Daily Archives: July 25, 2007

July 25, 2007 — Contents

WEDNESDAY JULY 25 CONTENTS


(1) Thank Heavens for Robert Amsterdam!

(2) Russia Today: A Spectacle of Russian Humiliation

(3) Annals of Putin’s Failure: The Total Alienation of Georgia

(4) Annals of the Wild East: Now, They’re Getting Caught in the Crossfire

(5) Russia’s National Sport: Murder

Thank Heavens for Robert Amsterdam!

Once again, blogger (and Khodorkovskky lawyer) Robert Amsterdam demonstrates leadership on Russia, this time by publishing a brilliant exclusive column from Oleg Kozlovsky of Oborona. It’s thrilling to read the words of true Russian patriots like Mr. Kozlovsky. One can only hope that our leaders pay attention; and if they do not, that we duly call them to account. And we must not forget this: With Kremlin opponents dropping like flies across the globe, Mr. Amsterdam is risking his life to provide us with this information. In other words, he’s a true Russian patriot – he has more genuine love for Russia in one fingernail than dictator Vladimir Putin (who risks nothing for Russia) in his entire body. And compared to Mr. Kozlovsky, Mr. Amsterdam is a wallflower! It’s also worth mentioning that it’s an atrocity of the first magnitude that neither the members of Oborona nor hero journalist Grigory Pasko, who induced the article, have received their due in the Western mainstream press.

[Editorial note: Oleg Kozlovsky [pictured, left], one of the organizers of the Oborona civic youth movement in Russia, has kindly accepted an invitation from RA blogger Grigory Pasko to publish an article on this space to explain the history of his organization and its objectives. – Robert Amsterdam]

Romantics Learn to Use Their Fists

By Oleg Kozlovsky

In the political street battles that have swept the streets of Russia’s cities, black-and-white flags with a menacing stylized fist on them are becoming an ever more frequent sight. These banners are always unfurled at the forefront, always right in the thick of things. These are my brothers-in-arms, the activists of the Russian «Oborona», who are rushing into the fray, ready to fight to defend their freedom and the truth from a power that is trampling on these ideals.

Oborona [which means “Defense” in Russian—Trans.] is made up of young romantics, current and recent college students who grew up in the brief period of liberty under Yeltsin. Unlike the majority of their peers, they did not agree to trade in their freedom for the economic well-being that to one or another degree came together with Vladimir Putin. But they are not naïve idealists and dreamers any more – these romantics have learned how to use their fists. They conduct rallies, stand up to the OMON on the streets, and publish literature unavailable in Russia about non-violent resistance. The members of «Oborona» have come a long way already and have learned a great deal. But the road ahead is long.

«Oborona» appeared in 2005, when the supporters of several democratic youth organizations, their spirits kindled by the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, decided to join forces. Some of them had actually been at Kiev’s Maidan, others had seen the struggle of the Belarusian opposition against Lukashenka, still others had been following the Rose Revolution in Georgia. The «Orange» success compelled the young patriots to believe in the possibility of victory in their own country as well. They just needed to get together and work out a plan of action. And that was how what has today become the largest movement of youth for democracy independent of parties and politicians was born.

«Oborona» armed itself with the principles of non-violent resistance that had once brought Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Viktor Yushchenko to victory. Chosen as an emblem was a stylized fist, which had already gained fame in Serbia (where it was used by «Otpor»), Georgie («Kmara» had a fist in a slightly altered form), and Ukraine (where it was the symbol of the «Orange» information portal «Maidan»). We knew that this would elicit shock and rage among the governing structures, who were swearing then that “there will be no Orange Revolution in Russia”. But «Oborona» decided to throw out a challenge both to the power and to public opinion, steeped in apathy and fear.

The challenge was accepted. In the past two years, hundreds of «Oborona» activists have been arrested, dozens of its events dispersed, the police has thrown us out of its own headquarters, while employees of the FSB meet with «Oborona» members on an almost daily basis, trying to intimidate them or recruit them to their side. But the police system has not been able to cope with this small, yet cohesive and dedicated group. From a handful of Moscow students, «Oborona» has now transformed into a serious force, which both its opponents in power and opposition politicians can not ignore.

«Oborona» always emphasizes that it does not support any parties or any candidates, nor does it have any intention to come to power. Its objective, as was officially announced in February of this year, is a “non-violent and truly people’s” revolution, which will lead to the downfall of the authoritarian regime. From the opposition «Oborona» demands only one thing – that it unite and advance a single candidate for president.

«Oborona» is well-known in other post-Soviet countries, too. The Ukrainians shared their experience of the Orange Revolution with us, while the Georgians recall that this movement was one of the few that chose to speak out against Putin’s anti-Georgian campaign last year. After «Oborona» had participated in protests against the falsification of the presidential elections in Belarus, a.k.a. the Jeans Revolution, a small nucleus of this movement even appeared there, while Alexander Lukashenka called these young people “cold-blooded thugs” [otmorozki] and prohibited them entry into the country. However, the main battlefield for «Oborona» has always been, and remains, Russia.

«Oborona» was one of the first to refuse to play by the tacit rules of Russian politics: not to criticize the president personally and not to touch upon topics that are sore points for him. Then, at the beginning of the year 2005 it made no sense whatsoever for the Russian opposition, which was represented by three old parties – SPS, Yabloko and the KPRF – to set themselves directly against the Kremlin. For the party functionaries, who saw politics as horse-trading for places in the Duma, real battle with Putin seemed suicidal: after all, this would mean losing the support of the administrative resource and turning all the might of the state’s machinery of propaganda and repression against them. Therefore, the parties engaged, at best, in criticizing “individual shortcomings” or certain officials, studiously avoiding any mention of the president in a negative context. Remaining on the taboo list were the topic of Chechnya, corruption in Putin’s inner circle, and the series of terrorist acts in the autumn of 1999 that had brought him to power.

All of which meant that the hard-hitting and undiplomatic words of «Oborona» about how we’re “sick and tired” of Putin, and we’re starting to fight against the system built up by him, sounded all the more shocking. The conspiracy of silence had been broken. The indecisiveness and flip-flopping of the old democratic leaders became patently obvious and compelled them to make a clear choice as to whose side they were really on. To a large extent thanks specifically to the youth, an “extra-systemic opposition” appeared in Russia, the voices of those who did not agree began to speak out more boldly. For the first time in many years, the Kremlin’s opponents were able to set the agenda themselves. By the way, the members of «Oborona» do not particularly like to talk about their successes and achievements; we are more interested in the future.

By the way, since we are speaking about the future of Russia, «Oborona» members have the most varied notions on the subject. The majority consists of pro-Western oriented liberals who originally came from the ranks of SPS and «Yabloko», but coexisting with them in «Oborona» is everybody from conservatives to social democrats. This may seem incomprehensible in the West, but in the conditions of today’s Russia, such alliances are perfectly natural: after all, before you can choose among various doctrines, you first need to win the right to choose in the first place. This is why the situation demands a unification of the most disparate forces, and other questions get put on the back burner.

Right now, «Oborona» sees its main task as not allowing the implementation of «Operation Successor» – that is, the determination of the name of the new president personally by Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. A large-scale campaign will take off in the autumn, having as its goal to deprive the potential successor of the support of the young generation. After this, the youth will need to be mobilized for battle, this time with the Kremlin and its system – and in this manner together with the other opposition forces to attain a regime change.

This plan is as simple to describe as it is complicated to implement. Nobody has ever done anything like this in Russia till now. All reforms and changes in our country were either implemented from above and that’s where they stopped, or were associated with armed uprisings and bloodshed. «Oborona» itself is faced with a grandiose task – to attain the departure of an authoritarian regime once and for all and without a single shot being fired. «Oborona» members are dedicated and ready to do whatever it takes, but the main question is – will they have enough strength to hold out until victory? The overwhelming majority of young people continue to look upon politics with indifference or aversion, and only a few believe in the possibility that anything can be changed. And by the way, «Oborona» has shown time and again that it is capable of refuting any skeptical predictions.

Time will tell.

Russia Today: A Spectacle of Russian Humiliation and Failure

Writing in the Moscow Times Ira Strauss, U.S. coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO, an independent NGO, exposes the pathetic neo-Soviet sham that is the Russia Today propaganda network:

It is often very difficult to watch Russia Today, the government-owned English-language global satellite television channel that was tasked with creating a positive image of Russia abroad. It has consistently presented the Kremlin version of Alexander Litvinenko’s murder: that he was poisoned by Boris Berezovsky or the British secret services. In classic KGB style, someone is found to claim that the British tried to recruit him into the Litvinenko-Berezovsky circle of agents.

It is the sort of thing that has an almost comic effect when presented in the West.

Inside Russia, perhaps this kind of broadcast sounds normal. After all, the state controls all the major television media, and Russians have a natural patriotic wish to believe the message — particularly when the media insist that the government had no role whatsoever in the murder.

But in the West, this sort of stuff would not pass the smell test. It reeks of trying to shift the blame — projection of blame, to use the psychiatric term.

It also reeks of what could be called “the Syrian defense.” Each time a leading anti-Syrian figure is killed in Lebanon, Syrian leaders say the opposition forces in Lebanon did it in order to embarrass Syria and harm its international standing. It is as if they are copying from President Vladimir Putin’s book, or vice versa. These lines become standard fare in the controlled media at home. In reality, the anti-Putin forces in Russia and London are afraid of getting knocked off by Putin, not by Berezovsky.

Is Russia sinking to the Syrian level?

Russia’s political culture leaves a lot to be desired. It should be setting its standards much higher. Moscow portrays itself as a Christ-like victim with a God-like omnipotence that the opposition aggressively tries to besmirch by convoluted and demonic scheming.

It is possible to sink even lower. The whole episode reflects a culture buried deeply in the KGB tradition. In the Soviet era, anyone remotely tied to the opposition was forced to confess to the crime of undermining the country’s progress.

This became a systemic practice beginning in 1929. After the prominent early Bolshevik leader, Sergei Kirov, was murdered in 1934 at Stalin’s behest, Stalin claimed that the opposition was guilty of the crime. Stalin used the killing as a pretext for a mass purge and murder of literally millions of Soviets.

The Litvinenko killing has certain echoes of the Kirov murder. In both cases, the real evidence is ignored or covered up, while the state becomes preoccupied with finding a scapegoat.

Most of the moderate and liberal forces — from Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky to former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar — wanted to stay on good terms with Putin. They supported the official Kremlin line: It was Putin’s enemies who killed Litvinenko. The only difference was that they said it was Putin’s hard-line political enemies from the conservative wing who did it, not liberals like Berezovsky. Did they hope to prove their loyalty and escape Putin’s wrath?

Russia’s response had its own bizarre logic. For months, the authorities were ambiguous as to who should be labeled as the killer. But when Britain demanded former security services officer Andrei Lugovoi’s extradition, Russia went on the counterattack, organizing a standing-room-only Lugovoi press conference that was broadcast in detail on the government-owned television stations.

Some Russian commentators have already risen to an even higher level of conspiracy theory, seeing in this whole episode a British plot to rally Europe and the United States against Russia. At the same time, they urge Russia to use the old Soviet geopolitical strategy of trying to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States.

While Russia relies on the “Syrian defense,” China in turn has started using the “Russian defense.” Faced with multiple product-contamination scandals, China has executed the head of its food and drug regulatory agency. More important, it has gone on a public relations campaign, attacking U.S. exports for their health defects and citing misleading statistics to argue that the U.S. record is equally bad. China complains that it is a victim of unfair treatment and “double standards.” It’s the exact same complaint the Foreign Ministry has made about the British for demanding Lugovoi’s extradition while refusing to extradite Berezovsky back to Russia for a trial. “Double standard” is what we hear from the Russian elite any time there is any criticism of Russia about anything.

In these ways, the authoritarians of the world have found a common defense that close themselves off, airtight, from facts and criticism. They can kill their enemies and blame it on those same enemies. They can claim that their enemies must have committed the murder, since the resulting international scandal led to bad publicity for the regime. They can complain of the “double standards” of the Western media and of anyone who makes the rather logical assumption that the regime itself is a prima facie suspect.

For the authoritarian regimes to make themselves seem like big-time victims, however, they have to insert a further premise: that the Western media wield enormous global power, one far more terrible than regimes that might kill an odd opponent here or there. It is an argument that could warm the heart of U.S. conservatives and neo-conservatives, who, faced with incessant disagreement from the media and intelligentsia, have also created a high level of criticism of the power and prejudices of the intellectual class.

This media criticism, however, is a poor substitute for open thinking and debate about the issues raised in the media. Governments that let themselves be guided by it have a disturbing tendency to insulate themselves from facts, lose the benefits of media checks and balances, and go off the deep end.

Conservatives in the modern West tend to be more sober. They know when they are exaggerating for the sake of politics and cherish the same free media that they love to criticize. Cruder regimes, however, such as the counterrevolutionary, fascist and Nazi movements of the last century, don’t want to merely complain and vent their paranoia about the media and intellectuals. They want to act on the paranoia.

The Putin regime has been prone to act on its paranoia and on its seemingly unquenchable hatred of individuals and institutions that have crossed it. The damage to Russian institutions has been slowly accumulating over the years since 1999. Unfortunately, it could go much further.

Annals of Putin’s Failure: The Alienation of Georgia is Complete

RosBusinessConsulting reports:

Trade between Georgia and Russia fell 4.4 percent to $322m in the first quarter of 2007, compared to the same period a year earlier, the Georgian State Statistics Department reported, indicating that this was the first time that Russia has ceded its leading position in Georgia’s foreign trade to Turkey, whose contribution stood at $387m in Q1 2007. Georgia’s trade with the CIS has also dropped. Where in January-June 2006, the CIS’s share of Georgia’s overall foreign trade stood at 41 percent, it has shrunk to 37 percent this year . At the same time, Georgia’s trade with Ukraine has surged 41 percent to $263m, which put the republic at 3rd place among Georgia’s foreign trade partners. Overall, Georgia’s trade reached $2.7bn in H1 2007, a 37-percent increase from January-June 2006, with exports increasing 20.1 percent to $548.6m.

President Putin has made Russia a pariah among nations, provoked a new cold war with the West, and alienated virtually every potential ally in post-Soviet space. The people of Russia got what they paid for.

Annals of Putin’s Failure: The Alienation of Georgia is Complete

RosBusinessConsulting reports:

Trade between Georgia and Russia fell 4.4 percent to $322m in the first quarter of 2007, compared to the same period a year earlier, the Georgian State Statistics Department reported, indicating that this was the first time that Russia has ceded its leading position in Georgia’s foreign trade to Turkey, whose contribution stood at $387m in Q1 2007. Georgia’s trade with the CIS has also dropped. Where in January-June 2006, the CIS’s share of Georgia’s overall foreign trade stood at 41 percent, it has shrunk to 37 percent this year . At the same time, Georgia’s trade with Ukraine has surged 41 percent to $263m, which put the republic at 3rd place among Georgia’s foreign trade partners. Overall, Georgia’s trade reached $2.7bn in H1 2007, a 37-percent increase from January-June 2006, with exports increasing 20.1 percent to $548.6m.

President Putin has made Russia a pariah among nations, provoked a new cold war with the West, and alienated virtually every potential ally in post-Soviet space. The people of Russia got what they paid for.

Annals of Putin’s Failure: The Alienation of Georgia is Complete

RosBusinessConsulting reports:

Trade between Georgia and Russia fell 4.4 percent to $322m in the first quarter of 2007, compared to the same period a year earlier, the Georgian State Statistics Department reported, indicating that this was the first time that Russia has ceded its leading position in Georgia’s foreign trade to Turkey, whose contribution stood at $387m in Q1 2007. Georgia’s trade with the CIS has also dropped. Where in January-June 2006, the CIS’s share of Georgia’s overall foreign trade stood at 41 percent, it has shrunk to 37 percent this year . At the same time, Georgia’s trade with Ukraine has surged 41 percent to $263m, which put the republic at 3rd place among Georgia’s foreign trade partners. Overall, Georgia’s trade reached $2.7bn in H1 2007, a 37-percent increase from January-June 2006, with exports increasing 20.1 percent to $548.6m.

President Putin has made Russia a pariah among nations, provoked a new cold war with the West, and alienated virtually every potential ally in post-Soviet space. The people of Russia got what they paid for.

Annals of Putin’s Failure: The Alienation of Georgia is Complete

RosBusinessConsulting reports:

Trade between Georgia and Russia fell 4.4 percent to $322m in the first quarter of 2007, compared to the same period a year earlier, the Georgian State Statistics Department reported, indicating that this was the first time that Russia has ceded its leading position in Georgia’s foreign trade to Turkey, whose contribution stood at $387m in Q1 2007. Georgia’s trade with the CIS has also dropped. Where in January-June 2006, the CIS’s share of Georgia’s overall foreign trade stood at 41 percent, it has shrunk to 37 percent this year . At the same time, Georgia’s trade with Ukraine has surged 41 percent to $263m, which put the republic at 3rd place among Georgia’s foreign trade partners. Overall, Georgia’s trade reached $2.7bn in H1 2007, a 37-percent increase from January-June 2006, with exports increasing 20.1 percent to $548.6m.

President Putin has made Russia a pariah among nations, provoked a new cold war with the West, and alienated virtually every potential ally in post-Soviet space. The people of Russia got what they paid for.