Hero journalist Pavel Felgenhauer, writing for the Jamestown Foundation:
Russia has been hit by a number of manmade disasters. The worst is the sinking on July 10, of an old Bulgaria riverboat on the Volga River in Tatarstan. The Bulgaria was built in Czechoslovakia in 1955 and was rundown by age and neglect with one of its two main engines out of order during its last voyage as it took families on a one-night stopover weekend tour from the Tatar capital Kazan down the Volga River to the countryside. Tickets were cheap and the Bulgaria was returning to Kazan on July 10 overloaded with some 208 people on board. The official capacity of the Bulgaria was 140, there were 148 registered passengers, 25 unregistered and 35 crew: 99 women, 66 men and 43 children. The boat sunk in broad daylight, suddenly going down in three minutes without warning. Only 79 survived: 29 women, 39 men and 11 children. Divers had by July 14 recovered 105 bodies from the Bulgaria that is on the riverbed 18 meters deep – trapped in the hull, since there was no time for any orderly evacuation. The captain of the Bulgaria, Alexander Ostrovsky, went down with the ship (RIA Novosti, July 13).
Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:
I confess that I have been thinking for a long time about the collective looney bin that best describes Russia’s leaders. I mean loony bin in the direct sense — when our leaders, suffering from real delirium, utter complete nonsense.
Take, for example, the in absentia conviction last week of Alexander Poteyev, former deputy head of the “S” department of the Foreign Intelligence Service who oversaw sleeper agents. In the verdict written by the judge, Poteyev betrayed Anna Chapman and the other sleeper agents working in the United States.
But in the material released by U.S. prosecutors after the Russian agents were arrested, it was clear that they had been followed by U.S. investigators for 10 years — and without any help from Poteyev.
Sobyanin Cracks Down
Finding a juicy hotdog lathered in ketchup has gotten a bit harder since Mayor Sergei Sobyanin took office. Forty of the 150 Stardog!s hotdog stands dotting Moscow have been shut down over the past week, and another 20 are expected to be closed shortly, said Sergei Rak, director for development with Markon, the private company that runs the Stardog!s chain.
— The Moscow Times, November 15, 2010
Moscow’s new mayor, it seems, is a cheeseburger man. And he’s responded to his desires exactly the way Josef Stalin would have done if Moscow’s streets had been peppered with repugnant hot-dog stands in his time: He’s shut them down. The MT reports that Sobyanin’s minions “studied Markon’s leases for the hotdog stands in hope of finding errors that would justify their cancellation. Finding none, they said bluntly, ‘Close! At any rate, you are not going to work here anymore’.” The MT continues:
A visit by Sobyanin to the Ulitsa 1905 Goda metro station during an Oct. 30 city tour promoted the kiosk crackdown. Sobyanin complained that the kiosks blocked the view of a historical monument and were located too close to the metro station. The head of the Presnensky district, where the metro station is located, was fired on the spot, together with the head of the central Tverskoi district. The official reason given for the dismissals was that the officials’ work contracts expired Nov. 8, RIA-Novosti reported.
Now we ask you, dear reader: How is this behavior any different than Stalin’s would have been? Is Russia’s really the type of economy that can afford to wipe out hundreds of thriving small businesses on a daily basis in an arbitrary, unpredictable, nakedly illegal manner, thus sending a clear message that setting up any such business is a gamble at best?
We think not.
Just a few weeks ago, Sobyanin had declared: “Small and medium-sized businesses are in need of aid.”Referring to bureaucratic barriers for small business startups in Moscow, he said: “We should take them away. Then there will be a completely different investment climate.” Any number of kiosks might have opened specifically in reliance on these words, only to have the rugged yanked out from under them just as the Russian regime has done to so may others, domestic and foreign alike, for so many years now.
Masha Gessen, newly installed as an editor at Snob magazine, blogging at Reuters:
“Are you scared?” someone asked me during a talk in New York last Friday night.
I always get that question. I am a journalist working in Russia, where 19 murders of journalists remain unsolved. Russia ranks eighth in the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists — the only European country on the list, it is wedged between Nepal and Mexico.
People may be forgiven that being scared is an occupational hazard for me.
So I gave my stock answer: “No, I am not scared,” I said. “I have been at times, but right now I don’t seem to be doing anything particularly dangerous.” This is true.
A terrific report in the Washington Post exposes the fundamental weakness of Russia’s crumbling, corrupt, impoverished military establishment:
When one-time furniture salesman Anatoly Serdyukov was suddenly named Russia’s defense minister, many career military officers smirked. Now after tens of thousands have lost their jobs under his reforms, the mockery has turned to rumbles of possible mutiny.
A union of veterans from the Airborne Forces, considered the most professional and proud branch of Russia’s military, has set a protest rally against Serdyukov for Sunday. It is unclear whether any serving officers will take part, but the rally in a Moscow park down the road from the Defense Ministry has raised fears of an uprising in one of the world’s largest armies.
Some observers say that the veterans’ campaign against Serdyukov, the first civilian defense minister in 90 years, may have been orchestrated by members of the top military brass and weapons industries who have lost power and money because of his reforms.
“It’s the most radical reform of the Russian military in 150 years,” said Vitaly Shlykov, a retired military intelligence officer who advises the Defense Ministry on the reforms. “And it touches upon huge resources.”
Moscow’s New Crypto-Fascist Scumbag
Deutsche-Welle, one of the best sources of reporting on Russia, has published a brilliant exposure piece on Sergei Sobyanin, the handpicked, unelected new mayor of the city of Moscow.
Here is what Sobyanin said after he was “elected” governor of Tyumen provience in 2000: “There is opposition, look! Only 24 out of 25 deputies have voted for me.” Such a remark could easily have been made by a stooge of the Soviet empire, and indeed quite often was. Now, Sobyanin has been placed in charge of one of the world’s largest cities by exectutive fiat of the Kremlin, and he will be its slave. Democratic politics at the local level has been absolutely and finally extinguished, and it has been carried out by the so-called “liberal” reformer Dima Medvedev.
Konstantin Sonin, writing in the Moscow Times:
Reading tea leaves — or coffee grounds if you happen to be in Russia — won’t help anyone guess who the next mayor of Moscow will be. My prediction is that our leaders will opt for the candidate who is least likely to make a play for the Kremlin in the future.
But Yury Luzhkov’s firing has made one thing very clear: United Russia is not a political party at all. In reality, it is little more than a superficial label or a badge worn by the overwhelming majority of high-ranking, opportunistic state employees. Examples of genuine parties include the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in Mexico; the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; the Communist Party of China and the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan.
Michael Bohm, writing in the Moscow Times:
On the day President Dmitry Medvedev fired Yury Luzhkov, reporters asked Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to comment on the reason. “The Moscow mayor didn’t get along with the president,” Putin said.
Medvedev’s own explanation wasn’t any more substantial. “As the president of Russia, I have lost my trust in Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov as the mayor of Moscow,” he told journalists in Shanghai on Sept. 28, the day he signed the dismissal order.
Since then, Medvedev hasn’t explained any further. Although the law apparently allows Medvedev to get away with this vagueness, the president has an obligation to explain the exact reasons why he sacked the mayor of Moscow, who held the most powerful positions in the country.
Backing the ruling tandem’s silence, one of United Russia’s top leaders, Vyacheslav Volodin, commented the day Luzhkov was sacked: “The president’s decision shouldn’t be discussed. It should be carried out.”
Russian Hypocrisy knows no Bounds
Anyone who knows Russia even casually has heard it many times: It’s wrong to publicly criticize government leaders, it undermines their authority and their ability to do good for people. That’s why the state has to control all the major TV stations and newspapers, and become a national cheerleader to inspire Russians who would otherwise give up hope in dealing with the horrific problems they face every day.
It’s total crap, of course, but OK, let’s go with it. Assuming the Kremlin is right, how in the world can it possibly justify suddenly using a massive TV campaign to attack Yuri Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow, last week?
Vladimir Putin, Slipping Badly on the Neo-Soviet Ice
Our issue today carries three different items from the mainstream Western press documenting chapter and verse how the Putin regime is collapsing from within because of its own failure, exactly as the USSR did not so long ago. And, hearteningly, it seems Russians are finally getting the message too.
A recent public opinion poll taken by the Levada Center indicates that for the first time since his earliest days in power Vladimir Putin’s approval in public opinion polls has slipped below 60%. 41% of Russians have lost their belief that Putin is doing or will do a good job in managing the affairs of state. Putin’s approval rating has fallen four points or six percent from one year ago.
And there’s more to this watershed event than meets the eye.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
Reporting from Moscow — From the smoke of the wildfires engulfing the Moscow region and the embarrassment of this summer’s spy scandal, Vladimir Putin is reemerging as Russia’s most powerful man and, experts say, a candidate to reclaim the presidency a little more than a year and a half from now.
For more than two years since term limits forced him to give up office and take the prime minister’s job instead, Putin and his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev, have seemed to be in lockstep. One could see a television report on Medvedev meeting with business owners followed by one on Putin talking to children in a sports stadium. Or read about Medvedev signing a nuclear arms treaty with the U.S., and Putin promising grants for university research.
But many analysts long have predicted that one of the two eventually would elbow the other aside. And in the last month, the situation has changed.
Putin steps in, Russophiles Exposed
We must say that our greatest pleasure here on this blog comes in watching the malignant lies of the braying Russophiles and slobbering Russian nationalists exposed and decimated for all to see.
This happened with particular deliciousness last week in regard to one of their central mendacious narratives, namely that Vladimir Putin cannot be blamed for the actions of local government wiping out civil liberties because he is incapable of addressing such concerns.
Oh really? Well what happened last week when, in yet another display of typically farcical Russian incompetence, a bridge was shut down in Moscow that prevented residents from reaching the international airport, causing hundreds to miss their flights? What happened was that suddenly Mr. Putin was in the local bridge business. “If passengers can’t fly out of Sheremetyevo, then this is a problem,” Putin said at a meeting of the presidium. Then he set about making policy concerning the bridge.
In Putin’s Russia, Welcome back to the USSR
We can’t help but wonder how the world in general and Russia in particular would have reacted if, during his presidency, George Bush had circulated a list of 25,000 young people who the White House identified as America’s “most talented youth,” young people who would receive overt favoritism in education and employment from the very highest levels of the U.S. government — and every one of the names was drawn from extreme right-wing political organizations like the John Birch Society and the KKK.
Well, that’s exactly the kind of list that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin officially received last week from his NASHI political cult as they held their annual retreat of indoctrination and scheming, funded by millions of dollars desperately needed federal funds. Just as in Soviet times, the Putin regime is creating an elite society like the Communist Party and making membership a prerequisite to advancement in the halls of business, politics and industry, the better to control the actions of the mass population. With every day that passes, Russia is more and more fully neo-Soviet.
Heroic Russian human rights activist Marina Litvinenko expressed the horror of the civilized world towards these proceedings:
Brian Whitmore, writing on the Power Vertical and translating from Novaya Gazeta:
The turbulence currently rattling Russia’s body politic resembles that which existed in the early perestroika period. There is a consensus that there is a need for change, the elite has split into two opposing camps unable to agree over what needs to be done, and neither side can garner a critical mass of support for their agenda.
That is the central argument of political analyst Kirill Rogov in an interesting piece in “Novaya gazeta.” Rogov argues that the agendas of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “are fully formed and divergent” but neither of them is making a compelling case.
Here’s the money quote:
By Stanislav Belkovsky
May 24, 2010
Translated from the Russian by The Other Russia
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: While not commonly thought of as particularly controversial, the politics of world chess made international headlines late last month when a Kremlin aide hired a private security force to raid the offices of the Russian Chess Federation, evict its chairman, and seal off its accounting books. The move came a week after the Federation nominated chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov, backed by opposition leader and longtime chess rival Garry Kasparov, as a candidate for the presidency of the World Chess Federation. The incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is the multi-millionaire president of Russia’s autonomous Republic of Kalmykia. Among other things, Ilyumzhinov is famous for declaring an “economic dictatorship” and claiming to have been visited by aliens. What exactly the stakes are in this unlikely scandal is the topic explored in this column written for Grani.ru by Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky.
Another striking move was made the other day in the battle for the presidency of the World Chess Federation [FIDE]. By order of Arkady Dvorkovich, an aide to the president of the Russian Federation and chairman of the Supervisory Council of the Russian Chess Federation (RCF), several men in black seized the legendary Central Chess Club on Gogolevsky Bulvar and sealed off the office of RCF Chairman Alexander Bakh and, of course, the accounting office. Such is the way that all professionals and fans that support the candidacy of 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov for the post as the head of FIDE were given a clear signal: you can meddle about, bustle around, do whatever you want – but we (that is, Dvorkovich & Co.) will never, under any circumstances, ever give you FIDE.
Brian Whitmore, writing on the Power Vertical:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s comments to French media about his plans for the 2012 presidential elections sent predictable ripples through the Moscow punditocracy.
“We will see, somewhat closer to 2012,” Putin told French journalists ahead of his visit to Paris. “Naturally, I am already thinking about this issue with President Medvedev but have decided not to make much fuss about it, not to let ourselves be distracted by this problem. What we will do in 2012 will depend on the results [of our work].”
Speaking to “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Dmitry Furman of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Europe interpreted Putin’s remarks to mean he was leaning toward keeping the current tandem arrangement in place.
“That they will make some sort of pact and refrain from racing against each other for presidency has been clear from the very beginning… Putin’s words regarding his current job did imply that there was at least a chance that he might remain the premier after 2012,” Furman told the daily.
Konstantin Sonin, writing in the Moscow Times:
Two events this month proved that Russia has no real parliament — neither a lower nor an upper chamber. The first event was when State Duma and Federation Council lawmakers published income declarations.
The most unpleasant aspect of this was not the discovery that the lawmakers are very rich, but that their parliamentary duties are far from their primary occupation. Most are businesspeople primarily. In theory, the more businesspeople we have in the country, the wealthier the country will be. But we also need a functioning parliament that represents and defends the people’s interests.
The second event was the double explosions at the Raspadskaya coal mine in Mezhdurechensk in the Kemerovo region on May 8-9 that claimed the lives of 90 people. It also led to clashes between angry miners and the police.
Why does the mine explosion point to the need for a properly functioning parliament? First, we see that the miners there have no political representation. In a healthy democratic society, the lawmakers representing Mezhdurechensk and Kemerovo would have raised a cry in the parliament and the media. If the people elected the senators, then the senator from the Kemerovo region — whose political fate would depend on how vehemently he defended the interests of his constituents — would have acted as the “voice of the miners.”
A Decade with Putin is a Lost Decade
Writing for the German Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, commentator Victor Radio concludes:
The inability to understand criticism as an opportunity to improve his nation has led Vladimir Putin to purse the glorification of the existing “Mother Russia” and a new blind spirit of patriotism. Instead of reform, Putin permitted the nation to rediscover its self-esteem in response to perceived “insults” from the prior decade. Finally holding power, Putin wanted nothing more than to lash out at the nation’s critics. As a result, Russia has been driven to a state of impasse. The Putin decade is a lost decade, with only a facade of democracy being created and no real progress. It is not entirely Putin’s fault, but he bears the entire responsibility.
That description applies not only to the Russian dictator, but to the vast majority of the hapless Russians he rules. Let’s be clear: It is not just that Putin publicly denies that Russia’s critics have any merit, it’s that he flouts their statements as a matter of policy, and allows his nation to continue to degenerate into filth and squalor.
Russia Jumps the Rails
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, space cadet, makes his move
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is the ruler of the Russian region of Kalmykia, next to Rostov, just south of Volgograd. He’s also chief of the FIDE, the international chess federation, thrust into that position by Russian lobbying.
Andrei Lebedev is a member of the Russian parliament, affiliated with Vladimir Zhironovsky’s “Liberal Democratic” party. Hearing Zhirik’s name, you may suspect that this story is going to get weird and scary, but quick. If so, you’re right in spades.
Last week, Lebedev called for an investigation of Ilyumzhinov. The reason? Lebedev believes that Ilyumzhinov may have passed important state secrets to Russia’s enemies. On another planet.
Vladislav Inozemtsev, editor of the Svobodnaya Mysl journal, writing in the Moscow Times:
Although I signed my name to the Internet petition under the slogan “Putin must go,” I only endorsed the main idea of the petition — that Russia must change the economic and political course set by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — and not necessarily all of its individual points. For example, I don’t agree that President Dmitry Medvedev is the servile stooge that most of the petitioners make him out to be, and I am convinced that it is possible to modernize Russia without completely destroying the entire ruling regime. Moreover, in opposition to the words contained in the petition’s manifesto, I believe that Putin has done a lot of good things for Russia, and I don’t think that it is necessary to investigate how he became wealthy. Nonetheless, I do agree with the main thesis that Russia no longer needs Putin.
After becoming president in 2000, Putin singled out the country’s main enemies and threats and took steps to neutralize them. He also placed Russia’s chief sources of wealth under government control. It is unclear how much of this was motivated by Putin’s desire to gain personally, but what is clear is that he wanted bring stability to Russia after the chaotic and lawless 1990s.
But when a leader tries to enforce stability at all costs, it inevitably conflicts with the laws of nature. Imposing stability on a long-term basis is always an artificial process that requires keeping society within predefined limits. Those limits inevitably stifle the country’s development, diversification and private initiative, and they suffocate the business sector’s ability to be innovative and entrepreneurial. “Forced stability” is a recipe for political and economic stagnation and degradation.
There are five main reasons why Putin is an obstacle to development:
A Tale of Two Russian Oligarchs
Recently the world learned that Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev would purchase the British newspaper The Independent and that his colleague and Mikhail Prokhorov, who is purchasing the New Jersey Nets basketball team, would be featured on the leading American news program 60 Minutes.
So the question arises, of course: Are these new-and-improved Khodorkovskian oligarchs, who are building power bases abroad they can use to to challenge the corrupt KGB regime of Vladimir Putin, or are they Putin’s agents, infiltrating our society as a way of bolstering Putin’s power? Lebedev, who also owns the mighty Novaya Gazeta, is a KGB spy just like Putin.
Our answer is simple: It just doesn’t matter.
Vladmir Ryzhkov, writing in the Moscow Times:
Although we won’t see any real political modernization as a result of the State Council session on Friday, there is one big benefit from the meeting: Russia’s rulers effectively admitted that the authoritarian vertical power structure is in a crisis. What’s more, the leaders showed their confusion and fear over that crisis in front of the entire nation.
Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos gave the most candid assessment of the increasing turbulence in Russia’s police state. He said what everybody had been thinking but had been too afraid to say. “Accusations of falsification of election returns should not become systemic in nature. Otherwise, public opinion might question the legitimacy of the authorities. … This is very dangerous,” he said.
Vladmir Ryzhkov, writing in the Moscow Times:
“Don’t hold your breath!”
That is how Prime Minister Vladimir Putin answered the question asked during Thursday’s televised call-in show, “Do you ever want to quit politics with all its problems and to live for yourself, for your family and relax?” This pithy quip not only answers the specific question posed, but it also answers the broader question of whether there will be any changes to the autocracy that he has built up over the past nine years. In one single phrase, Putin set the record straight for Russia and the world.
Paul Goble reports:
Ongoing debates about the modernization of Russia have attracted attention to the unfortunate reality that “all the institutional innovations of the last decade are leading to the degradation of the state as a creative subject and to its conversion into a system of life support for a narrow circle of people,” according to a Moscow commentator.
In an essay on the Grani.ru portal, Dmitry Shusharin says that both those who say that the modernization of the Russian state requires the creation of an alternative state and those who argue that the population should move “out from under” its non-modernized form highlight this problem, even if they do not acknowledge it directly.
That becomes obvious, Shusharin suggests, is one “recognizes that it is not the critics of the current regime [who have] invented the parallel structures” and that it is not they who “have thought up that the continuity of the state development of the present Russian Federation may be interrupted” unless there is massive change.