Daily Archives: November 7, 2007

November 7, 2007 — Contents

WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 7 CONTENTS

(1) The Horror of Russian “Roadways” by the Numbers

(2) Uh-oh: The Iron Curtain Descends Once Again

(3) Annals of Russian Barbarism

(4) More Grandmothers Incinerated in Neo-Soviet Russia

(5) Oz Exposes the Horror of KGB Rule in Russia

(6) Once KGB, Always KGB

Russian Roadways by the Numbers


560,000

Total mileage of all roads in Russia, paved and unpaved

4,000,000

Miles of paved roads in the United States of America

The U.S. has nearly eight times more paved roads than Russia has total roads even though it has only 9 million square miles of territory while Russia has nearly twice as much land area (17 million square miles). This means that the U.S. has nearly 16 times the amount of paved roadway per square kilometer as Russia has total roadway (a good rough approximation of the difference between the two countries’ overall economies as well).

According to Russia’s own data, one in three Russian villages is not connected to the outside world by any type of road.

A corollary is that the U.S. consumes 21 million barrels of oil each day, while Russia consumes only a puny 2.5 million barrels, almost ten times less than America’s total. You don’t need much oil if you have no roads to drive your cars on (and if most people, earning an average wage of less than $4 per hour, can’t afford a car in the first place, then you have even less need of roadways). Another fact little acknowledged by Russian nationalists and Russophiles is that while Russia produces a lot of oil each year, about 3.5 billion barrels, America also produces a huge amount, around 3 billion barrels. It’s just that America uses all it produces and then some, while Russia has nothing but some extra cash to show for it fossil fuels, which do not really “fuel” its economy at all.

This is the country that is challenging America to a new cold war.

And so it goes in Russia.

Uh-Oh: In Neo-Soviet Russia, Regime Critics Check in but They Don’t Check Out

No sooner had the Kremlin announced a new set of restrictions on NGOs, including the ability to retain anyone in the country on allegations of having failed to pay taxes (in Russia’s arcane system, such a charge can be leveled against anyone at any time) than it started actually denying foreigners the right to leave the country. The Moscow Times reports:

The French director of the Institute for Collective Action, an NGO, was prevented from leaving the country after border guards at Sheremetyevo Airport questioned her residency permit, she said Monday. Carine Clement, a French citizen whose husband is a State Duma deputy, said she believed she might have been stopped to keep her from speaking about Russian housing scams at a conference that opened Monday in Brussels. The incident could raise new worries among nongovernmental organizations, which have complained of growing state pressure over the past two years. “The border guards would not allow me to get out of the country, saying that my residency permit is an old form and that I should have changed it into a new one,” Clement said. She said she visited Rome a month ago and that she did not have any problems leaving the country. But when she mentioned this to the border guards, she said, she was told that foreigners were supposed to change their old residency permits for new ones under a government decree that came into force one month ago.

Clement, whose residency permit expires in May, said she knew nothing about the decree. “If I find out that this decree doesn’t exist, I’m going to bring legal action against the border guards, and if I find out that the decree does exist, I’m going to contest it because we didn’t have enough time to change our residency permits,” she said. It was not immediately possible to confirm the decree Monday. All government offices were closed for a public holiday.

Clement is married to Oleg Shein, a Just Russia deputy who was elected in a single-mandate district in Astrakhan and formerly belonged to Rodina. She said she might have been prevented from leaving the country because she was supposed to report to the European Housing Forum in Brussels about the plight of Russians swindled out of new apartments by developers. “The Russian government at the moment wants to have a good reputation in European society,” she said.

The two-day forum, held under the auspices of the European Parliament, opened Monday. More than 200,000 people nationwide are believed to have paid companies for homes that were never built or that were sold to multiple buyers. Many of these people have nowhere to live and no money to buy new homes. In April, hundreds of defrauded home buyers demonstrated in Moscow, Ulyanovsk, Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Smolensk and Samara. Clement said the border guards who stopped her refused to give her their names. Calls to Sheremetyevo Airport went unanswered Monday. No one picked up the phone at the Federal Border Service, part of the FSB.

NGOs have found it more difficult to operate in Russia since a law came into force last year that increased the amount of paperwork they must keep and required them to reregister under stringent new guidelines. The law was adopted after President Vladimir Putin said he would not tolerate foreign funds being used by NGOs for political activities. Foreign-connected NGOs played key roles in regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Among the NGOs that have come under fire is the Educated Media Foundation, formerly Internews Russia, which trained regional journalists. Its head, Manana Aslamazian, has been charged with smuggling after she failed to declare 9,550 euros ($12,400) at Sheremetyevo Airport in January. She has left the country and vowed not to return until her name is cleared. Investigators raided her organization’s offices in April and seized its computers and documents amid what they called an investigation into possible money laundering and illegal business activities. Without the papers and equipment, the NGO has been forced to close.

Uh-Oh: In Neo-Soviet Russia, Regime Critics Check in but They Don’t Check Out

No sooner had the Kremlin announced a new set of restrictions on NGOs, including the ability to retain anyone in the country on allegations of having failed to pay taxes (in Russia’s arcane system, such a charge can be leveled against anyone at any time) than it started actually denying foreigners the right to leave the country. The Moscow Times reports:

The French director of the Institute for Collective Action, an NGO, was prevented from leaving the country after border guards at Sheremetyevo Airport questioned her residency permit, she said Monday. Carine Clement, a French citizen whose husband is a State Duma deputy, said she believed she might have been stopped to keep her from speaking about Russian housing scams at a conference that opened Monday in Brussels. The incident could raise new worries among nongovernmental organizations, which have complained of growing state pressure over the past two years. “The border guards would not allow me to get out of the country, saying that my residency permit is an old form and that I should have changed it into a new one,” Clement said. She said she visited Rome a month ago and that she did not have any problems leaving the country. But when she mentioned this to the border guards, she said, she was told that foreigners were supposed to change their old residency permits for new ones under a government decree that came into force one month ago.

Clement, whose residency permit expires in May, said she knew nothing about the decree. “If I find out that this decree doesn’t exist, I’m going to bring legal action against the border guards, and if I find out that the decree does exist, I’m going to contest it because we didn’t have enough time to change our residency permits,” she said. It was not immediately possible to confirm the decree Monday. All government offices were closed for a public holiday.

Clement is married to Oleg Shein, a Just Russia deputy who was elected in a single-mandate district in Astrakhan and formerly belonged to Rodina. She said she might have been prevented from leaving the country because she was supposed to report to the European Housing Forum in Brussels about the plight of Russians swindled out of new apartments by developers. “The Russian government at the moment wants to have a good reputation in European society,” she said.

The two-day forum, held under the auspices of the European Parliament, opened Monday. More than 200,000 people nationwide are believed to have paid companies for homes that were never built or that were sold to multiple buyers. Many of these people have nowhere to live and no money to buy new homes. In April, hundreds of defrauded home buyers demonstrated in Moscow, Ulyanovsk, Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Smolensk and Samara. Clement said the border guards who stopped her refused to give her their names. Calls to Sheremetyevo Airport went unanswered Monday. No one picked up the phone at the Federal Border Service, part of the FSB.

NGOs have found it more difficult to operate in Russia since a law came into force last year that increased the amount of paperwork they must keep and required them to reregister under stringent new guidelines. The law was adopted after President Vladimir Putin said he would not tolerate foreign funds being used by NGOs for political activities. Foreign-connected NGOs played key roles in regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Among the NGOs that have come under fire is the Educated Media Foundation, formerly Internews Russia, which trained regional journalists. Its head, Manana Aslamazian, has been charged with smuggling after she failed to declare 9,550 euros ($12,400) at Sheremetyevo Airport in January. She has left the country and vowed not to return until her name is cleared. Investigators raided her organization’s offices in April and seized its computers and documents amid what they called an investigation into possible money laundering and illegal business activities. Without the papers and equipment, the NGO has been forced to close.

Uh-Oh: In Neo-Soviet Russia, Regime Critics Check in but They Don’t Check Out

No sooner had the Kremlin announced a new set of restrictions on NGOs, including the ability to retain anyone in the country on allegations of having failed to pay taxes (in Russia’s arcane system, such a charge can be leveled against anyone at any time) than it started actually denying foreigners the right to leave the country. The Moscow Times reports:

The French director of the Institute for Collective Action, an NGO, was prevented from leaving the country after border guards at Sheremetyevo Airport questioned her residency permit, she said Monday. Carine Clement, a French citizen whose husband is a State Duma deputy, said she believed she might have been stopped to keep her from speaking about Russian housing scams at a conference that opened Monday in Brussels. The incident could raise new worries among nongovernmental organizations, which have complained of growing state pressure over the past two years. “The border guards would not allow me to get out of the country, saying that my residency permit is an old form and that I should have changed it into a new one,” Clement said. She said she visited Rome a month ago and that she did not have any problems leaving the country. But when she mentioned this to the border guards, she said, she was told that foreigners were supposed to change their old residency permits for new ones under a government decree that came into force one month ago.

Clement, whose residency permit expires in May, said she knew nothing about the decree. “If I find out that this decree doesn’t exist, I’m going to bring legal action against the border guards, and if I find out that the decree does exist, I’m going to contest it because we didn’t have enough time to change our residency permits,” she said. It was not immediately possible to confirm the decree Monday. All government offices were closed for a public holiday.

Clement is married to Oleg Shein, a Just Russia deputy who was elected in a single-mandate district in Astrakhan and formerly belonged to Rodina. She said she might have been prevented from leaving the country because she was supposed to report to the European Housing Forum in Brussels about the plight of Russians swindled out of new apartments by developers. “The Russian government at the moment wants to have a good reputation in European society,” she said.

The two-day forum, held under the auspices of the European Parliament, opened Monday. More than 200,000 people nationwide are believed to have paid companies for homes that were never built or that were sold to multiple buyers. Many of these people have nowhere to live and no money to buy new homes. In April, hundreds of defrauded home buyers demonstrated in Moscow, Ulyanovsk, Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Smolensk and Samara. Clement said the border guards who stopped her refused to give her their names. Calls to Sheremetyevo Airport went unanswered Monday. No one picked up the phone at the Federal Border Service, part of the FSB.

NGOs have found it more difficult to operate in Russia since a law came into force last year that increased the amount of paperwork they must keep and required them to reregister under stringent new guidelines. The law was adopted after President Vladimir Putin said he would not tolerate foreign funds being used by NGOs for political activities. Foreign-connected NGOs played key roles in regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Among the NGOs that have come under fire is the Educated Media Foundation, formerly Internews Russia, which trained regional journalists. Its head, Manana Aslamazian, has been charged with smuggling after she failed to declare 9,550 euros ($12,400) at Sheremetyevo Airport in January. She has left the country and vowed not to return until her name is cleared. Investigators raided her organization’s offices in April and seized its computers and documents amid what they called an investigation into possible money laundering and illegal business activities. Without the papers and equipment, the NGO has been forced to close.

Uh-Oh: In Neo-Soviet Russia, Regime Critics Check in but They Don’t Check Out

No sooner had the Kremlin announced a new set of restrictions on NGOs, including the ability to retain anyone in the country on allegations of having failed to pay taxes (in Russia’s arcane system, such a charge can be leveled against anyone at any time) than it started actually denying foreigners the right to leave the country. The Moscow Times reports:

The French director of the Institute for Collective Action, an NGO, was prevented from leaving the country after border guards at Sheremetyevo Airport questioned her residency permit, she said Monday. Carine Clement, a French citizen whose husband is a State Duma deputy, said she believed she might have been stopped to keep her from speaking about Russian housing scams at a conference that opened Monday in Brussels. The incident could raise new worries among nongovernmental organizations, which have complained of growing state pressure over the past two years. “The border guards would not allow me to get out of the country, saying that my residency permit is an old form and that I should have changed it into a new one,” Clement said. She said she visited Rome a month ago and that she did not have any problems leaving the country. But when she mentioned this to the border guards, she said, she was told that foreigners were supposed to change their old residency permits for new ones under a government decree that came into force one month ago.

Clement, whose residency permit expires in May, said she knew nothing about the decree. “If I find out that this decree doesn’t exist, I’m going to bring legal action against the border guards, and if I find out that the decree does exist, I’m going to contest it because we didn’t have enough time to change our residency permits,” she said. It was not immediately possible to confirm the decree Monday. All government offices were closed for a public holiday.

Clement is married to Oleg Shein, a Just Russia deputy who was elected in a single-mandate district in Astrakhan and formerly belonged to Rodina. She said she might have been prevented from leaving the country because she was supposed to report to the European Housing Forum in Brussels about the plight of Russians swindled out of new apartments by developers. “The Russian government at the moment wants to have a good reputation in European society,” she said.

The two-day forum, held under the auspices of the European Parliament, opened Monday. More than 200,000 people nationwide are believed to have paid companies for homes that were never built or that were sold to multiple buyers. Many of these people have nowhere to live and no money to buy new homes. In April, hundreds of defrauded home buyers demonstrated in Moscow, Ulyanovsk, Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Smolensk and Samara. Clement said the border guards who stopped her refused to give her their names. Calls to Sheremetyevo Airport went unanswered Monday. No one picked up the phone at the Federal Border Service, part of the FSB.

NGOs have found it more difficult to operate in Russia since a law came into force last year that increased the amount of paperwork they must keep and required them to reregister under stringent new guidelines. The law was adopted after President Vladimir Putin said he would not tolerate foreign funds being used by NGOs for political activities. Foreign-connected NGOs played key roles in regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Among the NGOs that have come under fire is the Educated Media Foundation, formerly Internews Russia, which trained regional journalists. Its head, Manana Aslamazian, has been charged with smuggling after she failed to declare 9,550 euros ($12,400) at Sheremetyevo Airport in January. She has left the country and vowed not to return until her name is cleared. Investigators raided her organization’s offices in April and seized its computers and documents amid what they called an investigation into possible money laundering and illegal business activities. Without the papers and equipment, the NGO has been forced to close.

Uh-Oh: In Neo-Soviet Russia, Regime Critics Check in but They Don’t Check Out

No sooner had the Kremlin announced a new set of restrictions on NGOs, including the ability to retain anyone in the country on allegations of having failed to pay taxes (in Russia’s arcane system, such a charge can be leveled against anyone at any time) than it started actually denying foreigners the right to leave the country. The Moscow Times reports:

The French director of the Institute for Collective Action, an NGO, was prevented from leaving the country after border guards at Sheremetyevo Airport questioned her residency permit, she said Monday. Carine Clement, a French citizen whose husband is a State Duma deputy, said she believed she might have been stopped to keep her from speaking about Russian housing scams at a conference that opened Monday in Brussels. The incident could raise new worries among nongovernmental organizations, which have complained of growing state pressure over the past two years. “The border guards would not allow me to get out of the country, saying that my residency permit is an old form and that I should have changed it into a new one,” Clement said. She said she visited Rome a month ago and that she did not have any problems leaving the country. But when she mentioned this to the border guards, she said, she was told that foreigners were supposed to change their old residency permits for new ones under a government decree that came into force one month ago.

Clement, whose residency permit expires in May, said she knew nothing about the decree. “If I find out that this decree doesn’t exist, I’m going to bring legal action against the border guards, and if I find out that the decree does exist, I’m going to contest it because we didn’t have enough time to change our residency permits,” she said. It was not immediately possible to confirm the decree Monday. All government offices were closed for a public holiday.

Clement is married to Oleg Shein, a Just Russia deputy who was elected in a single-mandate district in Astrakhan and formerly belonged to Rodina. She said she might have been prevented from leaving the country because she was supposed to report to the European Housing Forum in Brussels about the plight of Russians swindled out of new apartments by developers. “The Russian government at the moment wants to have a good reputation in European society,” she said.

The two-day forum, held under the auspices of the European Parliament, opened Monday. More than 200,000 people nationwide are believed to have paid companies for homes that were never built or that were sold to multiple buyers. Many of these people have nowhere to live and no money to buy new homes. In April, hundreds of defrauded home buyers demonstrated in Moscow, Ulyanovsk, Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Smolensk and Samara. Clement said the border guards who stopped her refused to give her their names. Calls to Sheremetyevo Airport went unanswered Monday. No one picked up the phone at the Federal Border Service, part of the FSB.

NGOs have found it more difficult to operate in Russia since a law came into force last year that increased the amount of paperwork they must keep and required them to reregister under stringent new guidelines. The law was adopted after President Vladimir Putin said he would not tolerate foreign funds being used by NGOs for political activities. Foreign-connected NGOs played key roles in regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Among the NGOs that have come under fire is the Educated Media Foundation, formerly Internews Russia, which trained regional journalists. Its head, Manana Aslamazian, has been charged with smuggling after she failed to declare 9,550 euros ($12,400) at Sheremetyevo Airport in January. She has left the country and vowed not to return until her name is cleared. Investigators raided her organization’s offices in April and seized its computers and documents amid what they called an investigation into possible money laundering and illegal business activities. Without the papers and equipment, the NGO has been forced to close.

Annals of Russian Barbarism: Torture is the Kremlin’s Hobby

Radio Free Europe reports:

It took nine days of police torture for Aleksei Mikheyev to confess to a crime he never committed. No longer able to stand the blows and electric shocks, he admitted to raping and killing a 17-year-old woman to whom he had given a lift in his Russian hometown of Nizhny Novgorod. Mikheyev later retracted his confession at the prosecutor’s office. So he was taken back to the police station for another round of torture. There, he managed to break free from his captors and threw himself out of the window. “My only thought was to escape the torture,” says Mikheyev in his matter-of-fact voice. “When I jumped, I was sitting on a chair, a police officer was holding me by the shoulders, and my hands were handcuffed. I sat some three meters away from the window. I jumped so hard that I smashed through a double-pane window head first.”

Mikheyev, who is now 31, broke his spine in the fall. He will never be able to walk again.

The woman he had confessed to murdering returned home the next day. She had gone to visit friends without informing her relatives.

In Search Of Justice

In a country where torture remains a pervasive interrogation method, stories like Mikheyev’s are depressingly common.

What makes Mikheyev’s case remarkable is his determination to seek legal redress, and his success in doing so. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favor and ordered Russia to pay him 250,000 euros ($355,000) in damages — one of the largest compensations ever granted to a Russian citizen at the Strasbourg-based court.

It was a hard-won victory. Mikheyev had to endure numerous anonymous death threats and a grueling seven-year battle with Russia’s judicial system. “It was like a game of ping-pong,” he says. “I would file an application for the case to be investigated, the case would be investigated, no evidence against the policemen would be found, and the case would be closed. I would appeal, and the case would once more be investigated.”

In total, local investigators opened and closed the probe 23 times. Only after the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case was Mikheyev finally able to bring his story before a Russian court.

In November 2005, more than seven years after his ordeal, a local court sentenced two police officers to four years in prison for abuse of power.

Mikheyev says the pair has already been released. But he sounds neither surprised nor particularly upset. What he most wanted, he says, was for his country’s leadership to be brought to account. “The perpetrators were convicted, those who physically tortured me. But the fact that this is the fault of the government, of the whole system, was never addressed. Only the European Court ruled that the government, rather than individual people, is to blame,” he said.

Thousands Of Cases

Frustrated by often corrupt and indifferent courts at home, Russians are turning to the European Court of Human Rights en masse. Last year, Russian citizens lodged some 12,000 complaints with the court — one-fifth of all the cases filed that year. Ill-treatment at the hands of police is one of the most frequent grievances. Torture is so common in Russian police stations that the method used on Mikheyev even has a name: the “phone call to Putin.” It consists of inflicting electric shocks through wires attached to the victim’s earlobes.

There’s also the “crocodile,” when police pin the victim face down on the floor and pull on his limbs, or the “swallow,” when the person’s arms are painfully twisted behind his back. The most notorious is perhaps the “little elephant,” when police strap a gas mask onto the victim’s face before shutting off the air supply.

However blatant the abuse, filing a case at the European Court of Human Rights — let alone winning it — is no easy feat. And, as Mikheyev points out, not a cheap one either. Mikheyev says he largely owes his victory to a local rights group called the Committee Against Torture, which offered him precious legal and financial support.

Only a fraction of cases lodged with the court actually result in a verdict; the others are rejected for procedural shortcomings or lack of evidence. The tide of applications also means plaintiffs must wait years for a judgment. Mikheyev, for one, waited seven years. But he says these difficulties should not deter victims from seeking justice. “Don’t be afraid, fight for yourself,” he says. “Winning is possible.” Winning his case against Russia will not give him back the use of his legs. But it has given him a new sense of dignity as well as much-needed cash to foot medical bills. Before the ruling, he was surviving on a monthly pension of less than $100. Nonetheless, Mikheyev met his legal victory with a mix of joy and bitterness. “On the one hand, I understood that not everything in Russia is hopeless. On the other hand, I resented the fact that this had to be settled at the European Court instead of here,” he says.

Has his example helped curb police torture in his city, or in Russia? Hard to say, Mikheyev says, citing the case of another young man in Nizhny Novogorod who last month threw himself out of a police station’s window to escape torture. The Committee Against Torture says charges of police abuse in the city soared following Mikheyev’s victory at the European Court of Human Rights. But the committee says this doesn’t mean police torture is growing. What is growing is the number of victims who, thanks to Mikheyev, now know that those responsible can be held to account.

Annals of Russian Barbarism: Torture is the Kremlin’s Hobby

Radio Free Europe reports:

It took nine days of police torture for Aleksei Mikheyev to confess to a crime he never committed. No longer able to stand the blows and electric shocks, he admitted to raping and killing a 17-year-old woman to whom he had given a lift in his Russian hometown of Nizhny Novgorod. Mikheyev later retracted his confession at the prosecutor’s office. So he was taken back to the police station for another round of torture. There, he managed to break free from his captors and threw himself out of the window. “My only thought was to escape the torture,” says Mikheyev in his matter-of-fact voice. “When I jumped, I was sitting on a chair, a police officer was holding me by the shoulders, and my hands were handcuffed. I sat some three meters away from the window. I jumped so hard that I smashed through a double-pane window head first.”

Mikheyev, who is now 31, broke his spine in the fall. He will never be able to walk again.

The woman he had confessed to murdering returned home the next day. She had gone to visit friends without informing her relatives.

In Search Of Justice

In a country where torture remains a pervasive interrogation method, stories like Mikheyev’s are depressingly common.

What makes Mikheyev’s case remarkable is his determination to seek legal redress, and his success in doing so. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favor and ordered Russia to pay him 250,000 euros ($355,000) in damages — one of the largest compensations ever granted to a Russian citizen at the Strasbourg-based court.

It was a hard-won victory. Mikheyev had to endure numerous anonymous death threats and a grueling seven-year battle with Russia’s judicial system. “It was like a game of ping-pong,” he says. “I would file an application for the case to be investigated, the case would be investigated, no evidence against the policemen would be found, and the case would be closed. I would appeal, and the case would once more be investigated.”

In total, local investigators opened and closed the probe 23 times. Only after the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case was Mikheyev finally able to bring his story before a Russian court.

In November 2005, more than seven years after his ordeal, a local court sentenced two police officers to four years in prison for abuse of power.

Mikheyev says the pair has already been released. But he sounds neither surprised nor particularly upset. What he most wanted, he says, was for his country’s leadership to be brought to account. “The perpetrators were convicted, those who physically tortured me. But the fact that this is the fault of the government, of the whole system, was never addressed. Only the European Court ruled that the government, rather than individual people, is to blame,” he said.

Thousands Of Cases

Frustrated by often corrupt and indifferent courts at home, Russians are turning to the European Court of Human Rights en masse. Last year, Russian citizens lodged some 12,000 complaints with the court — one-fifth of all the cases filed that year. Ill-treatment at the hands of police is one of the most frequent grievances. Torture is so common in Russian police stations that the method used on Mikheyev even has a name: the “phone call to Putin.” It consists of inflicting electric shocks through wires attached to the victim’s earlobes.

There’s also the “crocodile,” when police pin the victim face down on the floor and pull on his limbs, or the “swallow,” when the person’s arms are painfully twisted behind his back. The most notorious is perhaps the “little elephant,” when police strap a gas mask onto the victim’s face before shutting off the air supply.

However blatant the abuse, filing a case at the European Court of Human Rights — let alone winning it — is no easy feat. And, as Mikheyev points out, not a cheap one either. Mikheyev says he largely owes his victory to a local rights group called the Committee Against Torture, which offered him precious legal and financial support.

Only a fraction of cases lodged with the court actually result in a verdict; the others are rejected for procedural shortcomings or lack of evidence. The tide of applications also means plaintiffs must wait years for a judgment. Mikheyev, for one, waited seven years. But he says these difficulties should not deter victims from seeking justice. “Don’t be afraid, fight for yourself,” he says. “Winning is possible.” Winning his case against Russia will not give him back the use of his legs. But it has given him a new sense of dignity as well as much-needed cash to foot medical bills. Before the ruling, he was surviving on a monthly pension of less than $100. Nonetheless, Mikheyev met his legal victory with a mix of joy and bitterness. “On the one hand, I understood that not everything in Russia is hopeless. On the other hand, I resented the fact that this had to be settled at the European Court instead of here,” he says.

Has his example helped curb police torture in his city, or in Russia? Hard to say, Mikheyev says, citing the case of another young man in Nizhny Novogorod who last month threw himself out of a police station’s window to escape torture. The Committee Against Torture says charges of police abuse in the city soared following Mikheyev’s victory at the European Court of Human Rights. But the committee says this doesn’t mean police torture is growing. What is growing is the number of victims who, thanks to Mikheyev, now know that those responsible can be held to account.

Annals of Russian Barbarism: Torture is the Kremlin’s Hobby

Radio Free Europe reports:

It took nine days of police torture for Aleksei Mikheyev to confess to a crime he never committed. No longer able to stand the blows and electric shocks, he admitted to raping and killing a 17-year-old woman to whom he had given a lift in his Russian hometown of Nizhny Novgorod. Mikheyev later retracted his confession at the prosecutor’s office. So he was taken back to the police station for another round of torture. There, he managed to break free from his captors and threw himself out of the window. “My only thought was to escape the torture,” says Mikheyev in his matter-of-fact voice. “When I jumped, I was sitting on a chair, a police officer was holding me by the shoulders, and my hands were handcuffed. I sat some three meters away from the window. I jumped so hard that I smashed through a double-pane window head first.”

Mikheyev, who is now 31, broke his spine in the fall. He will never be able to walk again.

The woman he had confessed to murdering returned home the next day. She had gone to visit friends without informing her relatives.

In Search Of Justice

In a country where torture remains a pervasive interrogation method, stories like Mikheyev’s are depressingly common.

What makes Mikheyev’s case remarkable is his determination to seek legal redress, and his success in doing so. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favor and ordered Russia to pay him 250,000 euros ($355,000) in damages — one of the largest compensations ever granted to a Russian citizen at the Strasbourg-based court.

It was a hard-won victory. Mikheyev had to endure numerous anonymous death threats and a grueling seven-year battle with Russia’s judicial system. “It was like a game of ping-pong,” he says. “I would file an application for the case to be investigated, the case would be investigated, no evidence against the policemen would be found, and the case would be closed. I would appeal, and the case would once more be investigated.”

In total, local investigators opened and closed the probe 23 times. Only after the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case was Mikheyev finally able to bring his story before a Russian court.

In November 2005, more than seven years after his ordeal, a local court sentenced two police officers to four years in prison for abuse of power.

Mikheyev says the pair has already been released. But he sounds neither surprised nor particularly upset. What he most wanted, he says, was for his country’s leadership to be brought to account. “The perpetrators were convicted, those who physically tortured me. But the fact that this is the fault of the government, of the whole system, was never addressed. Only the European Court ruled that the government, rather than individual people, is to blame,” he said.

Thousands Of Cases

Frustrated by often corrupt and indifferent courts at home, Russians are turning to the European Court of Human Rights en masse. Last year, Russian citizens lodged some 12,000 complaints with the court — one-fifth of all the cases filed that year. Ill-treatment at the hands of police is one of the most frequent grievances. Torture is so common in Russian police stations that the method used on Mikheyev even has a name: the “phone call to Putin.” It consists of inflicting electric shocks through wires attached to the victim’s earlobes.

There’s also the “crocodile,” when police pin the victim face down on the floor and pull on his limbs, or the “swallow,” when the person’s arms are painfully twisted behind his back. The most notorious is perhaps the “little elephant,” when police strap a gas mask onto the victim’s face before shutting off the air supply.

However blatant the abuse, filing a case at the European Court of Human Rights — let alone winning it — is no easy feat. And, as Mikheyev points out, not a cheap one either. Mikheyev says he largely owes his victory to a local rights group called the Committee Against Torture, which offered him precious legal and financial support.

Only a fraction of cases lodged with the court actually result in a verdict; the others are rejected for procedural shortcomings or lack of evidence. The tide of applications also means plaintiffs must wait years for a judgment. Mikheyev, for one, waited seven years. But he says these difficulties should not deter victims from seeking justice. “Don’t be afraid, fight for yourself,” he says. “Winning is possible.” Winning his case against Russia will not give him back the use of his legs. But it has given him a new sense of dignity as well as much-needed cash to foot medical bills. Before the ruling, he was surviving on a monthly pension of less than $100. Nonetheless, Mikheyev met his legal victory with a mix of joy and bitterness. “On the one hand, I understood that not everything in Russia is hopeless. On the other hand, I resented the fact that this had to be settled at the European Court instead of here,” he says.

Has his example helped curb police torture in his city, or in Russia? Hard to say, Mikheyev says, citing the case of another young man in Nizhny Novogorod who last month threw himself out of a police station’s window to escape torture. The Committee Against Torture says charges of police abuse in the city soared following Mikheyev’s victory at the European Court of Human Rights. But the committee says this doesn’t mean police torture is growing. What is growing is the number of victims who, thanks to Mikheyev, now know that those responsible can be held to account.

Annals of Russian Barbarism: Torture is the Kremlin’s Hobby

Radio Free Europe reports:

It took nine days of police torture for Aleksei Mikheyev to confess to a crime he never committed. No longer able to stand the blows and electric shocks, he admitted to raping and killing a 17-year-old woman to whom he had given a lift in his Russian hometown of Nizhny Novgorod. Mikheyev later retracted his confession at the prosecutor’s office. So he was taken back to the police station for another round of torture. There, he managed to break free from his captors and threw himself out of the window. “My only thought was to escape the torture,” says Mikheyev in his matter-of-fact voice. “When I jumped, I was sitting on a chair, a police officer was holding me by the shoulders, and my hands were handcuffed. I sat some three meters away from the window. I jumped so hard that I smashed through a double-pane window head first.”

Mikheyev, who is now 31, broke his spine in the fall. He will never be able to walk again.

The woman he had confessed to murdering returned home the next day. She had gone to visit friends without informing her relatives.

In Search Of Justice

In a country where torture remains a pervasive interrogation method, stories like Mikheyev’s are depressingly common.

What makes Mikheyev’s case remarkable is his determination to seek legal redress, and his success in doing so. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favor and ordered Russia to pay him 250,000 euros ($355,000) in damages — one of the largest compensations ever granted to a Russian citizen at the Strasbourg-based court.

It was a hard-won victory. Mikheyev had to endure numerous anonymous death threats and a grueling seven-year battle with Russia’s judicial system. “It was like a game of ping-pong,” he says. “I would file an application for the case to be investigated, the case would be investigated, no evidence against the policemen would be found, and the case would be closed. I would appeal, and the case would once more be investigated.”

In total, local investigators opened and closed the probe 23 times. Only after the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case was Mikheyev finally able to bring his story before a Russian court.

In November 2005, more than seven years after his ordeal, a local court sentenced two police officers to four years in prison for abuse of power.

Mikheyev says the pair has already been released. But he sounds neither surprised nor particularly upset. What he most wanted, he says, was for his country’s leadership to be brought to account. “The perpetrators were convicted, those who physically tortured me. But the fact that this is the fault of the government, of the whole system, was never addressed. Only the European Court ruled that the government, rather than individual people, is to blame,” he said.

Thousands Of Cases

Frustrated by often corrupt and indifferent courts at home, Russians are turning to the European Court of Human Rights en masse. Last year, Russian citizens lodged some 12,000 complaints with the court — one-fifth of all the cases filed that year. Ill-treatment at the hands of police is one of the most frequent grievances. Torture is so common in Russian police stations that the method used on Mikheyev even has a name: the “phone call to Putin.” It consists of inflicting electric shocks through wires attached to the victim’s earlobes.

There’s also the “crocodile,” when police pin the victim face down on the floor and pull on his limbs, or the “swallow,” when the person’s arms are painfully twisted behind his back. The most notorious is perhaps the “little elephant,” when police strap a gas mask onto the victim’s face before shutting off the air supply.

However blatant the abuse, filing a case at the European Court of Human Rights — let alone winning it — is no easy feat. And, as Mikheyev points out, not a cheap one either. Mikheyev says he largely owes his victory to a local rights group called the Committee Against Torture, which offered him precious legal and financial support.

Only a fraction of cases lodged with the court actually result in a verdict; the others are rejected for procedural shortcomings or lack of evidence. The tide of applications also means plaintiffs must wait years for a judgment. Mikheyev, for one, waited seven years. But he says these difficulties should not deter victims from seeking justice. “Don’t be afraid, fight for yourself,” he says. “Winning is possible.” Winning his case against Russia will not give him back the use of his legs. But it has given him a new sense of dignity as well as much-needed cash to foot medical bills. Before the ruling, he was surviving on a monthly pension of less than $100. Nonetheless, Mikheyev met his legal victory with a mix of joy and bitterness. “On the one hand, I understood that not everything in Russia is hopeless. On the other hand, I resented the fact that this had to be settled at the European Court instead of here,” he says.

Has his example helped curb police torture in his city, or in Russia? Hard to say, Mikheyev says, citing the case of another young man in Nizhny Novogorod who last month threw himself out of a police station’s window to escape torture. The Committee Against Torture says charges of police abuse in the city soared following Mikheyev’s victory at the European Court of Human Rights. But the committee says this doesn’t mean police torture is growing. What is growing is the number of victims who, thanks to Mikheyev, now know that those responsible can be held to account.

Annals of Russian Barbarism: Torture is the Kremlin’s Hobby

Radio Free Europe reports:

It took nine days of police torture for Aleksei Mikheyev to confess to a crime he never committed. No longer able to stand the blows and electric shocks, he admitted to raping and killing a 17-year-old woman to whom he had given a lift in his Russian hometown of Nizhny Novgorod. Mikheyev later retracted his confession at the prosecutor’s office. So he was taken back to the police station for another round of torture. There, he managed to break free from his captors and threw himself out of the window. “My only thought was to escape the torture,” says Mikheyev in his matter-of-fact voice. “When I jumped, I was sitting on a chair, a police officer was holding me by the shoulders, and my hands were handcuffed. I sat some three meters away from the window. I jumped so hard that I smashed through a double-pane window head first.”

Mikheyev, who is now 31, broke his spine in the fall. He will never be able to walk again.

The woman he had confessed to murdering returned home the next day. She had gone to visit friends without informing her relatives.

In Search Of Justice

In a country where torture remains a pervasive interrogation method, stories like Mikheyev’s are depressingly common.

What makes Mikheyev’s case remarkable is his determination to seek legal redress, and his success in doing so. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favor and ordered Russia to pay him 250,000 euros ($355,000) in damages — one of the largest compensations ever granted to a Russian citizen at the Strasbourg-based court.

It was a hard-won victory. Mikheyev had to endure numerous anonymous death threats and a grueling seven-year battle with Russia’s judicial system. “It was like a game of ping-pong,” he says. “I would file an application for the case to be investigated, the case would be investigated, no evidence against the policemen would be found, and the case would be closed. I would appeal, and the case would once more be investigated.”

In total, local investigators opened and closed the probe 23 times. Only after the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case was Mikheyev finally able to bring his story before a Russian court.

In November 2005, more than seven years after his ordeal, a local court sentenced two police officers to four years in prison for abuse of power.

Mikheyev says the pair has already been released. But he sounds neither surprised nor particularly upset. What he most wanted, he says, was for his country’s leadership to be brought to account. “The perpetrators were convicted, those who physically tortured me. But the fact that this is the fault of the government, of the whole system, was never addressed. Only the European Court ruled that the government, rather than individual people, is to blame,” he said.

Thousands Of Cases

Frustrated by often corrupt and indifferent courts at home, Russians are turning to the European Court of Human Rights en masse. Last year, Russian citizens lodged some 12,000 complaints with the court — one-fifth of all the cases filed that year. Ill-treatment at the hands of police is one of the most frequent grievances. Torture is so common in Russian police stations that the method used on Mikheyev even has a name: the “phone call to Putin.” It consists of inflicting electric shocks through wires attached to the victim’s earlobes.

There’s also the “crocodile,” when police pin the victim face down on the floor and pull on his limbs, or the “swallow,” when the person’s arms are painfully twisted behind his back. The most notorious is perhaps the “little elephant,” when police strap a gas mask onto the victim’s face before shutting off the air supply.

However blatant the abuse, filing a case at the European Court of Human Rights — let alone winning it — is no easy feat. And, as Mikheyev points out, not a cheap one either. Mikheyev says he largely owes his victory to a local rights group called the Committee Against Torture, which offered him precious legal and financial support.

Only a fraction of cases lodged with the court actually result in a verdict; the others are rejected for procedural shortcomings or lack of evidence. The tide of applications also means plaintiffs must wait years for a judgment. Mikheyev, for one, waited seven years. But he says these difficulties should not deter victims from seeking justice. “Don’t be afraid, fight for yourself,” he says. “Winning is possible.” Winning his case against Russia will not give him back the use of his legs. But it has given him a new sense of dignity as well as much-needed cash to foot medical bills. Before the ruling, he was surviving on a monthly pension of less than $100. Nonetheless, Mikheyev met his legal victory with a mix of joy and bitterness. “On the one hand, I understood that not everything in Russia is hopeless. On the other hand, I resented the fact that this had to be settled at the European Court instead of here,” he says.

Has his example helped curb police torture in his city, or in Russia? Hard to say, Mikheyev says, citing the case of another young man in Nizhny Novogorod who last month threw himself out of a police station’s window to escape torture. The Committee Against Torture says charges of police abuse in the city soared following Mikheyev’s victory at the European Court of Human Rights. But the committee says this doesn’t mean police torture is growing. What is growing is the number of victims who, thanks to Mikheyev, now know that those responsible can be held to account.

In Neo-Soviet Russia, More Grandmothers Incinerated

The Moscow Times reports:

At least 31 people died after a blaze swept through a Tula region home for the elderly that fire inspectors had twice declared unsafe, officials said Monday. Investigators blamed sparks from poorly kept electrical wiring for Sunday’s fire but said the high death toll was likely because of employee negligence and a lack of adherence to fire safety regulations. “More investigation is needed,” said Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry. “But we can say for sure that the lack of immediate action on the part of the nurses exacerbated the situation.” The country’s top investigator, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin, traveled Monday to the home in the small town of Velyo-Nikolskoye, about 250 kilometers south of Moscow. A specially formed committee under Bastrykin will investigate the blaze, although criminal proceedings have been opened under Article 219 of the Criminal Code — violating fire safety rules leading to the death of two or more people.

The fire broke out at around 12:45 p.m. Sunday at the two-story, T-shaped home built 55 years ago. Firefighters were called to the blaze at least 30 minutes after it began, leading investigators to suspect that staff had tried to extinguish it on their own first, Beltsov said. The blaze spread from room to room quickly because the walls and roofing were made of wood and the furniture inside was highly flammable, he said. There was neither an alarm nor a sprinkler system in place, he said. About 300 people — including elderly and senile patients and some 10 staff members — had been in the building, Beltsov said.

An Emergency Situations Ministry official who was at the scene said little of the building was left standing. “It is a wonder that more people were not killed,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “More people could have been saved if the evacuation process had been organized more effectively.” Fire safety officials had inspected the building twice this year and asked the Chernsky District Court to close the building for “dozens and dozens” of safety violations, Beltsov said, without elaborating. The court could not be reached Monday, a public holiday, for comment on why it had refused to close the home.

In March, 62 people died when a fire roared through a nursing home — also without an alarm system — near Rostov-on-Don. It took nearly an hour for firefighters from the nearest fire station to reach the scene.

In June, the duty nurse at a nursing home in Omsk failed to alert patients when a fire triggered the alarm. Firefighters arrived late, and 10 people died.

Almost 10,000 people have died in blazes across the country this year, data from the Emergency Situations Ministry show. More than 18,000 people died in fires last year, a 3.5-fold increase from 2003.

Oz TV Exposes the Horrors of Putin’s Russia

A reader directs our attention to a twopart series being aired today on Australian television entitled “The Putin System” which seeks to expose the creeping phenomenon of neo-Soviet dictatorship in Russia. Hopefully, the people of Oz will watch this program and then start asking serious questions about why their government is selling nuclear fuel to the Putin regime. Cutting Edge reports:

Vlad the Inhaler? Is Vladimir Putin snorting power up his nostrils like a presidential junkie? Is he what! As a 23-year-old, Putin’s dream of being a KGB operative became a reality and he was busily spying in Germany. His ambitions were rudely curtailed by perestroika and Putin was aghast to see the organisation he yearned to serve disintegrate – like the rest of the imploding Soviet Union. Ordered back to St Petersburg by his KGB controllers, Putin attached himself to Anatoly Sobchak, a liberal politician jockeying for election as the city’s mayor. Former contacts in Germany provided useful conduits for humanitarian relief, which was efficiently ripped off and on-sold in pursuit of influence.

The first instalment of a profile of the gimlet-eyed Putin charts his rise through the ranks via the patronage of Sobchak and Anatoly Chubais. His eventual appointment as head of the KGB put him in a position to curry favour with the boofheaded Boris Yeltsin and paved the way for his election as prime minister. It’s a grubby story about a dangerous and devious individual and the closing reels show the puppet President turning on the oligarchs who supported him – ordering a new invasion of Chechnya and responding vigorously to separatist guerillas.

Will he stand aside in 2008? Probably not. He lost to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, despite having a squirrel grip on the country, and is probably savvy enough to know that neutralising opposition indefinitely is about as likely as him dying in bed.

Oz TV Exposes the Horrors of Putin’s Russia

A reader directs our attention to a twopart series being aired today on Australian television entitled “The Putin System” which seeks to expose the creeping phenomenon of neo-Soviet dictatorship in Russia. Hopefully, the people of Oz will watch this program and then start asking serious questions about why their government is selling nuclear fuel to the Putin regime. Cutting Edge reports:

Vlad the Inhaler? Is Vladimir Putin snorting power up his nostrils like a presidential junkie? Is he what! As a 23-year-old, Putin’s dream of being a KGB operative became a reality and he was busily spying in Germany. His ambitions were rudely curtailed by perestroika and Putin was aghast to see the organisation he yearned to serve disintegrate – like the rest of the imploding Soviet Union. Ordered back to St Petersburg by his KGB controllers, Putin attached himself to Anatoly Sobchak, a liberal politician jockeying for election as the city’s mayor. Former contacts in Germany provided useful conduits for humanitarian relief, which was efficiently ripped off and on-sold in pursuit of influence.

The first instalment of a profile of the gimlet-eyed Putin charts his rise through the ranks via the patronage of Sobchak and Anatoly Chubais. His eventual appointment as head of the KGB put him in a position to curry favour with the boofheaded Boris Yeltsin and paved the way for his election as prime minister. It’s a grubby story about a dangerous and devious individual and the closing reels show the puppet President turning on the oligarchs who supported him – ordering a new invasion of Chechnya and responding vigorously to separatist guerillas.

Will he stand aside in 2008? Probably not. He lost to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, despite having a squirrel grip on the country, and is probably savvy enough to know that neutralising opposition indefinitely is about as likely as him dying in bed.

Oz TV Exposes the Horrors of Putin’s Russia

A reader directs our attention to a twopart series being aired today on Australian television entitled “The Putin System” which seeks to expose the creeping phenomenon of neo-Soviet dictatorship in Russia. Hopefully, the people of Oz will watch this program and then start asking serious questions about why their government is selling nuclear fuel to the Putin regime. Cutting Edge reports:

Vlad the Inhaler? Is Vladimir Putin snorting power up his nostrils like a presidential junkie? Is he what! As a 23-year-old, Putin’s dream of being a KGB operative became a reality and he was busily spying in Germany. His ambitions were rudely curtailed by perestroika and Putin was aghast to see the organisation he yearned to serve disintegrate – like the rest of the imploding Soviet Union. Ordered back to St Petersburg by his KGB controllers, Putin attached himself to Anatoly Sobchak, a liberal politician jockeying for election as the city’s mayor. Former contacts in Germany provided useful conduits for humanitarian relief, which was efficiently ripped off and on-sold in pursuit of influence.

The first instalment of a profile of the gimlet-eyed Putin charts his rise through the ranks via the patronage of Sobchak and Anatoly Chubais. His eventual appointment as head of the KGB put him in a position to curry favour with the boofheaded Boris Yeltsin and paved the way for his election as prime minister. It’s a grubby story about a dangerous and devious individual and the closing reels show the puppet President turning on the oligarchs who supported him – ordering a new invasion of Chechnya and responding vigorously to separatist guerillas.

Will he stand aside in 2008? Probably not. He lost to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, despite having a squirrel grip on the country, and is probably savvy enough to know that neutralising opposition indefinitely is about as likely as him dying in bed.

Oz TV Exposes the Horrors of Putin’s Russia

A reader directs our attention to a twopart series being aired today on Australian television entitled “The Putin System” which seeks to expose the creeping phenomenon of neo-Soviet dictatorship in Russia. Hopefully, the people of Oz will watch this program and then start asking serious questions about why their government is selling nuclear fuel to the Putin regime. Cutting Edge reports:

Vlad the Inhaler? Is Vladimir Putin snorting power up his nostrils like a presidential junkie? Is he what! As a 23-year-old, Putin’s dream of being a KGB operative became a reality and he was busily spying in Germany. His ambitions were rudely curtailed by perestroika and Putin was aghast to see the organisation he yearned to serve disintegrate – like the rest of the imploding Soviet Union. Ordered back to St Petersburg by his KGB controllers, Putin attached himself to Anatoly Sobchak, a liberal politician jockeying for election as the city’s mayor. Former contacts in Germany provided useful conduits for humanitarian relief, which was efficiently ripped off and on-sold in pursuit of influence.

The first instalment of a profile of the gimlet-eyed Putin charts his rise through the ranks via the patronage of Sobchak and Anatoly Chubais. His eventual appointment as head of the KGB put him in a position to curry favour with the boofheaded Boris Yeltsin and paved the way for his election as prime minister. It’s a grubby story about a dangerous and devious individual and the closing reels show the puppet President turning on the oligarchs who supported him – ordering a new invasion of Chechnya and responding vigorously to separatist guerillas.

Will he stand aside in 2008? Probably not. He lost to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, despite having a squirrel grip on the country, and is probably savvy enough to know that neutralising opposition indefinitely is about as likely as him dying in bed.

Oz TV Exposes the Horrors of Putin’s Russia

A reader directs our attention to a twopart series being aired today on Australian television entitled “The Putin System” which seeks to expose the creeping phenomenon of neo-Soviet dictatorship in Russia. Hopefully, the people of Oz will watch this program and then start asking serious questions about why their government is selling nuclear fuel to the Putin regime. Cutting Edge reports:

Vlad the Inhaler? Is Vladimir Putin snorting power up his nostrils like a presidential junkie? Is he what! As a 23-year-old, Putin’s dream of being a KGB operative became a reality and he was busily spying in Germany. His ambitions were rudely curtailed by perestroika and Putin was aghast to see the organisation he yearned to serve disintegrate – like the rest of the imploding Soviet Union. Ordered back to St Petersburg by his KGB controllers, Putin attached himself to Anatoly Sobchak, a liberal politician jockeying for election as the city’s mayor. Former contacts in Germany provided useful conduits for humanitarian relief, which was efficiently ripped off and on-sold in pursuit of influence.

The first instalment of a profile of the gimlet-eyed Putin charts his rise through the ranks via the patronage of Sobchak and Anatoly Chubais. His eventual appointment as head of the KGB put him in a position to curry favour with the boofheaded Boris Yeltsin and paved the way for his election as prime minister. It’s a grubby story about a dangerous and devious individual and the closing reels show the puppet President turning on the oligarchs who supported him – ordering a new invasion of Chechnya and responding vigorously to separatist guerillas.

Will he stand aside in 2008? Probably not. He lost to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, despite having a squirrel grip on the country, and is probably savvy enough to know that neutralising opposition indefinitely is about as likely as him dying in bed.

Once KGB, Always KGB

Blogger News Network reports that once KGB, always KGB.

Everyone should see the photograph displayed on the link in the next paragraph. When John McCain looked into Russian President Putin’s eyes, he got a different sense of the man’s soul than did President Bush. McCain said he saw three letters: K. . . G. . . B. He finally stated what is becoming obvious, that Putin is a dangerous man. This has only slowly become apparent, because no single incident proves anything. That is why it is time to back up for an overview of the multiple initiatives launched by the man who could soon rival bin Laden in destructiveness.

Look into another set of eyes here, and remember this face. Maybe you saw this when it was first released, before Putin was a familiar name. This is the scarred face of Viktor Yuschenko, a once youthful and handsome leader in Ukraine who was rushed to the hospital for treatment of massive dioxin poisoning after having dinner with the head of Ukraine’s security services.

An ex-KGB agent and Russian dissident, Alexander Litvinenko, was poisoned in London, apparently by another ex-KGB agent loyal to Putin. Pavel Basanets was an ex-officer who was the first to sign a blunt document damning Putin’s plundering of Russia and his autocratic leadership. Basanets suddenly died in Moscow. And yes, Watson, he was poisoned.

The above links provide abundant evidence that all three of the poisonings were either ordered or condoned by President Putin. They were committed with exotic KGB style poisons, which were difficult to detect and difficult to obtain. (Radioactive isotopes are not stocked next to commercially available rat poisons.) And these attacks were all conveniently conducted against outspoken critics of Mr. Putin.

You don’t hear too much from his opposition now. These abjectly cruel, brutal, sociopathic poisonings sent a clear message to all who would oppose Putin: “Don’t mess with me.” They don’t.

These poisonings were just the beginning. Here is a brief sampling of other incidents that draw an unsettling portrait of Putin’s character and intentions.

Eight Russian bombers probed British airspace, apparently to test the reaction time of the U.K. air defense system. They have done the same thing with Norway and the United States.

Russian missiles will be aimed at European targets, including American antimissile bases.

Russia is exploring the Arctic seabed, claiming its massive oil reserves by planting a flag on it. (Following that line of reasoning, America owns the moon.)

Putin’s government is persecuting independent oil companies and attempting to nationalize the industry.

Putin’s military industrial complex has developed what he calls the Father of all Bombs, a non-nuclear device, deliverable by aircraft, with four times the explosive force of the strongest conventional bombs manufactured by the United States.

Nancy Reyes at BNN quotes credible speculation that the Russians may be the force behind the creation of a powerful computer menace called the Storm Superworm, which may only be a test to lay groundwork for an even more destructive piece of malware for use in cyberwar.

It is by now well known that President Putin recently accepted the resignations of the entire Russian government, has already filled important posts with ex-cronies from his 16 KGB years, and that no matter who wins next year’s Russian elections or whether Putin becomes prime minister, the government will essentially belong to him.

What does all this mean for the United States?

Vladimir Putin is a 21st Century Communist-trained KGB operative who has survived the transition to “democracy.” Putin is not our ally. We are in the early stages of a struggle different from any previous one.

This is not a “new Cold War.” It is not a revival of anything from the past. The Cold War was about the alliance of the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba to supplant democracy with communism all over the world. The current situation is about Russian nationalism and Vladimir Putin’s personal, relentless quest for power.

It will involve new alliances, some of which Putin may form by courting our allies or neutral partners, as he expertly exploits our disagreements. He is using 21st century methods of business, politics, and technology to achieve his aims.

Putin is not stupid enough to embrace the dogmas that bankrupted his country in the first place. He is deftly using capitalistic thinking, manipulation of democratic processes, and road tested KGB Communist terror tactics to further his aims. Vladimir Putin is not Khrushchev, some shoe-banging bag of bombast who looked like the old cartoon character “Henry.” He is smiling, cold-eyed, canny, ruthless, daring, charming, well dressed. He can be subtle, clever, and even humorous. But he learned years ago how to remove the velvet from the hammer and sickle when it furthers his ambitions.

This conflict is not about ideology. It is about oil. It is about alternative fuels. It is about technology, not stolen from America but developed by Russian scientists. It is about modern bombs that approximate nuclear strength without violating the nuclear taboo.

This is about an adroit, vigorous, three-dimensional chess player who is stacking the government with loyal comrades from the old KGB, a man who could be around for 30 years. This is about putting a nation full of desperate people to work, getting them off the vodka and onto the payrolls of what likely will become a juggernaut of economic and political strength. But primarily, this is about power.

Russia, for all its recent poverty, now has newly found oil wealth. It also has a determined, highly popular, vigorous leader who is moving with the speed and agility of a judo expert (he actually is one) to make his nation the world’s premier superpower.

At this point in history, America is preoccupied and vulnerable, and leaders like Vladimir Putin are masters of detecting vulnerability. Our president is unfortunately a lame duck with two broken legs. There is no clear leader in either major political party. Our Executive and Legislative branches are like two wrestlers who have each other in a headlock, and the Judicial branch can do nothing but referee.

We are chasing an elusive enemy, evil, all over the globe, trying to nail the devil’s shadow to the wall with an overextended, exhausted military and paying for it with tomorrow’s money. We are stuck between a counterfeit Muslim–a terrorist with millions of dollars who wants to kill thousands of people and replace Western values with his own twisted brand of morality; and a wily, charismatic Russian who has nuclear weapons that could kill millions. We would be fools to ignore bin Laden. But we would also be fools to ignore the looming threat of Putin.

We are underestimating this man and displaying a puzzling apathy about actions that clearly are alarming and could signal much worse things for us in the future. No one wants to think about more hostilities with Russia. But we have to. Putin has the potential to make the Cold War look like the good ol’ days.

To have an effective foreign policy toward Russia, we must understand the nature of the man ruling it. We must elect a leader in 2008 who has the clear-eyed realism and the guts to see Putin for who he is. We have some very good presidential candidates, but we may not have any who are a match for Putin’s cunning and toughness. He could eat Barack Obama for breakfast and still have room left for Mitt Romney.

Vladimir Putin does not make videos announcing in advance his threatening intentions. Putin does not rattle; he coils and bites. The self-styled “only true democrat left in the world” (!) can still, after decades in government, be best described in three letters: KGB. He is wasting no time as he snakes his way quickly across the global political landscape. In the near future he could become our greatest national security threat.