Daily Archives: October 29, 2007

October 29, 2007 — Contents


(1) The Brilliant Robert Coalson on the KGB “Mind”

(2) Annals of Novaya Gazeta: Trouble in Samara

(3) Streetwise Professor on the Putin Price-Fixing Scam

(4) The Barbaric Neo-Soviet Crackdown on Information

(5) Annals of Russian Tennis disgrace

NOTE: Extremely interesting developments are unfolding on the legal front in Europe. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his besieged team of executives from Yukos are finally starting to score major victories in the European Courts, pushing back the front lines on the battle for Russia’s soul, handing Vladimir Putin’s stormtroopers two major defeats in preliminary skirmishes. The big battles are yet to be fought, but the signs are very promising and present what must be a terrifying prospect to Putin’s dictatorship: total international illegitimacy. Kim Zigfeld explores the events in her most recent installment on Pajamas Media. Check it out!

Brilliant Coalson on the KGB "Mind"

For La Russophobe‘s money, you can’t get better, more insightful analysis of Russia than what comes from Robert Coalson, whose brilliant column in the Moscow Times was required reading and is much missed (ah, the days of Coalson and Felgenhaur — those were the days!). Radio Free Europe carries his latest opus, dealing with the Chekist “mindset.”

No one knows how many people were working for or with the KGB when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. That information was never revealed in a country where even rudimentary lustration never got off the ground.

Journalist Yevgenia Albats, in her 1992 book “A State Within A State,” estimates that 720,000 people actively worked for the agency (across the entire Soviet Union) and some 2.9 million “cooperated” with it. To a large and, perhaps ultimately, unknowable extent, many of these people now rule Russia and seem well on the way to building an undemocratic system of political and economic control that can last into the foreseeable future.

Sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya estimates that 26 percent of Russia’s senior political and commercial leadership are siloviki, the term for people who emerged from the state security organs or the military. If one tries to account for everyone connected with the security organs in one way or another, Kryshtanovskaya’s estimate rises to 78 percent of the elite.

The Rise Of The Chekisty

At the top of this vast pyramid of power stand those — like President Vladimir Putin — who were formed and socialized with the KGB during the 1970s, when Yury Andropov was reinvigorating the agency and instilling a new sense of mission and pride following the gradual and partial exposure in the 1950s and 1960s of the crimes committed by the secret police under Lenin and Stalin.

Although it would be an exaggeration to speak of this group in terms of conspiracy, it definitely forms a network or community of like-minded professionals, a largely mutually supporting community sharing common values, a common worldview, and common approaches to problem solving. Albats, writing in “Novoye vremya” this month, described this group as “a union of people bound by a common past, a common education, and even a common language of gestures….”

It is important to distinguish ordinary siloviki, a broad term that encompasses a wide range of views along the nationalist-patriotic-militarist spectrum, from the chekisty, the KGB products who are directing Russia’s political and economic development and who see themselves as the nearly messianic saviors of Russia from a raft of internal and external enemies.

The term “chekist” comes from the Russian abbreviation ChK, or Extraordinary Commission, which was the original secret police organization set up under Lenin by the sadistic Feliks Dzerzhinsky, and an abbreviation that was echoed by the August 1991 KGB-led coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, which called itself the State Committee for the Emergency Situation (GKChP). In a 1967 speech, Andropov praised Dzerzhinsky as “a man infinitely devoted to the revolution and ruthless toward its enemies.” Dzerzhinsky himself wrote in 1919 that “I know that for many there is no name more terrifying than mine.”

Enemies All Around

Ignoring the ChK’s dark history of political oppression and domestic terror, modern-day chekisty are proud to wear this badge. As Federal Antinarcotics Committee Chairman Viktor Cherkesov, a leading member of Putin’s inner circle who made his reputation fighting political dissent as the head of the KGB’s Leningrad Directorate, wrote in “Komsomolskaya pravda” in 2004: “I remain faithful to the main thing — to the sense of my work as a chekist. To the sense of my chekist fate. I did not reject this faith during the peak of the democratic attacks in the early 1990s, as everyone knows. I will not reject it now.” Duma Deputy Anatoly Yermolin, a longtime KGB hand and a graduate of the KGB’s Andropov Academy who now serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee, told RFE/RL on October 10: “I like the word [chekist]. I got used to it during long years of service in chekist units.”

The chekist mind-set has a number of important facets that are influencing the way this network is guiding Russia’s development. First and foremost, stemming from the origins of the ChK and having received reinforcement during the long years of the Cold War, is a fundamentally martial orientation. “Our profession, of course, is a military one,” Cherkesov wrote in his 2004 article. This mentality colors the chekists’ perceptions of everything from developments on the world stage to domestic political disputes, sometimes even giving chekist actions and statements a tinge of paranoia. “The collapse of the chekist community — the system of ensuring national security — is necessary only to the enemies of that security,” Cherkesov wrote. He goes on to cite the need for “cleansing…the antistate and antisociety viruses that have infected our society.” In 1994, KGB Major General Boris Solomatin wrote in “Trud” that “through the efforts of some journalists and politicians, state-security officers are being made outcasts in their own state.”

Among the many “enemies” the chekist feels threatened by, pride of place has always been given to the United States, which was routinely called “the main enemy” by the KGB. Many chekisty believe the United States is determined at the least to subordinate Russia, if not to see the country broken up into insignificant entities. The war in Afghanistan in the 1980s was the most direct sustained conflict between the CIA and KGB, and the sting of the KGB’s “defeat” and the sometimes sophomoric crowing of the United States about that outcome can hardly have been forgotten by Andropov’s successors. Some of the most powerful chekisty in Putin’s inner circle, including deputy presidential-administration head Viktor Ivanov and Federal State Reserves Agency head Aleksandr Grigoryev, served in Afghanistan.

By Any Means Necessary

The martial mind-set of the chekisty gives their thinking a distinctly teleological flavor; that is, the ends justify the means. Feeling surrounded by enemies, certain that only they understand what is needed to save the country, and operating with impunity, the only limits to chekisty action are those of their own imaginations and consciences — and there is considerable evidence that their consciences are no limit at all.

In her book, journalist Albats describes how a KGB general threatened her for serving as a member of the State Commission to Investigate the Activities of the KGB during the (August 1991) Coup. The general needn’t have bothered, since that commission was headed by silovik General Sergei Stepashin and its work led to nothing.

Members of an independent commission set up in 2002 by longtime dissident and rights activist Sergei Kovalyov to investigate the possible involvement of the Federal Security Service (FSB; one of the KGB’s main successor organizations) in a series of 1999 apartment-building bombings were not so lucky: Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov was shot dead in Moscow in April 2003; Duma Deputy and investigative reporter Yury Shchekochikhin died of suspected thalium poisoning in July 2003; former KGB investigator Mikhail Trepashkin, who served as the commission’s investigator, was arrested in October 2003 and sentenced to four years in prison in a closed trial; and the commission’s key witness, former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, died of radiation poisoning in London in November 2006. The Russian secret services’ involvement in the February 2004 assassination in Doha of former acting Chechen President Zelmikhan Yandarbiyev was established by a Qatari court.

A State Within A State

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the country passed through the traumas of the 1990s, the KGB and the chekist community were able to maintain relative cohesion because of two key factors: secrecy and information. Their ability to resist lustration, to have the instigators of the 1991 coup attempt exonerated and even honored, and ultimately to place one of their own in the presidency — all of which seemed virtually impossible in 1992 and 1993 — must have proven the crucial importance of maintaining and monopolizing these assets.

As a result, chekist systems — political, administrative, or commercial — must be closed and opaque. Within Putin’s administration, we see the complete elimination of normal checks and balances, only partially replaced by internal checks of dubious and unconfirmable reliability. Speaking of possible illegalities within the security services, Cherkesov wrote that “people must know that, in addition to the prosecutor’s investigation, their fate will always be protected by the involvement of the agency itself, by the strength of our fraternity of service.” The chekist community develops its own methods of disciplining individual members without endangering the hidden fraternity itself.

The KGB always worked as a state within a state, and that capacity served it well during the crises of the 1990s and to the present day. The Putin administration works in the same way that the KGB did, salting organizations throughout society with representatives of the chekisty, who can be counted on to facilitate the chekist agenda when necessary. This phenomenon regularly rears its head with regard to prosecutors and judges, but shadows of it emerge occasionally in the work of journalists, regulators, politicians, businesspeople, and others. “There is no area of our lives — from religion to sports — where the [KGB] doesn’t pursue some interest of its own,” KGB defector Oleg Kalugin said in the early 1990s. And those ends are pursued through pressure, manipulation, sabotage, and subterfuge instead of by means of the rule of law or institutionalized procedures that might produce unwelcome results or restrictive precedents.

A 1993 Moscow conference on “The KGB: Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow” adopted a resolution stating: “We believe that the development of a democratic process in the country is impossible while state security services continue to perform functions of state management.” This statement has been borne out by events of the last 15 years. At the same time, the international community has found Russia to be an increasingly unreliable player whose words and actions often seem fundamentally out of sync. The rise of the silovik in Russia would be an alarming enough phenomenon both within Russia and abroad; the rise of the chekist is an order of magnitude more worrisome.

Annals of Novaya Gazeta: Trouble in Samara

Novaya Gazeta reports:

License to get to the discordant

Editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta in Samara has been made the accused. He’s had to give a written cognizance not to leave and now he cannot even come to see his father who is seriously ill.

Editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta in Samara has been made the accused. He’s had to give a written undertaking not to leave the city and now he cannot even go to see his father, who is seriously ill.

Last Wednesday, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta in Samara, Sergei Kurt-Adjiev, got at last the written decision notifying him of the initiation of a criminal case against him and was forced to promise he would not leave the city whilst it was pending. We say “at last” because the decision was taken by the Prosecutor’s Office of Samara as far back as 14 May, i.e. five months ago.

The only explanation of such sluggishness by the law enforcement bodies of Samara can be that they just stalled for time trying to find more substantial evidence on Kurt-Adjiev so that to have opportunity to act more grounded. Well, they searched properly, but not with much effect. The proposed charge looks like a caricature: “usage of pirated software belonging to Microsoft and 1C companies.” Investigation estimates the loss of the companies caused by Kurt-Adjiev to be 132,409 rubles and 37 kopecks.

It’s clear why no one was able to explain the logic of this figure to the editor-in-chief of the Samara’s Novaya Gazeta. The matter is that these 132 thousand rubles are not the money actually. This is the consequence of the March of the Discordant held in Samara some time ago, as Kurt-Adjiev’s daughter named Anastasia was one of the organizers.

The law enforcement bodies must have confused ties of relationship with cause-and-effect relation and so they concluded that editorial board of Novaya Gazeta in Samara might agitate the electorate on the eve of the March of the Discordant. They decided not to give such a chance to the popular in town periodical. Out of harm’s way. It was in May that all the computers and accounting documentation were impounded without any explanations made.

If Novaya’s loyalty checking had been finished with that, it might have been considered just as an unpleasant episode. But what began further is called by the military the “cleaning up”.

Officers from Interior Affairs Department visited everyone who collaborated with Novaya Gazeta in Samara. Local branch of Rosokhrankultura was required to suspend registration of the Novaya in Samara under pretext it hadn’t documented its temporary move to another building during the time when repairs was being done in the main office. Then the Director of Novaya Tipographia (printing establishment) was recommended strongly to suspend the contract with the Novaya. Next step was visiting some advertisers and distinct hinting it would be better not to extend contracts with Novaya Gazeta, just to avoid possible troubles.

In September, a statement “signed” by Kurt-Adjiev (he didn’t write anything) was sent to e-mail addresses of all the local media. The forged document reported that Kurt-Adjiev, working together with Electors Rights Protection Association named Voice, regional branch of Yabloko and SPS (Right Forces Union), and also ombudsman in the Samara region Irina Skupova, had come to an agreement with a certain banned in Russia organization Khizb-ut-Tahir which is considered to be extremist one. It’s interesting that all requests by Kurt-Adjiev made to the law enforcement bodies about grounding actions against the Novaya in Samara have not been responded.

Anastasia Kurt-Adjieva has been detained several times with the purpose of “checking operative data”.

The leader of Electors Rights Protection Association named Voice Lyudmila Kuzmina got to be “cleaned up” too. PCs and documentation were impounded from her office with same charge of using pirated software. 27 September she was interrogated as the suspected in the criminal case.

Office memo

”Dear Colleagues,
I must advise you that issuing of the Novaya in Samara region may get suspended before long.

11 of May we were visited by the officers of Division K who told us they had operative intelligence about using by us non-licensed software. They impounded all our computers.

Then came the team from the regional Interior Affairs Department responsible for struggle against economic crimes.

One of my former business partners called me and said the officers from Interior Affairs Department had visited him and asked about me and the newspaper. Next day I got a fax from Rosokhrankultura related to violation of the law on media by Novaya Gazeta.

Regional Interior Affairs Department also has required the local printing establishment to dissolve an agreement with Novaya Gazeta. The officers also wondered if they could see the contents of the not published yet number.

It has turned out that Combat Against Economic Crime Department has been carrying out the total checking of all organizations who cooperated with us this or that way.

The “statement” “signed” by me was sent from the address oterrussia@mail.ru to all the media of the Samara region. This forged paper informed that our main goal is to interfere in the course of the election campaign, to protect-activists of Nationalist Bolshevist Party against the Russian special services, cooperation with British-American non-commercial organization etc. I won’t enumerate further all this nonsense.

4 October 2007”

Natalia Chernova

Streetwise Professor on the Putin Price Fixing Scam

Robert Amsterdam interviews the Streetwise Professor:

Q: First, just the basics: Basic food staples such as bread, eggs, vegetable oil, milk and cheese have risen dramatically in recent years in Russia.

A: It is part of an overall inflationary trend in Russia, traceable directly to the rise in oil prices and the central bank’s response to that.

Q: When it was announced that food manufacturers had been pressured to voluntarily freeze prices, many journalists and observers immediately compared it to “Soviet-style” price controls. Is that a fair comparison or an exaggeration? How do the latest series of price controls differ from similar economic policies during Soviet rule?

A: Right now it appears it appears to be much less formal and more extemporaneous than the rigid and formalized price controls during the Soviet period. Furthermore it should be noted that very similar “voluntary” efforts to control prices and wages have been attempted in the United States in the 1970s with disastrous results. The latest price freeze on food by the Russian government an ad hoc policy, directed toward solving a political problem

However, from there, the question arises: what comes next? Is this a temporary, politically expedient move, or will there be an escalation to more formal restrictions, when, as is likely, these somewhat ad hoc measures don’t have the desired effect?

Q: In your recent blog post on the subject, you write that “the consequences of this move are drearily predictable: shortages, empty shelves, lines in stores, black markets in foodstuffs.” Is that a real possibility in just three months? What do you imagine will happen when the controls are lifted following the elections?

A: It all depends on whether or not the inflationary pressures continue on their current pace. There are plenty of reasons to believe that they will, as the economic factors causing inflation look to stay the same for a while. So if the price controls the Russians are about to institute really have some bite, if they are really going to dragoon the manufacturers into keeping prices artificially low, then yes, there will be shortages; it’s inevitable.

If and when the controls are lifted, you can expect a big spike in prices. Let’s imagine six or nine months down the line, after the political issues have been sorted out, the government will be faced with six months of suppressed food price inflation catching up overnight, which naturally may cause them to hesitate and keep the controls in place a bit longer, making the problem worse. Price controls are like a bad guest – it’s easy to invite them over, but sometimes it can be hard to get them to leave. Look at rent control in New York—it was initiated as a “temporary wartime measure” in the Second World War, but persisted for decades afterwards.

Q: Price controls of course aren’t the only way to try to force down food prices. Some countries also play with tariffs, slashing them for cheaper imports to come in, or raising them domestically to drive down prices. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Vladimir Putin promised to take action on high food prices by slashing tariffs for imported products. Does the fact that Russia is currently negotiating it accession to the WTO have anything to do with their choice of price controls over tariff adjustments?

A. The WTO issue could be part of it, but I have read that Putin has also put forward the idea of a new export tax on grains, so they might be moving in that direction as well. Also, they are still playing various import restriction games with meat imports from Poland, as well as food products from Georgia. Food politics in Russia plays into the larger gamesmanship that is going on in the near abroad. From the Kremlin’s perspective, the food prices issue is a policy trade off; letting in more food imports from Poland, for instance, undercuts the pressure Russia is trying to exert on the Poles to influence their policies on other issues. Also, even if Russia is able to restrict some exports to drive down prices, then those inflationary pressures are going to begin to be felt elsewhere.

Q: Many countries who face similar dilemmas of both inflation and a local currency appreciating against the dollar take on other strategies, generally known as the Sterilisation doctrine. We can see from Russia’s vast sovereign wealth fund, that the state is doing a fine job sucking up dollars, but why hasn’t the central bank taken the route preferred by Brazil, China, and India of issuing short-term paper to absorb rubles instead of freezing prices?

A: Russia is faced with a choice: it can either let the ruble appreciate more, or live with the inflation. What they have chosen is to have inflation in ruble terms, essentially to protect their competitiveness in trade markets for domestic industry. Up until now, they have been willing to let inflation continue. However, now that inflation has become more of a concern, I imagine they will change their policy and let their currency appreciate more.

Q: Price controls are widely acknowledged to cause dangerous distortions to the market, and even worse, they don’t work in the long run. Even Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin told RIA that controlling prices is impossible: “This is a market, and market prices do not freeze. It would be a mistake.” So why has the government selected this mechanism over other alternatives?

A: The food issue is perhaps the most politically sensitive and widespread manifestation of broad inflationary pressures in the Russian economy. Milton Friedman used to say that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomena, so it needs to be addressed through monetary policy. The challenge they face is over the exchange rate. This is an illustration of the kinds of overall adjustments the economy needs to make when you have such an intense resource boom as Russia has experienced with 80 dollar oil. Their choice is inflation or Dutch disease. A large shock like the oil price boom necessarily forces adjustments in the rest of the economy. Some of these adjustments can be painful for large portions of the populace.

Q: Do you think that the price freeze tells part of a larger story of the way things are going for the future of the Russian economy?

A: To me, just in my opinion as an observer, these price controls are part of a broader pattern of interventionism in a wide array of policies with this government, so in some respects, it is really is “back to the future.”

Q: Are there any other considerations or lessons our readers should take away from this?

A: One thing I would say is that we must be aware that price controls have serious ramifications for corruption. What is happening right now in Russia represents another opportunity for those with the political and economic muscle to function above the law, and to thrive as a result. Corruption flourishes when markets are distorted, and Russia’s attempt to freeze food prices represents a potentially big distortion—and hence a potentially big opportunity for the country’s “corruption entrepreneurs.” As if more such opportunities were really needed.

The Barbaric Neo-Soviet Crackdown on Freedom of Information

The New York Times reports:

THE men who attacked Ivan Y. Pavlov [pictured above] waited beside his car outside his home.

They knocked him over from behind, stomped him and kicked him in the head. None of them spoke. They stole nothing. As Mr. Pavlov lay curled defensively on the street, they trotted away. Then they tried to run him over with their car. Mr. Pavlov rolled clear, he said. The car sped off. “It was my good luck that there were four of them,” he said recently, recalling the attack in 2006 with a mix of drollness and lawyerly precision. “They were pushing each other out of the way to kick me and got in each other’s way.” Mr. Pavlov was hospitalized for a week. The police later told him the attack appeared to be related to his work — a mission to pry open stores of government information that he says are essential to Russian public life and that by law should be in the public domain, but are kept from view by corruption and apathy.

The battle for personal and political freedom in Russia is often framed as a contest between the Kremlin and its critics over the rights of assembly, speech and suffrage, and for an independent judiciary, legislature and media. Mr. Pavlov leads a quieter but still dangerous campaign: legal battles for what he calls, simply, “the right to know.” As the director of the Institute for Information Freedom Development, a private organization he founded in 2004, he strives to teach government agencies that stores of information in their possession — manufacturing and sanitary standards, court records, licenses, fire codes, public tenders, administrative decrees, agency phone directories, registries of public and private organizations — should be made available for all to view.

HIS work is necessary, he and his supporters say, because much of the basic information of governance in Russia has never been made public, even after the Constitution codified the public’s right to nonsecret information in 1993. It is a peculiar form of dysfunction. Information that was once sealed off from the public by Soviet policies of secrecy is now withheld by government insiders looking to profit from their positions. “There are people in every agency who want to sell their information, not give it away for free,” Mr. Pavlov said. “It is an element of ordinary corruption.” The police said his near-fatal beating was an example of racket protection. At the time he was attacked, Mr. Pavlov was seeking to force a state agency to publish the standards used to regulate services and products manufactured in Russian factories.

By law, manufacturers and service providers must follow the standards or risk punishment for noncompliance. In practice, the archive of standards is sold piecemeal by private firms that Mr. Pavlov says are connected to the agency that creates them. It was after Mr. Pavlov sued to require standards to be posted on a free government Web site that he was attacked. He returned to court upon being discharged from the hospital, and a judge eventually forced the government to post new standards on the Internet. Gary Schwartz, a director of the Tides Foundation, a private philanthropic organization in San Francisco that has helped underwrite Mr. Pavlov’s institute, said his campaign “is critical for the way civil society will develop in Russia.”

Mr. Pavlov, for his part, speaks of the standards battle as a matter of iron principle. “This information was made by taxpayers’ money,” he said. “So you cannot sell it back. Like I told the court: you cannot sell me my shirt. I already own it.”

Mr. Pavlov, tall and lean, with a self-assured and intense bearing, took a roundabout route to his current line of work. He graduated from an electro-technical university in St. Petersburg in 1992 and finished his law studies in 1997. From 1998 until 2004 he was a director at Bellona, an environmental organization that has fought with Russia about nuclear secrecy and pollution. In time he realized that secrecy itself was a more fundamental problem, one that was largely ignored. “Nobody defended the basic right — the right to know, to have access to information,” he said. “People cannot have their freedom, and realize all their other rights, without this right.”

The standards case was a significant and symbolic victory, but small in scale. In addition to such officially sanctioned businesses, black-market sales of government information remain profligate. The scams extend into the most public of government offices. In 2006, the institute forced a Russian embassy in a foreign capital to stop selling its passport application forms for 50 euros, or almost $75. To release more public materials and combat such trade, Mr. Pavlov says he has more lawsuits in store, which will be filed in November. His goals include the release of all official information at the federal statistics service, a database of Russian pollution sources in the air and water, the filings and registry of Russian corporations and organizations, all product certifications and a database of all decrees issued by ministers in the federal and regional governments. “We will do everything to make this information available for the broad public,” Mr. Pavlov said.

His supporters say the litigation might eventually help the Russian government escape its ossified past and strengthen Russia’s public administration and business climate. “A strong and consolidated authoritarian state does ultimately need the rule of law,” said Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which collaborates with the institute Mr. Pavlov founded. “High oil prices cannot sustain the state. What he is doing is common-sense good government.”

MR. PAVLOV said that for his campaign to succeed he would need official support. He casts his work not as confrontational, but as a law-based effort to coach Russia to live up to its constitutional promise. “We do not blindly work against the government,” he said. “We do not stage demonstrations that provoke confrontations between the power and the people.” He makes clear, however, that his work can be frightening. One reaction after his beating was to buy and carry a four-shot pistol known as the “osa,” or wasp. (The pistol fires only rubber bullets and is designed to stun, not kill.) He recently stopped carrying it — “I was wearing light clothing in summer, and the osa was heavy and hard to hide,” he said — but has applied for a grant from the Russian government to hire a bodyguard for himself and his staff of nine.

Whether or not Russia decides to protect the institute, Mr. Pavlov said, its work will go on. “Unfortunately in Russia, there are many people who do not care about anything,” he said. “Our job is not to win all of the cases, or to force the government to publish all of the information, but to show people that they have rights. “Civil rights are like a muscle,” he added. “If you don’t use them, they will atrophy.”

Annals of Russian Tennis Disgrace

Yup, it’s migraine time again in Shamapova Country.

Maria Sharapova.

Nadia Petrova.

Elena Dementieva.

Dinara Safina.

What do they have in common?

If the women’s tennis season ended today, none of them would be in the top 8 when evaluated for results in 2007, hence none of them would receive an invitation to attend the season-ending, round-robin Tour Championships event, held this year in Madrid, Spain (with $3 million in prize money, similar to a Grand Slam event). The only Russians who’d be attending would be Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anna Chakvetadeze (based on her last name, about as “Russian” as the president of Georgia). Kuznetsova, Russia’s highest-ranked player and #2 in the world, has won exactly one tournament this entire year in 18 tries. That pretty much says it all about Russian ladies’ tennis this year, now doesn’t it? Her last significant match was against Serena Williams on her home turf in Moscow, and she got blown off the court in straight sets, winning only one game in the decisive second.

Oh and, by the way, the season pretty much does end today. There’s only one more tournament left on the schedule, the lowly Tier III Bell Challenge in Quebec, Canada, which begins today. The Tour Championships begin November 5th, and none of the Russians listed above are playing in Quebec.

So get this: Just as many Americans qualified for the Tour Championships as Russians (if you count Chakvetadze, that is, and no true Slav would do so — if not, America qualified twice as many). Americans also took two grand slam titles this year — Russians took none. So much for Russian “dominance” eh?

What happened to the much ballyhooed Maria Sharapova? Over the weekend Daniela Hantuchova, formerly #9 on the 2007 results list (known as the “Sony Race to the Championships“), easily crushed Patty Schnyder to take the tour title in Linz, Austria. This booted Shamapova out of the #8 slot, down to ineligible #9. Sharapova can go to Madrid only if one of the players above her withdraws (it looks like Venus Williams may do so due to injury, more ridiculous dumb luck for Shamapova).

Sorry, Shamapova. But don’t worry, you’ve always got Playboy.

Not much good news for the Russian men, either. Yahoo! Sports reports:

Russian tennis star Nikolay Davydenko has been fined $2,000 by the ATP on Friday for a lack of effort in a second-round loss at the St. Petersburg Open. Already at the center of an ATP investigation for irregular betting patterns in a match he lost against Martin Vassallo Arguello in August, Davydenko dropped a 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 decision to unseeded Marin Cilic on Thursday. The world No. 4 and the defending champion of the event, Davydenko was warned by Belgian umpire Jean-Philippe Dercq in the final set of match for not trying hard enough. “I double-faulted to lose a game in the third set and he gave me a warning saying I was trying to lose on purpose,” said Davydenko, who also lost to Cilic last month in Beijing. “I was simply shocked to hear him say that. This is just outrageous. How does he know what I was trying to do? I was so upset with the whole thing I started crying.” Playing against the world’s 102nd-ranked player, the top-seeded Davydenko played a strong first set, but made numerous errors and committed 10 double faults during the remainder of the match. “The reality is that I started feeling tired. My legs were just dead by the third set,” Davydenko said. “Maybe my problems are psychological, maybe it’s in my head.” Cilic said he had no way of knowing why Davydenko’s play slipped, but did not think he was necessarily handed the match. “I don’t think that he was not trying. Maybe he just lost his game plan and I took advantage of that,” he said. In August, online bookmaker Betfair reported irregular betting patterns on a match involving Davydenko and Vassallo Arguello, ranked 87th at the time, at the Poland Open in Sopot. Around 10 times the usual amount of bets were placed on the match, most picking the Vassallo Arguello to win. Davydenko was trailing that match, 2-6, 6-2, 2-1, when he withdrew with a foot injury, prompting the betting exchange to report the matter to the ATP. That led to an ATP investigation, which is ongoing. Since that incident in August, various other professional tennis players have stated that they have been approached by those with gambling interests. Russian Dmitry Tursunov told Sports Illustrated earlier this year that he received an anonymous phone call in his hotel room last year from a person who offered him cash to fix a match.

At the St. Petersburg tournament in Russia which ended yesterday, only one Russian man made the quarter finals (the unknown Igor Kunitsyn) and the finals were contested between two non-Russians after Davydenko, the #1 seed, lost his first match to an unseeded player who would go on to retire from an injury in his second match. The #7 seed, Russian Mikhail Youzhny, also lost his opening match to an unseeded player, as did the #6 seed Dmitry Tursunov. In other words, total humiliation.

Situation normal in Russian tennis: All fouled up, but pretending to be “dominant.”

As if.

October 28, 2007 — Contents


(1) The Sunday Photos

(2) The Sunday Sin

(3) The Sunday Travel Section

(4) The Sunday Charity

(5) The Sunday Funnies

NOTE: Robert Amsterdam provides YouTubes of a new documentary on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.