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Monday, July 31, 2006

More Evidence of Shocking and Entrenched Russian Racism

Check out the Moderate Voice blog's item exposing the outrages of racism in the Russian media, some shocking revelations are made. Hat tip!

Bad News Pouring in like a Deluge for Putin's Russia

Cutting-edge bomber crashes.

Disastrous oil spill at major pipeline.

WTO admission won't happen in 2006 at all.

Another spectacular tennis flameout by a Russian against a lower-ranked player.

Massive art theft at the Hermitage.

Gessen Remembers Itogi and Ruminates on the Neo-Soviet Union, Land of Thugs

In her column in the Moscow Times last week, Masha Gessen remembers the beginning of the end for Russian media (the Kremlin's obliteraton of Itogi magazine, something that may well be remembered as the first sign of the Neo-Soviet apocalypse) and ruminates on the end of the beginning of the creation of the the Neo-Soviet state:

Be Careful What You Say

By Masha Gessen

Russia's chief health inspector, Gennady Onishchenko, the man who has left us wine-less, brandy-less and Borzhomi-less, has shut down the cafeteria at the Moscow Regional Arbitration Court. He said it was the "height of disregard for the most elementary of health standards," adding that he could "say with certainty that it was the worst dining establishment in Moscow." Onishchenko concluded that it was "pure luck" that none of the judges who eat there had gotten food poisoning.

That almost sounded like a threat.You might wonder how a man as busy and as powerful as Onishchenko came to micromanage the closure of a single cafeteria in Moscow, one that is not even open to the general public. Does he take such pains to protect the health of all Russians, especially public servants? Guess again. The Moscow Regional Arbitration Court had taken up a complaint against Onishchenko's ban on Moldovan and Georgian wines filed by the importers of these wines. Remarkably, Kommersant seems to be the only paper to have reported on the case, so inconsequential have such court proceedings apparently become.

And yes, what Onishchenko said was indeed a threat. He mentioned that the leadership of the court was not "taking measures to normalize" the feeding of judges and that it had refused to allow Onishchenko's staff to inspect labor conditions at the court. Want to know what that was about?

A half dozen years ago I worked at Itogi, a weekly magazine that, together with NTV television, became one of the first two victims of Putin's attack on independent media. The tax people came first, and had to admit that the magazine's payroll and other financial records were in good order. Then the fire inspectors came, and the magazine banned smoking on the premises, posted inane evacuation instructions on every wall, and appointed the managing editor emergency fire chief. Finally the health inspectors came and claimed that one of the typefaces used in the magazine lacked a requisite sanitation certificate and might therefore be harmful to readers' eyes.

I think that was when we knew that we had lost.Onishchenko will clearly not be able to shut down the arbitration court as easily as he put the wine importers out of business, but his agency may be able to declare the entire court building a health hazard, forcing it to suspend operations until the Health Code violations have been addressed. If you were a judge, you might think twice about offending a man who had just shut down your cafeteria and was threatening you with indefinite leave. Just imagine the enormous backlog of cases you would face when you came back to work.So Onishchenko is threatening a court the way bureaucrats usually threaten private businesses.

This is a curious fact but, to my mind, not the moral of the story. The moral of the story is that we should never forget how spiteful and small-minded these people are. It seems extremely unlikely any decision of the arbitration court could reverse Onishchenko's actions, but the all-powerful doctor punished the court for thinking it could butt in at all.This is a useful lesson to keep in mind whenever you wonder why things happen the way they do in Russia. Why was businessman Bill Browder, one of the most shameless promoters of investment in this country, denied an entry visa? He has been making inquiries through official channels, and recently received an answer that said, in essence: Yes, you were denied entry. It must have been something he said.

Why was Mikhail Khodorkovsky arrested and sent to rot in a colony near the Chinese border? I had a chance to ask his wife about this recently. "Politics," she answered, "and personal ambitions." Whose personal ambitions? "The opposite side's." Is this country really ruled by people who are prepared to take away someone's property and freedom just because they feel somehow slighted? I'm afraid so.

The Facts on Russian and U.S. Economic Growth

In the second quarter of 2006, each American contributed on average $250* to economic growth. This growth rate caused the New York Times lead story on Saturday (July 29th) to proclaim American economic growth to be “modest” and related to a “big toll” on the economy.

During the second quarter of 2006, each Russian contributed on average $175 to Russian economic growth. In other words, each American produced 43% more economic growth for his country than each Russian did for his. Despite this fact, this growth rate caused an op-ed writer in the LA Times to call Russia’s economic growth “surging” so that “urban Russians in particular are enjoying higher living standards — and not just because of oil wealth.”

This isn't just your typical media ineptness and inaccuracy where Russia is concerned. Clearly, we’re through the looking glass here. And it gets worse.

Because this figure of $175 per person is wildly liberal and inflated. It assumes that the Russian GDP is $1.5 trillion (so that 7.1% growth amounts to $105 billion per year or about $25 billion for the quarter, which works out to about $175 per person). But in fact, Russian GDP is only $1.5 trillion under the “purchasing power parity” formulation, which assumes among other things that the quality of medical care received from a doctor earning $4,000 per year is the same as that received from one earning $400,000 per year – in other words, it’s a totally bogus notion. What’s more, it asumes that the economic production data produced by the Kremlin, controlled by a clan of KGB spies who spent their lives learning how to lie, is trustworthy. To say the least, Russia’s actual per capita growth figure is far less than $175 per person. To say the most, when you ASSUME you make an ASS out of U and ME.

And that is to say nothing of the fact that economic growth is distributed among the population far more evenly in the U.S. than in Russia, where the Kremlin is hoarding a vast amount of Russia's "economic growth" (which is really just increased income from rising oil prices, not increased productivity among Russian workers) as reserves rather than investing it in the country. In other words,the $175 is pure smoke and mirrors.

*This number is calculated based on 2.5% of America’s $12 trillion economy or $300 billion annual growth, which translates into $75 billion in second quarter growth divided by America’s population of 300 million, which works out to about $250 per person.

In Helsinki, Freedom House Condemns Russian Autocracy

The director of Freedom House gave lengthy testimony before the Helsinki Commission on July 27th concerning the rise of totalitarianism in Russia. The link will survive so La Russopobe will simply direct readers to it, and urge them to support the heroic work of Freedom House to defend civil liberties. The overview is:

While there, we released our most recent report on Russia, from our survey called Nations in Transit, at a well attended press conference on June 14, and so these findings were conveyed to at least some Russians through the dwindling array of still independent newspapers and radio stations in Moscow. That report documents the continuing erosion of freedom in Russia during the past year, and I have brought copies today for your reference. The report, by one of America's most eminent Russia-watchers, Robert W. Orttung of American University, focuses on several specific developments that have been prominent in the last year - the resurgence of corruption in the growing state-owned economy; the development of the NGO law that would further curtail civic activity, and obstruct international efforts to assist civil society; the adoption of election laws that will make it even more difficult for opposition parties to win seats in the Duma and virtually impossible for independent monitors to observe the electoral process. But the larger, even moreimportant story to be told is found in the accumulated series of reports on Russia that track the steady, continuing restriction of political space in Russia. In the annual assessments contained in Nations in Transit, one notes that the scores for Russia's democratic performance have been declining in every year since 1997.
Freedom House reports that it is regularly harassed and attacked by Neo-Soviet Russian authorities for its work in trying to speak to Russians about the rise of authoritarianism and its attempts to educate them and document their findings, and concludes that Russia remains in the dark third of the world that is "unfree."

More Tax Atrocities in Neo-Soviet Russia

Sharp & Sound reports that Russia is using bogus tax claims to take over the last remaining oil pipeline in Russia that state-controlled TRANSNEFT does not already have.

Russia has totally abandoned any notion that it has the rule of law, meaning that foreign investment is out of the question and corruption is the status quo in the domestic economy. Even a diverse and vibrant developed economy like the U.S. could not survive this kind of environment, so what chance does Russia have?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Clapton Ain't Gonna Play Neo-Soviet City

The Beeb reports that the Kremlin is afraid of Eric Clapton and won't let him play a concert in Neo-Soviet Russia. It's deja vu all over again. Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union.

Musician Eric Clapton has called off a concert in Moscow's Red Square after Russian officials withdrew permission for the event.

The singer had been scheduled to play before 20,000 people on 3 August and had a permit "signed by all appropriate Russian city and state authorities".

According to his website, however, the permit was withdrawn on 28 July.

The statement said he was "extremely sorry" to disappoint his fans, but the situation was "beyond his control".

Clapton had intended to end his current European tour in Moscow. Instead it will now finish on Monday in Helsinki, Finland.

The 61-year-old performs in the Swedish capital Stockholm on Saturday night.

Later this year he will tour the US and Canada with blues musician Robert Cray.

In 2005 Clapton joined his former Cream bandmates Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce for a handful of reunion concerts.

The British guitarist's many hits include I Shot the Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight and Layla, recorded as Derek and the Dominoes.

The Sunday Funnies: Russian Fashion Edition

Ludmila Putina, clothes horse (and I do mean horse) . . .

That's the wife of the President of Russia on the right. Think
that gaudy getup is nasty? It gets worse . . .

. . . and worse . . .

. . . and dowright embarassing. Either Putin is
making her clothes choices for her (like he makes
choices for all lemming-like Russians), or . . . no,
that alternative is too godawful to mention.

Plus which, Lyuda dear, get thyself to a gymnasium!

Creating the Illusion of Success in Russia: Back to the Neo-Soviet Future

As the LA Times reports (here via the Sydney Herald), Russia is a society based on illusion and lies, not substance, which is why its edifice repeatedly comes tumbling down.

ALWAYS wanted to brag to your friends about your trip to Brazil, but couldn't afford to go? No problem!

For $US500 ($655), nobody will believe you weren't sunning yourself last week on Copacabana Beach, just before you trekked through the Amazon rainforest and slept in a thatched hut.

Persey Tours was barely keeping the bill collectors at bay before it started offering fake holidays. Now it is selling 15 a month - providing ticket stubs, hotel receipts and photos with clients' images superimposed on famous landmarks.

If the customer is an errant husband who wants his wife to believe he is on a fishing trip, Persey offers not just photos of him on the river, but a mobile phone with a distant number, a lodge that will swear the husband is checked in but not available, and a few dead fish on ice.

Of course, it is not the real thing. But in Russia this is a distinction that can easily drift into irrelevance. If there is a world capital of audacious fabrication, it must be Moscow, where fake is never a four-letter word.

Forget fake Rolexes and Gucci bags - that's kids' stuff. Russian entrepreneurs offer million-dollar fake Ivan Shishkin paintings, forged passes to the Kremlin bearing President Vladimir Putin's apparent signature, false medical school diplomas and alley cats palmed off for $US300 as "Siberian purebreds".

The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, German Gref, estimates that half of all consumer goods sold in Russia are fake. The counterfeit trade, Mr Gref announced in January, has reached $US6 billion a year - no one knows exactly, because the books are cooked.
Russia is the world's biggest exporter of pirated music products - many of them brazenly manufactured behind the locked gates of former military bases.

"What you're witnessing on the piracy front is kind of emblematic of what's happening in Russia generally," said Neil Turkewitz, the executive vice-president of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Every Russian must ford a river of flim-flam, much of which is tolerated because it makes everyone's life cheaper and more manageable than the real thing.

Even Mr Putin's doctoral dissertation, researchers from the Brookings Institution revealed this year, contained sections lifted from a text published by academics from the University of Pittsburgh.

The revelations were barely repeated in the Moscow press, not because they were scandalous, but because they weren't.

Yuri Lubimov, an adviser to the Economic Development Minister, said to understand the Russian public's appetite for fakes, one must understand the importance of appearances.

"It's better to look like something than to be something," he said. "I know people here who have not very much money at all, but he will buy a very big car so that other people will see that he's rich, he's powerful."

Or maybe he has a photo proving he was on the Great Wall of China during his last holiday.

Neo-Soviet Russia Cracks Down on Religion

The Washington File reports that the U.S. Congress is holding hearings to document increasing religious persecution in Russia:

Washington -- President Bush and other U.S. officials should “be prepared to counter persistent claims by Russian leaders” that U.S. and U.N. efforts to advance human rights constitute foreign “meddling” or are intended to harm the Russian Federation, the head of a U.S. commission charged with making policy recommendations advised July 27.

At a congressional hearing on human rights and U.S.-Russian relations, Felice D. Gaer, chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), presented a number of recommendations based on a recent trip to Russia by a USCIRF delegation.

The delegation visited the Russian cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kazan June 17-28, meeting with Russian government officials, legislators, academics and representatives from a range of Russia’s religious communities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

As a result of that trip, the USCIRF recommended that President Bush and other U.S. officials raise human rights concerns both publicly and privately at the July 15-17 Group of Eight (G8) Summit in St. Petersburg.

Gaer said the delegation found several “major areas of concern,” including the Russian government’s failure to address the rise in xenophobia and ethnic and religious intolerance in the country; official actions related to countering terrorism that have resulted in harassment of individual Muslims and Muslim communities; and continuing restrictions on religious freedom, particularly at the regional and local levels.

The USCIRF also said it was concerned that recently adopted Russian legislation on NGOs, including religious organizations, “may be used to restrict severely their ability to function.” The legislation increases the Russian government’s oversight of the registration, financing and activities of NGOs in Russia. (See related article.)

“One key purpose of the new legislation was to prevent NGOs – especially those receiving foreign funding – from engaging in so-called political activities, a purpose not spelled out or defined in the legislation,” Gaer said.

She linked the NGO legislation to the Russian government’s challenging of international human rights institutions and its claim that foreign funding of Russian human rights organizations constitutes illegitimate interference in Russia’s internal affairs.

Noting the NGO legislation’s special strictures on foreign funding, Gaer said, “It is the commission’s view that these provisions of the NGO law on foreign funding are a part of the broader effort by Russian officials … to link human rights groups to ‘foreign interference,’ and thus to discredit -- and perhaps ultimately halt -- their activities.”

Gaer also linked rising ethnic and religious intolerance to the efforts of Russian government officials to label foreign funding of NGOs as “meddling” in Russia’s internal affairs. “Moreover, the official branding of human rights organizations as ‘foreign’ has increased the vulnerability of Russia’s human rights advocates and those they defend,” she added.

Gaer said the commission recommends the U.S. government encourage the Russian government to:

• Affirm publicly that all religious communities in Russia are equal under the law and entitled to equal treatment, publicly express its reported opposition to any legislation that would grant preferences to so-called “traditional” religions over other groups, and direct national government agencies to address and resolve continuing violations of religious freedom at the regional and local levels;

• Speak out frequently and specifically to the citizens of Russia to condemn specific acts of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and hate crimes, and to affirm a commitment to uphold the multiethnic nature of Russian society.

• Develop regulations in accordance with international standards that clarify and sharply limit the state’s discretion to interfere with the activities of NGOs, including religious groups.

• Implement the many specific recommendations made by Russia’s Presidential Council on Human Rights, the official Human Rights Ombudsman’s office and the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance to address xenophobia and prevent and punish hate crimes.

USCIRF intends to issue a further report and recommendations in the fall of 2006, she said.

ther panelists at the hearing included Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy; Tom Melia, deputy executive director of Freedom House; Fritz Ermarth, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council and former CIA officer; and Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of The National Interest.

Congress created the USCIRF through the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to give religious freedom and other freedoms a more prominent place in U.S. foreign policy. The full text of Gaer’s prepared testimony is available on the USCIRF Web site.

Neo-Soviet Russia Cracks Down on Gays

The Gazette of Canada reports on Neo-Soviet Russia's continuing pogrom against homosexuals:

When 50 gay-rights supporters took to the streets of Moscow in May for the city's first Gay Pride march, they were surrounded by 5,000 angry protesters determined to stop the rally.

There were skinheads and military veterans, elderly women brandishing religious icons, preppies, yuppies, priests and imams, said march participant Andrey Kuvshinov, who was beaten up that day.

More than 50 people were arrested, including 30 marchers detained for taking part in an illegal event.

"There is a strong traditionalist movement in Russia that says old ways are the best way," Kuvshinov said.

"These people say LGBT people are a western creation and have no place in Russia."

As he surveyed the thousands of delegates taking part yesterday in the International Conference of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Human Rights at the Palais des congres, Kuvshinov could only dream of a time when the LGBT community would be able to show itself freely in Russia.

Repression remains a common problem in the new Russia, as sexual minorities struggle to build alliances. In North America, the LGBT community is closely linked to the labour and women's movements and to mainstream political parties. That doesn't happen in Russia.

"In Russia, we have not be able to align ourselves even with human-rights groups," said Alexander Kukharskiy, president of Krilija, a gay community centre. "We are too marginal."

The repression of gay rights in Russia is part of a broader clampdown on grassroots organizations sparked by official concern about popular movements like Ukraine's Orange Revolution and the groundswell of opposition to Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, Kuvshinov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "is worried about anything that disturbs the status quo," Kuvshinov added.

Russia Says Hezbollah and Hamas are not Terrorists

In another shocking outrage from Neo-Soviet Russia, the Kremlin has decided that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah are terrorist organizations, and it doesn't care what the rest of the world may say. If the world applies Russia's definition, then there are no terrorists in Chechnya. The speed at which Russia is taking flight from reality and departure from common sense is really quite terrifying. The Associated Press reports:

MOSCOW -- Russia on Friday published a list of 17 groups it regards as terrorist organizations, but did not include the Palestinian militant movement Hamas or Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrilla group, both regarded as terrorists in Washington.

Separately, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Hezbollah must have a say in any agreements in the Middle East crisis, Russian news agencies reported - another sign of differences between Russia and the United States about the region.

"Any agreements must be coordinated with all the basic forces in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, as an organization that is represented in the parliament and government of Lebanon," RIA-Novosti reported quoted Lavrov as saying on a plane returning from an Asian security meeting in Malaysia. Hezbollah has 11 members in Lebanon's 128-seat parliament, and two Cabinet ministers.

The terrorist list, published in the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta, included al-Qaida and the Taliban as well as the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, a rebel group fighting for Kashmir's independence from India, and Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The Russian Federal Security Service's top official in charge of fighting international terrorism, Yuri Sapunov, said Hamas and Hezbollah were not a major threat to Russia and were not regarded as terrorist groups worldwide.

But he said Russian security agencies took account of international lists of terrorist groups when exchanging intelligence with foreign counterparts.

Sapunov told Rossiiskaya Gazeta the list of 17 "includes only those organizations which represent the greatest threat to the security of our country." Groups linked to separatist militants in Chechnya and Islamic radicals in Central Asia made the list.

Russia has come under criticism for its refusal to list Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations.

Israel is now fighting a ground and air war in Lebanon against Hezbollah guerrillas, who are firing rockets into northern Israel. Israeli forces have also attacked the Gaza Strip to target Hamas militants. Russia has criticized the scale of the Israeli offensive, while the United States has blamed Hezbollah for the violence.

President Vladimir Putin earlier this year provoked U.S. and Israeli anger by inviting leaders of Hamas to Moscow shortly after their January election victory. The meeting made no progress in softening the group's refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist or foreswear violence.

Lavrov's reported comment about Hezbollah echoed the arguments Russian officials made for inviting Hamas leaders, when they said that they were dealing with Hamas as an entity that had just come to power in elections.

Lavrov said that Russia's support for a Hezbollah role in decision-making in the Mideast crisis was shared by European countries and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, adding: "As for support from the Americans for this position, I have no such information," RIA-Novosti reported.

The European Union considers Hamas a terrorist organization and along with the United States slapped financial sanctions on the new Hamas-led government. But it does not list Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Somber Anniversary of Mass Murder by Russians in Kyrgyzstan

Radio Free Europe reports:

BISHKEK, July 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Dozens of people gathered today on Bishkek's central Alatoo Square to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 1916 anti-Russian armed revolt that was suppressed with great loss of life.

Known as "Urkun" in the Kyrgyz language, the uprising was triggered by Russia's attempts at drafting non-Slavs into the army as part of its war efforts against Germany. Anti-Russian riots took place throughout most of today's Central Asia.

Some historians believe up to 150,000 ethnic Kyrgyz and Kazakh were either killed by Russian forces or died while attempting to flee to neighboring China.

Burkan Zulkainarov, a member of the Asaba Party, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today the remains of thousands who died of cold and hunger in the high mountain passes that lead to China are still lying there, unburied.

"From the Bedel Pass, which is 4,000 meters above the level of the sea, to the Chinese border flows a river whose banks are covered with human bones," he said. "I was shocked [when I visited it]. Under Soviet times there was a military garrison there and, as we were told, soldiers from Muslim [Soviet] republics were never taken there."

Although the Urkun uprising was directed against Tsarist Russia, commemorating the 1916 events was forbidden under the Soviet Union.

More Intense Humiliation for Russia: ANOTHER Rocket Crashes at Baikonur, with EIGHTEEN Satellites Aboard

First Russia is totally humiliated at the G-8 Summit, then cruelly spurned by not one but four CIS countries at the CIS Summit, and then it destroys a host of international satellites in a spectacular rocket failure. Radio New Zealand reports:

A Russian rocket that was trying to launch 18 satellites into orbit around the Earth has crashed shortly after lift-off. All the satellites were destroyed as the unmanned rocket came down about 25 kilometres from the launch pad at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

Seventeen of the satellites belonged to foreign countries, including what would have been the first from Belarus.

Officials say the first and second stages of the rocket failed to separate correctly after 86 seconds of flight, causing the Dnepr - a converted intercontinental missile - to crash.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko had travelled to Baikonur especially to witness the launch.

Welcome to the reality of life under Valdimir Putin. Unending humiliation before the world, just like in the USSR.

Hopes for Montana science students crushed by Russian incompetence.

Lukashenko humiliated.

Norway regrets putting eggs in Russian basket.

Russia Jails Scientists

When Neo-Soviet Russia isn't simply killing people it doesn't like (especially reporters), it slaps them with absurdly fanciful tax charges and drives them into bankruptcy or prison. An alternative, as the Moscow Times reports, is to accuse them of treason, just as the bad old USSR used to do. Ironically, then as now, those accused by the Kremlin of treason are generally much greater patriots than those making the accusations.

Yury Ryzhov is at his wits' end. The Public Committee for the Protection of Scientists, which he heads, has been unable to defend an increasing number of scientists against charges of espionage and illegal technology exports, which the committee regards as unfounded.

"I'm overwhelmed by despair. Nothing helps. I don't know what we are going to do," Ryzhov, a prominent physicist and former ambassador to France, said glumly to a gathering of scientists, defense lawyers and liberal political leaders on Thursday at the Central House of Scientists in central Moscow.

Ryzhov was referring to the high-profile cases of weapons researcher Igor Sutyagin and physicist Valentin Danilov, who were convicted of espionage after working with British and Chinese companies, respectively.

A court in Ufa is expected to issue a verdict on Aug. 2 in the case of Oskar Kaibyshev, the suspended director of the Institute for Metal Superplasticity Problems. Kaibyshev is charged with exporting dual-use technologies to South Korea. Prosecutors have called for a six-year sentence in the case. UPDATE: Kaibyshev received a crushing $132,000 fine and a suspended jail sentence.

The latest major case involves Novosibirsk chemist Oleg Korobeinichev. The Federal Security Service has accused Korobeinichev of divulging state secrets. The chemist has ties to U.S. and European research institutions.

A number of speakers Thursday criticized the Federal Security Service, the lead agency in such cases, for asking the courts to hold espionage trials behind closed doors. The classification of the verdict in Danilov's case "flew in the face of common sense," said Ernst Chyorny, a committee member.

An FSB spokesman made no comment on the committee's accusations, insisting that questions regarding Thursday's meeting be faxed to FSB headquarters.

FSB Deputy Director Yury Gorbunov promised in May that his agency would release more information about such cases in the future. The agency has said nothing about the cases against Kaibyshev and Korobeinichev, however.

Sergei Dzyuba, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Chemical Kinetics and Combustion, where Korobeinichev runs a laboratory, said Western grants for scientific work did not pose a threat to national security.

By providing grants, Western foundations are not trying to "buy up scientific achievements on the cheap," but rather to draw researchers into the democratic community, Dzyuba wrote in an article published Wednesday in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The article appeared to be the institute's first public comment on the Korobeinichev case.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Another Reporter Murdered in Russia

UNIAN News Agency reports:

Reporters Without Borders said today it was "deeply shocked" at the murder of Yevgeny Gerasimenko, of the regional weekly Saratovski Rasklad, whose body was found at his apartment yesterday by his mother, and called on the authorities to thoroughly investigate his death, which it said was probably linked to his work, according to an RWB press-release, forwarded to UNIAN.

"This has happened just a few days after the end of the G8 summit meeting that Russia chaired in St. Petersburg," the international press freedom organisation said. "None of the world leaders attending publicly mentioned Russia`s ever-worsening press freedom. At least 13 journalists have been killed in the country because of their work since 2000 and none of the cases has been solved by the authorities."

Gerasimenko was a sports and music reporter on the paper, in Saratov (southeast of Moscow), but also did investigative reporting. Colleagues said he had been looking into local corruption and the activities of firms in the region and was about report on this in the next issue of the paper on 1 August.

He was found with a plastic bag on his head and had been tortured. His computer was missing, which suggested, along with other evidence, that he was killed for his work. The regional prosecutor`s office has begun an enquiry under article 105 of the criminal code.

Reporters Without Borders expresses condolences to his family and colleagues.

The Verdict is In: European Court for Human Rights finds Russia . . . GUILTY!

The Beeb reports that Russia has been caught red-handed in massive and outrageous human rights abuses and war crimes in Chechnya, been tried and convicted before the European Court of Human Rights. The question now is, will Russia respect the law or flout it? Actually, that's a rhetorical question, since we all know perfectly well what Russia will do.

The European Court of Human Rights has held Russia responsible for the disappearance and presumed death of a Chechen man, in a landmark ruling.

Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev, 25, disappeared after being detained by Russian troops in Chechnya in 1999.

The case was brought by his mother, Fatima Bazorkina, after she saw TV footage in 2000 in which a Russian officer ordered her son to be shot.

Mrs Bazorkina sued Russia for failing to adequately investigate the case.

Russia had argued that there was no formal order to execute Mr Yandiyev and no hard evidence that he was dead.

But the judges said it had to be presumed that he was dead and they held Russia liable for his death.

This is the first such case the court is hearing from the Chechen conflict. It could set an important precedent for the 200 or so other similar claims which are waiting to be heard, the BBC's Emma Simpson in Moscow says.

The ruling was posted on the Strasbourg-based court's official website.

It said that a chamber of seven judges in the case Bazorkina v Russia unanimously held that:

  • there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of Mr Yandiyev's disappearance

  • there had been a violation of Article 2 of the Convention in respect of the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances in which Mr Yandiyev disappeared

  • there had been no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of the failure to protect Mr Yandiyev from ill-treatment

  • there had been a violation of Article 3 in respect of Mrs Bazorkina

  • there had been a violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) with regard to Mr Yandiyev's detention

  • there had been a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in respect of the violations of Mrs Bazorkina's rights under Articles 2 and 3

The court awarded Mrs Bazorkina 35,000 euros (£24,000) in damages and 12,241 euros (£8,400) for costs and expenses.

The ruling did not specify who would pay the damages and costs to the applicant.

Caught on camera

Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev was arrested during the military campaign to regain control of the Chechen capital Grozny in 1999. He had returned from Moscow, where he had been studying sociology.

His mother, Fatima Bazorkina, filed the complaint against Russia in 2001, saying the authorities had failed to adequately investigate the case.

She spent the last six years trying to find out what happened and sued the Russian government for violating the European Convention of Human Rights, alleging Russian forces killed her son.

The alleged execution order was caught on camera in the TV footage that Mrs Bazorkina saw in 2000.

Television journalists were travelling with Russian forces who captured a group of rebel fighters sheltering in the village of Alkhan-Kala.

Mr Yandiyev, dressed in camouflage, can be seen in the footage standing injured near a bus.

He is questioned by a Russian general who eventually shouts: "Take him away, finish him off, shoot him, damn it!"

Mr Yandiyev was then led away and has not been seen since.

General Alexander Baranov, who was seen on camera sending him off to be shot, has since been promoted and awarded a Hero of Russia medal.

Human rights campaigners estimate that since 1999 - the start of the second Chechen conflict - as many as 5,000 people have disappeared and are feared dead.

LRant (an Editorial): Vladimir Putin, Neo-Soviet Gorilla

"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you"

-- Frank Lloyd Wright

Um, yeah. OK, Mr. Wright, sure. We'll be sure to tell that to the families of all the victims of the Asian Tsunami and the San Franscico Earthquake and the Krakatau eruption and all the millions of other victims of natural disasters during the short history of humanity on the planet. We'll be sure to remind all the mothers of children killed by malaria-laden mosqitoes and killer ants and killer bees and eaten by tigers and struck down by all manner of diseases and infestations, we're sure your insightful words will be great comfort to them. And when our little daughters ask why daddy lions eat little girl lions for breakfast, we'll quote you to her and she'll be bound to sleep like a baby. As a philosopher, sir, you're a truly brilliant architect.

People can be such total morons, can't they? Even geniuses. And now, with that in mind, to business . . .

When the Cold War ended badly for Russia, crude uneducated Soviet thugs like Vladimir Putin had two choices.

They could admit that the past several decades of their lives had been absurd flights of egomania and get down to the hard work of saving their country from oblivion.

Or they could attribute the downfall of the USSR to bad luck and a few mistakes that anyone could have made, and they could set about to do it all over again, but this time the "right" way.

Guess which one Putin chose.

Of course, it always turns out to be harder to do a thing in practice than in theory. If you're a government official with a tiny little gorilla brain, for instance, you might think: "I need some money. Well, OK, I'm a government official, I'll just print some." Or you might think: "Gee, I don't like that fellow. Well, OK, I'm a government official, I'll just invent some taxes that he doesn't know about and arrest him for not paying them."

Now, to be sure, all government officials have thoughts like these. But as you may have noticed, not all of them actually put their thoughts into practice. If you just start printing money, for instance, then suddenly money is everywhere and anyone can get some, and pretty soon money doesn't have any value at all, and a loaf of bread starts costing as much as house used to. It's a problem.

But Russia is not afraid of taking such chances, never has been. That's why, as La Russophobe recently reported, the Kremlin has no problem simply inventing taxes and tax rules that nobody has ever heard of and using them to bludgeon anyone the Kremlin doesn't like, particularly charitable and defenseless NGOs and foreign investors. Apparently, the Kremlin has never seen the movie Star Wars. If it had, it might have thought to itself before throwing Mikhail Khodorkovsky into prison, that it might be making him much more powerful by doing so, just like Darth Vader made Obi Wan Kenobi more powerful by killing him. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King weren't reduced by being imprisoned, they were empowered and enobled. If Gorilla Putin really thinks that he is somehow improving on the ham-handed behavior of his Soviet predecessors which brought the USSR tumbling down, he's truly mental.

And, worse than simply printing money, the Kremlin has no problem hoarding it. It isn't spending a single cent of Russia's oil price windfall on domestic investment, but rather piling it up in a mountain like the dragon Smaug in J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit (or, to be more precise, like all the failed dictatorships of the past).

So now the Russian people have two choices.

They can admit that the past several years of their lives had been absurd flights of egomania and get down to the hard work of saving their country from oblivion. They can realize that if they were right in hating Boris Yeltsin then they were insane to annoint his chosen successor as their ruler.

Or they can attribute the downfall of the USSR to bad luck and a few mistakes that anyone could have made, and they can set about to do it all over again, but this time the "right" way.

Guess which one they'll choose.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Russia Far From WTO Admission, Propaganda Exposed

Kommersant reveals that not only the U.S. but several countries have withheld their consent to Russia joining the WTO, as the Kremlin moves forward to alienate the entire world this can come as no surprise. At the same time, Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin is revealed as being either a crazed loose cannon, spewing forth ridiculous nonsense beyond the Kremlin's control, or a reflection of a deeply ignorant and insular Kremlin which itself has no idea what is happening and believes its own propaganda.

Chief Russian negotiator on WTO accession Maxim Medvedkov spoke yesterday about the condition of those negotiations. He directly contradicted the optimistic statements made by Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref and Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin immediately before and after the G8 summit. The Russian Federation has not reached an agreement with the United States, nor with Moldova, Costa Rica and Georgia. Furthermore, besides the disagreement with the U.S. over meat inspection, half of the topics discussed earlier remain open. Gref had stated that the U.S. was the last country that it was necessary to reach an agreement with and that inspection of imported meat was the final issue in negotiations with it. Kudrin said that agreement had been reached on liberalization of financial markets and protection of intellectual property.

Medvedkov said that Russian inspectors would travel to the U.S. within a few weeks to examine American meat plants and that that issue was effectively settled. But that is not the end of the process. “Nothing is agreed on until everything is agreed on,” Medvedkov explained WTO rules. That means that American negotiators can still make new demands in areas that had been considered finalized. No agreement on meat quotas after 2009 has been reached either. Medvedkov did not say whether agreement had been reached on liberalization of the services market.

A source close to the negotiations told Kommersant yesterday that “Rumors that the opening of insurance company branches means selling the Russian insurance sector are highly exaggerated. There are no sectors that we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the WTO. The opening of any market will be gradual and not complete.” This indicates that Kudrin's statement on that subject was also erroneous.

Medvedkov said that the U.S. is not the last country that Russia has to reach bilateral agreements with. Agreements still must be reached with Costa Rica (the Economic Ministry unofficially announced the conclusion of an agreement with that country on June 6), Moldova and Georgia (resumption of negotiations). The issue of conditions on access to the sugar market has to be settled with Costa Rica, conditions on access to the wine and fruits and vegetables market has to be settled with Georgia and the levying of VAT on Russian natural gas on Moldovan territory has to agreed on with that country.

Negotiations with the U.S. will continue this week. Medvedkov estimated that negotiations with Costa Rica, Moldova and Georgia may be completed by September, and with the U.S. by late October.

Uh-oh, Russia . . . Here Comes Nuclear Fusion

The Scotsman reports that the Chinese are about to begin beta testing nuclear fusion reactors, which promise gigantic quantities of energy with a fraction of the radiation risk posed by today's fission reactors. This news should terrify Russia, as it hastens the day when the world will have no use for Russia's oil and gas reserves. When that day arrives, Russia as we know it will cease to exist unless before then it undertakes massive reform.

CHINESE scientists will next month test a so-called "artificial sun" device which will help scientists working to build a nuclear fusion reactor to produce huge supplies of energy for the world.

The device, an "experimental advanced superconducting tokamak" (East), is a prototype fusion engine and it is expected to carry out its first plasma discharge some time around 15 August.

The results of the test will inform work being done in the south of France to build the Iter fusion reactor, which will bring together the best practices from around the world for the first time.

The attempt to create a fusion reactor, which would produce abundant energy at a fraction of the radiation produced by fission reactors, and with less radioactive waste, is a rare example of international co-operation involving China, the European Union, the United States, Russia and Japan among other countries.

The East device, on Science Island in Hefei, is the biggest of its type. It uses super-conducting magnets as part of a process that involves heating hydrogen ions to between 100 million and 200 million degrees Celsius so they fuse together to become helium.

This process produces more energy, in the form of heat, than it uses, which can be used to drive a steam turbine.

Christopher Carpenter, of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which provides support to Iter, said the plasma discharge test was an important step on the road to fusion energy, which may become a commercial reality within 30 years.

What's Wrong with this Picture?

It's from the front page of the Moscow Times yesterday, unfortunatley no story ran with it, only the caption: "More than 700 demonstrators gathering Tuesday on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad, calling for authorities to defend the rights of victims of political repression."

Give up? OK, I'll give you a hint.

Do you notice how everone in the photograph seems to be about a hundred million years old? Where are all the young people? And how come in Russia, nation of 140 million people with a KGB president only a few years removed from a totalitarian nightmare, only 700 people show up for an event like this?

Kremlin Begins Khodorkovskizing NGOs and Investors

The Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin has begun a tax attack on foreign NGOs seeking to drive them out of the country just as it did against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Will the world stand idly by and watch it happen?

The Center for Assistance in International Defense, a nongovernmental organization headed by one of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's lawyers, has been slapped with a bill for back taxes that could force it to close its doors.

The Federal Tax Service has ordered the NGO to pay more than 4.5 million rubles ($167,000) in back taxes and penalties for failing to pay income tax on grants it received from 2002 to 2004, the center's deputy director, Valentin Moiseyev, said Tuesday.

The center, founded by lawyer Karina Moskalenko, a member of Khodorkovsky's Moscow-based legal team, helps Russians file claims in the European Court of Human Rights when they have exhausted their legal options in this country.

Under the federal Tax Code, grants received for educational, analytical and research purposes are not taxed, Moiseyev said, adding that he hoped the back tax bill was a mistake that could be resolved without going to court.

Moiseyev said he could not rule out the possibility that the bill was an attempt to pressure the center to stop its work. The center, he said, cannot afford to pay the bill.

"Our organization and the lawyers who work with us have more than 250 cases in the European Court," Moiseyev said. "Rulings have already been handed down in favor of many of our clients. The authorities can't possibly look favorably on these sorts of claims against the state."

A spokesman for the Federal Tax Service declined to comment immediately Tuesday.

Yelena Zhemkova, executive director of the rights group Memorial, said tax authorities frequently accused NGOs of breaking rules that are inapplicable to their work. For example, tax inspectors often take NGOs to task for failing to pay taxes on labor performed by volunteers, she said.

Zhemkova also said she knew of several small NGOs in the regions that were planning to shut down after being overwhelmed with paperwork from the tax service.

The Mercury News reports, relying on Kommersant, that the Kremlin has pursued a similar line against Chevron. seeking to undermine the company's role in the Caspian Sea pipeline. In other words, there is no such thing as private property in Russia, and the Kremlin doesn't care who knows it. So much for the idea of foreign investment in Russia or the country being any kind of reliable partner for any civilized nation.

Meanwhile, the Lukashenko dictatorship is resorting to more direct means, simply making activists disappear, as Belarus blog reports.

Attempting to Hide Dark Soviet Past, Neo-Soviet Russia Refuses Visas and Alienates World

The Baltic Times reports that crazed Neo-Soviet Russia thinks it can sweep its Soviet past under the carpet, just like in the bad old days of the USSR. Only the names have changed . . . actually, even some of the names are still the same.

VILNIUS - A refusal by Russian consular officials to issue visas to a group of Lithuanian students who wanted to travel to Siberia in order to pay respects to victims of Soviet repression and deportations has sparked indignation and an official note of protest from the Foreign Ministry.

The Council of Lithuanian Youth Organizations, which organized the expedition, said on July 21 that it was unclear why the group had been refused visas.
“The Russian Embassy has sent a reply, saying that it is impossible to issue visas. We intend to ask Lithuania’s president and prime minister to help solve this problem. We hope we will have an opportunity to decorate the graves of Lithuanians killed in the Krasnoyarsk region,” LiJOT program manager Sarunas Frolenka told the Baltic News Service.

The Foreign Ministry expressed protest to Russia over its refusal to issue visas, a high-ranking ministry official said. In the diplomat’s words, Russia was warned that Lithuania, in its turn, would respond on the basis of parity and would not issue visas to Russian citizens.

“The Foreign Ministry has intensively worked for several days to achieve that the Lithuanian youth expedition be issued Russian visas. Russia refuses to provide official comments as to why they have not been issued visas,” the Foreign Ministry official said.

In his words, Russian officials explained off the record that when the embassy issued visas to the first youth expedition to Siberia earlier this summer the aim of the expedition was believed to be to visit places of exile, decorate victims’ graves, but not to politicize. But, as the official explained, since group members and Lithuanian politicians allegedly started making political statements, members of the second expedition have not been issued visas.

In the Russian officials’ words, the participants in the expedition should make up their mind as to whether they want to go to decorate graves or politicize. “We disagree with such an explanation and have expressed protest. There will be a respective response based on parity - visas will not be issued to Russian citizens,” the Lithuanian diplomat said.

News about the refusal rankled some politicians. Audronius Azubalis, deputy chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said, “In refusing to issue visas to the group of Lithuanian youth going to Siberia to decorate Lithuanian exiles’ graves, Russia resembles Belarus, whose visa issuance policy is used as a tool of revenge against foreigners criticizing Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.”

“But what have young people of Lithuania going to honor the places of exile and the graves of victims of Stalin’s regime done wrong to Russia? Maybe by refusing to issue visas Russia is just starting to deny Stalin’s and his collaborators’ crimes against mankind?” Azubalis has asked rhetorically.

The group planned to go to the Krasnoyarsk region, where 165 Lithuanians were brought for forestry work in 1948. They were accommodated in several stables. Some 50 Lithuanians are buried at a cemetery in the area. The expedition was planned to decorate the Lithuanian cemetery and get acquainted with the living conditions of Lithuanian exiles.

But there was hope the group would still be able to make the trip. Ambassador to the U.S. Vygaudas Usackas, who intended to go to Siberia together with the group, has expressed hope that the Russian consuls’ decision was just a misunderstanding. “I hope that this misunderstanding will be resolved and Russian diplomats will understand the significance of the LiJOT mission to not only Lithuania’s youth but also to humanitarian relations between Russia and Lithuania,” Usackas has said. The diplomat and his son have received Russian visas in Washington.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

96% of Fabulous G-8 Piter's Beaches are Toxic

Yesterday we learned that Russians seeking to bathe at home don't have much to hope for. Today we find out that if they seek to solve the problem in the natural world, they're not likely to fare any better. The St. Petersburg Times reports:

Only one out of twenty-five officially registered beaches in and around St. Petersburg is safe for use, according to this week’s report from Rospotrebnadzor, a state consumer surveillance organization with hygienic supervision functions.

Twenty-four beaches checked by the center’s specialists were found to be contaminated. Water showed dangerous levels of toxins, contaminants or bacteria, and thus the beaches can only be used for sunbathing. Only a beach on the island of Kronshtadt has passed all tests and proved reliable and safe.

The long blacklist of places unsuitable for swimming includes the popular beach at the Peter and Paul Fortress that hosted the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour competition last week.

Swimmers were also advised to avoid two beaches at Primorsky Park Pobedy, the Bezymyannoye Lake beach in the Krasnoselsky District, Zolotoi beach in Zelenogorsk, Laskovy beach in Solnechnoye, Chudny beach in Repino, two beaches on the Izhora River in the Kolpino District, the beaches at Lisy Nos and the Belaya Gora and the Zelenaya Gora beaches in Sestroretsk.

“If people swim in the polluted waters, the very least they can expect is a severe stomach infection,” said Nikolai Borovkov, an expert with the center’s Environmental Hygiene Department.

Borovkov said that the local water was tested for bacteria, including germs that cause dysentery, salmonella and even cholera, although experts believe the latter is unlikely to be found in the Neva River.

The center’s specialists take sand samples from all the city’s beaches once a month. They also take water samples to test for chemical contaminants such as heavy metals and sample water once a week for dangerous bacteria. On June 16, beaches were declared safe for swimmers but microbiological contamination has increased following several weeks of high temperatures, experts say.

The water pollution is also caused by pumping untreated industrial waste and human waste into the Neva River, where the water is always far from clean.

With the completion of the new Southwest Water-Treatment Plant in 2005, the local water-and-sewage monopolist Vodokanal is able to filter out 85 percent of the waste, but much more money is needed to solve the problem completely.

There is also the problem of illegally pumped industrial waste. Dmitry Artamonov, head of the local Greenpeace office, said that many city residents are either unconcerned about the problem or unaware of the state of the water.

Illegally pumped water may contain anything from dyes and oils to various chemicals, Artamonov said, warning that polluted water may often appear clean, as much of the illegal waste disposal takes place at night.

“The Neva is fast-flowing, so if you throw something into it at night it will be far away by morning,” he said. “Even if the water looks clean, with no obvious oily patches, don’t trust your eyes — they just don’t give you the whole picture.”

Crazed Russian Nationalists Say Amnesty International is a CIA Front

The New Times reports that the crazed Russian nationalist press is now accusing, in classic Neo-Soviet style, Amnesty International of being . . . wait for it . . . a tool of the C.I.A. No kidding, that is what they really are saying in response to Amnesty's scathing critique of Russian racism as previously documented in La Russophobe.

The New Times quotes as follows:

Having mentioned some points from the AI report, the author of the article, Alexander Pugachenko says without beating about the bush that this is one more provocation among many directed against Russia by Western secret services. And further, “It is well known that public, and especially human-rights, organizations are the most suitable and favorable instruments of the West in its information war against Russia. In this case, Amnesty International is the classical example of such effective instrument. This organization is trying to force on Russian citizens views that are not only harmful, but also dangerous to society and the country. Under the guise of the struggle against fascism, Russia is forced to adopt the unique and absurd law-enforcement practice, according to which any crime against a nona-Russian person is automatically made more serious by adding the motive of national hatred. Thus they are made the caste of ‘untouchables.’ And the struggle against mythical fascism acquires the traits of the struggle against Russians.” And now the crux of the matter: “Who benefits if there should be as few Russians in Russia as possible? You know the answer to this question. The disappearance of Russian civilization is the main goal of the West, primarily the United States.”
The New Times concludes:
Such articles are interesting because their authors blurt out what many of their fellow thinkers do not dare say because of their high social or political position. In an interview with the German radio Die Deutsche Welle, AI analyst Peter Frank said that Russian authorities could be seriously reproached for their belittling, and sometimes ignoring and denying, the problem of racism. It had been considered unthinkable in the Soviet Union, which was the bulwark of “the friendship of the peoples,” although there were some completely unexpected events in Sumgait and Baku. And in the anti-fascist German Democratic Republic, neo-Nazi skinheads popped up as if by miracle, and there were many more of them there than in the Federal Republic of Germany. An admirer of the communist past could say something like “Here you are with the fruits of your democracy.” And this would only illustrate the concealment of information in the Soviet Union. Just as the authorities hid the truth about Chernobyl and Semipalatinsk, they did the same with Uzbekistan, where terrible pogroms of the Russian population took place in 1969. Is there a solution for xenophobia? In mid-April, two foreigners killed a Belgian youth in Brussels, not because of national hatred; it was a banal robbery. A protest meeting was held in the Belgian capital, in which more than 80,000 people took part. As journalists noted, despite the fact that the killers were foreigners, there was not one xenophobic word said.
Once again, we see that despite absurd claims appearing in the popular press there has in fact been no significant transformation of any kind in the hearts and minds of Russians. And why should there be? If America had lost the cold war to Russia, would we expect Americans to give up their ideas about freedom, democracy and capitalism and to resolutely adopt Russian notions of slavery, dictatorship and poverty? Hardly.

Russia Provokes Energy Cold War

The Guardian reports that after making personal attacks on both the president and the vice president of the USA, Russia is now intentionally provoking Cold War over energy by seeking to exclude American oil companies from exploiting Russian fields. "President" Putin, and Russians generally, are manifestly incapable of doing what is in their best interests, literally prepared to cut off their nose to spite their face. Putin is prepared to lash out like a spoiled child whenever he doesn't get what he wants (WTO) no matter what the consequences are, just like his Soviet forebears. And no Russia is prepared to lift a finger to stop him. In fact, they applaud as he douses the nation with gasoline and strikes a match.

President Vladimir Putin is set to keep US oil companies out of a lucrative gas field in the latest sign of the deteriorating relationship between Moscow and Washington.

The Russian leader is expected to favour Norwegian companies and reject bids by America's Chevron and ConocoPhillips after failing to secure backing from the United States for his country's attempt to join the World Trade Organisation.

The tit-for-tat snub will be a blow to US companies scrambling for access to Russia's huge gas reserves at a time of high energy prices. It comes after Putin failed to resolve differences with US President George Bush over trade and human rights at the G8 conference in St Petersburg last week.

The two leaders were barbed about each other's democratic records at a tense G8 press conference. Putin later publicly praised Norsk Hydro and Statoil, the Norwegian firms that are competing with US companies for a role in developing the highly prized Shtokman gas field. 'There is very little chance the American majors will win that tender now,' a Russian oil analyst said yesterday. 'Putin was hoping WTO membership would be wrapped up in time for St Petersburg. The failure to do that is a blow to his prestige.'

A final decision on awarding the contracts - which involves extracting and transporting gas from Shtokman in partnership with Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled company - was also originally expected before the G8 summit but has been postponed until next month at the earliest.

As well as the US and Norwegian companies, Total of France is also on the shortlist to develop the 3.7 trillion cubic metre gas field, which is located in the Barents Sea, near the Arctic Circle.
Igor Shuvalov, a Putin aide, warned in April that the US firms' chances of participating in the undersea drilling project were tied to US support for Russia's WTO bid, although this has since been denied by the Kremlin.

Last week, however, Putin singled out the Norwegian bidders for praise when asked by reporters about energy deposits in the Barents Sea.

'You have probably heard that we are holding talks with several countries on the development of different fields, but companies from Norway are among the first on this list,' he said. He added: 'They don't go around with their noses in the air. They work objectively, very professionally.' Viktor Khristenko, the Russian energy minister, also praised the Norwegian firms' record on protecting the environment last week.

Analysts have tipped the Kremlin to pick the Norwegian contractors following the recent resolution of a Barents Sea territorial dispute between Oslo and Moscow.

But the Shtokman project is also important to Russia's long-term relations with the US, since most gas from the field is to be shipped to north America in the form of liquefied natural gas. Participation by Chevron or ConocoPhillips could help ease access to the US market. Russia has been very reluctant to allow foreign oil groups access to its energy reserves other than as junior partners on joint ventures with Gazprom. Russia supplies 25 per cent of the European Union's gas but has also resisted EU demands that it loosen Gazprom's control over the country's pipeline network.

A dispute over gas prices earlier this year between Russia and Ukraine led to temporary disruptions in the flow of gas to western Europe and prompted Dick Cheney, the US vice president, to accuse Moscow of using energy as a tool of 'intimidation and blackmail'.
But these diplomatic ructions have not extinguished the appetite of western investors for Russian energy stocks. Last week the oil group Rosneft successfully floated in London and Moscow with a $10.4bn placing.

Despite its size, the IPO represents only a small fraction of Rosneft's total equity, and the company remains majority-controlled by the Russian state. LR: This is almost a non sequitor. Even if Russia had sold 100% of Rosneft, or any other country for that matter, is more than capable of simply negating the sale and taking back what it sold. Even were that not the case, anyone foolish enough to go into partnership with the fundamentally corrupt, lawless Kremlin deserves to lose his shirt.

A Russian Cheeseburger? No, not even that . . . but definitely a Neo-Soviet Komsomol, by all means

La Russophobe sends out two bolshoi tips of the hat to Konnander and Guillory, whose recent posts expose more outrages from the Neo-Soviet front. Russia can't manage to make a cheeseburger, but it can crank out a youth cult like nobody's business.

Vilhelm Konnander exposes Neo-Soviet Russia's continuing abject failure to produce consumer products. They can't even come up with a Russian cheeseburger, for God's sake, yet "President" Putin is preening around the world stage as if he invented the internal combustion engine.

Meanwhile, Sean Guillory exposes the Neo-Soviet Komsomol, in all its blatant totalitarian glory and horror. As Sean puts it: "All that's missing are the little red neckties." And the gulags, of course. But rest assured, dear reader, they are working on it! See also La Russophobe's previous airing of the Neo-Komsomol issue.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Russia is so "Energy Rich" that it Still Can't Even Afford Hot Showers in the Summer

Talk about Neo-Soviet! The Baltimore Sun reports that despite alleged oil wealth Russians still don't have enough financial power to heat their water during the summer, so they still have to take cold showers, just like in Soviet times. And this is Moscow! Can you imagine what is going on in the regions?

MOSCOW - Summer in Moscow: the season to crowd into flower-filled parks and public squares to soak up every minute of cherished daylight, under the gaze of statues of Russian poets and generals. The season to reveal the pale skin of arms, legs and — when men unbutton their shirts — bellies long hidden under winter clothes. Also, the season to take ice-cold showers. Not, mind you, by choice.

Moscow is about two-thirds of the way through its hot water shutoff, an annual annoyance that leaves millions of Russians without the modern convenience of a hot shower for weeks at a time.

Every summer, local authorities turn off the hot water in residential neighborhoods on a rolling basis to perform maintenance on the 5,600 miles of pipes that deliver it to households connected to the centralized system that also provides heat in winter. Workers run tests, install replacement parts and, in recent years, lay new pipes that resist rust and are predicted to last up to 30 years.

Coping with the shut-off demands a mix of resourcefulness and patience. A shower no longer requires just shampoo and soap. Suddenly, it's an affair demanding teapots, electric kettles, pots and pans, small bowls and, usually, a basin known as a tazik.

Boiling water in the kitchen and toting it to the bath is the most common approach. But there are others. The newspaper Rech suggested rigging a system where hot water from a washing machine is diverted through a hose into the tub.

Maxim Yenkov, 25, who works at a Moscow computer store, was without hot water for nearly a month. To shower in his apartment, he needed to boil two pots of water.

"It's quite a difficult process, all the planning, of which friends to go to at which time — who is at home, who has hot water," Yenkov said.

This year, the municipal agency responsible for the majority of the pipes, Moscow United Energy Co., plans to replace 237 of the 3,100 miles of piping scheduled for upgrade.

With what he called "sufficient financing" — about $2.4 billion — Deputy Chief Engineer Ivan Averin said the work could be finished in six years.

At the current pace, though, it will take nearly 120 — which means a lot more cold summer showers.

Brutal Humiliation for Russia as Not one but FOUR CIS States Spurn Meeting in Moscow

The Moscow Times reports that, as if to formally confirm the total disaster Russia experienced at the G-8 Summit, four major countries in the CIS bloc brutally snubbed Putin and refused to attend the CIS confab: Armenia, Georgia, gas-rich Turkmenistan and Ukraine. It's out of the frying pan into the fire with the Putin administration, and if Russians don't take action to end it soon the whole edifice of Russia will come tumbling down.

For the Kremlin, fresh from its public relations coup (LR: You know, that was the "coup" where Russia was denied WTO admission and various heads of state held meetings and expressed support for the Kremlin's opposition) at the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, the informal meeting of leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States should have put the icing on the cake. Instead, the leaders of Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Ukraine chose to skip the meeting, casting doubt on Russia's role as the linchpin of the increasingly shaky alliance.

The biggest intrigue of the get-together, held in Moscow over the weekend, was Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's absence. Saakashvili had actively sought a one-on-one meeting with President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When the Kremlin had not confirmed the meeting by last Friday afternoon, the Georgian leader canceled his travel plans.

In an apparent attempt to convince Moscow to stop interfering in the two regions, Georgia had earlier threatened to reconsider its approval of Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. Last Wednesday the Georgian parliament demanded that Russia withdraw its peacekeeping forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgy Arveladze, Saakashvili's chief of staff, explained that the proposed plan for the meeting was "unacceptable," Kommsersant reported Saturday. "We're not coming to Moscow just to watch a horse race," he said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko also turned down the Kremlin's invitation, citing the tense political situation at home.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who attended the informal CIS summit last year on the eve of Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, offered by far the flimsiest excuse for staying away this year. The Turkmenbashi, or Father of all Turkmens, was enjoying some R&R on the Caspian coast.

The fourth no-show, Robert Kocharyan of Armenia, a staunch Kremlin ally, caught cold on the eve of the meeting and stayed home to convalesce.

For the eight leaders in attendance this weekend, the meeting began with dinner at the exclusive riverfront Prichal restaurant outside of Moscow, where they dined on meat and fish kebabs, grilled sterlet and carp, marinated mushrooms and a whole calf roast on a spit.

The heads of state washed down these delicacies with French and Italian wines. RIA-Novosti made a point of reporting that all of the wines served at Prichal had the new excise stamps required by law.

Virtuozy Moskvy, a well-known classical music ensemble, and Doctor Watson, a retro-pop group, entertained the leaders during dinner, which ended with a traditional dessert of turnovers filled with honey and apples.

The eight leaders devoted less than two hours early Saturday to a closed-door discussion. The topics included revamping the CIS. Putin himself remarked last year that the organization had been created in 1991 to ensure a "civilized divorce" of the Soviet republics.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose nation holds the rotating leadership of the CIS this year, shared his ideas for strengthening the organization after Saturday's meeting.

"We need to make decisions that will satisfy everyone," he said. "There should be no countries that do not agree and refuse to sign the resolutions, and therefore fail to implement them."

Of more than 1,600 resolutions adopted by the CIS in its 15-year history, Nazarbayev said, only 10 percent have been implemented.

The Kazakh leader called for a unanimous approach in five main policy areas: migration, transportation, education, security and humanitarian assistance. Agreements on less important issues could be reached between individual states on a bilateral basis, he said.

Nazarbayev added that other leaders had called for a unified foreign policy and a common defense strategy. A formal CIS summit will be held in Minsk this October.

Putin — who was tireless in courting the press at the G8 summit — and the remaining leaders, Ilham Aliyev from Azerbaijan, Alexander Lukashenko from Belarus, Vladimir Voronin from Moldova, Ilam Karimov from Uzbekistan, Emomali Rakhmonov from Tadzhikstan and Kurmanbek Bakiyev from Kyrgyzstan, made no comments to journalists Saturday.

The summit concluded with a visit to the track Saturday afternoon. The races were also attended by Mayor Yury Luzhkov, back in the capital after his visit last Thursday to the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, where he took part in a ground-breaking ceremony for a new Russian cultural and business center.

During his visit to Sukhumi, Luzhkov said Russia would treat Abkhazia as a sovereign state, a remark condemned by top Georgian officials, including hawkish Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili, who publicly branded Luzhkov a "provocateur."

It is unknown whether the CIS leaders placed any bets Saturday. When Putin went to the races last year, it was reported that he placed a bet and won.

The smallest wager accepted at the Moscow Hippodrome is 10 rubles, and the largest sum won by a punter in recent years is 500,000 rubles ($18,500), racetrack spokeswoman Yulia Gavrova told RIA-Novosti on Saturday.

The Russian President's Cup, held on Saturday for the third year in a row, finished in a dead heat between a Russian stallion named Satellit and Eshkia, an Azeri stallion. The owners of the two horses split a pot of 6 million rubles ($230,000).

Russian Journalists Reveal Neo-Soviet Crackdown

A contingent of visiting Russian journalists spoke at length with the editors of the Louisville Kentucky Courier-Journal regarding the Neo-Soviet crackdown on the media in Russia. Here is the Courier-Journal's report:

One recent Monday, a group of journalists and media representatives from the Vladivostok region of Russia spent a day at The Courier-Journal. With the help of two interpreters, the Russians and C-J reporters and editors were able to talk with each other about issues ranging from the newspaper's election and political coverage, to Internet postings and advertising, to managing a staff of journalists. Their stop at The C-J was part of a three-week visit to the area to learn about American media. The visit was coordinated through World Learning, a nonprofit international organization; USAID, an independent federal agency; and the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

The council is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose purpose is to foster relationships and understanding among locals and people around the world. The organization does that by hosting folks from other countries in our community, and setting up exchanges and experiences for the international visitors while they're here – such as our visit with the Russians. I loved our day with them, and was inspired by their pioneering work.

Think of it: Two hundred years after our founding, Americans still grapple with freedom that is historically and constitutionally guaranteed. It has been only 20 years since perestroika ushered in new economic, social and political policies, ostensibly including a freer media, for the Russian people, who had lived under totalitarian rule for almost 70 years.

Given the recent discussion about our First Amendment on these pages and on the newspaper's Web site, I asked several of the Russians back to The C-J to pose a few questions about their work and their views about press freedom in Russia. Again, I worked through an interpreter, Lena Pysareva, on this. Video excerpts of the interviews may be found at

As you read what they say, or view the excerpts online, remember that we take for granted what they toil -- and even go to jail -- to have.

Andrey Kalachinskiy was a prominent newspaper correspondent for many years before becoming a university official in Vladivostok. He also hosts a TV news and talk show.

He said Russian news media were "most free'' from 1987 to 1997, that the Russian people had a lot of respect for journalists and reporters then. He said it's a "very bad situation now" with state control of major television channels and local incursions into other markets. But Russians have access to the Internet, he said.

He said Russians could say whatever they want to say about our President. About their own? "Not so much," he said.

He said the public is not much interested in political life anymore. And he said he believes most Russians have more immediate concerns -- such as feeding and sheltering their families -- than press freedoms.

Irina Grebneva is the longtime editor of the News of Arsenyevsk newspaper. Journalists around the world took up her cause in 2000 when she was jailed for five days on "hooliganism" charges for printing court proceedings that included obscenity-laced transcripts of a conversation among elected officials suspected of corruption. Grebneva was kept from seeing her attorney, and she went on a hunger strike during her incarceration.

At the time, other Russian media also covered Grebneva's jailing. She's not sure that would be the case now, that television would not be interested in such a story today. She also said most newspapers have suffered financially because of speaking out, and that has made them more reticent. But she said her newspaper is still supported by readers, and the people she knows are more concerned with freedom of the press than material things.

As for her jail time? She has never regretted publishing the story that sent her to jail.

Anatoliy Tabachkov is the editor of the newspaper Worker of Nahodka, a professional position and geographical location that has allowed him to visit North Korea about five times in the past five years. Given the recent missile tests, I asked Tabachkov for his impressions of the country:

He said he thinks North Korea is "not a country that should worry" the U.S. as much as it does, that the missile technology is not precise and the missiles probably will never reach their targets.

He said the poverty in the country is obvious, but that the people are not starving. He said there is a poor assortment of groceries but plenty of rice, which is the North Koreans' food staple. He said they have huge roads, but no personal or public transportation.

About Russian press freedoms, Tabachkov said, "Freedom as it's supposed to be, we don't have it."

Tatiana Varnakova's glossy magazine, Expensive Pleasure Vladivostok, is a testimony to living large in today's Russia -- fashion, beauty, home decorations, personal and professional success stories.

She said the magazine brand has existed for 10 years -- one year in Vladivostok -- and is found in seven other cities. Their targeted reader is 20 to 40, and interested in upscale life and what's going on in the city.

Varnakova said the magazine survives on advertising revenue, which she said increases by 40 percent every year. "It allows us to be profitable," she said.

She notes there's a healthy dose of advertising that features American and European fashion brands. Which mean, yes, the devil can wear Prada in Russia, too. The issue I saw -- splashy, colorful and impressive -- pictured goods by Vuitton and Chanel, and Kate Moss doing Givenchy, Meg Ryan doing Baume & Mercier and Winston Churchill doing tobacco.

Galina Brovko's weekly newspaper, Panorama, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. They distributed calendars to readers that pictured a dog with glasses and a copy of the paper. The idea: As a dog is a friend to human beings, so the paper is a friend to the reader.

Brovko said the newspaper tries to give a lot of information to the reader: local, regional, national and world news; health and healthy living news; cultural events. She said readers want complete information, and want their news media to be objective. With the freedom of press and speech, she said, comes a lot of responsibility. She also said the current atmosphere is one of authorities not trusting the news media and the media not trusting authorities.

When I said all that sounded very familiar, Brovko continued.

She said she had noticed many similarities between Russians and Americans. Mostly, she said, in their like desires for peace and happiness, for a better life for their children, and in being sure of tomorrow.

Monday, July 24, 2006

New Times has Russia's Number

Writing in New Times, one of the most important sources of English-language insight about Russia from the horse's mouth (it is a compendium of material from the Russian weekly Novoye Vremya) Russian commentator Boris Tumanov offers a brilliant summation of the Russian question which ends with the conclusion: "We are to face a collapse of economy like the ones that wiped off first the Monarchist Russia and afterwards the Soviet Union. In both cases Russia went down, not under the pressure of an opposition. … It was crushed by the weight of its own stupidity and inefficiency." It begins with the caption: "Even if the West wanted to destroy Russia, it would not lift a finger to do so. Because it sees us doing it successfully on our own."

In the days of painful thoughts of Putin’s third presidency, of the fate of Russian liberals, of the future of the REN-TV channel and the smart sweep of the national corruption one has but one wish: to see the end of it all, and the sooner the better. And right away it comes to one’s mind that it all can end only with the end of Russia itself. At least with that national and territorial phenomenon that has been the meaning of Russia’s existence since the times of Peter the Great. In the terms of history, the end of that phenomenon is quite close.

Sooner or later energy prices are bound to hit the bottom and with it will come the end of Russia’s oil and gas. In the second half of this century hemp, blubber and timber will hardly be hot items on the world market. To all appearances, we are inherently unable to produce handicrafts competitive with those of Japan and China which, having almost no minerals, manage to produce a mass of useful goods. And in that Russia that we, unfortunately, have not yet lost, there is hardly anyone to master the crafts. Besides, with the current rates of mortality in Russia, within some thirty years, that is, by the time specialists say Russia’s oil bonanza is bound to end, there will be 30 million less Russians.

In other terms, we are to face a collapse of economy like the ones that wiped off first the Monarchist Russia and afterwards the Soviet Union. In both cases the authority in Russia went down not under the pressure of an opposition or an intelligent civic movement: it was crushed by the weight of its own stupidity and inefficiency.

Repetition of the past

True, though, the inspired but chaotic activity of the masses left for a time out of government control both in February of 1917 and August of 1991 was interpreted by genial observers as a democratic impulse of the Russians after suffering the horrors of, respectively, czarism and totalitarianism. Actually, in either case it was a feast of disobedience when the children who had overrated the uncustomary freedom soon got tired of it and felt uncomfortable. Just like the people who had heard much about some exotic dish and stuffed themselves with it when they got a chance, suffering from indigestion after which they resumed the rustic diets with more devotion. In both cases, Russia’s other trouble was that the men who thrust themselves as pastors upon many millions of ex-serfs of the monarchy and the Soviet regime did not have the slightest idea of practical application of democracy that was to them like a collection of ritual incantations.

It was so much evident in 1917 that even superficial observers did not miss it. In May of that year, that is, between the abdication of the last Romanov and the October coup d’etat, the St.Petersburg reporter of the French Le Temps (forerunner of today’s Le Monde) published in Paris a booklet with an exhaustive description of the situation prevailing in Russia at the time. He wrote about the civic inertia of the Russian masses, about the absolute uselessness of the petty lawyers who were sitting in session in the Tavria Palace only to enjoy their own oratory, and predicted (hitting the nail!) a speedy and inevitable coming to power of fanatical maximalists (Bolsheviks) as the only organized political force that knew what aims it was pursuing.

It should be noted that their purposefulness was exceptional for the Russian tradition of senseless riots. Simply, intent on a world revolution, the Bolsheviks were following an inaccurately aped idea of Karl Marx in the hope of turning Russia into the bridgehead for a future offensive against the world’s capitalism. There is no water in the assertions that the Bolsheviks cut short violently a democratic development of Russia. It was as naive to hope that in the early 20th century the Russian masses led by drawing-room liberals would joyfully rush to the temple of freedom as to attempt to teach a dinosaur to jump a hurdle. In fact, Russia got pregnant with a dictatorship right after it had got rid of the autocracy, and the Bolsheviks’ part had been just that of a midwife. Even more: it was impossible to bring the stirred up Russia back into obedience by means other than most ferocious.

This is emphasized by the fact that even today more than a half of Russians recall with some reverent nostalgia Stalin’s “order.”In 1991 ‘the putsch of the shaking hands’ put a merciful end to the Soviet regime’s agony.The Soviet people (who were, in fact, government-owned serfs), after the starvation in the desert of one-party system and planned economy, decided right away that they had to change their biotope and come out to the expanse of the ocean of the world’s liberalism. They thought that all would end with the change of slogans to “Long live liberalism and its daughter democracy!” And we would live like in the States. When it became clear that such a voyage presupposed elementary knowledge of shipbuilding, sailing and navigation and that their intricacies required extensive studying, including learning from mistakes, the people felt offended again and got pregnant once more, this time with statism.

Quality of the population

In simpler terms, as soon as it became clear that the road to democracy presumed a cardinal change of relations between the authority and society, as well as a civic responsibility, we hurried to pull back ashore the raft we had just launched imitating a sea travel while attempting to live in our habitual milieu. We sound bells, steer the ship and promise to catch up with the Portuguese caravel in about fifteen years. We do it sitting on sand far from the ocean surf but next to the oil well that has been feeding us since the Soviet times. Well, this is but a lyrical digression. Actually, the post-Soviet reality made its start almost in the same way as the post-monarchy reality had done early last century.

I am far from shooting at our home-made liberals: they did what they could. They did it within the limits of their conceptions of the “invisible hand of the market” that allegedly puts things in their proper places, and within the limits of their too naive or totally absent ideas of “the quality of Russia’s population” of which Academician Abalkin spoke sceptically and quite rightly as far back as the perestroika time.By the way, speaking of the population’s quality. Our so to say elite limply protests against epithets of “wild” and “bandit” that the civilized countries apply to our capitalism, but is secretly convinced that it is akin to Dickens’ capitalism and is sincerely waiting for Russia to turn into a Great Britain of today within some twenty or thirty years. Meanwhile, it lures the populace into crediting institutions with low taste advertising bordering on profanity of a kind that cannot be imagined not only in a European nation but even in the poorest member of the CIS.

So, ours is not a wild or a bandit capitalism. It is a homespun lumpen capitalism. So it is not only the question of whether the economic decisions of our liberals were right or wrong. The homespun environment is capable of digesting any faultless rules. The matter is different.After the Soviet system crushed, it left behind, in fact, a political vacuum. The Communists were deep in a prostration, while the so-called liberal parties and movements were rather clubs according to their interests where the Russian intellectuals bared their true nature at last and plunged into empty discussions and conceptual fights. Zhirinovsky’s success in 1993 election did not put our democrats on guard, and, up to the stunning slap of 1993 Duma election, they had been sincere in their conviction that they were deservedly and irreversibly incorporated into the governing political spectrum. It took a complete and, apparently, irreversible loss of their electoral chances and shrinking to the size of the exotic Committee-2008 for young Maria Gaidar to recover sight and give up her initial intention of balloting for a seat in the Moscow Duma. She evidently followed advice of grownup liberals and said that since she was going to stay in politics, she would do everything to prevent her name from flickering in the society pages. Who knows, maybe, had Irina Khakamada in her time resisted the temptation of partying and speaking from rostrums, she would have been still taken seriously by her now past electorate.But, speaking of serious matters, who can say today what would have been the fate of the liberal idea in Russia had our liberals taken the trouble to look back at Russia (evident to everyone who has even rudimentary knowledge of its social nature) to realize that our so to say middle class, victimized as it is by its feeling of inferiority, represents, by definition, the feeding ground not so much for liberal ideas as they thought but for a thick super power sentiment.

Many people still harbor the illusion that the current marginalization of the liberals is temporary, that any moment now a new and enlightened generation of Russians will come, inside which a full-value liberal faction and a full-value opposition will ripen. Forget it, gentlemen! There will be nothing of the kind. The people, who once again came to believe that they are a God-bearer and again have fallen into their customary Byzantine lethargy, will not let it. The people who traditionally snarl at Europe and still easier believe in their rustic majesty. And, of course, the authority would not let it. The very authority that is so much afraid of the word ‘opposition’ that is ready to shoot at anyone in the vicinity of the Kremlin who announce, without permission, an intention to run for the Duma or, God forbid, for the presidency.

The dependents

It is clear today that the liberal area has shrunk to the dissidents’ kitchen parties. The liberal opposition has deteriorated into a kind of hobby. LR: Let's be clear about the reason this has happened: Nobody is selling liberalism in Russia for the same reason nobody is selling Communism in Ameria. There are no buyers. Russia is the illiberal nation.

Things went so far that, lacking any election-worthy personalities within their ranks, the caretakers of democracy have become, in effect, dependents of the authority.A misfortune came to help. The Kremlin people were foolish enough to jail Khodorkovsky and thus provided a martyr – a candidate. What would have happened had he not been jailed? Would it be necessary to wait until the dacha of Kasyanov was seized and he jailed? One wonders: do they really believe that our population will be filled with sympathy for the persecuted? Or did they give way to despair?

By the way, another manifestation of our liberals’ dependence is still their counting on the West. They believe that if they explain to the United States and Europe that the Putin regime is moving on to authoritarianism, they will fold up with it, and the scared Putin will behave. They just do not want to believe that the West does not care a damn for the fate of democracy in Russia. Not because the West is so egoistic and hypocritical, and not because it does not like the Russians. But because of its quite right philosophy that saving a drowning man is that man’s own job. You got your desert if you had failed to make use of the chance history has given you. This position of the West was exhaustingly set forth by the French ex-minister of the interior Charles Pasqua who, in a private discussion with this author some fifteen years ago, complained about the ‘chaos’ that Gorbachev’s perestroika had inflicted on Europe. “Indeed”, he said, “for half a century we had in the East the Soviet Union as a dark and hostile force, a kind of an ice shelf.

But we knew, at least, what it was capable of and we knew how to behave. We had quite a comfortable life compared to these days when we do not know what it will boil down to with you when the habitual order is being crushed. You can object, of course, with reference to your fierce regime, your people’s sufferings, to the GULAG and repressions, but, excuse me, young man, those are your problems. Even if we assume the West’s sweet dream is destruction of Russia, it will not lift a finger to contribute to its ruin because it sees us doing it quite successfully on our own. To make a harsher comparison as long as the Russian society exists it has always been the hill of a certain substance described by Krylov and La Fontaine, but, unlike the one of the fable, with an abnormally high content of pearls. Using the politically correct language, it means an inert mass inherently incapable of articulating its interests, whatever the government, and of consistently standing for them, as well as a much smaller part of our society that is known for its intellectual and creative achievements, culture, erudition and thirst for free thought.

These two components do not interact at all. The populists’ attempt to disregard the laws of social chemistry and to share with the mass of farmers their knowledge and views of the world with the aim of awakening its civic consciousness was useless and ignorant. Because, with all their erudition and passion for European examples of social evolution, these people do not even suspect that emancipation of society does not come about as a result of freedom-loving speeches but as a result of economic freedom.

Uncontrollable authoritarianism

Alas, the Russian society has so much ossified in its Byzantine rut that an economic freedom as such is no longer sufficient to stimulate a natural progress of the civic society. In other words, to emancipate society, a catalyst is needed to provoke the fusion of the mass and the “pearls,” that is, the meaningful enlightening interference by the state to encourage an evolutionary formation of the civic society.

One cannot say that the Russian authorities have always been unaware of this public need: it is not by chance that since the times of Empress Catherine II to these days our rulers have been talking hypocritical nonsense about “enlightened authoritarianism” and “controlled democracy.” But enlightenment and democracy, and particularly economic freedom, invariably would stop at the point where the authorities had to give account to the society that had realized its rights and the consequent danger of losing its limitless omnipotence appeared. Let us face the truth: there is an objective phenomenon of Vladimir Putin’s popularity today, his invariably high ratings and the willingness of a majority of Russians to keep him in power for a third term if not for life. But it is not at all related to his personal or political merits. Above all it is rooted in our slavishly thoughtless reliance on the kindly, God-fearing and teetotal master. Provided things don’t go worse.

But has Putin used his real prestige once in the last five years to insist, for instance, on eroding the officialdom’s boundless sway that suppresses economic freedom but encourages the “bandit capitalism”? Or on a real encouragement of small and medium business? Has he, or his entourage resorted in the last five years to the authority of power at least to explain to his unwise flock the virtues of democracy? (After all, he used to talk about the patriarchal and paternalist nature of the Russian society)? Or of an unbiased civic thinking? Or of a general obedience to law by all without exceptions? Or of civic responsibility? Answers to all these questions are evident to all.

First, Putin realizes perfectly well that his compatriots will not understand him should he address them with such sermons. The chief’s raving, they’d say. Second, his own people will censure him if not suspect him of treason, with all the ensuing consequences for the guarantor of the constitution. Indeed, for the first time in many centuries the Russian authority has got the good fortune to rake in fantastic money without trouble and for everyone to see (o God, oil at $70 a barrel and even higher in the future!). Would it kill the hen that lays golden eggs? As to the constitution which is being courted by numerous advocates of the third term, it is certainly a thing of no use in Russia. It is something like an Egyptian pyramid drawn inside a peasant’s cottage to look as good as the neighbors’. There is nothing the thing can be applied to, it doesn’t let you walk around your rooms, and so it is being dismantled piece by piece so that it doesn’t make life difficult.

We have no other country

A few days back a sentence to today’s Russia was passed by Dmitry Kozak, the president’s plenipotentiary in the Southern Federal District. At a meeting with mothers of Beslan he heard irrefutable facts concerning the investigation of the Beslan school seizure by terrorists. The investigation cast off all evidence that may contradict the official version of why hundreds of people had died a tragic death. “As to the conduct of the investigators.”, started Kozak, and suddenly stated: “That’s our country.”Yes, that is our country. The country where the investigation and courts exist for the sole purpose to serve the authority’s whims. The country where corruption has become a way of life. The country where the authority is not responsible for its criminal mistakes. The country where human life is not worth a penny. The country where the authority customarily identifies itself with the state and thus considers the budget money its property. The country where the law is a tool in the hands of the powers that be. The country that wages a senseless and suicidal war against its own citizens. The country whose population is absolutely indifferent to these glaring abominations of their existence. And so it is doomed to disappear.

Either President Putin has inadequate knowledge of his own society, or customarily plays the hypocrite. Of late, he has been making too frequent hints that today he is called to account for some people’s crazy idea to break down the wonderful and efficient Soviet Union populated by brilliant professionals. It means that the current authority does not have, nor will ever have strength, will or elementary sense to make changes in its behavior, not even for its own self-preservation. Also because the people keep silent traditionally and obediently.But let us imagine something improbable: President Putin gets grace and says all the truth about the real situation in Russia, and in an outburst of patriotic repentance begs his electorate to grant him a third term so that he would, as far as possible, repair “the sad fruit of his labors.”

You know, I think I would vote for him. At least out of curiosity. The trouble, however, is that people will not vote for such a “weeping Bolshevik” if he said he needed a third term to screw nuts tight for the grandeur of Russian State and to keep in awe the foes who seek to grab a tasty piece of the long-suffering Russia, to punish “the fifth column” fattening with the money of Soros and other foreign non-government bodies, to show the world what’s what, etc., our people would vote him in for a life presidency. And do it with delight.So, do not harbor illusions, there will be no ennobling evolution in the Russian society. Nor a revolution. Particularly one of an orange hew.We shall disintegrate on our own. As soon as we run out of money.