Sunday, December 29, 2013

Yet Another "Black Widow"?

In connection with today's atrocity in Volgograd the Russian authorities have once again blamed a "black widow". This gendered narrative regularly appears in Russia's state-controlled media. As Amanda Alcott has pointed out
The monstrous narratives used to describe black widows have become a lynchpin in Kremlin propaganda... and show the world the Russian portrayal of the ongoing war and security services' operations in the North Caucasus. The narrative is particularly founded in the basic moral superiority of Russian masculinity over femininity, and reinforces the patriarchal power of the Russian government and society by using black widow propaganda as a way to in effect blame femininity for the actions of the black widows, removing any agency, legitimacy or pity associated with their actions and plight. 
Also, as I suggested on this blog in 2010:
- Almost without exception, Western media accepted at face value the official statements by Russia’s FSB and other agencies, including the terminology that was used in them. The existence of a “Black Widows” organization dedicated to obtaining revenge for the deaths of slain Islamist insurgents was also treated in some reports almost as an established fact, even though there is little independent evidence to support it.
- The alleged involvement of female suicide bombers – in particular, the “Black Widows” – was a feature of Russian media coverage and official statements (notably the FSB) following earlier terror attacks in Russia, particularly at Nord-Ost and Beslan. In the past, many commentators both in Russia and abroad drew attention to the fact that the “Black Widows” scenario, with its dramatic and even theatrical elements, does not look particularly convincing on close examination. For one thing, among North Caucasus Islamic insurgents shahid or “martyr” operations are usually carried out by men.

Update December 30: Today's trolleybus blast in Volgograd - the second in 24 hours - was apparently carried out by a male bomber. Some reports say both explosions were the work of male suicide bombers, but others still mention a female guerrilla in connection with the station blast.  

Saturday, December 28, 2013


This lively Al Jazeera @AJStream discussion on Putin's media shake-up makes strikingly clear the current divisions in Russian society and politics and their repercussions for people both inside Russia and outside it, in a unique and unsettling way: the energy and dedication of the AJStream presenters, the muddled and cynical doggedness of the Kremlin propagandist Milonov, the barbed incredulity of Bennetts, the sadly ironic detachment of Rothrock, the outrage and anger of Baronova - it all adds up to a kind of theatre, a symbolic acting out of irresoluble conflicts that may be with us for a long time to come, with unknowable consequences.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Letter to Khodorkovsky

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, I am writing to you from Finland. My name is Polina Zherebtsova. I am a political refugee from Russia. From contemporary Russia, which for many, many years has been ruled by Mr. Putin.

All my life I have kept a diary. And it so happened that I was born in the Caucasus, in the city of Grozny.

When I was nine years old my city was surrounded by a ring of Russian tanks - and houses were turned into ruins and ashes along with their inhabitants. Has your home been shelled by a tank, Mr Khodorkovsky? Mine was. The upper floors of the apartment building were on fire, and children were screaming in unbearable pain: shrapnel tore their bodies.

My grandfather, a veteran of the Second World War, was in the hospital on Pervomayskaya Street, but was killed in the shelling. He was recovering - my mother and I were going to take him home.

We could not bury him for a week. There was fighting.

I know you have been through a lot, have been imprisoned. But tell me - can you imagine how the patients scream when the guns are firing at their hospital or when a jet bomber, invisible and invulnerable to their curses, drops a one-and-a-half ton bomb on them?

We looked for where the snow was cleaner, gathered it up and strained it through cloth so we would drink it. It was not white snow, not at all like the snow I can see just now in Finland. It was dark gray and bitter, because there were burning buildings all around. An oil plant was on fire, and whole neighborhoods of homes were burning. Before they reached living human flesh, the bombs tore up stone and  concrete.

And the houses were full of people, and they had nowhere to run to.

We fell from hunger, lying about in the corners of apartments, half submerged in basements. And the rats huddled against the cold at our feet and squeaked.

The rats slept with me in the hallway on the icy wooden floor, and I didn't chase them away, realizing that even they were suffering from "Russian democracy" Our cats died, unable to withstand the diet of pickled tomatoes we fed them once every few days.

To get at least some food, you had to walk about in other people's basements, where the conquerors had left thin silver threads, and if you stepped on one of those threads you would go straight to heaven.

And do you want to hear how I stood near the concrete slabs under which for three days in the centre of Grozny, choking in the wreckage and cement dust, Russian old folk died?

No one was able to raise the slabs and remove the debris! People wept and prayed, but could not do anything. Those who died under the ruins of their houses did not get a grave in "the land we won." This hell was repeated many times in ten years: as long as the war lasted in the Caucasus, in the Chechen Republic.

In August 1996 rockets from a Russian military post flew into the staircase of our apartment building: our neighbours were blown to pieces. I was eleven years old at the time.

I came out into the front entrance of our building and my feet  sank ankle-deep in blood. Blood dripped from the walls and ceiling, and I could hear the surviving neighbours screaming in terrible agony. Since then, Mr Khodorkovsky, I do not believe Russia's rulers. I do not think that this is the price of conquering the land and preserving its integrity. This was done by "weaklings" - because a strong man will not assert himself at the expense of the lives of women and children.

Essentially they are traitors of their own people.

In 1999, when the "humanitarian corridors" of refugees were shelled, burning people alive in buses, we could not get out of the city. And on October 21 1999  Grozny market was hit by a rocket.  In the afternoon, when thousands of people were crowded there.

It was later announced that this was a "market of terrorists" with whom the the invaders were fighting.

"Terrorists" was the name they gave to the children, the old folk and women who traded vegetables, sweets, bread, cigarettes, newspapers, etc.  And the market was called the "arms market," but I never saw weapons there, although sometimes I would spend a whole day going round all the stalls with a box of stuff.

During the holidays or after school I could not rest - I had to work in order to survive.

I traded in that market place. There were no pensions, no salaries. People did their best to survive. For a year my mother received no salary. It was stolen. And we traded in order to survive and buy bread.

They did not have to start "conquering us", turning our lives into one continuous strip of hell. Our lives were already hard enough without bombs and "Grad" installations. When the rocket hit Grozny market I was three blocks away from the place where it landed. I saw fire from the ground to the sky, and then I heard a deafening explosion.

In my legs there were sixteen fragments of shrapnel.

And what happened to the people who were closer to the rocket? Severed arms, legs, heads, bodies turned to dust.

The children found their mother by her hairpins or the buttons on her jacket...

Did anyone get an apology? Or compensation for this hell? Did anyone?

I got nothing except threats and being told to "shut your mouth", as I was a true witness to these bloody events. Here is the face of the modern Russian government.

Killing, slandering and grabbing. And this is called "conquest"?

In 2000, On January 19, the surviving neighbours and my mother and I were threatened with execution by firing squad.

We were on the edge of a cliff and the soldiers fired over our heads.

Our old granny neighbour fell to her knees, crying:

"What are you doing? We're your people! We're  Russians! Don't shoot!"

The Caucasus is a peculiar region. In it, cultures and ethnicities, ways of life and cuisines, have been interwoven.

Of the forty-eight apartments in our building ten were Chechen and the rest - Russian, Armenian, Gypsy, Azeri, Ingush, Jewish, Polish...

We lived together amicably until the war began. The war swept everything away: life, friendship, love. It destroyed everything.

Surviving in inhuman conditions, people from the Chechen Republic n the other regions of Russia faced and still face the most vile discrimination, persecution and threats.

The authorities have no time for their stories of mass executions and extrajudicial kilings. All, regardless of ethnicity, are classed as "Chechens."

I have come up against this, too.

For about a year I was refused a passport. But you got one in a single day, and were even kindly driven to the gangway of a private jet. Double standards - those are precisely what distinguish despotism from democracy...

I was very sympathetic to you when you were in prison. I considered the sentences you were given unjust, political. Even now I think that you may have been subjected to pressure. But you in your interview you said: "Putin is no weakling. I am ready to fight in order to keep the North Caucasus as part of our country. This is our land, we conquered and won it!"  Consider: now you will have to share responsibility for those war crimes, which in  the Caucasus are not the costs of "conquest", but its essence.

Read my diary.

Read how we were conquered.

How we buried our murdered neighbours under fire, having first covered the graves with branches so that the hungry dogs would not tear the bodies apart.

How thousands of women and children were murdered in the Chechen Republic.

Do you still want integration with such a Russia?

I do not.

And I do not need her citizenship. I am embarrassed by it, like the shameful brand-mark on a slave.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Traditional Methods

In an article for The Dissident Blog, Tanya Lokshina writes about the ongoing crackdown on civil society that is taking place in Russia, affecting vulnerable minorites including migrants and the gay community. While Lokshina describes the current anti-liberal campaign by the authorities as "unprecedented", there are signs that it may simply be a reversion to type. In the name of a bogus appeal to political and social conservatism the Kremlin is exercising an old and atavistic mode of repression that it understands only too well:
those who dare speak out—be it about their sexual identity or their discontent with governmental policies—are threatened with punishment and blackened in the eyes of society. This is what lies behind the superficially respectable veil of ‘traditional values’ that the Kremlin is throwing over Russia today.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Two Gentlemen of Russia

On his blog Alexander Goldfarb writes that while he is glad to see an innocent man released from prison, there can be no doubt that Mikhail Khodorkovsky's plea for clemency was written under pressure: 
It says more about Putin than about MBK: not only has Putin kept a man in prison for ten years for nothing, he, the brute, has also forced a confession out of him. 
We should not forget that in the relationship between these these two characters there is much that is personal. In their Shakespearean drama the outcome of the plot still lies ahead. In this situation a plea for clemency in no way amounts to a capitulation. 
When one man sits on the throne, and the other in a dungeon, everything is clear - one is a tyrant, and the other a martyr. When a prisoner dies in a torture chamber or emerges into freedom with head unbowed, not repenting, everything is also clear: the tyrant has lost his authority and is powerless against the power of the spirit. Both of them understand that.
But a confession extracted by force tells us nothing. The final result depends on how MBK conducts himself in future. If, like Galileo who exclaimed:"And yet it moves!", he in some form disavows his confession, does not express thanks to Putin and says something, for example, in defence of the Bolotnaya prisoners or the thousands of businessmen who have been jailed by the lawlessness of the Cheka, then his persecutor will be shamed even further. 
But if he puts his lips to the hand of the man "who granted him freedom", gives us to understand, like Orwell's hero, that the "re-education " has worked and that now "he loves Big Brother ", then Putin will have something on which to congratulate himself. Then he will really have won.
Update: in a new post written after Khodorkovsky's Berlin press conference on December 22, Goldfarb adds:
The key passage in MBK's statement: "I don't want to take a completely open position on many issues. I have won the right not to say what I do not think. That is worth a great deal."
He will not sing Putin's praises. But he has not won the right to say what he thinks of him. Well, one cannot judge him for that, in his position he was entitled to make compromises. But the expectations that he would be a Sakharov or a Mandela have not been realized. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kerry Statement on Ukraine

Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release December 10, 2013

Statement by Secretary Kerry

Statement on Events in Ukraine

The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy.

Last week in Brussels and Moldova, I underscored publicly the importance of all sides avoiding violence and called on President Yanukovych to fulfill the aspirations of the Ukranian people. We put the government on notice about our concern.

As Vice President Biden made clear to President Yanukovych during their phone call yesterday, respect for democractic principles, including freedom of assembly, is fundamental to the United States’ approach to Ukraine. This is a universal value not just an American one. For weeks, we have called on President Yanukovych and his government to listen to the voices of his people who want peace, justice and a European future. Instead, Ukraine’s leaders appear tonight to have made a very different choice.

We call for utmost restraint. Human life must be protected. Ukrainian authorities bear full responsibility for the security of the Ukrainian people.

As church bells ring tonight amidst the smoke in the streets of Kyiv, the United States stands with the people of Ukraine. They deserve better.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Softly, Softly on Ukraine

For some time now, observers and political analysts watching the developing crisis in Ukraine have been wondering why the United States government has taken such a passive and secondary role in supporting the Ukrainian opposition, and why it has so far failed to put much pressure on President Yanukovych. On Monday, commenting on a Evropeiska Pravda report, Ukraine expert Taras Kuzio tweeted:

Why is current US administration so pathetically weak? US State Dept. asks Russia to go easy on Ukraine.

In an article for Up Front, Brooking Institution Senior Fellow Steven Pifer sees the situation like this:
[The U.S.] Congress, a traditionally pro-Ukrainian institution that used to mandate huge sums of assistance funds for Ukraine, now shows considerably less enthusiasm for the country. Notably, some on Capitol Hill have even begun talking about applying sanctions, which would have been unheard of in Congress just a couple of years ago.
The upshot is that the United States devotes less time and attention to Ukraine than was the case in the past. As a result, the European Union—the institution and individual EU member-states, such as Poland, Lithuania and Sweden—have taken the Western lead during the past several years.
Not having the United States on the frontline is, on balance, not a bad thing. As noted, the foreign policy agenda in Washington is jammed. Moreover, were the United States leading the Western charge, Moscow would regard it is a particularly dangerous geopolitical challenge. That would introduce to the complicated politics that are now playing out in Kyiv a U.S.-Russia competitive dynamic that would hardly be helpful to—and might well complicate—efforts to find a peaceful political solution to the current crisis
This can, however, be seen as a hollow excuse, an attempt to offload the burden of support for Ukraine from the U.S. onto Europe. As one U.S. commenter writes:
I hope our administration does not follow your advice but rather rises to the occasion of meaningfully supporting 46 million people and a nation being robbed of their national wealth. Over a 100,000 people in the US sent in petitions to have the administration take action against the thugs running Ukraine. There are 300,000 people in the streets in just Kiev - the position advocated above has to be a joke.

Monday, December 09, 2013

RIA Novosti Liquidated

With the liquidation of the RIA Novosti news agency and the formation of a Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) agency headed by a virulently pro-Kremlin, anti-Western propagandist, Russia is signalling that its days of "soft" information and news distribution are over. The pretense, and to all appearances it was only ever a pretense - of objectivity and neutrality is finally being removed. As Leonid Ragozin tweeted: ": imagine a fusion of Fox TV & Berlusconi's entertainment channels run by Goebbels. You get the picture."

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Moscow's Information War on Ukraine

It looks as though the campaign of disinformation about the current situation in Ukraine is intensifying. As Natalka Zubar, chair of the Maidan Monitoring Information Centre pointed out two days ago,
During the last two years a great number of fake accounts in social networks were created in facebook, twitter and VKontakte, which were mostly sleeping before the beginning of November. Now these accounts are actively creating  white noise, jamming the communication channels and distributing misinformation.
The disinformation is distributed via the social networks and websites created solely for this purpose solely. Unfortunately, lots of misinformation is broadcast by other, even professional media. Most notable samples of misinformation were – the news about the restriction of cash flow by the National Bank of Ukraine and the news that the big number of European VIPs will not attend the OSCE summit in Kyiv.
Government sites are being under DDoS attacks. The access to legislative database of the Ukrainian Parliament and the current crime reports of Ministry of Interior are inaccessible periodically.
The situation in Kyiv is nearing a military state by the level of tensions. The activists on streets and all the citizens who watch the unaccountable and unprofessional media are kept in a state of permanent arousal expecting provocations, they are trying to check the rumors, which mostly appear to be misinformation.
The latest bout of activity in the information war appears to centre on the rumour, reported by British journalist Edward Lucas on Twitter, that Ukraine President Yanukovych has signed a strategic agreement with Putin that would mean Ukraine joining the Moscow-led Customs Union - news obviously designed to stir maximum trouble, and surely a provocation. The Kremlin is now denying that any such secret agreement exists, but Lucas says
To repeat: Yanuk did deal w Putin at Sochi. It included promise to join customs union later (by 2015). But what's a Yanuk promise worth?
In an article headed Panic à la Lucas – Use Your Brain, Liudmila Yamschikova, Content Manager at Maidan Monitoring Information Centre, expresses some skepticism about Lucas's tweets and appeals for a rational approach to the situation, and says:
These tweets are not very typical of a journalist of such a level. The thesis of the "concern of Western governments" alone is worth a smile. After all, governments do not report their concerns to the editor of a news magazine through unnamed sources. Whatever the real reason for these tweets... the reports do not look like a reliable source. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Soviet Trace

Writing in, Andrei Piontkovsky assesses the probability of a "Soviet trace" in the assassination of President Kennedy:
Официальная версия комиссии Уоррена – убийца, действовавший в одиночку, – не убеждает ни экспертов, ни, судя по опросам, большинство американцев. Слишком много фактов, начиная с убийства самого Освальда, косвенно указывают, что, скорее всего, он действовал не в одиночку, а был элементом разветвленного заговора. Между тем, полвека попыток независимого расследования убийства Кеннеди десятками конспирологов, ориентированных на версии правоконсервативного заговора, не привели к убедительным результатам. Версия советского следа с первых же дней после трагедии сознательно на уровне идеологического табу отвергалась в США как властью, не заинтересованной в новом острейшем кризисе в отношениях с Советским Союзом, так и леволиберальными media, жаждавшими дискредитировать своих традиционных оппонентов. Тем более что людей, ненавидевших Кеннеди, действительно было много и среди южных расистов, и среди ультраправых консерваторов.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Kyiv, December 1: Questions

In the New Times, Konstantin Shiyan examines some of the uncertainties that divide the opposition in Ukraine: 
В настоящее время оппозиция призывает манифестантов сохранять спокойствие, не поддаваться на провокации и начать монтировать палаточный городок. Ее требования со вчерашнего дня не изменились: отправить в отставку правительство, подвергнуть президента процедуре импичмента, а перед этим - распустить Верховную Раду и объявить начало внеочередных парламентских выборов.
В общем и целом, складыывается впечатление, что у 700-тысячной толпы, которая собралась в центре Киева, сейчас нет единого, готового взять на себя ответственность, лидера. Лидеры трех оппозиционных партий - Арсений Яценюк, Виталий Кличко и Олег Тягнибок - обещают объявить план действий на ближайшие сутки несколько позже.
Митингующие сейчас условно разделились на два лагеря: одни призывают к силовому захвату власти, а другие подчеркивают: это даст властям только законное право на разгон митинга, не более того.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Brodsky Anniversary

It's exactly 50 years since the poet Joseph Brodsky was attacked in the pages of Vechernii Leningrad as "A Pseudo-literary Parasite", in an article that led to his trial, imprisonment and exile.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dead End

Having read the Kindle edition of Peter Savodnik's The Interloper I'm left with a sense of  incompleteness - the book aims to show that Oswald was a far less mysterious personality than most accounts make him out to be, yet in doing so it raises many more questions than it answers.

In particular, the author's analysis of Oswald's inner life seems to lead merely to a confirmation of just how blank and uninteresting that life was. While the study of Oswald's time in the Soviet Union is well researched, it reveals a dead end: although it's clear that while in Belorussia Oswald did come into contact with many representatives of the KGB, and was deeply involved with them, there appears to be no link between this fact and anything that might have led him to assassinate the U.S. President. Indeed, as Inessa Yakhliel, who knew Oswald, has recently pointed out, he "spoke about Kennedy very sympathetically. He said he was the only sensible president. Those were his words."

Savodnik makes much of the ease with which conspiracy theorists have set out to present their own versions of what really happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and advances his own "simple" explanation - Oswald was angry about issues in his confused personal life and took it out on the president - as most likely to be near the truth. Yet this eagerness to promote the "lone gunman" theory also has its questionable aspect: for in the same way as the conspiracy theories can be used to promote particular political agendas, so can the supposed absence of a conspiracy.

The Kindle edition of the book contains a number of typographical  glitches, most of which are unconnected with Oswald's own idiosyncratic English spelling (in letter and diary passages quoted frequently in the text). In particular, Russian street names and words are sometimes presented wrongly, as in the often-repeated "Kalinina Ulitsa" for "Ulitsa Kalinina", and there are some odd transliterations that lead, for example, to the Cyrillic letter "у" being rendered as uy. I haven't seen the book's print edition, but hopefully these typos have been ironed out there.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Kremlin Dilemma

On October 24, Russia's Kremlin-friendly politician LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky went on television, where he shouted and ranted about the North Caucasus, apparently calling for barbed wire to be placed around the region, for the fertility of ethnic North Caucasians to be suppressed, and for an increase in the military presence and level of surveillance in the area. His comments received wide support from viewers, by a ratio of three-and-a-half to one over those of his opponents on the show.

Zhirinovsky's high-profile intervention came in the context of the suicide bombing in Volgograd,  the riots in Biryulyovo, and the recent ethnic pogroms in several of Russia's cities.

Writing in North Caucasus Weekly, Jamestown analyst Valery Dzutsev commented that
the controversy surrounding Zhirinovsky’s latest comments may not end up being as beneficial to the political players as initially assumed—emotions within society are running high, and the politicians might be forced to actually take some decisive steps beyond simply making a show of their indignation. The Kremlin does not seem to have a good way out. If Moscow reprimands Zhirinovsky, thereby supporting the North Caucasians, it will face a backlash from ethnic Russians. If Moscow does not react to Zhirinovsky’s tirade, it will disappoint the North Caucasians and undermine the positions of the governors in the region. Since the Russian government cannot afford to offend ethnic Russians, the North Caucasians are likely to bear the brunt of ethnic-Russian resentment. This is likely to result in ever greater levels of distrust between non-ethnic-Russian North Caucasians and ethnic Russians, while the governments in the republics of the North Caucasus will have to adopt much more nationalistic stances in order to retain some credibility among their constituents.
Later, on November 12, Caucasian Knot reported Zhirinovsky as saying that his comments had been misunderstood:
"I regret that part of our society  got a negative impression. I spoke only about combating terrorism," Vladimir Zhirinovsky said at a plenary session of the State Duma.
The LDPR leader also stressed that he meant "to take measures if terror acts were committed", "Interfax" reports.
As far as the statements about birth control were concerned, then, according to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, he was talking about international practice, and did not make them with regard to the Russian  Federation.
The LDPR leader expressed his regret about the situation.

Foreign policy of the People's Alliance

From the program of the unregistered People's Alliance Party ("Народный Альянс") , which holds its Congress in Moscow today: 
Russia will pursue an independent foreign policy based on mutual cooperation, not confrontation. Our country will benefit from its unique territorial position, neighbouring the majority of the major players in world politics and economics: Europe, China , Japan and the United States.
We are confident that the strategic interests of Russia in the world today are very similar to those of developed Western countries, in particular with regard to reducing tension in the world, the fight against international terrorism, and the ensuring of freedom of trade. It is with them that Russia will develop equal partnerships and alliances. At the same time Russia refuses to support regimes that are built on lies, violence and suppression of democracy in their countries.

For historical reasons the post-Soviet countries have closer cultural and linguistic ties. This must and will be used for the development of Russian-Eurasian commercial and economic integration in market relations, in so far as it will contribute to the mutual benefit of our countries. Russia will support the countries of the former Soviet Union and the movement for democracy and civil liberties, while avoiding crude political or military interference in the affairs of neighbouring countries.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nazi Russia

It is sad to admit that in the 21st century there are no mechanisms in the country or the international community to stop the country's rapid slide into the abyss of violence. In the recent past, it seemed that the country was heading "back to the U.S.S.R.," but now the situation is more reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s, when gangs of storm troopers ruled the streets, beating up and killing Jews and others with impunity.
Read more: 
The Moscow Times 

Friday, November 08, 2013

NATO plans bigger exercises

Reuters reports that
NATO plans to sharply increase the size of its exercises in Europe in coming years to ensure allies keep working smoothly together despite winding down combat operations in Afghanistan, senior NATO commanders said on Thursday.
More than 40,000 soldiers may take part in war games planned for Spain and Portugal in 2015, according to U.S. Army Lieutenant-General Frederick Hodges, NATO's land forces commander.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


One aspect of the upcoming "Steadfast Jazz" NATO military exercise, to be held  from 2-9 November, that may give pause for thought is that in it parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway are deemed to be enemy territory, an article in Finland's Hufvudstadsbladet explains. 

According to Svenska Dagbladet
Sweden and Finland have been cut into fictional states that previously belonged to a fictional empire, Skolkan. These former Skolkan countries are independent and economically developed but are also marked by corruption, paranoia and a desire to expand.
Three of the six countries (Torrike in central Sweden, Bothnia in western Finland and the new island Lindsey in the Norwegian Sea) are hostile and threaten NATO.
The fourth country, Framland in eastern Norrland, is NATO-friendly, while the fifth, Arnland in southernmost Sweden is a failed state. The sixth country, Otso, in eastern Finland is a neutral buffer state against Russia.
The NATO countries are the same as in reality, except that northern Norway has been added to with a part of Sweden - western Lapland.
Russia and Belarus to the east are not involved in the game but are classified as neutral.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


In a response to Zapad 2013, the Russian/Belarusian Baltic Sea military exercises in which land, sea and air forces took part in a simulated confrontation with NATO  forces, in November NATO will hold its Steadfast Jazz exercise, which is based on the so-called SKOLKAN scenario. This will likewise focus on the Baltic Sea region, and will feature the defence of a NATO member. An article on the NATO website gives some information:
The change in how NATO trains is one of the most significant organisational modifications for the Alliance in the last 25 years. In addition to revisiting the challenges associated with conducting operations in and from the sovereign territory of NATO Nations and how imperative it is to partner with host-nation governments and military forces, SKOLKAN also allows for the integration of emerging challenges such as cyber defence, ballistic missile defence and energy security into a complex training environment.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Arctic 30: Moscow takes command

Reading Wednesday's intervention by Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin in the case of the  30 environmental activists now facing altered, though still disproportionate, charges of "hooliganism" as a sign that Moscow is now fully in command, an op ed article in Helsingin Sanomat concludes that "the whole incident has now become highly political, and before long a political solution to it will be sought."

Monday, October 14, 2013

OMON and Pogrom

In The Interpreter, Catherine Fitzpatrick describes and analyzes the Biryulyovo riots: 
Thousands of people can be seen in the videos pouring through the streets, chanting “Russia for Russians, Moscow for Muscovites” and “Close the Warehouse!” – which they see as a “hotbed of crime”.
Eventually, overnight the OMON restored order, as Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe reported, arriving with numerous buses and detaining hundreds of mainly young men in the crowd, many of whom resisted strenuously and continued to chant nationalist slogans as women jeered at police and told them to arrest the murderer instead. As of this writing, Moscow police released most of the 380 detained after “prophylactic discussions” and had opened at least 70 cases on administrative charges of “hooliganism” or vandalism, reported.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Political abuse of psychiatry returns to Russia

Mikhail Kosenko, who has already spent a year in a remand prison awaiting trial and is accused of using violence against an OMON policeman during the May 2012 Bolotnaya Square demonstration - even though the policeman in question does not remember the incident and denies that Kosenko hurt him - has been sentenced by a Moscow court to indefinite forced psychiatric treatment.

More details here, from Joshua Yaffa in the New Yorker.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Chechnya or Bust

In his blog, Berlin-based U.S.-Swiss-Korean journalist Lucian Kim presents a remarkable series of reports on contemporary life and conditions in the North Caucasus - in particular notes and photographs from a journey to Chechnya. He writes:
Before the Boston Marathon bombing, few people had heard of Dagestan. Two years earlier, in April 2011, I traveled to the Russian province and its neighbors Chechnya and Ingushetia. I wanted to see for myself a region that most Russians associate with bandits and Islamic terrorists. And I was dead-set on tracking down Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed warlord who holds Chechnya in an iron grip.

The whole of the blog is well worth reading and studying.

Hat tip: Nina Ivanovna - @ninaivanovna -  on Twitter

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Penal Colony No. 14

Radio Svoboda has published an interview (Russian) with Tatyana Osipova, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group who as a political prisoner in the 1980s and served her sentence in the penal colonies of Mordovia along with human rights activists like Irina Ratushinskaya and Tatyana Velikanova. Osipova makes particular mention of Penal Colony No. 14, where Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has been sent, saying that it in her time it had the most difficult conditions of all the labour camps in the area, and apparently still does 30 years later - indeed, the conditions may be even worse now.

- По-вашему,  тема политзаключенных и в ХХI веке еще не закрыта?
- Мне казалось раньше, что эта тема закрыта, а оказывается, в стране мало что изменилось. Может быть, и был период улучшения, но сейчас, похоже, все вернулось на круги своя.

- In your opinion, is the topic of political prisoners not yet closed in the 21st century?
- I used to think that this topic was closed, but it turns out that not much has changed in the country. Perhaps there was a period of improvement, but now it seems that everything has gone back to how it was before.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Putin, Westgate, Propaganda

There are signs that the propaganda war over use of chemical weapons in Syria may not be confined to Syria alone.

Vladimir Putin, speaking at the CSTO meeting in Sochi, Monday September 23:
"The militant groups (in Syria) did not come out of nowhere, and they will not vanish into thin air," Putin said.
"The problem of terrorism spilling from one country to another is absolutely real and could directly affect the interests of any one of our countries," he said, citing the deadly attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi as an example.
"We are now witnessing a terrible tragedy unfold in Kenya. The militants came from another country, as far as we can judge, and are committing horrendous, bloody crimes," Putin said at a CSTO summit in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Al-Shabab, on its Twitter account, Wednesday September 25:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Zapad-2013 continues


Military training "Zapad-2013" continues

The large landing ships of the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea forces involved in the strategic exercises "Zapad-2013" set the course for Kaliningrad where they will disembark the Belarusian landing troops. The troops will participate in the maneuvers in anti-aircraft and anti-diversionary defense of the ship formation. According to the plan of the military training, the Belarusian military men will also participate in the final stage of "Zapad-2013" on the polygons of the Baltic fleet.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Putin Interview

The full Russian text of the Pervyi Kanal and AP interview (Kleimyonov and Daniszewski) is here.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Beslan Anniversary

The North Ossetian town of Beslan is beginning three days of mourning to mark the ninth anniversary of a school hostage taking that left 334 people -- including 186 children -- dead. 
Most of the hostages that died were killed when Russian security forces stormed the school and ended the siege, which began on the first day of the new school year.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ilves on Cybersecurity

While the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are in Washington, DC to meet with President Obama to discuss economic cooperation and theTransatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Estonian President Hendrik Ilves sat down with Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson for an exclusive interview on Estonia's role in cyber security and its importance in the global context.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taisia Osipova being "slowly killed"

RFE/RL has an article on Russian rights activist Taisia Osipova's third birthday in prison: 
Osipova, who has a 7-year-old daughter, was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison for the possession and attempted sale of heroin.
The ruling sparked an outcry and was denounced by critics as a setup aimed at putting pressure on her husband's political activities.
She got a retrial in 2012 after then-President Dmitry Medvedev criticized the verdict as "too severe."
But her sentence was trimmed by just two years, although prosecutors had recommended that she serve a total of four years.
Osipova has complained of being subjected to humiliation by officials at her prison near Tver, including being held in a crowded cell and routinely barred from meeting with her lawyer.
According to Fomchenkov, she is also being denied proper medical treatment for diabetes. She is also reported to be suffering from pancreatitis.
Her health, he says, is rapidly deteriorating.
"She is not receiving suitable treatment. As a person with diabetes, she should have appropriate living conditions and diet," Fomchenkov says. "This is impossible in prison. There is no endocrinologist there. In three years of detention she has seen an endocrinologist only twice, although she should be under constant monitoring by a specialist. This is not happening. They are slowly killing her."

See also in this blog: Taisia Osipova sentenced to 8 years 

The Technorevolutionaries - 3

At Wired State, Catherine Fitzpatrick examines the career of Nadim Kobeissi, the techno-prodigy who devised the encryption program CryptoCat, and is now an advisor to the New America Foundation think tank. She draws some interesting conclusions about the activities of WikiLeaks and other online self-styled "Internet freedom" organizations:
If you have a social movement that depends solely on encryption to succeed, then you don't have a social movement, you have a conspiracy and a clandestine partisan movement. It can't succeed when it is so dependent on encryption. It is antithetical to the open society you are ostensibly trying to build.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The New "Hooligans"

At, Lev Rubinstein considers the current wave of arrests, detentions and court hearings in Russia, all targeted at those who dissent from the Putin government's harsh and repressive social policies. Whereas in Soviet times the principal accusation leveled at dissidents was that of being "spies", the most common charge now is "hooliganism". But unfortunately for the authorities the new "hooligans" don't look, speak or behave like hooligans, especially when compared with their judicial tormentors:
Well, just go and attend one or two of these hearings. Just take a look at the faces of the accused and compare them with those of the judges, prosecutors, and  "victims of crime" who have suffered primarily from Mother Nature and from a lack of love in childhood.
What in the Soviet era was explained as a "class" difference, Rubinstein interprets in modern terms as an anthropological one:
Isn't it because most of these new "hooligans" conduct themselves so honourably and bravely in the shameful courts and in the prisons, and because they are perfectly aware of their own value and of the value of those institutions.They are simply unable to talk to the goblins and gnomes in their language, that language called "cooperation with the investigation". It's an anthropological incompatibility.
No, what governs here is not only the "social imperative". What rules here, as in a Greek tragedy, is not only fate, which has taken up residence in our great city behind red brick walls.
"Here, dear sir, is anthropology," as some character from Dostoyevsky might say in this or another connection.   

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Soviet Russia


MOSCOW -- Police in Moscow have detained 10 activists attempting to mark the anniversary of a 1968 Red Square protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Security Trap

Craig Pirrong recently wrote in a post to his Streetwise Professor blog that he wondered why British journalist Edward Lucas, otherwise known for his criticism of Putin and warnings about post-Soviet Russia, was so pro-Snowden. Lucas, Pirrong said, 
has taken a very benign - to say the least - line on Snowden, Poitras, Greenwald, etc. Indeed, the publication has been broadly sympathetic with the Snowden-as-whistleblower meme, and quite uncurious about Poitras and Greenwald.  Lucas has expressed similar views on his Twitter timeline.  Yes, often in RTs and MTs which he will no doubt claim do not represent an endorsement, but given the obvious tilt in what he RTs, and the correlation with the Economist’s editorial line, it’s clear where his sentiments lie.
Understandably, Lucas wrote back in correction: not only was he not "pro-Snowden" - he had even written an article criticizing Snowden in European Voice.

I wrote in a comment:
I’ve followed Edward Lucas’s writings for many years, and particularly admire the forthright stance he has taken on support for the aims and aspirations of the Baltic States in the aftermath of the fall of Communism. In the present instance, regarding Snowden and the NSA leaks, I suspect that his allegiances may be torn, and that in the activities of the NSA he fears a lapse into practices more typical of the KGB than of Western power institutions. After all, the possibility that some collusion between Western and Russian security agencies may have taken place during the curiously-named “war on terror” is not to be excluded, particularly when the former senior director for Russia on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007 can make such enigmatic statements as the following:
"Russia is not the Soviet Union; it offers no compelling ideological alternative, nor is it about to invent one.”


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ukraine Approaches Europe

A number of recently-published articles focus on Ukraine's forthcoming signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union at the November 28–29 EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. RFE/RL's Dmytro Shurkhalo writes about the fears of a possible trade war between Ukraine and Russia, while Yevhen Solonyna examines a document that purports to be a plan drafted by Moscow and its allies in Ukraine "that outlines a multipronged effort to extend Russia's influence in the country." Attention is concentrated particularly on the Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his Ukraine's Choice civic movement, whom some analysts have suggested are responsible for the 10-page document. 

In Eurasia Daily Monitor, Maksim Bugriy asks How Powerful Is the Pro-Russian Lobby in Ukraine?, concluding:
While to date, the pro-Russian lobbyists' activity in Ukraine seems generally ineffective to alter the country’s course, their influence cannot be underestimated. At a minimum, such activity increases the costs for the Ukrainian government to pursue a pro-Western policy. And in the medium term, Russia may increasingly rely on Ukrainian Eurosceptic power players, who will inevitably gain political weight as Ukraine works to accommodate Europe and the West.
Meanwhile, the imprisoned Yulia Tymoshenko has sent a greeting to the Ukrainian World Congress being held on August 20-22, in which she says that  the matter of signing an association agreement with the European Union is a matter of the existence of Ukraine, because the accession to the EU will guarantee the country’s independence. From the text of the greeting:
It so happened that forces came to power in Ukraine that don’t recognize the Holodomor as genocide - the Party of Regions and its satellites - the Communists. Instead of honoring the innocent victims of Stalin's cold-blooded regime, they are trying to rebuild a new regime in Ukraine, destroying freedom, democracy, denigrating our language, history and national pride. 
In the name of the dead, the living and unborn, we must finally break out of this darkness, where famine killed children, where injustice, lies and humiliation reigned. We must escape to the world that has overcome tyranny and authoritarianism, to our historical home - the European community. 
Right now there is no greater priority than the signing of an agreement between Ukraine and the European Union on political association and a comprehensive free trade area. For me this isn’t a matter of my liberty or imprisonment, it’s a matter of the existence of our country, because joining the European Union will guarantee our independence and protect Ukraine from returning to a new empire. 
We must consolidate our historical European choice with a victory of the democratic forces in the 2015 presidential elections and move to full EU membership for Ukraine. We have learned all the painful lessons we should have from 2005-2010. Three parliamentary opposition forces have already concluded an agreement on full coordination of activities during the next presidential elections in 2015. Not a day or hour goes by when I don’t think about the design for the future of our country, about every detail of the plan of changes in Ukraine after the victory of the democratic opposition in the presidential election. 

The Technorevolutionaries - 2

But you know, why is the New York Times breaking the story that Miranda was transporting stolen intelligence data, stolen by Snowden? Why wouldn’t our fearless truth-seekers at the Guardian let Britain know what David Miranda was really doing?
If the Guardian is employing at least one reporter driven by revenge to damage this country, hasn’t the time come for the paper to review this connection with Edward Snowden? Hasn’t this whole thing got out of hand?
As the hours tick away, this whole computer caper is appearing more and more like that time when Morton Downey Jr., with his ratings in decline, staged an assault in which he shaved his own head and drew several badly rendered swastikas on his body with a Sharpie. It’s getting to be just that silly. And it would be equally entertaining to observe if it wasn’t orbiting such a deadly serious topic.
I had noted before that Snowden's entire digital footprint seems to drop off in 2009. You just don't see him post or do things from then until he posts his PGP key and starts his life as a defector. But in fact there are a few posts on Ars Technica -- like once or twice a year in 2010, 2011, 2012.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Manning Apology

Via BuzzFeed:  “I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that it hurt the United States.”

Friday, August 09, 2013

Julian Assange and 1917

In Western Europe and North America the name of WikiLeaks is often invoked by advocates of Internet freedom and liberty of expression. An hour or so spent with the 2011 Russian-language publication WikiLeaks. Разоблачения, изменившие мир [Wikileaks. Revelations that Changed the World] (available from B&N here) has been enough to convince me that the information-leaking system devised by the "Internet warrior" Julian Assange is viewed rather differently at the far eastern end of the Baltic Sea.

The book, by the journalist Nadezhda Gorbatyuk, presents an overview of Russian-language material in the WikiLeaks archives, focusing mainly on those parts of the material that concord with the official Russian state view of events in the Baltics, Georgia, and the Middle East during the first decade of the 21st century, and makes no bones about the true nature and purpose of Assange's project. Right from the start, the services of Yulia Latynina are enlisted to make one thing clear. Assange has not been publishing secret U.S. documents in the name of freedom of information:
Assange's purpose is exactly the opposite, and it is formulated in two of his programme articles of 2006 which not been translated into Russian, and so they are given here in the original language - "State and Terrorist Conspiracies" and "Conspiracy as Governance". 
"They are rather amusing essays, which follow a remarkable schizoid-cybernetic logic," writes Latynina. "('Conspiracies are cognitive devices.'; 'What does a conspiracy compute? It computes the next action of the conspiracy.') If the mathematician Perelman had taken an interest in the problems of society, perhaps he would have written something similar."
Following Latynina, Gorbatyuk first explains that for Assange 1) America is an "authoritarian state";  2)  all authoritarian states are ruled by a conspiracy; 3)  a conspiracy exists when the conspirators have dedicated links to each other and therefore have privileged access to information that is not available to those who are not members of the conspiracy. This structure can be weakened by strategically removing the secrecy from the conspiracy. To quote Assange himself:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
Latynina emphasizes the importance of this point. Assange's aim is  not to increase the amount of information available to the public, but to limit the amount of information on the basis of which the U.S. government takes decisions. This, she says, is a revolution in the classical Marxist sense of the word:
Once upon a time these guys were throwing bombs at presidents, "physically destroying the conspirators". In 1968 they were throwing Molotov cocktails at the Paris police, and in the early 21st century they were making revolution, trying to force the system to take wrong decisions by restricting the amount of information available to it.
According to Marxist theory, a revolution takes place when the the relations of production change in the wake of the productive forces.
Now the productive forces have changed - the Internet is here, and Assange has changed the relations of production. He has made use of the Internet, in the same way as in 1917 the proletariat made use of cobblestones.  

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Reading about WikiLeaks

Looking again at Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy (David Leigh and Luke Harding, Guardian Books, 2011) in the context of the Snowden affair, which it predates, it's possible to see some places in the book where more information might have been useful. While the sections on the Afghanistan and Iraq cables are fully worked out, with many fascinating details, the passages that deal with Russia and Eastern Europe are sketchy, to say the least.

Although the flow of descriptive and biographical material is generally strong and animated, at one curious point in the narrative there is what feels like a sudden hiatus, a tug of uncertainty. We read first about "Adam", to whom Assange handed over batches of cables:
"He seemed like a harmless old man," said one staffer, "apart from his standing too close and peering at what was written on your screen." He was introduced as the father of Assange's Swedish crony, the journalist Johannes Wahlstrom, and took away copies of cables from Russia and post-Soviet states. According to one insider, he also demanded copies of cables about "the Jews". 
This was the WikiLeaks "associate", Israel Shamir, who in the wake of events in Sweden said that Assange had been framed by "Langley spies" and "crazy feminists". Some details about Shamir are given, including a very brief biographical profile, and his activities in Belarus are noted. But then we are told that "Assange himself subsequently maintained that he had only a 'brief interaction' with Shamir." And with that, Shamir drops out of the Guardian Books narrative altogether.

This seems a pity, as some further investigation of this enigmatic figure might have proved more interesting than the rather bland few pages devoted to the Russia cables and the characterization of the "mafia state" (the title of another book by Harding).

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Technorevolutionaries

Some comments I wrote on the Wired State blog, in a discussion of Edward Snowden, Sarah Harrison and WikiLeaks:

... I wonder what it is one might be looking for amid all this intrigue, these wheels within wheels? Back in the Soviet era there was clarity in most of the Kremlin's strategies: it was a power game, played mainly with the United States, with stocks of real weaponry on both sides, and the real prospect of the game turning nasty - after all, nuclear war was just around the corner in 1962 and 1983. Nowadays, however, one has the sense of watching an almost surreal parody of the old power struggle: the postmodernist propaganda pumped out by RT may be flashy, grotesque and fun to watch, but it has nothing like the sinister and soul-crushing presence of the anti-Western stuff that churned from Moscow in endless volumes across the airwaves during the Cold War.
Looking at Russia and the West in the context of Snowden and the WikiLeaks scandal it's not clear what we are witnessing: is it just that a generation of young and relatively young folk in the West have developed a strain of nihilism that caused them to turn against their own heritage of relative freedom in the name of a suddenly-conceived dislike of national security? Did some diehard retro Kremlin stooges decide to take advantage of this, out of boredom, resentment and bile? Or are we genuinely seeing a replay and revival of the Cold War in modern dress? What could have induced a nice young American man like Edward Snowden to re-enact the role of Cold War NSA defector, or a nice young Englishwoman like Sarah Harrison to resurrect the somber memories of 1951?
Perhaps there are unresolved questions of education and social psychology at work here, and until these essentially domestic, home-centered issues are examined and analysed, the true political dimension of what appears to be a spontaneous protest hijacked by some ex-KGB pros will remain obscure. The children are acting out a drama based on the political past of their parents and grandparents, but the plot of the drama is confused, and so far the characterization is at best sentimental and shallowly defined. 
One difficulty with the "Cold War isn't over" argument is that it immediately brings anyone trying to promote it into contact with people whose motivations and world view are often far from balanced - all the way from those who push the conspiracies associated with the Mitrokhin Archive to one or two comparatively respectable international commentators and journalists on the right - and sometimes the left - of European and American politics. The real, authentic Cold War had a presence and an atmosphere that was irreversibly fixed in the historical ambience of the twentieth century, with a peculiar, unique quality that can't be repeated, any more than the unique socio-political ambience of the Soviet Union can be repeated now. Those who say without metaphor, as if it were an established fact, that the Cold War never ended, or the Soviet Union never went away, are talking from a position of unreality which deprives their otherwise often plausible arguments of the support they need. The world has changed, and the political processes and the actors that drive them have changed with it. To deny this is to drift off into a mode of thinking about the past and present of global politics that is unhistorical, and therefore likely to be fruitless.
Where the WikiLeaks scandal and the leadership of Julian Assange are concerned, it's often noted that both the movement and its leader style themselves as "anarchist", whereas in fact - as you point out - the techniques and ideas they employ have much more in common with those of Leninism and early Bolshevism than with any recognizably anarchist instruction book. Perhaps it's not going too far to move the Cold War analogy out of the way and gaze further back into twentieth-century Russian history. In the period immediately preceding and following the October Revolution of 1917 there was a similar blurring of the lines between the different revolutionary movements, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Anarchists and Social Revolutionaries. In looking at the contemporary techno-revolutionary phenomena it may make more sense to view them in an analogy with the era of 1917 - not as an exact copy or a continuation of that era, but as manifestations of the "revolutionary pragmatism" that Lenin advocated: a practical and technical agenda and strategy for radical international social and political upheaval, in which the overthrowers of the established order become the guardians and rulers of the world that is to replace it.
For that is what is really so disturbing about the technolibertarians and technocommunists, the Assanges, Snowdens, Greenwalds, Appelbaums and others who seek to destroy the governmental,security,informational and social structures of the Western state. What they all share is a desire to dominate - on the successful completion of the revolution to fill the empty seats of power themselves, and to impose their own intolerant notions of social and political justice. Given the choices and rejections of those who hold them, those notions appear to derive more from the authoritarian and totalitarian ideologies of countries like Russia, Iran and China than they do from the "distillation of Australian cultural values...[the] distillation of American cultural values" and "the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution" that is claimed by Assange.
And maybe that is what Obama needs to be focusing on right now.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Menendez: Russia Must Return Snowden

Robert Menendez, chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia.
Regardless of the fact that Russia is granting asylum for one year, this action is a setback to US-Russia relations.
Edward Snowden will potentially do great damage to US national security interests and the information he is leaking could aid terrorists and others around the world who want to do real harm to our country.
Russia must return Snowden to face trial at home.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pogrom in St Petersburg

A camera follows a group of Russian nationalists as they make the rounds of St Petersburg fruit stalls run by migrants from Central Asia and the south of Russia, overturning and stealing the fruit and threatening the migrants - mostly women and elderly men - with baseball bats. The police back up the nationalists, first standing idly and approvingly by while the intimidation takes place, and then detaining many of the migrants on suspicion of illegal status.

Hat tip: Marina Litvinovich on Twitter

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cyberwarfare and Propaganda

At Wired State, Catherine Fitzpatrick has compiled a detailed timeline that highlights the deep interrelation of events surrounding the WikiLeaks state security-breaking campaign, the Snowden affair and the involvement of the Russian government and intelligence services in both. As she points out, there is a clear mutual, though not necessarily causal connection between
Kremlin TV's propagandistic celebration of US hackers in Anonymous; WikiLeaks and Occupy; Russia's own crackdown on Internet freedom and "foreign agents" at home (mirroring its one-time championing of Western peace movements by the Soviet government even as it jailed pacifists at home).
Fitzpatrick also notes that
America has enemies from both domestic and foreign non-state and foreign state actors, some of whom show signs of collusion with each other; they are succeeding to alarming degrees; the pushback against them causes new backlashes and enables enemies to portray the US as "oppressive" and distract from the greater oppression of Russia, China, Iran and other authoritarian states...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Alyokhina Denied Parole

Maria Alyokhina has refused further participation in the parole hearing at the Perm Regional Court, which she has been attending via videoconference from the remand center where she is being held, claiming that the proceedings are a travesty of justice and her rights are being fundamentally violated. As a sign of her non-participation, she turned her back to the camera. Her request for parole has now been denied by the court.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Navalny Interview

Alexey Navalny has given his first full-length interview since being freed from captivity. TV Rain's Ilya Vasyunin is the interviewer. Excerpt:
Васюнин: Многие, в том числе оппозиционные, политики, сегодня говорят о том, что Навальный стал некой разменной фигурой в политической игре, за него вступается одна группа против другой группы в Кремле. Как ты к этим разговорам относишься?

Навальный: Это что за оппозиционные политики такие? Это какие-то клоуны, а не оппозиционные политики. У меня нет ни желания, ни возможности, ни необходимости доказывать кому-то, что я не являюсь пешкой в игре. Есть люди, которые меня окружают. Эти люди мне верят. Мне этого достаточно. Какие-то там непонятные «оппозиционные» политики меня совершенно не интересуют.
Vasyunin: Many people, including members of the opposition, politicians, are saying today that Navalny has become a kind of interchangeable figure in the political game, that one group in the Kremlin stands up for him against another. How do you feel about this talk?

Navalny: What sort of opposition politicians are they? They are some sort of clowns, not opposition politicians. I have neither the desire nor the possibility nor the need to prove to anyone that I am not a pawn in a game. There are people who surround me. Those people trust me. For me that's enough. Some strange "opposition" politicians don’t interest me at all.

Navalny Returns to Moscow

Навальный выступает на вокзале on Twitpic

Friday, July 19, 2013

Navalny and Ofitserov Released Pending Appeal

In a sign that the Kremlin may be having some second thoughts, Alexey Navalny and Pyotr Ofitserov have been released from custody pending their appeal, with travel restrictions.

In Eurasia Outlook, Petr Topychkanov writes of two points that may underlie the effects of this decision:
the unexpected consequences of a political act, undertaken without the proper understanding of the rapid political, social, and economic changes that are taking place. The second one is that trying to secure their political position by means of primarily pressure or violence, political actors can weaken their position.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Alyokhina 'Beaten by Guards'

Khodorkovsky Center reports that Maria Alyokhina has been beaten by guards in the remand center in Solikamsk where she is currently being held, for refusing to be transferred to another prison without access to documents. More details from RAPSI.

Update 1: In a statement to Novaya Gazeta, Alyokhina's lawyer Oksana Darova has denied that she saw her client being beaten.

Update 2: Alyokhina has written a letter to Novoye Vremya from the remand center in Solikamsk.

Navalny Declared Guilty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been found guilty of embezzlement, in a political trial aimed at silencing him.

See  also these links:


Sentence is 5 years.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Obstructions of Justice

On the day that the British government refuses a request by Coroner Sir Robert Owen to hold a public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, Edward Snowden announces his intention to seek political asylum in Russia.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Bomb and the Hedgehog

Despite the often invoked ending of the Cold War, Russia’s defence policy is still focused on nuclear deterrence, and particularly the nuclear balance with the United States.  Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov recently announced that Russia will continue to increase its potential in airspace forces and other parts of its nuclear deterrence strategy.

The Defense Ministry worked on building the early-warning radars along Russia's borders as well as permanent deployment of S-400 and S-500 anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.

"We have a possibility to efficiently counter a high-technological enemy should it undertake aggression against Russia," Gerasimov said.

Writing in Pravda, a defence correspondent noted that

according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Wesley Miller, U.S. nuclear weapons are in need of urgent modernization. Defense structures experienced global reduction that affected nuclear armed forces of the United States. The Americans are also concerned about Russia's efforts to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces.

Russia’s conventional armed forces are still in a state of relative disarray, and are currently no match for their U.S. counterparts:

During a conference in Moscow last week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that an attack with the use of 3,500-4,000 units of high-precision weapons would deprive Russia of the possibility to resist in only six hours. "According to current estimates from the United States, as a result of such an attack, 80-90 percent of the Russian nuclear potential could be destroyed," said Deputy Prime Minister.

Commenting on Twitter, Carnegie Moscow Center director and defence analyst Dmitri Trenin points out that  while there is an absence of strategic trust between Russia and the United States, the enormous disparity in conventional military power between the two nations means that nuclear deterrence remains the only area in which Russia can maintain equivalence. For Russia, he notes, “this is a hedgehog posture”. 

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Eurasia Outlook

Eurasia Outlook is a new Carnegie Moscow Center blog with quite a wide range of contributors and topics. Recent English-language posts include a comparison of the protests in Turkey and Russia by Lilia Shevtsova, an American Interest op-ed on the surge of new authoritarianism throughout the world, and a discussion by Dmitri Trenin of the interconnection between economic and political factors in the process of civic awakening.

The blog also publishes material in Russian, French and several other languages. In the Russian-language section Alexey Malashenko considers the demise of Egypt's President Morsi, and points to the lessons that will inevitably be drawn from it by leaders of other nations in the region:
За ситуацией в Египте пристально наблюдают в соседних странах. И поражение местных исламистов (если это, конечно, поражение, а не временное отступление) эхом отзовется в Тунисе, Ливии, в некоторых других государствах, в том числе в Турции.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

No sheikh under the mosque's dome

“We thought there was a sheikh under the mosque’s dome.” Egyptians say this when they anticipate something big from someone and then get nothing at the end. Before reaching power, we thought the Brotherhood were these great business people who will improve the living standard of Egyptians. On the contrary, we discovered that the MB know nothing about the economy and their economic policy depended solely on borrowing money from anyone who showed any sign of willingness to lend. We thought they were Warren Buffets, they turned out to be Seven Eleven cashiers.

Tales of the Caucasus

A recent Levada Center poll indicates that half of Russians would not oppose Chechnya's secession from Russia:

Meanwhile, a new video by Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov appears to call for a resumption of hostilities on Russian soil, and contains a threat to the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics:

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Bolotnaya suspects refuse to plead guilty

Via The Interpreter:
All 12 suspects in the case of mass disturbances on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012 have refused to plead guilty in court, a correspondent of the Russian Agency for Legal and Judicial Information (RASPI) reports.