Which country’s banks are more trustworthy according to respected ratings agency Moody’s: (a) Pakistan or (b) Russia. No fair peeking!
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 28 CONTENTS
NOTE: Radio Free Europe posts video on Georgians in Stalin’s birthplace questioning the legacy they live with.
This is a continuation in our serialization of the second part of the White Paper by Boris Nemtsov. Part II deals exclusively with the Gazprom fuel monopoly. Section 1 was published on Friday. This is Section 2, all new material exclusive to La Russophobe which has never before appeared in English.
by Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Frolov
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
Gazprom Machinations: Asset Stripping
Instead of concentrating on Gazprom’s core responsibilities of ensuring the reliability of the country’s gas supplies and developing extraction, Putin and the management team he put in place have concentrated their efforts on assorted dodges and machinations to engender a new wave of asset stripping and outflow of finances from the corporation in favour of bodies close to Putin and his friends.
Initially, Putin was very keen for Gazprom to accumulate assets that had been taken out of the corporation and placed under outside concerns under Rem Vyakhirev. This included quantities of Gazprom’s own shares and the assets of Sibur, a petrochemical concern.
However, once most of the assets had been brought back under the corporation’s umbrella, the opposite began to happen and assets – in the majority of cases the selfsame assets that had been reacquired – again began to be leveraged away from Gazprom. Putin’s re-election to a second term marked the turning point.
Almost seven decades ago last Tuesday, Russian soldiers marched hand in hand through the city of Brest with the army of Nazi Germany. They were celebrating the one-month anniversary of the military pact signed by their two maniacal dictatorial leaders, and contemplating dividing up the world between them. As we look back on that event today, and reflect upon the total failure ultimately met by both regimes, ending in national collapse, we cannot help but draw parallels to the recent atrocity of Russian aggresion in Georgia. Just as little has come of it. Just as surely, it represents the beginning of the end for Russia.
Returning Russian fire with a withering fusilade last week, Georgia’s valiant president Mikheil Saakashvili first launched a devastating op-ed in the Washington Post and followed it up with a transcendant address to the United Nations General Assembly. The man Russia’s “president” and “prime minister” (neither of whom have been ever faced a competive election or critical mainstream media, as Saakashvili does on a daily basis) have called “criminal” fought back with intelligence, civility and facts, and left only smoldering rubble on the Russian side of the field of battle.
Annals of the Class War in Putin’s Russia
There were some interesting tidbits of information in a recent Moscow Times op-ed by on Vardan Dastoyan, identified as the CEO of Rolf Retail, a Moscow-based chain of car dealerships. Granted, the things he says are undoubtedly motivated by personal pecuniary bias, maybe a little Russian nationalism thrown in there for good measure, and hence not too reliable (for instance, he says sales of new cars are up 43% this year, but doesn’t give the base or the dollar value of the sales for perspective). Still, though, they’re fascinating to consider.
According to Dastoyan — get this now — most Russian buyers of imported automobiles pay cash (hence they couldn’t care less what happens to interest rates) and they are comprised of the roughly 3 percent of the country rich enough to invest in the Russian stock market. And these folks are not just rich, but super-rich. They’re so rich, in fact, that they couldn’t care less what happens in the stock market, because they only invest there with “one pocket,” keeping the other free for spending.
Radio Free Europe reports:
At the end of September, Russian state television broadcast a half-hour “special report” that charged foreign intelligence services, particularly the CIA, as using Russian nongovernmental organizations to foment dissent. The broadcast was eerily reminiscent of similar “special reports” that appeared on Serbian state television during the rule of Slobodan Milosevic. And the purpose of the broadcast was the same — to mobilize a frightened society against shadowy external “enemies.”
Such crass propaganda is just one of many similarities between the authoritarian regimes of Milosevic and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Radio Free Europe reports:
Corruption in Russia is at its worst for eight years, watchdog Transparency International has said, stoking investor fears just a week after Russian markets suffered their biggest losses in a decade.
The annual survey by the Berlin-based watchdog put Russia in joint 147th position with Bangladesh, Kenya, and Syria, raising the challenge for President Dmitry Medvedev, who has made fighting graft a priority. “All this data taken together demonstrates that the situation in Russia has reached a threatening scale,” the watchdog said in a commentary attached to the survey. “The phenomenon of corruption…seriously undermines the very statehood of Russia.”
Corruption has penetrated every sphere of life from politics, the police, and judiciary to business, health, and education, the report said.
An op-ed in the Jerusalem Post:
Speaking of the Georgian military attempt to retake its breakaway region of South Ossetia, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, “The world has changed and it occurred to me that August 8 has become for Russia as September 11, 2001 for the United States.” In case anyone begged to differ, he added, “This is an accurate comparison corresponding to Russian realities.”
Though it “occurred” to Medvedev to express this to the world on September 12, more than a month after Russia’s illegal occupation inside Georgia, on August 14, a week after the outbreak of the crisis, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov had already been quoted as saying, “I may remind you – September 11, the reaction was similar.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has called for Ukraine to eject Russia’s Black Sea fleet from its base in Sevastopol when its current lease runs out in 2017, embracing the policy of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko.
Tymoshenko, who could be Yushchenko’s successor, declared: “We need to maintain this agreement until 2017 and then we need to make Ukraine a zone free of any military bases.”
Only 30% of Sevastopol residents favor union with Russia, and regardless of what they want Russia itself has formally and repeatedly agreed that Crimea is permanently part of Ukraine. Russians, however, couldn’t care less about that, and are already making noises about refusing to leave regardless of the desires of the Ukrainian people or their government. Ukraine, of course, is counterbalancing those threats by moving rapidly to join NATO and the EU.
The loss of Russia’s Black Sea base in Ukraine is yet another consequences of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s catastrophic failure to maintain good relations with Georgia, culminating in his barbaric use of military force. If the people of Russia do not move to hold him accountable for his failure, there will only be more dire consequences for Russian interests abroad.