Daily Archives: July 7, 2007

An Uncivilized Country, Part I: Nation of Sheep

Only a truly barbaric, uncivilized nation of sheep could be so fundamentally incapable of generating a civilized, coherent opposition. What we see in Russia today is not one iota differnt from what we saw during the time of Stalin: Cowardly, barbaric Russians turning their backs on the rise of dictatorship and turning in their neighbors for short-sighted personal benefit, actions that ultimately and inevitably bring down the nation. Think about: a $3/hour average wage, a sub-60 year adult male lifespan, cold war brewing, and the best opposition Russia can create is a card-carrying fascist. They’re doomed, that’s all there is too it, doomed. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Eduard Limonov has been called a fascist, a communist, and an ultranationalist. The Kremlin has repeatedly banned the leftist National Bolshevik Party (NBP) that he leads as an “extremist” organization and arrested over a hundred of its activists.

Yet for the past year, Mr. Limonov and his mainly youthful followers have been a mainstay of the Other Russia movement, a pro-democracy coalition led by chess champion Garry Kasparov. Other Russia has staged a series of high-profile street rallies aimed at forcing the Kremlin to ensure that upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections will be open and free.

“The Kremlin fears us because they think our party can become the avant-garde of a Russian [version of Ukraine’s pro-democracy] ‘Orange Revolution,’ ” says Limonov, a bespectacled and goateed novelist who lived in the US before returning home to take up radical politics in the early 1990s. “And that fear is not unfounded,” he says. “Our existence is seen as a menace by a state that represents a handful of rich amid a sea of poor people.”

As the Other Russia heads into its first anniversary conference this weekend, the coalition seems to be splintering and its hopes of fielding a single opposition candidate to oppose Vladimir Putin’s yet-to-be-anointed successor appear in tatters. This week, one of the movement’s main backers, the liberal former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, pulled out saying that “the Other Russia has fulfilled its mission,” and will not be needed in the “next, decisive stage of the political struggle.” Mr. Kasyanov, who has announced his own intention to run for president, said he would be seeking fresh opposition forces with whom to ally.

One reason for the coalition’s crisis may be its political diversity, which was hailed just a year ago as its greatest source of strength. Mr. Kasparov brought together liberals, moderate nationalists, and neocommunists who all had a stake in fighting for free elections. “[The Other Russia] has shown our citizens that completely different political forces … can unite in defense of constitutional principles,” Kasyanov said as he was leaving the movement this week.

Limonov’s prison-hardened NBP activists have been the largest, and most fearless, contingent at the Other Russia’s pro-democracy rallies over recent months. The group’s name and symbol – a black hammer and sickle on a red field – seem to evoke some kind of fusion between Nazism and Communism. Its penchant for guerrilla street actions, such as occupying government offices and hanging anti-Putin banners from buildings, has won it more police attention than any other political group in Russia.

“Over 150 of our members have been through the school of prison and labor camps by now,” says Limonov, who recently spent two years in jail for what he calls trumped-up charges of illegal weapons possession. “Through that experience, they have become unafraid. That’s why the authorities consider us the most dangerous, because we are more courageous and we do what the others won’t.”

Limonov admits to having flirted briefly with right-wing ideas in the early ’90s and he attracted notoriety by supporting Serbian nationalists during the civil war in Bosnia.

The NBP today is a “purely leftist” party that calls for taxing the rich to help the poor, fighting racism, and promoting democracy, Limonov says. Although he insists that the party meets all the requirements for registration under Russia’s tough political laws, it has been rejected five times by the authorities. “We are the champions in getting banned,” says Limonov.

“Nowadays it’s illegal to even speak the name of the National Bolshevik Party,” under Russia’s harsh anti-extremism laws, says Lev Ponomaryov, a leading Russian human rights campaigner. “There is nothing particularly radical about the NBP and they do nothing that’s actually extremist, but all opposition forces like this are gradually being weeded out of the political field,” by the authorities, he says.

However, some opposition groups, including the liberal Yabloko party, say they’ve avoided joining the Other Russia in part due to the controversial presence of Limonov’s NBP. “The National Bolsheviks stick to their name and fascist flag, and hide their real aims,” says Yabloko’s deputy chairman, Sergei Mitrokhin. “We don’t want to struggle for democracy under nationalist banners. It discredits democracy,” he says.

The powerful Communist Party (CP), on the other hand, has refused to join the Other Russia due to what its leader Gennady Zyuganov called the English-speaking and pro-American Kasparov’s connections with “foreign moneybags.”

Yabloko announced last month that its chairman, Grigory Yavlinsky, will run in the presidential polls, slated for next March. Several other opposition leaders have also declared, including Communist chief Mr. Zyuganov, former Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko, Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The dream of a single opposition to stand against Putin’s heir has been shattered “because the CP and Yabloko have made their own collaborationist pacts with the Kremlin,” says Limonov. “We wish they would be more courageous.”

An Uncivilized Country, Part II: Nation of Warmongers

The Jamestown Foundation’s Vladimir Socor reports on how frenzied, panicked Russia is showing its desperation in response to the US defensive missile plan in Europe. Russia is so drunk with arrogance and hatred that it is prepared to provoke the US and the whole of Europe into a second cold war it cannot possibly survive, just for childish spite. It would be pathetic if it were not so horrifying to watch 140 million people swirling down the toilet bowl . . . again.

On July 4, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov warned that Russia could deploy medium-range missiles in the Kaliningrad oblast — opposite Lithuania and Poland — if the United States turns down Russia’s proposals on anti-missile defense in Europe. The implicit threat to these staunch U.S. allies comes only two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin earned yet another credit of trust — “Do I trust him? Yes, I trust him” — from U.S. President George W. Bush during their informal meeting at Kennebunkport in the Bush family compound.

Ivanov, until recently defense minister and now presumed to be President Vladimir Putin’s favorite successor to the presidency, warned: “If our proposals are accepted, Russia would no longer need to deploy new missile systems in our European territory, including Kaliningrad.” According to Ivanov, such a deployment would constitute an “asymmetrical and effective response” by Russia against U.S.-proposed anti-missile defense elements in Central Europe (Itar-Tass, RIA-Novosti, July 4).

Moscow denounces U.S. plans to install elements of anti-missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic as unacceptable to Russia. Instead, the Kremlin proposes joint use of Azerbaijan’s Russian-operated Gabala radar and a new radar to be completed in southern Russia, as well as joint NATO-Russia centers in Brussels and Moscow to manage a common anti-missile system. However, U.S. and NATO experts deem such a solution inadequate on many technical and strategic policy counts.

Putin himself warned several times in recent weeks that Russia would respond by targeting European countries with its missiles, “turning Europe into a powder keg.” However, Ivanov’s is the first warning of a possible forward deployment of medium-range missiles in the Kaliningrad oblast. Such a move would put a substantial swath of NATO territory within range of those Russian missiles, without overtly breaching the INF Treaty-mandated limitations on missile ranges.

The most conspicuous asymmetry is not the geographical one to which Ivanov mainly alludes. Rather, the asymmetry resides in the offensive purpose and mission of the Russian missiles that would be deployed, versus the purely defensive anti-missile elements proposed to be sited in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Ivanov’s warning almost certainly refers to the new-generation Iskander missile, presumably its cruise version Iskander-K, which Russia tested successfully on May 29. Its actual range is not known with certainty, but it is limited in principle to 500 kilometers in accordance with the INF Treaty, which bans land-based cruise as well as ballistic missiles with ranges of more than 500 kilometers. At present, Russia is believed to station obsolete Tochka battlefield missiles, with less than half the range of Iskander, in the Kaliningrad oblast.

At the moment, Moscow justifies the testing and possible deployment of Iskander and a new intercontinental ballistic missile as responses to the U.S.-proposed anti-missile defense elements in Central Europe. This rationalization is mainly designed for European consumption and wedge driving within NATO. However, Moscow has in recent weeks challenged NATO on a wide range of European security issues, which in addition to anti-missile defense include also U.S. military installations in Romania and Bulgaria, the CFE Treaty, and the INF Treaty, brandishing possible Russian “asymmetric responses” on all those counts.

Thus, Putin’s warnings to target Russian missiles on Europe — and Ivanov’s hint at forward-deploying missiles in Kaliningrad — are to be regarded as an all-purpose threat, repeatable against any Western security interests, not just missile defense in Central Europe. If the ploy proves effective on this issue, the Kremlin will almost certainly feel emboldened to re-use the same ploy to obtain satisfaction on other Euro-Atlantic security issues. By citing imaginary threats to itself and brandishing ostensible countermeasures, Moscow hopes to obtain a voice and a veto on U.S. and NATO decisions as well as on security arrangements involving new member countries of the Alliance.

Lithuania is responding calmly to Ivanov’s warning about possible missile deployment in Kaliningrad oblast. In the initial reactions from Vilnius, Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, Minister of Foreign Affairs Petras Vaitiekunas, and the parliamentary foreign affairs committee chairman Justinas Karosas are making the following points:

1) the warning is hypothetical at this stage;

2) Russia considers deploying an offensive system against a Western defensive system;

3) Lithuania would definitely protest if the deployment intention turns out to be real;

4) the issue is of concern to all member countries of NATO and the European Union; and

5) Moscow’s hypothetical warning underscores the need for demilitarization of the Kaliningrad oblast (BNS, July 5).

The initial response at NATO on the political level tends to downplay Putin’s and Ivanov’s warnings by connecting them with the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia. Such a response has the merit of lowering the international political stakes and reassuring those easily unnerved sections among European publics and governments. However, Russia’s elections are not contested elections and the Kremlin hardly needs to fan external tensions for internal political gains. In fact, Moscow is reactivating Cold-War tactics in attempting to overturn, step-by-step and issue-by-issue, the post-Cold-War status quo.

Mark Ames Sells Totally Out

Well well well. What have we here? We have, dear readers, gonzo “alternative” journalist Mark Ames selling out wholesale, in the International Herald Tribune, no less. Apparently the mainstream press is full of garbage right up until the time they’re willing to pay Mr. Ames for his scribbles, and then they’re just fine and dandy. So much for Mr. Ames and his lofty “principles” and contempt for the establishment! Quotes Edward Limonov as a source unquestioningly (he’s just “the opposition leader Edward Limonov”), and the same for Garry Kasparov. When you lunatic fans of the eXile scrape your jaws off the floor, remember how LR is laughing at you heartily.

The big guessing game

by Mark Ames, Agence Global
Published: July 5, 2007

At the end of an anti-Kremlin demonstration in central Moscow last month, Garry Kasparov, one of the leaders of the Other Russia opposition movement, announced that he and the other organizers had decided against marching out of the designated rally area in Pushkin Square, a move that the city authorities had already rejected and that would have led to clashes with the riot police and the OMON, Russia’s paramilitary forces.

“There are too many OMON forces waiting for us,” Kasparov said into the microphone. “But the fact that we have decided not to march out of here isn’t our defeat, it’s the Kremlin’s defeat, and that . . .” Kasparov’s voice suddenly vanished. The police had pulled the plug on the sound system. Their allotted 90 minutes was up.

Thus ended a surprisingly peaceful weekend of protests in St. Petersburg and Moscow. There was a palpable sense of letdown when the rally broke up without any serious incidents. Many of the protesters – most of them young and curious, ranging from middle-class bohemians and professionals to left-wing radicals – had come expecting to confront The Man. Unruly swarms of Western journalists, who vastly outnumbered their Russian counterparts, also had come with expectations of witnessing the Russian police state in action.

Until these protests, there appeared to be an increasingly dangerous trajectory in the Kremlin’s strategy to crush the opposition movement, which seeks to end President Vladimir Putin’s ever-tightening control over the country’s politics and its media. It was a trajectory that seemed to be leading inexorably toward greater bloodshed and violence, perhaps something cathartic and awful, like a Russian Tiananmen Square. Rallies in St. Petersburg in March and April, and in Moscow in April, all featured overwhelming government forces pitted against a few thousand protesters, capped by savage beatings and arrests.

The one exception was a planned protest in May in Samara, a Volga River city, during an EU summit meeting there. Rather than attack protesters, the authorities allowed the march in Samara to go ahead but arrested scores of activists in the days leading up to the protest and detained the opposition leaders, along with scores of Western journalists, at the airport in Moscow, thereby strangling the rally in its bed.

This “softer” strategy didn’t lead to a quieter reaction: Opposition leaders came off as victims and heroes in the Western press and what remains of Russia’s free media, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany openly clashed with Putin during the postsummit press conference in Samara. Observers and opposition leaders were left wondering if the Kremlin had intentionally created a public relations fiasco, and if it meant that Putin had now decided that he didn’t give a damn what the West thought about him.

It was under this atmosphere that the opposition headed into the June rallies. Things got weird even before we flew to St. Petersburg. While Putin was hosting chief executives from around the world at his Economic Forum conference in Russia’s second city, the authorities in Moscow scrupulously checked the Other Russia entourage’s documents in what seemed like a possible repeat of the Samara strategy. But at the last second, we were allowed onto the plane. When we landed in St. Petersburg, the flight attendant announced that all passengers had to show their passports to police guards waiting at the airplane’s door. Although we did not know what to expect, the St. Petersburg rally, like Moscow’s, ended peacefully – a move that has only increased the paranoia and guesswork.

Now that the first half of this year’s protest season is over in Russia, both sides will take time to consider their position. What is the Kremlin strategy? Why did it change tactics so often, and what does that bode for this autumn, when protests are set to resume? And does the Other Russia movement really have a chance?

The answer to the last question lies in the answer to the first: Even though the June rallies drew only about 2,000 protesters in each city, the Kremlin’s overwhelming response makes clear that it takes the protests extremely seriously and is fishing around for an effective strategy to crush them, experimenting with both brute force and “soft authoritarianism,” as the opposition leader Edward Limonov calls the harassment. The reason the Kremlin is worried lies partly in the makeup of the protesters – they’re not the usual crusty protester-trolls, but rather overwhelmingly young cross-section of students, intellectuals and even a growing number of professionals.

I asked Limonov if he wasn’t disappointed that the opposition leaders had allowed the authorities to stop their planned march, restricting them to a mere rally in a single place. His answer was surprising: “We decided collectively that since the authorities fulfilled their promises in St. Petersburg and allowed us to march without attacking us, in Moscow, even though we didn’t get to march as we wanted, we thought it would be better to show them that we can hold back also, so long as the authorities are willing to negotiate.”

“In a way,” he added, “it is like a kind of dialogue that the Kremlin is having with us, and we don’t want to be the ones who are seen as being responsible for breaking it off.”

It was the most surprising possible ending to the first big round in the Kremlin-Opposition standoff: After months of violence, the first signs of dialogue.

As both sides take a two-month break, the question is: What will happen when September rolls around and the protests start again? Will the apparent Kremlin relaxation lead to swelling numbers of protesters? Or will it deflate the movement’s energy by taking away the sense of danger, excitement and possibility that fuel the rank and file’s interest?

Mark Ames is the editor of the Moscow paper The eXile, and the author of “Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.” This article was distributed by Agence Global.

July 6, 2007 — Contents


(1) The Sochi Olympics: Russia’s Final Fiasco?

(2) More on the Russian Attack on Georgia at Kodori

(3) Russia Convicted Yet Again in the ECHR of Human Rights Abuse

(4) Annals of Russian/Soviet Mass Murder

NOTE: As you can see above, today we report on events that stand in startling contrast to one another. First we report on the IOC’s awarding Russia the winter olympic games of 2014, and then we report on the ECHR’s conviction, for the umpteeth time, of Russia for gross human rights atrocities related to the very region where the games have been placed, and then we report on the possible outbreak of a shooting war in that region due to Russian aggression. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the need for this blog, and many others like it, than the appalling inability of our leaders to learn from our past mistakes which is clearly demonstrated by these three posts, an inability which is truly alarming. First George Bush feeds the dictator Vladimir Putin lobster at his family compound in Maine, and then that same dictator is awarded the olympic games on Bush’s watch. Thankfully, the world has long ago wised up to the disgraceful way in which President Bush has conducted U.S. foreign policy, and very soon that policy will dramatically change. When it does, Putin will be in for a very rude awakening.