Daily Archives: October 20, 2006



The horror is unfolding so rapidly that even La Russophobe can barely keep up with or believe it. The Washington Post now reports that Neo-Soviet Russia has already moved from the frying pan of the Politkovskaya killing to the fire of obliterating the presence of all the major foreign NGOs in the country, including Amnesty and HRW. For sheer bellicose provocation, this makes the murder of Politkovskaya seem minor, when only days before her killing made all that had preceded it seem so. Here’s the Post‘s report:

Russia has suspended the activities of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Republican Institute and more than 90 other foreign non-governmental organizations on grounds they failed to meet the registration requirements of a controversial new law designed to bring foreign activists here under much closer government scrutiny.

The measure, signed into law by President Vladimir Putin at the start of the year, was criticized as an attempt to rein in one of the last areas of independent civic life in Russia. But Russian officials called it necessary to prevent foreign states interfering in Russia’s political process.

On Thursday, they defended the suspensions as simply due to the failure of private groups to meet the law’s requirements, not a political decision on the part of the state.

“No political order has been given . . . to tighten the screws,” said Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s federal ombudsman, speaking at a Moscow forum hosted by the Council of Europe, a 46-country human rights organization based in Strasbourg, France. “Colleagues from international NGOs are not in the habit of keeping their affairs and documents in order.”

Many of the suspended groups are American, including adoption agencies, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. The latter two organizations are funded by the U.S. Congress but act independently to promote democracy.

Other suspended groups include two branches of Doctors without Borders, the Danish Refugee Council and the Netherlands-based Russian Justice Initiative, which helps Russians bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

Russian officials stressed that the suspensions, which came into effect at midnight Wednesday, are temporary — provided the groups meet the bureaucratic requirements.

“We are not speaking about closing organizations, that is out of the question,” said Natalia Vishnyakova, a senior official at the Ministry of Justice, in a telephone interview. Concerning the registration process, she said: “We are working properly and put all our efforts into making it even faster. It is not at all complicated, believe me, absolutely not. It’s really their own headache. On our part, we provided all necessary conditions.”

Activists complained, however, that the requirements of the law are so vague and cumbersome that meeting the deadline was extremely difficult. Russian officials, they said, nit-picked their way through the submitted documents.

Human Rights Watch, for instance, called itself the “Representative Office of the Non-Governmental Organization Human Rights Watch in the Russian Federation.” Officials at the registration office rejected that description and said the group should call itself the “Representative Office of the Corporation Human Rights Watch Inc. (USA) in the Russian Federation.”

That change, among others, required Human Rights Watch to send its submission back to its headquarters in New York to have the document revised and renotarized in the United States, then re-translated into Russian and re-notarized in Russia.

Officials at the Human Rights Watch office in Moscow said they could not speak to a reporter because they interpreted the strictures of the suspension to extend to talking to the news media. The law says that suspended groups can do nothing to realize the aims and goals of their offices in Russia.

“We are registering and we are complying with the law,” said Carroll Bogert, associate director of Human Rights Watch, in a telephone interview from New York. “But we have been really distracted from our work by the onerous burdens that this law imposes. But this is not particular to us. It’s a hassle for everyone.”

Other groups including the American Chamber of Commerce said they found the registration office helpful because people there pointed out errors before the group formally submitted its documents, allowing it to correct them and expedite the registration. Among major American organizations, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Moscow Center were successfully registered. In all, 99 foreign groups were registered, officials at the Justice Ministry said.

A spokeswoman from Amnesty International said the organization was exploring whether it could continue to do field research in Russia by flying in researchers from London, where the organization is based. “We are seeking clarification,” said Lydia Aroyo, a spokeswoman based in London. “But we are very unhappy. There were no clear guidelines as to what documents were required or how to fill them out. The process was very cumbersome and very time-consuming.”

Zaire with Permafrost

One cannot praise too highly the perspicacity of Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Tayler, who memorably predicted in a May 2001 article entitled “Russia is Finished” that the country was on the way to becoming “Zaire with permafrost.” A fine bookend for this analysis is provided in by Richard Lourie (pictured) most recent column for the Moscow Times. Perhaps the question we must now ask is, was Tayler a tad too optimistic? Is Zaire just a faraway goal that Russia might hope to reach one day?

Russia is simply becoming more Darwinian. It is not only democracy that is dying, but civilization itself. Democracy is just a sign of advanced civilization. It is based on the assumption that individuals are of significance and their voices should be heard. Exactly the opposite message is projected when a leader and a party stifle any opposition to its power in the polls and the courts.

A free press is another attribute of civilization, but not only because people need information about the truth. A free press is in itself an assumption, a value, a message that reality is complex, each individual has a unique perspective and so a truer picture of reality is achieved when as many points of view as possible are taken into account.

The 12 journalists who have been killed in Russia since President Vladimir Putin came to power were probably killed to avenge something already written or to prevent the publication of something else. But an atmosphere in which individuals and free institutions are held in open contempt also facilitated these murders.

This contempt was evident in the remarks Putin made after two days of silence about the slaying of Anna Politkovskaya. “I think that journalists should be aware that her influence on political life was extremely insignificant in scale.” The woman is two days dead and the president of her country pronounces her life’s work “extremely insignificant.” But Putin takes her death almost as an affront, at the very least, a smudge on his regime: “This murder inflicts more harm and damage to the governments of Russia and Chechnya than did her publications.”

A few months after Putin came to power in 2000, he convened a meeting of the oligarchs in the Kremlin and told them they could keep their ill-gotten gains if they kept out of politics. But there was another power bloc that had to be attended to — the real mafias as opposed to the educated business types who had spotted their big chance. Former President Boris Yeltsin constantly complained that something like 40 percent of the economy was under criminal control. But Putin apparently reached some sort of modus vivendi with the criminal world. They stopped killing each other in the streets and concentrated their efforts on traditional areas like drugs, prostitution and gambling or went semi-legit. But money has to be laundered. It’s certainly possible that the murder of Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov, the Politkovskaya of banking, was a result of his threatening the flow of such funds. Sensing the lawlessness in the land, the mafias could now be resurgent.

In any case, some sort of gigantic struggle is afoot in Russia, a new “divvying up.” Most of it takes place behind the scenes, but its violent reverberations are felt everywhere: When Georgia arrests four Russians on charges of espionage, the response is overkill — all transportation and postal links severed. Shell Oil’s project on Sakhalin Island is charged with serious environmental violations. All the foreign companies bidding for a part in the development of the Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea are summarily rejected. A senior official at TNK-BP, Enver Ziganshin, is shot dead.

Yukos and its former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, may well have breached the understanding reached with Putin, but in the post-Yukos era the same contempt felt for journalism, justice and politics has infected the rules of the game in business as well.

The murders of Kozlov the banker, Ziganshin the oilman and Politkovskaya the journalist all no doubt had their specific causes about which we will probably never know any more than we will know who pulled the trigger or paid the killer. But what they all have in common is that they emerge from the context created in Russia over the last few years. Putin’s chickens have come home to roost. And they’re not chickens, they’re vultures.

Richard Lourie is the author of “The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin” and “Sakharov: A Biography.”

Illarionov Joins CATO, Blasts Neo-Soviet Kremlin

The CATO Institute think tank, which maintains a Russian-language website, has established a Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and hired Neo-Soviet dissident Andrei Illarionov and Kremlin defector to direct it. David McDuff translates a report from Echo Moskvy radio in which Illiarionv is quoted as saying: ““One can see those who attempt to dissent or protest end up either sewing mittens in Krasnokamensk or being struck dead by a bullet in her own lift.” CATO president Ed Crane commented: “We are delighted that such a champion of liberty as Andrei Illarionov has joined our new Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. For years Andrei has spoken truth to power inside the Kremlin. He is one of the most courageous men I have had the privilege of knowing.”

McDuff quotes him further as follows:

Illarionov said the Politkovskaya murder highlighted an us vs. them mentality in the Kremlin. By way of further proof, he mentioned recent harassment of ethnic Georgians following a spying row between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbour. “I cannot fail to comment, because this relates to the socially relevant agenda for the country, on the consequences of the actions that have been taken, including the consequences of certain statements that have been made lately. Comments that related to our relations with ethnic Georgians and comments on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya highlight, in my view, the position of at least part of the government, which was hidden or maybe not so well hidden but which has become completely apparent now, concerning the existence of people of different sorts. It has been promoted to official policy that there are people of different sorts in the country. For instance, there are journalists. It has been said that all journalists are critical and they are ranked because of this attitude. Then it turned out that particularly those journalists who are well known among human rights campaigners or in the West rank even lower. Human rights campaigners, apparently, are on an even lower rung. It turns out that people of certain ethnic origin are also ranked. If it turns out that someone is influential, they are treated one way, while if they are not influential in someone’s view, then they are treated differently.”

He pointed to a contrast between how promptly “official reaction” came to the attempt on the life of Russian electricity boss Anatoliy Chubays and how it was delayed in the case of Politkovskaya. Putin was reported to have telephoned Chubays – Illarionov’s long-time opponent – the same day his motorcade came under attack in Moscow Region in March 2005. Putin did not make any public statements on Politkovskaya until days later. Illarionov denounced this as a regression from a modern state to a medieval type of state which is “the property of a narrow group of people who use the instruments of state against the rest of society”. He said this “cannot be called anything other than civil war”. “By inflaming a civil war in the country on whatever pretext – ethnicity, political views, vote, whatever – this government is committing the most heinous crime against the country,” he said.

He said political developments in Russia reminded him of accounts of Holocaust survivors he had once read. “Those memoirs recount how continuously, week after week, month after month, rights and liberties are destroyed, human dignity is destroyed and people are broken, and what comes out of that,” he said. “That’s the first thing that naturally comes to my mind. The second thing, which is provided by our own experience of recent years – difficult, bitter and tragic experience – is the example of terrorist seizures of the theatre and the school,” he added, referring to the Moscow theatre siege in 2002 and the Beslan school siege in 2004. Asked by interviewer Yevgeniya Albats to clarify his analogy between the Russian government and the captor holding hostages, Illarionov said: “I’m not saying who is doing this because we don’t know who killed Anna Politkovskaya. There are different views about this and different suspicions. However, I’d like to say the government definitely is creating an atmosphere of fear. It created it not just yesterday or the day before yesterday. This atmosphere of fear has been created for several years now. And I have to say that it is being done by gifted, successful and professional people. It is no accident that many people who would speak out a few years ago choose to keep quiet, do something else or emigrate today.”

He repeated his earlier comments that his move to Washington did not amount to emigration. He said he was not interested in “power struggle” but would continue to speak on Russian current affairs in future. One reason for this, he said, is his belief that a strong presidency is unsuitable for Russia.

“I’m not going to run for president and, as I said earlier, I’m not going to take part in political struggle defined as the struggle for political power. I can explain or maybe give one reason of very many, which is probably the most important one. I don’t consider the institution of presidency to be suitable for Russia. I think enormous problems in the country stem from its presidential form of government. No matter who gets that post, the logic of political development and state development will, or probably will, reproduce very similar outcomes,” he said.

“I am convinced that something good can come out in Russia only when truly parliamentary rule is instituted in the country such that it best reflects the diversity of political views, world views and interests of our large and diverse nation,” he said.

It is becoming obvious that the risks involved in doing business with Russia or in Russia cannot be assessed rationally

That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? Let La Russophobe repeat it: “It is becoming obvious that the risks involved in doing business with Russia or in Russia cannot be assessed rationally.”

Care to guess who said that? Think it might have been some crazed, drooling “russophobe” concluding that Russia has become an uncivilized nation, just like Richard Lourie explained in the piece above?

Well it wasn’t. It was Anton Oleinik, a senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of International Economic and Political Studies and an associate professor of sociology at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Not exactly fire-breather credentials, now are they? Oleinick said so in an op-ed column for the Moscow Times. Here’s the rest of it, signaling the beginning of the end for foreign investment, and indeed international trust or relations of any kind, where Russia is concerned. Here’s his full analysis:

Reaching new levels of technological development offers obvious advantages to any society, but there is also a downside. Sociologist Ulrich Beck has labeled modern-day societies “risk societies” because they are susceptible to technological catastrophes as well as those of a non-technological nature caused, nevertheless, by the development of industry and technology (for example, global warming). Judged exclusively in terms of technological development, Russia is a modern society and subject to these risks. No risk society is immune to having large buildings fall down or airplanes crash. At first glance, there seems to be no point in looking for any kind of national character to risks in Russia, unless we mean the relative frequency of unforeseen events and catastrophes.

Yet a closer examination of even these events provides some food for thought. For example, all states regulate the aviation industry to a greater or lesser degree. In Russia, the political component of this sector is particularly prominent: The state exerts influence by means of prohibitively high import duties on new aircraft and components and also decides who will supply new planes to the national carrier. These decisions are based, at least to some degree, on political considerations. The human factor investigated in recent Russian air disasters does not simply come down to pilot error or unscrupulous ground crews. It also includes miscalculations made by state officials when establishing the general operating rules in the aviation sector and controlling how these rules are applied.

Modern Russian history offers a wealth of examples in which the actions of state officials have become a source of both local and systemic risks. The “oligarchs,” whom the state has committed so many resources to combat since the end of the 1990s, are, on closer examination, products of actions by officials of that same state. The overwhelming majority of oligarchs became rich through the auction of state assets organized at the initiative of the government. The government was thereby able to deal with a number of short-term tasks like covering part of the budget deficit ahead of presidential elections, but at the price of creating serious medium- and long-term systemic problems, with which it would subsequently be forced to deal.

The banking crisis of 1998 is also only partly explained in terms of the influence of global financial markets, particularly speculative capital flight from emerging markets. The state bond market, in particular for short-term bonds, which was one of the factors behind the development of the crisis, had been introduced by state officials in 1993 and 1994 to deal with a number of budget problems. Moreover, Central Bank officials must bear responsibility for lax oversight and control of the banking system on the eve of the crisis, as they were unable to react quickly enough to the sharp increase in state short-term bonds held by commercial banks and to the increasing tendency for commercial banks to speculate on this market using borrowed funds rather than their own.

There can be many different reasons why state officials tend to act in ways that create systemic risks, from the organic rationality of those involved in the decision-making process to short-term group and individual priorities — apres moi le deluge. But of much greater importance is the policy of centralizing decision-making as the state has ramped up its regulatory role in most areas — “strengthening the power vertical” in official speak — which has led to every mistake becoming potentially much more expensive in terms of the viability of the socio-economic system as a whole.

In a complex society in which functional subsystems are characteristically autonomous, risks in any of them — the market, science, technology or politics — arise independently of one another. The likelihood of systemic risk — a risk that affects the system as a whole — is then the same as the product of the probabilities of local adverse events. Therefore, it is less than the probability of each of those events. In a centralized society in which subsystems are weakly differentiated, the probability of systemic risk is the same as the probability of a wrong decision, so it is higher by some orders of magnitude. Any such wrong decision affects not just one sphere — politics, for example — but a number of them. The probability that a scientist developing a new technology, a manager making decisions on its commercial use and an environmental group monitoring its ecological safety will all make mistakes is quite low. But if all three stages are controlled by one bureaucrat, then a mistake is much more likely.

The usual suggestion for reducing the cost of mistakes by state officials is to keep their role to a minimum, reducing them to the role of a caretaker. But if a country is trying to play catch-up modernization, the state is expected to play an active role rather than a passive one. In particular, today’s political, social and economic actors in Russia expect that the state will take a more active, leading role. It would be more appropriate to juxtapose not an active and a passive state, but various areas of activity for an active state. Instead of offsetting and administering risks (these complex activities cannot be done by a caretaker — just look at the Soviet Union, where these positions were often occupied by reflective intellectuals), state officials today are unifying them. Instead of drawing lines between spheres and creating preconditions for self-regulation, they are trying to administer everything. The inevitable result is that they are making mistakes — mistakes that could end up having extremely high costs for everyone, including the officials themselves.

The latest example of such a mistake that could potentially be systemic in nature is that of relations with Georgia. From the political arena, the conflict originally spread (not of its own accord, but as a result of decisions by state officials) to the economic sphere, when the Federal Consumer Protection Service was used as a lever to exert pressure by banning imports of Georgian wine and mineral water. Now the conflict is crossing over — again with active support from very high-ranking state officials — into the social sphere and taking on the aspect of a witch hunt against anyone with a Georgian-sounding surname. A problem that is local in all regards is taking on a systemic character.

Solving short-term problems — exerting pressure on Georgia’s political leadership while mobilizing Russia’s population — could become part of a systemic crisis in the medium or long term. First, it is becoming obvious that the risks involved in doing business with Russia or in Russia cannot be assessed rationally. The flow of foreign direct investment will, if it does not shrink, continue to focus on sectors where super-profits can cover the political risks. Second, after the Georgian witch hunt, how can we talk about a successful immigration policy, recently changed in a bid to stave off a looming demographic crisis? Third, having let the genie of inter-ethnic hatred out of the bottle, it is difficult to get it back in. The authorities were unable to avoid mass rioting targeting natives of the Caucasus in Kondopoga. The list of new dimensions of what was originally a local risk can and should be extended.

Should we really be surprised when Russian businessmen, as demonstrated by the contents of many contracts, see government actions as a force majeure — as unforeseen circumstances created by an irresistible force, just like floods and war?

So Russia no longer has society or government, it has untamed forces of nature, force majeure, that nobody can deal with or anticipate. The actions of the Russian “state,” which is essentially just a barbaric tribe, can only be accomodated in the same way a typhoon, tornado or earthquake can be.

David McDuff on Kirill Pankratov

Here’s what David McDuff of A Step at a Time has to say about the lunatic rantings of Kirill Pankratov, particularly those attacking Anna Politkovskaya:

“Mr. Pankratov certainly holds deeply mistaken views.”

That’s about as strong a condemnation as a pure scholar like McDuff will ever issue. But not so in Wacko Wally Shedd’s eyes, he of the Accidental Russophile. Wally thinks they’re deeply profound views, worthy of touting. In other words, with “friends” like Wally, Russia doesn’t need any enemies.

In recent weeks, we have seen the Russophile blogs grievously discredited. First La Russophobe exposed the dubious underpinnings of the Discovery Institute, which sponsors the Russophile Russia Blog, as well as the eggregious propaganda of the blog’s publisher, Yuri Mamchur. Then La Russophobe exposed the crazed screed known as Russian Blog, and no sooner had she done so than the blog’s publisher “Konstantin” shot himself in the head, publishing an utterly false item about Americans believing that Russia was attacking their own state of Georgia rather than the country in Eurasia. He hasn’t written a word since this grievous humiliation, and his only response has been the classic Soviet approach, to declare La Russophobe mentally ill and seek her internment. Three strikes and you’re out! And now Wacko Wally has shown his true colors, touting Pankratov’s propaganda before Anna Politkovskaya had even been laid to rest, even going so far as to drag David Johnson down into the mire with him in so doing.

There’s nobody left, not one credible source of russophile rhetoric in the entire English-speaking world. Two out of three of the aforementioned blogs don’t even post public counters, and La Russophobe roared past the one that does, Wacko Wally, long ago.