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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ronald Reagan made brilliant use of a weapon that did not exist -- his Strategic Defense Initiative -- to hasten the end of a war that was never fought: the cold one.
Thus, at its inception, missile defense had a fruitful purpose-to bring to a close the Cold War, i.e., the division of Europe into mutually antagonistic blocs. Reagan was so concerned that his plans for missile defense not destabilize the nuclear balance and thus deepen and prolong pan-European discord that he offered to share the technology with Moscow that was still the capital of the Soviet Union.
The Obama Administration, having launched its wise and admirable reset by canceling President Bush's plans to deploy a missile system on Russia's borders, has since revived that very bad idea, and thereby torpedoed one of its few solid foreign policy achievements. It plans to park elements of a missile defense system in Poland and Romania, prompting Russia's once and presumably future president Vladimir Putin to ask publicly: "So where is this reset?"
Sadly, Obama has shown himself unable to withstand the pressures of powerful lobbies and factions within his own party for empire-that is to say for the maintenance and expansion of our globe-girdling hive of compliant states.
President Medvedev's stern warning to the United States and NATO on the eve of parliamentary elections seems to be directed at domestic audiences, to rally nationalist votes. However, if his intension was to influence U.S. or NATO policies on missile defense, it most likely misfired. Obama is in no position to yield to the Kremlin's demands, and the only thing that Medvedev has achieved with this outburst is to supply ammunition for the White House critics who keep crying foul of the 'reset' policy. Additionally, Medvedev's threat to quit START sounds pretty irrational since this treaty was praised by Moscow itself as one of its most successful diplomatic efforts in recent years.
This is not to say that U.S. missile defense policy is justified. Russia has many valid reasons to complain, but if it wants its voice to be heard, it should use a different approach. Issuing threats and saber rattling did not work even in the Soviet era, and it definitely will not work now. One should add that Moscow's proposal for 'sectoral' defense responsibilities is not very serious, either. Justifiably, NATO says that it cannot delegate its members' defense to a third party.
However, the Kremlin's strong card is its offer to the West to develop and deploy a joint missile defense system. This offer has fundamental meaning since it proves that Russia is absolutely serious about its wish to be part of the global security infrastructure.
RT (Russia Today TV News Network) has covered the Occupy Wall Street movement so extensively and boldly that it begs the question: What does the Kremlin have to do with the OWS movement? From what I have observed in both Russia and the USA, the answer is: Very little or nothing at all, to my regret, which I'll explain later. More than a month-- from September 17 when the OWS started in New York to October 21 when I returned from Moscow to Washington--I watched OWS the way Russians see it, through government-controlled TV channels.
I was struck by how little attention Russian media paid to this massive explosion of discontent that was clearly embarrassing to US government and media pundits who would much rather talk about "lack of democracy" in Russia than American about 1% "plutocrats." After checking online reports from Truthout, I realized that in OWS did not receive a coverage it deserved. So I had remained unaware of the movement's huge scale until I came back to my Alexandria home--and to a new TV set supplied with dozen channels, including RT. Now I'm glued to RT every morning. And what do I see?
Herman Cain explained how he'll answer tricky foreign policy questions: "When they ask me who's the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I'm gonna say, 'You know, I don't know, do you know?' And then I'm gonna say, 'How's that gonna create more jobs?' I wanna focus on the top priorities of this country. That's what leaders do."
Although it is still a year to the US presidential election, the fight for the White House is in full swing. In this fight, everything goes, and the Republicans are determined to take away every chance of Obama winning. As he has done rather better in international affairs than in the economy, and the Reset in relations with Russia is among the brightest feathers in his cap, it clearly has to be compromised at all costs, even if the US own interests may suffer in consequence.
One would have thought that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, has little time to waste. Congress is fiercely debating the impending dramatic budget cuts, attempts to reduce unemployment, and lessen the national debt that is nearing the astronomical $15 trillion, i.e. over 100 percent of GDP. The Occupy Wall Street protest movement is on the rise, and several cities have already seen serious clashes with the police.
Russian People Try to Take Prosecution into Their Hands in the Absence of Law (and God)
Caution: graphic video, a YouTube sign-in is required
While Vladimir Putin in stylish ties talks about liberalization and the need of another 12 years to fix things in Russia (after a 13 year trial?), Russians stopped believing in the rule of law, and the Russian countryside is building up its emotions for another revolution. In the Russian city of Bryansk, Irina Dobrzhanskaya (a 20-year-old inexperienced driver) was speeding about 10 miles above the speed limit on a major street/highway. (Usually, Russians double the allowed speed limit). A mother with a 3-year-old daughter was crossing the road on a crosswalk. Now, a few facts are important for a proper interpretation of the story before the punch line: the city officials didn't bother to put white crosswalk paint on the pavement (either the paint was stolen or the painters were drunk when the job was due); a police unit was present on the scene, but was occupied with collecting cash bribes about 30 yards away from the crosswalk; Irina was driving in the left lane, did not see the mother and the child, did not get the queue from a stopped bus (that blocked the view) that there may be a reason for why it had stopped...
Irina hit the mother and the child. The 3-year-old girl died. The bus drove away. Bystanders did not come to help. Police did not immediately leave its vehicle. Only one person walked slowly to the scene. Three-year-old Sonya was the eighth deadly victim of the crosswalk in three years. And everything was caught on tape!
Now, OMON (special units of Russian police) are guarding Irina's house. After immediately pleading guilty and offering all her savings and more to help the girl's family, Irina has already tried to commit a suicide and is now residing in a mental institution. Then, why does police guard her condo, located in an old five-story Soviet building? Because the town people promise to burn Irina's mother alive and kill Irina once she is out of the hospital.
Town people are remembering the 3-year-old Sonya with tears and pointing at the driver and the Kremlin with fists.
How Vladimir Putin Lost a Chance to Become George Washington
In the 1700-s British King George III called George Washington "The greatest man in the world." American history is taught well in Russian public schools, but probably wasn't delivered as well during the Soviet times when Vladimir Putin was a boy. Had Putin looked into the history books, he would've found out that he had given up the opportunity to become the Greatest Man in Russia's history. In fact, he lined himself up to become one of the less impressive men in history, one whose personal hobbies and views, combined with age and historically long terms at the steering wheel (surpassing even Stalin) may lead to some results other than a free market economy...
What is the secret sauce for being the "Greatest Man in the World?" It is simple: be humble. Or as Bob Lefsets, an LA-based music producer says about the record industry and technology at large, "It's all about the timing." Putin failed at both. Unfortunately, his failures are much more than just his personal business. What really hurts is the fact that Putin built a strong, wealthy country and the momentum of that could have made Russia a role model to all, including the United States - responsible spending, non-involvement in foreign affairs, strong financial system, and... That's where the list ends. When talking to a Moscow friend, I mentioned Putin's accomplishments, to which he responded, "What do all of them mean if he failed at the most important thing -- grooming the leadership among the future generations."
In 1775, when George Washington accepted command of the Continental Army, he promised Congress he would resign his commission when the war was over. Once the British withdrew, he was true to his word. Just before then, Washington had been approached by the officers who pledged their support if he decided to seize civilian power. In response, General Washington scolded the conspiring officer.
A census worker surveys Medvedevs at the presidential residence. Not every Russian was surveyed like President Dmitry Medvedev...
Businesses need sound demographic data on which to base investment and marketing decisions, especially in foreign countries. Russia, despite its oil wealth, is a country that would like to attract more foreign investors. But the latest Census there is probably unreliable. At the very base of collection it was substantially invented.
The 2010 Russia Census was unfunded until late in the process. The operation was about to be postponed when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intervened and found 10.5 billion rubles to pay for it. Now, as official results trickle out a year later, one would think that a big success was achieved. The national newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports: "Russia's population has declined by 1.6 percent since 2002 - from 145.2 million to 142.9 million people. There are only two regions where the population increased. In the Perm region the population grew by 11,800 people, and in Usolksky - by 800."
Such precision in Usolksky or anywhere in Russia is suspect, however. The U.S. Census Bureau's Center for International Research believes that specific official Russian numbers may be off by as much as 87 percent from site to site. Anecdotally, I've had the chance to witness a census count in both the U.S. and Russia. The two counts couldn't be much different.
Time to Stop Sponsoring Georgia's Ski Resorts with U.S. Taxpayers' Money. Evidence Shows Russia Blog Right on Georgia War in 2008.
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.
Russia and the Arab Spring: the Kremlin's Short-Term Gains Are Russia's Long-Term Losses
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.
The overheated political debate on reducing the United States' astronomical debt has transfixed the world. From an international perspective, the United States - due to the size of its economy and its exclusive ownership of the green printing press - can help the entire global economy right now or plunge it off the cliff.
Two factors are overlooked in the political debate on reducing the national debt, which is fast approaching the mind-boggling figure of $15 trillion, or close to 100 percent of the country's GDP.
First, you do not have to be an elite economist to figure out that even if the Republicans in Congress force President Barack Obama to accept a $4 trillion "deficit reduction" over the next decade, it does not mean that the current national debt will diminish by $4 trillion. It only means that the growth in the national debt will be $4 trillion less than otherwise, but 10 years from now the debt will still be much higher than the current $15 trillion. However, all these calculations may become totally meaningless as reckless policies lead to a global economic and financial collapse.
Discussions on the effectiveness of the Putin-Medvedev tandem started right after the 2008 presidential election and will definitely continue at least until the next one in 2012. Whether such a tandem is good or bad for the country appears to me to be a moot point. Frolov believes it is good for Russia's domestic development while counterproductive with regard to its foreign policy. In my humble opinion, though, even in foreign policy the picture is not necessarily all black: there are some clear white areas as well.
First, when Medvedev became president in 2008 he had practically no experience in international affairs. U.S. - Russian relations were at the lowest ebb since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the new edition of the Cold War was almost there. Worse still, just a few months after the new president was settled in the Kremlin the war with Georgia broke out. At a certain point the situation was pretty close to World War III breaking out. Had Vice President Dick Cheney's proposal to bomb Russian troops in the Roki tunnel linking South Ossetia to North Ossetia succeeded, the consequences would have been horrific indeed.
Frankly, I like Medvedev and wish him every success in the upcoming election. But! Please let us be honest, dear ladies and gentlemen. Do we really believe that a young and inexperienced professor of law was ready to calmly handle this quagmire without strong backing from his mentor Putin?
Russia: the Land of Falling Planes, Sinking Ships, and Crumbling Infrastructure
The title of this article is not an over-exaggeration. The YouTube clip--filmed by bystanders yesterday--shows plane AN-24 literally falling out of the sky. Out of 36 people on board, seven people died, others suffered various injuries. The top comment left for the video reads (translated from Russian): "The remains of the Soviet Union are crumbling away, and nothing new is being built. Modernization, innovation, Go Russia! "
When comparing their multi-national country to the United States, Russians tend to pride themselves in a lesser amount of freak accidents and unnecessary deaths, such as shootings in colleges, hostage takings in shopping malls, and armed robberies. However, the sentiment is very different these days. Just in the past month, the world has witnessed two major accidents in Russia - a plane landing half a mile short of the landing strip and killing nearly everyone on board, and a ship sinking--not in the open ocean--but in a river, killing more than half of its passengers. The incidents, overlooked by the Western media, in the last two weeks include more helicopters and planes falling out of the skies, and the debates around Russia's new ballistic missile Bulava, that flies correctly only half of the times--a disturbing success rate if armed with a nuclear warhead. What is happening to Russia?
Kremlin Needs Opposition, Opposition Needs a Vision
Like hamsters, Russian politicians are spinning the wheels without embarking on a real journey to lead the nation.
Registration failure of PARNAS, Prokhorov's entry to Russia's political scene, David vs. Goliath victories of blogger Alexey Navalny (who's still alive), nationalistic uprisings in downtown Moscow, and country's "manual control" of Medvedev and Putin - all these are the pieces of one puzzle. Russia does not have a formulated point of view, everybody knows it, and everyone--including Kremlin--needs it. Absence of checks-and-balances is driving Kremlin crazy, as all failures are blamed directly on Medvedev and Putin, and in the leadership vacuum their authority is disrespected by the entire nation. The only reason they have the power is lack of not a better, but any alternative. Western media says that the lack of an alternative is Putin's calculated plan. We think differently. Now for a decade, Russian opposition failed to formulate a single goal or a clearly understandable objective, aside from just opposing the Kremlin. The means became the goals, and the dog keeps on chasing its tail. The absence of a vision is not attractive.
In Russia's major cities, T1-speed internet (faster than $100-a-month Comcast's service) costs $12 to $25 a month. It is unrestricted (unlike in China), unprosecuted (unlike in Egypt), and unlimited (unlike in Comcast's America). Egyptians proved that the Internet can be used to take down decades-long dictators. Blogger Alexey Navalny proved that the Internet can be used to expose very powerful people. (So far, Navalny hasn't been killed or intimidated - he freely roams across the country delivering speeches and participating in public forums). When Russian soccer-fans-turn-nationalists-turn fascists went into the streets, observers could see wide-angle photos of thousands of people demanding for Putin to step down. Police tried but failed to disperse the crowd. When Prokhorov announced his bid for Putin's post, two days later Medvedev invited him for a meeting. Certain anti-Russian observers may say that Prokhorov is part of Kremlin's hegemony conspiracy, but that would be equal to saying that George Bush orchestrated 9-11 to finish his father's job in Iraq; all points of view deserve to exist ("Putin is a fascist" and "9-11 was an inside job"), but we'll stick with the reasonable scenarios.
VIP Blue Light Driving in Russia - Reason for a Revolution or Further Obedience?
Two weeks ago, a member of parliament from Putin's party United Russia got drunk (as in smashed) and took his Porche Cayanne for a ride, killing a 23-year-old student, an only provider for his disabled parents...
On June 14, 2011, Foreign Policy magazine, in its article "Road Rage in Russia," asked: "Moscow's elite has decided it doesn't need to follow the traffic laws. Will there be a pedestrian revolution?" RussiaBloghas written about the issue for years (here are samples from 2005, 2006, 2007, and more), exposing crimes and murders committed by Russia's ruling elite on the roads; to save the suspense - the answer to the Foreign Policy's question is: "No, there will be no revolution." The reasons behind the answer are complex and rooted into a thousand-year history of the nation, its mentality, geography, and ruling style of the past 500 years (that surprisingly hasn't changed from Ivan the Terrible to Bolsheviks to Yeltsin to Putin).
As mentioned in the RussiaBlog's article "Enough Is Enough. President Medvedev - Stop the Killing of Russia's Innocent Drivers!" - Ivan the Terrible was the first person to make sure that his carriage wheels splashed bystanders with mud. It made him laugh back in mid-1500-s. Tsars, Soviet secretaries, and first presidents of modern Russia (Yeltsin, Putin, Medvedev) have done the same. Here's what many Westerners don't know and probably will have hard times understanding: the majority of common people--on the outside oppressed by the elite's driving techniques--in fact are proud of this old Russian tradition.
"Manual control" has become an established term in Russian media and among common people when referring to the ruling style of Putin and Medvedev. Wait, it's not what you are thinking, even though - yes it sounds like it. Medvedev and Putin rule "hands on" not because of their hunger for power, but because otherwise nothing gets done. In some ways, the managerial structure can be compared to one of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who--in his 40-year rule--ensured that governmental institutions do not exist and do not function without the key man. However, it is still different in Russia - neither Putin nor Medvedev intended for it to be so. CIA's World Factbook wrongly describes Russia as a "centralized semi-authoritarian state." In fact, Putin wished well, that's why he lost both - the centralization and the authority, along with the population's respect. While the non-existent Russian opposition and the West think that Putin is tough, the reality is - he is not. The moment the ruling duo turns away, stuff gets stolen, abandoned, unfinished.
A year ago, President Medvedev shared one interesting number - government bureaucrats annually steal $35 billion from government budgets during routine purchases; Medvedev is yet to give an update on how he succeeded in fighting the trend. Last year, during the severe wild fires, Putin had to personally fly over the woods, and even drop a bucket of water from a plane. Not for show, but because the Ministry of Emergency Situations failed in fighting the fires. After the fires died out, all the destroyed homes were rebuilt, right in time for the winter season. One caveat that Westerners are unfamiliar with - Putin watched live video feed from the construction sites on his office screens; so workers would work and not steal the construction supplies. Apparently, there was nobody aside from the country's prime minister to ensure the proper construction process in a "centralized semi-authoritarian state."
As he prepares to retire as U.S. secretary of defense, Robert Gates has suggested that the U.S. can no longer be NATO's financial backer.
Retiring U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made what looked like a farewell speech last week. In it, he castigated the military leaders of NATO and its European member states. The former, for their inability to conduct effective military operations in Afghanistan and Libya; the latter, for their reluctance to invest substantial human and financial resources in NATO, expecting the United States to go on bearing most of the burden. The U.S. increasingly resents this kind of attitude on the part of its allies, particularly now that the country is facing enormous economic and financial problems.
Gates is leaving office and so does not feel the need to mince words. In his recent comments, he has plainly warned Europe that it had better revise its policy of obtaining security at other people's expense - otherwise future U.S. political leaders, those for whom the Cold War was not the same kind of formative experience that it was for Gates's generation, may decide that U.S. investment in NATO brings too scant a return and is not really worth it.
Putin's Supremacy: Evil Plot or Leadership Vacuum?
President Medvedev followed Putin's habit of acting tough, and made spontaneous visits to government-managed apartment buildings across the country. (A common condo building in Russia is managed by a municipality, not private owners, and certainly not the federal government). While the entrances and common spaces are in OK condition in major neighborhoods of major cities, they are in a disgusting condition across the country. However, people quickly caught on to the absurdity of Medvedev's "act of toughness." Thousands of comments left on Russian websites asked if President Medvedev would mind to plunge readers' toilets and check air in their tires. Given the attitude, it is easy to predict Medvedev's failure in the upcoming elections.
Liberals--widely hated in Russia and adored in the West--have failed to gain 1% of the population's vote, now for a decade. However, there is a group of people that neither Putin nor Westerners like. Those are fascist nationalists. They hosted multi-thousand-people protests in downtown Moscow this winter (much grander than the ones hosted by 100 crazy liberals monthly), calling for Putin's resignation. Police failed to disperse them. Putin failed to reason with them. And, here is the punch line: according to the recent poll conducted by the independent Levada Center - 58% of Russians support the statement "Russia for Russians." 68% of the Russians are in favor of limiting the immigration into the country. Once a new leader emerges (and it certainly won't be chess master Kasparov) - Putin will look like an Easter bunny, and Western newspapers will have to quickly change their op-eds from "Putin = bad" to "we missed our chance to build ties with Russia."
Jackson-Vanik remains on the books, but a new lawsuit argues that it does not apply to Russia at all.
Barack Obama in Washington D.C. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
U.S. President Barack Obama can feel pretty good these days: Osama bin Laden is dead; growing public opposition to GOP fiscal policies strengthens the president's hand in dealing with congressional Republicans; the worst expectations for the natural disasters caused by the Mississippi River flooding have so far not materialized. His re-election prospects look shinier with every passing day.
But let's not assume that the president sleeps on a bed of roses. Obama has problems of his own, and one of them is that he's facing a lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on Apr. 18 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by two Americans: Edward Lozansky, a former Soviet dissident and currently president of American University in Moscow, and Anthony Salvia, a renowned expert on U.S.-Russia relations and formerly head of the Moscow bureau of Radio Liberty. Lozansky and Salvia are asking the court to force President Obama to use his executive power to graduate Russia from a provision of Title IV of the Trade Act of 1974, commonly known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak (right) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell (left) at the World Russia Forum 2011 in Washington D.C. on March 29, 2011 (photo by Yuri Mamchur, Executive Director of the World Russia Forum)
It is never boring at the World Russia Forum (WRF), a two-day conference of politicians, business people, and scholars from Russia and the U.S. who have been meeting annually since 1981 with the intent of improving U.S.-Russia relations. WRF was created by Edward Lozansky, a former Soviet nuclear physicist and dissident who emigrated to the U.S. during the Cold War and is now a U. S. citizen. Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., he has been running the American University in Moscow (AUM) which co-sponsors the Forum. Discovery Institute of Seattle and the Eurasia Center of Washington joined Lozansky's effort in people's diplomacy.
Having attended several such forums, I can say that this one, the 30th was as remarkable as any. As usual, the first day's proceedings, on March 29, took place in Hart Senate Office Building and ended with a reception at the Russian Embassy dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight. On the second day, the Forum moved to George Washington University Business School and the Russian Cultural Center.
The Forum featured a number of high-caliber speakers: Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell, U.S. Congressmen Tom Price and Dana Rohrabacher, as well as Sergei Markov, Deputy of the Russian Duma. Business was represented by such people as Edward Verona, President, U.S.-Russia Business Council, and Dmitry Akhanov, President, Rusnano. Among prominent scholars were Andrew Kuchins, Director of the Russia and Eurasia Programs, CSIS, Robert Legvold, Columbia University, and Sergey Rogov, Director, Institute of the USA and Canada.
Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs (left), and Edward Lozansky watch Richard Perle address the World Russia Forum on March 29, 2011 in U.S. Senate Hart Building in Washington D.C. (Photo by W George Krasnow)
It is like a broken record. Each time a U.S. dignitary comes to Moscow, he promises Russian officials that the Jackson-Vanik amendment will be repealed soon. This game has been played for 20 years or more, while the amendment itself is 36 years old, having been passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress in 1974 and signed into law by President Gerald Ford on Jan. 3, 1975.
Few leaders miss the opportunity to repeat the standard phrases that the Jackson-Vanik amendment is a relic of the Cold War that is completely irrelevant in the post-Soviet era and contradicts reason and common sense.
Then Richard Perle entered the arena. Perle, who served as deputy defense secretary in the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and before that as the top adviser to Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson -- the Jackson of Jackson-Vanik -- spoke at the World Russia Forum in Washington two weeks ago and made two interesting points.
Libyans explore the remains of an American fighter jet after it crashed near Benghazi due to mechanical issues
The UN resolution 1973 is purportedly imposed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, the killing of "thousands of civilians" - as claimed by the insurgent side. Is there any independent confirmation of such a humanitarian catastrophe, of the death of masses of innocent civilians? Or do those casualties occur in the course of armed struggle between government forces and insurgents? No one can say for sure, because the evidence, what there is of it, comes from the warring sides and should by rights be dismissed as acts of information warfare.
As far as this anti-government side is concerned, a lack of any reliable information about it is particularly conspicuous. Just who are these people? Who are their leaders? Western media now calls them "freedom fighters" but are they? What are their plans - apart from getting rid of Qaddafi? If they want "freedom and democracy" - what are their democratic credentials, excepting verbiage? Freedom for what, Sharia Law? Col. Qaddafi, for one, calls them al-Qaeda stooges. He may be saying this just to scare his Western opponents - but supposing there is a grain of truth in this?
Are There Lessons to Be Learned for Russia From the Events in Tunisia?
Recent turmoil in Tunisia and other Arab countries calls for at least two fairly self-evident conclusions, one of a global nature, the other specifically concerning Russia. Under several recent administrations and particularly under Gorge W. Bush, America assumed the mission of spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world in the belief that it is the best cure for all or almost all of the world's problems.
The irony of the current moment in history apparently is that democratic elections in the wake of political upheavals in the Middle East might bring to power Hamas/Hezbollah-style Islamist radicals. The U.S.-led democratization of Afghanistan has resulted in a 40-times increase in drug production. Human endeavor never yields the results one desires at the outset of an undertaking, but rarely with the same disastrous consequences as the spreading of freedom and democracy to all nations regardless of their history, religion, culture, the people's mentality, and ingrained ways of life.
Moscow's Mayor Luzhkov and Chicago's Mayor Daley: Similar Accomplishment, Different Departures
On December 29, 2010, the traffic jams just in the city of Moscow were 3,200 km long (2,000 miles) - the traffic jams in the city streets spread over the distance equal to one between Moscow and Barcelona!
As I was driving on the snowed over Leninsky Prospekt (large avenue) in downtown Moscow a couple of weeks ago, I realized: I had never seen that much snow on Moscow roads. Luzhkov had left the office three months ago, the snow just started falling, and the only snow-cleaning vehicle that can be seen is a lonely parked tractor with a small snow plow. For the matter of a reference, Leninsky Prospect has 10 lanes at its widest parts, and used to be cleaned by 10 fast-moving vehicles in each lane immediately as the snowflakes had appeared in the sky. Three months without an old, allegedly corrupt, and heavy-handed leader, and changes are already visible. Bad changes. I predict that the same awaits Chicago, once Mayor Daley leaves his office this spring. The only difference in the two mayors' departures is: Mayor Daley will leave to an ovation of citizens and politicians; Mayor Luzhkov was kicked out by a president (nearly half Luzhkov's age) after a state-wide media smear campaign.
Under Luzhkov, Moscow turned from a grey communist city of the past into the most expensive and trendy city in the world. Moscow's economy improved, large construction projects in the city, including the building of a new financial district, took place, and Moscow's skyline transformed into a crossover of Paris and Dubai. Having visited most of the European and American cities over the past two years I am making a statement: Moscow became the world's cleanest Western capital. At the same time, Luzhkov was accused of corruption, bulldozing historic buildings, and poor handling of traffic, as well as the city's smog crisis during the 2010 Russian wildfires. On September 28, 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev removed Luzhkov from his position for the "loss of trust."
A Tribute to American Patriot: In Memory of Joe Sobran (1946-2010) Part Two
W George Krasnow
[Note: This is Part 2 of Krasnow's tribute to Joe Sobran. In Part 1, he described his personal acquaintance with Joe. Here he pays tribute in the context of ongoing ideological struggle for the hearts and minds of American people.]
Attitude toward Jews
"Are you anti-Jewish?" I asked him point blank. "Goodness no," Joe replied. "I am aware that Jews played a prominent role in Russian revolution. I know how prominent they were in the antiwar and civil rights movement here. Many of them were pro-socialist and pro-Soviet. They never raised the issue of human rights in Russia, Eastern Europe, or China. At that time, they were anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and anti-American. They were not particularly pro-Israel. But I also know Jews who are as American as can be. They are not just my personal friends. They are allies in a struggle against militant Zionists who equate U.S. national interests with those of Israel. I am intellectually indebted to my Jewish friends, and I'd never turn against a Jew simply because he is a Jew."
Joe made it clear that his case transcended his person. What he endured was indicative of a dangerous social malady -- stifling all debate in favor of political shibboleths. Joe asked me if I remembered seeing how the Prime Minister of Israel was received by the joint session of Congress. I did. After the speech was over, the camera showed everybody standing up and applauding, not knowing when to stop and afraid to be the first to sit down. "Didn't that remind you of the country from which you defected?" Joe asked.
Opposed to START III: Some Senate Republicans plus all Russian Communists
The end of the 'lame duck' Congress is quickly approaching but its agenda is overwhelming. Numerous skeptics doubt if all the items on this agenda will have a chance to come to the vote.
One such item is ratification of the START treaty. Obama makes no secret of the fact that this is going to be his top priority. The list of those who want him to succeed reads like Who's in Who in America, in Europe, and for that matter across the world. Republicans and Democrats, Pentagon and NATO top brass, conservatives, liberals and even some neocons, left and right, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, all of them have made a strong case for ratification, insisting that this treaty is in the best interest of the United States. Even the leadership of countries that are hardly on the list of Russia lovers - like Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania - also want this treaty to be ratified. So what's the problem? Shouldn't the whole process be a piece of cake?
A Tribute to American Patriot: In Memory of Joe Sobran (1946-2010) Part One
W George Krasnow
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When I returned to America on October 15 from Russia, I learned the sad news that Joe Sobran, journalist, syndicated columnist, and writer, had passed away on September 30.
Calling Sobran an "Antiwar Prophet," Jon Utley, a Russia & America Good Will Associate (RAGA) subscriber and antiwar activist, wrote in his eulogy in The American Conservative magazine, "If Joe Sobran's warnings had been heeded, America would not be on the path to bankruptcy and unending, unwinnable wars."
I, too, regard Joe as an American patriot, man of peace, friend of Russia, honorary RAGA associate, and personal friend.
I came to the United States in 1966 from Sweden, a country that was rapidly turning anti-American. Even with my shaky English, I quickly found out that William F. Buckley Jr.'s National Review (NR), for which Joe Sobran soon became the principal writer, was the only intellectual magazine that was unabashedly pro-American. It was anti-communist, not in the sense of belligerency but by virtue of its defense of the fundamental American values of individual liberty, free enterprise, limited government, and academic freedom -- values that were under communist assault around the world.
The most impressive victory of the Republican Party in the last elections sent shivers not only through the White House and Democratic Party headquarters but through Moscow's political establishment as well. Here, the fear is that the new Congress could try to undermine Obama's reset policy with Russia.
But although Obama undoubtedly comes out of this election severely weakened domestically, he is still pretty much in charge of U.S. foreign policy. Can he make some headway in this area to help the country and himself in view of the upcoming presidential campaign?
It will of course not be an easy task, given that America, which only 20 years ago was the world's only and undisputed superpower, has suddenly found itself in a very precarious geopolitical, economic and financial situation. Now, the story of America's difficulties can be recycled endlessly and fingers pointed at those who were to blame for the current sad state of affairs. However, discussing the things that need to be done seems a much more meaningful pursuit.
Yanukovich's decision to take Ukraine back to the presidential-parliamentary political system is not necessarily a setback for democracy. There are many countries in the world - one (France) that comes to mind immediately - where a strong presidency does not come into conflict with democratic values.
It is true that in 2010 Yanukovich faces roughly the same situation as Putin did in 1999, only in Yanukovich's case the threat of disintegration is much worse.
At the turn of the century some allegedly serious thinkers were playing games with the global chessboard, drawing up plans for Russia's disintegration and division. There was talk of the Ural Republic, the Far Eastern Republic, etc. And real centrifugal tendencies did then exist in Russia, with real political and economic power in the hands of regional feudal lords.
If the pledge by the United States to help Russia's WTO bid is indeed a trade-off for Medvedev's ban on the sale of the S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran, and not the product of speculation by foreign affairs pundits, the value of such a deal for Russia appears highly questionable.
First of all, there is still a debate going on in Russia as to whether the WTO will do this country more harm than good.
Secondly, America may not deliver on its promise even if at the moment it truly intends to keep it. Judging from past experience, several other stumbling blocks may emerge, especially after the November elections, when the number of Obama's supporters in Congress will be reduced substantially.
Then there is always the possibility that the erratic Georgian president will try to veto Russia's entry to the WTO, and he has plenty of "we are all Georgians" types in Washington who will gladly encourage him to do that. These folks will always find another excuse, however spurious, to humiliate Russia. For a partial list of these excuses go to the recent Washington Post article by former Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer, as obvious a regurgitation of Cold War cliches and recipes as one might find these days in the most moss-brained circles.
What's to Be Expected from Serdyukov's Visit to Washington?
Russia's Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (center) inspecting a military base
The visit of RF Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to the United States offers an excellent opportunity for filling with fresh fair wind the limp sails of the much hyped but not terribly productive "reset." The absence of a solid economic basis in the US-Russia relationship and President Obama's declining popularity ratings do little to inspire optimism in the hearts of folks favoring better relations between the two nations. Could the military make progress where politics stalls? If the official statements by the RF Ministry of Defense and the Pentagon are anything to go by, no revolutionary ideas are currently to be expected from this visit. The statements are peppered with such words and phrases as "study," "examination," "exchanging experiences," and similar protocol banalities. It is not unlikely, though, that there are some secret agreements not intended for public consumption.
Yet, according to independent experts, there are at least two obvious military projects where Russia and the US could not only make very real steps toward mutually advantageous cooperation, but also contribute to the solution of the global security problem.
Finally, they are talking. I mean if the Chairman of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee Konstantin Kosachev is saying things like that, it means something. Whether he consulted with the Kremlin before making such a bold and courageous statement or not is an open question, but when a man of his statue says that "our society is to no lesser extent the victim of the erstwhile regime, was no less articulate in condemning the crimes of Stalin's totalitarianism, and acted on its own, without external intervention and democratically, to remove the communist ideology from power," it tells you a lot.
Let us be fair. It is not easy for the country's leaders while the Communist Party (CPRF) still gets around 15 percent of the votes to say publicly that the Soviet system were a criminal one. And most likely the main reason why Lenin's tomb is still sitting on the Red Square is that no one wants CPRF to increase its ratings by getting their people on the streets to defend their beloved corpse.
An American friend wrote to me about the current Russian spy scandal in America: "Not good PR for you and [your friend] if he decides to go to Harvard... this is all hilarious... I'm loving all the coverage of a bunch of Russians getting paid to befriend Americans. I wish the U.S. had a program like this, I'd totally do this! Can you imagine?! I'd get my rent and tuition paid just to blurt out stuff that you can automatically look up (in even more depth) on the internet."
This ordinary American summed it all up in the brief four lines: this is funny, embarrassing, wasteful, and - most importantly - hurtful to many Russians like me--to those who honestly fight through American immigration hurdles, challenge the financial crisis to earn income, pass application tests and study hard to get American college and graduate degrees, make new life-long friends, fall in love with America's culture and natural beauty, and by default share their knowledge (and income) with Russian and American friends, families, businesses, and government agencies.
TIME: the Road from Western Capitals These Days Leads to Moscow
Presidents Obama and Medvedev enjoying burgers at Ray's Hell Burger in Virginia
Following the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that hosted world's leading CEOs and once again brought together Medvedev and Sarkozy, and the casual lunch in Virginia where Medvedev and Obama ate burgers and split the fries, TIME wrote a refreshing article about Russia. Coincidentally, a week ago, I hosted in Moscow a friend, an American business owner. His conclusion was the following: given a) the demographics of Russia, b) Russia's wealth with natural resources, and c) Russia's central location to the world's fastest growing economies, Russia has no choice, but to grow. The West has no choice, but to participate in that growth.
Steve Jobs gave Dmitry Medvedev the new iPhone 4G. Luckily for Medvedev, his device came unlocked and he has already used it in Russia without any "help" from AT&T.
The children of Russia's baby-boomers grew up and are buying cars, refrigerators, and groceries. They also travel, and learn from their Western counterparts to love stuff. They spend money and learn and earn to spend even more. Russia is gifted with the natural resources. The climate change and advances in technology guarantee that Russia is not going to run out of oil, gas, gold, and timber any time soon. China, India, and Central Asia need Russia. Whether Europe and America like it or not, they need Russia too--in dealing with the Muslim world and expanding personal economies. Furthermore, Americans who tend to be idealistic and sum up things to all-or-nothing (let's say, perceived human rights vs. possible economic gains), in large missed the boat of Russian opportunities: French Ashan took the place of America's Wal-Mart, German Metro Cash and Carry eliminated opportunities for Costco, and Starbucks is shy in stealing customers from Russia's Coffee House and Shokoladnitsa.
June 12: Russia Day or Remember Tsar Mikhail II Day?
W George Krasnow
On June 12, 1918, Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich (henceforth Michael) and his secretary Brian Johnson, a Brit, were randomly executed in the outskirts of the far away city of Perm in the Ural Mountains. A year ago, Russia "rehabilitated" both, along with other Romanov-related victims of Soviet repression. The decision followed a similar act about Tsar Nicholas II and his family on October 1, 2008.
However, the Russian media at large failed to single Michael out from among the other Romanovs. Didn't Tsar Nicholas abdicate in favor of Michael, his younger brother? If so, shouldn't he be treated as Michael II, the last of the Romanov tsars?
Yes, he should. So thinks Donald Crawford, the co-author of a 1997 book Michael and Natasha: The Life and Love of Michael II, the Last of the Romanov Tsars. Crawford is a lawyer and the publisher of "Parliamentary Briefs" in London. He is fully aware of deviations from the law in both Nicholas's abdication and Michael's deferring his assumption of power contingent upon the decision of the popularly elected Constituent Assembly. However, Crawford insists that those deviations were necessary in order to save the spirit of the law and Russia herself. He is right in calling Michael "the last of the Romanov tsars." Not for the sake of anybody's vanity, of which Michael had none. But for the sake of extraordinary legacy that Michael bequeathed to Russia. That legacy is worthy of any tsar.
Patriarch Kirill: Leader of Orthodox Church and Tobacco Imports
Many Westerners know little about the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Father Kirill. Many Russians know him as a great orator and a host of a weekly TV show "Pastor's Word." However, very few know that Kirill (Vladimir Gundyaev by passport), a billionaire and a former KGB operative, made his fortune in tobacco, alcohol, and oil sales. His activities were among the main reasons why not-for-profits in Russia lost tax-deductible status. The new Orthodox leader is fond of playing with stocks, car racing, downhill skiing, and breeding exclusive kinds of dogs. He owns villas in Switzerland and a penthouse with a view of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
After Patriarch Aleksiy II died, the Orthodox Synode, made up of spiritual, business, and social leaders, took up the evening news and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to elect a new leader. After Mitropolits Filaret and Kliment withdrew their candidacies, Kirill won the position. When it became too obvious that Aleksiy was at the end of his life, Mitropolit Mephody, who had been considered the strongest candidate for the Patriarch's post, was sent to lead the Orthodox Church in Kazakhstan. Maybe just a coincidence, but rumors and articles in local newspapers suggested a different scenario. I heard all the stories from friends while witnessing the historic events in Moscow. Later, I took time to research whether or not they were true.
What Does Russia's New Foreign Policy Doctrine Mean?
I'd disagree with the widespread notion that Russia's new foreign policy doctrine (or rather proposals for changes in the current foreign policy in the document under discussion) is oriented toward the West. After reading carefully that Foreign Ministry document, I'd say that it is oriented toward West, East, South, North, and any other direction that has a potential for promoting Russia's interests.
The prefix "pro-" in the above interpretation of the proposals is clearly out of place. In realpolitik, any "pro-" subsumes that there is a balancing "anti-" somewhere, overtly or covertly. Not in this document. If anything, it is simply pro-Russian and definitely not anti-- any nation or group of nations.
The only rational interpretation of the thinking underlying this document is that Russia should strive to develop closer political, economic, social and even perhaps military ties with the Euro-Atlantic community or, to put it a bit bolder, civilization - but not at the expense of the other parts of the world.
Color Revolutions Flopped. Where Do We Go from Here?
In Kyrgyzstan, 78 peaceful protestors were killed by police and security of President Bakiyev who took power in 2005 by overthrowing the previous corrupt regime. It took Baikev only five years to become just as corrupt as his predecessor.
The turn of the century was a time of great promise for the USA. It witnessed the collapse of communism and of the USSR; the disappearance from the world scene of America's main geopolitical adversary; and an unconditional victory of the ideas of freedom, democracy, and free market over totalitarian regimes and planned economy dominated by ideological shibboleths. The West was euphoric; the pervading idea was that an era of universal well-being was at hand. The philosopher Francis Fukuyama encapsulated the sentiment in his famous phrase, "end of history": humanity had reached the acme of its progress, and there were no more horizons to conquer.
Actually another, no less famous philosopher, name of Karl Marx, had made similar predictions over a century earlier. He wrote that the evolution of human societies was not endless; it would reach its apogee when humankind had achieved a socioeconomic formation in which man's most profound and fundamental aspirations were satisfied. Marx referred to that form of social organization as communism. Unfortunately for Marxist philosophy and fortunately for mankind, at the end of the 20th century communism, contrary to its founder's forecast, went down the ashes of world history.
Back in 1974 Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson and Representative Charles Vanik introduced an amendment to a trade law with the purpose of punishing the Soviet Union and other communist countries for the denial of emigration rights to their citizens. At the time it was a justified decision, but in case someone forgot the evil empire has been gone since 1991. Unfortunately, for one of its former parts which never had any emigration restrictions, the Russian Federation, the Jackson-Vanik amendment remains in force. Strictly speaking, the amendment has been a dead letter since 1994 due to a ritual of annual Presidential waivers based on humiliating compliance reviews. Yet it continues to be a constant irritant in U.S.-Russia relations, and therefore should be repealed for good without further delay. It is easier said than done as both the Clinton and Bush administrations tried to get rid of this amendment but failed miserably since the U.S. Congress has the authority to act and refuses to go along.
It is pretty ironic, if not pathetic, that one of the most important stumbling blocks on the way to the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment are innocent American chickens or "Bush legs," as they call them in Russia. I am not talking, of course, about these pretty little birds but about one of the most powerful U.S. lobbies called the "Chicken Lobby" or "Big Chicken." This lobby helps producers sell as much poultry as possible, but as in any trade there are some periodical disputes between the exporters and importers. In normal circumstances, such disputes should be handled through standard commercial negotiation processes. However, "Big Chicken" uses its enormous influence and puts pressure on Congress and the administration to highly politicize this trade and block Russia's graduation from Jackson-Vanik unless it buys huge poultry volumes.
There has been much strident rhetoric in recent years regarding a Bering Strait Crossing and Intercontinental Railway System. I first proposed such a system in 1995 for several reasons. At the time, I was unaware that this idea had first been explored over a century before. Since 1995, I have refined my proposal into a project that is more realistic and within the realm of possibility.
Crossing the Bering Strait and building an Intercontinental Railway System is by no means a simple or easy task. Nothing good in life is! The pros and cons of any large project are usually "six of one and a half a dozen of the other", as the saying goes. There is the indisputable fact that climate in the Arctic and Bering Strait area is inhospitable most of the time and construction of a project of this magnitude would be difficult. Furthermore, the fact that Russia and Alaska are moving toward each other at about 16.5 mm per year, and that we are dealing with a seismically active region, presents a unique set of problems. In addition there are the complicated geopolitical problems and the very serious environmental concerns. And then the final question we must address: What useful purpose does such a project serve?
Improving Russia's Image and Russo-Ukrainian Relations
Russia's dynamic duo performing this past January 1, on Russian TV station Channel One
Options and Opposing Views
Russia's expatriate population is the subject of Alexei Bayer's recent article in The Moscow Times. He ends the article with a general note on how Russia can gain with a return of some of its expatriates. To an extent, this has happened. Some Russians have decided to return to Russia, without the Russian government actively egging them on. In addition, the Russian government has undergone a program to encourage people of Russian origin to live in Russia.
It is also advantageous for Russia to have an expatriate community. Abroad, these Russians are in a position to provide a better understanding of their native land to others at a grass roots level. In addition, the utilization of Western savvy, patriotically inclined Russians within the more high profile of Western based media and public relations organizations benefits Russia. The ideal individuals for this undertaking are those offering constructive criticisms of Russia, while being aware of the biases against that country and the valid/underrepresented counterpoints to them. Not to be overlooked are people of a more distant Russian origin and non-Russians, exhibiting the same understanding. How to successfully level the playing field is something that continues to be problematical.
The 2004 poster reads "Yushchenko - the People's President." In Jan 18, 2010 Ukrainian presidential elections Mr. Yushchenko received only 6 percent of the vote.
On the one hand the stunning defeat of Viktor Yushchenko, and by extension of the whole Orange carnival, is a welcome event for Russia and for Ukraine as well. However, one shouldn't get too ecstatic because there is also a substantial potential danger ahead. The outgoing president leaves to his successor an economy in shambles, a devalued currency, a huge budget deficit and a national debt of over $33 billion. In addition, Yushchenko did all he could to divide the country's population along ethnic lines by suppressing the Russian language, building memorials and presenting national awards to Nazi collaborators and mass executioners.
In any event, whoever wins the elections on February 7 will deliver to Moscow both good and some bad news. The good news is that the new president will be more Russia-friendly, will stop talking about NATO membership, will consider extension of the lease of the Russian Black Sea Naval base at Sevastopol and will probably make a few other friendly gestures. The bad news is that none of the above is born out of deep and unselfish love for mother Russia; on the contrary, they come with an impressive price tag.
How Many Polish "Patriots" Does It Take to Screw Up US -- Russia Relations?
Americans are great fans of Polish jokes; there is a whole website boasting hundreds of them: www.polishjoke.com. Arguably the best known is the one about changing a bulb procedure (it takes at least four Poles to do that). This and other jokes on this site are pretty harmless and can be said to apply to almost any ethnic group. However, the much hyped deployment of US Patriot missiles on Polish territory next to the city of Kaliningrad to repulse potential Russian aggression could well make a worthy addition to this particular site, except that this is no laughing matter at all. Obviously, Washington needed a symbolic gesture of sorts to gild the pill of scrapping its missile-defense-shield-in-Poland plan. However, if this gesture is strictly symbolic, a more unsuitable place and time for it would be hard to find. Because whereas previously Russia was told that it had nothing to worry about BMD-wise, as the sole purpose of the system was destruction of Iranian or North Korean missiles, the Patriots are certainly intended to repulse a potential missile attack by Russia.
Wouldn't be wiser for Washington to resort to some other, more appropriate symbolism to reassure Poland, or rather its "Patriotic" leaders, and allay their fears of Russian invasion. The easiest and most obvious gesture to make would be faxing or e-mailing to all and sundry the text of Article 5 from the NATO Charter, which organization Poland has been a member of since 1999. Under this Article the entire military might of almost 30 member states, including the US and most EU countries shall be employed to come to Poland's rescue and rebuff such an aggression if it would ever take place. Isn't this enough, and why bother with Patriots then?
This publication tries to debunk some popular, but misguided, views on demographic trends in today's Russia. These consist of the perception that Russia is in a demographic "death spiral" that dooms it to national decline (Biden, Eberstadt, NIC, CIA, Stratfor, etc). Some extreme pessimists even predict that ethnic Russians - ravaged by AIDS, infertility and alcoholism - will die out as an ethnicity, displaced by Islamist hordes and Chinese settlers (Steyn, Collard).
The Myth of Russia's Demographic Apocalypse
Think again. While it is true that Russia's current demographic situation is nothing to write home about, most of the demographic trends that matter are highly positive - and there is compelling evidence that Russia can still return to a healthy, longterm pattern of sustainable population replacement.
1. MYTH: Russia is losing 750,000 of its population per year and will become depopulated within decades.
REALITY: In 1992, for the first time since the Great Patriotic War, deaths exceeded births in Russia, forming the so-called "Russian Cross". Since then the population fell from 149mn to 142mn souls. However, the rate of depopulation has slowed massively in recent years.
From left to right: Yushchenko, Timoshenko, and Yanukovych
Five years have gone by as one day. Only yesterday, it seems, we saw jubilant crowds in Kiev celebrating the victory of democracy in Ukraine. Small wonder, too -- the pro-Western Victor Yushchenko had contrived to wrest victory from his hateful namesake, pro-Russia Yanukovich. The former, cruelly poisoned (allegedly by none other than Putin), had miraculously risen from the dead, won the election and was about to guide Ukraine to a life of plenty in the European Union and NATO. The unimpeachable teaching of George Bush about the inevitable spread of democracy across the world had yet again been proved right. Besides, no less importantly, the Orange Revolution turned out to be relatively inexpensive to fund. Especially compared to the business of promoting democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, where thousands of young Americans and Europeans from NATO countries continue to die and hundreds of billions of dollars continue to be spent.
According to Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, in Ukraine the price barely came to several dozen million dollars. However, as he lacked precise statistics, the actual sum could have been considerably larger. The congressman called on the White House Administration and the US General Accounting Office to look into the Ukrainian election's cost to the American taxpayer, and what exactly that money had paid for, yet his appeals fell on deaf ears. That so greatly incensed Ron Paul that he accused the US Government of hypocrisy. On the one hand, said the congressman, we are against external interference in another state's election, but on the other we send money to Ukraine to sway the vote there.
In Russia, presidential New Year's address to the nation is traditionally aired each December 31, five minutes before midnight. Watch Dmitry Medvedev's address from December 31, 2009.
For Russia, 2009 was a pretty difficult year on the domestic front. It was saturated with severe economic and financial crises as well as horrible terrorist attacks and several man-made catastrophes. Nevertheless, the Russians not only proved once again that they can withstand disaster with dignity, but even in these most difficult times they achieved some impressive results in economic and social areas. The economy started to grow and the performance of the stock market was one of the world's best. The shops are full of goods and customers, travel abroad is on the rise, and cultural life is bustling at least in the large cities.
However, three huge and potentially devastating problems remain unresolved and actually are getting worse: poor demography, monstrous corruption, and severe alcoholism. If one compares the number of people per square kilometer in of Russia (8), the United States (50) and China (220), the picture is gloomy. Moreover, this ratio keeps changing, and unfortunately not in Russia's favor. Will the country in the years ahead have enough manpower to implement Medvedev's dreams of innovations and modernization, to serve in its army, or at least to hold on to its huge landmass?
The Captive Nations Resolution and Other US Relics of the Cold War
W George Krasnow
Remarks by Dr. W. George Krasnow at a panel discussion of the 92nd anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. 
President Reagan holds up a proclamation designating Captive Nations Week after signing it in a Rose Garden ceremony.
First, I salute the sponsor of our panel, the Conflict Solutions International. It is a team of independent pro bono lawyers whose mission is to prevent new threats to peace and security in the world. Strategically located in Washington DC, the CSI relies on volunteers throughout the world. Striving to ameliorate current conflicts, they serve as fact-finders, monitors and mediators.
As president of the Russia & America Goodwill Associates (RAGA), an informal organization of Americans favoring better relations with Russia, I cannot think of a better forum. The goals of RAGA are the same as those of the CSI. Luckily, since the Fall of the Wall, Russia and the United States do not have unsolvable conflicts. Whatever conflicts they now have are not of the kind that existed during the Cold War, when the world's very survival was at stake.
Who Should Apologize for the Wrongs of the Soviet Union?
A column of refugees in the Soviet Union, following the German invasion of Soviet territory on June 22, 1941.
In his recent article in the Daily Telegraph (December 3, 2009) George Feifer suggests that "instead of trying to justify Soviet wrongs all these years later, why doesn't it [Russia] apologize, as Germany has for its 20th-century atrocities?" According to this author, apologies are due above all to the Baltic and East European countries.
As someone who for decades participated in many activities to resist the Soviet regime, standing shoulder to shoulder with people from the "Captive Nations" during their fight for freedom and independence, I believe that Feifer's demands are misdirected, ill-timed and generally worthless, if not harmful.
A spoof on the 19th century Anglo-Russo "Great Game" rivalry in Central Asia
An October 13 RT (no longer officially known as Russia Today) segment discussed some international issues regarding Afghanistan and Russia. The following viewpoint is expressed in that segment: "When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan they were viewed as being hostile by everyone, while the US is really not viewed as an occupier. The Soviets were always viewed as an occupier."
Afghans at large deserved better than the Soviet supported regimes in their country. There were Afghans who collaborated with these regimes. The last Afghan Communist regime lasted three years after the Soviet military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. (This length of time is not so different from how long the South Vietnamese government lasted after American forces left Vietnam.) Besides the foreign meddling, Afghanistan has had other problems, which were to become more evident after the Soviet forces withdrew from there in 1989. At the height of the Soviet military intervention in that nation, I recall a buried in the back of The New York Times piece on how a good number of the armed anti-Soviet Afghans opposed Western values, Israel and women's rights.
In the past two decades, the world has witnessed yet another historical opportunity missed: the fall of the Berlin Wall has not led to a logical conclusion -- Russia's full economic, political and even military integration with Europe and the West in general. In the recent past, Russia's Westernizers' centuries-old dream of joining Europe was nearly within reach, but then it faded again, to wait for another miracle.
In the 19th century that goal was closer than ever, as Europe and Russia were strongly linked within a unified cultural and economic space despite their religious differences and many political upheavals. Even Fedor Dostoyevsky, generally highly critical of the West, noted that Russia needed Europe, and that Europe was Russia's second Fatherland.
The Bolshevik coup of October 1917 destroyed the natural process of Russia drifting toward Europe, but the end of the bloody communist experiment should have removed the remaining barriers for that process. However, this has not happened so far. Now, will it take place, at long last? Will Russia even try to overcome the West's rejection as the balance of world power is shifting to Asia?
Iran's nuclear ambitions, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and the rising threat of Islamic fundamentalism, not only present a clear and extreme danger, but also provide the perfect logical base for closer U.S.-Russian cooperation. Of course, it is always easier to say what should have been done afterward, but shouldn't we at least learn some lessons from the not-so-distant past? No matter how much we despised and hated communism and the Soviet rulers, politicians with vision could have predicted the disastrous consequence of supplying the Afghan Mujahedeen, including Terrorist Number One Osama bin Laden himself, with tons of cash and the most sophisticated weaponry, like Stinger rockets.
After Jimmy Carter, along with his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, yielded Iran to the Ayatollahs, it became pretty obvious that Islamic militancy was becoming a major threat to the West, a threat which overshadowed even the Soviet one. Anyone with basic understanding of the internal situation in Soviet Union knew that by the late 1970s - early 1980s, communism has exhausted its zeal. Not only did the Soviet intelligentsia reject its appeal, but even the highest Kremlin rulers, including members of Politburo, were privately laughing at their own speeches and slogans. Telling anecdotes and humiliating jokes about communism became major social entertainment. This, together with the sad state of the Soviet economy, should have led the White House to let communism pass into the ashes of history by way of a natural death, instead of creating a supposedly anti-Soviet Frankenstein's monster, who has turned out to be the worst U.S. and European nightmare.
Missile Defense Shield in Eastern Europe Kaput. Now What?
Last week was marked by two intimately connected major events: Obama announced the scrapping of the plan to deploy Missile Defense Shield elements in Eastern Europe, and NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen made an arguably even more impressive speech listing three global security initiatives aimed at rapprochement with Russia. It would hardly be an overstatement to call the two events historic, for never before have a US president and a NATO secretary general made such promising and friendly moves toward Russia, and not just by word but actually by deed. NATO's readiness for a joint US-Russian missile defense system and a serious consideration of Medvedev's idea for a new Euro-Atlantic security architecture amounts to acknowledging Russia's role as a major player on the European continent. This can also be regarded as an invitation to Russia to complete a military and eventually also a political and economic integration with the West.
The content of Obama's speech came as no surprise due to leaks to the press long before the official announcement. As was to be expected, both in America and in other countries, particularly in Poland and the Czech Republic, a massive campaign to condemn this decision was launched even before the speech. Vitriolic outbursts accusing Obama, at best, of weakness, incompetence and enormous concessions to Russia, and at worst, of something amounting to the betrayal of the country's interests, inundated the US media. It has to be said, though, that there were also numerous supporters of Obama's decision, even among prominent republicans, such as Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser under George Bush Sr., and many others.
Was There a Deal Behind the Missile Shield Decision?
Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, Poland's Lech Kaczynski, and America's Barack Obama
Russian authorities are happy, Czech and Polish officials feel as if they have been used and abused by the United States, and Republicans are outraged that President Obama has decided to scrap plans to build a missile defense in Eastern Europe. The stated purpose was to guard Europe against intimidation by a nuclear Iran, but Russia professed to feel threatened and encircled. Now, presumably, Russians don't feel threatened and Iranians feel liberated to move ahead with nuclear development.
But here is the real test of this decision: did the U.S. gain anything by it in terms of protection of Europe (and Israel) against Iranian nukes? The next few months will tell.
The USSR and the USA were strangely but truly united in working against nuclear proliferation for a couple of decades--the 70s and 80s. In my time as US ambassador to the UN Organizations in Vienna in the 1980s this was the one field of relations in which mutual cooperation was sincere and real. Indeed, the way in which the United States came closer to the USSR at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine in 1986 may be cited as a key turning point in the relationship that hastened "perestroika" and the thawing of the Cold War. The Soviets realized that we really didn't want to humiliate them, but only to help them deal with a real crisis. It led to a breakthrough that extended beyond the nuclear realm.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 9 - The Pendulum: A Model for Understanding Political Transitions in Russia
A few of the most famous Russians who ever lived
Editor's note: In this ninth part of his masters thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg University graduate Kevin Cyron argues that Russia has become so thoroughly integrated into the global economy that it can never return to a truly authoritarian system of government.
Click on the links to read previous installments in this series: I II III IV V VI VII VIII
Click on the extended post to read part nine of the extended essay.
Moscow River embankment on a summer night (Photo by Yuri Mamchur)
MOSCOW -- German Sterligov is well known here, but unlike Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska, and other publicly flamboyant Russian billionaires, he is little known abroad. Sterligov neither sails the Caribbean nor drinks in London's Mayfair district; most of the time he lives a traditional peasant lifestyle deep in the Russian countryside with his wife and five children. In winter, their farm is accessible only by horse-drawn cart, and the nearest house is seven miles away. Sterligov's way of life makes a strong Russian Orthodox statement and amuses Moscow's public.
Sterligov made his fortune in the 1990s running a large barter business. He founded a mercantile exchange where Russians traded products they were unable to buy or sell for cash. He lived the luxurious life of a billionaire and owned properties in Moscow, London, and Manhattan. In 2004, after an ill-fated bid for Russia's presidency, Sterligov sold everything and moved to the countryside.
The recent signing of the Nabucco pipeline project is definitely a political rather than economic deal. Its feasibility, the probability of its actual construction and its profitability aside, the deal shows clearly that, at least for the present, those who want to see a weaker Russia prevail over those who would rather see it strong and an integral part of the West. It is also obvious that without heavy Washington lobbying the Nabucco pipeline would never take off. Since there is practically no economic interest for the U.S. in it, Washington politics make the direction of the much advertised "reset" quite uncertain.
In the last 20 years since the collapse of communism every U.S. president has kept repeating that it is in American interests to see Russia as a strong, democratic, and prosperous nation. But actions rarely suit the words. Washington needs, and often gets, Moscow's cooperation on major security issues, but then it turns around and does its damnedest not only to prevent "non-democratic" and "authoritarian" Moscow from becoming an energy superpower, but to make sure that it gets as little cash as possible -- by diverting this cash to former Soviet republics where democracy is so rudimentary as to be barely discernible, while Oriental despotism, sometimes hereditary, is very much in evidence. So much for the hugely advertised U.S. democracy promotion mission.
Chapter 1 of Dr. Ablayev's book "Regional Gold Markets in Russia's Economy", from which this piece is excerpted, deals with how Russia emerged from a command, non-market economy to its current status where the integration of the market into the authoritarian model of Russian governance is causing what he calls a "vertical layering" of the market. As a result, a unique Russian multi-level market system has been created.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 10 - Russia's Future: Reasons for Optimism
Russian children at Tsarskoe Tselo outside St. Petersburg, October 2007 Photo by: Charles Ganske
Editor's note: In this tenth and final part of his masters thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg University graduate Kevin Cyron presents the Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn's response to the charge that his country has reverted to authoritarianism under the Putin Administration. Mr. Cyron also reminds us that democracy is a process and not a destination for any nation. Mr. Cyron concludes with optimism for the future of Russia and the Russian people.
Forget Me Not. Obama's Russian "Reset" Risks Alienating Eastern European Allies
Fresh from a widely anticipated foreign visit designed to "reset" relations with Moscow, U.S. President Barack Obama was welcomed on Thursday morning with a letter from former Eastern European leaders saying there is "nervousness in our capitals" with regard to a potentially redefined U.S.-Russia relationship.
We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. ... The danger is that Russia's creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region.
The letter, signed by former Eastern European leaders and published in Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza urges President Obama to strengthen the U.S. relationship with the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Explicit concerns about Russia stand out in the letter, although the signatories (which include Poland's Lech Walesa and the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel) also write of other areas of concern such as weakened European Union-U.S. relations.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 5 - Boris Yeltsin and the Struggle for Russian Democracy in the 1990s
Boris Yeltsin remains a controversial figure in Russian history
Editor's note: In this fifth part of his masters thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg University graduate Kevin Cyron examines the chaotic conditions in Russia during the administration of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, comparing it to similar episodes in U.S. history. The Yeltsin era, with its expansion of NATO up to Russia's doorstep, and ethnic violence in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, paved the way for the current backlash from a resurgent Russia.
Click on the links to read previous installments in this series: I, II, III, and IV
Click on the extended post to read part five in the extended essay.
Have you ever considered the possibility that the Russians might secretly be conspiring with the United States against your government? I know it sounds far-fetched, but, after all, far-fetched is practically your middle name. (As, for example, your denial of the Holocaust. That is about as far-fetched as anyone can get.)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's recent announcement of a government-sanctioned Historic Truth Commission to debunk myths about Russia's role in the Second World War has come under fire from critics in the West. Even many patriotic Russians annoyed with Western ignorance of the decisive role played by Russia in defeating Nazi Germany have argued that a state-sanctioned commission may do more harm than good. Irrespective of the ongoing arguments between Russia and its neighbors over who is distorting 20th century history for present political ends, there are some lingering myths about the Second World War that deserve to be debunked. Anatoly Karlin lists a few in the article below.
- The Editors
Ð—Ð° Ð½Ð°Ñ Ð·Ð° Ð²Ð°Ñ Ð¸ Ð·Ð° Ð´ÐµÑÐ°Ð½Ñ‚ Ð¸ Ð·Ð° ÑÐ¿ÐµÑ†Ð½Ð°Ð·! The Red Army was the single greatest contributor to the defeat of Nazi Germany sixty-four years ago, a truly evil empire based on slavery and oppression, and responsible for the genocide of millions of Slav civilians, Jews, Soviet POWs and Roma by poison gas, bullets and starvation. Yet ever since the first days of the Cold War, there has been a concerted campaign to whitewash the Wehrmacht of participation in war crimes and to rehabilitate the generals who participated in it as enthusiastically as Hitler and the upper echelons of the Nazi Party. This resulted in the promulgation of many poisonous myths about the Eastern Front that are only now being laid to rest.
I already wrote about several of these myths in my article Top 10 Russophobe Myths. In the service of historic truth, here are a few points to consider about how the history of the Second World War has been distorted by myths, particularly as they apply to the most brutal campaign in human history, the war waged between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945.
Presidents Barack Obama and Dimitry Medvedev at their first meeting on April 1, 2009 in London, UK
There is no shortage of solicited and unsolicited advisors and pieces of advice for the upcoming Obama-Medvedev summit this week in Moscow. Some of the advice is pretty reasonable; for the most part it is best ignored. One's first instinct is to stay away from this cacophony and try to moderate one's expectations so as not to be hugely disappointed later.
However, the temptation to weigh in with one's particular advice is very high. Since both Obama and Medvedev are Internet users one does not have to send a letter to the White House or the Kremlin and wait for the routine answer from some clerk. Chances are that both or at least one of them will surf the Net on the eve of the summit and pay attention to some of the items.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism Part 7 - The Reforms of Vladimir Putin Economics, Demographics and Rule of Law
Christmas 2007 in Moscow
Editor's note: In this seventh part of his masters thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg University graduate Kevin Cyron examines the major changes during the last eight years in Russia's economy, demographics, news media, courts, and civil society.
Click on the links to read previous installments in this series: I II III IV V VI
Click on the extended post to read part seven in the extended essay.
Boris Yeltsin, on top of a tank in Moscow, declaring an end to the Soviet regime in 1991
When the featured article was being written, the author and the Iranian people still had hopes to find leadership to their quest for freedom. Unfortunately, Mir Hossein Mousavi has not appeared in front of the protestors since the elections of June 12, and yesterday rejected another vote recount. The recent activities in Iran are, undoubtedly, a huge step forward in fostering democracy in this majority Muslim nation. However, they will result in nothing without proper leadership. Russia and China did not have to recognize, much less defend, Ahmadinejad's victory as soon as they did, but perhaps they knew the painful truth ahead of time: the Iranian opposition has no leader, and a leader is what is so desperately needed at this historic moment.
Charles Krauthammer's article published over at Townhall.com on June 26 does a great job of describing the difference between Russia's 1991 and Iran's 2009: "They need a leader like Boris Yeltsin: a former establishment figure with newly revolutionary credentials and legitimacy, who stands on a tank and gives the opposition direction by calling for the unthinkable -- the abolition of the old political order." Most Russians remember Yeltsin as a despot, a drunk, and a sometimes embarrassing grandpa. World history will remember him as the man who ended 70 years of an Evil Empire, permanently curing Russia's infection of Communism. Hopefully, four years from now, an Iranian Yeltsin will stand up on a tank and prove that innocent protestors did not die in vain.
Visit the extended post to read the full version of the discussed article.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 8 - The Return to Security Orthodoxy, Leadership, and Russian Identity
Then President and now Prime Minister Putin at a Russian Orthodox religious service
Editor's note: In this eighth part of his masters thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg University graduate Kevin Cyron examines the historically close ties between Russia's national leadership and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Click on the links to read previous installments in this series: I II III IV V VI VII
Click on the extended post to read part seven in the extended essay.
Iranian protesters confronted by basij militias on the streets of Tehran
Over at Discovery Blog, Ambassador Bruce Chapman is writing about the current upheaval of popular discontent against the Islamic Republic regime in Iran. Nearly three years ago, Discovery Institute hosted Amir Abbas Fakhravar at its Seattle offices. Mr. Fakhravar is a former head of the Iran Student Confederation who was previously jailed and tortured for his opposition to the Islamic Republic regime. You can read Mr. Fakhravar's blog here.
So far, Russian diplomats have maintained a firm "no comment" policy concerning the ongoing power struggle inside Iran. [UPDATE: The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement concerning the post-election revolt today, not over the weekend when this story was written]. But since Russia has already been mentioned in passing in some analysis of the crisis inside Iran, it's worth looking at the facts surrounding the complicated relationship between Tehran and Moscow.
In the Eighties, lots of folks who regarded themselves as true Reaganites often said that The Washington Post should more properly bear the title of "Pravda on the Potomac". Indeed, the paper's vicious anti-Ronny rhetoric, as well as its views on some other policy issues, were stylistically pretty close to Pravda in its heyday.
Ironically, with the collapse of Communism "Pravda on the Potomac" became a common epithet for The Washington Post not only among the people on the right but on the left and center as well. A recent Google search on this entry provided 13,100 links including articles and sites representing practically the whole spectrum of American politics.
Anatol Lieven is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation.
Over the last several days, two pieces attacking the realist approach to Russia were published in prominent media outlets in the United States and Russia. One, co-authored by Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center, Igor Klyamkin, vice president of the Liberal Mission Foundation, Georgy Satarov, president of the Russian NGO the Indem Foundation and Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center was featured on the editorial page of The Washington Post.
[Editor's Note: This article is titled "False Choices for Russia", an excerpt of which was republished on Russia Blog earlier this month in the post "What Can Save Russia's Liberals" by Ambassador Bruce Chapman]. The other, by Andrei Piontkovsky, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, was released in the Moscow Times.
I read these pieces concerning the moves to improve relations between America and Russia with a profound feeling of depression.
In 1992, for the first time since the Great Patriotic War, deaths exceeded births, forming the so-called "Russian Cross". Since then the population fell from 149mn to 142mn souls. Ravaged by AIDS, infertility and alcoholism, Russians are doomed to die out and be replaced by hordes of Islamist fanatics in the West and Chinese settlers in the Far East...or so one could conclude from reading many of the popular stories about Russian demography today.
"Don't bother pushing the ambiguous Reset Button; just replace the whole operating system." That's the advice offered President Obama and President Medvedev at the 28th Annual World Russia Forum that took place 27-28 April in Washington. Since 1981 the Forum has been organized by Edward Lozansky's American University in Moscow (AUM). Of late, Discovery Institute of Seattle, Eurasia Center of Washington, the Congress of Russian Americans, and Aeroflot airlines joined this effort at people's diplomacy to improve US -Russia relations.
The Forum attracted a powerful array of speakers, such as former US Ambassadors to Russia, Thomas Pickering and William Burns; former National Security Adviser (under President Reagan) Robert McFarlane; and Russia experts professors Marshall Goldman of Harvard and Robert Legvold of Columbia University. The Russian side was represented by Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Dr. Igor Panarin of the Russian Diplomatic Academy, and Dr. Sergey Rogov, head of the Institute of USA and Canada, among others. (View the photo report).
An afternoon at the Moscow's Victory Park (photo by Yuri Mamchur)
Yesterday, The Washington Postpublished Mr. Lev Gudkov's article "False Choices For Russia" (see below). This article is more an attitude than a program. It doesn't really say what Russians or Americans should do to promote "democracy" in Russia. But I have an idea for the Russians: the liberal parties and politicians should stop fracturing and running assorted parties and come together in one party with one agenda that has a chance of actually getting people elected to office. Sitting on the outside with a tiny percentage of the vote split several ways--and then whining about it--is not the pathway to success.
Even in the United States no one listens to the little parties. A liberal national party with a chance of success would have to have a combination of groups and interests, some willingness to compose differences among them and then a clear reform agenda that had appeal to the common man and woman. Then they would have a chance of success.
Last week President Dmitry Medvedev formed a government commission on analyzing and suppressing falsifications of history to the detriment of Russia. Some have rushed to portray this move as an "Orwellian Truth Commission" dedicated to official propaganda of the historical facts that fit the government's interpretation of history. Indeed, one may be tempted to form such a conclusion simply by looking at the commission's appointees. What is Medvedev likely to accomplish by forming this commission? Is this the right way to approach this issue, or are there more subtle ways to deal with the problem? -- Dr. Vladimir Frolov
One should wait, of course, for the commission to undertake some specific actions before criticizing it, but knowing how bureaucracy works, one could safely assume with high probability that whoever came up with the idea to create a "Commission on Analyzing and Suppressing Falsifications of History Detrimental to Russia" did not do a good service to his country or to president Medvedev, for that matter. Leaving aside its dubious name, this commission will do more in creating controversy than in helping Russia to withstand the information warfare conducted by its foes. Instead of taking a high road and leaving the word battles to historians and experts, the Kremlin set itself on a par with those ill-wishers who try to use history for political purposes at the pundit or state level.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 6 - The Reforms of Vladimir Putin Strengthening Security and Governance
Editor's note: In this sixth part of his masters thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg University graduate Kevin Cyron examines the changes ushered in by the Putin Adminstration, and Russia's progress in the past eight years.
Click on the links to read previous installments in this series: I, II, III, IV, V
Click on the extended post to read part six in the extended essay.
Michael Averko addressing the guests of the World Russia Forum in Washington D.C.
Last month's parliamentary election and political demonstration in Moldova led to greater attention focused on that country. A few relatively high placed articles on the subject have been followed up on.
Appearing shortly before the vote and protest, Vlad Spanu's March 20 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) commentary "Backroom Deals Can't Solve Transdniester Dispute" acknowledges the popularity of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in Moldova, where they have respectively run 1-2 in popularity among politicians worldwide. This point relates to the simultaneous desires of wanting good relations with the West, without being so against Russia and its leadership.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. E. Wayne Merry was a speaker at the World Russia Forum which was recently held in Washington, D.C. by Discovery Institute and the American University in Moscow.
The Obama administration has offered to "reset" relations with Russia. But what is really needed is a change of operating system.
A reset seeks to restore a previous relationship, which for former officials of the Clinton administration now back in office means the Yeltsin years. This will fail because Moscow views that period as emblematic of Russian weakness and exploitation by the West, and especially by the United States.
Relations with Moscow deteriorated under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The U.S. neo-liberal project of the '90s not only failed but deeply alienated Russians. The bilateral nadir was the Kosovo war, a worse episode than last year's Georgia conflict. A new opportunity after 9/11 was frankly squandered. Washington regarded Russia as a loser and treated it as such. It forgot that Russia would not be weak forever, and would remember.
Only a couple of short months after the United States and Russia exchanged encouraging remarks about resetting troubled relations, the two countries find themselves again at odds over Georgia. Last week, NATO began monthlong military exercises in Georgia that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called an "open provocation."
It's unfortunate that these current NATO exercises have the capacity to disrupt much broader strategic interests that the United States and Russia have in common, most notably the mutual fight against al Qaeda. At stake are strong U.S.-Russian cooperative efforts in defeating al Qaeda and stopping its encroachment into the Central Asian and Caucasus regions.
Russian troops entering South Ossetia last year after a Georgian offensive to retake the secessionist territory was repulsed by Russia.
The Russia-Georgia War in August 2008 has seriously exacerbated Russia's already damaged relationships with the West. If the Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, had won last November's election in the United States, the two countries might have moved to the next level of confrontation -- possibly of a military nature.
Few people in the U.S. political class have been more ardent in advocating U.S. ties with the small Georgia at the expense of relations with Russia. Some of McCain's advisers are also known to have worked as paid lobbyists for Georgia's membership in NATO. Clearly they are not concerned that, had Georgia been a member of the alliance when the violence erupted in South Ossetia, the United States would have been in a state of war with Russia.
The Atlantic Monthly Asks: "Is the U.S. Becoming Russia?"
The new U.S.-Russia arms race...bailouts and printing money?
In its May 2009 issue The Atlantic Monthly published an article featuring the provocative title, "Is the U.S. Becoming Russia?". The author, Simon Johnson, is an academic economist at MIT's Sloan School of Management and former director of the International Monetary Fund from 2007 to 2008. Prof. Johnson is intimately familiar with inner the workings of the IMF, the same Washington-based multinational agency that once extended billions in loans to Russia when Russians experienced hyperinflation and a banking system collapse in the 1990s. Regardless of whether one agrees with Johnson's thesis -- that the U.S. is rapidly starting to resemble the emerging market economies, such as Russia, that it once advised -- his article is well worth a good read.
The American Enterprise Institute's Nicholas Eberstadt has become one of the leading proponents of the notion that Russia is in a terminal state of demographic decline
Last month Ross Douthat, a regular columnist for The Atlantic Monthly magazine now with The New York Times, commented on a new essay by Nicholas Eberstadt on the declining population of Russia. Dr. Eberstadt, a political economist, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington D.C. Eberstadt's most recent essay (with the perhaps insulting title), "Drunken Nation: Russia's Depopulation Bomb", which prompted Douthat's comments, is largely a rehash of his earlier report "Russia: The Sick Man of Europe" published in The Public Interest quarterly magazine back in the winter of 2004/2005.
Eberstadt's article provoked a larger discussion about global demographic trends between American "conservatives" like Douthat and "liberals" such as The American Prospect's authors Matthew Yglesias and Michelle Goldberg. However, these American pundits quickly changed their topic from Russian demographics to the reasons behind declining birth rates in Europe, Japan and other modern societies all over the world.
In recent weeks, Russia's birth rates and demographics have become a hot topic for discussion in Washington, D.C. and among American pundits. Perhaps it's been a slow news period since the initial warm rhetoric between Washington and Moscow following the election of the new President Barack Obama and the "reset" button his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have promised for U.S.-Russia relations. Russia Blog has been covering the debate over Russia's population and the future of Russian society since June 2005 -- at times, drawing praise from popular scholars such as The New York Times bestselling author and former Sovietologist Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett.
Now we present the San Francisco-based blogger Anatoly Karlin's extensive essay below, which cites Rosstat statistics to claim that the sky is not falling when it comes to the population of Russia, and also puts Russian demographics in the overall context of Europe. Karlin notes that Russian birth rates have actually been slowly increasing since reaching a post-Soviet nadir during the late 1990s. While Russia's mortality rates remain far too high, there are some reasons for cautious optimism about the country's future.
This country is vast and the opportunities here are extraordinary. And if you grew up or lived abroad in the US, the UK, Europe or parts of Asia, where the rules of the game are more or less understandable after centuries of capitalistic trial and error, it's easy to spot new market niches or opportunities here which are still open to rapid development.
This has led me on countless occasions over the years to new investment ideas and exhilarating discussions with business partners - only later to be met with countless frustrations when I've been told, "Great idea, but we can't do that here" or "this would be wonderful, but the laws here forbid us from fixing this problem in this way".
Why? If it can be done elsewhere, why can't it be done here?
What Will I Tell My Children About My Experiences in Russia?
Kendrick White is an American entrepreneur living and working in Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Federation. Kendrick's firm, Marchmont Capital Partners, is one of the very few companies publishing business content in English from Russia's regions (that is, the rest of Russia outside Moscow and St. Petersburg). Russia Blog first covered the Marchmont Investment Guide to Russia's regional businesses back in March 2007, when then FINAM investment banker Vladimir F. Kuznetsov posted an article about Kendrick White.
We are proud to announce that blog posts and articles by Kendrick White and other Marchmont Capital authors discussing Russian business issues will now be a regular feature on Russia Blog.
- The Editors
What should I tell my children about my experiences in Russia? That this is a "boom and bust" country of extreme experiences...and emotions?
It's hard to say. So many of my friends--Russians, Americans, Scandinavians, Asians--are having the same experiences in their countries.
"Here we are again, another crisis to deal with!" Most of these friends are pure entrepreneurs, men and women who took the leap of faith in 1991 and 1992...when things were even bleaker than today.
Twitter Madness in Chisinau What Happened in Moldova?
Angry youths pelting riot police with stones in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau last week
The former Soviet republic of Moldova is not the kind of place that typically grabs headlines. As many media reports have reminded us in the last two weeks, Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. While plenty of Moldovans have cellular phones, among post-Soviet republics, Moldova is not exactly as wired as say, Estonia.
Given these facts, one would think that the Moldovan capital of Chisinau would be an unlikely place for a revolution fueled by social networking technologies, such as Twitter and Facebook. Yet according to early reports from The New York Times and other Western media outlets, that is supposedly what happened this month, after Moldova's Communist Party won an election that the opposition insists was rigged.
An Open Letter to U.S. Senator John Cornyn on Missile Defense in Europe
Dear Senator Cornyn,
I received your email newsletter regarding your position on the issue of missile defense. I agree with my fellow conservatives that protecting our country and allies from missile attacks should be a very high priority. I strongly support continued funding for sea-based and airborne laser systems that can rapidly be deployed to a crisis zone and ground-based lasers to counter the threat posed by terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. I also support continued U.S. bilateral technical cooperation with all nations threatened by rogue missile strikes.
However, I must respectfully disagree with the notion that placing a handful of interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic is going to make Europe or America safer. On the contrary, I view this token system as serving more of a political rather than military purpose. The proposed system may very well serve to cement our ties with "New Europe" members that joined NATO during the 1990s. But I also believe that some in Washington would not mind if the system provokes a foolish Russian response that would involve putting offensive missiles in the enclave of Kaliningrad.
The Russian Constitution at Fifteen Discussed in Washington: A Summary, Impressions, and Commentary
W George Krasnow
Boris Yeltsin handing the Russian Constitution to Vladimir Putin on December 31, 1999
The Kennan Institute hosted on March 19, 2009 a day-long international conference, "The Russian Constitution at Fifteen: Assessments and Current Challenges to Russia's Legal Development." The actual anniversary was observed in Russia on December 12, 2008. But there were good reasons to mark it in the U.S. as well. Oleg Rumyantsev, who was the head of the Constitutional Commission's drafting team, had spent a summer of 1990 at the Library of Congress studying the American experience in writing a country's Fundamental Law.
Now, almost two decades later, Mr. Rumyantsev, whom The Washington Post then called "the James Madison of Russia," came back to Washington as president of the Foundation for Constitutional Reform and co-sponsor of this event. Two other sponsors were the International Institute of Global Development (founded by Alexander Lebedev, a wealthy Russian businessman), and the Kennan Institute.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shaking hands with U.S. President Barack Obama at the G-20 summit in London, United Kingdom on April 1, 2009
The expectations regarding the first face-to-face meeting between Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama are running high. Herein lurks a danger, for few things are worse that broken hopes and disappointments. The issues facing both countries are so daunting, and the accumulated mutual mistrust is so overwhelming, that the chances for dramatic breakthroughs are minimal. However, if common sense prevails, both leaders should be able to reach agreement at least in some critical areas. And nowhere is the situation more critical than in Afghanistan.
Edward and Tatiana Lozansky outside their Russia House restaurant and lounge on Dupont Circle in Washington D.C.
When 18-year-old high school graduate Tatiana Yershova decided to marry the much older Edward Lozansky in 1971, her friends and relatives believed she was making a terrible mistake. The slim, dark-haired and striking Tatiana was the daughter of one of the Soviet Union's highest-ranking generals, who, in 1968, played a key role in crushing the Prague Spring. So her decision to marry a poor Jewish physicist twelve years her senior, with dissident connections and a bad KGB record who had protested that Soviet invasion, was a mystery to those who knew her.
When compared to the other disputed former Soviet territories of Pridnestrovie (also referred to as Transnistria, Transdniestria, Transdnestr and Trans-Dniester), South Ossetia and Abkhazia - Nagorno Karabakh (which Armenians also refer to as Artsakh) often seems to get the least attention. This despite the latter being the bloodiest of these conflicts. Geographically, Nagorno-Karabakh is further away from the European Union nations and the United States than the other mentioned lands. As is true with a number of other conflicts, some find this contested former Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic territory to have murky conditions, in terms of determining which side (Armenian or Azeri) to fully support. Materialistically, fossil fuel rich Azerbaijan is the greater prize. There is also a degree of understandable sympathy for the tragic past of the Armenian people and some expressed apprehension with the human rights situations in Azerbaijan and (to an overall lesser extent) Armenia.
Since last August's war involving the Georgian government's armed attack on South Ossetia, there has been an increase in diplomatic activity among countries considered as key diplomatic parties in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. In September, the president of Turkey (a country seen as sympathetic to Azerbaijan and historically at odds with Armenia) and his Armenian counterpart met in Yerevan. An optimistic overview was given of that occurrence. The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia held a November meeting in Moscow, in what was described as upbeat. In February, the Turkish president met his Russian counterpart in Russia. During his stay there, Turkey's president visited the predominately Muslim republic of Tatarstan. The Russo-Turkish meeting further encouraged the growing commercial ties between the two countries.
The Myth of the Yellow Peril: Overhyping Chinese Migration into Russia
by Anatoly Karlin
One of the staples of alarmist, pessimistic and/or Russophobic (not to mention Sinophobic) commentary on Russian demography is a reworking of the yellow peril thesis. In these fevered imaginations, Chinese supposedly swim across the Amur River in their millions, establishing village communes in the taiga, and breeding prolifically so as to displace ethnic Russians and revert Khabarovsk and Vladivostok back to their rightful Qing Dynasty-era names, Boli and Haisanwei.
To a limited extent they have a point. Since 1989 the population of the Russian Far East declined by 14% to 6.7 million in 2002; shorn of subsidies from the center, it is now dependent on the rest of East Asia for food and consumer imports. It sits next to Chinese Manchuria (the provinces of Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Jilin), an environmentally-strained rust belt of 108 million souls. Thus it is not surprising to see American geopolitical jockeys, Russian xenophobes and anti-Putin "liberals" alike (i.e. Radio Free Europe's Aleksandr Golts and Echo Moskvi Radio's Yulia Latynina, etc) claiming that a stealth demographic invasion of Russia is well underway which will in a few years result in a Chinese Far East.
A photo allegedly showing then KGB agent Vladimir Putin posing as a tourist in Red Square during President Ronald Reagan's visit to the Soviet Union in 1988. In fact, most Russian analysts believe the man on the left is not Putin, who was living and working in East Germany at the time.
The Parallax Brief blog, maintained by an Englishman working at an investment bank in Moscow, is an interesting read. Judging by the author's blogroll and published comments, his views a mixture of British pro-free market ideas and American liberalism (the Parallax Brief seems sympathetic towards Democrat Barack Obama, or at least willing to give the new U.S. President some slack). However, the PB definitely provides an outsider's perspective on Russia different from what is typically published in the U.S.-UK media.
In particular, this blogger asks a question that would be regarded as anathema among some in Washington D.C. conservative Republican establishment, many of whom still view Moscow as the perpetual seat of the Evil Empire, regardless of how much Russia has actually changed since the collapse of the USSR. Namely, can Russia be described as a conservative country?
Over the past few weeks Washington has witnessed an unusual degree of activity at the official and pundit level aimed at a radical revision of US-Russia relations. Numerous think tanks and NGOs try to outdo one another in holding the most conferences and workshops on "resetting" and in churning out advice for Barack Obama. Not all of this advice is exactly radiating good will and optimism, though most of it is. Still, the anti-Russia lobby does not lose heart, but continues its enthusiastic criticism of the White House, urging Obama not to merely carry on the Bush Administration policies toward Russia, but actually to further toughen it.
After the collapse of Communism and disintegration of the Soviet Union two distinct schools emerged in America in terms of shaping Russia policy. One, which may conveniently be dubbed "Pro", advocated furthering Russia's integration into the West by granting it hefty economic aid to help it switch to market economy and speed up its entry into NATO. The second, by the same token to be named "Contra", continued to look on new Russia as a country that was, at best, no longer capable of swaying geopolitical developments and therefore whose interests could be largely ignored, and at worst, a prospective enemy to be kept in a weakened state and every way "contained."
Russian Movies on Georgia War: Olympus Inferno and War 08/08/08
The brief August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia continues to spawn films
Channel One, the same Russian TV network that produced the blockbusters Night Watch and Day Watch has made an action movie about the Georgia War, titled Olympus Inferno. The movie features two main characters, an American entomologist studying butterflies in South Ossetia (you can hear him yelling "What the hell is going on?" a lot in the trailer) and a Russian female journalist. The two characters must work together to get back to Russian lines after getting swept up in the August 8, 2008 Georgian offensive against the separatist enclave of South Ossetia.
In U.S.-Russia Energy Rivalry China is the Big Winner
In spite of the recent decline in crude oil prices, Russians are still paying $3 at the pump, nearly twice as much as the average in America. Why?
It's no secret that Russia's oil and gas industry, which accounts for more than half of Russian export revenues and more than a third of Russian GDP, has fallen on hard times lately. In the final quarter of 2008, at the same time that oil prices plunged worldwide, Rosneft, Lukoil and Gazpromneft also lost access to easy credit from Western capital markets. After briefly surpassing Saudi Arabia as the world's no. 1 oil producer in 2006, Russia's oil output has stagnated and declined somewhat in the last two and a half years.
The Russian federal budget, which had previously anticipated prices at $95 a barrel for 2009, now faces a huge shortfall, with current prices hovering around $45 a barrel. The Kremlin had announced plans to cut oil export taxes to spur new exploration and production in an industry that for decades has provided one of its primary sources of revenue, but these badly needed reforms may end up being postponed. Adding insult to injury for ordinary Russians, drivers across Russia are still paying over $3 a gallon at the gas pump, in spite of the collapse in crude oil prices.
My last American Chronicle article ("Update on the Former Moldavian SSR Dispute," Dec. 31) on the meeting between the leaders of Moldova and Pridnestrovie (also referred to as Transnistria, Transdniestria, Transdnestr and Trans-Dniester) relates to the issue of how to successfully resolve the dispute between the two parties. A major stumbling block is Pridnestrovie's government refusing to accept the Moldovan government's position that Moldova's territory includes all land which comprised the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR).
Theoretically, there is a way to honor Pridnestrovie's stance, in a settlement that would unite the two parties. Rather than advocate Pridnestrovie acknowledging itself as part of Moldova, a constitutionally loose union state of two republics can be proposed. Its name could be along the lines of the Union of Moldova and Pridnestrovie.
There Are More Ways than One to Hit the Reset Button
"We worked hard to get the right Russian word," Clinton told Lavrov, "do you think we got it?"
"You got it wrong," answered Lavrov. "This says 'peregruzka,' which means overcharged."
It must have come as a pleasant surprise to Vice President Joe Biden's speechwriter that his phrase about the need to "hit the reset button" in Moscow-Washington relations suddenly became popular and endlessly quoted by both pro- and anti-revisionists of U.S.-Russia relations. In any case Russia should obviously thank its lucky stars for Obama's electoral victory, for had he lost, the chances of improving these relations would have been very slim indeed -- things would most likely go from bad to worse.
Obama is clearly sending out positive signals, yet Moscow, regrettably, has so far refrained from offering to meet him halfway, producing little except rhetoric about its readiness to try new foreign policy approaches. Moreover, according to numerous political analysts, the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has already made two mistakes that baffle everyone favoring the two countries' rapprochement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the famous "reset" button. In light of the Cold War MAD connotations of "The Button", should it have been red? Or even a button at all?
Did you know that if you translate "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" into Russian, it becomes "the vodka is agreeable but the meat has gone bad"? Literal translations can be tricky that way.
It seems that no translators were harmed in the manufacturing of Hillary Clinton's "reset" button, which she presented to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.
"We worked hard to get the right Russian word," Clinton addressed Lavrov in a deliberately slow voice, as if talking to a special-needs child. "Do you think we got it?"
"You got it wrong," Lavrov answered in fluent English. "This says 'peregruzka,' which means overcharged."
Well, it looks like somebody used a cheap electronic translation program. But it could be worse. I once came across a website that advertised its automated translation service with an example of a label from a jar of pickles, informing Russian consumers that it contained condoms.
Talk about food safety! That's what you get when you translate "preservatives" without as much as a human touch.
A Russian soldier making the sign of the cross before an icon. Russia's largely conscript army is being slashed to make way for a cheaper and smaller military.
Continuing Russia Blog's recent run of posts about Austin-based commentators and personalities, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel Austin Bay (an ocassional guest professor at my alma mater of the University of Texas at Austin) has an excellent post over at his Strategy Page website about the recently announced cutbacks in Russia's military budget. The notion that Russia is engaged in a military buildup to challenge the West, which was popularized last year during the brief war between Russia and Georgia, has taken a hard hit from the realities of the global economic meltdown. The Kremlin is trying to patch huge holes in the Russian federal budget left by the collapse of world crude oil prices from $95 per barrel to less than $40 a barrel.
Russia and China's Financial Warning to the West Is Anyone in Washington Listening?
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jinbao in October 2008 (Photo by: Xinhua). Both governments are worried about the value of their dollar-denominated assets holding up during Washington's upcoming spending binge
The Western media have said plenty about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's remarks at Davos, Switzerland last January 28. Some observers claimed that Putin chose to blame capitalism for today's economic woes. Others, such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, believe Putin offered an "endorsement of private enterprise" instead of more government intervention to bail out the sagging global economy.
Putin, however, was not attacking capitalism, but the haphazard series of Western government bailouts and interventions that have made it very hard to predict when global financial markets will stabilize. It is not clear to foreigners which American financial companies like Bank of America and Citigroup will be nationalized as "too big to fail" and which ones will be allowed to slide into bankruptcy, as did Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.
Working Together in the Land of the Unruly U.S.-Russian Quid Pro Quo on Afghanistan
Kyrgyzstan is officially expelling U.S. forces from the Manas Air Base -- so now what?
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and the editor of The Washington Realist foreign policy blog. Gvosdev is also, when it comes to Russia, probably not the most popular guy in Washington, particularly when he reminds his fellow Washingtonians about the limits of American power worldwide and the checks on the extent of U.S. influence in the former Soviet Union. Gvosdev has long been skeptical of efforts to create democracy overnight in former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia through so-called "Color Revolutions" that took place earlier this decade with strong American government and NGO support.
Here at Russia Blog, we've frequently published Prof. Gvosdev's articles in the last two years. Gvosdev's latest article offers suggestions on how the Obama Administration can cooperate with Moscow to secure NATO's logistical lifeline through Central Asia into Afghanistan. While some observers may believe that Russia is taking unfair advantage of America's predicament in Afghanistan, demanding concessions from Washington in return for NATO access to Russian and former Soviet territory, the fact is nothing in international relations comes for free. And the phrase "trust but verify", so beloved by fans of the late President Ronald Reagan, actually came from Russia. The Kremlin is now testing U.S. intentions in Central Asia to see if fighting the Taliban and jihadism really are the highest American priorities in the region, or if other zero-sum agendas are still ongoing twenty years after the Cold War was officially declared over.
Why Kyrgyzstan is Kicking the U.S. Out Why the U.S. and Russia Need to Make a Deal
A U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane in the snow at Manas Air Base, 2006
The Swiss International Relations and Security Network (ISN) website, a project of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, has published an interesting take on why the U.S. is losing access to a strategic military base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan. While Switzerland has long enjoyed a reputation for a detached, if not always completely neutral view of international affairs, the author in this case is actually an American, Dr John C.K. Daly, a Washington D.C.-based consultant and an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute.
Dr. Daly writes that Washington hawks who want to blame the Kremlin for the U.S. getting booted out of the Kyrgyz base that has been critical to ongoing American military operations in Afghanistan since December 2001 have no one to blame but themselves. Dr. Daly adds that Washington should understand that the Kremlin no longer believes that the U.S. has the political will to stay in Afghanistan long-term and defeat the Taliban. Therefore Russia is making every effort to prop up its authoritarian friends in former Soviet Central Asia with economic aid, lest they too fall victim to the Taliban exporting heroin and jihad into their countries in the years to come.
How Did Russia Rebuild Itself? Sorry, But You're Wrong
Myth: Russia is only about oil and gas. Fact: Russia has begun to diversify its economy The present economic crisis and collapse of energy prices give Russia more opportunity for diversification
Princeton University history professor Stephen Kotkin recently released a paperback edition of his book, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000 with an addendum covering the last eight years in Russia. Writing over at the Russia: Other Points of View forum, Prof. Kotkin notes that the Western media often fixates on Russian leaders like Vladimir Putin and Cold War-style Kremlinology, to the detriment of reporting on changing economic and social conditions for ordinary Russians. Only in the last two and a half years, for example, has the Western media widely reported that middle class Russians are buying many of the same things that middle class Westerners once commonly took for granted, such as new cars, apartments, and vacation packages abroad.
Click on the extended post to read Prof. Kotkin's article.
The latest Russo-Ukrainian gas spat may have finally taught the elites in those two countries a vital lesson. Namely, that they stand to gain far more from acting in concert, than either one of them gains from acting against the interest of the other.
The latest statement by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that "Europeans" will not forget how Ukrainian and Russian leaders acted during this crisis, reveals more than just impotence. It serves as a reminder that many Western Europeans are still not ready to accept either Ukraine or Russia as part of Europe. It would be wise for both Russian and Ukrainians not to lose sight of this fact, for it both shapes and constrains the policies of European Union towards them.
At the outset of this latest spat, both Ukrainian and Russia political elites made the mistake of assuming that EU leaders cared about the issues. They therefore put all their efforts into making their case in the media, instead of undertaking direct negotiations. Ukrainian leaders hoped to mobilise western sympathy by portraying their country as a victim of Russian imperialism, while Russian leaders sought to portray the Ukrainians as thieves. Each then tried to involve their Western European partners more directly, urging the European Commission to send monitors to the pumping stations, inviting the parties to a gas summit, and floating schemes by which European intermediaries might step in to guarantee payments in the event of further payment arrears.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in front of a banner for Gazprom, Russia's state-owned natural gas export monopoly
As of yesterday, January 17, 2009, the gas crisis was not over yet, and contrary to some optimistic expectations, it may actually continue for a long time, perhaps in a less severe but still damaging way to all parties of the conflict -- Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union. This will add additional pain to the current global economic and financial crisis, so we should be ready for the worst. However, despite all negative consequences, each crisis provides an opportunity to soberly evaluate the situation, draw proper conclusions, learn new lessons, think of the new strategies and tactics, and apply a new course of actions.
Unfortunately, the September 11 crisis, despite some encouraging steps at the beginning, did not produce too much in the long term East--West cooperation agenda. Will the current crisis generate better results? No one knows for sure, but nothing will happen unless we try, and here is some of my humble advice to the powers that be.
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin
Russia Blog contributor Professor Andrei P. Tsygankov sends along his latest article, published in the Asia Times newspaper. Prof. Tsygankov writes that although Russia is justified in seeking higher prices from countries like Ukraine that have based much of their recent economic growth on cheap subsidized Russian gas, the Kremlin has pinned far too much of its hopes for future development on the oil and gas industry.
While this type of criticism is quite commonplace in the West, Tsygankov, like his fellow Asia Times contributor "Spengler", realizes that the time is short. If Russia (and for that matter, Ukraine and Georgia, which are in even worse demographic shape) want to turn things around and avoid their societies being cut in half, they have to do it within a generation.
Click on the extended post to read this excellent Asia Times article.
In Aftermath of Georgia War, a More Stable Caucasus
A Russian soldier in Georgia in 2008 All quiet on the Caucases front: Emil Sanamyan writes that since the defeat of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's effort to reunify South Ossetia by force, other former Soviet republics have indicated a willingness to settle their secessionist conflicts through negotiations rather than violence
World Politics Review, an online magazine based in Washington, D.C., has a new format and several contributors offering perspectives outside of the typical U.S. editorial page fare when it comes to Russia and other parts of the world. Emil Sanamyan is the Washington editor and bureau chief of the Armenian Reporter and he writes that in the aftermath of the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, the violatile Caucases region has actually become more quiet.
In particular, Mr. Sanamyan writes about signs that the long simmering conflict between majority Muslim Azerbaijan and historically Christian Armenia over the territory of Ngorno-Karabkh may be moving towards a peaceful settlement. And with little acclaim from analysts in the West, Moscow is acting as a peace broker between the two sides. Russia has long had friendly relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan and both countries have extensive ethnic and immigrant diasporas in the Russian Federation.
Pipeline Politics: How Georgia Influences Israel and Iran
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. In spite of the hype pushed by some conspiracy theorists, Israel only supplied Georgia with a tiny fraction of its military equipment and suspended all arms sales months before the August 2008 war
Since the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, many geopolitical analysts have tried to understand the origins of the conflict, and explain both U.S. support for the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Russian support for his opponents, the separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In doing so, geopolitical thinkers around the world have sought explanations for the conflict that go beyond the personalities of the individual leaders involved, such as the Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Muscovites celebrating the New Year near the Kremlin on January 1, 2008
During this time of year, it's traditional, in Russia as in the West, to take stock of the previous year and to make resolutions for changes in the upcoming year. Yuri Mamchur, Russia Blog's creator and main editor, has published a retrospective in the Seattle Times this week (scroll down on the main page or click on this link to see Yuri's article) on how Russia could have been better prepared to face the current global economic crisis. Addressing the same topic, Professor Andrei Tsygankov from San Francisco State University in California has sent us a panel discussion he participated in with other experts for the magazine Russia Profile.
Eight years after President Boris Yeltsin gave up the presidential suite, Russian economic legislation had matured, but the economy hadn't. Russia doesn't have much to show for its meteoritic economic rise and fall. But it could have been avoided if Russia had not missed important opportunities, from infrastructure investment to small business loans.
THE Russian government and people, awash with money, were convinced their economy was invulnerable to the world financial crisis. By September, Russia's gold reserves stood at $581 billion. The federal budget seemed strong, salaries high, economic reforms successful and government investments wise. In hindsight, it was all too noticeably "Potemkin" and vulnerable. When foreign markets crashed and oil prices fell, Russia's financial standing changed overnight.
Paul Weyrich possessed the unrivaled ability to take public stands on behalf of his (and our) core principles, even when doing so created a breach with the conventional wisdom that reigned inside Washington at any given moment. Personal relationships with Washington's power brokers (and he knew them all, because they all quietly and respectfully sought his counsel) were irrelevant if the broker in question was contemplating a policy that violated one of his core tenets. He would patiently explain his point of view, counsel adherence to a timeless principle over a strategic feint that might (but usually didn't) yield some transitory political advantage, and then go public with his principled view if the quiet conversation proved fruitless.
Besides taking strong positions on moral, human life, and family issues, Weyrich was not afraid to criticize what he saw as misguided foreign policies, particularly those advocated by his fellow conservatives and within the Republican Party. Whereas others simply accepted the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine as a given, Weyrich pressed the hard question to his fellow conservatives of whether these steps would actually advance the cause of freedom worldwide, or if they would needlessly antagonize Russia without making America or Europe the slightest bit more secure.
For the sake of educating the public and press about what Weyrich believed and advocated, Russia Blog has republished two of his final op-eds about the future of U.S.-Russia relations.
Click on the extended post to read Weyrich's op-eds from December 2 and August 20, 2008
Russian Church and State: What is Patriarch Alexy's Legacy?
Patriarch Alexy II speaking to the Council of Europe in October 2007
Professor Andrei P. Tsygankov of San Francisco State University has sent us an article previously published by Russia Profile that included contributions from him and James George Jatras, a Washington D.C.-based international lawyer and the Director of the American Council for Kosovo, which opposed U.S. recognition of the former Serbian province. Jatras has been a frequent speaker at events hosted by the CATO Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the Institute of World Politics.
In the Russia Profile panel, Tsygankov and Jatras discuss the controversial question of the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian State, and how Patriarch Alexy changed these relationship, and with it the culture of post-Soviet Russia.
- The Editors
Click on the extended post to read the full article.
Sloppy Editorials on Russia at The Washington Post
Mark Ames, the former publisher of The Exile, a controversial English-language "alternative" newspaper in Moscow, has an excellent article appearing in the latest issue of the American left-wing journal The Nation. In his article, Ames does some old fashioned fact checking concerning The Washington Post's editorial line about Russia. Specifically, Ames points to an embarassing rush to judgement without the slightest evidence in the odd case of Karina Moskalenko, a Russian human rights lawyer based in Strasbourg, France.
In recent years, Moskalenko has pursued several cases against the Russian government at the European Court of Human Rights. When tiny traces of mercury were discovered in her car, the Washington Post quickly suggested that someone had tried to poison the attorney. Upon further examination, however, the mercury traces came from a thermometer that the previous owner of the car had broken in the vehicle. The Washington Post, however, didn't issue a correction about the case on the editorial page when the facts dispelled foul play, and buried news of the case in the news section.
The real issue here is not getting one story wrong or posting the correction in fine print -- this often happens at even the best newspapers -- but what the case says about the mentality of the Post's editors when it comes to Russia. Certainly, left-wing critics of American foreign policy like Ames are hardly the only ones to have asked this question. A few weeks before the Georgia War began on August 8, 2008, Paul J. Saunders, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Nixon Center, published an article in The National Interest labelling the WaPost the "Tblisi Post" for its frequent championing the cause of the tiny Caucasian nation and its embattled President, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Russia: "With the Russians, you can be tough, but you should listen"
Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for President in the 2008 election
Former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. (ret) Colin Powell has made a lot of news this year. First, the longtime Republican Powell endorsed Illinois Democrat Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States. Second, on Sunday, December 14, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria, Powell gave a candid account of his time as Secretary of State for President George W. Bush(2001-2004), in which he discussed the day-to-day "business" of U.S.-Russia relations. In his discussion with Newsweek and CNN correspondent Zakaria, Powell declared that while missile defense systems may eventually be deployed to protect the U.S. and its allies, they must be proven to be workable, and their deployment weighed against other diplomatic and military priorities in U.S. grand strategy.
Suzanne Massie's Advice to President Obama: Adopt Reagan's Attitude toward Russia
W George Krasnow
Suzanne Massie is a Russia expert and former adviser to President Reagan
"Take bold steps, like Ronald Reagan, and chart a new foreign policy course toward Russia." This is the advice that Suzanne Massie, a Russia expert and former adviser to President Reagan, gave to President-elect Barack Obama during her presentation ,"Reagan's Evolving Views on Russians and their Relevance Today," at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (KIARS) in Washington D.C. on December 1, 2008.
Ms. Massie is a writer, lecturer and the author of best-selling books, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia, as well as other books dealing with Russia's history and culture. Born in New York City in the family of a Swiss diplomat, she was educated at Vassar College and the Sorbonne. From 1985 to 1997 she was a fellow of the Harvard Russian Research Center. Trilingual (fluent in Russian, French, and English), she was invited by KIARS's director Dr. Blair Ruble to reminisce on the years of 1984-1988 when she was an adviser to President Reagan.
IHT: Russian Military Modernization May Be Hampered by Economic Crisis
A Russian soldier in Georgia
The International Herald Tribune has done some of the best reporting about Russia in recent months, including C.J. Chivers recently published analysis questioning many initial reports from the August 2008 war in Georgia. The Georgia War revealed that the Russian military still has sharp teeth - at least when fighting an inferior opponent on its own borders.
However, the war also revealed that even the Russian Army's elite formations were fielding 1980s vintage equipment, and did not have night vision goggles or Global Positioning System (GPS) devices like some of their Georgian opponents. The lack of unmanned aerial vehicles also led to a Russian Air Force Tupolev bomber getting shot down on a routine reconaissance mission over Georgia, with the loss of the entire crew. Russian army commanders, like the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, were reduced to issuing battlefield orders over easily intercepted cellphone lines due to a shortage of secure radios.
In late October the IHT reported on large Russian military exercises then taking place across all eleven time zones of Russia, complete with ICBM tests (hat tip: former Sovietologist and blogger Thomas P.M. Barnett). The IHT added that most American officials in the Pentagon and Bush Administration considered these changes in the Russian military's organization to be routine and not a cause for alarm in the West. If anything, President Medvedev's ambitious plans to modernize the armed forces may have to be scaled back due to a weak ruble, falling oil prices, and declining tax revenues into the Russian federal budget.
Click on the extended post to read an excerpt from the IHT article. Click on the Human Rights section of Russia Blog to read more about the problems of brutal hazing (dedovshina) and low morale in the Russian army.
Medvedev's statement regarding the deployment of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region in response to the US intention to station Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic was hardly among the Kremlin's most fortunate moves. Considering that Obama himself was not a great supporter of that project--with its dubious technological efficiency and exorbitant cost--it would probably have been more expedient to let the new US president freeze or even bury this idea of the Bush Administration.
The timing for making such a statement, with Obama only just emerging victorious from a grueling race, also was rather less than perfect. After Obama's election was secured, a phone call to congratulate the new White House resident and wish him success in his difficult mission might have been more fitting. Memorably, Putin's phone call to Bush on 11 September 2001 was instrumental in establishing a personal friendship between the two presidents that exerted some restraint on the zeal of the Cold War Warriors.
Reality is catching up fast for the Russian Federation, which begun to slowly orient its expectations towards Barack Obama's win about two weeks prior to November 4. As the Russian government and its policy analysts expected, Obama's nascent presidency will have mixed results for US-Russia relations, though cautious optimism is starting to take hold. One issue that is already grabbing headlines in Russia is the American attitude towards anti-missile shield in Europe.
As reported by the Daily Vzglyad, Obama reiterated his commitment to the Patriot missile batteries in Poland, signed earlier in August by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The paper commented on Western Europe's desire for a "new beginning in relations between Russia and the US," but remained convinced that President-elect's desire not to deviate form the previous administration's plans signaled that major changes in US-Russia relations are not expected to take place anytime soon.
Democrat Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden's remarks at a fundraiser in Seattle that an Obama Administration will be tested by an international crisis have drawn criticism from Republicans
Senator Joe Biden, Barack Obama's vice presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket for President, has never shied away from speaking his mind in public. At times this has led to ambiguous remarks, such as Biden's odd statement last year during the Democratic primaries that his future running mate Obama was "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy". More recently, it has led the Delaware Senator who prides himself on being an intellectual to commit an embarassing gaffe, declaring that President Franklin Roosevelt appeared on television to reassure the American people after the stock market crash of 1929. In reality, FDR wasn't elected until 1932 and television only came online a decade later, in 1939.
On October 19, Biden appeared before 10,000 supporters at a campaign rally in Tacoma, then spoke at a reception for Democratic donors in Seattle in the evening. At this fundraising dinner, Biden warned Democrats and the American people that an Obama Administration would be tested by an international crisis within the first six months of 2009.
"Mark my words: It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."
Der Spiegel: Russian Patriotism Unleashed by Georgia War
A Russian tank next to a Georgian military base, August 2008
Fred Weir, a longtime correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor in Moscow, writes in this week's edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel that many middle and upper middle class Russians (his own friends included) express frustration over the way Russia is portrayed in the West. Weir emphasizes that his circle of friends includes academics with liberal leanings and middle managers working for large Western corporations operating in Russia -- professionals who enjoy access to the Internet and direct contact with Westerners and yet nonetheless feel "betrayed" by the West.
Weir's friends and acquaintences seem to have experienced rising personal incomes and careers in the past several years, with some going from poverty to affluence in less than a decade. However, the fact that Russia's economic growth story (unlike, say, that of China) seemingly has not earned "respect" from America gnaws at these successful Russians. They resent what they perceive to be Washington's double standards and support for governments in Russia's "near abroad" that are hostile to the Kremlin.
We are not endorsing this view, just reporting it. One does notice that "respect" is an emotional term and that "Washington" jumps out as a surrogate for "the West" as a whole.
Click on the extended post to read an extensive excerpt from Weir's article.
No corkscrew. That's the first surprise about Chechnya. Unlike in Baghdad today or Kabul during the Soviet occupation, planes don't arrive high above the airfield and then dip one wing in a steep and terrifying spiral so as to reduce the risk of ground fire as they land. In Grozny they glide in over woods and villages, apparently confident there are no resistance fighters lurking in wait.
Surprise number two is the amount of reconstruction in the Chechen capital. Five years ago when I last visited Grozny it still looked like the ruins of Dresden or Hiroshima, street after devastated street. Now new nine-storey blocks of flats, shops, and cafes flank the main streets. In the central square workers are laying the last paving stones outside what is described as Europe's largest mosque, a concrete replica of Istanbul's Blue Mosque, financed and largely built with Turkish aid and Turkish engineers.
Cold Warriors Kissinger and Schultz Scope Out Today's Russia
The article in the International Herald Tribune by two prominent Republican secretaries of state, Henry A.Kissinger and George P. Schultz (LINK), is likely to be read closely in Washington and Moscow alike. Isn't it interesting that it ran first in Europe?
Finding Common Ground By Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The crisis over Georgia raises an issue familiar from history: In 1914, an essentially local issue was seen by so many nations in terms of established fears and frustrations that it became global in scope and led to the First World War.
There is no danger of general war today. But there is the risk that a conflict arising out of ancestral passions in the Caucasus will be treated as a metaphor for a larger conflict, threatening the imperative of building a new international order in a world of globalization, nuclear proliferation, ethnic conflicts and technological revolution.
The Republican Party is actively working on the strong boost of "international experience" of Sarah Palin, as a vice-presidential candidate. Analysts believe that this flaw might neutralize the positive factors that the Alaskan governor is believed to be bringing into John McCain's campaign.
During the annual UN General Assembly on September 24 Sarah Palin will conduct meetings with the presidents of Georgia and Ukraine, as well as with leaders of Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Colombia, and India. The "conversations" with the world leaders should help Palin in her preparations for the pre-election television debates with Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden. At the moment, he leads the Senate Committee on International Relations.
DAIWA Institute: Washington Blunders into an Unwinnable Campaign Against Russia
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, back view (Photo by AP).
A report (download the report in PDF format) from a British group called the DAIWA Institute (a research organization affiliated with the European branch of a Japanese investment firm) is interesting in several respects. Nonetheless, the blame-pointing is not necessarily sound and the picture of both American and Russian policy options is, at best, mixed. I think the idea of a "Medvedev Doctrine" also seems peculiar. When did the United States ever say that it supports a "uni-polar" world? That would be ridiculous. But that apparently is what the report says Medvedev wants the world to think America is proposing.
As for Russia's reserving to itself the right to protect Russian citizens anywhere, it is a striking concept, but it needs to be carefully defined. The U.S. has often intervened in the past to protect U.S. citizens around the world, sometimes deploying military forces to do so (the invasions of Grenada, to name one examples in the last thirty years). But then again, the U.S. does not do this often, for various reasons. So claiming the "right" to do so is strange. It would seem that every nation has the right to protect its citizens, but that right has to be clearly hedged by circumstances. So I can't say I am impressed with this alleged new Doctrine.
The warning about nuclear conflict is correct, if even in the abstract. There really should be fewer public pronouncements now and more serious diplomacy behind closed doors where leaders from both sides can be both frank and mutually respectful.
When Russian troops moved into Georgia, foreign investors moved out and the Russian market plummeted. When U.S. troops moved into Iraq, foreign investors hesitated but the U.S. market barely blipped. Is this a double standard?
Not really. The difference lies in the way investor perceptions are challenged or fulfilled by the political decisions of a country's leadership. Investors create models about their investments -- how much they are promised at the point of sale and how much they are likely to get back in a variety of circumstances. These models can be simple, ranging from a conceptual understanding about a company and the environment it operates in, to a complex econometric simulation with all the macro indicators included. Investor models implicitly include uncertain factors, such as interest or exchange rate movements. Geopolitical decisions must also be included because investors need to know in advance the possible trajectories of government action.
The Kremlin may or may not have been justified in its initial attack (or counter attack) in South Ossetia. But its decision to keep pressing ahead and not to leave even the Georgian territory (the so-call buffer zone) is costing the Russian economy a lot. This article may be an "opinion" piece, but the figures are daunting.
Maybe "it doesn't matter." But is there a point where it does matter? Is it really smart to put the screws to Poland and Germany on gas supplies?
Please visit the extended post to read the original article.
Wars often start for seemingly absurd reasons connected to tendentious issues of honor, perceived military commitments and, most of all, erroneous expectations that escalation can be limited and managed. No one anticipates a war now between Russia and NATO. That is what is worrying. Only when a nuclear exchange is imaginable does controlling one become truly feasible. Even if the chances of a larger war are small, the stakes are stupendous and ought to give leaders and opinion leaders a pause.
Please pause. The hot rhetoric could start an unnecessary fire.
Remember that World War I, the granddaddy of 20th century folly, was triggered by the act of an anarchist in the Balkans. When forces already are poised for confrontation, as they were then, it doesn't take much to launch hostile actions, and often the fuse is lit by a minor figure.
In retrospect, it is clear that Russian-Western tension before the Ossetia debacle was much greater than almost anyone realized. This dispute is not just about ethnic rivalries and boundary lines in the Caucasus, but rather the whole post-Soviet relationship and "New World Order." It is bigger even than Russia's fear of "encirclement" or the fears of its near neighbors that Russia wants to swallow them up. Both sets of fears are genuinely held, but it is likely--as good diplomacy could show--that neither set is justified.
Is the West Ready to Fight Russia to Preserve Stalin's Legacy?
Many Americans blame George W. Bush for the disastrous state of U.S. foreign policy in the region, but to be fair, the blame should go to the older Bush and Clinton as well...
It looks like the Western leaders, and especially two U.S. Presidential hopefuls, Barack Obama and John McCain, are trying to outdo one other in condemning Russia's recognition of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile, an impressive armada of U.S. and NATO military ships is docking in the Georgian port of Batumi or is on the way to the Black sea while Russia also sent three missile boats to show the flag. At the same time, British foreign secretary David Milliband has arrived to Ukraine to promote the idea of building some kind of anti-Russian coalition, and other EU leaders are making very tough statements too.
There is a great danger that if this verbal war continues at some point the inflammatory rhetoric will get out of control. To save face the West might be forced to follow words with deeds and we would arrive not just at the new edition of the Cold War but to something much hotter, perhaps close to 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, or even worse.
The war in South Ossetia and Georgia, though appalling, resulted in fewer deaths and damage than originally reported. It is still not "over" and probably won't be for some time. Meanwhile, it definitely did serious damage to Russia's relationship with the West. In some ways, relations are worse than at any time since well before the collapse of the USSR--in other words, in roughly a quarter century.
We are going to say a lot more on this, and we are not inclined to be particularly laudatory to any of the players. The war has not made any country look good.
Meanwhile, before the war we wrote a report on Ten Reasons Americans Should Care About Russia. It follows, and, as you will see, it remains valid. Perhaps as tempers cool, people of good will can consider what is at stake; what there is to gain, and what there is to lose.
The Battle of the Dueling Presidents: Take Your Pick or "None of the Above"
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev
Russians and Georgians fight it out--in print. The Financial Times has scored by publishing articles by both Dimitri Medvedev and Mikheil Saakashvili. (P.R. firms representing both sides must be working overtime.) Obviously, both presidents are biased, but their points of view could have not been presented more clearly. Medvedev's "Why I had to Recognise Georgia's Breakaway Regions" and Saakashvili's "Moscow's Plan Is to Redraw the Map of Europe" in the order of their appearance in the FT:
Why I had to Recognise Georgia's Breakaway Regions By Dmitry Medvedev
August 26, 2008
On Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the situation -- the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic events of the past weeks and interÂnational precedents for such a move.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn Street The Legacy Begins to Clarify
It may take 50, 100, or even more years before historians acquire a proper understanding of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's legacy. For his contemporaries, however, he is first of all the literary giant who almost single-handedly delivered the most powerful weapon in the East -- West ideological confrontation with his works. This weapon helped the West to defeat the "Evil Empire" with the collateral result of crushing the Communist International and "reeducating" the European Left, which to some extent was sympathetic to the Soviet experiment.
History knows other cases when words were more powerful than guns. Without going into dangerous religious waters one could point to Karl Marx, who published a powerful indictment of a capitalist system which eventually led to the enslavement of nearly half of mankind. And it took Solzhenitsyn to undo the work of Marx. For this, the world and especially Russia should be forever grateful to this man. However, when it comes to modern times, Solzhenitsyn's ideas of rebuilding his native land did not find too many followers, at least so far.
To be published in the International Herald Tribune.
Like the heroes in Leo Tolstoy's short story, Russia and America have become "Prisoners in the Caucasus," their options constrained by the irreconcilable positions of protagonists whose hostilities dates back centuries.
But while Russians have more than two centuries of historical, political, cultural and military experience to guide them in this crisis, the Bush administration is a novice to the region.
It shows. The administration's main argument for supporting Georgian sovereignty seems to be that Georgia has a rare combination of two virtues: 1) a staunchly pro-American strongman, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose lapses into martial law and seizure of opposition television stations are quickly forgiven; and 2) the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which connects the Caspian oilfields to the Black Sea.
To Reduce Russia Stand-off, Reduce Western Oil Dependence
By Mike Wussow and Bruce Chapman
A Russian gas rig in Siberia. Russia currently produces over 9 million barrels of oil per day and has the world's largest proven reserves of natural gas, giving Moscow significant geopolitical clout
(Note: Some of the issues described in this post - particularly U.S. oil dependency and energy security - will be the focus of a major conference hosted jointly by Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center and Microsoft on September 4-5, 2008. Participants will include Anne Korin and James Woolsey, both of whom are also referenced in this post. Details are available here.)
The Russia-Georgia conflict brings uncomfortably to the surface the question of energy security. Like much of the rest of the world, America is addicted to oil, most of it now imported. We rely on petroleum to fuel just shy of 100 percent of our transportation. America imports from its neighbors, Canada and Mexico mainly, but almost as much from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Russia supplies 762,000 barrels each day to the U.S. according to numbers released by the U.S. government in June.
"Russians in Georgia: Behind the harrowing individual tales of destruction and want, analysts see a clash between the US and Russia reminiscent of old Cold War divisions," reports BBC News.
The Washington Post has perhaps the best report so far on how the war in South Ossetia and Georgia got started. It is astonishing how this episode ignited a torrent of abuse and prejudice, second guessing and histrionics on both sides.
"George Bush's Administration is promoting interests of candidate John McCain," said Dr. Markov. "Defeated by Barack Obama on all fronts, McCain has one last card to play yet - the creation of a virtual Cold War with Russia..."
Wild rumors somehow still make the news. The silly efforts in Moscow to link the outbreak of war in Ossetia/Georgia to the U.S. Presidential race effectively treats this whole tragedy as farce. Does this mean it also is not being taken seriously?
From The Times (London)
By Charles Bremner in Moscow
August 15, 2008 Link to the original article Kremlin dusts off Cold War lexicon to make US villain in Georgia
Russians were told over breakfast yesterday what really happened in Georgia: the conflict in South Ossetia was part of a plot by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, to stop Barack Obama being elected president of the United States.
Georgian troops fleeing under attack from Russian forces.
The scene on the ground would have been very different today if Georgia had been able to move past Tskhinvali after they shelled the city last week. Of course, it is not known if moving forward was the plan.
The route by which Russian troops, weapons and humanitarian supplies came south while thousands of refugees went north is a single narrow road from the Roki Tunnel built in 1985. Readers are invited to "drive" this road on Google Earth. If one does so, one comes to a large bridge where the road turns south in a defile at 42Â°21'29.61"N 43Â°54'2.58"E. This location is about 25 kilometres from the South Ossetian border.
The London Times: Vladimir Putin's Mastery Checkmates the West
Russia Blog's editors found this article informative and interesting.
Vladimir Putin's Mastery Checkmates the West
Russia has been biding its time, but its victory in Georgia has been brutal - and brilliant The Times
By Michael Binyon
August 14, 2008 Link to the original article
The cartoon images have shown Russia as an angry bear, stretching out a claw to maul Georgia. Russia is certainly angry, and, like a beast provoked, has bared its teeth. But it is the wrong stereotype. What the world has seen last week is a brilliant and brutal display of Russia's national game, chess. And Moscow has just declared checkmate.
President Sakozy (left) and President Medvedev (right). "President Nicolas Sarkozy has shown a flair for the high-profile diplomatic intervention," reports BBC. (Photo by AFP). Russia and Georgia declared today, August 13, 2008, a Day of Mourning for the victims of the conflict.
France, which currently holds the Presidency of the EU, in the persons of President Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner, has induced President Saakashvili to sign the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement.
According to both President Medvedev's office and a French news agency the terms are as follows:
1. Tbilisi must make a commitment not to use force to settle its secessionist problems.
2. Georgian armed forces must cease fire.
3. Georgian armed forces must return to their barracks.
Russian soldiers sit atop military vehicles in South Ossetia
TSKHINVALI, Georgia -- The Kremlin said Tuesday that it was suspending military action in the separatist enclave of South Ossetia inside Georgia, but huge Russian military convoys still snaked toward the scarred capital, Tskhinvali.
After five days of fighting -- Russia's biggest use of force outside its borders since the 1991 Soviet collapse -- a victorious Russian army offered a small group of foreign journalists a carefully controlled glimpse of the territory it went to war over.
Georgian soldiers helping an injured comrade. Georgian troops are wearing U.S. Marine camouflage uniforms; the only difference - the Georgian flag badges.
Ethnic separatism once again has further destabilized world geopolitics, with the outbreak of military conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia & Abkhazia; Russia also attacked Georgian targets in Abkhazia--and as of midday Monday has invaded Georgia and occupied Gori (Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's birthplace), just 55 miles from the Georgian capital of Tblisi.
While President Bush, out to lunch in China, watches swimming, basketball & baseball in Beijing, here is what one Georgian farmer told a British reporter: "Why won't America and NATO help us? If they won't help us now, why did we help them in Iraq?"
Four lessons come immediately to mind:
(1) the risk minor powers pose to major-power relations;
(2) the risk of excessive compartmentalization in policy;
(3) the risk from grossly misplaced strategic focus;
(4) the risk of making a fetish of democracy promotion--especially in the form of volatile multi-ethnic states.
Ossetian survivors of Georgian army attacks on Tshinvali are hiding in the basements of destroyed buildings without food and water
This article will ask and attempt to answer three questions:
1. War in Georgia: Russian aggression against an independent country or an indiscriminate Georgian assault against Ossetians overlooked by the U.S. media?
2. What would the United States have done if a bordering country (let's say Mexico) slaughtered 1,400 U.S. citizens and 10 U.S. soldiers overnight, leaving U.S. citizens by the tens of thousands without food and water?
3. If ethnic cleansing on Russian borders is none of Russia's business, and should not result in a Russian military response against the aggressor, how can one explain NATO's bombing and occupation of Serbia in 1999, a country that did not share a common border with the U.S. or other NATO members?
War in Georgia: Misreading Ossetia -- Chronology Matters
Georgian army rocket batteries firing on Ossetian cities and villages Friday, August 8. As the result of this bombardment, 1,400 civilians, including women and children, and 10 Russian peacekeepers died the first night of the Georgian attack. Hours later, Russian troops responded to protect Russian citizens and soldiers in the region.
"In addition to promoting the anti-science hoax of 'intelligent design,' the Discovery Institute runs a pro-Russian site called 'Russia Blog,' and today they come out in favour of Russia's brutal assault on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia".
As a contributor to this blog, I want to answer Mr. Johnson's guilt-by-association allegation. I personally have no use for "intelligent design" or other claims against evolution, but one would search Russia Blog's website in vain for any mention of this topic. And Mr. Johnson's characterization of "Russia's brutal assault on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia" gets it exactly backwards. Chronology is the key: it tells you here, as it so often does (in evolution as well) what is actually happening.
Russian peacekeepers at an anti-aircraft gun in the disputed region of South Ossetia
Yesterday, after Russia sent reinforcements to back up its peacekeepers under seige by the Georgian army in the tiny disputed territory of South Ossetia, Arizona Senator and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain denounced the move as "Russian aggression" against Georgia. Nevermind that it was the Georgian army which launched the offensive that ignited the present round of fighting, and thousands of refugees have been streaming out of South Ossetia into Russia in the last few days.
The reported death toll of over 1,400 is the worst the region has seen since 1992. In that year, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both regions with strong ethnic ties to compatriots in Russia, were ceded to Georgia within their Soviet-drawn borders. After the U.S. and NATO countries recognized the independence of Kosovo in early 2008, the South Ossetians and Abkhazians decided that they could declare their independence from Georgia, which has sparked the recent violence.
UPDATE - August 10, 2008 Welcome, Instapundit and Little Green Footballs readers! Please click here to read Russia Blog contributor Patrick Armstrong's excellent post responding to LGF blogger Charles Johnson. Click on the extended post to read the author's response to some of the questions and comments written elsewhere about this post.
Senator Barack Obama loves hope and change. And it's easy to understand why--hope is a powerful motivator and change can often bring important improvements to America or to the wider world.
But turning hope into change isn't easy. Among other things, it requires considerable realism in assessing current realities, understanding what is simpler or more difficult to change, who needs to be involved to create change that sticks, and how change in one area might affect others. This is where Senator Obama comes up far short of what the United States needs in a President.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 4 - From Reformist Czars to Gorbachev
Czar Nicholas II and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918
Editor's note: In the fourth part of his masters thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg University graduate Kevin Cyron examines the history of political and economic reforms in Russia from the 19th century Czars to Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
President Dmitry Medvedev's plan to redesign Europe's security system with Russia as its integral part, followed by the Russian foreign ministry's tough statements aimed at America and intended for McCain and Obama's consumption, show that the new Kremlin administration is serious about becoming a global player on the international geopolitical arena.
Interestingly, practically at the same time Pentagon came out with its new military doctrine which mentions Russia as a potential security threat. Here is a direct quote from the June 2008 National Defense Strategy report: "Russia's retreat from openness and democracy could have significant security implications for the United States, our European allies, and our partners in other regions.... Furthermore, Moscow has signaled an increasing reliance on nuclear weapons as a foundation of its security. All of these actions suggest a Russia exploring renewed influence, and seeking a greater international role."
If you were running the largest newspaper in the capital city of the world's sole superpower, which foreign-policy issues would you select as your top priorities? The war in Iraq? Terrorism? Nuclear terrorism, something that could change the American way of life forever? Energy policy, which is already severely affecting many Americans' lives? If you don't like these, what about China, India, Iran, North Korea, the Middle East peace process or climate change?
The Washington Post's answer to this question may surprise you: it's Georgia (the one ruled from Tbilisi, not Atlanta). In barely more than five months since the beginning of January, Lexis-Nexis shows that the Post's editorial pages have carried at least nineteen separate contributions focused on Georgia and its relations with Russia--almost one per week--if one combines editorials (seven) and opinion pieces (twelve). The vast majority of these (but not all) have the same thesis: that Georgia, under grave threat from Russia, must be rescued by the United States, usually through accelerated membership in NATO and American pressure on weak-kneed Europeans.
Just over thirty years ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (ÐÐ»ÐµÐºÑÐ°ÌÐ½Ð´Ñ€ Ð˜ÑÐ°ÌÐµÐ²Ð¸Ñ‡ Ð¡Ð¾Ð»Ð¶ÐµÐ½Ð¸ÌÑ†Ñ‹Ð½), who passed away at his home outside of Moscow last weekend at the age of 89, was greeted warmly by a group of students at the commencement for Harvard University's class of 1978. The Harvard graduates likely expected to hear some typical words of inspiration before going out into the world, or an analysis of Solzhenitsyn's novels, or the progression of the Cold War. What they received instead was a sermon, a jeremiad hurled against the very society they were about to join as adults, as well as against the dying Soviet system that had exiled Solzhenitsyn to the West. On the audio recording of the speech, many graduates can be heard applauding loudly, while others murmur, probably wondering when this old man they regarded as a crazy, reactionary Russian would finally shut up.
To read excerpts from one of Solzhenitsyn's final interviews, click here.
Click on the extended post to find more thoughts on Solzhenitsyn, and to read a transcript of his most famous speech.
Solzhenitsyn in Vermont near his U.S. home in exile
Yesterday The New York Times and National Review offered contrasting profiles of the great Russian dissident and writer, who passed away at his home outside Moscow on Sunday. Russian Orthodox funeral services will be held tomorrow at the Dimitri Donskoy Monastery in Moscow, where Solzhenitsyn requested to be buried. The Donskoi necropolis houses the tombs of many prominent families and liberal scholars from 19th century Russia, the graves of Red Army soldiers who died defending Moscow from the invading Nazis, and anonymous victims of the NKVD buried by the Church. Solzhenitsyn, who fought his way into East Prussia in 1944-45 as a Red Army artillery officer, wanted to be buried close to his comrades.
NEW YORK - If you like bilingualism, you will love septalingualism.
Big Apple Mayor Michael Bloomberg's latest brainstorm outstrips his notorious war on trans-fats, both for its audacity and sheer senselessness. America's largest municipality soon will conduct official business in English and Spanish - which would be bad enough - plus five other foreign languages: Russian, Chinese, Korean, French Creole and Italian.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 3 - The Roots of Russian Democracy
Tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) depicted after murdering his own son in a famous painting by 19th century Russian artist Ilya Repin
Editor's note: In this third part of his thesis, St. Petersburg University master's program graduate Kevin Cyron examines the history of U.S.-Russia relations and of Russian representative government from medieval times to the 18th century.
Jack Matlock, Reagan's Ambassador to the USSR On U.S.-Russia Relations
Jack Matlock served as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991
Ambassador Jack Matlock served as the point man for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in Moscow from 1987 to 1991, a period which saw the end of the Cold War. The Carnegie Council in Washington D.C. recently sat down with Ambassador Matlock to talk with him about the current state of U.S.-Russia relations. Ambassador Matlock's thoughts may surprise those who would claim that carrying forward the legacy of President Reagan means continued confrontation with the Russians in their back yard. Instead, Matlock points to the need for additional cooperation to tackle the consequences of global problems, including nuclear proliferation and climate change.
Click on the extended post to watch Ambassador Matlock's and other videos related to U.S.-Russia relations.
Thomas P.M. Barnett is the New York Times bestselling author of The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the 21st Century and Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating. Barnett's forthcoming book, Great Powers: America and the World After Bush will be released on February 5, 2009. In addition to writing books, Barnett works as a speaker and consultant, presenting his ideas to audiences around the globe ranging from top U.S. military commanders to Chinese businessmen. Barnett's consultancy, Enterra Solutions, among many other projects, has worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to open an IT support center in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Barnett recently gave an interview to the editors of the KatPol blog, a website focused on global foreign policy issues published in Hungary. It seems that if anyone should be concerned about Russia using energy as a political weapon, it would be the Hungarians. Like many of its Central European neighbors, Hungary experienced 45 years of less-than-voluntary membership in the Soviet bloc and to this day (in spite of some promising natural gas finds in the country) depends on Russia for over 90% of its oil and gas.
Click on the extended post to read the Russia-related excerpts from this interview.
Dimitry Rogozin is a retired three-star general and nationalist politician
The last time Dimitry Rogozin appeared on Russia Blog over two years ago, he was starring in a television ad for his nationalist Rodina (Motherland) Party, in which he depicted Azerbaijani immigrants in Moscow as scruffy watermelon-eating hooligans. In this notorious video, Rogozin and an elderly man confront a group of migrants over their insulting a young Russian mother pushing a pram. As action movie music blares in the background, Rogozin and the elderly man place firm hands on the ruffians and demand , "Do you understand Russian?" A slogan then flashes across the screen which translates as, "We will sweep the garbage from our city". The ad was so blatantly racist that it actually got Rogozin banned from running for a seat in the Moscow City Duma in 2006.
After throwing Rodina's support behind Putin and United Russia, Rogozin has been given a new platform to air his strong nationalist views, this time as Russia's Ambassador to NATO. However, it would be difficult to characterize the remarks he made at a recent speech delivered at the Nixon Center in Washington D.C as extreme, pugnacious, or chauvinistic.
Click the extended post to read highlights from Ambassador Rogozin's speech in Washington D.C. on July 1, 2008.
NYT: Russians Hold $75 Billion of U.S. Agency Securities The Consequences of Growing U.S-Russia Financial Ties That Bind
Russia's Central Bank does not hold Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt - but what about the rest of its U.S.-mortgage backed debt holdings?
Over a year ago I wrote about Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt's trip to Moscow ("Is the U.S. Seeking Capital from Russia's Stabilization Fund?"). In June 2008 RosBusinessConsulting reported that Mr. Kimmitt was in Moscow to ask the Kremlin and Russia's Central Bank to invest more petrodollars in the U.S. Mr. Kimmitt gave RBC an interview, but provided few details about his discussion with Russian Central Bank officials, so the report was largely ignored by the Western media.
At that time, American media outlets were more focused on the prospect of Arab and Chinese sovereign wealth funds acquiring equity stakes in U.S. companies, and the potential political backlash to such moves. Russian companies such as Evraz and Severstal have proven to be saavy about their American acquisitions, (so far) flying under the radar screen of an increasingly unpopular and protectionist U.S. Congress, which clearly has much bigger fish to fry now than worrying about what the Russians are buying.
The Captive Nations Resolution: 50 Years On Remembering Russian Victims of Communism
Some Notes on the Discussion of the Captive Nations Resolution at the
Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russian Federation, July 15, 2008
In the not-too-distant past, it would have taken only a few sentences from a speech made last week by Philosophy Professor Andrei Zubov, who teaches at the Moscow Institute of International Relations (today the most prestigious school for Russia's future top level diplomats) for him to end up in a Gulag for at least five years or more. Especially considering that in his opening remarks, he was talking about horrific Soviet crimes against humanity while looking directly at Philip Bobkov, former head of the KGB's feared Fifth Directorate, which was tasked with fighting ideological subversion by dissidents and other "enemies of the state".
However, this time no one was arrested. Despite a few shouting matches between the roundtable participants at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, all of the proceedings ended peacefully with drinks and endless toasts afterward, as well as mingling between leading Russian and East European scholars, former political prisoners, the editors and authors of Kontinent (an anti-Soviet underground magazine that was funded by the CIA) and former Communist apparatchiks who were top ideologists for the regime in Soviet times.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 2 - The Problems of Media Bias and Cold War Stereotypes
Then Russian President (and current Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin
saluting young soldiers
Editor's note: In part two of his thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg State University graduate Kevin Cyron asks whether or not Russia is an authoritarian state, and answers in the negative. Mr. Cyron then explores the role of the Western media and lingering Cold War stereotypes in shaping global perceptions of modern Russia.
Click here to read Part 1 in Kevin Cyron's series on Russia and the West.
Click on the extended post to read Part 2 in the series.
In February, Mr. Abramovich bought a five bedroom, 5,600-square-foot house in Snowmass Village, Colorado for $11.8 million. Two months later he spent $36.4 million on another property only a few miles away: a 14,300-square-foot, 11 bedroom ranch on 200 acres.
Russian oligarchs, pop stars, and rich people have bought properties all over Europe, pushing real estate prices in Prague and London to new heights. After a visit to Southern France in 2005, a friend of mine commented that, "Russian was the major language of the French Riviera." With wealthy Muscovites finding it easier to obtain visas these days, perhaps now the time has come for America to become a popular destination for Russian elites. Wealthy Russians have figured out that the U.S. has spectacular mountain and ocean views, fresh air, wide open spaces, which can be enjoyed for home prices far below those of comparable properties in the playgrounds of Europe or the Russian Riviera.
"Sergey Skaterschikov, a Moscow-based private-equity investor, is shopping for a house in Palo Alto, California, because his son will attend school in the area. With a budget of $3.5 million to $5 million, the five- and six-bedroom houses the 36-year-old Mr. Skaterschikov has looked at struck him as cheap compared with Moscow real estate, which he called "insane..." reports The Wall Street Journal.
Please visit the extended post to read the newspaper's report and see the photos.
This year, young people are coming out in record numbers to support their political candidates, not just in the United States but in Russia as well.
Although the phenomenon has been relatively ignored by the western media, young people in Russia have become markedly more politically active during Vladimir Putin's second term in office, a striking change for a country where young people (ages 18-35) have traditionally been among the most politically apathetic segment of the population. In the 2000 elections, for example, Putin's support among pensioners was significantly higher than it was among young people. Recently, however, young Russians have begun to display new patterns of both political and economic behavior that have led pollsters to refer to them as the "Putin Generation." The importance of this generation is epitomized by the rise of Dmitry Medvedev who, at 42, will not only be Russia's youngest president, but also the youngest leader in the G8. Its values will pose a fundamentally new and different challenge to the West-- how to deal with an increasingly prosperous and self-confident Russia.
The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism: Part 1 - Defining Democracy in Russia
Can Russia be classified as a democracy - even an immature one? Yes, says Kevin Cyron, an American graduate student in Russia
Editor's note: Kevin Cyron, an American living in the Russian Federation who recently graduated with a Masters degree in Sociology from St. Petersburg State University, has agreed to Russia Blog publishing his thesis titled, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism".
Due to its length and detailed analysis, this extended essay will appear as a series of posts in the Articles and Essays section of Russia Blog.
Click on the extended post to begin reading this very timely and topical essay.
Presidents Bush and Putin meeting at the Russian resort of Sochi earlier this year Last month Mr. Kissinger joined former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in addressing Renaissance Capital's 12th Annual Investor Conference in Moscow
President Bush's meeting with Dmitry Medvedev in Hokkaido yesterday provides an opportunity to review American relations with the new Russian leadership. Conventional wisdom treated Medvedev's inauguration as president of the Russian Federation as a continuation of President Vladimir Putin's two terms of Kremlin dominance and assertive foreign policy. But after recently visiting Moscow, where I met with leading political personalities as well as those in business and intellectual circles, I am convinced that this judgment is premature.
For one thing, the emerging power structure seems more complex than conventional wisdom holds. It was always doubtful why, if his primary objective was to retain power, Putin would choose the complicated and uncertain route of becoming prime minister; his popularity would have allowed him to amend the constitution and extend his presidency.
My impression is that a new phase of Russian politics is underway. The move of Putin's office from the Kremlin to the building housing the government could be symbolic. Medvedev has said that he means to chair the National Security Council and, as Russia's constitution provides, be the public face of foreign policy. The statement that the president designs foreign and security policy, and the prime minister implements it, has become the mantra of Russian officials. I encountered no Russian in or out of government who doubted that some kind of redistribution of power was taking place, although they were uncertain of its outcome.
President Bush (right) at the White House with Arizona Senator John McCain
According to the latest national polls, Barack Obama is topping the charts six to eight points ahead of his Republican rival John McCain. It is still a long way to the November election and things may easily change, but as matters stand now voters clearly favor the Democratic hopeful. The reasons are many, but several recent rows provoked by McCain's top aides certainly played some role.
For a start America's largest aviation company Boeing lost a hefty contract worth $35 billion to its European rival Airbus for supplying the U.S. Air Force with 179 aerial tankers. It turns out that the team of Airbus lobbyists included several of McCain's key advisors, like Tom Loeffler and Susan Nelson of The Loeffler Group, as well as John Green of Ogilvy Government Relations. Loeffler, a former congressman from Texas, headed the finance committee in the McCain election staff while Green acted as a Congressional liaison. Incidentally, Loeffler has been making some additional money on the side, lobbying for Saudi Arabia, too. Some observers believe that behind-the-scenes activities of McCain himself, who wrote several letters to the Pentagon, helped Airbus win the contract.
Ex-U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff: "Zero Chance" of War Between U.S. and Russia
Russian army soldiers in winter gear
Courtesy of Thomas P.M. Barnett's weblog and Wired magazine, comes an interesting story about high level U.S. defense strategy. According to Gen. Michael Moseley, who was recently dismissed from his position as U.S. Secretary of the Air Force, "there is almost zero chance we will fight a nation state" in the 21st century. Wiredimplied that Moseley was referring to Russia and China in his remarks. Actually, Moseley didn't mention Russia or any other country by name in the interview with the Air Force Times that Wired cites. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired Moseley after a series of embarrassing incidents for the service, including the shipment of advanced weapons parts to Taiwan and the inadvertent placement of a nuclear weapon on a B-52 bomber during a routine transcontinental training mission.
While senior American flag officers acknowledge the increasing unlikelihood of great power war in the 21st century, a handful of U.S. think tank pundits continue to argue seriously that Russia is rearming for a possible confrontation with the West. For example, bestselling author and Wall Street Journal contributor Mark Helprin recently wrote in the Claremont Review of Books:
...as Western Europe dismantles its militaries, Russia builds, encouraged as much by European pacifism as by the Russian view of America's struggle in Iraq as a parallel to the Soviets' fatal involvement in Afghanistan. Like Germany between the wars, Russia is now eager and determined to reconstitute its forces, and with its new-found oil wealth, it is doing so.
Dealing with a Resurgent Russia A Review of Edward Lucas' The New Cold War
The Russians are coming West with money. Should we be scared?
There are some books that surprise you with their depth or give you a new insight on past, present or future world events. The new book by The Economist's Eastern Europe reporter Edward Lucas, The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West does not fall this category. Rather, the book is largely a rehash of an argument anyone who has been paying attention to the Western media coverage of Russia over the past eight years will find familiar: after a brief flirtation with democracy under Yeltsin, the Russian people, led by their new Czar Vladimir Putin, are turning their backs on freedom in return for virulent nationalism and oil-fueled economic growth.
On June 22, 1941 Nazi Germany launched the largest invasion in history
Today is the 67th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. While Russians this year celebrated Victory Day and unprecedented peace and prosperity in Russia, the country remains deeply scarred by World War II. Some Western demographers believe that Russia's difficulty in maintaining its population is partially the result of the loss of nearly 20 million people in the Great Patriotic War. And a few older Russian military analysts fret that Russia may not have the manpower to maintain its borders in the 21st century.
The proposed installation of U.S. missile defense systems in Poland and Lithuania, combined with the possibility of NATO membership for Georgia, is rubbing salt in old Russian wounds. These "expand NATO eastward on autopilot" policies stand in stark contrast to the deliberate peacemaking President Reagan accomplished in the late 1980s, when he acknowledged the tremendous insecurities the Soviets felt as a result of their trauma from World War II. By offering to share missile defense technology, Reagan helped to convince Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders that the USSR could feel safe enough to end the Cold War. By promising no NATO military installations east of the Oder (a promise his successors did not keep), the George H.W. Bush Administration gave Boris Yeltsin even more confidence to break up the Soviet Empire. Interestingly enough, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in his recent public speeches has revived the use of Gorbachev's phrase "from Vancouver to Vladivostok" to describe East-West relations after the Cold War.
Today the main threats to Russia come from within, rather than from without. Instead of Stalin's purges leaving the Red Army leaderless, the main problem today is cynical officers and NCOs all-too-often turning a blind eye to abuse and exploitation of the hapless conscripts under their command. Russia can and must do better. Russia should create an all-volunteer corps backed by reservists that can secure its borders against the main threats of the 21st century - terrorism, trafficking in people, narcotics and weapons, and natural disasters.
Click on the extended post to watch the PBS miniseries "Battlefield: The Battle for Russia" and for links to other Russia Blog posts about Russia's role in World War II.
Organized Crime in Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union and Former Soviet Union
Joseph Serio's recently released book "Investigating the Russian Mafia" (Carolina Academic Press, Durham, North Carolina, 2008) is a detailed accounting of his study and personal experience on "Russian Mafia" related issues. He notes that the term "Russian Mafia" comprises elements of several ethnic groups in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union.
Serio's work in Russia includes a research position in the then Organized Crime Control Department of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs. Afterwards, he worked for the international security consulting firm Kroll Associates, as director of its Moscow office, overseeing investigations across the former Soviet Union. Serio also served as an adviser to The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, BBC, Chicago Tribune and a few other news organizations. That work included television documentaries dealing with organized crime in Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union and former Soviet Union. Serio is currently a criminal justice doctoral student at Sam Houston State University's College of Criminal Justice.
When the Western Allies successfully landed in Normandy 64 years ago, they overcame tossing seas, heavily fortified defenses, and murderous fire from determined defenders on the beaches. What they did not have to face on June 6, 1944 were the Luftwaffe or over 80% of the German armies. Today Time magazine's Jordan Bonfante reminds his Western readers of the main reasons why:
By measure of manpower, duration, territorial reach and casualties, [the Eastern Front] was as much as four times the scale of the conflict on the Western Front that opened with the Normandy invasion of June 1944. The Nazis' initial invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, involved 3.2 million German troops and 3,000 aircraft, and even after the U.S.-led invasion of Western Europe, the vast majority of German military resources remained deployed against the Soviets. By war's end, according to historian Norman Davies, the U.S.S.R. had lost 11 million troops.
Crew members of the U.S. Navy's guided missile destroyer (not the presidential candidate!), USS John S. McCain, carry U.S. and Russian flags as they march during World War II victory celebrations in the far-eastern city of Vladivostok May 9, 2007. (Photo by Reuters)
Most Russians are indifferent to the U.S. presidential elections and don't expect better relations with America. One poll found that only 9 per cent of respondents think new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev should focus on improving the bilateral ties. Medvedev himself expressed desire to work with a "modern" U.S. leader rather than one ``whose eyes are turned back to the past.''
In the meantime, some Russian elites have voiced their support for Senator John McCain. This may seem surprising considering that McCain's Russia record includes warnings of "a creeping coup against the forces of democracy and market capitalism", accusations of Kremlin involvement in nuclear blackmail, energy imperialism, cyber attacks, as well as multiple calls to expel Russia from the G-8. Although the Arizona Senator has recently expressed willingness to cooperate with Moscow on nuclear issues, there is hardly any doubt that he remains one of the toughest (and most prejudiced) critics of Russia in the U.S. establishment.
A May 1, 2008 Washington Times article quoted CIA Director Michael Hayden saying that Russia's declining population will require them to bring in foreign workers which will increase racial and religious tensions. The CIA analysts failed to see a more interesting and dangerous (for the USA) scenario.
What if Russia decides to keep out third world immigrants and instead welcome Europeans from anywhere in the world. Right now few people would go, but if Russia improves its judicial system and infrastructure and if Europe and the US continue their demographic changes, Russia will look more appealing. Even now poor whites living in a big American city would be better off (socially if not economically) living in Russia.
PARIS, May 27 (UPI) -- An alarming new word has been born. It is "hypermortality," which might be defined as an extraordinary tendency toward death. It jumps from the first page of the U.N. Development Program report entitled "Demographic Policy in Russia."
"The Russian phenomenon of hypermortality comes to be observed primarily in working-age populations," it says. "Compared to the majority of countries that have similar levels of economic development, mortality in Russia is 3-5 times higher for men and twice as high for women." What this means, the report says, is that the size of the working-age population "will fall by up to 1 million people annually already by 2020-25."
Arizona Senator John McCain is the Republican candidate for President
Note to Russia Blog readers: This article was originally published earlier today in the Moscow Times. Dr. Edward Lozansky is the organizer of the World Russian Forum, which is now underway May 19-20, 2008 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. -The Editors
The three presumed U.S. presidential candidates rarely mention Russia. When they do, their remarks are critical -- possibly because they are hoping to attract a few more votes from the numerous and well-organized ethnic communities from Ukraine, the Baltics and East Europe.
Still, Senator John McCain stands alone. McCain, the Republican hopeful with a good shot of winning the election, has practically included Russia in a new axis of evil, along with North Korea, China and Iran. McCain's advisers are openly lambasting President George W. Bush for being too chummy with President Vladimir Putin and promise that Moscow will be treated a lot more harshly in a McCain presidency.
This article appeared in the May 19, 2008 edition of The Nation, and is republished with The Nation's kind permission.
None of the remaining presidential candidates have seriously addressed, or even seem fully aware of, what should be our greatest foreign policy concern--Russia's singular capacity to endanger or enhance our national security. Overshadowed by the US disaster in Iraq, Moscow's importance will continue long after that war ends.
Despite its diminished status following the Soviet breakup in 1991, Russia alone possesses weapons that can destroy the United States, a military-industrial complex nearly America's equal in exporting arms, vast quantities of questionably secured nuclear materials sought by terrorists and the planet's largest oil and natural gas reserves. It also remains the world's largest territorial country, pivotally situated in the West and the East, at the crossroads of colliding civilizations, with strategic capabilities from Europe, Iran and other Middle East nations to North Korea, China, India, Afghanistan and even Latin America. All things considered, our national security may depend more on Russia than Russia's does on us.
This week Newsweek world affairs columnist Fareed Zakaria has provided the cover story for that magazine's issue: "The Post American World", with excerpts from his new book of the same title. Here are a few quotes from Zakaria's article "The Rise of the Rest" pertinent to U.S.-Russia relations in an era of unprecedented globalization and prosperity.
On the Need to Give the BRIC Countries a Stake in Solving Global Problems
"American parochialism is particularly evident in foreign policy. Economically, as other countries grow, for the most part the pie expands and everyone wins. But geopolitics is a struggle for influence: as other nations become more active internationally, they will seek greater freedom of action. This necessarily means that America's unimpeded influence will decline. But if the world that's being created has more power centers, nearly all are invested in order, stability and progress. Rather than narrowly obsessing about our own short-term interests and interest groups, our chief priority should be to bring these rising forces into the global system, to integrate them so that they in turn broaden and deepen global economic, political, and cultural ties.
"If China, India, Russia, Brazil all feel that they have a stake in the existing global order, there will be less danger of war, depression, panics, and breakdowns. There will be lots of problems, crisis, and tensions, but they will occur against a backdrop of systemic stability. This benefits them but also us. It's the ultimate win-win..."
Interview with Edward Lozansky, President of the World Russian Forum
(and Senior Fellow of the Real Russia Project).
Originally published in Washington Profile on April 18, 2008
Q.: The month of May is not far off, and in that month Washington will host the next World Russian Forum, a traditional event on Capitol Hill. Incidentally, what number will it be?
Lozansky: The twenty-seventh. The first one took place in May 1981, and ever since U.S. Congress generously provides one of its best auditoriums for this event. This is despite the fact that Russia is portrayed by the media as a very bad boy these days. Needless to say that we are extremely grateful to Congress for doing this.
Click on the extended post to read the rest of the interview.
A popular design for a souvenir t-shirt in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Certain think tanks inside the Washington D.C. Beltway might want to consider stocking up on these for their future Russia-related events...
There is a popular saying: "A fool can ask more questions than ten wise men can answer". What the expression means is that it is much easier to assert something than it is to refute it. A great deal of the commentary on Russia these days is little more than a brief for the prosecution: a list of easily made assertions that can only be refuted with difficulty. A recent piece provides a good example. I will not identify the author of this jeremiad except to say that he is an academic (X, we'll call him or her) and the piece was published by a respected institution and an earlier version was published in a major newspaper. In any case, anyone who knows his way around Google can find the original quite easily. The piece is a cascade of easily-made accusations, many of which do not stand up to scrutiny. But, refutations of X's throw-away lines are difficult and time-consuming.
Russian Ambassador to NATO Dimitry Rogozin: "Northern Civilization" Must Unite
Rogozin's Rodina party was briefly banned after running a racist ad during the Moscow municipal elections in 2005
Dimitry Rogozin is an exceptionally clever Russian politician who has never shied away from the spotlight. Rogozin's nationalist Rodina (Motherland) Party drew both condemnation and attention in 2005, when it ran a campaign for seats in Moscow City parliament under the slogan, "We will rid Moscow of the garbage". That campaign featured a blatantly racist television ad depicting swarthy young Azerbaijani men as watermelon-eating hooligans harassing respectable Slavic mothers in a city park. In the TV spot, Rogozin and another Moscow Duma member, Dimitry Popov, confront the Azeris, defend a pram-pushing Russian mother and demand to know if the Azerbaijanis can even speak Russian.
While Rogozin may have exploited the fears of a demographically declining Slavic Russian majority to make a name for himself, he cannot be dismissed as a simpleton demagogue. As the son of a distinguished Soviet military historian and a member of the State Duma, Rogozin has a well-cultivated an image as an expert on national security and defense issues. Hence, his appointment by the Kremlin as Russia's Ambassador to NATO in January 2008.
Arizona Senator John McCain has wrapped up the Republican nomination for President
Last week was a typically schizophrenic one for U.S.-Russia relations. On one hand, we saw outgoing Presidents Bush and Putin agree to meet in the Russian resort city of Sochi in order to address their differences over a proposed American missile defense system in Europe. On the other hand, we saw Arizona Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate to succeed President Bush, argue that Russia should be kicked out of the G-8 club of industrialized nations.
In a speech delivered to the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles on March 26, McCain acknowledged both Russia and China as nations "that wield great influence in the international system". But while McCain made a point to emphasize that the U.S. and the China were "not destined to be adversaries", the Senator's stance versus Russia was decidedly more confrontational.
Presidents Bush and Putin at the White House in 2005
Presidents Bush and Putin became good friends at the beginning of their terms and it looks like both of them are trying to save this friendship despite many negative trends in U.S. -- Russian relations. The recent Moscow trip of the two key figures in the Bush cabinet, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and State Secretary Condoleezza Rice did little to soften Russia's tough stance on further NATO expansion and elements of the NMD systems in Eastern Europe. Therefore, Bush decided unexpectedly as the last resort to make another try by going to meet his pal Vlad in Sochi. The meeting between the two leaders will take place April 6 as Bush is wrapping up a trip to Ukraine, Croatia and the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.
This looks like a desperate attempt by Bush to do something about his legacy. Given his remarkably low popularity ratings hovering around 30 percent, the appalling situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial crisis, and pretty dubious image of the United States in the world, a radiant picture of Bush's legacy is hardly plausible. So it is extremely important for him to show a thing or two to climb at least a few points higher, to move away from the rock-bottom rating among all U.S. presidents where he is solidly stuck at present.
When it comes to Russia, the differences among the US presidential candidates are so slight that there is little reason for Russians to prefer one over another.
Senator McCain's foreign policy advisory team mixes "realists" Robert McFarlane, Brent Scowcroft, Stephen E. Biegun, Lorne W. Craner, Richard Armitage, and Henry Kissinger with neo-con "hawks" Max Boot, R. James Woolsey, Niall Ferguson, Robert Kagan and William Kristol.
This combination is likely to produce the same sort of intellectual schizophrenia that it did at the outset of the Reagan administration. During its first two years initiatives were generated opportunistically within the NSC and the CIA, culminating in the spectacular but ultimately pointless sabotage in June 1982 of the new trans-Siberian gas pipeline. Ronald Reagan eventually put a stop to these dangerous shenanigans in April 1983 and dramatically changed his thinking, thanks in no small part to Suzanne Massie, who helped him develop an appreciation for the culture and religiosity of the Russian people.
Tuesday, March 18 2008, Condoleezza Rice shakes hand of President Dmitry Medvedev during her visit with Robert Gates to Moscow (Photo by ITAR-TASS)
Since the presidential elections of March 2, Russia has almost disappeared from the Western news media. Both liberal and conservative think tanks apparently decided to take a "moment of silence" concerning Russia. No wonder! So much money and effort had been spent trying to brainwash Americans and Europeans into believing that Putin would stay for a third term - or at least, if Putin did not do so, then Russians, like a herd of sheep, would vote 99% for his hand-picked successor with a siloviki background; that Garry Kasparov would run for president, but most likely get killed by the evil KGB; and even if none of the above took place, something else very bad and undemocratic would most definitely occur in Russia.
None of the above happened, and good news from Moscow apparently does not merit column space. Only the Financial Times published a stunningly honest article "Let the Russians Sort out Russia," and the New York Times wrote a wonderful profile of Metropolitan Laurus, who healed a decades-old rift in the Russian Orthodox Church, and died on March 17 at the age of 80 in Jordanville, New York.
Before reading the article itself, we strongly recommend looking at the letter to the editor
"End Putinphobia and Try to Normalise Relations" that was sent by Professor Padma Desai to the Financial Times on March 14, 2008. Prof. Desai's letter is reproduced below:
Sir, Rodric Braithwaite's article "Let Russians sort out Russia" (March 12) marks a refreshing departure from the knee-jerk bashing of President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Western media and think-tanks, and in several policy decisions of the Bush administration. Even pronouncements by American presidential candidates (although marginal) on the likely course of US-Russian relations under the recent leadership change in Russia reflect this counter-productive bias.
I have long argued, in virtual isolation, that such Putinphobia misses Sir Rodric's reminder that Mr Putin's policies have enjoyed a huge popularity in Russia, and that the Russian parliamentary and presidential elections, although flawed, reflect a thumbs-up support from the Russian people. Mr Putin has certainly profited from the oil boom; and that is the luck of the draw. But he has also avoided the "oil curse" and used the oil largesse productively by putting in place important policy measures that stand to benefit the Russian economy.
NYT: Metropolitan Laurus, Who Healed Rift in Russian Orthodox Church, Is Dead at 80
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Metropolitan Laurus, who led the overseas branch of the Russian Orthodox Church to a historic rapprochement with the Moscow mother church, from which it split after the Communist revolution in 1917, died Sunday at a monastery in Jordanville, N.Y. He was 80. Nicholas Ohotin, a church spokesman, said no cause had been determined. News reports from Russia made much of the day of his death: it was the Feast of Orthodoxy, when those who have given greatly to the church are venerated.
Metropolitan Laurus's most historic moment occurred last May in the great rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which Stalin had once destroyed to build a swimming pool. As leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, he exchanged kisses on the cheek with the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksei II.
The Transfer of Power in Russia Russia Election Analysis
By Graham Allison (Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School)
Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev wave to their supporters in Moscow's Red Square on March 2, 2008.
Though the outcome of the presidential election in Russia was a foregone conclusion, many questions remain about when and how which powers will be transferred from whom to whom. Partial answers to some of the questions about Russia's presidential succession are provided in the March 7 article in The Moscow Times, "Kremlin Enters Uncharted Waters."
Also included below are speculations from Russian colleagues about what the new administration and cabinet may look like.
Key questions about the Russia's presidential succession:
1. When will Medvedev actually assume the Russian presidency?
By law, Vladimir Putin remains president until May 7, 2008, four years to the day of his inauguration. On this day, president-elect and first deputy prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev will officially become Russia's new president.
President Putin and the next Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev
Peter Finn's Washington Post article on Kremlin efforts to polish Russia's image abroad provides a pretty accurate and balanced description of various projects in this field, funded either directly by the government or by the private sector, when the latter gets a nod from the top. Unfortunately, so far this investment has brought only a few and rather modest results. The Western media bias regarding Russia is so overwhelming that even if the Kremlin increases its PR budget by one or two orders of magnitude, little will change.
Take, for example, the Washington Post's editorials. Contrary to their Moscow bureau chief Peter Finn's objective and neutral news reporting, the Post editorials are saturated with such vicious anti-Russian rhetoric that one wonders if the people who write them have some personal problems.
Russian Elections -- Affirming Democracy or Confirming Autocracy?
Nicolai N. Petro
It is important to distinguish between the electoral process, the electoral campaign, and the electoral outcome. Those who fail to do so seek to disparage the choice of the Russian people, rather than to understand it.
Few observers have challenged the election process itself, which was marred by glitches of the kind one routinely encounters in national elections. Instead, most of the criticism has been leveled at the electoral campaign, and while there is always room for improvement, they lack certain credibility since the same criticisms could just as easily be leveled at any European country.
For example, all countries regulate the participation of political groups by applying filters to their ability to participate in the elections process. Some, like the United States, apply these filters at the local level, through a complex set of fifty different state electoral standards. Typically, states require somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the voters from the previous elections to register a party in the next ballot. This has reduced the people's options to two.
Five Hypotheses About the Future of Power in Russia
Saying "Goodbye" to the presidency...
A consensus appears to be developing that Putin has contrived a means of staying in power indefinitely. The idea is that, one way or the other, Medvedev will be a dummy President and Putin, as Prime Minister will retain the real power. However, the accounts that argue this point -- for example Christopher Walker at RFE -- fail to consider one salient fact.
And that is that, had he wanted, Putin could easily have been elected President for a third term on Sunday. No one can doubt that one or two years ago Putin and his machine could have secured the necessary majorities to have removed Article 81. 3 of the Russian Constitution ("One and the same person cannot hold the office of President of the Russian Federation for more than two consecutive terms"). This is, after all, what the leaders Walker cites have done. It would have been by far the easiest way for Putin to stay in power: the Presidential machinery of power that Putin spent so much time building up would remain without change and with the same man in the chair.
But he didn't. Therefore, any argument that Putin is staying in power has to explain why he didn't take the easy route to that power.
`Those seeking to categorise Dmitry Medvedev, the presumptive next president of Russia, have quickly settled into two camps: pessimists, who dismiss him as a puppet of Vladimir Putin, and optimists, who cling to the slim hope that he might someday develop his own agenda.
A careful reading of his more than 2,000 public pronouncements over the past seven years, however, suggests that neither of these descriptions is accurate. His record suggests that Medvedev - after the presidential election of 2 March 2008 and the transfer of power in May - will indeed pursue a concerted liberalisation of Russian politics: but as the next logical stage in the strategy of democratic modernisation known as the "Putin plan", rather than as an alternative to it.
Is Medvedev: "Russia's Last Hope"? And Assessing Putin's Legacy
A young reformer? Russian Presidential heir apparent Dimitry Medvedev
Russia's Last Hope
By Victor Erofeyev
The New York Times (republished from the International Herald Tribune)
February 29, 2008
If I recover from a bout of stomach illness by Sunday, I will cast my ballot in Russia's presidential election. But there's no need to rush to get well, because my vote will make no difference.
There was a day when it did seem that my vote mattered. In 1996, I found myself in Ireland on Election Day and made a huge effort to go to the embassy in Dublin and vote for Boris N. Yeltsin, because I feared that the Communists could return to power under his opponent, Gennadi A. Zyuganov, and I would again have serious problems. Mr. Zyuganov is running for president again this year, but I no longer fear him. He will lose.
This not only reassures me, but also leads me to think about how President Vladimir V. Putin, in his eight years in power, managed to destroy Communism. He finished it off so brutally that it's silly to even think about the possibility of its return. Yet some people outside Russia believe that Mr. Putin did away with only the democrats, the liberal parties and the independent news media. No, he also threw out power-seeking oligarchs, who are very unpopular with the Russian people, and he rid the country of chaos and instability, which, he tells us, were rampant in the 1990s.
No matter how you look at it, President Putin also brought order to Chechnya: at least they're no longer flying young Russian soldiers back in body bags every day. And if television is offering more humorous programs and songs from around the world instead of political discussions, people only welcome this. As for opposition parties, the real ones, they quarreled among themselves and became so indistinguishable in their radical demands that the people, with President Putin's help, stopped taking note of them...
Putin's Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates Opponents NYT Article Brings Sharp Responses From Russians
Last weekend, The New York Times published another piece of amazing anti-Russian propaganda. "...the city's children, too, were pressed into service. At schools, teachers gave them pamphlets promoting "Putin's Plan"..." Those who have been to Russia in the last decade drop the newspaper either with laughter or with anger. One of the Real Russia Project's advisors explained his bewilderment upon reading the article:
"If you know where I am coming from, you know I see little merit in the article. I do wonder who paid Levy to write such a fanciful piece. It doesn't explain Putin's 85% approval rating in the polls - not the marks of a despot, nor of a person whose followers need to go to the lengths described in the article to shore up support. I have been to Nizhny Novgorod; it is one of the most dynamic regions of Russia. I am going to forward the article to two friends working in Nizhny that I spent time with in the past several months - one Russian, and one an expat who has lived there since 1994. I expect that their comments would be consistent with hundreds of Russians I talked with on four trips this past year - it is silly to think that people need to be cajoled into supporting Putin, or Medvedev, for that matter."
Unlike most Chinese citizens, Russians enjoy unfettered access to free media online, and their response to the NYT was overwhelming in the first hours after the publication appeared on the Russian internet (or .ru-net). Many Russians took advantage of their access to uncensored Internet, free media, and uncontrolled blogging platforms to express their personal opinions and to prove the NYT wrong. A few Russian commenters agreed with the article's viewpoint - but if anything, this should only prove the NYT to be even more wrong, as according to the slant of most Western reporting in the last several years, Russians are not supposed to have access to free media, nor be able to express their personal opinions under the "iron grip" of President Putin...
The American presidential elections receive excellent coverage in the Russian media. While Russian journalists rarely offer commentary about the U.S. candidates, straight news reporting of the American presidential campaign is done in exhaustive, overwhelming detail. Not to be outdone, Russia Blog just completed its own humble, non-scientific poll. The goal? Determine which U.S. presidential candidate Russians prefer as the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
After presenting the question to nearly 50 Russians, the answer is clear: one hundred percent of our not-so-random sampling said Senator Barack Obama is their first choice. Huh? Up is down and down is up, at least if you believe conventional wisdom. Why would the Russians, stereotypically considered to be a racist and conservative nation, pick Senator Obama--the first viable black U.S. presidential candidate, and the one who many Americans agree breaks the traditional U.S. presidential mold on many levels?
Political experts now search his [Putin's] past to figure his motives. Can we believe him when he says he's pursuing a transformation process at a pace appropriate to a country ruled for centuries in an authoritarian manner?
Based on what we saw in the 1990s under Yeltsin, I'd say he's got a decent case. To that end, one can claim Putin is simply allowing his social and political structures sufficient time to adapt to a global economic landscape that's not easily navigated by the naive or less-than-determined-to-succeed.
Key to me is that he respected the need to give up the presidency. He didn't break the rule set. He's getting around it somewhat, but that's very Russian--the land of the work-around...
The Institute for Democracy and Cooperation: Less Democracy, More Cooperation, Please
Russia is opening a think tank in New York City
Russia has decided at long last to open in the West its own analytical center -- something that is often referred to as a think tank -- that goes under the generic name of the "Institute for Democracy and Cooperation." This should have been done ten or fifteen years ago, but in the difficult transition years Russia had obviously plenty of other things to worry about.
Having noted with satisfaction that it is better late than never, it would be interesting to find out what exactly these centers are intending to do. So far there have been no coherent answers to this question, only speculation and malicious comment from ill-wishers. The commonest view is that this is the Kremlin's "tit" for the "tat" of excessive criticism of Russia's "sovereign democracy" and interference by the West, above all by the United States, in Russia's internal affairs. Critical public statements by the American officials, media and NGOs as well as U.S. funding of various Russian oppositionist organizations have been irritating Moscow for a long time and finally the Empire decided to strike back.
Rankings Versus Reality: It's Time for Inside-the-Beltway Conservatives to Get Real on Russia
Last week, the Heritage Foundation, one of the largest and perhaps most influential think tanks in Washington, D.C., published its annual global rankings of economic freedom. While think tank reports seldom have as much impact as their authors would like to believe, this particular document was published in partnership with The Wall Street Journal.
The report claimed that out of 150 countries surveyed in 2007, Russia is now ranked 134th in the world in terms of economic freedom, allegedly slipping fourteen spots from its lowly 120th ranking at the end of 2006. Russia was supposedly less free than all of the other countries in the former Soviet Union, with the exceptions of Belarus and Turkmenistan. Russia is also said to be lagging far behind such surging economic powerhouses as Pakistan and Cambodia.
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is fresh off a primary victory in New Hampshire
The presidential race in the United States is gaining momentum. Both parties now have their crop of leaders and outsiders. Not surprisingly, these developments are being closely watched and analyzed in Russia with a view to identifying the contender with whom it would be preferable to do business in the future. This is no simple task, as the candidates' election rhetoric is not always consistent with what they will actually do on settling in the White House. Nevertheless, some conclusions can already be drawn.
The least welcome candidate, from Moscow's standpoint, is apparently Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who won the important New Hampshire primary. He is the fiercest critic of Russia and its President. McCain branded Russia "revanchist" and Putin "a dangerous person." He keeps calling for a new tough line on Russia and repeatedly said that Russia should be expelled from the G8. The West, tells McCain, should send Russia a clear signal that NATO doors remained open to all democracies, referring, no doubt, to Ukraine and Georgia.
Which indicators are proving the increasing stability and predictability of the Russian economy? First, there's the unprecedented rate of growth of foreign investment, which surged by a factor of 2.5 in 2007. None of the world's 15 leading national economies can compete with this achievement. Some $100 billion was invested in Russia from abroad over the last 12 months, an all-time record for any emerging market country and a milestone of great historical and psychological significance for Russian business.
Please, visit the extended post to read the full Forbes report.
Last week, Russia's President Vladimir Putin was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year. The Time editors explained their decision by pointing out the fact that Putin had succeeded in "putting his country back on the map" after years of turmoil and decline.
Indeed, Putin has a lot to do with Russia's coming back from the cold. As Andrew Kuchins wrote in the Moscow Times op-ed last week, the Putin presidency will be remembered for the country's economic resurgence, political stabilization and increasingly assertive foreign policy.
But the country and its people have also been working hard to make the painful transition from the Soviet state with its command economy marked by food shortages and fiscal distortions to a vibrant economic powerhouse. Since the financial meltdown of 1998, Russia's gross domestic product has grown more than six fold, while incomes have increased by a factor of four in less than 10 years.
Remember the usual Soviet propaganda line: "Cold War winds blow from the Potomac. The same wind goes through the hearts and minds of American imperialists who are planning the next campaign against peace-loving Politburo and CPSU Central Committee policies".
Nowadays you can find such language only in North Korean editorials but, unfortunately, though, both the Russian and Western media are still engaged in a similar war of words. The fact that the language they use is more sophisticated is little consolation.
Nevertheless, one should admit that in the West, apart from Russia bashing, one can still find many articles critical of U.S. foreign policy and occasionally even some positive materials on Putin's Russia. But the Russian media does not reciprocate: it is practically impossible to find anything positive about U.S. at all.
In November 2006 the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled, "Russia: The Enemy"
It looks like some U.S. media and pundits feel that America's list of enemies and foreign policy problems is boringly short and needs to be expanded. Forget about the second coming of the battle-hardened al- Qaeda and Taliban fighters, the Iraq quagmire where even supposedly loyal Kurds start messing things up, Iran with its nuclear ambitions, or nuclear Pakistan going through the most dangerous upheaval. The list of other U.S. foreign and domestic problems can be largely extended by any serious expert, but for some folks all this is just not enough. Instead of discussing ways to face the enormous challenges confronting the United States and trying to find an ally or two who can help us, they raise their influential voices demanding to expand America's enemy list by adding a now resurgent Russia to it.
There are many critical voices in America about Russia's behavior both at home and abroad, and some of their arguments are hard to dispute. Russia today is certainly not a beacon of democracy, nor is it always supportive of U.S. foreign policy objectives. But is it really so bad that we have to call it the "enemy"? Is it helpful to our security if we place a nuclear superpower on the U.S. enemies list?
President Putin and President Bush in September 2003
One week ago Russians went to the polls to vote in national parliamentary elections. The result was hardly in doubt -- the United Russia Party of Russia's President Vladimir Putin swept to victory. Equally predictable was the reaction of most Western media to this largely foreordained result.
We are told that Putin is reviving the Soviet Union and that he has been busy building a cult of personality while crushing all political opposition. More importantly, we are told that Putin is reigniting the Cold War rivalry between Russia and the United States. This is the message that we constantly read on the editorial pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, even as the business sections of each paper continue to report the tremendous growth of the Russian economy since Putin took office in 2000.
United Russia not only ran its campaign as a referendum on Putin's policies, but it specifically introduced and popularized the concept of the "Putin Plan." This is an important point that is often overlooked. Seeking a broad mandate for Putin's Plan only makes sense if United Russia intends to strengthen the political weight of the parliament. By pledging to continue the multi-year budgetary and policy commitments that have been made under Putin, United Russia has committed itself to fulfilling those obligations regardless of who becomes the next president of Russia. It cannot be confident in its ability to do unless it significantly increases the Duma's role in the shaping of national policy.
Russia Blog will report later on the way the party vote totals in the parliamentary elections last weekend varied greatly from province to province. Suffice for now that they did, and that the Western media didn't bother to notice it. Apparently, for example, United Russia did much less well in St. Petersburg and Moscow (under 50 percent) than in the Caucuses and elsewhere. Might someone inquire why?
My own biggest criticism of coverage, so far, however, is the way the Western media treat Garry Kasparov as if he were some sort of oracle -- almost the only valid touchstone on Russian political news.
Former Bush 41 aide Nicolai Petro in the previous post points out the strangeness of this Western fixation (and it applies to conservatives as well as liberals). I am not opposed to the man, I just don't understand why he is regarded as sincere and everyone else as phony.
Garry Kasparov (the chess champion) and Mikhail Kasyanov (nicknamed Misha 2%)
Several attempts by the alliance known as "Another Russia" to organize protest rallies in Russia's most populous cities, including the recent fiascoes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have revealed an indisputable truth - those who call themselves the liberal opposition in Russia are neither competent nor popular.
Their most respectable showing last summer garnered at most 5,000 participants. Since then, these numbers have dwindled into the hundreds, with local police officers and foreign journalists usually far outnumbering the actual demonstrators.
Click the etxtended post to read the rest of the article originally published in International Herald Tribune.
Two Lamborghinis meet on the streets of Moscow Photo by: English Russia
Petrodollars are fueling an unprecedented--but precarious--prosperity in Russia's capital.
A look at the New Russia by Manhattan Institute.
Those who knew the Soviet Union before 1991 agree that Moscow is a happier place today. In the old days, the city wore a dark, brooding look. People were poor and afraid; the ruble was worthless, though there was nothing to buy anyway. Imperial Moscow boasted two, perhaps three, restaurants, offering meager fare. The only ones to ply a trade were watchmakers, who made their living repairing old watches--a telling sign of the low level of consumption and innovation. Soviet Russia manufactured weapons, and little else.
In just 15 years, Moscow has transformed completely. Restaurants, bars, and hotels overflow with people, day and night. Gilded youth and nouveaux richesflaunt their wealth and expensive cars. French and Italian luxury goods adorn the shops on Pushkin Square and Tverskaya Street. The roads, once empty save the occasional official limousine, surge with traffic.
While Americans are constantly having their eyes opened to the possibilities for growth and economic freedom in the People's Republic of China, a far more free and open society in Russia is judged more harshly in the Western news media. Why is this? Is it because the shelves at Wal-Marts across America are not stocked with goods from Russia? Or is I simply because, as some cynical Russians imply, there is one American and European expectation for people who "look like us", and another for others (Asians, Africans, and Arabs) who don't? Or could it be that American perceptions of Russia are still formed by a combination of stereotypes left over from the Cold War and more recent images of Russia in the Nineties as the Wild East -- an exotic backwater whose main exports were supposedly mail order brides and ruthless mafias?
Despite the emotional build up in the Western press before President Putin's recent trip to Iran, not much has resulted from it. Right after the trip, the UK Daily Telegraph wrote that Putin's pragmatism should not be confused with friendship, and that despite the polite handshakes, Putin and Ahmadinejad simply don't trust each other.
The Wall Street Journal rushed to report that Putin is the first Russian leader to visit Iran since 1943, when Joseph Stalin paid a visit to the country. However, according to New York Post contributor Amir Taheri, this may not quite be true (the Soviet leaders Krushchev and Brezhnev reportedly visited Iran during the 60s and 70s) and the comparison was more sensational than anything else. Not one of the Islamic Republic's hopes in regards to more favorable policies from Russia came true.
The theocratic regime's main goal at the summit was to get a commitment from Russia to resume work on the nuclear reactor complex at Bushehr. While the Iranian President boasted that he would increase bilateral trade between Russia and Iran to $100 billion a year in the next decade, he failed to receive any assurance that the delayed Bushehr nuclear project would actually go forward.
Kazan, Russia -- For decades, many social scientists had pretty much two things to say about Eastern Orthodox Christianity:
1) that like all religions, it was disappearing with the advance of modern civilization;
2) that it derived most of its support from the reactionary tides of authoritarianism and nationalism.
Those pronouncements are being proved wrong. Today, as in the parable of the prodigal son, throughout Eastern Europe people are returning to the Orthodox Church in droves, and the effect in the public sphere, contrary to most expectations, is quite benign.
Though historically viewed with suspicion by Catholic and Protestant Europe, Orthodox Christianity can actually help bridge the Russia-West gap.
Does Putin Seek to Retain Power or Preserve His Legacy?
Vladimir Putin at the United Russia Congress - Photo by AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to keep people guessing, especially when it comes to his future in Russian politics and business. His surprise this week (as reported in the American press)--suggesting that he may consider becoming Prime Minister following his tenure as President--was undoubtedly his biggest yet.
Previously, there were two schools of thought about Putin's future. The first--and one favored by many Putin-haters in the West--suggested that he would seek a change in the Constitution, allowing him to remain for the third term. The second--offered by private investors and many business publications--suggested that Putin would leave Presidency in order to head one of the Russia's state corporations, such as Gazprom. Like many Western politicians, they thought it likely that he might "capitalize on his connections."
Recent revelations by President Putin do not support either of these theories. In order to understand what the future holds for Putin, it is important to read exactly what he said in his recent address at the United Russia party convention:
"Knight at the Crossroads" (1878) by Viktor Vasnetsov It seems like the problem of the crossroads existed in Russia long before Putin...
Professor Nicolai Petro, one of Russia Blog's contributors, recently returned to the U.S. from Russia, where he participated in the Valdai Discussion Club and got a chance to observe President Putin up close. The Valdai discussion group is an invitation-only forum for select academics and journalists sponsored by Russia's Council for Foreign and Defense Policy and RIA Novosti news agency and that has been held every September since 2004.
In this post, you will find Prof. Petro's comments to the media, including interviews with Al Gurnov on Russia Today TV, Bob Seay on WRNI public radio and "The Chet Curtis Report" on New England Cable News.
In her article, Illinois law student Eugenia Izmaylova frequently cites Bill Robinson, a Bellevue, Washington based attorney who has been practicing law in Russia and the former USSR since 1990. In particular, Ms. Izmaylova quotes Bill Robinson's thoughts on the development of intellectual property law in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union (a transcript of Mr. Robinson's remarks - along with commentary from his co-panelists at the Real Russia Project forum - is available for downloading in PDF format here)
Click on the extended post to read excerpts from the Illinois Business Law Journal article.
Small News, Big Surprise: Russian Government Resigns - But Who Will Be the Next President?
The practice of the Russian government resigning a few months prior to the parliamentary and presidential elections has become a new Russian tradition. Such moves help reorganize the top bureaucrats faster and more smoothly. A stable presidential cabinet saves time and energy for the future president and parliament, who will hopefully not get dragged into months of shifting ministers around - one of the major pitfalls of a parliamentary government.
Sergey Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev, both former Deputy Prime Ministers, were widely viewed as the top candidates for the job of Prime Minister. However, President Vladimir Putin pulled a major surprise from his sleeve and granted no favors to either potential successor. The new interim Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov, whose appointment still needs to be approved by the Duma, has no real chance of becoming the next President of the Russian Federation. Therefore, the race for the presidency has become more challenging and less predictable.
Tatarstan is an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation, located 497 miles east of Moscow. Tatars are an ethnically Turkic people, and the majority are Muslims, though many are also Russian Orthodox. Tatneft, one of Russia's top oil producers, is based in the region, and this mineral wealth combined with the region's strong manufacturing base have made it one of the most prosperous oblasts in Russia. In addition to petrochemical and wood product processing, Tatarstan is home to the major Russian truck manufacturer JSC KamAz. Many ethnic Tatars are also prominent in Moscow where they run successful businesses.
If Tatarstan is doing well thanks in part to the worldwide oil boom, what about Russia's other regions, especially near the Caucuses, where Islam is growing rapidly? With Russia's Orthodox Christian population shrinking while the Muslim population increases, what are the implications of these current demographic trends for the future of the country?
Last week the leaders of Russia, China and several former Soviet republics met in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Their goal was to promote more international investment and cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Central Asia. This year's summit caused a stir in the Western media because it coincided with wargames conducted by 6,000 troops from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries in the Russian Ural Mountain region of Chelyabinsk. While one senior Russian general insisted that the exercises were "not aimed at any third country", many Western media analysts and pundits have concluded that Russia and China are forming a military alliance to counter American influence in resource-rich Central Asia.
UPDATE: Prof. Nicholas Gvosdev has linked to our post here. Click on the extended post to read more and watch video clips from the SCO summit.
Will China have rights to the North Pole? Most likely, yes. But first, let's take a look at who has rights to the North Pole today.
"Power, not international law, will settle the issue. Indeed, international law recognizes this fact by making title dependent on a nation's ability to exert control over an area," said Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago in the Wall Street Journal article "The New Race for the Arctic."
"This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and plant flags and say 'we're claiming this territory'," said Canada's Foreign Minister Peter MacKay. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said "We wish the Russian scientists a safe expedition..."
Russian scientists, joined by the veteran Australian polar explorer Michael McDowell and Frederik Paulsen, a Swedish pharmaceuticals millionaire and co-sponsor of the effort, indeed had a safe and successful trip to the Pole and to the sea bed nearly two miles beneath it. The expedition amused the entire world, and only days after the historic dive, countries and legal specialists started wondering "What does all this mean and who really owns the Pole?"
Eleven Reasons to Buy Russia (Though Not Necessarily Today)
1. Russia has not had a single debt-funded leveraged buyout (LBO). Zero. None.
2. Russia does not have a single sub-prime mortgage bond. Russian banks continue their old-fashioned practices such as investigating borrower's declared earnings and requiring down payments of at least 20%. Though there has been some risky consumer lending, it is covered by the outrageous spreads they charge (above 50%!)
3. Russia has an insignificant trade relationship with the US, and is not exposed to the US consumer in any meaningful way. It is substantially exposed to the Asian economies which (so far) have shown no signs of slowing on US economic concerns.
To mark the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's memoir of exile, My American Years, the German magazine Der Spiegel recently published an interview with the 88 year-old Russian writer. While many Westerners today argue that Putin's Russia is resurrecting the Soviet Union, Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who actually survived the Gulag, has a very different view of modern Russian history.
In the recent tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions from London and Moscow, leading Western press outlets, like the Washington Post and The London Times, have set a new standard for journalistic inventiveness by suggesting that Britain's refusal to reveal any evidence about the murder of Alexander Litvinenko must mean that it has evidence implicating the Russian government!
Why has this evidence not been made public? Because, you see, new Prime Minister Gordon Brown does not want to start his term by damaging relations with Russia. The fact that he has already done so by expelling four Russian diplomats seems to have escaped their notice.
Ivanov, Medvedev, and Putin (Photo by: Kommersant)
Russian First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergey Ivanov and Dimitri Medvedev are the two front runners to succeed President Vladimir Putin in 2008. Both members of President Putin's cabinet have attracted a lot of publicity in recent months. In June 2007 Ivanov was profiled by the UK Times newspaper as part of its coverage of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. Earlier this year, Time magazine covered Medvedev's speech on behalf of the Russian delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In both Moscow and the West, Kremlinology has come back in vogue as pundits and think tank scholars try to predict who will emerge as Putin's preferred candidate.
The Deputy Prime Ministers were the featured speakers at a recent summer camp put on by Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth organization. The Nashi movement has become very controversial in recent months since its activists picketed the Estonian embassy to protest Talinn's decision to move a Soviet memorial to fallen Red Army soldiers. More recently, for its summer convention outside the city of Tver, Nashi rolled out posters depicting former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and chessmaster- turned-political activist Garry Kasparov as prostitutes.
According to the article from Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency, the two candidates were asked by Nashi students for their opinions on the revival of religious life in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union. Here is what they had to say:
The news headlines in recent weeks have been dominated by rising diplomatic tensions between Russia and the West. The White House has stuck with its plan to locate missile defense bases in Eastern Europe. Putin first offered Azerbaijan, then at the recent "lobster summit" between Presidents Putin and Bush in Kennebunkport, southern Russia as alternative sites for the American missile defense system (assuming that these bases are intended to counter Iranian and not Russian missiles). However, the White House did not accept Putin's offer, and the Kremlin raised the possibility of re-targeting nuclear missiles at Europe. Finally, last week Putin announced his decision to suspend Russia's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (CFE).
The response from some Western media outlets has been measured, while from others it has been predictably hysterical. This week Newsweek International published an article with the sensational title "The Tyrant's Turn", and asked if "Russian President Vladimir Putin was supposed to be a pro-American reformer, what went wrong?" In contrast, the BBC has been more subdued in its reporting in the game of tit for tat between America and Russia. In the article "Cool Not Cold - Russia's New Foreign Policy" the BBC quoted one analyst saying that this is just another "diplomatic warning shot from Russia", which "under President Vladimir Putin started to harden up its foreign and domestic policy, but this is something they [Western countries] will have to learn to live with for the foreseeable future."
Before discussing whether this will lead to a new Cold War, someone has to ask the question: does Russia need Europe, and does Europe need Russia? And what do experienced Western leaders really believe about the New Russia?
"High oil and gas prices, combined with the long-term benefits of the Yeltsin economic reforms and with investment-friendly decisions since 2000, have brought Russia a sustained boom; this comes as an immense relief after the decade of contraction and hardship under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, during which the economy shrank by more than 50 percent--worse than the Great Depression in the United States. The World Bank reckons that gross domestic product (GDP) increased by an average of 6.2 percent annually in 2001 through 2006; the real [inflation adjusted] disposable income of the population surged by 11.2 percent per year from 2002 to 2006..."
Click on the extended post to read more excerpts from this article.
George Bush and Vladimir Putin in Kennebunkport, Maine
(Photos by the White House; full transcript of the press-conference below the post)
Most coverage of the substance of President Putin's visit to the Bush compound in Maine was non-existent to lame. Commentators tended either to rehash the irrelevant past or dwell on the atmospherics of the meeting--the fishing and boating, Vladimir kissing the ladies on both cheeks, European style, the hospitality role played by former President George H.W. Bush. There was nothing wrong with that except that it downplayed the main news story: Mr. Putin made a new offer to Mr. Bush to include Russia itself in the nuclear shield against Iran that the U. S. wants to build in Eastern Europe. The subject was broached in news stories, but was not really explored.
The United States should take up Mr. Putin's offer. Maybe the Azerbaijan site--proposed earlier-- is not high priority if you are trying to chart Iranian missiles. Putin now offers southern Russia in addition. He suggests also that the Czech Republic and Poland not be included in the "shield".