English language blogs on Russia and the CIS suffered a major setback last week. After almost two years of providing news and commentary on all things Russia, Andy from siberianlight.net has called it quits. This is a loss for us all. There was some indication that this might happen when Andy took a short leave of absence to recharge. It was nice to see him return albeit briefly.
I only recently discovered siberianlight.net a few months ago while searching for blogs to link to this site. To my delight I found Andy’s site. It became an instant source of information and inspiration. For those who don’t know (and I doubt many reading this blog are unfamiliar with siberialight.net), Andy’s site provides probably the most comprehensive collection of links to Russian and English language blogs. Andy says that he will keep the site up for a while. This is good news because even if he won’t be making posts, it will serve as a vital resource.
Though I don’t know Andy personally, I want to thank him for his work. His kind mentions have pointed many readers to my blog. His posts were always opinionated, informative and balanced. To his credit he often commented on the quirky aspects of Russian life and news that seems to escape many blogs on Russia, including this one. Most amazing is that many of his posts were done with brevity, something that I myself can’t seem to master. I only hope that he reconsiders and finds the time and energy to start anew. Siberianlight.net will be sorely missed.
You Might also like
The absence of Hama and Hezbollah from Russia’s “List of 17” terrorist organizations was been met with charges of hypocrisy, suspicion, and scorn. The omission certainly didn’t sit well with the Israelis or the Americans. The absence of the Kurdish Workers Party even angered Turkey. Such is the problem with the term “terrorism.” Its application is completely relative in relation to national interests, foreign and domestic policy, and cultural and historical factors. Russia has been curt in its explanation. Hamas and Hezbollah weren’t listed because they don’t pose a direct threat to Russia’s national security.
Andrei Smirnov doesn’t buy it. Writing for the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasian Daily Monitor, Smirnov accuses Russia of listing mostly “virtual groups”, groups whose existence can no longer be confirmed. Two of Russia’s top ranked groups, the Supreme Military Council of the Caucasian Mujahideen and the Congress of the Nations of Ichkeria and Dagestan, have not been heard from since 1999. There is question whether the Islamic Party of Turkestan or the Egyptian Al-Ghamia-al-Islamia still exists. Further, Smirnov charges that the list makes one wonder if Russia really knows who they are fighting in the North Caucuses since they don’t list the three most active organizations in the region: the Chechen State Defense Council-Majlis-ul-Shura, Dagestani Sharia Jamaat and the North Ossetian Kataib-al-Khoul.
In addition, if Russia’s list only includes groups that pose a direct threat to Russia, then how do they explain including the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jamaa al-Islamiya but not the Shura of Iraqi Mujahideen, which claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of Russian diplomats in June. Smirnov goes on to point out more inconsistencies in the Russia terror list.
But the real issue is their leaving Hamas and Hezbollah of the list. This is where politics enters the fray. Even though FSB terror chief Yuri Sapunov admitted that Hamas and Hezbollah both “use terrorist methods in their national liberation struggle,” according to the Ekho Moskvy, this statement was omitted from the published interview in Rossiiskaya gazeta though it was in the original Interfax interview. Here is Smirnov’s explanation why Hamas and Hezbollah are absent:
It is not surprising that Hamas and Hezbollah are excluded from the Russian terror list, as the Kremlin is known to be sympathetic towards these organizations. Earlier this year Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Hamas representatives to Moscow to meet Russian officials, while Hezbollah is supported by Syria and Iran, two countries that have close ties with Russia. Nevertheless, Sapunov hinted that the Russian government could add the two groups to the list in the future. He said, “We recognize international terror lists, for example, the lists of the United Nations and the lists of such superpowers as the USA and the European Union. We consider them when we communicate with the special services of various countries.”
The Russian authorities do not recognize Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations not only because they believe they pose no threat to Russia, but also because the Kremlin is very angry at Western countries that do not recognize the Chechen rebels as terrorists. During a press conference after the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July, Putin crossly said that if Syria and Iran are branded state sponsors of terrorism, then Great Britain should also earn that designation because London refuses to extradite Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakaev to Russia (Newsru.com, July 16).
The Kremlin’s decision to omit Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi insurgency from the list of terrorist organizations sends a clear message that terrorist threats to the West will be recognized only if Western officials recognize the Chechen insurgents as terrorists.
As it stands now, the US State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) does not list a single Chechen or Caucasian terrorist group.
Perhaps a better explanation for certain groups’ absences on Russia list has to do with its policy in the Middle East. According to Pavel Baev, Putin’s Middle East policy has to do with a pragmatic approach to the region that is balanced with ensuring high oil prices and arms sales. Instead of the active role Putin hoped for in nuclear talks with North Korea in 2000, the Kremlin is now much more cautious with the Middle East. Even media coverage of the Hezbollah-Israeli war has been “remarkably balanced.” Writes Baev,
Moscow’s self-confidence is also supported by the assessment of the conflict dynamics in the Middle East that suggest a very probable strengthening of its quietly advanced position in a matter of a few weeks. This position is by no means moral but entirely pragmatic: No international framework for Lebanon could be negotiated without involving Syria; no agreement with the government of Lebanon could be implemented if Hezbollah is not a part of it; no stable arrangement for Gaza could be hammered out against the resistance of Hamas. The Kremlin calculates that it would take a few weeks for Israel to recognize that the spectacular devastation of Southern Lebanon could not significantly weaken the military capabilities and political influence of Hezbollah, much the same way as the full-blown invasion in 1982 did not bring about the destruction of the PLO. Meanwhile, the outrage in the Arab states and the indignation in Europe about the scale of the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe would predictably reach such levels that a ceasefire becomes imperative whatever reservations Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might state. That is why Moscow was not in the least upset by the failure of the Rome conference last week, where Syria was not represented, expecting that the forum would be reconvened when Washington is forced to swallow its objections against sitting at one table with a representative from Damascus.Post Views: 220
The more information that comes out about the Sychyov Case, the more disgusting it becomes. As I wrote the other day, almost all of the prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony and Sychyov’s mother and sister are claiming that officials from the Defense Ministry has tried to bribe them into submission.
In an opinion piece in the Moscow Times, Alexandr Gol’ts, who is also the editor of ????????? ?????? and writes for several Russian language and English media, provides more information about how unknown officials from the Defense Ministry have intimidated witnesses. During the investigation phase of the trial, the presiding judge moved one of the witnesses to a unit under the command of Alexander Anupriev. Shortly before the trial began, one of the witnesses began recanting his story after meeting with an unknown general. Gol’ts provides a snippet of the exchange between the judge and Anupriev as the former tried to ascertain the general’s identity:
“Did a car come?”
“What kind of car?”
“What kind of license plate?”
Someone wake up Kafka. He’s missing an example of bureaucratic evasion par excellence. Nothing obscures more than one word answers. According to Gol’ts, “Anupriev couldn’t remember the visitor’s rank or name even though the visitor’s confidential talks with the soldiers had taken place in his own office. There was no paper trail. The visitor’s documents were not checked at the gate, supposedly because he arrived in a car with military plates.” It is clear from Anupriev’s testimony, of I should say lack thereof, that the general also gave him a talking to too. And one seriously doubts that he will sacrifice himself for justice for Sychyov and other victims of dedovshchina.
But government intimidation and cover-up wouldn’t be complete without some stage performance. After Anupriev left the stand, the military trotted out its own hazing “victims,” who obsequiously explained their beatings as “for good reasons and not very hard.” So I guess we are also supposed to conclude that the amputation of Sychyov’s legs and genitals was for “good reasons” too. Gol’ts goes on to provide more examples of military interference and malfeasance. These include the aforementioned bribing of Sychyov’s mother, claims by military doctors that there was no evidence that he was beaten or that his injuries were a result of a “congenital blood disorder.” To add insult to injury and clearly revealing where the military brass’ interests lie, Sergeant Alexander Sivyakov, who is on trial for the incident, was immediately provided a team of defense lawyers. His lawyers are basing their defense on claims that Sychyov’s injuries were from improper treatment in a civilian hospital. Next thing we’ll probably hear is that Sychyov really ran into a wall or fell down some stairs.
Some claim that dedovshchina can be solved by eliminating the conscript army, improving the conditions and pay for military personnel, and strictly enforcing rules and harsh punishments to offenders. There is a lot of support that these measures would work. While hazing in the Russian military has Soviet roots (though I wouldn’t doubt that it extends to the Tsarist period, but I don’t have any concrete evidence), it is clear that incidents have substantially increased since 1991. The economic and psychological shock stemming from the collapse of the USSR, the weakness of Russia in the 1990s, and the brutality of the Chechen War has had profound effects on the conditions and morale within the military. Conditions are undoubtedly ripe for such a violent military culture.
But with all this intransigence, it seems that policies that improving life in the military, though absolutely necessary, wouldn’t change the culture in which dedovshchina exists. The problem is that like in many male centered cultural spaces and institutions, hazing is seen as integral for building unity between men. Boys are transformed into men. Those who can take the abuse are not only accepted into the fold of the worthy, they are also given the right to dole it out to their subordinates. The prospects of payback regenerates the process. In addition, the fact that there exists a whole set of terms that indicate a conscripts place within the rank and file hierarchy—dedy (grandfathers), dukhi (ghosts)—and the rituals they are expected to make to senior conscripts, suggests that dedovshchina is more than a material problem. It is also a cultural one.
And with all of that and the politics behind it, Gol’ts concludes that the message to the public is clear:
Don’t you dare fight for soldiers’ rights. No matter what you do, you’ll never be able to prove anything. That’s why Sychyov’s mother was offered money, why the witnesses are being intimidated, and why officers are made to behave like idiots.
And people wonder why many Russians fight tooth and nail to get their sons out of military service. In many ways it’s like a prison or worse a death sentence.Post Views: 185
The votes are counted. The winners declared. Now comes the fun part: the analysis. There isn’t much to say about the Kazakh Presidential election which isn’t already evident. There was no colored revolution. There wasn’t even an attempt at protest. The ballots were certainly stuffed. As “Presedatel’ Mike” pointed out in his post, President Nursultan Nazarbaev is truly loved but this didn’t prevent making sure he received 91 percent of the vote. Hence, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) statement that “Despite some improvements in the administration of this election in the pre-election period, the presidential election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.” We all know democracy in the CIS states is a sham, but the question, as posed by RFE/RL reporter Daniel Kimmage, is about the long term viability of “managed democracy.” On this, Kimmage writes,
“Political upheaval in
Georgia, Ukraine, and in 2003-05 highlighted the risk of catastrophic failure that comes with “managed democracy,” in which ruling elites accept elections as necessary for legitimacy but do everything in their power to predetermine the outcome. But what happens when the system avoids catastrophic failure? Does it tend toward gradual reform? Or does it degenerate, ensuring ever more splendid victories for the status quo even as it undermines competitiveness and thus retains the risk of an eventual catastrophic failure?” Kyrgyzstan
All important questions and their outcome remains to be seen. Now as before reforms to the Kazakh system lie in Nazarbaev’s will to push them forward. And despite his assurances that reforms will proceed, there is no telling when they, even if remotely genuine, will eventually contradict the personality cult of Nazarbaev himself has created.
Analysis of the short and long term meaning of the Moscow City Duma elections are also coming in. I first want to comment on today’s LA Times editorial. As I’ve noted before, my home paper does some really good reporting on Russia. However, this quality doesn’t extend to the editorial pages. Today’s edition features yet another broken record plea for the Bush Administration to tackle the problem of Russian “democracy.” The problem with the Times’ editorial is not that it argues that Russian democracy is faltering. The problem is how this analysis implies that there was once a democracy to falter. The title “CPR for Russian Democracy” suggests just that. Considering past LA Times’ editorials on this subject, the implied meaning is that before Putin there was democracy, but since his arrival it needs resuscitation. Can they surely be so na?ve to think that the Yeltsin regime was more democratic to even suggest that Russian democracy is “nascent”? By that definition, democracy should be seen as flourishing in say Venezuela, but you won’t find such statements in the Times. So where does this nascent before and authoritarian after come from? From what I can gather from this and past editorials, it comes from the fact that during Yeltsin’s presidency Russia was acting in the interests of the United States and now it has the gall to act in its own interest! After all why would Bush need to put pressure on Putin to change “authoritarian” ways when Bush surely has no problem when his allies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are doing far worse? Yes they are right. The US government should stop referring to Russia as a democracy. Then we can finally stop beating that dead horse and see Russia for what it is and not what we want it to be.
If you want some good analysis of the Moscow elections, I suggest turning to today’s Moscow Times. Two articles stand out. The first is an analysis of what parties received Rodina’s votes. The conclusion is that Rodina’s ban from participating only benefited the Communists, whose nationalistic platform is almost indistinguishable. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Rodina was created by the Kremlin to siphon nationalist votes from the KPRF so it is only logical that with Rodina dropped from the ticket sympathetic voters would swing back. The question is then, if Rodina’s ban came from “above” as many suspect, what did United Russia have to gain from it? If anything it would have been better if Rodina stayed on the ticket. Instead, the KPRF, which is United Russia’s most serious political rival, surged to capture 17 percent of the vote and gain four seats.
The second article, an editorial by Nikolai Petrov, looks at the factors that gave the elections their importance, of which he names four: 1) the first election after the passage of electoral reform, 2) a test where the political parties stand, 3) a preview for the 2008 mayoral elections, and 4) establishing new campaigning models for the 2007 parliamentary elections.
The first was mired by what Petrov and others call “dirty tricks”—voter fraud on various levels, multiple voting, stuffing ballot boxes. This according to Petrov made the post-reform electoral system “far worse.” For the second, Yuri Lukhkov’s and United Russia’s political dominance was confirmed, especially for the former, who will undoubtedly be able to hand pick his successor and well be consulted in choosing a suitable presidential heir.
Perhaps what benefits United Russia in the polls is not the corruption, but the fact that it stands for nothing. Its power is based on the popularity of both Lukhkov and Putin, Russia’s perceived prosperity, and stabilization. As Petrov notes, United Russia, unlike its foes, has no ideology. And for an electorate that grew up in a society where ideology was everything, this might be its most appealing factor.
The ruling party’s anti-ideological or perhaps better, apolitical strategy won’t bode well for Russia’s future. There are serious issues that need addressing in Moscow in particular and Russia in general, and like Kazakhstan much of their mending lies on the backs of a few political personalities. And given the path that Russian politics is taking—between the fanaticism of the far right and left, to the ideology-light of the center—there is little hope that these will be addressed in the near future.Post Views: 125