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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

July 31, 2007 -- Contents


(1) Annals of Beslan

(2) Explaining Russia's Unsafe Skies

(3) Nationalizing the Neo-Soviet Economy

(4) Politkovskaya Lives

(5) Annals of Educated, Cultured Russia

Annals of Beslan

As much Putin's handiwork as Basayev's?

The Oman Observer reports:

Previously unseen film [LR: Watch the video here] proves that the bloody end to the 2004 Beslan siege was caused by security forces firing on a school crammed with hostages, not by blasts from within, a victim support group says. The Beslan Mothers’ Committee says the footage disproves the official version that the detonation of a boobytrap device planted by Chechen separatists inside the building caused the carnage at School No 1, in the southern Russian town of Beslan.

Some 333 victims, half of them children, were killed in the siege, which ended in chaos when security forces stormed the school gymnasium to free more than 1,000 children and parents held captive for three days. Committee head Susanna Dudiyeva said the video supports her conviction that security forces fired two grenade launcher rounds on the sports hall, igniting a fire that quickly engulfed the building.

“Why did they fire where there were children, on the sports hall?” Dudiyeva said to reporters after the film was shown at a local cultural centre this week. Investigators have yet to deliver a final report on modern Russia’s most harrowing hostage tragedy. Relatives of the dead say the videotape, received anonymously by post, supports their conviction that there has been a cover-up. “The prosecutor’s office rejects or ignores all our inquiries and insists that only the terrorists are to blame for what happened,” said Dudiyeva.

“We do not agree with that. We keep finding new evidence and we intend to prove to the prosecutor’s office what really happened.” Nobody answered a telephone call seeking comment yesterday from the Prosecutor General’s press office. Officials have said the more than 30 militants who seized the school on September 1, 2004, the first day of the academic year, had been determined to cause massive loss of life.

Many male hostages were executed, ruling out a negotiated solution. Only one captor survived, Nurpashi Kulayev, who was jailed last year for life for his part in the siege. The film, apparently shot by an investigator on a hand-held camera with the time and date shown on the screen, gives a graphic timeline of events on September 3, as the three-day hostage crisis descends into bloody chaos.

In one scene shot at lunchtime, escaping children run into the arms of civilian and military rescuers and beg for water. Then, at 3:08 pm, there are two loud blasts and sustained automatic gunfire. A large cloud of smoke can be seen rising outside the school building. At 5:49 pm, after the crisis is over, investigators examine some of the boobytrap devices that did not go off, lying on a table in a small room.

They are made of plastic bottles filled with ball bearings. One voice is heard saying: “They said there were two explosions, a hole in the wall and then they started running. “The hole in the wall is not from this (kind of) explosion. Apparently someone fired,” the voice continues, adding that many victims bore no sign of shrapnel wounds.

Video links from the Pravda Beslana website as to what occurred at Beslan during the tragedy can be accessed here (if you don't speak Russian you can just click the links, they all lead to videos).

Explaining Russia's Unsafe Skies

UPI reports:

All seven people aboard a cargo plane died when it crashed near Moscow's Domodedovo's airport just after takeoff Sunday. The freight plane destined for Siberia lifted off the runway, flew two miles then crashed, bursting into flames, RIA Novosti reported. The plane belonged to the cargo airline Atran. It was built in 1964 and was to be retired in November. The plane's three flight recorders were found and the crash is under investigation, RIA Novosti said.

The International Herald Tribune outlines five key reasons why it isn't safe to fly on Russian airlines. Good luck, those of you who intend to fly from Moscow to Sochi for the 2014 Olympics. La Russophobe certainly won't be doing so (if you think the train might be better option, it's probably because you haven't been on a Russian train).

(1) TOO MANY AIRLINES: After the Soviet Union collapsed, state-owned Aeroflot splintered into 500 "babyflots," of which 182 remain. Smaller ones, struggling to survive, are more apt to cut corners on maintenance and safety. Fleets are aging; many airliners are of Soviet vintage or are bought secondhand from the West.

(2) COMPETITION: Is fierce, and many managements are so attentive to fuel costs that they fine pilots who abort flights or even landings, even when the pilot is acting out of concern for safety. Pilots are paid according to how many hours they are in the air, a practice that can exhaust them and impair their judgment.

(3) REGULATORY BODIES: Russia has five. Duties overlap and at least two both regulate airlines and investigate their crashes. Often the only conclusion they can agree upon is pilot error, leaving the deeper causes of a disaster unexplored.

(4) TRAINING AND SALARIES: State flight schools license pilots who have logged only 50 hours in the air, compared with 150 in the West. Instructors' salaries are low and trainees' food allowances are just 50 rubles (US$1.90 or €1.40) a day.

(5) LAWSUITS: Russian courts don't award large settlements to the relatives of crash victims. After one crash last year that killed all 170 people on board, the airline offered to pay just US$11,500 (about €8,600) for each fatality.

Nationalizing the Neo-Soviet Economy

Streetwise Professor illustrates the neo-Soviet nationalization of Russia's economy. So much for capitalism!

Recent weeks have seen the continuation of the methodical march of Putinism and Russian resource nationalism. BP surrenders Kovytka. Gazprom and the Russian government (is there a difference?) begin making noises about elbowing their way into ExxonMobil’s Sakhalin I project (heretofore largely thought immune to predation). And in today’s Eurasian Daily Monitor, Vlad Socor reports that Transneft–Russia’s oil pipeline monopoly–is squeezing the Caspian Pipeline Consortium through demands for renegotiation of existing deals and demands for new capital, with demands backed up by the old standby–outrageous bills for back taxes.

The craven behavior of BP and Shell in the face of Putin’s predations at their expense has undoubtedly emboldened the Russians to take additional steps. Similarly, the sotto voce responses of the Eurowimps are also music to Putin’s ears. When will Europe awaken to the tightening grip of the Russian python?

The losers here are not just the shareholders of integrated oil majors, or American or European consumers of gasoline and natural gas. Though they may not realize it now, it will soon become apparent to the Russian people that they will be the biggest losers. I have been reading every political economy book that discusses the role of a nation’s resource endowment on its political structure that I can get my hands on. This research emphasizes a theme that I have explored before on SWP, namely that rent intensive economies (notably those with outsized endowments of natural resources) are prone to authoritarianism and dictatorship, and that increasing economic inequality and the suppression of commercial and political activity go hand in hand with growing state control over the natural resource sector. Thus, though the energy boom (and the nickel boom and the copper boom and the aluminum boom and the gold boom) will enrich the “elite” (though referring in that way to the thuggish siloviki who rule Russia sounds discordant) with access to the rents, it will condemn most Russians to a penurious economic future and a deprivation of their civil and political liberties.

To follow Putinism is to watch these theories in action. They describe Russian political developments post-2000 to a “T.” The most depressing thing is that inasmuch as these models characterize stable equilibria as a function of underlying endowments, it is unlikely that Russia will leave this trajectory. Revolution and violence are possible, but the likely results of such an explosion would mainly be (a) much death and destruction, and (b) a replacement of the old set of rent parasites with a new set. So, it is well to wish the destruction of Putinism, it is far harder even to imagine how that can be accomplished.

This is particularly true because Putin is doing the basic blocking and tackling needed to secure an authoritarian regime. The moves to revise the history textbooks provided to Russian primary and secondary students and Putin’s historical revisionism (e.g., his assertions that Russia and the USSR have a pristine record as compared to those blood-stained Americans) represent classical authoritarian moves to control the future by controlling the past. Presenting a unifying historical narrative congenial to the regime and suppressing the voicing of any alternative, more discordant, narrative reduces the costs of maintaining control. Similarly, the harassment and sometimes suppression of any non-state organization that could serve as a focal point for collective action directed against the regime is a traditional means of retaining and strengthening control. The atomization of Russian society, and the replacement of myriad spontaneous and organic links of individuals and groups across society with managed vertical relations intermediated by the state and its creatures (a wheel and spoke vs. a network model of society) cripple the formation of alternative sources of power and influence that can challenge the regime.

Not a happy vision, indeed. But Western nations need to develop a Russian policy based on a sober assessment of current realities, and likely future developments. Happy talk in Kennebunkport, or pitiful plaints about the desire for normal relations with Russia, or craven energy executives opening their wallets just after Putin took their watches, are all manifestations of denial. A denial of the reality of “modern” Russia (which is oh-so-much like not-so-modern Russia, and pre-modern Russia). Until the scales drop from European and American eyes, and they devise policies that deal with realities rather than deny them, Putin will march from triumph to triumph. It is unlikely that Putinsim–which is just a latter-day Russian version of natural resource sustained authoritarianism–can be quashed completely, and Russia transformed into a liberal (in the classical sense) modern state and civil society. However, unified resistance can mitigate its more deleterious consequences (at least for non-Russians.) As long as short sighted, commercial interests drive European policy in particular, however, such resistance is unlikely to arise.

Collective action is needed, but collective action is always difficult due to free riding and rent seeking. The entire justification for a European Union is its purported ability to facilitate collective action on matters of common interest and concern. Insofar as Russia policy is concerned, it has failed miserably in this task. The “interests” of individual states, and more shockingly, individual companies within these states (most notably German and Italian), have precluded any robust collective response to Putin’s march. Until that changes, Putin wins, and Russians (and myriad others) lose.

Politkovskaya Lives

The Miami Herald reviews Anna Politkovskaya's final writing in the following essay. October 7th, the one-year anniversary of Anna's cowardly murder, is fast approaching, and La Russophobe welcomes commemorative submissions from readers to be published that day.

''The more I think about it, the more I would be betraying these people if I walked away,'' the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya told an interviewer in 2002. ``The only thing to do is to take this to the bitter end, so that no one can say that when things became difficult, I ran away.''

Politkovskaya, who served as a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta newspaper, did not run away, and whomever ordered the assassins' bullets that cut her down outside of her Moscow flat in October 2006 failed to still the echoes of that voice, a fact her newly published book powerfully brings home.

An uncommonly eloquent and impassioned voice for what she saw as the destruction of Russia's nascent democracy under the rule of President Vladimir Putin, Politkovskaya made her name reporting from the ground in the most brutal days of Russia's war in Chechnya, painting vivid and often shocking portraits of the agony inflicted on civilians there by Russian forces, Chechen warlords and Islamist rebels alike, and how actors on many sides of the conflict cynically profited from the destruction. Her earlier book A Small Corner of Hell remains a definitive portrait of the conflict.

Later, as the bloodshed spilled to neighboring Caucasus regions such as Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Moscow itself, Politkovskaya reported that, too, and set the stage for A Russian Diary's account of the ways in which Chechnya was the template for the deformed authoritarian state that, in Politkovskaya's view, has taken present-day Russia by the throat and has no intention of letting go.

Here at first-hand we see the violence and fraud that surrounded Russia's 2003 parliamentary elections and 2004 presidential elections: Candidates opposing Putin's United Russia party receive body parts in plastic bags; in Chechnya, the amount of votes cast is 10 percent more than there are registered voters; a steady, casual and cynical co-opting of other journalists and human rights activists by the state marches forward with disturbing regularity. It is a state that Politkovskaya reveals to be brutal and incompetent. It is hard to read of the callous treatment of the relatives of victims of the 2002 Dubrovka theater siege (where Chechen militants seized a Moscow theater, and security services responded by pumping in an unknown chemical agent that killed three times as many hostages as it did attackers), or that of the grieving parents of the Beslan school siege two years later (an even-worse terrorist outrage and government failure which killed more than 300, mostly children) and not share Politkovskaya's righteous anger.

Throughout the book we see the face of the new Russia that Politkovskaya believes is being constructed, and it is not a pretty picture. We see it in Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed current president of Chechnya, portrayed as a ranting, uneducated thug in a long interview that Politkovskaya conducted in August 2004. Kadyrov has been accused of directing the abduction, torture and murder of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. We see the face of the new Russia in the bat-wielding pro-government shock troops of the Nashi (''Ours'') movement, whose similarity to another political youth wing 70 years earlier in another European country appears to be more than simply alliterative.

And yet there are also stories of immense courage and resilience in the midst of what appears to be overwhelming, unyielding state machinery and popular apathy (at one point Politkovskaya witheringly compares modern Russian society to ``a collection of windowless, isolated concrete cells'').

Opposition politician Irina Hakamada stands against Putin in the 2004 ballot and declares that ''I am going into this election as if to the scaffold. . . . There are normal people in Russia who know what they [the Putin government] are up to.'' Observe the unexpected courage and grace of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, condemned to prison when the Russian state set its sights on Yukos, the petroleum company he controlled. Also flitting like a ghost through the diary entries is Alexander Litvinenko, the former lieutenant-colonel in the Federal Security Service (a successor to the KGB) who went into exile in London and became one of the most bitter and vocal critics of the Putin government. Following Politkovskaya's murder, Litvinenko spoke out strongly, accusing Putin of involvement. A month later he followed her to the grave, poisoned after meeting with another former Russian spy.

Though the overall tone is not one of defeat -- Politkovskaya introduces us to many ex-servicemen, pensioners and victims of terrorism fighting for their rights -- there is a palpable gloom that pervades the book, a sense that, before getting any better, things will get much, much worse and that, when any change comes, it is likely to be bloody.

In an entry from October 29 2004, almost exactly two years before her own murder, Politkovskaya penned a bitterly eloquent epitaph for what she saw as having become of modern Russia. ``Any of us might now go to buy bread and never return. . . . The Russian people remained silent, hoping it would be the neighbors they would come to get.''

Annals of Educated, Cultured Russia

The Moscow Times reports yet more evidence of cultured, erudite, sophisticated Russia under the capable hands of Vladimir Putin:

It Girl Ksenia Sobchak was named the seventh most powerful celebrity in the country Friday, but she said she couldn't care less. Sobchak, the socialite seen as Russia's answer to Paris Hilton, was making her debut on Forbes Russia's third annual celebrity rich list, coming in at No. 49 with an estimated earnings of $1.2 million. But her rating for the magazine's parallel celebrity power list, based not only on income, but also on media coverage and public recognition, propelled her past such dignitaries as Natalya Vodyanova and conductor Valery Gergiev.

Sobchak was among 13 new celebs to join the list of the country's 50 most powerful and highest earning celebrities, along with Olympic figure-skating champion Evgeni Plushenko and film director Fyodor Bondarchuk. "I couldn't care less," Sobchak said by telephone. "These lists are rather relative in all respects," she said in a tired voice. In addition to her regular duties as a television host, Sobchak has recently co-authored a book and dabbled as an acrobat and a clown in the popular "Circus of the Stars" television show. Sobchak declined to discuss her earnings, but Kirill Vishnepolsky, deputy editor of Forbes Russia, said she had told the magazine her earnings were higher than Forbes' estimates.

In its third annual ranking, the magazine found that the country's top athletes, comedians and singers collectively earned more than $168 million over the past year -- still only a drop in the bucket by Western standards. In this year's ranking, seasoned celebrities gave way to younger stars or dropped off the list altogether. "A change of generations is happening in Russian show business," the magazine said.

Dima Bilan, who came second in last year's Eurovision Song Contest, made $4.1 million over the past year, becoming the 12th highest paid celebrity. By comparison, pop diva Alla Pugachyova earned an estimated $3.5 million. Comedy Club, a new crop of stand-up comedians, earned $4.4 million last year, compared with $3.5 million the year before. Yevgeny Petrosyan, a Soviet-era comedian, dropped off this year's list. Comedy Club also came second in the power ranking, a sign that Russians are increasingly discovering a taste for Western-style, stand-up comedy. "That strokes our ego," said Anna Bogomolova, a spokeswoman for Comedy Club, adding that the high ranking would help the company develop into a "serious production studio." She declined to comment on the Forbes' estimates of the studio's earnings.

Russian stars are still cheap. Their collective earnings of $168.4 million does not compare to the incomes of their Western counterparts. American television celebrity Oprah Winfrey alone earned $260 million last year, according to the Forbes list of the top 100 U.S. celebrities.

The country's celebrities may earn less in part because Russians spend more on alcoholic beverages than on music, books and movies, said the magazine. In 2006, Russians paid $4 billion to go to the movies and sports events, listen to music and watch films, but spent four times as much -- $16 billion -- on beer last year, the magazine said.

Russians are willing to shell out money for films, but there are still relatively few modern movie theaters across the country, Vishnepolsky said. "The entertainment culture is still underdeveloped and infrastructure is lacking," he said.

There were just two film directors and one actor -- the usual suspects on the U.S. list -- in this year's Russian ranking. Film director Bondarchuk and actor Gosha Kutsenko are this year's newcomers, who earned $1.9 million and $1.3 million respectively. Celebrity veteran Nikita Mikhalkov clocked in at $1.4 million, compared with $1.5 million the year before. Last year, box office takings stood at $412 million, an 18 percent increase over the year before, according to consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. The box office market is expected to more than double to $941 million in the next five years, the consultancy said last month. Overall, Russia's entertainment and media industry had the highest growth rate in Europe and reached $19.9 billion last year, PwC said, estimating it to be $21.1 billion in 2007. [LR: Here we go again with the "growth rate"! At least this article gives us a bit of perspective, pointing out that one big-time American celebrity earns more than all of Russia's combined. But it's not making clear how easy it is to have a high growth rate when your base is virtually zero] This year's 10 richest stars, including seven hockey players, a boxer and a basketball player, have all made their fortunes in sports. Maria Sharapova, who earned $23 million, remains Russia's richest star for a third straight year. [LR: In other words, these people didn't earn their money in Russia]

"Our legs are better than our brains," Vishnepolsky said. "We are better at hockey than at singing."

Other newcomers include pop singer Zhanna Friske, football player Yegor Titov, figure skater Ilya Averbukh and pianist Denis Matsuyev. This year's losers include Soviet-era pop singer Valery Leontyev, pop band Umaturman, and tennis players Marat Safin and Yelena Dementieva, who didn't make it to the list. Also among the absentees was Mstislav Rostropovich, who ranked 50th last year with an income of $1.3 million last year. He died in April. To compile this year's list, the magazine analyzed a number of factors, including celebrity estimated earnings, press mentions and hits from July 2006 to June 2007.

July 30, 2007 -- Contents


(1) On Siberian Secession

(2) Kasparov Puts One Across the Kremlin's Bow

(3) Once Again, Russia Convicted of Sub-human Behavior in the ECHR

(4) Annals of the Horrors of Nashi

(5) Annals of Russian Tennis Dominance

Monday, July 30, 2007

On Siberian Secession

Blogger and ace Russia scholar Paul Goble offers the following two-part overview of the Kremlin's alienation of Russia's eastern provinces, which now are looking to China and independence to secure their future. What a wonderful legacy that Great Leader Vladimir Putin is leaving behind him! How wise were the people of Russia to choose such brilliant visionary!

And how long before Putin must rely upon the tactics of Stalin to hold his sham nation together?

Transbaikal residents overwhelmingly identify themselves as “Siberians” regardless of their ethnicity, a new survey shows. And while most would settle for greater autonomy, a significant share says that they would welcome independence should the Russian Federation dissolve in the future. In an article provocatively titled “Will the Russian Federation Survive Until 2014?” Vitaly Kamyshev, a “Sibiryak” himself, reports that Irkutsk’s “Who’s Who” Agency determined that 80 percent of residents there identify as “Siberians” while only 12 percent say they are “Russians”. The same poll also found that approximately three Transbaikal residents out of five want greater autonomy for Siberia as a whole and that one in four – some 25 percent – are for a Siberia independent of the Russian Federation. (Unfortunately, Kamyshev does not give details on exactly when this poll was conducted or how many it queried.)

One reason for this perhaps surprising choice is the campaign by local Siberian activists to promote the ideas of 19th century “oblastniki” like Grigoiy Potanin and Nikolai Yadrintsev, who argued that Russia treated “Siberia as a colony,” and thus to gain seats for themselves in local legislatures, the last place where real electoral politics occur. But to far greater extent, this striking shift in self-identifications is an obvious reaction to three policies of President Vladimir Putin.

First, his re-centralization of power and his reduction in the size of inter-regional transfers have re-ignited long-simmering tensions between Moscow and the regions.

Second, Putin himself has unwittingly put regionalism in play by his efforts to combine existing federal units into new and larger ones, a process by which he clearly hopes to push out the ethnic dimension of Russian federalism. In Siberia and the Russian Far East, five small regions are now set to be combined with larger ones. On the one hand, that has the effect of undermining the importance of ethnicity as Putin wants, at least in some cases, but only at the cost of leading non-Russian elites to seek new accords on a regional basis with Russian ones, an effort that by itself makes regional identities more important than ethnic ones. On the other, by putting the question of the borders of regions into play again, Putin has unintentionally encouraged others especially in places far from Moscow to think about how they would redraw the political map of the Russian Federation in order to maximize their power. Elites in Khabarovsk kray, for example, having gotten approval to absorb two numerically small non-Russian areas, now talk openly about a greater Khabarovsk that would both become the largest federal unit in the country and have much greater influence in national politics.

And third, Putin has sought to downplay ethnic Russian identity as well by promoting the non-ethnic “Rossiyane” as the future civic nation the Russian president says the country must have given its ethnic divisions. That does not satisfy many ethnic Russians or many ethnic non-Russians, and regionalism may become the choice of both.

Now as in the past, Moscow has sought to limit the rise of Siberian identity by playing up what it says is the threat of Chinese colonization of the region. But that argument, Kamyshev says, may be wearing thin: Ever more people in Siberia believe they are a colony already and some think they would be better off with a different master. None of this, of course, is to say that Siberian regionalism as either an identity or a movement is strong enough to pose any immediate threat to Moscow. But it is to suggest that downplaying ethnicity as Putin has done may not translate directly and without any problems into Russian patriotism. Instead, as this Irkutsk poll suggests, many who others view as members of particular nationalities or as inevitable “Rossiyane” may decide to view themselves in regionalist terms, a development that could pose serious challenges for Russia’s development not only in 2014 but perhaps much sooner.

Although they have attracted little attention to date, residents and even officials in some predominantly Russian regions appear to be just as interested in asserting sovereignty or even seceding as are their counterparts in many of the non-Russian regions and republics of the Russian Federation. In an article appearing in this week’s “Nashe vremya,” Aleksandr Gazov argues that it is a mistake to focus only on non-Russian secessionist challenges even though he concedes that “the main moving force of any ‘liberation movement’ is membership in a particular nationality." But there is no reason to think that one such “particular nationality” cannot be Russian, Gazov suggests, especially because the three major impulses for secession – anti-Moscow attitudes, a sense of the loss of historical status, and economic problems – can affect Russians just as much as non-Russians.

The “Nashe vremya” journalist then surveys some of what he suggests are the most intriguing examples of ethnic Russian secessionist ideas and movements before producing a ranking generated by a foreign human rights activist of the probabilities that any one of these or indeed of non-Russian challenges will succeed. In the first instance, he points to secessionist groups in Novgorod, Pskov and Bryansk. In all three cases, local officials appear to be backing local intellectuals who argue that Moscow has taken something away from them: democracy in the case of Novgorod and economic opportunities in the case of Pskov and Bryansk. Then, he considers nationalist and secessionist trends among non-Russian groups not only in the North Caucasus – the only region most Muscovites think there is any secessionist challenge at all – but also in the Middle Volga among the Tatars, Bashkirs, Komi, Mordvin, and Mari and in Siberia among the Sakha and Buryats.

Gazov also considers the interesting case of Karelia, an ethnic republic whose population is now overwhelmingly ethnic Russian rather than the titular Karels or Finns. He notes that a Petrozavodsk city deputy has called for erecting a statue of Marshal Gustav Mannerheim, the Finnish leader who fought against Soviet forces. And finally he examines three broader Russian secessionist groups: those who want to form a truly Russian republic by jettisoning all non-Russian areas within the Russian Federation, those who back a Urals Republic, and finally those who want Siberia to be an independent state.

In some of these places, Gazov says, secessionist ideas are discussed only on the Internet among small coteries of intellectuals. But in many and especially Siberia, there is evidence that increasingly powerful governors are intrigued by the idea of independence and covertly support groups who push ideas the governors themselves cannot do openly. He writes: “today’s governors are welcome guests at all kinds of international events and are already accustomed to conduct foreign policy negotiations on their own. It is thus not surprising that in their minds arises the thought about an independent Siberia, free from Moscow, the Kremlin and the entire rest of the country.” But of course, Gazov continues, even the most powerful of such governors recognize that they cannot at th epresent moment at least “speak openly about such things” but they have every reason not to prevent others from doing so – or even helping them from behind the scenes.

Another force standing behind any drive for Siberian independence is Beijing, which has long cast a covetous eye to the resources and open spaces of the country to its north, Gazov writes. And the Chinese appear to be providing some funds to get Russians to speak out in favor of this alternative. “Already today,” Gazov continues, “in Irkutsk, Omsk and Novosibirsk ever more often are heard calls for more active cooperation with China which must become the chief ally of an independent Siberia.” At the end of his article, Gazov reproduces an estimate prepared by Costa Rican human rights activist Maximiliano Herrera as to the probability that any region in Russia may secede in the long term. This list is, as Gazov notes, only one person’s opinion, but it is intriguing, and it has now been introduced to the Russian audience. Herrera, who maintains his own website and whose complete list of the likelihood of secessionist challenges around the world can be found online as well, gives the following estimates of the chances for successful secession by regions in Russia:

Adyrgeia – 15 percent
Bashkortostan – more than 20 percent
Eastern Siberia – 30 percent
Daghestan – 40 percent
Ingushetia – 35 percent
Kabardino-Balkaria –20 percent
Kaliningrad – 35 percent
Kamchatka –15 percent
Karachai-Cherkessia – 15 percent
Magadan – 15 percent
Mari El – 20 percent
Primorskiy kray – 20 percent
Sakhalin – 20 percent
North Osetia – more than 20 percent
Stavropol kray – 10 percent
Tatarstan – more than 40 percent
Tuva – 10 percent
Chechnya – 55 percent
Chukotka – 20 percent
Sakha – 20 percent

What is most intriguing about this list, of course, is that Russian regions appear as likely or even more likely than non-Russian ones to secede. That is Gazov’s point, but to date, few in Moscow or elsewhere are prepared to take that seriously or to think about reworking the country’s federal system in order to keep the country in one piece.

Kasparov Puts One Across the Kremlin's Bow

Other Russia offers readers Garry Kasparov's recent column in the Wall Street Journal exposing the Kremlin as containing a mafia regime:

Don Putin

When Vladimir Putin took power in Russia in 2000, the burning question was: “Who is Putin?” It has now changed to: “What is the nature of Putin’s Russia?” This regime has been remarkably consistent in its behavior, yet foreign leaders and the Western press still act surprised at Mr. Putin’s total disregard for their opinions.

Again and again we hear cries of: “Doesn’t Putin know how bad this looks?” When another prominent Russian journalist is murdered, when a businessman not friendly to the Kremlin is jailed, when a foreign company is pushed out of its Russian investment, when pro-democracy marchers are beaten by police, when gas and oil supplies are used as weapons, or when Russian weapons and missile technology are sold to terrorist sponsor states like Iran and Syria, what needs to be asked is what sort of government would continue such behavior. This Kremlin regime operates within a value system entirely different from that of the Western nations struggling to understand what is happening behind the medieval red walls.

Mr. Putin’s government is unique in history. This Kremlin is part oligarchy, with a small, tightly connected gang of wealthy rulers. It is partly a feudal system, broken down into semi-autonomous fiefdoms in which payments are collected from the serfs, who have no rights. Over this there is a democratic coat of paint, just thick enough to gain entry into the G-8 and keep the oligarchy’s money safe in Western banks.

But if you really wish to understand the Putin regime in depth, I can recommend some reading. No Karl Marx or Adam Smith. Nothing by Montesquieu or Machiavelli, although the author you are looking for is of Italian descent. But skip Mussolini’s “The Doctrine of Fascism,” for now, and the entire political science section. Instead, go directly to the fiction department and take home everything you can find by Mario Puzo. If you are in a real hurry to become an expert on the Russian government, you may prefer the DVD section, where you can find Mr. Puzo’s works on film. “The Godfather” trilogy is a good place to start, but do not leave out “The Last Don,” “Omerta” and “The Sicilian.”

The web of betrayals, the secrecy, the blurred lines between what is business, what is government, and what is criminal — it’s all there in Mr. Puzo’s books. A historian looks at the Kremlin today and sees elements of Mussolini’s “corporate state,” Latin American juntas and Mexico’s pseudo-democratic PRI machine. A Puzo fan sees the Putin government more accurately: the strict hierarchy, the extortion, the intimidation, the code of secrecy and, above all, the mandate to keep the revenue flowing. In other words, a mafia.

If a member of the inner circle goes against the Capo, his life is forfeit. Once Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky wanted to go straight and run his Yukos oil company as a legitimate corporation and not as another cog in Mr. Putin’s KGB, Inc. He quickly found himself in a Siberian prison, his company dismantled and looted, and its pieces absorbed by the state mafia apparatus of Rosneft and Gazprom.

The Yukos case has become a model. Private companies are absorbed into the state while at the same time the assets of the state companies move into private accounts.

Alexander Litvinenko was a KGB agent who broke the loyalty code by fleeing to Britain. Worse, he violated the law of omertà by going to the press and even publishing books about the dirty deeds of Mr. Putin and his foot soldiers. Instead of being taken fishing in the old-fashioned Godfather style, he was killed in London in the first recorded case of nuclear terrorism. Now the Kremlin is refusing to hand over the main suspect in the murder.

Mr. Putin can’t understand Britain doing potential harm to its business interests over one human life. That’s an alien concept. In his world, everything is negotiable. Morals and principles are just chips on the table in the Kremlin’s game. There is no mere misunderstanding in the Litvinenko case; there are two different languages being spoken.

In the civilized world, certain things are sacrosanct. Human life is not traded at the same table where business and diplomacy are discussed. But for Mr. Putin, it’s a true no-limits game. Kosovo, the missile shield, pipeline deals, the Iranian nuclear program and democratic rights are all just cards to be played.

After years of showing no respect for the law in Russia, with no resulting consequences from abroad, it should not come as a surprise that Mr. Putin’s attitude extends to international relations as well. The man accused of the Litvinenko murder, Andrei Lugovoi, signs autographs and enjoys the support of the Russian media, which says and does nothing without Kremlin approval. For seven years the West has tried to change the Kremlin with kind words and compliance. It apparently believed that it would be able to integrate Mr. Putin and his gang into the Western system of trade and diplomacy.

Instead, the opposite has happened — the mafia corrupts everything it touches. Bartering in human rights begins to appear acceptable. The Kremlin is not changing its standards: It is imposing them on the outside world. It receives the stamp of legitimacy from Western leaders and businesses but makes those same leaders and businesses complicit in its crimes.

With energy prices so high, the temptation to sell out to the Kremlin is an offer you almost can’t refuse. Gerhard Schröder could not resist doing business with Mr. Putin on his terms and, after pushing through a Baltic Sea pipeline deal while in office, he had a nice Gazprom job waiting for him when he left the chancellorship. Silvio Berlusconi also became a Putin business partner. He even answered for Mr. Putin at an EU meeting, vigorously defending Russian abuses in Chechnya and the jailing of Mr. Khodorkovsky and then joking to Mr. Putin, “I should be your lawyer!” Now we see Nicolas Sarkozy boosting the interests of French energy company Total in the Shtokman gas field.

Can Mr. Sarkozy possibly speak out strongly in support of Britain after making big deals on the phone with Mr. Putin? He should know that if Gordon Brown gets Mr. Putin on the line and offers to drop the case against Mr. Lugovoi, perhaps Total will find itself pushed out to make room for BP.

We in the Russian opposition have been saying for a long time that our problem would soon be the world’s problem. The mafia knows no borders. Nuclear terror is not out of the question if it fits in with the Kremlin business agenda. Expelling diplomats and limiting official visits is not going to have an impact.

How about limiting the Russian ruling elite’s visits to their properties in the West? Ironically, they like to keep their money where they can trust in the rule of law, and so far Mr. Putin and his wealthy supporters have every reason to believe their money is safe. They’ve been spending so much on ski trips to the Alps that they recently decided to bring the skiing to Russia by snapping up the Olympic Winter Games.

There is no reason to cease doing business with Russia. The delusion is that it can ever be more than that. The mafia takes, it does not give. Mr. Putin has discovered that when dealing with Europe and America he can always exchange worthless promises of reform for cold, hard cash. Mr. Lugovoi may yet find himself up for sale.

Once Again, Russia Convicted of Subhuman Behavior in Chechnya by the European Court

Prague Watchdog reports that Russia has once again been convicted of Chechen war crimes by the European Court for Human Rights (pictured, left) It's the sixth such conviction for Russia this year alone. There are no words which can adequately describe the nature of this outrage, or the fact that this barbaric country sits on the G-8 and holds a U.N. Security Council veto, much less the fact that the world is planning to hold the 2014 Olympic games right in the very region where these outrageous crimes are occurring. That's one of the great Western failures of the Post-War world.

The European Court of Human Rights announced today that the Russian authorities are guilty of a series of murders and other serious crimes committed by federal forces in the Chechen village of Novye Aldy on February 5, 2000. In addition, it held it responsible for the murder of two residents of the Chechen village of Gekhi committed by federal forces in August of the same year.

After reviewing the case -- "Musayev and Others versus Russia" -- the Strasbourg court upheld the claims of the five applicants and gave a unanimous ruling that several articles of the European Convention for Human Rights had been violated, in particular those concerning the right to life, the prohibition of inhuman or torture and the right to an effective remedy. The court ordered the Russian state to pay its victims compensation for material and moral damage totalling 143,000 euros and compensation for the costs and expenses of the hearings worth nearly 21,000 euros.

The interests of the applicants are represented by lawyers for the "Memorial" Human Rights Centre and the London-based European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC). Human rights organizations held parallel press conferences in Moscow and Grozny today, and we will also publish a report concerning these.

According to information collected by human rights activists in the aftermath of the "mop-up" in the village, federal units in Novye Aldy killed several dozen civilians. They also engaged in looting, arson and rape. The Russian judicial system has so far failed to establish the identity of those guilty, and no one has been punished.

A second case on which a ruling was made in Strasbourg today involves two residents of the Chechen village of Gekhi, Ali and Umar Musayev, who were arrested by federal soldiers on August 8 2000 after an armoured personnel carrier was blown up nearby the village. A month later, in the presence of the Chechen authorities, the father of the Musayev brothers exhumed four bodies in the local cemetery, two of which were those of his sons and bore the signs of violent death.

After unsuccessful attempts to obtain justice in Russia, the mother of the victims, Aminat Musayeva, appealed together with her husband to the Strasbourg Court, which had accepted their complaint in 2001. In its decision today, the European Court ruled that Russia must pay the claimants moral damages in the sum of 130,000 euros and legal costs of 285 euros.

According to Prague Watchdog’s archive, five decisions have already been taken this year on "Chechen" cases. In all of them the claims of the applicants were met in full or almost in full.


A list of earlier rulings by the European court this year:

April 5: disappearance and death of a 61-year old Chechen man, Shakhid Baysayev, who was detained during a mop-up operation conducted by Russian police force units (OMON) in the Chechen village of Podgornoye in March 2000.

May 10: abduction and murder of Shamil Akhmadov, a Chechen resident who was arrested during a large-scale special operation in the city of Argun in March 2001.

June 21: murder of Chechen activist Zura Bitiyeva and her husband, son and brother, who were shot dead by unknown gunmen at their home in the Chechen town of Kalinovskaya in May 2003

July 5: abduction and murder of Ruslan Alikhadziyev, Speaker of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, who was arrested by federal soldiers in May 2000 in his home in Shali and then "disappeared".

July 12: murder of Chechen national Ayubkhan Magomadov, who was arrested by an armed unit of the Federal Security Service in October 2000 in his home in the village of Kurchaloy and then "disappeared".

Russia's response to this litany of outrages? It is now trying to cut off access by its citizens to the ECHR. The International Herald Tribune reports:

Russia wants to restrict the flow of appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, where a growing number of Chechens have been winning cases against the Russian government. The country's Supreme Court this week described plans to allow its citizens to file human rights cases against the state in Russian courts — something they cannot do now. The government says the changes will make it easier for Russian to protect their rights without turning to the European court.

But Chechens — who say they are often subject to torture, summary executions, indiscriminate bombings and forced disappearances — fear the government wants to deprive them of their only hope for justice. Russian authorities have denied that military and security forces are guilty of atrocities in the southern Muslim republic of Chechnya, where two wars have been fought to impose Moscow's control. But they have restricted journalists' access to the area. When Chechens go to police with allegations of abuse, their cases rarely make it to court, leaving victims with little choice but to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The court, in Strasbourg, France, has issued at least 10 verdicts against Russia in the past few months in cases concerning the Chechen wars. Some 200 are still pending. Rights advocates say President Vladimir Putin's government is irritated by the international exposure of atrocities in Chechnya brought by each new case. Fatima Bazorkina's is one such case: Watching the news on Russian channel NTV in February 2000, she said, she saw a Russian officer ordering her son to be killed. "Kill him, damn it. ... Get him over there, shoot him," the officer said, Bazorkina recalled over the phone from her home in Ingushetia, a region bordering Chechnya. Bazorkina has not seen her son, Khodzhimurad Yandiyev, since. Authorities said her son had been abducted by unknown men. The officer Bazorkina said she saw ordering her son's killing, later identified as Col.-Gen. Alexander Baranov, has been promoted, according to the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, which helps victims of rights abuses in the North Caucasus — the troubled region that includes Chechnya — seek justice at home and in Strasbourg.

The European Court ruled in March that Russian authorities were responsible for Yandiyev's presumed death and failed to adequately investigate. The court said the suffering caused to his mother qualified as inhumane and degrading treatment and ordered the government to pay her €35,000 (US$48,400). Russians have been able to appeal to the Strasbourg court since their country ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998. Russians now file more complaints with the court than citizens of any other European country. By the beginning of 2007, they had filed about 20,000 cases against the state, according to Russia's Constitutional Court. Russia's Supreme Court said this week that lawyers will draft legal changes to allow Russians to file human rights cases against the state in Russian courts.

"We are talking about reforming the Russian legal system in such a way that a number, a significant number, of the reasons our citizens turn to the European Court will be removed because of the availability of real and effective ways to protect their rights in their own nation," Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin said in an opinion piece in the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta. He denied this would limit Russians' right to appeal to the European Court.

Magomet Mutsolgov, who filed a complaint last year over the disappearance in Ingushetia of his brother Bashir, said the planned changes were "an attempt to replace the European Court. It is an attempt to deprive the people in the North Caucasus of their last hope to stand up for their constitutional rights," Mutsolgov said. He said his brother was last seen in December 2003 as he was stopped by security officers at a checkpoint. There has been no official investigation. "There are some Russian officials who want to improve the country's image and reduce the flow of Russian citizens' complaints" to the European court, said Ole Solvang, head of the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative. "The right way to reduce the number of complaints (to the European Court) is not to allow abuses in the first place, and if they take place to thoroughly and effectively investigate them," he said. Solvang said Russian prosecutors do not refuse to investigate alleged government atrocities in Chechnya but investigations inevitably stall.

Annals of the Horrors of Nashi

Writing in the Daily Mail, blogger Edward Lucas rips Putin's Russia a new one over its appalling propagandization of Russia's young people, just as Hitler did.

Remember the mammoths, say the clean-cut organisers at the youth camp's mass wedding. "They became extinct because they did not have enough sex. That must not happen to Russia". Obediently, couples move to a special section of dormitory tents arranged in a heart-shape and called the Love Oasis, where they can start procreating for the motherland. With its relentlessly upbeat tone, bizarre ideas and tight control, it sounds like a weird indoctrination session for a phoney religious cult. But this organisation - known as "Nashi", meaning "Ours" [LR: A better translation would be "us Slavic Russians" -- you won't find too many dark-skinned people at Nashi's camp, nor will you find Nashi encouraging Slavic Russians to breed with non-Slavs] - is youth movement run by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin that has become a central part of Russian political life. Nashi's annual camp, 200 miles outside Moscow, is attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters and involves two weeks of lectures and physical fitness. Attendance is monitored via compulsory electronic badges and anyone who misses three events is expelled. So are drinkers; alcohol is banned. But sex is encouraged, and condoms are nowhere on sale.

Bizarrely, young women are encouraged to hand in thongs and other skimpy underwear - supposedly a cause of sterility - and given more wholesome and substantial undergarments. [LR: This is what happens in Russia, basic facts from the West get perverted in the manner of whisper-down-the-lane as they travel across the frozen tundra to reach Moscow. Tight underwear affects male potency, not female.] Twenty-five couples marry at the start of the camp's first week and ten more at the start of the second. These mass weddings, the ultimate expression of devotion to the motherland, are legal and conducted by a civil official.

Attempting to raise Russia's dismally low birthrate even by eccentric-seeming means might be understandable. Certainly, the country's demographic outlook is dire. The hard-drinking, hardsmoking and disease-ridden population is set to plunge by a million a year in the next decade.

But the real aim of the youth camp - and the 100,000-strong movement behind it - is not to improve Russia's demographic profile, but to attack democracy. Under Mr Putin, Russia is sliding into fascism, with state control of the economy, media, politics and society becoming increasingly heavy-handed. And Nashi, along with other similar youth movements, such as 'Young Guard', and 'Young Russia', is in the forefront of the charge. At the start, it was all too easy to mock. I attended an early event run by its predecessor, 'Walking together', in the heart of Moscow in 2000. A motley collection of youngsters were collecting 'unpatriotic' works of fiction for destruction. It was sinister in theory, recalling the Nazis' book-burning in the 1930s, but it was laughable in practice. There was no sign of ordinary members of the public handing in books (the copies piled on the pavement had been brought by the organisers).

Once the television cameras had left, the event organisers admitted that they were not really volunteers, but being paid by "sponsors". The idea that Russia's anarchic, apathetic youth would ever be attracted into a disciplined mass movement in support of their president - what critics called a "Putinjugend", recalling the "Hitlerjugend" (German for "Hitler Youth") - seemed fanciful. How wrong we were. Life for young people in Russia without connections is a mixture of inadequate and corrupt education, and a choice of boring dead-end jobs. Like the Hitler Youth and the Soviet Union's Young Pioneers, Nashi and its allied movements offer not just excitement, friendship and a sense of purpose - but a leg up in life, too. Nashi's senior officials - known, in an eerie echo of the Soviet era, as "Commissars" - get free places at top universities. Thereafter, they can expect good jobs in politics or business - which in Russia nowadays, under the Kremlin's crony capitalism, are increasingly the same thing.

Nashi and similar outfits are the Kremlin's first line of defence against its greatest fear: real democracy. Like the sheep chanting "Four legs good, two legs bad" in George Orwell's Animal Farm, they can intimidate through noise and numbers. Nashi supporters drown out protests by Russia's feeble and divided democratic opposition and use violence to drive them off the streets. The group's leaders insist that the only connection to officialdom is loyalty to the president. If so, they seem remarkably well-informed.

In July 2006, the British ambassador, Sir Anthony Brenton, infuriated the Kremlin by attending an opposition meeting. For months afterwards, he was noisily harassed by groups of Nashi supporters demanding that he "apologise". With uncanny accuracy, the hooligans knew his movements in advance - a sign of official tip-offs.

Even when Nashi flagrantly breaks the law, the authorities do not intervene. After Estonia enraged Russia by moving a Soviet-era war memorial in April, Nashi led the blockade of Estonia's Moscow embassy. It daubed the building with graffiti, blasted it with Stalin-era military music, ripped down the Estonian flag and attacked a visiting ambassador's car. The Moscow police, who normally stamp ruthlessly on public protest, stood by.

Nashi fits perfectly into the Kremlin's newly-minted ideology of "Sovereign democracy". This is not the mind-numbing jargon of Marxism-Leninism, but a lightweight collection of cliches and slogans promoting Russia's supposed unique political and spiritual culture. It is strongly reminiscent of the Tsarist era slogan: "Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Nationality". The similarities to both the Soviet and Tsarist eras are striking. Communist ideologues once spent much of their time explaining why their party deserved its monopoly of power, even though the promised utopia seemed indefinitely delayed. Today, the Kremlin's ideology chief Vladislav Surkov is trying to explain why questioning the crooks and spooks who run Russia is not just mistaken, but treacherous.

Yet, by comparison with other outfits, Nashi looks relatively civilised. Its racism and prejudice is implied, but not trumpeted. Other pro-Kremlin youth groups are hounding gays and foreigners off the streets of Moscow. Mestnye [The Locals] recently distributed leaflets urging Muscovites to boycott non-Russian cab drivers. These showed a young blonde Russian refusing a ride from a swarthy, beetle-browed taxi driver, under the slogan: "We're not going the same way." Such unofficial xenophobia matches the official stance. On April 1, a decree explicitly backed by Mr Putin banned foreigners from trading in Russia's retail markets. By some estimates, 12m people are working illegally in Russia.

Those who hoped that Russia's first post-totalitarian generation would be liberal, have been dissapointed. Although explicit support for extremist and racist groups is in the low single figures, support for racist sentiments is mushrooming. Slogans such as "Russia for the Russians" now attract the support of half of the population. Echoing Kremlin propaganda, Nashi denounced Estonians as "fascist", for daring to say that they find Nazi and Soviet memorials equally repugnant. But, in truth, it is in Russia that fascism is all too evident. The Kremlin sees no role for a democratic opposition, denouncing its leaders as stooges and traitors. Sadly, most Russians agree: a recent poll showed that a majority believed that opposition parties should not be allowed to take power.

Just as the Nazis in 1930s rewrote Germany's history, the Putin Kremlin is rewriting Russia's. It has rehabilitated Stalin, the greatest mass-murderer of the 20th century. And it is demonising Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically-elected president. That he destroyed totalitarianism is ignored. Instead, he is denounced for his "weak" pro-Western policies. While distorting its own history, the Kremlin denounces other countries. Mr Putin was quick to blame Britain's "colonial mentality" for our government's request that Russia try to find a legal means of extraditing Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

Yet the truth is that Britain, like most Western countries, flagellates itself for the crimes of the past. Indeed, British schoolchildren rarely learn anything positive about their country's empire. And, if Mr Putin has his way, Russian pupils will learn nothing bad about the Soviet empire, which was far bloodier, more brutal - and more recent. A new guide for history teachers - explicitly endorsed by Mr Putin - brushes off Stalin's crimes. It describes him as "the most successful leader of the USSR". But it skates over the colossal human cost - 25m people were shot and starved in the cause of communism.

"Political repression was used to mobilise not only rank-and-file citizens but also the ruling elite," it says. In other words, Stalin wanted to make the country strong, so he may have been a bit harsh at times. At any time since the collapse of Soviet totalitarianism in the late 1980s, that would have seemed a nauseating whitewash. Now, it is treated as bald historical fact.

If Stalin made mistakes, so what? Lots of people make mistakes.

"Problematic pages in our history exist," Mr Putin said last week. But: "we have less than some countries. And ours are not as terrible as those of some others." He compared the Great Terror of 1937, when 700,000 people were murdered in a purge by Stalin's secret police, to the atom bomb on Hiroshima. The comparison is preposterous. A strong argument can be made that by ending the war quickly, the atom bombs saved countless lives. Franklin D Roosevelt and Harry Truman may have failed to realise that nuclear weapons would one day endanger humanity's survival. But, unlike Stalin, they were not genocidal maniacs.

As the new cold war deepens, Mr Putin echoes, consciously or unconsciously, the favourite weapon of Soviet propagandists in the last one. Asked about Afghanistan, they would cite Vietnam. Castigated for the plight of Soviet Jews, they would complain with treacly sincerity about discrimination against American blacks. Every blot on the Soviet record was matched by something, real or imagined, that the West had done. But the contrasts even then were absurd. When the American administration blundered into Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of people protested in the heart of Washington. When eight extraordinarily brave Soviet dissidents tried to demonstrate in Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia, in 1968, they were instantly arrested and spent many years in labour camps.

For the east European countries with first-hand experience of Stalinist terror, the Kremlin's rewriting of history could hardly be more scary. Not only does Russia see no reason to apologise for their suffering under Kremlin rule, it now sees the collapse of communism not as a time of liberation, but as an era of pitiable weakness.

Russia barely commemorates even the damage it did to itself, let alone the appalling suffering inflicted on other people. Nashi is both a symptom of the way Russia is going - and a means of entrenching the drift to fascism. Terrifyingly, the revived Soviet view of history is now widely held in Russia. A poll this week of Russian teenagers showed that a majority believe that Stalin did more good things than bad. If tens of thousands of uniformed German youngsters were marching across Germany in support of an authoritarian Führer, baiting foreigners and praising Hitler, alarm bells would be jangling all across Europe. So why aren't they ringing about Nashi?

Annals of Russian Tennis "Dominance"

If things go on in the world of women's tennis as they are right now, by the end of this year Russia will no longer have four women ranked in the world's top 10 as it currently does, but only three. Nadia Petrova, currently ranked in the top 10, has fallen to #14 based on her performance in 2007 alone.

And Maria Sharapova won't be Russia's highest-ranked player. Sharapova, #2 in the world, has fallen to #6 based on her 2007 performance. She's been passed by current #4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, and current #7 Anna Chakvetadze is within easy striking distance of her as well.

So Kuznetsova and Chakvetadze are Russia's best players of 2007. Well, kind of they are.

You see, Kuznetsova hasn't won a single tournament all year long. She's passed Sharapova by on this year's rankings without doing so, which tells you something about how Sharapova has fared. In Kuznetsova's last three tournaments, she was eliminated each time by a lower-ranked player, twice in straight sets. She's reached the finals in four of the twelve tournaments she's played this year (a far better record than Sharapova), but she's lost every single time once she got there, stretching the winner to three sets only once and getting beaten by a higher-ranked player in only one of the four finals outings (echoes of Anna Kournikova).

In reality, the only credible record by a Russian player this year has been Chakvetadze (the one whose last name belies her actually being Russian), winner of three tournaments. But these were all lowly tier III and IV events (Hobart, S'hertogenbosch and Cincinnati) and in two of the three outings she prevailed in the finals against an opponent not ranked in the world's top 60 players. She did, however, record Russia's best win by far this year when she prevailed over world #3 and top seed Jelena Jancovic, hottest player on the tour this year, at S'hertogenbosch in the Netherlands in June.

The only Russian player to win a tier I or II event this year is Petrova, who despite that has slippped well out of the world's top 10 this year. Petrova won the big event tier II in Paris, but only because she was lucky enough to face a player not ranked in the world's top 30 in the finals (though granted, even that wasn't enough to help Kuznetsova).

Conclusion: We have the same messed-up idea about Russian women playing tennis that we do about Russian economics and government. We have the vague idea that things are going well, when in fact it's all illusion.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

July 29, 2007 -- Contents


(1) The Sunday Photos: Pre-Bolshevik Russia in Living Color

(2) Russia is a Fascist State

(3) The Sunday Persecution

(4) The Sunday Financial Page

(5) The Sunday Funnies: YouTube Edition

The Sunday Photos: Pre-Bolshevik Russia in Living Color

Here are some images from the Library of Congress's Prokudin-Gorsky collection which, through the use of a cutting-edge photographic technique, show Russia from 100 years ago in true living color (click the image to see a larger one, click here to browse the collection, which contains over 2,500 images).

Neo-Soviet Russia is a Fascist State

The New Statesman reports that neo-Soviet Russia is a fascist state, neatly summarizing the evidence of dictatorship and failure that we have seen in neo-Soviet Russia to date. Click through the comments and check out that frenzied Russophile reaction to see just how close to the bone this brilliant article cuts:

One key concern arising from the recent spat with Russia is this awakening superpower is drifting into the foothills of fascism domestically. The simple defence Russians have offered in recent weeks is that Russians are by nature fiercely patriotic. I knew a Russian who, when the train stopped on the Russian border, picked up handfuls of Russian soil and started to sob.

The loss of their empire – the USSR - is keenly felt. Vladimir Putin, for example, described the end of the USSR as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. It would have been more appropriate if he had given this title to the Ukrainian terror-famine of 1929-33 where the Russian occupier diverted all food from the collectivized peasants to the rest of the USSR. This terror-famine resulted in more deaths than all countries in the First World War. Russians refuse to apologise for the famine and still talk of Ukrainians in the same derogatory terms that some English used to use about the Welsh and Irish.

Putin is keen to maintain influence in the former Soviet satellite states and this is increasingly causing conflict. The key turning point was the Orange revolution in 2004 which discarded the Kremlin’s favoured candidate in Ukraine to bring in a pro-Western President with dreams of EU and NATO membership. The idea of losing “Little Russia”, the dearest of the CIS satellite states, to NATO shocked many Russians including Putin and ushered in more authoritarian tactics. The most worrying of these tactics was the politicised use of energy supplies. Ukraine had its gas cut-off shortly after its drift westward in 2004, and more recently Estonia has had oil supplies to its port disrupted by Russia during the statue crisis.

Putin is concerned that the loss of influence in the satellite states will threaten Russia's power along its borders by its old adversary NATO. He blamed the Orange Revolution in part on the unchecked rise of a democratic youth movement in Ukraine called PORA, who opposed the authoritarian government.

To prevent a similar group being established in Russia, Putin created his own youth movement “Nashi”. The official line was that this group were supposed to counter the rise of fascism, in the National Boshevik party. However, it soon became apparent that Nashi’s true function was as a personality cult for Putin whose job was intimidate, bully and harass his opponents.

In the recent Estonia crisis, thugs from Nashi terrorized the Estonian Embassy forcing the ambassador into hiding. In the protests one person was killed and 99 injured. Similarly, the UK ambassador in Moscow was intimidated by Nashi thugs merely for attending an opposition conference. The 120,000 Nashi members must show total devotion to the president. Their young leaders meet Putin himself in training camps and have an audience with his potential successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergie Ivanov. Nashi actions are well-organised, they wear distinct red uniforms, have their own buses, power supply and well-financed phone-in campaigns. The comparison with Hitler Youth is beginning to be made more and more often.

The most sinister aspect of Nashi is the revival of Soviet-style propaganda. In the official manifesto, Nashi recruits are subjected to Soviet-style prejudices of xenophobia and anti-Americanism that existed in the Cold War. The domain name for the Nashi website is, opting for the “.su” of the non-existant Soviet Union, rather than “.ru” for Russia. The manifesto calls on Nashi members to stamp out any colour revolution as this would represent “a loss of sovereignty to external influences”. A flashing banner on the Estonia crisis declares: “It’s our history, it’s our war, it’s our soldier!” A poster at a recent rally criticised the number of adoptions of Russian children to the US. The members of Nashi, aged 17-25, who could essentially hold progressive views, are being indoctrinated with anti-European and anti-American sentiment.

The opposition groups in Russia are denied the right to hold protest and not allowed access to any of the state-controlled media. Nashi, however, are allowed to hold marches, which are covered favourably on state television. Financing for Nashi comes from Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas giant. Similar to Hitler Youth, the group undergoes paramilitary training and have been implicated in the attacks on opposition groups like the banned National Bolshevik Party, led by Limonov and the Estonian ambassador. Their actions mirror more widespread of violent intimidation towards opposition groups, human rights activists and the free press.

Since Putin came to power, 15 journalists have been murdered by contract killers. Marina Litvinovich, the chief political adviser to opposition leader Garry Kasparov, was beaten up so badly she lost two front teeth. Lidia Yuspova, a human rights campaigner based in Chechnya, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, only to receive and anonymous call warning her she would not live to receive it. Groups of black-shirted skinheads have been responsible for assaults and murders directed at immigrants from the Caucasus.

Putin’s popularity ratings run at 80 per cent, showing that his grip on the state-media has effectively kept Russians in an information vacuum. He has exploited the fierce national pride of his people and reinforced prejudices by accusing the US of hegemony and speaking of the NATO presence along the borders.

Social instability and health problems run rampant throughout the country. A 20-year-old Russian has less than a 50 per cent chance of reaching the age 65 (compared to 80 per cent for an American). Russia has three million drug users, with as many as two million may be HIV-infected. Its prisons are rife with tuberculosis and hold 1.3m people many of them young homeless boys. By effectively integrating an immigrant population Russia could help to swell its workforce but current immigration stands at zero. Russia is more than just the Nashi movement, state-controlled media and murdered journalists, but Putin's legacy will be determined by how legitimately he can justify his people's patriotism by improving the quality of living.

The Sunday Persecution

Alexei II, dictator of the Russian Orthodox Church, embraces
Vladimir Putin,
dictator of the Russian People. Their relationship
is a close one, with echoes of
the Holy Roman Empire or Nazi Germany
as depicted in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

The blog Bartholomew's Notes on Religion reports on the rise of religious manipulation and persecution in Russia

From (as ever) Interfax:

Most heavy metal songs are about murder and suicide, the Serbsky State Research Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry professor Fyodor Kondratyev opines.

‘Having researched 700 most popular heavy metal songs revealed that half of them is about murder, 7 percent is positive about suicide, and 35 percent preaches a variety of Satanist ideologies,’ Kondratyev said in his interview published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily on Monday. He shared with the journalists that according to the American National Education Association every year near 6,000 young Americans kill themselves under the influence of music like that.

Kondratyev tells of "1,000" Satanists in Moscow and "100 Satanist groups" in Russia. He also claims to have been told by a patient of "20 ritual murders", but that "Good defenders and threatening of witnesses" have prevented successful prosecutions. Kondratyev’s warning comes just days after Deacon Andrey Kurayev of Moscow Theological Academy warned that Friday the 13th would see "more intense" Satanic activity. Kondratyev has previously railed against foreign "sects" in Russia. In 2004 the Russian Courier reported that:

Overseas-based religious cults are making huge expenditures to get established in Russia, says Fedor Kondratyev, analytical board chief of the Serbsky State Centre of Social and Forensic Medicine. "There is documentary proof of exorbitant sums spent to help such cults as they are penetrating Russia, and promote whatever home-grown cults who aim to undermine Eastern Christianity as spiritual pillar of the Russian nation," Dr. Kondratyev said to a news conference. It gathered in Moscow today to discuss rehabilitating exotic cult victims.

This orthodox-nationalist perspective is also noted in an essay on "The Place of Xenophobia in Government Policies", from the Moscow Helsinki Group:

Public figures, actively involved in the campaign against "totalitarian sects," serve as intermediaries of a sort between the Russian Orthodox Church and government officials. They are organized around the Center of Jeriney of Lion, headed by Alexander Dvorykin…Dvorykin’s associates in the anti-cult struggle also include public officials, like the head of expert department of the V.P Serbsky State Research Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, Fedor Kondratyev. The professional arguments (we shall not attempt here to make any judgments of their quality) of the latter are constantly combined with ideological passages of the following kind: "Each of the parishioners [Jehovah Witnesses] has a supervisor. The word of the supervisor is the word of God. As a result, fifty-thousand Russian passport holders are Russian citizens by law, but in fact are getting their orders from Americans, with the strings pulled from New-York, from Brooklyn."

(We’ve blogged Dvorkin previously)

Also significant is Kondratyev’s place of employment, the Serbsky Institute. A 2004 report by Paul Goble explains:

Moscow’s Serbsky Institute, notorious in Soviet times for its criminal use of psychiatry and drugs against dissidents, is now playing an important role in the Russian government’s efforts to combat the spread of religious sects. Earlier this month, the institute helped to organize a conference in Tula entitled "The Influence of Destructive Sects on the Health of Society," "Tul’skiye izvestiya" reported on November 2. ... The main address to the meeting, which was hosted by the local health department and the St. John Society of Orthodox Doctors, was given by the Serbsky Institute’s Professor Fedor Kondratyev... Kondratyev said that the influx of sectarian activists into Russia from abroad increased dramatically in the 1990s, but he argued that the purposes of this influx had not changed:

"This is one of the most effective measurs of the struggle of the West against the powerful Russian state. Hitler already wrote that there ought to be a sect in every Siberian village in order that Slavs not have any spiritual unity."

Some of the sects in Russia today are "camouflaged" as Christian while others are openly "satanist," he added. But both, he suggested "are directed against the state, society, the family, and the personality."

In 2002, the Serbsky Institute was involved in the psychiatric evaluation of Col. Yuri Budanov, who had drunkenly raped and killed an 18-year-old Chechen woman in 2000. The evaluators overturned previous reports to declare that Budanov had been temporarily insane, and therefore non-culpable. The Chechen Times has further details:

Stuck on the matter of Budanov’s guilt, the state has turned to a familiar partner from Soviet times, a psychiatric profession that for decades followed orders to camouflage political problems behind the opaque curtain of mental illness. In doing so, however, officials have resurrected questions about psychiatry’s shameful past in the Soviet Union — and its highly politicized present. That controversial finding has opened a broad evaluation of the Serbsky Institute’s fitness as an independent judge of mental competence…. When the military court first ordered Serbsky to test Budanov, the panel conducting the inquiry was led by Tamara Pechernikova, the doctor who condemned poet Natalya Gorbanevskaya for protesting the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. When that evaluation of Budanov was criticized, the court next appointed a commission that included Georgi Morozov, the former Serbsky director who had sat on many of the committees that declared prominent dissidents insane in the 1970s and 1980s. "Practically nothing has changed. They have no shame at the institute about their role with the Communists," said Yuri Savenko, head of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia. "They are the same people, and they do not want to apologize for all their actions in the past."

Another report notes that:

Earlier in 2001, the head of the Serbsky Institute—Tatyana Dmitrieva—revealed that the Institute was subjecting "members of 20 non- traditional religious organizations" to psychiatric examinations, searching for signs of "psychological influencing" and "hypnosis."

Just like the old days:

Raisa Ivanovna was arrested in 1973 (according to another source, 1972) among a group of eleven True Orthodox women from Vladimir. She was a teacher, the mother of two children. She was sent to the camp for political prisoners in Mordovia (385/3) for seven years. In 1974 she was subjected to a psychiatric examination in the Serbsky Institute in Moscow. Then she was returned to the camp, where the administration tried by all means possible to find witnesses who would certify that she was mentally ill. ... The "crimes" of the True Orthodox consisted in having put leaflets in the sergianist churches calling on the clergy to renounce their collaboration with Soviet power. These leaflets contained verses such as: "Satan lies under the mausoleum, his flesh has been rotting for a long time". Some of them had photos and caricatures.