Daily Archives: October 3, 2007

Annals of the Cold War: Again, Russia Menaces America with Nuclear Attack

The International Herald Tribune reports more totally unprovoked provocation of the U.S. by Russia (we are not buzzing their cities, but they are buzzing ours):

Russian warplane exercises around Alaska have become routine in the past few months, U.S. military officials said Monday, as the former Cold War superpower steps up flights from its Arctic bases. Over the summer, Russian bombers have staged at least seven exercises in a buffer zone outside U.S. air space, each time alerting the U.S. through reports by Russian news agencies, said Maj. Allen Herritage, a spokesman for the Alaska region of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. U.S. and Canadian fighter jets, including F-15s, were dispatched each time to escort the Russian planes in the exercises, which ranged from two to six aircraft, Herritage said.

The latest exercise came Sept. 19 and involved two planes flying somewhere off the coast of Canada, Herritage said. They were met by Canadian planes from NORAD, which is jointly operated by the U.S. and Canadian militaries. At least five exercises by the Russian Tu-95 Bear heavy bombers have taken place off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and other historic Cold War outposts, such as Cape Lisburne and St. Lawrence Island, according to NORAD records. All occurred beyond the 12-mile boundary that constitutes U.S. airspace. “They used to have them from time to time, but not nearly in this frequency,” Herritage said. “These exercises used to be more common during the Cold War.”

The exercises come amid troubled relations between Russia and the West and are seen by some as intimidating moves by an increasingly assertive Russia, but Herritage said the exercises are not a cause for alarm. “The recent exercises appear to be routine training activities,” he told The Associated Press. “They are nowhere near U.S. airspace.” President Vladimir Putin announced in August that Russia was resuming long-range bomber flights over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russian Air Force officials could not be reached for comment after hours. They have repeatedly said that the planes were not violating any nation’s airspace or any international agreements. But in mid-September, British and Norwegian jets intercepted Russian military aircraft after they breached NATO airspace close to the U.K. and Finland. And on a handful of occasions this year, NATO nations, including Britain and Norway, have sent fighters to escort Russian bombers nearing their territory.

Nobody in his right mind can now dispute that Russia is provoking a new cold war it cannot possibly even wage, much less win. In other words, it is repeating verbatim the outrageously aggressive action that destroyed the USSR. And remember, the leader who is ordering these attacks enjoys 70%+ popularity in Russia, so the Russian people themselves are equally culpable.

Maybe it’s time for U.S. planes to start buzzing Vladivostok or Minsk?

Paul Goble Exposes a Web of Neo-Soviet Lies

Scholar/blogger Paul Goble looks behind the neo-Soviet propaganda of the Kremlin’s demographic numbers and exposes a web of lies:

For much of the last decade, Russians have referred to the consequences of their country’s declining birthrate and rising mortality rate as “the Russian cross” – the coming together and crossing of these two trends that have driven that country’s total population down more or less continuously since 1993. But now Moscow faces what might be called a second “Russian cross:” the intersection of continuing declines in the number of Russians and a new rise in the number of migrants from other parts of Russia or from abroad, a combination with potentially explosive consequences for that country’s future.

Russian demographers this week reported that natural decline of the Russian population – a statistic that captures the relationship between the number of births and the number of deaths – improved somewhat during the first six months of 2007 compared to the same period a year earlier. In the first six months of 2006, they report, there were 415,000 more deaths than births among Russian citizens, while in the first half of 2007, that figure stood at 307,000 – an improvement that continues a general trend since 2000 rather than being the direct result of any recent policy changes. Moreover, compared to last year, more regions of the country showed a natural increase in the population, 18 this year versus 13 a year ago. But as in the past, all the leaders in this area are non-Russian regions: Chechnya, Ingushetia, Tyva, Daghestan, and Khanty-Mansiik.

Two recent reports, however, cast a shadow on such claims. On the one hand, a close analysis of demographic statistics in a city near Moscow found that local officials are misstating the figures to make it appear the situation is improving. How widespread that phenomenon may be is, of course, unknown with any certainty. But it is almost certainly to be found in more than one place and could be sufficiently common to distort the statistics that officials in the central Russian government are using. And on the other hand, last Friday, a Leningrad military district official said that the declining number of young men in the draft pool might force Moscow to increase the length of required military service, a step that would certainly heat up the political situation in Russia now.

But however that may be, it is the second “Russian cross” that is likely to attract the greater attention in the coming months. After a period of relative decline in the growth of the country’s population as a result of immigration (1995-2003), the number of immigrants is again rising – and rising rapidly. During the first six months of this year, there were 117,000 registered immigrants, compared to 67,000 in the first half of 2006, and 50,000 in the first half of 2005. While some of this increase may simply reflect a greater willingness on the part of officials to register new arrivals, senior officials are generally pleased by this trend. These new arrivals thus make up for an increasing share of the continuing natural decline of Russian Federation residents. And at the same time, these new arrivals not only can fill otherwise vacant job positions but also help keep upward wage pressure and thus inflation down. But the arrival of migrants, both from non-Russian regions of the Russian Federation moving into predominantly Russian regions and from Central Asia and the Caucasus moving into all locations in that country, often trigger xenophobic reactions among the indigenous populations, Russian or non-Russian.

That danger – which is reflected in the very name of one of the largest extreme Russian nationalist groups, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) – was the subject of a discussion organized in Irkutsk last Friday by the Open Russia-Irkutsk Foundation. Emil Pain, director of the Moscow Center of Ethno-Political and Regional Research and one of Russia’s leading specialists on xenophobia, told the meeting that in contrast to its state-sponsored and imperial forms, “spontaneous nationalism” is on the rise “throughout the entire post-Soviet space.” One of the reasons for this, he continued, is a fundamental shift in the way in which people evaluate their own status. In the past, he said, “people compared their life with earlier periods.” But now, Pain suggested, they compare their situations not with the past but with that of other people who live around them. Such a shift in the basis of evaluating status, of course, reflects growing income inequality, and that in turn helps to explain why many “natives” in the Russian Federation are sensitive to what some of them see as the advantages that “migrants” have over them. Other speakers expanded on why the attitudes of one ethnic group to another may, especially if the latter is perceived as an outsider, be hardening in the Russian Federation today. Oleg Vornonin, a specialist on Siberia at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said that one reason is that there is more talk than action about this problem. But Svetlana Plokhotnikova, who heads the Irkutsk oblast department for work with ethnic communities, said that she and other officials there were doing everything to promote the integration of outsiders into Irkutsk society, particularly through a ramified system of more than 70 national-cultural autonomies.

She acknowledged, however, that her office had not been able to find a sufficient number of leaders “who could create inter-confessional youth organizations which would be capable of becoming an alternative to nationalist organizations.” Her admission on this point, of course, is likely to prove more significant than her claim of progress.

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya: War in the Streets of Stavropol Region

Stratfor reports:

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) forces reportedly launched an assault against armed militants barricaded in a five-story building in Russia’s Stavropol region, Interfax news agency reported Oct. 1, citing police officials. The move, which appears to be an effort to shore up security ahead of 2008 Russian elections, will give Georgia cause for concern.

The raid began at approximately 5 p.m. local time and ended a short time later in the town of Neftekumskom east of Stavropol and close to the Chechen border. FSB forces captured or killed most of the suspected militants, including one who ran into the street with an assault rifle and three grenades while the others provided cover fire from the building’s windows.

The group supposedly came from a small village near Neftekumskom called Kamysh, and called itself the Nagayskovo Battalion. The name’s significance remains unclear.

Neftekumskom has a large Muslim population, offering potential havens for insurgents. This was the third raid in the village this year, though most have been low-profile and went off without a hitch. A raid in March in Neftekumskom that reportedly resulted in the arrest of many insurgents also went off smoothly.

The current operation in Neftekumskom appears to be one of the usual ongoing low-intensity mop-up operations that have become the rule with Russian forces in the Caucasus. In this case it looks like the insurgents had advance notice or were otherwise forewarned and were able to provide stiff resistance.

Although raids on suspected militant hideouts have been a recurrent feature in Russia’s campaign against Caucasus militants, this was the first major assault since an operation in February 2006, when Russian security forces mounted a large operation against a group of Chechen militants, leading to 12 deaths. The government said the group was on the verge of executing a hostage-taking operation on the scale of the 2004 Beslan school attack.

Now, however, it seems Russia is moving more pre-emptively as the run-up to its 2008 elections nears. Russia typically has seen two to three militant attacks outside regions generally subject to militant attacks ahead of previous elections. This time, Russia is ramping up its internal security, and not just via small raids. Russia has been moving more troops into the Northern Caucasus, activating fresh counterterrorism programs in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

But internal security is not the only reason for Russia to move more troops to this region. Georgia also has taken note — and is growing progressively more wary the larger the Russian force on its northern border grows.

Tymoshenko Spits in Putin’s Eye

The Wall Street Journal reports that Putin’s Russia, once again, has a major amount of egg on its face, enduring yet another egregious foreign policy failure:

Yulia Tymoshenko, the firebrand leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, emerged as the big winner in parliamentary elections, an outcome that could bring fresh upheaval to relations with Russia.

It is unclear whether Ms. Tymoshenko will be Ukraine’s next prime minister, but Sunday’s vote has confirmed her as the driving force among the country’s westward-leaning parties, and it appeared to give them enough seats in Parliament to form a government.

[Yulia Tymoshenko]

That would be a welcome result for Western leaders and Ukrainians who supported the 2004 Orange Revolution, in which hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians protested to overturn fraudulent elections. At the time, it appeared that democracy movements were sweeping across the former Soviet Union; they have become mired in infighting since then.

An Orange government would not likely be welcomed by Moscow, whose favored candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, lost in 2004 but returned to power as prime minister last year. As soon as Mr. Yanukovich took office, he halted Ukraine’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Moscow opposes.

Ms. Tymoshenko has said she would seek to reopen negotiations with Russia over the price at which it sells natural gas to Ukraine and to shut out RosUkrenErgo, the opaque company half-owned by Russian state gas giant OAO Gazprom that handles the trade. Ukraine currently pays a little more than half the price some of its neighbors pay for gas, a result of negotiations Mr. Yanukovich conducted last year.

Ms. Tymoshenko’s party, Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko, increased its share of the vote by 10 percentage points from the 2006 election to 32%, with three-quarters of the ballots counted, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission said. That put her half a percentage point behind the Party of the Regions, headed by Mr. Yanukovich. Our Ukraine, the party of President Viktor Yushchenko, placed third, with 15%.

Repeating History: How the Soviets Lost the Moon

Writing in The Guardian, Nikita Krushchev’s son Sergei (pictured), a senior fellow at The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, explains how benighted Soviet policy “lost” the USSR the moon. So naturally, when it also destroyed the USSR itself, the wise people of Russia chose a proud KGB spy to lead them.

And so it goes in Russia.

Fifty years ago, on October 4 1957, my father, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, was waiting for a call from Kazakhstan: the designer, Sergei Korolev, was due to report on the launch of the world’s first satellite. My father was in Ukraine, on military business, and that evening he dined with Ukrainian leaders. I sat at the end of the table, not paying attention to their conversation. Around midnight my father was asked to take a phone call. When he came back, he was smiling: Sputnik’s launch had been successful.

Soviet engineers began designing Sputnik in January 1956. The plan was to launch it with an intercontinental ballistic missile in development since 1954. But the rest of the world paid no attention to the vague pronouncements of a possible launch that had been appearing in the Soviet press; everybody outside the Soviet Union thought the US would launch the world’s first satellite.

Soviet scientists believed that the Americans would keep their plans secret until after they had succeeded in launching a satellite, so all our efforts were put into beating the Americans to the launch. In August and September, missiles were successfully launched. Work went on around the clock.

Sputnik’s launch made the front page of Pravda but without banner headlines. The reason was simple. My father and all the Soviet people thought that Sputnik’s success was natural; that, step by step, we were getting ahead of the Americans. After all, we – not the Americans – had opened the world’s first nuclear power plant, our MiG jets set world records and the Soviet Tu-104 was the most efficient airliner of its class.

Nor did the press report Korolev’s name. The KGB knew that there was really no need to keep his name secret, but, as the then KGB chief, Ivan Serov, told me, the enemy’s resources were limited, so let them waste their efforts trying to uncover “non-secret” secrets. The world, however, was desperate to learn his identity, and when the Nobel prize committee decided to give an award to Sputnik’s “chief designer”, it requested his name from the Soviet government.

My father weighed his response carefully. His concern wasn’t confidentiality. The council of chief designers was in charge of all space projects. Korolev was the head, but the others – more than a dozen – considered themselves no less significant. My father knew they were ambitious, jealous people. If the prize went only to Korolev, the others would fly into a rage and refuse to work with him. A well-organised team would collapse, dashing the hopes for future space research. As my father saw it, you could order scientists to work together, but you couldn’t force them to create.

In the end, my father told the Nobel committee that all of the Soviet people had distinguished themselves on Sputnik and all deserved the award. The Nobel prize went to somebody else.

But despite the pains my father had taken, the other designers felt discontent about Korolev taking the credit. The first to revolt was designer Valentin Glushko, whose liquid-propellant engine was used on Russian – and some US – rockets. During one meeting, Glushko said: “My engines could send into space any piece of metal.” Korolev was offended; his rocket wasn’t just a piece of metal. The dispute led to Glushko offering his services to Korolev’s rivals.

My father couldn’t make peace between them. Glushko, by government decree, continued to design engines for Korolev, but the work wasn’t good. So, despite Sputnik’s initial triumph, a decade later the Soviet Union lost the race to the moon.

October 2, 2007 — Contents


(1) Putin, Part II

(2) Annals of Sochi

(3) Boldyrev Blasts Putin

(4) Another Bird Flu Outbreak in Russia

NOTE: If you are in Italy, there will be a vigil for Anna Politkovskaya on October 6th. Click here and here to read more about it. Don’t forget, we will devote all our content on October 7th — this coming Sunday — to Anna’s memory, and we welcome submissions from readers for publication (prose, poetry, photographs, drawings, audio files are all welcome).

NOTE: Check out La Russophobe‘s latest on Publius Pundit, where she cheers the decisive victory of the pro-West forces in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections. Feel free to leave your comments regarding this encouraging development.