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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Echoing Santayana, Solzhenitsyn Says Neo-Soviet Russia Repeats the Mistakes of the Past

Did you ever see that movie "Bridge on the River Kwai"? Remember the part at the end where the British officer suddenly snaps out of his ego-induced haze to realize that he's been helping the Japanese win World War II? It seems that, at long last, Alexander Solzhenitsyn is experiencing a similar moment of clarity.

The
International Herald Tribune reports that Solzhenitsyn has confirmed what LR has been saying for months now, that Russia has placed itself into exactly the same social position it was in in 1907, whilst placing itself in the same political position it was in in 1927. In other words, the worst of all possible worlds. It can't last forever, maybe not even very long.

Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn warns in the preface to a newly republished article that Russia is still struggling with challenges similar to those of the revolutionary turmoil of 1917 that led to the demise of the czarist empire.

The article — which will appear Tuesday in the influential government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta — analyzes the roots of the February revolution 90 years ago that forced the abdication of the last czar, Nicholas II, and helped pave the way for the Bolsheviks.

"It's all the more bitter that a quarter of a century later, some of these conclusions are still applicable to the alarming disorder of today," Solzhenitsyn wrote in a preface to the article first written in the early 1980s.

Solzhenitsyn's wife, Natalya, said it should serve as a reminder to Russia's political class about the dangers stemming from the huge gap between the rich and the poor, and the stark contrast in lifestyle and moral attitudes in the glitzy Russian capital compared to the far less prosperous provinces.

"Alexander Isayevich is deeply worried by this gap," Natalya Solzhenitsyn told a news conference Monday. "It's necessary to pay attention to that. If the government fails to do that, consequences would be grave."

In addition to being printed in the widely read, half-million-circulation newspaper, the article — first published in Russian in a magazine in 1993 — will be also republished as a separate pamphlet under the title "Thoughts On The February Revolution" and sent to officials across Russia, Rossiyskaya Gazeta's editor Vladislav Fronin said.

"People from the (Ear Eastern) Chukotka region to the Kremlin would be able to read it," he said.

Natalya Solzhenitsyn said her husband wrote the article for one of the volumes of "The Red Wheel," the 10-volume saga about the Russian Revolution that he finished in 1990 and considers his most important work. The article has been published repeatedly, but never in such wide circulation, she said.

Solzhenitsyn was arrested for criticizing Stalin in a letter he wrote during World War II, when he was serving as a front-line artillery captain, and spent seven years in a labor camp in Kazakhstan and three more years in internal exile.

He drew on his ordeal in the short novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," published in 1962 during a backlash against Stalin. Soon after, however, his writing was suppressed. Subsequent works — including the three-volume "The Gulag Archipelago" (1973-78) — were written in secret and only published abroad.

Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, and four years later was expelled from the Soviet Union.

Returning to Russia in 1994 to find a country in deep disarray, Solzhenitsyn's dismal view of 1990s Russia, along with his nationalism and hope for a resurgence of his country, has aligned him with President Vladimir Putin, who has presented his time in office as a period of recovery following economic and social turmoil at home and weakness on the world stage that Russia suffered after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The 88-year-old has appeared infrequently in public in recent years, and he is believed to be ailing. In rare print or broadcast interviews, he has lamented the state of Russian politics and the government, but also has praised Putin despite the president's KGB background.

His wife said Monday that Solzhenitsyn had a high opinion of the Kremlin's increasingly assertive foreign policy.

"He believes that many right steps have been taken in the foreign policy field, and Russia has regained its weight," Natalya Solzhenitsyn said.

Russian Situation Normal, All Fouled Up

Writing in the Moscow Times Nikolai Petrov (pictured, left), scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center, exposes the utter sham of Russian domestic investment. On the one hand, Russia attempts huges projects it cannot possibly realize. On the other, these insane charades draw investment away from the vast majority of the country where it is desperately needed. In other words, welcome to the neo-Soviet Union.

At a recent economic forum in Krasnoyarsk, estimates of total expected investment in Russia's economy by the year 2020 were more than impressive: The cumulative total in planned investment projects with price tags of $100 million or more could reach $450 billion. Oil and gas projects are set to account for as much as half of these funds, with another one-fifth earmarked for transportation and one-sixth for electrical generation. Two-thirds of the total are slated for projects in locations to the east of the Urals, which is home to only a little more than one quarter of the country's population.

The disparities are even greater if the potential investment is broken down by region. A mere six of the country's 88 regions account for more than half of all possible investment funding, standing to receive upward of $15 billion each. These are the Sakhalin, Krasnoyarsk, Yakutia, Irkutsk and Murmansk regions and the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district. On the other hand, there are 25 regions not slated to receive any investment funding whatsoever. The investment in European Russia may be inadequate to maintain existing activity, but that east of the Urals should allow for the expansion of production.

Focusing on projects valued at $100 million or higher significantly distorts both the general picture and the view in particular regions and economic sectors. This almost completely ignores the rapidly expanding food, light industry, heavy machinery and high-tech sectors of the economy. The planned investment in modernization is minor, with the vast majority of funding to be devoted to new construction.

All of this suggests that Russia, having survived protracted socioeconomic crises, is now set to enter a new phase of economic expansion. The country is set for new industrialization in the east and service sector growth in the west. There remain, however, serious doubts as to whether such ambitious goals can actually be reached.

One of the problems with the plans is that they point more toward the preservation and even strengthening of the economy's orientation toward the export of resources than toward the high-tech and innovation sectors enjoying such a vogue in most government pronouncements. Moreover, the emphasis on the eastern and northern parts of the country will bring some inevitable consequences, including enormous investment in infrastructure, distant time horizons before the investments reach their full development and recovery.

There is actually a whole range of problems connected with bringing these loudly touted projects to fruition. First off, the planning assumptions are based on current high global commodity prices, and those for energy in particular. If these prices fail to any serious degree, many of the projects will fail due to lack of profitability. Second, the relative abundance of mineral resources and the long-awaited availability of funding will only struggle against two major barriers that will only become worse with time. These are the continued decrease in the working-aged population in the regions where investment is planned to be the greatest and the impoverishment that has resulted from two decades of economic crises and the gradual decline of the former Soviet-era industrial and infrastructure capacities. The overall decrease in numbers of qualified personnel such as designers, builders, engineers and a wide range of other specialists is also unlikely to help matters.

Simply put, the implementation of the more than 400 major investment projects in question over the next five to 10 years is impossible given current stocks of equipment and qualified personnel. There is no way to develop atomic energy at the speed which the Federal Atomic Energy Agency is suggesting without first restoring the necessary nuclear engineering and construction capacities. Work on the colossal scale these projects entail will be impossible due to an elementary shortage in the east of cement and other building materials. These are already insufficient for even the current levels of proposed housing expansion.

Russia is simply not yet ready for such a golden age. Investment projects on this scale are almost physically impossible simply to drop on the rest of the economy. Before this growth can begin, investment is needed in the basic foundations of the economy. If the state is unable to orchestrate the process correctly, then the enormous sums ready to be invested -- both state and private -- could end up playing a negative role. Instead of rapid growth, we will end up with increased economic dysfunction.

Russia Gets Its Ass Kicked in the Caucasus

The Soviet Union "won" World War II. It's "victory" was so emphatic that the USSR didn't manage to last 50 years thereafter before it collapsed. If you ask a Russian nationalist, Russia has "won" in Chechnya, yet we continue to see outbreaks of violence (as often documented on LR) and, much worse, we see a total failure to recreate civilization in Chechnya. In other words, we see the Chechens defeating Russia the same way Russia defeated Napoleon in Moscow.

Now, writing in the Moscow Times Thomas de Waal (pictured above), Caucasus editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London, shows how Russia's tenuous imperial grip in the Caucusus is rapidly unraveling everywhere in the region. In other words, the demonic policies of Vladimir Putin have brought Russia to the brink of ruin.


Late last month, Moscow quietly returned its ambassador, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, to Georgia. The restoration of diplomatic ties occurred with much less fanfare than their angry rupture in October but was in its own way just as significant. Nothing substantial has changed in Georgian-Russian relations since the blowup -- only perhaps the belated realization in Moscow that breaking off relations was a strategic mistake.

Georgia has not only endured Russia's blockade, but used it to become more economically independent. Thanks to Azeri gas, Georgia is surviving the winter and Gazprom has lost a big customer. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has said the economic punishment has helped Georgia diversify its markets.

This own-goal is part of a larger picture about which the Kremlin, preoccupied with Russia's resurgence as a world power, seems only dimly aware: Russia is losing the South Caucasus.

LR: Actually, Russia is losing not just the South Caucasus but everything there is, including the Russian people themselves, 1 million of them per year. Nobody is nearly is as good at wiping out Russians as Russians.

It is not just Georgia, although recent Russian policy there has been spectacularly unproductive. A country that has 200-year-old historical, cultural, linguistic and religious ties to Russia has now set a firm course in pursuit of NATO membership and alliance with the United States. This was by no means inevitable. It was Russia's foreign minister at the time, Igor Ivanov, who brokered the deal that led to the resignation of former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Saakashvili's arrival in power in 2003. I myself heard Saakashvili at his first news conference following the Rose Revolution in Tbilisi going out of his way to say that he wanted "normal" relations with Moscow.

Since then, prickly Georgian nationalism has played its part in the subsequent decline in relations, but the bigger factor has been the high-handed behavior of the bigger neighbor on a whole range of issues, from energy policy to South Ossetia to the treatment of Georgian workers inside Russia.

Now that same highhandedness is harming Moscow's relations with the two other South Caucasus countries as well.

LR: Russia complains to high heaven about American unilateral behavior, then Russia not only creates a unilateral regime in the Kremlin but conducts itself in exactly that same unilateral manner within its so-called "sphere of influence." A nation that hypocritical cannot survive, it's as simple as that.

One of Vladimir Putin's first acts as president was to visit Baku and start to repair relations with Azerbaijan, the largest, richest and most strategically important country in the South Caucasus. In the 1990s, the adversarial relations between Russia and Azerbaijan were only barely concealed. Putin cleverly played on his common KGB past with President Heidar Aliyev. After Aliyev's death, he supported and cultivated his successor and son, the Moscow-educated Ilham Aliyev.

That improvement in relations was all but destroyed at beginning of this year, when Gazprom tried to impose higher gas prices on Azerbaijan and Moscow clumsily told Baku to abandon support for the Georgians. Aliyev Jr. promptly used the opportunity to demonstrate that Azerbaijan was an emerging power. He rejected Russian gas, halted oil shipments through the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline, ordered the pulling of Russian channels from Azeri television, called into question the usefulness of the Commonwealth of Independent States and threw extra support behind a new non-Russian regional project, the Baku-Kars railway line. Azeris cheered enthusiastically.

This is bad enough for Russia. More remarkable is that Armenia, once the most fiercely loyal of Russia's neighbors, is also experiencing a cooling of affections for Russia. Russian elites have failed to notice that the wholesale grab of Armenian economic assets by Russian companies has turned public opinion there against them. Last autumn, Armenians were outraged when the Russian blockade of Georgia hurt them almost as badly, as most of Armenia's trade with Russia goes via Georgia. Worse, Armenians in Russian cities were picked up and harassed by the police with almost the same nastiness as Georgians -- after all, one person from the Caucasus looks very much like another to your average Russian police officer. The upshot has been unprecedented demonstrations against Russian xenophobia outside the Russian Embassy in Yerevan and the emergence into the mainstream of the first serious Armenian politician to say that Armenia's future lies with the EU and NATO -- former parliament Speaker Artur Baghdasarian.

This should be enough bad news for anyone sitting in the Kremlin. But let's provide some more. The breakaway Black Sea statelet of Abkhazia is perceived by most of the world as being entirely in Russia's pocket. Russia saved it from being overrun by the Georgian army in 1993, most of its citizens now have Russian passports, and its elderly residents draw Russian pensions. But the Abkhaz are also a people of the Caucasus, and their support for Russia is based on pragmatism, not love, and it may be that Russian-Abkhaz relations are now declining from their high-water mark. The reason is that many Abkhaz have been waiting for Russia to recognize Abkhazia's unilateral declaration of independence from Georgia, but the realization is dawning that Moscow is merely playing with them, using the prospect of recognition as a card to play against Georgia and the West. The Abkhaz are not happy about this, and some of them are now saying as much. This does not mean that they will turn back toward Georgia, but it does mean that they may try to engage more with Turkey and Europe and rely less on Russia.

Russia is in such a state of proud introspection that few in the leadership seem to be aware where its Caucasus policy is heading -- toward a deeper divorce between the South Caucasus and Russia than at any time since the 18th century. The trouble is that policy toward the region seems to be more driven by domestic and energy politics than the calculations of diplomacy. A friendly policy toward people from the South Caucasus does not win many Russian votes in a year running up to State Duma and presidential elections.

Yet the pity of it is that Russia still has a lot to give the South Caucasus, if only it would seek to cooperate instead of wanting to dominate. The people of the South Caucasus are not instinctively anti-Russian -- a huge number have lived in Russia and large numbers work there now. And Moscow has one great asset in the region that could be a source of immense "soft power" -- the Russian language. But Moscow is doing nothing to promote it, and Russian is dying out for want of teachers or language centers in all three countries. Entire university libraries full of Russian-language books are being rendered redundant as a new generation of students lacks the ability to read them. I suspect that in about 10 years, someone in Moscow will wake up to this reality -- but by then it will be too late.

Peter LaVelle: Scum-sucking traitor to democracy

Well, well, what have we here?

We have Peter LaVelle, world's goofiest looking "human" (yes, we are spelling his name incorrectly on purpose) writing a blog on state-owned, Kremlin-controlled, KGB-dominated Russia Today television, helping rationalize the neo-Soviet empire of that malignant little troll Vladimir Putin (and no doubt getting paid a pretty penny to do it).

Here's from his inaugural post on January 12:

Russia is correct to maintain its position that all its customers pay world prices for energy. If that causes pain for the former republics of the Soviet Union, so be it.
Well, we guess that just about says it all. So much for any last vestige of illusion that this wicked, nasty little demon was an "objective" or "reasonable" observer of Russia striking some kind of moderate force. He's a Russophile propagandist, pure and simple, and LR told you so long, long ago.

First the German Chancellor, then Mark Ames, then Peter LaVelle. Who will the Kremlin buy next to shill for its pathetic, doomed little neo-Soviet enterprise? Al Gore, maybe?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Russian Woman: This is Your So-Called "Life"

The Guardian reports:

For four years girls and young women disappeared from their homes in the drab industrial Russian town of Nizhny Tagil. Their parents called the police and pasted up posters. But in the end it was a stray dog that tracked them down. The decomposing bodies of 30 females aged from 13 to 25 were found in a mass grave in woodland near the village of Levikha, 40 miles away.

The discovery sent a ripple of horror through a country inured to brutal tales. Prosecutors in the town on the eastern flank of the Urals, the crinkle of mountains separating the European and Asian parts of Russia, have now charged eight men aged between 25 and 46 with murder. But it has revealed a catalogue of errors on the part of Nizhny Tagil police who failed to link a string of missing persons reports from 2002 to 2005.

It is thought a gang led by two brothers used a handsome young man to lure the girls to a flat where they were raped and beaten. Those who refused to become prostitutes at the gang's massage parlour ended up in the Levikha grave. The scale of the horror has reminded rich Muscovites of the brutal life out in the provinces where low pay and lack of work can drive ordinary people to shocking crimes. 'In four years in Nizhny Tagila, a city of 400,000, girls were going missing left, right and centre and nobody raised the alarm,' one newspaper commented. 'Tens of girls and young women missing? And nobody gave a damn?'

Mark Kustovsky, the factory worker who acted as the bait, wooed the women with presents and visits to cafes. His wife said the ringleaders forced him to put bodies in the grave, telling him: 'If you don't bury them, you'll be lying there yourself.' But the police say he was a willing gang member.

'The girls who didn't agree to work in the brothel were taken to the forest and there killed and buried,' prosecutor Nail Rizvanov said. The gang told the girls they were going for a picnic, feeding them kebabs before they were murdered. It is not clear how they were killed, but some had crushed skulls.

So far, 15 bodies have been identified in a process complicated by wild animals disturbing the remains. One of the girls is thought to be Yelena Chudinova, 15, daughter of one of the gang leaders.

The grave was close to a bus stop and dachas. Towards the end of their spree the gang gave up burying the bodies, just throwing branches over them instead.

Putin Finds Ideal New Defense Chief: An Accountant

RIA Novosti reports that "President" Putin has found the ideal candidate to replace Sergei Ivanov as Secretary of Defense: An accountant named Anatoly Serdyukov.

Vladimir Putin has always been famous for his ability to make unexpected personnel changes.

Although sources on Sergei Ivanov's staff had hinted that their boss would be promoted soon, nobody could venture to predict how high he would be moved. Some said he was ready for prime minister, a post that could pave his way to the president's chair. Ivanov, it turns out, has been appointed first deputy prime minister, which should level the playing field for the 2008 presidential elections. Ivanov and his rival in the race, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, must now prove that they are fit to hold the country's top post. Medvedev is responsible for the four priority national projects in healthcare, agriculture, education and housing construction. Ivanov has been put in charge of civilian and defense industries.

Can they prove their worth in the 12 months before the elections? Or will Putin propose other candidates, which he has the right to do as president and a citizen of Russia? Nobody can answer these questions yet.

For now, it would be interesting simply to determine why Ivanov has been replaced as defense minister by financier Anatoly Serdyukov, former head of the Federal Tax Service, whom few people in the army know. Statements on this issue by military experts can be reduced to two explanations:

First, by making this sensational change in the defense ministry, Putin has shown the country, the army and the world that he alone is in charge of Russia's military policy. Defense ministers can change, but the president will always remain in charge of the modernization and rearmament of the armed forces, conversion of the army to a mixed volunteer/conscript system of recruitment, and the social welfare for the military. Judging by the reaction of the army, which has hardly taken notice of the change at the ministry's top, officers fully agree with this principle.

LR: Yeah, nothing shows the presence of a great leader more than his ability to appoint a totally unqualified fool to a position of great importance and terrify the country into saying nothing about it. Russia! A nation bound for glory!

Second, although many good words have been said about the departing minister ("I think Sergei Ivanov has fulfilled his tasks in the defense ministry honorably" - Putin), military analysts claim there was a note of displeasure in the president's words. ("In modern conditions, we need someone with experience in the economy and finance to address this task, to organize efficient work [of the armed forces], and to rationally use huge budgetary funds - at least they are huge for Russia" - Putin).

LR: So Ivanov was a failure just like Putin. Naturally, his next step may be the presidency since, like Putin, he posesses the key qualification, slavish obedience to the outgoing president and a firm committment not to send him to prison.

Indeed, spending on the rearmament of the army and the navy has grown by 250% times since 2001; the 2007 budget allocates more than 300 billion rubles ($11.44 billion), or 20% more than in 2006. However, the acquisition of modern hardware is lagging behind requirements in the Russian armed forces, only 20% of whose weapons are modern, and even behind the demands of the Indian army.

India, which is a major military-technical partner of Russia, has bought more than 100 Su-30MKI Flanker multirole fighters, 350 T-90C main battle tanks, four multirole frigates, submarines, supersonic anti-ship missiles, and Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems in the past few years.

Although comparable funds were allocated to the Russian armed forces, they have received only several weapons systems over that same period, including two Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers late last year, seven modernized Su-30MK2 fighters, one battalion (30) of T-90 tanks, and three ground-based RS-12M2 Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile systems.

Funds for housing and capital construction, training, recruitment of contract servicemen, and combat training have not been used wisely either. The new defense minister will have to work hard to remedy these shortcomings.

Officers know very little about Anatoly Serdyukov. Apart from serving his obligatory two years of military service (1984-1985) after graduation from the Leningrad Institute of Commerce, he has never had anything to do with the army. He worked for commercial organizations (the furniture business) and tax services, where he has made a career and was head of the Federal Tax Service for the past three years. His colleagues said he was a top-class professional and a workaholic.

LR: In another country, officers might balk at being led by an accountant they've never heard of. But in Russia, officers know better than to balk. When the pitches come they swing at them, even if they are being pitched in a different stadium.

At the same time, Serdyukov has done his best to avoid the limelight; he did not give a single interview during his work at the tax service and his face has not become a fixture on TV. According to experts, this means that the issue of military reform, which has been a favorite of the media, will now be toned down.

How soon can Serdyukov learn the ropes in the defense ministry? It is a difficult post with complicated tasks, and it will take some time for him to get his bearings. However, analysts predict that after a new president comes to the Kremlin in 2008, he will appoint a new defense minister who will take on new tasks.

So far, the president has given the task of controlling the situation in the army and navy and their reforms to professionals on the General Staff, who have the skills and experience to fulfill Putin's orders.

Konnander Says Russia is Toasted by Global Warming no matter How you Slice it

Recent weeks have seen the welcome return to the active blogosphere of three previously moribund Russia blogs: Andy Young's Siberian Light, Lyndon's Scraps of Moscow and most recently Vilhelm Konnander's Weblog: Politics and Security in Russia, Central & Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

La Russophobe comments repeatedly on Andy's blog, recently quoted Lyndon in her latest Publius Pundit installment, and is now pleased to tout Vilhelm's recent analysis of the impact of global warming on Russia.

Publishing the wonderfully Photoshopped image of Vladimir "Studboy" Putin which appears above, Vilhelm first quotes Putin joking about global warming as follows: "Russia is a northern country and if temperatures get warmer by two or three degrees Celsius it's not that bad - we could spend less on warm coats and agricultural experts say that grain harvests would increase further." Vilhelm then points out what Putin failed to notice: that Gasprom's export volumes to Europe are down 16% this winter because of unusually warm average temperatures and less need for heating. As Vilhelm states: "It is quite clear that if this tendency would become permanent in years to come, it would have a grossly negative impact on international gas demand and prices." This loss in revenue would, of course, seriously undermine the Kremlin's ability to control the country and leverage influence in the West. Vilhelm asks: "So, should we expect Gazprom executives to turn into ardent environmentalists? Will Ivanov and Medvedev campaign to stop global warming for next year's presidential elections?" By doing so, the Kremlin could theoretically hope to continue a "cold Earth" that would demand hot prices for Russian energy. But Russia can't play that, because doing so would require Russia itself to adopt sweeping environmental reforms which would cost far more, in creaking backwards Russia, than it could possibly hope to earn from maintained energy sales (which are finite in any case).

So, though Vilhelm doesn't go so far as to say so, global warming may have a silver lining: It may do the neo-Soviet Union what Star Wars did to the Soviet Union and what World War I did to the Tsar.

How Ukraine Beat Russia's Latest Imperialist Gambit

Radio Liberty reports the details on how valiant little Ukraine beat back the Kremlin's most recent gambit to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and recreate the Soviet Union:

Russian President Vladimir Putin stirred up a hornet's nest when he publicly announced earlier this month that the Ukrainian government had approached Russia with the idea of unifying the countries' respective gas-pipeline networks.

Putin hailed the overture, coupled with Ukrainian interest in drilling for natural gas on Russian territory, as a "revolutionary development" that was in the "interest of both countries."

Circling The Wagons

Ukrainian officials and lawmakers responded quickly to Putin's comments, made on February 1 to reporters assembled for the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy.

Within days, legislation had been passed forbidding the sale or transfer of ownership of Ukraine's trunk gas pipeline to another country. An investigation was also launched to determine just who may have been responsible for making such proposals.

Vitaliy Hayduk, chairman of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, soon provided some insight.

Hayduk told a February 16 press conference that, after a meeting of the Yushchenko-Putin Commission in December, it was in fact an unidentified aide of Putin's who had delivered a memorandum containing such proposals. "Given its content," Hayduk said, "such a memorandum was deemed unacceptable and could not be signed."

Hayduk's claims were supported the next day by the deputy head of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's administration, Oleksandr Chaliy. On February 17, Chaliy revealed that Putin had proposed the idea of an asset swap -- Ukraine's pipeline in exchange for Russia granting Ukraine the right to drill for gas on Russian soil -- during a January 10 phone conversation with Yushchenko.

However, Chaliy said, the Ukrainian president had rejected the idea. "No proposals to exchange assets" ever came from Yushchenko, Chaliy insisted.

Public suspicion then turned to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko.

Looking For Answers

Yanukovych at first appeared be caught off guard by the Ukrainian parliament's harsh reaction to Putin's comments -- even within the ranks of his own Party of Regions. In the immediate aftermath, Yanukovych made a number of contradictory statements on the issue while trying to blame the scandal on members of Yushchenko's administration.

But Hayduk's and Chaliy's testimonies that Russia's proposals had been rebuffed by Yushchenko's administration served to embarrass Yanukovych's government, which turned to Boyko to arrange a campaign to save face.

As Hayduk made his revelations, Boyko met with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller to discuss "the development of strategic cooperation between Russia and Ukraine in the oil and gas sector."

No details were provided of what the two men spoke about.

However, Interfax reported that the day before the meeting Boyko had said Ukraine should be given access to Russian gas reserves since UkrHazEnergo -- a partly Russian joint venture between the Swiss-registered gas trader RosUkrEnergo and Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukrayiny -- was already working in the Ukrainian market.

The flaw in Boyko's logic, though, is that UkrHazEnergo can hardly be considered a Russian company. Only one-quarter of the firm belongs to Gazprom -- the rest belongs to Ukraine's Naftohaz and two private Ukrainian businessmen.

Theories Abound

Interfax on February 15 also cited Boyko as saying he knew of an agreement Yanukovych had with the "leadership of the Russian Federation" under which Ukraine would be allowed to produce gas in Russia.

This revelation led to question about with whom in the "Russian leadership" Yanukovych had reached such an agreement. If it was Putin, could this be the origin of the Russian president's announcement in Munich?

One theory is that Yanukovych agreed to Putin's proposals under the condition that UkrHazEnergo -- whose role in Ukraine's energy sector is being debated -- be kept in tact.

Putin, as the theory goes, may have gone ahead and made the agreement public in the believe that it was a done deal.

If so, the strong resistance his words received in Ukraine must have been an embarrassment to the Russian leader -- both because he was caught jumping the gun on his dealings with Ukraine and because of the realization that he may not be as influential in dealings with Ukraine as he expected when Yanukovych became prime minister.

Russia at the Oscars?

La Russophobe wanted to find out how well Russia did in receiving nominations and Oscars at the 79th Academy Awards this year, and while looking into it she stumbled across a post from Russia Blog (renamed "The Real Russia Project") stating that a film called "Ninth Company" by Russian director Fyodor Bondarchuk has received a nomination for best foreign language picture. Here's the screenshot of Russia Blog's post (click to enlarge):

So, La Russophobe was somewhat confused when she visited the official website of the Oscars and saw the five nominees for best foreign-language picture listed as follows:


As you can see, "Ninth Company" isn't among them ("Lives of Others" -- a chilling tale of Russian abuse of ordinary people behind the Iron Curtain which LR highly recommends -- was the winner). In fact, none of them have anything to do with Russia and, as far as La Russophobe could tell, Russia's only involvement with the nominees in any category this year was that the nominee for best animated short "Match Girl" took place in Russia (though its makers had nothing to do with the country) and the nominee/winner for best actress Helen Mirren is a Russian immigrant (formerly named "Yelena Mirinovskaya").

Upon looking into Russia Blog's misstatement further, La Russophobe discovered that "Ninth Company" was merely the film Russia chose to be its contender for a nomination this year, a contender that was rejected (surprise, surprise). So when Russia Blog stated "join us for a screening of one of the films nominated for the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, 9th Company - a Russian blockbuster about the Soviet war in Afghanistan" they were lying. Ninth Company was nominated for a nomination, that's all, not for the Oscar. Interestingly, in nearly two weeks nobody's pointed out this error in the comments, indicating that hardly anybody is actually paying attention to the Russophile nonsense spewed out at Russia Blog. Ironically, the "Ninth Company" post was basically a retred of a post Russia Blog issued in March 2006 purporting to "review" the film; this item contains a trackback to Russia blog itself referring to the film as "Russia's choice" for best foreign-language film (though the trackback doesn't find any Russia Blog article that actually says this).

One can, of course, take issue with the term "blockbuster" as well since (a) nobody in the outside world has ever heard of "Ninth Company" and (b) Russia Blog made no attempt to substantiate its box office receipts in Russia (it's their wont to ignore the need to provide sourced facts to back up their claims).

That's to say nothing of attempting to charge money for admission to this copyrighted film as Russia Blog's publisher proposes doing in his post, a clear violation of the law unless the publisher has permission from the owner to do so. And obviously, referring to "Ninth Company" as a film actually nominated for an Oscar would tend to draw in more money than accurately saying it was nominated for a nomination, so the false statement is actually self-serving not only in terms of making Russia look better than it is but in swelling Russia Blog's coffers.

If any readers have more information about Russia's actual role in the 2007 Oscars, LR would be pleased to receive it.

Commissars of the Internet: Part II

Today we bring you the fifth installment in the "Commissars of the Internet" series, an original LR translation which exposes how the Kremlin is attempting to take control of the Internet.

Last Monday, we read the authors' introduction to the subject of "Internet Brigades." Then last Tuesday, we learned the details about their organization and activities and on Wednesday we examined their ideology and strategy. Last Thursday, we began reading about the brigades in action against their targets, and today we continue that story. In particular, we learn that Public Enemy #1 for the brigades was . . . Anna Politkovskaya. Next week, the article concludes with illustrations of the nexus between the KGB and the brigades and conclusions about Russia's future. This will be followed by publication of the entire article as its own web page. You can find the entire article to date on the new website LR is constructing to house its major translations, located here. The first major translation, "Spare Organs," is also already there.


Here is Part II, Installment 5: The "Brigade" in Action, continued

Commissars of the Internet
The FSB at the Computer

Anna Polyanskaya, Andrei Krivov & Ivan Lomko
Gulag
September 16, 2006

(continued from Thursday)

Part II. Commissars of the Internet

“Disinformation and Kompromat”

Along with the thief-like techniques described in the first part of this article, used to distract attention and lead political discussions into the wilderness, the Brigade also regularly throws targeted disinformation and kompromat into forums. Refuting such information can be difficult, and the old adage, “Keep lying, and eventually something will stick” works here as well as anywhere.

Clearly, it is important for the Brigade that false claims be a part of every discussion, and that those claims become part of the new myths that influence public opinion. Why in the world does the Brigade so constantly and brazenly repeat lies that have already been refuted? Its members themselves openly admit (and we quote):

“Graffiti is read by many more people than write it. And if I write over and over again that someone is a pig, eventually that someone will oink.”

One might suppose the existence of a certain type of person who is endowed with “the gift of utter shamelessness”, but strangely enough, there are generally at least five participants of this type in any discussion, and on the most popular Russian political forums there may be a dozen. All of their false claims, which identically falsify events and history, are repeated by them every day and sometimes word for word in dozens and hundreds of forums.

Technical Methods of Pressure

One of the most commonly used methods for putting pressure on stubborn opponents (especially those who make note of the possible presence of a tight-knit Brigade on the forum) is to send them junk email containing viruses and Trojan horses. In our archive we have dozens of cases in which people of liberal viewpoints have reported that after posting messages opposing the ideological values of the Putin regime they have suddenly suffered massive virus attacks that practically destroyed their computer programs and blocked their access to the Internet.

Here, for example is a report from one visitor to the forum Civitas.ru:

Immediately after my short participation in a forum on Civitas.ru about the necessity of lustrating the FSB, a series of strong virus attacks penetrated all the defense systems of my computer and kept me from getting on the Internet for several days. Assuming that this was a coincidence, I returned to the same discussion forum on this topic that is so unpleasant for the FSB. That same day the following post appeared on the forum:

“You again! Veronika is back. I would have thought you would understand by now, Nikush. It became clear for everyone else a long time ago -- only for you is it still unclear. Fine. Then we’ll continue working. But one quick question for you, Veronika. You write about the KGB that they are, supposedly, beasts, and then you write that you live in Russia. If all of this is true, and I for example am a major in the FSB, doesn’t this scare you? Wouldn’t you rather be known as a French Jane?”

Immediately after this remark was posted, the massive virus attack on my computer returned. Clearly, this was a continuation of the work of the “FSB major”.

Obsessive stories about themselves

Trying to add credibility to their stories, brigadniki often tell unsolicited stories about themselves, their places of residence and work, their parents, etc, and publicize their work and home phone numbers, which none of the other participants in these forums find appropriate to do. At the same time, members of the Brigade often get mixed up in the details of “their” biographies, and may know very little about their supposed profession or the country where they supposedly live. Very often, they are émigrés in a foreign country, or call themselves émigrés. In recent months, however, this trend has changed, so that many of the brigadniki now claim to be residents of remote and non-fertile areas of Russia or Siberia, where, according to their stories, “a massive economic, social and cultural blossoming is underway, along with an overwhelming improvement in the standard of living, under the wise leadership of the Putin administration.”

Insightfulness of the Brigade

One of the most interesting peculiarities of the brigadniki is their ability to identify and publicize on forums not only their anonymous opponents’ place of residence, but also their full names, biographic details, place of work, and names of their relatives. Of course, they first ask a multitude of questions about their opponent’s country of residence, work, age, education, etc. But even when the personalities asking all these questions do not receive answers from their opponents, they somehow manage to find out this information on their own.

LR: As many LR readers may know, the eXile has decided that La Russophobe should be the recipient of exactly this type of treatment, and the eXile's publisher Mark Ames is an employee of state-owned Russian television. If the eXile is not acting directly on behalf of the Kremlin, they are giving wonderful impersonation of doing so. Remember, the Russian government has shown itself more than willing to prosecute bloggers for attacking the Kremlin, as was the case for instance with Vladimir Rakhmankov. Is the eXile a member of "the Brigades?" Perhaps LR should sponsor a contest to find out . . . . On the other hand, senior Russia blogger Andy Young of Siberian Light has called the eXile's antics simply "demented" so perhaps it merely hopes to be like the Brigades some day.

We once saw how, in the online remarks section of the magazine “Moskovskiye Novosti”, one member of a Brigade, supposedly using only the email address and neutral nickname “Kutyur”, determined and publicized the full name and place of work of one of the regular members of the discussion, a fierce supporter of Gaidar, Chubays and the SPS party. This was a couple of years ago, when the SPS was sharply criticizing Putin and his policies with respect to NTV and the war in Chechnya. The publication on the forum of the SPS supporter’s personal information was accompanied by threats against him and his family, which forced him to quit the web forum and for a long time refrain from any sort of discussion.

Finding and publicizing an opponent’s personal information with the intention of adding credibility to threats against him was made the more surprising by the fact that the “exposed” reader had given practically no details about himself on the site, and the site did not show his IP address. We observed similar, if somewhat less characteristic incidents more than once on the forum for the site “Lenta.ru”, in which supporters of Putin suddenly called by their true first names opponents they had just met, and whose nicknames consisted only of numbers or punctuation marks. Not long ago we learned of a case in which a person from North America writing under a pseudonym on the political forum “Russia Today” suddenly had published on the forum by his opponents in the Brigade a detailed document with his entire biography, including medical diagnoses. This brings to mind the Russian joke about an Internet briefing by President Putin:

“Putin On-Line”

Here we have a question from an anonymous user:

- Vova, aren’t you ashamed to answer questions prepared in advance?

- No, Nikolai Petrovich Sidrov of Yaroslav, resident of Lenin Street, building 16, apartment 2, IP number (such-and-such), ISP (such-and-such), I’m not at all embarrassed to answer questions prepared in advance.

Politkovskaya – Object of Special Attention by the Brigade

Brigadniki are almost always present, and especially active and aggressive, at discussions of certain publications, authors and topics. Among Russian publications and authors, the leader in all categories would be articles on Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya in the journal “Novaya Gazeta”.

LR: Keep in mind, much of this was written in 2003, three years before Politkovskaya was murdered, a year before she blamed Putin for Beslan in the Guardian, and before Putin called her a journalist who was practically unknown in Russia whose "political influence inside the country was of little significance." In other words, of course, the "president" of Russia was lying.

What happens during discussions of these articles simply defies description. It is an absolute orgy of animal hatred toward both Politkovskaya and every Chechen on the planet. Curiously, these remarks have been word-for-word identical with those posted since 2000, putting forward exactly the same “arguments”, accusations and insults, using exactly the same phrasing and sentence constructions. One gets the feeling that they are being written by exactly the same people with the same impoverished imagination and vocabulary. And once again we see here the same psychological puzzle: Is it really plausible that common readers, so fiercely hating this journalist and her viewpoints, would constantly, regularly, in every edition, read her every article and write exactly the same remarks, over and over again, never lacking the time or money to pay for the expensive Internet access one finds in Russia?

In this atmosphere so thick with insults, lies and xenophobia, normal discussion becomes impossible, and people with viewpoints other than those of the “iron clutch” are pushed out of the forums. It is entirely possible that this is one of the objectives of the Brigade, with its unified, propaganda-like ideology.

Administrative Resources

At the end of Jaunary 2003, on one of the more popular sites on the RuNet – the electronic version of the liberal magazine “Moskovskiye Novosti” – a fairly unusual event occurred. The Brigade on this forum unexpectedly began receiving active assistance from the new administrator of the MN site. The new administrator, a person of clearly limited intellect and ethics, suddenly, in spite of the site rules, categorically refused to remove from the site multiple anti-Semitic “flood” postings and obscene abuse written by members of the pro-Putin Brigade. Moreover, when many readers requested that the magazine take measures against the foul-mouthed anti-Semites from the forum’s Brigade, the administrator publicly answered: “You make me sick.” Then, without explaining his reasons, the administrator banned from the forum all members of the discussion who had been so presumptuous as to criticize Putin and the FSB.

The MN site administrator then took the unprecedented step (even for the RuNet) of purging the archives of the forum for the past two years. The MN site administrator was so energetic he carefully deleted only the several tens of thousands of readers’ postings that were directed against Putin and the policies of the FSB. Once again many regular contributors to the site expressed their annoyance to the administrator. In response the administrator advised that a number of the participants in previous discussions (all of them people of liberal and democratic viewpoints, who had never broken the rules of the forum) had been banned from the site on the personal instructions of the magazine’s editor in chief, V. Loshak.

One of the readers banned from the site had to use another computer to post his protest, having vowed to bring to light the fact of political censorship at MN. Eventually, his access to the site was reopened, but the site editor then took the unprecedented step of publicizing the IP codes of both of this person’s computers. The publication of a user’s IP code is quite undesirable for the user, since it makes it easier for hackers to break in, and the administrator’s doing this represented an absolutely amoral breech of the most basic standards of professional ethics. Ironically, exactly this same administrator had only a few months before publicly explained the undesirability and danger of publicizing IP codes.

After this reader’s departure from the forums being censored by the Brigade, the Brigade continued “in hot pursuit”, locating his U.S.-based ISPs using the IP-codes of his Internet addresses, and transparently hinting they might tell his employer about his pastime of participating in discussion forums during working hours.

The site administrator’s referring to the order of the chief editor -- to ban from the site all “anti-Putin” readers and delete all their postings for the past year and a half from the archives -- speaks for itself. We will note only that the “censored” readers never once broke the rules of the site, never used obscene language, etc. Moreover, the editor left in the archives all of the obscene abuse, indecencies and personal threats directed at these readers by members of the Brigade, while every last one of these reader’s postings that were directed against Putin or the FSB were carefully deleted.

It seems completely ridiculous that the editors of MN to this day openly help drive from the site people of liberal viewpoints, most of whom defend the positions of the authors and journalists of this still fairly liberal publication, to the benefit of those participants of discussions who absolutely trash these authors, showering them with every possible insult and obscene abuse.

Impressions of a first-time visitor to a RuNet forum

“When I first came to one of the forums of the magazine Moskovskiye Novosti, I saw a “discussion” taking place which consisted of a dialogue between a person with a female nickname and a tight-knit group of comrades who were cursing this woman in a chorus of foul abuse. The woman was writing in correct and carefully-argued postings on a wide range of issues about Islam and the historic connections of the KGB with near east Arab dictatorships. In response flew a stream of obscene abuse and indecencies from several male-nicknamed personalities, who praised the KGB.

“I was disturbed by this horrible scene of hounding and posted a remark about the unacceptability of such methods of argument and the use of foul language against a woman. Shortly after this I received emails from two participants in the forum, one a pianist in New York and the other a middle-aged woman from Florida. In their unsolicited emails my correspondents wrote that the woman whom I had defended was supposedly a vicious provocateur who hounded honest, decent people in every way. They presented a picture of events which in every way contradicted what I had seen with my own eyes. The elderly lady attached a picture of herself and invited me to visit her. The musician offered to meet me in a Russian restaurant in New York.

“As it later turned out, these two personalities were among he most active on the MN forums and several other liberal forums. They always worked in tandem, and were online for many hours every day (under a variety of nicknames, of course). If initially I had some doubts about the existence of a Brigade, the methods of the brigadniki themselves have quickly enlightened me otherwise. What struck me especially was the participation of the editor of the magazine himself in the expulsion of dissenting voices from the site, in favor of those who systematically terrorized and cursed them.”

After the site administrator and Brigade had chased from the MN forum every intelligent reader, commentaries on the forum came to consist of nothing but filthy abuse directed at people who had already been driven out, jumbled in with anti-Semitic “floods”, praises for Putin and more curses directed at Jews, the U.S. and President Bush. The MN site administrator has not objected. He has finished his work, having driven from the forum all those who disturbed the Brigade’s peace, and left the forum to its fate.

COMING NEXT WEEK: PART III, THE BRIGADE’S “GIFT OF PROPHECY”

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blowing Away the Gazprom Cloud

The Streetwise Professor offers two columns probing the malignant practices of Russia's Gazprom energy monopoly and dispelling the propaganda that the Kremlin has been spewing forth regarding it's recent attempts to weaponize natural gas:

The most common defense of Russia’s/Gazprom’s increasing the price of gas to Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan and others is to deny that the motive is political, and to claim instead that these consumers are now being charged the same market price as the Western Europeans. There is a kernel of truth to this, but it obscures the crucial question: just what kind of market is this?

Some markets are competitive. Some markets are not. The market for Russian and most Central Asian gas falls squarely under “not.” Gazprom has a state enforced monopoly on the transit of gas across Russian territory. Moreover, the Russian government is aggressively playing the “Great Game” in Central Asia and the Caucasus to stymie development of any alternative transport routes. For instance, Russia used its overwhelming leverage against Armenia to get that impoverished nation to limit the size of a gas pipeline from Iran, thereby ensuring that the pipe could not be used to transport Iranian gas into Europe.

Russia’s central geographic position, and its heretofore successful efforts to impede development of alternative transportation routes gives the transit monopoly Gazprom great market power. It is effectively a monopsonist upstream, and can exploit this monopsony power to depress the purchase price of gas from Turkmenistan and other “independent” suppliers. Moreover, because the supply of gas into Europe from non-Russian sources is constrained (and will continue to be so unless and until Europe invests in substantial LNG capacity), Russia faces a downward sloping demand for its gas in Europe, which gives it some monopoly power. Indeed, Eastern and Central Europe have even fewer alternatives to Russian gas, and are even more vulnerable to the exercise of market power.

This combination of monopoly and monopsony power is reflected in the chasm between the purchase price of gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan–about $45-$65 per mcm for years, lately raised to $100 per mcm–and the price in Europe–upwards of $230 per mcm. Based on a price of $230 to Germany, and a price in Turkmenistan of $65, this translates to a price difference between consumer and producer of about 3.5 cents per mcm per kilometer. This represents a markup over the Turkmenistan price of about 63 percent per 1000 kilometers. (Even at the now higher Turkmenistan price of $100, the shadow price of transportation is about 2.8 cents per mcm per kilometer, and the markup is 42 percent per 1000 kilometers.)

To put things in perspective, the basis (i.e., the price difference) between the price of gas in Chicago, and the price of gas at the AECO hub in Alberta, a distant Canadian gas supply location, averaged a little over 1 cent per mcm per kilometer from November 2003-January 2007. The markup is about 5.5 percent per 1000 kilometers. Examining the AECO-Iroquois route (Iroquois is a gas hub in New York state), the average basis worked out to about 1.5 cents per mcm per kilometer in 2003-2007, and the markup was about 7.5 percent of the AECO price per 1000 clicks. Iroquois is often quite congested, especially during the winter, so it tends to exhibit a wide basis compared to other locations in North America. Nonetheless, the Europe-Turkmenistan basis dwarfs the Iroquois-AECO basis, and dwarfs the Chicago City Gate-AECO basis even more.

Now, some of the disparity arises because of Gazprom’s inefficiency. (If the exercise of market power doesn’t bother them, global warming worriers should fret about the massive amounts of methane–a greenhouse gas much more potent than CO2–that leaks from Gazprom’s pipes.) But a healthy chunk reflects a market power rent that exists in the no-entry Russian market but does not exist in the much more competitive North American gas transportation market.

The Europeans have importuned Russia to open its gas transportation system. Sorry, not going to happen. This arrangement is too lucrative for the Russian government and the various hogs that feed at the Gazprom trough. This market is not competitive, and is unlikely to become so any time soon.

So let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s not pretend that the price of gas in Europe is a competitive market price. It’s not. It’s a monopoly market price, supported by a state-enforced entry barrier. It deserves no deference from supporters of free markets. The subsidized prices that once prevailed in Ukraine and Belarus don’t deserve deference either; nor does the highly subsidized domestic Russian price.

But two wrongs don’t add up to a right. This has long been a dysfunctional market supported by the dysfunctional exercise of government power. The old dysfunction was to subsidize the consumption of energy by inefficient manufacturing enterprises. The new dysfunction is to extract monopoly and monopsony rents. Prices were too low before. They are too high now (for consumers–still too low for producers).

So, the next time I hear someone repeat the mantra that Gazprom is just charging “the market price,” I will be tempted to sing a few bars from the Minor Threat song “I don’t wanna hear it”:

I don’t want to hear it
‘Cause I know that none of it’s true
I don’t want to hear it
Sick and tired of all your lies
I don’t want to hear it
When are you gonna realize…

That I don’t want to hear it
Know you’re full of ****

Except, I’ll probably fill in the ellipses. ‘Cuz I am–The Streetwise Professor.

The approach to the Gasprom’s actions is very correct because everyone is talking about high price, but one reality that mentioned here is ‘Gasprom is monopoly in Europe’. So, there is no right device or method to measure the right price for gas. On the other hand Gasprom increased the price form $110 to $235 to Azerbaijan and Georgia. However, Germany receives from $230 even less than Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan and Georgia is closer to gas production fields than Germany.

I can believe Russian price hike to Azerbaijan is only for economical reason when I will believe that main reason for opposition of Russia to Caspian Transit Pipeline is environmental rather than political (as Russia mentions).

Instead of acting together and dictating the price to Gasprom which doesnot have any other serious pipeline for exporting its gas to other markets than EU. EU countries quietly and lonely make contracts with Gasprom assuming that they are getting cheaper prices than other EU countries. Which is decreases bargaining power almost to zero. Leader of EU Germany is the best example for that or France too. Someone should remind them that Russia is building gas pipeline to China. No one is going to be safe after this pipeline. Contracts have been a piece of paper for Russian government if you have doubt you can look to Azerbaijan’s experience which had a 5 year contract from $55 and after 2 years Gasprom was demanding $235.

Once again I would like to appreciate writer to prove with numbers and provide new approach to Gasprom’s “market price” . So, when you hear “economical reasons” of Gasprom you should remember and sing “I dont wanna hear it”. There is a good saying “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”

One of the points that Gazprom and its acolytes attempt to use to gull the lazy minded is that there is a symmetry between Europe and Russia/Gazprom. Europe has one major supplier–Russia–but Russia has only one consumer–Europe. I have even seen the term “bilateral monopoly” used in this context. Relatedly, Gazprom constantly retorts “security of demand” whenever Europeans have the temerity to question the security of their Russian supplies, suggesting that Gazprom is as vulnerable to opportunistic behavior by its customers as are its customers to a gas shutoff by Gazprom.

Strike up another chorus of “I don’t wanna hear it!” Europe is not a monolithic entity in the same way Gazprom is. Not only are there several handfuls of European countries, each of whom pursue their own interests (EU rhetoric to the contrary), but even within most European countries there are multiple consumers of gas, including utilities and industrial consumers. That is, the demand side is relatively fragmented and competitive compared to the supply side. Moreover, Gazprom is a past master at playing off one European government against the other, and European companies against one another. Divide and conquer is an old game, and Gazprom/Russia play it well. Sad to say, they are aided in this by short sighted, cynical European governments. As Samir notes, the French just cut their own deal with Gazprom. Germany has been a major enabler, although Angela Merkel is pulling back somewhat. The question remains, however, as to whether she can overcome the influence of the German banking and industrial establishment, which has a long history of cynical dealings with Russia (as during the early Bolshevik period immediately following Brest-Litovsk). The Italians have also been major collaborators.

Thus, there is no symmetry between the monolithic Russian supply side and the fragmented European demand side, and Putin’s/Gazprom’s repeated attempts to assert such balance where none exists is further evidence of their disingenuousness. Actually, I can tolerate that; I don’t blame the wolf for its nature. What I cannot tolerate is the failure to think by those in the west who parrot such nonsense.

Kasparov Speaks

There are times when LR is pretty sure the world is going mad, and this is one of those times. Garry Kasparov gave a speech on February 12th before the Foreign Policy Association in New York City and the text turns up on a blog called "Grow with Chess" (hat tip: Robert Amsterdam). You can visit the FPA website and watch the speech or download the transcript.

OUTRAGE #1: The speech was also reported on the ChessBase website. Yet, as far as can be told, it wasn't reported in any normal media outlet even though it took place in New York City. Google News lists only the ChessBase story.

OUTRAGE #2: Garry, dear, we hate to break it to you, but New York City isn't in Russia and Vladimir Putin is. Isn't it just about time to get a on a plane, or at least attend a teleconference?

Is the world going mad?

MEMO TO GARRY KASPAROV: THE KREMLIN ISN'T IN MANHATTAN, KNUCKLEHEAD! STEP ONE IN OUSTING PUTIN IS GO TO RUSSIA.

MEMO TO NEW YORK TIMES: A MAJOR RUSSIAN DISSIDENT GAVE A MAJOR SPEECH IN MANHATTAN. MAYBE YOU SHOULD CONSIDER REPORTING IT?

Crypto Fascist Luzhkov Calls for Revolution, Conquest in Ukraine

Do you dare to imagine what would happen if the mayor of New York City visited Chechnya and made a speech saying how wonderful it was that the locals had struggled so hard to keep Chechnya out of the Kremlin's hands? Radio Liberty reports:

Ukraine's acting security chief, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, says Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov will face a "tough reaction" for comments made during a visit to the Crimea region, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. During a visit to Sevastopol on February 21, Luzhkov promised support for ethnic Russians in Crimea and thanked the region for opposing Ukraine's efforts to cooperate with NATO. Luzhkov also decried Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's turning over of Crimea -- where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is located -- to Ukraine in 1954. Ukrainian officials accused Luzhkov of questioning Crimea's status as part of Ukraine. Speaking at a joint press conference with acting Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko, Nalyvaichenko said Luzhkov could face a warning, a ban on entering the country, or more serious criminal penalties. "A foreigner on the territory of our country, regardless of his status and citizenship, must respect the laws, the language, and the culture of the people," Nalyvaichenko said. "So, the [Ukrainian] reaction will be harsh, in accordance with the law." Ohryzko said the Foreign Ministry and law enforcement bodies will assess the extent to which Luzhkov's comments threatened Ukraine's "territorial integrity and security."

How long will it be before Luzhkov is in Nome calling for the return of Alaska to Russia's waiting arms?

Anarchists on the March!














Over 100 anarchist protesters marched from Moscow's Patriot Ponds park down Tversky and Golgol Streets in Moscow on February 23rd carrying signs that read "No war except class war!" and "Our Fatherland is all Humanity" (the two key words rhyme in Russian). Several were arrested.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Sunday Photos: Youtube Edition Part I -- The Horror of Military Service in Russia


Russian Army - video powered by Metacafe

The honor of serving your country in the Russian military -- what it really means.


Russian Initiation - video powered by Metacafe

Miltary Service, Part II

More videos on the horror of soldiers being abused in Russia, including being forced into sex slavery, are available at Yahoo! News. Click the link and then find the "Video" section in the lower right or try clicking here or here.

For at least a partial explanation of this horror, Strategy Page offers the following insights:

Corruption in the Russian conscription system is leaving the military with the dregs of society. Anyone with any smarts, or money, finds a way to avoid getting drafted. Those who can afford it, bribe officials to have their sons disappear from the conscription lists. Those who can't afford it, send the kid away, far away, for a few years. The result is that, while the military is getting the number of teenage recruits it needs, the quality is dismal. Take, for example, the Russian air force. For many decades, the air force got the best, or at least most intelligent, draftees. In theory they still do. But after officials examined last years 11,000 conscripts, they reported that nearly a third were mentally unstable. Ten percent had substance abuse (drugs and/or alcohol) problems, and that fifteen percent had health problems. Not enough to keep them out of the military, but worrisome to air force doctors. A common problem was malnutrition, with many being seriously underweight. Then there were the family problems. A quarter of these recruits never knew their fathers, and three percent never knew their mothers. This data was released partly to pressure the government to come up with the money for an all-volunteer force. The air force already has some volunteers, but few make a career of it because of all those low-life conscripts they have to deal with. An all-volunteer force would cost a lot more, since the troops would have to be paid competitive (with civilian jobs) wages. However, many air force officers and NCOs have been abroad since the Cold War ended in 1991, and seen how other nations do with all-volunteer forces, and are impressed with the more capable, and motivated troops. The Russian air force, for example, has been working with the Indian air force for decades. The Indians have an all-volunteer force, and their air force personnel are obviously more eager and competent. The Russian government wants to go all-volunteer, but it also wants to replace the aging Cold War era weapons that have not been kept going since 1991. But many air force commanders would be willing to give up some new aircraft, in order to get more capable people to fly and maintain them.