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Friday, June 30, 2006

Happy Birthday, America!

La Russophobe is on hiatus in honor of America's 230th birthday. The next new post will appear on Wednesday, July 5th. However, she has left a goodly supply of material to keep you busy during her absence (see below), and hopes you don't miss her too much while she's gone.

Fourth of July Special -- Regina Spektor: Klassnaya Devchonka

The Village Voice reports on one Russian who can see clearly now:

Someone just dropped a load of plates in the Soho café where Regina Spektor is sipping green tea, and she couldn't be more pleased. "That sounded great, right?" she marvels, breaking into one of her frequent grins—earnest, enigmatic, and seemingly limitless. It makes you wish a motorcycle would careen through the café's plate-glass window.

Spektor, the 26-year-old singer-pianist who just unfurled her pop-wise but resolutely idiosyncratic new album Begin to Hope, loves the anarchic possibilities of sound. Her music is full of feints and pauses; when singing, she'll hiccup and stutter just to skew the melody and rhythm. She trusts her muse, and her muse repays her with some of the best songs coming out of New York. But instead of dropping dishes, Hope's mixture of lush piano and voice, big drums, and electronic flourishes keeps the plates spinning.

"There's this huge discrepancy between the things that I make and the things that I love," says Spektor, who immigrated with her family from the USSR to the Bronx when she was nine. Thus, she sees most things with the sensitivity and remove of an outsider. Working on Hope, her fourth album (and second for a major, after 2004's breakthrough Soviet Kitsch), she sought to broaden her sound with the help of producer David Kahn, retooling songs she'd written as far back as college. "I'm starting to hear more and more songs," she explains, "where I want the beat or the bass to be the heart of the song." The Strokes, pals who famously gave Spektor her first big break by bringing her on tour as an opener, were among her inspirations. "The thing that blew my mind first hearing the Strokes was that they were the closest I had heard rock come to classical," she says. "Their music is extraordinarily orderly and composed. It's almost like Mozart." When "Better," Hope's first single, needed some oomph, Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi stepped in and lent the song its precise, driving kick.

Perhaps that oomph will help Spektor avoid being typecast: "I'm not an intense girl with a piano," she says firmly, and while that's a little like Metallica objecting to being called a metal band, her point is clear—she's not like all the other intense girls with pianos. Take Nellie McKay: As one of the few in the batch who share Spektor's sense of humor and flair for writing about topics other than herself, Nellie's the slightly jaded, totally polished throwback icon, while Regina is a warm, thoroughly modern sensualist with her own peculiar approach. "It's much easier for me to write a new song than to figure out a cover," she says, acknowledging that people never believe it. She had difficulty adjusting to the instruction at the conservatory she attended, but still connected with the musicians all around her. " 'That's weird strange Regina, her head's always in the clouds,' " she says, describing how she was perceived growing up. "I knew this world existed. I'd just been in diaspora."

And yet she's not as precious as all this makes her sound. "Just thinking about it almost makes me cry," she admits of her increasingly devout fan base. But moments later, she offers a resounding "Fuck that!" to those who'd have her play their favorite songs exactly as they're recorded: "It's death. It's the worst thing I can think of. Purism, it's boring to me." Nor does she have patience for those who confuse her with the characters in her songs. "I'd go to people's shows, and they'd say, 'This is about the end of a relationship,' " she recalls, obviously horrified. "And I'd be like, 'Ugh, that's so gross! You came out and said something absolutely crazy.'

Spektor's also patriotic as only an immigrant can be, even sparring occasionally with U.S.-bashing Europeans. Recently a British merch manager drew her ire by responding to Regina's request for large T-shirts with a dry reference to large American men. "It brings out the 'don't fuck with me,' " she recalls, "considering that you have a huge neo-Nazi population here, and your banks are full of my grandparents' teeth, and you only gave women the vote in, like, 1989."

Coming from Russia to the U.S.—welcomed by a middle-class extended family and a close-knit Jewish community—instilled Spektor with more than an appreciation of America. It also helps explain the sense of wonder so vividly conveyed in her songs. "We came to my cousin's house in Rockland County, and they had a dog and a swimming pool with a slide in it," she recalls, grinning again. "The whole suburban American dream. It was so awesome." She and her cousin Marsha reveled in the little luxuries. "We used to eat seven yogurts a day. Sometimes we wouldn't mix the fruit in—I'd eat the top, and then the bottom. We'd get a million different kinds of cereal. Suddenly we'd only eat cereal with orange juice, because it was exciting." Of course, not everything was yogurt, puppies, and swimming pools. "When we moved to the Bronx, we lived in kind of a sketchy building," she remembers. "Bell Atlantic was on strike when we came to New York, so my parents would have to leave me at night, go to the pay phone and call Russia, pumping in quarters. There were so many nights when I fell asleep terrified."

That mixture of anxiety and wonder permeates Begin to Hope, which never settles on a mood, method, or outlook. On the minimalist, punky "That Time," Spektor strums guitar like she's at her first lesson, speak-singing about good and suddenly very bad times with a friend on the Lower East Side. "Aprés Moi" (the title alludes to Louis XV's promise of a "deluge" after his death) is a floridly operatic tale of flooding and perseverance, sung partly in Russian. Producer Kahn's influence is most obvious in "Edit," which pairs choppy electronics and oblique, incantatory lyrics with a spare, wandering piano line. Spektor's accent, light in conversation, twists her singing voice just so; airy and dynamic, her vocals flit from frisky to mournful.

For all its adventurousness, the album centers around a single, unnameable ache, but don't mistake that for pity or resignation. "Some people are like, 'Dare I say, this album sounds more mature,' " Spektor says, a little wearily, but with a laugh. "And yet some of these are my oldest songs." At a recent small show at the Angel Orensanz Foundation—a former synagogue downtown—she actually seemed a bit like a nervous kid at a recital, restarting a couple of songs while wearing a lovely, formal dress you imagine she'd change out of immediately afterward. But when she played—unaccompanied by studio frills, and with lightning illuminating the windows—the whole room seemed to cave in around her. Her parents, as always, were in the front row.

CIS Double Threat: Yanukovich goes completely berzerk, Belarus Union Coming

Get this: RIA Novosti reports that convicted criminal and Neo-Soviet Stooge Victor Yanukovich (pictured) now says that "we are again going through hard times, when the powers that be are trying to steal our victory in parliamentary elections, when unprecedented attempts are being made to usurp power and to cut half of Ukraine from the process of administering the state." RIA Novosti states:

The Party of Regions has been blocking Ukraine's parliament since Wednesday to protest a plan by the three parties forming a coalition government to approve nominees for prime minister and parliament speaker in a single vote. It is also demanding top positions in some of the assembly's committees. The Yulia Tymoshenko bloc, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine party, and the Socialists, which were major players in Ukraine's 2004 "orange revolution," reached a coalition agreement last week after months of negotiations following an election in March. The Party of Regions finished first in the polls with 186 seats, but the "orange" parties' coalition deal has given them a majority, with 242 seats. "We will be blocking parliament's work until the 'orange' [parties] agree to live and act in compliance with the law and the constitution," the Party of Regions said in its statement. The party aims to force the dissolution of parliament, in which case fresh elections will have to be called.
So let's see now: Yanukovich considers his less-than-33% share of the parliamentary vote a "victory"? And he thinks that the more than 67% majority coaltion which has formed against him and his crazed shil organization for the Kremlin is frustating democracy while he, who wants to govern with less than 33% and is blocking the normal function of the parliament, is furthering democracy?

In other words, there is no such thing as "democracy" in Ukraine unless Yanukovich, a convicted criminal and KGB spy, is given absolute power akin to that of Mr. Lukashenko in Belarus. And any Ukrainian who opposes this idea is a dangerous Western spy, no doubt to be put up against a wall and shot.

Good grief. No wonder the Ukrainians can't stand the Russians.

Speaking of Belarus, RIA also reports that union with Russia (and the potential crowning of Emperor Putin) is now in the immediate offing according to Pavel Bordin:

MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - A referendum on a constitutional act of a Russia-Belarus Union State may be held as early as this fall, a Russian official overseeing the project said Thursday.

The constitutional act will be a transitional constitution for the Union State, which the two countries have been mulling since they signed an agreement on April 2, 1997. The project should establish common economic, customs and political regulations, but negotiations have stalled recently over a number of issues, including a Russian proposal to raise gas prices for Belarus.

Pavel Borodin, the state secretary of the Russian-Belarus union, said that he hoped the Union's Supreme Council would meet in July or August to set the dates for the referendum and for parliamentary elections.

"In practice, we can hold the referendum this fall and elections to the future parliament either this fall or next spring," Borodin said.

The Union State has a common budget totaling about $2.6 billion. Belarus, whose population of 10 million equals only 7% of Russia's, contributes one third and Russia the remainder to the joint budget.

The two countries have also adopted measures including a common visa space and a joint customs committee.

Borodin said earlier this month that the common currency - the Russian ruble - would be put into circulation before the end of 2006.

But negotiations on the ruble have been advancing slowly, and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said earlier this month that the common currency issue had to be spelled out in the referendum.

The Russia-Belarus Council of Ministers convened Wednesday in Moscow to discuss further progress in integration. Borodin said the customs union had been on the agenda.

"We have built a customs center and set up customs checkpoints but we still have about 1,500 differences in customs rates," he said, adding that ministers had agreed to prepare a financial program for customs points and continue working to harmonize customs legislations.

Borodin also said that the Council of Ministers had considered the gas issue and a proposal by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to increase gas prices for Belarus. He said the parties had managed to ease tensions on some of the relating issues.

Gazprom, which is reportedly seeking control over Belarus's pipeline system leading to Europe - its main customer, has said it would nearly quadruple gas prices for Belarus in 2007 unless it agreed to set up a joint gas venture. Belarusian authorities, however, have said the price hikes contradict the Union State agreement, which they said stipulated that gas prices for Belarus should equal Russia's domestic prices.

The two countries agreed Wednesday that a special working group would draft proposals on gas prices and submit them soon.

Borodin also said Thursday that the Union State had 30 production programs involving more than 5 million people. He said the programs covered such areas as diesel and agricultural machine-building, and high-tech and computer technologies, but added that the projects had encountered financing problems.

"Unfortunately, we have changed the form of crediting these programs," he said, adding that instead of direct government subsidies for agriculture and machine-building, these programs received indirect funding in subsidies for interest rates.

Wimbledon Update

Wimbledon is only in its fifth day and already two major Russian "superstars" have crashed ingloriously out of the tournament. Grand Slam Champion Marat Safin was bested in his second round match, winning the first two sets and then completely falling apart, losing the next three in a row. Grand Slam Champion (and the only Russian woman ever to play for two grand slam titles) Svetlana Kuznetsova experienced a similar disaster in her third-round match, winning the first set of against World #27 Na Li of China and then being totally crushed in the next two.

The Only Way the Crass, Pathetic Neo-Soviets Can Get Support is to Buy it

La Russophobe has previously reported on the use of a Neo-Soviet Komsomol to protest American refusal to extradite Chechens to Russia. Here is more shocking detail on the depths to which Neo-Soviet Russia is prepared to sink, via Redeem the Vote:

How U.S. Citizens Mysteriously March For Kremlin Causes

Russian Émigrés Pay Them To Flail Chechen Rebels As TV Moscow Films It All

June 24, 2006

NEW YORK -- Hoisting signs and American flags, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in a park here for a noisy protest. An organizer explained the sponsors' eclectic mission: "We are fighting against terrorism, hunger and inequality," he said.

Demonstrators had a simpler goal: getting paid. "Where's the moneyman?" shouted one of them, Pat Bradley.

Mr. Bradley said he and his wife, Kellie, recovering heroin addicts, had run into a rally organizer that morning outside their methadone clinic and were promised $15 each if they would ride a bus to a park in the Queens borough of New York City and chant slogans for 15 minutes. Mr. Bradley says he alternated shouts of "Stop the terrorism!" with a more mercantile cry: "Show me the money!"

The rally last December was one of nearly a dozen paid-for protests organized by Russian émigrés in the U.S. in the past two years. They spent $150,000 to $200,000 in some months, accounting records indicate, to rally thousands of demonstrators near spots such as United Nations headquarters and the World Trade Center site. State-controlled Russian television, whose content is closely guided by Kremlin handlers, covered some of the events, often as the only news organ present, showing video of them on the evening news back home.

Organizers said the effort was funded by private individuals they declined to name. Some former insiders of the campaign told a different story: that both its instructions and its funding came from Moscow. Specifically, they said it came from the Russian founder of a youth group that staunchly supports the Kremlin and has gotten lavish support from the Kremlin in return. This account was supported by emails and other documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

A member of the Russian youth group disputed the account, and it remains impossible to say who was behind the campaign. It coincided with efforts by Russian officials to mold opinion both at home and abroad on issues such as Chechnya, where a breakaway movement has been put down violently by the Putin government. The Kremlin argues that Chechen separatists, responsible for a bloody siege at an elementary school in southern Russia in 2004, are no different from al Qaeda terrorists. Some of the rallies demanded that Washington extradite alleged Chechen terrorists living in America.

The U.S. organizers were led by a Russian-born man in the Boston area, formerly a taxi driver, who recruited fellow émigrés. There are indications the organizers paid a New Yorker to present a local face for the movement. But the script for the campaign began to unravel after one of the Russian émigrés contacted U.S. authorities, as well as the Journal.

That man is Yuri Levintoff, a 31-year-old Massachusetts resident. He said he grew concerned about the ethics and legality of paying people to protest. "As I learned more and more, I realized this was not only something I didn't want to be involved with but something that should be made public," said Mr. Levintoff, who provided access to what he said were financial records, emails and other documents detailing the demonstration campaign's activities.

Mr. Levintoff said he was recruited in 2004 by the Boston-area taxi driver, Boris Barshevsky. Approached outside his home there, Mr. Barshevsky at first denied involvement but then said that he was, in fact, the top organizer of the demonstrations. He said he financed them himself and received no funding from Russia. Told of emails and documents suggesting otherwise, Mr. Barshevsky asserted these had been forged by Mr. Levintoff. He provided no substantiation. Mr. Levintoff denied forging anything.

Russian state television, called First Channel, has portrayed the U.S. demonstrators as part of an international movement in support of extraditing militant Chechens to Russia. A person familiar with the state television channel's operations said that influential people within Russia had ordered it to cover the U.S. demonstration movement, even though "at First Channel, everyone knows it is a fake." This person said officials of the channel were told the first U.S. rally was organized by a Russian youth group called Walking Together.

Walking Together's founder is Vasily Yakemenko, an ardent foe of Chechen militants. Visitors to the office of a second youth group he manages, Nashi ("Our Guys" in Russian), must step on a doormat with a picture of a Chechen rebel. Mr. Yakemenko has told a Russian newspaper he visits the Kremlin every two weeks and the presidential office more often. Last month, President Vladimir Putin played host to him and 34 "commissars" of one of his youth groups at the president's Black Sea retreat. State-controlled TV covered the event heavily.

Mr. Yakemenko didn't respond to questions or requests for an interview. The Kremlin declined to comment. Sergei Belokonev, a leader of one of Mr. Yakemenko's groups, which has bused thousands of people to Moscow for flag-waving rallies, called the idea of Russian-financed demonstrations in the U.S. "complete nonsense."

Flurry of Emails

Mr. Levintoff, the Russian émigré who quit the campaign of U.S. demonstrations, asserts that Mr. Yakemenko kicked it off in the summer of 2004 with a flurry of emails to Mr. Barshevsky, the Boston-area taxi driver. Mr. Levintoff says Mr. Barshevsky shared these emails with him and other recruits. The first email, dated July 2004, said its writer had been "active in organizing demonstrations and protest meetings and the like. Now it's been proposed that I do the same in your part of the world."

Paid protestors rally at Ground Zero in June 2005

Another email said there was plenty of cash and the budget could be big -- $25,000, $200,000 or $20 million -- as long as the campaign showed results.

Paul Nissan, a Los Angeles activist and co-founder of an antiterrorism group, said Mr. Barshevsky phoned him in 2004 offering "unlimited" funding for demonstrations that would spotlight Chechen terrorism. Mr. Nissan said he organized one rally on Sept. 11, 2004, in Los Angeles, but later fell out with the Russian émigrés. "They were interested in a rent-a-mob kind of thing, and we kind of explained that we don't do that sort of thing here," Mr. Nissan said.

Organizers created scripts to keep everyone on-message. If asked whether protesters are being paid, said one sheet, state that "you have been disinformed." Explain that protesters are "plain and simple folks" who are united by "desires to dispose the world of terror" -- and who have no phone number or office.

According to Mr. Levintoff, organizers tried to conceal Russian involvement by using as a front man Curtis Bryant, a New York resident who calls himself a "guerrilla marketer." Mr. Levintoff showed an email to rally organizers requesting that someone explain to Mr. Bryant "once more [that] he is leader of the movement and its founder.... Explain that we simply joined him."

Mr. Bryant said he organized demonstrations on his own, motivated because he nearly lost a friend on Sept. 11, 2001. Nobody was paid to protest, Mr. Bryant stated in an interview at the December rally in Queens. However, after the rally an organizer was seen paying demonstrators, and numerous protesters told the Journal that the only reason they attended was to be paid.

At that December demonstration, organizers tried out a new theme: the flawed U.S. government response to hurricane Katrina. On a blustery day, school buses stopped in front of Rufus King Park in Queens and dropped off demonstrators. Mr. Barshevsky and other Russian émigrés huddled nearby, smoking and talking on cellphones.

A camera crew videotaped the rally and several short speeches by organizers, who said they were from a group called Unite the World Against Terrorism. Their message: The U.S. failed New Orleans and it will abandon us, too. After some desultory cheers, the crowd was dismissed and sent back to the buses.

On one bus, filled with men from a homeless shelter on Wards Island in the East River, some grew impatient. "Get my money, mother-f-!" shouted one man as an organizer passed. As tensions rose, an organizer stepped aboard and peeled off $20 bills from a thick wad.

Fuming Over Pay

The payment left some on the bus fuming, saying they thought the promised $20 an hour would cover travel time, too. George Pantera, who said he sometimes stays in homeless shelters, complained of a wasted morning. He easily could have made the same $20 "in the 'hood," he said. He called the rally "a scam."

Pat and Kellie Bradley, the self-described recovering heroin addicts, weren't complaining. They said they had been down to their last $8 before the rally. The cash would help pay a debt for cigarettes.

All the same, Mr. Bradley found the rally puzzling. "Strikes me as funny that this guy buys his protests," Mr. Bradley said. "I mean, what good is that?"

Early on, the campaign got a boost when Mr. Barshevsky, the Boston-area taxi driver, befriended two Russian-émigré merchants in New York who sell jewelry online. The two merchants had started a nonprofit organization after Sept. 11, 2001, which they called the International Fund for Protection of Victims of Crimes and Terrorist Activity. Mr. Barshevsky became this fund's finance chief, and the merchants' two-room office in the diamond district of midtown Manhattan became a center of the campaign, Mr. Levintoff said.

Nicholas Fiore, an accountant who has done work for the fund, said that "tens of thousands" of dollars flowed into its bank accounts in 2004 and 2005, money that he said he was told came from Mr. Barshevsky. One of the merchants, Denis Stepansky, said he helped Mr. Barshevsky organize rallies. He declined to discuss their financial dealings.

An exchange of emails shown to the Journal by Mr. Levintoff stated that as much as $400,000 was needed to kick off the campaign. One note, which Mr. Levintoff said had been sent to Moscow, asked that a first installment of $80,000 be wired to the International Fund.

Mr. Levintoff said organizers took pains to hide the involvement of backers in Moscow. He said he was forwarded one email that originated with Sergei Belokonev, a top official in Mr. Yakemenko's Nashi youth group in Russia. The email asked that someone outside Russia register some Web sites that could help promote the U.S. demonstrations. "The hand of Moscow, if it comes to light, will only weaken our position," said this email. Mr. Belokonev didn't respond to questions about the email.

The first rally organized with the help of the jewelry merchants' International Fund was on Sept. 11, 2004, near the World Trade Center site in New York, with several hundred demonstrators. At later rallies, hundreds of residents of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, most of them African-American, marched alongside Russian-born pensioners bused in from Brighton Beach, an ethnic-Russian enclave in Brooklyn.

Some rallies included elderly Russian émigrés from Brooklyn Jewish centers. Costs discussed in one email about the campaign referred to $40,000 to hire 200 activists for three hours, as well as $30,000 for "Jews and other extras."

Mr. Levintoff said that one 2005 rally in Harlem drew police attention when the crowd of demonstrators gathered for a "photo op" and were spotted giving gang hand signals.

A reporter for a Russian-language newspaper said he was tipped last spring that someone was "putting T-shirts on pensioners and paying them to go protest" near the World Trade Center site. The reporter, Vladimir Chernomorsky, said he went to the site and saw hundreds of people carrying pictures of Chechen extremists and posing for a photo. He said the only news organization there besides himself was Russian state television.

He wrote a piece for his newspaper, the New Russian Word, questioning who had paid the demonstrators and saying that payment varied from person to person. Russian pensioners from Brooklyn got $35, he wrote, but African-Americans and Hispanics only $20. Mr. Chernomorsky later wrote in his newspaper that when he attended a rally near the U.N. last June, one of the organizers smashed his tape recorder.

Soon, the organizers had a bigger problem: Mr. Levintoff.

He said he grew concerned that the paid-protest campaign might violate U.S. tax or money-laundering laws. His worries grew, he said, after Russian state TV interviewed him at a rally near the World Trade Center site in June 2005 and identified him as a protest leader. Mr. Levintoff said that last August he told Mr. Barshevsky, the former Boston-area taxi driver, that he was bowing out.

Mr. Stepansky, the jewelry merchant, alleged that Mr. Levintoff stole from the International Fund, forged financial documents and sent "fabrications" to the media and law enforcement. He declined repeated requests to substantiate his allegations, which Mr. Levintoff denied.

Mr. Levintoff said he sent a final note to the International Fund and its lawyers. "I am no longer willing to be associated or involved in any way, with a so-called International Fund for Protection of Victims of Crimes and Terrorist Activity, or a fake 'social movement' called Unite the World Against Terror," Mr. Levintoff wrote. He then contacted U.S. law-enforcement officials. Authorities have taken no action

Bursting a Bubble I: The Mythology of Russian Courage

A craven soldier is sitting in foxhole hiding, while his comrades charge the enemy. Suddenly, his fierce commander spies him, and points his revolver: "Get out of that trench now and charge the enemy or I'll shoot you a hundred times, and only the 100th shot will kill you," he roars with indescriblable venom. More terrified of the commander than the enemy, the soldier obeys.

Is the solider a brave man because he charges the enemy? Nobody would say so.

Yet, people often attribute bravery to Russians who fought against Germans. Russians, in the most craven, cowardly manner imaginable, sold out their allies to the Germans in hopes of carving up the spoils of Germany's victory, only to find themselves the victims of German aggression. Then, they fought against German invaders because their own crazed government ordered them to do so, at gunpoint, a government Russians found far more terrifying than any foreign enemy.

There is not one single instance in all of Russian history of Russians standing up to their own government in order to interrupt one of its legion of atrocities. The Bolshevik Revolution was nothing more than a naked power grab, one which involved only a thin sliver of the actual population (the vast majority of Russians were never members of the Communist Party), and the same is true of the "revolution" that brought Boris Yeltsin to power. Russians said they hated Yeltsin, but when he told them to elect Vladimir Putin, they did so unhesitatingly, like sheep. Baa-baa-baaaaaad sheep.

Russians didn't lift a finger to protect Pushkin or Dostoevsky or Solzhenitisn when they were persecuted by the regime, even though Russians lionized each of them as great Russian heroes. Nobody like Mary Wolstonecraft or Martin Luther King or Mohandas Ghandi has ever emerged in Russia, although Russia is the one place where such a person is needed most. There is no significant anti-nuclear movement in Russia, no significant anti-racism movement, no significant movement of any kind challenging the stasis of the regime. The only time Russians gather to make significant protests is when foreigners dare to oppose the policies of their regime.

Now, one could certainly argue that it is nothing but common sense for Russians (or anybody else) to avoid confrontation with the crazed, dictatorial, homicidal Kremlin. There is much to be said for self-preservation.

But why must Russians propagate such an absurd mythology of bravery and heroism for their country, which is uniquely distinguished by the total lack of those virtues, if so they are? Russians seem to display an almost pathological need to think of themselves as courageous, combined with an equally-if-not-more pathological inability to actually display courage.

Bursting a Bubble II: Putin the Pedophile

Moscow Times reports that Vladimir Putinophile walked up to a young boy he had never met before, lifted his shirt and kissed him on the stomach. In broad public, in full view of cameras. La Russophobe doesn't know about you, dear reader, but she's got a nasty case of the heebie-jeebies. The Russian public, apparently, couldn't care less -- La Russophobe dares to wonder whether they would raise a finger against Putin even if he had taken a bite out of the poor little kid.

Kissing babies may be an old trick to impress voters, but President Vladimir Putin's decision to lift the shirt of a young boy and kiss his stomach in front of television cameras raised a few eyebrows and prompted many jokes Thursday.

Putin was shown on Channel One state television Wednesday walking through a Kremlin courtyard filled with tourists after a meeting with military academy graduates. Seeing a fair-haired boy of about 5, he kneeled down and asked his name. The startled boy replied, "Nikita." Putin lifted the boy's shirt and kissed his stomach. He then stood up, patted Nikita on the head and walked away.

Few Russian-language news organizations reported the incident. RIA-Novosti said only that Putin had stopped to talk to Russian, U.S. and French tourists. But Russian blogs and Internet message boards were awash in speculation as to what had prompted Putin's kiss. The top keyword search in the Russian blogosphere Thursday was "Putin kissed a boy," according to Yandex.

One blogger suggested Putin had had too much to drink at the meeting with the military graduates, while another joked that he had anointed his successor with the kiss. Some said Putin had two daughters and perhaps wished for a son. Ekho Moskvy host Alexander Plyushev wrote in his blog that if State Duma Deputy Alexander Chuyev, an anti-pornography crusader, had seen the footage, he would have accused state television of spreading child pornography.

The Kremlin press service declined to comment on why Putin had kissed the boy.

Satirist Maxim Konenenko spun a yarn on in which Putin, after kissing the boy, makes his way back to his office, stopping to unbutton the shirts and kiss the stomachs of every man he meets, including his deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov. Konenenko ends with Putin rushing into his office and ordering his secretary to bring in "Medvedev, Ivanov, Sechin, Sobyanin, Mironov, Fradkov, Gref, Kudrin, Shoigu, Zurabov, Lavrov ... in short, everyone."

Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst, said most Russians would think nothing of the kiss but state television might have run the footage for a reason. "They could have just buried it, but that might have sparked rumors," he said. "They probably figured it was better just to show the president as he is, knowing most people would take it in stride."

The Ustinov Fraud

Cyrill Vatomsky and Vilhelm Konnander review the recent farce involving the termination of Vladimir Ustinov, which was supposedly a move to curb corruption in Russia, only to find that Comrade Ustinov instantly returned to power in a different position:

Following yesterday’s post about some in Europe challenging Russia to clamp down on corruption, and maybe improve democratization process and, even more maybe, clamp down on power structures, it seems that, as Vilhelm Konnander aptly puts it: "It did not take long before the soufflé collapsed."
Konnander notes that the sacked Vladimir Ustinov, whose resignation started the wild speculation in the West that something good is again afoot in Russia, has been appointed Minister of Justice.
Furthermore, the list of changes that he mentions seems to support my view, as well as the view of many others, that it was nothing but a feudal leader shuffling his vassals. That’s exactly what power purges really are. They are not done from the position of and for the benefit of public good and expecting Putin to act benevolently is to indulge in wishful thinking, also known in Russia as a “Fable About a Kind Tzar.”

Appointment of Ustinov to the post of the Minister of Justice might signal yet another twist. I already mentioned that according to some sources, Igor Sechin is Ustinov’s relative by marriage of their respective children. Sechin has been with Putin since the early days of Putin’s public service and most likely wields quite an influence over the President. Sechin has been implicated several times in outright sabotage of President’s personnel related orders – like in the story with Dmitry Kosak revealed by Stanislav Belkovsky.
[My quick translation - CV:] A cunning apparatchik he is, Sechin several times managed to block presidential directives. The first time it happened with about appointment of Dmitry Kozak as the Head of Presidential Administration, the second time - in the case of appointment of Kozak to the post of Prime Minister after sacking of Kasyanov.

If the sacking of Ustinov was a broadside against Sechin by another clan leader, a fellow man from Saint Petersbourg Dmitry Medvedev, then reappointment of Ustinov to the post of Minister of Justice spells a rapid response fire from Sechin.

On the other hand, most of what I read about Sechin, and heard about him from my friends (Igor Sechin was one year my senior in the same Department of Linguistics of the Leningrad State University, and although I have no memories of him, several of my friends knew him quite well and continued contacts with him well into 1990-s) - all I know of him is that he is extremely loyal and would never try to solo or go against his master Vlad.
If this is true and Sechin and Putin are one and the same politically speaking (although there were some rumors that Sechin was seeking an alliance with Mayor of Moskov Yuri Luzhkov) then this fairly successful broadside signals that Putin might not have as firm a grip on the political elites around Kremlin as we think.

"Delovye Ludi (Business People)" magazine refers to a pact of some sort between what they call Political-Nomenklatura Formations.The magazine expresses concern that 2008 Presidential Elections would lead to the breakup of the pact which according to the same article
“might increase influence from external factors (humanitarian funds, NGOs, foreign intelligence services)” – [translation mine.]
Again all analyses, even inadvertent ones by the likes of “Business People” paint a picture of a feudal country entangled in a political squabbles over succession. Konnander concludes his post with a warning:
So, what conclusions might be drawn from this? First, that so much creedence has been given these rumours testifies to the tendency of Western analysts to overestimate political tendencies and occurrences in today's Russia. The system of power has become so closed that people are increasingly resorting to guesses. Secondly, the measures per se should not be underestimated. It might well be that Putin is preparing to reform the power structures, but then on a much narrower scale than these rumours have indicated. Third, some caution should be made when analysing Russia from a system's point of view, especially when relating changes in various structures to each other. The risk is that you wind up with wrong or exaggerated conclusions. Finally, what at a time seemed as a Putinist power purge, in reality turned out a mere whimper.
I would further suggest that any analyses of contemporary Russia, its internal politics, of power struggle, populism, raising nationalism and even some aspects of its foreign policy must be considered within a context of a feudal state, characterized by state control of means of production via those ugly named “Political-Nomenklatura Formations”

Russian Oil Booted Off New York Stock Exchange

New Russian Corporatism reports that Russia's Tafneft oil company has been booted off the New York Stock Exchange:

Russian oil company Tatneft has announced its intention to delist from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). It will be the first time a Russian company has left the world's biggest exchange. Tatneft said its decision was based on the growing cost of securities registration in the and a desire to focus on trading on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), where it is also listed. But market players say the company failed to comply with the NYSE's requirements. A source in Tatneft's office said the company currently had 21% of its stock listed on the NYSE in the form of American Depositary Receipts (ADR), all of which could be moved to the LSE. The delisting decision is to be considered by Tatneft's board of directors on June 30. "Since spending on registration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has grown substantially in the past few years, the company has decided to move international trading in its securities to Tatneft said in a press release. Other market players say these reasons are not crucial.The company most likely does not want to provide transparent financial reports," said Konstantin Batunin, an analyst with Alfa Bank. "The LSE requirements on issuers are less strict, and the disclosure volume is smaller." Vladislav Metnev, an analyst with the Troika Dialog brokerage, agreed.One of the reasons is delays with the provision of reports, which proves that Tatneft does not need the NYSE listing," he said. "It may reduce its disclosure standards after delisting from the exchange.Tatneft has had disclosure problems for years. Its press release said the company had sent the SEC an audited report for 2004 and an unaudited report for the first half of 2005. Had the company postponed the reports, it would have lost its listing on the NYSE anyway.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

First Sign of the Neo-Soviet Apocalypse: Hopelessly Incompetent Russians Can't Even get Alcohol Right

The New York Times reports that Russians can't even manage to effectively sell alcohol. If this is how they handle that most favored of all subjects, do you dare to imagine what a hospital is like? La Russophobe doesn't, but it's likely why the population is plummeting so severely ... and then there's the matter of the nuclear weapons ...

MOSCOW, June 26 — For wine drinkers here, things were bad enough when the authorities banned imports from Georgia and Moldova in the spring, but one could get by with other imports that were — no offense — better. Things are about to get worse.

In the last few days, wines from France, Italy, the United States and everywhere else have started disappearing from shops, supermarkets and restaurants. So have the whiskeys of Scotland and Ireland, the gins of England, the tequilas of Mexico. The reason is neither panic buying (though that would be in order) nor an unexpected appearance of Russian teetotalism, but rather a new federal excise law that has bottles flying off the shelves in a way no one intended.

Starting Saturday, any bottle of imported alcohol is required to have a newly designed excise stamp. It sounds simple enough, but little ever is in Russia, recalling the aphorism popularized by the former prime minister, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin: "We wanted better, but it turned out as usual."

The deadline is being called Black Saturday, but by Tuesday the whole week was looking very black indeed.

Bureaucratic delays have slowed the distribution of the new stamps to importers, who are responsible for stamping the bottles themselves.

And the law requires thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment and software that has to be installed and certified by experts from an enterprise called Atlas, which is affiliated with the Federal Security Service, the K.G.B.'s successor.

The equipment must also be kept in special rooms with detailed requirements on space, temperature and the size of dust particles in the air.

The turmoil has left in the lurch hundreds of importers and distributors already reeling financially from the ban on Georgian and Moldovan wines (ostensibly for health concerns, though it is almost universally believed to have been a political move to punish two irksome governments spinning out of Moscow's orbit).

Worse, the law forbids selling imports with the old excise stamps and requires sellers to warehouse them in the meantime, forcing stores to empty their shelves this week in preparation or, at one supermarket chain, to sell their imported stocks at a steep discount that was not, alas, widely advertised.

The law, passed last year, signed by President Vladimir V. Putin on New Year's Eve and already delayed once, has disturbed the booming imports of wines and other alcohol that in Soviet times most could only dream of buying. In 2005, imports totaled $1.2 billion, more than double the amount only two years before, according to official statistics.

Imports accounted for half of the wine sold in Russia last year. The rest, like Russian vodka and other liquors, is also subject to the new excise law, but despite a brief scare over the possibility of a vodka shortage in the spring, the new stamps were developed and distributed by a different agency — the Tax Service, not Customs, as with imports — in time to meet an April deadline. "It will be a summer of low-quality Russian wine," said Vadim I. Drobiz, a spokesman for a union of wine and spirit makers and dealers, noting that most Russian wines are mass produced from concentrate shipped from abroad.

The law was intended to bring order to a market that has been prone to smuggling and counterfeiting of the current stamp, even of some of the nicer brands.

The new stamp, printed with special materials and details for each bottle, should accomplish that, though not without significant disruptions in imports that Mr. Drobiz and others said could last through the year and even into 2007, while costing the market and the government millions in lost revenues.

Mr. Drobiz predicted that at least half of the country's alcohol distributors would be forced out of business. Many, he said, have already been crippled by debt because the ban on Georgian and Moldovan wines left them with unsalable merchandise. As a result they cannot easily borrow more to refill the now-empty shelves with other imports.

Only 70 of 126 licensed importers have managed to acquire the new equipment and software necessary, the newspaper Vedomosti reported. Many foreign exporters have also been wary of sending new shipments until the mess can be sorted out, compounding the shortages. Irina A. Sazonova, a spokeswoman for the Federal Customs Service, defended the law's implementation. "There are no problems," she said. "The stamps are issued to every importer who asks for them."

At the same time, she said that as of last week, fewer than half the requests for stamps for 162 million bottles had been granted, since the requests take as long as a month to process. Only 1.8 million bottles of foreign alcohol with the new stamps have been shipped so far, an amount Mr. Drobiz said amounted to only 5 percent of the market.

And the effect is already evident. Store after store visited this week had only a smattering of bottles with the new stamps, mostly spirits, not wine. Some made a futile effort to fill shelves that would normally have been full of wines and whiskeys with other products, often vodka, beer or boxed Russian wine.

Fyodor Omelchenko, the manager of an Italian restaurant called Vivace, said his wine menu was suffering. Where once he offered 70 wines, he said, he now has only a dozen. "The assortment will be reduced to a minimum," he said, expressing a hope that the supply would be restored in weeks, not months.

Aleksandr Khaidukov, the manager of the wine section of the Davidoff store on Moscow's prominent shopping street, Tverskaya, summarized the frustration with a colorful expletive that translates roughly as catastrophic.

His cellar shop, once abundantly stocked, was already virtually empty, its selection boxed and sent to a warehouse — during a recent hot spell, he noted, in which temperatures have exceeded 90 degrees — where its ultimate fate remains in limbo. (A proposal to give distributors until December to affix the new stamps on the bottles with the old ones is in the works, but even so the old bottles must be removed by Saturday.)

"You cannot sell," he said, "but you still have to pay rent."

Andrei Y. Yegorov, a spokesman for Wine World, one of the largest importers, said the government had disregarded the warnings of importers to delay the deadline or phase it in, perhaps to benefit domestic producers but more likely out of incompetence.

"The roads are bad in Russia," he said, speaking euphemistically. "That is why nothing is sorted out in time."

Second Sign of the Neo-Soviet Apocalypse: Clueless Mother Russia says Russian Kids not Allowed to be Sexy, Censors Many Magazines

Russia is desperate for babies, but the Kremlin is telling Russia youth that sex is filthy, just like in the good old USSR. The Moscow Times reports:

The Prosecutor General's Office is seeking to shut three popular youth magazines that, it says, exploit teenagers' thirst for sex and drugs.

Cool, Cool Girl and Molotok have violated laws pertaining to the media, narcotics and children, a statement posted on the Prosecutor General's Office web site said.

The statement followed a complaint filed by Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky, who has demanded that the Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage seek the closure of the three publications.

Fridinsky was among 13 deputy prosecutors who submitted their resignations Tuesday. For now, he is apparently still on the job.

"The titles are widely popular among children and teens and are being sold without regard to age limit and at an affordable price," the statement said.

It added that despite not being registered as erotic or advertising publications, the magazines "systematically print promotional materials with color illustrations that exploit the teenage readers' interest in sex."

Cool and Cool Girl are published by Burda Russia, while Molotok is published by Kommersant Publishing House. Darya Samsonova, a spokeswoman for Burda Russia, declined to comment on the prosecutors' statements, saying her office had not been officially notified of the complaint.

Yekaterina Mil, deputy editor of the Molotok publishing house, which prints Molotok, said the magazine did not violate any laws and that it was not advertising sex but merely educating teenagers on the subject, The Associated Press reported.

Annals of Cold War II: No Trade Deal For Neo-Soviet Union

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Russia are unlikely to reach a long-sought trade deal by the time Moscow hosts a summit meeting of leading world powers in mid-July, a top Republican senator said on Wednesday.

"I don't think it's possible," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told reporters after a committee meeting. Differences, including on the political front, are too big to be resolved by the July 15-17 G8 summit in St. Petersburg, he said.

Russia has been negotiating to join the World Trade Organization for more than a decade. Its biggest remaining hurdle is a bilateral accession deal with the United States.

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained Washington was stalling Russia's entry -- a charge U.S. official have denied. Meanwhile, the United States has raised concerns that Russia is backsliding on democratic reforms and moving toward authoritarianism.

"There's also the political issue of what the president sees in Putin's heart. He sees a good heart," Grassley said, referring to statement Bush made in November 2001. "I look in that heart and I see the old Soviet regime."

Still, Blake Marshall, executive vice president of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, said the two sides could reach a deal soon, if not by the G8 summit.

"My guess is we are getting close, and so if for some reason it doesn't materialize by mid-July it shouldn't be too terribly long after," Marshall said.

Negotiators have made progress recently on agricultural concerns, but some big issues remain, he said.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Here Comes the Neo-Soviet Komsomol

First Russians give asylum to various criminals from other countries (as long as they are pro-Russian criminals, of course), and now they affect outrage that other countries won't extradite anti-Russian criminals back to Russia. The Moscow Times reports:

Pro-Kremlin youth groups have spent $400,000 organizing rallies in New York calling for the extradition of Chechen separatists who have resettled in the United States, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend.

Nearly a dozen protests, intended to shape public opinion in the West, were held in the past two years near high-profile venues such as the United Nations headquarters and the World Trade Center site.

The protesters' message -- calling for the return of rebels deemed terrorists by Russian authorities -- is directly at odds with U.S. policy.

The protests in New York were covered by state-controlled Channel One and aired on the station's evening program. Channel One spokesman Igor Burenkov could not be reached for comment Monday.

One protest organizer, Yury Levintoff, said organizers in the United States took pains to hide the involvement of financial backers in Moscow, including Vasily Yakemenko, head of the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement, the Journal reported.

Yakemenko began the spate of demonstrations in summer 2004 "with a flurry of e-mails" to Boris Barshchevsky, his point man in the United States, the Journal said.

Barshchevsky was reported to be a Boston-area Russian emigre and former cab driver. Barshchevsky is thought to have recruited other Russian emigres for the protests. An organizer from New York was hired to give the protests a public face.

Barshchevsky has acknowledged to being the head organizer of the protests but insists he paid for them himself and did not receive any help from Russian backers. Reached by telephone in his Boston home early Monday, Barshchevsky hung up when told he was speaking to a reporter.

Levintoff, who also lives in Massachusetts, could not be reached for comment Monday. Nashi spokesman Robert Shlegel on Monday denied his group had been involved in any rallies in the United States.

"Vasily Yakemenko already read this report, and I can only repeat what he said: This is delirium," Shlegel said, noting that Nashi was founded April 15, 2005, and that it could not have been behind protests that took place in 2004.

"The only campaign that Nashi organized outside Russia was Victory Day fireworks in Riga last May, and several rallies in some CIS countries," Shlegel said.

Until last year Yakemenko led Moving Together, another pro-Kremlin youth group. "I cannot comment on other groups, including Moving Together, but I am sure that Vasily Yakemenko had nothing to do with the rallies in the U.S.," Shlegel said.

The United States and Britain have granted asylum to Chechen separatists Ilyas Akhmadov and Akhmed Zakayev, respectively, much to Moscow's chagrin.

The U.S. State Department also has pledged to maintain contacts with moderate Chechen rebels, drawing sharp criticism from the Foreign Ministry.

Western governments and human rights groups have long criticized Russia for its harsh conduct in Chechnya.

These Neo-Soviet groups are in no way significantly different from the Komsomol and the Pioneers; apparently, Russia has found its preferred vehicle for spending its oil windfalls (God forbid it should be invested in the healthy of Russia, since strong healthy people are much harder to control of course). How many times does Russia have to fail at something before it realizes it doesn't work? This may be like asking how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop -- the world may never know.

Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union!

LR Milestones This Week, Hiatus Next

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Late yesterday morning, La Russophobe was pleased to welcome
the 4,000th visit to this blog.

La Russophobe also notes with gratitude the 400th viewing of her profile, which occurred on June 22nd.

And all before La Russophobe's three-month birthday celebration, which will not be until July 2nd (as previously announced, La Russophobe will be on hiatus from June 30th through July 4th in observance America's 230th birthday.

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Not Only Can't Russians PLAY Sports, They Can't Even Manage to REFEREE Them

The Moscow Times reports yet more extreme sports-related humiliation for Russia (which, of course, the Russians will again blame on "russophobia" conspiracies -- you know, the same ones that force Russian men to kill one of their wives every 40 minutes and produce a GDP smaller than the Netherlands). And the final cruel stroke of humiliation is that while Russians are spectacularly failing in their referee tasks, Ukraine is moving into the FIFA quarterfinals (even as it also moves into NATO and the EU over Russia's frenzied objections).

NUREMBERG, Germany -- Russian referee Valentin Ivanov was given a resounding vote of no confidence by players, coaches and even FIFA president Sepp Blatter after he lost control of Portugal's 1-0 win over Netherlands on Sunday.

Ivanov produced his yellow card 16 times and his red card four times as both teams were reduced to nine men in their second round clash -- a record for any World Cup.

This increased the number of red cards for the tournament to a record 23 just midway through the second round and five days before the quarterfinals begin Friday.

Portugal, which had two players sent off, five cautioned and also lost winger Cristiano Ronaldo through an injury inflicted by a high tackle, meets England in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday. "I consider that today the referee was not at the same level as the participants, the players. There could have been a yellow card for the referee," Blatter told Portugal's SIC television channel.

"This was a game of emotion, with exceptional drama in the last instant, with a deserved winner," he added. "It was a great show with intervention by the referee that was not consistent and [had] lack of fair play by some players."

Ivanov, a 45-year-old music-loving teacher, attempted to establish his control from the start when he cautioned two Dutchmen in the opening seven minutes.

But instead of gaining command of the game, he sent the contest into a spiral of chaos as Portugal took a 23rd minute lead, thanks to a well-taken goal by Maniche, and defended it with every trick in the professionals' book.

In the end, Ivanov sent off Costinha and Deco of Portugal, each for two yellow cards, and Khalid Boulahrouz and Giovanni van Bronckhorst of the Netherlands, both also for two cautions. He also handed out yellows to Portugal's Maniche, Petit, Luis Figo, Ricardo and Nuno Valente and the Netherlands' Mark van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart.

"I must say it was a pity that there was no football in the second half," said Dutch coach Marco van Basten.

But Ivanov has received full backing from his most loyal fan, father and former top international striker Valentin Ivanov Sr. The elder Ivanov, who played in two World Cups in 1958 in Sweden and 1962 in Chile, where he was the joint top scorer, said his son had done a good job.

"It was a very difficult game to officiate and I think he handled himself quite well considering the circumstances," he said in a telephone interview on Monday. "It was a very intense match, both teams were considered title contenders, thus no one wanted to lose and go home.

"The referee tried to set the tone right from the start to keep tempers under control by showing yellow cards. If he didn't do it, the match would have ended in a mass brawl. I have heard that Blatter had criticized my son," said Ivanov Sr., who also played on the Soviet Union team that won the 1956 Olympic gold in Melbourne.

In a related development, the Moscow News reports that Russia failed in its bid to strip an American cycler of his medal. Russia complaining about doping? Talk about glass houses! Russia can't win medals of its own and can't even manage to take them away from those who do. Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union.

Old Stainhead is at it Again

The Times of London quotes Gorby as follows, with running commentary provided by La Russophobe, pontificating in Venice about the upcoming G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg and desperately trying to somehow be relevant (even Pizza Hut isn't calling any more). Not content with being despised by every living Russian, in classic Russian style Gorby is now looking to alienate every non-Russian as well.

Russia is not anyone’s domain. Russia will work these things out — together with our partners and friends. That woulld be Iran, North Korea and Hamas. The Presidents and Prime Ministers at the G8 can raise whatever they want. But the more it is seen that the West is putting pressure on, the more it will strengthen President Putin, because in essence his position is very close to the aspirations of the people. He means President Putin is going to do the right things all by himself, of course, just like the Politburo voluntarily surrendered the Communist government to Boris Yeltsin and Stalin voluntarily closed the Gulags. I have said myself that Putin has made mistakes. I believe he said Putin should not put butter on his blini, but rather sour cream, as there is less risk of heart disease. But the principles of democracy are realised in a specific context, and you have to bear in mind the Russian historical, economic and social situation. The "context" for democracy in Russia is dictatorship. Why should foreign organisations be involved in the Russian political process? The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was mostly of domestic origin, because people were upset about corruption and angry over the Kuchma regime. Actually, they were also upset about Russian imperialism, weren't they? But there is another factor, that the US Embassy was heavily involved, and of course America has great experience in interfering in the affairs of other countries. Ah yes. Ukraine wouldn't have DREAMED of electing a non-Russian-lackey but for the brainwashing of the United States. Had this same thing been happening in America, I am sure that they would have put an end to outside interference. Quite right, America has poisoned several candidates for the Canadian presidency. Dirty bastards, those yanks. I don’t think many Western Governments are that concerned about these issues. If someone is ‘our son of a bitch’ he is forgiven, but if someone else takes an independent position, they don’t like it. I believe Hitler thought of Auschwitz as an "independent position" and Stalin had a similar view of the gulags. I too have a high opinion of my friend Nursultan Nazarbayev, but in our democratic media he is often criticised for his authoritarian ways. Notice how Gorby doesn't claim to have any RUSSIAN friends? Wonder why . . . . So there are double standards, and triple standards. Yes, and then there are RUSSIAN standards, the lowest of the low. But Russia has not lost a war, Russia is rising and will be rising and some people will find that inconvenient. You heard it hear first, friends. Russia has never lost a war, certainly not in Chechnya, that's a blinding success story! We have heard a lot in the US about building a new American empire. But that train has left the station. This unipolar approach will not happen. In a multipolar world it is difficult to bring order and governance, but any other approach is dangerous. Unfortunately for Gorby, Russia is not only not one of the poles, it's not even one of the pawns. Russia is no less interested than Europe in having reliable supply and demand for oil and gas. Russia needs to finance its reorganisation — what are the sources for this? Yes, building a Neo-Soviet Union certainly doesn't come cheap. After all, how can Russia ever invade and conquer Europe otherwise? First of all, our energy. But I think it is rather strange that the West recommends that we have a free market in our natural gas and, when we start to, the West protests that we are charging market prices. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. La Russophobe is so far out of the loop! Apparently, Russians have started paying market prices for their gas! Hooray! Maybe they are having presidential debates as well? My, what progress!