Daily Archives: April 21, 2007

Happy Birthday, Adolf!

Over the weekend, the Kremlin violently attacked peaceful protest marchers in Russia’s two major cities. Kommersant reported:

The Moscow Helsinki Group and other human rights organizations are going to send information they have gathered about beatings and unsanctioned arrests to the Prosecutor General’s Office. Other Russia leaders also sent appeals to EU and U.S. authorities, asking them to deny visas for those responsible for the suppression of the rallies. The list includes Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko and some other officials. A group of Other Russia activists are going to take a stroll along Rozhdestvensky Boulevard in Moscow on Sunday to denounce last week’s violence.

On Tuesday, the International Air Transport Association reported that Russia is the most dangerous place in the world to board a Western-made civilian aircraft.

On Wednesday, Russian police raided the offices of an NGO that trains Russian journalists how to actually report the news as opposed to parrotting the Kremlin line (full details below). It was also reported that Russia’s wealthy continue to gobble up the nation’s resources at a rate six times faster than the nation as a whole is growing, re-creating the economic situation that existed at the time of the Bolshevik revolution, while millions languish in dire poverty. The heads of the European Union declared that the EU-Russia relationship is at its lowest ebb since the fall of communism. Cold War is now openly discussed between America and Russia. The speaker of Russia’s version of the House of Representatives told the body this week that America got what it deserved in the Virginia Tech killings: “The situation where a country dictates rules of behavior to other countries, but cannot keep its own people in order, does raise questions.” The first cold war, of course, destroyed the USSR utterly.

On Thursday, despite all that, a new public opinion poll in Russia showed Vladimir Putin enjoying 79% public appoval, with two-thirds of respondents calling for him to remain in office for a third term.

As if to put a cherry on top of all this whipped cream, today, and all weekend long, dark-skinned students will be confined to their dormitories in Russia in order to allow Russia’s vast hoard of neo-nazis to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday without blood in streets. Forces of the “Other Russia” protest coalition, of course, continue to be banned from marching. The Associated Press reports the details:

A leading Moscow university ordered its foreign students on Thursday to remain in their dormitories for the next three days because of fears of ethnic violence before Adolf Hitler’s birthday this weekend, students said.

Hundreds of students at the prestigious Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy were told to stock up on food and warned they would not be let out of the dormitories through Saturday in an attempt to protect them amid a marked rise in hate crimes.

In the past, some members of ultra nationalist groups have marked Hitler’s birthday with attacks on ethnic minorities.

“It is nice that the university is taking care of us, but on the other hand it’s absurd that our freedom is being limited because of some militant groups,” said Liah Ganeline, a second-year medical student from Israel.

“In a normal, democratic country the authorities don’t obey the interests of these groups, but on the contrary protect people from them,” she told The Associated Press by telephone.

Only practicing physicians in training were allowed to leave the building, she said, along with students who had signed a statement saying they were responsible for their own safety and had received approval from university officials. Others were given permission to miss classes.

Ganeline said authorities have locked down her dormitory in southern Moscow_ which houses about 500 students from Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus _ every April 21 for the past several years. She said officials call it a fire safety drill.

Ganeline said, however, that all students were aware of the real reason, and noted that someone had scrawled the word “skinheads” over an announcement of the lockdown posted on a dormitory wall. Last year, she said, a group of skinheads threw firebombs at the dormitory building after shouting offensive slogans and giving the Nazi salute.

Sergei Baranov, acting dean of the university’s foreign students department, said the school was conducting emergency drills through Saturday. Asked why only foreign students were involved in the exercise, Baranov said the university was at the same time trying to protect students from possible violence. “We are trying to kill two birds with one stone _ these days the danger of some incidents is higher.”

Ganeline bought two cartons of milk, four containers of yogurt, apples, corn and rolls of toilet paper and prepared to spend the next three days isolated in the dorm with fellow students.

“It’s horrible that this is happening,” she said, referring to the rising xenophobic sentiments in Russia. She added that another university dormitory housing several hundred students in central Moscow was subject to similar restrictions.

In the past, Moscow authorities have closed down some outdoor markets, where many traders are dark-skinned foreigners, for several days before the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday to avoid violence.

Russia has seen a marked rise in racism and xenophobia over the past several years, with nonwhite or dark-skinned residents, foreigners and Jews bearing the brunt of the violence.

According to the human rights center Sova, which monitors xenophobia, 53 people were killed in 2006 and 460 others were injured in apparent hate crimes.

Activists say authorities do little or nothing to combat the problem and that obvious hate crimes are regularly classified as mere hooliganism.

Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human rights, said authorities should do more to prosecute hate groups and protect foreign students rather than subject them to restrictions.

“The activity of radicals is significantly increasing,” he said. “But the decisions of the university officials … must not violate the freedom of movement of foreigners.”

Journalism NGO Raided in Moscow

The Moscow Times reports:

About 20 police officers locked themselves in the Moscow offices of a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Wednesday, and they were continuing to confiscate papers from filing cabinets and desks late into the evening.

The raid on Internews, which trains journalists and works with many media outlets, sparked fears about a possible crackdown under a restrictive, new NGO law.

Manana Aslamazian, executive director of Internews Moscow, said police were linking the search to her detention at Sheremetyevo Airport in January for failing to declare excess cash. But she believed it was more than that.

“We are not a media outlet; we just train media people. I think all this is related to foreign NGO restrictions in Russia,” she said by cell phone from her offices on Wednesday evening.

A police officer guarding the entrance to Internews’ offices earlier in the day refused to comment on what was going on. A crowd of 20 reporters and camera crews packed the hallway outside the locked steel door leading to the offices, located in the Central House of Journalists.

About 20 officers from the Interior Ministry’s economic crimes department and led by Colonel Sergei Demidov arrived at the offices at noon with orders to search the premises and seize all documents, Aslamazian said. A group of regional reporters were in the offices at the time attending a training session, she said. Police were keeping them and all Internews staff in the office Wednesday evening.

Former NTV anchor Svetlana Sorokina (pictured above, trying to access her office during the raid) said she believed the authorities were trying to cast Aslamazian and Internews in the worst possible light and deprive Internews of the possibility to influence the media community ahead of elections. State Duma elections will be held in December, followed by the presidential vote in March.

“I am not surprised with this, because Internews is an organization that trains regional journalists,” Sorokina said outside Internews’ offices. “We teach them to cover events as they are, not like the Dissenters’ March was presented in the media.”

Opposition activists staged marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg that ended in police violence last weekend.

Sorokina, a member of Internews’ board, said she had come to teach the regional journalists inside, and she rang the doorbell several times before her cell phone rang and she was told that the police officers were holding a meeting to decide whether to let her in. She was allowed in 15 minutes later.

Several staff members stepped out for a moment and said they had been told to stay until the raid ended.

Aslamazian said the raid was taking a long time due to the enormous number of financial documents the NGO had on file.

“We have tried to be really accurate with our funds and have documents for all transactions,” she said.

The new NGO law, which came into force a year ago last Sunday, increased the amount of paperwork that NGOs must keep and required them to reregister under stringent new guidelines. The law was adopted after President Vladimir Putin said he would not tolerate foreign funds being used by NGOs for political activities. Foreign-connected NGOs played key roles in regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Internews is a media development organization based in California. Its Moscow office, which is registered as a Russian NGO, works with a variety of media outlets, including NTV television.

“It is obvious that NGOs are under great suspicion now. There is a paranoia that they are being used for political activities and a fear of an Orange Revolution,” said Allison Gill, the Moscow head of Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based NGO.

As for Wednesday’s raid, “I do not know what is the legal basis for this particular case, but the case in Sheremetyevo appeared to be targeted,” Gill said.

Aslamazian and another Internews officer were detained Jan. 21 in the green channel at Sheremetyevo customs after arriving from Paris. A customs official asked whether they were carrying “sizeable” amounts of cash. They said they were, and the money was confiscated.

Aslamazian was carrying 9,550 euros ($12,400), while her companion had 10,000 euros ($13,000) and small amounts in rubles and Thai baht. Travelers are permitted to bring any amount of cash into Russia, but amounts equivalent to more than $10,000 must be declared.

Aslamazian explained at the time that they had not known they had to declare the money.

Aslamazian said Wednesday that a criminal investigation was opened against her on Jan. 31 and that the officers carrying out the raid had presented her with a search order in connection with that investigation.

“It was the Sheremetyevo Airport police who opened the case, but the officers who are searching here are from the economic crimes department,” she said.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s economic crimes department, Alexander Vorobyov, declined to comment on the search. An official with the ministry’s investigative committee, Svetlana Stasenko, also declined comment.

If convicted of smuggling, Aslamazian could face a fine or a prison sentence of up to five years.

Annals of Neo-Soviet Paranoia Part I: Bovt on the Moscow Crackdown

Writing in the Moscow Times, Profil editor Georgy Bovt exposes the hysterial paranoia that is now sweeping the Kremlin’s corridors of power:

Police detained more than 200 participants of Moscow opposition rallies on Saturday, and almost the same number Sunday in St. Petersburg. These were the government’s official totals for the weekend. Both the preparations on the part of the authorities’ ahead of the protests and their conduct during them were unusual and telling.

First, the authorities forewarned opposition organizers that they would be held responsible for anti-governmental activities. On Friday evening, National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov was having dessert at a Moscow restaurant when he was presented with a warning from the Prosecutor General’s Office stating that he would be held accountable for any acts of “extremism.” The threat might have worked: The next day he showed up late for the demonstration. Authorities detained him anyway during the Dissenters’ March in St. Petersburg. Other opposition group leaders, including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, received similar warnings.

Second, the authorities tried to limit the profile of the protests, both in their form and where they could be held. Protesters were forbidden from gathering in the city center, being offered distant Tushino airfield as an alternative, and were prohibited from holding a march.

Third, law enforcement agencies dealt severely with all infractions. Moscow court officials were brought in to work on Saturday to render any necessary decisions regarding protesters who were detained. Riot police from other regions were brought in to bolster the Moscow force, and they were liberal in their use of force against the protesters, beating them with truncheons. The police didn’t use tear gas or water cannons, although both were on hand.

It all seemed pretty excessive given the marginal nature of the threat the protesters represented to the powers that be. Dissenters’ March leaders are relatively unpopular with the general population, the various groups are not well coordinated and they have no distinct platforms other than their opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Nevertheless, they seem very nervous in the face of even this ineffectual form of opposition.

The government reacted just as nervously to a U.S. State Department’s annual report earlier this month on the worldwide state of human rights. It was a standard report, one of many such statements issued since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The report contained no new or particularly pointed criticism, at least not in comparison with what had already been said in other U.S. statements. The document was, nonetheless, the object of angry debate and condemnation in the State Duma and Federation Council, where far too much time and energy were spent on the subject.

Why is all of this happening?

The reason is that Russia’s political elite is growing increasingly nervous in the run-up to the December parliamentary elections and the March 2008 presidential election. Politicians face uncertain futures because they don’t know whether Putin will choose to remain for a third term. If Putin decides to go, they are worried over whom he might chose as his successor. As a result, just about everyone in power seems to have been seized by conspiracy mania.

High-ranking officials openly accuse Russia’s enemies of preparing a revolution akin to the one that occurred in Ukraine, which explains why they devote so much hysterical attention to happenings in Kiev. The political leadership is convinced that the opposition is being financed by the West in the hope of destabilizing the political system, and that high-ranking diplomats, led by the ambassador of one of the Group of Eight countries, are coordinating the distribution of funds to the opposition. According to this theory, demonstrators deliberately bring women, children and the elderly to their protests in hopes of provoking the police into attacking those less able to defend themselves, thereby proving to the world the “bloodthirsty” nature of this regime.

Thus, a statement from the U.S. State Department’s that it would support Russia’s nongovernmental democratic organizations was perceived as a direct confirmation of the existence of an “Orange conspiracy” that was being supported by the West.

This is the mood among Russia’s political elites prior to the elections. As the elections draw nearer, this mood is bound to intensify, and it won’t stop building until the Duma issues a plea from the people for Putin to stay on for a third term and for the Constitution to be amended accordingly. The politicians will present more and more “proof” to Putin that, without him at the helm, nothing in the country will work properly. They’ll tell him that disorder will reign unless he agrees to stay. If and when he does so, the relations between Moscow and the West will fall to such a level that the reactions to what is happening in Russia will finally become absolutely unacceptable from a political standpoint.

Annals of Neo-Soviet Paranoia Part II: Pravda on Imus

A reader tells LR that SFGate.com reports on hilarious incidence of Russian parnoia run amok:

From the department of Provocative Pensées and Rhetorical Flourishes comes this take on the Don Imus racist-remarks flap from Russian op-ed writer Sorcha Faal, who pens a commentary in the latest edition of Pravda.

In it, she explains to the Russian daily’s readers that the headline-making, American radio talk-show host was widely criticized in the media this week and, ultimately, fired by his corporate bosses not because he uttered a stupid, senseless, hurtful, unabashedly racist remark on the air, thereby using a powerful media platform irresponsibly to disseminate indefensible hate speech, but rather because he was supposedly the target of some kind of conspiracy in support of Team Bush.

In Faal’s estimation, Imus is some kind of fallen, “dissident” hero.

Faal writes: “In a clear sign of its intent to reign in dissident American media personalities and their growing influence in American culture, U.S. War Leaders this past week launched an unprecedented attack upon one of their most politically ‘connected’ and legendary radio hosts…after his threats to release information relating to the September 11, 2001 attacks….”

Faal refers to Imus’s recent, repeated questioning and criticism of the controversial conditions that have prevailed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the military hospital in Washington, D.C., that has treated wounded U.S. soldiers returning from Bush’s war in Iraq. Faal notes that, in one recent TV appearance in which Imus addressed the alarming conditions at the hospital, he told Tim Russert (host of the MSNBC program “Meet the Press”) that if the powers that be in Washington were determined to keep the Walter Reed scandal from being investigated by the media, Imus himself would “start talking about” their “secrets, starting with 9/11.”

Thus, Faal argues, Imus “represented the most serious threat to date of the growing assault against [the architect-commanders of the Iraq war] by America’s media personalities [who may be] threatening to expose the truths behind the events of September 11, 2001 and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars….” Since they – leading, pro-war figures in Washington, that is – were “[u]nable to attack such a powerful media figure…directly,” commentator Faal argues, “the U.S. War Leaders…resorted to a massive media attack against him, using as the reason a racial slur against a U.S. women’s basketball team….”

Offering an on-air apology last Friday as the uproar over his remark was quickly gaining steam, Imus, using the royal “we,” “said he wanted to ‘apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team. It was completely inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry.”

LR: If only the America could learn to treat Vladimir Putin just like it treated Don Imus!

More Racist Horror in Russia

The Moscow Times reports:

A Tajik citizen and an ethnic Armenian were brutally stabbed to death in separate attacks that appear racially motivated, authorities said Wednesday. Five suspects have been detained in connection with the stabbings, one of which was recorded by a video surveillance camera. Khairullo Sadykov, 26, a street sweeper from Tajikistan, was stabbed 35 times on Monday evening outside an apartment building on Ulitsa Metallurgov, near the Perovo metro station in eastern Moscow, said Sergei Vasilovsky, chief investigator at the Eastern Administrative District prosecutor’s office. He died on the spot. Prosecutors have opened a murder investigation. If charged and convicted, the two suspects face up to life in prison. In the other attack, Armenian businessman Karen Abramyan, 46, was stabbed 20 times by three assailants at around 10 p.m. Monday in southwest Moscow, police said. Abramyan was taken to a hospital, where he died of his wounds. A law enforcement source told Interfax that three young men had been detained. The source said the trio had shaved heads and were wearing army-style boots. “After he was taken to the hospital, the victim said he was attacked because of his ethnicity, saying the young men were shouting racial epithets,” the source was quoted as saying. The source said the detainees had admitted to stabbing the businessman.

A police spokesman declined to comment on the detentions. Vasilovsky did not have information about arrests in connection with the death. But a law enforcement source told Komsomolskaya Pravda that two teenagers resembling skinheads had been detained thanks to video footage from a surveillance camera installed near a building entryway. The footage showed two young men of Slavic appearance with shaven heads stabbing Sadykov, and both were wearing “high, laced-up, army-style boots,” the source said, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported Wednesday. The report identified the suspects as Pavel Skachayevsky, a 17-year-old student at the Russian State Physical Education University, and Artur Ryno, a 17-year-old art student. The clothes they were wearing when detained were covered in blood, and they closely resembled the attackers on the surveillance video, the report said.

April 20, 2007 — Contents


(1) Making Dissent Illegal

(2) Ukraine Shows Russia What Real Democracy is

(3) The End of Opposition in Russia

(4) The Outrageous Lies from Russia Blog Just Keep Coming