Daily Archives: March 26, 2008

March 26, 2008 — Contents


(1) Oleg Kozlovsky: Under Siege

(2) Chelysheva: Our Worst Fears are Coming True

(3) Russia: A Culture of Mendacity

(4) Annals of Russian “Healthcare”

(5) The Kremlin Betrays Russian National Security

(6) Annals of Russian Incompetence and Illiteracy

(7) Annals of Shamapova

NOTE: Oleg Kozlovsky is working on a new English-language blog hosted at the moment by WordPress. It now contains a translation of his recent interview on Echo of Moscow radio, just before the Kremlin raided his headquarters, as we report below. Any suggestions as to format or content would be most appreciated.

Kozlovsky Under Siege

Grigory Pasko, reporting on Robert Amsterdam about the latest persecution of Oleg Kozlovsky (he’s working on a new English-language blog, as noted above, for reasons that will become obvious upon reading of the most recent barbaric horror visited upon him by the Kremlin; the blog contains a translation of his interview with Echo of Moscow radio just before the raid described below).

We have recently reported here on the blog about the search conducted by the local police of a human rights center in Chita. In that same article, we reported on the police threats to evict coordinator of the youth movement «Oborona» Oleg Kozlovsky from an apartment.

Just a few days later, this threat was realized by the Moscow police. On Saturday, 22 March, Oleg Kozlovsky and several of his close associates were detained by employees of the Moscow police and sent off to the Division of Internal Affairs (OVD). Eyewitnesses reported that the activists of the movement «Oborona» were treated very roughly; they were pulled and dragged along the ground and the asphalt, and then seated in a police car.

I telephoned Oleg and heard from him about what had happened. (Oleg had by this time already been released from the OVD, and he was found in that very apartment from which they had been attempting to evict him). In the words of Kozlovsky, this was a police operation with the involvement of the forces of the OMON, the MChS [Ministry of Emergency Situations], and employees of the department for the struggle with extremism of the city of Moscow. All in all – somewhere around twenty people. As a result of this operation, they attempted to forcibly evict Oleg Kozlovsky from the apartment on Komsomolsky prospect, and when he and his comrades refused to vacate the premises, he and also members of the organization «Oborona» were driven off to the Khamovniki OVD. A search was conducted in the apartment; books, papers, leaflets, posters, and a computer were confiscated.

Earlier, Oleg in a conversation with clarified that he had clarified that to evict him from the occupied premises is possible only in the event that he grossly violates the conditions of the lease agreement for the apartment and if the owner of the apartment advances such claims against him. It became clear that the police had “done work” with the owner of the apartment, and that she had advanced a demand to rescind the contract with Kozlovsky. It should be noted that the demands of both the police and the owners of the apartment grossly contradict the Civil Code of the RF, the Law «On the Militia», and the rules of the lease agreement, in which it is said that eviction of residents upon the early cancellation of the agreement is possible only upon the decision of a court in accordance with Article 688 of the Civil Code.

According to the agreement on the lease of the apartment, to tear it up in unilateral procedure it is necessary to inform the renter of the apartment of this in writing 30 days in advance. In the given situation, however, the request to vacate the apartment was lodged by telephone a mere three days ago, on Thursday. Oleg Kozlovsky meticulously complied with all the terms of the lease, always carried out payments on time. The actions of the police in the given situation likewise turned out to be illegal, because in accordance with item 18 of Article 11 of the Law «On the Militia», the siloviki have the right to enter living quarters only upon the commission there of a criminal offense or during the time of natural disasters.

Commenting on what had taken place, Oleg Kozlovsky declared that he and his colleagues in the movement intend to continue to stand up for their right of assembly together – this is guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the RF. “If it turns out that in Moscow we will officially not be able to lease space,” said Kozlovsky, “the movement will still not collapse from this. We will find an opportunity to gather in the apartments of our activists, in cafés, in parks, wherever. Every time we will meet in a new place”.


The procuracy of Central Rayon of St. Petersburg intends to investigate the regional branch of the Union of Right Forces (SPS) party on the subject of extremist activity. The party members received the corresponding notification from the procuracy of the city on Friday, 21 March. Before this, procuratorial workers had demanded from the SPS charter documents, the party’s programme, as well as documents for the lease of the premises occupied by the regional branch on Razyezshaya street.

Leader of the SPS Nikita Belykh declared that the power is not trying to grapple with the extremist organizations that actually do exist in Russia, because for his are needed civic courage and a more sophisticated mind. Instead of this, organizations that aren’t hiding anything and with which everything is transparent and comprehensible are being investigated.

It is noteworthy that such procuratorial investigations took place recently in the St. Petersburg branches of the parties «Yabloko» and the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation]. Then, the investigators also were interested in what organizations are headquartered in the space occupied by them, took away copies of charters, lease agreements for the premises.

As they clarified in the procuracy of the Central Rayon of St. Petersburg, such investigations bear a planned character [are “routine”—Trans.], and all political parties whose offices are situated in this Rayon are going to be investigated.

And another fresh news item, just in. During the course of an investigation of the activities of the coalition «The Other Russia», the Oblast Investigative Committee of Nizhny Novgorod conducted a two-hour search in the office of the human rights activist and journalist Stanislav Dmitrievsky. It is known that Dmitrievsky had spoken out on numerous occasions with a critique of Russia’s policy in Chechnya. In the year 2006, he had been given a two-year suspended sentence for the publication of appeals by leaders of the Chechen Republic Maskhadov and Zakayev with a call for a peaceful resolution of the Chechen conflict. In an interview with the Russian service of «Voice of America», Dmitrievsly said that as a result of the search, they had taken away a mobile telephone from him, while the search itself was conducted within the framework of a criminal case with respect to the seizure of extremist literature from Dmitry Isusov, National-Bolshevik, activist of «The Other Russia», residing in Arzamas.

Operation «Coronation of the successor»

It is not difficult to assume that such actions will soon take place all over Russia, wherever there are opposition forces acting in an even remotely noticeable way.

The fact that documents are being withdrawn and computers with hard disks are being confiscated bears witness to the intentions of the siloviki structures in the event of the need, or of a command from “upstairs”, to initiate criminal cases against the activists under the article «extremist activity». (Indeed, as I understand it, it is precisely for these aims that this law was adopted by the Putinite State Duma in the first place).

The fact that Oleg Kozlovsky managed to come out whole and unharmed from the embrace of the armed forces, into which he had been forcibly conscripted in December of last year, is no guarantee that a criminal case may not be initiated in relation to him for his supposedly extremist activity.

In the opinion of Kozlovsky, all these actions are a targeted campaign of “mopping up” the entire Russian space with the aim of removing all opposition forces from the political field before the inauguration of Dmitry Medvedev, recently elected president. Further, Oleg presumed that after the inauguration, Medvedev may make a good-will gesture and demand that the criminal prosecution of some one of the opposition activists be terminated. (I don’t agree with him on this: Medvedev is not independent in anything, including in such actions. And the actions are being carried out now not in order to forgive someone later on, but in order to completely annihilate the opposition in Russia).

Once, when I was having a conversation with Ludmilla Alexeyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, we got to talking about some opposition leader who was complaining that in one of the offices of his organization they had seized a computer. This was just a year ago. Then these facts were a rarity. The leader complained that communications with companions-in-arms need to be maintained only by telephone. Ludmilla Alexeyeva noted in this regard: in the years of the dissident movement they didn’t even have telephones. She recalled how they used to gather at someone’s apartment, how they secretly retyped articles on an «Erika» typewriter, how they walked on foot to one another in order to report the latest news… This was at the end of the 50s – the beginning of the 60s of the previous century.

Today, thanks to Putin and his «team», Russia has once again found itself in the same place – in the middle of the previous century. And not only in the scales of the persecutions of the opposition. And this is not going to end: I think that this is just the beginning of wide-scale repressions in relation to those who think differently and disagree with the regime of Putin and his successor, whom someone has labeled the “False Dmitry”.

In such conditions, the opposition is going to have to learn how to live and fight in the conditions of the underground.

Chelysheva: Our Worst Fears are Coming True

Oksana Chelysheva (pictured), writing on FinRosForum:

On 20 March 2008, the authorities in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod and Arzamas launched a new wave of raids on the offices of the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Promote Tolerance and the homes of several opposition activists.

The Foundation to Promote Tolerance is a Russian-registered NGO, which was established to continue the work of the banned Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. The latter has since been officially registered in Finland.

The police confiscated all computers at the offices of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance. The office was then sealed. They also confiscated the mobile phone of Stanislav Dmitrievsky, advisor to the Foundation and Chairman of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society.

In addition, the police conducted searches in the private flats of several people associated with the opposition Other Russia coalition: Ilya Shamazov, Yuri Staroverov, Yevgeni Lygin, Yelena Yevdokimova, Yekaterina Bunicheva, and Igor Voronin in Nizhny Novgorod, as well as Dmitry Isusov and Maxim Baganov in Arzamas.

Ilya Shamazov, Yelena Yevdokimova, and Yury Staroverov are all staff members of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance.

After the search in Baganov’s flat was over, authorities opened a criminal case under article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (”Extremism”) against him. Baganov was summoned to an interrogation at 3:30 pm today. The police confiscated his passport.

Dmitrievsky turned to the Investigations Committee to find out what was the reason for the mass raids. When I reached him, Dmitrievsky had just returned from the regional prosecutor’s office to the premises of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee against Torture.

In Dmitrievsky’s words, the order to search the offices of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance was signed by Vladimir Kozitsyn, chief investigator at the regional prosecutor’s office. A special unit has been formed at the regional prosecutor’s office to investigate the case. Staff members of other district prosecutor’s offices were assigned to the case as well.

Dmitrievsky feels that the prosecutor’s office is aware of the likely international outcry that will ensue from the actions of the authorities, which have totally paralysed the work of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance.

The Foundation was busy developing a project initiated by the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society on the application of international law to the assessment of the armed conflict in Chechnya.

Earlier, a number of people associated with the Other Russia coalition in Nizhny Novgorod, mostly members of the banned National Bolshevik Party, and former staff members of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance were interrogated as witnesses to another criminal case initiated against the Foundation in October 2007. The case related to the alleged use of pirated software.

During questioning, the investigators posed similar questions to each: Who did you see in the offices of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance? What sort of access to the internet does the office have? What material have Oksana Chelysheva and Stanislav Dmitrievsky written for other media outlets and whether they were paid?

All of us remain under constant surveillance. Ilya Shamazov and I had to lodge an official complaint to the prosecutor’s office because we had been followed everywhere by up to six plain-clothed policemen for some three days. They were visibly interested in our visits to banks where we withdrew cash. All our phones are being tapped.

Last Saturday, the National Bolsheviks in Nizhny Novgorod held a meeting in one of the city parks. They had set the time of the meeting by phone, and at the given time, the park and the area around it was quickly manned by officials from the criminal police.

Ilya Shamazov believes that the authorities are about to fabricate charges under Article 282 (”Extremism”) of the Criminal Code against several people. Charges may be presented within one month. Given that the authorities lack any evidence of criminal activity, we fear that they will fake “extremist” fliers in our name or make up some unexpected “victim”. Some sort of provocation is highly probable.

We fear that the authorities are preparing to hold a mass show trial in Nizhny Novgorod.

The authorities are fully aware that the research we have conducted on the application of international criminal law to the armed conflict in Chechnya is a detonator which might undermine them. Given that they have now gained access to the material we have developed, they have full knowledge of the project. We fear that they might try to obstruct our work.

In addition, the authorities are aware of my role in contacting the West and disseminating information on the situation in Nizhny Novgorod and the region. They clearly feel that we pose a threat to them, given that we enjoy the trust of Chechen refugees abroad, leftist groups in Russia, politicians, and public figures.

Moreover, there are members of the banned National Bolshevik Party on our staff. We are very different from many other human rights organisations in that we have managed to cooperate despite our differences. Both the National Bolsheviks and we are deemed “extremists” by the authorities, following court rulings. Both of us have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

We fear that the authorities may target both Stanislav Dmitrievsky and me, accusing us of “extremist” statements in some of my articles. Dmitry Isusov, member of the National Bolsheviks in Arzamas, was told that “experts” had found signs of “extremism” in the interview of Kirill Klyonov, an imprisoned member of the National Bolshevik Party, which I did for Kasparov.ru.

All this is taking place against the background of the continuing consolidation of law enforcement agencies in Russia. Next autumn, Russia will establish its own FBI, which will be called the Federal Service of Investigation. The new agency will be above all other law enforcement agencies. Its establishment has already been approved already in the Kremlin. Both candidates to head the new agency, Alexander Bastrykin and Alexey Anichkin, were President Vladimir Putin’s classmates at the St Petersburg State University.

In addition, a special group is being established at Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office to assess various publications on “signs of extremism”. The purpose is to make the work of prosecutors easier. Deputy Prosecutor Yevgeny Zabarchuk stated that “the group will be made up of human rights defenders, linguists, psychologists, and lawyers”. The group will be headed by the Chief of the Department on Combating Extremism and Implementing State Security Laws, Vyacheslav Sizov. The unit will have 22 scientists, human rights defenders, and members of the Public Chamber. The group will hold its first session today.

Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, and one of those who initiated the establishmenr of this group, stated that prosecutors are having great difficulty in establishing cases of extremism, and the group will help prosecutors to conduct expertise into publications and statements of politicians that seem radical.

Russia: A Culture of Mendacity

The brilliant Robert Coalson, writing for Radio Free Europe:

Although there has been considerable talk in recent months about possible political, constitutional, or economic crises in Russia, only distinguished human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov has drawn attention to a crisis that is already under way: Russia’s “shameful moral crisis.”

In a largely ignored open letter to President Vladimir Putin published shortly before the March 2 presidential election, the former Soviet-era political prisoner and heir to Andrei Sakharov condemned the culture of lies that the government has fostered in its bid to “manage” Russian democracy. [LR: We, of course, didn’t ignore it, we published it a few days after it was released.]

Kovalyov particularly had in view official statements and court rulings that the December 2007 Duma elections and the presidential campaign were open, fair, and democratic. But he also referred to the wider culture that has blossomed under Putin — the creation of managed political parties that pretend to be an opposition, the fostering of Kremlin-sponsored nongovernmental organizations that take funding and attention from their problematic counterparts, the “spontaneous” appearance of grassroots movements such as For Putin! that purport to be groundswells, and so on and so on.

Kovalyov emphasized the “corrupting force” of the lies that Russia’s leaders “are incapable of rejecting.” He notes that no “remotely literate citizen” believes these lies, including even the staunchest supporters of Putin and the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party.

Open Deception

Kovalyov, addressing the leadership, speaks of a “paradoxical change” in the relationship between the public and the ruling elite. “You lie, your listeners know this and you know that they don’t believe you…and they also know that you know they don’t believe you. Everybody knows everything. The very lie no longer aspires to deceive anyone. From being a means of fooling people it has for some reason turned into an everyday way of life, a customary and obligatory rule for living.”

“The customary lies of leaders always generate and cultivate cynicism in society and cannot achieve anything else,” Kovalyov declared. “And gradually going back by the same path we came on is almost impossible, since you are doomed to lie.” He said that, in such a culture, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev’s statements about “freedom being better than non-freedom” and the need for independent media can only be taken as “a continuation of your untruth,” rebounding against the hard wall of the public’s cynicism.

Russia, of course, has had unaccountable government for more than 1,000 years and the Soviet era accustomed the public to incredulity. Although Putin’s Russia is not a reincarnation of the Soviet Union, it has succeeded in reestablishing this pernicious aspect of its political culture, making it arguably worse by stripping it of an ideological framework that at least offered some clues for interpretation.

Now, when Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov calls Russia’s electoral system the most open and transparent system in the world, it cannot be understood in any other way than as Kovalyov said — “the very lie that no longer aspires to deceive anyone.”

For anyone inside such a culture, therefore, any statement becomes the subject of analysis rather than a furtherance of discord. Why is he saying this, the listener asks. And why now? And for whom? This is not a new development of the Putin era, but Putin has certainly done nothing to roll this culture back. Instead, he has manipulated it, benefited from it, fostered it, and — in Kovalyov’s opinion — all but ensured that there is no road back for Russia.

The Yabloko Case

On March 10, Putin held a rare, closed-door meeting with Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky. Very little has been said about the content of those discussions, with even the usually open and accessible Yavlinsky keeping mum. Yavlinsky did say, however, that he briefed Putin on the case of Yabloko official Maksim Reznik, who was arrested on March 3 on charges — assaulting a police officer — that he claims are politically motivated.

Reznik has exposed falsification of the presidential election results, organized opposition March of Dissent rallies, and is a leading organizer of a conference later this month at which the country’s liberals plan to discuss the formation of a genuine, liberal opposition front. Yavlinsky said Putin promised “to look into the case,” implying strongly that Putin gave him the impression that he had not heard of the matter before.

But in Russia’s current culture, how are we to understand Putin’s promise? The skeptical observer could be excused for speculating that Reznik was essentially being held as a hostage in some political game, perhaps one aimed at disrupting or discrediting the upcoming liberal conference. (One might logically assume that Yavlinsky’s silence about the meeting is connected to his desire to secure Reznik’s release.)

Russia’s political culture is rife with similar examples: Early in Putin’s tenure, when oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky refused to sign over his media properties to the state, he was thrown in prison until he complied. More recently, former Yukos Vice President Vasily Aleksanyan, who has spent some two years in pretrial detention under abominable conditions, was denied medical treatment for AIDS and serious related complications. (After massive domestic and international outcry, he was eventually moved to a medical clinic for treatment, but remains in custody.) Lawyers involved in the Yukos cases have said they believe Aleksanyan’s treatment was an attempt to pressure the defense in other cases, including new charges pending against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his former partner, Platon Lebedev.

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak was arrested on vague corruption charges in November, and many analysts have concluded the case is a bid by siloviki in the administration to put pressure on Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin. All of these cases are landmarks — and not the only ones — in what Medvedev himself has decried (whether earnestly or rhetorically) as Russia’s appalling culture of “legal nihilism.”

Politics Of Intrigue

And that is not the end of the possible speculation around Yavlinsky’s meeting with Putin and the Reznik case. Political analyst Valery Ostrovsky told “Nezavisimaya gazeta” that it doesn’t make sense for the Kremlin to try to disrupt the liberal conference. “It could lead to a unification of the democrats that would then be convenient for the Kremlin to control,” he said. “But Grigory Yavlinsky, on the other hand, doesn’t need such a unification. And removing Reznik, the conference organizer, from the political arena might even be convenient for [Yavlinsky]. It can’t be excluded that [Reznik] was set up by his own people, who arranged a provocation with the police.”

This is the sort of character assassination and innuendo that is the direct result of the country’s cynical culture of political lies. As Kovalyov wrote: “Cynicism is cowardice, the flight from burning problems and hard-hitting discussion. It is the lowest pragmatism, petty time-serving teetering on the verge of baseness, or already toppled over the edge. It is intrigue trumping competition, and a rejection of moral taboos.” And as he concluded, it is hard to see a road out of such a situation.

Annals of Russian "Healthcare"

The Washington Post reports:

When a new cardiac unit opened at the municipal hospital here last month, Russian Health Minister Tatyana Golikova sent a letter of congratulations, calling the new facility a “vivid example” of the medical community and private donors working together to improve the lives of ordinary Russians.

The good feeling didn’t last long.

Three days after the unit’s opening, Tarusa’s mayor fired the hospital’s head doctor and sent in the police to check for possible fraud in the refurbishing of the hospital, all of which had been financed privately.

Doctors at the hospital said the crackdown was the culmination of a two-year campaign by local officials to wrest control of tens of thousands of dollars that were to transform the once-crumbling hospital into a model of preventive medicine in a rural community.

The hospital funding was a bright example of the growing philanthropy of Russia’s wealthy. But it was also a window into the stifling role Russia’s bureaucracy can play, even in a sector deemed a national priority by President-elect Dmitry Medvedev.

“Every improvement caused difficulties,” said Maxim Ossipov, a Moscow cardiologist who works three days a week at the Tarusa hospital. “Bureaucrats have to fight for their existence, and if they don’t control something, then they are no longer bureaucrats. They are a real disaster for today’s Russia.”

Tarusa is a river town of 9,000 people about 85 miles south of Moscow. Popular with Muscovites, such as Ossipov, who maintain second homes in the region, the town’s summer population swells to 80,000.

In an interview, Ossipov said he started volunteering at the 135-bed hospital in 2005 as a route back into regular practice, which he had abandoned in the 1990s to open a medical publishing company in Moscow. He had old ties to the town — his grandfather, also a doctor, was exiled there after a prison camp term during the repressive rule of Joseph Stalin.

“By Western standards, it was not a hospital at all,” said Ossipov, who was a research fellow at the University of California at San Francisco in 1991 and 1992.

Ossipov said he began turning to friends and colleagues for equipment, such as defibrillators, and even basic drugs to improve the quality of care. At the same time, the Russian government’s $6.5 billion spending plan to improve health care brought a much-needed ambulance and pay increases for the hospital’s medical staff.

The effects were quickly apparent, doctors at the hospital said. Its mortality rate was halved, and the death rate in Tarusa from heart attacks, a major killer in Russia, was cut by five-sixths, according to regional government figures.

“I have problems with my heart and I remember when they couldn’t help me here and they would immediately sent me to Kaluga,” the provincial capital, said Pyotr Dovbnyak, a 65-year-old pensioner. “Now they call me on the phone and invite me in for examinations.”

In 2006, the hospital was offered a new X-ray machine through the “national projects” led by Medvedev. But the hospital’s electric wiring was unable to support the new equipment. Mayor Yury Nakhrov refused to upgrade the hospital’s power supply, the doctors said. Irina Oleinikova, the head doctor, reluctantly turned down the X-ray machine.

Nakhrov was reprimanded by the regional administration for “frustrating” the national projects, and he, in turn, reprimanded Oleinikova for “safety violations” and for failing to properly treat a patient. Oleinikova appealed to the courts and the reprimands were overturned, which she said infuriated the local administration.

Nakhrov was not available to answer a reporter’s questions; officials in his office said no one else could comment.

In the meantime, Valery Balikoyev, a Moscow businessman, committed approximately $130,000 to renovate one of the hospital’s wings for the new cardio-therapy unit. According to the doctors, Nakhrov told Oleinikova her “sponsor” should visit him to introduce himself. She declined to make the introduction. Nakhrov also told her she should move the town’s pharmacy — which was located on a prime piece of real estate — into the hospital. She again refused.

In another example of bureaucratic pressure, Ossipov said that an official, whom he wouldn’t name, suggested overbilling — doubling the amount on an invoice for some new equipment that another wealthy sponsor was willing to buy, so that the balance could be used for other purposes. Ossipov declined.

Researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences have estimated that corruption absorbs about 35 percent of all health-care spending in Russia. Ossipov said the hospital deliberately never accepted cash donations, only equipment or physical improvements, to avoid any suggestion that its personnel could benefit financially.

“My language is as impossible for them to understand as theirs is for me,” Ossipov said of the local officials who, by his account, found it hard to believe that the doctors had no personal stake in the improvements.

Local officials eventually tried to close the hospital on grounds of fire safety violations, according to Oleinikova, but a higher court blocked the effort.

On March 3, Mayor Nakhrov fired Oleinikova and ordered a criminal probe into the construction of the cardiac unit. Ossipov, Balikoyev and others appealed to the regional governor, who ordered a separate investigation. He also recommended that that the local council fire Nakhrov, but it refused.

The mayor later checked into a Moscow hospital where he could not be reached by either investigators or the news media; Oleinikova was reported Thursday to be headed back to her job after the investigation by the regional government.

“We are taking the whole thing as a slap in the face,” Ossipov said. “Small bureaucrats don’t believe in philanthropy and they can’t stand any independence on their own territory.”

Kremlin Betrays Russian National Security

According to Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times, the Kremlin is betraying Russian national security and lying to the Russian people no matter how you look at it. Either they are lying about threats, or failing to prepare to meet them.

As Moscow’s political analysts turn into charlatans who do nothing but guess how the new power vertical will function with two chiefs, we occasionally hear a couple of questions reminiscent of the “cursed 1990s.” For example, how will the military establishment conduct itself in a crisis? Or can the military play an independent role in modern Russia?

The Russian media recently announced that General Yury Baluyevsky, head of the General Staff, might resign over an apparent disagreement with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. Baluyevsky allowed himself to disagree publicly with the Serdyukov over his plan to move the Navy headquarters to St. Petersburg. According to news leaks, at the heart of this conflict is Baluyevsky’s firm belief that the military brass should make the most important defense-related decisions and not a civilian minister who surrounds himself with civilian advisers and managers with business backgrounds.

The General Staff has always insisted that military problems are best solved by military personnel. If this is the case, why would the military’s top brass agree so easily to Serdyukov’s initiative to sell off assets, when it should be developing a mass-mobilization plan during this period of “heightened threat” to the country? After all, the minute war breaks out, all of those things could become necessary again. And why would the General Staff give in to Serdyukov’s plan to turn various factories owned by the Defense Ministry into more transparent joint-stock companies — particularly when this would make it somewhat more difficult for military personnel to filch from these enterprises? It is not part of the generals’ job description to worry about cutting military waste when they are responsible for the country’s national security. What is most surprising is that the General Staff is on the losing end of this battle with Serdyukov.

In recent days, the General Staff has suffered still another serious defeat. Two years ago, when the Defense Ministry realized that it had an urgent need for recruits, it proposed radical reforms to the system of higher military education. It was suggested that all universities with reserve-officer training departments, which provide male graduates with exemptions from the military draft during peacetime, be divided into three categories. The first category would consist of 35 “elite” educational institutions that would retain their officer-training departments. The second category mandates the creation of educational military centers in 33 universities and institutes. Upon matriculating, male students would have to sign a contract that gives them approximately the same rights and obligations as a military academy cadet; they must serve as a lieutenant in the military for not fewer than three years after graduation. The third category is the largest, as it calls for liquidating existing officer-training departments in 180 institutions, which means that the male students of these colleges will now have to be drafted into the army as privates once they graduate.

It was obvious from the start that the 35 so-called elite colleges that still have officer-training programs would soon be filled with the brilliant sons of top bureaucrats. (Their sons are brilliant much in the same way that their wives all seem to be amazingly successful and wealthy.) In reality, however, the number of these gifted sons of bureaucrats turned out to be far greater than the limited number institutions that still offer exemptions from the military draft. Not surprising, two years of cutthroat, backroom fighting ensued for the limited seats in these elite colleges. As a result, the government on March 6 inconspicuously issued a new decree, which expanded the number of elite schools to 67. Now, such prestigious institutions as the Ivanov State Power University, the Kuban State Agricultural University, the Rostov State Construction University, the Automobile and Road Academy of Siberia have become members of the superelite group of colleges that provides graduates with lifetime military draft exemptions during peacetime.

In the end, the military establishment lost out to the bureaucrats, who prefer that their children experience the country’s venerable military institution in absentia.

If the Kremlin truly believed that there were military threats to the country’s security, they would undoubtedly have taken the opinion of the General Staff more seriously than the opinion of the top government officials from Ivanov or Krasnodar. But it turns out that the loyalty of those bureaucrats is more important to Putin than the military’s ability to ward off a fabricated threat.

Annals of Russian Incompetence and Illiteracy

The New York Times Lede blog reports:

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, people would often make pilgrimages to Ulyanovsk, the city about 600 miles east of Moscow that birthed Lenin. These days, the Lenin museum struggles while the city tries to lure foreign investment with an unusual plan.

The Moscow Times reported that the regional governor, Sergey Morozov, has ordered all high level government officials to learn English so they can do a better job of selling the region to foreign companies. The officials will have to take an exam to show their proficiency. And keep taking it, until they pass.

According to ULpressa.ru, the governor’s drive for better English was prompted by his dismay at the results of a visit by an Ulyanovsk delegation to a real estate conference in Cannes, France. Members of the delegation had difficulty interacting with others at the conference because of their poor or nonexistent English.

The governor described the situation with an old Russian saying, “We are like dogs, we understand everything, but we can’t say anything.” According to an aide, the governor will share his subordinates’ pain and take lessons, because his English “is not so good.”

The city of 600,000 people was once called Simbirsk, but was renamed Ulyanovsk during Communism in honor of Lenin, whose given last name was Ulyanov. Unlike other cities — such as St. Petersburg, the former Leningrad — it has not reverted to its czarist name.

The governor’s initiative has not been well received among some officials, one of whom said, “Nothing sensible will result from this idea … We already work till nightfall, now it seems we’ll be here till morning.” A member of the local legislature, Professor Isaac Greenberg, said that “if the governor thinks a bureaucrat needs more education, then why hire someone who is unqualified?”

Locals, in fact, have gotten used to the governor’s innovative ideas. He has already tested officials on their knowledge of local history and Russian language and threatened to test them on their computer skills. “What’s next?,” one newspaper mused, “are they going to make them retake advanced math or even worse, biology?”

Unlike on the regional level, many Kremlin officials speak decent English, including the president-elect, Dmitri A. Medvedev. President Vladimir V. Putin, who served as a K.G.B. officer in East Germany in the 1980’s, speaks excellent German, though his English is not considered to be strong. Mr. Putin did win praise for giving a speech in English to Olympic officials in 2007, a tactic that was believed to have helped Russia win the right to host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.

However, according to the 2002 census, Russia’s leaders are in the minority. Only 6 percent of Russians speak English, compared to 38 percent in the European Union, 39 percent in neighboring Latvia and 29 percent in Poland.

The level of English proficiency will likely increase as Russians continue to embrace the language of capitalism, hoping that it will help their careers. Many Russians have also come into regular contact with English through the Internet. (Russians have to use Latin letters for their email addresses and web site names because the Internet domain system does not yet recognize Cyrillic.)

Teaching English in Russia is a booming business and often the only requirement for getting such a job is not a college degree or a teaching certificate, but simply being a native English speaker.

While it is doubtful that Lenin would approve of the proliferation of capitalism in his home town, he might not have been against the English lessons. Lenin spoke English and visited London six times between 1902 and 1911, even finding time to admire the British Library.

Annals of Shamapova

You could set your watch by Maria Sharapova, her ludicrous hype, her even more ridiculous dumb luck and her humiliating subsequent implosions. You really could.

There the world was, breathlessly babbling about her “perfect season” and her “dominating wins,” ignoring the fact that she hadn’t played a single match this year against a high-quality opponent who was playing on form, and that most of her matches were played against second-rate saps who played badly. Any excuse to slap Sharapova’s cute little ass up on the screen to sell a little newsprint, and the facts be damned.

In the semi-finals at the Tier I event in Indian Wells, California last week, Sharapova finally got such a match from “countrywoman” Svetlana Kuznetsova, and meekly surrendered the third set (winning only two games) after being crushed in the first and struggling to take the second.

No sooner had she lost than, in classic Shamapova fashion, the lame excuses started flying. “I’m playing a lot of tennis, been flying a lot,” she whined. “It’s pretty much been non-stop with all the tournaments I’ve been playing, and Fed Cup as well,” she whimpered. “It takes a toll on your body and your mind as well,” she pouted. The next thing you knew, she was once again claiming “injury” and pulling out of her next tournament (the Sony in Miami). Boo-freakin’-hoo.

Maria, honey, maybe you haven’t noticed, but you’re supposed to be a professional athlete. You lost your nineteenth match of the 2008 season last week against the paunchy Kuznetsova in California, in your country and state of residence, which means you’ve averaged less than two three-set matches per week so far this year, and you’re not even 25 years old. For you to say that exhausted you is an indignity to the sport of tennis and all those who play the game. You claim equal right to compensation with the men, but at this year’s Australian Open the men played five-set matches, and we didn’t hear you complaining that you were discriminated against by being allowed to spend much less time on the court. Maybe we missed something.

The net result (excuse the pun) was that we saw a Russian (Kuznetsova) access the finals of a major tournament the easy way, by beating another Russian. We previously reported on the pathetic display by Russians at this year’s Australian, and the ridiculously easy path offered to Sharapova as she “won” that title. Were women’s tennis to consider along that path, it would soon find itself without a fan base. The reaction of most knowledgeable fans to the news that they’d be seeing Kuznetsova in the finals (instead of, say, Justine Henin or Venus or Serena Williams) could only be a giant yawn.

Here’s a little trivia question for you: When was the last time a Russian who calls Russia home beat a top-ten non-Russian to reach the finals of a Tier I or Grand Slam tournament and then beat a second top-ten non-Russian to take the title? Pretty hard to think of such an occasion, isn’t it? In fact, one might even be tempted to think it’s never happened in all of tennis history. For instance, the last time a Russian woman who calls Russia home won a Tier I event not only did she beat a Russian in the semi-finals but the tournament itself was played in Russia. The time before that the same player, Elena Dementieva (“the serveless wonder”) prevailed in Tokyo, again beating a Russian to reach the finals.

Going into the finals at Indian Wells Kuznetsova, supposedly the world’s #2 player and its top-ranked Russian, hadn’t won a singles title since August of 2007, when she took the lowly Tier II event in New Haven, needing to play only four matches and facing an unseeded qualifier in the finals after beating a Russian, the pathetic Dementieva, in the semis (again following the Russian pattern). In her last outing, in Dubai, Kuznetsova lost in the finals to Dementieva, going down meekly in the third set winning only two games, the same way Shamapova just lost to her.

Naturally, when Russia’s “best player” reached the finals, Kuznetsova was easily brushed aside in a humiliating drubbing, able to win only one point in the final game as her serve was effortlessly broken by Ana Ivanovic. Dominance? The only place Russian “dominance” is ever in evidence is when they play each other.