Vladimir Putin just keeps racking up the accolades. As everyone will remember, Time magazine caused a stir when it named VVP Person of the Year 2007. Now Vanity Fair has named him Numero Uno on its The New Establishment 2008 list. VF‘s blurb on Vlad the Invader,
SPHERE OF INFLUENCE: After eight years as Russia’s president, Putin’s still at the height of his power. He saw his approval ratings top 80 percent, thanks to an economy revived through energy profits, which has made it easier for him to get away with his antipathy to free speech and other civil liberties—he controls the media and imprisons or exiles his enemies. And cashing in on Russia’s natural resources has enabled Putin to pay off the nation’s foreign debt, rebuild its military, restore its pride, and re-assert its place in world affairs. Faced with presidential-term limits, Putin, 56, sustained his formidable power by becoming prime minister and leader of the overwhelmingly dominant United Russia party. He also all but installed his longtime protégé and former campaign manager, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as Russia’s new president through a reportedly rigged March election. But by all accounts Putin was the commander in chief in its recent foray into Georgia.
ENEMIES: Georgia and former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is the leader of the opposition coalition Other Russia and has had the nerve to challenge Putin’s iron rule.
RUMOR HAS IT: Putin has secretly stashed away more than $40 billion (from Russia’s oil-and-gas riches) in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
EVIDENCE OF POSSIBLE LACK OF MODESTY: Putin’s exhibitionistic tendency to go shirtless (and show off his buff, hairless physique to photographers) while fishing with Monaco’s Prince Albert II or hunting in the Siberian mountains.
SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED ABOUT: Putin has done little to rein in the country’s ruling kleptocracy. In a recent call to analysts, Rupert Murdoch said, “The more I read about investments in Russia, the less I like the feel of it. The more successful we’d be, the more vulnerable we’d be to have it stolen from us.”
And when you consider all the above, his pecs, and his hunting skills, what a mensch!
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By Sean — 8 years ago
I have little love for Russian liberals. Readers of this blog probably know that well. Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov in particular, as one can sense from my take down of their 2008 anti-Putin screed for the now defunct and sorely missed The eXile. I even giggled when Nashi threw piss in Nemtsov’s face.
The dynamic duo is back with a new Putin obsessed treatise, elegantly entitled Putin. The Results. Ten Years. So much for creativity. It is sure to get more media attention than it deserves. I have yet to read it, and probably won’t. I’m sure my eXile piece applies just as well to this one. According to reports in the Russian media, the text evaluates Putin’s decade long run and the tandem’s two year performance. Vedomosti writes that Nemtsov characterized the text this way on his blog:
In Russian society there are persistent myths imposed by official propaganda. There are many: the myth that Putin pacified the Caucuses and defeated terrorism, the myth about the increased birth and decreased mortality rates, the myth that he defeated the oligarchs and successfully solved the social problems of society. In our report all of these false claims are debunked with figures and facts from available sources.
Boring. Somehow I can’t help thinking that I’ve heard this song before. But, hey, I’ll let you be the judge. A million copies have been printed up and shipped off to Moscow and Petersburg.
Well, make that 900,000 copies. The Russian news is reporting that police seized a shipment of 100,000 copies in a traffic stop in St. Petersburg, for, get this “irregularities in the documentation for cargo.” Reports Gazeta, citing the police:
A truck with the MAN make with Smolensk plates was stopped by traffic police at 9:30 am on Shpalernaya Street (a Yabloko branch office is located there). The cop issued a ticket for the violation of the article 16.12 of the Administrative Code (the violation of traffic signals or road markings): Heavy vehicles are prohibited from entering the center of St. Petersburg without the proper permits,” the police department stated. “When the inspector went to check the load, it became clear that the invoice on the copies stated a Smolensk printing press, while the publishers imprint on the actual books was a the Moscow press. The goods will be temporarily detained and checked.
Not sure why the discrepancy between the invoice and the copies matters. Nevertheless, it was enough for the cops to pinch it. I can see tomorrow’s headlines: “Putin Impounds Critics.” Yep, because no one gets pulled over for traffic violations in Russia. Or harassed for not have the million stamps and forms needed to do anything. And, well, opportunists always have their shit together because they are, like, honest and principled just like us in America. One would think they would have their papers in order considering the big target Russian liberals have on their back. They do, after all, live in Russia. Despite how silly all of this sounds, we should score one for Nemstov and Milov. The cops just gave them the best advertising in town: claims of repression.
It’s funny how things become clearer in just a few hours. Now Gazeta.ru is reporting that the cops have finished their check of the 100,000 copies of Putin. The Results. Ten Years and dutifully shipped them off to the MVD’s Center “E” for inspection. For those who don’t know, Center “E” is the outfit devoted to combating “extremism.” Nemtsov and Milov may be a lot of things, but being extremists is definitely not one of them.
This means that my above cynicism is now dashed, making me actually think that something is indeed rotten in St. Petersburg. I hate it when the Russian authorities’ sheer idiocy and paranoia make me sympathize with the liberals. I just hate it.
And if you need more proof that this seizure is convenient, not to mention downright suspicious, check this out: It comes a mere day before the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Over the next few days, Medvedev is set to hobnob with businessmen from around the world to ensure them that Russia is worth their bucks. Apparently the chance that one of Nemtsov and Milov’s pamphlets falls into an unsuspecting businessman’s hands and they learn there’s mass corruption (shock!) in Russia is just too risky. As Dr. Smith used to say in Lost in Space, “Oh the pain. The pain.”
This whole incident also proves that Nemtsov can be right every once in a while. “In his opinion,” says Gazeta, “now the report will be read by more than a million people.” All too true. Score: Team Solidarity 2 : 0 Putin.Post Views: 870
By Sean — 9 years ago
Scott Anderson’s article “Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise to Power” is a throwback to the 1990s when ex-KGBmen turned mafioso, private security, or hired hands to execute nefarious plots. It is also a showcase of bygone figures. Once powerful, influential, or at least in the public eye who have since drifted into memory only to be periodically conjured up as partisan weaponry of high politics. You know the names: Boris Berezovsky, Alex Goldfarb, Aleksandr Litvinenko, and Mikhail Trepashkin. The latter serves as the hero of Anderson’s tale. The gatekeeper of a longstanding conspiracy that many Russians know well: The FSB carried out the apartment bombings on Guryanova St. in Moscow that brought down eight floors and killed ninety-four residents in their beds.
It’s been a while since Trepashkin’s name graced an English language publication. He’s spent the last several years serving two stints in the clank. In 2003, he was arrested for illegal arms possession and divulging state secrets (the former charge was eventually dropped, the latter stuck). And then just as he was freed in September 2005, he was scooped up again. He was released in 2007. Four years for likely trumped up charges. Such is what happens when you piss off the wrong people in Russia.
But now Trepashkin has come out of the woodwork to tell his story to Scott Anderson. But the details of the story aren’t really the issue. Anyone who’s familiar with the apartment bombings already knows the in-outs of the incident and the conspiracy theories behind them. Anderson didn’t even have to go to Russia. He could have just watched that horrible Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case documentary and got the story there.
The real story, however, is really the story itself. Indeed, as many Russia watchers discovered last week, Conde Nast, the company that owns GQ in Russia, made an executive decision to not run the story there. According to the NPR report on the matter:
“Conde Nast management has decided that the September issue of U.S. GQ magazine containing Scott Anderson’s article ‘Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise to Power’ should not be distributed in Russia,” Birenz wrote.
He ordered that the article could not be posted to the magazine’s Web site. No copies of the American edition of the magazine could be sent to Russia or shown in any country to Russian government officials, journalists or advertisers. Additionally, the piece could not be published in other Conde Nast magazines abroad, nor publicized in any way.
The story doesn’t even exist on GQ’s English site. The only place you can read the story is on Gawker and a site called Ratafia Currant. So what made Conde Nast pull the plug? Self-censorship? Commercial interests? Or was it a plain PR stunt to bring attention to an article that would most likely be ignored? Who knows. I am more inclined to think the latter.
But the thing I find funny about all of this is Gawker‘s self-appointed mission to translate the article into Russian “as a public service” because “Condé Nast has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Russians from reading a GQ article criticizing Vladimir Putin.” I mean, really what planet are they from? Um, the Iron Curtain, like, fell eighteen years ago. There isn’t a cloak of darkness over Russia that filers out anything anti-Putin. Take it from me, the Russians don’t need Americans to save them from themselves. The last time that happened, it didn’t work out to well for the Russians.
The truth is that this conspiracy isn’t new by any means. Nor does Anderson shed any new light on it. An internet search will turn up all sorts of versions of it. Hell, even the Russian wikipedia entry on the bombings chronicles the “unofficial versions” of the story. Yet Gawker is all ecstatic that a few Russian sites have picked up their Russian translation. One is a blog on LJ. The other is one of those creepy Russian nationalist forums. Now Russian news outlets have picked up on the story and adding their own conspiracies to explain the conspiracy. But the thing is there might not even be one. According to a statement from Nikolai Uskov, the editor-in-chief of GQ Russia, published in Nezavisimaya gazeta:
It is hard for me to comprehend how this company can prevent the distribution of its own magazine anywhere. What has reverberated on Ekho Moskvy and then repeatedly said on the Internet, is not completely correct: a Russian publisher, like any other media company, is an independent product. We’re not obligated to reprint American material, and moreover receive recommendations not to do so. I have personally not received any prohibitions or directions whatsoever from management about not translating or reprinting this article. But it would also not enter my head to do it. . . . Similar material in the Russian media would appear quite strange today. There is nothing in this article that is sensational.
Basically, the story is old news. And if there is an order to not translate and publish the story, Uskov hasn’t heard of it. That’s rather strange isn’t it?
So is Conde Nast’s act of “self-censorship” merely a back handed way to stir up criticism of Putin and the strangling of the press in Russia? Perhaps. But perhaps as Evgeny Morozov notes, it just might be pure incompetence on Conde Nast’s part and now they are suffering the whiplash of the Streisand Effect. After all, Conde Nast isn’t really getting anything from this but a bunch of negative press. But as they say even bad press is good press.
But the article and the whole stunt surrounding it might just be another opportunity to piss on Putin. Though the piss will come more in a trickle than a hot steady stream. His image among Americans is already so soiled that not even the toughest Tide Stain Release could wash it clean. One more story about a shadowy Putinist plot can’t make things any worse. Nevertheless, the timing is interesting. This week is tenth anniversary of the bombings and a month shy of ten years since Putin became Prime Minister. Digging up the conspiracy is just another reminder that the strongman of Russia might have gotten his power by exploiting a tragedy that was really carried out by his buds in the FSB.
Remember children, conspiracies happen over there in the dark shadowy world of Russia. It’s that whole “‘riddle wrapped up in an enigma” thang. Here in America, we rightfully dismiss our crackpot conspiracy theorists–from the 9/11 Truthers to the tin-foil wearing Trilateral Commission believers and Lyndon La Rouchites–for what they are: nutjobs. But their Slavic equivalents? Nah. Somehow they are bearers of the truth.Post Views: 863
By Sean — 4 years ago
Thus far I’ve been silent on the Russian military occupation of Crimea. I’ve found the deluge of media on the crisis quite overwhelming. I do have a stance: Russia has violated Ukrainian sovereignty, an irony considering Moscow’s often paeans to sovereign integrity. I agree with Mark Adomanis that Russia has made a grave mistake that will cost their economy and international standing. And like him, I don’t support invasions of countries on principle so there’s no reason why I would support Russia on this. I’m not sure if taking Crimea amounts to “a blunder of historic proportions,” however. It’s too soon to assess the final fallout. It’s clear to me that Putin has the upper hand here. The West has little leverage—targeted economic sanctions and visa bans just don’t rattle Putin very much. Ending trade talks, G8 preparations, and other agreements under negotiation will do little. The US and EU just have nothing Putin wants or cares enough about. The Russian president clearly believes he can weather any storm western powers conjure over him. The only measure I think that will put pressure on Putin is if Russia’s elite is targeted. By one calculation 20 of Russia’s richest lost $9.5 billion when the Russian market crashed last Monday. Continued economic dips could mobilize Russia’s elite against their president. The question is when Russia’s elite have enough collective wherewithal, strength and gumption to challenge him.
Putin is going to take Crimea. The question is in what form: as part of Russia or as a protectorate. And to do it, he’s going use the next week’s referendum as the excuse. Basically, he’s going to claim that the Crimeans voted to join Russia. He will assert to no end that it was done “democratically” and “by the law.” Both houses of Russia’s Duma are ready to accept Crimea. Few outside of Russia will recognize the vote, of course. It’s not even legal under the Ukrainian constitution which stipulates any attempt at succession must be put to a national referendum. Whatever happens, Crimea will become a contested sovereign space like other “frozen conflicts” in the region.
This move could also open up a can of worms for Putin. If he’s ready to accept Crimea’s referendum on leaving Ukraine, will he welcome other republics in the Russian Federation to hold votes on succession? Probably not. Still, it’s a potentially dangerous precedent.
Crimea joining Russia is inevitable if only because the referendum ballot is rigged. The ballot asks voters two questions. 1) Do you support joining Crimea with the Russian Federation as a subject of Russian Federation? and 2) Do you support restoration of 1992 Crimean Constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine? There’s a box next to each question indicating a “Yes” vote. There isn’t a place to mark “No.” Further the ballot states, “Ballots left unmarked or marked with both answers will be disqualified.” As Volodymyr Yavorkiy, a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, told the Kyiv Post, “There is no option for ‘no,’ they are not counting the number of votes, but rather which one of the options gets more votes. Moreover, the first question is about Crimea joining Russia, the second – about it declaring independence and joining Russia. In other words, there is no difference.” Indeed, as Halya Coynash put it: “There is no possibility of voting for the status quo.”
This vote will be a farce for many reasons. There is little time to properly organize or propagate it let alone educate voters on its implications. Plus monitors have to quickly organize and make sure the vote is run without machinations. Schemes might already be in the works. As the Kyiv Post noted, 2.5 million votes have been printed even though there are only 1.5 million voters. The situation is ripe for ballot stuffing. Crimean Tatar leaders are calling for a boycott. But it won’t matter. It’s likely that a small minority of Crimeans will decide the majority’s fate since there’s no minimum hurtle for passage. So on March 16 Crimeans are left with a non-choice: Russia or a protectorate of Russia. There just isn’t any room for no.
Image: BBCPost Views: 1,004