SUNDAY DECEMBER 28 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: Third World Russia
(2) Cracks in Putin’s Foundation
(3) Annals of Russian Propaganda
(4) Ryzhkov on the Economic Crisis
(5) Kremlin Finally Admits it Lied about Ossetia
(6) How Georgia Influences Israel and Iran
NOTE: An excellent survey of data regarding the Russian economic downturn, complete with numerous colorful and informative charts, can be found here.
Only two countries on the planet are losing kilometers of railway each year. Congo in Africa is one of them. Care to guess which one is the other?
Yep, Russia. And the average age of a Russian railway car is 15 years; it is as old as Russia itself, likely built in the USSR. Think that’s a safe and convenient way to travel? Think again.
Maybe you imagine Russians can fly instead? Not hardly. The number of airports has fallen by nearly a factor of four, from 1,342 in 1991 to fewer than 350 today. Russia’s airlines are among the most dangerous in the world to fly on, dropping out the sky like flies.
Still, Russians who can travel by rail or air are lucky. More than ten percent of the country, 15 million people, have no access to the transport network at all.
These are stunning, shocking facts, but you still haven’t read the worst of it: Despite being awash in windfall oil revenues and record economic growth rates, investment in infrastructure is now a mere 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, compared with a global average of 4.2 percent. That’s right, “rich, resurgent” Russia is spending nearly 40% less than the world average on improving the lives of its people. In other words, the Kremlin couldn’t care less about all this suffering. It expects its citizens to simply take it. And that’s exactly what lemming nation does.
And therefore, of course, things are getting much worse by the day.
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An anti-Putin sign on a vehicle in Vladivostok reading: "Take demons alive."
The Moscow Times reports:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s reputation as a Teflon leader is showing scratches as some Russians start to see a growing disconnect between the realities of the financial crisis and Putin’s public posture as the nation’s savior.
Posters openly insulting Putin were among those waved at a rally of thousands of motorists against a hike in import duties for used cars in Vladivostok for the past two weekends. Earlier, only radical members from the banned National Bolshevik Party had dared to attack Putin in public.
For the first time since Putin stepped down as president in May, Duma deputies on Wednesday called for Putin to be summoned to explain why the country posted a sharp decline in industrial output in November. The motion by Communist deputies was axed by the Putin-led United Russia party.
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Robert Coalson, writing on The Power Vertical, reports on the latest atrocities in the annals of Russian propaganda:
This month’s “The Atlantic” has a little essay of interest by Washington-based journalist Joshua Kucera. He tells of a few encounters he had with a Russian Embassy “official” who offered him a few hundred dollars every now and again to publish stories about “what we are doing in the Russian government.”
And it wasn’t even one of those spooky Deep Throat situations — no 3 a.m. parking garages, no surreptitious notes stuck between the pages of “The New York Times.” All Kucera had to do in order to find out “what we are doing in the Russian government” (and now The Power Vertical readers will also know the secret!) was to check out two websites that, to be honest, I’d never heard of before. Kucera’s Russian friend, whom he calls “Vladimir,” said he’d pay Kucera to take stories off those sites and republish them as his own.
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Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov holds forth in his latest Moscow Times column on the significance of the economic crisis for the Putin regime:
In 2009, as the frequency and intensity of protests across the country increase, the people will start demanding fundamental changes in the country’s political course and leadership.
Russians are increasingly worried about the economic crisis — and rightfully so. A Dec. 15 survey by the Levada Center found that 60 percent of adults feel uncertain about the future, and 88 percent consider the condition of the economy to be from “fair” to “very bad.” More than half of the respondents feel that the worst is yet to come. Almost 40 percent believe the crisis has already hit Russia, and another third believe it hasn’t hit yet, but will. Furthermore, 75 percent of respondents expect unemployment to increase in their regions, and a whopping one-fourth of the respondents reported that they either had been laid off, hit with pay cuts or experienced delays in getting paid on time.
The government’s attempts to play down the seriousness of the crisis are becoming increasingly difficult to pull off. There is simply too much bad economic news hitting Russia from all sides.
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Remember Olga Ivanova and her brazen lies about civilian fatalities in Ossetia? Bloomberg reports that the even the Kremlin itself now confirms how dishonest and inaccurate she was (but Russia, undeterred, still insists it was “genocide“):
A Russian investigation found that 162 civilians died during an August war with Georgia, not 2,100 as previously announced in Moscow.
Russia invaded U.S.-allied Georgia after the Georgian army tried to take control of South Ossetia, a Russian-backed breakaway region. Russian authorities accused Georgia of “genocide,” reporting in August that 2,100 South Ossetian civilians died from the Georgian military offensive. The civilian death toll now officially stands at 162, state broadcaster Vesti-24 quoted the head of the Prosecutor-General’s investigative committee, Alexander Bastyrkin, as saying today in comments posted on its Web Site.
A criminal investigation is under way on charges of murder on ethnic grounds and genocide and it may widen to include other counts including the use of banned armaments and attacking sites under international protection, state news service RIA Novosti cited Bastyrkin as saying. Russia had 48 soldiers killed, including 10 peacekeepers based in South Ossetia before the conflict, according to Bastyrkin. Georgia has said 215 of its soldiers died in the war.
The Implications of the Georgia Crisis in the Middle East
by Mark N. Katz*
The Meria Journal
December 22, 2008
The August 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia has not only had a strong impact on the United States and Europe, but also on Israel and Iran. This article examines Israeli and Iranian reactions to the crisis, as well as its broader impact on regional energy and security concerns.
The conflict that took place between Georgian and Russian forces in August 2008 has clearly had a strong impact on Russia’s relations not only with Georgia, but also with Europe and the United States. It will be argued here, though, that what happened in Georgia has also had important consequences for two Middle Eastern countries in particular–Israel and Iran–as well as for the international security environment concerning them.
This article will briefly discuss the broad impact of the Georgian crisis on Russia’s relations with the West, examine Israeli and Iranian reactions to the crisis, and then explore the broader implications of the crisis both in terms of its impact on Western energy concerns and on Israeli security concerns about Iran. First, though, something needs to be said about the crisis itself.
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