If you’ve ever been to
On January 15, 2007 new laws on registration went into effect with the intent of simplifying this process. Full text of the law can be found here. The law mostly addresses issues of monitoring immigrant labor, which according to Daniel Sershen of the Moscow Times are “overdue.” The law expands quotas for immigrant labor and levies fines up to $30,000 to business who don’t keep track of their foreign employees. Unfortunately, the law is not without its racist elements.
Xenophobia and political considerations have determined some aspects of the new policy, and the results will hurt both
and the countries from which most of the migrant workers come. Russia
The market ban is part of a trend of growing intolerance; a populist move intended to placate elements in society that would rather have immigrants out of sight and mind. Moreover, if fully enforced, it would lead to higher prices in many markets, as employers switch from migrants to more costly domestic labor. Even now, markets have curtailed activities and even closed in some cities, the public relations manager for the Tsentraziya migrant support group, Nurbek Atambayev, said last week.
Moreover, the law impacts tourists and those who travel to
The new law is essentially different from the old in that foreigners have to formally notify migration authorities, instead of waiting for permission to get registered. In practice this means that within three days of arrival, the host of the foreigner – the owner of the apartment, or the head of a company that invited him – fills out a form stating the guest’s identity, purpose of stay, occupation, passport information, his home address, and his migration card (which the foreigner obtains separately upon entering the country). By law, the host then takes this form, together with a receipt for a government fee, to the nearest local Federal Migration Service office (traditionally known as OVIR). An official keeps the top part of the form, and the visiting foreigner is left with the bottom half. That’s his proof that he’s notified the authorities.
Like most changes in Russian law, those who have to actually enforce them are left confused. It seems that local officials are unsure about the law and are unwilling to sway from standard procedure. As one anonymous source told the Moscow News, “So far, [all these new procedures] are not envisaged by anything. We’re waiting for an official enactment from the government. It was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 15, but so far it doesn’t exactly exist.” Or as Alexei Filipenkov, deputy chairman of Association of European Businesses’ visa task force complained to the St. Petersburg Times, “Nobody knows what is going on. I ask one migration official what to do, and he tells me one thing. On the same day I go to another official, and they tell me something completely different. Nobody knows what is going on because the rules are constantly being changed.”
Does anyone know how all this is supposed to work?
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It is rather old news to report that Alexander Litvinenko died of radiation poisoning in London. The news, after all, is everywhere. Even CNN has made it the main story on their website. That is until a flood or car crash occurs. The question now inevitably becomes: Who did it? And Why?
Why was Alexander Litvinenko murdered? He was after all a staunch critic of the Kremlin and Putin. His book, Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within, accused the FSB outright for the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow. He claimed that the bombings were Putin’s Reichstag fire for the second Chechen war. It doesn’t take much logic to believe that Litvinenko had many enemies for such views, beginning with his former comrades in the FSB and ending with the Kremlin itself. This is why so much reporting is ready to point the finger directly at Putin. The murder confirms what many people already believe about Russia.
As to the variety of possible explanations for Litvinenko’s murder, the Times London has presented five theories. They are Putin cleaning house before the 2008 Presidential elections, the Berezovsky connection, the Chechen connection, rouge FSB elements, and natural causes or suicide.
Claiming the first two says more about one’s political views toward the Kremlin than anything else. The first theory suggests that Putin seeks to eliminate all political internal and external opposition before the elections. The second is its binary opposite. It claims that Berezovsky seeks to destabilize Russia by way of undermining Putin’s authority.
I claimed a few weeks ago that Politkovskaya had become a political football, if not a piñata. The same is happening to Litvinenko. And it is already starting. In response to the news of his death, Putin said “I am really sorry that a person’s death is being used for political provocation.” Sadly, Putin is guilty of the very same thing he charges his critics.
The suicide or natural causes theory can be dismissed rather easily. There are simply easier ways to off oneself. And I would gather that death by radiation poising could hardly be qualified as “natural causes.”
The other two theories, rogue FSB elements and the Chechen connection, are interesting, but the Times dismisses them under the belief that the FSB is “tightly under Putin’s control” and that in regard to the Chechens, Litvnenko “posed no direct threat to Kadyrov’s regime and his key criticisms were directed against the war launched by Putin.” I still think the rogue FSB is a possibility, though the existence of such high grade poison, polonium-210, suggests that these people had to be pretty high up to have access to it. And the higher you go up the FSB food chain, the more likely they would be directly connected to Putin.
As far as the Chechen connection goes, well it sounds like Kadyrov’s men have their hands full assassinating their own troublemakers. A perhaps more important story that has been overshadowed by Litvinenko’s poisoning is how a few days ago Kadyrov’s Interior Ministry gunned down Movladi Baisarov right on Leninskii Prospekt in Moscow.
Still, four of the five theories are plausible. It is, after all, not beyond the Russian state to assassinate thorns in its side. A recent article in Kommersant listed five high profile poisonings since 1995. Four of them directly implicated the FSB. Nor is it beyond cloak and dagger types to exact revenge against someone they view as a traitor.
More theories steeped in political opportunism are likely to emerge. For example, in a statement to Haaretz, former Yukos CEO and now exile Leonid Nevzlin claimed that “Litvinenko’s murder was tied to the information relating to Yukos contained in the documents.” Nevzlin turned these over to the London Metropolitan Police.
People close to Litvinenko claim that his murder was in connection to his investigation of Anna Politkovskaya’s death.
Litvinenko himself was certain who ordered his death. And he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity of taking a final swipe at Putin. In a posthumous statement published in the Financial Times, he said:
But as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death. I may be able to give him the slip but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like. I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.
You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.
Did the Kremlin do it? I personally have no idea. But if they did then they are either incompetent or shortsighted. The murder has become international news, generating a PR maelstrom that will only hamper the Kremlin’s position and aspirations. Once again Putin has to deal with uncomfortable question after uncomfortable question lobbed by European media at this weekend’s Helsinki Conference. Further, it makes Putin’s recent editorial, “Europe Has Nothing to Fear From Russia’s Aspirations” in the Financial Times unreadable without a cynical chuckle. Lastly, the Litvinenko assassination conjures more ghosts that I would imagine the Kremlin would like people to forget. So if the Kremlin did order the killing, then their stupidity is beyond measure.
But perhaps the remembrance generated by Litvinenko’s murder is really what connects this strange and sordid tale to a much larger political struggle.
As Boris Kargalitsky states in a comment on Eurasian Home,
Raising the ghosts of the past would be the most disadvantageous tactics for the Russian administration under the circumstances. Litvinenko, residing in London, was not a thorn in the side for the Russian authorities, all the more that his version of the explosions in Moscow in 1999 is just one in series and not the most convincing. But when the former KGB agent becomes victim of an attempt, his imputations gain credibility and the whole affair moves to the front burner. The Kremlin’s foes will not miss a chance to use the poisoning of Litvinenko as one more argument against the authorities and to put it in line with such cases as the murder of Politkovskaya and the residential houses explosions in 1999. Moscow will again be seen from the West as a capital of the “evil Empire”. But what’s the Kremlin’s use in all that?
It is only in “first approximation” that the renowned critics of the present regime seem to be the only victims of the current events. If we consider the situation in more detail, we will find that the authorities are extremely vulnerable to such developments. The blows hit the commentators of the Big Game, living the opposition leaders safe and sound. As a result the opposition gets its martyrs and the authorities are brought into challenge. Under these circumstances the pro-Kremlin analysts have all reasons to assure that Litvinenko’s poisoning and the journalist’s murder are mere provocations and that the opposition itself and Boris Berezovsky in person have organized the affairs in order to discredit the Kremlin’s ruling elite.
For all that it’s difficult to think of Mr. Berezovsky trying to kill his closest associate in London. However vicious he might be, he is not crazy. Mr. Berezovsky perfectly understands that once Scotland Yard finds out something, he won’t get away with it.
The 1999 explosions in Moscow reflected the struggle for power within the ruling elite. The current murders and murder attempts have the same nature. Neither President Putin nor Mr. Berezovsky would contract such murders – for both of them the possibility of the backlash of the event is higher than possible revenues. I reckon there are other stakeholders at a lower level who pursue their own interests and use their own methods.
Intensification of the struggle for power is the result of their activity. The less stable the situation in the country is the more there is ground for the drastic changes in political life of the country. And undermining Russia’s position in the world will permit the political elites to retain control over the new President, making him a hostage of those who have led him to power. Dirty and ineffective political tricks will make the successor more dependent on forces behind the Kremlin’s throne.
The Big Game is on and it’s not the presidential post that is at stake. It is the leverage of control over whoever gets this post.
The “Big Game”. Thus we’ve come full circle back to the first two theories put forward by Putin and his enemies. Both Litvinenko’s and Politkovskaya’s murders are part of a wider struggle within the Russian elite for control in 2008. Perhaps, then, looking only at the top echelons of both the Kremlin and the opposition is diverting attention away from the unknown, yet influential players positioned in the elite’s middle levels. This I think is the most frightening theory of them all.Post Views: 1,973
The Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci wrote that hegemony is exercised through the combination of force and consent. Ideally, rule by consent is preferred, though force is always waiting in the wings. Gramsci, however, mentioned a third form of rule, one that is often skipped over because it is buried in a footnote of his classic essay “Notes on Italian History.” That third is rule by corruption and fraud. “Between consent and force,” he wrote, “stands corruption/fraud. This consists in procuring the demoralization and paralysis of the antagonist (or antagonists) by buying its leaders—either covertly, or, in cases of imminent danger, openly—in order to sow disarray and confusion in his ranks.”
It would be beneficial to keep rule through corruption and fraud in mind when thinking about the nature of the Russian state. In many ways, it is not a traditional liberal state with independent branches of government, though it professes itself to be as such. It is also not a state solely based on vertical flows of power. While one may view Putin’s centralization of power as a sign of the state rotating on a singular axis, this view is more a mystification than anything else. To be sure, Putin specifically and Russia in general would like to be perceived as a unipolar state. The ubiquity of photos of Putin personally meeting with officials strives to reproduce a common theme in Russian history: a strong, competent Tsar at the center who subordinates his functionaries for the safety and benefit of the people.
But Putin’s photo ops also engender another interpretation. Putin must personally meet with his functionaries because he can’t trust the state apparatus to run itself. It is and can only be held together through a widespread network of personal connections. Therefore, I would argue that the Russian state is a network state where power is located in concentric circles that are held together by an axis personified by Putin himself. The words “held together” need to be emphasized here. The figure of Putin is not so much for benefit of himself, but more for the benefit of the rulers of the fiefdoms that make up the circles. Putin keeps the peace. He prevents the competing power centers from killing themselves.
This geography of the Russian state has its social manifestation in corruption. Much of this corruption is illegal in that it violates Russian law; some of it is not. However, it is ubiquitous because it is socially legitimized. Corruption gets its legitimacy because the ruling classes rule through personal connections, clans, and networks. As Owen Mathews writes in an article in Newsweek called “The New Feudalism,”
These days, any transaction of value—from getting your kid into university, to arranging visits to doctors, to starting a business—depends upon the whims of the king, his knights in the Kremlin or the legions of vassals who live off their patronage and in turn pay them tribute. From the mightiest oligarch to the lowliest common citizen, every aspect of every Russian’s life—their right to a home, their car or work—increasingly presupposes some form of crooked relationship with the state and its servants.
While I think Owen overstates the issue by implying a straight line from the Kremlin down to its lowliest municipal servant, in a sense he is right. The problem is that corruption in Russia mostly appears benign. There is a saying there, “?????? ?? ????????,” or “forbidden but possible.” Combining two seemingly contradictory worlds captures the essence of corruption. And that corruption is not necessarily located in monetary bribes. There is a recognition in Russia that “?????? ?????,” or “personal connections” open doors, get things done, thereby making the forbidden possible. This doesn’t mean that personal connections are rooted in illegality. It merely functions according to long standing traditions of customary law which in the flow of everyday life trump juridical law.
Being a friend of a friend matters. As a Russian researcher explained to me the other day, “You can’t survive in Russia with just your immediate family. Therefore you have to make your family larger. When a person climbs the economic or social ladder, the rest, the “?????,” has an interest in that person too. Your benefit is also theirs.” Though ???? (pull or influence) is becoming increasingly monetarized, as you go up the class ladder, the connections widen. It is trickle down economics ?? ??????????? (that is person to person)
My own experience in this has been minor though rewarding. I’m too small of a fish to be privy to any real corruption. Since I tend to have good relations with archivists (or know people who do), my orders get filled quicker than others, I am warmly greeted when I arrive, and sometimes I get privileges that others don’t, namely working in the archive when it is closed for others, discounts on photocopying, and other advantages when they stretch the rule.
It also would be wrong to charge that blat is immoral or corrupt. As one observer Alena Ledeneva quotes in her book, Russia’s Economy of Favours:
“You of course will think that . . . the behavior of [the] Homososes [that is Homo Sovieticus—Sean] in such a situation is amoral. But we look at it differently. It is easy to be moral if you live in conditions which do not force you into morally reprehensible actions. You are well fed and clothed; you have a nice house with books and other ways of enjoying yourselves. And it seems to you that to be moral is natural and not in the least bit difficult . . . Everything is simple and clear cut. But if a man finds himself below the bread line, beneath the minimum that is indispensable if morals are to be considered applicable in real life, then it is senseless to apply moral criteria to his behavior. A man in such a position is not only freed ipse facto from normal norms; he is freed from them by these moral concepts themselves. It is immoral to expect a man to be moral if he lacks the minimum living conditions that permit society to demand morality from him . . . Homososes are born, are educated and live in such conditions that it is just ridiculous to accuse them of immorality.”
While this quote was from the Soviet period, I think it still can be applied today in terms of how blat is understood by its practitioners. It does however raise the question that if Russia is structured around a multiplicity of personal networks, does that necessarily make the Russian state feudal as Owen suggests?
Forgetting the fact that Owen doesn’t provide a definition of feudal in his article, to suggest that Russia is also implies that it is a) not modern, and b) states based on the rule of law are devoid of such corruption. The latter is rather easy to dismiss. Most liberal states have a measure of corruption and personal connections that make them work. Liberal blat exists up and down the social food chain in various degrees. More doors open when you know someone than when you don’t. The difference between Russia and liberal states is one of quantity than quality.
Still, at some point quantity becomes quality. The social and cultural importance of connections in Russia suggest that there is a qualitative difference between how things are done there than in liberal societies. This is where the issue of modern comes in. Liberal states became “modern,” the argument goes, by eliminating the importance of personal connections, and by extension corruption by establishing the rule of law. On a cultural level most citizens in liberal states believe, rightly or wrongly, that the law stands above society. In Russia, however, the law is understood by most as merely a tool of the powerful. In this way, many observers place Russia next to “third world” countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia rather than in the modern pantheon of the West.
It seems that the Economist shares this latter point. Citing the Transparency International’s “corruption perceptions index”, it reports that “Russia has fallen to rank alongside Niger, Sierra Leone and Albania. A recent survey by Indem, a Russian think-tank, found an enormous hike, 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.)”
All of this reflects on the nature of the Russia state. From the upper circles of the Russian state to the lowest rungs of society, Russians can only rely on others in their circle for mutual aid. That means that the institutions that the Russian state provide: security, legal recourse, social welfare, education, and more importantly stable rule, gives way to a system that is inherently centralized but at the same time dispersed. The result produces what the historian Alfred Rieber said of Alexander II, a managerial tsar that keeps the warring clans from eating themselves. The “autocrat,” therefore, finds himself not in hegemonic control, but constantly playing a careful game of placating the powerful whose patronage allows him to rule in the first place.Post Views: 669
Does Putin’s Russia resemble the Shah’s Iran? This is the question Boris Kagarlitsky ponders in his recent column “The Shah’s Iran & Putin’s Russia” on Eurasian Home. His argument runs like this. Like the Shah’s Iran, Putin has successfully created an economy that shows stable growth based on oil and gas exports. However, also like Iran, this formula doesn’t look promising to bring Russia out of its peripheral position in the world economy. In fact, just the opposite. If you listen to world systems theory, Russia will remain peripheral as long as it continues to supply core states—China and the European Union—with the fuels that move their economy only to give it back to Russia in the form of consumer imports. Russia may be able to dictate the terms of trade with raw materials, but to keep its population fat with consumer items; it needs to be cautious in how far it pushes.
Kagarlitsky’s argument goes beyond petrol exports. Putin’s “modernization” also involves in the development of a capitalist class that is adept in the rules of the market and international trade. Modernization is more than an economic project; it is also an ethical project. This has led him to restricting the business elite in general, while allowing a section of it that is loyal to his government flourish. Basically, Putin has traded one set of oligarchs for another. For Kagarlitsky, this has the potential to blow up in Putin’s face. Despite what people may think, holding state power requires two of three things: the military, the elite, and/or the common people. Currently, Putin has the first and a sizable portion of the third, with the second is a bit tenuous. Part of the elite supports him, while another part is probably ready to bolt, that is, if they had someone to bolt to.
According to Kagarlitsky, the “illusion” to Putin’s power lies in the oil prosperity.
The oligarch economy structure also remains unchanged. The market reforms are still in progress. The substitution of one oligarch by another may just make this policy work better. Technology development, national projects and modernization are much spoken about. The middle class should be satisfied by comfortable consumption conditions and well-paid jobs. The system’s work, however, is more of a show rather than of the efficiency. The glamour conceives the undecided problems. The superficiality of the ruling elite will sooner or later become obvious to an impartial observer. The Iranian capitalism under the last Shah, just like the Russian capitalism under Putin, had too narrow social and economic basis, leaving two thirds of the population at nothing. The oil prosperity maintains the illusion of stability. Just illusion, that’s it. As we look closer, we see the clouds in the horizon gathering.
Where would the people go? Certainly not to religious organizations like in Iran. Kagarlitsky thinks that Russian nationalist forces have the best chance of capitalizing on a disgruntled population. There are already signs of this.
[The] increasing number of the nationalist and fascist groups is starting to seriously worry the Kremlin. If our authorities are actually capable of learning at least some lessons from the past, then that would be it. They are doing their best to keep the nationalist bloc from consolidation, limiting its emerging leaders’ ambitions, preventing formation of the solid structures. “Rodina” was shown its place. Orthodox church is not a Shiite mosque, it will not object to the state. Numerous fascist groupings, from the killer skinhead to the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (MAII) are a serious trouble for citizens with “non-Aryan” looks, still not being a political force and are unlikely to become one. Even if the Communist Party turns all of its meetings into propaganda hang-outs for the racist MAII, this is still not enough to make the fascist movement highly influential. However, the authorities got a problem: it is kind of complicated to fight the right extremism and at the same time stand out for the civil society. The war at the two fronts demands considerable efforts, resources and attention, which they just might be too short of. Besides, keeping up appearances is also on the agenda, i.e. avoiding extremes while pursuing policy of repressions or at least having devices at hand to cover it. At the beginning of the 2000s nationalist movements in Russia were in a crisis. Even the Communist Party (which, regardless of its name, is the major nationalist party) was wavering. In the party, especially in its youth sector, communist movements were emerging, modestly trying to appeal to the name and the history of their organization. By mid-decade however, the racist and nationalistic forces in Russia have gotten their second chance. Successful “mop-up” of the civil society created favorable conditions. Putin was doing such a good job pulling the flowers in his garden that had made plenty of room for the weeds.
Such political garden is not needed even to the administration. The state machine is slowly changing fronts. “The fight against fascism” is becoming a popular ideological tune, and the Kremlin is even willing to pay overtime to those ready to sing it. No wonder that the number of struggling with the fascist menace is multiplying. But all of them are not quite right people. If you have been systematically cracking down on the civil society don’t be surprised to see different sorts of crooks being the only ones coming to your call.
This supports my theory that Putin and United Russia has positioned themselves in the political center. They both stand as the defenders of stability by denouncing the left, in the form of liberal parties, and the right, represented by nationalist parties. Putinism, if giving it an “–ism” is even appropriate, is politics through negativity—you are what your opponents aren’t. You brand them as harbingers of instability, thereby making you a partisan of stability without ever having to actually state how you will maintain said stability. The only question that remains is if two thirds of the population remains economically disenfranchised will the center hold? And if so how long? Who will occupy the new political center?Post Views: 406