Daily Archives: October 16, 2007

October 16, 2007

Vladimir Putin Special Edition

(1) Vladimir Putin: Psychopath

(2) Vladimir Putin: Whisssssspering Serpant

(3) Vladimir Putin: Pathetic Coward

(4) Vladimir Putin: Natural Born Liar

NOTE: Today is Blog Action Day, when bloggers are challenged to post about the environment. Hence, we devote our posts today to Russia’ most venal source of pollution and contamination, namely “President” Vladimir Putin. How to respond? John McCain has a great first step: Boot Russia out of the G-8. It doesn’t belong there, never has. Send the message loud and clear.

Vladimir Putin: Psychopath

How would Russians react to a picture of George Bush proudly shaking hands with Shamil Basayev in Grozny? While the whole world condemns the maniacal despot in Tehran, Vladimir Putin makes friends with him and seeks to protect him. It’s barbarism, pure and simple. The Tehran Times reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip to Iran will lead to an important leap in Tehran-Moscow relations, and at this juncture, when the West is making the utmost efforts to isolate Iran, it is even more important, Central Asia expert Hossein Ahmadi said here on Sunday.

Putin is slated to attend the 2nd Summit of Caspian Sea littoral states in Tehran on October 16 along with the presidents of the other four countries bordering the Caspian Sea, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. The heads of state are scheduled to discuss the sea’s legal regime and other regional and international issues. Some of the issues of common interest of Iran and Russia are their opposition to the U.S. presence in Azerbaijan and Georgia, their opposition to the proposal to demarcate the Caspian Sea, and their consensus on the need to confront Al-Qaeda’s activities and deal with the expansion of extremist Wahhabism and the resurgence of the Taleban in the region, Ahmadi told the Mehr News Agency. He also noted that now that the Islamist Justice and Development (AK) Party is in power in Turkey, the Iran-Turkey-Russia triangle can become a new alliance of powers in the region.

Russia and Central Asia expert Jafar Qamat told MNA that Russia is trying to connect the issue of the Caspian Sea legal regime to Iran’s nuclear issue. The main reason Putin is visiting Iran in the final months of his term as president is to resolve some of the problems in Tehran-Moscow relations, he stated. Putin wants to negotiate with Iran to clear up ambiguities about the nuclear program and to ensure that Russia is able to continue to play an influential role in the issue of the country’s nuclear dossier, he said. In the event that the UN Security Council issues a third resolution against Tehran, the most that Russia can do for Iran is to abstain from the vote, Qamat added.

Islamic Coalition Party member Hamid-Reza Taraqi stated, “Cooperation and interaction with Russia will increase Iran’s security, and reduce U.S. influence in the region” because Tehran and Moscow are both opposed to the U.S. plan to build more military bases in the region. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power and is a serious rival of the U.S. in the region; hence the United States is opposed to Putin’s trip to Tehran, he noted. The Russian president’s visit runs contrary to the U.S. policy to isolate Iran, and the agreement that that Caspian Sea littoral states are expected to make at the summit will be a crushing blow for Washington, he added.

Putin hunts diplomatic solution in Iran

Putin will show his preference for dialogue with Iran when he visits Tehran on Tuesday, amid calls from the West for stronger pressure on Iran to cease its nuclear program. Putin is the first Kremlin chief to visit Iran since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin went in 1943. But a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could give the Kremlin leader a chance to seek a peaceful compromise over Tehran’s nuclear program and to demonstrate his independence from Washington on Middle East issues. “Putin is going to Iran to show the importance of continuing diplomacy,” Kremlin deputy spokesman Dmitry Peskov said as carried by Reuters. Putin will tell Ahmadinejad that Russia accepts Iran’s right to use nuclear energy but wants it to open up its nuclear program to international inspectors to prove it is peaceful, Peskov added. Iran says its program is intended to generate power so it can export more oil and gas.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, has backed two sets of mild sanctions against Iran to encourage it to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But Moscow says it will not back further sanctions unless the IAEA says Iran is not cooperating or proves it is working on weapons. “We have no real data to claim that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, which makes us believe the country has no such plans. But we agree that Iran’s programs must be transparent,” Putin said after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week.

Critics say Moscow has other reasons for wanting to soft-pedal the Iran issue. These may include a large contract to build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr in Iran, as well as lucrative military deals. Another is that a standoff with the West over Iran would fit in with Moscow’s newly assertive foreign policy aimed at building Russia’s profile, particularly among developing nations, in the post-Cold War world.

Tougher sanctions

The European Union is expected to step up pressure on Iran next week, warning Tehran it will face tougher sanctions unless it halts uranium enrichment. As a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran has right to enrichment for civilian purposes. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the West after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday against sanctioning Iran bypassing the United Nations. But he also pledged that Putin would in Tehran “continue the current line of work with the Iranian leadership, which reflects the collective position of the Six (states in talks with Iran) and the UN Security Council.” The six nations negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program are the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain. Russia argues that excessive pressure against Tehran could be counter-productive, as well as destabilizing the mainly Muslim region next to its southern borders. Ahead of Tehran, Putin will visit Germany on Sunday and Monday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and a traditional business conference known as the “St Petersburg dialogue.”

Vladimir Putin: Pathetic Coward

You know how Russophiles always make fun of the Russian opposition, especially Garry Kasparov, saying how pathetic and laughable they are? Well, if they’re right, then why is dictator Vladimir Putin so afraid of them? Who, dear reader, has more contempt for the people of Russia than the man who doesn’t trust them to reject that opposition and therefore won’t give them the chance? The New York Times reports:

With Tight Grip on Ballot, Putin Is Forcing Foes Out

Balloting for Parliament will be held across Russia in December, and this much is already clear: Vladimir A. Ryzhkov, who was first elected in the turbulent yet hopeful days after the Soviet Union’s fall and then blossomed into a fervent advocate for democracy, will lose. So will Viktor V. Pokhmelkin, who used his seat to crusade against corruption in the police and other law enforcement agencies. Swept away, too, will be Anatoly A. Yermolin, a K.G.B. officer turned liberal stalwart who has been a lone voice in rebellion against President Vladimir V. Putin’s expansive power.

Nearly eight years after Mr. Putin took office and began tightening his control over all aspects of the Russian government, he will almost certainly with this election succeed in extinguishing the last embers of opposition in Parliament. Strict new election rules adopted under Mr. Putin, combined with the Kremlin’s dominance over the news media and government agencies, are expected to propel the party that he created, United Russia, to a parliamentary majority even more overwhelming than its current one.

The system is so arrayed against all other parties that even some Putin allies have acknowledged that it harks back to the politics of the old days. Sergei M. Mironov, a staunch Putin supporter and the chairman of the upper house of Parliament, suggested recently that United Russia seemed to have been modeled on a certain forerunner. “I think that the television broadcasts from the United Russia convention reminded a lot of people of long-forgotten pictures from the era of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” said Mr. Mironov, leader of another pro-Putin party, Just Russia.

Mr. Putin’s second presidential term expires next year, and under the Russian Constitution, he cannot run for a third consecutive term. At the lavishly choreographed convention of United Russia this month, he indicated that he would transfer his power base to the party and the Parliament and could become prime minister next year. The announcement raised the stakes for the December election. The president currently appoints and wields far more power than the prime minister, but that could change should Mr. Putin become prime minister. Some analysts are speculating that Mr. Putin may try to create a parliamentary system with a strong prime minister and the president as a largely ceremonial post, akin to the arrangement in countries like Italy or Israel.

Mr. Putin has high approval ratings, and whatever the political climate, Russians today have far more economic and social freedoms than existed under Communism. Many people would like Mr. Putin to remain president, giving him credit for the strong economy and stability of recent years. Still, it appears that he is leaving little to chance in the parliamentary races. “This is the first time in post-Soviet history when only the Kremlin decides who can participate and who can’t,” Mr. Ryzhkov said. “The Kremlin decides which party can exist and which party cannot. For the first time in post-Soviet history, a wide specter of political forces cannot participate in this election. I call it selection before election.”

Mr. Ryzhkov’s party, the Republican Party, one of the oldest in post-Soviet Russia, was disbanded by the government this year after it was accused of not having enough support under the new rules. Mr. Ryzhkov said his party easily met the standard but said officials ignored the evidence in a sham proceeding. First chosen in 1993, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Parliament in its early years was a raucous center of power that often challenged the president at the time, Boris N. Yeltsin. In Mr. Putin’s first term, it sometimes retained that role, but Mr. Putin has steadily reined it in, and these days, it is considered little more than a sidekick of the Kremlin.

Mr. Putin has said that the tougher election rules are in part intended to eliminate the fractious politics that he asserts are caused by a proliferation of small parties. In recent months, he has contended that he is a champion of multiparty democracy, though he has also said that the system needs time to develop. “We cannot build Russia’s future by tying its many millions of citizens to just one person or group of people,” he said last month. “We will not be able to build anything lasting unless we put in place a real and effectively functioning multiparty system and develop a civil society that will protect society and the state from mistakes and wrong actions on the part of those in power.”

In the last parliamentary election, in 2003, half of the 450 seats in the lower house of Parliament, called the Duma, were allocated according to geographic districts, and half were allotted based on party support. (Members of the less powerful upper house, known as the Federation Council, are appointed.) The 2003 election was also heavily skewed in favor of United Russia, political analysts said, and the party swept to victory.

Even so, liberal and independent lawmakers were able to retain a toehold. They won a handful of races by mounting grass-roots campaigns in geographic districts, allowing them to form one of the last bastions of opposition to Mr. Putin inside the government. Among the victors were Mr. Ryzhkov, from Siberia, and Mr. Pokhmelkin, from Perm, in the Ural Mountains region in Russia’s center. After the election, saying that he was responding to several acts of terrorism in Russia, Mr. Putin declared that the government structure needed to be centralized to unify the country. He pushed through legislation that abolished geographic districts in parliamentary elections and did away with elections for regional governors.

In the parliamentary election on Dec. 2, Russians will vote only for parties, not for candidates. What is more, parties now need 7 percent of the national vote to gain seats in Parliament, up from 5 percent. They also need to submit proof that they have at least 50,000 members to be recognized as official parties, up from 10,000. It now seems possible that United Russia’s advantages are so great that it will be the only party to surpass 7 percent. In that case, the Constitution requires at least one other party in Parliament, so some token seats will be allocated to the second most popular one.

Andrew C. Kuchins, director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the liberal opposition was vulnerable because its leaders had quarreled and failed to present a united front. He said Mr. Putin seemed to want to establish United Russia as a force that would long dominate Russia, akin to the governing parties in Japan or Mexico in the 20th century. “Putin has methodically over the last seven years been reducing the power of any other locus in the system that is independent,” Mr. Kuchins said. “This is the final nail in the coffin. And it doesn’t look like that coffin is going to get opened anytime soon.”

Mr. Putin’s allies said United Russia was winning elections not because the rules were biased, but because the public approved of Mr. Putin and valued the nation’s new strength. [LR: That’s what they said about Stalin, too.] They said Russians looked askance at the example of Ukraine, the neighbor to the west, where three leading parties have been closely matched and have regularly feuded over the last three years. “For Russians, the Ukrainian scenario is terrifying,” said Igor Y. Dyomin, a spokesman for United Russia in Parliament. Mr. Pokhmelkin, the member from Perm who is almost certain to lose his seat, said he had been increasingly marginalized in recent years, and sometimes even barred by United Russia from making speeches in Parliament. He said that he tried to prod the Kremlin on issues like police corruption and the rights of motorists, but that it was largely futile. “The Parliament has been brought down to the level of a servant, serving the ruling bureaucracy,” he said. “And there cannot be any other assessment.”

And that wasn’t the end of Putin’s expression of contempt for the people of Russia. The Moscow Times continues the story:

Voters could lose much of their say in the country’s affairs under a bill backed by pro-Kremlin party United Russia that would drastically reduce the range of issues eligible for a national referendum. Authors of the bill, which the State Duma passed last week in a first reading, said it was necessary to prevent public discord, while critics said it would give authorities the right selectively to ban any referendum. “There is, for example, a group of disgruntled people who get together and begin to disrupt society,” United Russia deputy Alexander Moskalets, one of the bill’s authors, said Friday. “We don’t need this.” [LR: He’s quoting Stalin, isn’t he?]

The bill is tentatively scheduled for a crucial second reading next month. The Communists have been trying for two years now to hold a national referendum on federal budget issues, but to no avail. The Constitutional Court in March, however, ruled that the party had a right to call for such a plebiscite. But under the new bill, it is unclear on which issues they could call for a nationwide vote. The bill would ban referendums on issues falling within the “exclusive jurisdiction of government bodies,” a vague description that leaves room for broad interpretation, experts at the Duma’s legal department said, Vedomosti reported Friday. It could leave voters with no chance for a direct say in issues ranging from the federal budget, taxation, international treaties, border agreements and declarations of war, Vedomosti said.

Communist Duma Deputy Viktor Tyulkin said the bill was merely a further attempt by the ruling party to consolidate power in the hands of “an elite segment of the population.”

“The people have a right to decide their fate,” Tyulkin said.

Moskalets said it would be unthinkable to allow voters a direct say in how the federal budget is drawn up. “Even in small groups of people it is next to impossible to reach agreement on such a complicated issue,” he said. “This could create a volatile state in society. Only issues of a general nature should be put to a referendum.” The Constitution is one example of a question that should be decided by popular referendum, Moskalets said. The current Constitution was approved by a national referendum on Dec. 12, 1993. The bill must still pass in second and third readings in the Duma, before being sent to the Federation Council for approval and, finally, to the president to be signed into law. The second reading will likely be held within the next four weeks, a United Russia spokesman said Friday.

A number of local referendums have been held in recent years to approve the amalgamation of neighboring regions. A domestic human rights group has published a report maintaining that every major opposition street protest organized in 2007 was either prohibited or dispersed by authorities, Kommersant reported Friday. The report, titled “Freedom of Assembly in Modern Russia,” was published Thursday by the nongovernmental organization Legal Team, which was formed last year by members of several human rights nongovernmental organizations.

Vladimir Putin: Whissssspering Serpant

Jeremy Putley has noticed that, writing in The Observer, columnist Nick Cohen insightfully explains how certain British capitalists are betraying the nation’s democracy and security interests by selling out to the Kremlin:

Bibliophiles value first editions, not second. The only exception to the rule I know is Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation? by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The founders of the London School of Economics first published it in 1935 as Stalin’s terror was building, the labour camps were filling and a manmade famine had killed millions in Ukraine. They justified them all.

The Webbs did note the incessant propaganda, but dismissed it by wondering whether the ‘million-fold listeners-in’ to the BBC weren’t also the victims of a brainwashing that was just as sinister. They were, they concluded. There was no moral difference between Josef Stalin and Lord Reith. ‘For the individual citizen, propaganda is inescapable. His mind is bludgeoned to compel him to admit a whole series of ideas. Where systems differ is in who wields the bludgeon.’ As for the murders, they were regrettable but essential means of meeting the people’s needs. ‘It must be recognised,’ the Webbs continued, ‘that this liquidation of the individual capitalists in agriculture had necessarily to be faced if the required increase of output was to be obtained.’

By 1937, Stalin’s terror had engulfed the Soviet empire. Whole races were being transported, the Communist party was being massacred, every petrified citizen knew they must denounce or be denounced. The Webbs responded to the catastrophe by amending the second edition. I don’t know if you spotted it but the title of the first – Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation? – ended with a question mark that delicately suggested it was possible to doubt that the Soviet Union was a workers’ paradise. All hesitation was abandoned for the second. The Webbs responded to the creation of a slave economy by dropping the question mark and publishing the unambiguously titled Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation

Seventy years on, I sat in a lecture theatre at the Webbs’ LSE for a debate on whether freedom of speech in Russia could survive the murders of journalists and sweeping censorship that have accompanied Vladimir Putin’s push to a one-party state.

It was easy to think nothing had changed. On the stage were sleek representatives of Putin’s new civilisation. Like the Webbs before her, Dariya Pushkova, the London correspondent of Russia Today, a state-controlled TV channel, dealt with the difficult question of Kremlin repression by changing the subject. The British media were just as bad, she said. They reported unverifiable facts as truth and came out with half-baked accusations that Alexander Litvinenko had been poisoned with polonium 210 on the orders of Putin’s henchmen. What was the difference between her propaganda and ours? Who were we to throw stones?

Pavel Andreev from Novosti, the state-controlled Russian news agency, took the stage to argue for the censorship of investigative reporting. Eighty per cent of Russians approved of what Putin was doing and tough tactics were needed to give the people what they wanted. ‘Russia has always been best under strong leaders,’ he added with a nod towards the legacy of the Webbs’ Stalin.

I expected the audience to go along with him. Just as urban legend has it that you are never more than six feet away from a rat on the streets of London, so dismal experience has taught me that you are never more than six feet away from an apologist for tyranny at a meeting of London liberals. (A good example of this came a few days later when Martin Amis, a serious novelist, was confronted by Chris Morris, a light entertainer, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Amis was so exasperated by the betrayals of principle that he asked members of the audience to raise their hand if they considered themselves morally superior to the sexist, racist, homophobic and psychopathic Taliban. Fewer than a third did.)

The scene at the LSE was more comforting. Although the LSE academic who wrote up the debate afterwards sympathised with Putin’s journalists – ‘Are we in the West really in a position to judge?’ he asked – his students went wild and stood up for the rights of Russians.

It was good to watch and if you had been there, you might have thought that liberal Russians fleeing autocracy would find a welcome in England (one denied to the enemies of the Taliban). That would be to ignore a new pro-Kremlin lobby no one in the 20th century imagined. Politics has been stood on its head. In his forthcoming The New Cold War and How to Win It, Edward Lucas of the Economist will point out that in the past, communists and their fellow travellers made excuses for Russian despotism. The right opposed it on the understandable grounds that the despots were communists. Now, bankers, manufacturers and Tories explain away the rigged elections and the muzzled press because they want a slice of a crony capitalist state that is awash with petrodollars.

Just before Tony Blair resigned, a telling scene illuminated the new world. At the June G8 summit, Blair warned Putin that unless Russia shared Western democratic values and tolerated dissent, there would be a business backlash. No, there won’t, replied appalled business leaders. Hans-Jorg Rudloff, the chairman of Barclays Capital, said Blair’s approach was ‘unbalanced’. Peter Hambro, executive chairman of Peter Hambro Mining, an Aim-listed company with extensive interests in Russia, said that Blair’s comments ‘ran the risk of being damaging’ for British business interests in Russia. The outgoing PM’s position was ‘very different to that business’.

And so it went on and few noticed that a regime filled with ex-KGB men was now being defended by the beneficiaries of global capitalism.

There will always be people on the left who fellow-travel with dictatorship or, more usually, ignore it. But now, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Webbs, are the louder, more powerful voices from the City that say we have no right to criticise because criticism is bad for business.

Vladimir Putin: Natural Born Liar

Translation: “Putin – Our President.”

Remember, the word “our” (“nash”) in this context has the distinct
connotation of “Slavic” in the same way that “Nashi” does
when referring to Putin’s youth cult.

An editorial in the New York Times over the weekend exposed Vladimir Putin’s mendacious arrogance as he threatens the West with a new cold war:

Vladimir Putin is a master at bluster and hyperbole, but his latest comments on Iran were especially counterproductive. This week, Mr. Putin asserted that “we have no real data to claim that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, which makes us believe the country has no such plans.” In fact, there is no concrete proof of weapons development. But there is enough credible circumstantial evidence to be seriously worried.

There’s also no excuse for Iran’s continued defiance of a Security Council order to halt production of enriched uranium, usable for nuclear fuel or a weapon. Mr. Putin’s comments — and his opposition to tougher sanctions — will only feed that defiance and lessen the chances for the diplomatic settlement that Mr. Putin says he wants.

The Bush administration and Britain — their credibility after Iraq is shaky to say the least — aren’t the only ones who believe that Tehran wants to do a lot more than generate electricity. France, which strongly opposed the Iraq war, is also raising alarms. The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is the source of much of the data — and the questions — about Iran’s program.

Russia, meanwhile, has been all over the lot [LR: That’s the mark of a psychopath, we’ve come full circle with today’s posts] — one day siding with Washington and Europe on the need to contain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and the next one denying the threat. Russia’s geographical proximity to Iran makes at least some Kremlin aides nervous, but most of the time they seem more interested in Iran’s oil riches and its willingness to spend a chunk of that cash on Russian made weapons and other technology.

Such deals will likely be high on Mr. Putin’s agenda when he visits Tehran next week. But he should not let them blind him to the very real threat that would be posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. He could do a lot more good for Russia — and his own credibility — if he told the Iranians that they must halt enrichment and accept Europe’s and Washington’s offers of economic and diplomatic payoffs if they do.

October 15, 2007 — Contents


(1) Translation: Cherkasov in Kommersant

(2) Rice Meet’s Putin’s Opposition

(3) Russia Leads the World . . . in Cyber Child Porn, Spam and Theft

(4) Annals of Russian “Diplomacy”

(5) More Americans Saving Kids from the Horror of Putin’s Russia

(6) Hooray! A Glimmer of Hope for Russia!