Daily Archives: May 1, 2007

May 1, 2007 — Contents

TUESDAY MAY 1 CONTENTS


(1) Another Original LR Translation: The Savior of the Motherland

(2) Essel on the Russophile Mindset

(3) Russia Strangles the Oily Goose

(4) Russia: “Do ya wanna go to the moon, America?”

Another Original LR Translation: On the Savior of the Motherland

Translator Vova Khavkin offers the following rumination on Russian patriotism by columnist Ilya Milshteyn (pictured) of Grani.ru.This is a topic of great importance and interest. So often in Russian history, those in power are Russia’s greatest enemies, and they label Russia’s greatest heros as traitors. From Pushkin and the Tsar through Brezhnev and Solzhenitsyn to Putin and Politkovskaya, this is a horrible, tragic theme of Russian history that has brought the nation to the brink of ruin.

Thinking Aloud About my Motherland’s Savior

Ilya Milshteyn

Grani.ru,

April 24, 2006

At the Kalininskiy market bread was “dumped” once every half hour. This was a strange type of bread: Some mongrel-looking types with large nostrils of unimaginable shape, as if made by a spiteful drunk baker as a revenge for his damned life. The people were grabbing them, scooping up the monsters off the counter. Then an invisible aunty-type woman’s voice was heard shouting from behind the empty counters: “No more, break it up!”—and the dense crowd moaned and quieted in a stupor. It was in a winter evening during the last Soviet year.

One had to be able to digest this, smoking a Java [cigarette] from the Ducat [Tobacco Factory] in the December wind. They ran out of bread for good in the central store downtown, in USSR’s capital. And this meant that with that there was no more food in my own country, in this freaking state. No food to feed the kids. No food to feed the family. No food to feed yourself. The words “we are f**ked” were spelled across the grey sky in yard-sized fiery letters.

I had never experienced such horror in my life. Not in August 1991—not too far from this place in Tchaikovsky Street—when at dawn a new wave of tanks was moving from Mayakovski Square towards the tunnel. Not in October 1993 near the White House and the Moscow City Hall. Generally speaking, hunger is scarier than war. Because it means them all—war, poverty, jail, and death in a back alley.

Unimaginable last loaves of bread—as if twisted with a poke—was all that was left then as a legacy from the communists. This was their farewell practical joke and parting shot. To a country that at the turn of the century was exporting bread to the whole world while they were arguing at their clandestine party congresses.

This is the country which Yeltsin inherited when he pulled the throne from under Gorbachev and proclaimed Russia to be an independent and democratic, you see*, state—and went on putting this country together from rusty bolts lying around in the backyard. This was the economy he endeavored to cure together with Gaidar-Chubais with the help of a treatment the people referred to as “shock therapy”—something that even the reformers themselves agreed with.

It is hard to tell where this definition came from. The life itself was shocking, expecting a catastrophe and humanitarian assistance every day. The people rambling by in shock with red banners near the stores where food reappeared all of a sudden in a flash: It was expensive but real. The bosses who let a huge and vastly endowed country slip away were shocking. What was also shocking was the fact that there were people among those mid-level bosses and heads of laboratories who grabbed the impoverished and miserable Russia by the hair and started pulling her from the swamp.

The Yeltsin phenomenon was shocking.

A poorly educated, stubborn, and brutal man who had spent half of his lifetime sitting in the same offices where all human traits are exorcised from the very first day, he displayed an inexhaustible reserve of courage and spiritual power and barely sensed the power and personal responsibility for Russia. For a nation that of all the skills during the last half century preserved only its ability to “communize” [i.e., steal] all that’s not nailed down. For the reputation of a state which for 70 years evoked nothing but fear and disgust in the rest of the world except for a short break for the war.

He was like a born-again, this former civil engineer, a political appointee, and a Politburo member; a staunch democrat for whom the freedom of speech was above all printable and nonprintable abuse directed at him—from the TV screens, in the newspapers, and in graffiti on the walls; a staunch Liberal for whom the notions of “freedom of enterprise” or “market” or “private property” were sacrosanct; a staunch anti-communist for whom the gods from the old testament of party booklets turned to be the demons reeking of sulfur and blood. Like any neophyte, he was laughable when discovering the truths knows even to children in Russia, but this did not make people laugh—because it originated in his childish naiveté which, together with his hunger for power, pride, and anarchic explosive temper, he maintained all his life.

During his time (and only during his time) Russia rose from her knees—in one leap from destitution and shame. From communistic feudalism—to wild capitalism; from a Soviet siege economy—to Chicago of the 1920’s because Russia had no other way to go no matter what the proponents of “gradualism” and “slow convergence with the market” would want to say; had they had their way, the country with an empty treasury would have gone under in less that 500 days. The cornucopia on the store shelves and almost convertible ruble, factories and oil refineries rising from the ashes, gaudy restaurants, travel agencies, banks, banks, and more banks… all this was created during his reign, during the reign of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, during the early years of his rule and at the time which has become inextricably linked to his name.

Then he became worn out. Later under the strain of tiredness and the age-old Russian remedy to rid oneself of fatigue he began to display at times the worst of a regional party secretary’s traits. Despotism coupled with trusting the scoundrels woke up in him: This is how the fist Chechen war started. He developed great-power phantom pains: Then he started to threaten his “Friend Bill” with nuclear missiles and give medals to the [Kosovo] Pristina assault operation personnel. After all, he was too spontaneous as a market reformer and democrat: He didn’t like the oligarchs but tolerated them, didn’t tolerate but liked the thieves from among his inner circle. He took to drink trying to reform the country. He got well for a long time after he retired. In a well-known interview with Nikolai Svanidze he admitted that his life had not been an entirely happy one. And he only became happy now in his old age, being at rest.

This, by the way, is hard to believe in because Boris Nikolayevich himself gave plenty of reasons for doubts—on rare occasions he did respond to the leaden news from the life of sovereign Russia, and did so with noticeable despair. For example, when the man he himself anointed as his successor brought back Stalin’s national anthem or made a cynical grab for power after Beslan. And here the script became worthy of a tragedy. A sick Yeltsin who mistakenly saw in Putin an heir to the glory of past achievements was doomed, together with his countrymen, to live out his hallucination—in Russia which he chose for himself; and together with the bewildered compatriots watch how his political gains were slowly—but surely—being destroyed.

By the way, there aren’t many [gains] left. Even Russia’s second president remembers this; he once muttered through clenched teeth: See, no matter what you think about Yeltsin, but it was during his years that “[T]he people got what matter most—freedom.” It also turned out that its value is also incontrovertible for Putin himself, at least during the moments when he is speaking about Yeltsin.

Actually, freedom still lingers in the country: “Yours and our freedom”—freedom of speech which has migrated to small-circulation newspapers and mass-circulation Internet. Freedom to demonstrate embodied in the banned marches where the “Other Russia” is defending her right to disagree in a city occupied by stormtroopers; the freedom to rally for human right—rights limited by the lawlessness of the Basmanny**-like courts and the overall environment of senile spy mania.

On the other hand there is freedom to move about the world. At least the Russians—whether at home or in emigration—can wittingly today, together with the rest of the world, commemorate their first president for all the good things he’s had the time to do, and forgive him for his unwitting yet grave sins. For in these mournful days the image of Yeltsin the Liberator and Reformer eclipses all the mistakes of the sinner and at times irrational and inebriated man named Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin.

He will live in the memory of the generations to come as one of the most honorable heads of the Russian State. For if History were to make any sense it would be for the yearning of nations for freedom. In Gorbachev’s footsteps, Yeltsin took over this yearning and pushed ahead as long as his strength allowed him, and did not hold on to power when the strength failed him, and repented at the end, and with rising concern watched how events were unfolding in a country which he loved and which he wanted to become like himself—free, magnanimous, and strong. Until illness and unfulfilled hopes made his heart stop.

____________

*“You see” – Yeltsin’s trademark interjection

**Basmanny court where Mikhail Khodorkovsky was tried and convicted, an epitome of Russia’s “telephone justice”

Essel on the Russophile Mindset

How Russophiles Think

(if that is the word)

by Dave Essel

In LR, we get to read plenty of what the small proportion of well-informed and thoughtful Russian intelligenty think and are sometimes able to say in the remnants of the free media in Russia. Sadly, this is to be found mostly on the internet, safely unavailable to the vast majority of Russia’s population.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that that it would be useful for non-Russian-speakers to see the sort of bilge that is fed to normal non-English-speaking Russians. To that end, today I took a look at Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of Russia’s mass circulation papers with the vague idea of analysing a day’s issue. It turned out that this would be trying to bite off more than I can chew and furthermore would require me to wallow in Soviet-style mind-lessness for longer than would be fun.

However, since the general atmosphere in that paper was the same on whatever issue I read, a single example, selected more or less at random (and also because it caught my interest) can perfectly well serve as a general illustration of how the government press (there can really be no other description for it) presents matters to the Russian public, most of whom have no other source of information.

My example is the issue of the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn. My sources are the BBC, the offi-cial website of the Estonian Government, and the odious, as you will see below, Komso-molka.
In the centre of Tallinn there is a monument to the Soviet liberators. That last word alone is a prime example of Commie double-speak. I don’t think there is much to choose between a Nazi yoke and a Soviet one, although stuck between a rock and hard place, I would go for Soviet. Add rightful independence to the selection and it’s no contest, of course. Even with membership of the EUSSR thrown in.

Let us accept that, to put it mildly, this monument is contentious, bound to offend the na-tives but also, it would appear, pleasing to Russians in Estonia and even more so to great-power chauvinist Russians in Russia itself.

The monument itself is in the usual Soviet style, that is to say that its artistic value is not high. However, it also a war grave, having been erected over some human remains, pos-sibly actually of Soviet soldiers, possibly killed during the ejection of the National Socialists and their replacement by Soviet Socialists.

Civilised people do not spit on graves. In France, German war dead from two world wars rest in cemeteries neighbouring on cemeteries for the fallen French and British. After death has intervened, respect is shown.

Quietude is a part of such respect. The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn rather contravenes this last point, since the monument stands in the centre of Tallinn and seems to rather spit in the faces of the locals, in an act of post-mortem political spite and in contradiction of the respect and quietude due to the dead.

It seems to me, therefore, entirely reasonable, to say that the relocation of such a monu-ment and the remains beneath it to a more suitable place would be a generally good thing.

The Estonian Government says this on its website:

Estonia has a moral and international duty to safeguard war graves and accompanying monuments and to keep them sacrosanct and dignified places. To this end, the Protection of War Graves Act was adopted on 10 January of this year. The war graves committee was formed on the basis of the Act. Its function is to make proposals to the Minister of De-fence with regard to protection of burial sites for war dead and possible reburials of re-mains.

The Minister of Defence formed the war graves committee at the beginning of this year, approved its rules of procedure, and appointed a chairman. The seven-member committee consists of the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Jus-tice, the Minister of Culture, an individual appointed by the Estonian War Graves League and two individuals appointed by the Minister of Defence.

On 27 February 2007, the Minister of Defence asked the war graves committee for an evaluation of the suitability of the location of the Tõnismägi war grave. In evaluating the suitability of the location, the Minister of Defence asked the war graves committee to take into consideration the disturbances that have occurred at the site as well as the political tensions and whether these could be considered consistent with the principle of allowing the dead to rest in peace.

On 9 March of this year, the war graves committee recommended to the Minister of De-fence that the remains be reburied, noting that the dead cannot rest in peace in the current location. To ensure that they may finally do so, the committee proposed that the remains near the Bronze Soldier be relocated to Tallinn’s Siselinna Cemetery. The committee found this cemetery to be a worthy location for allowing the dead to rest in peace, honour-ing the principle of dignified treatment of war graves.

I could not agree more. Everything properly stated, explained. This is how grown-ups speak.

And this is how to train a nation to think stupidly, how to inflame passions where it is inde-cent to do so, how to be maundering and sickly-sentimental, self-loving to the point of egomania, how to abuse the war dead.

Speak, Komsomolka:

The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn Is No More
The Estonian authorities today demolished the monument.

On Thursday at 4:30 a.m., the Estonian authorities attacked the Bronze Soldier Monument in Tallinn. Evidently, the former instructor of the Tartu City Committee of the [Communist] Party and now prime-minister of Estonia Andrus Ansip, who has been heading the shame-ful campaign against the monument, paid attention in class when he was little and remem-bered that wars are started in the morning.

Practically every other word of this opening paragraph is tendentious and vile. Goebbels could have done with lessons from this ‘journalist” in the abuse of emotive words and at-tacks ad hominem.

During the night, three activists from “Night Watch”, an organisation for the protection of the Bronze Soldier monument, had stood guard. Launched against them was a whole army of Estonian policemen (by some accounts, fifteen hundred in number!), recalled from leave and bused into Tallinn from all over Estonia. The car in which the “night watchers” – Larisa Neschadimova and two helpers, Andrei and Valeri – were sheltering was sur-rounded by special forces: its windows were broken, its tyres punctured, and they were dragged out and handed over to the police, who detained all three for 48 hours. Larisa Ne-schadimova’s are was hurt; this event is on record at the first aid centre.

A great piece of one-sided reporting.

Following on behind the police, the workers set to. The flowers and candles which over the last days had burnt continuously at the memorial were dumped into rubbish bags, the square was cordoned off with a metal fence and work began on erecting a metal carcass. By evening, the monument was covered by a large tent to prevent people from seeing precisely what was going on inside.

Wordiness is always the downfall of Soviet journalists. I love the flowers which had been burning continuously over the last days and hope the workmen remembered to extinguish them before dumping them in the rubbish bags. And what a great insinuation of unspeak-able abuse of human remains within the fence and tent! This is a work site and human re-mains are to be exhumed, examined, and moved. Perhaps the dead are treated differently in Russia?

So the public will never learn whose remains the archaeologists find. According to Esto-nia’s minister of Justice, Reina Langa, the mass grave contains stones and rubbish while Prime Minister Andrus Ansip came up the other day with a story of drunken Soviet tank men who got run over by their own tank…

I’ll need sources, please, O writer of inflammatory bilge! Meanwhile, I find the dignified statement to be found on the Estonian government website more believable: “The prepa-ration work for the execution of identification procedures of the war graves at the Tõnis-mägi green area is beginning today, in the morning of 26th April. Archaeological excava-tions and identification procedures have been scheduled subsequently in order to posi-tively identify the persons possibly buried at the site and their exact numbers.”. Note, Komsomolka, that if the Estonians, actually are lying and your improbable version is the truth, they’ve beaten you and outclassed you 100% on the propaganda front.

The police brought in from all over Estonia will not let anyone anywhere near the monu-ment. As soon as the text messages sent by the “night watchers’ from their mobiles started being received, people from all parts of the town rushed to see how the Soldier, who over the last year had become a symbol of remembrance, honour, and dignity, was disappear-ing behind the ironwork. Edgar Savisaar, Tallinn’s mayor, attempted to reason with the au-thorities, reminding them that 57% of Tallinn’s citizens were against moving the monu-ment!

Source of poll, please. And explain why the Beeb says: “Most Estonians view the Red Army as enforcers of Soviet oppression, correspondents say.”

Furthermore, the Protection of War Graves Act, on the basis of which the Ministry of De-fence is undertaking the dismantling, has been appealed against in the city court, which has not yet reached a decision. Thus yesterday’s outrage has no legal foundation!

Unfortunately it does so have. The move is being done under a legally passed Act which “sets forth the procedures for forming the War Graves Committee, which is in charge of evaluating the suitability of war grave sites, necessary identification procedures, reburial, the placing or removal of grave markers, and other such issues.” This is mere prevarica-tion.

“I will never forgive you this barbaric behaviour. Don’t expect me to support you!” is the cry Estonians are hearing for local Russians who feel they have been insulted.

Evidently, yesterday’s bacchanalia on Tõnismägi Green will have consequences for the Estonian Republic, both economic and foreign political. And international too, because last night night Estonia with its own hands created an internal enemy for itself.

Meanwhile, the official spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called yester-day actions of the Estonian authorities “inhuman” and emphasised that “all this we be borne in mind in the structuring of our relations with Estonia.”

And like all bullies, there’s no better finale than a round of posturing and threats.

One can hardly call this journalism. In fact, the article is probably in breach of Putin’s new law against political extremism, not that this “newspaper” is in any danger of having it used against it. It’s not for Komsomolka that the law was designed.

So stand up, Galina Sapozhnikova, proud correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda. I don’t suppose you have it in yourself to blush for the trash you write and for helping to make your country what it is, instead of the great place it could be.

Russia Strangles the Oily Goose

The Moscow Times reports that, once again, the Kremlin is sucking the blood of the country and destroying its chance for decent future:

The three largest independent firms in the oil and gas sector came out with earnings reports this week, and all three disappointed. The industry’s future has begun to look downright grim.

TNK-BP’s net income in the first three months of 2007 fell 60 percent year on year, and 11 percent compared with the previous quarter. LUKoil also saw an 11 percent drop in revenues from the third to fourth quarters of last year, revealing weakness that was “far more serious than the market expected,” Alfa Bank wrote in note to investors Wednesday. On Monday, Novatek revealed 2006 earnings growth that was 15 percent below consensus expectations, and 34 percent below those of Renaissance Capital, urging the bank to reassess the gas firm’s value.

“The tail end of 2006 was just not a good time for the sector,” said Alexander Burgansky, oil and gas analyst for Renaissance Capital. “The dropping global prices and growth of taxes really spoiled the market environment. The taxes are the biggest strain.”

Export duties on oil are adjusted bimonthly in Russia based on the price of Urals crude over the previous two months. This means that if oil prices are high, firms can expect higher taxes in the months ahead. Such was the case in the fourth quarter of last year, when oil giants were feeling the tax hikes from soaring prices that summer and fall.

“But because of the lag built into the system, taxes are going to drop in the second quarter [of 2007],” in reaction to the low prices during the first, Burgansky said. “This should bring some relief in the short term.”

In the longer term, officials signaled this week that the burdens would only get worse, however. Because crude prices have of late been buoyant, averaging near $61 per barrel since the beginning of March, export duties will rise by roughly $6 per barrel as of June 1, a source in the Finance Ministry told Interfax on Thursday.

The hoped-for shift of the tax burden onto the gas sector also seemed to slip farther out of sight last week. Though various top officials said Wednesday that proposals on raising gas production taxes had been drawn up, no one could say when a decision might be reached, and the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said it had not worked with the Finance or the Industry and Energy ministries to resolve the matter.

“The uncoordinated decisions by the various ministries imply that the fight over gas taxation is poised to intensify,” Troika Dialog said in a note Thursday.

Anton Tebakh, chief strategist at UralSib, concurred, adding that gas tax hikes would not be implemented until 2009. And Burgansky added that even after they were implemented, there would still be no real easing of the oil sector’s burden.

Spot prices for gas on the unregulated gas market, established by Gazprom in November, have been falling since the start of the year, with their premium over the state-regulated gas tariffs dropping from 56 percent in January to 36 percent in March and 30 percent in April, MDM Bank said in a note Monday.

The gas price reacts with a six-month lag to the price of oil, said Peter Westin, chief economist at MDM, so it is now just beginning to feel the impact of the slump in crude prices that began at the end of last year.

The Central Bank, which released its guidelines last week for the next three years of monetary policy, appears to have accepted that oil and gas will soon be unseated from the center of the country’s economy.

Its guidelines said the foreign trade surplus would drop to $10.3 billion by 2010 from the $139.2 billion seen last year, meaning that the value of imports will nearly outpace the value of exports in three years’ time.

For the past eight years, the Central Bank’s main role has been to curb inflation, first by means of letting the ruble appreciate — to the gall of Russia’s exporters — and second by soaking up excess liquidity from the oil and gas revenues that were flowing into Russia.

A negative trade balance, which the bank expects sometime in 2010, would coincide with a new monetary policy — that of supplying liquidity by giving discount loans to Russian firms.

Analysts have doubted whether the bank’s vast bureaucratic machine can provide these loans effectively, but most agree that this role will be vital for Russia if it manages to kick the petrodollar habit and diversify into emerging industries.

RUSSIA: "Do ya wanna go to the moon, America?" U.S.: "No, thanks."

Russia sells weapons to Venezuela and Iran, gives money to Hezbollah and Hamas, kicks American firms out of the energy sector and spews out anti-U.S. rhetoric daily. Yet, it is “shocked, shocked” when not invited to America’s parties. The Associated Press reports:

The chief of Russia’s space agency said that the United States has rejected a proposal by Moscow to explore the moon jointly, a Russian news agency reported. NASA announced in December that it would establish an international base camp on one of the moon’s poles, permanently staffing it by 2024. Officials with Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, later said they had hoped to join NASA’s program with Russian technology and experience. But Roscosmos chief Anatoly Perminov was quoted by the Interfax news agency Sunday as saying that the United States had rebuffed the offer. “We are ready to cooperate but for some reasons the United States has announced that it will carry out the program itself,” he was quoted as saying. “Strange as it is, the United States is short of experts to implement the program,” Interfax quoted him as saying. [LR: Apparently not THAT short] There was no immediate comment by NASA to the report. Perminov also said Russia had signed a $1 billion contract with NASA for Russian cargo ships to deliver goods to the international space station over the next three years — an indication he said of the competitiveness of Russia’s space services. “If we had been uncompetitive, such contracts would not be signed,” Perminov was quoted as saying. Russian space craft have been the workhorses of the international space station program, regularly shuttling cargo and people to the orbiting station — in particular after the U.S. space shuttle fleet was grounded following the Columbia disaster in 2003. NASA will end the shuttle program in 2010 with plans to return to the moon in a new vehicle.