Tonight I will be appearing on the radio show Open Source with Christopher Lydon. The show airs 7-8 EST. The show is also podcast for those who can’t catch the live feed. The topic is “Georgia (and Russia) Off Our Minds.” NYU Professor Stephen Cohen and Edward Lucas, the Central and Eastern European correspondent for the Economist will be guests in addition to myself. I’m told that I will be on during the last segment of the show.
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—Things continue to heat up in Azerbaijan before tomorrow’s elections. Azeri police raided the headquarters of two opposition parties, Popular Front of Azerbaijan and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, arresting their campaign directors, Gabil Mammadrzayev and Faramaz Javadov. The arrests are yet another attempt by the Aliyev government to preempt any chance the parliamentary elections will become “colored revolution.” So says Azeri Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, “If someone puts up tents somewhere, no matter what their color, and violates the rights of other citizens, and if it’s on some road where there’s transport, that will be prevented.”
—Inmate riots continue at Prison No. 31 outside the Kyrgiz capital of Bishkek. Security forces stormed the prison and crushed prisoners’ control of the prison. Two weeks ago prisoners revolted to protest living conditions. They took control of the prison and killed imprisoned former deputy Tynychbek Akmatbayev. But there is more to this story than prisoners rioting to protest conditions. Consider how Gulnoza Saidazimova describes the situation at Prison No. 31:
“Machine guns and knives, mobile phones, and computers with Internet connection, large amounts of money in U.S. dollars and euros as well as narcotics — all are in the possession of a “vor v zakone”, or a criminal kingpin, in Kyrgyz jails.
Consider, for example, Aziz Batukaev, who served a term in Prison No. 31 in the settlement of Moldovanovka near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek until he was transferred to another prison on November 1.
Speaking to journalists on 1 November in the wake of October unrest in Kyrgyz penal colonies, Deputy Prosecutor-General Abibulla Abdykaparov said Batukaev had occupied a whole floor of his prison. That included 16 rooms, where he kept three mares and 15 goats.
Abdykaparov explained that the convict used to drink the domestic animals’ milk to heal his ulcer. His wife and daughter-in-law as well as a bodyguard — not convicts themselves — were with him when the troops burst into the prison building.”
This of course is the conditions of the Kingpin. Other prisoners don’t fair so well. According to Topchubek Turgunaliev, the leader of the Erkindik opposition party,
“Conditions are extremely harsh, firstly, because of lack of food. What they get is [called] ’balanda,’ which is not only not nutritious, but also kills people. In some prisons, inmates have no food at all or get it once a week. The other problem is that prisons are overcrowded. So there is simply no air. I experienced that myself. In the cells of five-six people, we were 17-18 inmates.”
The “vor v zakone” rules at the behest of corrupt prison officials. The system seems to be a symbiotic one. The Kingpin controls the prison population from within, while the authorities get a piece of the prison drug trade. Though Kyrgyz officials have denied prison authorities involvement in narco-trafficking, (what are they going to do admit it and ruin their action!?), Turgunaliev adds,
“Prison facilities are a center of corruption. I know narcotics, including ‘gera’ [heroin] is brought there. I saw myself how they make 50-70 ‘lyap’ [portions] from a gram of gera. Each lyap cost [$1.5] in 2001. I don’t know the current prices. There are two kinds of narcotic trafficking [in prison],” he said. “The first is that of vory v zakone. The other one is controlled by the prison administration. Usually, one of the deputies of a prison head is in charge of the traffic. They get tens of millions [sums of profit] every month. I emphasize once again: tens of millions.”
—Like a modern day Peter the Great, Putin went to the Netherlands this week to discuss economic relations. He also gave an interview to Dutch TV. Some of Putin’s answers are worth highlighting.
QUESTION: In October, events took place in Nalchik that showed that terrorists are spreading their action beyond Chechnya and into the whole of the North Caucasus. Does this mean that Russia is losing the fight against the terrorists? How do you assess the effectiveness of your law enforcement agencies’ work in Nalchik?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is not the first time terrorists have made incursions into other parts of the Caucasus and other regions of the country. Russia was one of the first countries to be confronted with terrorism, and the reasons for this are clear. The Soviet Union fell apart, the state was in an extremely weakened position and the population had to face the collapse of the economy and the social protection system. Elements of this break up of the Soviet Union made their way onto Russian territory. This all made possible the terrible situation we have been facing for the last 15 years. But no terrorists can defeat the people that in their time vanquished Nazism, above all because the Russian people and the other peoples of Russia have an extremely strong feeling of self-preservation.
But several things are needed to be able to fight terrorism effectively. We need to strengthen the state and the legal system, achieve economic growth and create a middle class, strengthen the law enforcement agencies and develop more effective international cooperation.
Regarding how effectively the law enforcement agencies worked in Nalchik, preliminary reports say that the group of bandits that attacked Nalchik counted around 150 people, of which 93 were eliminated and 40 arrested. The terrorists managed to take three groups of people hostage at three different locations. Our law enforcement agencies’ special forces carried out three operations to free the hostages. All the hostages were freed, there were no lives lost among the special-forces officers and all the terrorists were eliminated.
As you can see, the terrorists have ever less opportunity to act effectively in Chechnya itself and so they are trying to expand their activities into other regions of the Caucasus, but they will not succeed in this objective for we will not let them.******
QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question about mass media freedom in Russia. The organisation Reporters without Frontiers put Russia in 138th place in its list of countries evaluated according to freedom of the press. The problems most commonly cited with regard to freedom of the press in Russia are the so-called ‘black hole’ when it comes to coverage of events in Chechnya, increased state control over the press and more. Could you comment on the conclusions of this organisation?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It seems there is no getting away from the problems of Chechnya, the fight against terrorism and everything connected to the Caucasus. I will make my final comment on this point and then let us move on to another subject, the one you just raised, for example.
The tradition of appeasing any aggressors and extremists following the principle of ‘make agreement with anyone at any price, if only they will leave us alone’ has become firmly rooted in European political thought. This is a dangerous way of thinking that in practice leads to great tragedies. It is enough to remember Chamberlain and Daladier who signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler in 1938 and announced on their return home that they had brought with them ‘peace in our time’. But the Second World War broke out only a year later. In this respect, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was no better, but it was a necessary measure after the western countries accepted a deal with Nazi Germany.
I think this is a very dangerous trend and we have to realize that this kind of practice leads to problems in all of our countries. No sops to terrorists, not even giving them political asylum, can buy them off, and the recent tragic and serious events in a number of European countries are the clearest confirmation of this.
Now, regarding the media, we are aware, of course, of these evaluations and I think that we need to listen to such criticism. We have many problems, especially at regional level, and I am aware of this. I think that freedom of the press is one of the basic conditions for developing democracy in the country. Without freedom of the press we will not be able to root out corruption or build a free society. The most important task for us is to ensure the media’s economic independence so that it will serve the interests of all of society rather those of the economic groups or oligarchs.
Today in Russia there are 47,000 registered periodical media publications and around 3,000 radio and television companies. It would be impossible to control them all even if we wanted to, and we have no such desire anyway. That is not to mention the Internet, which is developing absolutely freely, without any control from outside at all, and has an ever-growing number of users.******
QUESTION: You spoke about your past, and now, perhaps, you could answer a question about your future. You said that in 2008 you will step down from the post of President. Do you already have any plans for the future? Will you remain active in political life or will you go into some other area of activity?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Every normal person has plans for the future. It is hard to imagine someone who has no plans at all. But it is not such a good omen to talk about the future. The future depends on how we live and what we do in the present. We build our future ourselves, through our present action.
QUESTION: You are very popular in the ratings in Russia at the moment and you are one of the stabilising factors for the situation in the country. Can you imagine a situation in which you would decide to remain in office for a third term?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You are suggesting that destabilization could take place in the country?
RESPONSE: Perhaps. It is a situation that cannot totally be ruled out.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I realize that 2008 will be an important test for Russia, and not an easy one.
At the same time, the Constitution of the Russian Federation states that the President, the head of state, is elected for four years through direct secret ballot and cannot stay in office for more than two consecutive terms.
I am not indifferent of course to the question of who will take in their hands the destiny of the country I have devoted my life to serving. But if each successive head of state were to change the Constitution to suit them, we would soon find ourselves without a state at all. I think that Russia’s different political forces are sufficiently mature to realize their responsibility to the people of the Russian Federation. In any case, the person who receives the votes of the majority of Russian citizens will become the President of the country.
At the same time, I would like to note that, according to the Constitution, the presidential powers are conferred on the new President after the inauguration takes place, and until this time, the incumbent head of state carries full responsibility for the situation in the country. In the name of the interests of the people of the Russian Federation, I will not allow any destabilization in the country.
—Russia’s new holiday, Unity Day, which supposedly marks the 1612 liberation of Moscow from Polish rule, showed few signs of unity. A 1000 nationalist youths from the Eurasian Youth League held a demonstration calling for the liberation of Russia from illegal immigrants, mostly those from the Republics to its south. Youths from the liberal group Oborona threw condoms filled with water at the nationalists in retaliation.
Catholics are claiming that the holiday is merely a celebration of Orthodoxy’s triumph over Catholicism. In 1612 the liberation of Moscow by armies led by Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin drove out the Polish pawn and pretender, False Dmitri. Some believe that this victory prevented the Catholicization of Russia.
The contention over Unity Day doesn’t stop there. Historians argue that the Kremlin got the date all wrong charging that November 4 is more about replacing the holiday commemorating the Bolshevik Revolution on November 7 rather than celebrating the liberation from the Poles or the end of the Time of Troubles. As Communist Deputy Sergei Reshulsky said, “This is just a fake holiday. Even the dates are wrong. The Kremlin came up with this holiday just to make people forget their communist past.” Of course, as the Moscow Times reports, the reasons for the holiday matter to many Russians as long as there is a holiday. When asked what she thought of the holiday, Lyudmila Knyazeva, a 49-year-old accountant said, “I don’t know what we are celebrating and, to be honest, I don’t care. What is important is that I don’t have to go to work. The weather is not cold yet, and I might go to the dacha.” Let the holiday spirit ring.Post Views: 1,435
—Who will, if anyone, replace Putin after 2008? This is the question that has been on almost everyone’s lips for weeks, if not months. Opinions have vacillate between speculations about Putin changing the Russian Constitution so he could run again, or a candidate hand will be picked by Putin to run for President. That person would be an instant favorite. Both scenarios are possible. But it seems that the latter is the most likely. Putin himself was hand picked by Yeltsin. It appears that he is going to continue the tradition.
The question then becomes who? And further what kind of person will it be? The Moscow Times has an article suggesting that whoever Putin picks, it will probably be a compromise between him and the siloviki and an unnamed progressive St. Petersburg group. The siloviki are a Kremlin call of St. Petersburg intelligence officials who are the base of Putin’s power. In terms of what type of figure that will be, a report by Renaissance Capital (the report is only available to RC clients) suggests the following:
“If the siloviki are able to nominate a candidate, then the next president is likely to push to extend state control outside of the strategic sectors of the economy and into the most dynamic sectors of the Russian economy, undermining economic recovery.”
Perhaps so, but I am not convinced that increased state control will undermine economic recovery. If anything’s for sure, the lack of state control over Russia’s energy and natural resources has only lead to plunder, theft, and corruption. This is not to say that this wouldn’t happen under state control, but at least the state can direct the country’s resources in a direction that benefits the overall the interests of the country. The history of state deregulation, especially in conjunction with structural adjustment, has only led to further problems. Just look at Argentina.
The Russian government’s primary concern according to the Moscow Times is to facilitate a smooth and peaceful transfer of power. The 2008 election should not be viewed without Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan in mind. The so-called “colored revolutions” have cast a dark cloud over Russian domestic politics and there is fear that “revolution” in Russia might be next.
As for Putin himself, some are claiming that he will stay in politics perhaps as the head of United Russia or run one of Russia’s energy outfits. Only time will tell.
Komsomolskaia Pravda also ponders life after Putin but from a different perspective. The concern for the Norka Analytical Group is not who, but what will happen after Putin. Their focus is also on the question of state de/regulation. The article states:
“In the course of their economic transformations, Russia and China have dispelled the myth that private property is superior to state property. As practice shows, industrial efficiency doesn’t depend on the form of property ownership – it depends on the efficiency of the management system, which is not determined by the form of property ownership. Without going into a detailed analysis of the efficiency of China’s state economy and the inefficiency of Russia’s private sector, a number of conclusions may be drawn, the most important of which is this: the private sector in Russia is incapable of ensuring national economic development. The Russian-style capitalist will never build new enterprises that take five to seven years to provide a return on investment. He might invest in a football club, a casino, or a hotel, but he’ll never invest in innovation projects that are a method of industrial development.
The only source of funding for this development, inherited by modern Russia from the USSR, is undoubtedly the natural resources sector – which Yeltsin’s reformers hastened to transfer into private ownership. At present, even though most of the profits from energy resources are going to a group of individuals, the state is receiving substantial sums in the form of taxes and tariffs. But the economic bloc of the federal government, as represented by the so-called liberal ministers, is denying the need to develop the state sector of the real economy and doesn’t know how to use this money in private enterprise.” [Translation: Tatiana Khramtsova]
Putin’s achievement, according the Kom Prav, is that he’s put a stop to the liquidation of Russia’s state industries that began with Gorbachev and accelerated under Yeltsin.
—The Economist sets its sights on the ubiquitous problem of corruption in Russia. According to a report by Indem, “since 2001, in the number and size of bribes given by young men and their families to avoid conscription and, relatedly, in those paid to get into universities. (Fixing a court case, Indem found, has got a bit cheaper.)” Russia’s corruption index, as calculated by Transparency International, ranks Russia next to Niger, Sierra Leone and Albania.
As the Economist is quick to point out: Corruption in Russia is not simply about paying bribes to lower officials and police, it kills. The corruption of local officials has aided the blowing up to two planes and the Beslan and Nalchik attacks. Corruption makes Russia’s fight against terrorism that much more difficult.
—Mosnews is reporting that Kyrgystan’s Prime Minister, Felix Kulov is offering to resign after the in response to protests and a possible parliamentary inquiry into his involvement in the killing of deputy Tynychbek Akmatbayev. Akmatbayev was killed in a convict’s riot on Thursday in a Kyrgyz penal colony. According to witnesses,
“The clash in the prison colony No.31 in the village of Moldovanovka, it was Akmatbayev and one of his aides who first opened fire. One of the convicts, Aziz Batukayev, who is considered to be the ring leader among the convicts, ordered the killing of the MP. It was reported that he had hostile relations with the MP’s brother, Ryspek Akmatbayev, a well-known criminal. According to sources from the penitentiary, “the riots started after convicts demanded that their living conditions be improved”.
Protesters in Bishkek are claiming that Kulov is connected to the murder.
—Another outbreak of bird flu is being reported in Chelyabinsk region, in Russia’s South Urals. So far 33 birds from two different farms have died. According to an unnamed Russian agricultural ministry official,
“The risk of the lethal strain of avian flu rearing its head in Moscow or its surrounding area was “minimal”, despite an outbreak in Tula, 300 kilometres (188 miles) south of the capital. Veterinary services said Friday they suspected that the bird flu virus had now spread to 24 areas, of which 20 were in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia, three in the Kurgan region of Siberia and one in the southern region of Stavropol, though tests were still ongoing.”
The Moscow Oblast administration has decided to destroy all wild birds near poultry procession facilities to prevent the spread of bird flu into the area. Russia Profile claims that this aggressive stance in is reaction to the EU upholding its ban on Russian poultry exports.
—Kommersant is reporting that Russia’s Deputy General Procurator Nikolai Shepel’ is claiming that preliminary investigations show the Nalchik attacks were carried out by an underground international terrorist organization, and that there are strong connections between the Nalchik attacks and similar acts in Ingushetia and Beslan. He told Kommersant, “a serious organization resists us with an ideology that is a dangerous to the state.” He also claims that while the majority of militants in Nalchik were Kabardins, “persons of Chechen and Ingush nationality” were also present. Found among several of the “bandits” were written letters testifying that they were dying for “glory of God and belief.” Thus continues the effort by the Russian government to connect their regional conflict to the global war on terrorism.
For a more comprehensive discussion on Nalchik and its significance, I recommend Russia Profile’s very interesting weekly roundtable.Post Views: 1,341
I’m not sure how to take or what do to with yesterday’s Izvestia’s article (Mosnews has an English summary here) which reports that the slain leader of the Chechen nationalist movement, Alan Maskhadov believed Shamil Basaev was taking money from Boris Berezhovsky to wage war against Russia in the interests of the US and England. This information comes from statements from one “Maskhadovtsy” named Vakhit Murdashev and his lawyer Baiali El’murzaev. According to their statements, Maskhadov wanted reconcile with Moscow because he viewed that the US and England’s geopolitical interests in the Caucuses posed a more dangerous threat to Chechnya than the Kremlin. According to information Murdashev provided Izvestiia,
“Aslan Maskhadov feared that Shamil Basaev fell under the influence of Berezovskii, and worker for him for money, and could lose sight of the idea of independence and go under the sway of the West. If this was correct, [it could] work on tearing the Caucuses away from Russia. [Maskhadov and Basaev] had a fundemental disagreement over this, and in conversations with Murdashev, Maskhadov said that it was better to form an alliance with Russia than fall under the sway of the West.”
Potentially explosive stuff. However, some caution should be taken considering how some of the players are connected. Placing the exiled oligarch and major Kremlin critic Boris Berezhovsky as Basaev’s financier seems way to good to be true from the Kremlin’s perspective. Berezhovsky fled Russia to France to escape a fate similar to Mikhail Khordokovsky. The Berezhovsky-Basaev-US/Britian connection seems too conspiratorial and too easily explained as Russian concern about the US influence in the region. But what this story also presents is some bad news for the Kremlin. When Maskhadov was killed, many commentators quickly pointed out that Moscow now had no one to talk to on the Chechen side. According to other information released since his death, Maskhadov was trying to sue for peace with Russia. There are no such hopes with someone like Basaev. If the report in Izvestiia is true, it only shows further how Maskhadov’s death was a major and tragic mistake.Post Views: 394