As some of you noticed, I haven’t blogged in almost a month. I’ve missed commenting on a lot of news—the outcome of the Gazprom-Ukraine crisis, the continued politics of natural gas supply and demand, the recent British spy scandal and its potential effect on NGOs, in addition to a whole host of big and small stories. What a time to be too busy to blog! As some of you know, I’m writing my dissertation in Russian history on the Young Communist League in the 1920s. An upcoming deadline for a chapter, applying for writing grants, and beginning to teach has absorbed most of my time over the last month. Some of these things (grant writing and chapter deadline) will pass in the next few weeks. I plan on returning to regular blogging then.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
The New York Times continues to follow the windy road of the murder investigation. Including the notion that Litvinenko or one of the people he met shortly before his illness was trafficking polonium. So far, who exactly possessed said polonium remains unclear. Was it Dmitry Kovtun, Andrei Lugovoi, or Litvinenko himself?
German police have summoned Kovtun to discuss this question. But according to the NY Times, Kovtun calims “It wannit me.” In fact,
Mr. Kovtun says they have it backward, maintaining that Oct. 16 was the day that Mr. Litvinenko exposed him to the poison, polonium 210. “I am far from thinking that something was premeditated,” Mr. Kovtun said. “I think things that were not premeditated were happening.”
That said, Kovtun and Lugovoi also have no idea how he was exposed or whether Litvinenko had the polonium on him. Quotes the Times, “I want you to understand one thing,” Mr. Lugovoi said. “Myself and Dmitri Kovtun, we consider ourselves an injured party.”
And the band played on . . .Post Views: 361
By Sean — 13 years ago
—This item is from two weeks ago and slipped under my radar. The League of United Youth, or LOM has become reality. The September 27 edition of the Moscow Times reported that the coalition, which includes the youth organization Rodina; the Communist Youth League, Red Youth Vanguard; National Bolshevik Party; and the Yabloko youth group Oborona, or Defense, announced its formation.
—This week the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court nullified its overturning of a lower court’s ban of the National Bolshevik Party, ordering a retrial. NPB spokesman Alexander Averin charged that “the decision was made under pressure from the Kremlin.”
—It sounds like a chill is developing with another of America’s allies on the “war on terror. Mosnews is reporting that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled her stop to Uzbekistan as she visits Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan on October 10 – 13. Mosnews writes:
“The reason of this cancellation was that the United States is concerned over clashes in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May and over the current policy of the Uzbek authorities. [Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, Daniel] Fried said. “We are very concerned over Andijan, not only the very incident but the reaction as well,” he added. Fried said the U.S. administration is worried over other aspects of Uzbek activities, such as “pressure on non-governmental organizations, reduction of exchange programs, the entire atmosphere of fear in the country.”
This still surprises me because it seems that the Uzbek government is doing everything right by U.S. standards. It was reported this week that a Muslim imam, Shavkat Madumarov, died of torture in an Uzbek prison. Madumarov was serving a seven year sentence for ties to Wahhabis. The Uzbek government of course claims that he died of “an HIV infection and anemia.” Um, yeah, right.
—The drama in the Beslan Mothers and Grigorii Grabovoi controversy continues. Lisa Vronskaya provides an interesting analysis of why some of the mothers had gravitated to the cult leader. It seems that the devotion of some of its members is causing a lot of tension within the Mother’s group, causing increased speculation that Grabovoi is really an agent of the Kremlin. I seriously doubt this and just speaks to the tendency to see conspiracy emanating from above to squash the legitimate concerns and complaints from those below.
Vronskaya adds that there is a deep cultural reason why many are willing to accept Grabovoi’s claims:
“Russia has an ancient tradition of belief in the supernatural. Despite the country’s early Christianization, Russians continued to worship pagan gods for centuries. The Soviet regime proclaimed Russia a secular state where all religions were all but outlawed, and ordinary people again turned to mystic and supernatural cults. In the 1990s, ’healers’, albeit widely condemned as charlatans, were allowed to cast their spells on nationwide television.”
It is true that you can open any Russian tabloid and see all sorts of classified ads for a variety of kolduny and koldun’i, znakhari, mystics, soothsayers, palm readers, and “authentic” peasant women who can apply herbs and read chicken bones. Not to mention the popularity of astrological and other supernatural books. And it is also the case that there is a long history of religious sects in Russia. The strangest being the secretive Skoptsy, an odd group that split from the Old Believers and practiced castration as well as other extreme dietary and bodily regulations, about which Professor Laura Engelstein of Yale has written. But to take this particular case to the universal seems a bit much. I maintain that while strange and tragic, it is not hard to see why some of the Beslan Mothers have embraced Grabovoi. He offers them the impossible at a time when they are obviously still in shock.
—The Moscow News is celebrating its 75th Anniversary with an interview with the paper’s former editor, Yakov Lomko. The paper began in 1930, was haulted in 1949 after its editor, Mikhail Borodin was shot, but revived again in 1956. The Moscow News served as only foreign language newspaper published in the Soviet Union. When asked about pressure from the KGB, Lomko has this to say:
“Unlike editors of Russian-language Soviet papers I had a convenient excuse: “The foreign reader will not understand this.” After that they would leave me alone. We had an opportunity to speak about our problems more frankly and openly than Russian-language papers. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Central Committee dictated us what to write or censored us. We did not get instructions from the KGB, and had no contacts with them. Everything related to the publishing process was discussed by our editorial board.
The paper never was a “troubadour of ideas of Marxism-Leninism.” In the supplement intended for speeches of party leaders we published Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s story One Day of Ivan Denisovich. All this was “swallowed” by the upper echelons, the main thing was to persuade them. But, of course, to go against the “general line” was impossible. We worked for the interests of our country, trying to get close to common human values, believing this the only way to win the trust of the readers.”
—Probably one of the most important news items of the week is that 13 years ago Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent tanks to break opposition led by Chairman of the Supreme Council Ruslan Khasbulatov and Vice-president Alexander Rutskoi to his dissolving of Parliament and the Russian Constitution. I already pointed out how at the time the NY Times and the Washington Post lauded Yeltsin’s use of the military as progress for Russian “democracy” and “reform.” That being said, I find Nikolay Troitsky’s reflection on the event interesting:
“Early in the morning October 4, 1993 the White House was encircled. What happened next some people still call “execution of the parliament”. It was much talked right after the event, and the talks still continue today, that there was some armed resistance, that “defenders” of the House of the Government allegedly seized too much weapons. There probably were weapons but many witnesses of the events did not see them at all. There was General Makashov (he is now representing the Communist Party in the Parliament) with a Kalashnikov gun and three cartridge belts, but the general never shot.
On the day when the House of the Government was stormed, about one hundred of strange men wearing Cossack caps settled in the windows of the building with double-barreled guns or hunting rifles. The men incurred the inimical fire and spoiled the whole of the interior. At that those who fired the House of the Government did not look better than the “defenders”. Among them there were strong athletic men who jumped out of armored troop-carriers with better weapons and fired the building. Nobody knew where the people came from. It was suggested that they were probably engaged by Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, young Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other bankers who afterwards financed the Yeltsin Family. It is astonishing that 12 years after the events, Mikhail Khodorkovsky himself arrived at the parliamentary republic ideas that pushed Khasbulatov and Co.
The storm of the White House was in fact the mixture of senseless outrage and obvious sloppiness. Majority of people sitting in the building – clerks, cleaners, barkeepers – were rather peaceful and did not want to fight the regime. But none of them was allowed to leave the building. Instead, firing of the building began without warning.”
Troitsky ends hid discussion with this lesson of the 1993 “civil war”: “that it is dangerous in Russia to take armed people out in the streets to fight the regime.”
On that note, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin turned 53 on Friday.Post Views: 1,621
By Sean — 13 years ago
There isn’t too much to add by way of news on the militant attack in Nachlik, the provincial capital of Kabardino-Balkariya republic. Other obligations kept me from writing about it as things were unfolding. I can, however, point readers to a few places that give links to news stories as well as some analysis. Andy from Siberianlight.net has a good rundown of events as well as his take on the incident here and here. My friend and colleague Dave a.k.a. “Johnnie B. Baker” also has some thoughts on the subject. For up to date news on the incident I highly recommend periodic checks of the Interfax News Agency. Finally, as always David Johnson’s Russia list is an invaluable place for a collection of latest news and analysis.
In fact, there are a few articles worth commenting from today’s JRL #9267. The first is from The Economist on the expansion of the conflict into neighboring regions. The article points out the obvious—the conflict is and has been spreading for a while now, threatening to engulf the entire North Caucasus region. However, I think the article makes an excellent point in this passage:
“Mr. Putin runs the risk that more and more of the north Caucasus may slip into lawlessness and out of Moscow’s sphere of influence. This and signs of discontent in other of Russia’s far-flung regions will heighten fears that Russia may disintegrate just as the Soviet Union did. Soon after the tragedy in Beslan, Mr. Putin attempted to reassert a measure of control. He sent Dmitry Kozak, a trusted aide, to be his representative in the region and to foster economic development. And he announced that regional governors would be appointed by him, rather than through direct elections, in an attempt to wrest back powers ceded by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Given the corruption and unfitness of many of the elected governors, it seemed a reasonable move, though his dubious choices of replacements offer little by way of reassurance.”
As anyone who’s spent time in Russia knows, corruption is a systematic problem. But the corruption is facilitated by some deep structural problems in Russia’s economy. The problem stems from the fact that economic development is highly centralized in Russia. Moscow is the heart of the beast, but the blood flow of capital thins as it reaches Russia’s outer regions. Thus, for local governors and other politicians, aid from Moscow comes at a trickle. The result is similar to how things were in Soviet times, regional leaders either horde resources from the center or plunder them from their localities. The result has been the continued underdevelopment of its periphery. This chronic centralization is bound to lead to the very break down The Economist is predicting.
Another article worth noting is an interview with political analyst Alexei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center of Political Technologies, in Gazeta. Makarkin basically reiterates The Economist when it comes to local governors. When asked if appointees from Moscow could have prevented the attack, he said this:
“[W]e can install a Russian general in every region of the Caucasus that depends on federal subsidies. Install and wait to see what will follow. There are only two scenarios really. Either the appointee finds himself in isolation soon, without any power levers to wield or he joins the local elite and stops taking orders from Moscow. We already saw it in Chechnya when prime ministers appointed by Moscow were forced to leave the region soon.”
When asked if the clan system of Russian politics is to blame, he responded further:
“The clan system and poverty, this latter is a fertile soil for Islamic radicalism. Federal subsidies make up 72% of the Kabardino-Balkarian regional budget’s revenue. The officially-admitted unemployment rate is 2.5 times the national average, but the actual rate is much higher. According to official statistics, one in 20 residents of Kabardino-Balkaria have TB, which claims 10 lives a week.” [Translated by A. Ignatkin]
In addition, Makarkin argues that this attack was more about regional political clans fighting rather than “Wahhabis”, though the latter are a real danger and will always be blamed.
Maxim Shevchenko, from the Center for the Strategic Studies of Modern Religion and Policy, echos Makarkin’s argument adding,
“I am 120% sure that it was not a revolt by extremists but an attempt by a group of local elites dissatisfied with the recent appointments in Kabarda (Kabardino-Balkaria( to destabilize the situation in a bid to regain some of their lost powers or get new ones.”
Whether Makarkin’s or Shevchenko view is correct is hard to say. All accounts point to the involvement of militants either based in Kabardino-Balkariya, or from Dagestan or Chechnya. Rumors abound of Shamil Basayev’s presence and even death. News reports have denied the latter. Whatever the circumstances or whoever the perpetrators and their demands or origins, the whole incident points to the further destabilization of Russia’s south. Which, of course, raises many questions about the political fallout of the attack. According to RIA Novosti, Russian politicals are suggesting the incident demands further measures to strengthen vertical flows of power. All of which adds only to an already flood of speculation about who, if anyone, will succeed Putin in 2008.Post Views: 472