Monthly Archives: October 2007

Essel on Political Spam

Political Spam – a Russian Novelty?

David Essel

Here’s a novel tactic: three copies of the following nasty little piece of political insinuation and lack of understanding got caught in my spam filter (from spoofed or hijacked sender addresses twila962victoria@basf.com, wun_jou3vittorio@barbourville.com, vilma2tracy@tppa.com, full long headers available). Only mad Russophiles would deem illegal spam activities an appropriate response to political campaigning. Here is my translation:

Subject: The Americans are Preparing a Revolution in Russia

Election day is soon and these elections are fateful. As the day approaches, the citizens of our country are reacting with the utmost sensitivity to political news and are being bombarded with information including the use of dirty PR technologies. Special note should be made of the use of this means to worsen the situation and artificially heighten social tensions.

During the last two months, the most outstanding example of this in view of its level of activity, power, and professionalism [Essel: the compliment is unintended; professionalism is a rude word to a genuine Russophile] has been carried out in the Pushkin District of the Moscow Region. The whole – sadly quite wide – range of dirty information technologies [Essel: what about your own political spamming, is it it all right if you do it?], including the use of rent-a-crowd meetings and pickets that get shown on television, mud-slinging campaigns in federal, regional, and district newspapers, Internet-poisoning [Essel: can I have some please?] and so on and so forth has been deployed.

Strange as it may seem, the source of this information campaign and its funding is located far away from the Pushkin District in foggy London, the place which welcomes those who wish Russia ill.

Well-known Russian émigrés possessing vast shadowy capital have called on the services of a company with a hitherto untainted reputation, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, founded some 25 years ago by David Ogilvy, the advertising business guru. It is strange that a respectable American corporation whose clients include big names such as LG Electronics, Pfizer, Unilever, Sun Microsystems, BP should not consider it beneath it to accept money of dubious provenence and enthusiastically undertake to organise rent-a-crowds, fake hunger-strikes, and sink so low as to engage in direct and fairly evident slander. Maybe the powerful corporations’s excecutives in New York are not aware of what its distant Moscow office is doing or maybe – this cannot be excluded – the American corporation is carrying out a trial before a full-scale incursion into the Russian electoral process in order to organise yet another “colour”, “democratic”, revolution.

An answer to this question must be provided by the organs responsible for our country’s security of state [Essel: let’s get the threats in, nice and slimy]. It can already be said, however, that what we are seeing here is rude interference in Russia’s internal affairs by an American corporation working for the shadowy money of Russian émigré circles in London.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide is the largest international communications money in the WPP Group and was founded over 25 years ago by David Ogilvy, a guru of the advertising business. Its representative offices in over 60 regional markets on every continent and run from headquarters in New York. Its clients include big names such as LG Electronics, Pfizer, Unilever, Sun Microsystems, and others [Essel: this is getting repetitive rather quickly!]. Who would have thought that the Moscow office of this well-known company – SPN Ogilvy PR – would stoop so low as to engage in the dirty tricks often used by dishonest businesses and politicians [Essel: now that’s the pot calling the kettle black!].

In September 2007, a mass media campaign was deployed against Vladimir Bashkirtsev, the head of the Pushkin Municipal District. More surprising still was the use of every possible, and more importantly – expensive, media: federal and local press, television, the internet. Employees of SPN Ogilvy PR pay for the organisation of regular public meetings. A fair amount has already been spent. By a conservative reckoning, organising these activities has already cost several tens of millions of roubles.

It’s only fair to ask why does such a large agency need to make itself this sort of reputation?

It would seem that this electoral PR campaign is biting and that the Russian powers don’t like it one little bit when things don’t go 100% their way. All I can say is “Right on, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide!” but I do think that it’s rather brave of you, given the way things are in Russia today. It’s time to start preparing for raids of your Moscow office by masked SWAT “tax police”, confiscation of your computers, harrassment and arrest of local and maybe expat staff, balcony “falls” in a state of depression brought on by three people on your landing…

Annals of Russia’s Keystone Cops Show

The Moscow Times reports:

It’s a miracle a gunfight didn’t break out.

On Oct. 1, a group of heavily armed officers from the Federal Security Service and the Investigative Committee were waiting at Domodedovo Airport for a senior drug police officer to arrive. They had orders to arrest him. But a group of Federal Drug Control Service officers standing nearby had orders to protect him. A scuffle broke out, but the arresting officers eventually walked away with Alexander Bulbov and two of his colleagues in custody. “We nearly had a fight between two security agencies,” said a former security services officer familiar with the situation. “This time, the agents were able to keep their cool, and there was no gunfight. But if this battle continues, you can be sure they will start shooting at each other. And it would be difficult to stop.”

Bulbov’s arrest has brought to the surface one of the numerous behind-the-scenes battles between two Kremlin clans that form the bedrock of President Vladimir Putin‘s team. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, three former security services agents with intimate knowledge of the power struggle said the infighting had its roots in commerce, not politics or prestige. The fight is primarily over control of smuggling and money-laundering operations, and Putin is merely a referee trying to prevent one group from prevailing over the other, they said. “On top of their suspicious commercial activities, each clan wants to have the president — and the power he enjoys — in its hands. And the only way for Putin to preserve his independence is to keep the balance between the two groups,” the former officer said. “Putin understands that if one group takes over, he will completely fall into the hands of a single group. And he doesn’t want that.”

Such intrigues have long characterized Putin’s Kremlin, but the battles are intensifying with Putin’s repeated promises to step down when his second term ends next year, as required by the Constitution. “Putin has chosen a very dangerous scheme to transfer his power,” said another former officer, a veteran of the KGB and FSB. “He should have changed the Constitution to stay at the helm. This would have been a clear move, and the clans would have been assured stability. We wouldn’t have this public fight going on now.” A lot is at stake, and the clans don’t understand what is going to happen from one day to the next, he said. “They are very nervous.”

Eight days after Bulbov’s arrest, his boss, Federal Drug Control Service chief Viktor Cherkesov, wrote in an article in Kommersant that the security services were embroiled in internecine feuding over power and influence. “You cannot be a trader and a warrior at the same time,” he wrote. “It does not work.” Bulbov stands accused of ordering illegal wiretaps and accepting bribes from private firms in exchange for official protection. But Bulbov said his arrest was revenge by the FSB for his investigation into Tri Kita, a Moscow furniture store accused of evading million of dollars in import duties and smuggling Chinese goods through FSB storage facilities. Media reports have linked senior FSB officials to the business. Bulbov’s wife, Galina Bulbova, said at a news conference Thursday that “very famous surnames were involved” in her husband arrest, Reuters reported. She would not elaborate. The drug control agency had an active role in the Tri Kita investigation, which last year led to the ouster of several high-ranking officials in the FSB and the Prosecutor General’s Office. But the sources interviewed for this article said Bulbov’s arrest was not about revenge. “This is a fight,” the first former security services officer said. “You don’t have good guys and bad guys here. You have a lot of financial interests.”

Kremlin and FSB officials deny any battle is going on between security services. “The fight is only happening in journalists’ imaginations,” an FSB official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “Believe me, no war is going on.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said talk of an ongoing fight was only “fantasy.” “I cannot comment on an issue that does not exist,” Peskov said. “We don’t have clans.”

The Clans

The former security services agents interviewed for this article said two clans were battling to control the Kremlin and take over contraband and money-laundering operations. The first, they said, is led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s powerful deputy chief of staff and includes FSB head Nikolai Patrushev, FSB deputy chief Alexander Bortnikov, Putin aide Viktor Ivanov, and Alexander Bastrykin, head of the newly created Investigative Committee, a semi-autonomous agency under the auspices of the Prosecutor General’s Office The second clan, they said, is led by Cherkesov and Viktor Zolotov, head of the president’s personal security service. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika also belongs to this group, which enjoys good relations with First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, they said. “Both groups are on good terms with Putin and the new prime minister, Viktor Zubkov,” a third former intelligence agent said. “But because of the many commercial interests they have in common, they cannot live together. Each of them dreams about getting rid of the other.”

The fiercest battle is over control of customs, the former security services agents said. Each group controls certain checkpoints where goods imported by firms they protect are given a free pass at the border, saving the firms millions of dollars in duties, they said. The money the firms pay for the protection and service is subsequently laundered through reputable banks, the former agents said. “There were cases when trucks full of Chinese goods were escorted by FSB special forces,” the first former security services officer said. There have also been cases of shootouts between security agencies after one group nabbed smugglers protected by the other group, the former agents said.

The current danger, they said, is that the situation could spin of control.

“We are talking about people with lots of weapons,” the first former security services officer said. “They have a lot of security units working for them. And on top of that, the businesses they protect have their own security services.” FSB and Investigative Committee officers tried to search Bulbov’s dacha days before his arrest but were held off by Federal Drug Control Service officers, the former officer said. “I know that for about five hours they were shooting at each other,” he said. “Can you imagine that? Two special services from the same country shooting at each other like criminals.”

A Balancing Act

Putin’s response to the infighting has been one of mixed signals that the former security services agents say are meant to maintain equilibrium between the clans and prevent either of them from becoming to powerful. One week after Bulbov’s arrest, Putin paid a visit to the FSB headquarters in what some interpreted as a show of support for the agency. But on Oct. 20 he created a new state committee to fight illegal drugs and named Cherkesov as its chief. The move came a day after Putin publicly scolded Cherkesov on the pages of Kommersant for publicly airing dirty laundry. “It is wrong to take these kind of problems to the media,” Putin told Kommersant. “When someone behaves that way and … claims that a war among security agencies [is going on], he should, first of all, be spotless.”

In an attempt to keep the Prosecutor General’s Office in check, Putin backed the creation of the Investigative Committee, which took over investigative powers from prosecutors, though formally it works alongside them. Putin then nominated Bastrykin, an associate of his from St. Petersburg, to head the new committee. “When Bastrykin was appointed as the ‘main inquisitor,’ Chaika was really upset,” said Vladimir Pribylovsky, the head of the Panorama think tank. Chaika, a Cherkesov ally, was appointed to replace Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov in June 2006. Ustinov is close to Patrushev, and his son is married to Sechin’s daughter. Media reports said last year that Cherkesov backed Chaika’s appointment, while Patrushev was irked. “All these moves are intended to balance these two groups,” the third former intelligence agent said. “If one of them takes over, it would spell the end of Putin’s authority.”

Political analysts concur. “Putin doesn’t want any of the sides to win the fight,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the National Strategy Institute. “He needs to have a bit of peace and quiet in the last months of his presidency.” While Putin keeps the clans on their toes with reshuffles, security services bombard Putin with reports of terrorist attacks and plots to assassinate him, the former agents said. On Oct. 10, Patrushev said the FSB had thwarted terrorist attacks at international summits in Sochi, St. Petersburg and Samara. Patrushev said the FSB prevented 300 attacks last year — twice the number the agency prevented in 2005. Security services recently warned of a purported plot to assassinate Putin during his trip to Iran on Oct. 16. “The president is not completely convinced, but he thinks: What if they are right?'” the first former security services officer said. “Our political life is full of provocations. This is the only way these people can work. They are not public politicians. They are Chekists. In our corporation, people were used to fight against dissidents, to arrest or kill people.”

Security services have another bargaining chip with Putin, the former agents said: money and assistance in case of a political crisis. Security services gather compromising material that can be used to blackmail anyone in the country, including governors, mayors, the opposition and anyone they believe could destabilize the political situation, the agents said. With his article in Kommersant, Cherkesov broke the Chekists’ guiding principle, experts said: silence. “There is a rule in the security services that dirty laundry should be washed at home,” said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who tracks the political elite. But in the current fight, “normal rules do not apply,” the first former security services officer said. “All means and weapons are allowed,” he said. Cherkesov’s article wasn’t his debut in the print media. In December 2004, he wrote an article published in Komsomolskaya Pravda that proclaimed the fundamental role Chekists have played in Russia’s rebirth.

Spokespeople for the Federal Drug Control Service, the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office declined to comment for this report. Written requests for comment sent last week went unanswered as of Sunday.

Aron Says Putin Won’t Step Down

Writing in the New York Times ace Russia commentator Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute opines that becoming prime minister in a sham transaction won’t be enough to satisfy Russian dictator Vladimir Putin even for a four-year interregnum:

President Bush said last week of his erstwhile “friend” Vladimir Putin, “I have no idea what he’s going to do.” Mr. Bush is not alone: no one but Mr. Putin knows whether the Russian president will relinquish power next year. Still, after Mr. Putin’s announcement that he would not be averse to becoming the next prime minister, the prevailing guess is that after the March 2 presidential election Mr. Putin will head the Russian government under a new president.

Yet before the Bush administration and the leading contenders for the White House begin to design a Russia policy based on this, its plausibility has to be examined. In the light of what we know about Mr. Putin and the political and economic system he has forged, he is more likely to find a way to continue in office as President Putin.

To begin, Vladimir Putin has done the opposite of what he publicly said he would do with regard to some major policy issues. In November 2003, he declared that “the state should not really seek to destroy” Yukos–at the time Russia’s largest, most modern and most transparent private company–and then methodically did just that through a palpably fraudulent prosecution.

He has repeatedly averred that Russia needs a robust party system–and then proceeded to make participation in parliamentary elections arduous and subject to unchallenged management by an election commission that is subservient to the Kremlin. No party may hope even to get on the ballot in Russia without the Kremlin’s approval.

The president has extolled democracy in virtually every one of his annual state-of-Russia addresses since 2000–and then canceled the election of regional governors, who are now all but directly appointed by Moscow. He correctly identified independent mass media as the main weapon against corruption–and then brought under the Kremlin’s control practically all nationwide print, radio and television outlets.

For Mr. Putin, taking on the job of prime minister would be not just “stepping down” but wallowing in self-abnegation. The prime ministers under Mr. Putin have been appointed by the president and have served at his pleasure. They have been little more than figureheads who cannot even pick their own cabinets. This year, Mr. Putin deprived the prime minister of supervision over the so-called state corporations, into which the president’s administration had earlier merged some of Russia’s vital, and often most profitable, industrial enterprises–like missile production and nuclear power.

Of course, with Mr. Putin’s party, United Russia, poised to take two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, its approval of constitutional amendments emaciating the presidency and fashioning a more powerful “executive” role for the prime minister is assured (as is the constitutionally mandated endorsement of the two-thirds of the regional legislatures now also firmly in the Kremlin’s hand).

Still, while Ukraine has profited from a similar devolution of presidential authority, Russia would have to go much further to make the job of prime minister palatable for Mr. Putin. In addition to giving the Parliament, and not the president, the right to form the government, the prime minister may have to be made commander-in-chief as well.

Yet power in Russia today grows not only from the barrel of a gun, but also from a barrel of oil. And here, too, everything has been done to ensure that the president’s administration, not the prime minister’s office, be in charge of the daily export of seven million barrels of crude oil and oil products (like fuel oil and diesel fuel). With natural gas, these fuel exports fetched $190 billion last year.

Never before in Russian history have so few exercised such tight control over a national wealth that is so vast and liquid, in more ways than one. The stakes of relinquishing power have grown commensurately for Mr. Putin. If he becomes prime minister, a vast network of informal arrangements that made the president and his entourage the managers of Russia’s most lucrative natural resources will have to be dismantled–redirected away from the Kremlin and toward the prime minister.

For a man who declared the demise of the Soviet Union to be “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century,” even the most “executive” of prime-ministerships may not be enough. The Russian president is the symbol of the nation, its above-the-fray father. He is now also in complete control of the election and of much of the economy. Mr. Putin must consider moving out, like some silly American president vacating the White House, to be downright humiliating–not to mention bad for the country and the people who like him so much.

Staying in the Kremlin without violating the letter of the 1993 Constitution (the spirit went out of it several years ago) could be accomplished by Mr. Putin in several ways. The easiest method would be for Parliament to pass a constitutional amendment eliminating term limits. The problem with this solution is that it would make Russia look like Belarus or Kazakhstan, ruled by a president-for-life. For all the popularity that Mr. Putin enjoys, the national embarrassment (never mind the international outcry) might be acute and widespread enough to carry significant political risks.

But at least two other solutions could be found. Both possess the significant advantage of avoiding a constitutional amendment that President Putin seems reluctant to bless. In one possibility, Mr. Putin could become prime minister and then become acting president should the new officeholder find himself incapable of carrying out his duties. Viktor Zubkov, plucked by Mr. Putin from obscurity a few weeks ago to be made prime minister, is 66, six years past the retirement age for men in Russia (and 11 years older than Mr. Putin). Should Mr. Zubkov, with Mr. Putin’s endorsement, be elected president, he may quickly find the burdens of power too hard to sustain after only a few months in office. And then a new presidential election, which must be held within three months and which Mr. Putin would be certain to win, would give Mr. Putin another full term in office, without formally violating the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms.

The other option would not require Mr. Putin to move out of the Kremlin even for a short time. According to the Russian Constitution, the president may declare martial law in the case of aggression or “direct threat of aggression.” A subsequent “martial law regime” could be easily fashioned by the Parliament to include the cancellation of elections until the “threat” is over.

The “threat” could be found to emanate from Estonia, which has been sharply denounced by Russia’s official propaganda this year. Estonia’s ambassador in Moscow has been harassed by a government-organized youth group and its Web sites have been subject to cyberattacks. Or it could be Georgia, which borders on Russia’s volatile North Caucasus and is in a de facto state of war with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, its two breakaway provinces. In Abkhazia, a majority of the population holds Russian passports, and the leaders of South Ossetia have repeatedly expressed the desire to join the Russian Federation.

During a state of emergency, Russians could be counted on to rally around the flag, at least initially. In a longer run, the prolonged presidency would have to be legalized somehow. But, as Lenin wrote, quoting a maxim often attributed to Napoleon, “on s’engage et puis on voit”: you get in a fight and then you see what to do next.

Apart from Nicholas II, who resigned in a revolution, only two Russian leaders have walked away from power: Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. But these two men were remarkable in a larger sense: they presided over a proto-democracy that made Russia the freest it has ever been, save for the eight months from February to November 1917. Proto-autocracies–even “softer” ones that, for the moment, enjoy popular allegiance–are harder, and more dangerous, to leave behind.

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown: Debtors Must Pay to Leave the Country Today . . . and Who Must Pay Tommorow? Kasparov?

The Moscow Times reports on yet another nail in Russia’s neo-Soviet coffin, yet another step down the slippery slope from which, falling, there is no return. Today debtors can’t leave. Tomorrow, who knows.

The authorities appear to be cracking down on debtors, barring thousands of people from leaving the country, the Federal Court Marshals Service said Monday. Over the first nine months of this year, 8,366 people were hit with travel bans because they had not fulfilled court orders to repay debts, a statement posted on the service’s web site said. This figure is more than 40 times higher than that for last year, when only 187 people were refused exit for this reason, RIA-Novosti reported. Igor Komissarov, a spokesman for the service, said Monday that news of the tighter ban on travel had prompted debtors to settle up with creditors to the tune of 1.4 billion rubles (about $56.5 million). He said the total debt covered by existing court judgments was 12 billion rubles. “Foreigners are affected too, of course,” Komissarov said, adding that a Greek citizen ordered by a court to clear his debts with a major bank had only recently had his ban lifted after paying off the entire sum.

The practice of refusing debtors the right to leave the country is a troubling one for some Western legal experts, who say the measure contradicts international law. “In most EU countries, creditors and debtors have to deal with each other according to civil law, and not criminal law,” Helga Springeneer, a lawyer with the Federation of German Consumer Organizations, said by telephone from Berlin. “A court can order the search of homes or offices to impound property, but it can never infringe on the right of free movement.” But Svetlana Ganushkina, of the human rights group Memorial, said the travel ban did not limit human rights. “The way things work in this country, it is easy to hide from creditors and banks,” Ganushkina said. “Therefore, any mechanism to help make people repay this money and, most importantly, to dissuade them from leaving their debts to law-abiding family members and fleeing the country should be welcome.” Sergei Melnikov, an attorney with the Moscow-based firm Your Lawyer, also said the authorities’ actions were legal. “The law was examined in 2005 to see if there was any contradiction between it and basic human rights, and no contradiction was found,” he said. Melnikov added that the key factor keeping the measure within the law was that the travel ban was “temporary, lasting only until the debt is paid or agreement is reached between debtors and creditors or one party and the court.” The marshal service’s Komissarov said the service was not trying to stop people from leaving the country for good but was simply using the only tool it had to make sure people paid up. “This is a system that really works,” Komissarov said. “We can’t kill people, or put them in prison, but we can stop them crossing the border.”

While lending to private individuals has only become relatively widespread over the last five years, banks have experienced enormous growth in the booming consumer-lending market. Recent court cases have highlighted controversial practices in lending like hidden charges for opening bank accounts. But Russians have one of the world’s best records for repaying loans. Delinquent loans were only 1 percent of the total over the last two years — about one-third of the average for emerging economies — according to a Merrill Lynch report released earlier this year. Although not a direct comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2003 that more than 12 percent of all households were carrying debt that they were unlikely to be able to repay. The rate for Germany was lower, at 8 percent in 2006, the number for Britain in 2004 was 7 percent, and the corresponding figure in France was closer to 3 percent, according to data collected by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations.

Russia Drastically Cuts Foreign Election Observers

The Associated Press reports:

Russia announced Monday it is slashing the number of foreign election observers for upcoming parliamentary polls in a move likely to fuel claims that the authorities will prevent a fair vote. Vladimir Churov, head of the Central Election Commission, told journalists that between 300 and 400 observers would be allowed into Russia for the December 2 polls — a quarter of the number who watched Russia’s last legislative elections in 2003. Churov said the invitations would be sent Tuesday. He did not specify how many of the observers would be from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is the most authoritative election body in eastern Europe and has previously slammed Russia and other ex-Soviet countries for their conduct.

The ceiling of 400 observers suggested there would be a sharply reduced number of OSCE monitors, given that Churov said the total number would also include representatives from a string of other international bodies and countries. In the December 2003 elections — which the OSCE said “failed to meet many… commitments for democratic elections” — a total of about 1,200 observers fanned across the world’s biggest country. Of those, some 400 were from the OSCE’s election monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Many others were from Moscow-friendly organisations such as the Commonwealth of Independent States, which groups 12 ex-Soviet republics and systematically welcomes elections in countries accused by the West of being headed by authoritarian regimes. Moscow is stepping up a long-running diplomatic offensive against the 56-member state OSCE, of which it is a member but which it accuses of bias against Russian policies.

Russia last week said that it wants sharply to reduce the scope of OSCE observer missions, leading to accusations that the Kremlin is afraid of outside scrutiny in what critics say is a rigged election process. One aspect under attack, diplomatic sources say, is the OSCE’s tradition of issuing a preliminary report at a press conference the day after elections — a high profile occasion when journalists are given the organisation’s broad-brush findings. Backing Russia’s bid to change OSCE monitoring work are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, all countries that to different extents have seen criticized over recent elections.

OSCE officials have already complained that they are not being given enough time to prepare a monitoring mission ahead of Russia’s parliamentary election in which President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party is expected to win a crushing victory. The election is followed on March 2 by a presidential poll to choose a successor to Putin, who has ruled since 2000. Although Putin, 55, says he will step down in line with the constitution, there is growing speculation that he will retain power in some other position. No heavyweight figure has yet declared a bid to for the Kremlin

October 30, 2007 — Contents

TUESDAY OCTOBER 30 CONTENTS

(1) Another Original LR Translation: Big Brother is Watching

(2) Annals of Russian Human Rights: Now, the Cyber Attacks Begin

(3) When Russians Fight Back

(4) See it Now: Russian Prices Out of Control

(5) Annals of Commissars of the Internet

NOTE: La Russphobe is pleased to welcome yet another volunteer expert translator of Russian source material, Samantha S., whose first installment appears today as the lead item. We look forward to many future items from Ms. S. Remember, you can find all our original translations on our special library blog, LR Translations, where Samantha’s work will soon begin to appear as well.

NOTE: Today we bring you two horrifying stories (nos. 2 &5) detailing the efforts of the Kremlin to crack down on and seize control of the Internet. If they’re doing this far now, imagine what they’ll do after the next “election” cycle. Some said this would never happen and urged us not to worry. We warned you long ago it would — and this is only the beginning.

Another Original LR Translation: Big Brother is Watching

La Russophobe is delighted to welcome yet a fourth expert translator of Russian into English to our blog, and for her first installment she opens another window into the Russian press, here by Yulia Latynina in Novaya Gazeta. This is exactly the type of column that Anna Politkovskaya got shot for writing, and but for the work of heroic translators like Samantha it would never see the light of day in English (as much of Anna’s work failed to do). Ms. Latynina is a true Russian patriot.

Big Brother is Watching You

by Yulia Latynina

Novaya Gazeta

Translated from the Russian by Samantha S.

Our “Separation of Powers” is a war of the Security Services. One lot whisper into the president’s left ear, the other into his right ear.

The main principle of the Special Forces is: if you’ve got something to say, say nothing. If you’ve got nothing to say, say even less. The main principle of the Kremlin clans is: never appeal to the public, appeal to the president. An appeal to the public is an admission of disloyalty and a sign that you can’t get to the president. General Cherkesov broke both these rules when he published an article in the newspaper Kommersant about the Security Services’ war. Why- God
only knows. Perhaps he hired Kharms [TN: Daniil Kharms 1905-1942. Russian absurdist writer] to write the letter, or, Shenderovich [TN: Victor Shenderovich b. 1958. Russian writer and satirist.] as a last resort. The postmodernists should frame this text on the “corporate soul” and “chekism” and hang it in place of Malevich’s Black Square.

I’ll venture to remind you of some events which preceded the creation of this philosophical text. It began with a clash between two powerful Kremlin clans — one usually associated with the deputy head of the presidential administration, Igor Sechin (and the head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev) and the other with the head of the Federal Narcotics Control Service Viktor Cherkesov and the head of the presidential security service Viktor Zolotov– over the planned appointment of Shamakhov, who was close to Cherkesov, as head of customs. Criminal cases were brought; the clans began to stop each other’s goods wagons and recapture the confiscated goods using the special police of the OMON. It was a terrible but completely quiet fight. Among the most noticeable episodes, which were widely debated in narrow circles, were: the seizure of a consignment of Chinese consumer goods in the Nakhodka port which were being sent directly to the address of a secret unit which was the FSB’s supplies section (An FSB employee received the consignment of goods with official certification) and a search of one of the biggest dealers at the customs office, during which diamonds were seized by weight. “They’re just presents!” said the aggrieved dealer.

It’s thought that during this turf war, the FSB obtained wire-tappping equipment which was used to record Sechin’s conversations with his powerful relation and ally Ustinov, the Prosecutor General. The recordings allegedly made their way to Putin, who, it’s said, was not particularly pleased by discussion of the president’s weakness, and the fact that Ustinov would make a better president. Ustinov was fired. Several FSB generals were also dismissed at the end of last year. However after a few months they went back to their posts, disregarding the presidential order. It was then that this bitter fight broke into the depths of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, between the head of the Economic Security Department Sergei Meshcheriakov (considered Sechin’s protégé) and deputy minister Novikov (considered Zolotov’s protégé). The details of this battle were not disclosed, but there are well-founded rumours that Meshcheriakov’s assistant, who was arrested during the fight, gave information under the influence of psychotropic drugs about the value of the department’s services. The result of the battle was that both figures were dismissed from their posts and both received other posts- prestigious but without influence.

And now– with the arrest of General Bulbov and Cherkesov’s letter– the war has come to the surface for the first time.

What sticks out? Firstly, it’s the disparity of power. On one hand there is Igor Sechin–not the top man in the state, but not the least important either; on the other–some kind of collective leadership. Secondly, it’s impossible to talk directly about the subject of the dispute. It’s quite funny reading about Cherkesov’s “chekism” and “corporatism” when the dispute is over the control of contraband goods and who can better take in the president. Thirdly, it’s striking that the war would have finished long ago, if only the president hadn’t supported the weaker side every time. He is personally interested in the war as an instrument of mutual destruction. The war of the Security Services is what we have in place of a separation of powers. It’s a way for the president to stay informed. And moreover—and this is most important—it is difficult to wish victory on either side. Not because they are dividing up the customs department or fighting between themselves in secret; but because even before this war their departments were subject to a malignant regeneration. One clan concerns itself with the dividing up of YUKOS, the Gutseriyev trial [TN: ex-president of Rosneft, charged with illegal business practice and tax evasion in 2007], cheerful reports about the exposure of planned terrorist attacks in Sochi, Saint Petersburg and Samara. The other clan’s business will be dealt with in the next article. If one crocodile is weaker, it doesn’t mean you should get close to it. When two brigades of Orcs in Mordor fight over Frodo’s Mithril armour, which side are we on?

The criminal case of the contraband furniture which appeared in the shops “Grand” and “Three Whales” from October 2000 was investigated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Inquiry Committee. Led by the investigator Pavel Zaitsev, the group conducted searches and questioning. In his evidence of November 2000, the witness Vladimir Burkov mentioned Evgenii Zhukov, the assistant to the deputy director of the FSB Iurii Zaostrovtsev. Zhukov was questioned and several hours later the case was transferred to the Prosecutor General. The investigator Popov suspended it on the 7th of May 2001 owing to lack of evidence of a crime being committed. The State Duma ordered the investigation to be resumed with Iurii Shchekochin, the Duma deputy and the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta occupying an especially active role. However the case was resurrected only on the 26th of March 2002 after the personal intervention of President Putin. In April the case was taken over by an acquaintance of the President, the deputy head of the Leningrad region office of the public prosecutor, Vladimir Loskutov. However the first arrests took place only after a change of leadership in the General Prosecutor’s office in June 2006.

Case no 290724 of the contraband mass market goods to the address of military unit 54729 was begun in April 2005 by the Investigative Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Unit 54729 serves the central apparatus of the FSB. The contraband was received by an employee with official certificate no. 066631. On the 7th of April 2005 the General Prosecutor ordered the case to be transferred to the FSB. Only in August 2006 was the case returned to the General Prosecutor. Coincidentally, as the case reached its active phase, deputy director of the FSB Vladimir Anisimov, deputy director of the FSB Sergei Shishin and deputy head of the Economic Security Service Sergei Fomenko all retired.