Daily Archives: May 18, 2007

Ryzhkov on Neo-Soviet Russia

In a syndicated column, leading pro-democracy dissident Vladimir Ryzhkov (pictured) condemns the rise of the neo-Soviet Union:

The more Russian leaders pontificate about the importance of democracy and the more they swear to protect democratic values and principles, the less democracy is left in real Russian life. When Moscow bade farewell to the outstanding Russian democrat and reformer Boris Yeltsin last month, many ordinary people told me it was not just Yeltsin who was being buried in the Novodevichy cemetery but Russian freedom itself.

Young Russian democracy, which the Russian people seized from the hands of the Communists, has been almost completely destroyed under President Vladimir Putin. It has been exterminated gradually, by small lethal injections to its weakening body.

How freedom was lost

Why have Russians so easily parted with their freedom and constitutional rights? Have we thrown away our freedom like a boring toy or was it stolen from us one long winter night?

Neither the former nor the latter; freedom was simply exchanged. In an unprecedented deal, freedom was pawned in return for economic growth and growth of personal income. In the past seven years, Russian gross domestic product has increased almost 60 percent and citizens’ income has doubled. That’s why Russians are so tolerant of the loss of civil and social rights.

Since 2000, citizens have been losing their constitutional rights to elect and control the government step by step.

Among several other authoritarian changes, Russian citizens have lost their right to elect governors, who are now effectively nominated by the president himself. Elections to the State Duma (parliament) have also undergone considerable changes.

This December, all 450 Duma deputies will be elected from party lists, which means that for the first time in Russian history, direct elections of constituency members of parliament have been canceled. It will be scarcely different from the old Soviet council “elections.” Russian citizens will choose from several parties, all previously endorsed by the Kremlin. It will not be a free choice but an imposed one.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has passed a new law that will allow it to legally liquidate most of the remaining parties in the country, the majority of them opposition parties, of course. The presidential “election” next March is also likely to be a sham. Few Russians believe that the elections will be free, that opposition candidates will be registered, and that they will have access to TV or be able to seek financial support from the cowed business community. In the absence of a real struggle, it looks as if Putin’s successor will stride into the Kremlin along a red carpet.

The sidelining of the opposition and the predetermining by the powers that be of the parliamentary and presidential elections have pushed Russia back to the old times when it was not the people, but the bosses who decided who would lead the country. That’s why 60 percent of voters in some of the biggest cities have stopped going to the polls.

As the government has increasingly slid from popular control, society understands less and less about what is really happening in the country and the world. After free elections went, freedom of speech was next to come under attack.

In the years of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, Russians welcomed the principles of free information, openness, and independent journalism and publishing. On Russian television, which remained the main source of news for the great majority of Russians, political talk shows that presented diverse opinion and criticism of the government flourished. Now that’s all in the past.

Television (all six federal channels) has turned into a tabloid-style “Kremlin TV.”

Opposition politicians have been effectively blacklisted from TV. In Russia, where society is totally manipulated by television, he who is not on TV might as well be dead.

As a result, the Russian mass media have again, as in Soviet times, become obedient instruments of unbridled propaganda. Recently, one editor at a TV channel received a strict reprimand because, for an instant, a camera showed the back of the head of one of the opposition politicians.

For the first time since 1989, there are political prisoners in Russia. Apart from the world-famous Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev (former oil business partners), they include young opposition leaders who were sentenced to several years in prison for their involvement in peaceful, albeit banned, protests against the regime.

A disturbing new trend has been the introduction into legislation of the general and vague notion of “extremism,” meaning that anyone who criticizes the government or takes part in peaceful protests can be declared an “extremist.” A new, recently adopted law is also adding to the pressure on Russian and foreign nongovernmental organizations.

Beating peaceful protesters

Last month, many Russian citizens and journalists fell victim to or witnessed the brutality of the special police, who beat and arrested not only peaceful protesters, but also passersby. No fewer than 700 people were arrested and 80 beaten in Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to human rights activists.

Scared by Ukraine’s recent “Orange Revolution,” the Kremlin is using batons to beat out of Russian citizens the very idea of mass protests. Thus, the citizens of a free republic are again having hammered into their heads the idea that they are nothing but the submissive subjects of a cruel empire.

And yet, despite this authoritarian crackdown, Putin’s approval ratings continue to soar at about 80 percent. A recent poll showed that 65 percent of Russians want him to serve a third term. That would require a constitutional amendment, which Federation Council Speaker Sergey Mironov advocates.

As in Communist China, modern Russian authorities have drawn their legitimacy from strong economic growth. The bicycle frame of Russian authoritarianism stays upright as long as the economic wheels spin quickly.

But the Russian people, like the Chinese, are paying an ever higher price for lack of control over the government and the distorting effect of state propaganda.

The Russian population continues to decline and age. Meanwhile, corruption has increased 10-fold since 2000, while the gap between rich and poor has widened considerably. A mere 53 superwealthy Russians have concentrated in their hands a capital of $400 billion, equal to almost one-third of Russian GDP. The Russian economy depends more and more on the export of raw materials and is seriously sick from the monopolies of the biggest companies.

This cannot go on for much longer. Divisions and tensions are growing, as is the level of political and social protest. ‘Take back our freedom’

To answer these challenges, Russia needs change. Democratic institutions must be revived to place the government under effective control and reduce corruption.

Urgent structural reforms are needed in the economy as well as an active antimonopoly policy to inspire openness and competition.

The social sphere needs urgent efforts to improve our “human capital” and lower the level of social stratification, poverty, and injustice. The petrol-fueled authoritarianism of former KGB officers can hardly be relied on to realize the need for this program or to carry it out in practice.

So here in Russia we have to go on with our efforts to convince our people to be more active and demand changes for the better. Stability and prosperity are impossible in Russia without democratic control and freedom.

It is time to take back our freedom and our rights from the Kremlin pawnshop. Economic growth will be achieved far better by the hands and minds of free people than by the frenzied blows of police batons.

LR: That’s a nice bunch of words there, Mr. Ryzhkov, but answer us this — When are you simply going to shut up, stand and fight, as your ancestors did, for Russia’s survival. Words don’t mean nuthin to the malignant little troll who prowls the Kremlin’s parapets.

First Iran, Now Burma/Myanmar

The Guardian reports that Russia seems to have begun a pattern of supplying nuclear technology to rogue dictatorships. America can’t put defensive missiles in Eastern Europe, but Russia must be allowed to nuclearize Iran and Burma? Whom do they think they are kidding?

Russia has agreed to supply Burma with its first nuclear reactor, in a move that is likely to dismay the United States and raise fresh fears about the spread of nuclear technology around the world. Russia’s atomic energy agency said it had reached a deal with Burma’s military junta to build a nuclear research centre. The plant will have a light water reactor with a capacity of 10MW. It will use 20% enriched nuclear fuel, the agency said. Burma’s science minister, U Thaung, signed a memorandum of understanding in Moscow on Tuesday with the agency’s chief, Sergei Kiriyenko, officials said. A contract setting out where the plant would be built – and exactly how much it cost – would be agreed later, they added.

The deal will irritate the Bush administration at a time when US-Russian relations are already in deep trouble over a range of issues ranging from missile defence to the future of Kosovo. It comes ahead of a difficult EU-Russia summit today and tomorrow in the Volga town of Samara. Burma has been under US and international sanctions since 1990, when the military junta refused to accept the election victory of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then Russia, along with China, has become a major backer and supplier of arms to the Burmese regime. The US is also unhappy about Russia helping Iran to build a $2bn (£1bn) nuclear facility at Bushehr. Washington suspects Iran of developing nuclear weapons.

Yesterday Russia’s federal atomic energy agency insisted that Burma had a right to peaceful nuclear technology – and said that there was “no way” it could use the reactor to develop nuclear missiles. The agency’s spokesman, Sergei Novikov, told the Guardian: “It’s impossible to use it for anything other than civilian purposes. It can’t be used for military nuclear programmes.” Asked why Burma’s government wanted a nuclear reactor, he replied: “I don’t know.” Mr Novikov then suggested: “They want to make a first start in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.” The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also rejected criticism. “No one is arguing about the right of every state to have peaceful nuclear energy,” he said. “We can only welcome achievements in this sector of industry, which is very developed and very safe from the point of view of non-proliferation.”

Russian officials say the research centre – which will include laboratories and a facility for processing and burying nuclear waste – will produce only a small amount of electricity. Its main purpose will be to produce medical isotopes for use in cancer treatments. They conceded, however, that Burma would probably build a much larger nuclear reactor at some point. The atomic agency pointed out that the project in Burma, which is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would come under International Atomic Energy Agency control. Yesterday, however, an IAEA official said Burma had not “informed” it about the plan. Any reactor would be subject to safety inspections by the UN agency, the official said.

Construction of the reactor will be handled by the state-owned Atomstroiexport, which is controlled by Russia’s atomic agency. “We are currently at the state of declaration of intentions,” its spokeswoman, Irina Yesipova, told the Guardian yesterday. The deal is a long time in coming. The project was first floated in 2000 but apparently collapsed in 2003 because of Burma’s inability to find the hard currency needed to pay for construction costs. Under the deal, about 350 Burma scientists would be invited to Russia to learn about nuclear technology, Mr Novikov said. Analysts believe the country’s military leadership has sought Russia’s help in an attempt to balance its traditional and lop-sided dependence on China. Intriguingly, the move comes a month after Burma restored diplomatic relations with North Korea after a gap of 15 years. Burma’s capital, Rangoon, suffers from frequent power cuts as the country’s economy struggles under the weight of decades of economic mismanagement. Some 240 miles north of Rangoon, the junta’s newly built capital, Nay Pyi Taw, is basking in light, visitors report.

The military has run Burma since 1962. It ignored Ms Suu Kyi’s landslide 1990 election victory. She has been under house arrest ever since.

Going nuclear

As well as Burma, Russia is already building seven nuclear power plants in Iran, China, India and Bulgaria. It also agreed on Tuesday to refurbish four old nuclear reactors in Hungary, built in the early 1980s. The Kremlin insists all countries have a right to develop peaceful nuclear technology. Moscow’s most controversial project is the construction of Iran’s first nuclear power station in the Gulf seaport of Bushehr. To Washington’s delight, work on the project stopped earlier this year in a row over unpaid bills. The US accuses Iran of developing an illicit nuclear bomb programme – a charge Tehran denies. Russia’s state-owned company Atomstroiexport, will build Burma’s new nuclear reactor. Yesterday’s Kommersant newspaper put the cost to Burma’s military regime at $50m-$70m (£25m-£35m).

Ouch, This One’s Gotta Sting a Bit

Well, they chose “America’s Next Top Model” yesterday on CW’s reality contest, and Jaslene (the dark-skinned, heavily accented Hispanic on the left) beat out Natasha (the light-skinned, heavily-accented Russian Slavic on the right). Another ouchie for Russians, especially the Slavic racists, given that Russians (like their poster boy Oleg Gazmanov) seem to think their women are the most beautiful in the world. Let the excuses (especially about evil foreign conspiracies) fly!

Rice on Echo Moskvy

Once again slapping the Kremlin in the face, even during a trip whose purpose was supposed to be calming the rhetorical waters between Russia and America, Condi Rice sat down for an interview with Sergei Buntman of Radio Echo Moskvy, a leading dissident voice in the country. This is like Sergei Lavrov coming to America and being interviewed on Air America. Here’s the text of their talk:

QUESTION: Okay, I will do my first question. The question; its very strange situation of Mr. Putin’s speech on 9 of May. It seemed to compare the American foreign policy to with the Reich. It’s now the situation is clear and President Putin, if he gives some — any explanation of this subject?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have talked to my Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov about this and he says and assures me that the President was speaking of extremists, not of the United States. That would be, of course, fitting because the United States was an ally of Russia against Nazism. And also, if in fact that is what the President meant, then we accept that that is what he meant. But we do need to make certain that we lower the level of the rhetoric between our countries because it makes it hard to concentrate on the many concrete accomplishments, the many concrete aspects of cooperation that we have.

LR: In other words, Putin backed down. What a weenie!

QUESTION: Okay. Let’s go to the concrete (inaudible) problems. You know Kosovo is main problem. If Russia puts a veto on the independence of Kosovo, the United States are they ready to recognize Kosovo in unilateral way?


QUESTION: Are you ready?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, we are trying to get to the place where we can take care of Russia’s concerns, the concerns of Serbia and of others in the way that the resolution is drafted. So we – the French have put out a resolution on Kosovo. It does not say Kosovo must be independent, but it allows for Kosovo to be independent. And it’s important now to recognize that Kosovo will never again be part of Serbia. It’s not possible. So before we get to the point at which Russia makes a decision, we still have some work to do to see if we can accommodate everybody’s concerns and everyone’s interests.

QUESTION: What do you think for how much time it can be worked and for the – some kind of independence for Kosovo? It will take how much time?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think not very much longer. The —

QUESTION: No? A year?



SECRETARY RICE: No, I think we will go to the Security Council for a vote very soon, in a matter of weeks. But the key is that people are worried about two things. They’re worried about the precedent, that there may be others who say, well, if Kosovo was independent, why can’t we be independent?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible) others. But it is not a precedent.


SECRETARY RICE: Kosovo is a special set of circumstances coming out of the special history of the Balkan wars. It is before the Security Council because of that history. And there isn’t any chance now for Kosovo and Serbia to live together, and it would be best for both of them to get on with their futures. Serbia is a great nation. The Serbs are a great people. Serbia needs to be integrated into Europe. But as long as this issue is there, it’s going to be difficult to do that. So Kosovo has a future. Serbia has a future. Both have a European perspective. And I think we need to do that.

The other issue that people worry about is the protection of Serbian minorities in Kosovo.

QUESTION: In Kosovo.

SECRETARY RICE: In Kosovo. And there, there would be a period of what we’re calling supervised independence where the international community could make certain that Serbia is fulfilling all of its obligations. It would also be the case that we are working, perhaps through a special envoy and other means, to make sure that the Serbian minorities, religious sites, religious practices, are all protected. We have a very strong interest in that as well.

QUESTION: Is it possible that some international police forces or military forces to (inaudible) from the Serbian population in Kosovo? What do you think?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are already forces, KFOR forces —

QUESTION: Yes, and (inaudible) –

SECRETARY RICE: And KFOR will remain there. And there’s a very strong commitment to making sure that a new Kosovo, an independent Kosovo, would be a Kosovo where all people can live and live safely. The Balkans have had enough wars, enough mistreatment of minorities. It’s time for the Balkans now to have a modern future, one that looks to economic development, to engagement with the international system, to educational exchanges among people.


SECRETARY RICE: It’s time for that. And so let’s get Kosovo behind us – the independent Kosovo, the decision about the independent Kosovo, and move on to that future.

QUESTION: Okay. In the Eastern Europe, the United States and Russia have opposite view or point of views on the missile defense system. Did you speak about this problem with Mr. Putin and what do you suggest for United States, Russia and what is the Russian (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I did say that the United States wants to cooperate with Russia on missile defense. We need to address, to deal with, the threats of today, of the 21st century, and of the threats that are emerging – missile technology in Iran, North Korea and so forth.

I understand how missile defense was viewed in the 1980s. I understand when the
Soviet Union and the United States were enemies that missile defense was viewed as a threat to the Soviet Union. I did not believe that, but I could understand how the Soviet leadership worried about what missile defenses might mean.

In the current environment, we face the same threats — the United States, Russia, Europe – and so we should be developing the technologies to address those threats. Defensive systems hurt no one. They are simply meant to intercept missile launches that might try and harm our populations.

So this is the point that I made, I’ve made to the President, I will make to the Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: And to President Putin?

SECRETARY RICE: And – yes. And that we want to cooperate. Now, I think the technical issues of how we might cooperate, what our missile defense system would do, how it might evolve, that is appropriate for Secretary Gates and me to address with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Defense Minister. And we have developed a new format – the 2+2 – which we will have meet, I think, early in the fall, and we can have a more regular way of discussing these issues so that there are no surprises.

QUESTION: Okay. And another problem is conventional arms, conventional forces in Europe. And President Putin said that Russia can go out of this treaty. Does it concern the United States?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s a treaty obligation and it’s one of the most important treaties of the 20th century. It’s a very important treaty. I know that a lot has changed since 1990 and 1991, but the CFE Treaty is a part of the European architecture at the end – after the end of the Cold War. But there will be a conference coming up. The (inaudible) conference is coming up. It’s already scheduled. That is a good point for everyone to make their concerns known about the treaty, and Russia should raise any concerns that it has. I think it would be better to do so in the context of the treaty rather than trying to get out of the treaty.

QUESTION: Than outside.


QUESTION: And the last point is Central Asia, new problem and the American presence in Central Asia with oil and gas problems now, the pipelines. And did you speak to President Putin about it?

SECRETARY RICE: We did not discuss this issue today, but I will discuss it with Minister Lavrov. My view is very strongly, and the view of the Administration, we need to have diversity of supply, we need to have diversity of routes, we need to have as many pipelines and as much supply as is economically possible.

In the long run, we all need to be less dependent on hydrocarbons because the environment demands that we find alternative sources of fuel. We are working with Russia on civil nuclear energy cooperation, for instance. Civil nuclear power would give us a way to have power generation without the environmental problems that the carbon-based energy produces.

So we can have a cooperative energy relationship. Energy should not be used in any way as a political tool. It should be an economic basis so that the world economy can have the supplies that it needs.

QUESTION: Not a monopoly.

SECRETARY RICE: No one needs a monopoly in this area. We – it doesn’t work that way any longer. The need for technology, the need for consortia to be able to deal with the very heavy economic costs of building pipelines, of developing oil fields that are very difficult to develop in different parts of the country, in deep water. The days when one can simply control all of the resources are very much behind us.

QUESTION: Are we strategical partners, the United States and Russia?

SECRETARY RICE: The United States and Russia are clearly in many ways partners on very many issues. We’re global partners.

QUESTION: Global partners.

SECRETARY RICE: We’re global partners on trying to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and dealing with that through the Security Council, on the six-party talks on North Korea. Probably our most important global partnership, to my mind, is the work that we are doing on nuclear nonproliferation. The President has talked about the need to strengthen the nonproliferation regime. We have a landmark agreement on global nuclear terrorism. We have so much work to do together. Sergey Lavrov and I are together in the Middle East Quartet that is trying to promote a peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the Arabs. So we’re global partners. We have much cooperation. Sometimes we disagree. We’re both big powers with a lot of different policies. We’re going to disagree sometimes.

But what I would say is we should do so in a way that respects our partnership, that respects our policies, that respects what we are doing together and we can concentrate on what is concrete. Because the American people, I think, have a natural affinity for the Russian people, for Russian culture, for Russians, and I think Russians for Americans.

And so when I think about where the relationship is going, yes, I think about the work we’re doing together on nuclear nonproliferation, but I also think about the many opportunities that we now have for Americans to visit Russia and Russians to visit Americans. I think about the Russian students that I’ve taught at Stanford and the American students that are studying here. That’s the future and that’s where I hope we’ll concentrate.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.

LR: Shame on Condi for not raising the issue of Karinna Moskalenko, the lawyer for Garry Kasparov being persecuted by the Kremlin, as she was advised to do by the Wall Street Journal! Once again the Bush administration fumbles a major foreign policy issue, imperiling its historical reputation.

Lifting the Veil: Details of a Putin Cabinet Meeting

Yesterday Russian “President” Vladimir Putin met with members of the Russian Public Chamber and spent three hours listening to their proposals for rebuilding Russia’s reality along more correct lines. Kommersant special correspondent Andrei Kolesnikov agreed with only one of those proposals.

The conversation took place around a long, rectangular table. After a bit of talk about the usefulness of the mere existence of the Public Chamber, the president got down to business. He talked about how recently the government has begun to finance social organizations out of its own pocket. (Of course, Vladimir Putin did everything he could to make sure that foreign governments stopped doing that. But it turned out that nature abhors a vacuum.) The president expressed hope that the Public Chamber will join him in that work in doing independent evaluations: deciding who should get money and who shouldn’t. I bet that after those words, no one at the table was surprised that he is a member of the Public Chamber.

Public Chamber Secretary Yevgeny Velikhov then presented the president with a report on the situation of civil society in Russia.

“There are a lot of myths afoot about that,” he declared, “including abroad, so we have translated the report into English.”

Just the kind of guileless device that will allow all of these pesky myths to be dispelled, I thought.

Myths that Dr. Velikhov couldn’t dispel even with the assistance of a report, he decided to put paid to with his own words at this very table.

“Our society is not archaic,” he said, “it is the same as in other countries.”

So that’s one myth out of the way.

“We have almost no social organizations,” he emphasized, “in the sphere of the sciences or agriculture. We need to consider that when drawing up new lists of members of the Chamber” (soon a portion of the membership of the Chamber will be rotated, an event for which Dr. Velikhov is already preparing – A.K.).

“With regard to scientific organizations in the social sphere,” replied Vladimir Putin, “that is a singular case (i.e., their absence – A.K.). In general, our journalists have social organizations…”

Clearly, that example was suggested to Vladimir Putin by the numerous calls he received yesterday about the displacement of one such organization, the Journalists Union of Russia, from its home on Moscow’s Zubovsky Boulevard. The example was so vivid and fresh in his memory that the president couldn’t fail to apply it so aptly.

“But if that’s not enough, then we’ll just need to [create more],” he added, finally uttering the phrase that Yevgeny Velikhov had been waiting so fervently to hear from him. After all, one or two such organizations are not enough for the distinguished member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (itself a noncommercial organization that purports to command colossal material resources – A.K.) to throw into the heat of the battle with the Ministry of Science and Education and to finally pull out a significant victory, chiefly over common sense.

“But I’m not complaining!” cautioned Dr. Velikhov preemptively, clearly well-aware that the president of Russia does not reward those who complain. “It’s just that there are such organizations in the world…”

Quickly figuring out that saying anything more on the subject wasn’t worth it, he moved on to a less touchy topic.

“So here’s a project on the Russian language,” he continued, picking up a slim volume. “We asked schoolchildren to explain some words. The Word is God in the Gospels! The education of our grandchildren is important!… It is important that they deal correctly with modern life, so that the spirit of enterprise flowers in them…”

Vladimir Putin took the proffered brochure and leafed through it. This endowed him with strong impressions, which he quickly turned to share with his colleagues.

“So I’ve taken a look at the book,” he said. “The edition was prepared by an American center! That’s why there you so often encounter the words ‘business’ and ‘work’ – and only then ‘integrity’!

I would append that phrase as the epigraph to every meeting between the Russian president and his American colleagues. Just because it gives such a pithy summing-up of his attitude towards them.

Next, the surgeon Leonid Bokeriya recounted how he had recently returned from Chechnya. He said that his “impression is excessively rosy.”

“Grozny is turning into a garden city!” exclaimed the doctor. “It has a very good airport!… Of course, there are still problems with military action there…”

In other words, he’s not going to deny that. There was what there was.

“For example, there is a very high incidence of morbidity (as well as of fatality – A.K.)…Clinics aren’t always up to snuff…”

“I want to thank you for your evaluation of what has been done in Grozny,” said Vladimir Putin, speaking from the heart. “Earlier we couldn’t invest anything [in Chechnya], because everything we invested was destroyed.”

“He’s got construction projects going on! After twelve days!” interrupted Dr. Bokeriya.

“That means he’s at his post!” interrupted the president.

It appears to me that no one takes the name of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in vain. And anyway, for some time now there has been no other person, when talking about Chechnya, that you could refer to as “him” and have everyone immediately understand whom you mean.

Yaroslav Kuzminov, the director of the Higher School of Economics, said bitterly that “education reform has foundered on a key issue: arousing the teachers to activity.”

For that I silently thanked God. It’s frightening to even imagine such activity in all its glory.

“But we don’t just need to cultivate talent,” continued Mr. Kuzminov. “We need to keep it from leaving the country!”

In my opinion, for the sake of the students we need to pack Mr. Kuzminov himself off in whichever direction he wishes as quickly as possible.

“In the schoolbooks with which we, Vladimir Vladimirovich, studied, are [nothing but] an array of slogans!” continued Mr. Kuzminov, turning to the president. “We need to include economics, law, tax disciplines…”

The last remark finally prodded the Russian president out of his apparent indifference.

“Of course, there are some old schoolbooks,” he said. “But after all, some of these new ones are impossible to read at all! They haven’t been evaluated by the Ministry of Education! And I have a big request [for you] – to participate in the preparation of literature for textbooks. Some things are just shameful to even touch! You want to just put them aside!”

It wasn’t entirely clear where Vladimir Putin was getting his certainty that he would want to touch one of these textbooks after the members of the Public Chamber took the process of writing them into their own hands.

Public Chamber member Vladimir Zakharov told the president about the worrying situation in the realm of ecology. Apparently, he has learned from the newspapers that deaths from the dreadful ecological environment exceed fatalities in automobile accidents.

The president quickly offered his sincere and practical reply: “Don’t listen to journalists. They’re teaching you bad things.”

“But I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you,” said the brave fellow.

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena broke in and attempted to introduce himself to Mr. Putin.

“The whole country knows what you get up to,” interrupted the Russian president.

Unabashed, the lawyer suggested that Mr. Putin organize something like a “social Davos [forum]” in Brussels. In Mr. Kucherena’s opinion, many European human rights advocates have been thinking about that after Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich, in which they finally found what they had been seeking for so long: a father.

But Vladimir Putin rejected that paternity.

“Speaking openly, I didn’t notice any activity on the part of human rights advocates on the eve of the events on the 9th of May,” he said. “Where were the human rights organizations? Where was the moral and ethical appraisal? Maybe then the discussion on that topic wouldn’t have taken on such a harsh tone (and it wouldn’t have been necessary to deploy the heavy artillery of the youth movement activists – A.K.).”

Then Public Chamber member Vyacheslav Nikonov related how Russian civil society needs to become a global player in the world arena.

“Now it is insufficient,” he asserted, “that [Russian civil society] becomes a “soft power” (i.e., not a rude government power – A.K.) in the world. In the US, 15,000 nongovernmental organizations work in foreign policy, and they have in place a global network system of influence in the world… Incidentally, some kind of Brussels social forum already exists, truth be told, under the aegis of NATO… So that’s it – without network structures, we’re going to lose. The question remains: how to create them? We won’t manage to do things like they have in the US (they’ll beat us before then – A.K.). But maybe we should think about a nationwide project to create our own instruments of “soft power”? The opinion does exist in the country that we don’t need social diplomacy. Maybe you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, don’t know, but it is forbidden for members of the Public Chamber to file expenses for business trips, trips to forums, etc…. That’s what the Ministry of Finance decided!”

It turned out that Mr. Nikonov was giving this inspired speech about global politics only in order to complain about [Finance Minister] Alexei Kudrin, who had not only refused to dip into the government’s pocket to pay for traveling members of the Public Chamber (and a hearty thanks to him for that) but who also is now supposed to appear in the eyes of all reasonable people as the person who is standing in the way of the national project of creating a “soft power.”

Clearly, Mr. Nikonov’s speech produced the necessary impression on the Russian president, who promised to remove “bureaucratic barriers.” Mr. Nikonov had succeeded in ensnaring Vladimir Putin in his network system.

A pediatrician named Rochal talked about how he had just returned from abroad (presumably, he paid his own way – A.K.).

“There they have beautiful fields, horses, cows… I thought: maybe [Russian Agriculture Minister Alexei] Gordeev is right?! They drink so much milk there! And you know, Vladimir Vladimirovich, they have so many twins born there! And they throw children right into the water with their clothes on, and that’s how they learn how to swim, while here we throw them in wearing swim trunks, because drowning fatalities are so high (i.e., we Russians can’t swim in clothes and automatically drown – A.K.). So I don’t like America!”

“In vain,” chuckled Mr. Putin. “They’ve achieved a lot over there in 300 years.”

“But I also saw that their public health system is moribund!” cried Dr. Roshal.

“Moribund – their public health system?” clarified Mr. Putin. “That’s rather strongly put.”

Then Dr. Roshal pounced on the Russian public health system.

“The people, Vladimir Vladimirovich, openly fail to understand why you’re still keeping [Health Minister Mikhail] Zurabov around!” objected Dr. Roshal with such vehemence that it was impossible not to entertain the thought that the people would understand only one decision: to appoint Dr. Roshal to Zurabov’s post.

“He’s only getting in your way! Every cabdriver asks me why he’s still sitting in his spot!”

“But he’s not sitting,” answered Mr. Putin, giving a brief account of Mr. Zurabov’s activities in his position.

It emerged from the account that the situation with medicines was getting better and better, and that “ministers do make mistakes, and they are often criticized, but if I begin to shuffle them around, like a deck of cards…”

Here he left off, so that people who complain about the lack of medicine will believe these explanations.

The meeting ended on an address by Ethnography and Anthropology Institute director Valery Tishkov, who chairs a commission in the Public Chamber on tolerance and freedom of conscience. He proffered the same old – but, as always, fail-proof – means of resolving Russia’s demographic problem: “We need to invite immigrants from neighboring countries, from Ukraine, for example. And within a few years only their names will remain Ukrainian – like Khristenko or Matvienko.”

“And one more suggestion, Vladimir Vladimirovich,” said Mr. Tishkov beseechingly. “It is imperative to use diplomatic channels to make ‘Russia’ sound like ‘Rossiya’ in English, not like ‘Rasha.’ In other words, the English letter ‘u’ needs to be changed to the English letter ‘o’.”

Mr. Tishkov had finally found a real matter for the Public Chamber, to which it can commit itself without reservation and without damage to the surrounding environment.

May 17, 2007 — Contents


(1) Latynina on Putin’s Neo-Soviet Isolation

(2) Poverty in Neo-Soviet Russia: Once Again, Destroying the Common Man

(3) Annals of Russian Hypocrisy: Secret Sanctions against Estonia

(4) AIDS Ravages Russia, Cruel Kremlin Couldn’t Care Less

NOTE: We’re just learning now that the USSR was responsible for instigating the “Six Day War” between Israel and Syria in 1967. Forty years from now, perhaps, we’ll learn what Putin’s Russia was up to this year. Some of us, of course, already know.