Daily Archives: June 1, 2007

Now, the Neo-Soviet Book Burning Begins

The Moscow Times reports:

Two books critical of President Vladimir Putin have been deemed extremist in the Krasnodar region, and Moscow city prosecutors are conducting an investigation of their own. The books are “Unloved Country” and “For the Motherland! For Abramovich! Fire!” by Andrei Piontkovsky, a political scientist and leading member of the liberal Yabloko party.

Krasnodar city prosecutors issued a warning to Yabloko’s local branch on May 14 saying an examination of the books had established that they contained, among other things, calls for actions “of a violent nature.” Prosecutors said the branch could be liquidated if did not cease distributing extremist literature, according to a copy of the warning obtained by The Moscow Times. The investigation came at the behest of the Krasnodar region branch of the Federal Security Service, prosecutors wrote in the warning. Meanwhile, Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky District prosecutor’s office is investigating whether the books are extremist, City Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Valentina Titova said Wednesday.

Yabloko spokeswoman Yevgenia Dillendorf said prosecutors had sent the party an inquiry as to whether it had financed the publishing and distribution of the books. She said, however, that the party had not been informed that Moscow prosecutors were determining whether the books are extremist. Piontkovsky, a former columnist for The Moscow Times, was in the United States and could not immediately be reached for comment.

How long until they start arresting the authors and sending them off to the gulag?

Bovt Speaks

Writing in the Moscow Times, Georgy Bovt — as we previously reported, recently terminated from his positions in Russian media establishments as part of a Kremlin powerplay against this ferocious critic of the Putin dictatorship — fills in the details on the Russian media quagmire. Unfortunately, he gives no further information about his termination.

Staffers at one of this country’s more official newspapers told me recently that their editor had been dressed down by the Kremlin for allowing the phrase “Fradkov instructed Medvedev” to appear in an article about a Cabinet meeting.

Instructing someone is slightly less forceful than ordering them to do something, yet to the Kremlin’s way of thinking, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov cannot even give instructions to First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who until recently was considered President Vladimir Putin’s likely successor. Medvedev may be a member of the Cabinet, but he’s off on his own with the national projects.

It’s hard to know what verb the Kremlin would prefer: asked, implored, entreated. Or perhaps Fradkov is forbidden to do anything of the sort. For now, the Kremlin can only give instructions like this to official publications; the rest retain a certain amount of editorial freedom. As the State Duma and presidential elections approach, however, the authorities will step up their efforts to bring the media to heel.

These efforts take various forms: browbeating by telephone, excluding reporters from pools for major events, and squeezing the owners of media companies financially and otherwise. The companies that resist, encounter problems finding advertisers or are acquired by new owners loyal to the Kremlin. Sometimes a change of management is enough to alter a company’s editorial line.

Until recently it was thought that the authorities only cared about television. Then even the smallest, serious newspapers came under ideological surveillance. Next came the influential magazines. As a result, some of the hardest-hitting political articles are now found in glossy magazines, which apparently fly under the Kremlin’s radar. Next up: the Internet. A number of notable court cases have demonstrated that even postings in private blogs can be classified as extremism or slander against high-ranking public officials.

At the same time, the Kremlin’s ideologues are becoming more touchy and capricious. It used to be that the top dogs would take offense at direct accusations or insults. Then they began to complain about coverage that deviated from the party line. Now their feathers get ruffled when the media neglect to cover certain events, such as Nashi marches.

Take the recent U.S. congressional report on the state of human rights in Russia. The report was covered by nearly every publication and television station in the country, and they all presented it as meddling in Russia’s internal affairs. The actual state of human rights in this country doesn’t make the nightly news these days. But media outlets that didn’t cover the report got an earful from the higher-ups.

When top media professionals talk off the record about the current ideological climate and the authorities’ increasingly over-the-top responses to things they wouldn’t have given a second thought to in the past, they use words like absurdity and paranoia. Very often this is true, mostly because no one can figure out what the Kremlin is trying to achieve. No coherent ideological position can be discerned behind the demands to give front-page coverage to one story and pointedly to ignore another. What we have is more an ever-changing succession of bans, taboos, discussions and protests — aimed mostly at the West these days.

So what is it we want, folks? Sovereign democracy, the theory concocted by Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, cannot be considered a coherent program for social progress because it is little more than a rejection of Western democratic values. Surkov made little effort to come up with a new, integral system of Russian values. The defining characteristic of Russian ideology today is that the people who are trying to formulate and manipulate it are capable only of rejection and negation.

They have nothing positive to offer. And that’s why they’re getting nervous.


Russia: Guilty of Mass Murder in Sudan

The New York Times editorial for May 30th:

Behind-the-scenes diplomacy has done nothing to stop the slaughter of innocents in Darfur. For months, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations and other international leaders have been claiming that Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was ready to halt further attacks by the Sudanese armed forces and its janjaweed militia allies and accept a robust international protective force. Instead, Mr. Bashir and his henchmen have used those months to kill still more people and drive others from their homes.

Yesterday, President Bush rightly served notice that America has finally run out of patience with Mr. Bashir’s duplicity and will press the international community to stand up to the genocide.

Washington, which already has sanctions in place against Sudan’s government and state-owned companies, will now expand the reach and strengthen the enforcement of those sanctions and will also penalize Sudanese government officials directly involved in Darfur policy. The European Union, Russia and China should do the same. The more universal the economic pressure, the more likely that Sudan’s government will yield to it voluntarily.

Mr. Bush also called for a new Security Council resolution, to give the sanctions the force of international law. The resolution should also authorize an internationally enforced ban on offensive Sudanese military flights over Darfur.

At least 200,000 of Darfur’s people have already been killed and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes. More diplomatic dawdling, without strengthened international economic and military pressure, would condemn the survivors to the same fate.

Sudan’s apologists — most notably China, Russia and South Africa — have protected Mr. Bashir and his government from any serious punishment until now. If they continue to resist strong United Nations action and deny the reality of genocide in Darfur, many more people will needlessly die. And the blame will not be Mr. Bashir’s alone.

Annals of the Beslan Coverup

Robert Amsterdam on the Beslan coverup (if Estonia moves a monument, Russians want blood; if Russian police kill Russian children with gross negligence, they get amnesty and Russians meekly approve):

Yesterday a local court in Beslan, Russia, granted amnesty to three policemen who had stood trial for criminal negligence in their handling of the 2004 school hostage crisis, opening up old wounds of what is indisputably the most reprehensible terrorist act in contemporary Russian history.

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A woman mourns at the memorial wall dedicated to the victims of the School No. 1 hostage crisis in Beslan

Women who lost relatives in Beslan rioted in court after amnesty was given

The verdict was met with outrage by victims’ groups, who allege a government cover up in the botched rescue attempt. Reports indicate that about 25 women who lost their children and relatives in the crisis erupted into a small riot, smashing courtroom windows, overturning furniture, and tearing down a Federation flag. Many observers were furious over the irregular procedures of the trial:

“The victims’ patience has run out. We think the justice system … is forcing us to take such steps because they have no interest in uncovering the truth about the Beslan tragedy,” said one of the women, Susanna Dudiyeva. … Dudiyeva, who lost a child in the siege and is one of the leaders of the Beslan Mothers campaign group, said the trial of the three policemen had been a whitewash designed to protect their superiors from blame.

She said her group did not recognise the court’s ruling because it was not made in the courtroom and the defendants were not present. “The trial should carry on until its conclusion, with the accused present,” she said.

“All the witnesses should be heard to determine the degree of guilt of each of them, and to find out all the reasons for this crime and all the reasons for this tragedy, to extract lessons from all of this.”

It is understandable that the Russian government may prefer to have this tragedy simply be forgotten – like the Kursk and the Nord Ost theatre stand-off, the president performs extremely poorly during times of crisis. So while the country’s main television stations played Brazilian soap operas and the movie “Die Hard” during the bloodiest sequences of the battle for the school, and spread considerable disinformation during the brief news reports (including lies about the number of hostages, the identity of the terrorists, and details about the rescue effort), the president took a little more than an entire day and a half to address the nation after the conclusion of the tragedy. The government’s handling of the Beslan crisis exhibited all of the traits that we would come to know so well over the years in dozens of circumstances – secrecy, opacity, dishonesty, and opportunism. The president used the opportunity to rail against Russia’s “weakness” as the cause of the Beslan tragedy, fondly invoking the authoritarian benefits and imposed ideological unity of the Soviet Union. Here’s an excerpt of the speech he gave:

Russia has lived through many tragic events and terrible ordeals over the course of its history. Today, we live in a time that follows the collapse of a vast and great state, a state that, unfortunately, proved unable to survive in a rapidly changing world. But despite all the difficulties, we were able to preserve the core of what was once the vast Soviet Union, and we named this new country the Russian Federation.

We all hoped for change, change for the better. But many of the changes that took place in our lives found us unprepared. Why ?

We are living at a time of an economy in transition, of a political system that does not yet correspond to the state and level of our society’s development.

We are living through a time when internal conflicts and interethnic divisions that were once firmly suppressed by the ruling ideology have now flared up.

We stopped paying the required attention to defence and security issues and we allowed corruption to undermine our judicial and law enforcement system.

Furthermore, our country, formerly protected by the most powerful defence system along the length of its external frontiers overnight found itself defenceless both from the east and the west.

It will take many years and billions of roubles to create new, modern and genuinely protected borders.

But even so, we could have been more effective if we had acted professionally and at the right moment.

In general, we need to admit that we did not fully understand the complexity and the dangers of the processes at work in our own country and in the world. In any case, we proved unable to react adequately. We showed ourselves to be weak. And the weak get beaten.

Following this speech, the president’s well-timed proposal to abolish gubernatorial elections and centralize power by appointing the regions’s representatives himself was met with great acclaim by the weary and grief-stricken populace. While most news reports cite the final count of victims around 330 (more than half of which were children), it is impossible to measure the collateral damage of Beslan suffered by the entire population of Russia in terms of their democratic freedoms, and the painfully obvious demonstration that their broadcast news is under tight government control.

Neo-Soviet Russia Gone Utterly Amok

If this doesn’t prove without a shred of doubt that we are looking at a neo-Soviet Union, nothing will. The Associated Press reports that the accused killer of Alexander Litvinenko, Andrei Lugovoi, is now accusing the British secret service of killing Litvinenko (and in so doing spreading toxic radioactive poison, which came from Russia, all around London). If the USSR were still in existence, this is exactly what we would have expected to occur.

The Russian businessman whom Britain has named as a suspect in the killing of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko said Thursday that he has evidence of British special services’ involvement in the poisoning death. “Even if (British special services) hadn’t done it itself, it was done under its control or connivance,” Andrei Lugovoi told a news conference. Asked if he had evidence for the allegation, he said “I have evidence” but did not elaborate. A British government security official, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing Lugovoi’s claims because of the sensitivity of the case, said suggestions British intelligence had involvement in Litvinenko’s death were spurious.

Britain last week said it had enough evidence to charge Lugovoi, who also worked for the KGB and its main successor agency the FSB, in the November killing of Litvinenko. Litvinenko, who died of poisoning by the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210, had fled to Britain several years earlier after becoming a strong critic of the Kremlin and received British citizenship. Lugovoi and another Russian had met in London with Litvinenko on Nov. 1, the day Litvinenko said he became ill. Britain has requested Lugovoi’s extradition, but Russia has refused, saying the constitution does not permit such extraditions. Lugovoi has repeatedly asserted he is innocent in the matter. On Thursday, Lugovoi also claimed that Britain had tried to recruit him to provide intelligence. British special services “asked me to collect compromising information on President (Vladimir) Putin,” Lugovoi said.

Lugovoi said the attempted recruitment occurred during business trips to Britain in previous years. He did not give a precise date, but indicated the alleged approach occurred in late 2005 or early 2006. London’s Foreign Office, responsible for the country’s overseas secret intelligence service MI6, declined to comment on Lugovoi’s claim. But another government official with knowledge of Lugovoi, who also demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the allegations were untrue.

MSNBC has more:

Andrei Lugovoi, the Russian accused by the UK of murdering Alexander Litvinenko has claimed he has evidence that British intelligence was involved in the poisoning of the former KGB officer. Mr Lugovoi said he believed the UK intelligence services or Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian tycoon, were more likely suspects in Litvinenko’s death last November than he was. In a dramatic 90-minute press conference in Moscow, Mr Lugovoi alleged that both Litvinenko and Mr Berezovsky worked for UK intelligence. He also said that British agents had tried to recruit him to collect compromising material on Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mr Lugovoi’s comments, carried live on Russian television, came after the UK said last week it had enough evidence to charge him with the murder of Litvinenko, who died last November of poisoning with radioactive polonium-210. British prosecutors handed over a dossier on the case to the Russian authorities last Monday. “I would like to make an announcement which should shed some light on this murky political story, in which the main roles were played by British secret services and their agents Berezovsky and the late Litvinenko,” Mr Lugovoi said. Mr. Berezovsky denied any involvement in the Litvinenko murder and said that Mr Lugovoi “was acting on Kremlin instruction”. “Following Andrei Lugovoy’s press conference in Moscow this morning, it is now clearer than ever that the Kremlin is behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Everything about Mr Lugovoy’s words and presentation made it obvious that he is acting on Kremlin instruction.” “The UK authorities know very well who their MI6 agents are in the UK and so they know that I am not one of them.”

The British Foreign Office declined comment on Mr Lugovoi’s allegations, but said the case was a criminal not intelligence matter. “A request for the extradition of Mr Lugovoy to face trial in a UK court has been handed over. We await the formal Russian response,” a foreign office spokesman said. “This is a criminal matter and is not an issue about intelligence. A British citizen was killed in London and UK citizens and visitors were put at risk.” Litvinenko himself, in a signed statement he was said to have dictated on his deathbed, accused Mr Putin and the Russian security services of being behind his murder. Mr Lugovoi and Russian business associate, Dmitry Kovtun, met Litvinenko in London on the day he fell ill.

But Mr Lugovoi insisted the real killers and motives were to be found in the UK. He said he and Mr Kovtun were not only innocent, but were victims of the case themselves, having been contaminated with polonium. He said he was being made a “scapegoat” for the murder by the UK, and that traces of polonium found in various locations visited by him and Mr Kovtun had been put there to incriminate them. Mr Lugovoi is himself a former KGB officer who now runs security and consumer goods businesses in Russia. He alleged Litvinenko had told him he was working for MI6, but said he believed the exiled Russian may have fallen out with his handlers. “I cannot escape the thought that Litvinenko was an agent who had got out of control and they got rid of him,” he said. Asked if he had evidence of British intelligence involvement, Mr Lugovoi responded “I have,” but refused to elaborate. He also alleged that Litvinenko was attempting to blackmail Mr Berezovsky with what Litvinenko claimed was compromising material that could jeopardise Mr Berezovsky’s political asylum status in the UK. Mr Lugovoi said British intelligence had attempted to recruit him on one of his previous trips to the UK. “[They] proposed that I collect materials to discredit Vladimir Putin and his family,” he said.

So there you have it. Litvineko was a British agent, and the BRITISH killed him because he was “out of control.” He “has evidence” but won’t share it. And he chooses to mention this only after he gets indicted for murder, and refuses to face justice. It’s hard to believe these events are real, that they are not part of some silly comedy invented by Hollywood. Do real people actually act this way? Do they actually think they can fool other people in doing so? Perhaps only if they ar Russians.

La Russophobe dares to wonder which would be more pathetic and horrifying: (a) that these are boldfaced lies and the Kremlin knows it, and they believe the Western world can be fooled by such ludicrous, ham-handed neo-Soviet tactics; (b) that the Kremlin, consumed by frenzied paranoia and cut off from all hint of genuine information, actually believes Boris Berezovsky is a British agent and that the British killed Litivinenko.