Monthly Archives: February 2008

February 29, 2008 — Contents

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 29 CONTENTS

(1) Another Original LR Translation: Nemtsov on Putin via Essel, Part 7

(2) EDITORIAL: Annals of Russian Ignorance

(3) Exposing Potemkin Russia

(4) The Putin Legacy

(5) Freedom of Speech in Russia has its Limits: All of Them

(6) The Education of a Russophile

(7) Amnesty International Rips Putin a New One

NOTE: Putin’s Russia receives truly withering, devastating fire today in #1, #3 and #4 from Boris Nemtsov, the Chicago Tribune and the Moscow Times. What a triple threat!

NOTE: On Publius Pundit, more on Russia’s visa war.

Another Original LR Translation: Nemtsov on Putin via Essel, Part 7


NOTE: This is the sixth part of a serialized translation of Boris Nemtsov’s white paper critiquing the Putin years. It includes the tenth and eleventh chapters of the work. Part 1 (introduction and chapter one) appeared on Monday, Part 2 (chapter two) on Wednesday, Part 3 (chapters three and four) appeared on Friday, Part 4 (chapters five and six) appeared on Sunday, Part 5 (chapters seven and eight) appeared on Monday and Part 6 (chapter nine) appeared on Wednesday. Look for Part 8, which may be the final installment, on Sunday. You can display all the parts in reverse sequence on a single web page by simply clicking the “nemtsov white paper” link at the bottom of this post. The entire translated white paper document, including the final sections not yet published here as HTML, is now available as PDF (this link is now also permanently in our sidebar).

Putin: the Bottom Line

by Boris Nemtsov

First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, 1997-1998

and

Vladimir Milov

Deputy Minister of Energy, 2002

Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel

Chapter 10

Worsening Inequality

Russia is a country of the most massive inequality. This can be seen everywhere and in many different things. And this inequality – between the regions and between people – is only getting worse.

The average nominal monthly wage in Moscow is 20 thousand rubles. In places rich in natural resources, for example the Khanti-Mansiisk, Yamal-Nenets, Chukotsk regions and the Nenets autonomous district, it is 25-30 thousand. Real incomes in Moscow are of course considerably greater than that. At the same time, the average wage in Dagestan is 4500 rubles and a bit more – 6-8 thousand rubles – in the Central Black Earth region. In fewer than a third of the Russian regions is the average over or equal to the average wage for the whole of Russia (11 thousand rubles per month); in all the rest of the country it is lower.

At the same time as in 4-5 regions of Russia people are now living no worse than in developed Western countries, in the rest of the country they are living on a par with Mexico. One of the reasons for this differentiation is Putin’s policy of budgetary colonialism. Back in 2000, government expenditure was divided 50/50 between the centre and the regions. Now it is 65/35. Another reason is state monopoly capitalism, the model whereby the country’s natural resources are exploited, that has taken shape in Russia. Smaller businesses and those not involved in raw materials in areas without such resources are unable to develop – because of the high barriers to market entry maintained by officialdom and the monopolies they have links with, because of the government’s tax terror policies, because of the risk of losing what they own, and because of the poorly developed infrastructure.

To overcome this differentiation, it is vital that support be given to economic activities by the people, to developing small businesses, to involving as wide a circle of people as possible in entrepreneurial activities. This is the only way to make a meaningful number of Russians if not rich, then at least well-off.

During Putin’s presidency, however, the number of small enterprises has practically not risen in Russia. There are about one million of these today. That is less than 7 companies per 1000 population. This should be compared to the EC average of 45 per thousand, 50 per thousand in Japan, and 75 per thousand in the USA! In Western countries, about 50% of the working population is to be found in such enterprises and in Japan nearly 80%. Only 9 million Russians – 12% of the working population – work in small businesses. And these small businesses make a proportionate contribution to our GDP. This may be compared again to the USA, where the contribution by small businesses to the GDP is 50% and to the Eurozone where it is 60%. It should come as no surprise that people live more richly and in those countries and that they have a large middle class, which is not the case in Russia.

As a result, the people who get rich in Russia are those who are close to where the earnings from natural resources are to be found. Some crumbs do fall off the table. And while plain people’s incomes have risen, they have not risen in anything like the way the wealth of the oligarchs has. The average wage in Russia has risen from $80 per month in 2000 to over $400 today. Over the same period, however, Putin’s Russia has beaten all records in growing numbers of billionaires. In 1999-200, Forbes List carried not a single Russian. By 2007 there were 53 and their total wealth amount to $282 billion.

First place went by rights to Roman Abramovich with $18.7 billion. We now rank third in the world for number of billionaires after the USA and Germany.

There’s “Combat the Oligarchs” for you! Under Putin, they have only become richer. And those who were able to build a tight relationship with Putin, to successfully sell Sibneft to him, have become richest of all. Bear in mind also that the wealth of top officials and those close to them – secret owners of property, of Swiss oil and gas trading companies, beneficiaries of a myriad offshore trusts, of ties with Putin & Co. – are beyond the scope of Forbes List and remain invisible.

This is not a call to arms against the billionaires. Russia needs billionaires. It is a sign that a market economy has taken shape and that large national companies have been created. However, the explosion in their numbers and their wealth in comparison to the modest enrichment of the rest of the country is more a sign that all is very much not well with Putin’s Russia and that the widely advertised battle against the oligarchs is just a propaganda slogan to cover up the government’s support for certain oligarchs.

We also think that a very different set of economic policies could create far more opportunities for many more Russians to get richer. A climate favourable to enterprise, open and free competition, reasonable conditions for business development, especially small and medium enterprises, independent courts of law, guarantees for property rights – these are the things which would help enterprises to develop in a big way and, just as importantly, help the middle class to develop. In Russia too many assets are concentrated in the hands of big business and a wider range of the population is unable to start up because of the high barriers to market entry – fruit of the alliance between the monopolies and corrupt officialdom.

The recipes for solving these problems exist. However, in order to be successful in this, the criminal-monopolistic economic system that has taken shape under Putin must be dismantled.

Chapter 11 The Economic Bubble

We are all supposed to be over the moon at the success of the economy under Putin. In reality, however, it is not doing that well. Given today’s oil prices, our GDP growth has actually been remarkably modest. With the windfall from oil that our economy has been enjoying, we should have been seeing growth rates of 10-15% percent like our oil-exporting neighbours Kazakhstan or Azerbaidzhan. Even oil-importing countries such as China and India, who pay today’s sky-high world prices for their fuel, have been growing at 8-10% a year. Our 6-7% looks modest against this background. Oil-rich Russia’s GDP growth rate is one of the lowest in the CIS. Back in 2000, our GDP growth rate was the second fastest in the CIS. By 2007, we ranked eighth.

Putin has not brought about even this GDP growth. Russia’s economy began to grow in 1997 and continued to do so after the crisis of 1998. In 1999, the growth rate was 6.4%, the same as the average growth rate under Putin. It would be weird indeed if we were unable to make our economy grow at such a rate at a time when oil prices are so high. It is notable that it is mainly the private sector of the economy which has seen any growth; the state companies have shown very modest results indeed.

For the economy to have developed faster would have needed structural reforms, the establishment of a climate favourable to investments in new projects, and a modernisation of the economy. We have furthermore failed to convert what we have achieved into a real economic modernisation of the country and revival of production capability. Instead of modernising, the Putin régime has devoted its attention to dividing the spoils, thus missing this favourable reform opportunity. We may not get another such chance again. We will evidently be forced to make painful social transformations (for example the pension reform we have already mentioned) when oil prices have fallen again.

Investment in production has slowed down as a result of the tough way private business is dealt with. Instead of creating new assets, companies have preferred to invest in real estate. A two-room flat built in Soviet times on the outskirts of Moscow now chnages hands for $200 thousand – a price inflation caused by investors buying up properties as capital investments. Gazprom’s capitalisation rose from less than $10 billion in 2001 to $350 billion today, despite the fact that its gas production has not increased while its costs and debt have risen threefold as it prefers to buy assets rather to to bring new deposits on line. What is this if not a bubble, a bubble that may burst with a very big bang?

Debt accumulated by corporations for the purchase of assets instead of investing in production now exceeds $400 billion and is nearly equal to the state’s financial reserves. The major borrowers are Gazprom, Rosneft, and the state banks. Should any of these corporations default, it is going to be the Russian public which will have to pay the cost as state reserves will be rapidly frittered away on keeping the inefficient state companies afloat.

Government expenditure, first and foremost for the benefit of the growing state apparatus and special services, has of course risen faster than GDP growth. Planned government spending on its own management, national security, and law enforcement for 2008 stands at $39 billion (compared to $4 billion in 2000). This is three times as much as has been allocated to the “national projects”. There are now over 600,000 civil servants. Government efficiency has nonetheless not improved; crime rates remain high and are in fact higher than in the 1990s.

The government policy favouring the mass creation of state enterprises has only increased the appetites of the recipients of government money. These corporations cannot compete on the open market without state aid. Pouring government money into the economy has already resulted in a burst of inflation which has hurt plain people (inflation is no abstract economic phenomenon). Consumer inflation of up to 15% and more means that prices are rising painfully fast. The monopolisation of the economy under Putin – the inevitable result of civil servants protecting “their” companies and hindering competition – has only poured oil on the flames. World Bank experts have tried to estimate how concentrated ownership has become in Russia and concluded that state companies and the 22 largest private financial and industrial groups control nearly two-thirds of industrial turnover. Over half the banking system’s assets are controlled by banks affiliated with the state or powerful officials. Of these, about 45% are controlled by just 4 banks: Sberbank, Gazprombank, VTB, and the Bank of Moscow.

And this is what they call the Putin “economic miracle”?

We need another kind of economy. We need a competitive economy with low barriers to investment, low levels of government involvement in corporate management and spending. We need alongside that a strong and effective state regulatory system, above all to control monopolies, aimed not at sheltering friendly businesses and dividing the spoils but at ensuring all the players in the market abide by civilised rules and compete fairly.

It is vitally important that small businesses develop in Russia. This was covered in greater detail in the chapter on worsening inequality. But small businesses are prevented from developing in Russia by administrative barriers, corruption, and the monopolism of commercial organisations with protection from officialdom. The barriers hindering the development of small businesses should be dismantled. Of the many things that could be done to help them, the most important is to combat corruption at all levels of the government and to de-monopolise the economy.

Government money should be used not to help state corporations and to inflate expenditure on the government apparatus and special services but on public health, education and the army. There should be the strictest of oversights over government spending. We need to sharply reduce state involvement in the economy and go back to arranging honest privatisations in the way we began to practise in 1997-2000. Businesses need guaranteed property rights, working laws, and independent courts of law.

It is entirely within our power to build such an economy. But to do so, we must refrain from making use of the services of Putin and his circle.

EDITORIAL: Annals of Russian Ignorance

EDITORIAL

Annals of Russian Ignorance

The Moscow Times reports that when Russian “president” Vladimir Putin was asked about rumor he has stolen billions from the national treasury, he refused to give a direct answer, responding: “Просто болтовня, которую нечего обсуждать, просто чушь. (It’s just blather that isn’t worth discussing, just rubbish.).” He then added: “Всё выковыряли из носа и размазали по своим бумажкам. (They just picked it out of their nose and smeared it on their little sheets.)” The MT points out that “the Kremlin translators gave this vivid image a pass, rendering it as: “They just made it up and included it in their papers.” So it seems that the Kremlin is not only censoring what the Russian people hear, but also attempting to put blinders on the West.

Russia is a nation that likes to fancy itself erudite, cultured and well-educated. But the truth, as “President” Putin’s coarse language shows and as the New York Times recently reported, is somewhat different. Here’s how Russia’s “education” system got involved in the recent elections to parliament, for instance:

Parents at some schools were ordered to attend mandatory meetings with representatives of United Russia, and the children were used to drag their parents to the polls. “It was the same scenario at all the schools,” a teacher said. “And it was all from the city’s leadership. The school directors were given instructions, and they carried them out.”

Regional officials were vigilant about developments at local universities, particularly two of the largest, Lobachevsky State and Volga State. Students said they were warned not to join marches sponsored by the Other Russia coalition. And they said that before the elections, administrators issued a threat: if you do not vote for the ruling party, you will be evicted from your dorms. “Everyone was frightened, and our group, in full, went and voted, like a line of soldiers marching,” said a Volga State student. Administrators at both universities said the students’ statements about pressure were false.

Yet it did not stop with the voting.

Shortly after election day, several hundred Lobachevsky students were told that they were being bused to Moscow, but the university would not say why. When they were let off near Red Square, they found themselves among a huge throng of people.It was only then that they realized that they had become unwilling participants in a rally sponsored by Nashi, a fiercely pro-Kremlin youth group, to celebrate United Russia’s triumph and to congratulate Mr. Putin.

Putin projects himself as a popular leader, yet he needs to engage in this type of neo-Soviet barbarism in order to win? Russia projects itself as a civilized, educated nation — yet this is how it conducts the scholastic process?

A Russian commenter responded to the story, which the Times translated and ran in Russia:

My son was taken to Moscow from a university in another city for a United Russia event. Each student was paid about 800 rubles for the trip, I think. They were asked to vote for United Russia, but of course, no one was forcing their hands, and thus were able to vote as they pleased. It’s just that the main political competition is represented by a bunch of clowns. The party of power seems to largely encourage this aberration with its own behavior. The students at Lobachevsky University were simply duped with money that the organizers of the trip had stolen.

Putin is completely innocent here (unfortunately). People in Russia have always been forced to go to demonstrations, to vote or to sign some kind of petition. These are the initiatives of local officials large and small, who maintain their thrones, not thanks to professionalism, but thanks to intrigues and brown nosing.

Make no mistake: This commenter is speaking for the vast majority of Russians. Putin runs the “party of power” and it “encourages” this “aberration” but Putin is “completely innocent” of misconduct. Students are bribed to vote and herded around like zombies, but that’s perfectly fine since nobody actually put a gun to their heads. Pandemic corruption in the school system? So what, it’s always been like that. No need for any type of reform, no need for outrage, not a word about the total absence of any real opposition emerging from the elections, so that now Russia’s parliament is a pathetic, Zimbabwe-like rubber stamp.

Another commenter offered a different perspective:

This is an exercise I do with my Russian colleagues and friends regularly, it’s called “name the country”; Here it goes: 1) the country has huge oil and gas resources, but lacks the technology and expertise to run the industry. 2) Qualified people flee the country. 3) The government makes it very difficult for foreigners to run a business and work legally(and hire locals by the way). 4) The corrupt and backward education system produces very few quality graduates. 5) Basic infrastructure – water, electricity, airports, health care,wiring,roads, plumbing – is a disaster. 6) The most lucrative career for young girls is either marriage or prostitution (apart from a few smart female accountants) 7) Money from natural resources is hoarded by a small corrupt elite.8)The elites blame western oil companies for the stealing this money.9) The masses are led to believe their country is rich because the ruling elite drive new Toyota Land Cruisers purchased with the stolen money. Answer – it depends. If it is warm outside it’s Nigeria, and if it’s ice cold, must be Russia.

— Eric Vigod, Sakhalin,Russia (ex-NYC’er)

What’s the net result of all this? Well, you get a Russian “professor” of “international relations” telling the BBC that “Gazprom is an instrument of Russian foreign policy, like American oil companies are instruments of American foreign policy.” He ignores the fact that Gazprom is state owned while American oil companies are not. He ignores the fact that Gazprom is monopoly, while American oil companies have furious competition. He responds to an accusation in the manner of a small child who is called “stupid” and answers simply “no, you are!” Within the ivory tower that is Russia, or at least the Kremlin, this seems to make some kind of sense, just as was the case in Soviet times.

But from even a little way beyond Russia’s borders, the professor stands naked as a jaybird.

Exposing Potemkin Russia

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is now officially under massive assault, at long last, from America’s major media. First the New York Times came out with a huge front-page article exposing the Russian dictatorship, complete with a translation into Russian, and now the Chicago Tribune reports on Potemkin Russia’s total failure to deliver an improved quality of live outside Moscow:

Behind a scrim of billionaires and petrodollars, Russian cities like this one are dying a slow, quiet death deep in the frigid, remote Far East. Many Russians here haven’t worked for more than a decade. They survive on whatever they can lug on their scrap carts—radiators and washing machines, bricks and bathtubs scavenged from a cityscape of boarded-up buildings. Scalpels at the hospital here are brown with rust. Every month, a local heating utility sends collectors to families who haven’t paid a bill in nine years. Factories that churned out everything from Soviet-era mortar shells and mines to linoleum and cardboard wasted away years ago, leaving a city of 47,000 without work, or any sense of purpose.

The cold, dark second-floor household of the Chursin family sums up life in Amursk. Natalya Chursina and her husband feed and clothe their teenage son, Zhenya, on welfare payments that amount to $5 a day. At 14, Zhenya has decided that school is optional. When he skips class in winter, he and his friends hop onto ice floes and ride them like skiffs through the roiled waters of the Amur River. It’s a place and a life Chursina and her husband, Vladimir, desperately want their son to escape. “People die like flies here,” says Chursina, 41. “Everything here is on the decline.”

The energy wealth that wrested much of Russia from the brink of an economic abyss and gave the Kremlin its newfound swagger has yet to revive cities like Amursk. On Sunday, Russians are expected to elect as their new president Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin’s longtime protege and a loyal adherent to his blueprint for prosperity. But eight years after Putin began implementing that blueprint, a hidden Russia still languishes, masked by Moscow’s moneyed extravagance and conspicuous consumption. Most of Russia’s 119,000 millionaires live in greater Moscow, the world’s most expensive city, amid a burgeoning middle class that has discovered mortgages and jams the aisles of the capital’s two Ikea stores. Move beyond the capital’s showy facade and you find a vulnerable Russia—a national population evaporating at a rate of 720,000 people each year and an aging, neglected infrastructure.

Russia’s economic resurgence has been both real and remarkable. It now has the world’s third-largest collection of billionaires and a gross domestic product growing by nearly 7 percent every year. The ruble is getting stronger. Overall, poverty and unemployment are down. Yet that resurgence has its limits. In Siberia and the Russian Far East, a population of 30.6 million withers at a rate of 103,000 people each year, victims of wayward Soviet planning that put whole cities in one of the planet’s coldest expanses.

Dilapidated Soviet-era infrastructure from roads and electrical grids to housing and telephone lines saps Russia’s productivity. In much of the country, factories saddled with aging, outdated machinery lag far behind their counterparts in the U.S., China and Southeast Asia. The Russian Academy of Sciences says more than half of Russia’s industrial machinery is over 20 years old, compared to just 15 percent in 1990.

In the waning years of his presidency, Putin has begun trumpeting the need to shore up debilitated infrastructure, revamp health care and solve the country’s worrisome population plunge. But analysts believe he could have acted much sooner. His decision to serve as prime minister alongside Medvedev could give him the chance to make up for lost time. “These problems have worsened over the course of many years. Now when they’re very serious, they’re getting noticed,” said Nikolay Petrov, a former Kremlin adviser and an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, a Moscow think tank affiliated with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The price for not doing anything about this for years will be huge.”

A weak Russia—one that cannot sustain a labor force, restore its social safety net or rebuild decaying infrastructure—risks becoming an unstable Russia. And instability in a country with the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal and a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council poses a danger the U.S. and Western Europe can ill afford. “Their infrastructure will be hard to maintain—they’ve had a significant loss of population; they’re shrinking at a time when their oil reserves are growing,” said Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s very important that [Russia remains] stable. It affects America greatly.”

To make the giant leap from emerging economy to global powerhouse, analysts say, Russia must transform itself from a wellspring of energy, wood and metals to a country that produces as well as exports—and makes human capital its most valuable resource. Nowhere in Russia is that task more urgent than in Siberia, an expanse of rugged beauty and economic ruin. Siberia’s southern neighbor, China, ravenously consumes Russian oil and timber, sending some of it back to Russia as finished goods. That lopsided conduit benefits China far more than Russia, experts say, and only deepens Siberia’s plight. “Without a sustainable economy in the country’s eastern half,” says Dmitri Trenin, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “I see Russia becoming a junior partner to China.”

While Putin has done little to remedy eastern Russia’s economic woes in his eight years in office, he didn’t create them. Nor did his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, though his chaotic stewardship made life measurably worse in this region. Today’s eastern Russia hobbles because of decisions made decades ago, by Soviet planners who built cities in places where no one would choose to live. Siberia’s winters are the world’s harshest. More than 2,600 miles from Moscow, Irkutsk’s population of 593,000 shivers through Januaries that average 11 degrees below zero at night. Remoteness also made Siberia a poor choice for city-building. Everything in Russia—power, money, commerce—loops back to Moscow. But Khabarovsk is an eight-hour flight from Moscow, or an eight-day train ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway. A flight from Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia’s largest Pacific port, takes nine hours. But neither climate nor distance weighed heavily in Josef Stalin’s vision. Tapping Siberia’s bonanza of gold, oil, nickel and timber required cities, Stalin’s planners believed, and so Soviet leaders forcibly settled workers there.

Like other Siberian cities, Amursk was made to order. Soviet leaders wanted a cluster of defense-industry factories built by a bend in the Amur River, and in 1958 they dispatched laborers and bulldozers to build Amursk’s plants, beige-brick apartment buildings and tree-lined boulevards. As a cog in the Soviet Union’s centralized economy, Amursk flourished. Its pulp-processing plant made more cardboard than any other Soviet factory. Its timber mill sent particleboard to Japan, Australia and the U.S. Amursk’s birthrate exceeded the Soviet average, as did its per capita weddings. Then, in the late 1980s, a plunge in oil prices broadsided the Soviet economy. With the end of the Cold War, orders for Amursk’s munitions factories ceased. Moscow told the plants to convert for civilian use but did nothing to make that happen.

Much of the town’s youth fled. Everyone else found themselves trapped in a city without work. Today many survive on government aid or the pensions of parents and grandparents.

‘We get only words’

Leonard Bolotnikov, a retired pulp factory worker with a round, ruddy face and snow-white hair, says that after he pays rent and utilities, his monthly pension leaves him $19.53. Steeling himself against a bracing wind on an icy winter morning, he jabs his finger at the abandoned, ransacked buildings that line Mir Avenue. “We get only words and more words from our leaders,” says Bolotnikov, 66, his face flushed with anger. “Look at these buildings. Everything is destroyed. Young people are leaving. My heart bleeds when I look at this.”

The Soviet collapse ravaged all of Russia, but the toll was especially harsh on what Russians call grado-obrazuyushy, cities built around a single factory. In Biryusinsk in east Siberia, a solvents manufacturer buoyed the lives of 12,000 Russians during the Soviet era. The plant in turn was tethered to a cluster of sawmills that processed larch and pine and supplied the plant with sawdust, its primary raw material. “We could buy fur coats back then,” says Olga Loginova, 47, a fermentation room worker.

In the post-Soviet chaos of the 1990s, hundreds of sawmills went bankrupt, including the Biryusinsk plant’s suppliers. The factory had to pay more for sawdust from mills farther away. By 2005, at a time when Moscow wealth was pushing up downtown real estate prices to nearly $1,000 per square foot, Biryusinsk plant workers were jamming into the factory’s grocery to receive management’s substitute for a paycheck: loaves of bread. “It was like during World War II, when people stood in line for hours to get a little bread,” Loginova said. “We lived on this bread and on our vegetable gardens.” In December 2005, the plant stopped production. Much of the town’s youth has fled; older Russians here scrape by on $125 monthly pensions. Their adult children live off those same pensions. “We are no longer wanted here,” says Anatoly Chubukov, a former truck driver who helped build railroads in east Siberia. Now he nets fish for food and thaws snow for drinking water. “We built the village and the road, the trains run—so now we are throwaways.”

Eager for a turnaround

Russian leaders are scrambling for ways to lure money and people back to Siberia, to make it a land of promise rather than a land of exile. In Irkutsk, bureaucrats have convinced themselves that building a “super city” will turn the tide. They believe that the provincial capital and two smaller satellite cities, Angarsk and Shelekhov, can be linked to form a megalopolis with a million people and a magnet for jobs, people and investors.

Sergei Voronov, Irkutsk’s deputy provincial governor, lays out the blueprints: two new highways, 24 hotels, three ski resorts, a new airport and the timeworn cure-all of urban planners around the world, a monorail. “It’s impossible to utilize our natural resources without a labor force,” Voronov says. “Our purpose is to create a prestigious place to live in so that this notion of Siberia being a place of exile is not the perception people have. The idea behind this supercity is to use whatever economic leverage we have to improve the image of this place.”

Russian leaders also have dusted off a century-old pipe dream to build a $65 billion, 68-mile highway and rail tunnel underneath the Bering Strait between Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula and Alaska. Neither the Kremlin nor Washington has given any hint of backing the idea, but Viktor Razbegin, an official at the Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry, has called the tunnel “one of the few projects that can dramatically change the development of the Far East.” That kind of reliance on forced, oversize answers to Siberia’s economic and demographic woes mirrors the Soviet policymaking that led to eastern Russia’s plight in the first place. The cure lies not in building more glass and steel, experts say, but in investing in Siberia’s human capital—improving health care, tackling rampant alcoholism, seeding the growth of small businesses.

“I’ve got a secret for the Kremlin: In the modern world, the wealth of nations isn’t in the ground, but in the people walking the ground,” says Nicholas Eberstadt, an expert in demography and economics at the American Enterprise Institute. “The strategy of abandoning human resources for the sake of natural resources is one that will, in the long run, end in tears.”

The Putin Legacy

“Twenty-eight percent of Russians think that the sun revolves around the earth. In other words, they live in a pre-Copernican age. And 30 percent of Russians think that if you boil radioactive milk, the radiation will disappear.”

That’s a quote from a recent blockbuster article in the Moscow Times reviewing the “Putin legacy” on the even of this weekend’s “presidential elections,” which will be one of the greatest atrocities against the institution of democracy in world history. Here’s the full monty:

The public protests shook the president and nearly toppled a government. But the thousands of angry demonstrators that flooded onto the streets of towns and cities around the country in January 2005 were not opposition activists protesting the rollback of democracy or Kremlin policy in the Caucasus. The protesters bringing traffic to a halt and demanding that then-Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and his entire Cabinet be tossed out were the country’s most economically vulnerable — pensioners, the disabled, veterans — enraged by the bread-and-butter issue of reform to the system of state subsidies for certain goods and services. “When the pensioners hit the streets in January 2005 in Moscow and all around the country, that really scared the government,” said Yevgeny Gartung, State Duma deputy from the Just Russia party and former head of the now-defunct Pensioners Party.

The tumultuous scenes highlighted not just popular discontent at the replacement of the subsidized benefits by direct cash payments, but the government’s vulnerability when attempting social reforms in general. Over the last eight years of economic boom, caused largely by record oil prices, the sustaining narrative of Vladimir Putin’s tenure became a simple one: After the instability of the 1990s, life was getting better.

There is little doubt that some of the new wealth has filtered down. Official indicators show that the proportion of the population living in poverty has dropped; wages, consumption and living standards have risen; and a small middle class has emerged. But under Putin, critics argue, macroeconomic stability has also undercut any impetus for reform. This has meant that the health care and education systems have been left in dire straits, that pensions remain insufficient, that a good part of the rise in incomes is eaten up by inflation and that the inequalities that arose in the 1990s have only grown greater. Any improvement, they say, has come in spite of, rather than because of, Putin’s policies.

Putin himself says that stability, rather than reform, has been his main achievement. In his recent legacy speech to the State Council, Putin said the conditions are now in place to allow Russians to expect real improvements, with improving living standards taking the primary place in his development plan through 2020. “Russia will become the best place to live,” Putin said. “That’s an absolute national priority.” To this end, Putin’s anointed successor, Dmitry Medvedev, whose main responsibility as first deputy prime minister was to usher in the national projects in health care, housing, education and agriculture, has made social-welfare issues central to his election platform. “Today these are the sorest points in our society — pensioners’ incomes, the health care system, the education system and housing,” A Just Russia’s Gartung said.

No Worse, No Better

The survey could have been published in the mid-1990s. A Levada Center poll released in January listed rising prices, poverty, the rich-poor divide and lack of access to medical treatment as the four biggest concerns for average Russians. Although average incomes have risen by more than 50 percent over the last four years in nominal terms, the impact has been significantly blunted by rising prices for essential items. Official inflation figures have been in the range of 10 percent in recent years, but many economists say the cost of staple products has been at least twice as much.

“In real terms, there has been practically no change in the quality of life for any of the sections of society we survey,” said Natalya Tikhonova, head of the social policy department at the Higher School of Economics. “The situation has improved insofar as it has stopped getting worse after many years of deterioration.”

Since Putin’s public declaration of war on poverty in 2004, the number of people living under the official subsistence level has plummeted. Even if the official figure of 12 percent at present is a little rosier than the reality, it is still way down from the 1-in-3 figure of a decade ago. But while most are now are getting by safely, others have never had it so good. During Putin’s tenure, income disparity both between rich and poor and among the regions has grown. According to official figures, the top 10 percent of the population takes home about 31 percent of total earnings and earns 15 times more than the bottom 10 percent. Independent analysts put this figure at closer to 30. “The more money there has been in the country, the worse our quality of life, life expectancy and education levels have become relative to other countries,” said Oleg Smolin, a Communist State Duma deputy. “The economy does not work for the people, but the other way around.”

And the gap is not just social but geographical.

“Of course the difference between living standards in Moscow and the regions is growing,” said Gartung, who represented a Chelyabinsk district in the last Duma. “As a rule, prices in the regions are growing more quickly and wages are growing more slowly.” In 2006, the gross domestic product per capita for Moscow was almost 30 times that of Ingushetia, statistics from the National Institute for Living Standards show. “If Moscow is currently on the same level as the Czech Republic, St. Petersburg is on the level of the Baltic States, and somewhere like Tuva is on par with Mongolia,” said Smolin, who comes from the Siberian city of Omsk.

And unless something is done to prevent the gap from growing further, the social situation could become volatile. “Society has undoubtedly become more stable, but the danger of instability is growing again because of the gap between rich and poor,” said A Just Russia’s Gartung. While Putin’s increasingly centralized — some prefer the word “authoritarian” — political system has created an atmosphere of stability, it might have the opposite effect in the long run. While in other developed countries multiparty political systems and civil society work to promote the interests of different sections of society, in Russia these social mechanisms do not work, Tikhonova said. “One of the questions is whether Russians have sacrificed democracy at too low a price,” Sergei Guriyev, rector of the New Economic School said. “But I think that people tend to underestimate the intensity of the negative economic shock in the 1990s.”

Guriyev said one hopeful sign was the evidence of a growing middle class, however nascent at present. “You look at characteristics such as mobile phone sales or real estate prices and they all demonstrate that the middle class is growing everywhere — not just in Moscow,” Guriyev said. Although estimates of the size of the middle class now range from 10 to 30 percent of the population, this still remains far below the two-thirds level common in Western Europe. Part of the problem, says Smolin, who serves on the Duma’s Education and Science Committee, is that many teachers, doctors and academics still fall outside of the middle class. Smolin said one friend, an award-winning high school teacher in Omsk, earns just over 3,000 rubles, or about $125, per month while another who works as a principal and teacher earns 6,400 rubles per month.

Reform Stalled

One of the main problems, critics argue, is that, despite the centralization of power and the subservience of the parliament, the process of real reform has stumbled. Much-needed structural changes to the education, pension and health care systems have been held captive to vested interests and corruption, while poor legislation and a lack of public discourse have turned good ideas into catastrophes. Putin’s first term was characterized by legislative caution, with macroeconomic stability rather than change the priority, said Vyacheslav Bobkov, director of the National Center for Living Standards. Much of the legislation passed in the first four years, like the introduction of the 13 percent flat income tax, was leftover from the Yeltsin period, along with many of the personnel, Bobkov said. “Putin and the administration did not know that oil prices would get, and stay, this high,” the New Economic School’s Guriyev said. “Only in 2002 and 2003 did they begin to believe that they would have money to spend on new things.”

So, after his public admission of shame in 2003 of the poverty in which many Russians lived, Putin looked ready for more ambitious reforms at the start of his second term. Emboldened, perhaps, by high popularity ratings and a tighter grip on power — and with a new team in place, including Mikhail Zurabov as health and social development minister and Andrei Fursenko as education minister — Putin turned to housing, pensions and benefits.

Monetization

The switch from a long-standing system of free or heavily subsidized goods and services — including medicine, public transport and utilities — highlighted the difficulties involved in pursuing social reforms during Putin’s second term. The program, generally referred to as “monetization,” prompted the wave of protests at the outset of 2005. “Monetization was the biggest mistake,” Gartung said. “It was correct in theory, but in practice there were lots of mistakes.”

Many regional governments, on which the burden of many of the payments was to fall, found themselves unprepared and short of funds to deal with the new responsibilities. Putin, meanwhile, was forced to publicly upbraid four of his ministers, including two of the highest-profile economic liberals — Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Economic and Trade Development Minister German Gref. Reform after that became more cautious. “The government realized that these reforms were very risky, so whenever you want to change something you have to throw a lot of money at it,” Guriyev said. “If it’s a government that has a lot of money, it’s not a bad idea.”

But just over a year later — in March 2006 — protesters were out on the streets across the country again to protest reforms that saw household utilities bills shoot up. Zurabov, the minister most associated with the reforms, quickly became the lightning rod for criticism. After a reform to the state-subsidized drug program left thousands short of medicine in 2007, Zurabov took the fall, being shown the door when Mikhail Fradkov’s government was dismissed last September. In the meantime, a sort of “pay-and-pray” policy of throwing money at problems without addressing the root causes has come into play. Highly publicized and politicized lump payments have been doled out to pensioners and public-sector employees like teachers and doctors in the run-up to recent elections. “So far, the government is making the minimum payments necessary to buy the loyalty of the pensioners,” Gartung said.

In December 2007, the average basic state pension was 3,309 rubles, or about $135, per month, an increase of more than 16 percent from the beginning of 2006. And emergency measures introduced before the Duma elections last year to freeze prices artificially on basic goods were just another short-term attempt at dealing with complex issues. “It is completely political,” Gartung said. “This has nothing to do with economics.”

The Projects

In his state of the nation address in 2005, Putin started what would become the defining social initiatives of his second term — the national projects. Supporters of the projects say they have already addressed structural issues and made a concrete difference in the areas of education, health care, housing and agriculture over the last two-plus years. “The most important element is that, for the first time, there is now a strategy,” said Alexandra Ochirova, who serves on Medvedev’s committee for the national projects and heads the commission for social development in the Public Chamber. Guriyev agreed, saying improvements, like connecting all Russian schools to the Internet, were proof of progress. “Even throwing money at education and health care is a good idea because these were previously so underfinanced,” said Guriyev, who served on a committee advising the government on the national projects.

But far from a great white hope, others see the projects as a white elephant, aimed only at generating superficial successes and photo opportunities, and reinforcing traditions of haphazard spending. Some argue that the projects are so ill-conceived that they have done more harm than good. “I remember from childhood the story about the man who turned everything he touched to gold,” Smolin, the Communist Duma deputy said. “Well, the national projects seem to turn everything they touch into quite a different substance.”

With the introduction of the national projects, he said, speculation on real estate sent prices soaring, and life expectancy has actually dropped. With regard to education, Smolin said that under Putin quality has plummeted, bureaucracy soared and the number of free-of-charge spots fallen. “Twenty-eight percent of Russians think that the sun revolves around the earth. In other words, they live in a pre-Copernican age,” he said. “And 30 percent of Russians think that if you boil radioactive milk, the radiation will disappear.”

“These are the dazzling results of our national projects,” he said. In health care, despite some improvements, a bribe-for-treatment system is still prevalent, and the lack of facilities makes receiving proper treatment outside of large cities a lottery. “We need huge health care reform to meet the challenges,” said Kirill Danishevsky, lead consultant at the Open Health Institute, a Moscow-based nongovernmental organization. “You don’t solve this just by buying more ambulances.”

Freedom of Speech in Russia has its Limits: All of the Them

The Moscow Times reports:

A leading human rights activist, Lev Ponomaryov, said Monday that he had been charged with slander for calling the country’s top prison official “the author of a sadistic system of torture.” Moscow prosecutors visited Ponomaryov at his home Thursday and initially questioned him “as a witness,” Ponomaryov said. “It soon became clear that I would turn into a suspect,” he said.

Ponomaryov said he was charged with falsely accusing a civil servant of committing a serious crime, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The prosecutors also asked Ponomaryov to sign a document agreeing not to leave Moscow for the duration of the investigation, which he did. The case dates back to a 2006 interview that Ponomaryov gave to the Regnum news agency. In the interview, Ponomaryov called Federal Prison Service chief Yury Kalinin “the author of a sadistic system of torture” and said he was responsible for a network of 40 prisons that were effectively “torture zones.” Kalinin filed a complaint, and in April Moscow’s Presnensky District Court ordered Regnum to publish a correction, which it did in October.

With the case apparently over, it was unclear as to why the prosecutors had charged Ponomaryov. Calls to prosecutors and the Federal Prison Service went unanswered Monday, a public holiday. The country’s Kremlin-nominated human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, also called the conditions in many prisons “close to torture” in a report published earlier this month. Ponomaryov said the charge against him was fabricated. “Kalinin is eager to show the new president that he is indispensable to the regime,” he said.

Dmitry Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor, is expected easily to win Sunday’s presidential election.

Ponomaryov, 67, is one of Russia’s most prominent activists and is especially vocal on the treatment of prisoners. A former State Duma deputy, he is the executive director of the For Human Rights group and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Ponomaryov has attended many opposition rallies and has been detained numerous times. He said he intended to participate in a postelection Dissenters’ March on Monday. Ponomaryov had a run-in with authorities in June, when he was questioned by Federal Security Service officials over a speech he made at a January 2007 rally in defense of two businesspeople accused of illegal trafficking of ethyl ether.

Putin in 2006 signed a law allowing the slander and libel of government officials to be classified as extremism. A series of cases has followed. A Perm reporter was questioned last week and may face charges after he wrote an article identifying what he characterized as positive similarities between Putin and Adolf Hitler. In September, Saratov prosecutors charged Sergei Mikhailov with extremism after his newspaper, The Saratov Reporter, published a photo portraying Putin as the popular fictional spy Otto von Stirlitz. The charges were dropped earlier this month. Ivanovo journalist Vladimir Rakhmankov was convicted in October 2006 of publicly insulting a public official and fined 20,000 rubles ($750) for referring to Putin as “a phallic symbol.”

The Education of a Russophile

The BBC reports:

I was irritated by his three-piece suit. I was irritated by his floppy bow tie. But if I am honest, what really irritated me about Toomas Ilves was the fact that he and I had started off in almost the same job and I had become “our own correspondent” while he had become a head of state. Do not get me wrong, I love what I do. But arriving at the pad he occupies as president of Estonia – a charming little salmon-and-cream-cheese-coloured mansion in a park built for Peter the Great – I could not help feeling a twinge of envy.

It was not the kind of home either of us could have imagined in the late 1980s when I was a talks writer in the Russian section of the BBC World Service, and he was something similar in the Estonian section of Radio Free Europe. And it was not the kind of house I ever got. So when I had nodded at – and been ignored by – the white-gloved ceremonial guards on my way in, I am afraid I was a little less courteous to him than he was to me.

Why, I asked, did he not speak Russian? It seemed a reasonable question because Russian is the language of more than a quarter of Estonia’s population. But for President Ilves it was not reasonable at all. Speaking Russian, he said firmly, would mean accepting 50 years of Soviet brutalisation because most Russian-speakers settled in Estonia only after it was occupied by the USSR towards the end of World War II. And when I pressed him, saying surely it would only mean being able to communicate with a large number of his fellow countrymen in their own language, he replied – as heads of state have every right to do: “This is a real dead end, I don’t want to discuss it.”

I moved on. And we had another cup of tea.

Bitter row

But Estonia’s relations with Russia have reached something of a dead end since a bitter row last year over the moving of a monument. For Russians, the bronze statue of a Soviet soldier was a symbol of sacrifice, commemorating Estonia’s liberation from Nazi Germany. For Estonians it was a symbol of slavery, reminding them of the Soviet domination that followed. Last April, when the Estonian government ordered it to be moved from a central square in the capital Tallinn to a military cemetery, protests by local Russians degenerated into riots. Russia accused Estonia of blasphemy and threatened “serious measures” in response.

What followed was a partial Russian trade blockade of Estonia and – far more chilling – an extraordinary cyber-attack. Millions of malicious messages were sent to Estonian websites and almost succeeded in disabling the country’s entire computer network. The messages were in Russian and mostly accused Estonians of being fascists. There is no proof the Kremlin was behind them or behind the riots.

But President Ilves believes Moscow loses no opportunity to meddle in the affairs of his tiny country. Indeed as a former radio journalist, he was keen to quote me a weighty think-tank report that suggests the Kremlin is trying to divide and rule the whole of Europe. As a former talks writer from a more Russophile background, I was more inclined to give the Kremlin the benefit of the doubt.

Russian perspective

But my views changed a bit when I got to the Kremlin itself.

I found myself soon afterwards in a grand office behind its intimidating red-brick walls, looking out over the psychedelic onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral and taking tea with President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko. He was so disgusted by the moving of the bronze soldier statue that he could not bring himself to say anything else at all about Estonia. But he would talk about relations with another neighbour, Georgia.

‘Punishment’

Georgia has also accused Russia of meddling. And it has also found itself the victim of swingeing trade sanctions. Why, I asked, were they necessary? “Georgia,” Mr Prikhodko growled back, “can’t always be like a little boy that takes a fork or a hammer and tries to whack its neighbour. Even a small child knows that if you spill tea or mess up your bed, you might be punished.”

Small child? Punishment?

I was quite taken aback, in such a lofty setting, to hear those sentiments expressed so crudely. And I was bound to assume that Estonia is also regarded as a small child that needs punishing. If that is Russia’s attitude, President Ilves’ desire to turn his back on it seems altogether easier to understand. Of course, I know he has always looked west when I have been looking east. From Radio Free Europe he went to Washington – as Estonian ambassador – while I had gone from the World Service to the BBC News bureau in Moscow. Whether or not that is the secret of his success, I do not know. But turning westwards certainly has not done Toomas Ilves, or his country, any harm.

And I think now I can get over him having such a nice little palace.

Amnesty International Rips Putin a New One

Amnesty International has issued a new country report on Russia. You can download the report in HTML or PDF. Here’s the executive summary:

There has been a clampdown on the freedoms of assembly and expression in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections in the Russian Federation. The authorities have violently dispersed some opposition demonstrations, while pro-government events have gone ahead without interference. Human rights activists and journalists who monitored demonstrations and public meetings have been harassed by law enforcement bodies. The space to express critical views in the Russian Federation has been gradually and progressively curtailed in recent years, according to a new Amnesty International report. The report “Freedom limited. The right to freedom of expression in the Russian Federation” examines the effect of arbitrary interpretation of vague legislation. It reveals increasing harassment of people in the Russian Federation seeking to express their opinions and to stand up for their rights.

“The rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association are a cornerstone for a functioning civil society. The Russian authorities are curtailing these rights as part of their strategy to counter so-called western influence,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International. “In doing so, they fail their national and international obligations to guarantee these rights for all.”

In a country where TV and many other media outlets are controlled by the state, there is less and less space for independent reporting. Those journalists who attempt to report independently are obstructed from conducting their professional work and they may face intimidation and possibly prosecution. The radio station Ekho Moskvy has repeatedly been asked to provide transcripts of their programmes to the prosecutor’s office in relation to preliminary investigations into allegations that they had aired extremists’ views.

The investigation into the murder of human rights journalist Anna Politkovskaya appears to be making no progress in determining who ordered the killing. The 2006 law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with its burdensome reporting requirements, is one of the legal instruments being used to target some organizations seen as a threat to state authority. Many NGOs now find themselves entangled in bureaucratic procedures set by the authorities. This takes valuable time away from their real work without adding to the fulfilment of the NGO law’s stated aims, to make them more accountable to society.

Other legal instruments used against human rights activists, independent organizations and media include the 2002 law to combat extremist activities, the tax law and the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Golos (Voice), an NGO working to promote fair elections and conducting training for election observers, is involved in a legal battle to prevent the closure of its branch in Samara. Rainbow House, an NGO of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists, was denied registration. Before that, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which collected and distributed information about the human rights situation in Chechnya and other parts of the Russian Federation, was closed down. “Freedom of expression is first and foremost the freedom to express alternative viewpoints. The continuing attack on this right, including by restrictions to the rights to freedom of assembly and association, has a stifling effect on the whole society,” Nicola Duckworth said.

“Without the right to freedom of expression, other basic human rights may be violated more easily. Silence is the best breeding ground for impunity – a powerful tool to undermine the rule of law.”

February 27, 2008 — Contents

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 27 CONTENTS

(1) Another Original LR Translation: Nemtsov on Putin via Essel, Part 6

(2) EDITORIAL: Russia and Kosovo

(3) Goble Remembers the Chechen Genocide

(4) The Horror of Russian “Health Care”

(5) Lying to President Putin

(6) Putin’s Russia: World Leader (in Teen Suicide, Abortion and Divorce)

(7) According to Russia’s G-8 Peers, It’s a Menace

NOTE: On Publius Pundit, a new low in the annals of Russian barbarism. Not for those with weak stomachs. Yech.

NOTE: We previously reported that Russia was up to for two Academy Awards last Sunday, best foreign language film and best animated short subject. The voters rejected it both times and, as if to put the boot in, gave the animated award to a British film on a Russian subject, Peter and the Wolf. Ouch.

Another Original LR Translation: Nemtsov on Putin via Essel, Part 6


NOTE: This is the sixth part of a serialized translation of Boris Nemtsov’s white paper critiquing the Putin years. It includes the ninth chapter of the work. Part 1 (introduction and chapter one) appeared last Monday, then Part 2 (chapter two) on Wednesday, Part 3 (chapters three and four) appeared on Friday, Part 4 (chapters five and six) appeared on Sunday and Part 5 (chapters seven and eight) appeared on Monday. Look for Part 7 (chapters ten and eleven) on Friday with the final installment including the conclusion to follow on Sunday. You can display all the parts in reverse sequence on a single web page by simply clicking the “nemtsov white paper” link at the bottom of this post.

The entire translated white paper document, including the final sections not yet published here as HTML, is now available as PDF (this link is now also permanently in our sidebar).

Putin: the Bottom Line

by Boris Nemtsov

First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, 1997-1998

and

Vladimir Milov

Deputy Minister of Energy, 2002

Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel

Chapter 9

Surrounded by Enemies (but not China)

Under Putin, Russia has managed to quarrel or get on bad terms for no good reason with most of the countries around it. It has no friends or allies left. We are moving at an ever faster pace towards being one of those countries that is excluded from the taking of international decisions.

Russia’s relations with all the Western countries have deteriorated for no good reason at all. The West is our natural partner and is open to the idea of cooperation with Russia. No matter how hard the opponents of integration with the West try to turn us into an Asian country, Russia remains an organic part of European civilisation. The Western path of open democratic society and market economy is the only good way for us to develop along as it ensures a high standard of living for the people (the oil-rich Arab kingdoms with the tiny populations do not count). The Western democracies are what threaten Russia the least. Those countries have never attacked any other democratic country. The government believes that our main opponent is the USA although that country has never attacked Russia and has been our ally in every one of our wars. The governments of the West are playing the lead part in the establishment of the new world order which has been taking shape since the end of World War II. The Marshall Plan’s restoration of war-ruined Western Europe, which turned it into flourishing example for the rest of the world, was the fruit of the transatlantic alliance between Europe and the USA. Russia’s strategic plan should be to be to join this alliance.

Not everything is as simple in our relations with the West. There is much to complain about in their actions – for example, how in the 1990s they forced a starving Russia to take upon itself the Soviet debt of over $90 billion, and how in recent times we have seen the War in Iraq and the deployment of American anti-missile missiles in Europe.

President Putin, however, has completely forgotten how to use the instruments of civilised dialogue and gone over to pure confrontationism and provocations. For example, the USA announced back in 2001 that it would withdraw from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty but from that time on no move has been made to enter into negotiations and sign a new one. Ever stubborn old Soviet leaders like Brezhnev and Gromyko would have done that. Putin just allowed things to slide. Now the hands of the USA are untied and it us who have to deal with the consequences of the deployment of American anti-missile missiles in Europe, the opportunity to have reached and agreement with the American in 2002-2005 having been missed.

Putin has tried to cover up his diplomatic failures by making use of provocations: energy blackmail, provocative bomber flights up to NATO’s frontiers (as if it would have been impossible to carry out training flights over international waters), hysterical anti-Western propaganda. Around the world, it is becoming normal to fear Russia, to look for ways to protect against ‘the Russian threat”.

Why do we need this confrontation? No one in the West is looking to go to war with Russia and we cannot afford one anyway. An arms race will ruin Russia, a country accounting for 2% of world GDP, when the USA’s GDP accounts for 27% [1](America’s economy is over 10 times the size of Russia’s). A new state of confrontation can only be maintained at the cost of reduced pensions, smaller salaries for teachers and doctors, and the introduction of ruinous taxes on businesses.

Cooling relations and Russia’s slow slide into isolation reduces opportunities for Russians to travel freely abroad. It is harder for our citizens than those of any other European country to obtain, for example, a Schengen visa. Meanwhile, the citizens of democratic countries travel to and from each others’ countries without any visas at all. Incidentally, our leaders’ anti-Western rhetoric does not stop their families from living and studying in the “enemy” states. For example, the daughter of Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov, who has distinguished himself in the field of aggressive anti-Western declarations and been a major contributor to the worsening of relations with the United Kingdom, does not study in Russia but at the London School of Economics [2].

The current confrontation with the West is the sorry result of non-professionals with Soviet instincts who do not know how to start a reasonable dialogue coming to power in the country, of the degradation of our diplomacy. Putin quite fails to understand the nature of the world’s current feelings about Russia. Official propaganda spreads the idea that Russia is no longer respected these days. That is not so. We have ceased to be respected and are feared instead, as people fear the psychologically unbalanced. We have stopped being considered thoughtful, reasonable and sober partners. Who knows what tricks Putin will get up to next – another energy embargo, more bomber flights? This is not authority, this is just fear. Russia does not need this kind of “popularity”.

Russia has quarreled with all its CIS neighbours. Putin has to all intents and purposes destroyed the Commonwealth. Gross interference in the Ukrainian elections, the embargoes against Georgia and Moldavia, energy blackmail in Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic countries, blocking Central Asian oil and gas from access to international markets. We have been in one conflict or other with all the post-Soviet countries. Russian influence in the post-Soviet sphere has fallen sharply. Given our colonial attitudes, it is not surprising that many of our former socialist-camp neighbours have looked to the West for aid and support.

Putin’s “integration projects” have not been successful: nothing has come of the Single Economic Area or of the Customs’ Union. One after the other, the post-Soviet countries have overtaken us and joined the WTO. Russia’s best friend, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev travels to Washington, Brussels, Peking, with promises of cooperation. Azerbaidzhan has declined to buy Russian gas and to use our pipelines to transport its oil. It is also preparing to join NATO. Relations have cooled even with Armenia, for whom we raised gas prices and which cannot but suffer too from Putin’s transport blockade of Georgia.

Yet an alternative strategy for Russia exists. We need to become the guarantor of the spread of freedom and democracy in the post-Soviet arena, to be setting the standards for democracy for other post-Soviet countries to follow, to refrain from colonial policies, to build our relationships with our partners principled equality and not by trying to engulf the whole territory of the former USSR in a Gazprom monopoly. Only in this way can Russia become not only the greatest authority in the CIS but an effective defender of the rights of of the Russian-speaking minorities in those countries.

For now, however, our neighbours are busy building barriers against us.

Back in 2000, Russia was on reasonable terms with nearly all the world’s countries. Today we are ringed by enemies. The only exception to this is China.

Putin’s policies towards China should rightly be called “capitulatory”. Under Putin, Russia’s military-industrial complex has mostly worked to arm the Chinese. Russia has become the top supplier to China’s armed forces as they rapidly grow in might. We have sold minesweepers, aircraft, submarines, air-to-air and ground-to-air missiles to China. Putin has even allowed Chinese military units into Russia to carry out military exercises: 1600 Chinese servicemen entered Chelyabinsk district in 2007 for this purpose. With Putin’s connivance, China has hastened to extend its influence in Central Asia, leaving Russia sidelined. The Central Asia countries are building new oil and gas pipelines to China, developing transport links, and getting massive financial assistance from the Chinese government. As for Russia, “higher” geopolitical considerations prompt us to sign loss-leading contracts for the sale of oil and gas to China at prices several times lower than world prices.

Putin has made major territorial concessions to China. Russian territory has been ceded to another country for the first time since Nikita Khrushchev. By a 2004 treaty, China was given two large Russian islands on our borders, Bolshoi Ussuriisky Island and Tarabarova Island. The area ceded is nearly 340 square kilometres. A massive building project for a town of 2½ million inhabitants is today underway on Bolshoi Ussuriisky Island. Khabarovsk can clearly be seen from the island, which is now set to become an outpost of the Chinese economy and cultural expansion in the Far East.

China represents a real threat to our country. Unlike the countries of the West, China does lay open and unconcealed claims to Russian territory. At the very time when former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was being falsely reported as having said that “Russia doe not rightly own Siberia” (a Russian general admitted in an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta in 2006 that the quote had been invented), Chinese politicians were openly commenting that Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East had been “unfairly seized” by Tsarist Russia. Chinese history and geography schoolbooks teach children to think in this way. Maps with our Eastern territories coloured in the same colour as China are on free sale in the country.

Putin and other representatives of the pro-Chinese lobby try to sweet-talk us with statements that “China does not present a danger” to Russia. These assertions are without substance. On the contrary, any analysis of the real situation can only conclude that while the Communists remain in power in China, that country will be a direct threat to our security. We have a real armed conflict behind us already – in 1969, one resulted from Chinese claims to the Daman Island. China’s armed forces are already outnumber ours and they out-arm us in all forms of weaponry except strategic. China today has about 700 tactical rockets with a range of 300-600kms which can easily be transported to our border and used to strike Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Vladivostok, Chita… And we cannot begin to compete with China in numbers of men we can mobilise in the event of a military conflict.

In 2006, the Chinese army carried out large-scale exercises in the Peking and Shenyang military districts to try out a strategic advance operation in which troops were to advance over 1000 kilometres overland in large numbers. Against whom could China be considering such an operation? Clearly not against Taiwan, Japan or the USA: maritime landings would be needed for such operations. Military specialists could only see in such an exercise preparation for a land operation on Russian territory.

Putin has signed an agreement creating a 200-kilometre troop-free zone along the frontier that is only to China’s advantage: in Eastern Siberia and the Far East all our infrastructure and communications are located along the border with China and this leaves them undefended. Our armed forces are not prepared for an armed conflict with China. The Ministry of Defence’s main scenario for the Far East theatre, which our army does train for, is one in which a maritime descent force (from the US or Japan) is repulsed. We are simply not prepared to handle a large-scale land operation by Chinese forces using air and rocket support.

Russia’s armed forces are as unready to repulse possible aggression from the Southeast as it was unready to deal with aggression from the West in 1941.

One would like to hope that there will not be any confrontation between Russia and China at any time in the future. But who knows what the Chinese Communists have in their minds. “Conceal your true intentions”, Deng Xiaoping used to teach. We need to be reliably defended from a potential Chinese threat. Under Putin, however, all we have seen are some very one-sided concessions to China that a very much not to our advantage.

In a recent interview he gave to American journalists, Putin accused the Russian opposition of playing into the hands of foreign powers. However, his own actions and the fact that he has permitted the abandonment of Russian interests unprecedented in the last 50 years or so make him look like he is a Chinese agent of influence in Russia.

We gained nothing from our unilateral concessions to China. Our government’s aggressive and unconstructive behaviour is leading to Russia’s exclusion from the processes whereby vital decisions are reached by a wide circle of countries worldwide. We have quarreled with the West but we are not welcome in the East.

This is the consequence of stupid and unprofessional foreign policies. While defending its interests, Russia should not forget that one still needs to cooperate, to support good-neighbourly relations with other countries, and to work jointly with others to resolve global problems. The confrontation with the West that has been forced upon us, neocolonialism, and capricious foreign policy lines must be abandoned in favour of a wise and balanced approach to foreign affairs, of a sober evaluation of the real threats facing Russia, and a review of the policy of backing down to China. It is only if we act in this way that Russia will truly be respected.


[1] Source: World Bank – Comparison of GDPs by Country, 1 July 2007

[2] Source: The Guardian, 15 January 2008.

EDITORIAL: Kosovo and Russia

EDITORIAL

Kosovo and Russia

“The yells of ‘Play the anthem!’ grew stronger after each number. Finally, the orchestra played the Russian anthem three times and the French one once. But when someone demanded the Serb anthem, it turned out that the orchestra didn’t know the tune.”

This eyewitness account tells of the atmosphere at Moscow’s Aquarium pleasure gardens on July 28, 1914, the day that war was declared. It is quoted in a new book, “War and Muscovites: Scenes of City Life From 1914 to 1917.”

The above excerpt from a book review in the Moscow Times neatly summarizes the nature of Russia’s relationship with Serbia. If anyone thinks that Russians are steeping themselves in the culture of their Serbian “little brother,” they are deeply deluded. If you want to confirm it, just go up to your friendly neighborhood Russian and ask him to name a famous Serbian writer, musician or national landmark.

Russia’s great love of Serbia appears only occasionally, whenever it can be used as a justification to vent Russia’s seething hatred of the West and its values. Such was the case in World War I, and such is the case today. Anyone familiar with the apocalypse visited upon Russia in that war, in which the nation experienced such brutal, humiliating failure that its government collapsed, knows the ghastly price this “family” relationship (reminiscent of the Cosa Nostra) has forced the people of Russia to pay.

Indeed, it was Russia’s loss in World War I, not any national desire for social justice or economic egalitarianism, that brought down the Russian monarchy and ushered in the Bolsheviks. Russians have never, not for one single instant in their long history, shown a willingness to stand up for principles, values or morality, but rather have always been motivated simply by pecuniary instincts which, if we’re being honest, can only be described as greed.

Which brings us to Kosovo. Not surprisingly, after Serbian madman Slobodan Milosevic attempted to liquidate its population, giving rise to the forceful NATO response that drove the dictator from power and tried him as a war criminal, the people of Kosovo decided they’d rather not wait around for the Serbians to work up a new head of steam, and boldly declared their independence. In so doing, they flouted Russian power in the region — Russia had furiously opposed the move in support of its Serbian “little brother” — and won a dramatic victory when all the major powers of Europe instantly recognized the new country. The EU “was sending a justice and law mission of 2,000 police, judges and administrators to Pristina” while the U.S. announced that it “had given $77 million in assistance to Kosovo in 2007 and would raise that amount to roughly $335 million in 2008.”

The Serbian response was predictable: crude, criminal violence aimed at defenseless, peaceful diplomats, reminiscent of the actions of Iran’s crazed religious fanatics during the Jimmy Carter years. The Serbians would never have dared to launch their suicidal attack on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade without Russia’s blessing. Indeed, the country’s president declared: “As long as we live, Kosovo is Serbia. We’re not alone in our fight. President Putin is with us.” Just like Russia, Serbia seems unable to fathom that its actions only serve to validate the decision taken by Kosovo in the eyes of the world, laying the last doubts of civilization to rest. Increasingly isolated from the outside world, neither Russia nor Serbia are capable of realizing how utterly Quixotic their barbaric deeds make them seem, how far down the road to neo-Soviet failure they have already launched themselves.

Responding to the Kosovo initiative, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Dmitri Rogozin stated: “If the EU works out a single position or if NATO steps beyond its mandate in Kosovo, these organizations will be in conflict with the U.N., and then I think we will also begin operating under the assumption that in order to be respected, one needs to use force.” In barely comprehensible gibberish, without even letting one week go by, Russia was already sputtering nonsense about using force against NATO, a coalition that overwhelmingly dominates Russia in every military characteristic. Russia seemed to be suggesting that even though the U.N.’s security council had unanimously condemned the Serbian atrocities and all its key western members had recognized Kosovo’s independence, it was Russia that spoke for the world, for peace and reason, for justice. The world wants what Russia wants, he’s just sure of it. In fact, but for a NATO conspiracy, it would be clear that the whole world wants to be ruled by Vladimir Putin and the Russian secret police.

Who would be surprised to wake up tomorrow morning and learn that Russians had torched the U.S. embassy in Moscow? And if Americans (as they would) responded in kind, who would be surprised to hear Russians condemn them as barbarians while lauding their own actions as fully justified?

We are now fully through the neo-Soviet looking glass with Russia. The first battle of the new cold war has been fought, Russia has been emphatically defeated, and now it is behaving just like the old USSR would have done — namely, sticking its head in the sand and acting as if it didn’t happen. Confronted by the extent to which his policies have provoked and alienated the entire civilized world, and by the extent of his own transparent weakness both militarily and economically, Putin has no alternative but to take a long trip down the longest river in psychology: Denial.

And, saps that they are, the people of Russia have little choice but to accept the Kremlin’s failure, mostly because — just as in Soviet times — they won’t even know it is taking place. The Kremlin has crushed pluralism in the legislature, obliterated the flow of information in the media, and failed to establish widespread access to the Internet. Russians remain largely oblivious to the reality of their government’s failure and its consequences, and this time they have nobody to blame but themselves.

Remembering Russia’s Chechen Genocide

Paul Goble reports:

February 23rd was the 64th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and Ingush from their homelands in the North Caucasus to the wilds of Central Asia, an act of genocide in which more than half of those sent east lost their lives and one that lies behind many of the recent tragedies in that part of the world. But instead of marking this event in a way that ensures that it is properly described and will never happen again, Russian officials and the international community have ignored this crime against humanity, leaving it unlike some other acts of genocide to be remembered by those who were its immediate victims or their descendents.

Except for a few news reports about what the Chechens and Ingush were doing and passing references to this genocide in more general stories about the region, the only comment generated by a Google News search today was a letter to The Times of London. This current neglect is triply unfortunate. First of all, it allows the current Russian government to continue its repression of the Chechens, Ingush and other “persons of the Caucasus” by relying on the false but widely believed charges that they fought or wanted to fight on the side of Hitler and thus deserved and deserve what they get.

In the last 50 days alone, Russian nationalist skinheads have killed 28 non-Russians, many of whom are from the North Caucasus, a figure that is twice as high as the one for the same period in 2007 and greater than the annual numbers of such murders in 2004 and 2005. While the Russian authorities have occasionally moved to suppress this plague, it continues at least in part because many Russians who would never think about killing “persons of Caucasus nationality” nonetheless believe that such people are less deserving of protection than others, often on the basis of memories of Stalin’s charges against them. Second, this neglect makes it impossible for these Vainakh peoples to develop relationships with Moscow and the rest of the world that are based on something other than anger about what has been done to them and what the Russian authorities have not been prepared to compensate them for.

As one human rights activist in Ingushetia pointed out on Friday, the failure of Moscow to acknowledge and apologize for the deportation – even though the Russian Supreme Soviet did once admit that those events were a “crime” – continues to enflame Chechen and Ingush life. At a meeting in Grozny yesterday, Chechen officials pointed out that “as a result of the deportation died almost 70 percent of the Chechens,” a figure higher than most Western estimates and one that means that crime continues to touch almost all residents in that republic. One example of this: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has promised to help some 4,000 Chechens in Kyrgyzstan, who include both those deported and their descendants, to finally return home, something most other Chechens did after the death of Stalin.

And third, it is perhaps especially unfortunate because despite the contributions of scholars like Robert Conquest to the study of the 1944 tragedy, a large amount of new information has emerged that shows that Soviet actions in the North Caucasus were both more cynical and more racist than even most Western researchers have suggested. Much new research, including full texts of hitherto classified Stalin-era documents and statistics, is available. But particularly striking are the findings summarized in a new pamphlet issued by a Memorial researcher.

In a work entitled “The Deportation of the Ingush. Falsifications and Genuine Causes,” Mar’yam Yandiyeva provides a wealth of new information about that event and its pre-history, information that demonstrates the collaboration charges Moscow made against the Ingush and Chechens were spurious. On the one hand, she recounts, as early as 1934, Sergei Kirov, the Communist Party leader whom many view as a positive counterpart to Stalin and whose own murder in December of that year, opened the way to the Great Terror, responded to the complaints of Chechens and Ingush with truly chilling words. He said that these mount peoples “are by their genes counter- revolutionaries and anti-Soviets and that it is necessary to teach them a lesson.” Just what that “lesson” would be was shown in 1944, 1994, 1999, and even now on the streets of post-Soviet Moscow. And on the other hand, Yandiyeva reports, “already at the start of 1940” – 18 months before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union – “the USSR General Staff concluded that in the event of war,” it would be “strategically” important for Moscow to adopt “’special measures’” for the “unstable” southern regions of the country.

Those statements demonstrate that Stalin’s actions in 1944 were not a response to anything that the Chechens, Ingush or others might have done in the war but rather that the war provided the Soviet dictator and his regime with an opportunity to do what they had long wanted to. The full text of Yandiyev’s study is currently available on a website that Moscow has been trying to shut down. But even that is a good thing because – and this is perhaps the clearest indication of the world’s neglect of this genocide – she was able to print only 100 copies of her work.

Remembering Russia’s Chechen Genocide

Paul Goble reports:

February 23rd was the 64th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and Ingush from their homelands in the North Caucasus to the wilds of Central Asia, an act of genocide in which more than half of those sent east lost their lives and one that lies behind many of the recent tragedies in that part of the world. But instead of marking this event in a way that ensures that it is properly described and will never happen again, Russian officials and the international community have ignored this crime against humanity, leaving it unlike some other acts of genocide to be remembered by those who were its immediate victims or their descendents.

Except for a few news reports about what the Chechens and Ingush were doing and passing references to this genocide in more general stories about the region, the only comment generated by a Google News search today was a letter to The Times of London. This current neglect is triply unfortunate. First of all, it allows the current Russian government to continue its repression of the Chechens, Ingush and other “persons of the Caucasus” by relying on the false but widely believed charges that they fought or wanted to fight on the side of Hitler and thus deserved and deserve what they get.

In the last 50 days alone, Russian nationalist skinheads have killed 28 non-Russians, many of whom are from the North Caucasus, a figure that is twice as high as the one for the same period in 2007 and greater than the annual numbers of such murders in 2004 and 2005. While the Russian authorities have occasionally moved to suppress this plague, it continues at least in part because many Russians who would never think about killing “persons of Caucasus nationality” nonetheless believe that such people are less deserving of protection than others, often on the basis of memories of Stalin’s charges against them. Second, this neglect makes it impossible for these Vainakh peoples to develop relationships with Moscow and the rest of the world that are based on something other than anger about what has been done to them and what the Russian authorities have not been prepared to compensate them for.

As one human rights activist in Ingushetia pointed out on Friday, the failure of Moscow to acknowledge and apologize for the deportation – even though the Russian Supreme Soviet did once admit that those events were a “crime” – continues to enflame Chechen and Ingush life. At a meeting in Grozny yesterday, Chechen officials pointed out that “as a result of the deportation died almost 70 percent of the Chechens,” a figure higher than most Western estimates and one that means that crime continues to touch almost all residents in that republic. One example of this: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has promised to help some 4,000 Chechens in Kyrgyzstan, who include both those deported and their descendants, to finally return home, something most other Chechens did after the death of Stalin.

And third, it is perhaps especially unfortunate because despite the contributions of scholars like Robert Conquest to the study of the 1944 tragedy, a large amount of new information has emerged that shows that Soviet actions in the North Caucasus were both more cynical and more racist than even most Western researchers have suggested. Much new research, including full texts of hitherto classified Stalin-era documents and statistics, is available. But particularly striking are the findings summarized in a new pamphlet issued by a Memorial researcher.

In a work entitled “The Deportation of the Ingush. Falsifications and Genuine Causes,” Mar’yam Yandiyeva provides a wealth of new information about that event and its pre-history, information that demonstrates the collaboration charges Moscow made against the Ingush and Chechens were spurious. On the one hand, she recounts, as early as 1934, Sergei Kirov, the Communist Party leader whom many view as a positive counterpart to Stalin and whose own murder in December of that year, opened the way to the Great Terror, responded to the complaints of Chechens and Ingush with truly chilling words. He said that these mount peoples “are by their genes counter- revolutionaries and anti-Soviets and that it is necessary to teach them a lesson.” Just what that “lesson” would be was shown in 1944, 1994, 1999, and even now on the streets of post-Soviet Moscow. And on the other hand, Yandiyeva reports, “already at the start of 1940” – 18 months before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union – “the USSR General Staff concluded that in the event of war,” it would be “strategically” important for Moscow to adopt “’special measures’” for the “unstable” southern regions of the country.

Those statements demonstrate that Stalin’s actions in 1944 were not a response to anything that the Chechens, Ingush or others might have done in the war but rather that the war provided the Soviet dictator and his regime with an opportunity to do what they had long wanted to. The full text of Yandiyev’s study is currently available on a website that Moscow has been trying to shut down. But even that is a good thing because – and this is perhaps the clearest indication of the world’s neglect of this genocide – she was able to print only 100 copies of her work.

Remembering Russia’s Chechen Genocide

Paul Goble reports:

February 23rd was the 64th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and Ingush from their homelands in the North Caucasus to the wilds of Central Asia, an act of genocide in which more than half of those sent east lost their lives and one that lies behind many of the recent tragedies in that part of the world. But instead of marking this event in a way that ensures that it is properly described and will never happen again, Russian officials and the international community have ignored this crime against humanity, leaving it unlike some other acts of genocide to be remembered by those who were its immediate victims or their descendents.

Except for a few news reports about what the Chechens and Ingush were doing and passing references to this genocide in more general stories about the region, the only comment generated by a Google News search today was a letter to The Times of London. This current neglect is triply unfortunate. First of all, it allows the current Russian government to continue its repression of the Chechens, Ingush and other “persons of the Caucasus” by relying on the false but widely believed charges that they fought or wanted to fight on the side of Hitler and thus deserved and deserve what they get.

In the last 50 days alone, Russian nationalist skinheads have killed 28 non-Russians, many of whom are from the North Caucasus, a figure that is twice as high as the one for the same period in 2007 and greater than the annual numbers of such murders in 2004 and 2005. While the Russian authorities have occasionally moved to suppress this plague, it continues at least in part because many Russians who would never think about killing “persons of Caucasus nationality” nonetheless believe that such people are less deserving of protection than others, often on the basis of memories of Stalin’s charges against them. Second, this neglect makes it impossible for these Vainakh peoples to develop relationships with Moscow and the rest of the world that are based on something other than anger about what has been done to them and what the Russian authorities have not been prepared to compensate them for.

As one human rights activist in Ingushetia pointed out on Friday, the failure of Moscow to acknowledge and apologize for the deportation – even though the Russian Supreme Soviet did once admit that those events were a “crime” – continues to enflame Chechen and Ingush life. At a meeting in Grozny yesterday, Chechen officials pointed out that “as a result of the deportation died almost 70 percent of the Chechens,” a figure higher than most Western estimates and one that means that crime continues to touch almost all residents in that republic. One example of this: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has promised to help some 4,000 Chechens in Kyrgyzstan, who include both those deported and their descendants, to finally return home, something most other Chechens did after the death of Stalin.

And third, it is perhaps especially unfortunate because despite the contributions of scholars like Robert Conquest to the study of the 1944 tragedy, a large amount of new information has emerged that shows that Soviet actions in the North Caucasus were both more cynical and more racist than even most Western researchers have suggested. Much new research, including full texts of hitherto classified Stalin-era documents and statistics, is available. But particularly striking are the findings summarized in a new pamphlet issued by a Memorial researcher.

In a work entitled “The Deportation of the Ingush. Falsifications and Genuine Causes,” Mar’yam Yandiyeva provides a wealth of new information about that event and its pre-history, information that demonstrates the collaboration charges Moscow made against the Ingush and Chechens were spurious. On the one hand, she recounts, as early as 1934, Sergei Kirov, the Communist Party leader whom many view as a positive counterpart to Stalin and whose own murder in December of that year, opened the way to the Great Terror, responded to the complaints of Chechens and Ingush with truly chilling words. He said that these mount peoples “are by their genes counter- revolutionaries and anti-Soviets and that it is necessary to teach them a lesson.” Just what that “lesson” would be was shown in 1944, 1994, 1999, and even now on the streets of post-Soviet Moscow. And on the other hand, Yandiyeva reports, “already at the start of 1940” – 18 months before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union – “the USSR General Staff concluded that in the event of war,” it would be “strategically” important for Moscow to adopt “’special measures’” for the “unstable” southern regions of the country.

Those statements demonstrate that Stalin’s actions in 1944 were not a response to anything that the Chechens, Ingush or others might have done in the war but rather that the war provided the Soviet dictator and his regime with an opportunity to do what they had long wanted to. The full text of Yandiyev’s study is currently available on a website that Moscow has been trying to shut down. But even that is a good thing because – and this is perhaps the clearest indication of the world’s neglect of this genocide – she was able to print only 100 copies of her work.

Remembering Russia’s Chechen Genocide

Paul Goble reports:

February 23rd was the 64th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and Ingush from their homelands in the North Caucasus to the wilds of Central Asia, an act of genocide in which more than half of those sent east lost their lives and one that lies behind many of the recent tragedies in that part of the world. But instead of marking this event in a way that ensures that it is properly described and will never happen again, Russian officials and the international community have ignored this crime against humanity, leaving it unlike some other acts of genocide to be remembered by those who were its immediate victims or their descendents.

Except for a few news reports about what the Chechens and Ingush were doing and passing references to this genocide in more general stories about the region, the only comment generated by a Google News search today was a letter to The Times of London. This current neglect is triply unfortunate. First of all, it allows the current Russian government to continue its repression of the Chechens, Ingush and other “persons of the Caucasus” by relying on the false but widely believed charges that they fought or wanted to fight on the side of Hitler and thus deserved and deserve what they get.

In the last 50 days alone, Russian nationalist skinheads have killed 28 non-Russians, many of whom are from the North Caucasus, a figure that is twice as high as the one for the same period in 2007 and greater than the annual numbers of such murders in 2004 and 2005. While the Russian authorities have occasionally moved to suppress this plague, it continues at least in part because many Russians who would never think about killing “persons of Caucasus nationality” nonetheless believe that such people are less deserving of protection than others, often on the basis of memories of Stalin’s charges against them. Second, this neglect makes it impossible for these Vainakh peoples to develop relationships with Moscow and the rest of the world that are based on something other than anger about what has been done to them and what the Russian authorities have not been prepared to compensate them for.

As one human rights activist in Ingushetia pointed out on Friday, the failure of Moscow to acknowledge and apologize for the deportation – even though the Russian Supreme Soviet did once admit that those events were a “crime” – continues to enflame Chechen and Ingush life. At a meeting in Grozny yesterday, Chechen officials pointed out that “as a result of the deportation died almost 70 percent of the Chechens,” a figure higher than most Western estimates and one that means that crime continues to touch almost all residents in that republic. One example of this: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has promised to help some 4,000 Chechens in Kyrgyzstan, who include both those deported and their descendants, to finally return home, something most other Chechens did after the death of Stalin.

And third, it is perhaps especially unfortunate because despite the contributions of scholars like Robert Conquest to the study of the 1944 tragedy, a large amount of new information has emerged that shows that Soviet actions in the North Caucasus were both more cynical and more racist than even most Western researchers have suggested. Much new research, including full texts of hitherto classified Stalin-era documents and statistics, is available. But particularly striking are the findings summarized in a new pamphlet issued by a Memorial researcher.

In a work entitled “The Deportation of the Ingush. Falsifications and Genuine Causes,” Mar’yam Yandiyeva provides a wealth of new information about that event and its pre-history, information that demonstrates the collaboration charges Moscow made against the Ingush and Chechens were spurious. On the one hand, she recounts, as early as 1934, Sergei Kirov, the Communist Party leader whom many view as a positive counterpart to Stalin and whose own murder in December of that year, opened the way to the Great Terror, responded to the complaints of Chechens and Ingush with truly chilling words. He said that these mount peoples “are by their genes counter- revolutionaries and anti-Soviets and that it is necessary to teach them a lesson.” Just what that “lesson” would be was shown in 1944, 1994, 1999, and even now on the streets of post-Soviet Moscow. And on the other hand, Yandiyeva reports, “already at the start of 1940” – 18 months before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union – “the USSR General Staff concluded that in the event of war,” it would be “strategically” important for Moscow to adopt “’special measures’” for the “unstable” southern regions of the country.

Those statements demonstrate that Stalin’s actions in 1944 were not a response to anything that the Chechens, Ingush or others might have done in the war but rather that the war provided the Soviet dictator and his regime with an opportunity to do what they had long wanted to. The full text of Yandiyev’s study is currently available on a website that Moscow has been trying to shut down. But even that is a good thing because – and this is perhaps the clearest indication of the world’s neglect of this genocide – she was able to print only 100 copies of her work.

Remembering Russia’s Chechen Genocide

Paul Goble reports:

February 23rd was the 64th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and Ingush from their homelands in the North Caucasus to the wilds of Central Asia, an act of genocide in which more than half of those sent east lost their lives and one that lies behind many of the recent tragedies in that part of the world. But instead of marking this event in a way that ensures that it is properly described and will never happen again, Russian officials and the international community have ignored this crime against humanity, leaving it unlike some other acts of genocide to be remembered by those who were its immediate victims or their descendents.

Except for a few news reports about what the Chechens and Ingush were doing and passing references to this genocide in more general stories about the region, the only comment generated by a Google News search today was a letter to The Times of London. This current neglect is triply unfortunate. First of all, it allows the current Russian government to continue its repression of the Chechens, Ingush and other “persons of the Caucasus” by relying on the false but widely believed charges that they fought or wanted to fight on the side of Hitler and thus deserved and deserve what they get.

In the last 50 days alone, Russian nationalist skinheads have killed 28 non-Russians, many of whom are from the North Caucasus, a figure that is twice as high as the one for the same period in 2007 and greater than the annual numbers of such murders in 2004 and 2005. While the Russian authorities have occasionally moved to suppress this plague, it continues at least in part because many Russians who would never think about killing “persons of Caucasus nationality” nonetheless believe that such people are less deserving of protection than others, often on the basis of memories of Stalin’s charges against them. Second, this neglect makes it impossible for these Vainakh peoples to develop relationships with Moscow and the rest of the world that are based on something other than anger about what has been done to them and what the Russian authorities have not been prepared to compensate them for.

As one human rights activist in Ingushetia pointed out on Friday, the failure of Moscow to acknowledge and apologize for the deportation – even though the Russian Supreme Soviet did once admit that those events were a “crime” – continues to enflame Chechen and Ingush life. At a meeting in Grozny yesterday, Chechen officials pointed out that “as a result of the deportation died almost 70 percent of the Chechens,” a figure higher than most Western estimates and one that means that crime continues to touch almost all residents in that republic. One example of this: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has promised to help some 4,000 Chechens in Kyrgyzstan, who include both those deported and their descendants, to finally return home, something most other Chechens did after the death of Stalin.

And third, it is perhaps especially unfortunate because despite the contributions of scholars like Robert Conquest to the study of the 1944 tragedy, a large amount of new information has emerged that shows that Soviet actions in the North Caucasus were both more cynical and more racist than even most Western researchers have suggested. Much new research, including full texts of hitherto classified Stalin-era documents and statistics, is available. But particularly striking are the findings summarized in a new pamphlet issued by a Memorial researcher.

In a work entitled “The Deportation of the Ingush. Falsifications and Genuine Causes,” Mar’yam Yandiyeva provides a wealth of new information about that event and its pre-history, information that demonstrates the collaboration charges Moscow made against the Ingush and Chechens were spurious. On the one hand, she recounts, as early as 1934, Sergei Kirov, the Communist Party leader whom many view as a positive counterpart to Stalin and whose own murder in December of that year, opened the way to the Great Terror, responded to the complaints of Chechens and Ingush with truly chilling words. He said that these mount peoples “are by their genes counter- revolutionaries and anti-Soviets and that it is necessary to teach them a lesson.” Just what that “lesson” would be was shown in 1944, 1994, 1999, and even now on the streets of post-Soviet Moscow. And on the other hand, Yandiyeva reports, “already at the start of 1940” – 18 months before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union – “the USSR General Staff concluded that in the event of war,” it would be “strategically” important for Moscow to adopt “’special measures’” for the “unstable” southern regions of the country.

Those statements demonstrate that Stalin’s actions in 1944 were not a response to anything that the Chechens, Ingush or others might have done in the war but rather that the war provided the Soviet dictator and his regime with an opportunity to do what they had long wanted to. The full text of Yandiyev’s study is currently available on a website that Moscow has been trying to shut down. But even that is a good thing because – and this is perhaps the clearest indication of the world’s neglect of this genocide – she was able to print only 100 copies of her work.

The Horror of Russian "Health Care"

The Chicago Tribune reports on the horror of so-called “health care” in Vladimir Putin’s Russia (for more on this subject, check out Grigori Pasko on Robert Amsterdam):

Health care is supposed to be free in Russia, but Russians know that every hospital has its under-the-table price list.

That’s why the family of Khazerya Ziyayetdinova, a 70-year-old woman suffering from severe bedsores, brought cash every time they visited her at Hospital 67 in Moscow. To have Ziyayetdinova recover in a room instead of the hallway, relatives slipped an orderly $300. They paid nurses $20 to give injections, change bedpans and unclog catheters. Every chat with Ziyayetdinova’s doctor cost $40.

“Our health-care system is still in the Middle Ages,” said Vera Pavlova, Ziyayetdinova’s daughter-in-law, sitting in her home in this small town 54 miles southwest of Moscow. “There’s low professionalism, corruption — it makes me very worried about finding myself in a situation where I might need medical treatment.”

Russia is an unhealthy nation, and its health-care system is just as sick. Its hospitals are understaffed, poorly equipped and rife with corruption. The biggest reason Russia’s population plummets at a rate of more than 700,000 people each year is not that its birthrate is so low, but that its death rate is so high. The average life expectancy for Russian men is 59. In the U.S. it’s 75; in Japan it’s 79. Alcohol and smoking are major culprits. Both are linked to heart disease, and in Russia, the rate of men ages 30 to 59 dying from heart disease is five times that of the United States, according to researchers at Columbia University.

Prevention and better health care can help reverse that trend. The Russian government is pumping $6.4 billion into revamping health care; much of that money is paying for the construction of eight high-tech medical centers across the country, new X-ray machines, electrocardiograms and ambulances at hospitals, and raises for family doctors. But doctors and nurses in the Russian Far East city of Amursk are still waiting for the overhaul to reach their hospital. In January 2007, the hospital ran out of syringes and asked patients to bring their own, said Olga Cherevko, a nurse at the hospital. Even something as fundamental as keeping pharmacies stocked can prove problematic for Russia’s beleaguered health-care system. A bureaucratic breakdown in late 2006 led to a severe shortage in government-supplied prescription drugs.

Russians with enough money were able to buy medicine privately. But hundreds of thousands of Russians with high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and other diseases had to do without the drugs for weeks. Russian officials have promised that the errors that led to the drug shortage won’t happen again. They can’t be as reassuring when it comes to corruption that demands bribes for everything from surgery to clean sheets. Researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Open Health Institute estimate that corruption siphons off as much as 35 percent of money spent on health care. Low wages perpetuate the problem; yearly doctor salaries in Russia average $5,160 to $6,120. Nurses make an average of $2,760 to $3,780 annually. Pavlova estimates that Ziyayetdinova’s family shelled out nearly $5,000 in bribes during the time Ziyayetdinova was hospitalized.

At a skin clinic in Moscow, nurses charged $20 each time they applied ointment to Ziyayetdinova’s bedsores. One of her sons began sweeping up her ward during visits because a nurse said room cleanup was the responsibility of patients or their families—not hospital staff. The money never really helped. Ziyayetdinova died. Doctors said she died of a heart deficiency, but Pavlova and Ziyayetdinova’s sons are convinced the indifference and neglect Ziyayetdinova endured during her hospitalization contributed to her death. “It was as if their goal wasn’t to save someone’s life,” Pavlova said, “as if they thought their role was to be a last stage before death. To be a place that prepares a person to die.”

Lying to "President" Putin

Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times, shows that the biggest problem with being a thuggish dictator is that people will be afraid to tell you the truth. Thus, with every day that passes you are living more and more in a world of illusion, surrounded by sycophants who will do nothing to alert you of problems that need fixing because to do so might risk their careers or even their lives. Welcome back to the USSR:

When I listened to a televised report of President Vladimir Putin’s visit Wednesday to the Gromov Flight Research Institute, Russia’s main flight-test center in the Moscow region, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not only did the institute’s staff give a demonstration of the Su-35 — which they referred to as the “very latest” fighter aircraft in the Russian arsenal — but they informed the president that it had undergone its first test flight only the day before. Before an audience of millions, they duped Putin in the most brazen manner. You can easily open any encyclopedia of military aircraft and see for yourself that the Su-35 took its maiden flight 20 years ago. Twelve Su-35s were built by the mid-1990s, and now they are telling Putin that another 12 Su-35s are currently undergoing test flights. I strongly suspect that these are the same aircraft that have been around for more than a decade.

This story may be a precursor to what we can expect from a government that promises to build an “innovative army” by 2020 to which Putin referred in a speech before the State Council on Feb. 8. Putin said the foundation for such an army would rest on the development over the next couple of years of “new types of arms that are equal to those held by other states — and in some cases superior.”

One year ago, then-Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov presented a list of the so-called latest weaponry that, according to Putin, would constitute the military’s “innovative development.” But none of the items on the list is new. Since the Topol-M missile was developed in the late 1980s, the technologies it employs will already be 30 years old in 2015. The Iskander missile was deployed in the early 1990s, and the same is true of the C-400 air defense system. The Su-34 fighter bomber is equally “new.” By the time Russia’s military technology finally reaches the production stage, it is already obsolete. Therefore, Putin’s innovative army of 2020 will really be based on military technology that dates from the last century.

Most amazing is that Russia is playing military catch-up while other global powers such as the United States, Britain, France and even China are undergoing what defense experts call a revolution in military affairs. These countries were on the cutting edge of information-technology breakthroughs in the 1990s, and this allowed them to bring real-time battlefield data to commanders in the field — whether on land, sea, air or space. The uncertainty about the enemy’s battlefield movements — which was once considered an inevitable aspect of armed conflict — is now gradually dissipating thanks to these new information technologies. For example, witnesses on the ground tell me that there is now a constant noise from the buzzing engines of unpiloted aircraft in the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq. The drones carry video cameras that relay a bird’s-eye view of any piece of territory a commander is assigned to manage. Every officer, right down to the level of a platoon commander, can view the activity in any conflict zone with the aid of a laptop computer. On a larger strategic level, these technologies provide complete and unchallengeable battlefield superiority.

But Russia has done practically nothing in this high-tech sphere. Ivanov, now first deputy prime minister, recently revealed the total failure of Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System. The program’s creators had promised for the last decade that the system would give both civil and military users advanced positioning capabilities, which is clearly essential to the military’s precision-weapons systems. It turned out that domestic industries could not manufacture all of the components necessary for the system. If the country’s military brass were serious about creating an innovative army, they would focus their energies on information technologies.

Russia’s military leadership established the post of deputy minister for computer science, but to get an idea of how useful this department will be, it is enough to read the report by Alexander Burutin, deputy chief of the General Staff: His definition of “information wars” is the threat of a hacker attack on the country’s computer networks.

However you look at it, there is no basis for hoping that Russia will create the innovative army Putin has promised. This is because the Kremlin promises one thing, and the armed forces move in exactly the opposite direction. And for that matter, so does the rest of the country.

Russia: World Leader in Teen Suicides, Divorces and Abortions

INTERFAX reports on the paradise that is Vladimir Putin’s Russia:

Russia is the world’s leader in lethal suicides among 15-19 year-old teenagers, the 12th World Russian People’s Council resolution reads summing up the Council’s work on Friday.

As to youth spiritual crisis, the forum’s participants consider it necessary to adopt laws protecting children and youth from “consequences of moral crisis.” Priority to be given to laws on public morals, video and computer games, children toys, teens free time organization and control, moral values in sexual relations, informative production harmful for teens morals, health and development. To motivate the defense of morality, the Council’s participants have pointed out that Russia is facing a family crisis.

“This country is among leaders in divorces. According the UN Children Foundation, the number of non-marital children equaled to 30% in 2004,” the document reads.

Besides, Russia overran the majority of countries for abortions as its number has recently exceeded the number of births. The underaged abortions make significant part of it and total to 4% among 15 year-old girls.

The resolution also notes that Russia holds the first place for abandoned children: every 38th child live in state orphanages, patron or foster families. Finally, Russia’s murder rate is the highest in Europe (26 incidents for 100,000 people), the forum’s participants state.

If You Ask G-8 Residents, Russia is Really Rotten

The BBC reports more evidence that Russia must be evicted from the G-8. When surveyed, residents of the G-8 nations believed Putin had done more harm than good to democracy, human rights and quality of life in Russia, and had been more detrimental than helpful to world peace and energy security. In a truly shocking result, the poll found that while only 26% of G-8 residents thought Putin had a positive impact on democracy and human rights, a whopping 64% of Russians thought so (interestingly, though, even Russians admitted this was Putin’s weaknest characteristic). The poll also shows how poorly the Western press have been educating their populations about the horror of what is going on in Russia, since there were large numbers who could not answer and since 26% is still a frighteningly large number to think Putin’s draconian crackdown on civil rights has been positive.

Most people in the G-7 leading industrialised countries have a negative view of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, a BBC poll suggests. Of 16,000 people questioned, 56% said he had had a harmful impact on democracy and human rights in Russia and on peace and security in the world. But in the remainder of the 30 countries covered by the poll, opinions of Mr Putin were more favourable. And in Russia itself, he was given overwhelmingly positive ratings.

The survey was carried out by polling organisations Globescan and The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). There is little doubt that, in his eight years as Russian President, Vladimir Putin has had a considerable impact on the world stage, and inside Russia. How positively or negatively his legacy is viewed, though, depends on where you are in the world, according to the BBC World Service poll. But a key imponderable in viewing these results is also the extent to which one is indeed talking about a “legacy”. Mr Putin is stepping down as president shortly. Just how much influence he will continue to wield, and in what precise capacity, remains a matter of great speculation.

Against the background of general unease among Western governments over the direction that Moscow has been taking recently under Mr Putin, the poll suggests that 56% of people in the world’s seven leading industrialised countries think he has had a negative impact on democracy and human rights in Russia. Nearly half – 47% – also think his impact on international peace and security has been negative. Among the six western European countries polled, opinion was on the negative side generally. What is more, this poll did not include former Warsaw Pact countries in central and eastern Europe, where the attitudes of people towards Moscow are likely to be negative. Yet, despite a recent series of major diplomatic rows between Moscow and London, 45% of Britons polled had a positive view of Russia’s world role.

In terms of the more broadly positive reactions overall among the 30 countries except Russia that were surveyed, this may be driven in part by a continuing view in many regions of the world that Russia represents a potential counterweight to the United States, The US is still widely seen as the dominant superpower, but whose foreign policy under the Bush administration has been especially controversial. So, beyond the major industrialised countries and the West, there may be less unease about – and perhaps even a welcoming of – a newly-assertive Russia.

The counterweight argument may be reflected in the very different results emerging in this survey from the Middle East – 78% of Egyptians view Russian influence as positive, only 29% of Israelis do. Egypt, of course, has a long history of close ties to Russia, even though the current Egyptian government is close to Washington. Strikingly, in terms of Russia’s and Mr Putin’s world roles, the Chinese are very positive. That may be because the Chinese feel a common bond with the Russians as part of a camp that seeks to check US influence, and reassert a multi-polar world. Still, the scale of some of the results is surprising – 69% of the Chinese surveyed see Russia playing a positive international role. Beijing has certainly developed a relationship with Moscow, but only up to a point, and the two are themselves still potential rivals.

Significantly, Russians in this survey give Mr Putin high approval ratings on all the issues raised – including democracy, human rights, and quality of life in the country, as well as on the international stage. And, for Mr Putin himself, these may be the most telling results.

February 25, 2008 — Contents

MONDAY FEBRUARY 25 CONTENTS

(1) Another Original LR Translation: Nemtsov on Putin via Essel, Part 5

(2) EDITORIAL: Listening to Lev

(3) Annals of Kozlovsky: Moving on to the Next Victim

(4) Annals of Putin’s war on NGOs

(5) The Amsterdam Video Returns

(6) The Elections Charade: Neo-Soviet Barbarism in all its Horror

(7) Annals of Shamapova

NOTE: The New York Times ran a devastating long front-page article on its website on Sunday with the synoposis: “A new autocracy now governs Russia. Behind a facade of democracy lies a centralized authority that is not reluctant to swat down those who challenge the ruling party.” It included both a photo spread and, best of all, a translation of a series of barbaric comments from “Russian readers” based on a translation of the article on a special Russian-language website the paper has created. The article is part of a forthcoming series entitled “Kremlin rules” which “will examine the crackdown in Russia under President Vladmir V. Putin.” More proof of how devastatingly “president” Putin has won respect for Russia in the West. We congratulate the Times on finally deciding to do what we’ve been doing for nearly two years now. Maybe one day soon it will see fit to write something about Oleg Kozlovsky!

NOTE: The BBC has a two-part audio file in which reporter Tim Whewell exposes the extent to which Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has isolated Russia from the civilized nations of the world and is using Russia’s energy resources the way the USSR used its military resources — thus giving rise to a new cold war.

Another Original LR Translation: Nemtsov on Putin via Essel, Part 5


NOTE: This is the fifth part of a serialized translation of Boris Nemtsov’s white paper critiquing the Putin years. It includes the seventh and eighth chapters of the work. Part 1 (introduction and chapter one) appeared on Monday, Part 2 (chapter two) on Wednesday, Part 3 (chapters three and four) appeared on Friday and Part 4 (chapters five and six) appeared on Sunday. look for Part 6, which may be the final installment, on Wednesday. You can display all the parts in reverse sequence on a single web page by simply clicking the “nemtsov white paper” link at the bottom of this post.

Putin: the Bottom Line

by Boris Nemtsov

First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, 1997-1998

and

Vladimir Milov

Deputy Minister of Energy, 2002

Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel

Chapter 7

Flouting the Constitution

By refraining from putting himself up for a third term as president, Putin is pretending that he is keen to observe the Russian Constitution. In reality, however, its main provisions were all trampled into the dust long ago. The Russian Constitution has to all intents and purposes ceased to mean anything.

First and foremost, Russia is no longer either a democratic, or a federative, or a law-governed state as per Article 1 of the document.

Russia is no longer a democracy. Putin has deprived Russians of freedom of speech and free access to information. We are talking here of the imposition of censorship on practically all politically significant media – federal television channels, wide circulation newspapers, and the most visited internet sites. Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees every citizen freedom of thought and speech, the right freely to seek, get, transfer, produce and disseminate information by any lawful means. However, the state has seized control of the influential mass media, closed down the independent television channels, introduced shameful blacklists of people who are not deemed suitable and thus not allowed to appear on television, and made it impossible for citizens to get hold of truthful information about what is happening in the country and in the world. People are engulfed from morning until night by a wave of lying propaganda and panegyrics to the authorities that has already caused a gross warping of public opinion. Many seriously believe that without “our dear master Putin” the country will come to an end, even though just nine years ago no one had ever heard of the man. People support “Putin’s plan” although they have no idea what it consists of. Confrontational thinking and hatred of heterodoxy and of “enemies” are being promoted.

Throughout all this, no one is telling the people that their real enemies are those who, during what could have been prosperous years for the country, have made social and economic reforms fail and not used the shower of gold deriving from oil to create a workable army and build roads, have spoilt relations with the rest of the world, and handed over Russian territory to China. Censorship thrives in all the main media although Article 29 of the Constitution totally unambiguously states that censorship shall be prohibited.

Most frightening of all is that the murder of journalists in Russia ( and not one of these crimes has been resolved), first and foremost that of Anna Politkovskaya, has led to self-censorship among journalists as they fear to write about serious problems or to criticise the authorities. It could get them killed. Notwithstanding the upsurge in spending on security and law enforcement between 2000 and 2007 not a single major murder case, of which there were no fewer than in the 1990s, has been resolved.

These are all things that the opposition would have talked about. Putin, however, has put it under a tight political lid. Although Article 13 of the Constitution guaranties ideological and political plurality and a multi-party system and Article 30 promises freedom of to form and participate in opposition unions, such unions are to all intents and purposes forbidden. It is made impossible for independent parties that do not agree with the Kremlin’s policies to register themselves and take part in elections. Anyone who criticises the government can, thanks to a new police law on extremism, be declared an extremist and find himself behind bars.

Article 30 of the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to hold gatherings, meetings, and demonstrations and to march and picket. However, this right is practically impossible to implement in practice. Opposition meetings are banned and violently dispersed by the OMON armed riot police. It has become the norm for people at peaceful demonstrations to be beaten and arrested.

The abolition of the election of governors and also to the State Duma from single-mandate districts struck a decisive blow against the right of Russians to elect and be elected. Previously, Russian could directly elect civil servants at all levels of government – governors, State Duma representatives, and regional Legislatures. Now, practically the only election left is the presidential election. The lists for State Duma representatives and regional parliaments are drawn up in the Kremlin and there is a new fashion for the “locomotives” – well-known people who are put at the top of the party lists – to decline to take up their mandates, allowing others, people who were not known to or voted for by the electorate, to become representatives.

The people, who according to Chapter 1 of the Constitution are the vehicle of sovereignty and the only source of power in the Russian Federation, have been shoved aside and stopped from electing their government by direct vote.

Russia is no longer a federation. The exclusion of governors from the Federation Council, the abolition of elections for governors so that they are appointed instead from amongst candidates proposed by the president, the redistribution of budget income in favour of the centre – these are all innovations introduced during Putin’s rule in order by design to destroy the foundations of federalism in the country. As a result, the regions have been left lacking adequate financial resources for resolving their pressing development problems.

The abolition of the election of governors is a direct flouting of the Constitution. By a decree of 16 January 1996 regarding the organs of power in the Altai Republic, Russia’s Constitutional Court recognised that governors must be elected by direct popular vote. This decree has force of law. Putin, however, has broken this principle, basely using the opportunity afforded by the Russian public’s state of depression following the Beslan tragedy. But what, you may ask, is the link between Chechen terrorists and the election of leaders in Yakutia or Penza District?

By a decision dated 21 December 2005, the Constitutional Court ruled that Putin’s actions, with reference to the “developing socio-historical context”, were lawful. Can it be that “context” is of greater import than legal norms and that the Constitution in Russia is to be interpreted each time anew, depending on the “context”?

That the Constitutional Court should bend over for the executive comes as no surprise. During Putin’s rule, the central principle of the Constitution, that of the separation of powers, has been totally done away with. The principle of independence from each other of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary enshrined in Article 10 of the Constitution is there because it is vital that no one branch of government should be able to usurp power in the country.

But this principle has been trampled upon. Parliament has been turned into the “legislative department of the Presidential Administration”; its members are appointed by the Kremlin and vote according to the Kremlin’s wishes. The courts are totally dependent on the executive even though Article 120 states that judges shall be independent and shall obey only the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the federal law. Basman justice is dispensed throughout the land. Russia is no longer a law-governed state.

Although point 4 of the Constitution’s third article states that no one may arrogate to himself power in the Russian Federation, Putin’s inner circle has to all intents and purposes seized it. Putin has twice broken his presidential oath to obey the Russian Constitution. The Constitution is still formally in place but in fact its main points have been broken. It is precisely because the Constitution has been turned into a worthless scrap of paper that Putin has kept his word that he would not make changes to it.

We need to restore the power of the Constitution in Russia. Restore freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of political parties and of an opposition to operate. Restore the right of the people to elect their government, to elect governors, and to elect representatives to the State Duma in single-mandate districts. Restore the independence of justice.

Chapter 8

The Collapse of the “National Projects

“National Projects” were invented by the government to counterbalance the failure of their reforms in the social sphere. Compulsory health insurance, social security, and education reforms were all discussed back in 2000. They failed to materialise and it was decided to camouflage this failure with noise about “national projects”.

In and of themselves, these national projects are quite sensible. It’s good that the government should allocate at least some money to developing medicine, education, housing, and agriculture. But if one looks at what could really have been done by the government, the pittance allocated is mere crumbs off the table. In 2006, just $6 billion were made available. This rose to $10 billion in 2007 with $12 billion planned for 2008. Sibneft was bought from Abramovich for more than the yearly allocation to all the “national projects”.

Despite all the noise made about the “national projects”, the proportion of the budget going to health, education, and the social services has actually been falling in recent years. In 2007, expenditure planned for public health and education amounted to 9% of the federal budget. For 2008, the three-year budget for 2008-2010 is allocating 8% of the federal budget and this will go down to just 7.5% in 2009.

On the other hand, the government is planning to direct 16% of the federal budget to state management and security. Under Putin, we have seen an explosive growth in the money spent on the bureaucracy and the special services: in 2000, these cost the country $4 billion but $39 billion will go to them in 2008 – 3 times more than will be spent on all the “national projects”!

The special services and Abramovich are Putin’s real “national projects”.

In essence the “national projects” represent the replacement of systematic reform by random, one-off, modest injections of cash which do not really solve anything. For example, only a quarter of the funds allocated to the “Health” national project will be used to purchase diagnostic equipment for municipal polyclinics and the building of new high-tech medical centres (of which only 15 are planned for the whole country); the rest is to be spent on general expenses. It is good that doctors should get salary increases and that new equipment be bought for medical institutions. But it was only the salaries of general practitioners and junior medical personnel that were raised, not those of the specialists who actually do the most when it comes to curing people. The purchasing of medical equipment is being carried out in a random and selective manner. Instead of creating a working medical insurance system and defining the compulsory minimum levels of medical care that citizens can expect, the government wants to fob the people off with quick little cash injections.

It will come as no surprise that the “national projects” have disappointed.

The “Health” national project

Despite the fact that the lion’s share of the money allocated to all the “national projects’ has been to this one ($5 billion of the $10 billion total for 2007), the quality of health care in Russia has not improved. Data collected by the Levada-Centre shows that only 14% of Russians are satisfied with the health care they receive while 72% think that the quality of health care in Russia has either remained static or deteriorated. There are figures to confirm this: according to data from Rosstat, sickness rates per 1000 of population have been on the increase since the year 2000. This predicates the persisting high death rate (see the chapter on Russia dying out). The system for financing cheap prescriptions is bankrupt and medicine prices continue to rise. Medical care in Russia is a choice between atrociously low quality or extremely expensive.

The “Affordable Housing” national project

Housing has become less and less affordable during the runtime of this project. Back in summer 2005, the cost of a standard 54m2 flat equivalated to 4.3 years’ average income of a family of three . Now it’s 5.3 years. The project should be renamed the “unaffordable housing project”. According to Rosstat data, the average price of a square metre of housing on the resale market has more than doubled during the existence of this national project, from 21 thousand to 45 thousand rubles from summer of 2005 to today!

The reason for rising house prices is not because the government has allocated too little money to construction or that the president did not give the civil servants a needed shove at the right time. It is simply that the government has not been able to implement an effective strategy to combat the Dutch disease of money flowing into the country. The avalanche of petrodollars has led to a bubble in the real estate and share markets Flats are being bought by investors and prices are being driven up. The monopoly of the civil service mafia in the construction and land markets prevent new investors from entering it, slows construction, and artificially drives prices in an upward spiral. The lack of clear rules for the allocation of building plots and the fact that this area is dominated by municipal mafia clans acts as an important restraining factor in the house-building industry. Even though the rate of new housing construction has, according to Rosstat data, reached 10-14% per year, this is in fact a very modest result: were the housing market more open, decriminalised, and competitive, the rate of new housing construction could have reached 25-30%.

Another area in which monopolies dominate is that of building materials production, in particular of cement. The monopolisation of the building materials market has led to a price explosion: Rosstat figures show that the price of cement rose by 35% a year between 2003 and 2007 and in 2007 alone by 67%. This situation is yet another result of the government’s lack of any competition policies.

The situation in public housing is particularly bad. The reform of public housing management failed: competition was to have been introduced but instead became another civil service mafia monopoly. As a result, utilities and services prices continue to rise and no improvements have been made to tired and worn-out buildings, not to mention services. Between 2000 and 2007, utilities and services prices were raised by a total of 850%, over 33% per year. The proportion of their income spent by those who live in public housing has risen from 4.6% in 2000 to nearly 9% (Rosstat’s figures).

The “Education” national project

Education reform has consisted of a series of failures. The introduction of the Single State Exam needed to eradicate corruption in the form of “supplementary private tuition” when applying to enter prestigious institutions of higher education has been to all intents and purposes a failure. Corruption in higher education is flourishing: the average bribe to get into into a Moscow college is now anywhere between $5 and $10 thousand. UNESCO has estimated that the total amount paid in bribes for entry into Russian higher education exceeds $500 million per year. Our colleges and universities have still not managed to find an effective system for producing the specialists needed by the labour market to replace the old Soviet system whereby one was assigned to a job on graduation. Graduates are now frequently unable to find employment.

Education policy has all these years devoted too much attention to the problems of higher education while the troubles of pre-school, primary, and secondary education have been all but forgotten. Our kindergartens are nothing to boast about either: there is a shortage of about 1 million kindergarten places. This leads to corruption: the bribe for a place in a municipal kindergarten in, say, Moscow, can reach several thousand dollars! The quality of school education has dropped sharply. Recent specialist studies have concluded that the real average mark of school leavers in such subjects as Russian language, maths, and history should not be more than a mere “Pass” and certainly not “Good” or “Excellent”. Secondary polytechnic education is in a state of near total prostration.

The “Agro-Industrial” national project

Not much was allocated to the development of the agro-industrial complex, just $1 billion per year, and most of this has been frittered away in subsidising credit interest for agricultural producers.

This particular measure was a good one, but only needed the once. It would have been far better for the government to devote its efforts to improving the infrastructure in the countryside, building roads and improving energy supplies (and not at Gazprom’s usurious prices – rural consumers are forced to pay 100-200 thousand rubles to have gas pipes run to them – but for an affordable price). Monopolism needs to be combated and a competitive market for agricultural produce created. There should be support for developing exports. Our agrarian sector, including processing, should be made attractive to foreign investors. Access to finance should be made easier for agricultural producers by means of a special infrastructure for farm credits. Help should be available for leasing equipment and for going over to more modern means of agricultural production.

The vital task of creating a competitive environment for the sale of agricultural produce has not even been broached. As a result small-scale producers and farmers cannot influence prices paid to them and do not have proper information on the market situation: big traders and agroproduce processors have a buyers’ monopoly and are able to trade unfairly.

Because the agro-industrial complex has been accorded no systematic attention, the growth rates for Russia’s agriculture are the lowest in the CIS at just 2%. Forty-five percent of Russia’s food is imported although even as recently as 2004 the volume of imports stood at 20%. The situation is still worse in larger cities where up to 70% of foodstuff is imported.

Putin’s “national projects” have resulted in no miracles

A sad fate awaits the “national projects” once the oil money has all gone. What Russia really needed instead of “national projects” was to concentrate on real social reforms, to start spending money on public health, education, the army, and the infrastructure – instead of on the special services and Abramovich. And instead of producing some weird “successor” out of a hat – to elect as leaders responsible politicians unsullied by corruption, ready to take action against the monopolies, and prepared to carry out properly thought out policies instead of indulging in slapdash monetary handouts.

EDITORIAL: Listening to Lev

Police officers detain human right activist Lev Ponomarev during
an opposition rally in central Moscow November 24, 2007.

EDITORIAL

Listening to Lev

In a January 2001 lecture at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, the Russian political activist Lev Ponomarev, head of the For Human Rights movement and member of the executive committee of the Other Russia opposition movement, said:

We believe that what happens in Chechnya, and what is happening is Chechnya is very alarming. We discussed the term “genocide” during our congress. It is a legal term, and we were very concerned about not abusing this term. But we used different formulations, for example, the “first signs of genocide,” or the “beginning of genocide,” or the “symptoms of genocide.” But in the face of hundreds of thousands of people being killed, people dying in Chechnya, we believe that the West needs to apply more pressure on Russia. By being complacent, by playing along with Putin, the West betrays Russia’s true interests. Our position is such that we are not against using force in Chechnya. Moreover, having troops there is a very good way to begin negotiations— from a position of power. We do believe that it is necessary to fight against the bandits. We believe that right now is the best time to start negotiating with Chechen leaders, while the troops are in Chechnya.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had taken the dramatic action of suspending Russia’s voting rights in the summer of 2000 as Vladimir Putin’s bloodletting in Chechnya rose to truly barbaric levels, but just a few months later it backed down. Ponomarev decried this craven weakness as a “betrayal” of the Russian human rights movement, which was risking all to take a stand against the Kremlin’s conduct only to have the rug pulled out from under them by Europe. He called on the West to renew its commitment to human rights in Russia.

The West didn’t listen to Ponomarev in January 2001, nor did the Kremlin. Instead, six months later U.S. president George Bush met with Putin at a castle in Slovenia and declared afterwards: “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.” Unfortunately, neither President Bush nor any other prominent Western leader spent much time looking Mr. Ponomarev in the eye. Putin then radically escalated the mayhem in Chechnya, adopting a scorched-earth policy that rejected any notion of human rights in the region.

The result? Ponomarev told the Jamestown Foundation last week: “If human rights activists were earlier calling for fair trials and independent courts, today we are saying, just like in the Soviet period, ‘Free the political prisoners!’ If there were dozens of political prisoners during the Soviet period and there were none during the Gorbachev/Yeltsin period, at least the earlier part, then now there exists entire categories, no longer just separate individuals.” So over the course of Putin’s two terms as “president” we went from massive human rights atrocities in Chechnya to the resurrection of the Gulag Archipelago in Russia proper while the West stood idly by and did nothing, just as it did when Stalin committed his escalating series of atrocities. Ponomarev now says thatRussia may be able to rebuild and acquire some real political clout in 10 or 15 years.” He says that a window of opportunity remains open, though, because of the extremely “brazen” nature of the Kremlin’s power grab and its desire to maintain a democratic facade for Western consumption. This means activists like him have a slender lever they can use to pressure the regime if they receive sufficient support for their efforts.

In a translation on Robert Amsterdam’s blog, Ponomarev describes the horror of the Russian prison, where an asthmatic arrested for theft and awaiting trial receives capital punishment by being denied his inhaler and another man, also awaiting trial and convicted of nothing, receives emergency surgery for a perforated duodenal ulcer only because of a massive uprising by his cellmates. He points out that while the European Court for Human Rights has been repeatedly willing to issue judgments against Russia for violation of international norms, it has imposed only paltry monetary compensation figures even in the event of fatalities (a mere 20,000 euros in one instance, hardly likely to fill the Kremlin with dread). He states morosely: “It remains simpler for medical personnel from the FSIN to certify the death of a person than to treat him. Judges appear to consider themselves (ah, but how sincerely?) not to be accessories to these sufferings and deaths. Their motto is “you shouldn’t have committed the crime, then you wouldn’t have ended up in the jail’ seems to confirm that the principle of presumption of innocence has nothing whatsoever to do with our judiciary system.”

The St. Petersburg Times reported last week that when three Other Russia opposition activists were arrested at a protest rally against the closing of a market last weekend, they were thrown into a truck with another man, Dmitry Smekalov, who had already been brutally beaten by the arresting officers. The SPT states:

His face was so heavily beaten; he was bleeding, he had a swollen nose and lips and I didn’t recognize him, even though I’d seen him several times before. And then, when we were inside, they continued to beat him for another ten minutes. “I thought that they were either high or drunk, because it was totally unmotivated cruelty toward an absolutely defenseless man who didn’t offer any resistance. He only asked, ‘Why are you beating me?’ “[They replied,] ‘We ain’t beating you – we haven’t started yet.’ It was like a pack of dogs attacking an unfamiliar, ailing dog. They were beating him, six of them, for 10 minutes in the presence of a deputy of the Legislative Assembly. With fists, feet, truncheons, whatever.”

Yet, when the group was transported to the police station, the beaten man wasn’t processed “since he was not among the rally’s organizers and had just happened to be walking near the location.” When the police discovered their mistake, rather than apologizing they called in OMON stormtroopers to intimidate the victim:

“In the evening I learnt that [the OMON police] were on their way to their base when they stopped by the Neva and, as [Smekalov] told me, dragged him by his arms and legs, swung him and threw him over the parapet into the Neva. He told me, ‘I was flying and thinking, “I hope there will be no water down there because I’ll in such a condition that I’m not able to swim.”’ But it turned out there was ice.”

The activists themselves were also beaten after being taken into custody.

It’s rather ironic that the politician we in America most often hear talking about standing up to Russia is Republican John McCain. The right is hardly the party associated most closely in the public mind with the protection of civil rights and liberties, and yet we hear a deafening silence from the likes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Do these so-called “Democrats” really believe in the creed they purport to espouse, or are they only blowing smoke to collect the support of those voters who do?

Confronting Russia ought to be something, as it was during the first cold war, that Republicans and Democrats can agree on. They ought to be fighting over which one has the more effective battle plan, but instead the Democrats are sticking their heads in the sand, betraying their ideals, and behaving just like their despised nemesis George Bush did when Putin first came to power. It’s an irony of almost unbelievable proportions, and ought to make any American voter think twice about giving either Clinton or Obama their support.

It’s very clear who Russian human rights activists would choose. But will we listen to Lev this time? We report below that the Kremlin, having apparently not faced sufficient resistance the first time it tried the move, has now illegally inducted a second youth opposition leader into the armed forces. If it is not stopped, there will be a third, and soon every single youth activist will have been victimized.

Then the Kremlin will turn its gaze to us.

It’s already focusing its evil eye upon Lev himself. Robert Amsterdam reported over the weekend that the Kremlin has launched a criminal investigation against the activist which may be related to Ponomarev’s providing data and video about prison mistreatment which was picked up and reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The pattern than began with Galina Starovoitova has now led to Ponomarev’s doorstep. Soon, if concerted action isn’t taken by the West, there will be nobody left in Russia to speak for civilization.

We report below that Ponomarev’s video material exposing the outrages of the Russian penal system and published by Robert Amsterdam is now back online after being cited by the Wall Street Journal and then, apparently, victimized by some sort of Kremlin brigadniki action to censor it. Required viewing. Truly, one video is worth a hundred thousand screams.

Kozlovsky #2

Other Russia reports:

A legal case for alleged draft dodging has been mounted against an opposition activist in the Russian city of Kirov. As the Sobkor@ru news agency reported on February 19th, the target of the case is Denis Shadrin, a leader of the local branch of the United Civil Front party.

On Tuesday, Shadrin’s mother received a call from the local prosecutor’s office, and was instructed to appear as a witness for a hearing involving a criminal case initiated against her son. The lead prosecutor told her that the case was being mounted after Shadrin refused to accept an enlistment notice on several occasions.

Shadrin recounted a different story, explaining that he had not been visited by any officers from the military enlistment office, and could not have refused a summons. In his opinion, the staff of the Leninsky district enlistment office were using threats to coerce people into serving as witnesses and signing off that others had renounced their enlistment notices.

Furthermore, Shadrin explained that he was not fit for military service for health reasons, as he suffers from scoliosis. Corresponding documents were recently forwarded to the enlistment office.

Denis Shadrin has been targeted by his Kirov prosecutors before. In 2007, a different criminal case charged the activist with “forcible assertion of right”. Consequently, a misdemeanor charge was launched. On February 1st, 2008, the case was suspended for lack of evidence by a magistrate of the Kirovsky oblast judicial district.

Shadrin’s prosecution adds to joins a growing number of instances where opposition activists are illegally threatened or conscripted into military service. February 20th marked two months since Oleg Kozlovsky, a leader in the vocally anti-Putin Oborona (Defense) youth movement was taken by plain-clothes officers outside of his home and sent to serve in the army. Kozlovsky, 23, was first moved to a district enlistment office, then to an army assembly point, and finally shipped to military base number 11291 in the Moscow oblast. Two days later, he was moved again, this time to an air base in the Ryazan oblast. After his case was put before military prosecutors, he was able to file a request for a required medical examination. He was then taken to a garrison clinic, where he was deemed “fit with restrictions” for military service.

Oleg Kozlovsky had completed training courses for the Russian reserves as a student in Moscow State University, and was legally exempt from serving. Nonetheless, he was enlisted as a common soldier and must now serve for one year. Other members of Oborona, as well as notable politicians and human rights activists believe that Kozlovsky was conscripted in retaliation for his opposition activities.

Annals of Putin’s War on NGOs

Writing in the New Statesman Tom Porteous, director of Human Rights Watch’s London office, condemns Vladimir Putin’s shameless, cowardly war on NGOs. If Putin is so popular and Russia is so strong, why does he fear these small shoestring organizations so much?

“An election is more than what happens on election day,” goes the expression – and it seems particularly apposite to Russia in the lead up to the presidential elections on 2 March. In the past eight years the government of president Vladimir Putin has weakened, almost beyond recognition, most of the essential elements that underpin a healthy democracy.

All Russia’s major democratic institutions remain in place, but they have been largely emptied of real capacity to serve as a check on the Kremlin’s power. The news media have been neutered: independent TV and radio have been all but destroyed and the independent press severely curtailed. The parliamentary opposition in the Duma has been marginalized. Direct election of regional governors has been abolished. The independence of the judiciary has, through various means, been seriously compromised.

All this has been prominently reported in the international media. Less well known is the extent to which the Kremlin has deliberately gone about stifling another essential pillar of a vibrant and successful democracy: independent nongovernmental organisations.

In a report published this week, Human Rights Watch documents how Putin’s government has in recent years sharply turned the screw on Russia’s vibrant civil society that emerged from the glasnost era. The report, Choking on Bureaucracy, tells the depressing but familiar story of an authoritarian government using a combination of red tape and arbitrary intimidation to curtail the efforts of grassroots social activists to build a better society.

The main tool has been a 2006 law that gives the government agencies broad authority to regulate the activities of non-governmental organizations. It has used this law – and other measures such as the amended 2002 “anti-extremism law” – to silence or effectively paralyze critical voices. Particular targets of the Kremlin are those NGOs which work on controversial issues such as human rights, those working in sensitive regions such as the North Caucasus, those that receive foreign funding, and those which seek to galvanize legitimate public dissent.

The 2006 law grants state officials wide powers to interfere in the setting up and operations of all NGOs. The authorities can reject applications for registration on the pettiest of grounds. The law imposes onerous reporting requirements and allows officials to conduct regular and intrusive inspections, which have been used to harass NGOs. Both can tie down an organisation in weeks or months of paperwork.

In its attack on civil society, the government has not needed to resort to such blunt tactics as mass closings of NGOs or overt censorship. More subtly, though just as effectively and chillingly, it has drowned them in paperwork and bureaucracy, while maintaining veneer of legality. NGOs are free to challenge the warnings and directives which result from inspections, but only at a huge cost to their substantive work.

One example: throughout much of 2007 the Information Center of the NGO Council, a group that provides daily bulletins on the situation in Chechnya and Ingushetia, was threatened with dissolution by the tax service for being improperly registered and failing to pay back taxes. The organization is challenging a fine for the equivalent of US$ 20,000 imposed by the tax service.

The Kremlin has justified the NGO law on the grounds that it must monitor foreign funding of Russian NGOs. This is something the Kremlin has regarded with great suspicion since the so called ‘colour revolutions’ in Ukraine and Georgia when public uprisings peacefully overturned pro-Moscow governments. Moscow believes those uprisings were spearheaded by foreign funded NGOs.

The Russian government, like any other, has the right to regulate NGOs. But it also has a duty to ensure that any restrictions on NGOs are compatible with Russia’s obligations under international human rights laws that protect freedom of expression and association.

As the Human Rights Watch’s report demonstrates quite clearly, the 2006 NGO law and other restrictive measures used against NGOs by the Russian authorities are in violation of international human rights standards and hinder the effective exercise of basic civil and political rights.

The 2 March election may be a foregone conclusion. But there is a longer term, and those seeking to salvage Russian democracy should start by challenging the Kremlin’s crackdown on NGOs and speaking up for the rights of Russia’s courageous and vibrant civil society.