Daily Archives: March 14, 2008

EDITORIAL: Russia, Out in the Cold

EDITORIAL

Russia, Out in the Cold

On Wednesday this week, the United States government signed agreements with Estonia and Latvia allowing their citizens to travel to the United States without visas, since their countries allow Americans to do the same and since they maintain friendly and cooperative relations with the world’s only superpower. These two Baltic countries now join Czech Republic and Slovenia as former Soviet-bloc states that now have the warmest possible relations with the United States. Many more are sure to follow along this path (read the DOS standards here).

And Russia? Russia seems to desire exactly the opposite status, encouraging the U.S. to see Russia as an enemy nation against which it must struggle, along with the likes of Iran and Venezuela. This is perhaps not surprising since one of the most important reasons that countries like Estonia actively seek friendship with the U.S. is their stark terror of neo-Soviet Russian imperialism. The Putin regime has not only alienated the powerful United States, but almost every former Soviet bloc state as well. Russians seem blissfully unaware of the fact that even as they worry about NATO’s designs on Russia, the former Soviet states are even more nervous about the dangers the Kremlin presents to them. It seems that the people of Russia could care less about that.

Last Saturday, an editorial in the Washington Post presciently called upon NATO to expedite the admission of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, and urged the Bush administration to press the issue at the upcoming summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania. The Post‘s editors argued:

Russia’s repeated and heavy-handed maneuvers in and against Ukraine and Georgia in the past several years have dramatically demonstrated Moscow’s ambition to destroy those countries’ freedom and independence. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent threat to target Ukraine with nuclear weapons should have been a wake-up call for any Western government that doubted whether Kiev needed defending.

As we report below Senator Richard Lugar, dean of U.S. foreign policy, issued a scathing denunciation of NATO for daring to invite Vladimir Putin to attend the summit. He stated: “To invite President Putin into this situation, I suspect, is to give him a meeting in which he intimidates [Ukraine and Georgia] further. In this context, this seems to be very dubious.”

When the liberal Post and conservative Lugar agree, you know that America has reached consensus: Russia is a dangerous enemy that menaces the U.S. at every opportunity, and we must now awaken to the need to fight and win a new Cold War.

And let’s be clear: These are not some rogue actions of monsters in the Kremlin who are simply victimizing the people of Russia as much as the West. That tired myth was busted long ago, when Russians voted overwhelmingly to hand absolute power to a proud KGB spy. The Ghanian student who was brutally stabbed and the Uzbek who was murdered in St. Petersburg this week weren’t attacked by the government but by Russian citizens, while others turned their backs and did nothing. There will be no broad public outcry, no editorials of denunciation in leading newspapers or on TV.

The people of Russia are utterly complicit in all these acts, they are themselves part of the problem. Unless they immediately take responsibility, when these neo-Soviet chickens come home to roost, the people of Russia will have only themselves to blame.

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Kozlovsky, Fighting Back

Robert Amsterdam, translating Novaya Gazeta:

Oleg Kozlovsky turns in documents on his discharge into the reserves to Izmailovsky military commissariat

Moscow – Activist of the youth movement «Oborona» Oleg Kozlovsky, demobilized yesterday from the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, today turned in documents on his discharge into the reserves to the Izmailovsky military commissariat.

We will note that the coordinator of «Oborona» was demobilized practically right after the elections and the dispersal of the «Dissenters’ March» in Moscow. The decision on his mustering out was issued already on 29 January, but they reported to Kozlovsky about this only after the elections.

Today, having arrived at the Izmailovsky military commissariat, Kozlovsky told journalists the details of his «army adventures». He, in particular, told of the rapt attention they devoted to him in all the military units and the military hospital. In the words of Kozlovsky, they conducted discourse with him on numerous occasions on the theme of his possible running away from the unit or the hospital. The military brass were very afraid that he would commit an escape. In addition to this, in Oleg’s words, in the hospital a special person from the number of patients was planted to him, who kept a watch on him and, in the event of Kozlovsky’s sustained absence, reported about this to the superiors.

Kozlovsky also added that he does not intend to wrap up his political activity. In his words, the event that took place with him has convinced him even more in the correctness of the active civic position chosen by him.

In the nearest time, the coordinator of «Oborona» plans to file suit against the military commissar of the Izmailovsky military commissariat, on whose order Oleg had been unlawfully drafted into the army. Kozlovsky likewise intends to attain the dismissal of this commissar.

We will remind, the 23-year-old Kozlovsky was detained on 20 December of the year 2007 by his house and dispatched to the Izmailovsky military commissariat. The medical commission decreed that he is fit for the undergoing of military service, after which Kozlovsky was conscripted into the army as a private and dispatched to a military unit outside Ryazan.

The dispatch of Kozlovsky into the army was unlawful. First, the activist, could not be drafted as a private, inasmuch as he had already completed the military department during the time of study at MGU [Moscow State University] and is an officer in the reserve. Second, at the moment of the conscription he was receiving a second higher education at the daytime department of the Higher school of economics.

Later it became known that the doctors of the Ryazan military hospital had found Kozlovsky to be restrictedly fit for military service. In such a manner, he was subject to conscription only in the event of the declaration of war and was supposed to have been mustered out.

Anastasia Dergacheva
«Novaya gazeta»

The letter referenced in the article and above image:

To: M.E. KOZLOVSKAYA Ul. Verkhnyaya Pervomayskaya d. 6, korp. 3, kv. 127, g. Moscow, 105264

From: MINISTRY OF DEFENSE
OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION
(MINDEF OF RUSSIA)
1 CENTRAL
MILITARY-MEDICAL
COMMISSION
city of Moscow, 105229,
Gospitalnaya pl., 3
«3» March 2008 No. K-10

Esteemed Marina Eduardovna!

Your application to the chairman of 1 Central military-medical commission of the Ministry of defense of the Russian Federation has been examined.

I report that your son – Oleg Yurievich Kozlovsky on 28 February 2008 based on the results of a repeat examination and medical certification in 3 Central military clinical military hospital named after A.A. Vishnevsky (certificate of disease No. 278) based on existing illnesses on the basis of articles 45-c, 66-c of column III of the schedule of diseases and TDTs (attachments to the Statute on military-medical expertise, confirmed by Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation of 2003 No. 123) is found to be «V» – restrictedly fit for military service The conclusion of the MMC on the causal connection of his illnesses has been issued in the wording: “General illness”, inasmuch as all his illnesses had taken place prior to conscription for military service. The given conclusion of the MMC has been confirmed by 1 CMMC MoD RF on 29 February 2008 No. 2/558.

In such a manner, your son in accordance with the legislation of the Russian federation in peacetime is subject to dismissal from military service by virtue of state of health.

The certificate of disease of your son indicated above (2 copies) on 29.02.2008 was returned to 3 CMCMH named after A.A. Vishnevsky for directing to the commander of the military unit where he is undergoing military service.

A copy of the given certificate of disease has been directed in accordance with item 127 of the Instruction on the order for conducing military-medical expertise in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, confirmed by order of the Minister of defense of the Russian Federation in 2003 No. 200, to 19 MMC of the Moscow military district for the organization of the study by the Military commissariat of the city of Moscow in conjunction with the organ of administration of health care of the city of Moscow of the reasons for the unfounded conscription for military service of your son.

Chairman of the commission
major-general of the medical service,
V. Kulikov

U.S. Government Bashes Kremlin on Human Rights

The U.S. State Department has issued yet another blistering annual report on human rights condemning Russian barbarism. Predictably, since the Kremlin can’t deny the truth of these allegations, it tries to create a smokescreen by attacking the critic, just like they used to do in the good old USSR. Basically, the Kremlin is saying, it doesn’t matter how many Russians are brutalized as long as Americans are also being brutalized. It doesn’t matter if Russia destroys herself, as long as America does too. Is that sick or what?

Here’s just an excerpt of the long document:

There were numerous reports of government and societal human rights problems and abuses during the year. Security forces reportedly engaged in killings, torture, abuse, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment, often with impunity. Hazing in the armed forces resulted in severe injuries and deaths. Prison conditions were harsh and frequently life threatening; law enforcement was often corrupt; and the executive branch allegedly exerted influence over judicial decisions in some high‑profile cases. The government’s human rights record remained poor in the North Caucasus, where the government in Chechnya forcibly reined in the Islamist insurgency that replaced the separatist insurgency in Chechnya as the main source of conflict. Government security forces were allegedly involved in unlawful killings, politically motivated abductions, and disappearances in Chechnya, Ingushetiya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus. Disappearances and kidnappings in Chechnya declined, as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov established authoritarian and repressive control over the republic, and federal forces withdrew. Federal and local security forces continued to act with impunity, especially in targeting families of suspected insurgents, and there were allegations that Kadyrov’s private militia engaged in kidnapping and torture. In the neighboring republics of Ingushetiya and Dagestan, there was an increase in violence and abuses committed by security forces.

Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of the major television networks. Unresolved killings of journalists remained a problem. The government restricted media freedom through direct ownership of media outlets, influencing the owners of major outlets, and harassing and intimidating journalists into practicing self-censorship. Local governments tried to limit freedom of assembly, and police sometimes used violence to prevent groups from engaging in peaceful protest. The government used the law on extremism to limit freedom of expression and association. Government restrictions on religious groups were a problem in some regions. There were incidents of discrimination, harassment, and violence against religious and ethnic minorities. There were some incidents of anti-Semitism.

Continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, a compliant State Duma, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, media restrictions, and harassment of some NGOs eroded the government’s accountability to its citizens. The government restricted opposition political parties’ ability to participate in the political process. The December elections to the State Duma were marked by problems during the campaign period and on election day, which included abuse of administrative resources, media bias in favor of United Russia and President Putin, harassment of opposition parties, lack of equal opportunity for opposition in registering and conducting campaigns, and ballot fraud. The government restricted the activities of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), through selective application of the NGO and other laws, tax auditing, and regulations that increased the administrative burden. Authorities exhibited hostility toward, and sometimes harassed, NGOs involved in human rights monitoring. Violence against women and children and trafficking in persons were problems. Instances of forced labor were also reported. Domestic violence was widespread, and the government reported that approximately 14,000 women were killed in such violence during the year. There was widespread governmental and societal discrimination as well as racially motivated attacks against ethnic minorities and dark-skinned immigrants. There was a steady rise this year in xenophobic, racial, and ethnic attacks and hate crimes, particularly by skinheads, nationalists, and right-wing extremists.

Lugar Bashes Putin

From the Moscow Times, one of America’s most senior and well-respected foreign policy statesmen rips Putin a new one:

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, who has worked with Russia on disposing of nuclear materials, questioned whether NATO was right to invite President Vladimir Putin to its summit meeting early next month. Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on NATO, Lugar on Tuesday pointed to a recent threat by Putin to target Ukraine with nuclear missiles if the former Soviet republic joins NATO and accepts the deployment of anti-missile defenses on its territory. At its summit in Bucharest, the alliance will consider whether to invite Ukraine and Georgia to join a program preparing them for membership. “To invite President Putin into this situation, I suspect, is to give him a meeting in which he intimidates them further,” Lugar said. “In this context, this seems to be very dubious.”

Lugar helped pass legislation, called the Nunn-Lugar Comprehensive Threat Reduction Act, which has helped former Soviet states destroy, dismantle and secure thousands of nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Fried, who testified at the hearing, called Putin’s attendance an opportunity to find new ways to cooperate with Russia. “The challenge, however, is to make sure that NATO takes decisions on issues on their own merits — based on what is good for the alliance and good for the issues at hand — without undue pressure from any outside actors,” Fried said. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was quoted Wednesday as saying NATO had not yet decided whether to allow Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance. Asked when NATO plans to offer Ukraine and Georgia a Membership Action Plan, the first step to membership, Scheffer said, “We are debating on this issue.”

“Remarks on this from the Moscow side have happened often,” he told the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. “We treat our Russian partners seriously. … We must engage them in the discussion.”

Bovt on the Internet

Russian radio talk show host Georgy Bovt on the fate of Russia’s Internet under Medvedev, from the Moscow Times:

The Russian blogosphere showed a lot of activity during the presidential election campaign. The only part of the pre-election televised debates to generate universal interest among bloggers was when Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky scuffled with a representative of rival candidate Andrei Bogdanov. If it were not for this heated exchange, most bloggers might never have known that there were debates at all.

Medvedev’s victory inspired a great many jokes and caricatures — some good-natured and others not. The most popular was a redub of a scene from the popular Soviet-era comedy “Prisoner of the Caucasus, or the New Adventures of Shurik.” In this classic film, there is a scene in a restaurant in which a Caucasus local convinces the naive Shurik, a Muscovite college student on vacation in the region, to take part in the “ancient custom of stealing the bride.”

In the Internet redub, young Shurik is “Dima” (Medvedev). The schemer convinces Dima to take part in the “ancient custom” of selecting the next president in which Dima will play the main role. Dima, who is told that he was selected by Putin himself to become the next leader of the country, is introduced to the three other spoof candidates and is told that they have absolutely no chance of winning. It seemed as if everyone on the Russian Internet saw the clip within a day of its appearance.

Russia’s blogs increasingly serve as alternative sources of information to the mainstream media, which is becoming more restricted in what they can say or write about the Kremlin.

But the media crackdown has also been extended to the blogosphere as well. For example, authorities have already initiated criminal proceedings against several bloggers in a town in the Komi republic and other regional cities on grounds of inciting interethnic or racial hatred or of extremism, which is defined and interpreted very broadly by law enforcement officials. New legislation makes it possible to label any critical commentary of federal or regional authorities as extremism.

The Russian blogosphere is truly becoming more courageous, offering its own take on events as an alternative to the official line. In other words, it is becoming a political liability. More than 20 million Russians actively use the Internet, and of those, 3.5 million actively participate in blogs — 2.6 times more than last year. Russia’s blogosphere is more concentrated than in other countries, with 75 percent of all blogs located on one of five web sites: LiveJournal.com, LiveInternet.ru, Diary.ru, Blogs@Mail.ru and LovePlanet.ru. LiveInternet.ru hosts the most blogs, but no more than 20 percent are updated regularly. More than 7,000 new blogs and 210,000 entries appear on the Russian Internet every day.

It is not surprising, then, that politicians are considering plans to regulate the Internet. This involves more than simply filing criminal charges of extremism against individual bloggers as a scare tactic and a warning to others. It means direct regulation. A bill was recently drawn up that would have required every blog with more than 1,000 visitors per day to register with the authorities. Officials later shelved that bill due to technical flaws, but the concept is still popular in the Kremlin and among State Duma deputies.

The Kremlin seems to be moving toward the Chinese model, in which the government denies citizens access to anything other than officially approved web sites. This trend is bound to continue unless Medvedev decides to reverse its course. Personally, I do not anticipate such a thaw in the Kremlin’s cold attitude toward the Internet, if for no other reason than because Medvedev has always paid close attention to the Internet, and he has never underestimated its ability to mobilize citizens against the ruling elite.

Russia Alienates India: Welcome to the Club, New Delhi

The BBC reports:

News that India’s naval chief, Adm Suresh Mehta, has reluctantly agreed to pay the full price for the refitted Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorschkov, is a manifestation of the growing number of differences between the two former cold war allies.

It seems that they are moving further and further apart over a number of issues.

Their leaders still visit each other’s countries and rarely miss any opportunity to emphasise their decades-old ties. But nagging doubts remain over their ability to redefine their relationship in a fast-changing world. The Admiral Gorschkov is a good example. From a negotiated price of $700m, the Russians subsequently demanded $1.2bn with delivery delayed till 2013. Around the same time, the Indian navy has refused to accept an upgraded diesel-powered submarine after delays in the installation of a missile system.

Souring relations

These irritants and other disagreements over trade and India’s foreign policy have all served to put a strain on once close relations. Adm Mehta has called for a government review of military ties with Russia, amid growing resentment within the military about the Russian attitude to their needs. Having depended entirely on the erstwhile Soviet Union to meet those requirements in the past, India today finds Russia a lot more aggressive and even a little indifferent. Around 70% of India’s military hardware comes from Russia. When India’s foreign and defence ministers visited Moscow last year, President Putin allegedly refused to meet them. In fact, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, next only to the prime minister in seniority, was not even given an appointment by the Russian prime minister. And when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Russia at the end of last year, he curtailed his visit to just 28 hours.

‘Not enthusiastic’

Officially the politicians deny any souring of relations. “Despite major transformations, our relations remain firmly rooted in a mutual bond of friendship, understanding and trust,” Mr Singh said recently. Indian Defence Minister AK Antony for his part reiterated that India will not develop ties with any country at the cost of its friendship with Russia. But experts say their words belie the truth. The Delhi-based Russia expert Nivedita Das Kundu, says that both countries “have taken each other for granted”. She says that Russia is not enthusiastic about Delhi’s growing relationship with the US. But at the same time she points out that India needs to understand that for the next 15-20 years her dependence on Russian military hardware and spares will continue, despite frustrations in the military over delays and escalating costs. Again the aircraft carrier saga clearly illustrates this. India’s ageing Vikrant carrier needs to be replaced and Delhi has committed itself to a Russian replacement.

‘Nostalgia’

It is only recently that India has begun to diversify and look at the US and Israel for military imports. But Ms Kundu says “nostalgia” will not help improve relations. India’s foreign office has to get issues such as visa problems for Indian businessmen to Russia sorted out, she says, because at the moment, they have to wait as long as Pakistanis and Afghans. The break-up of the Soviet Union has also affected trade between the two countries. Russia’s share in India’s total trade has fallen from 9% in 1991 to just over 1% in 2007. From the third largest export destination in 1991, Russia has slipped to 34th place for Indian exports. And the recent restrictions on Indian tea, coffee and agricultural exports to Russia – some of which have now been lifted – only served further to sour the relationship.

Experts argue that India needs to work harder to erase the widely held perception in Russia that Indian goods are of poor quality. Earlier India was treated differently from other countries by Russia. Now it is dealt with in same way as any other country and that is what irks many in the Indian bureaucracy. Now Indian defence contractors have to negotiate with the different departments in Russia which deal with exports and imports while at the same time haggle over the prices of military hardware. “But probably the main factor that has become an obstacle to better relations is Delhi’s growing closeness with the United States,” says security expert Uday Bhaskar.