Friday, March 31, 2006


A court verdict handing short prison terms to a group of teenagers accused of being involved in the killing of a Tajik girl has sparked public outrage. The father of the slain girl has joined members of the Tajik and Muslim communities and rights advocates in filing a letter of protest to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials.

MOSCOW, March 31, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The father of Khursheva Sultonova, a 9-year-old Tajik girl murdered in St. Petersburg two years ago, today publicly protested the lenient sentences handed to those responsible for her death.

The St. Petersburg Court yesterday sentenced seven teenagers accused of assaulting Sultonova to prison terms ranging from 18 months to 5 1/2 years.

Murder Charges Thrown Out

On March 22, a jury had convicted the teenagers on charges of hooliganism, which carries a lighter sentence than murder charges.

The father of the victim, Yunus Sultonov, told a press conference in Moscow today that he was shocked by the jury's ruling.

"My family and I are in shock," Sultonov said. "They killed my little girl, and the jury pitied the murderers, [ruling] that it was hooliganism. My daughter can't be brought back, but what will other children do?"

In February 2004, Sultonov, an immigrant worker from Tajikistan, his daughter Khursheva, and his 11-year-old nephew were attacked in St. Petersburg by a group of teenagers armed with baseball bats, chains, and knives.

Khursheva bled to death after being stabbed 11 times. Sultonov was badly beaten but survived, and his nephew managed to escape.

Protestor's Death Confirmed

Maidan reports that the website of Alexander Milinkievich, the Belarus opposition leader, has confirmed (English version here) the death of one of the protestors in last Saturday's rally on October Square in Minsk.

Russia: News Websites Under Threat


Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about government harassment of three of Russia’s leading news websites since the start of the March. One,, was temporarily closed down. Another,, is being prosecuted. A third,, has received a public warning. All three are accused of spreading extremist ideas.

“It is unacceptable that the Russian security service or any other government agency should be able on their own to close down or filter a website whose content they do not like,” the press freedom organisation said. “Only a judicial authority acting independently should be able to take such a decision.”

Reporters Without Borders added : “The authorities already control most of the traditional media and now it seems they are trying to get control of the Internet, using the need to combat extremism as an argument for censoring the news websites that are still independent.”

In mid-March, the Federal Security Service (FSB) contacted the company that hosts and asked it to eliminate “all content likely to stir up sectarian hatred.” This intervention resulted in the site being closed for half a day on 23 March. The FSB was supposedly trying to block publication of Mohammed cartoons. But Vadim Gorshenin, the chairman of the board, told Reporters Without Borders that the cartoons had never been posted on the site.

The prosecutor of the city of Barnaul, in the central Altai region, began an investigation into the regional news site on 10 March at the request of the Rosokhrankultura, a government agency that regulates the news media. was alleged to have “incited religious hatred” by posting supposedly “anti-Muslim” comments by an anonymous visitor to one of the site’s forums in February. The site, which is very popular with the Altai public, is now threatened with closure while the person who wrote the comments faces up to four years in prison.

It was the Rosokhrankultura that issued a public warning on 9 March to, Russia’s leading news website, for posting the Mohammed cartoons. Site editor Mikhail Mikhailin said the cartoons had to be published in order to understand what the controversy was about.
(Via Maidan)

Belarus - Chechnya

From an eyewitness account of the arrests and beatings on Minsk's October Square, March 25:

"It reminded me of Chernokozovo."

What Made Chechen Schoolchildren Ill?

From Jamestown's Chechnya Weekly:

Leonid Roshal, the Moscow pediatrician sought out by the Beslan hostage-takers as a negotiator and who was awarded by the Russian government for his assistance during the October 2002 Dubrovka theater hostage crisis, said on March 27 that he disagrees with the official explanation for the mass illness of children in Chechnya during the last several months—a nervous disorder—and believes instead that it was caused by poisoning.

As reported on March 27, a mass outbreak of an unknown illness occurred in Chechnya's Shelkovskoi district in the middle of last December. The first registered cases appeared between December 7 and 19 among the students and staff of a middle school in the village of Starogladkovskaya. In all, 19 schoolchildren and three adults fell ill. The website of the Gazeta newspaper,, reported on March 27 that the school children were diagnosed with poisoning. According to the website, a total of 87 people from the villages of Shelkovskaya, Shelkozavodskaya and Starogladovskaya were registered with symptoms that included suffocation, convulsions and "hysterical reactions." Shelkovskoi district head Khusein Nutaev claimed at the time that the cause of the illness was poisoning by a nerve or psychotropic gas. Sultan Alimkhadzhiev, chief of the Chechen Republican Children's Hospital, told the website on December 20 that that all the victims "had the temporary diagnosis of poisoning by an unknown toxin."

The December incidents were in fact not the first reported outbreaks of apparent mass poisoning in the Shelkovskoi district last year. As Prague Watchdog reported last December, on September 13, 2005, 18 schoolchildren from the village of Staroshchedrinskaya were hospitalized with signs of poisoning and another eight from the same school were hospitalized on October 24.

The separatist Kavkazcenter website ran a commentary last September 28 by Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Health Minister Umar Khanbiev that stated: "News that in Chechnya's Shelkovskoi district a large number of schoolchildren were poisoned by unknown military poison substances (presumably nerve gas) is unlikely to horrify the world. I am sure that if they all suddenly die (Allah forbid), the world will be silent and act as if it understood and noticed nothing." Khanbiev wrote that while it was difficult for him to judge exactly what had taken place at the school in the village of Staroshchedrinskaya, the symptoms described by doctors there were reminiscent of those caused by chemical attacks that, Khanbiev alleged, had taken place during July 27-August 1, 2000 in three Chechen villages. Khanbiev also charged that Russia forces had used biological weapons in Chechnya—specifically, bombs and shells containing botulinim toxin.

In an appeal published by the Kavkazcenter website last December 23, Khanbiev called on the World Health Organization, United Nations and other international organizations to "take the fate of the affected Chechen children under special control" and bring in an "independent medical commission" to examine the children, given that "the Russian Health Ministry and the Chechen puppet public health structures are direct participants in the genocide of the Chechen people and are interested in the covering up the crimes against humanity committed by the Kremlin regime on the Chechen soil."

The perception in Chechnya that the schoolchildren had been poisoned reached the point last December that Ramzan Kadyrov, then acting prime minister, asked Gen. Aleksandr Baranov, commander of the North Caucasus Military District, to send a special team from the Russian Chemical Corporation to investigate. That team, headed by a senior specialist doctor at a mobile military laboratory, Captain S.N. Efimov, went to Shelkovskoi district on December 17. Novaya gazeta on January 12 of this year quoted from Efimov's report on the trip, in which he said that the schoolchildren were apparently poisoned by a toxic substance that "was either liquid or solid, releasing toxic vapors" and that was apparently located on the second floor of the main building of their school. Efimov said, however, that it was impossible to determine the nature of the poisonous gas without special equipment and chemicals. Blood samples from Shelkovskoi district schoolgirls who fell ill were sent to the republican Forensic Investigation Bureau in Makhachkala and the Agenstvo natsionalnikh novostei on December 22 quoted Bureau experts as saying "radioactive elements were found in the blood of some children."

On December 23, the Bureau declared that the children had been poisoned by ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in anti-freeze. That same day, however, the Forensic Investigation Bureau's director, Elbrus Porsukov, retracted his colleagues' statement that radioactive elements had been found in the children's blood, while Musa Delsaev, head doctor of the Drug Control Service in Chechnya, said that there had been no poisoning and that the children were suffering from "nervous exhaustion." As Kavkazky Uzel reported on December 23, Zurab Kikalidze, deputy director of the Serbsky Forensic Psychiatry Institute, said that the cause of the disease was "psycho-emotional tension" typical of residents of the Chechen Republic (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 2).

The Los Angeles Times reported on March 19 that the list of victims of the mystery illness had grown to 93, including several teachers and janitors, with a small number of cases reported as far away as the Chechen capital, Grozny, and Urus-Martan, 60 miles to the southwest of the Shelkovskoi district.

Leonid Roshal, for his part, said on March 27 that he disagreed with the official explanation that the Chechen children were suffering from a nervous disorder and that he believed they had been poisoned by an unknown substance. "I don't think that it's a nervous illness; it is necessary to continue the investigation," Russian news agencies quoted him as saying. "The fact that no chemical agents were found in the organisms of the children is connected to the fact that we don't know the methods for determining them."

The fact that Roshal contradicted the official explanation for the mystery illness is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the Chechen separatists view him with suspicion. Indeed, some observers expressed surprise that the terrorists in the September 2004 Beslan hostage-taking incident asked for him as chief negotiator, given that during the October 2002 Dubrovka hostage crisis he had helped evacuate children from Dubrovka theater but had also given advice to the Russian security services as they prepared to storm the theater—for which he received a medal from the Russian government. In addition, Roshal later publicly backed the Kremlin's line that the narcotic gas that the security services used during the storming of the Dubrovka Theater, which killed as many as 200 of the hostages, was harmless (see Chechnya Weekly, September 8, 2004). The separatists' attitude toward Roshal was apparent in an item published by the separatist Kavkazcenter website on December 21, which was headlined, "Roshal is summoned to profane the poisoning of Chechen children." It accused Roshal of "serving the official Moscow version in all emergency situations" and quoted him as saying it was necessary to avoid heating up the situation surrounding the mystery illness and to allow the specialists to investigate it calmly.

Following Roshal's latest comments questioning the official diagnosis of the Chechen children's illness, Sultan Alimkhadzhiev, Chechnya's deputy health minister and chief pediatrician, said that numerous investigations of the illness found no evidence of poisoning. "We brought the children to the point of anemia taking from them blood samples that were analyzed in the first-rate clinics of the country—the Center for Disaster Medicine, the Serbsky Psychiatric Institute, the laboratories of the Defense Ministry and the FSB, the laboratories of the cities of Makhachkala and Stavropol, and that's not a complete list. But not one of the results gave an affirmative answer to the question of the presence of poisonous substances in the blood," RIA Novosti quoted Alimkhadzhiev as saying in March 28. Alimkhadzhiev claimed that two months ago he wrote Roshal asking him to bring a mobile laboratory to Chechnya to carry out toxilogical analysis. Roshal, he said, answered that he doesn't have a mobile laboratory but offered to come to Grozny with his specialists and render "professional assistance."

Alimkhadzhiev said that he continues to believe that the Chechen children's illness is the result of "protracted nervous-psychological burden," RIA Novosti reported. "That diagnosis was established by well-known Russian scientists and we thus far have no other [diagnosis]," he said. "Cases of similar children's illnesses are known in the world in countries where various conflicts have occurred or the threat of terrorism has existed." Alimkhadzhiev added that he thought the protracted nature of the illness of the Chechen children was connected to the living conditions of their families. "Our colleagues from other countries and various organizations which we appealed to via the internet warned that in socially adverse regions the process of convalescence can take a long time," he said.

According to Alimkhadzhiev, 15 of the stricken children are currently being treated in a socio-psychological rehabilitation center in Argun, where they are seen regularly by physicians, psychologists and neuropathologists. The children continue to have "attacks," he said, adding that while sometimes a week goes by without an attack, the slightest upset triggers a new bout.

Meanwhile, Kommersant reported on March 28 that the parents of the ailing Chechen children plan to refuse the help of Russian doctors. "They want an independent commission [composed] of foreign specialists to diagnose the children," the newspaper wrote. "The Chechen Health Ministry privately supports the parents, as does the special commission of the Serbsky Institute, which earlier doubted the accuracy of the [official] diagnosis." Kommersant wrote that the deputy director of the Serbsky National Research Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, Zurab Kekelidze, told the newspaper that toxicologists and psychiatrists from the Serbsky Institute and the Center for Disaster Medicine were supposed to go to Chechnya on March 24 to examine the children, but that the Chechen Health Ministry suddenly refused assistance from the Russian specialists. "They told us that they were not ready to receive us," Keklidze said. According to Kommersant, the Serbsky Institute's director, Tatyana Dmitrieva, confirmed this account. "The Chechen physicians and parents want to resort to independent expertise and bring in foreign specialists," she said. "This is their right."

Leonid Roshal also spoke in favor of foreign specialists diagnosing the Chechen children. "The Russian physicians did all the known tests, but they didn't answer the question of what the children are ill with," Kommersant quoted him as saying.

Belarus: Updates

Opposition leader Alexander Milinkievich is to appeal to the Belarus Supreme Court against its decision to reject his complaint about the falsified election results. Meanwhile, Lukashenko has congratulated Putin on the 10th anniversary of the Russia-Belarus Union, declaring that it "answers the interests of two brotherly nations."


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Edward Lucas Weblog

The Economist's Central and Eastern Europe correspondent and columnist Edward Lucas now has a blog. Among the first posts is one on sanctions. It's headed "Sanctions work a treat for dictatorships." But, with an ironic twist that's characteristic of this down-to-earth political observer, it begins: "Sanctions are a wonderful subsitute for real politics." Read the whole thing.

From the post's conclusion:
Nobody's talking about sanctions against Russia, yet, but Vladimir Putin's idea of democracy is not much different from Lukashenko's (roughly: sit down, shut up, give me money). And they need the same approach.

The big strength of Western societies is that we are open. That's what we should use in the struggle against autocracy, in Minsk, Moscow and beyond: by demonstrating our openness, to trade, people and ideas.

Maszkiewicz Hospitalized

Charter '97 reports (in Russian) that Mariusz Maszkiewicz, the former Polish ambassador to Belarus who was arrested on March 25 and sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment along with other protestors on October Square, has been taken to the hospital of Okrestina prison under escort, suffering from a suspected heart attack. The transfer to Okrestina was made against his stated wishes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Russian Myths


Ukraine and Belarus: Russian Myths

by Lilia Shevtsova

(my tr.)

“The Russian ruling class and its entourage of experts, attempting to react to the events in Ukraine and in Belarus, have created a number of absorbing cliches which may possibly have a reassuring effect on them, and perhaps bolster up their self-confidence, but which in reality cause doubts about the adequacy of their ideas about the world. I will list the most popular arguments to which our ruling elite resorts, interpreting the development of the two states mentioned above," writes political analyst Lilia Shevtsova in Vedomosti, RF.

"The West is destabilizing Ukraine and Belarus"

On the contrary, this is precisely what western governments fear, preferring calm on their eastern borders, even if it is ensured in a not entirely democratic manner. Fearing destabilization in Belarus, the European structures have not risked rendering to the Belarusian opposition the assistance they promised. During the course of the Ukrainian elections the West, and in particular Europe, have attempted to abstain from any actions which could be perceived as interference in Ukrainian affairs. Everything indicates that for the West relations with Russia are more important than support for the pro-Western vector of its Slav neighbours – for the present, at any rate.

"Lukashenko won a victory"

In reality the recent Belarus elections can be considered the beginning of the end of the Lukashenko regime: it no longer causes the same degree of fear among discontented Belarusians as it used to, and the proof of that is the mass demonstrations by many thousands of people in Minsk. But the absence of fear leads to the erosion of personified authority. The Russian elite must realize that the longer it supports the regime of the Belarusian outcast, the more a future Belarusian regime will reject Russia – the regime which will legitimize itself through the overthrow of Lukashenko.

"Russia will stick up for Lukashenko"

This is really a masochistic promise, taking into account the caddish and exploitative attitude of the bat’ka (“father” Lukashenko) not only towards Russia, but also towards Russian authority. America also has "sons of bitches" which it supports, but it forces them to work in its national interests. However, the Kremlin supports Lukashenko’s regime not even for geopolitical reasons, but rather for the sake of a background which helps the Russian political class to appear civilized and to maintain self-reliance in power. But at any moment, when the West demands that it cease financing Lukashenko, the Russian elite will agree, if only not to put at risk its own personal integration into the West.

"The Orange Revolution has been defeated"

Quite the opposite. This revolution has strengthened political pluralism, also among the Orange forces, and it has created a situation in which the governing power was forced to share power with the opposition – if not now, then in the future. This revolution was able to create limits which Ukraine will not cross, whoever is in power, the country will not return to Kuchmism, its political class will not start resorting to violence in the power contest, and it will not want to be the vassal of its large neighbour. Even the failures of the Orange forces have an effect on the Orange Revolution, forcing them at once to consolidate themselves and to negotiate with yesterday's enemies.

“The division of Ukraine is deepening”

Nothing of the kind. The fact that the political class of Ukraine is learning coalition politics indicates that it is possible not to fear the division of this country, much to the disappointment of the Russian observers who are so actively working to divide Ukraine. Even the Eastern Ukrainian elite is today attempting to achieve its interests through Ukraine’s sovereignty, and not through its ties to Russia.

"The weakening of the President’s role will not give Ukraine the chance to carry out a policy of modernization"

Well, has the Russian super-presidency ensured reforms in Russia? Ukraine’s transition to a parliamentary- presidential system compels it to conduct a policy which takes into account a variety of interests, and thus guarantees a more successful development. In any case, the experience of all transitional societies shows that parliamentary and mixed political systems, in outwardly reducing the speed of reforms, make them with steadier and more socially oriented.

"Yanukovych is the guarantee of Ukraine’s Russian choice"

An absolute failure to comprehend political logic and an underestimation of the instincts of Yanukovych himself. Let’s be clear: it was Kuchma, the last guarantee of "Russian choice", who began Ukraine’s move towards NATO. The Donetsk oligarchy, represented by Yanukovych and the interests protected by a Kremlin which is not so loving of its oligarchs, is in reality interested in incorporation into the West, where it has strategic interests and where it places its capital. But it also skilfully uses Russia in order to maintain the Soviet model of the economy which it preserves in the southeast.

"Ukraine is faced with the alternative: to the West or to the East?"

The Ukrainian political class has already outgrown the framework of that kind of choice, which is characteristic of the Russian political class, accustomed to think in linear terms. The Ukrainian elite does not satisfy the Kuchma version of multi-vector politics, which consists in making simultaneous zigzags towards the West and towards Russia. Ukraine is searching for the kind of formula that would facilitate its political movement towards the West, but would also enable it to use relations with Moscow in order to make its integration into Europe less painful. Whoever becomes the new Ukrainian prime minister will follow that trajectory. It cannot be excluded that it is precisely Ukraine that is to play the role of bridge between civilizations which Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov proposes for Russia.

"If Ukraine and Belarus leave Russia’s orbit, they will be threatened by crisis"

Actually, it will be difficult for Belarus without Russian subsidies and for both countries without access to the Russian market to preserve their archaic models of economics. But the whole point is that the Russian orbit only puts off the inevitable collapse of those models – the longer, the more agonizing. But taking into account the fact that Russia itself cannot find its bearings with its civilizational choice and the Russian economy is losing its drive, the call for modernization and integration into the West may together prove to an invitation to become collective marginals.

The way in which the Russian ruling class is reacting to the events in Ukraine and Belarus shows how hard it is finding it to solve the problems of its own survival. There is also the post-imperial syndrome, by means of which the tendency of the Russian elite to retain adjacent states in their embrace is usually explained. The fact is that Ukraine and Belarus are perceived in Moscow as a continuation of Russian domestic policy, and struggle going on there is treated as a factor in the strengthening or undermining of the Russian state. Our ruling elite understands that the successful transition to liberal-democratic principles by Slavic nations which are close in mentality and traditions will mean a blow to the Russian system of absolute rule, since it will prove that the Russians, too, are ready for democracy. It will be harder for this elite to retain power if the Belarusians and Ukrainians who are working today in Russia as guest workers live in future as the Poles do, who 15 years ago arrived in in search of matches and salt.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Letter from a Belarus Prison

A Belarus blogger, kapitan_tanaka, has translated a letter from women who were taken from isolation cells in Minsk to a prison in the town of Zhodzina after the crushing of Saturday's protest. An excerpt:
This is how our cell number 5 looks like: 3,65 m long, 1,70 m wide, the window opposite the door 83/83 cm, 1,60 m above the floor. The window is closed by thick bars, which barely let any daylight into the cell. The wooden bed has 2 storeys, one storey for 2 people. The bed’s size is 1,90 m by 70 cm. We have to sleep on bare wooden boards, without any sheets or blankets. The cell is illuminated by dim light throughout the whole day and night. We have a real “parasha” (primitive toilet), which is situated right near the bed, not separated from the “living space” by any walls. Cold water drips from the rusted faucet right into the “parasha”. The temperature in the cell is about 0 degrees, there is a constant draught.

The girls in the cell number 9 have to sleep together on one wooden bed. “The strict” regime backed up today, we are being treated more human, offences have stopped, and this is our big victory. Neither us, adults, nor girls have bent to the pressure of psychological and physical humiliation.
(via Global Voices Online)

Two Capitalisms

Igor Torbakov, on the growing rift between Moscow and Washington:
Most Russian pundits believe the true reason behind Washington's irritation over Moscow's policies is its inability to adjust to Russia's growing weight in global affairs -- particularly after more than a decade of indisputable U.S. dominance. They also see the U.S. democratic proselytism as a policy tool used to further Washington's strategic interests in various parts of world. Furthermore, the U.S. administration's response to the recent election victories of Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Islamists in Iraq, some Russian analysts say, suggests a view of democracy less principled than it sounds.

At the same time, some liberal-minded Russian pundits point to the emerging contradiction between America's security strategy and its economic policies. While Washington seeks to "spread democracy," its global economic strategy leads to the growing economic might of a group of countries that cannot be considered paragons of democratic governance. The policy of "cheap money" that helps sustain economic growth under conditions of huge trade and budget deficits coupled with dramatic price hikes for raw materials have boosted economic development in a number of undemocratic countries including the energy-rich nations of the Middle East and Russia. The latter's drift toward authoritarianism based on state control over extractive industries is directly connected with the sky-high energy revenues it is currently receiving, some independent experts argue.

Naturally, as they become more powerful economically, the undemocratic countries blessed with hydrocarbons seek to enhance their geopolitical clout as well. In fact, the present situation is marked not by just one global conflict -- that between the Western world and militant Islam -- but also by acute competition between two capitalisms: a democratic capitalist system and undemocratic one, according to one recent commentary. This confrontation, the commentary warns, might lead to the return to the full-blown bi-polar global architecture that existed during the Cold War.

Orange Coalition?

According to, Yulia Tymoshenko has now completed her meeting with President Yushchenko, and is pleased with the result. "We see the same coalition," [BYuT, NU and Socialists] she is reported as saying. She supposed that the PR would be an opposition party in the new parliament, and that it would not take part in the coalition. Earlier, Yushchenko held consultations with PR leader Viktor Yanukovych.

Belarus: The Deeper Context

One slightly overlooked aspect of Saturday's savage repression by Belarusian authorities of the pro-democracy protests in Minsk was the treatment accorded to Poland's ex-Belarus ambassador Mariusz Maszkiewicz, who was among the 200-300 protestors arrested before dawn - they had already been on the square for four days. AP reports that Mr Maszkiewicz has been sentenced by a Belarusian court to 15 days' imprisonment:
"I was there. I am proud I was there," Maszkiewicz said after he was sentenced on charges of taking part in an unsanctioned gathering.


The Polish Foreign Ministry said it would inform the European Union about Maszkiewicz's jailing and press for sanctions over "such a drastic breach of human rights." "The issue has a deeper context because Maszkiewicz was beaten," ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski told the PAP news agency.

On Sunday, the Polish consul in Grodno, Janusz Dabrowski, was detained at the border because he refused to open the trunk of his vehicle for border guards, the Polish Embassy said. Poland said it was suspending operations in Grodno because Belarus was "hindering Polish diplomats in Grodno from carrying out their consular functions."
Not only is the issue is likely to open up further rifts between Belarus and the European Union (the rifts are by now, in any case, almost total) - it is also going to be seen in the context of the muggings and beatings of Polish diplomats in Moscow in August last year, events which signalled a sharp deterioration between the EU and Russia's government. With Putin publicly congratulating Lukashenko on his "victory" in last weekend's election, the Russia-Belarus axis starts to look more and more like an open challenge to Europe.

Now, however, there are reports that Lukashenko has disappeared without trace - he has not been seen since March 20, and has not responded to any of the congratulatory messages he received, nor to the fairly robust criticisms of the US and EU. He is said by Belarusian administration officials to be "working on documents", and to be "in good health".

Lukashenko's presidential inauguation ceremony has been postponed from March 31 until mid-April. No reason has been given for the postponement.

Update: According to Reuters, Lukashenko did make a brief public appearance at a government meeting today.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Forecasts and Prognoses

UNIAN presents a panel of six political analysts giving their views on the likely outcome of the Ukrainian elections. In general, all the analysts consider that the most probable result will be an Orange coalition. The prominent Volodymyr Polokhalo - a member of Tymoshenko's bloc - expresses the view that "a mixed, symbiotic version of coalition" will lead to "the creation of an illegitimate or semi-legitimate majority", and as a result to the creation of "an illegitimate government". Polokhalo believes that such a coalition would not receive the support of Ukraine's citizens, even though it was supported by oligarchic business interests. Sergei Taran, Director of the Kyiv-based International Institute of Democracy, agrees with the prognosis, believing that the only danger in an Orange coalition will be that power in Ukraine will fall into the hands of a few people, the leaders of the majority fractions, and that the resulting political process will be closed and opaque.

Meanwhile, according to, Yulia Tymoshenko has called on analysts to stop discussing the possible creation of a coalition between Orange political forces and the Party of Regions, as "that is not a union of east and west, but really support for the biggest clan - the Donetsk clan, which today dreams of taking power."

Coalition Talks Under Way

Talks on forming a coalition government are under way in Kyiv after the March 26 parliamentary elections.

A Socialist Party leader, Yosip Vinskiy, has blamed President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party for delaying a formal coalition agreement.

Presidential aide Ivan Vasyunyk earlier said Yushchenko believed it would be improper to announce a deal before the Central Election Commission (TsVK) releases the final election results.

"It is logical to begin talks [on forming a coalition government] only after the official announcement of the election results and to sign any coalition agreement only the official announcement of the election results," Vasyunyk said. "This is the president's position."

The TsVK says it has counted nearly one-third of the votes.

An updated tally on its website says the pro-Russia party of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is leading with 26.7 percent. Yanukovych's Party of Regions is followed by the bloc led by another former prime minister, Yuliya Tymoshenko (23.6 percent); then Our Ukraine (16.4 percent); and the Socialist Party (7.2 percent).

Tymoshenko said on March 26 that a coalition agreement between her bloc, the Socialists, and Yushchenko's party is all but certain.

("Ukraynska pravda,",

Understanding Ukraine - II

On UNIAN's website, Adrian Karatnycky has an article about the difficulty of understanding Ukraine from afar, and about the myths prevalent in the West surrounding the present political situation in the country:
From the outside, the story is simple. Personal ambitions have undone the Orange camp, slowed reforms and opened the door for the potential return of the old order. But the reality is just a little bit different.

Myth One: The Orange camp is irreconcilably divided and incapable of reconciling.

In point of fact, Our Ukraine, the bloc loyal to President Viktor Yushchenko, and the Tymoshenko bloc may not be as divided as it seems. Much of the harsh rhetoric between them is a fight for the hearts and minds of the Yushchenko electorate.
Read the whole thing.

The Real Winner

From RFE/RL Newsline:
...TYMOSHENKO LOOKS LIKE REAL WINNER. Speaking after exit polls showed her bloc coming in a very strong second place, Yuliya Tymoshenko said a coalition uniting the liberal parties of the Orange Revolution is "practically ready," Reuters reported on March 27. Such a coalition would unite Tymoshenko with Our Ukraine and Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party of Ukraine, she said. The Socialists won approximately 5 percent, according to exit polls. "I can say that at this moment, our party, the Socialist Party [of Ukraine], and the Our Ukraine party have fully agreed on the text of a coalition agreement," Tymoshenko said on March 26. Tymoshenko also said that her potential coalition partners have agreed that she should lead the new government. "I received very kind words from Roman Bezsmertny, the head of the Our Ukraine campaign staff, who said the bloc that I head has won the election and should take responsibility for matters. We will take that responsibility," she said. BW

Ukraine: Coalition Talks "To Begin"

According to UNIAN, Ivan Vasiunyk, Yushchenko's deputy chief of staff, has said that the President has ordered Prime Minister Yekhanurov to begin talks for creating a parliamentary coalition.

Understanding Ukraine

abdymok notes the bad and misleading reporting of the Ukrainian election and its result by much of the world's media:
instead of portraying the election results as a victory for tymoshenko, foreign reporters are saying the result is a humiliation for yushchenko.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Statesman and Survivor

Today is the day of the burial in Tallinn of former Estonian President Lennart Meri. Michael Tarm writes:
To combat the legacy of the Soviet Union's hammer and sickle, Estonian leader Lennart Meri had a favorite weapon: the screwdriver.

Inside his presidential palace and on the streets of the capital Tallinn, the lanky man with thinning white hair waged battle on the vestiges of Soviet-era shoddiness --a screwdriver in his pocket, ready to pounce on the next flawed appliance.

Statesman, survivor and sage, Meri is being buried Sunday, dead at 76 after a life that encompassed the disasters and triumphs visited upon his tiny Baltic country, from being shipped to Siberia in a cattle train when he was a boy, to leading Estonia out of the shadows of Soviet oppression as president from 1992 to 2001.

A writer and filmmaker who survived Stalin's gulag, Meri could be seen tinkering, screwdriver in hand, with a broken coffee machine or light switch in his palace, then delight a visitor with lectures on everything from astronomy to Shakespeare.

"It was the Soviet way, that if you saw one light switch that didn't work properly, you'd say, 'Let's plan to fix all the light switches in a month's time and let's form a committee to organize it,'" he explained in one of several interviews with this reporter during his presidency.

"But no! It only takes five minutes and you should fix it yourself right now."

It was a frequent thread in his cerebral musings: the passionate belief that the legacies of the Soviet past had to be eradicated.

Over the course of his tenure in power, that goal was largely accomplished.

Meri helped transform his beaten-down Baltic homeland into a proud European Union member now nicknamed E-stonia -- for a sizzling economy that's fueled by a cutting-edge Internet infrastructure. Nearly all Estonians, for instance, conduct their banking transactions exclusively online.

Like Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright who went on to become president of the Czech Republic, Meri was enlisted to run for president because of his cultural pedigree and the moral stature he had won speaking out against the Soviet regime.

But he proved to be more than just a man of letters.

Applying his fix-it-now philosophy to market reforms, he groomed youthful policy makers who speedily privatized state property, slashed subsidies and unilaterally abolished trade tariffs.

While some Eastern European leaders were groping for ways to rescue their economies, Estonia's gained a reputation as a Baltic Tiger -- with annual growth roaring from minus 14 percent in 1992 to plus 11 percent by 1997.

Similarly, Meri was quick to decide that NATO membership was the way his small, historically vulnerable nation could ensure its security.

"Security is like virginity," Meri explained with his characteristic offbeat wit about why nothing short of full membership would do. "You're either a virgin or you're not. You either have security or you don't."

With similar flare, he also criticized Western governments for offering aid to Russia before Estonia's giant neighbor had shown a commitment to democratic reforms.

"They thought that by feeding a tiger more and more meat, it would eventually turn into a vegetarian," he said.

Meri's preoccupation with the consequences of Soviet rule lasted until his death.

It began more than 60 years earlier, when 12-year-old Lennart awoke to the sound of soldiers' boots outside his bedroom.

After the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states in 1940, it deported more than 200,000 men, women and children viewed as potential enemies of the new regime. The Meris were swept up in a first wave of deportations -- on June 14, 1941.

The troops who came to arrest Lennart, his brother and parents, gave them 20 minutes to pack, then marched them to a waiting cattle train and packed them in. Holes in the floor served as latrines during the 2,000 mile (3,200 kilometer) journey to Siberia.

While many exiles perished in the near-famine Siberian conditions, the Meris managed to survive -- thanks in part to Lennart's adeptness at stealing potatoes from a Red Army food-processing plant. They returned to Estonia in 1946.

The sense of imprisonment Estonians felt in their own country by the time the Meris returned was accentuated by the barbed-wire fencing and searchlights, a virtual Berlin Wall, that lined its coast to prevent anyone from fleeing West.

Meri, who spoke six languages fluently, including English, devoted much of his energy as a young adult literally trying to stay tuned with the West. He fashioned a shortwave radio out of a hodgepodge electrical components, scribbling down whole broadcasts for hours on end, including a lecture on the theory of the expanding universe and speeches by Winston Churchill.

He also wrote several books, including one in 1976 called Silver White. In it, Meri theorizes about how a meteorite that slammed into Estonia more than 4,000 years ago may have affected regional history.

At dinnertime in '60s and '70s, discussions between Meri and his father Georg -- an Estonian diplomat based in Paris and London before World War II -- often revolved around their conviction that Estonia would one day be free again.

"In this sense, you could say that, in our family, there was never an Iron Curtain," he said. "The state of mind in my own family was that the existence of a totalitarian state was something very temporary."

In 1991, events proved the Meris right.

In August of that year, a poorly executed coup in the Kremlin failed after just three days -- ushering in the restoration of Baltic independence virtually over night.

Meri, then the foreign minister for Soviet Estonia's independence-minded government, happened to be in Finland during the coup. But when he returned days later, he epitomized the new confidence that Estonians were in charge now, not the Kremlin.

Arriving by boat at Tallinn Harbor, he looked up at a port tower to see a red Soviet flag still blowing in the breeze.

"I am not going to walk onto Estonian territory under a Soviet flag," he declared, directing a port official to have it taken down. "That's an order," Meri barked for good measure, and the flag was promptly removed.

By the time he left office, tech-savvy, Nordic-feeling Estonia had dramatically transformed. A few years later, it had also achieved what once seemed an impossible dream, though perhaps not to Meri: it entered NATO in 2004.
* * *

And Carl Bildt has a tribute to Lennart Meri here.

(via Leopoldo)

Creating the Creator

Il n'y a pas d'autre objection à l'attitude totalitaire que l'objection religieuse ou morale. Si ce monde n'a pas de sens, ils ont raison. Je n'accepte pas qu'ils aient raison. Donc...

C'est â nous de créer Dieu. Ce n'est pas lui le créateur. Voilà toute l'histoire du Christianisme. Car nous n'avons qu'une façon de créer Dieu, qui est de le devenir.
Albert Camus, Carnets 1942-1945

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fascism in Belarus

Via AFP or AP (and

Belarus: The Protest Continues

15.20 GMT: There is a more or less live commentary in Russian and Belarussian at this link (via Neeka's Backlog). The demonstrators are being harshly countered by OMON troops with helmets, shields and batons, and there are reports of casualties among the demonstrators. It is possible that one person has been killed. There are still from 3,000 to 4,000 demonstrators on the streets. The OMON troops are scattering the groups of protesters.

There are many press photos of today's demonstration here.

More photos - some of which are shocking - here.

CNN has an updated report on the clashes.

RFE/RL's latest report is here. There are also WMA files of the sounds of the demonstration.

According to Charter '97, Alexander Kozulin has been detained by Interior Ministry police (the link is currently inactive). Reuters has more here.

United Civic Front activist Ludzmila Graznova has called for Putin to be charged and excluded from the G8, if it can be shown that he stands behind Lukashenko.

According to, Alexander Milinkevich has said in a phone call to the Ukrainan news agency UNIAN that more than 1,000 people were arrested and detained during and after today's anti-government march and demonstration in Minsk. He criticized his colleague Alexander Kozulin for leading a breakaway demonstration to the distribution centre where activists are detained, calling it a provocation that would spoil the image of the opposition. Milinkevich also said that the number of casualties is unknown. He announced that in spite of today's tragic events, the Belarusian opposition does not intend to yield, and plans to hold another mass demonstration on April 26.

Milinkevich has declared the creation of a Popular Movement for the Liberation of Belarus.

Putin Helped Saddam

From BBC:
Russia provided Saddam Hussein with intelligence on US military moves in the opening days of the US-led invasion in 2003, a Pentagon report has said.

Russia passed the details through its Baghdad ambassador, the report said.
Russia has made no substantive comment on the claim, except to issue a routine denial.

Why Can't They Catch Basayev?

Another item I recently translated for the Prague Watchdog (March 19):

Why can't they catch Basayev?

By Ruslan Isayev

CHECHNYA - From being the most odious Chechen field commander and principal enemy of Russia, Shamil Basayev is increasingly turning into a figure who is somehow unreal. It is now several years since the Russian special services began their hunt for him.

There have been many reports of Basayev's death, and there was even information that he had gone mad. All of this information was supplied by the Russian special services, which have thereby attempted to shrug off responsibility for the fact that they are unable to catch him, while at the same time hinting at their involvement in his illnesses and poisonings.

On several occasions Basayev has indeed fallen into traps arranged by the special services, but each time he has succeeded in slipping away at the last moment.

Basayev's luck gives rise to the most diverse rumours, not only among the people, but even among some law enforcement officials. And the rumours are appropriate, if we consider that during the last three years Basayev has been almost the only figure under whose command perceptible blows have been delivered to Russia's image.

These rumours include the claim that in 1999 Basayev and his forces left Daghestan under cover of Russian helicopters, and that his actions are coordinated by the GRU, the Military Intelligence of the General Staff of the Russian Federal Ministry of Defence.

Supporters of the version alleging Basayev's "protection" by Russian army intelligence refer, though without proof, to his activity during the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict, where he rose to the post of Abkhaz Deputy Minister of Defence, heading a voluntary contingent from the entire Caucasus.

It is asserted that Basayev was able to form his contacts with the Russian special services when Russia openly took the side of separatist Abkhazia, to which it rendered all its military aid.

There is also another matter: why are the Russian special services, in this case military intelligence, conducting this "dirty" game, and what are its purposes?

Some Chechen political scientists believe that there actually exists in Russia a so-called "plot of the generals", who are trying to weaken Russia to please the countries of the West, with the aim of securing a Russian withdrawal from the Caucasus.

Others think that Basayev is simply endowed with good fortune, and because of his brilliant military talent and wolf-like instinct remains invulnerable to his enemies. Not even a reward of 10,000,000 dollars has managed to trace Russia's terrorist No. 1.

From merely being a thorn in Russia's side Basayev long ago turned into a chronic illness for the country. But that is not the end of it. With more events of the same kind, the processes of this illness will become irreversible. The signs are already present.

Friday, March 24, 2006

U.S. Advisor

RFE/RL's Daisy Sindelar, commenting on the run-up to this weekend's Ukraine elections:
As for Moscow and Washington, [Vladimir] Zharikhin says the countries should strive to tread lightly in Ukraine, which he says is destabilized by its traditional philosophical east-west schism.

"In Ukraine there's truly an enormous contradiction between the global views in western and eastern Ukraine," he notes. "And if you adopt the policies of those who are profoundly Western-oriented or -- on the other hand -- profoundly Eastern-oriented, then the splitting up of the country is inevitable. We would simply pull it into pieces. We need to proceed on the notion that that's how Ukraine is."

Yanukovych, in the end, may have the best sense of how to manage the east-west divide. He has crossed the breach in recent days, making a strategic campaign stop in the western city of Chernoitsi, which in 2004 gave Yushchenko 80 percent of its votes. He switched easily between Ukrainian and Russian, and reportedly drew a crowd of some 10,000 people with promises to use his Kremlin connections to keep gas prices down.

Who was behind such a savvy campaign move? Not Yanukovych's Russian election advisers. The Party of Regions leader has replaced them -- with a team assembled by a campaign expert, Paul Manafort, from the U.S. Republican Party.
Elsewhere on RFE/RL, Victor Yasmann analyses Moscow's silence on the Ukraine elections - a contrast with Moscow's noisy advocacy of Yanukovych in 2004.

Lessons of Belarus

Discussion at Garry Kasparov's Internet newspaper continues to be lively. Many readers, looking at recent events in Belarus, and the brutal attack on Marina Litvinovich that was evidently authorized - and probably carried out - by the FSB, and of which there are witnesses, are now saying that with the approach of the Russian presidential elections in 2 years' time, the possibility of a revolt along the lines of what has taken place in Georgia, in Ukraine, and now in Belarus, cannot be ruled out. One commenter writes:
What can I say about United Civic Front [Kasparov's party], Kasparov, Khodorkovsky and other figures of the real opposition? Have the courage of your convictions, for the people will support you! The people are terribly tired after 70 years of dictatorship, and you need to understand that. And people need to understand that they themselves are the power, and that it's their own power they elect. And everything else is superfluous!

A Pyrrhic Victory

David Marples, on the ending of the October Square protest in Minsk:
The president finally lost patience. Several hundred protestors were reportedly arrested and many were savagely beaten in custody. Yet more "commemorations" could be forthcoming, such as April 2, a date when the opposition usually denounces the Russia-Belarus Union, and the Chernobyl anniversary (the 20th), traditionally the biggest protest march, on April 26. Lukashenka would prefer that international attention be refocused elsewhere and seems perplexed by the sustained international interest. He could not have ordered a new election under the terms demanded by Milinkevich.

Overall, Lukashenka has been tested. He has attained a pyrrhic victory, but faces new uncertainties and doubts. The opposition is not yet powerful enough to remove him, but its threat has grown. The contrived turnout and vote count, as well as the over-reaction to the opposition campaigns, were in retrospect a blunder by the authorities that served to revive a long dormant civic society in Belarus. The end game -- a massive assault on the small group that chose to stay for a further night on the square -- was predictable. Additional retributions may follow. The Jeans Revolution might have failed, but it marks the first sustained attempt by the opposition to resist the Lukashenka dictatorship.
The opposition has also said that it will go ahead with this weekend's protest rally, timed to coincide with the March 25 commemoration of the short-lived independent state of 1918.


I'm reposting this comment by Jeremy Putley from the comments box of Release Mikhail Trepashkin:
The recent book by Professor John B Dunlop, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, entitled “The 2002 Dubrovka and 2004 Beslan Hostage Crises: A Critique of Russian Counter-Terrorism", contains much interesting information.

In particular there is a reference (on page 149) to Mikhail Trepashkin in connection with the 2002 Dubrovka theatre siege.

A number of questions have been asked by analysts and journalists about whether or not the de facto leader of the terrorists, Abubakar, had in fact been killed. In June 2003, Moscow Prosecutor Avdyukov insisted that Ruslan Abu-Khasanovich Elmurzaev’s [Abubakar’s real name] body had been found and identified. In March 2003, however, retired FSB Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Trepashkin had written that, following the events at Dubrovka, “I proposed to the investigators that they try to identify ‘Abubakar’ in the first days after the event. However, later an investigator telephoned and said that he could not find the corpses of a number of people, including that of ‘Abubakar,’ and therefore there would be no identification.” And journalist Aleksandr Khinshtein has reported: “At first there existed a version that Abubakar died during the storming of the House of Culture [i.e. the theatre] …. But a series of examinations showed that there was no Abubakar in the hall.” Despite Prosecutor Avdyukov’s statement, it appears thus to be an open question as to whether or not Abubakar was killed.

In fact, Ruslan Elmurzaev alias Abubakar, who was the FSB’s “plant” among the terrorists and who, in his role as double agent, was in complete command of the events at the Dubrovka theatre from beginning to end, is almost certainly still alive and living in Chechnya. In 2003 this was confirmed to film director Sergei Govoroukhin (“one of the volunteer negotiators who had spoken at length with Abubakar at Dubrovka”) by intelligence officers of the Combined Group of Forces of the Northern Caucasus.

Thus it appears that Mikhail Trepashkin is in a position to testify to the effect that Abubakar’s body was reported as not being present following the Moscow theatre siege in October 2002.

Blogging Till It Hurts

With the news that Minsk riot police have broken up the demonstration on October Square, it looks as though the protest may be over - at least for now.

Lukashenko's assault is really one on European democracy, and in particular the ideals and policies of the European Union, which has opened to absorb many of the former Soviet "satellite" states. Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian, has some suggestions as to how people in the West, and especially in Europe, can help the Belarus protests.
Here, without for a moment confusing wishes with reality, I have an answer. There are many reasons for the different paths followed by Belarus's western and eastern neighbours since the end of the cold war - the Polish way and the Russian way - but one of the most fundamental is this: that the Poles wanted to join the EU and the EU made it clear the Poles could join if they met certain standards of democracy, the rule of law, market economy and so forth. Now it's the Poles - and Slovaks, Czechs, Lithuanians and other recently self-liberated Europeans - who, as new members of the EU, are saying we must do more to sustain the cause of freedom in places such as Belarus. Besides direct support for independent media, civil society and the democratic opposition, and pressuring the country's leaders, the most important thing we can do is to offer that long-term European perspective.

They are right. This is the corner of Belarus's reality we can directly and legitimately change. So if you do give a toss about Belarus, and you are a citizen of the EU, go blog your government till it hurts.
Meanwhile, Russia has blamed the OSCE for tensions in Belarus. Russia's President Putin has already sent open congratulations to Lukashenko. The EU and US are to impose sanctions against Belarus, though the precise nature of these hasn't yet been specified.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Murderers Walk Free

From RFE/RL:
A human rights organization has described a St. Petersburg court verdict on March 22 in the murder of a nine- year-old Tajik girl as "a moral catastrophe." The judgment -- eight of the defendants were found guilty of "hooliganism" and the other defendant was found not guilty -- shocked members of the victim's family and the Tajik Embassy in Moscow.
PRAGUE, March 23, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Muhammad Egamzod, a representative of the Tajik Embassy in Moscow, today expressed "extreme disappointment" with the court ruling but said he hopes those responsible for the murder will still be brought to justice.

"We still believe that the killing was a xenophobic and racist act," Egamzod said. "The Tajik Embassy in Russia hopes that the murderers of the Tajik citizen will be brought to justice and punished according to the law."

Khursheda Sultanova was killed in 2003 as she was taking a walk with her father and 11-year-old cousin, who were also wounded in the incident. Natella Ponomareva, the lawyer for the victims, announced the court ruling.

"There will be no verdict of murder, because the only one who was accused of murder was acquitted. The jury decided that he is not guilty," Ponomareva said.

The verdict was a blow not only to family members seeking justice but also to the many in Russia and elsewhere who wanted to see Russian authorities take steps to halt racial hate crimes. Such crimes are one the rise and are mainly directed against those of African and Asian descent. Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of Russia's Civic Assistance human rights organization, expressed surprise at the ruling.

"This is a catastrophe," she said. "This is a moral catastrophe for Russia that in the multinational society of a huge country could bring nothing less than the collapse of the state."

The Attack

On the night of February 9, 2004, Yunus Sultanov, a migrant worker from Tajikistan, was walking the streets of St. Petersburg with his daughter and nephew when a group of some 12 young men armed with baseball bats, chains, and knives attacked them. Khursheda was stabbed and bled to death before medical help arrived. The assailants fled the scene and police launched a search for them.

Nazar Mirzoda of the Tajik diaspora in St. Petersburg credits St. Petersburg police with investigating the crime but questions the court decision.

"[Some] 150 young people were interrogated," Mirzoda said. "People in the neighborhood also told the entire story of how it happened. All eight youngsters confessed that they took part in the beating. They told the court that Roman Kazakov stabbed the girl."

Shock And Disbelief

Yusuf Sultanov was not only shocked by the verdict, he said he was not even told about today's trial.

"No one told me that there will be a trial today," he said. "I did not received any written notice. And it is strange that they confessed earlier and now say they are not guilty. I could not understand. I am completely shattered as to why they do not want to punish murderers."

In the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, Khursheda's Aunt Oim said she believes the lenient verdict was due to the connections of some defendants to Russian officials.

"What can I say? There are the sons of some high-ranking official involved in the killing," she said. "That is why they will be acquitted."

St. Petersburg prosecutors report there were 23 deaths in 2004 listed as racial crimes, and 34 in 2005. In Moscow, the Prosecutor's Office reports that 38 Tajik migrant workers have been killed just this year. St. Petersburg police estimate there are some 20,000 skinheads, often the perpetrators of such acts, in the St. Petersburg region alone.

Release Mikhail Trepashkin

At Defender Alert Network, a petition for the release of Mikhail Trepashkin, the defence lawyer illegally re-imprisoned by the Russian authorities in September 2005, and still detained in a penal colony under harsh and inhuman conditions:
Trepashkin is not receiving adequate medical care for acute asthma, and his health is deteriorating. Having exhausted all legal appeals of his detention, he needs your help.

According to his lawyers, there is a possibility that Trepashkin could be transferred to a facility with even worse conditions. Instead, Trepashkin must be transferred immediately to a civilian hospital for in-patient treatment.

In October 2003, Trepashkin was arrested just before presenting evidence in court suggesting government complicity in the 1999 apartment building bombings which helped to spark the Second Chechen War. His persecution through the misuse of the legal system appears designed to silence his nonviolent criticism of government policy.

Dozens of leading Russian human rights advocates have issued statements in his support. Please join them and call for Trepashkin's release
There is more about Trepashkin's case here.

Targeting Blair

From MosNews:
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the deputy speaker of the lower house of Russian parliament, the State Duma, and the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, suspects British Prime Minister Tony Blair of being personally interested in preserving the immunity of certain Russian nationals currently living in the UK.

Zhirinovsky is set to appeal to the British parliament with a request to probe Blair’s possible connection to the former Russian tycoon [Boris Berezovsky] currently living in self-imposed exile in London the Interfax news agency reported.
And today, from Itar-Tass:
The Russian Prosecutor General's Office is checking the reports alleging that business tycoon Boris Berezovsky might be involved in funding terrorist activities by Shamil Basayev and other extremists in Chechnya, deputy prosecutor general Vladimir Kolesnikov said on Thursday.

Stopping the Virus - IV

The UK's Times, on London Mayor Livingstone's "go back to Iran" remarks concerning the Reuben brothers:
Ken Livingstone is a fool. Or at least, too many fawning acolytes and the 360-degree view from his eyrie atop London’s most peculiar building have made a fool of him — and not for the first time, his critics will observe. But even his most ardent admirers must have studied their fingernails in dismay when, faced with a potential impasse in negotiations between the developers responsible for building the capital’s Olympic City, Mr Livingstone resorted to crass insult.

Al Qaeda's Moscow Link

The UK Times reports that
An alleged Islamist terrorist accused of planning attacks on targets in Britain was involved in a plot to buy a "dirty bomb" from the Russian mafia, the Old Bailey was told yesterday.

Salahuddin Amin was said to have been entrusted by senior figures in a terror cell in Pakistan to act as a go-between in their planned purchase of the radioactive device.

He is standing trial alongside six alleged accomplices for conspiring to detonate explosives at key sites in Britain, causing maximum damage and fatalities. Among the intended targets were the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, the National Grid, synagogues and a nightclub in Central London, the court was told during the second day of the trial.

However, the plotters did not realise that as they pondered which of many potential targets to strike, their movements were being monitored by police, David Waters, QC, for the prosecution, said. Some of their cars and homes had been bugged. One defendant, Jawad Akbar, allegedly said in a recording: “The biggest nightclub in Central London. No one can put their hands up and say they are innocent — those slags dancing around.”

Mr Amin was said in 2001 to have moved to Pakistan where he attended explosives and weapons training camps with five of the other men and supplied equipment for jihad (holy war).

Mr Waters told the jury: “An indication to the trust imposed in Amin and his position in the Pakistani end of the organisation is gained from the passing of information to him in relation to a radioisotope bomb.”

Referring to alleged senior terrorists, Mr Waters said that Mr Amin was asked by Pakistan-based militants to contact a man named Abu Annis. Through Annis contact had been made via the internet with Russian mafia based in Belgium.

Different Strokes

In Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal, Alexander Ryklin writes that in a recent phone-in poll, the Ekho Moskvy radio station asked its listeners a hypothetical question: “Who would you vote for as the future president of Russia - Lukashenko or Putin?” The answer was 82% for Lukashenko, and only 18% for Putin. Ryklin comments:
There is no doubt at all that the main difference between Putin and Lukashenko lies not in the fact that one of them will not accept liberalism on principle, while the other just keeps talking about how Russia needs a special kind of democracy. i.e. - a managed one. Of course, both ideologically and mentally they are very close to each other, and their understanding of the nature of power is more or less the same. It is simply that the situations of their lives have developed differently. Lukashenko isn't faced with the task of legalizing his capital in the West - for him, the West is closed. But Putin, on the other hand, dreams of meeting old age in a quiet, comfortable place not far from a large European city. Hence the dualism in his behaviour. It looks as though our home-grown patriots have already understood this. At least, the voting at "Echo" definitely bears witness to it

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Letter from Siberia

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed and exiled "oligarch" now serving a nine-year sentence in a labour camp in Chita, Siberia, has sent a letter to a Russian woman, Irina, in the United States who had written to him expressing her fears for the future of society in Russia. In particular, she drew attention to the widespread political indifference and lethargy in Russia as a whole, and to the fact that now almost the only alternative to the present party in power is the far-right National Bolshevik Party, with the danger of a lurch towards fascism and totalitarianism.

In his letter, Khodorkovsky writes that it is precisely this political passivity and indifference that he is trying to combat, and that his primary aim is to encourage the development of a normal civil society.

It seems that private correspondence is the only way in which Khodorkovsky is able to communicate with the outside world - while only some of his letters (which are censored) reach their destinations, they do at least in some small part lift the information blockade that has been built around him by the prison authorities and the Russian government.

Marina Litvinovich - III

From Moscow Times:
Marina Litvinovich, a 31-year-old political activist and public relations specialist, was walking to her car from the office of Kasparov's United Civil Front on Ulitsa Makarenko at around 9:15 p.m. Monday when she was attacked from behind, Kasparov spokesman Denis Bilunov said.

Litvinovich was unconscious for 20 to 25 minutes before she came to and called Kasparov's office, which in turn called an ambulance, Bilunov said. She escaped serious injury, but two of her teeth were knocked out, he said.

Litvinovich was carrying a laptop computer and money, but nothing was stolen, he said.

"It's quite obvious that this was connected with her political activities," Bilunov said.

Bilunov said the attack had been reported to police and that a criminal investigation had been opened. A police source told RIA-Novosti that investigators were looking into the incident.

Litvinovich is also the editor of a web site called Truth of Beslan (, and she said Tuesday that she believed an investigation into terrorism might have been the primary motive behind the attack.

"I think it's very likely that it was connected with my activities in investigating the terrorist acts at 'Nord Ost' and in Beslan," Litvinovich said Tuesday on Ekho Moskvy radio. "Some new and very interesting facts -- sufficiently serious and important -- have emerged. I think this is the most painful thing that someone perhaps wouldn't like."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Belarus: Activists Detained

BBC reports that
The opposition in Belarus says four of its leading activists have been arrested by police in Minsk during a protest against the election result.

Hundreds of opposition supporters defied a heavy police presence and braved sub-zero cold overnight, camping out in a central square.
Rush-Mush is translating minsk_news, with frequent updates on the development of the protest, which is still continuing.

Marina Litvinovich - II

Lyndon at Scraps of Moscow has more on the assault on Marina Litvinovich.

(via Global Voices.) As Veronica points out, Marina Litvinovich is also chief editor of the BeslanTruth website.

My translation of Marina Litvinovich's interview with Stanislav Kesayev, head of the North Ossetian parliamentary commission of inquiry into the 2004 Beslan hostage-taking and school siege, which concluded that the Russian state authorities have much to answer for, is here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Marina Litvinovich

Marina Litvinovich, an associate of Garry Kasparov, international chess master and Russian human rights activist, was attacked and beaten unconscious in a Moscow street tonight, reports:

Марину Литвинович около 21:00, когда она выходила из офиса межрегионального общественного движения Объединенный гражданский фронт (ОГФ) на улице Макаренко, жестоко избили несколько человек. Они нанесли женщине удары по лицу и голове, в результате чего она потеряла сознание. При этом ничего из вещей Марины Литвинович не пропало, даже ноутбук и деньги.

Лиц нападавших Ливинович запомнить не сумела. Пострадавшая доставлена в НИИ имени Склифосовского с подозрением на сотрясение мозга. Подробности о состоянии ее здоровья пока неизвестны.

Russia In China Year

Russia's president Vladimir Putin is on a visit to China.

Belarus: The Powder Keg

Back to the future. Via abdymok, a 1997 article by Ted Galen Carpenter and Andrew Stone of the Cato Institute about the modalities of NATO enlargement in Eastern Europe - considered by the authors to pose a potentially lethal threat to European and world security. An excerpt from the end of the analysis, which deserves close attention:
Admitting Poland to NATO involves two related dangers. One is that Poland's highly unstable neighbor [Belarus] may suffer the fate of other states with repressive political systems and moribund economies: a violent convulsion. We have witnessed that development in such places as Somalia, Yugoslavia, Liberia, Afghanistan, Georgia, and Zaire. It should be noted that, in every case, the chaos created serious problems for neighboring states. If fighting erupted in Belarus--and the ingredients are all in place for a conflagration--it is highly unlikely that Poland would remain unaffected.

Yet there would be multiple risks to NATO if it took action to stabilize its new member's eastern border. In addition to the prospect of being sucked into a Bosnia-style morass, there would be the danger of a confrontation with Russia. Belarus is a weakened [state], Russia's last strategic ally in Europe. Russian leaders would undoubtedly be alarmed by any NATO military initiatives involving Belarus, whether those actions were for the purpose of containment or the more ambitious objective of nation building.

Moscow's reluctant acquiescence in the first round of NATO enlargement was conditioned on what Russian officials considered solemn promises in the Founding Act. One crucial provision states that NATO "reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces." Moscow might well view the deployment of NATO troops in eastern Poland to deal with instability in Belarus as a violation of that pledge. Yet if the alliance failed to act, Poland (and the other new members) would have reason to question the credibility of the security commitments they had been given.

Even the possibility of the United States' becoming entangled in a political and military quagmire on the frontier between Poland and Belarus should be ample reason for the Senate to reject the administration's plan to enlarge NATO. The danger that such a development could result in a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia reinforces that point. If expansion is approved, the United States risks being blindsided by a conflict that advocates of NATO enlargement never anticipated and that would have no relevance to the security interests of the American people.

Waiting in Minsk - II (GR) is reporting (21:37, you may need to scroll) that the number of demonstrators in the centre of the Belarus capital Minsk is now estimated at around 20,000 - a huge increase in a very short time, and frankly, it seems impossible that the numbers could have jumped that far in the space of five minutes...

Milinkevich has told the demonstrators (there are probably at most 6,000) to "stand to the end" (stoyat' do kontsa) - i.e. until the authorities admit that the election results have been faked. Milinkevich has also made another appeal - anyone who can manage to bring hot tea for the demonstrators should do so. According to GR, some tents have been put up on the square - but, sadly, this could be false reporting. The wait for information goes on.

Neeka's Backlog has some commentary and links.

The danger of a provocation in this tense and media-oriented situation is obviously ever-present.

It seems likely that the police will shortly break up the demonstration. Let's hope it doesn't happen. now says that

Правоохранительные органы Белоруссии будут привлекать к административной ответственности организаторов несанкционированных акций в центре Минска, передает в понедельник агентство "Интерфакс".

Also, there's a large picture of blue tents, and then repeated accounts of threats by the authorities to punish the demonstrators. Thankfully, the anticipated attack by "riot police" hasn't taken place at this time.

It's nearly over. No, it isn't.

Waiting in Minsk

Echo of Moscow (EM) - a prominent pro-democracy radio station and website based in the Russian Federation, but with correspondents in Belarus - reports at 21:32 that the opposition rally in the centre of Minsk has heard a demand by Alexander Kozulin for new presidential elections to be held in July. Kozulin read out a "Declaration in the name of the Belarusian people".

EM says that the document also contains demands for the release of political detainees, and the establishment of an electoral commission with participaton of the opposition.

The EM correspondent estimates the number of demonstrators on the square at between 4,000 and 5,000 - slightly down on yesterday's figure. So far the police have not made any attempt to break up the meeting.

Alexander Milinkevich has called on the protestors to make the rally a permanent one


My visit to Helsinki to receive the Stora Pris (Grand Prix) of the Swedish-language authors’ association was quite a quick one – it all happened at such short notice. If I’d known a little further in advance, I would have tried to arrange to stay in Helsinki a bit longer – but I have to be back here for work purposes today!

I really enjoyed attending the annual dinner. I hope that the authors took note of the role that Books from Finland magazine has played in presenting Finland-Swedish writing to an English-speaking public over the past thirty years or so, and to Soila Lehtonen’s editorship of the magazine. Many of my translations first appeared in BfF, and it’s through the journal that British and U.S. publishers were able to read them.

It was good to talk to Thomas Wulff, Peter Sandelin, Henrika Ringbom and others, and to meet my old friend Gösta Ågren. I’m looking forward to visiting Helsinki/Helsingfors again before too long.

I am very pleased with the text of the award (in the picture).

Sunday, March 19, 2006


I'm back from Helsinki, where I had a great time with the Finland-Swedish writers' association - will try to post something about it tomorrow.

Friday, March 17, 2006


There's going to be a break in posting while I head over to Finland for a couple of days.

Out of Touch

As the protests in France against the new CPE labour law continue, it looks increasingly as though Chirac and the French government are going to have to make a radical rethink of their social and domestic policies. The crux of the matter is the government's remoteness from the economic realities of everyday life in French society. It was these economic and social concerns - and not "radical Islam" - that were at the root of last November's riots in the banlieues, and only some kind of new social contract with the youth of France is going to avert a national crisis of the kind seen in 1968.

A European Disgrace

Carl Bildt observes that
What's happening in Belarus is truly a disgrace to Europe.

There is a need to intensify discussions on how Europe should react to obvious repression in Belarus.
That there certainly is such a need is underlined by today's analysis by Eurasia Daily Monitor commentator David Marples, who writes:
The Belarusian authorities have exacerbated the tension surrounding the 2006 presidential election campaign by declaring that the opposition plans an uprising on Sunday, March 19. KGB chief Stsyapan Sukharenka has warned that any demonstrations will be regarded as acts of terrorism. Participants could theoretically be imprisoned for 25 years, jailed for life, or even face the death penalty for appearing in public on the day of the vote. He cited a false exit poll allegedly confiscated from the Partnerstvo group as well as potential Georgian involvement in an uprising.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sympathizing with Tyrants

Igor Torbakov considers the controversy between Moscow and the West over the death of former Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic, and points to a fresh surge of anti-Americanism in Russia:
Both the Russian political class and the broad public were strongly against the 1999 NATO operation in Yugoslavia aimed at stopping what the West claimed was the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo. It would seem that now the Kremlin has decided to whip up anti-Western and anti-American sentiments within the Russian population, which was generally sympathetic to Milosevic's role in opposing NATO in the Balkans. "Many citizens of our country don't believe in the genocide of the Albanian people. Milosevic remained in the memory of the majority of Russians as the leader of the proud independent state that the American [war] machine had failed to crush," contends Valery Fedorov, general director of VTsIOM, the Kremlin-connected polling agency.

Independent experts also confirm that the level of anti-American feelings in Russia is running high. The polls conducted by the Levada Analytical Center reveal that over the decade almost one-third of respondents have taken an extremely critical stance toward Washington's foreign policy.

Although nowadays anti-Americanism is not an exclusive characteristic of Russian public attitudes but rather a global trend, Russia's negative perceptions of Washington's policies have peculiar features.

First, having been America's main adversary for over half century, Moscow finds it particularly difficult to adjust to its curtailed global role and Washington's seemingly unassailable supremacy. Seeking to limit what it sees as American hegemony, the Kremlin often finds itself in the company of some unsavory allies, not infrequently outright "rouges," only because those leaders are believed to be capable of standing up to the American might. Remarkably, some analysts draw parallels between Russian attitudes toward Milosevic and Moscow's strategy toward Iran. The Kremlin clearly does not want to see the clerical regime in Tehran armed with nuclear weapons, but at the same time, it treats Iran's leadership, as it did Milosevic, as a potentially useful ally acting as a counterweight to the American presence in the region.

Second, the Russian leadership is using the anti-Western and anti-American sentiments to further their domestic political agenda. The government sees the public wariness of the West as a handy instrument for manipulation and mobilization. The Kremlin likely regarded Milosevic's death as a convenient pretext to step up anti-Western propaganda. In this sense, it is symptomatic that the coverage of Milosevic's death on Russian state-controlled television was overwhelmingly sympathetic toward the late Yugoslav leader, with several commentators defending him and blaming his captors for his death.

Faculty of Dreams

Tua Forsström's I studied once at a wonderful faculty - a 135-page volume containing four of her collections of poetry in my translations and Stina Katchadourian's - is now published by Bloodaxe Books, and is available from

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Death of a Statesman - II

Estland has a roundup of blog reaction to the death of Estonia's Lennart Meri, with assessments of the career of this important figure in European political and cultural life.

There is also a tribute from Carl Bildt.

A Book of Condolences has been opened here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Death of a Statesman

Former Estonian President Lennart Meri has died, after a long illness. He was 76.

Jens-Olaf at Estland has some photos and reflections.

And Paul Goble writes from Tallinn (March 14):
Lennart Meri, the former president of Estonia who symbolized in his own person the principle of the continuity of that Baltic republic's statehood, died in his sleep early this morning after a long battle with cancer.

Born on March 29, 1929 -- coincidentally the date on which a then very junior U.S. diplomat named George F. Kennan arrived in Estonia -- Lennart Meri was the son of one of Estonia's most distinguished pre-war diplomats and grew up in the Estonian missions in Paris and Berlin where his father, learning not only those languages but English as well to perfection.

When the Soviet Union occupied Estonia in 1940 under the terms of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany the year before, the entire Meri family was arrested and then deported to a village near Sverdlovsk. There, the 12-year-old Lennart perfected his Russian as he made friends with local children and picked potatoes to feed his family.

After the war, Lennart Meri returned with his family to Estonia where he studied at the University of Tartu, subsequently becoming a broadcaster, a film maker, and a writer but in every case using his remarkable talents both for using language and making friend to play what he called "his little games" to present Estonia and Estonians to a broader world.

Like other Estonians living under occupation, Lennart Meri often was put in the position of having to choose between withdrawal from the public sphere - something that was not part of his nature - and among options, most if not all of which entailed risks of being used by the enemies of the Estonian people and the Estonian state.

Because he took those risks, he was regularly accused of having worked for the wrong people. But because he was far more clever than those who sought to exploit him, he invariably succeeded in turning the tables on them, typically in ways that they did not expect and always to the benefit of his country.

When in the 1980s Estonians launched their drive to recover de facto what they had never lost de jure, Lennart Meri was one of the participants in this effort who represented the link between pre-occupation Estonia and this rebirth. Indeed, a consciousness of this link was something that informed both his actions and his statements to the end of his life.

As this effort intensified, Lennart Meri served as Estonia's foreign minister regularly travelling to the capitals of the world with his Latvian and Lithuanian colleagues to force the world to focus on what was happening in these countries and to convince world leaders that they should stand up to Mikhail Gorbachev and support Baltic independence.

After the August 1991 coup in Moscow which opened the way for Estonia to resume her proper place in the international scene, Lennart Meri continued first as foreign minister and then after a brief spell as Estonia's ambassador to Finland - yet another country whose language he spoke brilliantly - Lennart Meri was elected and then reelected president of his country.

As a result, Estonia in the 1990s had one of the oldest presidents - symbolizing the continuity of Estonia with the pre-war republic - in Europe, even as it had one of the youngest prime ministers, Mart Laar, who stood for Estonia's desire to look beyond the Soviet occupation not just to the past but also to the future.

While serving as president, Lennart Meri helped to negotiate the withdrawal of Russian troops, oversaw what many have called Estonia's economic miracle, and reminded Estonians and the world of why their country and its uninterrupted existence as a state from 1920 is important not only for them as a historical fact but for the world as a guarantee of the future.

Lennart Meri has already been the subject of several biographies and there will be more to come his achievements in the all the various spheres of his activity are simply too important for it to be otherwise. But there is one aspect of his life which those of us who were privileged to know him personally must make sure is recorded before people have time to forget.

Lennart Meri had an amazing ability to make friends, to reach out to people be they presidents or the poorest of his countrymen, literary scholars and filmmakers or those who had never read a book in their lives, and to those who began with a basic affection for Estonia and those who had a different set of feelings.

The author of these lines was among those who was privileged to know Lennart, as he was invariably called by his friends regardless of the office he was holding at the moment, for more than 15 years I first met him in Copenhagen on August 15, 1990, when he served as Estonia's foreign minister and I was director of research at Radio Liberty.

I had flown up to the Danish capital with Toomas Hendrik Ilves, then head of the Estonian Service at Radio Free Europe and later Estonia's ambassador to Washington and foreign minister, to meet Estonian Prime Minister Edgard Savisaar and Lennart Meri.

That is a meeting I will never forget, not so much for its content, as important as that was to be for me when I returned to the State Department several weeks later to work on the desk for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but rather for what happened at the very end of that session.

The two Estonian officials had an earlier flight back to Helsinki from where they would travel by boat to Estonia than we did back to Munich As the two Estonian officials gathered up their things, Lennart scurried about gathering up into his briefcase all the bananas in the bowls of fruit put on on the tables of that elegant room.

As he did so, he grinned at me. I did not fully understand just what that grin meant until I moved to Estonia two years ago. But there I quickly came to understand why Lennart had done as he did. In Soviet times, Estonians could not buy bananas, and unless they were able to travel to Moscow or beyond the borders of the Soviet Union, many of them had never actually held a banana in their hands. Lennart simply wanted to take bananas home to his daughter.

Now, with Estonia a full member of NATO and the European Union, Estonians can get bananas and much else besides . Indeed, one often sees Estonian students eating bananas on the street. But many of them probably have no recollection of the times when that was not possible.

During one of the last times I visited Lennart in his hospital room, I told him that rather than bring him flowers, I would prefer to bring him a banana. He grinned at me and nodded -- his illness had already prevented him from speaking. But he knew just what I was referring to and why it was important.

Now Lennart is gone. Along with so many others, I have lost a very dear friend. But I will never look at a banana or indeed many other things without thinking of the man who played such an important role not only in maintaining the continuity of his own country but in the lives of so many others, including my own.
(via MAK)