Daily Archives: May 21, 2007

Essel on Russian "History"

History for Russians by Russians
A View of the World in a Fairground Distorting Mirrorby Dave Essel

Introduction

History is a funny thing. At war, one country’s victory is another’s defeat. In an age of mind-deadening political correctness, the question has been raised in France as to whether it is right for the London end of the Channel Tunnel line to terminate at Waterloo Station. There is still time for brain dead politically correct Austrians, Russians, and Brits to call for the renaming of Paris’ Gare d’Austerlitz. I was partially educated in French schools, in which I was frequently referred to as the ‘sale Anglais’; when I went to continue my schooling in England, I instantly became the ‘filthy Frog’. It’s all relative, it’s all in the past, and most of the time it’s fun and a good lesson in life. Behind relativity lie facts and one can strive to order them, understand them, and interpret and re-interpret them as our understanding and knowledge grows. If done with probity, this is a good and useful thing. Proper historians, and others such as serious journalists, can usefully revue and reassemble the known facts with a view to making historiographical and psychological sense of the past and this becomes a useful lead-in to the present.

These concepts are platitudes because they are universally accepted: an understanding of the past is a good thing because it makes it possible to comprehend the present and, one hopes, create a better future; nations who do not make a point of recording and studying their past are condemned to a vicious circle of repetitions of previous mistakes; nations that deliberately create lies about the past for propaganda purposes are always fascists of the right or left and will only make things worse for themselves in the long run.

One can therefore group countries by the general attitude within them towards their history and the wider world’s. Some continually try to gather more and more factual information in order to gain an ever better level of understanding, some are nonchalant, and some deliberately distort what little they know today in pursuit of momentary political aims and to hell with the future consequences. It comes as no surprise of course that Russia stands firmly in the third group. This is a country which has not come to historiographical terms with Tsarism, with its revolution of 1917, with its Civil War and the manufactured famines of collectivisation, with its archipelago of injustice, and with its long-delayed ‘bourgeois revolution’ following the collapse of the Soviet Union. With no serious examination of its history, it can only be expected – in fact it can be guaranteed – that the absence of such understanding will lead to Russia selecting its course more or less at random since it does not know at any one time where it is coming from. The consequences of such will be generally negative, bar a few lucky exceptions, due to lack of control. If to this mixture one adds deliberate lies about the past in response to party political aims of the day, one can safely predict that the consequences of actions based on them will practically without fail be severely negative as such actions will not have been grounded in historiographical or psychological reality.

The Soviet Union created just such a historical wonderland, managed to keep the fantasy bubble going for a short while (though it was costly to the three or four generations who paid to keep it going), and then it burst.

Now there is evidence that the new Russia is working on creating yet another bubble. Living in it is bound to hurt a lot of people and when it bursts…

A journal called Nashe Vremya

Your frogman in Russia’s printed sewage has come across in his explorations for LR a journal called Nashe Vremya, subtitled the No.1 analytical journal, the current issue of which seems to be dedicated to Estonia and general denigration of the Baltic republics. Googling it did not help much. It has been coming out for a year and has a slick website and and is hosted on fast servers. The only information about the journal available on the site is that is published by OOO Nashe Vremya Publishers, Moscow address and phone number, Editor-in-Chief Russian Gorevoi. VZGLYAD reprints articles from it and links to it. VZGLYAD is linked from Komsomolka. In an attempt to clarify whether it is a rich hate-sheet of no real import or something more significant, I phoned the editorial offices and asked where it was for sale. A pleasant Russian politely told me it was easily available in Moscow and other major Russian cities and, in reply to my question, told me the circulation is 50000. To understand the scale of this, the circulation of Russian Newsweek is 50000 as well. It would seem therefore that Nashe Vremya is more than just a hate-sheet and is a real actor in the drive to poison Russian minds.

Nashe Vremya’s inclinations are seriously fascist. This week’s issue headlines the following articles: Estonia Flings history on the Rubbish Dump, Holocaust: Whether You Went to Treblinka or Palestine Was Decided in the Ghetto; Anti-Terror: Did the English Secret Services Supply the Inaccurate Lead About Forthcoming Terrorist Actions? … This article below, however, is a real curiosity: it appears to be, if one assumes the sanity of the author, a Russian chauvinist White-Guardist piece.

Translator’s Note: When translating, I find it immeasurably harder to translate nonsense and speciousness than to translate serious texts. In the absence of logical flow, meaning, if any, has to be teased out of verbiage and this is sometimes not easy. I apologise if the translation below does not flow nicely. Translatability is a good test, in my view, of whether something has been well written. (For a positive example, most articles in The Economist can usually be read out loud in Russian with barely a pause for thought.) The article below is scatter-brained, laced with insinuendo (not my coinage but a nice word), and is great fun for deconstructors since it is in the language of an unconscious racist and fascist. For some the flavour of great-Russian chauvinism will be enough. For those who want decipher the author’s cherry-picking of historical facts, more realistic outlines can be found here and here. Even if you are a total moral relativist (not likely in the case of LR readers) and think that history is no more than a battle of presentations, the Estonians win hands down.

Delirium is Not A Virtue
The Baltic’s Historical Guilt Before Russia

Yelena Chudinova Nashe Vremya

We Russians are not vindictive. That is nice and not objectionable. By our lack of vindictiveness we show the world that we are at heart Christian, even if we have dived into atheism and pagan superstition. However, it is very important to see clearly the line dividing forgivingness and forgetfulness. Because the latter is not a virtue.

Small but proud Latvia has decided to present us with a bill for our “occupation’ amounting to a round sum of about 50 times in annual budget. This may sound funny but our historical recollection differs somewhat.

Separate Betrayal

“It was the Bolsheviks who ceded the territory to us and gave us independence,” it was objected to me during a recent debate. “We are a small country and need to look out for ourselves.”

Our media have on numerous occasions raised the issue of the bestial crimes committed by the fascist veterans parading their 3rd Reich medals down streets where old men wearing the medals of the victors over fascism are beaten up and dragged into prison for so doing. Much has been said about double standards, about how the EC on the one hand publicly slapped Prince William for wearing a masquerade Nazi uniform with a swastika armband and at the same time is blind to far from playful Nazi demonstrations in which official figures have taken part. It is right to bring such things up. But it is sad that facts about events that took place just a couple of decades earlier – a mere moment ago in historical terms – do not get mentioned.

An Estonian journalist once asked Putin – why do you Russians not accept the blame for the occupation so that we can get over it and live in friendship thereafter? The president referred that personage, who had been speaking in perfect Russian, to documents dating back some fifteen years. Here, however, I will provide the answer in a different way.

Strange as this may sound to Estonians, they had (oh, the shock of it!) their own communists, although they were so feeble that without our North Western Army, the Estonians would not have been able in 1919 to defend the town of Revel from the Estonian Workers’ Commune. That was in January, however. While home-grown Estonian expropriators were rushing about wildly looking for things to expropriate, relations between the NWA, which was based in Estonia, and the Estonians were perfectly happy. Not fraternal, obviously, but happy enough. Estonia wanted not only military cooperation from the NWA but also a guarantee of independence. But how can a military command consider itself as having the authority to hand over land belonging to the crown? It’s our job to fight, drive out the Reds, and let the Estonians sort out their issues with the legitimate government. Had the NWA folk but known! But you were not Estonians, you were Russian officers, men of honour. You would not have it in you to deceive, even if you had known what lay ahead.

The Estonians bided their time for their stab in the back until autumn 1919, just before the nearly successful advance of the NWA into Petrograd. The retreat, historians emphasise, was by no means a catastrophe. The army just needed to rest, regroup, and at the same time relocate to safer parts some 40000 civilian refugees, in non-military terms their wives, children, sisters, elderly parents and others in fear of the Red Terror. The Army withdrew under heavy fighting, taking losses but weakening the Reds as well. Then suddenly the NWA found that access to its own supplies in the rear was being denied; it was being prevented from crossing the Narova River.

The 7th Red Army on Trotsky’s orders thrice attacked Narva and was thrice flung back from the city by the NWA. They had no idea that the Estonians, behind the backs of their defenders, were preparing a criminal compact with the Reds. This eternally shameful act of Estonia’s is called the 1920 Peace Treaty of Tartu between the RSFSR and Estonia in Soviet history books [TN – what the author cannot bring herself to mention are the key words of this treaty which says inter alia that Russian relinquishes “forever its rights of sovereignty over the Estonian people and country’]. The more blood the Russians shed for Narva, the better Estonia’s betrayal would work out. The plot began on 5 December and the Red’s last attempt to force the Narova took place on 17 December. After this, Chicherin sent an order from Moscow to the Soviet delegates to make territorial concessions to Estonia: a large chunk of territory around Pskov and along the Narova (with a population of 60000 ethnic Russians into the bargain) – the very territories that the freedom-loving Estonians tried to gyp [sic] the Russians out of in the 1990s and which are shown as Estonia on Estonian school maps.

The Reds stopped attacking but of course could not go anywhere. Where was there for the White defenders of Estonia to go? Across the Narova. On the far bank there was nothing for them: their belongings –1000 wagons of provisions, clothes, medicines, ammunition, personal effects – had all been expropriated by General Laidoner for the benefit of the newborn Estonian republic. Once over the Narova, the NWA was disarmed, any good greatcoats taken off their backs, and gold such as crosses ripped from around their necks. What could they do: resist? They had brought their own hostages in the form of wives and children with them.

“But the Bolsheviks ceded the territory to us and gave us our independence,” someone objected during a recent debate. “We’re a small nation and had to do what we could for ourselves.” Fine, my dear little friends, I said then and say again now. You have successfully assumed the morality of the prison-camps – “You die today and I’ll die tomorrow”. To put it in terms of a children’s story, since you were so small, you said to the big bad wolf “Don’t eat me, eat him”. But any terms set with a big bad wolf don’t last long. You helped feed the communist flame. That system then grew up. Twenty years later, it wanted to eat you up and that time you didn’t have any one to feed it instead of yourselves. So who should be apologising to you?! Those who occupied you?! You occupied yourselves twenty years before the occupation when you robbed us, your defenders, of our boots and wedding rings!

You occupied yourselves when you pedantically fulfilled all the articles of the criminal treaty with the Bolsheviks! The NWA was to be reduced to nothing – and that was done. Because, besides territory, you were also given something else – 15 million in gold. What for, can you say? For Russian blood. The disarmed and robbed NWA was denied right of movement about the republic, slaved at forced labour in slate quarries, or was driven into concentration camps such as the one at Paeskjul [TN: transliterated from the Russian]. It was forbidden to give employment to Russian officers. So they were unable to feed themselves in Estonia, nor were they allowed to leave. This was total annihilation, payment in exchange for Judas’ silver. The killing of a Russian officer was not always considered worthy even of a fine.

Of course, all this was done with a backward glance, a permanent backward glance at the current “elder brother”. Some small nations are always in desperate need of a strong back behind which they can indulge their baseness. More recently it was Hitler, then it was the Entente with Great Britain at its head.

Estonians, if you had not betrayed your alliances, you would of course not have been handed your independence on a plate. But 20 years later you would then also not have ridden the cattle wagons to Siberia. Some 50 years after that, you would have been able to gyp [sic, again] yourselves independence though some sort of civilised referendum. The main thing is that decent people only make agreements on any subject whatsoever with legitimate authorities. So you have no one to blame. But we should at long last blame you – for Petrograd, which would probably have been taken if Estonia had honoured its obligations to its allies; for the annihilation of the NWA; for the war taking a wrong turn; and finally, for Soviet power.

Some will object that Soviet power came about not just because of our defeat on the North-Western front. That’s true. And that means it is time to talk about Latvia.

[TN: we skip a similar long tirade about the horrid Latvians and move straight to the conclusion]

No better than peasants

It is natural and quite understable how Germanophobes of the first half of the 20th century – Estonian and Latvian – should rush to join the battalions of the SS. A slave always thinks his current master is horrid. Much more attractive is a master who may only possibly become so and who furthermore dangles some carrots and even offers an opportunity to get one’s own back against the former master. Whether they really believed that the Germans would let them have some sort of independence is immaterial but the idea of becoming overseers over Russians was just too tempting. Let Russian, Byelorussians, Jews and Gypsies be burnt by the tens of thousands in crematoria, let children be murdered, “let’s you die today, I won’t even die tomorrow.” I’m an Ostdeutsch, I’m semi-human!

Estonia and Latvia were practically never states, they were always under someone. These nations did not even have a nobility of their own [i.e a ruling élite – NV Editor’s note].

It might seem that there is not much sense in mentioning such a thing today when the nobility have been pushed out by a moneyed élite. However, nations which have not in their past had a nobility are a little like a person who has entered adulthood straight from childhood, bypassing adolescence. Some connections have been made wrong in his brain; he’s not completely au fait; he needs supervision, not to say care. For this reason it is pointless to try to argue with Estonians or Latvians, pointless to try to convince them of anything, pointless to call on their conscience. When I seem to address them, it’s purely rhetorical. The Estonian and the Latvian can be a decent an honest person, but he has no historical conscience. It just does not exist in him. He possesses an atrophied organ of historical shame.

The only language that our neighbour understands iss that of sanctions and harsh policies with no concessions. A proper understanding of our common past provides moral support to us in this. Most of the facts given in this article are easily available, having been published in periodicals, books, and the internet. But why is it that not a single one of these facts was mentioned by any government spokesman with regard to the revolting scandals about our May 9 celebrations?

The mind of yesterday’s genetic peasant views any concession as weakness. And, as in 1919, behind these uppity peasants stand states who do not wish us particularly well. A show of political will is not only a matter of historical remembrance but a matter of survival. And we do want to survive, don’t we?

Aron on Russia’s Succession Crisis

Resident Scholar Leon Aron (pictured below) of the American Enterprise Institute describes Russia’s coming “succession crisis”:

Resident Scholar Leon Aron

After Boris Yeltsin died on April 23, all Russian television networks waited for almost three hours to break the news. They were afraid to say anything before the Kremlin did. Three days later, in the state-of-Russia address to the Duma, Vladimir Putin announced the unilateral “suspension” by Russia of the 1990 treaty governing the size and positioning of conventional forces in Europe. A few days before, an estimated 4,000 policemen set upon a few hundred protesters in Moscow with a ferocity that shocked even some government officials and legislators.

Even by the standards of Mr. Putin’s Russia, these episodes stand apart in the shrillness of their authoritarian insolence and disregard for public opinion inside and outside the country. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Moscow for talks, she might see for herself the reason for the increasingly tense relations between the two countries, and the increasingly harsh climate inside: the jitters that next year’s presidential succession is already generating in the Kremlin.

Despite an official propaganda barrage daily proclaiming orderly change after the presidential election in March 2008, the succession is far from a done deal. The erosion or outright eradication of what might be called shock-absorbers of democracy that endow the process and the result of a transition with legitimacy–elected local authorities, independent parliament and mass media, and genuine opposition–has ushered in uncertainty and risk. The foundation of the much-touted “vertical of power,” as the new system of the Kremlin’s dominance over the country’s politics and key sectors of the economy is known, is shallow. The stairs going down are gnarled and perhaps unable to bear much weight.

To these generic handicaps to succession in an authoritarian regime, today’s Russia adds two serious complications. The first is the tradition of Russian and Soviet political culture–which Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin tried so hard to overcome, but which Mr. Putin (who has bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”) seems to admire and emulate. Successions were hardly smooth even under the tsars, with quite a few legitimate claimants to the throne (or even those already sitting on it by right) strangled, drowned, stabbed or forced to retire into monasteries. In the Soviet era, not one putative heir apparent came to power. Lenin never wished for Stalin to succeed him; Stalin would not have wanted Khrushchev; Khrushchev, ousted by a coup, did not anoint Brezhnev; Brezhnev, Andropov; Andropov, Chernenko; and Chernenko, Gorbachev.

The other obstacle to a smooth transition is the sheer enormity of the stakes. Even after the centuries of the patrimonial state, in which political power has translated into ownership or control of much of the country’s natural wealth, never has the jackpot been so huge: Every day more than 19,000 barrels of oil flow through the pipeline for sale abroad, bringing $500 billion a year.

No matter how many promises are being made to presidential hopefuls and their salivating retinues about sharing in the riches, the vertical of power is a sparse, even austere piece of political architecture. There are simply not enough top rent-generating offices in Russian politics, and in the daily expanding state-controlled sector of the economy, to be handed over to all current claimants: not enough Duma committee chairmanships (where the going rate for introducing a law reportedly is $1 million), regional governorships, top positions in the extremely lucrative tax police and customs, company chairmanships and directorships in the oil, gas, metals, armaments, automotive and aviation industries.

In the winner-take-all regime Mr. Putin has forged, his probable decision to hand over the power hardly presages a period of certainty and tranquility. In the words of one of the most astute Russian political observers, Mark Urnov, “those who have failed to become heirs will have nothing to lose. The bets have been placed, the only thing to do is to fight.”

There are no lame ducks in Putin’s Russia–only dead ones. Thus, the appointment of the successor must be withheld for as long as possible, to prevent those passed over from coalescing and perhaps even reaching out to the pro-democracy opposition. Such an alliance would be the Kremlin’s worst nightmare: a potentially escalating popular movement for unmanaged, free and fair elections, akin to the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” of 2004-05. The succession games may last well into this fall, and one could do worse, investment-wise, than betting a modest amount in rubles, steadily appreciating against the dollar, that neither of the current front-runners, First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, will get the nod.

Yet managing the succession by keeping the elites off balance is only one source of the Kremlin’s nervousness. The other is a slew of potential economic and social crises stemming from subverted, frozen or entirely abandoned structural reforms to redress the commodity dependence, the neglect of “human capital” and the disrepair of the worn-out industrial infrastructure. Camouflaged by the oil wealth and passed over in silence by the re-nationalized or intimidated mass media, these political time bombs are ticking louder and louder.

Despite regular, almost-ritual official calls to shift away from commodity exports to a knowledge-based, high-tech modern economy, the goal has been subverted by the ideologically-motivated turn toward greater state control and the fear of private initiative and wealth-creation. Instead, Russia’s expanding economy (and thus the “stability” on which Putin’s popularity is founded) remains extremely vulnerable to oil-price fluctuations. At least one-third of the Russian state budget today comes from oil revenues. A World Bank study has concluded that the GDP growth of 5% or higher was “realized in Russia only at times when the oil price has increased.” It is widely assumed among independent Russian experts that a precipitous decline to $40 a barrel (not to mention, below) will have immediate and profoundly negative consequences for economy and the standard of living.

Apart from much-needed salary increases for teachers and doctors, the “national projects” on health and education, unveiled by the government with great fanfare in 2005, have done very little to reform the state-based, impoverished, rigid and backward health-care and education systems inherited from the Soviet Union. Amid the oil price boom, Russia spent less on health-care as percentage of GDP in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available) than in the first year of the fragile post-Soviet economic recovery in 1997. In an August 2006 national survey, 70% of respondents said that they and their families could not count on getting “good” medical care.

The hydrocarbon windfall has done nothing to increase life expectancy, which at 65 years is still below that of China or India. Russia also is a world leader in industrial, aviation and traffic accidents. Crime is rising; over the past six years, there has been a 10% increase in the number of murders and a 73% rise in drug-related crimes.

With the number of working adults, especially males, diminishing precipitously, the worker-to-retiree ratio is estimated by Russia’s leading economists to drop to 1 to 1 “in the very near future.” Yet already today, the average pension is 25% of the average salary–the lowest proportion in Europe. Such a pension is 3,000 rubles ($115), whereas the minimal food expenditures (“just not to starve” as a Russian newspaper puts it) is 1,500 rubles. Some in the government have already begun to talk about raising the pension age as the only solution–something that the estimated 17 million men and women who expect to retire in the next 10 years are most likely to resent and protest, perhaps violently.

Yet the dwindling number of Russians who want to work and make a go of it are daily disheartened and handicapped by corruption. Both in its reach and the amount of money involved, the bribery and sleaze today makes the graft of the 1990s look like the child’s play. In the ranking by Transparency International Russia is 121st out of 163 countries, behind Albania, Kazakhstan and Zambia, and on a par with Benin, Gambia, Honduras and Rwanda. The growing independence of courts, one of the most promising achievements of the 1990s, has been reversed by the travesty of the Yukos-Khodorkovsky and spy trials. Not just entrepreneurs, who are now fair game for shakedowns, but even ordinary Russians, are less and less capable of seeking protection in courts against rapacious and incompetent bureaucrats at every level.

Nor is the Russian state capable of providing broad and effective protection in a more immediate sense. While Chechnya is for now “pacified” by the former Islamic guerillas who switched sides, the multi-ethnic North Caucasus is virtually ungovernable, especially its largest “autonomous republic,” Dagestan. The conventional armed forces are utterly incapable of dealing with new threats. A dysfunctional relic of the tsarist and Soviet past, for today’s conscripts the Russian army is a combination of a prison and torture chamber.

With every family doing everything they can to shield their boys from the army, increasingly it is the bottom of the barrel that the army gets: the functionally illiterate and those with criminal records or a history of drug addiction. There is more than enough money to effect a transition to a modern, lean, mobile, well-equipped, well-trained and motivated force, supported by millions of Russians. President Putin himself promised in the beginning of his first term, but the reform has been abandoned.

Each of these simmering crises may quickly boil over. The prospect of several unfolding in concert is troubling. In combination with falling oil prices, they may cause a political equivalent of a “perfect storm.” Yet with the deliberate weakening of the mediating institutions of democracy, the center of political gravity in Putin’s Russia has shifted to the very top, making the Kremlin responsible for anything that goes wrong anywhere in the country.

Everything that the Russian authorities do in the next 12 months will be informed by this sense of vulnerability, and aimed at making sure that vagaries of succession are not multiplied or even made unmanageable by the corrupt state’s obsessive quest for control in pursuit of ever greater share of the country’s oil wealth.

Aron on Russia’s Succession Crisis

Resident Scholar Leon Aron (pictured below) of the American Enterprise Institute describes Russia’s coming “succession crisis”:

Resident Scholar Leon Aron

After Boris Yeltsin died on April 23, all Russian television networks waited for almost three hours to break the news. They were afraid to say anything before the Kremlin did. Three days later, in the state-of-Russia address to the Duma, Vladimir Putin announced the unilateral “suspension” by Russia of the 1990 treaty governing the size and positioning of conventional forces in Europe. A few days before, an estimated 4,000 policemen set upon a few hundred protesters in Moscow with a ferocity that shocked even some government officials and legislators.

Even by the standards of Mr. Putin’s Russia, these episodes stand apart in the shrillness of their authoritarian insolence and disregard for public opinion inside and outside the country. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Moscow for talks, she might see for herself the reason for the increasingly tense relations between the two countries, and the increasingly harsh climate inside: the jitters that next year’s presidential succession is already generating in the Kremlin.

Despite an official propaganda barrage daily proclaiming orderly change after the presidential election in March 2008, the succession is far from a done deal. The erosion or outright eradication of what might be called shock-absorbers of democracy that endow the process and the result of a transition with legitimacy–elected local authorities, independent parliament and mass media, and genuine opposition–has ushered in uncertainty and risk. The foundation of the much-touted “vertical of power,” as the new system of the Kremlin’s dominance over the country’s politics and key sectors of the economy is known, is shallow. The stairs going down are gnarled and perhaps unable to bear much weight.

To these generic handicaps to succession in an authoritarian regime, today’s Russia adds two serious complications. The first is the tradition of Russian and Soviet political culture–which Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin tried so hard to overcome, but which Mr. Putin (who has bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”) seems to admire and emulate. Successions were hardly smooth even under the tsars, with quite a few legitimate claimants to the throne (or even those already sitting on it by right) strangled, drowned, stabbed or forced to retire into monasteries. In the Soviet era, not one putative heir apparent came to power. Lenin never wished for Stalin to succeed him; Stalin would not have wanted Khrushchev; Khrushchev, ousted by a coup, did not anoint Brezhnev; Brezhnev, Andropov; Andropov, Chernenko; and Chernenko, Gorbachev.

The other obstacle to a smooth transition is the sheer enormity of the stakes. Even after the centuries of the patrimonial state, in which political power has translated into ownership or control of much of the country’s natural wealth, never has the jackpot been so huge: Every day more than 19,000 barrels of oil flow through the pipeline for sale abroad, bringing $500 billion a year.

No matter how many promises are being made to presidential hopefuls and their salivating retinues about sharing in the riches, the vertical of power is a sparse, even austere piece of political architecture. There are simply not enough top rent-generating offices in Russian politics, and in the daily expanding state-controlled sector of the economy, to be handed over to all current claimants: not enough Duma committee chairmanships (where the going rate for introducing a law reportedly is $1 million), regional governorships, top positions in the extremely lucrative tax police and customs, company chairmanships and directorships in the oil, gas, metals, armaments, automotive and aviation industries.

In the winner-take-all regime Mr. Putin has forged, his probable decision to hand over the power hardly presages a period of certainty and tranquility. In the words of one of the most astute Russian political observers, Mark Urnov, “those who have failed to become heirs will have nothing to lose. The bets have been placed, the only thing to do is to fight.”

There are no lame ducks in Putin’s Russia–only dead ones. Thus, the appointment of the successor must be withheld for as long as possible, to prevent those passed over from coalescing and perhaps even reaching out to the pro-democracy opposition. Such an alliance would be the Kremlin’s worst nightmare: a potentially escalating popular movement for unmanaged, free and fair elections, akin to the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” of 2004-05. The succession games may last well into this fall, and one could do worse, investment-wise, than betting a modest amount in rubles, steadily appreciating against the dollar, that neither of the current front-runners, First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, will get the nod.

Yet managing the succession by keeping the elites off balance is only one source of the Kremlin’s nervousness. The other is a slew of potential economic and social crises stemming from subverted, frozen or entirely abandoned structural reforms to redress the commodity dependence, the neglect of “human capital” and the disrepair of the worn-out industrial infrastructure. Camouflaged by the oil wealth and passed over in silence by the re-nationalized or intimidated mass media, these political time bombs are ticking louder and louder.

Despite regular, almost-ritual official calls to shift away from commodity exports to a knowledge-based, high-tech modern economy, the goal has been subverted by the ideologically-motivated turn toward greater state control and the fear of private initiative and wealth-creation. Instead, Russia’s expanding economy (and thus the “stability” on which Putin’s popularity is founded) remains extremely vulnerable to oil-price fluctuations. At least one-third of the Russian state budget today comes from oil revenues. A World Bank study has concluded that the GDP growth of 5% or higher was “realized in Russia only at times when the oil price has increased.” It is widely assumed among independent Russian experts that a precipitous decline to $40 a barrel (not to mention, below) will have immediate and profoundly negative consequences for economy and the standard of living.

Apart from much-needed salary increases for teachers and doctors, the “national projects” on health and education, unveiled by the government with great fanfare in 2005, have done very little to reform the state-based, impoverished, rigid and backward health-care and education systems inherited from the Soviet Union. Amid the oil price boom, Russia spent less on health-care as percentage of GDP in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available) than in the first year of the fragile post-Soviet economic recovery in 1997. In an August 2006 national survey, 70% of respondents said that they and their families could not count on getting “good” medical care.

The hydrocarbon windfall has done nothing to increase life expectancy, which at 65 years is still below that of China or India. Russia also is a world leader in industrial, aviation and traffic accidents. Crime is rising; over the past six years, there has been a 10% increase in the number of murders and a 73% rise in drug-related crimes.

With the number of working adults, especially males, diminishing precipitously, the worker-to-retiree ratio is estimated by Russia’s leading economists to drop to 1 to 1 “in the very near future.” Yet already today, the average pension is 25% of the average salary–the lowest proportion in Europe. Such a pension is 3,000 rubles ($115), whereas the minimal food expenditures (“just not to starve” as a Russian newspaper puts it) is 1,500 rubles. Some in the government have already begun to talk about raising the pension age as the only solution–something that the estimated 17 million men and women who expect to retire in the next 10 years are most likely to resent and protest, perhaps violently.

Yet the dwindling number of Russians who want to work and make a go of it are daily disheartened and handicapped by corruption. Both in its reach and the amount of money involved, the bribery and sleaze today makes the graft of the 1990s look like the child’s play. In the ranking by Transparency International Russia is 121st out of 163 countries, behind Albania, Kazakhstan and Zambia, and on a par with Benin, Gambia, Honduras and Rwanda. The growing independence of courts, one of the most promising achievements of the 1990s, has been reversed by the travesty of the Yukos-Khodorkovsky and spy trials. Not just entrepreneurs, who are now fair game for shakedowns, but even ordinary Russians, are less and less capable of seeking protection in courts against rapacious and incompetent bureaucrats at every level.

Nor is the Russian state capable of providing broad and effective protection in a more immediate sense. While Chechnya is for now “pacified” by the former Islamic guerillas who switched sides, the multi-ethnic North Caucasus is virtually ungovernable, especially its largest “autonomous republic,” Dagestan. The conventional armed forces are utterly incapable of dealing with new threats. A dysfunctional relic of the tsarist and Soviet past, for today’s conscripts the Russian army is a combination of a prison and torture chamber.

With every family doing everything they can to shield their boys from the army, increasingly it is the bottom of the barrel that the army gets: the functionally illiterate and those with criminal records or a history of drug addiction. There is more than enough money to effect a transition to a modern, lean, mobile, well-equipped, well-trained and motivated force, supported by millions of Russians. President Putin himself promised in the beginning of his first term, but the reform has been abandoned.

Each of these simmering crises may quickly boil over. The prospect of several unfolding in concert is troubling. In combination with falling oil prices, they may cause a political equivalent of a “perfect storm.” Yet with the deliberate weakening of the mediating institutions of democracy, the center of political gravity in Putin’s Russia has shifted to the very top, making the Kremlin responsible for anything that goes wrong anywhere in the country.

Everything that the Russian authorities do in the next 12 months will be informed by this sense of vulnerability, and aimed at making sure that vagaries of succession are not multiplied or even made unmanageable by the corrupt state’s obsessive quest for control in pursuit of ever greater share of the country’s oil wealth.

Aron on Russia’s Succession Crisis

Resident Scholar Leon Aron (pictured below) of the American Enterprise Institute describes Russia’s coming “succession crisis”:

Resident Scholar Leon Aron

After Boris Yeltsin died on April 23, all Russian television networks waited for almost three hours to break the news. They were afraid to say anything before the Kremlin did. Three days later, in the state-of-Russia address to the Duma, Vladimir Putin announced the unilateral “suspension” by Russia of the 1990 treaty governing the size and positioning of conventional forces in Europe. A few days before, an estimated 4,000 policemen set upon a few hundred protesters in Moscow with a ferocity that shocked even some government officials and legislators.

Even by the standards of Mr. Putin’s Russia, these episodes stand apart in the shrillness of their authoritarian insolence and disregard for public opinion inside and outside the country. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Moscow for talks, she might see for herself the reason for the increasingly tense relations between the two countries, and the increasingly harsh climate inside: the jitters that next year’s presidential succession is already generating in the Kremlin.

Despite an official propaganda barrage daily proclaiming orderly change after the presidential election in March 2008, the succession is far from a done deal. The erosion or outright eradication of what might be called shock-absorbers of democracy that endow the process and the result of a transition with legitimacy–elected local authorities, independent parliament and mass media, and genuine opposition–has ushered in uncertainty and risk. The foundation of the much-touted “vertical of power,” as the new system of the Kremlin’s dominance over the country’s politics and key sectors of the economy is known, is shallow. The stairs going down are gnarled and perhaps unable to bear much weight.

To these generic handicaps to succession in an authoritarian regime, today’s Russia adds two serious complications. The first is the tradition of Russian and Soviet political culture–which Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin tried so hard to overcome, but which Mr. Putin (who has bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”) seems to admire and emulate. Successions were hardly smooth even under the tsars, with quite a few legitimate claimants to the throne (or even those already sitting on it by right) strangled, drowned, stabbed or forced to retire into monasteries. In the Soviet era, not one putative heir apparent came to power. Lenin never wished for Stalin to succeed him; Stalin would not have wanted Khrushchev; Khrushchev, ousted by a coup, did not anoint Brezhnev; Brezhnev, Andropov; Andropov, Chernenko; and Chernenko, Gorbachev.

The other obstacle to a smooth transition is the sheer enormity of the stakes. Even after the centuries of the patrimonial state, in which political power has translated into ownership or control of much of the country’s natural wealth, never has the jackpot been so huge: Every day more than 19,000 barrels of oil flow through the pipeline for sale abroad, bringing $500 billion a year.

No matter how many promises are being made to presidential hopefuls and their salivating retinues about sharing in the riches, the vertical of power is a sparse, even austere piece of political architecture. There are simply not enough top rent-generating offices in Russian politics, and in the daily expanding state-controlled sector of the economy, to be handed over to all current claimants: not enough Duma committee chairmanships (where the going rate for introducing a law reportedly is $1 million), regional governorships, top positions in the extremely lucrative tax police and customs, company chairmanships and directorships in the oil, gas, metals, armaments, automotive and aviation industries.

In the winner-take-all regime Mr. Putin has forged, his probable decision to hand over the power hardly presages a period of certainty and tranquility. In the words of one of the most astute Russian political observers, Mark Urnov, “those who have failed to become heirs will have nothing to lose. The bets have been placed, the only thing to do is to fight.”

There are no lame ducks in Putin’s Russia–only dead ones. Thus, the appointment of the successor must be withheld for as long as possible, to prevent those passed over from coalescing and perhaps even reaching out to the pro-democracy opposition. Such an alliance would be the Kremlin’s worst nightmare: a potentially escalating popular movement for unmanaged, free and fair elections, akin to the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” of 2004-05. The succession games may last well into this fall, and one could do worse, investment-wise, than betting a modest amount in rubles, steadily appreciating against the dollar, that neither of the current front-runners, First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, will get the nod.

Yet managing the succession by keeping the elites off balance is only one source of the Kremlin’s nervousness. The other is a slew of potential economic and social crises stemming from subverted, frozen or entirely abandoned structural reforms to redress the commodity dependence, the neglect of “human capital” and the disrepair of the worn-out industrial infrastructure. Camouflaged by the oil wealth and passed over in silence by the re-nationalized or intimidated mass media, these political time bombs are ticking louder and louder.

Despite regular, almost-ritual official calls to shift away from commodity exports to a knowledge-based, high-tech modern economy, the goal has been subverted by the ideologically-motivated turn toward greater state control and the fear of private initiative and wealth-creation. Instead, Russia’s expanding economy (and thus the “stability” on which Putin’s popularity is founded) remains extremely vulnerable to oil-price fluctuations. At least one-third of the Russian state budget today comes from oil revenues. A World Bank study has concluded that the GDP growth of 5% or higher was “realized in Russia only at times when the oil price has increased.” It is widely assumed among independent Russian experts that a precipitous decline to $40 a barrel (not to mention, below) will have immediate and profoundly negative consequences for economy and the standard of living.

Apart from much-needed salary increases for teachers and doctors, the “national projects” on health and education, unveiled by the government with great fanfare in 2005, have done very little to reform the state-based, impoverished, rigid and backward health-care and education systems inherited from the Soviet Union. Amid the oil price boom, Russia spent less on health-care as percentage of GDP in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available) than in the first year of the fragile post-Soviet economic recovery in 1997. In an August 2006 national survey, 70% of respondents said that they and their families could not count on getting “good” medical care.

The hydrocarbon windfall has done nothing to increase life expectancy, which at 65 years is still below that of China or India. Russia also is a world leader in industrial, aviation and traffic accidents. Crime is rising; over the past six years, there has been a 10% increase in the number of murders and a 73% rise in drug-related crimes.

With the number of working adults, especially males, diminishing precipitously, the worker-to-retiree ratio is estimated by Russia’s leading economists to drop to 1 to 1 “in the very near future.” Yet already today, the average pension is 25% of the average salary–the lowest proportion in Europe. Such a pension is 3,000 rubles ($115), whereas the minimal food expenditures (“just not to starve” as a Russian newspaper puts it) is 1,500 rubles. Some in the government have already begun to talk about raising the pension age as the only solution–something that the estimated 17 million men and women who expect to retire in the next 10 years are most likely to resent and protest, perhaps violently.

Yet the dwindling number of Russians who want to work and make a go of it are daily disheartened and handicapped by corruption. Both in its reach and the amount of money involved, the bribery and sleaze today makes the graft of the 1990s look like the child’s play. In the ranking by Transparency International Russia is 121st out of 163 countries, behind Albania, Kazakhstan and Zambia, and on a par with Benin, Gambia, Honduras and Rwanda. The growing independence of courts, one of the most promising achievements of the 1990s, has been reversed by the travesty of the Yukos-Khodorkovsky and spy trials. Not just entrepreneurs, who are now fair game for shakedowns, but even ordinary Russians, are less and less capable of seeking protection in courts against rapacious and incompetent bureaucrats at every level.

Nor is the Russian state capable of providing broad and effective protection in a more immediate sense. While Chechnya is for now “pacified” by the former Islamic guerillas who switched sides, the multi-ethnic North Caucasus is virtually ungovernable, especially its largest “autonomous republic,” Dagestan. The conventional armed forces are utterly incapable of dealing with new threats. A dysfunctional relic of the tsarist and Soviet past, for today’s conscripts the Russian army is a combination of a prison and torture chamber.

With every family doing everything they can to shield their boys from the army, increasingly it is the bottom of the barrel that the army gets: the functionally illiterate and those with criminal records or a history of drug addiction. There is more than enough money to effect a transition to a modern, lean, mobile, well-equipped, well-trained and motivated force, supported by millions of Russians. President Putin himself promised in the beginning of his first term, but the reform has been abandoned.

Each of these simmering crises may quickly boil over. The prospect of several unfolding in concert is troubling. In combination with falling oil prices, they may cause a political equivalent of a “perfect storm.” Yet with the deliberate weakening of the mediating institutions of democracy, the center of political gravity in Putin’s Russia has shifted to the very top, making the Kremlin responsible for anything that goes wrong anywhere in the country.

Everything that the Russian authorities do in the next 12 months will be informed by this sense of vulnerability, and aimed at making sure that vagaries of succession are not multiplied or even made unmanageable by the corrupt state’s obsessive quest for control in pursuit of ever greater share of the country’s oil wealth.

Aron on Russia’s Succession Crisis

Resident Scholar Leon Aron (pictured below) of the American Enterprise Institute describes Russia’s coming “succession crisis”:

Resident Scholar Leon Aron

After Boris Yeltsin died on April 23, all Russian television networks waited for almost three hours to break the news. They were afraid to say anything before the Kremlin did. Three days later, in the state-of-Russia address to the Duma, Vladimir Putin announced the unilateral “suspension” by Russia of the 1990 treaty governing the size and positioning of conventional forces in Europe. A few days before, an estimated 4,000 policemen set upon a few hundred protesters in Moscow with a ferocity that shocked even some government officials and legislators.

Even by the standards of Mr. Putin’s Russia, these episodes stand apart in the shrillness of their authoritarian insolence and disregard for public opinion inside and outside the country. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Moscow for talks, she might see for herself the reason for the increasingly tense relations between the two countries, and the increasingly harsh climate inside: the jitters that next year’s presidential succession is already generating in the Kremlin.

Despite an official propaganda barrage daily proclaiming orderly change after the presidential election in March 2008, the succession is far from a done deal. The erosion or outright eradication of what might be called shock-absorbers of democracy that endow the process and the result of a transition with legitimacy–elected local authorities, independent parliament and mass media, and genuine opposition–has ushered in uncertainty and risk. The foundation of the much-touted “vertical of power,” as the new system of the Kremlin’s dominance over the country’s politics and key sectors of the economy is known, is shallow. The stairs going down are gnarled and perhaps unable to bear much weight.

To these generic handicaps to succession in an authoritarian regime, today’s Russia adds two serious complications. The first is the tradition of Russian and Soviet political culture–which Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin tried so hard to overcome, but which Mr. Putin (who has bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”) seems to admire and emulate. Successions were hardly smooth even under the tsars, with quite a few legitimate claimants to the throne (or even those already sitting on it by right) strangled, drowned, stabbed or forced to retire into monasteries. In the Soviet era, not one putative heir apparent came to power. Lenin never wished for Stalin to succeed him; Stalin would not have wanted Khrushchev; Khrushchev, ousted by a coup, did not anoint Brezhnev; Brezhnev, Andropov; Andropov, Chernenko; and Chernenko, Gorbachev.

The other obstacle to a smooth transition is the sheer enormity of the stakes. Even after the centuries of the patrimonial state, in which political power has translated into ownership or control of much of the country’s natural wealth, never has the jackpot been so huge: Every day more than 19,000 barrels of oil flow through the pipeline for sale abroad, bringing $500 billion a year.

No matter how many promises are being made to presidential hopefuls and their salivating retinues about sharing in the riches, the vertical of power is a sparse, even austere piece of political architecture. There are simply not enough top rent-generating offices in Russian politics, and in the daily expanding state-controlled sector of the economy, to be handed over to all current claimants: not enough Duma committee chairmanships (where the going rate for introducing a law reportedly is $1 million), regional governorships, top positions in the extremely lucrative tax police and customs, company chairmanships and directorships in the oil, gas, metals, armaments, automotive and aviation industries.

In the winner-take-all regime Mr. Putin has forged, his probable decision to hand over the power hardly presages a period of certainty and tranquility. In the words of one of the most astute Russian political observers, Mark Urnov, “those who have failed to become heirs will have nothing to lose. The bets have been placed, the only thing to do is to fight.”

There are no lame ducks in Putin’s Russia–only dead ones. Thus, the appointment of the successor must be withheld for as long as possible, to prevent those passed over from coalescing and perhaps even reaching out to the pro-democracy opposition. Such an alliance would be the Kremlin’s worst nightmare: a potentially escalating popular movement for unmanaged, free and fair elections, akin to the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” of 2004-05. The succession games may last well into this fall, and one could do worse, investment-wise, than betting a modest amount in rubles, steadily appreciating against the dollar, that neither of the current front-runners, First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, will get the nod.

Yet managing the succession by keeping the elites off balance is only one source of the Kremlin’s nervousness. The other is a slew of potential economic and social crises stemming from subverted, frozen or entirely abandoned structural reforms to redress the commodity dependence, the neglect of “human capital” and the disrepair of the worn-out industrial infrastructure. Camouflaged by the oil wealth and passed over in silence by the re-nationalized or intimidated mass media, these political time bombs are ticking louder and louder.

Despite regular, almost-ritual official calls to shift away from commodity exports to a knowledge-based, high-tech modern economy, the goal has been subverted by the ideologically-motivated turn toward greater state control and the fear of private initiative and wealth-creation. Instead, Russia’s expanding economy (and thus the “stability” on which Putin’s popularity is founded) remains extremely vulnerable to oil-price fluctuations. At least one-third of the Russian state budget today comes from oil revenues. A World Bank study has concluded that the GDP growth of 5% or higher was “realized in Russia only at times when the oil price has increased.” It is widely assumed among independent Russian experts that a precipitous decline to $40 a barrel (not to mention, below) will have immediate and profoundly negative consequences for economy and the standard of living.

Apart from much-needed salary increases for teachers and doctors, the “national projects” on health and education, unveiled by the government with great fanfare in 2005, have done very little to reform the state-based, impoverished, rigid and backward health-care and education systems inherited from the Soviet Union. Amid the oil price boom, Russia spent less on health-care as percentage of GDP in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available) than in the first year of the fragile post-Soviet economic recovery in 1997. In an August 2006 national survey, 70% of respondents said that they and their families could not count on getting “good” medical care.

The hydrocarbon windfall has done nothing to increase life expectancy, which at 65 years is still below that of China or India. Russia also is a world leader in industrial, aviation and traffic accidents. Crime is rising; over the past six years, there has been a 10% increase in the number of murders and a 73% rise in drug-related crimes.

With the number of working adults, especially males, diminishing precipitously, the worker-to-retiree ratio is estimated by Russia’s leading economists to drop to 1 to 1 “in the very near future.” Yet already today, the average pension is 25% of the average salary–the lowest proportion in Europe. Such a pension is 3,000 rubles ($115), whereas the minimal food expenditures (“just not to starve” as a Russian newspaper puts it) is 1,500 rubles. Some in the government have already begun to talk about raising the pension age as the only solution–something that the estimated 17 million men and women who expect to retire in the next 10 years are most likely to resent and protest, perhaps violently.

Yet the dwindling number of Russians who want to work and make a go of it are daily disheartened and handicapped by corruption. Both in its reach and the amount of money involved, the bribery and sleaze today makes the graft of the 1990s look like the child’s play. In the ranking by Transparency International Russia is 121st out of 163 countries, behind Albania, Kazakhstan and Zambia, and on a par with Benin, Gambia, Honduras and Rwanda. The growing independence of courts, one of the most promising achievements of the 1990s, has been reversed by the travesty of the Yukos-Khodorkovsky and spy trials. Not just entrepreneurs, who are now fair game for shakedowns, but even ordinary Russians, are less and less capable of seeking protection in courts against rapacious and incompetent bureaucrats at every level.

Nor is the Russian state capable of providing broad and effective protection in a more immediate sense. While Chechnya is for now “pacified” by the former Islamic guerillas who switched sides, the multi-ethnic North Caucasus is virtually ungovernable, especially its largest “autonomous republic,” Dagestan. The conventional armed forces are utterly incapable of dealing with new threats. A dysfunctional relic of the tsarist and Soviet past, for today’s conscripts the Russian army is a combination of a prison and torture chamber.

With every family doing everything they can to shield their boys from the army, increasingly it is the bottom of the barrel that the army gets: the functionally illiterate and those with criminal records or a history of drug addiction. There is more than enough money to effect a transition to a modern, lean, mobile, well-equipped, well-trained and motivated force, supported by millions of Russians. President Putin himself promised in the beginning of his first term, but the reform has been abandoned.

Each of these simmering crises may quickly boil over. The prospect of several unfolding in concert is troubling. In combination with falling oil prices, they may cause a political equivalent of a “perfect storm.” Yet with the deliberate weakening of the mediating institutions of democracy, the center of political gravity in Putin’s Russia has shifted to the very top, making the Kremlin responsible for anything that goes wrong anywhere in the country.

Everything that the Russian authorities do in the next 12 months will be informed by this sense of vulnerability, and aimed at making sure that vagaries of succession are not multiplied or even made unmanageable by the corrupt state’s obsessive quest for control in pursuit of ever greater share of the country’s oil wealth.

Aron on Russia’s Succession Crisis

Resident Scholar Leon Aron (pictured below) of the American Enterprise Institute describes Russia’s coming “succession crisis”:

Resident Scholar Leon Aron  
   

After Boris Yeltsin died on April 23, all Russian television networks waited for almost three hours to break the news. They were afraid to say anything before the Kremlin did. Three days later, in the state-of-Russia address to the Duma, Vladimir Putin announced the unilateral “suspension” by Russia of the 1990 treaty governing the size and positioning of conventional forces in Europe. A few days before, an estimated 4,000 policemen set upon a few hundred protesters in Moscow with a ferocity that shocked even some government officials and legislators.

Even by the standards of Mr. Putin’s Russia, these episodes stand apart in the shrillness of their authoritarian insolence and disregard for public opinion inside and outside the country. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Moscow for talks, she might see for herself the reason for the increasingly tense relations between the two countries, and the increasingly harsh climate inside: the jitters that next year’s presidential succession is already generating in the Kremlin.

Despite an official propaganda barrage daily proclaiming orderly change after the presidential election in March 2008, the succession is far from a done deal. The erosion or outright eradication of what might be called shock-absorbers of democracy that endow the process and the result of a transition with legitimacy–elected local authorities, independent parliament and mass media, and genuine opposition–has ushered in uncertainty and risk. The foundation of the much-touted “vertical of power,” as the new system of the Kremlin’s dominance over the country’s politics and key sectors of the economy is known, is shallow. The stairs going down are gnarled and perhaps unable to bear much weight.

To these generic handicaps to succession in an authoritarian regime, today’s Russia adds two serious complications. The first is the tradition of Russian and Soviet political culture–which Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin tried so hard to overcome, but which Mr. Putin (who has bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”) seems to admire and emulate. Successions were hardly smooth even under the tsars, with quite a few legitimate claimants to the throne (or even those already sitting on it by right) strangled, drowned, stabbed or forced to retire into monasteries. In the Soviet era, not one putative heir apparent came to power. Lenin never wished for Stalin to succeed him; Stalin would not have wanted Khrushchev; Khrushchev, ousted by a coup, did not anoint Brezhnev; Brezhnev, Andropov; Andropov, Chernenko; and Chernenko, Gorbachev.

The other obstacle to a smooth transition is the sheer enormity of the stakes. Even after the centuries of the patrimonial state, in which political power has translated into ownership or control of much of the country’s natural wealth, never has the jackpot been so huge: Every day more than 19,000 barrels of oil flow through the pipeline for sale abroad, bringing $500 billion a year.

No matter how many promises are being made to presidential hopefuls and their salivating retinues about sharing in the riches, the vertical of power is a sparse, even austere piece of political architecture. There are simply not enough top rent-generating offices in Russian politics, and in the daily expanding state-controlled sector of the economy, to be handed over to all current claimants: not enough Duma committee chairmanships (where the going rate for introducing a law reportedly is $1 million), regional governorships, top positions in the extremely lucrative tax police and customs, company chairmanships and directorships in the oil, gas, metals, armaments, automotive and aviation industries.

In the winner-take-all regime Mr. Putin has forged, his probable decision to hand over the power hardly presages a period of certainty and tranquility. In the words of one of the most astute Russian political observers, Mark Urnov, “those who have failed to become heirs will have nothing to lose. The bets have been placed, the only thing to do is to fight.”

There are no lame ducks in Putin’s Russia–only dead ones. Thus, the appointment of the successor must be withheld for as long as possible, to prevent those passed over from coalescing and perhaps even reaching out to the pro-democracy opposition. Such an alliance would be the Kremlin’s worst nightmare: a potentially escalating popular movement for unmanaged, free and fair elections, akin to the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” of 2004-05. The succession games may last well into this fall, and one could do worse, investment-wise, than betting a modest amount in rubles, steadily appreciating against the dollar, that neither of the current front-runners, First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, will get the nod.

Yet managing the succession by keeping the elites off balance is only one source of the Kremlin’s nervousness. The other is a slew of potential economic and social crises stemming from subverted, frozen or entirely abandoned structural reforms to redress the commodity dependence, the neglect of “human capital” and the disrepair of the worn-out industrial infrastructure. Camouflaged by the oil wealth and passed over in silence by the re-nationalized or intimidated mass media, these political time bombs are ticking louder and louder.

Despite regular, almost-ritual official calls to shift away from commodity exports to a knowledge-based, high-tech modern economy, the goal has been subverted by the ideologically-motivated turn toward greater state control and the fear of private initiative and wealth-creation. Instead, Russia’s expanding economy (and thus the “stability” on which Putin’s popularity is founded) remains extremely vulnerable to oil-price fluctuations. At least one-third of the Russian state budget today comes from oil revenues. A World Bank study has concluded that the GDP growth of 5% or higher was “realized in Russia only at times when the oil price has increased.” It is widely assumed among independent Russian experts that a precipitous decline to $40 a barrel (not to mention, below) will have immediate and profoundly negative consequences for economy and the standard of living.

Apart from much-needed salary increases for teachers and doctors, the “national projects” on health and education, unveiled by the government with great fanfare in 2005, have done very little to reform the state-based, impoverished, rigid and backward health-care and education systems inherited from the Soviet Union. Amid the oil price boom, Russia spent less on health-care as percentage of GDP in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available) than in the first year of the fragile post-Soviet economic recovery in 1997. In an August 2006 national survey, 70% of respondents said that they and their families could not count on getting “good” medical care.

The hydrocarbon windfall has done nothing to increase life expectancy, which at 65 years is still below that of China or India. Russia also is a world leader in industrial, aviation and traffic accidents. Crime is rising; over the past six years, there has been a 10% increase in the number of murders and a 73% rise in drug-related crimes.

With the number of working adults, especially males, diminishing precipitously, the worker-to-retiree ratio is estimated by Russia’s leading economists to drop to 1 to 1 “in the very near future.” Yet already today, the average pension is 25% of the average salary–the lowest proportion in Europe. Such a pension is 3,000 rubles ($115), whereas the minimal food expenditures (“just not to starve” as a Russian newspaper puts it) is 1,500 rubles. Some in the government have already begun to talk about raising the pension age as the only solution–something that the estimated 17 million men and women who expect to retire in the next 10 years are most likely to resent and protest, perhaps violently.

Yet the dwindling number of Russians who want to work and make a go of it are daily disheartened and handicapped by corruption. Both in its reach and the amount of money involved, the bribery and sleaze today makes the graft of the 1990s look like the child’s play. In the ranking by Transparency International Russia is 121st out of 163 countries, behind Albania, Kazakhstan and Zambia, and on a par with Benin, Gambia, Honduras and Rwanda. The growing independence of courts, one of the most promising achievements of the 1990s, has been reversed by the travesty of the Yukos-Khodorkovsky and spy trials. Not just entrepreneurs, who are now fair game for shakedowns, but even ordinary Russians, are less and less capable of seeking protection in courts against rapacious and incompetent bureaucrats at every level.

Nor is the Russian state capable of providing broad and effective protection in a more immediate sense. While Chechnya is for now “pacified” by the former Islamic guerillas who switched sides, the multi-ethnic North Caucasus is virtually ungovernable, especially its largest “autonomous republic,” Dagestan. The conventional armed forces are utterly incapable of dealing with new threats. A dysfunctional relic of the tsarist and Soviet past, for today’s conscripts the Russian army is a combination of a prison and torture chamber.

With every family doing everything they can to shield their boys from the army, increasingly it is the bottom of the barrel that the army gets: the functionally illiterate and those with criminal records or a history of drug addiction. There is more than enough money to effect a transition to a modern, lean, mobile, well-equipped, well-trained and motivated force, supported by millions of Russians. President Putin himself promised in the beginning of his first term, but the reform has been abandoned.

Each of these simmering crises may quickly boil over. The prospect of several unfolding in concert is troubling. In combination with falling oil prices, they may cause a political equivalent of a “perfect storm.” Yet with the deliberate weakening of the mediating institutions of democracy, the center of political gravity in Putin’s Russia has shifted to the very top, making the Kremlin responsible for anything that goes wrong anywhere in the country.

Everything that the Russian authorities do in the next 12 months will be informed by this sense of vulnerability, and aimed at making sure that vagaries of succession are not multiplied or even made unmanageable by the corrupt state’s obsessive quest for control in pursuit of ever greater share of the country’s oil wealth.

At Last! Kasparov Opens Fire on the Kremlin

Maybe opposition politician Garry Kasparov has been listening to La Russophobe! Or maybe he just got tired of being grabbed by “President” Putin’s “police.” Either way, according to Radio Free Europe he’s finally crossed the Rubicon, openly likening the Kremlin to Zimbabwe (Illarionov’s analogy) and Belarus (it’s a disgrace that the international press is not covering this important development more widely). At the same time, Kasparov still has a ways to go before he has real credibility. He must do more to lay out the vices of the Kremlin in language people can understand and remember, and he must do more to distance himself from his Western connections. It’s encouraging to see that the Kremlin didn’t have the guts to confront and arrest the protesters on the streets when the heads of EU states were right there watching. Typical Kremlin cowardice.

Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov has compared the government of President Vladimir Putin to the dictatorships in Belarus and Zimbabwe, according to RFE/RL’s Russian Service. Kasparov said that while Russia might be closer to the European Union than to Africa, politically it resembles the dictatorship of Zimbabwe more than the democracies of Germany or France. The former world chess champion and leader of the Other Russia opposition grouping made his comment to Reuters after he and other anti-Kremlin activists were prevented from attending an opposition demonstration on May 18 in Samara, the site of an EU-Russia summit.

Anti-Kremlin protests proceeded elsewhere in Russia, however. “The space for freedom is shrinking every day in Russia, and we can talk today about not only a police state but virtually about the regime that is [closer] to [Belarus] or Zimbabwe…than to democratic countries from Europe,” Kasparov said.

When Kasparov and fellow activists tried to check in to their flight, they were told that the computer system did not recognize their tickets. Kasparov, interviewed at the time by RFE/RL, explained what happened: “We were not allowed to fly out. Most [of the group members] had their passports and tickets taken away. This continued for almost five hours, and there was no explanation given for the first two hours. After that, they said they were gathering information about the tickets because supposedly 13 passengers [from the group] — including correspondents from the American ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and the British ‘The Daily Telegraph,’ by the way — [possessed] forged tickets.”

Reports say some 200 protesters took part anyway in the “March of Dissent” rally in Samara. And on May 19, anti-Kremlin rallies continued in the city of Chelyabinsk, about 2,100 kilometers east of the capital, Moscow. More than 100 demonstrators protested what they call President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian policies. In the past, such marches have been forcefully broken up by police in other cities. But one of the organizers of the Chelyabinsk March of Dissent, Oleg Stifonov, told RFE/RL the rally proceeded peacefully. “Some 150 people took part in the event,” Stifonov said. “The slogans were standard for all Marches of Dissent — demands for the resignation of President Putin and other social slogans. The police behaved absolutely correctly.” The Kremlin says it does not see Other Russia as a political threat, but accuses it of seeking to destabilize Russia ahead of the next scheduled presidential election, in March 2008.

Kasparov was briefly detained after a protest rally in Moscow last month. He says the opposition is gearing up for at least three major demonstrations in the coming weeks. “I think that Other Russia should be very much satisfied, because the marches will go on,” Kasparov said. “We do not stop; we believe that this form of organizing mass protests worked very effectively and we are going to continue. We will have three more marches within the next three weeks in Voronezh and then a big event in St. Petersburg on June 9, and in Moscow on June 11.”

Meanwhile, amid rising concerns over Russian government interference in the media, reports today say eight journalists have resigned from the Russian News Service to protest a new policy that requires half their news to portray the government in a “positive light.” The resignations began in April after new management was hired and the new policy was introduced. Mikhail Baklanov, who was fired as editor in chief at the news service in April, said people left because “there was no chance to work professionally.” The Russian News Service provides news broadcasts to Russia’s most popular radio network and millions of listeners.

More from the Telegraph:

Garry Kasparov yesterday called on Europe to face up to the fact that Russia is an authoritarian regime, not a democracy. The chess champion turned activist was prevented from staging a protest as EU leaders met with President Vladimir Putin. “They should be honest,” he told The Daily Telegraph at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. “Russia is not a democratic regime, it is an authoritarian regime. Putin is not a democrat, they should recognise this. “Giving him credentials as a democrat is very damaging for the opposition. Every time they do this it allows him to dismiss us as marginals and extremists.”

As EU leaders met for the second day of a summit with Mr Putin in Samara, a city in the Urals, Mr Kasparov and 26 activists and western reporters were detained in Moscow after allegations that their tickets were forged meant they missed their flight. The group, including this correspondent, were told their seats had either been overlooked or their tickets could not be recognised by Aeroflot’s computers. They were questioned by police, who confiscated their passports. Members of the pro-Kremlin youth wing Nashi, dressed in white coats and presenting themselves as medical orderlies, handed out leaflets suggesting that Mr Kasparov was deranged. After more than five hours – minutes after the last flight to Samara had departed – the group was released. A police official at the airport reportedly blamed a computer problem that meant Mr Kasparov and his companions could not be issued with a ticket. “If this doesn’t convince you we live in a police state, nothing will,” Mr Kasparov said. “In these cases, laughing is the only thing left to us. You either have to laugh or cry.”

He had been planning to stage a protest rally in Samara to draw attention to Mr Putin’s increasingly repressive crackdown on dissent. Last month, Mr Kasparov was arrested for “shouting anti-government slogans” during a rally held by The Other Russia movement, an opposition he was instrumental in creating. Previous demonstrations in the past six months had not gone well. Banned by the authorities, riot police violently broke them up, kicking and beating with batons any peaceful protesters who had dared to gather. The Samara demonstration, too, was initially outlawed but the Kremlin reversed the decision under intense pressure from its European Union guests. For Mr Kasparov, who retired from chess in 2005 to devote himself to Russia’s fading pro-democracy crusade, the rally was a crucial opportunity to tell western leaders how to deal with Russia. But it was clearly a message the Kremlin preferred to silence.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said at a post-summit news conference: “All of those who want to stage a rally in Samara should be able to do so. “I can understand if you arrest people that are throwing stones or threaten the right of the state to enforce order . . . But it is altogether a different thing if you hold people up on the way to a demonstration.”

Mr Putin said the actions of Russian police “were not always justified”. But, becoming visibly riled, he hit back, saying Mr Kasparov and his colleagues were “marginals” and that EU countries also had flaws in their democracies. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, played down the incident. “I don’t think the issue of the non-arrival of a Russian citizen, even a famous one, will be on the summit agenda,” he said. The summit had been called amid ambitions for deeper ties between Russia and the EU. But there was no breakthrough on a partnership agreement. Talks are stalled because of a Polish veto, part of a trade row with Russia. Moscow had hoped the EU leadership would persuade Poland – as well as Estonia and Lithuania, which have their own rows with Russia – to moderate their stances. Poland blocked the talks after Russia imposed a ban on imports of Polish meat. Moscow has accused Estonia of desecrating the memory of Second World War victims after it moved a Soviet-era war memorial. Lithuania is unhappy that Russia has switched off an oil pipeline. José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, made clear the EU was squarely behind its members. “We had occasion to say to our Russian partners that a difficulty for a member state is a difficulty for the whole European community,” he said.

From Russia with Spies


If anyone needed any more conclusive proof that a cold war is now underway between Russia and the United States, or that Russia is no more a friendly and reliable partner of the U.S. than Iran or China, the Sunday Times provides it:

IT IS time to send for George Smiley. Russia’s covert foreign intelligence operations against America have reached cold war levels under President Vladimir Putin, according to Washington officials. White House intelligence advisers believe no other country is as aggressive as Russia in trying to obtain US secrets, with the possible exception of China. In particular the SVR, as the former KGB’s foreign intelligence arm is now known, is using a network of undercover agents in America to gather classified information about sensitive technologies, including military projects under development and high-tech research.

Yuri Shvets, a former KGB agent, said: “In the days of the Soviet Union, the number of spies was limited because they had to be based at the foreign ministry, the trade mission or the news agencies like Tass. Right now, virtually every successful private company in Russia is being used as a cover for Russian intelligence operations.” Intelligence experts believe that since Putin became president in 2000, the Russians have rebuilt a network of agents in the United States that had been depleted during the country’s transition from communism.

Putin served 16 years in the KGB, including a spell in foreign intelligence in East Germany. He became head of the FSB, the domestic security service. According to Shvets, the FSB has been operating widely in America because of its favoured status with Putin. Agents, some acting under diplomatic cover, are said to be trying to recruit specialists in American facilities with access to sensitive information.

A rare insight into the SVR’s methods was gained six months ago when the authorities in Canada deported a Russian man who had been masquerading as a Canadian citizen. The alleged SVR agent had been living under a false identity as Paul William Hampel and was detained carrying a fake birth certificate, £3,000 in five currencies and several encrypted pre-paid mobile phone cards. He claimed to be a lifeguard and travel consultant but counter-intelligence officers believe he based himself in Montreal because the city is the centre of the Canadian aerospace industry. Carrying a Canadian passport, he would have been able to travel freely to the United States. In another incident last year, the Americans arrested Ariel Weinmann, a former US navy submariner, on charges of spying for the Russians. Weinmann was accused of making electronic copies of classified information which he sought to pass on to his handlers. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail.

John Pike, a military and security analyst who runs GlobalSecurity.org, said a surge in recruitment of US intelligence operatives since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 had presented great opportunities for the Russians to penetrate the CIA and other agencies. Shvets believes Russian agents are also entering America legally as immigrants, a rarity in the strictly controlled Soviet era. The increase in Russian intelligence activity abroad is in step with Moscow’s more aggressive stance since Putin came to power and turned the country’s lagging economy around on the back of record high oil prices.

Putin’s abrasive style has frustrated Washington. Relations between Russia and the United States are worse than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Comparisons with the tension of the cold war years have become commonplace. “President Putin thinks the United States has been weakened by Iraq,” said Richard Holbrooke, a former US ambassador to the United Nations. “He thinks he has been strengthened by recent events and high-priced oil and he is trying to put Russia back on the international map.” Estonia, the Baltic state, appeared last week to have become the target of a cyber attack after a row with Moscow over its decision to relocate a Soviet-era military monument. The Estonians claim professional hackers from Russia targeted the internet sites of ministries, parliament, banks, the media and large companies, causing their systems to crash. The attack followed Russian calls to impose sanctions on Estonia, cuts in Moscow’s oil and gas deliveries and a campaign of intimidation by a Kremlin-backed youth group against the Estonian ambassador. Nato has sent a cyber-crime expert to help the Estonians, fearing that it could be next.

These concerns were raised last week at a European summit attended by Putin and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, at Samara in southern Russia. Merkel traded barbs with Putin over Russia’s human rights record and complained that critics of the Kremlin, including Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion, were prevented from attending a protest march. Moscow and Brussels are due to start talks on an agreement to cover trade, energy and foreign policy but Poland has been blocking the negotiations as a result of a Russian ban on its meat exports. The Kremlin’s relations with Lithuania are also tense following Moscow’s decision to cut oil supplies to the Baltic state.

In February Putin accused America of imposing its will on the rest of the world. He said that Washington’s plans to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic — part of an anti-missile shield bitterly opposed by the Russians — “could provoke nothing less than the beginning of a nuclear era”.

Bush Adminstration Betrays Democracy in Russia

In a major review of Western efforts to champion democracy in Russia, the Moscow Times finds us wanting:

Perhaps the best way to whip up hysteria in government circles these days is to mention U.S. taxpayers’ dollars being spent to promote democracy in Russia. But the clamor that the money might be aimed at fomenting regime change appears to be groundless. A Moscow Times analysis of U.S. spending for the past four years found that Washington seems to have given up trying to effect democratization in any significant way, steadily cutting its spending to pennies of what would be needed to foster a change in government.

The democracy projects themselves look like nothing out of the ordinary: judge exchange programs, leadership lectures by local professors, finance classes for regional officials, and journalist training. Curiously, some of the voices protesting the loudest — United Russia, Nashi and Youth Guard — are among the beneficiaries of the U.S. money. Mindful of the sensitivity of the matter, many recipients were reluctant to talk about their participation in U.S.-funded programs for this report. Some downplayed the programs’ importance, while others flatly denied any links to them.

Foreign funding is a hot-button issue ahead of parliamentary elections in December and the presidential vote in March. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said he will not tolerate the use of foreign money in politics, and in his state-of-the-nation address last month he referred to such funding as an attack on the country’s sovereignty. Kremlin fears have been stoked by the role that foreign-funded groups played in ousting unpopular leaders in Ukraine and Georgia during national elections. No one really expects a change of regime — foreign-financed or otherwise — in Russia, where Putin and his policies are highly popular.

“U.S. money in Russia is not enough to unhorse Putin,” said Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky, who in the early 1990s briefly served as editor of the Russian edition of the Journal of Democracy, published by the U.S. Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy. He also worked with George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Several countries, including Britain and Germany, support programs similar to those operated by U.S. money. But the United States is the favored target of Russian belligerence, in part due to its status as the sole global superpower and a former Cold War foe. Washington also spends more in Russia than the other countries.

In rare public remarks about U.S. funding, U.S. Ambassador William Burns insisted at a news conference last month that Americans were not trying to impose their values on Russia. “Our programs are not partisan. … We do not support particular political parties or particular individuals,” Burns said in reply to a question about whether Washington uses democracy issues to meddle in Russia’s internal affairs. “Just as you said, those kind of financial contributions are not legal in our own society, and we don’t do that here,” he said on April 12. He also said the amount of money spent was small.

Such reassurances are unlikely to convince those who see the United States as meddling in Russia’s backyard. After all, U.S. State Department officials took a similar stance in explaining the more than $65 million the United States spent on aid to organizations in Ukraine in the two years before the Orange Revolution. “Our money doesn’t go to candidates; it goes to the process, the institutions that it takes to run a free and fair election,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told The Associated Press at the peak of the Orange Revolution in December 2004.

How Much Is Spent

Washington funnels most of its money for Russia through the U.S. Agency for International Development, which spent $84.27 million in 2006 and has earmarked $60.97 million for this year. Last year, $38 million of that amount went to programs aimed at strengthening democracy, while $28.18 million is to be spent on the programs this year. Interestingly, USAID added the line item “strengthening democracy” to its Russia budget for the first time last year. Before, democracy and governance were lumped together into one group.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, who spoke on behalf of USAID for this report, could not say why the line item had been added. USAID officials in Washington were unable to offer an explanation immediately and asked for the question to be sent by e-mail. The money for “strengthening democracy” came from a rearrangement of existing USAID programs, not new funds, said the embassy spokeswoman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The USAID budget for Russia has been shrinking for years, from more than $98 million in 2004, but the share of expenditures directed toward democracy has grown steadily. Combined spending on democracy and governance has grown from 41 percent of the total budget in 2004 to 72 percent this year. Most of the money set aside for “strengthening democracy” goes toward judge exchange programs, teaching regional officials about finance, education for disabled youth and journalist training. Less than 15 percent pays for the more controversial programs: educating political activists and training election observers, the embassy spokeswoman said.

Building Political Parties

Perhaps one of the most contentious areas for Russian officials is a subsection titled “Strengthen Democratic Political Parties.” USAID spent $3.9 million in 2006 and will spend $2 million this year to — as the program description reads — “enhance the organizational capacity of democratically oriented parties, encourage and intensify coalition-building efforts for the 2007-2008 elections and help teach youth in selected Russian regions to apply democratic principles and pursue civic initiatives.”

Coalition building of opposition groups and the mobilization of young people for civic initiatives, including street protests, helped lead to the toppling of governments in Ukraine and Georgia. Seminars offered under this program are often led by university professors who live in the regions where they are held. Members of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party participated in seminars in nine regions aimed at improving communication between bureaucrats and society last year, said the National Democratic Institute, a principal USAID partner that organized the seminars. “We train groups that want training,” said Nelson Ledsky, who manages the organization’s democratic development programs in the former Soviet Union. He said members of liberal parties Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, also attended the seminars. He said his annual budget for Russia programs amounted to $1 million and emphasized that no political group or NGO received any of the money. United Russia officials declined repeated requests for comment on members’ participation in the U.S.-funded programs.

Opposition groups sought to minimize the importance of the seminars. “They are useless for us. Also, in the current political environment in Russia, we are trying to avoid being put in a situation where we could be associated with American money,” Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin said. He said party members did not attend any U.S.-sponsored seminars last year, although the party worked with the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, another USAID partner, in the 1990s. Members of Yabloko’s youth wing, however, did attend several seminars. A senior SPS official, Boris Nadezhdin, recalled participating in several events organized by the two organizations last year. “These were not training sessions. They all looked more like conferences where representatives of different parties spoke and discussed various political topics,” he said. He added: “Holding these kind of events could in no way be called the sponsoring of the political parties or public groups that were present there.”

Youth Activists Sign Up

Youth activists from both pro-Kremlin and opposition groups came together last year to attend training seminars focused on advocacy and leadership, said the organizer, the International Republican Institute. Contacted for comment, pro-Kremlin groups Nashi and Young Guard initially denied that their members had participated. “They simply could not have done so because we have training projects of our own that are just as good,” said Nashi spokeswoman Anastasia Suslova. But during a follow-up interview, she conceded that some members might have attended on their own. “You know, our commissars and activists are free people and can go wherever they like,” Suslova said.

Young Guard’s coordinator for political training programs, Nadezhda Orlova, sought to cast Young Guard members who had attended in a bad light, suggesting they were career opportunists who had joined Young Guard simply to get into the seminars. “As for myself, I would find it reprehensible to participate in U.S.-financed training sessions after we have accused The Other Russia of taking money from Washington and turning into American puppets,” she said. The Other Russia is an opposition coalition led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Asked whether she had any proof that The Other Russia or other opposition groups had obtained money from U.S. sources, Orlova said she did not and acknowledged that she had used a U.S. government grant to study public relations for a year at the University of North Carolina in 2004. The Other Russia has denied receiving foreign money for its Dissenters’ Marches and other activities.

Maria Gaidar, leader of the Da! opposition youth group, said several members of her group had attended seminars in the regions last year for lectures on electoral and civil law by local professors. “Dull stuff. Lecturers from the Russian universities were telling participants what civil society is,” said Ilya Yashin, leader of Yabloko’s youth group, whose members attended the same seminars. Pavlovsky said, however, that the seminars were “undoubtedly indoctrinating” and led by “representatives of the Moscow oppositional liberal elite.” “They irritate representatives of other parties, who see them as unfair and unpatriotic competition,” said Pavlovsky, head of the Foundation for Effective Politics, a think tank. Critics also have claimed that the seminars use American textbooks to teach the opposition how to organize street protests. Yashin rejected this, saying, “We know the situation on the ground better than any Western expert.” Pavlovsky said the United States was attempting to destabilize Russia by “corrupting” democratic institutes, something he called “a game” that could be played with little money. In addition, he said, “everyone knows” that unaccounted cash flows to some Russian groups on top of the sums made public. He could not name any group. The U.S. Embassy spokeswoman denied that any cash transfers were made other than the documented grants.

A third major partner listed in USAID’s program to “Strengthen Russian Democratic Parties” is Project Harmony, a U.S. NGO registered in Russia. Leonid Klyuyev, the representative office’s spokesman and a senior project consultant, said this reference was unfortunate because Project Harmony’s activities did not involve politics and were not associated with political parties. “Project Harmony exercises strong control to ensure that there are no politics in our programs: We prohibit funding of political parties, political activity, and the subsidizing of public officials as well as their participation in all activities,” Klyuyev said.

USAID sponsors two projects with the organization: a $1.8 million exchange program to send midlevel professionals to the United States and a $1.25 million program that focuses on the education of youth and encourages them to tackle social issues. The project only touches on government with a role-playing game in which young people act as lawmakers and draft fictional legislation to resolve social problems. Regional lawmakers and legal experts participate in the activities.

Election Observers

With the upcoming elections, Russian officials are increasingly wary about another subsection in the USAID budget titled “Promote and Support Credible Elections Processes,” which received $1,655,000 in 2006 and is to get $1,605,000 this year.

The State Duma took aim at this program when it unanimously approved a resolution on April 13 that said: “Under the guise of helping to conduct free and fair elections for the State Duma in December 2007 and the president of the Russian Federation in March 2008, U.S. taxpayers’ money is being used to fund numerous training courses, surveys, seminars and other events that propagandize … and distort the situation.”

A large chunck of the U.S. money — $600,000 — is being used by an NGO co-founded by the Central Elections Commission to train 997 election observers from United Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party, SPS, the Communist Party and the Patriots of Russia. Other founders of the NGO, the Russian Foundation for Free and Fair Elections, are the Russian Academy of Sciences and Moscow State Law Academy. “My position is that foreign financial support is appropriate when it does not touch on internal politics and is not obtrusive,” said the NGO’s head, Andrei Przhezdomsky, a member of the Public Chamber. Election observers are also being trained by the Golos Association, which is operating on a three-year grant of $2.3 million that it received in 2004. “American money spent to educate public monitors for elections is a direct investment in democracy in Russia,” said Golos executive director Lilia Shibanova. Golos is training election observers in 40 regions, mostly among students at law schools. “These trainings are never held without us first inviting representatives from regional election commissions,” Shibanova said. She said Golos seminars always draw “the rapt attention” of regional Federal Security Service officials. But the officials “quickly lose interest in us” after they learn the details of the program, she said.

Among the other spending for democracy programs are:

• $3.8 million over three years for the U.S.-based International Center for Not-for-Profit Law to evaluate domestic legal initiatives for government agencies. The center received 40 requests last year, said Daria Miloslavskaya, program director at the center’s Moscow office.

• $3.6 million over four years to educate regional Finance Ministry officials through the Center for Fiscal Policy. “We do a purely technical job, nothing political,” said Natalya Skribunova, a spokeswoman for the center.

• $2.3 million over five years for a network of NGOs promoting access to education for disabled youth.

• $1.4 million over two years for the Foundation for Information Policy Development to conduct seminars for regional journalists and officials in conjunction with regional administrations.

• $400,000 over 18 months for the Russian branch of Transparency International to monitor the use of administrative resources during elections.

Dozens of private U.S. foundations and endowments also support civil initiatives and public groups, but their share of the total amount of money distributed in Russia has steadily diminished as the country achieved economic stability in recent years. The only other U.S. government-funded group that works in Russia is the National Endowment for Democracy, which offered grants worth a meager $2.5 million to 51 Russian NGOs last year.

Both USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy have been linked to opposition groups that helped topple governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Serbia, as well as to the opposition in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Officials from the two U.S. organizations have acknowledged providing funds to Otpor, a Serbian youth movement that spearheaded protests that led to the overthrow Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. The International Republican Institute also offered seminars to Otpor members on nonviolent resistance.

In Georgia and Ukraine, the USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy supported Western-leaning opposition groups that eventually succeeded in overthrowing entrenched governments there. Izvestia and many nonmainstream foreign publications reported that the private New York-based Soros Foundation also funded those groups. While retaining a strong visible presence in Georgia and Ukraine, philanthropist George Soros closed his foundation here amid a dispute over the lease on its Moscow office building in 2003. His group still offers grants to NGOs.

Newsweek on the Nashi Youth Cult Thugs

Unquestioning Loyalty: ‘The idea was to create an ideology based on a total devotion to
the president and his course,’ says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected ideologue who
helped found Nashi in 2004.

Newsweek’s Russia correspondents Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova report on the horrifying neo-Soviet youth cult “Nashi” — no different than the old Komsomol, as La Russophobe has been reporting for months now. The speed at which this blog’s once “extremist” analysis of Russia has become conventional wisdom is a hallmark of the horror that is modern Russia.

The attacks came in waves, with military precision. Hours after Estonia removed a World War II statue of a Soviet soldier from downtown Tallinn last month, virtual war broke out. News agencies, banks and government offices were targeted in a blitzkrieg of spam—an onslaught of billions of e-mails, many apparently generated in Russia, that brought down servers and jammed bandwidths to bursting. As “eTonia’s” famous digital-based free markets and democracy buckled under the strain, top NATO Internet security experts last week rushed to construct defenses against the world’s first massive cyberstrike by a superpower on a tiny and almost defenseless neighbor.

In Moscow, the attacks took a decidedly less modern cast. Activists from a Kremlin-created youth movement called Nashi stormed a press conference by Estonia’s ambassador, retreating only after the diplomat’s bodyguards sprayed them with Mace. Others blocked the birch-lined highway from Russia to Estonia with barriers and a large sign reading YOU ARE DRIVING TOWARD FASCIST ESTONIA. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, commemorated the Soviet victory over Nazism with a massive military parade and dark warnings of “new threats” to world security, “as during the time of the Third Reich.”

The historical echoes are unsettling. Once again the Kremlin is on the offensive. And the shock troops in its war against Russia’s enemies, real or imagined, is a new generation of impassioned young militants—the Communist Youth League, if you will, of Putin’s Russia. They have names like Nashi, “Ours,” or the Young Guard and Walking Together. Highly disciplined and lavishly sponsored by the Kremlin, these young ideologues came from nowhere a few years ago to number more than 100,000—a bona fide private army fanatically loyal to one man, the president, that denounces political opposition groups as traitors and fascists, demonizes foreign enemies from Estonia to Georgia to Poland and dedicates itself to the glorification of the Soviet Union and Russian power. “We need to make Russia strong again,” says Nikolai Panchenko, a Nashi “commissar,” or leader. (Yes, the old nomenclature has returned.) “It is time to put an end to America being the strongest and most influential empire. We won’t let America make Russia another one of its colonies.”

Back in Russia’s communist heyday, the Soviet youth group, Komsomol, sprang from the ruling party’s obsession with “shaping the political consciousness” of a young generation. And so it is today. The Kremlin’s drive to win—or control—the hearts and minds of Russia’s youth took root in the aftermath of popular revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan in 2003-05. Realistically or not, many in the Kremlin worry that Russia might somehow be next. “The crucial role that young people played in those revolutions made us realize that something should be done,” says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected ideologue who helped found Nashi in 2004. “The plan was simple,” he explains. “We launched Nashi in towns close to Moscow so that activists could arrive overnight on Red Square, if needed. The idea was to create an ideology based on a total devotion to the president and his course.”

With parliamentary and presidential elections coming up, Nashi and its sibling movements have an obvious target—anyone who presumes to challenge Putin and his ruling clique for power. Who might they be? Nashi recently issued a leaflet identifying them. This “Gallery of Traitors,” appearing in print and online, featured twisted portraits of such opposition leaders as former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and radical writer Eduard Limonov. They were declared enemies of the people, scheming to subvert their nation and turn it over to foreign spies and conspirators. Among them, too, are exiled Yeltsin-era oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire brought down after he began funding opposition to Putin in 2004.

Last month Nashi staged its boldest and most organized mass rally yet. Some 15,000 volunteers donned red jackets, with putin’s communicators emblazoned on the back, and spread out across Moscow distributing brochures and 10,000 specially made SIM cards for mobile phones. The cards allowed users to send text messages to the Kremlin—to be answered promptly by Nashi volunteers. Recipients were also instructed to use the cards to report any signs of an incipient Orange revolution. In that event, the cards would instantly relay text-message instructions on what to do and where to rally. “We explained to Muscovites that we should all be prepared for the pro-Western revolution, funded by America,” says Nashi activist Tatyana Matiash, 22. “People must know what to do to save their motherland in case their radio and TV stop working.”

Not to be outdone by Nashi, the Chelyabinsk chapter of the Young Guards recently staged a training session in how to combat a possible Orange revolution in their city. A hundred volunteers with orange bandannas pretended to storm the local television station; Young Guards mobilized to defend it. The day ended with Guards wielding baseball bats to smash up an “Orange” tent camp, much like that erected on Maidan Square in Kiev two years ago. Last week in Sosnovy Bor, 120 kilometers from St. Petersburg on the Estonian border, Nashi volunteers toured village schools with a film entitled “Lessons in Courage.” The movie opened with images of a vast Nashi meeting of youths in identical white T shirts, red stars on their chests, and continued with shots of Putin juxtaposed against photos of a noble-looking wolf, followed by images of rats symbolizing corrupt government bureaucrats. “Putin is a lonely wolf surrounded by rats,” says Panchenko to the schoolchildren. “Russia has become too corrupt—it is time to change things, time for stronger leaders, like us.”

The paramilitary flavor is unmistakable. Every summer, Nashi runs recruiting camps all across Russia. New members watch propaganda films and receive basic military-style training, says Nashi boss Vasily Yakimenko. They are lectured by top bureaucrats and politicians, including Deputy Defense Minister Yury Baluyevsky and the thuggish Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov—honored as a “Young Politician of the Year” at last year’s Nashi congress. Activists who sign up a hundred new members qualify for promotion to commissar, so long as they pass a grueling three-day series of paramilitary assault courses and physical tests. “We had to demonstrate physical strength, endurance and team leadership,” recalls Leonid Kurza, 23, the leader of the St. Petersburg chapter of Nashi, inducted last winter. Nashi also runs volunteer police troops, who wear black uniforms and, according to the movement’s press service, “help police to patrol streets—and if necessary beat hooligans.”

Earlier this month Nashi’s army staged a paramilitary exercise at a boot camp near Podolsk, 25 kilometers outside Moscow. About 50 activists in military fatigues marched in formation and ran obstacle courses. They practiced field-stripping Kalashnikov rifles and Makarov pistols, followed by an hour of target shooting. Less militaristic members can join a Nashi corps called SplaMeran abbreviation of “unification activities”—which offers psychology courses for team leaders. “We learned gestalt therapy and different methods of helping people relax and stay cheerful in the most severe conditions,” says Matiash, a psychology student. “The enemy is using manipulation and provocations against us. We need to be ready to fight, shoot if we need to, to defend the principles of our current government.”

Participants in Nashi learn how to use weapons, means of chemical protection and take physical exercises at a children’s camp outside Moscow
Misha Galustov / Photographer.Ru for Newsweek
Learning a Skill: Participants in Nashi learn how to use weapons, means of chemical protection and take physical exercises at a children’s camp outside Moscow

Veteran dissident Valeria Novodvorskaya likens Nashi to “a new Putin-jugend” modeled on the Hitler Youth. That’s an overstatement. Nashi and other groups may be fanatically loyal to Putin, but their rhetoric and methods are more like a sinister parody of democracy movements in Ukraine and elsewhere. Much of their activity is orchestrated by Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s right-hand man for political and media issues, who meets regularly with the groups’ leaders to organize propaganda and political campaigns. The Kremlin is lavish with its funding, too, says analyst Ilya Ponamarov of the Institute of Globalization Studies, both in direct cash contributions and encouraging state-owned businesses to sponsor programs. The institute estimates that the “Putin’s Communicators” campaign alone cost $220 million. And like the old Komsomol, the perks of membership are considerable. Members enjoy free admission to various schools of management, where they study government, business administration or public relations. They go on to allocated internships in top state enterprises such as Gazprom, Rosneft, state-owned television stations and even the Kremlin.

Western leaders are growing increasingly alarmed at Russia’s new direction. They have watched as it has retreated farther and farther from democracy under Putin’s rule. They have been dismayed at the spectacle of thousands of riot police beating down small numbers of protesters mustered by the country’s increasingly weakened political opposition parties. Last week U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Moscow to take the temperature of relations, which have reached close to freezing. In his Victory Day speech Putin appeared to compare America to Nazi Germany, warning of the threats from countries with “contempt for human life and the same claims [as the Nazis] of exceptionality and diktat in the world.” Putin has also vehemently denounced U.S. plans to station ABM missiles in Eastern Europe. “Everyone is frankly scared of the way which Russia is going, but no one knows what to do about it,” says one European diplomat in Moscow, not authorized to speak on the record. With the Kremlin aggressively pursuing its enemies at home and abroad, and grooming a militant youth movement as de facto enforcers of its nationalist vision, Russia’s neighbors are wondering with growing concern which of them could be next.

May 20, 2007 — Contents

SUNDAY MAY 20 CONTENTS


(1) The Sunday Photos

(2) The Boston Globe Blasts Condi’s Kremlin Cop Out

(3) Cyberwar in Estonia

NOTE: Check out this great multi-media feature from the PBS Frontline program on the Kremlin’s crackdown on NGOs and democracy from an embedded reporter.