Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Books Under Threat

RFE/RL’s Golnaz Esfandiari points to the dangers facing writers and publishers in Iran. Recently introduced censorship restrictions and guidelines are preventing the issue of new books, and some in the book industry are warning that it could be destroyed by the burdensome and bureaucratic regulations.

Farkhondeh Hajizadeh, an Iranian writer and an award-winning publisher, tells RFE/RL that the licensing process for new titles has become “a monster.”

Over the past year, she claims, many of her books have gone unpublished.

“It would be better for you to ask how many of my books have been given a license these days,” Hajizadeh says when asked about the number of books she has seen held up by censors. “In the past, none of our books were granted permission without modifications. It seems the publishing industry is being devastated, or independent publishers cannot exist anymore. We specialize in art and literature — that’s exactly the area that’s problematic for [officials], not physics and chemistry. Our books have been either banned, or they have faced censorship after a year, or they remain suspended.”

On the Phone

In TimesOnline, Tony Halpin writes about Gifts to Soviet Leaders, a new exhibition of tributes to Kremlin rulers, from Lenin to Gorbachev, which has been compiled by Cambridge anthropologist Nikola Ssorin-Chaikov and Moscow art historian Olga Sosnina. The gifts comprise “tens of thousands of objects presented to Soviet leaders by peasants, workers, foreign sympathisers and heads of state”:
The telephone was among 20,000 gifts marking Stalin’s 70th birthday in 1949. One film clip in the exhibition shows Stalin receiving a rifle at a party congress in the 1930s then pointing the weapon towards his audience. By the following year most of those present had been killed in a purge.

Russian Diplomat Forbidden Entrance to Israel

Via AIA:

The Shabak, Israeli counter-intelligence and internal security service, has forbidden entrance to Israel to the Russian diplomat, Dr Alexander Kryukov, claiming that he is an intelligence officer. Probably Kryukov is exactly the person directed to Israel by Vladimir Putin to head the Centre of Russian Culture and Science about which Putin spoke with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at their meeting in the Kremlin about two weeks ago, online paper NEWSru.com reports.

The Shabak suspects that Kryukov would continue to work in Israel as an agent of the Russian intelligence under a diplomatic covering. Besides there is a fear that the Centre of Russian Culture and Science will be engaged not only in culture, being a convenient base for recruitment of spies and agents of influence among new repatriates, playing on their nostalgia, Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv writes.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Chechens Receive Death Threats

Via Prague Watchdog (my tr.)
Chechens in Astrakhanskaya Oblast receive death threats

By Ruslan Isayev

YANDYKI, Russia – Ethnic Chechens living in the village of Yandyki in the Limansky district of the South Russian province of Astrakhanskaya Oblast, where just over a year ago inter-ethnic riots took place, are still suffering from pressure on the part of local nationalists.

Almost every day the places where Chechens live are subjected to the throwing of stones, bottles and notes containing threats that if they do not leave the district and the Oblast they may expect to be killed.

The authorities do nothing, claiming they are unable to establish the identity of the authors of these notes, but most of the Chechens tend to the view that they are quite simply turning a blind eye to the problem. Because of all this the Chechens, the majority of whom were born and grew up in Yandyki, are living in a virtual state of siege. “They can’t just drop everything and leave, since nearly all of them earn their livelihoods from sheep, cows and horses”, says Leyla Abdulazizova, one of the residents.

The situation in Yandyki became particularly inflamed after events in Karelia’s Kondopoga. Chechens could not go out into the street without encountering jeers and threats by their Russian and Kalmyk neighbours. “It’s not that they refuse to greet us, but rather that we feel something terrible may happen against us. We seek protection from the authorities, but they don’t give us any. We feel a hostile attitude around us,” says Leyla.

It may be useful to recall how these events began. It all happened along the usual lines. In mid-August 2005 an everyday dispute between Chechens and Kalmyks provoked riots and anti-Chechen pogroms in this village. On August 18 almost all the young people and adults armed themselves with baseball bats and pieces of steel gridding and fencing and then marched through the village, beating Chechen men and women within an inch of their lives. Six houses in which Chechens lived were set on fire. As a result they were left more or less homeless, robbed at a single stroke of all they had accumulated and acquired over long years.

It all ended in the much-trumpeted trials of twelve Chechens who were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, while two Kalmyks accused of arson were given short sentences.

Yandyki’s Chechen residents appealed to various official bodies, demanding that the damage inflicted on them in the course of the pogroms be acknowledged and compensated for. They even appealed to President Putin in an open letter, demanding to know once and for all whether they were citizens of Russia like the representatives of other ethnic groups, with all the responsibilities and rights that entailed. If the answer was yes, they asked for compensation, and for a guarantee of safety so they could continue to live in the Oblast. But there has been no reaction.

It should be noted that this is not the first anti-Chechen pogrom in the Limansky district of Astrakhanskaya Oblast. Before the outbreak of the first Chechen war in 1993, on Fisherman’s Day, a holiday that is usually accompanied by the consumption of enormous quantities of alcohol, the residents of one of the villages set fire to several houses and beat up many Chechens. The incident was later investigated and those responsible were punished after the intervention of the oblast authorities and sharp statements by Ichkerian President Dzhokhar Dudayev, with threats to stop deliveries of oil and fuel to the district.

Translated by David McDuff.

Gas Warning

Via the FT:
Matthew Bryza, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for the Caucasus and southern Europe, indicated that the €5bn (£3.4bn) Baltic Sea pipeline would deepen Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

“That project simply raises the question what diversification means when it comes to gas supply,” Mr Bryza said. “If you live in Germany you do not want to go through what happened last winter with Ukraine [when Russia shut off the supply of gas]… I wonder as a US official how much diversification anybody can develop by having more pipelines into the same supplier.”

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Post-Castro Cuba

As a frail and emaciated-looking Fidel Castro stubbornly insists he is still alive, posters at Babalu Blog continue to debate the pros and cons of the U.S. embargo, with the latest discussion focusing on the question of whether a Republican or a Democrat administration is better for the prospects of a liberated Cuba. The posters include one who claims to be posting from Cuba itself, and to be a resident there, but no one has yet succeeded in establishing whether this is actually the case.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who Killed Anna Politkovskaya?

An excerpt from a transcript of the October 7 edition of “The Access Code” - Yulia Latynina’s weekly phone-in program on Echo of Moscow (my translation):
I begin, of course, with the most terrible news not only in the last month and week, but in a very long time - the news of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. She was killed just two hours ago in the entrance of her own apartment building. And it can be said that this is a turning-point in Russian journalism. This is not even the murder of Dmitry Kholodov, this is not even the murder of Khlebnikov - this is the murder of a person who was more than a journalist - a defender of human rights who always took the side of the weak and the injured, and of whom it can be said that now and then she was wrong, now and then she exaggerated, but never, not once in her life, wrote a single line in which she did not sincerely believe. A person of quite fanatical conviction and limitless bravery, the kind of bravery I personally do not possess. Hypotheses are already being discussed: some business connected with Osman Boliyev. Here someone has even written: “a birthday present for Putin” - I got it as a text message just now. The only thing is, this was the last present Putin needed. If you look at Politkovskaya’s last publications over the last few months, they are all about Chechnya, and strictly speaking only about Ramzan Kadyrov. Politkovskaya hated him. And two days ago it was Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday, and so really that makes it possible to suggest only one motive for the murder and only two versions of what may have happened.

One is for it to be said that this was a birthday present for Ramzan. Whether Kadyrov wants such a present is also an open question. And the other is that this is a way of telling Moscow that this Kadyrov fellow is out of control, for there is a terrible bitterness towards Kadyrov among the FSB operatives whom he has kicked out of Chechnya, and among those Chechen commanders who were removed from the Chechen leadership. Very many of them are located in Moscow, very many of them also run about the corridors of the Kremlin and the FSB saying Kadyrov is a so-and-so, working for the Americans, and other similar things. In other words, I think this story has a concrete connection with Chechnya, a concrete connection with Kadyrov, but there are two totally different versions of why it may have happened. At all events, I think that Politkovskaya’s killers will not be found.

And really, something else should also be added. It was even mentioned on the news just now: the attempt to poison her when she tried to fly to Beslan. Let me remind you of the context of that poisoning episode. It was all a bit vague, people even laughed about it: there you go, they said, there’s Politkovskaya saying they’ve tried to poison her again, and the poisoning was obviously of a non-lethal kind. But she was taken off the plane, and as a result she didn’t take part in the events at Beslan.

So I didn’t really understand what had taken place until I talked in London to Mr. Akhmed Zakayev, and we had a conversation on the subject of why Maskhadov and Zakayev didn’t take part in the negotiations that started on September 1. Zakayev began by telling me that he didn’t know who had seized the school until September 2. This was a rather strange assertion. And so I naturally asked the question: did no one call you? Politkovskaya called me, Zakayev said, and she promised to call again from Beslan. But as you knpw, she never got to Beslan. But, I asked, did anyone else call you? Babitsky did, Zakayev replied, but then, as is well known, he didn’t get to Beslan either. So then it was clear what had happened. Politkovskaya was removed from the scene not because she was a woman journalist, i.e., not as someone who was capable of describing the events, but because she was a person capable of taking part in them. I.e., not as a journalist, but as a historical figure, who as soon she arrived in Beslan would have instantly asked what had happened and as soon as it was clear that Chechen separatists were involved, would have immediately thrust the telephone under Zakayev’s nose and said, here, you make the call. Exactly the same thing has happened now. I don’t believe that it was because of some journalistic material, investigations that had fallen into her hands, whose publication had to be prevented. I say it again: she was killed because she was a historical figure, she was killed because she was a person who was pointed to as being a personal enemy of Ramzan Kadyrov. And while it’s obvious that this murder is indeed in the interests of very different people and very different groups, its basic and most probably its entire connection can only be with Chechnya.
(Hat tip: ML)

Bildt Sells Russian Shares

Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt has yielded to pressure from his critics and has sold the controversial shares he owned in the Russian Vostok Nafta concern, Dagens Nyheter reports. As soon as he redeems his options, which cannot happen before December, he will also sell those. The paper says that Bildt owns securities worth 20m kronor (USD 2,760,181) which makes him the richest member of Sweden’s government.

Sveriges Radio International has a report here (hat tip: Marius)

See also: Conflict of Interest

Poetry International

This weekend's programme of readings at the London South Bank's Poetry International Festival includes two appearances by Nordic poets.

This evening Tomas Tranströmer, whose 75th birthday it is today, will attend a reading of his work by Swedish actor Krister Henriksson, with translations by Robin Robertson.

And tomorrow evening Finland-Swedish poet Tua Forsström will read from her poems in Swedish, with translations by myself and Stina Katchadourian.

Friday, October 27, 2006

BBC Bias - the Facts

In the Telegraph, Tom Leonard writes that the BBC's commitment to bias is no laughing matter, and comments that
As it wrestles with the inevitable decline of its audience in the digital age, impartiality is that rare problem for the BBC – it's one that it can actually do something about.
Melanie Phillips has more, including a reader's comment from Biased BBC, which I can certainly endorse, having watched the TV series ("Spooks") in question:
Anti-Zionism may be unremarkable on the Beeb, but this skidded well over into antisemitism. The take-home message was that Al Qaeda are a bunch of amateurs and can be managed as a law-enforcement problem but the real danger are those devious, murderous, all-too-clever Jews. The main plot involves a group of ruthless Mid-East hijackers who take over a London embassy and shoot people every hour. They turn out (of course) to be Jews in disguise. We have a Jewish traitor in high places with dialogue invoking the classic ‘can’t serve two masters’ accusation: ‘I asked which side he would fight on in a war between Britain and Israel. He just gave me his answer.’ The plot also relies on the same argument as the 9/11 conspiracy theory that Mossad blew up the twin towers because Muslims aren’t smart enough: MI5 realise the baddies must be Jewish because they’re too clever for their own good (and merciless and self-serving, naturally). The Jews in this episode may not be drinking the blood of Christian children but they are certainly bloodthirsty. There is even a fat, heavy-featured Mossad officer looking evil and inscrutable as he mouths ’shalom’. Plus the ringleader gets a cathartic booting at the end from the hero which had me in mind of Kristallnacht.

Irony of Appeasement

The Jerusalem Post has an item on remarks made by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana after talks with Tzipi Livni in Tel Aviv to the effect that "Hamas wants to 'liberate the Palestinians,' not to destroy Israel". LGF comments that "This is the European sickness, encapsulated in one incredibly stupid man."

Yet the sickness has probably spread far beyond Europe. Addressing a gathering of the USIA Alumni Association in Washington D.C. on October 4, former U.S. Ambassador to China and Saudi Arabia Chas. W. Freeman told the assembled audience that
the threat the United States now faces is vastly less grave but much more ill-defined than that we faced during the Cold War. That era, which most here lived through, was one in which decisions by our president and his Soviet counterpart could result in the death, within hours, of over a hundred million Americans and a comparable number of Soviet citizens. That threat was existential. The threat we now face is not. Muslim extremists seek to drive us from their lands by hurting us. They neither seek to destroy nor to convert nor to conquer us. They can in fact do none of these things. The threat we now face does not in any way justify the sacrifice of the civil liberties and related values we defended against the far greater threats posed by fascism or Soviet communism. Terrorists win if they terrorize; to defeat them, we must reject inordinate fear and the self-destructive things it may make us do.
The irony here is that during the Cold War it was often retired U.S. diplomats of the Freeman type who made precisely such remarks in relation to the Soviet threat.

Déjà Vu

Mart Laar was Estonia’s prime minister in the immediate post-Soviet period, from 1992-1994 (he also held the premiership later on, from 1999 to 2002). A member of the right-of-centre Isamaaliit (Pro Patria Union), he wrote several books on Estonian and Russian history, and his perspective on the recent crisis between Georgia and Russia is tempered and informed not only by his personal experience, but also by his scholarship and knowledge. In TOL, Laar’s views on the crisis are quoted in an article which looks at the possible outcomes. Excerpt:
“The more time I spend in Georgia, the more I’m overcome by a feeling of deja vu,” Laar told Radio Free Europe in June. “A lot of what I see reminds me powerfully of the situation in Estonia round about 1993–1994,” he added.

When Estonia was faced with an aggressive campaign from Moscow in the early 1990s to prevent it from embracing the West, Laar and his colleagues in government apparently decided that the best defense was a good offense.

Estonia didn’t give an inch, even as Moscow egged on its Russian-speaking minority to stir up trouble. The country’s leaders vigorously asserted their sovereignty, continuously demanded that Russian troops leave, and firmly oriented their foreign and economic policy on Europe and the United States.

They also undertook bold economic reforms that raised living standards for the whole society – which took much of the steam out of the grievances Russian speakers initially had.

The approach, which appeared risky at the time, worked better than anybody dared expect. And now Georgia is trying to use the same playbook. Whether or not they can pull it off will help determine what the geopolitical map of the South Caucasus will look like for decades to come.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Greater Threat

Shmuel Rosner has a post on a new survey of attitudes to world affairs among U.S. university and academic staff. As he says, the results are either funny or sad. They certainly make for reflection. Excerpt:

Faculty see the United States as a greater threat to world stability than Russia by a ratio of 7-to-1. Nearly half of humanities faculty, 46%, see the United States as a threat to international stability, as do 34% of social science faculty. Faculty attitudes toward America look very similar to the attitudes of Europeans. A recent poll for the Financial Times reported that 36% of Europeans identify the United States as the greatest threat to international stability.

About 12% of faculty see Israel as a great threat to international stability. Looked at another way, 41% of faculty see the United States and Israel combined as the greatest threats, compared to China and Russia combined, with 23%. For humanities faculty, 56% list the United States and Israel, compared to 20% who name China and Russia combined, or 41% who list China, Russia, and Iran combined.

Criticism and Caution

Via RFE/RL Newsline (October 26):


EU parliamentarians passed a nonbinding resolution in Strasbourg on October 25 calling for member states to give “serious thought” to their relations with Russia, which should not be based on economic criteria alone, international media reported (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” October 23, 2006). In a strongly worded resolution, the parliament called for democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression to be placed at the core of any future agreement between the EU and Russia. The parliamentarians voiced their concerns over what they called the increasing intimidation, harassment, and killing of journalists, and other people critical of the Russian government. The resolution drew attention to the recent slaying of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya and called on the EU and Council of Europe, to which Russia belongs, to monitor the investigation of the apparent contract killing. The legislators argued that “the only way to truly honor…Politkovskaya’s passionate commitment to truth, justice, and human dignity is to make common efforts to realize [her] dream of a democratic Russia that fully respects the rights and liberties of its citizens.” PM


The debate over the European Parliament’s October 25 resolution on Russia and democracy recalled the recent exchange in Lahti, Finland, between French President Jacques Chirac, who called for separating morality and economics in dealing with Moscow, and Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who said that “it is totally wrong to pay attention only to [economic] interests,” international media reported (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” October 23, 2006). Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, whose country holds the EU presidency and has traditionally tread very lightly in dealing with Moscow, warned EU lawmakers that “one shouldn’t go too far. We shouldn’t caricature Russia as some monstrous dictatorship. They want to cooperate, they want to raise their living standards, they want to work with us.” In the run-up to the German EU presidency in the first half of 2007, the German Foreign Ministry, which is run by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats, seeks to promote German and EU ties to Russia on the basis of an expanding network of  interrelationships (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” August 24 and October 19 and 20, 2006). Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats were not involved in preparing the ministry’s recent position paper and are drafting one of their own, which places more emphasis on trans-Atlantic ties. PM

No Prospect of Military Victory in Chechnya

In EDM, Andrei Smirnov writes that Russian generals are losing hope for a military victory in Chechnya. So bold have the anti-government forces become that they even set up checkpoints on the highways to search for officers from the local law-enforcement agencies. Lidiya Yusupova, a Memorial human rights worker who was nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, and who has been threatened in the same way that Anna Politkovskaya was, has commented that “Russian checkpoints are fired on, [and] armed attacks and disappearances happen more and more often.” Smirnov considers that Dokku Umarov has been successful in concentrating guerrilla units under his centralized command. Excerpt:
While the Caucasian insurgency is becoming better organized, cooperation among security bodies in the North Caucasus is still in poor shape. The ANN source gave the impression that the Russian military is worried about recent clashes between Chechen and Ingush policemen, especially about deepening tension between Alu Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov, the two top leaders of the pro-Russian Chechen forces. The source mentioned an October 5 shootout between their bodyguards that took place during the opening ceremony for the Chechen civil airport in Grozny.

“Reality demonstrates that the activity of the rebels does not depend on any personalities but on the current situation and capabilities of the field commanders,” Khasan, a Chechen human rights activist, told Kavkazky Uzel. “Negotiations are needed to end the conflict.”

It seems that the Russian generals have also begun to realize this fact, albeit very slowly. Hopes that the death of Basaev would be the end of the Caucasian insurgency are disappearing, but it appears that Russian officials are clueless about what to do next. Moreover, none of the generals dares to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin that they have no way to end the war militarily and that dialogue with the enemy is really needed.

Blogger Charged for Supporting Israel

A Cuban blogger living in Spain has been served with a court summons on a charge of supporting Israel. Alejandro de Liano has the details on his blog (Spanish). LGF has more. A strange story, but apparently a true one.

Bakhmina to Mordovia

RIAN reports that Svetlana Bakhmina, the ex-Yukos lawyer sentenced to six and a half years’ penal labour, has been sent to a women’s penal colony in the Central Russian republic of Mordovia. This means that she will lose access to her two young children.

On October 2, the Simonovsky Court in Moscow rejected a request from Svetlana Bakhmina’s defense lawyers, who asked that the former deputy head of the legal department at the embattled oil company’s Yukos Moskva unit be allowed to serve her six-and-a-half-year prison term after her younger child, now aged five, turns 14.

One of Bakhmina’s lawyers, Olga Kozyreva, said the decision to send her defendant to the penal colony was illegal, because the court’s decision had not yet come into force.

(via Jeremy Putley)

See also: Svetlana Bakhmina - New Appeal

Svetlana Bakhmina Requests Deferral of Sentence

Telling the Time

In a New Criterion essay written before the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Yale University Press editorial director Jonathan Brent looks at today’s Russia, and finds a society uneasily poised between a crude anarcho-fascism that more resembles the ambience of the Germany of the early 1930s than that of a modern state, and a slide back into the xenophobic anti-capitalism that characterized the Russia of Stalin’s rule. Brent sees the two directions as currently merging into one, in a gradual fading of transparency that presages the rebirth of some very unpleasant historical phenomena indeed:

Many Western and Russian commentators have noted with dismay Putin’s apparent rehabilitation of Josef Stalin, perhaps the greatest murderer in all of Western history. His brutalities and evident sadistic pleasures surpass those of Hitler. Had Stalin, not Hitler, lost World War II, his name would be banned and everything connected to him would be illegal. But today his image and name appear throughout the Russian nation.

(via MAK)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Fear of Terrorism

At Prague Watchdog, Dr. Dmitry Shlapentokh writes about The Chechen War and the Russian Public. Excerpt:
The continuous war has affected not only the news—despite the desire of the authorities to present the conflict as solved—but also the mentality of the general public, mostly manifest in the fear of terrorism. A woman I met in a Moscow hotel remembered the terrorist acts in the Metro and the planes that were blown up in the air by groups of suicide terrorists. I reminded her that all these events took place several years ago and there have been no terrorist attacks in Moscow for some time. She said the fact that terrorist acts took place many years ago does not matter–she is still afraid while riding the Metro. This fear seems to exist even in the Urals, in the heartland, thousands of miles from the Caucasus. One of my acquaintances asserted that people are indeed afraid of terrorism. Her son denied this. Still, the fear clearly exists.

While for some Russians the terrorists were not clearly defined individuals, for others they were directly connected with Chechens. In fact, Chechens are primarily associated in the minds of many Russians with terrorists, and those who are too interested in Chechnya are objects of suspicion. One interlocutor who discussed with me practically all subjects—including Putin—became visibly apprehensive when I mentioned that I read Kavkaz-Center, the major Internet site of the Chechen resistance. Staring at me with obvious suspicion, he asked why I read this stuff. I said I did so just for curiosity. He did not believe me and still pressed me on why I was interested in Kavkaz-Center and in Chechnya in general. It seems that at that time he started to question my image as an ordinary Russian he met on the train.

Chechens are not the only source of terrorism, but their image invariably blends with those of other ethnic groups from the Caucasus. One acquaintance conveyed to me the view of the majority that “It was the people of ‘Caucasian nationality’ who brought crime.” This is one major reason landlords prefer to rent apartments to ethnic Russians. This is well understood by potential renters, who emphasize their ethnicity when looking for an apartment. In Ekaterinburg I saw an advertisement that an ethnic Russian—ethnicity underlined––would like to rent an apartment.

While analyzing the fear of terrorism among the Russian populace, one should remember that here—as in other parts of the world, the USA included—the fear of terrorism has sublimated many fears and a general sense of instability that often have no direct relationship to terrorism.

Lithuania Rejects Spying Charges

Via AIA:

Lithuania does not spy in Russia, Lithuanian Prime Minister claims

Gediminas Kirkilas, Prime Minister of Lithuania, announced that his country does not conduct intelligence activity in Russia, radio Ekho Moskvy reports. Rejecting charges of Lithuania’ s involvement in spying affair of the arrested Russian officer, Kirkilas told a news conference today that Lithuania does not conduct any espionage activities in Russia, according to Interfax news agency. “Lithuania maintains a friendly attitude toward its neighbors — we are not spying there,” he said, referring to Khitryuk’s arrest. Kirkilas believes that the arrested officer “worked in a storage facility and demonstrated interest about all around” and apparently had Lithuanian citizenship, although he did not specify details. He said all the circumstances should be cleared out.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitekunas, who was also present at the news conference, said Vilnius would provide consulate assistance to the arrested Russian officer, according to the news agency.

In its turn, the State Security Department (VSD) of Lithuania refused to make any comments on detention of the Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) officer Vasily Khitryuk in Kaliningrad, Interfax says.

Diplomatic scandals between Moscow and Vilnius over alleged spying intensified after Lithuania’s accession to NATO and the European Union in 2004. In February 2004, Lithuania expelled three Russian diplomats for “illegal gathering of information on the impeachment of Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas.” Russia retaliated with expulsion of three Lithuanian diplomats, claiming their activities in Russia harmed the country’s interests. In August 2004, Russia also pronounced Lithuania’s military attache in Moscow a “persona non grata.” Two weeks ago the First Secretary of the Russian embassy in Vilnius, Oleg Ryabchikov, was expelled from Lithuania on suspicion of espionage and attempting to apply pressure on the members of country’s parliament in relation to its support of Georgia.
See also: New Russia “Spy” Arrest

Dmitrievsky: RCFS Was Preparing Materials for War Crimes Tribunal

Reacting to the closure of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society by Russian federal authorities, Stanislav Dmitrievsky said in a recent interview:
In 2003, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was told that if the situation in Chechnya continues, the international community would consider setting up a tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Chechnya. We have started preparing the legal foundations for such a tribunal. This is a serious study, in which abuses in Chechnya will be evaluated from the standpoint of international criminal law as crimes against humanity. Secondly, this will result in a list of individual suspected of committing such crimes. And international law differs from Russian law in that accountability applies to military leaders and commanders, all the way up to the most senior ranks. It’s clear enough who the suspects will be. We discussed this with Anna Politkovskaya two weeks ago. We were talking about specific materials.
See also: Russian-Chechen Friendship Society Closed

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Conflict of Interest

Carl Bildt, who recently became Sweden’s foreign minister, has been told by Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt that he can keep his shareholdings in the Russian-owned Vostok Nafta investment concern, 91% of whose shares are in Russia’s Gazprom, Dagens Nyheter reports.

The paper notes that the connection with Gazprom raises problems for Bildt: he could end up in a situation where he has to represent the interests of Sweden and the European Union in relation to Russia at the same time as he has financial interests in a company that is largely owned by the Russian state. It seems probable that he will sell the shares, or otherwise dispose of them. Some of Bildt's critics are, however, doubtful that he will indeed do so.

Update (October 28): Carl Bildt has now announced that he will sell his Vostok Nafta shares and options at the end of this year.

New Russia "Spy" Arrest

Via AIA:
An official from Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) in Kaliningrad oblast has been detained by Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers on suspicion of spying for Lithuania, online paper Dni.ru reports today, referring to the the FSB Public Relations Centre. As it has become known, Lieutenant Colonel Vasily Khitryuk, deputy chief of the FSIN directorate inspection of Krasnoznamensky district, Kaliningrad oblast, had for a long time collaborated with the Lithuanian secret services and allegedly passed state military secrets to the Baltic country's security services, according to the FSB. "The suspect used his former colleagues and friends who serve in the Russian army and security-related agencies" to obtain confidential information, the service said in a statement, quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency. "Following orders from a Lithuanian intelligence officer, he [Khitryuk] offered them monetary rewards for supplying him with copies of secret documents," the statement said.

According to the FSB Public Relations Centre, during Khitryuk's arrest, security officers seized computer storage devices with files containing top-secret information on the combat readiness of the Baltic Fleet and Russia's military contingent in Kaliningrad. FSB said it had gathered enough evidence to launch a criminal investigation. Commenting on Khitryuk's arrest, the Federal Penitentiary Service said that the suspect, born in 1967, has been working for the agency for three years, RIA Novosti reports. "Khitryuk has been arrested on charges of espionage and state treason," the agency spokesman told the news agency, adding that the circumstances surrounding the case are still not clear. The Embassy of Lithuania in Moscow refused to comment on the arrest.

Diplomatic scandals between Moscow and Vilnius over alleged spying intensified after Lithuania's accession to NATO and the European Union in 2004.

More on BBC Bias

Biased BBC links to notes taken at a New Culture Forum event held in London in September at which Robin Aitken - a former BBC reporter of some 25 years’ experience and author of the forthcoming book Can We Trust the BBC? - was interviewed by Peter Whittle. The account of Aitken’s remarks that is given on the New Culture Forum blog quotes him as saying that
…given the institutional leftism’ of the BBC, news coverage in the UK would benefit from the existence of its own version of America’s Fox News.

‘If we did have a British Fox it would be tailored to the expectations of a British audience and so quite different from the American version,’ he said. ‘I do think an explicitly right of centre broadcasting organisation in the UK is long overdue.’

Aitken, who was a BBC reporter for twenty-five years and covered such issues as Northern Ireland, the Chernobyl disaster and the Monica Lewinsky affair, made the call during a talk to the recently formed New Culture Forum about his experiences of left-wing bias at the corporation.

Although he asserted that there was little deliberate intention to slant the news agenda, and that most reporters acted in good faith, it was nevertheless true that the whole culture of the BBC took a certain world view for granted, and anything which challenged the collective political assumptions and instincts was either ignored or treated as suspect.
The notes taken by the Croydonian blog are not verbatim, but give a more detailed idea of what Aitken said at the meeting. Excerpt:
RA: I felt that the BBC was showing a consistent bias and had reported that to senior figures in the BBC, up to and including the governors. The McPherson Inquiry termed the Metropolitan Police ‘institutionally racist’, meaning that the Met is not explicitly racist, but was inadvertently so owing to its institutions and culture. Likewise, I believe the BBC and its people act in good faith, but they cannot see the elephant in the living room. The institutional leftism shows up in its instinctive mistrust of capitalism, and it should be remembered that it is a pre-war corporation set up along with similar institutions like the Forestry Commission. The BBC model was not the only possibility, and it can be compared to the US model of a free market broadcasting model. Similarly, the presumption of the BBC is that public spending is automatically a good thing. It does not challenge that idea. Why not?

See also: BBC Admits Left-Wing Bias

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Message of 1956

Via Reuters:

I am here because we have to fight this government, we have to destroy them,” said Laszlo Toth, aged 76, who attended a rally at Korvin Square at which veterans of 1956 were present.

“Aged 19 I was arrested and taken to (secret police headquarters in) Andrassy Street, I confessed to everything so they would stop beating me. I am here for the younger generation,” he said.

Fidesz leader Viktor Orban urged protesters to refrain from violence but told the rally estimated by state news agency MTI at 100,000 people the nation was facing an “illegitimate” government and demanded a referendum on its economic reforms.

Predicting a Freeze

RFE/RL’s Roman Kupchinsky asks: Will Moscow Face A Cold, Dark Winter?

Mute Admidst the Mourning

Even in its darkest years, Russia produced writers, poets and scientists brave enough to speak the truth. The biggest problem the country had was getting people to hear it. The Kremlin worked hard to shelter the Russian public from Politkovskaya’s work and to render her life irrelevant: she was barred from appearing on Russian television and quoting from her articles could land a reporter or a publication in trouble.

But the Russian media also bears enormous responsibility for making people deaf to Politkovskaya’s voice, just as it bears responsibility for fanning the xenophobia and intolerance which makes the Kremlin’s cold war against Georgia so accepted.
Arkady Ostrovsky, in the FT


Today is the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Frankly Speaking

Writing in EJ ("The Hedgehog"), political and military analyst Alexander Goltz reflects on Putin's remarkable outburst of tacky male-chauvinist rhetoric in the presence of Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and comments that with such speech and behaviour - always presented with the jesting innuendo of a true poshlyak (the nearest translation here is perhaps "slob") - Putin is only displaying to the Russian public what is in his mind: the sort of sentiments a majority of them can agree with and sympathize with. Crucially, the message is also directed towards the outside world. Indeed, from now on, wherever he goes, the president can be assured of a hostile reception from a picket of feminists. This also is intentional - the medium and the message both say that the Russian government and its head will not be deflected from their natural character by considerations of political correctness or common decency. And this, Goltz suggests, was the real meaning of Putin's words and behaviour in Moscow and Lahti last week. If you want Russian gas and oil, or want Russia to help you (as in preventing Russian missiles being sent to Hizballah by Syria), you will accept any kind of humiliation that Russia wishes to throw at you, and say thank you.

At the same time as Putin was conducting his Gogolian dinner-seminar in Lahti, his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was delivering a contribution to a more conventional seminar in Moscow devoted to the theme "For the Future of Democracy". Goltz gives a quotation from this homily:
The head of Russia's foreign ministry addressed the question of the the danger of "party-political apathy", which in his opinion had enveloped Europe: "We should all reflect that it is possible to resist this challenge. After all, nature abhors a vacuum. And a political vacuum immediately starts to be filled with ideas, which are occasionally not harmless and are indeed harmful, preventing healthy social development. Nationalism and populism, xenophobia and intolerance, the various manifestations of misanthropy - all these are completely real threats ."
"It's as if," Goltz observes, "he had sketched this picture from nature, looking at the Kremlin from the window of his office on Smolenskaya Street."

The Invited Guest - III

The Lahti EU dinner must have been a fairly mind-boggling experience for those taking part, especially when the guest of honour rose to say a few words. George Parker in the FT has an account of the Gogolian proceedings. Excerpt:
Mr Putin occasionally had his hosts staring in disbelief into their artichoke soup or choking on the rosemary grilled goose, as he made it clear he would not take lectures from Europe on issues such as human rights and corruption.

His fellow diners even smiled politely (some perhaps agreed) when he reportedly announced that the EU’s most important challenge was to “safeguard Christianity in Europe”.

BBC Admits Left-Wing Bias

From Daily Mail Online:

A leaked account of an ‘impartiality summit’ called by BBC chairman Michael Grade, is certain to lead to a new row about the BBC and its reporting on key issues, especially concerning Muslims and the war on terror.

It reveals that executives would let the Bible be thrown into a dustbin on a TV comedy show, but not the Koran, and that they would broadcast an interview with Osama Bin Laden if given the opportunity. Further, it discloses that the BBC’s ‘diversity tsar’, wants Muslim women newsreaders to be allowed to wear veils when on air.

At the secret meeting in London last month, which was hosted by veteran broadcaster Sue Lawley, BBC executives admitted the corporation is dominated by homosexuals and people from ethnic minorities, deliberately promotes multiculturalism, is anti-American, anti-countryside and more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians.

One veteran BBC executive said: ‘There was widespread acknowledgement that we may have gone too far in the direction of political correctness.

Biased BBC has more here
The Evening Standard also covers the story
Captain's Quarters has some Stateside commentary

See also: Information Block

The Darkness in Russia

Carl Gershman, NED President, in the Washington Post:

By treating all Chechens as terrorists and Islamic militants, and by silencing all criticism of its policies, the Russian government is helping to bring about what it most fears, which is the spread of Islamic radicalism throughout the seven republics of the North Caucasus region. Saner heads among the Russian leadership are aware of this danger, as evidenced by two reports prepared by the office of Dmitri Kozak, Putin’s plenipotentiary representative in the Southern Federal District. The reports link the spread of Islamic extremism in the region to official corruption and impunity, pervasive crime, and abnormally high levels (even by Russian standards) of poverty and unemployment.

Most worrisome to the authorities is the possibility that the radicalization of the Muslim population could spread from the North Caucasus to the Volga Muslim republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, bringing to the Russian interior the growing polarization between Islamic militancy and rising Russian nationalism. Russian anxieties are being fed not just by the widening war in the Caucasus but by the declining population of ethnic Russians, whose birth-rate is far below that of Russian Muslims. Such conditions will only increase the appeal of Russian fascism, which now looms realistically in Russia’s future.

In this context, the idea that the Russian authorities would be targeting liberal journalists and human rights activists as enemies who need to be silenced should be of the utmost concern to the United States and Europe, which still seem to regard Russia as a responsible partner. With Anna Politkovskaya’s killing a light went out, and with the rising crackdown on dissidents that is reminiscent of the Soviet period, a darkness is now spreading over Russia. Politkovskaya spoke of Chechnya as “a small corner of hell” and gave her life trying to expose evil deeds there. Despite growing repression, there are still people in Russia who are trying to avert a looming disaster. We would be kidding ourselves to think that we don’t have a stake in their survival.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Estonian Parliament Statement on Georgia

Via The Parliament of Estonia (Riigikogu):



The Riigikogu expresses its concern for the state of Georgian-Russian

During the past weeks, the Russian Federation has unjustifiably implemented an extensive economic and social blockade against the state of Georgia and its citizens:

- issue of visas has been stopped;
- transport and postal services between
the two countries have been discontinued;
- Georgian products continue to be
- Georgian citizens are ostracised in Russia; among other things the
repressions are directed against the children of Georgian citizens;
- different levels of Russian state powers and the media instigate anti-Georgian attitudes;
- high officials of the Russian Federation have repeatedly
vilified the state of Georgia and have challenged the legitimacy of its state powers.

The Riigikogu considers these steps taken by Russia to be in sharp conflict with the principles of international relations. Continued presence of foreign armed forces on the Georgian territory inhibits the development of the state and does nothing to foster the resolution of latent conflicts.

The Riigikogu stands for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in Georgia and in Russia, and condemns all manifestations of xenophobia and racism.

The Riigikogu condemns the sanctions applied by the Russian Federation against Georgia and its citizens and calls on Russia to discontinue the anti-Georgian sanctions and reinstate the normal diplomatic relations.

The Riigikogu supports the path towards democracy and freedom chosen by Georgia, its strivings in regard to NATO and the European Union, and acknowledges the success achieved in this direction.

The Riigikogu calls on Georgia to ignore provocations and avoid taking steps that might be interpreted as provocative.

The Riigikogu calls on the parliaments of the Member States of the European Union, the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly and other international parliamentary organisations to pay immediate attention to this critical phase in Georgian-Russian relations.

The Riigikogu calls on the Government of the Republic and citizens’
organisations to make all possible efforts in order to assist the state of
Georgia and its citizens in overcoming the consequences of the blockade and in strengthening the young democracy in Georgia.

President of the Riigikogu Toomas Varek

Tallinn, 17 October 2006

(hat tip: MAK, Leopoldo)

Trading Freedom

In the aftermath of Lahti, the FT's Washington correspondent examines Georgia's fears of "diplomatic horse-trading", as Moscow continues to reinforce a linkage between Washington's policy on Georgia and its own policy on Iran and North Korea. Quoting Dmitry Simes, the article suggests that the White House is well aware of the linkage:
Mr Simes believes that if Mr Saakashvili attempts to use force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia - the two separatist regions backed by Moscow - then Russia is likely to respond on the ground and with air strikes against Georgia proper. "That could lead to a cycle of confrontation between Russia and the west which would make any kind of co-operation on North Korea, and particularly Iran, hard to imagine."

The Bush administration rejects any suggestions of horse-trading. "We will not sell out Georgia," declared Matt Bryza, a State Department official who took part in negotiating resolution 1716 on Abkhazia. Explaining the US concessions last week, he told a conference hosted by the Hudson Institute think-tank: "We were isolated, frankly, at the UN."

"It's flat out wrong," commented Kurt Volker, senior official in the State Department's Europe bureau. "They know we are not in the trade-off business," he said of Russia. Zeyno Baran, director of Eurasian studies at the Hudson Institute, says Russia is "playing all sorts of games" over North Korea and Iran and seeks to gain a free hand in putting pressure on Georgia in exchange. But she doubted the Bush administration would yield. "It would be so against Bush's policy on freedom and democracy," she said.

Caught in the midst of a crisis he cannot influence, Georgia's president, who has strong popular support for his pro-western orientation, is assuring the US he will avoid "rash acts" that might give Russia the pretext to "smite the success story to its south". However, writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, he urged Georgia's allies to stand by it. "If any one of us gives in to bullying or tolerates the politics of ethnic hatred, we are all at risk," he said.

Holding the Fort - Another View

Nicholas Watt in the Guardian reports a clash between Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel at Lahti yesterday - Watt's account of what took place at the summit contradicts the Finnish government's version in several respects, by covering aspects of the meeting that did not figure in the Finnish press and media.
Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel clashed yesterday on how to deal with Vladimir Putin as European leaders tried to hammer out a common approach on the EU's relations with Russia

Hours before President Putin took centre stage at an EU summit in Lahti the leaders of France and Germany disagreed on the strength of a warning to Russia after gas supplies were cut last winter.

European divisions over Russia were highlighted when the French president told the Finland summit that the EU had no choice but to deal with Mr Putin. Mr Chirac said the EU needed to recognise the pressures on Mr Putin.

EU Division on Georgia

via Civil Georgia:

Officials in Tbilisi responded to Putin’s remarks in Lahti immediately.

“This is an attempt to misinform international community,” Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said.

He said that Tbilisi considers peaceful means as the sole way to solve secessionist conflicts.

Bezhuashvili also said that Georgia was extensively discussed during the EU-Russia summit which is in itself already a huge success.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that unlike on energy issues, the EU leaders failed to speak with Putin with one voice when Georgia was raised at the summit.

“The energy discussion was fine, because Europe spoke with a united voice. When it came to Georgia there were different views, with the Baltic States speaking out. Putin turned very sarcastic," the Guardian quoted unnamed observer of the summit.

Holding the Fort

Finland's Helsingin Sanomat claims that "The EU's Front Held Before Putin" in a report published this morning, in the aftermath of last night's Lahti dinner. Putin is seen with Finland's President Tarja Halonen, leaving the meeting.

The paper leads with a statement by Finnish PM Matti Vanhanen that Putin replied to him in private to questions about Anna Politkovskaya's murder, calling it "shocking", and promising that a full investigation would be made, and that those guilty of the murder would be brought to justice. Putin did not,however, take any questions on this subject from the floor of the press conference.

Regarding the rest of the meeting, Helsingin Sanomat talks of a "frank and open exchange of ideas", and reiterates Vanhanen's claims that the EU leaders presented a united front to Putin on energy questions. "Putin explained at the press conference that Russia accepts the basic principles of the Energy Charter Treaty, but cannot accept certain aspects of its wording. Vanhanen also said it was an open question wether energy will be included in the partnership agreement, or whether Russia will ratify the treaty." Angel Merkel was reported to be less pessimistic, saying that she "has not given up yet". According to Putin, 44% of Europe's gas comes from Russia. The newspaper notes that "the need for co-operation became apparent last January, when gas imports from Ukraine were interrupted because of action by Russia."
The EU's foreign minister Javier Solana said that in the next few weeks Russia and Ukraine would sign an agreement which should improve the reliability of gas deliveries. "That's because we can't allow what happened this year to happen again," he said.

In addition to energy, relations between Georgia and Russia were covered at the dinner. At the press conference, Putin said very emphatically that the deterioration in relations was caused by Georgia, not by Russia.
(my tr.)

Finland's EU Presidency web pages are here.

News Briefs

From RFE/RL Newsline:

After initially declining to comment on remarks President Vladimir Putin reportedly made on October 18 to visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which Putin praised the sexual prowess of Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Kremlin press spokesman Dmitry Paskov admitted to the BBC on October 20 that Putin made such comments. The daily “Kommersant” on October 19 reported of the Putin-Olmert meeting that “after the press was ushered out, and [Putin] apparently thought the microphones had been turned off,” he told Olmert: “Say hi to your president. He turned out to be quite a powerful guy! Raped 10 women! We’re all surprised. We all envy him!” (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” October 19, 2006). The “International Herald Tribune” quoted Paskov as saying the same day (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” October 19, 2006) that he was not present when the remarks were reportedly made about Katsav, who may face criminal charges for rape and sexual harassment of several women over a longer period of time. However, when pressed by the BBC in an October 20 interview, Paskov at first argued that “Russian is a very complicated language. Sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing.” He sought to question whether the BBC’s translation of “rape” was accurate but finally admitted that “these words were pronounced” by the president. The spokesman then said that “these remarks are not to be commented on” because they were “personal remarks for his counterpart and not for journalists’ ears.” He added that Putin “in no way welcomes rape.” PM

It is not clear how President Putin’s remarks will impact on his role at the EU-Russia summit on October 20 in Lahti, Finland, international media reported. It will be hosted by a woman, namely Finnish President Tarja Halonen, and Putin’s most important opposite number will be another woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Kommersant” noted on October 19 that Putin displays little sense of humor in public except when others are the butt of it. Symbols and verbal imagery reflecting power and virility have been part of the trappings of the Putin regime, as they were in Soviet times. After Putin called earlier in 2006 for increasing the birthrate, critical journalist Vladimir Rakhmankov dubbed the president “Russia’s phallic symbol.” Rakhmankov is now on trial for “insulting a representative of the state” (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” May 24, June 1, and September 22, 2006). PM

Putin's Words

Putin’s words:

«Привет передайте своему президенту! Оказался очень мощный мужик! Десять женщин изнасиловал! Я никогда не ожидал от него! Он нас всех удивил! Мы все ему завидуем!»

Friday, October 20, 2006

IHF Appeal

President of the Federation of Russia
Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin
President of the European Council
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen
October 20, 2006


Two weeks ago the highly respected and awarded journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in the centre of Moscow. This brutal act of violence was yet another setback to freedom of speech, democracy and the respect for human rights in Russia.
In addition to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, dozens of human rights activists are regularly faced by threats and acts of oppression. They are threatened by physical violence, by loss of job, by threats to their families, by politically motivated law suits and by shaming in the non-independent media.
Travel by individual activists abroad is prevented. Non-governmental organisations are increasingly facing official obstruction of their work and threats of non-registration under the new law. All the mentioned acts above are happening everyday somewhere in Russia.
The murder of Anna Politkovskaya should serve as a final opening of the eyes of those who have repeatedly denied that human rights are eroding in today's Russia. It should serve as a final opening of the eyes for us in the European Union to see what really is going on under the surface in Russia.
Anna Politkovskaya spoke loudly for the rights of those who did not have any and those who were losing their rights in the midst of the war, i.e. “fight against terrorism”, as the government has described it.
She spoke for the need for rule of law in her home country. In her last article she wrote:
[In Chechnya and in Russia] prosecutors and judges are not acting on behalf of the law and they are not interested in punishing the guilty. Instead, they work to political order to make the Kremlin's nice anti-terrorist score sheet look good and cases are cooked up like blinys. ...
This is what a group of mothers of convicted young Chechens wrote to me: 'In essence, these
correctional facilities (where terrorist suspects are held) have been turned into concentration camps for Chechen convicts. They are subjected to discrimination on an ethnic basis. The majority, or almost all of them, have been convicted on trumped-up evidence.
* We appeal to you, President Vladimir Putin, that
• The Russian army and courts of law should respect the European Convention for Human Rights. The culture of impunity should not be allowed to live a day longer.
• The Russian authorities should immediately intensify ongoing investigations and start new ones into the disappearances and deaths of Chechen civilians.
• Independent observers should be allowed to visit prisons and refugee camps all over the territory of the Russian Federation to ensure that torture is not taking place.
• Urgent measures need to be put in place to stop the intimidation and to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders working in Russia.
• The full investigation into the murder of Anna Politkovskaya including finding out who possibly ordered the killing should be pursued vigorously and the perpetrators should be prosecuted and tried in a open and fair manner.
In 2004 Anna Politkovskaya was asked whether she believed it might take generations for her country to become truly free. She answered: "I wouldn't ever want to say it would take generations. I want to be able to live the life of a human being, where every individual is respected, in my lifetime."
Unfortunately it is too late for her, but not too late for you, President Putin.
Prime Minister Vanhanen, we urge and encourage the European Union and especially the Finnish Government now holding the Presidency of the EU to raise these serious and urgent human rights concerns with the Russian Federation. The EU would be betraying its own core values if it failed now, when there is a momentum to take up these serious questions, to demand immediate action from the Russian government to uphold freedom of speech and to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders.
This autumn you, as the President of the European Council, have several opportunities to directly address these problems with President Putin.
We therefore appeal to you that these issues be prominently on the agenda at these meetings, in particular and in depth, at the EU-Russia summit in Helsinki on the 24th of November.

Amnesty International, Finnish Section
Finnish Helsinki Committee
Finnish Peace Committee
Finnish PEN
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Joachim Frank, Project Coordinator
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Wickenburggasse 14/7
A-1080 Vienna
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 22
Fax: +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 50
Web: http://www.ihf-hr.org

Russia's Vostok Battalion in Lebanon Despite Resolution 1701

From Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, October 19 — In South Lebanon there are only Lebanese and UN troops, said Major-General Alain Pellegrini, Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Thursday. While reporters questioned him about still-alleged weapons smuggling, incursions by Israel and possible anti-aircraft responses by UNIFIL, another question arose. Inner City Press asked, do the soldiers who Russian army engineers brought with them to Lebanon as security comply with Resolution 1701?

No, said Maj.-Gen. Pellegrini, not if they are in South Lebanon.

(via chechnya-sl)

The Exiled Muse

Just as in the years of the Cold War, many Russian authors and writers continue to make their home in the West - whether in Europe or in North America. The fall of the Communist system does not seem to have had much effect in this regard. An essay in Haaretz examines the new wave of Russian literary talent, and notes how in many cases Russian authors choose to abandon their own language in favour of the language of the country or countries they have moved to. Examples include the Berlin-based Vladimir Kaminer, the slightly older André Makine, who writes in French and has been awarded the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis, and U.S. and Canada-resident authors such as Lara Vapnyar and the Russian-Latvian David Bezmozgis. In addition to the writers mentioned in the essay, one could also list the Finland-based Zinaida Lindén, who writes in Swedish (though she also continues to publish work in Russian). As the essay makes clear, the Russian literary scene in Israel constitutes something of an exception to the rule, as there most Russian-speaking authors still choose to write and publish their work almost exclusively in Russian.

A Russian-Israeli literary critic quoted in the essay notes that both the "exiles" and those authors who still remain in Russia share a preoccupation with fantasy and post-modern styles of writing, perhaps, she suggests, because "in Russia, the reality is so fantastical...that realist literature can't quite capture it anymore."

"...Russian writers are absolutely up to date on what's happening in the world. They're not nostalgic at all. The fondness for science fiction that always existed in the Soviet era has only grown since then. Back then, it was the only way to do satire, and it still exists today, because satires about the Soviet government are still successful. This happens because Russia has not been truly freed from dictatorial government. Vladimir Putin is still thought of today as a dictator in disguise."

In Search of Justice

Via Prague Watchdog (my tr.)

Nazran picketers intend to sue for justice

By Umalt Chadayev

NAZRAN, Ingushetia - On October 16 a picket was held in the city of Nazran in honour of the slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. However, the picket was broken up, and several of its participants were arrested by Ingush police. As the participants were being dispersed, a Memorial Human Rights Centre worker, Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, was severely beaten. Physicians later confirmed that she had suffered cerebral concussion and a fracture of the nose.

The picket’s organizer, Magomed Mutsolgov, who is chairman of the NGO Mashr (the Association of the Relatives of Missing Persons), together with representatives of Memorial, the Chechen National Salvation Committee, and the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Displaced Persons delivered statements to the Ingushetian Procurator, the Russian Procurator-General and the Russian Federal Human Rights Ombudsman with a request that those who are guilty should be identified and brought to justice. In the opinion of the human rights activists, the actions of the Ingush police were illegal.

"The picket in honour of Anna Politkovskaya which was due to take place in Nazran at 4pm on October 16 did not pursue any political aims. By holding it, the representatives of the human rights organizations and NGOs wanted to pay a tribute of respect to this courageous woman and honest journalist, who was one of the few who wrote the truth about what is happening in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Similar events have taken place in many cities of the world, in other countries. Moreover, on the afternoon of October 16 a picket in honour of Politkovskaya was also held in Grozny, and there were no excesses there at all," says Aslambek Apayev, who is an expert of the Moscow Helsinki Group on the North Caucasus and head of the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Displaced Persons.

"There is only one word to describe what took place in Nazran on October 16, and that is lawlessness. In spite of what the Ingushetian police authorities claim, there was absolutely no dispersal of the picket, as the action had not yet even had time to begin. A large number of police officers and a ’backup group’ composed of local youth who had previously been involved in provoking conflicts at refugee settlements, were moved to the site of the proposed picket in advance," he says.

"In my view, this was a provocation that had been devised and planned in advance. The picket in honour of Politkovskaya was broken up before it had even started. Police officers and men in plain clothes surrounded our colleagues and the representatives of other organizations who arrived at the site of the picket near Bazorkina Street. They shouted insults at the participants, beat them, pushed them, tore the photograph of Anna Politkovskaya out of their hands and stamped on them," says a Memorial member.

"Several men in plain clothes began to beat our colleague Shamsutdin Tangiyev, and when Katya Sokiryanskaya (also a Memorial worker) tried to intercede for him, one of them punched her in the face, breaking her nose. The police officials took no measures to stop these rampaging thugs."

"There are two points of interest concerning what took place in Nazran on October 16. One is that the guardians of law and order declared that the picket was not sanctioned by the authorities, though the law only says that the organizers of an action only have to notify the city authorities of it in advance (which, by the way, was done). In the case of unforeseen circumstances they, in their turn, can recommend that it be held elsewhere, but they certainly have no legal authority to disperse it by force," says Shakhman Akbulatov, director of Memorial’s Nazran office.

"The other point is that the Ingushetian police authorities stated that this was a rally and that a fight allegedly broke out among the participants, so that the police had no option but to intervene and pacify those who were doing the fighting. But for some reason it was only the representatives of human rights organizations who were arrested: four of our colleagues and the chairman of the Mashr human rights organization, Magomed Mutsolgov. They were held until late at night at the police station building, and three young female Memorial workers had their fingerprints taken, as if they were suspected of some criminal offence."

"We have video film of what took place in Nazran on October 16, and it clearly shows everything that happened. There is footage of Tangiyev and Sokiryanskaya being beaten, and of the police, including a high-ranking officer, taking no action to stop it. Soon we plan to make this material public. We also intend to take legal action for the beating of our colleagues and demand that those who are guilty are punished," he says.

Translated by David McDuff.


Talking Politics

“…Take the British policy. England’s need to secure the Indian glacis is legitimate. But what will be the consequences of it? Edward knows as well as you and I that Russia has to make good her losses in Manchuria, and that internal peace is as necessary to her as daily bread. Yet—he probably can’t help himself—he forces her to look westward for expansion, stirs up slumbering rivalries between St. Petersburg and Vienna—”

“Oh, Vienna! Your interest in that ancient obstruction is due, I presume, to the fact that her decaying empire is a sort of mummy, as it were, of the Holy Roman Empire of the German people.”

“While you, I suppose, are Russophil out of humanistic affinity with Cæsaro-papism.

“Democracy, my friend, has more to hope from the Kremlin than she has from the Hofburg; and it is disgraceful for the country of Luther and Gutenberg—”

“It is probably not only disgraceful, but stupid into the bargain. But even this stupidity is an instrument of fate—”

“Oh, spare me your talk about fate! Human reason needs only to will more strongly than fate, and she is fate!”

“One always wills one’s fate. Capitalistic Europe is willing hers.”

“One believes in the coming of war if one does not sufficiently abhor it.”

“Your abhorrence of war is logically disjointed if you do not make the state itself your point of departure.”

“The national state is the temporal principle, which you would like to ascribe to the evil one. But when nations are free and equal, when the small and weak are safe-guarded from aggression, when there is justice in the world, and national boundaries—”

“Yes, I know, the Brenner frontier. The liquidation of Austria. If I only knew how you expect to bring that about without war!”

“And I should like to know when I ever condemned a war for the purpose of realizing national aspirations!”

“But you say—”
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924), tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter


More anti-Israel hatred from Iran’s Mahmud Ahmadinejad:

October 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) — Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said today that Israel no longer has any reason to exist and predicted it will soon disappear.

“I say it with a loud voice — the [Israeli] regime has, with the grace of God, lost the [reason] for its existence,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech in Tehran marking Quds Day (Jerusalem Day), when anti-Israeli demonstrations are held in Iran.

He also said any government that stands by Israel will feel the “hatred of the people” in the region.

Iranian media report that tens of thousands of people attended today’s demonstrations throughout the country and shouted slogans against Israel.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Iran on October 19 that there will be “a price to pay” if Tehran doesn’t back down from its nuclear ambitions.

(IRNA, ISNA, Radio Farda)

Queen Elizabeth in Tallinn

In spite of the chilly weather, thousands of people gathered on Tallinn’s Raekoja (Town Hall) Square this morning to greet Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on their state visit to Estonia, Postimees reports. The crowd waved British and Estonian flags. The proceedings began with a song specially written in the Queen’s honour, conducted by choral director Aarne Saluveeri, and this was followed by a greeting from Tallinn’s mayor, Jüri Ratas. Accompanied by Mayor Ratas and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (pictured left, above), the Queen then went among the crowd and talked to people, who regaled her with large quantities of flowers and cards. A choral concert is taking place on the square, given by some of Estonia’s leading singing groups.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Russia Suspends At Least 96 Foreign NGOs


October 19, 2006 — Russia has forced at least 96 foreign nongovernmental organizations to suspend their operations.

The reason given is that authorities were unable to process their registration papers before the October 18 deadline set in a new law.

Hizballah Rearming

And as Ehud Olmert flies home from Moscow, CFR, not normally noted for a stance supportive of Israel, is backing up the reports that have recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere to the effect that Hizballah is steadily rebuilding the infrastructure that was destroyed in the Lebanon war, and is replenishing and refurbishing its stock of missiles and other weaponry. The Lebanese government is likewise making preparations that look like the preliminaries to war:

Experts say reverberations from the current dispute could undermine the UN’s authority in the region. The UN mission in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, had stationed more than 5,700 troops as of October 13, under the control of a French force commander, Gen. Alain Pellegrini. The force has come under increasing criticism from within Lebanon in recent days. On October 17, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon’s most senior Shiite cleric, said Lebanese were right to be wary (Daily Star) of UNIFIL’s authority, saying the force had “come here to protect Israel, not Lebanon.” Nasrallah’s remarks are blunter. At a recent rally, he warned the UN not to spy (LAT) on “the resistance,” and declared, “No army in the world is capable of forcing us to give up our weapons.” As UN troops work to stabilize one of the most fragile regions of the world, these are unwelcome signs indeed.

Lebanon, for its part, is not banking on the UN to defend it, and reportedly has struck a deal with Italy (DEBKAfile) to obtain sophisticated air defense missiles capable of bringing down Israeli warplanes in a future conflict. For deeper reading, CFR offers backgrounders on the troubled history of multilateral operations in the Middle East, on the fractured loyalties of Lebanon’s army, and on key UN resolutions in the Middle East conflict. Globalsecurity.org offers this guide to Lebanon’s military.

The Invited Guest - II

As tomorrow's EU Lahti summit approaches, President Putin may be feeling he would rather not attend this event and dinner, which promise to be acutely embarrassing for him. The FT gives a foretaste of what will be on the menu, quoting part of the contents of an open letter from the Liberal group in the European Parliament, which will be published in Novaya Gazeta (the paper Anna Politkovskaya worked for) and the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat, among others:
Excerpts include: "We are deeply concerned that political opposition is being slowly but surely eliminated and that those who dare to finance it, such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, are being silenced and incarcerated.

"We therefore challenge you to reverse those policies which are strangling your country and its private citizens, conduct an open and independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Anna Politkovskaya and others and bring the perpetrators of this and other murders to justice." Otherwise, it says, they will be agitating against a new EU deal with Moscow.

It's enough to make Putin choke on his herrings.

See also: The Invited Guest

Russia and the Future of Democracy - II

In the Moscow Times, Richard Lourie is another observer who notes that a turning-point is being reached in Russia:
...some sort of gigantic struggle is afoot in Russia, a new "divvying up." Most of it takes place behind the scenes, but its violent reverberations are felt everywhere: When Georgia arrests four Russians on charges of espionage, the response is overkill -- all transportation and postal links severed. Shell Oil's project on Sakhalin Island is charged with serious environmental violations. All the foreign companies bidding for a part in the development of the Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea are summarily rejected. A senior official at TNK-BP, Enver Ziganshin, is shot dead.

Yukos and its former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, may well have breached the understanding reached with Putin, but in the post-Yukos era the same contempt felt for journalism, justice and politics has infected the rules of the game in business as well.

The murders of Kozlov the banker, Ziganshin the oilman and Politkovskaya the journalist all no doubt had their specific causes about which we will probably never know any more than we will know who pulled the trigger or paid the killer. But what they all have in common is that they emerge from the context created in Russia over the last few years. Putin's chickens have come home to roost. And they're not chickens, they're vultures.
(Hat tip: CH)

See also: Russia and the Future of Democracy

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Artillery Fire in Serzhen-Yurt

Via Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

Around 80 houses in Serzhen-Yurt damaged by artillery fire

By Ruslan Isayev

CHECHNYA – Around 80 private houses in the village of Serzhen-Yurt have suffered damage of various kinds as a result of artillery fire by Russian soldiers located in the outskirts of the city of Shali, about 25 kilometres southeast of Grozny. Cracks have appeared in the walls of all the houses, some in the foundations. This was recently reported to Prague Watchdog by Imran Ezhiyev, director of the North Caucasus section of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society.

Throughout the entire summer the residents of Serzhen-Yurt have been subjected to a very high level of stress caused by the firing. “Each shell flew across the whole village, so we could even hear the sound as it went, and then exploded in the forested area close by. Sometimes this went on all night. No one in the village could get any sleep, and some people went down to their basements until the shelling stopped,” Imran Ezhiyev says.

Only after lengthy negotiations was it possible to make the soldiers halt these sporadic firings. The village residents now plan to create a commission, and to take legal action against the soldiers for the damage that has been caused.

Imran Ezhiyev says that the authorities don’t welcome his activity. “They have told me many times that we – the human rights workers – are the same kind of people as Anna Politkovskaya. We don’t understand what they’re accusing us of. I mean, by asking that the law be observed, I’m helping the authorities in their primary task – the observance of laws and human rights,” the human rights worker says in perplexity. He is approached almost daily by people complaining about all kinds of violations of their rights.

Translated by David McDuff.

Business as Usual

Via Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

Practice of extortion returns to “Kavkaz” checkpoint

By Umalt Chadayev

CHECHNYA – At the “Kavkaz” pass control checkpoint (KPP) located on the administrative border between the Chechen Republic and Ingushetia, Russian police are again collecting tribute from drivers and their passengers.

The “Kavkaz” checkpoint (or “block-post” as local residents call it) has not enjoyed a favourable reputation in the last few years. The Russian Interior Ministry police officials on duty here are posted from different regions of Russia. They used to collect tribute – with and without pretext - from residents of both republics travelling in both directions. They even developed a unique “price list”.

Thus, each minibus driver had to pay the officials 20-30 rubles. And almost every young male who passed through this checkpoint usually put a folded 10-ruble note into his passport, which was to be checked by the officials. This was done “just in case”, to avoid unwanted excesses.

The absence of a military registration stamp in a passport “cost” 50 rubles. There were numerous other “violations” for which ordinary citizens had to pay tribute. If they refused to pay there could be serious trouble, ranging from an increase in the sum of the “fine” all the way to detention.

Local residents repeatedly filed complaints about the arbitrariness of the law enforcement officials who staffed the “Kavkaz” post. And then a few months ago it seemed that the situation had been resolved. A new contingent of Russian police arrived at the post, and they didn’t take bribes. On principle. They simply carried out their work – inspecting motor vehicles, checking passengers’ documents and all the rest of it. The ten, twenty and fifty ruble “fees” were no more.

“We were so relieved. We thought, well, thank God, at long last order is being established. All the extortion, even of a minor kind, ceased, and there were no further problems at all. Everyone – us , the passengers, even the police officers themselves seemed contented,” says Nurdi, a 45-year-old Grozny minibus driver. But it turns out that we rejoiced too soon.”

“On October 4 a new lot of police arrived at the post. They were the same guys who had worked here right at the beginning of the war. Naturally, in those days they were involved in open extortion. And they started the old practices again. They openly said: “Everything here is going to be like it was before. You have to pay fees.” Naturally, everyone got angry. Then they quite simply blocked off the road, creating a traffic jam many kilometres long. With the special purpose of making people more willing to obey,” Nurdi claims. “You had to wait two or three hours in the queue. That’s the kind of establishment of order there is here.”

“I don’t know what the Russian Iinterior Ministry, their direct superiors, are thinking of,” he says. “I mean, these officers will disgrace the entire Russian police force. Are their wages really not enough for them, with all their perks, per diem and combat bonuses? Why do they have to treat people in such a brutish manner? Hundreds if not thousands of cars pass through this checkpoint every day. Can you imagine what the local people’s attitude to this bribe-takers in police uniform is going to be?”

Representatives of human rights organizations consider that the whole affair is being caused by widespread ignorance of the law on the part of the local population. “In the years of the so-called ‘counter-terrorist operation’ the populace was subjected to mass terror. People were actually made to believe that they don’t have any rights, and that the law enforcers can so anything they like. Detaining people without any reason, searching them, beating them and even killing them. All attempts at protest were cut short in a most merciless and often brutal manner,” says a member of one of the human rights organizations operating in the republic.

“People are forced to put up with this arbitrary treatment, because they have no alternative. They are simply afraid, and one can understand why. But this extortion must be fought, nevertheless. It would be a good thing if citizens were to make written statements to the public prosecutor’s office, or perhaps present them to human rights organizations, so that later on they could later make representations based on those statements to the official government agencies and attain a resolution of this problem,” the respondent believes.

But it transpires that there is another way out of this situation. Nurdi says that since bribes are being demanded at the “Kavkaz” checkpoint again, he doesn’t drive along this highway. “There’s an alternate route through the village of Sernovodsk. There’s also a Russian checkpoint on the border there, but the guys work normally. There’s no picking on people, and no one demands money. If there’s a violation, they’ll explain, and advise you not to do it again. Now I only ever take that route.”

A few weeks ago, Dmitry Kozak, President Putin’s plenipotentiary representative to the Southern Federal Region, said in one of his interviews that passage through the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia must be made easier for the residents of the two republics. And he announced that a concrete package of measures aimed at the solution of this problem is already being worked out.

Kozak made his public statement shortly after an armed clash between members of the Chechen OMON and the Ingush police which took place on the “Kavkaz” federal highway in the region of the Chechen-Ingush border on September 13. There were more than twenty casualties, involving deaths and injuries on both sides. However, an impression is growing that the Russian police officers working at the “Kavkaz” checkpoint don’t entirely agree with the high-ranking government official’s opinion, and don’t intend to make life easier for the citizens of Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Translated by David McDuff.

Baltic Visit - III

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh arrive in Riga, Latvia, today, on the second leg of their historic Baltic visit, AFP reports.

A Heroes' Welcome

On Tuesday a Russian Emergency Ministries plane carrying 150 Georgian citizens who were being deported from Russia arrived at Tbilisi airport. In Moscow one of the Georgians, a man named Tengiz Togonidze, who was an asthmatic, died on the way to the flight. More than half of the deportees had valid Russian visas, though some had let their documents expire. In Kommersant, Olga Allenova describes the tumultous welcome the deported Georgians received in their home country:
When the people from the MChS plane cleared passport control and began to trickle into the arrival hall, they were surrounded by a wall of journalists so solid that it was difficult to push through it. Those who arrived did not want to comment. Someone shielded his face with his hands, and another covered his head with his coat as he pushed through the throng. The men, frowning, haphazardly attired and with unshaven cheeks, were irritated and embittered, and the women were distraught. One of them, who was carrying a child in her arms, stopped as a microphone was thrust at her. "Why did they arrest you?" she was asked. "My visa was not in order," said the woman. "What will you do now?" "I don't know! I have no idea what to do!" The following dialogue was had with another man:

"How long did they hold you in the isolation unit?"
"Ten days."
"Ten days?!! How did they treat you?"
"Why did they arrest you?"
"Because I'm a Georgian."

The War on Truth

On October 12 John Hall, Washington bureau chief of Media General News Service, published an article on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya called Russia’s anti-Putin Voice Silenced, which was syndicated in a number of mainstream media. In it, he discussed Politkovskaya’s book Putin’s Russia. A few excerpts from Hall’s comments:

Her book should have been more widely heralded in the United States, but the diplomatic and journalistic book review establishment here sniffed at it. Foreign Affairs magazine called it “stridently indignant.” Other reviewers said she was too provocative in claiming Russia was on its way back to Stalinism. One even suggested she was a “Cassandra.” Perhaps we all needed to be a little more indignant and provocative about Putin’s Russia after his election to a second term. The pity is that Politkovskaya didn’t get as much attention when she was alive as she’s getting now that her voice has been silenced.

Her book - written in Russian and translated into English - was for sale in St. Petersburg, the hometown of Putin. But it was not available in a Russian language edition.


Politkovskaya compared Putin to Stalin and Lenin in his ruthlessness, but she was an equal opportunity critic. She didn’t have much good to say about western leaders, either.

Russia’s slide back to the Soviet system, she said, “happened to choruses of encouragement from the West, primarily from (Italy’s) Silvio Berlusconi, who appears to have fallen in love with Putin. He is Putin’s main European champion, but Putin also enjoys the support of (Britain’s) Blair, (Germany’s) Schroeder and (France’s) Chirac, and receives no discouragement from the transatlantic junior Bush.”

For President Bush, indeed, having a steady partner in the war on terrorism has been the steering current of his relationship with Putin. Corruption and even intimidation of its neighbors, such as is occurring right now in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, is being overlooked.

It’s also noticeable, one might add, how quiet large sections of the U.S. blogosphere have been with regard to the murder. Sites which are normally among the first to respond to terrorist outrages around the world have had nothing to say on this subject at all. Michelle Malkin was one of the few to write a post on the assassination - many other high-profile bloggers have remained unreassuringly silent.

(Hat tip: MAK)