Talk about a script writing itself! Sony and Warner Bros. who are both developing films about the Alexander Litvinenko murder might just get their third act after all. Johnny Depp won’t need to look too deep to get inspiration for his role as Sasha the Spy. The shooting, ahem . . . carjacking, or is it mugging, no wait, shooting of Paul Joyal has revived a case that by all appearances seemed all but closed. Last week, Paul JoyalLitvinenko acquaintance, security expert and “a longtime critic of the Putin regime,” was shot in his DC suburban neighborhood shortly after he uttered these words on Dateline NBC: “A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: ‘If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you and we will silence you — in the most horrible way possible.’” Talk about prescience!
Of course speculation immediately turned to the Kremlin, whose fabled long reach is not just about ice picks and radioactive substances anymore. However, that assumption was quickly questioned when police told the Washington Post that “Joyal was driving a Chrysler 300, a vehicle sought by carjackers, suggesting that the assailants might have followed Joyal home rather than waited there to attack him. Police have described the suspects as two black males.” The police officers claimed that Joyal was robbed of his wallet and briefcase.
Hey, I’ve seen that episode of the Sopranos! You know the one from the first season where Uncle June learns that Tony is going to a shrink and moves to whack him. He also hires “two black males” to make Tony’s murder seem like a “carjacking.” And I thought this all sounded too Hollywood before! Can we expect Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin™ to get writing credit?
But now Joyal’s wife claims that her husband was neither robbed nor carjacked. Though, “She did not say what happened to the items or how she knew they were not taken.” Okay . . . Well, at least it appears that Joyal is in good condition from the bullet in his belly. We can expect his version of events any day now. I suspect that Berezovsky’s public relations people are on a plane right now to coach Joyal into giving us the necessary hyperbolic twists this unfolding script needs.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
The Guardian and the Moscow Times are reporting that Coke is in negotiations with Russian bottlers to make kvas, the murky drink that has been a muzhik favorite for hundreds of years. According to Kommersant, which initially broke the story:
Several market participants informed Kommersant of Coca-Cola’s plans to set up kvas production. The company is in talks with beer and kvas producers to bottle kvas at their plants as Coca-Cola’s Russian plants do not have the necessary equipment, sources of Kommersant say. The American company is reputed to negotiate the deal with Efes, Sun Interbrew, Borodino and Polyustrovo. If the venture is a success, Coca-Cola may set up its own kvas production.
Efes did not confirm the news Thursday, saying they had been discussing the kvas production with Coca-Cola late last year. The talks have not brought any results, Efes Russia’s PR manager Kirill Ustinov told Kommersant. Coca-Cola would not comment on the reports.
Although some experts say that Russians will only laugh at the name of “Coca-Cola’s kvas”, the market of the traditional bread drink is more than promising – 46-percent growth last year, the largest in the soft drink market. The kvas market reached $215 million in money terms in 2006, and analysts predict this upward trend to continue.
All I can say is . . . yuck!Post Views: 197
By Sean — 11 years ago
The character of the Russian elite is a topic of constant speculation. Is it one man rule? Is it an oligarchy? Is it a mafia structure? What is the real relationship between Putin’s administration and the security organs? Between the state and the emerging Russian middle class? What will happen in 2008?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Elite Studies Center at the Sociology Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, and author of Anatomiia rossiiskoi elita (2004) says that the Russian elite has been split between Westernizers and Slavophiles for the last 200 years. “In fact, these have been the only two “parties” in
ever since,” she says in an interview with Kommersant Vlast’. “No others have emerged, no matter how many parties Russia has seen over the decades. The Westernizers argue for freedom of the individual, private enterprise, separation of powers, elections. For Slavophiles, all this means alien ideologies and chaos that casts doubt on the very existence of the Russian state.” Putin’s regime is simply the most recent personification of the Slavophile faction in power. Russia
Kryshtanovskaya makes several other interesting insights in the interview. I encourage everyone to read it. Here are few highlights:
Question: If the strength of the Russian state lies in rejecting democracy, then why do the people who are currently at the helm keep saying that
needs democracy? They could just change the Constitution, after all. Russia
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: But why act so crudely? It was the liberals who publicly betrayed the autocratic machine and openly attacked its load-bearing components: the pyramid of power, the command economy, secrecy. But today’s authorities have an entirely different background. In the secret services, they were trained in undercover operations – working behind a mask, concealing their true intentions. No need to wreck the system openly; instead, you need to infiltrate it and go on to preserve its facade while altering the contents to suit yourself, step by step. But these steps toward changing the system should always be done from different directions, and always unexpectedly for those within the system and outside observers alike. So that no one will be able to trace a logical connection between various steps or figure out the purpose of the whole operation.
Rumor has it that soon after Vladimir Putin came to power, he made a revealing remark: “Wherever you look, it’s all like
.” What he meant was disorder. But what is “disorder” to someone from a military or state security background? It’s the absence of control. If there’s no control, there are opportunities for independent influence. And the presence of alternative centers of power is perceived by the siloviki as a threat to Chechnya ‘s integrity. Does the Duma refuse to take orders from the presidential administration? That’s disorder. Is Gazprom run by Rem Vyakhirev rather than the Kremlin? Disorder. Are some parties making demands, are the media talking about something or other? It’s all disorder – it needs to be eliminated. And they have eliminated it. Over the past seven years, the chekists have changed Russia ‘s political system entirely – without changing a single letter of the Constitution. Russia
Question: But most citizens are content with present-day conditions – judging by President Putin’s popularity.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: For the people, democracy still remains something foreign, incomprehensible, and suspicious. But the present regime’s autocratic style is familiar – they understand where President Putin is leading
. We still retain our traditional faith in a Good Tsar. Besides, the position of the chekists is incredibly stable these days. That’s mostly because the present system relies on age-old traditions of autocratic statehood. The siloviki aren’t being resisted by any other force. Not even Yuri Andropov enjoyed such freedom of action: he always had to consult the Politburo, where he had only one vote. But now the chekists are their own “Politburo.” Essentially, all the major decisions in Russia are made by five people: Vladimir Putin, Viktor Ivanov, Sergei Ivanov, Igor Sechin, and Nikolai Patrushev. Russia
Question: But Vladimir Putin will drop out of that quintet in 2008.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Even if he steps down as president, he won’t leave the “Politburo.” The corporation known as the Federal Security Service (FSB) and its ruling group will remain unchanged. It’s only Boris Berezovsky who claims that he “made” Putin. Putin was made president by the corporation that came to power in 2000. And it didn’t go to all that effort just to surrender power after a mere eight years.
Question: A great deal will depend on the successor, right?
Olga Kryshtanovskaya: The chekist “Politburo” will remain in power anyway. If they prefer a “strong” president, they will choose Sergei Ivanov. If they prefer a “weak” president, it will be Dmitri Medvedev. Or Vladimir Putin might remain the leading figure after all.
Quotations from the interview were translated by Elena Leonova.Post Views: 189
By Sean — 12 years ago
—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: 565