Daily Archives: April 23, 2008

April 23, 2008 — Contents

WEDNESDAY APRIL 23 CONTENTS

(1) EDITORIAL: Mr. 35%

(2) Annals of Russian Hypocrisy

(3) Putin is Losing Chechnya

(4) More Barbaric Russian Aggression against Georgia

(5) The Ssssserpant Sssspeaks

(6) Annals of Russian Anti-Americanism

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EDITORIAL: Mr. 35%

EDITORIAL

Mr. 35%

Thanks to the determined work of Russian physicist and computer expert Sergei Shpilkin, we now know 56% of Russians voted in the recent “presidential elections,” not 70% as the Kremlin claimed. Moreover, of those who voted, 63% cast votes for the “winner,” Dimitri Medvedev — not 70% as the Kremlin falsely alleged.

The Kremlin, lying through its yellow, broken teeth, claimed that Medvedev won 70% of 70% of the electorate — in other words, that Medvedev had the support of 49% the country’s eligible voters. In fact, he got 63% of 56% — a mere 35% of the country stood behind him.

14 million of Medvedev’s claimed 53 million votes were fraudulent, as was 15% of his claimed 49% “mandate.” Even under the Kremlin’s corrupt scenario, less than half the country supported Medvedev. In actual fact, barely a third did so. Little wonder, then, that the Kremlin felt the need to be so aggressive with the fraud.

This is the predictable result of allowing a proud KGB spy to rule a country. He’ll lie to you, without remorse, whenever he gets the chance, about everything and anything. You’ll live your life in a fog until that one day when a tsunami of truth sweeps over you by surprise, as it did when the USSR disappeared.

In recent days, we have seen two utterly ridiculous Russophile myths laid to rest. First, that Vladimir Putin would step aside after his second term ended. Instead of doing that, he’s not only assumed the prime ministry but vastly expanded the powers of that office and seized control of the party of power, United Russia, as well. And second, that he was so overwhelmingly popular in Russia that there was no need to engage in fraud to propel Medvedev to victory. Even though every legitimate opposition candidate had been purged from the ballot, Medvedev still only had the support of one-third of the population. What might have happened if there was a real race, with debates and pointed criticism of Medvedev’s credentials? Clearly, Medvedev would have been in desperate jeopardy.

Moreover, if the fraud was unnecessary and Putin engaged in it anyway, there could be no more brutal insight into the utter malignancy of his character than that. It would mean he’s pure evil.

A joke is making the rounds in Russia these days. Putin and Medvedev are sitting in a restaurant having dinner. The waiter approaches and asks what Putin will have for his main course, and Putin responds: “I’ll have the steak.” The waiter replies: “And what would you like for your vegetable?” Putin answers, glancing sidelong at Medvedev: “The vegetable will have steak too.”

It’s a telling anecdote, because it’s not only Medvedev, but the entire nation, that now serves as Putin’s vegetable. True, 65% of Russians withheld their support from Putin’s hand-picked successor — but that’s the least they could have done. Though knowing Putin’s replacement was a sham, they still meekly allowed the ballot to be purged of rival candidates, stand mute when electoral fraud is exposed, and turn a blind eye as political parties and media outlets are brutally crushed under Putin’s jackboot.

Soon, Russia’s vegetables are going to be harvested by Farmer Putin, sucked up into a giant neo-Soviet threshing machine and pulverized into pulp, shoved into cans and stacked on shelves to await the next ice age.

It’s a fate that’s, sadly, nothing short of what the vast majority of Russians deserve, one they’ve brought on themselves. We tried to warn them, as did many others. They paid no heed.

Annals of Russian Hypocrisy

In another of his brilliant posts, Streetwise Professor exposes the abhorrent, uncivilized hypocrisy of the Putin regime where NATO is concerned:

Vladimir Socor provides more evidence that Russia intends to bully Ukraine and Georgia into staying out of NATO. Putin and Lavrov, so sensitive to Russian territorial integrity, have more than once made irredentist threats against Ukraine, most notably making aggressive noises about eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. Important Duma members have mooted the possibility of renouncing the 1997 Russia-Ukraine interstate treaty guaranteeing the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders. On cue, Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, General Yuriy Baluyevsky, threatened military actions. With respect to Georgia, Putin and Russia have made it very clear of their intention to exacerbate tensions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Some in Russia–even some close to the Kremlin–recognize that this is foolish, and more likely to drive Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO, rather than make them rethink their desire to join the alliance:

Some Kremlin consultants regard those open threats as counterproductive to Russia’s interests and purposes. Vyacheslav Nikonov (himself no stranger to questioning the territorial integrity of Russia’s neighbors) argues, for example, that Moscow’s rhetoric in the wake of NATO’s summit can only strengthen the resolve of governments in neighboring countries to seek protection from NATO (Interfax, April 11, 12). Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (CFRS), a Kremlin advisory body, told the CFRS’s conference just held in Moscow that political measures would be more effective than military measures against Ukraine and Georgia if they moved closer to NATO. He recommended discretion and quiet planning for deploying such measures at an appropriate time (Interfax, April 12).

The Georgian and Ukrainian governments are not intimidated. Georgia’s Parliament Chair Nino Burjanadze, Minister of Foreign Affairs Davit Bakradze, and other officials have rejected such “interstate blackmail” and reaffirmed Georgia’s irreversible “national choice” to join NATO. These and other Georgian officials describe Moscow’s threats to Georgia and Ukraine as added vindication of the two governments’ goal to join NATO (Civil Georgia, Rustavi-2 TV, April 8–12).

In statements on April 9 and 11, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Moscow’s questioning of Ukraine’s territorial integrity was “unacceptable” under international law. It asked the Russian government to observe the 1997 Russia-Ukraine interstate treaty, which also stipulated refraining from threats of using force (Interfax-Ukraine, April 12). Verkhovna Rada Chairman Arseny Yatseniuk called those threats “inexcusable,” and the Rada’s national security and defense committee chairman Anatoly Hrytsenko (a leading proponent of NATO membership) noted that Baluyevski’s ideas merely reflected those of Russia’s top political leadership (Interfax-Ukraine, April 11).

This is all pretty obvious. So obvious, in fact, that one wonders why Putin et al haven’t figured it out. Perhaps they only know one method to get their way; force and threats of force. This works admirably to intimidate their internal opponents to comply with their demands, but is ill-suited to the international stage. Putin’s internal opponents have no one to turn to because there is no alternative source of power within Russia. Ukraine and Georgia can find succor in NATO–the very thing that Putin wants to prevent. So, his chosen means are calculated to achieve the very opposite ends that he intends. It is very strange indeed that he and his henchmen are so limited in their imagination that they cannot see that their bluster is self-defeating.

There is another interesting tidbit in a RFE-RL article on the same subject:

During Ukraine’s 2004-05 Orange Revolution, Putin personally intervened on the side of then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who led the “anti-Orange” camp. The failure of that heavy-handed intervention was presented around the world, including in Russia and Ukraine, as a major foreign-policy fiasco for Moscow. Media reports at the time indicated that the failed effort in Ukraine was coordinated by Putin’s then chief of staff, Dmitry Medvedev.

Rather difficult to square this “heavy-handed intervention” (which included poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko with dioxin) with Medvedev’s “liberal” image, dontcha think? He was either a willing collaborator who agreed with the ends and the means, or he was just Putin’s tool faithfully carrying out orders he found objectionable on either pragmatic or moral grounds. Either way, this history does not suggest that a Medvedev presidency in Putin’s shadow will result in a noticeable change in Russian foreign policy.

Putin is Losing Chechnya

Paul Goble reports:

The conflict between forces loyal to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and the Battalion East there whose leaders have proclaimed their loyalty to the Russian high command casts doubt on the effectiveness of Vladimir Putin’s approach to Chechnya in particular and the North Caucasus more generally. That approach, which the Russian president has followed over the last five years, involves ceding enormous power to regional leaders as long as they loudly proclaim their loyalty to the Kremlin and keep violence in their republics at a low enough level to allow Putin to claim victory over “terrorist” forces there.

Indeed, Moscow analyst Ivan Sukhov argued in an essay published on last Thursday, the current upsurge of fighting in Chechnya indicates that Moscow’s current policies have not and indeed cannot bring peace to that region but only a kind of temporary armistice. If the central Russian authorities continue to back Kadyrov and allow him to recruit those who earlier fought Moscow, there is no certainty that either at their insistence or his own decision, Kadyrov or someone taking his place will turn on those now supporting him. And if Moscow tries, as it appears to have been doing to keep a reserve option, by allowing radical groups like Battalion East to exist, then it cannot be sure that these groups may not ultimately replace Kadyrov as the “magnet” for other Chechens, even if Moscow supports the Grozny leader.

Unfortunately, Sukhov continued, there are serious reasons to doubt that Moscow truly “understands just what sort of people [currently] occupy certain key posts in Chechnya,” even if all of them as the price of occupying these positions constantly tell the central Russian government exactly what it wants to hear. But at the same time, Moscow fears that any move against Kadyrov could make the situation worse, either by revealing how much Moscow’s security services are implicated on both sides or because it prompts questions about Putin’s policies.

Nonetheless and in an indication of just how explosive Chechnya and the North Caucasus remains – Putin’s claims and the West’s inattention notwithstanding – Russian officials are continuing to explore other options, each of which Sukhov argued appears more likely than not to make the situation worse. In an interview published last week, Ruslan Kutayev, the head of the International Center for the Study of the Problems of the North Caucasus, suggested that some in the Russian capital are still thinking about giving Kadyrov a role in running the entire region and others are discussing amalgamating one or more of the republics there.

Both strategies are fraught with difficulties. If Kadyrov behaved toward non-Chechens the way he has behaved toward Chechens, anger about his ethnicity would undoubtedly combine with anger about his approach, possibly pushing more people toward the Islamist radicals. Alternatively, if Moscow combines existing territories, the problems that could cause are even more obvious and dangerous. If Chechnya reabsorbed Ingushetia – as Kadyrov has urged — the Ingush would likely rise in revolt. If Adygeia were combined with Russian Krasnodar — the Circassians likely would seek to block the Sochi Olympics. Or if all the Circassian titular republics– Adygeia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia – were combined, Kutayev noted, Moscow would face a new and more powerful threat in the south, one backed by the more than five million Circassians living in Turkey, the Middle East and Europe.

Kutayev recalled the approach of General Charles de Gaulle to Algeria. Initially, the French leader agreed with most Frenchmen that Algeria was part of France. But as the situation in Algeria deteriorated, the general argued that the French must be willing to provide the support that would allow Algerians to live as Frenchmen. When the French indicated that they lacked the resources and will to do so, then de Gaulle was “honest” and argued that France had no other choice but to allow the region to go its own way. Moscow, Kutayev should face up to this choice and “honestly” decide just what it is willing to do. That is all the more so, he suggested, because if the Russian government continues as it is at present, the republics in the North Caucasus will remain a problem for Moscow whether it stays within the borders of the Russian Federation or are ultimately able to become independent.

More Barbaric Russian Aggression in Georgia

The New York Times reports:

The Republic of Georgia accused Russia on Monday of violating its airspace and using a MiG fighter jet to shoot down an unmanned Georgian reconnaissance drone over the separatist territory of Abkhazia on Sunday. Russia denied the Georgian claim, saying that none of its military planes flew in or near southwestern Russia on Sunday and that its air force pilots were not working that day. But Georgia released what is said was the video recording of the final live feed received from the unarmed aircraft before it was struck by an air-to-air missile and crashed at 9:55 a.m. Sunday.

Buoyed with what it called clear evidence, Georgia countered with an angry diplomatic and public relations offense. President Mikheil Saakashvili appeared on national television and said he had spoken with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and demanded an end to what he called “aggressive attacks.”

The footage shows the clear silhouette of a twin-tailed fighter aircraft, which the Georgians claimed was a MiG-29 fighter jet, bank into view beneath the drone and fire a missile toward the camera. The missile streaks swiftly toward the lens, leaving a long smoke trail as it advances and grows in size. The footage stops. Black and white static fills the screen. Neither the Georgian air force nor the tiny contingent of Abkhaz planes in the separatist territory have MiG-29s. The only air force with MiG-29s that could have been in the area, Georgian officials said, was Russia’s.

The dispute marked the latest claim by Georgia that Russia has made illegal military incursions into Georgian airspace. Last year, Georgia accused Russia of two mysterious attacks — a coordinated helicopter and ground-to-ground rocket attack in the Kodori Gorge in March, and an attack from a Russian jet with an air-to-ground missile in August. Each incident, Georgia has said, was further evidence that Russia has sided militarily with separatists it already supports politically in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two enclaves that have had de facto independence since brief wars against Georgia in the 1990s. The attacks, Georgia has said, show that Russia is not neutral and should be grounds to nullify Russia’s role as a so-called peacekeeper in the region. Russia has repeatedly denied the Georgian claims, even when confronted with the pieces of the broken rockets and missiles with Russian-language markings.

After the incident last August, Russia accused Georgia of staging a fake attack, or attacking itself. Georgia countered that it had digital radar evidence of a plane entering from Russia, flying to area of the attack and then returning to Russia.Georgia had initially denied Abkhaz reports on Sunday that it lost a drone. But on Monday it changed its story, saying it had dispatched an unarmed drone to observe Abkhaz troop buildups in Gali, a district on the Black Sea near the internal administrative border between Georgian and Abkhaz forces.

The Russian Air Force command did not dispute that a Georgian drone had been downed by an air-to-air missile. But it said an Abkhaz L-39 training plane had flown the mission. The fighter plane seen in the Georgian video did not resemble an L-39, which has a distinctive silhouette, including a single tail. The video could not be immediately verified independently. No markings were visible on the attacking plane. Georgian officials said they were fortunate to capture the fighter plane on camera, and only did so because a first missile fired by the plane missed the drone, which has a small engine that they said made it a difficult target for a heat-seeking missile.

The pilot apparently decided to approach closer for a second shot, they said, and flew close enough for the plane to be filmed by the drone before the drone was destroyed. Shota Utiashvili, a senior official in Georgia’s interior ministry, said radar data also showed that the Russian plane had flown from Gudauta, a former Soviet air force base inside Abkhazia, which is within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders. Basing Russian attack aircraft in Abkhazia would be illegal and a violation of the terms of peacekeeping on the region, he said. Georgian officials said the footage had been shared with foreign embassies in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital; the embassies made no public comment.

The incident occurred a week after Russia said it increasing its support and relations with the separatist territories inside Georgia, a step that several Western countries, including the United States, have criticized. “We are very concerned at the steps that have been taken and we have made our views known to the Russian Government,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week, before the latest incident.

The Ssssserpent Ssssspeaks

Robert Amsterdam reports:

“The government will rely on parliamentary support.”

— Russian president-elect Dmitri Medvedev, April 2008, to the Financial Times

“Should Russia become a parliamentary republic it will disappear.”

— Medvedev to Itogi, February 2008

Annals of Russian Anti-Americanism

Russians seem happy whenever they hear about economic problems in the U.S. They tend to ignore the fact that (a) such problems imply massive headaches for Russia, which relies on the U.S. oil market for its survival and (b) the information they get is coming to them from state-controlled media which are really nothing more than propaganda outlets. Writing in the Moscow Times, Alexei Bayer points out that news of America’s demise is greatly exaggerated:

It has become a cliche to point out that the government is busy reviving various ideological and symbolic trappings of the Soviet Union. One of the most amusing ideological constructs in the writings of “patriotic” pro-Kremlin commentators, as well as in the minds of ordinary Russians, is the growing belief that the U.S. economy is somehow a spent force.

Those who grew up under communism remember Marxist-Leninism’s “scientific” conclusion that the capitalist system was rotting away. This Soviet mantra, endlessly repeated in the face of evident Western prosperity, gave rise to jokes like this one:

Rabinovich applies to emigrate to the United States.

“Why do you want to go to America?” his KGB minder inquires. “Capitalism is rotting.”

“I know it is. But by God, comrade major, doesn’t it smell lovely?”

Naturally, capitalism failed to collapse, but communism did. Ironically, the Soviet economy did rot away, and, in line with Marxist predictions, the Soviet Union crumbled under the weight of its own contradictions. Undeterred by the failure of the old prophesies, we now have a new crop of Russian Cassandras. If Nikita Khrushchev and Mao couldn’t bury the United States in their time, perhaps Chinese President Hu Jintao will.

I’ve just come back from a trip to Southern California. I stayed an extra day to visit a school friend of mine, a microbiologist, now living in San Diego and working at one of its world-famous research institutes.

The last time I visited San Diego was 30 years ago. After my freshman year at a New York college, I came out to the West Coast and spent a summer frying chicken at an amusement park. San Diego was then a sleepy, pleasant burg inhabited by U.S. Navy retirees and their Mexican gardeners. Now, it is a global hub of the biotech industry. My friend is part of a sizeable group of Russian biologists doing academic research or working for various startups. Many of his former classmates at Moscow State University and colleagues from research institutes are also scattered around the United States. Some have even started their own biotech companies.

“I don’t know where they have learned,” shrugs my friend. “They used to be your regular Moscow scientists, with thick glasses. Now, they put companies through venture capital financing and IPOs.”

Actually, he has worked for a startup himself and does consulting for private business. Although he remains very much tied to Russian culture (a Pushkin volume lies casually on his kitchen counter and his kids speak fluent Russian), he is extremely comfortable in San Diego. Who wouldn’t be? He has absolutely no interest in returning to Moscow. Some Russian scientists working in the United States might return, but very few, if any, will do so for professional reasons. Conditions for research and its practical application are simply too good in the United States.

Nor have they been matched elsewhere. At my friend’s institute, most foreign researchers prefer to work in the United States, even though their countries now offer them incentives to come home. For all the money China and India spend on science and technology, they have yet to find a way of chipping away at the United State’s primacy in innovation.

President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, nanotechnology, is a good illustration why. In most countries of the world, support for science and innovation is a top-down exercise, where bureaucrats decide what needs to be developed and how. Typically, they get it wrong. The U.S. system, meanwhile, thrives by being bottom-up, allowing scientists to succeed — or fail — on their own terms.

It is true that the U.S. economy has problems. It is heavily dependent on imports, there is too much debt and the middle classes have been hollowed out. But as long as the United States controls innovation, there is little chance of it surrendering its global economic leadership.