Daily Archives: April 29, 2007

The Sunday Photos Part I: Russia, the Final Frontier

A travel group called Extreme Trifle recently organized a trip around Europe which included a brief stop in Russia. Here are their reactions:

From Helsinki the teams head for the Russian border near Vyborg from where they will head for St. Petersburg. This would prove to be a turning point in the trip…perhaps we should have taken the hints from the Finnish who merely shook their heads when we said that is where we were headed…4 hours later we would find out why…

  • The Russian Border sign, roughly translated as “Total and Utter Bastards”


The border crossing seemed straightforward enough…until you tried to cross it. First the Police checks, then Passport Control, then Customs…and none of it in a hurry – you play by their rules or you don’t play at all – you got the distinct impression that these guys were not to be pissed about with…

After literally hours of waiting it transpires that the Delorean, Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky & Hutch are refused entry…they do not have their car registration documents with them and without this they can’t get insurance for Russia and are turned away. The rest of the teams eventually get through and everyone agrees to meet up in Estonia in 2 days time.

Hoo and Jane in the Delorean head back to Helsinki but the Duke Boys and Starsky & Hutch refuse to admit defeat and contemplate running the border – until a wise local informs them of what will happen to them if they do..Siberia was not on the route…

  • A pretty awful noise from Starsky’s rear end prompted an inspection…


Still undeterred they check in to a hotel in a nearby Finnish town and next morning would set about finding some “insurance” documents. Meanwhile the other teams braved the rain in St. Petersburg…

  • The column on the right is carved from a single piece of granite weighing 600 tonnes!


* *

Determined to get in to Russia the Duke Boys and Starsky & Hutch hunt around the town looking for anyway they can get some insurance documents. Unbelievably they happen upon a travel agent who can provide these and who fortunately has no idea what a UK registration document looks like…to cut a long story short we walk out of there with stamped and sealed Russian insurance – we are going to Russia after all!!!

  • Haven’t we been here before..?

All is going well – through the Police checks, through Passport Control… until Mr Customs notices that our entry visas have been stamped the previous day…he calls his superior who mutters and walks off for half an hour…he comes back with his chief who takes us in to the Customs office and leaves us outside the door for half an hour…he then takes us to the Police Commander who confiscates our passports and disappears for 3 hours..

  • These guys have enough firearms to stop a tank…

The Police Commander finally comes strutting back in to the room…only to throw our passports in our faces and point to Finland. End of story. Total and utter f**king wanker.

By this time we are so fed up we don’t even stop at the Finnish border and drive straight through – we needed a night out in Helsinki…

The Sunday Photos Part II: Aceski of Cakeski

It seems that the fad for elaborate cake decoration most vividly exemplified in the Food Network series “Ace of Cakes” has come to Russia as well. The Triniksi blog has a long photo exhibit from a particularly talented baker. A few choice examples follow, giving a good sampling of the interests of Russia’s oligarchs, the only ones who can afford confections of this kind (notice how few are Russian subjects):

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)
Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Самые креативные торты (150 фото, разбито на 3 страницы)

Another Original Translation: Illarionov on Failing Russia

La Russophobe is delighted to have received the services of a third expert translator of Russian, Mr. David Essel. Dave offers the following translation of another article from the Russian press by Andrei Illarionov (pictured), following up on last week’s “Approaching Zimbabwe (Dave is also providing us with his own original analysis of the Russia question, starting with last week’s essay on Leonid Brezhnev; look for a second essay from Dave on Tuesday, dealing with the Russophile “mind”set).

Note how Illiarionov, surely one of Russia’s greatest living patriots, makes reference to a number of statistics on Russian peformance previously reported by La Russophobe. Maybe he’s a reader too! We’d be honored.

The Authoritarian Model of Governance:
Preliminary Results

Andrei Illiarionov

April 2, 2007


(A. Illarionov is the President of the Moscow Institute for Economic Analysis, Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute, Washington D.C.. In 1993-94, he headed the Group for Analysis & Planning in Viktor Chernomyrdin’s government and from 2000 to 2005 was economic advisor to Vladimir Putin)

The new structure model for Russia has been created. It is a brute force model, the main aspect of which is the use of force unfettered by any restraints – legal, traditional, or moral. That is the essence of brute force politics [силовая политика]. Thus we have brute force enterprise, brute force jurisprudence, brute force foreign policy. And the first fruits of this may now be examined.

Collapse of the institutions of the modern state.

In terms of the quality of the most important institutions of the modern state, today’s Russia is at the bottom of any list. With regards to political rights and civic freedoms, our country stand in 158t place out of 187 countries of the world – between Pakistan, Swaziland, and Togo. With regards to freedom of the press, Russia is 147th out of 179, ranking alongside Iraq, Venezuela, and Chad. In corruption, Russia occupies 123rd place out of 158, next to Gambia, Afghanistan, and Rwanda. In protection of private property rights – 89th out of 110, on the same level as Mozambique, Nigeria and Guatemala. Quality of legal system: 170th out of 199 alongside Burundi, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Pakistan. Effectiveness of civil service: 170th out out of 203, giving us Niger, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, and Pakistan as neighbours.

The brute force state model legalises violence in our society. The number of murders per thousand inhabitants in Russia is the world’s 7th highest among 112 countries, lying between Ecuador and Guatemala, a little better that South Africa and a touch worse than Mexico. In overall physical security Russia’s inhabitants occupy 175th place out of 185 countries, ranking in the same group as Zimbabwe, Sudan, Haiti, and Nepal. The siloviki have no care for their fellow-countrymen’s safety.

And what, one may ask, about the financial, technological, and operational abilities of the “force” sectors of the state – the armed forces, the police, and the special services? Hasn’t the fact that they have undergone reinforcement in recent years strengthened the state?

Unlike the institutions of any modern state which exist to ensure the safety of its citizens; to guarantee their equality before the law and the powers that be; to maintain the supremacy of the law and checks and balances; to provide freedom of the press; to protect private property, freedom of speech and of public and political organisation and the right to participate in the political life and running of one’s country, the “force” sectors differ because they are elements of the traditional state apparatus. Reinforcing them does not necessarily lead to a strengthening of the institutions of a modern state. The fact that the “force” sectors are flourishing is evidence of change in the opposite direction, of the degradation of the institutions of a modern state such as we see, for example in Somalia and Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea.

Where are we heading? Is it that the low rankings on Russia’s state institutions are the result of the oligarchic past, of the “collapse” and “chaos” period in the 1990s and that these things are now being overcome by the stubborn work of brute force civil servants?

Complete myth. The sharp fall in the quality indices of state institutions has occurred in recent years. In 1998 (the last year before the advent to power of the siloviki), the level of civic freedom in Russia was 58% of the mean figure for the OECD countries. In 2002 (on the eve of the arrest of P. Lebedev and M. Khodorkovsky and just before the destruction of Yukos), this had dropped to 47% and by 2006 to 37%. The press freedom index in that time dropped from 55% to 47% and 33% while the political rights index fell accordingly from 57% to 45% and 27%.

The freedom from corruption index which back in 2002 was only 35% of the mean for the OECD countries dropped to under 30% by 2006. Safety of property rights, which had reached 54% of the mean level for developed countries by 2002, dropped to a mere 14% by the end of 2006. The World Bank gives the following figures for the fall of Russia indices (based on OECD levels for the period 1998 to 2005: government accountability – down from 60% to 43%; political stability – down from 51% to 43%; quality of civil service management – down from 59% to 56%.

The number of murders per 1000 inhabitants in Russia was 12 times the OECD level in 1998; by 2004 – 14 times. The number of serious crimes against the person more than doubled between 1998 and 2006. In 2006, in “conditions of political stability”, with record prices for oil and gas, unprecedented economic growth, a fantastic rise in wealth, and with absolute power in the hands of the siloviki, the level of crime in the country is more than twice what it was in 1998. And 1998, let’s not forget, was the year of the greatest crash of the economy at a time of low oil prices but greater democracy.

This is total failure. The deterioration in the field of foreign affairs is no less marked. Having successful quarrelled with nearly all our foreign partners, the brute force state has created a situation not seen for a long time in Russia’s history: it would seem that today we have no allies at all. The army and the navy remain, but not a single ally for our foreign policies remains. Trumpet as we may of diplomatic successes, Russia is to all intents and purposes isolated in its foreign policies. This became particularly clear after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. A comparison with the previous seven years shows that the average level of meetings between Russian officials and their foreign peers halved during the winter of 2006-2007. The number of meetings with heads of Western states was down to a third of the previous level and with heads of CIS states down 3.4 times. As a well-known television personality said: that is failure.

True, the reduction in the number of contacts with traditional partners in Europe, North America, and the CIS has been partially counterbalanced by a 50% increase in contacts with Eastern leaders – Indonesia, Mongolia, Lebanon, Syria, India, Guyana. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and China. The evolution of Russia’s internal political institutions is complemented by an evolution of the country’s foreign policy preferences.

What about the economic boom?

Isn’t the growth at least impressive? Growth there has been, but it should be judged in context. Mean GDP growth for 2004-2006 amounted to 6.8%, higher in actual fact than that of some European countries. But it is lower than the 8.2% growth achieved by Russia in 1999-2000 at the start of the oligarchies and before the brute force model got under way. At the same time oil – at $52 per barrel – has tripled in price since 1999-2000 ($19 p.b.), a gift to the country’s foreign trade figures worth 15-18% of GDP which was totally absent in 1999-2000.

The real example of economic growth in the last 30 years is not anaemic Europe but dynamic China. Russia lagged behind China back over the last decades and continues to lag behind today. While Russia GDP grew by 58% between 2000 and 2006, China’s rose by 88%. Seven years ago, China’s economy was 5 times the size of Russia’s, today it is 6 times.

Thanks to the brute force model, the country has been turned into an economic invalid even when viewed against the background of the other countries of the former USSR. Only two countries of the 14 former republics had growth rates higher than Russia’s in 1999-2000. For 2004-2006, 12 of them did better than Russia. With the brute force model ruling, Russia is being overtaken not only by other oil-and-gas exporting countries such as Kazakhstan (GDP growth of 94% over seven years) and Azerbaidzhan (153%). Russia is now also being overtaken by oil-and-gas-importing countries such as Armenia, Tadzhikistan, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

Even Georgia, which has no energy resources of its own and is furthermore subject to a total trade, transport, energy, travel and postal blockade by Russia, saw a GDP growth of 9% last year whereas Russia, swimming in petrodollars, achieved only 6.7%. One could not ask for a clearer demonstration of the total failure of the brute force model!


All crises have serious consequences. When economic policies fail even a serious cataclysm (like, for example, the 1998 crisis in Russia) can be overcome by responding with a responsible policy line. However, if institutions of state are destroyed, the force of their own inertia can lead to catastrophe, the depth, duration and consequences of which are of a quite different scale to political crises.

The institutions of a modern state are the most important factor for economic growth and for giving the country its standing and its citizens a place in the modern world. The brute force government model has been tried dozens of times and we have been convincingly shown to what it leads. Vide: North and South Korea, East and West Germany before the 1990s, China and Taiwan before the 19809s, North and South Vietnam before 1975.

The countdown for the new historical experiment is already under way. It has not taken long for it to become clear how badly the brute force model of government in Russia does in comparison with the freer models in the Ukraine and Georgia. If the experiment is continued, we will have the opportunity to see how Russia is sidelined by all our freer close neighbours.

In foreseeing crisis, out of habit we narrow our focus to energy resources: what if the price of oil falls? Versions of this can be heard all over the place. But the problems does not lie in tomorrow but in today. It’s not a matter of the price of oil but rather of today’s government institutions, not external factors but internal ones. The problem comes from the brute force, raptorial and hierarchical state model imposed on Russia today.

Its creators promised a rebirth of the Russian state but the brute force model is killing it. Its creators promised security to the country’s citizens but the brute force model is delivering the opposite. Its creators promised to strengthen Russia’s sovereignty but the brute force model is leading to her isolation. Its creators promised faster economic growth but the brute force model guarantees it will lag behind. Its creators promised a stronger country but the brute force model is making it weaker.

There is nothing more important for today’s Russia than a change of government system.

The Sunday Links

Here’s Russia in microcosm: One minute it announces it intends to make the Sochi Winter Olympics if awarded to Russia for 2014, the environmentally greenest on record. The next, we find out that Russia has lifted the protection on polar bears, one of the species most threatened by global warming, and will allow them to be hunted to exinction. In other words, in classic neo-Soviet fashion Russians, believing they are so much clever than ignorant foreigners, conclude they can tell any ridiculous lie and the foreigners will be fooled and believe them. Exactly this kind of thinking brought the USSR to ruin.

Kazakhstan is studying the prospects for a Caspian pipeline that would allow it to deliver energy to Europe while bypassing Russia.

Russia has talked about setting up a colony on Mars, and now it has another grand scheme: to build a pipeline and tunnel across the Bering Strait to connect with America. Assuming Russia actually intends to give America a land link to Russia, what is it’s purpose? To win back Alaska as Vladimir Zhirinovsky has always wished? To place America in a position to defend Russia if China seizes Siberia which would by then include this pipeline?

Russia’s Interior Ministry claims to have exposed 148 “terrorist” websites in 2007 so far. RIA Novosti reports, but doesn’t list a single one of them. Does anybody have the list? According to the Ministry, one-third of the sites were located on U.S. servers. Perhaps it considers this blog to be one of them? We know for sure that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t count, since the Kremlin is funding them. The most so-called terrorist sites, of course, were found in Russia — nearly half the list.

Annals of Jailtime: Khodorkovsky in Chita

Robert Amsterdam offers readers another inside look at Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s jail time, courtesy of hero reporter Grigory Pasko, through the eyes of convict Denis Yurinsky was the first work supervisor for convict Mikhail Khodorkovsky at Krasnokamensk general regime colony No. 10.

My first meeting with Khodorkovsky went like this. Once they announced to everybody in the camp: get everything in order, a big commission has arrived. They were getting the camp ready for something, they were putting everything in order, even the cops [as the zeks call the colony staff – G.P.] were taking out garbage. They were saying that they were bringing 20 Chechens. Then the stage arrives and I see that they’ve brought just one guy. In glasses, average height, squat and compact. I says to the cops – that’s all your Chechens? That’s how I found out that they’d brought Khodorkovsky.

They usually put all new arrivals in quarantine for 15 days, in separate barracks. Only then do they bring them out into the “zone”. Mikhail Borisovich was brought out to barrack No. 8. Then he ended up on my work team – a packer of finished output. He packed bedding, folding it up. We chatted, a normal guy. I called him Misha. There’s no such thing as using formal address, or calling someone by name-and-patronymic [e.g. Mikhail Borisovich – Trans.], among zeks. It’s easier to use the informal form of address, and that’s the customary way. Yes, I noticed immediately that this is a guy who isn’t afraid of work.

He came in 2005, in the autumn. The two of us worked together for nearly a year. Until August 2006. Everything that took place with him took place on my watch. I even took part in one process, when they were removing Yevstratov, the chief of the colony. The first time they locked up Khodorkovsky for not being at his workplace. He came to me, he asks how the sewing machines work. And right then the duty guard shows up – to do a head count of people at the workplaces. And that’s how Khodorkovsky ended up in the punishment isolator. This had never happened before, that they locked someone up in the punishment isolator for something like that. I was often not in one place. My workplace was the entire industrial zone. And lots of people can come and go like that – on business. The fact that they locked Mikhail up – this was a special action, they were looking for a reason to lock him up.

I then found out through my sources that there was an instruction from above: Khodorkovsky has to have one constant violation of the rules of confinement. It doesn’t matter for what. What matters is that it be and that it be all the time.

So the cops tried hard. But Mikhail Borisovich is no fool, and had learned a lot in Matrosskaya Tishina. He wouldn’t let them pull a fast one on him, he’d studied the laws well. So sometimes they even fired staff who, I guess, weren’t able to handle the assignment – to announce reprimands to him.

The incident with the lemons – you know, when Khodorkovsky shared with someone – is also wild. They say that they specially invented a new edict about the alienation of other’s property just to punish Mikhail. This is how they explained it: if you give someone a smoke, for example, then you’re driving him into debt. Total drivel! We’ve always given and have always shared everything, because that’s how it’s always been done. Even the staff gave us cigarettes. But after this edict some kind of idiocy started to take place.

In short, they punished Khodorkovsky specially the second time too.
I can’t imagine that every convict in every Russian colony is carrying out this edict.

The third incident was the one with convict Kuchma. Yevgeni was his name. He was with Khodorkovsky in the 8th detachment. I’ve known him a long time. Kuchma lived in Chita before the colony. Now, rumor has it, he’s in another “zone”.

“The situation, as I understood it, was like this: Kuchma had entered into a conflict with certain criminals. And he needed to come up with a reason for them to transfer him to another “zone”. I don’t know if he thought of that himself, to stab Khodorkovsky, or if someone suggested it to him. But it worked. He stabbed Mikhail, and they transferred him to another colony. They didn’t even throw him in the punishment isolator. But they let fly a rumor that Khodorkovsky had paid him 500 dollars to create such an incident, so that Khodorkovsky would end up looking like a martyr.

Dozens of commissions came to the colony after they’d brought Khodorkovsky there. So Yevstratov had no chance to hold on to his job as chief of the colony. I heard that they’re already locking up some of the staff too. This has to do with the fact that their relations among each other have gotten more brutal. They’re all being searched, stripped down to their underwear. It didn’t used to be that way. Before they could probably even bring an elephant into the “zone” for the prisoners. No more. And after they’re fired, they’ll never be able to get a job as a cop anywhere else ever again.

Yes, I know that Khodorkovsky is now sitting in the investigative isolator in Chita. Different people have different feelings about him. I’m positive about him, because I’ve had a chance to talk with him and see what he’s like in real life. He told me how he’d earned his money. People will never understand this. They don’t believe that you can earn big money honestly. And then there’s those who think that this is all just politics, that he’s an opponent of Putin’s.

I got early release. I literally bough my release with camouflage. I sewed a good uniform, and they did the documents for me for this. Now I’m married to a woman with children, I’m busy with the house. If everything will be normal, we’ll have our wedding in the summer.