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Monday, April 30, 2007

April 30, 2007 -- Contents


(1) Another Original LR Translation: Kiselyov on "Other Russia"

(2) Hooray! Here comes Oborona!

(3) So much for Chechnya being "Under Control"

(4) Annals of Cold War II: A prison term for Grandpa Putin?

(5) Congressional Hearings on Dictatorship in Russia

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Another Original LR Translation: Kiselyov on "Other Russia"

Translator Vova Khavkin offers the following original LR translation by pundit Yevegeny Kiselov (pictured) from the virtual pages of concerning the "Other Russia" protesters:

Premonition of GKChP-2*

Yevgeniy Kiselev

April 18, 2007

Why did the authorities, after all, stage an OMON [stormtrooper] street theatre in downtown Moscow on Saturday, 14 April, then duplicated it in Piter one day later? Why did they corral to capital city’s Pushkin Square thousands of out-of-town goon squad enforcers who went berserk and unleashed their nightsticks upon random old ladies, grabbing each and everyone in sight—women, children, and passers-by who had no intention of either marching, or holding meetings, or protesting but simply came to take a stroll downtown?

Why did President Putin need to have the newspapers—both here and in the West—splattered next day with reports about the “feats” of the stormtroopers? Does he need the foreign TV outlets (our own, thank God, are all under wraps) run endless coverage of the most vivid scenes from the “Dissenters’ March” in their newscasts? What is it with him—he enjoys it when spokesmen of the heads of the G8 states and governments publicly express their concern and demand an explanation?

Did the president seriously expect that proponents of the “Other Russia” were going to disrupt public peace, crush something, beat up somebody, turn over and burn cars? Would it have been easier to let them walk through the city peaceably, just as they had intended, have a meeting, and head home? Putin and his entourage would have been dealt a powerful argument to counter the accusations that they stifle democracy while the Kremlin propagandists could have cited the march as an example of how scanty the ranks of the opposition were.

Perhaps all that happened there was in spite of the president’s will? Oh no, this is rather unlikely! Personally I have no doubt that Putin was kept apprised of the events as they were unfolding. Firstly, to corral so many stormtroopers from so many regions, to have a show of force in the center of the capital, two steps away from the Kremlin—without the president knowing this? I don’t believe this. No [Mayor] Luzhkov would ever dare to do this.

Secondly, thanks to former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi who was hosted by his friend in Piter last Saturday and whose words were quoted by Italian newspapers, Putin was talking on the phone to the Minister of the Interior the whole time.

So why then was all this necessary? I am asking myself and the people around me for umpteenth time. It seems to defy rational explanation. Here, e.g., what Maxim Reznik, head of the Piter Yabloko [party] chapter says: “Irrational fear, irrational anger, and irrational aggression beget irrational actions. This is exactly how the crazed-up Russian [power] vertical smashed by the authorities does look like.”

So what is this, is it the very same case I described in my previous column: In order to comprehend the actions taken by the authorities one needs a psychoanalyst rather than a political scientist. Indeed, one can certainly see the paranoia in the authorities’ actions. They themselves invented the “orange” threat bogeyman and did this so well, so convincingly, that they began to fear it themselves in all sincerity. Indeed, what if not one, two, or three hundred “Other Russia” sympathizers hit the streets but ten, twenty, or thirty thousand?

It seems to me that there is another psychological factor, a certain inferiority complex which the authorities just can’t get over with. Putin became president bypassing the school of body politics. He never took part in organizing meetings and demonstrations during the perestroika, did not advance to a leadership role in any political party that came into being at that time, and was not tempered in the crucible of numerous elections campaign in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Furthermore, the only election he had ever taken part in before—when one fine day the whole country learned his name—was that of St. Petersburg governor in 1996; Putin was head of [former mayor] Sobchak’s election campaign, and Sobchak lost.

Putin was a high-level functionary on a county scale who was noticed by the Kremlin when Yeltsin’s “family” began having doubts about the reliability of the former FSB chief, and they needed to find a replacement. They continued to watch him and finally made the decision: Here’s the person we need as a successor. He was picked by the members of the “family”: [Yeltsin’s daughter] Dyachenko, [former Yeltsin chief of staff] Valentin Yumashev, Roman Abramovich, [former Yeltsin chief of staff] Aleksandr Voloshin, and Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] himself—they picked him out of a slate of several candidates that included [former prime minister] Sergey Stepashin and [former head of the Russian Rail Corporation] Nikolay Aksenenko, and perhaps somebody else. For example, I personally heard that [former prime minister] Mikhail Kasyanov—the then finance minister—was also on the “short list” of successor candidates. By the way, could this explain the intensity of the royal dislike for the former prime minister?

The rest was just the work of political operatives and big-gun heavy propaganda artillery: It was just the matter of weeks for television Channel One and Channel Two that had spun Vladimir Putin (let’s face it, he did have a good potential) and made him a popular leader on a national scale. It is not coincidental that having been erected on the pedestal of president with the help of television, Putin began his reign with “cleansing” the television medium.

Now all TV channels are meek and unconditionally subservient to Putin. None of them would dare reminding the president about the unpleasant events of the recent past. Yet one cannot get rid of the impression that no matter what, the president still can’t put the history of his political rise behind him, and this is the case of his constant diffidence.

Remember how Putin usually reacts in the rare instances when the journalists (all of them foreign) ask him difficult questions and even begin to argue? What’s important is not even the words—it’s the inflexion of irritation, hostile and at times—like in the famous case of circumcision which Putin promised to arrange for a French journalist—bordering on hysterical. And this is not surprising indeed: Putin totally lacks any experience of public polemics with his political opponents.

I think that core of his team should have the same type of complex, albeit to a larger extent—they found themselves on the pinnacle of power solely because of the following:

a) Being classmates at the Leningrad State University School of Law or the intelligence school;

b) Serving together at the Piter KGB structure;

c) Serving together at the USSR KGB station in the GDR;

d) Working together in the Piter city hall under Sobchak; and

e) Being member of the “Ozero” [Lake] cottage cooperative near St. Petersburg.

Look at these, how nontransparent and closed to the public they are. Of course, this is partly their professional spymaster trait that shows, but also their insecurity about the future and the fear of open political competition.

there is one more factor in the actions of the authorities—a psychological one: A cult of force which the president has clearly worshiped since his days of back alley youth in the ‘hood in Piter, the days when he had to earn respect and defend his territory and living space with fists. You can’t be weak, the weak are beaten up—how many times have we heard this [thought] slip by in Vladimir Putin’s speeches and public pronouncements. Hence his manic fear of compromise: God forbid some one thinks I am weak, that the government is weak. No negotiating with the enemy, never cutting any slack.

The veritable hysteria that was uncorked on the eve of the “Dissenters’ March”, including the matter of the U.S. State Department report on the status of human rights in the world, a report that has been issued on an annual basis for many years but elicited such a disproportionate response for the first time (merely few pages are devoted to Russia in this voluminous report—about the same number as are devoted to many other countries) brings to memory 1991.

Back in the spring [of ‘91] Gorbachev—who was also full of anxiety, unable to make his choice between a peaceful and a violent resolution of the problems at hand, swung towards to the siloviki [experts in violence] and for the first time spoke with irritation “about the so-called democrats” while the servile yes-men instantly picked the cue and went on squealing about the “agents of influence,” saying that Washington knew all along the names of those who would speak up and criticize the authorities from the podium of the congress of people’s deputies.

Back then the KGB arrested [Duma Deputy] Valeriya Novodvorskaya in a provocative matter and put her away in the “Lefortovo” [prison]. Then they started to expel the most liberal members of the Gorbachev circle from the CPSU ranks: Shevardnadze and Aleksandr Yakovlev—although there was no rational sense in these persecutions. I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar happened again in the near future. They won’t expel people from the ranks of “United Russia;” rather, they will fire them from the government [service].

This is when the onslaught against mass media began: The pulled the plug on the “Vzglyad” [View] program, then “Before and After Midnight”, then forced the best democratically minded journalists out of the Central TV newsroom (I won’t name the names because they have left the fold) and tried to change the management at the Izvestiya [newspaper].

Now again, a new wave is sweeping away what is left of the independent press: Bashkir president is threatening to sue the NTV [TV channel], the REN TV and “Russian News Service” management have been replaced: The commissars from state-run media dropped in, the prosecutor’s office is investigating the “Moscow Echo” because of the Limonov and Kasparov interviews while the FSB wants to stiffen the legislature in order to control the Web under the guise of the war on terror.

One cannot rule out that just like the future GKChP party was fledging its wings then, the “party of the third term” has gone on the new offensive now. If this is so, then it’s logical: It simply has to act according to the principle “The worse—the better.”

The savage breakup of a peaceful demonstration in downtown Moscow is a sure step towards “Lukashekaization” of Putin. Sic the stormtroopers on the opposition a couple of more times and you can safely forget about loyalty to the Constitution and the unwillingness to sour relations with the West. The West, they say, will never forgive this anyway, and as for the Constitution, why not amend it if we are violating it anyway?

It looks like this: While in 1999 struggle against Chechen terrorists was the main thrust of the Kremlin’s election campaign, and in 2003—the struggle against the oligarchs, today during the upcoming election campaign next fall the external threat may become the main theme.

Anything would do in such a case: Both the State Department report and the Jackson-Vanick amendment which the U.S. Congress can’t get around to repealing, and the European Court where some rulings not favorable to Russia are bound to be made, and PACE where Moscow will be continually castigated, and the WTO which just would not admit Russia, and the U.S. missiles in Poland: The enemy is at the doorstep, and the fifth column inside is ready to throw open the door. Hence—we are just a step away from a new version of GKChP. I hope every one remembers how the last affair ended.

A premonition of GKChP-2 is not the only outcome of recent events. There are other feelings: It seems that the opposition—in a broad sense of the word—is coming into motion. Many people started saying all at once that the sympathies of the rank-and-file members of “Yabloko”, SPS [Union of Rightist Forces], and even KPRF [RF Communist Party] began to gravitate towards the “Other Russia.” The longer these parties’ leaders play a game called “we part way with the radicals” forced upon them by the Kremlin, the faster this process will evolve.

And what’s your word?


*GKChP—Sate Committee on the State of Emergency, a provisional government that overthrew President Gorbachev in August 1991 and collapsed three days later

Hooray! Here Comes Oborona!

Oborona ("Defense") is a Russian youth organization devoted to protesting against the rise of dictatorship and defending the basic principles of democracy in Russia. Consider then the Anti-Nashis. Their emblem, a clenched fist in a closed circle, has been displayed prominently during the recent spate of public protest actions which have occurred across Russia, and their members have been routinely arrested and harassed by the police. They are true Russian patriots, struggling to save their country from extinction, and deserve all the support we can give them. Naturally, just like other true Russian patriots from Pushkin to Solzhenitsyn, they will face oppression from the Kremlin -- and La Russophobe has already documented examples. As they go, so goes Russia.

The map above, from the Oborona website, shows how the group's reach is expanding across Russia; the darkened regions have an organized Oborona presence, and by clicking the link you can find he names of the local coordinators, their telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and, in some cases, their blogs. Unfortunately, the group hasn't done enough yet to create an English-language presence on the web, so we provide their basic materials in translation (these are LR staff translations that have nothing to do with our three expert translators and have been undertaken so as to show our solidarity with this organization, so don't even think of blaming our translators if you find some mistakes!). To view photographs taken by Oborona members during the protest actions, click here. To view other photographs taken by their members, visit their library here.

Oborona's Declaration of Purpose reads:

Who we are: We are the new, free generation. We grew up in a free country, we do not fear authority, and we are not burdened by the experience of the Soviet past. There can be different opinions about the political and economic reforms of the 1990s but we not we will expend energy on useless arguments about the past, only the future interests us. It is customary to assume Russian young people are cynical and passive. But there is another type of young people - thinking, daring, interested in the fate of its country, ready to take upon themselves responsibility for their own future. There are still too few of us, but we grow in number every day.

The authorities attempt to preserve the existing power structure, preventing entry by new thinkers. Only young people who are the most dependent on the existing strucure, the most dull and aggressive, the most like the older members, are permitted entry to its upper echelons. This is not our way! We defend our rights and we express our ideas, but we do not do it for profit and we do not want confrontations. We strive so that the authorities will become the people, we do not wish to pass into the hierarchy. Our love for our native land we prove by our deeds, we do not shout meaningless "patriotic" slogans. In our struggle we rely only on nonviolent methods.

We want to live in a free and flourishing country. We want a combat-effective and professional army to protect us, and freedom for students to study in peace. We want the democratic transfers of power via free elections in which the whole country actively participates. We want to be able to obtain information from a free and independent media. We want to work in companies without fearing that they will be shut down because of the visits of bandits or corrupt officials. We want the law to be equally applied to all citizens, not used as tool against those who disagree. We want an honest budget in which there are monies valid social purposes, not the pockets of corrupt officials.

For our support we rely on the power of truth and our committment to our goals, not our connections to those in power or our wealth. Our contemporaries in adjacent countries already changed the course of history. Now it's our turn.
Oborona asks: "How can you help us?" They answer:
If you are tired of having all your decisions made for you, if you are ready to build a Russia that will stand as a free, modernized nation, we welcome you! There are many ways you can help us. build a normal democratic system in Russia. First, you can join Oborona. Joining up is easy, just fill out a form on this site, and we will be connected with you. In Oborona we have no membership cards or dues payments (as in the political parties). You can participate in those actions and measures, which you support, and propose your own suggestions. If in your region or city still there is no Oborona local office, you can create one yourself. Contact us for further details. Second, we are also pleased to receive financial contributions to support our work, which is not financed by oligarchs or government agencies. Even a small contribution can bring big results. Third, even if the first two options are not for you, don't just be a couch potato! You can, for example, place our banner on your site or in blog using code available on this site.
To the crucial question, "Why are you against Putin?" Oborona answers:
Putin is the architect and personification of the regime which exists now in Russia. He abolishes merit selection and he assigns to all key posts to his St. Petersburg friends. He considers Ramzan Kadyrov to be a hero and personally shuts down oppositional television channels. He signs laws that favor his chosen oligarchs, transferring great quantities of wealth to them from the state budget. Without batting an eye, he tells gigantic lies about the fate of the Kursk submarine and the Dubrovka theater patrons. He may not haver personally participated in these tragedies, but he governs the system that caused them. One might say that our problem is not so much with Putin but with "Putinism."
Oborona also operates a blog, and La Russophobe recently translated one of its posts, about how the Kremlin pays protesters to appear at its demonstrations. Click here to read it.

So Much for Chechnya being "Under Control"

The New York Times reports that the rebels have staged a major battle and brought down a Russian helicopter in Chechnya; the incident must have been quite serious since, as usual, the Kremlin chose to lie abou it.

A Russian military helicopter crashed in the mountains of Chechnya on Friday, killing at least 18 service members and marking the most lethal day for Russian authorities in the volatile North Caucasus region since late 2005.

The circumstances surrounding the crash were not fully clear. Several Russian officials told news agencies that the helicopter, an MI-8 transport, was struck by ground fire as it was ferrying troops with two other helicopters to a skirmish against rebels in the Shatoi district of southern Chechnya. But an official at the military prosecutor’s office said by telephone that an investigation had been opened and the cause of the crash had not been officially established.

All aboard were killed, Russian news agencies said.

There were indications that the battle to which the helicopter was flying was much more intense than most in recent years. The helicopter crashed in the late morning, and fighting nearby was still being reported at 4 p.m. Russian officials also said that at least three Chechen insurgents had been killed.

“The fighting continues,” a Russian official told the Interfax news agency. “We hear nonstop automatic fire and grenade explosions. We know for certain from reliable sources that three militants were eliminated.”

The Kremlin and its pro-Russian local proxies have largely had the upper hand over the remaining insurgents since late 2004, when intensive crackdowns followed the siege of a public school in Beslan by Chechen terrorists and as the pro-Kremlin Chechen formations, many of them filled with former separatists, have consolidated their hold over the republic and its government.

Two presidents of the fugitive separatist government have been killed, as has the most prominent terrorist leader, Shamil Basayev, who died in a mysterious explosion in 2006. With the separatist leadership thinned and many former insurgents lured into amnesty programs, the pace and tactical skill of the insurgents’ operations have declined markedly.

But fighting has continued sporadically, as have occasional bombings, assassinations and ambushes in Chechnya and the republics nearby.

Russia has also maintained elite troops from its federal police forces and intelligence services in the area, to continue the hunt for the remaining veteran separatists, including Doku Umarov, the movement’s latest president and military leader.

The limited details of the operation on Friday suggested that a group of insurgents had been found and that a Russian reaction force was reinforcing the area when the helicopter crashed. It was not immediately clear whether the dead were from a federal or a local unit, although the three-man helicopter crew was reported to be Russian.

Annals of Cold War II: A Prison Term for Grandpa Vladimir?

PressTV reports that if Vladimir Putin goes forward with his plan to weaponize Russia's energy resources, he may end up in an American prison cell (from where he can write postcards of sympathy to Mr. Khodorkovsky in Chita):

The US Senate Judiciary Committee has voted in favor of a legislation to prosecute new energy cartel organizers.

The committee unanimously voted in favor Wednesday of the so-called "NOPEC" legislation, which would allow for criminal prosecution of countries that organize energy cartels and manipulate the prices of natural resources. The bill is the latest version of similar legislation that has failed to make its way through Congress in several attempts since 2000.

Although a US federal court ruled in 1979 that OPEC's pricing decisions are the result of "governmental" rather than commercial actions, meaning that they are protected by the sovereignty of foreign governments, the NOPEC bill, which was sponsored by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), would allow US law enforcement agencies and the federal government "to begin legal proceedings against any foreign power, including the member nations of OPEC, for conspiring to fix prices and artificially decrease the volume of available oil."

The measures that could be taken against such nations or their agents would be left to the discretion of the judges, but would probably include freezing or confiscation of the US-held assets of foreign governments.

The legislation has nothing specific to say about gas, preferring instead to talk about "a confederacy of oil-exporting countries, as a result of which [oil] reserves were artificially and critically cut and prices inflated on fuel." Nevertheless, Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachyov and Russian gas behemoth Gazprom have expressed concern that the bill's language leaves plenty of latitude for the US to take action on other energy-resource fronts.

A source in a Russian ministry told Kommersant that even if the Senate is not specifically targeting Russia, "we should not remain silent." Russia's concern comes in the wake of the meeting in Doha, Qatar on April 9 at which gas-exporting countries including Iran, Venezuela, Algeria, and Russia discussed the possible formation of an organization of gas-exporting countries modeled on OPEC. The different branches of the US government are known to be of unusually like mind in their opposition to the possible gas cartel.

Congressional Hearings on Dictatorship in Russia

Helsinki Commission Announces Hearing on Russia

'Russia: In Transit or Intransigent?'


The Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) announced today that the Commission will hold a hearing entitled: "Russia: In Transit or Intransigent?"

Friday, May 4, 2007
9:30 am to 12:00 noon
Room 311
Cannon House Office Building

The hearing will focus on the reemergence of Russia as a major political and economic power in the world, examine current trends in Russia today, and consider the implications for United States' policy. Testifying before the Commission will be:

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Rajan Menon, Monroe J. Rathbone Professor of International Relations, Lehigh University

Igor Zevelev, Washington Bureau Chief of RIA Novosti, Russian News and Information Agency

Sarah Mendelson, a senior fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate, American Foreign Policy Council

The reemergence of Russia as a major political and economic power in the world has been accompanied by a cooling of relations with the United States over a number of issues, such as foreign policy, human rights, and the war in Iraq. Russia remains interested in cooperation with the U.S. in the war on international terrorism and other issues, but the recent chill in relations has curtailed expectations on both sides. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

April 29, 2007 -- Contents


(1) The Sunday Photos Part I: Russia the Final Frontier

(2) The Sunday Photos Part II: Aceski of Cakeski

(3) Another Original LR Translation: Illarionov Speaks Again

(4) The Sunday Links

(5) Annals of Jailtime: Khodorokovsky in Chita

The Sunday Photos Part I: Russia, the Final Frontier

A travel group called Extreme Trifle recently organized a trip around Europe which included a brief stop in Russia. Here are their reactions:

From Helsinki the teams head for the Russian border near Vyborg from where they will head for St. Petersburg. This would prove to be a turning point in the trip...perhaps we should have taken the hints from the Finnish who merely shook their heads when we said that is where we were headed...4 hours later we would find out why...

  • The Russian Border sign, roughly translated as "Total and Utter Bastards"


The border crossing seemed straightforward enough...until you tried to cross it. First the Police checks, then Passport Control, then Customs...and none of it in a hurry - you play by their rules or you don't play at all - you got the distinct impression that these guys were not to be pissed about with...

After literally hours of waiting it transpires that the Delorean, Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky & Hutch are refused entry...they do not have their car registration documents with them and without this they can't get insurance for Russia and are turned away. The rest of the teams eventually get through and everyone agrees to meet up in Estonia in 2 days time.

Hoo and Jane in the Delorean head back to Helsinki but the Duke Boys and Starsky & Hutch refuse to admit defeat and contemplate running the border - until a wise local informs them of what will happen to them if they do..Siberia was not on the route...

  • A pretty awful noise from Starsky's rear end prompted an inspection...


Still undeterred they check in to a hotel in a nearby Finnish town and next morning would set about finding some "insurance" documents. Meanwhile the other teams braved the rain in St. Petersburg...

  • The column on the right is carved from a single piece of granite weighing 600 tonnes!


* *

Determined to get in to Russia the Duke Boys and Starsky & Hutch hunt around the town looking for anyway they can get some insurance documents. Unbelievably they happen upon a travel agent who can provide these and who fortunately has no idea what a UK registration document looks cut a long story short we walk out of there with stamped and sealed Russian insurance - we are going to Russia after all!!!
  • Haven't we been here before..?

All is going well - through the Police checks, through Passport Control... until Mr Customs notices that our entry visas have been stamped the previous day...he calls his superior who mutters and walks off for half an hour...he comes back with his chief who takes us in to the Customs office and leaves us outside the door for half an hour...he then takes us to the Police Commander who confiscates our passports and disappears for 3 hours..

  • These guys have enough firearms to stop a tank...

The Police Commander finally comes strutting back in to the room...only to throw our passports in our faces and point to Finland. End of story. Total and utter f**king wanker.

By this time we are so fed up we don't even stop at the Finnish border and drive straight through - we needed a night out in Helsinki...

The Sunday Photos Part II: Aceski of Cakeski

It seems that the fad for elaborate cake decoration most vividly exemplified in the Food Network series "Ace of Cakes" has come to Russia as well. The Triniksi blog has a long photo exhibit from a particularly talented baker. A few choice examples follow, giving a good sampling of the interests of Russia's oligarchs, the only ones who can afford confections of this kind (notice how few are Russian subjects):

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)
Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Another Original Translation: Illarionov on Failing Russia

La Russophobe is delighted to have received the services of a third expert translator of Russian, Mr. David Essel. Dave offers the following translation of another article from the Russian press by Andrei Illarionov (pictured), following up on last week's "Approaching Zimbabwe" (Dave is also providing us with his own original analysis of the Russia question, starting with last week's essay on Leonid Brezhnev; look for a second essay from Dave on Tuesday, dealing with the Russophile "mind"set).

Note how Illiarionov, surely one of Russia's greatest living patriots, makes reference to a number of statistics on Russian peformance previously reported by La Russophobe. Maybe he's a reader too! We'd be honored.

The Authoritarian Model of Governance:
Preliminary Results

Andrei Illiarionov

April 2, 2007


(A. Illarionov is the President of the Moscow Institute for Economic Analysis, Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute, Washington D.C.. In 1993-94, he headed the Group for Analysis & Planning in Viktor Chernomyrdin’s government and from 2000 to 2005 was economic advisor to Vladimir Putin)

The new structure model for Russia has been created. It is a brute force model, the main aspect of which is the use of force unfettered by any restraints – legal, traditional, or moral. That is the essence of brute force politics [силовая политика]. Thus we have brute force enterprise, brute force jurisprudence, brute force foreign policy. And the first fruits of this may now be examined.

Collapse of the institutions of the modern state.

In terms of the quality of the most important institutions of the modern state, today’s Russia is at the bottom of any list. With regards to political rights and civic freedoms, our country stand in 158t place out of 187 countries of the world – between Pakistan, Swaziland, and Togo. With regards to freedom of the press, Russia is 147th out of 179, ranking alongside Iraq, Venezuela, and Chad. In corruption, Russia occupies 123rd place out of 158, next to Gambia, Afghanistan, and Rwanda. In protection of private property rights – 89th out of 110, on the same level as Mozambique, Nigeria and Guatemala. Quality of legal system: 170th out of 199 alongside Burundi, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Pakistan. Effectiveness of civil service: 170th out out of 203, giving us Niger, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, and Pakistan as neighbours.

The brute force state model legalises violence in our society. The number of murders per thousand inhabitants in Russia is the world’s 7th highest among 112 countries, lying between Ecuador and Guatemala, a little better that South Africa and a touch worse than Mexico. In overall physical security Russia’s inhabitants occupy 175th place out of 185 countries, ranking in the same group as Zimbabwe, Sudan, Haiti, and Nepal. The siloviki have no care for their fellow-countrymen’s safety.

And what, one may ask, about the financial, technological, and operational abilities of the “force” sectors of the state – the armed forces, the police, and the special services? Hasn't the fact that they have undergone reinforcement in recent years strengthened the state?

Unlike the institutions of any modern state which exist to ensure the safety of its citizens; to guarantee their equality before the law and the powers that be; to maintain the supremacy of the law and checks and balances; to provide freedom of the press; to protect private property, freedom of speech and of public and political organisation and the right to participate in the political life and running of one’s country, the “force” sectors differ because they are elements of the traditional state apparatus. Reinforcing them does not necessarily lead to a strengthening of the institutions of a modern state. The fact that the “force” sectors are flourishing is evidence of change in the opposite direction, of the degradation of the institutions of a modern state such as we see, for example in Somalia and Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea.

Where are we heading? Is it that the low rankings on Russia’s state institutions are the result of the oligarchic past, of the “collapse” and “chaos” period in the 1990s and that these things are now being overcome by the stubborn work of brute force civil servants?

Complete myth. The sharp fall in the quality indices of state institutions has occurred in recent years. In 1998 (the last year before the advent to power of the siloviki), the level of civic freedom in Russia was 58% of the mean figure for the OECD countries. In 2002 (on the eve of the arrest of P. Lebedev and M. Khodorkovsky and just before the destruction of Yukos), this had dropped to 47% and by 2006 to 37%. The press freedom index in that time dropped from 55% to 47% and 33% while the political rights index fell accordingly from 57% to 45% and 27%.

The freedom from corruption index which back in 2002 was only 35% of the mean for the OECD countries dropped to under 30% by 2006. Safety of property rights, which had reached 54% of the mean level for developed countries by 2002, dropped to a mere 14% by the end of 2006. The World Bank gives the following figures for the fall of Russia indices (based on OECD levels for the period 1998 to 2005: government accountability – down from 60% to 43%; political stability – down from 51% to 43%; quality of civil service management – down from 59% to 56%.

The number of murders per 1000 inhabitants in Russia was 12 times the OECD level in 1998; by 2004 – 14 times. The number of serious crimes against the person more than doubled between 1998 and 2006. In 2006, in “conditions of political stability”, with record prices for oil and gas, unprecedented economic growth, a fantastic rise in wealth, and with absolute power in the hands of the siloviki, the level of crime in the country is more than twice what it was in 1998. And 1998, let’s not forget, was the year of the greatest crash of the economy at a time of low oil prices but greater democracy.

This is total failure. The deterioration in the field of foreign affairs is no less marked. Having successful quarrelled with nearly all our foreign partners, the brute force state has created a situation not seen for a long time in Russia’s history: it would seem that today we have no allies at all. The army and the navy remain, but not a single ally for our foreign policies remains. Trumpet as we may of diplomatic successes, Russia is to all intents and purposes isolated in its foreign policies. This became particularly clear after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. A comparison with the previous seven years shows that the average level of meetings between Russian officials and their foreign peers halved during the winter of 2006-2007. The number of meetings with heads of Western states was down to a third of the previous level and with heads of CIS states down 3.4 times. As a well-known television personality said: that is failure.

True, the reduction in the number of contacts with traditional partners in Europe, North America, and the CIS has been partially counterbalanced by a 50% increase in contacts with Eastern leaders – Indonesia, Mongolia, Lebanon, Syria, India, Guyana. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and China. The evolution of Russia’s internal political institutions is complemented by an evolution of the country’s foreign policy preferences.

What about the economic boom?

Isn’t the growth at least impressive? Growth there has been, but it should be judged in context. Mean GDP growth for 2004-2006 amounted to 6.8%, higher in actual fact than that of some European countries. But it is lower than the 8.2% growth achieved by Russia in 1999-2000 at the start of the oligarchies and before the brute force model got under way. At the same time oil – at $52 per barrel – has tripled in price since 1999-2000 ($19 p.b.), a gift to the country’s foreign trade figures worth 15-18% of GDP which was totally absent in 1999-2000.

The real example of economic growth in the last 30 years is not anaemic Europe but dynamic China. Russia lagged behind China back over the last decades and continues to lag behind today. While Russia GDP grew by 58% between 2000 and 2006, China’s rose by 88%. Seven years ago, China’s economy was 5 times the size of Russia’s, today it is 6 times.

Thanks to the brute force model, the country has been turned into an economic invalid even when viewed against the background of the other countries of the former USSR. Only two countries of the 14 former republics had growth rates higher than Russia’s in 1999-2000. For 2004-2006, 12 of them did better than Russia. With the brute force model ruling, Russia is being overtaken not only by other oil-and-gas exporting countries such as Kazakhstan (GDP growth of 94% over seven years) and Azerbaidzhan (153%). Russia is now also being overtaken by oil-and-gas-importing countries such as Armenia, Tadzhikistan, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

Even Georgia, which has no energy resources of its own and is furthermore subject to a total trade, transport, energy, travel and postal blockade by Russia, saw a GDP growth of 9% last year whereas Russia, swimming in petrodollars, achieved only 6.7%. One could not ask for a clearer demonstration of the total failure of the brute force model!


All crises have serious consequences. When economic policies fail even a serious cataclysm (like, for example, the 1998 crisis in Russia) can be overcome by responding with a responsible policy line. However, if institutions of state are destroyed, the force of their own inertia can lead to catastrophe, the depth, duration and consequences of which are of a quite different scale to political crises.

The institutions of a modern state are the most important factor for economic growth and for giving the country its standing and its citizens a place in the modern world. The brute force government model has been tried dozens of times and we have been convincingly shown to what it leads. Vide: North and South Korea, East and West Germany before the 1990s, China and Taiwan before the 19809s, North and South Vietnam before 1975.

The countdown for the new historical experiment is already under way. It has not taken long for it to become clear how badly the brute force model of government in Russia does in comparison with the freer models in the Ukraine and Georgia. If the experiment is continued, we will have the opportunity to see how Russia is sidelined by all our freer close neighbours.

In foreseeing crisis, out of habit we narrow our focus to energy resources: what if the price of oil falls? Versions of this can be heard all over the place. But the problems does not lie in tomorrow but in today. It’s not a matter of the price of oil but rather of today’s government institutions, not external factors but internal ones. The problem comes from the brute force, raptorial and hierarchical state model imposed on Russia today.

Its creators promised a rebirth of the Russian state but the brute force model is killing it. Its creators promised security to the country’s citizens but the brute force model is delivering the opposite. Its creators promised to strengthen Russia’s sovereignty but the brute force model is leading to her isolation. Its creators promised faster economic growth but the brute force model guarantees it will lag behind. Its creators promised a stronger country but the brute force model is making it weaker.

There is nothing more important for today’s Russia than a change of government system.

The Sunday Links

Here's Russia in microcosm: One minute it announces it intends to make the Sochi Winter Olympics if awarded to Russia for 2014, the environmentally greenest on record. The next, we find out that Russia has lifted the protection on polar bears, one of the species most threatened by global warming, and will allow them to be hunted to exinction. In other words, in classic neo-Soviet fashion Russians, believing they are so much clever than ignorant foreigners, conclude they can tell any ridiculous lie and the foreigners will be fooled and believe them. Exactly this kind of thinking brought the USSR to ruin.

Kazakhstan is studying the prospects for a Caspian pipeline that would allow it to deliver energy to Europe while bypassing Russia.

Russia has talked about setting up a colony on Mars, and now it has another grand scheme: to build a pipeline and tunnel across the Bering Strait to connect with America. Assuming Russia actually intends to give America a land link to Russia, what is it's purpose? To win back Alaska as Vladimir Zhirinovsky has always wished? To place America in a position to defend Russia if China seizes Siberia which would by then include this pipeline?

Russia's Interior Ministry claims to have exposed 148 "terrorist" websites in 2007 so far. RIA Novosti reports, but doesn't list a single one of them. Does anybody have the list? According to the Ministry, one-third of the sites were located on U.S. servers. Perhaps it considers this blog to be one of them? We know for sure that Hamas and Hezbollah don't count, since the Kremlin is funding them. The most so-called terrorist sites, of course, were found in Russia -- nearly half the list.

Annals of Jailtime: Khodorkovsky in Chita

Robert Amsterdam offers readers another inside look at Mikhail Khodorkovsky's jail time, courtesy of hero reporter Grigory Pasko, through the eyes of convict Denis Yurinsky was the first work supervisor for convict Mikhail Khodorkovsky at Krasnokamensk general regime colony No. 10.

My first meeting with Khodorkovsky went like this. Once they announced to everybody in the camp: get everything in order, a big commission has arrived. They were getting the camp ready for something, they were putting everything in order, even the cops [as the zeks call the colony staff – G.P.] were taking out garbage. They were saying that they were bringing 20 Chechens. Then the stage arrives and I see that they’ve brought just one guy. In glasses, average height, squat and compact. I says to the cops – that’s all your Chechens? That’s how I found out that they’d brought Khodorkovsky.

They usually put all new arrivals in quarantine for 15 days, in separate barracks. Only then do they bring them out into the “zone”. Mikhail Borisovich was brought out to barrack No. 8. Then he ended up on my work team – a packer of finished output. He packed bedding, folding it up. We chatted, a normal guy. I called him Misha. There’s no such thing as using formal address, or calling someone by name-and-patronymic [e.g. Mikhail Borisovich – Trans.], among zeks. It’s easier to use the informal form of address, and that’s the customary way. Yes, I noticed immediately that this is a guy who isn’t afraid of work.

He came in 2005, in the autumn. The two of us worked together for nearly a year. Until August 2006. Everything that took place with him took place on my watch. I even took part in one process, when they were removing Yevstratov, the chief of the colony. The first time they locked up Khodorkovsky for not being at his workplace. He came to me, he asks how the sewing machines work. And right then the duty guard shows up – to do a head count of people at the workplaces. And that’s how Khodorkovsky ended up in the punishment isolator. This had never happened before, that they locked someone up in the punishment isolator for something like that. I was often not in one place. My workplace was the entire industrial zone. And lots of people can come and go like that – on business. The fact that they locked Mikhail up – this was a special action, they were looking for a reason to lock him up.

I then found out through my sources that there was an instruction from above: Khodorkovsky has to have one constant violation of the rules of confinement. It doesn’t matter for what. What matters is that it be and that it be all the time.

So the cops tried hard. But Mikhail Borisovich is no fool, and had learned a lot in Matrosskaya Tishina. He wouldn’t let them pull a fast one on him, he’d studied the laws well. So sometimes they even fired staff who, I guess, weren’t able to handle the assignment – to announce reprimands to him.

The incident with the lemons – you know, when Khodorkovsky shared with someone – is also wild. They say that they specially invented a new edict about the alienation of other’s property just to punish Mikhail. This is how they explained it: if you give someone a smoke, for example, then you’re driving him into debt. Total drivel! We’ve always given and have always shared everything, because that’s how it’s always been done. Even the staff gave us cigarettes. But after this edict some kind of idiocy started to take place.

In short, they punished Khodorkovsky specially the second time too.
I can’t imagine that every convict in every Russian colony is carrying out this edict.

The third incident was the one with convict Kuchma. Yevgeni was his name. He was with Khodorkovsky in the 8th detachment. I’ve known him a long time. Kuchma lived in Chita before the colony. Now, rumor has it, he’s in another “zone”.

“The situation, as I understood it, was like this: Kuchma had entered into a conflict with certain criminals. And he needed to come up with a reason for them to transfer him to another “zone”. I don’t know if he thought of that himself, to stab Khodorkovsky, or if someone suggested it to him. But it worked. He stabbed Mikhail, and they transferred him to another colony. They didn’t even throw him in the punishment isolator. But they let fly a rumor that Khodorkovsky had paid him 500 dollars to create such an incident, so that Khodorkovsky would end up looking like a martyr.

Dozens of commissions came to the colony after they’d brought Khodorkovsky there. So Yevstratov had no chance to hold on to his job as chief of the colony. I heard that they’re already locking up some of the staff too. This has to do with the fact that their relations among each other have gotten more brutal. They’re all being searched, stripped down to their underwear. It didn’t used to be that way. Before they could probably even bring an elephant into the “zone” for the prisoners. No more. And after they’re fired, they’ll never be able to get a job as a cop anywhere else ever again.

Yes, I know that Khodorkovsky is now sitting in the investigative isolator in Chita. Different people have different feelings about him. I’m positive about him, because I’ve had a chance to talk with him and see what he’s like in real life. He told me how he’d earned his money. People will never understand this. They don’t believe that you can earn big money honestly. And then there’s those who think that this is all just politics, that he’s an opponent of Putin’s.

I got early release. I literally bough my release with camouflage. I sewed a good uniform, and they did the documents for me for this. Now I’m married to a woman with children, I’m busy with the house. If everything will be normal, we’ll have our wedding in the summer.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

April 28, 2007 -- Contents


(1) Annals of Russian Hypocrisy: The Tallinn Riots

(2) Gosh, it Sounds Just like Stalin, Doesn't it?

(3) Annals of Wealthy Russia: The Disabled are Starving Themselves

Annals of Russian Hypocrisy: The Tallinn Riots

When foreigners tell Russia to stop committing human rights atrocities in Chechnya, Russians say it's an internal Russian affair and outsiders have no business sticking in their noses. But when Estonia does something Russia doesn't like (for instance, suppressing a violent riot that included crazed, wild-eyed looters like the one in the photograph, from Itching for Estonia) of Russian nationalists trying to prevent Estonia from moving the graves of Russian soldiers, who subjugated and raped the nation)? Suddenly, Russia has the right to dictate. reports:

ESTONIAN authorities moved a Soviet-era war memorial from central Tallinn under cover of darkness today setting off riots that left at least one dead and sparking fury in Moscow.

The leader of the Russian senate called for diplomatic relations with Estonia to be broken because of the removal of the monument. Russia's foreign ministry called the move "blasphemous" and said relations would be examined. As Estonian authorities cordoned off the central square where the Red Army war memorial has been for decades, about 1000 pro-Russian demonstrators gathered nearby to protest. Their demonstration turned into a riot in which police used water cannon, rubber batons, and flash and sound grenades to disperse crowds and prevent youths from forcing their way through a police cordon. "One person died after being taken to hospital and 43 have been treated for injuries sustained in the violence," Tallinn police chief Raivo Kuut said on Estonian Television. More than 300 people were detained following the riots which were the worst the Baltic state has seen since restoring independence from Moscow in 1991.

A government emergency commission met during the night and ordered the controversial monument removed from the square to a new location, which is being kept secret, the Government press office said. Ethnic Estonians see the memorial as a symbol of 50 years of Soviet occupation while Russia considers it a symbol of the fight against Nazism in World War II. "The aim of the Government move was to prevent further similar gross violations of public order, which pose a real threat to citizens' health and property," the Government said. The plan to relocate the statue has caused anger in Moscow, which says the Estonians are glorifying fascism by insisting on moving it.

Sergei Mironov, head of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, called today for a break in relations with Estonia. "I urge you to adopt a resolution addressed to the president recommending a break in diplomatic relations with Estonia," he told MPs. Russian MPs were to vote on a non-binding resolution today. A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry, Mikhail Kamynin, called the Estonian government's action "blasphemous" and "inhuman". He added that Russia would re-examine its relations with the ex-Soviet Baltic state. The head of the international affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian Parliament, Konstantin Kosachyov, also recommended tough measures against Estonia today. "We will of course demand from the executive the toughest possible reaction to what is happening in Estonia," Mr Kosachyov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. "It's barbaric, it's blasphemous," Mr Kosachyov said.

The Estonian Government voted last year to move the monument to a less prominent location after scuffles broke out at the memorial between pro-Russian supporters and ethnic Estonians. Estonia and its Baltic neighbours were annexed by the Soviet Union at the close of World War II and only regained independence in 1991. The authorities wanted to conduct excavation work at the site to determine if any fallen World War II soldiers lie buried beneath the statue before moving it.

Kommersant reports: "According to the Tallinn newspaper Postimees, activists from Russia's Nashi movement have moved into the Meriton Grand Hotel Tallinn (69 euros a night) a few hundred meters from the monument. In addition, Dmitry Linter, one of the leaders of the 'Night Watch' has also recently promised that 'surprises are in the works' for the Estonian authorities." In other words, Russia sent the Nashi youth cult in to attempt to destabilize the Estonian government, yet Putin just got finished complaining that foreign NGO's are seeking to support the "Other Russia" coalition in his state-of-the-nation address. Russia can't have it both ways.

So it seems the government of Estonia is "inhuman" because it dares to disagree with Russia. Perhaps that means it should be "exterminated" like an infestation? Break diplomatic relations? Mironov is the same person who is calling for appointing Vladimir Putin an indefinite rule as dictators, the same one who stood by watching trainees use Alexander Litvinenko's photograph for target practice. Who are the Russians kidding? Estonia is a part of NATO and the EU. Attacking Estonia is attacking NATO and the EU -- and, come to think of it, Putin just announced a pullout from a major security treaty in Europe. Maybe war is just what Russia wants?

Gosh, Sounds Just Like Stalin, Doesn't it?

The Moscow Times reports on the Stalin-like reception of Vladimir Putin's eight state-of-the-nation address, in which he declared cold war on the West:

As if it weren't enough that politicians broke into applause more than 40 times during President Vladimir Putin's state-of-the-nation address Thursday, many had nothing but praise as they filed out of the Kremlin's Marble Hall.

Some lauded Putin's promise to step down next year, while a minister said the president thinks about the nation's welfare 24 hours a day.

"The main thing is he's leaving," said State Duma Deputy Alexei Mitrofanov, a leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, though he noted a certain melancholy. "It may be sad, but that's part of our life."

Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev said he respected Putin for "his courage and straightforward position."

Trutnev added that he was confident that Putin spends all of his time making sure Russia is unsusceptible to economic downturns. "He thinks about that day and night," he said.

With the opposition sidelined and independent media largely silenced under Putin, it is perhaps unsurprising that many officials appear to be merely yes-men, having seemingly recognized the need to toe the official line. Several lawmakers -- most notably Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov -- have called for a change in the Constitution to allow Putin to serve beyond 2008.

Independent Duma Deputy Gennady Seleznyov, however, was not one of them. Seleznyov, asked whether he thought a new leader should replace Putin, answered curtly, "I still think so."

Although Putin reiterated that he would leave office, he did not hint as to who might succeed him. The two leading contenders, First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, sat next to each other as Putin spoke. Medvedev did not address reporters after the speech, while Ivanov basked in the spotlight of state-controlled television, often repeating Putin's message word-for-word. Buttressing Putin on the need to urgently resolve the shortage of quality housing, Ivanov said "all of the social vices" in Russia, including widespread alcoholism, stemmed from the fact that people live in egregiously dilapidated buildings.

But not everyone thought Putin's performance was flawless. One governor, who asked not to be identified, said Putin had been unwise to reveal his hand by saying the speech would be his last.

"A bit too early," the governor said.

A lame duck president could prompt government officials and lawmakers to look for new masters to pledge their loyalty to, he said.

In an apparent effort to pre-empt exactly that, the Kremlin warned officials against slacking as Putin's eight-year reign comes to an end. A source in the presidential administration told Interfax that just because Putin said another president would deliver the next address "doesn't mean officials can relax."

Putin began the speech with a moment of silence to commemorate his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who died Monday. Only Communist officials refused to stand in honor of Yeltsin, who dismantled the Soviet Union and broke the Communists' grip on power.

With typical bombast, Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky said he would make sure the Communists were eventually banned from the Duma for their insolence. "His body wasn't even cold yet and they are saying in the Duma that a wooden stake should be driven through it," Zhirinovsky said.

In a Freudian slip, Condi said it all:

In a slip of the tongue, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke Thursday of the "Soviet" nuclear arsenal even as she urged Russia to abandon Cold War thinking. "Let's be real about this and realistic about this, the idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe are going to threaten the Soviet strategic deterrent is purely ludicrous and everybody knows it," Rice told reporters before NATO talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Rice said Washington wanted to keep discussing the issue with Moscow based on a "realistic" assessment rather than "one that is grounded somehow in the '80s."

Russian officials and generals have revived Cold War language in criticizing the U.S. plan to install radar scanners in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. Washington says the deployment is aimed at protecting Europe and North America from a growing threat of missile strike by North Korea or Iran. Moscow says the plan aims to target Russia's strategic missile arsenal. The Russian rhetoric has unnerved some in Western Europe, who fear the negative impact on relations with the Kremlin may outweigh any benefits of the missile shield. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said he needed to hear more from the United States. "I remain to be convinced about the nature of the threats and the way to respond to them," he told reporters after meeting Rice. NATO diplomats, however, said there was growing support for the U.S. plans among European governments. The missile debate was expected to dominate two days of talks among NATO foreign ministers, who will also focus on efforts to back up the alliance's military mission in Afghanistan, and a split between Russia and Western powers over the future of Kosovo. Lavrov joined the talks after an opening session among the 26 NATO allies. A Soviet specialist, Rice served on the White House National Security Council from 1989 to March 1991, a period that included the fall of the Berlin Wall and the waning days of the Soviet Union.

Annals of Putin's Wealthy Russia: The Disabled Starve Themselves

The Moscow Times reports yet more information dispelling the ridiculous notion that Russians are prospering under Dictator Putin:

KISELYOVSK, Kemerovo Region -- In a cramped, two-room apartment here, six people with work-related disabilities on Thursday entered the 60th day of a hunger strike over prescription medicine subsidies and pensions.

"We want the laws to work in this country. We want to be able to go to the pharmacy and get our medicine as the law provides," said Alexander Gartman, the protest organizer and a participant.

"The hunger strike is our last chance. The authorities have turned their backs on us, and our appeals and complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Now we're prepared to go all the way," said Gartman, the head of Regressnik, a regional nongovernmental organization that serves the needs of people disabled on the job.

The emaciated protesters lie on mattresses on the floor of Gartman's apartment. On the 42nd day of the hunger strike, doctors told the protesters that if they continued, their bodies would suffer irreparable damage and they would eventually die. "We had no choice but to start taking in a minimal amount of nourishment from sugar water, juice and herbal tea to stay alive," Gartman said.

Other disabled workers come to the apartment every day to offer their support. Many of them are prevented by health problems from taking part.

"If I were to join the hunger strike, my only act of protest would be to die," said Alexander Uskov, a diabetic, who was visiting the apartment earlier this week.

As Uskov was speaking, Gartman sent home an elderly couple, Nikolai Pulyayev and his wife Valentina, who had also come to show their support. "Nikolai would like to join us, but he has a serious stomach ailment that doesn't allow him to," Gartman said.

At issue in the hunger strike are reductions in disabled workers' benefits that have made it next to impossible for the workers to pay for vital prescription drugs.

In May 2006, the government decided to compensate disabled workers only for Russian medicines. Previously, they had been reimbursed in full for all prescribed medicines. The government issued a list of medicines included in the program and the amount it would pay in compensation.

Doctors often prescribe foreign-made medicines, however, leaving disabled workers to pay the sizeable difference out of their own pockets.

"If the prescribed medicine is imported, payment covers only the cost of the Russian-made equivalent," said Irina Kadetova, director of the regional branch of the state Social Insurance Fund.

Even the prices the government sets on domestic medicines lag well behind actual retail prices.

The protesters have appealed to authorities all the way to Moscow, but so far with no success. After two months without food, they aren't sure they will live to see their concerns addressed.

Over two months, medical personnel have responded to three calls from the apartment, and a number of protesters have been forced to quit because of failing health. Sergei Geiger was hospitalized after 20 days with stomach trouble. Nikolai Kuchmar was also forced to drop out after developing intestinal complications. Geiger and Kuchmar worked for years in a local coal mine.

The other protesters and their supporters have similar stories.

Nikolai Pulyayev worked in a mine for 25 years until he was injured in 1987. He has been fighting ever since to receive the benefits to which he is entitled by law. After 17 years, the government finally classified him as unfit to work, but his benefits are not indexed to inflation. The state pays him 1,700 rubles ($66) per month.

So far, the authorities have done little to respond to the protesters' demands.

Not long ago, a letter arrived from Mikhail Mironov, head of the department that handles citizens' appeals in the administration of President Vladimir Putin. In the letter, Gartman said, Mironov directed Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev to deal with the hunger strikers' demands.

In response, Deputy Governor Yevgeny Baranov told the protesters that none of their demands fell within the purview of the regional government.

Last Friday, the protesters received a second letter from Mironov, in which he renewed his request for Tuleyev to sit down and talk with Gartman and the others. The governor's office has responded with silence.

Such indifference is the best the hunger strikers have received from the authorities.

In the first few days, Kiselyovsk police tried to disrupt the protest. "Some officers entered the apartment when one of us opened to door to go outside. They made no attempt to conceal their intention to use force against us," said hunger striker Vladimir Korovkin.

"The officers grabbed Vasily Kisel, a diabetic, by the legs and hair and started dragging him toward the door," Korovkin said. "He nearly passed out. The frightened cops called for an ambulance."

A dozen policemen also sealed off the apartment and discouraged supporters from entering by demanding ID and making threats. The protesters filmed the harassment.

"Police personnel did in fact exceed their authority," said Kiselyovsk's chief prosecutor, Alexander Zharikov.

After looking into the matter, Zharikov sent legal opinions to this effect to Lieutenant General Anatoly Vinogradov, the regional police chief, and to Kiselyovsk Mayor Sergei Lavrentyev.

"They're exacerbating the situation when these issues could be solved peacefully," Zharikov said.

As fate would have it, during the third week of the hunger strike, Lavrentyev was given an award for defending human rights by the regional human rights ombudsman, Nikolai Volkov.

April 27, 2007 -- Contents


(1) Another Original LR Translation: The Lie as Russia's "National Idea"

(2) Putin: Russia cut off from the Internet

(3) Russian Human Rights Campaigners call for Foreign Intervention

(4) Annals of the Holy Russian Empire: Prayer in Schools

(5) Annals of Neo-Soviet Propaganda


(A) Check out LR's latest installment on Publius Pundit, dealing with Putin's declaration of cold war in his state-of-the-nation address.

(B) Our sidebar contains three new features: (1) a Google news feed for stories about Vladimir Putin; (2) a YouTube feed for videos about Russia; (3) a "hangman" word game (how appropriate for Russia!). If you are looking to spend a few idle moments browsing or playing, check out the bottom of the sidebar for these new features.