The passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 last December sent US-Russia relations into a dramatic tailspin. To many, the law and its subsequent list would finally demonstrate that the world’s preeminent democracy had enough of Putin and his gang. Forget all about the “reset.” Enough with the US divorcing its “interests from values” in dealing with Russia. Putin, of course, wasn’t going to take the Magnitsky Law in silence. In addition to its usual charges of hypocrisy, Moscow responded by banning US adoptions of Russian orphans, a callous and misdirected act that left many wondering who exactly Putin intended to punish. Nevertheless, thanks to William Browder’s crusade and whatever he did to cajole Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) to get them to “listen,” US-Russia relations are at a nadir. (I hope that one day an enterprising journalist will uncover exactly how Mr. Browder got so much pull with McCain and McGovern.) For years, pundits have proclaimed that US and Russia were steeped in a “new Cold War.” The Magnitsky Law is now a pivotal symptom in this diagnosis. Yes, four years after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented her plastic “peregruzka” (sic) button to Sergei Lavrov, the reset now looks in rewind.
Maybe the reset is dead, maybe it’s not. Either way, we’ve witnessed this shuckin’ and jivin’ before. Rather than choreographing a new routine, the US and Russia seem satisfied with rerunning the same old minstrel. The US points its crooked finger at declares “Villain!” at Russia for its poor human rights record. Affronted, Russia cries “Pecksniffery!” followed by a laundry list of equitably egregious offenses. But really, it’s all a game. This is how the big geopolitical boys play in the sandbox. It’s what David Kramer and Lilia Shevtsova call the “Let’s Pretend” game. This is where the West feigns caring about human rights to bolster its own sanctimonious image, but could really care less. For the West, and for the US in particular, human rights are a weapon, like a rhetorical Sword of Damocles, and when economic interests dictate, a casus beli against the baneful. Russia, thanks to the orientialist discourse, is forever cast as devil, a dark mirror against the occidential mirror of light. It plays its part well, even when it’s sincerely revolting against its subaltern status. Given this dance, is anyone surprised that the Magnitsky Law entered with a diplomatic bang, but the Magnitsky List resounded with a pitiful whimper? Every drama needs its rising action, climax, and falling action. When it comes to the US and Russia, however, the denouement is eternally postponed.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
As I noted the other day, Teimuraz Khugaev, head prosecutor for the Ossetian government, announced that 1692 Ossetians were killed in the Georgian assault last month. Now the Public Commission on the Investigation of War Crimes in South Ossetia has published a list of the names, birth date, cause of death, place of burial of 311 victims. So far this is far below initial claims. However, the press release states that the list is still incomplete. One can assume that more names will added to the list in the coming days, if not weeks. Here is a translation of some of the entries (kindly provided by frequent SRB commenter Chrisius Courtappointedrussiafriendlius, formally known as Chrisius Maximus)
1. Ataev Alan Muratovich. b. 1971. Died in the course of military action. Buried in the yard of his home.
2. Kelekhsaev Murzaba V. b. 1944. Shot by Georgian sniper. Buried in Tbet village.
3. Petoev Albert S. b. 1943. Killed by explosion of BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in Vladikavkaz.
9. Tadtaev Sergei Lvovich. b. 1972. Burned to death in automobile hit by Georgian tank. Buried in school no. 5.
10. Kozaev Sukiko A. b. 1940. Died from wounds obtained during bombardment of city. Buried in Itrapis village.
30. Kharaszishvili Angelina Dmitrievna. b. 1974. Died during bombardment of city. Buried in Tbet village.
31. Chekhoev Abesalom V. b. 1967. Died during bombardment of city. Place of burial unknown.
32. Elbakieva Dina. b. 2005. Died during bombardment of city. Buried in Tbet village.
49. Maldzigov Sevastii Stepanovich. b. 1965. Killed by exploding BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in Vladikavkaz.
57. Bitarov Uruszmag. b. 1950. Died during bombardment. Buried in Zguderskii cemetary.
59. Dzhussoev Mair Zaurovich. b. 1971. Burned to death in automobile that had been covered in gasoline and ignited. Buried in Nagutin cemetery.
60. Dzhussoev Aslan Mairovich. 15 years old. Burned to death in automobile that had been covered in gasoline and ignited. Buried in Nagutin cemetery.
61. Dzhussoeva Dina. 14 years old. Burned to death in automobile that had been covered in gasoline and ignited. Buried in Nagutin cemetery.
85. Shanazarova Albina Chorshanbievna. 14 years old. Killed by Georgian sniper. Buried in Zguderskii cemetery.
98. Kisiev Ibragim Feliksovich. Killed during bombardment of Khetagurova village.
99. Doguzov Leonid Nikolaevich. Killed during bombardment of Satikar village.
122. Maldzigova Evgenia Nikolaevna. b. 1927. Killed by explosion of BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in Vladikavkaz.
128. Tedeev Vladimir Romanovich. b. 1948. Died from wounds obtained during bombardment of city. Buried in Kornis village.
129. Dzhioev Radion Zurabovich. b. 1984. Died from wounds obtained during bombardment of city. Buried in yard of his home.
152. Dzhabieva Zemfira Chermenovna. b. 1952. Died in course of military action. Place of burial unknown.
177. Ikaev Valerii Vladimirovich. b. 1958. Killed by sniper during the evacuation of Zarskoi Road.
182. Lalievna Valentina Sergeevna. b. 1940. Killed by sniper during the evacuation of Zarskoi Road.
209. Kadzhaeva Elina Kazbekovna. b. 1986. Wounded during shelling of her home. Burned to death. Buried in Vladikavkaz.
214. Galoeva Larisa Valikoevna. b. 1974. Killed by explosion of BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in Vladikazkaz.
238. Ikoeva Roza Viktorovna. b. 1936. Killed during bombardment of city. Buried in Tbet village.
257. Bekoev Alan Tuzarovich. b. 1974. Killed by explosion of BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in yard of his home.
270. Bagaeva Svetlana Georgievna. b. 1975. Killed when her automobile was fired upon. Buried in yard of her home.
290. Tskhovrebov Sebastian B. b. 1937. Killed during bombardment of Tbet village.
311. Dzakhov Valerii Borisovich. b. 1987. Killed by Georgian sniper during military action. Buried in Tbet village.
The Commission is also collecting evidence on the destruction of Ossetian historical monuments and culture that was destroyed by the Georgian attack. “The annihilation of a people’s culture,” says Commission member Zalina Medoeva, “means to go further that the physical annihilation of a people. After destroying Ossetian culture, the Georgian leadership aspired to destroy the memory of the people, to wipe them off the face of the land is proof of the Ossetian historical right in taking the territory for themselves.”
Sounds as if the Ossetian government is really going to run with this genocide claim.
The Georgians aren’t going to sit idle and not make their own charges of genocidal acts. In his joint press conference with US Vise President Dick Cheney, Mikheil Saakashvili called on the world to not accept the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia. He claimed that more than over the years 80% of Abkhazia and in the last few weeks two-thirds of Ossetia have been cleansed of Georgians. He added:
“If anybody would try to legalize it, or would accept what has happened, basically, it will be accepting of human tragedies of hundreds of thousands of people. Ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia took place not only against ethnic Georgians, but also against ethnic Ossetians, who were considered to be disloyal.”
“So I call on all the responsible nations of the world not only to [not] accept this, but to continue condemn[ing] it and to continue uphold[ing] international law and justice. On our part, we are [a] peace-loving nation; we’ll do our best to avoid violence and we are committed to [a] peaceful resolution of all the issues, as we are committee to dialogue with everybody internally and with all the nations in [the] neighborhood and worldwide.”
As for his commitment to a peaceful resolution of all the issues, isn’t it just a bit too late for that?Post Views: 47
By Sean — 11 years ago
Amid all the banter about a “new Cold War” between Russia and the United States, the Confrontation Cold War Museum in Moscow takes on a whole new relevance. The new tourist attraction is the former Taganski Underground Command Center, a 75,000 square foot underground dwelling built in Stalin’s last years to house the Soviet leadership in the event of a US nuclear attack. As David Holley of the LA Times reports, “historical remembrance and a touch of make-believe mix in an ambiguous but thought-provoking cocktail.”
Indeed. For a ticket price of $9.75 for students, $19.50 for adults and $39 for foreigners (ouch!), you can put on a Soviet army poncho and a gas mask and be led through the halls of a Cold War relic. The museum is still in development but as of now there are posters and other military equipment dawn the shelter’s mostly empty hallways and corridors.
But soon, promises Olga Arkharova, the museums director, a replica of the command center and a military themed restaurant will dazzle spectators.
The museum’s mission however is more than revisiting the Cold War through kitsch. “The task of our complex, which is called Confrontation, is to preserve this facility as a reminder and a warning that situations like this should be prevented forever,” Arkharova explained to the LA Times. “The idea we want to present to the children and the adults is that we want to have an open and frank dialogue with other countries, to prevent the world from entering another situation where we’re forced to build facilities like this.”
It seems, however, that all students are getting from the museum is that its creepy.
Andrei Kvyk, 21, a student at the Moscow Construction Institute, said being in the shelter gave him “the creeps.”
“They say that this is all a thing of the past and that the Cold War is over,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s the case. I am sure facilities like this still exist in Moscow and across the country and are on combat duty every second. I am sure the Cold War was never over. They are lying to us.”
. . .
“It is so spooky — these tunnels, this porridge, this damp air 60 meters under the ground,” said Yana Arutyunova, 25, a market researcher who joined the tour. “People in the tunnels look like ghosts of the past. You can’t but feel danger here. Everything was removed at some point, all the equipment, but you can still feel this concentrated cold fear permeating the air.”
. . .
Nina Borodina, 21, a university student, said that “these haunting shafts” made her think of how her grandmother “lived all her life feeling the danger of being bombed any second.”
“She told me how terrified they were of an imminent nuclear war back in the 1960s,” Borodina said. “Now I can understand a little of what she lived through. I don’t think there is any danger of nuclear war now. We are friends with the West.”
She said she was convinced that, whatever complaints the two sides may voice about each other, Putin “is leading the country along the way of real cooperation with the United States and other Western countries, and they will never be our enemies again.”
“But it was good to come down here,” she added. “It gives you a sense of what horrors we were saved from.”
Spooky or not, I know that next time I go to Moscow, I am so there.Post Views: 57
By Sean — 13 years agoFirst I urge everyone to read Chalmers Johnson’s new article “How to Create a WIA — Worthless Intelligence Agency.”
There are certain political ironies that have occurred in the last 15 years that continually stick in my mind. One is the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. While Clinton was intent on preventing genocide in Kosovo, (Or was it stopping. We were led to believe at the time the genocide of Kosovars was already taking place), another more horrible genocide occurred a few years earlier in Rwanda. An event so horrible, it is said that 700,000 people were killed mostly by machetes. Nothing was done to stop it and like the extermination of European Jewry, the slaughter of Armenians in 1910, or the killing of a million Cambodians by Pol Pot in the 1970s, we are left to ask the question of how was it allowed to happen.
The second irony is similar to the first. At the same time Bush regaled us with the humane mission to “free the Iraqi people,” a more devastating and horrible genocide in Sudan was brewing. Exact numbers as to how many African Sudanese have been displaced and killed by Arab Sudanese militias are difficult to get. Estimates I’ve read place the deal toll around 300,000 with about a million displaced. It could be higher for all I know. So as American bombs and Marines destroy Iraq in order to save for democracy, the Sudanese have no world leader acting on their behalf. I must say that the U.S. is certainly not responsible for these genocides by its inaction. Its just ironic how for the most recent genocides, the U.S. choose not to get directly involved in the more severe of them, both of which occurred on the African continent. One cannot, however, say the same for the Europeans, who conveniently turned their heads away from the mutual slaughter in Serbia as well as what has occurred in their former colonies on the African continent. Their complete lack of action deserves the highest condemnation.
The third irony, and this is far less tragic on human levels, is the recent concern over the presidential elections in the Ukraine. The issue, for those who don’t know is this: The Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych seems to have beaten opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko by a slim margin of 800,000 votes in a runoff election for President. The percentage breakdown is 49.53% for the former and 46.66% for the latter. A close election for sure. Despite the fact that exit polls came out with Yushchenko ahead, Yanukovych won. Sound familiar? Except for one crucial difference. Instead of sitting at home, for the past three days, Yushchenko supporters have filled the streets of Kiev demanding at least an investigation of voter fraud and at most, Yanukovych to hand over power. Other countries have gotten verbally involved, with many Western countries, including the U.S., calling for election officials to not certify the vote, while Russia has told them to mind their own business and wait for the counting to be over. The West favors Yushchenko because he is pro-Western and desires to move Ukraine to possible entry into the European Union. Russia supports Yanukovych because of his pro-Russia stance and desires to keep Ukraine in their obit. This split between East and West is also visible in the electorate. Western Ukraine, which is Catholic and more cosmopolitan favors a move to the West, while the East favors, well, the East. All this has given the Russian media something to cover besides Putin’s “reforms” of Russian elections by making governors appointed rather than elected and the Yukos affair where billionaire Mikhail Khordokovsky is being charged with tax evasion and theft of government property. As of today, other executives of Yukos, including one American born executive, fled the country fearing that they might be next.
Now the irony is that the U.S. has passed judgment on the validity of the Ukrainian elections at the same time it refuses to pass similar judgment on its own. Even more ironic, the Ukrainian people on both sides of the issue have flooded into the streets giving support to their candidate. And in the freezing cold, mind you. In a country where “democracy” is only 13 years old people are making sure their votes are counted, while in the U.S., the supposed shining star of democracy, the so-called opposition candidate concedes before all the votes in Ohio are counted. To make matters even farcical, the same Bush Administration that is charging fraud in the Ukraine was urging Kerry to concede for the “good of the nation.”
Now I’m not one of those “Bush stole the election” people. He won and its not going to do us any good to continue with that line. Especially if it will forsake any real examination as to why he did win. But it is clear that American democracy needs fixing. It’s petrified beyond belief and there is no indication that politicians on either of the isle are willing to fix it. It’s better to have a system you can manipulate. You just have to make sure you can do so better than the other guy. There is no reason why the wealthiest country in the world votes the way it does. In most democracies, election day is a holiday or is extended over a few days, voters are issued a national voter ID card, much like a library card, and some countries even fine people for NOT voting. This is not to say that their elections are perfect either, but if our government is going to declare itself the shining example of democratic government, then elections should be at least a little better, dontcha think?
So today it was -13 C. You will have to console your conversion charts for what this means in Fahrenheit. I have no idea. To me its just cold and to tell the truth, I don’t feel much difference between 0 C and -13 C. I think past freezing cold is just cold. The sun has been out the last few days, so that has been a relief. The lack of new snow has allowed Russian work crews to get the snow off many of the sidewalks. It is a lot easier to get around than it was 4 days ago.
I have yet to slip on the ice, but like not getting sprayed by a skunk while walking Coco in my neighborhood in LA, each day of success only makes failure a greater possibility. Today, I discovered that Russians lack skills in defensive driving. Despite the fact that there is snow, and some streets still have a little ice, Russians seem to drive as they would under normal conditions. This means fast and getting to the next intersection by any means necessary. In the past four days I’ve seen four car accidents, twice as many as I’ve seen on the surface streets of LA over the two years I’ve lived there. Now its not the fact that there are accidents that is the problem. These are bound to occur in such weather conditions. What irks me is that when there is an accident they don’t move the cars out of the fucking way. They just sit there clogging all the traffic until whatever needs resolution is resolved. See, in America we have this thing called a shoulder, where here in Russia this is just another lane. Normally, I would give a shit either way. Most of my traveling in Moscow is either underground or by foot. I do however have to take a trolleybus to the metro from my apartment. Its about a mile and half, which normally I don’t mind walking, but with the cold, snow, and ice this easily feels like 3 miles.
This morning I get on the #49 trolleybus like usual. After going about 25 feet, the driver opens the door and tell everyone to get out. There is an accident between two delivery trucks blocking the trolleybus. The bad thing about trolleybuses is they can’t exactly go around things or each other because they are connected to a line of wires above the bus. The trolleybus basically has to wait until the road is cleared. One would think this would happen quickly to restart the flow of traffic. Not here. About six trolleybuses, that’s right S-I-X, were stopped behind this accident for at least an hour. I walked the one and a half today (which is the third time I’ve done so in the last week.). A 15 minute commute under normal conditions took me about an hour.
My khozika (which means landlady), Natasha, constantly refers to the mayor of Moscow as that “shit” (govno) Luzhkov. For the fourth time this year, Luzhkov is raising the metro fair, from 10 to 15 rubles. This is still a deal by American standards. For about $.50 you can get anywhere in Moscow by metro. There are no transfers. Once you’re inside the system, you’re inside. For Russians, however, this can be a heavy burden when your monthly salary is $200 a month and you have to take the metro everyday. Luckily for Natasha, she rides for free. Moscow has a whole class of people who ride the metro for free: pensioners (which she is one), invalids, war veterans, and probably many more than I don’t know about. There is some talk about getting rid of this too. When this happens, the old are going to rise in revolution.
The problem is that the metro represents one of the leftovers from the Soviet system. It’s an amazing system, with more than 120 stations, with more being added on. Some of these stations are like communist palaces. The Soviet past is still on display, with iconography of workers, peasants, and Lenin. The Moscow metro deserves a tour in itself. The metro moves at least 8 million people a day, and without it, there would be no Moscow. In addition to its aesthetics, it also represents the past because during the Soviet Union it was very, very cheap along with the whole class of people who could ride for free. Each increase in fares or restriction of free riders symbolizes another security you could rely on. In the end, I think that by the 1970s, the Soviet system was that: security. Sure people weren’t rolling in luxury. There wasn’t much you could buy. Sometimes there wasn’t anything you could buy. But in the end, you could count on the system’s security and predictability. For this security and predictability people traded their democratic rights. It seemed that by the late 1970s there was a silent agreement between state and society: if you don’t mess with our business (the running of all aspects of the country), we won’t mess with yours. However, there is always a glaring contradiction in this formula, one that the Chinese are finding out about more and more. The divide between state and society is never that stark. Affairs of the state always seep into the affairs of society and individuals. I think China’s capitalism without democracy is one attempt to negotiate this contradiction.
In Russia, there is no compromise. This doesn’t look like it will change with Putin’s political reforms. The Russians have capitalism with all its unpredictability and lack of security; you can buy shit if you have the money. You can buy more shit than you ever can imagine. People like this and consumerism is now the new ideology. Ask people if things are better now than 20 years ago and they will say yes (especially if they are younger). Either way you look at it, consumption is cool. It’s why Americans don’t give a shit their political system, and I would suspect why Russian’s don’t either.
I think there is a flawed assumption in liberal democratic thinking. We assume that people care about their democratic rights. That freedom is the most prized possession of the human spirit. The flaw is in the fact that “freedom” is equated with the mechanisms of democracy like free speech, voting, elections, etc. Late capitalism has been able to brand freedom differently. The liberal subject is not just a political subject; it is a consuming subject. In fact there is no difference between the two. As long as one can consume, one is politically happy. Perhaps this is why the economy in America is measured by the Consumer Confidence Index. Freedom is in the consumption of individualism, which is communicated to us through products. A perfectly reified existence.
Late capitalism has aestheticized politics. We are no longer interested in the actual policies (or policy failures) of a candidate. We are only interested if they emit an image to fulfill our desire; whether that desire be one for security, leadership, strength, principles, morals, etc. Much like an advertisement fulfills our desires not for the product itself, but for the psychic and emotional satisfaction it brings. This, according to many cultural theorists, is called the affective properties of late capitalism. Late capitalism is not so much in the business of creating things, as it is affects—the things that tap our emotions, desire, etc. We don’t use Crest because it’s better than Colgate; Pepsi doesn’t taste better than Coke. They simply tap into a desire, perhaps even a nostalgia for some feeling from the past.
In the 1920s, the Frankfurt school of Marxism called this fascism. Its philosophers argued that when all politics became aestheticized, like how the fascist movements of Europe did, they tapped into people’s inner desires for national greatness, belonging, purity, security, what have you. Politics became less about satisfying your material needs: employment, housing, social services etc.; it became about satisfying your affective desires, desires that could never be completely fulfilled. People’s desires are what Slavoj Zizek calls the “sublime ideal.” This ideal can never be fulfilled; it is only imagined.
Perhaps this is why the “ironies” that I began with occurred the way they did. Clinton’s concern for the Kosovars and Bush’s mission to “free the Iraqis” was more publicly acceptable than helping the Africans. Perhaps this is why elections in the Ukraine can be accepted as corrupt, but American elections cannot. It is easy to accept corruption in the Ukraine because it is not us; it is not the Earth’s shining example of democracy. The actions of its people attest to this. For Americans to say the same about their own system would be treading on the outskirts of that sublime (blind) ideal. The affective nature of American politics makes the realization that its system is corrupt (though many Americans will admit that it is, but will shrug their shoulders when asked what to do about it) is possibly too much of a shock to their individual identity. America doesn’t bring them material well being, as it brings them emotional well being. The knowledge that you live in the greatest country not only in the world, but that has ever existed; that its existence is sanctioned by God himself is too powerful to assuage by lies, deceit, corruption, or incompetence. These realities don’t fit in the narrative. They don’t come close to shaking the grip of the emotional explosion the red, white, and blue brings to one’s heart.Post Views: 38