Daily Archives: June 23, 2008

June 23, 2008 — Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: Putin Speaks

(2) Latynina in the Washington Post!

(3) Annals of Mass Murder in Chechnya

(4) Latynina on the Putin Purges

(5) Annals of Neo-Soviet Failure: Mailing it In

(6) No More Yaltas!

NOTE: Kim Zigfeld’s latest installment on Pajamas Media tells the story of the demise of the rat-infested eXile tabloid, and expresses our fears about the implications of the latest Kremlin move against Russian journalism for the future of the Moscow Times.

NOTE: An amazing double shot of Yulia Latynina today, as the heir apparent to Anna Politkovskaya breaks into the big time with a featured place on the front page of the Washington Post web site. Way to go, Yulia! Take it to them!

EDITORIAL: Putin "Speaks"


Putin “Speaks”

It’s clear that a private investor wants to make profits, and the bigger and sooner the better, but I am calling on everybody to behave responsibly. As far as irresponsible behavior is concerned, I will tell you directly, and maybe a bit rudely: I will take [the profits] from your stomach and distribute them among the poor. I am not sure that everything has been thought out here. We need to see how we will maintain a single energy space.

Gosh, almost sounds like he still rules the country, doesn’t it?

Last week The Moscow Times reported the above comments from Russian “Prime Minister” Vladimir Putin following a meeting at the Energy Ministry between Putin and the Ministry staff and national electrical monopoly UES, represented by its chairman Anatoly Chubais.

Georgy Bovt revealed, in a column last week in the MT which we republish below, that the salary of a mailman in Moscow is $1.25 per our ($200 per month for four 40-hour weeks of work). Russia’s civil servants are starving (and the average male postal worker won’t live to see his 60th year), so it’s not too surprising that “Prime Minister” Putin is concerned about the situation.

His solution? It’s the Soviet one, of course, the only one he knows. Reach into the stomachs of “dirty bourgeoisie pigs” and rip out their dinners. The MT states: “Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may have changed jobs, but he doesn’t appear to have lost his taste for coarse statements.” Indeed, it’s not only what he says but how he says it that smacks of the wonderful days of communism and totalitarianism to which Russia is rapidly returning.

What’s that you say? Russia has rich people, so it can’t be communist? Study more history, dear chap. There were plenty of rich folks in Soviet times, all you had to do was join the right party and, in the manner of the mafia, make your bones there. As the MT states: “UES, the national power generation and transmission monopoly, will cease to exist as of July 1, with the transmission grid being run by a new state-owned entity and the Energy Ministry overseeing the sector as a whole. With less than two weeks left before it takes over, on paper the Energy Ministry still has a staff of only five — Shmatko and his four deputies — said a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was still waiting for her official appointment as spokeswoman.” That’s the Soviet Union, all over again.

In all fairness, it would be pretty ridiculous for anyone to suggest that a man like Putin who has no economics or business training or experience and who has spent his whole life proudly serving the secret police could possibly be expected to come up with actual solutions to problems of this kind. The Russian people chose to be governed by such a person, so they’ve gotten what they deserve.

Russia needs to invest nearly $1 trillion in its electricity sector just in order to keep pace with demand as brutal price inflation makes ordinary commodities more and more impossible for ordinary Russians to afford. But Putin would much rather spend Russia’s ready cash on a new military confrontation with the West and doling out favors to his cronies — again, just the same thing that happened in Soviet times.

Latynina in the Washington Post!

Proving once again that it is the world leader in covering the rise of the neo-Soviet state, the brilliant Washington Post published an op-ed on Sunday by the terrific and courageous Russian journalist Yulia Latynina, often featured on this blog. The successor to Anna Politkokvskaya, Latynina is one of the last free voice of dissent in the Russian media, and the Post pokes dictator Vladimir Putin right in the eye by publishing her (a short while ago it published another feature op-ed by dissident leader Oleg Kozlovsky).

On Nov. 9, 2007, during a special operation in the village of Chemulga, in the republic of Ingushetia, Russian special forces shot and killed an individual by the name of Rakhim Amriyev. Eyewitnesses said that they shot him in the head and placed an automatic rifle beside his body. Then, as dozens of villagers who had run out of their homes looked on, the troops used an armored personnel carrier to demolish a wall of the one-room house where Amriyev lived and announced that he had died in a shootout.

You may ask how I can be sure that things happened this way — that Amriyev didn’t fire back, that he wasn’t a terrorist and that the automatic rifle was planted. I’m absolutely certain — because Rakhim Amriyev was 6 years old.

The most striking thing about everyday life in the Russia of Vladimir Putin (and make no mistake, it is Putin’s Russia, despite the election of a new president, hand-picked by the great man) is the incredible corruption of the courts, the police, the special forces — all the institutions that are supposed to uphold law and order in a democracy and that in Russia today have been transformed into a cancer that’s devouring the state. Consider these further examples:

On May 20, 2005, in Moscow, a car driven by the son of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov struck and killed 68-year-old Svetlana Beridze as she crossed the street. Beridze, who was in the crosswalk, was hit with such force that she was thrown high into the air and the keys in her handbag were crushed. No criminal charges were brought against the minister’s son, who, his father publicly stated, had “experienced physical and emotional suffering” as a result of the accident. Instead, in what appeared to be an effort to intimidate the dead woman’s family, authorities opened a criminal investigation against her son-in-law, for allegedly assaulting the minister’s son.

Last Sept. 10, Muscovite Natalia Trufanova was driving to her dacha with her family in her old Zhiguli when a motorcade carrying Supreme Court President Vyacheslav Lebedev came speeding down the road toward them, driving in her lane. One of the vehicles in the motorcade tore through Trufanova’s car. Eyewitnesses reported that the head of the Supreme Court kept going, leaving it to his underlings to comb through the bodies and the heap of twisted metal. Without batting an eye, the police declared that Trufanova had “driven into the oncoming lane,” which meant that, if she survived, she could be brought to trial. When angry witnesses started posting video on the Web clearly showing that it was the motorcade that was driving in the wrong lane, the lead investigator looking into the accident said that he didn’t have access to the Internet.

On a rainy September evening a week after Natalia Trufanova fell under the wheel of justice, I witnessed an accident on Moscow’s government thoroughfare — the famous Kutuzovsky Prospect. A silver Lexus, traveling at what looked to be about 90 miles an hour, flew out of the far left lane and crossed four lanes of oncoming traffic, crashing into several cars. As I drove past the scene of the accident, the wind blew bits of crushed metal, pieces of cloth and broken glass along the asphalt; bodies still sat in some of the cars. Within the hour, I learned that the driver of the Lexus was a 27-year-old woman with no known occupation; with her in the car was a deputy minister of economic development.

I learned this from a mutual friend (of mine and the deputy minister’s) named Pavel, who had rushed to the scene. The minister was already dead; the young woman was in a daze, due to either pain or drugs. A police sergeant, cheerfully surveying the pile of bodies the girl had left in her wake, asked Pavel in the most businesslike fashion: “So, how are we going to solve this problem?” Apparently they “solved the problem” — they didn’t even bring charges against the woman.

Strange but true: It’s not only ministers, their wives and their children — as well as their lovers — who are going unpunished, but also high-priced prostitutes, high on cocaine, with important addresses in their little black books.

Crime in Russia is hardly being investigated. In May of last year, the body of 4-year-old Nastia Mokryakova, her throat slit, was found in the woods outside Moscow. What do you think the police told the news media? “The child got lost and died of exposure.” A month later, in the Moscow suburb of Tomilino, some maniac strangled 10-year-old Nastia Butenkova, and the first thing the police did was to say that the girl, who’d been found on a staircase with her pants pulled down around her ankles, may have caused her own suffocation. (A public outcry ultimately led to an investigation of both murders.)

It’s not as though this unwillingness to investigate is limited to crimes whose victims are poor. On Dec. 6, 2007, Oleg Zhukovsky, a prominent banker who worked with major clients of the state-run bank VTB, was apparently killed in his suburban dacha. The killers reportedly tied the victim’s hands behind his back, put a plastic bag over his head and threw him into the pool. Before killing him, they apparently forced him to write a suicide note. “Suicide!” the police promptly declared. It’s hard to believe, but their unwillingness to investigate the death of a high-ranking banker had nothing to do with politics or the state. The police simply can’t be bothered.

Of course, there are some crimes that the police do investigate. They accused an acquaintance of mine of giving $20 million to the leader of the Chechen terrorists. Another person I know was accused of trying to privatize the air space above the Arctic Ocean. Of a third, a prosecutor wrote that his bank was trying to foment a revolution and overthrow Putin. These three suspects all had something in common: They are on the Russian Forbes 100 list.

A fourth acquaintance of mine isn’t on that list. He was simply building a highrise in the southern city of Makhachkala. The local prosecutor telephoned and asked him what discount he’d give him on an apartment in the building. “Twenty percent,” my acquaintance replied. The prosecutor thereupon ordered an investigation that turned the man’s company upside down, then called again and demanded a 50 percent discount.

Is this the legacy of the Soviet past? Not at all. In the Soviet Union, criminals were thrown into prison along with the dissidents. Is it the legacy of former president Boris Yeltsin? There was nothing like this under Yeltsin.

This is the distinctive nature of the Putin regime.

Under Putin, the Russian businessman has been transformed into game being hunted by people in epaulets. Who was the first victim of this hunt? Oil company executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for tax evasion in 2005, and his company, Yukos, which the government dismantled and sold off after his arrest. Who was the hunter? Then-president Putin.

The right to commit crime has become part of official privilege. If the victim doesn’t raise a fuss, no one is punished. If the victim appeals to the public, he or she is harshly punished. The very fact of appealing to the public is perceived as a challenge to the regime. But who laid down these rules of the game? Who never punishes his friends? Putin.

In the republic of Ingushetia, death squads are executing people. They’re being shot in front of witnesses, in crowded places, in market squares, at bus stops, and then weapons are being planted on them and they’re being photographed as dead “terrorists.” In some instances, the crowd has shielded the intended victims. In others, the local Ingush police have nearly beaten the Russian executioners to death. Who’s being killed? Those on the so-called Wahhabi lists. These lists were compiled at the order of the FSB (the successor to the KGB) soon after the Moscow theater massacre of 2002, in which Chechen terrorists took an audience hostage and 130 people died when Russian special forces stormed the theater.

But who ordered these lists to be drawn up? Who would think, to stop the problem of terrorism in the northern Caucasus from spreading, of executing fundamentalist Muslims wholesale, simply for their convictions, not for any crimes that they may have committed? Such an order couldn’t have been given without Putin’s knowledge. In the 1970s, then-Israeli prime minister Golda Meir had those who had taken part in the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics annihilated. But since the Moscow theater incident, Putin has gone her one better — he has even wiped out people who had nothing to do with it.

Each such execution, however, has created more terrorists than it has eliminated, and for all intents and purposes, Russia has lost control of Ingushetia — the only republic where authorities have fully followed the execution order. Who will dare to inform the great Putin, the former KGB man, the courageous hero, who happily sits for photographs in the cockpit of a fighter plane and poses bare-chested on a fishing trip?

In the West, people read that Putin has restored Russia’s power and strengthened the ruling hierarchy. This is the image that the PR agencies he has hired are trying to project. There may not be democracy in Putin’s Russia, they say, but there is order.

Don’t buy it. The Russian authorities aren’t in control of the country — unless we consider their ability to throw any businessman in prison and seize his company to be control. And yet these guys really think they’re strong — and that the measure of a ruler’s strength is the amount of cash in his bank accounts.

Annals of Mass Murder in Chechnya — Echoes of Katyn

Reuters reports:

A mass grave of some 800 people, mostly civilians, was reported in the war-torn Chechnya’s capital Grozny, human rights officials said Friday.

“A Grozny resident, Arbi Tuzhayev, addressed Nurdi Nukhadzhiyev, human rights representative in Chechnya, to point out a place in the city’s Christian cemetery where some 800 people were buried from January 2 to October 31, 1995,” Nukhadzhiyev’s spokeswoman Rosa Satuyeva said.

Nurdi Nukhadzhiyev is Russia’s human rights representative in Chechnya.

“He said that he worked in a volunteer team that collected and buried corpses in 1995, during clashes in Grozny. He said that most of those were civilians,” Satuyeva said.

According to Tuzhayev, “the city’s streets and roads were littered with the dead soldiers, guerrillas and civilians, and we found a lot of bodies in ruins.”

The bodies were brought to the place set by the military, who “photographed the bodies, registered and described them, and every corpse was provided with a number,” Satuyeva said.

Three major battles have been fought for control of Grozny – two of them involving Russian air and artillery carpet bombing that destroyed most of the city.

There are no official statistics on how many people have been killed in the 11-year conflict in Chechnya, that began when Russian troops first attempted to crush a separatist uprising in 1994.

Human rights experts believe that as many as 100,000 civilians, out of a population of about one million, have died. Approximately 10,000 Russian soldiers have died, according to the military, although independent human rights campaigners believe the true figure is at least twice as high.

Rights activists know of some 60 mass graves in Chechnya, though exhuming and identifying the bodies remains a problem.

Annals of Neo-Soviet Russia: The Putin Purges

Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:

The Federal Drug Control Service is purging its staff. The first to go was General Viktor Rykov, head of the agency’s internal affairs. Rykov is a friend and confidante of General Alexander Bulbov, a former senior officer with the drug control agency who was arrested in October on suspicion of wiretapping top-ranking siloviki.

More firings are expected to follow in the agency. After all, its new chief, Viktor Ivanov, has an ax to grind with Bulbov and his compatriots since Ivanov was one of members of the siloviki clan that Bulbov supposedly wiretapped. Bulbov therefore will likely be in prison for a long time to come. He and his former colleagues are doomed. Ivanov running the drug control service is like German World War II General Heinz Guderian heading up the Soviet General Staff.

I don’t like the Federal Drug Control Service.

One year after the agency’s creation in 2004, the number of fatal drug overdoses doubled in Russia, and they rose by another 150 percent the following year. Meanwhile, employees of the drug agency were themselves caught selling drugs on a regular basis. But instead of apprehending drug dealers, agency officials arrested veterinarians for giving Ketamine anesthesia to cats and chemists for selling toluene solvent.

But what does Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have against the Federal Drug Control Service? First of all, Putin never intended the service to fight drug trafficking. Rather, he wanted to create another power center to counterbalance the siloviki clan headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.

And the drug service took real pride in loyally serving that function. One example of its success: It is believed that Vladimir Ustinov was fired as the prosecutor general because of some compromising material that was fished out from his conversations on Bulbov’s wiretaps. It is also believed that Bulbov wiretapped former Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev and Sechin, as well as Ivanov — in short, all the most prominent members of the siloviki.

Bulbov could not have conducted his wiretaps without the president’s sanction. But at the same time, he was turned into a scapegoat. In theory however, Putin should never have allowed Bulbov’s enemies to arrest him. After all, no one will ever want to spy for Putin again if the person knows that he can be sent to jail by those he is spying on.

So we return to the question: What did the Federal Drug Control Service, and Bulbov in particular, do to prompt Putin to appoint Ivanov as the agency’s new chief?

The answer is very simple. Putin no longer needs the Federal Drug Control Service as a counterbalance to the siloviki because now President Dmitry Medvedev is pegged to play that role.

Putin probably got fed up with the drug service’s former chief, Viktor Cherkesov, after his harassment of veterinarians and complaints about his enemies’ intrigues. You can imagine how upset Putin was with Cherkesov when, after Bulbov’s arrest, he aired his dirty laundry in public and warned of an internecine clan battle in a Kommersant article in October.

Putin used the service and all the generals holding top positions there to serve his own purposes. And when that was accomplished, he essentially tossed it into the garbage like a worn-out pair of shoes.

Annals of Neo-Soviet Russia: Mailing it In

Georgy Bovt, writing in the Moscow Times:

There was no line as I stepped up to the express-mail window at Moscow’s Central Post Office on Tverskaya Ulitsa. The attendant was a middle-aged woman wearing a standard-issue blue smock. In the glorious, time-honored Soviet tradition, she responded to my “hello” with stone-faced silence. I had to send some boarding passes and receipts to Brussels for expense reimbursement to a European organization that had invited me to a conference. I decided to use the express-mail service just to be sure the documents would be delivered at all.

“What do you have?” the woman snapped at me.

Having no need to keep my correspondence a secret, I showed her the rumpled papers.

“We don’t take official documents or tickets,” she said. She told me submit the paperwork to the postal customs office — the only one in Moscow, apparently — on Varshavskoye Shosse.

“But these aren’t official documents,” I protested. “They are just used tickets and some taxi receipts.” I suggested that she call her superiors to resolve the matter. She refused, but I insisted. Finally, she gave in and lazily made the call.

In the end, the situation was resolved in my favor, but during the whole experience, I found myself back in the Soviet era. I encountered the same rudeness from state employees, saw the same ancient equipment, filled out the same archaic blanks and submitted them to the same type of unfriendly woman who looked as if she hadn’t smiled since Yury Gagarin beat the Americans to space.

Former Sberbank CEO Andrei Kazmin was recently appointed as the new head of Russia’s postal service. He is requesting billions of rubles in state funding to institute reforms, pointing out that mail carriers’ salaries of 5,000 rubles (about $200) per month are shamefully low.

But this leads to a more fundamental question concerning not only the postal system, but many other Russian companies and government bureaucracies. Will throwing money at these institutions help them and their employees to become more effective?

Unfortunately, money alone cannot change a person’s mentality. For example, I pay a mailman a little extra to deliver a particular magazine to my door instead of leaving it in the lobby, where it can be easily lifted. The result? The magazine is never delivered on time, and I end up having to go to the local post office to sort things out with the mail carrier. “Why haven’t you delivered the magazine,” I asked once. “After all, I gave you money for it.” He replied lackadaisically, “That’s life, I guess.” Even with his miserly salary, it appears that the postal worker doesn’t want to work for the extra money that I am willing to pay him.

Despite significantly lower salaries, average postage prices in Russia are only 10 percent to 15 percent lower than in the United States and New Zealand, and 30 percent less expensive than in Germany. Moreover, delays of a week or more in the delivery of periodicals have become common, even in major cities.

The postal system behaves like my listless mailman — it lacks the motivation and the ability to turn a profit. It has yet to earn money from mass advertising (otherwise known as junk mail), and it does not know how to generate additional income by cross-marketing consumer goods using its expansive postal network, although such sales account for the bulk of postal-service income in several foreign countries.

Even if postal workers’ salaries were tripled, I seriously doubt that the sour-faced woman in the blue smock, or any of her co-workers, would give me a friendly smile.

No More Yaltas!

A letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

I write to express my deep concern about Sen. Chuck Schumer’s op-ed “Russia Can Be Part of the Answer on Iran” (June 3). As a supporter of democracy for the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which suffered greatly under “Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe,” his suggestion that these nations be used as bargaining chips in order to appease Russia is troubling, inexplicable and unacceptable.

For decades Central and East Europeans had been oppressed by Russia, whose “greatness” he suggests Vladimir Putin should restore. The 1932-1933 genocide in Ukraine, the incorporation of the Baltic countries into the Soviet Union, the brutal crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981, the blatant and continuing denials of fundamental freedoms in Belarus are all examples of the tragedies that ruined millions of lives in the countries of a region that had been ill-advisedly relegated to the Russian sphere of influence in the 20th century.

After untold suffering, these nations have regained their freedom and sovereignty. And now the senator suggests that Russia once again be allowed to dominate the countries of Central and East Europe in order to pursue policies whose effectiveness is a matter of conjecture at best.

These recommendations are especially distressing, considering the disturbing trends in Russia, including the intimidation used to silence the press and critics of the government, rising anti-Semitism and intolerance toward minorities and attempts to use energy as a means to divide Europe and unduly influence Central and East European governments. The senator’s proposal in effect would validate these disturbing trends in the eyes of Moscow and pander to Russian nostalgia for imperialism. Clearly these trends are contrary to U.S. geostrategic interests in the region. We want no more Yaltas!

Béla Liták
Stamford, Conn.