Daily Archives: November 15, 2007

November 15, 2007 — Contents


(1) Annals of Collaboration

(2) The Crackdown by Counter-Revolutionaries Begins

(3) Purge Before Power

(4) Russia, the Dystopian Regime

(5) A War Criminal Gets a Promotion in Russia

(6) Free Khodorkovsky!

NOTE: Another amazing, horrifying series of reports in today’s Moscow Times, which we’ve summarized on Publius Pundit, appears above, capped off by an essay from the Sakharov heirs about the horror of neo-Soviet Russia and the need to free imprisoned dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Who can look at this list of posts (collaboration, purges, counter-revolutionaries, dissidents, promotion of maniacs) and still dispute the accuracy of the term “neo-Soviet” that this blog has been using since April 2006, long before these horrors were in full view?

Annals of Collaboration: Neo-Soviet Russians Sell Their Souls

The Moscow Times reports on the revolting efforts by the Kremlin to seize total control over the last bastion of freedom in Russia, the Internet, and the even more revolting lemming-like acquiescence of all layers of Russian society in the appalling crackdown:

With a dashing head shot of President Vladimir Putin set against the Russian flag, Zaputina.ru appears to differ little from the fawning pro-Putin propaganda favored by the political establishment. But the man behind the web site is in fact a counterculture icon and obscenity pioneer on the Russian Internet who has launched dozens of web sites, including the legendary Fuck.ru.

Zaputina.ru is the latest project of Konstantin Rykov, a 28-year-old media entrepreneur running on the Nizhny Novgorod ticket of pro-Kremlin party United Russia. Launched last week as part of the nationwide For Putin movement, the site gives Russians the chance to urge Putin to stay on after his second term finishes next year. As of Tuesday, the site claimed that more than 35,000 visitors had expressed their support for Putin, including several other iconoclastic personalities of the RuNet, arguably the country’s most vibrant venue for political discussion. The web site is registered to Alexei Zharich, an employee of the company Political Technologies, which is headed up by Rykov. Upon entering Rykov.ru into a web browser, users are redirected to Zaputina.ru. Rykov has created or masterminded more than 50 web sites, according to the International Union of Internet Personalities, a group set up by managers and owners of popular RuNet projects. Many of the sites were notable for their unabashed use of obscenities generally considered taboo in Russian prose, including Fuck.ru, where any half-literate vocational school student could post graphic accounts of how he seduced his teacher or teenage neighbor.

“Konstantin was the first to post obscenities on the Russian Internet, but he was a teenager then, and it would be idiotic to condemn him for this now,” said writer and RuNet personality Eduard Bagirov, who has endorsed Zaputina.ru. Bagirov’s novel “Gastarbaiter,” published by Rykov’s Populyarnaya Literatura, became a national bestseller this year. One of the most notorious RuNet icons to sign up at Zaputina.ru is Dmitry Sokolovsky, who runs the bombastic web site Udaff.com, renowned for its brazen sexism, racism and single guiding principle: homophobia. Sokolovsky said in a telephone interview that he joined the project because Rykov is “an old friend. I like everything he does.”

While Sokolovsky’s site has built its reputation on contempt for the establishment, he said he would like Putin to stay on for a third term despite limits set by the Constitution. “His personality impresses me despite some of the regime’s drawbacks,” he said. It’s not surprising that counterculture figures are throwing their support behind Putin, said Kirill Razlogov, an analyst with the Institute of Culturology. “The public image of Putin is that of a strong hand, with elements of machismo and black humor that traditionally appeal to the counterculture circles,” Razlogov said.

Analysts say the Kremlin and United Russia are clearly behind the For Putin movement, which is being portrayed in state-controlled media as a grassroots initiative. The movement is expected to hold its founding congress on Thursday in Tver. Lawyer Pavel Astakhov, one of the leaders of For Putin, has denied any Kremlin involvement with the group. But citing several unidentified sources in regional administrations, Gazeta.ru reported Tuesday that the movement was being orchestrated by governors on orders from the presidential administration. Prominent web entrepreneur Anton Nosik said Rykov was being paid for the Zaputina.ru project but declined to name the patron.

Rallying behind a leader with no conceivable alternative “is for simple-minded people or for those who are paid well for the effort,” Nosik said. “Rykov is not simple-minded. It is his task to mobilize the simple-minded.” A written request for comment sent to Rykov’s office went unanswered Tuesday. But in an interview broadcast on Channel One television Sunday, he praised Putin’s leadership. “We are lucky to have Putin, because for the first time a man has come to power who we are not ashamed of,” Rykov said.

The Neo-Soviet Counter-Revolutionary Crackdown

The Moscow Times reports on the Kremlin’s pathetic cowardliness in the face of the upcoming Duma elections. Not satisfied to destroy opposition literature, ban opposition party registration and exclude foreign election observers, it is creating a gang of thugs to attack anyone who dares to protest the lack of democratic choice — apparently still afraid that despite all its draconian measures it could still face insurrection.

Pro-Kremlin youth groups, backed by police, are in the final stages of preparations to inundate the city with tens of thousands of loyal teens with orders to prevent an Orange-style revolution in the lead-up to the Dec. 2 State Duma elections. Few of the conditions that led to Ukraine’s 2006 Orange Revolution or the Rose Revolution a year earlier in Georgia are present in Russia, however, and opposition youth groups say they aren’t looking for a confrontation. But this isn’t stopping the authorities from confining them to the periphery anyway.

Activists from Nashi, Young Guard and Young Russia have been pouring into schools, universities, clubs and bars nationwide to spread one message among Russia’s youngest electorate: It is your duty to vote for United Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin. All of this leaves precious little room for the opposition youth groups like Yabloko Youth and the Red Youth Vanguard, which have their campaigning restricted to chatting with voters and pasting up flyers at bus stops. “The current climate simply does not allow for running a normal promotional campaign,” said Ilya Yashin, head of Yabloko Youth.

The Yabloko group and the leftist Red Youth Vanguard have found it hard to compete with the deep budget, presidential blessing and now police backing enjoyed by their pro-Kremlin counterparts. All three advantages were evident Friday, when members of Nashi’s newly created volunteer patrol force from different Russian cities met in Moscow for an orienteering competition. Police closed off Bolotnaya Ploshchad for the 1,000-plus activists, who were fitted out with funky Nashi coats and scarves and lined up along the Moscow River waiting to be dispatched around the city. None of the activists or organizers denied that the reason behind the Soviet-style volunteer patrols was to help police quash any illegal street protests by opposition forces. The exercise served a purpose toward that end: to familiarize the activists with central Moscow so, come Dec. 2, they can mobilize more quickly should protests spring up. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my country’s fate decided by one measly protest,” said Roman Verbitsky, a coordinator of the volunteer force.

So far there have been no clashes between pro-Kremlin youth groups and opposition demonstrators. But that could all change come Nov. 24, when The Other Russia plans to hold a Dissenters’ March near Pushkin Square. City Hall has yet to grant permission for the event. The Other Russia is a perfect target for Nashi, which sees it as a manifestation of foreign meddling in Russia’s internal affairs. Many believe the organization is funded from abroad. The tycoon Boris Berezovsky, living in exile in London, said in an interview earlier this year, “If you ask me if I am funding The Other Russia, I will say ‘No comment.'” The Other Russia is led by world chess champion turned opposition activist Garry Kasparov, whom Nashi regularly ridicules. “Whether we get permission or not, we will press ahead with our constitutional right to peaceful demonstrations,” said Marina Litvinovich, Kasparov’s spokeswoman.

Litvinovich described Nashi as “funny” and “not serious,” and said the opposition coalition was not intimidated by the youth group — with or without the police on its side. “We have never, ever conducted violent protests. It is Nashi that resorts to violence,” she added, mentioning later that Nashi activists had damaged Kasparov’s car after a recent news conference in Moscow. In response, Alexandra Valtinina, a spokeswoman for Nashi’s volunteer patrols, confirmed that that the group would, in theory, help police quash an unsanctioned Dissenters’ March, refusing to elaborate. “It’s very early, they could still receive permission,” Valtinina said.

Nashi, which boasts 100,000 members nationwide, has refused to announce its plans for Dec. 2. But a spokeswoman said recently that activists would be out in force in central squares and near major monuments during the Duma elections. Until then, hundreds of regular Nashi activists will continue walking around the city every weekend handing out leaflets and trying to talk people into voting for United Russia, another party spokeswoman, who would not give her name, said last week. Young Russia, a group started by Moscow university students, will conduct its pro-United Russia campaign in the city’s educational institutions, spokeswoman Lilia Bagramova said. A Young Russia newspaper will be printed and distributed around and universities and other post-secondary institutions underlining the importance of voting and detailing “Putin’s Plan,” Bagramova said.

On Dec. 2, Young Russia activists will offer the chance to win movie theater tickets to every student who votes, she added. Young Guard, United Russia’s official youth group is planning “large demonstrations” in all of the country’s regions, said Vadim Zharko, the organization’s spokesman. Young Guard claims a national membership of 70,000. While the pro-Kremlin groups are each organizing their own events, they are not working completely independently, Zharko said. Andrei Turchak, a member of the general council of United Russia and Young Guard’s former leader, is in charge of coordinating the activities of the three groups to achieve maximum effectiveness, Zharko said. Turchak could not be reached Tuesday.

Yabloko’s youth group, which has around 3,000 members, is planning a small demonstration on Pushkin Square on Nov. 18. The group is following bus routes, putting up their fliers and speaking to prospective voters, Yashin said. Sergei Udaltsov, head of the Red Youth Vanguard, refused Friday to provide any information on when the left-wing group would take to the streets in Moscow. While plans had been made for a big Red Youth Vanguard demonstration in the city, he said, they “aren’t being announced yet.” The Red Youth Vanguard had been part of Kasparov’s The Other Russia. At the movement’s congress in September, however, Udaltsov announced that it was quitting the coalition, saying it opposed its decision to name a united candidate for the presidential election in March. Udaltsov said that about 80,000 Red Youth Vanguard activists were out across the country, dropping leaflets in people’s mailboxes and holding small demonstrations under the slogan “We are against Putin’s Plan.”

Putin Signals Purge Before He Even Takes Power

The Moscow Times reports that before he has even taken power as a party leader Putin, like Stalin before him, has signaled the possibility of purges to keep the party subservient to its Lord and Master.

President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that an overwhelming victory for United Russia in Dec. 2 elections would give him the “moral right” to maintain a strong influence in the country. But the president also rebuked United Russia for lacking any clear political ideology and attracting “all kinds of crooks,” saying he only chose it because there were no other realistic options.

Putin announced last month that he would appear on the pro-Kremlin party’s national list for the State Duma elections, a decision that appeared to be aimed at boosting the party’s chances and guaranteeing the popular president a power base when his second term ends in May. The Constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms.

“If the people vote for United Russia, whose list I lead, it means that they trust me and, in turn, means that I will have the moral right to hold those in the Duma and the Cabinet responsible for the implementation of the objectives that have been identified so far,” Putin said in televised remarks from Krasnoyarsk. Putin was answering questions from workers during a visit to a road construction site after chairing a meeting with governors in Krasnoyarsk focusing on the transport sector nationwide. Although he didn’t provide a direct answer to questions about his plans upon leaving office, Putin’s comments were the clearest indication yet that he intends to maintain a hold on power. “In what form will I do this? I will refrain for now from providing a direct answer,” Putin said. “But various possibilities exist.”

National television showed Putin sitting next to workers as he delivered a stern reprimand to United Russia. “What is United Russia ,then? Is it an ideal political organization?” he asked rhetorically. “Of course it isn’t.”

“The party has no stable political ideology or principles for which the overwhelming majority of members are ready to fight. … And, as a rule, being close to those in power, as United Russia is, all kind of crooks try to latch on to it, often with success,” Putin said.

The explanation he offered for his choice was simple: “Because we don’t have anything better,” Putin said with a laugh. United Russia officials offered no defense Tuesday, saying the president’s criticism was well deserved. “As usual, the president said the right thing,” said Oleg Kovalyov, a senior party leader and the chairman of the Duma Rules Committee. “I’m one of the founders of United Russia and I know that the party is not perfect, but this is not a disaster. We are developing together with Russian society.”

Andrei Vorobyov, chairman of United Russia’s central executive committee, said Putin’s remarks highlighted how important this Duma vote would be. “We are calling them a referendum on the course laid out by the national leader. The party will be a guarantee of continuity,” Vorobyov said in answers sent by e-mail. “For the president, it will be the only way the law will allow him to stay in politics — through a political party.”

“The third term will involve us leading the country to victory together and implementing the strategic directions given in Putin’s Plan,” he said. United Russia has labeled its party platform “Putin’s Plan,” which is essentially a digest of the major speeches by the president. Political analysts said Tuesday that Putin’s comments suggested that he had yet to decide how he would retain power. “He is not sure yet about what to do to keep power. He prefers to take his time, which is why he says his decision will depend on the results of the elections,” said Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. “He is leaving himself space for further maneuver.”

Putin’s comments, which filled the first eight minutes of national evening news reports, came on his first trip inside the country since the election campaign began. He chose for his first stop a region in which he garnered below-average support in the 2004 presidential election. Although election laws prohibit government officials from using the status of their office to campaign for their parties, the trip was more reminiscent of a campaign tour than an official visit. Vladimir Pribylovsky, the director of the Panorama think tank, said that rule was never applied to high officials. “The law can be interpreted in such a way that when it is broken by high officials, it is still not a violation of the law,” Pribylovsky said. “When Putin breaks the law on elections, Central Elections Commission officials always say he has the right as a citizen to express his point of view.”

Russia: One of the dystopian regimes

Writing in the Moscow Times, hero journalist Yulia Latynina calls Russia and Iran the “dystopian regimes.”

The anti-utopian literary genre of the 20th century was led by Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and George Orwell’s “1984.”

And now, at the start of the 21st century, it turns out that dystopias really exist. They are not global, but exist on tiny, isolated islands of time and space. They are run by leaders whose golden statues slowly rotate on pedestals in their countries’ central squares. They appear on television like lords descending from the heavens, presented as saviors of the motherland and all-powerful defenders against the foreign enemies.

Dystopian regimes are called rogue nations of the 21st century, and they all have similar qualities.

First, none of these countries’ leaders considers himself a despot. They call their governments “true” or “sovereign” democracies — in contrast to “false” or “Western” democracies. The United Nations has reported that even the Myanmar junta claims to be building a “genuine democracy” in Burma. But be careful here: Whenever a ruler adds an adjective before the word democracy, you probably have a dystopian society.

Second, the economies in these dystopias are in an appalling condition. In North Korea, for example, people are dying of hunger, and the gasoline shortages in Iran remind me of the old, Soviet anecdote:

Question: “What would happen if they built communism in the Sahara Desert?”

Answer: “There would immediately be sand shortages.”

Even countries with only a mild form of dystopia will lag behind the economic development of democratic countries because the main economic resources on which they rely are oil and gas, whereas the primary economic resource in the democratic world is freedom.

The only option for the rulers of economically isolated, backward and destitute countries is to dump the blame for all of their internal problems on the machinations of their supposed enemies.

There is one category of nations that does everything it can to strike fear among countries of the free world. Iran is a good example. It is rushing to achieve this level of fear by trying to create a nuclear weapons program. There is a second category of countries that also brings xenophobic and anti-Western rhetoric to a boiling point, but for domestic consumption only. This is how Russia operates.

The first approach espoused by Iran is usually taken by dystopian regimes whose bank accounts are already frozen in Western banks and whose leaders believe that having absolute authority in their own countries is more important than owning a villa in Nice. The second approach, represented by Russia, is chosen by dystopian leaders with significant assets in the West. These leaders view their high government posts as an opportunity to amass great personal wealth. They understand that if push comes to shove, the West could deliver the most powerful blow to the dystopian leaders’ most vulnerable spot by revealing and possibly freezing their foreign bank accounts.

Dystopias do not represent mankind’s future but its past. Modern dystopian leaders are very similar to Nero in the 1st century or Persian King Shapura in the 3rd century. They hand out provinces, high-ranking posts and oil companies with one stroke of a pen. In their capacity as benevolent “national leaders,” they are always struggling against exaggerated — and often invisible — enemies. And they attempt, in vain, to cover up their countries’ 1,000-year economic and technological backwardness in an era of personal computers and satellite telephones.

In the end, all of these Neros and other capricious despots who have ruled the world for so many centuries have never been able to make new discoveries or inventions, such as satellite telephones or computers. This is probably because their enemies got in the way.

In Russia, Being a Barbarian Gets you Promoted

The Moscow Times reports that Russia has promoted a war criminal:

A general accused of human rights abuses in Chechnya will be appointed commander of the Defense Ministry’s department for combat training, news reports said Tuesday. Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, a veteran of both Chechen wars, has the support of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who is gradually replacing loyalists of his predecessor in top posts, and First Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Kolmakov, who served with Shamanov in the elite airborne troops, Kommersant reported. Kommersant first reported the development Tuesday, and Interfax later confirmed the report. Both reports cited unidentified senior Defense Ministry officials. Ministry spokesman Yury Khvedchikhin said he was unaware of the pending appointment. Human rights organizations have said that troops under Shamanov’s command in Chechnya committed atrocities against civilians. In one instance, up to 40 people died when his troops stormed the Chechen village of Alkhan Yurt in 1999, human rights investigators said. Shamanov was elected governor of Ulyanovsk in 2000 but did not seek re-election under Kremlin pressure. He served as adviser to the prime minister before taking his current post, adviser to the defense minister, in 2006. Shamanov met U.S. President George W. Bush in March in his capacity as a co-chair of a U.S.-Russian commission on missing soldiers, a visit that embarrassed the White House after it learned of the abuse allegations.

Free Khodorkovsky!

In a syndicated column Tatiana Yankelevich, director of the Sakharov Program on Human Rights at The Andrei Sakharov Archives and Center at Harvard University and offspring of Andrei Sakharov, blasts the Kremlin over Mikhail Khodorokvosky’s arrest and calls for his release:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should seize on two recent favorable European court decisions to pressure Vladimir Putin for the release of two Russian entrepreneurs now languishing in Siberian prisons on what most human rights observers view as politically motivated charges.

In 2003, the Kremlin seized Russian oil giant Yukos and later sentenced its top two executives, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev — both outspoken political opponents of Putin — to eight-year prison terms for tax-evasion and money-laundering. Yukos itself was slapped with $26 billion in back-tax claims, declared bankrupt and largely taken over by the state-owned oil company run by Putin cronies. Unable to find justice in Putin-dominated Russian courts, lawyers for the two men pressed their cases in European courts and among the world’s free media.

Last month, they scored some notable legal victories that should open the door for Rice and such American allies as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel to increase the pressure on Putin to release the two men. On Oct. 31, a Dutch court in Amsterdam ruled that Russia’s forced bankruptcy of Khodorkovsky’s Yukos “was not in line with Dutch principles law” and that it could not recognize the bankruptcy as legitimate. It barred a receiver from selling $2 billion in assets of the Dutch-based Yukos Finance BV. The Dutch court added that Yukos was denied a fair trial to establish how much in back taxes it had to pay the Russian government, providing ammunition for Khodorkovsky’s charge that the Kremlin pursued the bankruptcy as revenge against for his political ambitions and criticism of the Putin regime.

The Dutch action followed on the heels of an Oct. 25 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, that Russia violated the rights of Lebedev, who was sentenced to nine years in jail in 2005 on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

European rights activists called the Yukos case “the first show trial of post-Stalinist era — contending the persecution of Lebedev and Khodorkovsky has derailed Russia’s progress along the road to democracy. The human rights court found that Lebedev’s rights to liberty and security were violated during his arrest and subsequent pretrial detention and ordered Russia to pay $4,269 in damages and $9,961 for legal costs.

A few days before, Russia prevented Khodorkovsky from filing for a parole for a variety of disputed prison infractions that included not having his hands behind his back as he returned from an exercise walk. The charge followed on the heels of a penalty against Khodorkovsky for keeping “unauthorized lemons in his cell.”

The two recent decisions by respected European courts provide an opening for the United States and its European allies to exert strong pressure on Putin to release Lebedev and Khodorkovsky from their imprisonment in the bleak Siberian city of Chita — 3,700 miles from the relatives and friends in Moscow.

Drawing a line in the sand against such human rights abuses is especially important for the nations of European Union, many of whom have obsequiously kow-towed before Putin’s threats to withhold from them vitally needed supplies of natural gas. Exhibiting a little backbone at this important juncture would show Putin that both the EU and the United States are more than happy to do the business with an emerging democratic Russia, but are wary of strengthening ties with a Russia where the rule of law seems to be slipping once again behind an iron curtain of authoritarianism.

In fact, it’s time for all countries that claim to champion human rights to call for the freeing of two men whose only visible crimes were running a successful enterprise and speaking out in the free marketplace of political ideas.