Monthly Archives: April 2006

Benighted Russians Lost in Darkness

According to Moscow Times columnist Sergei A. Karaganov: “It is unpopular now in most of Europe, including Russia, to cite with approval anything the American president says. “

How typically Russian! George Bush is the only thing standing between Russia and a massive boycott of the St. Petersburg G-8 meeting over Russia’s outrageous providing of American secrets to Iraq during the war, and yet Russians consider him their enemy. No wonder Russia is in a state of permanent decline! Just wait until the Democrats are elected and begin to pursue their human rights policy against Russia, then it will find out who its true enemies are . . . but, a always, much too late for it to any good.

Katyn Forest Massacre Anniversary

As CNN reported, this spring marks the 46th anniversary of the murder of 4,000 Polish officers in cold blood by Soviet troops and KGB agents following the conquest of Poland by Russia in World War II.

Despite knowing the pain of conquest through the destruction of such cities as Stalingrad, Russians nevertheless did not hesitate to inflict even more barbaric suffering on their tiny neighbor Poland.

Russia feared it could not hold Poland as a slave state if her brave officers lived, so it marched them into the Katyn forest and cut them down in cold blood, one of the most despicable acts of cowardice and dishonor in all of military history.

When the mass grave was discovered years later, Russia tried to blame the crime on Nazi Germany, and to this day has done nothing to atone for it.

Will Russia remember Katyn this spring? How about in four years on the 50th anniversary?

Live in Russia? Da nyet, spasibo, they all say

From the Moscow Times:

Americans and Canadians would sooner settle in communist China or sub-Saharan Africa than move to Moscow. Europeans prefer the Falkland Islands. And Asians would go almost anywhere else except the likes of war-torn Baghdad and the West Bank.

According to a survey of expatriates from North America, Western Europe and Asia now stationed around the world, Moscow ranks toward the bottom of everyone’s list. The survey of more than 1,000 expatriates from over 200 countries was distributed in November to clients of human resources company ECA International and was only recently made available to the press.

Out of 257 cities listed, North Americans ranked Moscow the 157th most-desirable place to live and work; Western Europeans ranked it 147th, and Asians 204th. Other cities that beat out Moscow in the poll, in the view of respondents from all three regions, include Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Rarotonga, Cook Islands; Tunis, Tunisia; Windhoek, Namibia; and Beirut, Lebanon.

Kremlin Launches Pogrom

From the Moscow Times today.

Several dozen police officers broke up a prayer meeting of about 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses in southeastern Moscow and briefly detained 14 worshipers.

The Wednesday evening raid promises to raise new worries about a clampdown on minority religions at a time when the clout of the Russian Orthodox Church is increasing.

More than 30 police officers burst into the prayer meeting in a rented hall on Sovkhoznaya Ulitsa at around 9 p.m. and detained 14 organizers, Vasily Kalin, head of the managing committee of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, said Thursday.

Kalin said police told the worshipers that they were violating a 2004 ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow.

The Felonious Fraud that is Victor Yanukovich

Victor Yanukovich, shown above, a repeated candidate for the presidency of Ukraine, is a convicted criminal, having been sentenced to three years in prison for robbery in 1967. No sooner was he released than in 1970 he was convicted of assault and battery in 1970 and sentenced to two years in prison. In 1978 he was prosecuted a third time, but this time acquitted. Despite this, he twice received the official endorsement of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Russian Duma.

Yanukovich became a member of the Communist Party in 1980.

An electrician by training, he does not have a genuine undergraduate diploma but rather only a degree he obtained through a correspondence school. He then obtained various higher degrees through vague periods of study. His knowledge of Ukrainian language is extremely poor and his handwritten documents on record are full of linguistic errors.Yanukovich is closely linked to organized crime, particularly the dreaded Clan of Donetsk headed by Rinat Akhmetov and he has also been linked to the Russian KGB as a mole.

Yanukovich was a member of the Kuchma administration which was fundamentally corrupt and utterly repudiated by Ukrainian voters.

Here is what the World Socialism Website had to say about Yanukovich’s recent election “victory”: “It has taken little more than a year for this “revolution” to expose itself before the Ukrainian masses for the reactionary fraud it always was. From the beginning, Yushchenko and Timoshenko based themselves largely on middle-class, anticommunist layers that opposed the old Soviet system and its remnants in the Kuchma regime not out of hostility to Stalinist repression and corruption, but because it limited their strivings for wealth and privilege. Those who took to the streets out of genuine hatred for Kuchma and the oligarchs were cynically manipulated by the “democratic” impostors and their Western sponsors. In the final analysis, moreover, Yushchenko, Timoshenko and Yanukovich all represent rival oligarchic clans—some, mainly in the east of the country, more closely tied to Russia and the remnants of the state economy; others, mainly in the west, more closely linked to US and European interests. Yushchenko’s initial steps in his “free market” policy only intensified the social crisis facing broad masses of Ukrainian working people. In 2005, the economy grew by a mere 2 percent, compared with 12 percent in 2004. Inflation is averaging 13 percent. Poverty and inequality have reached record levels. The social crisis reached a high point last December when Russia for a time cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, and only restored the flow of energy on the basis of a new and far higher price scale. This crisis evidently brought home for many workers the economic damage caused by the breaking apart of Russia and Ukraine, whose economies were closely integrated within the Soviet framework.” In other words, the people of Ukraine justly suffered for daring to dissolve the Communist paradise of the Soviet Union, soon to be restored by Comrade Yanukovich.

Yanukovich is surrounded by pro-Russian propaganda and blatant disinformation. Writing in Russia Profile, a group of Russians claimed that “in no way is Victor Yanukovich a pro-Russian political figure. In fact, he plays the ‘Russian card’ skillfully, capitalizing on Moscow’s integrationist illusions. It is likely that he would be more successful than Yulia Tymoshenko at renegotiating the gas deal with Russia. He was one of former-President Leonid Kuchma’s closest associates, and Kuchma was never Moscow’s biggest admirer.” This is obvious propaganda, coming from a member of Russian Duma and a MIGIMO professor. Apparently, the wily Yanokovich duped the clueless Vladimir Putin into formally endorsing Yanukovich and spending millions to support his election campaign. Apparently he also duped the entire Duma, which formally congratulated Yanokovich on his “victory” in being the most popular candidate in the most recent elections (even though the Orange Coalition formed the government). This is the sort of ludicrous propaganda Russia is prepared to put forth regarding Yanukovich, easily worthy of the old ham-handed USSR tactics that brought Russia to its knees.

Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that only 30% of Ukrainians favored Yanukovich with their votes, while 70% rejected him, even despite millions of dollars in campaign support provided to him by the Kremlin (including even an attempt to poison his rival Yushchenko).

Iran Ignores Russia on Nukes

As the New York Times reports, Iran has ignored Russia’s alleged pleas to avoid developing nuclear weapons.

Russia claimed it was OK for it to help Iran develop nuclear energy because it would use its influence to dissuade Iran from developing weapons. Now, it is clear that either Russia lied brazenly about its intent to control Iran’s nukes or it grossly overestimated its ability to do so.

In either case, Russia is driving yet another nail into its Cold War coffin. Russia is engaging in wanton provocation of the United States, of a kind Russia would never tolerate in regard to someplace like Chechnya, and Russia will pay dearly for this arrogance and ignorance.

Cold War II Begins . . . at Russia’s Request

From the Moscow Times

U.S. Using WTO to Contain Russia

By Anna Smolchenko Staff Writer

Fearful of Russia helping Iran build a nuclear bomb and the Kremlin reverting to authoritarianism, the United States is once again threatening economic retaliation. At issue is Russia’s long campaign to get into the World Trade Organization, which would open markets around the globe to Russian goods.

While Moscow has resolved trade disputes with many countries, it has yet to iron out all its differences with Washington, a prerequisite for admission to the 149-member WTO. The United States is the last major country to put up obstacles to Russian entry to the WTO. On the surface, the outstanding WTO issues are purely economic — intellectual property rights, for instance, or keeping Russian markets open to American poultry exports, an issue that has recently arisen.

But just beneath the surface, the politics surrounding Russia’s quest to join the global trade organization are clearly visible.

U.S. Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader and one of a handful of Republicans likely to run for president in 2008, indicated Monday that the political chasm separating the United States and Russia figured into the resolution of trade disputes.

Speaking at a news conference after meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Frist said Russia’s disregard for the rule of law, human rights violations and other “anti-democratic” tendencies “color the position of the United States.”

Frist added that “our Congress plays a major role in whether Russia will ultimately be admitted to the WTO.”

A senior congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of trade talks, said the U.S. House of Representatives would be a “major stumbling block” for Russian ascendancy to the WTO.

“It will be an uphill battle,” the aide said of Russia’s effort to gain admission. “A lot of those requirements are genuine trade requirements, but others have to do with political steps. Many congressmen were raised in fear of the Soviet Union. To a certain extent, Russia is still being treated as a Cold War adversary.”

Congress showed its willingness last month to use global trade to further a political end when it freed Ukraine from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik trade provision.

The move came as U.S. ally Viktor Yushchenko, celebrated in Washington for leading Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, was heading into tough parliamentary elections.

By contrast, the United States has not lifted Jackson-Vanik for Russia, making it possible, if not probable, that Ukraine will gain admission to the WTO before Russia.

Jackson-Vanik makes it impossible for Russia to gain most-favored-nation trading status with the United States; even though Russia is granted yearly waivers, graduating from Jackson-Vanik is widely believed in Washington to be a necessary step toward WTO admission. Frist traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg with Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina. Gregg and Burr are also Republicans.

Numerous other senators and House members have voiced uneasiness about granting Russia admission to the WTO as long as the Kremlin restricts press freedom and nongovernmental organizations, and denies voters the freedom to pick their own regional governors.

Representative Curt Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania; Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware; and Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona are among those who are skeptical about granting Russia WTO membership. McCain is seriously considering a presidential bid. Biden has been mentioned as a possible contender.

The United States recently slapped Russia with a list of 10 more requirements that Moscow must meet to gain WTO admission.

President Vladimir Putin, responding to the U.S. move, accused Washington of deliberately keeping Russia out of the world trade body.

Anastasia Zimonina, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, the agency handling WTO negotiations, buttressed Putin in an interview last week, citing a letter sent by U.S. President George W. Bush to Putin. “The requirements indicated in Bush’s letter to Putin, we could say, are new aspects of old issues,” she said.

One issue that particularly galled Russians, she said, was airplanes. The question of plane tariffs had been resolved, Zimonina said, but the United States has put forth new demands about aircraft leasing. U.S. trade representatives have similarly accused the Russians of playing politics with the trade negotiations.

Andrei Kushnirenko, a senior trade official at the ministry, said that most of the issues to be resolved involved agriculture.

Dorothy Dwoskin, a senior trade negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, in Washington, said the pharmaceutical and financial services industries were also a concern for U.S. negotiators.

Late last month, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office issued its annual report on trade barriers, noting that Russian barriers to U.S. drugs were a key sticking point in the WTO negotiations.

Russian import requirements, for example, include obtaining an “expert’s analysis,” the report said. The government also requires “phytosanitary certificates” for incoming styrofoam cups and furniture, the report said.

The protracted WTO debate has apparently prompted some Kremlin officials to rethink the wisdom of seeking membership in the trade organization.

On Monday, an unidentified government official was quoted in Izvestia as saying that WTO membership could harm the Russian economy.

Pavel Katkov, a spokesman for the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, declined to comment. Zimonina, the ministry spokeswoman who normally deals with WTO accession issues, was unavailable Monday.

Anton Strouchenevsky, an economist with investment bank Troika Dialog, dismissed talk of Russia opting out of the WTO. “I wouldn’t get excited over these declarations,” he said. “The WTO negotiations process is very politicized, and it’s largely politicians, not economists, who do the negotiating.”

He added that the latest fireworks were evidence, if anything, that negotiations were proceeding.

Zimonina, however, sounded a philosophical note. “Why is it happening?” she said of the ongoing debate. “Because nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Another Foreign Student Murdered In Russia

From the St. Petersburg Times

African Student Gunned Down
By Ali Nassor and Carl Schreck
Staff Writer

An African student was fatally shot on Friday with a weapon bearing a swastika symbol, raising the hate crime murder toll in St. Petersburg to six in seven months.

The fifth year student of the St. Petersburg State University of Telecommunications, Lamzer Samba, 28, from Senegal died instantly of two bullet wounds when he was shot from behind by an unidentified man in the early morning on his way home from the Apollo nightclub where he and his friends had been celebrating the university’s anniversary. An electrician with a previous conviction on arms charges has been detained in connection with the shooting death, prosecutors said Monday.

The suspect, Alexei Kutarev, 28, was detained Friday after investigators found his fingerprints on a beer bottle in a trashcan near the place where the student was killed, St. Petersburg news web site reported Monday.

Kutarev, who lives in a nearby apartment building, has a conviction for the possession and sale of firearms, said, citing investigators.

“It’s too early to reveal the details in the initial stage of the investigation,” said Yelena Ordynskaya, a senior aide to the City Prosecutor Sergei Zaitsev. “We think we will solve the murder soon given the evidence at our disposal,” Ordynskaya said.

“Lamzer was not a frequent visitor to night spots. I can hardly remember a day he went to a nightclub,” said the head of the city’s Senegalese Students Union, Jean Valery, adding that “he was so dedicated to his studies and such an active anti-fascist campaigner that he was involved in the proactive awareness campaign.”

Samba was running to catch up with a group of five friends in front of him when a gunman hiding on the corner of 5th Krasnoarmeiskaya Street shot him in the back and sneaked away unnoticed.

The murder weapon was found at the scene of the incident and its swastika symbol gave the City Prosecutor’s Office grounds to classify the case as a hate crime, though they have not ruled out other motives.

Samba, who was due to defend his degree thesis this year, was also engaged in an anti-fascist awareness campaign jointly run by the Russian youth movement Nashi and the St Petersburg African Union to which he belonged.

“Samba was one of us, a devotee to the anti-fascist cause,” Leonid Kurzan, head of Nashi’s St. Petersburg branch, told a number of activists who gathered at the Mayakovskaya Public Library to mourn Samba’s death on Saturday.

“He was appealing both to us and to the schoolchildren he lectured on the spirit of tolerance and friendship,” Kurzan said.

On Tuesday the Nashi movement is expected to hold an anti-fascist public demonstration to be attended by human rights activists from various organizations, ethnic minorities and members of the public on Dumskaya Ulitsa, close to Gostiny Dvor, in a show of protest against the city’s recent wave of violent hate crimes.

However, Dmitry Dubrovsky, head of Ethnic Studies at the St. Petersburg European University, frowned on the demonstration, saying, “It’s a chance for political organizations to boost their public image.”

“They use the tragedy to meet their political ends, but you can hardly find anyone among them who is really committed to fighting fascism,” said Dubrovsky.

“It’s appalling to realize that the worst is yet to come as fascists will be celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday in April,” said Desire Deffo, deputy head of the St. Petersburg African Union.
“It’s equally alarming that the fascists are achieving their goal of inspiring terror in anyone who is not with them,” he added, saying, “It is in St. Petersburg that the real ‘terrorists’ should be annihilated.”

But Kurzan said it would be wrong to look into the problems of fascism, xenophobia and racism from the St. Petersburg contextual point of view without paying heed to its national scale.
“Fascists are the same, regardless of the place or the historical period they operate in; be it in the World War II era or in peacetime in Russia,” he said.

According to City Hall’s statistics, the number of foreign students dropped down to about 13,500 this year from about 15,000 last year.

Professor Tamara Smirnova, one of the heads of the Petropol Research Center at the House of National Cultures, said the drastic fall in the number of foreign students in the city was “mainly due to the alarming rate of hate crimes.”

Samba was gunned down less than two weeks after a racist knife attack on a nine-year-old African-Russian girl and about six weeks after a 33-year-old Ivory Coast man was stabbed in attacks. Both survived.

“Perhaps that’s why they have resorted to guns now, as knives would spare some of our lives,” said Deffo.

Russian GDP in Freefall

As reported by [ Reuters ] , German Gref has recognized the disastrous consequences of Russia’s recent GDP statistics, which show industrial growth nearly in recession and overall growth half what it was last year, despite the roaring market for Russian crude oil. If Russia is doing this badly with the price of oil through the roof, what will happen when the price bottoms out (or, shudder, when this exhaustible fossil fuel is gone)?

Economic growth may slow unless Russia boosts productivity and investment, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told a Cabinet meeting Thursday that ended in a dispute over natural monopolies’ tariffs.The country’s gross domestic product grew by 4.1 percent in January and February in year-on-year terms, Gref said, adding that full-year growth could slow to 5.0 percent or below in 2007-09.The New Year’s slowdown, when industry was hit by severely cold temperatures, compared with a full-year GDP figure of 6.4 percent in 2005 and an Economic Development and Trade Ministry forecast for 2006 of 6.0 percent.

Russia’s GDP grew 4.1% and industrial output was up 2.7% in the first two months of 2006, the economic development and trade minister said Thursday. German Gref told a government session that the gap between growth in GDP and industrial output had been increasing in recent months. The gap was about 2.5 percentage points in 2005, against 1.1 in 2004.

“The only source of future growth in Russia is an increase in labor productivity,” Gref told ministers, who discussed a three-year economic strategy paper.Gref said a strong ruble, a slowdown in the oil and gas industry, rising demand for imports and capacity constraints were the key factors behind the economic slowdown.Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatyev told the Cabinet he expected the ruble to rise by 2.0 percent in nominal effective terms for the whole of this year.The ruble is getting stronger amid an influx of easy petrodollars, but Gref said energy could not be counted on to drive growth.”Oil and gas used to be the main engines of Russia’s economy, but not any longer,” Gref told ministers. “Growth in this industry has fallen to 1.5 to 2 percent, and we expect it to stay at this level in the medium term.”He said monthly inflation would slow to 0.6 percent in March, from 2.4 percent in January and 1.7 percent in February.The medium-term plan envisages annual inflation falling further to 6 to 7.5 percent in 2007, 4 to 5.5 percent in 2008 and 4 to 5 percent in 2009. Year-on-year inflation was 11.2 percent in February.Consumer prices spiked at the start of the year as a result of rising fees for household utilities and food prices.The Cabinet aims to keep power tariff rises in line with inflation, while capping gas price rises at 11 percent in 2006, 8 percent in 2007 and 7 percent in 2008.But providers like state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom or electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems pushed for bigger rises.Anatoly Chubais, who heads UES, said the government’s tariff policy was “unprofessional” and blamed rapid growth in the money supply and lax state spending for fueling inflation.”If you want to keep inflation in check, you shouldn’t try to fight the consequences; you should deal with the causes,” Chubais said at the meeting. “To say that tariffs spark high inflation is like medieval palm-reading.”UES wants electricity prices to rise by 11 to 13 percent in 2007, almost double the official inflation target. The government on Thursday approved a strategy document but said it would return to the tariffs issue.

Russia’s Gas Resources in Decline

As The Washington Post reports:

Three months ago the Russian energy giant Gazprom forced Ukraine to pay sharply higher prices for natural gas. At the time, the story was portrayed as a political struggle for control in Kiev. But last week Gazprom announced it was tripling gas prices in Belarus, a country that is politically close to the Kremlin. Moldova has been forced to accept a doubling of prices over the next three to four years, and the other former Soviet republics are already paying market prices for Russian gas.

The truth is that these price increases are not political. Rather, they reflect worrisome economic and geological facts about Russian gas fields. The Kremlin is not simply trying to use Gazprom to reassert authority in Belarus, Ukraine or anywhere else. There are in fact deep problems with Gazprom — problems created by its inefficient management and a looming decline in gas production.

Russia controls over a quarter of the world’s gas reserves — more than any other country. Most of the known Russian reserves (about 80 percent) are in west Siberia and concentrated in a handful of giant and super-giant gas fields. Since the early 1970s the rate of discovery for these new fields has been declining. Moreover, output from the country’s mainstay super-giant fields is also steadily falling.

This, of course, is no surprise. Sooner or later, fossil fuels exhaust. But it appears its sooner rather than later for Russia. If this is so, Dictator Putin will no longer be able to rely on energy wealth to secure his dictatorship, and will have to begin relying on the ham-handed, jack-booted thuggery of this Soviet predecessors. So it goes in the neo-Soviet Union.

Kremlin Loses in Ukraine Once Again

As Reuters reports, in the recent national elections in Ukraine Moscow’s puppet Victor Yanukovich won only 32% of the vote, less than he received in 2004 when he lost to the pro-US candidate Victor Yushchenko. Yanukovich was rejected by more than two out of every three Ukrainians who went to the polls, while the Orange Coalition that opposed him in 2004 easily exceeded Yanukovich’s tally and formed a governing coalition.

Bitter defeat for Moscow once again, especially since in the run-up to the elections many Russian nationalists had been crowing about how they would once again take control of Ukraine. Despite the crude neo-Soviet tactics of the Kremlin, which included poisoning Yushchenko and blackmailing the nation by cutting of its flow of natural gas for home heat during the winter, brave Ukrainians spit in the eye of Moscow and declared their permanent intention to break from the neo-Soviet Union and join the West.

President Bush is Dictator Putin’s Best Friend

Despite Russia selling weapons to Iran that can be used to destroy American ships in the Persian Gulf;

Despite Russia giving US military secrets to Iraq during the Gulf War that were used to kill American soliders;

Despite Russia’s abolishing the election of regional governors and now local mayors in favor of Kremlin appointment;

Despite Russia’s ressurection of the Soviet National anthem, written to glorify the mass-murderer Josef Stalin;

Despite all that, as the New York Times reports, President Bush remains Putin’s best friend, refusing to boycott the G-8 meeting this summer in St. Petersburg and doing NOTHING so far to retaliate for Russia’s ourageous conduct.

Isn’t it ironic? President Bush, who Russia hates because of the attack on Iraq, is Russia’s best friend.

Can you just imagine who Russia’s enemies are?

Russia Sells Weapons and Secrets to US Enemies

As reported by The Washington Post today, not only has Russia given U.S. military secrets to Iraq which cost American solidiers their lives, but now Russia is selling missile technology to Iran which can be used to sink U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf!

Russia is clearly baiting the U.S. into a new cold war, one it cannot possibly surive (the USSR lost the cold war, and it was much stronger than Russia today).

As the The Post reported yesterday, Russians are even trying to blame this new cold war on the United States itself! It’s the neo-Soviet Union!

I just wonder what Russians would say if America gave Russian military secrets and U.S. missile technology to Chechnya! Come to think of it, I wonder how long it will be before George Bush Jr. is out and America responds in just that way!

The Cosmic Fraud that is Maria Sharapova

You may not be a tennis fan, but even if you are not you may recall Maria Sharpova’s pledge not to be “another Kournikova” selling her body for soft porn while her game goes into the tank. From the photo you can see how reliable this Russian’s word is.

Russian female tennis players had an impressive year in 2004. Five of the eight slots in grand slam event finals were filled by Russians, and three of the four slams were won by Russians. In addition to Wimbledon, Russia’s Maria Sharapova also won the season-ending WTA Tour Championship title, making 2004 the best year by far for Russian tennis and Sharapova Russia’s apparent golden girl.

But if we look below the surface, we see a different picture entirely, especially as far as Sharapova is concerned. In 2005 and so far in 2006, no Russian has even reached a grand slam final, much less prevailed there, making 2004 seem very much like the fluke some commentators saw it as at the time.

As for Sharapova, first of all, it is questionable whether it is even appropriate to refer to her as “Russian.” She left the country as a small child, speaks English on the court, lives in Florida, spends virtually no time in Russia, has consistently refused to play for the national team and donates almost none of her vast fortune to the relief of Russian poverty.

Sharapova has claimed that she “needs” to live in the USA for her tennis, but that is an absurd fantasy. Svetlana Kuznetsova lives in St. Petersburg, and won the U.S. Open. Anastasia Myskina lives in Moscow, and won the French Open. Elena Dementieva lives in Moscow, and was a finalist in 2004 at both the French and U.S. Opens. What Sharapova “needs” is the glamour and money to be found in the American marketplace.

The next factor to be considered is luck. The only reason, for instance, that Sharapova reached the finals at Wimbledon in 2006 is that a sudden downpour interrupted her semi-finals match with Lindsey Davenport, not once but several times, while Davenport was in the midst of pulverizing Sharapova, who’d barely managed to win a single game. After the sequence of rain delays, the aging Davenport lost focus and physical edge while the youthful Sharapova rebounded. Wimbledon is planning to erect a roofed stadium to avoid problems like this in the future.

Indeed, Sharapova seems to lead a charmed existence. How else to explain her miraculous ability to travel from Siberia to the world renown Bolletari tennis academy in Florida, while so many wait so long for U.S. visas, where she was able to study tennis at the highest level for free. Reviewing Sharapova’s tournament victories, it’s amazing how often she has been able to reach and win a final without having had to play a top-five opponent, as was the case in her most recent tournament victory, the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells, California. In 2005, she was 3-3 against top five opponents, winning just three tournaments in 15 tries, and in only one of those three wins did she have to face a top-five player; in one of her other three tournaments wins, she did not even have to face a player in the world’s top fifteen.

Then, quality of play must be considered. A person even casually familiar with tennis who compares the 2005 Wimbledon final between Davenport and Venus Williams to the 2004 match between Sharapova and the other Williams sister, Serena, cannot but be struck by the dramatic difference in the quality of play and watchability of the two matches, one scintillating and the other a yawner. A serious fan would be very hard-pressed to name a single match where Sharapova produced truly compelling, championship-caliber tennis against a highly-ranked opponent. For every significant win against a credible opponent, there are two calamitous disasters against also-rans. Maria plays with an entirely one-dimensional baseline power game bereft of shotmaking, and her unforced errors are regularly twice as many as her winners. In other words, she’s Ivan Lendl light.

Finally, there is the character issue. When she broke onto the tour, Sharapova promised that she would not be “another Kournikova” and would focus on only tennis, not soft porn. So it was rather surprising to see Maria appear in a cheesecake spread in the most recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Time and again, Sharapova has proved herself unable to handle long, demanding three-set matches, and she has repeatedly been blown off the court by higher-ranked opponents, several times registering the infamous “bagel” or “double bagel” in which she wins not a single game. One might attribute this to Sharapova’s youth, expecting her to improve with age like a fine wine, but there is no evidence of that so far and she has repeatedly implied she may not be in it for the long haul anyway; apparently, Sharapova thinks there’s much more to her than tennis (which wouldn’t be hard to believe).

But the most damning evidence of Maria’s flawed character came at her most recent tournament, the so-called “fifth major” at the Nasdaq-100 event in Miami. In her semi-final match with fellow Russian expatriate Tatiana Golovin, Sharapova had a dominant position against the much lower ranked player in the second set after winning the first, then once again imploded. Golovin reeled off game after game and denied Sharapova four match points whereupon, as Golovin stood to serve out the set, Sharapova suddenly decided she needed a bathroom break, unheard of in tennis etiquette on an opponent’s serve. Despite her pathetic gamesmanship, which drew caustic boos from the audience, Golovin closed Sharapova out in the second set.

But the worst was yet to come. In the tightly fought third set, Golovin sustained a horrific injury to her ankle that ultimately forced her to withdraw. As she stood on the court writhing in pain with tears of agony flowing from her eyes, Sharapova stood callously at the other end of the court taking no notice. Later, Sharapova would claim, bizarrely, that she had no idea Golovin had been injured, eerily reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s claim that, while he smoked marijuana, he did not inhale. The audience was not fooled, and booed Sharapova off the court after her “victory” when Golovin resigned. When questioned about the boos, Sharapova said she had no idea what they possibly could have been about.

It seemed, though, that the world was on to Sharapova’s con game long before the match started, since the Miami centercourt stadium was half empty despite Sharapova’s alleged sex appeal and drawing power. With so many flaws in her game, real tennis fans realized long ago that she’s simply not worth watching, incapable of producing the thrilling pyrotechnics of a true champion.

In other words, eerily like Russia itself, Sharapova is a triumph of form over substance, a grand illusion. Just as Russia hides behind its oil and gas revenues, Sharapova hides behind her looks, which are ordinary by model standards but superlative by professional athletic standards. Behind these facades, though, there is a crumbling edifice built on shifting, uncertain foundations that will not endure the test of time. Just like the former USSR, when faced with unpleasant reality Sharapova chooses to stick her pretty head into the sand and deny everything. And we all know how far the USSR got copping that attitude.

Author Richard Lourie Predicts Internet Crackdown

Writing in the Moscow Times, author Richard Lourie had this to say about Russia’s prospects for democratic development as viewed throught prism of the Internet:

It’s a safe bet that any restriction of the Internet anywhere will be done in the name of the highest and most inarguable values. and have already had sites closed down for publishing the Danish cartoons of Mohamed that so offended Muslims worldwide. The deranged 20-year-old man who attacked worshippers in a Moscow synagogue fed his hate with poison from anti-Semitic web sites. As a multiethnic state Russia has a real and legitimate interest in preventing the fomenting of racist animosity, especially against Muslims, a significant percentage of the population. But just as Rodina was shut out of the Moscow City Duma elections for its racist video describing swarthy watermelon-eating types from the Caucasus as “garbage” (but really to weaken it politically), there will always be a hidden agenda behind the rationales of national security and ethnic harmony.

The essential thugishness of the Lukashenko regime was revealed in its actions against opposition candidates and newspapers when no action was required for Alexander Lukashenko to sweep the elections handily — he’s genuinely popular with a majority of Belarussians, and many Russians for that matter. But to some mindsets, any dissent is dissing. Something similar could well occur in Russia’s elections for the State Duma in 2007 and for president in 2008. The recent beating of Marina Litvinovich, a top aide to Garry Kasparov, chess champion and presidential candidate, may prove an isolated incident or an omen of things to come. Whoever the Kremlin’s hand-picked candidate for president is in 2008, he won’t have the popular mandate that Vladimir Putin himself had in 2004. Tougher techniques than merely controlling television may be required. If there’s any serious resistance, it is at that point that the Internet may start being censored in the name of national security.

It was recently revealed that William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, Russia’s largest foreign portfolio investor, was denied entry to Russia in November 2005 under a law barring entry to foreigners considered a national security threat. Redemption requests amounting to 3.4 percent of the Hermitage Fund’s $4 billion were received after news of Browder’s expulsion became public. Since Browder is an outspoken supporter of Putin and an outspoken critic of waste and lack of transparency in such giants as Gazprom and Surgetneftegaz, the question arises — who’s running the borders, the government or neftmen and gazsters?

In the end, the desire for money may keep Russia honest. To keep good trade relations with Europe, to stay in the Group of Eight and to gain entry into the WTO, Russia must restrain some of its more brutal authoritarian impulses, though the real problem may be a sort of dvoyevlastiye, or dual rule, with the government and big oil jousting for power. But due to its own addiction to oil and its own national security jitters, the West’s moral resolve does not seem especially vigorous at the moment. By 2008, consultants from Google and other companies may be helping Russia filter the web, and American spin doctors may help explain why a few women bleeding on sidewalks do not, statistically, indicate a national trend. By that time the frequent description of Lukashenko as Europe’s last dictator may seem an optimistic misnomer.

“Brutal authoritarian impulses” just about says it all. Lourie talks about Russia is though it were only a quasi-civilized state at best, with no genuine morality and capable of being motivated, if at all, only by bribery.

Corrupt Putin-Schröder Axis Continues

As The Moscow Times reports, Germany is paying its defunct prime minister and bosom pal of dictatorship in Russia $300,000 — God only knows how much he is getting from Russia! Isn’t it interesting how the great failures from other countries always seem to gravitate towards Russia?

Friday, March 31, 2006. Issue 3383. Page 1.
Schröder Defends His Pipeline Role

By Valeria Korchagina Staff Writer

As he took the reins of a consortium behind the North European Gas Pipeline on Thursday, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder dismissed criticism for accepting a job that will pay him 250,000 euros ($301,000) per year.

Speaking to a room packed with journalists at the Gazprom headquarters in Moscow, Schröder emphasized the importance of the project’s securing energy supplies to Europe, saying any German government would have supported the $5 billion plan.

“I cannot understand this criticism,” Schröder said, stressing that he was invited to chair the project by Gazprom, which owns a controlling stake of 51 percent. German partners E.On and BASF each have a 24.5 stake in the joint venture.”This project is of huge importance for securing energy supply to Germany. … The criticism is wrong,” Schröder said. In addition to the appointment of Schröder, who is considered a close friend of President Vladimir Putin, the committee on Thursday also formalized the role of Dresdner Bank’s Matthias Warnig as managing director. Warnig, board chairman of Dresdner Bank’s Russian arm, has been friends with the president since Putin’s days in the St. Petersburg city administration in the 1990s. According to some reports, the two go back even further, to when Putin was a KGB agent in East Germany.

Russia bombs at Calgary

Russia managed to win only one medal at the World Figure Skating Championships in Calgary last month, a lowly bronze in Russia’s pet event, the pairs. This is yet another sign of Russia’s diminishing athletic prowess and humiliation, which included winning no medal in ice hockey at the Torino Olympiad. Shortly on the heels of that disaster, Russia’s hockey coach was fired for drunkedness and violance (now there’s a surprise, a drunk violent Russian!).

America won four times as many medals at Calgary, completing Russia’s humiliation.

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