Daily Archives: June 27, 2008

June 27, 2008 — Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: The Disappointing Moscow Times

(2) The Eye of Putin Turns East

(3) The Russian Church: Ardent Foe of Human Rights

(4) Global Warming Melts Russia

(5) Russia is Persecuting Ingushetia

EDITORIAL: The Disappointing Moscow Times


The Disappointing Moscow Times

If we do say so ourselves, sometimes the prescience of our founder and publisher Kim Zigfeld unnerves even those of us who work on this very blog. No sooner had Kim (who had nothing to do with this editorial) posted on Pajamas Media about the disappointing slide in the quality of the Moscow Times of late than the paper chose to publish an op-ed column by that slithering rodent of Russophilia, and Kremlin henchman, Peter Lavelle, whom we have routinely exposed and ridiculed here on this blog (put his name into our search engine if you want to read our coverage).

It’s difficult to know where to begin in pointing out the utter failure of the Moscow Times editorial staff in regard to this piece of trash or to find words to express how disappointing that failure is to us. Yet, for the second time this month, we are compelled to try.

Let’s start with how Lavelle is identified: “Peter Lavelle is anchor of ‘In Context’ on Russia Today, and Olga Tarbeeva is the program’s executive producer. The opinions expressed in this comment are their own.” Apparently, the article was co-written by Tarbeeva, yet she doesn’t appear in the byline. Lapse number one. Though the article appears in the op-ed listing on the main page of the paper’s website, nothing on the web page that contains the article identifies it as opinion. Lapse number two. And finally, nothing in the identification tells the reader that Russia Today is owned by the Russian government, making Lavelle an employee and lackey of the Putin dictatorship. That’s an outrage and a betrayal of the basic responsibilities of the Moscow Times editors as journalists. We condemn it.

Now, let’s move on to the title: “Chechnya’s Revival.” Lavelle has been taken on a junket tour of Potemkin Chechnya by the Kremlin, shown a series of lies to tell about the place, and now he’s doing so. That’s fine for Russia Today, that’s its purpose. But until now, we thought the Moscow Times had a higher one, to tell people the actual truth about Russia. Perhaps we were mistaken. Lavelle chooses not to tell MT readers (and the paper’s editors allow him to do so), for instance, that on May 5, 2008, Freedom House released a report called Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies 2008. The report lists the 20 nations and territories on the globe which are the very most pathologically backward in terms of civil society, and Chechnya is among them (see page 107-112 of the PDF document). The report states that “women face increased discrimination” and “widespread corruption and economic devastation caused by the war severely limit equality of opportunity.” It concludes that “the rule of law is extremely weak” and that Chechen courts are wholly useless as a mechanism of justice, and notes that the people of the country are consistently forced to turn to the European Court of Human Rights for relief, a forum where the Kremlin has lost many cases of late, including those alleging state-sponsored murder. It states that Russian military forces “impose severe restrictions on journalists’ access to the widening Caucus conflict area” meaning that the war is spreading outside Chechnya’s borders and the Kremlin is covering it up.

If we turn to the actual text of Lavelle’s shameless propaganda screed (remember, he’s a paid agent of the Kremlin — we have to remind you, because MT sure won’t), it’s hard to get all the way through without losing our lunch. Nothing but repugnant, brazen lies from beginning to end.

While reading his garbage, it’s necessary to ask yourself a question: If things were going really badly in Chechnya, and it was all Putin’s fault, would Russia Today tell you that? Would Mr. Lavelle? Would Russia Today keep him on the payroll if he did? If you answer in the negative, then you simply can’t take a word this man says seriously.

Lavelle states:

We have just returned from a week’s stay in Chechnya. Many fellow journalists told us beforehand: “Don’t go there. It isn’t safe.” We decided otherwise. What spiked our interest was the first annual Chechen international film festival, interestingly called Noah’s Ark. How could a place like Chechnya host such a thing? Isn’t Chechnya a war-torn and miserable destination?

He spends a week in Chechnya at a film festival and he thinks that’s a basis for commenting on political and economic progress. No data. No studies. Just his anecdotal observations at a film festival. No declaration of his conflict of interest as a Kremlin employee, of course. Sound like propaganda? There’s much more in store for you.

He continues: “Chechnya’s capital, Grozny, is almost completely rebuilt. It is becoming prosperous.” Where’s the data on buildings destroyed and rebuilt to back that up? Could it be he doesn’t have any? Where’s the data on personal incomes before and after the war?

He freely admits: “During our stay, we were shown what the authorities there wanted us to see.” This is classic Soviet style propaganda. Admit what your target thinks you will try to hide, confuse him. But this isn’t the Soviet era, and it’s just lame and pathetic. Do they really still think they can fool people with this nonsense? Then he spins it: “Who would have thought that Chechnya is learning a lot about the importance of good PR?” So it turns out that being lied to by propagandists actually shows how sophisticated and civilized they are becoming. Isn’t that amazing!

He continues: “Business has already noted the positive changes in Chechnya. Chinese, Turkish and some European businesses are eyeing Chechnya as an investment opportunity in the energy and manufacturing sectors. The influx of meaningful foreign investment in this North Caucasus republic will be the real litmus test of progress.” Notice how he doesn’t name one single such investor?

Then he piles on the manure in a manner that would make any Soviet propagandist proud for the big finish” “Meanwhile, security is very tight in Chechnya. The vast majority of the people there only wish to see the current drive for normality to continue. Chechnya is simply an ark looking to dock in a safe port. The current trend gives reason for optimism.”

Vast majority of the people? Really, do tell. Are they conducting effective public opinion surveys in a region that “voted” 99% for Vladimir Putin? Or is it that Lavelle actually interviewed the vast majority of the country during his weeklong stay? Notice how he didn’t quote a single such person, or describe anything that happened during the “film festival”? We’re just supposed to trust him, and imagine it. That’s more propaganda 101.

Chechnya is an ark. It’s biblical! And Putin is God. Isn’t it all really very nice and simple?

In short it’s almost as if, just as Kim indicated in her PM column, the Moscow Times has decided to try to confirm it is trying to buy off the Kremlin from moving against it as it recently did against The eXile by publishing a spate of Kremlin propaganda — in other words, it seems the paper is engaged in appeasement, just as Kim feared.

By no means has the paper lost all its value as a source of information about Russia. In our last issue, all three of the news items we reported were taken from the MT, and our editorial was also based on its coverage. But as Kim also noted, a recent redesign of the paper’s website appears to have been undertaken for the purpose of burying this kind of coverage in way that will make it least likely to catch the Kremlin’s attention. The tone of the editorial material the paper is now publishing is markedly different, openly receptive to Kremlin propaganda, and unwilling to give voice to the most aggressive and direct critics of the Putin administration including most especially those engaged in active opposition, like Garry Kasparov and Oleg Kozlovsky.

Nothing would please us more than to be proven wrong, that all this is just a temporary accident soon to be offset by a new round of truth telling about the Kremlin. But the demise of The eXile shows that the threat to the Moscow Times is absolutely real, and its understandable that the paper’s investors want to preserve their investment and the jobs of the brave people who work for the paper.

But just because it’s understandable doesn’t mean we have to accept it, and we don’t. We urge the paper to reconsider its position before its final chapter is written. Going down in a blaze of glory is vastly preferable to selling out.

The Eye of Putin Turns East

Writing in the Wall Street Journal Asia Michael Auslin, a resident scholar in Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, urges us to watch out for neo-Soviet imperialism in Mongolia:

While Washington continues to fixate on Iraq, a resurgent Russia is steadily expanding its influence in Eurasia. If the next U.S. president ignores Moscow’s inroads, democratic development in Asia will come under threat, and the United States may soon be faced with a strategic challenge in one of the world’s most resource-rich regions.

The Kremlin’s main target of late is Mongolia, one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies. Since first holding elections in 1990, Mongolia has developed a stable electoral system with more than 15 political parties and seen two peaceful handovers of power. Mongolians will vote on June 29 to elect a new parliament. Polls suggest the ruling ex-Communist Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, which regained power in 2000, could lose power to the opposition Democratic Party.

Regardless of the election outcome, Mongolia’s relationship with Moscow will take center stage. State-owned oil company Rosneft supplies more than 90 percent of Mongolia’s oil. Over the past three months, it has increased prices twice — by an average of 20 percent each time. This comes on top of surging prices that, since 2006, have pushed inflation in Mongolia to over 15 percent annually. Rosneft recently told Mongolian officials that it would lower oil prices if given the rights to run oil production in the country. Moscow also wants to build 100 gas stations throughout the country, which would solidify its overwhelming presence there and reduce consumers’ energy choices even further.

Similar tactics are afoot in other sectors of Mongolia’s economy. Russian enterprises already own 49 percent of Mongolia’s national railway and its largest copper and gold mining companies. An industrial group founded by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to consolidate the Russian-controlled shares of all three companies, effectively giving Putin’s cronies a near-stranglehold on key players in the Mongolian economy. Officially, Mongolian officials express confidence in the benefits of deeper economic relations with the Kremlin. Privately, they admit to feeling pressured into opening up their markets to Moscow and wish more Western companies would invest.

Despite these misgivings, Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar visited Moscow last month and agreed to discuss further joint uranium production and nuclear cooperation. President Dmitry Medvedev stated that bilateral trade will soon exceed $1 billion, cementing Russia’s position as Mongolia’s largest trading partner after China. If these trends continue, Mongolia may become an economic satellite of Putin’s newly expansive Russia.

The stakes are high for fledgling Asian states, especially democracies, which must balance satisfying Russian demands with proving to their own people that they can protect their independence. If Russia succeeds in blackmailing Mongolia into economic subservience, then it can try to extend this tactic to Central Asian nations.

Imagine the precedent that would set. China could also decide that painstaking negotiations and diplomacy are a waste of time when it can bring its export and import power to bear. Democratic Japan and South Korea could feel greater pressure to join exclusive trading blocs led by authoritarian regimes. Finally, Mongolia and other states might be asked to make strategic concessions to Russian security forces to “protect” Moscow’s investments. In this way, Russia could gain new opportunities to expand its military footprint beyond its own borders.

What can Washington do? First, it must encourage greater U.S. trade with Mongolia. Total trade stood at about $120 million in 2007. The United States should push beyond the 2004 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and start negotiations for a full free trade agreement. In addition, the U.S. government-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation should increase its outlay for infrastructure projects in Mongolia far beyond the current total level of $285 million. Mongolians can also help themselves in this regard. Lingering governance problems partly account for slack Western investment.

Second, the United States should marshal global opinion against the Kremlin’s strong-arm tactics and condemn exclusive economic arrangements. Developing states must be assured that no economic leverage will be used against them to secure unfair advantages. So far, the United States and other democracies in Asia have stood silently by as Russia has stepped up its bullying of Mongolia.

Third, Washington can push forward with the Asia-Pacific Democracy Partnership project, proposed by President George W. Bush at the 2007 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, and unite Asia’s free nations to support democratic values and assist states building liberal systems. Mongolia should feel that the United States is committed to linking up democratic nations in the region and addressing common concerns, be they economic or strategic in nature.

Finally, the United States and Mongolia can deepen their impressive security cooperation, which includes joint training and peacekeeping exercises. Even without a formal security relationship with the United States, Mongolia has built a training center for peacekeeping operations and dispatched nearly 200 troops to Iraq. For a young democracy, Mongolia has shown a welcome willingness to look beyond its borders and play a constructive role in the world. When Bush visited Mongolia in November 2005, he called Mongolia a “brother in the cause of freedom.” Now is the time for the United States to help protect that freedom from economic and political threats alike.

The Russian Orthodox Church: Ardent Foe of Human Rights

Kommersant reports:

The Russian Orthodox Church Bishops’ Council will begin tomorrow. A document will be issued by the council that will define the church’s stance on human rights, calling for resistance to the emerging system of liberal values that contains “lies, untruth and insults to religious and national values.” Opponents see a possibility that the document is being prepared as a political order, to displace secular human rights organization, and the political opposition with them.

The ruling hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church meet in Moscow once every four years to determine the further course of the church. Deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department of external relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said that a document was being prepared “on human rights, on the problem of freedom and dignity. We will try to answer the question of whether those who say that man is good from the start are right, and if he is completely emancipated, society itself will come to a normal life by itself.”

In 2006, at the World Council of the Russian People, the Russian Orthodox Church suggested that the concept of human right accepted in secular society should be reexamined. “In the complex of rights and freedoms of man ideas are gradually being integrated that not only contradict Christianity, but traditional moral understandings about man in general,” chairman of the world council, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill said at that time. A year later, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexiy II echoed those thoughts in a speech before the Parliament of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

“This is the first document in history that officially applies Orthodox dogma to one of the most pressing socio-political problems in modern society – human right,” Orthodox political scientist Alexander Dugan, one of the drafters of the current document told Kommersant. He said that it would be “a powerful philosophical institution designed to influence the legal model of the Russian state.”

“We are convinced that the time has come to reexamine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are against those human rights that lead to the corruption of society and contradict moral bases,” said Konstantin Bendas, business manager of the Russian Union of Christian Evangelicals. Zinovy Kogan, chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations of Russia said, “Unfortunately, the liberal approach to human rights protects sin that contradicts human nature and God’s law. The effort of the Russian Orthodox Church to change the situation is absolutely right; we support it.”

“The church in encroaching out of its area, because only the state can limit human rights, and not a church institution,” countered Lev Levinson of the Institute for Human Rights. “It is completely possible that this is a political order.”

“Secular human rights organizations have discredited themselves so much with their double standards that it is time to displace them,” said Dugan.

Global Warming Melts Russia

You might think that, being frozen, a nice warm-up due to global warming would be good for Russia, in contrast to many nations. But the Middle East Times begs to disagree:

Global warming could deal destructive blows to Russia’s defense infrastructure over the next 22 years, a top official said in Moscow last week.

Defense infrastructure, including key airfields, oil storage facilities and strategic oil reservoirs, could all be destroyed if the hard permafrost covering the ground year-round across Russia’s far north melts by 2030, Russia’s First Deputy Emergencies Minister Ruslan Tsalikov told the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, Thursday.

Tsalikov described as a catastrophe the damage that would result from widespread permafrost melting, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Russia’s widespread coniferous forests also could be inundated by flooding and unprecedented warmer weather triggered by climate change, Tsalikov said.

“If the annual temperature rises by one or two degrees … the permafrost could decrease 50 percent,” Tsalikov said. The “risk of flooding would also double,” he said, according to the RIA Novosti report.

Global warming could also cost Russia its huge supplies of methane gas trapped beneath the permafrost, believed to be almost one third of the entire world’s reserves, RIA Novosti said.

The news agency said West Siberia’s permafrost was currently disappearing at the rate of 4 centimeters per year. That would cause the permafrost’s southern boundaries to retreat by an average of nearly 50 miles across northern Russia over the next 20 years, the report said.

Across the Arctic, levels of sea ice have shrunk by nearly 50 percent from 7.2 million square kilometers in 1979 to 4.3 million square kilometers in 2007, RIA Novosti said.

Tsalikov’s warnings mark a significant reversal from previous Russian complacency on the global warming issue. Russian scientists and top officials have readily acknowledged the reality of global warming for years, but they often described it as a welcome process because it freed up for human exploitation and habitation enormous areas of land and Arctic Ocean floor resources that previously have been inaccessible.

Russia also announced it is revising its strategy to concentrate more military resources in the far north to establish and enforce its claims to the vast reserves of oil, gas and other natural resources that it expects will be discovered in the Arctic.

However, Tsalikov’s comments reveal that Russian officials now recognize the process will not be cost-free and likely will involve catastrophic damage to existing military assets and infrastructure on an enormous scale.

Russia is Persecuting Ingushetia

The International Herald Tribune reports:

Though violence in Chechnya has decreased markedly in recent years, fighting between Muslim insurgents and Russian troops threatens to engulf a neighboring region, a human rights group said in a report released on Wednesday.

The group, Human Rights Watch, asserted that a recent spike in insurgent attacks in the region, Ingushetia, has provoked a spate of kidnappings, torture and arbitrary killings of innocent civilians by law enforcement reminiscent of earlier rights abuses in Chechnya.

Government officials from the region have disputed the report’s findings.

Ingushetia, a tiny Muslim republic on Chechnya’s western border, has long been considered a relatively peaceful enclave in the North Caucasus, a mountainous region in Russia’s south. Recently, however, it has become a haven for rebels fleeing a brutal counter-insurgency in Chechnya.

The aggressive anti-insurgent policies of Chechnya’s president, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, have brought a modicum of stability to the republic after two wars and nearly half a decade of internecine fighting, though at the cost of hundreds if not thousands of civilian casualties.

Ingushetia could suffer a similar, if less brutal, fate, according to the 105-page report that is based on interviews conducted over the last year with local officials and victims of violence.

The region’s government recorded 86 attacks on law enforcement in 2007 and another 28 attacks in the first three months of 2008. A total of 65 servicemen were killed in the republic in 2007.

In response, the Russian Interior Ministry has stationed thousands of federal troops in the republic, who, along with their local colleagues, often fail to discriminate between legitimate insurgent targets and civilians when conducting operations, Human Rights Watch says.

“Certainly you cannot fully compare Ingushetia and Chechnya,” Tanya Lokshina, the researcher for Human Rights Watch who wrote the report, said in at a press conference.

“At the same time,” she said, “the kind of abuses that we now see in Ingushetia are the abuses that used to characterize Chechnya: extrajudicial executions, torture, forced disappearances, abduction-style detentions.”

The human rights group Memorial recorded 29 cases in 2007 in which police detained civilians without providing grounds for doing so. One of those detained has been confirmed dead and three are still missing.

The organization also documented 40 extrajudicial killings by government forces last year. The report by Human Rights Watch describes several of these in graphic detail, including the killing of Rakhim Amriev, a six-year-old boy shot when security forces raided his family’s house on November 9, 2007 in search of a relative.

According to testimony from the boy’s family and other witnesses, three servicemen, backed by about 100 soldiers and security officials, burst into the family’s home in the village of Chemulga with barely a warning and opened fire. Rakhim Amriev was killed immediately, shot in the head. His mother, Raisa, was shot in the arm.

The incident provoked a nationwide outcry, prompting the government to launch an investigation, something it rarely does in such instances. After more than seven months, however, no suspect has been identified.

Officials in Ingushetia, including the Kremlin-backed president, Murat M. Zyazikov, a former general with the Federal Security Service, have regularly denied reports of human rights abuses, calling the situation in the republic stable.

Kerim-Sultan A. Kokurkhaev, Ingushetia’s government-appointed human rights ombudsman, said at the press conference on Wednesday that the situation in Ingushetia was “no worse than in any other territory” in Russia. He called the work of Human Rights Watch and other rights groups “fascist,” adding that the Human Rights Watch report was “meant to destabilize the situation.”

The official acknowledged that people had been kidnapped by federal troops and that in the fight against terrorism there had been human rights violations, but he praised the government for a slight decrease recently in violent crimes.

Though many in Ingushetia once backed the government’s strong-armed tactics, such support seems to have ebbed in recent months. Violence against civilians has sparked raucous street protests that have rankled the authorities. Some of the more vocal critics have become the victims of reprisals, as the government has moved to restrict public demonstrations and quash them when they arise.

Ingushetia has also become dangerous for journalists critical of the government’s counter-insurgency tactics. In November last year, unknown men kidnapped and beat three journalists and a human rights worker planning to cover an anti-government protest. They were later released, but warned to leave Ingushetia.

The actions of the government in Ingushetia threaten to further destabilize the republic and the surrounding region, Mr. Lokshina said.

“If the government does not change its policies,” she said, “then the tensions in the republic will grow.”