Daily Archives: May 19, 2008

Contents — May 19, 2008


(1) Another Original LR Translation: The Oborona Show Trials

(2) Editorial: Russian History Takes Another Beating

(3) Welcome Back to the USSR

(4) Russia Leads the World . . . in Alcohol Mortality

(5) Annals of the Neo-Soviet Nightmare

(6) Putin’s Neo-Soviet Star Chamber

(7) Luzkhov, Run Amok

(8) Russian “Dominant” Tennis Plays to Form in Rome (Zenit? So what!)

NOTE: Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, Oleg Kozlovsky is free at last! And he’s in the Washington Post (again)! Take that, Mr. Putin! Publius Pundit has the details.

NOTE: Kim Zigfeld reviews Boris Nemtsov’s white paper on Putin over at Pajamas Media. Check it out, and feel free to leave a comment in support of Nemtsov’s pathbreaking and valorous effort.

Another Original LR Translation: The Oborona Show Trials, via our Original translator


Posted on the Website of Oborona 15 May 2008

On May 14 the Basman Court of Moscow levied a fine of 1000 rubles against the Oborona activist Ivan Simochkin for walking along Chistoprudniy Boulevard on May 6.

The court reached its verdict despite the testimony of six eyewitnesses for the defense, who testified that unknown individuals dressed in civilian clothes and showing no identification detained Mr. Simochkin without warning. The ruling of the court indicated that the testimony of the witnesses was not taken into account, because “the witnesses were called only to mitigate the punishment of the accused.”

Following is the speech which Ivan Simochkin read in court.

Your Honor,

I have absolutely nothing to request forgiveness for. Neither I, nor my associates, nor the passers-by who happened to be on Chistoprudniy Boulevard on May 6 did anything wrong, and we do not deserve even a reproach, let alone long terms in jail.

Moreover, I wish to inform the court about a series of criminal actions that we endured at the hands of identified and unidentified individuals, that should be examined under the laws of the Russian Federation. The individuals who perpetrated these acts should be punished under the administrative and criminal codes of the Russian Federation.

Firstly: On May 6, at 6:00 p.m., a group of citizens, myself included, were peacefully and quietly walking along Chistoprudniy Boulevard when we were subject to a violent assault by unidentified individuals dressed in civilian clothes. The attackers, pursuing whatever objective they had, did not identify themselves, made no requests of us, and in general said nothing, but flung themselves on my associate Oleg Kozlovskiy and tried to drag him away by force to an unknown location.

My natural reaction was to try and prevent the criminals from kidnapping my associate. I will tell you further, regardless of what sentence the honorable Basman Court may impose on me, if I ever again see unidentified, criminal-looking individuals attack a pedestrian on the street, I will not fail to do exactly the same thing – come to his aid.

No sooner had I done this, than the individuals in civilian clothes turned their attention to me, and I myself became the target of their attack. I loudly demanded that the attackers identify themselves and state the reason for their actions, but got not a word in reply. I loudly called for the police to come to my aid and stop these illegal actions of unidentified civilians, but the policemen stayed at a distance and passively watched what was happening.

Other passers-by also tried to stand up for those who were being attacked. Anna Chernobylskaya, the mother of a young child, tried to intervene on my behalf as I was being dragged down the boulevard. She yelled for the police to help and called on passers-by to witness what was happening, as a result of which the unidentified individuals then came after her. Anna Chernobylskaya was called as a witness on my behalf. And the episode I just described was captured on a videotape made by Dmitriy Borko, who was also called as witness.

Following the attack, the unidentified individuals forcibly dragged and threw us into a police van. And let no one be led astray by the fact that the attackers, as it later turned out, were acting in concert with the authorities. On the contrary, it would have been much simpler if this criminal attack had been carried out by some kind of unknown criminal group. In that case, we – as citizens of Russia – would have had the ability to call on the law enforcement agencies for help, and had a chance of being defended.

When crimes are committed with the criminal consent of law enforcement officials, or the police themselves, or at the direct order of those under their command (as is obvious to me was the case in the current situation), the citizen is left completely defenseless and without rights. And the state that commits such acts is a lawless police dictatorship.

Further: Unfortunately, the illegal actions committed against me and other citizens did not end here.

We were illegally and absolutely without grounds placed in the Krasnoselskiy precinct holding cell, where officers of the Anti-Organized Crime Directorate (UBOP) and riot police (OMON) openly fabricated their reports with absolutely false, fraudulent accusations against these illegally detained citizens.

All of the reports were written as if in carbon copy. Like the rest of those detained, I was accused of supposedly “participating in a protest, failing to respond to repeated requests by members of the OMON under Sergeant V.A. Gasheka to cease and desist, and continuing to commit illegal acts.”

Your honor, and honorable ladies and gentlemen, a multitude of testimonies by unbiased witnesses, as well as a multitude of photographic and video evidence from the site of the events under consideration, unambiguously show that these accusations are lies, from beginning to end, and you can be certain of it.

1) I and the others accused, now unjustly convicted, did not participate in any sort of protest, if only because in the area where the events took place no one was planning any sort of protest.

2) I and the other victims of this criminal attack did not have the chance to “obey” or “disobey” any sort of request, since no request was ever made of us by any of those individuals who illegally deprived us of our freedom.

3) I and the other citizens who were illegally deprived of their freedom could not have “resisted” or “not resisted” “police personnel”, since we were attacked by individuals dressed in civilian clothes, who categorically refused to either identify themselves or explain the objective or meaning of their actions, and I saw the police only at a distance, from which they had no contact with me.

Nonetheless, I can absolutely assure you that neither I nor any of those who joined in my misfortune offered any kind of resistance.

The records of arrest and administrative infraction were compiled under a mass of flagrant violations of procedure. Despite my request, I was not given a copy of the record of arrest. The time of arrest was improperly recorded – we were arrested at 6:00 p.m., but the records of arrest showed it occurring at 6:45 p.m. In the report of administrative infraction there is no signature by the so-called witness, OMON officer Fomin, to the effect that he had been informed of his rights and responsibilities.

I can imagine the reason why the so-called witness Fomin’s signature is not on the report. I would not be surprised if this so-called witness Fomin not only never held the report in is hands, but was not even present at the events described in it.

At the Krasnoselskiy precinct detention cell, my rights as a detained person were repeatedly and grossly violated. In the course of the two days I spent there, the people detained were never offered any food. The space where over 20 people were held was not equipped with any place to sleep, and we were given no blankets. We had to sleep on tables and the floor, often taking turns.

Conditions were worsened by the fact that during the two days we were in the cell the air temperature remained extremely low, to the point that I was extremely incapacitated due to low body temperature.

And finally, third: The illegal treatment of me and the other citizens was not limited to an attack by unidentified assailants on Chistoprudniy Boulevard, illegal detention in the Krasnoselskiy precinct holding cell, falsification of accusations and multiple violations of our rights as detainees.

The culmination of this flagrant abuse of power occurred right here, within these very walls. Fourteen times the honorable judge Skuridina heard the testimony of witnesses and agreed or refused to consider photographic and video evidence proving the innocence of the accused. Repeatedly, within these very walls, supposed witnesses for the prosecution – the authors of the police reports – appeared and every time were unambiguously exposed as being fraudulent, having irreconcilable contradictions in their testimonies, etc.

In spite of this, all 14 cases ended in guilty verdicts, and absolutely unfounded and unjust sentences and fines, handed down by the honorable judge Skuridina. Justice deserted us in these four walls; in its place came lawlessness and abuse of power.

From the Basman Court, Judge I.A. Skuridina presiding:

1. Oleg Kozlovskiy – 13 days (hunger strike announced)

2. Karen Makmuryan – 7 days

3. Aleksandr Vaynshteyn – 6 days

4. Maksim Polyakov – 5 days

5. Ivan Afonin – 6 days (hunger strike announced)

6. Vladimir Akimenkov – 6 days

7. Nikolay Novokhatskiy – 6 days

8. Vyacelslav Yeliseev – 5 days

9. Kirill Ananev – 4 days

10. Vladimir Michurin – 4 days

11. Vyaceslav Mertsalov – 3 days

12. Dmitriy Potapov – 2 days

13. Andrey Malitskiy – fine of 1,000 rubles

14. Anna Chernobylskaya – fine of 1,000 rubles.

I am absolutely innocent, and deserve only complete exoneration. But I have no objective reason to expect that consideration of my case will result in anything but anoter addition to the endless list of unjust sentences handed down within these walls. It is not in vain that the term “Basman Court” has become synonymous with injustice and abuse of power.

The ones who are really guilty in this abuse of power – to the last one – sooner or later will stand before a real court and answer for their crimes to the full severity of the Law.

Thank you for your attention.

NOTE: Our Original Translator also discovered the following short video related to the piece on the Grani.ru website. It’s about the same farce of a trial, showing the names and sentences handed down to the Oborona activists, against a black background, while Medvedev drones on with a patriotic speech in a cathedral.

EDITORIAL: Russian History Takes Another Beating


Russian History Takes Another Beating

A May 15th story in the Moscow Times about the repugnant parade of Soviet military hardware through Red Square a few days earlier stated:

After the parade, Medvedev hosted a champagne reception at the Kremlin for veterans. Medvedev has also sent out congratulatory telegrams to the leaders of other former Soviet republics. In his note to Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko, Medvedev warned him against any attempt to justify the Nazi crimes and “question the liberating mission of the Soviet Army,” the Kremlin said. Many in Ukraine sided with Nazi Germany during the war, and Ukrainian veterans who fought against the Soviets have been recognized and praised under Yushchenko. Putin, for his part, sent out congratulations to the prime ministers of the same countries, and in his telegram to Tbilisi he wished peace and well-being to the Georgian people. Relations with Georgia recently sank to a new low after Moscow increased the number of peacekeepers in Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, sparking fears of an armed conflict.

Andrei Richter, an Associate Professor at the School of Journalism of Moscow State University, responded in a letter to the editor as follows:

When I read this story, I was reminded of a recent trip to Kiev. While I was there, I picked up a copy of Kyiv This Month magazine only to be stunned by its column titled “History In Brief,” which read: “1944 — Soviet army occupies Ukraine again. In WWII, both German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 to 8 million deaths.” When I wrote the editor of this magazine, I received a reply referring me to another web page from where this phrase was copied, almost word-for-word. To my surprise, the web page was taken from the official site of the CIA. I wonder what would happen if a Russian official web site wrote about, for example, French history something like this: “1944 — U.S.-British army invaded Normandy. In WWII both German and Allied troops were responsible for some 600,000 French deaths.” Wouldn’t that cause uproar in the West? Why do our wartime allies believe they can twist history as they like?

Interestingly, Professor Richter had no interest in asking why Russians themselves believe they can twist their own history as they like. Last week, just for instance, we published Paul Goble’s report on yet more evidence of the Kremlin’s efforts to whitewash Russia’s litany of outrages and glorify the Soviet past. Just click the “history” label at the bottom of this post to see a whole lot more such evidence.

Equally interesting, Professor Richter likewise didn’t seem to notice the irony embodied in calling himself a “professor of journalism” in a country that simply doesn’t know the meaning of the word. He works for a university that is run by the Kremlin that destroyed Anna Politkovskaya and a whole host of other journalists and has seized control of every major publishing forum in the country. Neither Russian history books nor Russian newspapers or television give Russians the remotest clue about the actual facts of history, either their own or anybody else’s, and yet so many Russians, like this poor sap, arrogantly imagine they have the right to sit in judgment based on the ridiculous falsehoods they’ve been fed since birth.

But back to the point: Which is what, exactly? As we understand it, Professor Richter (who obviously finds expressly himself clearly in writing quite challenging) is saying that he once read in a Ukrainian magazine that Russians killed 7-8 million Ukrainians during the World War II period, roughly as many as the Germans killed when they invaded, and claims this is false. Apparently, that’s not what Russian history books say, and according to him there’s no chance they could be wrong. Russians, in other words, know the history of Ukraine better than Ukrainians do. Moreover, he believes that this magazine is engaged in some sort of conspiracy with the CIA to foist false information about Russia onto Ukrainians — apparently, he thinks this is the reason that many Ukrainians hate Russians and want independence from them, something that he apparently thinks is totally unjustified.

But note well, dear reader, that Professor Richter makes no specific mention of the source of his information that these murders did not occur, though he has no problem citing with specificity the sources that outrage him with their alleged CIA propaganda. Is he suggesting that Russians would never murder their allies? Is it just a myth too, then, that after liberating Poland Russia murdered thousands of Polish military officers, in cold blood, in the dark corners of the Katyn forest? Is it also a rude foreign plot that Russians murder Russians, that the dictator Josef Stalin slaughtered at least 20 million of them in his gulag archipelago? Is Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s epic text by that name in reality just a work of fiction?

Apparently, Professor Richter believes that the Ukrainian holocaust called Holodomor (known as the “man-made famine“) is also just a frivolous fairytale. Apparently, it makes no difference what the Ukrainians say about it, because they’re just dupes of the CIA; nobody in Russia, of course, has been duped by the KGB, and certainly not Professor Richter Moreover, reports that Russian soldiers murdered thousands of political prisoners in their jail cells are similarly based on nothing but CIA lies, as are any claims about political purges of the Ukrainian government by Stalin, such as this one:

Ukraine was among the worst-hit areas. Unlike the purges of 1933, during which opponents of collectivization and Ukrainizers had been purged, in 1937 Stalin decided to liquidate the entire leadership of the Ukrainian Soviet government and the CPU. […] By June 1938 the top seventeen ministers of the Ukrainian Soviet government were arrested and executed. The prime minister, Liubchenko, committed suicide. Almost the entire Central Committee and Politburo of Ukraine perished. An estimated 37% of the Communist party members in Ukraine – about 170,000 people – were purged. In the words of Nikita Khrushchev, Moscow’s new viceroy in Kiev, the Ukrainian party “had been purged spotless.”

And reports of similar activity by Russian soldiers in other countries are just as bogus. If Canadian scholars make such allegations, they too are simply stooges of the CIA.

Professor Richter might like to actually go to Ukraine some day, and visit The Museum of the Soviet Occupation in Kiev. As an article in Izvestia pointed out, the net impact of the museum’s exhibits is basically to show that Ukraine was better off under the horror of Nazi rule than under the domination of the Russians. The Russian reporter for Izvestia bristles when the Ukrainians dare to blame the atrocities on “Moscow” rather than “Communism” as if Russians were as much victims as Ukrainians — but if that is so, where are Russia’s memorials to the outrages committed by “Communism” in Ukraine? Look hard, you will find none. Apparently, it has never occurred to Professor Richter that Ukrainians might have exactly the same attitude of outrage towards Russia that he (and many other Russians) has towards the West because Russia treats Ukraine with just as rudely as he perceives Russia to be treated by the West.

For the record, though we may be hapless dupes of the CIA, we’d like to note our understanding, widely documented by Western scholarship, that there was active underground resistance to the Soviet occupation of Ukraine until the early 1950s when it was finally liquidated by the Stalin dictatorship. Things were so bad in Ukraine just before the Nazi’s invaded, as we understand it, that many Ukrainians actually welcomed and assisted the Nazi invasion.

In conclusion, we can only say that that we believe Professor Richter’s pathologically malignant and insane remarks are indicative of the neo-Soviet character of the Russian state today. The country is run by a KGB dictator and its leading institutions of higher education are dominated by apes like Richter. What can be expected from such a situation other that exactly the same kind of collapse that crippled the USSR?

Come to think of it, though, perhaps we went to far with that remark about apes. It’s an unforgivable insult, and we feel we should apologize. To the apes.

Welcome Back to the USSR, Where Nobody Trusts Anybody

Paul Goble reports:

More than seven out of ten Russians say that trusting others is an “impermissible luxury” at the present time, an attitude that not only makes it far more difficult for them to organize themselves but also limits their ability to take advantage of the assistance others may be ready to offer them, while leaving them open to exploitation by others. The Public Opinion Foundation, which enjoys the reputation as one of the best survey research firms there, recently conducted a poll about the levels of public trust among Russians. The results have sparked a lively discussion as to their meaning for the country’s future.

In an article published in “Novyye izvestiya” this week, Anna Semenova summed up the poll’s results in the following way: Russians “consider that trust is an impermissible luxury in our time. If necessary, [they] will turn for help to relatives, friends and colleagues” but not to neighbors or to social organizations like the church. According to the Public Opinion Foundation, 71 percent of Russians now say that they believe that the level of trust in Russian society had declined sharply over the last 20 years and that everyone around them at the present time is “insincere,” “dishonest”, “egotistical,” or “mean as a dog.” Contrary to what many might expect, levels of trust are lower among village residents and poorer groups in the cities and higher among those with higher education and larger incomes, with Muscovites, who enjoy the reputation of being “indifferent egotists,” being 10 percent more trusting that villagers. And if they do have problems, 76 percent of Russians say they will turn to relatives, 59 percent said they would rely on friends and acquaintances, 35 percent on colleagues at work, 28 percent from neighbors, and 12 percent on religious groups, but only five percent said they would turn to public organizations for help.

Sociologists believe, “Novyye izvestiya” reported, that these high levels of distrust are a product of the early 1990s “when everyone had to rely only on himself.” But they have been boosted since that time among those who have suffered from the collapse of pyramid schemes and the failure of politicians and others to keep their promises. But in comments to that paper, Mark Sandanovsky, a Moscow psychologist, pointed to what he said was a “curious” situation: Russians trust others far less than Europeans or Americans do but they fall victims to confidence games far more often, a product of their general lack of trust and willingness to trust too much they decide are their friends. That is a problem, but a far more serious one is that many Russians today, because they do not trust others, are unwilling to work together either as volunteers or as members of social and political organizations, a situation that postpones if not precludes the evolution of that country in the direction of a civil society. And members of this small sector of Russian life told the paper that negative media coverage of the activities of these public groups was reinforcing Russian attitudes about these important components of an open and democratic society rather than helping residents of that country to overcome it.

Russia Leads the World . . . In Alcohol Mortality

Paul Goble reports:

Moscow officials were quick to grasp at a recent report that suggested Russians were not consuming as put alcohol per capita as many European countries, but a new examination of the data shows that the amount and kinds of alcohol Russians consume and the way they consume it means that they have the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the world. In advance of the release of an international investigation of alcohol consumption in the Russian Federation, Dar’ya Khalturina, a senior Moscow specialist on alcohol consumption, told Gazeta that high levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking among Russians entail tragic consequences for that society.

The notion, frequently put about by Russian officials and journalists, that foreign experts are “intentionally” trying to make the situation in Russia look worse is something “to put it mildly that does not correspond to reality, Khalturina said. Russians consume an enormous amount of alcohol, and they do so in ways that maximize its negative consequences. According to the Russian government, Russian adults consume 10 liters of pure alcohol from all sources a year, but in fact, they consume at least 15 liters with men consuming far more than women. The first figure puts Russia in the top 50 of all countries, but the second puts it in the top five and possibly higher still, the Moscow scholar said. These figures alone go a long way to explaining the fact that alcohol was directly responsible for 25,000 premature deaths last year (down from 38,000 in 2004) and indirectly responsible for many others. Even the first figure means that Russia has the highest mortality rate from alcohol in the world.

But the impact of the amount Russians consume is exacerbated by the way they consume it. Russians tend to drink to get drunk, a pattern that not only boosts deaths from a wide variety of illness but increases accidents and crime while significantly cutting the birthrate – all matters of a concern in a country now obsessed with its demographic decline. Just how large an impact cutting alcohol consumption can have, Khalturina said, can be seen in an examination of Mikhail Gorbachev’s hated anti-alcohol campaign. That effort increased life expectancy among Russian men by five years to the highest point in history. And it led to an immediate upsurge in the birthrate, the echo of which Russians are seeing today. Unfortunately, she continued, “politically this campaign did not succeed.” It was imposed too quickly and too brutally, something that guaranteed that it would not last. And “even know sociologists do not know what would have been the situation in the country if the anti-alcohol campaign had lasted not three years [as it did] but for example eight years.” In fact, she said, “it is possible that if the leadership of the country had carried out this program to its logical conclusion, we would not have an entirely different society.” Thus, “the lesson of the Gorbachev reform is that it is necessary to reduce the consumption of alcoholic drinks in Russia, but it must be done more smoothly and with not so radical methods.

The government must adopt new policies, she argued, because it cannot count on rising incomes to solve the problem as many now think. Alcohol consumption is linked not so much to incomes as to education: Those whose incomes rise will consume more or better quality alcohol; only those with more education will drink less. Among the measures Khalturina recommends for consideration are: higher taxes on alcoholic drinks so that a bottle of vodka will cost eight to ten times that of less strong drinks. Vodka should be something, she says “which a man can permit himself to consume but not every day.” Moreover, the government should restrict the sale of alcohol at night, increase the struggle against the production and sale of illegal alcohol, combat the sale of alcohol to minors (Only one of every eight who tries to buy alcohol is refused, she said.), and launch a propaganda effort against drinking in general and binge drinking in particular. And Khalturina continued, the government should explore cutting the amount of alcohol in medications, introducing a state monopoly on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages and improving the cure rate for alcoholics, given that one in ten of adult Russian men can now be classified as a victim of that disease.

Given the impact of alcohol on Russia’s demographic situation, the Moscow expert said, all these and others as well should be considered and tried out. Unfortunately, she continued, in Russia today, as a result of changes in the 1990s, the alcohol lobby is “very strong” while the anti-alcohol movement remains relatively weak. Nonetheless, the facts are on its side, something Russia’s rulers must recognize is they are to find a way out of the demographic dead end their country is now in.

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Nightmare

The Daily Mirror reports:

It is the first place thousands of English football fans will see when they arrive in Moscow for the Champions League final. But for one young British visitor, Moscow Airport’s cavernous customs hall was the start of a living nightmare he was lucky to survive.

Tig Hague, 35, was on a business trip in 2003 when, misunderstanding a request for a backhander, he was pulled to one side to have his bag searched. Just one more irritating inconvenience, he thought – until the guard found a tiny lump of hashish in a pocket, the remnant of a recent stag weekend. By nightfall the banker from London found himself in Moscow’s infamous Piet Central jail, accused of being a drug smuggler. Later sentenced to four-and-a-half years in the gulags, he was soon on the way to the notorious Zone 22 prison camp in the remote wastes of Mordovia.

Issuing a warning to fans travelling to the all-English final on Wednesday, Tig says: “I was incredibly naive and I would hate for someone else to make the same mistake. Anyone travelling to Russia needs to be extremely careful.”

It was just hours after Tig had kissed his fiancee Lucy goodbye on the morning of July 17, 2003, that his life descended into hell. He was five yards from the airport exit and could see a driver holding a card with his name on it. He recalls: “A customs official shouted at me to join another queue to have my bags X-rayed. I’d taken whisky for my clients and some Western cigarettes. The official started telling me I couldn’t take them through and asked if I had any money. “With my English head on, it didn’t register with me that a bribe was in order. Because the penny didn’t drop, he decided to search my case.”

As the official picked up a pair of jeans, Tig froze, remembering the events of the weekend when he’d met friends on a stag do and, after drinking heavily, had decided to buy some cannabis. Tig says: “The world went into slow motion as I watched him run his hands through the pockets. Then he barked something in Russian and guys with submachine guns started running towards me.” Wrapped in a Rizla paper, the tiny amount of dope was enough to warrant a slap on the wrist in the UK. But Tig was far from home. “I was frogmarched to a room, strip-searched, and made to sign a statement which was all in Russian,” he says. “I managed to text Lucy and call my boss back in London on my mobile before my things were taken away. “Hours later I was lying in a dirty, damp cell in Piet Central jail, sobbing uncontrollably.”

Back home, Lucy’s world fell apart just as dramatically. She says: “I was shopping in my lunch break when I got a text message from Tig which read, ‘I love you more than you will ever know, forever in your heart’.” A few minutes later she saw Tig’s boss on his way to find her. “He told me he could be away for seven years and I collapsed in a heap, dropping my shopping bags on the pavement.”

Tig was refused bail and put in the foreigners’ cell of a Moscow prison where he remained for two months. He quickly learned how to survive in the harsh environment where guards would subject prisoners to random beatings. A mobile phone, smuggled in by an African cellmate, provided a lifeline, allowing him to make a few brief phone calls to his family.

Lucy says: “In September I went to visit Tig with his mum. I was shocked at how thin and ill he looked. As soon as I got out of there I burst into tears.”

Despite his family’s best efforts – and a £30,000 bribe – Tig was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in the notorious gulag Zone 22. “Lucy bribed a guard Û500 to spend five minutes with me. I just clung to her, sobbing, saying, ‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me. I was then herded on to a train for the 500-mile journey. I was terrified.” But the prison camp was even worse than Tig expected. In winter inmates froze in temperatures as low as -35C and in the summer the heat was unbearable. Sadistic guards meted out indiscriminate beatings and disease was rife.

During his incarceration his parents – a builder and a housewife – shelled out more than £100,000 in bribes and also provided him with enough chocolate, coffee and cigarettes to buy his way out of trouble. Tig says: “It was medieval. The buildings were riddled with cockroaches. They put me to work in a sewing factory. The material was saturated in chemicals and we’d get welts and fungus all over our bodies. My eye swelled up so much they came close to removing it.”

But the most torturous part was when Lucy came to visit. Because they weren’t husband and wife they had to sit at opposite sides of the room. Desperate to spend time together Tig and Lucy decided to tie the knot. The ceremony took place in October 2004, followed by a 48-hour “honeymoon” in a dirty cell with two beds pushed together. “Those two days got me through the rest of my sentence,” Tig says. “But we don’t speak about the wedding day. It’s still far too painful.”

Tig was finally released in March 2005 after clocking up points for good behaviour and paying off two prison officials. He now has a new job and the couple have a 15-month-old daughter, Isabella. Two years since his ordeal finally came to an end, Tig has this advice for football fans: “Don’t take any risks with anything. Bribery is endemic so always carry Û150 to bribe your way out of trouble. “Don’t go anywhere without photo ID. And if you do get into trouble, don’t sign anything, insist on seeing a lawyer and speak to the embassy. “Don’t do anything that, like me, you may regret for the rest of your life.”

Putin’s Neo-Soviet Star Chamber

Reuters reports that Vladimir Putin has created a star chamber government-within-a-government, granting himself yet more dictatorial powers and further clenching his fist around the nation’s throat. Remember how some Russophile bastards told you he was going to resign this year and move out of government, maybe to a cushy job at Gazprom, because he was such a statesman? Well, they were lying to you. Maybe now is the time to call them to account?

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has created an inner cabinet of key ministers that will meet weekly, further strengthening his grip over Russia’s levers of power.

The new forum mimics a format used by Putin as president before he handed over the Kremlin to his close ally Dmitry Medvedev last week. “The full government is a rather big body,” Putin’s chief spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday. “That is why it was decided to set up a managerial staff that can handle certain issues without the need to summon the full cabinet.”

Medvedev could in theory choose to attend the meetings of Putin’s inner circle, but Peskov said he would not do so: “This is a purely governmental body which does not provide for participation by the president.”
Putin said on Thursday that the new format would make the government more efficient. He called it a “presidium” – a term used in the Soviet era to describe the top legislative body.

Putin’s inner circle consists of his two first deputy premiers, five deputy premiers and seven other key ministers including the foreign and defence ministers, who under Russia’s constitution report directly to the president.

Peskov denied suggestions that the move was an attempt to wrest power from Medvedev.

“Of course these ministers report directly to the president, who defines the general line in the foreign and defence policies,” he said. “But the implementation of these strategies and some tactical issues are handled by the cabinet.” In the eight years of Putin’s presidency, his Kremlin was the unchallenged centre of power where national strategy was drafted.

Prime ministers and their cabinets were reduced to carrying out the Kremlin’s will at their weekly meetings.

But the tables have been turned since Putin, who remains Russia’s most popular politician after presiding over years of economic growth, propelled Medvedev into the presidency.

Some analysts suggested that the move could also help Putin escape public criticism if things go wrong.

As president, Putin often used the government as a lightning rod in times of trouble, such as the failure of a pension reform plan two years ago.

“The new presidium is a safety cushion between Putin and his government,” Alexei Mukhin, the head of the independent think-tank Centre for Political Information, told Reuters.

“If things go wrong, Putin can now take to task a member of the presidium who is in charge of a specific issue.”

Luzkhov, Run Amok

Reuters reports on more proof of Russia’s friendly, benign intentions towards its neighbors:

Ukraine banned Moscow’s mayor from the country on Monday after he called for Russia to take ownership of the Black Sea naval port of Sevastopol, a ban which immediately angered Russia. Rows over Kiev’s ambitions to join NATO and the price of Russian gas to Ukraine have already dented relations between the two former-Soviet neighbors over the last few years. Ukraine’s security service issued Monday’s ban on Mayor Yuri Luzhkov the day after he told a crowd of supporters in Sevastopol celebrating the 225th anniversary of the foundation of the Black Sea fleet that Moscow should reclaim the base. Russia rents the Sevastopol base from Ukraine. The ban annoyed Russia’s foreign ministry. “We qualify this decision by the Ukrainian authorities as an unfriendly move which runs against mutual efforts to build an atmosphere of confidence and mutual understanding in Russian-Ukrainian relations,” the ministry said in a statement. The 18th century Russian Empress Catherine the Great established the base at Sevastopol but Ukraine inherited it in 1991 after the break up of the Soviet Union.

Russian "Dominant" Tennis Plays to Form in Rome

At last week’s Tier I WTA tour event in Rome, two of the top three, three of the top six and five of the top ten seeds were Russians.

#2 seed Maria Sharapova barely managed to beat the #9 seed (not ranked in the world’s top 10) in the quarter finals, losing the first set and falling behind in the second. Then she forfeited the semi-finals, once again claiming injury and disappointing such fans as the sport may still have with so many Russians gumming up the works.

#3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova lost her second match of the tournament in easy straight sets to an unseeded French qualifier.

#6 seed Anna Chakvetadeze was decisively beaten in three sets by that same qualifier in the semi-finals.

Russia’s #10 seed was the only one of the group to lose a match to a higher-ranked opponent, going down in straight sets in her second match to #8 seed Venus Williams, winning only two games in the decisive set.

Russians, of course, ignored these results even more than usual because St. Petersburg’s Zenit soccer team won the UEFA soccer championship in Manchester England against Great Britain — and not only that, but watched British fans run riot in the aftermath. Russians need to take such victories where they can find them, but a close look reveals much that is illusion. Zenit’s coach isn’t Russian, he’s Dutch. One of its best players is Ukrainian. Zenit was expected to win after being freakishly lucky enough to draw such a relatively weak opponent in the finals (the British side hadn’t seen the finals in nearly four decades); the Russian side barely made it to the championship round, finishing a lame third in its group in the opener.

As usual, Russians will ignore the reality and the need for reform, choosing to dwell in the world of illusions and condemning themselves to nothing but ultimate failure and humiliation.