Russia Votes for History
“He acted entirely rationally – as the guardian of a system, as a consistent support of reshaping the country into an industrialised state.”
– Quote from A History of Russia, 1900-1945 referring to Soviet ruler Josef Stalin, the greatest mass murderer of Russians in the nation’s history (the volume will used as a guide for teaching history in Russian schools)
For several months now, Kremlin-operated TV network “Rossiya” has been conducting a nationwide internet poll called “The Name of Russia” asking who was the most important Russian of all time. As time went on, a large field of initial nominees was winnowed down to 12 finalists, and the polls finally closed last Sunday with nearly 5 million votes having been collected from Russians across the country among the 12 finalists. The winner was to be announced live on the network’s “Vesti Nedeli” (“Kicking off the Week”) program Sunday evening.
At the same time, a specially selected “jury” of experts was asked for their opinion. The members of the 12-man (yes, all male) jury were: Metropolitan Kirill, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Valentin Varennikov, Sergei Kapitsa, Dimitri Rogozin, Alexander Tkachev, Ilya Glazunov, Gennady Zyuganov, Yuri Kublanovsky, Nikita Mikhailkov, Sergei Mironov and Andrei Sakharov Jr.
The 12 “Name of Russia” finalists included four monarchs (Peter I, Ivan IV, Ekaterina II and Alexander II) and the prime minister of a fifth (Nicholas II’s Peter Stolypin), two Communists (Lenin and Stalin), two writers (Pushkin and Dostoevsky), two generals (Alexander Suvorov and Alexander Nevsky) and a scientist (Dmitry Mendeleev).
On Sunday, we learned the Russian people’s selection.
Putin Declares War on Medvedev
Unless we are very much mistaken, the first shot in Vladimir Putin’s war against Dmitri Medvedev was fired on December 29th by Putin shill Vladimir Frolov in his Moscow Times column.
Headlined “Putin’s Remote Control puts Kremlin on Mute,” the article states: “When Georgia invaded South Ossetia. Medvedev responded with a strong show of force and moved to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, a move denounced by all major powers.”
Note how Frolov blames the Georgia invasion directly on Medvedev personally, and even goes so far as to acknowledge worldwide denunciation of the move. This well illustrates how awfully handy it is to have an expendable “president” around to get the blame for mistakes. In fact, if one were inclined to attribute genius to Putin, one might even suspect he knew the crisis was coming and stepped aside specifically to avoid it. How long will it be before some other Putin flack blames the economic crisis on Medvedev as well, pointing out how rosy things were before Putin left the Kremlin?
At long, long last mainstream media are beginning to wake up to the reality we have been documenting on this blog for nearly three years now. Writing in Forbes, David Satter, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, lays it on the line:
As the murders of Russian journalists go unsolved, there are increasing signs that the impunity of Russia’s contract killers is not accidental. One reason for the lack of progress may be that the law enforcement organs that are responsible for investigating the murders of Russian journalists are actually involved in carrying them out.
On Dec. 5, at the trial of three men accused in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Russia’s best known investigative reporter, Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor of Politkovskaya’s newspaper Novaya Gazeta, told a packed courtroom that he had information showing that Dzhabrail Makhmudov, one of the accused, was an agent of the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, and that the FSB was shadowing Politkovskaya up until her death in October 2006. Novaya Gazeta is carrying out an independent investigation of the case.
Paul Goble reports:
A decision by a Russian court last week to grant conditional early release to a Russian colonel convicted of kidnapping and killing an 18-year-old Chechen girl in 2000 has sparked a wave of protests in Chechnya and cast doubt on Moscow’s ability to maintain order there by relying on Ramzan Kadyrov alone. Last Wednesday, the Dmitrovgrad city court in Ulyanovsk oblast announced that it had approved the release after January 11 of Colonel Yury Budanov 14 months before the end of his prison sentence, an outcome and his supporters had long sought but that many Chechens and human rights activists say “spits in the face” of justice and the Chechen people.
This is the latest turn in a long-running case. In July 2003, Budanov was convicted of kidnapping and then killing Elza Kungayeva by a military district court which stripped him of his rank and medals and sentenced him to ten years behind bars. Her family members believe that he raped her as well, although the court did not find him guilty of that. Since that time, Budanov has become a kind of hero for some Russian nationalist extremists who believe that any actions by Russian soldiers against “Chechen terrorists” are justified, and they have pressed for his release, formally appealing to the courts four times before their current success.
Don’t they have that story about “The Boy who Cried Wolf” in Russia? How many times does the Kremlin think it can get away with misleading other countries and then breaking its word before the world simply decides Russia cannot be believed or trusted on any issue and therefore cannot be treated as a civilized nation? Denis McShane lays out the facts in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section regarding the Kremlin’s latest decision to repudiate its written word:
Pacta sunt servanda is pompous diplomatic jargon for a vital mechanism that allows the world to escape from the conflicts of all against all. The Latin means “Agreements must be honoured.” The concept that once two or more parties in conflict have signed an agreement they will stick by it is essential if the world is to have fewer wars and more multilateral global law.
In August Russia’s president, Dimitri Medvedev, signed a six-point agreement with the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to end the invasion and bombardment of Georgia by Russian armoured divisions, as well as her Black Sea fleet and warplanes. Sarkozy was also president of the European Union and presented himself as peace-maker extraordinaire.
His energy, drive and willingness to go at once to Moscow and Tbilisi showed a Europe that would not stand indifferent as Russian tanks rolled over a UN and Council of Europe member state in a repeat of the Russian tanks arriving in Prague forty years before. Angela Merkel also went to Tbilisi and David Miliband went to Kiev to make clear to Moscow that its bullying of the two Black Sea ex-Soviet republics would have consequences.
The Wall Street Journal has finally got around to a scoop we reported weeks ago:
For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument — that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. — very seriously. Now he’s found an eager audience: Russian state media. In recent weeks, he’s been interviewed as much as twice a day about his predictions. “It’s a record,” says Prof. Panarin. “But I think the attention is going to grow even stronger.”
Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.
But it’s his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin’s views also fit neatly with the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s, when many feared that the country would go economically and politically bankrupt and break into separate territories.
On Monday, the Russian ruble fell to all-time low against the European euro currency, losing close to 2.5% of its value. It now takes nearly 42 Russian rubles to buy one euro, more than it has ever taken since the euro currency was invented. Almost 30 rubles are now required to buy one U.S. dollar, a price Russia hasn’t seen in more than three years, up close to 30% since the August when one dollar could be purchased for just over 23 rubles. In a watershed event, the ruble was finally allowed to fall more than 1% against the euro-dollar blend in a single day, the first time that has happened in recent memory.
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 31 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: Russia’s Nuclear Shell Game
(2) EDITORIAL: Russia, What kind of Country?
(3) EDITORIAL: Another Russian Patriot off to Siberia
(4) The Day of the Russian Jackals
(5) Novokuznetsk on the Ropes
NOTE: La Russophobe wishes all her contributors and readers a happy and prosperous new year, hopefully one that in Russia will bring less Vladimir Putin, less KGB and more democratic civilization to Russia. Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!
Russia’s Nuclear Shell Game
A week ago Tuesday, Russia once again tried to fire a Bulava nuclear missile from a submarine, this one located in the White Sea. For the fifth time in ten tries, the missile veered wildly off course and had to be destroyed immediately after leaving the launching pad, ending the effort in total failure and humiliation.
Russia — What kind of Country?
After 2 pm on New Year’s eve, those whose hobby is following the activity of the Russian stock market will have to find a new way to amuse themselves for a while. The markets will shut down at that time and they will not reopen, per Kremlin order, until Sunday — yes, Sunday — January 11th.
Just what kind of crazy “country” are we dealing with here, anyway?
You might think that ten days is an absurdly long time to shut down the national economy, but in fact for Russians it’s not nearly enough. Last Wednesday the Moscow Times reported:
With investors preparing for the holidays and many international funds closed until January, Russia’s equity markets look set for a quiet last two weeks. But the state may also seek to use the Christmas lull to buy up domestic equities as a consolation boost to finish out 2008. The state’s main bailout vehicle, Vneshekonombank, or VEB, will likely take advantage of the low trading volume on the MICEX and RTS exchanges in the coming days to prop up prices, analysts said, which could mitigate — if briefly — what has been a particularly dismal year for Russian stocks.
So the Russians need two weeks to prepare for ten days of binge drinking and doing even less than usual, and the Kremlin is planning to take advantage of this pre-lull miasma to invade and manipulate the stock market, driving its prices up artificially so as to create the illusion of an end-of–year uptick. Ironically, even the MT itself is affected, and won’t publish another issue during Russia’s national orgy of drinking. Its next outing will not come until January 12th.
There’s only one word for all of this, and that words is: Yikes!
Another Russian Patriot off to Siberia
Vitaly Efremov, Russian Patriot
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Fyodor Dostoevsky. Alexander Pushkin.
It would be hard to think of three greater Russian patriots, wouldn’t it?
So naturally, the people of Russian handled them as follows: Pushkin was killed, Dostoevsky was put up against wall facing a firing squad and almost killed, and Solzhenitsyn was deported.
Meanwhile Josef Stalin, one of the greatest mass-murderers of Russians in their history, was given total power as a dictator and is lionized to this day.
Doesn’t quite make sense, does it? Except in the sense that it perfectly explains why the average Russian man works for $4/hour and doesn’t live to see his sixtieth year.
And if you think this kind of behavior ended when the USSR collapsed because of it, you’d best think again. Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, currently rules Russia at the behest of the Russian people, and then there’s the case of Lieutenant Vitaly Efremov.
In another installment of its “Kremlin Rules” series the New York Times reports on the sellout by former “opposition” politician Nikita Belykh. As always, the Times has translated the article into Russian and posted it on a Live Journal blog, collected comments and translated them back into English. One commenter stated: “Can there be two opinions on this? Belykh sold himself completely, but isn’t he a human being? The liberals have absolutely no chance for success.” Another wrote: “Why do you think Belykh surrendered after years of tough criticism of the Kremlin? He was persecuted by the bloody K.G.B. Just visit the Lubyanka basements, listen to the growl of the ungreased stone crusher, and you won’t have these questions any more.”
Vladimir V. Putin was sitting behind his desk. Before him was a prominent opposition leader named Nikita Y. Belykh, a beefy and bearded liberal with a fondness for scribbling poems on the side. In one, each stanza began with a word that he said characterized Mr. Putin’s Russia: Autocratic. One-Party. Authoritarian. Aggressive. Yet there Mr. Belykh was, ready to abandon it all.
Mr. Putin had invited Mr. Belykh to his office on Dec. 5 to make an offer. Renounce the opposition. Come work for the Kremlin. Mr. Belykh was feeling beaten down, “a sense of my own degradation,” as he explained in an interview last week. He said he was tired of being vilified in the state-controlled news media, of being hounded by the state security forces, of being arrested at demonstrations, of having his political party thwarted at every turn.
And so Mr. Belykh, 33, who represented the future of the liberal opposition, said yes. He accepted an appointment as one of the Kremlin’s regional governors, turning his back on his party allies and becoming emblematic of the opposition’s difficulties this year.
The Moscow Times reports:
The working week, like the winter days in this Siberian city, has become shorter since the global financial crisis paralyzed its heavy industry. Paychecks have been cut by a third or more.
Novokuznetsk’s half a million residents, over 60 percent of whom depend on the steel, coal and aluminum industries, dare not contemplate the alternative — mass layoffs — as they struggle to repay bank loans taken out in more prosperous times. “If nothing changes, we will come up against more serious consequences in February or March,” said Alla Semyonova, director of the city’s employment center. “People have not yet fully grasped what is happening here.”
Novokuznetsk, 3,000 kilometers and four time zones east of Moscow, was booming when demand for steel produced by its two giant mills reached record highs early this year. The sudden reversal in the world economy has hit hard.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 28 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: Third World Russia
(2) Cracks in Putin’s Foundation
(3) Annals of Russian Propaganda
(4) Ryzhkov on the Economic Crisis
(5) Kremlin Finally Admits it Lied about Ossetia
(6) How Georgia Influences Israel and Iran
NOTE: An excellent survey of data regarding the Russian economic downturn, complete with numerous colorful and informative charts, can be found here.
An anti-Putin sign on a vehicle in Vladivostok reading: "Take demons alive."
The Moscow Times reports:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s reputation as a Teflon leader is showing scratches as some Russians start to see a growing disconnect between the realities of the financial crisis and Putin’s public posture as the nation’s savior.
Posters openly insulting Putin were among those waved at a rally of thousands of motorists against a hike in import duties for used cars in Vladivostok for the past two weekends. Earlier, only radical members from the banned National Bolshevik Party had dared to attack Putin in public.
For the first time since Putin stepped down as president in May, Duma deputies on Wednesday called for Putin to be summoned to explain why the country posted a sharp decline in industrial output in November. The motion by Communist deputies was axed by the Putin-led United Russia party.
Robert Coalson, writing on The Power Vertical, reports on the latest atrocities in the annals of Russian propaganda:
This month’s “The Atlantic” has a little essay of interest by Washington-based journalist Joshua Kucera. He tells of a few encounters he had with a Russian Embassy “official” who offered him a few hundred dollars every now and again to publish stories about “what we are doing in the Russian government.”
And it wasn’t even one of those spooky Deep Throat situations — no 3 a.m. parking garages, no surreptitious notes stuck between the pages of “The New York Times.” All Kucera had to do in order to find out “what we are doing in the Russian government” (and now The Power Vertical readers will also know the secret!) was to check out two websites that, to be honest, I’d never heard of before. Kucera’s Russian friend, whom he calls “Vladimir,” said he’d pay Kucera to take stories off those sites and republish them as his own.
Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov holds forth in his latest Moscow Times column on the significance of the economic crisis for the Putin regime:
In 2009, as the frequency and intensity of protests across the country increase, the people will start demanding fundamental changes in the country’s political course and leadership.
Russians are increasingly worried about the economic crisis — and rightfully so. A Dec. 15 survey by the Levada Center found that 60 percent of adults feel uncertain about the future, and 88 percent consider the condition of the economy to be from “fair” to “very bad.” More than half of the respondents feel that the worst is yet to come. Almost 40 percent believe the crisis has already hit Russia, and another third believe it hasn’t hit yet, but will. Furthermore, 75 percent of respondents expect unemployment to increase in their regions, and a whopping one-fourth of the respondents reported that they either had been laid off, hit with pay cuts or experienced delays in getting paid on time.
The government’s attempts to play down the seriousness of the crisis are becoming increasingly difficult to pull off. There is simply too much bad economic news hitting Russia from all sides.
Remember Olga Ivanova and her brazen lies about civilian fatalities in Ossetia? Bloomberg reports that the even the Kremlin itself now confirms how dishonest and inaccurate she was (but Russia, undeterred, still insists it was “genocide“):
A Russian investigation found that 162 civilians died during an August war with Georgia, not 2,100 as previously announced in Moscow.
Russia invaded U.S.-allied Georgia after the Georgian army tried to take control of South Ossetia, a Russian-backed breakaway region. Russian authorities accused Georgia of “genocide,” reporting in August that 2,100 South Ossetian civilians died from the Georgian military offensive. The civilian death toll now officially stands at 162, state broadcaster Vesti-24 quoted the head of the Prosecutor-General’s investigative committee, Alexander Bastyrkin, as saying today in comments posted on its Web Site.
A criminal investigation is under way on charges of murder on ethnic grounds and genocide and it may widen to include other counts including the use of banned armaments and attacking sites under international protection, state news service RIA Novosti cited Bastyrkin as saying. Russia had 48 soldiers killed, including 10 peacekeepers based in South Ossetia before the conflict, according to Bastyrkin. Georgia has said 215 of its soldiers died in the war.
The Implications of the Georgia Crisis in the Middle East
by Mark N. Katz*
The Meria Journal
December 22, 2008
The August 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia has not only had a strong impact on the United States and Europe, but also on Israel and Iran. This article examines Israeli and Iranian reactions to the crisis, as well as its broader impact on regional energy and security concerns.
The conflict that took place between Georgian and Russian forces in August 2008 has clearly had a strong impact on Russia’s relations not only with Georgia, but also with Europe and the United States. It will be argued here, though, that what happened in Georgia has also had important consequences for two Middle Eastern countries in particular–Israel and Iran–as well as for the international security environment concerning them.
This article will briefly discuss the broad impact of the Georgian crisis on Russia’s relations with the West, examine Israeli and Iranian reactions to the crisis, and then explore the broader implications of the crisis both in terms of its impact on Western energy concerns and on Israeli security concerns about Iran. First, though, something needs to be said about the crisis itself.
Reuters reports that the price of crude oil on Russia’s domestic market has fallen to a shocking $12/barrel as the result of a supply glut. As we have previously reported, Russian industry has virtually shut down because of the national financial crisis, and the lack of demand has pushed the price of domestic oil into a state of horrifying freefall. Meanwhile, brutally high export tariffs have destroyed oil company profit margins on the international market as the price of oil has fallen well under $40/barrel, with Russia’s inferior Urals blend flirting with the $30/barrel barrier. With no profitable outlets for it oil, Reuters quotes a trader with a Russian major as follows: ”We are about to start shutting down wells in Siberia.”
In yet more horrifying and undoubtedly related bad news, a Kremlin aide has admitted Russia may need to go begging for foreign loans in order to fund its budget next year, and may insist that all state-owned companies cut their dividend payments to investors in order to divert the cash to fill the Kremlin’s corrupt coffers. The last time the Kremlin experienced a budget deficit, it solved it by simply cutting off wage payments to employees and letting them starve. Will that too soon be in the offing?
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 24 CONTENTS
(1) Another Original LR Translation: Illarionov on the Crisis
(2) EDITORIAL: Oil’s not Well in Putin’s Russia
(3) EDITORIAL: Dead Soul
(4) EDITORIAL: Road Rage in Putin’s Russia
(5) Russia Still #1 — in Corrupt Business Practice
NOTE: Our Christmas present to readers, and Vladimir Putin, is a wealth of original content today, beginning with an original translation by Dave Essel of the latest sensational economic analysis of Putin’s Russia by Andrei Illarionov.
NOTE: Oleg Kozlovsky blogs about the Kremlin’s efforts to repress the Solidarity movement, including bombarding their opening meeting with sheep carcases, waylaying their transportation and crashing their cell phones. He also notes that a prominent Western democracy group has endorsed Solidarity.
NOTE: All of us at La Russophobe wish you and yours a joyous and healthy holiday season. Merry Christmas! In honor of the holiday, we will not publish again until Sunday December 28th.
It’s a Catastrophe
by Andrei Illarionov
A post from the author’s blog
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
Russia’s Federal Office of State Statistics and the Russian Government Economy Observation Centre have disclosed data on November’s industrial production trends. If one is only allowed one word to comment these, then that word is “catastrophe”.
Since the Russia’s Federal Office of State Statistic’s site is currently not accessible, I think this is a good time to publish the base statistics with my preliminary analysis.
Oil’s Not Well in Putin’s Russia
As oil goes, so goes Russia's currency
After perusing scholar Andrei Illarionov’s devastating report on Russian industrial production which leads our issue today, it’s hard to imagine there could be any more bad news for Russia, but there’s plenty. The Moscow Times reported last week that
The economy is not expected to grow until the second half of next year, a deputy economic development minister said Thursday, as the government considered cutting oil export duties to zero, in what would be one of its boldest steps yet to promote growth. Deputy Economic Development Minister Andrei Klepach said the economy could contract by as much as 0.5 percent in 2009 under a pessimistic scenario crafted by his ministry, but the base projection foresees growth resuming by mid-2009 and reaching 2.4 percent for the year.
Klepach also said the base line scenario saw capital outflows of $90 billion and a current account deficit of $45 billion next year. The country’s reserves will top $300 billion by year end, down from $435.4 billion on Dec. 12, he said.
This is simply a devastating admission about the centrality of the world market price of crude oil in the Russian economy. The plummeting price of oil, down two-thirds in half a year, has wiped out Russian economic growth and thrust the economy into a recession. And the price of oil has fallen for just one reason: American demand has evaporated. Thus the lesson is clear: America has the power to crush the Russian economy simply by ceasing to purchase crude oil.
Is this the great result achieved by Vladimir Putin in his first decade of ruling Russia?