Daily Archives: March 28, 2008

March 28, 2008 — Contents

FRIDAY MARCH 28 CONTENTS

(1) EDITORIAL: Annals of Appeasement

(2) Lipman on the Medvedev Fraud

(3) Annals of Cold War II: Russia Menaces Alaska

(4) Keystone Russians Shoot Down their own Plane

(5) Annals of “Pacified” Chechnya: Militants Rising

(6) BP Pulls out of “Reliable Partner” Russia


NOTE: FYI, our prolific leader Kim Zigfeld has begun publishing content on the Instablog website, which is one of the leading English-language web publications in India (therefore Asia). These items likely won’t be news to regular readers of this blog, but they are linked in our sidebar and are a part of our continuing efforts to educate the wider world on the horrors of neo-Soviet Russia.

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EDITORIAL: Annals of Appeasement

“You are getting sleepy . . . very sleepy . . .”
Source: Ellustrator.

EDITORIAL

Annals of Appeasement

None too soon, U.S. Senator John McCain has renewed his call to eject Russia from the G-8 group, replacing it with Brazil and/or India. Events in Russia indicate that American leadership is essential to prevent Europe from sliding down the road to appeasement it has followed so many times before, with such horrific consequences.

Russia’s dictator-in-waiting Dimitri Medvedev, for instance, opened a new round appeasement propaganda offensive earlier this week with an interview in the Financial Times. The Voice of America recounts:

On domestic issues, Mr. Medvedev acknowledged that Russians have a habit of violating the law, from ordinary people bribing police officers and buying pirated intellectual property to government officials who interfere in the decisions of court judges. He notes that President Putin’s decision to step aside is unprecedented for a Russian leader, but consistent with the constitution. Mr. Medvedev says Mr. Putin’s move means that Russia is at last developing a tradition of respecting all constitutional and other legal procedures.

In an editorial, the FT stated he had expressed “serious ambitions for domestic policy reform that deserve the west’s attention” and stated:

Mr Medvedev’s singled out his commitment to embedding the rule of law in Russia. The goal is worthy of support. It may not address western concerns about the lack of democratic rights in Russia. But the term “democrat” became a dirty word in Russia during the chaos of the 1990s when Boris Yeltsin led a dash to the market economy. Mr Medvedev emphasises instead the need to create a functioning legal system, with an independent judiciary and courts. If this could be achieved – and it is a mammoth task – it would have huge implications. It would strengthen Russia’s economic culture, eliminating bribery and corruption. It would also be the seed-bed from which democracy could thrive, giving opposition parties an opportunity to defend themselves against the Kremlin’s attack.

Many, of course, will doubt whether Mr Medvedev can succeed. Mr Putin started out as president with a similar promise to establish a “dictatorship of laws”, ending up with more of the former than the latter. Russia’s looming economic problems also present a challenge. The slowdown in global growth may reduce energy prices with a knock-on effect for Russian oil revenues. Mr Medvedev’s time may therefore be consumed dealing with economic problems. Still, Mr Medvedev faces a choice. If he sticks to his plan to embed the rule of law – facing down those who want the Kremlin to keep a mono-poly on power – his election may herald a bold new start for Russia. But if he falters, his presidency will be a wasted opportunity, one whose sole legacy is to consolidate Mr Putin’s rampant authoritarianism

The problem here is clear: The Financial Times doesn’t speak Russian. If it did, it would understand that when Medvedev talks about “enforcing the rule of law” and “lawbreakers” he is referring not to “criminals” as we understand them in the West but to anyone in Russia who disagrees with the polices of his administration. As hero journalist Grigori Pasko points out on Robert Amsterdam’s blog, such people are “crazy” or “evil” and must be destroyed by proper “enforcement” of the law. What Medvedev is doing is setting the stage for an even more barbaric crackdown on civil society in Russia, of which the recent attack on British Petroleum, about which we report today, can be seen as an early sign.

The Telegraph has reported:

At 5ft 7in, Mr Putin is a diminutive man. Mr Medvedev, however, is a politician of even smaller stature. At a little below 5ft 4in, he will be one of the world’s shortest leaders when he assumes office on May 7. The size-gap has been a concern for Kremlin officials, who have ordered state television to film Mr Medvedev from below when he is with Mr Putin so as to make them appear the same height. Mr Medvedev has also had voice and behaviour coaching so that he imitates his mentor’s speech patterns, mannerisms and slightly clenched gait.

Medvedev’s training has been so effective that Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak told Putin: “An hour ago I met Medvedev and even joked that there’s not much difference between you. You even look the same. When I went to meet Medvedev I saw you on television at the same time and hesitated, wondering who was who.”

Speaking to the Russian newspaper Izvetia on Monday, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said “I say openly and clearly: I am a supporter of” the proposal to lengthen Russia’s presidential term.” Reuters notes: “A change in the constitution to extend the presidential term could be used as a pretext to call an early election, allowing Putin to return before 2012, when Medvedev’s first term is due to end. vanov, a powerful Kremlin hawk who was in the past seen as a potential next president, has not spoken out publicly on the idea before.” The ink is not even dry on the presidential “election” before plans are being hatched to further obliterate civil society in Russia once and for all.

As Masha Lipman notes below, in the Washington Post, the idea that Medevev could be a “reformer” and yet participate in a sham election where all his rivals have been liquidated, spurning debates or serious interviews, is one that could be accepted only be an utter imbecile. If we allow ourselves to be hypnotized by this malignant little parasite, we will deserve richly the harsh consequences that will result.

Lipman on the Medvedev Fraud

Writing in the Washington Post, Masha Lipman (pictured) exposes the fraud that is Dimitri Medevev:

The next Russian administration, with Dmitry Medvedev as president and Vladimir Putin remaining at the helm as prime minister, may evolve into something different from Putin’s current rule. But the expectations of liberalization that Medvedev’s rhetoric and non-KGB background might have raised in some circles are wishful thinking.

Medvedev’s campaign was hardly a demonstration of adherence to democratic principles. And his rhetoric, while somewhat softer than Putin’s, is barely an indicator of change. Throughout his presidency, Putin repeatedly spoke of the need for the rule of law, free media and other democratic virtues. Yet his policies were increasingly at variance with these principles, and by the end of his presidency the gap between the official rhetoric and reality reached almost Soviet proportions.

Although Medvedev has made several commendable statements, such as his preference for freedom over non-freedom, he speaks only in generalities. He has not touched on any of the many recent cases involving the issues of freedom or democracy, including repeated harassment and detention of liberal-leaning political activists.

Nor has Medvedev elaborated on the relationship between his mentor’s policies and the deplorable status of the rule of law and press freedom in Russia. Those policies could also be seen as his own, given Medvedev’s status as a top official in Putin’s administration.

The system created during Putin’s presidency is based on the uncontested primacy of the top executive, with controlled politics and a growing intolerance toward public dissent, let alone political autonomy. In such a system, the judiciary is “independent” and the media “free” as long as they don’t interfere with what those in power see as the interests of the state. Genuine rule of law and a genuinely independent media would undermine the very foundations of this regime. Medvedev is not in a position to challenge the system or its creator — the man who ensured that Medvedev was elected president March 2. Just this week, Medvedev spoke of himself and Putin as a “tandem” and “team of two.”

Putin has consolidated the state and enfeebled the society, an arrangement that no ruler would shed unless strongly challenged by those seeking to reclaim and apply their political rights. In today’s Russia, however, there is no force laying such claims. And yet, an exact continuation of course under Putin is not a certainty.

But it is simply wrong at this point to regard Medvedev as a vehicle of change or to expect that Russian leadership would opt for political liberalization.

Should the good economic fortunes that accompanied Putin’s presidency recede, various domestic problems that until now have been subdued by generous infusions of oil money would be exacerbated. Observers of Russia’s economy warn that the successful development of recent years may not be sustainable. Critics have cited the unfavorable dynamics of oil and gas production, which accounts for about a third of the nation’s budget revenue, and the looming prospect of a workforce shortage — the result of an implacable demographic trend. The shortage will weigh heavily on those men and women already working to provide their own safety net and to care for the older generation. Additionally, Russia may not be prepared to handle the repercussions of a global economic recession, which looks increasingly likely.

Putin may also be concerned about the sustainability of his economic achievement. Though he has repeatedly pledged to stay the course, in early February the soon-to-be-ex president unveiled a plan for Russia through 2020. After citing the successes of his administration, Putin spoke about the “extreme inefficiency” of the economy, the “unacceptably low productivity of labor” and the urgent need for modernization — lest Russia fall behind the world’s leading economies.

If the team of Putin and Medvedev really means modernization, it is sure to face tough challenges. First and foremost is the question of whether modernization is even possible in a deinstitutionalized system that has eliminated public participation, cultivated paternalism and opted for heavily centralized control over political competition. Another challenge is the inevitable infringement on the more conservative Russian elites that have thrived under Putin’s system of empowered bureaucracy.

Attempts at modernization would further aggravate the tensions among those who control broad swaths of Russia’s power and property. Their infighting is mostly kept behind the scenes these days, but if political struggles spill out into the open, they are likely to extend to the medium-tier elites, which are currently depoliticized, or the middle classes, which will be forced to align with one or another of the feuding camps.

Russia’s future is uncertain. The outcomes of struggles both likely and unexpected are far from clear — whether the forces of modernization would prevail or whether nationalists and conservatives could win the upper hand. If such shifts take place during Medvedev’s tenure, this might give him a chance to evolve as an independent decision-maker in Russian politics — something that he is not today.

Annals of Cold War II: Russia Menaces Alaska

Reuters reports on how friendly, peaceful, reasonable Russia is showing its true colors:

NATO forces sent jets to escort two Russian long-range air force bombers patrolling neutral skies near Alaska on Wednesday, Russian news agencies quoted the defense ministry as saying.

Russia’s military has resumed its Cold War practice of flying regular patrols far beyond its borders, and in the last year has also sent turbo-prop Tu-95s over U.S. naval aircraft carriers and the Pacific island of Guam.

Accompanied by two Il-78 refueling tankers, the two Tu-95 Bear bombers flew for 15 hours over the Arctic and Pacific oceans, Interfax news agency quoted Russian Air Force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky as saying.

“In the course of the air patrol, long-range aviation aircraft were escorted by NATO jets in the region of Alaska,” said Drobyshevsky.

‘The Russian B-52’
Originally designed to drop nuclear bombs, the Tu-95, Russia’s equivalent of the U.S. air force’s B-52, is a Cold War icon refitted for surveillance and maritime patrols.

Russia, in the eighth year of an economic boom driven by high global oil prices, has raised military funding after years of neglect following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Russian navy has finished construction of mothballed submarines and restarted large-scale naval exercises that shortages of fuel and spare parts had made a rarity.

Analysts say the Kremlin is using its reviving military might to support a policy of projecting Russia’s power again on the world stage.

But some military observers say the Russian armed forces are still hampered by a shortage of combat-ready assets and that the exercises are primarily a public relations exercise.

Russia Shoots Down its Own Jet

AFP reports:

A Russian fighter jet that crashed last week during a training exercise was shot down by a rocket from an accompanying jet, Interfax news agency reported Wednesday, citing a military investigator. “It has been established that the Su-25 ground-attack plane was shot down by a rocket from its wingman,” an official from the investigation team looking into the accident was quoted as saying. The Su-25 exploded and crashed, killing its pilot, during a training flight above a military range in the region of Primorye in far eastern Russia last Thursday, officials and local radio reports said. Investigators had originally said the jet may have gone down after one of its own weapons exploded. The Russian air force has temporarily grounded all Su-25 flights pending an inquiry into the crash.

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya: Militants Rising

RIA Novosti reports:

Between 400 and 500 militants are currently active in the North Caucasus, the commander of Russia’s interior troops said on Wednesday. “A surge in militant activity has been registered in Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. The gunmen are waging war using mines against troops and civilians. We are taking a range of swift measures to avert terrorist attacks,” Army General Nikolai Rogozhkin said. The general said Russia was deploying about 30,000 interior troops in the North Caucasus region, including 23,000 in Chechnya and 6,000-7,000 in other North Caucasus republics where a surge in militant activity was registered. “The situation in the region is controllable and we do not expect any extreme circumstances. We have sufficient experience accumulated over the past few years to combat terrorist threats in the North Caucasus, for example in Chechnya, where we ensured security at the parliamentary and presidential elections. We will prevent any serious manifestations of terrorism,” he said.

Although the active phase of the antiterrorism campaign in the North Caucasus officially ended in 2001, periodic bombings and clashes between militants and federal troops still disrupt Chechnya and nearby regions, including Daghestan and Ingushetia.

BP Pulls out of Russia

The Financial Times reports:

BP has recalled 148 foreign employees on secondment to the oil group’s Russian joint venture TNK-BP because of visa problems as pressure on the UK’s biggest investment in Russia intensifies. The technical staff, mostly British and Americans, have been told to stay away from work until confusion about Russia’s new visa arrangements for foreign workers has been resolved. Most are still in the country. TNK-BP said they were being recalled as a precaution: “There is some cloudiness and greyness about the status of their visas” after changes to migration laws late last year, it said.

The news came as the Russian interior ministry told Reuters it had opened a criminal case into large-scale tax evasion by Sidanco, an oil unit that once formed the company but was dissolved for about $42m. The interior ministry spokesperson could not be reached. Tension over TNK-BP, 50 per cent owned by BP and 50 per cent by three Russian tycoons, has escalated in recent days. Police last week raided the Moscow offices of BP and TNK-BP, and the Russian security services said they had charged an employee of TNK-BP and his brother with industrial espionage.

Russia’s environmental watchdog, led by Oleg Mitvol, its aggressive deputy chief, also intends this week to begin a “routine probe” into TNK-BP’s biggest oil field, along with other companies’ fields. TNK-BP had been investigated by the security services, suffered visa problems and faced an environmental agency probe, according to one industry executive. “Chaos or conspiracy: you decide,” he said.

Some analysts say TNK-BP is identified for takeover by Gazprom, the state-controlled gas company. Gazprom has said it hoped to complete a deal to take over TNK-BP’s biggest gas project, the Kovytka gas field in east Siberia, by the end of April. TNK-BP was forced to sell its 62.9 per cent stake in the field to Gazprom last year but the deal has been repeatedly delayed. There is speculation that Gazprom seeks to buy out the Russian half of TNK-BP, too. TNK-BP’s Russian shareholders have denied they want to sell.

BP’s stake in TNK-BP is important, at 22 per cent of last year’s production and 19 per cent of its oil and gas reserves. Russia’s president-elect, Dmitry Medvedev, in an interview with the Financial Times, denied the espionage case was tied to politics. BP’s decision to recall technical staff does not affect the more than 40 senior managers employed full-time by TNK-BP.