Half a decade after a series of “colored revolutions” toppled Moscow-backed rulers across the former Soviet Union and replaced them with pro-Western ones, the Kremlin seems to be finally getting its payback. Already this year Russia can count two scalps—Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko and Kyrgyzstan’s Kurmanbek Bakiyev, both ousted by challengers friendlier to Moscow. While it would be a stretch to say that Russia was the sole architect and puppet master of Ukraine’s February presidential election and Kyrgyzstan’s messy coup in April, the country certainly played a key role. It sheltered and supported Kyrgyz opposition leaders and made it clear to Ukrainian voters that a victory for Viktor Yanukovych would usher in a new era of cheap gas and increased trade. Moreover, this year’s strategic victories have inspired the Kremlin to encourage further regime change in what Russians still call their “near abroad.”
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.
Australian Herald correspondent Paul McGeough writing on The Age website:
To better understand the geopolitical dynamic of upheaval in the remote central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, it is instructive to look to Georgia, 2500 kilometres and five national borders to the west.
Both are former Soviet satellites. In the face of clumsy efforts by their leaders to tango with the West, the Kremlin is increasingly agitated by a new American presence on a sprawling dance floor it considered its own.
As the bullet-riddled bodies of protesters were collected from the streets of Bishkek last week and the President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, fled the capital, the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, was pure pantomime: ”Neither Russia, nor your humble servant, nor Russian officials have any links whatsoever to these events.”
That reading does not describe recent events accurately.
The Obamination in Kyrgyzstan
With the announcement from rebel leaders in Kyrgyzstan that they were assisted by Russia in their coup d’etat which left blood flowing in rivers through the streets of the capital city, Bishkek, last week, our very worst fears about the abomination known as Barack Obama were realized.
Obama claimed to be “resetting” relations with Russia from the Bush years, and he sure has done so. Russia has ousted the pro-U.S. regime in Bishkek that had thumbed its nose at Russia and insisted on preserving the U.S. military base just outside the capital city. It has reached out to the maniacal Venezuelan ruler Hugo Chavez, promising him nuclear and rocket technology as well as billions in weapons. And it goes on shamelessly providing that same type of technology to Iran. Obama has even gone so far as to authorize U.S. soldiers to march through Red Square saluting Putin on V-E day. Rumors are beginning to fly, and we report some in today’s issue, that Russian troops will march into Georgia once again this summer. The new ruler of Ukraine has just repudiated NATO membership for his country.
Welcome to the Obamination. To put it mildly, we are appalled.
Nicaragua and Russia, Peers and Allies
Russia wants Cold War
Earlier this week, apparently as payback for recognition of Ossetia, Russia announced it would hold joint military exercises with arch American enemy Nicaragua. A glowering Sergei Lavrov spit in Barack Obama’s eye and sat down next to a preening, arrogant Nicaraguan dictator, Daniel Ortega, and together they openly declared cold war on the world’s only superpower. Russia also openly offered bribes to Cuba in exchange for recognition of Ossetia.
It’s difficult to know what aspect of this malignant transaction is the more simultaneously outrageous and pathetic.
Abhkazia and Kazakhstan jam a Finger into Russia’s Eye
Yet more proof of the fundamental unraveling of the Putin regime came last week with the announcement that Kazakhstan had completed its 2,000-mile-long gas pipeline directly to China via Uzbekistan, bypassing Russia. Not only will the Kazakh line carry its own national gas production, but it will also funnel the massive production of Turkmenistan into China as well. And the whole thing was paid for by China. So much for the bizarre notion that China and Russia are somehow allies against the West!
And that wasn’t all. In presidential elections in Abkhazia, voters emphatically rejected the pro-Russian candidate in favor of a strong nationalist who promises to make Abkhazia a truly independent country, free of Russian influence. Stunned by the devastating loss of its hand-picked candidate, the Kremlin could not even muster the good grace to congratulate the winner, and had it’s puppet calling for a challenge to the tabulation.
Paul Goble reports on the extent to which Russians have alienated their closest neighbors. If you think Russians will now ask themselves how they’ve offended, think again.
With the exception of only one country and the partial exception of a second, ten post-Soviet states are now using textbooks that present Russia in all its historical forms as the enemy of the peoples of these countries, a pattern that is likely to make it more rather than less difficult for these countries to cooperate in the future.
That is the conclusion of a 391-page report released in Moscow on “The Treatment of the General History of Russia and the Peoples of the Post-Soviet Countries in the History Textbooks of the New Independent States” (a summary is also available .
Russia’s New Iron Curtain
Polls appear to illustrate a rise in nationalism in Russia. While only 26 percent of respondents in 1991 said Russia should be for Russians, 54 percent said the same in the recent poll. The two polls also saw a 10 percentage point rise to 47 percent of respondents who said it is natural for Russia to have an empire. Fifty-eight percent of Russians in the new poll agreed that it is a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists.
— The Moscow Times, November 3, 2009
Last week we carried a report from the New York Times that documented the Putin administration’s efforts to choke off the flow of information from Russian research institutions to the West. No thinking person could fail to appreciate the disturbing echoes of this pathetic country’s Soviet past, especial when remembering that the nation is ruled by a proud KGB spy.
How long , we cannot help but wonder, will it be before the Putin government slaps the same sort of draconian Iron-Curtain controls on Russian citizens that is is now imposing on information? Not long, we think.
The Horror of Neo-Soviet Russia
Two reports from opposite sides of European Russia last week, one from The Other Russia and one from FinRosForum, depict the true horror of the neo-Soviet state being built by proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin.
Russia watchers well remember the horrifying specter several years ago of a ghoul-like Putin, in full view of cameras and in broad daylight, pulling up the shirt of a little boy he had never met and kissing him on the stomach. Now, Putin intends to express his love for children in a more literary manner. As shown above, a publisher in Saratov (near Kazakhstan) is releasing a book called “Putinyata,” which combines the Russian dictator’s name with the word for “boys.” It’s full of poems just like those that were written about Stalin and Lenin in Soviet times, and is meant to be read by children. The poems are about the heroic patriotism of Vladimir Putin (with praise for Lenin and Stalin thrown in for good measure).
Anders Aslund, writing in the Moscow Times:
Russia’s relations with its neighbors are worse than ever, and this is particularly true among the former Soviet republics. On Oct. 9, the Commonwealth of Independent States held its annual summit in Chisinau. The Nezavisimaya Gazeta headline said it all: “Summit in 30 Minutes. CIS Leaders Had Nothing to Tell One Another.”
Georgia left the alliance on Aug. 18. Among the remaining 11 members, only six presidents arrived — from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan, while the host country, Moldova, temporarily has no president. Even the strongest proponent of multilateral cooperation in the post-Soviet region, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, chose to stay at home. Needless to say, nothing was accomplished.
To aggravate things further, President Dmitry Medvedev refused to meet Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. Will Lukashenko attend another CIS meeting after that insult? Everybody left quickly after their half-hour meeting and even skipped the planned gala dinner. The CIS is Russia’s baby, and its failure is also Russia’s.
Robert Amsterdam translates from Lenta.ru:
They have advised Medvedev not to awaken guerrillas in Byelorussians
Representatives of the Byelorussian opposition Yevgeny Afnagel and Dmitry Dashkevich have turned with an open letter to president of the RF Dmitry Medvedev. They express protest against the introduction of Russian troops onto the territory of the republic (Russian subdivisions have been thrown over into Byelorussia within the framework of training exercises). In the opinion of the oppositioneers, the introduction of Russian troops into Byelorussia creates a threat for its independence.
“We, Byelorussians, – a patient and amicable people. However we likewise love freedom and are prepared to fight for it. Do not awaken partisans [guerrillas–Trans.] in Byelorussians, Dmitry Anatolievich!”, – is said in the letter.
Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times:
Imagine a crank who tries to pass himself off as a 19th-century Russian baron. He grows sideburns, wears a long frock coat and carries a walking stick. Anyone who would run into such a character would surely sneer and mock him. Now, suppose that same crank attempted to treat passers-by as if they were his serfs. In that case, he would risk getting a beating, though perhaps a few beggars would indulge his fantasies in the hope of duping him out of his money.
Something of this sort now characterizes relations between Russia and several former Soviet republics. The foreign policy doctrine that guides the Kremlin is a preposterous mix of 19th-century Realpolitik and early 20th-century geopolitics. According to this view, every great power should have a collection of satellite countries in its portfolio. Under such an approach, NATO’s expansion is represented as an extension of the U.S. sphere of influence — to the detriment of Russia, of course.
On the Island of Sakhalin
by Valeria Novodvorskaya
August 12, 2009
Translated from the Russian by François Guillaumat
While our greedy authorities, hungry for other country’s territories, passionately cling to some stolen Japanese islands, tiny pebbles in the ocean, the inhabitants of another island, a large and undoubtedly Russian one, are busy collecting signatures.
I received a call from a certain local democrat. His name, address and appearance, I will not reveal for anything, lest some terrorist in Guantanamo Bay remember that said democrat, many years ago, equipped for their last mission the Boeings which crashed into the twin towers.
Unbelievable, says you?
Philip Stevens, writing in the Financial Times:
The conventional story about Russia has been one of power reclaimed after the fall to chaos during the 1990s. Oil, gas and autocracy have restored it to the ranks of world powers. Some of the more hyperbolic commentary has gone so far to say that, along with China, Moscow has created an entirely new model to challenge western liberalism.
Yet what most strikes me about Russia is its isolation. For all its resurgent hydrocarbon revenues and its considerable, albeit residual, military power, Moscow is essentially friendless. As for a superior system of capitalism, when was the last time you heard an international politician of any consequence hold up Russia as their chosen paradigm?
Vladimir Ryzhkov, writing in the Moscow Times:
Russia’s foreign policy failures are snowballing at such a rate that they threaten a second geopolitical collapse on a par with the disintegration of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.
Paul Goble reports:
Even compared to its Soviet predecessor, the federalism of the Russian Federation as Vladimir Putin understands it has little to do with providing autonomy and protection to minorities and more about creating a procedure for absorbing neighboring countries into the Russian state, according to a leading Moscow expert on federal systems.
In an essay in the new issue of Neprikosnovennyy Zapas, Andrey Zakharov, the journal’s editor and author of “Unitary Federation: Five Studies of Russian Federalism” (Moscow, 2008), offers that disturbing conclusion on the basis of a careful examination of the two.
The New York Times documents the relentless foreign policy failure of the Putin regime:
This was supposed to be Russia’s round in the battle over its backyard. All year, despite its own economic spasms, Moscow has earmarked great chunks of cash for its impoverished post-Soviet neighbors, seeking to lock in their loyalty over the long term and curtail Western influence in the region.
But the neighbors seem to have other ideas. Belarus — which was promised $2 billion in Russian aid — is in open rebellion against the Kremlin, flaunting its preference for Europe while also collecting money from the International Monetary Fund. Uzbekistan joined Belarus in refusing to sign an agreement on the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces, an idea Moscow sees as an eventual counterweight to NATO.
Russia is Exporting Dictatorship
The democracy defenders at Freedom House have released a devastating new report on Russia, entitled Undermining Democracy and lumping it together with rogue nations like Iran and Venezuela, its allies, as states which are aggressively, ideologically, seeking to destroy the institution of democracy both at home and abroad. FH had already released a report detailing how the Putin regime has continued to wipe out democracy within Russia’s borders, and now it shows, beginning with the example of Russian aggression in Georgia, that the KGB Kremlin is not satisfied with exterminating freedom within Russia’s own borders.
Brutally subtitled “Selective Capitalism and Kleptocracy,” the FH report lays bare the barabaric conduct of the Putin regime in seeking to replicate itself like a virus thoughout post-Soviet space.
Putin’s Abkhazia Quagmire
A recent report in the New York Times interviewed the Abkhazian diaspora in Turkey about whether they’d like to return home now that they are no longer part of Georgia, at least as far as Russia is concerned. You might think many would have expressed worry about being attacked or abused by Georgia, but none did. Instead, here’s what the Times found: “The most common question was whether Abkhazia was having too much contact with Russia.”
That’s right, Russia. The Abkhazians are worried about Russia, their new so-called “benefactor.” And well they should be.
Our dear friend and reader “Elmer” points us to the following item from Eternal Remont:
Once upon a time, there was a magical world in which the workers of the world united into a Union of Socialist Republics. It was a myth, because everyone knew that some workers (Russians) were more equal than others.
So what does any of this have to do with tobacco? Well, as part of its negotiations with Bulgaria over the proposed South Stream gas pipeline, Moscow has claimed ownership of Bulgartabac (granted to the USSR as a spoil of war in 1945). Now, Russia wants it back.
“We are set to reclaim all properties that lie abroad and belonged to the Soviet Union. Bulgartabac will not be an exception,” said Vladimir Kozhin, head of the
Presidential Property Management Department of the Russian Federation.
Wait just one second, you say… How can Russia claim Bulgartabac as a property of the Soviet Union, when the Russian SSR was just a single republic within a broader Union of Socialist Republics. Couldn’t the other former SSR’s also claim ownership of Bulgartabac?
Nope. Just Russia, according to Kozhin.
Former parliamentarian Vladimir Ryzhkov, writing the Moscow Times, exposes the “fundamental failure” of the Putin regime:
The recent annual meeting of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, a Moscow-based think tank, underscored the confusion and distress among leading Russian politicians, analysts and policymakers. The meeting was dedicated to discussing the results of these last two decades. If in recent years they were all caught up in a frenzy of patriotism, muscle-flexing and shouts of “Russia is rising from its knees!” this spring has marked a clear shift in mood. Now they are much more sober and reflective. The economic crisis and Russia’s continuing foreign policy failures have hit them like one big cold shower.
Barbaric Russian Cowards on the Rampage in Georgia
Human Rights Watch has released what looks to be the definitive report on the use of cluster munitions by Russian forces in their August 2008 invasion of Georgia. It concludes that Russia carpet-bombed the Georgian city of Variani twice and hit the city of Gori once, using cluster weapons all three times and in total killing 12 Georgian civilians while wounding 38. For its part, Georgia killed only four civilians and wounded just eight using cluster bombs — one third the Russian totals.
HRW’s investigation discovered remnants of Russian cluster munitions in or near nine different Georgian villages, meaning that the casualty tally could well be higher than HRW was able to conclusively document.
Let’s be clear: “Russia definitely violated international humanitarian law with its use of cluster munitions.” Those aren’t our words, they’re the words of HRW researcher Bonnie Docherty, author of the report. Russia still denies even using the weapons, much less killing any civilians. Georgia, at least, admits using them, though it claims only military targets were selected.
Anti-communist protesters light a bonfire on the steps of their parliament in Moldova
Red Moldova, Red-faced Russia
Last Sunday, voters in Moldova returned the Communist Party to power in a massive landslide. Two days later, Moldova’s streets exploded in violence, organized on Twitter.
Russia, it’s policy in shambles, is panicking and screeching hysterically about “foreign interference.”
Paul Goble reports:
Vladimir Putin because of his hatred for Ukraine, Estonia, and Georgia has managed to leave Russia without any allies in the former Soviet space, a remarkable performance and one that means Moscow now must try to intimidate these countries to get its way or yield to others in ways many Russians would fine offensive. This is a remarkable performance, Vladimir Nadein points out in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, one that is almost unprecedented. “Even Hitler,” even when it was obvious that he was losing the war “retained allies up to the end of 1944. But Putin, after ten years of uninterrupted rule doesn’t have any.”
Hope in Europe
We’ve had many tough words for European Russia policy in the past few weeks, but that’s certainly not to say that all hope is lost. There are certainly women and men of conscience and courage in Europe, people who can remember their own recent history at the hands of Russian aggression, and who are calling for better policy.