Daily Archives: December 23, 2006

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.

Putin and Litvinenko

“Putin today is at a crossroads. The day Putin vowed he would waste Chechen rebels in the outhouse, the course was set for people to be dealt with through arbitrary reprisals, to neutralize and kill opponents. He can step back from this course and find the killers, wherever they are — abroad, here or in the secret services of a third country. If he doesn’t, then this stain will remain with him. He will run the serious risk of persecution wherever he goes. He will become an international pariah. Such a president could bring so much harm to his country because he will either take his country on a path of confrontation or will make too many compromises and become weak. This poisoning is very serious. It looks like the world’s first example of nuclear terrorism. If you need just one-billionth of a gram to poison one person, then it does not take very much more to poison an entire country. A very dangerous precedent has been set.”

— Alexei Kondaurov, a Communist State Duma deputy and former KGB general who worked as an adviser to now-jailed Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in the Moscow Times.

“The people who carried this out this are seeking revenge from those who helped cause the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

— Oleg Kalugin, a former head of KGB foreign counterintelligence whose defection to the United States in the early 1990s led Putin to brand him a traitor, in the same Moscow Times article.

Annals of the Blogosphere: The Svetlichnaya Saga Continues

On December 12th, La Russophobe reported on a story from the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten exposing information indicating that one of the people attacking Alexander Litvinenko in Britain in the wake of his killing — namely one Julia Svetlichnaya (together with her colleague James Heartfield) and specifically in a story in the Observer — had been discovered to have surreptitious, undisclosed links to the Kremlin (namely having held a significant position at a state-owned firm), thus discrediting her negative comments about Litvinenko and giving rise to suspicion that she was working as Kremlin shill, helping to deflect blame.

Now, Svetlichnaya has attempted to answer her critics with a post on, of all places, the obscure ZheZhe blog. Far from re-establishing her credibility, Svetlichnaya’s statement appears to confirm that Aftenposten‘s report was largely correct in raising suspicions about her and raises new questions about just who she is and what’s she’s up to; either that, or it confirms that she’s utterly clueless and created an opportunity to justify Kremlin dictatorship out of sheer incompetence. Either way, she’s hardly any basis at all for a defense of the Kremlin in the Litvinenko matter, that’s quite clear. Here’s her statement:

Still, the Kremlin’s expatriate critics were enraged that their cause célèbre had been questioned. Allegations that we were Kremlin agents were first floated in far-off Norway, in an article by Hilde Harbo in the daily Aftenposten (a paper whose claim to fame is that it published Knut Hamsen’s eulogy to Hitler on his death in 1945). Harbo cited a ‘British professor of Russian, who insisted on remaining nameless’ saying that he had information that Julia had been instructed by the Russian Security Services to go to London to spy on Akhmed Zakhayev – which is not true: Julia came to London five years before Zakhayev, in 1994. Julia’s eleven months’ employment with the company Diamond Bridge Advisory Services was somehow twisted to mean that she was in the pay of the Kremlin, though actually it was just agency work. The nameless professor is the veteran Cold War propagandist Martin Dewhirst.

This statement is entirely without substance, and reads like it was written by a Kremlin spin doctor. Svetlichnaya doesn’t actually deny that she was given instructions to spy on Zakhayev, she just says she didn’t go to Britain for the first time for that purpose. She doesn’t say one single word about the links between her previous employer “Diamond Bridge Advisory Services” and the Kremlin, but instead attempts to raise a smokescreen by claiming her she was only doing “agency work” (apparently this means she was a temp) without giving any explanation of what her duties were or which agency placed her (this kind of murky trail is exactly the type the KGB would like to have her leave). She doesn’t indicate whether she told the Observer about her work for the Kremlin-connected company in the course of being interviewed for their story. She makes no attempt to clarify what other Kremlin-connected entities she may have been employed by, if any, or to flesh out her resume in any way. Instead of establishing the facts of her own case, she launches a personal attack on both Aftenposten and its source, an unmistakeable sign of propaganda especially in the context of such a vacuous discussion of the actual allegations.

And then it gets much worse. Svetlichnaya is next permitted by ZheZhe (which did not disclose its own connections to Svetlichnaya, if any, or explain why she chose to publish her views on their obscure forum) to engage in what amounts to propaganda of a recognizably Soviet character. She closes her statement, for example, by writing:

Talking about the Litvinenko case on Question Time, author Martin Amis glumly intoned that here we were seeing the ‘Asiatic side of Russia’. (Who is that more rude to – Asians who are made into a by-word for cruelty, or Russians, who are racially stereotyped?).

In other words, she feebly tries to change the subject from the Kremlin’s complicity in the murder of Litvinenko and her own connections to that Kremlin to Western racism against Russians. La Russophobe thinks she doth protest too much; this is not something a person who was simply interested in getting out the truth about herself would stoop to. She refers to “Cold War hysteria in Britain” and launches an ad hominem attack on exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, stating:

Berezovsky is just one of many expatriate Russians who enriched themselvesin the privatisation of ’s state-owned businesses. Today he presents himself as a political exile, seeking to overthrow Putin. But do not be deceived. Only six years ago Berezovsky financed Putin’s campaign in the presidential elections as he did Boris Yeltsin’s before him. Berezovsky and Putin are fruit from the same tree. Any differences they have are just a turf war, not over principle.

None of this has anything to do with whether her comments in the observer about Litvinenk were (a) accuate or (b) made to assist the Kremlin. Notice the subtle attack on Putin, perhaps designed to throw the unwary reader of her scent like a prisoner running through creek when pursued by bloodhounds. Where were these attacks in the Observer piece, or at any time previously? Is she implying that Aftenposten is a Berezovsky shill, that he planted the story about her there? If not, why even bring up the subject? We have no idea, and she certainly offer no evidence of any kind to that effect. What we do know is that she has no hesitation in making accusations against Berezovsky and Aftenposten which are essentially the same as those she complains about being made concerning herself.

Most bizarre of all, though, is Svetlichnaya’s statement that

Unfortunately for us many Russians leapt upon our interview as evidence that Litvinenko’s deathbed accusation that he had been killed on the orders of president Vladimir Putin could be discounted. Our accounts of our interviews with Litvinenko were widely reproduced in patriotic Russian websites, newspapers and on television. Neither of us, though, would ever vote for, nor support Vladimir Putin, whose government is illiberal and autocratic.

This language is so opaque that it gives the unmistakeable flavor of the intelligence services. First of all, plenty of non-Russian Russophiles also “leapt on the evidence.” Would it constitute “support” for Vladmir Putin to discredit those who attack his regime in the West? Well, Svetlichnaya’s statements to the Observer sure did that all right, so if that’s what it means then she’s lying. Is it “supporting” Putin to take any job connected to the Russian government? It seems not, since apparently Svetlichnaya has done that at least once too. She makes no attempt to clarify what she would and would not do on behalf of the Russian government (would she assist the security services in getting information about those who, they believe, threaten Russians security? would she help get the story out concerning such enemies of the state and struggle to improve Russia’ s image in the West? she won’t say). The first sentence almost seems to imply that Putin’s involvement in killing Litvinenko cannot be discounted, yet she doesn’t clearly say so, nor does she comment on the Observer article, which was taken up not only by “Russians” but by non-Russian Russophiles as evidence of an anti-Russian conspiracy. One could perhaps pass off all this ambiguity as merely incompetent writing if it were not for the naked Russophile propaganda that the post also contains.

Another question which remains unanswered, and indeed perhaps the most important one, is what business Svetlichnaya had talking to Litvinenko in the first place. The abstract for her dissertation does not indicate a subject that has anything to do with Litvinenko and she has not explained why she was speaking to him, what she hoped to accomplish and why, or how she got access to him — a major cause of the suspicion regarding her, and her post on ZheZhe does nothing to dispel it. One also must ask how she hooked up with her collaborator James Heartfield, an avowed Marxist who uses a pseudonym (he was born James Hughes), and why he was necessary for the Litvinenko interview. But she doesn’t care to explain that either.

It’s also quite disturbing that Svetlichnaya’s comments are totally devoid of links to source material documenting her claims.

La Russophobe feels that ZheZhe owed it to readers to disclose its connections to Svetlichnaya, if any, and to explain why she chose their blog to tell her story (was she rejected at more prominent outlets?) and to explain why it didn’t feel it was necessary to require her to make a clear statement answering the specific charges concerning her Kremlin connections before agreeing to print what amounts to propaganda. Aftenposten says that Svetlichnaya refused to speak to them in connection with the preparation of their story. Svetlichnaya ignores this claim. Svetlichnaya states that a columnist for the Sunday Times wrote about the Aftenposten allegations knowing they were false, but she totally fails to provide the slightest shred of evidence to support this libelous claim. In fact, she doesn’t even give a link to the allegedly offending Times article, and the only link provided by ZheZhe itself, as ZheZhe itself states, contains no reference to Svetlichnaya.

Without this information, there is an unfortunate appearance of impropriety and/or complicity on the part of ZheZhe which may not even be warranted, since ZheZhe has reported fairly on the Litvinenko matter up to now, correctly predicting that the Kremlin might use the incident as leverage to extradite Berezovsky and Zakhayev (as La Russophobe has previously reported). At the very least, however, ZheZhe has been unacceptably reckless in the manner they presented this story, betraying their readers and the blogosphere (indeed, they may well have been played for fools by Svetlichnaya). Its actions tend to confirm stereotypes about the blogosphere in the mainstream media, that we will go to print with material they would properly spurn. The blogosphere’s power rests in our willingness to print what the mainstream media would improperly reject, and we are undermined by giving the converse impression. La Russophobe is disturbed by the nature of ZheZhe’s post, however, and will be watching the blog closely to decide whether she needs to reconsider the wisdom of linking to its material.

These concerns may have no meaning to ZheZhe’s editors, however, since it may well be the case that they (like the editors of the eXile) have no wish to be taken seriously: The blog proclaims at the top of its sidebar, as if they’re proud of it: “Because we strive for impartial objectivity we make no claim to the validity of information provided on this site or in the content that we provide links for.” In other words, they print stuff and random, couldn’t care less whether its reliable or not, and say right at the beginning that their content is unreliable and they don’t stand behind it. Well, you’ve got to give them points for honesty on one point, anyway. La Russophobe had originally blogrolled ZheZhe because they represented that they would focus on opening an English-language window to the Russian blogosphere, and this is necessary work. However, it seems she was misled not only by ZheZhe’s intentions in this regard but as to their committment to accuracy. Hence, she’s delisted them and apologizes to any reader she may have misled. In the future, she will avoid recommending blogs with so little track record.

Her advice now regarding ZheZhe is: steer clear or caveat emptor.

Oh, You Glorious Russian Spies!

Reuters reports: To the clink of champagne glasses and strains of classical music Wednesday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin saluted Russia’s resurgent secret services for their role in guarding national interests.

“The personnel of the security services firmly stand guard for Russia’s national interests,” Putin said in a statement released as he threw a lavish party to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Soviet secret police.

Putin, who served as a KGB spy in East Germany, has promoted former security officers to high posts in the Kremlin, where they have formed one of the most powerful clans under the leadership of deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin, analysts say.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin split up the KGB to sap the power of the secret services. But Putin has brought spying back into fashion at the very highest levels in the Kremlin.

Spy chiefs, top politicians and former agents were shown on state television sitting in a packed hall in the Kremlin as Putin sang their praises.

State television showed a lavish party with an orchestra playing classical music and large buffet with champagne and vodka, said to be Russian spies’ favorite tipple.

“Their best workers have always shown patriotism, competency, a high degree of personal and professional decency, and an understanding of the importance of their work for the good of their Fatherland,” Putin said.

Spy scares are back in vogue in Moscow with Kremlin-controlled television showing romantic serials about the exploits of Russia’s domestic and foreign security agents.

The poisoning death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in London last month raised accusations among his supporters in the West of Russian secret service involvement. But Moscow has denied any role.

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, both tipped as possible Putin successors, attended the Kremlin reception.

Putin, who has tried to restore prestige to the secret services, saluted the “glorious pages” in the history of Russia’s secret services.

“There are many glorious pages, bright examples of true heroism and courage in the history of national state security organizations,” Putin said in the statement, which was posted on the Kremlin’s Web page, http://www.kremlin.ru.

Historians still argue about how many tens of millions of people died at the hands of the Soviet secret service under the rule of Josef Stalin.

Millions were executed or sent to perish in labor camps run by Stalin’s secret police.

Stalin’s death in 1953 ended massive purges but left intact a system of blanket control over the population exercised by the secret services. Political dissidents were imprisoned on criminal charges or locked up in mental hospitals.

On December 20, Russian agents traditionally celebrate Chekist day, the date in 1917 that the Soviet secret police, the Cheka, was founded.

It underwent a chain of purges and transformations and was known variously under the initials NKVD, GPU, OGPU, MGB and KGB.

Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief Sergei Lebedev, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolai Patrushev and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov attended the Kremlin banquet.

Oh, You Glorious Russian Mothers!

Medals for giving birth? How neo-Soviet can Russia get (see left for a picture of the medal the USSR used to award to patriotic child bearers)? How neo-Soviet is there? Kommersant reports:

Mothers to Get Decorated

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, discussing chaired a session of the Council of Legislators on demographic issues.

The session upheld an idea to encourage families to have more children not only by material benefits but also by moral incentives, such as awarding women with medals and orders for giving birth to a few children.

Russia’s leader said he was concerned about the country’s rapidly ageing population and the problem of alcoholism, which are responsible for some alarming demographic trends. Putin cited statistics:

“In the past 13 years, the death rate has exceeded the birth rate by 11.2 million,” he said. “People under 65 make up 13.7 percent of the population at the moment, which means our rate is twice as high as the international standard for an aged society.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev promised that the government would submit the concept for Russia’s demographic development before the end of the year and draw up a program until 2025 by next spring.

Sergey Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council, suggested restoring the Soviet tradition of decorating mothers of several children with medals and orders. Speaker of the Lipetsk regional legislature went on to propose introducing decorations for fathers of several children. Vladimir Putin upheld Mironov’s idea but said medals would be given to mothers only.

LR on PP

Check out La Russophobe’s latest installment on Publius Pundit, where she reviews the Kremlin’s brazen assault on Western investment in the Sakhalin oil fields. Feel free to offer your own thoughts on whether the Kremlin is actively trying to exclude Western investment in Russia as a way of bolstering its own powerbase at the expense of the people of Russia.

Even Putin Admits that Siberia is Doomed

The Associated Press reports:

President Vladimir Putin warned Wednesday that Russia’s Far East was increasingly isolated from the rest of the country, and failure to exploit the region’s vast natural resources threatened national security. Speaking at a Kremlin meeting of the Security Council, Putin said development of the vast region — stretching east to west from eastern Siberia to the Pacific Coast, and south to north from the Chinese border to the Arctic Sea — was hampered by poor infrastructure and endemic corruption. He said the region’s dwindling population was being replaced by a growing influx of Chinese immigrants.” The Far East is poorly linked to the economic, information and transportation network of the rest of Russia,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript. “The region is using its natural competitive advantages, including transit corridors, very ineffectively. All of these things pose a serious threat to our political and economic positions in the Asia-Pacific region, and to Russia’s national security, without exaggeration,” he said. The Russian Far East covers a territory of 6.2 million square kilometers but has a population of just over 7 million people, according to federal data. The region has vast timber, oil and mineral resources, which are increasingly coveted by foreign investors.

Crybaby Russia is Taking its Ball of Gas and Going Home

The Associated Press reports that if Georgia won’t allow Russia to win the imperialsm game, then crybaby Russia will take its ball of gas and go home:

Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly threatened to cut off supplies to Georgia if it does not agree to a 125 percent increase in the price of gas imports, a company official said Wednesday.

OAO Gazprom asked Georgian authorities to finalize the amount of Russian gas imports they want for next year at a price of $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, or risk receiving no gas at all, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said in a statement.

Georgia, which now pays $110, has accused Russia of using its energy resources as “political blackmail” and as a means of punishing the small, ex-Soviet republic for its efforts to join NATO and shake off the Kremlin’s influence.

Russia denies the accusations, saying the price is similar to what it charges other European consumers.

Relations between the two countries hit a new low this fall when Georgia briefly detained four Russian military officers on spying charges in September. Moscow retaliated with an economic and transport blockade and a crackdown on Georgian migrants.

In a related development, officials in Armenia, which borders Georgia to the south, said Georgian authorities have pledged by Thursday to restore gas supplies after an avalanche damaged a pipeline that transports Russia gas to Armenia.

Gazprom officials warned that the disruption, which occurred on Sunday, created dangerous gas import shortage for Armenia and suggested Georgia would be unable to repair the pipeline promptly.

Shushan Sardarian, a spokesman for ZAO ArmRosGazprom, said no customers had suffered gas shortages as a result of the avalanche.