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Sunday, August 10, 2008

August 10, 2008 -- Contents


(1) The Sunday Photos

(2) The Sunday Sacrilege

(3) The Sunday Shock

(4) The Sunday Funnies

NOTE: Russia has bombed apartment buildings in Georgia proper well outside the contested region of South Ossetia, killing hundreds of civilians by its own admission. We have the details, including horrifying photographs, on Wordpress.

NOTE: See the NOTE in the Friday Contents page for an explanation of our recent technical issues which may have blocked your browser and how we are resolving them.

The Sunday Photos: Oborona Stands for Democracy

Photos from yet another public protest action by the heroic patriots of Oborona, this one just a couple of weeks ago. The activists protested for democracy in Belarus outside the barbaric nation's embassy in Moscow. They were responding to the latest round of draconian crackdowns by the Belarussian dictator Lukashenko after an explosion in the capital city of Minsk on July 4th, which Lukashenko shamelessly used as a pretext. They carried copies of signs that protesters in Belarus were jailed for carrying.

The Sunday Sacrilege: Annals of Russia's Islamic Bomb

Paul Goble reports:

The Russian government’s failure to enforce its own laws and to provide basic community services in the modernized sector is to blame for efforts by non-Russian groups there to revive pre-modern traditions like shariat, according to a leading Moscow commentator. Such groups in the current political environment have few chances of influencing the behavior of the Russian government, observer Yuri Gladysh says, and consequently, they are taking the only steps available to them to protect themselves and their families from increasing official arbitrariness.And the Russian authorities will have only themselves to blame if they do not change course and then must confront communities far less adaptable to Russian-style modernization than they were only a few years ago and far more ready to listen to those, often radical in their politics, who speak within that alternative, pre-modern tradition.

The occasion for Gladysh’s observations was an interview in which former Ingush president Ruslan Aushev suggested that young people in his republic no longer trusted officials secular or religious and consequently were turning to pre-modern forms like the shariat as their last means of defense. Secular Russian laws, Gladysh continues, “today are powerless not only against corruption but also against rise of unbridled illegally as a whole” which is “taking over the country.” Citizens, he writes, “are defenseless both before the criminal world and also before greedy bureaucrats and inactive ‘law enforcement officers.’'"

“It is thus no surprise that many Russian citizens, having lost confidence in and thus turned aside from formal laws, are paying attention to their experience of their ancestors. This concerns, by the way, not only Muslims,” although their shift to the shariat has attracted the most and the most negative commentaries in the Russian media. Residents of traditionally Cossack regions are also making use of traditional rule-making arrangements, the commentator suggests, particularly with regard to maintaining public order and providing moral instruction for the young, areas where many Cossacks believe the contemporary Russian state has failed to live up to its responsibilities. And even in the country’s central and predominantly ethnic Russian regions, Gladysh points out, there are regular conventions of meetings to apply the judicial decisions of Yaroslav the Wise “and even the norms of behavior of the times of pagan Rus’,” an archaic revival that is something more than an ethnographic curiosity.

Consequently, he writes, “there is nothing surprising at all in the turning of residents of Muslim regions the shariat,” but there are some very serious consequences of such actions: They divide the citizens of the Russian Federation far more deeply than do ethnic differences, and they make movements from one part of the country to another far more problematic. But there is another and more immediate consequence that all Russians must face up to: many of their fellow citizens are turning to alternative systems of social organization not because they find the latter so inherently attractive but because they have concluded that the Russian government as currently constituted is inherently and irretrievably worse.

Goble continues:

Moscow and its representatives are backing “traditional North Caucasus Islam” in the mistaken belief that this form of Islam is both tolerant and apolitical, when it fact it is not only “aggressive” but also itself “radical” in “practically all” republics of the North Caucasus, according to leading Russian academic specialist. In a two-part article posted on a Moscow State University site, Igor Dobayev, a professor at the Academy of Sciences Southern Academic Center in Rostov, argues that this Russian mistake carries with it “especially great” dangers in Daghestan where Sufi structures play an important role and in part control “’official Islam.’”

Indeed, he suggests, “in the post-Soviet period during the process of the struggle with radical Islam (‘Wahhabism’), traditional Islam [as embodied in the official structures} has become so politicized that this can lead to the total Islamization of the republic in the near term”. Dobayev begins his article by describing the complexity of religious life in Daghestan, a complexity that calls into question most if not all of the categories that Moscow academic specialists, religious leaders and government officials use when they attempt to describe what is going on and what the Russian state should do.

Religiosity varies by region, with the southern parts of Daghestan less religious than other segments of the republic, by residence, with rural people far more attached to the faith than urban ones, and by ethnicity, with Avars, Dargins, and Kumyks far more religious than Lezgins, Laks, Tabasarans and Rutuls. These differences in term affect the 2240 religious organizations (overwhelmingly Sunni mosques) that exist in Daghestan, even though almost all of them are subordinate to the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Daghestan that supervises more than 2500 religious leaders and that has been subordinate to Mufti Akhmad Abdulayev since 1998.

The various trends have both their own domestically produced magazines and Internet sites and also rely on an enormous quantity of imported Islamic literature, much of which is difficult to categorize according to the traditional, fundamentalist, and Sufi categories that Russian officials insist on employing. But more important than anything else among Muslims in Daghestan, Dobayev argues, are the Sufi orders. At present there are 19 sheikhs from the Naqshbandiya, Shaziliya, and Qadiriya orders, whose adepts include as many as 55,000 people, many of whom are within the government and take orders from their sheikhs.

The sheikhs, the Rostov scholar says, “are ever more insistently penetrating the political and economic structures of north Caucasus society.” And in Daghestan at present, he continues, “certain ministers and serious entrepreneurs are themselves murids [adepts] of the sheikhs” who can secure virtually any decision they deem necessary. The sheikhs in Daghestan are so strong, he argues, that many Sufi leaders are shifting the center of their activities to Moscow, Siberia, Stavropol and Krasnodar, where their activities among Daghestani diasporas are both spreading the Daghestani arrangements and enhancing the influence of its followers among Muslims across the Russian Federation. The interpenetration of traditionalist and Sufi Islam is so great that it is difficult if not impossible to separate them, at least in Daghestan, but together, their “main opponent and antagonist” includes those normally called “fundamentalists” who seek a return to the time of the Prophet.

These groups were radicalized during the course of the second Chechen war, Dobayev suggests, and now operate in underground networks. Their youth organizations – the so-called “’young jamaats’” – are especially active with many of their members having received training abroad.
The Russian government has adopted “an extremely tough approach” toward these groups, but this has not worked in a double sense. On the one hand, because they are better trained than their Islamic establishment counterparts, they thus are spreading their message more generally.

And on the other, by its obsessive focus on the fundamentalists and its assumption that the traditionalist Muslims are in its corner, Moscow and its local backers are ignoring the way in which Sufism is changing the traditionalist Muslims in ways that are already making them a more formidable challenge than the fundamentalists could ever pose. But in his detailed essay, Dobayev may have ignored what is the most significant aspect of this situation: To be sure, the Russian government and its supporters may have made a bad bet but only because in the short term at least, the period for the modernization of Islam in the Caucasus, Moscow does not have any good one available.

The Sunday Shock: Chechens Take over the Russian Army!

Paul Goble reports:

Because of an unusual combination of circumstances, Chechens could easily make up one-third of young Russian citizens to be drafted this fall, a figure that means non-Russians would easily form more than 50 percent of that draft class and one that is certain to disturb Russian commanders and politicians, according to a Moscow military analyst. In an extensive article in the current issue of “NG-Regiony,” Vladimir Mukhin calls into question official claims that the just-completed spring draft cycle was successfully fulfilled and points to even greater troubles ahead this fall in complecting the Russian Federation’s armed services. It is true, Mukhin says, that the military was able to draft the 133,200 young people in the plan and that 21.5 percent of them had higher educations, double the figure from a year earlier. It reduced the number of evaders to 6700, a quarter the rate one year earlier. But the military was able to do that only by drafting individuals whose health is at the very least questionable.

Human rights groups like the Soldiers’ Mothers committees believe that as many as half of those drafted should not have been because of poor health, and even the General Staff announced this time around that 30 percent of those it was calling to the colors should not have been. But the prospects Moscow faces this fall are even more problematic, Mukhin continued. On the one hand, the services will have to draft 200,000 young people all at once, 180 percent of the number drafted this spring, and on the other, it will have to fill simultaneously two classes who will be leaving service at the same time because of changes in the length of service required. Indeed, Mukhin argued, “such a large influx into the army as is scheduled to occur this fall has not happened before in post-Soviet Russia to their more senior commanders and the media, about whether they will be able to cope.

In this situation, Mukhin says, “it is not excluded that in order to fulfill draft quotas for the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and other Russian forces, the military commissariats will begin to draft young people from Chechnya,” a step they have not taken in recent times because of the troubles there but which could generate about 70,000 draftees this fall. Because Chechens are “more healthy and accustomed to the military way of life than are young people from other regions,” few of them would be excluded under the new and more relaxed health grounds. And if Moscow does decided to take this step, Mukhin writes, then this fall “every third new draftee could be a Chechen.” Mukhin’s article is not the only one focusing on these problems. “Gazeta” reported that the military’s draft program on “The New Face of the Armed Forces” anticipates retaining the draft until at least 2030, thus eliminating one means commanders might have to maintain Russian dominance in the army.

And an essay carried by discussing the situation argued that the desire of commanders to continue to rely on draftees not only reflects the continuing impact of what it called a Soviet-era mentality but also raised questions about what kind of conflicts Russia’s military in fact needs to be prepared for. Obviously, there are certain steps Moscow could take to address this situation – drafting a higher percentage of ethnic Russians than of others as it has done in the last two draft cycles or reducing the size of the military – but neither of those are attractive militarily or politically and consequently underscore just how many problems the Kremlin now has in filling the ranks.

The Sunday Funnies

Source: Barbarossa.

Russian bloggers have noted that from Lenin on Russian rulers have alternated between bald and hairy rulers. The above cartoon shows the continuation of flip-flops between Putin and Medvedev as they become fodder for worms, co-rulers for life.

Friday, August 08, 2008

August 8, 2008 -- Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: Russia, Imploding Once Again

(2) Russian Society: As Sick as it Can Get?

(3) Latynina on Putin and Mechel

(4) Pasko on Solzhenitsyn

(5) Browder Speaks

(6) Vladimir Putin, Crybaby

NOTE: We apologize to readers who attempted to access this blog over the past two days or so and found it was impossible. The fault lies entirely with Google/Blogger, our host. A week ago, it shut down thousands of blogs which had been improperly identified as "spam" by its logarithms. We luckily avoided the first wave, but got caught in the second after the so-called "fix" was applied. Google/Blogger was notified with dozens of complaints in its forum early Thursday morning, but it took 12 hours to even acknowledge the issue, as you can see here. It then required 24 more hours to fix the problem. As a consequence, we have no alternative but to conclude that we cannot rely on Google/Blogger, and we are moving to Wordpress, where we have a backup blog ready and waiting for just such an occasion. We will continue to post content here for a short time and then we will divert your browsers to our new address automatically. We have two days of content pre-loaded onto this blog which we must publish first and then upload to Wordpress before we can finalize the switchover. Obviously, we are very disappointed by the shockingly unprofessional behavior of Google/Blogger, as are many of our colleagues. Again, we apologize for any inconvenience that has been caused.

NOTE: Our new blog on Wordpress contains content not available here, including our editorial on Russia's outrageous imperialistic invasion of Georgia, an essay by scholar Richard Pipes exposing the fundamental fraud that was Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, a brilliant piece of reporting from the Moscow Times illustrating Russia's worsening class warfare and a book review from the Economist on remembering the horrors of Soviet Russia. Wordpress offers us many benefits, including the ability to divide posts using jump pages, a cleaner, sleeker design and the ability to use both categories and tags for post organization. We expect to be quite safe and happy in our new home once we get all moved in and look forward to seeing you all over there.

EDITORIAL: Russia, Imploding Once Again


Russia, Imploding Once Again

As shown in the chart above, as the price of oil has plummeted to a three-month low and Russian "prime minister" Vladimir Putin has issued yet another crazy, unhinged attack on a major Russian business entity (last time oil major YUKOS, this time steel major Mechel) , in the last three weeks the Russian stock market has lost 18% of its total value, matching a drop in the price of oil (from $145 to $120) jot for jot. In the last six weeks, it's down a shocking 25% from record highs around 2,400 on the RTS Index. The market was down 3.7% last Tuesday alone as it shuddered under the impact of falling oil prices.

The Russian stock market is being bled white. Indeed, one has to wonder if Putin isn't somehow intimidated by growth in the market and the creation of wealth beyond his control that it implies, and whether he isn't just as pleased as Stalin was to see a crippled nation groveling at his feet. After all, it's so much more difficult to govern healthy, vigorous, wealthy people.

And yet, crude oil is still selling at stratospheric prices in excess of $100 a barrel, and crude oil is Russia's bread and butter. If Russia had any kind of economic fundamentals, its stock market ought to be charging ahead. It's not, and that's because Russia has no economic fundamentals at all. It's a crude, third-world dictatorship governed by a proud KGB spy, a relic of a failed state with no training or experience in business, economics or social policy (much less democracy). The Russian market tracks the price of oil so precisely because the price of oil is the only thing standing between the price of oil and apocalypse.

In short, if the price of oil were not artificially inflating the Kremlin's economic performance, we could very well be witnessing a major depression in Russia, followed by the fourth major collapse of the Russian state in the past century. The recent spike price in oil is quite simply a disaster for Russia, because it has finally given the West the incentive it needs to aggressively seek out alternative fuels; the Kremlin's rabid hostility to the West combined with the huge price surges has made the world wake up from its stupor and begin to wean itself from oil dependence. As time goes on, Russia's oil stocks will both deplete and marginalize, and the Russian economy will degenerate into anarchy.

How could it be otherwise? By what twisted, neo-Soviet logic do Russians imagine that they can be successfully governed by the KGB? What possible credential or qualifications could Putin have to address complicated economic issues? Isn't it clear that the priorities of a KGB spy are irreconcilable with the prosperity of a modern nation? Isn't it obvious he will simply divert the nation's resources towards oppression and world domination instead of dealing with pressing social issues and creating a vibrant economy, in other words that he'll behave just as Stalin did, with the same results?

What is happening in Russia today is unprecedented in human history. Russians watched a KGB regime ruin their country, butchering millions of Russians, destroying the civilian economy and causing the collapse and dissolution of the USSR. Then, when the dust settled, they blithely turned the reins of power right back over to the KGB.

Below, we report that a Russian judge has recently ruled that not only is sexual harassment of female workers by male superiors legal in Russia, it's to be encouraged. Russia is already one of the most corrupt societies on the face of the earth, as rated by Transparency International and a host of other international experts, and things are getting even worse. We then report on Russia expelling one of its leading investors, on the world-famous anti-Soviet dissident who supported Putin's KGB regime and betrayed his whole life's work, and on the barbaric antics of those who claim to lead but in fact act more like savage children. And that's just one day's news!

Russia is disintegrating before our eyes and, just as has been the case in the past, the people of Russia will not lift a finger to stop it.

Russian Society: As Sick as it Can Get?

As if the world needed any more reasons to stay as far away from Russia as humanly possible, the Teleraph reports that sexual harassment is now perfectly legal in Russia. In fact, the judges are encouraging it!

The unnamed executive, a 22-year-old from St Petersburg, had been hoping to become only the third woman in Russia's history to bring a successful sexual harassment action against a male employer.

She alleged she had been locked out of her office after she refused to have intimate relations with her 47-year-old boss.

"He always demanded that female workers signalled to him with their eyes that they desperately wanted to be laid on the boardroom table as soon as he gave the word," she earlier told the court. "I didn't realise at first that he wasn't speaking metaphorically."

The judge said he threw out the case not through lack of evidence but because the employer had acted gallantly rather than criminally.

"If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children," the judge ruled.

Since Soviet times, sexual harassment in Russia has become an accepted part of life in the office, work place and university lecture room.

According to a recent survey, 100 per cent of female professionals said they had been subjected to sexual harassment by their bosses, 32 per cent said they had had intercourse with them at least once and another seven per cent claimed to have been raped.

Eighty per cent of those who participated in the survey said they did not believe it possible to win promotion without engaging in sexual relations with their male superiors.

Women also report that it is common to be browbeaten into sex during job interviews, while female students regularly complain that university professors trade high marks for sexual favours.

Only two women have won sexual harassment cases since the collapse of the Soviet Union, one in 1993 and the other in 1997.

Human rights activists say that Russian women remain second-class citizens and are subjected to some of the highest levels of domestic abuse in the world.

Latynina on Putin and Mechel

Other Russia translates Yulia Latynina from Yezhedevny Zhurnal:

Last week, at a meeting in Nizhny Novgorod, Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin came down hard on a company which was damaging Russia’s economy with its work.

It turned out this company was by no means Baikalfinansgrup, which bought Yuganskneftegaz at a non-competitive auction on credit provided by the government. And it wasn’t the Gunvor group, which belongs to a friend of premier Putin and receives 70 billion dollars annual income from the export of Russian oil. And not RosUkrEnergo, whose right to deliver gas to the Ukraine using non-transparent arrangements is whole-heartedly defended by Russian bureaucrats at the highest level.

It turned out to be Mechel, condemned for selling coal abroad at prices two times lower than domestic ones. The company’s owner, Igor Zyuzin, did not appear at at the meeting, citing illness. “Of course, illness is illness,” premier [Putin] said, then recommending a speedy recovery for Mechel’s owner. “Otherwise we’ll have to send him a doctor to clear out all these problems.”

Putin’s promise to send Zyuzin a doctor cost Mr. Zyuzin 5 billion dollars — it was exactly this amount by which Mechel’s market capitalization collapsed that evening on the New York exchange.

The reason why Mechel in particular dissatisfied the premier was such: The largest Russian metallurgical giants, including the Novolipetsky [NLMK] and Magnitogorsky metallurgical complexes, buy up coal on the side, and as a consequence, are interested in long-term contracts for coal delivery during times of sharp price increases.

Mechel, which supplies them with coal, is a coal extracting company, and is accordingly interested in spot contracts for coal delivery, which allow it to maximize sales profit; And, should the opportunity arise, to use the deficit of coal as a lever to gain control over small factories (Gubakha, for instance).

It is clear that giants like NLMK and Magnitka are much closer to the Kremlin, and especially to Vice-Premier Sechin, who now oversees industry. It was precisely Sechin, who, with active participation of the metallurgical giants, prepared the report that has raised so much attention.

It sticks out like a sore thumb that this is already Premier Putin’s second attempt at direct interference in the economy. A week ago, high prices for jet fuel elicited his discontent. If earlier, during his presidency, President Putin underscored in every way that “the Yukos affair” was an exception, then now, it seems Premier Putin is making it clear to everyone that he is intent on directing the economy by hand.

Mechel, which was worth around 15 billion dollars just last week, recently laid out around 2.5 billion dollars for a controlling stake in two large coal companies –Yakutugol and Elgaugol –and in doing so, beat out the state-run ALROSA. Yakutugol has been online for a long while. Elgaugol is simply a section of taiga, and several billon dollars are needed to develop it.

It is obvious that in the near term, it will be hard for a company that paid money for non-operational assets in an open auction to raise the means to develop them. If Mechel goes bankrupt, and its assets are sold for peanuts, Mechel’s shareholders (I’ll remind you that the company had its IPO and lists its shares on the New York Stock Exchange), may well file against Premier Putin in the New York City court.

And if the Yukos shareholders, in filing their corresponding lawsuit, expect to prove that precisely Vladimir Putin or Igor Sechin are guilty for their misfortunes, then everything is available right here. It is hard to imagine George Bush, threatening to “send a doctor” to Bill Gates. One doesn’t speak to businessmen this way in the free world. Crime bosses speak this way to an out of line merchant. Usually, proof of these threats is obtained in a strategic way, wrapping oneself in microphones. Here the threats sounded right on the television.

One question –how much will this affair cost Mechel? Although in my opinion, something else is far more interesting –how much will it cost the Magnitka and Lipetsky [metallurgical plants]. What has happened comes out as the classic illustration of the proverb: don’t call a wolf to help you with the dogs. The metallurgical giants turned to Vice-Premier Sechin, to help him fight with inflation by forcing Mechel into long-term contracts. The general fall of the market has already cost Russia’s steel sector far more than the losses from spot contracts, by which Zyuzin sold coal. After all, zealous bureaucrats will now be checking everyone, not just Mechel. It is always this way with chekists and bandits: if you ask them for a favor, it’s uncertain if they will accommodate it or not. But you’re still certain to owe them.

But the most interesting part –how much will this affair cost Premier Putin? It isn’t a question of whether business will start to speak up in Mechel’s defense –no one has any illusions here. Business will be tearing chunks out of Mechel, and its mouth will be busy. But then Mechel will likely run for protection to President Medvedev, and there aren’t any reasons why President Medvedev wouldn’t provide it with protection. If nothing happens with Mechel, and prices for airline tickets don’t fall, this will mean that Premier Putin can’t regulate the prices of either jet fuel, or coking coal.

And this is very bad, when the premier sends a doctor every week, and the doctor just doesn’t arrive. This way one can quickly tumble down to the level of Premier [Mikhail] Fradkov, who every week would loudly censure [German] Gref, or [Alexei] Kudrin. But for some reason, he could never do anything to them.

Pasko on Silent Solzhenitsyn

Writing on Robert Amsterdam's blog hero journalist Grigori Pasko takes the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to task for his shameful silence on so many issues of his day:

I recall how back when I was in the military-political college, I surreptitiously read «One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich», Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s forbidden tale about prisoners of the GULAG, hiding it from the company and battalion officers. At the college, they taught us how to be conduits of the ideals of the communist party in the armed forces. Solzhenitsyn’s story talked about how all around this party there was nothing but lies. And around the Soviet state – lies. I learned how to see these lies thanks, among others, to the works of Alexander Isaevich.
Then I experienced on myself all the «charms» of the Russian GULAG. One of those who allowed and allows the continuation of the existence of the GULAG – was and remains Vladimir Putin. All the stranger then was to me the almost friendly, problem-free and conflict-free, with only rare and insignificant criticism, relationship between the great writer and the not-great chekist and president.

Once I came to visit Alexander Isaevich. I wanted to speak with him about his attitude towards the spy-mania which had blossomed into full bloom in our country under Putin. The author’s wife, Natalia Dmitrievna, met me and said that Alexander Isaevich would not be able to meet with me. I asked her about his attitude towards the spy trials. She did not reply. And nowhere and not once did I hear the voice of the author speak out against these trials. I don’t know why he kept silent.

I express my deep sympathy to Natalia Dmitrievna. And for some reason I think that she will tell us about how Alexander Isaevich reacted to these or the other events in the country, while not making this reaction public.

In one of the last interviews for the television channel «Rossiya», Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that he considers that Russia has in many ways re-established its influence on the international arena, however its domestic spiritual-moral atmosphere is far from the ideal.

“In international relations, the influence of Russia is returned, the place of Russia in the world is returned. But internally, in our moral state, we are far from what one would like to be, as we organically need”, said Solzhenitsyn.

Probably, Alexander Isaevich was found under the impression of the Munich speech of Vladimir Putin – a speech aggressive in intonation, but nearly empty in content. By this speech the president, in essence, once again unleashed the cold war between Russia and the West. I will dare assert that the real authority of my country in the world, thanks to such figures as Putin, is very low. Western leaders hush up the problems in my country and exaggerate the role of Russia only because their countries need Russian oil and gas.

Surely Solzhenitsyn must have seen and known all this. But if he did see and know, then why did he keep silent?

Answering a question of the television channel as to whether he continues as before to consider “preservation of the people” to be the sole national idea acceptable today, Solzhenitsyn underscored that this is “not so much as the sole, as an accessible” idea.

In his opinion, society has not yet arrived at a long-term national idea. “When they started getting all worked up by a national idea, it was nauseating. Where are you going, why are you going there. You haven’t matured enough for it”, said Solzhenitsyn.

It is possible that the hysteria with respect to the search for a «national idea» stopped in the country thanks to Alexander Isaevich. Because some had already reached agreement to the point where the FSB – this is the intellectual heritage of the Russian people and its neo-nobility.

These «neo-nobles» could easily have reached agreement to the point where the «national idea» of the country would have become Khrushchev’s phrase «We’ll show ’em all!» Personally, I don’t think there’s anything much to show ’em. Besides oil and gas, naturally.

It is known that the writer continued working on the preparation for publication of 30 volumes of his works. Even «The GULAG Archipelago», which has not been republished in the last 16 years, recently came out in a new edition. The book is necessary and important even now, when the former GULAG once again is making its presence felt.

It is noteworthy that the writer also did not once express himself about the state of today’s penitentiary system of Russia, which is little better than the former GULAG, the presence in it of political prisoners and KGB methods. Why? Perhaps we may still find out about this later…

Or we may now never find out…

Browder Speaks

The Times of London reports:

Bill Browder calls himself a value investor - it is fund manager-speak for someone who looks for latent value in stocks that are ignored, hidden gems - but value investment barely begins to describe what he does.

In common with other money managers, the chief executive of Hermitage Capital has a PowerPoint presentation that sets out his strategy, but if you know anything about Bill Browder, the rehearsed explanation is strangely unsatisfying; you wonder if you are getting the whole story.

All fund managers, barring those who follow indices and the weird ones who predict the future from lines on charts, call themselves value investors, but the Hermitage chief does something altogether different - he pursues value with a vengeance.

This is not about taking a stake in a dull family engineering company with a view to prodding the management out of slumber.

On the basis of past performance, Mr Browder's strategy is to target a leading company with close connections to government and to conduct a forensic examination of its investments.

Upon discovering fraud and embezzlement, a very public campaign of exposure and denunciation ensues, followed by partial recovery of funds and huge stock price appreciation. It finally ends with Mr Browder being chased out of Russia.

Hermitage Capital's campaign against fraud at Gazprom made enormous amounts of money for investors, including many who never put their money in Mr Browder's fund.

He started with $25 million in 1996, achieving almost tenfold gains in 18 months and then raised $1billion from new investors. At one stage the pot totalled $4 billion and Hermitage became Russia's biggest foreign portfolio investor.

However, Mr Browder offended someone with great power - he insists that he still does not know who - and in November 2005 was refused re-entry into Russia. He has not returned since.

Hermitage is shifting its focus to the Middle East, in particular the Gulf, where Mr Browder is investing the proceeds of a new fund. He raised $625 million in April last year and is targeting infrastructure companies in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

His portfolio includes 15 investments at present after a lengthy selection process from a thousand companies worldwide. He reckons that the Gulf investment climate is a holiday compared with Russia. “Corporate governance is so much better [in the Gulf]. In Russia it was all about fraud. We have never seen anything like that in the Middle East.”

The parallels between Mr Browder's Russian exit and the present rumpus at TNK-BP (the Russian affiliate of BP, where a power struggle has resulted in BP's nominated chief executive running the company from somewhere in Central Europe) are obvious.

“If my experience is anything to go by, BP's problems are only just beginning ... They [BP] should fight back, use everything they have. It's the only thing that these people understand.”

He ought to know. Although the visa denial put paid to his Russian strategy, it was trivial compared with what happened next.

In June 2007, while the Hermitage boss languished in London, a lieutenant-colonel in the tax unit of the Interior Ministry became aware of Mr Browder's predicament.

Under the guise of a tax inquiry, his team raided the Moscow offices of Hermitage and its law firm, seizing documents, computer discs and corporate seals, in the process beating up a Russian lawyer who dared to protest.

Over the next six months there followed an elaborate fraud in which the ownership of several Hermitage companies was changed and new directors appointed.

A lawsuit was fabricated against the Hermitage companies, the bogus directors accepted the claim and “judgment” was awarded for $376 million.

Mr Browder has PowerPoint presentations that explain the fraud in minute detail and you almost sense that he enjoys pursuing the gangsters through the shadowy corridors of the Kremlin.

“Isn't it amazing?” he says. It gets more amazing because the crooks failed to get the money - the Gaz-prom stock held by the companies had been transferred offshore.

Undeterred, the “police” then pursued another avenue. Having bankrupted the Hermitage companies with bogus lawsuits, they then demanded repayment from the Government of taxes legitimately paid by Hermitage, a total of $230 million, to the Russian Treasury. This was duly repaid to the crooks - a tax fraud perpetrated by tax inspectors.

Why does the Hermitage chief do it? “I went to Moscow hoping to find cheap stocks.” He was at the time a fan of Vladimir Putin, supporting the President's programme of reform.

His first confrontation was with Vladimir Potanin, a Russian oil and metals tycoon, over shares in Sidanco, an oil company later acquired by BP. Hermitage bought 2 per cent, but the tycoon wanted to assert control.

“He decided to issue shares to a group of insiders, including himself. I had to go into battle to prevent it being diluted.”

He cuts an unlikely figure as a caped crusader for corporate governance in this cloak-and-dagger world of post-Soviet corporate gangsterism but talks about “the good guys” and “the bad guys” in a way that brushes aside the amorality of Moscow business deals.

His grandfather was Earl Browder, one of the founders of the American Communist Party, who went to Russia in 1927 and became the party's general secretary.

During the Second World War he was expelled for arguing in favour of co-existence with capitalism and during the 1950s communist witch-hunts he was interrogated by Senator Joe McCarthy but refused to incriminate his former comrades.

The younger Browder says that he has taken on the role of family black sheep, embracing capitalism and rejecting academia, the profession of his father, who is a respected mathematician.

The black sheep initially worked for Boston Consulting Group and got a taste for investing when he was sent to Poland to sort out a failing bus factory.

The Polish Government was privatising state companies by public flotation. “I took all my savings, $4,000, and applied for all the privatisations and made ten times my money.” He joined Salomon Brothers and traded Eastern European equities. In 1995 he quit to set up Hermitage.

The rebel has a suitably apocalyptic view of the financial world. The credit crisis has a long way to go, he reckons. “There is going to be huge attrition in the world of investment. We have been in a 20-year bull market.”

The fashionable emerging markets will continue to be hit hard. “The Chinese stock market was trading at 50 times earnings. As the bubble bursts in China, there will be a knock-on effect, it will be the de-Bric-ing of the world,” he says, referring to the acronym of Brazil, Russia, India, China that has became a buzz-word for emerging market dynamism.

The Hermitage boss has his own slogan: “Get off the financial grid.” By this, he means the world of financial markets, places where capital is consumed, rather than generated. “You don't want to be in places where capital markets are active.

If you can't borrow money, who will do badly? Those who need to borrow money.” That logic drives Mr Browder to the Middle East, where capital is in huge surplus and there is cultural disapproval of lending for interest.

Local Middle Eastern companies have yet to excite the investment banks, he says, and money is flowing into Middle Eastern coffers. The income of the big oil exporters totals $1.3 trillion at an oil price of $100 per barrel - and it is staying in the Gulf.

“It's the biggest wealth transfer that has ever happened in the world,” he says.

Hermitage has 18 analysts, mainly Russian, because they are “some of the smartest people in the world trained in the one of the worst business environments”. He quotes Frank Sinatra's song about New York: if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere.

But he has adopted Britain as his home. He acquired British nationality when he married and is a huge fan, recalling the support he received from the British Government when was trying to regain his Russian visa. “This is a good country. I like the rule of law.”

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Vladimir Putin, Crybaby

Writing in the Moscow Times Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation in Moscow, says that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is a classic crybaby. Just as in Soviet times, Russia is being governed by a barbaric hoard of little boys who cannot engage in civilized argument but can only lash out with crude violence whenever anyone dares question them. In other words, an army of little Stalins.

A person who constantly takes offense at others often shows his own immaturity. Similarly, children, teenagers and emotionally unstable people are most often the ones who are easily offended.

In politics, the habit of taking offense is out of place, as is the display of emotion generally. This simple truth has been known since the time of Machiavelli.

Nevertheless, many statements by Russian leaders -- starting with former President Vladimir Putin's famous Munich speech in February last year -- leave the impression that the Kremlin is deeply offended by the United States. This is not only displeasure with certain decisions and statements made by the White House, but it is a feeling of being offended on a highly emotional level.

The most recent example was a statement made last week at a news briefing by a senior Foreign Ministry official. "In the long run, we can afford not having any relations with some of our partners," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. To some extent, statements such as "Don't try to tell us whom we can sleep with," which the official also said at the briefing, can be written off as a recent idiosyncracy of the nation's leaders, who think that the brashness and street jargon in official statements, made popular by Putin, is now fashionable. More important, however, is the larger, underlying message -- that Moscow is eagerly waiting for the time when it is free to go its own way without having to deal with the United States.

In Russia's case, susceptibility to offense seems to go hand in hand with the tendency to take pleasure in others' misfortunes. Russia makes no effort to hide its glee over the problems that the United States is currently facing, and it likes to make ominous predictions about how the "full-blown crisis" in the United States represents a threat to its continued existence. Curiously, these declarations coincided with the appointment of former Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak as the new ambassador to the United States. These two events could be interpreted as a kind of mandate to curtail cooperation in those fields where it still existed.

I do not intend to defend the foreign policy of U.S. President George W. Bush. His eight years of leadership were marked by many tragic mistakes that added new problems to the old ones and that greatly diminished worldwide trust in the United States, while creating a deep split within that country over basic questions of foreign policy strategy.

The current Bush administration bears a significant part of the responsibility for the deterioration of relations with Russia. The U.S. leadership can be compared to a patient who is temperamental, grumbles, doesn't want to take his bitter medicine, and at the same time insists that he is perfectly healthy.

Is it worth it to get offended by a sick person? Is it wise to incorporate that offense into official government policy? And should we express joy over the patient's worsening condition? Such childish emotions are especially out of place if Russia has any desire to become a responsible leader in global relations.

First, taking offense is not constructive. It is unclear at whom the Foreign Ministry's grievances were directed. At Bush? If so, then this is strange as Bush has truly become a lame duck.

Were the statements directed at Senators Barack Obama and John McCain? That would be premature at the very least and ineffective at most, since it is impossible to paint such different politicians with the same brush.

Did the Foreign Ministry target the U.S. public at large? Anybody who pays attention to the political life of the United States knows that Russia is not currently a major concern for the average citizen there.

Second, taking offense is not always logical. Russia's current position suffers from inconsistencies. On one hand, Moscow claims that the United States is in the midst of deep economic, financial, political and moral crises and that the government itself is practically on the verge of collapse. On the other hand, the United States is portrayed as some kind of demonic power, intent on imposing its own order on the rest of the world and undermining Russia's strategic interests. This is all very reminiscent of self-contradictory Soviet propaganda during the Cold War.

Third, the weakness for being offended can lead to rash behavior. The desire to strike back at the offending party, to settle accounts for the perceived humiliation or insult often overshadows one's long-term interests. For example, Russia's glee over U.S. economic and financial woes is absurd considering the Russia's direct interest in U.S. economic success. For example, a significant part of the country's stabilization fund is invested in the United States; and global oil prices rise or fall in large part as a result of the health of the U.S. economy.

In addition, Russia has a direct interest in seeing that certain U.S. foreign policy goals are successful. For example, Russia's position in Central Asia and the Middle East would be weakened if the United States withdrew its troops quickly from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last, if Russia's dream ever came true -- the collapse of the U.S. political and economic system -- it would be difficult to underestimate the amount of damage that everyone on the planet would suffer.

The art of foreign policy should not be defined as slamming the door in the face of an irritating or inconvenient partner, but in the ability to further one's interests even under difficult conditions. Refusing to negotiate with the United States would be our collective defeat and a recognition of our powerlessness and irresponsible attitude in the face of urgent global problems.

A serious discussion is now gathering steam in the United States about that country's future foreign policy, Washington's role and weight in international affairs and the new world order after the global balance of power has shifted.

The coming months and years will determine a lot -- perhaps even the course for decades to come. Many U.S. neoconservatives who are still stuck in Cold War mentality have a habit of dividing the world into good and evil, of viewing it through the prism of the standoff between Moscow and Washington and of refusing to give way on any of their positions. By provoking the United States with inflammatory statements, do we really want to give these anti-Russia hawks a big career boost?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

August 6, 2008 -- Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Good Riddance

(2) Another Original LR Translation: Listening to Russia -- Who Really Rules?

(3) The Russian Army is a Sad Joke

(4) Russia: A Change in Name Only

(5) Open Rebellion in Ingushetia

NOTE: Kim Zigfeld's latest installment on Pajamas Media reviews the latest data on the explosion of race violence in Russia and offers insights explaining how this is connected to Russia's economic situation. She also takes Barack Obama to task for shamefully ignoring this horrifying litany of atrocities. Your comments regarding the best way for the U.S. to respond in defense of Russia's oppressed minorities are welcome.

EDITORIAL: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Good Riddance


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Good Riddance

It was fitting that on the same day the Moscow Times reported the demise of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whom it called a "literary giant," it also reported that "prime minister" Vladimir Putin had issued a public pledge to strengthen Russia's ties with America's hated foe Cuba, thus inviting a new escalation in the cold war. "We need to rebuild our positions in Cuba and other countries," Putin declared. In other news, arch American enemy Hugo Chavez was spewing forth plenty of Castro-like anti-American hatred as he took delivery on a couple of dozen Russian war planes. To round things out nicely, another round of the campaign to resurrect and rehabilitate the mass murderer Josef Stalin was announced, this time in the form of smears and slurs against Stalin's great nemesis, Nikita Khrushchev.

As we report below, Russians overwhelmingly believe that it is Putin, not their so-called "president" Dimitry Medvedev, who wields the real power in their country. And Putin is using that power not to advance the interests of the Russian people but to undermine them by provoking and alienating the world's most powerful country, just as his Soviet forbears did. Nothing else can be expected, of course, from man who spent his whole life in the KGB. Putin's actions give the U.S. justification for doing the same in Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics, and anywhere else that Russia might see as threatening. It's neo-Soviet suicide, pure and simple.

If Solzhenitsyn had had his right mind, the one that produced The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, he would have been the world's leading critic of Putin's KGB regime. But he didn't, so he wasn't. Solzhenitsyn's brain went soft years ago, right about the time he returned to Russia and decided the thing to do would be to host a TV talk show. The show was, of course, a cataclysmic failure -- and Solzhenitsyn has not written a significant book in decades. Instead, he churned out dreck attempting to blame the Jews for the excesses of the USSR and, as we've reported several times on this blog, issued numerous statements rationalizing the KGB regime of Vladimir Putin in an apparent attempt to curry favor with power for the sake of his senile ego mania. Putin attempted to praise Solzhenitsyn as some kind of linguist, totally ignoring his work documenting the horrors of Soviet Russia. As Viktor Sonkin, a literature columnist for The Moscow Times Context section and a teacher of cultural studies at Moscow State University, wrote in his column: "Solzhenitsyn understood Western society only superficially, and many alarming things he said about it were simply not correct. Rejecting the 'bad totalitarianism' of the Soviet type, Solzhenitsyn was promoting a kind of 'good totalitarianism,' as if there were such a thing in the world."

We warned Mr. Solzhenitsyn that if he wasn't careful, he was going to pass from this earth in a state of mortal sin, having abrogated his entire life's work for the sake of his old man's ego. He ignored us. And now, it is too late. The eulogies can talk about Solzhenitsyn's courage in standing up to the USSR, but they can't say he did anything whatsoever in the past ten years to stop Russia from sliding down the path towards becoming a neo-Soviet state. To the contrary, by accepting awards from the Putin regime, history can only conclude that Solzhenitsyn played role, however minor and doddering, in helping Russia become what he loathed and risked his life to chronicle.

In the end, Solzhenitsyn was a traitor to Russia, a traitor to his own ideals. The only thing that can be said in his defense is that his actions were surely a sign of the toll taken on his psyche by being evicted from his own country, his fellow citizens having not lifted a finger to protect him, just as they did nothing to protect Pushkin or Dostoevsky, and the crippling affects of his advanced age and the deprivations he suffered in the GULAG. Solzhenitsyn lived two decades longer than the average Russian man (thanks to his comfy digs in a gated community and plenty of access to elite medical care sponsored by the Putin regime), but he spent more than enough time in Russia to suffer its ill effects.

Solzhenitsyn, like the majority of his craven countrymen, sat by and watched as a proud KGB spy wiped out political opposition, destroyed the mass media and crushed local government, centralizing power under his filthy jackboot. He applauded, like the majority of his malignant countrymen, when that proud KGB spy provoked a new cold war with the United States, the same cold war that reduced the USSR to rubble. His ability to generate literature of import vanished, and he groveled for attention like an aging puppy dog. Years from now, when anyone challenges the latest draconian moves against civil society by Dictator Putin, he'll undoubtedly whip out the above photograph and claim that he had Solzhenitsyn's blessing just before he packs off the critic to the neo-Soviet GULAG.

And that will be the story of Solzhenitsyn. Talking about the "good" Solzhenitsyn did long ago now is like talking about how Hitler made the trains run on time. It's beside the point.

Good riddance, Aleksandr Isakyevich. You used your final years to stab yourself and your country in the back, and you could not have disappeared from this earth soon enough to suit us.

Listening to Russia: Who Really Rules?

The Levada public opinion firm has been running a survey (link in Russian, staff translation, corrections welcome)since december of last year asking Russians who has the "real" power in their country.

The options given: (a) Medvedev; (b) Putin; (c) They share it equally; (d) I have no idea.

In the July poll, only 9% of respondents answered that Medvedev had the real power, down from a high of 22% in April. 36% of respondents answered that Putin has the real power, up from a low of 21% in March. Medvedev's share of the vote has never exceeded Putin's at any time while the survey has been running. 47% of respondents said that the two are sharing power as co-presidents, matching the highest prior total, from March. 8% of respondents could not answer, half of the high of 16% from February.

So currently 83% of Russians believe that Vladimir Putin, Russia's "prime minister," is at least co-president.

A second question was asked as a follow-up: Is Medvedev merely carrying out Putin's policies, or is he developing his own?

The options given: (a) He's following Putin measure for measure; (b) He generally does what Putin would do; (c) He is partically charting a new course; (d) He is entirely his own man; (e) I have no idea.

In the July survey, 31% of Russians said Medvedev was copying Putin jot for jot, the highest share for that answer since December (when it was 40%). 51% said he was generally a mirror of Putin, 3% below the high for that answer which was recorded in April. Only 13% of respondents said that Medvedev was wholly or partially his own man.

Thus, 82% of Russians feel that Dimitry Medvedev, the "president" of Russia, is more or less the "prime minster's" cyborg.

The Russian Army is a Sad Joke

The Associated Press reports:

At a once-secret airfield outside Moscow, test pilot Sergei Bogdan proudly introduces reporters to what was billed as the latest in Russian military aircraft technology, the Su-35 fighter-jet.

But the plane is only an upgrade of a 20-year-old model - and it can't match the speed and stealth of the U.S. F-22 Raptor, which entered service in 2005.

Former President Vladimir V. Putin, now Russia's powerful prime minister, has boasted of new weapons systems and of strengthening the armed forces, raising fears in the West of a Cold War-style military buildup. Flush with oil money, the Kremlin is in the market for new weapons.

But Russia's state-run defense industries, experts say, face a crumbling manufacturing base and pervasive corruption; they have produced little advanced armament in the Putin era.

The Victory Day parade in Red Square in May was intended to showcase the nation's military might. Instead, Russia's arsenal showed its age. Most of the planes, tanks and missiles that rolled past Lenin's Tomb dated to the 1980s or were slightly modernized versions of decades-old equipment.

Bogdan, affectionately patting his Su-35 in a hangar at the Zhukovsky Flight Test Center outside Moscow, hailed its agility, advanced electronics and new engines: "It's very light on controls and accelerates really well."

But Alexander Golts, an independent defense analyst, said the Su-35 is an example of how Russia's weapons industries are taking old designs out of mothballs and trying to sell them as new.

"The Soviet Union saw a tide of new weapons designs in the late 1980s which didn't reach a production stage," he said. "They can be described as new only in a sense that they weren't built in numbers."

Russian officials have spent two decades trying to build a so-called fifth-generation fighter equivalent to the Raptor, but the plane still has not made its maiden flight - and analysts are skeptical that the first test flights will take place next year as promised.

The director of the Sukhoi aircraft-maker, which is developing the new fighter, admitted that the company has a long way to go. But he said the pace of construction could accelerate soon.

"I don't think that we are lagging behind in a critical way," Mikhail Pogosyan said.

As work to build the new plane drags on, another major weapons program also faces hurdles. The new Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile, designed for use on nuclear submarines, has failed repeatedly in tests. Prospects for its deployment look dim.

"The loss of technologies and the brain drain have led to a steady degradation of military industries," said Alexander Khramchikhin, an analyst with the Institute for Political and Military Analysis.

Russia's economic meltdown after the collapse of the Soviet Union put many subcontractors out of business, rupturing long-established production links. Assembly plants were left to rely on limited stocks of Soviet-built components or forced to try to crank up their own production.

"Now, when we finally get state orders, plants often can't fulfill them due to the lack of components," Valery Voskoboinikov, a government official in charge of aviation industries at Russia's Ministry of Industry, testified recently at parliamentary hearings.

Despite Putin's pledges to modernize arsenals, during his eight years as president the military bought only a handful of new combat jets and tanks.

Russian arms sales have grown steadily in recent years, reaching a post-Soviet record of more than $7billion last year, according to official statistics. Russia accounted for a quarter of global arms sales in 2003-2007, a close second after the United States, according to the latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

But Russia has suffered several recent, highly publicized failures in arms exports, in which the broken subcontractor chain and swelling production costs were widely seen as key factors.

Russia recently failed to fulfill China's order for 38 Il-76 transport planes and Il-78 tankers, leading to the suspension of the deal. Earlier this year, Algeria returned MiG-29 fighter planes it bought from Russia, complaining of poor quality.

"The system has been broken all the way down," said Anatoly Sitnov, who oversees the aviation industries in the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Russia's aging work force presents another challenge. Many highly skilled workers left defense industries in the 1990s for higher-paying jobs in the private sector, and the arms industry's meager wages have hampered the recruitment of younger workers.

The average age of Russia's aircraft industry workers is now 45, and that figure keeps rising. "There is an acute shortage of key specialists: turners, welders, millers," Voskoboinikov said.

Obsolete equipment has hurt efficiency. The last major modernization of defense plants occurred in the early 1980s, and many machine tools used in these factories are even older.

The government has responded by creating huge state-controlled military conglomerates, saying they will streamline manufacturing. Critics say they will stifle competition, encourage corruption and further weaken Russia's arms industry.

"We built good planes in the past because we had a competition between aircraft makers," Svetlana Savitskaya, a Soviet cosmonaut who is now a lawmaker, said during parliamentary hearings.

"Pulling all of them together under one roof will end competition and destroy what we had," she said. "But it could make it more convenient for some to steal government funds."

Russia: A Change in Name Only

Writing in the Seattle Post Intelligencer Lara Iglitzin, executive director of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, which has supported NGOs working for human rights and democracy in Russia since 1989, says that Russia is singing the same old neo-Soviet song:

Is there hope for change in the post-Putin era in Russia?

Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor Dmitri Medvedev has been president of Russia for two brief months. On a recent visit to Moscow, there is palpable optimism for change – although tempered by political reality. "We have a whiff of a thaw in the air," said Arseny Roginsky of the leading human rights organization, Memorial, using a word closely tied to the Khrushchev era when repressive measures under Stalin were eased.

Yet no one can predict whether that thaw is a reality or just a dim hope. "No one knows where the balance of power lies at this moment," Roginsky continued, pointing to the current guessing game as to who will hold real power in Russia tomorrow – Putin (in his new job as prime minister) or the newly elected President Medvedev. No one disputes that Putin has the upper hand today. Having centralized political power during his eight years as president, Putin still pulls the political strings in Russia.

While it is too soon to tell if Putin and Medvedev are heading for conflict, in fighting and tension between the Putin and Medvedev circles could be good for Russia's political system. "If there are two centers of power today, it would be better for civil society, even if the two camps are similar in aims," says Roginsky, "because it would provide a space for political influence and activism." Currently, observers agree there is essentially no political life in the country that impacts the state other than what is masterminded from above. Politics has become institutionalized.

"There is 100 percent control of the political sphere. Nothing unexpected can happen without the Kremlin pulling the puppet strings," says Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center. She is skeptical that Medvedev's election holds any promise for the development of civil society and true political opposition in Russia. While the new president is viewed as a possible reformer, both because of his non-KGB background and his rhetoric since taking power, Putin still has the capacity to limit Medvedev's scope of action. There is little room for autonomy in his actions given Putin's huge power base in the government. "Putin has been the only decision-maker, with the authority of a monarch. It will be years before Medvedev develops his own power base that could provide a check on that power," Lipman predicts.

The government has sidelined political opposition in Russia today despite its tolerance of free speech to a great degree. The Kremlin won't target everyone who dares defy the system in speech– as long as it feels unthreatened by the dissent. And while the traditional Russian "kitchen conversations" of the past – the private space where Russians were allowed to discuss their views openly – have now expanded to a much larger, more public place, none of it has much if any impact on politics.

An annual, highly critical and well-attended international conference on democracy and Russian politics is held in a big Moscow hotel – with no political results. A recent newspaper expose of money being siphoned off by corrupt officials in the banking community even named names – yet elicited no reaction by the government. On the plus side, the editor of the paper wasn't thrown in jail – yet no criminal investigation was launched. This results in a total marginalization of any opposition voices.

A booming Russian economy, propped up by oil money, has provided the cover for the Putin drive to centralize political control. Putin routinely compares the wealth-soaked country of today unfavorably with what he calls the "terrible 1990s" – the Yeltsin era of political and economic instability– contending that people suffered under Yeltsin's brand of democracy. Putin has trumpeted his successes, arguing that Russia can succeed without openness, without democracy – can become rich without freedom. "This was democracy in the 1990s, and it was bad for you, Putin has implied," says Yuri Dzhibladze of the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights. "Putin has skillfully manipulated the court of public opinion." Indeed, Russians now live better and have asserted themselves on the global scene: two powerful arguments that have led to Putin's popularity.

These are persuasive claims for a populace that is living better today than ever, even if the economy rides on the strength of global oil prices. In Moscow it is clear that money is everywhere and corruption is not far behind. Economists agree Russia faces serious challenges and needs to modernize. Yet everyone is risk averse. "The temptation to muddle along is extremely strong," notes Roginsky. Not yet faced with the crisis confronted by Gorbachev in the waning years of the Soviet era, Russia's government erratically responds to today's problems one by one. "When a problem flares up, the government throws a few pennies at it. It's like emergency medical care," says Roginsky. Russia was never as rich as it is today.

Yet as the disparity between the very rich and the very poor grows ever wider, it could lead to a social cataclysm, particularly if oil prices drop. While everyone lives a bit better ("except the NGO community," Roginsky says wryly) much of society is unhappy. Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, the 81-year old veteran of the human rights movement, agreed. "Big business hates Putin for what he did to Mikhail Khodorkovsky," the oil tycoon who crossed a line into political opposition and was subsequently targeted and imprisoned. "The military hate him because he has ruined the army." They are not alone: Journalists remember life without censorship during the Yeltsin era. Pensioners resent that their stipends buy less today. Judges have seen their autonomy restricted. Dissatisfaction is widespread, if muted.

Why is this opposition not expressed at the ballot box? Aside from the overt political manipulation of the electoral system resulting in a lopsided result (people were pressured at factories, colleges, businesses and hospitals, for example, to fill out their ballots in front of bosses, just as in Soviet days), people have supported Putin, his protйgй Medvedev and their policies "only because they know nothing else," Alexeyeva asserts. "They have traded political freedoms for a bit more bread and a calmer life."

Within this context, it is difficult for the small but active human rights community to have their voices be heard – and for their work to make an impact. "The public doesn't support civil society, doesn't take human rights and the rule of law seriously," Dzhibladze says. The brightest hope today is Medvedev's talk that reforming the judicial system is a priority. Today, corruption up and down the judiciary threatens the stability of the country. Political bosses still run the show locally. While critics are skeptical of how far Medvedev can go, there is a demand from the business community and parts of the government to make the courts more accountable – and truly independent. Bureaucrats and businesses want to protect themselves from Khodorkovsky's fate by ensuring an autonomous judiciary. They also want to ensure that they don't lose their ill-gotten financial gains.

The Carnegie Center's Lipman concludes that without a strong civil sector in Russia, all talk of a thaw – or real change – will be moot. "Without public activism, all we can hope for is mercy from the bosses. They will throw us something, and we will be grateful." Until the society forms coalitions that are willing to take risks and to challenge the power structure step by step, change will be slow. Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, having experienced more ups and downs than many of her colleagues, remains optimistic: "In 10-15 years, Russia will be a normal country – in its own way."

Open Rebellion in Ingushetia

Reuters reports:

More than 80,000 people have signed a petition in the Russian republic of Ingushetia calling on the authorities to sack the Kremlin-backed president and reappoint a previous leader, activists said on Monday.

Assassinations, bomb attacks and kidnaps have intensified in Ingushetia, a small Muslim republic with less than 500,000 people which borders Chechnya where Russian forces fought two wars against rebels since 1994.

The petition is the latest protest against Murat Zyazikov, who became president in 2002.

"Of course people were afraid to fill out the petition because they were worried about being picked up by the security services and beaten," an opposition activists who called himself Bekkhan said.

"But when we explained to them that this was necessary for the republic, in most cases they signed the petition."

Last week the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said groups of men attacked and kidnapped opposition activists with impunity in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, where Russian forces fought two wars against rebels since 1994.

Russian forces have been trying to quash the growing wave of violence in Ingushetia by tripling the number of soldiers in the republic but residents have grown increasingly frustrated and protested against the authorities.

Bekkhan, the opposition activist, said signatures had been collected over the last six months and the petition called for former president Ruslan Aushev to replace Zyazikov who retains public support of the Russian government.

Aushev was a high ranking army commander who received the Soviet Union's top award -- the Hero of the Soviet Union -- and who retains a high degree of respect from people in Ingushetia.

He resigned as Ingushetia's president in 2001 amid differences with the Kremlin. In 2004 the Kremlin abolished directly elected regional leaders.

"Aushev is a hero of the Soviet Union, not by his words but by his deeds," a resident of Nazran, Ingushetia's biggest town, called Islam who signed the petition, said.

A spokesman at Zyazikov's press office declined to comment on the petition.

Monday, August 04, 2008

August 4, 2008 -- Contents


(1) Another Original LR Translation: Essel on Russia by the Numbers

(2) EDITORIAL: The Trouble with Vladimir

(3) Putin's "Divide and Conquer" Strategy for Europe

(4) The Dance of the Mad Swans

(5) A Neo-Soviet Ghetto Rises in Russia

(6) Annals of a Russian Sports Bloodbath

NOTE: Another stunning piece of work by Dave Essel (#1) opens another window into real life in Russia, and a second translation, by Robert Amsterdam's translator at our request, is republished here as well (# 5). We continue to open doors to understanding the real Russia as nobody else in the world. As we say in our sidebar: "You don't understand the real Russia unless you read La Russophobe."

Another Original LR Translation: Essel on Russia by the Numbers

"So the total number of people who produce nothing and get their wages out of the [Russian] state budget or from wealthy fellow-citizens is 109,397,600."
Russia by the Numbers

by Dave Essel

The R&F Agency, “established 1989”, claims on its website that it is the oldest immigration consultancy service in post-Soviet Russia. It offers legal and other advice on a whole range of immigration/emigration subjects, from e.g. how to apply for Canadian residence permits to where best in the West to buy housing and businesses. R&F’s home page goes on to say that “the main thing that distinguishes us from other companies is the asymmetricality of our approach to problem-solving and our non-traditional ways with typical situations.” And they’re not lying: for the sake of customer-entertainment, the site contains a couple of pages of general interest information. And these stun with their asymmetricality and an approach that is far from the traditional Russian one.

Here, to follow my short translation regarding Russia's performance ratings compared to other nations in LR's 1 August issue, is a longer piece of ‘sad fun’ published on the site. Whilst every fact may not be absolutely correct, as whole it presents a totally true and terrifying picture of the reality of Russia today. It is an interesting example of the illustrative power of concatenating statistics. To mangle metaphors to the max, read this and you will no longer wonder why Pooty and his Teddy Bear are turning blind eyes left, right and center and are keeping their heads firmly buried in the sand like ostriches

Russia: Statistics, Facts, Comments & Predictions

Before selling your dacha, car, and apartment, then packing your bags and emigrating to somewhere, it is highly advisable to find out about the place to which you are proposing to go, to enquire about how life is lived there from sources others that guide books and so on. The best thing to do is to speak with someone you know who has already been there and who knows all the little things about life in your proposed new country of residence.

Now let’s think about Russia in the same way and see what we can find.

Our consultant (a person from a very serious and powerful organisation) [TN: it could well be the person behind this blog] provided us with what to our mind is a load of very interesting statistics. We therefore consider it to be a good and useful thing to share this information with those of you who might be thinking of taking up Russian citizenship and residence – forewarned is fore-armed.

Russia covers an area of 17,075,400 square kilometres, over 45% of which are North of the Arctic Circle, where permafrost and polar nights reign. Russia’s frontiers run to 58,222 kilometres in length. The country has 157,895 towns and villages; of these 30,000 do not have a telephone service and 39,000 actually have no inhabitants. Most of these ghost town and villages are located in the Central Federal Region, the North-West, the Far North, Siberia, and the Far East.

Russia’s population, according to the latest figures available, is 132,000,000 people. Of these 74% (97,680,000) live in towns and town/villages. This breaks down further as follows (counting temporary registrations but not illegal migrants):

Moscow – 10,969,000
Moscow Region – 7,900,000
St. Petersburg – 6,897,000
Leningrad Region – 3,350,000

The following towns have populations of a 1 million or so:

Novosibirsk – 1,391,900
Yekaterinburg – 1,315,100
Nizhny Novgorod – 1,278,300
Samara – 1,139,000
Omsk – 1,134,800
Kazan – 1,116,000
Chelyabinsk – 1,091,500
Rostov-on-Don – 1,051,600
Ufa – 1,022,600
Perm – 990,200
Volgograd – 986,400.
Out of the total population:

• 81,840,000 (62) are people of pensionable age or approaching it;
• 1,736,000 are servicemen of all kinds (career military and national servicemen) and employees of military-related enterprises and scientific institutes (this figure includes 1,686 generals and admirals);
• 2,140,000 are serving members of the FSB, FSO, FPS, FAPSI, SVR, FMS, etc etc [TN: Federal Security Service (=KGB), Federal Protection Service, Federal Frontier Service, Federal Agency for Government Communications, Foreign Intelligence Service, Federal Migration Service);
• 2,270,000 are serving members of the Ministry for Emergency Situations, Ministry of the Interior [TN: police], Internal Armed Forces, Ministry of Justice, Narcotics Control, and State Prosecutor’s Office;
• 1,957,000 are employed in the customs, tax, sanitary and other inspections services;
• 1,985,000 are civil servants employed by federal ministries and organisations;
• 1,870,000 are civil servants in various authorities and local representation;
• 1,741,000 are civil servants in various licensing, inspection and registration bodies;
• 2,439,000 are clerks in pension, social service, state insurance and other offices;
• 797,000 are employed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and government representations abroad (UN, UNESCO etc) • 692,000 are priests and others involved in the maintenace of religious buildings and so on;
• 2,357,000 work as public notaries, in legal services, as lawyers, or are in prison;
• 1,775,600 work as security guards, detectives etc in private security agencies;
• 5,780,000 are unemployed (Rosstat figure).

So the total number of people who produce nothing and get their wages out of the state budget or from wealthy fellow-citizens is 109,397,600.

That leaves 22,602,400 to do everything else. That’s the lot of us and includes all small and middle-sized business, farmers, one-man businesses, and market traders. By the way, this number also includes babies, schoolchildren, students, housewives, homeless tramps, refugees, etc etc.

This also partly explains why Russia’s GNP is not much greater than that of Los Angeles county in the USA.

Only 20% of people in Russia think that the situation is calm and wealthy. Over half the country’s citizens (51%) believe that Russia is going down the wrong road and only 38% of respondents say the believe the country is going in the right direction. 18% of respondents say that they are well-off, 54% think they are badly-off but bearably so, 24% consider their situation to be “no longer tolerable”. 14% hope that their material situation will improve in the future. 22% think that it will get worse. 24% are prepared to take part in mass protests. 19% are prepared to go on strike. 64% of respondents do not have a good opinion of what the government is doing.

The majority of Russians in their daily lives use proverbs, sayings, and popular expressions; 66% use quotes from books, films and song lyrics; 61% use obscene language.

32% of Russians believe that a person’s fate can be affected by magic; 58% do not believe in magic or sorcery; 10% don’t know. Belief and disbelief in magic is distributed more or less evenly in both towns and rural areas. Only in Moscow do 74% of those questioned not believe in any occult sciences.

Over 40% of goods sold in Moscow are adulterated. The most frequently adulterated goods are vegetable oils and butter, condensed milk, tea, coffee, mineral water, bully beef, honey, and cakes. Topping the list we find: cottage cheese and products thereof, 40-45% of which do not conform to regulations; smetana (33.3%); kebabs (40%); salads (20%); and cakes (18%). These days, nearly 70% of prepared foods are made only to conform to the TU (technical conditions [TN: basic sanitary etc regulations] and not to GOST (actual defined state standards).

In Russia the price of vegetable oil has risen five times more than than the average European rise. Vegetables prices have risen 10 times more than in Europe. Amongst EU countries, the biggest food prices rises in April to May were to be found in Hungary – 2.4%; Slovenia – 1.7%; Finland – 1.3%. In Bulgaria and Greece prices actually went down – by 0.6% and 0.4% respectively.

Moscow has 257 public lavatories, St. Petersburg has 275. That’s one public lavatory for each 22,000 inhabitants, not counting tourists. And they all close at 7 p.m. (Ancient Rome had 144 public lavatories.)
The number of lifts (elevators) that have served beyond their designed safe service time is 36% in Moscow and 49% in St. Petersburg.

Municipal open-air spaces for overnight parking cost 4600 roubles a month – for 2x5 metres of bare tarmac.
Rent on a 60.5 square metre (650 sq.ft) government housing project apartment with three inhabitants is 1800 roubles a month including utilities (heating, hot & cold water, waste, gas, entryphone, TV antenna, garbage collection, stairwell cleaning, and yard maintenance. The basic shopping basket on consumer goods in Russia consists of 407 goods and services. In England it is 650.

According to Agent 002 Realtor Agency, the cost of 1 square metre in an élite apartment in Moscow now exceeds $109,000. The most expensive residences are now to be found on Zachatyevsky, Korobeinikov, Chisty, and Butikovsky Lanes (by Kropotkinskaya Metro station). Apartments cost between $40,000 and $80000 near the Park Kultury, Polyanka, Arbatskaya, and Smolenskaya Metro stations. The most expensive apartment currently on offer is priced at over $22 million. The most expensive apartment on offer in the SW District is priced at $8.19 million and in the W District at $7.42 million.

Russia today has 87 billionaires with a combined capital of $471.4 billion.

The average pension in Russia is 3000 roubles per month. It costs 6800 roubles per month to keep one person in a strict régime labour camp.

According to RBK [RosbiznesKonsulting] Magazine (Issue 11, 2007, p42) the national and ethnic makeup of Moscow is as follows:

Russian 31%
Azerbaizhanian 14%
Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash 10%
Ukrainians 8%
Armenians 5%
Tadzhiks, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kirghyz 5%
Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese 5%
Chechens, Daghestani, Ingush 4%
Byelorussians 3%
Georgians 3%
Moldavians 3%
Gypsies 3%
Jews 2%
Others 4%

Over 11 million people live in Moscow and of these Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians together make up 4,260,000. In Russia’s capital the Slavs are an ethnic minority! [TN: here and elsewhere one cannot help but be struck by the unconscious Russian chauvinism of some thoughts.]

Just over 60 million roubles of state funding was allocated to dealing with problems of homeless and unsupervised juveniles.

Moscow’s budget include 87 million roubles a year for the sterilisation of feral animals. That worked out at 13,000 roubles per sterilisation. And 27 million more roubles than was spent on homeless children. Over 30,000 people get bitten by dogs in Moscow every year. In Kazan, in just one week 3 people were killed by wild dogs.

In Moscow, hundreds of people suffer from hypothermia every year and 25% of them die.

Moscow has recently closed down a chain of Chinese restaurants which was selling as lamb dishes that actually were made of feral dogs. The Chinese cooks slaughtered the dogs right in the restaurant kitchens and served the dishes as specialities to their fellow-citizens and as lamb to Russians. They didn’t waste much either; the dogs’ intestines were used to prepare soup base. The figures for 2004 show over 4 million Chinese living in Russia.

Russia has over 20,000,000 people professing Islam as their religion, who officially consider themselves Moslems. At the same time, the number of genuine Russian Orthodox is no more than 6,000,000 (4.5%). The number of Moslems in Russia has risen by over 40% in the last 15 years. There are more Azerbaizhanians in Moscow than there are in Baku (and more Tatars than there are in Kazan). By the middle of this century one in four Russian citizens will be a Moslem. Moslem leaders are demanding that Russian Orthodox symbols be removed from the state coat of arms. If the numbers of Moslems continues to grow at today’s rate, the Moslem community will soon be raising the question of having a Moslem vice-president. It was maybe with this situation in mind that Vladimir Putin asked the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to accept Russia in its ranks.

In 2007 Russia allocated 800 million roubles of state funding for the development of Islam in the country, we are told by Alexei Grishin, an advisor to the Presidential Administration’s department of internal policy-making. “Cooperation between the state and Moslem organisations is managed at many levels and in a number of directions”, he commented. The main trend would appear to be support for Islamic education, for which the government allocated 400 million roubles last year.

Only 8% of citizens attend Russian Orthodox services at least once a month. 18% attend once a year. 15% less frequently than that. 59% never go to church. 2% make confession once a month or more; 6% a few times a year; 10% once a year or less frequently. 21% did not understand the question.

According to spokespeople for the National Organisation of Russian Moslems, each Friday at least three Russians convert to Islam in St. Petersburg. Most of these converts are of student age. A second mosque will open in St. Petersburg in November, not far from the Pionerskaya Metro station. The old mosque by Gorkovsky Metro station has room for 7,000 worshippers but that is not enough to accommodate all those wishing to worship the Almighty.

Number of officially registered:

Disabled over 12,000,000
Alcoholics over 4,580,000
Drug addicts over 1,870,000
Psychologically ill 978000
Tubercular approx 570,000
Hypertensives over 22,400,000

Over 30 people per day join the ranks of the HIV+ in St. Petersburg. Analysts forecast that there will be over 8 million HIV+ in Russia by 2010.

Russia occupies the #2 place in the world for the distribution of counterfeit or adulterated medicines. 92% of medicines sold through drugstores are counterfeit or have passed their sell-by date. The usual thing is for insufficient quantities of the active ingredient to be added to the medication or for there to be none at all – placebos containing perhaps some honey and starch. Sales of counterfeit medication is valued at 300 million Euro.

Roszdravnadzor [the public health inspectorate] has begun drafting a law on medications permitting clinical trials of medicines using children. According to current law, research into the effects of medical preparations using minors is not permitted.

In 2007, Russia’s international rating from Transparency International for corruption went down sharply. Last year, Russia was placed 126th but this year it is 143rd, on a level with Gambia, Indonesia, and Togo. The World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group Doing Business’ 2008 rating places Russia 106th, just above Tadzhikistan. In that organisation’s section on “licensing as a way of promoting business”, Russia earns itself 177th place out of 178, just one step above Eritrea.

The real volume of corruption in Russia is greater than the country’s economic growth. And it won’t get any better since the law enforcement sector was increased in size by 2% in 2006, the law courts segment by 3.8%, and enforcement by 20.4%. The Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Service increased in size by 176% and now employs 20,469 people. The number of employees of the RF Prosecutor’s Office increased by 2,000. Rosstat’s [the Statistics’ Office] roster grew by 1.4% and now employs 23,796 people.

At 1 January 2008 Russia’s foreign debt was up by 38.7% over the previous year and stood at $430.9 billion. Also at 1 January 2008, the RF Stabilisation Fund stood at $156.81 billion [reserves being formed from the oil windfall]. Norway’s State Oil Fund held $220 billion in early 2006.

Between 1993 and 2006 capital outflow from Russia amounted to $190 billion. In 2005, $14.8 billion fled the country; in 2002 ‘only’ $9.2 billion did so. Capital outflow for the first six months of 2007 amounted, according to preliminary data, to $22.8 billion. In October 2007 the banks alone moved $2.6 billion of foreign currency out of Russia, a little over twice as much as the previous month. Cash transfers out of the country in October 2007 were $1 billion.

Retail vodka sales in 2006 were 2.12 billion litres – 80% more than the total legal production of all vodka distilleries in the country (1.35 billion litres). Excise tax on ethyl alcohol was paid on only 84.6% of the alcohol produced.

Moscow has just opened it first sobering-up station for underage alcoholics – the Children’s Narcological Dispensary with the 12th Narcological Clinic.

In early 2006, the public opinion researcher Globescan questioned 39,435 people in 33 countries. Their replies produced a list of the least popular countries in the world, with Iran, the USA, and Russia at its top. Around the world, Russia is least popular in Finland (65% negative feelings), France (62%), Poland (56%), Great Britain (50%), and South Korea (48%). Russia enjoyed the most popularity in Nigeria (55% positive).

In 2004, every 15th house sold for over £1 million in London went to a Russia. According to data from estate agents Knight, Frank, in 2003 Russians spent more than $93 million on homes in England. This went up to £396 million in 2004. In 2006, Russians spent £799 million. This means that Russians hgave so far spent £2,2 billion on property in the UK (the total value of the town of Merthyr Tydfil in Wales (pop. 55,000). Properties value at under £1 million were not included in this calculation.
Civil servants’ privileges include the use of 400,000 automobiles in a fleet worth about 1.5 billion pounds sterling.

By the end of 2006, local government employees (excluding law enforcement etc) numbered 1.58 million, up 7.9% over 2005. St. Petersburg civil servants earn more (average 34,722 roubles) than their Moscow counterparts (average 30,600 roubles).

An audit by the Counting Office [~the Treasury] found that as at 29 December 2003 the register of federal property abroad was only 3% complete. The value of that 3% was over $21 million. Not accounted for are an estimated $2.6 billion’s worth of property belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Transport, Chambers of Commerce and other organisations.

Russia has over 160 control bodies with the right to enter your property to conduct checks. Some of these (the Prosecutor’s Office, the FSB, the MVD, Customs) have the. right to draw up charges against you, decide if a crime is suispected, and carry out arrests.

In 2003, the Qualifications College discharged 68 judges from their posts and brought disciplinary charges against another 220. In 2004, 4 federal judges were sentence to actual prison terms of considerable length.

In Russia, the yearly total of bribes paid to court officials amounts to $210 million. Russia is #43 in a list of corrupt legal systems, putting it on a level with Venezuela, Chile, Congo, Morocco, and Senegal. The average size of bribe paid to court officials in 9,750 roubles.

The country’s judges rate 5th in a rating of the most corrupt branches of government, coming after higher education, ‘free’ medical assistance, call-up, and housing allocation. Russia’s citizens spend in the order of $3 billion a year on bribes.

Russia has an official list of a little over 1000 big-time criminals [TN: tellingly called ‘authorities’ in Russian!]. Of these some 200 consider themselves to be vory v zakone [lit. ‘thieves-in-law’, the criminal crème de la crème – the lawmakers of Russia’s criminal underworld]. The majority of vory v zakone are to be found in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Moscow, Leningrad and Tver Districts, and in the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions.

According to the Department of Personal Security of the State Department of Internal Affairs of St. Petersburg, the number of criminal charges brought against law enforcement officers has risen nine-fold since 2004. About 35% of the crimes committed by policemen are common-or-garden crimes such as robberies.

80% of officers in the Russian army frankly and openly admit to not feeling loyalty to the state. This should come as no surprise since 99% of the officers in the Russian Armed Forces come from children’s homes and never had a home of their own. This is the only logical explanation for the battle for officers’ housing being waged on all fronts by the Ministry of Defence since way back in Soviet times. It also explains the passion with which Russian generals (of whom the Ministry of Defence has over 1,500) carry on building personal villas (modestly denominated ‘dachas’). The actual number of soldiers doing their compulsory military service who are engaged in this building work is the army’s main military secret. Over 2,000 officers with criminal records continue to serve in the Russian armed forces. By 2015 Moslems will make up a majority of the soldiers and officers in the Russian army. The land holdings of the Russian military have an area greater than that of Austria and the Czech Republic combined, much of it prime land within city limits.

No new equipment was delivered to the Air Defence Force between 1994 and 2007. The Air Defence Force has for a long time been not much more than a shadow of its former self, providing protection to only a very few important potential targets. The cover it provides is full of holes, the largest being everything between Khabarovsk and Irkutsk (2,200 kms as the crow flies or 3,400 kms if the winding of the frontier is taken into account). Not even all the Strategic Missile Force’s divisions enjoy cover from the Air Defence Force, in particular the 7th, 14th, 28th, 35th, and 54th divisions. Such centres of Russian military-industrial production as Perm, Izhevsk, Vladimir, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Tula, and Ulyanovsk do not have full air defence cover.

The Russian Navy has been reduced in size by 60% over the last 10 years. Of 62 nuclear submarines, 12 remain. Of 32 warships, 5 remain. Of 17 escorts only 9 remain and of these only 3 are in active service. As at November 2007, the navy has:

Aircraft carrier 1
Heavy missile craft 2 (1 in dry-dock)
Missile carriers 4
Destroyers 9 (4 in dry-dock)
Large submarine hunters 9
Small submarine hunters 31
Small missile craft 14
Minesweepers 51
Large landing craft 20
Small landing craft 21
Diesel submarines 15
Deep diving craft 10

Look at it this way: that’s more than enough to protect our oil pipelines.

Minister of Transport Igor Levitin supported a proposal by St. Petersburg city councillors to convert the Baltiisky Zavod Naval Works, the leading naval shipyard in NW Russia, into a pleasure port for cruise boats and yachts. The works occupy 64 hectares (158 acres) which it is proposed to turn into a business district.

Russia was unable to fulfil a Chinese order for 38 IL-76 cargo planes and IL-78 airborne refuelling craft and the contract has been put into abeyance. Earlier this year, Algeria returned a delivery of MiG-29 fighters bought from Russia on the grounds of poor quality. Russia’s latest fighter, the Su-35, is nothing more than an upgrade of a 20-year-old design and to compare it in terms of speed and stealth with the US F-22 Raptor is less than sensible.

In 2005, embezzlement to the tune of 19 billion roubles was found in military spending alone. Starting 2006, such information has been classified secret, just in case.

Military production plants managers sometimes refuse production contracts for the military because the required kickbacks mean the contracts have to be filled at a loss.

2,464 servicemen died as a result of crimes and accidents in the Russian Army last year. Of these, 469 were suicides. Data on physical harm done to soldiers undergoing military service in hazing incidents are not made public by the military. It’s as easy as pie to “serve your way to heaven” in the Russian army.

The Ministry of Defence plans to increase the pensionable age for senior officers. The Vice-Minister, General Nikolai Pankov, stated that lieutenant-colonels will no longer be able to retire at 45 but at 50, full colonels at 55, and generals at 60.

Military call-up continues to cost parents plenty. A price list of sorts actually exists: a leave of absence – 1-2,000 roubles; visitor entry to the unit – 50 roubles; also 500-800 roubles per month protection money to stop seniors from hazing you. Everyone – seniors, sergeants and officers – accepts the payments. As a result, parents are faced with a difficult choice: pay a bribe of $5,000 to buy your son out of the army, or spend over $10,000 during his 2-year stint and still risk having him hurt or made sick.

According to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, between August 1999 and June 2007, in Chechnya alone, no fewer than 18,750 servicemen were killed. The number of wounded and crippled is easily calculated using the army’s standard rule of 1:5. Note additionally that the numbers of insurgents (by the way, also citizens of Russia) killed in the course of operation was another 16,900. And that’s killed alone.

Russia has written off Libya's debt of $4.5 billion. Prior to that, it had already written off Afghanistan’s debt of $11.6 billion and Iraq’s of $12 billion. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani welcomed the move.

Russia has handed over to China parts of its island territories on the Amur river. Sceptics notwithstanding, this is said to have been done voluntarily with no loss of territory for Russia. On the contrary, the reasons for this action were pragmatic and in Moscow’s long-term interest. (Wording from a Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release).

According to the Central Bank of Russia, in the first 2 months of 2008, credits issued amounted to 15.449 trillion roubles. Furthermore, this was on a rising wave since credit given in February were 8.3% higher than in January. Problem debt is also on the rise. In the first three months of the year, repayment defaults rose by 11 billion roubles for a total of 107.4 billion.

Capital flight was also notable, staring in January, when $9 billion left the country. Back then, it was put down to foreigners divesting themselves of investments because the stock market was fluctuating violently. However, by February, things really got going and the total for the two months reached $20 billion. As the Ministry of Finance admits, this amount is more than after the default of 1998 when only the very lazy did not get their money out of the country.

Despite the fact that banks deposits earn at best 12% p.a., 20% of the population keeps its money in banks. 16% keep their money under their mattresses and over 60% have no savings to keep at all. Average monthly income per person in February this year was 8,092 roubles ($344).

But let’s go back to the question of population. Russia has given up on demographic matters. Not that it’s possible to do a detailed analysis of the demographic situation and get at the reasons for the low birth rate: since 1997 to date, data has not been gathered in any meaningful way. The birth rate has gone down in 79 Russian regions and the death rate has gone up in 60. There are 8 million abortions a year in Russia, 1.5% of them late-stage ones. 90,000! – A whole townfull of children killed for money.

The average life span of a Russian male is 59 years. Women survive to 72. Back in 2001, Russia was placed 100th in the longevity tables, already hopelessly behind dozens of developed countries: Russian men then died 15-19 years earlier than their counterparts and women 7-12 earlier. Now we have got ourselves a prize position at #122, ranking along with Guyana and North Korea. Not a great surprise really when the average salary is 5,522 roubles a month. The official minimum subsistence level is 2,493 roubles (1,747 for pensioner, 2,259 for children). 42,200,000 Russians earn less than this.

According to Rosstat, the cost of the minimal food basket in the capital is 1,819.6 roubles (in St. Petersburg it’s 1,647.2). The cheapest place to live is Tatarstan and Chuvashya where the same basket costs 1,277.8 roubles and 1,295.7 roubles respectively. The most expensive is Chukotka – 4,990.1 roubles.

Minister of Regional Development Vldimir Yakovlev thinks that migration and demographic matters are now the number one issue for the country. “There will soon be no one left to work in the country. Up to 60% of Russians are old people, children, and invalids. Of the 20 million people of working age, about 1 million are in prison camps for various crimes, 4 million are serving in the MVD, MChS and FSB systems. Another 4 million are chronic alcoholics with a million drug addicts on top of that,” he stated. The Minister then went on to add that male mortality in Russia was 4 times higher than female. “Loss of healthy men is on a scale similar to the USSR’s losses during WWII,” says Yakovlev.

The number of poor in Russia was down by early 2006 to ‘just’ 27,456,000 or 20.8% of the population. However the gap between rich and poor remains as great as ever, standing at 17:1 then as against 15:1 in 2005. For every 1,000 Russians of working age, there are over 600 of non-working age.

About 2 million children aged up to 14 are beaten by their parents, many to death. 50,000 children run away from home every year to escape domestic violence. 7,000 become victims of sexual crimes. Furthermore, over 2 million children are officially registered as orphans. In St. Petersburg 3,000 more orphans join their fellows every year.

The number of sex crimes against minors has gone up 25-fold. 129 such crimes were registered in 2003, over 3,000 in 2007. In 2007, 2,500 minors were killed and acts of violence committed against a further 70,500. The Russian Prosecutor’s Office stated than 161,00 crimes were committed against children in 2007 and that 2,500 children died as a result.

According to the Rosgosstrakh insurance agency, 160,000 people in Russia have incomes of over $1 million and 440,000 families earn more than $100,000.

According to the Ministry of Social Development, “180,000 people die yearly in Russia from the effects of harmful and dangerous manufacturing conditions” and over 200,00 suffer work-related injuries. 10,000 cases of work-related illnesses are registered each year and 14,000 people become invalids. Russia’s economic losses as a result of unhealthy working conditions costs the country the equivalent of 4% of GNP.

5 people die every minute in Russia, 3 are born. The death rate is 1.8 times that of the birth rate and in some regions 2-3 times.

Every year Russia loses the equivalent of the population of the Pskov district (or of the Karelian Republic or a large town like Krasnodar). Over the last 10 years, the population of the Far East has gone down 40% and of the Far North by 60%. In Siberia, 11,000 villages and 290 towns have disappeared. Deaths from cardiovascular diseases carry off in excess of 1,400,000 a year. Smoking kills 270,000 a year. Nearly 70% of men and over 30% of women smoke. 26,000 children fail to reach the age of 10 every year in Russia. 50 babies die at birth every day, 70% of them in maternity hospitals.

The ambulance stations in Ulyanovsk verge on the catastrophic: they are fuelled on credit and 70% of the vehicles an in an unfit state. In Omsk, 50-60 people a month die because of the late arrival of ambulances. Call for an ambulance in Vladimir and you will be told: “We don’t go out for people under 70.”

Roszdrav [public health service] is planning to release 750,000 socially dangerous psychiatric patients for “treatment in the community”. The police are preparing for extra work.

The State Duma is proposing to abolish some sections of the criminal law relating to the legal responsibility of doctors for negligence. Medical negligence causes 50,000 deaths a year.

Russia is getting older: the average age of the population is 37.7 years. The number of children under 16 has dropped sharply. The average Russian family consists of 2-3 people. It’s no use hoping for any sort of population growth given 8 million abortions a year even if there is a birth rate of sorts – all of 0.3% (402,000). However, in the whole of Russia excepting Daghestan and Ingushetia, the birth rate is lower than the natural replacement rate.

The country loses 1 million potential mothers every five years as they cease to be of birth-bearing age. There are twice as many abortions as births. According to the World Health organisation, we have 8 times as many abortions as the USA, 10 times as many as France and England, 20 times as many as the Netherlands. Badly performed abortions leave 20% of patients no longer being able to give birth. The average Russian woman has 2.1 abortions. 170,000 first-time pregnancies are terminated every year. 64.2% of all pregnancies are terminated by abortions. In Europe any figure above 25% is considered a catastrophe. One in five abortions are performed on minors. The number of Russian women unable to bear a child grows by 200-250,000 per year.

In Russia 30% of children are born out of wedlock. Ten years ago it was 14.6%. An interesting detail: in Russia there are 65,000 more married women than there are married men.

If UN-recorded growth and reduction rates continue the present trend, Yemen’s population will be larger than Russia’s by the middle of the 21st century.

On the other hand, if Russia continues its current raw-materials-based road to development, it will simply not need a population of than 50-60 million.

However, Russia’s persistently falling population is not just the result of “natural wastage”, as officials so delicately put it.

According to the State Prosecutor’s Office, the real level of crime in Russia is 3 times higher than that given in the statistics. In 2004, 1,000,246 crimes, including 5,635 murders, were unsolved. Over 150,000 people a year lose their lives as the result of crime (official MVD statistic).

Road accidents, of which there were 189,000 last year in Russia, lead to 35,000 deaths a year and a further 215,000 injured. Financial losses due to road accidents amounted to 243 billion roubles. All the above are rising at a rate of 16% a year.

The new MVD [police] uniform costs 34,000 roubles (~$1,500), twice as much as the current one. Instead of being green, the cloth of the new one is blue. The Trud sewing factory in St. Petersburg (proprietor: Taimuraz Bolloyev, the Chechen ex-owner of the Baltika Brewing Co.) has the contract. One third of the MVD’s force is to get the new uniforms – 870,000 people. This contract is worth 29,580,000,000 roubles. It would cost the same to give 10 million pensioners an extra month’s average pension.

Imports account for 95% of the clothing market in Russia.

The cost of 1km of ring road in St. Petersburg is $8.7 million. The cost of 1km of the Scandinavia Highway leading from Helsinki to the Russian border was $3.4 million.

The seizure by terrorists of the Norf-Ost theatre complex on Dubrovka in Moscow lasted 57 hours. All TV channels carried live broadcasts. Of the 912 hostages, 48 died when the the complex was stormed, 73 died in the buses to which they were taken and in hospital as a result of lack of medical care and because they were not given antidotes. 97 medals, included five ‘Hero of Russia’ Stars, were awarded to members of the storming party. One each went to soliders of the special force Vympel and Alfa groups. FSB Generals V. Pronichev and A. Tikhonov also got one. The fifth star was awarded to the chemist who infiltrated the gas into the building. Iosif Kobzon, the popular singer, was awarded the Order of Courage. Fifty Nord-Ost commemorative medals inscribed with the word “In sympathy” were awarded to members of Moscow City Hall.

34% of 500 St. Petersburgers questioned were in favour of single-sex couples being allowed to register their relationship. 17% wanted homosexual relationships to be re-criminalised.

According to the MChS [Ministry for Emergency Situations], there are about 300,000 fires every year in Russia in which about 20,000 people die and over 12,000 are injured. Losses from fires cost on average 17.2 million roubles a day. No fewer than 40,000 people die every year as a resulting of consuming bad alcohol.

Every local government sub-division of the Russian Federation is legally obliged to have financial and material reserves to be used in case of emergencies: to pay for emergency rescue work, house and feed victims, make one-off assistance payments to the needy etc. 83 local governments do have such reserves; only the Tyva Republic and Moscow District do not. Total material reserves are value today at 5.377 billion roubles (85.5% of what they are supposed to be). That averages out at 37.95 roubles per citizen. The highest reserves are held in the Chukotsk AR – 11,722 roubles per person and the lowest in the Ulyanovsk Oblast – 2.62 roubles per person. Only 9 local government subdivisions hold emergency reserves of more than 130 roubles per person. Emergency rescue funds for the whole of Russia amount to 11.37 billion roubles or 79.95 roubles per person. Indexed by region, we see Chukotsk AR with the highest (1368.58 roubles), Moscow (519.51 roubles), and St. Petersburg (273.45 roubles). Saratov oblast keeps aside 0.39 roubles per person.

Russia is the world’s #1 for premeditated murders – 21.5 per 100,000 people. Nearly 75% of premeditated murders, about 80% of acts of hooliganism, and up to 75% of rapes take place between 6pm and midnight. In 2005, the police registered 30,800 murders and attempted murders; 18,000 people died in this way. 14,000 left this world thanks to criminal driving offences, 15,000 died in fires, 20,000 disappeared without trace, and more than 40,000 unidentified bodies were found. Total: 137,800. In 2006, the police recorded 140,000 criminal deaths. You can add 58,000 suicides to this.

St. Petersburg’s crime-solving rate is the lowest in the country – 60%. It gets worse as the crimes get worse: only 23% of serious and especially serious crimes are solved.

Russia comes 3rd in the world for numbers of people in prison – 605 per 100,000. The USA is in front of us with 710. Behind us come Kazakhstan (598) and Byelorussia (505).

There are 58,000 suicides and 40,000 murders in Russia every year. Peak time for such death are in Spring.
Highest risk groups include called-up soldiers (up to 70% of suicides in the army are first-year soldiers doing their military service), prisoners (60% of their suicides take place in the first 3 months of incarceration or just before being let out), retired officers, and pensioners. According to the Social Security Agency, the young also commit suicide a lot – 53 per 100,000.

Between 12 and 14 million foreigners, of whom 8.8 million have no legal status, live within Russia’s borders. Recently this inflow of foreigners has begun to be seen as positive and has become almost a government policy to compensate for depopulation. At the same time, the country has 6 million Russian unemployed and 4 million homeless.

A state programme has been set up to encourage Russians to come back home from both the far and near abroads. Plans were drawn up for 50,000 such arrivals this year, rising to 100,000 and 150,000 in 2008 and 2009. The state allocated 4.5 billion roubles to this programme which also gets extra funding from the regions involved in it. 252.3 million roubles have already been expended: 400 people have been resettled.

In 2004, 49,821 foreigners were expelled from Moscow, twice as many as in 2003. According to the MVD, since the beginning of 2004, foreigners have committed 41,000 crimes – 20.6% more than in 2003. Most of these crimes consist of using false documents (27.6%), burglaries (17%), illegal drug trade (10.5%), to which can be added robberies, extortion, and assaults.

The most criminally active foreigners in Russia are citizens of other CIS countries. They account for 92% of the crimes committed. Particularly outstanding in this respect are Ukrainians (2004 share – 18.9%), Tadzhiks (16.1%), Uzbeks (12.6%). From the far abroad, criminality is most frequent among the Chinese, the Indians, and the Vietnamese.

Over 70% of teenagers in our country suffer from chronic illnesses. According to the Ministry of Health, 16% of Russian schoolchildren have tried drugs at least once, another 8% constitute a high risk group, and 3.1% of schoolchildren are actually addicted. 178 schoolchildren died of drug overdoses last year. As for higher education, 30% of students have used narcotics, 20% constitute a high-risk group, and 4.8% are drug addicts.

Russia is world #1 for number children and teenagers who smoke tobacco. According to the World Health Organisation, 33% of children and teenagers in Russia are regular smokers and many already suffer from smoking-related chronic illnesses by the age of eighteen.

The Unified State Exam (on finishing school) was passed with full marks of 100 by 496 pupils (0.05% of the 830,415 schoolchildren who took it). 2,000,000 Russian teenagers do not know how to read.

Russian literature as a subject is to be dropped as a compulsory subject for the Unified State Exam. School-leavers may still take the test voluntarily. This decision of the government’s is in line with the de-Russification of the Russian Federation and is on a par with the abolition of the “nationality” entry in Russian passports. Of course, one cannot force anyone to take an exam, but making Pushkin and Tolstoy ‘non-compulsory’ is basically to make Russian culture as a whole non-compulsory.

According to UNESCO figures, in 2007 a total of $520 million was spent on bribes in the higher education sector.

In 2003, 13,000 schools were closed because they failed to meet fire safety standards. The Ministry of Emergency Situations demanded this after checking fire safety in 150,000 schools. At greatest risk from fires were village schools, most of which were built right after WWII.

35 million people have left Russia in the last 35 years (Ministry of Foreign Affairs data). In that time, 3 million have immigrated legally, mostly from the republics of the former USSR.

Every year, in accordance with programmes for the acceptance of migrants and refugees from Russia

56,000 people leave for the USA
13,000 people, despite everything, choose Israel
12,000 people go to meet the Australian quota
9,000 smartly choose Germany
7,800 prefer Canada
6,900 marry foreigners and for some reason also leave the country.

Total 103,300 people per year, And of course they are of the most educated, businesslike, and energetic. Bear in mind that these are the official figures of those who registered officially for permanent resident abroad status. Who’s counting those who leave on tourist, student, and work visas and never come back?

Russia holds 3rd place in the world for number of science workers per million population – 3,494. Above us stand only Norway with 4,377 per million and Sweden with 5,186. On the other hand, try counting internet users: Russia only has 42.3 per thousand population while the numbers for Norway and Sweden are 502.6 and 573.1 respectively. Jamaica records 228.4 per thousand.

Experts estimate that about 20,000 Russian scientists are working for EC countries whilst still officially remaining employees of Russian scientific institutions, most of these of the “closed” [TN – i.e secret, military] type.

According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit and IBM, Russia dropped last year from 48th to 55th place in a ranking of IT usage in 64 major economies. Only 5% of Russian families have internet access and the country spends only 1% of GNP on scientific research. Only 15% of families own a PC. 80% of the traffic on Runet [the Russian-language internet] consists of pornography downloads.

Russia heads the blacklist of countries where it is dangerous to fly. Civilian flights in Russia and the CIS end in disasters twice as frequently as in Africa and 13 times more frequently than the world average.

Passenger flights are now one-third as frequent as in the past and Russia now makes 10 times fewer aircraft. Between 2003 and 2005, Russia made 11-18 airfract a year. America’s Boeing and Europe’s Airbus each produce 350-400 aircraft every year.

Russia has 1,443 electric passenger and freight trains. They are between 70% and 100% worn out.

The human development potential index is one of several general indicators used to express a country’s level of development. Russia’s rating on this index is 0.795, giving it 57th place out of 177 and slotting it between Bulgaria and Libya.

America’s Heritage Foundation rates 155 countries for economic freedom. The most free economy in the world is Hong Kong’s, the least – North Korea’s. Estonia gets a surprisingly good rating – 4th place. Russia is #124, ahead of Romania and Cameroon but trailing Indonesia and Rwanda.

Reporters without Frontiers consider the worst place in the world for press freedom to be North Korea, which it lists in 168th place, Turkmenia – 167th, Eritrea – 166th. Byelorussia is in 151st place and Russia 147th.

Gazprom subsidiary GazPromMedia holds controlling shares in the NTV, TNT, NTV+, NTV-World and NTV-America television channels. It also controls the Ekho Moskvy, Radio Troika, Popular Radio 1, Do-Radio, Sport-FM radio channels, Sem Dnei Publishers (magazine publishing), the Tribuna newspaper, NTV-Kino film production company, film theatres, the NTV-Media advertising agency, Radio Next, the Izvestiya newspaper, Kommersant publishing. Additionally it is buying up Komsomolskaya Pravda, Express Gazeta, and is currently negotiating for the purchase of the RuTube website.

Russia’s central TV channels allocate 90% of news and informational airtime to positive news about the government. The independent Institute of Communications Science investigated the media and found that over 80% of Russia’s media are controlled by the state. The Council of the Federation is preparing an amendment to the media laws to make it a legal requirement for all websites which get more than 1000 hits a day to be registered as a mass medium as they will be considered to be such.

World oil production reached its maximum level in 2006, far earlier than many experts had expected. Oil production is set to fall from now on by about 7% a year. The world today produces 81 million barrels a day. Energy Watch Group’s experts believe that production may fall to 29 million bpd by 2030.

It will cease to be cost effective to produce a number of natural resources by 2013-2035, states a press release by the Counting Office of the Russian Federation, following a audit carried out between 2005 and 2007.

According to well-known politician Zbigniew Brzezinski Russia will cease to exist as a state by 2012.

Analysts at the Massachusetts Crisis Centre [TN: can’t find it in Google] reckon that a territory the size of Russia’s cannot be controlled by fewer than 50 million people (a population density of 2.9 persons per square kilometre). Compare this with some other population densities: Germany – 235 persons/; USA 26.97. Considering the data quoted above, Russia could be in this situation in 3-5 years’ time.

A decision has evidently already been taken about the country. Furthermore, it was taken quite some time ago.
And maybe that is why Russia’s politicians find it so easy to promise the electorate absolutely anything at all, so long as it is ten years hence. Consider: at today’s consumption/production rates, oil, uranium , copper, and gold reserves will be exhausted by 2015 and gas in 20-25 years’ time maximum. That will leave forestry. But who will be there to chop down the trees?...

By the way, only 11,700,000 of Russia’s citizens have passports for foreign travel.

Respondents were asked to select from a list what they considered to be the most important items. Alla Pugacheva’s [TN: vile Russian pop lady] wedding was the top choice, Litvinenko’s murder was 2nd, Russia’s sporting failures 3rd. Russians are just not interested in other things.

37% of Russian say their favourite stage artist is stand-up comic Yevgeni Petrosyan.

Afterword from R&F Agency:

So that’s how things stand, dear Russians....

NB: Any differences between figures given above and official statistics are NOT erroneous. It was by no means easy or simple to obtain the more accurate figures. R&F would be grateful for any assistance in establishing true numbers for the quantitative and qualitative composition of the Russian population within the RF and the diasporas.

Suggestion: Become part of your country’s history. Help in the popular re-write of the country’s official statistics!

Wish: We always welcome information that quotes sources.

Warning: Perception of the contents of this publication is a matter for the reader. Any textual analysis will be viewed as an act of personal creativity and will not be commented upon. Appeals to data published by the State Committee for Statistics will be considered as having the same level of probity as data from the Central Electoral Committee [TN: Nice one, R&F! Ram it home!] R&F will accept no complaints of any sort on such grounds.

A Word of Advice: If reading the above has generated negative emotions and feelings of dislike for the authors, these may easily be relieved by watching TV programmes such as Anshlag [a low amateur comedy show], Vremya [the news], Krivoye Zerkalo [Petrosyan’s comedy show], Selski Chas [programme about farm life] and so on for 10 minutes each three times a day.