Daily Archives: April 25, 2008

April 25, 2008 — Contents


(1) The WaPo Rips Putin a New One on Georgia

(2) SNAFU in the Russian Military

(3) Annals of the Sochi Scam

(4) Annals of Neo-Soviet Censorship

NOTE: Russia is running dry of oil and gas! Publius Pundit has all the details.

WaPo Rips Putin a New One on Georgia

An editorial in the Washington Post:

LAST MONTH, NATO sent a muddled message to Ukraine and Georgia, fragile European democracies that are seeking membership in the Western alliance. Pressed by President Bush, a NATO summit meeting issued a statement declaring that the two countries “will become members of NATO” someday. But the alliance also deferred the requests of their governments for “membership action plans,” the bureaucratic vehicle for joining, at the insistence of France and Germany — which made it clear they were deferring to Russian objections.

Russian President Vladimir Putin read NATO’s ambivalence exactly as Georgia’s president predicted he would — as a sign of weakness. He has responded by escalating Moscow’s campaign against Georgia’s sovereignty, intended to force it back into the Kremlin’s sphere of influence. Last week, Mr. Putin issued a decree establishing legal ties with the governments of two separatist regions of Georgia, a major step toward either recognizing them as independent states or annexing them to Russia. On Sunday, according to Georgian authorities, a Russian MiG-29 warplane operating over one of the regions, Abkhazia, shot down an unmanned Georgian reconnaissance aircraft. LR: See YouTube video above.

Russia has backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their rebellions against Georgia ever since Georgia became an independent country after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It has dispatched its own personnel to head ministries in the separatist regions and issued passports to many of their remaining citizens. Now it is treating the provinces as if they were autonomous Russian republics and attacking Georgia’s aircraft as if they were over the territory of Russia, rather than in Georgia. Mr. Putin clearly expects that Georgia’s would-be Western allies will take no concrete steps to defend it — and will shrink from any further step to bring it into NATO.

So far he’s right. The Bush administration, the European Union and NATO duly issued statements last week expressing concern about Mr. Putin’s legal decree and asking that it be reversed. Yesterday, they said they were asking the Russian government for an explanation of the downing of the unmanned aircraft; Moscow’s initial denial of responsibility was hard to reconcile with the video of the incident posted by Georgia on the Internet. Yet démarches won’t change Russian behavior.

The appropriate and proportionate response is for NATO to take its own concrete steps toward integrating Georgia and Ukraine. An alliance meeting in December is due to reconsider the issue; the Bush administration should insist that a decision on membership action plans for the two nations be made then. It should also propose a new international mechanism for resolving Georgia’s dispute with its provinces, one that cannot be dominated by Russia. If it shrinks from challenging Mr. Putin’s actions, NATO will allow a new line to be drawn in Europe — one that leaves Georgia and Ukraine on the wrong side.

SNAFU in the Russian Military

Writing in the Moscow Times, Alexander Golts explains why the Russian Army is incapable of reform or improvement and therefore cannot serve or protect the nation:

The word “military reform” sends terrible chills down the spines of military officers because it could mean that their alternative sources of income in the shadow economy will dry up or, even worse, that they will lose their jobs outright.

In an attempt to sugarcoat the military modernization campaign, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has recommended that the word “reform” not be used to describe the series of changes he has introduced. “We have no plans for drastic changes. We are just putting the affairs of the armed forces in order,” he insisted.

To be sure, President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that he is satisfied with the condition of the armed forces, and Serdyukov was not appointed to make revolutionary changes to the system.

It is essential that Serdyukov establish at least some kind of control over the billions of rubles that disappear without a trace in the Defense Ministry. But for some strange reason, his attempts to establish a modicum of financial accountability and transparency in the Defense Ministry have sparked a storm of protest from the military’s top brass.

Serdyukov is planning to divest assets held by the military, to make army commanders answerable to their own financial officers and to strip military lawyers, doctors and journalists of their officer status. In reality, it is clear that any attempt by Serdyukov to introduce accountability, transparency and efficiency in the military a priori runs counter to the generals’ fundamental view of how the armed forces should function on a daily basis.

Among other things, Serdyukov has proposed restructuring military entities into joint-stock companies and to auction off unused land. The military is one-fourth its size at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but its vast holdings have not decreased proportionally. Serdyukov would like to reorganize the management of factories for repairing tanks, armored vehicles, aircraft and naval equipment, as well as restructuring farms owned by the Defense Ministry. These various structures are referred to as state unitary enterprises, and each belongs to its respective branch of the military — the Army, Air Force or Navy. These enterprises are structured in such a way that any factory or farm director who cultivates the “right” relationship with central command can siphon off as much money as he wants from the enterprise he oversees. Of course, even Serdyukov’s restructuring plan won’t guarantee an end to corruption in the military, but the current system is particularly open to graft. Converting these enterprises to joint-stock companies — complete with boards of directors and relatively transparent accounting practices — at the very least will decrease the opportunities available for skimming off budgetary funds.

Serdyukov’s initiative to strip the military’s journalists, lawyers and doctors of officer rank is a clear attempt to decrease the number of officers. The army now has 400,000 officers out of a total 1.2 million service personnel. That comes out to one officer for every two soldiers. In most countries, officers constitute not more than 16 percent of a military’s total personnel. In Russia, the bloated number of officers resembles an inverted pyramid, with nearly as many colonels as lieutenants.

But the generals argue that a large number of officers is necessary to maintain a mass-mobilization army — one that could call up millions of reservists to fight a war against NATO. In answer to the charge that the number of colonels has nearly outstripped the number of lieutenants, the generals counter that someone must be available to lead the divisions of reservists.

Regarding the military’s enormous property holdings, generals argue that, while these assets might be superfluous in peacetime, they will be essential in the event of a major conflict with NATO. In defending their mass-mobilization strategy, which is still stuck in an old Soviet mindset, the generals complain about the incompetence and ignorance of civilians running the Defense Department.

This is why attempts by Serdyukov and his advisers to put financial and accounting controls on military spending have led to a serious conflict with the entrenched military establishment. In the end, this will probably mean that the military brass will succeed in fending off the implementation of fundamental reforms, and Serdyukov’s attempts to modernize the armed forces will largely be a fruitless exercise.

Annals of the Sochi Scam

We’ve previously reported on how Russia’s attempt to create an Olympic venue in Sochi is rapidly coming unglued in a predictable Russian manner. Now, the Moscow Times reports that the IOC is finally getting the message as well.

The Sochi 2014 Olympics will be among the most challenging to prepare for, a key International Olympic Committee official warned Tuesday, just a few days after the country’s Olympic construction chief stepped down amid worries that costs were ballooning out of control. “It’s a special situation and we will have to do a lot,” Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC’s coordination committee for the games, said during a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and other government officials responsible for the Olympic preparations. Killy, a French Alpine skiing legend, made his comments after touring some of the prospective construction sites in Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana, the planned main ski venue near the city, earlier Tuesday with a delegation of 13 other IOC members.

Sochi suffers from an almost complete lack of Olympic-class facilities, and their construction will largely have to start from scratch. Some 200 facilities, including roads and electricity lines, need to be built, an effort that will require at least $12 billion in investment. Semyon Vainshtok, the head of the Olimpstroi state corporation responsible for preparing Sochi for the games, resigned abruptly Thursday, amid accusations of mismanagement and cost overruns. Vainshtok’s departure, just seven months after being appointed to the job, came after months of criticism from lawmakers and state officials over ballooning costs as real estate prices in Sochi have soared. But Killy said Tuesday that he was impressed by the preparations so far and was “absolutely sure” that Russia and the IOC would succeed in organizing the Olympics.

In a report on the IOC visit, Channel One television’s evening newscast showed a motorcade of black sport utility vehicles raising dust as they sped along a winding road on their visit to the Krasnaya Polyana resort. Zubkov joined the IOC delegation for part of their reconnaissance mission, the channel said. Sergei Grigoryev, a spokesman for the Olimpstroi corporation, said IOC commission members were shown sites in Sochi and nearby Krasnaya Polyana, where developers plan to build an Olympic village and skiing routes. They were also shown designs for future facilities and an existing ski resort built by Gazprom, he said. The commission was also scheduled to receive a progress report on upgrading the Sochi airport, the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee said in a statement on its web site. IOC officials are to give their impressions of their visit at a news conference Wednesday.

The IOC visit is the first since Sochi was picked to host the 2014 games at an IOC meeting last July in Guatemala, where President Vladimir Putin lobbied hard for Sochi’s bid and promised that the government would invest heavily in the area’s infrastructure. The IOC delegation will visit next in 2009. When Vainshtok resigned last Thursday, government officials said the change in command had been planned in advance and would not affect the pace of preparations. But a flurry of subsequent media reports suggested that Vainshtok had quit because he realized the task was too unwieldy. “It is very difficult to make Sochi an Olympic city,” an unidentified official said, RIA-Novosti reported. “There are many infrastructure limitations — no electricity, no roads, no way to get cargoes there needed for building.”

The new chief of Olimpstroi, former Sochi mayor Viktor Kolodyazhny, said Tuesday that he wasn’t going to reshuffle his staff. “Why would I do that?” Kolodyazhny said. “It’s professionals that work there. They suit me.” The corporation has already started designing a bobsled run for the Olympics and aims to complete the work next January, he said. The bobsled route and some other planned facilities for the Olympics would run through a nature reserve, which has angered environmentalists, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.

Annals of Neo-Soviet Censorship

Other Russia reports:

Two well-known Russian rock musicians have been cut from television programs planning to feature their work. The first, ironically named Televizor (Television), was supposed to appear in a live show on the St. Petersburg 100TV channel on April 24th. The second, DDT frontman Yury Shevchuk, was banned from the Kultura (Culture) channel.

As the Sobkor@ru news agency reports, the 100TV channel’s editorial offices were apparently concerned with nature of Televizor’s recent lyrics.

Televizor, which came out of the Soviet underground of the mid-1980s, describes itself as “one of the predecessors of Russian neo-romanticism and electronic funk.” The band, led by Mikhail Borzykin, was supposed to appear on the “100 Percent Sound” show, in a live musical performance.

While many of the group’s songs have nothing offensive about them, the group has never shied away from political themes and strong-mouthed lyrics. Their early recordings include songs titled “Your television is speaking with you,” and “Your dad is a fascist.” The band’s most recent album, Megamisanthrope, takes jabs at religion, war and materialism. Televizor’s latest songs have taken a sharp political edge, criticizing repressive authorities and imperialism. Borzykin is an active member of the opposition, and has performed at several demonstrations, including the March 3rd, 2008 March of Dissent in St. Petersburg.

“The songs of Mikhail Borzykin could not be aired, but not for political, but rather ethical reasons,” said Andrei Radin, the lead editor for the 100 TV channel. He explained the channel’s concerns for letting Televizor on the air, noting the “barefaced, explicit obscenity, and even unmentionable language” of Borzykin’s songs.

The singer himself said that “we were told that ‘now there’s such a situation, that we cannot allow this to happen.’”

Another television channel is apparently unhappy with Yury Shevchuk, the front-man of one of Russia’s most famous rock-bands, DDT. According to the North-West Political News Agency, the Kultura (Culture) TV channel has a standing order not to air any of Shevchuk’s songs. This year, he was also replaced at an annual commemorative concert for folk artist Bulat Okudzhava.

Shevchuk, who took part in the March 3rd March of Dissent in St. Petersburg, also performed at a concert after the mass-demonstration. Speaking during the protest, he explained that rock music in Russia and St. Petersburg most of all represents freedom. In a later interview, he added that he decided to march because “there was no other choice left.

Those who speak Russian can listen to an interview with Borzykin here.