Monthly Archives: December 2006

Merry X-mas and a Happy New Year!

С Рождеством Христовым и
С новым годом!
Merry Christmas and
a Happy New Year!


La Russophobe will be on hiatus of respect as the world celebrates its most solemn and joyful week of the year, hoping for renewal and peace on Earth, from December 25 through January 1. The next post will appear on Tuesday, January 2, 2007, which is La Russophobe‘s nine-month anniversary. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Peace on Earth, Good will towards men! What La Russophobe wants for Christmas, and her New Year’s resolution, should be no secret to anyone. She thanks all her readers and contributors for their fellowship in 2006, and hopes we can all redouble our efforts in 2007 to struggle against the rise of the neo-Soviet Union.


La Russophobe’s Christmas Card to Readers and Contributors

There were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, an angel of the Lord appeared before them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid! But the angel said unto them: ‘Fear not! For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, tis Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and singing: ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” – Linus Van Pelt

Twas the Night before Christmas

Twas the night before X-mas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And ma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter!
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash:

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer!

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes – how they twinkled! His dimples – how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

OPEN FOR POSTING

La Russophobe invites any reader with a BLOGGER ID to use the comments section of this post to update readers on developments of importance in Russia during her week of hiatus. Particularly significant items may be transferred to blog posts upon her return. For a week you will have your own little sub-blog on La Russophobe, the most trafficked content-rich English-language Russia politics blog in the world. If you haven’t got a blogger account, it’s free and easy, so why not do it. Readers can also take this chance to root around in LR’s archives and discovery some gems they may have missed, and to build up a passionate longing for LR’s return.

Also, be sure to cast your vote for Russia’s person of the year.

While you’re waiting for her to return, Why not FAVORITE La Russophobe for Christmas?

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Have you created a free Technorati account and used it to favorite this blog yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Now’s your chance! Stand up for freedom in Russia! Click Add to Technorati Favorites and give La Russophobe a Christmas present! After all, she doesn’t ask you for much, does she?

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While you’re waiting for her to return, Why not FAVORITE La Russophobe for Christmas?

Add to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati Favorites

Have you created a free Technorati account and used it to favorite this blog yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Now’s your chance! Stand up for freedom in Russia! Click Add to Technorati Favorites and give La Russophobe a Christmas present! After all, she doesn’t ask you for much, does she?

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While you’re waiting for her to return, Why not FAVORITE La Russophobe for Christmas?

Add to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati Favorites

Have you created a free Technorati account and used it to favorite this blog yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Now’s your chance! Stand up for freedom in Russia! Click Add to Technorati Favorites and give La Russophobe a Christmas present! After all, she doesn’t ask you for much, does she?

Add to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati Favorites

While you’re waiting for her to return, Why not FAVORITE La Russophobe for Christmas?

Add to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati FavoritesAdd to Technorati Favorites

Have you created a free Technorati account and used it to favorite this blog yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Now’s your chance! Stand up for freedom in Russia! Click Add to Technorati Favorites and give La Russophobe a Christmas present! After all, she doesn’t ask you for much, does she?

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While you’re waiting for her to return, Why not FAVORITE La Russophobe for Christmas?

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Have you created a free Technorati account and used it to favorite this blog yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Now’s your chance! Stand up for freedom in Russia! Click Add to Technorati Favorites and give La Russophobe a Christmas present! After all, she doesn’t ask you for much, does she?

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Loco Peter Lavelle: There he goes again

Is that one goofy looking fellow, or what?

Charter readers of La Russophobe will remember that back on June 9th, when the blog was just over three months old, we published a post about Russophile wacko Peter Lavelle (pictured, left) exposing his grossly inaccurate comments about freedom of the press in Russia on his blog “Untimely Thoughts.” Since then, Lavelle hasn’t posted to his blog. Lavelle had made a previous foray into the blogosphere, also a dismal failure. Small wonder, since it seems Lavelle has a persistent problem simply telling the truth.

He’s also desperately tried to achieve voice on Russia by sending out a ridiculous email letter and creating a Google discussion forum, none of which have the slightest bit of traction in the blogosphere except among the wacko Russophile contingent. Recently therein, he spewed out a ridiculous lie, this time about this blog. Here’s what he wrote:

I know this site very well. I am one of her/his/its favorite targets. At least that site could spelll [sic] my surname correctly!!!!

My, what a lot of exclamation points we inspire! It is, of course, an outrageous falsehood that Lavelle is is “one of [La Russophobe‘s] favorite targets.” In fact, this blog has published more than 1,100 posts since it was created and until today only one of them, linked above has been directed at (or even mentioned) the cartoonish Mr. Lavelle (now two). Mr. Lavelle is, you can see dear reader, a laughable egomaniac whose gross misrepresentations are deeply harmful to Russia‘s interests. We couldn’t care less about him, but we did want to go on record pointing out his gross factual lapses and propaganda. It’s important to remind Russians that, with “friends” like him, they need no enemies. It’s also rather ironic that Mr. Lavelle complains about La Russophobe failing to spell his name correctly since (a) he incorrectly spells “spell” and La Russophobe is incorrectly referred to as “russophone” in the e-mail exchange in question, yet he makes no correction and (b) although LR’s email address is posted at the top of the sidebar of the blog, he has never communicated with us to advise of any error. What’s more, the statement about his name is not even any longer accurate since a reader advised us some time ago of the misspelling and it was corrected (even though we couldn’t care less whether we correctly spell the name of someone, like Lavelle, who is helping to bury Russia).

Of course, that’s to say nothing of the subhuman mendacity it takes for Lavelle to refer to the publisher of this blog as “it.” One can simply feel the supercilious delusions of grandeur seeping right out of this reptile’s pores. Oh yeah, and the jealousy too. If you Google “peter lavelle” you get 31,000 hits. If you Google “La Russophobe” you get the same number. The only difference is that we’ve only been in business for eight months, while Lavelle has been spewing out his garbage for nearly a decade.

And the inaccuracy and smears didn’t end there, or stop with La Russophobe. A participant in the exchange, one Scott W. Spires, stated:

Yeah, that was exactly my thought too. And perhaps not coincidentally, she has been contributing comments at Lucas’ own blog. She (he?) is also about the only person commenting at David McDuff’s blog. McDuff is an interesting case. He is a distinguished and voluminous translator of Russian literature (chances are, if you’re an Anglophone with an interest in Russian lit, you’ve got a McDuff translation somewhere on your shelf). However, he has conceived an intense hatred for Putin & all his works, and his blog is almostentirely taken up with accounts of outrages committed by the Russian government. La Russophobe, as practically the only commenter there, has been flattering him a bit. It makes me wonder if she’s not some kind of provocateur, trying to make these guys look gullible.By the way, it’s “La Russophobe”, not “Russophone.” In fact, I see no evidence that the former is also the latter….

Mr. Spires’ comments are also laughably inaccurate, perhaps dishonest, though at least he manages to rise above Lavelle and notice the inaccuracy in referring to the name this blog (though not the hypocrisy). This is the natural result of a tiny bunch of russophile nutjobs blabbering to each other in a closed circle, devoid of outside input. They end up sounding just like the old Politburo, which functioned under similar circumstances, and will surely meet the same end. Several basic points illustrate Mr. Spires’ idiocy: (a) David McDuff screens all of his comments and only publishes those he feels are of interest, so Mr. Spires has no idea how many people comment on that blog; (b) David’s reader Jeremy Putley is by far the most prolific and significant commenter on David’s blog; (c) many blogs do not want comment, it’s not their goal, and some do not even allow it (for example, Michelle Malkin, who operates one of the most powerful blogs on the planet). In the mind of a wacko Russophile like Mr. Spires, though, if a publication isn’t begging for his personal feedback, it’s immediately suspicious. If it dares to disagree with him, then it’s a target for his ridiculous smears. If you want to see whose policy is better just compare David’s blog to Mr. Spires’ blog . . . oh yeah, you can’t, because Mr. Spires doesn’t HAVE a blog.

The Sunday Photos: YouTube Litvinenko Special Edition

Alexander Litvinenko on Dutch Television in 2004

Marina Litvinenko, widow of Alexander Litvinenko, Speaks

Alexander Litvinenko speaking on Anna Politkovskaya

Ben Stein Rips Russia (hat tip: Robert Amsterdam)
Former KGB Spy Oleg Kalugin Blasts Putin

Vote for Russia’s "Person of the Year"

Time Magazine yearly announces its “Person of the Year” so La Russophobe thought it might be a good idea to initiate this tradition for Russia. Who do you think was the most important force in Russian current events in the year 2006? Remember, this is not an award for doing good things, Hitler got Time’s award one year, it’s about who influenced Russia the most, for good or ill, during the past year. Feel free to use the comments section to write in a candidate if your favorite is not represented, but also try choosing among those listed.

Who is Russia’s “Person of the Year”?
Vladimir PutinAnna PolitkovskayaAlexander LitvinenkoGeorge BushGarry KasparovBoris BerezovskySlavic RacistsThe Oil IndustryMikhail KhodorkovskyRoman AbramovichThe Chechen RebelsAlexander LukashenkoMikhail SaakashviliVictor YushchenkoThe CommunistsThe Staff of Novaya GazetaThe Western MediaThe Russia MediaThe Officers of the KGB/FSBThe Russian People
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Vote for Russia’s "Person of the Year"

Time Magazine yearly announces its “Person of the Year” so La Russophobe thought it might be a good idea to initiate this tradition for Russia. Who do you think was the most important force in Russian current events in the year 2006? Remember, this is not an award for doing good things, Hitler got Time’s award one year, it’s about who influenced Russia the most, for good or ill, during the past year. Feel free to use the comments section to write in a candidate if your favorite is not represented, but also try choosing among those listed.

Who is Russia’s “Person of the Year”?
Vladimir PutinAnna PolitkovskayaAlexander LitvinenkoGeorge BushGarry KasparovBoris BerezovskySlavic RacistsThe Oil IndustryMikhail KhodorkovskyRoman AbramovichThe Chechen RebelsAlexander LukashenkoMikhail SaakashviliVictor YushchenkoThe CommunistsThe Staff of Novaya GazetaThe Western MediaThe Russia MediaThe Officers of the KGB/FSBThe Russian People
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Vote for Russia’s "Person of the Year"

Time Magazine yearly announces its “Person of the Year” so La Russophobe thought it might be a good idea to initiate this tradition for Russia. Who do you think was the most important force in Russian current events in the year 2006? Remember, this is not an award for doing good things, Hitler got Time’s award one year, it’s about who influenced Russia the most, for good or ill, during the past year. Feel free to use the comments section to write in a candidate if your favorite is not represented, but also try choosing among those listed.

Who is Russia’s “Person of the Year”?
Vladimir PutinAnna PolitkovskayaAlexander LitvinenkoGeorge BushGarry KasparovBoris BerezovskySlavic RacistsThe Oil IndustryMikhail KhodorkovskyRoman AbramovichThe Chechen RebelsAlexander LukashenkoMikhail SaakashviliVictor YushchenkoThe CommunistsThe Staff of Novaya GazetaThe Western MediaThe Russia MediaThe Officers of the KGB/FSBThe Russian People
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Vote for Russia’s "Person of the Year"

Time Magazine yearly announces its “Person of the Year” so La Russophobe thought it might be a good idea to initiate this tradition for Russia. Who do you think was the most important force in Russian current events in the year 2006? Remember, this is not an award for doing good things, Hitler got Time’s award one year, it’s about who influenced Russia the most, for good or ill, during the past year. Feel free to use the comments section to write in a candidate if your favorite is not represented, but also try choosing among those listed.

Who is Russia’s “Person of the Year”?
Vladimir PutinAnna PolitkovskayaAlexander LitvinenkoGeorge BushGarry KasparovBoris BerezovskySlavic RacistsThe Oil IndustryMikhail KhodorkovskyRoman AbramovichThe Chechen RebelsAlexander LukashenkoMikhail SaakashviliVictor YushchenkoThe CommunistsThe Staff of Novaya GazetaThe Western MediaThe Russia MediaThe Officers of the KGB/FSBThe Russian People
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Vote for Russia’s "Person of the Year"

Time Magazine yearly announces its “Person of the Year” so La Russophobe thought it might be a good idea to initiate this tradition for Russia. Who do you think was the most important force in Russian current events in the year 2006? Remember, this is not an award for doing good things, Hitler got Time’s award one year, it’s about who influenced Russia the most, for good or ill, during the past year. Feel free to use the comments section to write in a candidate if your favorite is not represented, but also try choosing among those listed.

Who is Russia’s “Person of the Year”?
Vladimir PutinAnna PolitkovskayaAlexander LitvinenkoGeorge BushGarry KasparovBoris BerezovskySlavic RacistsThe Oil IndustryMikhail KhodorkovskyRoman AbramovichThe Chechen RebelsAlexander LukashenkoMikhail SaakashviliVictor YushchenkoThe CommunistsThe Staff of Novaya GazetaThe Western MediaThe Russia MediaThe Officers of the KGB/FSBThe Russian People
Free polls from Pollhost.com

First Khodorkovsky, then Shell, now BP (and next Khodorkovsky all over again?)

First the Kremlin stole the assets of Mikhail Khodorkovsky (it is now being reportd that it isn’t done persecuting him and will bring new trumped-up charges against him next week), then Royal Dutch Shell, and now it is moving on to British Petroleum. First Politkovskaya, then Litvinenko, then Gaidar. Who’s next? The Financial Times reports on the BP assault:

TNK-BP, the Anglo-Russian oil joint venture, is bracing itself for a full investigation within weeks into its licence agreement for a giant Siberian gasfield as the Kremlin tightens its grip on the country’s energy resources. Russia has used environmental audits and regulatory threats to restore state dominance over oil and gas supplies. This week saw Gazprom take a controlling stake in Royal Dutch Shell’s Sakhalin-2 project after months of pressure. People familiar with the situation said Gazprom’s negotiations with TNK-BP were likely to follow a similar pattern to Shell’s prolonged battle with state officials and the Russian gas monopoly. TNK-BP has already offered Gazprom majority control over the Kovykta gasfield, but has insisted that Gazprom should pay for its stake with cash or assets. Russian authorities have already stepped up pressure on TNK-BP, accusing it of breaking a licence agreement on production levels. The prospect of losing the licence for Kovykta is likely to soften TNK-BP’s negotiating position. Gazprom and TNK-BP have been talking about the joint development of the project for years but have not reached an agreement. Although TNK-BP has a licence to develop the field, expected to supply gas to Asian countries, it cannot do so without Gazprom agreeing to build an export pipeline for the field. Gazprom, which has a mono-poly over the pipeline network and gas exports, has been stalling negotiations for months. It says it has other priorities. The authorities have decided to investigate the Kovykta licence because of TNK-BP’s alleged failure to meet its conditions. Under the licensing agreement, TNK-BP was obliged to produce 9bn cubic metres of gas by the end of this year. TNK-BP has said it cannot produce anything near this amount of gas because it has nowhere to sell it. “We could not burn this gas,” TNK-BP said. The talks between Gazprom and TNK-BP have intensified in the past few months and it is understood TNK-BP has made Gazprom a more lucrative offer that includes participation in other gas projects. Once Gazprom reaches a deal with TNK-BP, the threat to the licence is likely to disappear. Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive of Gazprom, on Friday said Sakhalin-2 would not have encountered problems if Gazprom had been part of the project from the start.

These outrages are already having an effect, as a major shareholder group in Britain has issued a warning to avoid Russian investments. The Telegraph reports:

One of the City’s leading shareholder groups has warned about the “inhospitable” and “difficult” climate facing investors and companies wanting to do business in Russia. F&C Asset Management also questioned the wisdom of allowing so many Russian companies to list in London when their standards of corporate governance were below those in the UK.

Peter Hambro
Peter Hambro: Risky market

The comments, by Karina Litvack, F&C’s head of governance and sustainable investment, come after Royal Dutch Shell’s bruising encounter with the Kremlin over the company’s huge Sakhalin-2 oilfield. Ms Litvack said: “We take into account the extent to which a government creates an inhospitable climate for investors and is prepared to enforce the rule of law. What’s happened makes it a very dodgy place [for investors].” F&C, which has £100bn under management, is an investor in Russia‘s Lukoil, but is wary about many other businesses in the country. “We look on Lukoil positively because it is not tight with the government and has no politicians on the board,” Ms Litvack said. But doing business with a company such as Gazprom, the energy giant that on Wednesday took control of Shell’s Sakhalin project, was a different matter, she said. Gazprom is a “perfect example” of a company in league with the government. “It’s OK until the government changes, and then the uncertainty induces people to behave in ways that are not in the interests of shareholders,” Ms Litvack said. She continued: “The irony is, some Russian companies are reasonably well run, but they are caught in the cross-fire between the government and a judicial system that is not independent.” She was also wary about the future for many smaller western exploration companies operating in Russia. Many of these Aim-listed firms think they are below the Kremlin’s radar screen and will continue to do business unfettered. But Ms Litvack was not sure. ” Shell has other businesses around the world to cushion itself against something like Sakhalin. Other companies might not be so robust,” she said. She also thinks that UK financial regulators should review rules that allow Russian companies “to come to London in their droves”. The firms seek access to foreign capital by listing their depository receipts in London. “They come here rather than New York because of the tougher listing rules in America under Sarbanes-Oxley,” she said. The eponymous chief executive of Peter Hambro Mining (PHM), Russia‘s third-largest gold producer, said its own brush with Moscow‘s authorities had damaged investor confidence. Reports that PHM’s licences could be revoked caused the company’s shares to plummet. PHM was cleared of breaching licences, but Mr Hambro said it has “raised the risk premium” for investors.

More analysis from the Telegraph can be found here.

Kremlin Accepts No Serious Blame On Beslan

The New York Times reports that, in yet another conclusive bit of evidence that Russia is now the neo-Soviet Union, the Kremlin had decided it played no significant role in murdering hundreds in the Belsan disaster, and chosen to cover itself with a sham parliamentary report. David McDuff translates Marina Litvinovich’s reactions to the sham report from Ezhedevny Zhurnal on A Day at a Time.

A parliamentary commission Friday issued its final report on the worst terrorist act in modern Russian history — the seizure of a public school in Beslan in 2004 — briefly highlighting law enforcement mistakes but placing blame for the hundreds of deaths on the Chechan-led militants alone.

The long-awaited conclusion, read aloud by the commission’s chairman during a session of the parliament’s upper house, ended more than two years of investigation into the incident that shocked Russia and the world. The death toll of 334 included 186 children.

The report suggested a hardening of the Kremlin’s position on one of the most painful public episodes of President Vladimir V. Putin’s administration, brushing aside lingering questions about the events and insisting that authorities, in spite of many well-documented problems, had done an adequate job.

The Kremlin had pledged that the special commission, stacked with politicians loyal to Putin and working almost entirely out of public view, would establish the facts and report the truth.

But the delivery of the report’s summary in a speech did little to satisfy embittered survivors and bereaved families, some of whom labeled it a whitewash meant to shield the Kremlin from responsibility for government negligence and disregard for hostages’ lives.

Copies of the full report were given to the Kremlin and parliamentary leaders, but not released to the public or the news media, making it nearly impossible to evaluate the evidence upon which the commission’s conclusions were based.

More than 1,100 people were taken hostage at Middle School No.1 on Sept. 1, 2004, the first day of the academic year in Beslan, a town in North Ossetia, in southwestern Russia. The terrorists had been sent by Shamil Basayev, the fugitive leader of a group that sought the independence of Chechnya, a small Muslim republic in the Caucasus.

The captors demanded that Russian forces withdraw from Chechen soil, where they have fought two wars against the separatists since 1994.

In his remarks to parliament, the chairman of the special commission, Aleksandr P. Torshin, called some of the terrorists’ requests “in-executable demands.”

In the three-day siege at the school, 333 died, almost all of them after two explosions in the gymnasium, where the hostages were held, led to a chaotic battle. Another hostage, among hundreds injured and hospitalized, died later.

Torshin said the terrorists intentionally detonated bombs among the hostages, starting the last battle to the surprise of Russian negotiators and commanders.

“It has been established that one of the gang members, acting according to the previously developed plan, actuated a homemade explosive device in the gym,” he said.

That statement went beyond previous government descriptions of the blasts, which have typically said that the bombs exploded in an unexplained mishap, perhaps by accident, as many hostages said immediately after the siege.

The evidence for this new claim was not clear. Torshin had said last year that his commission was waiting for forensic evidence and expert examinations of the blast sites. He made no mention of such materials Friday.

Torshin also dismissed as politically motivated the theory, presented last year by a dissenting commission member, that the explosions began when Russian forces fired rockets into the gymnasium.

The evidence for that theory is incomplete and unclear. Torshin suggested it had been circulated by those who “try to blame the federal authorities with attempting an assault, and shift the responsibility on them for the explosion.”

His summary speech, read from a several-page text, offered the only publicly available insights into the report and the commission’s work.

After giving his speech, Torshin said the commission was disbanded, a quiet and unceremonious end to a project once presented as a way to answer the long list of questions about the siege.

Many of those questions remain matters of vigorous dispute, including how many terrorists were involved; whether they had stashed weapons and ammunition in the school before the siege; and whether some of them escaped or were captured and not acknowledged by the Russian government.

Doubts about the government’s management have also persisted. These include troubling questions about the nature and content of negotiations with the terrorists; why firefighters were not prepared to battle a blaze that consumed the gymnasium; and why so few ambulances were available to transport the hundreds of injured victims.

Ella Kesayeva, who leads the Voice of Beslan support group, suggested the report was meant as a signal that Putin and his circle were no longer interested in having a discussion about the details.

“We personally didn’t expect anything different from Torshin,” she said. Kesayeva lost a teenaged son in the siege.

“If he thinks, despite all the evidence and the testimony of hundreds of hostages,” she added, “that the power structures acted correctly, it is his personal opinion and we, the victims, are not interested in it.

“Who stands behind such a report? The ones who are guilty in this tragedy,” Kesayeva said.

On certain points, Torshin’s report did not seem to square with witness accounts.

He said, for example, that the commission concluded that tanks from Russia’s 58th Army did not fire into the school while hostages were in the building, as witnesses and survivors have said. Two journalists for The New York Times also witnessed two T-72 tanks advance on the school that afternoon; at least one of them fired several times.

In a brief series of points near the end of his speech, Torshin did criticize the authorities.

The command post, he said, was not properly trained. He noted that intelligence agencies had not adequately penetrated or gathered timely information about Chechen terrorist groups, which made preventing the attack difficult.

He also criticized the local police, saying they ignored warnings of imminent terrorist attacks and did not have adequate presence on the roads or near the school that day.

And Torshin noted that some of the terrorists had been arrested and charged with other crimes before the school was seized, but had inexplicably been set free.

Each of these findings, while critical on the surface, were in many ways self-evident and already well known. They offered little new insight into the public understanding of the event.

And in a final sign that the commission would tolerate clear mistakes, Torshin made a coldly understated reference to the repeated official insistence during the siege that only 354 hostages were in the school when, in fact, the government knew there were more than 1,100.

“The work on informing the population was not properly organized,” he said, describing statements that the victims have called outright lies.

Isn’t Backroom Control Worse than Frontroom Control?

President Vladimir Putin will retain a leadership role in Russia even if he steps down in 2008, as required by the constitution, a senior politician has said. “He will not leave,” Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia’s accounting chamber, was quoted as saying in the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily Saturday. “I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on.” Stepashin, a former prime minister, secret services chief and KGB veteran, suggested that Putin’s post-Kremlin future could be modelled loosely on that of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who in the 1990s was widely considered to retain backroom power despite his retirement. Asked what sort of options Putin might consider, Stepashin answered: “Lots. Party leader, head of parliament, government, a new state council.”

Isn’t Backroom Control Worse than Frontroom Control?

President Vladimir Putin will retain a leadership role in Russia even if he steps down in 2008, as required by the constitution, a senior politician has said. “He will not leave,” Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia’s accounting chamber, was quoted as saying in the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily Saturday. “I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on.” Stepashin, a former prime minister, secret services chief and KGB veteran, suggested that Putin’s post-Kremlin future could be modelled loosely on that of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who in the 1990s was widely considered to retain backroom power despite his retirement. Asked what sort of options Putin might consider, Stepashin answered: “Lots. Party leader, head of parliament, government, a new state council.”

Isn’t Backroom Control Worse than Frontroom Control?

President Vladimir Putin will retain a leadership role in Russia even if he steps down in 2008, as required by the constitution, a senior politician has said. “He will not leave,” Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia’s accounting chamber, was quoted as saying in the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily Saturday. “I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on.” Stepashin, a former prime minister, secret services chief and KGB veteran, suggested that Putin’s post-Kremlin future could be modelled loosely on that of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who in the 1990s was widely considered to retain backroom power despite his retirement. Asked what sort of options Putin might consider, Stepashin answered: “Lots. Party leader, head of parliament, government, a new state council.”

Isn’t Backroom Control Worse than Frontroom Control?

President Vladimir Putin will retain a leadership role in Russia even if he steps down in 2008, as required by the constitution, a senior politician has said. “He will not leave,” Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia’s accounting chamber, was quoted as saying in the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily Saturday. “I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on.” Stepashin, a former prime minister, secret services chief and KGB veteran, suggested that Putin’s post-Kremlin future could be modelled loosely on that of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who in the 1990s was widely considered to retain backroom power despite his retirement. Asked what sort of options Putin might consider, Stepashin answered: “Lots. Party leader, head of parliament, government, a new state council.”

Isn’t Backroom Control Worse than Frontroom Control?

President Vladimir Putin will retain a leadership role in Russia even if he steps down in 2008, as required by the constitution, a senior politician has said. “He will not leave,” Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia’s accounting chamber, was quoted as saying in the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily Saturday. “I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on.” Stepashin, a former prime minister, secret services chief and KGB veteran, suggested that Putin’s post-Kremlin future could be modelled loosely on that of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who in the 1990s was widely considered to retain backroom power despite his retirement. Asked what sort of options Putin might consider, Stepashin answered: “Lots. Party leader, head of parliament, government, a new state council.”

Score One for Mighty Georgia

The Associated Press reports that Georgia has successfully driven Russia’s military out of its capital:

TBILISI, Georgia: Russia handed over its military base in Tbilisi to Georgia on Saturday, a key step toward the full withdrawal of Russian forces from Moscow’s small southern neighbor.

Russian military officials and their Georgian counterparts signed an official protocol transferring the garrison to Georgian control.

“This is a historic moment as we will no longer have a Russian military headquarters in the capital,” said Georgia’s deputy defense minister Levan Nikoleishvili.

“This is a victory which our people have all worked toward,” he told The Associated Press.

The last of 340 Russian military personnel vacated the garrison Saturday, leaving the Georgian capital free of Russia’s regional military headquarters for the first time in more than 200 years.

Fifteen officers from the Tbilisi garrison will remain in Georgia until the closure of two Russian bases, one in the southern town of Akhalkalaki and the other in the Black Sea port of Batumi. They will be stationed in Batumi.

Georgia and Russia agreed last year, after months of contentious negotiations, that Russian forces would pull out of the two bases, which are scheduled to be closed by October 2008.

Relations between the two countries have plummeted in recent months as Georgia has accused Russia of supporting separatists while Russia fears Georgia is moving closer to the West.

Georgian authorities briefly detained four Russian military officers on spying charges in September, and Moscow retaliated with a transport and postal blockade and a crackdown on Georgian migrants in Russia.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has said that the decision to speed up the withdrawal of the Tbilisi base was made because of tensions with Georgia.

Post Series on Russian History

The Washington Post offers a spate of articles in Saturday’s isse on Russian history capped by an editorial on Russian present tense:

Annals of Cold War II: Russian Bans the British Accent

The Times of London reports the latest skirmish in Cold War II, where Britain now seems to be the front line. The Neo-Soviet Kremlin has shut down the British Embassy’s ability to each Russians English (apparently afraid that a bit of democracy might slip in with the charming accent):

Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth movement, have held rallies and picketed the British embassy

The Kremlin has opened a new front in its increasingly bitter diplomatic row with London by disrupting the activities of the British Council in Moscow. More than 1,500 students have been offered refunds after the British Council was forced to close a language centre this week. The 21 teachers have been offered posts at council offices in other countries. The closure was the result of the Foreign Ministry’s decision to impose a licence requirement on the council. Relations between London and Moscow are already strained, and the crackdown on the council will serve only to increase tensions. Russian pressure on Shell to sell a controlling share of the giant Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project to the state monopoly Gazprom alarmed the British Government this week, and Russian security services have been accused of involvement in murdering Alexander Litvinenko, a former spy, with polonium-210 in London last month. The Kremlin angrily denies the charge. Anthony Brenton, the British Ambassador in Moscow, has also complained of a four-month campaign of harassment by a Kremlin-backed youth movement, Nashi (Ours). Members of the group have trailed and heckled Mr Brenton, picketed the embassy and triggered a violent incident outside his residence in September, prompting fears for the safety of the envoy and his family. The British Council, which is the cultural arm of the British Government, had operated the centre for eight years without a licence. It had previously been told by the authorities that a licence was not required. There was no apparent explanation for the change of policy. Natalia Minchenko, head of communications at the British Council in Moscow, said: “We were informed in the autumn by the Russian Foreign Ministry that our teaching centre needed a licence.” He said that “getting such a licence is a time- consuming process” and involved requirements that the British Council would have difficulty meeting. The incident is the latest example of attempts by the Kremlin to restrict and discourage foreign organisations by tying them in red tape. Dozens of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were forced to suspend activities in October after failing to meet a deadline for complying with complex new registration procedures. The Government has also introduced new powers that compel NGOs to submit work plans for the year ahead and to drop any programmes that have not received official approval. The British Council was exempt from the requirement to register because it operates under a cultural agreement between Britain and Russia that was signed in 1994. It received the demand to register for a teaching licence in September. The council has come under repeated attack from Russian authorities. Police visited its 15 centres across the country in 2004 and demanded that officials hand over financial records. The Interior Ministry then opened a criminal investigation into alleged illegal business activities, which was closed last year because of lack of evidence. The FSB, the Russian security service, announced in January that it had reopened an inquiry into the St Petersburg office of the council. Broadcasts of FM, the BBC’s Russian service, in Moscow and St Petersburg suffered disruption at the height of coverage of the Litvinenko poisoning. The Russians blamed the interruptions on “technical difficulties”. Ms Minchenko said that students who were enrolled on courses at the Moscow language centre were told about the closure this week and offered refunds on their fees. The 21 teachers at the centre were being offered posts at council offices in other countries. The council announced the closure of its “valued English language centre” on its website, saying that it had benefited thousands of people. It said that it would seek to compensate for the loss by expanding exchange programmes to Britain and encouraging Russian students to enrol on courses in Britain.

Bringing Britain to the world

The British Council is the UK‘s cultural arm abroad It works in 109 countries, in arts, education, governance and science Lord Kinnock is the council’s head but it is ultimately controlled by the Foreign Office As well as teaching English in foreign schools, the Council works with the World Service to provide English teaching material worldwide. The Kremlin investigated the Council’s operations in 2004 but backed off after Tony Blair intervened personally The investigation restarted immediately after four British Embassy workers were caught spying this year. They hid a bugging device in a fake rock. Authorities insisted the spy row was coincidental

Once Again, the Heroic Moscow Times Exposes the Neo-Soviet Union

Writing in the Moscow Times Vladislav Inozemtsev, a professor of economics, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies and editor of the Russian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, lays waste to the neo-Soviet Union that La Russophobe has been warning about and identifying since April. A really brilliant column. One has to wonder how long the Kremlin is going to allow the valiant little MT to go on churning out this stuff. When the history of this era is written, the paper’s name will loom large among the list of those who struggled for something better for the people of Russia.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was much talk about the “peace dividend” the end of the Cold War would bring. It was all about turning swords into ploughshares. But 15 years later, the new Russia brings to mind more than ever the communist empire of the past.

True, there is a new ruling elite, the old ideology is gone, and the country has adopted a market economy that is open to the world. Under closer scrutiny, however, it turns out the foundation of the Soviet-era economic system remains: Just as it did before, Russia lives off of the income from its natural resources, which have been redistributed for the benefit of its “strong-arm oligarchy.”

Russia lost the ruinous arms race with the United States at the end of the 1980s. According to estimates, the country expended about 17 percent of its GNP sustaining the armed forces and military parity with the United States. In a country with a population of 270 million, four million adult men were under arms. This was partially justified by the standoff between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and the presence of U.S. military bases near Russia’s borders, as well as the unsettled situation in Eastern Europe. But whatever logic the leadership used, the results we see now speak for themselves.

Today, those in power focus their concern more on domestic than international issues. And although the Russian economy has yet to regain the size it had attained in 1990, it is nevertheless burdened with a crushing weight of managers and “controllers.” The number of state employees has reached 1.45 million people, topping the number of bureaucrats who served during the Soviet era.

And even though reductions have been made, there were still 1.2 million soldiers serving in the armed forces in 2005, with an additional 900,000 civilians in support roles. There are 820,000 people serving in the Interior Ministry, with another140,000 employed as support personnel. We don’t even have a ballpark figure for the numbers in the Federal Security Service, but it is probably no less than 200,000. Including the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Federal Guard Service and the Federal Migration Service adds another 200,000 people to the rolls.

This means that a civil service of almost 5 million people has been created, in which more than 15 percent of the male adult workforce is directly engaged in serving the government in one manner or another.

You would think that with this massive apparatus at the state’s disposal it would be possible to ensure strict observance of the law and provide people with effective protection of their lives and property. But statistics indicate that this is not the case at all. Crime rates are actually increasing: For the first five years of this decade, the murder rate was 10.6 percent higher than the average for 1992 to 1999. Robberies, meanwhile, were up by 38.2 percent and drug-related crimes by 71.7 percent.

As a result, people who can afford to pay for their own protection are doing so in greater numbers than ever: There are more than 3,000 security firms currently registered in Russia, and almost 10,000 companies maintain private security staffs. The real cost of the 380,000 people working for the private security firms and the 300,000 security personnel at the corporations isn’t immediately apparent.

Russia has now become something of a security economy that is only able to extract raw materials from the earth and guard the system created for their distribution. It’s hard, actually, to see how it could be otherwise, given that, according to one study, 78 percent of the country’s senior officials have worked at one time or another in the KGB, FSB or Interior Ministries of the Soviet Union or Russia.

And yet, this “strong-arm oligarchy” does not contribute to the economy in any significant way, as it is unable to protect people’s lives or property effectively, cannot improve the efficiency of the judicial system and has been unable to eradicate corruption and arbitrary rule. Maintaining this apparatus has, meanwhile, become increasingly costly: The funding for all of these services and personnel are growing at a rate of 20 percent to 25 percent per year, and now account for 40 percent of the federal budget and 7.9 percent of gross domestic product.

Can the Russian economy bear such a burden over the long term? This question is difficult to answer, but one thing is clear: The general economic structure that has been created and which is being developed further is abnormal, especially in the absence of the kind of threats to the country’s internal stability and external security that the Soviet Union faced.

LR: And despite all these issues, like lemmings the people of Russia favor this regime with 70% approval ratings.