Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

EDITORIAL: Good Riddance, Mr. Bush

EDITORIAL

Good Riddance, Mr. Bush

Well, George Bush has done it again.

First he looks in Putin’s eyes and declares him trustworthy. Then he invites Russia’s General Shamanov, an infamous war criminal, over for tea and photo ops at the White House. And now as he leaves office, he’s killing the Voice of America Russian broadcast.

Writing in the Moscow Times on June 26th, under the headline “Forget Defeat, Momentum Now with Russia” an abject moron named Mitch Phillips stated: “Spain hammered Russia 4-1 in the group stage of Euro 2008, but it should be a very different game when they meet again in Thursday’s semifinal, with Russia transformed by the return of Andrei Arshavin.”

It was, indeed, quite different. In the second match, Russia failed to score a single goal, ending the two-match rubber down 7-1.

And that’s the Moscow Times talking, relatively speaking a voice of informed illumination compared to the rest of Russia’s media establishment, which is owned and operated by the Kremlin. Do you dare to imagine what sort of gibberish might have aired on the RTR television network?

The Voice of America was one of Russia’s few possible antidotes to that kind of gibberish — that is, when it wasn’t being feverishly jammed by the Kremlin. With little Internet access* and massive crackdown against bloggers underway, Russians had virtually no sources of real information left about the world, and now George Bush is knifing the VOA baby and leaving Russians utterly in the neo-Soviet darkness. It’s pretty ironic that just as the Kremlin is gearing up its Russia Today propaganda network, the United States is choking off the main counterbalancing force at VOA. It’s almost, in fact, as if George Bush were a KGB agent working for Vladimir Putin himself.

Mr. Bush has betrayed democracy in just about every way it can possibly be betrayed, and the sooner he is evicted from Washington DC the better. On his watch, Republicans have lost control of Congress and seen the ideals of Ronald Reagan severely undermined; they as much as anyone should be delighted to give Mr. Bush the bum’s rush out the door.

One can only hope that America’s next president will see the utter insanity of shutting down the VOA’s Russia service and will immediately restore it. If Barack Obama were any kind of defender of the liberals value he supposedly stands for, he would already have announced that upon entering the White House his first official act would be to switch the juice back on at VOA Russia, and it’s something he should readily find bipartisan support for among the Republicans. Instead, Obama is absolutely silent as to what specific steps he would take to stand up for liberal democracy in Russia, a shameful display from someone who promises “change we can believe in.” John McCain is foursquare on record calling for specific moves to stand up to Putin’s Russia, but ought to directly address the VOA, a perfect opportunity for him to distance himself from the woeful Bush record on Russia.

*NOTE: In September 2007 the size of Russia’s internet audience was just 14 million, less than 10% of the population. That represented a massive increase from the even more puny 12 million a year before. Russia’s internet audience is the same size as that of Spain, a country with less than one-third Russia’s population. It is rivaled by tiny Netherlands, which is nearly one-tenth the size of Russia. Given the average Russian’s wage of $4/hour and the cost of access, which is roughly the same as in Europe, this is hardly surprising. And given the Kremlin’s willingness to prosecute a person who wrote a comment on a blog as a criminal (and to shut down website like The eXile entirely), even less so. Easily three-quarters of Russia’s population are totally cut off from the world wide web in any practical sense.

EDITORIAL: Dima Medvedev, the Naked Emperor

EDITORIAL

Dima Medvedev, the Naked Emperor

Writing the in the Moscow Times on Monday, former member of parliament Vladimir Ryzhkov wrote of the recent G-8 summit meeting in Japan:

The summit was Medvedev’s big G8 debut, but unfortunately it did not come off very well for him. During the meeting between Medvedev and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday, a British secret service agent chose that particular day to claim that the Russian government likely played a part in the 2006 poisoning in London of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko. Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice secured agreements for the placement of elements of a U.S. missile-defense system in the Czech Republic, and then flew to Tbilisi to demonstrate approval for the Georgian government, which is trying to join NATO. At the G8, Bush pressed hard on all of Russia’s sorest points — NATO expansion, missile-defense systems in Europe and Kosovo.

Indeed, no sooner had the summit ended than the United States was calling Medvedev a liar on the record at the United Nations Security Council over its veto of the Council decision to sanction the barbaric dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in Zimbawe. The MT reported: “In an unusually harsh statement, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused Medvedev of going back on an earlier promise and “standing with Mugabe against the people of Zimbabwe. The U-turn in the Russian position is particularly surprising and disturbing … [and] raises questions about its reliability as a G8 partner.”

But you wouldn’t know any of this listening to the Kremlin’s lapdogs. In another op-ed the same day in the MT, sycophant Vladimir Frolov wrote: “President Dmitry Medvedev has clearly passed muster at his first Group of Eight summit in Japan last week.”

The Russian Emperor, as is so often the case, struts boldly about in public in his birthday suit. Having shut down all significant independent media and opposition parties (booting, for example, Mr. Ryzhkov out of the Duma), the Russian leadership has no more grasp of reality than did their Soviet predecessors (and why should they, given that Mr. Putin has retained power in exactly the same manner as Mugabe and, unlike him, is a proud officer of the secret police himself).

The fact is that Putin’s Russia deserves UN sanctions just as much as Mugabe’s Zimbabwe does, but the issue won’t be raised at the UN because of Russia’s veto power making it a non-starter. But now we see that Russia won’t be content to block pro-democracy action by the UN against itself, it will use its malignant membership role to block all such actions against any countries, fearing the precedent.

So the next best thing is to boot Russia out of the G-8 and keep it out of the WTO hen house as well, and perhaps now the world is slowly beginning to realize what a no-brainer this decision really is. Only by such dramatic means do we have any hope of breaking through the new iron curtain and communicating with the people of Russia that their leader is in serious risk of catching pneumonia if he continues his naked promenade across the Kremlin’s chilly parapets.

An Open Letter to the Editor of the Moscow Times

LR publisher Kim Zigfeld recently sent the following letter to the editor of the Moscow Times. As we’ve previously indicated, it seems unlikely he has the fortitude to publish it.

To the Editor:

It was rather amusing to read in an op-ed from Kremlin supporter Vladimir Frolov (7/14) that “President Dmitry Medvedev has clearly passed muster at his first Group of Eight summit in Japan last week.” The contrast with a news article the same date on declarations from Washington and London which basically called Medvedev a liar for breaking a previous promise to support UN sanctions against the rogue dictatorship in Zimbabwe could not be more stark. You reported: “In an unusually harsh statement, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused Medvedev of going back on an earlier promise and ‘standing with Mugabe against the people of Zimbabwe. The U-turn in the Russian position is particularly surprising and disturbing … [and] raises questions about its reliability as a G8 partner.'”

If Medvedev had really been so impressive at the G-8, then Khalilzad wouldn’t have used such intensely confrontational rhetoric. Mr. Frolov doesn’t seem to realize that Russia, much less well qualified for G-8 membership than India and Brazil and not yet even a member of the WTO, is standing on the brink of international pariah status. As is so often the case behind the iron curtain, few are able to realize that the Emperor has no clothes.

Kim Zigfeld
Publisher, La Russophobe

Putin’s Russia: Back to the USSR

Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute is surely one of the most brilliant and insightful Russia scholars working today. His most recent column in the Washington Post explains in horrifying detail how Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, is slowly taking his country back to the dark days of Soviet failure. In devastatingly few words, Aron exposes the fundamentally fraudulent character of what now can only be properly called a neo-Soviet state (as we have been doing for more than two years now, well ahead of the curve — it’s gratifying to see the mainstream world finally catching up with us).

Vladimir Putin’s appointment this spring as prime minister of the symbolic “union” of Russia and Belarus was yet another example of the troubling similarities between today’s Russia and the other most stable and prosperous Russian regime of the past 80 years: Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union in the 1970s. That economy, too, was fueled by then-record oil prices. And while there are clear differences between the two Russias, if these tendencies go unchecked, the increasingly authoritarian and economically statist country may soon face crises of the kind that became apparent under Brezhnev and contributed to the Soviet Union’s demise.

The most disturbing of these propensities include:

  • The national alcoholic binge. In the 1970s, Soviets annually consumed eight liters of strong (40 to 80 percent proof) alcoholic beverages per person — more than any other country. Between 1964 and 1980, male life expectancy fell from 67 to 62. Today, per capita consumption of vodka, which is four times cheaper in relation to the average salary than 30 years ago, has grown to 10 liters, according to official statistics (outside experts say it is higher). By contrast, the most recent data available from the World Health Organization show the corresponding U.S. figure is 2.57 liters. One in 10 Russian men is thought to be an alcoholic. Life expectancy for Russian men is less than 60.6 years, more than 15 years shorter than in the United States and European Union and below current levels in Pakistan or Bangladesh.
  • Oil-for-food. This spring, Putin admitted that 70 percent of the food consumed in Russia’s largest cities is imported, a situation he decried as “intolerable.” This problem, too, first surfaced in the 1970s, when grain imports were so high that by the end of the decade they supplied the flour for every third loaf of bread. When oil prices collapsed, Russia was forced to spend gold reserves and seek loans — and eventually found itself without grain or gold. After agricultural land was denationalized in the early 1990s, food became available almost immediately — for the first time in almost 70 years it could be had without hours-long lines and rationing coupons. Russia started to export grain. Yet agricultural land was never legally privatized, and rules for long-term leasing have been left to local authorities.

Not surprisingly, such legal gray areas have given rise to corruption, increased production costs and hampered innovation. Provincial governors, who are no longer elected and answer only to the president, pressure successful entrepreneurs and farmers to “share” with local authorities. A leading industrialist told me that at least six local agencies conduct almost weekly “inspections” of his potato farm. State agriculture subsidies often go to the largest and best politically connected enterprises, not necessarily the most productive ones.

The ruble’s steady appreciation because of huge petro-dollar inflows further depresses the domestic food industry. Should Russia allow the ruble to float, at least partially, to help curb inflation, it would become even more expensive, encouraging demand for better-quality and, often cheaper, imported food.

Putin’s remedies have the same flavor as Brezhnev’s: Throw billions in subsidized credits and grants at the problem instead of strengthening property rights and making it easier for independent producers to compete.

  • One-party rule. With its opposition marginalized and demoralized, and election results rigged, United Russia has emerged as the “ruling party,” the term that used be reserved for the Soviet Communist Party. “Today we are the party responsible for the government,” a top United Russia functionary told a Russian newspaper this year, “since our leader [Putin, the party’s chairman] is the chairman of the government.” Those who argue, rightly, that United Russia membership is only a ticket for ambitious apparatchiks to punch should remember that there was precious little ideological fervor and much cynicism in the 1970s as well. Lack of sincerity then did nothing to ameliorate the absence of corrective societal feedback and, with it, the inability to reverse dead-end policies that led to the crisis.
  • A new oligarchy. Brezhnev drew some of his loudest cheers in his six-hour “reports” to party congresses when he declared “respect for the cadres.” Delivering his presidential valediction this spring, Putin’s longest applause came when he cited “stability” as his crowning achievement.

With virtually every top Putin official and adviser retained, sent to the Security Council or made “presidential envoy” to some part of the country, a new nomenklatura has emerged — insulated from media criticism, spared political competition and effectively immune from criminal prosecution. As in Soviet times, the members of this political master race are almost never fired, only retired with honors or reassigned. Since the Putin “Politburo” and “Central Committee” are a good 20 years younger than Brezhnev’s, retirement is not an option.

The 1970s made clear what the belief in official infallibility and omnipotence, utter disregard for public opinion, ossification, and pandemic corruption could lead to. Most of all, the experience of Brezhnev’s Russia confirms that authoritarian “stabilization” is a curious political commodity. Its benefits are instantly apparent but its price is revealed only gradually — and may be devastatingly high. As he moves forward, President Dmitry Medvedev would do well to remember the lessons from Russia’s other most stable regime.

A commenter wrote: “It’s a shame. I like Russians. They deserve better, but they have gotten what they asked for.”

Race Violence Spirals Out of Control in Putin’s Russia

Russia has already experienced nearly as many
incidents of race killings in just the first six months
of this year as it had in all 2006. Moscow,
supposedly its bastion of civilization, leads
the way in barbaric race violence.


McLatchy News reports:

Artur Ryno had a knife and was looking to kill foreigners. He slipped into the space between two buildings near downtown Moscow and walked toward a janitor who was standing alone in the night air in April 2007. By the time the frenzy of hacks and thrusts was over, Khairullo Sadykov, a Tajik, lay crumpled on the ground with dozens of stab wounds. About three hours later, Ryno encountered Karin Abramyan, an Armenian businessman, and pulled out his knife. Abramyan’s body later was found with knife wounds to the head, stomach and chest.

Human rights groups say that Ryno, who was 17 when he was arrested, is just one of an untold number of thugs who’ve hunted migrant laborers and immigrants on the streets of Russia. In the first six months of this year, 69 people were killed in ethnic and racially motivated attacks across Russia, just below the 74 recorded for all of last year, according to the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. Another organization that tracks the killings, the Sova Center, counts 59 killed for the first half of 2008, well above 2007, when it counted 83 murders for the whole year.

Because Russian security forces don’t release comprehensive statistics on the attacks, there’s no standardized method of tracking the violence, which usually targets darker-skinned migrants from former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. Human rights groups rely in large part on reports from the field and news accounts. The murders have centered on the nation’s capital, where ultranationalist groups are growing more vicious, many people say. The groups post videos on the Internet showing random attacks: Packs of young Russians ambush non-Slavic-looking men, kicking and punching them until they fall to the ground, cowering but still alive.

Subway stops and the areas near them often are chosen because they offer a quick escape, said Vladilen Bokov, the head of the Moscow city department on inter-ethnic relations. “You can flee easily. They make it a kind of entertainment . . . as a sort of fun,” Bokov said. In some cases, the teenagers and men carrying out the beatings have been affiliated with ultranationalist groups that sponsor “fitness clubs” or youth meetings that often offer training in hand-to-hand combat and include members with swastika tattoos. It’s a culture that scorns “chyorni,” the Russian word for black, which many Russians use in various forms to refer to all people with darker skin. While there’s no proof of a connection with the violence, the groups virulently oppose the influx of migrants to Russia.

After years of relatively little action, the Russian government is taking the problem more seriously, cooperating with migrant-advocacy groups and prosecuting street gangs that hunt foreigners, said Gavkhar Dzhurayeva, the head of the Migration and Law Center, a Moscow-based migrant-worker rights and legal aid organization. As a result, Dzhurayeva said, the number of attacks has dropped as the gangs go underground, but the manner in which people are attacked “has become more demonstrative. It has become more cruel.” After his arrest, Ryno confessed to participating in 26 or 27 attacks on non-Russians during an eight-month rampage from 2006 to 2007 that killed 20 people, according to his attorney, Yuri Yefimenkov.

Russian officials later charged Ryno and another teenager — who allegedly was with him during the Sadykov and Abramyan killings — with leading a group of seven other youths accused of 20 murders and 12 attempted murders. While Russian authorities wouldn’t allow McClatchy to interview the teens, who await indictment, Ryno’s attorney described details of the killings based on court records and his conversations with Ryno.

Leaders of two of the nation’s more notorious ultranationalist groups predicted in interviews with McClatchy that the violence will worsen significantly in coming years. They say it’s driven by paranoia about a drop in Russia’s Slavic population amid a rising tide of migrant labor and immigrants. Millions of people have migrated to Russia — estimates range from 5 million to 20 million — while the Russian population has declined dramatically, by 2.8 million people from 2002 to 2006 alone, according to state statistics. “I don’t fight any specific person, but I fight the possibility that Russia could be a Muslim country in 20 years,” said Dmitry Dyomushkin, the head of the Slavic Union, one of the ultranationalist groups. “You know, there are a lot of clashes now, and one big conflict might be enough to spread the fighting across Russia.” Dyomushkin denies any connection with violence, but he said that Ryno — an art student studying to paint religious icons — and others from his group attended Slavic Union meetings. Dyomushkin’s group sent a lawyer to defend Nikolai Korolev, the leader of another group of Russian youths, who were convicted this year of bombing a Moscow market that’s popular with vendors from the Caucasus region and Central Asia, killing about a dozen people. Lawyer Dmitry Bakharev said that Korolev had joined the Slavic Union only after the August 2006 blast. Dyomushkin’s group and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, known by its Russian initials DPNI, sponsor or provide trainers to “fitness clubs” that teach young Russians close-quarters combat skills and, in some cases, basic lessons in handling explosives, ostensibly to ready them for service in the military. Neither group would allow McClatchy to visit the clubs. “We try to teach them the basics of staying secure, but we cannot guarantee that a small number of them won’t use the skills we teach them to commit crimes,” said Alexander Belov, the leader of the DPNI. “It’s the same as accusing a knife manufacturer of something when someone uses their knife to kill someone instead of cutting meat.”

Human rights experts say that it’s very difficult to know the relationship, if any, between groups such as Slavic Union and DPNI and the street killings. “As for the blasts and killings, any groups that are responsible are autonomous. They are acting on their own,” said Bakharev, the Slavic Union member and lawyer. The organizations are structured in a loose network in which the Slavic Union and DPNI act as political and organizing arms, not unlike Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, but they don’t seem to issue direct orders to the smaller units of skinheads or other radicals, said Dmitry Dubrovsky, a senior research fellow with the Russian Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg who works as an expert witness for the city’s police and prosecutor’s departments. “Nobody says to them, go to the streets and kill the blacks,” Dubrovsky said, meaning people with darker skin. “It’s the ideology of ‘We should remove the blacks from the streets,’ but the tool for removing them is up to the smaller groups.” Bokov, the Moscow city official, said he didn’t think the murders could be traced to the larger nationalist fronts. “The leaders of these big organizations have no control over these small groups,” Bokov said, adding that he thought that many attacks that were counted as hate crimes in fact were provoked by personal feuds. “Of course, these big organizations and their rhetoric contribute to the worsening of the situation.”

Many suspect that the nationalist groups are aided by relationships with Russian security officers. “There is no proof at all of any systematic support,” said Galina Kozhevnikova, the deputy director of Sova, the human rights group in Moscow. “But I think that they probably have personal ties with police. There are in all likelihood many within the police who agree with them and who work with them.” Bakharev, the Slavic Union lawyer, agreed. “There are quite a lot of people in law enforcement who support the nationalists,” Bakharev said. He later added that, “The number of groups is growing . . . and their methods are getting tougher month to month.”