Daily Archives: September 15, 2007

Putin Cracks Down on "Other Russia"

The Other Russia website reports:

The Russian government of Vladimir Putin has increased pressure against the activities of the Other Russia across the country, including in Moscow, during our primary election cycle. In recent days four delegate conferences have been blocked by the government. This is a significant escalation by the Kremlin because their actions come not against street protests or public demonstrations, but against formal meetings of people attempting to engage in the democratic process. Our conferences are open and transparent, but apparently even these democratic discussions have been forbidden by the Kremlin. This signifies a broad step onto totalitarian soil.

Participants in Rostov and Smolensk were taken into custody and later released without charges — clearly the only intent was to disrupt the conferences. In Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow, the conferences were blocked by the sudden withdrawal of permission by the host sites, which had been booked well in advance. The cinema in Moscow called to say they “needed the approval of local authorities” and that they were breaking our contract because we “hadn’t informed them of the political nature of the event.” Our backup site then sent a message saying it would be unavailable the date of the conference “due to a technical problem with the building.” Several of our members went to the site to notify people because we hadn’t had enough time to reach everyone. When we arrived, there were many police as well as a large “under repairs” sign.

So we tried the giant Izmailova hotel complex, where they also have a large conference hall and other facilities. This is where we have reserved rooms and meeting space for the September 30th Congress and we hoped they might save the day by hosting our Moscow regional conference there at the last minute. They accepted and received our down payment. But on Saturday they contacted us to say that the event couldn’t take place, with no further explanation. The owners had always put business first, but clearly that is no longer the case.

At a press conference today in Moscow, we publicly requested that the Izmailova representatives confirm our reservation for the 30th. This is a huge package with a substantial down payment that includes the conference hall, 400 rooms with food, etc. Their response was that they would “need approval from the local authorities.” It appears the same script has been handed out widely.

This is not just more of the same from the Kremlin. As Garry Kasparov put it in chess terms:

“This is an illegal move, a pawn jump from e3 to e6. Putin isn’t playing games anymore, he is simply banning a legitimate event with Russian citizens attempting to participate in a democratic process. And this is in Moscow itself, not in a distant region far from scrutiny. They don’t care anymore. The gloves are off and the iron fist reveals itself. It’s one thing to employ rule changes and tricks to prevent us from registering for elections, or to antagonize us in the street. This is as close as the regime has come to simply banning all opposition activities.”

Again we ask, if Russia is a democracy, why can we not participate? If Putin and his gang are not afraid, if they are so popular, why do they not allow us to meet and to organize? Their worst fear, it now becomes apparent, is not a few thousand marchers in the streets. It is a few thousand Russians participating in an open and democratic system and setting a bad example for the rest of the country.

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Burning books is considered passé these days in Moscow. Preference is given to quieter methods of keeping critical tomes off the shelves of Russian bookstores, or the Moscow International Book Fair. First, the largest Russian publisher, Eksmo, announced that Other Russia leader Garry Kasparov’s new book, “How Life Imitates Chess,” would not be released in time for the Fair as planned. First they said there was a delay due to a technical issue and now a spokesperson says it is because Kasparov’s contract with Eskmo has expired. Certainly it couldn’t be that it was deemed unwise to have a big display of an opposition leader’s face with elections so near at hand? After over seven years of Putin we simply don’t believe in such coincidences.

Now the new book of political activist Ruslan Linkov has also disappeared from the shelves. An unknown buyer purchased the entire print run of 5,000 books to ensure it wouldn’t be available at the Book Fair, where it was scheduled to be launched yesterday. The book delves into the mysterious assassinations of several Kremlin critics, including Galina Starovoitova, killed in 1998 in St. Petersburg. Linkov was her assistant and was himself shot in the head during the attack. Every copy of his book, “Notes from a Survivor,” were purchased by a single buyer before they were even printed. More will now be printed, but of course the book fair launch has been missed.

Brilliant Lucas Blasts OSCE’s Georgia Whitewash

The Economist’s brilliant Edward Lucas blasts the pathetic OSCE attempt to whitewash Russia’s accountability to Georgia after the violation of its airspace. Did somebody say “Munich”?

CALLING it a whitewash would be unfair. At least white looks clean and crisp. What the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has produced on Russia’s recent attack on Georgia is a greywash, a pile of slime and sludge that conceals the truth.

Georgia says that on August 6th a Russian warplane fired a missile over its territory, apparently aimed at a new NATO-compatible radar station. Georgia has produced documents that seem to show the plane entering its airspace, and the remains of the missile (which failed to explode, having apparently been launched prematurely).

Russia says the whole thing was a stunt staged by the Georgians.

An OSCE inquiry headed by Miomir Zuzul, a former foreign minister of Croatia, compared the accounts of the incident. If it had come up with convincing reasons to believe the Russian version, and ignore the Swedish, Polish and other experts brought in by Georgia, that would have been interesting. The published version of events in ex-communist countries often conceals as much as it reveals.

But it seems to have made no attempt to compare the evidence or assess the arguments. It came to the ringing conclusion that given the conflicting stories, it was “difficult to know what happened”. Russia was jubilant, saying that it had been exonerated by the report and renewing its propaganda attack on the Georgians.

The next row will be about election monitoring, a particular Russian bugbear. The Kremlin has long tried to neuter the OSCE’s Warsaw-based vote-watchers, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR, pronounced, aptly enough, “Oh, dear”).
That body would be likely to give Russia’s upcoming parliamentary elections in December a poor scorecard: the Kremlin has tweaked the electoral rules to hamper independent candidates and “real” opposition parties; the media is likely to favour only the pro-presidential parties and the “tame” opposition; police harassment of opposition public meetings and campaigns is already a scandal; and Russia’s history of ballot-rigging long predates Vladimir Putin’s presidency.

To forestall this, Russia has asked the OSCE for details about election monitoring it has carried out in Western countries, such as the America and Turkey. As the answer will be “very little” the Kremlin can then smile broadly and say that the same treatment will suit it nicely.

That is a good debating point: the difficulties that Kurdish politicians face in Turkey are shameful, as are the shortcomings of America’s electoral system (gerrymandering, campaign finance excesses, dirty tricks, astroturfing and of course the ghastly botched presidential count in Florida in 2004).

The right response to this would be to welcome extensive monitoring of Western elections, including tough criticism of shortcomings. Russians might try to use this to make propaganda, but no matter. Good points will strengthen the case for reform. Bad ones can be discussed and rebutted.

Unlike fascist kleptocracies masquerading as parliamentary republics, true democracies do not need to fear criticism. Such a stance will be an excellent basis for insisting for vigorous monitoring of elections in the east, where the shortcomings are hugely more serious.

Though that would be the right tactic, it will not necessarily be an effective one. The sad truth is that Russia’s tactics within the OSCE have made that body almost useless. It works on the basis of unanimity, so a Kremlin veto can block its funding or other activities. In short: without Russian consent it cannot work. But Russia’s restrictions make its work useless—or worse than useless, as Georgia’s plight illustrates.

Yet Russia’s victory in hobbling the OSCE is ultimately self-defeating: the main result is to give more clout to NATO. Is that what the Kremlin really wants?

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya: Ingushetia on the Brink of Insurrection

The Christian Science Monitor summarizes the horror unfolding in Ingushetia, the new Chechnya:

Violence is spiking in Russia’s southern republic of Ingushetia, as almost daily attacks against police, officials, and ethnically non-Ingush residents have some experts fearful that the tiny region could quickly destabilize. Through two post-Soviet wars between Russian forces and separatists in neighboring Chechnya, Ingushetia has remained loyal to Moscow. But now, assaults against federal forces in the republic are on the rise.

A month ago Moscow tripled its security forces in Ingushetia in response to a wave of attacks by insurgents that hit the motorcade of President Murat Zyazikov, a local headquarters of Russia’s FSB security service, and a column of Russian troops. Mr. Zyazikov, a former FSB general, escaped unharmed, but a top aide and several soldiers were killed. In response, federal forces have launched a security crackdown that some experts warn could precipitate mass rebellion. “What makes this situation so dangerous is that the federal forces … are killing randomly and calling the victims terrorists,” says Yulia Latynina, one of the few investigative journalists still reporting on the northern Caucasus. “An uprising is drawing near.”

The Moscow-based international human rights group Memorial, nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, says at least 400 people disappeared without a trace in Ingushetia between 2002 and 2006, and the pace of repression has since accelerated. “How can we talk about human rights if security forces can burst into private houses at night and seize peaceful people, and can stop a person at night on a street to beat or even to kill without ever presenting any identification document or without presenting any charges?” says Memorial activist Usam Baisayev, reached by phone in Nazran, Ingushetia.

One eyewitness account in an August report by Memorial detailed such treatment after the FSB office was attacked. Evloev Yakhya, a resident of Ali-Yurt, said men in camouflage broke into his house at dawn, dragged his wife from the bathroom at gunpoint, and forced him to the floor, kicking him. “They shouted, ‘You killed our guys … shooting came from your village … you will pay for it,” he recounted. “They did not even look into my passport. They threw it on the ground.”

When asked about human rights abuses in Ingushetia, Alexei Volkov, a deputy in the State Duma and a member of the Security Committee, told the Monitor, “I know nothing about that…. Nobody has complained to the Duma.”

Anonymous gunmen have carried out at least four attacks against non-Ingush families and shepherds in the past two months, which Russian media blame on Arab jihadists trying to trigger an even tougher security response from Moscow. The Moscow daily Vremya Novostei, quoting intelligence sources, reported this week that Al Qaeda emissaries are active in Ingushetia, training insurgents and paying up to $5,000 per attack. Other experts say it’s likely that international jihadists are exploiting the situation, but that they are not driving it.

“Our special services like to make declarations about ties between the organizers of some of these actions and global terrorism,” says Andrei Soldatov, editor of the online journal Agentura.ru, which monitors the secret services. “But the real roots of the problems in Ingushetia are local.”

Russian authorities blame the republic’s destabilization on “outside forces,” including an armed incursion led by Chechen rebel warlord Doku Umarov. “I believe these provocative actions constitute an attempt by certain forces in Russia and abroad to turn Ingushetia into a scene for reaching some of their narrow objectives,” Ingush president Zyazikov told the independent Interfax agency last week. “Someone is very unhappy that Ingushetia is on the road to development.”

But others blame Moscow for replacing Ingushetia’s popular leader, Ruslan Aushev, with Zyazikov in dubious 2002 elections. “Zyazikov, compared to Ingushetia’s previous leader, is rooted in Moscow, not Ingushetia,” says Alexander Iskanderyan, director of the independent Center for Caucasian Studies in Yerevan, Armenia. “He has no local authority.”

Chechnya appears to have been pacified under Kremlin-appointed president Ramzan Kadyrov, whom experts say has imposed a harsh but predictable order. Last week Mr. Kadyrov offered to help Ingushetia restore peace.

“Kadyrov is running Chechnya better than the federal forces are running Ingushetia,” says Ms. Latynina. “At least he kills with purpose, not randomly.” She adds that Moscow, increasingly fearful of Kadyrov’s growing power in Chechnya, is unlikely to give him a free hand to intervene in Ingushetia.

But the crisis in Ingushetia is growing fast, and the Kremlin’s dilemma along with it.

“The difference between Chechnya and Ingushetia is that Chechnya wanted to separate from Russian while Ingushetia was an absolutely pro-Russian republic,” says Mr. Baisayev. “But [today] the very same people who were loyal to Russia under Aushev’ s rule are now ready to take to arms and struggle against Russia.

September 14, 2007 — Contents


(1) Putin’s Russia Leads the World . . . in Toxic Waste

(2) Annals of Russian Efficiency

(3) Russian Orphanages are Criminal Prep Schools

(4) Socor Slashes Schroeder to Bits

(5) You Can’t Fool all of the Faithful all of the Time

NOTE: Robert Amsterdam and his Politechnologist offer fascinating insights into the recent governmental shakeup within the Kremlin. The upshot? Russia has a perverse, mutant government that just keeps right on doing neo-Soviet things that can only end up destroying the country utterly.

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