Daily Archives: April 11, 2008

April 11, 2008 — Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: Russian Healthcare — Now that is sick!

(2) Piontovsky on Russian Hubris

(3) Annals of Russian Racism

(4) Russia: Doomed to Barbarism?

(5) Irony of Ironies: Germany on the Other End of Appeasement

NOTE: As the graphic below (via SiteMeter) indicates and the flag counter at the bottom of our sidebar confirms, Russia now consistently contributes the second-largest group of readers of this blog of all countries in the world, edging out Great Britain in third place. We’re delighted to be catching the attention of those who need us most! Moreover, we’re quite international, with more than half our readers coming from countries outside our home in the U.S.A.

EDITORIAL: Russian Healthcare — Now That is Sick


Russian Healthcare — Now That is Sick

Russia is a nation with yearly medical doctor salaries that average $5,160 to $6,120 while nurses make an average of $2,760 to $3,780 annually. That means a top-end doctor, like a surgeon, is only making about $500 per month, less than the national average of around $650 (the “average” isn’t a useful indicator of actual income, however, because it’s skewed by the bizarre level of income paid to Russia’s super-rich oligarchs). As a result, many Russian physicians turn to corrupt practices like selling drugs on the black market and demanding bribes from patients in order to make ends meet.

Given that background, you will not be surprised to learn that Russia has only 200,000 of the 600,000 physicians it needs as a nation. Who would want to enter the profession on those terms? Russia “spends only three percent of its GDP on health, a figure that is only half of what it should spend and one that puts Russia near the bottom of developed countries” according to scholar Paul Goble, translating a Russian report by Leonid Roshal, the director of the Moscow Research Institute on Emergency Pediatric Surgery and Traumatology. And of that measly 3%, up to a third will be siphoned off by corruption before it ever reaches those it was intended to support. “Today is a favorable moment for Russia. There are both money and the chance to do something,” says Roshal. Goble reports: “But on the basis of Moscow’s recent actions, he lamented, there is little reason for anyone to expect that any significant increase in funding will occur any time soon.”

Roshal understands that Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin would rather spend the nation’s fossil fuel proceeds on buzzing America with strategic bombers and helping Iran go nuclear. He knows that a major investment by Putin in healthcare would only create a more vibrant population, one more capable of organizing protest actions against his draconian crackdown on democracy. Putin prefers for Russians to stay weak and sick, thus easier to control, freeing even more funds for his crazed reinvigoration of the cold war.

Incidentally, the situation in the legal profession is little better. Goble points to a recent interview by Igor Trunov, head of the Central Bureau of Lawyers in Moscow, condemning the level of preparation of the country’s lawyers in light of a recent announcement by Moscow State University, the Russian Harvard, that “the diplomas of lawyers trained at the University’s law faculty after 1992 may be declared invalid because of shortcomings in training they received there.”

When we gape at the epic scale of this disaster, which epitomizes the utter failure of the Putin administration, and then remind ourselves that in public opinion polls and elections nearly 70% of Russians support Putin, we achieve a moment of clarity as to why we became “russophobes” in the first place. What “enemy” of Russia could have hoped to inflict a more devastating injury upon Russia as a nation than these actions of the country’s own government?

We reported on Wednesday that Putin had stated at the NATO summit that Ukraine is “not a state” and has no right to existence independent of Russia — basically the same attitude he takes towards Chechnya. Only a madman would make such a barbaric claim in the midst of NATO powers trying to decide whether Russia was dangerous or not, unless of course he actually wanted to provoke the world’s most awesome military alliance into conflict. And that’s clearly what Putin does want, even as his own nation is literally going extinct because of illness it has no ability to treat. The world’s journalists need only get out of bed to be confronted by examples of Putin’s belligerence, but they can search the live-long day and not find a single example of Putin demanding a rise in doctor salaries.

It’s monstrous.

Piontovsky on Russian Hubris

Andrei Piontovsky, writing in Insight Magazine:

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” declared Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, to the British people after the fall of France to Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II. Perhaps those words floated through the mind of Putin’s speech writer as he was burnishing the following passage in President’s Putin’s speech: “Throughout history, Russia and her citizens have accomplished, and today are still accomplishing, a truly historic task. Maintaining the governance of a vast territory, preserving a unique commonwealth of peoples while occupying a major place in world affairs, calls not only for enormous toil. It calls also for enormous sacrifices and privations on the part of our people. Such has been Russia’s thousand-year history. Such is the way in which it has retained its place as a mighty nation. We do not have the right to forget this.”

This so enthused many of the professional champions of Russia’s greatness; they heard it as the fateful sounding of the nationalist trumpet, a secret signal to the supporters he would propel “our Revolution, a conservative, nationalistic revolution” which would lead to “a renaissance of the Fatherland’s worldwide imperial greatness.”

If, at that most testing moment of their history, Churchill promised his people blood, toil, tears and sweat throughout the years of war with Germany, then Putin promises the Russian people “enormous sacrifices and privations” for the rest of time, from a millennium in the past until a millennium into the future. Worse than that, according to this absurd philosophy of historical masochism, the whole of Russian history is sinking down into some eternal, closed vicious circle. The people accomplish great tasks and bear enormous sacrifices and privations in order to maintain the governance of Russian territory—which in turn demands new tasks, sacrifices and privations. Space devours time: such is the new vision of the four-dimensional space-time continuum. Putin is today’s Einstein.

This fairy tale about the God-bearing Russian people, whose entire destiny is to accomplish great tasks and endure enormous sacrifices and deprivations, is far from original. It is the age-old refrain that the Russian elite have used in addressing the Russian people: “Folks, get on with accomplishing those historic tasks, enduring enormous sacrifices and privations. We are busy leading a great nation and governing a vast territory.”

It has always been such a joy to discourse on Russia’s special mission—not forgetting her unique sense of community and spirituality. It was a joy in the days of 19th-century estates and in the Central Committee’s 20th-century sanatoria; and it remains a joy in today’s palaces of Chekist billionaires who rule Russia and own it at the same time.

The elite’s view of the people they govern as God-bearing riff-raff, as colonial natives, raw material for national stunts of one kind and another, led us equally to the catastrophe of 1917 and to the catastrophe of 1991. It will lead us to a third if our elite, bloated and reckless as never before, does not abandon its centuries-old enthusiasm for sacrifice and privations inflicted on a people whose mission is the accomplishment of great tasks.

Some allocation of resources seems now to have been exhausted, however, and a major historical collapse is imminent. Twelve years ago we lost half our territory, largely because of a seventy-year obsession with great tasks, sacrifices and privations that no longer attracted or deceived anybody. It seems likely that over the next ten to fifteen years we shall lose the Far East and Siberia to a creeping Chinese demographic expansion which no amount of great achievements will halt. Indeed, the reverse will occur. Precisely because of the sacrifices and privations imposed upon them, people are migrating away from those territories, or simply dying prematurely. Russia’s women have ceased to re-stock the population.

There is only one way to hold on to Russia’s territories in our time, and that is by creating decent, comfortable living conditions there for as many Russian people as possible. Let us hope that the passage in Putin’s message about great tasks and sacrifices is just an unfortunate rhetorical device by an unknown speech writer who recalled Churchill’s speech at the wrong moment. If, however, this is a deliberate political statement by the President and his young appointee, then it will be their destiny to preside over the final stage of the further degeneration of the Russian state.

Annals of Russian Racism: It’s Getting Plenty Ugly

Uvaido Shirinbekov, left, a carpenter from Tajikistan,
was fatally stabbed in Moscow while out with Amid
Nasratshoyev, second from left, on Valentine’s Day

The Washington Post reports:

It was Valentine’s Day, work was over, and Uvaido Shirinbekov, a Tajik carpenter, headed out for a night in the city. With Amid Nasratshoyev, a co-worker, he took the Metro from the Moscow suburb where the two lived. They planned to visit a cafe in the fashionable Chistiye Prudy neighborhood where Nasratshoyev’s wife worked an evening shift.

But in Moscow, they were attacked by a gang of youths. Nasratshoyev, 27, was struck from behind on the head and fell dazed to the ground. As he stumbled to his feet, he said, Shirinbekov fell into his arms. “I’ve been stabbed,” Shirinbekov said, according to his friend.

Five youths fled in the darkness. And Shirinbekov, 25, died on the street, just blocks from the pair’s destination that night.

The killing of Shirinbekov, which remains under investigation, is part of a wave of racially motivated murders in Moscow that has put the city’s migrant communities on edge, particularly people from Central Asia, according to human rights groups. Easily singled out because of their non-Slavic appearance, Central Asian workers have borne the brunt of the attacks by skinheads and neo-Nazis.

“People are living in fear,” said Gavkhar Dzhurayeva of the Tajikistan Foundation in Moscow, a support group for citizens from that country. “We are advising people to be very careful. But they still have to travel to work in the morning and go home at night.”

From January through March, 49 people have been killed in assaults by radical nationalists, 28 of them in the greater Moscow area, according to the Moscow Human Rights Bureau. There were 27 racist killings in Moscow in 2006 and 45 in 2007, according to the group. Most of the killings remain unsolved.

Twenty-three of the victims this year were from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan, all former Soviet republics that supply many of the city’s markets and construction sites with cheap labor. There are an estimated 850,000 migrants from Central Asia living and working in Moscow, a city of more than 10 million, according to city officials.

Kyrgyz Ambassador Raimkul Attakurov, in a letter to Russia’s ombudsman this year, labeled the attacks the “savage outrages of fascist monsters” and called on Russian authorities “to pay the most serious attention to this vile phenomenon.”

Local and federal officials, including President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, have begun to express alarm about the rising violence. “Law enforcement bodies should take a tough stand, should not keep silent or retreat into the bushes,” Medvedev said recently. “They must act and enforce legislation.”

But some officials question the scale of the problem. “I am sure there is no growing wave of extremism,” said Moscow prosecutor Yuri Syomin, speaking recently to the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. He said the number of hate crimes is falling “year by year.”

It is difficult to obtain firm statistics on hate crimes. There are no official figures. Organizations such as the Moscow Human Rights Bureau and the Sova Center, another group that tracks hate crimes, assemble their statistics from media reports and by monitoring Web sites associated with extremists as well as police reports when they are available.

City officials say the methods of both groups are deeply flawed. “Even if one person is killed, it’s a problem,” said Alexei Alexandrov, head of Moscow’s Committee for Inter-Regional Ties and Nationalities Policy. “But some human rights groups are counting killings of non-Russians by a Russian where the motive is unknown. It could be over a girl, over money.”

Vladilen Bokov, another official with the city’s nationalities committee, said that since December, only 10 killings in the greater Moscow area could be clearly identified as racially motivated.

Human rights groups say the problem has grown unchecked because of the failure of police and prosecutors to acknowledge and directly confront racist violence. According to Human Rights First, a U.S.-based advocacy group that studies hate crimes across North America and Europe, racist attacks in Russia are often prosecuted as simple acts of “hooliganism.”

“Although adequate hate crime legislation exists, it has been ignored in the prosecution of the vast majority of hate crime cases,” the organization said in a report this year. “Even when prosecuted, hate crime charges are not always vigorously pursued.”

According to Semyon Charny of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, there are an estimated 70,000 skinheads in Russia. Promoting an overtly Nazi ideology, they espouse hatred for those who are not ethnic Russians, typically describing them as invaders stealing jobs and destroying Russian culture.

Also targeted are Russian citizens from the Far East and Caucasus, but attacks on groups such as Chechens have dropped because they began to arm themselves and fight back, according to Galina Kozhevnikova of the Sova Center.

Violent nationalists have become more organized in recent years, according to human rights groups. “If before, attacks were spontaneous and chaotic, now skinheads are going on hunts for victims,” Charny said.

Kozhevnikova said the attacks are the most extreme expression of rising nationalism in Russian society. “The xenophobic mood in politics and society is quite high,” she said, arguing that denunciation of migrants has entered mainstream discourse.

The Sova Center noted in a recent report, for example, that Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate for president, expressed concern about the “lack of Russian faces” in some industries. A poll by the Levada Center in December found that 54 percent of those surveyed support the notion that Russia is a state for the Russian people, and that the influence of other ethnicities should be limited.

There are people of 168 different ethnicities living in Moscow, according to city officials.

Radical nationalists blame the rise in murders on increased pressure against their groups from authorities.

“They’ve driven large, legal movements underground,” Dmitry Demushkin, leader of the Slavic Union, said in an interview with Newsweek’s Russian edition. “Now the guys have taken out their knives.”

Violent racists are threatening to intensify their attacks. “We’ll see how these animals start baying when we start with explosives and shootings,” read a comment on the Web site Russian Will after the Moscow city parliament held a session to discuss hate crimes.

Shirinbekov arrived in Moscow from Tajikistan in November. His family described him as a skilled carpenter. It was his second stint in the city, where he worked legally, sponsored by his employer. He and his younger brother, Khofiz, worked at the same site, and each month they wired cash to their family in rural Tajikistan.

“He was a quiet, lovely guy,” Salim Silmonov, 38, Shirinbekov’s cousin, said in an interview. “He didn’t go out much. He talked about saving money so he could study here.”

On Feb. 14, Nasratshoyev told his friend he was heading into the city. “He just suddenly decided to come along,” Nasratshoyev said in an interview.

Two days later, Silmonov picked up Shirinbekov’s body at a city morgue and took the coffin to the airport. Shirinbekov’s brother accompanied it home. “Khofiz is never coming back,” Silmonov said.

“His family is afraid to lose another son. We’re all afraid, and we’re all dreaming of going home.”

Russia, Doomed to Barbarism?

The University of Chicago Magazine reports:

Five centuries after Ivan the Great began consolidating the territories that would become the Russian state—first wresting away a swath of northern Novgorod, then absorbing parts of Vyatka, Yaroslavl, Rostov-Suzdal, and Tver, and recapturing land from Lithuania—Russia remains, despite its size and power, says historian Richard Hellie, a backward civilization. Its economy is primitive, its low-tech industry propped up by sales of hydrocarbons and “second-rate arms.” Farming machinery deteriorates faster than it can be replaced. And despite the Iron Curtain’s fall, censorship is still a fact of life. “Almost nothing in Russia works properly,” Hellie says, “other than bribery and extortion.”

A student of Russian history since he entered the College in 1954, Hellie, AB’58, AM’60, PhD’65, has become an expert on the country’s medieval and early-modern past. Now the Thomas E. Donnelley professor of history and, since 1988, the editor of the journal Russian History, Hellie has authored nearly a dozen books on Muscovite law, slavery and serfdom, economic history, and society and culture. His next project is The Structure of Modern Russian History, a sprawling analysis of events from Ivan the Great’s 15th- and 16th-century reign to Joseph Stalin’s 20th-century regime. Russia’s inveterate backwardness, he says, will make a prominent appearance.

The book is still a work-in-progress, but this past October Hellie debuted some of his thoughts on backwardness at a Humanities Day lecture that packed a Stuart Hall classroom. “The initial point I must start with,” Hellie told his audience, “is that the notion of Russian current and historical backwardness is not some politically incorrect slander invented by Richard Hellie, but a very old part of Russian civilizational discourse.” Some scholars trace the phenomenon to the 13th-century Mongolian invasion. Although Hellie warned that an “easy”—and flawed—“temptation would be to blame the Mongols,” he did allow that it is “hard to deny the Mongols had a considerable role in the fact that Russia missed the Renaissance.” Before 1240, he said, the country looked southward and westward for its cultural influences; afterward, it turned away from the rest of Europe and developed a “Latin allergy” that robbed it of access to Roman classical heritage.

More deeply disabling, in every sphere from technology to philosophy, Hellie argued, has been Russia’s tendency toward absolutism. Even as Ivan the Great amassed vast territories, he laid the foundations of an autocracy in which all resources—people and property alike—were at the ruler’s disposal. Even noblemen had no independent power; if they failed to show proper fealty, their lands could be seized and granted to more loyal subjects. In the early 1500s Joseph of Volokolamsk, a Russian Orthodox abbot (and later a saint) helped establish the country’s version of the divine right of kings: “In his person the ruler is a man, but in his authority he is like God,” Hellie intoned. “So this remained the fundamental dogma of Russian autocracy until 1917, when the autocrat was replaced by the Communist Party general secretary and God was replaced by ‘history.’”

Lower classes had it worse than the nobility. Lasting from 1450 to 1725, Russian slavery “differed from the institution elsewhere,” Hellie said, “in that it allowed the enslavement of fellow Russians.” Those who were not outright slaves were serfs, tied to their towns and farms. “Serfdom commenced in the 1450s, and it ended only in 1906” with land reform and the creation of private property. (Alexander II’s 1861 emancipation did not effect the freedom he envisioned.) “Russians have rarely had any rights,” Hellie said, and oppression sapped their initiative.

Distrust of foreigners also has held Russia back. More than 300 years before the Soviet Empire, the Ulozhenie, a law code adopted in 1649, forbade Russians from going abroad. Even when Russia brought in scholars, scientists, or military strategists from elsewhere, it kept them apart from the local populace. “So opportunities for Russians to rejoin Europe at the personal level,” Hellie said, “were prohibited.”

Add to that the lack of an independent judiciary, censorship that persisted through the Soviet era, and Russia’s habit of exiling or executing its most educated citizens. Russian society never encouraged free thought or ambition—“Soviet scholars were bound like serfs to their collectives’plans and found it difficult to go where their interests led them”—one reason for the country’s dearth of important inventors or philosophers.

Despite “brilliant exceptions”—Hellie noted Russia’s defeat of Napoleon; its 16 Nobel Prizes; chemist Dmitri Mendeleev’s organization of the Periodic Table; and writers such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov—he didn’t hold out optimism for Russia’s imminent emergence from backwardness. Property rights “no longer exist,” and censorship is on the rise. Graft has multiplied in the last few years, and Vladimir Putin, in the footsteps of other Russian rulers, replaced Yeltsin-era oligarchs with “Leningrad KGB cronies,” he said. “It does not appear that a middle class or civil society will develop. Backwardness will endure.”

Irony of Ironies: Now, Germany is on the Other end of Appeasement

Streetwise Professor reports:

Churchill once said “The Germans are either at your throat or at your feet.” (He actually said “The Hun is either at your throat or at your feet,” but (a) some folks might not know “Hun” was a common epithet for “German”, and (b) no need to use old insults, even though this post will hardly be kind to the current German leadership.) At present, Germany is firmly planted at Russia’s feet, doing its bidding at the NATO meetings by opposing Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Membership Action Plans (MAPs). The German arguments are disingenuous at best. Moreover, as this article by Klaus-Helge Donath (translated on Robert Amsterdam’s blog) says, Gemany’s prokynesis will earn it nothing but scorn from the Kremlin:

Behind the Kremlin walls officials are smirking over German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s appeasement. That’s why Moscow also does not take the European Union and Berlin seriously. The way Russians understand things making concessions, approaching the rival is a sign of weakness and European softness. . . Even if Russia talks about a “multi-polar world order and “respect” in the international arena that applies exclusively to the respect of others for Russia, not the other way around.

Why does Germany grovel? Gas, gas, and gas. Did I mention gas? But is appeasement on NATO enlargement an effective way of obtaining future Russian forebearance on gas pricing, access, or shutoffs? Will its carrying Putin’s water ensure Russia’s future goodwill and the steady, reliable flow of gas at reasonably competitive prices? Not bloody likely. Russia will take Germany’s gift today, and do exactly what is in its economic and political interest tomorrow. So Germany has sold out NATO, stiffed Ukraine and Georgia, and handed Russia a victory, and will be lucky to get a mess of pottage–or borscht–in return. And the Kremlin will figure it rolled Germany once, so it might as well try it again. And again. And again.

Donath also makes a point I’ve emphasized at SWP; Russia’s fears about NATO’s military threat are fantastical. (Stephen Blank has made a similar point.) (One can debate whether they are the result of paranoid delusions, or whether the expressed fears are merely intended to manipulate Russian public opinion.) So why does Russia protest so much?

If NATO expansion does not threaten Russian territory in the slightest, it does sharply constrain Russian freedom of action in Ukraine and Georgia. That is, Russia does not oppose NATO expansion because it legitimately fears that this would threaten the territorial integrity or political independence of Russia; instead it fears NATO expansion because that jeopardizes Russia’s ability to threaten the territorial integrity and political independence of the countries in the near abroad, Ukraine prominent among them.

Russia portrays NATO as aggressively absorbing new states. Its characterization of NATO is analogous to Sparta’s description of the Athenian empire. But NATO does not collect tribute from its members under the threat of force. Georgia, and to a lesser degree Ukraine want to join. Earlier joiners from the old East Bloc–such as the Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Romania–also wanted to join. They volunteered–and in some cases clamored–to join NATO. NATO did not force them to join.

This should raise the question in Russian minds: why are our former satellites so eager to join what we consider an aggressive alliance? Perhaps the answer lay in centuries of history and very long memories of suffering–and at times, suffering quite cruelly–under Russian domination.

The irony of the situation is that current Russian behavior only reinforces the desire of Eastern European states to deepen their NATO ties, and for Ukraine and Georgia to enter the alliance. The Russians have apparently not learned that (as my grandfather used to say) you catch more flies with sugar than gall. Blustering, bullying, manipulating, supporting breakway provinces, using gas as a political weapon, poisoning presidential candidates etc., is no way to win friends and influence people. But that’s the kind of things the Russians have done consistently in the near abroad, and continue to do today. Like an abusive husband driven to rage by his wife’s attempt to leave home, the chekists’ thuggery only further alienates those it wants to control.

This reflects an attitude that noted American scholar of Russia, James Billington, describes in his book Russia in Search of Itself:

Seeking to preserve unity and maintain control over a vast and exposed territory, the Russian empire was frequently at war with its neighbors. The Russian’s basic understanding of all this recurrent conflict has been diametrically opposite to that of their principal neighbors. Russians have generally seen themselves as perpetual victims of foreign predators, building on the fact that rival empires have invaded their lands from the Mongols and Teutonic Knights to Napoleon and Hitler. Most of Russia’s immediate neighbors however have seen themselves as victims threatened with conquest by the relentless expansion of a much larger power armed with unlimited ideological justification for extending its empire.

The eagerness of former satellites to join NATO provides ample evidence that Russia is still perceived as an aggressive power. Russia’s actions only justify this perception.

To turn around Putin’s insult of the US, the Russian wolf is just doing what wolves do. Its behavior is of a piece with its actions over centuries. The sad thing is that Germany enables this behavior, and like most codependents, will gain nothing for its current humiliation but more humiliation in the future.