If there is a phrase that characterizes recent parliamentary and presidential elections in former Soviet Republics it’s “colored revolution.” If I keep harping on the point that that the “revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan have sent political shockwaves through the CIS, it’s because the actions of ruling governments continue to use it as an excuse for repression. The latest country this colored specter haunts is Kazakhstan, which holds presidential elections on Sunday. The government has already issued a warning to opposition parties that if they even attempt to erect a tent in a city square, they will be severely dealt with. Then a prominent opposition member, Zamanbek Nurkadilov, was found murdered, um . . . I mean committed “suicide” just before he was to release information about the current president, and election front runner Nursultan Nazarbayev’s corruption. I wonder if the channeling of $84 million in bribes to leading Kazakh officials, with Nazarbayev being one of them, by oil consultant James Giffen in exchange for oil rights to Mobil Oil and Texaco is the big corruption news? At any rate, the “suicide” is rightly being challenged by Nurkadilov’s family. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently relatives of oppositions are being beaten, detained, and in one case kidnapped.
It all makes you wonder what the Kazakh government will do next. They have the proverbial warnings, beatings, assassinations, and paranoia covered. What is an authoritarian state to do next? I know! How about detain and expel some foreign journalists and human rights activists because you suspect that they are trying to export “colored revolution”? This is what Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reporting.
Thus far the government has detained and looks to expel two Ukrainian journalists who were invited by the youth group Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan to cover the elections. This isn’t the first foreign expulsions. Over the last few weeks the government has expelled hundreds of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and Tajiks as well as Chinese and Turks. In addition around 500 people have been detained in Almaty, which is a center for the opposition. The government states that the expulsions were a result of a sweep for illegal immigrants. Others think it’s to prevent oppositionists from hiring immigrants to attend anti-government protests. All I have to say is who the hell knows. I know one thing, even without out all the repression to prevent colored revolution, I doubt there will be one anyway. But I guess we will have to wait until Sunday to be sure of that.
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By Sean — 13 years ago
I highly recommend subscribing to David Johnson’s Russia List. Mr. Johnson provides some of the best sources for news on Russia and the other former Soviet states. Today’s edition, JRL #9261, is particularly interesting because Johnson inserts some of his wit into the news roll. Featured are two editorials published today. One, “Mr. Putin’s Clouded Promise,” from the NY Times and the other, “Silent on Putin’s Slide. Bush Ignores Russia’s Fading Freedom,” from the Washington Post. For comparison, he follows them with two editorials from 1993 from the same papers. From the NY Times: “In Russia, Disorder to Democracy?” (October 5, 1993) and “Officials Hail Yeltsin Foes’ Rout,” (October 6, 1993); and the Washington Post: “Weekend War,” (October 5, 1993). Johnson adds this short introductory note:
“In early October 1993 Yeltsin’s tanks assaulted the parliament and the future course of Russian history was decisively altered. I follow the first two items from the Washington Post and the New York Times with items from those papers from October 1993. I’m not sure what lessons can be drawn from this but I suspect there is something to be learned.”
Lessons to be learned indeed. The articles show the typical American hypocrisy when it comes to Russia. When Yeltsin used tanks against “old-line Communist “reds,” fascist-minded, nationalistic anti-Semitic “browns” and other bitter-enders,” this was hailed by the Washington Post, NY Times, and the Clinton Administration as democratic progress. It was a sign of a commitment to “reform and democracy.” Translated: reforms and democracy that are favorable to American interests. Lesson #1: weak dependent Russia is a good Russia. But Putin gets no license or democratic accolades like his drunken former benefactor. Apparently, you have call tanks into the streets to eliminate his opponents to get that. Instead, the Washington Post is tempted to call Putin’s tactics “Stalinist” because “he can reimpose authoritarian rule without a gulag, simply by spreading fear through example.” But his policies, whatever you think of them, are not in the interests of the U.S., but independent of it. Lesson #2: strong independent Russia is a bad Russia.
The NY Times and the Washington Post can cry all the want about poor Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Don’t let his metrosexual visage fool you. The truth of the matter is that he is a crook just like all the Russian oligarchs, and that most Russians rightly see him as such. It is only the American press that had made Khodorkovsky into some beacon of freedom and example of a “political prisoner.” I wish the Bush would use that kind of state power and arrest some of our corporate crooks. But wait, that would mean arresting all of his friends!
Sure, Putin’s actions against Khodorkovsky are selective. They are authoritarian. I’m not apologizing for that. But to say that Russian democracy is “slipping” is utter fantasy. It’s never stood up.
To be fair, the Washington Post does point to some real concerns:
“[Putin] can fire one editor for putting a negative story on the front page and other editors get the message. He can have one or two judges dismissed without pension and other judges toe the line. Threaten a few human rights organizations, allow the murders of a few journalists to go unsolved, open a criminal investigation of the one politician who mentions challenging you in the next election, throw a few businessmen into tuberculosis-infested prison cells — and word gets around.”
But Johnson’s transposes these articles to make a different point: American interpretations of democracy and reform in Russia are just as hollow as Putin’s claims to them. And this is why, I’m afraid, Western reporting on Russia should always be taken with a dash of politics and a pinch of Russophobia.Post Views: 333
By Sean — 12 years ago
No matter how many times he denies it, people keep asking Vladimir Putin if he will seek a third term. He was asked again during Wednesday’s “Hot Line with President of Russia Vladimir Putin”. A driver named Arkady Kokayev asked, “What will happen to us, to the country after 2008?” In addition to assurances that things will be fine after his term is over Putin said,
As for me personally, as I have said before, even though I like my work, the Constitution does not allow me to run for office three times in a row. But even once I no longer have my presidential powers, I think that without trying to shape the Constitution to fit my personal interests, I will be able to hold on to what is most important and most valuable for any politician, namely, your trust. And building on this trust we will work together with you in order to influence our country’s life, ensure that it follows a consistent path of development and have an impact on what happens in
So there you have it. Another denial that he will seek a third term. Though he maintains that his influence will still be felt.
The “Hot Line” is a fascinating event in and of itself; an event whose importance is too often quickly passed over. The switchboard received over a million calls from citizens asking Putin questions that ranged from the economy,
Russia’s future, , the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and issues regarding everyday life. It is one of the few instances where the mediation between leaders and led is reduced to a point that allows for a measure of unpredictability. Far more unpredictability than journalists’ questions seem to provide. It is one of the few instances when a leader is directly confronted with people’s personal grievances. Georgia
The process is also a long tradition in
. As Dmitry Babich noted on Russia Profile, the event upholds the idea of na?ve monarchism, where the leader appears to be on the side of the people against evil bureaucrats that try to ruin their lives. It maintains the leader as part of the “eternal good,” as Babich calls it. Russia
There are many instances of the “eternal good” in Russian history. When Alexander II emancipated the serfs, thousands of peasants sent petitions were to the Tsar claiming that landlords were defying the Tsar’s will to give them real and complete volia (freedom).
As one N. A. Krylov wrote about cause for the massacre of 55 peasants at Benza, Samara gubernia in 1861,
“Anton [Petrov, an Old Believer who claimed to discover true volia in the emancipation decree] sits in his hut at Bezdna looking at these naughts and smoothly reading out, “Land for the pomeshchik: the hills and the hollows, the ravines and the roads, the sandbanks and the reedbeds, and nor one twig of the forest. If he takes a step over the boundary of his land, drive him back with a kind word, and if he doesn’t obey—cut off his head and you will get a reward from the tsar.” The narod liked this kind of volia, and crowds came in from all sides to hear real volia. . . .Anton preached like this for five days in a row. Then he put abroad rumors that he had received a charter from the Tsar, read the Bible until he attained the power of prophecy, and, mixing the one and the other together preached, “. . . They [the landlords] are going to frighten you with troops, but don’t be afraid, no one dares to kill the orthodox people without the tsar’s order. And if the nobles distribute bribes [to the soldiers] and you are shot at, then get your axes and chop up those who disobey the tsar.” (D. Field, Rebels in the Name of the Tsar, 72)
For the peasantry, the tsar was on their side.
Things were no different in the Soviet period. Party leaders were inundated with letters asking for material and psychological help. Many of the complaints were about injustices perpetrated by Communist bureaucrats. Then, as now, the people turned to the “eternal good” for help even if the Kremlin was occupied by someone as heinous as Stalin. Believe it or not, if Stalin’s handwriting in the corners of letters, passing them to his officials for redress is any indication, sometimes the petitioners even got results to their favor.
One can easily pass this off as PR to keep up the image that the leader cares for the people. And though it is certainly true, I think that explanation is too simple. It also says something about what the “people” expect from their leaders, and how they feel they have a right to have those expectations met.
I wouldn’t call this mentality a sign of “formal” democracy. The fact that citizens feel the only avenue to redress is to appeal directly to the top suggests that the institutions that mediate them are untrustworthy, ineffective or wholly corrupt. But it is a form of “informal” democracy because Russians feel that their leaders have a responsibility to the people and the people have a right to demand redress from their leaders. This mentality may be na?ve monarchism personified, but the last two times Russians lost faith in the “eternal good,” they brought the whole system crashing down.Post Views: 484
By Sean — 11 years ago
Human Rights Watch slapped both Russia and the United States in the face this week. The first slap was the release of a 43 page report detailing how the US sent seven “enemy combatants” held at Guantanamo Bay to Russia. The result was all seven, Rustam Akhmiarov, Ravil Gumarov, Timur Ishmuratov, Shamil Khazhiev, Rasul Kudaev, Ruslan Odizhev, and Airat Vakhitov, were repeatedly tortured and brutalized by Russian police and security forces. The second slap was a press release condemning Bush’s meeting with Russian Major-General Vladimir Shamanov.
The HRW report, “The Stamp of Guantanamo,” didn’t spare either party from vilification. First, the United States for “stamping” these seven men with the elastic label of “terrorist” and for the “torture and ill treatment” they suffered at Guantanamo. According to the British human rights group Reprieve, this included:
beatings; deliberately inflicting serious pain upon the wounded (by deliberately letting stretchers drop, for example); forcing detainees to kneel on small rocks for hours with their hands behind their heads; exposing detainees to the elements, especially cold; denying medical treatment, especially for the wounded; jumping and landing with the knees on the backs of detainees’ heads; depriving detainees of sleep; forcing detainees to run while shackled in painful positions; threatening detainees with dogs; desecrating the Koran and interfering with daily prayers; and at least initially, failing to honor the dietary restrictions of Muslims. Some said bright lights were shone on their faces throughout the night; others described crude and degrading attempts at sexual humiliation.
The main focus, however, was not United States was the use of torture in Afghanistan, Iraq, or in Guantanamo. It has done that more thoroughly in previous reports. The focus was on the US reliance on hollow “diplomatic assurances” from countries that they would not torture returnees, a subject HRW already dealt with in 2005. The Russian case only highlights to utter futility in such “assurances.”
Governments that have transferred or tried to transfer suspects with such “assurances” include Austria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The receiving countries have included China, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen, all of which have well documented records of torture. The US government has been particularly eager to use such “assurances” as it begins to repatriate detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
Human Rights Watch opposes the use of “diplomatic assurances” in returning suspects to countries where they are at risk of torture. Governments that engage in torture routinely deny it and refuse to investigate allegations of torture. A government that is already violating its international obligation not to torture cannot be trusted to abide by a further “assurance” that it will not torture. This report provides evidence of precisely that fact, in the case of Russia.
The report goes on to state that despite “diplomatic assurances” the Americans used the threat of torture in Russia as a coercive measure against the seven. As the report states: “The Americans … frightened us with return to Russia, [and] said that in Russia, we will be tortured,” Airat Vakhitov told Human Rights Watch. “There was constant blackmail,” Ravil Gumarov told Human Rights Watch. “They kept saying, ‘We’ll send you to Russia,’ that ‘They’ll string you up there’ and that kind of thing.”
Yet despite the United State’s direct involvement in the use of torture, as Ravil Gumarov told HRW, “In the final analysis, the Russians were worse.”
Russia’s state and local security forces are well known for their use of secret and arbitrary detention, intimidation, kidnapping, torture, and brutality, especially in Chechnya. And while Russia’s use of these methods pre-dates the “global war on terror”, the latter has only given the use of brutality new life and new “legal” justification. “The Russian human rights organization Memorial stated in February 2006, “We have extensive evidence to suggest that under the pretext of fighting ‘Islamic extremism’ and ‘international terrorism,’ a large-scale campaign of persecution of Muslim followers of so-called ‘unconventional’ Islamic sects has been launched in Russia,” the HRW report cites.
To get a sense of what these seven men went through upon their return to Russia, one need only point to the case of Rasul Kudaev.
Kudaev returned to Russia from Guantanamo with the following aliments: “hepatitis, stomach ulcers, the after-effects of a bullet he received in the hip in Afghanistan that was never removed, serious headaches, high blood pressure, and other ailments.” All of this rendered him disabled and incapable of working. But the fact that Kudaev was relegated to crutches didn’t stop the local FSB in Nalchik from abducting Kudaev in a sweep after several gunmen attacked government offices and police stations in Nalchik in October 2005.
The details of Kudaev’s detention were spelled out by his lawyer Irina Komissarova in her testimony before the European Court of Human Rights in December 2005. While Komissarova’s testimony is too long to quote in its entirety (I urge readers to read the report themselves), here is a sample:
Upon arrival at the Sixth Department I saw Kudaev R.V., who was sitting on a stool, in a contorted position, holding his stomach. There were a large bruise and many scratches on the right side of his face near the eye. Apart from the investigator, there were many other persons in the office (three to five people). Investigator Artemenko A., who had worked with him that day, gave me the record of the interrogation of suspect Kudaev R.V. to read. After reading the document, I asked Kudaev R.V. whether he had indeed given the testimony. In response, he expressed the wish to talk to me alone…
In our conversation, Kudaev R.V. told me that he had been tortured and beaten after he was brought to the Sixth Department. The testimony in the interrogation record was not his, it had been made up, and it was not correct…
When Kudaev R.V. informed the investigator that he would not sign the interrogation record… all hell broke loose!!! From all sides people in the office gathered around (by the way, none introduced themselves) and everyone started issuing threats at Kudaev R.V. In the end, he could no longer stand it and said that he would sign the interrogation record because he was afraid that after I left they would beat him again. Someone in the room told me “you are free to go, we don’t need your services any more.”
The fear expressed by Kudaev R.V. that he would again be beaten I saw as realistic.
I think readers get the gist of it. For more gory details I again suggest readers examine the report themselves.
HRW’s conclusion reiterates its admonition of both the United States and Russia.
Since September 11, 2001, the US government has advanced several novel and pernicious interpretations of international law, including the law on torture. The Bush administration’s attack on the Geneva Conventions, for example, has ignited a storm of criticism worldwide. Unfortunately, the US government’s novel and pernicious use of “diplomatic assurances” has not been as widely condemned by the international community—in large part because other governments, particularly Western European states and Canada, are using them too. These governments have played, therefore, an indirect role in the shameless use of “diplomatic assurances” that is described in this report.
Immediate responsibility for the suffering of these seven Russian men lies of course with the Russian government. But the US government must bear its share of the blame as well. Given the commonplace nature of torture by Russian law enforcement, it seems implausible that the Americans could have sent home these seven men, branded as they were by the “stamp of Guantanamo,” and expected them to suffer anything less than the misery that they have, in fact, endured.
It seems that when it comes to torture the Bush Administration and Russia are joined at the hip in other ways. On March 27, Bush did a photo-op with Russian Major-General Vladimir Shamanov. The Major-General was visiting the White House as the co-chairman of the Russian-US Commission on mission soldiers. Shamanov, according to HRW, “is implicated in grave human rights abuses, including the killing of civilians in the villages of Alkhan-Yurt in 1999 and Katyr-Yurt in 2000, and the illegal detention and torture of detainees in 2000.” HRW documented these abuses in a report in 1999. In addition, according to the Washington Post, “The European Court of Human Rights also has found Shamanov’s troops responsible for the “massive use of indiscriminate weapons” that killed civilians in another village, and human rights investigators concluded that detainees at a base under his command were beaten, subjected to electric shocks and held in pits.” Shamanov called these allegations as “fairy tales” in 2004.
The Bush Administration’s ignominy results not so much from meeting with Shamanov. After all, officials responsible for atrocities are easy to find working there daily. It comes from its feeble attempt to claim that it didn’t know about Shamanov’s crimes. As White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters, “The president was not aware of the allegations made against (Shamanov) and he was seeking to sharpen the focus on the commission’s good work.”
Not aware!? Perhaps a White House staffer should have consulted the Internets and do a search on the Google. Think Progress did and they found that “a quick Google search of “Vladimir Shamanov,” references to the general’s role in the killings come up on the first page.” Plus are we really to believe that anyone would get as much as a pinkie finger into the Oval Office without extensive background checks? Is White House security really that lax?
Alas we should remember that claims of amnesia are a favorite response for the White House. Either Bush has one of those flashy thingies from Men in Black in his desk or he and his people are flat out liars. I suspect the latter.
Oh and let us not forget that scandal begins with the Kremlin. Shamanov’s crimes were essentially applauded when he was awarded the “Hero of Russia” medal for his service in Chechnya in 1999. There are even reports that he proudly wore it to his visit to the Oval Office.Tags: Chechnya|Putin|Russia|democracy|terrorism|human rights|Bush|United States|Human Rights Watch|Guantanamo Bay|torturePost Views: 418