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?

Annals of Neo-Soviet History

Robert Amsterdam provides more details on the story La Russophobe reported last week regarding the Kremlin’s attempt to create neo-Soviet propaganda manuals for use in Russian history classrooms:

Today the Moscow Times is carrying a very important report on the Kremlin’s efforts to impose a certain historical interpretation in the nation’s school textbooks – including an opening chapter on sovereign democracy (which is an insulting argument that Russians can’t be trusted to vote for their own leaders), mistruths about the Ukraine elections, and an exceedingly misleading depiction of the Yukos affair. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta:

The All-Russian Conference of Social Science Teachers has disparaged the Kremlin-backed text book, A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006, and the book’s main author requested on Wednesday that she be disassociated from the project. Professor Oksana Gaman-Golutvina said the material published in the book did not correspond to what she wrote. “I really do not want my name to be associated with this disgrace,” she said.


Sovereign Democracy Gets a History

By Svetlana Osadchuk

President Vladimir Putin has made clear his belief that the country’s 20th-century history is criticized unfairly and that Russians should be proud of their past. Many teachers are unhappy with how they are being asked to pass that message along to their students.

In particular, they say the history they are being called on to teach is too politicized and based on the work of Kremlin ideologists instead of professional historians, as the two most prominent figures involved hold only undergraduate history degrees.

“I don’t like the way they are trying to impose their vision of Russian history,” said Izabella Ganovskaya, dean of the Institute for Upgrading Teaching Qualifications in Yekaterinburg. “They are all trying to promote a manual providing a tendentious and shallow view of history.”

Among those to whom Ganovskaya was referring were Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the president’s administration, and Gleb Pavlovsky, who heads the Effective Policy Foundation, a think tank with strong ties to the Kremlin. Both were present at the unveiling of “A Modern History of Russia, 1945-2006: A Teachers’ Manual” at a conference for history and social sciences teachers in Moscow in June.

Both men’s ideas are clearly represented in the content of the new manual.

The manual’s final chapter, “Sovereign Democracy,” covers the period from the beginning of Putin’s presidency in 2000 and takes its title from the Kremlin ideology Surkov is credited with creating.

Surkov is liberally quoted in the chapter, explaining that qualifying the idea of democracy with different adjectives is common practice and that Russian policy should be based on a refusal to be “dictated to from outside.”

The chapter also reads as an apologia for some of the more controversial events during Putin’s tenure.

One example is the coverage of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, in which a second-round victory by Viktor Yanukovych, whom Putin had openly supported, was thrown out as a result of vote rigging, paving the way for a win by his pro-Western opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, in a rerun.

“Yanukovych was the only candidate capable of truly resisting Yushchenko,” the teachers’ guide explains. “So Russia’s choice was clear.”

The chapter also explains that the point of the campaign against the now-bankrupt oil major Yukos was that “a government that had become stronger sent business an unambiguous message: Obey the law, pay your taxes, and don’t try to put yourselves above the government.”

“They took the hint,” the section concludes.

High school students are also given an introduction to political theory.

“Political science and political practice unambiguously confirm one thing: Elections based on proportional representation reflect the nuances of voters’ political preferences more accurately than do elections by majorities.”

The author of the chapter, Pavel Danilin, holds a bachelor’s degree in history, as does the editor of the manual, Alexander Fillipov. Danilin is projects manager at Pavlovsky’s foundation, while Fillipov is deputy director of the National Center for Foreign Policy, a think tank founded by Nikita Ivanov, who works in the presidential administration.

Among historians, there was doubt about whether the authors’ backgrounds in history were up to the challenge.

“I am certain that no one qualified to write a good high school history textbook was invited to the presidential reception after the conference,” prominent Russian historian Roy Medvedev said.

Actually, the only professional historian mentioned in the credits at the front of the manual is Anatoly Utkin, director of the Center for International Research at the Institute of U.S.A. and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Although he is singled out for thanks by Fillipov for his “participation in the work on the project,” Utkin said he had no direct involvement at all.

“Maybe the authors of the manual have read some of my books, because I have written 45,” Utkin said. “But I haven’t written anything specially for this textbook.”

Utkin did say he thought textbooks should help develop a love for country, but that the current efforts could only be considered as a very early step in that direction.

Medvedev said there had been no good history textbooks written for Russia since 1905. “All the textbooks we have had either contained the ‘Soviet lie’ or the ‘anti-Soviet lie,'” Medvedev said, adding that two or three entirely new textbooks were needed.

In the Soviet period, history textbooks were reviewed by historians from the country’s Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, after which they were sent to a number of test schools before being certified for huge print runs by state publishers. There was one textbook for the whole country with one view of what the “real” story was.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, replacing old textbooks was a real need, and new regulations meant that publishers were only required to attain the approval of two “independent experts.”

The textbook industry was plagued by the same corruption rife in the rest of the economy, and approval often depended more on the size of bribe a publisher was willing to pay the experts than the quality of the product.

The average bookstore today might have as many of 20 different volumes all offering a history of modern Russia.

“I have looked through about 10 of these,” Medvedev said. “They were all mediocre.”

Although there is broad agreement that new textbooks are needed, the current effort hasn’t earned many fans outside government circles.

“There is no question that professional historians, and not young political operatives, should be involved” Utkin said.

“Textbooks shouldn’t just be agitka,” he added, referring to simplistic, Soviet agitational works.

The manual’s introduction takes a different outlook, however, talking about the need “to create a strong civic outlook in each graduate ” and saying the manual was concerned “not so much about the facts, but about their logic and consequences.”

In an attempt to reassure critics at the June conference, presidential aide Dzhakhan Pollyeva told the teachers that there would have to be revisions and corrections made in the book before it was finalized. She said this was a result of the fact that the manual was the product of authors of “different levels.”

But Danilin’s reaction to criticism of the manual does not generate much confidence that the teachers’ concerns would be addressed. Although he declined to comment for this article, his position was clear in a blog posting on LiveJournal.

“You can vent your spleen as much as you like,” he wrote. “But you will teach children in line with the books you are given and in the way Russia needs.”

The Eternal Russian Nightmare: The Kremlin Likes Screwed-up Russia Best

Something that cannot be emphasized often enough when trying to understand Russia is that it simply isn’t in the Kremlin’s interests to have fully successful businesses or a vibrant, healthy population. A business with fully developed modern technology is a power center, and it can become a competitor to the Kremlin. The same is true of a healthy, well-informed population. Ignorant, weak entities are much easier to control than smart, strong ones. Above all other reasons, that is why Russia remains such a mess.

A reader tips us on a an excellent overview of this tragedy. Steven Pearlman, business columnist for the Washington Post, reports:

MOSCOW Most Russians know plenty about Roman Abramovich, the 41-year-old former commodities trader who parlayed his interest in former state oil and aluminum companies into an $18 billion empire that includes England’s Chelsea soccer team and the governorship of the Arctic province of Chukotka, where reindeer outnumber people.

And they know all about Mikhail Prokhorov, 42, Russia’s nickel czar, who caused a minor diplomatic incident this year when police raided his infamous Orthodox Christmas bashes at a French ski resort after receiving reports that he’d flown in private planeloads of Russian prostitutes for the event.

But few Russians have ever heard of Anatoly Karachinsky or Arkady Volozh, who are as close as it comes to a local Bill Gates or Sergei Brin.

One reason is that they have received little, if any, attention from the Russian media, in particular television news operations, which are known to demand payment for favorable company coverage.

And neither man has yet to pass into the ranks of Russia’s billionaires, despite the runaway success of the technology companies they founded — Karachinsky’s IBS Group, the country’s largest software company and the first to have its shares listed on Western stock exchanges, and Volozh’s Yandex, which is the rare Internet search engine that has managed to maintain a dominant position in its home market against an aggressive push from Google.

“There is no tradition or concept of entrepreneurial success, and this is a big issue for us,” Karachinsky told me. “The stories people tell are of criminals or failures. There simply are no business heroes in this country.”

By right, it ought to have been Russia, not India, that rode the technology sector up the development curve. This is a country, after all, of nearly 100 percent literacy, with a scientific community rich in mathematicians, physicists and engineers who in the past were able to develop nuclear weapons, supersonic jets and sophisticated spy satellites, and who pioneered space travel. The telecommunications infrastructure, at least in the big cities, is remarkably advanced. And wages have been comfortably below those of Europe or the United States.

But several factors conspired to create a slow start for the Russian technology sector.

The technology know-how was trapped in bloated, inefficient state companies and bureaucracies. And although many of those firms have been privatized, they have been stubbornly slow in adopting the latest information technology to drive down costs and boost productivity.

“It will take a very long time before Gazprom has information systems comparable to Shell,” says Karachinsky, who has a number of contracts with subsidiaries of the state-owned natural gas monopoly.

And while Russians excel at the theoretical side of science, Western executives tell me they are less skilled in managing complex projects and applying their scientific knowledge to practical business applications — vital skills for a modern software industry.

Also hampering development of the Russian high-tech sector is the lack of a reliable system for protecting intellectual-property rights. What copyright and patent laws that exist can be easily avoided or manipulated, with the help of judges who are corrupt and a court system that is largely incapable of dealing with complex intellectual-property litigation.

Certainly that is the experience of Microsoft, which asserts that piracy of its software is rampant here, and Motorola, which has been prevented from selling some of its cellphones because of claims that it violates Russian patents, and several pharmaceutical companies that have identified Russia as the source of counterfeit drugs.

Recently, a number of local high-tech executives were able to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to spend a day of his trip to India in Bangalore to convince him of the need to develop a similar technology cluster in one of Russia’s university towns. Putin appeared to be taken by the possibilities, but since then the initiative seems to have been put on the back burner by a state bureaucracy that sees a much bigger payoff for the country, and itself, from booming natural-resource industries.

And therein lies the biggest challenges to the development of an entrepreneurial business culture in Russia, even in sectors like high-tech that are relatively free of government interference or the unwanted attentions of expansion-minded corporate oligarchs. In theory, all that’s needed is talent and investment capital, both of which are plentiful in Russia. But as long as huge rewards can be earned buying and selling natural resource assets, the most skilled and ambitious Russians are probably not going to opt for the hard work, uncertainty and long time required to build a business from scratch.

And as long as investors can reliably make 40 or 50 percent annual returns by investing in state-owned enterprises or companies controlled by politically favored oligarchs, it doesn’t make much sense for anyone to assume the significant greater risks of venture capital investing for similar or even smaller returns.

This crowding-out effect became all too clear to me as I sat in the cafeteria of the Higher School of Economics here speaking with half a dozen undergraduates about their goals and aspirations. None expressed much interest in starting his or her own business, or saw that as the preferred route to fame or fortune. The most common aspiration was to get a job in one of the government’s economic ministries, where good salaries and the possibility of bribes or kickbacks make it possible to earn a comfortable living, or make contacts that could lead to an even better job with an oligarch or a state-owned enterprise.

“We have something wrong with our business culture,” said 20-year-old Alexei Yurtaev, the son of a university professor who came to Moscow from his hometown in the Urals. “Success is dependent more on how close you are to politicians than it is on economic considerations. Certainly you can have a very small business and devote your life to it. But if you have ambitions to create a big and successful company, you have to face the question of how the government will treat you.”

Three or four years ago, students would probably have said the future was with the private corporations, big international companies and even start-ups. That they now perceive that their best bet is to find a way into the state-run “power structure” is a step backward in the development of Russian capitalism.