Daily Archives: September 20, 2007

Another Sign of the Russian Apocalypse: Now, Even the Russophile Lunatics are Nervous About Putin

Writing in the Moscow Times, even Russophile bagman Alexei Pankin is now worried about the echoes of the Soviet Union he hears all around him. Maybe he should have been a bit more careful about spewing forth all that crazed pro-Kremlin rhetoric in the past. These cowardly traitors to democracy always realize too little, too late. If he says it’s this bad, can you imagine how bad it REALLY is? Do you dare to try?

On Sept. 9, agents from the Interior Ministry’s economic crimes department for Moscow’s Northern Administrative District searched the offices of VinLund, a shipping company that also imports Italian wines. Three VinLund employees were beaten during the search, and company documents and computers were seized, according to the Glasnost Defense Foundation.

VinLund owner Peter Vins is a former Soviet dissident and political emigrant. Both his fate and that of the Sakharov family were closely intertwined. The diaries of Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner, were published recently, and they contain glowing references to both Peter, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and his father, Georgy, a Baptist minister. Sakharov records how he helped save the Vinses from the gulag and to emigrate to the United States.

In 1993, Peter Vins returned to the newly democratic Russia and started a business. In 2000, in memory of Sakharov, and with Bonner’s blessing, Vins established the Andrei Sakharov Journalism as an Act of Conscience award, which to this day remains one of the highest honors in the field of journalism.

The online media have already begun discussing the political actions against Vins, suggesting it was his support of independent investigative journalism that drew the wrath of the authorities. On first glance, this would seem absurd — were it not for the fact that law enforcement agencies recently shut down the Educated Media Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that helped train television journalists.

The more likely explanation is that it was a run-of-the-mill police racket operation. But getting squashed under the heels of the police is no more pleasant than being persecuted by political officials.

As a jury member of the Andrei Sakharov award, I see hundreds of investigative journalism articles every year from all across Russia. Many of them focus largely on the same two scenarios: one, how law enforcement officers carry out attacks against the very people whom they are obligated to protect, doing everything from harassing individuals to beating entire groups of people; and two, how the siloviki seem to have taken the place of the criminal racket.

It is disturbing to contemplate the parallels between the persecution of the Sakharovs and the Vinses. Sakharov and his wife were exiled to Gorky, subjected to force-feeding during their hunger strike, KGB provocations and a campaign to discredit them in the eyes of the Soviet and international communities. In both cases, the punishment was not commensurate with any “danger” they might have represented to the system. In fact, most of their run-ins with the authorities were over their efforts to help a handful of people emigrate. And while the enormous Communist security apparatus was hounding Sakharov and other dissidents, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected as general secretary in full conformity with the charter of the Communist Party. But it was Gorbachev, and not the dissidents, who ultimately buried communism.

It would seem the Communist Party was absolutely lacking the instinct for self-preservation. Have the current authorities inherited this political flaw? If Russia’s leaders are building a democracy — whether managed or sovereign — then the corruption, racketeering and general lawlessness of the law enforcement agencies constitute a greater threat to the country than people like Educated Media’s former director, Manana Aslamazian, whose activity was limited to offering seminars on camera technique, television design and the like, or Peter Vins, who imports Italian wine and sponsors the $5,000 Andrei Sakharov award.

As far as I know, Peter Vins is the first dissident from Soviet times to be persecuted by Russia’s authorities, whether motivated by political or petty economic interests. Whatever the case may be, I see it as a bad omen.

Zhirinvosky Smears All Britons, Queen

If any further proof of Andrei Lugovoi’s guilt were needed, the lunatic Vladimir Zhirinovksky has stepped forward to provide it. From his crazed nationalist ramblings, it’s clear the Kremlin knows it has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar and it’s lame constitutional canard that Lugovoi cannot be extradited to Britain for trial has been blown to smithereens. Now, it scrambles like a den of rats for a new warren to hide in. The Moscow Times reports:

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on Tuesday said Britain was a nation of cheats and bandits and had no right to seek the handover of Andrei Lugovoi, a State Duma candidate for his party. Lugovoi, a former security services officer, is wanted by British prosecutors on suspicion of killing Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko. He will be a candidate for the LDPR in Duma elections on Dec. 2. Sitting next to Zhirinovsky at a news briefing, Lugovoi disavowed a statement made Monday that he would like to become president, saying: “Vladimir Volfovich [Zhirinovsky] has all the qualities for the job.” Minutes later Zhirinovsky — known for his flamboyant and sometimes violent rhetoric — flew into a rage when a Western journalist mentioned the murder of Litvinenko. “Britain, you keep the whole world soaked in blood, the whole world will hate you,” yelled Zhirinovsky, who is a deputy speaker in the Duma.

Litvinenko died in a London hospital on Nov. 23 after receiving a dose of radioactive polonium-210, a rare and highly toxic isotope. Lugovoi has always said he is innocent. Zhirinovsky said London could not prosecute Lugovoi because Britain itself was providing a safe haven for Kremlin opponents such as tycoon Boris Berezovsky. “You cover cheats, extremists and criminals,” he said. “You are all accomplices, all of you are similar bandits and criminals, your whole government, together with your queen,” he said, adding that his party was “most loved by ordinary Russians” and would win one-fifth of all seats in the next Duma. He blamed Britain for backing the Bolsheviks during the 1917 revolution, financing Chechen rebels and opening the second front too late during World War II. “Half of your embassy should be thrown out of Moscow,” he barked at the reporter representing a U.S. media outlet. “They are not diplomats, all of them are spies. … You in Britain are good for nothing, you only plundered Europe.”

“Britain will disappear under the water one day,” he said. “And it will serve you right … Even your sheep die every day and every hour due to your sickening British policies.”

Nashi Rounds up the Usual Suspects

The Moscow Times reports that the Soviet habit of informing on one’s neighbors is being reborn with vigor in Vladmir Putin’s Russia, starting with the children:

The Federal Migration Service on Monday lauded members of a nationalist youth group for rounding up dozens of illegal foreign workers and turning them over to authorities. Migration service chief Konstantin Romodanovsky told reporters that Mestniye members “really helped” the agency in detaining 72 people attempting to obtain work illegally, Interfax reported. Romodanovsky did not elaborate on the nature of Mestniye’s assistance, but the youth group’s spokesman, Andrei Groznetsky, said activists used subterfuge to blow the whistle on the workers. In a daylong operation Saturday, Mestniye activists pulled up in cars to a market near Yaroslavskoye Shosse in northeast Moscow where migrant workers typically wait for temporary manual labor jobs. “It’s no secret that they hide in groups next to the building materials store near the market looking for work,” Groznetsky said. The driver, posing as a businessman in search of cheap labor to renovate his dacha, would call over three or four foreigners standing nearby and offer them 1,000 rubles each for four hours of work, Groznetsky said. But instead of taking them to the dacha, the driver would then drop the workers off at a nearby migration service office to have their documents checked, he said. “We have close links with the Federal Migration Service and have helped them before,” Groznetsky said.

Created two years ago as a pro-Kremlin youth group, Mestniye has drifted more toward anti-immigration stunts in line ideologically with the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration. This summer Mestniye activists distributed fliers urging Russians not to take taxi rides in cars driven by illegal immigrants. The flier showed a picture of a young blond woman refusing a ride from a leering, dark-skinned driver. Romodanovsky defended the use of the Mestniye activists in cracking down on illegal immigration, despite the fact that they can occasionally be “very combative.” “If they are utilized wisely, they can be useful,” Romodanovsky said at the news conference.

No Matter Who You are, if Your Skin is Dark, You are Not Safe in Russia

The Moscow Times reports:

The teenage son of an Iranian Embassy translator was knifed to death in southwest Moscow late Sunday in what prosecutors said could have been a hate crime. Passers-by discovered Ahmad Riza Kharrani, 19, lying on the sidewalk with multiple stab wounds to his torso at around 9 p.m. Sunday on Ulitsa Kedrova, near the Akademicheskaya metro station, city police spokesman Konstantin Yarvenko said. Kharrani was conscious at the time and managed to give his parents’ contact information to the two pedestrians, who notified them, Yarvenko said. Kharrani’s parents called an ambulance, but he was unconscious by the time it arrived. Paramedics were unable to resuscitate him, and Kharrani died of his wounds at the scene, said Dmitry Shershakov, chief prosecutor of the Southwest Administrative District. No one has been detained in the attack, making it difficult to establish a motive, Shershakov said. “We cannot rule out that the attack was racially motivated,” he said. The Iranian Embassy sent a note to the Foreign Ministry demanding “decisive steps” from authorities in apprehending suspects, Interfax reported. Prosecutors have classified the attack as premeditated murder, punishable by up to life in prison.

Human rights activists have noted an increase in the number of hate crimes in recent years. According to research by the Sova center, 37 people were killed in racist crimes through July — 24 of them in Moscow. The think tank, which tracks hate crimes, said that number was up 22 percent from the same period last year. Kharrani was a student at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute, and his father is a translator at the Iranian Embassy, Yarovenko said. “Obviously, he is very upset,” said a woman who answered the telephone at the embassy Monday. “He will not come to work this week.” An embassy spokesman declined to comment. An employee of the Moscow Power Engineering Institute described Kharrani as a “good, lively person who had his whole life ahead of him.”

Sarkozy Confronts Putin!

The Moscow Times reports that the new French government of President Nicolas Sarkozy is wasting no time in confronting Russia over its support for Iran and its vile attacks on human rights in Russia. Dispatching Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a well-known rights advocate, to meet with his Russian counterpart, the French government first blasted Russia’s obstruction of Euro-U.S. sanctions against Iran and then carried out meetings with Russian human rights activists:

Human rights groups found the visit by the foreign minister a more positive opportunity, providing him with their impression of what they called an increasing rollback of political freedoms. “I told him what it is happening ahead of the elections,” said Lev Ponomaryov, head of the group For Human Rights. “We have no real opposition, since it has been taken under control. We are not allowed to have meetings or to gather.” He told Kouchner that only loyal opposition groups were being allowed to take part in the State Duma elections on Dec. 2 and that they would only get into the parliament if they “behaved.” Ponomaryov also said the democratic process started by President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s came to a halt when Vladimir Putin took power in 2000. “We are going backward,” he said.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that while private groups had made it clear that the human rights situation was deteriorating, government human rights officials had been more careful in voicing their concerns. Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, who also met with Kouchner, told him that most nongovernmental organizations operate “normally” in Russia. “They sometimes encounter difficulties with bureaucracy, but I don’t believe the powers that be want to get rid of them.” He added that there was some irritation over the fact that NGOs sometimes receive foreign financial support, but that the level of irritation was probably exaggerated.

Alexeyeva said Kouchner listened “carefully” and asked questions about Chechnya and the neighboring republic of Dagestan. Both Ponomaryov and Alexeyeva said they were very pleased that the French foreign minister was interested in what was going on in the country. “Maybe the last French government was also interested in the human rights situation in Russia, but this is the first time I was invited to such a meeting,” Alexeyeva said. “It is very pleasant.” Part of Kouchner’s visit was also devoted to laying the groundwork for a Moscow visit by Sarkozy in mid-October, a spokeswoman for the French Embassy said by telephone Tuesday.

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Rats Named Putin

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexander Golts explains how Vladimir Putin’s grand scheme to derail the U.S. missile defense system in Europe has come to nothing:

Hope has faded that Washington and Moscow will find a resolution to their conflict over U.S. plans to deploy elements of its anti-ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. This hope was first raised three months ago at the annual Group of Eight meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany, when President Vladimir Putin suggested to President George W. Bush that the United States make joint use of the early warning radar station in Gabala that Russia rents from Azerbaijan.

Before the G8 meeting, Russia had always accused the United States of trying to violate global strategic balance with its ambitious missile defense projects in Eastern Europe. Then, it seemed Moscow switched gears by offering a compromise. The understanding was that in return for its Gabala offer, the Kremlin would receive Washington’s support for Putin’s preferred presidential candidate. Many observers felt that Putin had obtained such a guarantee during his summit with Bush at Kennebunkport, Maine, in July.

It now appears, however, that these hopes will amount to nothing. The situation was clarified by someone far removed from politics. While speaking to reporters on Saturday, Major General Alexander Yakushev, a senior Space Forces official, said the goal of a meeting between Russian, U.S. and Azeri military experts at Gabala on Tuesday will be to demonstrate to the Americans the installation’s ability to track rockets launched from Iran. But at the same time, Yakushev made it clear that Russia’s real goal is something entirely different: “Our job during these consultations will be to stop the deployment of anti-missile defense shields in Eastern Europe — in the Czech Republic and Poland,” the general said.

It seems to me that the only way to achieve this goal is to convince the Americans that the radar installations in Gabala and Armavir could be included in the existing U.S. global missile defense system. But this, of course, is a nonstarter. “The Americans decided to buy a double-barreled shotgun, and we offered them a telescope instead,” retired Major General Vladimir Dvorkin said. The general is correct: The Russian early warning systems can only identify a rocket’s trajectory in its initial stages; it cannot actually intercept the incoming missiles.

As it turns out, Moscow never really intended to incorporate the Gabala and Armivir stations into the U.S. anti-missile system. Instead, Moscow is offering an entirely different option: The United States, as a precondition, should cancel its plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in Europe, and, in return, it would receive the right to use Russia’s radar stations to monitor the development of Iran’s missile program.

The Kremlin says it would take Iran three to five years to develop the final deployment of a medium-range missile after it achieves its first successful test launch. Moreover, the Kremlin believes that three to five years is plenty of time for the United States and Russia to install a new global anti-missile defense shield to meet the new Iranian threat.

There’s one problem, though. Washington is categorically opposed to this interpretation. U.S. Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, is convinced that Iran will be able to make significant progress in its rocket program as early as the coming months. Iran, like many other authoritarian regimes, has the capability of developing advanced weapons in complete secrecy. Remember how North Korea, to everyone’s surprise, launched a rocket over Japan in 1998. A single successful launch would be sufficient to inflict serious damage to either nearby or distant countries.

Thus, it is understandable why Washington could never agree with Russia’s plan. The whole idea behind any missile defense system is that a country should be protected against any a missile threat well in advance — before the actual missile is developed by the enemy state. Moscow’s position, however, is that the United States should wait and see if the missile is actually developed before an extensive missile defense system is deployed in Europe

Moreover, Moscow declared that the Russian radar tracking stations will under no circumstances be incorporated into a U.S. anti-missile system. Thus, Russia has effectively narrowed the room for compromise — if not eliminating it entirely. This means that Moscow has decided to divert Washington’s attention away from Putin’s presidential succession plan. In its place, the Kremlin has raised the stakes by opposing U.S. policy and forcing Bush to focus on military issues.

September 19, 2007 — Contents


(1) Remembering Russian/Soviet Barbarism at Katyn

(2) Russians Need American Help to win Basketball Title

(3) The Friends of Georgia

(4) We Told You So

NOTE: La Russophobe is delighted and honored to announce that in today’s online editions of the Washington Post and Slate, the brilliant Russia columnist Anne Applebaum, oft-quoted here, links to our post analyzing the appointment of Viktor Zubkov as Russia’s new prime minister (the link is behind the phrase “Zubkov is actually extremely important” in the second bullet point), and also links to our republication of another analysis of that issue by the Zaxi bilingual blog. We couldn’t be more thrilled! LR makes the big time!