Category Archives: mailbag

Mailbag: A postcard from Moscow

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!  La Russophobe publishes letters to the editor from readers. If you’d like to talk back to LR’s readers, send an e-mail to larussophobe@yahoo.com and let your voice be heard.  Here’s a recent example from our mailbag we thought you’d like to see:

Dear La Russophobe,

I just discovered your blog, and absolutely LOVED IT!!!
 
I am a Russian-American, who grew up in the US and have been living in Moscow for the past year (husband’s job). I sometimes put on RT when I am in the mood to become even more disgusted with this place.
 
Yesterday, I caught this low-life, Peter Lavelle, on his show.  WOW!!!  This is a special kind of a-hole.
 
Continue reading

Letter to La Russophobe

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

Dear La Russophobe,

I’d like to offer your readers some comments on two pressing issues: first, the Russian stock market, and second the proposed Sochi Olympiad, both issues which you’ve addressed in recent blog posts.

1.  The Stock Market

I’ve noticed with growing dismay that MICEX and RTS index have been steadily growing this month: Micex went from a low of 505 points at the start of the month up to around 630 today. RTS from below 500 to around 620 today.And the ruble went from a low of nearly 37 to 34.5 on February 13th.

Continue reading

Dear La Russophobe (Letters to the Editor)

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters ever day!

Dear La Russophobe,

I noticed Kim Zigfeld’s comment on an RFE/RL article on Robert Coalson’s new blog concerning the illusion of Putin’s popularity. It kind of reminds me of an incident in which I found myself in Scotland back in ’03. I was managing a performing arts venue (where I hosted a Belarusian theatre company performing proudly in their own language!!!), and it was my job to close up the place for the night. Just as I was at the last stage, locking the gate, I saw an abusive man shoving his clearly beleaguered girlfriend into a wrought-iron fence surrounding our venue.

Continue reading

Mailbag: Suvorov on Russia as the “Chief Culprit” in World War II

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters ever day!

Dear La Russophobe,

Hot off the presses: The Chief Culprit, by Viktor Suvorov ($25 hardcover, available at Amazon and elsewhere). It’s a synthesis of several of his previous books in Russian, including The Icebreaker, M-Day, The Cleansing, The Suicide, and The Last Republic (only the first of which was ever translated into English). The author, whose real name is Vladimir Rezun, is a GRU (Soviet military intelligence) agent who defected to Britain in 1978. (One of the blurbs is by Vladimir Bukovsky, in case that name means anything to anybody.)

His goal is to disprove the conventional wisdom about the origins of WW2.

Continue reading

The Mailbag: On “Genocide”

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters ever day!

Dear La Russophobe,

One aspect of Russia’s current disinformation campaign a la KGB concerned it’s quick claim of genocide of having been commited by the Georgians on Ossetians.

As someone of Polish extraction my first thoughts were why is Russia using this term so casually and frequently when it does not even recognise the Katyn Massacre as genocide, or for that matter the Soviet deportation of Poles (1 million in 1940) to the Soviet interior and Gulag where half were dead within a year. Men, women, children & the elderly. The victims of casual murder, being worked to death, starved etc.  Under the legal definition of genocide both certainly qualify as genocide.

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The Mailbag

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters ever day!

Dear La Russophobe,

Regarding your recent editorial about “insane Russia” I would ask:  Who says that Russian insanity is only an external issue?

You should know that another foreign investor(largest foreign hightech investor in  Russia, with assets more than 10 billion USD), is being frisked by the  Russian “legal” system. Just a few days after TNK-BP! Same corrupt court. And Medvedev sits in the Kremlin and babbles about “the rule of law”! Such issues abound.  Follow Alfa Bank’s activities, if you want to learn about Russian high-level corruption, and what makes the Putin system tick. Alfa, for instance, holds an exclusive long-term contract as financier for Rosboronexport. Ring ring?

Meanwhile, CNN was blacked out in Moscow on Monday by a certain major cable TV firm without explanation. And I’ve been having difficulty accessing the Moscow Times website.

The Russians are as rabid domestically, as they are internationally!

Yours,

Comrade X in Moscow

LR RESPONDS:  We also have noticed the problem with the MT website from time to time in recent days.  Has anyone else?

La Russophobe welcomes letters to the editor for publication, anonymity guaranteed if desired. Write larussophobe@yahoo.com

The Mailbag: Annals of Russian Ignorance

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters ever day!

Dear La Russophobe,

Thanks for excellent blog, here’s a tip which might be of interest for you:

There is a Chinese website you can find the worldwide academic ranking of universities by Shanghai Jiang Tong University, a source hardly bothered by human rights issues etc, which lists world universities mainly by their economically important statistics (ie. science, medical etc. publications, Nobel prizes etc.):

By taking a look at the whole list some interesting facts will surface. On the top 500 list of universities Russia has just two, Moscow and St. Petersburg State universities. The comparison to even some very small advanced countries is startling. Finland has six universities on list and Sweden eleven. Japan, comparable in population to Russia has 31, even Brazil has six. It must be also pointed out that top Russian university on the list, Moscow State University, has the position 70, hardly comparable to ranks of top institutions of other large European countries. Russian scientific and technological ability seem to have strong positions…

Yours Truly,

Anonymous

Write to larussophobe@yahoo.com if you’d like to see your letter appear as a blog post!

Mailbag: Russia and 9/11

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

Dear La Russophobe:

First of all, I really enjoy your blog. I’ve become very interested in Russia lately, but I don’t speak Russian (yet!) so I can only really scratch the surface when it comes to deciphering the place.

But – I was kind of shocked when I read an entry about Russia and its connection to 9/11 that you posted on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Not because I’m some idealistic American patriot offended that you’d blame anyone by the dirty A-rabs for 9/11, but because you’re missing the most obvious link: One of Litvinenko’s allegations about the FSB was that Ayman al-Zawahiri was an “old agent of the FSB.” An old FSB agent corroborated Litvinenko’s story, saying that Litivnenko himself was responsible for facilitating al-Zawahiri’s entrance into Russia (1). Litvinenko alleged that al-Zawahiri was being trained by the FSB when he was supposedly in their custody as a suspect rather than agent-in-training, only a few months before al-Zawahiri and bin Laden issued the fatwa that declared that it was okay to kill civilians in the name of jihad (2). It was the intellectual precursor to 9/11. Jamestown Scholar Evgenii Novikov points out the obvious holes in the accounts given by both al-Zawahiri and the FSB that despite being in possession of a well-known terrorist leader with phony credentials and encrypted Arabic data on his computer who was caught trying to illegally sneak into Russia, the FSB simply couldn’t figure out eh was, and so they had no other choice but to let him go (3). Wright, in his book The Looming Tower, says that al-Zawahiri was likely the author of that fatwa. Bin Laden’s favorite biographer, Hamid Mir, even declared once that in meeting bin Laden and al-Zawahiri (which he did more than any other journalist), he believed that al-Zawahiri was in control and “He is the person who can do the things that happened on Sept. 11” (4). Bin Laden and al-Qaeda were the perfect vehicle for Russian proxy terrorism: bin Laden earned his terrorist creds while fighting the Soviet Union and was once backed by the US. Surely the Americans would never dig deeper than simply “the terrorists,” because of the Americans’ misdeeds are also rather prominent. It also explains al-Zawahiri’s low profile, despite all indications pointing to him being the key player in al-Qaeda: bin Laden needed to remain the figurehead, as he had a reputation for being against the Soviet Union. However, al-Zawahiri had no such past. Not to mention that Litvinenko pointed him out as an agent, so he couldn’t play too prominent a role lest people start digging into his background.

The motive for the attacks is the motive of all Russian-sponsored terrorism: wars in the Middle East and higher oil and natural gas prices. Russia has been quite openly abetting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not because it honestly thinks that it needs any more protection of its empire, but because a US invasion of Iran would further destabilize the region and drive energy prices up further. Not to mention that terrorism is what brought Putin to power – he was unknown before the Second Chechen War, which you as the Russophobe know was likely provoked by a series of black-flag terrorist operations. Putin was the first leader to call Bush to offer his condolences after September 11th, and the Russians never miss an opportunity to cite common cause with the US – “We’re both the victims of terrorism!”

Very truly yours,

Stephen Smith


Mailbag: To hope or not to hope — on Russia, that is the question

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

Dear La Russophobe:

Start of the year has habitually been the best time of the year to work for me since my Moscow days because for a week or even more at the start of each new year you can land a Jumbo Jet on any of Moscow streets and walk an elephant through most secure offices and no one will notice. The city empties – Russians migrate like Siberian birds to southern climates for 2 weeks. And most security guards lurch around intoxicated. There is unbelievable peace in Moscow at the start of new year. No one works for 2 weeks, no phone calls and no mail. The work and thinking processes are helped enormously with frequent visits to the Banya, being boiled and roasted in hot steam, merciless beating with birch branches and then jumping into the snow and ice pools with -10/-20 air. Did I say Vodka? No. I try not to drink around the New Year and go into it with a clean head. Boring but true.

I have left Russia far behind in 2005 and no, to answer the question I am asked plenty times I still do not miss Moscow (photos from last visit.) What is there to miss? If horrid traffic jams, short tempers, aggressive language, putrid air, all pervasive ugly billboards, terrible service, increasing arrogance of the elites, bad work ethic, unending holidays and round the clock beer drinking are the kind of things to miss, well one has to be checked out for Helsinki syndrome. Russia does not adopt and embrace outsiders – it takes them hostages. I have had no trouble getting away because I nurse neither romance nor hatred of Moscow. Afterall its just another city. Yet, as a frequent traveler and observer I find Russia changing for the better each day despite all the drags of history and now oil dollar fuelled consumer boom. I never underestimate the challenges Russians have overcome in years of transition. Just this last December I arrived in Moscow on an expired visa against all advice. What followed shocked me beyond belief. In 30 minutes I was issued a new Visa for a $10 fee and told “Welcome to Russia” by three different persons at that dreaded Sheremetyevo airport I had lambasted only two years ago in an Izvestia column as worst of the worst, “filled with inept racist thugs.” I am having to eat my words and its not something I have ever had to do about Russia, at least not because anything turned so much for the better. I had to throw myself on the pavement to believe I was not dreaming.

Despite some of the clumsiest corporate attitudes and services, London is a great place to call home and that is where we have been these three years. We are living in Hampstead not far from the Heath. Many years ago when I was discussing investments in Russian media and acquisition of a major media company, Dean Singleton, one of the media tycoons in the United States and wisest business leaders I have come to know said to me, “I’d never invest in a place where I cannot live.” I did not know it then but that was a good piece of wisdom. When the heart is not at peace, the mind does not function. So I have decided to focus my energy and actions in places I can and would want to live. More friends have visited us in London in 2007 than ten years combined in Moscow. And we are happy to have friends come calling.

Regards,

A. J. Goyal
Publisher, Russia Journal

NOTE: We have a poll now running asking whether the people of Russia are worth risking your life for. Cast your vote today!

The Sunday Mailbag: Pricing Thanksgiving

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

Dear La Russophobe:

Thursday was our holiday of Thanksgiving. One of the things I’m thankful for is the privilege of knowing and working with all of you. Since the fall of the USSR the world has become much smaller and American and Russian interaction has led to some unusual phenomena. One of them was described in a recent article in the Moscow Times, namely that some Moscow restaurants are now serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Out of idle curiosity I converted the prices to dollars and compared them with what is be offered at similar restaurants in San Francisco.

HEMINGWAY’S (Moscow): $57
THE CLIFF HOUSE (Frisco): $42

THE APARTMENT (Moscow): $102
MAX’S OPERA CAFE (Frisco): $52

STARLIGHT DINER (Moscow): $40
MEL’S DRIVE-IN (Frisco): $11

When the Politburo announced that Russia would catch up with and overtake America economically, I don’t think this is what they had in mind.

Sincerely yours,

SFP

La Russophobe responds: It would seem that this is pretty impressive evidence that “purchasing power parity” is not only gibberish, but should be used to expand the already vast difference in purchasing power between Americans and Russians, rather than contracting it. And that doesn’t take into consideration Russia’s wretched quality control system, meaning that any number of the food products you are served in its restaurants, including the water (if you dare to drink it) may be contaminated with all manner of pollutants, including radioactive toxins from the Chelyabinsk and Chernobyl areas.

The Mailbag: Russian Royally Flushed

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

Dear La Russophobe:

I doubt that you are much of a poker fan [LR: that’s the understatement of the decade!] but you might be interested to know that every year in Las Vegas the world championships are held and this year one of the nine seats at the final table of no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em, where the winner earns over $8 million in prize money and is crowned the world champion, was occupied by a Russian professional player named Alexander Kravechenko. The eight other players at the table consisted of four Americans, two Brits, a Canadian and a South African.

To make the play fun for a television audience (hence increasing publicity, hence the number of entrants, hence the prize pool), each player has a camera at his seat which he uses to reveal his hole cards to the audience, so that they can play along. If I told you that one, and only one, of the nine players repeatedly refused to reveal his hole cards, spoiling the fun for everybody and undermining the sport itself, would you be able to guess which one it was?

Sure enough, it was the Russian. [LR: We’re shocked, shocked!] He also brought with him a coterie of whooping, seemingly drunken eccentrics to cheer him on from the gallery (much to the amusement of the TV commentators), but spent most of the time as the “short stack” and, while he got lucky a few times with several desperation all-in bets, ultimately did not manage to finish in the top three when the event concluded in mid-July (it was won by an American amateur and is just now being broadcast on ESPN television in the U.S. — don’t know if it gets on Russian TV or not).

Sincerely yours,

An Admirer

The Mailbag: Paranoid Putin

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

The publisher of Zaxi blog, whose wonderful commentary we are delighted to routinely republish on our virtual pages, writes to clarify his prior remarks about Russia menacing the U.S. and Britain with strategic bombers, in response to a reader comment:

Dear La Russophobe,

Here’s a somewhat belated (partial) response to the mystery of why Putin believes that the United States is flying nuclear bomber operations around Russian borders – and his response to keep a 24-hour nuclear bomber vigil of his own.

The simple answer is that Putin made all of this up. The United States removed all of its strategic bombers from day-to-day operations in 1991 (see here and here). Russia did the same. Then Putin went back to the old Cold War practice last month citing a US decision that simply does not exist.

As your readers can imagine: most of the US strategic bomber information is classified. But it would take months – if not years – for the US military bureaucracy to take the required steps to respond to Putin’s move. It would also make a lot of noise in Congress and the press. The US does not just start flying its nuclear bombers around the world without some initial debate going into the decision.

The United States has two types of strategic bombers: the B-2A Spirit and the B-52H Stratofortress. These are used for conventional operations but could be deployed in case of nuclear war. The bombers are based at three US Air Force Bases: Minot, Whiteman and Barksdale – all of them in the continental United States.

The most important point here is the following: The United States has four nuclear war alert levels. The highest is called Launch Ready. There are also Generated I and II. And finally: the Total Forces alert in case of an Armageddon-type conflict where all US forces get involved.

The US strategic bombers are only intended for use in a Generated II level scenario – that is the third-highest level of alert out of four. The US bombers would get involved only after pretty much all of its ICBMs are used up.

The US would put 64 bombers into operations in case of a Generated II scenario. By that stage 90 percent of its total forces would be on alter.

As you can see – it would take a nuclear war of quite astonishing proportions for armed US strategic bombers to fly toward Russia. For comparison: 95 percent of the US ICBMs are on the highest Launch Ready alert. This is the clear US option in case of nuclear war. The nuclear bombers are a very distant afterthought.

Again – what threat did Putin see? There was and could have been none. But it is not a Russian tradition to question his statements.

Cheers,

zaxi

The Mailbag: A Russia Blog Rat Speaks His "Mind"

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

The following missive appeared in our mailbox on Wednesday, July 18th, the same day we published this post (dateline Thursday) criticizing the reporting on Russophile propaganda machine Russia Blog based on the analysis of the Ruminations on Russia blog.

Dear “Kim,”

I think you must read Russia Blog more than I do, because Vlad’s post was up for probably less than twenty minutes. But still, I’m really flattered that you check our site that often. As for all the personal attacks – well, no one has any idea if you’ve ever been to Russia. And I do agree with Vladimir that anonymity does lend itself to being more hateful online, as both you and this other fellow have demonstrated.

Sincerely Yours,

Charles Ganske
Editor, Russia Blog

Here is La Russophobe publisher Kim Zigfeld’s response:

Dear Mr. Ganske,

Looks like we really hit a nerve with our latest expose of your shoddy propaganda exercise, didn’t we? Thanks for confirming it in writing.

Also, thanks for confirming how “up” we are on what is going on in the blogosphere. Please do tell your friends and neighbors. We definitely do keep close tabs on the outrageous lies you tell over at Russia Blog, we make a point of it. And in return we are delighted to compliment you on being such an avid reader of La Russophobe, since your e-mail appeared in our inbox scant seconds after we posted our comments about your blog.

Finally, thanks for giving me a wonderful excuse to rip Russia Blog yet another new one, just as I’d hoped you’d do.

Now, to respond to your “substantive” points:

You are not qualified to edit a blog about Russia, and everybody who knows Russia knows that (the blogger at Ruminations on Russia, who lives there, certainly made it quite clear if there was any doubt). As far as I know, you’re the only person in the English-speaking blogosphere who occupies a position of authority without having such credentials and as such you stand out like a sore большой палец. Instead of trying to defend your qualifications, which don’t exist, you therefore try to change the subject to my qualifications. That’s the most pathetic kind of neo-Soviet propaganda tactic, and the fact that you could think it might work with me only goes to prove how utterly lost you really are. I’m actually a bit surprised to find out you are so small-minded. This kind of “thinking” brought down the USSR, and it will just as surely bring down Russia and Russia Blog.

Think about it, Mr. Ganske: Does the fact that I’m not qualified to edit a Russia blog mean that you are? Only the most ignorant kind of child would think so. Basically, what you’ve done is to admit that you are not qualified, and to argue that since I’m not qualified either, it’s OK for you not to be. It’s classic neo-Soviet stupidity, exactly the kind that drove Soviet Russia right into the ground.

Think about it, Mr. Ganske: If you lack any credentials in Russian life and culture, how would you know whether I have them or not? Not exactly logical, is it?

That said, your statement is completely detached from any vague conception of the truth. Even my worst enemies know full well that I speak Russian and have lived extensively in the country. They attack me for my alleged “bias” and “hatred” as well as my claimed lack of intelligence, not my knowledge and experience with Russia. A huge number of my readers and contributors are Russians. Again, the fact that you don’t comprehend this basic fact only goes to show how utterly detached you are from reality, and how unreliable your crazy propaganda exercise at Russia Blog really is. Like most Russophiles, you’re pathetically lost in a world of your own imagining.

Now, it turns out, your credentials as an economics and business analyst are also being called into question — by someone who is, in fact, doing business in Russia. I can’t say I’m surprised by this revelation, nor am I surprised at your reaction. I will say in your defense that the sad thing is that no matter how lame your credentials and analysis are, the credentials and analysis of Yuri Mamchur, Russia Blog’s publisher, are infinitely more lame (as we’ve documented here on this blog st some length, they’re actually bogus). Though you have no first hand knowledge of Russia, at least you’re not a Kremlin stooge (just the lackey of a stooge). In this arena what Russia Blog is doing is all the more sordid and unsavory, since you are using your blog to help line the pockets of Mr. Kuznetsov by spewing ridiculous lies about the Russian economy to unsuspecting investors. One day you should look up the term “conflict of interest” and reflect on its meaning — but first, of course, you’d have to come to grips with the term “ethics.”

As Ruminations on Russia has brilliantly and succinctly exposed, the only people who respect what Russia Blog is doing are lay people with no real knowledge of Russia (i.e., victims) and rabid Russophile idealogues. Your content is devoid of sourcing, devoid of critical analysis, and devoid of real knowledge of what is happening on the ground in Russia today. Pure and simple, it’s propaganda — just as ROR very accurately said it was. And just like the USSR, you think you can fool people with it. Sorry, Charlie. That boat has sailed.

Given the wacko ideology (the loathsome concept of teaching “intelligent design” in public schools, just for instance) that underlies the bizarre propaganda entity, Discovery Institute, which financially supports Russia Blog, none of the foregoing is the least bit surprising to me or to anyone else. You’re merely doing what such folks have always done, playing fast and loose with the facts in order to advance a bald ideological agenda and hoping nobody will notice. Unfortunately for you, jig’s up — they have, and will continue to, right up until your blog goes the way of the USSR.

Very truly yours

Kim Zigfeld
Publisher, La Russophobe

PS: Since you seem to be against “hatefulness” and personal abuse, it’s rather odd that you choose to place my name in quotation marks, and to question my credentials, clear acts of hate and personal attack. This kind of rank hypocrisy is the true mark of a Russophile sociopath. Did you think at all before you made your statement about anonymity being connected to abuse and hate? Do Howard Stern, Don Imus or Rush Limbaugh have anonymity? Maybe you don’t care for their “hateful” attack style, but their audiences dwarf yours, and Yuri sure does go on and on about the size of your audience, so it must be important to you. Meanwhile, what about all the works of literature that have been published anonymously? What about the fact that anonymity is more the rule than the exception in the blogosphere, and there are lots of excellent reasons for doing it (starting with the fact that its lets the blogger’s ideas stand alone, rather than trying to leverage a background or organization, something you obviously haven’t got the guts for). What about the many human rights organizations (such as Global Voices) that advise bloggers how to blog anonymously so they won’t be persecuted and killed like Anna Politkovskaya. Are you trying to help identify anti-Kremlin bloggers so you can help them get killed? That’s pretty mean, if you are. It would make you an accomplice to murder. Do you have the guts to publicly condemn Global Voices for advising anonymous blogging? Or are you just blowing ignorant smoke? I don’t recall you complaining about the hostile statements made about me by the anonymous Russophile blogger at Konstatin’s Russian Blog. Did you ever do so? Or are you only annoyed when you are the one being attacked? You simply can’t tell the truth or be fair, it’s simply pathological. Meanwhile, apparently you are the sort of coward who thinks that Hitler and Stalin should have been met not with hatred but with kindness and understanding. Like Neville Chamberlain, you think confrontation won’t work and conciliation will. He was wrong. So are you. And the hubris with which you cling to a failed world view is quite revolting.


The Mailbag

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

Dear La Russophobe,

I read with interest that Vladimir Putin says he is a democrat, that unfortunately no one else is, and that he is the only pure democrat there has been since Mahatma Gandhi. Well of course the Americans aren’t democratic. (Look at the debacle over the 2000 election in Florida and the hanging chads.) But apparently Brezhnev was not a democrat. Shock horror! Even the leader of the Liberal Democratic party Vladimir Zhirinovsky is not a democrat! But Putin is. And there was me thinking that he had spent half his time rolling back democracy in Russia and trying to prevent democracy from breaking out in other countries. But he put me right. Presumably he is democratic like the German Democratic Republic was (after all he used to work as a KGB agent defending the regime there). Actually it used to annoy me a lot when commentators on the Olympics referred to East Germany in that way, or even if they just called them the DDR. I find it similarly annoying when North Korea is referred to as the DPRK. But it takes Putin to call them by their name in its full form. Not only that. In his infamous Munich Speech was the sentence “Today many other countries have these missiles, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, India, Iran, Pakistan and Israel.” He makes it sound as if North Korea is a worker’s paradise and the citizens of ordinary Korea can only look on it with envy. In fact, he was talking about proliferation of missile technology. But, very cleverly he reeled off a list of the countries that have obtained or are trying to obtain nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty… plus South Korea, which has not, thereby giving the false impression that perhaps South Korea has been trying to produce nuclear missiles. In fact, in contrast to North Korea, in recent decades it has scrupulously observed IAEA requirements on nuclear non-proliferation. If we stick to what Putin actually said (about missiles) he is still creating the false impression that South Korea had to be lumped in with North Korea and Iran in terms of trying to develop offensive long range missiles. In fact, North Korea transferred missile technology to Pakistan in exchange for nuclear technology, possesses a missile with a range of 1300km and is believed to be working on longer range missiles. South Korea, again in contrast only has missiles of 300km range supplied to it by the US, which it needs for obvious reasons. Perhaps the above shows that this and other speeches by Putin deserve to be analysed in depth. Anyway I think that the DPRK should be officially renamed the North Korean Vicious Dictatorship or NKVD.

Very truly yours,

Anonymous

The Mailbag: A Reader on Lugovoi

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

A reader offers some additional thoughts on the Lugovoi scandal by e-mail:

I think most people who read this blog would probably find Mr Lugovoi’s recent accusations in his hour and a half marathon news conference totally unbelievable. Unfortunately, not only will the vast majority of Russians accept them almost without question but I am sure that quite a significant proportion of people in western countries will believe them as well. After all there are plenty who believe that the twin towers were brought down by controlled demolition.

It is also evident that the Russian media take them extremely seriously. A Russian newspaper reported on the news conference: “Overall, more than 130 Russian and foreign reporters, as well as crews from 26 TV-channels were accredited to the event.” Since the Russian media is now mainly state owned and largely state controlled it is hard to resist the conclusion that the news conference was instigated with Kremlin involvement.

However, it is easy to forget that no British law enforcement, judicial, or government official has accused the Kremlin of complicity in Litvinenko’s murder. The whole news conference was (in theory) only for an independent businessman to give his alibi (and of course to make a huge string of unsubstantiated counter-allegations). It is therefore a bit rich for the Kremlin to accuse Britain of trying to politicise Litvinenko’s murder*, when British statements have instead been to remind everyone that it is a criminal case (even though they know it might well have been state sponsored murder).

* Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying, “We see attempts from the British side to use a criminal case for stirring up some kind of political campaign. We are against this,”. I think he protests too much!

I would also like to offer some observations on the central accusation, that the British secret service tried to recruit Lugovoi to try to find information to blacken Mr Putin’s name (and apparently his family as well). Firstly, it does not take secret services to start false rumours and publicise them. In a free country the tabloid press is perfectly capable of unearthing not just rumours but genuine damaging information about public figures. Granted in Russia it may be more difficult and dangerous, but anyway, if there is no damaging information to discover, why should Putin be worried?

Really, the best person at the job of blackening Putin’s name is V V Putin himself. The archived articles in this blog are testament to that, and the fact that the British media and especially the British government have so little interest in the issues that they deal with is testament to the fact that Britain is not waging any kind of propaganda campaign against Russia, let alone the kind of information cold war that Mr Lugovoi implies.

The Mailbag: A Reader on Estonia

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

One of La Russophobe’s oldest and most cherished readers writes the following observation on the Estonia imbroglio:

Dear LR,

Tallinn vs Katyn – Over Tallinn, the RUSSIAN people are deeply dismayed by the insult they perceive the THEIR SOVIET Red Army martyrs. Whereas over Katyn, they say that they have NOTHING to do with the actions of the GRU (essentially part of the conscripted military of the SOVIET Red Army, and refuse totally to offer any apology for the Polish genocide, saying it is nothing to do with them. On the one hand they absolutely identify themselves with the Soviet military forces, while on the other hand they totally reject any link. Am I the only one to sense gross hypocrisy here? Classic soviet era stuff.

Yours truly,

W.C.

Indeed so! Exactly this kind of thinking brought the USSR to its knees. Russians really believe, like children, that they can have their cake and eat it too. Not gonna happen.

The Mailbag: Goyal on Russophobia

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

We really do. We get dozens and dozens of e-mail messages every day, and we carry on an ongoing dialogue with admirers and critics of every stripe all across the globe. And we have no problem whatsoever publishing the missives of those who have criticisms of our blog — in fact, we actively solicit such submissions. Here’s an example.

In a rare burst of editorial expression (and after much shamelessly abject begging on our part), Russia Journal publisher and regular LR reader and correspondent Ajay Goyal has contributed the following commentary on Russophobia to La Russophobe and granted publication permission. LR is particularly good at provoking comments in the blogosphere — indeed, it’s fair to say that no other blogger is in her league in this regard (she has previously noted that the blogger interviews on Siberian Light clearly prove this) and she is delighted to be the inspiration for spirited debate on the rise of dictatorship in Russia and the nature of russophilia and russophobia. The fact that we are powerful enough to motivate even Ajay to step out from his publisher’s silence and express his views is proof positive of our key role in the debate on modern Russia. Our ability to draw his commentary and our willingness to publish both his praise and his criticism is unlike that of any other Russia blog in existence today. Following Ajay’s letter is LR’s response.

Dear LR,

When I was first introduced to your website, the name of the blog alarmed me. Anyone, it seemed to me, who fears or loathes a whole nation or culture or a group of people and flaunts it had no place in civilized society.

After some careful reading, however, more dimensions and depth to this website revealed themselves. The initial shock of the title gave way to discovery of a persona more complex than the name would indicate. Instead of hatred or fear or phobia of Russians in general or their country in particular, La Russophobe appeared to me considerably invested in Russia emotionally and deeply sympathetic towards those she perceives to be victims of a despotic political system.

I have no agreement with those who suggest that Vladimir Putin is a dictator– far from it – he is the last in the line of a century of despotic rulers. I believe history will judge his role differently from what it is made out to be by herds of western reporters. But I have respect for those who suffer as victims anywhere, which is what Russians have been for centuries. I compliment the courage of those who stand against oppression and voice their dissidence even if they might at times be misguided and extreme in their judgement. The truth however is that romanticism of a “victim” Russia and her “dissidence” is rooted in an age past that bears little or no resemblance to present day Russia – a society I believe to be free of many of the demons of communist era and Yeltsin years’ legacy of criminality. Yet, I am not willing to condemn a rebel who speaks for those she perceives to be voiceless. But perhaps someone needs to wake her from delusion and tell that Russians are neither the last victims nor the worst despots of our times. Nevertheless, for all her immediate flaws, for this romanticist La Russophobe, who cries for and fears Russia — victim and perpetrator at once — I feel all sympathy and no grudge.

When it comes to Russophobia, I suffer none and it is perhaps easy for me to be so dispassionate about Russia since I am neither Russian nor a Russophile. Russophilia is perhaps the only other affliction I can think of this context that is worse than Russophobia.

The blog of La Russophobe, after one peels through all layers, is in fact an anti-Russophile publication whose real irritations come from the bigotry and hypocrisy of Russophiles. Her biggest provocations are from foreigners in Kremlin’s employ. I, on the other hand, have too numerous experiences of discrimination, primitiveness and violence in Russia and first hand view of corruption and nepotism that persist and thrive through all economic & political changes and permeate through all classes and gender and age groups – to be a Russophile. And I have too many encounters with even greater greed, vulgarity, racism, ignorance, cruelty and cowardice in many European nations (and the at the hands of Europeans and Americans in Russia) to be a Russophobe.

The propensity for violence, violation of individual liberties, rush to wars and absence of shame or democratic retribution in the face of exposed naked lies that we have witnessed in United States in the last six years, frankly makes Russians look like hermits. Not saints, just hermits.

As soon as one acquires a sense of balance about where our western, “civilized and democratic” national governments, political systems and media are – we can perhaps understand Russia and not run for cover.

There is no doubt that life for many in Russia remains a nightmare and not all ills can be blamed on the legacy of political systems and rulers. But Einstein left us with the idea of relativity so we may stop considering all objects and occurrences as absolute, even if they appear stationary and stuck in time, and see them in a relative context.

When I am confronted with the quality of Russian leadership today – I must see it relative to how it was with Yeltsin, or Gorbachev, Brezhnev or Stalin. Suffering today, relative to how life was five, ten or twenty years ago. In international context, we must consider luminaries of our times such as George W, Tony Blair, Hugo Chavez, Parvez Musharraf, and — name who else you may. We consider the mockery that Russian state-owned media is to be judged relative to the performance of FOX, the Washington Times, the Moscow Times, Helsingin Sanomat or any journals of record from Britain and United States. We find the human rights abuses in Chechnya sickening and unbearable and treatment of young recruits in Russian army appalling till we find what Belgian or German troops have been up to while on “peacekeeping missions” in Africa and Afghanistan, the rings of prostitution run by peacekeepers in Sarajevo or atrocities in Iraq by angels of democracy and freedom. Wait, what about infestations and treatment of heroes of a powerful and grateful nation of freedom warriors at one of the world’s premier military hospital and rehabilitation centres?

Russian recruits face abominable conditions, but can we really swear that American soldiers and veterans are in the embrace of a more compassionate nation? Too bad a traitor ate radioactive sushi and a woman reporter got whacked, but must we allow our sympathy to be hijacked by politicians for votes and power in the name of fake martyrs — in Finland? Where is the relativity in front page hysteria over denial of visa to an American money manager when ten million people are in the streets of America asking for their rights. And thousands in rickety boats off Europe dying — over inhumane immigration policies of the EU? Has any western reporter that critiques Russian visa and work permit policy ever known what it feels to be a Russian or Asian or African in a visa or immigration queue to Europe and the US? Before we conduct an inquisition of Russians for demanding market price for their gas should we not look into how western oil majors have robbed the neediest and poorest in times of crisis?

Before we chastise Russians for failing to protect innocent victims of terrorism in kindergartens and theatres, should we not judge them against some international standards of emergency management? 9/11? Katrina? A cartoon in Boston? And before we call the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky as political incarceration in Gulag should we not weigh it against 100 year sentences delivered on corporate criminals in the United States? Conrad Black, formerly Lord, and of Daily Telegraph could spend 40 years in prison for having a butler. And Russian justice of imprisonment for nine years over tens of billions of fraud, tax evasion to be labelled injustice?

Where to stop? Where to begin? Because seen in any context, Russia may appear to be Nation of Joy. Like Calcutta of Dominique Lapierre, where there is hope and ambition, optimism and courage, compassion and faith, a mighty spirit and great self respect and pride. Only a demented person can hate Calcutta. There is no word to describe the misery of those who fear it. To those of you who nurse a phobia of Russia because you need a demon today so you may scare or provoke yourself tonight, you need not look at Russia. Open your own cupboards.

Back to La Russophobe; it is perhaps the most misleading title for a blog with a conscience. Some cruel spin, if you will, in an attempt to draw some attention. Anyone who manages to enrage so many people at so many cross purposes is worthy of respect.

Ajay Goyal

Publisher, Russia Journal

Dear Ajay,

Thanks so much for your letter. It’s an important step forward in continuing the important russophilerussophobe dialogue, giving us the chance to show once again that we’re perefectly willing to publish criticism of our blog on our own pages, something few if any other Russia blogs are willing to consider. Our response follows.

People have been writing things like “Russia – a society I believe to be free of many of the demons of communist era and Yeltsin years’ legacy of criminality,” for hundreds of years about Russia. We’re constantly hearing about how Russia is just about to turn the corner — and every single time, it turns out that Russia is actually going over another cliff. We feel that these types of predictions, in effect, induce us to do less than all we can to prevent another disaster, and in that way contribute to making the situation worse.

Last time we checked, Calcutta wasn’t providing weapons to Venezuela or nuclear technology to Iran. We weren’t aware of it funneling money to Hamas and Hezbollah, nor had we heard that the mayor of Calcutta had given any speeches recently in Munich. We’re pretty sure he isn’t a proud KGB spy, since India has never had an organization remotely like that operating on her soil. Therefore, we feel your analogy between Calcutta and Russia is strained (to say the least).

As you may know, Albert Einstein wasn’t a political theorist, he was a theoretical physicist. Human history doesn’t provide many examples of the latter providing viable roadmaps for political intercourse, and we’d prefer not to take guidance from such a person. Even if we did, we don’t think Einstein, who witnessed Stalin rise to power, ever had anything much positive to say about Russia. And we’re pretty sure that Einstein would ask you to specify the exact number of people in Russia who are living a “nightmare” as you properly say, rather than using the ambiguous word “some.” Therefore, we think talking about Einstein is also pushing it.

You seem to be curious as to why we’re called “La Russophobe” and, like many people including some of our fans, to suggest we might benefit from changing our name. But your letter provides the answer! We’re fascinated by the willingness of readers to project their own definitions onto this ambiguous term, which might very well mean “hater of Russophiles” as you suggest (La Russophilophobe, however, is a name we feel wouldn’t properly call the people of Russia to account for their own actions). It’s really amazing how certain people will, while demanding that we not judge Russia, judge us exactly the way they want us to avoid. They attack us while asking us to stop attacking Russia. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? And, sadly, it often happens that the people who raise these issues haven’t actually read what we write (as you properly point out). We’ve certainly never said, for example, that Russians are the “worst despots of our times.” All we’ve ever said is that Russians are despots, that their current government is a total failure, and that it ought to be changed before it’s too late.

Last night, the 60 Minutes show did a segment exposing a number of American soldiers who had been caught committing war crimes in Iraq and who are facing criminal charges. Can we expect such a program from state-owned Russian television about the innumerable human rights violations documented in Chechnya by such international organizations as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International? It seems unlikely, to say the least.

You may disagree, but we don’t think America’s alleged faults have anything to do with Russia. In fact, we can’t help but remember how the leaders of the Soviet Union always used to bring up America’s faults whenever Russia’s were mentioned. Instead of reforming Russia, they spent their energy rationalizing its failure by claiming that America was even worse. As you may know, the Soviet Union is now extinct. It seems you care about Russia, so you likely don’t wish it it to follow the Soviet Union into extinction. If that’s so, we’d suggest you spend your time worrying about how to stop Russia from losing 1 million people from it’s population every year despite being one of the highest recipients of immigrants in the world, or maybe just teach its male population how to live past 60 and staunch what may be the worst AIDS crisis in world history. Say what you like about America, it doesn’t suffer from these basic biological afflictions. Moreover, we seriously doubt that it will be a consolation to any Russians driven into the grave by the crazed policies of their state, and by their own outrageous and self-destructive support for that state, that Americans are also destroying themselves. In our humble opinion, focusing on America’s ills rather than its own is what destroyed the USSR, and it will destroy Russia to if advice like yours is followed.

It’s odd that you express so much personal experience with racism and violence at yet call for moderation and “relativity” where Russia is concerned. When faced with racism in America, Martin Luther King didn’t embrace moderation just because other nations were more racist than America. To the contrary, he wrote that his worst enemies were moderates, people who claimed to support his goals but simultaneously undermined his struggle by failing to actively support it. He wrote that they might have been worse than the KKK.

We’re also a bit perplexed by your suggestion that there is no “democratic retribution” in America. You may have missed it, but American voters just kicked George Bush’s party out of both houses of Congress and replaced them with his hardened foes. He has abysmally low public opinion poll ratings, and there’s a huge chance the rival party will take the presidency in the next election. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin continues to enjoy popular approval ratings above 70%, which we’re sure you agree is perhaps a bit excessive, and there is no significant opposition presence in the Duma, much less any possibility that the opposition could take power. America is receiving very intense criticism all across Europe and in many American fora, certainly at least as harsh as Vladimir Putin comes in for on this blog. Apparently, you feel that Americans are also “victims” of circumstances beyond their control; if so, we strongly disagree. If the American government takes actions that the outside world finds outrageous, then the outside world should call the American people to account for their actions. We’re currently running a poll on this blog asking who is to blame for Russian dictatorship, and “Russian people” is the runaway leader. Far from expressing hatred of the Russian people, we believe this attitude shows them respect. We’re worried that an attitude like yours is one of patronizing contempt, the belief that Russians are inferior beings who can’t be expected to control their own destinies. We reject that notion utterly. America is constantly in engaged in an active process of reform and improvement; that’s why it bestrides the globe like a colossus today. Russia does exactly the opposite, and we’re afraid that places her survival in jeopardy.

In short, we can’t agree that America or the American people are remotely as dangerous to the world (much less to itself) as Russia and the Russian people, but whether they are or not is totally irrelevant to this blog. We can’t possibly hope to solve all the world’s problems, those are for other blogs to deal with. Many blogs savagely criticize America. This one deals with Russia.

It’s very brave of you to go on the record predicting that that Vladimir Putin is the last in a line of despotic rulers for Russia, and we’re proud that you have chosen our forum to make your prediction. We’d like to challenge you to predict specifically who his successor, Russia’s first non-despotic in a century, will be. We’re also curious to know why you think the Romanov tsars weren’t despots. It seems to us that Russia has never been ruled by someone who wasn’t a despot, and for this reason (to say nothing of the willingness of the population to elect a proud KGB spy as president and then let him abolish local elections and independent television news) the pattern is likely to continue.

Finally, we think you go a bit too far in getting carried away with your own ego in suggesting that we need to be “woken from a delusion.” Just because you disagree with us as to the urgency of dealing with the problems Russia presents doesn’t mean you’re awake and we’re asleep, or that you are some higher form of being entitled to favor us with sympathy — that is, unless you think it’s impossible you could be wrong. Frankly, that attitude seems perilously close to the arrogance you purport to condemn in Americans. When your prediction comes true and Vladimir Putin is replaced with a non-despotic leader who reverses the massive injuries to democracy inflicted upon Russia, you’ll surely be entitled to that lofty status, and we’ll be absolutely delighted to publish another letter in which you gloat and condemn our russophobia. It’ll be the last post we ever publish; after that, we’ll be delighted to go out of business and watch Russia become a great, successful country it has the potential to be. But if Putin becomes a dicatator, of if he is replaced by someone who continues despotism in Russia, and Russia’s problems just keep getting worse, and it continues on its path towards becoming “Zaire with permafrost,” of course, your prediction will be viewed as one that dangerously sought to encourage the West to lower its guard, hence perhaps contributing to the rise of dictatorship in Russia. And even if you are right, perhaps you ought to set a good example for others and not engage in the same type of rhetoric you’d like to see them avoid.

Best regards,

La Russophobe

The Mailbag

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

Reader Andre Dubois wrote recently to
offer some very kind words of encouragement for LR, which we omit out of modesty, and also offers an fascinating insight as to the state of things in Russia today:

Here is my story: Around the time of the collapse of the Soyuz Nerushimiy, I would see things in the news and think, “this could not have happened ten years ago.” And then it would be, “this could not have happened five years ago… one year ago… etc etc etc”

One day I saw a picture in the news of some Russians in a procession between two cathedrals recently returned to the church; they were carrying a portrait of Nicholas II. That’s when I realized the clock had turned, and I started thinking, “ten years from now, this will no longer be possible.” In other words, the march toward openness and freedom has been turned around.

Ah yes. And so it goes in Russia. Merci beaucoup, Andre!

Update on Svetlichnaya-Heartfield

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

When last we heard, little miss Julia Svetlichnaya was planning to sue Aftenposten and the Sunday Times for reporting that she had connections to the Kremlin which might have caused her to shade the truth when she reported that Alexander Litvinenko was a corrupt wacko (only after his demise, when he couldn’t defend himself) in the British paper The Observer. As you may recall, her collaborator in the nasty business of smearing Litvinenko was one James Heartfield, whom we had identified as a wacky Marxist with a shadowy past. Turns out, the fellow is even more far out then we imagined. A reader writes with some additional details:

On the subject of James Heartfield, I looked at the sourcewatch link, and what caught my eye was the Living Marxism reference. But first I looked at his membership of the (British) Revolutionary Communist Party and saw the claim that he actually co-authored their manifesto! Well, to see what kind of Party they were, you can look at the quote below from the website of an ordinary regular leftie who was once a member of them:

……I attended a London-wide planning meeting at which the RCP’s attitude towards the crisis in the Middle East was worked out on the basis of a thirty minute presentation, ‘what is the rest of the left not saying?’ It’s hard now to convey the oddity of that experience. For the RCP then claimed some 500 members (and would peak two years later at over 1000). To calculate the errors of the entire British left meant taking into consideration not just Labour, and the larger Marxist parties (Militant and the SWP), but even the smallest of the sects (Socialist Organiser, Workers Vanguard, Workers Hammer): the views of each of these group had to be considered before an RCP line could be drawn…..

It really makes me wonder how he became the almost mainstream journalist and writer that he now is. Anyway, on the subject of the Living Marxism magazine, I happen to remember the fact that they went bankrupt after losing a libel case brought against them by British news agency ITN. This was because the magazine falsely claimed that ITN had fabricated evidence to make a television programme about concentration camps in Bosnia in 1992. I understand that the programme was instrumental in pursuading NATO to attack Serbia in 1995.

The reader suggests the Guardian’s March 15, 2000 report “Poison in the Well of History” for further fascinating details.

Meanwhile, what about Julia’s threatened lawsuit? Suddenly, she seems to have gotten very quiet. Hmmm, wonder what that means . . . it’s either the calm before the storm or the hiding after the fraud.

The Mailbag: Russia on those Chinese Killer Satellites

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

A reader writes:

Following the recent destruction of a satellite by a Chinese missile, I was slightly shocked to read the comment from Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov (as reported by the Moscow News) about the incident: “I have heard reports to that effect, and they are quite abstract. I’m afraid they don’t have such an anti-satellite basis. The rumors are highly exaggerated.” The last comment sounds a bit like Mark Twain’s “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Either they destroyed a satellite or they didn’t. There might be something lost in the translation but it sounds a bit like “the Americans are lying but I am too diplomatic to say so.” Surely if the Russians had not detected the event, the proper thing to say would have been perhaps, “if it is true then it’s a worrying development” or even, “if it is true then it’s good that our Chinese friends have the power to hit America where it hurts”. Could it be that, since the Chinese had not confirmed it, he simply could not resist the temptation to call the Americans liars. In which case the recent Chinese confirmation that they did shoot a satellite down seems to have pulled the rug from under him.

The Moscow News report was:

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has called the reports that a Chinese ballistic missile has hit a satellite highly exaggerated rumors, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday. “I have heard reports to that effect, and they are quite abstract. I’m afraid they don’t have such an anti-satellite basis. The rumors are highly exaggerated,” Ivanov told reporters in Moscow. On Friday, World media reported that China had shot down one of their old weather satellites with a ballistic missile. The United States voiced concern over the test. The US believes China’s development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area. We and other countries have expressed our concern to the Chinese, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe has said . The Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite was hit by a medium-range, ground based ballistic missile approximately 537 miles above the Earth’s surface. The missile used a kinetic impact to destroy the satellite, said Johndroe. Both the satellite and the missile was launched from the Xichang Space Center in Sichuan Province; the satellite in 1999, and the missile on the 11th. Officials in the U.S. are now concerned that debris from the test could cause problems for civilian and or military satellites. It is estimated that at least 40,000 pieces of debris are now floating around in space as the result of the test, and the pieces range anywhere from 1 centimeters and up to 4 inches. The pieces of the satellite and missile could stay in Earth’s orbit for several decades. When the test happened, the U.S. stated that communication with one of its spy satellites was lost, but thus far no evidence has turned up to suggest the loss of communication was directly related to China’s test. The test took place on January 11, 2007 and this is the first such test to occur in over 20 years. The U.S. last tested an anti-satellite system back on September 13, 1985.

The Mailbag: Burger on Lavelle

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

La Russophobe has received and is pleased to publish the following letter from reader/contributor Professor Ethan Burger of Georgetown University regarding her recent post about Peter Lavelle (look for another installment from Professor Burger, this time regarding corruption in the Russian arbitrazh courts, in the coming days):

Greetings:

I think La Russophobe has been unfair to Peter Lavelle as some of the comments to the piece about him. It is one thing to attack one’s views, it is quite another to attack a person. He has been willing to publish views inconsistent with his own. He views force those who disagree with him to be more intellectually vigorous.

We are all products of our experience, for example, when Jerry Hough was hired to update Merle Fainsod’s “How Russia is Ruled” he produced “How the Soviet Union is Governed.” Hough, unlike the emigres and middle class academics who dominated Soviet studies, grew up in a lower-income household. His critique of Soviet Society was unique.He recognized the importance of interest group politics and put the Totalitarian Model. Although I do not share all of Mr. Hough’s views his writings at least triggered debate in what had been a stale field.

Peter has shown the courage to publish on-line two items I wrote on, when the mainstream press would not raise questions as to President Yushchenko’s first Prime Minister (Yulia Timoshenko) who I regard as at best morally challenged. He also co-authored one piece that supported political change to make the country a more democratic state. I do get annoyed when some of his discussion groups pro-Putin agitprop-types make unsubstantiated statements, but they should ignored or shown to be wrong. We must not lose sight of the fact that former Italian Berlusconi and Jacque Chirac may have been engaged in corrupt activities, that the western press with certain exceptions are not independent, and it is no crime for a country to pursue its foreign policy interests. Finally, I have found some of Peter’s commentaries insightful. He is a contrarian who enjoys going against the convention wisdom, but he has sought to maintain a level civility in his discussion group.

Sincerely,

Ethan S. Burger

Here is La Russophobe’s response to Professor Burger:

Dear Professor Burger:

Thank you for your comments about our post Mr. Peter Lavelle. We certainly agree that if he has had the good judgment to publish your thoughtful and scholarly analysis of the Russian question, then he can’t be all bad.

However, we must question the depth of his commitment to publishing “views inconsistent with his own.” If you think it is a profound one, we suggest you write something praising this blog, submit it to him for publication and see what happens. As an aside, we assume you are not suggesting that Mr. Lavelle disagreed with your views on Yulia Timoshenko, a leading Russophobe in the Ukraine. To the contrary, we believe that Mr. Lavelle, a hard-core Russophile from way back (as we understand it, he’s now employed by government-owned propaganda mouthpiece Russia Today), would have been only too delighted to publish any material criticizing her and therefore undermining the Ukraine’s efforts to free itself from the yoke of Russian oppression. We might also mention, just for the record, our view that though Ms. Timoshenko may very well be tainted by various types of corruption, its hardly likely that she’s as dirty as convicted criminal Victor Yanukovich, her Russophile adversary for control over the future of the Ukraine. As between the two, we’d take Yulia in a heartbeat.

We heartily agree with your observation that personal abuse should be avoided. That’s why we found it particularly offensive to be the target of unprovoked recent personal abuse from Mr. Lavelle, someone we haven’t said a word about for months and have mentioned only once in our whole history, and several of his readers in a e-mail communication to which we were not even made privy. We trust you will express your displeasure at Mr. Lavelle’s unfair and inaccurate comments about this blog, which has also had the good judgment to publish your writings, to him. We look forward to reading it when he publishes it on his venue (that is, if he still has one).

More important than the issue of personal abuse, however, is the question of accuracy. Quite simply, Mr. Lavelle was lying (or experiencing a fit of delusional egomania) when he claimed to be a “favorite target” of this blog. What’s more, only an utter fool could think he could get away with making such statements about this blog without receiving the type of response we provided, so if Mr. Lavelle is half as clever as you suggest he knew full well what he was letting himself in for. The statements of Mr. Lavelle’s correspondent about David McDuff were still more outrageous and lacking in factual basis. Part of the reason for our existence is to impose a stiff sanction on those who enter the blogosphere making statements as factually irresponsible as those offered by Mr. Lavelle’s little clique. Such people must know that a permanent web page will be created documenting their nefarious deeds that will follow them to the end of their days.

Don’t get us wrong. We’d be the last ones in the world to disdain free thinkers and contrarians, and we generally ignore Mr. Lavelle because he’s such an insignificant little flyspeck where the blogosphere (or anything else for that matter) is concerned (and besides, he’s almost indescribably boring). In fact, the only reason we mentioned him is that he mentioned us first. But we don’t think Mr. Lavelle fairly reports on what’s going in in Russia today. We think he minimizes or ignores the bad and maximizes or fabricates the good, and we think that helps push Russia down the road to destruction (however marginally). Therefore, we can’t stand him. If he’s associating with Russia Today, that’s beneath contempt. Maybe, we feel, his publishing occasional criticism of Russia is just a way of sugarcoating his propaganda for the unwary (that is, if he’s really doing it, and we’re not aware of any such publications). Mr. Lavelle may well think this blog maximizes the bad and minimizes the good, and thereby harms Russia. He has the right to his opinion, but he doesn’t have the right to tell outrageous lies about us, and if he does he’ll receive our censure in the strongest terms we can enunciate. If he can’t stand the heat, he should stay out of our kitchen.

Sincerely yours,

La Russophobe

Further comments from readers regarding this issue are always welcome.

The Mailbag: Thoughts on Litvinenko

A reader offers fasinating and insightful thoughts on the Litvinenko killing (all readers are welcome to submit material for publication consideration, anonymity assured if desired):

I have been spending an unhealthy amount of my spare time in the last couple of days reading about it and it really does seem to be an incredibly complex web of intrigue. So I find myself thinking what statements are the most likely to be true, grading down to the least likely. Of course, the British Police investigators will get as near to the full story as anyone can, but I don’t know if it will be near enough. I also don’t know if their findings will be made fully public or if the government will hide them so as not to rock the boat.

Anyway, in the (left leaning) Guardian and Observer, they have repeated the Russian allegation that Litvinenko had threatened to blackmail anti-Russian contacts of his, because he was short of money. This then would make it plausible that Berezovski would have him killed knowing he was really no friend of his, while at the same time creating the anti-Russian reactions that we have seen. I have to say that I have not heard this allegation repeated on British television news.

It has also been reported that Berezovski bankrolled Litvinenko and Zakayev, and paid for them both to live(in houses opposite each other) in north London. (I assume at the very least, it is true that they were neighbours). This actually begs the question: if Berezovski was happy to pay them some of his “$500m fortune”, why did Litvinenko want to get £10000 each from his ex contacts by blackmail? The newspaper websites also published an absolutely wierd photograph of Litvinenko posing threateningly with a Chechen sword in front of a Union Jack. They also mention other very strange things about his personality.

Meanwhile, Scaramella has been described on British news as a shady character who lied about his lectureship in two different universities. However, he was described on a mainly Russophile website “Europe Tribune”, as definitely being a lecturer at a university in Italy (I think it was Milan). However, the worst thing about Scaramella is that he appears to have lied to the Italian authorities about a couple of things, including saying that the Soviet navy had placed a lot of nuclear torpedoes in the Bay of Naples. And yet, he was apparently a friend of Litvinenko, or at least a trusted contact.

Another thing that is hard to swallow is Scaramella’s accusation that Romano Prodi was really a KGB agent. That could be an even bigger story than Litvinenko. I’m sure that I am not the first to suggest that maybe Scaramella is an FSB (or SVR) plant, put into the Mitrokhin Commission to make a lot of false allegations and discredit the commission itself.

Meanwhile, an apparently independent Irish reporter has testified that Gaidar was only briefly unconcious and that doctors believe he was suffering from the effects of his diabetes – in flat contradiction to Gaidar’s daughter’s account. And yet, how wierd is it that Gaidar (a man with anti-putin ideas, and with a daughter absolutely opposed to Putin) should collapse in the middle of a speech, coughing up blood the day after Litvinenko was diagnosed with chemical poisoning. How often do government officials collapse in the middle of speeches coughing up blood?! Now the Russians say he was poisoned!

It has occurred to me that on this very important issue, the FSB would think that, if they were not working strenuously at putting out information – probably disinformation – they were not doing their job. Therefore it is not just possible, but likely that some of the information being written and copied in cyberspace, and the blogosphere was put there by the FSB.

If Litvinenko really was a whacko, does it mean that it was OK to poison him with Polonium? I don’t think so. And when the Russian authorities say they had no reason to kill someone so unimportant, what about the fact that he wrote a book that could bring down Putin’s government and so they destroyed 4500 copies of it and prevented its publication in Russia? Putin reportedly said that the suggestion that he was responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings was a crime itself. Litvinenko not only suggested it, he wrote a book about it.

It is also interesting to think about Russian statements since the poisoning. On approximately the day the news broke they apparently said “if you want to find who did it, look at the people standing around his bed”. Also, since the British police arrived in Russia the authorities have said “the investigation is OK as long as it does not include the Kremlin”, and “it is OK but no one should try to politicise this”.

Surely, if this killing was done to discredit them as they claim, they should have been more than willing to help to find the perpetrators. Perhaps they should have sent some Russian police to London to cooperate with the British police. Because after all, the perpetrators would have been as much enemies of Russia as of Britain.

Finally, the Russian authorities said that the idea that the Polonium 210 probably originated in Russia was “absolutely ridiculous”. I hope that all thinking people in the world treat this statement with the ridicule that it deserves.

It is of course ridiculous to think that I am capable of working out all of the details of Litvinenko’s murder. However, I hope that you may find some of these stories and observations useful.