Daily Archives: May 23, 2008

May 23, 2008 — Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: Russia and Victory are Incompatible

(2) More Woeful Bad News for Putin’s Russia

(3) AIDS Ravages Russian Women

(4) A Landslide in Georgia, Putin Poked in the Eye

NOTE: On Monday, this blog was pleased to publish its 5,000th comment.

EDITORIAL: Russia and Victory are Incompatible

Source: Ellustrator.


Russia and Victory are Incompatible

There’s something about success that breeds failure where Russia is concerned. It can make the best of them head right into the toilet, and the worst of them . . . well, you don’t want to know.

Take, for instance, the cartoon shown above, drawn by “Ellustrator” Sergei Yelkin for the RIA Novosti news service. It shows a sniper’s crosshairs hovering over a blood-red maple leaf that has five bullet holes in the bullseye, and is emblazoned with the words “WAY TO GO!” also in blood red.

Apparently, these five bullet holes are meant to represent the five goals the Russian team scored to narrowly defeat Canada in overtime at the World Ice Hockey championships earlier this week. It’s been a long 15 years since Russia last won a gold medal in that event, which it should dominate. But in fact, Russia only won because of a freak penalty where a Canadian player accidentally flipped the puck out of the rink, just a happenstance. Shorthanded, Canada gave up the sudden-death goal in overtime to lose the match. Canada had dominated Russia in the first two periods of play.

It seems that even when Russians win, they somehow find a way to lose anyway.

Just imagine for a moment if you will how Russians would have reacted if the shoe were on the other foot. Let’s say, just for example, that the U.S. had beaten Russian 4-3 and a leading American wire service commissioned a cartoon showing Russia’s double-headed eagle with all four eyes shot out by bullet holes. Any chance they’d say that penalty was some kind of Russophobic conspiracy? What are they odds they would admit the U.S.A. had beaten them fair and square and deserved the gold medal, and deserved to gloat with such a cartoon? In any other country, circumstances like this might be cause for some sort of introspection and modesty. But not Russia.

“We are going to get drunk. We deserve this. It is great for our country,” said Russian forward Alexander Ovechkin. Impressive level of sportsmanship, isn’t it?

Even Mr. Yelkin, whose work is respected by this blog and often featured in our Sunday Funnies section, totally lost his mind with intoxicating arrogance. His cartoon is sickening in more ways than can be counted, and if something like that was done by a Westerner to a patriotic symbol of Russia, there would be hell to pay. But Russians have no problem with this sort of barbarism when it’s aimed at those evil foreigners they despise.

We can’t help but be reminded of the classically Russian antics of Maria Sharapova’s father Yuri at this year’s Australian Open, which his daughter won. When she beat world #1 Justine Henin, one of the classiest and most noble players ever to grace the game — and who has suffered a long history of personal trauma in her private life — Yuri covered his head in his hood, making himself look just like the infamous Unabomber, and made crude, disgusting slashing gestures across his throat.

Russians win so rarely, and go down to humiliating defeat so often, and they hate foreigners so much, that it’s perhaps understandable they would need to blow off accumulated pressure on the rare occasions when they succeed. But invariably, Russians go so far with this barbaric behavior that they destroy any good will or respect they might otherwise have generated in the West through their victory.

And meanwhile, instead of thinking “hey, we won, we can do this — maybe we need some reforms so we can do it more often,” Russians inevitably conclude “see, we’re perfect, and whenever we lose it’s just bad luck we can do nothing about, or evil foreign conspiracies.” It’s the same in the wide aspects of life, sports is a perfect metaphor for society where Russia is concerned. The whole charade is, in our view, utterly pathetic and disgusting.

And so it goes in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Just as Putin can’t understand that when he persecutes dissidents like Oleg Kozlovsky he shows weakness rather than strength, Russians can’t seem to realize how pathological their behavior makes them appear in they eyes of the civilized world. Only a greatly frustrated people, so well acquainted with humiliating failure, become so frenzied at any instance of success. All Russians do when they act this way is to remind the world of their long history of failure.

More Woeful Bad News for Vladimir Putin’s Russia

The Moscow Times reports more proof that Vladimir Putin is giving Russia the worst of all possible worlds: he strips away all their freedoms, but doesn’t give them the peace and order that should go along with it.

Russia is one of the least peaceful places in the world, according to a new study, which ranks it among countries mired in drug trafficking, guerilla wars and political instability.

Russia took 131st place out of 140 countries on the Global Peace Index, just below Colombia and above Lebanon, says the study, released late Monday. Iceland was named the most peaceful country, while Iraq came in last.

Several Moscow-based defense analysts questioned the objectivity of the study.

Russia scored low because of its high military spending, booming arms sales and poor relations with its neighbors, says the study, the brainchild of Steve Killelea, an Australian philanthropist and entrepreneur.

Also hitting Russia’s ranking were “high scores for homicides, jailed population, distrust among citizens, violent crime” and a lack of respect for human rights, it said.

The study, which uses 24 criteria, was prepared by Killelea’s Institute of Economics and Peace and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

While the study noted “increased stability in Chechnya,” it pointed to Russia’s “moderately tense” relations with its neighbors and extremely high arms exports.

“I am sure it’s quite possible for Russia to improve,” Killelea said by telephone from London, noting that Russia’s ranking had improved a notch from last year, when the country ranked 118th out of 121 countries in the first-ever study.

Of the other global “military-diplomatic powers,” two others also received poor marks, with the United States ranked at 97th and China at 67th, the report said. While European Union members each received a separate ranking, the EU collectively was ranked fourth, tying with New Zealand. Killelea said the poor U.S. ranking had caused “a lot of controversy” in the United States.

Defense analysts took issue with the study’s conclusions. “There exists a huge number of misconceptions about Russia and other countries, and they are reflected here,” said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a think tank that tracks security challenges and Russia’s arms trade. “There is no doubt that this ranking reflects an Anglo-Saxon outlook on things.”

Pukhov rejected a study conclusion that small arms are easily accessible in Russia. “In the United States, these weapons are available like diapers in a supermarket,” said Pukhov, who sits on the Defense Ministry’s public advisory board. “Here, it’s very hard to obtain arms.”

Alexander Khramchikhin, a senior researcher at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, said the methodology of these kind of studies baffled him.

“This has nothing to do with science,” he said. “It has to do with ideology.”

Russia tends to rank poorly in similar international studies, including in democracy, transparency, the environment and media freedom, to name a few.

Russian government officials have repeatedly complained that the studies are biased against Russia and do not reflect reality.

Russia’s ties with its former Soviet neighbors have grown more strained in recent years, and the country has showed off its increased military might. During the Victory Day parade on May 9, tanks and nuclear-missile launchers rumbled over Red Square for the first time since the Soviet collapse, triggering suggestions of Russian saber-rattling.

Killelea rejected any accusation of bias in the latest report, saying the authors had used independent data and methodology.

He added that he had never visited Russia but that it was among the countries he hoped to see one day.

AIDS Ravages Russian Women

The Moscow Times reports:

When Moscow photographer Serge Golovach decided to present portraits of beautiful women for an HIV/AIDS awareness project, he was revealing a startling truth about AIDS in Russia today — it is quickly becoming a problem with a woman’s face.

At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in Russia, those infected were predominantly male. Unlike in much of the rest of the world, the vast majority of AIDS cases in Russia and the CIS were the result of intravenous drug use — a behavior usually associated with men. But of the 415,000 people infected with AIDS in Russia today, 135,000 of them — 32 percent — are women, according to the latest figures from the Federal Consumer Protection Service. A higher percentage of cases among women can be found only in Moldova or in African countries. In Moscow, the situation is even worse. Out of the 28,000 cases of HIV registered in Moscow as of January 2008, more than a half were women — up 14 percent from last year, according to the Moscow branch of the consumer protection service. More disturbing, most of the newly infected women are young and in their best reproductive years, from ages 20 to 29. Around 5,000 of these women found out that they were infected while undergoing blood tests as part of prenatal care.

The ongoing feminization of the AIDS epidemic in Russia will no doubt affect the health and future of the nation. An increasing number of HIV-positive children born to these women are the predictable result. But there remains the disturbing question of why more Russian women are becoming part of this epidemic. Experts say it is a result of both the changing nature of HIV transmission in Russia and changes in gender-based social norms and sexual customs. While officials say intravenous drug use remains the main way of transmitting the virus, contracting HIV as a result of heterosexual intercourse is rising. The Moscow AIDS Center’s web site says 86 percent of new cases of HIV are the result of intercourse. This change suggests that HIV is now affecting the general population rather than the marginalized elements of society, such as prostitutes or drug addicts, who have long been considered at high risk for acquiring HIV.

Of course, it remains true that mass unemployment and economic insecurity in the depressed regions of Russia sometimes force women into commercial sex work, which contributes to the rising numbers of HIV-positive women. Surveys of regional Russian cities show that most sex workers are between the ages of 17 and 23 and that condom use among these prostitutes is erratic at best.

But what makes the changing situation alarming is that ordinary women are increasingly at risk in a country where sexual coercion and gender inequities are tolerated, and double standards make it acceptable for men to have multiple sexual partners. While using condoms could be a solution in many cases, condoms have traditionally been extremely unpopular among Russian men. This is especially the case among the segments of the population with lower income and educational levels, where HIV is spreading most rapidly. The economic dependency of some women on their husbands and sexual partners leaves them with little bargaining power when it comes to negotiating condom use.

“Some women suspect their husbands have many sexual partners but fear to be abandoned or beaten if they resist their husbands’ sexual demands,” says Maria Ivannikova, the head of the informational department of the nongovernmental association AIDS Information Service.

Since women are biologically more vulnerable to acquiring HIV, it is two to four times more likely that a woman will contract HIV from a man than a man from a woman. The explanation is that women have a large surface area of reproductive tissue that is exposed to their partner’s secretions during intercourse, and semen infected with HIV typically contains a higher concentration of the virus than a woman’s sexual secretions. Specialists say young women are especially at greater risk, because their reproductive organs are immature and more likely to tear during intercourse, specialists say. Women also face a high risk of acquiring other sexually transmitted diseases, which increases the risk of contracting HIV 10-fold when left untreated.

The female condom could be a solution, since it is the only safe and effective HIV prevention option available that is completely controlled by women, but at the moment the method is mostly unknown in Russia. And even when women are familiar with female condoms, they have a hard time finding them. Pharmacies do not stock them because of their relatively high cost and a lack of demand, according to Igor Peskarev, the director of Humanitarian Action, a UNAIDS partner NGO in St. Petersburg.

“You may find women’s condoms only in sex shops in our city, and the price will be around 3 or 4 euros, more than 100 rubles. It’s relatively expensive for a one-time use item,” he said.

Microbicides, which can be applied in the vagina for the prevention of HIV and other STDs, are still in the developmental stage, although Russian scientists are working along with others around the world to develop an effective one.

Every day, more than 100 new cases of HIV appear in Russia, and if current trends continue, women will soon make up a majority of the victims. And the fact that Russia is currently in the midst of a serious demographic crisis compounds the problem. According to data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the combination of falling birth rates and rising death rates from chronic and infectious disease means that by 2025, Russia’s population will fall from about 144 million to about 125 million. Add to that 5 million to 15 million excess deaths from AIDS, and the country may lose 20 percent of its citizens over the next 20 years.

In an attempt to raise awareness of this problem and help lift the stigma of people with AIDS, UNAIDS recruited 25 famous women from Russia and Ukraine who agree to be photographed. By displaying the photographs of women who are well-known and in the news, the organization hopes encourage both public and private discussions about HIV/AIDS, particularly among women. The exhibit, which will run for two weeks in Moscow, will then tour the country, and a selection of the photographs will be published as a 2009 calendar to be launched on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.

A Landslide in Georgia

The New York Times reports that Vladimir Putin has lost yet another big one:

As vote counts were still being tallied on Thursday, the ruling party in Georgia had a commanding lead in the Parliamentary elections held the previous day, cementing President Mikheil Saakashvili and his party’s place as the nation’s preeminent political force.

With two thirds of the polling precincts reporting, Mr. Saakashvili’s United National Movement party’s had more than 62 percent of the vote, Levan Tarkhnishvili, the head of the central election commission, said by telephone. The ruling party’s main opponent, the United Opposition bloc, had slightly more than 14 percent.

The opposition complained of irregularities and vowed to challenge the results.

But the wide margin suggested that Mr. Saakashvili — who has had his reputation as a democrat and a reformer tarnished by a police crackdown against unarmed protestors and an opposition television station last November — would maintain his unchallenged hold on the country’s politics and course.

Mr. Tarkhnishvili said he hoped that the full preliminary results would be released during the night. Both the opposition and the ruling party were awaiting the report on the conduct of the elections from the principal international election observation mission, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mr. Saakashvili, a lawyer educated at Columbia University in the United States, came to power after a peaceful revolution overthrew the government of former President Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003.

He has been staunchly pro-Western, seeking access to the European Union and NATO and sending troops to the American-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The country’s once stagnant economy has partially revived during his years in power.

But his opponents say that power has changed him, and that he has become arrogant and intolerant of dissent, and rules the country through a small circle of insiders, some of whom are corrupt.

Mr. Saakashvili’s Georgia, his critics say, lacks the balance of powers of a healthy democratic system.

Mr. Saakashvili has also pushed his small nation in the Caucasus onto the global stage, as tensions with neighboring Russia have surged during his presidency.

The tensions are related in part to his effort to pull Russian-supported breakaway regions in Georgia back under federal control. But they have also arisen because he has been a steady and vocal critic of both the Kremlin’s regional dominance and of the Soviet past.

The Parliamentary election had been framed by diplomats and analysts as an important test of whether Georgia’s ruling party and Mr. Saakashvili could restore their checkered reputations after the crackdown in the fall, and after Mr. Saakashvili’s victory in the snap presidential election earlier this year.

In that election, he received 52 percent of that vote — narrowly topping the required 50 percent amid allegations that his party had rigged the small margin of victory to avoid a potentially damaging run-off.

Giga Bokeria, a deputy foreign minister and one of Mr. Saakashvili’s closest confidants, said by telephone that the ruling party believed the Parliamentary election would be a step toward rebuilding international support.

“It was, as I hoped, better than the last election,” he said. “I think anybody who has more or less been closely following Georgia has been reassured.”