March 30, Tbilisi -- Downtown Tblisi was crowded with an estimated 10,000 demonstrators protesting against the policies of President Mikheil Saakashvili. The President was elected in January 2004, swept into power during the so-called "Rose Revolution", which deposed the previous government of President Eduard Shevardnadze.
The opposition claims that the Georgian economy is suffering from Saakashvili's foreign policy, which they contend has raised the prices for energy and other goods by needlessly antagonizing Russia. The Georgian government currently receives subsidies from the U.S. to pay its civil servants.
When President Bush visited Georgia in May 2005, a live grenade was found near the stage where Bush and Saakashvili were scheduled to speak. After an investigation, the Georgian government issued a statement accusing Russia's intelligence services of planting the explosive to kill the American and Georgian Presidents.
By now nearly every major U.S. news outlet and numerous blogs have commented on the Pentagon's release of captured Iraqi documents revealing that Russian intelligence officers were supplying Saddam information on American battle plans before the U.S.-led invasion. Reports of Russian involvement in pre-war Iraq have circulated since 2002, starting with allegations from Israeli and Pentagon sources that Russians helped Saddam hide his weapons of mass destruction in Syria.
RIA Novosti is reporting the Russian Foreign Ministry's vehement denials. The Foreign Ministry suggests that the Americans are just trying to distract their people from the growing Sunni-Shi'a violence in Iraq. It doesn't help the Foreign Ministry's case that the documents appear authentic, consistent with other Iraqi Intelligence Services (IIS) memoranda. It also doesn't help that one Russian retired general took credit in 2003 for teaching the Iraqis how to resist the American invaders the way Red Army fought the Germans during World War II. Retired generals of course, are free to say and do nearly anything they want, and several in the U.S. have harshly criticized the decision to invade Iraq. But perhaps the Foreign Ministry would have more credibility if it acknowledged that several former Russian intelligence officers and ranking military officers were in Iraq just days before the war began.
Continue reading "Why Did Russian Intelligence Pass Secrets to Saddam?" »
The Bush Administration, after condemning last week's elections in Belarus as rigged, has declared this week's parliamentary elections in Ukraine to be relatively "free and fair".
Meanwhile, yesterday in Russia, there were two major suspected mob incidents and one police shootout that resulted in several dead terrorists.
Moscow, Russia -- Someone wired the car of Vladislav Kazenin, President of the Russian Union of Composers, with a bomb. However the bomb maker did a poor job of wiring the device to Kazenin's Audi A-6 sedan. When Kazenin and his driver left the Union's building, they found one of the car's windows smashed. They carefully searched the vehicle and found a grenade with wires tied into the seat. They called the police, who dispatched the bomb squad to disarm the device. No one was hurt in the incident.
Novgorod, Russia - At 9:45 pm Moscow time, Vladimir Dugenez, the general manager of a local automobile factory, was shot repeatedly by several gunmen armed with automatic rifles. Mr. Dugenez was wounded in the head, chest, arms and stomach. Mr. Dugenez is being treated at a local medical facility. The attack is likely "business-related" and is typical of Russian organized crime.
Russian Police Kill Terrorist Commander in Dagestan
Hasavyurt, Dagestan (Russian state bordering Chechnya) -- Russian police conducted a successful operation against jihad terrorists holed up inside an abandoned house. There were no casualties reported among the Russian policemen, and they still don't know how many terrorists were killed. The police unit was apparently determined to take no chances, and the house was reduced to rubble. What is known at this hour is that one of the terrorists holed up inside was identified as the so-called "Emir" of Hasavyurt, Samir Pashayev. Russian police are still identifying the rest of the bodies.
Photo by Kremlin.ru
According to sources, Russian President Vladimir Putin will not complete his term in office, but will resign before December 2, 2007, when his successor will stand in the next election. Putin's term does not expire until March 2008, but the Kremlin does not want to wait an additional three months. Pro-Kremlin elites are ready to launch their massive campaign well ahead of schedule.
Speculation concerning Putin's post-Presidential career has focused on him accepting an executive position with Gazprom, Russia's state owned natural gas monopoly.
Putin's supporters in the Kremlin believe that picking a successor and starting the next Presidential campaign early will insure a smooth transition of power.
Russia has traditionally held parliamentary and presidential elections spaced several months apart. Kremlin elites believe that consolidating the national vote into the first Sunday in December will save time and money.
Russia Blog has been asked not to disclose the name of our source. When quoting or forwarding this story, linking to Russia Blog is required.
There have been numerous articles this week on Russian-Chinese diplomacy and new trade deals. MSNBC's "Fear and Loathing in Siberia", written by Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova, is the best of the latest feature articles in the U.S. media.
While Cold War thinking still dominates much of the coverage of Russia and China, the truth is starting to come out: Russia is not forging an alliance with China against the USA but is accomodating itself to the superpower next door.
Nowhere is China's growing dominance more evident than in Siberia, a vast land far larger than China itself but inhabited by a mere 30 million Russians. Chinese goods are everywhere. In Novosibirsk, the owner of a new hotel can't think of a single thing in the place that isn't from China, from the electric sockets to the beds and furniture. The town's citizens will soon ride to work on Chinese buses; in the markets of Khabarovsk bargain-hungry Russian babushkas even know the Chinese names for the vegetables they buy from Chinese traders. "Everything we have comes from China--our dishes, leather goods, even the meat we eat is from China," complains Vyacheslav Ilyukhin, head of the Building Department at Novosobirsk's city hall. "Siberia is becoming Chinese."
Continue reading ""Siberia is Becoming Chinese"" »
Moscow -- Several downtown blocks were shut down last weekend by men in black suits carrying assault rifles. The crÃ¨me de la creme of Moscow, including Mayor Luzhkov and his wife came out. George Banson and Al Jerreau performed on a stage suspended inside the biggest concert hall in the city; fruits made of pure gold arranged on marble vases; Bentleys and a $10,000,000 penthouse for presents -- this is a snapshot of the biggest wedding Moscow has seen yet. There was a $5,000 bounty for capturing paparazzi, so no one could get close enough to take a decent picture.
The bride, Alsou Safina, is the daughter of the LUKOil founder Ralif Safin; she is also a pop star and "royalty". Russian and European newspapers have dubbed her "The Oil Princess". The groom, Yan Abramov, is a son of the "royal Armenian Jewish clan of Abramovs". I'll let the reader try to make sense of what this combination of words mean. The "Abramov Clan" is officially "involved in the Russian oil business". This also doesn't tell you much, but says everything you need to know at the same time.
Continue reading "The Mother of All Mafia Weddings" »
Photo by CI
As Russia Blog has previously reported, the former richest man in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now resides in Siberia, in a prison colony close to the Chinese border. Khodorkovsky's wife and mother visited him just a few weeks ago. At that time, Khodorkovsky had been punished by solitary confinement twice; once for leaving his workspace without permission to find a mechanic to fix his sewing machine, and the second time for having papers from the Ministry of Justice. These documents describe the proper procedures for imprisoning a Russian citizen. The prison administration decided Khodorkovsky should not have these documents and sent him to solitary confinement again.
When Khodorkovsky was settling into his new residence he had a smile on his face. Khodorkovsky thought that he would be doing cushy research and earn his PhD while serving out his sentence. All these dreams have been ruthlessly crushed. All the mail Khodorkovsky has received and the letters he tried to send out have been confiscated and destroyed by the prison administration. The warden had decided that the contents of his papers were "inappropriate". Also, research work is not allowed at this particular penal colony. Sewing and making cardboard boxes are the only working options. So far Khodorkovsky has stuck with sewing, but he isn't any good at it, so he is thinking about carton box-making as his next career.
Continue reading "The Siberian Life of an Oligarch" »
Real vs. Celluloid Oligarch
Tycoon is my first foray into the post-Soviet Russian crime genre, and it proved to be disappointing. Of course, at Russia Blog, we don't like to describe the post-Soviet oligarchs as "tycoons" in the mold of Rockefeller or Carnegie, because unlike these historic capitalist figures, the oligarchs did not create new wealth, they only acquired existing state-run industries for themselves.
What may interest students of recent Russian history more than the movie is the English-subtitled DVD's extended interview with Tycoon's Franco-Russian director, Pavel Lungin. In this exchange, recorded in French (with English subtitles), Lungin describes how the obsession with money has hit post-Soviet Russia like "an A-bomb - with invisible rays" and that this condition has destroyed "what was the real strength of Russia...the special friendships that held an important place in our lives...now those friendships are dissolving like cubes of ice in a glass." Western critics looking for a Scorsese-inspired psychological picture instead saw a film about a close knit fraternity's rise to wealth and power with some themes borrowed from gangster and detective movies.
Continue reading ""Tycoon: The New Russian" (Oligarkh)" »
Russia Today News Editor to Speak in Seattle April 17
Discovery Institute is pleased to host Anton Verstakov, the News Editor of Russia Today, Russia's new 24/7 English language TV channel. Mr. Verstakov will speak about the media in modern Russia and will address the controversial topics of government control and independence of Russian journalism.
Mr. Verstakov worked as producer and correspondent for the State News Channel "Rossiya" (RTR) and was a member of Russia Today's editors team from the very beginning of the project.
The event will be held on Monday, April 17, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at Discovery Institute, located at 1511 Third Avenue Suite 808 in downtown Seattle. The location is well-served by Metro and public parking is accessible in the adjacent garage on the corner of Second Avenue and Pike Street. The cost to attend is $10 and includes an assortment of hors d'oeurves and beverages.
Please join us for this exciting event, and hear a first hand perspective on the current state of Russian media and civil society.
To register for this event, please contact Annelise Davis at (206) 292-0401, ext. 153 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch Russia Today online
MOLDOVA UPDATE: SEVERAL ISSUES AT PLAY
By Michael Averko
Flags of Moldova (left) and Trans-Dniester (right)
Shortly after the March 1st, Russia Blog feature Moldova, MiGs and Former Defense Ministers, the Ukrainian "Orange" government of President Viktor Yushchenko announced what amounts to an economic blockade against the disputed pro-Russian Trans-Dniester region within Moldova's Soviet-drawn boundaries (the mentioned Russia Blog piece provides background on the historic and political differences). As a result of this new Ukrainian government policy, goods from Trans-Dniester can't legally enter Ukraine without a Moldovan government stamp approving such items. The governments of Trans-Dniester and Moldova are at loggerheads with each other.
Map of Moldova with Highlighted Trans-Dniester
Continue reading "Orange Government Punishes Trans-Dniester" »
Twelve of Russia's oligarchs made it into Forbes magazine's list of the 100 richest individuals in the world this year.
Roman Abramovich, the governor of the Chukotka region who owns Britain's Chelsea football club, rose to the No. 11 spot, with a net worth of $18.2 billion, up from $14.7 billion last year. Vagit Alekperov, the chief executive of oil giant Lukoil, ranked No. 37 with $11 billion. Steel tycoon Vladimir Lisin was No. 41 with $10.7 billion. Viktor Vekselberg, who co-owns the Russian-British joint venture TNK-BP and the aluminum major SUAL, placed 44th with $10 billion...the only Russian woman to appear on this year's list is Yelena Baturina, the owner of a booming construction business and wife of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. She ranked 335th with $2.3 billion.
Read the full story by RIA Novosti and view the photos of the Russian oligarchs in the extended post.
If you look at their faces you will be surprised - these people don't look like ordinary billionaires, because they aren't. They look like either corrupt soviet bureaucrats or 35 year old charismatic scoundrels; because that's who they are.
Please remember, that these Russian oligarchs did not create wealth; they actually didn't create anything. They simply stole former Soviet property and have been leaching off it for the last 15 years.
And the people who were capable of doing this were either corrupt Soviet bureaucrats in the right places at the right time or 21 year old college drop-outs with shrewd minds and no fear. It's because of them that Russia doesn't produce anything but natural resources, extracted without any accountability or transparency. While the oligarchs own castles in Britain and hundreds of billions of dollars, the total Russian federal budget is only 104 billion dollars a year, and Russian pensioners are forgoing toilet paper to save money. And the citizens of booming Moscow could care less about the mayor's wife controlling the entire construction industry in the city.
Continue reading "Forbes Richest List Includes 32 Russians" »
We've seen these faces before -- gathering in a rain swept railway station, holding their sweethearts for what could be the last time. We've seen each character in The 9th Company (9 Rota) in previous war movies -- the badass who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, the naÃ¯ve artist, the jokester, the scrounger, the brutal drill sergeant, and the burned out company commander.
Once the 9th Company starts however, each character seems uniquely Russian. This is probably because the director, Fyodor Bondarchuk, is the son of the world-famous Sergey Bondarchuk, who directed War and Peace (Voyna i mir) in 1968 -- a Soviet spectacle that dwarfed anything Hollywood has ever attempted. War and Peace required 50,000 extras to depict the destruction of Napoleon's Grand Army.
To depict the fighting in Afghanistan in 1988-89, the then 37-year-old Bondarchuk's first feature film used thousands of Ukrainian Army extras, and millions of dollars worth of Soviet-built military hardware, including rocket launchers, attack helicopters, jets, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. The film was shot mostly in the mountainous regions of the Crimea in Ukraine and in Uzbekistan.
Continue reading "The "9th Company" (9 Rota) Reviewed" »
Americans are used to the convenience of USPS Express Mail, FedEx or UPS ready to ship anything safely to almost anywhere in the U.S. or around the world. Americans clearly take this amazing service for granted, so they will not understand the news story from a week ago, when a train-car attendant of the St Petersburg, Russia -- Sevastopol, Ukraine rail line was arrested, for smuggling hundreds of rare military medals through the border. The 49 year old woman was hiding the "treasures" under bags of clean sheets.
In Russia, if you decide to send something valuable, let's say a $20 bill to your nephew for Christmas -- it will never make it to the addressee, it will be stolen by the postal workers. If you send regular mail to another city in Russia, don't hope it will be there next day, or the day after. Sending packages with valuable items is an absolutely crazy idea. There are no FedEx and UPS locations even in the major cities like Moscow. This author had to FedEx a document once, and this task required a two hour drive through Moscow traffic to a distant location, where after showing your ID to several guards you arrive at the only FedEx office serving 15 million Muscovites. It's not exactly a convenient way to do business.
Continue reading "Russian "FedEx"" »
Washington D.C. - "Underneath a portrait of Czar Peter the Great, the Russian Ambassador to the United States presented two U.S. officers with the Order of Friendship for their parts in rescuing submariners trapped underwater off the Kamchatka peninsula in August...
"Both men and their units joined Russian Navy and Air Force, British Royal Navy and Japanese Navy personnel in the rescue effort. A Royal Navy remotely operated vehicle - the Scorpio - cut the Russian sub free. The craft rose to the surface with just six hours of oxygen left, according to published accounts."
You can read the rest of the story here at Military.com. Yuri and I recently heard Admiral Gary Roughead, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, speak in Seattle and address the rescue of the Russian sub crews by American forces as an example of U.S.-Russia military cooperation. Hopefully this is the start of a positive trend, burying the Cold War legacy once and for all.
Foreign Minister Lavrov with Secretary of State Rice today
RIA Novosti reports today that "U.S. President George W. Bush has taken under his personal control the completion of Russia-U.S. talks on the former's accession to the WTO, the Russian foreign minister said Tuesday." Without getting too much into the nitty gritty of what's happening in foreign policy circles in D.C., it seems Bush is sticking with his first term agenda of cementing closer relations with China's most important neighbors, Russia and India. While the U.S. is much closer to a full alliance with India than it is with Russia, Bush clearly has his eye on the big picture that will persist long after he has left the White House.
Continue reading "Money Talks Louder Than Words" »
Reuters latest headline(March-07-06 12:50 PST) is "Rice, Lavrov expose widening U.S.-Russia rift". The story talks about how the U.S. and Russia are supposedly deeply divided over how to engage the Middle East, because the Kremlin invited Hamas leaders to Moscow and has offered to enrich Iran's uranium in Russian reactors.
Russia's diplomatic moves on Iran and Hamas come amid rising strains over what Washington sees as President Vladimir Putin's increasing grip on power, one that belies his status as chair of July's summit of the Group of Eight industrialized democracies.
On Tuesday, Rice and Lavrov stood stiffly and at one point the Russian had to reassure Rice, a former Soviet specialist, he had not planted a question from a Russian journalist about trade. "You confirm that you did not (plant it), right?" said Rice, who has complained about the erosion of media freedoms under Putin. That sense of suspicion contrasted with the early days of Bush's presidency when Bush said he trusted Putin after looking into his soul.
While it is unfortunate to see Rice and Lavrov sparring in front of the cameras, once you get past the hype to substance, these apparent differences seem trivial. Hamas, as we've reported here at Russia Blog, received nothing but headlines in Moscow, and its representatives were humiliated. The Kremlin repeated the U.S. position that Hamas must renounce terrorism and enter negotiations with Israel. We've also reported at Russia Blog that Iran has consistently rejected Russia's offer to peacefully enrich uranium at facilities open to international inspectors, which is why Lavrov responded to a reporter's question by saying that the proposal had never been formalized.
Continue reading "Reuters, Wall Street Journal Get Russia Wrong" »
Night Watch is the first in an epic horror/fantasy film trilogy
After months of delays (see my first mention of Night Watch here) part one of the epic Russian horror trilogy has finally been released outside of New York and LA. After grossing $16 million in Russia (four times what it cost to make), it is ridiculous that it took this long to get the film distributed widely in the U.S.
Thanks to M. Night Shyamalan reviving horror as a psychological genre in the 1990s, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose showing the box office potential for supernatural thrillers, I must admit some of the most promising young filmmakers in the world are now making these kind of movies. And what Night Watch deserves credit for is originality, both in the fantasy storyline and in the occasionally jerky camera work and clever use of special effects.
Click on the title to read Russia Blog's review of Day Watch, the next film in the trilogy. Click on the extended post to read more about Night Watch and view the film trailer.
(WARNING: Plot Spoilers Follow)
Continue reading ""Night Watch" (Nochnoi Dozor) Reviewed" »
Photo by Reuters
March 3, Moscow, Russia -- Hamas representatives came to the Russian capital on a commercial flight, and in their first statement they said that they were not going to recognize Israel, and as long as the "occupiers" don't leave their territory there can be no peace talks. If commentators in the West believe that Putin supports this kind of terrorist movement and terror-friendly governments, well, the West is wrong -- Putin canceled his appointment with the Hamas leaders, and instead they will hold talks only with the Russian Foreign Minister, who has already stated several times that negotiating is the only way to solve the problem of Israel and Palestine. The Foreign Minister added that Hamas can't hope for any kind of political and international future without getting serious about ending terrorism against Israel.
On the last day of the Hamas leaders' three days in Moscow, March 5, they will be regular tourists, admiring Russian architecture and the treasures of the Kremlin. The palace exhibitions are visited weekly by thousands of tourists - that's the closest Hamas leaders will get to Putin.
I'm always asked if Putin has relationships or mutual anti-American plans with Iran, Syria and the Palestinians, and I always answer, that if it appears as he does, this is only due only to the chaos in Russia. Russia fights the same war as the Americans and shares vital interests with the U.S.
In the meantime, a Chechen terrorist spokesman said that the "Mujahideen of Palestine are our brothers, and we regret their decision...they will shake hands with the killers of the true Muslims..." It appears that; Hamas has been humiliated and told to "get lost" by Putin, to "get serious" by Russia's Foreign Minister, and the visit outraged their jihadist "brothers" from Chechnya. All in all, not a bad week of work for Putin and the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Please also read the New York Times article.
The Pakistani Army has released information about their commando operation that killed a Chechen terrorist commander on the Afghan-Pakistan border. General Sultan of the Pakistani Army said that they have intelligence about a significant Chechen presence on the border region, which is used as a hide-out by fugitive Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists. During this particular operation 40 jihadists of several different nationalities were killed. The Chechen terrorist's name was Imam; he has been wanted in Russia for some time. He was killed along with his three bodyguards on March 2, 2006.
Thomas P.M. Barnett, a highly-touted strategic thinker, has a vision for changing U.S. grand strategy based on The Pentagon's New Map of where U.S. forces intervened in the post-Cold War era. As you can see here, Russia is by most of Barnett's accounts integrated into the global market economy, and therefore is part of the "Core" rather than what he refers to as the "Non-Integrating Gap".
Of course, as we have pointed out several times here at RussiaBlog, the bombed-out rubble of Grozny is only 800 miles from Moscow, or about the same distance between Seattle and San Francisco. The number of Russian troops and security forces killed and wounded in the Caucuses since 1994 dwarf the American casulties in Iraq. To make matters worse, Russia does not have the option of simply packing up and leaving like America theoretically could from Iraq, there are too many Russian civilians in the surrounding republics vulnerable to terror and ethnic cleansing.
In fairness to Barnett, Russia's demographic crisis is just the leading edge of Europe's overall baby bust, though it is accelerated by the social problems we have documented at this site. And no is questioning that nearly all of Europe, even the Balkans, is on the road to being more integrated into global markets. Also, if you accept Barnett's belief that China will not turn back from its drive towards a market economy (if not political liberalization), then considerable sections of Siberia may soon become "Core" rather than "Gap" -- but with a different complexion.
Introduction: The Washington Post had an opinion article last week on the conviction of the former Defense Minister of Moldova on corruption charges. E. Wayne Merry, a former assistant to President Clinton's Secretary of Defense William Cohen, argues that the charges against Valeriu Pasat are bogus and that a "friend of America" is being unjustly sentenced to prison and hard labor. Read the story below, and for the education of our readers, we have asked Michael Averko to provide some background on the tiny former Soviet republic of Moldova.
- The Editors
Moldova: The Most Overlooked of the European Former Soviet Republics
By Michael Averko
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, the former Soviet republic of Moldova is often overlooked. Its tiny population (of about four and a half million), poverty (the poorest of the European former Soviet republics) and relative lack of natural resources doesn't make it as noteworthy as the much larger Ukraine and the considerably wealthier Baltic republics. Because of its perceived bad boy president (Alexander Lukashenko), Belarus is another European former Soviet republic receiving greater attention than Moldova.
Continue reading "Moldova, MiGs and former Defense Ministers" »