Daily Archives: October 3, 2006

Editor of Kommersant Resigns

La Russophobe has previously reported the takeover of Russia’s leading independent newspaper Kommersant by the malevolent forces of the Kremlin. Now, the paper’s editor has resigned in protest. Alexei Pankin reports and comments in his Moscow Times column, below. Note the classic Russian manner in which Pankin makes a joke out of this extremely serious situation, just the way Russians laughed off the racist fantasies of Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his desires to take back Alaska from the U.S. Now, Zhirinovsky’s fantasies are reality in Russia, and if Russians don’t stand up to the Kremlin and stop these encroachments upon their last bastions of information, they’ll soon be just as blind and ignorant as they were in Soviet times. This will leave them incapable of protecting their country from the ravages of a new dicatorship that will surely cleave Russia into shards that can never be rejoined.

As recently as last Saturday, some friends and I were discussing the escalating Russian-Georgian conflict. One of my friends was flipping through a copy of the day’s Kommersant. On reaching the page containing a transcript of the talks between a Russian serviceman and a Georgian civilian that the Georgian authorities had published as proof of Russian spying activity, he asked: “I wonder if we’ll find anything like this in the next edition?”

Saturday’s edition of Kommersant was the last under editor Vladislav Borodulin. As many people, including myself, had predicted, the paper’s new owner appointed a new editor.

Borodulin, widely seen as close to Leonid Nevzlin, a major shareholder in the now-bankrupt oil major Yukos, was replaced by Andrei Vasilyev, whose long collaboration with another fugitive oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, is well known. Whoever’s men they are considered to be, both Borodulin and Vasilyev are steeped in the professional culture of the country’s first independent business newspaper, which based its ethos on the idea that the secret of success was to depend not on political tendencies, but rather the provision of complete, reliable information. Therefore, regardless of who might have been behind the editor, Kommersant was not used as an information weapon in political warfare.

Borodulin was sent packing by new owner Alisher Usmanov. The reason, according to Usmanov himself, was that he was unhappy at a front-page article about the move by the son of Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev from the security agency to state-owned oil firm Rosneft. Judging from this, Usmanov appears to be a typical oligarch with a very murky past. This leaves him open to pressure from the Kremlin, so it makes sense for him to strive to keep it happy, as he has already shown.

In the 19th century, Tsar Nicholas I took it upon himself to act as censor for Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin was lucky because the holders of supreme power in Russia were, as a rule, freer thinkers with broader outlooks than their subordinates, who feared upsetting their superiors more than anything on earth. So, direct access to the top was a positive thing.

People in the know say that Vasilyev is even more popular with Alexei Gromov, the head of the presidential administration press service, than with Berezovsky, and that Gromov approved the appointment. So even this early in Vasilyev’s tenure we can expect that his main function will be to exploit his good relations with the administration in order to get some Kremlin protection to counter Usmanov’s own attempts to keep the Kremlin happy.

There are various ways of looking at the Kremlin’s battles against former Media-MOST chief Vladimir Gusinsky, former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Berezovsky, but those at least were fights against powerful opponents who wielded enormous material and information resources. These battles could instill respect, fear, or hatred — instead of derision — in those who took part in and witnessed them. There the spoils, the NTV and ORT television stations, were also impressive.

But the Kremlin’s role in editorial changes, first at Izvestia and now at Kommersant, newspapers with a combined circulation of just a few hundred thousand that neither intended to or really could be powerful opposition voices, even if they wanted to, is in the realm of the laughable.

The last thing Russia needs is to have its authorities be made into laughing stocks. But how can we help them if they make laughing stocks of themselves?

More Blatant Russian Hypocrisy: Sanctions on Georgia

When the subject is Iran, Russia’s position is that sanctions are “counterproductive” and the world must bring Iran to the bargaining table where it must be treated with respect.

However, when the subject is Georgia, Russia’s position is that Georgia must be bludgeoned into submission by brute force.

Is it really possible that Russians can complain about American “unilateralism” in regard to Russia and yet adopt unilaterialism in regard to Ukraine and Georgia. Is it possible that Russians can’t realize that Georgia and Ukraine see them exactly the way they claim to see the U.S.?

It’s not only possible, it’s reality.

As things go to from bad to worse in the Russo-Georgia dispute, Georgia makes a concession to Russia and in return Russia not only makes no concession but escalates. Reuters reports:

Russia threw up a blockade against Georgia on Monday after Tbilisi’s release of four arrested Russian soldiers failed to defuse the worst crisis in years between the ex-Soviet neighbors.

Western mediators urged Russia to step back from confrontation when Georgia climbed down by releasing the soldiers. But Moscow ignored those pleas and said it would cut rail, air and postal links with Georgia.

The soldiers’ arrest on spying charges was a flashpoint for deeper tensions. Georgia is pushing aggressively to join NATO and the European Union. That alarms Russia, which sees the country as part of its sphere of influence.

“Naturally, (Georgia’s actions) will not be without consequences. We are able to put pressure on the current Georgian regime across the board,” Andrei Kokoshin, a senior pro-Kremlin politician, told Russia’s Channel One television.

After days of increasingly shrill exchanges between Moscow and Tbilisi, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he had ordered that the four Russian soldiers be deported in what he called a gesture of goodwill.

“The message to Russia is: ‘Enough is enough’,” Saakashvili told reporters at a ceremony where the four were handed over to mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

“We want to have good relations. We want to have dialogue. But we cannot be treated as a second-rate backyard of some kind of emerging empire.”If in force for an extended period, the Russian restrictions could cause deep damage to Georgia’s economy. Russia is a key trading partner and many Georgians survive on money sent home by relatives working in Russia.

Georgia’s stand-off with Moscow has sent ripples beyond the region. President Bush talked to Russian leader Vladimir Putin about Georgia in a telephone conversation on Monday, the Kremlin press service said.

It said Putin underlined that third parties should be careful about encouraging Georgia — a clear reference to the U.S. support for Georgia’s pro-Western leadership that irks many in Moscow.


At a ceremony in front of reporters and television cameras, the dazed-looking Russian soldiers were marched out of the prosecutor-general’s office each flanked by two Georgian police officers.

Their handcuffs were removed and they were told one by one they were being deported on suspicion of spying. They were then driven to the airport in white OSCE jeeps and took off for Moscow in a Russian Emergencies Ministry aircraft.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, welcomed the release. “I hope normal relations can now be re-established between Russia and Georgia,” he said.

But the release did not appear to appease the Kremlin. Rail and air links are to be cut from Tuesday, officials said. They cited unpaid debts and safety concerns as the reasons. They did not say when the links would be re-opened.

Russia’s parliament also said it planned to vote this week on a draft law allowing the government to ban money transfers abroad. That would hit remittances from Georgians working in Russia.Russia has already banned two of Georgia’s biggest exports: wine and mineral water.

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuasvili said the latest measures would not bring the country to its knees. “We will survive, as we …. survived for the last 2,000 years,” he said.

Georgia is a small mountainous republic of five million people which for centuries was part of the Russian empire and later a Soviet republic.

The two have had uneasy relations since Georgia became independent from Moscow in 1991.

Ties deteriorated sharply after Saakashvili, a U.S.-educated lawyer, was swept to power in a 2003 “Rose Revolution” and began pushing hard for NATO and EU membership.

He is also trying to restore Tbilisi’s control over the Moscow-backed separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, further adding to tensions.

More Blatant Russian Sexism

Russia has over 140 million people and . . . wait for it . . . only two million licensed female drivers. According to Reuters, this is is actually an improvement on the prior situation: “Fifteen to 25 years ago, there were no female drivers in Russia. There was only one car in the family and that belonged to the husband, the brother or the father and they did all the driving. Now many more women can afford their own car.” It’s not that difficult to have “many more” than zero. Less than 2% of all Russian citizens are licensed female drivers. Since it used to be 0%, this seems like a feminist paradise to Russia’s enslaved women.

Remember when you heard all those wonderful things about how liberated the Soviet Union was, treating women the same as men, no discrimination, no “dirty capitalist sexism.” Turns out that was just as bogus as the idea that Russia was an economic juggernaut.