Daily Archives: March 13, 2007

Listening to Professor Ethan S. Burger

One of America’s more insightful and candid analysts of Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian affairs is Ethan S. Burger (pictured), a Scholar-in-Residence at American University’s School of International Service and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Professor Burger has in excess of 50 published works, taught classes concerning Russian law and politics as well as international economic crime and corruption. He has given presentations at the Kennan Institute, Harvard University’s Davis Center, the International Monetary Fund, the Institute for State & Law, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, the World Bank, and other institutions concerning a range of topics such as corruption in the Russian judiciary, the consequences of the break-up of the Soviet Union for global security, the “Sovietization” of contemporary Russia, and U.S. policy towards Belarus. His writings reflect his practical work experience in the region with a deep understanding of its history and politics. La Russophobe is honored to publish the following original essay from Professor Burger, who provided LR with contributory analysis for her post about the recent condemnation of Russia’s human rights record by the U.S. Department of State, including our link to the DOS publication (and who has contributed previously to the blog in the form of a brilliant essay about Anna Politkovskaya). Continue reading

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Kasparov Speaks on the Piter Protests

Last Saturday, the New York Times carried a major piece on opposition candidate Garry Kasparov (pictured, the leading vote-getter in LR’s presidential straw poll several weeks ago) penned by its Russia correspondent Steven Lee Myers. This piece is more encouraging that prior Kasparov outings in the press because (a) the interview took place in Moscow rather than in the West and (b) it comes directly on the heels of Kasparov’s involvement in a major public protest that drew substantial response from the authorities. Leave us not forget that every time this Russian patriot sets foot in Russia, he risks his life for his country.

GARRY KASPAROV, the former world chess champion, took a pen and notebook and diagramed the protesters’ march through St. Petersburg on March 3. Like a general reliving a battle or a player analyzing a winning combination, he sketched Uprising Square and showed where the police had gathered in strength, blocking the street leading to the governor’s office.

A tactical mistake! “This is typical for this government,” he explained. “They protect themselves.”

As a result, only a few police officers guarded St. Petersburg’s main commercial street, Nevsky Prospekt. And that was where Mr. Kasparov and thousands of others — as many as 5,000 by some estimates — poured through a barricade and marched into the city’s historic center, defying the government’s ban on the event and the country’s recent history of political apathy.

The whole thing lasted only two hours, ending with brief clashes with the police and more than 130 arrests, including those of several opposition leaders, though not Mr. Kasparov. Still, it was one of the largest protests against President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia.

And to Mr. Kasparov, it was a first crack in the authoritarian political system Mr. Putin has created, one that he has committed himself to dismantling as presidential elections approach next March.

“We never saw such a protest,” he said. “Everybody recognizes it is a new page.”

Mr. Kasparov, 43, is not Mr. Putin’s only critic, but he may be the most prominent. And he has brought to oppositional politics the same energy and aggression that characterized his chess, attacking Mr. Putin and the Kremlin — or the regime, as he repeatedly calls it — with language rarely spoken so bluntly in Russia.

“This regime is getting out of touch with the real world,” he said. “It’s a deadly combination of money, power and blood — and impunity.”

Such attacks have drawn the scrutiny of the authorities, though so far nothing worse; someone who sounded angry that Mr. Kasparov had given up chess for politics attacked him with a chessboard in 2005. (“I am lucky,” he said at the time, “that the popular sport in the Soviet Union was chess and not baseball.”)

He now travels with bodyguards. He hired them out of concern for hooligans, he said, not because other Kremlin critics have been killed, like the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot to death in Moscow last October.

“If the state goes after you,” he said, “there’s no stopping them.”

THIS is not the place Mr. Kasparov expected to be when he resigned from the world of professional chess two years ago, quitting while still the highest-ranked player, if no longer the world champion. He is a famous man and a wealthy one, the author of numerous books on chess and its lessons for life, who is now leading acts of civil disobedience in an uphill battle to protest Mr. Putin’s policies.

“I am absolutely objective,” he said. “I think we can lose badly, because the regime is still very powerful, but the only beauty of our situation is that we don’t have much choice.”

Mr. Kasparov is the chairman of the United Civil Front, an organization he formed in 2005 to promote activism in a country where it has steadily disappeared, though for reasons that are fiercely debated.

He is also the guiding strategist behind the Other Russia, a collection of groups from across the political spectrum united by their marginalization by authorities loyal to Mr. Putin.

The Other Russia has held conferences, including one on the eve of last year’s meeting of the Group of 8 countries, and staged rallies like the one in St. Petersburg.

“It was not a protest against a concrete measure,” he said. “It was not, ‘give us more money, salaries’ or ‘stop raising prices.’ It was a protest against the regime.”

Mr. Kasparov has always been something of an outsider. He is half Jewish and half Armenian, born in Baku, the capital of mostly Muslim Azerbaijan. He moved to Moscow in 1990 when tensions between Armenians and Azeris intensified.

By then he was already world champion, a title he won in 1985 as a brash upstart against Anatoly Karpov, the champion considered a favorite of the Soviet establishment. Mr. Kasparov became a strong advocate of glasnost and perestroika, Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s policies of opening up the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

When a coup against Mr. Gorbachev failed in August 1991, Mr. Kasparov threw his support behind Boris N. Yeltsin and the other new democrats. For a time, he was a leader of the Democratic Party of Russia. He broke from Mr. Yeltsin to support a challenger, Aleksandr I. Lebed, in the 1996 elections.

One criticism against him has been political fickleness: that he has drifted from project to project, even as he continued to compete, mostly abroad.

A constant, however, has been his opposition to Mr. Putin. After an initial grace period, he began to fulminate against the new president, reaching a broad international audience as a contributor to The Wall Street Journal. One column, published in January 2001, barely a year after Mr. Putin became president, was titled, “I Was Wrong About Putin.”

“Unfortunately, my forecast, based on an assumption that a young pragmatic leader would strengthen democracy inside Russia, fight corruption and level the curves of Mr. Yeltsin’s foreign policy, was wishful thinking,” he wrote.

He has not let up since. He rails against Mr. Putin’s foreign policy, accusing him of intimidating former Soviet republics that should be close allies, while fostering ties with Iran, North Korea and China. He accuses Mr. Putin of having neutered the news media, stifled political opponents and independent businesspeople, and undercut the essential institution of democracy: free and fair elections.

HIS biggest challenge may be being ignored. The state’s control of television ensures that his views never reach the public en masse. News reports of the St. Petersburg march on national channels described the protesters generally, not Mr. Kasparov specifically, as “all manner of radicals, from fascists to lefties.”

His willingness to include all Kremlin critics in the Other Russia, including radical ones like the National Bolsheviks, has left him vulnerable to guilt by association. In December, counterterrorist police officers raided the United Civil Front’s office, seizing books and printed materials advertising a protest march a few days later.

A question that hovers over him is whether he will run against the person who emerges as Mr. Putin’s chosen successor. He demurs, but does not deny the possibility. He said there were other potential candidates, including the former prime minister, Mikhail M. Kasyanov, adding that the more pressing issue was building and maintaining a united opposition.

Mr. Kasparov is arguing for political freedoms at a time when Mr. Putin’s approval rating hovers around a stratospheric 80 percent. The economy, fueled by high energy prices, is growing. A retail binge is under way, especially in Moscow and even outside of it.

But he contends that Mr. Putin’s control of all levers of power has obscured the fundamental weaknesses in the system: the corruption, the vast gap between rich and poor, the declining standards of health care, education and living conditions.

“At the end of the day,” Mr. Kasparov said, referring to his campaign ahead of the 2008 election, “it will depend on whether people care. You can’t invent public protest. It either exists or it doesn’t exist.”

LR on PP

Check out LR’s latest installment on Publius Pundit, in which she reviews the need for strategic and tactical action in Russia based on a fascinating recent column in the Moscow Times by Stalin and Sakharov biographer Richard Lourie. All comments from readers as to the best way of handling the threat posed by the neo-Soviet Union are welcome.

Ura! Russia Journal Returns!

One of the first sidebar links posted by La Russophobe after she was born into the world was to Russia Journal, a Russia-based newspaper that was a competitor of the Moscow Times and Moscow News and was published by Ajay Goyal, a long-time Russia resident. Unfortunately, perhaps in yet another example of Kremlin-inspired attacks on the blogosphere, Russia Journal became moribund after a savage cyber attack on its data bases.

LR is therefore delighted to announce Ajay’s return to the blogophere. Here’s his announcement:

Friends:

I am writing to introduce a new Russian news service at The Russia Journal

The service has been in the making for over a year and now that its been rolled out, many new features will be added over the next few weeks. The power of web 2.0 is truly amazing and enormous and you can see its performance in full at this web site.

More than 2,000 web sites and news media are trawled by a news bot to bring Russia related news and information to you on this site. By end April, more than 5,000 sites will be added. Video, audio, blog and other multimedia content will also be linked.

The service is moderated by Ms. Elena Kobyakina in London at

editor@therussiajournal.com

feel free to send your suggestions and comments to her.

For RJ editorial, analysis and opinions please visit www.russiajournal.com We have also decided to pass this web site to a new Moscow based entrepreneur who is committing improved content and continuing commitment to quality.

I hope you find this very unique product and service useful.


Ajay Goyal

LR is delighted to be able to link once again to active content from Russia Journal and is hoping to be able to persuade Ajay to tell the story of Russia Journal on these pages in the future, as well as to pen a guest column from time to time. His important voice and insights were sorely missed while they were away.

Tracking the SL Interviews: LR & SL have the last laugh

As avid readers of the Russia blogosphere may know, senior Russia blogger Andy Young is currently in the midst of publishing an ambitious set of interviews with Russia blog publishers on his own blog Siberian Light. When he gets finished, LR intends to turn the tables and interview Andy. He started (naturally!) with La Russophobe, moved on to White Sun of the Desert, and most recently focused on Copydude. In the interim, he also interviewed fanatical blog reader and all-around- Russophilenutjob Mike Averko, apparently to get an outside (way, way outside) perspective (some people might question the propriety of interviewing a mere reader before finishing with the actual writers, some might even say it’s a bit disrespectful to those hardworking bloggers who’ve not yet been interviewed, but Andy is a bit of an iconoclast who doesn’t concern himself with issues of that kind — an admirable trait).

It’s worth noting that the interview of “Copydude” doesn’t give the publisher of that (disgraceful) blog’s real name, nor does the “about” section on Copydude’s blog itself. That’s just for the information of some wackos (Andy has properly called them “demented”) who criticize the use of anonymity on this blog. The publisher of Russian Blog (known only by the first name “Konstantin”) is also anonymous, as are millions of other bloggers. There’s nothing the least bit wrong with anonymity (without it we’d be missing quite a lot of the world’s great literature), so there’s no reason why Russian Blog and Copydude shouldn’t be anonymous — and the same goes for LR’s contributors, should they desire to be so.

Let’s take a look at the reception these four interviews have received so far, shall we?

To start with, La Russophobe‘s interview has received nearly twice as many comments as all of the other three interviews combined, as the list below shows:

Comments Received

La Russophobe (63)*
Mike Averko (22)
Copydude (13)
White Sun of the Desert (7)

*This doesn’t count Andy’s followup post “Why I interviewed La Russophobe,” which generated an additional 23 comments, for a total of 86 so far. What’s more, a number of the comments on the other three posts were written in response to comments made about them by La Russophobe. So, all told, LR has generated upwards of 100 comments for Andy’s blog as the result of this series.

One must also suggest that since the level of interest achieved by Copydude and White Sun, both critics of LR, was exceeded by that of a mere reader, they perhaps need to get their act together. In that respect, at least, Andy’s decision to interview the reader first seems to have been justifiable.

Next, let’s Google the four interviews and see how many hits we get, shall we?

Google Hits

So this time, LR receives nearly ten times as much attention as the other three interviews put together.

After Andy published his interview with LR, a few of her Russophile critics wrote furious letters demanding to know why he dared to do such an “outrageous” thing, calling it a “waste of time.” This prompted Andy, as noted above, to issue a second post explaining his purpose. Well, it appears that the question of “why” Andy interviewed LR, and why he interviewed her first, has been definitively answered by the data given above. One could add, of course, that there is no other independent Russia blog which has close to as many Technorati links, Google hits or published regular traffic as LR does. In fact, given all this, it seems like the better question to ask would be why anyone would be simpleton enough to question Andy’s decision in the first place — and if anything, one might ask why Andy chose to interview anybody else. But then, the demented Russophile minions rarely care to ask good questions. They seem to prefer watching Russia slip beneath the waves.

March 12, 2007 — Contents

MONDAY MARCH 12 CONTENTS


NOTE: If you click the “contents” label on any Contents entry, you will bring up a complete listing in chronological order of all the tables of contents published so far, each with a hyperlink for every post in that issue, allowing review of the contents in a convenient manner.

(1) Grigory Pasko on Khodorkhovsky’s Cellmate

(2) Jeremy Putley on Chechnya and the Russophiles

(3) International Business Daily on the Putin Killings

(4) LR on WordPress

(5) Annals of Russophile Screwball Yuri Mamchur