Daily Archives: May 29, 2007

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Union: The Flames of Cold War, Raging and Roaring Already

In yet another stunning example of barbaric, Sovietesque, behavior, Russia crushed a gay pride parade that included a number of prominent foreigners, another clear indication that Russia wants a second cold war it cannot possibly even wage, much less win. Reuters reports:

A Gay Pride march in Moscow at which far-right activists kicked and punched the marchers was like a return to Soviet-era repression, British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell [pictured, center] said on Monday. Tatchell, who had a black eye after being punched during the march on Sunday, said police failed to intervene as marchers were attacked by nationalists shouting “death to homosexuals”. Police have denied ignoring the attacks. “The behaviour of the Moscow police was some of the worst I’ve ever experienced,” Tatchell told Reuters in an interview outside a Moscow police station where he filed a complaint about the assault on him. “The police stood back and allowed the fascist thugs to attack us. They made very few efforts to stop them.”

“(It) was very reminiscent of the repression by the police in the Brezhnev era of old-style Soviet Communism,” said Tatchell, referring to Leonid Brezhnev who led the Soviet Union throughout the 1970s.

“They (the police) seemed to be working hand in glove with the neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists to get them to bash us. But either way, the end result was the same. We got arrested, we got bashed, and most of the assailants walked free.” A Moscow police official, who did not want to be identified, said officers had detained many of the assailants and pulled gay rights activists to safety when they were attacked. “As far as they were able, and depending on the situation as it developed, the police ensured the safety of citizens regardless of their political and other interests,” the official said. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has called gay marches “satanic”, refused permission to hold the parade. Riot police detained dozens of gay rights protesters, including two members of the European parliament. France expressed its dissatisfaction at the violence. “We regret the arrest of national and European Parliament elected representatives, who have since been released, as well as of several homosexual Russian activists. We ask for the latter to be released,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Tatchell said the treatment of the Gay Pride march was a symptom of a wider crackdown on democratic freedoms in Russia. “I think we need to say very loud and clear to President (Vladimir) Putin that Russia is welcome in the European family of nations,” the campaigner said. “But that includes responsibilities, including respect for gay and lesbian human rights and including defence of the right to protest and freedom of expression.”

As if that were not enough provocation for one day, Russia also test-fired a MiRV ICBM that can discharge multiple warheads from a single rocket, seeking to overwhelm defensive capabilities, and made more noises about withdrawing from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty as well. It’s hard to imagine how Russia could be conducting itself any more provocatively, walking directly in the footsteps of the USSR as it reignites cold war with a whole host of countries each of which bests Russia economically and without a single ally of its own.

And the Russians still weren’t done. Even as they refused to extradite the man Britain has alleged killed a neo-Soviet dissident on British soil and took actions that could have killed hundreds of innocent British citizens, yet another physical attack was launched on a British diplomat. The Guardian reports:

A senior British diplomat has been beaten by two unidentified assailants while on an official trip in provincial Russia. Nigel Gould-Davies, first secretary at the British embassy in Moscow, was attacked at 1am on Saturday as he walked across the theatre square in the Siberian city of Chita, police said. Mr Gould-Davies needed hospital treatment for bruises to his face. His glasses were broken in the attack and he was unable to see his assailants, police said.The beating is the second assault on Britons in Russia in two days, and follows an attack on Sunday by anti-homosexual protesters on the British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Mr Tatchell was punched, knocked to the ground, and kicked while protesting about gay rights with a group of European parliamentarians. Yesterday embassy officials described the attack on Mr Gould-Davies as a random assault carried out by drunken teenagers celebrating the end of the school year.

But the assault follows sustained state-sponsored harassment by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi against Anthony Brenton, Britain’s ambassador in Moscow. Activists have picketed the British embassy, disrupted meetings and jumped in front of the ambassador’s car. The campaign started last summer after Mr Brenton attended a human rights conference. Mr Gould-Davies was at the end of a two-week lecture tour in Siberia. The diplomat had given lectures to university students on globalisation, and had also met with regional officials. Chita, 3,760 miles east of Moscow, is home to Russia’s most famous inmate – Mikhail Khordorkovsky. Khordorkovsky was jailed for eight years for tax evasion and fraud in a case widely seen as politically motivated, and as punishment for his role in funding opposition parties ahead of 2003 Duma elections.

Embassy officials yesterday said there was no link between Mr Gould-Davies’s trip and Khordorkovsky. An embassy spokesman said: “We can confirm that an assault took place against a British diplomat in Chita. We are in close contact with him. We look to the authorities to ensure that the perpetrators are caught.” In Moscow, three Russian gay activists appeared in court yesterday following Sunday’s demonstrations, which saw the arrest of 25 campaigners, including the German Green MP Volker Beck and the Italian MEP Marco Cappato. The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, yesterday wrote to Moscow’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, urging him to lift the ban on gay parades in the city that prompted Sunday’s protest. He also called for all charges against the gay rights demonstrators to be dropped. “I am writing to convey my deep concern at the reported physical violence against and arrest of Peter Tatchell,” Mr Livingstone wrote, adding that gay parades were now “the practice in most cities around the world”.

Yesterday Mr Tatchell said he was still recovering. He said the Moscow police had “stood and watched” while far-right skinheads kicked him to the ground and punched him. “Even today I’m woozy. My eyesight is pretty poor. It’s difficult to see clearly,” he told the Guardian. “It’s almost on a par with the beating I received at the hands of Robert Mugabe’s thugs in 2001. This time I wasn’t knocked unconscious and left in the gutter. But I ended up with a much bloodier face and severe bruising and swelling.” Mr Tatchell yesterday registered a complaint about his treatment with Moscow police. Officials, however, defended the actions of riot police. “The city authorities did the right thing by prohibiting the parade and thus preventing clashes between opponents who are numerous in this country and advocates of sexual minorities,” said Mikhail Solomentsev, a spokesman for Moscow’s mayor.

These actions would be shocking from any other industrialized nation, but from Russia they are just the status quo ante. We’ve seen this type of ape-like barbarism so many times from the USSR that the only surprising thing is that it wasn’t even worse.

Truly, the speed at which Russia is plunging down the self-destructive path of renewed Soviet-style dictatorship is amazing, one of the most stunning events of modern human history. And remember, you read about it here first!

Dissident Bukovsky Will Seek Presidency

BBJ reports:

Russia’s opposition has nominated a former Soviet dissident living in London as its single candidate to run for president in Russia next year.

“The emergence of an initiative group to advance the famous writer and former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky as a candidate for the presidency in Russia was announced in Moscow May 28,” the group said in a statement. Bukovsky, 65, who spent a total of 12 years in Soviet prisons, is a co-founder of Committee 2008, along with chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov, liberal politician Boris Nemtsov and others. The organization the opposition says is designed to ensure free presidential elections in 2008. Bukovsky has agreed to stand: “I cannot promise happiness to our people. A long and difficult road toward recovery is before us. We could well fail to cope. But if this nation has the courage to appeal to people like me, we are willing to try.”

Bukovsky was imprisoned several times for organizing poetry meetings in central Moscow and the first demonstration in 40 years in the early 1960s. And in 1970, he managed to smuggle evidence of the use of Soviet psychiatric hospitals as prisons to the West. In 1976, Bukovsky was exchanged for former Chilean Communist leader Luis Corvalan in Switzerland. Bukovsky, who has lived in Cambridge doing neurophysiology research and publishing books since 1976, came to Moscow in 1991 during Boris Yeltsin’s campaign for presidency as an expert to testify at a Communist Party trial. He was considered a potential vice-presidential running mate for Yeltsin. He has also been offered a chance to run for mayor in a post-Soviet Moscow, but refused.

President Vladimir Putin, who has been increasingly criticized in the West for his democratic record but rather popular within Russia, has repeatedly declined the possibility of his staying in office for a third term, but is widely expected to name his successor, who is likely to win polls in March 2008.

This is a powerful ideological statement, underlining the neo-Soviet character of modern Russia in the strongest way possible. But on the other hand it can be viewed as a blunder, since choosing a candidate who doesn’t even live in Russia and lacks the political experience of a Kasyanov or Illarionov undermines his group’s credibility, making it seem as if they’ve given up before they’ve even started. As well, if Kasyanov or Illarionov or Kasparov actually get into the ring, it will divide the opposition. The Moscow Times has more:

Vladimir Bukovsky, the prominent Soviet-era dissident, will run for president in 2008, a group of his supporters said Monday. Bukovsky, who was deported from the Soviet Union in 1976 and now lives in Britain, said in a statement that he wanted to run because he would like to reverse unfair court verdicts and “a man is suffocating in prison” — an apparent reference to Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “I cannot promise happiness to our people. Maybe polonium-210 awaits me. But this won’t stop me,” Bukovsky said in a statement released by his supporters. The supporters include Yury Ryzhov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; opposition journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.; political scientists Andrei Piontkovsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky; and Roman Dobrokhotov, leader of the opposition youth group My. They called on all opposition groups to back Bukovsky’s candidacy. Bukovsky was a friend of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who British prosecutors believe was poisoned with polonium-210 planted by former security services agent Andrei Lugovoi last year. Lugovoi denies the charge. Several opposition leaders have already expressed interest in running for president next year, including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko. Bukovsky, 64, spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities in the 1960s and 1970s. Soviet authorities agreed to let him leave the country in exchange for the release of Chilean communist leader Luis Alberto Corvalan Castillo by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1976. He is the author of several books, including “To Build a Castle” and “Judgment in Moscow.”

Other Russia plans two more major dissent marches, one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow, for early June. Its position on the above is not yet clear.

Hoagland on Litvinenko

Ace Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland (pictured) takes Russia to task on Litvinenko:

Russia’s refusal to extradite the prime suspect in the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London last November reveals the essential amorality of the Putin regime and its false narrative of recent history. That narrative increasingly undermines the Kremlin’s relations with Europe and the United States.

Stalin is credited with the view that one man’s death is a tragedy, a million a statistic. President Vladimir Putin seems not to grasp his predecessor’s point. Britain drives it home by focusing on Litvinenko’s death as a straightforward murder investigation driven by rules of evidence and elemental police work rather than an international casus belli.

Mysteries still surround the elimination of Litvinenko, a former KGB security officer and Putin critic who existed on the fringes of London’s shadowy world of spies, ex-spies and dissidents. Where did the radioactive poison that he ingested originate? How was it administered? What were the exact motives in his killing? These questions remain publicly unanswered.

But a murder case, especially when it is investigated by Scotland Yard, rivets and illuminates public attention. The brazenness demonstrated in the Litvinenko affair means that Russia “has again become unpredictable, controlled by a narrow clique with a false view of the world and of Russia,” writes French strategist Therese Delpech in the new English-language edition of “Savage Century,” her penetrating look at the ideological and political confusion that has followed the Cold War.

Much of the grief in trans-Atlantic relations of the past decade has stemmed from the conflicting narratives that the United States and Europe wove about the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a new Russia.

Triumphal Americans — the Bush administration has been overstocked with them — celebrated Ronald Reagan’s defense spending and confrontational strategy as the keys to Western “victory.” European leaders, led by Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder and France’s Jacques Chirac, gave all the credit to the Helsinki peace process and other diplomatic maneuvers that allegedly enshrined reason as the arbiter of Russian and international politics.

Both narratives obscured the reality of the internal collapse of an overextended empire — and left Russian reformers and gangsters to battle each other for control of a wildly lurching ship of state. In the confusion, the personalization of power replaced consistent policy prescriptions for the Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 administrations.

“As long as they got along” with Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin or Putin, Western leaders “saw no reason to worry,” Delpeche writes. “We can now observe the results of that policy. Western influence on Russia is nonexistent.”

Putin offers his own narrative to muddy the waters even more. It is a narrative of his regime rescuing the country from a chaos that was deliberately injected, like a virus, into Mother Russia by the West. His regime has turned its oil and gas reserves and its role as a monopoly energy supplier for much of Europe into real power that makes Russia invulnerable and gives it commanding status over a weakening West. It is in the name of Russia that his regime treats with open contempt Britain’s extradition demands or Germany’s attempts to negotiate a “strategic framework.”

But that harsh narrative is beginning to backfire, as Blair’s firm stand on the Litvinenko case suggests. So does the surprisingly sharp direct criticism of Putin at the May 18 European Union-Russia summit, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly dressed Putin down for suppressing dissent at home.

Merkel comes to her suspicion of Putin naturally. She grew up in the communist East German state where the Russian leader served as a spy. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian aristocrat who fled communist rule, has replaced Chirac as president. Gordon Brown will inherit Blair’s concern and resentment about the Litvinenko affair. Personal relations and experiences pull Europe’s big three countries away from — not toward — Moscow now.

This presents an opportunity to close the trans-Atlantic narrative gap and for Europe and North America to deal with Russia on a new, more realistic basis. We should work with Putin where possible and necessary, without ever paying the price of soft-pedaling his excesses or abuses at home and abroad.

“Americans have had a tendency to rely too much on hard power, and Europeans too much on soft power,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on a visit to Washington last week. “It is time for each of us to borrow from the other and for both to become more effective, working together.”