from the position of a man of faith." Is that downright terrifying, or what? First Krushchev tears him down, then Putin builds him right back up again. Truly, those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.

In a new 40-part drama series, Josef Stalin looks back on his personal and political life and eventually repents of his actions. The creator of the show, Grigory Lyubomirov, previously worked on the satirical puppet show "Kukly" (Puppets) and Russia's first reality show, "Za Steklom" (Behind Glass). His latest series, "Stalin Live," has stirred up plenty of controversy and critical reaction.

The idea of the series, which premiered Jan. 9 and airs three nights a week on NTV, is to show Stalin during the last month of his life, February 1953. As he mulls on his past, lengthy flashbacks show figures such as his son Yakov and his wife Svetlana Alliluyeva.

The word "Live" in the title, which is written in English letters, harks back to a previous NTV series directed by Lyubomirov, called "Rublyovka Live." That show, which ran for 76 episodes to June of last year, featured dramatized episodes from the lives of residents of the wealthy Rublyovka district, and included cameos from celebrities such as painter Nikas Safronov. Lyubomirov described its genre as serialiti, which combines the Russian words for "soap opera" and "reality show."

The Stalin series is based on historical accounts, including interviews with his security guards, the producer said by telephone Wednesday. It aims to prove that "Stalin was not only an executioner, but also a victim of that era," Lyubomirov said.

"According to the information that we have, Stalin in the last months of his life came to repentance. He rethought his life from the position of a man of faith," he said. Asked for his sources, the producer stated: "We were told about this by people who worked in Stalin's security service in the last days of his life."

The first episodes of the show got an impressive rating of over 19 percent of all television viewers, according to figures printed in Itogi magazine. Ratings subsequently fell, but are still "good," Lyubomirov said. He added that NTV is considering putting the series forward for an Emmy award. "Cadets," a World War II drama series that aired on Rossia, was nominated for an International Emmy Award in 2005.

Nevertheless, "Stalin Live" has been criticized in the media, as much for its artistic qualities as for its historical judgments. Izvestia television critic Irina Petrovskaya told Ekho Moskvy radio that the series was "unbearably dreary," adding: "There is nothing more to say about Stalin."

When Nezavisimaya Gazeta asked four media pundits for their pick of the worst television show earlier this month, three chose "Stalin Live."

Ekho Moskvy also hosted a call-in session in which one caller suggested that the series was due to a "concrete order" from "behind the Kremlin wall." Asked whether this was true on Wednesday, Lyubomirov laughed and said: "Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has nothing to with this series."

The show's creator said that criticism was to be expected, since Stalin is a "figure whom it is absolutely impossible to interpret simply."

Lyubomirov was one of the directors of the now-canceled political satire show "Kukly," which included a puppet of Stalin. That caricature, however, had little in common with the leader portrayed in "Stalin Live" by Georgian actor David Giorgobiani, Lyubomirov said. "That was a satirical depiction of Stalin. What we are doing now is more like a tragic figure."

The show will end with Stalin's death, Lyubomirov said, and most of the 40 episodes have already been shot.

The producer now plans to make a follow-up series covering the period from 1953 to 1964, when Leonid Brezhnev took power, and then another series about the perestroika years. The latter show will be called "Gorby Live," he said.

"Stalin Live" airs Mon., Tues. and Wed. at 10:40 p.m. on NTV.

The Mailbag: Russia on those Chinese Killer Satellites

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!



A reader writes:
Following the recent destruction of a satellite by a Chinese missile, I was slightly shocked to read the comment from Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov (as reported by the Moscow News) about the incident: "I have heard reports to that effect, and they are quite abstract. I’m afraid they don’t have such an anti-satellite basis. The rumors are highly exaggerated.” The last comment sounds a bit like Mark Twain's "reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Either they destroyed a satellite or they didn't. There might be something lost in the translation but it sounds a bit like "the Americans are lying but I am too diplomatic to say so." Surely if the Russians had not detected the event, the proper thing to say would have been perhaps, "if it is true then it's a worrying development" or even, "if it is true then it's good that our Chinese friends have the power to hit America where it hurts". Could it be that, since the Chinese had not confirmed it, he simply could not resist the temptation to call the Americans liars. In which case the recent Chinese confirmation that they did shoot a satellite down seems to have pulled the rug from under him.
The Moscow News report was:
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has called the reports that a Chinese ballistic missile has hit a satellite highly exaggerated rumors, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday. “I have heard reports to that effect, and they are quite abstract. I’m afraid they don’t have such an anti-satellite basis. The rumors are highly exaggerated,” Ivanov told reporters in Moscow. On Friday, World media reported that China had shot down one of their old weather satellites with a ballistic missile. The United States voiced concern over the test. The US believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area. We and other countries have expressed our concern to the Chinese, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe has said . The Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite was hit by a medium-range, ground based ballistic missile approximately 537 miles above the Earth's surface. The missile used a kinetic impact to destroy the satellite, said Johndroe. Both the satellite and the missile was launched from the Xichang Space Center in Sichuan Province; the satellite in 1999, and the missile on the 11th. Officials in the U.S. are now concerned that debris from the test could cause problems for civilian and or military satellites. It is estimated that at least 40,000 pieces of debris are now floating around in space as the result of the test, and the pieces range anywhere from 1 centimeters and up to 4 inches. The pieces of the satellite and missile could stay in Earth's orbit for several decades. When the test happened, the U.S. stated that communication with one of its spy satellites was lost, but thus far no evidence has turned up to suggest the loss of communication was directly related to China's test. The test took place on January 11, 2007 and this is the first such test to occur in over 20 years. The U.S. last tested an anti-satellite system back on September 13, 1985.