Daily Archives: October 1, 2007

EDITORIAL: Welcome Back to the USSR

EDITORIAL:

Welcome Back to the USSR

Whom do they think they are kidding?

Last Thursday, Col.-Gen. Vladimir Popovkin (pictured) of the Russian army said on television: “We don’t want to wage a war in space, we don’t want to gain dominance in space, but we won’t allow any other nation to dominate space. If any country deploys weapons in space, then the laws of warfare are such that retaliatory weapons are certain to appear.”

Now, where have we heard that before?

As the Associated Press reported: “President Bush signed an order last year tacitly asserting the U.S. right to space weapons and opposing the development of treaties or other measures restricting them. Bush also had pushed an ambitious program for space-based missile defense, and the Pentagon is working on missiles, ground lasers and other technology to shoot down satellites.” Perhaps president Bush looked a little more deeply into the soul of Vladimir Putin than it first appeared! Hooray! Bush is also spearheading a major new missile defense system in Eastern Europe, and has turned a deaf ear to Pooty-poot’s pathetic effort to derail the project.

Let’s get this straight: Russia is a nation with no significant strategic allies and an economy less than 1/12 the size that of the United States alone (the U.S. is the “any country” Col.-Gen. Popovkin was referring to), to say nothing of America’s many and powerful strategic allies in NATO and beyond. The puny economy Russia does have is entirely — entirely — dependent on a price of crude oil over which Russia has absolutely no control (and out of which it will inevitably run, oil being in finite supply), and it is burdened by one of the most massive demographic crises any nation has ever seen, ranging from AIDS to smoking to toxic pollution to unhealthy vegetable-free diets to horrific murder rates. Russia loses up to 1 million from its population every year due to this crisis; America freaks out over losing a few thousand soldiers in Iraq over the course of several years.

So it’s ridiculous — ridiculous — on its face for Russia to suggest that it can compete with the U.S. in a space-based arms race if it wants to. The USSR couldn’t manage it, and the USSR was twice as large as Russia and had Warsaw Pact allies (granted, at gunpoint). Only someone who is utterly insane would suggest that Russia go right back down that road, and insanity appears to be the common currency of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

In other words, it’s not that Russia doesn’t want to dominate space, it’s that it can’t do so. If it could, it would, and it would make the world pay through nose. As the AP states: “When China tested an anti-satellite missile in January, Putin said that the move was a response to U.S. plans for space-based weapons.” Undoubtedly Putin would have liked to make reference to a Russian missile, but he couldn’t because there wasn’t one. Not until 2009 will Russia even start testing a satellite system to detect missile launches. Russia can flail around all it likes, just as the USSR did, but a space-based arms race is way out of its price range. That’s why Col.-Gen. Popovkin said: “It’s necessary to legalize the game rules in space.” Russia wants to somehow convince the U.S. to let it off the hook so it doesn’t have to enter such a race, and it’s getting desperate.

But Russia’s provocative, anti-American actions are so many and ham-handed and crude, it’s going to be pretty difficult for Russia to convince even a stupid American president that it has benign in intentions after it supplied nuclear technology to the fanatically anti-American dictator of Iran, missiles to defend the technology from Western attack, and U.N. security counsel vetoes to block Western economic sanctions. After it dumped huge quantities of assault rifles and attack planes on the equally crazed anti-American despot in Venezuela. After it supplied money and diplomatic cover to the terrorist regimes of Hamas and Hezbollah. After Putin himself routinely comes out with hostile anti-American rhetorical blasts from the past. And when one remembers that Putin himself is a proud KGB spy who is utterly gutting American values from Russian society. How anyone could possibly look at all that and then do anything other than scoff at Russian claims of benign attitude is incomprehensible. Russian hatred for America seeps out of its pores.

In short, Mr. Putin, fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on U.S.! Just now, you’re waking up to the actual reality of renewed military provocation of the world’s most powerful country, waking up from the reverie of your hatred-fueled fantasies induced by the total lack of any form of real information, much less debate, in the country whose journalists you’ve killed, whose TV stations you’ve taken over, and whose opposition political parties you’ve destroyed — just like in the USSR. You’ve convinced yourself, just as your Soviet predecessors did, that we in the West are so “inferior” to your Slavic super race that you can spew out any kind of ridiculous lie and we’ll swallow it whole.

It’s not going to happen.

EDITORIAL: The Russian Who Cried "Wolf!"

EDITORIAL

The Russian Who Cried “Wolf!”

The Putin administration is getting predictable, and although what’s predictable is pure black evil, in and of itself the predictability may be a good thing for those ready to challenge it.

Last week, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (pictured above) traveled to New York City to address the U.N. General Assembly at its opening ceremonies. Russia got a taste of its own medicine, receiving the same type of un-sugarcoated criticism that the U.S. gets from lunatic rogue leaders supported by Russia like Hugo Chavez of Venezulea and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran — except that Saakashvili is a respected leader who is on his way to NATO membership whose statements carried the undeniable ring of truth rather than meeting with the contempt and scorn of the Western democracies.

A week prior, Georgian security forces had killed two Russian officers training insurgents in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Saakashvili asked the General Assembly: “One has to wonder — what was a vice-colonel of the Russian military doing in the Georgian forests, organizing and leading a group of armed insurgents on a mission of terror?” As Stratfor observed:

The Russian response, both from Moscow’s U.N. ambassador and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was not long in coming. Lavrov claimed the Russians were on an anti-terrorism exercise and that when the Russians acceded to the Georgians’ demand that they disarm, two Russian instructors were executed with knives and gunshots to the head. Why the Russians waited seven days before mentioning this to the world raised more than a few eyebrows. Also odd was the dispassionate way in which the Russian dignitaries brought up the topic. There were no calls for apologies or justice, just a bland hope that the U.N. observation mission in the area would get to the bottom of things.

Either way the result is the same: the Russians have now put themselves in a place where they cannot easily back down. Their credibility is on the line. Either Russia can allow Georgia to think it is okay to execute its soldiers, or it can visit consequences upon the Georgians. It is almost as if the Russians were beginning to build a logical case for an intervention in Georgia. In fact, that is likely precisely what they are doing. There are signs that the Russians may already be moving. The night of Sept. 26-27 witnessed heavy mortar exchanges between Georgian villages and the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. South Ossetia is Georgia’s other pro-Russian secessionist region. Thursday also brought with it reports that Abkhaz forces were advancing on the border of Georgia proper. Neither the Abkhaz nor the South Ossetians are capable of doing more than harassing their border regions — their combined population is only 250,000 vs. Georgia’s six million and their gaining and maintenance of de facto independence would have been impossible without extensive Russian military assistance.

None of this is conclusive, but the mortaring, the troop movements and the seemingly detached use of the word “executed” is beyond the pale even for the troubled Caucasus. The events of Thursday — and a week earlier — could just go down in history as yet more spittle exchanged between a fallen empire and its former colony. But never forget that Russia has the means and motive to crush Georgia — and with the United States occupied in full by Iraq, Russia now has the opportunity.

There are no words to adequately describe Russia’s hypocrisy whilst meddling in Georgia. For years, Russia has screamed and wailed to high heaven that the world must stay out of its conflict with Chechnya because it is an “internal Russian matter.” Yet, Russians allow Georgia no such latitude, and feel they have the right to intervene as they see fit in any Georgian internal conflict. As we have documented, Russia has repeatedly encroached upon Georgian territory with military aircraft, heedless of the nation’s sovereignty, in a manner Russia would never tolerate NATO doing in Russia.

And the disturbing events didn’t stop there. Suddenly, while Saakashvili was away at the U.N., not only did Russia ratchet up the violence in Abkhazia but former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili took it into his head to publicly accuse Saakashvili of soliciting him to commit murders, despising the Georgian Orthodox Church and being a closet fascist (why he waited until this exact minute is a question that, in all likelihood, only Russia can answer). Thousands of “protesters” took to the streets calling for insurrection, and Opposition People’s Party leader Koba Davitashvili, another former Saakashvili ally, told the crowd it was “time we overthrew this gang led by Saakashvili.” Can you imagine Russia’s response if opposition leader Garry Kasparov made such statements about Vladimir Putin? Russia would immediately accuse him of being a foreign spy and arrest him — or worse. Yet where Georgia is concerned, Russia takes the side of the insurrectionists (and indeed, may even be supporting them). It’s amazing that Dictator Putin fails to realize the precedent he is setting.

Mr. Okhruashvili’s biography sheds important light on Saakashvili. Okhruashvili is a hard-liner, whose aggressive posture on the Abkhazia and Ossetia problems was too much for Saakashvili to tolerate. Appointed Defense Minister in December 2004, Okhruashvili made a number of confrontational statements about resolving the conflicts in Georgia’s favor, including threating Russia, which led Saakashvili to remove him from his post in November 2006. Okhruashvili resigned from the government a week later and a few days ago announced the formation of an opposition party that began to challenge Saakashvili for power. Immediately after that, Okhruashvili was placed under arrest on corruption charges. Putin hypocritically declared the matter to be internal to Georgia even as the Chairman of the Russian Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee immediately pounced on the allegations against Saakashvili, who the Kremlin despises and wishes to destabilize, calling for his investigation and ouster. Does anyone in the world believe that the chairman of a major Duma committee could make these statements without the blessing of the Kremlin?

The Georgian Times reported:

Georgian Times obtained confidential information that Irakli Okruashvili, who originally comes from Gori, has support from the Communist Party of Georgia. The communists, supporters of the Kremlin policy, are working to find similarities between Stalin and Okruashvili. Representatives of the Parliament majority think this is ridiculous. But, Aleko Shalamberidze declares that it is not surprising, as all forces who oppose the authorities will try to join Okruashvili. “In my opinion any party wanting to come to power will try to cooperate with Okruashvili,” reckons Shalamberidze.

Russia would be such a party, of course. Kommersant reported:

The United National Movement’s Secretary General David Kirkitadze told Kommersant on Friday that “some of Okruashvili’s statements are oddly reminiscent of speeches of Georgia’s most vehement opponents in Moscow; for example, his words about the head of South Ossetia’s provisional administration Dmitry Sanakoev sound very similar to the opinion of Russian politicians.

Okhruashvili can be analogized to the Georgian version of Russia’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Saakashvili’s action against him clearly shows that the latter is no extremist. Naturally, Russia would rather be supporting the rise of someone who was a bit more stable and solidly pro-Russian, but beggars can’t be choosers. Russia’s efforts to dislodge Saakashvili in that manner have so far come to nothing. Russia’s military posture in Ossetia already bespeaks an intention to destabilize and invade Georgia, and assisting Okhruashvili in raising crowds and publicity only makes Russia’s job easier. What Russia wants now in Georgia is chaos by any means, and Okhruashvili conveniently provides it. Remember how dictator Josef Stalin had no problem making common cause with Hitler as a means of jabbing at the hated West?

Okhruashvili’s most sensational charge is “that in July 2005, the President personally ordered him to have Badri Patarkatsishvili assassinated. Patarkatsishvili is a Georgian oligarch currently living in London and the long-time business partner of Boris Berezovsky.” If true, this would mean that Okhruashvili himself sat on the plan until he was booted out of government and decided to go into the opposition, something that hardly makes him a statesman. And just days ago, we reported on the latest Transparency International study of corruption, which revealed that Georgia’s score for reducing graft in government had soared by 20% over last year, while Russia’s has plummeted even further. In short, it’s simply absurd for Russia to lecture Georgia on transparency in democratic politics, and more amazing hypocrisy when it does so. President Putin never tires of telling America to shut up and get its own house in order on the issue of democracy, yet Russia never loses an opportunity to meddle in the affairs of its neighbors. Putin said of the Georgia events: “Certain friends frequently tell us that democratic processes in some CIS member countries, including Georgia, set a good example. God forbid we follow examples of the kind.” In other words, if Georgia has any kind of problem, this proves Russia is not to be criticized (even thought it is Russia that is creating Georgia’s turmoil); yet, when Georgia is shown to be exceeding Russia, this is to be ignored. How neo-Soviet can you get?

It is, of course, somewhat suspicious that Okhruashvili would be arrested and charged so soon after announcing his opposition party, making it seem as if Saakashvili was repressing him. But why did Okhruashvili wait so long after being ejected from the government to come forward with his party (to say nothing of the question of why he waited so long to reveal that Saakashvili is a mafioso)? Isn’t it possible that Okhruashvili, a former Interior Minister, found out that the arrest was coming and moved to create his party in order to preemptively derail the investigation? Isn’t it just a little bit too convenient that all this turmoil happens when Saakashvili is out of the country and Russia is ratcheting up the tension in Georgia’s breakaway republics? The Mayor of Tbilisi said: “The statement made by him earlier yesterday, was somewhat irritating, because it was made by a dishonest man. But his statement made in the evening was really raving nonsense, the ravings of a frightened man.” Even a Russian political scientist admitted: “Saakashvili is backed by the majority of the nation.”

By now, Russia has cried “wolf!” just a few too many times where Georgia is concerned. Even if there were something untoward in
Saakashvili’s handling of Okhruashvili, the idea of listening to Russia complain about it now is absurd. It’s clear that Russia has no intentions concerning Georgia other than to destabilize Saakashvili and return Georgia to being a servile doormat, preventing the nightmare scenario (for Russia) of having Georgia join NATO. Having failed so many times in the past, the Kremlin is now getting desperate, and the world should see that desperation for what it is — and it should respond accordingly.

Just as it’s not accurate to blame only the lion for killing the farmer’s cows, it’s not accurate to blame only Russia for trying to take advantage of a Western display of weakness over Georgia. The NATO allies have certainly not done all they could to extend protection and security to the Saakashvili government in the face of naked Russian imperialism, and sow what they reap when Georgia shows signs of instability in the face of provocation by a much larger and more powerful Russia. Will we let Russia swallow Georgia the way we let Hitler swallow Czechoslovakia? Have we learned nothing from our past mistakes? A far stronger and more visible Western response to Russian aggression in Georgia is necessary if Russia, pathologically bent on recreating the Soviet empire, is to be persuaded to leave Georgia alone.

Russians Are Radioactive and They Don’t Seem to Care

What will it take to get the cowardly, selfish people of Russia to stand up and take action to protect their children? Heaven only knows. The International Herald Tribune reports on the pathetic turnout to show support for the victims of Chelyabinsk:

A few hundred people gathered in a Ural Mountains city Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a catastrophic explosion at a nuclear dumpsite and to call for an end to waste processing at what was once a major Soviet atomic weapons facility, Greenpeace Russia said.

On Sept. 29, 1957, a waste tank at the Mayak nuclear weapons plant in the closed city of Chelyabinsk-65 exploded, contaminating 23,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles) and prompting authorities to evacuate 10,000 residents from neighboring regions.

Some details of the disaster were first released to the public in 1989 as part of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization drive, but its impact on the local population remains largely unknown even now. Environmental activists say the damage has been compounded by other accidents, leaks and the planned discharge of liquid waste.

Mayak is now Russia’s main nuclear waste processing plant, and Greenpeace Russia said activists called for a halt to those operations during a demonstration in the nearest major city, Chelyabinsk, about 1,500 kilometers (950 miles) east of Moscow. They planned to launch hundreds of model boats in the local river to symbolize people who have suffered because of the plant’s activities, the organization said on its Web site.

As after the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, young men including soldiers and students were sent to clean up after the explosion at Mayak, exposing them to radiation many believe caused health problems later. According to Greenpeace Russia, tumor rates among a few hundred people in two villages at the edge of the area that was evacuated are five times higher than the norm. It also says that cancer mortality rates among about 10,000 people living by the contaminated Techa river near the plant are significantly higher than normal.

Ouch! Now, they’ve even losing at chess!

The Associated Press reports that Putin’s Russia is losing even at chess:

India’s Vishwanathan Anand was crowned world champion of chess Saturday as he won the tournament in Mexico City which brought together eight of the game’s best players. Known as the “Tiger from Madras, Anand, 37, replaced Vladimir Kramnik of Russia as champion, winning the tournament on points after tying a match with Hungarian Peter Leko on the 14th day of the contest, which he dominated from the start. “I enjoy this new feeling of being world champion,” he told AFP. “I had a couple of difficult games, nothing too worrying for this kind of tournament,” said Anand, who was ranked world number one going into the tournament. “I am just very happy with my game, we had a good team, I felt very well, my second (coach) helped me (with) a lot of interesting ideas, everything clicked.”

The Israeli Boris Gelfand was meanwhile fighting it out to win second place over Kramnik, who saw the championship slip from his grasp on Friday after a tied match. Gelfand, 39, was looking to clinch second place through his Saturday match with Alexander Morozevich of Russia. Eight of the world’s top chess brains met in Mexico for the competition. Prominent players such as the world number two, Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, did not make it through the championship’s complex qualification process.

Kasparov in the Boston Globe

Garry Kasparov continues to successfully wage his PR campaign against the Kremlin in the West. Yesterday we reported on the massive story that the prestigious New Yorker magazine did about him in the current issue (a piece written by the paper’s editor, no less), and on Sunday Kasparov had a huge interview in the Boston Globe:

THE 1985 CHAMPIONSHIP chess match between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov captured the world’s attention not just for the gripping chess, but because Kasparov, at 22, embodied an outspoken, anti-authoritarian spirit that seemed a rebuke to the Soviet status quo. Kasparov won the match, becoming the youngest world chess champion in history and a heroic figure to many who would welcome the collapse of Communism.

In 2005, Kasparov quit professional chess to launch a second career as a political activist in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, bringing his celebrity – and elements of his risk-taking, aggressive chess style – with him. Based in Moscow, Kasparov tours the country, campaigning for democracy and free elections. He also makes his case in the Western press. In an editorial for The Wall Street Journal, he argued forcefully that the Putin regime is a Russian Mafia on a massive scale, buoyed by petrodollars, resorting to force, and relying on the Western pipe dream that the New Russia is a fledgling democracy rather than a dangerous stage in the evolution of tyranny.

Kasparov’s group, the Other Russia (theotherrussia.org), aims to unite all anti-Putin factions, from skinheads to neo-Bolsheviks. In a country tightly controlled by a former KGB agent, this can seem a quixotic goal at best. But Kasparov hopes to draw on the qualities that propelled him to a record-breaking 15 years as chess champion, including the ability to be self-critical, to adjust rapidly to different challenges, and to last. And it can’t be denied that for now Kasparov enjoys a formidable advantage over several other prominent critics of Putin: Kasparov is still very much alive.

Reached last week after midnight Moscow time, Kasparov talked about his new book – “How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom” – and what he hopes to achieve in Russia’s presidential elections.

IDEAS: Why are you awake at this hour?

KASPAROV: I’m working. I use early morning hours for discussions with Americans. I have several more calls to make and don’t normally go to bed before 2 a.m.

IDEAS: You’re running for president in Russia’s March elections on the Other Russia ticket, aren’t you?

KASPAROV: Be very cautious in using the words “running” or “elections.” “Running” is the wrong word because when Americans say it, they think of Giuliani or Obama or McCain. In Russia we are not fighting to win elections. We are fighting to have them.

Most likely I will be nominated by the Other Russia. But that means very little in Putin’s Russia, because everybody understands there’s zero chance of my being registered, due to the technical obstacles on the way. The simplest one is needing 2 million signatures – no more than 40,000 from any one region, whether Moscow or a small town. Next, they investigate the signatures and if they reject 10 percent, you’re out. There are many other obstacles but this is the barrier you can’t cross unless the Kremlin wants you want to participate.

IDEAS: Will the Kremlin let you participate?

KASPAROV: No. Participation would mean that I could be on television, and that’s sacred territory.

IDEAS: Given what has happened to other critics of the Putin regime – the author Alexander Litvinenko, for example, poisoned by polonium-210 in London, and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down in a Moscow elevator – don’t you fear for your safety? Or do you think that your fame as a chess player protects you?

KASPAROV: It offers me some sort of protection. It doesn’t offer guarantees. I have bodyguards. My family is protected here as much as possible. I do not fly airplanes long distance, do not consume food or liquids in places I do not know. I try to minimize the risks, and still I’m in danger.

IDEAS: Couldn’t you continue to act against Putin from the West?

KASPAROV: Who cares if I argue from the West? It’s absolutely immoral to talk about Russian problems, and tell people to be on the street in protest against the regime, while I’m sitting in New York.

When I played chess I always used to evaluate my chances. In politics, too, you evaluate your chances, but it’s more of a fight for values. And when you fight for values, unless you stand firm on the ground you’ve chosen, you lose.

IDEAS: But isn’t it important that you survive to go on making your case?

KASPAROV: I travel across the country extensively and talk to the people. They believe me because they know I make enough money to be independent. I never stole from them. I’m not part of the government. I played chess for my country for 25 years. I have world fame and could be comfortable anywhere in the world.

The only argument state propaganda makes against me is I’m an agent of American or Western influence. When I’m in Moscow and on the streets with people, everybody sees it’s nonsense.

IDEAS: I’m sorry to insist, but aren’t you entitled to fear?

KASPAROV: It’s all right. It’s a painful discussion. And you’re not the only one who raises these questions. If I understand the threat is absolutely real, I will probably not push my luck.

IDEAS: Do you identify with the dissidents against the Soviet Union? Do they inspire you?

KASPAROV: They do inspire me and I have good relations with many of them. We are doing something similar. We’re trying to create the concept of opposition in the country. Even under Yeltsin that was frustrated, and never amounted to a genuine democratic opposition.

IDEAS: Is the Other Russia laying the groundwork for long-term opposition?

KASPAROV: No, it’s not long term. We were successful in creating an opposition and at first thought we might be in a powerful position before the presidential election of 2008. That was too optimistic. The collapse of the regime will not occur in March 2008. It will have to take longer. But it’s not long term. I’m absolutely confident the regime will not survive, and my analysis is that it will not survive beyond 2012.

IDEAS: In 1985, the Soviet Chess Federation interrupted your match with Anatoly Karpov, which you were about to win. The Soviet chess world was still recovering from Bobby Fischer’s defeat of Boris Spassky in 1972. Karpov was their reliable new champion. They didn’t want problems from an upstart like you. That’s where your battle with Russian authorities begins, isn’t it?

KASPAROV: Yes. I started by fighting the chess federation and wound up fighting the Soviet regime. In 1990 and 1991 I thought the game was over for Communism and Soviet-style dictatorship. I didn’t plan to become a leader of opposition to the new regime. But when I recognized dictatorship was coming back I gradually came to the conclusion that I had no choice. I had to be part of this fight, which is very important not only for my country but for the rest of the world.