Daily Archives: April 14, 2007

Annals of the Other Russia Protest: Prior Restraint

The doggie is holding a sign which reads “Opposition March.”
The big bad Russian bears are whimpering for the police to save them.

Source: Ellustrator.

Reuters reports that the Kremlin’s forces moved preemptively to destroy the “Other Russia” march before it began, including arresting Garry Kasparov before he could get to the Square and blocking Kasyanov from entering it (that’s him pictured below center in the arms of the stormtroopers, via Zaxi). A second march is planned tomorrow in St. Petersburg.

Russian riot police detained dozens of opposition activists, including chess champion Garry Kasparov, in Moscow on Saturday as they frustrated attempts to hold a banned protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule. Police pounced on protesters as they appeared in small groups near the city centre square, about one km (half a mile) from the Kremlin, which was the scene of the planned protest, a Reuters witness said. Those detained were loaded into buses by police. An aide to Kasparov, one of the leaders of the Other Russia opposition coalition that organised the protest, confirmed he was among those detained.

Other Russia, a disparate coalition of Kremlin opponents, called the “March of Discontent” to express their protest at what they see as an erosion of democratic freedoms under Putin. Kremlin supporters say Other Russia is trying to scuttle stability — with help from abroad — ahead of the 2008 presidential election, when Putin says he will step down. Police declared the protest illegal after Moscow city authorities refused permission for the protest on the grounds that pro-Kremlin youth activists had already booked the venue for their own rally.

A Reuters photographer and two members of a Reuters camera crew were detained by police at the scene and ordered onto buses. The camera crew was released but the photographer was still being detained. The camera crew were among several journalists detained as they filmed Mikhail Kasyanov (above center), another of the Other Russia leaders and a former prime minister.

“What is happening with our rulers? Are they sane or have they gone quite mad. They have brought in riot police from across the country,” Kasyanov said before police in camouflage fatigues and helmets moved in. There was a massive security presence around the venue at Moscow’s Pushkin Square. At least a thousand police could be seen in the square and on the streets leading into it. Some were wearing helmets with visors and body armour. A water cannon truck and several police trucks were stationed on the street leading from the square to the Kremlin. Insignia on the police vehicles showed that many of them had been drafted in from outside Moscow. Police herded everyone on the square who was not taking part in the pro-Kremlin rally — including shoppers and journalists — into a subway. Other Russia has marginal influence as the vast majority of Russians support Putin, who has overseen rising incomes and political stability. The group says it is using peaceful protest to pressure the Kremlin into holding free and fair elections in 2008. But the Kremlin and its supporters are wary of Other Russia, alleging the group is using street protests to stoke an uprising against Putin’s rule. Boris Berezovsky, a Russian multi-millionaire now living in London, said in an interview published on Friday he was fomenting a revolution to topple Putin.

Russian Gunships that Pass in the Night

The Economist (Edward Lucas) reports more detail on a story that appeared on Publius Pundit some time ago, namely that while Russia says it is unacceptable for any country to give assistance to the Chechen rebels, Russia itself has no problem assisting the rebels in Georgia. This is exactly the same hypocrisy that destroyed the USSR, and it will destroy Russia just as surely if the Russian people allow it to continue:

WAS it a stunt, a signal or a test? A month after helicopters launched a night-time rocket attack on government buildings in Georgia’s Kodori gorge, nobody knows. As so often in post-Soviet imperial politics, the big picture is clear, but the details are mysterious.

The big picture is that Georgia is trying to re-establish control over two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have claimed independence with Russian backing.

In Abkhazia, Georgia has replaced the bandits who were running the Kodori gorge, a remote upland district, with a normal (by Georgian standards) civilian administration.

In South Ossetia, the Georgian authorities have set up a local government in a village that has always been under Georgian control. This new outfit is run by prominent South Ossetian political figures who have fallen out with the imported Kremlin stooges in charge of the separatist administration.

The aim is to make Georgia a magnet, attracting back minorities repelled by the swaggering ethno-nationalism of the early 1990s. Fast growth and some institutional reform already make Georgia look pretty good, if no showcase, when measured against Russia’s troubled periphery across the Caucasus mountains. Russia’s attempts at sanctions and harassment have not brought Georgia to its knees; rather, they have strengthened its self-confidence and encouraged its integration with the West.

An ambitious Abkhaz or Ossetian thus faces an interesting choice: Russia’s gas-fired crony capitalism, with all the problems of the north Caucasus neighbourhood thrown in; or Georgia, and its path of European and Atlantic integration. Neither is hugely attractive right now, but it is hard to see the Russian option getting more compelling, whereas Georgia’s future is looking increasingly bright.

So much for the big picture. Russia is losing out, with a bad grace, to an upstart former satellite. But what about the helicopters? Predictably, the Kremlin line is that Georgia attacked itself to gain sympathy. But in truth the culprits can only have been Russian. Who else in the region has the military capability to launch precision airstrikes at night?

The raid might have been a prelude to an attack aimed at regaining control over the Kodori gorge. But no ground troops followed it up. Most likely it was an attempt to provoke Mikheil Saakashvili, the volatile Georgian president, into an ill-judged retaliation. If so, it failed. Since some American-inspired arm-twisting last year, Mr Saaskashvili’s public utterances have been exemplary.

Just possibly, the attack was nothing to do with local politics, but one Kremlin faction signalling to another that it has the capability to start a war if thwarted. If so, that’s bad news for Russia’s neighbours, who have long feared such stunts in the run-up to Russia’s presidential election next year. Maybe the attackers expected more impact: it was pure chance that all the buildings were unoccupied. Nobody was killed, or even hurt. Perhaps they will be, next time.

In theory, the attack should be investigated by the United Nations Observer Misson in Georgia, which tries to keep an eye on what Russia calls its “peace-keeping” force in Abkhazia (given its bias, others call it piece-keeping). The UN mission’s quadripartite fact-finding group—of Georgians, Russians and Abkhaz, under a UN chairman—has convened, but produced only a vague press release.

This week talks started in New York on the extension of the mission’s mandate. Nobody is expecting Russia to be called harshly to account. The mission will stay supine and useless, as its response to the Kodori raid shows. A Kremlin victory, then, in one sense. But the upshot is that Georgian diplomats have never had such a sympathetic hearing, nor Russia a more sceptical one.

Russia Takes Sides in Armenia

Kommersant reports that although Russia would be outraged if the U.S. took official positions on the outcome of elections in Russia (indeed, it is currently leveling just such accusations at the U.S.), Russia has no problem doing so in Aremenia, just as it has done in Ukraine and Georgia:

Campaigning for elections to the national assembly officially started yesterday in Armenia. The elections will be on May 12. They are considered a practice run for next year’s presidential race. Armenian authorities have begun early with a hard push for the ruling Republican Party, headed by Prime Minister Serge Sarkasyan. Russian officials have also thrown their weight behind the party.
There are 1314 candidates from 24 parties and blocs competing for 131 seats in the Armenian parliament. The surge of enthusiasm is due to the fact that Armenian President Robert Kocharyan’s term ends next year, and everyone in the parliament will then have a shot at the presidency.

The Republican Party is headed by former defense minister and current prime minister of Armenia Serge Sarkasyan. He took over as prime minister after the death of Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan from a heart attack on March 25 and quickly drew attention to himself as a potential successor to Kocharyan. Sarkasyan has received the personal endorsement of the president and members of his administration.

Of the 14 parties competing for seat in the parliament, only six are expected to succeed – the Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia, Dashnaktsutyun Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the Country of Legality, National Unity and the People’s Party, predicted presidential adviser Garnik Isagulyan. Prosperous Armenia is led by Gagik Tsarukyan, the richest person in Armenia and chairman of the national Olympic Committee. Analysts consider it a creation of the authorities as a backup incase of a setback to the Republican Party.

So far, there are no setbacks on the horizon for the Republican Party. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Armenia last week and expressed the Russian government’s support for Sarkasyan. Russia traditionally plays an important role in the internal affairs of Armenia. Several other Russian officials have voiced support for Sarkasyan since then, including Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and head of the Audit Chamber Sergey Stepashin.

Russian Lies about NATO Missile Defense

The Peace and Freedom blog exposes Russia’s typically disingenous position on the U.S.-led efforts to install a missile shield in Eastern Europe:

Yesterday China’s communist state controlled media passed around a story saying Russia was completely taken unawares by the planned missile defense sites for the Czech Republic and Poland.

That is total borscht. To an American: baloney (or more correctly: bologna).

The United States has been talking to Russia about missile Defense since Saddam Hussein used his Scuds in 1991.

I personally stood before Russian Generals and explained the position of the United States on this very subject in 1992.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been doing study after study on the best missile defense solution for Europe since 1992. I was co-chairman of one of those.

Scores of other military officers and civilian diplomats and executives can also tell you that Russia has been kept informed thoughout this long process.

It never ceases to amaze me how the Russians and the Chinese can deliver a bald faced lie to the western media and it is immediately swallowed hook line and sinker.

The west might produce lies as lively as this one: but they go into a controlled and not a free media that weeds out anything that offends.

Some of the report from China’s Xinhua media service:

“The geography of the deployment doesn’t raise any doubt that the main targets are Russian and Chinese nuclear deployments,” Russia’s leading expert on anti-ballistic weaponry General Vladimir Belous told The Guardian.

“The U.S. bases represent a real threat to our strategic nuclear deployments.” he said.
On Friday, Russia’s lower house of parliament warned that the U.S. move would ignite a second cold war.

According to defense experts, Russian response is likely to include upgrading its nuclear missile arsenal so that it is harder to shoot them down, putting more missiles on mobile launchers, and moving its fleet of nuclear submarines to the north pole, where they will be virtually undetectable. And Russia eventually could also bring the U.S. missiles to be deployed, within range of its Iskander missiles, which can potentially be launched from the nearby Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

How is Russia doing in 2007 on the WTA Tour?

Here’s an update on Russia’s progress in the first quarter of 2007 on the ladies’ professional tennis circuit. It’s not a pretty picture.

Russia currently has seven women ranked in the top 20 in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) based on their performance over the past 365 days. We can see how bad a 2007 season the Russians are having by comparing those rankings to the players’ positions on the 2007 calendar year points race.Only one of the players, Anna Chakvetadze (who lives in Moscow), has a higher place on the calendar-year rankings than she has on the full-year rankings.

Maria Sharapova (who lives in the United States Svetlana Kuznetsova, who lives in St. Petersburg, is #5 for the full year but #8 in 2007. Nadia Petrova, who lives in Moscow, is #7 for the full year but #13 in 2007. Dinara Safina, who lives in Monte Carlo legally and spends most of her time in Spain, is #12 for the full year but #17 in 2007. Elena Dementieva (who lives in Moscow), worst in the group this year, is #13 for the full year but only #24 in 2007. And Vera Zvonareva, who lives in Moscow, is #20 for the full year but #21 in 2007. Collectively, Russian top-20 players are 27 places below their full-year rankings so far this year.

True to form, Chakvetadze advanced the farthest at the most recent Tier I event, the Sony in Miami (as we previously reported), as Russia’s other highly ranked players fell by the wayside, mostly getting squashed by lower-ranked non-Russian opponents. It’s rather ironic that of Russia’s seven top-twenty players two don’t even live in Russia and a third would be seen by Slavic Russians as being Georgian (in fact, living in Moscow, Chakvetadze is lucky not to have been rounded up for deportation) — yet one of those players is the highest-ranked in the group and a second is having by far the best year in the group. Without these barely-Russians, the group’s performance would be even more dismal.

April 13, 2007 — Contents


(1) It’s War: Berezovsky Throws Down the Gauntlet

(2) The “Russian Solution” to Putin: Alcoholic Stupor

(3) LR on PP

(4) The Past as Prologue: Annals of the KGB

(5) More on Russia and Iran