Thursday, July 14, 2005

Driving Blind - II

With the Kremlin's increasing stranglehold on the flow of information out of Russia, it's becoming evident that English-language versions of Russian press reports and commentaries, especially if they come from sources outside government control, are being subjected to cutting and censorship of various kinds. An example is Yulia Latynina's recent column on the Kremlin's "information block", which appeared in several publications,including Moscow Times. You can read the English version here. In fact, the Russian version of the article, published in Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal, contains many things that are not to be found in the English version. They include much more detailed commentary on government statements relating to the Beslan events and their investigation by the parliamentary commission, on bizarre official announcements relating to the Kulayev trial, and on the June 4 abductions at Borozdinovskaya. Here is the Russian-language version of the article, in my translation:

The Information Block Sickness

Last week several events took place in Russia which at first sight do not appear to be interconnected.

Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel caused a sensation in the arms market when he stated that the “Bumblebee” (Shmel’) flamethrower “is not a weapon of incendiary action”.

Eli Isayev, Chechnya’s representative with the President of Russia, stated that the eleven people who were abducted in the village of Borozdinovskaya on June 4 are alive and well. "They will be returned,” he said.

There appeared in the press a secret report by the Dmitry Kozak, the President’s special representative in the Southern Federal Region, about the situation in the Caucasus.

And Moscow’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, solemnly celebrated the day of Moscow’s exclusion from the list of bidders to hold the 2008 Olympics.

What is the connection between these events?

They are different symptoms of the same sickness - the authorities’ information block.

Why on the day that the International Olympic Committee announced the winning city for 2012 did the Moscow authorities decide to orchestrate a celebration at Vasilyevsky Spusk? Because Yuri Mikhailovich badly wanted to host the games in Moscow. In the first place, because of the political dividends it would bring him. In the second place, because of his wife’s close relations with the Moscow construction industry. And since the mayor badly wanted the Olympics, he publicly declared anyone who expressed doubt in Moscow’s triumph to be agents of the West who were trying to drag Russia into the orbit of Orange revolutions. After that, it became difficult for any of the mayor’s close associates to tell him that the chances of victory were slim. No one wants to get a reputation as an agent of the West.

And if no one said anything to the contrary, it meant that Moscow was going to win. And if Moscow was going to win, then a celebration was in order. It was a lot easier for officials to rustle up a crowd by order at Vasilyevsky than to tell the mayor the truth.

Why was Kozak’s secret report leaked to the press? Because it was the only way to get it to the president’s attention. Otherwise it would just have gathered dust in some corner. After all, Kozak was warning that Dagestan might break away from Russia, while everyone else was reporting that that a “peace process” was unfolding in the Caucasus.

Why did Mr. Shepel reveal that the “Bumblebee" (Shmel’) RPOs possess no incendiary action? Because the building where 32 terrorists and more than 1200 hostages were located, was fired on by tanks and "Bumblebees", and the people who did this ought to be sitting on the same bench as Nurpashi Kulayev [the only surviving terrorist, currently on trial]. The only difference is that the terrorists, who killed the children with bombs, are called the enemies of Russia, while the people who fired on the children with "Bumblebees" are called its defenders and rulers.

For whom is this statement needed? For the fathers, who ran after the soldiers into the blazing hall and saw the fire of the thermobaric explosion, which instantly burns up the air with all its contents to a radius of 20 metres, burn their children? For the mothers, who have already once been told that the "Bumblebees" were used by the terrorists? For the members of the initiative group, which found and were the first to show to the parliamentary commission, and then also to the prosecutor’s office, the launch canisters from the "Bumblebees", and then were dismayed to hear from the members of the same commission, that, unfortunately, the commission had made an error in the copying of the numbers of "Bumblebees"?

No. It is needed for the peace of mind of those who gave orders to kill the terrorists, but not to free the hostages. It’s important for them to read that apparently a "Bumblebee" RPO is really just a defective kind of airgun. And that these airguns were fired at the school only when there were no more hostages remaining in it.

Why did Eli Isayev state that the eleven people who were abducted in Borozdinovskaya, "are alive and well"? Because this statement was not intended for the relatives of those who disappeared, who the very next day after the “sweep operation” dug up in the ruins of the incinerated houses a heap of fried human flesh, and stuffed it into four packages which were sent for examination. This statement was intended for only a few people, and perhaps for only one person.

It is on his desk that they will place the news summary, which tells him that he lives in the best of all worlds. In a world where flamethrowers shoot thumbtacks, the victims of sweep operations come back to life at the prosecution’s first demand, while in Chechnya the peace process continues.

The Kremlin increasingly resembles a driver who has a television set instead of a windshield. And instead of a real road this television set shows a limitless highway with no cars coming the other way. How long will such a car continue to travel along the mountain switchback?

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