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Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 31, 2007 -- Contents


(1) Annals of Russia's Demographic Crisis

(2) New U.S. Congress Bashes Neo-Soviet Russia

(3) Annals of Russian Pathology: The Missiles of May

(4) If That is my Country, When's the Next Rocket to Mars?

(5) Point-Counterpoint

NOTE: Check out La Russophobe's latest installment on Publius Pundit, where with the help of Robert Amsterdam she exposes the outrageous lies the Kremlin is telling about the alleged protection from extradition created by the Russian Constitution, using this false claim as a basis to refuse to hand over accused Litvinenko killer Andrei Lugovoi.

La Russophobe continues to be the fortunate recipient of a great deal of valuable input from readers, as today's postings indicate. Two of the items (#1 and #4) come to us through the efforts of the readership, for which we express our gratitude and admiration. Submissions from readers are always welcomed by e-mail, and anonymity is assured if desired.

NOTE: La Russophobe is pleased to direct your attention to the charming slice-of-life Moscow blog "Moscow Does not Believe in Tears." The blogger describes herself as an "
avid, rabid LR reader" which clearly indicates that she's a person of exceptional taste and refinement, to say nothing of being a rare female, sister blogger as well. You go, girl!

Annals of Russia's Demographic Crisis

Facts about Neo-Soviet Russia's Health:

  • In the first six months of 2005, the Russian population fell by half a million [LR: And that's only the lowest possible number, the one provided by Kremlin data; the actual number is quite likely far higher]
  • By the middle of this century Russia could lose up to half of its people, according to Russian government stats [LR: If we used actual stats rather than those provided by a government presided over by a proud KGB spy, the picture would be even more dire. The same holds true for all the data to follow.]
  • Life expectancy for men is 56 years, the same as Bangladesh
  • Ten years ago, the life expectancy for men in Russia was 63 [LR: Still much lower than in the West, and in Vladimir Putin's 8 years in office there has been no improvement]
  • The World Health Organisation says that at a conservative estimate more than a million people will have died because of AIDS in Russia by 2020 [LR: When was the last time you heard "President" Putin mention AIDS?]
  • Every other newborn baby is diagnosed with a disease at birth
  • There are more abortions every year in Russia than babies are born
  • Thanks to ill-health, 10 million Russians are infertile [LR: Think about that -- 10 million Russians can't make children, and among those who can more choose to abort than give birth. What does that tell you about the country they live in?]
  • A quarter of the population lives below the poverty line [LR: And that's "poverty" as defined by Russians, not Westerners; in Russia, the average wage is $2.50 per hour, and the minimum wage is $0.25 per hour]
  • Paradox #1: Despite all of the above, Moscow has more billionaires than any other city in the world [LR: The same situation as in Tsarist Russia; Russians have learned nothing from their own history or the horrors of the Bolshevik revolution]
  • Paradox #2: Despite all of the above, although Russia's population is in freefall, they're still throwing people out. Thirty thousand Meshket Turks have recently had to seek asylum in America, having been forced from their homes in the south of the country by discriminatory laws and racist attacks. [LR: And they're still favoring their government with 70% approval ratings in polls, the ultimate proof of Russian barbarism and stupidity]
Those facts and more were reported by Britain's Channel 4 in a program called "Death of a Nation." Click through the link to watch video excerpts and read more about the show. A reader notes:
When I read about it, I thought it would just show a lot of poverty and not focus on any real issues about what is uniquely wrong in Russia. I was wrong. The most dramatic thing was when he went and visited the Meshket Turk people in Krasnodar. Their situation seemed exactly like black South Africans in the apartheid era. Now 30000 of them are apparently being expelled from Russia and being taken in by the USA (so the people said themselves). It is worth seeing the posts to the forum on the subject on the website. Anyway, during the filming the crew were accosted by drunken neo-facist cossack police who said they had no right to film there. They were then taken away in extreme fear to the house of the officer and given hospitality with large amounts of alcoholic drinks, after which the officer collapsed in a drunken stupor. Later at the police offices, the crew were given moonshine vodka, whipped for fun, and found a copy of one of the police officers' favorite books - Mein Kampf. They then whent to the inauguration of the same police officer as colonel, which would put him in charge of hundreds of police. Perhaps it has been shown somewhere at some time in America. It is a pity it has not been put on the You Tube.
The greatest horror of all, of course, is that despite all these egregious, undeniable failures, the Russian people still chooose to favor "President" Putin with stratospheric approval ratings, do not require him to participate in debates or to run in contested elections. In other words, they are committing suicide (again).

New U.S. Congress Bashes Neo-Soviet Russia

The Voice of America reports on how recent hearings about Rusisa before the U.S. Congress -- now controlled by the Democratic Party "reverberated with concerns over the deteriorating state of democracy in the world's largest country."

A Congressional hearing on Russia last Thursday reverberated with concerns over the deteriorating state of democracy in the world's largest country. Meanwhile, the U.S. government says it will continue cooperating with the Kremlin wherever possible, but, at the same time, will continue to criticize Russia and defend U.S. principles, when necessary. VOA's Ivana Kuhar has more.

Participants in a Congressional hearing on U.S. relations with Russia generally agreed that Washington and Moscow still cooperate closely on a number of critically important issues. But the experts also voiced serious concerns for Russia's backsliding on individual freedoms and democratic institutions.

Christopher Smith
Christopher Smith
Republican Congressman Christopher Smith from New Jersey offers his comments on the situation, "I am afraid Russia today may be slipping backwards. The Russian economy is booming, but Russian democracy seems to be falling below the level of many developing countries." Smith says he is alarmed by the repression of the opposition in Russia and the diminishing right to protest. He says the decline in media freedom is diametrically opposed to Russia's professed commitment to foundations of a democratic state.

A Democratic congressman from Florida, Alcee Hastings, chairs the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe -- the premier Congressional body for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. Hastings said, in Putin's Russia, the Kremlin is making all decisions, effectively bypassing the people, the parliament and the judiciary. "Despite President Putin's lip service in support of democratic institutions and civil society, we now see a political agenda centrally planned in Moscow."

Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas says Russia's behavior in the international arena has been equally troubling. In a written statement, Brownback contends Moscow is seeking to intimidate its neighbors, particularly those that choose to pursue closer ties to the West.

A U.S. presidential candidate, Brownback says he is alarmed by Russia's use of energy as a means to exert political pressure on its neighbors and worried about the political implications of European states being overly dependent on Russia's energy.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried presented the Congressional panel with the Bush administration's objectives in its relations with Russia. "Ours might not be a full strategic partnership, but it includes partnership on many strategic issues. The administration wants Russia to be a partner in the world, and we want Russia to be strong, but strong in 21st century terms: with strong, democratic and independent institutions in and out of government."

Fried said it is imperative that the two countries work together wherever possible, "even when such cooperation may prove challenging." The U.S. will, says Fried, push back when necessary in defense of American values, interests and friends.

"We do not exempt Russia from our belief in the universal potential of freedom, and we also have Russia in mind when we say that we seek an open world characterized by partnerships with like-minded countries."

Assistant Secretary of State Fried lauded the U.S.-Russian partnership in a number of critical areas, such as counterterrorism and nonproliferation. He said the U.S. is committed to an ongoing dialogue with Russia, to smooth over differences and bridge the rifts where they might exist.

Annals of Russian Pathology: The Missiles of May

The International Herald Tribune reports on a Polish diplomat labeling Russian opposition to defensive missile systems in Poland "pathological."

Poland's top negotiator on planned U.S. missile defense bases in Europe said Tuesday that Russia has revealed a "psychological problem" in its opposition to the plan, and said Warsaw will ask U.S. President George W. Bush how seriously to take Moscow's threats.

Poland is considering whether to allow the U.S. to place 10 defensive interceptors at a base in northern Poland that would be able to destroy possible missiles from Iran. A radar system in the neighboring Czech Republic would be part of the system. Russia has voiced fierce opposition to the possible sites in formerly communist eastern European countries, and one general has warned that the facilities could be targeted.

The Russians "absolutely know that 10 missiles which are not equipped with any kind of warhead cannot do any harm against Russian military might," Witold Waszczykowski, the deputy foreign minister and top Polish negotiator, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "From a technical point of view, we cannot convince them. They ignore, they neglect our arguments, and they are saying that any kind of a military installation on the territory of Poland, Czech Republic — that means on the territory of new member NATO states — is not acceptable for them," Waszczykowski said. "That means they have a psychological problem, a kind of mental problem" preventing them from accepting that the two nations "are really sovereign — are not part of Soviet or Russian domination any more."

Waszczykowski said when Bush visits Poland on June 8, he should give the Poles some "political feedback" on how seriously to take the threat, and address what the U.S. can do to protect Poland from any Russian retaliation. He said Warsaw fears the Russians will react by building up their forces and placing weapons on the Polish border — either in their exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders Poland, or in Belarus, a strong Russian ally. "If we are confronted with such rhetoric from Russia, should we talk about additional protection for the base?" he asked. "Should we discuss some additional measures like reinforcement of NATO planning, maybe, or some kind of American declarations? What happens in case of troubles?" he said. "We would like to hear from President Bush, of course, what are the answers for this kind of changing attitude of Russia." In February, a top Russian officer, Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, said if the Polish and Czech governments go ahead with hosting the sites, "the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of targeting these facilities if a relevant decision is made." Waszczykowski held talks last week in Warsaw with John Rood, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation. Neither divulged specifics from the talks but said they were going well and that a next round would be held in Washington in late June. Waszczykowski said a deal could come in early fall. However, one topic addressed was Polish concern over Russia's stance. "We are wondering — and we actually asked Americans during this discussion — how they evaluate the situation, if they think it's only rhetoric for the domestic politics of Russia, or if it is a kind of rhetoric we need to consider, and face and provide some answers," Waszczykowski said. "No one knows ... how to understand Putin's speech ... how to understand the whole climate, the atmosphere created in Russia," he said. A further issue overshadowing the talks is the "feeling of disillusionment" toward the U.S. that has grown since the start of the war in Iraq, Waszczykowski said. "There's a feeling in Poland that although we've spent already four years in Iraq, we are considered by Americans as a kind of junior partner," Waszczykowski said.

A recent example, he said, came during an international conference on Iraq in early May in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, to which no Polish representative was invited. Even though Poland sent ground troops to the 2003 war, and still has 900 soldiers there, it was left off the invitation list. But Italy, which has since pulled out its troops, and Germany and France, which opposed the war, were represented. So were Syria and Iran. "Many politicians have asked how we can trust if we are treated and considered by them like this," Waszczykowski said.

If That is "My Country", When's the Next Rocket to Mars?

Just a question: What do you think the world would do if it found it found out one of Germany's most significant and time-honored pop stars had just added new song to his repertoire which sounded something like what follows, the lyrics of crazed neo-nationlist Russian pop star Oleg Gazmanov's "Made in the USSR" reworked by a reader? Mind you, this is based on a real Russian pop song which is basically the same thing except with Soviet references, including Stalin, that we've already blogged about some time ago.

"Made in the Mighty Third Reich"

Poland and France, Czechoslovakia and Russia
That is my country
North Africa, Turkey, and certainly England
That is my country
Belgium, Holland, Latvia, Estonia
Lithuania, Italy, Spain and Portugal too

I was born in Nazi Germany
I was made in the mighty Third Reich
I was born in Nazi Germany
I was made in the mighty Third Reich

The Kaiser, the Hapsburgs, Himmler and Hitler
They are my country
Brecht, Goethe, Heine and Jahn
They are my country
The Russian churches we bombed out, the ones that replaced them
The Reichstag and the first printing press

I was born in Nazi Germany
I was made in the mighty Third Reich
I was born in Nazi Germany
I was made in the mighty Third Reich

Olympic gold, the races, the victories
This is my country
Rommel, von Rundstedt, VWs, ICBMs
This is my country
The skinheads and beggars, the might and the ruin
The spies and Gestapo and the great scientists

I was born in Nazi Germany
I was made in the mighty Third Reich
I was born in Nazi Germany
I was made in the mighty Third Reich

Beethoven, Brahms, Bartholdy and Handel
Schumann and Wagner, Gropius and van der Rohen
We invented the bicycle and also the motorcyle
Oh! Our Navy, our Army, our Air Force, our Marines!

I was born in Nazi Germany
I was made in the mighty Third Reich
I was born in Nazi Germany
I was made in the mighty Third Reich

Beer, pretzels, the Autobahn, the ICBMs
The sturdiest women on the planet
Football, ballet, the best opera
Just tell me something we haven't got

Now Europe
is trying to form a union
And we're going to be the boss of the whole thing
Sure, we caused both World Wars
But hey, we also invented plastic!
Dissolve the borders, there’s no need of passports
Without us you’re nothing, together we’re friend

In fact, forget about the world. Just think about what Germans would do if one of their own started singing a song like this, and you'll see the difference between a civilized, intelligent country that capable of facing and learning from its mistakes (Germany) and a childish, barbaric state that can only deny and hide from its mistakes (Russia).

Point, Counterpoint

"As of today, Russia has new tactical and strategic complexes that are capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems."

-- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, May 30, 2007, as quoted by ITAR-TASS

"Unbreakable Union of freeborn Republics Great Russia has welded forever to stand."

-- Opening lines of the National Anthem of the U.S.S.R., which actually lasted slightly less long than "forever"

PS: If Russia really did have a perfect, unbeatable offensive nuclear weapon, would it be complaining about the presence of a U.S. ballistic missile shield in Eastern Europe? And ask yourself this: Why does Russia need the ability to fire ballistic missiles at Eastern Europe? Isn't Russia a "reliable partner"?

May 30, 2007 -- Contents


(1) Editorial: Calling the People of Russia to Account

Anna Speaks from Beyond the Grave

(4) Annals of Russian "Justice" - Another Failing Grade for Russia

(3) Warning on Russia: The Neo-Soviet Energy Arsenal

NOTE: The Other Russia website reports that Garry Kasparov received a standing ovation when he recently adddressed the delegates at the European Parliament, who obviously chose to stick a finger right in Vladimir Putin's eye, first by hosting Kasparov and then by rising to laud him. The OR site has full details on the contents of his remarks, click through to read them.

NOTE: As of this writing, La Russophobe's most recent entry on the Publius Pundit blog is being reported as the #2 news listing on Google News Russia, out of over 45,000 total entries. Click the second link to see the screen shot.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

EDITORIAL: Calling the People of Russia to Account


In recent days, we've reported on two amazingly contradictory developments relating to military policy.

First, on Publius Pundit last week, we reported on how Russia is delivering defensive missile systems to Iran (LR has also addressed this topic in the past). These missiles can be used to shoot down attack aircraft dispatched by NATO or Israel to take out Iran's nuclear-weapons technology (which, not by coincidence, Russia is also providing to Iran) in the event it becomes a threat to Western security.

Then, yesterday, we reported on how Russia is wailing to high heaven about the defensive missile systems that NATO is installing in Eastern Europe, even going so far as to test offensive ICBM systems designed to overwhelm the NATO defenses through the use of MiRV (multiple reentry vehicle) technology.

This is a new low in the crazed hypocrisy, utterly detached from reality, that was the hallmark of the failed Soviet state. Even if child -- but not a Russian -- understands that if you object to the use of defensive missile systems in Eastern Europe then you can't simultaneously insert such systems in Iran for monetary profit. Yet, just as the moronic Soviets did, Russians seem to feel that they can pull the wool over the eyes of the West because they're so much smarter than we are, and that they can in fact have their cake and eat it too. Do you dare to imagine, dear reader, how the Russians would react if in the immediate wake of a Russian decision to attack terrorist sites in Chechnya with SCUD missiles the US began testing a new Patriot missile destined for Chechnya by way of Afghanistan which the Chechen rebels would use to shoot down the Russian attacks? This kind of hypocrisy cries out to be called uncivilized, relegating Russia to the status of a banana republic like Zimbabwe or Zaire.

And believe it or not, that's not even what's most outrageous in Russia's conduct. Even if Russia had a consistent policy and a legitimate basis to fear invasion by NATO, its provocative actions in testing a new offensive ICBM are totally inconsistent with its powerbase, seeming very like the quixotic antics of the dictator in North Korea. In other words, the Kremlin's mouth is writing checks that its fists can't cash. The USSR, with twice as many people as Russia has and a much more vital economic system not dependent on the sale of fossil fuels, was easily routed by the NATO allies in the first cold war, arms-race conflict. What will now happen to Russia? Do Russians really imagine it will be something different? Russians, once again, are allowing their psychedelic fantasies, stoked by petroleum fumes, to control their destiny, barrelling heedlessly down a road that can only lead to their destruction. It's time to begin asking the question: What will replace Russia, as the Russia replaced the USSR?

And it's time to focus on the single most important reality of modern Russian life: The Russian people are responsible for this outrage, and deserve our contempt and condemnation in the strongest terms, followed up by a new cold war that will make the first one seem like a tea party. During the first Cold War, it was the vogue to claim that the Russian people were the victims of these types of crazed policies, that they were the helpless slaves of a rogue regime. That's no longer possible. As Publius Pundit reported yesterday, the Russian people are just as guilty of misconduct as the Kremlin itself. They are actively supporting the Putin regime, empowering it, in both elections and public opinion polls, and there is no reason to think they didn't do so during even the worst excess of the Soviet era.

In short, the people of Russia are part of the problem, not part of the solution. We trusted them once, and when the USSR collapsed we didn't take advantage of the situation as we might have done, certainly not a military sense. We've napped as neo-Soviet Russia has sought to infiltrate and reconquer nations all along the old Iron Curtain's folds, from Estonia to Georgia. We've allowed that malignant little troll in the Kremlin to consolidate his cruel reign of terror, all the while claiming we were giving Russians the benefit of the doubt.

That means we too are responsible, and we will answer to our children if we shirk out duty now, which could not be more clear. We must demand that the people of Russia take responsibility for their actions and turn back from the brink of disaster, or we must drive them over that brink with all due haste lest we find ourselves fighting a two-front conflict, one against radical Muslim terrorists and the other against the state-sponsored terrorism offered by Russia. It is hard indeed to say which one is worse.

Anna Speaks from the Grave

Writing in the Moscow Times Gregory Feifer, Moscow bureau chief for National Public Radio, reviews Anna Politkovsakya's missive from beyond the grave:

Such was Anna Politkovskaya's courage and determination in recording killings, torture and abductions in Chechnya that failing to read her articles in Novaya Gazeta -- the country's most progressive newspaper -- meant risking ignorance of what Russia's chattering classes were saying each week about the government's latest outrage.

The 48-year-old mother of two adult children was shot dead by an unknown assassin in the elevator of her apartment building last October shortly after she'd completed her last book, commissioned by Random House for publication in English. "A Russian Diary" is an account of the country's major political events from December 2003 to August 2005. It catalogs a year-and-a-half of President Vladimir Putin's relentless drive to, in effect, transform his country from a bankrupt would-be democracy into a corrupt authoritarian state in which opposition figures are jailed and Kremlin cronies run the crown jewels of a newly resurrected state-controlled economy.The book opens shortly after the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, whose Yukos oil company would be broken up and sold to state-controlled companies in shady closed auctions. Khodorkovsky's arrest in October 2003 was a wake-up call to the West, where many Russia observers had shut their eyes to Putin's attacks on democracy, free-market capitalism and above all, his rivals. When the president visited British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London several months earlier, the Times called him Russia's best leader since Tsar Alexander II, who abolished serfdom in 1861. The book ends with the aftermath of the Beslan school siege, which Putin used as justification to abolish elections of regional governors in favor of Kremlin appointments.

Politkovskaya's indictment records some of the Putin administration's worst official corruption and criminal negligence, beginning with the parliamentary elections of December 2003. The Kremlin's manipulation of the voting was a major step toward Putin's evisceration of Russia's liberal opposition parties: None of them won enough votes to make it into the legislature. Politkovskaya describes some of the numerous violations: the beatings and intimidation of regional opposition candidates -- one of whom had plastic bags containing human body parts thrown through his window -- as well as pervasive evidence of ballot stuffing and the state-controlled media's refusal to cover the campaigns of Kremlin rivals. Her account belies the weak complaints of observers from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, whose failure to properly condemn such abuses amounted to an endorsement of Putin's victory.
In short, Politkovskaya describes a country in which violent crime trumps rule of law. Some of her most moving passages retell the experiences of Beslan's victims. She also chronicles the aftermath of other terrorist attacks, the grisly hazing deaths of army conscripts and brutal episodes from the second war in Chechnya that Putin launched in 1999. Here she documents one of its many unpunished atrocities:

Beslan Arapkhanov, a tractor driver, was beaten up in front of his wife and seven small children before being shot dead. By mistake. The security forces were attempting to arrest the fighter Ruslan Khuchbarov. According to highly secret intelligence, Khuchbarov was sleeping that night at No. 11 Partizanskaya Street.

For some reason, however, the soldiers came and shot the guiltless Arapkhanov at No. 1 Partizanskaya Street. Immediately after the murder, an officer entered the Arapkhanovs' house, introducing himself to the shocked wife as FSB [Federal Security Service] Investigator Kostenko, and presented a warrant to search 'No. 11 Partizanskaya Street.' At this point the error became evident, but Kostenko did not so much as apologize to the grieving widow.

That is the reality of our 'antiterrorist operation.' What are the seven children of Beslan Arapkhanov going to make of this? What chance is there that they will forgive and forget?

Politkovskaya tells about Putin's systematic attack against the free press and civil society with his officially sanctioned "Russian Orthodox" understanding of human rights. She describes Putin's sublime acting skills during a meeting with some of the country's top human rights defenders: "When need be, he is one of you; when that is not necessary, he is your enemy. He is adept at wearing other people's clothes, and many are taken in by this performance. The assembly of human rights campaigners also melted in the face of Putin's impersonating of them and, despite a fundamentally different take on reality, they poured out their hearts to him."

The Kremlin has managed to resurrect a Soviet-style system of rule, Politkovskaya writes, thanks to popular apathy, "rooted in an almost universal certainty among the populace that the state authorities will fix everything, including elections, to their own advantage." She asks if the authorities realize the ruinous effect their actions are having on Russia: "Or are they simply mindless, living for the moment? ... Does being in power in Russia really mean no more than having a place at the trough?"

This loosely structured and repetitive book is not a personal diary. Politkovskaya's account would have benefited from including more of her own experiences, such as her alleged poisoning during a plane flight to Beslan, ostensibly to stop her from covering the crisis. Giving voice to the Kremlin's marginalized victims, she sometimes fails to explain the significance of the figures and events she mentions, which will be known only to dedicated Russia observers. And although Arch Tait's translation is perfectly readable, one suspects it's too faithful to the original text and would have improved from finessing.

The book's major faults are common in Russian journalism. Much of it reads like a sermon, an extended op-ed piece that doesn't provide the kind of documentation and structure to which Western readers are accustomed. Politkovskaya condemns most Putin opponents as fiercely for their inaction as she criticizes the Kremlin for its crimes. Rightly so, perhaps, but her unrelieved moral outrage and her patronizing tone become tiring, and leave the reader wondering what makes the writer right and pretty much everyone else wrong.

Nevertheless, "A Russian Diary" is an important book. A critical failing of the West's understanding of Russia is interpreting Moscow's actions through the prism of Western rationalism, which often makes them appear inexplicable. Much of the country's real political culture is hidden behind a facade of Western forms. The Kremlin creates fake opposition parties and NGOs, Putin speaks of democracy and justice as overarching values, and the Energy Minister says with a straight face that Russia's state-controlled oil and gas companies operate as independently as private Western ones.

But there's no hiding behind Politkovskaya's blow-by-blow relating of events; the actions speak for themselves. "A Russian Diary" provides a crucial record of the country's slide toward an isolated, angry reincarnation of its former Soviet self, seen through the eyes of a sensitive and perceptive observer.

Politkovskaya excoriates the Russian public for failing to protest Putin's transgressions. Her death, like her publications, also passed unmentioned by most Russians. Her mission was to record the regime's crimes, partly in the hope that their perpetrators would one day be held to account. She died for that aim, and her death become a landmark tragedy in the Russia of Vladimir Putin against which she so bravely campaigned.

Annals of Russian "Justice": Another Failing Grade for Russia

Blogger and attorney Robert Amsterdam reports that Transparancy International has issued yet another failing grade to Putin's Kremlin, this time over its so-called "justice" system:

At the end of last week, corruption watchdog Transparency International issued its annual global report with respect to corruption of the world's judicial systems. The full report is well worth reading, as Russia is heavily featured as one of the countries that has significantly backtracked against international standards with political corruption of the courts. Below is an excerpt of an analysis written by Tom Blass, freelance journalist and consultant with the Foreign Policy Centre, taken from Chapter 2 ("Independence, political interference and corruption") of the new TI report. (click through to the PDF version to see all the footnotes.)

Combating corruption and political influence in Russia’s court system Tom Blass

Prior to the perestroika process, the judiciary was largely perceived as: ‘Nothing more than a machine to process and express in legal form decisions which had been taken within the [Communist] Party.’ The independence of the judiciary was one aspect of the changes called for by Mikhail Gorbachev in his groundbreaking speech to the 27th Party Congress in 1986.

The reality – a supine, underpaid judiciary, ill-equipped to withstand corruptive practices and the influence of economic or political interests – has proven slow to change, despite a series of reforms by Boris Yeltsin and his successor, President Vladimir Putin.

A 1991 decree by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation established the judiciary as a branch of government independent from the legislature and the state. The following year, a Law on the Status of Judges was introduced that granted judges life tenure after a three-year, probationary period; new powers to review decisions by prosecutors regarding pre-trial detention; and established the role of the judicial qualification collegia – self-governing bodies, composed by and responsible for the appointment and regulation of members of the judiciary. The Yeltsin regime transferred control over the financing of courts from the Ministry of Justice to a judicial department attached to the Supreme Court, further distancing the judiciary from the executive branch.

After Putin was elected president in 2000, he made numerous assertions about the importance he attached to the judiciary. ‘An independent and impartial court is the legal protectedness (sic) of citizens,’ he said in 2001. ‘It is a fundamental condition of the development of a sound, competitive economy. Finally, it is respect for the state itself, faith in the power of the law and in the power of justice.’

President Putin’s Programme for the Support of Courts 2002–06 was structured to increase funding for the court system as a whole, including judges’ salaries. Top pay is now around US $1,100 per month for judges, although average judicial salaries are closer to US $300 per month. More recent developments include a move toward publishing details of court judgements.

While elements of these reforms are positive, new threats to the independence of the judiciary have emerged, with the International Bar Association, the OECD, the International Commission of Jurists, and the US State Department all expressing concerns at practices they perceive as not conducive to the independence of the judiciary.

Judicial appointments

Not all judges welcomed Putin’s attempts at reform. Among his initial targets were the qualification collegia, established in the early transition and responsible for appointing and dismissing judges. Originally these were constituted entirely by judges, but the 1996 Constitutional Law on the Judicial System was amended in 2001 so that one third of the membership would be constituted by legal scholars appointed by the federation council – which is appointed by the president. Under the Law on the Status on Judges 1992, judicial appointments were made by the president ‘based on the conclusions of the collegia relative to the court in question’. The same process applies to the appointment of court chairpersons, whose tasks include allocating cases and overseeing the running of courts. They wield substantial influence over the careers of their fellow judges.

In a 2005 report on proposed changes to the structure of the collegia, the International Bar Association (IBA) said it was ‘particularly concerned by a number of cases of judicial dismissals where undue influence appears to have been wielded by Court chairpersons or other parties’. ‘A system which could allow chairpersons to cow or eliminate independent-minded judges’, it noted, ‘is in practice the antithesis of recognised international standards for the judiciary’.

The IBA cited a number of instances in which it was alleged that undue influence had been brought to bear. In the case of Judge Alexander Melikov, dismissed by a qualification collegium in December 2004, it said it had studied the judge’s allegation that his dismissal followed his refusal to follow the directive of the Moscow City Court chairperson ‘to impose stricter sentences and to refuse to release certain accused persons pending their trials’. The IBA said that it was ‘impressed by his credibility’ and was satisfied there was no legitimate ground for dismissal.

Another recent case further highlighted the role of chairpersons. Judge Olga Kudeshkina was dismissed from Moscow City Court in May 2003 for ‘violating the rules of courtroom conduct and discrediting the judiciary’ after she claimed to have been pressured by the public prosecutor and the chairperson of the court to decide in the prosecutor’s favour in an Interior Ministry investigation.

In a widely publicised letter to President Putin in March 2005, Kudeshkina said the judicial system in Moscow was ‘characterised by a gross violation of individual rights and freedoms, failure to comply with Russian legislation, as well as with the rules of international law’ and that there is every reason to believe that the behaviour of the chairperson was possible because of patronage provided by certain officials in the Putin administration.

Perceived extent of corruption

While it is difficult or impossible to quantify the validity of Kudeshkina’s claims, her letter was in tune with the lack of public confidence in the judiciary. Research by the Russian think tank INDEM goes so far as to quantify the perceived average cost of obtaining justice in a Russian court. At 9,570 roubles (US $358), the figure is still less than the 2001 figure of 13,964 roubles.

Another Russian survey found that over 70 per cent of respondents agreed that ‘many people do not want to seek redress in the courts because the unofficial expenditures are too onerous’, while 78.6 per cent agreed with the statement: ‘Many people do not resort to the courts because they do not expect to find justice there.’ The same organisation estimated that some US $210 million worth of bribes is spent to obtain justice in law courts in a year, out of a total US $3.0 billion in bribe payments.

Senior court officials also hint at corruption within the judiciary. Veniamin Yakovlev, former chair of the Supreme Arbitrazh court, said that while mechanisms had been, and continue to be, put into place to root out corruption and the ‘overwhelming majority’ of judges conducted themselves lawfully, ‘it would be wrong to maintain that the judiciary has been purged of all traces of bribery’. In an interview with Izvestia, Valery Zorkin, current chairman of the constitutional court, was more forthright when he said that ‘bribe taking in the courts has become one of the biggest corruption markets in Russia’.

Anecdotal evidence (including from lawyers within Russia who would not wish to be named) suggests that the corruptibility of courts increases, moving down the judicial hierarchy13 and further away from Moscow.

Legal scholar Ethan Burger points out that large financial stakes and asymmetry between the parties in a court proceeding increases the likelihood of corruption,14 and that it is more likely to occur in trial courts than in the appeal courts since it is ‘easier to bribe a single trial court judge than a panel of appellate judges or members of the Supreme Arbitrazh Court’. Due legal process is altered in one of two ways, according to Burger: a judge may decide a case on its merits, but ask for payment before making a judgement; or the judge may ‘simply favour the highest bidder’.


The challenge now is for the Russian judiciary to build on the various reforms which have already taken place and to win the confidence of court users, regardless of the level of proceedings in which they become involved. But such a transformation will require more than structural or procedural reform.

Successive laws pertaining to the judiciary passed since the dawn of glasnost have reinforced or reiterated its independence. Despite some adjustment of their membership structure, the Judicial Qualification Collegia remain essentially self-governing. Salaries of judges and court officials, while low in comparison to those in Russia’s private sector and the West, have been significantly raised in the past 15 years. Civil society groups in Russia and outside (including TI) have been vocal in calling for greater transparency and openness within the judicial system.

Russian courts already have what is required to be fair, open and transparent. These elements need to be encouraged and consolidated. What follows are six concrete recommendations that can assist in consolidating what is fair, open and transparent in the Russian court system:

● The government should resist any further dilution of the judicial composition of the Judicial Qualification Collegia.
● Judges’ salaries should be regularly reviewed with a view to achieving near-parity with private sector salaries in order to reduce the incidence of bribe taking and to retain talent within the judiciary.
● The programme for publishing court decisions should be accelerated and expanded, with an emphasis on explaining the legal basis of judgements, the nature of disputes, the sums at stake and awards given.
● Local and national public awareness campaigns should be initiated to educate on the role of judges, the concept of judicial awareness and future expectations of the judiciary.
● The government should review existing penalties for corruption within the judiciary.
● Judges should be allocated cases on a randomised basis to minimise bias toward one party.

Warning on Russia: The Neo-Soviet Energy Arsenal

Writing in the Times of London Irwin Stelzer, a business adviser and director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, sounds the warning over Russia's attempt to weaponize its energy assets and use them like the USSR used nukes:

WHAT do Mikhaïl Khodorkovsky, Mikhaïl Gutseriev, and John Browne have in common? They all thought their desire for profits from Russia’s vast oil and gas reserves trumped Vladimir Putin’s lust for power. Khodorkovsky now languishes in a Siberian jail, and when released will be rearrested and charged with crimes that will get him another 28 years in prison. Gutseriev, head of the mid-sized oil company Russneft, was recently charged with “large-scale tax evasion” and conducting illegal activities as part of an “organised group” – the same charges laid against Khodorkovsky. It seems that the Kremlin deputy chief of staff, Igor Sechin, the former KGB agent who heads state-owned Rosneft, which took over Khodorkovsky’s Yukos oil company, “is extremely ambitious in regard to these [Russneft’s] assets”, according to press reports.

Which brings us to Lord Browne, who also thought there was money to be made in Russian oil. He set up TNK-BP, a joint venture with a group of Russian billionaires that accounts for about 25% of BP’s glo-bal production, and is developing the huge Kovykta gas field in eastern Siberia – or not.

It seems that TNK-BP is in violation of its licence to develop the Kovykta field, according to Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of Russia’s Federal Resource Management Agency. This ratchets up the pressure on the three billionaire partners of BP to sell out to state-controlled Gazprom – several former KGB agents grace its board. “This is just going to be another phone call,” one banker familiar with the matter told the Financial Times. “If they are told to sell, they will sell.”

As did Royal Dutch Shell, which ceded control of its $22 billion Sakhalin-2 natural-gas project to Gazprom, and threw in a $1 billion annual payment to the Russian treasury after environmental authorities threatened to close the project.

Control of 50% of oil and, in effect, all gas production now resides with the state.

Worse still, Russia has successfully gained control of the pipeline networks that deliver fuel to the West. Putin recently persuaded the presidents of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to join Russia in building a pipeline to ship their natural gas to western markets through Russia. It seems like only yesterday that I was briefed at the State Department on American plans to encourage the construction of a new pipeline that would hook up with existing lines through the Caucasus and Turkey, bringing Central Asian gas to Europe without passing through a Russian bottleneck. Those plans are now dead, or at least on life support.

Putin also recently approved plans to build an oil pipeline to the Baltic port of Primorsk, bypassing independent-minded Belarus.

All of which gives him huge influence in western Europe. “If power is measured by the fear instilled in others – as many Russians believe – [Putin] is certainly winning,” says The Economist.

None of this would matter if we were dealing with ordinary commercial transactions, aimed at maximising the economic value of Russia’s natural endowments. But that is not the case. First, the takeovers of Shell, BP and other assets hardly represent transactions at market prices. Putin takes his inspiration from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather rather than Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and makes potential sellers offers they just can’t refuse.

Second, Putin’s goal is not the mere profit maximisation that guides decision-making in market economies. It is to gain influence over the foreign policies of European countries and, to a lesser extent, America. He has already shown that he is willing to cut off gas to Europe, and cooperates with Opec to damage the American economy by keeping oil prices high. A nuclear umbrella prevented the Soviet army from rolling across Europe, but it is no match for supply cut-offs that can throw western economies into recession.

Russia achieved this dominant position for two reasons. The first is that the world’s capitalists behave as Lenin knew they would: “They will furnish credits . . . supply us materials and technical equipment which we lack . . . restore our military industry for our future attacks against our suppliers.” The West has supplied Russia with the technical skills and capital needed to exploit oil and gas resources and sold important bits of western energy infrastructure to Gazprom, chaired by Dmitry Medveded, who is first deputy prime minister of the Russian federation. Never mind that Russia will not allow such foreign investment in its infrastructure, or that it is using its oil and gas wealth to beef up its military. “Our military is the second most powerful force in the world after America’s,” a Russian official trumpeted this month.

The second reason Russia has gained such a dominant hand in its negotiations with energy-dependent countries is the inability of the West to forge a common strategy, the necessary ingredients of which are clear: increase storage facilities as insurance against gas-supply interruptions; finance pipelines that avoid Russian-controlled territories; refuse to sell infrastructure to Gazprom; construct terminals that can receive liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Africa and the Middle East; unite to create countervailing buyer power.

Russia, Tony Blair pointed out last week, is “prepared to use [its] energy resources as an instrument of policy”. But the West is unprepared to use its financial and technical resources in the same way. That failure, warns Blair as he heads off into the sunset, “could be as crucial to our country’s [and, I would add, the West’s] future as defence”.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May 29, 2007 -- Contents


(1) The Flames of Cold War, Sparked by Russia, Roaring

(2) Bukovsky will seek Presidency

(3) Hoagland on the Neo-Soviet Union

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Union: The Flames of Cold War, Raging and Roaring Already

In yet another stunning example of barbaric, Sovietesque, behavior, Russia crushed a gay pride parade that included a number of prominent foreigners, another clear indication that Russia wants a second cold war it cannot possibly even wage, much less win.
Reuters reports:

A Gay Pride march in Moscow at which far-right activists kicked and punched the marchers was like a return to Soviet-era repression, British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell [pictured, center] said on Monday. Tatchell, who had a black eye after being punched during the march on Sunday, said police failed to intervene as marchers were attacked by nationalists shouting "death to homosexuals". Police have denied ignoring the attacks. "The behaviour of the Moscow police was some of the worst I've ever experienced," Tatchell told Reuters in an interview outside a Moscow police station where he filed a complaint about the assault on him. "The police stood back and allowed the fascist thugs to attack us. They made very few efforts to stop them."

"(It) was very reminiscent of the repression by the police in the Brezhnev era of old-style Soviet Communism," said Tatchell, referring to Leonid Brezhnev who led the Soviet Union throughout the 1970s.

"They (the police) seemed to be working hand in glove with the neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists to get them to bash us. But either way, the end result was the same. We got arrested, we got bashed, and most of the assailants walked free." A Moscow police official, who did not want to be identified, said officers had detained many of the assailants and pulled gay rights activists to safety when they were attacked. "As far as they were able, and depending on the situation as it developed, the police ensured the safety of citizens regardless of their political and other interests," the official said. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has called gay marches "satanic", refused permission to hold the parade. Riot police detained dozens of gay rights protesters, including two members of the European parliament. France expressed its dissatisfaction at the violence. "We regret the arrest of national and European Parliament elected representatives, who have since been released, as well as of several homosexual Russian activists. We ask for the latter to be released," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Tatchell said the treatment of the Gay Pride march was a symptom of a wider crackdown on democratic freedoms in Russia. "I think we need to say very loud and clear to President (Vladimir) Putin that Russia is welcome in the European family of nations," the campaigner said. "But that includes responsibilities, including respect for gay and lesbian human rights and including defence of the right to protest and freedom of expression."

As if that were not enough provocation for one day, Russia also test-fired a MiRV ICBM that can discharge multiple warheads from a single rocket, seeking to overwhelm defensive capabilities, and made more noises about withdrawing from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty as well. It's hard to imagine how Russia could be conducting itself any more provocatively, walking directly in the footsteps of the USSR as it reignites cold war with a whole host of countries each of which bests Russia economically and without a single ally of its own.

And the Russians still weren't done. Even as they refused to extradite the man Britain has alleged killed a neo-Soviet dissident on British soil and took actions that could have killed hundreds of innocent British citizens, yet another physical attack was launched on a British diplomat. The Guardian reports:

A senior British diplomat has been beaten by two unidentified assailants while on an official trip in provincial Russia. Nigel Gould-Davies, first secretary at the British embassy in Moscow, was attacked at 1am on Saturday as he walked across the theatre square in the Siberian city of Chita, police said. Mr Gould-Davies needed hospital treatment for bruises to his face. His glasses were broken in the attack and he was unable to see his assailants, police said.The beating is the second assault on Britons in Russia in two days, and follows an attack on Sunday by anti-homosexual protesters on the British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Mr Tatchell was punched, knocked to the ground, and kicked while protesting about gay rights with a group of European parliamentarians. Yesterday embassy officials described the attack on Mr Gould-Davies as a random assault carried out by drunken teenagers celebrating the end of the school year.

But the assault follows sustained state-sponsored harassment by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi against Anthony Brenton, Britain's ambassador in Moscow. Activists have picketed the British embassy, disrupted meetings and jumped in front of the ambassador's car. The campaign started last summer after Mr Brenton attended a human rights conference. Mr Gould-Davies was at the end of a two-week lecture tour in Siberia. The diplomat had given lectures to university students on globalisation, and had also met with regional officials. Chita, 3,760 miles east of Moscow, is home to Russia's most famous inmate - Mikhail Khordorkovsky. Khordorkovsky was jailed for eight years for tax evasion and fraud in a case widely seen as politically motivated, and as punishment for his role in funding opposition parties ahead of 2003 Duma elections.

Embassy officials yesterday said there was no link between Mr Gould-Davies's trip and Khordorkovsky. An embassy spokesman said: "We can confirm that an assault took place against a British diplomat in Chita. We are in close contact with him. We look to the authorities to ensure that the perpetrators are caught." In Moscow, three Russian gay activists appeared in court yesterday following Sunday's demonstrations, which saw the arrest of 25 campaigners, including the German Green MP Volker Beck and the Italian MEP Marco Cappato. The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, yesterday wrote to Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, urging him to lift the ban on gay parades in the city that prompted Sunday's protest. He also called for all charges against the gay rights demonstrators to be dropped. "I am writing to convey my deep concern at the reported physical violence against and arrest of Peter Tatchell," Mr Livingstone wrote, adding that gay parades were now "the practice in most cities around the world".

Yesterday Mr Tatchell said he was still recovering. He said the Moscow police had "stood and watched" while far-right skinheads kicked him to the ground and punched him. "Even today I'm woozy. My eyesight is pretty poor. It's difficult to see clearly," he told the Guardian. "It's almost on a par with the beating I received at the hands of Robert Mugabe's thugs in 2001. This time I wasn't knocked unconscious and left in the gutter. But I ended up with a much bloodier face and severe bruising and swelling." Mr Tatchell yesterday registered a complaint about his treatment with Moscow police. Officials, however, defended the actions of riot police. "The city authorities did the right thing by prohibiting the parade and thus preventing clashes between opponents who are numerous in this country and advocates of sexual minorities," said Mikhail Solomentsev, a spokesman for Moscow's mayor.

These actions would be shocking from any other industrialized nation, but from Russia they are just the status quo ante. We've seen this type of ape-like barbarism so many times from the USSR that the only surprising thing is that it wasn't even worse.

Truly, the speed at which Russia is plunging down the self-destructive path of renewed Soviet-style dictatorship is amazing, one of the most stunning events of modern human history. And remember, you read about it here first!

Dissident Bukovsky Will Seek Presidency

BBJ reports:

Russia's opposition has nominated a former Soviet dissident living in London as its single candidate to run for president in Russia next year.

"The emergence of an initiative group to advance the famous writer and former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky as a candidate for the presidency in Russia was announced in Moscow May 28,” the group said in a statement. Bukovsky, 65, who spent a total of 12 years in Soviet prisons, is a co-founder of Committee 2008, along with chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov, liberal politician Boris Nemtsov and others. The organization the opposition says is designed to ensure free presidential elections in 2008. Bukovsky has agreed to stand: "I cannot promise happiness to our people. A long and difficult road toward recovery is before us. We could well fail to cope. But if this nation has the courage to appeal to people like me, we are willing to try.”

Bukovsky was imprisoned several times for organizing poetry meetings in central Moscow and the first demonstration in 40 years in the early 1960s. And in 1970, he managed to smuggle evidence of the use of Soviet psychiatric hospitals as prisons to the West. In 1976, Bukovsky was exchanged for former Chilean Communist leader Luis Corvalan in Switzerland. Bukovsky, who has lived in Cambridge doing neurophysiology research and publishing books since 1976, came to Moscow in 1991 during Boris Yeltsin's campaign for presidency as an expert to testify at a Communist Party trial. He was considered a potential vice-presidential running mate for Yeltsin. He has also been offered a chance to run for mayor in a post-Soviet Moscow, but refused.

President Vladimir Putin, who has been increasingly criticized in the West for his democratic record but rather popular within Russia, has repeatedly declined the possibility of his staying in office for a third term, but is widely expected to name his successor, who is likely to win polls in March 2008.

This is a powerful ideological statement, underlining the neo-Soviet character of modern Russia in the strongest way possible. But on the other hand it can be viewed as a blunder, since choosing a candidate who doesn't even live in Russia and lacks the political experience of a Kasyanov or Illarionov undermines his group's credibility, making it seem as if they've given up before they've even started. As well, if Kasyanov or Illarionov or Kasparov actually get into the ring, it will divide the opposition. The Moscow Times has more:

Vladimir Bukovsky, the prominent Soviet-era dissident, will run for president in 2008, a group of his supporters said Monday. Bukovsky, who was deported from the Soviet Union in 1976 and now lives in Britain, said in a statement that he wanted to run because he would like to reverse unfair court verdicts and "a man is suffocating in prison" -- an apparent reference to Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky. "I cannot promise happiness to our people. Maybe polonium-210 awaits me. But this won't stop me," Bukovsky said in a statement released by his supporters. The supporters include Yury Ryzhov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; opposition journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.; political scientists Andrei Piontkovsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky; and Roman Dobrokhotov, leader of the opposition youth group My. They called on all opposition groups to back Bukovsky's candidacy. Bukovsky was a friend of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who British prosecutors believe was poisoned with polonium-210 planted by former security services agent Andrei Lugovoi last year. Lugovoi denies the charge. Several opposition leaders have already expressed interest in running for president next year, including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko. Bukovsky, 64, spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities in the 1960s and 1970s. Soviet authorities agreed to let him leave the country in exchange for the release of Chilean communist leader Luis Alberto Corvalan Castillo by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1976. He is the author of several books, including "To Build a Castle" and "Judgment in Moscow."

Other Russia plans two more major dissent marches, one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow, for early June. Its position on the above is not yet clear.

Hoagland on Litvinenko

Ace Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland (pictured) takes Russia to task on Litvinenko:

Russia’s refusal to extradite the prime suspect in the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London last November reveals the essential amorality of the Putin regime and its false narrative of recent history. That narrative increasingly undermines the Kremlin’s relations with Europe and the United States.

Stalin is credited with the view that one man’s death is a tragedy, a million a statistic. President Vladimir Putin seems not to grasp his predecessor’s point. Britain drives it home by focusing on Litvinenko’s death as a straightforward murder investigation driven by rules of evidence and elemental police work rather than an international casus belli.

Mysteries still surround the elimination of Litvinenko, a former KGB security officer and Putin critic who existed on the fringes of London’s shadowy world of spies, ex-spies and dissidents. Where did the radioactive poison that he ingested originate? How was it administered? What were the exact motives in his killing? These questions remain publicly unanswered.

But a murder case, especially when it is investigated by Scotland Yard, rivets and illuminates public attention. The brazenness demonstrated in the Litvinenko affair means that Russia “has again become unpredictable, controlled by a narrow clique with a false view of the world and of Russia,” writes French strategist Therese Delpech in the new English-language edition of “Savage Century,” her penetrating look at the ideological and political confusion that has followed the Cold War.

Much of the grief in trans-Atlantic relations of the past decade has stemmed from the conflicting narratives that the United States and Europe wove about the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a new Russia.

Triumphal Americans — the Bush administration has been overstocked with them — celebrated Ronald Reagan’s defense spending and confrontational strategy as the keys to Western “victory.” European leaders, led by Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder and France’s Jacques Chirac, gave all the credit to the Helsinki peace process and other diplomatic maneuvers that allegedly enshrined reason as the arbiter of Russian and international politics.

Both narratives obscured the reality of the internal collapse of an overextended empire — and left Russian reformers and gangsters to battle each other for control of a wildly lurching ship of state. In the confusion, the personalization of power replaced consistent policy prescriptions for the Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 administrations.

“As long as they got along” with Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin or Putin, Western leaders “saw no reason to worry,” Delpeche writes. “We can now observe the results of that policy. Western influence on Russia is nonexistent.”

Putin offers his own narrative to muddy the waters even more. It is a narrative of his regime rescuing the country from a chaos that was deliberately injected, like a virus, into Mother Russia by the West. His regime has turned its oil and gas reserves and its role as a monopoly energy supplier for much of Europe into real power that makes Russia invulnerable and gives it commanding status over a weakening West. It is in the name of Russia that his regime treats with open contempt Britain’s extradition demands or Germany’s attempts to negotiate a “strategic framework.”

But that harsh narrative is beginning to backfire, as Blair’s firm stand on the Litvinenko case suggests. So does the surprisingly sharp direct criticism of Putin at the May 18 European Union-Russia summit, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly dressed Putin down for suppressing dissent at home.

Merkel comes to her suspicion of Putin naturally. She grew up in the communist East German state where the Russian leader served as a spy. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian aristocrat who fled communist rule, has replaced Chirac as president. Gordon Brown will inherit Blair’s concern and resentment about the Litvinenko affair. Personal relations and experiences pull Europe’s big three countries away from — not toward — Moscow now.

This presents an opportunity to close the trans-Atlantic narrative gap and for Europe and North America to deal with Russia on a new, more realistic basis. We should work with Putin where possible and necessary, without ever paying the price of soft-pedaling his excesses or abuses at home and abroad.

“Americans have had a tendency to rely too much on hard power, and Europeans too much on soft power,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on a visit to Washington last week. “It is time for each of us to borrow from the other and for both to become more effective, working together.”

Thursday, May 24, 2007

May 24, 2007 -- Contents


(1) La Russophobe takes a four-day hiatus. Happy Memorial Day!

(2) Essel on Neo-Soviet Economics

(3) Britain Gets Up in the Kremlin's Face over Litvinenko

(4) Brilliant Edward Lucas Blasts Putin with Both Barrels

(5) OUTRAGE!! Georgy Bovt Fired in Kremlin Powerplay

(6) Amnesty International Condemns Russia Once Again

(7) Kasparov Fires another Wicked Broadside

(8) Now, the Russians are Actually Shrinking!

(9) EDITORIAL: Edward Lozansky, Neo-Soviet Bagman

NOTE: We're not posting in honor of Memorial Day from tomorrow through Monday, but we've loaded you up with an extra-heavy dose of content that should tide you over until then. If you're looking for more, be sure to have a browse around our new translations blog, or flip through our extensive archives (which now contains nearly 2,000 posts indexed by topic). Give some thought to creating a Technorati account and using it to favorite us, too, and by all means check out the links to other sources of Russia information in our sidebar. We'll be back on Tuesday May 29th raring for action, see you then!

Thank You, Valiant Fighting Men and Women of America! Happy Memorial Day!

In our traditional show of respect to America's brave fighting men and women, who are honored on Monday with the Memorial Day holiday, La Russophobe will not post new content after today's (following, see a remarkable new installment from columnist Dave Essel on neo-Soviet ecnomics) until Tuesday, May 29th.

We invite readers to post news items they think are of interest in the comments section of today's contents post, including hyperlinks to source material if possible. You'll have your own mini-blog! We also encourage readers to poke around our archives in the sidebar for things they may have missed and visit the blogs and websites listed there -- especially our new translations library. You can go to the "Index of Recent Posts" area at the bottom of the side bar and click a topic of interest to read posts on that subject (we especially suggest the "Essel" tag, where you can read an archive of fascinating essays and translations by Dave Essel which are original to this blog), or you can open a month in the "archive" area at the bottom of the sidebar and browse the posts for that month, going all the way back to April 2006.

We also invite you to show your support for this blog by creating a Technorati account (easy, fast, free, anonymous) and using it to favorite this blog and/or the translation library blog. It's something easy and effective that you can do to register your dissatisfaction with Russia's current course and to call for change, to say nothing of supporting the efforts of all those who work hard, for free, to generate this blog's content.

Let's pause a moment to honor the spirit of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and democracy in the world:

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

by Julia Ward Howe

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, we will die to make them free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

U.S. Marine Corps Anthem

The oldest current American miltary song
Author Unknown

From the Halls of Montezuma
To the Shores of Tripoli;
We will fight our country's battles
In the air, on land and sea;
First to fight -- for right and freedom and
To keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
of United States Marines.

Our flag's unfurled in every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in ev'ry clime and place
Where we could take a gun;
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes;
You will find us always on the job--
The United States Marines.

Here's health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve
In many a strife we've fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven's scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.

Essel on Neo-Soviet "Economics"

In this Soviet propaganda poster, the slogan claims that the
huge demand for Soviet-made shoes is a hallmark of their quality.
In fact, of course, it was merely demonstration that there were
no alternatives and the regime was totally unable to match
demand with production even given the goods' infamously poor quality.

What Goes Around Comes Around

by Dave Essel

“I had one fundamental question about economics:
Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck?”

– P. J. O’Rourke
Kommmersant in an article headlined "The Return of the State Prices Committee," reports on Russian plans to reintroduce pricing structures set by the state:
“The Economic Policy Committee of the State Duma for the first time in 15 years is drafting a law on principles for the administrative regulation of prices within the country’s economy entitled On Pricing Policy in the Russian Federation. Although the proposed law has already drawn a fierce protest from Herman Gref, the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, United Russia MPs propose to put the law before the State Duma by December 2007. The aim is to enshrine in law principles by which price restrictions can be imposed administratively in individual markets even absent state monopolies.”
So the Russian State Duma can think of nothing better that the reintroduction of the USSR’s Gosplan and its pricing committee which managed the Soviet Union’s economy into the ground? Bravissimo! I begin to wonder if the Soviet Union did in fact manage to create the genetically modified Homo Sovieticus it so wanted.

The poor Duma certainly can’t be online. Or perhaps the real government of Russia has deliberately denied them a connection – an ignorant Duma will create less noise, even if it doesn’t have any real power anyway. Because simply Googling the words “price controls” leads one in 0.11 seconds to reams of information on economics that describe the result of price controls. Interestingly, this search for completely neutral words does not produce any results which have anything to say in favour of price controls.

Here is an excerpt from Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (1894 -1993, journalist, literary critic, economist, philosopher 1894-1993)
Chapter XVII, “Government Price-Fixing” we cannot hold the price of any commodity below its market level without in time bringing about two consequences.

The first is to increase the demand for that commodity. Because the commodity is cheaper, people are both tempted to buy, and can afford to buy, more of it.

The second consequence is to reduce the supply of that commodity. Because people buy more, the accumulated supply is more quickly taken from the shelves of merchants. But in addition to this, production of that commodity is discouraged. Profit margins are reduced or wiped out. The marginal producers are driven out of business. Even the most efficient producers may be called upon to turn out their product at a loss. This happened in World War II when slaughter houses were required by the Office of Price Administration to slaughter and process meat for less than the cost to them of cattle on the hoof and the labor of slaughter and processing.

If we did nothing else, therefore, the consequence of fixing a maximum price for a particular commodity would be to bring about a shortage of that commodity. ...
Or we can refer to Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995, made major contributions to economics, history, political philosophy, and legal theory):
Bad and discredited ideas, it seems, never die. Neither do they fade away. Instead, they keep turning up, like bad pennies or Godzilla in the old Japanese movies.

Price controls, that is, the fixing of prices below the market level, have been tried since ancient Rome; in the French Revolution, in its notorious “Law of the Maximum” that was responsible for most of the victims of the guillotine; in the Soviet Union, ruthlessly trying to suppress black markets. In every age, in every culture, price controls have never worked. They have always been a disaster.

Why did Chiang-kai-Shek “lose” China? The main reason is never mentioned. Because he engaged in runaway inflation, and then tried to suppress the results through price controls. To enforce them, he wound up shooting merchants in the public squares of Shanghai to make an example of them. He thereby lost his last shreds of support to the insurgent Communist forces. A similar fate awaited the South Vietnamese regime, which began shooting merchants in the public squares of Saigon to enforce its price decrees.

Price controls didn’t work in World War I, when they began as “selective”; they didn’t work in World War II, when they were comprehensive and the Office of Price Administration tried to enforce them with hundreds of thousands of enforcers. They didn’t work when President Nixon imposed a wage-price freeze and variants of such a freeze from the summer of 1971 until the spring of 1973 or when President Carter tried to enforce a more selective version.
And for a proper historical round-up and sad evidence that very few people ever wish to learn from the lessons of history:
Four Thousand Years of Price Control

by Thomas DiLorenzo (born 1954, American economics professor at Loyola College in Maryland)

The case against price controls is not merely an academic exercise, restricted to economics textbooks. There is a four-thousand-year historical record of economic catastrophe after catastrophe caused by price controls. This record is partly documented in an excellent book entitled Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls by Robert Schuettinger and Eamon Butler, first published in 1979.

The authors begin by quoting Jean-Philippe Levy, author of The Economic Life of the Ancient World,as noting that in Egypt during the Third Century B.C. “there was a real omnipresence of the state” in regulating grain production and distribution. “All prices were fixed by fiat at all levels.” This “control took on frightening proportions. There was a whole army of inspectors.”

Egyptian farmers became so infuriated with the price control inspectors that many of them simply left their farms. By the end of the century the “Egyptian economy collapsed as did her political stability.”

In Babylon some 4,000 years ago the Code of Hammurabi was a maze of price control regulations. “If a man hire a field-labourer, he shall give him eight gur of corn per annum”; “If a man hire a herdsman, he shall give him six gur of corn per annum”; “If a man hire a sixty-ton boat, he shall give a sixth part of a shekel of silver per diem for her hire.” And on and on and on. Such laws “smothered economic progress in the empire for many centuries,” as the historical record describes. Once these laws were laid down “there was a remarkable change in the fortunes of the people.”

Ancient Greece also imposed price controls on grain and established “an army of grain inspectors appointed for the purpose of setting the price of grain at a level the Athenian government thought to be just.” Greek price controls inevitably led to grain shortages, but ancient entrepreneurs saved thousands from starvation by evading these unjust laws. Despite the imposition of the death penalty for evading Greek price control laws, the laws “were almost impossible to enforce.” The shortages created by the price control laws created black market profit opportunities, to the great benefit of the public.

In 284 A.D. the Roman emperor Diocletian created inflation by placing too much money in circulation, and then “fixed the maximum prices at which beef, grain, eggs, clothing and other articles could be sold, and prescribed the penalty of death for anyone who disposed of his wares at a higher figure.” The results, as Schuettinger and Butler explain, quoting an ancient historian, were that “the people brought provisions no more to markets, since they could not get a reasonable price for them and this increased the dearth so much, that at last after many had died by it, the law itself was set aside.”

Moving closer to modern times, George Washington’s revolutionary army nearly starved to death in the field thanks to price controls on food that were imposed by Pennsylvania and other colonial governments. Pennsylvania specifically imposed price controls on “those commodities needed for use by the army,” creating disastrous shortages of everything needed by the army. The Continental Congress wisely adopted an anti-price-control resolution on June 4, 1778 that read: “Whereas it hath been found by experience that limitations upon the prices of commodities are not only ineffectual for the purpose proposed, but likewise productive of very evil consequences--resolved, that it be recommended to the several states to repeal or suspend all laws limiting, regulating or restraining the Price of any Article.” And, write Schuettinger and Butler, “By the fall of 1778 the army was fairly well provided for as a direct result of this change in policy.”

French politicians repeated the same mistakes after their revolution, putting into place the “Law of the Maximum” in 1793, which first imposed price controls on grain, and then on a long list of other items. Predictably, “in some [French] towns, the people were so badly fed that they were collapsing in the streets from lack of nourishment.” A delegation from various provinces wrote to the government in Paris that before the new price control law, “our markets were supplied, but as soon as we fixed the price of wheat and rye we saw no more of those grains. The other kinds not subject to the maximum were the only ones brought in.” The French government was forced to abolish its evil price control law after it had literally killed thousands. When Robespierre was being carried through the streets of Paris on the way to his execution the crowds shouted, “There goes the dirty Maximum!” If only this were a lesson learned by contemporary politicians.

At the end of World War II American central planners were even more totalitarian when it came to economic policy than were the former Nazis. During the post-war occupation of Germany, American “planners” rather liked the Nazi economic controls, including price controls, that were in fact preventing economic recovery. The notorious Nazi Hermann Goering even lectured the American war correspondent Henry Taylor about it! As recounted by Schuettinger and Butler, Goering said:

“Your America is doing many things in the economic field which we found out caused us so much trouble. You are trying to control peoples’ wages and prices — peoples’ work. If you do that you must control peoples’ lives. And no country can do that part way. I tried and it failed. Nor can any country do it all the way either. I tried that too and it failed. You are no better planners than we. I should think your economists would read what happened here.

Price controls were finally ended in Germany by Economic Minister Ludwig Erhard in 1948, on a Sunday, when the American occupation authorities would be out of their offices and unable to stop him. This spawned the “German economic miracle.”

Price controls were the cause of the “energy crisis” of the 1970s and of the California energy crisis of the 1990s (only the wholesale price of electricity was deregulated there; controls were placed on retail prices). For more than four thousand years, dictators, despots, and politicians of all stripes have viewed price controls as the ultimate “something for nothing” promise to the public. [my emphasis]

With the wave of a hand, or the flash of a legislative pen, they promise to make everything cheaper. And for more than four thousand years the results have been exactly the same: shortages, sometimes of catastrophic consequence; deterioration of product quality; the proliferation of black markets on which prices are actually higher and bribery is rampant; destruction of a nation’s productive capacity in the industries where prices are controlled; gross distortions of markets; the creation of oppressive and tyrannical price control bureaucracies; and a dangerous concentration of political power in the hands of the price controllers.
The trouble with subsidies and state-controlled prices is that the distortions they introduce have a domino effect, the consequences of which are impossible to predict and often go much further than anyone intended or expected.

Now maybe the members of the Duma are irreconcilable Russophiles and have an ingrained dislike of looking at foreign sources of knowledge. However, they must have a collective memory of the Soviet Union and what Gosplan did to their then country. My favourite example, which I frequently use in conversation with Russians about economic matters, is the rhetorical question “How would one set about destroying a country’s aviation industry with a single price control?”. The answer: “Have Gosplan price fuel at 10 kopecks a litre”.

When engineers set about designing something, they first draw up design parameters for all aspects of the design, balancing technical requirements of the final product against available technology, industrial capabilities, availability of raw materials, consumable requirements and so on. Naturally, a prioritisation is also effected. With fuel at 10 kopecks a litre and to all intents and purposes free in unlimited quantities to the military, when it came to designing aircraft civilian or military, fuel consumption of the future engines came way down on the list. Thus competent engineers came to design an incompetent product, and Russian aircraft were very fuel hungry compared to their Western counterparts. Compound this with a totally crazy manufacturing scheme of airframes made in Uzbekistan and engines in Russia, possible because underpriced fuel made transport costs immaterial and and it was thought a good idea to bind the USSR’s disparate republics in a web of interdependencies [ organisational planning that added to the nightmare of the collapse of the USSR].

And so Russia has no civil aviation industry to speak of; the national flag carrier operates foreign aircraft on all its major foreign (prestige) routes; and the new aircraft it says it is buying for its fleethas a French Snecma power plant .

The Soviet Union’s economic management was as risible as its behaviour in other spheres was horrible. But economics bite back and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It happened then and it will happen again: wait for the bite. So there’s no point in the Duma thinking that a new Russian school of economics, different from horrid Western economics invented by horrid foreigners (perhaps specially to spite Russia), will solve all the country’s problems.

Another quote from Hazlitt makes the best close I can think of:
The whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
What a shame that the Great Russian uniqueness complex means that all this is p*ssing into the wind as far that country is concerned (an ignored minority excepted). For my part, I feel at touch of shameful pleasure as I anticipate that usual Western response “We told you so!”