Friday, October 30, 2009

Then and now

Commenting on Russia's continuing stream of political murders, the Washington Post notes that

Not since the time of Joseph Stalin, however, have the political killings been so blatant -- or so chillingly common.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From defence to aggression

At Prague Watchdog, Memorial worker Usam Baysayev writes about the Chechen human rights defenders who became supporters of Ramzan Kadyrov.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who controls Ingushetia?

"The strategy of the new president [Yevkurov] was extremely tough: to pardon all those who could be pardoned, and kill all those who needed to be killed. And no corruption.

"That strategy split the opposition, the insurgents and the security forces. Ironically, the two latter groups of irreconcilable opponents had one common interest: they were both for the continuation of uncontrolled violence. The insurgents - because it creates a base for the Islamic Revolution, and the law enforcement agencies - because it is easier to get stars on one's uniform that way. Both needed the butcher's axe, and not the surgeon's knife, to operate in the republic. Force of the targeted kind that was necessary was not in the interests of either group."

- Yulia Latynina, writing about the killing of Maksharip Aushev [my tr.]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Opposition activist assassinated in Russia

Earlier today, the Ingush rights activist Maksharip Aushev was killed by automatic gunfire near Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkariya. The New York Times has a report.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Baramidze on Ukraine

Window on Eurasia looks at Russia's future strategy for Ukraine, and quotes the views of Georgia's deputy prime minister, Georgy Baramidze, who foresees not an invasion but a campaign to destabilize Ukraine from within:

Moscow, he said, will try to “create controlled chaos and an atmosphere of hatred,” to play off one group of Ukrainians against another in order to “inflame” the situation. Indeed, Baramidze said, “Russia will support everyone who supports the escalation of the situation and all who pour grease into the fire.”

The Russian authorities can do this in many ways: distributing Russian passports as they did in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and are now doing in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, playing up ethnic and language differences, promoting now one and now another political leader, and putting money in various media projects, all steps designed to exacerbate the situation.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nothing in return

Eurasia Daily Monitor, on an unlikely project:  

The U.S.-Russia joint working group on civil society issues is widely seen as representing a U.S. unilateral concession, rather than a classical trade-off. The United States is receiving nothing in return for accepting the deputy chief of Russia’s presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov, and other Kremlin “political technologists” to predominate on the Russian side of this “civil society group.” Surkov, a godfather of Nashi, will be co-chairing the civil society working group alongside Michael McFaul, the U.S. White House senior adviser on Russia. In Moscow, Clinton said that she expects the Russia expert McFaul to manage this group effectively (Ekho Moskvy, October 14).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Compromising positions

In a post which among other things assesses Obama's Russia, Middle East and China policy in the light of historical precedents, Ted Lipien looks back at another U.S. president who, in all good faith, tried to "reset" East-West relations. He also  has some words of advice for Hillary Clinton, after her Moscow visit:

Appeasing the Kremlin and the Chinese communists in the hope of winning concessions makes such concessions far less likely, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found out during her humilating visit to Moscow last week.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Medvedev couldn’t be more brutal in telling her that putting pressure on Iran to end its nuclear programs was not in Russia’s national interest, when in fact they meant their own interest. Prime Minister Putin went to China and was not around to receive her.

In fact any Russian scholar with a good sense of realism could have told President Obama that the current leaders in Russia want the U.S. out of Eastern Europe but don’t believe that they owe America anything if the Americans leave. They will also continue to rely on anti-Americanism to consolidate their power internally. They want oil prices to be as high as possible, and therefore want tensions to be high in the Middle East. For that reason, they want the United States to be bogged down both in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The only thing that the Obama Administration should expect from the Kremlin are Russian concessions that would allow the U.S. to continue and expand military operations in these two Muslim nations.

Charles Krauthammer has more.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Equal shares

Prague Watchdog's Andrei Babitsky, writing under a pseudonym, takes issue with Andrei Soldatov's recent claim that the Kremlin has ceded control of Chechnya to Ramzan Kadyrov [my tr.]:

What causes anxiety to the Russian government’s voluntary helpers is apparently the fact that Kadyrov is killing people not in order to increase the might of the Russian state, but to strengthen his own personal power. The man in the street, however, is bound to feel absolutely indifferent – after all, murders that are “needed” or “unneeded” by Russia, “useful" or "harmful" to it, will be committed in Chechnya no matter who is in charge. Kadyrov's power is no better and no worse than the power of the  FSB or any other Russian agency, since they are all reinforced by the same conveyor belt of death. And the protection of the public interest, the interest of the state, will not help the lawyers of the  future to obtain a mitigation of the indictment. What matter are not the goals but the methods, and it’s the shedding of blood that counts, not good intentions. Seen with the eyes of the victims, the Russian state struggling for its territorial integrity and Kadyrov’s provincial dictatorship are no different from each other. In both cases the people end up equally dead, and their injuries look the same. And it does not matter at all how the power is divided up, or which of the criminals cherishes a dream of freedom and independence. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The new Soviet Russia - 2

Via Marko Mihkelson:

An interesting discussion on Russia Today about Russia's post- (or perhaps neo-) Soviet aspirations in Central Asia and elsewhere around its borders. The contributions by the British speaker are particularly noteworthy, and rather disturbing.

The new Soviet Russia

"Moscow and other Russian cities are still full of Soviet symbolism — streets named after Lenin, Marx, Engels and socialism, as well as public squares named in honor of notorious Soviet secret police chiefs Felix Dzerzhinsky, Moisei Uritsky and Vyacheslav Menzhinsky. The word “Anti-Soviet” — until recently the name of a small Moscow restaurant — can no longer affect them. But criticism of the Soviet Union has suddenly become tantamount to criticism of Russia. Now Russian officials, bankers and oligarchs have pulled on their gray Chekist overcoats, donned Soviet soldier caps with red stars, and hung chains bearing Russian Orthodox crosses around their necks. And Nashi activists have told anti-Soviet dissidents to 'get out of our country',"

- Vladimir Ryzhkov in the Moscow Times, on the revival of the Soviet-era war on dissidents

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Clinton supports Russian rights activists

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at a meeting with Russian rights activists in Moscow today: 

"Those of you here today understand the risks. You have seen friends and colleagues harassed, intimidated and even killed. And yet you go on working and writing, refusing to be silenced."

Yulia Latynina, on the non-invitation of opposition politicians to the meeting with Clinton:

"I don't think it would have been a good idea because the political opposition in Russia is really marginal, not because they're stupid people and not because they have no audience, but because in a society which is not democratic, there is basically no opposition."

Finland as a question, Russia as reply

Next March the Finnish publisher WSOY will release an unfinished work by the poet, author and publisher Paavo Haavikko, who died last year at the age of 77. The book bears the slightly odd title Suomi kysymyksessä, vastauksena Venäjä (literally "Finland in question, Russia in reply"), and is an attempt to trace and analyse the historical relations between Finland and Russia throughout the centuries, concentrating on the genetic myths and memories, and the hatred and hostility that developed in the conversation between the two countries, influenced by official propaganda on both sides.
(cross-posted from Nordic Voices)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Vanhanen: Finland needs "deeper ties" with Russia

Via Bloomberg (October 9):

The conclusion in Finland was that we have to deepen our relations to Russia and that we have to try in all ways to bind Russia better and better to Europe,” [Finland's Prime Minister] Vanhanen said today in an interview at his office in Helsinki. “So, more cooperation with Russia; that was the conclusion we made after the Georgia war.”

Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dream and reality

Marko Mihkelson, on Obama's prizewinning intentions [my tr.]:

A world free of nuclear weapons is certainly a beautiful goal, but is very difficult to imagine its achievement. Moreover, it is quite debatable whether a world entirely free of nuclear weapons would necessarily be less dangerous or more secure.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bildt on Goldstone

In a statement containing remarks that are bound to be interpreted as overtly hostile to Israel, Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt has expressed his support for the Goldstone Commission's report into Operation Cast Lead, the Jerusalem Post says

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Murder mystery

In the Moscow Times, Yulia Latynina discusses a murder with no killer:

Imagine Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot gathering the relatives of a murder victim together to reveal the identity of the killer and saying, “You know, all of you are such complex people, and you’ve all committed so many misdeeds, that the person simply died as a result of your collective wrongdoing.” If a murder has been committed, there must be a killer.

How can a commission come to the unbelievable conclusion that a person was murdered as a result of collective responsibility? Here is how:

According to the report, Georgia claimed that it gave notice of a large-scale concentration of Russian forces on Georgian territory prior to Aug. 7, when the five-day war began. Russia denies Georgia’s allegation, and the Kremlin asserts that Russian forces entered South Ossetia well after Georgia started military operations in the breakaway republic.

Who is correct? It might strike you as funny, but the commission doesn’t know. It couldn’t confirm that Georgia’s assertions “are well-founded,” despite the significant number of “witnesses, including Russian” witnesses who confirmed it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Two options

Stratfor's George Friedman writes that

Sanctions or war remain the two options, and which one is chosen depends on Moscow’s actions. The leaks this weekend have made clear that the United States and Israel have positioned themselves such that not much time remains. We have now moved from a view of Iran as a long-term threat to Iran as a much more immediate threat thanks to the Russians.

Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Iran, Russia, Israel, the U.S. and the West

According to the Sunday Times, the purpose of  Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Moscow last month was to hand the Kremlin a list of Russian scientists Israel believes is helping Iran to build a nuclear warhead.

Another report, from, suggests there are signs that the US State Department and the White House may have been duped by Russian propaganda experts into making the announcement of the cancellation of the Bush plan to build missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic on September 17. September 17 was the date of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland at the beginning of WWII.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Alexander Podrabinek: "As One Anti-Soviet to Others..."

Kerkko Paananen of Finrosforum has made a complete translation of  the Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal article "Как антисоветчик антисоветчикам..."  (As One Anti-Soviet to Others...) by Alexander Podrabinek:

It is a great pity that the owners of the “Anti-Soviet” Kebab House [in Moscow] caved in to pressure from the head of the municipal council [Vladimir] Shtukaturov and prefect [Oleg] Mitvol, and took down the café’s sign.

It is a pity because the demand of the authorities was against the law. It is a pity because this was an attack on the freedom of enterprise — specifically, blackmail on the part of the fire department and the health inspectorate. It is a pity because the complaints of the veterans are idiotic, base, and stupid. It is a pity because a name like “Anti-Soviet” calls for standing firm, not for caving in.

One does not need to blame the owners of the café; their actions are understandable, given that they surely want to hold on to their business. The actions of the authorities in Moscow, who are dizzy with praise to Stalin, do not warrant any comment. I would, however, like to say a few words to the veterans who wrote the complaint [against the café sign].

You are mistaken when you think that you have monopolised patriotism, love for Russia, and concern for her future. You are mistaken when you think that you have earned a well-deserved and honourable rest. You are mistaken when you think that you are held in high public esteem.

This belief is something that you were instilled with a long time ago. Your time has passed, however. Your fatherland is not Russia; your fatherland is the Soviet Union. You are Soviet veterans, and your country, thank God, ceased to exist 18 years ago.

Yet not even the Soviet Union was such a country as you depict in schoolbooks and your false press. The Soviet Union was not just the party faithful, shock workers, heroes of communist labour, and cosmonauts. The Soviet Union was also peasant revolts, victims of collectivisation and the Great Famine, hundreds of thousands of innocent people shot in secret police cellars, and millions of people who suffered in labour camps to the tune of the hideous Soviet national anthem.

The Soviet Union was indefinite incarceration in psychiatric hospitals, people killed for the sake of extracting more coal, and the countless cemeteries in prison labour camps filled the anonymous graves of my friends, political prisoners who did not live to see the freedoms we now have.

You were so resentful of the “anti-Soviet” name because you were the ones who served as whipmasters in labour camps and prisons, political commissars of anti-retreat units, and executioners at firing grounds. You, Soviet veterans, defended the Soviet regime, which then treated you nicely. Now you fear the truth and cling to your Soviet past.

Vladimir Dolgikh, chairman of the Moscow Council of Veterans, who submitted the complaint, was a political commissar during the war, then went on to make a career in the Communist Party, reaching the post of Secretary of the Central Committee. People of older generations should remember his name. A veteran of totalitarianism!

During his time in power, people were jailed for anti-Soviet activities; not suprising, then, that he would react so sharply against the sign above the café. You, Vladimir Ivanovich, are a member of the group of communist criminals who tried to ruin our country and who then happily escaped justice. Now you have come out again to defend your past; the Soviet past which is soaked in blood, full of lies, and an infamy to us all.

I, as a representative of our country’s anti-Soviet past, would like to tell you something. Besides you, there were other veterans in the Soviet Union, people of whom you would rather know nothing about: veterans of the struggle against the Soviet regime. Against your regime.

They, like some of you, fought against Nazism, and then went on to fight against communism in the forests of Lithuania and Western Ukraine, in the mountains of Chechnya, and in the desert of Central Asia. They stood up in revolt in the prison labour camp in Kengir in 1954 and marched to their death during the demonstrations in Novocherkassk in 1962.

Almost all of them died, almost no one retains their memory, and no squares or streets have been named in their honour. The few of them who are still alive do not receive any support or individual pension from the state; they live in poverty and obscurity. They, not you — guardians and admirers of the Soviet regime, — are the real heroes of our country.

Our somnolent society has not yet realised this. It is still incapable of either appreciating the importance of the anti-communist resistance or honouring the memory of those who were killed in the struggle against the Soviet regime. Our society is still under the hypnosis of Soviet propaganda, or, at best, is indifferent towards its own past, unable to fathom the importance of the past to its own future.

Why all this fuss about Soviet veterans, “Stalin’s falcons,” Brezhnev’s sycophants, the stranglers of freedom from Vladimir Dolgikh’s party? People are leading a humble existence without quarrel in a world full of Soviet symbols and names. They are reading Komsomolskaya Pravda, working at Moskovsky Komsomolets, playing at the Leninsky Komsomol Theatre, living on Leninsky Prospekt, and do not even ask for it to be renamed. What does it matter how it is called, they ask.

That is right, what difference does it make whether one is living in a clean place or in filth?! What startled these people was when war veterans were offended in defence of the Soviet regime. How difficult it must be to combine both the need for democracy and the need not to offend the veterans; after all, we do have to respect them.

Yes, one has to have respect for those who fought against Nazism. But not for those who defended the Soviet regime. One has to respect the memory of those who opposed communism in the Soviet Union. They defended freedom in a country that was not free. Does their memory carry any significance in a Russia which calls itself democratic?

It is time to stop the self-righteous wailing about the feelings of the veterans who are offended by attacks against the Soviet regime. Evil has to be punished, and those who serve it as well. The scorn of their descendants is the least that those who built and defended the Soviet regime deserve.

Alexander Podrabinek, 21.09.2009

[Translation: Kerkko Paananen]

See also: Dissidents sign letter supporting Alexander Podrabinek

Friday, October 02, 2009

Calling a spade a spade

Svante E. Cornell, writing in the WSJ about "what would be necessary for a spade to be called a spade" in the IIFFMCG report on the 2008 August war:

...the report is far more devastating in its dismissal of Russia's justification for its invasion—in fact surprisingly so for an EU product. As will be recalled, Russia variously claimed it was protecting its citizens; engaging in a humanitarian intervention; responding to a Georgian "genocide" of Ossetians; or responding to an attack on its peacekeepers. The EU report finds that because Russia's distribution of passports to Abkhazians and Ossetians in the years prior to the war was illegal, its rationale of rescuing its "citizens" is invalid as they were not legally Russian. It also concludes that Moscow's claim of humanitarian intervention cannot be recognized "at all," in particular given the Kremlin's past opposition to the entire concept of humanitarian intervention.

The list goes on. The report finds Russian allegations of genocide founded in neither law nor evidence. In other words, they're not true. And whereas the report does acknowledge a Russian right to protect its peacekeepers, it finds that Moscow's response "cannot be regarded as even remotely commensurate with the threat to Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia." On the other hand, it faults Russia for failing to intervene against the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia and Abkhazia that took place during and after the war. Finally, it castigates Russia's recognition of the independence of the two breakaway territories as illegal, and as a dangerous erosion of the principles of international law.

Read it all.

Saakashvili: Russia's aggression has now been proved

Remarks from an address by Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili on October 2 [Civil Georgia, my stylistic editing]:
“I want to return to this topic again and again, because this is a very important issue.

This report has confirmed that everything we said about last year’s events was true.

We  said that Russia entered and was arming separatists and engaging in provocation– and it turned out to be true. We  said that the distribution of passports [by Russia to the residents of the breakaway regions] was ongoing and it has been confirmed. We said that [Russia] had no citizens in Georgia to protect and it has been confirmed. We said, and I have said – staking my reputation on it – that Russian regular forces entered Georgia before August 7 – hence a military aggression took place, and this has also been confirmed by the [EU-funded fact-finding] commission. The most difficult thing was to confirm it, because it [the introduction of Russian regular forces] was done covertly, but our teams and our friends did good work, and it was confirmed.

Of course, once these things were confirmed, the mission prepared an accusatory conclusion:  for the first time in history a permanent member of the UN Security Council has been directly accused of war crimes; it has been directly accused of ethnic cleansing – hence crimes against humanity – and of aggression.

It was a fact-finding mission; the commission’s task was not to make conclusions. But the mission made conclusions anyway and eventually said: yes,this is what happened, and although the Russian forces were already present in Georgia,  it was Georgia that fired the first shot, and that was a violation of certain norms.

I have law professors who may possibly be better versed in international law than some of the European experts who made this conclusion. But no professors are required, or even much knowledge – any first-grade student can tell you that when a foreign country’s army – the army of a country which has been openly threatening you with war for many years, and is in fact waging war – and the commission said that this conflict did not start yesterday, but when units of [Russian] paratroopers entered Georgia – it is called a direct military aggression by a foreign country.

But if that is so, it means that Europe ought to handcuff and arrest [the Russian leadership]; but they are unable to do that.

Some of our compatriots do not have the self-respect to acknowledge that this is so.

Our truth has been proved and we should be happy about it and struggle to rid our country of foreign occupation. The truth will find its road.
The aggression by Russia is now actually proved; ‘actually’ - because to give a full explanation of that would mean that the whole of Europe should stand up, but we are under no illusion that this will happen any day soon, because they have lot of bitter experience in this regard.
I want to say again with full responsibility – it was a sacred duty for myself and for all of us to respond with all possible resistance when a foreign country’s army entered our land.

We did it and I do not regret it a bit.

I am proud and it was proved that not a single woman and child were killed as a result of our operation - so much for the talk of "genocide".

Our peaceful struggle rid our country of foreign occupation will continue until this struggle is finally over.

I want to ask those people who do not want to face reality – how would France have acted in this situation? how would Germany have acted?
As we know from history, the Spanish Armada invaded the British coast and the British were the first to fire at the Armada; so was it Britain that started the war or was it Spain? Is what is permissible for Europe not permissible for Georgia?

I think that everything that is done by civilized nations is exactly applicable to our country as well. So what if we are a small country? We are a small country but we have a history and a civilization, as well as a bravery that is greater than that of many other countries.

The fate of all freedom-loving nations... is being decided in Georgia today. We have no illusions that they [Russia] will leave us alone, but we will not go back on our progress in creating a free and democratic state.”
On a separate occasion today, the President also said:
“We do not need to be taught by anyone. We are grateful to Europe for telling the truth… But we acted as England, Germany or France would have acted.”

“[In history] those who did not fire a shot have vanished from the map… Finland fired a shot and preserved its independence” [a reference to the Soviet attack on Finland in 1939]. “Our historic experience tells us that when an enemy invades your territory you should resist it, as Finland did.”

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Saakashvili: IIFFMCG report a diplomatic victory for Georgia

From Civil Georgia:
"When in 1921 Russia attacked us and occupied us no international commission was set up then. When they imposed a civil war on us in 1992 and 1993 here no international commission was set up. When acts of sabotage were carried out in 2004, no international commission was set up. We achieved, first of all, setting up an international commission even on their conditions, as they composed the commission with the experts, which were acceptable for them, who had already blamed Georgia in advance. We closed eyes on it and agreed because we believed that they were Europeans and they would not lie.

They said even more truth than I could ever imagine. It is a great diplomatic victory for Georgia.

Some may say what is a conclusion – they say that Georgia did not observe everything and violated something. But it does not matter, because these are conclusions - this commission should have ascertained the facts, which would have been written in history.

Hundreds of thousands of our citizens were expelled from Abkhazia in 1992, and the European Union or more serious organizations have never said that it was ethnic cleansing. Now it is written [in the report] that there was ethnic cleansing.

We had no illusion that Europe - which is preparing for a cold winter and which needs Russian gas – would have said that ‘yes Russia carried out ethnic cleansing, it committed war crimes and Vladimir Putin is to be blamed for it’ – what would have happened in that case? Would they have arrested Putin when he had arrived in Brussels? I think that nobody had such illusion.”

Netanyahu: UN will become irrelevant

From the Jerusalem Post:

"If the [UN Human Rights] council decides to endorse the Goldstone report it will deal a fatal blow to three major issues: Firstly, it will harm the war on terror, because it will legitimize terrorists who hide behind civilians and fire from their midst." Netanyahu stressed that in such cases, the one who ultimately takes the blame is "generally the victim, acting in legitimate self defense."

"The second devastating blow will be to the UN's status and its prestige. It will take it back to its darkest days when absurd decisions were passed within its assembly and empty it of all meaning," Netanyahu added, referring to the 1970s, when the UN adopted a resolution comparing Zionism with racism. He warned that the UN will become irrelevant if it adopts the conclusions of the report.

The Prime Minister stated that the third and most pressing issue was the Goldstone Report's potentially "devastating effect on the peace process," and warned the world that "Israel will not be willing to take risks for peace if stripped of its right to self-defense."

Dissidents sign letter supporting Alexander Podrabinek

A group of well-known Russian dissidents, including Vladimir Bukovsky, Natalya Gorbanevskaya and Irina Belogorodskaya, has signed  a letter of support for Alexander Podrabinek, who is currently facing a campaign of intimidation and persecution by adherents of a government-backed nationalist youth movement because of an article he wrote for Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal (, in which he attacked official Russian military veterans’ groups for defending the “bloody, false and shameful” Soviet past, and insisted that “veterans of the struggle against Soviet power” were also heroes (Telegraph). Podrabinek's life is thought to be in danger.

See also: Moscow Has Crossed the Rubicon from an Authoritarian to 'an Openly Bandit Regime', Russian Commentator Says (Window on Eurasia).

U.S. on IIFFMCG report

Civil Georgia reports that the U.S. State Department has said it intends to review the IIFFMGC's 1000-page report on the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia:
"I think we recognize that all sides made mistakes and miscalculations through the conflict last year,” Philip J. Crowley, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, said on September 30. “But our focus is on the future and we hope that Georgia and Russia – we expect them both to abide by the agreements that they made under the ceasefire agreements in August and September of last year, and we expect them to live up to those commitments.”
“And in the meantime, we continue to express our strong support for Georgia’s territorial integrity,” he added.