As the media world is fixated on Putin’s allegedly stashed $2 billion, the not-named-Putin Russians in the leaked documents comprise of siloviki, chinovniki, parliamentarians, governors and their families. They include:
- Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s Press Secretary
- Suleiman Geremeev, Senator from Chechnya and uncle of Ruslan Geremeev, the main suspect in ordering the assassination of Boris Nemtsov
- Viktor Zvargelskii, Duma Deputy United Russia
- Mikhail Slipenchuk, Duma Deputy United Russia
- Aleksandr Babakov, Duma Deputy United Russia
- Andrei Turchak, Governor of Pskov
- Boris Dubrovskii, Governor of Chelyabinsk
- Igor Zubov, Deputy Minster of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Aleksandr Makhonov, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Maksim Liksutov, Vice-Mayor of Moscow
- Nikolai Patrushev, National Security Council Secretary
- Aleksei Yliukaev, Minister of Economic Development
- Ivan Maliushin, Deputy Head of the Department of Presidential Affairs
You can find a rundown of all their offshore and shell company connections and more in Novaya gazeta’s Panama Papers investigation “Offshore. Uncovered.”
And no one in Russia is under any illusion that these revelations will gain any political, let alone legal traction. No Russian law enforcement body has said a single word about intending to look into these documents. It’s just business as usual. Those in the Western press having their “Gotcha!” moment might as well be saying it in the mirror. Even the Vedomosti editorial board is blasé about the big revelations:
In Russia, offshore companies are first and foremost as a means of protection and for the concealment of property. In the West they are to avoid paying taxes, while we hide ownership. First, it’s more convenient to do business through offshore companies. Second, many of our businesses are linked in some way to the state—either through money or participants—in ways that aren’t always legal.
Our “state official-owners” can’t imagine the existence of something both beneficial for the state and detrimental to the authorities. It’s impossible for them to say that we ourselves will now take taxes from ourselves and we ourselves will punish ourselves. Therefore, we have to say that there is nothing new in these documents, and that it is a hit against the president. In a way, this is the honest truth.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
The only thing more predictable than United Russia’s victory on Sunday, is the West’s virtually unanimous condemnation of the elections. A spokesman from the German government called them “Neither a free, fair nor democratic election.” The Swedish forgien minister said Russia is a “steered democracy.” A European observer call them “not a level playing field.” U.S. President Bush gave Putin no congradulations, instead making one of his typical responses, “I said we were sincere in our expressions of concern about the elections.” I think it’s time to start translating Washington’s newspeak “expressions of concern” as “We don’t give a shit but I have to say something.” The only Western leader who broke step was France’s Nicholas Sarkozy. In a phone call to Putin, Sarkozy congratulated Putin on United Russia’s victory.
As a whole, however, the post-election reporting is so uniform that the only thing that reporters seemed to prove is that they are somewhat adept at using a thesaurus.
Just take a look at some of the headlines:
The LA Times: “Russian Elections Called a Sham“
The NY Times: “A Tale of Two Strongmen“
The Guardian: “A Managed Election“
The Wall Street Journal: “The Allure of Tyranny“
The Washington Post: “In Russia, the Backward March to Czarism Continues“
No need to read them. I think you get the picture from the headlines. Most intriguing, however, is how the Wall Street Journal and the NY Times lump Putin and Venuzela’s Hugo Chavez into the same bunch: strongmen and tyranny. And in a turnabout, the NY Times writes, “Who would have ever thought that Mr. Chávez could seem more palatable than Mr. Putin, who has the stamp of international respectability as a member of the group of leading industrialized nations? The United States and Europe must let Mr. Putin know that his days of respectability are fast running out.”
The Wall Street Journal even waxed a bit philosophical in its attempt to explain why the Putins and Chavezes of the world have a certain “allure.” To this, Bret Stephens writes that the desire for tyranny “springs from sources deep within ourselves: the yearning for a politics without contradictions; the terror inscribed in the act of choice.” Wow. The WSJ better watch out because it might start sounding like pomo-kings Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. “Everyone wants to be a fascist” the latter claimed in an essay of that title in 1977.
The greater irony of the Stephens’ statement that people have a “yearning for a politics without contradictions” and immobilized by “the terror inscribed in the act of choice” is that this is clearly the case for most Western reporters and politicians in regard to Russia. For them Russia is truly a place without contradiction. It has no mixture. No complexity. It’s politics can only be understood via its reduction. The Kremlin has made a great effort to make Russians think that Putin = Russia. That he is its alpha and omega. In a strange many reports think this too. It’s just that the Western media’s evaluation of Russia is merely the black to the Kremlin’s white. If Putin really rules by an “elaborate hoax” as Stephens claims, then West’s unanimous inversion of it proves that they too have been dazzled by Putin’s trickery. Perhaps many reporters’ inability to understand Russia on its own terms is also an example of “the terror inscribed in the act of choice.”
Nevertheless, there were two comments that dared to veer away from the predictable. First a commentary in the Independent by Mary Dejevsky and the second an opinion by Tony Koron in Time Magazine, of all places. Dejevsky dares to remind her readers that:
[T]he implications of Sunday’s elections may be rather different from those drawn by an international consensus that habitually presupposes the worst. If the elections were, as they were bound to be, a referendum on Putin’s eight years in power, the judgment was strongly positive.
But given Russia’s strong economic indicators, Putin’s undisputed personal popularity, and the sense of national dignity his presidency has helped to restore, the result was unlikely to be otherwise. A strong swing against Putin would have been more suspicious than the vote of confidence United Russia obtained. The elections may not have been as free, and certainly not as fair, as they should have been, but the result is not out of line with Russia’s public mood.
She also suggests that most commentators obsession with apocalyptic visions of “Tsar” Putin have missed the real and unfortunate story: the Russian political process has become ossified. As she rightly points out, United Russia’s victory was no more victorious than in 2003. Further, the far-right and far-left have dropped from the political scene leaving Russian politics the domain of the political center. “The parties represented in the new Duma, and their leaders, will be essentially those that have dominated the past decade of Russian politics.” So while those commentators who wish there to be an electoral revolution with every poll may stomp their feet in frustration, Russians can now breath easy. The post-Soviet “Time of Troubles” is now officially over.
It is this victory for stability that makes Tony Koron’s piece in Time so interesting. Putin has been compared to a lot of things, most of them being the vile villains of History (this is despite the fact that Putin sees himself as a Russian Franklin Roosevelt). But Koron likens Putin to another master of American politics: Ronald Reagan. There is no doubt that comparing Putin to American conservatives’ demigod will make them shutter. But hear Koron out:
The explanation for Putin’s popularity may be found in certain similarities to the man often credited with helping to bring down the Soviet Union. It’s not that the former KGB man has any policy preferences or even a political style in common with Ronald Reagan, the great icon of contemporary American conservatism. But in the sense that he has made Russians feel good once again about their country, his appeal is Reaganesque.
Reagan’s own popularity — even among many Democrats — owed less to his specific policies (tax cuts, arms buildup) than to his overall success in restoring Americans’ national pride and optimism. If the Carter era had been associated with domestic economic woes and a string of geopolitical defeats that culminated in the Iran hostage crisis, Reagan managed, almost as soon as he took office, to convince the public that a new “morning in America” had broken, by getting tough with U.S. adversaries on the global stage.
Talk about the things that make you go, “Hmmm . . .”Post Views: 610
By Sean — 3 years ago
After a long hiatus, I’ve started writing for Russia! Magazine again. Here’s my re-debut article, “Ukraine’s New Neoliberal Necromancer,” on the Ukrainian Finance Ministry’s hiring of Arthur Laffer as an adviser on tax reform. Here’s a snippet:
As converts to the neoliberal faith, Ukraine’s government is ever eager for spiritual advice. While the debt standoff in Greece provided opportunity to declare its slavish devotion to austerity, and the recent Yalta European Strategy conference offered “faithful reflection” on “reform,” none of this can substitute getting personal spiritual council from the father of supply-side economics, Arthur Laffer.
In mid-September, in a barely noticed move, Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance named Laffer as an advisor on tax policy. According to the Ministry’s press release, this esteemed economic confidant of Reagan and Thatcher will help Ukraine create a tax system “which should contribute to the increase of investments, economic growth and employment as well as improve the quality of public services for business and thus provide a powerful stimulus for the sustainable economic growth of our country.” This statement’s vapid syntax should not go elided in a world where the “menace of unreality” dislodges materiality. Yet again, despite its utter bankruptcy as policy and principle, the neoliberal incantation that the interests of the “job creators” are the interest of all remains potent voodoo. That the Ukrainian government is now soliciting one of neoliberalism’s most influential necromancers is yet another indication where the Revolution of Dignity is really going.Post Views: 741
By Sean — 10 years ago
As American automakers prepare to lobby the US government for their share of the $700 billion rescue corporate redistribution fund, GM, who is heading the effort, opened a new $300 million factory in Russia “to compensate for slumping sales in western Europe and North America.” Carl-Peter Forster, the head of GM in Europe, predicts that the plant, which will employ 981 people, may increase to 1,700 next year. Such predictions come as autoworkers in the US wonder what will happen to their jobs and pensions if America’s Big Three aren’t deemed to big to save. Once again the transfer of labor from one country to another should be a reminder of the real face of globalization: to drive down wages and increase corporate profits.
Russia looks to be a perfect place. It has a skilled labor force and a weak union movement. It is not only that, in the words of Forster and that “Russia emerged [as a market] long ago.” It is also that international capital can get away with things that it can’t as easily in the United States and Western Europe, i.e. violently attack and threaten union and other social activists activists. I wonder is this is what Medvedev had in mind when he ordered police to be ready to quell any signs of social unrest connected with the economic crisis.
Well the use of violence is exactly what happened to Alexei Etmanov, the chair of the union at the Ford-Vsevolozhsk plant on 8 November. According to Chto delat,
[Etmanov] parked his car in a lot and headed for his house. On Heroes Street three men jumped in his path and without uttering a word attacked Alexei. They were armed with knuckledusters.
During the tussle, Alexei managed to pull a stun gun from his pocket and get off a shot. The cloak-and-dagger types beat a hot retreat.
The next day his deputy Vladimir Lesik got a phone call warning that the attack wouldn’t be the last. The assailants kept their word. Etmanov was attacked again by an unknown man wielding a metal pipe on 13 November. Etmanov escape again by firing rubber bullets at the assailant.
This of course is neither the first or the last attack on Russian union activists. As Chto delat reminds us,
Over the past two years such attacks have happened more than once: labor activists have been savagely beaten in Kaliningrad, Togliatti, and Taganrog. Each time the targets were union activists who challenged the complete sway of their employers and thus all employers who recognize no one’s rights other than their own sovereign right to dictate the work conditions and the lives of “their” workers.
Each time the reprisals followed a heightening of conflict at the respective factories. Despite the fact that police investigators have still not managed to solve any of these crimes, there can hardly be any doubt as to the names of the people who really commissioned them since it is much too obvious whose interests were threatened.
The recent attacks on Etmanov have been followed by several other attacks on Russian social activists. On 13 November, Sergei Fedotov, the leader of Deceived Land Shareholders, was attacked in the village of Mikhalevo. Two young men beat Fedotov with baseball bats as he exited his car. That same day, Mikhail Beketov, a editor-in-chief for Khimkinskaya pravda was beaten half to death. Beketov has been an outspoken opponent of efforts to prevent the clearing of the Khimki Forest. Finally, since three is the magic number, French sociologist and activist Carine Clement was assaulted in Moscow after she participated in a round table discussion at Bilingua Club. According to her, two men ran up to her and stabbed her with a syringe containing an unknown substance. This was the third attack on Clement this month. She was beaten and mugged two weeks ago near her Moscow home. The second occurred on 12 November when she was verbally assaulted and spat upon by an unknown assailant. Clement is the director of the Institute of Collective Action in Moscow which fights for housing and labor rights.
Is this part of a growing trend? Merely the sign of the times?
Recently, criminal attacks against the leaders of trade union and social movements have clearly increased. Among the latest such incidents, we should note the attacks against Carine Clément, a member of the working group and a leader of the Union of Coordinating Councils; Alexei Etmanov, leader of the labor union at Ford-Vsevolozhsk; Mikhail Beketov, leader of the movement to defend the Khimki Forest; and Sergei Fedotov, leader of the deceived land shareholders of the Moscow Region. In addition, a great many activists fighting the infill construction that is happening in all our cities have been attacked. There have been murders, in particular, of antifascist activists.
This is not a random phenomenon, but a clear trend: active citizens who try to restore justice and defend their legal rights are more and more often subjected to brute force. With no other arguments at its disposal, the opposite resorts to criminal methods. While it is clear that in each situation it is a different group of people who commissions these crimes, the overall tendency demonstrates that excellent conditions for the further escalation of this brutal method of “social dialogue” have been created in Russia today. These conditions include lawlessness, the lack of criminal liability for violations of the law by state officials or members of the ruling elite, universal corruption, and the hypercentralization of authority in the absence of any form of control from below. Many cases of “political” attacks on activists have still not been investigated, and the guilty parties not be found, which gives the assailants a sense of impunity and thus provokes further crimes.
We say, Enough!
We demand a maximally thorough and swift investigation of all assaults against all social activists, the transfer of these cases into a separate category, and the creation of a special investigative group within the Ministry of the Interior. We also demand that the public be kept informed about the course of these investigations.
We demand that the assailants be punished according to law whatever high-ranking patrons might support them.
We declare that we will not be intimidated by the method of violence and terror. We will continue our struggle for the social rights of our country’s citizens.
We appeal to the state authorities, who position themselves as the guarantee of “public order,” to make sure that “public order” is not violated by government officials. As it is, all we observe now is the arrests of old women and young activists at various assemblies, demonstrations or strikes, while we hear very little about arrests of corrupt state officials or unscrupulous employers. Down with this politics of double standards!
We declare that, given the situation, we consider it our right to use methods of self-defense and that we will use all possible means to assist and protect our comrades.Post Views: 836