Daily Archives: March 27, 2007

March 27, 2007 — Contents

TUESDAY MARCH 27 CONTENTS


(1) Georgia Sues Russia in the EHCR

(2) The Horror of Investing in Russia

(3) Annals of Kremlin Electoral Hypocrisy

(4) The Horror of “Life” in Russia

(5) What’s up with Iran and Russia

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Georgia Sues Russia in ECHR for Human Rights Violations

Reuters reports:

Hundreds of Georgians have been forcibly deported from Russia after Moscow’s chilly ties with the Caucasus nation plunged to an all-time low following a spy scandal last autumn. Georgian officials say about 2,000 Georgians living in Russia and deemed illegal immigrants have been sent home in high-profile deportations. They say seven of the deported, who suffered from serious diseases, died on their way home.Georgia filed a suit against Russia to the European Court of Human Rights on Monday, citing deportations of its citizens from the neighbouring nation, Georgia’s Justice Ministry said. “The law suit is based on hundreds of cases of flagrant abuses of the human rights of Georgian citizens and ethnic Georgians by the Russian Federation during their deportations,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement. Georgian officials could not be reached for comment on what kind of ruling they expected the Strasbourg-based top human rights court to take against Russia. Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying: “Such actions (by Tbilisi) are unlikely to help normalise the relations between Russia and Georgia, for which we aspire in our Georgian policies.” Russia, enraged by Tbilisi’s brief detention of four of its army officers on spying charges last October, cut rail, air and postal links with Georgia. Earlier last year Moscow banned imports of Georgian wines and mineral water. Many Georgians were deported in cargo planes. The United States and European Union have urged Russia to end its sanctions against Georgia which Tbilisi says are punishment for its willingness to forge close ties with the West.

The Horrors of Investing in Russia

Guru Focus warns the world off the Russian markets:

RUSSIA? THINK AGAIN!

As you look at the high-flying Russian stock market, you may feel like you want some of it. But before you dive into Russia consider this: as it is, Russia is a dysfunctional play on high oil prices as well as commodities. It is no less bureaucratic than it was some fifteen years ago. When you buy a Russian company, with the exception of Gazprom (OGZPY), you run the risk that the Russian government will decide it “wants it,” the same way it “wanted” the Yukos and Sakhalin project from Shell (RDA).

Gazprom is a unique case since it seems the whole country’s foreign policy is written in the Gazprom HQ for the benefit of Gazprom and Gazprom alone. When one of the former republics has a dispute with the company about its pipelines or prices, the Russian foreign ministry gets involved. I guess the fact that Gazprom is owned in part by Russian government and remains one of the largest sources of tax revenue in the country certainly makes it Mother-Russia’s business.

Gazprom’s play is limited to several factors: it’s a cheap stock (if you trust the reserve numbers); it has been raising natural gas prices in former Soviet republics to market rates; in some cases it is receiving shares of local gas distribution companies in lieu of payment. But in the long-run, I wouldn’t bet on higher production from Gazprom because its capital expenditures are allocated from the Kremlin, whose objectives are more short-term oriented.

Current Russian prosperity is completely driven by high commodity prices. Take the $60 oil away and what you get is a very backwards economy, poor infrastructure (especially outside Moscow and St. Petersburg – two cities that are swimming in oil money), very high pension liabilities that the country accrued to its seniors during the Soviet days, corrupt local governments and a fairly unstable political system.

If you are interested in playing on high commodity prices you might consider (non-Russian) oil services stocks (e.g. GSF, HAL, SLB, BJS etc.) – it’s the same reward or better and lower risk.

Annals of Kremlin Electoral Hypocrisy

The Moscow Times reports that although the opposition party to Putin was banned from marching in Nizhny Novgorod and arrested when tried, the pro-Kremlin youth cult “Nashi” (us Slavic Russians) was free to do as they liked in Moscow. In fact, the police guarded and protected them, whereas in Nizhny they attacked the opposition.

Some 15,000 young people rallied throughout the city center Sunday for an event organized by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi to celebrate the seventh anniversary of President Vladimir Putin’s election. Participants, dressed in identical red hats and white T-shirts, handed out glossy pocket brochures titled “The President’s Messenger” on Pushkin Square, Triumfalnaya Ploshchad and Prospekt Akademika Sakharova, near Leningradsky Station, among other locations. The brochure bears an image of a cell phone with the state coat of arms, the two-headed eagle. The same image was also on the hats and T-shirts.

The 30-page booklet warns of the dangers facing the country if the people are not vigilant and cautions that Russia could lose its independence. It is illustrated with photos of Hitler; Andrei Vlasov, a World War II general who fought on the German side after being captured; Eduard Limonov, leader of the unregistered National Bolshevik Party; former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov; and U.S. President George W. Bush.

As part of the cell phone motif, Nashi organizers urged Moscow residents to send instant text messages to Putin at a special number. Those gathered at Pushkin Square were able to read some of the messages as they were flashed across a giant screen. Nashi leader Vasily Yakimenko said that a collection of the messages would be published later, Interfax reported. The Interior Ministry had 5,000 police mobilized to provide security for the event, with 2,500 located in the city center, Interfax said.

Meanwhile, Kasparaov’s “Other Russia” wasn’t the only party to come under attack recently. The Moscow Times also reports that Vladimir Ryzhkov’s “Republican Party” has been banned by the Kremlin entirely:

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered that Vladimir Ryzhkov’s Republican Party be disbanded for failing to adhere to a law that requires parties to have at least 50,000 members and 45 regional offices.

Ryzhkov (pictured above, right), an independent deputy in the State Duma, accused the court of blindly listening to the Federal Registration Service’s arguments and promised to appeal to the presidium of the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

“The court decided to believe the Federal Registration Service rather than properly explore the presented evidence,” Ryzhkov told reporters after the verdict.

Ryzhkov and his lawyers presented five cartloads of documents Thursday, the first day of the two-day hearing, in an effort to convince Judge Yury Tolcheyev that the party complied with the 2004 law on parties.

Lawyers for the Federal Registration Service, however, said Thursday that a check of the party had found that it had only 39,500 members and 33 branches with the required 500 or more members, Kommersant reported.

The registration service’s representative in the court, Galina Fokina, expressed satisfaction with Friday’s ruling.

But the leaders of fellow opposition parties spoke out in support of the Republican Party, which was founded in 1990 and recently absorbed the political wing of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees.

“I regret this decision,” senior Yabloko official Sergei Ivanenko said, Interfax reported. “One of Russia’s oldest democratic parties has fallen victim to the draconian law.”

Ivanenko said Yabloko would encourage the party’s members to join its ranks if the presidium of the Supreme Court rejects Ryzhkov’s appeal.

Nikita Belykh, head of the Union of the Right Forces, or SPS, called the ruling “an example of the selective application of law.”

Belykh said federal checks on several other parties had improperly found them in compliance with the law. He did not identify the parties. SPS has cooperated with the party in the past, allowing its members to run on the SPS party list in recent legislative elections in Perm.

The registration service has found 16 parties in noncompliance with the 2004 law, according to its web site. Prior to the Friday verdict, the Federal Registration Service had won lawsuits to liquidate five of the parties, including the Eurasian Union and the People’s Republican Party.

The Horror of "Life" in Russia

The New York Times Russia correspondent Steven Lee Myers reports on the fundmental horror of so-called “life” in Russia:

THERE was something sadly predictable about the reaction to Russia’s latest convulsion of disasters: a plane crash, a mine blast and a nursing home fire. In the span of four days, 180 Russians died and the country, more or less, shrugged.

“They thought about this between the borscht and the cutlet,” Matvei Ganapolsky, a radio host, said on Ekho Moskvy, comparing Russia’s collective reaction to tragedy, unfavorably, to that of other countries. Outrage or grief or sympathy lasts about as long as a pause between the courses.

It would be wrong to stereotype, to say that Russians are fatalistic or heartless. They are, however, not only resigned to tragedy but inured to it in a way that to many raises alarms about the country’s future. They’re not just helpless in the face of disaster; they could be called complicit, ever beckoning the next one by their actions or lack of.

Disasters, natural and man-made, occur everywhere, but unnatural death occurs in Russia with unnatural frequency and in unnatural quantity.

In a report in 2005 called “Dying Too Young,” the World Bank warned that accidents, which affect men of working age most, were contributing to Russia’s decline in population. The country is now a world leader in industrial accidents, like the explosion at a Siberian mine on Monday that killed 110, in traffic accidents, in fires, in murders and in suicides.

Russians grieve, but they do so privately. They rarely demand public action — through the media, elected representatives or, in the extreme, street protests. A result is a lack of accountability, even impunity, that lets corruption fester, otherwise solvable problems mount and disasters repeat.

A fire early Tuesday engulfed a government home for the elderly and disabled in a small town on the Azov Sea, killing 63 at last count. It quickly became apparent that the building had been declared unsafe, inadequately equipped to suppress fire and built with toxic materials that almost certainly increased the death toll. And yet somehow it remained open. A night guard, officials said, made things worse by ignoring two alarms before calling the fire department, which was more than 30 miles away, anyway.

If it seemed shockingly familiar, that’s because it was. A fire in December killed 46 at a drug-treatment hospital in Moscow. The doors and windows were locked. Inspectors had spotted violations that were apparently never fixed. A day later 10 patients died in a fire at a home for the mentally ill in Siberia.

Igor L. Trunov, a prominent lawyer in Moscow, argued that a lack of legal — or political — accountability allowed private companies and public agencies to flout rules and regulations and escape punishment for wrongdoing. He cited the airline industry, saying that aging equipment, shoddy maintenance and poor training contributed to a rash of crashes.

The latest came on March 17 when a Soviet-era airliner missed a runway in Samara and flipped, killing 7 of 57 people aboard in an accident preliminarily attributed to mechanical problems and pilot error.

That crash followed two major disasters last year — a crash landing in Irkutsk, in Sibera, which killed 125, and a flight to St. Petersburg that crashed in a storm over eastern Ukraine, killing 170 — that cast doubt not only on the safety of the fleets, but also on the state’s enforcement policies.

Mr. Trunov’s answer is still a novelty here: the lawsuit.

He has campaigned to win more compensation for victims of some prominent tragedies: an avalanche in the Northern Caucasus in 2002 (125 dead); the botched rescue of hostages in a Moscow theater in 2002 (128); the collapse of a water park in Moscow in 2004 (28); and both of last year’s air disasters (295). He has so far lost them all.

Russia, he said, suffers from a mentality in which human life is not valued. In a recent article he computed the value of a person based on various countries’ laws for compensating injuries or death. Life in Russia is, in fact, cheap. According to his calculation a Russian is worth $118,000; an American, $3.2 million.

While an avalanche may seem like an unavoidable act of God, Mr. Trunov pointed out that there had been four previous ones in the same gorge. And each time the authorities have rebuilt the village that was destroyed. “The fact that the authorities do nothing about it is, I think, criminal negligence,” he said.

President Vladimir V. Putin has carefully cultivated an image as a capable, competent manager. He has hectored officials about each new tragedy, but neither he nor they seem inclined, or able, to resolve the root causes.

A promised investigation into the terrorist siege at Middle School No. 1 in Beslan, which resulted in the deaths of 334, was so intent to lay the entire blame with the terrorists that it lied about aspects of the rescuers’ actions (like tanks firing into the school). There was no effort to explore — and learn from — the mistakes or misconduct of any officials.

It has become a sorry routine: the promise of action and the failure to deliver. After the disaster at the indoor water park, the emergencies minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, appeared before TV cameras and demanded an end to shoddy building and maintenance. No one has yet been held to account. In February 2006 the roof of a market built by the same architect collapsed; 56 died.

History might explain part of the country’s indifference. Russia has endured revolution and war on a scale that can be difficult to comprehend. A former commandant of the Army War College in the United States, Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, once recalled giving a Russian general a tour of Gettysburg. The Russian asked the American how many casualties the battle produced. Told that 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing, the Russian swept his hand dismissively. “Skirmish,” he said.

But Mr. Ganapolsky, the radio host, said history alone did not explain today’s Russia. Russians care, he said in an interview, but they stay home and express their anger or sorrow in private.

“Why do Italians come out into the streets?” he said. “Because they know they can change their government. Why don’t Russians come out in the street? Because they know they will meet the riot police.”

What’s up with Iran and Russia?

AHMADINEJAD: Why haven’t you delivered our Uranium?

PUTIN: You shouldn’t have Ahmadinejadized.


Source: Ellustrator.

Has Russia thought better of providing nuclear power to Iran? Has Western pressure forced its hand? Is it all just a show to take the wind out of the West’s sails? Did Russia dupe Iran, never intending to actually supply a working reactor? Or is Iran actually short of cash? Maybe it was the Iranians who duped the Russians, never intending them to get much influence in the Iranian energy sector, but rather only intending to use Russia to get it’s foot in the door?

Publius Pundit is running two polls on these interesting questions where readers are invited to give their input. Stop by and do so if you have a chance, and feel free to leave your comments.

What’s up with Iran and Russia?

AHMADINEJAD: Why haven’t you delivered our Uranium?

PUTIN: You shouldn’t have Ahmadinejadized.


Source: Ellustrator.

Has Russia thought better of providing nuclear power to Iran? Has Western pressure forced its hand? Is it all just a show to take the wind out of the West’s sails? Did Russia dupe Iran, never intending to actually supply a working reactor? Or is Iran actually short of cash? Maybe it was the Iranians who duped the Russians, never intending them to get much influence in the Iranian energy sector, but rather only intending to use Russia to get it’s foot in the door?

Publius Pundit is running two polls on these interesting questions where readers are invited to give their input. Stop by and do so if you have a chance, and feel free to leave your comments.