Daily Archives: March 9, 2008

March 9, 2008 — Contents

SUNDAY MARCH 9 CONTENTS

(1) The Sunday Liberation

(2) The Sunday Satire: Essel on the Russian Joke

(3) The Sunday Apocalypse

(4) The Sunday Persecution

(5) The Sunday Sovietism

(6) The Sunday Stalin

(7) The Sunday Scumbag

The Sunday Liberation

The Kremlin can be beaten.

Novaya Gazeta reports that 23-year-old Oleg Kozlovsky has won his battle against Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin after it attempted to illegally draft him on December 20, 2007, into the Russian army in order to silence his political activism. On March 4th he returned to Moscow from Ryazan and the next day appeared at the local enlistment office (as shown above) and officially received demobilization status as a reserve. The Russian paper notes that Kozlovsky’s release occurs immediately after the conclusion of the presidential election even though the official decision in his case was made on January 29th in response to his vigorous legal attack. The website of Kozlovsky’s political organization, Oborona, came under cyber attack in the election run-up and is still inaccessible, forcing Oborona to establish a new web presence, which includes links to a video interview (Russian transcript) of Kozlovsky by the New Times magazine and an audio interview by Echo of Moscow radio (for those who speak Russian). Kozlovsky relates how he was continually monitored and followed throughout his military internment in Ryazan, as if he were a convicted criminal, and he gave assurances that he will in no way curtain is political activity. Instead, he stated that he has concluded from the Kremlin’s actions that such activity is even more necessary. He plans to file suit against the local military enlistment office for its illegal actions against him and to seek the dismissal of the ranking officer there as well as financial compensation.

As we’ve previously reported, sending Kozlovsky into the army was illegal for three reasons: First because he was classified as a reserve officer and had been drafted as an ordinary conscript, second because he was engaged in an approved course of higher education and third because he had a recognized medical disability.

The Moscow Times reports he declared: “It’s the old Soviet tactics at work. The problem with that, as ever, is that there is no proof of FSB involvement.” He was told by various military personnel that the FSB was guiding the illegal attack, and would like to take action against the FSB as well if proof could be obtained.

Will the Kremlin accept this defeat? Or will it pursue the Politkovskaya solution? Only time will tell. The world must now rally to Kozlovsky’s aid, as only massive international support can maximize his chances against the malignant forces of the Kremlin. Had not publicity instigated by this blog raised his profile and resulted in several major stories in the MSM, he might still be languishing in the neo-Soviet gulag — or worse. We cannot expect the Kremlin to simply let him enjoy his victory

The Sunday Satire: Essel on the Russian Joke

Russia and the Joke

by Dave Essel

Back in the good old Soviet days of the gulag, samizdat, political psychiatry, and two newspapers – Pravda (The Truth) and Izvestiya (The News), with no pravda in Izvestiya and no izvestiya in Pravda – Russians relieved the pressure of living in the schizophrenia-inducing dichotomy between what their own brains and eyes reported and what was in the party line by telling jokes (although one had to take care with the most telling ones). It was in jokes that one could find the last vestiges of sanity and a clear-sightedness that was forcibly absent everywhere else.

For example:

One East German Stasi policeman to another:
“What do you think of our régime?”
“The same as you.”
“Oh dear, then it’s my duty to arrest you”.

* * *

Which is the most neutral country in the world?
– Czechoslovakia. It doesn’t even interfere in its own internal affairs.

* * *

Will there be theft under communism?
– No. There’ll be nothing left over after socialism.

* * *

An Englishman, a Frenchman, and a Russian are discussing what in their views real happiness is.

“I feel truly happy,” say the Englishman, “when after a day’s hunting in winter, I get back home and sit down in front of the fire with a good brandy.”

“For me,” says the Frenchman, “happiness is to be in a good restaurant with a beautiful woman, eating fine food and drinking fine wine, knowing that a night of passion awaits.”

“You don’t even begin to understand,” says the Russian. “When, after an exhausting shift at the factory, I get back to my room in the communal flat where my wife, two children, and mother-in-law are already sleeping, and, just before dropping off to sleep myself, there’s a knock at the door and I open it to find 2 men who ask me threateningly “Are you citizen Paramonov?” and can answer “No, next door down” – now that’s true happiness.

* * *

The West doesn’t get to have this dangerous and illicit pleasure. (All we can do is watch our politicians in action; so we just get the disappointment without the thrill). The political joke has its life in societies where it is dangerous to think. Yet – this is what’s so great about humanity – people can’t stop themselves from doing so.

If the above is true, then it follows that, given the way Russia is going, the Russian political joke must be on the rise again. And it is. Here are some recent ones.

* * *

RF President V.V. Putin Puts Forward His New Idea:
“I propose that the Head of State should be elected by the head of state from a candidature put forward by the head of state.”

* * *

At a press conference, Putin announced that a different person would govern the country in 2008. One of Putin’s aides added that it was universally felt in the West that after eight years as president Vladimir Vladimirovich had become a different person altogether.

* * *

The future president is seated at the desk in his office. The telephone rings. He lifts the receiver to his ear, listens, then rings off and dials another number.

“Hello, Mum!? You can congratulate me! I’ve won the presidential election!”

Mum, joyfully: “Wow! Honestly!?”

“Oh Mum, why do you always dig at me…”

* * *

Putin’s Reform Programme:
1. Make people rich and happy
1a. List of people attached.

* * *

Putin is leaving the house but has not shaved. His wife calls after him:

“Vladimir, you’ve forgotten to shave. That beard and moustache make you look like Nikolai II.”

“Quite right. The people need a hint.”

* * *

Putin to Minister of Finance Kudrin: “From July 1, the rouble is to become fully convertible. This will enable Russian citizens to use roubles when travelling.”

“But what if foreign banks decide not to take roubles?”

“They’ll take them – or we’ll cut off their gas!”

* * *

Ad on notice board: Once Putin’s reforms have been successfully completed, will swap two televisions sets for one good radio receiver.

* * *

Russian President V.V. Putin at a press conference:

“I would like to express my profound condolences to the American people following the death of US President George Bush Jr.”

From the audience:

“But he’s still alive and well, Vladimir Vladimirovich!”

Putin to Head of FSB:

“Bloody hell, you’ve let me down again!”

FSB replies:

“Please don’t worry, we’ll put that right immediately.”

* * *

Vladimir Putin, Igor Sergeyev [Minister of Defence], Аnatoli Kvashnin [former Chief of Staff], and Sergei Ivanov [another Minister of Defence] get together to discuss what to do about the Russian army.

“Why is our army so f*ucked up?” asks Putin.

“It’s f*ucked up, all right,” adds Sergeyev.

“Can’t deny it’s f*ucked up,” Kvashnin adds his support.

“Too true it’s f*ucked up,” concludes Ivanov.

The evening TV news reports that a consensus has been reached on the state of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation…

* * *

“Have you heard: Putin’s broken a hand!”
“Whose?”

* * *

“The miners are on strike!”
“Pay them their wages!”
The teachers are on strike!
“Pay them their wages!”
“The doctors are on strike!”
“Pay them their wages!”
The miners, teachers and doctors are ALL on strike!”
“Pay the OMON riot police their wages!”

* * *

Putin makes a PR visit to a Russian school accompanied by Voloshin, head of presidential admin. Asks the headmaster what problems, if any, he has.

Headmaster: “Well, the building itself is in a state of near collapse and needs massive repairs. As for the pupils, none of the children have seen a computer in their life and we need money to set up a computer class. But we have no funds.”

Putin: “I sympathise with your problems but at the present time the country is in deep economic crisis and we are unable to cover such things from the budget. Your difficulties will not be forgotten however, and as soon as it becomes possible, we will do something in the budget.”

Next day, Putin is on a PR visit to Lefortovo prison in central Moscow. The governor presents his complaints. Putin is all attention. “Issue instructions for the overcrowding problem to be dealt with immediately. Each cell is to have a TV and each prisoner his own PC!” As they travel back to the Kremlin, Voloshin is curious: “Why, Vladimir Vladimirovich, did you refuse to help the school yet immediately helped the prison?”

“Well, basically, because we won’t ever to have to go back to school…”

* * *

What goes around, comes around… The same jokes in new guises foretell the failures and collapse to come. Odd how Russia loves to re-invent the wheel in a new, disimproved, version every time. Makes for good jokes, though…

The Sunday Apocalypse

Paul Goble on Russia’s worsening demographic apocalypse:

Even as Russian officials celebrate and Western media report a small uptick in the number of births in the Russian Federation, demographers in that country’s Academy of Sciences are predicting that life expectancy among Russian men will continue to fall over the next four decades, possibly to below 50 years from birth.

If these projections are correct – and they are based on internationally accepted models — they mean that any demographic gains for the country from declines in infant mortality and from any increase in the birthrate will be more than wiped out, with all the economic, political and military consequences that entails. And that in turn suggests that the Russian government will need to devote at least as much attention and resources to the far more intractable problem of male mortality as it is currently giving in its efforts to boost birthrates by providing new benefits to women and families who have more children.

In an article in the current issue of Demoscope Weekly, Yevgeny Andreyev says that current research suggests that in the best case, male life expectancy will fall another year or so by the middle of the century, with the possibility that it might decline as much as eight or nine years.Such declines not only would wipe out most if not all of the benefits of the pro-natalist policies that Moscow is currently promoting but would also, because the incidence of male mortality is higher among ethnic Russians than most other groups, contribute to an even more rapid shift in the ethnic balance in the population. Although Andreyev does not address the causes for this in this article, they are well-known: On the one hand, Russia has succeeded in reducing infant mortality and is likely to continue to do so. But on the other, Russian men because of high levels of alcohol consumption and health problems continue to die younger than other groups. Noting that Russian demographers have good age and mortality data for the period 1956 to 2006, the Moscow scholar points out that mortality rates among Russian males under 15 have continued to decline but those among older Russian males have increased and appear likely to continue to do so over the next 40 years.

Drawing on this data set and using the ARIMA program of SPSS 15.0, he continues, Russian demographers predict that under the best of circumstances, life expectancy of Russian men will decline by a year or so over that period, while under less favorable ones, this figure could fall by as much as eight or nine years. The likely figure – and he argues that there is a 95 percent probability that the it will fall between these two – will be a decline of three or four years, a development that would leave Russian men at mid-century with a life expectancy of just under 55, far lower than in any other developed country. Indeed, even if that mid-range figure proves to be correct, the Russian Federation by mid-century would then rank in the bottom quarter of all countries in the world on this measure, a development that represents a clear indictment of a regime that is routinely described as awash with cash from the sale of oil and gas abroad.

The Sunday Persecution

The Other Russia reports:

On March 4th, a Russian regional court sentenced the leader of the St. Petersburg branch of the liberal Yabloko party to two months behind bars. According to sources within the party, Maxim Reznik is charged with assaulting a police officer, and is being held in pre-trail detention. Supporters claim the allegations are false and politically motivated.

The court decision was made behind closed doors, with only Reznik’s mother in attendance. Reznik’s lawyer, Boris Grust, told press that the process was rife with violations and that he planned to appeal the decision.

Garry Kasparov, the leader of the United Civil Front, commented on the arrest: “The first momentous event after the “election” of Dmitri Medvedev is a fabricated legal case against one of the most outstanding leaders of the opposition. It is no coincidence that Maxim Reznik was chosen as the target, since he plays a critical role in organizing the All-Russian Democratic Conference, which was planned for April 6th in St. Petersburg. The Kremlin is cleaning out the political landscape for yet another farcical alliance under the aegis of [Andrei] Bogdanov, the ‘uniter of the democrats.’ The authorities can still get away with impunity and complete lawlessness, and it seems to be coming in style.”

Maxim Reznik was detained on the night of March 2nd to the 3rd outside of the Yabloko party office in St. Petersburg. According to the official account, he was “resisting militsiya officers.” Meanwhile, it appears that force was used against him, as his jacket is torn, and he has suffered some bruises.

Witnesses said that around 2 AM, a shouting match was taking place outside of Yabloko headquarters. Patrol officers passing nearby began to detain participants. Reznik tried to intervene in the conflict, and was arrested himself.

Reznik maintains his innocence, and announced that he was starting a hunger strike until a court decision was made about his pre-trial restrictions. He believes that there are no grounds to keep him in custody, as he’s a public politician and the single wage earner for his family.

The leader of the Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, called the criminal case a provocation and said that it was politically motivated.

The Moscow Times adds:

Yabloko’s St. Petersburg leader has gone on a hunger strike to protest his arrest on charges of insulting and assaulting a police officer, his supporters said Wednesday. Maxim Reznik was detained early Monday as he left the liberal party’s St. Petersburg office, where he had been checking reports of violations in Sunday’s presidential election. His asupporters said he was approached and beaten by plainclothes officers outside the building and that a uniformed policeman then detained him. The city’s Dzerzhinsky District Court on Tuesday remanded him into custody for two months as investigators look into the case. Reznik started the hunger strike Monday, said Yabloko spokesman Alexander Shurshev. His detention is probably linked to his role as the organizer of a conference on April 6 that will consider the future of the democratic opposition, Shurshev said.

Reznik’s lawyers will appeal the decision to keep him in custody Thursday, said one of the lawyers, Boris Gruzd. The court will have three days to consider the appeal. If convicted of assault, Reznik faces up to five years in prison. St. Petersburg police said only one person was authorized to comment on the case, chief police spokesman Vyacheslav Styopchenko. He did not answer repeated calls Wednesday. Reznik could not be reached on his cell phone because police had confiscated it, said his mother, who answered her son’s cell phone Wednesday.

The Sunday Sovietism: Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown on Education

A letter to the editor of the Moscow Times:

Dear Editor,

The initial impulse for creating the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in New York and Paris came from President Vladimir Putin’s comments at a Russia-EU summit in Portugal in 2007. In his comments, Putin said EU-funded support for democracy in Russia should be matched by Russia in Europe and elsewhere. In explaining these comments, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Putin was specifically referring to the European University at St. Petersburg, which received a EU grant to implement a project on election monitoring in Russia.

As a director of this project, the Inter-Regional Electoral Network of Assistance, or IRENA, I would like to draw attention to the following facts. Starting in June 2007, the IRENA project has experienced continuous harassment from the authorities. After a series of inspections that did not prove anything illegal in its project-related activities, the authorities attacked the recipient of the grant, the European University at St. Petersburg. Last month, the university was closed by the authorities on the ridiculous pretext of “fire safety violations.” Soon after that, the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation started to operate in Paris and New York.

Grigory Golosov
St. Petersburg

The Sunday Stalin

Paul Goble reports on the new, improved, younger, prettier Stalinism:

Today, on the 55th anniversary of the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, young Russians “who know nothing about the repressions” he carried out are increasingly displacing pensioners as the most important component of his backers in the Russian Federation, according to a Moscow journalist. In an essay in Novyye izvestiya today entitled “The Glamorous Tyrant: The Cult of Stalin Experiences a Rebirth,” Mikhail Pozdnyaev notes that half of all Russians now view Stalin positively and that many are seeking to restore his name to streets and squares and to put back up monuments to him that Nikita Khrushchev took down. But what is more disturbing, Pozdnyaev says, is that “if at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, the typical Stalinists were pensioners who came to meetings with pictures of the leader, today a significant portion of young people, who know nothing about the repressions of the Stalinist period, have joined them.” And that in turn suggests that the cult of Stalin will continue well into the future rather that gradually die out and that the authoritarianism of many Russians, a proclivity Vladimir Putin has played to, will continue to shape Russian politics rather than giving way to more democratic ones.

In his article, Pozdnyaev reviews polling data showing support for the dictator, reports about the efforts of Stalinists young and old to honor him, and quotes rights activists and others who are horrified by the willingness of some to venerate him for his role in World War II while ignoring his enormous crimes against the population. All too often, the literary and political figures with whom Novyye izvestiya talked and whose comments the paper appended to Pozdnyaev’s article noted, those who are the most positive about Stalin are precisely the young who did not live under him and know about the tyrant only from movies and television. On this anniversary, some citizens of the Russian Federation are trying to change that: Novaya gazeta published Khrushchev’s 1956 secret speech which outlined some of Stalin’s crimes, as well as excerpts from a later Khrushchev speech that revealed some additional ones. Meanwhile, non-Russian leaders in the North Caucasus whose nations Stalin violently deported at the end of World War II recalled the anniversary of Stalin’s passing and recounted for young people there what the Moscow tyrant had done to them and their lands.

But few young Russians are likely to read Pozdnyaev’s commentary or Khrushchev’s secret speech. Instead, they are more likely to go to movies portraying Stalin as the great leader of a great power or turn to sites like www.za-nauku.ru/ which argue that Stalin’s reputation has been besmirched by the enemies of Russia.

The Sunday Scumbag

The New York Times reports:

A Russian businessman regarded by the United States as one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers was arrested in Thailand on Thursday as part of an American-led sting operation. He was promptly charged in the United States with conspiracy for trying to smuggle missiles and rocket launchers to rebels in Colombia.

The businessman, Viktor Bout, 41, is suspected of supplying weapons to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and of pouring huge arms shipments into Africa’s civil wars with his own private air fleet. He was arrested by the Thai authorities at a hotel in Bangkok in an operation in which undercover investigators posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, sought to purchase millions of dollars in arms.

Federal prosecutors in New York said they would seek the extradition of Mr. Bout (pronounced boot) and an associate, Andrew Smulian, who was also detained in Bangkok on Thursday, to stand trial in the United States on a charge of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Although American officials said Thailand appeared to be eager to be rid of Mr. Bout, it was not known when he would be brought to the United States.

Michael J. Garcia, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that Mr. Bout “was apprehended in the final stages of arranging the sale of millions of dollars of high-powered weapons to people he believed to represent a known terrorist organization, the FARC.”

“Today’s arrest marks the culmination of a long-term D.E.A. undercover investigation that spanned the globe,” Mr. Garcia said, “and it marks the end of the reign of one of the world’s most wanted arms traffickers.”

The FARC is a leftist insurgency that has been fighting Colombia’s government for decades and is believed to finance its activities in part through cocaine trafficking. The FARC has been identified in the United States criminal code as a foreign terrorist group, and aiding such a group is a crime.

The arrest was set in motion by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, which alerted the Thai authorities that Mr. Bout was traveling to Thailand, said Police Col. Petcharat Sengchai of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, who led the arresting team.

A criminal complaint unsealed in Manhattan said the plans for a meeting with Mr. Bout in Thailand had taken shape after earlier meetings, most of them conducted by Mr. Smulian, with informants posing as FARC members in the Netherlands Antilles, Denmark and Romania.

The conversations were secretly recorded by drug enforcement agents. The actual size of the deal was not made clear from the documents released by the government, but the complaint indicated that Mr. Bout planned to charge a $5 million delivery fee to transport the surface-to-air missiles and armor-piercing rocket launchers to South America.

American officials have publicly identified Mr. Bout as a rogue weapons smuggler who profited mainly from arms dealing that fueled bloody conflicts in Africa. He was said to have built a shadowy network of air cargo companies in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and the United States.

Mr. Bout was born in what is now Tajikistan and educated at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow. He is said to have begun in the arms trade after his air force unit was disbanded with the breakup of the Soviet Union.

A mythology grew up around Mr. Bout in the 1990s, but in 2002 he appeared abruptly on a Moscow radio station, insisting that he was innocent and that he had never had contact with Taliban or Qaeda representatives. He said the accusations against him “resemble more a script for a Hollywood thriller.”

“I can say only one thing: I have never supplied or done anything, and I have never been in contact with either Taliban representatives or Al Qaeda representatives,” Mr. Bout said.

Mr. Bout’s career is said to have contributed to the character of the fictional arms trafficker depicted in the Nicolas Cage film “Lord of War.” American officials said he controlled the largest private fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft in the world.

Over the years, Mr. Bout used his companies and associates to operate an arms bazaar, selling guns, ammunition, even tanks and helicopters in deals that Treasury officials said inflamed conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

In July 2004, the Treasury Department froze Mr. Bout’s assets under American jurisdiction and in April 2005 took the same step against 30 companies and four people linked to Mr. Bout.

In 2007, the agency froze assets of an additional seven companies and three people who officials said acted with Mr. Bout to supply arms to Congo. In response to an American request, the United Nations placed most of the companies and people identified as linked to Mr. Bout on its own sanctions list.

Representative Ed Royce of California, the senior Republican on a House Foreign Affairs panel on terrorism and nonproliferation, said that despite international efforts to tamp down violence in Africa, Mr. Bout “was pouring fuel on the fire.”

“In U.N. report after U.N. report, Viktor Bout was cited as the chief sanctions buster, supplying arms to anyone who would pay,” Mr. Royce added.

Richard A Chichakli, 49, an American citizen who is a friend of Mr. Bout’s and who has been accused by the Treasury Department of being his business associate, disputed the government’s contention that Mr. Bout was a worldwide weapons trafficker.
Mr. Chichakli denies being in business with Mr. Bout and left the United States after his assets were frozen in 2005. He said in a telephone interview that the allegations about Mr. Bout’s arms dealing were overstated. “Things snowball when they start talking about him,” he said. “There are certain parts that are true. But the way they portray the man, it has nothing to do with reality. Out of a fish they make a blue whale.”

He expressed surprise and skepticism about the details in the criminal complaint, in part because Mr. Bout had been keeping a low profile in recent years.

“I’m surprised to see him involved in something like this,” he said. “When people are trying to say certain things about you, and you are trying to show the opposite, you should not get involved in something like this.”

Since 2006, he said, Mr. Bout had lived outside Moscow and owned a small factory that made building tiles. Mr. Chichakli said he did not know when Mr. Bout had left Russia on his latest trip. One security analyst said Mr. Bout had been in Thailand since January, regularly changing hotels.

The complaint against Mr. Bout and Mr. Smulian suggests that the investigation began in earnest in November 2007 and centered on an unidentified paid informer described in the complaint only as “CS-1,” for confidential source No. 1, who had known Mr. Bout since the mid-1990s and knew he was an arms dealer.

The informer sent e-mail messages to Mr. Bout through Mr. Smulian asking for a meeting about a possible deal, referring to Mr. Bout as “Boris” and weapons as “farming equipment.” In a Dec. 3, 2007, e-mail message, Mr. Smulian told CS-1, “Spoke to Boris, and anything is possible with farming equipment.”

On Feb. 22, the complaint said that Mr. Bout, who was believed to be in Russia, agreed to meet with the supposed FARC members in Thailand during the first week of March to complete the arrangements for the deal. Later, one undercover source told Mr. Smulian: “Get ready for travel.”

With Thursday’s arrest Mr. Bout, already the principal character of one book, “Merchant of Death,” by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, may well find himself the subject of another, said Michael A. Braun, the chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, at a news conference in New York. “And I can tell you that it will read like the very best work of Tom Clancy,” he said. “Only in this case, it won’t be fiction.”