Daily Archives: May 9, 2008

May 9, 2008 — Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: Garry Kasparov, Sniveling Coward?

(2) Latynina Asks: Who is Putin?

(3) Golts on Georgia

(4) Applebaum on Georgia

(5) Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown on Journalism

NOTE: Oleg Kozlovsky has been preemptively arrested and given a two-week sentence to stop him from participating in the formation of the shadow parliament.

NOTE: Why is the junta that governs Myanmar so willing to flout the authority of the civilized world and ignore the plight of its own people? The same reason other rogue regimes, like Iran and Venezuela and Hamas are willing — support from the mother of all rogue regimes in Russia. Publius Pundit has the details and is now publishing comments as blog posts, so feel free to e-mail yours regarding this outrage.

NOTE: On Wednesday, we were pleased to welcome the quarter-millionth visit to this blog.

EDITORIAL: Garry Kasparov, Sniveling Coward?


Garry Kasparov, Sniveling Coward?

Et tu, Garry?

The Other Russia political coalition was to stage a protest march to coincide with Wednesday’s farcical “inauguration” of new Russian “president” Dimitri Medvedev. But at the last minute, they called it off. The Other Russia blog reports that this decision was made because “organizers were concerned for the safety of demonstrators” after the Moscow government refused to permit the march. Lyudmila Mamina, the spokeswoman for The Other Russia, told the Moscow Times that “we received concrete information that if Mr. Kasparov attended, he would be arrested and detained. So he decided not to attend — both he and [banned National Bolshevik Party head Eduard] Limonov.” The net result was that the Kremlin sent more than 300 OMON and Interior Ministry troops to challenge protesters who simply didn’t show up.

To say we are disappointed in this sordid sequence of events is putting it mildly. Mr. Kasparov, to all appearances, is a sniveling coward — or maybe just an idiot. To say that Other Russia will not march because the Kremlin might crack some skulls or arrest him is to say that it will never march at all, and if it will not march then it might as well not exist.

A barbaric outrage has been committed in Russia. Dimitri Medvedev has been made “president” by means of “elections” that no thinking person can dispute were rigged, and sitting “president” Vladimir Putin has been named prime minister and carried out a vast expansion of the PM duties, flouting the spirit of the Russian constitution and establishing a neo-Soviet dictatorship in Russia.

And Kasparov’s response? The Kremlin whispers “BOO!” and he’s hiding under the bed.

Oleg Kozlovsky is in jail, Garry. Why aren’t you?

He should watch the movie Gandhi. There is one and only one way to bring democracy to Russia, the hard way, by asking those who care about the country’s future to risk their lives for it, just as Russians risked their lives fighting against Hitler in World War II. The world’s attention was focussed on Russia during the sham inauguration, and come hell or high water Kasparov should have been on the barricades, no matter what the cost.

If he’s not prepared to be that kind of leader, he should step aside and allow someone who is to take over.

Yulia Latynina asks: Who is Putin?

Source: Ellustrator.

Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:

Who is Mr. Putin? Until 2003, he was a leader who could have made Russia a truly great country if he followed through on his liberal economic program.

But he had one weakness. As a former security services operative, machinations became his modus operandi for ruling the country. And he who lives by machinations sooner or later falls victim to them.

President Vladimir Putin surrounded himself with people who were terribly unqualified to run a business or government. But they were very skilled in another area — exposing Putin’s enemies. If there are no enemies, you can always invent them. And once the enemies were exposed, Putin’s friends grabbed up their assets.

The first to fall victim to this kind of scheme was Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin’s confidantes issued dire warnings to the president about how Khodorkovsky was planning to seize power. This campaign continued every day until Putin was convinced that Khodorkovsky posed a real threat.

Whenever Putin believed he had a sworn enemy, that person was removed at the drop of a hat. When he thought that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov wanted to become president, Kasyanov quickly found himself out of a job. Also, once Putin was convinced that Russneft founder Mikhail Gutseriyev was financing insurgents in Ingushetia, the Federal Tax Service initiated an investigation against the company for tens of millions of dollars in back taxes.

Putin did not make a lot mistakes at the helm, but he never admitted to the few he did make. Instead, he attributed his mistakes to the intrigues of his enemies. Take the seizure and expropriation of Yukos, for example. That was not a mistake, but the successful elimination of a dangerous enemy. Or take the defeat of pro-Kremlin candidate Viktor Yanukovych in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. It wasn’t that Putin made mistakes in formulating his policy toward Ukraine; it was the insidious United States that undercut everything by plotting an Orange Revolution.

As government corruption became increasingly worse, the picture presented on state television became increasingly rosy. While Putin’s elite vacationed at the posh French ski resort in Kurshavel, the Kremlin constantly warned Russia’s lumpen proletariat of the country’s mortal enemies in the West. As Nashi youth pelted the Estonian Embassy with stones, eggs and insults, Russian state-controlled television presented this as the resurgence of a “strong Russia.”

“Strong” is the key word here. Any person who is incapable of making decisions in difficult situations has a great need to pretend to be strong. Remember the photos of Putin shirtless during a fishing trip or the shots of him in the cockpit of fighter jets. But on the frightening morning of Sept. 1, 2004, when Putin — who planned to attend a school-opening ceremony in Nalchik that day — learned about the terrorist attack at Beslan School No. 1, located 90 kilometers away from Nalchik, he rerouted his plane in midflight and returned to Moscow.

We have been told repeatedly that Putin rules the country with a “strong hand,” but, in reality, his orders are routinely ignored. He once ordered the firing of a number of high-ranking Federal Security Service officers, but they all remained at their posts. Moreover, Putin’s subordinates continued to destroy companies even after he had personally told them to back off. This happened with the East Line company that owns Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, for example.

In the end, what good has come of Putin’s presidency? Eight years of his authority produced swarms of enthusiastic toadies, who have already begun sucking up to the new president, Dmitry Medvedev. And, of course, his friends became very rich.

Golts on Georgia

Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times:

There won’t be a global war, but there will be a global battle for peace so heated that it won’t leave a single stone unturned.” I am reminded of this Soviet-era joke in light of the conflict among Georgia, Abkhazia and Russia.

The recent round of tensions began on April 16, when President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to recognize some documents issued by the separatist authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to expand economic cooperation with these unrecognized territories. In response, Tbilisi declared that Moscow was taking steps toward annexing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and it reinstated flights by reconnaissance drones over Abkhazia. After an aircraft of unknown origin shot down one of these drones, Georgia protested Russia’s moves as an act of aggression. For its part, the Kremlin then announced it would increase its peacekeeping force in the conflict zone by one-third, from 2,000 to 3,000 personnel. This was ostensibly done in response to Georgia’s supposed bolstering of its military forces in the conflict zone. Georgian and Russian officials no longer mince words: Both sides go to great lengths to offend each other. All of this is bringing both sides to the brink of war.

I am certain, however, that neither side truly wants this conflict to escalate toward a military conflict. In reality, all of their actions and aggressive stances are meant as signals intended for the United States and NATO.

It is clear that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s policies have hit a dead end. He promised Georgians that Abkhazia and South Ossetia would return to Tbilisi’s control, but he has no way of making good on it in the foreseeable future. Although Russia’s intervention in the region has been a factor, the savage civil war of the 1990s left wounds that will take decades to heal. Given these problems, Saakashvili is looking to join NATO as quickly as possible in the hope that the organization can help restore Georgia’s territorial integrity. But NATO’s rules prohibit the accession of any country that is embroiled in an internal territorial conflict such as Georgia’s. Tbilisi, however, is hoping that NATO will overlook this rule and defend Georgia as an eventual NATO member against Russian aggression. To make the threat from Moscow look menacing, Georgia must constantly provoke Russia.

At the same time, it is obvious that open warfare with Russia would end badly for Georgia. Russia holds absolute military superiority, with 90,000 soldiers and 200 military aircraft in its North Caucasus military district, and they would quickly overwhelm Georgia’s 21,000 troops and eight aircraft. Russia has battle-hardened, fully equipped troops, that it can draw on in the event of war. Saakashvili’s army doesn’t stand a chance of winning a direct conflict.

Moscow appears determined to aggravate the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, taking pains to create the impression that Russia is ready not only to annex these “unrecognized territories,” but to do so by force. The Kremlin is enraged that Georgia and Ukraine will eventually be allowed to join NATO, claiming that the West has unilaterally changed the fundamental rules that govern international relations. And Moscow is determined to aggravate the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, sending the message that the rules to its game in the Caucasus can be changed as well.

In reality, however, Moscow is not interested in war any more than Georgia is. If Russia were to defeat Georgia, it would violate one of the unstated principles of its foreign policy. Despite all of its militaristic rhetoric, in all the years of Putin’s presidency, the Kremlin never once took an action that would be possible to consider as aggressive. A war with Georgia would mean that Russia, as the Soviet Union before it, represents a danger to the world community. And that would inevitably lead to sanctions and isolation. Russia’s elite, whose families and money are located in the West, have no desire to see that happen.

And so we have a paradoxical situation. Nobody wants war, but both sides are doing everything to spark a military conflict. This is not the first time this situation has arisen. Recall how World War I began. States wanted only to protect their national pride and frighten their opponents. But at some point, the tensions escalated sharply and, coupled with mass mobilizations of their armies, the conflict in the Balkans spun out of control with tragic consequences for the entire world. This scenario could be repeated in the Caucasus.

Applebaum on Georgia

Anne Applebaum, writing in the Washington Post:

Before it happened, nobody imagined that the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo would set off World War I. Before the “shot heard round the world” was fired, I doubt that 18th-century Concord expected to go down in history as the place where the American Revolution began. Before last weekend, when Itar-Tass declared that the government of Georgia was about to invade Abkhazia, nobody had really thought about Abkhazia at all. As a public service to readers who need a break from the U.S. presidential campaign, this column is therefore devoted to considering the possibility that Abkhazia could become the starting point of a larger war.

Many Americans haven’t heard of Abkhazia. It’s a pretty safe bet that it’s probably not the priority of many people in the White House, either, and it hasn’t even been one of those “can you name the general who’s in charge of Pakistan” trick questions in the U.S. presidential campaign. On the contrary, Abkhazia ranks right up there with Nagorno-Karabakh, Dagestan, South Ossetia and all the other forgotten Caucasus regions, cities and statelets that no one wants to think about too hard but where, occasionally, something really awful happens.

For the record, Abkhazia is a province of Georgia that declared its independence in 1992. A small war followed, and ethnic cleansing of Georgians from Abkhazia came after that. There have been some UN attempts to make peace, and Georgia has tried offering Abkhazia broad autonomy, but, mostly, Georgia and Abkhazia maintain an uneasy stalemate, which occasionally turns into an extremely uneasy stalemate.

Usually this happens when an atmosphere of extreme uneasiness is useful to Russia, which is Abkhazia’s closest military, economic and political ally and has a long-term interest in the destabilization of pro-U.S., pro-Western, pro-NATO Georgia.

Thus, when Itar-Tass announces that Georgia is about to invade Abkhazia, it may mean that Georgia really is about to invade Abkhazia. But it might also mean, as everyone in the region understands, that Russia is about to invade Georgia — as a “preemptive strike,” of course.

Why would the Russians do that? Or even hint that they want to do that? Russian politics having become utterly opaque, it’s hard to say. Some think Russia began stirring up trouble in Abkhazia in recent weeks to exact revenge for NATO’s recognition of Kosovo — or perhaps to be able to strike quickly, had NATO decided at its recent summit to offer Georgia a clear path to membership, which U.S. President George W. Bush vocally supported. Others think that recent Russian pronouncements, some of which come close to recognition of Abkhaz independence, are related to the inauguration this week of the new president, Dmitry Medvedev. Maybe Medvedev wants to demonstrate how tough he is, right at the beginning. Or maybe someone else wants to demonstrate how tough Medvedev is, on his behalf. In any case, someone, Abkhaz or Russian, has shot down at least two and maybe four unmanned Georgian military planes in the past six weeks in what looks like a pretty obvious attempt to create a casus belli.

It might not work — and for the moment the Georgians say they have no intention of declaring war. But Georgia holds parliamentary elections this month, under the leadership of a president who might be grateful for a chance to look bold. If the provocation works, or if Russia does invade Georgia — an emerging democracy, an aspiring NATO ally, a country with troops in Iraq and many implicit assurances of security from Washington and Brussels — then the West will have to come up with a major response, if not military then political and diplomatic.

The timing couldn’t be worse. There are many wonderful things about the U.S. political system, but one of the least wonderful is the amount of energy a presidential campaign sucks out of public life. Between now and January, the current president is a lame duck: Could he make any credible response to a Russian invasion of Abkhazia, should such a thing happen? Is anybody ready to debate a whole new part of the world? Last weekend, the U.S. media focused unprecedented attention on … the Guam primary, in which 4,500 people cast ballots and Barack Obama won by seven votes.

Of course, from another perspective, the timing couldn’t be better: If you wanted to attack a U.S. ally, or if you just wanted to destabilize and unnerve a U.S. ally, wouldn’t this be the perfect moment? Perhaps if the Russians don’t take the opportunity, someone else will.

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown on Journalism

Writing on Kasparov.ru and translated by Other Russia Victoria Rabotnova, a St. Petersburg based journalist, decries Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on the Russian press. She completed the Journalist Faculty of the Leningrad State University in 1984. Since then, she has worked for a number of publications, and has been widely published around Russia. From 1991 to 2005, she was the parliamentary commentator for the Nevskoe Vremya newspaper. At the present moment, she serves as a columnist for the Novaya Gazeta, and is a staff writer for the Rossiyskaya Federatsiya Segodnya (Russian Federation Today) magazine.

Long ago, when I first started working at a newspaper, relatives would constantly congratulate me with our professional holiday. Now they don’t offer congratulations: they simply don’t know when, and most importantly, for what.

As to May 5th –the Day of the Soviet Press—I personally have fond memories. The relaxed editorial get-togethers and the inevitable bonuses truly made the day festive for all the journalists and newspaper-writers (employees of radio and TV had their own special holiday on May 7th). During the years of Perestroika, a significant part of newspapers came out of the control of the [Communist] party organs, but this didn’t affect attitudes toward May 5th. The jokesters, truth be told, did suggest renaming it to the Day of the Anti-Soviet Press, but no one wanted to break traditions and renounce the favorite holiday. Yet as a bit more time passed, the traditions broke on their own.

Understandably, after the putsch happened, it became sort of indecent to celebrate the day of the first issue of the Pravda newspaper. So May 5th was changed to January 13th, which took root slowly and with grumbling. But this is beside the point.

Honestly, I don’t remember if we marked the Day of the Press in 1991. This was a time when all the standing journalists wrote much and earned enough to not depend on the holiday’s bonuses. And we sat in the editorial offices well into the night every day, because the newspapers went to print late at night: there was simply no time to sit around a festive table, because we needed to monitor the news, finish writing or rewrite articles, create pages… in short, to work. And the work seemed so much more interesting than some holiday sit-arounds.

The May 3rd Day of the Free Press was definitely never celebrated. This seemed pointless during times when [the Press] was indeed free every day. Today, when the space for freedom has contracted like pebbled skin, this isn’t just pointless, but even cynical –the same as celebrating innocence in a brothel. According to a Freedom House rating, Russia is in 164th place for the degree of media freedom, letting not only Moldova and Kyrgyzstan pass by, but even Iran and Afghanistan. In the previous year, I’ll note, we were slightly higher – in 158th place. [note: The most recent 2008 assessment by Freedom House ranks Russia as 170th.] How is it that [Vladimir] Vysotsky put it? “You can’t hold on at the top – you’re plummeting down”?

Obviously, the Russian press did not become restricted immediately – we are speaking of a protracted process, spanning a decade, the start of which was rooted as far back as [Boris] Yeltsin’s times.

Of course, economic reasons played an important role in this. In the 90s, printed publications, sent floating into a liberal economic voyage, ran into serious troubles. Prices for paper, typographical services and mailings were mushrooming, while the number of subscribers was falling. Those people that had formerly subscribed to three or four newspapers could no longer afford such a luxury. In substance, many publications ended up on the brink of closing, and their leadership, clutching at straws, grabbed at the offers of collaboration coming from the business structures.

The businessmen were willing to finance the newspapers, but under the condition that the controlling stake of shares ended up in their hands. Naturally, they assured the editors and journalistic collectives that they wouldn’t interfere with editorial policy. And as a rule, they actually didn’t interfere… at the start. But afterwards, it turned out that the esteemed shareholder was interested in keeping up nice relations with the authorities, and categorically didn’t want to support a publication that kept him from doing so. That’s why critical materials about bureaucrat A (B, C, D – make your selection) must be removed from the newspaper’s sheets. And instead of them, write and print a different, praiseful article.

The need to keep earning funds quickly increased the role of advertising departments, who were searching for and finding clients. The interests of these clients, if they were looking for a long-term campaign, would also have an affect on editorial policy: It was clearly explained to the journalists, that you can’t bite the hand that feeds you, and so no critical speech regarding businessman or politician A (B, C, D – make your selection) were allowed at the moment. But to write something positive about them is actually very needed. It’s worth noting that orders from the advertising department (just like the special assignments of shareholder), were paid with a special rate, and that those willing to write them were always easy to find. And those, who categorically did not want to do this, sooner or later started to feel like “superfluous people” in the editorial offices.

Of course, you could stand by your principles, refusing to write “as needed” and continuing to write what you were thinking. But more and more frequently, such principled behavior would lead to a simple result: articles were lain on the editorial “table” and remained there forever. And then it came time to receive your wages – and involuntarily, many thought: isn’t it worth the sacrifice? That is, isn’t the income (necessary to live yourself, and often to feed your family) worth enough to assuage your commitment to your principles and go for the compromise? Ultimately, there are more than enough topics which you’re allowed to cover –and you can always choose less biting ones, or simply don’t walk out “past the flags.”

Truth be told, there was another choice –to try to change one newspaper for another, where the editorial policy was different. At first, many did just that –since different media depended on different commercial structures, which had different interests. But afterwards, a growing number of these structures began to themselves depend more and more on the authorities. And critical overtones in their corresponding media became less and less frequent. The number of newspapers where you could freely state your opinions was rapidly melting away — and consequently, so did the number of work-places where you could transfer when it became completely odious…

And afterwards… afterwards a news generation of journalists grew up. And those, who didn’t go to a PR-service or a political consulting structure directly after college, but stayed in journalism, already perceived “the air of non-freedom” as the only one they were used to breathing. Many journalists of the previous generation came to peace with [the situation] as well – some grew older, some became tired, some decided that it was impossible to spit against the wind their whole lives, some changed their topic –for instance, to cover sports, where it is still possible to speak absolutely freely, where, as-yet, no teams, sportsmen or trainers exist that are closed off from criticism. Possibly, however, this omission will soon be corrected.

And what’s left in the outcome? Well, that people believe less and less what the majority of newspapers (and television all the more so) [are telling them]. The reader-viewer is not quite so stupid and naïve as they possibly assume in the power structures, where they are so interested in narrowing the “extent of freedom.” [The reader] sees that one life is happening around him, while much of the media are telling him of a completely different one, as if they’re speaking of some parallel world. He takes the Peterburgsky Dnevnik (the St. Petersburg Journal) newspaper, published by the St. Petersburg administration with a circulation of 200 thousand, out of his mailbox and sees, for instance, that “the news of the week” from the 9th to the 15th of April 2007 is the approval of a new draft law by the city government, which bans gambling machines starting in July 2008. The violent crackdown of the “March of Dissent” on April 15th, which proved to be at the center of attention of the majority of the world media, isn’t considered as news of the week by the paper. It isn’t even mentioned. This event just didn’t happen…

At one time, in the distant Soviet past, there was a popular joke about a person who visited a psychiatrist with a complaint. He says, “I see one thing around me, but on the television – it’s completely different.” “We don’t cure socialism,” the doctor replies to the poor fellow. Can it be that we’re reverting?

Altogether, we have nothing to commemorate on May 3rd, because you cannot be free only one day of the year. You are either free all the time—or constrained every day…