Small Children Tortured at a Russian Government Orphanage
Warning: graphic, unedited video
If Vladimir Putin and the Russian Parliament believe that their own-operated orphanages are a better option than the American adoption, they better have answers to video showcased in this post. A friend of a friend of a family friend of someone who works at an orphanage in Amur Oblast sent this video to a local newspaper to draw the attention to the activities at the orphanage. The way the video was "discovered" means multiple adults were aware of the events at the orphanage. Children's screams in the video (now complimented by investigators' reports of heavy injuries on seven-year-olds' bodies) suggest that orphanage "supervisors" (Russian government employees) were in the loop as well. If Vladimir is truly concerned about the well-being of children, he has something to worry about much closer to home than in the far-away America.
Russian news outlets report that a "criminal investigation has been launched and police is conducting interviews with the orphanage staff."
My yesterday's interview with the Voice of Russia on the Berezovsky's death:
Voice of Russia's Kim Brown talks with Yuri Mamchur, Director of the Real Russia Project at the Discovery Institute:
Mamchur talks about the "strange relationship" between Russia and England during the last portion of Berezovsky's life, when the former Russian Oligarch was self-exiled to England in order to avoid tax evasion charges. Mamchur says that he believed that Berezovsky, renowned for his calculating approach to life, "ran out of countries to go to" and "ran out of money" and committed suicide after realizing he'd run out of options.
In Nicosia, Cypriots wave signs written in Russian and asking Russia for help
The gas reserves of Cyprus apparently do not sufficiently tantalize the Russian government, at least not enough to persuade Mr. Putin to lend the Mediterranean island some six billion Euros. The government of Cyprus has a new plan to give the big investors a haircut, but it still won't be enough (only about two billion Euros), and the EU is unlikely to approve it.
The Wall Street Journal today editorializes in favor of bankruptcy as the best option for the Cypriot banks, which is what probably should have happened to some US companies in 2008. After a 40 percent loss for large investors (accounts with $100,000 or more Euros), the bankrupt banks would be reorganized. Oddly, some Russian investors in Cyprus would have a big position in the new banks, not that that would be a huge consolation to them.
My Discovery colleague Yuri Mamchur thinks that the political/military temptation for the Kremlin is insufficient to justify the risk of a big loan to the insolvent Cypriots. I guess the gas reserves are in the future and the payout for a loan would be today, so no deal (at least not yet). Also, Yuri points out, the Russian oligarchs who will get the haircut are not the reason Mr. Putin is in power, so why save their tax avoidance schemes?
The crisis in Cyprus still has not focused the world's attention as it should. Russia is poised to make a huge political/economic gain, almost unprecedented in a country that never before was under its sway.
Openeurope.org reports from varied sources,
"The Cypriot government announced yesterday that banks and the Cypriot stock market will remain closed until next Tuesday, as it rushed to find a new deal to raise the €5.8bn needed to unlock a €10bn loan from the EU/IMF. Cyprus reportedly submitted a plan which involved creating a fund made up of: revenue from a solidarity tax (not a deposit levy), nationalised pension assets, revenue from restructuring and selling off the two largest Cypriot banks and property of the Church of Cyprus. This was rejected by the EU/IMF/ECB Troika since it would increase Cypriot debt to unsustainable levels. Cypriot political leaders are meeting this morning to adjust the plan with the hope that they can get it approved and then vote on it in the Cypriot parliament this evening.
At the same time, Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris was in Moscow looking to secure further aid from Russia. Sarris reportedly offered Russia the chance to purchase the largest Cypriot banks in exchange for incentives linked to Cypriot gas reserves, although Russia remained cool on the prospect. In an interview with the FT, Russian Prime Minister
Russia's Mediterranean warm water ports in Syria (mainly Tartus and Latakia) are in danger of disappearing as the Assad regime falters. Luckily for the Kremlin there is desperately needy Cyprus. (Syria some years ago allowed a huge expansion of the Russians' Cold War naval sites in Syria in return for Russian forgiveness of most of Syria's Russian debt.)
Cyprus is in financial trouble and unable to pay its debts. Understandably, the Cypriot Parliament was unhappy with the solution of taxing bank depositors for their savings as a way to satisfy the Eurozone. Russia also was unhappy, since wealthy Russians use Cyprus for banking purposes.
Online poster reads: "Gundyayev allows", referring to Russian Orthodox Church patriarch Kirill Gundyayev. The picture shows an Orthodox priest photoshopped next to his car and the accident he caused. Activist's website calls for people to print it out and post in public places
My most recent visit to Russia was overwhelmed by one particular notion - the country has become so materialistic that even Ayn Rand and Daniel Plainview (main character from There Will Be Blood) would've found the obsession with money to be too much. In other words, the core of the Russian society, the so-called ruling elite and middle class, has become spiritless and valueless to the point of increasing physical deaths and criminal activities. The only part of the society that still genuinely puts family values and honesty first is Russia's fast-growing Muslim population. In other words, imagine a version of The Walking Dead where "zombies" literally don't sleep, don't eat, don't drink, don't have compassion, and walk and work with only one goal - to make more money (rather than eat people). That picture describes today's Moscow (complete with FM-radio soundtrack broadcasting the lyrics that "any b..ch is just a matter of price...").
Some libertarians may argue that greed is good. However, while the libertarian "religion" is heavily advocated by Atlas, Reason, CATO, and other U.S.-based foundations, American libertarianism is from a country where people don't hide behind six-foot fences, don't drive 200 miles an hour killing school kids at a bus stop, don't display their wealth by spending 98% of their monthly income on clothes and cars they can't afford, and regularly go to church. The sheer fact that libertarian non-profits exist proves that someone in America spends money on donations and charitable giving. And even that in itself is drastically different from today's Russia, where people would easily spend $15 on a cup of tea and $20 on a tasteless desert on the go, but wouldn't give a dime to a charity that feeds orphans. In fact, Russia today has more orphans than it did during World War II, and people with the means to take the children in prefer to buy expensive dogs and provide them with fancy dog snacks and toys. Two days before I left Moscow, a drunk driver, travelling 130 miles an hour, lost control of his car and wiped out a bus stop with 14 children, killing seven on the spot. Under Russian laws his maximum sentence can be nine years in prison.
How did it happen and who is to blame? the Russian Orthodox Church and its corrupt ex-KGB, tobacco-billionaire leader are the ones to share the responsibility.
Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich (arguing in London about stolen Russians' money)
MOSCOW -- The famous legal battle that just took place in London between the two most famous Russian oligarchs attracted a lot of well-deserved attention. Reading The Economist readers' comments and listening to people in the streets of Moscow, one thing became apparent: both Berezovsky and Abramovich should have gone to prison. Instead, they're paying million-dollar bills to their attorneys, investing into the British court system, and making fools of other two players in the now-told fable of crime and corruption: Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin.
Berezovsky was Yeltsin's darling (or vice-versa, depending on a year). Today, rightfully, Berezovsky is wanted in Russia on charges of multiple murders, bribery, extortion, tax evasion, and other things common to several Russian businesses of the Nineties. However, the only reason Abramovich isn't just as wanted is the fact that he is (or at least was) the darling of Tsar Vladimir. The point is - the wealth discussed in British court was amassed through the theft of then-Soviet public properties from the Russian nation. Through various kickbacks, one thief was more successful than the other in "keeping it real" a.k.a "legal" (why not employ the language appropriate to the situation...).
Russian legal and political systems are no enigma to anyone, especially since the most recent elections. However, the question of morality falls on the Brits: Is investment into a formerly broke soccer club and British banking accounts worth the downsides of letting two foreign criminals make mockeries of business ethics, international laws, and human morality? When I was in London two years ago, I noticed hundreds of not-so-sophisticated (yet loaded) Arabs and Russians, behaving, disrespectfully, as if they own the place and spraying thousands of pounds. Can anyone buy anything with money in perfidious Albion? Seems the answer is "yes." There will be trade-offs, and the Brits better beware of the realities which Russian blood money brings along with the wealth.
Central to fairness, American style, is an opportunity to be heard before judgment is pronounced, innocence until guilty is proven and the proof of guilt by actual evidence and not an alleged propensity to do wrong. This is why the unseemly rush to move the Magnitsky Act through the Congress ultimately is at least as damaging to America as it is to Russia. The proposed Act demands that Russia conducts a "thorough and unbiased investigation of the case" and the Russian prosecutors, albeit slowly, and even the parliament are in the process of doing just that.
The Russian parliamentarian report should be read in its entirety by those wishing to be fair and with an appreciation that it is just preliminary, but among other things, it makes the point that the legal context for the arrest of Sergei Magnitsky may be more complicated than Congress was informed by a British citizen William Browder who, it argues, had a motive to distort the facts to cover up his own activities.
According to this report William Browder implemented a scheme involving the use of Russian corporations he controlled to gain a larger interest in the Russian corporation Gazprom than was allowed by Russian law. The report further alleges that Mr. Browder developed a scheme to evade the payment of profit taxes by claiming a deduction for having a large component of special needs workers in their workforce which resulted in the substantial tax evasion.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) urged his committee to go forward with the Magnitsky bill
Who could argue against the concept that corrupt officials should be punished? Didn't we hear from the Russian leadership, including President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, that corruption is Russia's worst enemy? Why such an outcry, then, in Moscow as well as in the U.S. business community regarding the Sergei Magnitsky Act? It is currently moving through the Capitol Hill bureaucracy and, according to its sponsors, is supposed to help Russia fight its monstrous corruption.
This bill, which is turning into a major irritant in U.S.-Russian relations, threatening to deal a fatal blow to Obama's "reset" policy, references the death in Russia in 2009 of Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in pre-trial detention on a tax fraud charge after being refused medical treatment for his illnesses. The bill calls for U.S. visa denial and assets freeze for all Russian officials involved in mistreating Magnitsky or in some other "gross human rights violations."
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Is Putin Reasonable in Dealing with the Arab World?
The new elections in Egypt have proven that Democracy works. People's wish for a new leadership came true, and the Muslim Brotherhood is in charge of the strongest Islamic nation, a former ally of the West. The new government may rewind the hard-earned achievements of cooperation with the West and basic human rights by 500 (if not 1,000) years. And America, Russia, Britain, France and other prominent U.N. members will be simply watching the historic tragedy from the sidelines. The democracy has flourished indeed, and the Egyptians--not Russian or American intelligence operatives--are in charge of their nation, just as Palestinians and Hamas are in charge of theirs.
The change of government is yet to occur in Libya, but chances are high that the African nation--who enjoyed the fruits of the Arab Spring as well--will cast a vote for a similar leadership as the one Egyptians did (or the extremists, amid the chaos, will seize the power bypassing official protocols). This leaves the world at large with a question: is al-Assad really that bad? Or is he just evil, but the lesser of the available devils raging through the Muslim world? At the end of the day, Russia may not have only its own interests in mind, but also the interests of the overall stability in the region and the world. The death of 10,000 protestors is a tragedy. However, would the persecution of all non-Muslims, pushing the women to the sidelines of society, harboring terrorists, and--possibly--killing hundreds of thousands be a worse tragedy? The answer should be clear, unless some of the involved parties who advocate the protection of the human rights, in reality have a particular interest in destabilizing the region; such scenario borders with a conspiracy theory and, I hope, isn't true.
Realpolitik of Russia (and China) is weathered by 1,000 years (and 5,000 years respectively) of history. They may see the difference between the implausible wishful thinking and the unpleasant harsh reality. My own long trip to Washington D.C. is coming to an end, and sipping the Starbucks double-shot espresso on ice and thinking of the Founding Fathers and the French toast at the Kramer Books in DuPont Circle makes me wish the world were filled with peace and respect. However, Afghan, Libyan, Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Iranian villages do not have a Starbucks and do not serve French toast. Furthermore, they haven't heard of the Founding Fathers, and, quite often, do not know how to read or write. What they do know, is that Allah is the one and only God, who promises a pass to heaven and multiple virgins, a woman is less valuable than a horse, and the West and Israel are the enemies who need to be converted or erased from the face of the Earth.
Replacing the warm-and-fuzzy imaginary picture with a reality snapshot makes White House attitude look like the sentiment of a Seattle tree-hugger who cannot understand why some trees will have to get cut when the Jersey Pike is expanded. After all, Putin may have a valuable advice that Obama should consider. Americans have their own saying: Be careful what you wish for.
"We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country..."
- President Thomas Jefferson
On Thursday, June 7, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will convene a hearing at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs which she chairs. However, instead of using her committee's significant resources to conduct the People's business, she will take up the Magnitsky Bill, a controversial issue that may hinder U.S.-Russia relations outside of logic and reason.
The name of this H.R. 4405 bill references the death in 2009 in Russia of Sergei Magnitsky who died while in pre-trial detention on a tax fraud case after being refused medical treatment for his illnesses. President Dmitry Medvedev at the time dismissed a number of top local and federal prison officials over it. Prime-Minister Vladimir Putin called the death a "tragedy." The investigation into Magnitsky's mistreatment and the whole case of alleged tax fraud by his employer - the Hermitage Fund - is still going on. So is there a role here for U.S. Congress to play? The short answer is "No."
Mr. Trololo Dies at 77 -- Rest in Peace, Eduard Khil
Eduard Khil (Mr. Trololo) performing at a St. Petersburg dance-music festival in summer 2011
Forgotten for a long time, popular Soviet artist Eduard Khil, achieved the worldwide stardom as "Mr. Trololo" in 2010; he died last night in a St. Petersburg hospital at age 77. His 1976 vocalized song "I'm so Glad I'm Finally Coming Back Home" became a YouTube sensation, scoring millions of views within days. His new fame put him back on the stages of Moscow and St. Petersburg hottest dance clubs, where he performed remakes and remixes of his old hits. Last April, he suffered a stroke, and his newly-found world-wide fans started collecting donations for an advanced heart surgery. Unfortunately, Eduard never got a chance to use the generous gift. However, doctors who spent the last minutes of his life with Mr. Trololo, said that he died happy.
The best gift of his life was the last-minute international stardom. What a way to end a long career for a retired Soviet singer! He was just another Soviet musician, who faced the hardships of the Nineties with the rest of the nation, and left Russia for Paris, where he sang at restaurants to make the living. He was old, and returned home in 2000-s to quietly retire and live the last days of his life in his old Soviet-built apartment; just another "old man." The 2010 YouTube phenomenon could have been taken as a prank or as a prompt to get back on the stage. He took it as the latter, and, despite his age, reconquered the hearts of millions. Eduard Khil experienced what no other Soviet singer could have ever dreamed of - an international fame, spanning across the continents and generations. In the last days of his life, he smiled and entertained the young crowds, who fell in love with his sincere love for life, appreciation of all genres of music, and enjoyment of Internet humor. He even hoped to make it to the States with the Mr. Trololo Tour...
You lived a full life and will be remembered far beyond the Soviet Union and its old generations. Today, the whole world will smile, listening to your 1976 hit. Rest in peace, Mr. Trololo.
As long as President al-Assad's regime causes instability, oil prices stay high; the Russian budget is balanced and Chinese gain the competitive advantage. This situation is the result of a series of decisions that stretch as far as 2005...
In a recent interview with the Business Insider, I said that "problems in Iran and Syria are 'wonderful for the Russian economy.'" I meant it. Mark Taylor's article "For all the bluster, these three reasons show Russia's position on Iran may be surprisingly sane" explores well why Russia is interested in the ambiguity around Iranian nuclear program. In brief, two things to keep in mind: the unstable region means higher oil prices (good for Russia), and Iran as a neighboring Islamic nuclear power means an imminent threat to Russia beyond any American's imagination (bad for Russia). However, after all, world economics and politics are a fine art of balancing, and that's what Russia is doing; playing a dangerous game, that's paying off well so far with Putin's balanced federal budget.
The new unstable player of the region is Syria, and many Americans, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, cannot wrap their mind around Russian and Chinese stance of non-involvement. The situation is similar to the one with Iran and Libya, but if one takes a closer look, it is different and only "better" for Russia and China. Suffering and dying of innocent people are bad things; however, they are bad only for the people experiencing them. The Russian Orthodox Church, led by former Putin's colleague, would condemn the violence, but would also remind you that there is a lot of suffering in the world, and the best immediate thing we can do is just pray for the victims. Gadhafi was a stabilizing force in his country, and NATO's help to the Libyan rebellion meant instability (higher oil prices, better budget in Russia). Gadhafi was a Russian ally, and Russia faced the loss of a $4 billion weapons contract. However, that monetary loss was offset by the significant increase in oil prices, and Gadhafi's old age helped Russia shape its decision to control the timing of his imminent "departure."
Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad (coincidentally born on September 11) is a different animal. His leadership means instability in the region, for which American farmers are paying at the gas pumps, and with which Russian members of parliament are balancing the books. So, if the case of Syrian nation's slaughter is monetarily good for Russia, why would the Chinese go along? After all, they import oil as well. That's where many reporters (and Secretary Clinton) forget a small detail of a very large transaction that took place seven years ago.
"We are investigating the theory that it was industrial sabotage," a GRU military intelligence source said about potential American intelligence operation to bring down the Russian plane.
The recent news of the Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 going down in Indonesia and killing 45 has made it big around the globe. Experts and news agencies sighted bad visibility, unknown terrain, and questionable permissions from the flight tower as the reasons for the tragedy during the jet's inaugural international trade show. The St. Petersburg Times reports that "Russian intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility that the U.S. military may have brought down the Sukhoi Superjet." The guesses are plenty--some laughable, some believable--however, the true reason is one: system failure. And I'm not talking about the aircraft's on-board systems or even the processes at the Sukhoi design and construction facilities (which are plenty and where a brand-new engineer is offered a whooping salary of $500 a month). I'm talking about the Russian government's reliance on the so-called "vertical of power" and sheer luck instead of an organized legal system and business process. The plane's crash may be a foreshadowing of events that are about to follow, pending increase in the volatility of oil prices and Greece's financial collapse, as Russia's "system" simply does not work.
What would an American (or a British or a French) pilot do during the demonstration of a new plane to potential buyers or journalists? Would he allow other people into his cabin? Would he deviate from all protocols to take a closer look at the picturesque 7,200-feet-tall mountains by lowering his aircraft to 6,000 feet in rain and fog? Most likely, no. That is common sense, that is following protocol. And this is not just in aviation. If one tries to act by the book of law in Russia, he would wonder why most of the members of parliament officially live below the poverty line, yet drive Porches and Bentleys. Why it is that knowing someone's uncle in a city's fire department might prove useful in running a street-side café. Or why planes that are solidly built fly straight into the mountains at full speed.
The Russian Orthodox Church's standoff with punk-rock musicians from the Pussy Riot band continues, and becomes more inflammatory by the day, thanks to the Kremlin. In Russia's month-long news vacuum, attention is paid to anything to do with corrupt church leader Father Kirill, fresh Putin's moves, and the political opposition's movements. Today, a private Russian citizen, Andrey Borodin, 36, became an unlikely folk hero by sneaking an axe through the Moscow's court security. The ostensible charge was that he was attempting to murder federal judge Elena Ivanova. On April 29 the judge had extended the jail holding time for Pussy Riot band members who earlier stripped naked at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in protest to Russian Orthodox Church's over-involvement in the Russian politics. Andrey was engaged in a bit of retaliatory street theater.
Had Andrey actually planned to kill the judge he would have had plenty of time (and the axe) on his hands. However, he allowed a surprisingly long amount of time for the court security to rush into the judge's office and detain him. Witnesses described him as "looking happy and accomplished" during the detention. The story itself seems merely "amusing," but the internet comments on the Russian websites are truly prolific. Having browsed through hundreds of comments and talked to a few Russians, I haven't found a single one condemning Andrey's actions. Quite the opposite; the Russian Internet made Andrey an overnight hero and led to fulsome calls for Russians to rise up and "kill them all with axes, forks, and chains" like in the good old times. One commenter says that "Andrey will get 10 years [in prison], had he axed her - he would've gotten 15 - extra five to finish off the corrupt judge who listens to Papa Vladimir would've been a good investment!" A few commenters think that the attack was a United Russia-administered conspiracy to show how violent the opposition can be. Whatever the truth is, the insinuation is obvious - progressive, Internet-using Russians endorse a violent solution to Russia's political stagnation. Those who've read Russian history books know that paranoia from any side is not a good social tendency for the Motherland.
Russian Orthodox Church Abuses Its Power, Engages in Politics, Divides Russians
The elections in Russia are over, but the post-elections tensions are still high (if not higher) than during the February and March demonstrations. Now that Putin is officially the new president, society has clashed over the statements and direction of the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian society has actively split into haves and have-nots, liberals (anything but Putin) and conservatives (better Putin than unknown), and internationalists and nationalists. How did it happen?
Two events have emerged into the spotlight simultaneously. The Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch Kirill have been actively supportive of Putin and made statements during and after the elections that have reached far beyond church's business. As a response, on March 3rd, members of a controversial band, "Pussy Riot," stripped naked in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, making a statement that their behavior was equally inappropriate inside the church as is the church's behavior in public. They were arrested and are still being held in jail awaiting a closed trial. In another situation, there was no jail time for a much more serious offense. A United Russia member of parliament Alexey Zheludkov, while driving drunk in Saratov Oblast last week, hit and killed a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle. The MP is back home, stripped of his rights to international travel, and faces five years in prison as the highest measure of punishment. In addition to the aforementioned controversy and injustice, the public also had a chance to recall that Patriarch Kirill (legal name Vladimir Gundyaev, former KGB code name "Mikhailov") in fact is a billionaire who made his fortune in alcohol and tobacco imports in the Nineties using Orthodox Church's non-profit tax-exemptions status.
All of the above was placed into the internet and media "blender" and created the unforeseen headache recipe for the church and for the ruling party.
Final Notes on Russia's Elections -- and What to Do Next
Usually elections in foreign countries do not attract too much public or media attention in the U.S., especially not in the middle of our own presidential campaign. This time it was different, though. Major American newspapers almost daily printed two or even three dispatches from Moscow, most of them featuring devastating criticism of Putin, praise of the opposition (despite communists and outright nazis being part of it) and anticipation of something like an "orange" revolution or Arab spring fast approaching.
To the great disappointment of many such observers, instead of joining the list of deposed dictators like Gaddafi or Mubarak, Putin won the election with what is generally known as a landslide. Everyone, with the notable exception of Senator McCain, had to admit, often reluctantly, that Putin's victory was overwhelming and thus legitimate.
Putin's anti-American views notwithstanding, he is willing - and able - to act pragmatically when he feels it serves the national interests.
It is perfectly clear that U.S. - Russian relations could be on a much better footing now had not George Bush repaid Putin's extraordinary assistance to the United States in its war on the Taliban by further expanding NATO to Russia's borders, unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty, planning to install elements of the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, and by his democracy promotion crusade. All this is sad but only too true.
On the face of it the Barack Obama administration has tried to correct some of these mistakes. In real terms, though, not too much has changed. NATO's Drang nach Osten has been merely postponed, missile defense only reconfigured, and Washington is still scraping up tens of millions (most likely borrowed from China) to continue its democracy promotion programs in Russia.
Despite all this, in his latest article Putin presented his vision of major foreign policy issues in a quite reasonable and realistic way. He reaffirmed Russia's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and Iran's right to develop a civilian nuclear program but only in exchange for imposing reliable and comprehensive IAEA safeguards on all Iranian nuclear activities.
Russian presidential elections are over, but the hype around them is not. To figure out what really happened in Russia, I've talked to several friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg; some of them served as the elections observers on behalf of the opposition, others were just common voters. Here's what they said:
Observer 1 (Moscow): "I was an election observer yesterday - we finished counting @5am and at my particular school [elections are hosted at public schools] Prokhorov won with 37% while Putin came in 2nd with 35%..... Putin "eighn't" that popular if one actually counts the votes..."
Observer 2 (Moscow suburbs): "Putin did in fact get way more than 60%. The drop-boxes were transparent; there was no way to cheat at our location. I couldn't believe my eyes - just how many people were voting for Putin..."
Voter 1: Yes, maybe we [the opposition] are just one percent, but it starts with a small intellectual group in the city, and spreads into the villages. That's how governments are changed. Putin's got 1.5 to 5 years left at the most!
Voter 2: I haven't voted in 20 years, because have always believed that my vote doesn't matter. This time, I felt obligated to get out and vote, for Putin! I couldn't let those big-mouth crazies have a real shot at leading our country.
"Who else if not 'him'" is the perfect explanation of why Vladimir Putin will win the upcoming elections with just enough majority of the vote to feel "welcomed" by the Russian people, but not enough to deserve a "dictator" status on the international political scene. (Actually, the way U.S. presidential primaries are going, Obama may get reelected under the same circumstances...). One may argue that Vladimir himself created the system in Russia, where no young leadership has a chance to rise to the top, and that the brightest have left the country or work for Western companies. However, there may be a different explanation: majority's easy satisfaction with mediocrecy.
Main reasons to vote for Putin? "Stability" and "who else if not him?" As my Moscow friend's older family members explained: "you [the younger generation] haven't lived through World War II and haven't lost your lifetime savings in 1991 and again in 1998. Putin is stable, and we have enough now." You can add to this list of Russian nation's bad luck the Mongolian invasion, Ivan the Terrible, a line of brutal tsars who kept the slavery of the Russian nation legal through 1861, then World War I, Communist Revolution, Cold War, and deprivation of the Yeltsin's years. This makes Putin look like George Washington (if not Jesus) altogether.
For a variety of moral and practical reasons, the United States would be well-advised to avoid getting overly involved in this weekend's election in Russia.
MOSCOW, March 2 -- Judging by the statements of not a few U.S. politicians and journalists, the United States has a keen interest in the presidential election now under way in Russia. Moreover, many in Washington are loath to see Vladimir Putin return to the Kremlin. Nevertheless, for a variety of moral and practical reasons, the United States would be well-advised to avoid getting overly involved in this election.
The word "moral" sounds like an oxymoron in connection with electoral politics. A look at past and current election campaigns in the United States, particularly presidential ones, should stifle any temptation to set up U.S. elections as a shining example for other countries to follow. Colorful, grandiose and fascinating they may be, but -- an example for others to follow? Central to these campaigns is the amount of money raised and spent, much of it on smearing one's opponent. Is this what we would like to teach the Russians through "democracy promotion" programs paid for by the U.S. taxpayer?
Ironically, we pay for these programs by borrowing money from China, which lags way behind Russia in its democratic development.
Thomas Jefferson and Alexander I of Russia had a warm relationship that strengthened America as a nation. Find out more on Monticello's website.
"We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country..."
-- President Thomas Jefferson
The US foreign policy establishment tirelessly propagates a false narrative about Vladimir Putin as a ruthless autocrat who stole the recent State Duma elections, and strives morning, noon and night to revive the old Soviet Union. The language used even by high-ranking US diplomats is sometimes scarcely distinguishable from name-calling. In view of Putin's high ratings among the Russian electorate -- approaching 60% and rising -- one wonders how we are going to manage our relationship with Russia after March 4th when it is widely expected that Putin will almost certainly return to the Kremlin.
The same members of our bipartisan establishment who denounce Putin for his alleged autocratic ways cheered Boris Yeltsin to the rafters when he shelled Russia's legitimately elected parliament into submission, imposed a presidential constitution on the nation (in a Leninist-style revolution from above), ruled by decree, and stole the 1996 presidential election outright with the help of crony oligarchs.
Sober analysts state unhesitatingly that, with an opposition like Russia has today, Putin as the leading candidate in the March presidential election has little to fear, and that any hopes for an "orange" or Arab-type revolution are sheer wishful thinking and simply nonsense.
The reason for this is clear and fundamental: Russia as a whole is solidly pro-Putin (Levada Center which, by the way, is funded in part by US, puts his current rating at 60 percent, and rising), just as Putin is forever pro-Russia. The Western-leaning intelligentsia, the "office plankton" and the "cultured bourgeoisie" that set the tone for the current anti-Putin protests represent just a sliver of Russian society. If truth be told, this "elite" is basically inimical to Russia's masses.
People have long memories, and the contrast between the state of affairs under Yeltsin and in Putin's time is too fresh and too glaring. Then, people used to wait for months for their wages, salaries and pensions. Putin put an end to all that - delay of payment of wages is now a criminal offense.
Ambassador McFaul's or Mike's, as friends and colleagues call him, first steps on arrival in Moscow were marked by a mammoth scandal in the media, internet, Duma and elsewhere. However, it is my strong suspicion that Mike felt victim to some intrigues in the higher places in Washington.
McFaul's record is well-known and pretty illustrious: a Stanford man, about the best Slavist and Russian specialist (some say, Russophile) America has to offer, author of numerous monographs on Russia, etc. etc. Politically he is best known - one might say renowned -- as architect of the "reset" policy in the relations between the USA and Russia, President Obama's helpmeet in the difficult task of straightening out those relations that cried to be straightened out.
All that, however, belongs to his life and times before he donned diplomatic togs. As a diplomat, McFaul has to be part of - and be held responsible for - acts and situations for which he would presumably hate to be held accountable. This article is not an attempt to endorse all McFaul views since I often disagreed with him in the past but if one takes into account the current highly negative atmosphere towards Russia in Washington Mike is probably not the worst option.
Time to End an Obstacle to U.S. Access to the World's 9th-Largest Economy
President Obama, Use Your Legal Authority to Remove Russia From Jackson-Vanik!
In December 2011, the Russian Federation was invited to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). President Barack Obama phoned his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev, to congratulate him. The White House released a statement hailing the move:
"Russia's membership in the WTO will lower tariffs, improve access to Russia's services markets, hold the Russian government accountable to a system of rules governing trade behavior, and provide the means to enforce those rules. Russia's membership in the WTO will generate more export opportunities for American manufacturers and farmers, which in turn will support well-paying jobs in the U.S. President Obama told President Medvedev that the administration is committed to working with Congress to end the application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to Russia in order to ensure that American firms and American exporters will enjoy the same benefits of Russian WTO membership as their international competitors."
The reference to the Jackson-Vanik amendment - a U.S. law - means that as long as Washington continues to apply that discriminatory statutory provision against Russia, Moscow can discriminate against importation of American goods and services. In effect, U.S. exports to Russia would suffer as a unique exception to the Russians' WTO obligations.
Protesters' poster compares Vladimir Putin to Muammar Gaddafi and mocks him with an old Soviet joke "You're on a faithful path, comrades!"
The Putin regime has little to fear from the latest public protests which, despite drawing large crowds, are apolitical. True politics will only become possible in Russia when both the opposition and the regime focus on the tedious work of practical politics, says Nicolai N. Petro in his highly personal view of recent events.
Kudos are due to both the Russian police and opposition leaders for having managed the second successful mass protest in Moscow without incident and in an appropriately festive spirit. After the Christmas eve demonstration in Sakharov square, the crowd was told that the next protest meeting would be held some time in February since, obviously, nobody wants to disrupt the extended Russian winter holidays which last well into January. By February, presumably, holiday cheer will have subsided and it will be time for another manifestation of civic outrage. As Putin quipped during his televised Q&A with the nation, if these protests are a product of 'the Putin regime,' he is only too happy to take credit for them.
Russia Blog Editors wish you a very happy new year! We hope that 2012 will be prosperous and successful for you in every possible way! Please, come back soon for more fresh content on Russia, Former Soviet Union, and U.S.-Russia relations.
There are several issues about democracy under discussion in Russia. One is corruption and the stories of major public officials, including V. Putin, enjoying lavish palaces--and owning them?--on a government salary. Powerful elected officials after a few years in any country often come to chafe under the limits to personal wealth that coexist with their much less limited public power. That resentment is the seedbed of public pilf in any country, and that seedbed is apparently well-watered in Russia now. The official typically thinks, "Why is it that I can make others rich, but get nothing for myself?" The public thinks, "If you don't like your job, quit!"
But Putin isn't quitting.
In America, presidents are limited to two four year terms, after which they get a reasonably large annual pension and office staff, plus a presidential library named after them. They also can cash in, or not, in the private sector, based on their friendships and name. That seems to suffice. Almost no US presidents are accused of personal enrichment while in office.)
A second issue is whether freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are truly honored in Russia today, or are they offered only as window dressing? In the past, protests were small and could be ridiculed and criticized officially for not following proper procedures for permits, etc. The size of the recent protests make such ridicule ridiculous itself, and thanks, perhaps to calmer voices in the Kremlin, the approach of mockery has been muted.
Let us pause in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas to remember, and (if so inclined), to say a prayer for political prisoners around the world. One of them, Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, has published a letter in The Moscow Times from her prison cell that reminds us of the personal risks leaders assume even in supposedly democratic regimes. Some regard Tymoshenko as corrupt, but it's hard to judge. The state in such countries has most of the instruments of publicity, as well as law, on its side.
What one can say is that politics should not be criminalized (to use Mark Helprin's useful phrase). There may be some corrupt politicians in jail, but there are surely many more in prison on trumped-up charges, guilty mainly of threatening the political prospects of their opponents. In the popular view, courts treat elected officials more leniently than ordinary people. But the opposite is often the case if the official or former official is a dissident.
Russia Blog presents up-to-date news, facts and commentary on the state of events in Russia and the former Soviet Union. The blog was created and is managed by Yuri Mamchur, Director of Real Russia Project, Executive Director of the World Russia Forum, and a Vanderbilt University MBA graduate.