Russia and the world were stunned by the assassination of Vladimir Putin as he walked out of a midnight mass at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on January 7, 2008.” This line is not out of Brad Thor’s spy thriller State of the Union or Robert Ludlum’s historical dystopia The Tristan Betrayal. This fanciful scenario can be found in the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ new report “Alternative Futures for Russia to 2017.” More specifically, “A Shot in the Dark … and True Dictatorship,” the second of three “alternative scenarios” Kremlinologist Andrew Kuchins, formerly of the Carnegie Endowment, predicts for Russia over the next decade, a report which caused a minor shitstorm in Russia last week.
Predicting Russia, however, is more than just an academic venture. It is a genre in and of itself. A sort of “social science fiction” where the Socratic Method is employed to weave fanciful and farcical tales about the Great Bear. And like any literary genre it posits a narrative filled with heroes and villains, climax, and foreshadowed resolutions. All that is historically contingent is flattened. All that is seemingly unexpected is, by the plot’s end, all too expected.
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By Sean — 8 years ago
It looks like Nashi might have crossed a line in their campaign against Alexander Podrabinek. According to Vremya, the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation made an official appeal calling for an investigation of Nashi’s “illegal and amoral” campaign to hunt down the journalist. The appeal reads:
The campaign to hunt the [Podrabinek] clearly violates existing legislation and demonstrates obvious signs of extremism: fomentation of discord and the violation of a citizen’s human rights and freedoms. There presently are signs of the violation of articles 23 and 25 of the Russian Constitution (the inviolability of private life and residence.) The violation of article 24 which prohibits the use and distribution of information about the private life of an individual without his sanction: it is unlikely that A. Podrabinek gave his address to anyone for the organization to picket his home. Finally, and this is the most important, is article 29 which guarantees everyone the freedom of thought and speech and prohibits the use of force against the expression of those thoughts, opinions, or in their rejection.
Ouch! The Council wasn’t the first to note Nashi’s violation of the law. On 2 October, Vedomosti denounced Nashi’s campaign, noting that lawyers agreed that the organization violated the law. But the business daily merely cited that their protests outside Podrabinek’s apartment violated the civil code because Nashi didn’t get permission from the city to hold daily pickets. I wonder if after hearing these charges Nashi will add the Council and Vedomosti to its lawsuit against Ekho Moskvy. The youth organization is demanding 500,000 rubles in damages from the radio station for its accusations that Nashi is hunting Podrabinek. But they are. Aren’t they? How else to you interpret Nikita Borovikov threat that if Prodrabinek doesn’t apologize then Nashi will “force” him to leave the country?
And all of this after Nashi received adulation from its godfather in the Kremlin, Vladislav Surkov! Didn’t the Council not get the memo? Nashi is responsible for the political freedoms that every Russian now enjoys. Surkov told a group of Nashists in late September, “I am free and therefore I am for Putin and Medvedev. I am free and therefore I am “Ours” (Nash) and not an alien (chuzhoi)–this is my choice.” He then continued: “You are the leading fighting brigade of our political system. I as before believe that your prevalence on the street is also our essential advantage. We have it thanks you and all those who brilliantly know how to conduct mass rallies.”
With an endorsement like that, I’m sure the Council’s appeal will fall on deaf ears. Investigate Nashi. Yeah right.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any sillier.
Photo: KommersantPost Views: 272
By Sean — 10 years ago
“Regime change” may be an American term, as Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin explained to reporters, but it sounds like Russia is going to force their own version. “Sometimes there are cases,” Churkin explained, “when leaders become obstacles to a people’s way out of a situation. In those situations, some leaders make the brave decision in regards to their political future.” Cynical? Maybe. Opportunistic? Certainly. Don’t count on the Russians to pass up a good opportunity to get rid of their Georgian irritant. As Kommersant notes, “Moscow considers the removal of Saakashvili a matter of principle.”
The Russians are claiming that they want a cease fire with Georgia but there just isn’t anyone to talk to. After all, as Chunkin stressed, “What decent person will talk to him now?” Clearly not the decent Russians, who have essentially cut Georgia into two. Russian forces have taken Gori and other strategic towns and are said to be converging on Tbilisi, which Saakashvilli vows his troops will defend to the death. The real question is whether Saak will go down with his ship.
How quickly the South Ossetian War has become more about Russia and the United States, East and West, George Bush and Vladimir Putin, than about the poor South Ossetians caught in the middle. Today was just another example of the sheer cynical chest beating of it all. You had the American dyarchy standing up condemning Russia’s war machine. “Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,” Bush said. Cheney declared that Russia’s actions “must not go unanswered.” Presidential Candidates McCain and Obama, always ready to look Presidential, also weighed in. McCain called for NATO intervention and reminded Russia that to be part of the civilized world means to respect its values. Obama condemned Russia’s military push saying that “There is no possible justification for these attacks.” I don’t know. When you think of it, Russia is kind of showing a bit of restraint, as horrific as that might sound. They could have easily turned Georgia into a parking lot.
The dyarchy in Russia was of course not without rebuttal. Putin lashed out at the US for its backing of Georgia and especially for airlifting some 2000 Georgian troops out of Iraq. “The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing,” he said, “the attempt to turn white into black, black into white and to adeptly portray victims of aggression as aggressors and place the responsibility for the consequences of the aggression on the victims.” Dmitri Medvedev even has his own Hitler moment by comparing Western support of Georgia with appeasing Hitler in 1938. He then went on to accuse Georgia of trying to commit genocide in South Ossetia. “The form this aggression took is nothing less than genocide because Georgia committed heaviest crimes — civilians were torched, sawed to pieces and rolled over by tanks,” he said. You see, fascism really is the gift that keeps on giving.
And what about the people caught in the middle? South Ossetians are finally beginning to bury their dead. Hundreds of volunteers are flooding into the war zone from neighboring Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. Murat Dryaev was one such volunteer. He met his demise before he was able to put his hand on a rifle. As Tom Parfitt writes in the Guardian:
Murat Dryaev, 29, a construction worker, left for the war on Thursday and was brought home in a coffin two days later. He lived with his parents at the end of a stony track in Novy Batakayur, a village 10 miles from the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz. Yesterday his relatives sat in vigil around his open coffin, adorned with roses and his photograph.
“He went to defend his sister and her children who live in South Ossetia,” said his wife, Ira, weeping over her husband’s pallid face. “But he never reached the place where they hand out weapons.”
Dryaev and his group of volunteers were hit by Georgian artillery fire. It is not known how many others died.
“His three-year-old daughter still thinks he’s coming home,” said his sister, Larisa. The dead man’s mother, Teresa, sat at the head of the coffin. “She’s been speechless, like a living corpse,” said Larisa. “She begged him not to go but she couldn’t stop him.”
The volunteer factor, though currently small, will certainly be a nagging problem once the smoke clears.
I think its about time for Georgia and the world to face it. South Ossetia is now Russia’s and it was Saakashvilli that gave it to them.
Estimates of refuges from South Ossetia are about 30,000 many of which were taken into North Ossetia by Russian buses. Other Russian supplied aid–food, medicine, mobile hospitals, search teams, and water–is said to be pouring into South Ossetia.
As for the Georgians, the number of civilian casualties as a result of Russia’s armor assault and aerial bombing is unknown. Two days ago Georgia reported about 130 dead, 37 of which were civilians. Suffice to say that they most certainly are mounting. The UNHCR is beginning to send humanitarian relief to Georgia where an estimated 100,000 people have been displaced. About 56,000 people are said to have fled Gori alone.
Let’s all hope that the dick swinging will end tomorrow and some kind of cease fire will be brokered.Post Views: 233
By Sean — 10 years ago
The Western media is finally discovering the Ossetians. The Washington Post details the destruction of Tskhinvali. The Post‘s Peter Finn writes,
The scale of the destruction is undeniable; some streets summon iconic images of Stalingrad during World War II or Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, which was leveled in two wars between Russian and Chechen separatists.
The Financial Times also gives voice to the anger Ossetian refugees feel toward Saakashvili. My favorite quote in the article comes from an Ossetian woman’s take on the assault on Tskhinvali. “They must have been Nato troops,” she told the Times. “The Georgians don’t know how to shoot.”
The quote by this woman raises another interesting aspect to the coverage of the war. The vast majority of quotes from “average people” are from women. It all makes me wonder if the prevalence of women’s voices is because they are the majority of refugees (all the men have gone to fight), are more apt to talk to reporters, or women have more truth value as victims. Perhaps it’s a strange combination of all three.
The Independent‘s Shaun Walker looks at how the ethnic tensions in the Caucuses are the result of Stalin’s footprint in the region. “Borders between the different entities of the union were changed at will, often with the express intention of fomenting ethnic unrest,” he writes. Actually, he’s wrong. Borders weren’t changed at will nor were they drawn to foment ethnic unrest. The “divide and rule” thesis doesn’t apply anymore in light of archival evidence. Soviet border drawing was a complex process that implemented all the knowledges of modernity: census taking, ethnographic surveys, map making, as well as central and local administrative and political concerns. As Francine Hirsch writes in regard to border drawing in Central Asia in her masterful Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union,
The archival record suggests that the Soviet approach to Central Asia was consistent with its approach to the Belorussian and Ukrainian republics. In all of these cases, Soviet administrators and experts evaluated ethnographic, economic, and administrative criteria, while giving priority to larger all-union concerns. The archival record further suggests that the classic argument about the delimitation, which asserts that Soviet leaders set out to subordinate Central Asia by drawing borders in a way that would intentionally sow discord, misses the mark.
Adrienne Edgar finds a similar process in the formation of Turkmenistan in her Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Given the consistency in the making of Soviet national republics, one can assume that the process in Transcaucasia was no different. I suggest that Walker familiarize himself with this literature before making reductive assertions about the relationship between Soviet border making and ethnic identities and conflict. More often than not these conflicts tend to be more localized and contingent rather than an outgrowth of some grand scheme from the center.
Ossetian and Abkhazian self-determination is finally creeping into the agenda. The Russians have been emphasizing the breakaway regions right to decide their own fate for years (though they at the same time denied the Chechens theirs). Now the Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe has come on board to the idea. Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the OSCE’s secretary general, told reporters that “The fate of South Ossetia must be decided by the people of South Ossetia. They live in very difficult conditions and the context of what has happened is quite complex.”
The only problem is that the Ossetians already have. Twice. The first was in 1992 where the vote was 99% in favor of independence. The second was in November 2006. Again 99% of voters said “yes!” to the question: “Should South Ossetia preserve its present status of a de facto independent state?” Both votes, however, were dismissed as fixed by Russian interlopers and subsequently ignored. Maybe they should have the referendum again. What will be said is the outcome is the same?
Father Vissarion, the head of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia succinctly defined Abkhazian sepratism to Reuters, “What does separatism mean anyway? It means you want to separate. And who do we want to separate from? From murderers.” “If a man beats his wife,” he continued, “a court will allow her to leave him. People say we are Abkhazian separatists, but this means what? Are we supposed to be Georgians? We have nothing in common with them.”
Russian President Medvedev announced that the Russian military will pull out its forces from Georgia beginning Monday, though there is no indication that they will leave South Ossetia. This will happen only after “the situation in the region stabilizes,” a Russian Defensive Ministry spokesman told Interfax.
Georgia has its own refugee problems. There is an estimated 100,000 displaced people from both Ossetia and Georgia. A lot has been said of the Ossetians. As for the Georgians, it’s clear that the Saakashvili’s government wasn’t even prepared. “This is a very hard situation for which we were absolutely unprepared,” said Besik Tserediani, a deputy in the Georgia’s Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation. “There’s a huge amount of people coming in, and it’s impossible to deal with it.”
The sentiment among Georgians is that the Americans and Europeans were supposed to help them. Now help, in the form of humanitarian aid, is coming after the fact. The Moscow Times reports that humanitarian aid is pouring into Georgia. The International Committee of the Red Cross is demanding safe access to South Ossetian but the Russians have provided no guarantees. As a result “South Ossetia is generally off limits for humanitarian workers at this stage,” says European Union spokesman John Clancy.
Here is Al-Jazeera‘s take on aid to Ossetia:
The Americans have pledged aid to Georgia and Georgia only. Two military aircraft landed in Tbilisi on Wednesday bringing $1.28 million in emergency supplies. These cargo lifts, of course, concern the Russians.
The Russians are engaging in their own partisan humanitarian work. One of Medvedev’s first acts was to order humanitarian aid to South Ossetia. There is no doubt that this has helped getting doctors, nurses and other medical aid there.
With the Americans aiding their proxies in Tbilisi and the Russians aiding theirs in Ossetia, it sadly looks like the new front in the war will take place on the humanitarian front.Post Views: 243