Daily Archives: July 13, 2007

Who is Really to Blame for Dubrovka?

The Moscow Times reports that many relatives of the Dubrovka massacre believe that the Kremlin is just as responsible for their loss as the Chechens, and they are taking brave action to defend themselves:

Relatives of those who died in the Dubrovka hostage-taking in 2002 urged the Prosecutor General’s Office on Wednesday to investigate whether senior officials were responsible for the deaths. The relatives also recounted horror stories of loved ones who died hours after being rescued from the Moscow theater. “We have documents proving that the storming and the improper organization of medical aid to the hostages actually killed our children,” said Tatyana Karpova, head of the Nord Ost victims’ committee who lost her son in the attack. “Nord Ost” was the musical playing when the theater was seized Oct. 23, 2002.

A total of 130 hostages died, most from the effects of an unknown gas that special forces pumped into the theater to knock out the Chechen attackers and their captives. No officials have been charged over the rescue operation that ended a three-day standoff. Karpova told reporters that the relatives had filed an appeal with prosecutors to investigate the actions of Vladimir Pronichev, a deputy director of the Federal Security Service who headed the rescue operation; General Alexander Tikhonov, head of the FSB’s special operations center; and FSB director Nikolai Patrushev, among others. Karpova said a lack of medical care was to blame for at least 69 of the deaths, including that of her son Alexander, 31, whom she said lay among the unconscious and dead bodies of hostages on a bus for seven hours before he died.

A 13-year-old girl, Kristina Kurbatova, arrived at the hospital unconscious, was declared dead, and was put in a morgue refrigerator, her father wrote on a “Nord Ost” relatives web site. The father said that he came to the hospital the next day, and when he asked a doctor to establish the cause of death, the temperature of the body indicated that the girl had died in the morgue. Another girl, Nina Milovidova, 14, died of asphyxiation while being transported to the hospital on the floor of a bus under the bodies of other hostages, her father, Dmitry Milovidov, said alongside Karpova at the news conference Wednesday. “We will never forgive Putin for their deaths,” he said. He said he and other relatives have sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin that reads in part: “You noticed that one protester in Estonia died because no medical attention was provided, but why don’t you care about the 130 who died for the same reason in Moscow in 2002?”

The government has sharply criticized Estonia for the stabbing death of a Russian citizen during violent riots that broke out in late April in Tallinn over the relocation of a Soviet war memorial. A spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, Alexander Vasiliyev, said Wednesday that prosecutors would review the appeal, but he could not say what action, if any, they would take. A years-long investigation by the prosecutor’s office into the theater attack has been suspended — meaning investigators are no longer actively looking into the case but relatives are not allowed to review any of their findings. Milovidov and Karpova expressed concern that authorities had not learned from past mistakes, noting that Pronichev was sent to the scene of the Beslan school hostage-taking in 2004 to assist in the rescue operation there. More than 330 hostages died, most as special forces moved in to end a three-day standoff.

No senior officials have been charged over Beslan. “We submitted our complaint not to take revenge on them but to protect people from their mistakes in the future,” Karpova said.

Exposing Putin’s Missile Defense Scam

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexander Golts exposes the fundamental contradiction inherent in Vladimir Putin’s alternative missile defense system proposal:

Imagine a situation in which a good acquaintance — but not a close friend — suggests that you start a joint venture that requires you to invest all of your savings. If you hesitate, he whips out a revolver and threatens to shoot your close relatives. This is how Russia’s most recent suggestion for cooperation with the United States on a joint anti-ballistic missile defense system comes across.

For months now, Russian defense officials have tirelessly reiterated how decisively and “asymmetrically” Moscow would respond to the U.S. plan to place elements of its anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic. The generals threatened to deploy a mystery warhead, which supposedly has the capability of eliminating enemy anti-missile systems with amazing efficiency. They also threatened to re-target Russian rockets at European capitals, as they did in the 1980s.

During his recent meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, however, President Vladimir Putin has now put forward a “peaceful initiative” — a term the Soviet leaders notoriously used for initiatives they had no intention of fulfilling. Putin offered the United States to share the aging Russian early warning radar system in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and the possibility of building a new joint warning station near Armavir in southern Russia. The Russian president also recalled a bilateral agreement signed in 1998, which promised to develop a joint center in Moscow to share information on rocket launches. Putin is suggesting that the two countries create these types of joint operations facilities in both Moscow as well as Brussels, the headquarters of NATO.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov wasted no time in clarifying that a global anti-missile system involving Russia, the United States and European nations could be created as soon as 2020. Ivanov explained in a recent interview that Russia would contribute its anti-missile early warning technology to the global system. In return, the United States would provide its Aegis sea-based combat system. This would mean that Aegis-equipped U.S. ships would have to be stationed much closer to regions representing potential missile threats.

There is no denying that such a joint system — were it to be developed — would have a major impact on the nature of U.S.-Russian relations. Not only would U.S. ships be permanently positioned near Russia’s shores, but both partners would have access to each other’s super-sensitive technologies.

But the main point is that if the United States were to accept the Russian offer, it would have to entirely reject its present strategy of intercepting enemy warheads in space using missiles with a range of more than 2000 kilometers. In addition, the joint project would mean that the billions of dollars that the United States has already spent on its unilateral anti-missile system would be for naught.

The other problematic aspect of Russia’s proposal is that it would require an unusually high level of trust in each other to make this new relationship work.

And Russia has done everything in its power to undermine this trust. A case in point: Ivanov has promised that if the United States does not cancel its plans to place a radar in the Czech Republic and elements of anti-missile batteries in Poland, Russia will deploy Iskander rockets in Kaliningrad aimed at U.S. installations in Europe. If Russia deploys these weapons, it will violate the terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. This in turn could lead to a new stand-off with Europe.

On the surface, Moscow has offered to create a joint global anti-missile system that would significantly improve U.S.-Russian relations. But Moscow has threatened a new military stand-off if Washington refuses its proposal and if it develops its anti-missile system in Europe. Thus, Moscow has proposed an absolutely meaningless and unrealistic initiative that will only distract and irritate Washington at a time when the Kremlin is frantically looking for U.S. support for Putin’s successor.

Exposing Putin’s Missile Defense Scam

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexander Golts exposes the fundamental contradiction inherent in Vladimir Putin’s alternative missile defense system proposal:

Imagine a situation in which a good acquaintance — but not a close friend — suggests that you start a joint venture that requires you to invest all of your savings. If you hesitate, he whips out a revolver and threatens to shoot your close relatives. This is how Russia’s most recent suggestion for cooperation with the United States on a joint anti-ballistic missile defense system comes across.

For months now, Russian defense officials have tirelessly reiterated how decisively and “asymmetrically” Moscow would respond to the U.S. plan to place elements of its anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic. The generals threatened to deploy a mystery warhead, which supposedly has the capability of eliminating enemy anti-missile systems with amazing efficiency. They also threatened to re-target Russian rockets at European capitals, as they did in the 1980s.

During his recent meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, however, President Vladimir Putin has now put forward a “peaceful initiative” — a term the Soviet leaders notoriously used for initiatives they had no intention of fulfilling. Putin offered the United States to share the aging Russian early warning radar system in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and the possibility of building a new joint warning station near Armavir in southern Russia. The Russian president also recalled a bilateral agreement signed in 1998, which promised to develop a joint center in Moscow to share information on rocket launches. Putin is suggesting that the two countries create these types of joint operations facilities in both Moscow as well as Brussels, the headquarters of NATO.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov wasted no time in clarifying that a global anti-missile system involving Russia, the United States and European nations could be created as soon as 2020. Ivanov explained in a recent interview that Russia would contribute its anti-missile early warning technology to the global system. In return, the United States would provide its Aegis sea-based combat system. This would mean that Aegis-equipped U.S. ships would have to be stationed much closer to regions representing potential missile threats.

There is no denying that such a joint system — were it to be developed — would have a major impact on the nature of U.S.-Russian relations. Not only would U.S. ships be permanently positioned near Russia’s shores, but both partners would have access to each other’s super-sensitive technologies.

But the main point is that if the United States were to accept the Russian offer, it would have to entirely reject its present strategy of intercepting enemy warheads in space using missiles with a range of more than 2000 kilometers. In addition, the joint project would mean that the billions of dollars that the United States has already spent on its unilateral anti-missile system would be for naught.

The other problematic aspect of Russia’s proposal is that it would require an unusually high level of trust in each other to make this new relationship work.

And Russia has done everything in its power to undermine this trust. A case in point: Ivanov has promised that if the United States does not cancel its plans to place a radar in the Czech Republic and elements of anti-missile batteries in Poland, Russia will deploy Iskander rockets in Kaliningrad aimed at U.S. installations in Europe. If Russia deploys these weapons, it will violate the terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. This in turn could lead to a new stand-off with Europe.

On the surface, Moscow has offered to create a joint global anti-missile system that would significantly improve U.S.-Russian relations. But Moscow has threatened a new military stand-off if Washington refuses its proposal and if it develops its anti-missile system in Europe. Thus, Moscow has proposed an absolutely meaningless and unrealistic initiative that will only distract and irritate Washington at a time when the Kremlin is frantically looking for U.S. support for Putin’s successor.

Exposing Putin’s Missile Defense Scam

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexander Golts exposes the fundamental contradiction inherent in Vladimir Putin’s alternative missile defense system proposal:

Imagine a situation in which a good acquaintance — but not a close friend — suggests that you start a joint venture that requires you to invest all of your savings. If you hesitate, he whips out a revolver and threatens to shoot your close relatives. This is how Russia’s most recent suggestion for cooperation with the United States on a joint anti-ballistic missile defense system comes across.

For months now, Russian defense officials have tirelessly reiterated how decisively and “asymmetrically” Moscow would respond to the U.S. plan to place elements of its anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic. The generals threatened to deploy a mystery warhead, which supposedly has the capability of eliminating enemy anti-missile systems with amazing efficiency. They also threatened to re-target Russian rockets at European capitals, as they did in the 1980s.

During his recent meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, however, President Vladimir Putin has now put forward a “peaceful initiative” — a term the Soviet leaders notoriously used for initiatives they had no intention of fulfilling. Putin offered the United States to share the aging Russian early warning radar system in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and the possibility of building a new joint warning station near Armavir in southern Russia. The Russian president also recalled a bilateral agreement signed in 1998, which promised to develop a joint center in Moscow to share information on rocket launches. Putin is suggesting that the two countries create these types of joint operations facilities in both Moscow as well as Brussels, the headquarters of NATO.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov wasted no time in clarifying that a global anti-missile system involving Russia, the United States and European nations could be created as soon as 2020. Ivanov explained in a recent interview that Russia would contribute its anti-missile early warning technology to the global system. In return, the United States would provide its Aegis sea-based combat system. This would mean that Aegis-equipped U.S. ships would have to be stationed much closer to regions representing potential missile threats.

There is no denying that such a joint system — were it to be developed — would have a major impact on the nature of U.S.-Russian relations. Not only would U.S. ships be permanently positioned near Russia’s shores, but both partners would have access to each other’s super-sensitive technologies.

But the main point is that if the United States were to accept the Russian offer, it would have to entirely reject its present strategy of intercepting enemy warheads in space using missiles with a range of more than 2000 kilometers. In addition, the joint project would mean that the billions of dollars that the United States has already spent on its unilateral anti-missile system would be for naught.

The other problematic aspect of Russia’s proposal is that it would require an unusually high level of trust in each other to make this new relationship work.

And Russia has done everything in its power to undermine this trust. A case in point: Ivanov has promised that if the United States does not cancel its plans to place a radar in the Czech Republic and elements of anti-missile batteries in Poland, Russia will deploy Iskander rockets in Kaliningrad aimed at U.S. installations in Europe. If Russia deploys these weapons, it will violate the terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. This in turn could lead to a new stand-off with Europe.

On the surface, Moscow has offered to create a joint global anti-missile system that would significantly improve U.S.-Russian relations. But Moscow has threatened a new military stand-off if Washington refuses its proposal and if it develops its anti-missile system in Europe. Thus, Moscow has proposed an absolutely meaningless and unrealistic initiative that will only distract and irritate Washington at a time when the Kremlin is frantically looking for U.S. support for Putin’s successor.

Exposing Putin’s Missile Defense Scam

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexander Golts exposes the fundamental contradiction inherent in Vladimir Putin’s alternative missile defense system proposal:

Imagine a situation in which a good acquaintance — but not a close friend — suggests that you start a joint venture that requires you to invest all of your savings. If you hesitate, he whips out a revolver and threatens to shoot your close relatives. This is how Russia’s most recent suggestion for cooperation with the United States on a joint anti-ballistic missile defense system comes across.

For months now, Russian defense officials have tirelessly reiterated how decisively and “asymmetrically” Moscow would respond to the U.S. plan to place elements of its anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic. The generals threatened to deploy a mystery warhead, which supposedly has the capability of eliminating enemy anti-missile systems with amazing efficiency. They also threatened to re-target Russian rockets at European capitals, as they did in the 1980s.

During his recent meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, however, President Vladimir Putin has now put forward a “peaceful initiative” — a term the Soviet leaders notoriously used for initiatives they had no intention of fulfilling. Putin offered the United States to share the aging Russian early warning radar system in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and the possibility of building a new joint warning station near Armavir in southern Russia. The Russian president also recalled a bilateral agreement signed in 1998, which promised to develop a joint center in Moscow to share information on rocket launches. Putin is suggesting that the two countries create these types of joint operations facilities in both Moscow as well as Brussels, the headquarters of NATO.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov wasted no time in clarifying that a global anti-missile system involving Russia, the United States and European nations could be created as soon as 2020. Ivanov explained in a recent interview that Russia would contribute its anti-missile early warning technology to the global system. In return, the United States would provide its Aegis sea-based combat system. This would mean that Aegis-equipped U.S. ships would have to be stationed much closer to regions representing potential missile threats.

There is no denying that such a joint system — were it to be developed — would have a major impact on the nature of U.S.-Russian relations. Not only would U.S. ships be permanently positioned near Russia’s shores, but both partners would have access to each other’s super-sensitive technologies.

But the main point is that if the United States were to accept the Russian offer, it would have to entirely reject its present strategy of intercepting enemy warheads in space using missiles with a range of more than 2000 kilometers. In addition, the joint project would mean that the billions of dollars that the United States has already spent on its unilateral anti-missile system would be for naught.

The other problematic aspect of Russia’s proposal is that it would require an unusually high level of trust in each other to make this new relationship work.

And Russia has done everything in its power to undermine this trust. A case in point: Ivanov has promised that if the United States does not cancel its plans to place a radar in the Czech Republic and elements of anti-missile batteries in Poland, Russia will deploy Iskander rockets in Kaliningrad aimed at U.S. installations in Europe. If Russia deploys these weapons, it will violate the terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. This in turn could lead to a new stand-off with Europe.

On the surface, Moscow has offered to create a joint global anti-missile system that would significantly improve U.S.-Russian relations. But Moscow has threatened a new military stand-off if Washington refuses its proposal and if it develops its anti-missile system in Europe. Thus, Moscow has proposed an absolutely meaningless and unrealistic initiative that will only distract and irritate Washington at a time when the Kremlin is frantically looking for U.S. support for Putin’s successor.

Exposing Putin’s Missile Defense Scam

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexander Golts exposes the fundamental contradiction inherent in Vladimir Putin’s alternative missile defense system proposal:

Imagine a situation in which a good acquaintance — but not a close friend — suggests that you start a joint venture that requires you to invest all of your savings. If you hesitate, he whips out a revolver and threatens to shoot your close relatives. This is how Russia’s most recent suggestion for cooperation with the United States on a joint anti-ballistic missile defense system comes across.

For months now, Russian defense officials have tirelessly reiterated how decisively and “asymmetrically” Moscow would respond to the U.S. plan to place elements of its anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic. The generals threatened to deploy a mystery warhead, which supposedly has the capability of eliminating enemy anti-missile systems with amazing efficiency. They also threatened to re-target Russian rockets at European capitals, as they did in the 1980s.

During his recent meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, however, President Vladimir Putin has now put forward a “peaceful initiative” — a term the Soviet leaders notoriously used for initiatives they had no intention of fulfilling. Putin offered the United States to share the aging Russian early warning radar system in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and the possibility of building a new joint warning station near Armavir in southern Russia. The Russian president also recalled a bilateral agreement signed in 1998, which promised to develop a joint center in Moscow to share information on rocket launches. Putin is suggesting that the two countries create these types of joint operations facilities in both Moscow as well as Brussels, the headquarters of NATO.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov wasted no time in clarifying that a global anti-missile system involving Russia, the United States and European nations could be created as soon as 2020. Ivanov explained in a recent interview that Russia would contribute its anti-missile early warning technology to the global system. In return, the United States would provide its Aegis sea-based combat system. This would mean that Aegis-equipped U.S. ships would have to be stationed much closer to regions representing potential missile threats.

There is no denying that such a joint system — were it to be developed — would have a major impact on the nature of U.S.-Russian relations. Not only would U.S. ships be permanently positioned near Russia’s shores, but both partners would have access to each other’s super-sensitive technologies.

But the main point is that if the United States were to accept the Russian offer, it would have to entirely reject its present strategy of intercepting enemy warheads in space using missiles with a range of more than 2000 kilometers. In addition, the joint project would mean that the billions of dollars that the United States has already spent on its unilateral anti-missile system would be for naught.

The other problematic aspect of Russia’s proposal is that it would require an unusually high level of trust in each other to make this new relationship work.

And Russia has done everything in its power to undermine this trust. A case in point: Ivanov has promised that if the United States does not cancel its plans to place a radar in the Czech Republic and elements of anti-missile batteries in Poland, Russia will deploy Iskander rockets in Kaliningrad aimed at U.S. installations in Europe. If Russia deploys these weapons, it will violate the terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. This in turn could lead to a new stand-off with Europe.

On the surface, Moscow has offered to create a joint global anti-missile system that would significantly improve U.S.-Russian relations. But Moscow has threatened a new military stand-off if Washington refuses its proposal and if it develops its anti-missile system in Europe. Thus, Moscow has proposed an absolutely meaningless and unrealistic initiative that will only distract and irritate Washington at a time when the Kremlin is frantically looking for U.S. support for Putin’s successor.

Annals of Russian Corruption

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Georgy Bovt further exposes the horrors of Russia’s fundamentally corrupt society. Russia has the worst of both worlds; ruled by a failed KGB spy it has lost its liberty, yet it has not gained freedom from criminality. It’s living a nightmare.

The event that most caught my attention in in the news the other day was the arrest of a top municipal official in the small town of Solnechnogorsk near Moscow. This position is roughly equivalent to serving as the head of a village. And this “village head” was arrested on suspicion of taking a $200,000 bribe for granting permission for the construction of a single apartment building in his jurisdiction.

In the West, a bribe of this scale would qualify as a major corruption scandal. These scandals usually attract a lot of attention, triggering various investigations. Not only is the individual crime directly addressed, but Western countries take a close look at whether there was a systemic failure in the way government institutions regulate, punish and deter malfeasance.

But here in Russia, this bribe case resulted in only a terse and dry announcement in the news as if it were some trivial and banal matter. And to be perfectly fair, what is a meager $200,000 bribe when such building permits in Moscow go for $1 million at the very least? In fact, the scale of bribe-taking in Russia has reached such levels that nobody is shocked anymore by news of yet another case of corruption.

The town of Solnechnogorosk, 65 kilometers northwest of Moscow, is by no means a depressed or dilapidated town. You can see the construction of modern apartment buildings, supermarkets, offices and various industrial buildings. Of course, you could console yourself with the thought that bribes are not required for every construction project, but this would be naive. As anyone who has ever tried to build something can tell you, bribery is standard practice in Russia. It can be direct or indirect, in cash or services. Whatever the form of the bribe, bureaucrats always profit the most.

Corruption is so pervasive that it has long been viewed as a banality of Russian life. We are no longer indignant when we hear about corruption because we have gotten so used to it. It has become the norm both for higher ups and for those of lower rank. The only difference is the scale. Of course, Russians “notice” the corruption in the country and, in theory, they are opposed to it (and remain opposed until they become the focus of a corruption allegation). According to a recent survey conducted by the Levada Center, 43 percent of respondents named corruption as the main problem in Russia, and another 29 percent named “pressure from officials and bureaucrats.”

This is nothing new. Although this problem has been around and has been publicly acknowledged for years, President Vladimir Putin’s war on corruption has not improved the situation. The number of people accepting illicit payments and the size of the bribes have increased significantly. From an informal polling of business acquaintances, I learned that the usual kickback during the years under President Boris Yeltsin’s tenure was from 20 percent to 30 percent, but that it has risen to 60 percent to 70 percent and higher today. State-owned companies and organizations close to administration siloviki are especially burdened by the problem.

Understandably, respondents usually named the institutions with which they had the most frequent dealings as being “among the most corrupt.” For this reason the Health and Social Development Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Finance Ministry led the list. But various State Duma deputies, judges and education officials were also mentioned.

Respondents did, however, note improvements in a range of areas. A Levada Center survey conducted back in the spring of this year showed honesty on the rise among the traffic police. In 2005, motorists reported paying bribes in 78 percent of roadside spot inspections, while in 2007, the number dropped to 57 percent. It would also seem that the number of bribes has decreased in connection with the issuance of driver’s licenses and vehicle technical inspection certificates.

Examining the situation more closely, however, it is clear that a side business in technical inspections has sprung up in cahoots with the police. Now, instead of a traffic police officer on the street pocketing the bribe, motorists pay the same amount to firm closely connected with the traffic police; this private company promises to “help” speed up the processing of necessary documents. The issuance of driver’s licenses is carried out in close “cooperation” with driving schools. Moreover, private organizations linked to every auto dealer act as middlemen in issuing license plates and official vehicle passports.

Within the last few years, “auxiliary” service firms that work with every state institution have popped up everywhere. “Express” and “simplified” ways to process required paperwork have become ubiquitous — and always for a fee. The average Russian has become accustomed long ago to looking for the simplest and quickest way to get around bureaucratic obstacles rather than trying to fulfill formal legal requirements.

The result is that it has become customary to “thank” others for their services. Money is paid not as fines for violations of the law, but to grease the palms of bureaucrats to induce them to simply do what they are supposed to do as an official part of their job — issue the necessary stamps, certificates or documents. Even if the person doesn’t agree to pay the bribe, the bureaucrat can still find a way of squeezing the same amount of money from you by levying a fine for some kind of violation of a rule. Or the bureaucrat can act as a roadblock by simply refusing to carry out his normal duties as required by his job function and by the law.

The same practice applies to university professors, who “allow” their students to pass their exams; to the bureaucrats who issue residency registration documents; or to the government property registration department when a property owner applies for his ownership documents. This is also how the Federal Tax Service “helps” private firms to reduce their clients’ tax obligations.

An acquaintance in business told of the following typical experience: After Federal Tax Service inspectors completed a review of his firm, they announced that no violations were found — a rarity to say the least. The ranking officer then took the businessman aside and said, “That will cost $10,000.”

“What for?” the perplexed businessman replied. “You just said there were no violations.”

“You’re paying for the fact that we didn’t find any,” the officer matter-of-factly responded. “Had we found violations, the fee would have reached $50,000.” He then kindly gave the businessman a few pointers on how to fill out the necessary tax-reporting forms.

Is this corruption or simply the typical way of life in Russia, where the distinction between legality and illegality has been almost entirely erased?