On April 18, 2011 my partner, a former Reagan administration official Anthony Salvia, and I filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding that U.S. president annuls the Jackson-Vanik amendment in relation to Russia. We argue that since Russia is now a free market economy and has no emigration restrictions at all, it automatically has to be excluded from JVA and that its continued application to Russia is illegal. It is our belief that U.S. president has the constitutional authority to state that and declare the JVA null and void with respect to Russia without congressional resolution as previously stated by Clinton, Bush and Obama. Therefore, the main goal of our lawsuit is to help Barack Obama to close this Cold War chapter once and for all and concentrate instead on positive and mutually beneficial cooperation between the United States and Russia.
The historic nature of this case, even at this point is clear. For almost two decades, three successive US administrations (Clinton, Bush, Obama) have said, in effect, "Gee, we'd love to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik but we can't do it without getting legislation through Congress." That excuse ¬ and that's all it is ¬ now has been shown conclusively to be false. The President can permanently lift Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions on Russia any time he wants, without any action by Congress. In fact, the way the law is written, since the finding already was made years ago that Russia permits free emigration, the only finding needed to trigger Russia's permanent removal from J-V trade restrictions has been made ¬ but the White House still refuses. Also, as Richard Perle has indicated, Russia is not a "nonmarket economy country," certainly was not in 1974 (when the Russian Federation was not even an independent state), and J-V does not properly apply to it. In fact, as we argued to the Court, Russia is only on the J-V list because in 1993 Clinton unilaterally (without Congress) deleted the name of the USSR and put on Russia. Obama can take it off just as easily.
Continue reading "President Obama Can and Should Lift the Jackson-Vanik Amendment Against Russia" »
An average bribe in Russia today, according to the law enforcement agencies, is $10,000. It grew 500% since a year ago. However, the investigators say that it's not the bribe that grew, but the efficiency of their work. Over the past year, Russian police and FSB caught several multi-million-dollar bribes, and landed some of high-profile officials in jails. The statistics involve everything, from several-dollar drivers bribes to traffic police all the way to 50-60-million-ruble bribes (approx. $2 million) to high-ranking officials.
According to Ernst&Young, Russia is Europe's leader in business corruption. The average amount of a bribe has been consistently at least doubling each year since 2005. Once again, the anti-corruption officials are stressing that the doubling of the bribe's price tag is correlated with the efficiency of their work. We at Russia Blog are wondering though, why is it doubling consistently since 2005, instead of dissappearing? Curbing the corruption has been Medvedev's top priority since day one of his presidency. Instead, his employees are patting each other on the backs for just uncovering the bribes, and in no way reversing the trend. China has a corruption problem as well. The way they deal with corrupt officials is medieval, but it works: they literally shoot them. In Russia, as my friend said the other day, officials -- on par with Putin -- funnel billions to Swiss and Cyprus accounts, go under investigation, share some of the stolen money with the court, get conditional penalties, and wave goodbye before boarding jets to take off for far-away lands.
Of course, undisputed rumors of Putin's $1 billion cottage/castle don't help to set the trend or serve a good example. Russia must harshly prosecute rather than just uncover the corruption. However, the officials are not too inspired to work hard fighting the corruption, when their salaries aren't big enough to go out for 10 dinners with a family. That's where the evil circle comes around. A role-modeling from the top (Putin and Medvedev) would be a good place to start. However, for now, the two enjoy fishing, diving, and driving Mercedeses and Porsches. No wonder, every Russian kid would rather be a Putin than Steve Jobs...
In the telling of the Russian Orthodox Church, freedom began 20 years ago when the attempted coup against Gorbachev was defeated and Yeltsin took over.
Just recently, Russia Blog shared with you an interesting story about Ukrainian women who get naked in Kiev to protest local and global injustice (their movement is called "Femen"). The organization's last protest was against the driving ban in Saudi Arabia. Today, we bring you the news of the most recent protest where the ladies demanded that the former Ukrainian prime minister and the Orange Revolution hero Yulia Timoshenko be freed from prison.
Funny things aside, the Orange Revolution with its consequences has been a disaster. Ukraine has not modernized, corruption is at historic highs, the new president Yanukovych is a pro-Russian uneducated former-criminal-turn-Communist-party-activist-turn-Ukrainian-president disaster, and the former prime-minister -- once glorified in the West -- today is wanted in Russia and its native Ukraine for corrupt gas deals. James Brooke with the Moscow office of the Voice of America has the extended story that he reports directly from Kiev.
In the meantime, in Seattle, WA, the former Ambassador to the United Nations mission in Vienna, former Director of U.S. Census Bureau, and currently the President of Discovery Institute Bruce Chapman says "this is a show trial, and a shameful one. No officials should be removed from office, let along put on trial for decisions made within the normal practices of their offices. She made a decision about a gas deal, and it can't be a crime, unless it involves corruption. If there is corruption, as many say, then she should be tried for that, not for making an administrative decision."
Coincidentally, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored the Fanagoria archeological expedition, and my friend, just like Putin, retrieved a similar vase; it's now resting at our family's dacha (country home) in the Moscow suburbs. A photo of our vase is coming, after my family back in Russia takes it and sends it over to Seattle where I am currently.... -- YM
What do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck have in common? They are celebrities, and nothing more! Everybody knows them, but no one is too sure what exactly any of them is doing. Karl Rove's article in The Wall Street Journal "Obama's No Good, Very Bad Week" nails all the necessary points in regards to the American president. Obama talks, blames, and smiles in his white unbuttoned shirt. That, apparently, is not enough to curb the worst financial crisis in world's modern history.
Ben Affleck? He is a celebrity and a handsome man. But no one can really remember his most recent hit movie. To help out Russia Blog readers who are his fans -- the movie is called The Company Men, and features another now-irrelevant star, Kevin Costner. With a production budget of $15 million, the movie grossed only $4.9 million worldwide. An "ouch" moment for the film's investors -- a feeling similar to that which the Chinese government is experiencing in relationship to Obama's White House economic program.
However, in our weekend stardom marathon, Vladimir Putin takes first place with his new action movies of diving underwater and retrieving ancient Greek artifacts. By a pure coincidence, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored archeological expedition in Fanagoria--a Russian town that is the location of an ancient Greek city. The Russian government under back-then President Putin didn't want to do anything with the expedition, leaving the sponsorship to Russian private businessmen, some of whom fell out of Putin's favor... But that's a different story. Today, when Putin is prime minister, the government donates about 50 rubles (one dollar and eighty cents) per day to the income of each of the scientists and archeologists working on the site. That is, not much. However, uncomfortable facts and unwritten rules of ethics do not prevent the prime minister from going on a lavish vacation to the site he never supported. Meanwhile, Russia's ruble--backed by piles of gold, diamonds, gas, oil, and zero innovation--is slipping alongside the "evil" dollar (the ruble has lost 10% of its value next to the struggling dollar in the past several weeks).
Continue reading "What Do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck Have in Common?" »
Unfortunately, even the most enthusiastic supporters of Obama's "reset" policy now admit that it is losing steam. This policy scored a few important and undeniable achievements, but the list was pretty short and, most regrettably, no new, significant breakthroughs are visible or expected on the horizon.
Considering the mood on Capitol Hill, where less than a dozen members out of 535 can be expected to say anything good or at least neutral about Russia, any progress in the development of a mutually advantageous strategic partnership envisioned by the "reset" can hardly be hoped for.
While White House statements on Russia are, as often as not, businesslike and pragmatic, the language at Congressional hearings or resolutions on Russia is getting strikingly similar to that of the Soviet or George W. Bush's times. Why that is so remains something of a mystery, seeing that Russia, with all its shortcomings, is still very supportive of America in many ways, most importantly on Afghanistan or Iran.
Continue reading "Is Reset Dead or Alive?" »
Statue of Joseph Stalin stood outside the Town Hall in Stalin's birthplace town of Gori, Georgia. After receiving significant subsidies from the U.S., Georgian government removed the monument as part of the country's "de-Sovietization" process.
Today three years ago, the short yet highly controversial war between Russia and Georgia took place. The events are especially memorable to the editors of the Russia Blog, who were typing away to provide an accurate picture of what was happening on the ground. (Click here to see our coverage of the events). Three years ago, Russia Blog's point of view was in a minority opposition to the American mainstream media and the U.S. government's official stance. Back then, Senator McCain called on bombing the Russian troops on approach to Georgia (in his own words "bomb bomb bomb Russia"), The Washington Post and the White House openly supported the untrue facts that the Russians were the first ones to attack, and among all of English-speaking media, Russia Blog was the only outlet saying the opposite: Georgia attacked, killed innocent people, Russia responded, and the U.S. wasted its money. The truth brought millions of visitors to our site, temporarily crushing our servers and flooding us with both praise and criticism.
Months after the events, The Washington Post switched sides and finally told the truth (which was very similar to our initial writings), though--as I recall--only on the the third page. Only outcries and criticisms of Russia deserve the first page, everything else goes elsewhere. (Though the same is true for anything - in Western media bad news is great news, and good news is no news). During the WikiLeaks scandal it became apparent that neither American intelligence nor the State Department had any idea what they were talking about. They lost access to any information on the ground and control of Georgia's semi-insane President Saakashvili (who literally ate his tie while on Georgia national TV). Furthermore, WikiLeaks-released documents stated that even after the officials in Washington found out the truth, they still stuck to the "party line." "Oooppssies" moment of missing the start of the war and being blind throughout the whole process was too hard to face.
Continue reading "Time to Stop Sponsoring Georgia's Ski Resorts with U.S. Taxpayers' Money. Evidence Shows Russia Blog Right on Georgia War in 2008." »
When the recent anti-government demonstrations began in the Arab world, the planet's only superpower--the United States of America--became actively involved. The American government cheered, making public statements supporting Arab nations' rights to freedom. But given how much closer Russia is to the Arab world than the United States--geographically speaking, at least--it's worth asking where Russia has been during the Middle East's great upheaval.
More Russians than Americans travel to Egypt. According to RusTourism News, in March 2009 alone 300,000 Russian tourists traveled to Egypt. In March 2010, that number grew by 90.4 percent. Oil prices affect Russia more than they do America--after all, not only private businesses, but Russia's federal budget is strictly tied to the price per barrel of oil. Simply put, stability in the Arab world would seem to matter at least as much--if not more--to Russia as it does to the US. But action, or in this case, inaction, may speak louder than words.
The dearth of official Russian involvement in the "Arab spring" demonstrates the country's fading influence in the world, at least the type of influence needed to carry out precise international intelligence operations and foresee long-term geopolitical effects. While some have said that the US intelligence community may have helped facilitate the Arab spring (or at least desired it), no one is even giving Russian intelligence the honor of such speculation and rumor. Instead, Russia's most notable intelligence activity of recent international memory was the embarrassment over last year's spy scandal, when Russian intelligence officers were kicked out of the US after being caught spying for Russia. Embarrassingly for Russia, the only "intelligence" those intelligence officers ever obtained were nothing more than street rumors and data from daily print media, all of which could have been easily found online, without ever leaving Moscow.
Continue reading "Russia and the Arab Spring: the Kremlin's Short-Term Gains Are Russia's Long-Term Losses" »