Daily Archives: March 21, 2008

March 21, 2008 — Contents

FRIDAY MARCH 21 CONTENTS

(1) EDITORIAL: Schizoid Russia

(2) Russia’s Neo-Soviet Dissidents

(3) Latynina on Chechnya

(4) The Biggest Killer of Russian Soldiers is . . . the Russian Army

(5) Kasparov Calls for Shadow Parliament

NOTE: On Publius Pundit, we see George Bush as America’s Neville Chamberlain. Do you agree? Comments welcome.

NOTE: Kim Zigfeld’s latest installment on Pajamas Media gives horrifying details on the Kremlin’s assault on the blogosphere. Check it out, and please consider leaving a comment in support of the besieged blogger, who stands on the front lines of the last battle for Russia’s soul. If you’ve commented on this blog without being arrested, you owe it to him and to yourself to do so. But for the grace of God, you’re him.

EDITORIAL: Schizoid Russia

EDITORIAL

Schizoid Russia

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Russia is a schizophrenic country, in need of a national psychiatrist.

Case in point: Earlier this week, Robert Amsterdam posted a translation from RBC daily commenting on a recent poll by the state-controlled VTsIOM survey agency. In it, RBC points out that there are two explanations for why, according to VTsIOM, 42% of Russians favor their dictator Vladimir Putin with “unequivocal” support — in other words, they think he’s perfect (likely the reason Putin was willing to appear half naked in front of them recently).

The two reasons are:

  • Over the past few years, Russians have started to live better
  • It is possible that not everybody is pleased with what they now have, but at least this is better than to lose everything

So, what Russians are saying is that they like Putin because things are going well and because things are going badly but they don’t want them to get much worse.

That’s textbook schizophrenia. In fact, it’s not only indicative of that problme, but also of the oft-confused dissociative identity disorder, a/k/a “split personality syndrome.” In other words, not only don’t Russians perceive reality accurately (they’re no better off than the were under Yeltsin, except for a few oligarchs) but they can’t make up their minds as to what alternative perception to embrace, so they simply choose both of them.

And the reason this is possible is quite simple: There’s nobody to tell them not to. Just like a child will guzzle Coke and candy for breakfast if there’s no adult to tell him otherwise, if nobody criticizes the government then people assume it’s as healthy as candy for breakfast, and they guzzle it down. Just like the famous Emperor with his fabulous suit of imaginary New Clothes, Russia stands naked and oblivious.

Now, there was a time when it was hard to blame the people of Russia for doing this, because we thought they were being victimized by the Soviet dictatorship as much as we were. We thought that, given the chance, they’d choose to live in a society where there was plenty of criticism of the government, and where they’d actively control their government’s actions.

But we’ve been proved wrong. In fact, Russians have never wanted to live in that kind of society. They’ve never wanted to take responsibility for their actions, instead they’ve wanted to hand that responsibility blindly to authoritarian rulers and let them do as they like.

Result: Over 40% of Russians currently think Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, is perfect and deserving of unequivocal a support. Of course, at the same time, they also think that no matter how bad he is, anything else would be worse — which presumably is why they re-elected Boris Yeltsin even though they said they hated him.

Let’s be clear: Putin’s rule over Russia is not only not perfect, it’s a total disaster, even at the most basic level of biology. AEI reports that between 1992 and 2003 Russia lost 3.1% of its population or 4.3 million people even though it had a net addition to the population of 5.5 million via immigration. That means nearly 10 million more native Russians died than were born in that decade, a net loss of 1 million Russians per year. Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia in the 1990s, and he named Vladimir Putin as his successor. If over 40% of Russians think Putin perfect, that must mean they love Yeltsin too. Yet, they say the hate him. And under Putin the trend of population loss has continued unabated. Putin has spent far more time building Russia’s military and provoking the United States than he has building Russia’s population. No significant policies have been enacted to improve health care, and the only thing the Kremlin has done to increase childbirth is to corruptly bribe parents to have children — hardly a way to build stable families and a vibrant population. Yet, over 40% of Russians think Putin is perfect — that means they themselves approve of wiping out huge swaths of Russia’s population.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Putin has alienated every civilized country on the planet, so that now Russia stands utterly alone and faced with a new cold war with the United States. He has crushed the country’s ability to receive and process information, both within the political process and the media establishment. He has created a new oligarchy, even as he purported to destroy the one, an oligarchy that drinks the nation’s blood like a leech, giving back nothing in return. Rather than resolve Russia’s problem of domestic terrorism, he has only exacerbated it, giving the terrorists more and more reason to hate the Kremlin and seek to destroy it. And worst of all, Putin has rehabilitated the secret police, whose malignant misdeeds brought down the USSR and whose destruction was the one shining accomplishment of Boris Yeltsin. Once again, Russians are condemning themselves to live without personal freedom or integrity in exchange for vague and unrealizable promises of nationalist fervor and subsistence.

They condemn themselves, in other words, to merely survive rather than to live, and condemn the rest of the world to decades more fear and torment from their reckless government, until it finally, once again, implodes of its own fetid corpulence.

Russia’s Neo-Soviet Dissidents

Leon Aron, resident scholar and director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006, writing in the Moscow Times:

Earlier this month, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel discussion with leading members of the opposition in Russia — Boris Nemtsov; Vladimir Ryzhkov; Oleg Buklemishev, the deputy manager of Mikhail Kasyanov’s presidential campaign; and Vladimir Kara-Murza, the manager of Vladimir Bukovsky’s presidential bid.

This event was unusual for the AEI, and we decided to hold it because it is becoming increasingly difficult to hear their voices. They are banished from state-controlled television and have been pushed out of national and local politics. In addition, their rallies and demonstrations are routinely prohibited, and when they do protest on the street, they are attacked by riot police and Nashi thugs, who are paid from government funds.

Their colleagues are harassed in their homes and on the streets. They are detained on bogus criminal charges, sometimes beaten unconscious and in a few cases thrown into psychiatric wards. Owners of halls and conference centers are afraid of giving them space for meetings and debates, and many advertising agencies refuse to produce their campaign materials. The police break into their headquarters and take away their computers, leaflets and posters, and the Kremlin-friendly courts never rule in their favor.

In short, Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Kasyanov and Bukovsky are becoming more like dissidents in the Soviet sense than a normal opposition force that you would find in Western democracies.

This transformation is bound to have profound implications for Russia and the world. Governments without opposition are doomed to falter. The blunders of a nuclear superpower drunk on oil and gas revenue are bound to be enormous.

Competitors are “partners” in the political process, even when they actively criticize the government. Without an opposition, the center of political gravity is raised all the way to the top, making the vehicle of national politics unstable — one without shock absorbers or brakes. Free of the need to explain themselves, the ruling elite begin to believe in their own infallibility.

We have already seen the first signs of the country’s institutional debility when the government monetized social benefits to pensioners a few years ago. The law, which affected tens of millions of people and cost trillions of rubles, was adopted by the rubber-stamping State Duma after only a few hours of debate. Monetization of benefits is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Without a genuine debate and participation from the opposition, the government is unable to develop solutions to the huge problems in education, healthcare, pensions and corruption.

Moreover, without opposition as a check and balance, the government is given a virtual carte blanche. Take, for example, the borrowing spree of state or state-sponsored companies — in particular, Gazprom and Rosneft, which together owe $85 billion and clearly hope for the state to bail them out. This also applies to Moscow’s huge exports of modern weaponry to China, a serious geopolitical rival that will be armed to the teeth with Russian weapons and know-how, and to Moscow’s support of uranium-enriching Iran. Could these policies have been adopted so easily if the opposition had an opportunity to engage the government in a true debate — in the parliament, on television or in the newspapers — exposing millions of Russians to the perils of these flawed policies?

Of course, the Putin’s crackdown on the opposition is still a far cry from the repression under the Soviet Union. The four members of the opposition who spoke at the AEI on March 10 and thousands of their colleagues are still far better off now than Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Ginzburg or even Bukovsky were in the 1970s. The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko parties, although marginalized, are still legal. Moreover, the Internet is far more efficient than samizdat, although it now essentially plays the same role in the country’s political discourse. And a handful of small-circulation newspapers and magazines that are not afraid to publish articles critical of the Kremlin can still find publishers and distributors. But we don’t know how long this will last.

In the meantime, the West should continue to help sustain Russia’s new dissidents by giving them a platform and an opportunity to engage in a free debate. Far from “undermining” Russia, this solidarity can best ensure that Russia’s democratic evolution will be nonviolent — similar to the period from 1989 to 1991. Let’s hope it is not too late for this.

The Moscow Times also reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has accused the Kremlin of harassing the political opposition, met some leading liberals on Tuesday but did not see the Kremlin’s most strident critics.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met for about an hour at the U.S. ambassador’s Spaso House residence with six public figures: Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky; former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov; Vladimir Milovidov, a former deputy energy minister turned Kremlin critic; Carnegie Moscow Center deputy head Dmitry Trenin; Olga Dergunova, VTB board member and former head of Microsoft Russia; and Newsweek Russia columnist Mikhail Fishman.

Noticeably absent were former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former chess champion Garry Kasparov and Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh.

The breakfast meeting took place before the start of high-level government talks on a proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Central Europe, and U.S. officials apparently did not want to anger the Kremlin.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the Spaso House event was not a meeting with the opposition but rather “civil society leaders.”

At the meeting, Fishman said, people took turns to speak about topics in their areas of expertise. He said he spoke about the media, while Ryzhkov discussed democratic freedoms, Trenin foreign policy issues and Yavlinsky missile defense. “She let everybody speak out while she and Gates listened,” Fishman said.

Yabloko said in a statement that Yavlinsky, who spoke first, urged Washington to switch from the current “half partnership, half confrontation” to a “strategic partnership” with Moscow.

Ryzhkov said he spoke of the “firm link” between the country’s domestic development and its foreign policies.

“I said that the more authoritarian, closed and chauvinistic our state becomes, the more confrontation we will see in foreign policy and the larger the cost the Russian people will bear,” he told Interfax.

Rice has repeatedly said there is too much power concentrated in the Kremlin and that outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s government has rolled back democratic freedoms.

Asked whether she expected the Kremlin to be angered by her meetings with civil society leaders and NGOs, Rice said before Tuesday’s breakfast meeting: “I think it is expected.”

On each visit to Moscow, Rice has made a point of seeing human rights activists. One rights worker who met Rice last year in Moscow said she was disappointed not to be invited this time. “Not only was I not there, but I did not know about it, unfortunately,” said Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “I can’t say why she didn’t meet us this time, but, frankly, it’s very disappointing. It sends a signal to the Russian government.”

Russia’s Neo-Soviet Dissidents

Leon Aron, resident scholar and director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006, writing in the Moscow Times:

Earlier this month, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel discussion with leading members of the opposition in Russia — Boris Nemtsov; Vladimir Ryzhkov; Oleg Buklemishev, the deputy manager of Mikhail Kasyanov’s presidential campaign; and Vladimir Kara-Murza, the manager of Vladimir Bukovsky’s presidential bid.

This event was unusual for the AEI, and we decided to hold it because it is becoming increasingly difficult to hear their voices. They are banished from state-controlled television and have been pushed out of national and local politics. In addition, their rallies and demonstrations are routinely prohibited, and when they do protest on the street, they are attacked by riot police and Nashi thugs, who are paid from government funds.

Their colleagues are harassed in their homes and on the streets. They are detained on bogus criminal charges, sometimes beaten unconscious and in a few cases thrown into psychiatric wards. Owners of halls and conference centers are afraid of giving them space for meetings and debates, and many advertising agencies refuse to produce their campaign materials. The police break into their headquarters and take away their computers, leaflets and posters, and the Kremlin-friendly courts never rule in their favor.

In short, Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Kasyanov and Bukovsky are becoming more like dissidents in the Soviet sense than a normal opposition force that you would find in Western democracies.

This transformation is bound to have profound implications for Russia and the world. Governments without opposition are doomed to falter. The blunders of a nuclear superpower drunk on oil and gas revenue are bound to be enormous.

Competitors are “partners” in the political process, even when they actively criticize the government. Without an opposition, the center of political gravity is raised all the way to the top, making the vehicle of national politics unstable — one without shock absorbers or brakes. Free of the need to explain themselves, the ruling elite begin to believe in their own infallibility.

We have already seen the first signs of the country’s institutional debility when the government monetized social benefits to pensioners a few years ago. The law, which affected tens of millions of people and cost trillions of rubles, was adopted by the rubber-stamping State Duma after only a few hours of debate. Monetization of benefits is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Without a genuine debate and participation from the opposition, the government is unable to develop solutions to the huge problems in education, healthcare, pensions and corruption.

Moreover, without opposition as a check and balance, the government is given a virtual carte blanche. Take, for example, the borrowing spree of state or state-sponsored companies — in particular, Gazprom and Rosneft, which together owe $85 billion and clearly hope for the state to bail them out. This also applies to Moscow’s huge exports of modern weaponry to China, a serious geopolitical rival that will be armed to the teeth with Russian weapons and know-how, and to Moscow’s support of uranium-enriching Iran. Could these policies have been adopted so easily if the opposition had an opportunity to engage the government in a true debate — in the parliament, on television or in the newspapers — exposing millions of Russians to the perils of these flawed policies?

Of course, the Putin’s crackdown on the opposition is still a far cry from the repression under the Soviet Union. The four members of the opposition who spoke at the AEI on March 10 and thousands of their colleagues are still far better off now than Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Ginzburg or even Bukovsky were in the 1970s. The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko parties, although marginalized, are still legal. Moreover, the Internet is far more efficient than samizdat, although it now essentially plays the same role in the country’s political discourse. And a handful of small-circulation newspapers and magazines that are not afraid to publish articles critical of the Kremlin can still find publishers and distributors. But we don’t know how long this will last.

In the meantime, the West should continue to help sustain Russia’s new dissidents by giving them a platform and an opportunity to engage in a free debate. Far from “undermining” Russia, this solidarity can best ensure that Russia’s democratic evolution will be nonviolent — similar to the period from 1989 to 1991. Let’s hope it is not too late for this.

The Moscow Times also reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has accused the Kremlin of harassing the political opposition, met some leading liberals on Tuesday but did not see the Kremlin’s most strident critics.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met for about an hour at the U.S. ambassador’s Spaso House residence with six public figures: Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky; former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov; Vladimir Milovidov, a former deputy energy minister turned Kremlin critic; Carnegie Moscow Center deputy head Dmitry Trenin; Olga Dergunova, VTB board member and former head of Microsoft Russia; and Newsweek Russia columnist Mikhail Fishman.

Noticeably absent were former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former chess champion Garry Kasparov and Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh.

The breakfast meeting took place before the start of high-level government talks on a proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Central Europe, and U.S. officials apparently did not want to anger the Kremlin.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the Spaso House event was not a meeting with the opposition but rather “civil society leaders.”

At the meeting, Fishman said, people took turns to speak about topics in their areas of expertise. He said he spoke about the media, while Ryzhkov discussed democratic freedoms, Trenin foreign policy issues and Yavlinsky missile defense. “She let everybody speak out while she and Gates listened,” Fishman said.

Yabloko said in a statement that Yavlinsky, who spoke first, urged Washington to switch from the current “half partnership, half confrontation” to a “strategic partnership” with Moscow.

Ryzhkov said he spoke of the “firm link” between the country’s domestic development and its foreign policies.

“I said that the more authoritarian, closed and chauvinistic our state becomes, the more confrontation we will see in foreign policy and the larger the cost the Russian people will bear,” he told Interfax.

Rice has repeatedly said there is too much power concentrated in the Kremlin and that outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s government has rolled back democratic freedoms.

Asked whether she expected the Kremlin to be angered by her meetings with civil society leaders and NGOs, Rice said before Tuesday’s breakfast meeting: “I think it is expected.”

On each visit to Moscow, Rice has made a point of seeing human rights activists. One rights worker who met Rice last year in Moscow said she was disappointed not to be invited this time. “Not only was I not there, but I did not know about it, unfortunately,” said Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “I can’t say why she didn’t meet us this time, but, frankly, it’s very disappointing. It sends a signal to the Russian government.”

Russia’s Neo-Soviet Dissidents

Leon Aron, resident scholar and director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006, writing in the Moscow Times:

Earlier this month, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel discussion with leading members of the opposition in Russia — Boris Nemtsov; Vladimir Ryzhkov; Oleg Buklemishev, the deputy manager of Mikhail Kasyanov’s presidential campaign; and Vladimir Kara-Murza, the manager of Vladimir Bukovsky’s presidential bid.

This event was unusual for the AEI, and we decided to hold it because it is becoming increasingly difficult to hear their voices. They are banished from state-controlled television and have been pushed out of national and local politics. In addition, their rallies and demonstrations are routinely prohibited, and when they do protest on the street, they are attacked by riot police and Nashi thugs, who are paid from government funds.

Their colleagues are harassed in their homes and on the streets. They are detained on bogus criminal charges, sometimes beaten unconscious and in a few cases thrown into psychiatric wards. Owners of halls and conference centers are afraid of giving them space for meetings and debates, and many advertising agencies refuse to produce their campaign materials. The police break into their headquarters and take away their computers, leaflets and posters, and the Kremlin-friendly courts never rule in their favor.

In short, Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Kasyanov and Bukovsky are becoming more like dissidents in the Soviet sense than a normal opposition force that you would find in Western democracies.

This transformation is bound to have profound implications for Russia and the world. Governments without opposition are doomed to falter. The blunders of a nuclear superpower drunk on oil and gas revenue are bound to be enormous.

Competitors are “partners” in the political process, even when they actively criticize the government. Without an opposition, the center of political gravity is raised all the way to the top, making the vehicle of national politics unstable — one without shock absorbers or brakes. Free of the need to explain themselves, the ruling elite begin to believe in their own infallibility.

We have already seen the first signs of the country’s institutional debility when the government monetized social benefits to pensioners a few years ago. The law, which affected tens of millions of people and cost trillions of rubles, was adopted by the rubber-stamping State Duma after only a few hours of debate. Monetization of benefits is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Without a genuine debate and participation from the opposition, the government is unable to develop solutions to the huge problems in education, healthcare, pensions and corruption.

Moreover, without opposition as a check and balance, the government is given a virtual carte blanche. Take, for example, the borrowing spree of state or state-sponsored companies — in particular, Gazprom and Rosneft, which together owe $85 billion and clearly hope for the state to bail them out. This also applies to Moscow’s huge exports of modern weaponry to China, a serious geopolitical rival that will be armed to the teeth with Russian weapons and know-how, and to Moscow’s support of uranium-enriching Iran. Could these policies have been adopted so easily if the opposition had an opportunity to engage the government in a true debate — in the parliament, on television or in the newspapers — exposing millions of Russians to the perils of these flawed policies?

Of course, the Putin’s crackdown on the opposition is still a far cry from the repression under the Soviet Union. The four members of the opposition who spoke at the AEI on March 10 and thousands of their colleagues are still far better off now than Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Ginzburg or even Bukovsky were in the 1970s. The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko parties, although marginalized, are still legal. Moreover, the Internet is far more efficient than samizdat, although it now essentially plays the same role in the country’s political discourse. And a handful of small-circulation newspapers and magazines that are not afraid to publish articles critical of the Kremlin can still find publishers and distributors. But we don’t know how long this will last.

In the meantime, the West should continue to help sustain Russia’s new dissidents by giving them a platform and an opportunity to engage in a free debate. Far from “undermining” Russia, this solidarity can best ensure that Russia’s democratic evolution will be nonviolent — similar to the period from 1989 to 1991. Let’s hope it is not too late for this.

The Moscow Times also reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has accused the Kremlin of harassing the political opposition, met some leading liberals on Tuesday but did not see the Kremlin’s most strident critics.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met for about an hour at the U.S. ambassador’s Spaso House residence with six public figures: Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky; former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov; Vladimir Milovidov, a former deputy energy minister turned Kremlin critic; Carnegie Moscow Center deputy head Dmitry Trenin; Olga Dergunova, VTB board member and former head of Microsoft Russia; and Newsweek Russia columnist Mikhail Fishman.

Noticeably absent were former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former chess champion Garry Kasparov and Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh.

The breakfast meeting took place before the start of high-level government talks on a proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Central Europe, and U.S. officials apparently did not want to anger the Kremlin.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the Spaso House event was not a meeting with the opposition but rather “civil society leaders.”

At the meeting, Fishman said, people took turns to speak about topics in their areas of expertise. He said he spoke about the media, while Ryzhkov discussed democratic freedoms, Trenin foreign policy issues and Yavlinsky missile defense. “She let everybody speak out while she and Gates listened,” Fishman said.

Yabloko said in a statement that Yavlinsky, who spoke first, urged Washington to switch from the current “half partnership, half confrontation” to a “strategic partnership” with Moscow.

Ryzhkov said he spoke of the “firm link” between the country’s domestic development and its foreign policies.

“I said that the more authoritarian, closed and chauvinistic our state becomes, the more confrontation we will see in foreign policy and the larger the cost the Russian people will bear,” he told Interfax.

Rice has repeatedly said there is too much power concentrated in the Kremlin and that outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s government has rolled back democratic freedoms.

Asked whether she expected the Kremlin to be angered by her meetings with civil society leaders and NGOs, Rice said before Tuesday’s breakfast meeting: “I think it is expected.”

On each visit to Moscow, Rice has made a point of seeing human rights activists. One rights worker who met Rice last year in Moscow said she was disappointed not to be invited this time. “Not only was I not there, but I did not know about it, unfortunately,” said Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “I can’t say why she didn’t meet us this time, but, frankly, it’s very disappointing. It sends a signal to the Russian government.”

Russia’s Neo-Soviet Dissidents

Leon Aron, resident scholar and director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006, writing in the Moscow Times:

Earlier this month, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel discussion with leading members of the opposition in Russia — Boris Nemtsov; Vladimir Ryzhkov; Oleg Buklemishev, the deputy manager of Mikhail Kasyanov’s presidential campaign; and Vladimir Kara-Murza, the manager of Vladimir Bukovsky’s presidential bid.

This event was unusual for the AEI, and we decided to hold it because it is becoming increasingly difficult to hear their voices. They are banished from state-controlled television and have been pushed out of national and local politics. In addition, their rallies and demonstrations are routinely prohibited, and when they do protest on the street, they are attacked by riot police and Nashi thugs, who are paid from government funds.

Their colleagues are harassed in their homes and on the streets. They are detained on bogus criminal charges, sometimes beaten unconscious and in a few cases thrown into psychiatric wards. Owners of halls and conference centers are afraid of giving them space for meetings and debates, and many advertising agencies refuse to produce their campaign materials. The police break into their headquarters and take away their computers, leaflets and posters, and the Kremlin-friendly courts never rule in their favor.

In short, Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Kasyanov and Bukovsky are becoming more like dissidents in the Soviet sense than a normal opposition force that you would find in Western democracies.

This transformation is bound to have profound implications for Russia and the world. Governments without opposition are doomed to falter. The blunders of a nuclear superpower drunk on oil and gas revenue are bound to be enormous.

Competitors are “partners” in the political process, even when they actively criticize the government. Without an opposition, the center of political gravity is raised all the way to the top, making the vehicle of national politics unstable — one without shock absorbers or brakes. Free of the need to explain themselves, the ruling elite begin to believe in their own infallibility.

We have already seen the first signs of the country’s institutional debility when the government monetized social benefits to pensioners a few years ago. The law, which affected tens of millions of people and cost trillions of rubles, was adopted by the rubber-stamping State Duma after only a few hours of debate. Monetization of benefits is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Without a genuine debate and participation from the opposition, the government is unable to develop solutions to the huge problems in education, healthcare, pensions and corruption.

Moreover, without opposition as a check and balance, the government is given a virtual carte blanche. Take, for example, the borrowing spree of state or state-sponsored companies — in particular, Gazprom and Rosneft, which together owe $85 billion and clearly hope for the state to bail them out. This also applies to Moscow’s huge exports of modern weaponry to China, a serious geopolitical rival that will be armed to the teeth with Russian weapons and know-how, and to Moscow’s support of uranium-enriching Iran. Could these policies have been adopted so easily if the opposition had an opportunity to engage the government in a true debate — in the parliament, on television or in the newspapers — exposing millions of Russians to the perils of these flawed policies?

Of course, the Putin’s crackdown on the opposition is still a far cry from the repression under the Soviet Union. The four members of the opposition who spoke at the AEI on March 10 and thousands of their colleagues are still far better off now than Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Ginzburg or even Bukovsky were in the 1970s. The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko parties, although marginalized, are still legal. Moreover, the Internet is far more efficient than samizdat, although it now essentially plays the same role in the country’s political discourse. And a handful of small-circulation newspapers and magazines that are not afraid to publish articles critical of the Kremlin can still find publishers and distributors. But we don’t know how long this will last.

In the meantime, the West should continue to help sustain Russia’s new dissidents by giving them a platform and an opportunity to engage in a free debate. Far from “undermining” Russia, this solidarity can best ensure that Russia’s democratic evolution will be nonviolent — similar to the period from 1989 to 1991. Let’s hope it is not too late for this.

The Moscow Times also reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has accused the Kremlin of harassing the political opposition, met some leading liberals on Tuesday but did not see the Kremlin’s most strident critics.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met for about an hour at the U.S. ambassador’s Spaso House residence with six public figures: Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky; former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov; Vladimir Milovidov, a former deputy energy minister turned Kremlin critic; Carnegie Moscow Center deputy head Dmitry Trenin; Olga Dergunova, VTB board member and former head of Microsoft Russia; and Newsweek Russia columnist Mikhail Fishman.

Noticeably absent were former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former chess champion Garry Kasparov and Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh.

The breakfast meeting took place before the start of high-level government talks on a proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Central Europe, and U.S. officials apparently did not want to anger the Kremlin.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the Spaso House event was not a meeting with the opposition but rather “civil society leaders.”

At the meeting, Fishman said, people took turns to speak about topics in their areas of expertise. He said he spoke about the media, while Ryzhkov discussed democratic freedoms, Trenin foreign policy issues and Yavlinsky missile defense. “She let everybody speak out while she and Gates listened,” Fishman said.

Yabloko said in a statement that Yavlinsky, who spoke first, urged Washington to switch from the current “half partnership, half confrontation” to a “strategic partnership” with Moscow.

Ryzhkov said he spoke of the “firm link” between the country’s domestic development and its foreign policies.

“I said that the more authoritarian, closed and chauvinistic our state becomes, the more confrontation we will see in foreign policy and the larger the cost the Russian people will bear,” he told Interfax.

Rice has repeatedly said there is too much power concentrated in the Kremlin and that outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s government has rolled back democratic freedoms.

Asked whether she expected the Kremlin to be angered by her meetings with civil society leaders and NGOs, Rice said before Tuesday’s breakfast meeting: “I think it is expected.”

On each visit to Moscow, Rice has made a point of seeing human rights activists. One rights worker who met Rice last year in Moscow said she was disappointed not to be invited this time. “Not only was I not there, but I did not know about it, unfortunately,” said Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “I can’t say why she didn’t meet us this time, but, frankly, it’s very disappointing. It sends a signal to the Russian government.”

Russia’s Neo-Soviet Dissidents

Leon Aron, resident scholar and director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006, writing in the Moscow Times:

Earlier this month, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel discussion with leading members of the opposition in Russia — Boris Nemtsov; Vladimir Ryzhkov; Oleg Buklemishev, the deputy manager of Mikhail Kasyanov’s presidential campaign; and Vladimir Kara-Murza, the manager of Vladimir Bukovsky’s presidential bid.

This event was unusual for the AEI, and we decided to hold it because it is becoming increasingly difficult to hear their voices. They are banished from state-controlled television and have been pushed out of national and local politics. In addition, their rallies and demonstrations are routinely prohibited, and when they do protest on the street, they are attacked by riot police and Nashi thugs, who are paid from government funds.

Their colleagues are harassed in their homes and on the streets. They are detained on bogus criminal charges, sometimes beaten unconscious and in a few cases thrown into psychiatric wards. Owners of halls and conference centers are afraid of giving them space for meetings and debates, and many advertising agencies refuse to produce their campaign materials. The police break into their headquarters and take away their computers, leaflets and posters, and the Kremlin-friendly courts never rule in their favor.

In short, Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Kasyanov and Bukovsky are becoming more like dissidents in the Soviet sense than a normal opposition force that you would find in Western democracies.

This transformation is bound to have profound implications for Russia and the world. Governments without opposition are doomed to falter. The blunders of a nuclear superpower drunk on oil and gas revenue are bound to be enormous.

Competitors are “partners” in the political process, even when they actively criticize the government. Without an opposition, the center of political gravity is raised all the way to the top, making the vehicle of national politics unstable — one without shock absorbers or brakes. Free of the need to explain themselves, the ruling elite begin to believe in their own infallibility.

We have already seen the first signs of the country’s institutional debility when the government monetized social benefits to pensioners a few years ago. The law, which affected tens of millions of people and cost trillions of rubles, was adopted by the rubber-stamping State Duma after only a few hours of debate. Monetization of benefits is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Without a genuine debate and participation from the opposition, the government is unable to develop solutions to the huge problems in education, healthcare, pensions and corruption.

Moreover, without opposition as a check and balance, the government is given a virtual carte blanche. Take, for example, the borrowing spree of state or state-sponsored companies — in particular, Gazprom and Rosneft, which together owe $85 billion and clearly hope for the state to bail them out. This also applies to Moscow’s huge exports of modern weaponry to China, a serious geopolitical rival that will be armed to the teeth with Russian weapons and know-how, and to Moscow’s support of uranium-enriching Iran. Could these policies have been adopted so easily if the opposition had an opportunity to engage the government in a true debate — in the parliament, on television or in the newspapers — exposing millions of Russians to the perils of these flawed policies?

Of course, the Putin’s crackdown on the opposition is still a far cry from the repression under the Soviet Union. The four members of the opposition who spoke at the AEI on March 10 and thousands of their colleagues are still far better off now than Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Ginzburg or even Bukovsky were in the 1970s. The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko parties, although marginalized, are still legal. Moreover, the Internet is far more efficient than samizdat, although it now essentially plays the same role in the country’s political discourse. And a handful of small-circulation newspapers and magazines that are not afraid to publish articles critical of the Kremlin can still find publishers and distributors. But we don’t know how long this will last.

In the meantime, the West should continue to help sustain Russia’s new dissidents by giving them a platform and an opportunity to engage in a free debate. Far from “undermining” Russia, this solidarity can best ensure that Russia’s democratic evolution will be nonviolent — similar to the period from 1989 to 1991. Let’s hope it is not too late for this.

The Moscow Times also reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has accused the Kremlin of harassing the political opposition, met some leading liberals on Tuesday but did not see the Kremlin’s most strident critics.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met for about an hour at the U.S. ambassador’s Spaso House residence with six public figures: Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky; former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov; Vladimir Milovidov, a former deputy energy minister turned Kremlin critic; Carnegie Moscow Center deputy head Dmitry Trenin; Olga Dergunova, VTB board member and former head of Microsoft Russia; and Newsweek Russia columnist Mikhail Fishman.

Noticeably absent were former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former chess champion Garry Kasparov and Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh.

The breakfast meeting took place before the start of high-level government talks on a proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Central Europe, and U.S. officials apparently did not want to anger the Kremlin.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the Spaso House event was not a meeting with the opposition but rather “civil society leaders.”

At the meeting, Fishman said, people took turns to speak about topics in their areas of expertise. He said he spoke about the media, while Ryzhkov discussed democratic freedoms, Trenin foreign policy issues and Yavlinsky missile defense. “She let everybody speak out while she and Gates listened,” Fishman said.

Yabloko said in a statement that Yavlinsky, who spoke first, urged Washington to switch from the current “half partnership, half confrontation” to a “strategic partnership” with Moscow.

Ryzhkov said he spoke of the “firm link” between the country’s domestic development and its foreign policies.

“I said that the more authoritarian, closed and chauvinistic our state becomes, the more confrontation we will see in foreign policy and the larger the cost the Russian people will bear,” he told Interfax.

Rice has repeatedly said there is too much power concentrated in the Kremlin and that outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s government has rolled back democratic freedoms.

Asked whether she expected the Kremlin to be angered by her meetings with civil society leaders and NGOs, Rice said before Tuesday’s breakfast meeting: “I think it is expected.”

On each visit to Moscow, Rice has made a point of seeing human rights activists. One rights worker who met Rice last year in Moscow said she was disappointed not to be invited this time. “Not only was I not there, but I did not know about it, unfortunately,” said Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “I can’t say why she didn’t meet us this time, but, frankly, it’s very disappointing. It sends a signal to the Russian government.”

Latynina on Chechnya

The Associated Press reports:

Officials in the violence-wracked Russian region of Chechnya say nine people have been killed in an hour-long clash between police and unidentified gunmen. Major fighting in Chechnya, which has had two separatist wars in the past 13 years, ended years ago, but the region is still plagued by violence, including militant hit-and-run raids on federal forces and local authorities. The clash near the village of Alkazurovo was one of the bloodiest in recent years. The regional Interior Ministry says those killed in Wednesday’s clash are four police officers, a serviceman, a civilian and three of the gunmen.

So much for Vladimir Putin’s claims to have solved the Chechnya problem. Yulia Latynina, Echo of Moscow radio host, writing in the Moscow Times:

Here is the latest scandal to hit Chechnya: A Komsomolskaya Pravda journalist, while on a visit to Grozny for a football game, took a drive down the street that was renamed just last month for the 84th Paratroopers Squadron. He discovered that a memorial plaque was missing from one of the buildings on the street. The local authorities removed the plaque — ostensibly for repairs. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov had even promised to deploy a security detail armed with machine guns next to the plaque.

According to Moscow’s version of events, the commandos of the 84th Paratroopers engaged “in a battle with terrorists in the Argun Gorge from Feb. 29 to March 3, 2000. They cut off all escape routes and killed at least 700 of them.” I am quoting an Interfax report about President Vladimir Putin awarding 21 paratroopers the Hero of Russia award, while another 63 received the Order of Courage.

When I was in Grozny last week, I visited this street. I even bet my Chechen companions that we would not find any street signs bearing the name of the 84th Paratroopers. I lost that bet because the street signs were still in place, but the memorial plaque was gone, of course. We found only a blank spot with nail holes in the place where the plaque should have been mounted. I knew that a scandal would erupt over this, but I chose not to draw attention to the missing plaque.

It was sordid to force on Chechnya and on Kadyrov the idea of placing a plaque to honor the 84th Paratroopers Squadron. Rather than strengthening the bonds between Chechnya and Russia, it placed the Chechen authorities in a trap. If Kadyrov allowed the plaque to be installed, it would have been tantamount to letting Russia spit in his face without being able to wipe the saliva off. But if Kadyrov took the plaque down, people would say, “Aha! You are on the side of the insurgents!”

What is most important is that the 84th Paratroopers’ supposedly heroic feat of defeating 2,000 insurgents under the command of Khattab, the infamous Chechen rebel leader who was killed in 2002, never took place.

We first heard about this legend on March 4 from a Pskov newspaper. The correspondent who wrote the story apparently did not know that Chechen insurgents do not roam the countryside in groups of 2,000. In guerrilla warfare, groups of insurgents rarely exceed 100 people; otherwise they would draw too much attention to themselves. Even groups of as few as 10 to 15 are common — that is enough to stage a sudden ambush and then withdraw in a flash.

The problem is that, once the myth of a 2,000-member band of insurgents disappears, the other fables vanish as well, including the one that the commandos wiped out 700 insurgents. In reality, quite the opposite happened. Khattab and a small group of insurgents snuck up on an unprotected company and killed all of the soldiers.

Instead of awarding the Russian officers in charge with new honors, they should have been tried for criminal negligence.

The plaque honoring the 84th Squadron had been mounted on the side of an extremely plain-looking one-story building, which is now home to a little store. In 1996, interestingly enough, this building served as a concentration camp of sorts to detain and “filter out” terrorists.

I don’t know how necessary it is for Chechnya to be a part of Russia, and I don’t know if it ultimately will remain so. But if it does, it will be due to a lot of money being spent in the region and an intelligent political strategy from Moscow.

It will definitely not be accomplished by strong-arming the Chechens into mounting a plaque to honor a nonexistent military feat in a city where federal troops once indiscriminately gunned down Chechens.

The Russian Army is the Biggest Killer of Russian Soliders

The Russian Army has a suicide rate of 20.4 per 100,000 soldiers. By contrast, in the U.S. the rate is 11.1 — in other words, nearly twice as many Russian soldiers kill themselves compared to Americans based on the Kremlin’s own data, which is undoubtedly a gross understatement of the Russian total. The Herald Sun reports:

The Russian army loses more soldiers to suicide than any other major armed force in the world, a leaked government document shows. Four hundred and forty two soldiers died in non-combat situations in 2007, the Gazeta newspaper reported today, citing an internal defence ministry document. Two hundred and twenty four of the non-combat deaths were suicides among draftees. By comparison, 155 committed suicide in the US army in 2006, the paper reported. The Russian army has around 1.1 million soldiers compared to 1.4 million in the US army. The Russian army has a reputation for hazing. One human rights group estimated that half of the suicides in the army were due to brutal bullying by older soldiers. In one violent incident, Andrei Sychyov, 19, had to have his legs and genitals amputated after being beaten in 2005 by other soldiers in his barracks in the Ural mountains. Injuries are also common, the paper reported. In January alone, 1500 soldiers were seriously wounded in non-combat accidents. Twenty four thousand soldiers suffered serious wounds in 2007, the paper reported. Accidents listed in the document include road accidents, mishandling of firearms and arguments between soldiers.

Kasparov Calls for Shadow Parliament

The Moscow Times reports:

Opposition coalition The Other Russia on Wednesday proposed creating an alternative parliament that would unite opposition groups across the political spectrum.

The alternative parliament, tentatively titled the National Assembly, would consist of 500 to 600 members, including activists from liberal opposition parties and groups, such as Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces and Mikhail Kasyanov’s Russian People’s Democratic Union, opposition leader Garry Kasparov told a news conference.

“In a situation where acting political institutions in the country have been practically eliminated, a platform is needed where our country’s agenda can be discussed,” Kasparov said.

The group’s inaugural session could be held before the summer and would focus on finding solutions to pressing national problems, including corruption, social inequality and the results of privatizations in the 1990s, Kasparov said.

Opposition groups will hold a conference April 5 to 6 in St. Petersburg to hammer out the details on the composition of the assembly and its activities, Kasparov said.

Union of Right Forces head Nikita Belykh said his involvement in the alternative parliament would depend on the results of the St. Petersburg conference, in which he will participate.

Spokespeople for Kasyanov and Yabloko head Grigory Yavlinsky could not confirm whether the two would participate in the St. Petersburg conference or the alternative parliament. Sergei Udaltsov, head of the leftist opposition group Red Youth Vanguard, said his supporters would participate in the National Assembly if they could agree with other opposition groups on how the assembly’s members will be elected.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov curtly declined to comment on the creation of an alternative parliament.

The Other Russia plans to hold Dissenters’ Marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg in early May to protest the inauguration of President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, Kasparov said Wednesday.