Daily Archives: June 20, 2007

June 20, 2007 — Contents


(1) The Return of the Neo-Soviet Rumor Mill

(2) Star Wars II: The Final Conflict

(3) Powell vs. Nikonov: Does Russia Need to be Civilized?

(4) Putin the Oyster

(5) The Mailbag

NOTE: Check out La Ruspohobe‘s latest installment on Publius Pundit regarding the possiblity that Russia is delivering attack aircraft to Syria, and feel free to comment on how the West can best meet this new Russian threat.

The Return of the Neo-Soviet Rumor Mill

Writing in Windows on Eurasia, blogger Paul Goble explains how the neo-Soviet rumor mill is imperiling Russian survival:

In Soviet times, intense government censorship meant that many people living in the USSR were forced to rely on rumors, reliable or not, as one of their most important sources of information about things the Communist regime did not want them to know or talk about. Such rumors, however, typically had a limited impact because they depended on informal, face-to-face contacts. But now, as the Putin regime tightens its control of media reporting, rumors are once again an important source of news for Russians – and now these rumors are being spread more widely and effectively by the Internet.

The dangers of this situation, one that combines an increasingly unfree public media with a still more or less free Internet one, have been very much on public view over the last ten days following clashes many have described as ethnic in the southern Russian city of Stavropol. In an article posted on Friday, Galina Kozhevnikova, the deputy director of the religious and human rights SOVA Center, pointed to the dangers that are arising from the Kremlin’s failure to allow journalists to cover honestly ethnic and religious clashes, among other things. Saying that she did not believe that “the situation in Stavropol is in principle different from the situation in an average city of Russia,” Kozhevnikova said that Moscow’s unwillingness to cover problems in the first virtually guaranteed that people would be prepared to believe that there are similar problems elsewhere.

That is something xenophobic Russian nationalists are exploiting, she noted, arguing that “the appetites” of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration are “growing as is growing the inadequacy of the reaction of the mass media” under the control of the central government. Were the Russian media freer, she suggested, journalists would be able not only to report accurately on what is going on but also to be in a position to make critical distinctions between genuine ethnic clashes and those with other sources and to have the authority to be believed. But because that is not the case now, xenophobic nationalists like those around DPNI have every reason to believe that their claims will be accepted – simply because they can put stories up on the Internet that at least some more responsible outlets may report without in every case being able to check DPNI claims for accuracy. That happened last week when DPNI’s Aleksandr Belov picked up a blogger report of ethnic clashes in Omsk. His claims were then disseminated on a number of sites, including several with large numbers of visitors, without being immediately challenged. But as Kozhevnikova argued and as an article in “Ekspert Online” today documents, the Omsk story was in whole or in part dreamed up by the extremist nationalists for their own purposes – propagandizing the notion that Russians are under threat.

Unfortunately, this is far from the only case where reports about supposed clashes the authorities do not respond to or allow to be reported on have surfaced on the Russian Internet. Indeed, in the last week, there was yet another: an unconfirmed report that the Northern nationalists had seized key institutions in Yakutsk. This report suggested that something called “the United Shamanate of the North” had taken over the Sakha capital as part of its campaign to unite all the peoples of the North into a single entity and combine them with the peoples of Alaska and Canada.

Few people are likely to believe this report, given both its provenance – the website involved is known for its provocatory articles – and its fancifulness – it includes an interview with someone identified as “Chukut Kuzhug, the supreme Shaman.” But given how little information comes from Russia’s distant periphery, some may. And that raises a serious question the Kremlin has been unwilling to confront: Can Russia avoid disaster if its public media are under the control of the government while its Internet is far freer, sometimes irresponsible, but often believed because the former fail to report what is going on or have the authority to counter inaccuracies found in the latter.

Star Wars, Part II: The Final Conflict

You wouldn’t think it would be possible for a country so recently destroyed by a futile attempt to compete with the mighty economies of the West in a space-based arms race to once again launch itself into exactly the same crazed behavior — but then again, you wouldn’t think it would be possible for a country to once again empower the same KGB that murdered more of its citizens than its foreign enemies. Yet, this is Russian reality. America alone has an economy at least 12 times larger than Russia’s and twice the population, and America is part of the NATO alliance that confronts Russia with resources that completely dwarf Russia’s. Yet, Russia’s deluded, pathological “leaders” want Star Wars, Round II. The Associated Press reports:

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov on Tuesday called for the development of space-based defence systems to defend against ‘any scenario of events,’ less than a month after Moscow tested two new missiles perceived as a response to US missile defence plans. ‘It’s possible to expect that in the foreseeable future the main goals of war will be achieved on account of air and space intelligence and strikes,’ said Ivanov, who is considered a possible successor to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2008. ‘Although the likelihood of military actions against Russia in the foreseeable future is minimal, we must be ready for any scenarios of the development of events,’ he added during a meeting of the Russian government’s Military-Industrial Commission in Moscow, Interfax said. Ivanov did not elaborate on what sort of systems would need to be created. He added that Russia had approved an outline for long-term air and space defence in April and that ‘concrete, practical steps’ needed to be taken to carry out that document and ‘create an effective, consolidating and coordinating mechanism for the conducting of an entire complex of works in the sphere of air and space defence.’

The country’s most prominent satellite effort to date has been its Glonass system of satellites designed as a Russian answer to GPS. Russia wants to have 24 satellites orbiting by 2010; currently, 17 are in orbit, but some of them do not transmit a signal. Six launches are planned for 2007. Ivanov’s comments came months after China destroyed one of its own orbiting satellites with a rocket, becoming the first country to attack a satellite since the Soviet Union and United States did so in the early to mid-1980s. Both before and after Beijing’s test-launch in January, China and Russia have been among the most vocal opponents of space weaponry, calling for the United States to ban the use of space weapons. The two nations told the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament in February that ‘the notion that introducing the threat of force into outer space could be a sustainable way of securing strategic advantage and legitimate defence objectives is fundamentally flawed.’ Ivanov on Tuesday said it was ‘not a secret for anybody that in recent decades space and air apparatus have been widely used for reconnaissance and attack during conduct of military actions.’ Russia last month tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a short-range strategic missile, an action Putin hinted was related to Russia’s opposition to US plans to construct a missile defence shield in Europe.

Kremlin leaders have promised Russia would find an ‘asymmetric response’ to the missile shield, which Washington says is directed at Iranian and North Korean rockets. Putin last month said a new arms race had begun. Ivanov in February said Russia’s 300 billion-ruble (11.3 billion- dollar) 2007 military budget would allow for 17 ICBMs and four ‘military space apparatuses,’ which he did not elaborate on. Russia’s coffers are flushed with billions amid high oil prices, and Ivanov in February said five trillion rubles (188 billion dollars) would be put toward military equipment by 2015.

Powell v. Nikonov: Does Russia Need to be Civilized?

The Moscow Times reports:

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell [pictured, left, smiling warmly] called on the Russian leadership Monday to put its faith in the people and bolster the role of the media if it wants to build a real democracy. Soon after his keynote speech at an investment conference, Kremlin-connected political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov [pictured below, right, scowling menacingly] told the investors that Russians did not need democracy and that the era of President Vladimir Putin was just beginning.

Walking a tightrope between praising Russia’s post-Soviet progress and encouraging the government to open up, General Powell reiterated Washington’s line that the Cold War was over and U.S. military expansion would not hurt Russia. He told reporters later that Putin’s recent proposal to share a radar station in Azerbaijan would not “derail” U.S. missile defense plans in Central Europe. Calling Putin a colleague and a friend, Powell told the conference that political pluralism needed to take root in the country and that people should be allowed to speak out. “Democracy has to be a noisy system,” he said, adding that the media should have an opportunity to challenge the government on any occasion. In a nod to Winston Churchill, Powell likened democracy to a life raft and the waves and winds pushing it to people. “And people have to be trusted,” Powell, the guest of honor at the conference organized by Renaissance Capital, told the packed hall. “And the trust comes from an open political process.” In the eyes of some Western governments, Putin has stifled political opposition, deprived people of an opportunity to elect officials in free and fair elections and neutered the media.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Fund, a think tank, told the hall later that Russians did not need democracy, citing data from polling agencies. “Democracy doesn’t feature among the problems Russians are worried about,” he said. Nikonov, the grandson of Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, said Putin did not want to be seen as a Russian version of late Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who changed his country’s constitution to stay on, and would therefore step down in 2008 but remain a major decision-maker. “My prediction is that Putin will not hold any post but will be a decisive force in the Russian politics,” he said, adding Putin might seek the presidency again in 2012. “All of us are at the beginning of Putin’s era and not at all in its concluding phase,” Nikonov said, noting that Putin — who would be the first Russian leader to voluntarily step down while remaining hugely popular with his constituents — might become a Russian version of China’s Deng Xiaoping or Britain’s Winston Churchill.

In a similar vein, Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, a big business lobby group, said upcoming national elections did not bother the business community because the outcomes would be predictable and the platforms of the country’s political parties largely suited business’ interests. Nikonov said he was 80 percent sure that First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev would be elected as the next president and continue Putin’s policies, but added that he could not rule out the emergence of a third candidate. His remarks echoed Putin’s aide, Igor Shuvalov, who said in Washington last week that the president might reveal a surprise choice for his preferred successor and that he did not want to be compared to Niyazov. Nikonov said Putin might indicate his preferred successor by naming him prime minister toward year’s end.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Nikonov had expressed his personal opinion, even though he was “in constant touch” with the presidential administration. Peskov sidestepped a question about whether Nikonov’s predictions were accurate. Nikonov said relations between Russia and the West would neither improve nor deteriorate in the near future, saying the West should realize that Russia — like Turkey or Japan — was just different. That reference took some Japanese investors by surprise. “That’s quite a mysterious comment,” said Kazunori Watanabe, manager at London-based Mizuho International, an investment banking arm of Japan’s Mizuho Financial Group. Watanabe said he would “probably increase” his investments into Russian companies, despite political uncertainties such as TNK-BP’s possible loss of its license for the Kovykta gas field. “Putin’s activities are quite unpredictable,” he said.

Bob Foresman, deputy chairman of Renaissance Capital, said on the sidelines of the conference that the bank had wanted to give a “platform to different opinions” and that Nikonov represented “an opinion which is shared by more than a couple of people” in Russia. Timothy Brenton, a political analyst at the bank, said he had in the past set up meetings between clients and Nikonov and another Kremlin-connected analyst, Sergei Markov, because the investors had wanted to hear what was really happening in the country from “a well-connected insider.” “Clients don’t necessarily agree with him,” he said of Nikonov. But “he’s very honest.” Nikonov was the only political analyst at a conference session titled “Politics and Economics” on Monday.

Powell, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the conference, insisted that businesspeople were interested in the rule of law and therefore should help create democracy. “Sometimes being a nag is the best form of friendship,” said Powell, who previously visited Russia as secretary of state in January 2004. Powell had a closed-door meeting with Renaissance Capital clients after his speech and then promptly left.

Putin the Oyster

The Moscow Times reports:

German journalists have awarded President Vladimir Putin with their Closed Oyster prize for “continued obstruction of the free press in Russia.”

“Putin is a flawless opponent of press freedom and relentlessly suppresses uncomfortable truths,” said Thomas Leif of Netzwerk Recherche, the German journalists association that confers the annual prize to highlight impediments to the work of investigative reporters. Heribert Prantl, one of Germany’s most prominent political journalists, said in a laudation published Monday that Putin viewed himself the “caretaker of Russia’s frailty” and would not allow this task to be complicated by a critical press or an independent justice system. “Freedom of information in Russia means being free to love Putin. … Freedom of the press means being free to write what Putin likes,” wrote Prantl, a journalist with Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Putin skipped the award ceremony in Hamburg over the weekend, and organizers said that the Kremlin never replied to their written invitation. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin appreciated criticism based on reality but as of late a lot of criticism has been simply for the sake of criticism, Kommersant reported. “Closed like an oyster” is a German expression for somebody who is unwilling to talk about something. Among former prizewinners is Germany’s discount chain Aldi, notorious for not responding to press inquiries.

The Mailbag

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

Dear La Russophobe,

I read with interest that Vladimir Putin says he is a democrat, that unfortunately no one else is, and that he is the only pure democrat there has been since Mahatma Gandhi. Well of course the Americans aren’t democratic. (Look at the debacle over the 2000 election in Florida and the hanging chads.) But apparently Brezhnev was not a democrat. Shock horror! Even the leader of the Liberal Democratic party Vladimir Zhirinovsky is not a democrat! But Putin is. And there was me thinking that he had spent half his time rolling back democracy in Russia and trying to prevent democracy from breaking out in other countries. But he put me right. Presumably he is democratic like the German Democratic Republic was (after all he used to work as a KGB agent defending the regime there). Actually it used to annoy me a lot when commentators on the Olympics referred to East Germany in that way, or even if they just called them the DDR. I find it similarly annoying when North Korea is referred to as the DPRK. But it takes Putin to call them by their name in its full form. Not only that. In his infamous Munich Speech was the sentence “Today many other countries have these missiles, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, India, Iran, Pakistan and Israel.” He makes it sound as if North Korea is a worker’s paradise and the citizens of ordinary Korea can only look on it with envy. In fact, he was talking about proliferation of missile technology. But, very cleverly he reeled off a list of the countries that have obtained or are trying to obtain nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty… plus South Korea, which has not, thereby giving the false impression that perhaps South Korea has been trying to produce nuclear missiles. In fact, in contrast to North Korea, in recent decades it has scrupulously observed IAEA requirements on nuclear non-proliferation. If we stick to what Putin actually said (about missiles) he is still creating the false impression that South Korea had to be lumped in with North Korea and Iran in terms of trying to develop offensive long range missiles. In fact, North Korea transferred missile technology to Pakistan in exchange for nuclear technology, possesses a missile with a range of 1300km and is believed to be working on longer range missiles. South Korea, again in contrast only has missiles of 300km range supplied to it by the US, which it needs for obvious reasons. Perhaps the above shows that this and other speeches by Putin deserve to be analysed in depth. Anyway I think that the DPRK should be officially renamed the North Korean Vicious Dictatorship or NKVD.

Very truly yours,


June 19, 2007 — Contents


(1) NATO Stands Firm on Russia

(2) Annals of Neo-Soviet Failure

(3) The Russian Quagmire

(3) One-Eyed Russia

NOTE: Check out La Russophobe‘s latest installment on Publius Pundit documenting the latest string of Neo-Soviet gaffs by Vladimir Putin, and feel free to leave your thoughts on whether you think Putin had a good or bad week.