Wednesday, September 30, 2009

IIFFMCG report published

The report by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG) has been published.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Zapad-2009, Ladoga-2009

September 26 saw the beginning of the second phase of the large scale Russian and Belorussian combined military anti-NATO exercises code-named Zapad-2009 (West-2009). The exercises, the first phase of which began on September 9,  involve over 12,500 troops, more than 100 aircraft and helicopters, and some 4,000 pieces of military equipment including tanks, armoured personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, tube artillery, self-propelled multi-rocket launchers, and ground-based SAM systems. According to Krasnaya Zvezda, the official organ of Russia's defence ministry (the front page has now been cleared of most of the war-game news), the second phase is focused on air defence operations, and includes the firing of S-200 air defence missiles at the Telemba Range in Chita Oblast. The newspaper said that during the exercise Russian special force units would operate in conjunction with Belorussian territorial troops against invading forces. (Jamestown, Telegraph).

The Zapad exercises, or war-games, are scheduled to end today, September 29.

There are also at present Russian military and naval manoeuvres in the Baltic, and the mock naval "Battle for the North", which is part of the Ladoga-2009 war-games, is reaching its culmination point off the Kola Peninsula.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Benjamin Netanyahu: Speech to the UN General Assembly

Seotember 24, 2009

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500 years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland.

I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.

The United Nations was founded after the carnage of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It was charged with preventing the recurrence of such horrendous events.

Nothing has undermined that central mission more than the systematic assault on the truth. Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.

Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews. Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler’s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?

This June, President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie?

And what of the Auschwitz survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie? One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration. Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own. My wife's grandparents, her father’s two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis. Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state.

What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations! Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong.

History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.

This Iranian regime is fueled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago after lying dormant for centuries. In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization.

It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.

The primitivism of the 9th century ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially.

It took us centuries to get from the printing press to the telephone, decades to get from the telephone to the personal computer, and only a few years to get from the personal computer to the internet.

What seemed impossible a few years ago is already outdated, and we can scarcely fathom the changes that are yet to come. We will crack the genetic code. We will cure the incurable. We will lengthen our lives. We will find a cheap alternative to fossil fuels and clean up the planet.

I am proud that my country Israel is at the forefront of these advances – by leading innovations in science and technology, medicine and biology, agriculture and water, energy and the environment. These innovations the world over offer humanity a sunlit future of unimagined promise.

But if the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed for a time. And like the belated victory over the Nazis, the forces of progress and freedom will prevail only after an horrific toll of blood and fortune has been exacted from mankind. That is why the greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction.

The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom?

Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world's most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism?

Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?

The people of Iran are courageously standing up to this regime. People of goodwill around the world stand with them, as do the thousands who have been protesting outside this hall. Will the United Nations stand by their side?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging. Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims. That is exactly what a recent UN report on Gaza did, falsely equating the terrorists with those they targeted.

For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities. Year after year, as these missiles were deliberately hurled at our civilians, not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks. We heard nothing – absolutely nothing – from the UN Human Rights Council, a misnamed institution if there ever was one.

In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza. It dismantled 21 settlements and uprooted over 8,000 Israelis. We didn't get peace. Instead we got an Iranian backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv. Life in Israeli towns and cities next to Gaza became a nightmare. You see, the Hamas rocket attacks not only continued, they increased tenfold. Again, the UN was silent.

Finally, after eight years of this unremitting assault, Israel was finally forced to respond. But how should we have responded? Well, there is only one example in history of thousands of rockets being fired on a country's civilian population. It happened when the Nazis rocketed British cities during World War II. During that war, the allies leveled German cities, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. Israel chose to respond differently. Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians – Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.

That was no easy task because the terrorists were firing missiles from homes and schools, using mosques as weapons depots and ferreting explosives in ambulances. Israel, by contrast, tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas.

We dropped countless flyers over their homes, sent thousands of text messages and called thousands of cell phones asking people to leave. Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy's civilian population from harm's way.

Yet faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel. A democracy legitimately defending itself against terror is morally hanged, drawn and quartered, and given an unfair trial to boot.

By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals. What a perversion of truth. What a perversion of justice.

Delegates of the United Nations,

Will you accept this farce?

Because if you do, the United Nations would revert to its darkest days, when the worst violators of human rights sat in judgment against the law-abiding democracies, when Zionism was equated with racism and when an automatic majority could declare that the earth is flat.

If this body does not reject this report, it would send a message to terrorists everywhere: Terror pays; if you launch your attacks from densely populated areas, you will win immunity. And in condemning Israel, this body would also deal a mortal blow to peace. Here's why.

When Israel left Gaza, many hoped that the missile attacks would stop. Others believed that at the very least, Israel would have international legitimacy to exercise its right of self-defense. What legitimacy? What self-defense?

The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense now accuses us –my people, my country - of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defense. What a travesty!

Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists?

We must know the answer to that question now. Now and not later. Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All of Israel wants peace.

Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace. We made peace with Egypt led by Anwar Sadat. We made peace with Jordan led by King Hussein. And if the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace. But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace. In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples – a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted that resolution. The Arabs rejected it.

We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.

Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the great Biblical vision of peace: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall learn war no more." These words were spoken by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city, in the hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem.

We are not strangers to this land. It is our homeland. As deeply connected as we are to this land, we recognize that the Palestinians also live there and want a home of their own. We want to live side by side with them, two free peoples living in peace, prosperity and dignity.

But we must have security. The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves except those handful of powers that could endanger Israel.

That is why a Palestinian state must be effectively demilitarized. We don't want another Gaza, another Iranian backed terror base abutting Jerusalem and perched on the hills a few kilometers from Tel Aviv.

We want peace.

I believe such a peace can be achieved. But only if we roll back the forces of terror, led by Iran, that seek to destroy peace, eliminate Israel and overthrow the world order. The question facing the international community is whether it is prepared to confront those forces or accommodate them.

Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the "confirmed unteachability of mankind," the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.

Churchill bemoaned what he called the "want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.”

I speak here today in the hope that Churchill's assessment of the "unteachability of mankind" is for once proven wrong.

I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history -- that we can prevent danger in time.

In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3,000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.

The video of the speech can be watched here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ukraine and the "Medvedev Doctrine"

On September 10 a group of more than two dozen well-known Ukrainian scientists, scholars, artists, writers and parliamentarians published an open letter (Kyiv Post, September 11) appealing to the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France and China with a proposal to organize an international conference of the guarantor states regarding paragraph 6 of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum,  "with the aim of providing real guarantees of security to Ukraine, proclaimed in the Memorandum."

Jamestown's Vladimir Socor comments that while the letter has been more or less ignored by Western media, it underlines the major security implications for Europe of Russia's new willingness to use military force unilaterally beyond its borders (since the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 known as the "Medvedev Doctrine"). A "de-mothballing" of the Budapest Memorandum could also, Socor believes,

help limit the intrusion of Russia's strategic agenda into Ukraine's presidential election campaign. Such intrusion demonstrated its explosive potential in Ukraine's 2004 presidential election. The security environment around Ukraine has since deteriorated markedly, and at an accelerating rate in recent months. The OSCE's upcoming year-end meeting would be the right venue for a reaffirmation of the Budapest Memorandum, 15 years after the same organization affirmed its support for the memorandum's signing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Activists: Keep Kadyrov out of Europe

Via Finrosforum:

Several prominent human rights activists have expressed grave concern over the plan of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov to open so-called Chechen Cultural Centres in several countries in the EU. The regime in Grozny, with Moscow’s acquiescence, intends to open such centres in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and Poland, each home to a large Chechen diaspora.

The human rights activists remind the EU states of the reason that such sizable diaspora of Chechens have come into being: the establishment of a totalitarian regime based on violence, fear, and denunciation. The activists call on the EU states not to allow the establishment of Kadyrov’s semi-embassies in their territory.

The signatories of the appeal are US human rights activist Nadezhda Banchik; Mayrbek Taramov, chairman of the Chechen Human Rights Centre in Sweden; Viktoria Pupko, president of the Boston Committee against Ethnic Cleansing; Said-Emin Ibragimov, chairman of the French-based Peace and Human Rights association; and Yelena Maglevannaya, journalist and human rights activist currently residing in Finland.

“All independent sources report that Moscow’s puppet ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, has created a regime of totalitarian regime aimed at the devastation of yet another generation of Chechens through physical terror and moral corruption,” the signatories write. They ask whether EU states wish for such a regime to spread its influence and culture of violence on their territory.

Kadyrov’s so-called cultural centres would only serve the purpose of destabilising Chechen diasporas in Europe, killing politically active Chechen refugees, pressuring EU countries not to accept more Chechen refugees, and intimidating those who have managed to flee to return, the signatories say.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sweden accused of projected contact with Hamas

Via Haaretz:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has complained over Sweden's attempting to establish contact with Hamas, Haaretz has learned. His allegation could worsen Israel's already tense relationship with the Scandinavian country following the publication there of an inflammatory news article accusing Israeli soldiers of harvesting the organs of Palestinians.

Netanyahu complained about Sweden's alleged attempts to start a dialogue with Hamas 10 days ago in a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos. Spain will replace Sweden as president of the European Union in January.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The law and the lies

Interestingly, it appears that the same Swedish legislation which justifies the legal status of the Aftonbladet article that has provoked outrage in Israel and across the world is also protecting the status of the extreme Islamist propaganda site Kavkaz Center, which is hosted on servers located in Sweden. Sweden's "freedom of speech" laws are evidently being used for some dubious purposes, with the knowledge and approval of the Swedish government.

Echoes of the Arctic Sea

Writing à propos of Thomas Berglund's recent article in Svenska Dagbladet on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Fredrikshamn, at which Sweden had to sign away its territories east of the Gulf of Bothnia to Imperial Russia (Berglund calls it a "national trauma"), Tobias Ljungvall looks back on some of the less well-known aspects of the Finnish independence struggle. He discusses the role of a later independence activist, the writer and revolutionary Konni Zilliacus the elder (1855-1924), whose life, Tobias says, "ought to deserve a film or television series". Zilliacus, the author of such venerable but probably now little-read works as Det revolutionära Ryssland, Från ofärdstid och ofärdsår, Korruptionen i Ryssland, and Moskoviter och finnar, was actively involved in the so-called "Grafton Affair" , which involved an unsuccessful attempt to smuggle arms to the Finnish resistance by ship along the Baltic in 1905.

The comments to Tobias' post make rather sad reading: someone has posted part of Silmien Välliin, a Finnish wartime song from 1942, which talks of "shooting the Russians between the eyes", and another (Russian?) commenter has responded with what purports to be a Russian translation of the song's words, but is in fact a totally different text accusing Finns of racism and Nazi sympathies.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Death to Russia"


Journalist: When we reached the Vali Asr square, speakers were chanting from the official tribunes: "Death to Israel." People would chant back: "Death to Russia." It was so [bad] that they were forced to become silent and there were no more "Death to Israel" chants. Another chant was "Death to the Dictator, be it a Zionist or Doctor" [Mahmud Ahmadinejad is being called "Doctor" by his supporters].

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Looking through GQ - 3

In the context of the GQ ban and other recent cases of a similar kind, Anne Applebaum has this to say:
...the three stories lead to one conclusion: In different ways, the Russian government, the Chinese government and unnamed Islamic terrorists are now capable of placing de facto controls on American companies -- something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
Looking through GQ - 2
Looking through GQ

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Looking through GQ - 2

Ex-VOA executive and journalist Ted Lipien continues to examine the implications of the Conde Nast/GQ censorship affair for Radio Liberty and its Russian Service, and also for VOA. He notes that there is clear evidence
that censorship at Conde Nast was aimed not only at readers in Russia but also at consumers of news media in the United States and throughout the world. The publishers of the GQ magazine not only prevented the printing in Russia of Scott Anderson’s article about Prime Minister Putin but also banned it from the Internet. It cannot be read even on the GQ’s American website.
Looking through GQ

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brodsky in Iceland

The Nordic Voices blog has posted a previously unpublished poem by Joseph Brodsky, and a memoir of the poet's visit to Iceland in 1978.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two races

There have always been, and there always will be, two races in the world, and the boundary between them is more important than any other; crucifiers and crucified, oppressors and oppressed, persecutors and persecuted. Of course, in history the roles can be reversed but that does not alter the truth. Today Christians are being persecuted as in the early centuries. Today Jews are being persecuted as so often before in history. These facts are worth thinking about. Russian anti-semites, living in a condition of morbid emotion and obsession, allege that the Jews rule Russia and oppress the Christians there. This assertion is deliberately false. It was not the Jews in particular who were at the head of militant atheism; 'Aryan' Russians also played an active part. I am even inclined to believe that this movement represents a specifically Russian phenomenon. A nobleman, the anarchist Bakunin, was one of its extreme representatives, as was Lenin too. It was precisely on the subject of Russian nihilism and the inner dialectic of its nature, that Dostoievsky made such sensational revelations.

Nicholas Berdyaev, 1938

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gazprom's Karelian problem

An interesting twist in the Nordstream saga. Finnish state radio reports that

A group of Finnish businessmen are using Russian plans for an undersea natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany as a bargaining chip in international politics. The businessmen say that they have been offered large sums of money to drop a mining claim for an area on the bottom of the Gulf of Finland, which lies on the planned route of the pipeline. The claim has been pending for a year... The businessmen have rejected the money, but have offered Russian officials a proposal under which they would drop the claim if Russia agrees to start talks with Finland on the return of areas annexed by the Soviet Union after the last war.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Looking through GQ

Commenting on the recent GQ controversy, and the question of "Radio Liberty's failure for a number of days to post on its Russian-language website any in-depth reports about the banning in Russia of Scott Anderson's "GQ" magazine article, which was highly critical of Mr. Putin and accused the FSB of instigating terrorist attacks to help his rise to power", ex-VOA reporter and executive Ted Lepien writes that

Thirty-one years ago this week, on 7 September 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian émigré journalist who wrote for Radio Free Europe, BBC and Deutsche Welle, was assaulted in broad daylight on London’s Waterloo Bridge. Markov's murder happened during the Cold War, but in more recent years the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and of numerous other journalists in Russia, as well as the assassination in London of former KGB and FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who became a vocal critic of Mr. Putin, have brought into focus the question of how safe it is in the post-Cold War world to criticize Russian leaders, especially for journalists living in Russia, but also for anybody living in the West who has ties to Russia.

Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam

Chavez dictatorship recognizes Abkhazia, S. Ossetia


The Georgian Foreign Ministry condemned the decision by Venezuelan “dictator” Hugo Chavez to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “an extremely unfriendly” move and said it hoped Venezuela would retract its decision after a “democratically elected” government comes into power in that country.

A few hours after Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, made announcement about the recognition at a meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on September 10, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement which said that “such violation of norms and principles of international law will be counter-productive for Venezuela itself.”

The Foreign Ministry said Tbilisi was sure that the Venezuelan leader made such a decision in exchange for Moscow’s pledge to give Venezuela “hundreds of millions in credit and a great amount of armaments.”

“It is regrettable that Russia’s irresponsible authorities are wasting taxes paid by the population of the Russian Federation, which lives on the verge of poverty, on satisfying ephemeral foreign policy whims,” the statement reads.

Why is Ukraine not Russia?

Paul Goble, translating and quoting Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko, in the Georgian Daily: Ukraine is Escaping the Past but Russia is Not, Moscow Analyst Says:
Russia remains trapped in the grip of a desire to build “a new empire,” but “the chances for the realization of this project are not simply small. They are equal to zero. They do not exist.” Russia could play a role if it was willing to accept the status of a junior partner to the US, Europe or China, but Russians are not prepared to do this.
They are not prepared to give up their “messianic goals” or to recognize that Europe has moved beyond zero-sum politics, in which there are clear winners and losers, into a system in which all participants must take away something positive. Russians remain convinced that any victory for them requires a defeat for others, and vice versa.
Moscow has “bought Schroeder, made friends with Berlusconi, purchased wholesale and retail experts and politicians in Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the United States.” But this has not brought Russia happiness, because Russia is not in a position to achieve its messianic goal of a new empire.
This then, Yakovenko argues, is “the main distinction of Russia and Ukraine.” Russia continues to think that it is an empire, to celebrate its size and power as the main things. But Ukraine is rapidly moving toward an acceptance of the reality that it is a second-tier country that must cooperate with others in a European fashion in order to survive and flourish.

Winning wars and losing them

At Z-Word Blog, Eamonn McDonagh writes about some double standards that prevail in Western war reporting:

You  remember all the fuss at the start of the year about Israel’s supposedly disproportionate use of force in Gaza, no? Well, unless you are a close student of Afghan affairs it may have escaped your attention that last Thursday Spanish forces killed 13 members of the Taliban without suffering so much as a scratch on their own side. 

Read the whole article.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sovfrakht archive

Copies of Mikhail Voitenko's posts to his Sovfrakht Marine Bulletin website, which is not always accessible, are being archived on this blog.

(Via Kerkko Paananen)

Russia's economic crisis - no cue for 'Perestroika 2.0'

By Andrew Wilson

Via Полит.ру /OpenДемократия

Haunted by memories of chaos, a weakly governed Russia is resisting the opportunity for reform presented by today's global economic crisis, reports Andrew Wilson.

Russia is one of those countries for which the economic crisis ought to be a blessing in disguise. Over the last boom decade, high energy prices have excused a multitude of pathologies: corruption got worse because there was more to steal; Putin brokered the creation of giant inefficient ‘national champions' that are a deadweight on the more productive parts of the economy; even Russia's one copper-bottomed asset, oil and gas, will decline in the future, as its giant energy companies like Gazprom and Rosneft have simply failed to invest enough to meet supply commitments. Recession and lower energy prices, on the other hand, it is often argued, ought to prompt protest and/or reform. But, Russia is currently a land where all the predicted dogs are failing to bark. The idea of a new perestroika - in itself an indication of how far Russia has moved backwards over the last twenty years - is a myth. Social unrest has been isolated and parochial. ‘Protest' has the flavour of the Khrushchev era: people petition local bosses, who then save factory jobs or build new roads because of the fear of retribution from the top. Putin is starting to behave like Yeltsin when he was Mayor of Moscow in the mid 1980s, making unannounced visits to city supermarkets to bemoan the price of pork. Nor, on the other hand, has there been any real crackdown to prevent protest - the regime seems capable of enduring without it. According to one of those who built the current system, the political fixer Gleb Pavlovsky, therefore, ‘the system has survived this crash-test - though there is no guarantee it will survive the next one'.[1]

Lord of the Rings

One of Pavlovsky's mantras is that ‘Russia is an old country, but a new state'. [2] Despite Russia's long history as an empire, the thinking of both elites and masses is over-determined by the experience of its traumatic birth as a state in 1991. The ‘twenty year crisis' under first Gorbachev and then Yeltsin has been overcome, but only just. According to Pavlovsky, ‘despite the mythology positing absolute control in Russia's politics', Russia ‘is in fact rather weakly  governed, barely balancing on the very verge of stability - if not survival'.[3] Whereas the West tends to compare the current economic crisis with 1929 and the social crisis that followed, Russians think more naturally in terms of their own most recent crash, in 1998. Social breakdown had already happened in the early 1990s; the Putin regime has successfully mythologised 1998 as a crisis of statehood and therefore argues that preserving hard-won stability is the only way to prevent a reversal through 1998 back to the social chaos of the 1990s.

The first threat to stability comes from the ‘oligarchs'. Putin originally came to power chillingly promising to ‘destroy the oligarchs as a class' - the same phrase that Stalin used in 1929 against the ‘kulaks'. But Putin's real job is what he calls maintaining the ‘political configuration', which is code for keeping a lid on, and a balance between, the Hobbesian struggle between a whole universe of, in the Russian phrase, krugovaya poruka (‘circles of interest' - every so often the Russian press depicts as an actual universe, drawing a map of the pre-Copernican complex of planets and satellites in interlocking orbit around ‘planet Putin'). Even the infamous siloviki  (‘men of force', current and former KGB), are divided into rival clans. But there is a balance between those who play by the Kremlin rules. Those who don't, like the former king-maker Boris Berezovsky, or Russia's former richest man, the jailed Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky, are crushed.

The choice of Dmitry Medvedev as Putin's superficial successor was part of this balancing act. ‘Project Medvedev' was originally a ‘prosperity project' with two aims. First was continuity in the guise of competition. Russia's traditionally top-heavy political system is not good at successions. The departure of the old leader tends to upset a highly personalised system of patrimony and privilege; there then tends to be a war of all against all until a new system of personalised authority is in place. On the eve of the last elections, the Russian elite was gripped by the fear of a form of oligarchic Trotskyism - not ‘permanent revolution', but the ‘permanent redistribution' of control of Russia's hard-won cash cows. Medvedev's second job was to sell the idea of Russia moving towards a rule of law, and legitimise the established distribution of assets. Plan A was extraordinarily successful. Plan B might have been. But the world economic crisis intervened. Ironically, it wasn't the expected succession crisis that threatened property, as many had feared, but the unexpected economic crisis.

But Putin has kept the balance of the system remarkably well. There has been no feeding frenzy during the current crisis, unlike after 1991 or 1998. The idea of a ‘rescue list' for oligarchs mooted in the autumn of 2008 was quietly abandoned when it threatened to lead in that direction. Some have gained a little, but no one individual or group has grown strong enough to upset the balance or change the system's logic. Genady Timchenko of the Swiss-registered oil trader Gunvor has expanded his stake in Novatek, Russia's second largest gas producer after Gazprom. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, has expanded his empire to include the state shipbuilding corporation OPK and consolidated control over the electricity industry. And Sechin and Timchenko have SUPPOSEDLY been linking up to increase their share of Russia's oil export trade. Individual oligarchs have received handsome subsidies: Sergey Chemezov's Russian Technologies has received $7 billion, Oleg Deripaska won a $4.5 billion loan to keep his 25% stake in Norilsk Nickel, Rosneft got $4.6 billion, and Roman Abramovich's Evraz $1.8 billion. But given the size of the ‘Stabilisation Fund' built up during the boom years and now coveted by the troubled oligarchs - still $94.5 billion on 1 July 2009, down from a peak of $142.6 billion - this is relatively small beer.

‘Lord of the rings' is Putin's personal role - and he knows if he is too generous even to his own inner circle the system will collapse. He cannot transfer this role. Medvedev cannot do it, so Putin cannot retire. According to Masha Lipman of the Moscow Carnegie Centre, ‘Putin's power as ring-master keeps him number one and keeps Medvedev number two'. [4] Significantly, the number of Russians thinking that Medvedev runs the country has actually declined during his first year as president, from 25% to 12% in May/April 2009.


A recent spate of articles - the first by the liberal economist Yevgeny Gontmakher - have addressed a second potential threat.[5] Russia has hundreds of single employer ‘monocities', where there is a risk of unrest similar to that in the southern Russian town of Novocherkassk in June 1962, when panicky local authorities opened fire on crowds demonstrating against simultaneous increases in food prices and wage cuts. Twenty two were killed and another seven subsequently executed.

But Russia in 2009 is a much more sophisticated regime than the USSR in 1962. The regime does not yet need repression. According to Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Centre, ‘It has managed to manipulate people in a post-modern environment, without powerful political institutions or real political parties'. [6] ‘Political technology' has been an alternative to traditional authoritarianism. Unlike China with its ‘great wall' of censorship, Russia regulates the internet with a lighter touch and enlists sympathetic bloggers rather than censors. Opposition parties were neutered long ago, but still exist to provide an outlet for protest. The Kremlin is adept at manipulating mini-crises to win popularity, with both internal and external enemies, though this is one reason why it is short of friends abroad.

Cruder methods are of course used. Khodorkovsky is in jail. Contract killings of journalists and NGO activists are depressingly frequent. The youth movement Nashi was set up to show anyone tempted to copy the tactics of the Orange Revolution in Russia that they would basically be beaten up. But, as Lipman points out, ‘people under fifty have no memory of a repressive state'. [7] And as unpleasant as the dark side of Putinism may be, it is designed to be a lower-risk and lower-cost alternative to the nationalist authoritarianism advocated by many. If such voices grew louder, it is unclear whether Putin would swim with the tide or whether he would have the strength to pre-empt them.

The longer term significance of the original Novocherkassk incident is also often missed. It was not just that people dared to demonstrate, or that the demonstrations were brutally suppressed. The Kremlin took fright at working class rebellion. Retrospectively, Novocherkassk marked the moment when the Soviet system moved from the rigid labour discipline of the Stalin era to the relatively comfortable, and ultimately unaffordable, ‘welfare state authoritarianism' of the Brezhnev years.

Instead of a new Novocherkassk, Russia had the ‘Pikalyovo incident' in early June, when Putin publically humiliated Oleg Deripaska, one of the ultimate symbols of Russia's ‘wild capitalism' of the 1990s, during a lighting visit to his cement factory to force him to pay wages and reopen the plant (after Deripaska signed the agreement, Putin demanded the pen back in case he stole it). But Pikalyovo does not mark the start of a populist spending spree, at least not yet. After Pikalyovo, according to Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs , ‘liberals expected Putin to be everywhere, like Batman, solving all sorts of problems. But Putin understands better. It's only necessary to do it once. Like with the Khodorkovsky trial, people soon learn the new rules'. [8] Pikalyovo was a signal to governors to deliver on ‘social responsibility' and to oligarchs not to rock the boat. According to Trenin, ‘populism is a strategy to preserve power'. [9] And often fake - only days after Pikalyovo, Vneshtorgbank agreed another credit line for Deripaska.

Nor did Pikalyovo mark the upsurge of anti-regime rebellion that the Kremlin's opponents have long hoped for. Recent protests have been a call to official action. They have not been revolutionary or nihilistic. There is as yet no threat of what Russians call bunt (atavistic rebellion). The aim of most protestors has not been to replace the authorities, but to get them to turn up and deliver resources. According to Lipman, ‘it's like the Soviet era, when people would threaten not to vote until the Party got their roof mended'. [10]

But Pikalyovo did show that Russia is not responding to the economic crisis by joining some Western club - either the fiscal retrenchers or the new Keynesians. Russia is responding to its own recent history. In 1998, to put it crudely, the people got screwed by the sudden devaluation of the rouble, while the oligarchs were forewarned and colluded with the state to defraud their creditors, including the IMF who had just lent Russia $4.8 billion. In 2008-9 the state has allowed its reserves to dwindle by over $200 billion (from a pre-crisis peak of $598 billion to a low of $376 billion) to ensure a ‘soft landing'. This was a huge investment in social stability. The Russian system works on messages, and the message was that this time the state would look after the people, unlike in 1998 or with earlier confiscatory ‘redenominations' in 1991, 1961, 1947 and in the 1920s. (Though the step-by-step devaluation also meant big profits for the well-connected. With sufficient notice, the big banks and oligarchs simply used their bail-out cash to buy dollars or euros and then buy back the cheaper roubles a few days later - thereby also ensuring that few of the state's crisis subsidies actually reached the real economy).

‘Reverse Connection'

Pikalyovo was also an attempt to address the inefficiencies in Putin's authoritarian project by creating what Russians call obratnaya sviaz' (‘reverse connection'). The system works, but only just. Russia still needs a modernisation project, albeit not the ‘prosperity project', backed by good finances and sound macroeconomics, which the Putin-Medvedev tandem was originally supposed to implement. Not only will Russia have to proceed with fewer resources, it will have to tackle the flip-side of a stronger state, what even Pavlovsky calls ‘severe monopolism in all social spheres', [11] not just in government and the economy, but in the mass media and in society at large. The intermediary structures he helped set up are passive and inert - particularly ‘the party', now normally referred to in the singular as in the days of the CPSU, i.e. United Russia, which, unlike the CPSU, is mainly a vehicle for governors and lower bureaucrats to advertise their loyalty. Hardly anybody in the Kremlin belongs to it. Moreover, the stasis extends to society as a whole. After the ‘twenty year crisis' of the 1980s and 1990s, ‘all social spheres are static. There is a conservative mood, even in business. There are no risk takers. The atmosphere is against innovation'. [12]

Pikalyovo was supposed to spark an inert bureaucracy into life. The search for ‘reverse connection' has also led to some outreach to civil society, but one that will be very different to the kind of liberalisation advocated by Russia's surviving liberals, men like Gontmakher and Igor Yurgens, the head of the Institute of Contemporary Development, the think-tank currently favoured by Medvedev. Gontmakher has recently argued that the system needs ‘Khrushchev-isation' - like Khrushchev after Stalin, Medvedev (or Putin) needs to break with the system he helped create.[13] In his first year in office, Medvedev has managed to maintain the impression that he is all-things-to-all-liberals, and that he might be willing to create a bigger tent, bringing in some survivors from the 1990s. In fact, Medvedev's job is to promote a ‘soft form of cooptation'. The new Kremlin-sponsored ‘liberal party' Right Cause and the new Civil Society Forum are designed to prevent liberals reaching out and making common cause with protestors. Medvedev's job is to persuade civil society to play along, or it will be subject to re-control by real hardliners. The regime needs NGOs to improve the upward information flow, but the chief Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov, who was responsible for the original law restricting the operation of NGOs in 2006, made the terms of the bargain crystal clear at the last meeting of the Civil Society Forum in June. Civil society leaders are requested to provide concrete proposals on specific policy areas, but should not think of getting involved in politics and should not speculate about the system as a whole.


There is, as yet, no real sign of any second summer of perestroika. Medvedev has yet to prove that he is some kind of chrysalis liberal. The Institute of Contemporary Development, which has become the first port of call for Western visitors seeking to spot the first green shoots of reform, is in fact complaining it is starved of money, resources and influence. Russia's gamble is to keep with the system it has for now. It has run down its reserves, but kept most of its money in the bank, and is banking on oil price recovery to lift it off the rocks. The one thing Russia is not doing is using the crisis writ large as a new form of shock-therapy. Russia had had too many shocks recently.

[1] Author's interview

[2] Author's interview


[4] Author's interview


translated into English at

[6] Author's interview

[7] Author's interview

[8] Author's interview

[9] Author's interview

[10] Author's interview

[11] Author's interview

[12] Author's interview



Andrew Wilson is Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Telegrams and memories

From the conclusion of an article about the role of the Soviet Union in the outbreak of the Second World War, and the anniversary of 1939, viewed from today's Russia:

A society that suffers badly from complexes, has lost its basic moral guidelines over a period of a hundred years, and is excited by the drumming of imperial propaganda, wants Stalin. Not Stalin in person, but his radiant image. A government that has no other suggestions or other icons provides what is demanded. It scratches where the itching is. It's simple, natural and - let's admit it - even pleasant.

And another article, on the same subject. Interestingly, some of the comments by Polish readers are in English.

Monday, September 07, 2009

UK Islamist airline terrorists found guilty

The Times has the details.

Harry's Place posts a link to a Guardian article which got the prognosis of the trial's outcome badly wrong.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Bildt cancels Israel visit

Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt has called off a planned visit to Israel this week, after refusing to condemn an article that was published in Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper, AP reports.

Russia poll on Stalin and WWII

Results of a recent Levada poll conducted among 1600 Russians in 128 population centres of 46 regions of Russia (August 23-31 2009):

Considering the scale of repression in the Stalinist era and the forced displacement (expulsion) of several peoples, do you agree that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin should be viewed as a state criminal?

Strongly agree


Mostly agree


On the whole, do not agree


Strongly disagree


No opinion


Who do you consider bore the primary responsibility for the repressions and losses our country suffered from the 1930's to the early 1950s?



The state system


Both Stalin and the state system


Neither Stalin nor the state system / someone else / the enemies of our country


No opinion


Is it possible to speak of features shared in common by the state systems that were built in the 1930s by Stalin in the Soviet Union and by Hitler in Germany?

Of course, they have much in common


Yes, they have some features in common


No, they have nothing in common


It is totally unacceptable to compare the USSR to Nazi Germany


No opinion


Should the events of September 1939, when Red Army troops entered Poland and occupied territories specified in the secret protocols Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, be widely publicized?

Yes, young people no longer know the history of their own side, with all its light and dark aspects


Yes, so that it doesn’t happen again


Yes, because there was nothing wrong about it, with these actions Stalin was able to prepare for war


No, one can't alter the past, and all countries have plenty of dark pages in their history


Don’t know, not interested




Don’t know anything about it


No opinion


(Via Marko Mikhkelson)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Finnish businessman suspected of organizing illegal entry of Chechens

Helsingin Sanomat reports that

Helsinki Internet-entrepreneur Mikael Storsjö says that he is the man that the Finnish Border Guard suspects of arranging the illegal entry of 15 Chechens into Finland.
      All of the men, women, and children involved have applied for asylum in Finland and they are being housed at Finnish refugee reception centres.
The Border Guard announced the suspicion on Thursday, saying that the Chechens came to Finland through Turkey. The suspect had organised air travel by three different groups from Istanbul to Finland. He was caught when he flew in with the first group.
      First Lieutenant Matti Kettunen told Helsingin Sanomat that the suspect is familiar to the Border Guard, and has been investigated for similar activities before.
      What Kettunen did not say that the man in question is a well-known human rights activist who has brought in dozens of Chechens before, and was also involved with a Chechen rebel website [Kavkaz Center] that was in the news here nearly five years ago.
      Kettunen emphasised that the actions of the suspect are considered aggravated, because the cases show indications of organised activity.  

Read it all.

Buryatsky alive and well

Although Islamist preacher and ideologist Said Buryatsky (aka Said Abu Saad al-Buryati aka Aleksandr Tikhomirov) was thought by some observers (especially in the light of an earlier video)  to have died in a suicide bombing attack on the police department in Nazran, Ingushetia, on August 17, which killed many civilians, he is apparently alive and well.

Friday, September 04, 2009


At Prague Watchdog, Usam Baysayev writes about the role of schools in the Chechen conflict.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Editor tells BBC: "As long as I am out of Russia I feel safe"

Mikhail Voitenko, the Russian editor who was thought to have disappeared in Moscow, has spoken to the BBC:

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from "serious people" whom he suggested may have been members of Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB.

The caller told Mr Voitenko that those involved in the mysterious case of the Arctic Sea were very angry with him because he had spoken publicly, and were planning on taking action against him, he said.

"As long as I am out of Russia I feel safe," Mr Voitenko told the BBC. "At least they won't be able to get me back to Russia and convict [me]."

He also said Nato knew exactly what had happened to the Arctic Sea.

A Nato spokesman said the alliance had been in contact with Russia throughout the crisis, but would not say anything more.  

However, a new statement on the Sovfrakht website says:

Today a number of media reported that the chief editor of the online edition of "Marine Bulletin Sovfrakht" had gone into hiding in Istanbul after receiving threats, and that his life was in danger. The assumptions are based on the fact that for some time now Mikhail Voitenko has not been been available for contact. The management of OJSC «Sovfrakht" sent the editor of MB Sovfrakht on a business trip to Istanbul. The Press Service of JSC "Sovfrakht" is always open for cooperation with reliable media whose main task is to cover events professionally and honestly. With regret we refute the facts presented by some media, of threats received by Voitenko. The publication MB-Sovfrakht covers events related to maritime navigation, and Russia's seamen. In its work changes are planned that will broaden its subscriber base and serve the development of Russia as a maritime power. In particular, we plan to develop not only the news stream, but also the analytical direction, including the study of international experience, and this is what M. Voitenko is presently engaged in.

Press Centre "Sovfrakht-Sovmortrans" Group

Editor denies "disappearance" reports

After the Moscow Times reported that Mikhail Voitenko, editor of the Sovfrakht Marine Bulletin website, had fled Russia after receiving death threats from Russian state officials, a message purporting to be from Voitenko himself has appeared on the site, saying that he has not disappeared, is on business in Istanbul, Turkey, and is preparing "some interesting reports". Voitenko repeats his request to the media "to leave the crew of the Arctic sea alone", and says that in three or four days the Sovfrakht Bulletin website will resume normal operation.

oD articles

At oD Russia/, two articles:

Russia's three tinderboxes


Natalia Estemirova, champion of ordinary Chechens

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Russia to deploy 2 full-sized armies in Belarus

Following Russia's Kavkaz-09 (June 29-July 10) military exercises, the large-scale Ladoga-09 exercises which began in north-west Russia on August 18 will be supplemented on September 8 by Zapad-09, in the course of which Russia will deploy two full-sized armies in Belarus. reports that Russia's ground forces are now deployed in six military districts: Moscow, Leningrad, North Caucasus, Urals, Siberian, and Far Eastern.

Commenting in Novaya Gazeta's military pages, Yuri Deryabin, head of Moscow's Centre for Northern Europe, expresses the opinion that Russia's government should make its position on North European security unequivocally plain. In addition to applying the economic muscle of the North Stream project, the Kremlin must demonstrate to Europe and the West that it has the military means to enforce its will in Northern Europe, especially in the Baltic, and the ongoing military exercises are an effective way of doing this.

70th anniversaries

The recent Independent article by Norman Davies analyzing the real causes of World War II, which essentially sees the source of the actual conflict as the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, ends with a listing of upcoming anniversaries on which the Medvedev/Putin government in Moscow is going to find it hard to maintain silence:

As the Russian government must realise, however, Poland will only be the start of a long, uncomfortable season. After Poland, it will be Finland's turn, and the 70th anniversary of the Winter War. Stalin's aggression against Finland in November 1939 was every bit as blatant as his actions against Poland. His German partner was not involved, and the despatch of a million troops into a neighbouring country to deport the entire population of the frontier area can hardly be described as the doings of a neutral well-wisher. It led to the expulsion of the USSR from the League of Nations. And after Finland, there will be Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. At every stage, there will be scenes of peace-loving tanks, of executions and deportations, and of weeping patriots.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Stalin's Politburo speech, August 19, 1939

The Finland-Swedish historian and architect Carl O. Nordling (1919-2007) reconstructed Stalin's speech to the Politburo of August 19, 1939 from texts published in Novy Mir (Moscow) and Revue de Droit International (Geneva). An excerpt (the bold text appears in both versions, the normal text only in Novy Mir and the italicized text only in Revue de Droit International):

The question of war and peace has entered a critical phase for us. Its solution depends entirely on the position which will be taken by the Soviet Union. We are absolutely convinced that if we conclude a mutual assistance pact with France and Great Britain, Germany will back off from Poland and seek a modus vivendi with the Western Powers. War would be avoided, but further events could prove dangerous for the USSR.

On the other hand, if we accept Germany's proposal, that you know, and conclude a non-aggression pact with her, she will certainly invade Poland, and the intervention of France and England is then unavoidable. Western Europe would be subjected to serious upheavals and disorder. In this case we will have a great opportunity to stay out of the conflict, and we could plan the opportune time for us to enter the war.

The experience of the last 20 years has shown that in peacetime the Communist movement is never strong enough for the Bolshevik Party to seize power. The dictatorship of such a Party will only become possible as the result of a major war.

Our choice is clear. We must accept the German proposal and, with a refusal, politely send the Anglo-French mission home.

It is not difficult to envisage the importance which we would obtain in this way of proceeding. It is obvious, for us, that Poland will be destroyed even before England and France are able to come to her assistance. In this case Germany will cede to us a part of PolandOur immediate advantage will be to take Poland all the way to the gates of Warsaw, as well as Ukrainian Galicia.

Germany grants us full freedom of action in the Pribaltic/three Baltic States and recognizes our claim on Bessarabia. She is prepared to acknowledge our interests in Romania Bulgaria and Hungary.

Yugoslavia remains an open question, the solution of which depends on the position taken by Italy. If Italy remains at the sides of Germany, then the latter will require that Yugoslavia be understood as her zone of influence, and it is also by Yugoslavia that she will obtain access to the Adriatic Sea. But if Italy does not go with Germany, then the latter will depend on Italy for her access to the Adriatic Sea, and in this case Yugoslavia will pass into our sphere of influence.

This in case that Germany would emerge victorious from the war. We must, however, envisage the possibilities that will result from the defeat as well as from the victory of Germany. In case of her defeat, a Sovietization of Germany will unavoidably occur and a Communist government will be created. We should not forget that a Sovietized Germany would bring about great danger, if this Sovietization is the result of German defeat in a transient war. England and France will still be strong enough to seize Berlin and to destroy a Soviet Germany. We would be unable to come effectually to her assistance/to the aid of our Bolshevik comrades in Germany.

Therefore, our goal is that Germany should carry out the war as long as possible so that England and France grow weary and become exhausted to such a degree that they are no longer in a position to put down a Sovietized Germany. 

Read it all.

(Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam)