Daily Archives: October 18, 2007

October 18, 2007 — Contents

THURSDAY OCTOBER 18 CONTENTS

(1) Zaxi on the “Russian Patient”

(2) They’re STILL Afraid of Politkovskaya!

(3) Bukovsky, in Moscow

(4) Annals of the New Cold War

(5) Russia in a Nutshell

(6) Berezovsky on Zubkov

Zaxi on the Russian Patient

Zaxi Blog puts Russia on the couch and finds many bats in the old girl’s belfry (her doctor, unfortunately, is not doing too well either):

Condoleezza Rice looked like a graceful princess visiting a terminally ill patient as she met Russian human rights activists at the Spasso House this weekend. “How is it going?” the mourning-black-clad Rice asked the haggard-looking bunch in a motherly tone. “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?”

Her tender approach to the wheezing campaigners seemed both genuine and in part affected by her treatment at the hands of President Vladimir Putin the day before. Rice actually looked like she could better sympathize with what the activists were up against daily: she had just been forced to wait an unsubtle 40 minutes for a chance to be lectured by Putin out of protocol at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence. The US papers said Rice looked “annoyed” and “angered” during Putin’s public hectoring – which concluded with yet another threat to withdraw from one of the myriad disarmament agreements that once buried the Cold War. She appeared to be telling the rights group both in body language and message that this was where US diplomacy felt home.

It may do little but charge them with enough spirit to carry on once the Americans go home. It has come to this – the mostly elderly ladies crawl out of hiding to be received by a visiting foreign dignitary who dared disobey Putin. They then return to a routine consisting mostly of avoiding arrests of selves and property. These meetings have gained the political currency of a get out of jail card. The elderly ladies are not forgotten. Last week it was Nicolas Sarkozy. This coming one it may be Angela Merkel’s turn to raise the subject – although Germany has been two-faced with Russia for so long that her preference to keep Gazprom in mind instead when she greets Putin in Berlin would not be a shock.

Rice’s open hug of the dying rights movement may be read as a mea culpa of sorts. Enough words were wasted on pretenses of Russia still averting a totalitarian relapse that the Kremlin not only went on marauding but eventually agreed that it could get away with making Putin its eternal patriarch. The West had been biting its tongue waiting for a 2008 election that could give Russians not a choice but a chance to briefly break from their Soviet séance and look around. Yet no one in Washington predicted the Soviet Union’s collapse. And no one in Washington thought that Putin would erase all meaning from the 2008 vote by staying on in a new role. No one – still – thought Putin would dare.

“We didn’t really think through the possibility of him staying on in this kind of high-profile position,” a senior US official told The Washington Post a few days after Putin kindly accepted the Kremlin party’s invitation to make himself prime minister next year. “Another frustrated official” asked the Post: “What are we supposed to do?”

All that is sadly clear now is what Washington was not supposed to do. Rice lobbied against expelling Putin’s Russia from the G8 because she preferred to keep an increasingly worrying Kremlin “engaged” – better to know what the enemy is thinking than be stuck with another Pyongyang. So Putin was invited to diplomatically degrading – for Washington – visits to George W. Bush’s private ranch in scenes that uncomfortably recalled Neville Chamberlain. Washington concluded a bilateral agreement on Russia joining the WTO one month after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and one week after the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko – although his case had been unknown at the time and his death only came two weeks later. Rice said there was “some trouble but this is not the Soviet Union” a few days after Russia refused to extradite Litvinenko’s suspected killer and three days before it forced the United Nations to abandon a resolution on Kosovo. Washington watched Putin threaten Europe with rockets and order his strategic bombers to patrol the Alaskan coastline. It watched Putin call on his military intelligence to step up spying on the United States and test a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile – apparently “for the first time since the Cold War.” That phrase could in fact be applied to almost every new turn in Russia-US relations this year.

Washington welcomed Putin’s announcement on keeping power with official silence.

The alternative to Rice was Dick Cheney. His one speech in Vilnius in May 2006 did more to arrest Russia’s attention than all other Western efforts combined. Read it again – you might shrug. Cheney said Russia “has unfairly and improperly restricted the right of her people” and was using oil and gas as “tools of intimidation or blackmail.” He concluded: “None of us believe Russia is fated to become an enemy.” But Cheney’s choice was to confront and draw lines in the sand. It would have meant no WTO membership and likely expulsion from the G8. It would have meant fewer visits for Putin abroad and an open courting of… Whom?

And here was the paramount problem for everyone in Washington. A policy based carrots and sticks required at least some Putin alternative for Russians to rally around. The Kremlin took care of that from its first raid on NTV television more than seven years ago. The democrats themselves did not help. The roomful that still had access to a couple of newspapers and web sites decided to fight over those instead of rallying around one man and one message.

Washington’s policy did not matter in the end. Cheney or Rice – Politkovskaya would still be dead and ExxonMobil and the rest would still lose their energy contracts. The fate of Kosovo would still be partially decided by Gazprom. Russia would still withdraw from all the military arrangements it has and treat Georgia and the Baltic states like menservants. Iran would be where it is today and so would Putin.

All that really did matter over these eight years was the price of oil. It stayed high and the Kremlin rebuilt the Soviet state around the cult of a somewhat telegenic man and a policy balanced between North Korea’s Juche and strong-state chauvinism – fascism.

Should the price of oil fall below $40 while Putin is still alive – call in the Russia hands. The economy will crumble quickly.

Open invitations to Spasso House are all that remain until then.

They’re Still Afraid of Politkovskaya: Now THAT is Power

Javno reports further details on the harassment of those who sought to commemorate Anna Politkovskaya (pictured) on the one-year anniversary of her killing:

Russian police briefly detained five foreign citizens who had planned to attend a human rights forum on Saturday [Oct. 6] to commemorate the first anniversary of the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Organisers of the forum in Nizhny Novgorod, a city 400 km (250 miles) east of Moscow, said they were forced to cancel a series of meetings after police seized computers from their office and authorities blocked access to their bank account. Neil Hicks, a British director of New York-based Human Rights First, told Reuters he was detained for four hours along with a German and three Spaniards and fined 3,000 roubles ($120) for a violation of his visa status, a charge he denies. “We think is it interference in the activities of human rights organisations,” he said. “It is unfortunate and shows the problems with basic freedoms are very severe in Russia.” Another of the detained represented Amnesty International, an event organiser said. Police in Nizhny Novgorod were not available for comment. Politkovskaya was shot dead in her apartment building in a contract-style shooting on Oct. 7 last year. Separately, a group of prominent activists called for Russia to bring to justice those who instigated the murder of Politkovskaya, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin. The group Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR), whose supporters include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, made the call in a letter to Britain’s Times newspaper. “We call on the Russian government to bring to justice, in full conformity with international standards, both those who killed Anna Politkovskaya and those who ordered her murder,” the letter said. “We also call on the world’s leaders to pledge to do everything in their power to protect the journalists and human rights defenders who work in the areas of war and conflict, and who speak out on behalf of the victims, as Anna did.”

ARRESTS

Among those who signed Saturday’s letter were Elena Bonner, widow of the late Soviet dissident and Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, former Czech president Vaclav Havel, and Marina Litvinenko, whose husband Alexander died in London last year after being poisoned with radioactive polonium-210.

Russian authorities have arrested 11 people over Politkovskaya’s death. Prosecutors last month charged a former government official from the volatile region of Chechnya, Shamil Burayev, as an accomplice to the murder. Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, reported in its Saturday edition that a Ukrainian crime boss had also been arrested in connection with the killing. Prosecutors, who link the murder to her reporting, have said they suspect she was murdered by an organised crime group involving serving and former law enforcement officers. Politkovskaya was active in exposing abuses by security forces in Chechnya and neighbouring Russian regions.

The Nizhny Novgorod edition of the publication for which she worked, Novaya Gazeta, was one of the organisers of the planned forum in the city. Oksana Chelysheva of the group Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Promote Tolerance, the other organiser, said reservations made for visitors in local hotels were cancelled without good reason. “The authorities organised unprecedented surveillance. It was very difficult for us to accommodate people,” she said.

Bukovsky, in Moscow

The Associated Press reports:

Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky [pictured], back in Moscow, said Tuesday his experience resisting the KGB in the 1960s and 1970s could help galvanize the liberal opposition to President Vladimir Putin. For Bukovsky, 64, who lives outside London, it was his first trip to his homeland since Putin became president in 2000 and only his third since he was sent into exile in 1976. Known for his revelations about the Soviet practice of forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents, he spent a total of nearly 12 years in Soviet mental hospitals and jails before international pressure came to bear. He was then bundled out of the country in handcuffs and swapped for Chilean Communist Louis Corvalan.

Bukovsky, who has declared his candidacy for president while acknowledging that he will not be allowed to run, said his main goal was to help build support for the political opposition in Russia, “where everyone is intimidated, where everyone is indifferent.”

“We are seeing a return of Soviet times,” he said in an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio hours after his arrival. “I have a lot of experience in confronting the KGB. Today, it’s topical,” said Bukovsky, whose hair is now gray and thinning.

Under Putin, a former KGB officer, the security services have regained much of their Soviet-era influence, and many of the democratic gains of the 1990s have been reversed. “The KGB has come to power under the name of the FSB,” Bukovsky said, referring to the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency. A group of human rights activists, academics and independent journalists has put Bukovsky forward as a candidate to run against Putin’s chosen successor in next spring’s presidential election, even though he is unlikely to be allowed to run because he fails to meet a 10-year Russian residency requirement and holds British citizenship.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political historian who is a member of the group, said the backtracking on democracy under Putin is compelling dissidents who fought the Soviet regime to become more politically active. “I hope the return of a legendary Soviet dissident, brilliant writer, outstanding person, will somehow ease the political climate in the country,” Pribylovsky said. Bukovsky made his first return trip to Russia in April 1991, several months before the Soviet Union disintegrated. The same year, the Russian Supreme Court voided his Soviet-era convictions.

He came back in 1992 to testify when the Communist Party was put on trial in the Constitutional Court. His later attempts to travel to Russia were blocked when the Russian Embassy refused to issue him a visa on his British passport, saying he was a Russian citizen. Bukovsky received a new Russian passport in August. He was first arrested in 1963 for the possession of a book by Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas and kept in a psychiatric hospital until 1965. Later that year, he helped organize a rally in support of arrested dissident writers and was sent back to the psychiatric hospital for another year. In 1967, after organizing another rally, he was sent to jail for three years. After his release in 1970, he sent documents to the World Psychiatry Association and foreign press revealing the Soviet practice of forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents — documents that became known as the “Bukovsky dossier” and led to the expulsion of the Soviet Union from the association. After being put under constant KGB surveillance, he was arrested in 1971.

Fears that Russian authorities may be returning to the practice of forced psychiatric treatment as a way of silencing critics were raised when opposition activist Larisa Arap was placed in a psychiatric clinic in the northern Murmansk region in July and held there against her will for 46 days. Her supporters called it revenge for exposing alleged abuse of children in a local psychiatric hospital.

Bukovsky is a neurophysiologist with degrees from Cambridge University in Britain and Stanford University, and the author of several books. During his five-day visit to Moscow, Bukovsky plans to meet with pro-democracy activists and to introduce a new edition of his book, “And the Wind Comes Back …” — an autobiographical novel about a Soviet dissident’s life in the gulag. His trip ends with a rally Saturday in front of the monument to poet Vladimir Mayakovsky in central Moscow, where in 1960 Bukovsky and other dissidents started to hold readings of banned poetry — his first political action, which led to his expulsion from Moscow State University’s biology department.

Annals of the New Cold War: Let the Games Begin

The People’s Voice reports:

Simultaneously, Russia and America Conduct Major War Games

There has been a virtual media blackout on the conduct of major military exercises by both Russia and the US. Reminiscent of the Cold War, Russia and America are conducting major war games simultaneously. The Russian Air Force will be conducting major military exercises over a large part of its territory from the 16th to the 30th of October. These Russian exercises coincide chronologically with the conduct of major US sponsored war games under Vigilant Shield 08, which are slated to take place from the 15th to the 20th of October. VS-08 was preceded by major naval exercises under Pacific Shield 07 hosted by Japan, involving the participation of Australia, France, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the US.

President Vladimir Putin announced in August that Russia would be resuming long-range bomber flights over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. (Associated Press, October 1, 2007). Moscow’s resolve was in response to US-NATO threats directed against Russia including the militarization of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

The US exercise code named Vigilant Shield 2008 (VS-08) is casually presented as an “anti-terrorist drill”. While under the joint auspices of the Pentagon and the Department of Defense, US Northern Command in liaison with NORAD is in charge of the operation. VS-08 includes a massive deployment of the US Air Force and Canada’s Air Force. It resembles a war-time scenario with the deployment of bombers and fighter jets over the entire North American continent extending into the Arctic. Meanwhile in the Pacific, military exercises are being held in Guam under the VS-08 imitative. Parallel US-Philippines sponsored war games are slated to commence in the Philippines archipelago on the 16th of October, “involving nearly 3,500 troops from specialized forces from the two countries.”

In what visibly appears to be a confrontational scenario, the Russian war games commence one day after the launching of the US sponsored VS-08.

Russian strategic bombers Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22M3, and Il-78 aerial tankers “will conduct flights over the Arctic region, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, and the Black Sea, with simulated bombing raids and firing of cruise missiles at testing grounds in northern and southern Russia,” Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky said.” (RIA Novosti). Part of these Russian war games will be conducted in the Arctic, within proximity of US and Canadian territory (Alaska and Canada’s Arctic). “Moscow announced in mid-August that regular patrol flights by strategic bombers had been resumed, and would continue on a permanent basis, with patrol areas including commercial shipping and economic production zones.

The U.S. administration expressed concern about the resumption of patrol flights by Russian strategic bombers.

“I think the rapid growth in Russian military spending definitely bears watching,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with ABC News on October 14. “And frankly, some of the efforts – for instance, Bear flights in areas that we haven’t seen for a while – are really not helpful to security.” (RIA Novosti)

Over the last several months, Russia has been conducting warplane exercises around Alaska. In the course of last Summer, Russian bombers staged a number of exercises in what is described as “a buffer zone outside U.S. air space”, within proximity of Alaska. According to a NORAd spokesman” “U.S. and Canadian fighter jets, including F-15s, were dispatched each time to escort the Russian planes in the exercises, which ranged from two to six aircraft.” VS-8 is based on a scenario of confrontation with Russia and China.

In August, under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Russia and China joined hands in the conduct of major war games. Code-named “Peace-Mission 2007”, the exercises were held in the Volga region of Russia as well as in the Urumqi region of Western China.

Russia in a nutshell

“Russia is one of those places where you have to be a little bit sensible. I’m not going to go round town draped in an England flag. People realize that this is a country you want to avoid being arrested in.

Mark Perryman, a spokesman for an England fans’ group


Russia: It even terrifies English football hooligans.

That pretty much says it all.

Berezovsky on Zubkov

Зубков – это не преемник.
Глупо думать, что кто-то придет на полгода и вернет власть Путинy.
Зубков – это либо фальшивка или третий срок.

Блог Бориса Березовського

Translation:

Zubkov is no “successor.”
It’s just plain silly to suggest that he will rule for a little while and then return power to Putin.
Zubkov is a sham or, to put it more bluntly, he’s a third term.

— Boris Berezovsky, on his Live Journal blog