Daily Archives: January 26, 2007

Kremlin, Inc.

Playing on the phrase “Murder, Inc.” a 14-page article titled “Kremlin Inc.” in the January 29th issue of the New Yorker (currently on newstands) contains a scathing indictment of Vladmir Putin, whose scowling visage emblazens the piece in a magnficiently malevolent two-page cartoon, for the murders of Khlebnikov, Politkovskaya and Litvinenko. Unavailable online, the piece concludes with this icy blast as Politkovskaya speaks from the grave:

We are Nobody

I have wondered a great deal about why I am so intolerant of Putin. Quite simply, I am a 45-year-old Muscovite who observed the Soviet Union at its most disgraceful in the 1970s and 1980s. Putin has, by chance, gotten his hands on enormous power and has used it to catastrophic effect. I dislike him because he does not like people. He despises us. He sees us a means to his ends, a means for the achievement and retention fo personal power, no more than that. Accordingly, he believes he can do anything he likes with us, play with us as he sees fit, destroy us as he sees fit. We are nobody, while he whom chance has enabled to clamber to the top of the pile is today Tsar and God. In Russia we have had leaders with this outlook before. It led to tragedy, to bloodshed on a vast scale, to civil wars. I want no more of that.

Go out and buy the issue, and read the horror for yourself. At last, American journalists are standing up for their colleagues across the sea — though it’s surely a pity that the New Yorker did not see fit to make this text available on the web. Who will Putin start killing when he’s done with all the journalists in Russia? Ask not for whom the bell tolls, my friend.

NB: LR has written the New Yorker editors and asked them to publish the article as web content, and they have indicated they are considering it. It couldn’t hurt for other readers to write and commend them for their wonderful reporting and second the request to put it on the net. The address for e-mail is: themail@newyorker.com

Meanwhile Robert Amsterdam has posted a PDF version of the article here.

The Demise of the Russian Language

First Post reports on the demise of the Russian language (hat tip: Ruminations on Russia and Global Voices).

If Vladimir Putin gets his way, the next 12 months are going to be very special indeed. For he has decreed that 2007 is The Year of the Russian Language.

A rather late New Year’s gift, you might think. But nyet: Russia’s traditional ‘Old New Year’ – according to the Gregorian calendar – fell on January 13, so there is still plenty of time to celebrate this momentous declaration. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be informing UNESCO and “all interested international parties” imminently.

This may seem a laughable and bizarre move, were it not a remedy for a serious problem. Numbers of Russian speakers have been declining annually since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian is the fourth most spoken language on earth behind English, Chinese and Spanish, but by 2025 it will be pushed into 10th place, eclipsed by French, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese and Bengali.

One of the main reasons for this is Russia’s low birth rate: 700,000 speakers die out every year. And in the former Soviet republics, Russian is no longer the elite choice of second language – they would rather learn English now.

Similarly, in many Central and Eastern European countries, Russian has a major image problem: the older generation wince at the memory of their compulsory lessons under Communism. Even in the UK, British universities report decreasing numbers of applicants to Russian courses: as a subject it has long since lost its Cold War cachet. Arabic is the new must-speak.

But maybe Putin’s New Year wish is not a pipe dream. One report claims that in Poland last year there was a twofold rise in Russian language university applicants and concludes that Russian is increasingly considered a requirement for a career in business.

If the Poles are up for it, then the rest of us have no excuse. Chego ty razdumyvayesh? (What are you waiting for?)

LR on PP

Check out La Russophobe‘s latest on Publius Pundit in which she explores the Russian energy attack on Belarus with an eye towards identifying how the West should be respond. Feel free to leave your own ideas in the form of a comment on this vital foriegn policy question.

Crazed Russian Nationalism on the Rampage

The Moscow Times reports on yet another explosion of crazed nationalism in Russia, this time aimed at tiny Estonia’s desire to remove a monument (pictured below, right) to Russian soldiers from it’s main city. This is like the French objecting to Russia removing a monument to Napoleon from downtown Moscow on the grounds the Napoleon heroically tried to free Russians from their evil Tsar (who, after all, Russians would soon depose on their own initiative). Note the comment by the Russian Duma that Estonia’s action “will obviously lead to … the further alienation of the peoples of Russia and Estonia.” They say it like they think Estonians would consider that a BAD thing. Pictured above right are members of the pro-Kremlin youth cult “Nashi” (“us Slavic Russians”) dressed up in World War II soldiers’ unforms and protesting the Estonian “outrage.” Ah yes, the idealism of youth. Today’s Russians seem every bit as detached from reality and hell-bent on self-destruction as were their Soviet counterparts.

Russian lawmakers launched a scathing attack on Wednesday against the Estonian government’s plans to relocate Soviet soldiers’ graves and a monument to the Red Army in downtown Tallinn. “Estonia is meddling with victims and memorials. This is a historic mistake,” Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said after the upper house voted unanimously in favor of a resolution condemning the relocation, Interfax reported.

In its resolution, addressed to the governments of all former Soviet republics and European countries the Federation Council called a law permitting the relocation of military graves “an attempt to legalize fascism.”

“This will obviously lead to … the further alienation of the peoples of Russia and Estonia,” the resolution stated.

Lawmakers were not alone Wednesday in blasting Estonia’s intention to move the graves and a Soviet-era bronze statue of a Red Army soldier that hails the Red Army as liberators of Estonia from German occupation. On Manezh Square, hundreds of members of the United Russia party and the pro-Kremlin youth organizations Young Russia and Nashi protested the proposed move. “The removal of the memorial amounts to the destruction of the memory of the liberators,” Nashi spokeswoman Anastasia Suslova said. Suslova said that if the statue were removed, a member of Nashi would stand in place of the statue as “a living monument to the liberator.”

In Tallinn on Wednesday, the Estonian parliament considered a bill on the “removal of forbidden structures,” which would have given authorities the right to move the Red Army statue, where many people gather to celebrate Victory Day each year. Raivo Jarvi, a member and acting spokesman of the Estonian Reform Party, said by telephone Wednesday that the bill would also ban “structures that glorify the occupation of the Republic of Estonia,” such as the Red Army statue. Jarvi insisted the statue would not be destroyed, however, but moved to a Soviet-era seaside military cemetery. “People are offended by the presence of the monument in the center of the city,” he said. The bill failed on a second reading, however. “The bill was rejected in its present form,” Estonian parliament spokesman Gunnar Baal said. Baal denied that Russian protests had influenced the outcome of Wednesday’s vote. “A few more details need to be added before it comes up for another vote,” he said.

Estonia’s parliament did give preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would forbid the public display of Soviet and Nazi symbols, Interfax reported.

Also in Tallinn, members of various Russian organizations submitted a petition to Estonian President Toomas Hendrich signed by some 17,000 residents who oppose the removal of the Red Army statue, Interfax reported.

The remains of several Soviet soldiers are believed to lie in unmarked graves under a bus stop located a few meters away from the statue at a busy intersection in central Tallinn.

On Jan. 10, Estonia passed into law a bill on the protection of military cemeteries, which allows for the transfer of the remains of buried Soviet soldiers to clearly marked cemeteries.

The Geneva Convention, which came into force in 1950, forbids the burial of war victims in unmarked graves. The convention was ratified by Russia in 1954 and Estonia in 1993.

The conflict over the proposed removal has been escalating for several weeks. During a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Sunday, President Vladimir Putin said: “Estonia wants a seat in the front row and to gain some kind of advantage.”

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, have also voiced their outrage in recent days.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip weighed in Wednesday, criticizing Russia for using the threat of economic sanctions to solve political spats. “The Estonian people will decide for themselves how to arrange their affairs in their republic,” Ansip said, Interfax reported. “Russia’s threats cannot influence the decisions of a democratic sovereign state.”

Also Wednesday, the Council of Europe — one of the addressee’s of the Federation Council’s resolution — entered the fray. Terry Davis, Secretary-General for the Council of Europe, said in e-mailed comments that Red Army soldiers deserved “respect and gratitude” for fighting against the forces of Nazi Germany. “On the other hand,” Davis continued, “the Soviet Army was an occupying force in Estonia, which is the reason why some Estonians object to the monument.” Davis called for the fallen soldiers to be treated with “dignity and respect.”

At the heart of the dispute is the role that Soviet forces played in Estonia after German occupation ended in 1944. Russians take pride in the victory over the Nazis by the Soviet Army, which was hailed as a liberating force. Many Estonians, however, view 1944 as simply a transition between two occupying armies that marked the start of decades of oppressive communist rule.

As Russian-Estonian relations have cooled in recent years, the statue in central Tallinn has been the site of sometimes-violent clashes between ethnic Russians and Estonians. Demonstrations there have been banned. “Russian young people gather and wave the flag not of Russia, but of the Soviet Union,” Jarvi said. “For Estonians, the Soviet flag is the same as the Nazi flag. Both occupations were by the same kind of totalitarian regime.”

Pasko on Bakhmina via Amsterdam

Writing on Robert Amsterdam’s blog, hero journalist Grigory Pasko reminds us of the tortuous saga of YUKOS lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina (pictured, left), whom he calls a “hostage of the prosecutor” and a “political prisoner.”

Svetlana Bakhmina worked at YUKOS in the post of deputy head of the legal department. The nature of her position was such that it was quite impossible for her in any way to influence those decisions that were adopted by the upper management of the company. Nevertheless, in December 2004, Svetlana was arrested and placed in women’s investigative isolator No. 6 of the City of Moscow. Prior to this, she had been interrogated during the course of six hours. The interrogation ended when the interrogatee suffered a heart seizure.

Why was Bakhmina locked up? It isn’t difficult to guess that this was done after she had refused to give false testimony with respect to her managers. A second reason was to force her immediate superior – Dmitry Gololobov – to voluntarily return from abroad and appear before the procuracy.

Later, Svetlana was charged under Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the RF (acquisition or misappropriation of the property of others [i.e. embezzlement—Trans.]). From the moment of the arrest, the Procuracy-General of the RF declared numerous times about the impossibility of changing the remand measure of restraint from confinement under guard to a written pledge not to leave town, despite the fact that Svetlana Bakhmina is the mother of two young children and does not present a menace to society.

In the opinion of human rights advocates, the procuracy is using the arrest of a woman who isn’t guilty of anything as an instrument to exert pressure on the already convicted YUKOS chiefs, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, as well as with the objective of blackmail with respect to those members of the company who are found abroad. That is, Bakhmina is a hostage of sorts for the procuracy.

Consideration of the case with respect to Bakhmina commenced on 17 October 2005 in the Simonovsky District Court of Moscow. The verdict was read on 19 April 2006: Bakhmina was sentenced by the Simonovsky Court to seven years of deprivation of liberty for the theft of monetary funds from YUKOS-owned OAO “Tomskneft-VNK” in a sum of 8 billion rubles and for the non-payment of taxes. Later, the Moscow City Court, where the “YUKOS-Moscow” lawyer’s defence applied with a cassational appeal, reduced the punishment for Bakhmina from seven to six and a half years. The court struck out the tax evasion charge against Bakhmina due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, leaving only Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the RF (“acquisition or misappropriation, that is theft of the property of others”).

The Procuracy-General of the RF charged Bakhmina with having committed theft by way of the acquisition in the years 1998-1999 of the property of OAO “Tomskneft” with the use of her official position within the makeup of an organized group in a large amount for an overall sum in excess of 8 billion rubles.

Bakhmina herself has never – either during the course of the investigation or in trial – admitted her guilt with respect to a single count of the charges, and asked the court to rule for an acquittal. She brought the court’s attention to the fact that she could not have committed the actions imputed to her, inasmuch as in the year 1998, she had occupied a low-ranking position at YUKOS and could not independently adopt decisions with respect to “Tomskneft”.

In December 2006, the Moscow City Court denied the appeal of Svetlana Bakhmina’s defence lawyers against the decision of the Simonovsky Court of Moscow, which had refused to defer the execution of the punishment of the deputy head of the “YUKOS-M” legal department. The defence lawyers had asked for the punishment to be deferred by 9 years – until the attainment of the age of 14 by Bakhmina’s younger son.

The ruling of the Simonovsky Court indicated that the children aged 5 and 9 are found in the custody of the father and two grandmothers. The defence, on the other hand, had insisted that the grandmothers can not carry out the duties of guardians, because one is an invalid of the 2nd group, and the other is forced to work.

In his turn, procurator Nikolai Vlasov declared that a deferment of 9 years in the execution of the sentence is one of the forms of amnesty that can not be applied to Bakhmina.

Bakhmina’s younger child is now five years old, the older – nine. In accordance with the law, a female convict, if she has young children, may ask for a deferment in the execution of the sentence until the attainment of 14 years by her youngest child.

Russian human rights advocates consider Svetlana Bakhmina a political prisoner of contemporary Russia.