Daily Archives: May 9, 2007

May 9, 2007 — Contents

WEDNESDAY MAY 9 CONTENTS


(1) Sarkozy Blasts the Kremlin

(2) Estonia in Context, Part I

(3) Estonia in Context, Part II

(4) Yet Another Conscript Tortured and Murdered by “Patriotic” Russians

(5) Annals of Russian Police Efficiency

(6) Forbes Interviews Limonov

NB: Today we offer two columns seeking to place the Estonia crisis in historical context, one from an American analyst and one from a Russian. Both offer compelling insights and make for interesting comparisons.

Sarkozy Blasts the Kremlin, calls U.S. "Cornerstone"

Regnum reports:

France’s newly elected president Nicolas Sarkozy (pictured) gave an interview to the National Interest Journal. Sarkozy answered questions about French domestic and foreign policy. Some his statements showed rather tough attacks against Russia. Particularly, speaking on the problem of human rights abuse, Nicolas Sarkozy noted that nation-states are no longer the sole actors on the international stage, and “the pursuit of status quo is not a policy; it is akin to giving up.” “We cannot claim ignorance anymore, so we are loosing the possibility of remaining silent in the face of genocide or criminal behavior. Our silence, when faced with 200,000 deaths and 400,000 refugees in Chechnya, is unbearable,” said the new French leader. Answering National Interest’s question whether it is more difficult to speak out against the major powers like China and Russia, Nicolas Sarkozy responded that the fact that China and Russia are great powers, but it should not “prevent us from denouncing their human rights violations.” Besides, he added: “Russia’s recent behavior makes me quite nervous. Nicolas Sarkozy also criticized US foreign policy. According to him, the friendship between Europe and the United States is a “cornerstone of world stability.” But he added that friendship means “being with your friends when they need you and also being able to tell them the truth when they are wrong” and stressed it “means respect, understanding and affection . . . but not submission.” Nicolas Sarkozy won the Sunday presidential election in France, defeating socialist Segolene Royal with 53.8% vs. 46.2%.

Publius Pundit has the full text of Sarkozy’s statements about Russia and the U.S.

Annals of the Russian Dark Ages: Estonia in Context

Writing in the Moscow Times Konstantin Sonin, a professor at the New Economic School/CEFIR. puts the Estonian question into perspective:

When it comes to relatives who live far away, there is a tendency to remember them only on certain occasions, such as birthdays, weddings or funerals. These are the times when you feel ashamed of the fact that, for example, you haven’t visited them for over 10 years, even though you keep promising to do so. But sometimes just hearing about other relatives is enough to get us thinking about our own.

The recent events concerning the monument to Soviet soldiers in Estonia are just this kind of situation. The Estonian government clearly did not show its best side in deciding to move the monument: It doesn’t take a great deal of political courage to behave in strict accordance with the majority opinion. True political leadership also involves taking into consideration the minority view. The journalists who wrote of the “Russian monster” in an editorial published in one of Estonia’s most popular newspapers crossed all conceivable limits of journalistic etiquette and political correctness. It is not surprising that Russian politicians and intellectuals began contemplating an appropriate response.

But what type of response? It looks like they decided to turn to the tried, if not particularly true, approach of imposing economic blockades, sanctions and other measures forcing Russians to foot the bill for bringing economic pressure to bear on producers in another country. Essentially, Russia is once again looking at an asymmetrical response. Perhaps this time it would make sense to explore the option of a symmetrical response instead. If the Estonian government takes actions that offend Russian historical sensibilities, the Russian government shouldn’t have to show much concern for the historical sensibilities of the Estonians.

Maybe, for example, it would make sense to limit temporarily access to the memorial to the victims of the violent resettlement of the Baltic peoples. Russia could also reduce the funding for taking care of certain halls within the Museum of Political Repression. As a long-term measure, there could be the threat to exclude mention of these events from the list of crimes which Russian laws make it a crime to deny. These laws, after all, were based on similar laws in a number of European countries forbidding the denial of the Holocaust and requiring countries to list all peoples that suffered repression on the basis of ethnicity or faith.

These methods are universal geopolitical weapons. If, for instance, relations with Ukraine were to deteriorate any further, whoever Russia’s president might be at the time could skip the annual rite of laying flowers at the memorial to the victims of the Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine of 1932 and 1933. Even though this was a tragedy shared by Russians, the majority of those who died of hunger as a result of the collectivization and policies of the Communist leadership were Ukrainians, and so the memory of those events holds special meaning for them. Even the slightest lack of sensitivity toward that memorial would have a greater effect than an attempt to manipulate the flow of gas to Ukraine.

I wouldn’t favor any of these measures, so I suppose it’s a good thing that none of them could be implemented in Russia today. This is because we don’t actually have a memorial to the deportation of the Baltic peoples. Nor is there a fitting memorial to the famine victims of 1932 and 1933, although the famine was one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of the 20th century. No Russian president, therefore, has ever laid a wreath at such a memorial. Russian history textbooks do not mention that the collectivization campaign was a form of civil war –one of the deadliest, in fact — nor does the country have a Museum of Political Repression or laws forbidding the denial that this repression ever took place.

It is simply not possible to strike back at countries offending the historical sensibilities of Russians by going after monuments to the suffering of their peoples. Russia doesn’t have any.

Annals of the Russian Dark Ages: Estonia in Context, Part II

Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Fred Hiatt also helps put the Estonian crisis in historical context:

In 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Estonian counterpart, the polymath Lennart Meri, chummily drank together in a Kremlin chamber as their foreign ministers labored nearby to complete a historic treaty to withdraw all Russian troops from the tiny Baltic state.

When it was time to celebrate the finished draft, Yeltsin mocked his own foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, for his weak drinking skills — “Bring the boy some ice cream,” he roared to an attendant — but approved the agreement. That may have been the high-water mark of Russia’s willingness to face its imperialist history and allow its neighbors to live in peace.

How far Russia has regressed since then became shockingly evident last week when Vladimir Putin’s Russia (population: 143 million) unleashed a barrage against neighboring Estonia (population: 1.34 million) that included Kremlin cyber-attacks on official Estonian Web sites, gangs of Kremlin-sponsored youths menacing Estonian diplomats in Moscow, Russian officials and government-controlled media spewing incendiary propaganda, Russian companies suspending contracts with Estonian firms and, in predictably Putinian fashion, Russian threats to cut off the tiny nation’s energy supplies. (Suddenly, the Russian railway announced, all its coal-carrying railcars were in desperate need of repair.) The onslaught illustrated the dangerous real-world consequences of mythologizing history — of Putin’s glorification of Stalinism — and the link between Russia’s atrophied democracy and its increasingly aggressive foreign policy.

The episode began on April 26 when Estonia began relocating a Soviet-era war memorial and the remains of a dozen Soviet soldiers buried beneath it from a central square in the capital, Tallinn, to a nearby military cemetery. Russian-speaking youth, after meeting with Russian diplomats, rioted in protest. Russia’s foreign minister attacked this “disgusting . . . blasphemy.” The upper house of Russia’s parliament demanded a severing of relations. The Kremlin-controlled press furiously (and inaccurately) assailed the “dismantling” of the statue.

Why such a fuss? To Russians, the statue was a tribute to their overwhelming losses in World War II — which they know as the Great Patriotic War. To Estonians, it was a reminder of a half-century of Soviet occupation during which the Kremlin shot thousands of Balts; sent hundreds of thousands to Siberia; moved hundreds of thousands of Russians in to take their places; and tried to eradicate their culture, their language and any memory of independence.

The trouble is that Russia has never acknowledged this history, and under Putin it grows less and less willing to do so. The passing of the Soviet Union is mourned, the old KGB is celebrated — imagine if Germans continued to honor the Gestapo — and the current independence of former Soviet states is treated as a transitory error. Neither Putin nor even his foreign minister has deigned to pay a bilateral visit to independent Tallinn. Virtually every neighbor — Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, even Finland — has been subjected to bullying.

“It seems they cannot tolerate any democracy on their borders,” Estonian President Toomas Ilves told me in a phone conversation late Friday night. He sounded weary after a week of crisis, but hopeful that tensions would ease, particularly after Estonia had received support from the West, including an invitation that day from President Bush for Ilves to visit the White House in June.

Democracy in Estonia or Georgia, Ilves suggested, calls into question Kremlin claims that “Western-style” democracy won’t work in that part of the world. An absence of democracy at home, in turn, makes it awkward to face history, “because if you start saying the Soviet Union was bad, well, what was at fault? One-party rule, a lack of human rights?” — it’s all too familiar.

Russian leaders dwell inordinately on the lack of respect paid them — but the more they stifle democracy at home, the less cause others have to show respect and the more the Kremlin ends up having to demand respect in a Soviet way. “Now Germany commands a tremendous amount of respect,” Ilves told me, “not because people any longer are afraid of it, but because it is a thriving and effective country.

“For Russia, respect is based not on achievement or accomplishment, but intimidation and fear — that was the ‘greatness’ of the Soviet Union.”

Yeltsin, for all his drinking and Siberian gruffness, had at least glimmers of understanding that Russia could become a greater country by withdrawing unwanted troops than by imposing them. Putin, clean-cut and fit, seems the more modern man. But his troops remain in parts of neighboring Georgia and Moldova, and no decisive Kremlin summits to solve those problems, with vodka or ice cream, seem likely anytime soon.

Yet Another Russian Conscript Tortured and Murdered by his Patriotic Colleagues

As Russians get themselves worked up into ever more furious fits of hystrionics over the failure of Estonians to treat their stormtrooping rapist military as heroes, that same army continues to inflict barbaric torture upon its own conscripts with not a finger being lifted by these same hysterical “patriots” who attack Estonia. Why don’t Russians ring Lubianka and demand action, as they’ve done the Estonian embassy? Is it because they couldn’t actually care less about their soldiers, but simply enjoy any opportunity to bash foreigners? The Guardian reports:

Military prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the death of a Russian soldier that allegedly resulted from abuse by fellow servicemen, officials said Tuesday. Investigators were looking into the allegations of abuse against Sgt. Sergei Zavyalov, who died in a hospital over the weekend, said district military prosecutor Igor Lebed. The Russian military has been plagued by rampant abuse of conscripts by fellow servicemen, making the compulsory draft extremely unpopular. Officials initially said Zavyalov had injured himself accidentally, but Soldiers Mothers, a leading rights group, claimed he had been brutally beaten by fellow soldiers on April 27.

Ella Polyakova, the head of St. Petersburg’s branch of Soldiers Mothers, said that an officer with the soldier’s unit saw Zavyalov’s condition but told him just to go to bed. As Zavyalov’s condition worsened, officials sent him to a nearby military hospital where doctors were not qualified to treat his grave head injuries, Polyakova told The Associated Press. When Zavyalov was finally sent to the St. Petersburg Military Medical Academy, the city’s top military clinic, he fell into a coma and doctors were unable to save his life, she said. She described Zavyalov’s case as the latest example of widespread bullying of soldiers by fellow servicemen in the nation’s military. “The cases of abuse and murder of soldiers in Russian army are endless now,” Polyakova told the AP. “Serious measures should be taken now to stop this situation.”

The Defense Ministry reported 554 non-combat deaths last year, about half of the number in 2005. It said that last year’s figure included 27 deaths from bullying and abuses by other servicemen and 210 suicides. So far this year, the ministry reported 110 non-combat deaths as of mid-April, including five deaths from abuse by fellow soldiers and 65 suicides. Soldiers’ rights groups say that many of the suicides also resulted from bullying and other abuses. All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to serve in the 1.2 million-member military, but only about 9 percent typically are drafted. The rest avoid the feared conscription by signing up for college, being excused for health reasons – often falsified – or simply paying bribes. A recently passed law cut the current two-year conscription term to 1 years starting this spring and will further reduce it to one year beginning in 2008, but it will also cancel most existing deferments.

Annal of Russian Police Efficiency

Reuters reports:

A Russian fugitive evaded arrest and became a minor celebrity by masquerading as a U.S. citizen hitch-hiking across the country for a record attempt, the state security service said Monday. Unsuspecting national television stations broadcast reports on an attempt by the man, who spoke only in English and wore an orange bandana, to claim a place in the record books by crossing Russia with no money or travel documents. But despite the publicity, he was not recognized. He was finally picked up by police after being spotted loitering at a university in the Volga river city of Samara, over 8,000 km (5,000 miles) from his native Primorye region, on Russia’s Pacific coast. The hoax was uncovered last week by the Federal Security Service (FSB). They established that he was in fact a Russian citizen called Rustam Dzhumaliyev who was wanted by police for theft and suspected deception. He had already been convicted of theft at an earlier trial and his sentence banned him from leaving his home town.

Forbes Interviews Limonov

Forbes reports:

Eduard Limonov leads the National Bolshevik party, a group with a muddled ideology and an incendiary symbol–a flag that fuses Nazi and Soviet imagery. Yet his group has joined forces with liberals and free-market democrats to criticize the Kremlin and take to the streets. We asked him a few questions about his goals, and how he hopes to achieve them.

Forbes: What exactly are you trying to accomplish?

Limonov: We are working to replace that absolutely awful dictatorship of Vladimir Putin with a normal state, free elections, multiparty parliament and proper coalition government.

How is it going?

It’s going well. I think we started a bit slow, but now we have good rhythm.

You seem optimistic.

I am optimistic because I have been in politics for more than 13 years, and never have I seen a situation better than today. We are successful in uniting the coalition Other Russia, and we have such different parties in that coalition with very different ideologies. In my opinion, that is a recipe for success.

Who is your preferred candidate?

I am for former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov because he will tranquilize our hesitating population. He’s a symbol of stability. I am too radical to be such a symbol, but Mr. Kasyanov will send a message to our population that everything is all right.

Who are your allies?

Other Russia is open for joining by every political force except those who are in power. Otherwise, we welcome everyone. We are very interested in the Communist Party of Russia. If they will decide to join us, our likelihood of success will be enormous.

The Communists wield that much power?

They have a stable and loyal electorate.

What about former oligarchs? There is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Leonid Nevzlin, Boris Berezovsky. They have raised similar concerns.

We do not have those names in the coalition because they are not political forces. But nobody will be rejected. If they want to help, especially with money, I see no difference between the money of oligarchs and another financial sources.

Berezovsky says he’s spending $1 billion to force Putin to give up power.

If he wants he can help us. He can send the money.