Daily Archives: December 29, 2007

December 29, 2007 — Contents


(1) Annals of the Neo-Soviet Restoration

(2) The Horror of Russian Healthcare

(3) Neo-Soviet Russia Re-Weaponizes Psychiatry

(4) How Russia Screws itself in the Arms Trade

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Restoration

Paul Goble reports:

References to some kind of Soviet restoration are becoming ever more frequent in both Moscow and Western capitals, a dangerous trend that threatens to “disorient” elites in both places and lead to decisions that are disconnected with reality, according to a leading Moscow specialist on nationalism in the post-Soviet world.

In an essay posted online December 19th with the significant title, “The Neo-Soviet Myth,” Sergei Markedonov says that both those in Moscow who hope for a return of the Soviet Union as well as those in the West who fear it are deluding themselves in potentially dangerous ways. The reasons the current Russian leadership employs such language, the Moscow analyst says, are not hard to specify. The Putin regime sees the Soviet past as “a powerful legitimating resource” because it hopes to present itself as “the continuer of the policy of ‘a great power’” rather than as the inheritor of the weakness of the 1990s. But the reasons Western elites are using this language are more complicated, if not more justified. First of all, many in the West see the growing income of the Russian Federation as the basis for a restoration of Moscow’s role across the former Soviet space., a view Russian analysts have typically been all too willing to invoke as well. Second, Markedonov says, many in Western capitals apparently believe that the restoration of Russian power over this region in some way could result in greater stability and predictability in international affairs, again a view that many in Moscow express and are only too willing to take from their Western interlocutors. Indeed, on this the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Cheka, many Russian commentators are celebrating Time magazine’s decision to name Vladimir Putin its man of the year because of his role, however authoritarian and undemocratic, in ending “the time of troubles” ushered in by the end of the Soviet Union.

One Moscow article on the American magazine’s decision, in fact, was entitled Stabil’nost’ uber Alles, an elegant and highly symbolic combination of a Russian term with a German one. And third, Markedonov suggests, at least some in the West have concluded that the invocation of a possible Soviet restoration as an all-purpose excuse to explain to domestic audiences their own failures in promoting democratization not only in Eastern Europe but also in the Middle East. But if this rhetoric has its uses to political elites in both Moscow and Western capitals, he continues, it is extremely dangerous because it is being used by people who either do not recognize or will not admit in public that there is no possibility for its realization any time soon.

On the one hand, these political elites forget, the Soviet Union was a state based on an ideology. Despite the essentially esthetic arguments of the original Eurasians, Markedonov points out, “the imperial idea did not win out on the territory of the former USSR.” It died along with the White Movement Wrangel and Denikin by 1922. The way in which the Soviet regime implemented its “proletarian internationalism,” building up “national-territorial” units like the union republics, promoting Soviet-defined national identities, and even contributing to the notion of ethnic property meant that the regime was in Marxist terms, its own grave digger, Markedonov argues. But none of those things meant, he insists, that the USSR was in any way simply an updated version of the Russian Empire that had existed before. However much some may want or others fear, there is absolutely no support for a new supra-national ideology in the post-Soviet states. “Nostalgia for the USSR” is found “only in Russia: Even Belarus uses [such emotions] instrumentally” rather than as an expression of its core values. And on the other hand, Markedonov points out, the idea that a restored Soviet Union could be some “soft form” of the USSR is nonsense. That country “was possible only under the harshest dictatorship with the preservation of a definite level of ethno-administrative freedom for regional dictators and a planned-distribution economy.”

Once the Soviet state under Mikhail Gorbachev loosened up in order to try to get the economy moving in the 1980s, the entire edifice came down around him because “a liberal USSR’ cannot be — [because] at the very least this would not be the USSR.” At present, Markedonov notes, “there is not a single force in Russia or in the other countries of the CIS prepared to propose to the population a program based on state plans and the dictatorship of a single party.” Such planning does not exist even in Belarus, and “’forced modernization’” does not correspond to the needs of an information society. Indeed, any effort to move in that direction, one possibly fueled by Russia’s income from the sale of oil and gas and a belief that some Western leaders might support it would guarantee not only the isolation of this region but its continued backwardness, something neither Russian nor non-Russian elites are at all interested in seeing. Indeed, even those Russians who talk about restoring the USSR use their VISA cards and travel abroad, Markedonov notes, something that an ideologically based and totalitarian regime would almost certainly not allow them the opportunities to do so that they have today. None of this means, of course, that there are not some Russians who want to restore the Soviet Union, but rather it suggests that any effort by them to do so will fail, a process and an outcome elites in Moscow and the West now employing neo-Soviet rhetoric for their own and very different purposes need to recognize in order to avoid some terrible errors.

Annals of the Horror of Russian Healthcare

Paul Goble reports more evidence of the Kremlin’s total indifference to the plight of the vast majority of Russia’s people outside Moscow as it continues its obscession with waging cold war and turning Moscow itself into a Potemkin-like showpiece:

The network of apothecary shops that had supplied Russians living in rural areas with medications in the past has almost completely disintegrated, and as a result, some 38 million Russians — almost 30 percent of the country’s total population — cannot easily obtain the drugs they need even when they have the money to buy them. Not only are many of these people suffering horribly as a result, but a significant percentage of them is dying prematurely, driving down life expectancies among Russians and further complicating the resolution of the country’s much-discussed demographic difficulties. Such a situation is especially tragic given the Russian Federation’s celebrated wealth from oil and gas, but it is even more disastrous because it appears to be in large measure the result not so much of the transition from communism to capitalism but rather of pathetically bad planning by legislators and other officials.

In the words of the Moscow newspaper Gazeta [on December 26th], these officials “successfully destroyed the old system” in which often poorly trained medical workers dispensed medications in rural areas without figuring out how to put “in its place” a new and more effective one. As is often the case with such situations, there were good intentions all around. Moscow officials wanted to ensure that apothecary shops would be large and well-stocked and that these outlets would be operated by licensed pharmacists to ensure that the right medicines were dispensed. In principle, of course, that is laudable, but such licensing requirements ignore several fundamental realities. On the one hand, most of the relatively small number of licensed pharmacists have gravitated to the cities where incomes are higher. And on the other, most villages are too small to support either one of them or a modern apothecary shop.

Moscow officials seem to have been operating on the assumption that village residents could easily travel to district or regional cities for their medicines. But that ignores two of Russia’s biggest problems: its impassable roads and its often even more horrible weather.
At the present time, approximately one-third of Russia’s villages are not connected to the outside world by roads of any kind. And even those that are find themselves in difficulty: in the spring and fall because of mud and in the winter, often very long in Russia’s northern regions, because of unplowed snow. Of course, as the Moscow newspaper pointed out, access to medications is far from perfect even in the cities. The Russian Federation does not produce some basic medications or import enough for those who could benefit from them. And not every urban resident has the money to purchase those that may be on the shelves.

According to Gazeta, officials at the Russian Federation’s health ministry have discussed all these problems repeatedly. But they lack the funds to buy more drugs or to pay for the upkeep of pharmacies in most rural areas, and market forces Moscow now hopes to rely on are typically insufficient to address in a serious way either problem. Unless something is done and done soon, however, many more Russians in rural areas are going to become victims of a system that may reward young people in the major cities with new wealth and opportunities. And as these rural Russians become conscious of their common status and their large number, they could become politically important. The daily paper suggested that in many villages, the only thing such Russians could do is to pray so that they will get well without having to take any medications. But it is entirely possible that at least some of them will first focus their anger at those politicians and commentators who suggest that life is getting better in Russia with each passing year.

Neo-Soviet Russia Re-Weaponizes Psychiatry at a Rapid Rate

Paul Goble reports:

The forcible incarceration of political dissidents in psychiatric hospitals, one of the most notorious features of the later years of the Soviet Union, has been revived in the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin, according to Russian human rights activists. But until very recently, these actions have not sparked the kind of outrage by foreign governments and international psychiatric and human rights organizations that forced the Soviet authorities to release some of the dissidents it had treated in this way. And as a result, Russian officials may now believe they can get away with reviving the practice. Part of the reason for this difference in reaction, of course, arises from the end of the Cold War, but it also reflects the fact that so far, the victims of such official actions are fewer in number, live far from Western embassies and journalists in Moscow, and espouse views less sympathetic to Western audiences than many of their Soviet-era predecessors did. And in the words of one Russian human rights activist, Moscow’s failure to denounce the Soviet practice and punish those who engaged in it, something Western governments notably have not insisted upon, plays an additional role, leading some Russian psychiatrists to believe that there is nothing wrong in going along with their political matters.

Now, however, the international organization devoted to combating torture has taken up the case of a young man who has been subjected to forcible psychiatric treatment apparently for no reason other than that he opposes the authoritarian and arbitrary actions of the Putin-installed leadership of the Middle Volga Republic of Mari El. That groups criticism has prompted more media coverage in Moscow, including an extensive article in this week’s New Times that has been picked up by a variety of media watchdog sites, human rights groups, including Press-Attache.ru. That article details the criminal mistreatment of 20-year-old Artem Basyrov, who two years ago was a member of the National Bolshevik Party but more recently has worked with “The Other Russia.” At the end of last month, he was confined in a psychiatric hospital against his will, to prevent him from organizing an anti-government demonstration.

Given the brutality of the Mari El government, one that various European institutions have concluded routinely beats or even kills its opponents, its decision to subject Basyrov to forcible psychiatric treatment is hardly surprising, but because it recalls a phenomenon most had thought had ended along with Soviet power, it is disturbing. According to Roman Chorniy, the president of the St. Petersburg-based Civil Commission for Human Rights, the authorities apparently now find this practice attractive because it is easy for them to employ — they only have to get the approval of three often tame psychiatrists and can muddy the waters via planted stories in the media. And he notes that Basyrov is hardly the only Russian citizen against whom such vicious methods are being used. He points to the case of political activist Larisa Arap in Murmansk in Russia’s Far North and that of Vladislav Nikitenko in Blagoveshchensk near the Chinese border, both far removed from Moscow. Chorniy adds that, in his view, the authorities may ultimately use this technique against Nikolai Andrushenko, a St Petersburg journalist whose activities and whose suffering at the hands of the authorities in other ways have been far better documented and who may thus escape the worse fate of the others. “When we see this type of situation,” Chorniy told “New Times,” we are compelled to ”think about it as a system” rather than a set of isolated instances, as many in both Russia and the West have been telling themselves. And that, he suggested, means that everyone concerned about human rights needs to reflect on why such crimes have reemerged. “All those psychiatrists and their pupils, who were directly involved in practicing punitive psychiatrist” never suffered legally for what they did and never even had to acknowledge in public that such actions were morally wrong. As a result, it is quite likely that many of them still believe such actions are justified.

And thus, Western indifference so far combined with the attitudes of these “survivals of the past” have created a situation where as Chorniy said “we see the revival of punitive psychiatry,” the use of an important branch of the medical profession for goals entirely at odds with the principles of the Hippocratic oath.

How Russia Screws Itself in the Arms Trade

Strategy Page reports:

India and China are both playing rough with their largest arms supplier; Russia. China and India both have price disputes with Russia, and India is also upset that Russia is supplying China with RD93 jet engines for Chinese made fighters that are being sold to Pakistan. Both China and Russia are threatening to halt purchases if Russia does not back off on attempts to raise prices on contracts that have already been agreed to. China is playing a weak position here, because of a Western embargo on arms sales to China (because of China being a sometimes brutal police state and behaving badly by selling weapons to all manner of nasty people). India is in a stronger position, and is buying more and more weapons from Western suppliers. Currently, India is in the market for 126 top-line fighters. India has told Russia that if those RD93 equipped Chinese fighters keep going to Pakistan, Russia can forget about its chances of winning the competition (worth over $6 billion) for the 126 fighters.

How did it get to this?

In November, 2007, after changing its mind several times over the last few years, Russia finally agreed to allow the use of Russian made engines, in Chinese made JF-17 (also known as FC-1) jet fighters that are exported (to Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.) Lebanon, Burma, Iran and Sri Lanka have also shown interest in this low cost fighter that is similar to early model F-16s.)

Earlier in 2007, Russia announced that none of the 500 Russian RD-93 jet engines China is buying could be exported to a foreign country. This was a problem, as China needs those engines for the 150 JF17 fighters it is building for Pakistan. What makes this particularly nasty is that Pakistan has invested $150 million in the development of the JF17. Pakistan thought Russia would give China permission to export the RD93 equipped aircraft. After all, China was such a large customer for RD93 engines (originally designed for the MiG-29), and those 500 RD93 engines are worth $1.25 billion.

But apparently India played hardball, and demanded that the Russians forbid the export of the RD93s from China to Pakistan. India is a major customer for Russian weapons, including cooperative development deals. China is a big customer for Russian weapons as well, but India buys more stuff, and is seen as less of a future threat to Russia than China. Pressure from many other nations interested in the JF-17 apparently caused the Russians to finally relent.

But it gets more interesting. China has been developing a similar (apparently identical) engine to the RD93, the WS-13. Actually, this effort is being aided by Russia, which is selling China technology needed for the manufacture of key engine components. Russia isn’t happy about this, because they don’t want competition in the low cost jet engine market. Then again, China has a history of stealing technology it cannot buy, so the Russians are making the best of a bad situation. China says the WS-13 is nearly ready for service. Maybe, maybe not. Building high performance military jet engines is difficult, and China has had problems mastering this kind of stuff. Not that they will not eventually acquire the skills, but until they do, they need the Russian made RD93s.

China shipped two RD93 equipped JF-17s to Pakistan in March 2007, and informed the Russians that, according to the their interpretation of the 1992 RD-93 contract, China could re-export the RD-93 engines. The situation sat, unresolved, until the Summer of 2007, when the Russians said that they believed that the 1992 contract was quite clear about China needing Russian permission, and China didn’t have it. The Russians were playing hardball, at the behest of the Indians. Apparently, India is expected to use this RD-93 veto to get Pakistan to offer up some appropriate in the current peace talks between the two countries.

Russians problems are largely of its own making. In several warship and fighter sales deals, they screwed up and quoted too low a price. Russia admits that, and wants to change to a higher price. Both China and Russia are not cooperating. To further complicate matters, China has been shamelessly stealing Russian military technology, and producing copies, without compensating the Russians for the stolen technology. China denies this, but it’s all pretty blatant.

No one knows how this will all turn out. All three nations believe they have strong negotiating positions, but eventually, someone will have to blink, and back off.

December 28, 2007 – Contents


(1) Latest on Kozlovsky

(2) Russia Continues to Arm Rogue State Iran

(3) Nemtsov Drops Out

(4) Exposing Russia’s Sham Economy

(5) Annals of Khodorkovsky

(6) Bird Flu Continues to Ravage Russia