Daily Archives: November 2, 2007

November 2, 2007 — Contents

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 2 CONTENTS

(1) The Putin Era is Only Just Beginning

(2) Bovt on the Putin Campaign Trail

(3) Pankin says: “Ooops!”

(4) Politkovskaya Speaks

(5) The Evil Dr. Putin and his Tiiiiiiiny Army of Robots

The Putin Era is Only Just Beginning

The Frontline Club reports:

A decade ago Russia was on its knees. Today it is an energy giant in a world with an apparently unslakeable thirst for oil. As its wealth grows, so does Moscow’s desire to re-establish itself on the world stage. Overtures to Hamas, nuclear co-operation with Iran, and a sharing of Serbia’s concerns over Kosovo are just three areas where the Kremlin has been flexing its muscles.

Which is why Russia’s forthcoming elections matter.

Voting in the parliamentary polls is set for Sunday December 2nd. At stake are 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma. United Russia, which is the biggest party in the current Duma, will retain the lion’s share. The question is how large their majority will be, and what it will allow them to do. President Putin has made two moves since the end of the summer which wrong-footed even most seasoned Kremlin-watchers.

The first was to appoint Viktor Zubkov as Prime Minister. Moscow’s political class was taken by surprise. Those who had predicted that Mr Putin planned to return to the top job smiled smugly. Mr Zubkov’s emergence from obscurity fitted in perfectly with what you might call the “third man, third term” theory. “Third man” because the candidate is someone other than the two men who have most frequently been spoken of as Mr Putin’s successor. They are Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev. Both currently hold the post of First Deputy Prime Minister. Both held on to their posts when Mr Zubkov’s cabinet was announced following his appointment as Prime Minister. So they could still be in the race, but from a weakened starting position. Mr Putin’s penchant for springing surprises means nothing can be completely ruled out. “Third term” because, according to this theory, a political unknown suddenly appears centre stage. He receives Mr Putin’s endorsement as his favoured successor. That ensures his triumph in the presidential election in March. Then, perhaps having served one term, perhaps stepping down early on grounds of ill health, he makes way for Mr Putin.

Mr Putin’s second surprise fits in with this theory, too. He agreed to take first place on United Russia’s party list for the parliamentary election. That doesn’t mean he has to take up a seat in the Duma. It does mean United Russia’s share of the vote is likely to surge even higher. Opinion polls here credit Mr Putin with a popularity most politicians in the west can only dream of. Just being able to use his name guarantees a boost at the ballot box. If United Russia get enough votes to deliver them more than two thirds of the seats in the new Duma, they will be able to vote through changes in the Russian constitution. They could perhaps use that to lengthen the presidential term from four to five, or even seven, years. Some officials and analysts close to the Kremlin have been preparing the ground for Vladimir Putin to stay around for a long time. “The Putin era is only just beginning,” is a phrase which has been heard more and more frequently over the last few months.

There even seems to be a special speech prepared for British journalists. President Putin’s possible return to power is compared to Winston Churchill’s comeback as Prime Minister. I first heard this from Sergei Stepashin – former head of the FSB (the main successor agency to the KGB) and, briefly in the 1990s, Prime Minister. Subsequently other sources have made the same comparison – apparently in an attempt to show that there’s nothing undemocratic in what’s going on.

It certainly feels unusual. Those media outlets who are less than totally loyal to the Kremlin have been reporting that a top official from the presidential administration spent part of the late summer touring the country. His trip involved chats with regional governors – supposedly instructing them which party should get what share of the vote in their area. There have been changes in the election law which would seem to make any upset even less likely. A party now needs to secure seven percent of the vote to get any seats. Russians used to have the satisfaction of knowing they could vote “against all”. It was a permitted protest. That’s gone. The law stipulated that if enough people exercised this right, the ballot would be invalid. No one in the Kremlin wanted to take the risk of that happening. It seems inconceivable now that Vladimir Putin will somehow contrive to stand in March’s presidential poll. The way that things are shaping up, he can stay in power without doing so. He has hinted he might become Prime Minister – thereby perhaps biding his time until the presidential seat becomes free again.

It may not be that simple. Some observers here suggest that if Mr Putin has future presidential ambitions, he’s taking a huge risk by leaving office at all. Yes, in Mr Zubkov he has a possible presidential successor who is coming towards the end of his working life. Yes, the constitution permits Mr Putin to run again afterwards. But the Russian system is strongly based around one man. So even if the next president is initially dismissed as a stop-gap, he might get other ideas once his feet are under the table. Russia is on the edge of uncharted territory. As one analyst close to the Kremlin pointed out recently, Russia’s tsars, and the general secretaries of the Soviet Communist party, died in office. When they stood down, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin both had approval ratings of around one per cent.

To have a popular ex-leader still in the land of the living is something new.

Bovt on the Campaign Trail of Putin

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Georgy Bovt (pictured) explores how Vladimir Putin hopes to win votes and influence Russia:

Russians are gathering in public squares all across the country in support of “Putin’s Plan” and calling for the president to remain in power after March 2008.

Many demonstrators are making direct appeals to change the Constitution to allow for a third presidential term. Others hope that Putin will become a sort of “national leader” by preserving all of the powers he now has even after he abandons the presidential post. From a legal perspective, this is completely ludicrous. Unlike Iran, there is no such government position of “spiritual leader,” but this doesn’t seem to faze his loyal supporters.

The people who are organizing these demonstrations try to present this outpouring of support as a grassroots movement. During a recent radio interview, lawyer Pavel Astakhov claimed that he travelled around the country attending pro-Putin demonstrations on his own money and that all of these meetings were initiated by “ordinary people.” Astakhov related how in one city, an “ordinary doctor” was able to get permission from the mayor to hold a meeting in the town’s main square, where 15,000 people showed up. Meanwhile, the press published copies of telegrams and official directives addressed to various organizations and universities that required a certain number of their employees and students to attend pro-Putin rallies,

Members of Russia’s intelligentsia are also quite active in this initiative. A minor scandal broke out last week after filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov and sculptor Zurab Tsereteli signed their names to a letter that called for Putin to remain in power.

There is no shortage of people willing to rewrite the Constitution to suit Putin. And Sergei Mironov, the Federation Council speaker and head of A Just Russia, got all excited about the possibility of Putin staying in power without having to make any changes to the Constitution. In theory, this is possible, but it would require amending a federal election law to allow Putin to run again for the post of president after leaving office before his second term expired. Putin is unlikely to agree to this idea because it is too crude and ludicrous. It would be simpler and more honest to simply change the Constitution to achieve the same goal.

The problem is that Putin, during the EU-Russia summit last week, rejected that possibility — probably for the 100th time. He also said that he had no plans to shift presidential powers to the prime minister post, as many have speculated.

What is the purpose of the hysterical propaganda campaigns, the servile appeals to the president and the clumsy attempts to rewrite the law?

I believe that the whole thing is really a brilliant tactic by Kremlin strategists to get the public interested in the State Duma elections. If Putin had not chosen to head United Russia’s ticket, if there was none of the wild speculation about what position Putin will hold after his presidential term expires, and if television did not bombard its viewers with reports of countrywide demonstrations lauding “Putin’s Plan,” how could the Kremlin otherwise get the people intrigued with politics and maintain their interest in the Duma elections?

It is truly hard to imagine that an entire election campaign can be conducted without discussing a single important social issue, especially when there are so many to choose from — for example, the rising cost of food, ethnic relations and the struggle against immigrants. And of course, there is the old standby: the threat of a U.S.-sponsored Orange Revolution.

By focusing exclusively on the president, the election campaign has become devoid of any real substance. On the other hand, however, it has really sparked the people’s interest in the elections. Having achieved this, what will Putin’s next step be? This will be decided only after Dec. 2.

Pankin Says Oops

Remember that scene in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai where the British officer finally comes to his senses and realizes that he’s been helping the Japanense to win World War II? Remember the look on his face as the horrible truth strikes him? It would seem that look is just now creeping over the creepy visage of Russophile bagman Alexei Pankin. From the Moscow Times:

We are seeing a definite “Brezhnevization” of politics. This became obvious after United Russia’s recent congress and President Vladimir Putin’s elaborate 55th birthday celebration. This phenomenon continues to excite the media and the public. Radio stations Ekho Moskvy and Radio Svoboda have repeatedly commented upon state television’s sycophantic coverage of Putin. They continue to receive calls from listeners disturbed by the praises on television that have clearly gone beyond all reasonable boundaries.

The scandal began when Izvestia recently refused to publish a television review by its regular media columnist, Irina Petrovskaya. She had the gall to criticize a program on Rossia state television in which noted filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov flooded Putin with excessive, overly sentimental words of praise. A storm of protest over the newspaper’s censorship broke out on the Internet. In the end, Izvestia did run Petrovskaya’s piece a few days later, but only alongside another article by a staff journalist who expressed an opposing opinion.

Two days later, Izvestia ran testimonials by prominent members of the Russian intelligentsia who defended Mikhalkov’s inalienable right to openly express his love for the president. And, on Thursday’s NTV program “To the Barrier,” Mikhalkov got all worked up in his debate with writer Viktor Yerofeyev over the same subject — whether it is appropriate for a public figure like Mikhalkov to express his admiration for the president in this way over the airwaves.

Even the dog walkers in my neighborhood with whom I chat were talking about Putin’s personality cult. In my experience, these conversations with simple Muscovites serve as the most reliable and accurate barometer of the general mood in the country.

Behind the signs of a new Brezhnev era, I understand that Putin’s cunning strategy is aimed at pushing the siloviki out of politics and creating a two-party system with a strong opposition. Judge for yourself: Putin’s decision to head United Russia’s federal ticket by itself marginalized A Just Russia. Many observers believe that A Just Russia was created by Kremlin siloviki as a counterweight to United Russia, the brainchild of Kremlin “liberals.” The siloviki ideology calls for a strong hand to correct the injustices caused by Boris Yeltsin’s years in office. Considering the siloviki’s way of doing things, it is unpleasant to even imagine what might happen if they were to strengthen their position.

Right now, the leaders of A Just Russia’s untiringly swear their loyalty to Putin, and this is similar to when a dog, after being punished by his owner, continues to wag its tail and lick its master’s face. As a result, the party is losing the respect of its electorate, which could logically switch its allegiance to the Communist Party instead.

On the other hand, today’s obvious movement toward Brezhnevism is a genuine cause for alarm among democratic voters. From what I have observed, a significant number of them who would normally vote for the Union of Right Forces or Yabloko for ideological reasons might now vote for the Communists out of expediency.

Thus we see the marginalization of the siloviki and the formation of a solid opposition — all thanks to the wisdom of Putin, who has developed his own personality cult.

If you think such views are nothing but the ravings of a lunatic, then you have not been watching television lately. The television stations are constantly telling us that Putin is a great leader, that he is wise and all-powerful, that nothing happens without his approval and that he thinks day and night of how to build a democratic society for the motherland. How could we, mere mortals, not believe what we see and hear on television? And after all, how otherwise could democracy be built in our country?

Politkovskaya Speaks

Jeremy Putley points out that Index For Free Expression republishes a 2002 interview with Politkovskaya in honor of the somber one-year anniversary of her killing:

The journalist and author Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated on 7 October 2006. To mark the first anniversary of her death, Index here reproduces this interview with Politkovskaya, which originally appeared in Index on Censorship in 2002. At the time, Politkovskaya was living in Vienna: she had moved there after receiving death threats following her reports on Chechnya. The interview is a reminder of her remarkable courage in the face of increasing intimidation. It also gives an insight into her motivation and integrity: ‘If people in my country have no protection from this lawless regime, that means I survive here while others are dying… People who were my witnesses and informants in Chechyna have died for that reason, and that reason alone, as soon as I left their homes. If it again proves the case, then how can I go on living abroad while others are dying in my place?’ Index calls on the Russian authorities to conduct a fair, exhaustive and unprejudiced investigation into Anna Politkovskaya’s murder.

Just before my last trip to Chechnya in mid-September my colleagues at Novaya gazeta began receiving threats and were told to pass on the message: I shouldn’t go to Chechnya any more, they said, because if I did my life would be in danger. As always, our paper has its ‘own people’ in the General Staff and the Ministry of Defence – I mean those who shares similar views to our own. We spoke to people at the ministry but, despite their advice, I did go back to Chechnya, only to find myself blockaded in the capital, Grozny. The city was sealed off after a series of strange events there. Controls were so tight you couldn’t even move between different districts within the city, let alone make your way out of Grozny on foot. On that day, 17 September, a helicopter carrying a commission, headed by Major-General Anatoly Pozdnyakov, from the General Staff in Moscow was shot down directly over the city. The general was engaged in work quite unprecedented for a soldier in Chechnya.

Only an hour before the helicopter was shot down, he told me the task of his commission was to gather data on crimes committed by the military, analyse their findings, put them in some order and then submit the information for the president’s consideration. Nothing of the kind had been done before. The helicopter in which they were flying out of Grozny was shot down almost exactly over the city centre. All the members of the commission perished, and since they were already on their way to Khankala airbase to take a plane back to Moscow, so did all the material they had collected.

That part of the story was published by Novaya gazeta. Before the 19 September issue was sent to the printers, our chief editor Dmitry Muratov was summoned to the Ministry of Defence (or so I understand) and asked to explain how on earth such allegations could be made. He gave them an answer after which the pressure really began. There should be no publication, he was told. Nevertheless he decided to go ahead, publishing a very truncated version of what I had written.

At that point, the very people at the ministry who had declared our report to be false, now conceded it was true. But they began to warn of new threats: they had learned that certain people had run out of patience with my articles. It was, in other words, the same kind of conversation as before my last trip to Chechnya. Then someone started saying there were threats from a particular officer, a Lieutenant Larin, whom I had described in print as a war criminal. The deaths and torture of several people lie on his conscience and the evidence against him is incontrovertible. Soon there were warnings that I’d better stay at home. Meanwhile the Internal Affairs Ministry would track down and arrest this self-appointed military hitman, and Deputy Minister Vasilyev would himself take charge of the operation.

I was supposed to remain at our apartment and go nowhere. They made no progress in finding Larin, however, and I began to realise that it was simply another way of making me stop work. The newspaper decided I should leave the country until the editors were sure I could again live a normal life and resume my work.

The paper was forced to omit from my story the sort of detail that is vital to the credibility of an article like this, which suggested the military themselves had downed the helicopter. All my subsequent difficulties began with those details. If these details surface, the ministry of defence told our chief editor, then that’s the end for you …

In fact, since I was moving around the city at the time, I can personally testify to what happened, as can otheres who were there with me. And these were no ordinary citizens, I may add: among them were Chechen policemen and Grozny Energy Company employees who, like me, were trapped inside the city. FSB General Platonov was also there: currently he serves as a deputy to Anatoly Chubais, chief executive of United Energy Systems. All of these people saw and knew exactly what I know. Platonov is not only Chubais’ deputy but remains a deputy to the FSB director Patrushev. And no one else saw and knew as much about what happened as General Platonov – he couldn’t help but see it. Not one person was allowed into the city centre after 9am. that morning. And yet a helicopter was downed there.

Different branches of the military are split over future policy in Chechnya. There are good reasons why the recent public statements of defence ministry spokesmen all repeat the same phrases: ‘We deny the possibility of negotiations’; ‘it’s out of the question’; ‘We are just doing our job’. Indeed they are: their ‘sweep and cleanse’ operations have become even more brutal. Let us suppose that those representing certain other branches of the military on the ground in Chechnya are pursuing a rather different policy. That is where you should seek the reason for the deaths of all the commission members. I’m just a small cog in that machine – someone who happened to be in the thick of events when no other journalists were around.

Those who want to continue fighting seem to have the upper hand; they represent the more powerful section within the Combined Forces Group (CFG). To avoid repetition of the disastrous lack of coordination between ministries of defence and internal affairs and the FSB during the first Chechen conflict in 1994-96, overall command of army, police and other paramilitary and special units in the present war was given to the military. Although the FSB supposedly now exercise overall control of the ‘anti-terrorist operation’, the military are too strong for them. On the fateful day the helicopter was downed and the commission perished, not even servicemen and officers were permitted to enter the central, cordoned-off area of Grozny. Only defence ministry officials were allowed through. Even FSB and ministry o justice people were kept out; that was extraordinary. No one was permitted to enter the area where the helicopter was about to fall. Representatives of other military bodies and organisations, even ranking officers, had no right to go there.

I don’t think we should expect much from the defence ministry, nor from President Putin [in light of the US-led campaign in Afghanistan]. He has received carte blanche to take the measures and employ the forces that he considers necessary in Chechnya. I’m thinking of Tony Blair’s recent activities and words spoken by Chancellor Schroeder when Putin was visiting Germany. As you know, it was then said that Europe should re-examine its stance on Chechnya.

Their position was already rather feeble and bore no relation to the real state of affairs in Chechnya concerning the abuse of human rights. If, however, they are going to alter that position then it’s clear what will happen. In practical terms they’ll support Putin. Whatever he does will be fine by them. I think he’s been working steadily and persistently towards that end for some time. And, I’m sure he’ll make good use of it now. There’s been a battle to see whose nerve is stronger, and it’s not for the first time during the present war. Putin held back [over the west’s own ‘anti-terrorist operation’] for some while: we shan’t support the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, he said, but we’ll offer them back up. Then he nevertheless agreed to supply them with arms and, evidently, advisers. In exchange he received a free hand in Chechnya. That’s the way things are likely to go, I’m afraid.

I can’t say when it will happen, but whatever happens there will be a more intensive ‘liquidation of Chechen partisans’. As always in Russia, however, it all depends on the methods to be used. What will the ‘liquidation of Chechen bandits’ amount to this time? Will they herd everyone into concentration camps, or hold repeated sweep operations in all the population centres in Chechnya?

I can’t answer for [Chechen president] Maskhadov, but will offer a brief analysis of his actions. In my view, he is doing nothing whatsoever. He has retreated into his shell and is thinking, to the exclusion of all else, about his own immediate future – he’s forgotten the Chechen nation. Just as the federal authorities in Moscow have abandoned the Chechens, so now have the other side. The nation has to fend for itself, with no leadership or protection. It survives as best it can. If people need to take revenge for their tortured and murdered relatives, they will. If they need to say nothing, they’ll keep their mouths shut. In such circumstances, which are the equivalent of a civil war, and under continuing pressure from the federal forces, no one today could say whom the Chechen nation would vote for if elections were held. No one now has any idea whom they’d elect and in that respect everyone has committed the same enormous mistake.

Maskhadov has obviously been driven into a corner. That’s quite clear. But the struggle for independence has become an obsession with him, it seems to me; he will now hear of nothing else. I don’t really understand what use independence will be to him, when he, Basayev and his immediate bodyguard are all that’s left. The first duty of a president is to fight for the well being of his nation. I have my own president, and it makes no difference that I personally did not vote for Putin. He remains the most important figure in the Russian state. And I’d like him to enable me, and everyone else, to live a normal life. I’m referring to the laws that should govern our existence. I find myself in a situation, however, where no one gives a damn how I survive. I’m cut off from my family. I don’t know what will happen in the future to my two children. It is not law that rules Russia today. There’s no person and no organisation to which you can turn to be sure that the laws there are have any force.

I have no thoughts about my future. And that’s the worst of all. I just want everything to change so I go back and live in Moscow again. I can’t imagine spending any length of time here in Vienna. Or in any other place, for that matter. I must do all in my power to return to Moscow. But I have no idea when that will be.

If people in my country have no protection from this lawless regime, that means I survive here while others are dying. Over the last year I’ve been in that position too often. People who were my witnesses and informants have died for that reason, and that reason alone, as soon as I left their homes. If it again proves the case, then how can I go on living abroad while others are dying in my place?

Why feed and cure your hungry, sick population when you can build tiiiiiiny evil robots and try to take over the world?

Wired magazine reports on Russia’s latest crazed neo-Soviet gambit:

Back in the mid-1980s, a joke made the rounds that the Kremlin was preparing a major announcement: After a decade-long top-secret crash program, socialist science had succeeded in building the world’s largest microprocessor.

That was then. After sleeping through the high tech revolutions of the late 20th century, the Russian government is dumping billions into the burgeoning science of nanotechnology. The Kremlin last June announced the creation of Rosnanotekh, a state nanotechnology corporation slated for $5 billion in initial funding — an outlay that propels Russia past China in nanotech spending, and puts the country on a par with the United States in government-funded nano research.

“Nanotechnology will be the (foundation) for all industries in a science-driven economy,” said Mikhail Kovalchuk, director of Moscow’s Kurchatov Institute. “Nanotechnology will be the driving force of the Russian economy — if it can overcome the legacy of the recent past.”

Russia’s leap into nantotechnology is the sharp edge of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s push to make up for this country’s failure to develop high tech industries during the computing and biotech revolutions, and to compete globally in a field considered ripe for new discoveries. Nanotechnology is the science of assembling devices out of individual atoms or molecules. It was first theorized by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959, and today is widely expected to produce major advances in everything from pollution control to cancer treatment. It also represents a quiet admission that Siberian oil and gas, Russia’s financial wellspring, won’t last forever.

For Russia to succeed in nanotech, it must first overcome the yawning chasm between its deep intellectual resources and its economic infrastructure. Russian scientists have been quiet theoretical pioneers in nanotech since 1999, when the Russian Academy of Sciences began publishing the well-regarded Journal of Nano and Microsystem Technique. But Russia has no industry to put that research to use. When St. Petersburg hosted Russia’s first international nanotech conference last fall, the audience was noticeably bereft of Russian companies, but packed with note-scribbling headhunters from Western technology firms like Intel, Siemens and Bosch.

“We could compete in the world market, and we are interesting to foreigners in the field of new ideas,” said Sergei Kozyrev, director of the Center for Perspective Research in St. Petersburg, during the conference. “But when it comes to competition in the realm of production, to producing working samples, we find ourselves far behind other countries…. That has been our problem ever since Soviet times.”

There’s also the question of where all of Rosnanotekh’s billions will end up. Transparency International routinely rates Russia among the most corrupt countries in the world, and state enterprises are dominated by Kremlin insiders with little public accountability and oversight. Rosnanotekh will likely be no exception.

“There’s a lot of technical talent in Russia, but not all of the funds allocated to nanotech will be deployed effectively,” said Christine Peterson, a vice president at the Foresight Nanotech Institute, in an e-mail interview. “The lack of commercialization infrastructure will also be a serious handicap. Success will depend on convincing joint-venture partners from outside Russia that it is financially safe to participate.”

Rosnanotekh will be a state entity, but will be free to pursue private partnerships unburdened by direct Kremlin control. While the company will dispense the research funds, the actual work will be overseen by the Kurchatov Institute, the leafy Moscow research campus named after the father of the Soviet bomb and home to the luminaries of 20th-century Russian science. Officials at Kurchatov will oversee grants to 50 state institutes engaged in nanotech research.

At the center of Russia’s nanotech dreams is Kurchatov director Kovalchuk. The 62-year-old physicist from St. Petersburg is expansive to the point of dreaminess about the potential of nanotech. In a September lecture at a conference in Helsinki, Finland, Kovalchuk shared his vision of a postindustrial future defined by the “dematerialization of production” (write your own Marxism joke) and an energy grid fueled by nano-enabled solar and nuclear power. He envisions nothing less than a “nano revolution” that will solve the energy and environmental crises during his lifetime. “Nanotechnology is key to de-energization in the next century,” Kovalchuk told Wired News. “Coupled with bionics, it has the potential to reduce drastically the amount of energy we consume, and the corresponding waste.”

An interest in cleaner energy is also a pet interest of metals oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who sits on Rosnanotekh’s board. Prokhorov has pledged to channel part of his new $17 billion investment fund into developing hydrogen fuel cells using nanotech. This talk of clean and renewable energy can sound strange in Moscow. Russia is a petro-state known for its lax attitude toward domestic and international pollution. It has by far the most wasteful pipeline and electricity-transmission infrastructure of any industrialized nation, and is being outspent in alternative energy research by its fellow petro-states in the Persian Gulf.

But oil and gas are increasingly seen in Russia as a means to an end — a bridge to a clean-energy future beyond oil and gas. Kovalchuk is even hopeful that nanotech will find the magic bullet to make all carbon-based fuels obsolete: fusion power. The key, he believes, lies in the nano-engineering of the Tokamak, a magnetic-confinement device considered the leading candidate to one day produce fusion energy. Its inventors? Two Kurchatov scientists named Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov.

November 1, 2007 — Contents

THURSDAY NOVEMBER 1 CONTENTS

(1) Another Original LR Translation: Putin’s Compensation

(2) Craven Putin Fears Debate

(3) Latynina on the Cost of Democracy

(4) Uh-Oh: Annals of Russian Nuclear Energy

(5) Russia: The Combustible Country

(6) Annals of “Pacified Chechnya”: Exploding Buses

NOTE: With events breaking fast and furious in Russia these days, we are overwhelmed with a huge volume of e-mail and apologize for delays in responses. We read it all fairly quickly but may take time to respond. And by all means, keep those cards and letters coming! If you expected a response and didn’t get one, feel free to follow up. Occasionally valuable messages get wrongly identified as spam and we miss them. We are never annoyed by follow-ups. HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all LR readers across the globe!