Daily Archives: January 28, 2008

EDITORIAL: Potemkin Russia

EDITORIAL

Potemkin Russia

A review by the Russia editor of OpenDemocracy, Hugh Barnes, of a new history of the Russian battle for Moscow in World War II, The Greatest Battle by Andrew Nagorski, recently appeared in the Moscow Times. In it, Barnes writes:

On Sept. 16, 1941, [Nazi] Field Marshal Fedor von Bock gave the orders for the capture of Moscow under the codename “Typhoon,” and the following month German troops surrounded seven Soviet armies near the cities of Vyazma and Bryansk, just west of Moscow, killing or capturing a million men. The novelist and journalist Vasily Grossman, who reported from the frontline for the newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda, noted that the October weather seemed to the Germans a more daunting opponent than the Red Army itself. “General Mud and General Cold are helping the Russian side,” he added. “But it is true that only those who are strong can make nature work for them, while the weak are at the mercy of nature.”

German field commander General Heinz Guderian begged Hitler to let him press all the way to Moscow, but crucially — and perhaps inexplicably — the Fuhrer hesitated, in October 1941, when the capital lay defenseless, insisting that the Panzer units head south and capture Kiev first. By the time the Russians reached the outskirts of Moscow at the end of the year, it was too late. The Germans were worn down by the weather, lacked supplies for the winter and were already exhausted by the struggle.

In other words, the Russians didn’t defeat the Nazi invasion by means of skill but rather by means of sheer dumb luck. Didn’t courage play a role? Barnes continues:

One of the overarching themes of official Soviet accounts of the Great Patriotic War is that the Russian people never wavered in their fight against the German invaders, even when the outlook was grim. But Nagorski’s well-researched book suggests that Stalin’s own unpredictability as much as the proverbial stoicism of the Russian people held the key.

His volatile temperament recovered from the dark days of midsummer to galvanize, or perhaps terrorize, the nation into a heroic resistance. The Battle of Moscow helped Stalin to work out a strategy by which the sacrifice of millions of lives made up for the inadequate weaponry and equipment of the Red Army. At one point, in early December 1941, Soviet military commanders begged Stalin to let them move the western front to the east due to a lack of ammunition. “Do our soldiers have spades,” barked the Great Leader down the telephone line. “Yes, Comrade Stalin, there are spades. What should they do with them?” came the reply. “Tell your men to take their spades and dig themselves some graves.”

In other words, it wasn’t courage against the German threat that decided Russia’s fate, it was fear . . . fear of the even more horrible things their own government would do to them if they didn’t resist the Germans.

As we’ve said before, it wouldn’t be at all difficult to make the argument that Russia would have been better off in the long run losing to Nazi Germany rather than winning. After all, Moscow fell to Napoleon, and Russia lived to fight Hitler. France was conquered by Germany, yet now it wields an economy far more potent and a standard of living immeasurably higher than Russia.

But more important, if Russia had lost it would have been forced to confront the reality of losing, and perhaps it would have been induced to make some changes, changes that might have altered the course of Russian history so that today Russia would rank in the top 100 world nations for male adult lifespan and its people would earn a standard European wage, rather than an average wage of $4 per hour.

Below, we report on the outcome of the Australian Open tennis tournament, finding a number of stark parallels between tennis and Russian political life. Tennis analyst Peter Bodo has written of the tournament’s winner, so-called “Russian” Maria Sharapova, that “when you see that Sharapova fall-away forehand or some of her other stroking glitches (serve, anyone?), maybe it’s just as well that [her stroke consultant Robert] Lansdorp’s name has largely been left off her resume.” What he’s saying is both that Maria’s crazy father, Yuri, has tried to take too much credit for the quality of Maria’s game, and at the same time vastly overestimated that quality, which his own influence has greatly diminished from what it might have been. Maria herself can’t even seem to decide which country’s she’s from. If it’s Russia, why not go back and live there? If it’s America, why keep telling the world otherwise?

If you listen closely, you will undoubtedly hear in the reactions of Sharapova’s sweaty little fans the echo of Russia itself. It doesn’t matter how badly she’s played or for how long. It doesn’t matter that she’s spurned Russia her whole life. If she ever wins, regardless of how much dumb luck was involved, it’s a great victory for “Russia” the proves perfection and immunity to criticism. In the same way, no matter the cost, if Germany failed to actually take over the Russian government then it was Russia’s great victory in the “Great Patriotic War.” It’s exactly this type of ivory-tower idiocy that brought the USSR to its knees, and Russians go right on with it as if that never happened, either. We find this phenomenon quite terrifying, far more so even than the KGB’s murdering those who try to dispel the illusion. We offer it battle.

It’s not — this is important to remember — confined to military activity and sports. In fact, in the economic sphere it has a name: Dutch disease. Thus, Russia scholar Michael McFaul has argued that the Russian economy, always vastly overestimated, would have been far better without the intervention of Vladimir Putin. Because of him, and the rising oil price, it’s neglected basis reforms that are utterly essential to its future. For Russia, oil is more like a toxin than an elixer. As stock market analyst James Beadle wrote on January 24th in the Moscow Times: “The benchmark RTS index has dropped 16 percent since peaking at 2339.79 on Jan. 14. This sudden loss of around $160 billion in market value stands in sharp contrast to consensus expectations, which predicted around a 25 percent upside and decisive decoupling from the slowing U.S. economy this year.” This jolt has forced many to begin to realize just how correct McFaul was. Yet, all the Russian nationalist set can do is jabber about Russia’s economic power. They can’t name one specific policy he has enacted which is responsible for any increase in Russia’s standard of living, they simply given Putin credit for the rising price of oil as if he were controlling it.

Just as the barbaric actions of Vladimir Putin, most recently ordering the return of tanks and missiles to Red Square on May Day and firing missiles off the coast of France have exposed Putin for the crude barbarian he is, as we report below the actions of Sharapova’s father from the stands at the Australian Open have betrayed his (and her?) true nature as well. The illusion of success isn’t success; in a very real sense, it’s worse than actual failure because it prevents you from reforming and eventually destroys you. The Soviets preferred it anyway. Will Russians follow that path?

Maybe one day Maria Sharapova will become insightful and grownup (and American?) enough to admit that she needs to reform seriously instead of deluding herself into thinking she’s already great. Maybe one day after one of her rare tournament wins she will say: “Wow, I have a lot of potential and should be doing so much better. I really need to make some changes, and now I’m going to. And the first thing I’m going to do is move back to Russia (or get U.S. citizenship). And the second thing is that I’m going to fire my father.” Because she has a lot of talent, and could become great if she did. And maybe one day Russia itself will admit that World War II wasn’t a great victory it was a horrific defeat, and that it needs to dramatically rethink itself. Because Russia has a lot of talent, and could become great if it did. That’s what this blog is all about.

But the clock is ticking on both Sharapova and Russia. Time is running out. A few more years with their heads in the clouds will have them both stumbling into the dustbin of history.

The theme of the Potemkin Village, the practice of elevating form over substance, is if illusion was reality, runs right the way through Russia’s 1,000-year history. Russians have simply shown no interest in putting their noses to the grindstone and doing the real work that makes a truly great nation. Russian patriots who try to expose Potemkin Russia in the hope of reform are jailed or killed, while Russian traitors like Putin who seek to expand the Potemkin village are lionized and empowered. That is the reason Russia has degenerated to such an extent that today it’s average male life span is not in the top 100 world nations and the population is in rapid decline.

Advertisements

Annals of Russian Horror and Shame: An Australian Open Recap

Russia’s top-ranked male tennis player Nikolay Davydenko
lost disgracefully at the Australian Open and faces a major
investigation for corruption

Well, let’s see now, how did the Russian contingent do at the year’s first grand slam tournament, the Australian Open down under?

Humiliation, as usual, of course. It’s hard to imagine how the events could have unfolded more bitterly or disgracefully for the Russian nationalists. Their only consolation may have been that the entire tournament turned into a spectacular disaster, with neither of the two most interesting male players (Federer and Nadal) and none of the three most scintillating women (Henin and the two Williams sisters) making it into the finals. Except that this should have meant the top Russians had an excellent opportunity to notch a major title.

No such luck.

Just to start with, neither Russia’s top-ranked woman, Svetlana Kuznetsova, nor its top-ranked man, Nikolay Davidenko, made it as far as the quarterfinals. Both were summarily brushed aside by much lower-ranked competition, and it’s hard to say which loss was more humiliating. Kuznetsova was blown off the court in easy straight sets in the third round by, of all things, a Polish (ouch!) player (not ranked in the world’s top 25), while Davydenko was brutally crushed in straight sets by a fellow Russian, winning only one game in the decisive set. Usually, highly ranked Russians can at least hope to beat other Russians.

In fact, doing so is pretty much how they get their high rankings in the first place (it’s how “Russia’s” #2 woman, Maria Sharapova — a “Russian” who spends all her time in America for some reason — for instance got out of the third round, by destroying Russia’s #11-ranked Elena Dementieva in yet another pathetic outing for the serveless wonder). That same Pole who whipped Kuznetsova then did the same to Russia’s #4 player, Nadia Petrova (ranked #14), who was unable to win a single game in the decisive third set of their match. Double ouch. Triple!

The most “Russian” player in the draw, world #27 Maria Kirilenko (“the Other Maria”), who hardly speaks English, was beaten by Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova in the fourth round when, after winning the first set, she proceeded to lose the next four games without winning a single point, one of the most unheard of and embarrassing implosions in modern tennis history. Kirilenko may actually have considered herself lucky to lose, though, since if she had won she would have had to face that Polish Russian-killer in her next match. Kirilenko had polished off the much higher-ranked Anna Chakvetadze Russia’s #3 player, to round out Russia’s third-round humiliation, with Chakvetadze managing to win a total only three games combined in the second two sets. After that win some thought Kirilenko might be “for real.” Then again, not so much. They forgot that the win had come against a fellow Russian, not a good predictor for performance outside their sphere.

After this wholesale Russian slaughter, the only “Russian” woman to reach the quarterfinals was Sharapova, who has lived in the United States since childhood and owns property there, having learned her American game in Florida. And who, by the way, was bitterly booted off the Russian national team last year in a hissy fit of recrimination from the real Russian players. Talk about pouring salt in Russia’s wounds!

The net result (pardon the pun) was that more American women (both Williams sisters) reached the quarterfinals than “Russians” (three Americans and no Russians, actually, if you count Sharapova, who has never played for the Russian national team and speaks English on the court, as American), and the same number of American men did so as Russians — even though America is in a major lull in its glorious tennis history. The lone Russian male survivor, Mikhail Youzhny, was then summarily blown off the court by an unseeded Frenchman, failing to win a single game in the second set of a straight-set loss. One was left to wonder how that crazy idea about “dominant” Russian tennis players ever got started. Perhaps the KGB was involved? Or, perhaps, just morons.

Thus, by Tuesday the only “Russian” left standing in the men’s or ladies’ draw was the “Russian” who’s lived most of her life in the United States, Shamapova, the one player the Russian nationalists would presumably least like to see in that position. Tiny Serbia had three times as many players in the semifinals as mighty Russia.

Surely the luckiest human being on Earth, based on her draw Sharapova by all rights should have had to face both world #1 Justine Henin and multiple Australian Open champion Serena Williams just to get to the finals, where she should have had to face multiple grand slam winner Venus Williams or prior French winner Amelie Mauresmo, yet in the end she had to face only one of them, winning a freakishly lop-sided victory against Henin that no knowledgable fan could attribute to Sharapova’s skill. In the semi-finals, she met Serbian Jelena Jankovic who, hobbled by injuries, was barely able to even complete the match, vaulting Sharapova into the finals. It was as if the title had been gift-wrapped for her, and Sharapova conveniently seemed not to notice. Admitting that she was “desperate” to atone for her humiliating defeat at the hands of Serena in the finals last year, she stated: “I’ve been able to execute the things that I’ve been wanting to do and I’ve been able to do it consistently, not just for three, four games and then have a major letdown.” Able to execute? Indeed so. Able to execute another amazing run of sheer dumb luck, catching the world’s greatest player on a bad day and then totally avoiding any of the other dangerous players. As we note in our editorial today, it’s exactly the same sort of bluster we see from the Putin regime, lost in a fog of self-delusion. And, believe it or not, this wasn’t the worst of it, not by a long shot.

Because then there was Yuri.

When you look at this photograph of Maria Sharapova’s father Yuri “Unabomber” Sharapov watching her play the world #1 Justine Henin from the stands at the Australian Open, do the words “innocent joke” come to mind? That’s what Yuri said he was doing when, just after Sharapova’s victory, he covered his head with his camouflage hood, donned dark glasses, and made a barbaric throat-slitting gesture, scowling like a barbaric madman in front of the world’s television cameras. Joking? Sounds just like the type of explanations the Soviets used to give when the would invade Hungary or Afghanistan — ridiculously embarrassing drivel that only a Russian, and maybe not even one, could believe. One Australian paper said: “Sharapov’s belligerence, captured by a camera he knew was in his face, belongs in a professional wrestling ring not beside a tennis court.” Yuri is too Russian even for many Russians themselves. French Open winner Anastasia Myskina once threatened to stand down from Fed Cup if Sharapova was selected — because of the antics of her father. “If she joins our team next season you won’t see me there, for sure,” Myskina said.

It’s really quite pathetic how some Russophile fanatics choose to see our criticisms of Sharapova as being anti-Russian; in fact, when we attack her it’s one of the rare occasions when we are taking Russia’s side, agreeing with folks like Ms. Myskina. It’s so typical of Russians to be unable to recognize who their friends are, to attack them while comforting those who are really their enemies.

Yuri Sharapov is no doubt bitter from so many years of such spectacular failure by his daughter, desperate to inflate the significance of any kind of victory, as if history didn’t exist. That’s exactly the way the leaders of the USSR behaved, and it is exactly the way Vladimir Putin is behaving now. These sorts of Russians live in dream worlds of their own concoction, isolated from real information like the Emperor with his New Clothes. As we have said before, in this we see Russia displayed in perfect microcosm on the tennis court, which is why we continue reporting on such events.

Postcards from Penza

Other Russia reports, translating Oborona:

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev, the man likely to sweep presidential elections in March, landed quietly in the city of Penza on Wednesday. So quietly, in fact, that town residents only learned of a Presidential visit when workers started fervently washing light-poles in the city center. Once Putin and his protégé arrived, their presidential motorcade drove down streets cleaned of rubbish, dirt, and, it turns out, opposition activists.

Starting early in the morning, militsiya officers in Penza began detaining and arresting youth leaders from a whole series of opposition organizations and political parties. According to the Sobrok@ru news agency, large numbers of activists from the liberal Yabloko party and the Oborona youth movement are currently being held at various police stations around the city. No explanation has been given for the detentions, and no charges have been filed.

One of the youths, Alexei Pavlutkin, is well-known for throwing an egg at Putin’s motorcade in 2005. A number of other activists are being held under house arrest. Student members of the Union of Communist Youth have been told to stay in their educational institutions, under watch of school management. Militsiya officers have also been sent to keep track of specific members of the opposition at their places of employment.

It should be noted that no demonstrations or political actions were planned by the opposition groups for the presidential visit. Leaders have pledged to challenge the illegal detentions and file a case with the regional prosecutor.

Exposing Putin’s Failure in Chechnya

Paul Goble reports:

The descent into chaos of Kabardino-Balkaria, long considered “an island of stability” in a region with all too little of that, is the direct result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy failures in the North Caucasus as a whole, according to a Moscow analyst. In an article posted online [January 22nd], Dmitry Tarskiy carefully traces the ways in which Putin’s approach not only has failed to reverse the destructive trends of the past two decades but in fact has accelerated them to the point that their resolution may no longer be possible. Although its favorable geographic location, benign climate, and wealth of natural resources and well-trained workers had made Kabardino-Balkaria a success story in Soviet times, by 2005, the Moscow analyst says, the situation there had reached a point that could only be described as “catastrophic.” The initial reasons for that development, he continues, are to be found in “the clan-elite privatization of economic and political life” there and the increasing use by such groups of measures ranging from the “administrative- legal” to “pure banditry” against anyone who tried to oppose them. After failing to do much about this during his first term, Putin n 2005 thought he had the chance to correct the situation, the Moscow analyst writes. Valery Kokov, who had run Kabardino-Balkaria for more than 20 years, stepped down, and Putin appointed Arsen Kanokov in his stead.

From Putin’s perspective, Kanokov was “’a young professional’” who stood outside the clan system in the republic and thus could rein in its activities, lead the republic out of the crisis and immunize its people from the kind of extremism that the Russian president saw sweeping the region. “However,” Tarskiy writes, Putin’s expectations that and outsider and a businessman could solve the problem were misplaced, and consequently, despite some positive developments in the economy, the crisis in that sector and the social one as well “has continued to grow.” Moreover, problems in these two have been exacerbated by ethnic issues, creating a lethal combination that Kanokov has not figured out a way to deal with. As evidence of these linkages, Tarskiy points to the way in which the political-economic clans seized land from the Balkars to build ski areas, something that infuriated the others. Kanokov acted to restrain that but did not do anything to support the survival of the lowland resorts, for which Kabardino-Balkaria had been famous and which had employed many people there. Nor did he do anything to ensure that the wolfram and molybdenum mines in the Balkar area would be able to continue to operate. In addition, he did not find a way to restore any of the defense industries or bring back other plants and agriculture from their “half dead” state. As a result, unemployment in the republic is now officially 23 percent – three times more than the all-Russia average – and the flight of skilled labor is thus continuing. The only sector of the economy which is flourishing, given this lack of “a systematic approach” on the part of Moscow’s man on the scene, Tarskiy notes, is vodka production, which has shot u but which has had a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the population.

This pattern, Tarskiy argues, shows that Putin’s decision to rely on businessmen and to give them “a completely free hand” in exchange for declarations of loyalty is “a dead end” for the region. Such business types simply do not know enough to be able destroy the clan-administrative system and often are captured by it. And that in turn is only accelerating the descent of these regions into chaos, Tarskiy insists. Putin’s outsiders arrive, spark a new fight over the division of property, and the people suffer as a result, with many becoming ever more hostile to those in positions of power. Despite what some in the Kremlin apparently believe, Tarskiy argues, “the Caucasus is not Taiwan or an early South Korea were poverty and economic isolation are balanced by identification with the state and a high level of trust” in its officials from top to bottom.

At present, in fact, the public standing of the president of Kabardino-Balkaria is so low that he has to regularly invoke Putin’s somewhat better reputation in order to have enough authority to function at all. But given how conditions there are becoming for most of its residents, even that “resource” is far from infinite. Kabards and Balkars, Tarskiy says, now remember Soviet times with nostalgia, not simply because their economic situation was better but also because there was a sense then of communal purpose. That has been destroyed and it will not be restored by the purely “business” approach Putin and his representatives favor. The clearest indications of how far this social decay has developed, he writes, are social pathologies ranging “from the growth of alcoholism to the appearance of terrorist networks.” But instead of addressing their root causes, Tarskiy says, Putin is choosing to address only the symptoms and to assume that business will take care of everything.

Unless the Kremlin leader or his successors change course radically and soon, T. concludes, any “positive change” in the situation in KB or elsewhere in the North Caucasus will soon “become completely impossible,” with increasingly disturbing consequences for all concerned. Just how serious they may already be was underscored by Andrei Soldatov, a specialist on counter-terrorism, in an article [last] week in which he described the increasingly close ties between developments there and Islamist radicals elsewhere in the North Caucasus. To the extent Soldatov’s reporting and analysis are correct – and he is one of the most respected commentators on this aspect of the Russian scene — the impact of Putin’s policy failures in the region may soon mean that Kabardino-Balkaria will challenge Ingushetia as the hottest of the hot spots in the North Caucasus.

The New York Times continues the dirge:

Protesters angry with the leadership of the troubled Russian region of Ingushetia clashed with riot police Saturday, throwing rocks and firebombs the day after the government started a major security operation. Police responded by firing live rounds over the heads of some of the 300 protesters who tried to gather in the central square of Ingushetia’s main city, Nazran; heavily armed riot police blocked side streets. No injuries were reported, but dozens of people were believed to have been detained, and with the North Caucasus region already tense, the situation threatened to spiral out of control.

Protesters — many of whom appeared to be young men — set fire to a nearby hotel and the building of a local newspaper that the opposition has criticized for praising authorities. Some of the protesters threw rocks and incendiary devices at police, who fired shots into the air before moving into the crowd, beating people severely and hauling them into waiting police vans. An Associated Press reporter saw at least half a dozen people forcibly detained, including four journalists, and dozens more people were believed arrested. Police did not give the exact number held. ”Everyone even indirectly involved in organizing this protest will be severely punished,” regional Interior Minister Musa Medov told The Associated Press.

Much of the violence in this poor, mostly Muslim republic of fewer than 500,000 people is seen as a spillover from neighboring Chechnya, which shares a language and culture and where Russia has fought two wars against separatist rebels. Ingushetia has many refugees from Chechnya’s fighting and is seen as sympathetic to separatists. Government critics attribute the growing number of attacks in the region — mostly against police — to anger fueled by abductions, beatings, unlawful arrests and killings of suspects by government forces and local allied paramilitaries.

Many Ingush are also intensely unhappy with regional President Murad Zyazikov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former KGB agent. ”President (Zyazikov) has to face his people,” Ingush lawmaker Bamatgirey Mankiyev said. ”What is going on now only pits the people against authorities, especially against police.” Government forces on Friday began security campaign in several districts of Ingushetia in response to a surge in violence and abductions. Regional law-enforcement bodies together with federal interior and security forces increased identity checks and searches for militants and their arms caches in abandoned buildings and other places.

Federal officials last year tripled the number of law enforcement troops in Ingushetia in an effort to stem the violence.

Exposing Putin’s Failure in Chechnya

Paul Goble reports:

The descent into chaos of Kabardino-Balkaria, long considered “an island of stability” in a region with all too little of that, is the direct result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy failures in the North Caucasus as a whole, according to a Moscow analyst. In an article posted online [January 22nd], Dmitry Tarskiy carefully traces the ways in which Putin’s approach not only has failed to reverse the destructive trends of the past two decades but in fact has accelerated them to the point that their resolution may no longer be possible. Although its favorable geographic location, benign climate, and wealth of natural resources and well-trained workers had made Kabardino-Balkaria a success story in Soviet times, by 2005, the Moscow analyst says, the situation there had reached a point that could only be described as “catastrophic.” The initial reasons for that development, he continues, are to be found in “the clan-elite privatization of economic and political life” there and the increasing use by such groups of measures ranging from the “administrative- legal” to “pure banditry” against anyone who tried to oppose them. After failing to do much about this during his first term, Putin n 2005 thought he had the chance to correct the situation, the Moscow analyst writes. Valery Kokov, who had run Kabardino-Balkaria for more than 20 years, stepped down, and Putin appointed Arsen Kanokov in his stead.

From Putin’s perspective, Kanokov was “’a young professional’” who stood outside the clan system in the republic and thus could rein in its activities, lead the republic out of the crisis and immunize its people from the kind of extremism that the Russian president saw sweeping the region. “However,” Tarskiy writes, Putin’s expectations that and outsider and a businessman could solve the problem were misplaced, and consequently, despite some positive developments in the economy, the crisis in that sector and the social one as well “has continued to grow.” Moreover, problems in these two have been exacerbated by ethnic issues, creating a lethal combination that Kanokov has not figured out a way to deal with. As evidence of these linkages, Tarskiy points to the way in which the political-economic clans seized land from the Balkars to build ski areas, something that infuriated the others. Kanokov acted to restrain that but did not do anything to support the survival of the lowland resorts, for which Kabardino-Balkaria had been famous and which had employed many people there. Nor did he do anything to ensure that the wolfram and molybdenum mines in the Balkar area would be able to continue to operate. In addition, he did not find a way to restore any of the defense industries or bring back other plants and agriculture from their “half dead” state. As a result, unemployment in the republic is now officially 23 percent – three times more than the all-Russia average – and the flight of skilled labor is thus continuing. The only sector of the economy which is flourishing, given this lack of “a systematic approach” on the part of Moscow’s man on the scene, Tarskiy notes, is vodka production, which has shot u but which has had a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the population.

This pattern, Tarskiy argues, shows that Putin’s decision to rely on businessmen and to give them “a completely free hand” in exchange for declarations of loyalty is “a dead end” for the region. Such business types simply do not know enough to be able destroy the clan-administrative system and often are captured by it. And that in turn is only accelerating the descent of these regions into chaos, Tarskiy insists. Putin’s outsiders arrive, spark a new fight over the division of property, and the people suffer as a result, with many becoming ever more hostile to those in positions of power. Despite what some in the Kremlin apparently believe, Tarskiy argues, “the Caucasus is not Taiwan or an early South Korea were poverty and economic isolation are balanced by identification with the state and a high level of trust” in its officials from top to bottom.

At present, in fact, the public standing of the president of Kabardino-Balkaria is so low that he has to regularly invoke Putin’s somewhat better reputation in order to have enough authority to function at all. But given how conditions there are becoming for most of its residents, even that “resource” is far from infinite. Kabards and Balkars, Tarskiy says, now remember Soviet times with nostalgia, not simply because their economic situation was better but also because there was a sense then of communal purpose. That has been destroyed and it will not be restored by the purely “business” approach Putin and his representatives favor. The clearest indications of how far this social decay has developed, he writes, are social pathologies ranging “from the growth of alcoholism to the appearance of terrorist networks.” But instead of addressing their root causes, Tarskiy says, Putin is choosing to address only the symptoms and to assume that business will take care of everything.

Unless the Kremlin leader or his successors change course radically and soon, T. concludes, any “positive change” in the situation in KB or elsewhere in the North Caucasus will soon “become completely impossible,” with increasingly disturbing consequences for all concerned. Just how serious they may already be was underscored by Andrei Soldatov, a specialist on counter-terrorism, in an article [last] week in which he described the increasingly close ties between developments there and Islamist radicals elsewhere in the North Caucasus. To the extent Soldatov’s reporting and analysis are correct – and he is one of the most respected commentators on this aspect of the Russian scene — the impact of Putin’s policy failures in the region may soon mean that Kabardino-Balkaria will challenge Ingushetia as the hottest of the hot spots in the North Caucasus.

The New York Times continues the dirge:

Protesters angry with the leadership of the troubled Russian region of Ingushetia clashed with riot police Saturday, throwing rocks and firebombs the day after the government started a major security operation. Police responded by firing live rounds over the heads of some of the 300 protesters who tried to gather in the central square of Ingushetia’s main city, Nazran; heavily armed riot police blocked side streets. No injuries were reported, but dozens of people were believed to have been detained, and with the North Caucasus region already tense, the situation threatened to spiral out of control.

Protesters — many of whom appeared to be young men — set fire to a nearby hotel and the building of a local newspaper that the opposition has criticized for praising authorities. Some of the protesters threw rocks and incendiary devices at police, who fired shots into the air before moving into the crowd, beating people severely and hauling them into waiting police vans. An Associated Press reporter saw at least half a dozen people forcibly detained, including four journalists, and dozens more people were believed arrested. Police did not give the exact number held. ”Everyone even indirectly involved in organizing this protest will be severely punished,” regional Interior Minister Musa Medov told The Associated Press.

Much of the violence in this poor, mostly Muslim republic of fewer than 500,000 people is seen as a spillover from neighboring Chechnya, which shares a language and culture and where Russia has fought two wars against separatist rebels. Ingushetia has many refugees from Chechnya’s fighting and is seen as sympathetic to separatists. Government critics attribute the growing number of attacks in the region — mostly against police — to anger fueled by abductions, beatings, unlawful arrests and killings of suspects by government forces and local allied paramilitaries.

Many Ingush are also intensely unhappy with regional President Murad Zyazikov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former KGB agent. ”President (Zyazikov) has to face his people,” Ingush lawmaker Bamatgirey Mankiyev said. ”What is going on now only pits the people against authorities, especially against police.” Government forces on Friday began security campaign in several districts of Ingushetia in response to a surge in violence and abductions. Regional law-enforcement bodies together with federal interior and security forces increased identity checks and searches for militants and their arms caches in abandoned buildings and other places.

Federal officials last year tripled the number of law enforcement troops in Ingushetia in an effort to stem the violence.

Exposing Putin’s Failure in Chechnya

Paul Goble reports:

The descent into chaos of Kabardino-Balkaria, long considered “an island of stability” in a region with all too little of that, is the direct result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy failures in the North Caucasus as a whole, according to a Moscow analyst. In an article posted online [January 22nd], Dmitry Tarskiy carefully traces the ways in which Putin’s approach not only has failed to reverse the destructive trends of the past two decades but in fact has accelerated them to the point that their resolution may no longer be possible. Although its favorable geographic location, benign climate, and wealth of natural resources and well-trained workers had made Kabardino-Balkaria a success story in Soviet times, by 2005, the Moscow analyst says, the situation there had reached a point that could only be described as “catastrophic.” The initial reasons for that development, he continues, are to be found in “the clan-elite privatization of economic and political life” there and the increasing use by such groups of measures ranging from the “administrative- legal” to “pure banditry” against anyone who tried to oppose them. After failing to do much about this during his first term, Putin n 2005 thought he had the chance to correct the situation, the Moscow analyst writes. Valery Kokov, who had run Kabardino-Balkaria for more than 20 years, stepped down, and Putin appointed Arsen Kanokov in his stead.

From Putin’s perspective, Kanokov was “’a young professional’” who stood outside the clan system in the republic and thus could rein in its activities, lead the republic out of the crisis and immunize its people from the kind of extremism that the Russian president saw sweeping the region. “However,” Tarskiy writes, Putin’s expectations that and outsider and a businessman could solve the problem were misplaced, and consequently, despite some positive developments in the economy, the crisis in that sector and the social one as well “has continued to grow.” Moreover, problems in these two have been exacerbated by ethnic issues, creating a lethal combination that Kanokov has not figured out a way to deal with. As evidence of these linkages, Tarskiy points to the way in which the political-economic clans seized land from the Balkars to build ski areas, something that infuriated the others. Kanokov acted to restrain that but did not do anything to support the survival of the lowland resorts, for which Kabardino-Balkaria had been famous and which had employed many people there. Nor did he do anything to ensure that the wolfram and molybdenum mines in the Balkar area would be able to continue to operate. In addition, he did not find a way to restore any of the defense industries or bring back other plants and agriculture from their “half dead” state. As a result, unemployment in the republic is now officially 23 percent – three times more than the all-Russia average – and the flight of skilled labor is thus continuing. The only sector of the economy which is flourishing, given this lack of “a systematic approach” on the part of Moscow’s man on the scene, Tarskiy notes, is vodka production, which has shot u but which has had a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the population.

This pattern, Tarskiy argues, shows that Putin’s decision to rely on businessmen and to give them “a completely free hand” in exchange for declarations of loyalty is “a dead end” for the region. Such business types simply do not know enough to be able destroy the clan-administrative system and often are captured by it. And that in turn is only accelerating the descent of these regions into chaos, Tarskiy insists. Putin’s outsiders arrive, spark a new fight over the division of property, and the people suffer as a result, with many becoming ever more hostile to those in positions of power. Despite what some in the Kremlin apparently believe, Tarskiy argues, “the Caucasus is not Taiwan or an early South Korea were poverty and economic isolation are balanced by identification with the state and a high level of trust” in its officials from top to bottom.

At present, in fact, the public standing of the president of Kabardino-Balkaria is so low that he has to regularly invoke Putin’s somewhat better reputation in order to have enough authority to function at all. But given how conditions there are becoming for most of its residents, even that “resource” is far from infinite. Kabards and Balkars, Tarskiy says, now remember Soviet times with nostalgia, not simply because their economic situation was better but also because there was a sense then of communal purpose. That has been destroyed and it will not be restored by the purely “business” approach Putin and his representatives favor. The clearest indications of how far this social decay has developed, he writes, are social pathologies ranging “from the growth of alcoholism to the appearance of terrorist networks.” But instead of addressing their root causes, Tarskiy says, Putin is choosing to address only the symptoms and to assume that business will take care of everything.

Unless the Kremlin leader or his successors change course radically and soon, T. concludes, any “positive change” in the situation in KB or elsewhere in the North Caucasus will soon “become completely impossible,” with increasingly disturbing consequences for all concerned. Just how serious they may already be was underscored by Andrei Soldatov, a specialist on counter-terrorism, in an article [last] week in which he described the increasingly close ties between developments there and Islamist radicals elsewhere in the North Caucasus. To the extent Soldatov’s reporting and analysis are correct – and he is one of the most respected commentators on this aspect of the Russian scene — the impact of Putin’s policy failures in the region may soon mean that Kabardino-Balkaria will challenge Ingushetia as the hottest of the hot spots in the North Caucasus.

The New York Times continues the dirge:

Protesters angry with the leadership of the troubled Russian region of Ingushetia clashed with riot police Saturday, throwing rocks and firebombs the day after the government started a major security operation. Police responded by firing live rounds over the heads of some of the 300 protesters who tried to gather in the central square of Ingushetia’s main city, Nazran; heavily armed riot police blocked side streets. No injuries were reported, but dozens of people were believed to have been detained, and with the North Caucasus region already tense, the situation threatened to spiral out of control.

Protesters — many of whom appeared to be young men — set fire to a nearby hotel and the building of a local newspaper that the opposition has criticized for praising authorities. Some of the protesters threw rocks and incendiary devices at police, who fired shots into the air before moving into the crowd, beating people severely and hauling them into waiting police vans. An Associated Press reporter saw at least half a dozen people forcibly detained, including four journalists, and dozens more people were believed arrested. Police did not give the exact number held. ”Everyone even indirectly involved in organizing this protest will be severely punished,” regional Interior Minister Musa Medov told The Associated Press.

Much of the violence in this poor, mostly Muslim republic of fewer than 500,000 people is seen as a spillover from neighboring Chechnya, which shares a language and culture and where Russia has fought two wars against separatist rebels. Ingushetia has many refugees from Chechnya’s fighting and is seen as sympathetic to separatists. Government critics attribute the growing number of attacks in the region — mostly against police — to anger fueled by abductions, beatings, unlawful arrests and killings of suspects by government forces and local allied paramilitaries.

Many Ingush are also intensely unhappy with regional President Murad Zyazikov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former KGB agent. ”President (Zyazikov) has to face his people,” Ingush lawmaker Bamatgirey Mankiyev said. ”What is going on now only pits the people against authorities, especially against police.” Government forces on Friday began security campaign in several districts of Ingushetia in response to a surge in violence and abductions. Regional law-enforcement bodies together with federal interior and security forces increased identity checks and searches for militants and their arms caches in abandoned buildings and other places.

Federal officials last year tripled the number of law enforcement troops in Ingushetia in an effort to stem the violence.

Exposing Putin’s Failure in Chechnya

Paul Goble reports:

The descent into chaos of Kabardino-Balkaria, long considered “an island of stability” in a region with all too little of that, is the direct result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy failures in the North Caucasus as a whole, according to a Moscow analyst. In an article posted online [January 22nd], Dmitry Tarskiy carefully traces the ways in which Putin’s approach not only has failed to reverse the destructive trends of the past two decades but in fact has accelerated them to the point that their resolution may no longer be possible. Although its favorable geographic location, benign climate, and wealth of natural resources and well-trained workers had made Kabardino-Balkaria a success story in Soviet times, by 2005, the Moscow analyst says, the situation there had reached a point that could only be described as “catastrophic.” The initial reasons for that development, he continues, are to be found in “the clan-elite privatization of economic and political life” there and the increasing use by such groups of measures ranging from the “administrative- legal” to “pure banditry” against anyone who tried to oppose them. After failing to do much about this during his first term, Putin n 2005 thought he had the chance to correct the situation, the Moscow analyst writes. Valery Kokov, who had run Kabardino-Balkaria for more than 20 years, stepped down, and Putin appointed Arsen Kanokov in his stead.

From Putin’s perspective, Kanokov was “’a young professional’” who stood outside the clan system in the republic and thus could rein in its activities, lead the republic out of the crisis and immunize its people from the kind of extremism that the Russian president saw sweeping the region. “However,” Tarskiy writes, Putin’s expectations that and outsider and a businessman could solve the problem were misplaced, and consequently, despite some positive developments in the economy, the crisis in that sector and the social one as well “has continued to grow.” Moreover, problems in these two have been exacerbated by ethnic issues, creating a lethal combination that Kanokov has not figured out a way to deal with. As evidence of these linkages, Tarskiy points to the way in which the political-economic clans seized land from the Balkars to build ski areas, something that infuriated the others. Kanokov acted to restrain that but did not do anything to support the survival of the lowland resorts, for which Kabardino-Balkaria had been famous and which had employed many people there. Nor did he do anything to ensure that the wolfram and molybdenum mines in the Balkar area would be able to continue to operate. In addition, he did not find a way to restore any of the defense industries or bring back other plants and agriculture from their “half dead” state. As a result, unemployment in the republic is now officially 23 percent – three times more than the all-Russia average – and the flight of skilled labor is thus continuing. The only sector of the economy which is flourishing, given this lack of “a systematic approach” on the part of Moscow’s man on the scene, Tarskiy notes, is vodka production, which has shot u but which has had a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the population.

This pattern, Tarskiy argues, shows that Putin’s decision to rely on businessmen and to give them “a completely free hand” in exchange for declarations of loyalty is “a dead end” for the region. Such business types simply do not know enough to be able destroy the clan-administrative system and often are captured by it. And that in turn is only accelerating the descent of these regions into chaos, Tarskiy insists. Putin’s outsiders arrive, spark a new fight over the division of property, and the people suffer as a result, with many becoming ever more hostile to those in positions of power. Despite what some in the Kremlin apparently believe, Tarskiy argues, “the Caucasus is not Taiwan or an early South Korea were poverty and economic isolation are balanced by identification with the state and a high level of trust” in its officials from top to bottom.

At present, in fact, the public standing of the president of Kabardino-Balkaria is so low that he has to regularly invoke Putin’s somewhat better reputation in order to have enough authority to function at all. But given how conditions there are becoming for most of its residents, even that “resource” is far from infinite. Kabards and Balkars, Tarskiy says, now remember Soviet times with nostalgia, not simply because their economic situation was better but also because there was a sense then of communal purpose. That has been destroyed and it will not be restored by the purely “business” approach Putin and his representatives favor. The clearest indications of how far this social decay has developed, he writes, are social pathologies ranging “from the growth of alcoholism to the appearance of terrorist networks.” But instead of addressing their root causes, Tarskiy says, Putin is choosing to address only the symptoms and to assume that business will take care of everything.

Unless the Kremlin leader or his successors change course radically and soon, T. concludes, any “positive change” in the situation in KB or elsewhere in the North Caucasus will soon “become completely impossible,” with increasingly disturbing consequences for all concerned. Just how serious they may already be was underscored by Andrei Soldatov, a specialist on counter-terrorism, in an article [last] week in which he described the increasingly close ties between developments there and Islamist radicals elsewhere in the North Caucasus. To the extent Soldatov’s reporting and analysis are correct – and he is one of the most respected commentators on this aspect of the Russian scene — the impact of Putin’s policy failures in the region may soon mean that Kabardino-Balkaria will challenge Ingushetia as the hottest of the hot spots in the North Caucasus.

The New York Times continues the dirge:

Protesters angry with the leadership of the troubled Russian region of Ingushetia clashed with riot police Saturday, throwing rocks and firebombs the day after the government started a major security operation. Police responded by firing live rounds over the heads of some of the 300 protesters who tried to gather in the central square of Ingushetia’s main city, Nazran; heavily armed riot police blocked side streets. No injuries were reported, but dozens of people were believed to have been detained, and with the North Caucasus region already tense, the situation threatened to spiral out of control.

Protesters — many of whom appeared to be young men — set fire to a nearby hotel and the building of a local newspaper that the opposition has criticized for praising authorities. Some of the protesters threw rocks and incendiary devices at police, who fired shots into the air before moving into the crowd, beating people severely and hauling them into waiting police vans. An Associated Press reporter saw at least half a dozen people forcibly detained, including four journalists, and dozens more people were believed arrested. Police did not give the exact number held. ”Everyone even indirectly involved in organizing this protest will be severely punished,” regional Interior Minister Musa Medov told The Associated Press.

Much of the violence in this poor, mostly Muslim republic of fewer than 500,000 people is seen as a spillover from neighboring Chechnya, which shares a language and culture and where Russia has fought two wars against separatist rebels. Ingushetia has many refugees from Chechnya’s fighting and is seen as sympathetic to separatists. Government critics attribute the growing number of attacks in the region — mostly against police — to anger fueled by abductions, beatings, unlawful arrests and killings of suspects by government forces and local allied paramilitaries.

Many Ingush are also intensely unhappy with regional President Murad Zyazikov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former KGB agent. ”President (Zyazikov) has to face his people,” Ingush lawmaker Bamatgirey Mankiyev said. ”What is going on now only pits the people against authorities, especially against police.” Government forces on Friday began security campaign in several districts of Ingushetia in response to a surge in violence and abductions. Regional law-enforcement bodies together with federal interior and security forces increased identity checks and searches for militants and their arms caches in abandoned buildings and other places.

Federal officials last year tripled the number of law enforcement troops in Ingushetia in an effort to stem the violence.