Daily Archives: July 21, 2007

How Putin Beats His Rivals . . . and We do Mean Beat

The Moscow Times reports:

Law enforcement officers stormed the apartment of Arkhangelsk Mayor Alexander Donskoi on Wednesday and took him to a detention facility, sharply escalating an ongoing battle between him and the region’s governor.

The officers forced their way into Donskoi’s apartment Wednesday afternoon and carried him out to a waiting police car despite protests by doctors present that his blood pressure was dangerously high, Donskoi’s aide, Eduard Gainutdinov, said by telephone. Gainutdinov said he was speaking from the apartment. A woman could be heard wailing in the background. Regional prosecutors said in a statement that Donskoi, 37, was detained on suspicion of illegally dipping into city coffers to pay for bodyguards for himself and his family. Prosecutors are now deciding whether to charge him formally with abuse of office, the statement said. If charged and convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison.

Donskoi was formally charged in February with faking his university diploma and participating in illegal business activities while in office, but he had been free on condition that he not leave the city. He has said repeatedly that he is innocent.

Donskoi’s legal problems began shortly after his November announcement that he planned to run for president next year. He has said the Kremlin tried to pressure him into staying out of the race.

But he has also been embroiled in a dispute with Arkhangelsk Governor Nikolai Kiselyov. On July 11, Donskoi posted a video on the City Hall-connected Archicity.ru showing a man resembling Kiselyov puportedly accepting a bribe. Kiselyov said in a statement posted on the regional administration’s web site the following day that the video was a fake and part of a “dirty” campaign connected with the upcoming election season. “I have already gone to the authorities [in connection with the video],” Kiselyov said in the statement. Donskoi’s 16-year-old son, Alexander, said Wednesday’s detention was Kiselyov’s “revenge” for the video. A woman who answered the phone at Kiselyov’s press office declined to comment and referred all questions to the regional prosecutor’s office.

Donskoi’s son said he came home Wednesday afternoon and saw his apartment building barricaded by OMON riot police. “They didn’t let me inside, and when I said I’m his son, they let me through but were cursing at me as I went by,” he said in a telephone interview. The front door to the apartment had been broken down, and the Arkhangelsk mayor was lying on the bed, his son said. After doctors gave him a shot to wake him up, the arresting officers handcuffed him behind his back and “dragged him down the stairs,” Donskoi’s son said. The criminal investigation into Donskoi came up at President Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference Feb. 1 in the Kremlin. Putin suggested, at the time, that Donskoi’s troubles were related to squabbling between him and Kiselyov. There are dozens of criminal cases being conducted against deputy mayors, small-town mayors and former mayors across the country in what political analysts see as a campaign by the Kremlin and governors to instill greater loyalty in mayors.

The Horror of Nashi Unbound

Imagine that U.S. President George Bush creates a youth cult organization and funds it to the tune of millions of dollars. It’s sole purpose is to fanatically heap praise upon his government and attack his rivals. Imagine they organize a summer camp, and at the camp they erect huge posters of John Kerry and Ralph Nader dressed as female prostitutes — just like the ones you see at left so depicting Mikhail Kasyanov and Garry Kasparov and erected by “President” Putin’s youth cult Nashi in Tver recently. What do you think the world would say about Bush’s actions? Hopefully, it will say the same about Putin. The Moscow Times reports:

One of the most eye-catching displays at this year’s Nashi summer camp shows three opposition politicians dressed as prostitutes. Activists from the pro-Kremlin youth movement stopped to chuckle at the display, topped with the words “Red-Light District” and featuring larger-than-life images of three scantily clad floozies, earlier this week. The funny part was that the pictures had been doctored to show the faces of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former chess champion Garry Kasparov and writer Eduard Limonov, founder of the banned National Bolshevik Party. “These are the people who are selling out Russia,” clarified Yelena Yefremova, a Nashi activist who had been assigned as a guide to a reporter and photographer during a daylong tour of the camp, located about 350 kilometers northwest of Moscow.

Nashi’s annual retreat on the shores of Lake Seliger is larger than ever — with 10,000 activists in attendance compared with 5,000 last year and 3,000 two years ago — and the campgrounds are abuzz with activity as Nashi prepares for State Duma elections in December and the presidential vote in March. But just as the retreat kicked off Monday, the future of Nashi became uncertain with the announcement that its leader, Vasily Yakemenko, was leaving. Yakemenko told reporters Tuesday that he would step down after the presidential election to make way for a new leader, who is to be selected in a vote at the end of next week. “I’m too old to be working in youth politics, to be leading a youth movement,” said Yakemenko, 36. Asked what he planned to do after leaving Nashi, he said cryptically, “Wherever I can serve my country with maximum effectiveness.”

Nashi, which means Ours, [LR: Actually, it means “us Slavic Russians”] was founded in 2005 and immediately made itself felt by organizing a rally of 50,000 students on Leninsky Prospekt to honor the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The organization is unwavering in its support of President Vladimir Putin and frequently condemns fascism and racism. But its definition of “fascist” includes a number of political leaders critical of Putin, including Kasyanov, Kasparov and Limonov — who have led a series of anti-Kremlin street protests as part of the Other Russia coalition — and liberal parties such as Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces.

Earlier this year, Nashi activists mounted a noisy demonstration outside the Estonian Embassy and stormed a news conference being given by Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand with demands that Tallinn apologize for its controversial decision to move a Soviet-era World War II memorial. Nashi activists were also accused of harassing British Ambassador Anthony Brenton after he met with leaders of The Other Russia last year. Yakemenko said Tuesday that Nashi would not stage any anti-British protests in retaliation for this week’s expulsion of four Russian diplomats from London. The leaders of Nashi, whose financing is opaque, deny that they receive Kremlin funding. But the organization has been closely linked to Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration. Many believe that Nashi was set up as a response to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004, in which youth-led street protests helped give the presidency to pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Today, even though Putin has approval ratings of around 70 percent — and despite the fact that his opponents in The Other Russia are widely seen as a marginal political force with little chance of winning the election — Nashi activists still express fear that an Orange Revolution-style uprising could happen in Russia. “One of our main goals is to resist any attempts to conduct an Orange Revolution in Russia,” Dmitry Baranovsky, the coordinator of Nashi’s elections division, said at the Seliger campground. Baranovsky was standing outside a large tent where several dozen activists were listening to a lecture on exit polls and election procedures. Nashi is planning to enlist 60,000 people to conduct nationwide exit polls during State Duma and presidential elections, Baranovsky said. Nashi activists believe that Yushchenko was able to come back from his first-round defeat in the Ukrainian presidential election thanks to Western-funded exit polls that showed he was the true victor, rather than pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. “I’m sure the West will try to destabilize the elections,” Nikolai Slepnyov, a Nashi activist from Tula, said near his campsite. As Slepnyov spoke, a large digital clock behind him showed the hours, minutes and seconds left until the presidential election — a project initiated by the Tula delegation to help raise voter awareness.

In a separate project, the Tula delegation brought pryaniki, or gingerbread cakes, branded with the Nashi logo. Humor is a potent weapon in political activism, said Tamara Pavlova, an activist from Kursk who is the chief playwright in a Nashi-sponsored puppet theater that plans to tour the country during the electoral campaign. Pavlova showed off her actors — puppets crafted to look like opposition figures, including former presidential candidate Irina Khakamada and self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky — and shared some details about one of her plays. “The main subject of the play is the internal opposition, as well as Russia’s enemies abroad,” she said, adding that the play had a happy ending, since the foes of Russia would be foiled in the end.

Nashi fosters an entrepreneurial spirit among activists, said Yefremova, the guide. “You present your ideas, and if Vasily Yakemenko sees that it’s a good project, he’ll make sure you get funding,” she said. Not all the projects on display at Lake Seliger were related to politics. In the tent run by Nashi’s career division, activists filled out forms to apply for internships. Nashi has placed interns in the Duma, ministries and state-owned companies, including 30 at Gazprom, said Artyom Semyonov, coordinator of the division. Other projects were connected to charity. Signs pointing to a bloodmobile encouraged Nashi activists to donate blood, while one display offered information about the plight of children in orphanages.

Meanwhile, in a project inspired by the national demographic crisis, 30 Nashi couples were to tie the knot in a mass wedding ceremony Wednesday. A special campsite of red tents was set up for the wedding night. In stark contrast to Russian tradition, no alcohol would be allowed, since Nashi activists are forbidden from drinking at Lake Seliger. The campers must follow a strict regime where everyone rises at 8 a.m. and participates in a morning exercise — running for men, aerobics for women — to the sound of thumping techno music and, at least on Tuesday, to Yakemenko shouting “Go! Go! Go!” through a loudspeaker. [LR: Hmmmm . . . that sounds strangely familiar . . . ]

Yakemenko seems to be widely admired by the movement’s activists. The words “Vasya, I love you!” were written with masking tape on the side of one tent. Now that Yakemenko has announced he is leaving, however, it is unclear what awaits Nashi after it executes its mission in the upcoming elections. But Yefremova, a two-year Nashi veteran who has earned the title of “commissar,” had a simple answer. “He’s leaving to make way for us,” she said.

Lucas on Berezovsky

Edward Lucas on the Berezovsky assassination attempt:

If, as some suspect, this assassination was meant to send a warning signal to Mr Berezovsky to halt his political rabble-rousing against the Kremlin, then it has had precisely the opposite effect. His pronouncements have become increasingly shrill.

He told a British newspaper that he wanted to remove Russia’s rulers “by force” – infuriating the British government. At a recent debate at London’s Frontline club, Mr Berezovsky kept Russia-watchers, journalists, spooks and fellow-emigres transfixed with his demolition of his native country’s lethal fusion of business and political power, enforced by secret police tactics.

But a sardonic intervention from the audience left him – for once – speechless. “You have well described the monster that runs Russia. But it is one that you yourself created.”

Mr Berezovsky’s analysis may indeed be hypocritical, but it is still largely correct. And while he may be a difficult man to admire, if the Russian authorities have indeed tried to kill him, there could be little more convincing proof of the terrifying contempt in which the Kremlin holds our way of life.

This is Putinism

Blogger Paul Goble explains the horrifying nature of Putinism in today’s Russia:

Young Russians inflamed by radical nationalist and xenophobic ideas are more numerous today than at any point since sociologists began studying the phenomenon in the late 1980s, with some investigators suggesting that there may now be as many as 500,000 Russian young people involved in extremist groupings.

And the number of such young people aged between 13 and 30 and especially between 15 and 17 is increasing rapidly, especially in the major cities in the hitherto predominantly Russian European portion of the country, an article in today’s “Novyye izvestiya” reported.

The exact number of young Russians who are now extremists remains very much a matter of dispute, in some respects because of problems with the available data and in others because of definition: Are all violent football fans to be included? Or are those without a clearly articulated nationalist ideology to be excluded?

Aleksandr Brod of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau gives the highest number – half a million – while others including the SOVA Center’s Galina Kozhevnikova give lower ones, with “no more than 60-70,000” real extremists surrounded by a much larger penumbra of hangers-on. But the students of this subject appear to agree on three important things: First, they all say, the number of young Russian extremists is growing and now is at a level higher than at any time since this phenomenon began to be tracked in 1988, with no sign that this rise is about to end anytime soon.

Second, they insist, a major reason why he number has increased because over the last 10 to 15 years is that the young have concluded that they can act on their extremist views with little fear of punishment because many in positions of power back their ideas or at least will help to protect those who manifest them.

And third, extremist attitudes are far more widespread among young people than in the population as a whole. According to the Levada Center’s Lev Gudkov, some four to six percent of the total Russian population has Nazi-like extremist views, but among the young, the share of extremists may be as high as 15 percent.

With the passing of time, some of these young people may outgrow their radical and xenophobic nationalism, but given the large numbers of those now infected, many will not – and that will pose yet another challenge to already embattled political liberties in the Russian Federation.

The Mailbag: A Russia Blog Rat Speaks His "Mind"

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

The following missive appeared in our mailbox on Wednesday, July 18th, the same day we published this post (dateline Thursday) criticizing the reporting on Russophile propaganda machine Russia Blog based on the analysis of the Ruminations on Russia blog.

Dear “Kim,”

I think you must read Russia Blog more than I do, because Vlad’s post was up for probably less than twenty minutes. But still, I’m really flattered that you check our site that often. As for all the personal attacks – well, no one has any idea if you’ve ever been to Russia. And I do agree with Vladimir that anonymity does lend itself to being more hateful online, as both you and this other fellow have demonstrated.

Sincerely Yours,

Charles Ganske
Editor, Russia Blog

Here is La Russophobe publisher Kim Zigfeld’s response:

Dear Mr. Ganske,

Looks like we really hit a nerve with our latest expose of your shoddy propaganda exercise, didn’t we? Thanks for confirming it in writing.

Also, thanks for confirming how “up” we are on what is going on in the blogosphere. Please do tell your friends and neighbors. We definitely do keep close tabs on the outrageous lies you tell over at Russia Blog, we make a point of it. And in return we are delighted to compliment you on being such an avid reader of La Russophobe, since your e-mail appeared in our inbox scant seconds after we posted our comments about your blog.

Finally, thanks for giving me a wonderful excuse to rip Russia Blog yet another new one, just as I’d hoped you’d do.

Now, to respond to your “substantive” points:

You are not qualified to edit a blog about Russia, and everybody who knows Russia knows that (the blogger at Ruminations on Russia, who lives there, certainly made it quite clear if there was any doubt). As far as I know, you’re the only person in the English-speaking blogosphere who occupies a position of authority without having such credentials and as such you stand out like a sore большой палец. Instead of trying to defend your qualifications, which don’t exist, you therefore try to change the subject to my qualifications. That’s the most pathetic kind of neo-Soviet propaganda tactic, and the fact that you could think it might work with me only goes to prove how utterly lost you really are. I’m actually a bit surprised to find out you are so small-minded. This kind of “thinking” brought down the USSR, and it will just as surely bring down Russia and Russia Blog.

Think about it, Mr. Ganske: Does the fact that I’m not qualified to edit a Russia blog mean that you are? Only the most ignorant kind of child would think so. Basically, what you’ve done is to admit that you are not qualified, and to argue that since I’m not qualified either, it’s OK for you not to be. It’s classic neo-Soviet stupidity, exactly the kind that drove Soviet Russia right into the ground.

Think about it, Mr. Ganske: If you lack any credentials in Russian life and culture, how would you know whether I have them or not? Not exactly logical, is it?

That said, your statement is completely detached from any vague conception of the truth. Even my worst enemies know full well that I speak Russian and have lived extensively in the country. They attack me for my alleged “bias” and “hatred” as well as my claimed lack of intelligence, not my knowledge and experience with Russia. A huge number of my readers and contributors are Russians. Again, the fact that you don’t comprehend this basic fact only goes to show how utterly detached you are from reality, and how unreliable your crazy propaganda exercise at Russia Blog really is. Like most Russophiles, you’re pathetically lost in a world of your own imagining.

Now, it turns out, your credentials as an economics and business analyst are also being called into question — by someone who is, in fact, doing business in Russia. I can’t say I’m surprised by this revelation, nor am I surprised at your reaction. I will say in your defense that the sad thing is that no matter how lame your credentials and analysis are, the credentials and analysis of Yuri Mamchur, Russia Blog’s publisher, are infinitely more lame (as we’ve documented here on this blog st some length, they’re actually bogus). Though you have no first hand knowledge of Russia, at least you’re not a Kremlin stooge (just the lackey of a stooge). In this arena what Russia Blog is doing is all the more sordid and unsavory, since you are using your blog to help line the pockets of Mr. Kuznetsov by spewing ridiculous lies about the Russian economy to unsuspecting investors. One day you should look up the term “conflict of interest” and reflect on its meaning — but first, of course, you’d have to come to grips with the term “ethics.”

As Ruminations on Russia has brilliantly and succinctly exposed, the only people who respect what Russia Blog is doing are lay people with no real knowledge of Russia (i.e., victims) and rabid Russophile idealogues. Your content is devoid of sourcing, devoid of critical analysis, and devoid of real knowledge of what is happening on the ground in Russia today. Pure and simple, it’s propaganda — just as ROR very accurately said it was. And just like the USSR, you think you can fool people with it. Sorry, Charlie. That boat has sailed.

Given the wacko ideology (the loathsome concept of teaching “intelligent design” in public schools, just for instance) that underlies the bizarre propaganda entity, Discovery Institute, which financially supports Russia Blog, none of the foregoing is the least bit surprising to me or to anyone else. You’re merely doing what such folks have always done, playing fast and loose with the facts in order to advance a bald ideological agenda and hoping nobody will notice. Unfortunately for you, jig’s up — they have, and will continue to, right up until your blog goes the way of the USSR.

Very truly yours

Kim Zigfeld
Publisher, La Russophobe

PS: Since you seem to be against “hatefulness” and personal abuse, it’s rather odd that you choose to place my name in quotation marks, and to question my credentials, clear acts of hate and personal attack. This kind of rank hypocrisy is the true mark of a Russophile sociopath. Did you think at all before you made your statement about anonymity being connected to abuse and hate? Do Howard Stern, Don Imus or Rush Limbaugh have anonymity? Maybe you don’t care for their “hateful” attack style, but their audiences dwarf yours, and Yuri sure does go on and on about the size of your audience, so it must be important to you. Meanwhile, what about all the works of literature that have been published anonymously? What about the fact that anonymity is more the rule than the exception in the blogosphere, and there are lots of excellent reasons for doing it (starting with the fact that its lets the blogger’s ideas stand alone, rather than trying to leverage a background or organization, something you obviously haven’t got the guts for). What about the many human rights organizations (such as Global Voices) that advise bloggers how to blog anonymously so they won’t be persecuted and killed like Anna Politkovskaya. Are you trying to help identify anti-Kremlin bloggers so you can help them get killed? That’s pretty mean, if you are. It would make you an accomplice to murder. Do you have the guts to publicly condemn Global Voices for advising anonymous blogging? Or are you just blowing ignorant smoke? I don’t recall you complaining about the hostile statements made about me by the anonymous Russophile blogger at Konstatin’s Russian Blog. Did you ever do so? Or are you only annoyed when you are the one being attacked? You simply can’t tell the truth or be fair, it’s simply pathological. Meanwhile, apparently you are the sort of coward who thinks that Hitler and Stalin should have been met not with hatred but with kindness and understanding. Like Neville Chamberlain, you think confrontation won’t work and conciliation will. He was wrong. So are you. And the hubris with which you cling to a failed world view is quite revolting.