Daily Archives: October 10, 2007

Another Original LR Translation: Yulia Latynina’s "Happy Birthday, Mr. President"

La Russophobe‘s professional translator allows you to read another column from the brilliant pen of Yulia Latynina in the Russian Press, this time singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to Vladimir Putin:

Putin’s Birthday and the Day of Polikovskaya’s Death

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

by Yulia Latynina

October 8, 2007

One year ago, on October 7, 2006 Anna Politkovskaya was shot in the entryway of her home, and no matter how many demonstrations “Nashi” (our own) may hold on this day – the birthday of Putin – this is the day of the death of Politkovskaya.

It seemed like the murder of Politkovskaya, unlike the murder of Litvinenko, would remain unsolved forever. But one year on, to the amazement of some, we already know a fair amount about this killing. It is helpful to separate out what we know into facts and conclusions.

The facts are as follows.

Immediately after the murder of Politkovskaya, President Putin announced that her murder brought more harm than her activities. The President appointed the investigator Pyotr Garibyan, who had no unsolved cases, to investigate the case.

The investigation took place in a vacuum. To the point of being funny: the killers arrived to murder Politkovskaya as a foursome, in one car. Surveillance cameras showed the car next to her apartment building, but the license plate number was not readable. The investigators tried to find the number by looking at footage from other cameras, but they too were blurry. They tired to “pull out” the number with the help of criminal investigations experts – and at that point everything got stuck. In the end the investigation, through personal connections, had an institute specializing in the manipulation of data from satellite photos manipulate the data from the surveillance videotapes. Out popped the license plate number of the car, which it turned out belonged to the Makhmudov killers, though formally it was owned by their uncle Akhmed Isaev.

The investigation found the car in which the killer (presumably one of the Makhmudov brothers) arrived at the scene. It was further determined that shortly before the death of the journalist a lieutenant colonel of the FSB, Pavel Ryaguzov, looked up her address in an FSB database and immediately called Shamil Buraev, his long-time acquaintance (and, apparently, his agent) – also the former head of the Achkho-Martanovskiy region, a reliable federalist, and from the same clan as the Makhmudovs. The investigation further determined that the address turned out to be old, and that a “outside surveillant” (naryzhka) from the police was hired to determine her new one. “There were two outside surveillants”, said the prosecutor Chaika.

In other words, it turned out there were two groups. One – the killers (the money paid them was not much – the Makhmudovs did not even destroy their car), the other – those who were responsible for the surveillance and penetration of the building (probivka). The investigation believes Sergei Khadzhikurbanov served as the connection between the two groups. Khadzhikurbanov was a former operations officer in the ethnic department of the Regional Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (RUBOP) [of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MID)] and, incidentally, a close acquaintance of Colonel Ryaguzov.

There was even an incident involving both of them: Khadzhikurbanov and Ryaguzov together beat up a businessman in an office. The businessman escaped from the building and ran to an embassy across the street. Ryaguzov and Khadzhikurbanov showed their badges and pried the businessman from the embassy guards, again beat him up, threw him into a car, and took him back to his home. When it turned out he had no money at his home, they beat him again, and drove him to a forest, but there they were stopped by a traffic policeman. There was, of course, no testimony of any sort taken from the businessman, and no criminal case was brought. How many times Ryaguzov and Khadzhikurbanov had driven around with a businessman in their trunk before without being stopped by a traffic policeman, no one knows.

The arrests occurred on August 13. They went quietly, without any sort of publicity, until the prosecutor Chaika announced to Putin that the murder had been solved and it was ordered by someone from abroad.

At this point there was an explosion of information. While at first nothing leaked from Garibyan’s group, no sooner was the information passed to the leadership than the leaks flowed as if from a sieve. The license plate of the car that transported the four men (which had up to this point still not been seized!) was leaked to the press, and the secretary of the Basman court gladly revealed to the press the names of those detained. But the most surprising thing happened in court with the FSB Colonel Ryaguzov.

As it turned out, the military court presided over by judge Seryukov (the same one who acquitted the accused in the murder of Kholodov) categorically refused to arrest Ryzugov in the case for which he was detained two months previously. The court demanded all information in the Politkovskaya case be turned over to it. It was turned over. For the first time the name of Buraev was heard. (Buraev at that moment had not yet been arrested or questioned in the Politkovskaya case, although his name had been mentioned in the Khlebnikov murder case.) The court proceedings were closed to the public. The name, however, appeared on every website, with a reference to Interfax, although Interfax had released nothing from the court.

Some journalists called Buraev. He said that as soon as he heard of this idiotic affair he got dressed, got in his car, and drove from his home. At this point he was immediately arrested, because he had been under surveillance for some time.

So these are the facts, or more exactly, some of the facts. What remains are the conclusions which can be drawn from the facts.

In my view, Putin’s announcement [immediately after the murder of Politkovskaya] was directed primarily at the murderers: What did you vermin drag in here?

In my view, appointing Garibyan (and not someone like Karimov) as the investigator meant that Putin actually was interested in finding out who of his people killed Politkovskaya.

The order for the murder was given to a certain syndicate of killers and had a purely commercial character. As far as the organizer of the murder was concerned (and this was not Makhmudov, nor Muraev, nor even, probably, Khadzhikurbanov), the order might have gone to anyone. However, the active involvement of government officials in “establishing the target” (ustanovlenie obekta) of Politkovskaya forces us to assume that the officials at least knew that the murder was being planned.

But here’s a question: One of the Makhmudovs pulled the trigger. And he got out of the car that was carrying the foursome and was waiting for Politkovskaya at her apartment building. But surely Politkovskaya was being followed on the day she was murdered. The killers were passed the information that she was approaching. Meaning that someone other than the foursome was in another car. Whose car would that be, and who was in it?

Or this: Colonel Ryaguzov got Politkovskaya’s address from the FSB database and called his personal friend Buraev. Maybe it was Buraev who asked Ryaguzov for the address – this is what Ryaguzov says, claiming that he was “kept in the dark” and used. It is possible that Ryaguzov first got the address and then asked Buraev about what the next steps would be. But one thing is clear: you can “keep in the dark” and use a bum. Or a journalist. Even a killer. But a lieutenant colonel in the FSB cannot be “kept in the dark” and used. Ryaguzov had known Buraev a long time. He knew what Buraev did for a living. He knew, above all else, about the Khlebnikov affair. And when a person, whose activities are well known to an FSB lieutenant colonel (who himself is in the habit of transporting businessmen in his trunk), asks the FSB lieutenant colonel for the address of an opposition journalist, the FSB lieutenant colonel will at a minimum inform his leadership.

In my view, Chaika’s press conference was connected with the fact that rumors of the arrest were already circulating around Moscow, and if there was no press conference, the public would begin talking about exactly what was talked about above: the facts. But facts are not fatal to the security services. And the appropriate P.R. decision was made: “Instead of having them discuss the facts, let them discuss an announcement about how Politkovskaya was killed by the enemies of Russia.”

The strategy worked perfectly. The occasional liberal publication did not shed any tears over the alibis of the four Makhmudov brothers (their alibis consisted of a claim that one of the brothers was in Chechnya at the time) and the bright image of the chekist Pavel Ryaguzov, whom his leaders put forward due to his exceptional discipline, demonstrated in Ryaguzov’s attempt to save the life of the viciously beaten Aleksandr Pumane.

In my view, President Putin now knows who killed Politkovskaya. But we will not know, at least not until the end of the regime.

There are democratic regimes, in which the head of the government does not order the murder of opposition journalists. And there are dictatorships, in which the head of the government does order the murder of opposition journalists. But I do not know what to call a regime in which an opposition journalist is killed and the head of the government is genuinely interested in knowing who did it – his left hand or his right foot.

NOTE: A heavily abridged version of this article appears today in the Moscow Times without naming Yezhedevny Zhurnal as the source.

Now This is Just Plain Spooky

You might not believe it, dear reader, but we hear at La Russophobe really hate to be proven right, because it inevitably means one more nail in Russia’s coffin and the whole point of our activity is to save Russia from that fate. So it’s with profound regret that we inform you of how right we were about the inevitability of huge, Stalin-like images of Vladimir Putin appearing in Russia to be worshipped by fawning minions waving red flags and creaking generals saluting. How scary is THAT? It was only a matter of time. And it’s also only a matter of time until the GULAG gets going again (in fact, Mikhail Khodorkovsky would say that happened quite some time ago).

The Telegraph reports:

Rolling out ageing military chiefs and attractive young activists, the Kremlin laid on a lavish 55th birthday bash for President Vladimir Putin that successfully overshadowed the first anniversary of the murder of an outspoken critic. Nearly 10,000 members of the Kremlin-created Nashi youth movement, their red T-shirts emblazoned with images of the president’s face, gathered in Moscow for a riverside birthday party. Activists hung giant Russian flags from 1,000 high-rise buildings around Moscow before unveiling their present for Mr Putin: a 722-ft “peace blanket” the movement said symbolized Russia’s grandeur. Vladimir Voronin, the Moldovan president, presented him with a bottle of champagne said to be “the size of an adult woman” at a meeting in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, before Mr Putin flew back to Moscow for a birthday party in the Kremlin attended by the most senior officers in the Russian armed forces and intelligence services as well as by ultra-loyalist aides and friends.

The mood was considerably more sombre in Moscow’s Pushkin square, where 700 opposition activists gathered for a rally to commemorate the death of Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative reporter murdered on Mr Putin’s birthday last year. Under international pressure, Russian prosecutors announced the arrest of 11 suspects last month but are no closer to revealing who may have instigated the killing. The Kremlin has denied any connection to the murder, and Mr Putin has stated that she was too insignificant for the government to view as a serious threat — an argument similarly used by the president over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the ex-KGB defector, in London last year.

10,000 for Putin. 700 for Politkovskaya. It’s a barbaric, uncivilized nation that would do such a thing.

Putin Shows his Cards (Yup, They’re All Marked)

Writing in the Seattle Post Intelligencer Lara Iglitzin, executive director of Henry M. Jackson Foundation in Seattle, explains how Putin has shown his true colors and why we must now show ours:

Russian President Vladimir Putin never really fooled most close observers of the Kremlin [LR: Sound like anyone you know?]. Anyone witnessing his steady accumulation of power in the hands of the central state — so-called managed democracy — saw a pattern of increasing media censorship, decreasing political pluralism, manipulated and controlled elections and a tight rein on economic actors.

Those concerned about human rights and democracy have been sounding the alarm for years. Political analysts in Russia and the West have been wondering how Putin would hold on to his powerful political seat, given the constitutional necessity for him to step down after two terms as president.

He stated publicly several times that he wouldn’t serve a third term, and yet, no one quite believed it. Would he simply amend the constitution, using his total control of the Russian Parliament, stacked with his supporters? Would he do a power grab that would nevertheless be accepted by his populace? It was difficult to imagine that he would go quietly into the night, whiling away his senior years at his country dacha.

Last week, Putin showed his cards. In a stunning surprise, Putin used the United Russia political party congress — the party most closely allied with Kremlin politics — to accept an offer for him to lead that party’s political slate in the upcoming parliamentary elections in December 2007.

Orchestrated just as broadly as in the old Stalin Communist Party days, a factory worker came forward to say: “You said you wouldn’t serve a third term. To tell the truth, I didn’t understand when you said that. I think the law can be changed … . There are so many smart respected people here, let’s think of a way for Vladimir Vladimirovich to remain president in 2008.” To deafening applause, the next speaker formally asked the Russian president, who is not technically affiliated with United Russia, to head its party slate and later become prime minister, should the party gain power. The Central Elections Commission representatives present at the Party Congress quickly affirmed that this was fully in sync with existing laws.

Putin enjoys extraordinary public support, with an approval rating above 75 percent. With Putin on the top of United Russia’s slate, already backed with the full force of the Kremlin with media support and political clout, it is assured of an overwhelming victory. Putin becomes prime minister, with a handpicked president (Putin himself nominated the non-entity Viktor Zubkov a few weeks ago) to be a figurehead. Putin can either beef up the premiership position or move back into the presidency after a brief pause — and no constitutional changes are needed.

Comrades, this is not democracy. It’s a bad sign when the Communist Party Deputy complains that the Kremlin party will erode democratic principles. Indeed, to Russia’s South, the formerly Soviet country of Ukraine showed the region just last week what real democracy looks like when it is allowed to operate: a hard-fought, contested, free election where three candidates vied for power and two are neck and neck, one representing the Orange Revolution and the other representing the repressive Russian past.

We should not be fooled any longer by Putin’s statements to the West about democracy. He has manipulated the process to ensure that a post-Putin era is only a future dream. A powerful, non-democratic Russia, dominated by one man and one state, will never respect human rights and democratic values. The United States must take notice of this Russian bear before it threatens us.

Annals of Cold War II: Russia and Iran

The International Herald Tribune‘s John Vinocur explains how Cold War II is heating up over Iran, highlighting how obviously bone-headed the Bush administration’s “trust Putin” mantra really was:

Suppose the Russians, as Iran’s monopoly supplier of nuclear wherewithal, decided they could live with a few atomic weapons in the hands of the mullahs. Suppose the Russians, flush with money and superpower fantasies, believed that weakening and humiliating the United States was well worth the instability that might come with Moscow’s refusal to help block Iran’s drive toward nuclear arms. Where’s the downside? From Vladimir Putin’s point of view, it’s win-win.

With Russia’s obstructive tactics encouraging Iran to plunge ahead, he may figure the Americans will eventually strike Iranian nuclear installations. The Yanks would harvest opprobrium in much of the world. Still, if their strike does eradicate the Iranian nuclear program, that’s fine, too. Russia’s oil and gas prices are sure to shoot up. Russia becomes Iran’s key reconstruction contractor, and sets out a rare claim to international righteousness.

What’s irrational about the above scenario? Or its counterpart, which is that Russian now calculates the United States in the end will sit on its hands concerning Iran? Nothing. Multiple versions of them get discussed within the Bush Administration, all stamped, Non Whacko.

It’s exemplary of the misery of the American situation.

On one hand, the Administration sticks to the notion – recall, please, George W. Bush’s magnanimous first-term reading of Putin’s soul in his KGB eyes – that somehow, someday, but in the nick of time, the Russians are going to come around to joining an international effort to halt Iran’s nuclear drive. On the other hand, important areas of the administration are offering a hardened assessment of what Russia ultimately wants. After a couple of years of talking about how Putin’s richer Russia (reasonably) craved respect, a senior administration policymaker, in a private conversation, now asserts the “overwhelming evidence” is a Russia that seeks to weaken the United States. Wherever possible internationally, he says, Moscow will work to stop America from achieving success. The hitch is that concerning Iran, these two administration notions, expecting good from Russia while regarding it as a gathering, noxious force, are contradictory to the point of incompatibility.

The summer showed just how much.

In June, the Americans said they expected a United Nations Security Council resolution in July that would add a new round of modest sanctions to those already in effect against Iran. It never happened. The Russians, with Chinese assistance, sidetracked the measure. Reality now says the United Nations is not going to be the place where Iran’s nuclear dreams die. Almost in the same stride, the Russians in July used the threat of a Security Council veto to dismantle an American-backed motion on Kosovo’s independence. The combined effect is not only an American defeat. It’s a demonstration that, unlike in the Cold War, there are no clear limits on how far this Russia feels it can push this America. Forget the grandiloquence of Moscow’s planting flags in the Arctic and re-establishing world-wide strategic bomber patrols.

But as the United States flails in Iraq, and faces a financial crisis that may affect command-economies and authoritarian regimes less than democracies, why shouldn’t Russia see the Iran issue as a strategic hole for achieving a new global status? After all, Jacques Chirac, whose vision of a multipolar world consigning America to the role of everyone’s opponent gets applause in Moscow, argued in his last months as French president that a few Iranian nukes shouldn’t cause much lost sleep for anyone sharing his take on a remade global hierarchy. Chirac didn’t say it, but he could have rationalized that a limited number of atomic weapons at Iran’s disposal would be a reasonable price to pay for disabling an American world order that he, like Putin, reviles.

It’s a reflection of America’s current incapacities that Nicolas Sarkozy, who might have interesting notions of Putin’s calculations from Élysée Palace files, two weeks ago detailed the Iran situation in a tougher and more concise way than Washington. Sarkozy knows that some Westerners who have talked directly to Putin have been told that Russia does not want a nuclear-armed Iran. He also knows the deceit of Russia’s official position that it has no evidence indicating Iran’s nuclear activities are anything but peaceful. Draw this conclusion: If Sarkozy has been informed that Putin will act to halt Iran’s drive short of a bomb, then he would not be calling the prospect of Iranian atomic bomb capability the world’s biggest menace.

There are, on good evidence, officials within the Bush administration frustrated by its own bollixed approach – hoping that the Russians will turn responsible after their “elections” next year while acknowledging Moscow is now in full confrontational mode. Assume they could only leap to praise Sarkozy for saying in a speech a couple of weeks ago what Bush would not: If sanctions fail, the alternatives are an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran. As for Russia, Sarko described its behavior as marked by a “certain brutality.” The sanctions Sarkozy is talking about are hard, new measures outside the United Nations that would probably involve an ad hoc group including the United States, Britain, France and Japan at its core.

This approach specifically means forgetting about the Security Council, and giving up on Russia, barring sudden and unlikely cooperation. The sanctions have to be so penalizing, obviously disadvantaging Western banks and industry, to become truly dissuasive. This requires real resolve. It also requires the underpinning of a tacit yet palpable threat: if these measures don’t work, there’s real unpleasantness to come. With a phrase, Sarkozy marked out the Iranian choice with a sharper edge than the Americans have.

That’s a significant advance.

But unless Bush first gets publicly tougher on Russia as Iran’s protector and international obstructionist, the mullahs may take America’s insistence on skirting this reality as the surest sign they can get that they’re home free.

October 9, 2007 — Contents


(1) Another Original LR Translation: More on the “Russian Idea”

(2) To Honor Politkovskaya, Kremlin Arrests Activists

(3) Bukovsky on the Neo-Soviet State

(4) Annals of “Pacified”Chechnya: The Blood Still Flows

(5) A Smear Job Exposed in Georgia

NOTE: Check out La Russophobe‘s latest installment on the Pajamas Media megablog, where she’s a Russia correspondent, reviewing the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya and the subsequent further crackdown on freedom of expression in neo-Soviet Russia (Pajamas has also translated a number of jokes about Putin from the Russian blogosphere on the occasion of Putin’s birthday, the same day that Politkovskaya was killed — making many think the killing was a “birthday present” — and as Mark MacKinnon notes, sickeningly, far more Russians celebrated the birthday than remembered the murder). Robert Amsterdam (wait for the link, it may take a moment to load) who knew Anna personally, has also published a fantastic memorial edition on his blog, including an original translation of her work, an essay by Grigori Pasko, many wonderful photographs and a link to a video interview.