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.