Michael Idov is an award winning journalist, novelist and screenwriter. From 2006 to 2012 he was a contributing editor at New York magazine where he won three National Magazine Awards for his journalism. From 2012 to 2014 he edited GQ Russia. He’s the author of Ground Up published in 2002. His new book is Dressed Up for a Riot: Misadventures in Putin’s Moscow published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.
Pavement, “Trigger Cut / Wounded Kite at: 17,” Slanted and Enchanted, 1992.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
I first learned from Andy over at Siberian Light about the press brouhaha over Putin’s alleged $40 billion tucked away in banks in Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Intrigued, I set my sights on said press accounts for the story.
Claims of Putin’s hidden money bags comes from an interview Stanislav Belkovsky recently gave to Die Welt. There Belkovsky perhaps spells out the true nature of “Putinism,” a nature that harks back to Andrei Pointkovsky’s claim that Putinism is “the highest stage of robber capitalism.” Indeed, except Russian capitalism is more like collective thievery. Under Putin’s tenure, says Belkovsky, “all the interest groups are represented in the Kremlin. The people who sit there are the direct advocates and co-owners of large enterprises.” Nothing new here. What is new is the claim that Putin himself has reaped the spoils of Russia’s economic might. “Putin is a big businessman. He control 37 percent of Surgutneftegaz stock, which has a market value of $20 billion. In addition, he contols 4.5 percent of Grazprom stock. In the oil firm Gunvor Putin holds 50 percent more than its founder Gennady Timchenko.” In an interview with the Guardian, Belkovsky claims that Putin’s stake in Gunvor is as high as 75 percent. However, the numbers are mostly speculation since the paper trail confirming Putin’s stash has yet to be found.
If the estimates of Putin’s wealth are believed, the $40 billion he has tucked away would instantly make him Europe’s wealthiest man. Moreover, if true, then the comparisons between Mexico under the PRI and Russia under United Russia might gain whole new resonance. Putin’s fortune simply makes him a Slavic caudillo equipped with all the benefits the office bestows. As Robin Leach used to say in his signature accent, “With champagne wishes and caviar dreams, these are the lifestyles of the rich and famous!”
The real question is why now? Why is Putin’s wealth not only being revealed, but also discussed? For this we have to turn to Luke Harding’s take on the matter. According to him, the reason for why what was once taboo is now suddenly out in the open has to do with the machinations of those damn siloviki. Harding explains,
Discussion of Putin’s wealth has previously been taboo. But the claims have leaked out against the backdrop of a fight inside the Kremlin between a group led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s influential deputy chief of staff, and a “liberal” clan that includes Medvedev.
. . .
Insiders say the struggle has little to do with ideology. They characterize it as a war between business competitors. Putin’s decision to endorse as president Medvedev – who has no links with the secret services – dealt a severe blow to the hardline Sechin clan, they add.
. . .
Critics say the wave of renationalisations under Putin has transformed Putin’s associates into multimillionaires. The dilemma now facing the Kremlin’s elite is how to hang on to its wealth if Putin leaves power, experts say. Most of its money is located in the west, they add. The pressing problem is how to protect these funds from any future administration that may seek to reclaim them.
True. Multimillionaires they be. Sechin, as Chairman of Rosneft, might be the next carcass for the Kremlin vultures to feast from. He’s been hit, and hit hard over the past several weeks. So does this mean that a battered and beleaguered Sechin is going to the mattresses? Is the leak of Putin’s alleged wealth simply a black PR hit against the Don? Stay tuned, dear reader. Stay tuned. Because the siloviki war might have just been ratcheted up a notch.Post Views: 1,510
By Sean — 12 years ago
According to my unscientific survey, the Russian diaspora in Israel is an under reported topic in blogs on Russia. I present excerpts from two articles from Haaretz in hopes of beginning a discussion. The first tells of Russian anti-Semitism toward Orthodox Jews in the form of neo-Nazis, while the second reports on the Israeli oppression of Russians because of their adherence to the Orthodox faith. Both point to the contradictions the post-Soviet aliyah to Israel that began in the 1990s. Excerpts are below.
“Fear and loathing in Petah Tikva / Neo-Nazi gangs assaulting ultra-Orthodox Jews”
By Moti Katz
Haaretz, May 11, 2006.
A week after the desecration of the Great Synagogue in Petah Tikva, nothing remains of the horror the worshipers encountered there last Thursday when they arrived for morning prayers. The walls, which had been sprayed with swastikas and blasphemy, have been newly painted, the floor polished and the curtain covering the holy ark replaced.
However, the danger is far from over. For the past two years the ultra-Orthodox community there, which includes some 5,000 families and 300 synagogues, has been subjected to incessant attacks by street gangs from the former Soviet Union (FSU). The gangs have been beating ultra-Orthodox men, hurling curses at them and desecrating synagogues.
“These youths feel out of place in the Russian community they belong to, but they are not accepted in Israeli society either,” says Bella Alexandrov, the director of the multi-disciplinary youth center in Petah Tikva. She distinguishes between two kinds of immigrants – punks and skinheads.
“The skinheads buy Russian videos about ‘white power’ that call for cleansing Russia of Jews. They don’t get it from home. It comes from not belonging and not finding answers to their distress.”
On Sukkot eve last year, a number of teens bearing knives burst into the big Lithuanian yeshiva Or Israel on Rothschild Street in the city center. They started beating pupils, and throwing prayer books and scriptures on the floor.
Yeshiva head Rabbi Yigal Rozen has no doubt that these incidents are anti-Semitic.
“Persecution only strengthens us”
By Lili Galili
Haaretz, June 6, 2006.
Vladimir Gridin, a professor of solid-state physics, is certain that the fact our meeting took place last Sunday, on Pentecost, the day believed to mark the birth of the Russian-Orthodox Church, was no coincidence. Nor did he believe that it was coincidence that the church where we met, at the end of Hagai Street in Migdal Haemek, was vandalized right before the sacred holiday. “Divine providence,” he says. Even if one can ascribe a degree of divine providence to the timing of our meeting, it’s doubtful the youths who desecrated the church and the adjacent priests’ graves a few days before the holiday were so attuned to the nuances of Russian Orthodoxy that they specifically picked that day to commit their act of vandalism.
“A pogrom in the church,” was the cry that echoed from the small community whose spiritual life is centered on the Church of St. Nikolai. What took place wasn’t quite a pogrom, but it was the latest in a series of attempts to damage a holy place. On Friday morning, when they arrived for services, the congregants found the church windows broken, the icons overturned, a cross uprooted from a priest’s grave and the edge of the grave ruined. A lot of effort went into shattering the windows, which were protected by a dense metal screen. A particularly malicious hand had to work hard to get in between the spaces to break the squares of thick glass one after the other. And yet, the police, whose local headquarters are very close to the church, insist the vandalism was just a prank by a bunch of 8- and 9-year-olds. “We’ve gone back to the early days of Christianity,” said Gridin sadly. “Christians are being persecuted again.”
A somewhat unusual group gathered this week at the door to the church. Unusual, both because of the way they’d broken with convention in the choices they’d made in their lives, and because they were all situated on the delicate seam between the Law of Return and the rules of halakha (Jewish law). This is the congregation of Father Romanus, a 46-year-old Arab Orthodox priest from Haifa, who is just as fluent in Russian as he is in Arabic and Hebrew. He learned the language while studying at a Russian theological seminary in the U.S., and founded his community here.
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By Sean — 6 years ago
This morning I received a odd question in my daily Vedomosti alert: Would you be more careful associating with foreigners because of increased secrecy in Russia? What a curious question, especially since I am one of those foreigners who relies on Russians help to find places to live, access to archives, academic correspondence etc. Why would they have to suddenly be more careful? A click on the link took me to the Vedomosti article “Law on spies enters its second reading.” The article reports that a new spy law moved to the second pit-stop on the road to legality after the Russian Duma unanimously accepted its first version. Introduced way back in December 2008, left dormant by Medvedev, but now gaining new impetus, the law seeks to revise the existing high treason and espionage statutes (Article 275 and 276 of the Russian Penal Code) by broadening their scope. For the new law’s framers, the need for revision was practical: high treason is too “difficult to prove especially because its necessary to demonstrate the hostile character of the activity.” Among other edits, the new law conveniently removes the phrase “hostile activity” and inserts “harmful to the security of the Russian Federation” in its place. According to Vedomosti the implications are:
On the details and means of obtaining state secrets: [a secret] can be “entrusted” to the accused or become “known [to them] in service, work, or school,” and “in other instances stipulated by the laws of the Russian Federation.” It’s not specified what these other instances are. It will be considered criminal to provide “financial, material, technical, advice and assistance.” And instead of saying “damage to the external security,” the law now simply says “damage the security” of Russia. This includes activities against the constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.
The article continues:
The new statute expands the punishment for the collection of information deemed a state secret (it describes a case where information is gathered, but not passed along or advanced). One aggravating factor, among others, will be the means of distributing such information (For example, in the media or on the internet.) as well as “the movement of those possessors of information outside the Russian Federation.” In other words, a person in illegal possession of secrets, but does not go abroad will be punished less severely (up to four years) than those who take sensitive information abroad, regardless of the purpose of the trip (for example on vacation or meeting with a resident).” This last instance carries a sentence of three to eight years.
But let’s not take Vedomosti‘s word for it. Here’s the old Article 275 and 276 and proposed revisions:
High treason that is espionage, disclosure of state secrets, or any other assistance rendered to a foreign State, a foreign organization, or their representatives in hostile activities to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation, committed by a citizen of the Russian Federation.
High treason that is acts that are hostile to the security of the Russian Federation committed by the citizen of the Russian Federation: espionage, the delivery to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or to their representatives information considered a state secret entrusted to persons or have become known to him in service, work, or education, or rendering financial, material-technical, consultation or any help to foreign states, international or foreign organizations or their representatives in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.
Article 276 goes from:
The transfer, and also collection, theft, or keeping for the purpose of transfer to a foreign state, a foreign organization, or their representatives of information constituting a state secret, and also transfer or collection of other information under the order of a foreign intelligence service, to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation.
The transfer and also the compilation, abduction or storage for the purpose of transferring to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or to their representatives information considered a state secret, and also the transfer or compilation by assignment of a foreign secret service or persons acting in its interests any information for their use to harm the security of the Russian Federation (espionage).
From the pithy to the verbose, and from the “hard to prove” to legal elasticity. It’s no wonder the proposed law has Russian NGOs in the tizzy.Post Views: 933