Daily Archives: March 17, 2008

March 17, 2008 — Contents



(2) Pasko Interviews Kozlovsky: One Hero to Another

(3) Stalin Sells

(4) The MT on Price Controls

(5) The Chickens of Demography Roosting on the Barracks

(6) Putin & Litvinenko at the Movies

(7) Annals of Russian Success in Space


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



American history tells the story of how Anthony C. McAuliffe, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the siege of Bastogne, Belgium, in World War II, found himself surrounded by German forces in superior numbers. When the German commander sent a message demanding McAuliffe’s surrender, he is reported to have responded with a single written word: “Nuts.”

Just as Russians hypocritically cannot accept that the people of Ukraine and Georgia have exactly the same attitude towards them as Russians have towards the United States — that is, an arrogant aggressor nation bent on imperialist domination (with the main difference being that Ukraine and Georgia, and many other similar states, have actually seen military domination by Russian soldiers occur on their soil) — so too Russians, while hypocritically moaning and wailing about the lack of recognition they receive from Americans for the Russian role in defeating Nazi Germany, remain totally oblivious (even contemptuous) of the American role in that war. Think they’ve ever heard of McAuliffe’s heroics? Think again.

But upon learning about him, we have no doubt that Russians would claim sympathy with him. They’d no doubt claim, for instance, that their recent repudiation of a U.S. State Department report condemning Russia in the strongest terms for gross human rights violations is McAuliffian in its courage. Russia stands surrounded by the entire world, a whole forest of fingers pointing at Russia from every corner of the globe and demanding a cessation of its barbaric attitudes towards civil rights and liberties, and Russia’s response is: “Nuts.”

Of course, if America gives this response (say, regarding the war in Iraq), then that is fodder for Russian condemnation. Then, Russia decries American “unilateralism” and demands that it submit to the will of the United Nations, or some other group that is more subject to Russian control. Then, American must negotiate or be labeled a pariah. But when the world unifies against Russia, then suddenly the world is engaged in a vast Russophobic conspiracy, and Russia is free to ignore it. Indeed, it is heroically obliged to do so, and the world be damned. Not only do Russians utterly fail to see any hypocrisy in this stance, they likewise find themselves unable to discern the vast difference between American and Russian power in the world, behaving as if the two nations were equals. A person who behaves in that manner often finds himself locked up in the booby hatch, especially in Russia. Too bad there is no psychiatrist for nations.

And so we have Russia’s response to the DOS report, which is not only psychotically hypocritical but also frighteningly schizophrenic. The Kremlin simply cannot make up its mind whether its answer to the report is that is that the conclusions are false or that its conclusions are true but the United States is just as bad and therefore can’t throw stones. So it simply tries both, furiously flinging mud in the hope that some will stick, somehow.

Reuters reports the Russian Foreign Ministry shrieking:

The report became yet another proof of ‘double standards’ in U.S. policy on human rights. It is obvious the human rights issue is being distributed for external and internal consumption. How else can one explain the fact that the United States, having de facto legalized torture and handing capital punishment to minors, denying responsibility for war crimes and massive human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan gives a distorted interpretation of the situation in other countries?

For time out of mind, when confronted with Western criticism, Russians have been claiming that the Westerners themselves are just as bad. This attitude is, perhaps, even more barbaric than the human rights abuses the world has documented in Russia. Basically, the Kremlin is saying that it doesn’t matter how much the people of Russia are suffering, as long as people from other countries are also suffering. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that it doesn’t matter if Russia destroys itself, as long as other countries go down in flames as well. How could any enemy of Russia have a more contemptuous attitude towards the welfare of the Russian people than the Russian Foreign Ministry?

The Kremlin seems to vaguely grasp that this response is utterly feeble and, indeed, embarrassing, so it tries to attack the substance of the report as well. But it isn’t long before the Kremlin quickly realizes why it impulsively launched that neo-Soviet attack on the critic: There is no credible substantive defense to the charges. Catch-22.

Voice of America reports that “the Foreign Ministry also says U.S. criticism is based on groundless accusations and biased sources, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That organization said Russian parliamentary elections in December did not meet democratic standards. Moscow says OSCE member states, which include Russia, never approved mandatory standards, and singles out the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) for allegedly politicizing the election monitoring process.” But VOA notes:

ODIHR spokesman Jens Eschenbaecher told VOA the organization has monitored elections in the 56 OSCE member states for many years. “We have a mandate from all participating states to observe elections before, during and after Election Day,” he said. “We felt that [with] limitations imposed on us by the Russian authorities, we would not have been in a position to fulfill our mandate.” The ODIHR did not monitor Russia’s December election, saying Moscow did not issue observer visas in a timely manner.

So it isn’t Europe that has politicized the process, but Russia, which can’t have its cake and eat it too. It can’t prevent elections monitoring from occurring and then accuse elections monitors of issuing biased reports. Well, it can in the sense that the USSR always could — if it wants to follow in the USSR’s footsteps into the dustbin of history. Russia steadfastly refuses to conduct real investigations of the charges of human rights violations that are brought against it, and repeatedly loses when its cases are called before the European Court of Human Rights for fair adjudication. It simply can’t mount a credible substantive refutation of the allegations against it, so it attacks the critic and ignores the problem, condemning the people of Russia to a life of barbarism, suffering and isolation.

VOA adds that nothing is going to change any time soon:

Political analyst Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center expressed skepticism about the offer. “Russia is in no mood to compromise. Russia enjoys its new power and influence as a result of its growing economic power,” said Lipman. “And Russia is making up for past humiliations after the collapse of the USSR. This is the mood of the nation; this is the mood of the leadership. This is what brings the leadership and public together – the sense that we were humiliated, but no more.” Lipman says unprecedented economic prosperity is another reason why a majority of Russians do not seek democratic accountability from their government. “Putin has offered, I usually call it a non-participation pact, we the government deliver and you the people do not meddle in politics or policy-making,” added Lipman. “And since the government fulfilled its part of the contract, the people fulfilled theirs. Lipman says she does not expect gradual evolution toward greater Russian democracy without a crisis, such as the collapse in oil prices that underpin the country’s current prosperity.

Perhaps Russians will never understand the difference between Tony McAuliffe and the Kremlin: He said “nuts” FOR the American people, while the Kremlin says “nuts” TO the people of Russia. As always, the government of Russia is the worst enemy of the Russian people.

Pasko Interviews Kozlovsky

Robert Amsterdam publishes hero reporter Grigori Pasko interviewing opposition leader Oleg Kozlovsky (shown above in front of his organization’s colors) following Kozlovsky’s victory over the Kremlin after it illegally conscripted him:

Oleg Kozlovsky is the leader of the youth Russian movement «Oborona». On the «Oborona» website, you can read that the members of this organization consider themselves the “new, free generation”. “We”, it is said in the organization’s declaration, “grew in a free country, we are not used to being cattle, you can’t herd us into a paddock. We do not fear authority, and we are not burdened by the experience of the Soviet past… we care about the future.

“…There is another type of young people – thinking, daring, interested in the fate of their country, ready to take upon themselves responsibility for their own future. There are a few of us yet, but we already are and we grow in number every day.”

The leader of “Oborona”, Oleg Kozlovsky, definitely creates the impression of a thinking, daring person, interested in the fate of his country. Oleg is an active participant in and organizer of the “Dissenters’ Marches” – public protest actions by citizens of Russia against the arbitrariness of the powers. To these actions, the power responds with even greater arbitrariness – arrests of the activists, the filing of fabricated criminal charges, beatings. Oleg has already spent five days in a cell at a “special receiver” (that’s what they call the place where they hold persons who have been temporarily arrested; previously, these establishments were used exclusively for holding alcoholics and street vagrants. The Putinite power has come up with the idea of holding political prisoners and all manner of dissenters in them) for participating in an allegedly unsanctioned rally (the fact is that under the Constitution of the Russian Federation, permission is not required to hold a rally – the organizers simply have to notify the power of the place and time such a rally will be held).

Then it turned out that Oleg Kozlovsky is so disliked by the Putinite power that they had decided to isolate him for a long time. But here, let him tell us in his own words how this took place.

PASKO: Oleg, how did it happen that almost immediately after the “vagrants’ cell” at the special receiver, they forcibly “shaved you into a soldier”? [This Russian idiom, zabrit’ v soldaty, refers to the fact that one of the first things done to a young man to turn him from a civilian into a conscript is to completely shave his head (this is also done with new prisoners)—Trans.]

KOZLOVSKY: Everything happened unexpectedly. After getting out of the special receiver, police officers came to the address of my certificate of domicile in Moscow and started asking the neighbors about me, supposedly because someone suspected of extremism had come to me. When I was leaving for a while to Ukraine, police officers stopped me at the railroad station and said that I was an extremist. I felt that something was afoot. On the Day of the Chekist, 20 December of last year, I went out of the house in the morning. Suddenly I was stopped by policemen and two in civilian clothing [colloquial Russian for plainclothes officers working for “the organs”—Trans.] (later, at the military commissariat, they told me that they were from the FSB). The policemen said that they have a paper from the military commissariat and that I need to go there.

I thought that this wasn’t serious: they’d hold me a few hours, find out that I had completed the military department and am studying at another university [these being two irrefutable reasons for a person not to be called for conscription by the military commissariat—Trans.] and would let me go. At the military commissariat it became clear that they had decided to play this game seriously. In the course of half an hour they had me see several doctors – they supposedly conducted a medical commission. The quickly found me fit for service in the army, completely ignoring my declarations about how I can not serve by medical indicators as well. Naturally, I showed them the student ID of the university where I’m studying, and said that I had already completed a university with a military department. They told me that the student ID could be fake, while documents on the awarding to me of a military rank [he would be a reserve officer after completing the military department at his university—Trans.] were lost by them.

Soon an order was written on my conscription for service in the ranks of the army. It is noteworthy that the order itself they did not give me in my hands, so there would not be an opportunity to appeal it in judicial procedure. Then in a police care with a siren – real VIP treatment – they drove me off to an intake center. That too is where relatives brought medical documents, but they did not accept them from them, apparently so as not to spoil the intended plan.

From the intake center, where they quickly took care of all the formalities of conscription, they drove me to near Dmitrov of Moscow Oblast. There I announced a hunger strike as a sign of protest against unlawful conscription. Soon they sent me off to Ryazan in the accompaniment of FSB officers, and from there – to a desolate military unit in a forest. To get to the village of Dubrovichi near Ryazan, where “my” military unit was found, is very difficult. They were confident that I have no communication, I’m isolated, the story will die down, and everything will be good for them. But at this time in Moscow there were already actions taking place in my support.

And in general, everything went not according to the FSB’s script. Firs, I was able to get in touch with comrades-in-arms, we’ve got the experience. Second, I filed a complaint with the military procuracy of the Ryazan garrison for unlawful conscription. Third, I demanded an independent military certification. As a result of all this, they sent me off for a medical examination and started to check the circumstances of my conscription. (By the way, I should add that these results are not known to me to this day).

After the examination at the Ryazan military hospital, they found me unfit for service in peacetime. Apparently, this decision of the Ryazan health care professionals did not fit into the FSB’s plans. Therefore, the central military-medical commission of the ministry of defense in Moscow noted this decision and directed me for a second examination to Krasnogorsk. I was there a long time, then they once again drove me to near Ryazan. In an ambulance. Good thing it’s still not in railroad cars for arrestees – «Stolypins» – and not in an autozak.

From the military unit they let me out after the dissenters’ march, which took place in Moscow and St. Petersburg on 3 March, after the elections. It is noteworthy that they had the decision on demobilization already on 28 February. That is, they obviously didn’t want me to be able to take part in the march.

PASKO: Oleg, it is known that this is already not the only case when an undesirable person is drafted into the army. Recently, such a thing took place with an opposition activist in Kirov, Denis Shadrin. Why all this? A trying out of methods? Is the power looking for and trying out new ways of intimidating and isolating those who actively speak out against it?

KOZLOVSKY: It should be noted that even back in tsarist Russia this method – “shaving into a soldier” – was used against undesirables. Apparently, they’ve decided to resurrect it. The developers of such a method of isolation figured: there are lots and lots of violations in the military commissariats; one violation more, one less… And they also figure that people in society will think this isn’t political arbitrariness, but rather shortcomings in the work of the military commissariats.

The method has justified itself to a certain extent: they succeeded in isolating me. Without opening a criminal case, without planting narcotics and weapons… I think that in such a situation, it’s very important to get the military to be held liable – so that henceforth they would think twice about whether to commit these dirty deeds on the orders of the FSB or to refuse.

A second part of the interview is yet to be published.

Stalin Sells

Maybe it’s “sex sells” in the West, but in Russia Stalin sells.

Zaxi blog
carries a report from Newsru.com (Russian language) that reveals a new frozen ravioli has appeared on Russian store shelves recently. Called “Tender as Stalin,” the product’s slogan is: “Life’s gotten better, life’s gotten happier!” Appearing in day-glo Soviet red packaging, it comes from the Iceberg Pasta Company in Nizhny Novgorod, whose motto is: “Faithfulness to the finest traditions.” Older Russians will recognize the slogan as being a remark made by the dictator Josef Stalin on November 17, 1935 at at political meeting, commenting on the abolition of ration cards for bread, flour and cereal grains. In 1938, the phrase was developed into a popular song of the same name.

Our readers will recall that a few months ago state-owned Russian TV propaganda campaign “Russia Today” used Stalin as its pitchman as well.

The MT on Price Controls

A Moscow Times editorial on price controls:

Two ministries are caught in a struggle, and it doesn’t matter who wins. Either way, merchants and shoppers will end up the losers.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry is sparring with the Agriculture Ministry over legislation they are drafting to control food prices. The bill would introduce a maximum markup on prices for staple foods and open the door to voluntary price freezes and outright price regulation by the state. What the ministries cannot agree upon is the duration of these measures, as Staff Writer Tai Adelaja reported Wednesday.

Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev believes that staples such as bread and milk should have retail markups capped at 10 percent to 15 percent and that the caps should be long term. Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina, however, said this week that “such a measure can only be imposed temporarily when there are external shocks,” such as price growth on the world markets. Nabiullina’s proposal is clearly the lesser of the two evils, offering hope that the state will phase out price controls someday. But, as the Russian saying goes, there is nothing more permanent than something temporary. This is especially true with the government, where temporary measures have a tendency of staying in place.

Long-term price controls would have disastrous consequences. One consequence, as Nabiullina rightly predicted, would be food shortages. That price controls are ineffective and eventually backfire is elementary economics. It is also a basic fact of economics that you can influence prices through less devastating means, including import and export tariffs and supply-side measures such as the liberalization of land ownership laws and the de-bureaucratization of the system regulating agricultural production. Furthermore, food stamps or cash allowances for the neediest would be far more efficient and less detrimental to consumers and the economy than price controls.

The state also would do well to transform the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service into a potent force with capable regional branches armed with tough laws to investigate and prosecute cartels or any tacit price collusion by retailers or producers.

Maybe these alternative methods and the negative impact of price controls seem too hypothetical for some civil servants, especially those who attended Soviet institutes that offered courses on “political economy,” which is of little use in a market economy. But even Soviet-educated civil servants will not be able to ignore the impact of long-term price controls if Gordeyev wins this debate.

In a flashback to Soviet times, food lines would form, with the neediest people spending hours waiting to buy meat and eggs and those lucky enough to be at the front reselling their purchases on the black market. When this happens, it will not take the next prime minister long to start thinking about whether he wants a minister like Gordeyev in his Cabinet.

The Chickens of Demography, Roosting in the Barracks

Paul Goble reports:

Russian defense officials are now scrambling to cope with that country’s worsening demographic situation, one that could, in the words of one prominent commentator, leave them with no good options in the military area and “an army with no troops” or officers. In an article in this week’s Moscow Times, Alexander Golts, the deputy editor of Yezhednevniy zhurnal, notes that the country’s top leadership is in denial on this point, routinely claiming that the country is “in excellent condition” and that the number of births is rising. On the one hand, in this and “in almost every area,” Russia’s problems as Vladimir Putin leaves office and Dmitry Medvedev assumes the presidency, “the country’s problems are a approaching a crisis point,” one that can’t be solved by throwing “petrodollars into ineffective and outdated institutions.” And on the other, the current small uptick in the number of births, one that is the product of the entrance of a larger number of women into prime child-bearing ages rather than a solution to the country’s low birthrate, does nothing to solve the problem of military staffing now and for the next 18 years at least.That is because the men and women who must fill the ranks and the officer corps over that period are already born, and there are simply not enough of them to maintain forces at the strength levels the Russian government prefers and shows no signs of changing voluntarily.

In his article, Golts describes what the defense ministry has been doing in response to this “crisis” both among ordinary soldiers, where demographic constraints have attracted the greatest notice, and in the officer corps, where these limitations may have an even greater impact. The number of young men reaching 18 in 2009, he points out, will be only 834,000, far fewer than in the past. Approximately half of them will enroll in higher educational institutions and be deferred and many others will be exempted from service on health grounds. That means, Golts argues, that the incoming president “will be forced either to drastically reduce the size of the army or to cancel military deferments for college students, thereby crippling the existing educational system,” infuriating students and parents and hurting the economy. (Moreover, the much ballyhooed shift to a more professional military with contract soldiers is not happening as quickly as many civilian policy makers had thought possible, a reflection of still relatively low salaries and even worse conditions among those at the bottom ranks of military service.)

In anticipation of this, the defense ministry has begun drafting college graduates, having reduced their opportunities to become reserve officers by cutting back on the number of military departments in some 200 higher schools and reducing financial aid to students in them. That stopgap measure may help fill the ranks for the next draft cycle or two but only at the cost to the military of reducing the number of admittedly poorly performing junior officers and to the broader society of an angry population and a reduction in the number of well-trained specialists for the economy.

With regard to the officer corps, the country’s political elite faces serious problems as well. This week, the defense ministry announced plans to extend the term of service for officers by five years, presenting it as an opportunity for commander to acquire and thus retire at higher ranks. But such PR fools no one. On the one hand, last year, Golts points out, the defense ministry added an additional year to the minimum time in service required for advancing to the next higher rank, thus, forcing “officers to serve longer terms at the lowest rank of platoon or company commanders.” That thus vitiates the meaning of this week’s announcement because “the ability to rise rapidly through the ranks is one of the main — if not the only — motivating factors for officers to continue serving.” Given the low salaries of Russian officers, “even the slightest delay at the bottom rung of the career ladder makes extended service pointless.” And consequently, Golts writes, “there is no basis for believing that an officer who has earned the right to retire with a pension will choose to extend his service for as much as a single day. These half-baked proposals clearly will not solve the crisis of the insufficient number of officers in the armed forces.”

“Were the Kremlin planning to have a small professional army,” Golts says, “everything would be fine.” But it isn’t and doesn’t show any sign of being willing to shift in that direction. Consequently, the armed services and thus the political elite are facing a real crisis, however upbeat everyone currently is trying to be. As that crisis deepens, Golts concludes, “the generals will throw themselves at the feet of the new commander in chief and say, “Dear, kind tsar! Nothing has worked — not transferring a percentage of the draftees to contract service, nor switching to one year of mandatory service nor eliminating officer-recruits.”

Putin & Litvinenko at the Movies

Opening March 21st at the Quad Cinema in New York City, the Russian film Poisoned by Polonium. Featuring never-before-seen interviews with journalists, politicians and Alexander Litvinenko himself, this documentary unveils the real story behind the killing which shocked the world. Director Andrei Nekrasov’s new film also connects Litvinenko’s assassination with a series of political scandals involving the famed Russian apartment bombings, the war in Chechnya and Putin’s rapid rise to power. The film was a selection at the Cannes Film Festival and has been written up by the New York Times, the Telegraph and Radio Free Europe.

Annals of Russian Success in Space

AFP reports:

A Russian Proton-M rocket blasted off Saturday from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur cosmodrome carrying a US communications satellite, but failed to put the satellite in its intended orbit, Russian space officials said. “The acceleration bloc Briz-M’s engine failed to work the whole scheduled time, and the satellite could not be taken to the planned orbit,” officials in the Khrunichev space center said in a statement on the center’s Web site. Space officials were trying to determine the satellite’s current orbit and whether it was still possible to use it as planned, officials added. The AMC-14 satellite, produced by the Lockheed-Martin, is owned by SES Americom, a major telecommunications provider for North and South America. It includes an active phase array payload, which the company hailed as a key satellite technology for future missions.