Mr. Osyak Goes to Moscow
Russia is such an amazingly messed up place that sometimes even we, who are prepared to believe just about any extreme nonsense where this nightmare of a country is concerned, see something in print, even in the quality press, that we find difficult to swallow.
Such was the case when we opened our virtual copy of the Chicago Tribune last Wednesday and learned about the amazing Mr. Ivan Osyak.
Sgt. Glukhov goes to Georgia
Last week we reported on the defection of Russian conscript Sergeant Alexander Glukhov from Russia’s imperial forces of occupation in Ossetia over to the Georgian side. Russia claims Glukhov had no reason to be unhappy in Ossetia, and therefore concludes he must have been “kidnapped” by evil Georgians looking to make Russia look bad.
There is only one word for this contention, and that word is: Nonsense.
The Further Misdventures of Anna Matveeva
On December 14th of last year, we posted about a woman named Anna Matveeva, whom we called a “Russophile idiot” because she was writing shamelessly dishonest and moronic lies about the Putin regime on the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” blog.
Two weeks after we did so, the Kremlin’s propaganda network Russia Today hired her as one of its own bloggers (she’s “employee 66”), and she posted about the economic crisis. Surprise, surprise, surprise!
Writing on Dark Reading Rob Enderle, president and founder of Enderle Group, warns of a coming “tech war” with Putin’s Russia:
I was reading the withering comments Vladimir Putin made to Michael Dell in response to Dell’s offer to help Russia. Though Putin is Russia’s prime minister, he clearly is also the guy who is running the country. Reading between the lines, I think it is likely he is driving a technology war with the U.S. — and that has some rather scary implications.
The sign reads: "We can't live like this! We need laws that make the government accountable to the people!"
The BBC reports:
Several thousand people have held a rally in Russia’s Far East, demanding the government resign over the country’s growing economic problems. The protesters in Vladivostok blamed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s cabinet for mismanaging the economy and suppressing political dissent. The rally – which passed off peacefully – was the first in a series of protests expected in Russia on Saturday.
Other recent protests across Russia have been broken up by the authorities. Such protests were unthinkable just a few months ago as the economy boomed with record high oil prices and as the Kremlin tightened its grip over almost all aspects of society, the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow says. But now with the economy in deep trouble, there is real fear amongst ordinary people about what the future will hold, he says. He adds that unemployment is rising rapidly, as are the prices of basic food and utilities.
The anti-government demonstration in Vladivostok was called by the Communist Party. “The crisis is in the heads of the authorities, not in the economy!” chanted protesters. The protest was joined by a local group angered by higher tariffs imposed on cars imported to the city. The region has thrived on the car import business and the government’s decision has led to job losses, correspondents say.
Several anti-government demonstrators were also held in the capital Moscow and cities. In Moscow, police detained a number of people taking part in an unauthorised protest by the radical National Bolshevik Party. In a separate demonstration in Vladivostock, thousands of supporters of the ruling United Russia held a rally in support of the government.
Annals of Russian “Tennis”
Last week in Melbourne the first grand slam tennis tournament of the year, the Australian Open, concluded. Only three of the 32 male seeds in the tournament were Russian, and not a single one of them made it out of the third round. By contrast, three out of the four spots in the semi-finals on the women’s side of the tournament were filled by Russians, who held fully one fourth of the 32 available seeds and half of the top ten seeds..
You sure wouldn’t dare refer to Russia’s male tennis players as girly men. They wish! What’s wrong with these “men”?
Then again, to say that Russia’s male players are not as good as its women is to damn with darn faint praise indeed, since the performance of the women down under was also an abject disaster.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 1 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: A Primer from the Professor
(2) On the Trail of the Markelov Assassins
(3) The Sunday Sacrilege: Praying to the KGB
(4) Russia Soldier Defects in Ossetia
(5) The End of Russia?
(6) The Sunday Skater
NOTE: We’d like to make mention of the fact that the quality (and quantity) of commenting on this blog has been increasing at a steady rate, creating a whole new resource for readers. We track the activity of readers when commenters post links, and we want to let the active commenters know that there is a good deal of such activity, clicking and reading the links you post, so these efforts are not going unnoticed. We thank you for your valuable contributions to this blog if you have commented, especially if your comments have included links, and encourage you to continue your efforts in support of democracy in Russia. We also encourage other readers to use services such as Digg, Stumbleupon and Reddit to favorite posts of interests so that even more readers can become informed about the situation in Russia.
A Primer from the Professor
In a January 22nd post, Streetwise Professor reviewed the Russian Central Bank’s decision earlier that day to allow a one-day 10% depreciation in the value of the Russian currency. For months, the Bank had followed a policy of no more than 0.5% daily depreciation, on only a handful of occasions allowing depreciation of as much as 1% in a single day.
But in the prior week, that policy cost the Russian treasury the stunning amount of $30 billion in foreign currency reserves. At that rate, Russia’s entire foreign currency account would be exhausted in just 13 weeks! So, as SWP put it, the Bank “cried uncle.” Earlier this week the ruble experienced it’s biggest two-day drop in a decade as it fell to a stunning 35:1 against the U.S. dollar after being at 24:1 just six months ago. Russia’s FOREX account stood at a humbling $386.5 billion, close to half what it was six months ago, and the respite they received as the ruble was allowed to enter freefall may be short-lived indeed. The Central Bank has pledged to begin spending reserves anew if the ruble passes the 36:1 threshold against the dollar.
Moreover, on Friday Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin announced that because of plummeting world oil prices Russia will face a massive budget deficit in 2009 of at least $180 billion and, even incurring massive debt, that will require it to deplete its budget reserves by 25% and would provoke net capital outflow in excess of $100 billion.
It’s important to understand that the consequences of the Putin policy “not to crush the national currency overnight” were disastrous for many reasons, not only because of the horrific deprecision of Russia’s precious cash reserves.
Der Spiegel reports:
Nowhere in Europe is life more dangerous for journalists than in Russia, and no Russian newspaper has had as many of its journalists killed as Novaya Gazeta. After the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova, the newspaper’s publisher wants to provide its reporters with guns.
A simple glass case stands next to the door leading to the editorial offices of the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Inside are displayed the newspaper’s trophies, including the mobile telephone that former first lady Raisa Gorbachyova gave the paper a decade and a half ago, as well as various awards and certificates.
But the display cabinet also contains shrapnel that was removed from the bodies of war correspondents during surgery, and the computer that investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya used to write her articles. The upper shelf is reserved for the portraits of the victims of contract killings: Politkovskaya, Yuri Shchekochikhin and Igor Domnikov.
Now space will have to be made for two more portraits. They are still hanging on the wall, together with a black ribbon of mourning: a photo of prominent attorney Stanislav Markelov, 34, who represented the newspaper in various trials, and a portrait of Anastasia Baburova, 25, who wrote about Russian fascists for the paper. Neo-Nazis have been celebrating her violent death on the Internet since she was killed last week — and plotting to hunt down other journalists.
On Tuesday, the Russian Orthodox Church chose Metropolitan Kirill as its new pope. The Times of London reported just before the church was made:
The Russian Orthodox Church will choose [on January 27th] between three alleged former KGB agents as its next spiritual leader.
More than 700 priests, monks and lay representatives will decide who should become the new Patriarch in the first Church election since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The contest at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow pits the favourite, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, against two rivals who also rose through the heirarchy at a time when the Church was under strict Communist control.
The Moscow Times reports:
A Russian soldier said Tuesday that he deserted from his unit in separatist South Ossetia and sought asylum in Georgia because of unbearable living conditions, including poor treatment and scarce food.
“I wasn’t captured by Georgian police,” Alexander Glukhov said in an interview at a McDonald’s restaurant in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. “I ran away because I couldn’t stand the conditions I was living in,” he said. “I want to stay here.”
Our dear friend Jeremy Putley writes to tell us that Open Democracy has translated a monograph by Professor Yuri Afanasiev, the noted Russian historian, founder of the Russian State University for the Humanities and Honorary President of the Russian State University. The essay first appeared in Novaya Gazeta.
Entitled “The End of Russia?” the essay undertakes an exhaustive review of Russian, Soviet and neo-Soviet failure and concludes, as we have, that Russia is on a pathway of destruction.
I. Russia’s rulers behave like a government of occupation. So why do the people support them uncritically?
In recent months we have witnessed a series of actions from the Russian government that seem at first glance paradoxical. I will list some of the most important:
- for the first time since the withdrawal of the Soviet army from Afghanistan, Russian armed forces began and ended a “real” (not “cold”) war” outside Russia (in Georgia);
- for the first time since the collapse of the USSR, strategic bombers and ships of the Russian armed forces and navy have been sent to Latin America.
- the return to “cold war” rhetoric has reached the point where the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs used obscene expressions when talking with a foreign (British) colleague
- Russian ships stationed in Sevastopol fought in the Black Sea against Georgia, in defiance of the Ukrainian president’s ban on deploying them without informing Ukraine;
- Prime Minister Putin played the atomic blackmail card against the Czech Republic and Poland, using that “special” KGB way of his, loaded and enigmatic.
- with the blatant and increasing polarisation in the material wealth of the Russian population, the military budget has been increased by almost 30%;
- the President of Russia welcomed the election of the new US President with a promise that he would station rockets in the Kaliningrad Oblast which would threaten America’s European allies.
These things seem paradoxical. After all, we’re living in a nuclear age.
The 2009 ISU European Figure Skating Championships were held in Helsinki, Finland between January 20th and 26th. Russia lost out on the gold medal by a huge margin to Germany in its premier skating event, the pairs, but did manage to take gold in the ridiculous charade known as “ice dancing.” And Russia’s eighth-place ice dancing team also tried to offer some consolation to fans in the audience when its female member, Ekaterina Rubleva, performed a striptease during her routine. Either that or the bra has not yet made itself known in Russia as yet and it was all a horrifying accident. If you are so inclined, you may click the jump to view the carnage for yourself. Yes, they went right on skating through the end of the routine. The show must go on!
WARNING: Contains nudity.
Russia is Ruled by a Psychopath
In a speech on January 28th before the World Economic forum in Davos Switzerland, Vladimir Putin declared in his 8th paragraph that he would not criticize U.S. economic policy. He states: “Regardless of their political or economic system, all nations have found themselves in the same boat.” Then in the 9th paragraph, he scathingly attacks the U.S. stock market, making no reference to the fact that the performance of the Russian market has been twice as bad and ignoring the sorties by nuclear bombers he has ordered against American targets, as well as the virulently anti-American rhetoric has has been spewing out for months.
That is only the beginning of the insanity.
FRIDAY JANUARY 30 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: Whither Chichivarikin, whither Russia?
(2) EDITORIAL: Unemployment Ravages Russia
(3) Kommersant on Markelov
(4) Putin & Bin Laden are like Peas and Carrots
(5) Russia’s Military Destroys itself from the Inside Out
NOTE: Opposition activists plan to hold a day of protest on January 31st, which they have declared a “Day of Dissent.” Watch a pair of Oborona activists hang a banner with that declaration on a bridge in Moscow over at Oleg Kozlovsky’s website. Remember, these kids are risking their careers and indeed their lives to work for a better future for their country. Awesome.
Whither Chichivarkin, whither Russia?
In May 2005, Business Week magazine ran a feature on a young Russian businessman named Yevgeny Chichivarkin. It reported that while ten years prior Chichivarkin had only a small business “selling clothing and cigarettes at the bustling Luzhniki market in western Moscow” by 2005 he was the co-owner of the third-largest cellphone retailer in Russia, with annual sales approaching $1 billion. BW opined: “These young mobile millionaires prove that you don’t have to be a government-made oligarch to succeed in Russia. With a growing middle class, the country offers ample opportunity for entrepreneurs to tap unfilled retail niches.”
Less than a year later, his firm was the #1 retailer and he had won Ernst & Young’s Russian Retailer of the Year Award. Known for his eccentric clothing and a red Porsche with the license “666” as well as being fined for using profanity in his company’s advertisements, the Moscow Times called him “no ordinary businessman.” Later in 2006, Time magazine reported: “In a corner of his Moscow office, perched beneath a painting of a businessman fondling his half-naked secretary, is an open silver attaché case containing wads of U.S. $100 bills in packs of $10,000. It’s meant as a joke, poking fun at perceptions of Russian businessmen as big-spending bandits.”
By 2007, the eccentric bloom was coming off the notorious rose. Even though it now had nearly $5 billion in annual sales, over 5,000 branches nearly 40,000 employees, his company had slipped back down to the #3 position in the Russian market. But Chichivarkin was still full of bluster. He told Newsweek magazine: “This country has never seen a company like ours. I have 37,000 employees, and I don’t want to run them the way Russian companies used to manage people. I have a simple logic—make money and teach the person next to you how to make money.”
Alas, for all his bravado the story of Mr. Chichivarkin had soon become all too familiar in the annals of Russian business.
Unemployment Ravages Putin’s Russia
In a stunning report from Reuters last weekend, we learned that “the number of unemployed Russians rose to 6 million in December compared to 5 million in November as an economic downturn hit home” according to the head of the Russian federal employment service, one Yuri Gertsiy, who was speaking on Echo of Moscow radio. That’s a startling increase in unemployment of 20% in just one month. The figure is four times higher than the number of Russians who have registered with the state as being unemployed six months into the national financial crisis, showing that such records are utterly meaningless in evaluating the nation’s employment rate.
Dmitri Sidorov, Washington Bureau Chief for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, writing in Forbes magazine:
Stanislav Markelov was buried in Moscow Friday, Jan. 23. A well-known lawyer and human rights advocate, he was murdered Jan. 19, not far from the Kremlin. His killer also mortally wounded Anastasia Baburina, a journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The 25-year-old Baburina, who had been walking alongside Markelov, died in the hospital several hours after the shooting.
Novaya Gazeta, where Baburina worked, has lost many of its leading lights in recent years. Among them was Anna Politkovskaya, who had written about human rights violations in Chechnya; she was shot. Another probable victim was Yuri Shchekochikhin, who was poisoned. He had written about a corruption scandal involving high-ranking officials in the security services.
The double murder of Markelov and Baburina comes as yet another dreadful confirmation that to be a human rights advocate, or an investigative journalist without Kremlin sanction, is equivalent to a death sentence in today’s Russia.
Anthony Julius, writing on the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” blog:
As President Obama contemplates his foreign policy inheritance, it is likely that he will ponder most deeply two topics – the continuing threat posed by al-Qaida, and Russia, or what has become known as the war on terror and what was once known as the cold war. What he is unlikely to do, however, is to identify any connection between the two threats. But that would be unfortunate, not least because the men who lead them, notwithstanding the many differences between them, have identical perspectives on one specific issue.
What is that issue? Bin Laden’s and Putin’s imperialist ambitions are novel because they are driven not by a desire to create something new, but to recapture something that has past. It is now appropriate to consider an additional age of empire, namely the age of attempted restoration.
Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times, shows that nobody is a worse or more dangerous enemy of the Russian Army than the Russian Army:
The army has been hit with a strange illness. Hundreds of new conscripts have contracted pneumonia almost simultaneously in both ends of the country — in Kaliningrad and Siberia. Official statistics show that only 100 soldiers fell ill in each place, but human rights activists claim that the number is much higher — so high that whole army barracks had to be turned into on-site hospitals. One of the conscripts, Anton Yumatov, who was a law school graduate, died.
The army reacted to the crisis in a typical fashion — by denying that the epidemic even existed. Later, the Military Prosecutor’s Office was forced to admit that there were violations of “the safety requirements for military service and, in particular, violations of disease-control regulations in the soldiers’ barracks.”
Putin’s Raving Russophile Minions
Things did not start off on the right foot for new U.S. President Barack Obama. First his attempt to take the oath of office went haywire and had to be done all over again the next day. Then it was revealed that the famous musicians he hired to play at the inauguration were string-synching. And then no sooner had he announced the closure of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, than it was revealed that a prisoner previously released from the facility because of human rights concerns like those Obama is purporting to defend has become a major leadership figure in the Al Quaeda terrorist network.
Given Obama’s continuing and very disturbing silence concerning such Russia issues as race murder, energy warfare against Ukraine and the Markelov assassination (he’s been president for a week now, or maybe we should say weak, and not a peep out of him — though he’s found time to fire a shot across China’s bow), all these distractions might have made us worry about the prospects for the Obama presidency, particularly where Russia is concerned, were it not for the lunatic ravings of Boris Kagarlitsky in his most recent Moscow Times column.
As Umar Israilov, a 27-year-old Chechen political refugee living in Vienna, Austria, returned home on foot after grocery shopping Jan. 13, he spotted two men standing outside his apartment building — one of whom had a gun. Upon spotting the men, Israilov dropped his groceries and fled down Leopoldauer Street in the Floridsdorf neighborhood of Vienna, dodging cars and pedestrians. But the gunman managed to wound Israilov, halting his flight. The two men then approached him in a side alley, where the armed man shot Israilov twice in the head, killing him.
One man has been detained in connection with the killing, which a Stratfor source alleges was carried out by organized criminal assets in Vienna at the behest of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and with Kremlin approval. Israilov was an outspoken critic of Kadyrov and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Because of this, Israilov had frequently expressed concerns for his safety and that of his family.
Paul Goble reports:
The inauguration of Barak Obama as the first African-American president of the United States calls attention to one of the most important if not often commented upon differences between the American and the Russian peoples, according to a leading Moscow analyst.
The Americans, Maksim Strelok argues, welcome change and thus regularly transform themselves so that their country “is not what it was yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today,” while Russians find it more difficult to escape from the past and thus face a future that may prove even worse than the present. Most Russian commentators predicted that Obama would be defeated either in the primaries or in the general election, and they have tended to view his coming to power either as the result of some kind of backroom conspiracy or as the accidental coming together of a set of circumstances that will never be repeated, Strelok says.
What they have not been prepared to acknowledge, largely because to admit it would be to be forced to recognize Russia’s own predicament, is that America has changed dramatically over the past decades and that its ability and willingness to change is one of the most important sources of its strength.