Daily Archives: October 27, 2006

Annals of Russian Failure: The Sochi Olympics Sham

Hey Dmitry Chernyshenk, leader of Russia’s bid to make Sochi the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, what’s the best reason you can think of for Sochi to be selected?

“It’s one of the safest cities in Russia and all of the world,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Forum of Sport. “Not only because it’s the summer residence of our president, but because it’s also the home of the training center for all our emergency services. “It’s a very special place that has recently hosted more than 27 international events. “The whole of Russia is behind this bid, including President Putin. He’s the best promoter of our bid because he spends one-third of his time there. It’s like Russia’s second capital.”

So let me see if I’ve got that straight. Nothing about mountains or snow or anything, and I mean you’re not saying any of those 27 events were in skiiing or anything (for all we know it was body surfing), in fact Sochi is famous among Russians as a beach resort, and anyway the word “international” to Russians usually means Russia, Armenia and Belarus, but you think the world should flock there because it has lots of KGB agents and “President” Putin, who is slaying Russian democracy as if it were a dragon and he were St. Georgi, loves it. Uh, OK.

Now, about this safety thing, any truth to the rumor that Russia has the fifth-highest murder rate on the planet while true international tourism is virtually non-existent and airplanes are dropping out of the sky at an alarming rate?

No comment.

OK. Is it at all possible that Chechen terrorists, just a stone’s throw away in Ingushetia, would take the Olympics as a red flag for a massive assault that would make the Munich games look like a walk in the park?

No comment.

Are you even remotely serious about hosting the games, or is this just a cheap publicity stunt like they used to run in the USSR, for domestic consumption only?

No comment.

Is it true that in the last week “President” Putin launched slurs against Italians and Spaniards and joked jovially about rape? Do you think that will endear Russia to the hearts and minds of Olympics voters?

“You’re under arrest.”

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Russia was awarded the games and some of the visiting athletes tried to carry naked photos of “President” Putin out of the country. What would you do to them?

“Didn’t you hear me, I said you’re under arrest.”

Well, what if they joined forces to commemorate Anna Politkovskaya or express solidarity with oppressed Georgians?

*Sound of a gun being loaded*

Quoth the Raven

“This is a situation that calls for great responsibility and restraint on all sides. Only a fair and all-encompassing settlement adopted by all the region’s peoples can provide a reliable and long-term solution. The only way to break out of the vicious circle of violence is to end mutual accusations, free the hostages and resume peaceful negotiations. It is extremely important to protect the civilian population of Israel and its neighbours from terror.”

Who do you think said that? Do you think it was Shamil Basayev, warlord of the Chechen terrorists, during one of his hostage seige confrontations with the Russian government? No. Maybe you think it was Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, as the Russian government encircled his regime from within and without? Uh-uh.

Nope. It was Vladimir Putin, “President” of Russia, speaking to the press about his meeting with an Israeli diplomatic delegation (where he made crude jokes about rape that humiliated him before the eyes of the world, jokes which like a coward he then refused to speak about at a “press conference,” blaming journalists instead for listening).

That’s right. Putin doesn’t have to negotiate with Chechens or Georgians, but Israel must surely negotiate with Hezbollah.

Russia: A country that’s going places (i.e., straight to h-e-double-hockeysticks).

Was Politkovskaya Killed Due to Kremlin Power Struggle?

The Jamestown Foundation surmises on the causes of Anna Politkovskaya’s killing:

Various theories have circulated regarding who might have murdered the journalist Anna Politkovskaya on October 7, and why. According to these, she was targeted by nationalist extremists, or by Russian military officers that she had named in connection with human rights abuses in Chechnya, or by Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whose alleged abuses she had chronicled in great detail.

Two days after her murder, the website of Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya gazeta, said it was either an act of revenge by Kadyrov or carried out by “those who want suspicions to fall on the current Chechen premier, who, having passed the 30-year old boundary, can aspire to the post of [Chechen] president” (Novayagazeta.ru, October 9). Kadyrov turned 30 — the Chechen constitution’s minimum age for a president of the republic — on October 5. However, the comments about the murder being the work of either Kadyrov or his enemies were subsequently removed from the Novaya gazeta website.

Putin himself, meanwhile, suggested the murder was connected to exiled opponents of his government who wanted to blacken its — and Russia’s — reputation. A pro-Kremlin newspaper was more explicit, suggesting that former Yukos official Leonid Nevzlin and Boris Berezovsky — exiled in Israel and Britain, respectively — were somehow involved (Izvestiya, October 9).Another line of thinking – towards which Novaya gazeta may now be leaning — is that Politkovskaya was the victim of a Kremlin power struggle connected to Russia’s 2008 presidential election and the issue of Putin remaining in power beyond his second and final constitutionally mandated presidential term. (Putin himself, it should be noted, has repeatedly said he will not amend Russia’s constitution to permit a third presidential term.)

On one side is a group of what might be called “pragmatists” (relatively speaking) who support maintaining procedural democracy, at least formally, and are seeking to pick a successor to Putin. (Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who chairs the board of Gazprom, is widely seen as the front-runner to succeed Putin, followed by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Other potential Putin successors reportedly include Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin, Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin, and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko.)The other group, widely referred to as the siloviki, is said to include deputy Kremlin chief of staff Igor Sechin, a KGB veteran who also chairs the board of the Rosneft state oil company; Federal Security Service (FSB) Chairman Nikolai Patrushev (Kommersant reported on September 13 that Patrushev’s son, Andrei, had been made an adviser to Sechin on Rosneft’s board); and deputy Kremlin chief of staff Viktor Ivanov, another KGB veteran, who is also chairman of Aeroflot.

The siloviki apparently have no candidate to succeed Putin and actually want him to remain in office to ensure that they retain their power and property.Yet, in a move widely seen as aimed against the siloviki, Putin this past June fired Prosecutor General Dmitry Ustinov, whose son is married to Sechin’s daughter (EDM, June 5). While Ustinov was subsequently made justice minister, the siloviki undoubtedly viewed his sacking as a hostile act and a threat.The siloviki, some observers believe, are fighting back.

“The political situation in the country is being determined today by a fight between two groups: supporters of a third term and its opponents,” chess master and opposition activist Garry Kasparov wrote on his website on October 5. “Those forces that connect their future with Putin’s departure, and thus with the possible reapportionment of the political balance and redistribution of property, are, to all appearances, yielding their positions to those who cannot envision their political and financial well-being after the current president’s departure. Putin can leave only if he personally makes a firm decision to do so.

But making a decision is alien to the very mindset of the current president, who always prefers to remain above the fray, even when the situation demands his direct participation. This traditional passivity of Putin in the question of his presidency can ultimately lead to the victory of forces aiming to keep him at the top of the vertical [hierarchy] of power. This group’s advantage consists in the fact that they are staking on the current president, while the supporters of change, belonging to various bureaucratic clans, cannot put forward one leader, who would be ready to replace Putin.

The ‘anti-Putinites’ are not consolidated and will most likely give way to the ‘third-termers’ in the apparatus battles.” Kasparov added: “All of the most recent events, from the public aggression against Georgia to the hyperactivity of the DPNI [Movement Against Illegal Immigration], logically fit into the idea of a total incitement of international and inter-ethnic tension. Artificial support of hysteria in society and a harsh reaction to any activities of the opposition that is stepping forward under democratic, anti-Putin, and anti-bureaucratic slogans are needed only to replace the alternative of ‘Putin or democracy’ with ‘Putin or fascism and chaos’ ” (Kasparov.ru, October 5).

Two days after Kasparov’s analysis was published, Politkovskaya was murdered, and some analysts quickly linked her killing to the issue of a third Putin term. One of them, Novaya gazeta columnist Yulia Latynina, was quoted as saying the murder had two aims — to prevent Ramzan Kadyrov from becoming Chechnya’s president (reportedly the FSB oppose his ambitions), and to keep Russia “in international isolation” and thereby force Putin “to run for election again” (Komsomolskaya pravda, October 9).

Meanwhile, Novaya gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov wrote in reference to Putin’s now-infamous comment that Politkovskaya’s murder had caused his government greater harm than her articles: “The president, it appears, understands that it [the murder] is a blow not only to Anna’s children, sister, mother [and] family — to us [the newspaper] — but also to him. But I don’t know whether he imagines precisely from what side. I also don’t know whether a ‘Third Term Party’ exists now in the country. One that is ready — at any price, for the preservation of their businesses — to make the president an unacceptable figure to the world community and, in that case, capable, as a ‘Lukashenko’, of remaining for any term” (Novaya gazeta, October 16).

Much Ado about Zhe-Zhe

Here’s La Russophobe‘s comment in response to Russian blogger Two-Zero’s analysis of what he terms an ongoing “Russian blog war” involving the so-called “zhe-zhe” blog forum (“live journal” or ZHivoi ZHornal in Russian) being purchased by a new owner, allegedly dangerous to Russian freedom of expression in the blogosphere.

Two-Zero claims that Russian bloggers will find a way to make their views known because “they are young, ambitious and they are long infected with the blogging virus, that’s all what counts.”

La Russophobe responds:

I can’t agree with your statement. In fact, I think the things you mention don’t really matter at all. Courage and ethics are far more important to the development of a free press in Russia than youth or ambition, and it hardly matters if the bloggers are infected with the desire to write if readers have neither the inclination nor the ability to access the writing. The vast majority of Russians have no access to the Internet.

Even Russian print media lacks standards of responsible journalistic ethics, and courage like that of Anna Politkovskaya is very rare. What has the Russian blogosphere done to respond to the attack on Politkovskaya? What has it done to stand up for bloggers like Rakhmankov and Zelenyak who have been arrested? In fact, what has it done to take any blogging beyond the blogosphere and into the real world?

The vast majority of Russians are far too poor and ignorant to have regular access even to the internet much less to the blogosphere, making Russians bloggers much more like a social club than political force to be reckoned with.

How is it possible that Russian bloggers haven’t already developed their own soverign blogosphere and protected it from Kremlin incursion? This failure makes your comment seem just like a pipe dream.

The fact is, the Kremlin can make mass arrests and even build gulags and Russians will not stand up and fight back. The blogosphere is not going to change this, because bloggers won’t take the risks necessary to do so. That means that sooner or later the Kremlin will destroy the blogosphere and it will become a footnote in history.

If Russian bloggers were really serious, they’d now be joining forces with bloggers outside Russia, like me, and seeking to move their commentary into more mainstream media sources in English, seeking to rally worldwide opposition against the onset of a Neo-Soviet Union in Russia. Instead, you’re clamboring like children about foreign intervention in your blogosphere, exactly what the Kremlin wants you to do.

If you’re not familiar with this brouhaha, Global voices explains:

The Russian-language blogosphere (commonly known as ZheZhe) is on fire: some users are shutting down their blogs, others are emigrating to the virtual Trinidad & Tobago – all because LiveJournal.com’s owner Six Apart has decided to team up with the Russian internet company Sup, founded this year by Aleksandr Mamut, a Russian “oligarch,” and Andrew Paulson, an American entrepreneur. This isn’t the first time that ZheZhe (an abbreviation of ZhivoyZhurnal – “LiveJournal” in Russian) is in rebellion: the first “blog war” has been documented by Anna Arutunyan in the July 2005 issue of the Exile.

The 2005 storyreferredt to says that Americans were accused of censoring Russian posts in 2005. How did Americans get this opportunity? Apparently Russians are incapable of creating their own blogosphere on their own servers subject to their own control, either because they are too incompetent to achieve it or because their own government would shut them down for freely expressing their ideas. Yet, these same Russians complain about “censorship” by Americans? The 2005 story actually claims that some of Russia’s “most important journalism” was to be found on this Live Journal forum, yet Russians are complaining about OUTSIDE censorship? This seems completely unhinged. Didn’t it ever occur to them to solve whatever domestic problems keep them from creating their own soveriegn blogosphere? It seems to La Russophobe that here, in microcosm, we have a perfect illustration of all that is wrong with modern Russia. If Russians can’t figure out who their actual friends and actual enemies are, then they are surely doomed

Felgenhaur: U.S. Sanctions Bite Russian Aircraft Industry

Writing in the Eurasia Daily Monitor, the brilliant Pavel Felgenhaur reveals the effect of U.S. sanctions on Russia over Iran:

Russian aircraft producer Sukhoi and the official arms trader Rosoboroneksport are beginning to feel the sanctions imposed last July by the U.S. Department of State for violating the Iran Non-Proliferation Act of 2000 (EDM, August 7). Sukhoi Civil Aircraft announced that the restrictions might hamper component supplies for the company’s planned SuperJet-100 regional airliner (Moscow Times, October 23).

U.S. companies that are directly involved in the SuperJet-100 project have indicated that the sanctions will not hamper their participation. However, the French Snecma company, which is contracted to make the jet’s SaM-146 engine, is concerned about the delivery of a U.S.-made component used in the SaM-146 electronic control system.Sukhoi’s civil aircraft chief Viktor Subbotin told reporters in Moscow on October 20: “If the sanctions are switched fully on, everything will stop.”

The already fuzzy situation with plans to begin SuperJet-100 production has an additional factor of uncertainty: According to Rosoboroneksport chief Sergei Chemizov, all foreign contractors are supplying parts and services to Sukhoi through Rosoboroneksport (RIA-Novosti, August 7). Sukhoi could stop its arms business with Iran and the State Department could take it off its sanctions list. But Rosoboroneksport has multi-billion-dollar arms contracts with Iran that it will be highly reluctant to scratch, still leaving the SuperJet-100 in limbo.The 75- to 95-seat SuperJet-100 is scheduled to enter service in late 2008 with the first deliveries designated for Aeroflot.

The SuperJet-100 project is the most promising attempt to restart the practically defunct Russian aircraft industry with the help of Western partners and technologies.Russia is a vast country with very poor roads. Air traffic is the only practical way to access most of Siberia and the Far East. Russia as a state is more or less held together by a network of several thousand jets and helicopters inherited from Soviet times. But these planes are old and, even more important, their Soviet-designed engines are extremely fuel inefficient (Moscow News, August 4).

There are also 46 foreign-made jets in operation, but a 42% tax and import duty barrier prevents the purchase of more foreign-made jets.Currently the Russian aircraft industry is able to produce no more than a few Il-96 or Tu-204 passenger jets a year — planes that were designed in the 1980s and cannot be considered truly modern. The Russian industry has failed to produce a modern reliable and fuel-efficient jet engine.The collapse of Russian aircraft production is not unique, it is part of the overall crisis in high technology and the defense industry.

After 1991 production units continued to produce weapons, helicopters, and jets at levels that were only a fraction of Soviet-era orders. To minimize costs, pre-1991 stockpiles of components were used to make new planes. After more than a decade with virtually no orders, the Soviet components industry disintegrated.Technological capabilities have been lost and, in many cases, Russia has lost the capacity to reproduce many of the items that were made in Soviet times.

In 2004 the last heavy An-124 Ruslan transport plane was built in Russia using Soviet-era components that were fit on the last remaining Soviet-made air-hull. This last Ruslan was procured by one of Russia’s most successful private air transport companies, Volga-Dnepr, which specializes in heavy and oversize payloads, such as NATO shipments to Afghanistan and other distant destinations.Because of its unique capabilities to transport heavy and oversize cargo, the An-124 is today the only internationally commercially successful Russian-made plane, despite the fuel-inefficiency of its engines.

There is a market for more An-124s, but production has stopped and cannot be resumed without finding component producers and redesigning the plane. The design bureau that developed the original An-124 is in Kyiv, Ukraine, which poses further complications.In 2005 the Kremlin officially declared the resumption of An-124 production to be a national priority. Yesterday, October 24, in Kyiv Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov discussed the resumption of An-124 production as a joint Russo-Ukrainian venture with his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych (strana.ru, October 24).

Yet plans call for An-124 production to not resume until 2010 or 2011, and further delays are possibleRussia’s inability to produce even the An-124 — a successful, but not very modern plane — exposes the true state of the country’s high-tech industry. The problem is not only that the collapse of Soviet components industry stifles production: Even if work were somehow resumed, the industry would be manufacturing obsolete items, designed in the 1980s and 1970s.

Many analysts in Russia realize that without Western technologies and components and Western licenses to produce dual-use and dedicated defense equipment, Russian industry is doomed. At the same time, Moscow embraces a military doctrine that considers NATO to be the main enemy and therefore the use of any Western-made components is strictly forbidden. Military-industrial entities experience great difficulty getting licenses that allow production and R&D cooperation with NATO countries.

The SuperJet-100 is unique in that it is the first major Russian aviation joint project with the West. Of course, the jet is a civilian passenger plane, but the Sukhoi Company is also a major producer of military jets. If the SuperJet-100 project is a success and a commercially valid jet to cover Russia’s internal regional transport needs is produced, it could be an important step in promoting further cooperation. Seeing the endeavor fail because of differences over Iran and its nuclear program does not seem to be in anyone’s interest.