Daily Archives: June 29, 2007

June 29, 2007 — Contents


(1) Kiselyov on Neo-Soviet Education

(2) NATO fires back at the Kremlin!

(3) Tymoshenko Calls Yanukovich on the Carpet

(4) The Russian Healthcare System: Sick in SO many ways

Kiselyov on Neo-Soviet Education Policy

Writing in the Moscow Times, opposition journalist Yevegeny Kiselyov (pictured above, foreground) exposes the blatant fraud of Vladmir Putin’s neo-Soviet education crackdown:

I was bewildered, upset and vexed by President Vladimir Putin’s recent speech at a meeting with teachers in the humanities who were attending a conference in Moscow. As he discussed recent history and how it should be understood — as well as how it should be taught — Putin said the following:

“Concerning some problematic pages in our history — yes, they exist, as they do in the histories of all states. We have less than some countries. And ours are not as terrible as those of some others. Yes, some pages in our history were horrible: We can think of the events beginning in 1937, and we should not forget them. But it wasn’t better in other countries — in fact, it was far more horrible.”

He then rattled off a list of U.S. offenses from history, running from the dropping of atomic bombs on Japanese cities in World War II, the blanketing of thousands of kilometers of Vietnam with Agent Orange in the war there, and the dropping of seven times more bombs on the country than fell during all of World War II.

“We don’t have other black pages in our history, like fascism,” he added.

The president is right: We didn’t have fascism. But we had Bolshevism, which I’m convinced was no better. In fact, there were an enormous number of “black pages” in 20th-century Russian history, and every one of them was terrible. For example:

• The “Red Terror” unleashed by the Bolsheviks soon after they took power in 1917, against both political opponents and innocent civilians, which took up to a million lives;

• Collectivization, which forced 3 million to 4.5 million peasants to flee their villages and caused, in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, another 6 million to 7 million to die of hunger;

• The “Great Purges” from 1937 to 1938, which claimed 1.3 million to 1.7 million victims. About 800,000 of them were executed without investigation or trial, including Stalin’s political opponents as well as politicians, bureaucrats, military men and citizens who were completely loyal to him.

There was also the mass deportation of ethnic groups to Siberia, Central Asia and Kazakhstan during World War II: Almost a million Germans were resettled as a preventive measure, along with another 1.5 million Chechens, Ingush, Kalmyks, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks and others — supposedly because their elders collaborated with the Germans during the occupation of their regions. Immediately after the victory over fascism, Soviet soldiers who had been liberated from Hitler’s prison camps were marched across the country and straight into the gulag, along with the civilians who had been taken to Germany and forced to work. That was nearly another million people.

And then there was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which allowed Germany to begin World War II (with the Soviet attack on Poland following just two weeks later). And Katyn, where 22,000 Polish prisoners of war were executed in 1940. We also put down popular uprisings in East Germany in 1953, invaded Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979. In Afghanistan, we conducted an unnecessary, senseless and shameful war for almost 10 years — almost as long as the United States fought in Vietnam. How many states can boast of such a “list of honor” in the 20th century?

Putin is being modest — and deceptive — when he talks about the importance of 1937. This was the date when Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, unleashed massive purges across the entire country after purging the highest military leaders under Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky. But the state has never done anything significant to mark this tragic date in a fitting way. True, it would be strange to expect this from a government led by a former officer of the KGB — the descendant of the NKVD — with a ruling elite in which at least half of the members trace their roots back to the same organization.

In Ukraine, President Viktor Yushchenko decreed that the memory of the victims of the Great Purges should be honored with great ceremony, and even instituted a special annual day of remembrance. Russia has a day of remembrance of the victims of political repression, but Kiev is unlikely to have much success in getting senior politicians in Moscow to mark it in any significant way.

When Putin begins pointing to the United States as a country with a worse record than Russia and the Soviet Union, citing the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, the loads of bombs dropped on Vietnam and the vast jungle destroyed by chemical defoliants, he sounds like a caricature of the Soviet polemicists. When they’d run out of arguments, they’d pull an ace out of their sleeves, charging, “But you lynch blacks!”

Indeed they did, prompting the “March on Washington” in 1963, where a crowd estimated at 200,000 to 500,000 gathered on the Mall to protest the lack of civil rights for African Americans. When eight people in Red Square tried to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, they were assaulted by police and seven were arrested.

What the United States did in Vietnam was wrong. And you can question (especially given the current situation in Iraq) whether the country truly condemns or even regrets that military operation.

But there is no question that the experience was examined by some of the United States’ greatest thinkers: writers, scholars, and artists. Masterpieces like Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” were also acts of repentance.

In the center of Washington there is a magnificent memorial where the names of the over 58,000 men and women killed in Vietnam are carved in stone. This extraordinarily powerful memorial is the most visited site in the U.S. capital. In Moscow there is nothing like it commemorating those who died in Afghanistan or Chechnya.

I don’t know if Putin has figures on how many bombs we dropped in Afghanistan and Chechnya, but my guess is we didn’t scrimp on ammunition. In fact, I’m not guessing — I know, since I served there for two years . We used both high explosive bombs and volley fire missile systems. These weren’t, of course, nuclear weapons, but they weren’t much more humane. And in Chechnya we need only recall the ruins of Grozny — reminiscent of Stalingrad — that shocked Putin when he first saw the city from the air in the spring of 2004.

It’s also worth recalling that as soon as it became known that the U.S. military was using defoliants in Vietnam, over 5,000 American scientists and scholars, including 129 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 17 Nobel Prize winners, brought a petition to the White House protesting the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons. The military was forced to stop using them. In the Soviet Union, only one scholar protested the war in Afghanistan — the late Andrei Sakharov, who was exiled to the city of Gorky for almost seven years.

Do many people remember all of that today? I’m afraid not. And it seems the authorities would like us to know even less. They need history only as a collection of myths around which they can try to consolidate their electorate, especially young people. To do that, they need heroic pages of history: victories over our enemies, daring feats, discoveries and achievements. Everything else is mudslinging.

But history takes cruel revenge on those who ignore it. As George Santayana famously pointed out: Those who are unable to learn history’s lessons are bound to repeat its mistakes.

NATO Chief Fires Back at Putin

The Moscow Times reports that NATO’s chief has blasted the Kremlin with a direct threat. Beautiful stuff. Watch out, Russia, you started it, we’ll finish it.

NATO’s secretary-general likened diplomacy to listening to an iPod on Tuesday, issuing a thinly veiled warning to Moscow to tone down its rhetoric in an increasingly heated exchange over U.S. missile defense plans. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s comments followed a closed-door Kremlin meeting with President Vladimir Putin, who will meet with President George W. Bush in the United States this weekend. De Hoop Scheffer suggested that Putin’s threat earlier this month to retarget Russian missiles at Europe was as damaging to a person’s ears as listening to an mp3 player too loud. “In this already fairly complicated discussion, it is advisable to lower the volume a bit,” de Hoop Scheffer said at a news conference. “Because as it is with your iPod, if you put the volume too high, it will in the long run damage your ears.” He added: “If you do that in international diplomacy, you might in another sense damage your ears.”

Noting that the NATO-Russia relationship was a partnership, de Hoop Scheffer said, “These remarks about targeting missiles … do not fit, and they do not have a place in these discussions.” He said that his meeting with Putin had been “very constructive, open and frank” and that it was up to the Kremlin to reveal further details.

A Kremlin spokesman declined comment about the meeting. [LR: We’ll just bet they did. Hard to comment when your jaw is hanging down to the floor!]

Putin had threatened to point missiles at Europe if Washington followed through on plans to place elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. He later said he would back down on the threat if Washington agreed to an alternate site, an early warning radar that Russia rents in Azerbaijan. De Hoop Scheffer said the missile defense dispute would be high on the agenda when Putin meets Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sunday and Monday. He repeated the U.S. contention that the proposed missile defense shield posed no danger to Russia. Apart from the shield, de Hoop Scheffer identified Kosovo and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe as the main divisive issues.

On Kosovo, he reiterated an earlier request that Russia approve a United Nations Security Council resolution on the future status of the southern Serbian province as soon as possible. He said the issue was in the Security Council’s hands, not NATO’s. “And there President Putin has more to say than the NATO secretary-general,” de Hoop Scheffer quipped. Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, opposes a plan by United Nations special envoy Martti Ahtisaari that would grant Kosovo internationally supervised independence. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov predicted during a debate with de Hoop Scheffer on Monday in St. Petersburg that Russia would veto the resolution.

De Hoop Scheffer on Tuesday also stressed ongoing cooperation between Russia and NATO. As examples, he noted Russia’s participation in a successful anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean Sea as well as cooperation in anti-drug drives in Afghanistan. “The key words in the NATO-Russia relationship are investment and engagement,” he said. Russia is to provide support for NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor, where ships patrol the Mediterranean to detect terrorist activity. “Russia needs NATO, and NATO needs Russia, so there is no alternative in this relationship but to engage,” said de Hoop Scheffer, adding that as in any serious relationship it should come as no surprise that both sides did not agree on everything. De Hoop Scheffer, a former Dutch foreign minister, compared the disagreements to a marriage and noted that his wife was in the audience. “I am not talking about my own marriage, certainly not in the presence of my wife, but it happens in the best of marriages,” he said.

He said Jeannine de Hoop Scheffer-van Oorschot, a French teacher, had visited Moscow State Linguistic University earlier in the day. Speaking earlier during a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged that Russia and the alliance were split on many issues. “The positions of Russia and the countries of NATO are still not very close, Lavrov said. De Hoop Scheffer’s visit coincides with the fifth anniversary of the NATO-Russia Council, established in May 2002, and 10 years after the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, signed in May 1997.

Both sides on Tuesday opened an official NATO-Russia Council web site at www.nato-russia-council.info.

Tymoshenko Calls Yanukovich on the Carpet

Julia Tymoshenko’s blog reports that Kremlin shil Viktor Yanukovich is attempting to pilfer state assets:

Representatives of the political forces — participants of so-called “coalition” and officials of Yanukovych government — realize that afterthe conducting of the early elections in Ukraine their rule will step back into history. Just for this reason, having the feeling that their corruption charts are crashing, they frankly appropriate and sell out profitable objects of the Ukrainian economy.

Overwhelmed with an unrestrained desire for personal profit, officials of Yanukovych government are ready to sell all state enterprises together. After a successful transaction with “Luganskteplovoz,” after which Office of public prosecutor brought a lawsuit, there was an attempt at selling “Ukrtelekom.” In the case of aa sale of “Ukrtelekom” — the monopolist in the field of electronic communication in the state — unprotected segments of the Ukrainian population (disabled, war veterans, ordinary pensioners) would be deprived of the opportunity to use a telephone forever.

During the last months of its activity, the Cabinet does everything possible to appropriate the most attractive economic objects and concentrate them in the ownership of the closest comrades-in-arms, in particular those enterprises which provide light and warmth for the Ukrainian houses.

The bright evidence of this is the last decision of Yanukovych government, which allowed one of the biggest power companies in Ukraine “Dniproenergo” to isssue shares. As a result, the state share will drop down from 76% to 50%. In this case, share of companies which are controlled by the known bilionnaire Akhmetov actually gives control over “Dniproenergo” management. Akhmetov’s companies beforehand bought up 8,8% of “Dniproenergo” capital, which allows them to break any meetings of shareholders and depreciates team shares by 87%.

The plan of actual theft from the national property of “Dniproenergo” foresees buying up of this company debts before other persons for the amount of USD 200 million and further exchange of these debts for 26% of “Dniproenergo” capital within the additional issue of shares, to which only companies controlled by Akhmetov will be admitted.

Cynicism and impudence of Cabinet actions are reflected in the fact that market value of the company makes at least USD 1 billion 750 million; 26% makes USD 455 million. Thus, in case of successful conducting of this transaction, our state loses about USD 500 million, and also control over one of the main power companies of Ukraine. Except for that, small stockholders, mainly workers of this company, will be deprived of their rights for the part of the company profit.

According to BYUT infomration, it is planned that the only buyer of 26% of “Dniproenergo” will be “Donetsk Fuel Energy Company,” which belongs to Renat Akhmetov.

In connection with this Yulia Tymoshenko bloc appeals to President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko with a requirement to stop immediately criminals who are selling out strategic economic objects of the state. We require to bring to trial the officials of Yanukovych government whose actions endanger power safety of Ukraine.

The Russian Healthcare System: Sick in SO many ways

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is doing a wonderful job supplying the Iranians with nuclear power and the Venezuelans with weapons. How is he doing supplying healthcare services to sicks Russians? The International Herald Tribune reports:

When Karen Papiyants lost his leg in a road accident last year, his medical nightmare was only beginning. Although like any Russian he was entitled to free treatment, he says the doctors strongly suggested he pay $4,500 (€3,500) into their St. Petersburg hospital’s bank account, or be deprived proper care — and perhaps not even survive. Faced with that choice, the 37-year-old truck driver’s relatives scrambled to scrape together the money. But Papiyants said that didn’t stop the nursing staff from leaving him unattended for most of the night and giving him painkillers only after he screamed in agony. “It’s nothing but blackmail and extortion on the part of doctors,” Papiyants said.

In theory Russians are supposed to receive free basic medical care. But patients and experts say doctors, nurses and surgeons routinely demand payments — even bribes — from those they treat. And critics say the practice persists despite Russia’s booming economy and its decision to spend billions to improve the health care system. Medical care in Russia is among the worst in the industrialized world. A 2000 World Health Organization report ranked Russia’s health system 130th out of 191 countries, on a par with nations such as Peru and Honduras.

This is one of the few nations in the world where life expectancy has declined sharply in the past 15 years. The average Russian can expect to live only to age 66 — at least a decade less than in most Western democracies, according to a 2005 World Bank report. For men, the figure is closer to 59 — meaning many Russian men don’t live long enough to start collecting their pension at age 60. Compounded by alcoholism, heart disease claims proportionately more lives than in most of the rest of the world. Death rates from homicide, suicide, auto accidents and cancer are also especially high.

Russia’s population has dropped precipitously in the past 15 years, to below 143 million in what President Vladimir Putin calls “the most acute problem of contemporary Russia.” In 2004, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Russia spent $441 per capita on health care, about a fifth of what the EU spends. Over the past two years the government has more than doubled health care spending to some $7 billion (€5.2 billion), but that still works out to only about 3.4 percent of all government spending, and the World Health Organization recommends at least 5 percent.

Experts here say new spending does little if it fails to tackle corruption. The state covers all Russians under a standardized medical insurance package, while well-heeled citizens can buy extra insurance and be treated privately. In the Soviet era, patients occasionally rewarded doctors with money or gifts, but were largely guaranteed free treatment. The Soviet Union’s public health system was, for a time at least, considered among the world’s best. But the system failed to keep up with Western medicine, and after the Soviet collapse, went into decline. Today, many who can’t afford to pay or bribe — especially those in remote provinces — may never receive proper care.

Some experts say this has helped drive up death rates. “Corruption in health care is a threat to Russia’s national security in the broadest sense of the word,” said Yelena Panfilova, head the Russian branch of Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog. According to a summer 2006 study commissioned by the group, 13 percent of 1,502 respondents who had sought medical help during the previous year had to pay an average of $90 under the table, out of wages averaging $480 a month. The poll had a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points. Panfilova also said medical and pharmaceutical companies routinely bribe health officials so that hospitals buy their equipment and medicines, even though their quality is often not the best. Kirill Danishevsky, a health researcher with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Open Health Institute, has estimated that up to 35 percent of money spent on health care consists of under-the-table payments. At the Dzhanelidze Emergencies Institute where Papiyants was treated, spokesman Vadim Stozharov denied that doctors refused to provide free care. But he conceded the hospital has received so many similar complaints it set up a hot line to deal with them. The Health Ministry declined to comment on the bribery allegations. But Galina Lavrishcheva, the top health official in Stupino, an industrial town in the Moscow region, acknowledged that health care workers sometimes demand payoffs. “Yes, it is true, I am not going to hide it — extortion takes place,” Lavrishcheva said. The Stupino regional hospital is at the forefront of government reform efforts. Officials have fought overcrowding by cutting the number of beds from 800 to 625, have set up an outpatient clinic and have installed new equipment, including ultrasound and electrocardiogram machines.

Overspecialization, a legacy of the Soviet era, is a big problem because patients are shuttled from one narrowly focused specialist to another. Meanwhile, no physician generally takes responsibility for their state of health. Dozens of Stupino’s specialists have been retrained as general practitioners and their salaries raised to reduce the lure of bribes and create incentives for more doctors to become GPs. Yelena Filippova, a freshly retrained GP, now treats some 2,000 patients and earns $700 (€515) a month, more than double her previous salary. Filippova, 27, says the system is more efficient. Her patients like it as well. “It’s professional, it’s high quality, it’s quick and convenient — you don’t have to stand in lines,” said Viktor Lenok, a 60-year-old retiree, whom Filippova treats for asthma. But critics say these changes are no substitute for radical change — just a high-profile way of spending the country’s oil-driven wealth in an election year. They insist the reform does not address bribe-taking by emergency health care providers and medical specialists. “A huge heap of money is being pumped into the same health care system — but why invest into something that doesn’t work?” said health researcher Danishevsky. “The very system needs to be reformed.”

June 28, 2007 — Contents


(1) Putley on Lugovoi

(2) On Putin’s Constitutional Gambit

(3) Kasparov Speaks Again

(4) Annals of Tregubova

(5) Russia in a Nutshell