Daily Archives: August 1, 2008

August 1, 2008 — Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: The Kremlin Backs Down

(2) Another Original LR Translation: Essel on #1 Russia

(3) The Russian Internet Under Fire

(4) Russia, Faithful Guardian of War Criminals

(5) Medvedev and the New Nomenclatura

(6) McCain Puts one Across Putin’s Bows

(7) Kasparov on Obama

NOTE: The final two installments in today’s issue (nos. 6 and 7) make a nice contrast. John McCain confronts Russia over its latest salvo of anti-democratic hubris, while Garry Kasparov takes Barack Obama to task for his shameful failure to do the same. Obama has a made a career based on civil rights, yet his core beliefs are nowhere in evidence where Russia is concerned.

EDITORIAL: The Kremlin Backs Down


The Kremlin Backs Down

The Russian stock market is in freefall, having lost nearly one-fifth of its total value over the past few weeks.

Things were already bad enough with the economy overheating under massive inflationary pressures, and then “Prime Minister” Vladimir Putin went after yet another major Russian company, this time steelmaker Mechel. Putin stated: “I already mentioned at the meeting [on Thursday] that one company was exporting its product at a fraction of the domestic market price. The domestic price was 4,100 rubles ($176), and they were selling it to themselves, across the border, for 1,100 rubles, and then sells the product for $323.

Stocks plummeted further, with Mechel losing half its value and the MICEX stock index dropping to its lowest level in more than two years. The Moscow Times quoted an anonymous trader:

“Our clients were going crazy today, shouting over the phone — they were absolutely outraged. A couple more such statements, and Russia can forget about its aim of becoming a world financial center. Officials have called the country a save haven from the world crisis, but [we’ve] got a different problem affecting the stock markets — Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”

Yulia Latynina mocked Putin’s “$60 billion house call” saying: “the subsequent overall decline in Russia’s stock market, which fell by $60 billion the day after Putin’s statement, has already cost the country’s steel industry far more than the losses it would have ever incurred from Zyuzin selling coal through the spot market.”

And the Kremlin’s response? Press spokesman Dmitri Peskov spoke as if from another planet, with the absolutely unmistakable echo of the USSR. He claimed that investors were to blame, having “reacted too emotionally.” Then he went utterly mad:

The real meaning of [Putin’s] statement was actually positive, not negative. Putin mentioned Mechel just as a flagrant example of violating the law. [His] real message for business was: We will create the most favorable environment for all of you, which you will be able to use provided that you don’t break the law. When investors understand the real meaning of Putin’s words, stock markets will cheer up.

The same sort of gibberish, verbatim, that we heard in Soviet times from Russia. How neo-Soviet can you get?

Last week the Kremlin aggressively denied any intention to house nuclear bombers in Cuba after the U.S. military reacted with outrage to leaks that it had such a plan in mind, and scurried to assure Georgia that it would soon pull back the “railway repair” soldiers it inserted into Abhkhazia a few weeks ago after Georgia generated massive international news coverage and threatened military retaliation. Then it hurried to make sure it hadn’t offended the mighty NATO alliance after “President” Medvedev’s crazy rhetoric, echoing Khruschev with his shoe, which seemed to imply Russia would dismantle it. And finally even the most ardent Russophile sociopaths, like Vladimir Frolov, scampered like frightened mice to minimize the devasating international black eye that resulted when Russia vetoed UN sanctions against Zimbabwe.

These four events, to say nothing of the stock market’s total implosion, clearly expose the Kremlin’s fundamental weakness. Russia stands totally alone in the world, utterly without allies, and its creaking military systems are no match for the cutting-edge technology of the West. Russia’s economy is puny, and when judged in terms of per-capita wealth it is at third-world levels. Quite simply, Russia is in no position to stand up against a concerted effort of the Western powers, and will not attempt to do so. Russia is only capable of pscyhotic rhetorical bluster, energy intimidation and assassination. No nation can be a significant player in world affairs relying on such crude devices.

Indeed, the only reason that Vladimir Putin remains in power now is that the Western governments have not made a point of confronting him — just as they didn’t timely confront Stalin or Hitler. In a childish and cowardly manner, they hope that the people of Russia will come to their senses and oust Putin themselves, perhaps after a massive downturn in the Russian business cycle forces their hand. But this is nonsense. Such hopes were vain in the time of the USSR and they are equally vain now. The USSR collapsed because of the concerted pressure brought to bear by the Reagan presidency, combined with Russia’s profound level of corruption and incompetence. The Russian people themselves did nothing to bring down the USSR, they watched it collapse just as they had previously watched Stalin rise to power and send millions off to perish in his concentration camps.

It’s impossible to identify anyone in Russia who could possibly be the leader of a mass movement designed to bring civilized government to the country. Who would that person be? Garry Kasparov? Mikhail Kasyanov? Grigory Yavlinsky? Mikhail Khodorkovsky? Nonsense. None of them has shown the slightest inclination, much less ability, to be the leader of a mass movement. The Kremlin has responded with barbaric, draconian cruelty to the largely insignificant murmors put forth by each, and liquidated any possiblity that they could do so. Others, from Galina Starovoitova to Anna Politkovskaya, have been killed outright.

So it’s time for the Western democracies to act on Russia. The world is beginning to catch on. Last week we published a fantastic essay from Newsweek magazine which called for European unity in oppositon to neo-Soviet Russia. Hopefully, this will be followed by similar calls on this side of the Atlantic led by whichever president gets elected in November.

It’s something all freedom-loving Amerians can agree on, regardless of their party affiliation.

Another Original LR Translation: Essel on #1 Russia

Russia by the Numbers: Part I

by Dave Essel

The R&F Agency, “established 1989”, claims on its website that it is the oldest immigration consultancy service in post-Soviet Russia. It offers legal and other advice on a whole range of immigration/emigration subjects, from e.g. how to apply for Canadian residence permits to where best in the West to buy housing and businesses.

R&F’s home page goes on to say that “the main thing that distinguishes us from other companies is the asymmetricality of our approach to problem-solving and our non-traditional ways with typical situations.”

And they’re not lying: for the sake of customer-entertainment, the site contains a couple of pages of general interest information. And these stun with their asymmetricality and an approach that is far from the traditional Russian one.

Here, as a teaser for a longer translation from the site that I will be presenting in LR, is what one finds by following one of the less visible links on the site. The site’s authors’ write:

Try typing in any search engine of your choice the words “Russia World Rank [whatever] and you will get this sort of result. Here via Google:

World Rankings

#1 in world for number of billionaires pursued by law enforcement
#1 in world in absolute numbers for population reduction
#1 in world for deaths from cardiovascular diseases
#1 in world for number of air crashes
#1 in world for volume of human trafficking
#1 in world for number of abortions
#1 in world for volume of strong spirit sales
#1 in world for consumption of spirits and alcoholic beverages
#1 in world for growth rate of tobacco consumption
#1 in world for number of underage smokers
#1 in world for for HIV infection growth rate
#1 in world for actual volume of unpolished diamonds exports
#1 in world for imports of Chinese automobiles (1st half-year 2007)
#2 in world for level of bureaucracy
#2 in world for number of suicides
(after Lithuania)
#2 in world for sales and distribution of counterfeit medicines
#2 in world for number of migrants
#2 in world for numbers of incarcerations per 1000 population
#2 in world for production of pirated CDs and DVDs
#2 in world for number of children adopted in the USA
#2 in world for number of people seeking asylum in the West
(#1 is Serbia)
#2 in world for arms exports
#2 in world for firearms in circulation in the country
#2 in world for submarine fleet size
#2 in world for number of journalists killed in the last 10 years
(#1 is Iraq)
#3 in world for number of displaced persons
#3 in world for inflow of migrants
#3 in world for number of cellphone subscribers
#3 in world for automobile theft
#3 in world for child pornography distribution
#3 in world for number of totalitarian sects
#4 in world for zirconium reserves
#4 in world for consumption of light alcoholic beverages
#5 in world for genetic health
#6 in world for use of fashion and medical cosmetics
#8 in world for number of foreign students in the country
#14 in world for state gold reserves
#15 in world for number of internet users
#16 in world for GNP
#21 in world for number of patented inventions
#27 in world for quality of education
#32 in world for quality of environment
#43 in world for economic competitiveness
#51 in world for corruption
#57 in world for quality of life
#62 in world for technological development
(between Costa Rica and Pakistan)
#65 in world for standard of living
#67 in world for development of human potential
#70 in world for use of IT and communications technologies
#97 in world for per capita income
#120 in world for economic freedom
#127 in world for health of population
#134 in world for longevity
#147 (out of 168) in world for press freedom
#159 in world for political rights and freedoms
#175 in world for physical safety of its citizens
#182 (out of 207) in world for mortality rate

As we all know, Googled data and information from Wikipedia sometimes need to be taken with the occasional pinch of salt. The whole idea is that this is presented as a piece of ‘sad fun’ and is all perfectly true in the general sense. Sad and silly Russophiles should refrain from nit-picking as this does not pretend to be scientific.

The Russian Internet, Under Fire

The Committe to Protect Journalists reports:

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Friday’s vicious attack on Zurab Tsechoyev, editor of Mashr, a human rights Web site based in the volatile North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia.

At least 50 armed, masked men in camouflage gear raided Tsechoyev’s home, shoved him into an armored personnel carrier, drove him to an unknown location, and interrogated and beat him for five hours, according to CPJ sources and news reports. Tsechoyev, 45, remained hospitalized today with a broken leg, kidney damage, and multiple bruises. The assailants left Tsechoyev on a road outside Ingushetia’s capital, Magas, after threatening to kill him and his family if he did not quit his job and leave the republic.

The attackers did not present identification, but they are believed to be officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) based on their clothing, vehicles, and weapons, CPJ sources said. News reports today also began identifying the assailants as local FSB agents. CPJ sources said police told them that no criminal investigation into the attack has been opened.

Armed with AK-47 assault rifles, the assailants arrived at 6 a.m. at Tsechoyev’s home in the Sunzhensky district of Ingushetia, where the journalist lives with his wife and four children, sources told CPJ. The men seized Tsechoyev’s laptop and two mobile phones, CPJ sources said. The assailants questioned Tsechoyev about the news Web site Ingushetiya’s recent publication of a list of FSB agents accused in a wave of murders in Ingushetia. The attackers questioned Tsechoyev about whether he had leaked the list to the publication, CPJ sources said.

Published by a human rights group of the same name, Mashr carries detailed information on human rights abuses in the southern republic. The Web site contains databases of regional disappearances and killings; the dates the crimes were committed; and information on the suspected perpetrators. Tsechoyev’s brother Tamerlan is among the missing—he was abducted in March 2004 by unknown armed men, according to Mashr.

After Tsechoyev was discovered around mid-day on Friday, human rights activists took him to the Nazran office of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, where he was treated briefly before an ambulance took him to a regional hospital. As of today, Tsechoyev had not received documentation of his injuries, evidence that would further a police investigation, CPJ sources said.

“We are outraged by this brazen attack on Zurab Tsechoyev and call on Ingushetia’s authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and bring all perpetrators to justice without delay,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Ingushetia has gained notoriety as a lawless zone where enemies of the press can attack journalists with impunity.”

In recent years, the conflict between rebels and federal forces in Chechnya has spread to neighboring republics in the North Caucasus. Authorities in Ingushetia have worked hard to repress news about the tensions, CPJ research shows. The republic’s president, Murat Zyazikov, has stood by as journalists and human rights activists have been abducted, beaten, harassed, and threatened with further retaliation if they did not abandon their jobs.

In January, police in Nazran detained, beat, and deported nine journalists and two human rights activists who tried to cover an opposition rally calling for Zyazikov’s resignation. There have been no arrests in the attack. In November 2007, a group of 15 armed, masked assailants in camouflage gear abducted three reporters and a human rights advocate from their hotel rooms in Nazran, put them in a van, harassed and threatened them, and abandoned them in a deserted field close to the Chechen border. One of the officers cheered the others to “take them out one by one! Liquidate them with a silencer!” Memorial reported. The four had planned to cover an antigovernment rally.

Russia, Faithful Guardian of War Criminals

Radio Free Europe reports:

After the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic for war crimes, Russia called for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to cease its activities. The head of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for Balkan, Caucasus, and Central Asian Studies, Artyem Ulunyan, spoke with RFE/RL’s Andrei Shary about Moscow’s motivation in seeking an end to the tribunal’s work.

RFE/RL: What’s the reasoning behind Russia calling for the ICTY to cease its activities?

Artyem Ulunyan: Russia doesn’t want it to be possible for former high officials to be tried in foreign or international courts that are not under Russian control.

RFE/RL: But isn’t the ICTY only concerned with crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia?

Ulunyan: What we seem to be talking about here is a precedent for the tribunal to be used by organizations not under its control. Russia most likely sees this as dangerous.

RFE/RL: What will Russia’s position be regarding the trial of Radovan Karadzic?

Ulunyan: I think this will be multifaceted. On the official level, there won’t be any actions or announcements. But at the semiofficial level, Russia’s dissatisfaction will be made clear. Pro-Kremlin youth organizations will be mobilized. Sections of the public will be fed propaganda arguing that Karadzic himself was not right, but his ideas were.

RFE/RL: Anybody can see the accusations against Karadzic. All the documents are publicly available. More than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed at Srebrenica, Sarajevo was blockaded for 44 months by Serbian forces, 14,000 people were killed, and so on. Many who participated in these events have been convicted, and Karadzic was in the political leadership. It is difficult to argue with this. But Russia continues to hold its position.

Ulunyan: This is a question of prestige for Russia. Russia cannot attract attention to its own advantage on the Balkans. It cannot play the role of a mediator. This needs to be said honestly. It cannot propose any serious solutions. We must not forget that for the Balkans, moving closer to Europe is becoming more and more important. Russian in this case is simply demonstrating its will and waving its flag.

RFE/RL: The Russian authorities are in a difficult situation. Russia has signed an agreement with President Boris Tadic on the privatization of Serbia’s gas industry, and Tadic was one of the leading forces behind Karadzic’s arrest. How can Moscow play this?

Ulunyan: Tadic’s position is also complicated. There are no open disagreements between Russia and Tadic. But there is suspicion between Tadic and the Kremlin, mostly related to foreign affairs. Karadzic is an element of the past history of Russian-Serbian relations, of Balkan history itself and Russia’s participation in it.

Medvedev and the New Nomenkatura

An editorial in the Moscow Times:

President Dmitry Medvedev should be commended for publicly admitting what everyone knew was a large contributing factor to corruption in post-Communist Russia. Addressing a group of his key aides and selected ministers on Wednesday, the president acknowledged that government posts are filled on the basis of nepotism rather than meritocracy, and in some cases, they are put up for sale.

Medvedev also lamented the lack of qualified candidates for gubernatorial posts and other senior positions, describing the situation as a “personnel famine.” The president said he would personally handpick candidates for governors’ posts to form a “presidential reserve.”

On the same day that Medvedev spoke, a Kremlin official told Vedomosti that the president wants to institute a policy in which appointments will be transparent and comply with clear and objective criteria. Candidates should preferably have experience in both the public and private sectors. The official said career law enforcement and military officers would not be welcomed.

The quality of public administration both at the regional and federal level leaves a lot to be desired, and Medvedev is absolutely right that improvements must be made. One sign of how ineffective some regional leaders are is the stark disparity in economic development and living conditions in the country’s regions. Because Moscow has done a lot to force governors to toe its line and receives a large share of locally collected tax revenues, it is also partially to blame for this disparity.

Medvedev’s proposal to create a presidential reserve offers little hope that the type of real competition between ideas and individuals that generates and rewards new and more effective approaches will be introduced.

Even with the talk of base requirements in experience and education required from prospective candidates, the proposed list smacks of the old nomenklatura system.

The presidents have been handpicking governors for three years already, and it doesn’t seem to have helped to achieve a sustainable, nation-wide improvement in the quality of governance. If the president is serious about making the regional system of public administration efficient, he should be doing a lot more than simply issuing statements about nepotism and corruption in personnel policy. He should take concrete steps to improve the quality of training for officials and design a coherent, transparent system of performance evaluation, in which promotion and pay raises are based on merit. He should also push to make the legislative and judicial branches of power in the regions independent and efficient.

No matter how capable Medvedev’s appointee may be, he or she won’t be able to do a good job unless there is a robust parliament and judicial system and civil society to provide both help and oversight.

McCain Puts One Across Putin’s Bows

AFP reports:

Russia has become an autocracy under Vladimir Putin and the Russian president-turned-prime minister has taken the country down a “very harmful” path, Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Sunday.

“We need to improve their behavior,” McCain told ABC television when asked about his threat to exclude Russia from the Group of Eight if he wins the White House in November.

“His government — former president Putin, and now Prime Minister Putin — has taken his country down a path that I think is very harmful,” McCain said. “They’ve become an autocracy.”

“In the last week or so, look at Russia’s actions,” he added. “They cut back on their oil supplies to the Czechs, because the Czechs made an agreement with us. They have now thrown out — or forced out — BP out of Russia.

“They continue to put enormous pressures on Georgia in many ways. They’re putting pressure on Ukraine. They are blocking action in the United Nations Security Council on Iran,” McCain said.

“We want better Russian behavior internationally, and we have every right to expect it,” he said. “And I will do what I can to see that they reverse many of the behavior patterns which have really been very unhelpful to peace in the world.”

ABC News adds:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., defended his call to exclude Russia from the Group of Eight despite opposition from members, in an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”

“You have to take positions whether other nations agree or not, because you have to do what’s best for America,” McCain explained. “I will do what I can to see that they reverse many of the behavior patterns, which have really been very unhelpful to peace in the world.”

The presumptive Republican nominee openly criticized Russia for straying from the G-8’s founding principles. “We need to improve their behavior,” he said. “They’ve become an autocracy.”

McCain also said he believes former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is still in charge and is responsible for Russia’s destabilizing role in the international community.

“In the last week or so, look at Russia’s actions. They cut back on their oil supplies to the Czechs, because the Czechs made an agreement with us. They have now thrown out the — or forced out — BP out of Russia … They are blocking action in the United Nations Security Council on Iran.”

Kasparov on Obama

Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Berlin is an ideal place for an American president, even a would-be president, to speak to the world about freedom and shared values. Barack Obama’s recent visit evoked the famous speeches of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan that defended the U.S. stance against the Soviet Union and tyranny in Eastern Europe. Both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union are now gone, but dangerous, nuclear-armed dictatorships are not. Sadly, Mr. Obama declined to mention this in Berlin.

The stage for his disappointing performance was set several weeks ago, when the Illinois senator rejected John McCain’s proposal to eject Russia and exclude China from the Group of Eight (G-8). Mr. Obama’s response during a July 13 interview on CNN — “We have to engage and get them involved” — suggests that it is impossible to work with Russia and China on economic and nuclear nonproliferation issues while also standing up for democracy and human rights.

It has repeatedly been shown that the exact opposite is true.

The U.S. does not cede leverage with authoritarian governments when it confronts them about their crimes. Instead, the U.S. increases its credibility and influence with foes and friends alike. Placating regimes like those in Russia and China today only entrenches hostile, antidemocratic forces.

Commercial agreements, arms control and other mutually beneficial projects can be pursued without endorsing dictatorship. During the same interview, Sen. Obama spoke of enlisting China to help write the “international rules of the road.” This is the same logic that led the United Nations to place China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia on its current Human Rights Council. Do we really want to live under rules created with the approval of such regimes?

While Mr. Obama talked about the importance of receiving Russia’s help in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Reuters reported that Tehran is acquiring advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles from the Kremlin. This is the cooperation the West has earned by including Russia in the G-8.

In Berlin, Mr. Obama repeatedly mentioned the 1948 Berlin airlift. On CNN, he said he would like to “bring back the kind of foreign policy that characterized the Truman administration with Marshall and Acheson and Kennan.” A strange statement, since President Harry Truman fought against giving up an inch to the communists on any front around the world. Not only did Truman save West Berlin; South Korea, Taiwan and Western Europe also have much to thank him for. By contrast, in their July 9 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Obama advisers Madeleine Albright and William Perry, secretaries of state and defense under Bill Clinton, criticized Sen. McCain’s proposal to respond to major powers’ human-rights abuses with more than lip service.

Mr. Obama also asked if the West would stand up for “the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe.” Commendable, but what about the political prisoner in China and the recently convicted blogger in Russia? Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Russia’s Dmitri Medvedev both came to power in blatantly fraudulent elections. The hypocrisy of condemning one while embracing the other destroys American and European credibility, and undermines any attempt at global leadership. Those of us living behind the Iron Curtain at the time were grateful Ronald Reagan did not go to Berlin in 1987 to denounce the lack of freedom in, say, Angola.

In short, the candidate of change sounds like he would perpetuate the destructive double standards of the current administration. Meanwhile, the supposedly hidebound Mr. McCain is imaginative enough to suggest that if something is broken you should try to fix it. Giving Russia and China a free pass on human rights to keep them “at the table” has helped lead to more arms and nuclear aid to Iran, a nuclear North Korea, and interference from both nations in solving the tragedies in Darfur and Zimbabwe.

Would all of this have occurred had the U.S. and Europe threatened meaningful reprisals? At least Mr. McCain wants to find out.

Reagan’s Berlin speech is remembered for his command: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” But he also made a critical point about negotiating from strength, a point Mr. Obama seems to be missing. Reagan knew that if the U.S. backed down on the Strategic Defense Initiative, his speech would just be pretty words the Soviets would ignore.

Reagan avoided the mistake John F. Kennedy made when he met with Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. After the Bay of Pigs disaster, Kennedy was weak in Khrushchev’s eyes and keen to make a deal, and the Soviet premier bullied him mercilessly in Vienna. The Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis were soon to follow.

Today, instead of communists there are deal-making capitalists and nationalists running the Kremlin and China’s National People’s Congress. They, and blowhards like Hugo Chávez, hardly represent the existential threats faced by Truman, Kennedy and Reagan. Yet Mr. Obama still is reticent to confront them, saying in Berlin that “we must reject the Cold War mindset of the past and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must.” But the Cold War ended and democracy became the global standard not because Western leaders merely defended their values, but because they projected them aggressively.

On Sept. 11, 150 years ago, another Illinois politician to run for president, Abraham Lincoln, said: “Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.” Not where it’s convenient. Not in countries lacking large energy reserves. Everywhere, Mr. Obama, everywhere.