Daily Archives: April 2, 2007

April 2, 2007 — Contents


(1) A Brief History of Putintime


(3) Torture on the Rise in Russia

(4) Back in the USSR: The Critics Speak

March 1997 to March 2007: A Brief History of a Decade of Putintime

A Brief History of Putintime

March 1997

45-year-old former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (pictured, left) is plucked from obscurity out of the St. Petersburg local government apparatus by President Boris Yeltsin and named Deputy Chief of Staff. In June, he defends his PhD dissertation in “strategic planning” at St. Petersburg’s Mining Institute. Later, this document proves to have been plagiarized from a KGB translation of work by U.S. professors published many years earlier (as if nobody would notice, and in fact for quite a while nobody did).

July 1998

In a second inexplicable move, Yeltsin names Putin head of the KGB (now called the FSB).

November 1998

Less than four months after Putin takes over at the KGB, opposition Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova (pictured, right), the most prominent pro-democracy Kremlin critic in the nation, is murdered at her apartment building in St. Petersburg. Four months after that, Putin will play a key role in silencing the Russian Attorney General, Yury Skuratov, who was investigating high-level corruption in the Kremlin, by airing an illicit sex video involving Skuratov on national TV. Four months after the dust settles in the Skuratov affair, Putin will be named Prime Minister.

August 1999

Completing a hat trick of bizarre spontaneous promotions, proud KGB spy Putin is named by Yeltsin Prime Minister of Russia. Almost immediately, Putin orders a massive bombing campaign against the tiny, defenseless breakaway republic of Chechnya, apparently seeing the reassertion of Russian power there as key to overall resurgence of Russia’s military and state security apparatus, his primary political objective. On August 26th, he’s forced to acknowledge the horrific consequences of the bombing. Hundreds of civilians are killed and tens of thousands are left homeless as civilian targets are attacked. World opinion begins to turn starkly against Russia, especially in Europe, very similarly to the manner in which it has polarized against U.S. President George Bush over Iraq. Putin’s poll numbers in Russia begin to slide.

September 1999

An apartment building in the Pechatniki neighborhood of Moscow is blown up by a bomb. 94 are killed. Less than a week later a second bomb destroys a building in Moscow’s Kashirskoye neighborhood, killing 118. Days after that, a massive contingent of Russian soldiers is surrounding Chechnya as public opposition to the war evaporates. On October 1st, Putin declares Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov and his parliament illegitimate. Russian forces invade.

New Year’s Eve, 1999

Boris Yeltsin resigns the presidency of Russia, handing the office to Putin in order to allow him to run as an incumbent three months later. Given the pattern of bizarre promotions Putin has previously received, the move is hardly even surprising. So-called “experts” on Russia scoff at the possibility that Putin could be elected, proclaiming that, having tasted freedom, Russia can “never go back” to the dark days of the USSR.

March 2000

Despite being the nominee of a man, Yeltsin, who enjoyed single-digit public approval ratings in polls, Vladimir Putin is elected “president” of Russia in a massive landslide (he wins nearly twice as many votes as his nearest competitor). Shortly thereafter, all hell breaks loose in Chechnya. Russia will ultimately be convicted of human rights violations before the European Court for Human Rights and condemned for its abuses of the civilian population by every human rights organization under the sun.

[Between April 2000 and March 2002, Russia plunges into a nightmarish conflict in Chechnya eerily similar to what America now faces in Iraq. Opposition journalists, especially those who dare to report on what it going on in Chechnya, suddenly start dying. In 2000 alone, reporters Igor Domnikov, Sergey Novikov, Iskandar Khatloni, Sergey Ivanov and Adam Tepsurgayev are murdered — not by hostile fire in Chechnya but in blatant assassinations at home in Russia. On June 16, 2001, at a press conference in Brdo Pri Kranju, Slovenia, President Bush is asked about Putin: “Is this a man that Americans can trust?” Bush replies: “I will answer the question. I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue.”]

April 2003

Sergei Yushenkov, co-chairman of the Liberal Russia political party (pictured, left), is gunned down at the entrance of his Moscow apartment block. Yushenkov had been serving as the vice chair of the group known as the “Kovalev Commission” which was formed to informally investigate charges that Putin’s KGB had planted the Pechatniki and Kashirskoye apartment bombs to whip up support for the Putin’s war in Chechnya after the formal legislative investigation turned out to be impossible. Another member of the Commission, Yuri Shchekochikhin (see below) will perish of poisoning, a third will be severely beaten by thugs, and two other members will lose their seats in the Duma. The Commission’s lawyer, Mikhail Trepashkin (see below) will be jailed after a secret trial on espionage charges. Today, virtually none of the members of the Commission are left whole and it is silent.

May 2003

Putin’s popularity in opinion polls slips below 50% after sliding precipitously while the conflict in Chechnya became increasingly bloody. Suddenly, he begins to appear vulnerable, and oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky begins to be discussed as one who could unseat him. All hell breaks loose in Russian politics.

July 2003

Yuri Shchekochikhin (pictured, right), a vocal opposition journalist and member of the Russian Duma and the Kovalev Commission, suddenly contracts a mysterious illness. Witnesses reported: “He complained about fatigue, and red blotches began to appear on his skin. His internal organs began collapsing one by one. Then he lost almost all his hair.” One of Shchekochikhin’s last newspaper articles before his death was entitled “Are we Russia or KGB of Soviet Union?” In it, he described such issues as the refusal of the FSB to explain to the Russian Parliament what poison gas was applied during the Moscow theater hostage crisis, and work of secret services from the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan, which operated with impunity in Moscow against Russian citizens of Turkoman origin. According to Wikipedia: “He also tried to investigate the Three Whales Corruption Scandal and criminal activities of FSB officers related to money laundering through the Bank of New York and illegal actions of Yevgeny Adamov, a former Russian Minister of Nuclear Energy. This case was under the personal control of Putin. In June of 2003, Shchekochikhin contacted the FBI and got an American visa to discuss the case with US authorities. However, he never made it to the USA because of his sudden death on July 3rd. The Russian authorities refused to allow an autopsy, but according to Wikipedia his relatives “managed to send a specimen of his skin to London, where a tentative diagnosis was made of poisoning with thallium” (a poison commonly used by the KGB, at first suspected in the Litvinenko killing).

October 2003

Assaults on the enemies of the Kremlin reach fever pitch as the election cycle begins. Within one week at the end of the month, two major opposition figures are in prison.

October 22, 2003

Mikhail Trepashkin (pictured, right), a former KGB spy and the attorney for the Kovalev Commission, is arrested for illegal possession of a firearm (which he claims was planted in his vehicle). Also retain to represent some of the victims of the apartment bombings theselves, Trepashkin
allegedly uncovered a trail of a mysterious suspect whose description had disappeared from the files and learned that the man was one of his former FSB colleagues. He also found a witness who testified that evidence was doctored to lead the investigation away from incriminating the FSB. The weapons charge against Trepashkin mysteriously morphs into a spying charge handled by a closed military proceeding that is condemned by the U.S. government as being a blatant sham, and Trepashkin is sent to prison for four years. Publius Pundit reported on Trepashkin’s plight back in early December of last year.

October 25, 2003

Just as the presidential election cycle is beginning, Khodorkovsky (pictured, left) is arrested at the airport in Novosibirsk. He will be tried and convicted for tax fraud and sent to Siberia, just like in the bad old days of the USSR, in a show trial all international observers condemn as rigged (his lawyer has documented the legal violations in a 75-page treatise). He is there today, now facing a second prosecution for the same offense. His company, YUKOS, is being slowly gobbled up by the Kremlin.

March 2004

With Khodorkovsky conveniently in prison and the Kovalev Commission conveniently muzzled, Vladimir Putin is re-elected “president” of Russia, again in a landslide despite his poll numbers. He faces no serious competition from any opposition candidate. He does not participate in any debates. He wins a ghastly, Soviet-like 70% of the vote. Immediately, talk begins of a neo-Soviet state, with Putin assuming the powers of a dictator. The most public and powerful enemies of the regime start dropping like flies.

June 2004

Nikolai Girenko (pictured, left), a prominent human rights defender, Professor of Ethnology and expert on racism and discrimination in the Russian Federation is shot dead in his home in St Petersburg. Girenko’s work has been crucial in ensuring that racially motivated assaults are classified as hate crimes, rather than mere hooliganism, and therefore warrant harsher sentences — as well as appearing as black marks on Russia’s public record.

July 2004

Paul Klebnikov (pictured, right), editor of the Russian edition Forbes magazine, is shot and killed in Moscow. Forbes has reported that at the time of his death, Paul was believed to have been investigating a complex web of money laundering involving a Chechen reconstruction fund, reaching into the centers of power in the Kremlin and involving elements of organized crime and the FSB (the former KGB).

September 2004

Viktor Yushchenko, anti-Russian candidate for the presidency of the Ukraine, is poisoned by Dioxin. Yushchenko’s chief of staff Oleg Ribachuk suggests that the poison used was a mycotoxin called T-2, also known as “Yellow Rain,” a Soviet-era substance which was reputedly used in Afghanistan as a chemical weapon. Miraculously, he survives the attack.

[Throughout the next year, a full frontal assault on the media is launched by the Kremlin. Reporters Without Borders states: “Working conditions for journalists continued to worsen alarmingly in 2005, with violence the most serious threat to press freedom. The independent press is shrinking because of crippling fines and politically-inspired distribution of government advertising. The authorities’ refusal to accredit foreign journalists showed the government’s intent to gain total control of news, especially about the war in Chechnya.”]

September 2006

Andrei Kozlov (pictured, left), First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Central Bank, who strove to stamp out money laundering (basically acting on analyses like that of reporter Klebnikov), the highest-ranking reformer in Russia, is shot and killed in Moscow. Many media reports classify Kozlov’s killing as “an impudent challenge to all Russian authorities” and warn that “failure to apprehend the killers would send a signal to others that intimidation of government officials is once again an option.” Less considered is the possibility that Kozlov, like Klebnikov, was on the trail of corruption that would have led into the Kremlin itself, which then lashed out at him preemptively assuming he could not be bought.

October 2006

Anna Politkovskaya (pictured, right), author of countless books and articles exposing Russian human rights violations in Chechnya and attacking Vladimir Putin as a dictator, is shot and killed at her home in Moscow. In her book Putin’s Russia, Politkovskaya had written: “I have wondered a great deal why I have so got it in for Putin. What is it that makes me dislike him so much as to feel moved to write a book about him? I am not one of his political opponents or rivals, just a woman living in Russia. Quite simply, I am a 45-year-old Muscovite who observed the Soviet Union at its most disgraceful in the 1970s and ’80s. I really don’t want to find myself back there again.” Analysts begin to talk openly of Kremlin complicity in the ongoing string of attacks. Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum writes: “Local businessmen had no motivation to kill her — but officials of the army, the police and even the Kremlin did. Whereas local thieves might have tried to cover their tracks, Politkovskaya’s assassin, like so many Russian assassins, did not seem to fear the law. There are jitters already: A few hours after news of Politkovskaya’s death became public, a worried friend sent me a link to an eerie Russian Web site that displays photographs of ‘enemies of the people’ — all Russian journalists and human rights activists, some quite well known. Above the pictures is each person’s birth date and a blank space where, it is implied, the dates of their deaths will soon be marked. That sort of thing will make many, and probably most, Russians think twice before criticizing the Kremlin about anything.”

November 2006

Alexander Litvinenko (pictured, left), KGB defector and author of the book Blowing up Russia, which accuses the Kremlin of masterminding the and Pechatniki and Kashirskoye bombings in order to blame Chechen terrorists and whip up support for an invasion of Chechnya (which shortly followed), is fatally poisoned by radioactive Polonium obtained from Russian sources. Litivinenko had given sensational testimony to the Kovalev Commission and warned Sergei Yushenkov that was a KGB target). In his last days Litvinenko himself, as well as other KGB defectors, including Oleg Kalugin, Yuri Shvets and Mikhail Trepashkin (who allegedly actually warned Litvinenko that he had been targeted before the hit took place) directly blamed the Kremlin for ordering the poisoning. Recent press reports indicate that British investigators have come to the same conclusion. With Litvinenko out of the picture, the only member of the Kovalev Commission left unscathed is its 77-year-old namesake chairman, dissident Sergei Kovalev — who has grown notably silent.

March 2007

On Sunday February 25th, the American TV news magazine Dateline NBC aired a report on the killing of Litvinenko. MSNBC also carried a report. The reports confirmed that British authorities believe Litvinenko perished in a “state-sponsored” assasination. In the opening of the broadcast, Dateline highlighted the analysis of a senior British reporter and a senior American expert on Russia who knew Litvinennko well. Here’s an excerpt from the MSNBC report:

Daniel McGrory, a senior correspondent for The Times of London, has reported many of the developments in the Litvinenko investigation. He said the police were stuck between a rock and a hard place. “While they claim, and the prime minister, Tony Blair, has claimed nothing will be allowed to get in the way of the police investigation, the reality is the police are perfectly aware of the diplomatic fallout of this story,” McGrory said. “Let’s be frank about this: The United States needs a good relationship with Russia, and so does Europe,” said Paul M. Joyal, a friend of Litvinenko’s with deep ties as a consultant in Russia and the former Soviet states. Noting that Russia controls a significant segment of the world gas market, Joyal said: “This is a very important country. But how can you have an important relationship with a country that could be involved in activities such as this? It’s a great dilemma.”

Five days before the broadcast aired, shortly after he was interviewed for it, McGrory was dead. His obituary reads “found dead at his home on February 20, 2007, aged 54.” Five days after the broadcast aired, Joyal (pictured, right) was lying in a hospital bed after having been shot for no apparent reason, ostensibly the victim of a crazed randomstreet crime.

CONCLUSION: Did the Kremlin have anything to do with either of these Joyal’s or McGrory’s fates, or is it just conincidence that both were struck down within days of giving statements directly blaming the Kremlin for Litvinenko’s killing to the American press? Would the Kremlin really be so brazen as to attack an American for speaking in America? Whether it did not not is almost beside the point: the thing you can’t see is always scarier than the thing you can. The Kremlin is now positioned to turn random accidents into weapons. Appelbaum sums it up: “As Russian (and Eastern European) history well demonstrates, it isn’t always necessary to kill millions of people to frighten all the others: A few choice assassinations, in the right time and place, usually suffice. Since the arrest of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003, no other Russian oligarchs have attempted even to sound politically independent. After the assassination of Politkovskaya on Saturday, it’s hard to imagine many Russian journalists following in her footsteps to Grozny either.”


Today, this blog celebrates its one-year anniversary. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!!

This blog was born on April 2, 2006. Since then, we’ve received nearly 70,000 visits (and Google hits) and nearly 150,000 page views. We’ve seen our traffic grow, as the graph below shows, from 0 visits per month to 15,000 visits per month, and we’ve become the most visited and linked-to independent Russia politics blog in the English language.

We’ve published over 1,500 posts including original essays and translations from dozens of contributors, and we’ve received nearly 3,000 comments. If you tallied up all the comments we’ve generated on other blogs as well, you’d see that we’ve provoked far more debate on Russia than any other commentator in the blogosphere. We’ve become one of the world’s leading voices of opposition to the rise of a neo-Soviet dictatorship in Russia — and we’ve only just begun to fight!

We humbly thank our contributors and readers for supporting this blog and congratulate them on their achievement. We promise to redouble our efforts in our second year to make it even bigger and brasher than our first. What we really hope, though, is that the Russian people will put us out of business by establishing a civilized government that will make our criticism unnecessary.

Torture on the Rise in Russia

LR reported last week on Publius Pundit that Human Rights Watch had issued a new report documenting the use of torture by Russia against prisoners released from the GITMO facility by the U.S. Now, Radio Free Europe reports shocking new details on the use of torture by Russia:

A study by Russian sociologists and human rights activists shows that ill-treatment and torture are endemic in the country’s detention facilities.

According to a new study published on March 28 by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Committee Against Torture, a Russian human rights organization, every 25th person in Russia is tortured, beaten, or harassed by law enforcement officials each year.

Shocking Findings

The report is based on opinion polls carried out in five Russian regions over the past three years. The report does not cover Chechnya, where Moscow’s military campaign against separatists has resulted in what rights groups describe as massive torture and abuse against civilians.

Yakov Gilinsky, a sociology professor with the Russian Academy of Sciences who supervised the study, disclosed the findings at a news conference in Moscow.

“So, has the adult population been subjected to torture within one year? The results — in St. Petersburg: 3.4 percent, in the Pskov region: 4.7 percent, in Nizhny Novgorod: 3.4 percent, in Komi: 4.6 percent, in Chita: 4.5 percent,” Gilinsky said. “The average result for all the regions is that 4.1 percent of people have personally been subjected to torture, or illegal physical or psychological violence.”

“The average result for all the regions is that 4.1 percent of people have personally been subjected to torture, or illegal physical or psychological violence.”

The respondents were also asked whether someone in their circle of friends and relatives had been beaten within the same year by law enforcement officials in an effort to extract testimonies or to intimidate them.

Between 9.3 and 17.7 percent of respondents said yes.

Even for the Committee Against Torture, which has been fighting police abuse for the best of the past decade, these figures came as a shock.

“Our organization has been working on this for seven years,” said Maksim Prytkov, a representative of the Committee Against Torture. “I’ve been working on this issue for 10 years. Personally, I was shocked by these figures, because they show that almost every Russian citizen either himself or through his close circle reliably knows that our police systematically use torture. If citizens know that’s the way police work, the proper level of trust toward Interior Ministry organs will never be achieved.”

Abuse Gone Unpunished

Russia’s flawed justice system and fear of reprisal mean only a fraction of police abuses are punished.

Asked by RFE/RL to respond to the report, the head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s press service declined to comment.

The study coincides with another report on torture released today by the New York-based rights organization Human Rights Watch.

The report accuses Russian authorities of torturing three Russian citizens and harassing four others in 2004, after U.S. authorities returned them to their home country.

U.S. forces detained the seven men in Afghanistan in 2002 and held them for about two years at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

The report criticized the practice of repatriating suspects to countries where they face torture, such as Russia, on the basis of “diplomatic assurances” that the returnees would not be abused.

“The United States returned the seven former Guantanamo detainees to Russia based on Russia’s promises that they would be treated humanely here in Russia,” said Allison Gill, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Moscow office. “What we found is that that did not happen. We are calling for an immediate stop to the use of diplomatic assurances all around the world by any country that uses them in order to uphold the firm standards in the [UN] Convention Against Torture.”

Kudayev, before and after his detention (file photo)Kudayev, pictured before and after his detention (file photo)Upon their return to Russia, the men were detained for three months before being released. They were not beaten in custody. The abuse, says Human Rights Watch, came later.

Rasul Kudayev, a resident of Kabardino-Balkaria in southern Russia, was detained after an armed uprising in the provincial capital in October 2005. He remains in custody although he has yet to be prosecuted for his alleged role in the unrest.

Human Rights Watch says photographs, medical records, court documents, and the testimony of lawyers and family members show that Kudayev was repeatedly beaten in custody in an effort to extract confession from him.

Two other former Guantanamo detainees, Ravil Gumarov and Timur Ishmuratov — both residents of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan — were detained in April 2005 in connection with an explosion at a local gas pipeline.

Human Rights Watch’s report says they were beaten in custody until they confessed. According to the report, Gumarov was deprived of sleep for one week and shackled to a small cage with his hands over his head.

Standard Practice

But one does not have to be a terrorism suspect to face torture in Russia.

Gill says police torture continues to remain “standard practice.”

“Police abuse and torture are widespread still in Russia. So unfortunately it’s standard practice,” Gill said. “In the past 10 years, the situation has not changed nearly enough. Many of the findings of the [torture] report that we did in 1997 still hold true. We still get regular complaints of police abuse and torture. There are many reforms desperately needed to be taken in law enforcement.”

Back in the USSR: The Critics Speak

MSNBC offers a survey of comments from the Putin critics on the rise of the Neo-Soviet Union:

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, in many ways, looks and feels like a new Soviet Union. The Russian president, who once praised democratic reform, now rules, some Russian experts say, like an old party chairman — crushing all opposition, cracking down on anti-government protests, even appointing mayors and regional governors.

Putin calls it “sovereign democracy.” Critics call it dictatorship.

“Today, if Putin says ‘I want this’ it will be done,” says Vladimir Ryzhkov, a member of parliament.

And Putin wants no rivals — sending super-rich oilman Mikhail Khodorkovsky to jail on questionable charges. Another opponent — billionaire Boris Berezovsky — fled to London, now in political exile. “It’s definitely [gone] way back to the Soviet Union,” says Berezovsky. “Not in the sense of ideology, but in the sense of the organization of power.”

Putin leveraged a booming economy, fueled by high oil prices, to build up that power, and used the media he controls to create a cult. Putin the sportsman, the fearless pilot, the global player. “Mr. Putin, Mr. Putin, Mr. Putin — people are told that their only savior, the only guy that cares about them is Mr. Putin himself,” says Yevgenia Albats, a journalist with the New Times. With steely confidence he stunned Western officials last month in Munich. Attacking America with Cold War rhetoric, he claimed the U.S. wants to defeat the world. Such policy can only lead to another arms race, he warned.

Putin’s real message? “Russia is back, so beware of us,” says Sergei Strokan, a journalist with Kommersant. “Don’t touch us. We are strong enough.” While the West cringes as Putin sounds and acts like a Soviet strongman, here at home, Russians love him. His approval ratings are soaring into the stratosphere. But Putin must go at the end of his second term next year. Unless he changes — or ignores — the Russian Constitution. Or rules from behind the scenes. “America had better start getting used to dealing with somebody who understands power,” says Francois Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Because it could be dealing with Putin’s Russia for years to come.

Russia in Three Words: Paradise on Earth!!!

Who can doubt that it is so? If you are unlucky enough not to have been born a Slavic Russian, do not despair! There is always immigration, and Russia’s warm love for all the peoples of the world will make you feel welcome!

Just a few of the highlights from the Russian news yesterday to make you feel even more proud of your Russianess:

  • 10 million babies were born yesterday, and not one single person passed away!
  • Russians now live an average of 244 years, by far the longest adult lifespan of any country
  • Every fourth person in Russia is a billionaire. The other three are glad to donate from their vast fortunes to help these impoverished souls live more comfortable lives.
  • Vladimir Putin was severely beaten in his Siberian cell block last night. President Khodorkovsky vows to get to the bottom of it immediately.
  • A jolly game of volleyball was played by the members of Russia’s fourth manned flight to Mars, using the recently perfected gravity machine
  • Russia won every single available medal at the Sochi Olmpiad (of course)
  • Maria Sharapova is selling her American properties and moving back to Russia

April Fool!!!!