Daily Archives: September 9, 2006

The Russian Navy: Keystone Sailors Running Aground

Reuters reports that the Russian “navy” is slipping slowly beneath the waves:

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A spate of mishaps in Russia’s navy has exposed the gap between the Kremlin’s ambition of restoring lost military might and the reality of temperamental equipment and badly paid crews.

The navy suffered the double humiliation on Thursday of a fire on a nuclear-powered submarine that killed two crew members and a failed missile test launch.

“The Russian Navy is equipped for parading itself in front of President Vladimir Putin but underneath, there is still a dilapidated infrastructure,” said Igor Kudrik, chief submarine expert with the Oslo-based Bellona environmental group.

Russia’s submarine fleet — the second largest in the world after the United States and a key part in Russia’s nuclear defense shield — has been especially accident-prone.

An electrical fire on board an attack submarine in the Barents Sea killed two crew who were trying to put it out. The navy’s commander-in-chief said the vessel was overdue for scheduled repairs.

Hours later, a prototype inter-continental missile launched from a submarine in the Pacific Ocean fell back into the sea. The Bulava missile is a flagship project intended as an equivalent to the U.S. Trident, local media reported.

The Kremlin is splurging cash on its military, with the biggest increase in hardware spending. But that is not enough, said Ruslan Pukhov, Director of Moscow military think tank CAST.

“The main problems of the .. navy, including the submarine fleet, is not the equipment, but personnel,” he said.

“There is not enough training for crews, they are not at sea very much and they are paid little. Technical accidents, for the most part, stem from the human factor.”

The navy has caused Putin personal embarrassment. When the Kursk submarine sank six years ago, killing all 118 crew, he was accused of being uncaring because he did not immediately break off his holiday.

In 2004, Putin dressed up in a military-style outfit to watch a huge missile-firing exercise in the Barents Sea. But one ICBM failed to launch from a submarine.

Navy chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov was dismissed last year. His replacement, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, pledged a radical shake-up. But he too has been dogged by mishaps.

The Jamestown Foundation has more.

Images from the Kondopoga Tragedy: What is this child guilty of in the eyes of the Slavophiles?

Reuters photo: A Chechen family, Fatima (C) and her two sons Magomed (L) and Muslim (R), from Karelian town of Kondopoga stand in the corridor of a rest house in Petrozavodsk, September 8, 2006. The family fled from Kondopoga after hundreds of people marched through the town and looted shops held by Caucasus businessmen.

Out of the Mouths of Russians

Here’s a powerful statement by Alexei, the Russian publisher of the Russian Dilettante blog:

I have always argued that most Russians are simply too uneducated to make qualified decisions outside their private lives, and that the ruling elites have no interest in educating the masses. I am consistent in this.

Now, if La Russophobe were to make a statement like that, she’d be accused by the Russophile wackos of being a “racist” or a “bigot,” wouldn’t she?

When describing widespread Russian ignorance (isn’t it ironic that Russians project themselves to foreigners as a highly educated, erudite population, especially compared to Americans?), Alexei adopts a tone of irony and sarcasm. La Russophobe asked Alexei whether he didn’t think this tended to undercut his message somewhat, making it seem that pursuing the education of the Russian people was a matter for joking, an impossibility. He responded:

My irony, in case you did not notice, is a simple device to conceal pain and dispair — a device necessary in this postmodern age, when expressions like “saving your country” can only earn you ridicule.

Indeed, La Russophobe does often call upon Russians to take action to save their country, and the response is quite often ridicule. Apparently Alexei has himself been victimized by this treatment once too often and, like many Russians, has given up trying. Thank goodness for the indomitable fortitude of La Russophobe.

Alexei is certainly right in saying that the Kremlin doesn’t want an educated population in Russia. That’s why it keeps the salaries of teachers so low, preventing talented young people from entering the profession. That’s why it censors textbooks and controls curriculum. If Russians received a real education, then they’d become free thinkers, and free thinkers are much more difficult for the Kremlin to control. For the same reason, the Kremlin likes to keep the Russian population suffering from all manner of sickness, which further weakens critical powers.

But how does the Kremlin manage to convince Russians that, despite actually being ignorant, they are clever and well-educated? That’s quite a trick, isn’t it? Truly, the one area where Russia leads the world is propaganda.

Alexei himself is even a victim. For instance, in a recent post he claims that reporting by the Associated Press about the Kondopoga race riots was “misleading.” Alexei (who La Russophobe believes is a Slavic Russian) makes the general charge that “liberal Western media are picturing the riots as an unprovoked attack on defenseless immigrants.” Yet, in his post he doesn’t make reference to one single specific statement made by the AP reporter which was allegedly inaccurate or misleading. This is the style of the Soviet propagandist, and Alexei has been victimized by it, though he may not even be aware of the crime.

And it gets worse. Alexei then seeks to tell us the “real story” of what happened at Konodopoga. How does he do it? What are his sources, superior to the Associated Press? Well, let Alexei tell you in his own words:

Using Russian online sources, including internet forumes and LiveJournal.com postings, I have tried to understand what actually happened in Kondopoga in the late August and early September of 2006.Can you believe it?

Alexei chooses to rely upon anonymous blogs written by Slavic Russians he not only doesn’t know but whom he can’t verify were ever anywhere near Kondopoga, much less firsthand witnesses to the events there. Even if they’re not simply lying, they could be basing their statements on what they see on state-controlled, propagandizing Russian TV. But Alexei doesn’t even warn his readers about this possiblity, he takes theirs statements as gospel (and doens’t even link readers to the posts so they can read them for themselves).

Based on reading Russian blogs, Alexei comes up with this amazing statement:

About a hundred young men left the town square and, heated by alcohol, rushed to set fire to the restaurant where it all started, owned by a “Caucasus ethnic.” (Likely not a Chechen. A telling detail though — a few years ago, the owner’s son shot a Russian girl and walked free.)

So, Alexei says that in fact the Slavs of Kondopoga were not guilty of an “unprovoked attack on defenseless immigrants” but rather were defending themselves from a cruel murderer of children. The only thing is, there isn’t one single shred of documentation for this claim to be found on Alexei’s website, not even the simple identity of the blog writer who said it. The Russian blogosphere is full of racist websites and all forms of racist propaganda, and it is a classic form of Russian igorance, the kind Alexei decried, to repeat a statement like this with no warning as to how reliable it is. Shame on you, Alexei!

And for the final show of ignorance, what did Alexei do when La Russophobe called him on this behavior? He just refused to speak to her anymore about it, and plunged his head further into the sands of ignorance. In other words, yet another classic Soviet response.

This is the way it depressingly goes in Russia. Even when you have a Russian who gets it half right, he inevitably manages to get the other half twice as wrong, negating progress. For this reason century after century Russian government looks oddly similar and the nation continues its downward spiral. And when occasionally someone comes forward to get up in their faces about it (Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitisyn) they are inevitably shouted down, imprisoned, exiled or simply killed.

And so it goes in Russia.

On the Disintegration of Russia

A Step at a Time blog points out an argument by Russian analyst Aleksei Pantykin, who “says the Kondopoga events highlight the danger that ‘the Russian Federation may collapse in the same way the USSR did.'” ASAAT’s David McDuff continues:

He bases his argument on the fact that the reaction of Russian officialdom and even many Russians resembles all too closely the disastrous misreading of the start of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a conflict that ultimately contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union. At that time, he recalls, one Politburo member (V.I. Dolgikh) travelled to the region and bemoaned the fact that tehre was a dispute between “two Muslim peoples,” a statement that not only distorted the facts – Armenia is historically Christian – but highlighted the extent to which the Soviet leadership was out of touch with reality. Citing the observation of Ortega y Gasset that elites must restrain their peoples, Pantykin suggests that at present many elites in Russia are doing just the reverse, pushing both sides in the conflict in Kondopoga toward more and broader conflicts rather than calming the situation.

Others agree: Pavel Svyatenkov noted that Russia was rapidly becoming a place in which one section of the country might decide to fight another, a situation unthinkable elsewhere: “even in a nightmare,” he said, “it is impossible to imagine Texas forces advancing on California”. And Oleg Kashin argued that Russian elites bear much of the responsibility for this deterioration, not only by failing to discuss what is going on but by offering television time to extremist Russian nationalists like Yegor Khomogorov to advance their agendas.

But however valid or invalid these generalizations may be, the Kondopoga events are already having three major consequences. First, officials in both Karelia and Moscow have rushed to blame the non-Russian immigrants for what happened rather than exploring the complex of causes behind this explosion. Second, non-Russians in major Russian cities are rushing to say that their communities will never destabilize the situation there, however bad things may get. Indeed, the head of the Uzbek community in St. Petersburg said his people would remain calm despite recent knifings of its members. And third, in some Russian cities, officials now feel themselves empowered to repress non-Russians and especially people from the Caucasus even more harshly. In Kaliningrad, ANN reported on Tuesday militia have been going house to house and asking: “Are there any suspicious people there? Any persons of Caucasus nationality?”

Officials there say they are doing this to enhance security in advance of what they hope will be a visit to that non-contiguous portion of the Russian Federation later this month. But few people be they Russian or non-Russian will fail to conclude that what is going on is something bigger than that. And to the extent they are correct, one of the two more apocalyptic conclusions offered above – either a repressive Russian nationalist state or the disintegration of the Russian Federation – could prove true, despite the expectations or hopes of many in virtually all camps

One thing above all can’t be questioned: If Russia really is doing well economically, then these acts are truly barbaric indications of latent and fundmental racism permeating Russian society that need not rely on economic motivations. If the acts are driven by poverty, then all the claims about Russia’s oil revenues are proven nothing more than smoke and mirrors.