Daily Archives: May 12, 2007

May 12, 2007 — Contents

SATURDAY MAY 11 CONTENTS


(1) Annals of “Pacified” Chechnya: The Blood Flows On

(2) Economist: Yukos was the Beginning of the End for Russia

(3) What’s WRONG with these People?

(4) Edward Lucas on the Estonian Embassy Protests

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya: The Blood Continues to Flow

Jurist reports that the ECHR has once again found the Kremlin guilty of state-sponsored murder in Chechnya:

The European Court of Human Rights Thursday ruled [press release] that Russian authorities were responsible for the 2001 death of a Chechen man who died after he was taken into Russian custody during a raid. The court ordered Russia to pay €62,285 compensation to the family of Shamil Said-Khasanovich Akhmadov, whose battered body was discovered in a field after being detained by Russian forces. The case is not the only one brought against Russia by Chechens; the president of the court has said almost a fifth of the 90,000 complaints currently before the court name the Russian government as a defendant. Radio Free Europe has more. In April the ECHR ordered Russia to compensate a Chechen woman [JURIST report] for the disappearance and alleged killing of her husband in 2000.

Jeremy Putley writes to tell La Russophobe about a petition which he and others are signing to stand up for victims of state-sponsored abduction and murder in Chechnya. You can view and sign the petition here. The background is as follows:

Increase legal protection for Chechen refugees !


To: Mr Antonio Guterres
, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
CC: Mr Ilham Aliyev, President of the Azerbaijani Republic

Dear Mr Guterres and Mr Aliyev,

It is with the greatest regret and concern that we have to tell you that, as a consequence of your inaction, Ruslan Eliyev has been brutally murdered. Ruslan Eliyev, a refugee from the Chechen Republic who had been granted mandate status by the UNCHR, was abducted in Baku on 9 November 2006. When we heard about the abduction, we, the undersigned, and other Chechen non- governmental organizations appealed to you many times, giving the name of the victim and the circumstances of the abduction, and we asked you to investigate the abduction of a mandate refugee (UNCHR registration number 6032) on Azerbaijani territory and to make public the progress of the investigation.


We did not receive a reply to our appeals either from you, Mr High Commissioner, or from you, Mr President. It is as though abduction in a country that is seeking to be democratic is not a grave crime and can be ignored. Or perhaps you think that if the victim is a Chechen then this grave crime is moved beyond the bounds of international law? We have no other explanation for your failure to act. You cannot claim that you did not know: you were even told the name of the victim.


We sent our statement about the abduction of Eliyev to Amnesty International and other international human rights activists. Many rights activists and employees of humanitarian organizations knew about the case and some of them replied to us. However, there was no reaction at all from those who could have influenced the situation in some way. When the kidnappers realized that no-one was concerned about the fate of their victim, they felt they could act with complete impunity. Here is a report about the violence against Ruslan Eliyev for those who still take an interest in the fate of abducted Chechens.


Quoting sources in Chechnya, the Chechenpress news agency, reported:

“Several mutilated bodies that had been dropped from Russian helicopters were found in Chechnya’s Samashki forest at the end of March. The bodies were in sacks. Several local residents saw the sacks being dropped over the forest. Ruslan Aliyevich Eliyev, born in 1975, and kidnapped at approximately 1930 on 9 November in Baku, was identified amongst the victims. The marks on the bodies found in the Samashki forest show that the Chechens had been horrifically tortured. Ruslan Eliyev had had his nails pulled out, his eyes gouged out, his body was covered with terrible burns, his fingers had been broken, his ears and nose had been cut off. Ruslan Eliyev leaves three young children.”

We urge you, Mr Guterres and Mr Aliyev, to:

  1. Organize and support an investigation into the abduction and murder of Chechen refugee Ruslan Eliyev.
  2. Pay the greatest attention to any reports of the abduction of people protected by refugee status, remembering that the kidnappers enjoy complete immunity.
  3. Increase the legal protection of Chechen refugees who are already protected by refugee status.
  4. Speed up the examination of applications for refugee status from people from Chechnya.
  5. Make public the results of the investigation into this crime.

May we draw your attention once again to the fact that people do not flee Chechnya in search of the good life. People escape Chechnya with great difficulty, fleeing Stalinist repression or the mafia war that international politicians have agreed to ignore.


Yours sincerely,


Mayrbek Taramov
Director, Chechen Human Rights Centre

Nadezhda Banchik
Amnesty International, USA

Larisa Volodimerova
Marexa human rights organization, Netherlands

Said-Emin Ibragimov
International Association for Peace and Human Rights, Strasbourg

Viktoria Poupko
Boston Committee Against Ethnic Cleansing, USA

Olanga Jarsky
Amnesty International, USA

Economist: YUKOS Was Beginning of End for Russia

The Economist says that the creation and seizure of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s “Yukos” oil firm represented the beginning and the end of freedom and democracy in Russia:

IT WAS the first “smart” office building in Russia, self-sufficient and stuffed with the latest technology, a showcase of Russian capitalism and built to serve as the headquarters of Yukos, the country’s biggest oil company at the time. The pearl-tinged tower was insured against earthquakes, storms and floods. It was even insured against police raids—but, alas, not against political change. In April 2003, when the company moved in, someone counted the steps between landings: 13, an unlucky number. A few months later things started to go wrong.

This week Yukos’s office building was the last of the company’s main assets, after its production units, refineries and petrol stations, to be sold in a series of staged bankruptcy auctions. Most of Yukos has ended up with state-controlled Rosneft, now Russia’s largest oil company, run from a low-rise office within shouting distance of the Kremlin. All that now remains of Yukos is a number of lawsuits filed by disgruntled shareholders demanding compensation from the Russian state. In a few weeks a clerk will cross out Yukos’s name from an official register and Russia’s first-ever private oil company will cease to exist as a legal entity. Rubbing out the stain that the destruction of Yukos has left on Russia’s political and economic landscape, however, will take a lot longer.

At the very least, the Yukos affair changed the shape of the Russian oil industry, giving the state control over energy resources and doubling its share of crude output to more than 50%. But the legacy of Yukos’s destruction goes beyond oil. If the emergence of Yukos epitomised Russia’s transition from a planned economy to the wild capitalism of the 1990s, which for all its excesses thrived on private initiative, its destruction was a turning-point towards an authoritarian, corporatist state.

What triggered the attack on Yukos and its main shareholder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is still a matter of argument. Was it Mr Khodorkovsky’s political ambitions, or his plans to sell a large chunk of the company to Exxon Mobil? Was it his intention to build private pipelines, or the cupidity of the new elite? It was probably all of the above. But what has become clear over the past four years is that Yukos’s fate was sealed once Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president in 2000.

“If the Yukos case had not happened, it would have to have been invented,” says Rory MacFarquhar, an executive director at Goldman Sachs in Moscow. The case partly reversed the legacy of the 1990s during which, through a series of mostly rigged auctions, control of natural resources passed from the discredited Communist party to a group of oligarchs supportive of Boris Yeltsin’s regime. It was unusual by any country’s standards. Mr Khodorkovsky, a businessman and former Young Communist League activist, was one of the prime beneficiaries. His bank arranged the auction of Yukos and ended up as the sole bidder. Any potential rivals had been warned to stay clear and he got the majority of Yukos for a song.

The privatisations successfully dislodged the Communists from the commanding heights of the economy, but also created a lasting sense of injustice in Russia. So when Mr Khodorkovsky began to behave like an independent and legitimate owner of Yukos, negotiating its sale and financing the political opposition, Mr Putin was furious.

The president’s desire to curtail the political and economic influence of the oligarchs was understandable. Mr Putin could have levied a windfall tax on the oligarchs, or renationalised the energy companies and compensated shareholders. Instead, he used the legal and tax systems to bankrupt a healthy company and pass the prize from one elite to another—this time, a group closely tied to the KGB, the Soviet Union’s former security service.

Russian tsars often banished disloyal aristocrats who prospered under a previous reign and expropriated their wealth. What was new with Yukos was Mr Putin’s pretence that all this was legal. That eroded democratic institutions and further discredited the law by using it as a political instrument. An attack late last year on Royal Dutch Shell (allegedly on environmental grounds) and an earlier economic blockade of Georgia, which was attributed to health regulations, were part of a pattern that began with Yukos.

After a bogus trial conducted by servile judges, Mr Khodorkovsky was sent to a Siberian prison camp and Yukos was broken up and pushed into bankruptcy through ever mounting back-tax claims. The figures did not add up. In December 2004 Yuganskneftegaz, the main production unit of Yukos, was sold in a rigged auction for $9.4 billion to a front company registered in a grocery shop in a provincial town, which was then bought by Rosneft. (When Rosneft came to float its shares on the London Stock Exchange, the same asset was valued at close to $60 billion.) The sums kept changing, but the formula stayed the same: the tax bill always ended up exceeding the value of Yukos’s assets.

By the time Yukos’s last assets were auctioned (undervalued by about 25%, says Al Breach of UBS, a Swiss bank) there was a sense of inevitability rather than outrage. Russian and foreign energy companies such as TNK-BP and Italy’s Eni and Enel took part to ingratiate themselves with Rosneft and Gazprom, the gatekeepers of Russian resources. Big foreign banks bent over backwards to earn the Kremlin’s favour. The government “left enough crumbs on the table” to keep foreign businesses happy, says Mr MacFarquhar.

High oil prices kept everyone quiet. They also meant that Russia felt no immediate pain from the destruction of Yukos. The management of state oil companies may be less efficient and less transparent than that of private firms, but when prices are high they still make a lot of money. Shareholders have filed lawsuits in international courts, claiming that Russia has violated the European energy charter to which it had signed up. Russia retorts that it never ratified the document.

Yevgeny Yasin, Russia’s former liberal economics minister, argues that the Yukos affair has done enduring damage to Russia’s long-term prosperity because it is harder to create wealth without property rights and the supremacy of law. The affair broke the rule of the oligarchs but resulted in a fusion of political and economic power, concentrated in the hands of the Kremlin. Its chiefs must think they are invulnerable. But so did the oligarchs and the Communists before them

What’s WRONG with these "People"?

Half of all Russian voters believe that the next election cycle will be dishonest and fraudulent. Yet, they still favor the current regime with 70%+ Soviet-like approval ratings. Meaning . . . that they couldn’t care less whether their government is a sham or not. The Guardian reports:

Almost half of Russia’s voters expect that the parliamentary election this year will be falsified by the ruling elite and defy the will of the people, a new poll indicates.

In a sign of discontent with the Kremlin’s manipulation of party politics, the Levada Centre discovered that 65% of 1,600 respondents were in favour of returning the chance to mark a ballot “against all candidates”, a right removed in order to cut down on protest votes.

Only 8% of those surveyed predicted that the election in December would be fair, and a third said they would consider the new parliament illegitimate.

Vladimir Putin’s administration has recently led a sustained attack on small liberal opposition parties, banning them or excluding them from local elections.

The veteran Yabloko party was struck from ballots in St Petersburg on a technicality in March. Last month the tiny Republican party was liquidated for having too few members.

The clampdown is seen as part of a wider push to consolidate control in the Kremlin, including increased pressure on non-governmental organisations and a series of prosecutions of regional leaders. Protesters at marches led by anti-Putin figures such as the former chess champion Garry Kasparov and the former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov were beaten last month.

The survey by Russia’s top polling agency found that 39% of voters expected local electoral commissions to “fiddle” results, while 45% thought the results would not reflect the will of the people. A quarter said there was a risk of candidates “inconvenient to the powers” being excluded from voting lists.

Despite the cynicism, Mr Putin’s personal ratings remain at an all-time high, reflecting the fact that he is not personally blamed for what many voters see as inevitable corruption. Almost a third of Russians would like him to become president for life next year, according to the poll.

“Citizens are convinced that these elections will go ahead with violations but they none the less consider that appointment by election is necessary,” said Leonid Sedov of the Levada Centre.

Mr Putin is not a member of any party but endorses and receives support from United Russia, which dominates the state duma. A new Kremlin-controlled party, Fair Russia, was set up this year with the aim of winning Communist votes. Its leader, Sergei Mironov, is leading the campaign to change the constitution to allow Mr Putin to stand for a third term.

Fair Russia performed well in regional elections in March and is expected to vie for votes with United Russia. However, critics say the two parties simply represent bureaucratic clans within the ruling elite and are incapable of real political competition in voters’ interests.

Liliya Shibanova, director of Golos (Voice), a group calling for free elections, said that the chief obstacle to fair voting was the exclusion of legitimate political forces. “We need to fight against that, to appeal to the courts in Strasbourg and to the international community,” she said.

This year’s parliamentary election will be followed next spring by the presidential poll. Two candidates are being groomed for the post: deputy prime ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov. It is widely expected that the winner will be the man endorsed by Mr Putin.

What’s WRONG with these "People"?

Half of all Russian voters believe that the next election cycle will be dishonest and fraudulent. Yet, they still favor the current regime with 70%+ Soviet-like approval ratings. Meaning . . . that they couldn’t care less whether their government is a sham or not. The Guardian reports:

Almost half of Russia’s voters expect that the parliamentary election this year will be falsified by the ruling elite and defy the will of the people, a new poll indicates.

In a sign of discontent with the Kremlin’s manipulation of party politics, the Levada Centre discovered that 65% of 1,600 respondents were in favour of returning the chance to mark a ballot “against all candidates”, a right removed in order to cut down on protest votes.

Only 8% of those surveyed predicted that the election in December would be fair, and a third said they would consider the new parliament illegitimate.

Vladimir Putin’s administration has recently led a sustained attack on small liberal opposition parties, banning them or excluding them from local elections.

The veteran Yabloko party was struck from ballots in St Petersburg on a technicality in March. Last month the tiny Republican party was liquidated for having too few members.

The clampdown is seen as part of a wider push to consolidate control in the Kremlin, including increased pressure on non-governmental organisations and a series of prosecutions of regional leaders. Protesters at marches led by anti-Putin figures such as the former chess champion Garry Kasparov and the former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov were beaten last month.

The survey by Russia’s top polling agency found that 39% of voters expected local electoral commissions to “fiddle” results, while 45% thought the results would not reflect the will of the people. A quarter said there was a risk of candidates “inconvenient to the powers” being excluded from voting lists.

Despite the cynicism, Mr Putin’s personal ratings remain at an all-time high, reflecting the fact that he is not personally blamed for what many voters see as inevitable corruption. Almost a third of Russians would like him to become president for life next year, according to the poll.

“Citizens are convinced that these elections will go ahead with violations but they none the less consider that appointment by election is necessary,” said Leonid Sedov of the Levada Centre.

Mr Putin is not a member of any party but endorses and receives support from United Russia, which dominates the state duma. A new Kremlin-controlled party, Fair Russia, was set up this year with the aim of winning Communist votes. Its leader, Sergei Mironov, is leading the campaign to change the constitution to allow Mr Putin to stand for a third term.

Fair Russia performed well in regional elections in March and is expected to vie for votes with United Russia. However, critics say the two parties simply represent bureaucratic clans within the ruling elite and are incapable of real political competition in voters’ interests.

Liliya Shibanova, director of Golos (Voice), a group calling for free elections, said that the chief obstacle to fair voting was the exclusion of legitimate political forces. “We need to fight against that, to appeal to the courts in Strasbourg and to the international community,” she said.

This year’s parliamentary election will be followed next spring by the presidential poll. Two candidates are being groomed for the post: deputy prime ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov. It is widely expected that the winner will be the man endorsed by Mr Putin.

What’s WRONG with these "People"?

Half of all Russian voters believe that the next election cycle will be dishonest and fraudulent. Yet, they still favor the current regime with 70%+ Soviet-like approval ratings. Meaning . . . that they couldn’t care less whether their government is a sham or not. The Guardian reports:

Almost half of Russia’s voters expect that the parliamentary election this year will be falsified by the ruling elite and defy the will of the people, a new poll indicates.

In a sign of discontent with the Kremlin’s manipulation of party politics, the Levada Centre discovered that 65% of 1,600 respondents were in favour of returning the chance to mark a ballot “against all candidates”, a right removed in order to cut down on protest votes.

Only 8% of those surveyed predicted that the election in December would be fair, and a third said they would consider the new parliament illegitimate.

Vladimir Putin’s administration has recently led a sustained attack on small liberal opposition parties, banning them or excluding them from local elections.

The veteran Yabloko party was struck from ballots in St Petersburg on a technicality in March. Last month the tiny Republican party was liquidated for having too few members.

The clampdown is seen as part of a wider push to consolidate control in the Kremlin, including increased pressure on non-governmental organisations and a series of prosecutions of regional leaders. Protesters at marches led by anti-Putin figures such as the former chess champion Garry Kasparov and the former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov were beaten last month.

The survey by Russia’s top polling agency found that 39% of voters expected local electoral commissions to “fiddle” results, while 45% thought the results would not reflect the will of the people. A quarter said there was a risk of candidates “inconvenient to the powers” being excluded from voting lists.

Despite the cynicism, Mr Putin’s personal ratings remain at an all-time high, reflecting the fact that he is not personally blamed for what many voters see as inevitable corruption. Almost a third of Russians would like him to become president for life next year, according to the poll.

“Citizens are convinced that these elections will go ahead with violations but they none the less consider that appointment by election is necessary,” said Leonid Sedov of the Levada Centre.

Mr Putin is not a member of any party but endorses and receives support from United Russia, which dominates the state duma. A new Kremlin-controlled party, Fair Russia, was set up this year with the aim of winning Communist votes. Its leader, Sergei Mironov, is leading the campaign to change the constitution to allow Mr Putin to stand for a third term.

Fair Russia performed well in regional elections in March and is expected to vie for votes with United Russia. However, critics say the two parties simply represent bureaucratic clans within the ruling elite and are incapable of real political competition in voters’ interests.

Liliya Shibanova, director of Golos (Voice), a group calling for free elections, said that the chief obstacle to fair voting was the exclusion of legitimate political forces. “We need to fight against that, to appeal to the courts in Strasbourg and to the international community,” she said.

This year’s parliamentary election will be followed next spring by the presidential poll. Two candidates are being groomed for the post: deputy prime ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov. It is widely expected that the winner will be the man endorsed by Mr Putin.

What’s WRONG with these "People"?

Half of all Russian voters believe that the next election cycle will be dishonest and fraudulent. Yet, they still favor the current regime with 70%+ Soviet-like approval ratings. Meaning . . . that they couldn’t care less whether their government is a sham or not. The Guardian reports:

Almost half of Russia’s voters expect that the parliamentary election this year will be falsified by the ruling elite and defy the will of the people, a new poll indicates.

In a sign of discontent with the Kremlin’s manipulation of party politics, the Levada Centre discovered that 65% of 1,600 respondents were in favour of returning the chance to mark a ballot “against all candidates”, a right removed in order to cut down on protest votes.

Only 8% of those surveyed predicted that the election in December would be fair, and a third said they would consider the new parliament illegitimate.

Vladimir Putin’s administration has recently led a sustained attack on small liberal opposition parties, banning them or excluding them from local elections.

The veteran Yabloko party was struck from ballots in St Petersburg on a technicality in March. Last month the tiny Republican party was liquidated for having too few members.

The clampdown is seen as part of a wider push to consolidate control in the Kremlin, including increased pressure on non-governmental organisations and a series of prosecutions of regional leaders. Protesters at marches led by anti-Putin figures such as the former chess champion Garry Kasparov and the former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov were beaten last month.

The survey by Russia’s top polling agency found that 39% of voters expected local electoral commissions to “fiddle” results, while 45% thought the results would not reflect the will of the people. A quarter said there was a risk of candidates “inconvenient to the powers” being excluded from voting lists.

Despite the cynicism, Mr Putin’s personal ratings remain at an all-time high, reflecting the fact that he is not personally blamed for what many voters see as inevitable corruption. Almost a third of Russians would like him to become president for life next year, according to the poll.

“Citizens are convinced that these elections will go ahead with violations but they none the less consider that appointment by election is necessary,” said Leonid Sedov of the Levada Centre.

Mr Putin is not a member of any party but endorses and receives support from United Russia, which dominates the state duma. A new Kremlin-controlled party, Fair Russia, was set up this year with the aim of winning Communist votes. Its leader, Sergei Mironov, is leading the campaign to change the constitution to allow Mr Putin to stand for a third term.

Fair Russia performed well in regional elections in March and is expected to vie for votes with United Russia. However, critics say the two parties simply represent bureaucratic clans within the ruling elite and are incapable of real political competition in voters’ interests.

Liliya Shibanova, director of Golos (Voice), a group calling for free elections, said that the chief obstacle to fair voting was the exclusion of legitimate political forces. “We need to fight against that, to appeal to the courts in Strasbourg and to the international community,” she said.

This year’s parliamentary election will be followed next spring by the presidential poll. Two candidates are being groomed for the post: deputy prime ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov. It is widely expected that the winner will be the man endorsed by Mr Putin.