FRIDAY NOVEMBER 21 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: Russia’s Rotting Empire
(2) EDITORIAL: Listening to Russia
(3) Dima Medvedev in 25 words or Less
(4) A Postcard from Sochi
(5) Ominous Rumblings in the Russian Provinces
(6) The Missiles of November
NOTE: If we do say so ourselves, looking back on the content this week it’s hard to argue with the contention that it was our richest ever. We’ve offered a truly stunning array of information and analysis of the Russian scene, and we doubt any thinking person can read through our content this week and come away with any conclusion other than that KGB rule of Russia is a total disaster. As if to prove it, yesterday was our best traffic day in more than a month, with over 2,400 visits to our blog.
NOTE: Oleg Kozlovsky’s opposition group Oborona has established Facebook presence. We hope you will join the group and show support for this heroic Russian’s valiant efforts to defend democratic values in his country.
Russia’s Rotting Empire
Nina Khrushcheva watches Russia rotting
Writing in the MIT Press Journal, Nikita Khrushchev’s great-granddaughter Nina (a professor at the New School in New York City), offers her perspective on what she calls Russia’s “rotting empire.” She begins by observing: “There is one thing to keep in mind when talking about Russia — it doesn’t change.” Russia has, she argues, no viable alternative to destruction and malfunction except stasis and decay.
That is just about as damning a criticism of a civilization as can be made and, don’t forget, it’s coming not only from a Russian but from a Russian whose ancesor once ruled the country. Khrushcheva’s point is irrefutable: Putin claimed that Yeltsin’s reformers tried to change the country too rapidly into a demcratic republic, and then he turned around and moved back towards a neo-Soviet oligarchy with even more devastatingly breakneck speed and totally without deliberation. She states: “The structures of democracy today are as undeveloped as they were under Peter the Great and will likely remain as underdeveloped in 25 years as they are today.”
That’s because it’s simply not in the interests of Russia’s ruthless authoritarian leaders to empower the mass public. As the legacy of the USSR clearly shows, Russia simply can’t generate the massive wealth that would be required to hold such a population in check — the USSR couldn’t even do so in regard to Russia’s cowed, clueless masses. In Russia, authoritarian rulers need a weak, sick, helpless population in order to maintain control.
So she starts of wonderfully well. Pity, then, that in classic Russian fashion she wanders into confusion and misrepresentation before the end.
Listening to Russia
According to the Levada Centre, 90% of Russians are either not following the legal proceedings involving oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky or have never heard of him. Only 6% of October respondents were following the case, while 4% were unwilling to answer. Only 1% of respondents said they respected Khodorkovsky, while nearly 75% had no opinion about him or refused to say what they thought. As for Khodorkovsky attorney Svetlana Bakhmina, when asked
Do you think it right that, having served 4 of her 6½-year sentence, Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, who declined to give evidence against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and who is now pregnant, should not be released on parole?
only 29% said that it was not right, 16% said it was right and the lion’s share of respondents, 48%, had no idea our would not respond. Clearly, the Kremlin’s monopoly on television and widely-circulating newspapers allows it to totally dominate the public consciousness on such issues. How would these answers have been any different in Soviet times, under conditions of totalitarian dictatorship? We doubt there would be much difference at all.
There are glimmers of hope, however, which serve to illustrate why the Kremlin remains so aggressively determined to wipe out the last vestiges of civil society in Russia. In October polling, the Levada Center found that “normally sky-high confidence in the [Putin] government had gone down from 66% to 59% since September, and Medvedev’s popularity was down from 83% to 76%. ” If that’s what the Kremlin itself is prepared to admit, do you dare to imagine what the real numbers might be? Putin’s rating fell from a truly breathtaking 88% in September to 83% in October. It had climbed to 88% from 83% in August, as Putin provoked war in Georgia and saw the stock market collapse around him. However when asked to name a half-dozen politicians they most trusted, only 56% of respondents named Putin in October, down from 62% in September. Only 47% named Medvedev, who has never had a majority of respondents expressing trust in him at any point this year. 14% disapproved of Putin, 18% of Medvedev.
When asked the critical question of whether the country was on the “right path” or the “wrong path,” 54% said it was going in the right direction, 27% the wrong direction, and 19% could not answer. Obviously, the fact that 46% of Russians either think the country is going in the wrong direction or can’t say that it isn’t must give Putin some sleepless nights.
Особенность Дмитрия Медведева заключается в том, что он ― абсолютно независимая фигура. В том смысле, что от него совсем ничего не зависит.
What uniquely distinguishes Dmitri Medvedev is that he is a completely independent figure. In the sense that nothing whatsoever depends on him.
From Alexander Golts’ Ezhednevny Zhurnal report on Mevdedev’s recent European visit , translated from the Russian by Dave Essel.
Despite all the development, Sochi still feels like a kaleidoscopic version of Coney Island, all juiced up on lukewarm vodka and sunburned potbellies, and that can either be part of its charm or the one thing that keeps it from being a truly relaxing place to spend a few days. The Mediterranean-style glamour that Mr. Markozov mentioned, at least for now, can be frustratingly elusive, sprinkled around at places like Platforma and Sinee More, or the Blue Sea [LR: Actually, it means “dark blue sea”], a restaurant with white tablecloths and a sleek wooden deck that looks out onto the water. With its poor roads and gruff service, Sochi can often seem less like the heart of the new Russian Riviera, and more like the Soviet package-tour destination it once was.
First the failed policies of Vladimir Putin gave rise to tumult in the country’s southern reaches, and now the north and elsewhere as the economic crisis deepens. Paul Goble reports:
For the first time in their history, the numerically small peoples of the Taymyr peninsula organized a public protest against the way in which Moscow has run roughshod over their rights in its desire to develop natural resources, a protest that is echoing across the northern third of the territory of the Russian Federation. On November 1st, members of the Dolgan, Nenets, En, Nganasan, and Evenk nationalities in the former Taymyr autonomous district assembled in zero degree Fahrenheit weather demanding that their region be given the special status it was promised when it was folded into Krasnoyarsk kray.
But it is a measure of the isolation of these groups from Moscow that word of their action reached Moscow only ten days after it took place, and it is an indication of their marginality in the eyes of Russian officialdom and even the Russian public that this event did not receive more than passing mention in all but a few opposition websites.
Vasko Kohlmayer, writing on Frontpagemag.com:
On November 5th – less than 24 hours after the victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential race – Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced that his country would install short-range semiballistic missiles in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.
The deployment is part of Russia’s bid to halt the construction of the Ballistic Missile Defense Shield in Europe, a project virulently opposed by the Kremlin. Medvedev’s statement is a clear indication that after months of threats and intimidation, the Russian leadership has finally settled on a definitive course of action. The sheer audacity of their plan will become obvious once we take a closer look at the details of the proposed move.
Kaliningrad Oblast, the region that will host the missiles, is one of Russia’s most strategically important pieces of real estate. Roughly the size of Connecticut and not territorially contiguous with Russia proper, Kaliningrad is located some 350 kilometers west of Russia’s border. Situated on the coast of the Baltic Sea, it is bounded by Lithuania to the north and Poland to the south.