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Monday, December 31, 2007

December 31, 2007 -- Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: John McCain for President

(2) Latest on Kozlovsky

(3) Exposing Russia's Sham Military

(4) Putin's Cold War

(5) Annals of Oleg Schvartsman

(6) Rating the U.S. Presidential Contenders on Russia

(7) Annals of Russian Hypocrisy: Nashi goes to School . . . in Britain

NOTE: Oborona is urgently calling for assistance in protecting Oleg Kozlovsky. Please take a moment to "Digg" our post about it below so that this story can be circulated as wide and as fast as possible. It's no overstatement to say that Oleg's life hangs in the balance now. Him today, us tomorrow.

EDITORIAL: John McCain for President

A Tiger Named Tatiana


John McCain for President

"Zoo personnel dispatch now say there are two males who the zoo considers 800. But one is in fact bleeding from the back of the head at the Terrace Cafe."


That's police code for "mentally ill." On Christmas day, a Bengal tiger named Tatiana broke free of her enclosure at the San Francisco zoo and killed one visitor, sending two more to the hospital. Responding to the scene, police officers were initially told by Zoo officials that the complaining victims were crazy, even though one of them was bleeding from a tiger bite to the head. Later, it turned out that the fence enclosure built to retain Tatiana was only 12 feet hight, far to low, making it easy for her to vault over it when she fancied a bit of dinner. At first, though, Zoo officials had claimed the fence was 18 feet high. The Zoo in nearby Oakland has a tiger fence of similar height, and is now saying it will be raised even though "it's not like the last foot or so is the difference between escape or no escape, but we are not interested in playing it that close."

We have disturbing a sense of deja vu when we read about this tragedy, which more and more begins to sound like it needs the word "outrage" instead. It's ironic that this tiger had a Russian name, because we've been warning the world about the danger that neo-Soviet Russia will jump its too-short fence and maul the world for some time now, and when we first started there was no shortage of people who called us crazy, too. And it's still the modality of choice for the neo-Soviet minions, who are busily grabbing their adversaries and chucking them into insane asylums -- as recently described by Paul Goble and Grigori Pasko on Robert Amsterdam -- just as was done in Soviet times. Many Russophile wackos really, genuinely believe that anyone who dares to suggest that Russia is dangerous must be mentally ill. It's this kind of "thinking" that caused the USSR to go the way of the dodo.

Word emerged last week of Russian plans to sell Iran yet another sophisticated missile system designed to help it fend off a NATO attack should it be determined that it has developed a nuclear weapons capacity, something that is possible only because of Russian assistance with its nuclear program. Even as the Kremlin was issuing a pathetic series of denials after the Iranians started bragging about the deal, it was being reported that the Kremlin had launched a whole new set of initiatives aimed at expanded military cooperation.

There's no way that any words (other than perhaps "neo-Soviet") can do justice to the hubris and hypocrisy that are necessary to undertake these actions: Even as Russia provides missile systems to Iran, it objects to the United States providing such systems to its former slave states in Eastern Europe, which would tend to undermine Russian efforts to reassert the Iron Curtain against those states. And can you imagine -- do you dare -- Russia's reaction if America were to try to provide dangerous weapons to a place Russia hates and fears as much as Americans hate and fear Iran -- Chechnya, for instance? What did the Kremlin expect the West to make of its childish denials -- that if/when it acts to undermine our security, it will frankly tell us about it? Only a neo-Soviet mentality can descend to this level of sophomoric imbecility.

So now, everybody in the world (who has a lick of sense) is singing our tune. We report below a new column from the pages of the Wall Street Journal, probably America's most powerful and well-respected newspaper, entitled "Putin's Cold War." The terms "cold war" and "neo-Soviet" that we began using long ago, and which then were considered questionable or extreme, are now conventional wisdom, and in fact it's quite easy to argue that they will soon become too moderate to truly describe the atrocities now being perpetrated in Russia.

In other words, this is only the beginning, as we've been saying before there was any beginning, back in April of 2006 when we began this blog.

Just as Tatiana the tiger was harmless when behind the walls of her enclosure, the West has nothing to fear but fear itself when confronting Russia, and should not allow Russia to blind it with neo-Soviet propaganda designed to intimidate it and stay its hand while Putin consolidates and bolsters his malignant regime. And it must act now; otherwise, sooner or later, Russia will figure out how to jump its fence and then we will find the Russian bear right in our own back yard, wrecking havoc.

Today, the Kremlin is constrained by two important and undeniable facts: First, it hasn't yet fully consolidated its power by making the transition between Putin I and Putin II. This won't occur for a few more months yet, although most of the transition is already complete (the parliament and local government have both been brought to heel, and the media establishment as well), so the Kremlin is still a bit shy. And second, it is still faced with massive economic limitations, revenues from oil sales being just a drop in the bucket in terms of what is needed to recreate a totalitarian state and wage cold war with NATO. As we report below, Russia's military is simply to puny to truly intimidate the West. Putin's mouth is writing checks his fists can't cash -- so he must rely on guile and misdirection, hoping to put off the actual confrontation for another day. He's counting on us leaving our fence at 12 feet.

Russia's economy is also an illusion. HSBC economist Alexander Morozov says: "The [Russian] economy bears all the hallmarks of overheating, which brings the danger of a sharp slowdown in the future." Specifically, he's talking about inflation, which is increasingly going to undermine even the illusion of economic progress that Vladimir Putin has projected. Putin doesn't seem to understand -- and how could he, since he has no training or experience in economics or business -- that Russia is not immune from the business cycle. Or it could be that he understands perfectly well, but like the Politburo before him he simply doesn't care, and will charge blindly ahead diverting Russia's precious resources away from the people's needs and towards a futile attempt at reviving Soviet imperialism and cold war.

Russia has no economic fundamentals it can rely upon to help it weather the inevitable downturn in the business cycle, as America had to help it during the Great Depression. Such a downturn will simply wreck havoc on the nation, and force Putin to implement draconian restrictions on liberty in order to hold onto power. All the signs are there that Putin will not hesitate to take such steps, and in fact he now will have the convenient figure of Dimitri Medvedev as a figurehead president to blame them on.

Russia's military and economic impotence doesn't mean it is harmless. Osama Bin Laden also operates with restraints like Putin faces. It's pretty hard to take over the word from a dark, dank little gave in the mountains of Afghanistan, especially when bombs are raining down all around you. But that apparently didn't stop Bin Laden from carrying out the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the best hope for democracy in Pakistan, while she was running for office last week. One might hope that Vladimir Putin, who unlike Bin Laden presides over and must govern an actual country whose people have everyday social needs, would face some limits on the extent of his ability to harass the world with acts of governmental terrorism because the people of Russia would object to the diversion of resources. But what such limits were imposed on the old Politburo in the USSR? Virtually none. Heedless of the people's welfare, the Politburo was willing to drive the USSR right into the ground rather than give up its feverish hope of sticking a knife into the belly of democracy.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." This truism, however, understood by civilized people everywhere, simply isn't recognized in Russia. The people there have never accepted the need to place checks on the power of their government because the people who run it are inclined to injustice. They don't understand that an unfettered national ruler can be just as dangerous to a nation's survival as any invading army -- and their failure to understand is simply inexcusable and inexplicable, because they have so many times in the past seen that danger lay their country low.

So we say again to the world: Your fence is to low. Tatiana can jump it. She means to. Raise that fence, or suffer the consequences as you did when her mother Bolshevika jumped it in 1917.

Specifically, we urge American voters to consider in their upcoming presidential elections a candidate's position on Russia as a key indicator of their level of sophistication and commitment to democracy and American national security. Below, we report on their positions, and we now endorse U.S. Senator John McCain as by far the best available contender where Russia policy is concerned.

This brave, intelligent, tested, patriotic man understands Russia, and will do the right thing if given the chance. Boldly and appropriately, he has called for Russia's ouster from the G-8 group, where its very presence is an offense to the basic principles around which the group was organized. Russia is a fox in the hen house where the G-8 is concerned, and the Kremlin uses its membership as powerful leverage against Russia's liberals, arguing that it has the endorsement of the Western democracies so there is nothing for them to worry about. Senator McCain is the only individual seeking the presidency who clearly understands that Americans have enemies who must be fought, and that fighting them is as good for the people of Russia as it is for the United States. If McCain isn't elected president, he should be vice president charged with Russia policy or Ambassador to Russia. Unless some better candidate enters the mix, any other result will be a betrayal of American national security as well as the best hopes of the people of Russia themselves.

Russia is, by far, the greatest threat to the institution of democracy and basic human values of liberty and justice in the world today. The Kremlin's odious revival of Soviet politics is barbaric and destructive of the basic rights and interests of the people it governs. We need a man like Senator McCain in the White House, someone who -- like Ronald Reagan before him -- will make no bones about standing up to the Evil Empire that the Bush and especially Clinton administrations have allowed to coalesce once again behind an iron curtain.

America needs John McCain. Vote for him.

Latest on Kozlovsky

Oborona reports (LR staff translation):

On December 29th the Moscow headquarters hosted a meeting with noted economist and journalist Andrei N. Illarionov (shown above trying on an Oborona t-shirt for size), Director of the Institute for Economic Analysis (at the Cato Institute). The activists discussed various matters with Mr. Illarionov over the course of three hours and he described the political system of modern Russia and explained why at the end of 2005 he resigned from the post of economic advisor to President Putin.

Illarionov particularly noted that opposition activists should not underestimate their opponents of the current government. He advised them to avoid formulaic solutions and to be creative in devising ways to respond to the Kremlin's initiatives. He noted that agents of the regime also carefully read Gina Sharp and prepare their own creative responses to a wide variety of options for our actions. The political situation in Russia is very difficult for opponents of the status quo. But our task no more difficult than it was for those who led the democratic movements in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, and we can see that, judged in historical perspective, the regime is doomed. According to Illarionov, to hasten the moment of its downfall it is necessary to create a broad forum, a round table, or "proto-parliament," with the participation of political movements representing all different points of view in Russian society. Opposition should focus on the organization of parallel elections to this representative body, rather than participate sham elections put forth by the forces of the Kremlin.

Illarionov added his signature to the Joint Petition of the opposition leaders calling for the immediate release of Oleg Kozlovsky. In doing so, he called on all opposition groups to be more highly attentive to legal formalities so that they might not be used against them by the regime as a weapon of repression. Opposition must be done in deadly earnest, Illarionov stressed.

Regarding Kozlovsky's whereabouts, Oborona reports:

According to reliable sources on the afternoon of December 29th Oleg was transported from the hospital in the Ryazan to long-distance aviation unit No. 45179 in Dyagilevo (Telephone: 8-4912-33-53-18 and 8-4912-33-54-00). Oborona asks for the support of all human rights groups and those in the legal field to telephone the unit and advise them of Oleg's legal status so that they will understand it is in their own best interests to be careful with his treatment. Oleg's appeal is now pending before the Military Prosecutor's Office before investigator Vitaly Andrejevic Malakhov.

Obrona urgently requests that those who want to bring an early release of Oleg Kozlovsky print and distribute in all cities of Russia the following special edition of the Oborona newsletter reporting on the state-sponsored kidnapping of its national coordinator:

Exposing Russia's Sham Military

Bloomburg exposes Vladimir Putin's Potemkin military:

Russia's military, which once defined its power and is central to President Vladimir Putin's ambitions for global influence, is lagging behind its energy- driven economic boom. The nation's armed forces remain beset by manpower and morale problems, aging equipment, graft and unfulfilled promises to overhaul their Cold War-era structure, Western and Russian analysts say. While Putin, 55, has increased Russia's defense budget to a level four times greater than when he became president in 2000, it is still less than 6 percent of U.S. spending.

"There is this notion in the West that the Russian army is coming back,'' said Zoltan Barany, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who published a book this year about the decline of the Russian military. "They're not back. Things have started to change, but there's a long way to go before they're back, and I don't think they will ever be back like they were.''

A report last month by Moscow's Institute for National Strategy and two other independent research groups underscored the lack of progress. It said defense spending during Putin's tenure had grown only 15 percent after inflation from the 1990s, and that Russia has bought fewer weapons under him because of a ``dramatic rise in corruption.''

Outdated Fears

The analysts said military doctrine was still based on outdated fears of war with the West instead of more realistic threats from China or Islamic terrorists. Russian and Western news media "are inflating the myth of an active remilitarization of modern Russia,'' the analysts said. "This myth bears no relation to reality.'' [LR: Putin obviously wants to cause us to drop our guard long enough for him to become a real military threat. So he has two options: (a) create a Potemkin military and try to intimidate us into taking no action, or (b) let it be known how weak he really is, maybe even cause things to look worse than they are, and then argue that if he is weak no action is needed. As is so often the case in Russian la-la land, it seems that no one policy has been chosen and the right hand has chosen (a) while the left is attempting (b). Meanwhile, what we must understand is that it makes no difference. If Russia is weak, then now is the time to act to prevent it from getting strong. If it is strong, then now is the time to at before the actual blows start falling. It's clear that we haven't got as much to fear from Russian military action as we might think, just as was the case when the Iraqi army easily capitulated, surprising all. He who hesitates is lost. If we do not take action now, we will be forced to take it later at much greater cost.]

The gap between Putin's ambitions and his capabilities was evident in August, when he said that regular strategic-bomber flights would resume after a 15-year hiatus. The announcement revived memories of Cold War days, when Soviet and U.S. nuclear- armed bombers patrolled on hair-trigger alert. The reality turned out to be far different. The new patrols are done mostly by aging Tu-95 "Bear'' bombers that have turbo- prop rather than jet engines, carry no nuclear weapons and are limited to about one flight a week by budget and equipment constraints, according to Pavel Baev, a military analyst at Oslo's International Peace Research Institute.

A Shrinking Fleet

The resource crunch affects all military branches, analysts say. The Russian Navy now has one active-duty aircraft carrier -- the U.S. has 12 -- and its fleet of strategic nuclear submarines is shrinking as vessels wear out and aren't replaced. The most modern sub, the 11-year-old Yuri Dolgoruky, was designed as a platform for the Bulava-M long-range nuclear missile. The Bulava failed several tests, raising questions about its future and the sub's utility, Baev said. While Russian defense industries produce some good-quality equipment, especially fighter planes and surface-to-air missiles, most is sold abroad, said John Pike, director of, an Alexandria, Virginia-based military research group. "They're basically playing with the same set of toys that Gorbachev gave them,'' Pike said, referring to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Russia still fields a formidable nuclear arsenal, with 4,237 warheads deployed on 875 missiles and bombers as of July, according to data compiled by the Arms Control Association, a Washington research group. Only the U.S., with 5,914 warheads on 1,225 missiles and bombers, has more.

Repairs Required

Still, 60 percent of Russian missiles have exceeded their service life and half require major repairs, according to a 2005 Defense Ministry report, Barany said. Just 30 percent of the country's fighter planes are combat-ready, he said. The Moscow researchers said that if present trends continue, attrition will reduce Russia's intercontinental missile arsenal to between 100 and 200 in a decade. Russia's Defense Ministry didn't respond to written questions about the military's capability. The head of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel- General Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted by the official Itar-Tass news agency Dec. 17 as saying that Russia would be "compelled'' to maintain the strength of its nuclear arsenal because of U.S. plans to base a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. Manpower problems remain acute, although some -- such as chronic late payment of officers' salaries -- have been eased by the budget increases.

Russia's Spending

Aided by a 255 percent surge in oil prices during Putin's eight years in office, Russia's 2007 defense spending was about 821 billion rubles ($33.6 billion), about 15 percent of total government expenditures, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. U.S. military spending in 2007 was about $582 billion, or 21 percent of the total federal budget, the institute said. Russia also suffers from endemic draft avoidance, with as many as nine out of 10 of those in the eligible 18-to-26 age group escaping service. "If you've got 90 percent draft evasion, those who show up are just too stupid to evade it,'' Pike said. "Imagine what kind of military you can put together with that.'' Military officials are seeking to make compliance more common by eliminating some deferments and gradually reducing draftees' terms to one year from two. Meanwhile, they have created all-volunteer units and stationed them in the volatile northern Caucasus, Baev said. "That's why Georgia has reason to be worried,'' he said.

Vested Interest

Russian political leaders have long talked of shifting to a smaller, more professional all-contract military. They have made little progress, partly because of opposition from generals who have a vested interest in blocking the change, analysts say. The generals exploit draftees by using them to do personal work or renting them out as cheap labor to enterprises, with the generals pocketing the fees, said William Hill, a professor at the U.S. National War College in Washington. The military pressures draftees to sign long-term service contracts, according to the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, a Moscow-based group that works to expose abuses in the military. The pressure includes sleep deprivation, beatings and threats of transfer to combat zones. Hazing persists even after high-profile cases generated official promises to curb abuses, Baev said. "Soldiers are mistreated in every possible way,'' he said. "That's why it's so difficult for this army to shift into contract service. You have to treat soldiers differently if they are professionals. Many of the officers aren't prepared to do this.''

Putin's Cold War

Writing in the Wall Street Journal the brilliant Leon Aron (pictured) of the American Enterprise Institute delivers an "Iron Curtain" address for the 21st Century:

Last Saturday Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, chief of Russia's General Staff, issued an ominous warning. Were the U.S. to launch a rocket from the missile defense system it plans to deploy in Poland to intercept Iranian rockets, it might accidentally trigger a retaliatory attack by Russian nuclear ballistic missiles.

This was only the most recent of a series of provocative and disturbing messages from Moscow. In fact, at no time since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 has the direction of Russian policy been as troubling as it is today.

What accounts for this change? And where will it lead?

Let's first discard simplistic clichés. The most common of them postulates that when the post-Soviet, proto-democratic, anti-communist, revolutionary Russia of the 1990s was poor, it was also meek and peaceable and willing to be a friend of the West. Now that the accursed "period of weakness" and "chaos" of the 1990s is behind it, the same explanation goes, Russia has "recovered," is "off its knees," and is "back." Back, that is, to spar and bicker with the West because . . . well, because this is what a prosperous and strong Russia does.

Nonsense. A country's behavior in the world, its choice of truculence or accommodation, is not decided by accountants who calculate what the country can or cannot afford. Rather it is determined by the regime's fears and hopes, and by the leaders' notions of what their countries should strive for.

As Germany and Japan recovered from the devastation of World War II and became many times richer than they were in 1945, they grew more, not less, peaceful. They also devoted puny shares of their national income to the military -- and only after intense debate. Western Europe's equally spectacular economic resurgence has not brought back squabbling, jingoism and militarism -- and neither did South Korea's, after communist aggression and decades of authoritarianism.

In the past seven years, the trajectory of Russian foreign policy under Vladimir Putin mirrored, and changed with, the domestic ideological and political order. It has morphed from the Gorbachev-Yeltsin search for the "path to the common European home" and integration into the world economy, to declaring that the end of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

Soon the Kremlin's paid and unpaid propagandists were extolling "sovereign democracy" -- a still rather "soft" authoritarianism, increasingly with nationalistic and isolationist overtones. Such exegeses, an independent Russian analyst noted, "would have been labeled as fascist, chauvinistic, anti-democratic or anti-Western during Yeltsin's term. Now such texts have become mainstream."

As the Kremlin's pronouncements grew darker and more fanciful -- including warnings that foreign evildoers are plotting to break up Russia -- Moscow's foreign policy, too, evolved: first to a cynical and omnivorous pragmatism, and then an assertive and pointedly anti-Western, especially anti-American, posture.

The formerly diverse bilateral U.S.-Russian agenda -- energy security, nuclear nonproliferation, the global war on terrorism, the containment of a resurgent, authoritarian China, Russia's integration in the global economy -- has been systematically whittled down by Moscow to where it was in the Soviet days and where the Kremlin now wants it: arms control. Suddenly pulled out of mothballs and imbued with the gravest concern for Russia's safety are all manner of the Cold War detritus.

Some of Moscow's concerns (for instance, NATO deployments increasingly close to Russia's borders) are legitimate. But the alarmist and uncompromising rhetoric, and the mode of its delivery -- shrill, public and from the very top of the Russian power structure -- have been utterly disproportionate to the rather trivial and easily resolved military essence of the issues.

The evolution of Moscow's Iran policy is particularly troubling. Until about a year ago, the Moscow-Tehran quid pro quo was straightforward. Russia defended Iran in the U.N.'s Security Council, while Iran refrained from fomenting fundamentalism and terrorism in Central Asia and the Russian North Caucasus, and spent billions of dollars on Russian nuclear energy technology and military hardware, including mobile air defense missiles, fighter jets and tanks. (At the request of the U.S., Boris Yeltsin suspended arms sales to Tehran in 1995.)

Then Russia's strategy changed from money-making, influence-peddling and diplomatic arbitrage to a far riskier brinksmanship in pursuit of a potentially enormous prize. The longer Moscow resists effective sanctions against an Iran that continues to enrich uranium -- and thus to keep the bomb option open and available at the time of its choosing -- the greater the likelihood of the situation's deteriorating, through a series of very probable miscalculations by both the U.S. and Iran, toward a full-blown crisis with a likely military solution.

As Iran's patron, Moscow would be indispensable to any settlement of such a conflict, as was the Soviet Union when it sponsored Egypt in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. And through that settlement it would get its prize.

In one fell swoop, Russia could fulfill major strategic goals: to reoccupy the Soviet Union's position as a key player in the Middle East and the only viable counterbalance to the U.S in the region; to keep oil prices at today's astronomic levels for as long as possible by feeding the fears of a military strike against Iran (and see them go as far as $120-$130 a barrel and likely higher if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz and disrupts the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf); and to use the West to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran a few hundred miles from Russia's borders.

Especially frustrating for the White House is Russian foreign policy's intimate connection to the Kremlin's all-out effort to ensure a smooth transition of power, which, Dimitry Medvedev's appointment to the presidency notwithstanding, looks more and more like it will be from a presidency to a kind of Putin regency.

Creating a sense of a besieged fortress at a time of domestic political uncertainty or economic downturn to rally the people around the Kremlin and, more importantly, its current occupant, is part and parcel of the Soviet ideological tradition, which this regime seems increasingly to admire.

So between now and at least next spring, Russian foreign policy is likely to be almost entirely subservient to the Putin's regime's authoritarian, ambitious and dicey agenda. This will likely result in more nasty rhetoric from the Kremlin and further damage relations with the West, and the U.S. in particular.

Until the succession crisis is resolved (meaning, until Mr. Putin's effective leadership of the country is renewed and secured) no amount of importuning, begging or kowtowing -- or emergency trips by Condoleezza Rice to Moscow and heart-to-heart chats in Kennebunkport -- are likely to produce an ounce of good.

Let us, therefore, refrain from the ritual, silly hand-wringing and accusations on the subject of "losing" Russia. Russia is not (and never has been) ours to lose.

Back on "the never altered circuit of its fate," to borrow from one of Robert Graves's finest poems, Russia under Mr. Putin has been doing a fine job of losing itself on its own. Resuming the Gorbachev-Yeltsin heroic labor of dismantling this circuit, and thus altering Russia's relations with the West, could be Mr. Medvedev's job -- if he wants it and is allowed to proceed.

Annals of Oleg Shvartsman

Reuters reports:

Russia's state arms exporter has filed a lawsuit against a businessman who said it was seeking to grab private assets, the latest salvo in what analysts have said is a turf war raging behind the scenes between Kremlin clans. The dispute between fund manager Oleg Shvartsman and arms exporter Rosoboronexport offered a rare public glimpse into infighting between the opaque groups around President Vladimir Putin as he prepares to hand over to a favored successor. The row began when Shvartsman said in a newspaper interview in November that he was planning to act as a corporate raider on behalf of Kremlin-linked interests that included Rosoboronexport and Igor Sechin, Putin's media-shy deputy chief of staff. The arms exporter denied it had any links to Shvartsman or his businesses, or that it planned to work with him.

Observers interpreted his claim as part of an orchestrated attack on the "siloviki-- a loose grouping of Putin associates with security backgrounds in which Sechin and Rosoboronexport's overall boss Sergei Chemezov are key figures. Shvartsman's newspaper interview sent shockwaves through Russia's political and business elite because any claim that top officials have business interests is considered taboo. In the latest move, Rosoboronexport on Friday filed a case in the Moscow Arbitration Court against Shvartsman and Kommersant, the business newspaper which published his interview, the court said on its web site The court said the arms exporter had filed the case because it was "seeking to protect its business reputation." Neither Rosoboronexport nor Shvartsman could be reached immediately for comment. Kommersant editor Andrei Vasilyev told Reuters he knew nothing of the lawsuit because he was on holiday outside Russia. Shvartsman previously said the newspaper quoted him out of context.

The hugely popular Putin is to step down next year and he has endorsed his close ally Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him, virtually assuring Medvedev victory in a presidential election in March. The biggest threat to a smooth handover is an outbreak of infighting inside the Kremlin as rival clans jostle for influence after Putin leaves office. Some observers saw Putin's endorsement of Medvedev, a former law professor with no security background, as a blow to the "siloviki" and a victory for rival groups. But analysts say the "siloviki" could still hit back by trying to derail a handover of power to Medvedev. Commentators speculated that a Kremlin group was behind the initiative to publish the interview and that its aim had been to discredit the "siloviki" and weaken their influence.

The U.S. Presidential Candidates on Russia

Working with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Washington Post has published a survey of the proposed polices of those candidates currently seeking their parties' nominations for the U.S. presidency towards Russia. We review their position statements below, ranking them from best to worst.


#1 -- Republican John McCain

Sen. McCain (R-AZ) has strongly criticized Putin, whom he has called “a dangerous person.” In an October 2007 Republican debate, McCain expressed support for President Bush’s plan to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. “I don't care what [Putin’s] objections are to it,” he said. In a November 2007 Foreign Affairs article, McCain called for a new approach to what he called a “revanchist” Russia. In that piece, he advocated Russian exclusion from the G-8, and said the West should send a message to Russia that NATO “is indivisible and that the organization's doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom.” He also said the United States should promote democracy in Russia.


#2 -- Republican Fred Thompson

Thompson is skeptical of the Russian government, which he has said is “apparently run by ex-KGB agents” (National Review Online). "Oppose the Russian leadership, and you could trip and fall off a tall building or stumble into the path of a bullet," writes Thompson, whose studies focused on Russia, among other national security topics, at the American Enterprise Institute.

#3 -- Republican Duncan Hunter

Rep. Hunter (R-CA) views Russia as a potential hindrance to U.S. foreign policy goals, such as tightening sanctions on Iran to deter its nuclear program. In an October 2007 Republican debate, Hunter said the United States should work with Russia on sea-based missile defenses. The United States should “discuss the prospects of putting our Aegis missile defense cruisers in the Black Sea,” he said. Hunter sponsored the National Defense Authorization Act for 2004, which included provisions to encourage Russia to “open up its secret biological research facilities,” he wrote in the Washington Times. The act also required that Russia give Washington “land-use permits necessary to construct and operate disarmament facilities so nonproliferation dollars are not unnecessarily wasted on facilities that cannot be used because of Russian red tape,” he wrote. That bill passed.Hunter, who once chaired the House Armed Services Committee, calls himself a “strong supporter” of Bush’s missile defense shield plan.

#4 -- Republican Rudolph Giuliani

Giuliani advocates commercial engagement with Russia, but has also expressed support for the planned missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. In an October 2007 Republican debate, Giuliani also called for an increase in military spending to “send a heck of a signal” to Russia. In November 2001, Giuliani accompanied Putin on a visit to Ground Zero. Giuliani told news media at the time that the attacks of September 11, 2001 would bring the United States and Russia closer together. In 2004, Giuliani traveled to Moscow to promote U.S.-Russian business relations.

#5 -- Democrat John Edwards

Edwards co-chaired the Council on Foreign Relations’ Russia Task Force in 2006, which urged U.S. cooperation with Russia, but said the United States must pressure Russia to maintain democracy. The report from the Task Force recommended Russian accession into the World Trade Organization, which, it said, would “promote further liberalization of the Russian economy and should signify full Russian acceptance of a rules-based international trading system.” Edwards has been critical of Putin for his anti-democratic tendencies, but says Russia should remain a member of the G-8. In an April 2007 Democratic debate, Edwards expressed concern about Russia’s political direction. “They've moved from being a democracy under Yeltsin to being a complete autocracy under Putin,” he said.

#6 -- Democrat Joseph Biden, Jr.

Sen. Biden (D-DE) has consistently voiced concerns about Russia backsliding on democratic reforms under Putin. In 2005, Biden criticized Putin for making regional governorships appointive positions, and said he had “manipulated the Duma to eliminate most of the opposition.” In December 2006, Biden warned that Russia was “moving more and more toward an oligarchy.” In 2005, Biden cosponsored a Senate resolution criticizing Russia for failing to uphold its commitments at the 1999 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Summit, which included agreements on a completed Russian military withdrawal from the Moldova. That resolution also expressed disapproval of Russia’s demand for the closure of the OSCE Border Monitoring Operation (BMO), which served to observe border crossings between Georgia and the Russian republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia. That bill passed in the Senate. Biden previously supported the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which attaches conditions to trading with Russia. But he became opposed to the repeal after Russia imposed a cap on U.S. poultry imports in 2002. Biden’s state of Delaware is a major poultry producer.


#7 -- Republican Mitt Romney

Romney advocates “a lot of cooperation” with Russia, as well as “frank and open discussions” about the state of democracy there. He also said in an April 2007 speech that the United States should work to secure “the vast amount of highly enriched nuclear material in their country.” Romney supports the planned National Missile Defense program of the Bush administration.

#8 -- Democrat Bill Richardson

New Mexico Gov. Richardson has said the United States should use diplomatic pressure to get Russia to “control some of the loose nuclear weapons in their domain.” In an April 2007 Democratic debate, Richardson also said Russia should be “more humane in dealing with Chechnya.” He views Russia as a potential “stable source of energy” for the United States. He also said Russian leaders should increase democracy promotion “in their own nation.” In an October 2007 Democratic debate, Richardson said Russia ’s relationship with Iran is “not healthy.”

#8 -- Democrat Barack Obama

Sen. Obama (D-IL) has said Russia is “neither our enemy nor close ally,” and said the United States “shouldn’t shy away from pushing for more democracy, transparency, and accountability” there. He has focused much of his discussion of Russia on diminishing the possibility of nuclear weapons use. In a July 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Obama said the United States and Russia should collaborate to “update and scale back our dangerously outdated Cold War nuclear postures and de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons.” In an October 2007 speech in Chicago, Obama said if elected he would work to “take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert, and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material.” He said he would seek a “global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons” and an expansion of “the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles.” In 2005, Obama traveled with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) to nuclear and biological weapons destruction sites in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan. Obama and Lugar then introduced legislation to eliminate nuclear stockpiles throughout the former Soviet Union. That law was enacted in 2007.


#9 -- Republican Mike Huckabee

Huckabee seems optimistic about the U.S.-Russian relationship. "Things will be better than during the Cold War because, much as we do not want another 9/11, Putin does not want another terrorist attack like the 2004 school siege in Beslan," he wrote in a January 2008 Foreign Affairs essay. Still, he is critical of Putin, whom he calls "a staunch nationalist in a country that has no democratic tradition."

#10 -- Democrat Hillary Clinton

Sen. Clinton (D-NY), like most of her fellow Democrats, favors diplomacy toward Russia with the goal of promoting democracy there and reducing nuclear stockpiles. In a November 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Clinton pledged to “negotiate an accord that substantially and verifiably reduces the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.” She also called for engagement with Russia on “issues of high national importance,” including Iran, loose nuclear weapons, and the status of the Serbian province of Kosovo. She said Washington’s “ability to view Russia as a genuine partner depends on whether Russia chooses to strengthen democracy or return to authoritarianism and regional interference.” Still, she told the Boston Globe in October 2007, “I'm interested in what Russia does outside its borders first. I don't think I can, as the president of the United States, wave my hand and tell the Russian people they should have a different government.”

#11 -- Democrat Christopher Dodd

Sen. Dodd (D-CT) says the United States should engage Russia diplomatically and call on Russia to “support freedom and democracy” at home and “to eliminate the conditions that export terrorism and allow our enemies to thrive.” In 2000, Dodd traveled to Russia to participate in talks on national security issues, including missile defense and nuclear treaties. In a 2004 interview with PBS’ Online NewsHour, Dodd urged cooperation between Russian and U.S. intelligence agencies to fight terrorism toward the United States and by Chechen militants toward Russia. He said the United States has not taken effective action to facilitate a relationship with Russia on Chechnya and “in connection with the other issues we face in the Middle East and elsewhere.”


#12 -- Democrat Mike Gravel

Gravel campaign spokesman Shawn Colvin has said the United States must “increase diplomatic communication” with Russia. In an interview with Pravda, Colvin said Gravel would not create a missile defense shield in Europe if he is elected president. He also said Gravel would move the United States “toward nuclear de-escalation in an effort to encourage Russia to do the same.”

#13 -- Democrat Dennis Kucinich

Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) favors the elimination of nuclear weapons and has called for new talks with Russia and all other nuclear countries to accomplish that goal. Kucinich supports preservation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which the Bush administration announced it would opt out of in December 2001. “Scrapping it and building a missile defense system will only invite Russia and China to build up arsenals able to overcome our defenses.” He says the United States should cancel ballistic missile defense plans, which he has called “a wacky idea that will never work” (CNN).

#14 -- Republican Ron Paul

Rep. Paul (R-TX) advocates a “strong national defense and a policy of non-intervention abroad” to ensure a Russia policy that “seeks our national interest.” In January 2007, Paul cosponsored a resolution to suspend the antidumping duty orders on imports of solid urea—a substance used in fertilizers, plastics, and animal feed—from Russia and Ukraine. That bill failed. Paul was the only member of the House to vote against a 2007 resolution “noting the disturbing pattern of killings of numerous independent journalists in Russia since 2000, and urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to authorize cooperation with outside investigators in solving those murders.”

How's THIS for Hypocrisy? Nashi Goes to School in Britain

The Telegraph reports that Putin's Hitler-youth group Nashi is sending their cult members to Britain for their education, admitting that Britain delivers a far higher level of sophistication than Russia. Yet, where are Nashi's calls for the creation of a more British-like system in Russia? Could it be that Nashi doesn't actually WANT ordinary Russians to get a real education?

Vladimir Putin's controversial youth movement is to send a select group of activists to study at British universities - despite its disdain for Britain and its harassment of the British ambassador in Moscow. The 100,000-strong Nashi group, which is reportedly funded by the Kremlin, is to pay for dozens of its activists to study in the UK - because the excellence of the education will help make Russia a "world leader". The move comes as Russia is threatening to close the offices of the British Council - which promotes UK education overseas - in St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg as part of a diplomatic row. Nashi recently restarted its campaign against the Sir Anthony Brenton, the British ambassador, following his speech on democracy to opponents of President Putin whom they described as "fascists". Sir Anthony has described the campaign as "psychological harassment bordering on violence", and complained that it also impacted on his wife and children. His car has been followed and he has been picketed on trips out of Moscow.

Yet despite its views on Britain, Nashi states: "We lag behind in knowledge and experience vital for making Russia a 21st-century world leader. British education is rated highly all over the world. The graduates of British universities are in great demand. This is because of the high quality of education and also control from the government." Relations between Moscow and London have been soured by Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, wanted over the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London. Britain has refused to extradite Boris Berezovsky, who is accused of financial crimes by the Russians. An embassy source said: "The British government supports young Russians who wish to study in the UK. This is a core activity of the British Council's three offices in Russia. "We are delighted that Nashi clearly supports the objectives of the British Council."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

December 30, 2007 -- Contents


(1) The Sunday Photos

(2) The Sunday Apocalypse

(3) The Sunday Edict

(4) The Sunday Culture Fest

(5) The Sunday Funnies

NOTE: We rip that nasty Russophile bastard and Kremlin agent Vladimir Frolov another new one on the pages of Publius Pundit. Check it out, and feel free to leave your comments about how best to deal with the scourge of neo-Soviet propaganda that is increasingly a menace, including even on the pages of such publications as Time magazine.

NOTE: You will notice a new blue-and-yellow icon in the lower right corner of all our posts now. If you click on the yellow part and start an account (fast, easy anonymous) with Digg, you can become a part of this blog by helping to publicize and circulate our posts. We urge you to do so, and show solidarity with heroes like Oleg Kozlovsky. Join us!

The Sunday Photos: Free Oleg Kozlovsky!

A letter of protest from Oleg Kozlvosky regarding his illegal induction into the Russian army as a private despite his officer rank and his medical disability . . .

. . . is delivered to the Moscow draft board . . .

. . . by the courageous Russian heroes . . .

. . . who are his colleagues at Oborona.

The Sunday Apocalypse

Paul Goble says that Putin's Russia is losing its eastern territory to Asia without the need of its colonizers to fire a shot:

The Russian Far East is “drifting away” from the rest of the country, according to an investigation carried out by Nezavisimaya Gazeta – Regiony, and the Kremlin’s much-ballyhooed program intended to reverse that process may in fact be making it worse. At present, Igor’ Naumov writes in the current issue of the Moscow Journal, only four percent of the economy of the Russian Far East is “connected” to that of the rest of Russia, with an overwhelming share – some 75 percent – tied to Pacific rim countries instead. In addition, over the past fifteen years, as the Russian Federation has moved away from state financing of government-identified projects to private enterprises whose decisions are not necessarily linked to the national interest, “the economic and humanitarian ties of the federal center” to this region “have been constantly falling.” And finally, there has been a net outmigration from this enormous Russian region of 1.7 million people during the same period, leaving it with a total population of only a few more than three million, which means that much of the Russian Far East is virtually uninhabited.

In order to counter these trends, President Vladimir Putin in January 2007 announced plans for a major investment program in the region, but so far, it has not had much impact, Naumov says, and there are even reasons to think that it may exacerbate the situation. There are three reasons for that. First, almost all of the funds that have been allocated to it have gone to the city of Vladivostok to spruce it up for regional summit meetings. That makes Russia’s largest city on the Pacific look better, but it does nothing for the interior. Second, as even Regional Development Minister Dmitriy Kozak acknowledges, the current “methodology for distribution and expenditure of budget means” in these regions is “at its roots incorrect.” As a result, what government money there may be is not going where it is most needed and could do the most good. And third – and this is likely to prove the most politically problematic for Moscow – because the center has provided too few funds for the region’s future development, leaders there have an incentive to use Chinese guestworkers rather than Russian laborers.

Moscow officials estimate that in the next several years, the Russian Far East will need at least three million additional workers, but the center’s aid package for development does not provide any money for the construction of apartments and other infrastructure that might attract and support Russians from other parts of the country. In the absence of such funds, regional leaders are planning to make use of Chinese guest workers, who, unlike Russian specialists will “agree to live in barracks and don’t need apartments and schools” for themselves and their families. And with the arrival of the Chinese, even more Russians are likely to leave. At the very least, such shifts will cause some Russian nationalists to charge that the Kremlin is “selling out” the region to overpopulated China next door. But even if those emotional charges are untrue, what Putin is doing will almost certainly lead more leaders in the Far East to look abroad rather than to Moscow to build up their homeland.

The Sunday Edict: Santa Exists, or Else

In just the latest example of how very neo-Soviet Russia has already become, AFP reports that the Kremlin is now dictating the content of TV advertisements. You can't, for instance, say there is no Santa Claus.

Russia's government has ridden to the rescue of children by banning a television ad that declares Father Christmas does not exist, the daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta announced Thursday. The Federal Anti-monopoly Service ruled that the advertisement run by a network of electronics stores called Eto breaks a law against discrediting parents, the government-run newspaper said. The advertisement declares bluntly "that Father Frost does not exist", according to the report, referring to Russia's version of the gift-bearing, red-coated old man. "It means that parents are not telling the truth to children when they say Father Frost exists. In that way the ad induces negative relations between children and their parents," the service's deputy director, Andrei Kashevarov, was quoted as saying. Russia's law on advertising bans "discrediting parents and educators, undermining children's trust in them". Eto defended the ad, saying it was aimed at middle-aged people.

It's. Barbaric.

The Sunday Culture: A Crash Course in Lofty Russian Civilization

Russian "president" Vladimir Putin insists foreigners are crazy if they think Russians are even a little bit "savage." The Moscow Times proves how very right he is:

Напиться до поросячьего визга (sl.): to drink so much that you squeal like a pig

'Tis the season to be jolly! In Russia, it is difficult to talk about the holiday season without talking about гулянка (gathering to drink alcohol) or its more acute version -- пьянка (drinking bout). But in Russia, drinking with your buddies or relatives is much more than a holiday thing; it is a national tradition and institution that has much deeper meaning than in other countries.

Russians have always treated the русская пьянка with humor, and it is the source of hundreds of jokes. Another way that drinking is popularized and культивируется (is cultivated) is through films -- remember, for example, the popular comedy Особенности национальной охоты ("Peculiarities of the National Hunt") or the colorful запой (binge-drinking) scene with General Radlov in Nikita Mikhalkov's "The Barber of Siberia."

Although it may be more legend than history, alcohol seemed to have played its own significant role in the formation of Russia's statehood. According to the Chronicles, one of the reasons that St. Vladimir, who baptized Kievan Rus in the late 980s, accepted Christianity was that it did not prohibit the use of alcohol -- in contrast to Islam, which was also being considered for the official state religion. The Chronicles quote Vladimir as having said, Веселие на Руси есть пити (Happiness in Rus means drinking), which remains as a popular saying to this day. (Even under the teetotal Putin, the link between national leaders and alcohol continues: The vodka loosely named after him, Putinka, has become the top-selling brand.)

More important, the large role that drinking plays in the Russian сознание (perception, consciousness) is directly reflected in the language. There are more Russian slang expressions regarding пьянка than perhaps any other subject. Every Russian muzhik seems to have his own set of favorite expressions for drinking and, what's more, drinking slang in the regions is often different from that spoken in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

There are many imperfective slang verbs for drinking regularly: бухать (to drink in large quantities); квасить (to describe an experienced drinker, a real "pro"); and кирять (to drink with your closest friends). There is also the popular поддавать (drink regularly to raise ones spirits but without getting overly drunk); from this word, the doggerel verse Что-то стало холодать -- не пора ли нам поддать (It has gotten cold outside -- it is about time to have a few drinks) is derived. When it is minus 10 degrees Celsius, you can also say to your friends: Ну что, согреемся? (Shall we get a little warm?), and everyone will understand that you don't mean turning up the thermostat, but rather opening up a bottle of vodka "для сугрева" (for a warmer-upper).

Among perfective slang verbs to reflect a one-off drinking action, опрокинуть is to knock back a shot glass of vodka залпом (in one swift, bottoms-up movement). In addition, вздрогнуть is to flinch or wince when you drink a shot of strong, burning vodka; based on this verb, a group of guys might say, Ну что, вздрогнем, мужики?! (So, what do you say, guys -- shall we "wince" one more time?!)

Other slangy perfective verbs to describe heavy drinking include: набраться, надраться, нажраться, окосеть, наклюкаться, назюзюкаться, нализаться and нарезаться, but three of the most colorful, in my opinion, are: напиться вусмерть (drinking to near-death); напиться вдрабадан (from the outdated word дроба, which, according to the Dal dictionary, at one time meant the waste from beer distillation that desperate alcoholics drank); and напиться до поросячьего визга (to drink to the point where you squeal like a pig).

When Russians buy a new car or apartment, it is common to обмывать (literally, wash off) the new purchase with a few drinks. Or you can say to your friends, Я купил новую иномарку -- давайте это отметим (I just bought a new foreign car -- let's mark the occasion), and everyone will understand that this necessarily involves alcohol.

In addition, if you are having trouble understanding your company's complicated offshore ownership structure, you can say, Без пол-литра не разберёшься (Without a half-liter [of vodka], you'll never make heads or tails of it.)

One way of saying someone is flat drunk is: Он пьян как зюзя or Он напился в зюзю. According to the Dal dictionary, the original meaning of зюзя meant someone who was drenched in water. At some point, this word took the meaning of someone drenched (internally) in alcohol. When someone is вдрызг пьян (completely smashed), you can say: он лыка не вяжет (he is too drunk to make sense; literally, he can't even tie a thin strip of wicker); он залил глаза (his eyes were flooded [with alcohol]); or он схватил белочку (he drank to the level of белая горячка, or the shakes.).

When you have had way too much to drink, there is a special word to help очухаться (come to one's senses) the morning after -- опохмелиться (to treat a hangover with more alcohol or by eating a lot of квашеная капуста, or sauerkraut, and by drinking огуречный рассол, the salty traditional concoction made from pickle brine that you see in glass jars stored in so many apartments and dachas).

There is another popular expression for drinking with your buddies: Давайте сообразим на троих (Let's have a few drinks; literally, let us three guys figure out the problem), but the origins of this expression date back to the peculiarities of Soviet reality. If a Soviet muzhik wanted to drink some vodka to relax after a long day at work but didn't have enough money to buy a whole bottle (under communism, prices were very low, of course, but so were the salaries), he would stand by the entrance to a liquor shop and hold three fingers to his lapel as a sign that he wants to split the bottle three ways. Within minutes, a тройка (threesome) was formed to скинуться (pitch in) to buy the vodka. They then went to the nearest двор (common area between apartment buildings), sat on a лавочка (bench) and began to распивать бутылку (share the vodka). This quickly led to a душевная беседа (warm-hearted chat), several toasts and to the traditional drinking question, Ты меня уважаешь? (Do you respect me?) The only way to show "respect" in this setting, of course, is to dutifully drink another round. In no time at all, the newly acquainted drinking buddies experienced genuine мужское братство (male bonding).

At some point in this process, an enterprising бабуля (granny) might approach the threesome to to offer them закуски (something to nibble on while drinking) -- usually in the form of dark bread or, even better, spring onions (good for hiding vodka breath from the wife). She also offered the guys an empty glass (after all, it was not considered very культурно, or civilized, to drink vodka right from the bottle!) As part of the deal, the babushka would get the empty vodka bottle, which she then brought to the nearest пункт приёма стеклотары (recycling center) to receive her honestly earned 12 kopeks.

The large role that alcohol plays in the Russian мировоззрение (world outlook, mindset) is also reflected in the dozens of sayings on the topic. One example: Красное вино полезно для здоровья, а здоровье нужно, чтобы пить водку (Red wine is good for your health, and good health is needed to drink vodka.) But my all-time favorite is the Soviet частушка (couplet): О деньгах мечтают янки, Ну а русские -- о пьянке (The Yankees dream of money, but Russians dream of a drinking bout.)

In the holiday spirit of New Year's, I hope that all of your dreams -- whatever they may be -- come true in 2008!

The Sunday Funnies

Source: Ellustrator

And still more cartoons from the horn of plenty played by our friend in South Africa:

Saturday, December 29, 2007

December 29, 2007 -- Contents


(1) Annals of the Neo-Soviet Restoration

(2) The Horror of Russian Healthcare

(3) Neo-Soviet Russia Re-Weaponizes Psychiatry

(4) How Russia Screws itself in the Arms Trade

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Restoration

Paul Goble reports:

References to some kind of Soviet restoration are becoming ever more frequent in both Moscow and Western capitals, a dangerous trend that threatens to “disorient” elites in both places and lead to decisions that are disconnected with reality, according to a leading Moscow specialist on nationalism in the post-Soviet world.

In an essay posted online December 19th with the significant title, “The Neo-Soviet Myth,” Sergei Markedonov says that both those in Moscow who hope for a return of the Soviet Union as well as those in the West who fear it are deluding themselves in potentially dangerous ways. The reasons the current Russian leadership employs such language, the Moscow analyst says, are not hard to specify. The Putin regime sees the Soviet past as “a powerful legitimating resource” because it hopes to present itself as “the continuer of the policy of ‘a great power’” rather than as the inheritor of the weakness of the 1990s. But the reasons Western elites are using this language are more complicated, if not more justified. First of all, many in the West see the growing income of the Russian Federation as the basis for a restoration of Moscow’s role across the former Soviet space., a view Russian analysts have typically been all too willing to invoke as well. Second, Markedonov says, many in Western capitals apparently believe that the restoration of Russian power over this region in some way could result in greater stability and predictability in international affairs, again a view that many in Moscow express and are only too willing to take from their Western interlocutors. Indeed, on this the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Cheka, many Russian commentators are celebrating Time magazine’s decision to name Vladimir Putin its man of the year because of his role, however authoritarian and undemocratic, in ending “the time of troubles” ushered in by the end of the Soviet Union.

One Moscow article on the American magazine’s decision, in fact, was entitled Stabil’nost’ uber Alles, an elegant and highly symbolic combination of a Russian term with a German one. And third, Markedonov suggests, at least some in the West have concluded that the invocation of a possible Soviet restoration as an all-purpose excuse to explain to domestic audiences their own failures in promoting democratization not only in Eastern Europe but also in the Middle East. But if this rhetoric has its uses to political elites in both Moscow and Western capitals, he continues, it is extremely dangerous because it is being used by people who either do not recognize or will not admit in public that there is no possibility for its realization any time soon.

On the one hand, these political elites forget, the Soviet Union was a state based on an ideology. Despite the essentially esthetic arguments of the original Eurasians, Markedonov points out, “the imperial idea did not win out on the territory of the former USSR.” It died along with the White Movement Wrangel and Denikin by 1922. The way in which the Soviet regime implemented its “proletarian internationalism,” building up “national-territorial” units like the union republics, promoting Soviet-defined national identities, and even contributing to the notion of ethnic property meant that the regime was in Marxist terms, its own grave digger, Markedonov argues. But none of those things meant, he insists, that the USSR was in any way simply an updated version of the Russian Empire that had existed before. However much some may want or others fear, there is absolutely no support for a new supra-national ideology in the post-Soviet states. “Nostalgia for the USSR” is found “only in Russia: Even Belarus uses [such emotions] instrumentally” rather than as an expression of its core values. And on the other hand, Markedonov points out, the idea that a restored Soviet Union could be some “soft form” of the USSR is nonsense. That country “was possible only under the harshest dictatorship with the preservation of a definite level of ethno-administrative freedom for regional dictators and a planned-distribution economy.”

Once the Soviet state under Mikhail Gorbachev loosened up in order to try to get the economy moving in the 1980s, the entire edifice came down around him because “a liberal USSR’ cannot be -- [because] at the very least this would not be the USSR.” At present, Markedonov notes, “there is not a single force in Russia or in the other countries of the CIS prepared to propose to the population a program based on state plans and the dictatorship of a single party.” Such planning does not exist even in Belarus, and “’forced modernization’” does not correspond to the needs of an information society. Indeed, any effort to move in that direction, one possibly fueled by Russia’s income from the sale of oil and gas and a belief that some Western leaders might support it would guarantee not only the isolation of this region but its continued backwardness, something neither Russian nor non-Russian elites are at all interested in seeing. Indeed, even those Russians who talk about restoring the USSR use their VISA cards and travel abroad, Markedonov notes, something that an ideologically based and totalitarian regime would almost certainly not allow them the opportunities to do so that they have today. None of this means, of course, that there are not some Russians who want to restore the Soviet Union, but rather it suggests that any effort by them to do so will fail, a process and an outcome elites in Moscow and the West now employing neo-Soviet rhetoric for their own and very different purposes need to recognize in order to avoid some terrible errors.

Annals of the Horror of Russian Healthcare

Paul Goble reports more evidence of the Kremlin's total indifference to the plight of the vast majority of Russia's people outside Moscow as it continues its obscession with waging cold war and turning Moscow itself into a Potemkin-like showpiece:

The network of apothecary shops that had supplied Russians living in rural areas with medications in the past has almost completely disintegrated, and as a result, some 38 million Russians -- almost 30 percent of the country’s total population -- cannot easily obtain the drugs they need even when they have the money to buy them. Not only are many of these people suffering horribly as a result, but a significant percentage of them is dying prematurely, driving down life expectancies among Russians and further complicating the resolution of the country’s much-discussed demographic difficulties. Such a situation is especially tragic given the Russian Federation’s celebrated wealth from oil and gas, but it is even more disastrous because it appears to be in large measure the result not so much of the transition from communism to capitalism but rather of pathetically bad planning by legislators and other officials.

In the words of the Moscow newspaper Gazeta [on December 26th], these officials “successfully destroyed the old system” in which often poorly trained medical workers dispensed medications in rural areas without figuring out how to put “in its place” a new and more effective one. As is often the case with such situations, there were good intentions all around. Moscow officials wanted to ensure that apothecary shops would be large and well-stocked and that these outlets would be operated by licensed pharmacists to ensure that the right medicines were dispensed. In principle, of course, that is laudable, but such licensing requirements ignore several fundamental realities. On the one hand, most of the relatively small number of licensed pharmacists have gravitated to the cities where incomes are higher. And on the other, most villages are too small to support either one of them or a modern apothecary shop.

Moscow officials seem to have been operating on the assumption that village residents could easily travel to district or regional cities for their medicines. But that ignores two of Russia’s biggest problems: its impassable roads and its often even more horrible weather.
At the present time, approximately one-third of Russia’s villages are not connected to the outside world by roads of any kind. And even those that are find themselves in difficulty: in the spring and fall because of mud and in the winter, often very long in Russia’s northern regions, because of unplowed snow. Of course, as the Moscow newspaper pointed out, access to medications is far from perfect even in the cities. The Russian Federation does not produce some basic medications or import enough for those who could benefit from them. And not every urban resident has the money to purchase those that may be on the shelves.

According to Gazeta, officials at the Russian Federation’s health ministry have discussed all these problems repeatedly. But they lack the funds to buy more drugs or to pay for the upkeep of pharmacies in most rural areas, and market forces Moscow now hopes to rely on are typically insufficient to address in a serious way either problem. Unless something is done and done soon, however, many more Russians in rural areas are going to become victims of a system that may reward young people in the major cities with new wealth and opportunities. And as these rural Russians become conscious of their common status and their large number, they could become politically important. The daily paper suggested that in many villages, the only thing such Russians could do is to pray so that they will get well without having to take any medications. But it is entirely possible that at least some of them will first focus their anger at those politicians and commentators who suggest that life is getting better in Russia with each passing year.

Neo-Soviet Russia Re-Weaponizes Psychiatry at a Rapid Rate

Paul Goble reports:

The forcible incarceration of political dissidents in psychiatric hospitals, one of the most notorious features of the later years of the Soviet Union, has been revived in the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin, according to Russian human rights activists. But until very recently, these actions have not sparked the kind of outrage by foreign governments and international psychiatric and human rights organizations that forced the Soviet authorities to release some of the dissidents it had treated in this way. And as a result, Russian officials may now believe they can get away with reviving the practice. Part of the reason for this difference in reaction, of course, arises from the end of the Cold War, but it also reflects the fact that so far, the victims of such official actions are fewer in number, live far from Western embassies and journalists in Moscow, and espouse views less sympathetic to Western audiences than many of their Soviet-era predecessors did. And in the words of one Russian human rights activist, Moscow’s failure to denounce the Soviet practice and punish those who engaged in it, something Western governments notably have not insisted upon, plays an additional role, leading some Russian psychiatrists to believe that there is nothing wrong in going along with their political matters.

Now, however, the international organization devoted to combating torture has taken up the case of a young man who has been subjected to forcible psychiatric treatment apparently for no reason other than that he opposes the authoritarian and arbitrary actions of the Putin-installed leadership of the Middle Volga Republic of Mari El. That groups criticism has prompted more media coverage in Moscow, including an extensive article in this week’s New Times that has been picked up by a variety of media watchdog sites, human rights groups, including That article details the criminal mistreatment of 20-year-old Artem Basyrov, who two years ago was a member of the National Bolshevik Party but more recently has worked with “The Other Russia.” At the end of last month, he was confined in a psychiatric hospital against his will, to prevent him from organizing an anti-government demonstration.

Given the brutality of the Mari El government, one that various European institutions have concluded routinely beats or even kills its opponents, its decision to subject Basyrov to forcible psychiatric treatment is hardly surprising, but because it recalls a phenomenon most had thought had ended along with Soviet power, it is disturbing. According to Roman Chorniy, the president of the St. Petersburg-based Civil Commission for Human Rights, the authorities apparently now find this practice attractive because it is easy for them to employ -- they only have to get the approval of three often tame psychiatrists and can muddy the waters via planted stories in the media. And he notes that Basyrov is hardly the only Russian citizen against whom such vicious methods are being used. He points to the case of political activist Larisa Arap in Murmansk in Russia’s Far North and that of Vladislav Nikitenko in Blagoveshchensk near the Chinese border, both far removed from Moscow. Chorniy adds that, in his view, the authorities may ultimately use this technique against Nikolai Andrushenko, a St Petersburg journalist whose activities and whose suffering at the hands of the authorities in other ways have been far better documented and who may thus escape the worse fate of the others. “When we see this type of situation,” Chorniy told “New Times,” we are compelled to ”think about it as a system” rather than a set of isolated instances, as many in both Russia and the West have been telling themselves. And that, he suggested, means that everyone concerned about human rights needs to reflect on why such crimes have reemerged. “All those psychiatrists and their pupils, who were directly involved in practicing punitive psychiatrist” never suffered legally for what they did and never even had to acknowledge in public that such actions were morally wrong. As a result, it is quite likely that many of them still believe such actions are justified.

And thus, Western indifference so far combined with the attitudes of these “survivals of the past” have created a situation where as Chorniy said “we see the revival of punitive psychiatry,” the use of an important branch of the medical profession for goals entirely at odds with the principles of the Hippocratic oath.