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.
You Might also like
By Sean — 12 years ago
The LA Times Moscow correspondent Kim Murphy published a lengthy three part story this past weekend titled “The Vanishing Russians.” The series exposes some frightening facts and stories about the state of Russia’s demographic crisis. The explanations for this crisis bounce between a sordid legacy left by the Soviet Union and the current politics of Russia. Still, her ricocheting between past and present is left without structural logic. This is to her credit as well as to her fault. While the human toll of Russia’s demographic crisis can be touched, the very structural nature of role of capitalism as a system is left to run freely roughshod over the bones of its victims without indictment.
This point will be addressed below. First, some summary and discussion of her nevertheless excellent investigative series.
Part one of the series, “A Dying Population” introduces the problem via personal stories and statistics. The demographic crisis in Russia is now well known. Increasing mortality and declining birth rates since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has created a population scissors crisis in the nation of 142 million people. Still the narratives and figures continue to be striking. For example, according to Murphy, abortions outpace births by 100,000 with 10 million Russian women infertile because of botched abortions. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has lost 700,000 people a year. During Soviet times, Russian men’s average life expectancy is 59 years old, with a 48.5 percent chance of them dying between the age of 15 and 60. Finally, according to Sergei Mironov, the chairman of the upper Duma, “if the trend didn’t change, the population would fall to 52 million by 2080.”
Other factors have helped Russia’s population slide. AIDS, illness, alcoholism, drug use, and suicide have all been factors in exacerbating the demographic crisis. The latter, suicide, was an increasing escape from the hardships of the 1990s. Economic collapse, social instability, and of course the harsh dark Russian winters certainly added to people’s propensity to off themselves. Murphy writes,
Russia’s suicide rate, at about 36 per 100,000 people, is second only to that of Lithuania, according to the Serbsky National Research Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry. In some remote areas of Russia, the rate exceeds 100 per 100,000.
Nikolai Zavada, a 21-year-old musician who goes by the name Serial Self-Killer, posted a song on http://www.mysuicide.ru , a well-known website that was later shut down because of public pressure:
I’m going out.
And it doesn’t matter whether it’s up or down.
Or who’s holding your hand, an angel or otherwise….
The cold has worn me out.
“People have a lack of hope,” Zavada said in an interview. “That all their efforts are in vain. And also, they have a feeling of eternal emptiness.”
Such narratives read similar to archival documents I’ve read about incidents of suicide from the 1920s.
The increasing gap between deaths and births is only one aspect of the problem. This gap is being aiding by an increasingly corroded health care system. This is the subject of part two, “For the Sick, No Place to Turn.” Not longer with the support of the state, Russian health care is wilting under capitalist reforms. Like most countries, the welfare state has met its death knell. The mantra of privatization is even heard in Russia. As the public system crumbles, those who can afford the emerging private system do so, while those who can’t, must rely on a public system that is losing the competitive war as more would-be state doctors are entering private practice. The logic of the market is draining the public sector of means and minds, and the private grows fat on the corpses of the former. A small present of chocolates, tea, or even blat gets you very far today.
The poor status of Russians’ health is not simply because of alcohol and bad health care; it is also because the widespread environmental damage caused by the Soviet state. Soviet socialism was to make man the ultimate tamer of nature, but nature’s revenge is an indiscriminant litany of effects: cancers, poisoning, birth defects, suffocation, and contamination.
If a crumbling health care system is the second pillar of demographic crisis, the third is migration and higher birthrates among non-Russian populations. Part three, “The Future Looks a Lot More Diverse”, points to an issue that is not just indicative of Russia. Sometimes derisively called “the Empire Strikes Back” in academic parlance, Russia is part of a regional shift as former colonial subjects from all former European empires are now tipping the demographic scales by flooding into the metropole. And like in Britain, France, and Germany, the face of the burgeoning domestic Other is not white or Christian; he/she is dark and Muslim. With political Islam (a term I’ve adopted from Mahmood Mamdani) replacing “communism” and “nationalism” in the discourse of global politics, these Muslims are more and more simply being associated with “terrorist.” Via what Mamdani calls “culture talk,”, the “good” Muslim is eventually eclipsed by the “bad” Muslim. In the end, the political effects of demographic crisis are multifaceted. The population decline of Russians will eventually correspond to a decline in cultural and political influence.
“Demographic trends,” Murphy writes,
suggest that the decrease is likely to continue. Although most experts are skeptical, a former U.S. government expert on Russian nationalities recently predicted that Russia would have a Muslim majority within 30 years.
In addition to its own Muslim population, Russia is home to an estimated 10 million illegal immigrant workers from the largely Muslim former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The city of Moscow has swelled to 10.4 million people, and one-fifth of them are Muslims. The Russian capital has the largest Muslim population of any city in Europe.
Along Moscow’s wide boulevards, minarets rise next to the onion domes of Russian Orthodox churches. Across the country, there are 8,000 mosques, up from 300 in 1991, when Soviet strictures on religious observance were lifted. Markets more often than not are run by immigrants from Azerbaijan. Construction sites would come to a halt if not for low-paid workers from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
These developments explain the sharp rise in Russian nationalism, racism, and racial violence in a nutshell.
There are roughly three explanations given to explain the ills that inflict Russian society. The first is derived from an argument in academic and policy circles that Russia is still in a state of “transition.” Suspended somewhere between state socialism and capitalism, this argument says, the ills of “development” are harsh, but necessary. It is the birth pains of Russia entering the globalized world. Under this logic social and economic inequality is acceptable because it will condition the spoiled population to embrace a Protestant work ethic.
The second argument lays the blame solely on Putin. By this logic capital is not the problem; Putin is because he has put breaks on a process of liberalization that so flourished in the 1990s. The usual crimes are listed: the persecution of the oligarchs, especially Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the centralization of power, the transformation of United Russia into a party/state, the revival of Soviet traditions, and political repression. These are crimes for sure, but as a Russian friend recently told me, “I don’t like it when Americans explain Russia’s ills to me. The 1990s were so difficult that I understand why many people choose stability over freedom.”
The third explanation is an extension of the second. Russia’s problem is Russians themselves. They drink too much, don’t work enough, are slavish to power, and are racists as well as other reductionist reasoning. The problems let alone the solutions have no social existence—they reside in genetics itself. Such reasoning only makes Russians defensive toward their Russianness. And rightly so.
The point of the matter is that all three of these explanations are merely mystifications. The first posits what Fredric Jameson calls a “singular modernity”: all roads may seem different, but there is only one road to capitalist modernity, a road where the length and severity of overcoming backwardness is measured according to that of “Western” norms of development. The second shrouds the severe costs of the Soviet Union’s collapse as it does smooth over the tremendous wake which spreads to this day. The third is one facet of the worse forms of neo-Darwinism.
1991 was supposed to bring prosperity. It did to some. But that is the nature of capital. It only ever brings prosperity to some. Given the Third Worldesque nature of capitalism in Russia, where Moscow stands at the center with the gravitational pull of the sun, the ruinous effects of the market are only that much greater. This is not to belie the responsibility of the Soviet Union. If that system worked in the first place, it wouldn’t have collapsed. But to constantly evoke the ghosts of the past masks the realities of the present. The same could be said for placing people like Putin at the apex of Russia’s misery. No doubt, his role is crucial but there is no reason to give him more credit that he deserves. There are some real structural reasons for the crises Murphy explores in her series. She gives attention to some of them.
There is one, however, that remains buried in the human narratives she presents. It is capital and its inherently contradictory nature. Within its very being, as Karl Marx observed, are wondrous powers of creation but those creative qualities are not without wonton destruction. Russia is and will continue to be a reflection of capital’s janus face.
By Sean — 12 years ago
Since I’m already on the topic of Chechnya, I urge readers to check out C. J. Chivers’ piece in the NY Times on the torture of Malika Soltayeva, a Chechen woman who is suspected of adultery. It seems that Kadyrov’s Chechnya is turning out to be no different than the late Shamil Basaev’s would have been. Here is an excerpt:
Ms. Soltayeva’s own experience, much of which was captured on video, was an accumulation of terror, pain and loss.
She was seized March 19, and mocked throughout a torture session that lasted nearly two hours. “Call for Sergei!” one of the policemen said, using the name of her assumed lover as he beat her. “Sergei! Help!”
Next they told her to dress, and drove her to her husband’s courtyard and made her dance before her neighbors. “Look how ugly you are,” another policeman said.
When she staggered away, several of them kicked her with their heavy black boots. Two days later she miscarried, and has been largely out of public view since.
The episode, which took place five months ago, was not investigated, even though videos showing the torture were passed along on cellphones throughout Argun and other Chechen towns. The videos circulated widely enough that accurate details of her abuse were known by roughly half of the Chechens interviewed by The New York Times.
“It is just outrageous lawlessness,” Ms. Soltayeva said in an interview in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital.
As is common in crumbling marriages, the details of Ms. Soltayeva’s family life and behavior are in dispute. Her former husband’s family says she had an affair with a Russian serviceman she met at a store where she worked as a cashier. She says that she did not, and that she was faithful to her husband even though he beat her.
Her whereabouts in the weeks leading up to her beating are also a source of contention.
Ms. Soltayeva said she was away from home because she had been abducted by masked men who eventually released her, a phenomenon in Chechnya that is common enough that her own family says they believe her. Her husband’s family, and the police, say that she left Chechnya to try to live with her Russian lover, and that she returned when it did not work out.
Natalya Estemirova, a staff member at the Grozny office of Memorial, a private human rights group, said she tried to bring the case to the Chechen authorities, but they threatened Ms. Soltayeva with criminal charges for falsely claiming to have been kidnapped. They showed no interest in the police violence, she said.
Allegations of state-sponsored horrors, and claims that Russian and Chechen officials have allowed servicemen to commit crimes with impunity, have been a regular accompaniment to the Chechen wars.
Human rights groups have documented mass graves, extralegal executions, widespread use and tolerance of torture, illegal detention, rape, robbery and kidnapping.
The Chivers’ article includes other, more violent examples of the kadyrovtsy’s methods.
By Sean — 13 years ago
—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.