Daily Archives: September 7, 2007

September 7, 2007 — Contents


(1) Putin’s Russia: The Land of Tainted Blood

(2) Barbaric Russia Sinks to a Shocking New Low

(3) From Castro With Love

(4) Annals of Russian Technology

(5) Politkovskaya: The Coverup Continues

Russia: The Land of Tainted Blood

The Moscow Times reports that not only is Putin’s Russia’s blood supply egregiously tainted, it’s running out of even that shoddy supply. More proof that Russia is a backwards, third-world state that doesn’t belong on the G-8 or UN Security Council.

The country does not have enough blood to meet its emergency needs, while blood donated in the country is up to 1,000 times more likely to pass on diseases than in the European Union, according to a leaked federal health inspection service memo.

Russia is not prepared for “civil and military emergency situations requiring donated blood,” and the risks of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other infections transmitted through transfusions is from 500 to 1,000 times higher than in the EU, said the memo from the Federal Health and Social Development Inspection Service, which was obtained by Kommersant.

Russians donate blood at a rate half that of Europeans, and the number of names on the country’s donor register has fallen from 4 million to 1.8 million over the last 10 years. Over the same period, there have been 65 cases of HIV infection from blood transfusions, the document said.

Inspection service spokesman Alexei Sapkin said he could not comment on internal memos, but that the situation was critical and the entire blood transfusion system needed to be brought up to international standards. The problem is less a lack of donors than the general state of medicine in the country, said Yevgeny Zhiburt, chief blood therapist at the National Surgery Center. He said 24 units of blood were used per 1,000 people in Russia, compared with a figure of 109 per 1,000 in the United States, indicated that many more complicated surgical procedures are being performed there. The system for distribution of blood and different blood components is also a problem. Zhiburt said 20 percent of all red blood cell units end up going unused. Alexei Maschan, head of the Hematology Department of the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital, said this was largely because there was no centralized database allowing blood to be used more effectively. “There is no logical system of blood preparation and usage in the country,” he said. The lack of a centralized system also contributes to the problem of blood safety. In the Netherlands, for example, there is one central laboratory that tests blood for diseases. Zhiburt said the number in Russia was 600, and many of these laboratories were still working with obsolete equipment.

Barbaric Russia Sinks to a Shocking New Low

Didn’t think Putin’s Russia could get any lower, couldn’t sink to any more abysmal depth of neo-Soviet hypocrisy and barbarism? Think again. The Moscow Times reports:

A series of raids in recent months suggests that the authorities may have found an innovative way to crack down on critics: allegations of using pirated software. Most recently, the high-tech crimes unit of the Nizhny Novgorod police raided the offices of two nongovernmental organizations, the Tolerance Support Foundation and the Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society, as well as the local edition of Novaya Gazeta, an outspoken opposition newspaper, on Aug. 30 and 31.

On the pretext of searching for unlicensed computer programs, police confiscated four computers from the Tolerance Support Foundation, crippling the organization’s work, and six from Novaya Gazeta, preventing the paper from releasing its next issue. “Our work has stopped because of the confiscation of the computers,” said Oksana Chelysheva, head of the city’s branch of the Tolerance Support Foundation, which seeks to improve relations between different ethnic groups. Similar raids took place in Samara in May, when police seized computers from the offices of the local edition of Novaya Gazeta and an NGO that was helping to organize an anti-Kremlin street protest.

The same month, police in Tula confiscated a computer from the Popular Democratic Union, the political movement that supports the presidential candidacy of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Police said the Tula and Samara raids were justified because the computers had unlicensed software installed on them. “There have been at least 10 such cases,” said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of Panorama, a think tank that tracks political groups.

Activists say the raids are examples of selective justice, given that software piracy is omnipresent in Russia, with unlicensed copies of programs such as Microsoft Office on sale at outdoor markets and kiosks throughout the country. The International Intellectual Property Alliance, a coalition of seven industry groups, estimated last month that piracy rates in Russia ranged from 65 percent to 80 percent — and some say even that may be a conservative estimate. “This may not be a very nice aspect of Russian life,” said Zakhar Prilepin, editor of the Nizhny Novgorod edition of Novaya Gazeta. “But in Russia it’s perfectly clear that up to 90 percent of companies, and practically 99 percent of regional newspapers and medium-sized businesses, and 100 percent of private computers have some sort of pirated programs on them.” Prilepin characterized the raid on his newspaper as retaliation for its muckraking journalism and linked its timing to the start of the State Duma electoral campaign. Duma elections are scheduled for Dec 2.

By law, the authorities can keep the confiscated computers for one month, and then they can extend the period of confiscation for another month. Prilepin said the newspaper would miss its next issue but was hopeful that sponsors would donate the money needed to buy new equipment soon. “There are still people interested in freedom of speech,” he said. The editor noted that the raid took place Aug. 30, the birthday of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who worked for Novaya Gazeta. Nizhny Novgorod police denied that the raids on the newspaper and the NGOs had any political motive.

Police have searched more than 100 businesses and other organizations this year for unlicensed software, including a bread factory that was raided the same week as Novaya Gazeta, police spokesman Alexei Gorbatov said. “There are three or four such raids per week,” he said. “It’s standard practice.” A preliminary inspection suggested that Novaya Gazeta’s computers did have unlicensed software on them, Gorbatov said. Prilepin said the most important programs used to design the newspaper’s pages were definitely licensed, but said he was not sure what other programs might be found on the computer.

The risk of raids over pirated software may put cash-strapped newspapers and NGOs in a difficult position, since unlicensed programs are much cheaper and easier to find than their licensed equivalents. For those organizations that do use licensed programs, it can be complex to keep the paperwork that would prove to police that the software is legal. In a raid last week at the Moscow office of the BBDO advertising agency, police disrupted work for several hours to verify that all the software in the office was licensed. The agency had to obtain documents from its U.S.-based parent company, Omnicom Group, to prove that it was not violating the law.

A high-profile case this year involved the principal of a village school in the Perm region, Alexander Ponosov, who was put on trial after prosecutors found unlicensed copies of Microsoft Windows on school computers. Ponosov said he did not know the software was pirated, and a judge threw out the case against him in February. “To work honestly in our country and to follow the letter of the law is unrealistic,” said Lyudmila Konovalova, a lawyer specializing in consumers’ rights. “These laws are written in a way that doesn’t correspond to the reality we live in.”

Raids in search of unlicensed software are another way for the authorities to pressure critical newspapers, NGOs and political parties, said Pribylovsky, the think tank analyst.

Pribylovsky’s own computer was seized in June, although that raid was connected to a suspected disclosure of state secrets, not piracy. “I’m not sure what kind of software I have, licensed or unlicensed,” he said. “My copy of Windows is licensed, but as for my other stuff, I have no idea. I got some things at Gorbushka.” Gorbushka is a sprawling market in western Moscow famed for selling bootlegged software, music and movies. Following last week’s raids in Nizhny Novgorod, one local NGO struck back at the authorities with a sarcastic message on its web site. The Committee Against Torture, which was not raided, posted a message Monday calling for local police and prosecutors to inspect their own offices for unlicensed programs. Federal agencies have been known to use pirated software on their computers. Bootleg CD factories have been found at secret Defense Ministry sites. When asked whether Nizhny Novgorod police used pirated software, Gorbatov said: “I can’t say. I’m not ready to comment about that.”

From Castro with Love

Reuters reports on more proof of how wise Russians make wise choices that lead to success and prosperity and happiness:

They came from Russia with love to a tropical socialist utopia when the going was good. They were young women romantically drawn to Fidel Castro’s revolution, a breath of fresh air on a distant Caribbean island for those who were disillusioned with Soviet communism. But when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, hundreds of Russian women who married Cubans and moved to Cuba were cut off from home and stranded in poverty as the Cuban economy plunged into deep crisis.

For those who had lived through the hardships of World War II in Russia as children, the long blackouts and the lack of food, medicine and fuel for transport were a cruel flashback. “We were young and Cuba was beautiful when we got here,” said film historian Zoia Barash, who arrived in 1963. Cuban leaders were so young compared to the Soviet gerontocracy and abstract art was not seen as incompatible with communism. Her hopes of finding “true socialism” were dashed, though, as Cuba copied the Soviet model, with sweltering heat added. “Today our situation is difficult, as it is for the whole country,” said Barash, 72, who cannot make ends meet on her 260 peso ($10) monthly pension after 30 years working for the Cuban film industry. About 1,300 women from Russia and former Soviet republics Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan still live in Cuba, scraping a living as best they can.

In an old mansion belonging to the Russian Embassy, two women run a store selling anything from vodka and pickled gherkins to imported toothpaste, Pringles and Viagra pills. The harshest aspect is not being able to travel home. Cuba used to grant them subsidized tickets every five years, paid for in pesos. But Cuba’s airline stopped flying to Moscow and tickets must now be paid for in hard cash few can afford. “My father died in 1994 and I could not go to his funeral,” said Zita Kelderari, a Ukrainian gypsy, in tears. The Flamenco singer fell for a Cuban helicopter pilot in Kiev in 1985 and sailed to Cuba on a Soviet freighter loaded with Yugoslavian butter. When he defected to the United States a few years ago, she was left penniless in Cuba.

Only the women lucky enough to receive money from their relatives get to travel these days. On a Cuban pension alone, it would take 10 years to gather the cost of a flight home. For most it is too late to go back and start a new life. Many are grandmothers with families to look after. The blackouts are gone and food supplies have improved since the dark days of Cuba’s post-Soviet crisis. But housing remains dilapidated and overcrowded, few have cars and access to the Internet is expensive.


Havana’s Russian bookstore closed when “perestroika” reforms took hold in Moscow under Mikhail Gorbachev. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions were stopped, cutting off information from Russia. Despite the problems, some women have pressed ahead. “I don’t know what nostalgia is. There is no point sitting around crying,” said Natalia Balashova, who set about uniting the women in a cultural club for Russian speakers. Balashova’s father was a Bolshevik and she was drawn to Cuba in 1969 as much by love of the Cuban military officer she met in Moscow as by Castro’s “bold” transformation of Cuba. “I knew what to expect. Cuba was building socialism and had its difficulties. We came willingly, out of love,” she said. Still, she felt “shipwrecked” when her country disappeared. Balashova said she tapped her inner reserves and wartime improvisations she learned from her mother to cope with the crisis, such as using crushed egg-shells for cleaning powder. After a 14-year hiatus, she returned to Moscow last year, invited to attend a world conference of Russians living abroad, and got to meet President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.


Elena Verselova, who was struggling to get ahead after two Cuban divorces, took her activism in a different direction. She became a dissident on Cuba’s depressed Isle of Youth. Verselova was deported by the Cuban government on July 26, according to her daughter Diana Aguilar, who arrived from Russia when she was a nine-month baby in her mother’s arms. Verselova was harassed and threatened by Cuban police, and eventually arrested, her daughter said. The family had to sell hard-won electrical appliances to pay for her ticket to Moscow, where she arrived with $170 in her pocket to start a new life. “They didn’t let us say good-bye to her,” said Aguilar, 22, a University of Havana student. She said the Russian consulate in Cuba refused to help her mother even locate family members in Vladimir, 115 miles east of Moscow. “I hope to leave Cuba to join my mother. I want to return to my roots in Europe,” said the blond student.

A Cuban documentary “Todas iban a ser reinas” (They were all going to be queens) made last year captured the isolation of women from seven former Soviet republics living in Cuba. “It was a migration of love, a part of our shattered utopia,” said director Gustavo Cruz. “They worked in our country for many years. It would be ungrateful to forget them.” Women from other former Soviet bloc countries were also stranded in Cuba and forgotten by post-communist governments. Stasia Strach, 65, is one of 49 native Poles living in Cuba — only three of whom are men. The view from her small apartment overlooking Havana’s Malecon, or sea-wall, is spectacular. But the elevator packed up years ago and the 130 steps are a daily effort. Going home is out of the question. “What would I do in Poland, beg at the door of a church?” she said. “I have no pension and nowhere to go.”

Annals of Russian Technology

It’s not only advisable to avoid flying in Russian planes, but Russian rocket ships as well. The problem may begin with the fact that Russia doesn’t even have it’s own launch facility and has to borrow one from another country. A furious Kazakhstan has accused Russia of ignoring the safety of its population. The Moscow Times reports:

A Proton-M rocket carrying a Japanese communications satellite malfunctioned after liftoff Thursday and crashed in Kazakhstan, officials said. Nobody was hurt, but all launches of Proton rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome were suspended, pending an investigation. The rocket failed to put the JCSAT-11 satellite into orbit because of a problem during the second stage, the U.S.-based American-Russian joint venture International Launch Services said. The rocket failed 139 seconds after its launch from the Russian-rented cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and its second and third stages veered from the planned trajectory at an altitude of 74 kilometers, said Alexander Vorobyov, a spokesman for the Federal Space Agency. Under an agreement with Kazakhstan, launches of Proton rockets were automatically suspended until the cause of the crash is determined, he said. He said that was unlikely to affect future launches, but an official at state-controlled Khrunichev State Research and Production Center, which makes Proton rockets, said it would depend on when an official investigative commission delivers its report. Following an accident involving a different kind of rocket launched from Baikonur last year, the report came in about six weeks, and Proton launches are scheduled for November and December, Khrunichev spokesman Alexander Bobrenyov said. Kazakh space agency chief Talgat Musabayev said the accident was likely caused by the failure of steering mechanisms aboard the rocket, but Bobrenyov said it was too early to make that determination. The rocket was carrying more than 200 tons of fuel, including highly toxic heptyl, Musabayev said, expressing concern about contamination around the crash site, an uninhabited area. Kazakhstan would be fully compensated for environmental damage under existing agreements, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov said. Russia has been aggressively trying to expand its presence in the international market for commercial and government satellite and space-industry launches, though its efforts have seen several high-profile failures. In July 2006, a Dnepr rocket carrying 18 satellites for various clients crashed shortly after takeoff from the Baikonur, spreading highly toxic fuel over a wide swath of uninhabited territory in Kazakhstan.