Daily Archives: May 11, 2007

May 11, 2007 — Contents


(1) How many words is this one worth?

(2) Putin, Gone Completely Berzerk, Compares USA to Third Reich

(3) In Russia, Two Inflations

(4) Showdown at the Kosovo Corral

(5) EU Blasts Russia over Polish Meat

How Many Words is this one Worth?

No, this isn’t 1967 Moscow, it’s 2007 Moscow. What do Russians
expect foreigners to make of this? Is it only a domestic Russian
concern and none of the West’s business? If so, isn’t Estonia a domestic
concern too, and none of Russia’s?

See Robert Amsterdam for other photos of Russia’s “victory celebrations” in Moscow. Then ask yourself this: Russia beat off the Germans in World War II and France surrendered to them. Which nation actually “won” the war? Which nation would YOU prefer to live in today? What “victory,” exactly, is Russia celebrating? Less than 50 years later, the country that “won” this “victory” ceased to exist.

Putin, Gone Completely Berzerk, Compares USA to Third Reich

The International Herald Tribune reports:

President Vladimir Putin of Russia obliquely compared the foreign policy of the United States to the Third Reich in a speech Wednesday commemorating the 62nd anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, in an apparent escalation of anti-American rhetoric within the Russian government.

Putin did not specifically name the United States or NATO but used phrasing similar to that which he has used previously to criticize American foreign policy while making an analogy to Nazi Germany.

The comments marked the latest in a series of sharply worded Russian criticisms of the foreign policy of the Untied States – on Iraq, missile defense, NATO expansion and, broadly, the accusation that the United States has striven to single-handedly dominate world affairs.

Some political analysts see the new tone as a return to Cold War-style rhetoric by a country emboldened by petroleum wealth. But Russians say the sharper edge is a reflection of frustration that Russia’s views, particularly its opposition to NATO expansion, have been ignored in the West.

Putin’s analogy came as a small part of a larger speech in which he unambiguously congratulated Russian veterans of World War II, known here as the Great Patriotic War.
Speaking from a podium in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square before troops mustered for a military parade, Putin called Victory Day a holiday of “huge moral importance and unifying power” for Russia and went on to enumerate the lessons of that conflict for the world today.

“We do not have the right to forget the causes of any war, which must be sought in the mistakes and errors of peacetime,” Putin said.

“Moreover, in our time, these threats are not diminishing,” he said as he delved into what one expert said was clearly an allusion to U.S. foreign policy. “They are only transforming, changing their appearance. In these new threats – as during the time of the Third Reich – are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world.”

The Kremlin press service declined to clarify the statement, saying Putin’s spokesman was unavailable because of the holiday.

But Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, who works closely with the Kremlin, said in a telephone interview that Putin was referring to the United States and NATO. Markov said the comments should be interpreted in the context of a wider, philosophical discussion of the lessons of World War II. The speech also praised the role of the allies of the Soviet Union in defeating Germany.

“He intended to talk about the United States, but not only,” Markov said in reference to the sentence mentioning the Third Reich. “The speech said that the Second World War teaches lessons that can be applied in today’s world.”

The United States, Putin has maintained, is seeking to establish a unipolar world to replace the bipolar balance of power of the Cold War era.

In a speech in Munich on Feb. 10, he characterized the United States as “one single center of power: One single center of force. One single center of decision making. This is the world of one master, one sovereign.”

The victory in World War II, achieved at the cost of roughly 27 million Soviet citizens, still echoes loudly in the politics of the former Soviet Union, particularly in Russia’s relations with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In his speech, Putin criticized Estonia – also indirectly – for recently relocating a monument to the Red Army in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, along with the remains of unknown soldiers buried there. Putin warned that desecrating war memorials was “sowing discord and new distrust between states and people.” The remarks were a nod to the protests in Russia and Estonia after the relocation of the Bronze Soldier memorial from the city center to a military cemetery.

In last May’s Victory Day speech, Putin brushed on similar themes of the lessons of the war. Then, he spoke of the need to stem “racial enmity, extremism and xenophobia” in a possible reference to rising ethnic tension inside Russia.

Victory Day has evolved into the principal political holiday in Russia, replacing the Soviet-era Nov. 7 celebration, Day of the Great October Socialist Revolution. That holiday was canceled under Putin and replaced with another, marking a 1612 uprising against Poland, celebrated on Nov. 4.

Veterans gathered at war memorials festooned with red carnations sang “Katyusha” and toasted departed comrades in traditions little changed over the decades. The Red Square parade opened, according to tradition, with drummers from the Moscow Military Music Academy and closed with the marching band of the Moscow garrison. The defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, arrived in a gray Zil convertible limousine. About 7,000 soldiers sang the Russian national anthem a cappella.

At one point, a formation of MiG jets thundered over the square. As the planes pulled up and away, a pilot broadcast a message to the veterans over his radio. “We love you and remember you.”

In Russia, Two Inflations . . . No, Make that Three

It’s horrifying enough for a Western consumer to contemplate living with the overall consumer price inflation rate faced by Russians, which the country’s Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) projects will be 7-8% in 2007.

But as La Russophobe has previously reported, the overall inflation rate is not the one that really matters in Russia. Rather, the one that matters is the price rise on the small “basket” of goods and services that the average Russian, who earns $2.50 per hour, can actually afford to buy.

Rosstat says Russian overall prices rose 0.6% in April, and 4% in just the first four months of 2007. That puts Russia on pace to experience 16% overall inflation this year, yet Economic Development Minister Herman Gref has said he believes actual price increases will be only half that total.

But the price rise on the basket of basic foodstuffs purchased by average wage earners didn’t increase by 0.6% in April, its price rise was 30% higher — 0.8% — and for the first quarter the price rise for the basic basket of food was not 4% as for the general economy, but 5.5% (nearly 40% higher than the overall total).

Fruit Institute FreshPlaza states the the price of fresh fruits and vegetables rose at an even faster clip:

In January of 2006 fruit and vegetables amounted to 22% of the cost of the minimum food basket in Russia. Fruit and vegetables are the products which prices rose the most rapidly in between January and April of 2007. Vegetables prices rose by 6.5% on the average, including cabbage – by 14.5%. Prices of the fruit grew by 1.9%. Bananas and lemons became dearer – respectively – by 6.2% and 4.3%.

This is the same as saying that the average person’s wage of $2.50 per hour became 5.5% less valuable in the first quarter of 2007 — declining to about $2.35 per hour. Based on this precedent, an average wage earner could expect the value of his salary to fall because of inflation below $2.00 per hour by the end of the year.

And this is all based on data that the Kremlin admits — but the Kremlin is the sole source of the data. Anyone even casually familiar with Russia knows perfectly well that the Kremlin would have no problem whatsoever fudging this data to hide the most embarrassing facts and make itself look better. In other words, this is the rosiest possible picture of the state of Russian consumer prices. The actualy reality is undoubtedly far bleaker, as anyone who spends time living with actual Russian people in the actual country of Russia knows full well.

Showdown at the Kosovo Corral

The Associated Press reports on the latest battle in the new Cold War as Russia continues to stick up for its Serbian “little brother” against which the whole of Europe is arrayed, especially NATO, once again alienating itself over an issue from which it can gain nothing, in classic Soviet style.

The United States and Europe squared off against Russia over Kosovo’s future status, with key Western nations urging the U.N. Security Council to grant the Serbian province internationally-supervised independence and Moscow demanding more talks.

The deep division among the veto-wielding permanent council members — which include the U.S., Britain, France and Russia — signaled an uphill struggle to reach agreement on Kosovo’s future.

The 15 council nations held an informal meeting late Tuesday at France’s U.N. Mission to discuss the rival elements for a draft Security Council resolution, a session that diplomats said Wednesday was very preliminary. The council is scheduled to hold an open meeting Thursday to hear a report on the mission it sent to Kosovo and Serbia late last month for a firsthand assessment before tackling the divisive status issue.

But ahead of Thursday’s report from Belgium’s U.N. Ambassador Johan Verbeke, who led the council mission, the U.S., Germany and European members of the council circulated elements for a draft resolution while Russia circulated rival elements. Both proposals were obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press.

Kosovo is a province of Serbia but it has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led air war that halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.

Last month, U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari recommended that Kosovo be granted internationally- supervised independence — a proposal welcomed by its Albanian majority but vehemently rejected by its Serb minority, Serbia and Russia which has strong culural and religious ties to the Serbs.

Hundreds of ex-Serb militia members from the Balkan pledged Saturday to fight for Kosovo if the breakaway province is granted independence, illustrating the mounting nationalism over prospects that Kosovo will split from Serbia.

The rival proposals would both reaffirm the Security Council’s commitment to “a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo which must reinforce regional stability,” and oppose any form of violence.

The U.S.-European proposal would endorse Ahtisaari’s recommendations for Kosovo’s future status and end the U.N. administration and NATO-led peacekeeping force after 120 days. They would be replaced by a new international civilian representative and international military presence.

The proposed resolution would be under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter which deals with threats to peace and security and can be militarily enforced.

By contrast, the Russian draft makes no mention of Chapter 7 or possible independence.

It calls for the withdrawal of the U.N. mission and establishment of an international civilian mission, with an increased role of the European Union to support implementation of the standards. “The U.N. Security Council will keep control over international civilian and military presence in Kosovo,” the draft says.

Russia’s proposal also states that there has been “mixed and insufficient overall progress” on implementing U.N.-endorsed standards. It acknowledges the “necessity to continue negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina with balanced international mediation primarily focused on protection of minority rights.”

International officials had conditioned talks on the province’s future status with progress on eight standards, including establishing functioning democratic institutions, protecting minorities, promoting economic development and ensuring rule of law, freedom of movement and property rights.

In October 2005, the Security Council endorsed starting talks on Kosovo’s status after U.N. special envoy Kai Eide of Norway said negotiations must go ahead even though Kosovo still had grave problems, including deep ethnic divisions, a struggling economy and widespread corruption.

The U.S.-European proposal recognizes progress in implementing the standards and calls for their continued implementation. It also recognizes “the non-consensual breakup of Yugoslavia, the violence and repression of the 1990s and the period of U.N. administration that make Kosovo a special case.”

The Russian draft says extra effort should be given to protect minorities, promote decentralization, create conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced people, and to “promoting particular reconciliation and building trust among ethnic communities.”

EU Blasts Russia Over Polish Meat

The EU Observer reports:

The German EU presidency and the European Commission have rebuked Russia for upholding its ban on Polish food imports days ahead of the EU-Russia summit in Samara, with Moscow also facing criticism for “attacks” on Estonia and anti-democratic backsliding at home.

“The time has come for Russia to give a date for when the [Polish] embargo will be lifted,” German Europe minister Günter Gloser said at the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday (9 May), adding “it [the EU-Russia summit] shouldn’t fail on a technicality.”
Russia’s 18-month long food ban last year saw Poland veto the launch of negotiations on a new EU-Russia treaty, saying Moscow was using trade as a political weapon. The Polish position has since been backed up by commission experts, who say there are no safety grounds for the embargo.

Mr Gloser also referred to Russia’s recent actions against Estonia as “an attack on the sovereignty of an EU member state” and pledged Berlin’s “full support” for Tallinn, after mobs besieged the Estonian embassy in Moscow and Russian MPs called on the Estonian president to resign.

The row – sparked by Tallinn’s decision to remove a Soviet-era WWII statue from its city centre – continues to rumble on, with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday condemning people who “desecrate memorials to war heroes” and with Russia blocking road and rail traffic to Estonia.

In an uncharacteristic tone for a member of the German socialist party – which is traditionally Russia-friendly – Mr Gloser also said “We are concerned about freedom of the media and civil society. The way demonstrators were recently dealt with in Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod has not gone down well.”

‘Spiral of mistrust’

“Everything must be done to avoid a spiral of mistrust [in EU-Russia relations],” the minister went on. “The modernisation of Russia will only be possible if rule of law and democracy are respected.”

“There are many points of tension between the EU and Russia, we disagree on many points,” European Commission vice-president Günter Verheugen added, mentioning the future status of Kosovo, Moscow’s threat to enter a new conventional arms race and its wobbly energy supplies to Europe as other lines of division.

The commissioner called Russia’s food ban on Poland “disproportionate and unjustified” and said “never again will we allow anybody to drive a wedge, or try to drive a wedge between the EU and one of its member states” on Russia’s approach to Estonia.

In terms of the agenda for the 17 and 18 May summit in Samara, on the eastern bank of the Volga river, Brussels hopes Moscow will agree to set up an early-warning system for potential gas and oil supply shocks and come on board with the EU’s new CO2 emissions cut targets.

Prickly summit agenda

The two sides will also talk about sending OSCE observers to Russian presidential elections next year, Moscow’s crackdown on free media and NGOs, human rights abuses in Chechnya and Russia’s role in the so-called “frozen conflicts” in Moldova and the South Caucasus.

The EU’s criticism on Wednesday of its giant eastern neighbour was offset by references to Russia as Europe’s “strategic partner” and mutual “interdependence.” Germany’s Mr Gloser also talked about “realism” and “strategic patience” in terms of prospects for EU values in Russia.

The European Parliament discussion fell on Russia’s VE day, which saw celebrations on the Red Square in Moscow where Mr Putin gave a speech about Russia’s defeat of the Third Reich. Afterwards, 7,000 soldiers – 1,000 more than in 2006 – marched by and nine jet fighters flew overhead, the BBC reports.

May 10, 2007 — Contents


(1) Essel on Russian “I”T

(2) Russia Foments Genocide in Darfur

(3) IHF Condemns Kremlin Harrassment of Kasparov