Wondering how war in the Middle East impacts Russia? I highly recommend Charlie Ganske’s post “The Long War in the Middle East and Russian Oil” on Russia Blog for an answer. Here is the opening paragraph:
The Russian business newspaper Kommersant has an article up on their website today, candidly titled Thanks to the War Machine. The article provides some historic perspective on how the USSR profited from the oil shocks after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The article also notes that Russia has been the single largest beneficiary of higher global oil prices fueled by Mideast turmoil. However, Kommersant contributor Sergey Minaev’s argument intersects with a view we have presented here at Russia Blog for some time: the West (not just the U.S.) has a strategic interest in developing Russian oil and gas, with the goal to expand global energy supplies from outside the Middle East.
I also suggest taking a look at Yuri Mamchur’s deconstruction of the new extremism law signed by Putin.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Reporters Without Borders has released its annual index on worldwide press freedom. The questionnaire the group used to calculate the index can be found here. According to the report Russia ranks 147th, where it is sandwiched between Singapore and Tunisia. Last year, Russia was ranked 138th. RWB explains the reason for the drop as follows:
Russia, which suffers from a basic lack of democracy, continues slowly but steadily dismantling the free media, with industrial groups close to President Vladimir Putin buying up nearly all independent media outlets and with passage of a law discouraging NGO activity.
Each year several journalists are murdered in Russia with complete impunity. The person who ordered the July 2004 killing in Moscow of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, remains publicly unknown. The murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in early October 2006 is a poor omen for the coming year.
When put into context, the decline in the free press in Russia is symbolic of a global phenomenon. The index also notes that even traditionally high ranked countries like France, the United States, and Japan has seen press freedom deteriorate. Since 2002, when the ranking was created, the US has fallen from 17th to its current position of 53rd. It dropped seven ranks in the last year. RWB explains the drop in the US as a result of, “Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.”
France has dropped a whopping 24 places in the last five years to its current position of 35th. French journalists have been victims of increasing police searches and violence. Japan, which has fallen 14 places to 51st, has seen the press under increasing verbally and physically attacked by nationalist forces.
The main culprits for the deterioration of press freedom aren’t surprising: war, nationalism, state censorship, and political and economic instability all contribute to a climate where journalists craft becomes dangerous.Post Views: 101
By Sean — 12 years ago
There are three rather disturbing articles in the April 20 edition of the Moscow Times that are worth mentioning.
The first, “Soldiers’ Mothers in the Crosshairs,” concerns how the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service lawsuit against the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees. However, when the case was made public when the Soldier’s Mothers received a summons to appear at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, it was dropped. Clearly, the government didn’t want to risk the bad press and potential public outcry that could potentially come by targeting this organization under the new NGO registration law. In addition, a court case would inevitably bring more attention to the horrible conditions in the Russian military. With increasing public disgust over dedovshchina, attempting to shut down the Soldier’s Mothers couldn’t produce anything positive. So writes the Times:
Lev Ponomaryov, the head of For Human Rights, an NGO, said the lawsuit signaled the beginning of the end for Soldiers’ Mothers, adding that authorities would probably shutter the group after the Group of Eight summit in July in St. Petersburg.
Ponomaryov said NGOs such as Soldiers’ Mothers “are not convenient for an authoritarian power.”
Alexei Zhafyarov, who runs the registration service’s NGO department, conceded that Soldiers’ Mothers had for the past five years provided reports indicating that they were in operation, along with information about current leadership, addresses and telephone numbers. These reports were filed in early April, after the suit was filed in court, Zhafyarov said. Oddly, Melnikova said she had learned of the suit only on Wednesday. She refused to discuss the accusations lodged against Soldiers’ Mothers.
Zhafyarov said the five years of reports still left two years unaccounted for, but added that officials were willing to overlook that omission.
But they were still concerned about Soldiers’ Mothers’ tardiness: The NGO, Zhafyarov said, should have been filing timely annual reports since its inception.
Zhafyarov said the registration service would simply issue the NGO a warning. After a certain number of warnings, the registration service may seek to have an NGO shut down, he said. But he said the law did not specify how many warnings an NGO was entitled to before the state can take action.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the Times also features “HIV NGOs Linked to Pedophilia.” The Moscow City’s Duma’s is urging Putin to “restrict the activities of foreign nongovernmental organizations that fight HIV/AIDS, saying they “encourage pedophilia, prostitution and the use of drugs among teenagers.” This only adds more difficulties confronting NGOs working on AIDS prevention in Russia. The appeal comes in response to a NGO named Kholis distributing a cartoon which featured “a man inviting a child to ride in his car. An older boy warns the child that the man wants to have sex and could infect him with HIV. The cartoon ends with the man throwing the naked child out of the car.” The NGO is funded by UNICEF. I haven’t a clue how this cartoon foster’s AIDS prevention. Apparently, the effectiveness was also lost of some backers of the appeal.
“In the United States, NGOs are calling for young people to refrain from sex or to put off sexual contact,” [Veronika] Kochetova [the spokeswoman for United Russia Deputy Lyudmila Stebenkova, who authored the appeal] said, referring to a campaign by U.S. President George W. Bush to put an emphasis on abstinence instead of safe sex.
“We also support giving condoms to at-risk groups like homosexuals and prostitutes, but to advertise the use of condoms to all of the population is wrong,” Kochetova said.
According to appeal, the cartoon fit into the opinion that foreign based HIV/AIDS NGOs are exacerbating AIDS rather than preventing it. The appeal reads: “The implementation of [foreign programs] is facilitating the growth of HIV infections rather than prevention.” Now Patriarch Alexei II has entered the fray with a condemnation of Western funded AIDS NGOs.
HIV/AIDS NGOs see the appeal as yet another attack on their activities in particular and NGOs in general. I have no idea what to make of this report. I hope more attention is given to it in the coming days and weeks.
Lastly, is the story, “Student With Anti-Fascist Leaflets Murdered.” On Tuesday, Alexander Ryukhin, a 19 year-old anti-fascist activist and student at the Moscow Electronics and Mathematics Institute, was stabbed to death as he and a friend were heading for a punk rock concert. Ryukhin died instantly from the attack. The attackers, who are assumed to be skinheads who’ve been targeting Ryukhin for his activities, left the knife in his chest. The knife had no fingerprints on it suggesting that the attack was planned.
Not a good day for Russian news by any stretch.Post Views: 97
By Sean — 12 years ago
Does Putin’s Russia resemble the Shah’s Iran? This is the question Boris Kagarlitsky ponders in his recent column “The Shah’s Iran & Putin’s Russia” on Eurasian Home. His argument runs like this. Like the Shah’s Iran, Putin has successfully created an economy that shows stable growth based on oil and gas exports. However, also like Iran, this formula doesn’t look promising to bring Russia out of its peripheral position in the world economy. In fact, just the opposite. If you listen to world systems theory, Russia will remain peripheral as long as it continues to supply core states—China and the European Union—with the fuels that move their economy only to give it back to Russia in the form of consumer imports. Russia may be able to dictate the terms of trade with raw materials, but to keep its population fat with consumer items; it needs to be cautious in how far it pushes.
Kagarlitsky’s argument goes beyond petrol exports. Putin’s “modernization” also involves in the development of a capitalist class that is adept in the rules of the market and international trade. Modernization is more than an economic project; it is also an ethical project. This has led him to restricting the business elite in general, while allowing a section of it that is loyal to his government flourish. Basically, Putin has traded one set of oligarchs for another. For Kagarlitsky, this has the potential to blow up in Putin’s face. Despite what people may think, holding state power requires two of three things: the military, the elite, and/or the common people. Currently, Putin has the first and a sizable portion of the third, with the second is a bit tenuous. Part of the elite supports him, while another part is probably ready to bolt, that is, if they had someone to bolt to.
According to Kagarlitsky, the “illusion” to Putin’s power lies in the oil prosperity.
The oligarch economy structure also remains unchanged. The market reforms are still in progress. The substitution of one oligarch by another may just make this policy work better. Technology development, national projects and modernization are much spoken about. The middle class should be satisfied by comfortable consumption conditions and well-paid jobs. The system’s work, however, is more of a show rather than of the efficiency. The glamour conceives the undecided problems. The superficiality of the ruling elite will sooner or later become obvious to an impartial observer. The Iranian capitalism under the last Shah, just like the Russian capitalism under Putin, had too narrow social and economic basis, leaving two thirds of the population at nothing. The oil prosperity maintains the illusion of stability. Just illusion, that’s it. As we look closer, we see the clouds in the horizon gathering.
Where would the people go? Certainly not to religious organizations like in Iran. Kagarlitsky thinks that Russian nationalist forces have the best chance of capitalizing on a disgruntled population. There are already signs of this.
[The] increasing number of the nationalist and fascist groups is starting to seriously worry the Kremlin. If our authorities are actually capable of learning at least some lessons from the past, then that would be it. They are doing their best to keep the nationalist bloc from consolidation, limiting its emerging leaders’ ambitions, preventing formation of the solid structures. “Rodina” was shown its place. Orthodox church is not a Shiite mosque, it will not object to the state. Numerous fascist groupings, from the killer skinhead to the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (MAII) are a serious trouble for citizens with “non-Aryan” looks, still not being a political force and are unlikely to become one. Even if the Communist Party turns all of its meetings into propaganda hang-outs for the racist MAII, this is still not enough to make the fascist movement highly influential. However, the authorities got a problem: it is kind of complicated to fight the right extremism and at the same time stand out for the civil society. The war at the two fronts demands considerable efforts, resources and attention, which they just might be too short of. Besides, keeping up appearances is also on the agenda, i.e. avoiding extremes while pursuing policy of repressions or at least having devices at hand to cover it. At the beginning of the 2000s nationalist movements in Russia were in a crisis. Even the Communist Party (which, regardless of its name, is the major nationalist party) was wavering. In the party, especially in its youth sector, communist movements were emerging, modestly trying to appeal to the name and the history of their organization. By mid-decade however, the racist and nationalistic forces in Russia have gotten their second chance. Successful “mop-up” of the civil society created favorable conditions. Putin was doing such a good job pulling the flowers in his garden that had made plenty of room for the weeds.
Such political garden is not needed even to the administration. The state machine is slowly changing fronts. “The fight against fascism” is becoming a popular ideological tune, and the Kremlin is even willing to pay overtime to those ready to sing it. No wonder that the number of struggling with the fascist menace is multiplying. But all of them are not quite right people. If you have been systematically cracking down on the civil society don’t be surprised to see different sorts of crooks being the only ones coming to your call.
This supports my theory that Putin and United Russia has positioned themselves in the political center. They both stand as the defenders of stability by denouncing the left, in the form of liberal parties, and the right, represented by nationalist parties. Putinism, if giving it an “–ism” is even appropriate, is politics through negativity—you are what your opponents aren’t. You brand them as harbingers of instability, thereby making you a partisan of stability without ever having to actually state how you will maintain said stability. The only question that remains is if two thirds of the population remains economically disenfranchised will the center hold? And if so how long? Who will occupy the new political center?Post Views: 110