Daily Archives: October 11, 2007

Another Original LR Translation: On the Trail of Politkovskaya’s Killers

Once again, LR’s professional translator opens a window into the Russian press, allowing you to keep up with Latynina as well as any Russian:

“Exposure of the Target”, or Something About Cultural Codes

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

by Yulia Latynina

September 24, 2007

The unraveling of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya began when the investigation noted something: one month before Politkovskaya was murdered, a certain Lieutenant Colonel in the FSB, Pavel Ryaguzov, without leaving Chechnya, looked up the address of Politkovskaya in an FSB database and immediately called a certain Shamil Buraev.

According to the testimony of Ryaguzov, this Buraev asked Ryaguzov to find the address, and the latter, good soul that he was, was unwittingly made use of. I will note, however, that the facts neither refute nor support this version of events. The facts are simply that Pavel Ryaguzov looked up Anna Politkovskaya’s address in an FSB database and after that called Shamil Buraev. Two explanations are possible.

It is possible that the “organizer” (one of them) Buraev requested the “executor”, Ryaguzov, to determine the address. Or it might have been that the “organizer” (one of them) Ryaguzov found the address and provided it to the “executor” (one of them), Buraev.

Buraev is an ex-head of the Achka-Martanovskiy region, a “federal man” to his bone marrow, brought to the region in a deployment of federal forces in 1995, and in 1996 directed the region from he great city of Moscow. He was federal to the point that it was hard to tell in this duo where the chekist began and Chechen ended, but it was clear why it was easy for him to turn to Ryaguzov, or Ryaguzov to turn to Buraev.

But this story about acquiring the address stuck in my head, and I thought for a long time what it reminded me of. And then I remembered.

A few years ago, in a home I had just recently rented, the phone rang. It was a former KGB guy. (He was delirious, accusing all his personal enemies of being in a conspiracy against democracy, so it’s not important what he has after.) The KGB guy, having called, decided to try and impress me. “I acquired your address from a database – well, you understand, I have these connections,” he said. “But the address where you were registered was not where you were living. They gave me a telephone number, and when I called that number I got another number, and from that number I got this number.” What an idiot, I thought: All you had to do was call Novaya Gazeta and say you were with the New York Times.

It soon became clear that I was not alone in my contempt for people who “acquire” addresses the way they did back in the good old 1970s. One of my oligarch acquaintances, choking back laughter, told the story of how he bought a copy of his own dossier from the security services. In the dossier there were several volumes of transcripts from telephone calls. But the oligarch could not figure it out: who were these people – Vasya, Masha; buy some potatoes, change the diapers. What in the world? Potatoes? Only after digging into it deeper did the oligarch realize that the ops officers had over a period of several months diligently tapped the phone line of… his old apartment, which he had once rented, but had not been living there, of course, for about ten years.

And then I heard the story of another friend. He ordered the profile of a competitor from some “special services officers” (spetsovs) from the intelligence services, and the officers, trying to impress him, delivered my friend’s own dossier as well. I should note that my friend had three years before divorced his wife and immediately remarried. Coming to a phrase about how he had “lately been showing up everywhere with a mysterious blonde woman, whom no one knows” (in reference to a woman with whom he had been married for three years, and who worked at a major bank), my friend stopped reading and kicked out the “spetsovs”.

And then a little while later I was talking with one these “spetsovs” myself. “You look up the address in a database, find the telephone number, registration number, and voila – in ten minutes you’ve exposed the target,” he told me proudly. I remember my amusement: How could this grown, intelligent, cultivated man say that “in ten minutes the target is exposed”? What if the telephone number is for his father? And what if the man is driving his wife’s car, and she his? Who will you be following?

Why am I going into all this? Because there is a big difference between the cultural codes of a person raised in the system of the Soviet KGB – a person who is accustomed to thinking that there is always a residence permit and a single telephone number, and who was trained in specific methods of “exposing the target” – and the world view of normal people, be they entrepreneurs or bandits. People who understand that “exposing” a well-known journalist is pretty basic. One need not “access a database”, “expose the target”, etc.

Let us recall what we know about the Politkovskaya case.

First the murderers found the address in an FSB database. Then it turned out that the addresss was an old one, and then they sent an “outside surveillant” (naruzhka), who followed her from her work to her home. And do you know who did this, according to the scenario published in the mass media? Who paid the “naruzhka”? The Chechen killers, who were so poor that they could not destroy the car in which they arrived to kill Politkovskaya – and now the car is in the hands of the investigation.

And that’s just the beginning! According to the prosecutor Chaika, “There were two groups of surveillants; when one was following the journalist, the second directed them, and vice-versa.”

This is too much to imagine. If the first group – the”gunslingers”, were hired police surveillants, then to what agency did the second group belong? What kind of killers, too penurious to get rid of a car, would lay out money for two groups of “naruzhki”? And why would they want to supervise the work of the first group of naruzhki – to write a report to their management? What kind of killers would risk exposing their activities to such a large number of government officials?

Would it be hard for a group of private Chechen killers to find Politkovskaya’s address? Piece of cake. Just write a letter to the editor: “I, Mohammed such-and-such, want to tell you about my friend who was tortured in Khankala.” Set up a meeting in a café and follow Anna from the café home. The entire operation would be done in one day by two brothers, who would not pay anyone or expose anyone.

But the organizers did things a different way. An FSB database, two groups of “naruzhki”… Cultural codes, I tell you.

The Fangs of Inflation Continue to Poison Russia

We continue to see Russia become neo-Tsarist, even as it becomes neo-Soviet. Just as in Tsarist times, Russia is creating an elite cadre of super-rich who glide through the major cities in golden carriages, meanwhile a vast majority languishes in extreme poverty. The latest inflation news underlines this scenario, with food prices spiraling out of control (on pace for 12% annual inflation, and this isn’t even the rate for the small basket of basic foodstuffs which ordinary people, earning $3/hour on average, can afford — that rate is much higher and seldom reported — and this is the Kremlin’s own data, likely to be a gross understatement). Reuters reports:

The State Duma summoned Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on Tuesday to report on rising consumer prices after a September spike squashed hopes of meeting the 2007 inflation target of 8 percent. “State Duma deputies ask you … to inform the Duma about the reasons for such growth in prices for basic food products and measures being taken by the government,” lawmakers said in a letter. Consumer prices rose 0.8 percent in September, bringing price growth in the first nine months of the year to 7.5 percent. Food prices jumped 1 percent in September due to rising costs of milk, dairy products and sunflower oil. While food prices are rising around the world due to a combination of demand and supply pressures that economists call “agflation,” the impact in Russia is particularly noticeable because food accounts for more than 40 percent of its consumer price index, compared with 15 percent in the United States and the euro zone. Prices have also risen since a law adopted earlier this year banned foreign traders from the outdoor markets, where most people buy their food staples.

Even newspapers usually deferential to the Kremlin have been raising the alarm over price rises. “Our wallets are emptying, and the government does not intend to do anything about it,” said Izvestia, owned by state-controlled Gazprom, in a front page story this week. The Duma asked the government to meet lawmakers to work out measures to stabilize conditions at the outdoor food markets, where the cost of hiring Russian traders has pushed up prices. At Monday’s ministerial meeting with Putin, Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina proposed new foreign trade and local monopolies regulations. The foreign trade regulations include new export tariffs on grain and lower import tariffs on milk.

The Wild, Wild East

You’d think that if you choose to be ruled by a proud KGB spy, at least you’d have safe streets. But wait! We know, we know. It would be EVEN WORSE if Putin weren’t in charge, right? But the thing is, what does that say about the people of Russia? What are they, a nation of wolverines? If so, do they really belong at the G-8 and UN Security Council tables? And how about the Russians for some hypocrisy, claiming events like these only happen in America and prove democracy is not for Russia. Yikes!

The Moscow Times reports:

It’s been a perilous week for city pedestrians, even by Moscow’s notorious standards.

A driver in central Moscow ended an argument with three pedestrians Monday by shooting them and trying to flee, a city police spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, police were still trying to establish the identity of the driver of a BMW equipped with a flashing blue light who mowed down a pedestrian on a central Moscow crosswalk Monday, the spokeswoman said.

Monday’s shooting happened at around 3 p.m. on the corner of Bolshoi Spasoglinishchevsky Pereulok and Ulitsa Solyanka, near the Kitai-Gorod metro station. An argument broke out between the driver of a Lada and three young men crossing the street near the Moscow Choral Synagogue, after which the driver shot each of them with an air pistol, injuring them but not critically, the spokeswoman said. The driver attempted to flee but was arrested by a police officer in the vicinity, she said. There were conflicting accounts about what exactly prompted the argument, and the police spokeswoman said she had no further details. An unidentified police official told Izvestia that the driver had been in a hurry and driven up on the sidewalk to avoid traffic. “Some young men wouldn’t let the car pass, and the driver began to honk his horn,” the official said in comments published Tuesday. “The young men didn’t react. A squabble turned into an all-out argument. The driver of the Lada pulled out the pistol and opened fire.” Two passengers in the car joined the driver in trying to flee on foot after a police car arrived on the scene. The passengers managed to escape, while the driver was detained, Izvestia said. Citing witness accounts, however, Tvoi Den reported Tuesday that the injuries to the pedestrians were merely collateral damage in a shootout between a passenger in the Lada and a passenger in a Mitsubishi minibus. The drivers of the two cars began arguing over who had the right-of-way, and in the ensuing gunfire, one pedestrian was shot in the nose and another in the chest, while a bullet grazed the cheek of the third, the newspaper said.

Pedestrians dance a deadly waltz with cars in Moscow, and with drivers regularly ignoring pedestrians’ right-of-way while crossing the street, the chances of being hit on a crosswalk often seem about the same as outside the stripes. Not only do drivers rarely stop for pedestrians, they often speed up to make sure that would-be crossers stay put. Around 30,000 people were killed last year in the more than 200,000 traffic accidents in the country, with 6,000 people killed after being hit by cars, including about 500 children. Road safety officials even say there is a twisted logic to drivers’ refusal to stop: They are protecting pedestrians, because the car in the next lane over won’t see them and will drive right through the crosswalk.

It is unclear whether this was the logic of the driver of the BMW that hit the pedestrian in the crosswalk Monday on Malaya Pirogovskaya Ulitsa, near the Frunzenskaya metro station. The car was traveling at more than 100 kilometers per hour when it struck the man, who was hurled 15 meters and died on the spot, the police spokeswoman said. The standard speed limit on city streets is 60 kilometers per hour. The car’s migalka, the flashing blue light on the vehicles of officials allowing them the right of way in just about any situation, was not switched on at the time of the accident. Initial evidence indicates that the BMW was registered to the Interior Ministry, an unidentified law enforcement source said, RIA-Novosti reported Monday. The city police spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that the incident had occurred but said she could provide no further details. “The identity of the driver is still being established,” she said.

She referred all further questions about both incidents to the city police’s Central Administrative District branch. Telephones at the press office there were busy all day Tuesday.

LR: That’s to say nothing of the Chessboard killer, of course. Russia, the land with the worst of all possible worlds — dictatorship and rampant street crime. The ultimate nightmare. How wise the Russian people are to have chosen such a sagacious and prudent leader as Vladimir Putin.

Annals of Russian Xenophobia: Putin’s Edict Bans Foreigners

The Moscow Times reports that Russia’s xenophobe-in-chief is now on the warpath against all foreigners in positions of power in Russia:

President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that there should be fewer foreigners in high-level positions at Russian companies. Putin, who has been very wary of foreign influence, urged the country to rely more on its own products — including managers. “It’s necessary to start with personnel, with people, because everything depends on them,” Putin told lawmakers. While the thrust of his remarks appeared to be that an economically growing Russia should be able to provide its own managers for its companies, the comments could chill a foreign business community already struggling with bureaucratic hurdles and corruption. “In our big, leading and today already global companies, mostly in the raw materials sector, you know that the thin layer of top management is mostly made up of foreign specialists,” Putin said in televised remarks late Tuesday. “Until we achieve the ‘replacement of imports’ — not just in big companies but in other sectors of the economy, in administrative activity, we will be swept by imports,” Putin said. “As they used to say, personnel decide everything,” Putin added. Putin has repeatedly emphasized that Russia no longer needs to rely on foreign aid and advice as it did during the troubled years following the 1991 Soviet collapse. He also said there was a need to better educate and prepare Russians for jobs in the country’s growing economy. While there are a number of foreigners in high-level positions at top Russian raw materials companies, the country has been loath to grant foreign companies leading roles in the strategically important sector. Analysts and critics of increased state control over the raw materials sector say Russia needs foreign expertise to make efficient use of its energy riches.

Annals of Russian Xenophobia: Putin’s Edict Bans Foreigners

The Moscow Times reports that Russia’s xenophobe-in-chief is now on the warpath against all foreigners in positions of power in Russia:

President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that there should be fewer foreigners in high-level positions at Russian companies. Putin, who has been very wary of foreign influence, urged the country to rely more on its own products — including managers. “It’s necessary to start with personnel, with people, because everything depends on them,” Putin told lawmakers. While the thrust of his remarks appeared to be that an economically growing Russia should be able to provide its own managers for its companies, the comments could chill a foreign business community already struggling with bureaucratic hurdles and corruption. “In our big, leading and today already global companies, mostly in the raw materials sector, you know that the thin layer of top management is mostly made up of foreign specialists,” Putin said in televised remarks late Tuesday. “Until we achieve the ‘replacement of imports’ — not just in big companies but in other sectors of the economy, in administrative activity, we will be swept by imports,” Putin said. “As they used to say, personnel decide everything,” Putin added. Putin has repeatedly emphasized that Russia no longer needs to rely on foreign aid and advice as it did during the troubled years following the 1991 Soviet collapse. He also said there was a need to better educate and prepare Russians for jobs in the country’s growing economy. While there are a number of foreigners in high-level positions at top Russian raw materials companies, the country has been loath to grant foreign companies leading roles in the strategically important sector. Analysts and critics of increased state control over the raw materials sector say Russia needs foreign expertise to make efficient use of its energy riches.

Talk About Being Hard up for Heroes!

If this isn’t a sign of the neo-Soviet apocalypse then we don’t know what is: Vladimir Putin casts about for a hero to pin a medal on, and the best he can come up with is . . . wait for it . . . a sheep saver! The Moscow Times reports:

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday bestowed the country’s highest honor on a shepherd who saved 500 sheep from armed marauders and wildfires. Babu-Dorzho Mikhailov became the first shepherd ever to receive the Hero of Russia medal, which Putin presented to him in the Kremlin’s ornate Yekaterininsky Hall, outshining dozens of artists, doctors and scientists who received lesser state honors. Mikhailov thanked Putin for the award and his attention to agriculture workers. “I am happy,” the 54-year-old Siberian told reporters after the ceremony. Apparently tongue-tied in front of television cameras, the modest, quiet Mikhailov let an Agriculture Ministry official do the talking. In October, Mikhailov saved 500 sheep — worth 4 million rubles ($160,000) — by fending off an armed attack by thieves trying to steal them for mutton, said Feliks Pavlusenko, an aide to Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev. In April, the shepherd rescued his flock from a fire that scorched the steppes in the Chita region, Pavlusenko said. Mikhailov rounded up the sheep, “sat on a tractor and plowed soil around so that the blaze wouldn’t spread,” Pavlusenko said, adding that the “combination of the two heroic deeds” led to the award. “Among shepherds, he is the first” to receive the Hero of Russia, said Pavlusenko, adding that Mikhailov had worked as a herder for 32 years. While Mikhailov is the only shepherd to receive the award, he is not the only one to be recognized in recent years for his service to the county. In 2002, Putin presented Georgian shepherd Levan Telidze with the medal of courage for warning Russian border guards about the plans of an armed gang to cross the border into Chechnya. Georgian special services, however, doubted that he had passed any information to Russian border guards and questioned the very fact of the shepherd’s existence. Izvestia said at the time that Telidze was under protection of the Federal Security Service and that he would likely be given a new identity and a home in Russia.

Pathetic. Breath-takingly, mind-bogglingly pathetic. Russia, in a nutshell.

The Mailbag: Russian Royally Flushed

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

Dear La Russophobe:

I doubt that you are much of a poker fan [LR: that’s the understatement of the decade!] but you might be interested to know that every year in Las Vegas the world championships are held and this year one of the nine seats at the final table of no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em, where the winner earns over $8 million in prize money and is crowned the world champion, was occupied by a Russian professional player named Alexander Kravechenko. The eight other players at the table consisted of four Americans, two Brits, a Canadian and a South African.

To make the play fun for a television audience (hence increasing publicity, hence the number of entrants, hence the prize pool), each player has a camera at his seat which he uses to reveal his hole cards to the audience, so that they can play along. If I told you that one, and only one, of the nine players repeatedly refused to reveal his hole cards, spoiling the fun for everybody and undermining the sport itself, would you be able to guess which one it was?

Sure enough, it was the Russian. [LR: We’re shocked, shocked!] He also brought with him a coterie of whooping, seemingly drunken eccentrics to cheer him on from the gallery (much to the amusement of the TV commentators), but spent most of the time as the “short stack” and, while he got lucky a few times with several desperation all-in bets, ultimately did not manage to finish in the top three when the event concluded in mid-July (it was won by an American amateur and is just now being broadcast on ESPN television in the U.S. — don’t know if it gets on Russian TV or not).

Sincerely yours,

An Admirer

October 10, 2007 — Contents

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 10 CONTENTS

(1) Another Original LR Translation: Latynina on Putin’s Birthday

(2) Another Original LR Translation: Politkovskaya in the Russian Press

(3) Now This is Just Plain Spooky

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

(5) Annals of Cold War II: Russia and Iran