Pussy Riot in Russia; tsar and the church crack down 113

Has Russia forever to be cursed with a tsar?  Tsar, Starlin, Putin … whatever he’s called.

The following extracts and the picture are from Front Page, by Jacob Laksin:

The past year has seen an inspired stirring of political opposition in Russia, as thousands of young and middle-class Russians have poured out onto the streets to protest the country’s regressive slide into authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin. For sheer novelty and provocation, however, no protest action quite matched the spectacle that took place this past February, when the members of all-female punk rock band Pussy Riot commandeered the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral and, clad in multicolored balaclava masks, proceeded to belt out a protest song titled “Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin.”  …

An increasingly rare piece of political blasphemy, the song assailed the Russian Orthodox Church for its uncomfortably close ties to the Russian president. That subservience was exemplified by the Church patriarch’s devout assessment prior to the presidential election this spring that Putin’s democracy-trampling 12-year rule represented nothing less than a ”miracle of God.”

In mocking the Church, Pussy Riot’s lyrics proclaimed that the “head of the KGB is their chief saint.”

The church was not amused, the Russian government even less so. After their performance, the three members of Pussy Riot were arrested and charged with “hooliganism.” That was in March. Since then, they have been held without trial in extended custody. Last Friday, their detention was extended by another six months until next January. If the band members are found guilty, they could be imprisoned for seven years. …

The message seems to be that such limited license as the government was prepared to extend to opposition and protest views has now been totally revoked. Plainly discomfited by this winter’s mass anti-government protests, the powers that be have decided that enough is enough. Thus, Putin marked his swearing-in ceremony in Moscow this May with a citywide crackdown on demonstrators in which some 400 were arrested. Some reports suggested that young demonstrators were issued military draft notices in reprisal. The trumped-up prosecution of Pussy Riot is only the latest sign that the government is taking a zero-tolerance approach to political dissent.

On the legal front, too, there is a burgeoning government effort to outlaw opposition. Last month, the Russian legislature, dominated by Putin’s United Russia party, passed a law that would impose ruinous fines of up to $9,300 for those who participate in unsanctioned demonstrations and double that for protest organizers. Since few Russians could afford to pay such penalties, and since the government is not eager to sanction opposition protests, the law amounted to a de facto ban on opposition protests and demonstrations.

And the government was just getting started. Last week it passed a raft of new and vaguely worded laws whose overall effect would be to undermine criticism of the government officials. Among the laws was one criminalizing libel that included a special provision for libel “against judges, jurors, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials,” — in short, those responsible for upholding the country’s corrupt security state. Another law would create a blacklist of websites that all Russian Internet search engines would have to block. The government claimed that such a blacklist was intended to protect children from harmful content, but given the virtually limitless discretion to decide which websites qualify as harmful it is easy to see how the notoriously censorship-prone Russian authorities could use the law to quash disfavored speech. Each of the laws, in short, is ripe for abuse, and that seems to be the point: Having concluded that it can’t suppress all opposition openly, the government wants to force critics into silence. …

The case against Pussy Riot rests on the dubious charge that they incited “religious hatred.” The government has even found ten witnesses who have come forward to claim that they have suffered “moral damage” as a result of the band’s performance. Interestingly, the Russian Orthodox Church was prepared to forgive the band, initially calling for merciful treatment for the arrested members. But as soon as Putin’s press secretary called their protest “despicable” and vowed to pursue the band “with all the necessary consequences,” the church fell into line. It too is now urging harsh punishment, inadvertently proving Pussy Riot’s point about the church’s obeisance to Putin.

Could it happen in America? Yes, we think it could, if Obama is re-elected in November.

Obama has tried hard to cozy up to Putin, star of the KGB. We suspect he would like to emulate him.

The bear’s paws on the golden tap 27

Ralph Peters writes in the New York Post on the confrontation with Iran:

For Moscow, this crisis isn’t about Tehran’s acquisition of nukes. It’s about Russia’s acquisition of a stranglehold on global energy markets. Putin’s playing with fire — but he’s sure we’ll be the ones burned. As for the Obama administration’s desperate (and stunningly naive) hope that economic sanctions can deter President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his fellow thugs-for-Allah from pursuing nuclear weapons, forget it….

The current crisis is a win-win-win for Putin. But before laying out his plan, let’s run the numbers:

The Persian Gulf’s littoral states hold over 60 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 40 percent of the natural gas. Russia has “just” 10 percent of the oil reserves and 35 percent of the world’s natural gas.

Do the math: Iran and its neighbors, along with Russia, own two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves and 70 percent of the natural gas. …

This is one macro-region for energy, the zone of ultimate control. Putin gets it, even if we don’t. Here’s Czar Vladimir’s strategic trifecta:

For now, Russia profits wonderfully from its trade, both legal and illicit, with Iran, while the West talks itself to death. Life is good.

But life could get even better: If Iran’s nuclear quest isn’t blocked, a nuclear arsenal will give Iran de facto control of all Persian Gulf oil. Putin envisions a Moscow-Tehran axis, an energy cartel that dramatically increases the value of his oil and gas — the only economic props keeping the corpse of Russia upright.

If Israel’s driven to a forlorn-hope attack on Iran’s nuke program, Iran will respond by striking Gulf Arab oil fields and facilities, while closing the Strait of Hormuz. The US military will be in it, like it or not. Oil and gas prices will soar unimaginably — and the bear will have its paws on the golden tap.

So the worst outcome for Putin — more of the same — is still good. A bad outcome for everybody else is even better in Putin’s strategy to renew Russia’s superpower status.

Why on earth would this guy help us stop Iran? When he hates us, anyway? (It isn’t you, Barack. It’s just business.)

For all his viciousness, Putin’s a serious strategist. We don’t have any high-level strategists. Not one. On either side of the Potomac.

In his first decade on the throne, Czar Vladimir focused on addicting Europe to Russian gas, while moving successfully to exert control over as many pipelines as possible. That was the constructive decade.

The second decade in the reign of Vladimir I is the energy-cartel-building phase. This will be the confrontational phase. Energy’s the only real power Putin has, so he’s maximizing it.

It’s no accident that a strategic triangle has emerged between Moscow, Tehran and Caracas — home of the great Latin mischief-lover, Hugo Chavez, who thrives on his own nation’s petro-wealth.

For us, the Iran crisis is about peace. For Putin, it’s about power. Yet the self-deluding Obama administration really believes that Moscow’s going to support us. After our president gave away our only serious bargaining chip, the missile-defense system promised to our European allies.

Putin thinks in 10-year-plans. We can’t think past the next congressional roll-call vote.

The Obama administration’s primary legacy to the world is going to be a nuclear-armed Iran.

By his fans ye shall know him 34

Yesterday at the UN (Hell’s headquarters), Colonel Qaddafi of Libya praised President Obama:

“We Africans are happy, proud, that a son of Africans governs the United States of America,” the Libyan leader said. “This is a historic event. … This is a great thing.” “Obama is a glimpse in the darkness after four or eight years,” said Qadhafi, who referred to Obama as “my son.” “We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as president of the United States.”

And Fidel Castro thinks he is pretty good stuff:

The former Cuban leader on Wednesday called the American president’s speech at the United Nations “brave” and said no other American head of state would have had the courage to make similar remarks…

Admission of America’s past errors “was without a doubt a brave gesture,” Castro wrote in comments published by Cuban state-media Wednesday. “It would only be fair to recognize that no other United States president would have had the courage to say what he said,” the former Cuban leader continued…

And Vladimir Putin likes what he’s done:

Obama also was praised by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier this month for canceling parts of a missile defense system that Moscow had viewed as a threat to its security. Putin called the move a “right and brave decision.”

At Power Line they think differently. Paul Mirengoff writes:

Conservative commentary on President Obama’s U.N. speech has correctly taken note of the extent to which Obama once again has apologized for America. What struck me as new, though, was the extent to which he begged his audience to award the U.S. brownie points for his good acts. The one form of supplication follows from the other. Obama isn’t just saying that the U.S. has been a bad boy in the past; he’s also saying that we’re a good boy now …

Obama then listed a series of decisions that he hoped might placate the assembled thugs, dictators, and hypcrites — a crowd from which he feels compelled to seek approval on behalf of the United States. Obama noted that he has banned torture, closed Gitmo, moved to end the war in Iraq, moved towards disarmament, attempted to advance the ball on creating a Palestinian state, “re-engaged the United Nations, paid our bills, joined the Human Rights Council.”

So here was the president of the United States doing everything but getting down on his hands and knees before the representatives of every wretched regime in the world to plead that the U.S. has turned over a new leaf and, in effect, become harmless.

Does Obama believe that anything positive will come of this stomach-turning spectacle. Or does he just like to bask in the glow of applause for the proposition that the U.S. was a pretty rotten place until he assumed control, without worrying about who it is that’s applauding?

Our guess is that the Russians, the Arabs, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the mullahs of Iran, and all the despots of the Third World are secretly sniggering.

Posted under Commentary, Diplomacy, Libya, Russia, United Nations, United States by Jillian Becker on Thursday, September 24, 2009

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US security will depend on the kindness of (evil) strangers 85

There is serious trouble ahead among the nations as a result of Obama putting away American power as he creates a weak, poor, socialist state out of what has long been the strongest and most successful country in history.

Mark Steyn comments accurately on Obama’s ever more disastrous foreign policy (read all of what he writes here):

You’ve got to figure that by now the world’s strongmen are getting the measure of the new Washington… The Europeans “negotiate” with Iran over its nukes for years, and, in the end, Iran gets the nukes, and Europe gets to feel good about itself for having sat across the table talking to no good purpose for the best part of a decade. In Moscow, there was a palpable triumphalism in the news that the Russians had succeeded in letting the Obama fellow have their way. “This [the breaking of the promise by the US to provide  anti-missile shields to Poland and the Czech Republic] is a recognition by the Americans of the rightness of our arguments about the reality of the threat or, rather, the lack of one,” said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee. “Finally the Americans have agreed with us.”

There’ll be a lot more of that in the years ahead.

There is no discreetly arranged “Russian concession.” Moscow has concluded that a nuclear Iran is in its national interest – especially if the remorseless nuclearization process itself is seen as a testament to Western weakness. Even if the Israelis are driven to bomb the thing to smithereens circa next spring, that, too, would only emphasize, by implicit comparison, American and European pusillanimity. Any private relief felt in the chancelleries of London and Paris would inevitably license a huge amount of public tut-tutting by this or that foreign minister about the Zionist Entity’s regrettable “disproportion.” The U.S. defense secretary is already on record as opposing an Israeli strike. If it happens, every thug state around the globe will understand the subtext – that, aside from a tiny strip of land [on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean], every other advanced society on earth is content to depend for its security on the kindness of strangers.

Some of them very strange. Kim Jong-il wouldn’t really let fly at South Korea or Japan, would he? Even if some quasi-Talibanny types wound up sitting on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, they wouldn’t really do anything with them, would they? OK, Putin can be a bit heavy-handed when dealing with Eastern Europe, and his definition of “Eastern” seems to stretch ever further west, but he’s not going to be sending the tanks back into Prague and Budapest, is he? I mean, c’mon …

Vladimir Putin is no longer president but he is de facto czar. And he thinks it’s past time to reconstitute the old empire – not formally (yet), but certainly as a sphere of influence from which the Yanks keep their distance. President Obama has just handed the Russians their biggest win since the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Indeed, in some ways it marks the restitching of the Iron Curtain. When the Czechs signed their end of the missile-defense deal in July, they found themselves afflicted by a sudden “technical difficulty” that halved their gas supply from Russia. The Europe Putin foresees will be one not only ever more energy-dependent on Moscow but security-dependent, too – in which every city is within range of missiles from Tehran and other crazies, and is, in effect, under the security umbrella of the new czar. As to whether such a Continent will be amicable to American interests, well, good luck with that, hopeychangers.

In a sense, the health care debate and the foreign policy debacle are two sides of the same coin: For Britain and other great powers, the decision to build a hugely expensive welfare state at home entailed inevitably a long retreat from responsibilities abroad, with a thousand small betrayals of peripheral allies along the way. A few years ago, the great scholar Bernard Lewis warned, during the debate on withdrawal from Iraq, that America risked being seen as “harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend.” In Moscow and Tehran, on the one hand, and Warsaw and Prague, on the other, they’re drawing their own conclusions.

Communism, cannibalism, and soul murder 153

Some of us are old enough to remember the horrors perpetrated in the Communist Russian Empire. But those born since the USSR was destroyed (chiefly by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher winning the Cold War) need to learn what happened under Lenin, Stalin, and their successors; and as they are unlikely to be taught about this in their ‘politically correct’  left-leaning history courses, they should have informative books  brought to their attention in the hope that some at least will read them. 

These extracts come from a review of Inside the Stalin Archives by Jonathan Brent, in The New Criterion

The first volume in the series, The Secret World of American Communism, caused shock waves by demonstrating that the American Communist Party was not a group of home-grown idealists, as so many apologists claimed, but, from the start, conducted espionage and took orders directly from Moscow. Despite decades of leftist mockery and vilification, the basic picture provided by Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley of Alger Hiss and many others was correct. The Comintern, too, was from day one directed by Moscow as a tool of Russian foreign policy. And despite the desperate strategy of throwing all blame on Stalin so as to excuse Lenin, The Unknown Lenin, which reproduces a selection from some six thousand Lenin documents never before released, reveals bloodthirstiness that surprised even anti-Communists. During a famine, Lenin ordered his followers not to alleviate but to take advantage of mass starvation:

It is precisely now and only now when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless energy.

“can (and therefore must)”: Leninist and Soviet ideology held not just that the end justifies any means, but also that it was immoral not to use the utmost cruelty if that would help. And it was bound to help in at least one way—intimidating the population. From the beginning, terror was not just an expedient but a defining feature of Soviet Communism. In Terrorism and Communism, Trotsky was simply voicing a Bolshevik truism when he rejected “the bourgeois theory of the sanctity of human life.” In fact, Soviet ethics utterly rejected human rights, universal justice, or even basic human decency, for all concepts that apply to everyone might lead one to show mercy to a class enemy. In Bolshevism, there is no abstract justice, only “proletarian justice,” as defined by the Party. ..

Stalinism was idealist in another, even more terrifying sense: it aimed at controlling from within the very thoughts we think. In a toast delivered on November 7, 1937, at the height of the Terror, the Great Helmsman swore to destroy every enemy:

            Even if he was an old Bolshevik, we will destroy all his kin, his family. We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts—yes, his thoughts—threatens the unity of the socialist state. To the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!

        Even the worst of the tsars never thought of punishing relatives for a criminal’s acts. But what is truly remarkable about this toast is the promise to murder people and their kin for thoughts. One must live in continual fear of one’s own mind.

Brent begins his book with a memorandum written by Andrei Vishinsky, Stalin’s chief prosecutor, to Nikolai Yezhov, the secret-police chief, about what he had seen in a tour of the Gulag. There were prisoners, Vishinsky explained, who had “deteriorated to the point of losing any resemblance to human beings.” An interrogator during the doctors’ plot wrote that, after one torture session, the elderly Dr. Vasilenko “lost his entire human aspect.” Perhaps the most important lesson to come from the Stalin archives is that any ideology that does not admit the existence of human nature winds up destroying not only countless lives but also the human soul.

How much better is Russia now? The answer is – a lot, but it’s still pretty bloody awful. 

Under Putin, Russia has turned away from a fleeting opportunity to embrace legality. A sort of mafia rules without breaking the law—because there is no real law. And yet, by comparison with the Soviet period, Russia is free and humane. To be sure, any journalist or businessman who displeases the regime is likely to be imprisoned, maimed, or killed. But millions are not arrested at random.

           Solzhenitsyn once asked why the bloodthirsty Macbeth killed only a few people while Lenin and Stalin murdered millions. He answered: Macbeth had no ideology. So far as we can tell, neither does Putin. Today no one tries to remake human nature. For the time being, and however precariously, the human spirit survives.

Posted under Commentary by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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One European leader worthy of respect 20

 Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, is about to take over the presidency of the EU, which he thoroughly despises. He has declared it to be as dangerous as the old Soviet Union.

We agree with him.

We also agree with him that ‘global warming’ is a myth; and that the US and global economic crisis was caused by too much government ‘regulation’ – ie interference – rather than too little. 

Of course the New York Times is against him. You can find its typically narrow-minded lefty piece on him here.

The Times of London is only a little more objective in its account of Klaus and his opinions.

We doubt that Klaus is ‘close’ to Putin as the reports allege. If he is, it’s one thing about him that we don’t applaud.  But for the most part he is an admirable conservative free-marketeer who values the nation state and knows that  there are worse threats to civilization than the weather. 

Posted under Uncategorized by Jillian Becker on Monday, November 24, 2008

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One European leader worthy of respect 28

 Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, is about to take over the presidency of the EU, which he thoroughly despises. He has declared it to be as dangerous as the old Soviet Union.

We agree with him.

We also agree with him that ‘global warming’ is a myth; and that the US and global economic crisis was caused by too much government ‘regulation’ – ie interference – rather than too little. 

Of course the New York Times is against him. You can find its typically narrow-minded lefty piece on him here.

The Times of London is a little more objective in its account of Klaus and his opinions.

We doubt that Klaus is ‘close’ to Putin as the reports allege. If he is, it’s one thing about him that we don’t applaud.  But for the most part he is an admirable conservative free-marketeer who values the nation state and knows that  there are worse threats to civilization than the weather. 

Posted under Commentary by Jillian Becker on Monday, November 24, 2008

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Criminal Tomatoes 130

Russia is clambering up the global victory stand, knocking other countries out of the way in an effort to reach her place at the top. It is a climb that the country responsible for the death of millions and the misery of billions will refuse to lose. In the last 18 years, the designs for a ‘liberal democracy’ has not been a success per se for Russia; it has been a weary aspiration, full of ideals that Russia’s powerful persons frequently misplace in order to better themselves and their future.

The truth is that Russia has not as yet changed from the cruel autocracy it has always been; it does not look set to do so either. The only apparent difference is the rise of a new elite: the oligarchs.

The question that many ask of this nouveau riche is where did their power and wealth come from? How did they become the phoenix that rose out of the ashes of the broken Soviet state in the 1990s? The most honest explanation is the result of the small reforms pushed through in the 1980s by Gorbachev. These reforms succeeded an embarrassing attempt by the Politburo to reinvigorate Lenin-Marxist economics by clamping down on ‘unearned incomes’. What this quite meant was beyond the understanding of the Soviet security services. One result of this order was the prevention of privately sold vegetables. The militia searched vehicles coming into major cities – searching for, as the newspaper Nezavisimaia Gazeta put it, “Criminal Tomatoes.” Gorbachev was extremely embarrassed by this, and realising the need for reform, changed the law in order to allow small privately owned businesses to exist – these were called the cooperatives.

So finally, as the tyrannical fire of the Communist state was starting to dwindle, the freedom of capitalism was permitted in small doses. This is where the oligarchs enter the stage – one example of whom is the prominent billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Although his first few businesses, such as a café at the Mendeleev Chemical Institute, were a failure, his fortunes soon changed completely, as did hundreds of other Russians, when they exploited a small loophole in Soviet law. Khodorkovsky took a bunch of temporary workers, called them his labour collective, and claimed subsidies from the Gosplan (the state institution for economic planning). He then took these subsidies, told the banks he had to pay his workers in real money, and was allowed to redeem the subsidies for actual cash, which he immediately turned into dollars, freeing this wealth from the dragging burden of the failing rubles. Hundreds of entrepreneurs exploited this loophole, and the Soviet state, in an effort to save their economy unwittingly gave more and more subsidies to the cooperatives – the result of which simply multiplied the fortunes of these Russians. By the collapse of the Soviet Union, hundreds were fast becoming, or had already become vulgarians with a rosy future – persons who succeeded as the state failed. This success had its integrity challenged however – it was marked with shady loans and sales of banks for fractions of their worth.

Not all oligarchs came to prominence with this relative honesty. Many of the wealthy are petro-oligarchs, men who have made their fortune by buying up the State’s largely untapped reserves of oil. In the 1990s, Yeltsin gave oil, metal and banks to the sycophants of his administration. The other prospering Russians seemed to have simply had the fortune to be in the right place at the right time. Poorer Russians will give each other knowing looks and say, “KGB, or Politburo…” These are often unproved rumours, but who was better placed to cash in on the rise of the most prosperous industries in the world than those who had controlled it not a few years previously?

One example is Vagit Alekperov. He was the Deputy Minister of Fuel and Energy under the USSR, and miraculously managed to acquire a lot of oil assets in the 1990s. He now enjoys a personal wealth of $1.3 billion.  And what of Vladimir Gusinsky? He built a huge media empire, starting this effort in the 1980s, while enjoying a close relationship with Filipp Bobkov, a KGB general who personally supervised Soviet repression of political dissidents, Christians and Jews.

When Putin arrived on the scene in 2000, he told the nouveau riche that he would not carve up the Russian economy but he warned them to keep out of politics. Wealth may not always buy power, but it certainly gives certain ambitions – and some oligarchs could not resist trying their hand. Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky were the first casualties of the oligarchs’ foray into politics, resulting in their exile just a short time later. The brutal retaliation of the Russian state has targeted journalists, political dissidents and the wealthy – men and women who have been threatened, attacked and murdered at home and abroad.

Putin plays a clever game however, and regularly meets with business leaders, in order to inform them that they will be tolerated but that they must not think or act against the state. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported a meeting in 2007: “The topics under discussion were chosen to show business its place (as was last year’s meeting, devoted to ‘the social responsibility of business before society’).”

The oligarchs are shining trophies of success for Russia, and the state is eager to show them off. Yet that same state is desperate for Russia to not become an overt plutocracy. The occasional fervent repression of rich individuals and removal of their political voice could be the wish of the state for itself to be seen as proletarian. Putin is careful to never display his wealth, but some suspect it to be vast. Anders Åslund wrote in his book, ‘Russia’s Capitalist Revolution’: “Everybody around Putin is completely corrupt, but many think that the president himself is honest. In February 2004, presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin named three men as Putin’s bagmen, including Gennady Timchenko, the co-founder of the Gunvor oil-trading company. After Rybkin made this statement, he vanished from the political stage. In September, the Polish magazine Wprost wrote that Timchenko, a former KGB officer and member of Putin’s dacha cooperative in St. Petersburg, has a net worth of $20 billion. Officially, Timchenko sells the oil of four Russian oil companies, but how are the prices determined to generate such profits? In an interview in Germany’s Die Welt on Nov. 12, Stanislav Belkovsky, the well-connected insider who initiated the Kremlin campaign against Yukos in 2003, made specific claims about Putin’s wealth. He alleged that Putin owned 37 percent of Surgutneftegaz (worth $18 billion), 4.5 percent of Gazprom ($13 billion) and half of Timchenko’s company, Gunvor (possibly $10 billion). If this information is true, Putin’s total personal fortune would amount to no less than $41 billion, placing him among the 10 richest in the world.”

In response to these allegations, at a press conference in February of this year, Putin replied: “This is true. I am the richest person not only in Europe, but also in the world. I collect emotions. And I am rich in that respect that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with leadership of such a great country as Russia. I consider this to be my biggest fortune. As for the rumors concerning my financial wealth, I have seen some pieces of paper regarding this. This is plain chatter, not worthy discussion, plain bosh. They have picked this in their noses and have smeared this across their pieces of paper. This is how I view this.” This is a very Russian answer.

This state of affairs is reminiscent of feudal Europe. When William I conquered Britain, he rewarded flatterers of his court. Men such as the Earl of Northumbria, who had not fought him, were given large amounts of land. And although the Russian emancipation of the serfs was back in 1861, the Russian people are still very much subservient to the state and the oligarchs, that is, the Tsar and the landowners.

The financial turmoil that has engulfed the World economy has revealed the remnants of the Soviet state that still subsists in Russia. The oligarchs lost a huge amount in the recent stock market crashes, in which shares have fallen by 75% since August. Vladimir Lisin, the steel magnate owner, has lost $11.2 billion since July; Vagit Alekperov, the President and one of the biggest shareholders in Lukoil, has lost $5.13 billion; and Uralkali Dmitry Rybolovlev has stacked up losses of $7.3 billion. Meanwhile, ordinary Russians know very little of their country’s and their oligarchs’ failures. A recent poll found that 57% of Russians believed their country to be flourishing, up from 53% a few months previously. And the state-controlled media have been banned from using words such as, “crisis” and “decline”. Just as Soviet propaganda films purported, Russians are still told how terrible life in the West is. Supposedly desperate Britons are throwing themselves in the Thames; we can no longer afford to bury the dead; and the Queen is pawning her jewellery. Russia tells its people that the Motherland will be the rescuer of Europe. The state affirmed this by giving a large loan to bankrupted Iceland recently, while Western countries refused to help. The media asks Russians to thank the genius and leadership of Vladimir Putin for their country’s stability and strong position during the financial turbulence.

The truth is that oligarchs are simply pawns of the state, at the mercy of the current tolerance of the Kremlin. Putin is preparing to reinstate himself as President – so completing the transition to an authoritarian method of rule – but as the economy worsens, his forbearance from destroying the providence of Russia’s financial elite is looking to lessen fast.

As in Soviet times, it is true in Russia that if one pulls oneself up, out of the misery of the bottom of the pile, then one will risk the painful drop from the top right back to the bottom; albeit from the nocuous control of the state, the lethal prison, forced labour, Siberian exile, or the gun. Ten years ago, life had never looked better for the oligarchs – through both serendipity and dishonesty they looked set to live a comfortable life. Now they find themselves in a collapsed attempt at democracy, in an atmosphere that is breeding wanton ideals of despotism. A recent Russian reality television show has Stalin set to win ‘The Greatest Russian Ever’ award. Stalin – a man responsible for the death of tens of millions of people.

The sensible oligarchs, such as Roman Abramovich, have moved to Europe, partly because of the large number of crimes accused by the Russian state and business partners against them. Abramovich in particular, emerged triumphant from the so-called ‘Aluminum Wars’; he left behind him over 100 gang fighters dead, a fellow oligarch exiled to Siberia and “numerous officials and executives” found murdered.

Russia never became a state with a free economy. Most of the oligarchs made their fortunes in a dying state through cruel and backhanded measures. And just as they rose so spectacularly, they will fall so too – especially as oil prices continue to plummet. They are bizarre figures – successors to the KGB heads and party officials – all of whom enjoy a limited autonomy in their respective areas of control; but they are still, and will always be ultimately at the mercy of the callous Russian state.

Posted under Articles, Commentary by on Saturday, November 22, 2008

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Russian warships in the Caribbean 51

A hugely important development that the US media are so far ignoring  – because it would set back their passionate campaign to get Obama the Feeble elected? –  is reported by the London Times:

 Russia flexed its muscles in America’s backyard yesterday as it sent one of its largest warships to join military exercises in the Caribbean. The nuclear-powered flagship Peter the Great set off for Venezuela with the submarine destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support vessels in the first Russian naval mission in Latin America since the end of the Cold War.

“The St Andrew flag, the flag of the Russian Navy, is confidently returning to the world oceans,” Igor Dygalo, a spokesman for the Russian Navy, said. He declined to comment on Russian newspaper reports that nuclear submarines were also part of the expedition.

The voyage to join the Venezuelan Navy for manoeuvres came only days after Russian strategic nuclear bombers made their first visit to the country. Hugo Chávez, the President, said then that the arrival of the strike force was a warning to the US. The vehemently antiAmerican Venezuelan leader is due to visit Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian President, in Moscow this week as part of a tour that includes visits to Cuba and China.

Peter the Great is armed with 20 nuclear cruise missiles and up to 500 surface-to-air missiles, making it one of the most formidable warships in the world. The Kremlin has courted Venezuela and Cuba as tensions with the West soared over the proposed US missile shield in Eastern Europe and the Russian invasion of Georgia last month. Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, said recently that Russia should “restore its position in Cuba” – the nation where deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in 1962 brought Russia and the United States to the brink of nuclear war.  


Posted under Uncategorized by Jillian Becker on Friday, September 26, 2008

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