Saturday, December 31, 2005


It was in the middle of October, the last
day of the season at the summer place.
Everything arranged, tidied and closed up.
The taxi boat that was to take care of the transport
from our islet to the mainland
was already approaching the jetty.
Then I heard a nervous pecking from the attic window;
a tit shut in, unable to get out.
So: unlock again, break a pane up there,
release the frightened bird. Ask the boat to wait.
For one short moment I wondered if it would be best
to say nothing to the others, to forget
the alarm signals from the shut-in creature.
Everything was just as usual, no anxiety, routine
that held, rock-solid!
But what sort of solidarity – one chooses.

from Den sextonde månaden (The Sixteenth Month) by Tomas Mikael Bäck
Schildts Förlags Ab, Helsingfors, 2005 (my tr.)

Gas War: Talks Fail

via, December 31, 17:13
Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov's press secretary Valentin Mondrievsky has announced that Ukraine is ready to pay for Russian gas at the market price from April 2006, Ukrainskі Novini reports.

"We are taking in this proposal (by Russia) and we declare that Ukraine is ready to make the transition to the market price of the gas. But the question of price is a question of negotiations," said Mondrievsky. Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and Aleksei Ivchenko, chairman of the administration of the national joint-stock company "Neftegaz Ukrainy", are continuing negotiations.
CNN has a report beginning
Ukraine warms to Putin gas deal

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine could accept a Russian compromise deal in a dispute over natural gas supply prices, but more talks are needed, a spokesman for the Ukrainian prime minister is reported to have said.
Update: The talks have failed, and according to Gazprom Russian gas supplies to Ukraine will be cut off tomorrow, January 1, the BBC reports.

A Reuters report by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Ron Popeski is here.

The Year the Courts Died

Masha Gessen, on the year the courts died in Russia:
The Constitutional Court used to be a wonderful place. Think what you want, but I believe a real city has to possess a few particular elements: good cafes and convenient coffee shops (check), good bookstores (check), and places where you can go see intelligent people say good things. Poetry readings and other literary evenings will do the trick -- and there is plenty of that in Moscow -- but for years I was also a fan of the Constitutional Court. Getting in was reasonably easy, and once there, you could observe a group of very well-educated, intelligent people discussing things that ought to matter to all of us. By the nature of their jobs, they always made reference to the Constitution, which is not a perfect document but is not half-bad as a starting point in any conversation.

Now that conversation is over: The Constitution and its ideals have been declared infinitely mutable.

So is it any wonder that immediately after rendering its decision on governors the Constitutional Court started packing its bags? It seems it will be going to the scrap heap of history -- I mean, the city of St. Petersburg. It is a richly symbolic move. Russia is a country with a single center: Moscow, where all information and all power reside. Moving the Constitutional Court out of Moscow means quite literally moving it out of the loop.

Valery Zorkin acquiesced to the move easily, perhaps indicating that, after more than a decade in the judicial limelight, he is eager to recede into the symbolic shade. That is what the Constitutional Court is doing under his leadership.

That is what the entire judicial system is doing: taking a step back into the space reserved for it in Soviet times -- as a system that selectively enforces selected laws at the pleasure of the state.

May the quest for justice rest in peace.

Read it all.

Satanic Verses

Writing in Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal on December 23, Leonid Radzikhovsky caused something of a stir when he suggested that the Soviet author Mikhail Bulgakov, far from being an advocate of free speech and "pure" aesthetic and moral ideals, was actually a surreptitious defender of fascism.

In his long and persuasive essay, Radzikhovsky reflects on how Bulgakov's reputation and status as an author - he was the object of a quasi-religious cult among young dissident students and intellectuals in the Soviet Union of the late 1960s and 1970s - rested largely on the fact that it was in one of Bulgakov's novels, The Master and Margarita (now to be shown in a screen adaptation on Russian television), that they were able to find extended allusion to the "eternal themes" of Christ, the New Testament and the immortality of the soul. Such a book appeared as a treasure in the stultifying intellectual and political climate of Brezhnev's Soviet Union.

Radzikhovsky argues that one of the novel's principal ideas is that the Devil is really in charge of human destiny. Kant's proof of the existence of God is put to scorn and ridicule, and there is even a conversation where it's suggested that Kant be sent to the GULAG as punishment for his silliness. Bulgakov's sympathies, Radzikhovsky suggests, are really with the Devil. He also puts Bulgakov into the context of the period in which the book was written - the 1930s, and comments that having rejected both the Whites and the Reds during and after the Civil War, Bulgakov found himself in search of the truth. He found it, Radzikhovsky says, in the Strong Man (read Stalin). This was nothing unusual in the world of those days:
For today's politically correct contemporary intellectual, "fascism" is an indivisible (and, to be honest, very abstract) profanity (like "Zionism" for the comrade-patriots). But it was not always so! Intellectuals finally turned away from fascism when it died. But when they knew it by feel, many were not averse to continuing the acquaintance. The intelligentsia was split right at the time of its flowering (the 1920s and 30s). There were antifascists, there were fascists, fascists were all colours of the rainbow... Brown fascism appealed to Heidegger, to Hamsun and Richard Strauss, while Brecht, on the contrary, preferred red. As is well known, Mayakovsky and Ezra Pound, Berdyaev and Ustryalov, all fell sick with fascism.
Razdzikhovsky notes that Bulgakov’s fascism expressed itself in a worship of the strong “hero-executioner”: in his novels there is not a word of criticism in condemnation of the Chekists. “On the contrary, they are always the force which brings order to chaos. The Devil as the creator of the world…”

All this has naturally brought a storm of protest from those who wish to defend Bulgakov from the accusations, and now the journal has even published an article by Alexei Makarkin in which he attempts to refute Radzikhovsky's arguments.

None the less, what Radzikhovksky has written is a serious essay in literary criticism, and it deserves serious consideration. Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal is to be congratulated on opening its columns to such material, which goes far beyond the analysis of purely contemporary political issues in the Russian Federation and tackles matters that concern Russia's moral and spiritual past, and its future.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Polish Patrols

Via the BBC:
Poland has become the first former Warsaw Pact country to take responsibility for patrolling the air space of the three Baltic states.

Polish pilots took over the rotating Nato mission from the US at a ceremony in northern Lithuania. Seventy Polish air force personnel will serve there.

Poland joined Nato six years ago and it is the first time its pilots will patrol air space bordering Russia.

Four Russian-made MiG-29 jets will be flown during the three-month mission.

The planes have been specially upgraded by Nato to meet the alliance's standards.

Nato member states have taken it in turns to patrol the Baltic skies since the three nations joined the alliance in March last year.

But it is the first time a former Warsaw Pact member has taken over the job and it has caused fears here that the Russians may take advantage of it to test the Polish pilots' skills.

Gas War: The Question

On Sunday, Russia assumes leadership of the G-8 group of industrialized nations. On the same day, it has threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine if it doesn't accept a four-fold price increase. At RFE/RL, Claire Bigg considers the question: Does the Ukraine 'Gas War' cast a shadow over Moscow's G-8 chairmanship?
Russia will spend the year of 2006 at the helm of one of the world's most powerful global alliances. It is a rare opportunity for President Vladimir Putin to boost his country's international standing. As the chair, Russia will host a number of ministerial-level meetings to discuss issues of global concern.

Russia is not a formal member of the G-7 grouping of Japan, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, and the United States, as it is not among the world's leading economies.

But Moscow has enjoyed steady economic growth and a rising profile as a major oil-and gas-producing power. Energy policy will be high on the agenda of Russia's G-8 chairmanship.

Moscow's ongoing dispute with Kyiv over the price of Russia's natural gas, therefore, presents a potential problem.

Can Russia present itself as a stable energy provider to Western markets as it engages in an ugly showdown with a former Soviet neighbor?

Chechnya and Jordan: the Ethnic Factor

The Prague Watchdog has an interesting article on the subject of Jordan and Chechnya - An Unquestioned Relationship:
...the experience of the Chechen community in Jordan was very different from that of the ethnic groups in other Middle Eastern states precisely because ethnic communities in other Middle Eastern states were not able to preserve their cultural identity due to nationalist political agendas; whereas the experience of Chechens in Jordan was based on a recognition of difference, rather than an enforced social, political and cultural integration.

The different experience of ethnic groups in the Middle East can, therefore, be used to explain the significant role of Jordanian Chechens in the two Russo-Chechen campaigns in the 1990s. As we have noted it is clear that a substantial support network also existed in other countries such as Turkey, while Jordan played an increasingly important role.

With this in mind, we suggest that the Jordanians who participated in the two Chechen conflicts can be divided as follows: first, into limited numbers of Jordanian Arabs (when compared with other Arab volunteers from Gulf States) who travelled to Chechnya from Afghanistan with the likes of Ibn Khattab. And second, into groups of ethnic Chechens in Jordan, who were motivated by national causes, rather than religion. In the latter case, it is important to note that few if any Chechens were members of Islamist movements before travelling to Chechnya, even though a number did join radical groups such as Jamaat Islamayia whilst in the North Caucasus. In particular, this sheds light on the role of the alleged recruiter Fathi, indicating that he did not try to recruit Chechens from Jordan, but instead relied on his relations with foreign fighters in Afghanistan. This goes some way to indicate how radical Salafist ideas became increasingly influential, particularly after 1995, and how important figures played a role in polarizing the war-ravaged community of Chechnya.

A final point worth noting here is the role of Middle Eastern aid organisations in the two Russo-Chechen campaigns. In fact, a number of well-known aid organisations such as the International Islamic Relief Foundation and Islamic Relief Worldwide were founded in Middle Eastern states, and they offered financial support packages to refuges in, and after, the first Russo-Chechen campaign. It also emerges that some Persian Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia alongside specific named financiers, played an increasingly important role in shaping post-Khasavyurt Chechnya through informal ties and through working closely with aid organisations. Furthermore, it was alleged that assistance was given to some radical groups through both informal and formal links to Middle Eastern benefactors. So much so, that Russia banned the work of many Middle Eastern aid organisations. But, unlike other Middle Eastern aid organisations based in the Persian Gulf, support networks and aid organisations in Jordan have not been banned by the Russian authorities. This indicates that Jordan and its Chechen diaspora have played a different role to that linked to Islamic radicalism in the Middle East.
Read the whole thing.

Beslan: Taking the Blame - III

In Le Monde, Natalie Nougayrède considers the questions about the Beslan hostage crisis which the Russian federal parliamentary commission headed by Alexander Torshin has not answered:
Just after the end of the hostage-taking at the school in Beslan, North Ossetia, from 1st to 3rd September 2004, Vladimir Putin used a phrase of Stalin's to announce new restrictions by the authorities: "If you are weak, you get attacked". Russia, he explained in a television broadcast, had just suffered a terrorist attack because it had shown that it was weak. Mr Putin announced an immediate series of countermeasures whereby politics would come under new control throughout the country, most notably by the removal of the election by universal suffrage of the regional governors. In this sense the drama of Beslan was a decisive moment in the political transformation of Putin's Russia.

For this reason very few observers were expecting that the publication, on Wednesday 28 December, of the preliminary results of the parliamentary commission of inquiry into the events would be likely in any way to cast a critical light on the conduct, by the central authorities, of the final stages of the hostage-taking that marked the commencement of the 2004 academic year in North Ossetia - still less to raise the more general question of the policy pursued by the Kremlin in the North Caucasus, where violence is continuing to spread.

Having decided, after some hesitation, to set up the parliamentary commission, the Kremlin was careful to place it under the control of United Russia, the party that supports the President, placing at its head the MP Alexander Torshin. Sixteen months after the opening of the inquiry Mr Torshin presented his report, just three days before the New Year festival which, in Russia, is the best way to ensure that its contents and omissions rapidly get forgotten.

In his conclusions Mr Torshin has exonerated the Russian federal authorities from all responsibility over the tragic outcome of the hostage-taking. He has reserved his only criticisms for the regional police forces of North Ossetia and Ingushetia, declaring that but for their "negligence" and "carelessness" the tragedy "could have been avoided."


Three hundred and thirty-one people, including 186 children, lost their lives during the attack on School Number 1 by an armed band consisting of Chechen and Ingush fighters. Most of the victims died in the fire that took hold at the moment of the assault by Russian special forces on the third day of the siege.

The report by Mr Torshin acknowledges that the Russian authorities lied about the number of hostages: the school-children, relatives and teachers locked in the gymnasium numbered 1,128, not 354 as announced at the outset. Mr Torshin has identified as solely responsible for this mistake General Valery Andreyev, formerly the head of the Ossetian branch of the FSB (the Russian security service) - but has not considered the question of who gave the orders.

On the more sensitive matters before the commission of inquiry, such as the utilisation by the Russian army of flame-throwers and tanks during their assault, and the cause of the explosions in the gymnasium, where a number of the hostages were burnt alive, Mr Torshin has not examined the actions of the forces of law and order. He has stated that the tanks did not go into action until after 3 p.m. on Saturday 3rd September and that all the hostages had already been evacuated from the school.

This statement is contradicted by a number of witness statements. The report considers that a shot by a Russian sniper fired at one of the terrorists could not have caused the first of the explosions - a conclusion with which witnesses also disagree.

If Mr Torshin's report establishes that there were "mistakes" by those in charge during the conduct of the operations, it is silent on the role played by the FSB's number one, Nikolai Patrushev, Mr Putin's trusted confidant and appointee. On Wednesday a representative of the Committee of Mothers of Beslan, Susanna Dudiyeva, expressed indignation at these omissions, and said the report "leaves the most important questions unanswered." Many Beslan residents say they are convinced that the truth will never come out.

Mr Putin did not make any public statement on Wednesday on Beslan, preferring to express satisfaction at the level of Russian arms exports to other countries.

At the same time that the Kremlin is exerting itself, by the passage of a new law, to restrict the activities of NGOs in Russia, President Putin seeks ways to ensure that neither Beslan nor Chechnya will cast their shadows over the G8 summit which he will host in St Petersburg a few months from now.
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Translated by Jeremy Putley

(via chechnya-sl)

Gas War: More Developments

A further dimension to the Gazprom/Ukraine gas war is opened up in a Reuters story by Dmitry Zhdannikov, dated December 25. It appears that Gazprom is agreeing to buy Central Asian gas that would normally have gone to Ukraine:
Gazprom said on Thursday that it had agreed to buy 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2006, up from the previously planned 10 billion in 2005, in a move that pointedly made things worse for Ukraine.

In the first quarter alone, Gazprom would buy 15 bcm, which amounts to almost all Turkmen exports, it said in a statement.

Turkmenistan has been selling 36 bcm to 37 bcm to Ukraine annually. Gazprom's increased purchases of Turkmen gas will reduce the volume available for Ukraine to 14 bcm to 15 bcm.

"This deal gives Gazprom one more trump card in its dispute with Ukraine," said energy analyst Valery Nesterov of brokerage Troika Dialog . "It is crystal clear that given Turkmenistan's flat gas production, the Gazprom deal reduces volumes that are available for direct purchases by Ukraine."

And, in another development, Kommersant newspaper noted on December 28 that
Yesterday, for the first time of gas confrontation with Ukraine, Moscow used an argument that looks like a threat to use force. Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Ivanov indicated that reconsideration of agreements about Russian Black Sea Fleet by Ukraine can lead Moscow to review an agreement about borders.
(via Marius)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Beslan Mothers: Summon Dzasokhov

Reporting on December 27 on the continuing Beslan massacre trial in Vladikavkaz, Caucasian Knot observed that
Earlier today, victims in the Beslan school attack case decided not to leave the Supreme Court of North Ossetia until the key prosecution witness comes to the trial. They changed their mind later though, Radio Liberty says. Now the victims demand that the court should provide guarantees that North Ossetia's ex-president Alexander Dzasokhov will arrive at the trial after all.

Beslan Mothers Committee Chairwoman Susanna Dudiyeva spoke on behalf of the victims at the trial, Interfax reports. She noted that relatives of those killed in Beslan thought that the court delayed decision-making on those issues that interested the victims most, in particular summoning North Ossetia's ex-president Alexander Dzasokhov to the trial as a witness. "We believe that Dzasokhov should be recalled from the Federation Council, we've had enough of Dzasokhov hiding behind his immunity as a Federation Council member," Ms Dudiyeva said.

She also added that the victims had filed an address concerning the inadvisability of Mr Dzasokhov's membership of the upper house of the federal parliament to the North Ossetian legislature and to residents of the republic.
(via chechnya-sl)

The Risk of Fascism

México desde fuera is back - recent posts include an assessment of the risk of fascism in Mexico, by comparison with elsewhere in Latin America.


Watching Eldar Ryazanov's Ironiya sud'by (Irony Of Fate, 1975) over the Christmas holiday, I was struck by the degree to which this particular type of dead-pan humour also animates much later productions from this part of the world - in particular the films of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, whose Mies vailla menneisyyttä (The Man Without A Past, 2002) clearly owes a debt to Ryazanov's classic. Quite apart from the fact that the plots bear some resemblance to each other, there's also the same emotional ambivalence - the same uncertainty whether to laugh or to cry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Beslan: Taking the Blame - II

It appears that in spite of the Russian federal prosecutor's report, published on Monday, which found that the authorities made "no mistakes" during last year's Beslan school siege, and was met with outrage by the families of the victims, the federal Duma inquiry does at least admit that the operation to free the hostages was "full of failures".

But the Duma report has still to be published.

It will be recalled that the North Ossetian parliamentary commission's report pointed a finger.

The Jihad Against Ukraine

Via Bildt Comments:

Write to Vladimir Putin and tell him what you think about blackmail with gas

Friday, December 23, 2005



Hättest du der Einfalt nicht, wie sollte
dir geschehn, was jetzt die Nacht erhellt?
Sieh, der Gott, der über Völkern grollte,
macht sich mild und kommt in dir zur Welt.

Hast du dir ihn größer vorgestellt?

Was ist Größe? Quer durch alle Maße,
die er durchstreicht, geht sein grades Los.
Selbst ein Stern hat keine solche Straße.
Siehst du, diese Könige sind groß,

und sie schleppen dir vor deinen Schoß

Schätze, die sie für die größten halten,
und du staunst vielleicht bei dieser Gift-:
aber schau in deines Tuches Falten,
wie Er jetzt schon alles übertrifft.

Aller Amber, den man weit verschifft,

jeder Goldschmuck und das Luftgewürze
das sich trübend in die Sinne streut:
alles dieses war von rascher Kürze,
und am Ende hat man es bereut.

Aber (du wirst sehen): Er erfreut.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Das Marienleben
Duino, January 1912

Die Kindheitsgeschichte Christi

Conrad von Soest, active from 1390 to 1425


Britain is currently going through a difficult period of readjustment. A Guardian report notes that
In a private seminar this month a Downing Street policy analyst claimed voters want not just the traditional security of peace and prosperity, but reassurance in the face of relentless social change.

Tony Blair gave a hint of the scale of the problem at his monthly press conference yesterday. When he tries to tackle long term problems "it is a real hassle because people will mis-describe your policy. You get scare stories ... it's difficult but once you have actually done it and got through, if you have improved the situation ... that's leadership," he said.

His senior aide was more candid. Officials believe they are handling an electorate in "a difficult transitional teenage state, unwilling to be governed by its elders, but not yet possessing the capacities, processes or institutions to take responsibility for their own lives". Britons as a result are "a conflicted population getting richer, but not happier, with more money to spend, but not sure what to spend it on, or how to make themselves happy with that expenditure".

Some demands are impossible to reconcile. The No 10 official characterised the problem as: "I want to drive my car, but I don't like global warming. I don't want any more people living in my village, but I want my son and daughter to be able to afford a house."

I must say that in the light of what I observed during a recent spell of jury service in the Crown Court, I'm inclined to agree with some of these perceptions. There is some kind of reality block operating in British society now.

And in spite of the "Britons getting richer" line pushed by the government, the real, glaring problems of social inequality and exclusion, of poverty and ethnic discrimination, are largely swept under the carpet. A Britain that has lost its self-image and sense of identity still tries selectively to cling to safe and reassuring patterns and attitudes of the past, even though that past has long ago disappeared. The result is that the old, traditional British "common sense" has become an empty consensus that's essentially sterile. There's a vacuum waiting to be filled, and that is possibly a dangerous development: not a good omen for the future.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Words and Deeds - II

Masha Gessen, on her participation in last Sunday's anti-fascist march in Moscow:
The threat of fascism is an issue engineered by the Kremlin with a transparent dual goal: to siphon liberals' efforts away from protests against President Vladimir Putin, and to provide justification for cracking down on opposition activity -- in the name of fighting fascism. At the same time, the ultranationalist movements launched with the Kremlin's inspiration and support are clearly taking on a life of their own, and should therefore be fought. We step into this trap with our eyes wide open.

So there we have it. Several thousand people spent their Sunday gathering in a parallel physical space to use parallel language to fight a battle that is parallel to the one they really wanted to take on. And the worst part is, they came because they felt they had no choice. That is certainly why I was there -- and why I did not want to be there.

There are times in your life when you feel trapped -- when you truly are trapped, in fact. You have your bearings, you can tell right from wrong, but you still cannot find a way out. That is how the anti-fascist march made me feel. It is how I feel more and more often these days. And it's cold comfort to think that I am far from the only person in this country who feels this way.
See also: Words and Deeds

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dmitrievsky: Politkovskaya Testifies

via chechnya-sl:

Information Centre of the Russia-Chechen Friendship Society

Anna Politkovskaya testifies at the trial of Dmitriyevsky

Nizhny-Novgorod, 21 December 2005
Communiqué no. 1645

The Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and the architect Elena Karmazina, have provided testimony in favour of the defence during the hearing on 21 December in the matter of Dmitriyevsky, who is accused under article 282 CP FR of "acts of inciting hatred or animosity, and attacking the dignity of a person or group, for motives related to the sex, race, nationality, language, origin, religious affiliation or belonging to a social category." The accused faces a possible five years of deprivation of liberty.

Anna Politkovskaya, who has received several national and international prizes for her coverage of events in Chechnya, spoke about the massacre of civilians during the conflict; the crimes of war committed by the representatives of the federal forces; extra-judicial punishments; untargeted artillery and missile bombardments perpetrated by the federal forces, all of which amounted to confirmation of the facts comprising the basis of the charges against Stanislav Dmitriyevsky.

According to her testimony these acts amounted to state terrorism, and as such justified the expression "Russian terrorism" used by Maskhadov, and justified as well the description of the military criminals as "occupiers" and their acts as "atrocities".

Moreover the appeals of Maskhadov and Zakayev published by the accused were directed neither against the Russian people, nor against the Russian machinery of the state, since they were appeals for the commencement of negotiations.

Elena Karmazina, a well-known architect of Nizhny-Novgorod, spoke about the actions of Dmitriyevsky in the field of restoration of Russian monuments, and the protests which he had organised to prevent the demolition of the town's historic monuments.

After the statements of the witnesses, prosecutorial documents were read. The defence for the accused then requested the addition of a series of further documents to the dossier, in particular the guilty verdict of the Qatar tribunal in the case of the Russian agents who benefited from diplomatic immunity and who were responsible for the assassination of Zelimkhan Yandarbayev etc.

The next hearing will be on 18 January 2006.

Editor, Stanislav Dmitriyevsky
Editor responsible for publication, Tatyana Banina

Unofficial translation from French language translation from the original Russian.

See also: Dmitrievsky Trial

British "Humour" - III

Edward Lucas, on the diplomatic gaffe committed by Britain's ambassador to Poland, Charles Crawford:
...what infuriated some Poles was his characterisation of the new member states as ungratefully rude for the fact that Britain, by opening its labour markets, had created “more jobs for Poles in the past year than the Polish Government.”

Ouch. That prompted a storm of protest in Poland, where short-term emigration to Britain is a sensitive subject. Polish physicists may earn good money fixing bathroom taps and laptops for the British middle-classes, but that doesn’t mean that they like it. I sometimes wonder how I would feel if I had to subsidise my work as a journalist at The Economist by spending my holidays picking mushrooms in Poland.

The Polish foreign ministry, unamused, summoned Mr Crawford for a chat.

But Mr Crawford has nothing to apologise for. Indeed, as a British taxpayer, I am rather proud of him. I want my country’s diplomats to have the freedom to be candid and caustic. I’d be even happier if the government listened more and leaked less. But that’s not Mr Crawford’s fault.

See also:
British Humour
British "Humour" - II

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

For A Few Rubles More

Garry Kasparov, on the Schroeder/Gazprom scandal:
One small step for Vladimir Putin, one giant leap for corruption in the West. Just days after being pushed out of office as chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schröder made sure he wouldn't add to the high rate of unemployment he left behind. Last week he accepted a top post with Russian energy giant Gazprom, the company in charge of a controversial gas pipeline project that he actively supported as chancellor.

The dubious ethicality of this move and the speed with which it was made lead to many obvious questions about whether or not Mr. Schröder abused his office to set up this deal, especially as he was trailing badly in the polls for most of the campaign against Angela Merkel. But the groundwork for his new job was laid out in advance as part of a well-organized operation that brought in capital before personnel.

Mathias Warnig, as head of Russian operations for Dresdner Bank, first brought in a deal to purchase 33% of Gazprombank in August. (Dresdner also helped the Kremlin pick the bones of the Yukos oil company headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now in a Siberian jail.) Accordingly, Mr. Warnig was given a top position at the North European Gas Pipeline Company. Finally everything was ready for the arrival of Mr. Schröder.

The deal keeps everything in the family as Mr. Warnig was a spy for the East German secret police, the Stasi, at the same time Mr. Putin was running agents for the KGB in Dresden. As Mr. Putin himself has said, there is no such thing as a former KGB agent.

In reality this is the lesser story -- that Germany's most powerful politicians and businessmen can be purchased the way a Russian oligarch might buy an aristocratic Bavarian estate to gain entry to high society.

The larger picture is of how Mr. Putin has made the nation's energy resources the center of his ruling clique that has erased the lines between public and private power and assets. Does the state run Gazprom or does Gazprom run the state? Mr. Putin has made a priority of further tightening the unholy bond between his regime's internal and external goals and the company that provides most of the natural gas to Central and Eastern Europe. They are not state-run companies; they are the state.

Gazprom's chairman Dmitry Medvedev was recently named first deputy prime minister while deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin heads the other energy goliath, Rosneft. That's not the only reason Rosneft is unlikely to be investigated for its takeover of Yukos's prime asset Yuganskneftegas in a bogus auction one year ago. Taking La Famiglia literally, Mr. Sechin's daughter is married to Attorney General Vladimir Ustinov's son. Mr. Schröder is not joining a company; he is joining the Putin administration.

Mr. Schröder's country and his Social Democrat Party must censure him for dragging them through the mud on his way to work. For Mr. Schröder's price, Gazprom and Mr. Putin's regime are buying legitimacy in the eyes of the West. By putting the company on the market and stocking its board with prominent foreigners, he is also creating a backup plan in case things don't work out on the home front. After years of dirty dealing, Mr. Putin and his cronies can hardly afford to lose control and risk having their abuses brought to light. So they are attempting to spread both assets and culpability. While they proclaim the need to shield Russia from the evils of Western influence, the KGB are themselves comfortable with capitalist tricks -- in times of uncertainty, diversify your portfolio.

These deals also provide the Kremlin with priceless propaganda fodder. They trumpet their coup abroad and at the same time the state-controlled media will present it as an example of how the West is only after money and oil. Totalitarian regimes everywhere love to tell their citizens that, for all their professed interest in democracy and human rights, Americans and Western Europeans are just as corrupt as their own leaders. It does tremendous damage to the pro-democracy cause in Russia when the former leader of the world's third-largest industrial nation enthusiastically allies himself with authoritarian thugs.

Using energy as a political weapon is a tried and tested tactic, and with big Western names out front Gazprom will act with even more impunity. Having failed to install another Kremlin flunky in Ukraine, Gazprom has now quadrupled gas prices to Russia's neighbor. The latest threat is to cut off winter gas supplies entirely if the Ukrainian administration doesn't bow down to Russia's will. Georgia and the Baltic states are receiving similar treatment: Toe the Kremlin's political line or get ready for a long, chilly winter. Call it the new "cold" war.

While Mr. Schröder's leap was causing small outbursts of indignation, another supplicant headed to Moscow for a job interview. The Russian press is full of rumors that Donald Evans, former U.S. commerce secretary and an old and dear friend of George W. Bush, was offered the position of chairman of Rosneft during recent meetings with Mr. Putin. They are looking to cover their tracks with a big IPO in 2006 and are shopping around for a prestigious front man to calm Western fears. Mr. Evans would formally put the Bush administration's heretofore unspoken presidential seal of approval on the Kremlin's dirty dealings.

This is the latest Kremlin strategy -- to co-opt and hush the Western nations by making them complicit in its crimes. When everyone is guilty, no one is guilty, goes the logic. We have seen the price paid for these see-no-evil policies on civil liberties and in Chechnya. Now Western leaders will also have to resist the calls of their bank accounts, not merely the calls of their conscience.

Oil, gas, politics, intimidation and repression, all are mixed together while one hand seeks to soap the other clean. When Mr. Putin and his friends are swept out and independent courts are established in Russia, Mr. Schröder and other foreigners trying to make a quick ruble may find that oil leaves stains that are terribly difficult to remove. Out, damned spot!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hans Gál

I've been listening to Leon McCawley's wonderful performances of the complete piano music of Hans Gál. Gál, who died in 1987 at the age of 97, was one of the great Austrian composers of the twentieth century, though his career was interrupted and for a time eclipsed by the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria. I had the good fortune to study piano with him in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the early 1960s, and the lessons I had then have enriched my experience of music throughout my life.

To hear these works now played with such assurance and delicate energy is a revelation. And I'm struck by the words of the composer's grandson, Simon Fox-Gál, who was recording engineer for the new Avie 3-CD collection:
The deeper I get to know Gál's music the more I come to realise that it demands mastery of one of the highest challenges for a human being: balance. This could have been achieved by avoiding any extremes. But a far more powerful approach is to maximise seemingly opposing elements, allowing them to combine as one magnificent whole. Specifically, maximising Gál's emotional intensity on the one hand while bringing out his humour and wit on the other; punctuating contrapuntal intricacies and at the same time drawing out lyrical beauty to the full; emphasizing the extraordinary harmonic twists and turns that are such an important part of Gál's musical language whilst stating the music with directness and simplicity.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The National Socialists

In Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal Yevgenia Albats writes about her intention of taking part in the anti-fascist march that is being organized in Moscow tomorrow, December 18, and her reasons for doing so:
To me it seems impossible that in a country which lost a minimum of 27 million lives in the war with the guardians of "the purity of Aryan blood" there should not be enough normal, sober-minded people who understand that it's impossible to grow accustomed to such horrors, that Nazi delirium in the Russian manner cannot be allowed to become the nation's dominant ideology of nation. We cannot allow ourselves to fall ill with historical amnesia. We paid too high a price for victory. And we shall pay too high a price if we allow ourselves to forget.
In the comments that follow her article, there's an interesting discussion among readers, most of whom seem to have little time for "old-fashioned" invocations of World War II memories. Yet the consensus is clear, even in the most critical and nationalistic posts: Russia is facing a situation analogous to that of Germany in the late 1920s and 30s, there is a sharp divide between a privileged minority and a huge disadvantaged majority, with a strong and irrational revanchist climate of feeling among a public that is in search of a strong leader. Racism, founded on hostility to dark-haired people from the Caucasus and elsewhere, is widespread, and the longing for an ethnically "pure", Orthodox and national socialist Russia is not going to die down.

One commenter wonders what he can say to his friend in the United States, a Jewish historian who "loves" the Russians because they freed his parents from Auschwitz.
I tell him, why don't you just make one trip to Russia? No, he won't go. I think he's right in that, he will die in happy ignorance.

The Ahmadinejad Effect

Some Western observers have been puzzled by Iranian President Ahmadinejad's palpably outrageous statements concerning Israel and the Holocaust in recent weeks. Yet the matter is probably fairly simple: the President is merely making use of a technique long ago perfected by leaders of totalitarian states in the days of the Cold War, a technique which mainly consists of the taking of extreme positions which can subsequently "criticized" by other powers in the same political axis for the purposes of PR: thus, by making public criticisms of Ahmadinejad's tirades, both China and Russia can appear to be "moderate" and "sensible", thus reassuring a Western political commentariat which often tends to take things at face value.

Terror in the Pipeline

Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania's first president after the restoration of independence, and now a member of the European Parliament, writing about the Baltic Sea pipeline:
Russia's strategic task is obvious: cutting off Ukraine's gas currently means cutting off much of Europe's gas as well, because some of its biggest gas pipelines pass through Ukraine. By circumventing Ukraine, Poland, and of course, the Baltic countries, the new pipeline promises greater leverage to the Kremlin as it seeks to reassert itself regionally. President Vladimir Putin and his administration of ex-KGB clones will no longer have to worry about Western Europe when deciding how hard to squeeze Russia's postcommunist neighbors.

Should Europe really be providing Putin with this new imperial weapon? Worse, might Russia turn this weapon on an energy-addicted EU? That a German ex-chancellor is going to lead the company that could provide Russia with a means to manipulate the EU economy is testimony to Europe's dangerous complacency in the face of Putin's neoimperialist ambitions.

Certainly Russia's media are aware of Europe's growing dependence on Russian energy. Indeed, they revel in it: after we integrate and increase our common gas business, Russian editorialists write, Europe will keep silent about human rights. Putin expresses this stance in a more oblique way with his commitment to pursuing what he calls an "independent policy." What he means by that is that Russia is to be "independent" of the moral and human rights concerns of the Western democracies.

Perhaps some European leaders really do believe that maintaining the Union's cozy prosperity justifies silencing ourselves on human rights and other issues that annoy the Kremlin. Of course, we may speak up, briefly, about "commercial" matters like the expropriation of Yukos, but if the Kremlin puts a price on our values or criticism of Russian wrongdoing - as in, say, bloodstained Chechnya - Europeans seem willing to shut up rather than face the possibility of higher energy prices, or even a blockade like that now facing Ukraine.

As Putin shuffles his court, subordinating the Duma to his will, the EU's hopes for a growing "Europeanization" of Russia should be abandoned. The Russia that Putin is building has mutated from the post-Soviet hopes of freedom into an oil and gas bulwark for his new model ex-KGB elite. Indeed, Matthias Warnig, the chief executive of the pipeline consortium that Schroeder will chair, is a longtime Putin friend. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Warnig, who heads Dresdner Bank's Russian arm, was an officer in the Stasi, the East German secret police, and met Putin in the late 1980's when the Russian president was based in East Germany as a KGB spy.

That Russians tolerate a government of ex-KGB men, for whom lack of compassion and intolerance of dissent are the norm, reflects their exhaustion from the tumult of the last 20 years. Now the Kremlin seems to think that what is good for ordinary Russians is good for independent nations as well: small and weak countries will be shown no mercy once Russia is given the tools to intimidate, isolate, and threaten them with the prospect of an energy blockade. As a former Head of State of newly independent Lithuania, I frequently endured such threats.

The EU has signed numerous agreements with Russia including one for a "common space" for freedom and justice. The Kremlin is very good at feigning such idealism. Its control of Eastern Europe was always enforced on the basis of "friendship treaties," and the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 were "fraternal" missions.

But look how Putin abuses that "common" space: barbaric treatment of Chechens, the businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky imprisoned, foreign NGOs hounded, a co-leader of last year's Orange Revolution, Yuliya Tymoshenko, indicted by Russian military prosecutors on trumped-up charges. If Europeans are serious about their common space for human rights and freedoms, they must recognize that those values are not shared by the calculating placemen of Putin's Kremlin.

The same is true of viewing Russia as an ally in the fight against terrorism. Is it really conceivable that the homeland of the "Red Terror" with countless unpunished crimes from the Soviet era, and which bears traces of blood from Lithuania to the Caucasus, will provide reliable help in stopping Iran and North Korea from threatening the world? It seems more likely that the Kremlin's cold minds will merely exploit each crisis as an opportunity to increase their destructive power and influence.

(via chechnya-sl)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Baltic Pearl

The Chinese People's Republic is to fund the construction of a $1.25 billion "multifunctional complex of housing, social, public and business plots" in the southwestern coastal district of St Petersburg, Russia.

From the official literature:
The project supposes an integrated developing of the territory comprising 180 hectares, including land leveling, restoration of Matisov Channel (the object of cultural heritage of 18 century), construction of engineering facilities, creation of the road and street network, green spaces and parks.

The project aims to build more than 1 million square meters of residential houses with well developed social infrastructure: kindergartens, schools, libraries, health centers. The business area includes office spaces, hotels, shopping centers.

«Baltic Pearl» is a new level of the city architectural design and well reasoned urban structure. The main planning principle is focusing on people. For example an elevated pedestrian system is designed to make comfortable communication between buildings.

The period of the project development is 6-8 years. The first stage is planned for completion by 2008.
(via Carl Bildt at Bildt Comments)

Crimes of War - II

Serbian war criminals continue to hide out in the Russian Federation, which seems to be unwilling to locate and extradite them. It's only five years since Yugoslav defence minister Dragoljub Ojdanic was received with full honours in Moscow, a year after he was indicted by Hague prosecutors for war crimes in Kosovo. And since then, Moscow has not exactly been co-operative: though another indictee, ex-Bosnian Serb military policeman Dragan Zelenovic was arrested in late August, he has not yet been extradited to face justice. Another Hague war crimes suspect, Sredoje Lukic, had also apparently been successfully hiding in Russia, before giving himself in September. Now yet another suspect, former Serbian police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic, accused of involvement in large-scale atrocities carried out against Kosovo Albanians in 1999, is apparently still hiding in Russia, where he continues to evade capture.

Today, RIA Novosti notes:
Carla Del Ponte said at the UN Security Council that, in July 2004, the ICTY investigators told Russian partners where former Serbian police General Vlastimir Djordjevic, accused of slaying Serbian Albanians, lived in Moscow.

She said Russia claimed he was not in Moscow. The ICTY received new information on Djordjevic with evidence that he had been living in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, but Moscow again denied his presence in the country. Del Ponte said she wanted Russia to fulfill its obligations and continue to search for the criminal.
(via global-geopolitics)
See also in this blog: Crimes of War

Beslan: Taking the Blame

Valery Andreyev, head of the Beslan crisis headquarters during the 2004 siege and hostage-taking, has been giving evidence at the trial of Nurpashi Kulayev, whom the Russian authorities claim is the only terrorist to survive the attack. Andreyev was also in charge of the North Ossetian branch of the FSB at the time, and admitted yesterday that he had given the orders for the federal forces to seize the school. On other questions, however - questions which continue to rouse emotions and divide opinion both in the local community and wider afield - Andreyev was less inclined to take full blame. The Moscow Times has the following:
Andreyev appeared to indirectly confirm that senior FSB officers had overruled him, saying that he had not ordered the use of flamethrowers and tanks in the taking of the school. The use of heavy weaponry is believed to have caused many deaths among the hostages.

"Responsibility for the deployment of tanks and flamethrowers is borne by the head of the [FSB] Center for Special Operations [Alexander] Tikhonov," he said. "This matter was not under my authority."

Andreyev began his testimony by offering condolences to in the courtroom who had lost relatives in the attack. The relatives responded angrily that they did not want his sympathy.

"I feel moral responsibility for what happened," Andreyev said. "All the pain is in my soul."
RFE/RL places emphasis on Andreyev's assertion that the crisis centre that was set up to deal with the school hijacking "remained directionless for nearly 24 hours".

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nowhere To Turn To

A disturbing new report reveals that domestic violence against women in Russia is presently at crisis level:
According to Amnesty International, 70 percent of married women in Russia have been subjected to physical, psychological, or sexual violence at home.

Official figures show that 9,000 women were killed by their husbands and relatives in Russia in 2003, out of a population of 143 million. Rights groups, however, say this figure could be much higher.

In comparison, rights groups say between 2,000 and 3,500 women die of domestic violence annually in the United States, a country of almost 300 million.

Kasparov on Schroeder/Gazprom

Garry Kasparov, interviewed by Spiegel Online (my tr.):
Kasparov: It's a scandal that Putin is providing Schroeder with legitimacy in this way. From now on Putin can point his finger at the West and say: They are just as corrupt as we are. That’s a typical trick of totalitarian rulers in order to justify the corruption and lack of transparency in their own country.

Spiegel: Schroeder’s defenders in Germany say that the whole affair has nothing to do with Putin. They say that it merely concerns a normal business deal between a private individual and the enterprises Gazprom, E.on and BASF, which own the operating consortium of the pipeline.

Kasparov: Are they joking? Everyone knows that Gazprom is Putin’s personal instrument of power. The company is directed from the Kremlin and will therefore never be transparent. It's not altogether clear whether the Kremlin controls Gazprom or whether it's the other way round. It’s the same people.

Beslan Probe to Deliver Report

According to RIA Novosti, the Russian federal parliamentary commission investigating the terrorist attack on Beslan will present the results of its work on December 28. This was announced by the deputy speaker of the Federation Council (The RF Duma's upper house) Alexander Torshin, who is heading the commission.

There is also a Reuters report today in which an uncompromising Torshin goes on record as saying "it was a mistake to blame anyone other than the rebels loyal to Chechen leader Shamil Basayev who launched the raid." Further hardline statements by Torshin are also noted:
"Why is the public so interested in seeing guilty bureaucrats punished and not in the arrest, say, of the masterminds behind the terrorist act," he told the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

"Basayev is still at large and we do not know if he is planning any more outrages."

His comments contradict an investigation by local parliamentarians in the North Ossetia region which concluded last month that the bloodshed was "first and foremost the fault of law-enforcement bodies".

Ossetians have long argued that corrupt officials either ignored or colluded in the rebel group's journey to the school, and then failed to organise an effective response.

Torshin accepted officials would have to answer for failing to stop the raid, but said concentrating on their guilt was bizarre.

"The blame for the most bloody terrorist act in Russia's history lies with the terrorists ... This should not be forgotten," he said. "It's as if on Sept. 1 they came to the school not with guns and explosives but with bunches of flowers. If people talk about those who are guilty these days, people only look for them among the security forces."

His comments chimed with the hard-line approach of President Vladimir Putin who considers the 11-year Chechen war and related raids to be attempts by international terrorists to destabilise Russia, rather than a battle for independence.

After the siege, Putin demanded -- and received -- extra political powers to allow him to stop guerrilla attacks, although he has promised that officials will be punished if they are found guilty by Torshin's probe.

Basayev himself has said the raid was a security services' sting that went wrong after rebels ignored where a Russian agent wanted them to go, and seized the school instead.

Russia: Defender of the Islamic World

From the complete text of Vladimir Putin's address to the recently-elected Chechen parliament:
I recalled unpleasant events linked to international terrorism. I would like to draw your attention to another circumstance, something I did not immediately give thought to myself, though it seems obvious enough. I want to mention it now. Those who are on the other side, fighting for their false ideals, either do not know or have forgotten, and those ordinary people who get used as cannon fodder, who get paid $10 to place a landmine or to fire a machine gun, simply do not know that Russia has always been the most loyal, reliable and consistent defender of the Moslem world’s interests. Russia has always been the best and most reliable partner and ally. In trying to destroy Russia, these people are undermining one of the Moslem world’s main sources of support in the fight for the legitimate rights of the Islamic world on the international stage. But those who organise these activities are probably acting deliberately, consciously aware of the aims they are trying to achieve.

The leaders of the main Islamic countries understand very well this idea that I just expressed. This is why their representatives were present during the referendum on the Constitution of the Republic of Chechnya, during the presidential election and recently during the parliamentary election. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the League of Arab Nations and our other colleagues and friends were all present. And, as you know, the members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference took the unanimous decision to allow Russia to take part in the organisation’s work as an observer on a permanent basis. We will continue our work within this organisation. A delegation of Russian Moslems was in Mecca just recently and discussed issues of developing the Moslem world there together with their brothers. I repeat, Russia will continue this policy in the future.

Я вспоминал о малоприятных вещах, связанных с международным терроризмом. Хочу обратить ваше внимание еще на одно обстоятельство, на которое я и сам не сразу обратил внимание. И, казалось бы, оно лежит на поверхности. И я сейчас хотел об этом сказать вам. Знаете, те, кто на той стороне пытается защищать эти ложные идеалы, либо не знают, либо забыли, либо просто те простые люди, которых используют в качестве пушечного мяса, которые за 10 долларов фугас могут поставить либо пострелять из автоматического оружия, – они просто не знают о том, что Россия всегда была самым верным, надежным и последовательным защитником – защитником интересов исламского мира. Россия всегда была самым лучшим и надежным партнером и союзником. Разрушая Россию, эти люди разрушают одну из основных опор исламского мира в борьбе за их права на международной арене, в борьбе за их легитимные права. Но те, кто организует такую деятельность, делают это наверняка сознательно, с пониманием того, каких целей они хотят добиться.

Кстати говоря, лидеры основных исламских государств то, что я сейчас сказал, прекрасно понимают. Именно поэтому их представители были и на всенародном голосовании по Конституции Чеченской Республики, были на выборах Президента, были сейчас на выборах парламента Чеченской Республики: и Организация Исламская конференция, и Лига арабских государств, и другие наши коллеги и друзья. И, как вы знаете, почти практически единогласно, не почти, а единогласно, было принято решение странами – членами Организации Исламская конференция о том, что Россия начнет работать в этой организации в качестве наблюдателя на постоянной основе. И мы будем дальше продолжать свою деятельность в рамках этой организации. Совсем недавно делегация российских мусульман была в Мекке и обсуждала там проблемы развития мусульманского мира вместе со своими братьями. Повторяю, Россия и дальше будет проводить такую политику.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Energy Connection

"I've often thought Putin engaged in using his professional skills in the 'verbovania' (KGB term for recruitment) of west European leaders," writes Edward Lucas in a prefatory comment to his new Economist article on Germany, Russia, and the growing Schroeder/Gazprom scandal. "A few months ago I was having lunch with someone much cleverer than me who assured me that in Schroeder's case it was hard cash that was being used. Even I found that hard to believe. Even after 20 years covering the region I still find this particular incident really shocking."

Read the whole thing.

British "Humour" - II

In the Financial Times, Roger Blitz has written a satirical comment on the remarks made by Britain's ambassador to Poland, Charles Crawford. The comment takes the form of a fictional letter of apology, which ends:
How splendidly quaint that your people have little to no experience of the verbal joshing that we, the French and Germans have traded in the past 40 years, which has done much to cement European co-operation and harmony. So well practised is such bonhomie that every new member of the EU has felt it necessary, indeed vital, to join in. For many diplomats, such friendly banter is one of the perks of the job and in the eyes of our national peoples justifies much of our remuneration.

I salute the respect and politeness with which you conduct yourselves in EU matters and look forward to seeing how long it lasts. In the meantime, your Polish sense of humour will keep me thoroughly entertained for the rest of my posting.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Crawford
Hat tip: Marius

See also: British "Humour"

The Energy Lever and Ukraine - III

The Financial Times points out yet another aspect of the energy lever - Russia is in fact threatening to cut gas supplies to Europe as a whole, not just to Ukraine, if Ukraine doesn't agree to the drastic price increase demanded by Gazprom:
Alexander Medvedev, the Gazprom executive in charge of exports, said that if no agreement was reached by the new year, Gazprom would limit the volume of gas crossing the Russia-Ukraine border from January 1 to the amount contracted by its other European customers and excluding any portion for Ukraine.

If Ukraine maintains it has the right to continue taking a portion of the gas as payment for transit, Gazprom would regard that as "unsanctioned removal of gas or, in other words, theft".

"Ukraine would be fully responsible for reduction of supplies to Europe", he said.
Last week, a Ukrainian presidential administration official said Russia's naval base in Sevastopol could, in turn, be asked to pay "European" rents.

Russian officials said the base's contract was not negotiable.

A Pillar of the Islamic World - II

Writing in EDM, Pavel K. Baev considers Putin's pro-Islamic speech in Grozny, and draws one or two conclusions:
The deepening crisis in the North Caucasus relates directly to a theme that Putin did not mention at all in Grozny; December 12 also marked the 12th anniversary of the approval of the Russian Constitution. It was the first time that this day was not celebrated as an official holiday, which reflects the widespread indifference to the basic law in Russia (Ezhednevny zhurnal, December 12). Within this law it was possible to start one war against rebellious Chechnya, then make peace with it, and then start another one. This law also did not prevent the cancellation of regional elections and concentration of all authority by the executive power that has so efficiently subdued the parliament and the courts. Only 19% of Russians are aware that the people of Russia are the only source of power and sovereignty in their state according to the Constitution, while 55% are certain that it is the president (, December 12). That probably suits Putin just fine, but he should know better. He was in Dresden in 1989 when crowds filled the streets and asserted their right to be called "the people," throwing away the East German police state that was far more organized and efficient than his.

Putin may think that the only issue with the Constitution is the unfortunate need to step down at the end of his second presidential term. In fact, it is his escape clause to retire before the storm that started over Chechnya and is now gathering force across the North Caucasus arrives in Moscow.

See also: A Pillar of the Islamic World

Quiet Resistance

At London's Somerset House there's a new exhibition of Russian pictorialist photography mostly from the 1920s and 30s, featuring the work of Rodchenko, Lissitsky, Ignatovich and others -- artists who in the early years of the Revolution defied the prevailing military ideology and attempted to convey the emotional aspect of reality, and to express individual perceptions and interpretations of events and phenomena. As the exhibition brochure makes clear,
Their subject matter was mostly confined to traditional pictorial themes, i.e. landscapes, nudes, shots of old mansion houses, and unpretentious genre scenes. A brilliant sense of composition and virtuoso technique of execution endeared the pictorialists to organisers of international photo shows and salons. Foreign press devoted much attention to them and, curiously, just like Soviet critics, regarded them as aesthetic opposition to the militant Soviet ideology. For instance, after the Paris salon of 1925 a British photography magazine observed that ‘…whatever their political convictions, the Russians in the shots they sent firmly stand within traditional bounds’.

Pictorialist photographers were vehemently attacked by Soviet critics, who vainly pointed out the right way to Socialist Realism. As one author put it in 1936, ‘…contemporary Soviet reality is such that laughter, joy and smiles are typical features of our new way of life’, so that ‘our life has become really wonderful’.

Photographic debates of the late 1920s were mostly about aesthetics, focusing on the advantages of certain compositions and opportunities offered by different optical devices or printing techniques. However, by the early 1930s aesthetics yielded to ideology. From the late 1920s onwards all spheres of Soviet life, including the art of photography, were haunted by the search for enemies of revolutionary changes. The ‘enemy’ image became a foundation for ideological propaganda. On the one hand it paralysed everyone’s personality with fear, on the other, it aimed to consolidate and inspire the masses in their heroic efforts for the sake of radiant future. Thus pictorialists ended up as ‘enemies’ in photography. They were accused of predilection for the old non-revolutionary world, where bourgeois values reigned supreme and ignored class struggles. Passion for landscapes, old palaces or naked women was condemned as ‘Turgenev’s stuff’ (after the nineteenth-century writer) and ‘political short-sightedness’.
Hat tip: Marius

The Energy Lever and Ukraine - II

From RFE/RL:
13 December 2005 -- Gazprom, Russia's natural gas monopoly, is threatening to cut off gas supplies to neighboring Ukraine if a price agreement is not reached by 1 January.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov made the announcement in comments to Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Earlier reports said Gazprom chief Aleksei Miller issued a similar warning in an interview to be broadcast tonight on Russia's English-language television channel, Russia Today.
See also: The Energy Lever and Ukraine

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Wild East

In the New York Times today, a visit to Skype Estonia:
Foreign investors are swooping into Tallinn's tiny airport in search of the next Skype (rhymes with pipe). The company most often mentioned, Playtech, designs software for online gambling services. It is contemplating an initial public offering that bankers say could raise up to $1 billion.

Indeed, there is an outlaw mystique to some of Estonia's ventures, drawn here to Europe's eastern frontier. Whether it is online gambling, Internet voice calls or music file sharing--Skype's founders are also behind the most popular music service, Kazaa--Estonian entrepreneurs are testing the limits of business and law.

And by tapping its scientific legacy from Soviet times and making the best of its vest-pocket size, Estonia is developing an efficient technology industry that generates ingenious products-often dreamed up by a few friends--able to mutate via the Internet into major businesses.

These entrepreneurs grow out of an energetic, youthful society, which has embraced technology as the fastest way to catch up with the West. Eight of 10 Estonians carry cell phones, and even gas stations in Tallinn are equipped with Wi-Fi connections, allowing motorists to visit the Internet after they fill up.

Such ubiquitous connectivity makes Tallinn's location midway between Stockholm and St. Petersburg seem less remote.

Even the short icebound days play a part, people here say, because they shackle software developers to the warm glow of their computer screens. For the 150 people who work at Skype, Estonia is clearly where the action is.

All At Sea

In a commentary, Transitions Online focuses on Gerhard Schroeder's involvement in the Baltic Sea pipeline project, and doesn't like what it sees:
Schroeder has, in one move, cast doubt on himself, on one of Europe’s major energy deals, on his whole conduct of Germany’s eastern policy, and on his style of policy-making. Were the difficult questions about this deal simply swept aside? Was the decision-making process distorted by a private agenda? Did he allow personal sympathy to determine Germany’s relationship with Russia – and did that influence his attitude to countries with whom Russia has strained relations, countries like Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states (all of whom, as it happens, are affected by this particular deal)?

Monday, December 12, 2005

British "Humour"

Britain's ambassador to Poland has put his foot in it. His "humorous" contribution to the debate on the EU budget talks has not found favour in Warsaw:
Shame on you all. Enough is enough.

In a moment I will press the button on this vulgar clock, made cheaply and well in China. It will ring loudly in exactly an hour's time.

At that point I will ask everyone round the table whether they accept our current offer. Yes, or No.

If anyone says No, we end the meeting. The EU will move on to a complete mess of annual budgets. Basically suits us - we'll pay less, and the rebate stays 100% intact. My ratings will go up.

However, despite the rudeness and ingratitude of the new member states as expressed here today, we in London do want to help them So if the Budget deal does end in an hour's time, we will take action alone.
Here's the Reuters report.

A Pillar of the Islamic World

In Grozny today for the opening of the new Chechen "parliament", President Vladimir Putin gave a speech in the course of which which he apparently said some things that might seem unexpected. has the following:

Президент подчеркнул, что "Россия всегда была самым верным, последовательным и надежным защитником интересов исламской религии". "Разрушая Россию, эти люди разрушают одну из основных опор исламского мира", - сказал Путин.

The President emphasized that "Russia has always been the most loyal, consistent and reliable defender of the interests of the Islamic religion." "In destroying Russia, these people [Chechen rebels] are destroying one of the main pillars of the Islamic world", Putin said.
Itar-Tass has a more detailed account of the remarks, translated as follows:
'Russia was always the most faithful, reliable and consistent defender of the interests of the Islamic world. Russia was always the best and most reliable partner and ally. By destroying Russia, these people (terrorists) destroy one of main pillars of the Islamic world in the struggle for rights (of Islamic states) in the international arena, the struggle for their legitimate rights,' Putin said, drawing applause of Chechen parliamentarians."

The complete Russian text of Putin's speech is at present available only to IT subscribers.

A Weird War

In Kommersant, Mikhail Zygar describes a war in which "officers of the combatants met every night to have a drink together. They went away in the morning and opened fire on each other. At night, they got together again to drink for those they had met with the previous night and who they had killed."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Stasi and the Yukos Sell-off

Tom Parfitt, the London Telegraph's Moscow correspondent, on a new headache for Gerhard Schroeder:
Opponents of President Vladimir Putin are calling for an investigation into his links with a German banker who was exposed last week as a former East German spy.

Documents uncovered in a Berlin archive revealed that Matthias Warnig, 49, who played a leading role in the controversial forced sell-off of part of the Yukos oil giant, was once an agent of the East German secret police, the Stasi.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

And Meanwhile

On the same day, Reuters reports that
A 24-hour, English-language, state-funded television channel went live from its Moscow studios on Saturday, designed to broadcast news from a Russian perspective around the globe.

At 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) the countdown clock and swirling orange graphics melted away and the anchor welcomed viewers to Russia Today -- "from Russia to the world."

The launch comes amid growing Western criticism of Moscow's attitude to democracy and the rule of law, while Kremlin officials complain the foreign media misrepresent Russia.

No Option

It looks as though Poland will have to hold a public investigation into the allegations that there were secret CIA prisons on its territory. This will not be helpful to the future of the Western alliance in its war with the insurgency in Iraq, and will not assist the war on terror. Reuters has a story where
political analyst Radoslaw Markowski of the Polish Academy of Sciences said even if the probe cleared Poland of wrongdoing, the country's reputation could suffer.

"If the investigation finds nothing, I'm not sure we'll be able to get that across through all the media noise," he said.

Poland is one of Washington's leading allies in Europe, where it angered European Union heavyweights Germany and France by sending troops to join the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Markowski said any revelations of secret prisons could make it harder for Poland to keep troops in Iraq after the tentative January pullout date.

"We've been trying to present our presence in Iraq as purely peacekeeping -- that we're just there to help kids get to school, and find water for the locals, not carrying guns. This would fall apart if the (secret prisons) are proven," he said.

But he and other analysts saw few other ways for Marcinkiewicz to respond to the media storm and to the possibility of growing concern among ordinary Poles.

"After the communist experience, Polish public opinion is extremely sensitive to any attempts at behind-the-scenes dealings that are kept from the public," said Bogdan Mach, sociologist at the private Collegium Civitas.
Update from AP -

Poland to Probe Secret CIA Prisons

The Associated Press, Saturday, December 10, 2005

WARSAW, Poland - Poland's prime minister said Saturday he has ordered an investigation into whether the CIA ran secret prisons for terror suspects in the country - an allegation the government repeatedly has denied.

Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said a "detailed" probe would be conducted to "check if there is any proof that such an event took place in our country. It is necessary to finally close the issue because it could be dangerous to Poland."

Marcinkiewicz's spokesman, Konrad Ciesiolkiewicz, said he did not know who would carry out the investigation.

(via Marius)

Dark Days

A Los Angeles report from Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria:

When Fatima Tekayeva heard that her son was about to be returned to Russia from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she felt an aching fear.

Don't do it, she begged anyone who would listen. It's bad there, yes. It's worse here. Please don't send my son home.

All the same, the scenario unfolded like a scripted nightmare. Rasul Kudayev was put on a plane back to Russia. Soon he was released. He came home to the Caucasus region nothing like the broad-shouldered wrestling champion who had gone off to study Islam with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He could barely walk unaided. His eyes were yellow from hepatitis, his heart fluttered, his head throbbed, family members said. Kudayev would sit up in the kitchen all night, telling his brother how guards at Guantanamo forced him to take medicine that made him sick and left him alternately to freeze and suffocate by opening and closing the ventilation system in a cramped isolation cell. By morning, his stories spent, he would fall asleep.

It ended as Tekayeva feared it would.

On Oct. 23, a truckload of soldiers showed up outside the family's small house and seized Kudayev, accusing him of having participated in an attack by Islamic militants on police and government targets in Nalchik 10 days earlier. Tekayeva threw her body in front of her son's thin frame.

"Handcuffs, what handcuffs?" she wailed. "He's already had enough handcuffs for a lifetime!" But he disappeared into the feared Department 6 organized crime unit of the Kabardino-Balkaria police.
Read it all.

(via chechnya-sl)

Revelations - III

Quote of the day: "It would be highly improbable for Americans to be able to hold prisoners in Poland without the Polish media sniffing it out first."

-President Aleksander Kwasniewski


It does seem probable, however, that one of the CIA prisons was in the NATO KFOR Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo.

From Berliner Zeitung, December 9:

Der polnische Jurist Marek Nowicki war Präsident der Internationalen Helsinki-Föderation für Menschenrechte in Wien und Vorsitzender Richter beim Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte in Straßburg; seit sechs Jahren leitet er die zivile UN-Beschwerdestelle im Kosovo. Behauptungen seitens KFOR, es gebe in Camp Bondsteel keine Geheimnisse, seien so lange zweifelhaft, wie auf dem 300 Hektar großen Gelände mit seinen 6 000 US-Soldaten eine Kontrolle durch die Vereinten Nationen nicht möglich sei, sagte Nowicki.

Der UN-Mitarbeiter bestätigte einen Bericht der französischen Zeitung Le Monde vom 25. November. Darin wurde der frühere Menschenrechtsbeauftragte des Europarats, Alvaro Gil Robles, zitiert, der Camp Bondsteel im Herbst 2002 besucht hatte. Robles sagte, er sei von den dortigen Zuständen schockiert gewesen. "Von einem Turm aus sah ich ein Lager, das wie eine Kopie von Guantanamo wirkte, nur kleiner." Zwanzig orange gekleidete Gefangene - Kosovaren, aber offensichtlich auch Araber - hätten in Holzhütten innerhalb eines Stacheldrahtverhaus gehaust, bewacht von US-Soldaten.

Hat tip: Marius

Revelations - II

Another angle on the "CIA secret prisons" story, this time from an interview with Larry Johnson, former CIA official, in Gazeta Wyborcza (unofficial translation)


A lesson of Abu Ghraib has been remembered in the CIA: Bush's team cannot be trusted to defend people who were fulfilling its orders. Therefore, the CIA agents have rised an alarm on the issue of secret prisons, so as not to become sacrificial scapegoats - says Larry Johnson*

[passage omitted]

Q: Is this an internal fight of a part of the CIA with its new director, Porter Goss?

On the issue of prisoners in the war on terror Goss blindly supports the White House's position. When I talk with the Agency's employees, every time I hear how they are frustrated with this what is going on there. It's not the reform, but that they are told to keep indefinitely dozens of people without any law procedures, in some black holes all over the world. These employees are afraid that if something happens, the Agency's management will wash its hands and all the blame will be put on those who opened and managed those prisons, and not on those who gave the orders on these issues.

Q: Do we have often leaks from the CIA to the media, when its employees don't agree with politics of the administration?

There are two most frequent reasons for leaks. The first one is a concious attempt to manipulate public opinion. It takes place with the government's consent.

The second one - if there's a heated internal struggle in the Agency with regard to a political line chosen by the management. And these who don't like it, release a leak.

[passage omitted]

*Larry Johnson was a CIA officer in the 80's. In the 90's, he was a deputy director in the fight with terrorism in the US State Department.

Friday, December 09, 2005


On November 28, the London Telegraph published an exclusive report which claimed to "reveal" that Iran is "secretly training Chechen rebels in sophisticated terror techniques to enable them to carry out more effective attacks against Russian forces". It subsequently became clear that the article was most probably an exercise in disinformation by British intelligence services.

A detailed study of such disinformation techniques routinely used in the British press came to light. Its author,a former assistant editor of the Observer newspaper, had earlier published a long article in the British Journalism Review showing that
British journalists – and British journals – are being manipulated by the secret intelligence agencies, and I think we ought to try and put a stop to it.

The manipulation takes three forms. The first is the attempt to recruit journalists to spy on other people, or for spies to go themselves under journalistic “cover”. This occurs today and it has gone on for years. It is dangerous, not only for the journalist concerned, but for other journalists who get tarred with the espionage brush. Farzad Bazoft was a colleague of mine on the London Observer when he was executed by Saddam Hussein for espionage. It did not, in a sense, matter whether he was really a spy or not. Either way, he ended up dead.

The second form of manipulation that worries me is when intelligence officers are allowed to pose as journalists in order to write tendentious articles under false names. Evidence of this only rarely comes to light, but two examples have surfaced recently – mainly because of the whistleblowing activities of a couple of renegade officers – David Shayler from MI5 and Richard Tomlinson from MI6.

The third sort of manipulation is the most insidious – when intelligence agency propaganda stories are planted on willing journalists, who disguise their origin from their readers. There is – or has been until recently – a very active programme by the secret agencies to colour what appears in the British press, called, if publications by various defectors can be believed, “I/Ops”. That is an abbreviation for Information Operations, and I am – unusually – in a position to provide some information about it.
The whole article is well worth reading for the inside background knowledge it gives about the almost institutionalized presence of the British intelligence services in the British press. It also helps to throw new light on some present-day conundrums.

Now that the war on terror is an international effort, and British intelligence co-operates with its "ally", the Russian FSB, is it too much to suppose that the present spate of articles and media reports on the "secret CIA prisons" supposedly located in countries of Eastern Europe - particularly Poland and Romania - and the ABC "revelations" about the "top al-Qaeda figures" allegedly held in Poland, are in some way another manifestation of "I/Ops" - though now on an international scale? As Marius Labentowicz has pointed out: "A question should be asked: - Who's lying here and who's playing all these...political games in the media?"

Crimes of War

At the Crimes of War Project, Chris Stephen writes that
The European human rights system is facing a critical test of strength as the Council of Europe prepares to challenge Russia over a series of alleged abuses in Chechnya. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Russia in three cases from the conflict in Chechnya, and dozens more are currently under consideration. The Council of Europe, which supervises the Court, now faces the problem of ensuring that Russia observes its decisions – not only by paying fines but also by holding genuine investigations into abuses carried out by Russian forces.

The war in Chechnya has seen reports of war crimes and other violations of human rights by Russian forces on a far greater scale than in any other member of the European Court of Human Rights since the court was set up in 1959. Because Russia is not a member of the International Criminal Court, there is no international tribunal that can hear cases against individuals who may be responsible for violations of the laws of war. But the European Court of Human Rights can investigate whether the Russian state is ensuring that the rights of its citizens are respected in the course of this conflict on Russian territory.
Read it all.

(via chechnya-sl)

Billionaire Blues

After the fall of Communism, Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros helped many of the newly restored democracies of Eastern Europe to find their feet again after decades of Soviet occupation. One such country was Lithuania, where Soros spent some 65m dollars on educational, cultural, medical and other projects. Now, however, Edward Lucas notes that
over the past three weeks, detailed attacks on Mr Soros in Respublika, a leading tabloid, have painted him as a malevolent outside meddler in Lithuania's affairs. It is a familiar theme. A series last year asked, "Who rules the world?" (Jews and gays, it concluded).

The new attacks are also aimed at religious and political figures only indirectly connected with the Soros foundation, including the country's pro-western president, Valdas Adamkus. The targets are all disliked by the ruling Labour Party, which, with its allies, has asked Lithuania's security services to investigate the Soros foundation's "financial schemes and networks", on the ground that they "pose a threat to national security" and are "targeted not at consolidating, but dividing, society.

Sorosites stayed aloof at first, but they have now counter-attacked. An open letter signed by many of the country's best-known intellectuals has asked Respublika to stop its "destructive" attacks.

What is going on? Some blame Russia. Soros-funded outfits in other ex-Soviet places, such as Georgia and Ukraine, have come under similar-sounding attacks. "Stoking a fictitious scandal about secret western influence neutralises real fears about Russia," suggests one senior official. Another theory is that the anti-corruption campaigns financed by Mr Soros have been too successful: they have highlighted big kickbacks in the distribution of European Union aid.

Mr Soros is winding down his efforts in the richer parts of the post-communist world, where the "open societies" that he favours seem to be thriving. Perhaps he should hang on a bit in Lithuania.

Update - see also this EDM article by Zaal Anjaparidze on how Georgia's political opposition is taking steps not only against President Saakashvili, but also George Soros:
The anti-Soros movement confirms the increasing polarization of the already extreme Georgian political spectrum and reveals the ongoing clash of basic values that has become particularly visible since the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili's team has dared to shake the seemingly entrenched, archaic belief systems largely inherited from the Soviet past but identified by segments of Georgian society as "national values."

"I regret that I used a Soros grant," lamented Maia Nikolaishvili, a well-known forensic expert and co-founder of the movement. "Is it possible that Georgian society still has not become aware that Soros is the enemy of Georgia and each of us?" she asked.

The anti-Soros movement unites a diverse group of politicians and civic leaders, including followers of former president Eduard Shevardnadze and the former leader of Ajaria, Aslan Abashidze. The anti-Soros movement members seek to protect "national" values against creeping Western values.

Several leaders of the movement, including Nikolaishvili, believe Tbilisi must rebuild its relations with Russia to protest the excessive "Westernization" of Georgia. "Uprooting Soros-ism" in Georgia is viewed one of the tools to accomplish this task. The "Anti-Soros Movement" also plans to oust Saakashvili's government but in a constitutional manner. The anti-Soros group claims that Saakashvili's government places instructions from Soros above the Georgian Constitution.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rights Groups Criticize Britain Over Chechnya

Britain, as the EU's presidency, recently issued an optimistic statement about the Chechen "elections" held on November 27, despite all the evidence that suggested this was inappropriate. Now Russian and Western rights organizations are making their protests known:
In an open letter to British Foreign Minister Jack Straw dated 7 December, the groups say the assessment "calls the EU's commitment to human rights, democracy, and rule of law into question."

Britain, as EU president, welcomed the 27 November polls as "an important step towards broader representation of a range of views in Chechen society." It also said that "the further strengthening of democratic institutions, as part of an inclusive political process, is essential for the sustainable and peaceful long-term development of Chechnya as well as to peace and stability in the North Caucasus region as a whole."

The rights groups, which include the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Russia's Memorial, say what Britain calls Chechnya's political process "is a tightly-controlled cosmetic measure that has resulted in the establishment of a brutal regime, responsible for systematic and grave human rights abuses." They also say that "the loyalist regime established in Chechnya [by Russia] depends on fear and violence to make up for its lack of legitimacy."