Daily Archives: January 14, 2007

Russian Expat Condemns Putin

Writing for the Toledo Blade, Russian expat journalist Mike Sigov rips Putin’s Russia:

Russia’s extended winter holidays were finally over last week. For many, they were almost three weeks of binge partying.That included Christmas and New Year’s celebrations – according to both the Gregorian and the Julian calendars.For Russia’s notorious secret services, the holiday season was even longer.They had limited reason to celebrate after recent assassinations of several Russian bankers, a leading Moscow journalist, and a renegade Russian spy.After all, the secret services are the prime suspect.

Nevertheless, they were the beneficiaries of a lavish party that President Vladimir Putin – himself a former KGB spy in East Germany – threw for them in the Kremlin on Dec. 20. Mr. Putin praised their “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.” The spy party brings to mind the Feast of the Lemures. Wikipedia defines it as “a feast during which the ancient Romans performed rites to exorcise the malevolent and fearful ghosts of the dead from their homes.”

The secret services – which Mr. Putin returned to the highest echelons of power – were staving off the ghosts of the many millions put to death by the secret services under the Soviet leaderJosef Stalin as well as of those political prisoners who died in detention during the Cold War. That’s what you and I might think. But let’s not forget that Mr. Putin has earned his reputation as a pragmatist, even if a self-serving one.

It is not the dead whom he fears, but the living.

In that, he is not unlike his notorious predecessor Stalin, who used to say, “Death solves all problems – no man, no problem.” Stalin followed that principle when he had most of the party members who had appointed him to power exterminated to make sure he had no rivals. Their elimination was just a prelude to the purges that killed millions of Russians before Stalin’s own death in 1953. As Mr. Putin’s presidential term nears its expiration next year, he faces increased power struggles within the secret services over control of the country.

He is now trying to appease all possible parties. He hopes to maintain power by also keeping control of Russia’s dominant energy industry. The competing groups of Kremlin insiders may have other plans. The recent assassinations are only one sign those factions are getting out of control. Sabotage by secret service brass is another; reportedly, some of them even continued to show up at work after they were fired or demoted.

So far, Mr. Putin has managed to keep an appearance of control by reshuffling the heads of the Russian power apparatus. It is permeated by secret services officers, both active and those in reserve (they never retire). Mr. Putin, for example, swapped jobs between Russia’s prosecutor general and the justice minister to balance out the rival Kremlin clans to which they are linked.With the stakes in the game increasing as Russia’s energy-export revenues grow, the party that Mr. Putin threw for the secret services may not be enough for him to stay in the good graces of the opposing factions.

Those who hope that Mr. Putin’s much publicized assault on democracy in Russia increases stability and predictability and makes dealings with Kremlin-controlled companies more reliable may be in for a nasty surprise. In other words, political risks in Russia have reached a point where any investment in the vaunted energy sector has become a bad idea.

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The Sunday Photos: Soviet Roadside Bus Stops

Welcome to the Wacky, Wacky World of Soviet Bus Stops, courtesy of Polar Inertia (click through to see additional images from their gallery — unfortunately they don’t name the locations, if any reader recognizes one please do let us know!):









Kremlin Seeks to Stall the Litvinenko Investigation in Britain

The Times of London reports:

Kremlin ‘stalling tactic’ hits poison case

The Kremlin has unleashed a bureaucratic blitz on Scotland Yard as part of Russia’s investigation into the murder of the former spy Alexander Litvinenko. Prosecutors in Moscow have asked British detectives to interview more than 100 people and carry out dozens of searches in a 110-page request for assistance. Alexander Zvyagintsev, the Russian deputy prosecutorgeneral, said that he had asked the Home Office for its full co-operation.

The scale of the Russian request has prompted suspicions that Moscow is seeking to stall the investigation by overwhelming Scotland Yard with largely irrelevant demands.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office in Moscow did not open an inquiry into Litvinenko’s death until December 7, two days after a team of British detectives arrived in Russia to interview potential witnesses.

Mr Zvyagintsev insisted that Moscow had “a lot of questions about this case”. He pointed to the assistance given to the British detectives as justification for expecting London to co-operate. He indicated that Russia was preparing to send its own team to London to join the inquiry into the death of the former FSB officer, who was an outspoken critic of President Putin.

“We asked [the UK authorities] to question more than 100 witnesses and conduct dozens of searches. In our request, we formulated questions that we would like to have answered,” he told the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

“We want these investigative efforts to proceed in the presence of our detectives. We hope that our UK colleagues will respond to our request as promptly as we did recently.”

The Kremlin also wants Russian prosecutors to interview other prominent critics of Mr Putin living in London. The billionaire businessman Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev are top of the list.

Both men were friends of Litvinenko, who fled Russia after accusing the security service, then led by Mr Putin, of ordering him to assassinate Mr Berezovsky.

Mr Zvyagintsev said that the British police had received every assistance during their visit to Moscow, adding: “We did even more than they had asked us to do.” Scotland Yard takes a rather different view. Detectives were barred from questioning witnesses directly and were allowed only to listen as Russian prosecutors questioned them.

The British team took answers from two key Russian witnesses, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun. Both met Litvinenko at a London hotel on November 1, the day that he was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210.

Mr Lugovoy, a former KGB security guard, and Mr Kovtun, his business partner, have denied any involvement in the killing. They were interviewed in hospital, where they were said to be suffering the effects of radiation contamination.

German police are investigating Mr Kovtun after traces of polonium-210 were found in places he visited in Hamburg, shortly before travelling to London. Russian prosecutors describe him as a victim of attempted murder and say they are investigating his case alongside that of Litvinenko.

Mr Kovtun has not been seen in public for six weeks, but Mr Lugovoy left hospital last week after apparently making a full recovery.

Friends and family of Litvinenko are dismissive of the Russian inquiry, claiming that it is designed to cover up Kremlin responsibility for his death. Russian authorities have angrily denied any involvement and have pointed the finger instead at critics of Mr Putin, saying that the killing was an attempt to discredit the President’s image in the West.

What about Ponomarev?

A reader writes to observe some chilling suspicions about the Litvinenko affair.

On January 9th, A Day at a Time reported on the suspicous demise of Igor Ponomarev, representative of Russia in the International Maritime Organization (pictured, right), on Octrober 30, 2006, two days before Alexander Litvinenko was struck down and one day before Ponomarev was scheduled to meet with Litvinenko’s Italian contact, Mario Scaramella. Ponomarev was diagnosed as having suffered a heart attack, but the source indicated that his symptoms were more consistent with a poisoning.

On November 29th, Macroworld Investor had reported:

THE Italian with links to a Russian defector whose death is being investigated by police in London was scheduled to see Igor Ponomarev – Russia’s ambassador to the International Maritime Organization – the day after Mr Ponomarev died.

Mario Scaramella, the consultant who on November 1 had a sushi lunch with Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko, just before Mr Litvinenko fell ill with radiation poisoning, had a meeting scheduled with Mr Ponomarev on October 31.

Mr Ponomarev , who was chairman of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee, died of a heart attack on October 30. There is no suggestion that Mr Ponomarev’s death was suspicious.

The ‘incredible coincidence’ was revealed in an email sent by Mr Scaramella to Mr Litvinenko while he was still alive and later forwarded to British Euro MP Gerard Batten.

Written in broken English and dated November 6, the email reads: ‘It was very strange that you were sick soon after our meeting. Mr Igor Ponomarev I scheduled to meet in London at International Maritime Organization suddenly died for (sic) a heart attack on October 30 the day before our meeting. Such an incredible coincidence. Anyway I reported to UN IMO countries our development with the state rocket centre.’

Mr Ponomarev , 41, was head of the Russian permanent mission to the IMO and had diplomatic status. His deputy, Igor Panevkin, said yesterday that he was aware of Mr Scaramella but did not know of any meeting between the Italian and Mr Ponomarev .

The email has brought to light details of Mr Scaramella’s activities in London at the IMO during the days when Mr Litvinenko fell ill.

Mr Scaramella holds the position of consultant for the little known Naples-based group Environmental Crime Prevention Programme.

However, delegates to the meetings of the London Convention, a body on maritime waste, take him and his detective work seriously.

Records held by the IMO show he attended the London Convention’s meeting between October 30 and November 3 with ‘observer status’ on behalf of the Environmental Crime Prevention Programme. He was a regular attendee at past convention meetings, granted observer status in 2002.

London Convention is not part of the IMO, but the IMO provides it with secretariat services.

At the October 30 meeting, Mr Scaramella told delegates, according to as yet unpublished minutes confirmed by IMO, that he had signed an agreement with a Russian state arms manufacturer as part of his investigation into the illegal dumping of radioactive material.

He concluded a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the Russian Federation State Rocket Centre ‘for implementing co-operation under the auspices of the competent ministry of foreign affairs’. The State Rocket Centre specialises in ballistic missiles and launching mechanisms for ships and submarines, as well as civilian space projects.

The minutes state: ‘The ECCP observer informed the meeting that it was continuing its investigation into the illegal dumping of radioactive material and related crime issues. An MOU had been concluded between the Russian Federation State Rocket Centre and the ECCP secretariat for implementing co-operation under the auspices of the competent ministry of foreign affairs’.

At the previous meeting Mr Scaramella had participated in debate on toxic waste shipments to Somalia and ‘the deposition of nuclear torpedoes or mines, and thermo-nuclear power generators, by the former Soviet Union in the Mediterranean Sea near the Italian coast in the 1970s’. It was reported that he collaborated with the British University of Greenwich.

Mr Ponomarev had no secretary and therefore kept his own diary, Mr Panevkin said.

Mr Scaramella , who is currently being questioned by investigators in Britain, has denied any involvement in Mr Litvinenko’s death.

The reader concludes: “I cannot be certain of its credibility, but I am certain that if it is true, that the Litvinenko affair has depths to it that the press is not beginning to explore yet. I do wonder why that is, and if the UK‘s Official Secrets Act has anything to do with the press completely scuttling this line of interest.”

Meanwhile, it is being reported that Hollywood star Johnny Depp has purchased the rights to film the Litvinenko story based on Alan Cowell’s upcoming book Sasha’s Story: The Life and Death of a Russian Spy.

A Russian Christmas Tale

Reader JK notes the following story from the BBC:

France holds Russian billionaire

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov (Oct 2003 file pic)

Mr Prokhorov is being held with some other businessmen

French police are questioning one of Russia’s richest men, metals billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, about a suspected prostitution ring. Mr Prokhorov, who co-owns metals giant Norilsk Nickel, was among 26 people arrested in the Alpine ski resort of Courchevel on Tuesday, officials said. His detention in the city of Lyon has been extended until Saturday. About nine others are also still being held. Several young women arrested with them have been released. Mr Prokhorov, 41, is ranked 89th on Forbes magazine’s 2006 list of the world’s richest people. His fortune is estimated at $7.6bn (£4bn). Norilsk Nickel is the world’s biggest producer of nickel and palladium. Courchevel is currently hosting many wealthy Russians celebrating the traditional Orthodox New Year, the French news agency AFP reports.

JK sums it up neatly: “Ah yes, Christmas: the yultide, the family, and of course—don’t forget the whores.”

Is this the World’s Wackiest Website?

Well, it gets La Russophobe‘s vote. It’s the website for Converse Sneakers in Russia. Check it out. but be careful: Those with nervous stomachs might want to take their motion-sickness pills first.

Is this the World’s Wackiest Website?

Well, it gets La Russophobe‘s vote. It’s the website for Converse Sneakers in Russia. Check it out. but be careful: Those with nervous stomachs might want to take their motion-sickness pills first.