Daily Archives: May 23, 2007

May 23, 2007 — Contents

WEDNESDAY MAY 23 CONTENTS


(1) The Nightmare of “Elections” in Russia

(2) Annals of the Holy Russian Empire

(3) Marches “Don’t Bother” Putin

(4) Annals of Jaw-Dropping Russian Hyprocrisy

(5) When is an Assasination not an Assasination

(6) Annals of Russian Tennis

The Nightmare of "Elections" in Russia

Writing the the Moscow Times, columnist and professor at the New Economic School/CEFIR Konstantin Sonin chastises the Kremlin for abolishing the election of governors. But the article that follows his column clearly shows that there is method to the Kremlin’s seeming madness:

In his seventh and final state of the nation address in April, President Vladimir Putin called on those present to sum up the results of his presidency. For many Russians, it probably feels like the years under Putin have flown by faster than the eventful year of 1993. Such an exammination of Putin’s tenure serves not just as a nostalgic look at the past: Every one of his policy achievements will play a role in contributing to the legitimacy of his successor, just as each failure will remain a vulnerable point for the next president and provide political ammunition to prospective opponents.

And failures there have been. Three clear missteps have been the decision to do away with gubernatorial elections, the suppression of press freedoms and the move to electing the State Duma entirely based on a proportional representation system. Each of these measures was introduced in order to remedy specific situations that troubled the Kremlin — the development of political fiefdoms at the regional level, bias on the part of television stations and weak political parties. Medications often, however, have side effects more harmful than the illnesses they are designed to treat, so unpopular policies provide a window of opportunity for any outsider who might aspire to the presidency next year.

So what’s wrong with appointing governors? After all, a governor appointed by Moscow is more likely to follow instructions from Moscow. The problem is he or she is less likely to be familiar with the region itself. With oil prices so high and petrodollars flooding into the federal budget, there is no discussion of the pros and cons of this policy. At the slightest sign of trouble, the opportunity arises for an outside candidate to appeal to the interests of an offended region, a strategy that served President Boris Yeltsin well in the early 1990s.

The option of returning to the direct election of Duma deputies could also turn out to be a trump card in a battle for the top spot. As Russia and Russians grow wealthier with each passing year, there is less need for an outlet for voters looking to let off steam. But should growth stall, some steps might have to be taken in this direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the fall, in the run-up to the presidential vote, Putin’s chosen successor — or even Putin himself if he decides to stay on for a third term — might promise to reinstate direct local votes for candidates, just to make sure no other challenger latches on to the policy.

Freedom of the press is a more delicate question. The average Russian is evidently satisfied with the current state of the media, even though it differs little from that in any moderate South American dictatorship. This state of affairs opens up opportunities for presidential hopefuls because not just mediocre regimes, but even the most able can easily run aground without a healthy flow of information and feedback. As high-ranking officials continue to declare that the press enjoys the same level of freedom in Russia as in Europe, you have to wonder whether they themselves are starting to believe it. Do they realize that if any of their colleagues are on the take, Russian television would never report on it? When Kremlin ideologues claim that the United States orchestrated Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, have they forgotten that they invented that theory themselves? If they do understand, things aren’t as bad as they could be: Cynicism like this is not unusual in government. If they have forgotten, what are they going to start believing in next — Martians.

So an outsider would have some simple and inexpensive pledges to offer the electorate in a run for the presidency: A return to gubernatorial elections, greater press freedoms and a return to winning some seats in the Duma by way of direct voting. Borjomi might also help.

The Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin’s favored United Russia Party has been beaten in a Volgograd mayoral election by a card-carrying Communist. Talk about neo-Soviet Union! No wonder the Kremlin doesn’t want to let Russians vote! The overwhelming majority of the city, 62% of registered voters, sat at home on election day. So much for the idea that the USSR was a nation of victims abused by a few bad apples. What is WRONG with these people???

United Russia’s candidate lost to a Communist in Volgograd’s mayoral election this weekend, preliminary results showed Monday — a stunning upset that puts a Communist in charge of a major city for the first time in years. At 31, Roman Grebennikov will also be the youngest mayor of a regional capital. Communists hailed the victory as a breakthrough that showed public support remains strong for the party when “votes don’t get stolen.” United Russia, seeking to put on a brave face, said Grebennikov’s agenda mirrored its own and promised to work with anyone who tackled the problems of this city of 1 million. But the election outcome looks likely to send a chill through the ranks of the pro-Kremlin party, which had been determined to win after suffering embarrassing defeats in a Samara mayoral vote last fall and Stavropol regional legislative elections in March.

Grebennikov received 32.47 percent of the vote, far ahead of United Russia candidate Vasily Galushkin, who placed third with 20.35 percent, according to the preliminary results. Acting Volgograd Mayor Roland Kherianov came in second among the 15 candidates, with 23.85 percent. A simple plurality was enough to win the election. Thirty-eight percent of the Volgograd’s 762,000 registered voters cast their ballots Sunday in the last major vote before State Duma elections in December. There were no reports of significant electoral violations.

After the results were announced, Grebennikov immediately sought to assure United Russia that he would work with the party. “It is a powerful political party that has a majority in state structures, and you should cooperate with it,” he told reporters early Monday. He said managing Volgograd was not a political game, but an administrative task that he would undertake by first scrutinizing the city’s property records. The election was called after incumbent Mayor Yevgeny Ishchenko resigned in October amid allegations of wrongdoing linked to municipal property, among other things. Ishchenko has been in custody since May 2006 and is currently on trial in a Volgograd court.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the head of United Russia’s general council, said the party had not only backed Galushkin, a Duma deputy, but all of the candidates who had Volgograd’s interests at heart. “Along with Galushkin, who was nominated by the regional branch of the party, we also supported candidates who presented themselves as ready to cooperate with United Russia in solving the problems of Volgograd residents,” Volodin said. Four days before the vote, a senior United Russia official, Yury Aleinikov, attempted to link all the leading candidates to the party, saying, “If you analyze their campaign platforms, it is clear that they match the ideological principles of United Russia.”

The conciliatory rhetoric will do little to soften the image in voters’ minds that United Russia actually lost to the Communists, said Alexei Makarkin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Technologies. He said, however, that this would not undercut United Russia’s influence in the region. “Communists in this region have been successfully cooperating with United Russia,” he said. The region is led by a Communist governor, Nikolai Maksyuta, and is traditionally part of Russia’s “red belt.” Alevtina Aparina, the only Communist deputy from Volgograd in the Duma, called Grebennikov’s win a “breakthrough” and compared it to the Battle of Stalingrad. The 1943 battle at Stalingrad, as Volgograd was previously called, proved to be a turning point in the Soviet Union’s war with Nazi Germany. (St. Petersburg Communists on Monday sent an open letter to Grebennikov to rename the city Stalingrad.) “This victory demonstrates the return of public trust in the Communists and the success of the party’s new cadre policy,” Aparina said by telephone from Volgograd.

Grebennikov joined the Communist Party after the Soviet collapse and belongs to a new generation of party members who prefer a pragmatic approach over dogmas, Aparina said. He quickly rose through the ranks and became the youngest speaker of a regional legislature in modern Russian history after being elected to the Volgograd legislative assembly in 2001. Viktor Ilyukhin, a senior Communist Duma deputy, said Sunday’s vote reflected the true degree of support that Communists enjoy in the regions. Political pundits, however, predict the party will get only 10 percent to 15 percent of the vote in the Duma elections. “In Volgograd, the governor did not allow any machinations with ballots in favor of United Russia. That is why we won,” Ilyukhin said. “In other places, we lose a lot to United Russia, not because we are weak but because Communist votes get stolen.”

State television channels Rossia and Channel One ignored the election results on their Monday evening news programs. NTV showed brief footage of Grebennikov accepting flowers, and a voiceover said he was Communist. Curiously, Izvestia ran a front-page story Monday that said Galushkin was leading in the election “as Izvestia predicted in a previous issue.” The article had the headline “Bears Took Over Volgograd.” The bear is the symbol of United Russia.

Annals of the Holy Russian Empire: Stormclouds of Unification

A reader offers some worrying observations about the recent unification of the Russian Orthodox Church, as reported recently in the Moscow Times:

Alarming Developments in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

The reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) hardly seems an issue worthy of the attention of Russia watchers. It does however have some very serious potential implications and I would be grateful if you would consider publicising this. I hope it has come to the notice of Western intelligence agencies but if it has not, it deserves to.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) was independent of Moscow and grew up during the communist era. ROCOR is a wealthy church, both in capital and income terms. For example , the London Orthodox Cathedral, recently the site of a bitter power struggle which resulted in the sacking of its bishop and the reassertion of control by Moscow, is worth 15 million pounds.

It is widely believed that the Russian Orthodox Church has long wanted to acquire the rich assets of ROCOR and that it has not only been theology has been driving this campaign for reunification.

That is murky enough, but there is more going on here than messy church politics. Overseas Orthodox churches are centres for the worldwide Russian expatriate community and have been since the Revolution. Now, the Russian government is showing an interest in them. At a time when the Russian Foreign Intelligence service is restoring its strength, the news of Putin’s personal interest in the project and that Boris Jordan was been involved in discussions in America with the leaders of the ROCOR is significant. Boris Jordan is a Gazprom man who ran the enforced state takeover (for which read “suppression”) by Gazprom and the Kremlin of NTV, the independent TV station which was one of the most vocal opponents to Putin at the last election. When we hear that Jordan has been co-opted to discuss reunification with ROCOR, we have good cause to be suspicious.

On Ascension Day 2007 (May 17th 2007) the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia reunited, against the wishes of many of the old Russian expats. An era has ended. There has been a covert takeover and an infiltration by the KGB into many western cities – ROCOR currently has over 400 parishes as well as monsteries for men and women in 40 countries throughout the world, served by nearly 600 priests; there are 133 parishes in the US and 22 in Canada, 5 communities in the United Kingdom and 21 in Australia and New Zealand, together with another 100 communities in other countries in the former Soviet Union.

The FSB/KGB is well aware that the White Russian community, their old opponents, have been historically centred around ROCOR churches. There is also a long history of KBG collaboration within the highest ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church. As the Patriarch and Putin work together it is likely that Moscow-appointed clergy will now be compliant with Kremlin wishes and will cooperate with Russian government and embassy staff, believing that this is their patriotic and spiritual duty. Building a more powerful church and a more powerful nation can become interchangeable concepts if you lose sight of personal faith as the bedrock of the Christian life.

A takeover of the ROCOR churches is an attractive proposition on many levels. The FSB can now recruit from ROCOR congregations and they will also infiltrate them to gather intelligence on those members of the expatriate community with dissident tendencies. They will be assisted, at least passively, by the clergy of these churches and we can be sure that if any clergy publicly or privately voice any dissent, they will be removed.

Lest there be any doubt about this, it is worth recalling recent events in Belarus.

Christian believers from all denominations, including a brave (but possibly foolhardy) Orthodox priest, Father Alexander Shramko, have signed a petition to get the infamous 2002 Belarus Religion Law repealed. This law is in direct contradiction to the 1994 Belarus Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion. The Belarusian Religion Law is the most repressive in Europe . For example, it is the only such law to demand state registration of religious communities and to place restrictions on where within Belarus religious activity can take place.

Father Shramko has now been harshly disciplined by Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeyev) of Minsk and Slutsk, the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. Filaret is a leading contender to succeed the current (frail) Patriarch, Alexei, when he dies.

It is unlikely that Shramko will remain as a priest although final disciplinary measures will probably be withheld until they can be carried out quietly to avoid adverse publicity.

The Belarusian Orthodox Church comes under the Moscow Patriarchate and is fully part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Belarusian Orthodox Church supported the 2002 Religion Law. Amongst proposals made by the Church as the Law was being discussed were a ban on all but irregular meetings in private homes for worship, as well as raising the minimum number of people needed to register a religious community with the state from ten to 20. Both these proposals were adopted.

In its 27 April 2007 statement, the Belarusian Orthodox Church maintains that the 2002 Law “facilitates religious peace and confessional stability in Belarus ” and “draws upon international experience of legislation on religion, especially practice in European countries.”

It is this same church which now runs the 400 former ROCOR parishes around the world.

The Moscow Times report:

Bells pealed and heavy incense wafted through the air as Russian Orthodox leaders signed a pact Thursday to heal an 80-year rift between their two churches. “Joy lights up our hearts. A historic event awaited for many years has been fulfilled,” Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II told thousands of worshipers in the Christ the Savior Cathedral. “The first word that Christ said to His followers when he rose from the dead was ‘Rejoice!’ and the second word he said was ‘Peace be with you!'” said Metropolitan Laurus, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. “On this festive day we hear both of these greetings.” Alexy II then turned to President Vladimir Putin and said the president had made an important contribution to Thursday’s reunification when he passed to Laurus an invitation from the patriarch to visit Moscow in 2003. The patriarch presented to Putin several icons depicting the Virgin Mary and Russians who suffered for their beliefs during Soviet repressions. Putin bent over to kiss the icons in Alexy’s hands, to the patriarch’s evident delight. Afterward, Alexy kissed Putin on the cheeks three times and thanked him for attending the service, saying this should indicate to the Orthodox church abroad that the president was not “some God fighter” but an Orthodox believer.

Putin praised the reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate with the church abroad as an event of worldwide significance. “There were no winners in this ecclesiastical and political conflict. Everyone was a loser, so reunification serves our common goals,” he said. Putin said the location of the ceremony, Christ the Savior Cathedral, was “a symbol of the renaissance and prosperity of the Orthodox church.” The enormous golden-domed cathedral, built in the 1990s, is a replica of a similar cathedral demolished by Stalin in 1931. The reunification agreement, called the Canonical Communion Act, will allow the church abroad to retain independence in pastoral, administrative, property and civil matters, but it will have to consult the Moscow Patriarchate on major administrative issues such as the election of senior clergy and the opening and closing of dioceses. Thursday’s ceremony was attended by many government officials, including Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin, and State Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska. Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov, who also was present, said the event was filled with spiritual and political significance that contributed to the “understanding of the significance and power of the Russian Orthodox spirit,” Interfax reported.

The split occurred three years after the Revolution when representatives of the church abroad met in Yugoslavia and called on the church in Russia to resist the Bolsheviks and bring back the monarchy. The church abroad cut all ties in 1927 after Patriarch Sergy declared loyalty to the Communist government. The Moscow Patriarchate has said Sergy wanted to save the church from annihilation. The Moscow Patriarchate disavowed Sergy’s declaration last year, paving the way for Thursday’s reconciliation. But differences remain, and many members of the church abroad believe that the signing should have been delayed. “The main protest against the reunification is coming from parishes in South America, but there are dissenters in the United States , Canada and Europe as well,” said Nikolai Savchenko, a priest with the church abroad, Kommersant reported Wednesday.

Savchenko put the number of dissenters at 20 percent to 25 percent of the church’s reported membership of 480,000 in about 400 parishes in 40 countries. The Moscow Patriarchate considers about two-thirds of Russia ‘s population of 142 million members and has branches in other former Soviet republics. A main argument that opponents of the reunification cite is the Moscow Patriarchate’s membership in the International Church Council, a movement in favor of unification of all Christian churches, known as ecumenism.

Marchers Don’t Bother Putin One Bit

Another gem from the virtual pen of Ellustrator, and one which you hardly need to know Russian at all to make perfect sense of. In the top frame, Putin offers the quote that burned up the wires over the weekend, that he’s not bothered one bit by the “the marches.” In the bottom frame, the drill sergeant tells his boys they’re going on a 15 kilometer “march” this morning which doesn’t disturb the president a bit. It’s a lovely play on words, Putin loves this kind of “march” and, because of it, he doesn’t even see, much less get bothered by, the “other [Russia]” kind after this kind has cracked a few skulls and thrown a few hundred into the pokey.

Marchers Don’t Bother Putin One Bit

Another gem from the virtual pen of Ellustrator, and one which you hardly need to know Russian at all to make perfect sense of. In the top frame, Putin offers the quote that burned up the wires over the weekend, that he’s not bothered one bit by the “the marches.” In the bottom frame, the drill sergeant tells his boys they’re going on a 15 kilometer “march” this morning which doesn’t disturb the president a bit. It’s a lovely play on words, Putin loves this kind of “march” and, because of it, he doesn’t even see, much less get bothered by, the “other [Russia]” kind after this kind has cracked a few skulls and thrown a few hundred into the pokey.

Marchers Don’t Bother Putin One Bit

Another gem from the virtual pen of Ellustrator, and one which you hardly need to know Russian at all to make perfect sense of. In the top frame, Putin offers the quote that burned up the wires over the weekend, that he’s not bothered one bit by the “the marches.” In the bottom frame, the drill sergeant tells his boys they’re going on a 15 kilometer “march” this morning which doesn’t disturb the president a bit. It’s a lovely play on words, Putin loves this kind of “march” and, because of it, he doesn’t even see, much less get bothered by, the “other [Russia]” kind after this kind has cracked a few skulls and thrown a few hundred into the pokey.

Marchers Don’t Bother Putin One Bit

Another gem from the virtual pen of Ellustrator, and one which you hardly need to know Russian at all to make perfect sense of. In the top frame, Putin offers the quote that burned up the wires over the weekend, that he’s not bothered one bit by the “the marches.” In the bottom frame, the drill sergeant tells his boys they’re going on a 15 kilometer “march” this morning which doesn’t disturb the president a bit. It’s a lovely play on words, Putin loves this kind of “march” and, because of it, he doesn’t even see, much less get bothered by, the “other [Russia]” kind after this kind has cracked a few skulls and thrown a few hundred into the pokey.