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Saturday, June 30, 2007

June 30, 2007 -- Contents

SATURDAY JUNE 30 CONTENTS

(1) Rat Nation

(2) Russia and Terrorism

(3) Beslan Mothers Sue Kremlin for Killing their Childlren

(4) Russia and Corruption

(5) Annals of Russian Imperialism


Rat Nation

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Georgy Bovt explains that Russia is nation of squealing rats:

The Federal Tax Service has come out with an interesting new initiative. In an effort to identify people renting out apartments without paying taxes, they have asked people to report any "suspicious" people in their buildings. More than 100,000 apartments are rented out in Moscow alone, and the majority of landlords don't pay the relatively low 13 percent tax on the income. The authorities have not been able to find a solution other than calling on neighbors to be vigilant. One well-known liberal figure who is founding a new political party told me he doubts the initiative will work. He said that the Communist period had so inoculated the population against the practice of informing on each other that few people will volunteer to help the authorities.

He may be partly right. People don't trust authorities much, and they distrust law enforcement agencies the most. But informing is a tradition with deep roots in the culture. And the authorities have been making special efforts to praise people for their "openness." During the Kremlin's recent campaign against Georgians, for example, fliers were circulated in schools encouraging people to report children with Georgian surnames. There is also the long-standing practice of reporting structural repair work on neighboring apartments, the hiring of illegal immigrants, and so on.

A brief review of Russian history helps to explain this.

Under the Tatar-Mongolian yoke from the 13th century to the 15th century, snitching was a way to gain favor with the Golden Horde. Anyone coveting a personal fiefdom got it by informing on the rivals of the Tatar-Mongolian rulers. This is how Ivan Kalita, generally considered the founder of Russia's centralized state, gained authority in the 14th century.

The larger the state grew, the more Muscovy relied on informers. Under Ivan the Terrible the practice was institutionalized. People were imprisoned, tortured, exiled and killed on the sole basis of denunciations. Peter the Great did away with secret church confessions and made priests inform on their parishioners. Then serfs were promised their freedom in return for informing on their masters. During the Soviet collectivization campaign, the same practice allowed poorer peasants to denounce the better off -- and then scoop up and divide the booty when their victims were dispossessed.

Informing gradually became almost a reflex, and the two main features of the practice of informing began to crystallize from the very beginning. First, the practice was directed not so much at bringing social justice as at protecting the interests and security of the ruling regime. Second, social discord was often the chief motive, as informing came to be more a means of settling accounts with people than of establishing the rule of law. The Communist authorities elevated this to the level of a social virtue. Neighbors snitched on neighbors, spouses on spouses, and children on their parents. There was a monument erected in Moscow to a peasant boy, Pavlik Morozov, who informed on his prosperous peasant father. The father was shot and Pavlik became a hero in Soviet textbooks. Informers were encouraged in every way, including with bonuses and promotions at work. No sooner had Soviet citizens gained the right to travel abroad than denunciations of "improper" behavior outside the country's borders began to pour in. There was a professional stool pigeon in every Soviet group traveling abroad who would file a report on arriving home.

Some estimates put the number of people working as informers for the secret police at more than 2 million. How many more would rat colleagues and neighbors out informally will probably never be known. As a result, it's hard for me to believe in the "inoculation" theory -- if for nothing else, because the saying "It's not so to have no cows, if your neighbor's cows have all died" is still around in the Russian language.

Russia and Terrorism

The Terror Finance Blog reports:

In addition to Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have funded and armed Hamas for decades, Russia, too, should be held accountable for the chaos in Gaza and the suffering of the Palestinian people. Asserting Russia’s influence in Middle East politics, President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to Hamas in February 2006, offered legitimacy to the U.S. designated terrorist organization.

Yuri Andropov, former Soviet and KGB leader may be dead, but his agenda survives with Putin, who like his former master uses terrorist organization to undermine the U.S. Indeed, Putin’s government crackdown on human and civil rights, and the brutal tactics used to consolidate Russia’s economic resources, reminds one of the former Soviet Union.

The Transparency International 2007 global report released on May 24 documents widespread Russian corruption and lack of independence in Russia's legal system, and its courts in particular. This, according to the report, is due to the government’s growing political interference. Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s best-known opposition newspaper, claims that corruption in Russia is the rule, and “business is impossible without it.”

Moreover, Russian Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref, speaking at an investor conference in Moscow last week, admitted that "everyone knows the Taxation Service is corrupt." Leading investigative reporter Roman Shleinov claimed recently in London, that attempts to expose this corruption resulted in more than 2,000 dead journalists in the last decade.

Russia’s economic growth -- more than $515 billion in foreign currency and gold reserves -- make Putin very popular among his people, despite the corruption and his regime’s growing restrictions on civil and human rights, freedom of the press, and private, public and foreign entities. Most recently, his popularity reached over 70% approval ratings. Not surprisingly, Putin disregards whatever domestic and foreign criticism of his centralized and authoritarian government. He even declared: “I am an absolute, pure democrat… I am the only one, there just aren't any others in the world.”

Russia’s long tradition of autocratic regimes seems to empower Putin’s undermining of Russia’s recent history of democratic capitalism. With ever-increasing frequency, Russia uses its corrupt courts to legitimize nationalizing and confiscating private and public corporations from entrepreneurs who built their wealth and the Russian economy on the ashes of the crumbling Soviet infrastructure. Those allowed are holding onto their corporations and vast personal wealth, carrying out Putin’s agenda of centralization and consolidation of domestic and even global strategic resources and industries such as aluminum and steel, and above all, energy.

Putin began consolidating Russia’s energy industry four years ago, with the now familiar ploy of accusing oil company Yukos, and its owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky with tax fraud. Russia's biggest, state-owned gas and oil company, Gazprom, and its state-owned oil company, Rosneft, grabbed the bankrupted Yukos assets, and Khodorkovsky was sent to prison for nine years. Since then, Yukos’ foreign shareholders are engaged in costly lawsuits outside Russia in attempts to recover damages.

In September 2006, alleging environmental violations, the Russian government revoked the Royal Dutch Shell company license to operate the world's biggest liquefied gas development in Sakhalin. Less than three months later, Shell was forced to hand over control of the $22 billion project to Gazprom.

The latest casualty is the international oil company BP. The Russian government threats to revoke its development license, culminated when Putin publicly stated: “how much longer do we have to tolerate this?” On June 22, BP was forced to sell its 62.9% stake in the world’s largest natural gas field in Kovykta -- worth an estimated $20 billion -- to Gazprom for only pennies on the dollar, a mere $700- $900 million.

So it's no surprise that Canadian investors in Magna International, an auto parts manufacturer and supplier, look askance at plans to sell 20 million shares and partial control for $1.54 billion, in exchange for entry into Russia’s market. The proposed buyer, Russian Machines, is a manufacturing giant controlled by Vladimir Putin’s billionaire crony, “Aluminum King” Oleg Deripaska, whose entry visa to the U.S. was recently revoked.

Deripaska, rumored as Russia’s wealthiest oligarch, would get only 42% of Newco, the new holding company that would control Magna, rather than the 94% that those shares represent. Moreover, according to the agreement, the Canadian owners and executives of the company would receive the equivalent of $883 per share, -- though their shares are worth some $93. That doesn’t compute. “When smart, rational people do things like that, and nobody can tell me why -- I start getting suspicious,” said one Magna shareholder.

Considering Deripaska’s close personal ties to Putin, Magna shareholder skepticism rose on hearing an assurance from the Canadian company chariman, Frank Stronac, that Putin "endorsed" Deripaska as a business partner. Why is that important, they rightly wonder? Rather than giving Magna entry into Russia's market, it indicates that Deripaska’s foothold in the company would lead to yet another Russian takeover, and a total loss for Magna's existing Canadian shareholders.

That would fit Deripaska's reputed practices, which are often disputed. In May 2007, Deripaska settled a $500 million lawsuit in which his former partners in Tajik Aluminum Smelter TadAZ charged him with fraud and sought an estimated $220 million, plus costs, interest, and damages. Another former business partner, Michael Cherney, is now suing Deripaska for violations of an agreement granting Cherney 20% of RusAl. Initially, Deripaska denied the agreement. Since the document surfaced, Deripaska has been attempting to evade the British lawsuit by claiming lack of jurisdiction. Unless he settles this dispute, too, his plan to take RusAl public for $30 billion in London later this year may be affected.

All this leaves one questioning the wisdom of U.S. officials, who are now inviting further Russian investment in and joint venture with U.S. businesses. On June 18, U.S. Deputy Treasury secretary Robert Kimmitt declared: "We want to be sure they consider investment opportunities in the United States.”

But smart buyers, bankers and regulators will worry about the provenance of assets offered in Russian IPOs -- and how long it will take before Russia “legally” confiscates and fully controls those assets. Moreover, those assets may well be used to fund Islamist terrorist organizations.

Beslan Mothers Sue Kremlin for Killing their Children


The Moscow Times reports:

Relatives of children killed in the 2004 Beslan attack have filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights accusing the government of failing to properly investigate the massacre that killed 330 people.

Ella Kesayeva, head of the Voice of Beslan group, said late Wednesday that 89 people had signed a lawsuit filed to the Strasbourg court. The application says Russian authorities violated human rights treaties by denying victims' relatives the right to an objective investigation of the case.

Meanwhile, a court in Kabardino-Balkariya charged two police officers with negligence Wednesday in connection with the attack. The officers, Mukhazhir Yevloyev and Akhmed Kotiyev, are accused of failing to prevent the attackers from setting up their training and staging camp in Ingushetia.




Russia and Corruption

The Alyssia A. Lappen blog reports:

The Transparency International 2007 global report released on May 24 documents widespread Russian corruption and lack of independence in Russia’s legal system, and its courts in particular. This, according to the report, is due to the government’s growing political interference. Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s best-known opposition newspaper, claims that corruption in Russia is the rule, and “business is impossible without it.”

Moreover, Russian Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref, speaking at an investor conference in Moscow last week, admitted that “everyone knows the Taxation Service is corrupt.” Leading investigative reporter Roman Shleinov claimed recently in London, that attempts to expose this corruption resulted in more than 2,000 dead journalists in the last decade.

Russia’s economic growth — more than $515 billion in foreign currency and gold reserves — make Putin very popular among his people, despite the corruption and his regime’s growing restrictions on civil and human rights, freedom of the press, and private, public and foreign entities. Most recently, his popularity reached over 70% approval ratings. Not surprisingly, Putin disregards whatever domestic and foreign criticism of his centralized and authoritarian government. He even declared: “I am an absolute, pure democrat… I am the only one, there just aren’t any others in the world.”

Russia’s long tradition of autocratic regimes seems to empower Putin’s undermining of Russia’s recent history of democratic capitalism. With ever-increasing frequency, Russia uses its corrupt courts to legitimize nationalizing and confiscating private and public corporations from entrepreneurs who built their wealth and the Russian economy on the ashes of the crumbling Soviet infrastructure. Those allowed are holding onto their corporations and vast personal wealth, carrying out Putin’s agenda of centralization and consolidation of domestic and even global strategic resources and industries such as aluminum and steel, and above all, energy.

Putin began consolidating Russia’s energy industry four years ago, with the now familiar ploy of accusing oil company Yukos, and its owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky with tax fraud. Russia’s biggest, state-owned gas and oil company, Gazprom, and its state-owned oil company, Rosneft, grabbed the bankrupted Yukos assets, and Khodorkovsky was sent to prison for nine years. Since then, Yukos’ foreign shareholders are engaged in costly lawsuits outside Russia in attempts to recover damages.

In September 2006, alleging environmental violations, the Russian government revoked the Royal Dutch Shell company license to operate the world’s biggest liquefied gas development in Sakhalin. Less than three months later, Shell was forced to hand over control of the $22 billion project to Gazprom.

The latest casualty is the international oil company BP. The Russian government threats to revoke its development license, culminated when Putin publicly stated: “how much longer do we have to tolerate this?” On June 22, BP was forced to sell its 62.9% stake in the world’s largest natural oil field in Kovykta — worth an estimated $20 billion — to Gazprom for only pennies on the dollar, a mere $700- $900 million.

So it’s no surprise that Canadian investors in Magna International, an auto parts manufacturer and supplier, look askance at plans to sell 20 million shares and partial control for $1.54 billion, in exchange for entry into Russia’s market. The proposed buyer, Russian Machines, is a manufacturing giant controlled by Vladimir Putin’s billionaire crony, “Aluminum King” Oleg Deripaska, whose entry visa to the U.S. was recently revoked.

Deripaska, rumored as Russia’s wealthiest oligarch, would get only 42% of Newco, the new holding company that would control Magna, rather than the 94% that those shares represent. Moreover, according to the agreement, the Canadian owners and executives of the company would receive the equivalent of $883 per share, — though their shares are worth some $93. That doesn’t compute. “When smart, rational people do things like that, and nobody can tell me why — I start getting suspicious,” said one Magna shareholder.

Considering Deripaska’s close personal ties to Putin, Magna shareholder skepticism rose on hearing an assurance from the Canadian company chariman, Frank Stronac, that Putin “endorsed” Deripaska as a business partner. Why is that important, they rightly wonder? Rather than giving Magna entry into Russi’s market, it indicates that Deripaska’s foothold in the company would lead to yet another Russian takeover, and a total loss for Magna’s existing Canadian shareholders.

That would fit Deripaska’s reputed practices, which are often disputed. In May 2007, Deripaska settled a $500 million lawsuit in which his former partners in Tajik Aluminum Smelter TadAZ charged him with fraud and sought an estimated $220 million, plus costs, interest, and damages. Another former business partner, Michael Cherney, is now suing Deripaska for violations of an agreement granting Cherney 20% of RusAl. Initially, Deripaska denied the agreement. the document surfaced, Deripaska has been attempting to evade the British lawsuit by claiming lack of jurisdiction. Unless he settles this dispute, too, his plan to take RusAl public for $30 billion in London later this year may be affected.

All this leaves one questioning the wisdom of U.S. officials, who are now inviting further Russian investment in and joint venture with U.S. businesses. On June 18, U.S. Deputy Treasury secretary Robert Kimmitt declared: “We want to be sure they consider investment opportunities in the United States.”

But smart buyers, bankers and regulators will worry about the provenance of assets offered in Russian IPOs — and how long it will take before Russia “legally” confiscates and fully controls those assets.

Annals of Russian Imperialism: They're going after the Arctic!

The Guardian reports:

It is already the world's biggest country, spanning 11 time zones and stretching from Europe to the far east. But yesterday Russia signalled its intention to get even bigger by announcing an audacious plan to annex a vast 460,000 square mile chunk of the frozen and ice-encrusted Arctic.

According to Russian scientists, there is new evidence backing Russia's claim that its northern Arctic region is directly linked to the North Pole via an underwater shelf.

Under international law, no country owns the North Pole. Instead, the five surrounding Arctic states, Russia, the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland), are limited to a 200-mile economic zone around their coasts.

On Monday, however, a group of Russian geologists returned from a six-week voyage on a nuclear icebreaker. They had travelled to the Lomonosov ridge, an underwater shelf in Russia's remote and inhospitable eastern Arctic Ocean.

According to Russia's media, the geologists returned with the "sensational news" that the Lomonosov ridge was linked to Russian Federation territory, boosting Russia's claim over the oil-and-gas rich triangle. The territory contained 10bn tonnes of gas and oil deposits, the scientists said.

Russia's Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper celebrated the discovery by printing a large map of the North Pole. It showed the new "addition" to Russia - the size of France, Germany and Italy combined - under a white, blue and red Russian flag.

[...]

"Frankly I think it's a little bit strange," Sergey Priamikov, the international co-operation director of Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg, told the Guardian. "Canada could make exactly the same claim. The Canadians could say that the Lomonosov ridge is part of the Canadian shelf, which means Russia should in fact belong to Canada, together with the whole of Eurasia."

Friday, June 29, 2007

June 29, 2007 -- Contents

FRIDAY JUNE 29 CONTENTS

(1) Kiselyov on Neo-Soviet Education

(2) NATO fires back at the Kremlin!

(3) Tymoshenko Calls Yanukovich on the Carpet

(4) The Russian Healthcare System: Sick in SO many ways


Kiselyov on Neo-Soviet Education Policy
















Writing in the Moscow Times, opposition journalist Yevegeny Kiselyov (pictured above, foreground) exposes the blatant fraud of Vladmir Putin's neo-Soviet education crackdown:

I was bewildered, upset and vexed by President Vladimir Putin's recent speech at a meeting with teachers in the humanities who were attending a conference in Moscow. As he discussed recent history and how it should be understood -- as well as how it should be taught -- Putin said the following:

"Concerning some problematic pages in our history -- yes, they exist, as they do in the histories of all states. We have less than some countries. And ours are not as terrible as those of some others. Yes, some pages in our history were horrible: We can think of the events beginning in 1937, and we should not forget them. But it wasn't better in other countries -- in fact, it was far more horrible."

He then rattled off a list of U.S. offenses from history, running from the dropping of atomic bombs on Japanese cities in World War II, the blanketing of thousands of kilometers of Vietnam with Agent Orange in the war there, and the dropping of seven times more bombs on the country than fell during all of World War II.

"We don't have other black pages in our history, like fascism," he added.

The president is right: We didn't have fascism. But we had Bolshevism, which I'm convinced was no better. In fact, there were an enormous number of "black pages" in 20th-century Russian history, and every one of them was terrible. For example:

• The "Red Terror" unleashed by the Bolsheviks soon after they took power in 1917, against both political opponents and innocent civilians, which took up to a million lives;

• Collectivization, which forced 3 million to 4.5 million peasants to flee their villages and caused, in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, another 6 million to 7 million to die of hunger;

• The "Great Purges" from 1937 to 1938, which claimed 1.3 million to 1.7 million victims. About 800,000 of them were executed without investigation or trial, including Stalin's political opponents as well as politicians, bureaucrats, military men and citizens who were completely loyal to him.

There was also the mass deportation of ethnic groups to Siberia, Central Asia and Kazakhstan during World War II: Almost a million Germans were resettled as a preventive measure, along with another 1.5 million Chechens, Ingush, Kalmyks, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks and others -- supposedly because their elders collaborated with the Germans during the occupation of their regions. Immediately after the victory over fascism, Soviet soldiers who had been liberated from Hitler's prison camps were marched across the country and straight into the gulag, along with the civilians who had been taken to Germany and forced to work. That was nearly another million people.

And then there was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which allowed Germany to begin World War II (with the Soviet attack on Poland following just two weeks later). And Katyn, where 22,000 Polish prisoners of war were executed in 1940. We also put down popular uprisings in East Germany in 1953, invaded Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979. In Afghanistan, we conducted an unnecessary, senseless and shameful war for almost 10 years -- almost as long as the United States fought in Vietnam. How many states can boast of such a "list of honor" in the 20th century?

Putin is being modest -- and deceptive -- when he talks about the importance of 1937. This was the date when Stalin's secret police, the NKVD, unleashed massive purges across the entire country after purging the highest military leaders under Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky. But the state has never done anything significant to mark this tragic date in a fitting way. True, it would be strange to expect this from a government led by a former officer of the KGB -- the descendant of the NKVD -- with a ruling elite in which at least half of the members trace their roots back to the same organization.

In Ukraine, President Viktor Yushchenko decreed that the memory of the victims of the Great Purges should be honored with great ceremony, and even instituted a special annual day of remembrance. Russia has a day of remembrance of the victims of political repression, but Kiev is unlikely to have much success in getting senior politicians in Moscow to mark it in any significant way.

When Putin begins pointing to the United States as a country with a worse record than Russia and the Soviet Union, citing the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, the loads of bombs dropped on Vietnam and the vast jungle destroyed by chemical defoliants, he sounds like a caricature of the Soviet polemicists. When they'd run out of arguments, they'd pull an ace out of their sleeves, charging, "But you lynch blacks!"

Indeed they did, prompting the "March on Washington" in 1963, where a crowd estimated at 200,000 to 500,000 gathered on the Mall to protest the lack of civil rights for African Americans. When eight people in Red Square tried to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, they were assaulted by police and seven were arrested.

What the United States did in Vietnam was wrong. And you can question (especially given the current situation in Iraq) whether the country truly condemns or even regrets that military operation.

But there is no question that the experience was examined by some of the United States' greatest thinkers: writers, scholars, and artists. Masterpieces like Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter," Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" and Oliver Stone's "Platoon" were also acts of repentance.

In the center of Washington there is a magnificent memorial where the names of the over 58,000 men and women killed in Vietnam are carved in stone. This extraordinarily powerful memorial is the most visited site in the U.S. capital. In Moscow there is nothing like it commemorating those who died in Afghanistan or Chechnya.

I don't know if Putin has figures on how many bombs we dropped in Afghanistan and Chechnya, but my guess is we didn't scrimp on ammunition. In fact, I'm not guessing -- I know, since I served there for two years . We used both high explosive bombs and volley fire missile systems. These weren't, of course, nuclear weapons, but they weren't much more humane. And in Chechnya we need only recall the ruins of Grozny -- reminiscent of Stalingrad -- that shocked Putin when he first saw the city from the air in the spring of 2004.

It's also worth recalling that as soon as it became known that the U.S. military was using defoliants in Vietnam, over 5,000 American scientists and scholars, including 129 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 17 Nobel Prize winners, brought a petition to the White House protesting the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons. The military was forced to stop using them. In the Soviet Union, only one scholar protested the war in Afghanistan -- the late Andrei Sakharov, who was exiled to the city of Gorky for almost seven years.

Do many people remember all of that today? I'm afraid not. And it seems the authorities would like us to know even less. They need history only as a collection of myths around which they can try to consolidate their electorate, especially young people. To do that, they need heroic pages of history: victories over our enemies, daring feats, discoveries and achievements. Everything else is mudslinging.

But history takes cruel revenge on those who ignore it. As George Santayana famously pointed out: Those who are unable to learn history's lessons are bound to repeat its mistakes.

NATO Chief Fires Back at Putin

The Moscow Times reports that NATO's chief has blasted the Kremlin with a direct threat. Beautiful stuff. Watch out, Russia, you started it, we'll finish it.

NATO's secretary-general likened diplomacy to listening to an iPod on Tuesday, issuing a thinly veiled warning to Moscow to tone down its rhetoric in an increasingly heated exchange over U.S. missile defense plans. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's comments followed a closed-door Kremlin meeting with President Vladimir Putin, who will meet with President George W. Bush in the United States this weekend. De Hoop Scheffer suggested that Putin's threat earlier this month to retarget Russian missiles at Europe was as damaging to a person's ears as listening to an mp3 player too loud. "In this already fairly complicated discussion, it is advisable to lower the volume a bit," de Hoop Scheffer said at a news conference. "Because as it is with your iPod, if you put the volume too high, it will in the long run damage your ears." He added: "If you do that in international diplomacy, you might in another sense damage your ears."

Noting that the NATO-Russia relationship was a partnership, de Hoop Scheffer said, "These remarks about targeting missiles ... do not fit, and they do not have a place in these discussions." He said that his meeting with Putin had been "very constructive, open and frank" and that it was up to the Kremlin to reveal further details.

A Kremlin spokesman declined comment about the meeting. [LR: We'll just bet they did. Hard to comment when your jaw is hanging down to the floor!]

Putin had threatened to point missiles at Europe if Washington followed through on plans to place elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. He later said he would back down on the threat if Washington agreed to an alternate site, an early warning radar that Russia rents in Azerbaijan. De Hoop Scheffer said the missile defense dispute would be high on the agenda when Putin meets Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sunday and Monday. He repeated the U.S. contention that the proposed missile defense shield posed no danger to Russia. Apart from the shield, de Hoop Scheffer identified Kosovo and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe as the main divisive issues.

On Kosovo, he reiterated an earlier request that Russia approve a United Nations Security Council resolution on the future status of the southern Serbian province as soon as possible. He said the issue was in the Security Council's hands, not NATO's. "And there President Putin has more to say than the NATO secretary-general," de Hoop Scheffer quipped. Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, opposes a plan by United Nations special envoy Martti Ahtisaari that would grant Kosovo internationally supervised independence. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov predicted during a debate with de Hoop Scheffer on Monday in St. Petersburg that Russia would veto the resolution.

De Hoop Scheffer on Tuesday also stressed ongoing cooperation between Russia and NATO. As examples, he noted Russia's participation in a successful anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean Sea as well as cooperation in anti-drug drives in Afghanistan. "The key words in the NATO-Russia relationship are investment and engagement," he said. Russia is to provide support for NATO's Operation Active Endeavor, where ships patrol the Mediterranean to detect terrorist activity. "Russia needs NATO, and NATO needs Russia, so there is no alternative in this relationship but to engage," said de Hoop Scheffer, adding that as in any serious relationship it should come as no surprise that both sides did not agree on everything. De Hoop Scheffer, a former Dutch foreign minister, compared the disagreements to a marriage and noted that his wife was in the audience. "I am not talking about my own marriage, certainly not in the presence of my wife, but it happens in the best of marriages," he said.

He said Jeannine de Hoop Scheffer-van Oorschot, a French teacher, had visited Moscow State Linguistic University earlier in the day. Speaking earlier during a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged that Russia and the alliance were split on many issues. "The positions of Russia and the countries of NATO are still not very close, Lavrov said. De Hoop Scheffer's visit coincides with the fifth anniversary of the NATO-Russia Council, established in May 2002, and 10 years after the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, signed in May 1997.

Both sides on Tuesday opened an official NATO-Russia Council web site at www.nato-russia-council.info.

Tymoshenko Calls Yanukovich on the Carpet

Julia Tymoshenko's blog reports that Kremlin shil Viktor Yanukovich is attempting to pilfer state assets:

Representatives of the political forces -- participants of so-called "coalition" and officials of Yanukovych government -- realize that afterthe conducting of the early elections in Ukraine their rule will step back into history. Just for this reason, having the feeling that their corruption charts are crashing, they frankly appropriate and sell out profitable objects of the Ukrainian economy.

Overwhelmed with an unrestrained desire for personal profit, officials of Yanukovych government are ready to sell all state enterprises together. After a successful transaction with "Luganskteplovoz," after which Office of public prosecutor brought a lawsuit, there was an attempt at selling "Ukrtelekom." In the case of aa sale of "Ukrtelekom" -- the monopolist in the field of electronic communication in the state -- unprotected segments of the Ukrainian population (disabled, war veterans, ordinary pensioners) would be deprived of the opportunity to use a telephone forever.

During the last months of its activity, the Cabinet does everything possible to appropriate the most attractive economic objects and concentrate them in the ownership of the closest comrades-in-arms, in particular those enterprises which provide light and warmth for the Ukrainian houses.

The bright evidence of this is the last decision of Yanukovych government, which allowed one of the biggest power companies in Ukraine "Dniproenergo" to isssue shares. As a result, the state share will drop down from 76% to 50%. In this case, share of companies which are controlled by the known bilionnaire Akhmetov actually gives control over "Dniproenergo" management. Akhmetov’s companies beforehand bought up 8,8% of "Dniproenergo" capital, which allows them to break any meetings of shareholders and depreciates team shares by 87%.

The plan of actual theft from the national property of "Dniproenergo" foresees buying up of this company debts before other persons for the amount of USD 200 million and further exchange of these debts for 26% of "Dniproenergo" capital within the additional issue of shares, to which only companies controlled by Akhmetov will be admitted.

Cynicism and impudence of Cabinet actions are reflected in the fact that market value of the company makes at least USD 1 billion 750 million; 26% makes USD 455 million. Thus, in case of successful conducting of this transaction, our state loses about USD 500 million, and also control over one of the main power companies of Ukraine. Except for that, small stockholders, mainly workers of this company, will be deprived of their rights for the part of the company profit.

According to BYUT infomration, it is planned that the only buyer of 26% of "Dniproenergo” will be "Donetsk Fuel Energy Company," which belongs to Renat Akhmetov.

In connection with this Yulia Tymoshenko bloc appeals to President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko with a requirement to stop immediately criminals who are selling out strategic economic objects of the state. We require to bring to trial the officials of Yanukovych government whose actions endanger power safety of Ukraine.

The Russian Healthcare System: Sick in SO many ways

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is doing a wonderful job supplying the Iranians with nuclear power and the Venezuelans with weapons. How is he doing supplying healthcare services to sicks Russians? The International Herald Tribune reports:

When Karen Papiyants lost his leg in a road accident last year, his medical nightmare was only beginning. Although like any Russian he was entitled to free treatment, he says the doctors strongly suggested he pay $4,500 (€3,500) into their St. Petersburg hospital's bank account, or be deprived proper care — and perhaps not even survive. Faced with that choice, the 37-year-old truck driver's relatives scrambled to scrape together the money. But Papiyants said that didn't stop the nursing staff from leaving him unattended for most of the night and giving him painkillers only after he screamed in agony. "It's nothing but blackmail and extortion on the part of doctors," Papiyants said.

In theory Russians are supposed to receive free basic medical care. But patients and experts say doctors, nurses and surgeons routinely demand payments — even bribes — from those they treat. And critics say the practice persists despite Russia's booming economy and its decision to spend billions to improve the health care system. Medical care in Russia is among the worst in the industrialized world. A 2000 World Health Organization report ranked Russia's health system 130th out of 191 countries, on a par with nations such as Peru and Honduras.

This is one of the few nations in the world where life expectancy has declined sharply in the past 15 years. The average Russian can expect to live only to age 66 — at least a decade less than in most Western democracies, according to a 2005 World Bank report. For men, the figure is closer to 59 — meaning many Russian men don't live long enough to start collecting their pension at age 60. Compounded by alcoholism, heart disease claims proportionately more lives than in most of the rest of the world. Death rates from homicide, suicide, auto accidents and cancer are also especially high.

Russia's population has dropped precipitously in the past 15 years, to below 143 million in what President Vladimir Putin calls "the most acute problem of contemporary Russia." In 2004, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Russia spent $441 per capita on health care, about a fifth of what the EU spends. Over the past two years the government has more than doubled health care spending to some $7 billion (€5.2 billion), but that still works out to only about 3.4 percent of all government spending, and the World Health Organization recommends at least 5 percent.

Experts here say new spending does little if it fails to tackle corruption. The state covers all Russians under a standardized medical insurance package, while well-heeled citizens can buy extra insurance and be treated privately. In the Soviet era, patients occasionally rewarded doctors with money or gifts, but were largely guaranteed free treatment. The Soviet Union's public health system was, for a time at least, considered among the world's best. But the system failed to keep up with Western medicine, and after the Soviet collapse, went into decline. Today, many who can't afford to pay or bribe — especially those in remote provinces — may never receive proper care.

Some experts say this has helped drive up death rates. "Corruption in health care is a threat to Russia's national security in the broadest sense of the word," said Yelena Panfilova, head the Russian branch of Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog. According to a summer 2006 study commissioned by the group, 13 percent of 1,502 respondents who had sought medical help during the previous year had to pay an average of $90 under the table, out of wages averaging $480 a month. The poll had a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points. Panfilova also said medical and pharmaceutical companies routinely bribe health officials so that hospitals buy their equipment and medicines, even though their quality is often not the best. Kirill Danishevsky, a health researcher with the Russian Academy of Sciences' Open Health Institute, has estimated that up to 35 percent of money spent on health care consists of under-the-table payments. At the Dzhanelidze Emergencies Institute where Papiyants was treated, spokesman Vadim Stozharov denied that doctors refused to provide free care. But he conceded the hospital has received so many similar complaints it set up a hot line to deal with them. The Health Ministry declined to comment on the bribery allegations. But Galina Lavrishcheva, the top health official in Stupino, an industrial town in the Moscow region, acknowledged that health care workers sometimes demand payoffs. "Yes, it is true, I am not going to hide it — extortion takes place," Lavrishcheva said. The Stupino regional hospital is at the forefront of government reform efforts. Officials have fought overcrowding by cutting the number of beds from 800 to 625, have set up an outpatient clinic and have installed new equipment, including ultrasound and electrocardiogram machines.

Overspecialization, a legacy of the Soviet era, is a big problem because patients are shuttled from one narrowly focused specialist to another. Meanwhile, no physician generally takes responsibility for their state of health. Dozens of Stupino's specialists have been retrained as general practitioners and their salaries raised to reduce the lure of bribes and create incentives for more doctors to become GPs. Yelena Filippova, a freshly retrained GP, now treats some 2,000 patients and earns $700 (€515) a month, more than double her previous salary. Filippova, 27, says the system is more efficient. Her patients like it as well. "It's professional, it's high quality, it's quick and convenient — you don't have to stand in lines," said Viktor Lenok, a 60-year-old retiree, whom Filippova treats for asthma. But critics say these changes are no substitute for radical change — just a high-profile way of spending the country's oil-driven wealth in an election year. They insist the reform does not address bribe-taking by emergency health care providers and medical specialists. "A huge heap of money is being pumped into the same health care system — but why invest into something that doesn't work?" said health researcher Danishevsky. "The very system needs to be reformed."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

June 28, 2007 -- Contents

THURSDAY JUNE 28 CONTENTS

(1) Putley on Lugovoi

(2) On Putin's Constitutional Gambit

(3) Kasparov Speaks Again

(4) Annals of Tregubova

(5) Russia in a Nutshell


Putley on Lugovoi

A Little Accusation is a Dangerous Thing

by Jeremy Putley

Original to La Russophobe

It can be a dangerous thing to say that a man is guilty of a murder before he has been tried and found guilty of that crime by a jury in a court of law – as Mr Wopsle found to his cost, in Dickens’s Great Expectations. If you have read that novel you will remember that Mr Wopsle was holding forth in the Three Jolly Bargemen about the guilt of the accused in a recent murder case. Listening to Mr Wopsle’s words was the great London lawyer, Mr Jaggers. In an overwhelming demolition of the unfortunate Wopsle, Jaggers pronounces one of the supreme principles of English jurisprudence. “The law of England supposes every man to be innocent until he is proved – proved – to be guilty.”

That is probably why no British newspapers have pointed out that the first, obvious conclusion to be drawn from President Putin’s refusal to extradite former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi to the United Kingdom to face trial on a charge of murder is that it amounts to a tacit admission of guilt. Newspapers do not publish what they deem to be defamatory statements even if they are true.

But if the accused will never face a court of law to answer to the charges, what then? Must there be perpetual silence on the question of guilt? That would be to compound the wrong that has been done. It would not be right to the victims. It would not be right to Russia, nor to the people in London poisoned by polonium-210.

Andrei Lugovoi was employed (with others) to assassinate a Russian dissident, naturalized as a British citizen and living peaceably in London. President Putin is well aware of that. He also knows that a finding of guilty against the accused in a British court of law will involve a simultaneous finding in the court of world opinion that the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was ordered by the Russian leadership. This much is only too clear.

Possibly, during court proceedings in the UK, if Lugovoi could ever be brought to trial, his testimony would provide confirmation of one theory of why the murder was committed and at whose instigation, in relation to which a number of facts are already in the public domain. It is now known, from BBC TV, that an 8-page “due diligence” dossier prepared by Alexander Litvinenko was about Victor Ivanov, currently chairman of Aeroflot. It follows, from the hypothesis advanced in a BBC Radio Four programme by Yuri Shvets, that Victor Ivanov is the Mr X described as the "powerful, dangerous and vindictive" individual, "closely associated with President Putin", who may have ordered the murder of Litvinenko. According to the BBC radio programme, when Litvinenko gave the dossier to Lugovoi, in early October 2006, and Lugovoi delivered it (or reported its contents) soon afterwards to Mr X (Ivanov), the decision to assassinate its author was made, in revenge for the termination of a contract worth "dozens of millions of dollars". Perhaps Mr Lugovoi’s evidence would shed light on the truth of this collection of allegations.

It would also be interesting if Titon International, the firm which allegedly employed Litvinenko to carry out the due diligence on Victor Ivanov, would publicly disclose the identity of the British company which commissioned the due diligence report, and subsequently pulled out of the deal.

But this is only one view of why Litvinenko was murdered. There were previous murder victims connected with the 1999 apartment building explosions, about which Litvinenko wrote in his (recently re-issued) 2002 book co-authored with Yuri Felshtinsky, “Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within”. These include two State Duma deputies: the prominent liberal politician, Sergei Yushenkov, murdered by shooting in April 2003, and Yuri Shchekochikhin, a veteran investigative journalist, poisoned in July 2003, possibly with thallium. The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, who was hated by the Russian hierarchy as a “traitor” to the organisation formerly known as the KGB, now the FSB, confirms the truth of what he wrote. The testimony of Andrei Lugovoi, supposing he could be persuaded to give it truthfully, would disclose that the FSB under its present head, General Nikolai Patrushev, is a corrupt, totally compromised, criminal organisation, so far beyond a possibility of being cleansed and reformed that it must be considered fit only to be disbanded.

There are only two commonly-held views of the 1999 apartment building explosions which killed more than 300 sleeping Russian citizens, and served as Putin’s pretext for starting the second war in Chechnya: that they were carried out by the Rusian FSB at the behest of the Russian power structures; and that of the Russian authorities, that they were the work of unidentified others for no known motive. The refusal of President Putin to allow Lugovoi to come to the UK to be tried for murder stands as implicit confirmation of the FSB’s guilt, in that it shows the government of the Russian Federation believes that his testimony would incriminate the guilty. And they are nervous.

When Tony Blair had a “frank discussion” with Vladimir Putin about the British government’s demand for Lugovoi’s extradition, earlier this month, Blair may, at last, have begun to understand the truth of the unsavoury character of his enigmatic interlocutor. (To Putin, by contrast, Blair’s lack of understanding of the truth seemed merely obtuse – hence, perhaps, Putin’s comment that British insistence on extradition is “stupid”.) A lawyer himself, Blair may now, as he leaves office, finally and too late have learned, from the refusal to surrender a criminal to justice, one reality of today’s Russia: that it is run by people who are not averse to the commission of crimes when they seem expedient, or convenient, or financially rewarding to members of the siloviki.

On Putin's Constitutional Gambit

The Associated Press reports on the fine points of "President" Putin's neo-Soviet gambit to have his cake and eat it too:

Two top Kremlin officials have shown up on state-controlled television regularly for months, appearing decisive and statesmanlike, inspiring speculation that they are competing for the job of President Vladimir Putin. And so they may be. But at least one prominent analyst predicts the two men will split the current presidential powers when Putin leaves office next year, with one serving in a weakened presidency and the other becoming a stronger prime minister.

Many who follow Russian politics assume Putin, barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, plans to endorse either the stern Sergei Ivanov, 54, or the boyish Dmitry Medvedev, 41, in the March presidential contest. Both are first deputy prime ministers. Other experts suggest that late this year Putin will throw the weight of the Kremlin behind a surprise candidate, who might step down in a year or two and clear a path for Putin to run again.

Putin's popularity is so high that whomever he endorses is almost certain to win. Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, regards the matchup between Ivanov and Medvedev as a dress rehearsal by two leading men rather than a competition between rivals. Trenin says Putin is likely to endorse Ivanov, but he also predicts Putin will install Medvedev as prime minister and expand that position's powers. One way to do that, Trenin said, would be to name a Cabinet loyal to Medvedev — and Putin — before Ivanov took power. "Without changing one iota of the constitution, we'll have a new constitution in Russia," Trenin told The Associated Press. "All power in the Russian Federation is now vested in the president of the Russian Federation. That will be modified." Trenin and other analysts say Putin hopes to retain influence, perhaps even continue to run Russia, in retirement." I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on," Sergei Stepashin the head of the Russian Audit Chamber, was quoted as saying by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. "He is going to leave in order to stay," said Nina Khrushcheva, an analyst at the World Policy Institute of New York City's New School." President Putin himself will be on the chessboard. We don't know in what capacity, but it's very clear that he will be in a powerful position," Trenin said.

[LR: Like the mindless, gutless sheep they are, ] Russian voters are prepared to ratify Putin's choice of the new leadership, Trenin said, adding that they have reconciled themselves to a certain level of corruption among top officials as long as they feel they are being competently led. "Russia is an autocracy or an authoritarian state today with the consent of the governed," he said. On television news programs, both Ivanov and Medvedev have been shown touring factories and meeting with professional groups, scolding lower-ranking officials and announcing ambitious social, military or economic programs — the kind of coverage that has helped to build Putin's prestige and popularity. But there is a division of labor between these aspiring Russian leaders. Ivanov, previously the defense minister and head of foreign intelligence, has focused on security issues and foreign affairs. Medvedev, chairman of the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom, has been handing out money for social programs and has focused on economic reforms. Transferring some presidential power to the prime minister could serve several practical aims, such as reducing the president's workload. It could also help Putin maintain political influence once he leaves the Kremlin. If he endorses a single successor with commensurate powers, that person can't be counted on to remain loyal, Trenin argues.

There is another potential reason for splitting power between Ivanov and Medvedev, in this view: Each may appeal to separate Kremlin factions — Medvedev to the technocrats, dedicated to executing orders efficiently; Ivanov, to the "siloviki" ("powerful ones"), which includes many current and former intelligence and military officials. The siloviki are by far the larger and more important faction. They generally favor a more assertive foreign policy and expanded government control of Russia's energy wealth and other key industries. Ivanov is not considered a leader of the siloviki and may — like Putin — remain aloof from factional Kremlin politics. But his comments indicate he shares many of the siloviki's views. He advocates, for example, state control of strategic industries, including energy producers and defense manufacturers. Part of his current duties include supervising the consolidation of state-owned aviation, shipbuilding, shipping, space and atomic energy companies into a series of huge corporations. When it comes to foreign policy, Ivanov may be more of a hawk than Putin. And he has said repeatedly he does not think Russia needs to follow the model of what he calls "Anglo-Saxon" democracy.

In a June speech to youth group leaders, Ivanov defined a democracy as a nation with the military strength to remain independent, so its people can "choose their own future themselves," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. "Truly democratic nations are few," he said, and cited China and Russia — as well as the United States, the European Union nations and India — as among the world's leading democracies. Russia has to remain strong culturally, economically and politically, he was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass. "Otherwise, the `Brzezinski plan' may prove a reality," he said. The "Brzezinski plan" is a term used by Russian political figures since at least the mid-1980s to describe alleged Western plots to destabilize the Soviet Union and later Russia. Despite these comments, Ivanov described himself as "fairly liberal person" in a recent interview with The Financial Times newspaper. Trenin said Putin may not have much faith in Russian voters, but he is a patriot who cares about Russia and the nation's continued political stability. "People may call him an autocrat, but I would consider him a responsible autocrat," Trenin said. "He clearly wants out of the Kremlin, but he doesn't want the system to crumble the minute he leaves." [LR: Really? Do "responsible" autocrats change the constitution without changing it? What a profoundly Russian notion. Then again, Mr. Trenin may fear what would happen if he didn't admit "President" Putin was "responsible" -- remembering Anna Politkovskaya, for example]

Kasparov Speaks Again

MacLean's publishes a lengthy sit-down with opposition leader Garry Kasparov (pictured, showing his solidarity with jailed business leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky):

Garry Kasparov was the greatest chess player the world has ever known. The Azerbaijan-born grandmaster, known as "The Beast of Baku" for his aggressive style of play, dominated the game for 20 years, earning headlines for his memorable battles against both human and computer opponents. Kasparov retired from the game in 2005 to concentrate on writing and politics. A fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he formed the United Civil Front, an organization devoted to promoting democracy and electoral freedom in Russia. He is also a principal organizer of The Other Russia, a coalition that unites opponents of the Putin regime - a regime of which he says, "The system is not corrupt - corruption is the system." His transition from Soviet grandmaster to Russian dissident has seen him arrested for protesting in the streets of Moscow, detained for trying to get his message out in the press and criticized as a naive attention seeker. While his profile remains high outside Russia, inside his home country - where over a dozen journalists have allegedly been killed in the last two years for criticizing the government - he contends with threats to his personal safety, political apathy and a state-controlled media that he claims stifles any dissent against the Kremlin. Kasparov made his first political appearance in Canada on Tuesday, giving a speech to the Empire Club of Canada at Toronto's Royal York Hotel. He criticized Putin, implored Western leaders to stop providing the Russian president with "democratic credentials" and explained why he feels Russia is ready for change. After delivering his remarks, Kasparov sat down with Macleans.ca for an interview. Macleans.ca: You've spoken extensively about the concessions you've had to make as a political dissident in your country. What's the most difficult adjustment you've had to make?

Garry Kasparov: I have no life. It's terrible, it affects my family. Daria [Kasparov's wife] is from St. Petersburg and if she goes there for a few days, I have to send bodyguards. In Russia we're always under this stress. We know that bodyguards won't save you from state assault, but there's so many provocations, we have to be vigilant all the time. That's why we decided that [having Daria] give birth in Moscow might not be a good idea. I can't put a bodyguard in the hospital.

When I stopped playing chess I said, "Maybe I will be flying less." I was dead wrong. I'm flying three times more now. And you know in chess it was, I flew somewhere and I stayed there for two weeks. It was a long tournament. Now it's boom-boom-boom. In some ways, I wish for the quiet years to return.

I hope that this summer, we'll actually spend time together. We'll go back to Croatia - that's where I had all my training sessions when I played chess, for many, many years - and we'll have some sort of family reunion. But it's really difficult.

M: You've written a book called How Life Imitates Chess. Are there parallels between the style of chess game you played and the style of politics you practice?

GK: Any chess style reflects character. Some people are mistaken thinking that in chess we have rules, so that experience relates only to 64 squares. In fact, you have to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, read your position and not rush into the attack if you are on the weak side.

And you always try to create an environment where your strengths are playing a dominant role, while your opponent's strengths are being pushed away. If you are on the battlefield and you have cavalry, you obviously want to fight in the valley. If you fight against cavalry, try to look for the hills. It very much has a universal application; I was quite good in chess at identifying those parameters of the battlefield lying ahead of me.

M: And you're bringing that experience to your political role as organizer of The Other Russia?

GK: I recognized from day one that we were in a very weak position. The opposition was in disarray and we needed just to survive. Survival is the best strategy.

If you analyze our performance over the last two years, I think we are doing quite well because we survived. A.) That's important - it's difficult to survive under this pressure. B.) We are noticeable. Not that we are now on the winning side - we're still much weaker than the Kremlin - but we are there, they can't ignore us anymore. That's tremendous progress.

The trend is quite positive because although they still have a big advantage, the advantage is less significant than two years ago, even a year ago. Now people are talking about possible outcomes of March 2008, of it not being elementary, or an orderly power transition.

M: You feel that the country is on the verge of a tipping point democratically, that The Other Russia is on the verge of some success?

GK: The Other Russia cannot win itself, because The Other Russia is a very broad and very fragile coalition which, facing a strong opponent, might collapse.

But The Other Russia created the notion of the opposition, a real opposition. What we had before in Russia, whether it was liberal or left-wing or nationalist, tried to play by the Kremlin rules. Even in Yeltsin's years there was some sort of consensus. "We in the Kremlin let you run your campaigns, you get part of the parliament." There was plenty of political freedom, freedom of the press, but there was one big exception: You cannot participate in deciding the issue of supreme power, the presidency. The presidency was something that would be decided behind closed doors.

Now, The Other Russia unites all different groups based on our recognition of the shortcomings of such a position. We know that we cannot be the same group in a normal democratic environment, because we have liberals and left-wingers and nationalists, but we know that there are certain political musts that unite us. And when it's accomplished, then obviously we will go on our own business.

M: The coalition that The Other Russia encompasses is so broad and its members have so many competing interests that it must be difficult to manage...

GK: Yes, absolutely. But as in Chile at the end of the '80s, there's a dominant goal: to build a normal democratic process. So what Putin actually accomplished - accomplished against his will - he convinced different political groups, different schools of thought in Russia, that liberal democracy is the only successful foundation for a modern state.

Through the '90s, we still had debates with die-hard Communists or nationalists that, "Oh, democracy, maybe it's wrong for Russia." Now, nobody argues about it. The political division in Russia today is not between right and left or democrats and Communists. It's about those who believe that this regime is threatening the integrity and in fact survival of our country and those who are trying to belittle the regime. You can find liberals and Communists and nationalists on both sides of the spectrum.

The Other Russia states that what we need is to make sure that we have free and fair elections, no censorship and we have to reform the political system that created this all-powerful presidency. That's the core of our program. And we know that if it's done, then we could fight each other in free and fair elections.

We believe that the Kremlin will inevitably split, because the issue of a successor will create not only frictions but open fights within the Kremlin's rank and file.

M: You don't think Putin is strong enough to have his handpicked successor succeed him without that kind of fight?

GK: Putin has two options: one he stays, one he goes. Staying is still an option. I'm sure he can force change in the constitution and there are a lot of groups in Russia that would like him to stay - but in general, he potentially puts in jeopardy the multibillion dollar fortunes of the Russian bureaucracy [located] outside of Russia, because Putin turning into another [Belarussian dictator Alexander] Lukashenko, that might not be an attractive partner for [Western] leaders.

Now, if we look at Putin's replacement, we are dealing with a paradox. For Putin to receive personal guarantees, he needs a weak successor. For his system to survive, he needs a strong successor. But a strong successor might also be quite dangerous.

When Putin succeeded Yeltsin there was unity among the rank and file of Russian bureaucracy. They knew that things were getting better. Oil prices were going up. Russian people were tired of Yeltsin's years, they expected something from Putin, there was a big war in Chechnya... Everything worked in favour of the new president.

In 2008, things will be very different. Infrastructure is falling apart. The Russian people are disillusioned. They didn't see any benefits from these high oil prices. Oil is not going to jump up, it may only go down. There's no new influx of money. The general system that was created under Yeltsin and Putin is worn out.

If there is a handpicked successor, a strong successor, he's facing immediate crisis. Now tell me, what will be his first step, based on Russian tradition? Who will be his scapegoat? Yeltsin is dead. Just having a successor is no guarantee of full immunity.

Putin spent all his eight years building a system of checks and balances. It's working now. But if you take away the core of the system, the balances are no longer there. So [when Putin leaves] you have to adjust the system. The only way to adjust the system is for the winner to eliminate the competition within the inner circle. So for any group the appointment of a potential successor might be a deadly threat.

We are eight and a half months before the elections. There is no single [Kremlin] candidate who has announced his candidacy. I think Putin doesn't have an answer.

M: You're expecting fractures within the Kremlin, but weren't you also optimistic that in March 2008 there would be only one presidential candidate opposing the Kremlin candidate? And that's not happening...

GK: Well, I think it will happen.

M: But many candidates have declared - Grigory Yablinsky of the Yabloko Party declared his candidacy the other day. You think don't think that all of these people are going to actually be on the ballot?

GK: The funny thing also is - and again, it proves that politics in Russia is no longer divided by left and right - all these three ideological groups, the right wing Union of Right Forces, the social democrats, Yabloko, and the Communists, they all are having the same problem: the largest organization in each party is openly sympathizing or siding with The Other Russia. The Communists have problems with their Moscow branch, Union of Right Forces with their Moscow branch, Yabloko with their St. Petersburg branch. They're trying to curb these protests, so that's why they're trying to present themselves as candidates, to buy more favours from the Kremlin and maybe to get a chance to have enough clout at the parliamentary elections.

I think that we have a good chance. It's complicated, because we have an ex-prime minister, we have an ex-head of the Central Bank, and we may have a few more [potential candidates]. My strong preference today would be [former Central Bank chief] Viktor Geraschenko who has, in my view, very good credentials among different groups. We need somebody who can be accepted by the left, nationalists and liberals, and from the perspective of my organization he would be the best choice.

M: And you won't be a candidate?

GK: Look, I cannot win today, by my estimation. I would do well, I think I would create a lot of problems for Kremlin, but I believe we have to try to win. And if I enter the battle, it means I will have to start breaking up some relations. And I'm the only one who communicates to all of them, you know, as the old Soviet champion - so I talk to nationalists, to Communists, to liberals, to social democrats. The moment I'm the candidate, the uniqueness of my position is jeopardized, and I think that would be deadly for the coalition. M: What kind of a man is Vladimir Putin? He's your opponent...

GK: He's not my opponent. I'm opposing the system. But Putin...he and his people, if you look at their biography, they're failures. They're the failures of the Soviet Union.

Look at his career. I mean, Putin at age 35, 36 was moved back to St. Petersburg from a very low position in East Germany and in St. Petersburg. He was what? Recruiting students as a KGB spy. That's the end of the career.

When [former St. Petersburg mayor and Putin mentor Anatoly] Sobchak lost the elections in 1996 in St. Petersburg, Putin was unemployed. Four years before he was appointed president he was unemployed.

And the people that are surrounding him, they all were failures. Only thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union where new opportunities emerged, they actually made their careers. Look at Zyuganov, look at [Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir] Zhirinovsky. They all owed their success to the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were nobodies.

They never fought for power as Gorbachev did, as Yeltsin did. They just came to power. For them it was not even a gift, you know, it's a grimace of fortune. They discovered themselves in the middle of enormous wealth and everything was working like King Midas. They touched things - gold. And they're getting scared that one day, it's over. They're getting paranoid. The whole system is paranoid because there's so much wealth and they don't know if it will go on forever and they've been thrown into the middle of this all-powerful, unchecked system and given total impunity. They're freaking, because March 2008 is there.

M: That paranoia is so characteristic of Putin's regime, and some have questioned whether the siege mentality that he cultivates is a political strategy. "The West is against Russia, they want to put Russia in their place, everybody's against Russia..." Do you think he actually believes that?

GK: I think that it's a little more complicated, but the answer is yes. They believe in this conspiracy against them because they believe in the absolute power of money. Money buys everything. Now if money doesn't buy something, it means conspiracy is involved. I think that's the core of their mentality.

When Putin made this big offer to Angela Merkel last October, about having this separate deal, you know, this Stalin-Hitler pact but on gas - "We are producers, you are distributors, let's forget about the rest" - Merkel turned it down. And for Putin, that was a really big shock. By the way, after this failure, the Kremlin propaganda stopped the promotion of Putin's favourite terms: gas and oil empire, energy empire. Because he suddenly recognized that he's selling, but the buyers, they have something to say as well and they are united against him. So this failure actually contributed to his paranoia.

His speech in Munich [in February, wherein he accused the United States of attempting to create a "uni-polar world"], was after this failure. Now he was looking for conspiracy, he was threatening, he was raising stakes. He talks about the Cold War, but it's nonsense. The Cold War was based on ideas. You can accept or reject Soviet ideas, but they were ideas and these ideas swayed hundreds of millions of people around the world. Putin's only idea is, "Let's steal together."

M: So how would you like Western leaders to deal with Vladimir Putin? What would you like to see them do?

GK: Nothing. No, we don't need any action. We know it's unrealistic to expect any action, because the best the West could do if they wanted to - if they're serious about preventing Russia from selling nuclear technology to Iran or missiles to Hezbollah and Hamas via Syria - is to hit them where they're weak, where they'll feel it most: money.

The entire game played by Putin, it's about money. It's about profits. So the number one item on their agenda is supporting the high oil prices. That's why tension in the Middle East is good. So selling weapons to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran is good because it makes money and it raises the tensions.

So unless the West is ready to confront them, nothing is going to happen. But that's more the Western problem.

Our immediate problem is: Stop treating Putin as a democrat, because that's what hurts us inside the country. That's what Kremlin propaganda shows every day on television. "Why are they talking about Putin? Why are they criticizing his democratic record? He is part of this group! Look, Schroeder calls him a crystal-clear democrat, Bush is hugging him. They are all receiving him as equal. You don't like what's happening in Russia? But that's democracy!"

So they are compromising the notion of democracy. So please, send a message to Mr. Putin: You cannot act as Lukashenko and Mugabe or Chavez and be treated as a democratic leader.

M: Is it more in the West's interests to engage with the Putin regime as opposed to isolating it? Might not an isolated Russia be more of a threat to Western interests?

GK: Let's not mix Russia and Putin. Nobody talks about isolating Russia. You're talking about not treating Putin as a democrat, giving him this face value. Doing business with China doesn't include appraising Chinese leaders as great democrats. Doing business with Russia should not include extra dividends for Putin's democratic credentials. The West has been promoting the policy of engagement for seven years. And while they've been doing it, Putin has been steadily destroying democratic institutions in Russia.
There's a mistaken assumption that by criticizing Putin, the West might help Putin's domestic popularity because he will be seen as someone who's opposing the West. Not true. The bureaucrats know their money and their future is in Europe, in North America. That's why any change in tune might create a little coup there. You know, in 1981, Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire. Don't tell me that in 1981 the Soviet Union was less of a menace than Russia is today.

M: You mentioned in your speech here today that you'd learned some members of the local business community were absent today because their attendance would be controversial and might jeopardize their business interests...

GK: I know that my activities and my speeches to foreign audiences are making many businessmen, not only in Canada, very upset. They're doing business with Russia and they're not happy to hear open criticism of Vladimir Putin because it puts them in a complicated situation. They can't ignore that they're doing business with a police state and sometimes they're very shadowy deals that might be questioned if attention is brought.

I even had some problems getting a Canadian visa. First time in my life. Four weeks, they couldn't issue a visa in Moscow. I don't know why. It's definitely a question mark. I received my visa at the last second in Mexico City. If not for Canadian embassy in Mexico, I wouldn't be here. It's not only a Canadian problem, though it's my first appearance of this magnitude in Canada, so that probably caused some concerns.

M: What's your message to the people who skipped this event today?

GK: Look - investing in KGB Inc., it's a dangerous business. You make a lot of money now, but March 2008, there will be a new government in Russia. Whether it's a democratic government or a new mafia boss, many deals will be reopened. And you know, you are placing your bets on very shaky ground. You expect huge benefits, but it comes with huge risk.

So take your chance, but don't pretend that you are on the right side of the picture.

Annals of Tregubova

The Guardian has more on exiled dissident Kommersant journalist Yelena Tregubova (pictured):

Since Russia enshrined freedom of speech as a constitutional right in 1993, a total of 152 journalists have been murdered there. A database set up this month by two media monitoring organisations, the Glasnost Defense Foundation and the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, sets out the details of each case. Yelena Tregubova is trying hard not to be the 153rd.

"I am not going to keep silent, because if I do, they will kill me silently," Tregubova declares. "I am in a privileged position because I can speak freely. Many of the colleagues I left behind in Moscow think as I do about what is happening, but they can't speak up. I don't have nuclear weapons, I don't have an organisation like the KGB behind me. Journalism is my only weapon."

Tregubova is privileged, if you can call it that, by virtue of the fact that she is under police protection, applying for political asylum in Britain. The story of how she came to be here tells you some unpalatable truths about what is happening in Russia.

She was once a Kremlin pool reporter for one of Russia's brightest newspapers, Kommersant, a daily that glorified Russia's leap into brash capitalism in the 1990s. She got close to the oligarchs and stooges populating the inner court of the country's previous president, Boris Yeltsin; sometimes too close. Based on her experiences, Tregubova published a book adopting the narrative of a kiss-and-tell account. Called Tales of a Kremlin Digger, its contents became an instant talking point in Russia. Among those who featured in her tales of the power elite at the time was Vladimir Putin, whose roles included heading the Federal Security Service (FSB) from 1998-99. He took a shine to her, or tried to recruit her (she says it was never clear to her which). She writes in the book that he invited her to an expensive sushi restaurant, a rarity in Moscow in those days, and hinted that he would rather like to spend New Year's Eve alone with her.

But beyond the personal, the book chronicled how Putin seized control of vital state assets - how, for instance, he destroyed the Yukos oil empire of the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom he saw as a political threat, and how he used the state energy monopoly Gazprom as an instrument of Kremlin control not only over Russia but also its neighbours. With a cover picture of a famous Soviet propaganda image of a woman fighter pilot in the Great Patriotic War, the book was an instant sell-out.

But Tregubova soon felt the earth tremors emanating from the Kremlin. An interview she gave to the weekly news programme Namedi on state-controlled NTV was pulled and, she says, the Russian press minister Mikhail Lesin told her editor: "Does Tregubova realise she will never get work again?"

That was October 2003. In Febuary 2004, she says, she got a call from a man, identifying himself as an employee of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, saying that a parcel had arrived and asking for her home address. She did not supply her address and asked the man what number he was calling from. He hung up. A few days later a bomb exploded outside the door of her apartment in Moscow, as she was about to leave to meet a friend. She had a narrow escape. Police classified the incident as an "act of hooliganism".

Tregubova continued to write, but this time it was for an updated edition of her book that was coming out in Germany, with the even more lurid title, Mutants of the Kremlin. Then came the day last year that all journalists in Russia can remember, the Saturday when Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who repeatedly exposed and campaigned against human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead in the entrance to her Moscow flat. It was 10 minutes' walk from where Tregubova lived. There were frantic calls as the news spread around Moscow and one friend wanted to take her straight to the airport.

"Who do you think you are, Joan of Arc?" she recalls the friend saying. "Forget Yeltsin, those times have gone. They already tried to get you once. Remember they tried to get Politkovskaya on a flight to Beslan." (A drug was slipped into Politkovskaya's cabin tea as she and a number of other journalists were flying to southern Russia to report on the Septemer 2004 school siege in the town of Beslan.) "Who," asked the friend, "would benefit if you were the next?"

Protest meetings over Politkovskaya's death were held in Pushkin Square, the traditional rallying ground of democrats in Moscow, but television continued to ignore the killing. It took Putin three days to react to the murder of Russia's most famous investigative journalist by saying that "her death has brought more harm to Russia than her stories".

"It was like spitting in the face not only of her family, but of the whole journalistic community," Tregubova has written. With silence reigning at home, Tregubova got an open letter to Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, published in Die Zeit. She urged Merkel, who was meeting Putin that day, to demand an end to political murders, and to stop gross human rights infringements and the destruction of freedom of speech and the press in Russia.

Soon after it was printed, two men appeared in the stairway of her Moscow flat. "Who could I go to complain to? Where could I go for protection? To the police? The same guys who investigated the last attempt on my life in 2004?"

In desperation, she picked up the phone to Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch exiled in London. Berezovsky had been the owner of Kommersant, her former paper, and a kingmaker in the Yeltsin era, including being a patron of Putin. But soon after Putin was elected president in 2000, Berezovsky sought political asylum in Britain. Tregubova had been as rough on him in her book as she had been on Putin, calling Berezovsky the "evil genius" of Russian politics. Even so, she says, Berezovsky loved the book and said he would provide her with protection in Moscow. On November 1, the day Scotland Yard alleges that polonium was used to poison a former Russian spy living in London - Alexander Litvinenko, a Berezovsky associate - Tregubova says she got a call from the man Berezovsky had asked to guard her safety.

It was, she says, none other than Andrei Lugovoi - who, at that stage, as far as Berezovsky and everybody else knew, was simply a witness in the poisoning episode. Only several weeks later did he emerge as Scotland Yard's main suspect in the polonium poisoning. A former KGB bodyguard, Lugovoi had become a millionaire running a number of private security firms. One of his companies' many clients was the exiled Berezovsky, whose daughter he had arranged protection for in St Petersburg. Lugovoi denies killing Litvinenko, who died in London on November 23 last year, and has suggested that the murder was ordered either by MI6 or by Berezovsky himself after a falling-out with Litvinenko.

But Lugovoi has confirmed receiving a request to protect Tregubova, telling Komsomolskaya Pravda last week: "He [Berezovsky] wanted to know if it was possible to keep journalist Yelena Tregubova safe. He wanted to know how much it would cost and the name of the company the bodyguards would be from. I asked him why Tregubova wanted bodyguards. He replied that Politkovskaya had criticised the regime and look what happened to her, and Tregubova was another critic."

By her account, Tregubova got two days of protection from Lugovoi's men, paid for by Berezovsky. When she met Berezovsky in London in mid-December last year, she still did not know what to believe about who was behind the Litvinenko killing, and Lugovoi's role.At their meeting, she and Berezovsky spoke of the murder, she says. "Why was it Sasha [the Russian diminutive of Litvinenko's forename, Alexander], instead of me?" Berezovsky asked her. "Lugovoi was in my office. We were drinking champagne. They could have killed me. Why didn't they do it?" Tregubova says she replied: "Don't worry, Boris, I am convinced that they are saving your assassination attempt for the next elections."

Seeing she was hungry, Berezovsky ordered a plate of soup for Tregubova. It was then she had to make up her mind. If it was Berezovsky who ordered the killing of Litvinenko, why had the FSB produced no evidence? "I picked up the spoon and ate the soup. It was my instinctive reply to the question." When the men from the Russian prosecutor-general's office came to Britain and interviewed Berezovsky this year as part of their Litvinenko murder investigation, they asked for Tregubova's London address. "It was their way of telling me: we are still watching you."

Tregubova continues to write and publish. "Putin's plan is to tell the west that if he needs to prevent a velvet revolution taking place in Russia by spilling blood, he will do so. To those of us outside Russia, he is saying: "if you think you are free to criticise Russia from the safety of western Europe, you are not. We can strike you wherever you are, and in a way that you will be able to do nothing about"

Russia in Nutshell

Russians remain insecure about their status in the world. Russia's explosive "revisionist" behaviour on the eve of the recent G8 summit is an indication of the Kremlin's "unsatisfied" nature. Because they know they are less potent, particularly in demographic and economic terms, Russians feel they have to do "more." For them, to say "Russia is back" means that the humiliating Yeltsin years are over, and that they now must be treated as equals, particularly by the United States. That claim is not necessarily supported by reality. Unlike the Chinese, the Russians do not create economic wealth, but merely exploit their energy and mineral resources. Moreover, unlike the Chinese, they have not always been confident of their position in the world. Torn between Europe and Asia in cultural and political terms, victimised by a dark, narcissistic instinct that pervades their reading of their past and their visions of the future, it should surprise no one that Russia is now behaving like a "revisionist" power. Less than 20 years ago, the Czech Republic and Poland were part of their sphere of influence, so Russians cannot accept the US unilaterally implanting its security system there.
-- Dominique Moisi, writing in The Guardian's Comment is Free section


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 27, 2007 -- Contents

WEDNESDAY JUNE 27 CONTENTS

(1) Putley on Belsan

(2) Brave Putin will Save Poor Stalin from Evil West

(3) Moscow on Fire

(4) Communism by any Other Name Would Still Stink

(5) Annals of Russian Bedlam

NOTE: The Russians have developed a robotic policeman and placed him on patrol in Siberia. He can be promoted like a regular cop, but they swear they won't let him make general. One advantage is that it make take a while before he figures out how to take bribes (via an onboard ATM?) and learn how to be racist and crudely violent as well as xenophobic (perfecting artificial intelligence is challenging when you haven't got actual intelligence mastered yet). There's a few small problems, however: (1) If it rains on him, he breaks; (2) He won't work at all in winter; (3) He's been made by Russians. However, on the plus side, he's about as neo-Soviet as it's possible to get.


Putley on Beslan

First there was Ivan the Terrible, then there was Ivan/Peter the Great, and now, original to La Russophobe, according to the brilliant Russia commentator Jeremy Putley we have Putin the Banal. LR is delighted to welcome Mr. Putley to the blog for what she hopes will be a protracted writing engagement, and will feature a second column (on the Lugovoi imbroglio) in tomorrow's edition.

Putin the Banal

by Jeremy Putley

Original to La Russophobe

Evil comes in many forms. Only rarely is it in the persona of an insanely criminal monster such as those who disfigured the twentieth century. More often the perpetrators of great wrongs are comparatively insignificant men. One such is the incumbent President of Russia.

When President George W Bush greets the Russian President on Sunday, at his family home at Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sunday, they will shake hands, and perhaps embrace. The Russian President, aptly named Akaky Akakievich Putin by the late Anna Politkovskaya, is a man of insignificant personality. In consequence, it seems, it is difficult for the US leadership to understand or recognize the extent of the crimes for which he is personally responsible.

The criminal character of the Russian hierarchy, by the way, has been in evidence for many years, going back to the brutal conduct of the second Chechnya war at its commencement, and the multiple war crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the Russian armed forces against a civilian population. Russia is now again a country with political prisoners, a country where those who have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights have been murdered by the armed forces or by the FSB, and in which the rule of law is effectively in abeyance. Torture of prisoners in the custody of the authorities is endemic in the Russian Federation under President Putin – a fact of which he must be well aware. “Disappearances” in Chechnya have been condemned by Human Rights Watch as a crime against humanity. Journalists are murdered and there is suspicion that agents of the government are involved. Dissidents living abroad are murdered. Russia is a misruled country.

Putin’s upbringing and experience in the KGB, an institution which often operated supra-legally in accordance with orders from the political leadership, instilled in a notoriously vindictive man an amoral belief system: operational necessity justifies all methods – the end justifies any means. That is the present misfortune of Russia under Vladimir Putin, as his second term draws to an end and he prepares to nominate his successor.

When the history of Vladimir Putin’s presidency comes to be written the final judgements on him as a man and as a national leader will require a proper assessment of his character. The question which is sometimes asked is whether the evil things that Putin has done are the result of impotence, weakness or incompetence – an inability to act properly due to incomprehension, or structural weakness in the way Russian government functions – or criminality. Joseph Stalin, it is accepted by historians, was criminal by nature. There is evidence that Putin as President has displayed, from time to time, both incompetence and criminality. It is really a question of which is the preponderant feature of his makeup. To the victims, of course, it makes no difference – the consequences, just as under Stalin, have been the same.

When President Bush looked at President Putin and saw what he wanted to see, that was a worthless assessment, based as it was on nothing more than first impressions, or maybe just wishful thinking. More revealing was what happened at Beslan. That was a true test of character, and it revealed much about the character of the Russian President. In September 2004 at Beslan, in southern Russia, 330 people were killed including 317 hostages, of whom 186 were children. When the storming of the school buildings began, in an effort to bring the hostage-taking to an end, the use of flamethrowers and tanks in the assault, carried out while the hostages were still present in the gymnasium, resulted in the collapse of the roof onto the hostages below, killing 160 of them.

The most important question about this disastrous assault on the school is, who ordered it? There is no information on this. Putin himself kept a very low profile during the three days of the siege, but there can be no serious doubt that he was in close touch with the situation, and would have been consulted on the decision to carry out the storming of the building. Without his authority the decision could not have been made. But if it was his decision, or with his authority, the blame for the disastrous outcome of the storming of the school while it was still full of hostages falls squarely on Vladimir Putin.

It is useless to point out that the honourable thing to have done, in the face of such a catastrophic failure, was for Putin to resign. This is a western concept, and Russian leaders have not, historically, taken such ideas into account – it is apparently not a practical or sensible attitude to take. Similarly a western national leader would have gone to Beslan immediately the school siege began, and would have done all things possible to save the hostages. There would have been negotiations. But Putin’s way is never to negotiate.

Why did the Russian President allow the assault on the school to begin? There must have been a calculation, and a conclusion that hostage deaths were acceptable. The storm was necessary because the alternatives involved a loss of face – from entering into negotiations with the hostage-takers, or acceding to their demands, or showing weakness in some other way. The decision resulted in death and disaster. Was the decision criminal, or was this incompetence? As evidence it must be recalled that after the siege Putin declared on television, “We exhibited weakness, and the weak are beaten.” The hostages who died were sacrificed because the President feared to appear weak. Negotiations were possible, but were never tried. Whether the President was demonstrating a dreadful incompetence by refusing to negotiate for the hostages’ lives, or ordered the assault on the school knowing that hostage deaths would be certain to result, either way this was criminally culpable.

But in the end, the question of whether President Putin is knowingly responsible for his crimes, or thinks he is doing a good job but – in Rumsfeldian language – “stuff happens”, is not really important. To his victims it does not make any difference. World opinion, and the US President, remain largely indifferent to the question. There will be no real accounting any time soon, because when all is said and done the Putin presidency has been an interlude of considerable banality.