Daily Archives: May 7, 2008

May 7, 2008 — Contents

WEDNESDAY MAY 7 CONTENTS

(1) EDITORIAL: Postcards from Potemkin Russia

(2) Putin’s Quiet Coup D’etat

(3) Who does the Russian Military Think it’s Fooling?

(4) Russians Beg for Mercy from Tsar Dimitri

(5) Welcome back to the USSR

(6) Annals of “Pacified” Chechnya

NOTE: Vladimir Putin is invading Georgia with a massive army in clear violation of international law. Publius Pundit has all the details, via the brilliant Vladimir Socor over at Eurasia Daily Monitor.

EDITORIAL: Postcards from Potemkin Russia

EDITORIAL

Postcards from Potemkin Russia

Russia these days reminds us of a middle-class man who spends his life savings to buy a shiny new red Ferrari without realizing that the purchase will leave him with no funds to pay for gas, much less costly repairs or insurance. He charges out of the dealership onto the highway headed for a cross-country trek, only to run out of gas before he leaves his own state and ends up hitchhiking down the highway.

Bedazzled by an oil revenue windfall and its sparkly effects on Moscow, some Russophiles have forgotten there’s a country out there, one that requires maintenance if it is survive. Just as in Tsarist and Soviet times, modern Russia’s oligarchs ignore the welfare of the masses and burn their candle at both its ends.

It will not last the night, and as we reported on Monday the light it gives is far from lovely.

Take, for instance, a report on Monday from Bloomberg News about Lake Baikal:

Lake Baikal is warming faster than the atmosphere, challenging the idea that large bodies of water can withstand global warming, U.S. and Russian scientists said. Baikal, which holds 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, has warmed by 1.21 degrees Celsius since 1946, said Marianne Moore, assistant professor of biological sciences at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Global temperatures have risen 0.76 degrees Celsius since industrialization, a United Nations panel on climate change said in March. The Siberian lake holds more than 2,500 plant and animal species, including the world’s only exclusively freshwater seal, and some could become extinct by continued warming, said Moore, co-author of a report on Lake Baikal to be published this month in the journal Global Change Biology. The study challenges the idea that thermal inertia of oceans, seas and large lakes would make them more resistant to climate change, Moore said. “The warming that we’re seeing in this lake is of more concern than that of any other lake because of the extraordinary biodiversity,” Moore said. “You could potentially lose the Baikal seal.” Beginning in the 1940s, data on Lake Baikal was collected by Mikhail Kozhov, a professor at Irkutsk State University. The research was carried on by his daughter and granddaughter, Lyubov Izmesteva, a co-author of the journal article. The family has taken samples of the lake every seven to 10 days since 1946, amassing a history that Moore analyzed. The data revealed that the lake’s average summer temperature has increased by 2.4 degrees, Moore said. “My jaw just dropped to the floor when I heard this,” Moore said. “I was extremely surprised that the data set even existed.”

The New York Times adds: “Dr. Izmesteva and her colleagues pay for their work in part with fees they earn by consulting or doing environmental impact assessments. They sustain the program any way they can.” In other words, without support from the Putin regime in Moscow. Such support would, of course, divert funds from Putin’s parade of tanks through Red Square on Friday and all the other cold-war provocations he has in mind. But if Russia intends to keep control over the world’s single largest portion of national territory (by a wide margin) then it will have to bear the world’s largest maintenance costs. If it doesn’t pay those costs, the nation will dissolve into rust and then be gobbled up by others who will. That’s the law of nature.

But Russia shows no inclination whatsoever to do so. The Kremlin would prefer to spend Russia’s ready cash on renewal of the cold war conflict with the West, and the people do not seem willing to lift a finger to stop that. Russia stands to lose one-third of its population in the next half-century, a far greater blow than any ever inflicted by a foreign enemy in war, yet the government is silent and the population demands no action, much less change of policy or regime. There is no environmental movement in Russia, because there is no support for one in the population. There is no racial justice movement, no women’s rights movement, and indeed no real opposition of any kind to the edicts of the malignant little troll who prowls the Kremlin’s parapets by night, spitting on the hapless denizens of his land from on high for his amusement.

Below, we report on Putin’s plans to spend piles of money on an outrageous neo-Soviet parade of military hardware through Red Square. Who could ask for any more emphatic proof of Russia’s neo-Soviet intentions than this? In another item we report below, Radio Free Europe calls it “a deliberate throwback to the country’s communist past, when millions of people watched live on television as the Soviet Union celebrated its vast military might.” And so it is, in more ways than one: Ass the report below shows, just as in Soviet times these actions are mere illusions, more efforts to create a Potemkin Village and dupe the unwary, both at home and abroad, into thinking that Russia is more than it is. How dare Putin simultaneously decry the expansion of NATO and parade armaments before a slack-jawed world? Is this man insane?

Dmitry Oreshkin, a Russian political analyst, thinks so. He tells RFE: “Putin gives free rein to the Soviet dream. The huge number of people who were brought up in a military tradition, and who conceive the world in terms of the West wanting to enslave them, have the painful feeling that Russia lacks tanks. So why not show them these tanks? Why not roll them across Red Square? Let them watch, shed a few tears, and calm down.”

Frankly speaking, though, even if we despise Vladimir Putin, sometimes we empathize with him. Like the rulers of Russia who have come before him, how can he but be infuriated by the craven indifference of the population, by their dogged refusal to stand up and be counted for any reason? Why should he do anything differently, if the people of the country don’t demand it? Why should he take any risks when he knows full well that any call for national effort will fall on deaf ears? Why shouldn’t he conclude that he rules over a nation of cattle, and proceed accordingly?

Surely, that frustration was just as well known to Tsar Peter, and Lenin, and Stalin, and indeed to Gorbachev and Yeltsin.

Putin’s Quiet Coup D’etat

The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor reports:

Gazeta reported on May 5 that it had learned the structure and personnel make-up of the cabinet that Vladimir Putin will head as prime minister starting on May 8, the day after Dmitry Medvedev is inaugurated as president. According to the paper, outgoing Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov will remain in the cabinet as first deputy prime minister overseeing the “control and supervisory agencies.” Most of the current cabinet ministers will remain in their jobs, while Putin will have eleven deputies, as did Viktor Chernomyrdin during his tenure as prime minister. The main “intrigue,” the paper wrote, involves who will occupy the position of deputy prime minister overseeing the “power bloc.”

Still, Gazeta said that “the very appearance” of a deputy prime minister overseeing the “power bloc” simply confirms that “the center for making all important decisions, despite the protestations of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, is being transferred from the Kremlin to the White House.” Indeed, Gazeta noted that in one of his final press conferences as president, Putin said that he was leaving everything in the Kremlin to his successor except for the fountain pen that Boris Yeltsin used to sign his most important decrees and that he bequeathed to Putin on December 31, 1999, the day Yeltsin left office. “Perhaps that pen contains the sacred secret of Kremlin power,” the paper wrote. “In any case, together with that artifact, Putin … is taking possession of all command powers and levers of control over all key leaders, from the governors to the heads of the special services.”

According to Gazeta, Prime Minister Putin will use the resources of the Regional Development Ministry, headed by Dmitry Kozak, to control the governors; and Kozak will become a deputy prime minister. Zubkov, in his role as first deputy prime minister, will not only be in charge of the government’s “operational status” but will also have the role of “chief inspector” over how budgetary funds are used, putting him above the watchdog Audit Chamber and the Federal Service for Financial-Budgetary Supervision.

Gazeta wrote that Igor Sechin, the current deputy Kremlin chief-of-staff who is widely scene as the de facto leader of a faction of hardliner siloviki, will also become a deputy prime minister and could end up replacing Naryshkin as head of the government apparatus, with Naryshkin “shifted in another direction.” Sechin could also wind up doubling as head of the prime minister’s secretariat. “Vladimir Putin loves to appoint people close to him to compound positions in order to award them with a high status,” Gazeta wrote, noting that simply appointing Sechin as head of the prime ministerial secretariat, whose tasks involve “circulation of documents and red tape,” would be an “obvious insult.”

Putin’s current press secretary, Aleksei Gromov, may be appointed deputy prime minister in charge of education, culture and the media, Gazeta wrote, adding that the job of press secretary for the new prime minister would go to Gromov’s current first deputy, Dmitry Peskov.

A subject of “special intrigue” is the fate of First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, Gazeta wrote, noting that he might become secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council if the decision is made to turn that body into a “counterweight” to Medvedev inside the Kremlin administration. Citing an unnamed source, the paper reported that the possibility of keeping Ivanov on as deputy prime minister in charge of the “power agencies” was discussed in March and April but that the idea of having a “decorative power vice premier” was rejected in favor of putting the prime minister personally in charge of the siloviki. The source told Gazeta that this was in part why Putin had decided to remain in high politics. Before internecine warfare broke out among rival siloviki last September, “Putin had seriously planned to leave, at least to rest for a time,” the source told the paper. “The decision to head the government was a forced move. The siloviki grandees’ internecine war has subsided, but it hasn’t ended.”

Gazeta cited “other sources in the Kremlin” as indicating that it was possible Putin could still appoint a deputy prime minister in charge of the “power bloc” and that Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolay Platonovich Patrushev could fill that position, given that in serving as both FSB director and a deputy prime minister, he would “de jure remain subordinated to Putin” (by law, the FSB director is appointed by the president, not by the prime minister).

According to an unnamed Gazeta source, after May 7 the Kremlin administration will be headed by current deputy Kremlin chief-of-staff Vladmir Surkov, a “compromise figure” for Medvedev and Putin. The source said that Medvedev did not want the current Kremlin administration chief, Sergei Sobyanin, to remain in that post, instead proposing a current presidential aide Igor Shuvalov, who was also being pushed by former Kremlin administrative chief Aleksandr Voloshin.

Gazeta’s source said that within a month, the cabinet could introduce amendments to the law on the government, in particular, to Article 32, Chapter 5, which was made part of the law on the advice of Boris Yeltsin and allows the president, essentially in violation of the constitution, to be in charge of the power ministries and the Foreign Ministry, With this change, the prime minister would be able to take over running the country, “including in the spheres of military and foreign policy … The constitution … can be interpreted so that the president, if he is lacking in ambition, turns into an English king and doesn’t interfere in current affairs of state, except in extraordinary cases”

The Russian Military: Who do they Think they are Fooling?

The Associated Press reports:

For the first time in post-Soviet Russia, tanks and nuclear missile launchers are to rumble across Red Square on Friday, in a seemingly fearsome parade of military might.

The message to the world, two days after Dmitry Medvedev succeeds Vladimir Putin as president, should be clear: Russia is again a major military power.

“This isn’t saber-rattling,” Putin insisted Monday. “We are not threatening anyone.”

And indeed, for all the investment in the military — an eightfold increase to an annual $40 billion during Putin’s eight years in office — experts say it still has a long way to go to restore its Soviet-era might. “Our armed forces are merely a bad copy of the Soviet army,” said retired Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, a former arms control expert with the Russian Defense Ministry.

The annual Victory Day parade that marks Nazi Germany’s defeat may look impressive, but some Russian commentators think much of the military spending has been squandered through corruption, cronyism and mismanagement. Although in better shape than in the years immediately after the Soviet Union dissolved, the military remains an example of Russia’s inability to use its eight-year oil bonanza to overhaul decrepit infrastructure and institutions.

The Soviet Union was bankrupted two decades ago by centralized planning and state dominance of the economy. After the sale of public assets in the 1990s, the state under Putin has expanded its role, and plans to create huge new government-owned military and technological conglomerates. But the army, the pension system, public health, secondary education and the road system have all eroded on Putin’s watch, former government ministers Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov wrote in a recent report, “Putin: The Bottom Line.” The main cause, they charge, is “Russia’s dive into an unprecedented mire of corruption” that flows throughout the government.

INDEM, a Moscow-based research foundation, has reported that the volume of corrupt business conducted in Russia rose from $36 billion in 2001 to around $319 billion in 2005, its latest published data. The military budget accounts for around 4.6 percent of gross domestic product, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, roughly on a par with China and the U.S. But the generals don’t let cash reach the grass roots where it’s most needed, says security analyst Andrei Soldatov, and this “is leaving Russia’s rapid-reaction armed forces in particularly bad shape.”

The military’s problems may be one reason why Medvedev repeatedly sounds the alarm about corruption, calling it “the gravest disease which has struck our society.” Putin’s Kremlin has poured $150 billion into its armed services, yet those services remain saddled with old weaponry and facilities. As part of an effort to reclaim Russia’s previous status as a great military power, Putin has resumed long-range bomber patrols, boasted of developing a new strategic missile and threatened to deploy missiles closer to the heart of Europe. But only a handful of new combat jets and several dozen tanks have been added in recent years. Soviet submarines still frequently need repair and rarely leave their bases.

A new nuclear sub, the Yury Dolgoruky, cannot be deployed because the Bulava ballistic missile it was supposed to carry has failed tests. When the vessel eventually sails, it will likely only make training cruises, according to a report by the Federation of American Scientists. “Russia no longer maintains a continuous sea-based deterrent patrol posture like that of the United States, Britain and France, but instead has shifted to a new posture where it occasionally deploys a submarine for training purposes,” the report said.

Military service is mandatory, but conditions are brutal and less than 10 percent of males end up in uniform, according to a 2007 study for the Swedish Research Institute of National Defense. Russia’s declining population has also left it with a shrinking pool of draftees. According to population expert Murray Feshbach at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, young men being inducted into the military today are neither as healthy nor as educated as they were in the Soviet times.

Military communications also lag. The introduction of Russia’s answer to America’s GPS satellite navigation system was postponed this year due to equipment shortages. Basics like night-vision goggles, portable radios and satellite phones are scarce. The bottom line is that “the Russian military forces are in a bad state, and the situation is getting worse,” said Alexander Khramchikhin, chief analyst at the Institute of Military and Political Analysis. So Russia increasingly relies on its nuclear missiles for defense. The weaker its army, the quicker it might resort to atomic weapons in a crisis, some analysts fear. “It’s a very destabilizing concept,” said Alexander Pikayev, head of military policy research at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.

Russians, meanwhile, worry that with the Soviet-era missile arsenal aging, Moscow will find it harder to maintain nuclear parity with the U.S. Still, things are better than in the 1990s. Jets and navy ships are no longer idled for lack of fuel. Wage hikes and better training have made troops more combat-ready. The return of heavy weapons to the annual celebration is “a demonstration of our growing defense capabilities,” Putin said in remarks broadcast on state television Monday. “We are able to defend our people, our citizens, our state, our riches — of which there is quite a lot.” But Putin, who is staying on as prime minister, and President-elect Medvedev, face formidable challenges if they want to do more than parade military hardware in Red Square, and turn Russia’s armed services into a modern fighting force. Unlike 10 years ago, Russia today has the means to pursue these goals. All it needs now is the political will. Pikayev said Friday’s parade shows it now has that will. “It demonstrates that Russia has risen from its knees and is prepared to do everything to make its concerns heard,” he said.

Russians Beg for Mercy from Tsar Dimitry

The Moscow Times reports:

Thousands of people used traditional May Day marches to call for something new: an end to rising food prices. The protests against rising inflation and living costs coincided with an end on May 1 to government-led price freezes on selected goods, a voluntary curb agreed on by food wholesalers and producers last October as a measure to stem inflation. The protests, staged in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Volgograd, Stavropol and other cities, highlight a key challenge facing President-elect Dmitry Medvedev when he assumes power on Wednesday.

The protests are very topical, Dmitry Yanin, head of the Moscow-based International Consumer Societies Confederation, said Sunday. “People remember the 1990s when inflation was very high, and of course people are very worried,” he said by telephone. In Moscow, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told May Day crowds that more than 5 million of the country’s poorest people were barely surviving on 5,000 rubles ($210) per month amid rising housing costs. Communist supporters carried banners saying, “Everyone should have the right to a free apartment.”

A pro-Kremlin march organized jointly by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and United Russia called for the “rise in wages to exceed the rise in prices.” The refrain was also taken up in Volgograd, where demonstrators called for higher salaries, the Regnum news agency reported. In St. Petersburg, marchers chanted, “No to high prices!” and “Putin’s Plan means high prices,” Reuters reported. In the Far East, protesters in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk called for higher wages and for the government to take measures to bring down prices for fuel and food.

The battle cry for higher wages and pensions and lower food costs was taken up at May Day rallies around the world, with clashes between police and protesters in Turkey leaving nearly 40 people injured, while crowds rallied against the rising cost of food staples throughout Asia. In Paris, nearly 120,000 people marched to call for higher wages and pensions, while 25,000 people turned out in Madrid to voice their concerns over growing unemployment, Agence France Presse reported. Rising inflation has emerged as a global phenomenon in the light of poor harvests, the growing use of grain in biofuels production and rising demand from economies such as China. A growing number of governments, economists and NGOs have warned of a deepening global food crisis.

Here, the authorities have pointed to rising food prices as the chief driver behind spiraling inflation, yet Russians are facing higher costs in every aspect of their lives, from apartments to fuel. As of April 28, consumer prices had risen by 6.3 percent in the year to date, according to the State Statistics Service, throwing doubt on the government’s ability to keep inflation to its target of 9 percent to 10 percent by year’s end. Inflation officially rose to 11.9 percent last year, far outstripping the government’s forecasts.

“The Federation Council is extremely disturbed by the uncontrollable increase in food prices and inflation,” said Oganes Oganesyan, head of the council’s committee on economic policy, Interfax reported. “We will react to the situation, particularly after the end of the ban on price increases on food products.” He proposed empowering the government to react quickly to sudden price increases, enabling it to limit price increases on certain products in a similar way to its actions over the past six months.

Marina Kagan, an executive director at Wimm-Bill-Dann, the country’s largest juice and dairy producer, welcomed the end to the voluntary price freezes, but said they were “never material” to the company, accounting for just 3 percent of its revenue. “At the time, it was probably the right thing to do because people needed to see some action,” she said, adding that the company would continue to adhere to voluntary price freezes in some regions.

Analysts said they did not expect prices to rise significantly in light of the lifting of the price freezes — which was limited to “socially significant” products such as milk and cooking oil — but in some areas, such as Vladivostok, staple products had already risen by as much as 2 rubles since May 1, RIA-Novosti reported Sunday. Yanin said prices would continue to grow, irrespective of the agreement reached with wholesalers and producers. “I don’t think this agreement had any influence on prices,” said Yanin, noting that prices had grown, although at a slower rate, in spite of the freeze.

The government has come in for some harsh criticism from economists for fueling inflation through increased budgetary spending and reluctance to take substantive measures to bring it down. In particular, the government has poured money into boosting wages and pensions. According to the Health and Social Development Ministry, real incomes have risen by an average of 25 percent in the last two years, above official inflation figures. Economists view such wage hikes as another contributor to rising prices. “Usually street protests are very powerful tools to push the government into advertising its measures,” said Yulia Tseplyayeva, an economist at Merrill Lynch. “I expect more public efforts … to demonstrate that [the government is] doing something, rather than anything practical.”

Welcome Back to the USSR

Radio Free Europe reports:

For the first time in 17 years, Russia will celebrate the victory over Nazi Germany with a display of the country’s big military hardware. Red Square will host a monumental procession of tanks and missiles on May 9, including the country’s new Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile and the S-300 missile-defense system that Russia now sells to Iran. More than 30 military airplanes and helicopters will roar overhead. “This is not saber-rattling,” Vladimir Putin told the last cabinet meeting he will preside over as Russian president before stepping down in two days. “We are not threatening anybody and we are not imposing anything on anybody,” Putin said on May 5. “We have enough of everything. But this is a demonstration of our growing defense capability. We are capable of defending our people, our citizens, our state, our abundant riches.”

Still, the parade is a deliberate throwback to the country’s communist past, when millions of people watched live on television as the Soviet Union celebrated its vast military might. It also comes on the heels of a historic political transition, when Putin — the still-powerful, still-popular leader — moves into the premiership to make way for his protege, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev.

Dmitry Oreshkin, a Russian political analyst, says beefing up the Victory Day parade is just one of many steps that Putin has taken toward resurrecting the hallmarks of the Soviet empire and the country’s former glory. “He gives free rein to the Soviet dream,” Oreshkin says. “The huge number of people who were brought up in a military tradition, and who conceive the world in terms of the West wanting to enslave them, have the painful feeling that Russia lacks tanks. So why not show them these tanks? Why not roll them across Red Square? Let them watch, shed a few tears, and calm down.”

To that end, the army has erected a full-scale replica of Moscow’s most famous square outside the capital to train for the event. State-run television has been flooding the screens with images of tanks and missile carriers trundling through the city’s main thoroughfares as part of the rehearsal. The show should feature more than 8,000 soldiers wearing spiffy new uniforms, designed by a top Russian couturier and personally approved by Putin, which highlight design motifs from both the Soviet and imperial past.

The outgoing president, who famously described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the 20th century’s “greatest geopolitical catastrophe,” has made no secret of his fondness for the Soviet era. A former KGB officer, Putin as president restored the Soviet anthem and the red banner as Russia’s official military flag. In 2005, he allowed Moscow authorities to put up a statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the dreaded Cheka secret police that preceded the KGB.

Visual Memory

Like Putin, large swaths of the population never quite shook off their nostalgia for all things Soviet. Websites ending in the Soviet “.su” domain, for example, are back in vogue, with registrations increasing by 45 percent since the beginning of the year. There’s also talk of reinstating Misha the Bear [shown above], the emblem of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and one of the best-selling toys in the Soviet Union, as the mascot for the 2014 Winter Games in the Russian resort of Sochi. And in December, a sequel to the cult Soviet film “Ironia Sudby” (Irony of Fate), pulverized Russian box-office records.

Russians and the Russian government have flirted with Soviet nostalgia virtually since the collapse of the USSR, when economic and political chaos dealt a heavy blow to national self-worth. But Boris Dubin, a sociologist at the Levada polling center, says the current Soviet revival is unprecedented. “This tendency has consolidated under Putin’s two presidential terms,” Dubin says. “All these symbols suggest that both the country’s leadership and the overall population are re-embracing Soviet times. This was not characteristic of the first Yeltsin period or even, to a large extent, of Gorbachev’s perestroika.”

Putin and his disciples, who have overseen a massive economic and consumer boom, are not bent on resurrecting all aspects of the USSR. But analysts say the Kremlin has sought to fill the ideological vacuum left by the Soviet demise by tapping into what it believes to be the most memorable pages of the country’s history. The Soviet Union, including its most brutal episodes, certainly has many admirers in today’s Russia.

One of them is Azirkhan Pashayev, a pensioner who opened a museum commemorating Josef Stalin three years ago at his home in Makhachkala, the capital of the Russian republic of Daghestan. Pashayev, who prides himself on his resemblance to the Soviet dictator, says his museum draws a steady stream of visitors. “It’s our history, whatever mistakes were made. We shouldn’t forget our history, we should teach it to the younger generations,” says Pashayev. “Teachers come here with schoolchildren. We celebrate birthdays. On Stalin’s remembrance day, I invite 40 or 50 veterans and stage a commemorative ceremony for them.”

‘Just 70 Years’

Back in Moscow, Soviet memorabilia is all the rage in the dozens of souvenir shops that line the Old Arbat, the capital’s famous pedestrian street. One Arbat shopkeeper says it is mainly tourists who visit her shop, piled high with brightly colored matryoshka dolls, Putin refrigerator magnets, and bottles of vodka shaped like Kalashnikov assault rifles. But it is Russians, she says, who are quick to snatch other wares, like the secondhand Soviet cameras, binoculars, posters, and old watches displayed in a dusty cabinet at the back of the shop.

Vadim, a 42-year-old collector, recently purchased three podstakaniki, the metal glass holders, once ubiquitous on every Soviet train, from which passengers would sip hot tea. “This period didn’t last very long, just 70 years,” Vadim says. “And much was achieved in these 70 years in the Soviet Union. But unfortunately this epoch is gone. A few of its items have remained, and that’s why it’s so interesting. Besides, I spent my youth, my childhood in this era.”

While this year’s May 9 parade will have most Soviet nostalgists whooping with excitement, many blame Putin for turning the country into a pastiche of the Soviet Union. Putin, however, has also restored a number of potent prerevolutionary symbols. Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family were reburied with great pomp in St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Cathedral in 1998, after painstaking efforts to identify their remains. The whole family was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church two years later. Putin has also backed the ceremonial reburials of Russian empress Maria Fyodorovna and tsarist General Anton Denikin, both of whom died in exile after fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution.

The sky-high popularity rating enjoyed by Putin and his successor Medvedev underscores widespread nostalgia for what many Russians see as their country’s heydays. But the forced marriage between Tsarist and Soviet symbols, critics like Dubin argue, is not only absurd, it is also harmful. “These things are far from being innocuous. There is no doubt that all these symbols, this rhetoric, act counter to modernization. The potential for modernization in Russia, the desire for reforms, is already extremely small,” Dubin says. “The bulk of the population is now becoming convinced that nothing is changing, and nothing should change.”

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya

Reuters reports:

At least five policemen have been killed and two injured in an explosion in Russia’s turbulent southern region of Chechnya, the local interior ministry said on Monday. A ministry spokesman said a bottle packed with explosives and nails went off late on Sunday nearby a group of police officers on patrol in the Chechen capital Grozny. “Five policemen were killed by the blast,” the spokesman said. Russia has fought two wars against Chechen rebels since 1994. It has largely pacified the region with help from former fighters who switched to Moscow’s side. The Kremlin says only a handful of rebels remain but attacks on pro-Russian forces are frequent.