Mr. Bric Smashes a Window
At a ridiculous charade called the “St. Petersburg Economic Forum” over the weekend Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Economist Jim “Mr. Bric” O’Neill stunned the host nation by laying Russia low.
O’Neill said: “Oil prices will definitely not do what they’ve done the past 10 years, and that’s not going to be great news for Russia” because it “doesn’t have the same advantages over the next decade’ as China and India, which will benefit from larger workforces and greater productivity. Russia’s gross domestic product will likely grow 3.3 percent a year from 2010 to 2015 and 2.9 percent a year during the following five years.”
Robert Amsterdam journeyed to Finland to attend the anti-Putin conference there, and met with Oleg Kozlovsky. He praises him to the sky, calling him “a young man of admirable courage and intelligence – the kind of person that means so much for the future of the country” and saying “It was a great pleasure to meet Oleg, and he has my full support in his peaceful resistance to authoritarianism, and his demands for greater political inclusion and participation.” He brings back a postcard from Finland written by Oleg himself:
In the meantime, yet another event of presidential scale took place: premier Putin in Paris met not only with his colleague François Fillon, but also with the current president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy and with the previous one – Jacques Chirac. Sources have reported that Putin and the heads of the French state “exchanged opinions on urgent foreign policy questions”. In the meantime, even a child knows that questions of foreign policy, in accordance with the Constitution of the RF, are the prerogative of the president, and not the premier.
That is, once again we see the presidential habits of the former president.
One of the newspapers even wrote just this: “If before discussion of the foreign policy of Russia remained the prerogative of the head of state, then now, from all appearances, the new premier has greater space for manoeuver.”
Power – is a sticky and infectious thing for sticky and infectious people. Vaclav Havel, as an example, did not seek to hold on to the chair of the top official of his country. Probably because he was morally self-sufficient and smart. Putin, on the other hand, as is not difficult to notice, is afraid of becoming a nobody again. By the way, even at the post of prime minister he could become a nobody: all that would be needed would be to cut off his access to television – which made him and which continues to make him to this day. One day, historians are going to write a book about how television can make a somebody out of a nobody and how later this nobody once again changes into a nobody without television.
Apparently, there is an understanding between Putin and Medvedev about how Putin will get as much time on TV as Medvedev. Or maybe there isn’t such an understanding, but there is an order, as blunt as a kersey boot, from Putin and his entourage to all the television channels to PR Putin as before, as if though he were the president. Furthermore, sometimes Putin is shown on Russian television more frequently and for a longer time than Medvedev. Anybody else would be upset by this, but for Medvedev – it’s like water off a duck’s back.
But will Medvedev continue to tolerate this for long? For me, this isn’t even a question. Just like whether there will be a thaw under Medvedev isn’t even a question. There won’t be. Don’t hold your breath. Medvedev has been with Putin for 17 years. He could not have been unaware of all his thoughts and actions. He is clearly a person who is dependent with every fiber of his body and soul on Putin and his team. And it is obvious that this is not an independent person. To say the right words about legal nihilism in the country and corruption, about the need for an independent judiciary – this isn’t hard under the existing tradition of not backing one’s words with concrete action. The people have gotten used to this already. So go right on talking; nobody believes you anyway…
There is in Rus’ a saying: уходя – уходи… [If you’re leaving, leave—Trans.] This is when an uninvited and unwelcome guest, having sat in your house for four or even eight hours (or eight years…), says: Well, I guess I will be going now… Then, in another three-four hours, he once again repeats this phrase. And once again does not leave.
Same thing with Putin. He mumbled something about the sanctity of the Constitution (which he himself has violated many a time), made himself chairman of the government and… in effect, didn’t go away from the presidential post. He must really like it.
Nor will he leave. And no doubt all the politicians all over the world have understood this. That’s why they meet with Putin as with the president. That’s why they smile broadly at him. Of course, they already know just who Mr. Putin is. But the oil and gas that stand looming behind the back of this former lieutenant-colonel of the KGB force them to smile even more broadly.
An letter to the Wall Street Journal from Garry Kasparov:
Without addressing Sen. Charles Schumer’s central premise that sanctions would be effective against oil-rich Iran (“Russia Can Be Part of the Answer on Iran,” op-ed, June 3), I would like to address what appears to be a dangerously myopic view of Russia and Russian foreign policy.
First, the senator’s provocative decision to address the matter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin instead of President Dmitry Medvedev requires extensive explanation where none was provided. The constitution of Russia makes very clear that the president is responsible for foreign policy. The prime minister serves at his discretion. It is well understood that Mr. Putin remains in the seat of power in Russia and that Mr. Medvedev was simply appointed to win a fraudulent election in March. But for an American senator to publicly take this state of affairs for granted is remarkable. Mr. Medvedev was not mentioned once in Sen. Schumer’s editorial and I cannot believe this was accidental or the result of ignorance. Therefore, is Sen. Schumer implicitly acknowledging that Mr. Medvedev’s election was a sham and that Russia is a dictatorship? Does this indicate a disagreement with the current U.S. policy of pretending Russia is a democracy? Would this be the senator’s policy recommendation to his Senate colleague Barack Obama? Is it too much to ask that such an important, and commendable, stance be taken in less subtle fashion?
Second, Mr. Putin and his gang could not care less about nationalism (old or new), Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe, or NATO’s antimissile system. They are interested only in money and how to maintain the flow into their bank accounts. Every decision they have made has this truth at its core. Mr. Putin’s saber-rattling is theater designed to build up equity with the West that can later be traded away for guarantees that allow the looting of Russia to continue unabated — for example, not responding to the crackdown on Russia’s pro-democracy opposition and allowing Russia to stay in the G-8 and thereby avoid the fiscal scrutiny that would accompany less-favored status.
The Kremlin elite will join in sanctions against Iran when it is literally profitable for them to do so and not before. Sen. Schumer is speaking their language when he suggests bribing Russia into joining the boycott of Iran — to the tune of $3 billion a year. This is the sort of mafia-style proposition they understand. I am sure they will be gratified to see a U.S. senator coming around to their way of doing business: Speak only to the big boss and offer cold, hard cash.
The Baltimore Sun reports:
Hryhory Haraschenko tells the stories feverishly, gesticulating with veined hands. He hauls out newspaper clippings, witnesses’ tales and pencil-drawn maps. He speaks like a man haunted by memories and by decades of forced silence.
Haraschenko, 89, is among a dwindling number of Ukrainians who survived the Soviet-era famine of the early 1930s. Like other survivors and some historians, he regards the starvation – known here as the Holodomor, or “death by hunger” – as an act of genocide engineered to wipe out the Ukrainians.
He wants it discussed and recognized by the world.
“Russia is afraid we’ll accuse Moscow of creating this genocide and eliminating Ukrainian villages,” he says. “They try to say that Russians were killed in this famine, but don’t listen to them.”
After decades buried in Soviet silence and smothered in official denials, the Stalin-era famine has emerged as a painful topic that festers at the heart of tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
The push for international recognition of the famine as genocide is being led by a new generation of Western-leaning Ukrainians, most visibly President Viktor A. Yushchenko. They believe that a declaration of genocide would bolster Ukraine’s independence from Russia, helping it regain its sense as a separate country bonded by national tragedy.
“At school, we had only the history of the Soviet Union, and, in fact, this was Russian history,” said Stanislav Kulchytsky, a Ukrainian historian and famine scholar. “Ukraine has now gotten to know its own history. We’re learning our victories and our tragedies. The picture of the past makes a person nationally oriented.”
The battle to forge Ukraine’s post-Soviet identity and allegiances has been fought on every level: internationally and internally, among different factions of a nation historically split between its allegiances to Russia and the West.
But no struggle has proved so bitter as the one over Ukrainian history, culture and language. In today’s Ukraine – the country’s name means “borderland” – the smallest gestures are freighted with meaning. Some Ukrainians mind visitors who refer to “the Ukraine” – an older expression – as though the nation were merely Russia’s frontier.
‘He is Ukrainian’
“He will speak Ukrainian,” snapped an aide to a pro-Western lawmaker when asked whether his boss might speak Russian during an interview. “He is a Ukrainian, and so he will speak Ukrainian.”
Ukraine has carried out an aggressive campaign to replace the Russian language, even shifting the spelling of the capital, Kiev, to the Ukrainian version – Kyiv. Meanwhile, teachers have begun to recast anti-Russian figures as varied as 18th-century Cossacks and World War II anti-Soviet fighters as positive historical figures or even heroes.
This trend has infuriated Russia, where the sense of Ukraine as a piece of Russia remains strong, and many are suffused with newfound nostalgia for the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. Vladimir V. Putin, who became Russia’s prime minister after his presidential tenure ended in May, has complained of Ukraine’s recent historical reinterpretation.
“These unfriendly moves sadden the atmosphere of relations between our two countries,” Putin, as president, wrote to his Ukrainian counterpart. “They could seriously impact bilateral cooperation in various ways.”
The rawest nerve
The famine might be the rawest nerve of all.
This is what Haraschenko remembers: coming home from Young Pioneer camp and helping to harvest the grain, only to watch every last kernel be carted off toward Russia. The day the soldiers came through his house and confiscated every last bit of flour and milk. The hunger that grew relentlessly until the widow who lived next door killed her 4-year-old daughter and cooked the corpse to survive.
In the beginning, he helped to bury the other students’ bodies, but soon the villagers got used to death, he said, and left the remains on the streets. At least 3.5 million Ukrainians died, and survivors were ordered by Soviet officials to keep their memories to themselves.
“The agents went through the houses and said, ‘There was no famine. Forget it. Don’t say a word,’” Haraschenko said. “If you talked about it, if you even said the word famine, you went to Siberia.”
That’s a far cry from today.
Request to Bush
During a luncheon toast here in April, Yushchenko asked President Bush to recognize the famine as an act of genocide.
“We will be immeasurably grateful,” he said.
Bush stopped short. But he visited the famine memorial, a stone angel at St. Michael’s gold-domed cathedral backed by signs reading, “Victims of the criminal deeds of the Bolshevik regime” and “the Ukrainian holocaust.”
In 2007, Yushchenko pushed a bill that would make denying either the Holodomor or the Holocaust a crime punishable by prison time. Some Ukrainians, leery of damaging strained ties with Moscow, have criticized the president.
“It makes me feel like we are living in 1937, as if we could be talking and I say the Holodomor existed, and you say you have doubts, then I have to write a complaint and take it to the police department so you face charges,” said Oleksandr Moroz, head of the opposition Socialist Party. “This is idiotic. We’ll make our fellow citizens the enemies of one another.”
But the rhetoric out of Ukraine has already infuriated Russia. Nobody is denying that millions of Ukrainians died when Stalin’s regime stripped the peasants of their crops during forced collectivization. But officials in Moscow say that massive numbers of non-Ukrainian Soviet peasants, including millions in Russia, Kazakhstan and other parts of the Soviet Union, also starved to death under Stalin’s rule. They reject the notion that Ukrainians were targeted.
“There is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines,” the Russian Duma said in an April resolution. “Its victims were millions of citizens of the Soviet Union, representing different peoples and nationalities living largely in agricultural areas of the country. … This tragedy does not have, and cannot have, any internationally recognized indications of genocide and should not be used as a tool for modern political speculation.”
Even Nobel Prize winner Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, who was exiled for his searing literary portraits of Soviet injustice, came out of retirement in April against the Ukrainians.
“This provocateur’s cry of ‘genocide’ began to germinate decades later,” he wrote in the newspaper Izvestia. “First, secretly, in the moldy minds of chauvinists maliciously set against [Russia], and now elevated to government circles of today’s Ukraine.”
NATO: Join or not?
The argument has intensified against the backdrop of looming tensions between the neighboring countries, which are tightly bound by ancient ties of religion and history.
Ukrainian opinion is divided over whether the country should work to join NATO, and many people here regard the question as an existential choice between Russia and the West.
“It’s some kind of ultimate choice, strategic or even civilizational choice to be part of the West,” said Oleksandr Sushko, director of Kiev’s Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation. “Russia is very concerned now in our history, the names of our streets, who’s considered a hero or not, the famine, what’s written in our textbooks. This is the state of our relations. They are still living in their mental frame of a former empire.”
In a modest apartment with his wife and cat, Haraschenko knows exactly what he wants for his country. He has never forgotten the lifestyle he witnessed as a young soldier in Austria and Czechoslovakia. Those memories have lingered, fueling a nationalistic desire to see Ukraine detached from Russia’s shadow and united with Western Europe.
“Here, to this day, we haven’t achieved 1 percent of what they had already achieved at that time,” he said. “I compare it to the current situation in Ukraine and I can say that they were further along.”
But mostly, he wants to recount his memories of the famine.
“We all kept silent,” he said. “And now there are just a few left who can tell these stories.”
An editorial in the New York Times:
Years ago, Soviet news agencies grew to be experts in removing unwanted comrades from official photographs. People disappeared in the developing rooms just as they disappeared in real life, and early group photos with Stalin often contracted into a picture of the Soviet dictator standing alone. That grim history makes what’s happening today on Russia’s national television networks all the more chilling.
As Clifford Levy wrote in The Times last week, Russia’s national networks, the most powerful media in the country, are routinely deleting news or opinions critical of the Kremlin. In one notable case, Mikhail Delyagin, a well-known political analyst, criticized Vladimir Putin during the taping of a talk show. When the program aired, Mr. Delyagin was missing. Or, most of him was missing. His disembodied legs remained in the picture.
While the print media and Internet news are subject to far less censorship than television, Mr. Putin and his recent successor, President Dmitri Medvedev, have made it clear that free speech is not one of their priorities. Since 2000, when Mr. Putin was first elected president, about 14 independent journalists have been killed after doing the kinds of investigative work that any thriving nation desperately needs. Authorities often target less than obedient news outlets like the three independent newspapers that were shut down recently for allegedly using counterfeit software. The boisterous debate on the Internet continues, but the Kremlin announced recently that it will now monitor online content.
Equally insidious as government censorship is the growing self-censorship among Russian journalists. The fear, mostly of losing their jobs, is especially true at national television networks, where most Russians get their information. News about Chechnya or Georgia or Iran now follows the government line. Mr. Putin’s opponents or Mr. Medvedev’s critics are viewed as un-newsworthy, and public affairs shows on Russian television are growing more like those in the Soviet days when “news” meant reading a handout from the Kremlin.
A troubling aspect of this slide toward those dark old days is that many Russians insist they are fine with government-controlled TV. In the Web commentary after Mr. Levy’s article appeared online, quite a few Russians said a free press is unnecessary. One called the idea “American propaganda.” The American media have their flaws, but at least if you don’t like one particular television channel, the zapper offers a different view. For Russians, there is no such relief.