Daily Archives: May 14, 2007

Yelena Tregubova: Poster Child of the Neo-Soviet Union

The Independent reports on Yelena Tregubova (pictured) a case study in the neo-Soviet crackdown:

She is a vivacious blonde who narrowly escaped death from a bomb which exploded outside her flat, thanks to a last-minute decision to give her hairstyle a final crimping before running out to a waiting cab.

Now she sits in an anonymous hotel lobby in central London having fled Russia to seek political asylum in Britain because she is in “mortal danger”.

Her crime? Apparently having offended the master of the Kremlin with her bestselling writings that have accused President Vladimir Putin of stifling political and press freedoms in Russia.

Yelena Tregubova, 33, is a former member of the Kremlin press corps whose racy first book Tales of a Kremlin Digger provides a rare look inside the corridors of power.

Tregubova published her account in October 2003 after spending three years travelling the country with President Boris Yeltsin, and another year covering his successor, Putin. “The main point was to say: Putin has killed freedom of speech in Russia. Of course, Yeltsin had his problems, but it was an era of freedom, an era of hope.”

The book was an instant success in Russia. It included a flirtatious scene in a sushi bar with Putin when he was head of the FSB intelligence service. But Tregubova promptly lost her job on Kommersant and was blacklisted from Russian media. In 2004, a bomb exploded in the corridor outside her apartment, just moments before she opened the door, but she still resolved to stay in Moscow. When Anna Politkovskaya became the 13th journalist to be killed in Russia since Putin’s election in 2000, Tregubova “saw how it could happen to me”.

Why is Putin afraid of a free media? “Because he is from the FSB/KGB. When I was learning journalism, my teachers were the BBC Russian service, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle. For him, in Soviet days, they were enemies of the state. My friends were his enemies. The second reason is because if he were a strong leader he wouldn’t be afraid. He is weak. He is afraid of his own citizens.”

Next Stop for Chrysler? Russia, of Course.

Chrysler Plymouth “Horizon” Circa 1978
People could get enough of them

You know you’ve really made it to the bottom of the barrel when you start thinking about salvation in Russia. It’s perhaps comforting to know, though, that no matter how big a disaster you might be in the West you can always transplant yourself to Russia, where you’ll be a leading light in no time. Perhaps, that’s the function Russia will come to serve in the 21st century, a unique one in the history of mankind to be sure.

And so it is with quasi-American automaker Chrysler. Those familiar with the company’s tortured legacy know that the company foundered in 1979 and only exists today because of an unprecedented U.S. governmen bailout (so much for capitalism!) signed into law by one-term left-wing president Jimmy “National Malaise” Carter just days before he left office. Despite that bailout, the company foundered again and was taken over by German automaker Daimler-Benz. And despite help from that vaunted bastion of excellence, last year the company reported its third disastrous annual profit statement out of the last five years, proving that nothing whatsoever could keep it from the scrapheap of history.

Nothing that is, except for Russia. BusinessWeek reports:

Magna International Chairman Frank Stronach, who is bidding for Chrysler, is betting big on Russia. Yesterday Magna announced Russian industrial tycoon Oleg Deripaska. Russia’s second largest automaker GAZ, plans to take a $1.5 billion stake in Magna. If Stronach wins Chrysler, and Deripaska clinches the deal with Magna, Chrysler’s future is driving east. Analysts say the three-way Magna-Chrylser-GAZ tie-up is brilliant. GAZ already has licensed the Sebring platform and purchased a Chrysler factory which it is transplanting in Russia. The Russian auto market is forecast to grow by 50 percent to 2.1 million cars by 2010, making it easy for newcomers to grab a slice of the growing pie. And with powerful partner like Deripaska, it’s hard to see how Chrysler could stumble. It’s still early days — Magna hasn’t won the bid for Chrysler yet. (A decision is expected by late June). But the opportunity for Chrysler, with an assist from the powerful Deripaska, to tap Russia’s vast market and its low-cost manufacturing base is dazzling. Some analysts believe Chrysler could double its existing sales by racing into Russia, and use future models built in Russian to enter other emerging markets. That would help create the vital global business Chrysler needs to survive.

In other words, no matter how much your cars suck, even if Mercedez Benz can’t make them better, they’re still far superior to anything the Russians can do, so head East young (well, old) automaker!

But it works both ways, of course. If Chrysler, the Russia of American car companies, thinks Russia is a good place to be, then chances are that’s the last place on Earth a sensible person should set foot.

Annals of Cold War II: The Battle of Britain Resumes

The Times of London reports on yet more confirming evidence that we should believe Russian “President” Vladimir Putin when he says he means the West no harm and we need not ring his country with defensive installations:

The Cold War has made a surprise return in the form of two Russian Bear bombers. The aircraft flew towards British airspace during an exercise off Scotland to snoop on Royal Navy warships. RAF sources said yesterday [May 9th] that it was such a rare occurrence that two Tornado F3 air defence aircraft were scrambled to see the aircraft off. During the Cold War, Soviet Bear and Bison bombers regularly flew close to British airspace to test out Britain’s defence systems. RAF aircraft had to scramble every week to force the pilots to turn away. However, the habit had largely died out since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The two Bears were spotted on radar heading towards the Outer Hebrides during Exercise Neptune Warrior, which took place between April 22 and May 3. The exercise involved multinational warships, submarines and aircraft and included live firing.

The Two Tornado F3s, on short-notice quick-reaction alert status at RAF Leuchars, in Fife, flew alongside the bombers until they turned away. The aircraft had flown from their base in Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula in the far north of Russia. Squadron Leader Keith Wardlaw, a spokesman for the RAF, could not remember the last time such an encounter had taken place. “The Russians obviously thought it might be worth coming through to have a look at what we were up to and probably take some photos,” Squadron Leader Wardlaw said. He added: “It’s a throwback to the Cold War when they used to fly in regularly to poke and prod at the edges of British airspace and test our reaction times.” He said that it was normal to let such aircraft “know we’re there by pulling up alongside them, and they left quietly”. The incident lasted about 20 minutes. Paul Jackson, Editor of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, said that, although old, the aircraft were still effective. “This aircraft dates back to the 1950s and although the air-frame might look dated it is still highly effective in terms of long-range maritime reconnaissance,” he said. “They used to fly over the North Sea and the Greenland Gap daily during the Cold War, and while it’s rare today, it’s by no means a unique occurrence. It’s nice to know the Russians are out and about again.”

Mr Jackson said that the scrambling of the Tornadoes was nothing out of the ordinary. “The exercise was in international waters and the Russians have got just as much right to be there as we have. We do it to them, they do it to us. All the RAF are doing is telling them, ‘We could do this for real if we wanted to, so go and tell your mates back home’.” From July, the Tornado role is to be taken over by the new Eurofighter/Typhoon. However, the arrival of Russian Bears is unlikely to be their most burdensome task. These days, RAF personnel on scrambling duty spend most of their time on counter-terrorist missions, checking out commercial airliners approaching Britain in ways that arouse suspicion, either because they have taken the wrong flight path or because the pilot has not contacted ground control.

Bear F bomber

— Designed to detect and destroy submarines

— Crew of seven Ten-tonne bomb payload

— 161ft-long, with turbo-prop engine and eight propellers

— 4,000-mile flight range

— First version built in 1950s

Victorious Yushchenko Under Physical Threat . . . Again!

No sooner has Viktor Yuschenko won a stunning victory in Ukraine, forcing early elections to decide whether pro-Russian or pro-democracy forces will govern the country instead of relying on the backroom politics favored by Viktor Yanokovich, than suddenly we learn about renewed efforts to kill Yushchenko and other members of the Orange Coalition, undoubtedly fometed by the Kremlin. See Publius Pundit for a worrying critique of a report on the developments in Kommersant. The Washington Times reports:

Backers of a political rival have been plotting to assassinate supporters of Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, a top aide said Friday. Valery Heletei, head of the Presidential Secretariat’s service for law enforcement agencies, told a news conference that papers identified the alleged victims, Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, and Viktor Baloha, head of the Secretariat, by their initials, Interfax reported. Heletei said the alleged assassination plot was being planned by backers of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. “It is clear from these schemes who plans to provoke, and not only provoke but execute, murder and in what way,” Heletei said, Interfax reported.

Whom do they think they are kidding?

Riot police in Russia get cuddly, loveable

After the violent dispersal of several opposition rallies, Russia’s riot police are in need of an image makeover. Ajax, a large police dog that enjoys licking cats, is ready to oblige.

The hefty Alsatian astonished more than 100 journalists gathered at a police base outside Moscow by following orders to lick and nuzzle a fluffy, apparently happy cat. “You see,” exclaimed proud commander, Major General Alexander Ivanin, “our service dogs wouldn’t threaten a thing!”

The cuddly attack dog was part of a charm offensive laid on to repair the image of Russia’s OMON, or Special Purpose Police Unit, which violently broke up peaceful anti-Kremlin protests in April.

Human rights activists and Russia’s tiny liberal opposition see the club-wielding OMON as the ugly face of President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly repressive regime. But at their base in Shchyolkovo, just east of Moscow, burly OMON commanders were keen to bond with their media critics.

Techno music blared as camouflage-clad officers smashed bricks with their fists, punched through glass jars, fired Kalashnikovs, and demonstrated dozens of ways to disarm and disable an opponent — then shoot him.

“Try it and see for yourselves,” lantern-jawed General Ivanin suggested over the loudspeakers, while OMON special forces kicked, chopped and stamped each other.

No one from the assembled crowd of Russian and foreign journalists stepped forward.

When the turn came for old-fashioned riot police skills, Ivanin could not conceal his excitement. “The legendary Moscow OMON!” he boomed, as 30 or so men equipped with shields, body armour and helmets began a display of club-wielding that resembled a dance routine. “This is not an attack. This active defence,” Ivanin added. And how can journalists avoid the OMON’s wrath? Vladimir didn’t hesitate: “The best thing? Don’t go to demonstrations.”

The Lies from Russia Blog Never Seem to End

On February 22, 2006, that epic moron and boldfaced liar Yuri Mamchur over at Russia Blog bragged about Russia’s victory over Canada at the Olympics, noting that Russia would next play Finland. He taunted the United States, saying: “The Cold War is dead, and so is the athletic rivalry between the US and Russia. It almost seems like the Cold War was beneficial for the conditioning of the Olympic players of our countries…Americans today only seem to take the gold in individual winter sports.”

What happened then? Russia Blog didn’t say. La Russophobe will tell you, though: Tiny Finland crushed mighty Russia 4-0 to set up a gold-medal showdown with Sweden. Russia was relegated to the bronze-medal match. No comment from Mamchur.

So much for Mamchur’s prediction of glory for Russia, based on his claim that since “the National Hockey League season was cancelled this year, and the most of the Russian Olympic hockey team resides in Florida (no state income tax), and plays for NHL teams, the Russians had more time to train together back in their motherland.” Not only was it false as the basis for a prediction, but a commenter pointed out that, in fact, it was the 2004-2005 season that was cancelled, not the 2005-2006 season. So it was actually a lie. No correction from Mamchur, of course.

Oh yeah, and of course Mamchur also forgot to mention it when, three days later, Russia was shut out in the bronze medal game at the Olympics by Czech Republic. Given all those omissions, it was hardly suprising when he also ignored the fact, a few months later, that Russia had entered the World Championships in Lativa and been eliminated in the quarter finals — again by tiny Czech Republic. Two major hockey tournaments in one year, and frozen Russia failed to take any kind of medal in either outing.

And this year at the World Championships? Russia Blog again was silent, so you know the news can’t be good, and it isn’t. Russia was humiliated with no medal the last time the World Hockey title was contested in Russia (St. Petersburg, 2000) and this year the forum was Moscow. Yet, Russia was ousted from gold medal contention by tiny Finland in front of the home crowd, and once again relegated to the bronze medal match (against Sweden). At least this time Russia did manage to prevail in the consolation match, pretty good progress by Russian standards.

Ummm . . . and about that slur against America: It thrashed Russia in the Torino 2006 medal count, winning 52 medals to Russia’s 44 even though America isn’t a frozen country like Russia and most Americans couldn’t care less about winter sports. But this was actually an improvement for Russia, which had been obliterated 34-67 in the medal count to America when the prior games were held in Salt Lake City. What’s more, there is only one genuine “team” sport in the Winter Olympics, and that is ice hockey, so implying that America is somehow doing badly in “other” team sports is a bizarre hallucination. What’s more, America holds six medals in women’s ice hockey while Russia holds none, and stands only three medals behind the Soviet Union in men’s ice hockey (21-24) despite the fact that until recently it sent amateur players from American universities to contest the Olympics. In other words, as usual, Mamchur didn’t have the slightest freaking clue what he was talking about. He was simply lying to push forward his crazed, pathological agenda of propaganda — either that, or he is just a garden variety moron. Or both.

Russia Blog: a disgrace to our blogosphere, plain and simple.

Russian Sports Under Putin: Once again, humiliating failure. It has been almost 15 years since Russia won a gold medal in the ice hockey world championships, despite two tries on home ice.

May 13, 2007 — Contents

SUNDAY MAY 13 CONTENTS


(1) The Sunday Photos: Art Gallery Special

(2) The Sunday Funnies: Cartoon of the Year

(3) The Sunday Travel Section: How the Chinese Feel About Russians

(4) Point-Counterpoint: Is Russia Like China?