Daily Archives: June 27, 2007

Putley on Beslan

First there was Ivan the Terrible, then there was Ivan/Peter the Great, and now, original to La Russophobe, according to the brilliant Russia commentator Jeremy Putley we have Putin the Banal. LR is delighted to welcome Mr. Putley to the blog for what she hopes will be a protracted writing engagement, and will feature a second column (on the Lugovoi imbroglio) in tomorrow’s edition.

Putin the Banal

by Jeremy Putley

Original to La Russophobe

Evil comes in many forms. Only rarely is it in the persona of an insanely criminal monster such as those who disfigured the twentieth century. More often the perpetrators of great wrongs are comparatively insignificant men. One such is the incumbent President of Russia.

When President George W Bush greets the Russian President on Sunday, at his family home at Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sunday, they will shake hands, and perhaps embrace. The Russian President, aptly named Akaky Akakievich Putin by the late Anna Politkovskaya, is a man of insignificant personality. In consequence, it seems, it is difficult for the US leadership to understand or recognize the extent of the crimes for which he is personally responsible.

The criminal character of the Russian hierarchy, by the way, has been in evidence for many years, going back to the brutal conduct of the second Chechnya war at its commencement, and the multiple war crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the Russian armed forces against a civilian population. Russia is now again a country with political prisoners, a country where those who have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights have been murdered by the armed forces or by the FSB, and in which the rule of law is effectively in abeyance. Torture of prisoners in the custody of the authorities is endemic in the Russian Federation under President Putin – a fact of which he must be well aware. “Disappearances” in Chechnya have been condemned by Human Rights Watch as a crime against humanity. Journalists are murdered and there is suspicion that agents of the government are involved. Dissidents living abroad are murdered. Russia is a misruled country.

Putin’s upbringing and experience in the KGB, an institution which often operated supra-legally in accordance with orders from the political leadership, instilled in a notoriously vindictive man an amoral belief system: operational necessity justifies all methods – the end justifies any means. That is the present misfortune of Russia under Vladimir Putin, as his second term draws to an end and he prepares to nominate his successor.

When the history of Vladimir Putin’s presidency comes to be written the final judgements on him as a man and as a national leader will require a proper assessment of his character. The question which is sometimes asked is whether the evil things that Putin has done are the result of impotence, weakness or incompetence – an inability to act properly due to incomprehension, or structural weakness in the way Russian government functions – or criminality. Joseph Stalin, it is accepted by historians, was criminal by nature. There is evidence that Putin as President has displayed, from time to time, both incompetence and criminality. It is really a question of which is the preponderant feature of his makeup. To the victims, of course, it makes no difference – the consequences, just as under Stalin, have been the same.

When President Bush looked at President Putin and saw what he wanted to see, that was a worthless assessment, based as it was on nothing more than first impressions, or maybe just wishful thinking. More revealing was what happened at Beslan. That was a true test of character, and it revealed much about the character of the Russian President. In September 2004 at Beslan, in southern Russia, 330 people were killed including 317 hostages, of whom 186 were children. When the storming of the school buildings began, in an effort to bring the hostage-taking to an end, the use of flamethrowers and tanks in the assault, carried out while the hostages were still present in the gymnasium, resulted in the collapse of the roof onto the hostages below, killing 160 of them.

The most important question about this disastrous assault on the school is, who ordered it? There is no information on this. Putin himself kept a very low profile during the three days of the siege, but there can be no serious doubt that he was in close touch with the situation, and would have been consulted on the decision to carry out the storming of the building. Without his authority the decision could not have been made. But if it was his decision, or with his authority, the blame for the disastrous outcome of the storming of the school while it was still full of hostages falls squarely on Vladimir Putin.

It is useless to point out that the honourable thing to have done, in the face of such a catastrophic failure, was for Putin to resign. This is a western concept, and Russian leaders have not, historically, taken such ideas into account – it is apparently not a practical or sensible attitude to take. Similarly a western national leader would have gone to Beslan immediately the school siege began, and would have done all things possible to save the hostages. There would have been negotiations. But Putin’s way is never to negotiate.

Why did the Russian President allow the assault on the school to begin? There must have been a calculation, and a conclusion that hostage deaths were acceptable. The storm was necessary because the alternatives involved a loss of face – from entering into negotiations with the hostage-takers, or acceding to their demands, or showing weakness in some other way. The decision resulted in death and disaster. Was the decision criminal, or was this incompetence? As evidence it must be recalled that after the siege Putin declared on television, “We exhibited weakness, and the weak are beaten.” The hostages who died were sacrificed because the President feared to appear weak. Negotiations were possible, but were never tried. Whether the President was demonstrating a dreadful incompetence by refusing to negotiate for the hostages’ lives, or ordered the assault on the school knowing that hostage deaths would be certain to result, either way this was criminally culpable.

But in the end, the question of whether President Putin is knowingly responsible for his crimes, or thinks he is doing a good job but – in Rumsfeldian language – “stuff happens”, is not really important. To his victims it does not make any difference. World opinion, and the US President, remain largely indifferent to the question. There will be no real accounting any time soon, because when all is said and done the Putin presidency has been an interlude of considerable banality.

Putin will "Save" Poor Stalin from the Evil West

The Telegraph reports that Putin has launched a new initiative to take control over the teaching of “history” in neo-Soviet Russia in order to protect Stalin the Great from the malicious lies of the West. He also claims that Stalin’s murder of 20 million Russians is analagous to the U.S. war in Vietnam, where less than 100,000 Americans were killed, and the nuclear bombing of Japan, where no Americans were killed, as if Stalin had the same right to go to war against the people of Russia as America did to fight Japan or the North Vietnamese Communists, sponsored by the USSR. In other words, he’s gone stark raving mad, himself a victim of the censored textbooks by which he learned the “history” of the world.

President Vladimir Putin has raised the prospect of a return to Soviet-style academic censorship after he accused the West of plotting to distort Russian history in an attempt to crush patriotic sentiment in schools. The Russian leader claimed that a generation of schoolchildren was learning a version of their past that had been deliberately skewed by historians in the pay of the West. “Many of our textbooks are written by people on foreign grants,” Mr Putin told history and science teachers at a conference outside Moscow. “They are dancing a polka ordered by those who pay for it. This is undoubtedly an instrument for influencing our country.”

In a warning that will send a chill through Russia’s dwindling ranks of liberal academics, the president indicated that publishing houses that did not print more patriotic textbooks would face state censorship. “Publishing houses should become more responsible,” he said. “The state should play a greater role in this respect.” According to the president, Western historians have attempted to belittle the Soviet Union’s role in World War II and exaggerate the negative aspects of Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s, which saw millions of Russians die. He said Russia’s past was much more benign and much less blood-soaked than that of the United States. “We have fewer such (dark) pages than do some countries, and they were less terrible than in some countries,” he said. “We have never used nuclear weapons against civilians and we have never dumped chemical weapons on thousands of kilometres of land as was the case in Vietnam.” Vladimir Ryzhkov, a historian and one of the last independent MPs in the Russian parliament, said that Kremlin hardliners were keen to revive Stalin’s reputation in order to justify the country’s increasingly autocratic path.’

A reader comments by e-mail:

Now THIS I call really disturbing, though, of course, not surprising. Actually the rubbish about America is the least worrying because it is so ridiculous. Excuse me, just where are the mass graves, each with 10,000+ bodies with a single bullet in the back of the skull containing victims of American OFFICIAL execution squads (as in Butovo, Kurapaty, and Katyn) ? They don’t exist. And did the Americans rape millions of German women as the Red Army did? (yes “millions” – Anthony Beevor’s research identified the huge numbers including that “The scale of rape is suggested by the fact that about two million women had illegal abortions every year between 1945 and 1948”). Did American presidents or British Prime Ministers slaughter seven million of their own people and incarcerate 20 million? Which ones killed most of the members of his own family and his in laws, including their sister in law who they had had an affair with, and put their daughter’s boyfriend in a labour camp? None, stupid. What planet are you on Mr Putin? To talk about Hiroshima casualites is also stupid. 90,000-120,000 died in Hiroshima – at the time and from the later effects of radiation. More than twice that number – 300,000 – of Red Army soliders died taking Berlin and over 1,000,000 German soldiers died at the hands of the Red Army as Germany fell. That’s war. Stalin’s lack of preparedness and the way his generals we put up against each other in a race to be the first to get to Berlin, regardless of casualties cost AT LEAST the same number of deaths as Hiroshima, if not more. Possibly, if you add the Russian POWs that died in German camps because Stalin refused to acknowledge them and they couldn’t receive Red Cross parcels, TEN times more. Pollution? Talk to the people in the nuclear sites south of Chelyabinsk, where babies are born without eyes or limbs and the local museums have glass jars containing two headed cows. And elsewhere all over Russia. The 2006 Blacksmith Report on the 34 most polluted cities and regions in the world named SEVEN in Russia and FIVE in other countries of the former USSR. That is ONE THIRD of the worlds most foul spots.

COME ON! Repeat a lie often enough and you get people believing it. But, as I was saying the REALLY worrying thing is the censorship of history that Putin is proposing. Any one who tells the truth, or tries to find it out, is an agent of the West. Historians who come to Russia are suspect if they want to find out anything that doesn’t glorify Russia. What else can you expect from a KGB man?

Moscow on Fire

The Moscow Times reports on a race riot in downtown Moscow last week.

Dozens of ultranationalists armed with metal poles and broken bottles attacked people from the Caucasus and Central Asia at two squares near the Kremlin and a third location Friday night, raising fears of an escalation in ethnic violence. One ethnic Armenian was hospitalized with stab wounds and 42 people were detained in the clashes, city police said. The attackers consisted of about 50 members of ultranationalist groups, including the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, which sought to carry out a “provocation against the population of Moscow,” police said in a statement, Newsru.com reported. Alexander Belov, the movement’s leader, called the accusation “some kind of stupidity” Sunday and said he had given police his own version of events when summoned to a police station Saturday.

Arrests were made on Manezh Square and Slavyanskaya Ploshchad, both near the Kremlin, and outside the Fili metro station in western Moscow. Police arrested a Russian citizen identified as I. Sergeyev, born in 1988, on suspicion of assaulting a D. Aganesyan, born in 1990. The police statement gave no other names or details about the detainees. It was unclear Sunday whether they remained in custody and whether they would face charges. Police said both ultranationalists and immigrants had broken the law on Friday night. They also appealed to leaders of political parties and movements not to “provoke their supporters nor entice youths and minors into committing illegal acts, particularly for ethnic reasons.”

The Movement Against Illegal Immigration posted footage of the clashes on its web site. Young men carrying broken bottles and metal poles were seen clashing on what the web site said was Slavyanskaya Ploshchad. In other footage, people chanted “Russia for Russians!” and “Kondopoga!” in reference to ethnic violence in the northwestern town late last summer that followed the killing of two local residents during a brawl with Chechens in a restaurant. Locals took to the streets, burning down the restaurant and targeting other establishments owned by people from the Caucasus. Kondopoga has become something of a cause celebre both for ultranationalists, who claim it serves as a warning to those who tolerate the integration of different ethnicities, and for human rights groups, which call the incident a prime example of the propagation of racism.

Earlier this month, hundreds of people staged a protest in the southern city of Stavropol after two Russian students and an ethnic Chechen were killed in separate incidents there. Protesters called for the banishment of people from the Caucasus from the city. The Movement Against Illegal Immigration participated in the protests in Stavropol and Kondopoga. While tensions have simmered in Moscow, with the occasional fight and anti-immigration rally, larger attacks such as Friday’s have been few and far between. Political analysts have speculated that some Kremlin officials are stoking ethnic tensions ahead of national elections to win votes from people worried about an ultranationalist threat.

Belov said Friday’s violence, which began at around 8 p.m. on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad, was provoked by people from the Caucasus. “We were peacefully guarding Moscow from gay prostitutes when groups of people from the Caucasus approached and provoked a reaction,” he said. The square is known as a cruising area for homosexuals. Belov said his group employs people who are always on hand during such events to document — this time with the help of video cameras — what goes on.

Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights, said quite the opposite was the case. “The work of Belov’s organization is to provoke such fights and strengthen the nationalist mood in the country,” Brod said. “His organization is gaining momentum, and it is a real threat. Belov travels the country and provokes these fights, this violence, and law enforcement agencies don’t touch him,” Brod said. “Unfortunately, with the elections coming, these attacks will continue,” Brod said, adding that the Movement Against Illegal Immigration has close ties to Dmitry Rogozin’s Great Russia, a party created in April to capture the nationalist vote. “One of Russia’s most serious illnesses is xenophobia,” Brod said.

Rights groups lament the apparent reluctance of authorities to act against race-related crimes. They complain that prosecutors prefer to hit apparent participants with minor public disorder or hooliganism charges. Since the start of this year, at least 32 people have died in racist attacks across the country, and 245 others have been targeted by ultranationalists, human rights activists say.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov condemned the most recent violence. “Any display of chauvinism, xenophobia or nationalism will be harshly put down in our capital, on the basis of the Constitution … and on the basis of the law,” Luzhkov said in televised remarks. The attacks came just hours after the Kremlin announced that President Vladimir Putin nominated Luzhkov to a new four-year term in office. (Story, Page 3.) Opposition politicians in the City Duma and State Duma have said the Kremlin wants to keep Luzhkov in office to help deliver votes in State Duma elections in December and in the March presidential vote.

Communism by Any Other Name Would Still Stink to High Heaven

An editorial from Vedomosti, by way of the Moscow Times. How neo-Soviet can you get?

The problems created for the country’s investment climate by the Kovykta gas field have now been resolved. The delay in rendering a decision on the revocation of the TNK-BP license to exploit the field had provided cause for hope that some kind of unexpected resolution to the conflict between the state and the energy company could be found, but the result was in line with what had long been expected by most analysts. Control over Rusia Petroleum, which holds the license to operate the field, was transferred to Gazprom.

TNK-BP representatives are trying to present the deal in a positive light, and they maintain that the development of the field would have been impossible without the participation of Gazprom. For TNK-BP, the result of the deal can doubtless be considered a success: Bringing Gazprom on board is better than losing its license and the money it has already sunk into the project. The company had already invested more than $400 million. TNK-BP maintains an option to buy a 25 percent, plus one share, blocking stake in Rusia Petroleum, and there is talk of plans for the creation of a joint global venture between BP and Gazprom.

One interesting question is the discount on the value of the assets that Gazprom is enjoying when buying into the project. The controlling stake the company bought in Sakhalin Energy at the end of last year cost $7.45 billion, a price that various analysts said represented a 20 percent to 34 percent discount over the likely market price for the assets. The value of the Kovykta deal is still not clear. What is clear is that the price of strategic deals of this type has very little to do with market factors. Any field that is having problems with environmental regulators, as the experience with the Sakhalin project demonstrated, is going to end up changing hands for a much lower price than one not facing prospect of environmental charges.

The Kovykta deal underlines yet another important tendency. On June 15, without bothering to wait for a decision about the fate of the field’s license, the Industry and Energy Ministry went ahead and issued a statement outlining its ideas for the future of field. Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Andrei Dementiyev said the field would go into production at some point after 2017. That date also occupies an important place in Gazprom’s preliminary plans for the future. In fact, a number of state officials have acknowledged that there is no need to develop the field quickly. All of this comes, of course, after one of the main complaints against Rusia Petroleum’s work at Kovykta was that the development of the field was coming along too slowly.

In another interesting announcement, after the new agreement had been reached, Gazprom deputy head Alexander Medvedev said gas from the Kovykta field could ultimately be destined for China. This was the very same strategy that TNK-BP had proposed to follow, but the company was unable to turn this into a reality — Gazprom holds a monopoly on the right to export gas. Characteristically, the Natural Resources Ministry has also expressed its willingness to work for compromise: After the discussions on the agreement between TNK-BP and Gazprom, the ministry’s press service announced it was expecting an offer from the new owner within the next two weeks. It said it would decide whether to revoke the license for the development of the field after receiving the new proposal.

It was the same case with Sakhalin-2. The international shareholder and operator of the project, Sakhalin Energy, had to step aside and hand a controlling stake to Gazprom as a result of environmental charges that were serious enough to threaten the suspension of the project. The deputy head of the Natural Resource Ministry’s environmental watchdog estimated that the cost of repairing the environmental damage caused by the project was $50 billion. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry then announced that, as a result of the inspections, the shareholders in Sakhalin Energy would have to spend an additional $20 billion on environmental protection measures. After Gazprom bought its way into the project, the state approved an environmental protection plan that it said would eliminate all of the environmental risks. No one, of course, is talking about multibillion-dollar payments anymore. The sharp criticism over environmental concerns leveled at Yuganskneftegaz, formerly the main production unit at now-bankrupt Yukos, also disappeared immediately after it was bought by state-owned Rosneft.

The manipulation of prices for oil and gas assets by way of pressure from state regulatory agencies has become part of the standard mechanism for the transfer of property and ownership in Russia.

Annals of Russian Bedlam

In a relatively short while, the fifth presidential election in Russia’s history will occur, and the malignant little troll in the Kremlin will seek to consolidate his power as Russians work for $3 and hour and lose 1 million from the population each year. But Russia’s opposition has more important things to think about, it seems. What a country!

The Moscow Times reports on more unselfish, dedicated hard work on behalf of the nation by Russia’s lingering communist crowd:

In a bizarre dispute hearkening back to the rhetoric of the Stalin-era purges, the Communist Party’s webmaster has been accused by fellow party members of hatching a Trotskyist conspiracy. Anatoly Baranov, editor of the party’s web site, has been plotting to subvert party policy to reflect “the interests of pro-Western forces,” the party’s Central Audit Committee said a statement posted on the party’s web site over the weekend. The committee is a body within the Communist Party that monitors the ideological purity of party members. “The ‘Baranov group’ stubbornly pushes the Communist Party from the victorious Leninist path onto the false Trotskyist path of a rapid revolution, effectively carried out in the interests of the pro-Western bourgeoisie, rather than in the interests of the Russian people, and leading to the total occupation of Russia by NATO forces,” the committee’s statement said.

Baranov used the party’s Internet resources to disseminate Trotskyist views with the ultimate aim of discrediting the party, the statement said. It added that Baranov and his allies showed “clear signs of Trotskyism, as defined by J.V. Stalin in his article ‘Trotskyism and Leninism.'” Baranov immediately denied the charges and dismissed them as a pro-Kremlin plot to discredit the Communists. Trotskyism, named after Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, was seen in the Stalin era as a deviant branch of Marxism. Many of those arrested in the 1930s were accused of being Trotsky’s followers. In a statement posted on the party’s web site, Baranov described the accusations as “schizophrenic raving.” Baranov called himself a “neo-Trotskyist,” but said it was a term used ironically by young Communist activists. He charged that pro-Kremlin forces were trying to make the party look silly. “On the eve of the elections, such a document can be the result of only one thing — active collaboration between the presidential administration and the party leadership,” Baranov said. Baranov could not be reached for comment Monday. In a meeting Monday, the party’s central committee did not disavow the accusations against Baranov but promised to remove them from the party’s web site until it had reached a final decision. The accusations, as well as Baranov’s response, had been removed from the web site as of Monday afternoon. State Duma Deputy Oleg Kulikov, a senior Communist official, said he would not comment on the conflict until party leaders had discussed the issue.

Meanwhile, Yabloko is going to run against itself for president and the opposition has already announced four different candidates to compete for their small clatch of votes. The MT continues:

Sergei Gulyayev, a former St. Petersburg city legislator from the liberal Yabloko party, has announced that he will run for president as an opposition candidate, RIA-Novosti reported Monday. Gulyayev is the fourth opposition figure to declare his intention to run for president. The others are former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko and Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. [LR: But Yabloko’s leader Grigory Yavlinsky is also going to announce any day now, if he hasn’t already, so that makes five] Gulyayev was nominated over the weekend by The People, a new opposition group that he heads up. The group held its founding congress Saturday and Sunday in Moscow. Gulyayev has been active in The Other Russia, an opposition umbrella group that has organized protests around the country. He was detained by riot police in March after St. Petersburg authorities violently broke up an opposition rally. Later that month, he lost his seat in the St. Petersburg city legislature after Yabloko was excluded from elections for technical reasons. The presidential election is scheduled for March 2008.

June 26, 2007 — Contents


(1) Another Original LR Translation: Annals of Weaponizing Psychiatry

(2) Nemtsov on How to Beat Putin

(3) More Proof of how much More Erudite Russia is than the USA

(4) Putin’s Wolf Pack

(5) The Lies from Russia Blog Just Keep Coming

NOTE: Post #1 above is the 2,000th published by this blog! Hooray for LR! You’ve come a long way, baby! We’ve received over 3,500 comments on those posts and it’s interesting to note that our backup blog on WordPress has received over 5,600 visits of its own since we created it a few months ago. It routinely has over 100 visits per day over the last month. For some contrast, Vilhelm Konnander’s actual blog has existed since December 2005 and only has 20,000 hits to date — so our backup blog, which doesn’t even have current content, is doing better traffic than his actual blog. (For anyone who is interested, LR’s readers voted and decided they preferred this blog’s format to WordPress when we asked which one should receive the current content and which serve as backup.)