Daily Archives: January 25, 2008

Kozlovsky Speaks!

Oborona reports on an interview of Oleg Kozlovsky from the Russian press, a Ryazan tabloid called “Pokoleniye” (“Generation”) complete with a photograph of Oleg taken during his illegal internment with the Russian miltary at a Ryazan base (LR staff translation, not by our expert consultants, corrections welcome):

GENERATION: Tell us, in a nutshell, your current status:

OLEG KOZLOVSKY: I’m to undergo a second medical evaluation by experts in Moscow to confirm the results of the first, done here in Ryazan. I expect the Moscow results to be the same, if there is no external pressure. I hope to learn the results on Monday. It seems the High Command is riveted by my activities and I am constantly monitored. A Lieutenant-General has followed me throughout the course of my medical screening, reporting back to his superiors. His rank alone shows my significance to the authorities and the fact that the interest runs to the highest levels. I am constantly asked by my superiors why the outside world is paying so much attention to me. It’s become clear to me that I have widespread support in my plight, and that many are shocked by the manner in which I was brought here. To accomplish this legally would have required many months of bureaucratic activity, you see.

Tell us what happened when you were seized.

On the morning of December 20, 2007, I left the place where I’d spent the night (it’s not my permanent address) and encountered a uniformed law enforcement officer, who said that I should go with him in the Izmailovksy Military Enlistment Office to “solve a few problems.” I had been to that office many times in the past to deal with bureaucratic issues regarding my military paperwork, so I had no reason to think I would be kidnapped. I went with the officer to his police cruiser and found there two more men in plain clothes. I asked them who they were and they said they were employees of the enlistment office. None of them would show me their identity documents. I was later informed that the two in plain clothes were FSB agents.

I was informed that I had to immediately present myself for medical examination. In informed them of my status as a reserve officer and full-time student, indicating this made me ineligible for induction, but they persisted, telling me that. Employees military enlistment assured me that this examination was “only a formality” and that afterwards I would be allowed to return home. My first thought was that they simply wanted me off the street for a little while in light of the pending elections, but then I soon realized that the matter was much more serious. I was able to pass a brief message to my colleagues at Oborona, then was rushed through a medical review (it took all of 15 minutes) and smuggled out a rear entrance to the induction barracks in the Moscow suburbs. The military vehicle that transported me to the barracks was accompanied by a police vehicle using lights and sirens to clear the way and make the transit as rapid as possible.

What happened after you got to the barracks?

As soon as I arrived I was brought before the commanding officer. After explaining my situation to him, he agreed to send me to a Moscow hospital for reexamination and assessment of my medical condition. No sooner had I arrived there, however, when several soldiers appeared, accompanied by some plain clothes agents driving a black Volga, seized me and transported me to Ryazan. I was not given the opportunity to inform my family of my removal.

What happened when you got to Ryazan?

At first I was placed in a tiny unit stationed far out in the countryside, far from the nearest village, obviously covering their tracks. But after speaking with the staff there I was able to obtain my transfer to a military hospital in the city.

It all seems to have occurred with remarkable speed.

Yes, what occurred in my case usually requires a much longer period for the ordinary soldier. Obviously, they needed me out of Moscow as soon as possible. However, my colleagues immediately filed a complaint calling for an investigation of the Izmailovsky office, and although I have no illusions about its prospects for success I retain the hope that justice will prevail and those responsible will be held accountable.

How were you treated at the Ryzan hospital?

I cannot complain, they’ve gone by the book, conducting themselves with honor and seeking to rectify the transgressions of their Moscow colleagues.

How long do you expect to stay here?

The documents say that a decision should be made on Monday. If the Moscow forces do not interfere, I will be discharged.

How do you explain what’s happened to you?

I can’t, nobody can. But I’m not the only person who’s been victimized by conscription, there are many others. I’ve been able to protect myself and demand justice, but many others have not been so lucky. In fact, we don’t even know they exist. I would like to add that this incident won’t change my political activity, I’ll continue it. In fact, it only increases my confidence and commitment that I’m on the right path, because somebody wants to put me off it.

Although your experience has been brief, what are your impressions of service in the Russian Army?

The Army is in crisis. Rather than reform it and fill it with recruits who truly wish to serve, the Ministry of Defense is ignoring its needs and relying on involuntary conscription. And this applies equally to the officer corps. Is it possible to force a person to put forth his best efforts? I think not.

What will you do after you are discharged?

I will not let the matter drop. I will pursue all means of legal redress to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. If the Izmailovsky office will not admit that their actions were ordered from above, then they must bear the full brunt of responsibility.

Any final thoughts?

I would like to express my appreciation to all those who have supported me, who have filed appeals on my behalf and who have demanded my release. All those who have gone to the streets to protest on my behalf. I thank you, all those who have not deserted me! And I urge all young people in Russia to stand up and fight for their rights and never bow down before the arbitrary actions of our bureaucrats.

Another Original LR Translation: The Kremlin’s Jackboot Presses Down on the Throat of the Internet

Russia Starts the Second Cold War . . . on the Internet

Rupor.Info

Editorial

Translated from the Russian by S.S.

While Vladimir Putin is building a “Golden Bunker” through his stand-ins [TN: a $50 million residence known as “Villa Konstantin” which is rumored being built for him in Switzerland], the Kremlin administration has come up with a new way of interfering in citizens’ private lives and isolating the country from the rest of the world. In the best traditions of the Cold War, the Special Services will have the exclusive means to deprive all those living in the Russian Federation of the right to read and write.

In a couple of months’ time, the horrors of censorship depicted by George Orwell in 1984 will seem like childish pranks compared to the powers granted to the FSB and other security organs in their instructions. Their work will be greatly simplified, and all “dissidents” will turn themselves into “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky [TN: First leader of the Cheka, later the KGB] themselves.

According to the Guardian, Russian internet users, will be completely locked off from foreign traffic, which can be used to access the majority of free information, as currently happens in China. Those whose work requires access to foreign sites (ministries, departments and state companies) will have to be approved by the Special Services.

In practice, this will be achieved by the introduction of Cyrillic domain names, which will automatically cut the whole of Russia off from the World Wide Web and the Internet’s other services.

“The “Russian Internet” project will look at the question of how they can best communicate within their own country. The internationalization of domain names will give them the chance to do what is being attempted in China, where three top-level domain names, written in Chinese characters, are used: .net, .com and .cn”, Wolfgang Kleinwachter, member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance, explains the technical details.

The key question here is whether Russia’s own root servers will use Russian international domain names when deciding where to direct their enquiries on the Internet—that is will they be autonomous from the already existing root servers of the net, which are mainly based in the USA (5 in the USA, 2 in Northern Europe).

In Kleinwachter’s opinion, the worst case scenario would be everyone having to register domain names using the Cyrillic top-level domain .rf. “Then Russian would have its own root name server, and it is much easier to control a top-level domain than a hundred thousand subdomains”, says the expert.

The Chinese Model

The FSB is taking a tried and tested route; it’s not reinventing the wheel. Russians will end up as isolated as the Chinese.

Furthermore, the Chinese authorities are at the stage of perfecting Internet censorship.

“Now the Chinese side has a choice: to preserve for itself the domain .cn in ASCII code, or to isolate it, “ explains Kleinwachter, “If they isolate it, then they will be able to build their own individual bridge which will link the Chinese Internet with the ASCII internet. The Russians, like the Chinese, have considered this variant. I’m under the impression that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more inclined to accept this variant than the Chinese Ministry of Economic Development and Trade”.

Specialists aren’t excluding one other variant. Every citizen could be given a fixed IP address, which they would have to use wherever they gained access to the Internet.

The Electronic Curtain

“According to the estimates on the Russian side, 90% of the information exchange will take place within Russia and only 10% will go outside, “ says Kleinwachter. In these circumstances it is this 10% who will feel the difference from the previous situation most of all.

According to Kleinwachter, it has been suggested that people will require a password sanctioned by state authorities to access the global Internet. In this way, the Kremlin will be able to control each citizen’s contact with the outside world.

The authorities however assert that this will make tracing “cyber-criminals” easier.

Anyone wishing to read the European press, including the Ukrainian, will now become a dangerous criminal; in the same way as everyone going to a demonstration instantly turns into an “extremist”.

“Legal” hackers

Western IT specialists point out that this innovation makes all Russian hackers absolutely untraceable. “This would result in a wall being built being cyber-criminals and their victims” believes Jose Nazario of the company Arbor, who defends the state and corporations from attacks from hackers originating from Russian territory.

“Tracing Russian hackers will become very complicated. Security experts are now only just beginning to understand their methods, and this decision would slow our work down considerably. Aside from this, it is a sign of the increasing strain in the relations between Putin’s Russian and the West”, emphasizes Nazario.

NOTE: This article has nearly 100 comments attached, for those who read Russian.

Another Original LR Translation: The Kremlin’s Jackboot Presses Down on the Throat of the Internet

Russia Starts the Second Cold War . . . on the Internet

Rupor.Info

Editorial

Translated from the Russian by S.S.

While Vladimir Putin is building a “Golden Bunker” through his stand-ins [TN: a $50 million residence known as “Villa Konstantin” which is rumored being built for him in Switzerland], the Kremlin administration has come up with a new way of interfering in citizens’ private lives and isolating the country from the rest of the world. In the best traditions of the Cold War, the Special Services will have the exclusive means to deprive all those living in the Russian Federation of the right to read and write.

In a couple of months’ time, the horrors of censorship depicted by George Orwell in 1984 will seem like childish pranks compared to the powers granted to the FSB and other security organs in their instructions. Their work will be greatly simplified, and all “dissidents” will turn themselves into “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky [TN: First leader of the Cheka, later the KGB] themselves.

According to the Guardian, Russian internet users, will be completely locked off from foreign traffic, which can be used to access the majority of free information, as currently happens in China. Those whose work requires access to foreign sites (ministries, departments and state companies) will have to be approved by the Special Services.

In practice, this will be achieved by the introduction of Cyrillic domain names, which will automatically cut the whole of Russia off from the World Wide Web and the Internet’s other services.

“The “Russian Internet” project will look at the question of how they can best communicate within their own country. The internationalization of domain names will give them the chance to do what is being attempted in China, where three top-level domain names, written in Chinese characters, are used: .net, .com and .cn”, Wolfgang Kleinwachter, member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance, explains the technical details.

The key question here is whether Russia’s own root servers will use Russian international domain names when deciding where to direct their enquiries on the Internet—that is will they be autonomous from the already existing root servers of the net, which are mainly based in the USA (5 in the USA, 2 in Northern Europe).

In Kleinwachter’s opinion, the worst case scenario would be everyone having to register domain names using the Cyrillic top-level domain .rf. “Then Russian would have its own root name server, and it is much easier to control a top-level domain than a hundred thousand subdomains”, says the expert.

The Chinese Model

The FSB is taking a tried and tested route; it’s not reinventing the wheel. Russians will end up as isolated as the Chinese.

Furthermore, the Chinese authorities are at the stage of perfecting Internet censorship.

“Now the Chinese side has a choice: to preserve for itself the domain .cn in ASCII code, or to isolate it, “ explains Kleinwachter, “If they isolate it, then they will be able to build their own individual bridge which will link the Chinese Internet with the ASCII internet. The Russians, like the Chinese, have considered this variant. I’m under the impression that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more inclined to accept this variant than the Chinese Ministry of Economic Development and Trade”.

Specialists aren’t excluding one other variant. Every citizen could be given a fixed IP address, which they would have to use wherever they gained access to the Internet.

The Electronic Curtain

“According to the estimates on the Russian side, 90% of the information exchange will take place within Russia and only 10% will go outside, “ says Kleinwachter. In these circumstances it is this 10% who will feel the difference from the previous situation most of all.

According to Kleinwachter, it has been suggested that people will require a password sanctioned by state authorities to access the global Internet. In this way, the Kremlin will be able to control each citizen’s contact with the outside world.

The authorities however assert that this will make tracing “cyber-criminals” easier.

Anyone wishing to read the European press, including the Ukrainian, will now become a dangerous criminal; in the same way as everyone going to a demonstration instantly turns into an “extremist”.

“Legal” hackers

Western IT specialists point out that this innovation makes all Russian hackers absolutely untraceable. “This would result in a wall being built being cyber-criminals and their victims” believes Jose Nazario of the company Arbor, who defends the state and corporations from attacks from hackers originating from Russian territory.

“Tracing Russian hackers will become very complicated. Security experts are now only just beginning to understand their methods, and this decision would slow our work down considerably. Aside from this, it is a sign of the increasing strain in the relations between Putin’s Russian and the West”, emphasizes Nazario.

NOTE: This article has nearly 100 comments attached, for those who read Russian.

Another Original LR Translation: The Kremlin’s Jackboot Presses Down on the Throat of the Internet

Russia Starts the Second Cold War . . . on the Internet

Rupor.Info

Editorial

Translated from the Russian by S.S.

While Vladimir Putin is building a “Golden Bunker” through his stand-ins [TN: a $50 million residence known as “Villa Konstantin” which is rumored being built for him in Switzerland], the Kremlin administration has come up with a new way of interfering in citizens’ private lives and isolating the country from the rest of the world. In the best traditions of the Cold War, the Special Services will have the exclusive means to deprive all those living in the Russian Federation of the right to read and write.

In a couple of months’ time, the horrors of censorship depicted by George Orwell in 1984 will seem like childish pranks compared to the powers granted to the FSB and other security organs in their instructions. Their work will be greatly simplified, and all “dissidents” will turn themselves into “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky [TN: First leader of the Cheka, later the KGB] themselves.

According to the Guardian, Russian internet users, will be completely locked off from foreign traffic, which can be used to access the majority of free information, as currently happens in China. Those whose work requires access to foreign sites (ministries, departments and state companies) will have to be approved by the Special Services.

In practice, this will be achieved by the introduction of Cyrillic domain names, which will automatically cut the whole of Russia off from the World Wide Web and the Internet’s other services.

“The “Russian Internet” project will look at the question of how they can best communicate within their own country. The internationalization of domain names will give them the chance to do what is being attempted in China, where three top-level domain names, written in Chinese characters, are used: .net, .com and .cn”, Wolfgang Kleinwachter, member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance, explains the technical details.

The key question here is whether Russia’s own root servers will use Russian international domain names when deciding where to direct their enquiries on the Internet—that is will they be autonomous from the already existing root servers of the net, which are mainly based in the USA (5 in the USA, 2 in Northern Europe).

In Kleinwachter’s opinion, the worst case scenario would be everyone having to register domain names using the Cyrillic top-level domain .rf. “Then Russian would have its own root name server, and it is much easier to control a top-level domain than a hundred thousand subdomains”, says the expert.

The Chinese Model

The FSB is taking a tried and tested route; it’s not reinventing the wheel. Russians will end up as isolated as the Chinese.

Furthermore, the Chinese authorities are at the stage of perfecting Internet censorship.

“Now the Chinese side has a choice: to preserve for itself the domain .cn in ASCII code, or to isolate it, “ explains Kleinwachter, “If they isolate it, then they will be able to build their own individual bridge which will link the Chinese Internet with the ASCII internet. The Russians, like the Chinese, have considered this variant. I’m under the impression that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more inclined to accept this variant than the Chinese Ministry of Economic Development and Trade”.

Specialists aren’t excluding one other variant. Every citizen could be given a fixed IP address, which they would have to use wherever they gained access to the Internet.

The Electronic Curtain

“According to the estimates on the Russian side, 90% of the information exchange will take place within Russia and only 10% will go outside, “ says Kleinwachter. In these circumstances it is this 10% who will feel the difference from the previous situation most of all.

According to Kleinwachter, it has been suggested that people will require a password sanctioned by state authorities to access the global Internet. In this way, the Kremlin will be able to control each citizen’s contact with the outside world.

The authorities however assert that this will make tracing “cyber-criminals” easier.

Anyone wishing to read the European press, including the Ukrainian, will now become a dangerous criminal; in the same way as everyone going to a demonstration instantly turns into an “extremist”.

“Legal” hackers

Western IT specialists point out that this innovation makes all Russian hackers absolutely untraceable. “This would result in a wall being built being cyber-criminals and their victims” believes Jose Nazario of the company Arbor, who defends the state and corporations from attacks from hackers originating from Russian territory.

“Tracing Russian hackers will become very complicated. Security experts are now only just beginning to understand their methods, and this decision would slow our work down considerably. Aside from this, it is a sign of the increasing strain in the relations between Putin’s Russian and the West”, emphasizes Nazario.

NOTE: This article has nearly 100 comments attached, for those who read Russian.

Another Original LR Translation: The Kremlin’s Jackboot Presses Down on the Throat of the Internet

Russia Starts the Second Cold War . . . on the Internet

Rupor.Info

Editorial

Translated from the Russian by S.S.

While Vladimir Putin is building a “Golden Bunker” through his stand-ins [TN: a $50 million residence known as “Villa Konstantin” which is rumored being built for him in Switzerland], the Kremlin administration has come up with a new way of interfering in citizens’ private lives and isolating the country from the rest of the world. In the best traditions of the Cold War, the Special Services will have the exclusive means to deprive all those living in the Russian Federation of the right to read and write.

In a couple of months’ time, the horrors of censorship depicted by George Orwell in 1984 will seem like childish pranks compared to the powers granted to the FSB and other security organs in their instructions. Their work will be greatly simplified, and all “dissidents” will turn themselves into “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky [TN: First leader of the Cheka, later the KGB] themselves.

According to the Guardian, Russian internet users, will be completely locked off from foreign traffic, which can be used to access the majority of free information, as currently happens in China. Those whose work requires access to foreign sites (ministries, departments and state companies) will have to be approved by the Special Services.

In practice, this will be achieved by the introduction of Cyrillic domain names, which will automatically cut the whole of Russia off from the World Wide Web and the Internet’s other services.

“The “Russian Internet” project will look at the question of how they can best communicate within their own country. The internationalization of domain names will give them the chance to do what is being attempted in China, where three top-level domain names, written in Chinese characters, are used: .net, .com and .cn”, Wolfgang Kleinwachter, member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance, explains the technical details.

The key question here is whether Russia’s own root servers will use Russian international domain names when deciding where to direct their enquiries on the Internet—that is will they be autonomous from the already existing root servers of the net, which are mainly based in the USA (5 in the USA, 2 in Northern Europe).

In Kleinwachter’s opinion, the worst case scenario would be everyone having to register domain names using the Cyrillic top-level domain .rf. “Then Russian would have its own root name server, and it is much easier to control a top-level domain than a hundred thousand subdomains”, says the expert.

The Chinese Model

The FSB is taking a tried and tested route; it’s not reinventing the wheel. Russians will end up as isolated as the Chinese.

Furthermore, the Chinese authorities are at the stage of perfecting Internet censorship.

“Now the Chinese side has a choice: to preserve for itself the domain .cn in ASCII code, or to isolate it, “ explains Kleinwachter, “If they isolate it, then they will be able to build their own individual bridge which will link the Chinese Internet with the ASCII internet. The Russians, like the Chinese, have considered this variant. I’m under the impression that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more inclined to accept this variant than the Chinese Ministry of Economic Development and Trade”.

Specialists aren’t excluding one other variant. Every citizen could be given a fixed IP address, which they would have to use wherever they gained access to the Internet.

The Electronic Curtain

“According to the estimates on the Russian side, 90% of the information exchange will take place within Russia and only 10% will go outside, “ says Kleinwachter. In these circumstances it is this 10% who will feel the difference from the previous situation most of all.

According to Kleinwachter, it has been suggested that people will require a password sanctioned by state authorities to access the global Internet. In this way, the Kremlin will be able to control each citizen’s contact with the outside world.

The authorities however assert that this will make tracing “cyber-criminals” easier.

Anyone wishing to read the European press, including the Ukrainian, will now become a dangerous criminal; in the same way as everyone going to a demonstration instantly turns into an “extremist”.

“Legal” hackers

Western IT specialists point out that this innovation makes all Russian hackers absolutely untraceable. “This would result in a wall being built being cyber-criminals and their victims” believes Jose Nazario of the company Arbor, who defends the state and corporations from attacks from hackers originating from Russian territory.

“Tracing Russian hackers will become very complicated. Security experts are now only just beginning to understand their methods, and this decision would slow our work down considerably. Aside from this, it is a sign of the increasing strain in the relations between Putin’s Russian and the West”, emphasizes Nazario.

NOTE: This article has nearly 100 comments attached, for those who read Russian.

Another Original LR Translation: The Kremlin’s Jackboot Presses Down on the Throat of the Internet

Russia Starts the Second Cold War . . . on the Internet

Rupor.Info

Editorial

Translated from the Russian by S.S.

While Vladimir Putin is building a “Golden Bunker” through his stand-ins [TN: a $50 million residence known as “Villa Konstantin” which is rumored being built for him in Switzerland], the Kremlin administration has come up with a new way of interfering in citizens’ private lives and isolating the country from the rest of the world. In the best traditions of the Cold War, the Special Services will have the exclusive means to deprive all those living in the Russian Federation of the right to read and write.

In a couple of months’ time, the horrors of censorship depicted by George Orwell in 1984 will seem like childish pranks compared to the powers granted to the FSB and other security organs in their instructions. Their work will be greatly simplified, and all “dissidents” will turn themselves into “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky [TN: First leader of the Cheka, later the KGB] themselves.

According to the Guardian, Russian internet users, will be completely locked off from foreign traffic, which can be used to access the majority of free information, as currently happens in China. Those whose work requires access to foreign sites (ministries, departments and state companies) will have to be approved by the Special Services.

In practice, this will be achieved by the introduction of Cyrillic domain names, which will automatically cut the whole of Russia off from the World Wide Web and the Internet’s other services.

“The “Russian Internet” project will look at the question of how they can best communicate within their own country. The internationalization of domain names will give them the chance to do what is being attempted in China, where three top-level domain names, written in Chinese characters, are used: .net, .com and .cn”, Wolfgang Kleinwachter, member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance, explains the technical details.

The key question here is whether Russia’s own root servers will use Russian international domain names when deciding where to direct their enquiries on the Internet—that is will they be autonomous from the already existing root servers of the net, which are mainly based in the USA (5 in the USA, 2 in Northern Europe).

In Kleinwachter’s opinion, the worst case scenario would be everyone having to register domain names using the Cyrillic top-level domain .rf. “Then Russian would have its own root name server, and it is much easier to control a top-level domain than a hundred thousand subdomains”, says the expert.

The Chinese Model

The FSB is taking a tried and tested route; it’s not reinventing the wheel. Russians will end up as isolated as the Chinese.

Furthermore, the Chinese authorities are at the stage of perfecting Internet censorship.

“Now the Chinese side has a choice: to preserve for itself the domain .cn in ASCII code, or to isolate it, “ explains Kleinwachter, “If they isolate it, then they will be able to build their own individual bridge which will link the Chinese Internet with the ASCII internet. The Russians, like the Chinese, have considered this variant. I’m under the impression that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more inclined to accept this variant than the Chinese Ministry of Economic Development and Trade”.

Specialists aren’t excluding one other variant. Every citizen could be given a fixed IP address, which they would have to use wherever they gained access to the Internet.

The Electronic Curtain

“According to the estimates on the Russian side, 90% of the information exchange will take place within Russia and only 10% will go outside, “ says Kleinwachter. In these circumstances it is this 10% who will feel the difference from the previous situation most of all.

According to Kleinwachter, it has been suggested that people will require a password sanctioned by state authorities to access the global Internet. In this way, the Kremlin will be able to control each citizen’s contact with the outside world.

The authorities however assert that this will make tracing “cyber-criminals” easier.

Anyone wishing to read the European press, including the Ukrainian, will now become a dangerous criminal; in the same way as everyone going to a demonstration instantly turns into an “extremist”.

“Legal” hackers

Western IT specialists point out that this innovation makes all Russian hackers absolutely untraceable. “This would result in a wall being built being cyber-criminals and their victims” believes Jose Nazario of the company Arbor, who defends the state and corporations from attacks from hackers originating from Russian territory.

“Tracing Russian hackers will become very complicated. Security experts are now only just beginning to understand their methods, and this decision would slow our work down considerably. Aside from this, it is a sign of the increasing strain in the relations between Putin’s Russian and the West”, emphasizes Nazario.

NOTE: This article has nearly 100 comments attached, for those who read Russian.

EDITORIAL: The "Method" Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

EDITORIAL

The “Method” Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

Does it make any “sense” to you that Russia is going to start Soviet-style parades through Red Square again, with tanks and missiles and such? Can you “explain” why a Russian general would go on national TV and say that he wouldn’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons in a first strike to repel a conventional attack? After all, wouldn’t such actions be likely to provoke a new arms race with the United States, a country that has an economy 12 times bigger than Russia’s and lots of allies?

What kind of “sense” does it make for the Kremlin, as we report below, to open a criminal investigation against the only legitimate opposition candidate in upcoming presidential elections, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov? Even if he’s really guilty of fraudulently obtaining signatures to support his candidacy, he’s a former appointee of Vladimir Putin himself, so what does that say about Putin’s judgment? And the world is already hypercritical of Russia’s slide into dictatorship — so much so that Putin is attempting to create his own “democracy agency” to find fault with the democracies of the West, apparently seeking to divert attention from Russia’s egregious crackdown. Is Putin really so afraid of dissent that he can’t even stand the idea of a person being able to collect enough signatures to run for president without his approval, even though that person has no chance of winning? Can he be that much of a girly man? Come to think of it, what kind of sense does it make for Russia to lecture the world about democracy? Surely the Kremlin realizes that nobody on the planet, except maybe a few of the most ignorant among the Russian citizens it has played for suckers, would believe anything such an agency said. Don’t they?

Surely the Kremlin understands how pathetically weak such actions would make it look, and that this would be utterly inconsistent with its bid for a place at the big-league negotiating table with the grownups, right? Surely, Mr. Putin understands that his critics will seize these actions as further proof of Russia’s inherently savage nature, which makes him bristle so. Doesn’t he?

Writing about the British Council scandal in the Washington Post, Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Foundation stated:

Consider also the domestic perspective on this row. Angry assertions of Russia’s global standing dovetail with Soviet-style isolationism, which breeds suspicion about Western values and influence. The Kremlin is increasingly wary of autonomous groups, especially those that receive Western financial backing. After Putin’s notorious 2004 reference to such organizations — “they don’t bite the hand that feeds them” — nongovernmental and human rights organizations receiving foreign grants have been consistently discredited. Harassment of such groups is growing. In Soviet times, anti-Western propaganda was an element of the totalitarian state, with its sealed borders and rigid ideology aimed at defeating capitalism. In today’s Russia, a nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted, such policies appear irrational and anachronistic. Russia’s business ties with Western countries are expanding. Relations with Britain, especially, extend beyond economic investments: London has become wealthy Russians’ favorite choice for residences, high-quality education and enjoyable getaways. Last year, though, Britain suspended talks on facilitating the visa process, and Russians’ entry to Britain may be further restricted. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called the attacks “totally unacceptable” and noted that the only countries in which the British Council faced serious trouble were Burma and Iran. Yet Kremlin leaders apparently believe that making the world reckon with Russia is worth the harm such company does to the country’s image.

Is the Kremlin really acting irrationally? Let’s see.

Lipman says Russia is “a nation nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted.” That’s clearly not correct. Trade, travel, TV and Internet access are restricted, by the most severe and effective limit there is, the pocketbook. Russians who earn an average wage of $4/hour and who, the men at least, don’t live to see their sixtieth year, may well have far more immediate concerns than acquiring political knowledge and taking political action. It’s called staying alive. What’s more, as we’ve documented here so often, the Kremlin is aggressively moving to seize control of the Internet, first and foremost by launching criminal prosecutions against those who use it to criticize the Kremlin, with a profound chilling effect. So, if the Kremlin is relying on that restriction, then it’s perfectly rational to want to see it continue by keeping the Russian population poor and sick. To be sure, a healthy, wealthy population could make use of Russia’s political climate being less restrictive than it was in Soviet times and perhaps generate real, widespread opposition to the Kremlin’s belligerent foreign policy.

On top of that, Lipman seems to assume that Russians are generally disposed to be fair-minded in regard to foreigners, and that’s simply nonsense. It’s the opposite of the truth. Most Russians are only too willing to swallow the Kremlin’s xenophobic propaganda hook, line and sinker. The fact that there might be a bit of access to competing views on expensive TV and English-language websites means little when the Kremlin’s propaganda is everywhere, 24/7, and backed up by a patronage network many Russian depend on for their survival.

In short, the Kremlin’s efforts to attack the British Council, and all things foreign, is not only rational given the Kremlin’s worldview, it’s merely the reverberation of a constant drumbeat that is the hallmark of Russian history that predates the Romanov dynasty.

Now, to be sure, if we define “rationality” as the desire to have the Russian people at their best and happiest, then the Kremlin’s policy of keeping them weak, sick and miserable makes no sense. If it’s “rational” to make friends in international affairs rather than enemies, especially for a weak nation that lacks the ability to sustain itself on its own (but rather depends, for example, on the international oil markets), then the Kremlin’s policy of alienating every nation on the face of the Earth is crazy.

But if the Kremlin needs a weak population, then it’s perfectly logical to try to cut off access by any foreigners who might make them stronger, just as was done in Soviet times. Conveniently, xenophobia also provides the opportunity to terrify the population regarding the need for protection from evil enemies and the need for ever-greater Kremlin power to do so. The combination of Stalin-like threats of blunt trauma combined with Stalin-like domination over the mass media, combined with the historically proven, craven Russian refusal to question their own government except in times of most dire urgency, means that, regardless of a small amount of competition that might exist, the Kremlin can win the day in the short term.

This reality is why the story about the Emperor and his new clothes was invented. Imagine that, in the story, any person who even started to giggle when viewing the naked Emperor was immediately shot dead. The Emperor could go on for quite some time in his birthday suit before any chickens came home to roost, couldn’t he?

Putin presides over a fundamentally weak and illegitimate regime. He can’t afford to have a kid like Oleg Kozlovsky, much less a former prime minister like Mikhail Kasyanov, making public criticisms of him, even though he knows it can’t actually influence the result of the next election. He’s afraid it could plant the seeds of doubt, seeds that could sprout into mighty oaks of dissent should, say, the price of oil happen to fall owing to a major decline in U.S. demand owing to a U.S. recession. It’s actually all very logical, if you think about it.

What still seems strange, of course, is the idea that Putin and his KGB cohorts wouldn’t realize that, sooner or later, their fraud would bring them down. But it’s not really that strange, not if you know Russia. Two simple reasons explain it.

First, hatred of the West, and most especially America. If there’s any irrationality afoot regarding Russia, it’s the irrationality on our part of failing to understand that if Russians hated us before we beat them in the Cold War, then they hate us twice as much now, because we beat them. And of all the Russians who hate us, the KGB would naturally hate us the most. That kind of hate can make you blind to your own best interests, just as it did in Soviet times. What else would explain actions like Nikita Khrushchev taking off his shoe at the U.N.? Remember, he was one of the USSR’s more moderate leaders. Why would he say “we will bury you” like that? Isn’t it just giving a warning, an opportunity for your adversary to prepare better and possibly defeat you? It seems irrational, and yet it was done, and if you know anything about Russian politics then you know that kind of thing is actually quite commonplace, like say the president of Russia joking about rape in front of a diplomatic delegation, something that happened quite recently.

And second, much more important, seething contempt for the people of Russia, who’ve always been a mighty disappointment to the nation’s rulers. Something that’s very little known about Russian history, and in the Russian people’s favor, is that a relatively small fraction of the population actively supported removing the Tsar and installing a Bolshevik regime. Nothing like a majority ever joined the Communist Party, and an even tinier cadre participated in bringing down the Soviet dictatorship. Mostly, what the people of Russia, often inebriated, have done during such events is to simply stand on the sidelines with their hands folded gaping in slack-jawed bemusement. Imagine being a Russian leader who felt he was risking his life to “save” the people only to meet this reaction. It’d be pretty darned frustrating, wouldn’t it?

A well-documented phenomenon of human psychology leads us to want to think of Russians as being our friends rather than our enemies, and as being rational rather than irrational. The latter is so much safer and more comforting. And malignant little trolls like Vladimir Putin trade on that human tendency, it conveniently helps them consolidate their power.

EDITORIAL: The "Method" Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

EDITORIAL

The “Method” Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

Does it make any “sense” to you that Russia is going to start Soviet-style parades through Red Square again, with tanks and missiles and such? Can you “explain” why a Russian general would go on national TV and say that he wouldn’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons in a first strike to repel a conventional attack? After all, wouldn’t such actions be likely to provoke a new arms race with the United States, a country that has an economy 12 times bigger than Russia’s and lots of allies?

What kind of “sense” does it make for the Kremlin, as we report below, to open a criminal investigation against the only legitimate opposition candidate in upcoming presidential elections, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov? Even if he’s really guilty of fraudulently obtaining signatures to support his candidacy, he’s a former appointee of Vladimir Putin himself, so what does that say about Putin’s judgment? And the world is already hypercritical of Russia’s slide into dictatorship — so much so that Putin is attempting to create his own “democracy agency” to find fault with the democracies of the West, apparently seeking to divert attention from Russia’s egregious crackdown. Is Putin really so afraid of dissent that he can’t even stand the idea of a person being able to collect enough signatures to run for president without his approval, even though that person has no chance of winning? Can he be that much of a girly man? Come to think of it, what kind of sense does it make for Russia to lecture the world about democracy? Surely the Kremlin realizes that nobody on the planet, except maybe a few of the most ignorant among the Russian citizens it has played for suckers, would believe anything such an agency said. Don’t they?

Surely the Kremlin understands how pathetically weak such actions would make it look, and that this would be utterly inconsistent with its bid for a place at the big-league negotiating table with the grownups, right? Surely, Mr. Putin understands that his critics will seize these actions as further proof of Russia’s inherently savage nature, which makes him bristle so. Doesn’t he?

Writing about the British Council scandal in the Washington Post, Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Foundation stated:

Consider also the domestic perspective on this row. Angry assertions of Russia’s global standing dovetail with Soviet-style isolationism, which breeds suspicion about Western values and influence. The Kremlin is increasingly wary of autonomous groups, especially those that receive Western financial backing. After Putin’s notorious 2004 reference to such organizations — “they don’t bite the hand that feeds them” — nongovernmental and human rights organizations receiving foreign grants have been consistently discredited. Harassment of such groups is growing. In Soviet times, anti-Western propaganda was an element of the totalitarian state, with its sealed borders and rigid ideology aimed at defeating capitalism. In today’s Russia, a nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted, such policies appear irrational and anachronistic. Russia’s business ties with Western countries are expanding. Relations with Britain, especially, extend beyond economic investments: London has become wealthy Russians’ favorite choice for residences, high-quality education and enjoyable getaways. Last year, though, Britain suspended talks on facilitating the visa process, and Russians’ entry to Britain may be further restricted. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called the attacks “totally unacceptable” and noted that the only countries in which the British Council faced serious trouble were Burma and Iran. Yet Kremlin leaders apparently believe that making the world reckon with Russia is worth the harm such company does to the country’s image.

Is the Kremlin really acting irrationally? Let’s see.

Lipman says Russia is “a nation nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted.” That’s clearly not correct. Trade, travel, TV and Internet access are restricted, by the most severe and effective limit there is, the pocketbook. Russians who earn an average wage of $4/hour and who, the men at least, don’t live to see their sixtieth year, may well have far more immediate concerns than acquiring political knowledge and taking political action. It’s called staying alive. What’s more, as we’ve documented here so often, the Kremlin is aggressively moving to seize control of the Internet, first and foremost by launching criminal prosecutions against those who use it to criticize the Kremlin, with a profound chilling effect. So, if the Kremlin is relying on that restriction, then it’s perfectly rational to want to see it continue by keeping the Russian population poor and sick. To be sure, a healthy, wealthy population could make use of Russia’s political climate being less restrictive than it was in Soviet times and perhaps generate real, widespread opposition to the Kremlin’s belligerent foreign policy.

On top of that, Lipman seems to assume that Russians are generally disposed to be fair-minded in regard to foreigners, and that’s simply nonsense. It’s the opposite of the truth. Most Russians are only too willing to swallow the Kremlin’s xenophobic propaganda hook, line and sinker. The fact that there might be a bit of access to competing views on expensive TV and English-language websites means little when the Kremlin’s propaganda is everywhere, 24/7, and backed up by a patronage network many Russian depend on for their survival.

In short, the Kremlin’s efforts to attack the British Council, and all things foreign, is not only rational given the Kremlin’s worldview, it’s merely the reverberation of a constant drumbeat that is the hallmark of Russian history that predates the Romanov dynasty.

Now, to be sure, if we define “rationality” as the desire to have the Russian people at their best and happiest, then the Kremlin’s policy of keeping them weak, sick and miserable makes no sense. If it’s “rational” to make friends in international affairs rather than enemies, especially for a weak nation that lacks the ability to sustain itself on its own (but rather depends, for example, on the international oil markets), then the Kremlin’s policy of alienating every nation on the face of the Earth is crazy.

But if the Kremlin needs a weak population, then it’s perfectly logical to try to cut off access by any foreigners who might make them stronger, just as was done in Soviet times. Conveniently, xenophobia also provides the opportunity to terrify the population regarding the need for protection from evil enemies and the need for ever-greater Kremlin power to do so. The combination of Stalin-like threats of blunt trauma combined with Stalin-like domination over the mass media, combined with the historically proven, craven Russian refusal to question their own government except in times of most dire urgency, means that, regardless of a small amount of competition that might exist, the Kremlin can win the day in the short term.

This reality is why the story about the Emperor and his new clothes was invented. Imagine that, in the story, any person who even started to giggle when viewing the naked Emperor was immediately shot dead. The Emperor could go on for quite some time in his birthday suit before any chickens came home to roost, couldn’t he?

Putin presides over a fundamentally weak and illegitimate regime. He can’t afford to have a kid like Oleg Kozlovsky, much less a former prime minister like Mikhail Kasyanov, making public criticisms of him, even though he knows it can’t actually influence the result of the next election. He’s afraid it could plant the seeds of doubt, seeds that could sprout into mighty oaks of dissent should, say, the price of oil happen to fall owing to a major decline in U.S. demand owing to a U.S. recession. It’s actually all very logical, if you think about it.

What still seems strange, of course, is the idea that Putin and his KGB cohorts wouldn’t realize that, sooner or later, their fraud would bring them down. But it’s not really that strange, not if you know Russia. Two simple reasons explain it.

First, hatred of the West, and most especially America. If there’s any irrationality afoot regarding Russia, it’s the irrationality on our part of failing to understand that if Russians hated us before we beat them in the Cold War, then they hate us twice as much now, because we beat them. And of all the Russians who hate us, the KGB would naturally hate us the most. That kind of hate can make you blind to your own best interests, just as it did in Soviet times. What else would explain actions like Nikita Khrushchev taking off his shoe at the U.N.? Remember, he was one of the USSR’s more moderate leaders. Why would he say “we will bury you” like that? Isn’t it just giving a warning, an opportunity for your adversary to prepare better and possibly defeat you? It seems irrational, and yet it was done, and if you know anything about Russian politics then you know that kind of thing is actually quite commonplace, like say the president of Russia joking about rape in front of a diplomatic delegation, something that happened quite recently.

And second, much more important, seething contempt for the people of Russia, who’ve always been a mighty disappointment to the nation’s rulers. Something that’s very little known about Russian history, and in the Russian people’s favor, is that a relatively small fraction of the population actively supported removing the Tsar and installing a Bolshevik regime. Nothing like a majority ever joined the Communist Party, and an even tinier cadre participated in bringing down the Soviet dictatorship. Mostly, what the people of Russia, often inebriated, have done during such events is to simply stand on the sidelines with their hands folded gaping in slack-jawed bemusement. Imagine being a Russian leader who felt he was risking his life to “save” the people only to meet this reaction. It’d be pretty darned frustrating, wouldn’t it?

A well-documented phenomenon of human psychology leads us to want to think of Russians as being our friends rather than our enemies, and as being rational rather than irrational. The latter is so much safer and more comforting. And malignant little trolls like Vladimir Putin trade on that human tendency, it conveniently helps them consolidate their power.

EDITORIAL: The "Method" Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

EDITORIAL

The “Method” Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

Does it make any “sense” to you that Russia is going to start Soviet-style parades through Red Square again, with tanks and missiles and such? Can you “explain” why a Russian general would go on national TV and say that he wouldn’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons in a first strike to repel a conventional attack? After all, wouldn’t such actions be likely to provoke a new arms race with the United States, a country that has an economy 12 times bigger than Russia’s and lots of allies?

What kind of “sense” does it make for the Kremlin, as we report below, to open a criminal investigation against the only legitimate opposition candidate in upcoming presidential elections, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov? Even if he’s really guilty of fraudulently obtaining signatures to support his candidacy, he’s a former appointee of Vladimir Putin himself, so what does that say about Putin’s judgment? And the world is already hypercritical of Russia’s slide into dictatorship — so much so that Putin is attempting to create his own “democracy agency” to find fault with the democracies of the West, apparently seeking to divert attention from Russia’s egregious crackdown. Is Putin really so afraid of dissent that he can’t even stand the idea of a person being able to collect enough signatures to run for president without his approval, even though that person has no chance of winning? Can he be that much of a girly man? Come to think of it, what kind of sense does it make for Russia to lecture the world about democracy? Surely the Kremlin realizes that nobody on the planet, except maybe a few of the most ignorant among the Russian citizens it has played for suckers, would believe anything such an agency said. Don’t they?

Surely the Kremlin understands how pathetically weak such actions would make it look, and that this would be utterly inconsistent with its bid for a place at the big-league negotiating table with the grownups, right? Surely, Mr. Putin understands that his critics will seize these actions as further proof of Russia’s inherently savage nature, which makes him bristle so. Doesn’t he?

Writing about the British Council scandal in the Washington Post, Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Foundation stated:

Consider also the domestic perspective on this row. Angry assertions of Russia’s global standing dovetail with Soviet-style isolationism, which breeds suspicion about Western values and influence. The Kremlin is increasingly wary of autonomous groups, especially those that receive Western financial backing. After Putin’s notorious 2004 reference to such organizations — “they don’t bite the hand that feeds them” — nongovernmental and human rights organizations receiving foreign grants have been consistently discredited. Harassment of such groups is growing. In Soviet times, anti-Western propaganda was an element of the totalitarian state, with its sealed borders and rigid ideology aimed at defeating capitalism. In today’s Russia, a nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted, such policies appear irrational and anachronistic. Russia’s business ties with Western countries are expanding. Relations with Britain, especially, extend beyond economic investments: London has become wealthy Russians’ favorite choice for residences, high-quality education and enjoyable getaways. Last year, though, Britain suspended talks on facilitating the visa process, and Russians’ entry to Britain may be further restricted. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called the attacks “totally unacceptable” and noted that the only countries in which the British Council faced serious trouble were Burma and Iran. Yet Kremlin leaders apparently believe that making the world reckon with Russia is worth the harm such company does to the country’s image.

Is the Kremlin really acting irrationally? Let’s see.

Lipman says Russia is “a nation nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted.” That’s clearly not correct. Trade, travel, TV and Internet access are restricted, by the most severe and effective limit there is, the pocketbook. Russians who earn an average wage of $4/hour and who, the men at least, don’t live to see their sixtieth year, may well have far more immediate concerns than acquiring political knowledge and taking political action. It’s called staying alive. What’s more, as we’ve documented here so often, the Kremlin is aggressively moving to seize control of the Internet, first and foremost by launching criminal prosecutions against those who use it to criticize the Kremlin, with a profound chilling effect. So, if the Kremlin is relying on that restriction, then it’s perfectly rational to want to see it continue by keeping the Russian population poor and sick. To be sure, a healthy, wealthy population could make use of Russia’s political climate being less restrictive than it was in Soviet times and perhaps generate real, widespread opposition to the Kremlin’s belligerent foreign policy.

On top of that, Lipman seems to assume that Russians are generally disposed to be fair-minded in regard to foreigners, and that’s simply nonsense. It’s the opposite of the truth. Most Russians are only too willing to swallow the Kremlin’s xenophobic propaganda hook, line and sinker. The fact that there might be a bit of access to competing views on expensive TV and English-language websites means little when the Kremlin’s propaganda is everywhere, 24/7, and backed up by a patronage network many Russian depend on for their survival.

In short, the Kremlin’s efforts to attack the British Council, and all things foreign, is not only rational given the Kremlin’s worldview, it’s merely the reverberation of a constant drumbeat that is the hallmark of Russian history that predates the Romanov dynasty.

Now, to be sure, if we define “rationality” as the desire to have the Russian people at their best and happiest, then the Kremlin’s policy of keeping them weak, sick and miserable makes no sense. If it’s “rational” to make friends in international affairs rather than enemies, especially for a weak nation that lacks the ability to sustain itself on its own (but rather depends, for example, on the international oil markets), then the Kremlin’s policy of alienating every nation on the face of the Earth is crazy.

But if the Kremlin needs a weak population, then it’s perfectly logical to try to cut off access by any foreigners who might make them stronger, just as was done in Soviet times. Conveniently, xenophobia also provides the opportunity to terrify the population regarding the need for protection from evil enemies and the need for ever-greater Kremlin power to do so. The combination of Stalin-like threats of blunt trauma combined with Stalin-like domination over the mass media, combined with the historically proven, craven Russian refusal to question their own government except in times of most dire urgency, means that, regardless of a small amount of competition that might exist, the Kremlin can win the day in the short term.

This reality is why the story about the Emperor and his new clothes was invented. Imagine that, in the story, any person who even started to giggle when viewing the naked Emperor was immediately shot dead. The Emperor could go on for quite some time in his birthday suit before any chickens came home to roost, couldn’t he?

Putin presides over a fundamentally weak and illegitimate regime. He can’t afford to have a kid like Oleg Kozlovsky, much less a former prime minister like Mikhail Kasyanov, making public criticisms of him, even though he knows it can’t actually influence the result of the next election. He’s afraid it could plant the seeds of doubt, seeds that could sprout into mighty oaks of dissent should, say, the price of oil happen to fall owing to a major decline in U.S. demand owing to a U.S. recession. It’s actually all very logical, if you think about it.

What still seems strange, of course, is the idea that Putin and his KGB cohorts wouldn’t realize that, sooner or later, their fraud would bring them down. But it’s not really that strange, not if you know Russia. Two simple reasons explain it.

First, hatred of the West, and most especially America. If there’s any irrationality afoot regarding Russia, it’s the irrationality on our part of failing to understand that if Russians hated us before we beat them in the Cold War, then they hate us twice as much now, because we beat them. And of all the Russians who hate us, the KGB would naturally hate us the most. That kind of hate can make you blind to your own best interests, just as it did in Soviet times. What else would explain actions like Nikita Khrushchev taking off his shoe at the U.N.? Remember, he was one of the USSR’s more moderate leaders. Why would he say “we will bury you” like that? Isn’t it just giving a warning, an opportunity for your adversary to prepare better and possibly defeat you? It seems irrational, and yet it was done, and if you know anything about Russian politics then you know that kind of thing is actually quite commonplace, like say the president of Russia joking about rape in front of a diplomatic delegation, something that happened quite recently.

And second, much more important, seething contempt for the people of Russia, who’ve always been a mighty disappointment to the nation’s rulers. Something that’s very little known about Russian history, and in the Russian people’s favor, is that a relatively small fraction of the population actively supported removing the Tsar and installing a Bolshevik regime. Nothing like a majority ever joined the Communist Party, and an even tinier cadre participated in bringing down the Soviet dictatorship. Mostly, what the people of Russia, often inebriated, have done during such events is to simply stand on the sidelines with their hands folded gaping in slack-jawed bemusement. Imagine being a Russian leader who felt he was risking his life to “save” the people only to meet this reaction. It’d be pretty darned frustrating, wouldn’t it?

A well-documented phenomenon of human psychology leads us to want to think of Russians as being our friends rather than our enemies, and as being rational rather than irrational. The latter is so much safer and more comforting. And malignant little trolls like Vladimir Putin trade on that human tendency, it conveniently helps them consolidate their power.

EDITORIAL: The "Method" Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

EDITORIAL

The “Method” Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

Does it make any “sense” to you that Russia is going to start Soviet-style parades through Red Square again, with tanks and missiles and such? Can you “explain” why a Russian general would go on national TV and say that he wouldn’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons in a first strike to repel a conventional attack? After all, wouldn’t such actions be likely to provoke a new arms race with the United States, a country that has an economy 12 times bigger than Russia’s and lots of allies?

What kind of “sense” does it make for the Kremlin, as we report below, to open a criminal investigation against the only legitimate opposition candidate in upcoming presidential elections, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov? Even if he’s really guilty of fraudulently obtaining signatures to support his candidacy, he’s a former appointee of Vladimir Putin himself, so what does that say about Putin’s judgment? And the world is already hypercritical of Russia’s slide into dictatorship — so much so that Putin is attempting to create his own “democracy agency” to find fault with the democracies of the West, apparently seeking to divert attention from Russia’s egregious crackdown. Is Putin really so afraid of dissent that he can’t even stand the idea of a person being able to collect enough signatures to run for president without his approval, even though that person has no chance of winning? Can he be that much of a girly man? Come to think of it, what kind of sense does it make for Russia to lecture the world about democracy? Surely the Kremlin realizes that nobody on the planet, except maybe a few of the most ignorant among the Russian citizens it has played for suckers, would believe anything such an agency said. Don’t they?

Surely the Kremlin understands how pathetically weak such actions would make it look, and that this would be utterly inconsistent with its bid for a place at the big-league negotiating table with the grownups, right? Surely, Mr. Putin understands that his critics will seize these actions as further proof of Russia’s inherently savage nature, which makes him bristle so. Doesn’t he?

Writing about the British Council scandal in the Washington Post, Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Foundation stated:

Consider also the domestic perspective on this row. Angry assertions of Russia’s global standing dovetail with Soviet-style isolationism, which breeds suspicion about Western values and influence. The Kremlin is increasingly wary of autonomous groups, especially those that receive Western financial backing. After Putin’s notorious 2004 reference to such organizations — “they don’t bite the hand that feeds them” — nongovernmental and human rights organizations receiving foreign grants have been consistently discredited. Harassment of such groups is growing. In Soviet times, anti-Western propaganda was an element of the totalitarian state, with its sealed borders and rigid ideology aimed at defeating capitalism. In today’s Russia, a nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted, such policies appear irrational and anachronistic. Russia’s business ties with Western countries are expanding. Relations with Britain, especially, extend beyond economic investments: London has become wealthy Russians’ favorite choice for residences, high-quality education and enjoyable getaways. Last year, though, Britain suspended talks on facilitating the visa process, and Russians’ entry to Britain may be further restricted. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called the attacks “totally unacceptable” and noted that the only countries in which the British Council faced serious trouble were Burma and Iran. Yet Kremlin leaders apparently believe that making the world reckon with Russia is worth the harm such company does to the country’s image.

Is the Kremlin really acting irrationally? Let’s see.

Lipman says Russia is “a nation nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted.” That’s clearly not correct. Trade, travel, TV and Internet access are restricted, by the most severe and effective limit there is, the pocketbook. Russians who earn an average wage of $4/hour and who, the men at least, don’t live to see their sixtieth year, may well have far more immediate concerns than acquiring political knowledge and taking political action. It’s called staying alive. What’s more, as we’ve documented here so often, the Kremlin is aggressively moving to seize control of the Internet, first and foremost by launching criminal prosecutions against those who use it to criticize the Kremlin, with a profound chilling effect. So, if the Kremlin is relying on that restriction, then it’s perfectly rational to want to see it continue by keeping the Russian population poor and sick. To be sure, a healthy, wealthy population could make use of Russia’s political climate being less restrictive than it was in Soviet times and perhaps generate real, widespread opposition to the Kremlin’s belligerent foreign policy.

On top of that, Lipman seems to assume that Russians are generally disposed to be fair-minded in regard to foreigners, and that’s simply nonsense. It’s the opposite of the truth. Most Russians are only too willing to swallow the Kremlin’s xenophobic propaganda hook, line and sinker. The fact that there might be a bit of access to competing views on expensive TV and English-language websites means little when the Kremlin’s propaganda is everywhere, 24/7, and backed up by a patronage network many Russian depend on for their survival.

In short, the Kremlin’s efforts to attack the British Council, and all things foreign, is not only rational given the Kremlin’s worldview, it’s merely the reverberation of a constant drumbeat that is the hallmark of Russian history that predates the Romanov dynasty.

Now, to be sure, if we define “rationality” as the desire to have the Russian people at their best and happiest, then the Kremlin’s policy of keeping them weak, sick and miserable makes no sense. If it’s “rational” to make friends in international affairs rather than enemies, especially for a weak nation that lacks the ability to sustain itself on its own (but rather depends, for example, on the international oil markets), then the Kremlin’s policy of alienating every nation on the face of the Earth is crazy.

But if the Kremlin needs a weak population, then it’s perfectly logical to try to cut off access by any foreigners who might make them stronger, just as was done in Soviet times. Conveniently, xenophobia also provides the opportunity to terrify the population regarding the need for protection from evil enemies and the need for ever-greater Kremlin power to do so. The combination of Stalin-like threats of blunt trauma combined with Stalin-like domination over the mass media, combined with the historically proven, craven Russian refusal to question their own government except in times of most dire urgency, means that, regardless of a small amount of competition that might exist, the Kremlin can win the day in the short term.

This reality is why the story about the Emperor and his new clothes was invented. Imagine that, in the story, any person who even started to giggle when viewing the naked Emperor was immediately shot dead. The Emperor could go on for quite some time in his birthday suit before any chickens came home to roost, couldn’t he?

Putin presides over a fundamentally weak and illegitimate regime. He can’t afford to have a kid like Oleg Kozlovsky, much less a former prime minister like Mikhail Kasyanov, making public criticisms of him, even though he knows it can’t actually influence the result of the next election. He’s afraid it could plant the seeds of doubt, seeds that could sprout into mighty oaks of dissent should, say, the price of oil happen to fall owing to a major decline in U.S. demand owing to a U.S. recession. It’s actually all very logical, if you think about it.

What still seems strange, of course, is the idea that Putin and his KGB cohorts wouldn’t realize that, sooner or later, their fraud would bring them down. But it’s not really that strange, not if you know Russia. Two simple reasons explain it.

First, hatred of the West, and most especially America. If there’s any irrationality afoot regarding Russia, it’s the irrationality on our part of failing to understand that if Russians hated us before we beat them in the Cold War, then they hate us twice as much now, because we beat them. And of all the Russians who hate us, the KGB would naturally hate us the most. That kind of hate can make you blind to your own best interests, just as it did in Soviet times. What else would explain actions like Nikita Khrushchev taking off his shoe at the U.N.? Remember, he was one of the USSR’s more moderate leaders. Why would he say “we will bury you” like that? Isn’t it just giving a warning, an opportunity for your adversary to prepare better and possibly defeat you? It seems irrational, and yet it was done, and if you know anything about Russian politics then you know that kind of thing is actually quite commonplace, like say the president of Russia joking about rape in front of a diplomatic delegation, something that happened quite recently.

And second, much more important, seething contempt for the people of Russia, who’ve always been a mighty disappointment to the nation’s rulers. Something that’s very little known about Russian history, and in the Russian people’s favor, is that a relatively small fraction of the population actively supported removing the Tsar and installing a Bolshevik regime. Nothing like a majority ever joined the Communist Party, and an even tinier cadre participated in bringing down the Soviet dictatorship. Mostly, what the people of Russia, often inebriated, have done during such events is to simply stand on the sidelines with their hands folded gaping in slack-jawed bemusement. Imagine being a Russian leader who felt he was risking his life to “save” the people only to meet this reaction. It’d be pretty darned frustrating, wouldn’t it?

A well-documented phenomenon of human psychology leads us to want to think of Russians as being our friends rather than our enemies, and as being rational rather than irrational. The latter is so much safer and more comforting. And malignant little trolls like Vladimir Putin trade on that human tendency, it conveniently helps them consolidate their power.

EDITORIAL: The "Method" Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

EDITORIAL

The “Method” Behind Vladimir Putin’s Madness

Does it make any “sense” to you that Russia is going to start Soviet-style parades through Red Square again, with tanks and missiles and such? Can you “explain” why a Russian general would go on national TV and say that he wouldn’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons in a first strike to repel a conventional attack? After all, wouldn’t such actions be likely to provoke a new arms race with the United States, a country that has an economy 12 times bigger than Russia’s and lots of allies?

What kind of “sense” does it make for the Kremlin, as we report below, to open a criminal investigation against the only legitimate opposition candidate in upcoming presidential elections, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov? Even if he’s really guilty of fraudulently obtaining signatures to support his candidacy, he’s a former appointee of Vladimir Putin himself, so what does that say about Putin’s judgment? And the world is already hypercritical of Russia’s slide into dictatorship — so much so that Putin is attempting to create his own “democracy agency” to find fault with the democracies of the West, apparently seeking to divert attention from Russia’s egregious crackdown. Is Putin really so afraid of dissent that he can’t even stand the idea of a person being able to collect enough signatures to run for president without his approval, even though that person has no chance of winning? Can he be that much of a girly man? Come to think of it, what kind of sense does it make for Russia to lecture the world about democracy? Surely the Kremlin realizes that nobody on the planet, except maybe a few of the most ignorant among the Russian citizens it has played for suckers, would believe anything such an agency said. Don’t they?

Surely the Kremlin understands how pathetically weak such actions would make it look, and that this would be utterly inconsistent with its bid for a place at the big-league negotiating table with the grownups, right? Surely, Mr. Putin understands that his critics will seize these actions as further proof of Russia’s inherently savage nature, which makes him bristle so. Doesn’t he?

Writing about the British Council scandal in the Washington Post, Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Foundation stated:

Consider also the domestic perspective on this row. Angry assertions of Russia’s global standing dovetail with Soviet-style isolationism, which breeds suspicion about Western values and influence. The Kremlin is increasingly wary of autonomous groups, especially those that receive Western financial backing. After Putin’s notorious 2004 reference to such organizations — “they don’t bite the hand that feeds them” — nongovernmental and human rights organizations receiving foreign grants have been consistently discredited. Harassment of such groups is growing. In Soviet times, anti-Western propaganda was an element of the totalitarian state, with its sealed borders and rigid ideology aimed at defeating capitalism. In today’s Russia, a nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted, such policies appear irrational and anachronistic. Russia’s business ties with Western countries are expanding. Relations with Britain, especially, extend beyond economic investments: London has become wealthy Russians’ favorite choice for residences, high-quality education and enjoyable getaways. Last year, though, Britain suspended talks on facilitating the visa process, and Russians’ entry to Britain may be further restricted. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called the attacks “totally unacceptable” and noted that the only countries in which the British Council faced serious trouble were Burma and Iran. Yet Kremlin leaders apparently believe that making the world reckon with Russia is worth the harm such company does to the country’s image.

Is the Kremlin really acting irrationally? Let’s see.

Lipman says Russia is “a nation nation with free trade and free travel, where cable television and Internet access are unrestricted.” That’s clearly not correct. Trade, travel, TV and Internet access are restricted, by the most severe and effective limit there is, the pocketbook. Russians who earn an average wage of $4/hour and who, the men at least, don’t live to see their sixtieth year, may well have far more immediate concerns than acquiring political knowledge and taking political action. It’s called staying alive. What’s more, as we’ve documented here so often, the Kremlin is aggressively moving to seize control of the Internet, first and foremost by launching criminal prosecutions against those who use it to criticize the Kremlin, with a profound chilling effect. So, if the Kremlin is relying on that restriction, then it’s perfectly rational to want to see it continue by keeping the Russian population poor and sick. To be sure, a healthy, wealthy population could make use of Russia’s political climate being less restrictive than it was in Soviet times and perhaps generate real, widespread opposition to the Kremlin’s belligerent foreign policy.

On top of that, Lipman seems to assume that Russians are generally disposed to be fair-minded in regard to foreigners, and that’s simply nonsense. It’s the opposite of the truth. Most Russians are only too willing to swallow the Kremlin’s xenophobic propaganda hook, line and sinker. The fact that there might be a bit of access to competing views on expensive TV and English-language websites means little when the Kremlin’s propaganda is everywhere, 24/7, and backed up by a patronage network many Russian depend on for their survival.

In short, the Kremlin’s efforts to attack the British Council, and all things foreign, is not only rational given the Kremlin’s worldview, it’s merely the reverberation of a constant drumbeat that is the hallmark of Russian history that predates the Romanov dynasty.

Now, to be sure, if we define “rationality” as the desire to have the Russian people at their best and happiest, then the Kremlin’s policy of keeping them weak, sick and miserable makes no sense. If it’s “rational” to make friends in international affairs rather than enemies, especially for a weak nation that lacks the ability to sustain itself on its own (but rather depends, for example, on the international oil markets), then the Kremlin’s policy of alienating every nation on the face of the Earth is crazy.

But if the Kremlin needs a weak population, then it’s perfectly logical to try to cut off access by any foreigners who might make them stronger, just as was done in Soviet times. Conveniently, xenophobia also provides the opportunity to terrify the population regarding the need for protection from evil enemies and the need for ever-greater Kremlin power to do so. The combination of Stalin-like threats of blunt trauma combined with Stalin-like domination over the mass media, combined with the historically proven, craven Russian refusal to question their own government except in times of most dire urgency, means that, regardless of a small amount of competition that might exist, the Kremlin can win the day in the short term.

This reality is why the story about the Emperor and his new clothes was invented. Imagine that, in the story, any person who even started to giggle when viewing the naked Emperor was immediately shot dead. The Emperor could go on for quite some time in his birthday suit before any chickens came home to roost, couldn’t he?

Putin presides over a fundamentally weak and illegitimate regime. He can’t afford to have a kid like Oleg Kozlovsky, much less a former prime minister like Mikhail Kasyanov, making public criticisms of him, even though he knows it can’t actually influence the result of the next election. He’s afraid it could plant the seeds of doubt, seeds that could sprout into mighty oaks of dissent should, say, the price of oil happen to fall owing to a major decline in U.S. demand owing to a U.S. recession. It’s actually all very logical, if you think about it.

What still seems strange, of course, is the idea that Putin and his KGB cohorts wouldn’t realize that, sooner or later, their fraud would bring them down. But it’s not really that strange, not if you know Russia. Two simple reasons explain it.

First, hatred of the West, and most especially America. If there’s any irrationality afoot regarding Russia, it’s the irrationality on our part of failing to understand that if Russians hated us before we beat them in the Cold War, then they hate us twice as much now, because we beat them. And of all the Russians who hate us, the KGB would naturally hate us the most. That kind of hate can make you blind to your own best interests, just as it did in Soviet times. What else would explain actions like Nikita Khrushchev taking off his shoe at the U.N.? Remember, he was one of the USSR’s more moderate leaders. Why would he say “we will bury you” like that? Isn’t it just giving a warning, an opportunity for your adversary to prepare better and possibly defeat you? It seems irrational, and yet it was done, and if you know anything about Russian politics then you know that kind of thing is actually quite commonplace, like say the president of Russia joking about rape in front of a diplomatic delegation, something that happened quite recently.

And second, much more important, seething contempt for the people of Russia, who’ve always been a mighty disappointment to the nation’s rulers. Something that’s very little known about Russian history, and in the Russian people’s favor, is that a relatively small fraction of the population actively supported removing the Tsar and installing a Bolshevik regime. Nothing like a majority ever joined the Communist Party, and an even tinier cadre participated in bringing down the Soviet dictatorship. Mostly, what the people of Russia, often inebriated, have done during such events is to simply stand on the sidelines with their hands folded gaping in slack-jawed bemusement. Imagine being a Russian leader who felt he was risking his life to “save” the people only to meet this reaction. It’d be pretty darned frustrating, wouldn’t it?

A well-documented phenomenon of human psychology leads us to want to think of Russians as being our friends rather than our enemies, and as being rational rather than irrational. The latter is so much safer and more comforting. And malignant little trolls like Vladimir Putin trade on that human tendency, it conveniently helps them consolidate their power.

Annals of Russian Barbarism I: Indicting Kasyanov

The Moscow Times reports that just as before the last presidential election Putin’s chief rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sent to prison so he couldn’t make a challenge to the Kremlin, now Putin’s own former prime minister gets the same treatment this time:

Prosecutors announced Tuesday that they had opened a criminal investigation into purportedly forged signatures submitted by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in his attempt to register as a candidate in the March 2 presidential election. Evidence that Kasyanov’s campaign workers forged thousands of signatures on petitions to get him on the ballot has been uncovered in the Marii-El republic and the Yaroslavl region, Prosecutor General’s Office spokeswoman Tatyana Chernyshyova said. “A criminal investigation has been opened … into the falsification of election documents,” Chernyshyova said in televised comments.

Independent candidates must submit 2 million signatures in support of their bids to the Central Elections Commission, which then verifies the signatures. The case involves Rustam Abdullin, the head of Kasyanov’s campaign headquarters in Ioshkar-Ola, the capital of Marii-El, who was detained Jan. 11 on suspicion of forging 50,000 signatures, which police found in a bag he was carrying. He has been released, but ordered not to leave the city. Ioshkar-Ola prosecutors determined that 12,000 of those signatures were forged, Chernyshyova said. If charged and convicted with forging election documents, Abdullin could face up to three years in prison.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Abdullin said the petitions were genuine and accused authorities of pressuring signatories to testify that someone had signed the petitions for them. “We are used to this,” Abdullin said. “The authorities are hunting down all the honest politicians. Our work is, and has always been, clean.” A criminal case is to be opened as well in the Yaroslavl region city Rybinsk, where prosecutors have uncovered 3,500 forged petitions, Chernyshyova said.

There have been several criminal cases and convictions throughout the country on charges of forging signatures on election documents, including for the independent candidacies of Irina Khakamada, Sergei Glazyev and Ivan Rybkin in the 2004 presidential election. At a hastily called news conference Tuesday at his office in southwest Moscow, Kasyanov said authorities began carrying out a “massive, large-scale campaign of intimidation” against his staff after his preliminary registration as a potential presidential candidate. “The authorities are scared of a genuine political fight,” Kasyanov said.

Meanwhile, Central Elections Commission member Nikolai Konkin said that of the 400,000 signatures in support of Kasyanov inspected by the commission as of Tuesday, more than 15.5 percent were invalid. Should Kasyanov make it onto the ballot, polls this week suggest he would suffer an overwhelming defeat: Less than 1 percent of respondents said they would vote for him in a VTsIOM poll released Tuesday. Among the three candidates that have successfully registered, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had 60 percent; Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov had 7.5 percent; and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 6 percent in the VTsIOM poll.

The only independent candidate other than Kasyanov trying to make it on the ballot, Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov, will likely be registered as a candidate, Konkin, the Central Elections Commission member, said Tuesday. Of the signatures that Bogdanov submitted and have been inspected by election officials, only around 3 percent are invalid, Konkin said. If more than 5 percent of the signatures submitted by a prospective candidate are invalid, he cannot by law be registered.

The commission is to consider Bodgdanov’s registration Thursday.

Annals of Russian Barbarism II: Double Jeopardy

The Moscow Times reports that, just in time for the arrest of Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia is instituting the barbaric practice of double jeopardy, so it can try him over and over no matter how many times a jury might acquit him until it gets a result it likes.

The government has submitted an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code in the State Duma that would allow for retrials in criminal cases that end in acquittals.

According to proposed changes, acquittals could be overturned in cases where proper procedures were not followed in the selection of the judge, lawyers or jury in a trial or where either side in the trial had been prevented from exercising its rights.

The bill will amend Article 405 of the code, which prevented someone tried and acquitted from facing double jeopardy.

The amendment is the result of a decision by the Constitutional Court in May 2005 that declared Article 405 unconstitutional. The decision was handed down after an appeal from a group — including federal human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin — to try to decrease the number of improper rulings.

Less than 0.5 percent of all criminal cases in Russia end in acquittal, compared with an average of 30 percent in Western Europe.

Andrei Pokhmelkin, an expert in criminal law with the Polyakova Independent Council of Legal Experts, said the bill was unlikely to make much of a difference in current conditions, as Russian courts are relatively susceptible to outside pressure.

“From a practical point of view, nothing is likely to change,” Pokhmelkin said. “We have very few acquittals in our system and the trend is not improving. The problem is that we don’t have independent courts in our country.”

Latynina on the British Council Outrage

Writing in the Moscow Times, hero journalist Yulia Latynina rips the Kremlin several new ones over the British Council outrage:

The foreign policy scandal concerning Russian authorities’ efforts to close two branch offices of the British Council happened to coincide with another event, which took place in Japan. A rather insignificant Japanese bureaucrat was arrested and charged with attempting to pass confidential documents concerning the activities of the prime minister’s office to a Russian diplomat.

It is interesting to compare these two incidents. Japan’s charges of espionage against the alleged spy were concrete, mentioning the day and time the act took place, as well as the payoff involved. In contrast, Russia has made only vague and contradictory accusations against the British Council, claiming on the one hand that the organization is not registered in accordance with Russian law, and on the other hand that it owes back taxes.

What’s more, these vague charges were accompanied by much broader and quite bizarre allegations. We heard, for example, from a former chief of the undercover branch of the KGB’s foreign intelligence division, Yury Drozdov, that Britain even plans to occupy Russian territory as far as the Urals.

As a true patriot, this particular allegation horrified me. But I would really like to find out one thing: Exactly who among the employees of the British Council was planning to occupy Russia and just how and when was this endeavor to take place? If Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev knows that such a plan existed but doesn’t know who was behind it or when it was to take place, then he should be fired on the spot for gross incompetence. And how could a foreign organization that is fomenting plans to occupy a huge chunk of our territory get off with only a fine for back taxes?

In reality, Russia designs its foreign policy for the benefit of oil-trading company Gunvor, based in Switzerland. Gunvor, which sells a significant portion of Russia’s oil exports, is owned in part by Gennady Timchenko, who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin.

Gunvor wants to derive one main benefit from Russia’s foreign policy — to increase the tensions in international relations so that oil prices rise. This explains Russia’s continued willingness to defend rogue states and to keep all existing international conflicts active. This has become the trademark of Russian diplomacy. Although the Kremlin has achieved its goal of high oil prices during Putin’s two terms, this victory comes at the expense of the country’s prestige.

Putin believes that all world leaders are hypocrites when they criticize him because they act in the same way. Putin also feels that Western leaders treat him as if he were a drunk in a fancy restaurant; although they may not punch Putin in the face, they don’t invite him to sit down at their dinner table either. He is clearly offended by the West’s condescending attitude toward him and finds an outlet for his indignation by harassing the British Council, among other things.

Another very important aspect of the Gunvor matter is that the company’s accounts are located in Western banks. Therefore, Putin doesn’t want to provoke or anger the West to the point were it retaliates by exposing — or freezing — those bank accounts. Putin is smart enough to know how far to take his aggressive foreign policy. Thus, he would never dare to arrest British Council employees, for example — as much as he would really like to do this in his heart of hearts — or charge them with plotting to seize Russian territory. Instead, he settles on petty acts of harassment.

In this way, Putin’s foreign policy reminds me of the bully in a communal apartment, who will happily spit in his neighbor’s soup but will never do anything more serious that could provoke his fellow apartment dweller to call the police on him.

Russia Loses, and then it Loses Again

The Jamestown Foundation’s Vladimir Socor, writing for the Eurasia Daily Monitor:

On January 21 the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) protected its reputation by eschewing the election of Mikhail Margelov as PACE president. Apparently, many members realized that PACE could have discredited itself irreparably by electing a Kremlin-affiliated figure as president of Europe’s leading democracy-promoting body. PACE elected the Catalan-Spanish Socialist, Lluís Maria de Puig, instead of Margelov, as president. In a parallel battle on January 21, Russia and its allies narrowly missed their goal to disinvite Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from PACE’s upcoming debate on Georgia.

Margelov, an Arabic-studies graduate from Moscow State University (known at the time as a KGB training ground) was an instructor at the KGB Academy during the 1980s, according to his official Russian biography (Vedomosti, January 16). Margelov was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s liaison with international media during Russia’s 2000 presidential campaign and has served since 2001 continuously as the Russian Federation Council’s international affairs committee chairman. According to Margelov himself, Russia’s presidential administration and Ministry of Foreign Affairs had authorized his candidacy for president of PACE (Moskovskye novosti, September 14, 2007).

Moscow came very close to success through skillful manipulation of procedural rules by the Russian delegation and winning over some key conservative figures among PACE leaders. With minimal notice in Europe, the Strasbourg forum had become the scene of a Kremlin experiment with recruitment of political allies at the core of the European Right. PACE’s outgoing president Rene van der Linden, a conservative Christian-Democrat (European People’s Party – EPP) and the British Tory contingent in the European Democrats’ Group (EDG, an alliance of conservative parties somewhat to the right of EPP) were Margelov’s leading backers.

In a deal with PACE’s Tories, the delegation of the party of power United Russia had joined the EDG en masse, despite the inherent incompatibility; and, thanks to Tory leader David Wilshire, the numerically dominant United Russia had installed Margelov as EDG leader. Under PACE’s procedures, the five major political groupings take turns designating PACE’s president for a three-year term, thus practically guaranteeing the election’s result in advance. EDG’s turn came in January 2008 and they designated the “conservative” Margelov well ahead of the deadline, with vocal Tory support in Strasbourg and tacit acceptance by the Tory leadership in London (Denis MacShane, “Putin’s Tories,” The Spectator, January 10). Van der Linden, who developed a close relationship with Russia during 2007, was instrumental in arranging this succession scenario and marshaling the EPP behind Margelov’s presidential bid. Very few at PACE or elsewhere came out against this seemingly done deal.

However, Russia’s deeply flawed parliamentary elections in December changed the terms of debate at PACE. Many felt that they could no longer proceed automatically to install a proponent of the Kremlin’s “managed democracy” as PACE president in the immediate wake of Russia’s electoral travesty. On January 10, leaders of PACE’s five political groupings met informally and agreed to modify the rotation procedure for electing the president. Under the new arrangement, the Socialists would on January 21 nominate their candidate for PACE president; EDG’s – that is, Margelov’s – turn would be postponed to the next rotation, and the president’s tenure would be abridged from three years to a one-year, once-renewable term.

Thus, Moscow had to accept a two-year postponement without a fight. However, it demanded and received promises that PACE would disinvite the reelected President Saakashvili from PACE’s January 24 debate on Georgia; that Putin would be invited to PACE in the spring; and that the debate on Russia’s recent parliamentary elections would be postponed to the summer – that is, to the brink of political oblivion. Putin finalized this informal agreement with the visiting Van der Linden on January 17 in Moscow (see EDM, January 21). Margelov duly desisted from running for president of PACE and de Puig was elected to that post without opposition on the session’s opening day, January 21. A defiant Wilshire is quoted as declaring that he could not congratulate de Puig because he had prepared the congratulatory text in Russian (Kommersant, January 22).

However, the next part of the bargain fell through, albeit by the narrowest of margins. Van der Linden’s and Margelov’s allies had for several weeks blocked the sending of the invitation to Saakashvili. Finally on January 21 the PACE Bureau (which consists of PACE’s vice presidents and the chairmen of committees and political groups) decided to invite Saakashvili, with 11 votes in favor and 10 against. The incoming president de Puig (hitherto leader of the Socialist grouping) and Matyas Eorsi of Hungary, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE, the liberal parties’ grouping) led the argument in favor of inviting Saakashvili.

Russian delegation leaders Margelov and Konstantin Kosachev and Tory leader Wilshire spearheaded the objections. Van der Linden’s ally, EPP leader Luc van der Brande, lined up behind them, despite assurances he had given to Christian-Democrat luminaries in EPP that he would not support Moscow on this issue. Apart from the familiar arguments against Georgia, they claimed that inviting Saakashvili ahead of Georgia’s parliamentary elections would amount to interfering in those elections in favor of the governing party (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, January 21, 22).

That argument looked contrived inasmuch as almost four months separate the January 24 debate on Georgia from the parliamentary elections in that country. Ultimately, the reports on van der Linden’s January 17 bargain with Putin in the Kremlin to disinvite Saakashvili (see EDM, January 21) shifted the balance in PACE’s Bureau, frustrating Moscow’s goal at the last moment. And, as predicted some months ago (see EDM, October 11, 22, November 2, 2007), the then-prevailing sentiment at PACE about the irreversibility of the deal made for a Russian presidency proved ultimately unfounded.