Daily Archives: June 16, 2008

June 16, 2008 — Contents

MONDAY JUNE 16 CONTENTS

(1) Editorial: John McCain on Russia, Part I

(2) Editorial: John McCain on Russia, Part II

(3) Annals of Russian Alcoholism

(4) Russian Bad Guys

(5) Spanish Cops Bust Russian Mob

NOTE: Over on Publius Pundit, we dismantle yet another lame piece of pseudo journalism about Russia from the New York Times, this one falsely claiming Russians are rich and traveling all over the world.

NOTE: #4 above is a request for assistance from readers who may be film buffs. We’d love to hear from you!

NOTE: Russia’s run of freakish dumb luck in sports recently continues. On the brink of elimination from the Euro championships in soccer after being humiliated by Spain, Russia managed to squeak past Greece because of a freak play in which the Greek goalie simply walked away from his post and let the Russians score. The Russian side has been out-scored two-to-one in its two matches to date, and even with this “victory” must beat Sweden or be eliminated in the first round.

EDITORIAL: McCain and G-8 Eviction

EDITORIAL

McCain and G-8 Eviction

Our relationship with Russia has been sorely tested by Moscow’s rhetoric, by its tendency to treat its neighbors as lost “spheres of influence,” and by its energy policies that have a distinct political tinge. And Russia’s internal course has been a source of considerable disappointment, especially because in 2000 we hoped that it was moving closer to us in terms of values.

— U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, writing in Foreign Affairs

Writing on Salon.com its reporter Mark Benjamin claims that when Republican presidential candidate John McCain calls for Russia ’s ouster from the G-8, he’s not saying something he really believes but merely acting as the corrupt dupe of the East European lobby.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to suggest that a man who served his country not only as a solider but as a tortured prisoner of war, and who has a long and distinguished record as a U.S. Senator, is nothing but a corrupt sap. Rather than journalism, it sounds like a partisan political commercial for Barack Obama.

The idea that the U.S. can’t oust Russia from the G-8, because as a practical matter the other members wouldn’t go along, is making the rounds of the left wing blogs like wildfire. Not only does the left claim we can’t eject Russia , but it also says that if we try Russia will refuse to discuss nuclear disarmament, something McCain – in an act that gives the lie to any notion that he’s a one-dimensional old school cold warrior – recently expressed support for doing.

This is classic liberal nonsense on both counts. Russia’s feeble economy needs relief from the arms race far more than ours does, and the Russian government couldn’t care less how much fear of Armageddon its citizens have to live with (the men already have trouble reaching age 60). The left seems to have quickly forgotten that the last arms race we fought with Russia bankrupted and laid low the USSR . It’s simply amazing that the left would even consider criticizing a Republican for supporting arms control, as if they care more about nominal control of the White House than the implementation of policies they supposedly favor (a review of Bill Clinton’s presidency, which included the abolition of welfare, free trade support, a balanced budget, a Republican House and many other Republican victories would tend to bolster that idea).

And if President McCain tells the members of the G-8 they have to choose between Russia and the United States as a member, they’ll choose us in a heartbeat (though naturally they may do so kicking and screaming, just as they obstructed Ronald Reagan all through the Cold War). The G-8 without the U.S. in it doesn’t exist, it’s as simple as that. George Bush recently had a NATO conference and received unanimous support for installing a defensive missile system in Eastern Europe, with the G-8 members flouting Russian objections and promising to admit Georgia and Ukraine as members, adding insult to injury in Russia’s view. Europe is terrified of Russia ’s ever-increasing militarism and particularly its weaponization of its energy resources. All that’s needed is American leadership, something that until recently has been sorely lacking from George “I looked Putin’s eyes and glimpsed his soul” Bush.

Moreover, the left seems to have forgotten that sometimes Americans want to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Russia isn’t qualified, by any metric economic or political that you care to name, for membership in the G-8. It’s imposed a massive crackdown on civil society which has included a long string of political murders. Would it be wrong for the U.S. to demand Hitler’s ouster from such a group, assuming all the other members opposed it? McCain has urged replacing Russia with India, a far larger and more dynamic economy and a much more vibrant democracy. Russia is merely a bridge to Asia ; India is Asia .

Ignoring all this, Benjamin jumps right on the moonbat bandwagon. Citing Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, he states: “If McCain were to pursue his Russia agenda as president, Zakaria wrote, it would be interpreted by much of the world as an attempt by Washington to begin a new Cold War.” Zakaria apparently isn’t troubled by Russia numerous practice sorties against U.S., British, Japanese and Norwegian targets with nuclear bombers, resulting in the forced scrambling of defensive fighter squadrons to ward of the threats (even though neither the U.S. nor Britain is undertaking this sort of harassment against Russia). It doesn’t seem to bother him that Vladimir Putin is a proud KGB spy who has wiped out opposition parties, independent media and local government and has remained the national ruler in the guise of prime minister even though his term has ended. Like Neville Chamberlain of old, Zakaria seems to think the only reason Russia is hostile is because we haven’t issued sufficient sweet words of encouragement and respect. If we’ll just do that, apparently, Russia will become a responsible ally.

That’s Jimmy Carter talking. Carter was elected in 1976 and his party was given dominant control of both houses of Congress after a Republican had alienated virtually the entire country (maybe a situation we will see eerily repeated this year). But within four years of trying out this pollyanish foreign policy, Carter was repudiated and the Senate was back in Republican hands (Democrats greedily contemplating victory this fall would do well to remember that example). He was an abject failure.

Benjamin calls Zakaria a “seasoned expert” on Russia . That’s simply false. Zakaria has never spent one day living in Russia , doesn’t speak the language, has no degree in the subject and has never been a policymaker in that area. He’s an Indian (his father was politician), a university professor (PhD from Harvard), and in essence nothing more than a gadfly journalist where Russia is concerned, writing for lightweight left-wing publications and making cameos on TV. Why not ask Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, or Andrei Illarionov of CATO, or Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute what they think about McCain’s confrontational approach? How about asking opposition leader Garry Kasparov what he thinks? Perhaps that would be a little bit too much like journalism for the taste of Salon.com.

Benjamin then gets to his real point, that McCain got his ideas corruptly from an insidious “neoconservative” (Benjamin’s term) named Randy Scheunemann, his senior foreign policy advisor, who “was a paid lobbyist for former Soviet Bloc countries that are wary of Russia, and seems to advocate those policies the countries and their former lobbyist want. At various times from 2001 through early this year, Georgia , Latvia , Romania and Macedonia paid Scheunemann and his partner, Mike Mitchell, more than $2 million.” Apparently Benjamin cannot conceive of the possibility that Scheunemann’s belief in the cause of Eastern Europe came before his work lobbying on their behalf.

The again, maybe he can. He writes:

McCain might take his hard line on Russia because it plays well with some of the GOP base. Experts on Russia say some of those Republicans harbor nostalgia for being tough on the Soviet Union . Or perhaps he simply believes Russia will respond best to threats. But there is little doubt that McCain’s rhetoric and policies would please the countries Scheunemann has worked for. There is no way to tell if Scheunemann has influenced his boss on behalf of his clients, or if McCain and Scheunemann simply share a common get-tough-on-Russia philosophy. But when there are lobbyists on a candidate’s campaign staff, it’s hard to distinguish chicken from egg when it comes to policy.

As a U.S. national correspondent based in D.C., one must question whether Benjamin has the Russia chops to pontificate on a subject like this as freely as he does. In my view, it’s obvious he lacks them. And it’s rather ironic that Benjamin claims McCain is just a paid mouthpiece for Eastern Europe, when his own statement mimic so precisely the propaganda line being put out by Russia’s Kremlin (“give us what we want, or we’ll ‘bury’ you”). His own words betray the fact that he has absolutely no evidence that McCain’s views are not genuine. His analysis is truly schizophrenic, unable to decide whether it wants to say McCain doesn’t really believe his own rhetoric or that he does and it will lead to catastrophic failure. And the reason is simple: he doesn’t have a convincing (or even credible) argument either way, and that’s not the point. The point is a smear job, attempting to attack McCain at his base of strength, integrity and courage.

We can expect to see much more of this as the campaign continues, and we can expect to see any similar attack on Barack Obama labeled closet racism. If we want to get our foreign policy on Russia straight, we’d better be prepared for long, tough battle.

Meanwhile, it’s not possible to write up a critique of Obama’s proposals for dealing with Russia, because he doesn’t have any. He’s said all the right critical words about the atrocity known as the Putin administration, but he hasn’t had the courage to lay out a specific policy platform as McCain has done — not surprising, since he has absolutely no foreign policy experience to back up such a platform.

EDITORIAL: McCain Under Fire

EDITORIAL

McCain Under Fire

We’re big fans of John McCain here on this blog, because of his pathbreaking and bold leadership on Russia, urging the G-8 too kick Putin’s dictatorship to the curb. So we were delighted to see McCain come under attack last week from the New York Times and the Huffington Post.

Huh?

Let us explain: What they’ve said is that McCain isn’t being tough enough on Russia. And we happily agree.

The Times states:

A lobbying firm owned by Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, has worked in recent years for a Ukraine politician, Viktor Yanukovich. Both Mr. McCain and the Bush administration supported the opponent of Mr. Yanukovich, who had close ties to Vladimir V. Putin, then the president of Russia and now prime minister. In a related development, Mr. McCain may have first become aware of Davis Manafort’s activities in Ukraine as far back as 2005. At that time, a staff member at the National Security Council called Mr. McCain’s Senate office to complain that Mr. Davis’s lobbying firm was undercutting American foreign policy in Ukraine, said a person with direct knowledge of the phone call who spoke on condition of anonymity.

So the Times is blasting McCain for having somebody in his campaign who dared to commit the unpardonable sin of supporting the pro-Russia opposition in Ukraine as lobbyist.

It’s odd, of course, that those on the left, who have often criticized McCain for being too tough on Russia, have suddenly seen the light, but apparently they have. The HuffPo even links these malignant Ukrainians with Iran. Ouch!

Please folks, keep up the good work. Reach out to your large audiences and ask them to push Senator McCain even farther to the right on Russia. Why stop at a paltry gesture like booting Russia out of the G-8? Why not go further? Russia has already been excluded from the WTO, why not eject it from the UN Security Council too? Why not commit to bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO within McCain’s first year in office? We see McCain as having the best Russia policy available, but not the best in any objective sense.

This left-wing attack on McCain will have the added benefit of solidifying his support among his base, as they see the moonbats attempting to smear him by any means possible.

By the way, McCain denies that his office received any such warning as the Times reports.

Annals of Russian Alcoholism

The Globe & Mail reports:

Katya Orlova’s favourite drinks were the canned gin-and-tonics sold by vendors on nearly every street in Moscow. She downed as many as 10 a day. Dasha Vodneva mixed her cocktails with vodka. Years of heavy drinking landed both in a Moscow rehab centre.

Katya is 13; Dasha just 12. They’re patients at Kvartal, Russia’s only treatment centre for teenage addicts. The girls don’t miss drinking now, but both are leaving soon and neither has a plan for staying sober.

“I want to stop drinking,” said Dasha, whose solemn face is framed by long, wavy brown hair. “Here, they explained to me [that] drinking is harmful to my health. Maybe I will stop. I’m not sure.”

Katya shrugged when asked why she drank. “I don’t know – because I wanted to forget my problems with my mom.” Then, as if the questions were boring her, the raven-haired tomboy resumed doing handstands against a wall.

Another patient, Sabina Pasechnik, 15, said she’ll likely resume drinking when she leaves Kvartal. The pressure in some Moscow teenage circles is too great. “It’s considered normal behaviour,” said Sabina, whose own mother is an alcohol counsellor.

“I don’t know how it will be possible to live without it. But at the same time, I want to stop.”

Russia has always been a hard-drinking nation. Its history and literature are rife with folklore that tends to romanticize the Russian fondness for vodka. In recent years, those habits have been passed on to a younger generation of drinkers.

Alcohol addiction among teenagers and children has soared since the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to Russian Ministry of Health statistics, the number of children under 18 who are addicted to alcohol has risen from about 6,300 in the early 1990s to nearly 20,000 in 2007. Each year, the numbers creep higher.

Moscow parks, subway stations and plazas are common watering holes for young Muscovites. At Kaluzhskaya plaza in central Moscow, hundreds of youths and teens gather around a large Lenin statue every Thursday night, even during the coldest winter evenings, and drink until early morning.

Experts say rampant poverty and the social upheaval in the 1990s helped spur the spike in alcoholism rates among the young.

“They’re from impoverished families or they have dropped out of school or their parents are hard drinkers, too,” said Veronika Gotlib, the director of Kvartal, which opened five years ago. It treats about 300 patients a year, just a fraction of the thousands of addicted teens. Most are between the ages of 12 and 16, but patients have been as young as 7.

Although Russia’s legal drinking age is 18, children say it’s easy to buy alcohol from street vendors. Twelve-year-old Dasha persuaded older friends to buy her cocktails; others made the purchases themselves.

Ms. Gotlib said many of the children are brought to the centre by exasperated parents; others after run-ins with police.

“Some of the stories are like from a Stephen King novel, just heartbreaking horror stories,” Ms. Gotlib said. But there are plenty of kids from average families too.

Kvartal is funded mainly by the Moscow city government but also gets money for programs from international aid agencies such as Unicef and the Canadian International Development Agency. Like many Western addiction treatment centres, it uses group and individual therapy combined with classes in art and drama.

Most of the children thrive at Kvartal, Ms. Gotlib said. But the same problems re-emerge once they leave. More than half go back to their old ways, she said. This is where Russia’s weak social-service system lags behind those of other countries.

Staff try to keep in touch with families of former patients, but many children are returning home to drinking environments.

“There isn’t enough support,” she said. We try to work with families and parents. But some of the parents don’t feel responsible. They ask us to fix their kids.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that child addiction rates are rising in Russia. The statistics mirror adult consumption rates, which have also soared since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, the average annual consumption for an adult is slightly more than 15 litres a year, almost double the rate from a decade ago and far higher than European and North American consumption rates.

Children from heavy-drinking families have few resources to dissuade them from following their parents’ paths.

“In my opinion, they have a lot of free time and they are not engaged in any activities,” Ms. Gotlib said. “If you don’t find love at home, you go into the street. And there in the street they meet other kids and they begin drinking in groups.”

Dasha started drinking at 10, she said, mainly to escape the crowded two-bedroom apartment where she lived with her father, stepmother and four other relatives. She left her mother’s home in Omsk in Siberia because her stepfather beat her. But in Moscow, her father was just as abusive. At first, the sugary cocktails made her nauseous and dizzy, but she liked the warmth it brought her. School authorities sent her to Kvartal last fall after she was found smoking in the bathroom.

Dasha has been living at Kvartal ever since. She likes the calm atmosphere, the structure and even the counselling. “It’s a good break from my house.”

But the girls interviewed were leery about what’s in store for them once they leave.

Dasha Beskova, 14, said she wants to drink in moderation, just on holidays and at birthday parties. Sabina said she doesn’t know how to live without drinking.

“That was part of life, to drink. Now, if I go to a restaurant, of course I would want to drink. I liked being drunk.”

Thirsty nations

Annual alcohol consumption, litres per person:

15 Russia

11.2 Britain

9.8 Australia

8.4 United States

7.6 Japan

1.5 Turkey


Russian Bad Guys

CALLING ALL FILM BUFFS! We notice what might be a trend in the appearance of Russians playing the role of bad buy in recent major motion pictures, and of the Russian character being played by a non-Russian. Three such examples appear below, but we don’t claim to be experts in filmography. Do you know any other recent films in which Russians are featured as the bad guys, especially where the character isn’t even played by a Russian? Here are some examples:

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
(Tim Roth – UK)

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
(Cate Blanchett – Australia)

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004)
(Karl Urban – New Zealand)

UPDATE — READER ADDITIONS:

EASTERN PROMISES (2007)
(Viggo Mortenson – U.S.A.)

Spanish Cops Bust Russian Mob

The AFP reports:

Spanish authorities said Friday they had broken up a massive Russian criminal network operating in the south of the country, arresting 18 people.

The Tambovskaya-Malyshevskay gang is the “largest criminal organisation of Russian origin in the world” and has been “totally dismantled”, police said in a statement.

It said 400 officers took part in the crackdown in southern Spain, from where “they planned their criminal activities in Russia, in several countries of the European Union and in the United States.”

“They controled the criminal activities of lower-ranked leaders”, which included murders, weapons and drug trafficking, racketeering and influence peddling.

The gang also carried out money laundering through financial institutions in Switzerland, Cyprus and Latvia, and a network of companies,” it said.

Eighteen people were arrested Friday, including leaders of the network, and the number is expected to grow, a judicial source said.

A police source said foreign intelligence services also participated.

The operation was carried out simultaneously in several places, including Marbella, Nerja, Malaga, Torrox, Palma de Majorca, Javea, El Campello, Valencia and Madrid.

It was under the supervision of Judge Baltasar Garzon and anti-corruption prosecutors.

Garzon is expected to travel to Palma de Majorca, in the Balearic islands, on Saturday to oversee search operations there.

Spanish authorities have already carried out several operations against Russian criminal gangs, notably on the Costa del Sol, where they are suspected of carrying out money laundering activities.

Operation Avispa (Wasp) in June 2005 led to the arrests of about 30 people from the former Soviet Union, including 22 leaders of criminal gangs, most of them from Georgia.

The interior minister described that operation as “the largest crackdown on organised crime in Europe.”