Daily Archives: January 11, 2008

Inflation Cuts Russia to the Quick


Bloomberg reports that Russia’s overall consumer price inflation jumped a breathtaking 32% in 2007 over what it was in 2006 — from 9% two years ago to 11.1% last year. And that’s just the overall rate. People earning Russia’s average wage of $3.00/hour don’t pay that — they pay the rate that affects the tiny basket of goods and services they can actually afford. The rate on those items is far higher than the overall rate, no word yet on how much higher it was, but the figure is probably close to double the overall rate. It was the first year since 1998 that the country has seen inflation fail to fall from one year to the next.

More proof of the wonders of Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The Gun on Putin’s Wall

Writing in the Moscow Times Robert Coalson, a Russia analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague, tells us about that gun up there on Putin’s wall:

Despite the calm of the holiday season, tension is mounting in Russia’s political environment. And it is a natural product of the unique form of political theater — imitation democracy — that the political system has evolved into over the last eight years.

On the surface, the official narrative of the current power transition has been a tale of stability, continuity, and — to use an autocratic Russian word that has inexplicably made a comeback — preemstvennost, or succession. Throughout the campaign leading up to the State Duma elections in December, the Kremlin’s mantra was that a vote for United Russia is a vote for “more of the same,” for maintaining the course supposedly laid out by President Vladimir Putin.

After Putin tapped First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, the media spin focused on their long years of — yes, some outlets used the word — collaboration. Medvedev was drawn as “Putin lite” and “Putin’s little brother” and so on. Some observers commented that the stiff and colorless Medvedev had been coached by Putin’s handlers to adopt the president’s manners of speech and gesture. The preceding months of speculation, during which at least a dozen potential successors were bandied about, make it difficult for the Kremlin to spin Medvedev as the “inevitable” successor to Putin, but the administration keeps trying. Leonid Polyakov, of the Higher School of Economics, told Kreml.org last month that the tandem of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin “is the real foundation of political stability for many years ahead.”

Nonetheless, doubts persist and grow. Will 2008 be a year of continuity or great change for Russia?

Part of the reason for the doubts is the other thread of the Kremlin’s succession campaign — hyperbolic claims that any change would inevitably lead to violence, instability, and possibly the dismemberment of Russia. Although the December “referendum on Putin” was scripted to show that change had been rejected, the lingering sense that the Putin system is not as stable as it seems hangs in the air. Widespread talk of — and considerable tangible evidence of — conflict among the ruling clans adds to the impression of looming danger.

Another element of the tension is Putin’s own style of political management, the style that produced the spectacle of political theater that Russia has become. In a recent interview, always-colorful analyst Gleb Pavlovsky described Putin as “an author of uncertainty” who is following “a strategy of uncertainty.” The accepted wisdom on Putin is that he generally follows policies that maximize his future political options, and his handling of the current power transition would seem to be a clear case in point. The result, however, is a highly personalized political system that lacks institutions. As political scientist Lilia Shevtsova wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Putin’s “quest for stability through political crackdown has created a situation in which neither he nor anyone else in Russia knows what will happen after March 2008.”

Over the medium term, Shevtsova sees danger in Russia’s “pseudo democracy.” “Imitation democracies … only serve to discredit liberal democratic institutions and principles, and the citizens living within them may at some point actually prefer a real ‘iron hand.'” That danger cannot be ignored in the context of the possible discontent among some in the so-called Chekist clan and the state’s near-total domination of the media and civil-society institutions.

Fears that continuity might not be an option are also stoked by contentions that Russia’s economic prosperity has a weak foundation. The country has done little to wean itself from a dependence on energy exports, and high revenues from those experts have allowed officials and businesses to avoid necessary reforms and mask inefficiencies. Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, has urged that business must carry out “a fundamental modernization of its technical base” in the next four years as internal price controls on energy are phased out.

The government will soon liberalize policies for using some of the funds currently locked in the stabilization fund, prompting warnings that an injudicious move could spark a serious acceleration of inflation. A conflict over these billions could exacerbate tensions between the haves, who would benefit from controlling the money, and the have-nots, who would suffer most acutely from any inflationary consequences.

And Putin’s undermining of democracy and the government’s legitimacy could leave the country more vulnerable to such shocks. “Genuine prosperity is based on democracy, on the confidence that your decisions and your rights will be reliably protected by the law,” analyst Denis Dragunsky has observed. Igor Bunin, of the Center for Political Technologies, also emphasizes the country’s vulnerability to social unrest and lays the blame on imitation democracy. Under the Putin system, “there are no institutions, neither political, nor legal, nor social, capable of ensuring stability and prosperity.”

One of the maxims of drama, attributed to Anton Chekhov, is that if there is a gun hanging on the wall at the beginning of a play, it must be fired before the end. Pavlovsky refers to this image when he describes the current phase of Russia’s political theater. “The gun is hanging on the wall,” he told Kreml.org. “In principle, the show could be interrupted at the most interesting moment. A fireman could come in and take the gun from the wall and carry it off. Or a maniac could begin shooting up the spectators.”


The Gun on Putin’s Wall

Writing in the Moscow Times Robert Coalson, a Russia analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague, tells us about that gun up there on Putin’s wall:

Despite the calm of the holiday season, tension is mounting in Russia’s political environment. And it is a natural product of the unique form of political theater — imitation democracy — that the political system has evolved into over the last eight years.

On the surface, the official narrative of the current power transition has been a tale of stability, continuity, and — to use an autocratic Russian word that has inexplicably made a comeback — preemstvennost, or succession. Throughout the campaign leading up to the State Duma elections in December, the Kremlin’s mantra was that a vote for United Russia is a vote for “more of the same,” for maintaining the course supposedly laid out by President Vladimir Putin.

After Putin tapped First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, the media spin focused on their long years of — yes, some outlets used the word — collaboration. Medvedev was drawn as “Putin lite” and “Putin’s little brother” and so on. Some observers commented that the stiff and colorless Medvedev had been coached by Putin’s handlers to adopt the president’s manners of speech and gesture. The preceding months of speculation, during which at least a dozen potential successors were bandied about, make it difficult for the Kremlin to spin Medvedev as the “inevitable” successor to Putin, but the administration keeps trying. Leonid Polyakov, of the Higher School of Economics, told Kreml.org last month that the tandem of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin “is the real foundation of political stability for many years ahead.”

Nonetheless, doubts persist and grow. Will 2008 be a year of continuity or great change for Russia?

Part of the reason for the doubts is the other thread of the Kremlin’s succession campaign — hyperbolic claims that any change would inevitably lead to violence, instability, and possibly the dismemberment of Russia. Although the December “referendum on Putin” was scripted to show that change had been rejected, the lingering sense that the Putin system is not as stable as it seems hangs in the air. Widespread talk of — and considerable tangible evidence of — conflict among the ruling clans adds to the impression of looming danger.

Another element of the tension is Putin’s own style of political management, the style that produced the spectacle of political theater that Russia has become. In a recent interview, always-colorful analyst Gleb Pavlovsky described Putin as “an author of uncertainty” who is following “a strategy of uncertainty.” The accepted wisdom on Putin is that he generally follows policies that maximize his future political options, and his handling of the current power transition would seem to be a clear case in point. The result, however, is a highly personalized political system that lacks institutions. As political scientist Lilia Shevtsova wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Putin’s “quest for stability through political crackdown has created a situation in which neither he nor anyone else in Russia knows what will happen after March 2008.”

Over the medium term, Shevtsova sees danger in Russia’s “pseudo democracy.” “Imitation democracies … only serve to discredit liberal democratic institutions and principles, and the citizens living within them may at some point actually prefer a real ‘iron hand.'” That danger cannot be ignored in the context of the possible discontent among some in the so-called Chekist clan and the state’s near-total domination of the media and civil-society institutions.

Fears that continuity might not be an option are also stoked by contentions that Russia’s economic prosperity has a weak foundation. The country has done little to wean itself from a dependence on energy exports, and high revenues from those experts have allowed officials and businesses to avoid necessary reforms and mask inefficiencies. Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, has urged that business must carry out “a fundamental modernization of its technical base” in the next four years as internal price controls on energy are phased out.

The government will soon liberalize policies for using some of the funds currently locked in the stabilization fund, prompting warnings that an injudicious move could spark a serious acceleration of inflation. A conflict over these billions could exacerbate tensions between the haves, who would benefit from controlling the money, and the have-nots, who would suffer most acutely from any inflationary consequences.

And Putin’s undermining of democracy and the government’s legitimacy could leave the country more vulnerable to such shocks. “Genuine prosperity is based on democracy, on the confidence that your decisions and your rights will be reliably protected by the law,” analyst Denis Dragunsky has observed. Igor Bunin, of the Center for Political Technologies, also emphasizes the country’s vulnerability to social unrest and lays the blame on imitation democracy. Under the Putin system, “there are no institutions, neither political, nor legal, nor social, capable of ensuring stability and prosperity.”

One of the maxims of drama, attributed to Anton Chekhov, is that if there is a gun hanging on the wall at the beginning of a play, it must be fired before the end. Pavlovsky refers to this image when he describes the current phase of Russia’s political theater. “The gun is hanging on the wall,” he told Kreml.org. “In principle, the show could be interrupted at the most interesting moment. A fireman could come in and take the gun from the wall and carry it off. Or a maniac could begin shooting up the spectators.”


The Gun on Putin’s Wall

Writing in the Moscow Times Robert Coalson, a Russia analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague, tells us about that gun up there on Putin’s wall:

Despite the calm of the holiday season, tension is mounting in Russia’s political environment. And it is a natural product of the unique form of political theater — imitation democracy — that the political system has evolved into over the last eight years.

On the surface, the official narrative of the current power transition has been a tale of stability, continuity, and — to use an autocratic Russian word that has inexplicably made a comeback — preemstvennost, or succession. Throughout the campaign leading up to the State Duma elections in December, the Kremlin’s mantra was that a vote for United Russia is a vote for “more of the same,” for maintaining the course supposedly laid out by President Vladimir Putin.

After Putin tapped First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, the media spin focused on their long years of — yes, some outlets used the word — collaboration. Medvedev was drawn as “Putin lite” and “Putin’s little brother” and so on. Some observers commented that the stiff and colorless Medvedev had been coached by Putin’s handlers to adopt the president’s manners of speech and gesture. The preceding months of speculation, during which at least a dozen potential successors were bandied about, make it difficult for the Kremlin to spin Medvedev as the “inevitable” successor to Putin, but the administration keeps trying. Leonid Polyakov, of the Higher School of Economics, told Kreml.org last month that the tandem of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin “is the real foundation of political stability for many years ahead.”

Nonetheless, doubts persist and grow. Will 2008 be a year of continuity or great change for Russia?

Part of the reason for the doubts is the other thread of the Kremlin’s succession campaign — hyperbolic claims that any change would inevitably lead to violence, instability, and possibly the dismemberment of Russia. Although the December “referendum on Putin” was scripted to show that change had been rejected, the lingering sense that the Putin system is not as stable as it seems hangs in the air. Widespread talk of — and considerable tangible evidence of — conflict among the ruling clans adds to the impression of looming danger.

Another element of the tension is Putin’s own style of political management, the style that produced the spectacle of political theater that Russia has become. In a recent interview, always-colorful analyst Gleb Pavlovsky described Putin as “an author of uncertainty” who is following “a strategy of uncertainty.” The accepted wisdom on Putin is that he generally follows policies that maximize his future political options, and his handling of the current power transition would seem to be a clear case in point. The result, however, is a highly personalized political system that lacks institutions. As political scientist Lilia Shevtsova wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Putin’s “quest for stability through political crackdown has created a situation in which neither he nor anyone else in Russia knows what will happen after March 2008.”

Over the medium term, Shevtsova sees danger in Russia’s “pseudo democracy.” “Imitation democracies … only serve to discredit liberal democratic institutions and principles, and the citizens living within them may at some point actually prefer a real ‘iron hand.'” That danger cannot be ignored in the context of the possible discontent among some in the so-called Chekist clan and the state’s near-total domination of the media and civil-society institutions.

Fears that continuity might not be an option are also stoked by contentions that Russia’s economic prosperity has a weak foundation. The country has done little to wean itself from a dependence on energy exports, and high revenues from those experts have allowed officials and businesses to avoid necessary reforms and mask inefficiencies. Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, has urged that business must carry out “a fundamental modernization of its technical base” in the next four years as internal price controls on energy are phased out.

The government will soon liberalize policies for using some of the funds currently locked in the stabilization fund, prompting warnings that an injudicious move could spark a serious acceleration of inflation. A conflict over these billions could exacerbate tensions between the haves, who would benefit from controlling the money, and the have-nots, who would suffer most acutely from any inflationary consequences.

And Putin’s undermining of democracy and the government’s legitimacy could leave the country more vulnerable to such shocks. “Genuine prosperity is based on democracy, on the confidence that your decisions and your rights will be reliably protected by the law,” analyst Denis Dragunsky has observed. Igor Bunin, of the Center for Political Technologies, also emphasizes the country’s vulnerability to social unrest and lays the blame on imitation democracy. Under the Putin system, “there are no institutions, neither political, nor legal, nor social, capable of ensuring stability and prosperity.”

One of the maxims of drama, attributed to Anton Chekhov, is that if there is a gun hanging on the wall at the beginning of a play, it must be fired before the end. Pavlovsky refers to this image when he describes the current phase of Russia’s political theater. “The gun is hanging on the wall,” he told Kreml.org. “In principle, the show could be interrupted at the most interesting moment. A fireman could come in and take the gun from the wall and carry it off. Or a maniac could begin shooting up the spectators.”


The Gun on Putin’s Wall

Writing in the Moscow Times Robert Coalson, a Russia analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague, tells us about that gun up there on Putin’s wall:

Despite the calm of the holiday season, tension is mounting in Russia’s political environment. And it is a natural product of the unique form of political theater — imitation democracy — that the political system has evolved into over the last eight years.

On the surface, the official narrative of the current power transition has been a tale of stability, continuity, and — to use an autocratic Russian word that has inexplicably made a comeback — preemstvennost, or succession. Throughout the campaign leading up to the State Duma elections in December, the Kremlin’s mantra was that a vote for United Russia is a vote for “more of the same,” for maintaining the course supposedly laid out by President Vladimir Putin.

After Putin tapped First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, the media spin focused on their long years of — yes, some outlets used the word — collaboration. Medvedev was drawn as “Putin lite” and “Putin’s little brother” and so on. Some observers commented that the stiff and colorless Medvedev had been coached by Putin’s handlers to adopt the president’s manners of speech and gesture. The preceding months of speculation, during which at least a dozen potential successors were bandied about, make it difficult for the Kremlin to spin Medvedev as the “inevitable” successor to Putin, but the administration keeps trying. Leonid Polyakov, of the Higher School of Economics, told Kreml.org last month that the tandem of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin “is the real foundation of political stability for many years ahead.”

Nonetheless, doubts persist and grow. Will 2008 be a year of continuity or great change for Russia?

Part of the reason for the doubts is the other thread of the Kremlin’s succession campaign — hyperbolic claims that any change would inevitably lead to violence, instability, and possibly the dismemberment of Russia. Although the December “referendum on Putin” was scripted to show that change had been rejected, the lingering sense that the Putin system is not as stable as it seems hangs in the air. Widespread talk of — and considerable tangible evidence of — conflict among the ruling clans adds to the impression of looming danger.

Another element of the tension is Putin’s own style of political management, the style that produced the spectacle of political theater that Russia has become. In a recent interview, always-colorful analyst Gleb Pavlovsky described Putin as “an author of uncertainty” who is following “a strategy of uncertainty.” The accepted wisdom on Putin is that he generally follows policies that maximize his future political options, and his handling of the current power transition would seem to be a clear case in point. The result, however, is a highly personalized political system that lacks institutions. As political scientist Lilia Shevtsova wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Putin’s “quest for stability through political crackdown has created a situation in which neither he nor anyone else in Russia knows what will happen after March 2008.”

Over the medium term, Shevtsova sees danger in Russia’s “pseudo democracy.” “Imitation democracies … only serve to discredit liberal democratic institutions and principles, and the citizens living within them may at some point actually prefer a real ‘iron hand.'” That danger cannot be ignored in the context of the possible discontent among some in the so-called Chekist clan and the state’s near-total domination of the media and civil-society institutions.

Fears that continuity might not be an option are also stoked by contentions that Russia’s economic prosperity has a weak foundation. The country has done little to wean itself from a dependence on energy exports, and high revenues from those experts have allowed officials and businesses to avoid necessary reforms and mask inefficiencies. Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, has urged that business must carry out “a fundamental modernization of its technical base” in the next four years as internal price controls on energy are phased out.

The government will soon liberalize policies for using some of the funds currently locked in the stabilization fund, prompting warnings that an injudicious move could spark a serious acceleration of inflation. A conflict over these billions could exacerbate tensions between the haves, who would benefit from controlling the money, and the have-nots, who would suffer most acutely from any inflationary consequences.

And Putin’s undermining of democracy and the government’s legitimacy could leave the country more vulnerable to such shocks. “Genuine prosperity is based on democracy, on the confidence that your decisions and your rights will be reliably protected by the law,” analyst Denis Dragunsky has observed. Igor Bunin, of the Center for Political Technologies, also emphasizes the country’s vulnerability to social unrest and lays the blame on imitation democracy. Under the Putin system, “there are no institutions, neither political, nor legal, nor social, capable of ensuring stability and prosperity.”

One of the maxims of drama, attributed to Anton Chekhov, is that if there is a gun hanging on the wall at the beginning of a play, it must be fired before the end. Pavlovsky refers to this image when he describes the current phase of Russia’s political theater. “The gun is hanging on the wall,” he told Kreml.org. “In principle, the show could be interrupted at the most interesting moment. A fireman could come in and take the gun from the wall and carry it off. Or a maniac could begin shooting up the spectators.”


The Gun on Putin’s Wall

Writing in the Moscow Times Robert Coalson, a Russia analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague, tells us about that gun up there on Putin’s wall:

Despite the calm of the holiday season, tension is mounting in Russia’s political environment. And it is a natural product of the unique form of political theater — imitation democracy — that the political system has evolved into over the last eight years.

On the surface, the official narrative of the current power transition has been a tale of stability, continuity, and — to use an autocratic Russian word that has inexplicably made a comeback — preemstvennost, or succession. Throughout the campaign leading up to the State Duma elections in December, the Kremlin’s mantra was that a vote for United Russia is a vote for “more of the same,” for maintaining the course supposedly laid out by President Vladimir Putin.

After Putin tapped First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, the media spin focused on their long years of — yes, some outlets used the word — collaboration. Medvedev was drawn as “Putin lite” and “Putin’s little brother” and so on. Some observers commented that the stiff and colorless Medvedev had been coached by Putin’s handlers to adopt the president’s manners of speech and gesture. The preceding months of speculation, during which at least a dozen potential successors were bandied about, make it difficult for the Kremlin to spin Medvedev as the “inevitable” successor to Putin, but the administration keeps trying. Leonid Polyakov, of the Higher School of Economics, told Kreml.org last month that the tandem of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin “is the real foundation of political stability for many years ahead.”

Nonetheless, doubts persist and grow. Will 2008 be a year of continuity or great change for Russia?

Part of the reason for the doubts is the other thread of the Kremlin’s succession campaign — hyperbolic claims that any change would inevitably lead to violence, instability, and possibly the dismemberment of Russia. Although the December “referendum on Putin” was scripted to show that change had been rejected, the lingering sense that the Putin system is not as stable as it seems hangs in the air. Widespread talk of — and considerable tangible evidence of — conflict among the ruling clans adds to the impression of looming danger.

Another element of the tension is Putin’s own style of political management, the style that produced the spectacle of political theater that Russia has become. In a recent interview, always-colorful analyst Gleb Pavlovsky described Putin as “an author of uncertainty” who is following “a strategy of uncertainty.” The accepted wisdom on Putin is that he generally follows policies that maximize his future political options, and his handling of the current power transition would seem to be a clear case in point. The result, however, is a highly personalized political system that lacks institutions. As political scientist Lilia Shevtsova wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Putin’s “quest for stability through political crackdown has created a situation in which neither he nor anyone else in Russia knows what will happen after March 2008.”

Over the medium term, Shevtsova sees danger in Russia’s “pseudo democracy.” “Imitation democracies … only serve to discredit liberal democratic institutions and principles, and the citizens living within them may at some point actually prefer a real ‘iron hand.'” That danger cannot be ignored in the context of the possible discontent among some in the so-called Chekist clan and the state’s near-total domination of the media and civil-society institutions.

Fears that continuity might not be an option are also stoked by contentions that Russia’s economic prosperity has a weak foundation. The country has done little to wean itself from a dependence on energy exports, and high revenues from those experts have allowed officials and businesses to avoid necessary reforms and mask inefficiencies. Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, has urged that business must carry out “a fundamental modernization of its technical base” in the next four years as internal price controls on energy are phased out.

The government will soon liberalize policies for using some of the funds currently locked in the stabilization fund, prompting warnings that an injudicious move could spark a serious acceleration of inflation. A conflict over these billions could exacerbate tensions between the haves, who would benefit from controlling the money, and the have-nots, who would suffer most acutely from any inflationary consequences.

And Putin’s undermining of democracy and the government’s legitimacy could leave the country more vulnerable to such shocks. “Genuine prosperity is based on democracy, on the confidence that your decisions and your rights will be reliably protected by the law,” analyst Denis Dragunsky has observed. Igor Bunin, of the Center for Political Technologies, also emphasizes the country’s vulnerability to social unrest and lays the blame on imitation democracy. Under the Putin system, “there are no institutions, neither political, nor legal, nor social, capable of ensuring stability and prosperity.”

One of the maxims of drama, attributed to Anton Chekhov, is that if there is a gun hanging on the wall at the beginning of a play, it must be fired before the end. Pavlovsky refers to this image when he describes the current phase of Russia’s political theater. “The gun is hanging on the wall,” he told Kreml.org. “In principle, the show could be interrupted at the most interesting moment. A fireman could come in and take the gun from the wall and carry it off. Or a maniac could begin shooting up the spectators.”


The Horror of the Holidays, Russian Style

The Moscow Times reports on the glories of holiday revelry in Vladimir Putin’s Russia:

Flames and frost took the joy out of the extended New Year’s holidays for thousands of people.

Fires killed 12 Moscow residents — eight of whom were drunk — in the first three days of 2008, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. In all, 108 fires broke out in the city over the three days, and those that led to deaths were caused by fireworks and other New Year’s festivities, Moscow fire chief Viktor Klimkin told reporters late last week. Fireworks injured a total of 50 people, including 10 children, he said.

The first week of January accounts for more fires than any other period of the year, according to statistics from the Emergency Situations Ministry. Moscow firefighters typically get 100 to 150 calls per week, but the figure jumps to 400 the week after New Year’s. Moscow city authorities considered banning fireworks last month but then decided to allow them at specially designated playgrounds near apartment buildings. A 2,000 ruble ($80) fine, however, is imposed on people who set off fireworks elsewhere. Police could not say Tuesday how many fines, if any, had been collected.

A total of 315 people died and 953 were injured in more than 2,000 fires nationwide in the first two days of January, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. In most cases, lit cigarettes — not fireworks — were to blame. The cold also took its toll on merrymakers. Five Moscow residents froze to death on Sunday alone, when the temperature neared minus 20 degrees Celsius, the coldest so far this winter. An additional 352 people suffered frostbite. In all, 75 people have died of hypothermia in Moscow since Nov. 1, Interfax reported Monday, citing the Health and Social Development Ministry.

Elsewhere, thousands of people suffered in subfreezing temperatures after crumbling infrastructure left them without heat, hot water and electricity. Heating and hot water failed in dozens of apartment buildings in the cities of Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk and Yakutsk on New Year’s Eve as outside temperatures fell below minus 30 C. It took emergency workers several days to complete repairs. In Krasnodar, 40,000 people were left without heating and hot water on Jan. 4 after a short circuit disabled a cable at a pumping station. The outside temperature was around minus 8 C. The climate was milder in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, but thousands of people still took to the streets and built barricades to block traffic on local thoroughfares after heating, water and electricity was turned off on New Year’s Eve. Repairs were completed after several days of street protests, at which participants demanded the resignation of Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov and Dagestani President Mukhu Aliyev.

Separately, 12 people were arrested early Jan. 1 after a drunken street brawl between about 20 Dagestanis and 20 Azeris near the Altufyevo metro station in northern Moscow, Ekho Moskvy radio reported, citing police. Four men were hospitalized with knife wounds.

Other holiday violence included two grenade explosions that killed one person and injured six others. A man pulled the pin on a grenade in a cafe in the Altai region on Saturday, killing himself and injuring four, Interfax reported. On the same day, a train driver detonated a grenade, injuring himself and an off-duty police officer in the Omsk region. It was not clear what had prompted the men’s actions.

On a brighter side, 11 Russian seamen were rescued on Friday after surviving a shipwreck and being stranded for three months on a desolate patch of the Pacific coast in the Far East. The group, which included three women, found an abandoned border guard base and survived by eating flour left behind by the servicemen and heating the place with pieces of old furniture. When food supplies ran low, five sailors set out to seek help. After four days of walking, they stumbled across some military servicemen who sent rescuers for the others.

And that’s not all. The MT continues:

The extended New Year’s holiday cost the economy 700 billion rubles ($28.5 billion), or about 2 percent of the gross domestic product, economists said Thursday. Most businesses across the country shut down for the 10-day holiday, which began Dec. 30 and ran through Jan. 8, the day after Orthodox Christmas. In addition, the regular work week got off to a slow start Wednesday, with many workers putting off their return to work until next week. Some of those who did come back found it difficult to get into the swing of things after the long break. Vladimir Bragin, an economist at Trust Bank, said the slowdown in economic activity costs Russia dearly. “I think that 10 days of pure holidays mean about 20 days of stress and hangovers. This is too high a price,” Bragin told Russia Today television.

In comparison, the Christmas holiday in Britain costs the local economy only $1.5 billion.

Latynina on Beslan

Writing in the Moscow Times, hero journalist Yulia Latynina speaks about Russia’s Wiesenthal:

Last week, Senator Alexander Torshin, former head of the parliamentary commission that investigated the Beslan school attack, shared some news about the investigation with Ekho Moskvy radio.

“We are working according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center principle,” Torshin said. “Those who suffered at Beslan are in touch with me.”

Torshin revealed the name of one more terrorist. There were eight unidentified terrorists and now seven remain. “He is from Moscow, from a good family, and he is not a native of the Caucasus,” Torshin said.

This news, which spread across all the Internet sites, truly characterizes our native Wiesenthals who are leading the investigation. The terrorist in question was actually identified way back in April: He is Ilnur Gainullin, born in 1980 and an ethnic Tatar. He is also medical school graduate and a resident of Moscow. But our diligent Wiesenthals never released his name, as if it were a state secret.

Enough about Gainullin. What I really want to know is who was the ringleader of the Beslan attack and where is this person now?

This is not idle curiosity on my part. As early as Sept. 1, 2004, the first day that the Beslan school was taken hostage, Ali Taziyev was mentioned as one of the leaders. He is also known as Magomed Yevloyev, or Magas, and is the right hand of former Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who was killed in 2006. Among other things, Magas orchestrated the June 22 attack on Nazran.

Magas was declared dead on Sept. 3. And two years after the murder of Ingush Deputy Interior Minister Dzhabrail Kostoyev, the Interior Ministry said Magas was Kostoyev’s killer. Within several days, Basayev appointed Magas to command the Ingush front.
The Prosecutor General’s Office has always maintained that there were 32 terrorists, and that they drove in on a GAZ-66 truck — which, by the way, cannot hold more than 25 people — from a camp near the village of Psedakh. Independent experts, witnesses and hostages all confirm that there were, in fact, two groups of terrorists, and that the first group was already at the school when the second group arrived by truck.

At first glance, it would seem that the prosecutors’ motive in insisting that there were 32 terrorists was to convince the public that none of them escaped alive. (The bodies of 31 terrorists were recovered. The 32nd, Nurpashi Kulayev, was captured and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.)

But the real reason is more sinister. The group of terrorists coming from Psedakh was led by Ruslan Khuchbarov, otherwise known as “the Colonel.” If this is the case, then who commanded the second group? The answer: Magas.

This leads to the dreadful question of who was in charge — Taziyev or Khuchbarov? This is a very difficult question because, according to the picture emerging from the investigation, it was Khuchbarov who handled negotiations with federal troops and delivered the terrorists’ demands. This is in an important argument — although it is not the only one — suggesting that Khuchbarov was the chief terrorist. Another is that, according to the hostages’ accounts, the man calling himself Ali left the school before the troops moved in. That is, he bailed out once it became clear that events had turned against him. This suggests that in such situations the top terrorist commander can abandon the scene to protect himself so that he can fight future battles.

In any case, one thing is clear: Either the chief terrorist in the Beslan attack or the leader of one of the two groups is currently leading the insurgents in Ingushetia. I think that acknowledging this fact is far more important than establishing the identity of Gainullin.

Aslund Rips Putin Another New One

Writing in the Moscow Times Anders Aslund, senior fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and author of Russia’s Capitalist Revolution: Why Market Reform Succeeded and Democracy Failed, explores the dirty underbelly of the Putin dictatorship:

For years, President Vladimir Putin promised everybody that he would retire from politics when his second term lapsed in 2008. With his usual consistency, he changed his tune last June, saying he would maintain a major political role. In December, he “agreed” to serve as prime minister under a future President Dmitry Medvedev.

Many commentators have called this an ideal outcome and even write about the Putin-Medvedev “dream team.”

“Dream” might arouse the right perception because it might not be more real than Putin’s previously long-acclaimed retirement.

Putin could not retire for two reasons. First, serious accusations of corruption and grand larceny have been raised against him. Therefore, he could not retire in a Russia without rule of law because no legal guarantees of amnesty could be plausible. Second, Putin’s rule is a personal authoritarian system in which all power rests with the ruler. If he retires, his system is prone to collapse.

Putin’s plan to become prime minister secures his badly needed immunity. But as prime minister he could not safeguard his personal dictatorship or arbitrate among his closest conspirators from the KGB in St. Petersburg. These people have all the reason in the world to revolt.

The strongest Chekist clan is led by Igor Sechin, the deputy head of the presidential administration. Although not even a public personality, he is arguably the second-most powerful man in Putin’s Russia, and he chairs Rosneft. A close ally of Sechin is Viktor Ivanov, responsible for personnel in the Kremlin and chairman of the armaments company Almaz-Antei and Aeroflot. Other prominent members of this camp are FSB head Nikolai Patrushev, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, Justice Minister Vladimir Ustinov and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin. It was Sechin’s clan that campaigned for a third term for Putin.

Its main antagonists are Viktor Cherkesov, head of the Federal Drug Control Agency, and Viktor Zolotov, head of the presidential security service. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika appears to have joined them.

Beyond these two competing groups, Putin’s friends from the KGB and St. Petersburg form several seemingly independent groups. Vladimir Yakunin, chief of Russian Railways, leads one clan; Sergei Chemezov of Rosoboronexport and Russian Technologies heads another; Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev appears to have broken out of the Sechin group, establishing an independent force. IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov seem to represent separate KGB forces.

All these KGB people have come to the fore only because they were friends of Putin. He is their only claim to fame. In all likelihood, nobody else would appoint them to such high posts. Putin has maintained his power by dividing these groups and arbitrating between them, so that they all hate one another.

But by appointing Medvedev as his heir apparent, Putin has carried out a coup against his KGB friends, betraying them all. Ironically, the prime beneficiaries are the surviving family oligarchs led by Roman Abramovich, who have been losing out politically since the Yukos confiscation in 2003.

Today, all of Putin’s Chekists undoubtedly loathe Medvedev, who has outwitted them. But most of all, they must hate their former friend Vladimir Vladimirovich. They all hoped to remain in power, but what will happen to them in the future under the Medvedev-Putin dream team?

They are privately wealthy, but their fortunes hinge on government positions that President Medvedev could fire them from, and any student of management or history knows that it would be imprudent of him not to do so instantly.

The situation is quite simple. Either the Chekists gang up against Medvedev and Putin while they still have power, or they face being discarded into the dustbin of history. The oligarchs may be ready to defend Medvedev with their money, but the Chekists have the arms and troops. In short, we are seeing a classical pre-coup situation: Will the armed old regime give up without violence or try to reassert its power?

The most obvious parallel is the end of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reign. From October 1990 to April 1991, Gorbachev made common cause with Communist Party hardliners, who started considering him one of their own because of his many appointments of reactionary Communists.

In April 1991, however, Gorbachev started his Novo-Ogaryovo process on the elaboration of a new union treaty, which amounted to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its replacement with a loose, voluntary confederation. Gorbachev’s hard-line appointees wanted nothing of the kind. On Aug. 18, 1991, two days before the planned signing of the new union treaty, they joined hands and staged a coup — admittedly one of the most pathetic operetta coups the world has ever seen.

The Sechin group appears to have started to attack Putin himself. The very precise — and plausible — information about Putin’s personal wealth seems to originate from the Sechin clan. The same interlocutors are now leaking the roles of Putin’s reputed bagmen, Gennady Timchenko and Yury Kovalchuk.

Nobody but the Sechin operatives are likely to have had access to Marina Salye’s report from 1992 on Putin’s alleged corrupt foreign trade deals in St. Petersburg at that time, which was released on the Russian Internet for the first time on Nov. 30, two days before the State Duma elections. Suddenly, the censorship on criticism of Putin has eased, and it is controlled by the Sechin crowd.

On Nov. 30, Kommersant published the extraordinary Oleg Shvartsman interview that blackened Sechin and, interestingly, General Valentin Varennikov, one of the foremost August 1991 and October 1993 putchists. It outed KGB business in general. Alisher Usmanov, the owner of Kommersant, is connected to Gazprom, which Medvedev chairs.

This internecine war among the KGB men is reminiscent of the bankers’ war in 1997, which preceded the demise of the oligarchs. Are we seeing the prelude to the fall of the KGB kleptocrats?

If Medvedev is to become president, Putin had better fire all these Chekists before the planned coronation in May. Indeed, he has already spoken about a complete change of the top leadership of the state, but after having warned the incumbents, he needs to act.

Meanwhile, time is running out for his former KGB friends, who need to mend fences among themselves if they intend to organize a coup while they still command Russia’s many special forces. They will, however, have to prove more skill than some of them did in August 1991 and October 1993.

Since both a purge and a coup are obvious actions for a conspiratorial brain trained in the Kremlin, neither might come into fruition. But the nasty infighting in the Kremlin is likely to continue and lead to upsets for the dream team.

Annals of the Opposition Crackdown

The Moscow Times reports:

A 16-year-old opposition activist was attacked near her apartment building after attending an Other Russia rally to protest the State Duma elections, an official said Tuesday.

Two assailants were waiting for National Bolshevik activist Maria Koleda and asked for her name before they started to beat her, said Alexander Averin, spokesman for the banned National Bolshevik Party. The group is part of the Other Russia opposition coalition. Koleda suffered a concussion and broken finger, Averin said. “She filed a complaint with Moscow prosecutors Monday,” he said.

Prosecutors were not available for comment Tuesday.

Koleda was among several opposition activists detained Dec. 24 after staging a protest at the Marriott Aurora Hotel, where new Duma deputies were staying. The activists handcuffed themselves to the hotel gates and demanded that the deputies resign.

A National Bolshevik activist, Yury Chervochkin, died in December after being beaten.

Annals of Russian "Education"

The eXile reports (we paraphrase):

This Thursday, the Ministry of Education will approve a new series of updated, pro-Putin textbooks to be used in the next school year. This story first made headlines this summer when Kommersant found out that it had been specifically ordered by someone in the presidential administration. Here’s a few lessons from a textbook called Russian History from 1945—2007:

Book1. The abolition of directly elected regional governors was a good thing because Russians cannot govern themselves.

2. The nationalization of the Yukos oil company, sending its CEO Mikhail Khodorkovksy to prison for ten years in Siberia instead of allowing him to run for president, means Russia no longer has corrupt oligarchs.

3. Georgia gave up its independence in 2004 with its presidential elections and is now illegitimate.

4. Stalin was an “effective manager,” taking Russia from the plow to the atomic bomb in just a few years. His repressions were necessary to mobilize for war and industrialize Russia so quickly. Same goes for Brezhnev. Krushchev, Yeltsin and Gorbachev on the other hand were bad because they were weak.

For more scary stories on how neo-Soviet Russia has perverted its educational system, click “education” at the bottom of this post.