Kozlovsky, Defender of Human Rights
At a ceremony tomorrow evening in New York City hosted by film star Signorney Weaver, the well-regarded international organization Human Rights First will present Russian opposition leader Oleg Kozlovsky with its Human Rights Award for “extraordinary courage in the pursuit of our common birthright.” Caroline Kennedy and Mary Robinson will be in attendance.
We congratulate Oleg on this outstanding achievement and we applaud HRF for standing up for democracy and civil society in Russia. Kozlovsky burst onto the international scene with a major news piece and then an op-ed in the Washington Post newspaper, and he continues to struggle heroically and defiantly against the oppressive policies of the KGB-dominated Putin administration at tremendous risk to his personal safety. You can read our reports about him by clicking the “Kozlovsky” category in our sidebar. Oleg is a true Russian patriot, representing the last best hope for a real future for his country. Watch Oleg’s YouTube interview here and here. Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy’s Passport Blog has written up the event as well, including an interview with Oleg about the current state of democracy in Russia.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 24 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: From Russia with Lies
(2) EDITORIAL: The Russian Ruble, Collapsing
(3) EDITORIAL: Chechnya, Redux
(4) Latynina Rips Putin a New One
(5) Aslund Rips Putin Another New One
(6) Russia’s Looming Military Apocalypse
NOTE: Today’s trilogy of editorials captures the essence of today’s Russia under Vladimir Putin. The only two reasons Putin has ever had to claim legitimacy — a strong ruble and a quiet Caucasus region — are collapsing right before our gaping eyes, and the Kremlin has only one response: lies.
From Russia with Lies
On Wednesday, the highest American diplomat for Russian affairs accused the Kremlin of breaking its promise to French president Nicholas Sarkozy regarding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia. Daniel Fried, visiting the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, stated: “The cease-fire accord negotiated by Sarkozy requires Russian armed forces to withdraw to their positions before the outbreak of hostilities. The Russians haven’t done so. They’re in compliance with some of it.”
The same day, the government of the Netherlands released a report finding that Russia had used cluster bombs against Georgia during its barbaric invasion of its tiny neighbor, and in doing so murdered a Dutch TV cameraman. Russia continues to deny ever using cluster bombs in Georgia. The Dutch foreign minister was outraged, and stated: “I have made that clear to the Russian authorities. Cluster munitions must not be used in this way. There were no troops present in Gori and innocent civilians were killed.”
No regular reader of this blog can be the suprised in the least by these latest conclusive proofs of the fundamental dishonesty with which Vladmir Putin’s government carries out its foreign policy — a level of mendacity which can only properly be described as neo-Soviet in character. Putin’s government, totally dominated by proud KGB personnel, is simply and pathologically incapable of telling the truth about anything at any time to anyone. It lies the way most people breathe.
The Russian Ruble, Collapsing
Ruble as Rubble, the Dollar Ascending
As shown in the chart at left, during the month of October so far the Russian ruble has lost 8% of its value against the U.S. dollar, which has risen steadily as the Russian stock market has fallen. Since Russia invaded Georgia in August, the ruble has plunged 12%. That means foreign goods have experienced 12% price inflation in that short time. Soon, you’ll need 30 Russian rubles to buy one U.S. dollar on the street in Moscow. All the gains made by the ruble during the Putin years are being wiped out, at breathtaking speed.
The consequences for Russia are dire. Obligations that were established in dollars are now far more expensive for ruble-earning borrowers to service, with an avalanche of defaults predicted. On Tuesday, the average price of ruble-denominated corporate debt dropped to an all-time low of 86 percent of face value yesterday, from more than 100 percent in June.
Last Saturday, rebels in Ingushetia attacked a column of heavily armed Russian interior ministry soldiers and killed at least three of them, injuring three times as many. Opposition sources claimed Russian officials were lying about the number of fatalities, and claimed up to 50 soldiers actually having fallen.
Then this past Tuesday, rebels in Dagestan attacked a squadron of police officers and killed at least five of them, injuring twice as many.
These events show clearly that the Kremlin’s desperation over its manifest policy failure in the region, leading to a massive revival of separatist activity and the KGB regime’s assasination last month of a leading opposition leader in Ingushetia, was fully justified.
And they could not be coming at a worse moment.
Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:
At the World Policy Conference in Evian, France, President Dmitry Medvedev laid out his vision for overcoming the global financial crisis. The president called on Europe to create a new world order in which the role of the United States would be reduced to a minimum.
While Russian analysts were commenting on how skillfully Medvedev was driving a wedge between Europe and the United States, an interesting little incident occurred. At precisely 7 a.m. in Washington, the U.S. Federal Reserve and all European central banks simultaneously lowered their bank discount rate. Russia learned about this coordinated action from the daily news.
At about the same time, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, “Faith in the United States as the leader of the free world and the market economy and faith in Wall Street as the center of that trust has been undermined forever.”
Following this statement — as if to spite Putin — the dollar immediately gained sharply against the ruble. This clearly shows that, although Russians trust Putin much more than they do U.S. President George W. Bush, they — and the rest of the world — still have much more faith in the dollar than in the ruble.
Anders Aslund, writing in the Moscow Times:
On Friday, the government reported that growth in gross domestic product for September slowed to 0.4 percent. On Monday, however, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia, Brazil, India and China “will remain the locomotive of the world economic growth for the next few years.”
On Sept. 3, I wrote in this column, “A sudden zero growth would not be surprising, and leaders like Putin are not prepared to face reality.” Now zero growth has already been achieved, but Putin remains in denial, even though as prime minister he is the chief economist in the country.
Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times:
When Anatoly Serdyukov was hired as defense minister in early 2007, most of my colleagues poked fun at him because he once worked in the furniture business. But I predicted that his experience as head of the Federal Tax Service would help him implement much-needed reforms in the armed forces.
Serdyukov seemed to confirm my faith in his abilities last week when he announced unprecedented personnel cutbacks that had been considered unfathomable. The number of officers will be reduced by almost two-thirds, from 355,000 to 150,000. In addition, the number of military units will be drastically reduced. For example, of 1,890 army units, only 172 will remain.
Serdyukov had to change a ludicrous situation in which there was one officer for every two soldiers. This is why he suggests reducing the number of colonels by almost two-thirds — from 25,000 to 9,000 — and the number of majors by three-fourths — from 100,000 to 25,000. At the same time, the number of lieutenants should increase from 50,000 to 60,000.
But if you take a closer look at Serdyukov’s plan, you will see several serious problems.