Daily Archives: October 15, 2007

Translations: Cherkasov in Kommersant

Last week we posted about a recent article in the Russian press expressing encouraging discord with the stony ranks of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Now the illustrious efforts of Robert Amsterdam’s translator make this article, from Kommersant and by Viktor Cherkesov, director of the Federal service of the Russian Federation for control of the circulation of narcotics, available to non-Russian speakers (Amsterdam also publishes a commentary on the piece by hero journalist Grigory Pasko):

“We must not allow warriors to turn into traders”

On the “war of the groups” within the special services

by Viktor Cherkesov


Oct. 9, 2007

Last week, there took place the detention, followed by the arrest as well, of high-ranking officials of the Federal service of narcocontrol (see Kommersant from 4, 5 and 6 October). An evaluation of these events, of the societal resonance brought about by them and the possible consequences – not only for his own agency, but also for all the Russian special services – is given by the head of the Federal service of the Russian Federation for control of the circulation of narcotics.

The acute events that have unfolded now around a series of employees of the Federal service of narcocontrol can not and should not leave me indifferent. But something else worries to a much greater extent – the scale and the type of the discussion of what is taking place. There are too many reactions. They are too disturbing. And they confirm my worst fears. It is not the reactions themselves that worry, nor the acuity and the activeness of the discussion. On the contrary, we are grateful to everyone who so ardently reacted to what is taking place. What disquiets is the emergence of a new and unhealthy theme. The theme of a feud among the special services.

The events around the FSKN [Federal Service for Control of Narcotics] will eventually get into some kind of track. I personally am convinced that the law and fairness will triumph, while the guilty will be punished. But the raised topic of the feud will already not be taken off the agenda. And this means that it needs to be reacted to without delay. Right now, while the trail is hot. Because, left without attention, it will become a virus destroying the public consciousness. This is why I am starting from the main theme. And particular subjects I will examine as they should be. As particularities.

“We are the children of frightful years of Russia”, said a great Russian poet. Any generation is a child of its time. Our time just recently stopped being a dark time of troubles. Now it is necessary to scour it of the dark sediment. But this is exceedingly complex.

If any of the officers of narcocontrol has succumbed to specific temptations of the criminal milieu – they ought to be punished. Even more sternly that an ordinary run-of-the-mill bad-apple government official. The narcomafia manages trillions of dollars and controls thousands of professional hit-men. The FSKN has united in its ranks those who are prepared to fight with the truly global “dark empire”. Impurity is absolutely unacceptable in our ranks. I have never put much stock into the falsely understood honor of the uniform. And least of all do I intend to do this now, when the struggle with corruption is turning into the highest human priority for everyone who is not indifferent to the fate of Russia.

All who can help the organs of narcocontrol uncover and cleanse itself of the “werewolves in epaulets” will find in me an active and reliable ally. But everyone who will attempt to transform the noble cause of the struggle with corruption into a turbid and ambiguous quarrel will get a categorical rebuff. And not only because the duty of any manager is to chastise the guilty and protect the besmirched. But also because it is impossible to fight with international and domestic criminal structures in conditions when the warriors do not feel that they are protected. From everything! Including also from the practice when “dirty” narcoincomes are used against them in the regime of the so-called contract. There have already been such instances.

Traitors who have been incriminated in corruption know that we are not acting on the basis of the famous principle of “a son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch”. But honest people, our comrades in arms, who have found themselves in trouble, must be confident that we will stick up for them to the end. The spirit of an army waging war is more important than all the rest. If such protection is not going to be provided for – the spirit will be broken. And, ipso facto, the war is lost. It may be, somebody needs just this?

We are ready for war with corruption. We do battle with narcobusiness. And we are against another “war”. The one about which it has already been loudly spoken for the whole country to hear in connection with the excesses around the FSKN. But they, these excesses, are truly not devoid of strangeness. The war about which too many have now begun to speak with perplexity and anxiety – this is a feud within the so-called chekist community. While I do not claim the laurels for having discovered this lamentable theme, I nevertheless want to remind that I was the first to start discussing it already three years ago. The article was called “The KGB in fashion?” (published in the newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” on 29 December of the year 2004.—Kommersant) I proceeded from the premise that any painful problem must be discussed. That there is nothing worse than keeping silent in such questions. That the pus will accumulate nevertheless. And it is better to open the abscess right away than to wait for gangrene to set in.

Being discussed in that time was the conflict between the “liberals” and the “chekists”. The “chekists” were being accused of a certain reactionary conservatism, a desire to restore Stalinism and the complete sovereignty of “the organs”. The truth about the real situation had disappeared from the discussion, and I had attempted to figure out just exactly what this same “chekism” is. The essence of my evaluations consisted of the following:

The country at the beginning of the 1990s had lived through a full-scale catastrophe. It is known that after a catastrophe, a system sooner or later begins to gather anew around those of its parts that had known how to preserve certain systemic features. It is precisely in such a sense that “chekism” can be accepted for consideration. The cohesionless, heterogeneous, internally contradictory and far from monolithic community of people who had chosen protection of state security in the capacity of a profession in the Soviet epoch turned out in the social respect to be the most consolidated. Or, if we are to speak more precisely, the least cohesionless. All of the catastrophic effects were required in order for it to be able to tighten itself up. Some quickly fell by the wayside, left the professional community. Some betrayed. Some went over to the other side as fast as they could. But some part of the community nevertheless managed to hold on.

I will not discuss anew what kind of part this is and why it managed to survive. Least of all do I intend to idealize what has happened. What happened, happened. Recovery after a near-fatal blow has nothing in common with romanticism. Falling into an abyss, post-Soviet society latched on to this same “chekist” hook. And held on to it. But there were some who wanted for it to crash into the sea bed and get smashed to pieces. And those who were waiting for this were horribly offended. And began to express outrage, talking about the nasty features of the “chekist” hook, which society had managed to latch on to. Unconditionally, I do not consider that the criticism of the “chekist flaws” was absolutely groundless. First, only angels are without blemish. Second, the real laws of our profession give rise to a multitude of costs. Only children of elementary and secondary school age can blindly sing the praises of such a craft. Third, a catastrophe really is a catastrophe.

And yet, when it comes right down to it, we really did help to keep the country from a final downfall. In this is one of the meanings of the epoch of Putin, in this is the historical merit of the president of Russia. And this places a huge responsibility on our professional community, one that has nothing whatsoever in common with conceited self-righteousness. It was not we who formed the social corporativeness that has survived the collapse of the country. It evolved spontaneously in the bowels of the collapse itself and of the chaos brought about by it. And it created some kind of minimal order out of the chaos.

It arose – what next?

Here, in my view, there are three scenarios.

The first and the most favorable: surmounting corporatism, clambering upwards, transforming into a normal civil society. The faster a full-fledged civil society forms itself in Russia, the better it will be for all. Including for my professional colleagues. One must not – foolishly and without any prospects – latch on to corporate acquisitions. It is comical after all that has happened to stand up in a pose and speak of oneself as “the salt of the earth”, as “the elite of the elites”. Personally I will never exchange my rights as a citizen for some kind of “elite preferences”. And I firmly know – I am not the only one.

The second scenario, already not the best, but “compatible with life”, consists, probably, of completing construction of the corporation and providing with its help for long-term stability and gradual escape from deep socio-cultural depression. I understand full well that in this scenario there are huge risks. Including the danger of transforming a great country into a quagmire on the model of the worst Latin American dictatorships with their social closedness and neo-feudalism. But this is not a foregone conclusion. Besides negative, corporatism can also be positive.

The third scenario, not compatible with life, consists of repeating all the catastrophic mistakes that had led to the collapse of the USSR. Starting to blindly criticize the “chekist” hook and, in the end, having broken it, dragging society down into a new socio-political crisis. I realize just how many-faced are the forces for whom this scenario seems good. This is our enemies, who simply need for us, as a country, to fall off the face of the earth. And as a people – to be erased from history. This is also some kind of systemic competitors, who are hoping that, having torn down the Russian system yet again, they will conquer control over it and will get the economic and other opportunities that flow from this. This is also moral people, who consider themselves as having the right to criticize the present in the same way as they once criticized the past. Such people honestly and passionately point to certain imperfections of the system. Unfortunately forgetting yet again that these imperfections have grown in many ways precisely from their criticism of the former system.

Having specified the three scenarios, I will perforce focus on the second. Not because it is the best one. But because the worst one is just way too unacceptable. A closed society is always worse than an open one. And everyone who tries to imagine these my reflections as propagandizing a closed society is deeply mistaken, believe me. But even within closed societies there is a certain gradation. They can be relatively healthy and capable of accumulating potential for transition to openness. Or they can be sources of systemic self-destruction. Or, as a minimum, social and political mutation.

In order for any corporation (including a chekist one) to be healthy, it must be a keeper of norms. It is preferable that these norms be not only internal, but also nationwide. But first and foremost, they must be norms. If norms disappear and arbitrariness sets in, the corporation falls apart. Already now, experts and journalists are speaking of a “war of the groups” within the special services. There can be no victors in this war. Such a war of “everyone against everyone” will end in the complete disintegration of the corporation. The hook will rot away, will crumble away once and for all from internal rust. The entire social construction will start to fall apart. Someone will say: “We saved the country from chekism!” In actuality, they will not have saved the country, they will have ruined it.

Publishing my article then, I wanted for my opinion to attract public attention. But, of course, I was also addressing that corporation, a part of which I am for many years. To my professional estate, to my comrades and colleagues. Someone later jeered: “To the chekist caste”. I fundamentally disagree, but I will note that even a caste is not arbitrariness. It is its own norms and its own rules. A caste gets destroyed from within when warriors start to become traders. No matter what the chekists might want to be – a force that leads the country out to new wide-open horizons, or a system that provides for some kind of variant of social stabilization through closedness, we must safeguard norms in our milieu. And those who discover that his true vocation is business must leave and go into another milieu. Not attempting to remain concurrently both a trader and a warrior. It doesn’t work that way. It’s either-or. You can not call for overcoming this same war of “everybody against everybody” and at the same time be a participant in it.

And therein is the essence… The excess with the arrests of the employees of narcocontrol has brought about a flurry of publications and reactions, in which only one thing is discussed – that same “war”, its development and connection with the general political process. Suspiciousness is very strong in our society today. But I hope that it will not yet transform into maniacality. And this mass of competent and independent publications will not be interpreted as the intrigues of the FSKN. He who does not believe in our ethical restraints, let him at least soberly assess our capabilities.

No, this is not about us. We are behaving ourselves with the utmost restraint. We will deal with what is taking place on the merits. And separate the wheat from the chaff. The traitors, who disgrace us, from our slandered comrades. The truth from false accusations. For now the picture of the latest dramatic events appears extremely ambiguous.

There are many questions.

Why is one of the arrested FSKN employees alleged to have committed a crime while at his post in a period when he not only was not at this post, but the agency with respect to which this post was established did not even exist in nature? Does not the existence in one and the same document in the given criminal case of an assertion of the intent of the suspect to abscond from the investigation and the court beyond the border and of a detailed description of this same person’s telephone conversation with wife in the moment when a search was already being commenced in their Moscow apartment, while he was still found far beyond the border with a foreign-travel passport in hand, look contradictory? By what else, if not by an attempt to compromise the evidence gathered in the case of the “Three whales”, can the fact of the carrying out of a search in the apartment of an investigator, whose only service occupation in the past few years was participation in the work of the brigade of the Procuracy-General of Russia under the leadership of V. Loskutov, be explained?

With what aim are “black marks” with promises of new arrests of FSKN employees being sent out and even their surnames named through a state information agency and the internet? Let us leave aside questions of morality, let us think a moment about the absurdity of a professionally inexplicable “leak” of plans with respect to the detaining of potentially dangerous criminals. Why have the arrested employees of narcocontrol been aggregated from the number of those who on a legal basis, upon the instructions of the Procuracy-General participated in an inquiry into resonant criminal cases about the so-called “Three whales” and “Chinese” contraband? Are they guilty of having inquired, that is carrying out their duty? And when the need arises for new inquiries, what are the new executors going to have to do? Fight crime or waste time doing nothing, understanding how an appropriate performance of service duties might turn out for them?

For me personally, having 15-years of experience in investigative work, there is yet another difficult question with respect to what is taking place. If the country truly does need an independent investigative committee, then this investigative committee can be successful only under three fundamental conditions.

First, independence. Second, independence. And, third, independence.

Alas, the October events have laid bare quite the opposite. And I would say, with overabundant mercilessness. Here, I suppose, is all with respect to those particularities to which public attention is attracted. Speaking from the conscience, I would like to switch it over to something else. As concerns current events, I am confident, everything will be fine. The main thing is that there not be a tilting, from which the line towards cleansing of corruption will be turned by the fuss of inter-clan conflicts. Because the struggle with corruption is not campaignism and is not pre-election PR. The fate of the Russian state depends in many ways on its outcome.

But in a no lesser degree this future is determining today the state of affairs within our corporate milieu. We must not allow a scandal and a fight. We must not transform norms into arbitrariness. We must not allow warriors to become traders. As a member of the corporation, it is dear to me as such. I think also to everyone who has truly placed himself to such a profession [sic]. Having become focused only on itself and having rejected rules, our community will not simply fall apart, but will change the nature of society. After this it will be difficult to explain to people why they must submit to and treat with reverence those who do not observe norms and are wrapped up in feuding.

Today our corporation is important not in an of itself. It must withstand and survive the burdens of the transition period. After that it can transform itself into a locomotive and lead society into a new quality. And after that – switch from being a corporation into a normal professional group, no different, in essence, from others. As long as the stability of society to a significant degree relies on this force, the question of its quality is a question of the fate of the country. The cost of the question is thereby too high. And that is why either hiding the problem or transforming it into a great squabble are absolutely unacceptable. Such a process within the Soviet nomenklatura has already turned into a social and geopolitical catastrophe.

Rice Meets Putin’s Opposition

“In any country, if you don’t have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development. I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma.”

— U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice, speaking during her recent visit to Moscow.

Translation from diplomaticspeak: Vladimir Putin is a maniacal dictator. He must be stopped.

After psychotically, self-destructively snubbing and provoking Rice, the highest diplomatic representative of the world’s most powerful country during her official state visit, once again clearly indicating he wants a new cold war, Putin’s reward was that Rice publicly condemned his administration creating a story that spread like wildfire across the world’s media and then met with his political opposition and praised them before the world. Nice going, Pooty-poot. The Washington Post reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Russian human rights activists on Saturday she wanted to help them build institutions to protect people from the ‘arbitrary power of the state’. The meeting could irk the Kremlin, which is sensitive to Western accusations it is rolling back democratic freedoms and suspects foreign governments of trying to influence the outcome of next year’s presidential election.

Rice met Saturday with beleaguered Russian human-rights activists to encourage them to build institutions of democracy to combat arbitrary state power amid increasing pressure from the Kremlin. With concerns rising about the centralization of power and democratic backsliding in Russia ahead of legislative and presidential elections in December and March, Rice sought opinions and assessments of the current situation from eight prominent rights leaders. “I just want to have an opportunity to hear from you,” she told the group at Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow. “This is an extremely important time in Russia’s development.”

Before going in to a closed-door meeting with the leaders, Rice said she hoped their efforts would be successful in promoting universal values of “the rights of individuals to liberty and freedom, the right to worship as you please, and the right to assembly, the right to not have to deal with the arbitrary power of the state.”

“How is it going?” the former Soviet expert asked. “That’s what I want to hear. How is it going and what can we do to help Russia to build strong institutions that have these universal values?”

In a second meeting at the residence with business, media and civil society leaders, Rice said she was “especially interested in talking about how you view (the) political evolution of Russia, the economic evolution of Russia.”

“Russia is a country that’s in transition and that transition is not easy and there are a lot of complications and a lot of challenges,” Rice said. “If Russia is to emerge as a democratic country that can fully protect the rights of its people, it is going to emerge over years and you have to be a part of helping the emergence of that Russia.”

Participants in the meetings said afterwards that Rice had not offered any judgments about the state of human rights and democracy in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, who will step down next year but has said he would lead the ticket of the main pro-Kremlin party in the parliamentary elections and could later take the prime minister’s job. On her way to Moscow for talks focused mainly on missile defense and other strategic matters, Rice herself had sidestepped questions about whether she would press Putin on his political ambitions and what she thought of them. “I will raise and have raised on many occasions such concerns with my Russian colleagues, indeed sometimes in great detail,” she told reporters on Friday. “But frankly, I’m not about to join the speculation about what will happen in terms of Russian domestic politics and who might be president and who might be prime minister.”

On Saturday, participants said Rice had held true to that stance.

“She did not give an assessment,” Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. “Those present gave their evaluation of the situation as a whole, and discussed particular areas of human-rights violations.” Tatyana Lokshina, the head of the Demos human-rights center, said they had discussed recent troubling legislation that some fear could be used against the political opposition, rule of law issues, and the human-rights situations in the Caucasus. “We talked about the problems of weak democratic institutions, the problem of freedom of speech, and the situation in the judicial system,” she told Interfax news agency.

Svetlanna Gannushkina told Ekho Moskvy radio that the activists discussed persistent corruption, growing restrictions on media access for opposition and rights groups and continuing violence in the troubled North Caucasus region, where Chechnya is located. Vladimir Lukin, the government-appointed human rights ombudsman, meanwhile, was quoted by Interfax as saying that during the meeting, he told Rice that human rights should be discussed in a dialogue rather lecturing in a “doomsday” style.

The State Department has frequently criticized what Washington regards as creeping authoritarianism among Putin and other top Russian leaders. Its most recent human-rights report on Russia notes continuing centralization of power in the Kremlin, a compliant legislature, political pressure on the judiciary, intolerance of ethnic minorities, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, and media restrictions and self-censorship.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates later met with Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov for talks on trade and economic relations, including ongoing negotiations for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Moscow and Washington signed a key trade agreement last November that removed the last major obstacle in Moscow’s 13-year journey to join the 149-member WTO. However, Moscow must still conclude other outstanding bilateral deals and must assuage growing European Union concerns about energy supplies. The Russian government press service said Zubkov also pressed the Americans on removing the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Soviet-era regulation that has restricted bilateral trade and remained a key irritant in U.S.-Russian relations.

Putin’s Russia Leads the World in Computerized Child Pornography, Spam and Theft

The Washington Post reports:

An Internet business based in St. Petersburg has become a world hub for Web sites devoted to child pornography, spamming and identity theft, according to computer security experts. They say Russian authorities have provided little help in efforts to shut down the company. The Russian Business Network sells Web site hosting to people engaged in criminal activity, the security experts say.

Groups operating through the company’s computers are thought to be responsible for about half of last year’s incidents of “phishing” — ID-theft scams in which cybercrooks use e-mail to lure people into entering personal and financial data at fake commerce and banking sites. One group of phishers, known as the Rock Group, used the company’s network to steal about $150 million from bank accounts last year, according to a report by VeriSign of Mountain View, Calif., one of the world’s largest Internet security firms. In another recent report, the Cupertino, Calif.-based security firm Symantec said that the Russian Business Network is responsible for hosting Web sites that carry out a major portion of the world’s cybercrime and profiteering. The company “is literally a shelter for all illegal activities, be it child pornography, online scams, piracy or other illicit operations,” Symantec analysts wrote in a report. “It is alleged that this organized cyber crime syndicate has strong links with the Russian criminal underground as well as the government, probably accomplished by bribing officials.”

The Russian Business Network did not respond to requests for comment e-mailed to an address listed on its Internet address records. Other efforts to communicate with its organizers through third parties were not successful.

Law enforcement agencies say these kinds of Internet companies are able to thrive in countries where the rule of law is poorly established. “It is clear that organized cybercrime has taken root in countries that don’t have response mechanisms, laws, infrastructure and investigative support set up to respond to the threat quickly,” said Ronald K. Noble, secretary general of Interpol, an organization that facilitates transnational law enforcement cooperation. He declined to discuss the Russian Business Network specifically. The company isn’t a mainstream Internet service provider, as Comcast and Verizon are. Rather, it specializes in offering Web sites that will remain reachable on the Internet regardless of efforts to shut them down by law enforcement officials — so-called bulletproof hosting. Though there are thousands of Web sites that bear the Russian Business Network name on registration records, the company is unchartered and has no legal identity, computer security firms say. The network has no official Web site of its own; those who want to buy its services must contact its operators via instant-messaging services or obscure, Russian-language online forums, said Don Jackson, a researcher at Atlanta-based SecureWorks. Potential customers also must prove that they are not law enforcement investigators pretending to be criminals, Jackson said. Most often, he said, this “proof” takes the form of demonstrating active involvement in the theft of consumers’ financial and personal data.

According to VeriSign, a cyber-criminal who clears these hurdles can rent a dedicated Web site from the Russian Business Network for about $600 a month, or roughly 10 times the monthly fee for a regular dedicated Web site at most legitimate Internet companies. According to several private-sector security experts, U.S. federal law enforcement agencies have tried unsuccessfully to gain the cooperation of Russian officials in arresting the individuals behind the company and shutting it down. Officials at Russia’s Interior Ministry said last week that they could not discuss the network. But Alexander Gostev, an analyst with Kaspersky Lab, a Russian antivirus and computer security firm, said the Russian Business Network has structured itself in ways that make prosecution difficult. “They make money on the services they provide,” he said — the illegal activities are all carried out by groups that buy hosting services. “That’s the main problem, because RBN, in fact, does not violate the law. From a legal point of view, they are clean.” In addition, Gostev said, criminals using the Russian Business Network tend to target non-Russian companies and consumers rather than Russians, who might contact local authorities. “In order to start an investigation, there should be a complaint from a victim. If your computer was infected, you should go to the police and write a complaint and then they can launch an investigation,” Gostev said. Now, he added, his company and the police both have information, but no victim has filed a complaint.

Thomas V. Fuentes, the FBI’s assistant director of international operations, declined to answer questions about the Russian Business Network but said the United States has had great success with other countries in investigating cybercrime. Fuentes added that his agency’s requests for law enforcement assistance from foreign governments sometimes conflict with domestic intelligence investigations that may be underway. “There are times when it appears that action is not happening when in fact the other country is conducting a very sensitive investigation, and we have to take it on the chin,” he said. “But that works both ways. That happens with us for requests we sometimes receive where we’d rather not go public with certain information at the time of the request.” Without a diplomatic or legal solution to the Russian Business Network, some Internet service providers have begun walling off their customers from the company.

One security administrator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that within a few months of blocking the Russian company, his employer found it was saving significant amounts of money by spending less time helping customers clean viruses originating from the Russian Business Network off computers or taking down online scam sites or spam-spewing PCs. “Our instances of spam and infected machines dropped exponentially,” he said. Danny McPherson, chief research officer at Arbor Networks, a Lexington, Mass.-based company that provides network security services to some of the world’s largest Internet providers, said most providers shy away from blocking whole networks. Instead, they choose to temporarily block specific problem sites. “Who decides what the acceptable threshold is for stopping connectivity to an entire network? Also, if you’re an AT&T or Verizon and you block access to a sizable portion of the Internet, it’s very likely that some consumer rights advocacy group is going to come after you.”

The unusually clear-cut case of Russian Business Network, McPherson said, has generated debate between the service providers and the security research community. Many researchers see blocking purely illegal networks as a no-brainer. But blocking problematic networks typically means they merely go to a new place on the Internet, McPherson said. “At the end of the day,” he said, “it only moves the problem somewhere else, when what we really need is for political and regulatory law enforcement to step in.” Growing numbers of security specialists for several U.S. Internet providers and telecommunications companies say they are done waiting for the cavalry to arrive. “There is never going to be an easy and painless way to combat this problem, mainly because it’s been ignored for far too long and been allowed to fester,” said the security administrator who did not want to be identified.

Annals of Russian "Diplomacy"

The Associated Press reports:

A former Russian diplomat who once chaired the United Nations’ powerful budget oversight committee was sentenced Friday to four years and three months in prison for laundering money from companies seeking U.N. contracts. Vladimir Kuznetsov, 49, also was fined $73,000 by U.S. District Court Judge Deborah A. Batts, who noted the government’s claim that he could not account for ten times that amount in assets. “I never meant to damage and spoil the image of the United Nations — quite the opposite,” he told the court. “To the extent that any damage has been done to that image, I deeply regret it.” The government asked that he be imprisoned immediately but the judge allowed him to remain free for 10 days. Kuznetsov hugged family and friends as he left court. A jury convicted Kuznetsov in March of conspiring with a U.N. procurement officer to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies seeking U.N. contracts. A budget expert and career diplomat, Kuznetsov was charged in 2005 after an internal U.N. investigation of Alexander Yakovlev, a Russian who worked in the U.N. procurement office. Yakovlev pleaded guilty in 2005 to soliciting a bribe, wire fraud and money laundering, admitting he took nearly $1 million in bribes from U.N. contractors and gave them confidential information about the contracts. The government said Kuznetsov established an offshore company in 2000 to hide payments from Yakovlev, who would testify against him. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan waived Kuznetsov’s immunity at the request of U.S. authorities.

Reuters adds: “The Kuznetsov case has been the subject of intense media coverage in Russia, with some commentators saying the charges against him were fabricated for political reasons.” The Foreign Ministry said it was “disappointed” with the result and indicated “it did not rule out seeking Kuznetsov’s repatriation to Russia under a convention on the handover of convicted criminals.”

So, let La Russophobe see if she understands: Russia’s charges against exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky are not political, they have nothing to do with Berezovsky’s criticism of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship, Russia is only seeking truth and justice. But these charges, supported by a jury verdict in federal court following the approval of the U.N. Secretary General, are nothing but an American scam designed to . . . do just what, exactly? What is it, precisely, that Russians think Americans gain by railroading this innocent victim into prison? And it’s perfectly fine for Russia to refuse to transfer Andrei Lugovoi, accused killer of Alexander Litvinenko on British soil, to London for trial, but America should send this convicted felon back to Russia?

And so it goes in Russia.

More Americans Saving Russian Children from the Horror of Putin’s Russia

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports:

Much to Sasha’s delight, the crickets in the see-through plastic container repeatedly jump before his eyes. As the 14-year-old’s smile grows wider, brothers Misha, Dima and Alosha climb a tree behind him in sun-drenched Aloha Shores Park, a small recreation area adjoining the Rainbow Library at the corner of Buffalo Drive and Cheyenne Ave. “There is amazing fun here,” 10-year-old Dima calls out to his dad, who nods and grins.

It’s a different world than the four boys knew before banker David Robeck adopted them in Russia and brought them to Las Vegas. They had been relegated to Russian orphanages where “shocking levels of cruelty and neglect” are commonplace for hundreds of thousands of children, according to Human Rights Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals worldwide. “My kids are doing much better now,” Robeck said, leaning on a cane made necessary because of a back injury suffered in a car accident. “Only Misha has nightmares sometimes, and physically they’re much healthier.

Russia is now largely shutting its doors to most Americans who want to adopt Russian children, a concern to the 53-year-old Robeck. “So many Russian kids still need help,” he said. “They need a chance at life.” Robeck first saw the dire need in the early 1990s when he was a member of the first group of Peace Corps volunteers in Russia, men and women who helped the former Soviet state change to a free market economy. “There were so many homeless children walking the streets,” he said. After his two-year Peace Corps experience ended in 1994, Robeck stayed on for two more years in Russia with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. What he continued to hear and see in regard to Russian youth made such an impression he decided to try and make a difference in the lives of children there. Upon his return to Las Vegas, Robeck decided to adopt Russian children. He was 44. “I had hoped to be married before I had children, but that just didn’t work out,” said Robeck, now serving as a consultant to startup banks in the Las Vegas Valley. “I just felt a calling to do what I could by helping give some kids a better life.”

Given his family background, Robeck’s decision doesn’t seem unusual. In the 1950s, Robeck’s parents, Cecil and Berdetta Robeck, founded Assembly Bible Church, which later became Calvary Community Assembly of God in northwest Las Vegas. “Their church was a mission church,” Robeck said. “They opened our home to strangers who had both spiritual and physical needs. My father would take off in the middle of night to help destitute people. They helped everyone from cocktail waitresses and dealers to children of divorced families. It was just a part of my life to reach out to people. That’s how I spent my summer vacations.” In 1997, Robeck, who had become a Big Brother and youth ministry director in Las Vegas, adopted Sasha and Misha. They were both 5 at the time. “I felt it would be best to adopt two children because they would give each other company,” Robeck said.

Bonny Del Dotto, a special education teacher who taught Sasha and Misha in the fourth and fifth grades at Kahre Elementary School, said the children have had difficult challenges because neither had been grounded in any language before going to school in the United States. In Russian orphanages, education is often ignored. Their academic development was also held up, she said, by the fact they had virtually no infant stimulation. “They weren’t hugged or cuddled or cooed to in the orphanage, and that really impacts you academically,” she said, adding that the boys, both now 14, have yet to be able to read at grade level. A Human Rights Watch report issued in 1998 found that children at Russian orphanages “may be beaten, locked in freezing rooms for days at a time, abused physically and sexually. … Staff members may also instigate or condone brutality by older orphans against younger and weaker ones.”

Del Dotto said Robeck spent many hours with her after school trying to figure out the best way to help his youngsters grow intellectually. Rote learning has been particularly effective. With the help of his mother, a retired schoolteacher, Robeck is now home-schooling three of the children. “If all fathers acted like him,” Del Dotto said, “there wouldn’t be jail. He taught them how to act. They were never behavior problems, always respectful.” Misha, now 6 feet tall, had to overcome a broken leg that had been allowed to heal on its own in Russia, as well as an acute case of anemia. “I feel good now,” Misha said as he jumped from a tree. “I really like video games.”

Six years after he adopted Sasha and Misha, Robeck was finding his time as a father both the most challenging and most rewarding experience of his life. So in 2003, he adopted two more Russian boys — brothers Dima and Alosha, who were then 7 and 8 respectively. Like their brothers, Sasha and Misha, they came from Russia’s third largest city, Nizhny Novgorod, about 200 miles from Moscow. He has taught them to cook, do laundry, vacuum — to do virtually everything around the house. “I want them to be independent,” Robeck said. Most prospective adoptive parents want the experience of raising a child from infancy, but Robeck wanted to adopt older children because he knew they are generally the most difficult to place. He said he used his retirement savings for adoption agency fees, which for four children can run as much as $100,000. The entire process can take up to a year. The fact that Robeck has adopted children as a single father doesn’t surprise 37-year-old Las Vegas attorney, Charles Michalek. Robeck served as a Big Brother to him for nearly three years. “He really has patience and he loves kids,” Michalek said. “I almost crashed in the first five seconds when he was teaching me to drive, and he didn’t get upset.” Michalek, raised by a hard-working single mother, said Robeck, who often took him bowling, was on hand to listen to problems. “He helped me work through things by just talking with me,” he said.

If Robeck could convince the Russians of anything, it is to once again allow loving people to adopt their children. “The orphanages still exist,” he said. For Americans who adopt abroad, Russia has long been a favored nation. In 2004 U.S. parents brought home 5,865 Russian children, largely through adoption agencies. However, in the past year Russia has tightened accreditation for adoption agencies, virtually shutting down international adoption. Though private adoptions are unaffected, most adoptions are handled through agencies. Adoption officials have said Russian authorities largely closed the door on those adoptions earlier this year as a result of nationalistic pride. That was spurred, at least in part, by cases of Russian children being abused and, in a dozen cases, even killed by their U.S. adoptive parents. “It is true that better case studies have to be done on prospective parents,” Robeck said. “These children often need special parents.” Many of the children, adoption officials point out, have severe emotional problems that only the most understanding and prepared parents can deal with. In criminal cases involving U.S. parents who either abused or killed Russian children, the parents’ lawyers have argued that the defendants lost control as they tried to cope with unruly children beset by unforeseen problems. “That is never an excuse to hurt a child,” Robeck said. Robeck is aware that his children’s troubled past isn’t an easy hurdle to overcome. He’ll be proud, he said, whether they earn college degrees or learn trades.

“I just want people to say that they’re good men,” he said.

A Glimmer of Hope for Russia on the Sports Front!

It’s lovely to be able to report a bit of good news from Russia on the sporting front! Congratulations are in order! Hooray!

At the Kremlin Cup tournament in Moscow over the weekend, Elena Dementieva (the classic Russian beauty shown above) saved Russia from the brink of brutal humiliation after both its most famous player, Maria Sharapova, and its top-ranked player, Svetlana Kuznetsova, suffered devastating one-sided losses to lower-ranked players in front of the home crowd. This followed on the major snub of having only one of the six top-ten-ranked non-Russian women agree to travel to Russia to play in the event (not a single one of the world’s nine top-ranked non-Russian men would make the trip, and several of the Russian men also went down in humiliating fashion, but top-ranked and top-seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko did win the finals, for a Russian sweep). Under such circumstances, an all-Russian final and victory was expected. Yet, only one Russian, Dementieva, emerged from the group to reach the finals, there to meet American Serena Williams. And Dementieva dropped the first set too — but then she stormed back to take the title in three sets, dominating the second and third.

And the best news is how she did it: Reform! She admitted her deficiencies and made radical changes! Dementieva has always been infamous for her pathetic service game, the joke of the tour. But she’s apparently been working on it, and she served remarkably well in this event — surprising the American, who obviously expected the same old sorry thing from the Russian.

If only Russia’s voters could do the same in the upcoming legislative and presidential elections!

To be sure, nobody should make too big a deal out of this. Dementieva has been on a steady slide in the ratings, and virtually none of the world’s top players were in the draw (this late-year tournament is a virtual set-up for a Russian player to win on both the men’s and ladies’ sides). This was an indoor match, and they are hardly indicative of results in the main season outdoor schedule. Serena lost the match by making nearly 60 unforced errors during its course, Elena did not win it outright. And once again, with a Russian in the final match, the quality of play turned out to be extremely poor, nearly unwatchable. But on the other hand, Dementieva made a major improvement in her game, victories by Russians against higher-ranked opponents in final matches are extremely rare, and if Dementieva realized the power to be gained from genuine reform, her future might be unlimited since she’s got lots of good qualities to her game (check out the comments in the link above to see why).

And the same is true for the people of Russia. If they could find the courage to look at themselves in the mirror, see their faults, put aside their absurd propaganda, get down to real hard work and break from their wretched, embarrassing past, they too might find themselves holding a champion’s up — and not in an obscure Moscow tournament but in a Grand Slam event.

The one called life.