MONDAY SEPTEMBER 15 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: Those Pesky Neo-Soviet Chickens, Roosting
(2) EDITORIAL: Robert Amsterdam, Asleep at the Switch?
(3) Palin on Russia
(4) Goble Exposes Russian Lies on Destruction of Ossetia
(5) The Only thing we Have to Fear is Russia Itself
(6) The Foreign Minister of Russia is a Thug
(7) Exploding Myths about Russia: A Photo Essay
NOTE: Susan Keating, of the eponymous blog, e-mails to say she attended testimony on Georgia by the departments of State and Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Russian aggression in Georgia. The statements of the witnesses can be read online. Please write your senator or congressperson and tell them to bring back the VOA Russia service, which was cancelled just days before Georgia was attacked. It’s an atrocity of our own making, and must be reversed.
Those Pesky Neo-Soviet Chickens, Roosting
Since early summer, the Russian stock market has lost nearly three quarters of a trillion dollars, almost half its total value. Yes, that’s trillion, with “T.” It has lost, in other words, almost a full year’s gross domestic product. As Streetwise Professor notes: “The US market has been moving largely sideways during a period when the Russian market has moved down approximately 45 percent. The recent precipitous drops in the Russian indices have not been matched by similar declines in the Dow or S&P, or any of the European indices.” Thus, the idea that Russia is any kind of safe haven, much less independent of the West, has been soundly obliterated.
The Kremlin’s response has been typical, first a flat denial of any problem (Russia’s silly little “president” Dima Medvedev exclaimed: “Russia — thanks to its situation and role in the world’s division of labor, thanks to its geography, thanks to its intellectual potential — will always be attractive for investments”) and then an attempt to artificially inflate the value of the market (in other words, the desperate and panicked Russian government is using its reserves to buy stocks nobody wants, a practice its own finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, condemned just weeks ago) — rather than, perish the thought, to even consider anything like actual reform.
Russia’s market has been exposed for what it is, not a diversified reflection of a vibrant economy but a gambling casino where “80 percent of the shares are in companies exporting commodities with a history of boom-bust cycles” presided over by a clan of proud KGB thugs who simpy couldn’t care less about the law. The price of oil is down one-third since a summer high around $150 per barrel, and the Russian stock market is down an identical amount (in fact, even a bit more). That says it all.
Robert Amsterdam, Asleep at the Switch?
One of the maxims we live by here on this blog is Martin Luther King’s warning that moderates can be more dangerous to liberty than extremists. Accordingly, we have bone to pick with blogger (and Khodorkovsky attorney) Robert Amsterdam. Several, actually, and they have compound fractures. We ask his readers, a category in which we include ourselves (often admiringly so), to pressure him to wake up and smell the bitter Russian coffee brewing under his nose. These days, as Putin’s Kremlin makes moves like attempting to hand-pick jurors, we need lawyer Amsterdam to be hyper-vigilent, yet he often seems to be asleep at the switch.
First, we are outraged that Amsterdam has failed to republish and praise the Boris Nemstov white paper and its supplement on Gazprom, even though we have specifically reached out to him and asked him to do so. In fact, he should be doing even more than that, and using his connections to lobby for op-ed space fore Nemtsov in major Western newspapers and funding to help him better educate the benighted people of his country. Amsterdam’s failure to express solidarity with Nemtsov is unconscionable, and almost makes us think it’s something personal he (or his client) have against the former deputy premier, or maybe against us since we translated the text. It’s good enough for the New York Review of Books, but not good enough for Bob Amsterdam.
Second, we are disappointed by Amsterdam’s failure to address his client’s recent moves to express submission to the maligant will of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, moves we have condemned here on this blog. We realize that a lawyer can’t exactly call his own client on the carpet, but Amsterdam owes the world some kind of explanation for his client’s repugnant behavior, since he has asked the world to lobby for his client’s freedom and gained international notoriety in the attempt. Sweeping it all under the carpet just won’t do.
And then there’s this whole business of the Big Mac attack.
Commenter “Kolchak” points us to a recent interview of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Governor of Alasks, with ABC’s Charles Gibson, where she discusses Russia. Uh-oh, Mr. Putin. Uh-oh, lying dumbocrats. Palin gets Russia, to a “T”. T as in “trillion,” the amount the corrupt Russian stock market nearly has lost in the past few months. And let’s not forget, Palin wasn’t even hired for her foreign policy knowledge, but for her experience as an elected executive, which is far greater than any other candidate in the field. Barack Obama has none, and by hiring Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, he has admitted what is obvious — that he has no foreign policy experience either. John McCain, on the other hand, has more foreign policy experience than all the other three candidates put together. Go McCain! Go Palin! (NOTE: ABC controversially edited many of Palin’s remarks and, while published on their website, didn’t air them on TV; some suggest this was done to make Palin look ignorant or bellicose, an act of partisanship we condemn if it occurred. The full remarks are published below.).
GIBSON: Let’s start, because we are near Russia, let’s start with Russia and Georgia. The administration has said we’ve got to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia. Do you believe the United States should try to restore Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
PALIN: First off, we’re going to continue good relations with Saakashvili there. I was able to speak with him the other day and giving him my commitment, as John McCain’s running mate, that we will be committed to Georgia. And we’ve got to keep an eye on Russia. For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable and we have to keep…
GIBSON: You believe unprovoked.
PALIN: I do believe unprovoked and we have got to keep our eyes on Russia, under the leadership there. I think it was unfortunate. That manifestation that we saw with that invasion of Georgia shows us some steps backwards that Russia has recently taken away from the race toward a more democratic nation with democratic ideals.That’s why we have to keep an eye on Russia. And, Charlie, you’re in Alaska. We have that very narrow maritime border between the United States, and the 49th state, Alaska, and Russia. They are our next door neighbors.We need to have a good relationship with them. They’re very, very important to us and they are our next door neighbor.
Paul Goble , who has been blogging at the New York Times since late August, reports on proof that Russia lied brazenly about the extent of destruction it inflicted in the Georgia war, and the destuction allegedly inflicted by Georgia:
Satellite photographs analyzed by United Nations experts show that only five percent of Tskhinvali was destroyed during the fighting there but that 50 percent of ethnic Georgian villages were destroyed in that region by Ossetian marauders behind Russian lines, a pattern that undercuts Moscow’s claims about what took place. The UN satellite research program UNOSAT has released photographs showing the destruction in South Ossetia. Some of these were published in Novaya gazeta on Monday, but a more comprehensive sample is now available on the UNOSAT portal.
These pictures and the analysis conducted by the independent experts at UNOSAT show, Human Rights Watch told “Novaya gazeta,” that Ossetian units “burned and robbed Georgian villages,” as HRW people on the ground had reported in the face of Ossetian and Russian claims to the contrary.
But these photographs taken over the course of August also call into question repeated Russian claims that the Georgian army had destroyed much of the South Ossetian capital – the satellite photographs show only five percent of its buildings having been damaged — and that Georgian forces had carried out a systematic genocide there.
The photographs are extremely disturbing because, in the words of HRW experts, they demonstrate that “Georgian villages have in fact ceased to exist on the territory of South Ossetia.” But the human rights group’s own observers point out that now there is evidence that similar “marauder activities are continuing in Georgian villages in the buffer zone.”
Finrosforum editorializes on Europe’s strange fear of Russia:
The caution with which Europe, and Finland in particular, relates to what is happening in Russia has, I believe, deeper roots than mere political and economic convenience. The disease we suffer from is not hatred of Russia and the Russians, which is, after all, a rather marginal phenomenon, but outright fear of our big eastern neighbour. This fear prevents us from beholding Russia the same way that we look at other states and nations. Instead, Russia is regarded as a special case, and we concede that the rules that apply to Russia differ from those that apply to other countries.
This fear enables the criminal gang that is keeping a stranglehold on Russia to justify its violations of basic universal rights. The fear plays into the hands of those who argue that Russian values are fundamentally different from those of the West.
There are some news reports we publish on this blog that are so revolting that even we, who fully expect them and are well used to such things, lack words to describe them. Vladimir Putin told Time magazine last year that he was annoyed to find Westerners insist on thinking of his country as “a little bit savage.” And indeed, from this story it is clear we are wrong to do so. Russians are a lot savage! The Telegraph reports:
The Daily Telegraph can disclose that Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, reacted with fury when Mr Miliband and he spoke on the telephone. Mr Lavrov objected to being lectured by the British.
Such was the repeated use of the “F-word” according to one insider who has seen the transcript, it was difficult to draft a readable note of the conversation. One unconfirmed report suggested that Mr Lavrov said: “Who are you to f—— lecture me?”