A Russophobic Rogue’s Gallery

Uncle Volodya says, "A liar should have a good memory."

I realize all everyone wants to talk about right now is the presidential election in Russia, and although it has yet to be run as I start this post, it might well be over before I finish. But I am fairly easy in my mind that Vladimir Putin will win on the first ballot, and fairly sure that the Russian liberals will try to whip up massive protests on the grounds that his win was fraudulent although even the most virulent I-hate-Putin sources have said  he will win on the first ballot even if there is no cheating at all. Who knows – maybe that’s a devilishly clever western trick, to lull Putin into a false sense of security, so that he won’t cheat and Zyuganov will win. Kidding.

No, I thought I would do something like the “Top Russia Blogs” sort of post, only this time I would showcase the most barking mad, snake-handling, rolling-in-the-dirt loopy, frothy Russia haters I know of.  Among them, the vast majority are know-it-all foreigners who fancy themselves near-psychic academics who can predict the future of Russian politics and affairs, and who are never called to account when they are wrong. Only two are Russians living in Russia; Julia Ioffe does not count as such, since she left Russia as a small child and grew up in the United States. Anyway, let’s get to know my rogue’s gallery of Russophobes, and I’ll try to tell you a little bit about them – maybe you’ll think of some I forgot or missed, or will disagree that some of those listed are actually Russophobes. In no particular order, here they are.

American Kathy Lally and her husband, Will Englund, came to Moscow in the early 90’s as journalists for The Baltimore Sun. Kathy Lally is the Deputy Business Editor at the Washington Post. She and her family lived in Moscow throughout most of the 90’s, and I can only guess it was not a good experience. Back when she and her husband worked for The Baltimore Sun, the expectation when Yeltsin resigned was that Vladimir Putin would “carry on economic reforms already under way”. When it became clear Mr. Putin did not intend to carry on “economic reforms” that were resulting in a handful of Russians controlling the nation’s wealth at fire-sale prices, any probationary slack he had been granted melted away. Putin was described as the initiator of “shrill and aggressive” anti-Americanism, and Lally and others like her took up the cause of the opposition, playing up alliances between Russian liberals and the United States and encouraging – if you can imagine it – the Communists. An article covering the protest at the Garden Ring suggested that although the police estimated the crowd at 11,000, she pegged it at twice that number and that those in cars who “honked their horns in solidarity” should be included in the total.

The ersatz-intellectual blatherings and stubborn outright falsehoods of British nutjob  Edward Lucas make you think of Clarence Darrow’s pungent witticism; “I have never killed a man, but I have read many an obituary with great pleasure“. The very model of the smug idiot who is so smugly certain of his own unassailable rightness in everything that no reason can penetrate the Shroud Of Durak, Lucas regularly embarks upon the most vitriolic stupidities imaginable where Russia is concerned. Author – as if he would let you forget – of “The New Cold War“, Mr. Lucas seems sometimes to be the sole occupant of a parallel universe, evident in silly ramblings that cast Mikhail Saakashvili as “radiating responsibility“, upping the total of protesters in the Garden Ring protests to 20,000 with no evidence whatsoever and the by-now-familiar assessment of Mr. Putin’s support among decided voters as “40%” when it is in fact better than 60%, which he will augment with “a bit of rigging” setting the stage for de-legitimizing the vote amid screams of massive fraud. At the same time, he ridicules the threat against Russia – as described by Mr. Putin – as “imaginary”. (As predicted, at this point in the post the vote count revealed that Mr. Putin would win easily and maybe with more than 60% of the vote: congratulations, Mr. Putin.)  Mr. Lucas regularly and wearyingly propagates tired and discredited tropes about Russia’s population, such as that there is a punishing “brain drain” of the smartest intellectuals from Russia to the benevolent manna-strewn shores of the west, and that the overall population is in an irretrievable nosedive. Suspiciously, often-cited “intellectuals” like economists Vladimir Mau, Vladislav Inozemtsev and Yevsey Gurvich, Stanislav Belkovsky, Yulia Latynina and Masha Gessen remain in Russia. I guess they are just part of the massed hopeless dullard halfwits who didn’t get out while the getting is good. Either that, or Russia is churning out brilliant intellectuals faster than they can leave. You can’t have it both ways, Ed.

Founder and Director of the National Strategy Institute – whose sole purpose seems to be churning out rubbish about the Russian economy and making up official-sounding figures that cannot be defended when it is pressed for substantiation – Stanislav Belkovsky is a real piece of work. Best known for his fantastic stories about the usurious wealth allegedly accumulated by Vladimir Putin – who is supposed to personally control 37% of Surgutneftegaz, 4.5% of GAZPROM and “at least 75% of Gunvor”  – and who is supposed to be sitting on a fortune (at least $40 Billion) that would make him easily Europe’s richest man, Belkovsky confides, “I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about…it may be more. It may be much more.”

Speaking of things you know nothing about, Stas, I’ve just been through the Forbes List of Billionaires: all 1,153+ of them – plus because many of them are ties. I found a lot of Russians, most of whom I’d never heard of and including one with the improbable first name of “God”. And you know something? On this list – maintained, tracked and scrupulously updated since 1987 by financial professionals who make it their business to know the business of every fantastically rich person on the planet – the name “Vladimir Putin” does not appear anywhere. Does it seem conceivable to you that Stanislav Belkovsky and nobody else, since all the papers who “reveal” Putin’s supposed wealth are only quoting your original figures, stumbled upon what turns out to be the world’s fifth-richest man (after Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Bernard Arnault) while the fiscal professionals missed him over and over again? Is it conceivable that Gunvor could have a secret majority shareholder who controlled 75% of its stock, and nobody in the company knew who he was? Particularly viewed in light of the incredible clangers dropped by you in the past, such as in 2007 when you were sure Putin would step down and leave power completely, in order to protect his secret personal fortune (which has managed to remain secret for an additional 5 years now in spite of your blabbing it to the world). Also, according to this piece, Putin somehow managed to surreptitiously increase his stake in Gunvor from 50% to 75% in the month between your talking to the Jamestown Foundation and talking to serial liar Luke Harding. Quite a businessman: where does he find the time? And that’s without even getting into the ridiculous allegation by the organization of which you are director that “44% of the Russian economy is off the books”. So while FDI in Russia is drying up and the brightest Russians are fleeing the country in droves, the Putin/Medvedev administration still manages a steadily-increasing GDP that is actually nearly half again what the state says it is, is that your position? Sure you want to stick with that? How many fingers am I holding up?

Russia correspondent for U.S. News & World Report – as well as sometime writer for a variety of sources including Slate, Vanity Fair and the New York Times –  Masha Gessen holds dual citizenship, and mostly uses her Russian citizenship to tirelessly demean and abuse the country of her birth and present residence. While a little less ambitious than Crazy McCrazerton Stas Belkovsky, Gessen also contends that Putin is fabulously wealthy, this time owing to funds embezzled while deputy mayor of St. Petersburg under Anatoly Sobchak – as lovingly chronicled by the aforementioned High Priest of Prevaricators, Luke Harding, in a gushing review of Gessen’s Putin biography, The Man Without a Face. Gessen is of the opinion that a violent revolution would free the Russian people of their torment by the evil, grasping Putin and pave the way for that all-healing palliative, western-style democracy. Although she never comes out and says it in so many words, she appears to agree with train-wreck nutcase Yulia Latynina that poor people are too susceptible to cheap promises to better their lives for them to be entrusted with The Vote, and that only the elite have the dispassionate distance necessary to make important decisions on the nation’s future.

Curiously, she also engages in an energetic defense of media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, her former employer. She concludes, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the only man who could have crushed Gusinsky’s media empire was Vladimir Putin, and that he had MediaMost destroyed because it was critical of his government. But this report suggests otherwise; while it is generally in agreement that the Putin administration intensely disliked Gusinsky and MediaMost for their aggressive promotion of Yuri Luzhkov over Putin in the Presidential elections, and an American Embassy official at the time was quoted as saying “Gusinsky bet wrong”, it also points out that Gusinsky used MediaMost to suppress criticism of his other holdings, that he had no business plan, and points out that the financial obligations that formed the basis of the charges against MediaMost would likely have been forgiven if Luzhkov had won. Would that have made Gusinsky right? In fact, the report is clear that MediaMost’s debts – the greatest part of which by far accrued to NTV – were approximately $1.3 Billion in the summer of 2000. Gessen implies Putin made them up, in order to attack MediaMost and wrest control of it from Gusinsky, although the report is also clear that NTV’s financial outlook was “grim” and that without financial intervention it would not be able to meet its debt deadlines. Similarly, Gessen skips over Gusinsky’s arrests, saying that Spain conducted the only extradition hearing, and that a Spanish court concluded the Russian charges were “without substance”. That’s not quite how it happened; Gusinsky was actually arrested in December 2000, and was held under strict house arrest for 4 months before the Spanish court released him because the crimes he was accused of (fraud and embezzlement) “were not considered crimes in Spain“. Good to know; it explains a lot about Spain’s present economic state. In any case, that’s far from the Spanish court immediately ruling the charges were without substance. He was also arrested on the same warrant in Greece in 2003, but was released – reportedly under intense pressure from the American Ambassador in Athens, Israeli officials and the European Jewish Congress.

An unpredictable fusion of shit and high pressure, Britain’s The Guardian windbag Luke Harding is actually more full of shit than his total surface displacement. His sophomoric sense of humour and self-impression as centre of the universe, coupled with his propensity for insulting and patronizing everyone with whom he comes in contact – perhaps in the mistaken belief that the famous British appetite for self-deprecation extends to a broad international welcome for being the object of gratuitous flagellation – shortens his welcome to seconds everywhere he goes.  He wasn’t always the Russian correspondent; he did a stint as a correspondent in Germany. However, insistence on his right to feed his infants on potato chips and squire them about outside without warm clothes led to a conflict with elderly Germans, leading him to twin epiphanies that Germany is run by bitchy old folks, and that living somewhere else would be better. Since Luke Harding believes in a world ruled by People Who Think Like Luke Harding, he felt that the existence in Germany of a powerful political bloc of pensioners “impeded reform”.

However, when he got to Russia Harding was overcome by a previously untapped love for pensioners – particularly when he singled them out as the group who had not benefited from Russia’s oil and gas fortunes and consequently could be used in a typically hysterical attack on the government. Russia went ahead with a 6.3% pension increase in 2010 despite warnings that the country could not afford it, from the Finance Minister, and pensions in Russia increased steadily under Putin.

Notorious for his sloppy research and laziness, which on occasion led to representing others’ work as his own original work, the best thing that ever happened to Harding was Russia’s refusal to allow him to enter the country last year, which he promptly spun into a web of intrigue featuring himself as fearless journalist who had to be muzzled because of his Fearless Laptop Of Truth. His breathless account of having his apartment tossed by the FSB while he and his family were out (he immediately picked up on their coded signal to ixnay the criticism of Russia, or his children would pay the price, by his observation that his son’s tenth-floor bedroom window was left open) and his foolproof technique for spotting covert FSB agents (spoiler alert – they wear leather jackets) make for some racy reading; no horse’s head left in the bed for these guys, they’re subtle. Deflects all criticism of his maudlin Guardian opinion-as-fact pieces by speculating that critics are “Kremlin trolls” who must of course be paid to disagree with his work because it threatens to split the Kremlin’s very foundations asunder. Author of – surprise – a book (Mafia State) which leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to portray Russia as a festering swamp of crime and corruption from which no ruble emerges unstolen.

In fact, of our Russophobes thus far, Kathy Lally is the only one not cruising on a book written blasting Vladimir Putin and his supposed klepto-government’s ruthless squeezing for the last drop of blood from his poor, benighted people. You know, the ones who just re-elected him president with 64% of the vote.

And I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there for the moment; I’ve decided to break this post up into a miniseries, because I kind of got into it, and we’re already at 2,271 words. Ideally, it shouldn’t be much longer than that, but we still have Julia Ioffe, Yulia Latynina, Simon Shuster, Fred Weir, Miriam Elder and Nicholas Eberstadt to go. As always, your participation and suggestions are encouraged.

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174 Responses to A Russophobic Rogue’s Gallery

  1. megazver says:

    So bitchy!

    I love it.

  2. Leos Tomicek says:

    The part on Luke Harding is so funny. 🙂

  3. PTI says:

    Thanks, good reading.
    There is something seriously wrong with Latynina.

    • marknesop says:

      Not to mention anyone who believes anything she says.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        The people pictured here (see link) seem to believe her.

        Or do they?

        Latynina is pictured receiving the “Defender of Freedom” award off former US Secretary of State Rice, December 8th, 2008.

        The article says:

        ” ‘Yulia Latynina is a Russian freelance journalist, writer and radio presenter’, said Condoleezza Rice when presenting Yulia, ‘in whose investigations and severe commentary have been exposed cases of corruption and abuse of power by government officials, as well as flagrant violations of human rights by the authorities or by private individuals, mainly in the Northern Caucasus. With great courage she has openly defended fellow journalists who have found themselves in trouble during times of increasing self-censorship or enforced silence’. ”

        So, folks, let’s give a big, warm Washington welcome to Yoooooooolia Latynina!!!!!


        • yalensis says:

          Latynina’s main effort on behalf of U.S. state department was to glorify Saakashvili and to demean his opponents, such as Kokoita. She has hitched her wagon to Saakashvili’s star, and will rise and fall with him.

        • marknesop says:

          Yes, the west – and particularly the United States; I don’t want to gratuitously bash America, but it must be said that not even the UK is so aggressively playground-like in its willingness to go to great lengths to antagonize Russia – is fond of publicly rewarding “dissidents” and Soviet expats who are willing to negatively contrast Russia with the U.S. See, Russia?? We’re way better than you, hero journalist Yulia Latynina says so. The “Defender of Freedom” award? Please. Yulia Latynina is probably far better-known in Russia for her science-fiction novels than for her fiery denunciations in Novaya Gazeta, which has an even smaller circulation than the Moscow Times. The notion that her crazy ramblings and pretzel connections have contributed in any measurable way to freedom in Russia or anywhere else is comical. This is just a childish two-fingers-up to Russia from the USA, like crowning one of its mentally disabled citizens King in absentia.

  4. I have noticed before Mark that you have a very good line in invective oratory and this piece is an outstanding example. They’d have loved you in ancient Rome. Not something I can do by the way.

    I agree with everything you say about the characters in your rogue’s gallery. If anything I think you let Edward Lucas off too lightly but I still enjoyed reading what you said about him and about the others.

    PS: The Guvnor allegations are definitely untrue. The Economist tried to publish them and was slapped down with a lawsuit by the two owners of Guvnor, one of whom is a Russian called Timchenko and the other a well known Swedish businessman. There was simply no evidence to support the allegations so the Economist had to withdraw them and publish a retraction and apology. I have looked over the allegations relating to Guvnor and I have absolutely no doubt that Putin has no interest in it. Timchenko, who it is sometimes hinted is Putin’s proxy, is nothing of the sort. He struck me as being on the contrary a very tough and strong minded individual and businessman who was nobody’s tool. I have no doubt that the owners of Guvnor are who they say they are and that Putin has no interest in it.

    • cartman says:

      The biggest problem is that posters I see elsewhere try to repeat it is as fact. They do not seem to know much about it, but they are totally uninterested in learning from the truth. The same people now say that “Man Without a Face” contains all you need to know about Putin because they saw MG on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

      And they want Russians to turn into mindless drones reciting the best soundbites? Look at Huffington Post and despair that new media could actually be worse than the old dying one.

    • marknesop says:

      Thanks, Alex; I had a lot of fun with it, and they’re all people I’ve wanted to take a run at for some time. This just covers them all at once, and I did see something by another named Clover, brought up by Eric Kraus on Anatoly’s blog, that interested me as well although that’s the first I’ve heard of him.

      If you ever run across a link to that retraction by The Economist, I’d like to get a look at it. That’s as much as an admission that Belkovsky’s only claim to fame is pure unalloyed dung, because if there were any evidence they could have used to back themselves up, they’d have put it on the table instead of skulking away with their tails between their legs.

    • yalensis says:

      Here is Mark doing Roman oratory:

      Quo usque tandem abutere, Latynina, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?

  5. cartman says:

    I am glad to have a new post since that old one was pushing to 600 replies.

    Belkovsky is curious, since he was Berezovsky’s speechwriter. Why is he not in London or in the Gulag? That photoshop of Navalny replacing him with Berezovsky was not a big deal since the two men are very close.

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, I’m sorry about that – even though I’m on vacation at the moment, I found I had even less time than usual to work on a new post because I was at my Mom’s place every day painting. I’m glad that’s finished for the moment.

      Belkovsky is just a big fat bullshitter, as best I can make out. He never offers any evidence of Putin’s “ghost ownership” of shares – which I am pretty sure is illegal although the only source I contacted – Surgutneftegaz – never responded. Company policy documentation makes my eyes glaze over after a couple of paragraphs, although there’s lots of it available on their website under Investors and Shareholders. There’s probably something in there which forbids ghost ownership, and it may even be broadly illegal under national law; it’s just hidden under layers of tiresome legalspeak. Anyway, Belkovsky doesn’t even imply – that I’ve seen anywhere – that he has any proof – he just says “I know”. And everybody quotes him as if he had a big background in corporate finance or something. He’s supposed to be some kind of “communications specialist”.

    • yalensis says:

      I think the photoshop actually replaced Prokhorov with Berezovsky, no?

    • His comment on the Guardian admitting to censoring “Kremlin trolls” wouldn’t go amiss either methinks.

    • marknesop says:

      Thanks much, Anatoly! I worked in the updates you sent, except the second one, because it was my source already for the weepy Russian piece about pensioners. Fedia really did take him apart, though; shame he isn’t still blogging, because his takedowns were fabulous. I notice he attracted the critical acclaim of La Russophobe as well, and that he seemed to know how to handle it comfortably.

  6. alterismus says:

    I absolutely love this, thank you! Any chance we could get those people over here on this feed to comment and defend their lunacies? How fun would that be?!

    • marknesop says:

      That would, indeed, be awesome fun. But I doubt any would admit to frequenting this blog, and few are comfortable in a forum where they can’t simply delete your replies if they don’t like the cut of your jib.

  7. Moscow Exile says:

    Compare and contrast – an example of Harding’s stunning reporting as the Guardian Russia correspondent:


    • marknesop says:

      Frank Schätzing Luke Harding hasn’t done anything more than use scientific facts in his novel articles which are freely available for everybody,” the publisher said in a statement. It added: “He used lots of different sources for his novel articles. But they are all worked into the plot.”

  8. Moscow Exile says:

    This “Sasha Ivanovich”, the pensioner whose miserable life style Harding desribes in the Guardian article linked by Mark above, appears in the blog linked below, where the author, Fedia Kriukov, mentions Harding’s curious habit of writing the Russian diminutive name form together with the patronymic, as well as panning Harding’s abysmal journalism:


    • marknesop says:

      Yes, that was the source for my reference about Harding’s newly-discovered love for pensioners, after he wrote them off in Germany as a bunch of old bitches who just got in the way of reforms. I don’t think Kriukov is blogging any more, which is a shame because he was red-hot, and there is a lot of excellent information in that post on pension increases during Putin’s time in power.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        What really gets up my nose about Harding and others of his ilk is this: I don’t deny that there are hundreds of thousands, nay, millions in Russia who live a pretty shitty existence. I’ve just come home from work and on my way walked past four bomzhy (bums – alcoholics all) who set up camp last November on a a ventilator shaft above a main sewage line near my house. The warm air from the ordure flowing below helps them to survive winter. They bum money of passers-by who are entering and leaving a nearby supermarket, where the alkies buy bread, salami, chocolate – and vodka. The latter, off course, is their priority purchase. Three weeks ago, when the daytime temperature was peaking at minus 20C something, clouds of steam billowed around these living-dead as they lay in a drunken stupor on the shaft grillle.

        Things are much better for them now: spring has still not yet sprung here, it’s belting it down with snow, but the daytime temperature today has risen to a balmy minus 2C and it is going to be a mild, minus 6C tonight. They will soon be able to thank whatever gods they may have, if they have any at all, for having survived winter.

        Ever winter just over 500 die on the streets in Moscow, where men such as I am describing (and not a few women as well) have chosen to live out their short and sad lives.

        Now I can go on and on about this and send copy to the Guardian, who might pay me handsomely for it. In fact, I did so once: it was during the Yeltsin years and they paid me £50 for an A4 sheet where I described my everyday life in post-Soviet Russia. And if I were living in a UK city, I could certainly write “good copy” about those poor and exploited there, about the distressed and discriminated against, the old and the sick who lead shitty lives in my homeland, and forward it to a foreign newspaper that wished to paint the land of my birth in a negative light.

        For several months now In the UK Independent there has been running a story in the “most viewed story in UK and Europe” section about “krokodil”, a narcotic drug made at home from bought-over-the-counter codeine that Russian junkies process in order to get a morphine derivitave that is so poisonous that it literally eats the addict’s body. Shawn Walker, the Independent correspondent who wrote about “krokodil”, has absolutely nothing positive to say about Russia; his main theme in this story was what a shower of bastards the Russian government was for not banning codeine sales over the counter and that some government minister was making a killing in licensing the manufacture of this pharmaceutical. And I want to scream out: “Hey! Walker! Have you never seen junkies in the UK. And drunken bums? And young whores who’ll do anything for a fix?”

        I know the world is not full of sweeetness and light, but propagandists such as Walker and Harding clearly earn their salaries by presenting Russia to the world in the darkest light possible.

        Judging by the comments that appear below their propagandistic diatribes, their mission is succeeding.

        • marknesop says:

          “Judging by the comments that appear below their propagandistic diatribes, their mission is succeeding.”

          Well, it’s a lot like someone pointed out on here not long ago, about Putin voters – his message resonates with those it needs to reach, because he was never going to get the others anyway. Harding et al (and I must add Shawn Walker to the list) cater to the crowd that would despise any leader of Russia unless he or she got down on his or her hands and knees and kissed the earth of England, and pledged fealty to its policies. Even then, the best they could ever earn is the sort of amused contempt you feel for groveling toadies everywhere, but such a leader would be accepted because it would feed their impressions of personal and national greatness…which relies, for some reason, on the dragging down and subjugation of others. Oddly enough, one’s own countrymen who refuse to kneel are regarded as heroes, mythic in their stature. Foreigners who refuse to accept British direction (and I’m sticking with Britain only because both mentioned are British) are hated because they deny their countrymen the balm that would come with acceptance of British superiority.

          And yes, whenever there is a problem in Russia, the angle is unfailingly worked in that the government doesn’t stop it because somebody in the government is getting rich from the misery of others, or that their misery is desirable because it renders them more controllable, or there is some other advantage to leaving the situation as it is. This conveniently ignores the well-established fact that western intelligence agencies allow or facilitate drug shipments to their own country in exchange for information on criminal gangs or other agencies.

          Well, I say “well-established fact”, but in reality it’s just something someone wrote in a book. You might say the same of “Mafia State”. Is everything in that true? Certainly not; it’s Harding’s opinion. This might well be the same. But there have been numerous allegations from generally-reliable sources that the CIA permits or facilitates the drug trade in America in exchange for the power it gives them over others. I could not personally say that is true.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            Here’s a classic Walker opening paragraph to a lengthy tale of Russian criminality that appeared in the UK Independent three years ago:

            “Zherdevka, a dead-end town seven hours’ drive from Moscow, is the sort of place where nothing ever happens. Almost all the cars are old, battered Ladas; the few cafés reek of cheap frying oil and are populated with friendly but tragic-faced people ordering large early morning glasses of vodka.”

            (I presume that the “cheap frying oil” that made the cafés “reek” so was unrefined sunflower oil, the usual cooking oil found in Russian kitchens, although one can buy odourless refined sunflower oil. Prefer unrefined myself. At least Walker says that the citizens of Tambov were friendly, though they are all, of course, alcoholics.)

            In similar fashion, in the same tale he later describes the provincial city Tambov thus:

            “We arrived in Tambov, the drab regional capital, famous for little except creating one of Russia’s most unpleasant mafia groupings, late in the afternoon. The pre-trial detention centre where Yakhnev was being held was here, and Samarin left me with a bowl of borscht in a cafe across the road while he went off to meet his client. While I slurped down the purple soup, a blonde girl in knee-high boots sung saccharine pop songs to the accompaniment of a Casio keyboard, and a few bored looking prostitutes sipped beers at the bar.”

            (As matter of fact, in the 19th century Tambov used to be mockingly called “Tambog” [there god] by some Russians because of the number of Old Believers resident in that region. It was also the centre of an anti-Bolshevik peasants’ revolt that took place during the civil war and which was cruelly put down by Trotskiy and his newly founded Red Army.)

            In Walker’s tale there are included Khodorkovskiy, Litvinenko, Berezovskiy, Politskaya, the Nord-Ost terrorist siege, a sultry Russian vamp and a cast of thousands. The main characters in Walkers yarn, however, belong to Vityaz (“knight”), a SPETSNAZ (Special Purposes Forces) unit of the Ministry of the Interior that was specifically assigned to counter terrorism operations. Vityaz was disbanded in 2008.

            The story that Walker penned under the title “Passion, deadly secrets and betrayal in Putin’s Russia” can be read here:


            It turned out, however, that some Vityaz veterans were none too pleased with Walker’s tale and questioned its veracity. They were so annoyed, in fact, that they took the trouble of writing a letter of complaint to the Independent, in which letter they pointed out several anomalies in Shawn Walker’s article.

            Vityaz veterans have an Internet forum in the Evil Empire and in that forum there appeared a part translation into Russian of the essentials of Walker’s tale together with a copy of the official letter of complaint that was sent to the Independent by those veterans. The story translation and the letter of complaint are both lengthy and are, of course, in Russian. However, for those with a limited command of Russian or no knowledge of that language at all, if you go to the Vityaz veterans’ forum (linked below) and scroll down, you will find a translation into English of the letter of complaint that the Independent received.

            See: http://forums.bkb-vityaz.ru/viewtopic.php?t=1213

            I shouldn’t imagine that the Vityaz veterans received a reply to their letter.

            • Dear Moscow Exile,

              I found this all most interesting though it is lengthy reading.

              One of the great problems about British reporting of Russia is that far too many British journalists read far too many trashy spy thrillers. Here we have it all: the James Bond/Jason Bourne figure, the beautiful girl, the unbelievably intricate conspiracy, the set up. Things just don’t happen like that in the real world. Even without reading the detailed and witty rebuttal from the Vityaz veterans even I was able to spot many of the absurdities including the confusion in Walker’s mind between the respective roles of the Interior Ministry and the FSB. Over and above that the fundamental problem with the whole narrative is that it is based on an assumption of systemic corruption in Russia that is simply taken as read. If you take that assumption away the whole elaborate structure collapses. I would point out one further feature of this story, which is common to much western journalism, is that Russian security organisations like the FSB and Vityaz are alternatively super efficient and sinister or completely incompetent and corrupt as the narrative of the story requires.

              To my certain knowledge the Independent has never published the Vityaz letter but that does not mean that it has not had some effect. I notice that there has been no follow up to the story though it is now well over a year old, and no attempt has been made to build Yakhnev up as another victim of oppression. Bear in mind that Alexander Lebedev who owns the Independent is himself a KGB veteran who must know enough about how special services really work to realise the inherent absurdity of the whole story.

              I would just say that a far more interesting person than Yakhnev, the supposed “James Bond/Jason Bourne”, is the “beautiful girl”, Natalia Pelevine. If her account is to be believed she has connections to Berezovsky, Zakayev and assorted Chechens and though intensely anti Putin seems to be hinting at Berezovsky’s involvement in the Litvinenko murder. Either she really has these connections, which if so is interesting in itself, or she has a very well developed imagination in which case given that she is some sort of playwright I wonder whether she is the ultimate author of the whole fantasy. In that case Walker would not be the first guy who has had the wool pulled over his eyes by a pretty girl.

              • I have checked out Natalia Pelevine (or Pelevina) and it turns out that she is a very prominent London based oppositionist with her own Wikipedia entry. She takes an unhealthy interest in intelligence questions and there is film of her on You Tube in some sort of Russian TV talk show programme with the former KGB agent Oleg Kalugin. I am pretty sure that she is the author of the whole story. By the way the idea that she had any sort of long term relationship with Yashnev seems to me improbable to say the least.

              • Hunter says:

                “I would point out one further feature of this story, which is common to much western journalism, is that Russian security organisations like the FSB and Vityaz are alternatively super efficient and sinister or completely incompetent and corrupt as the narrative of the story requires.”

                Yup, there is that western MSM duality at work again (Mark, you could do a whole blog post on the Schizophrenic Western Mainstream Media!). Really and truly I now have to wonder if a lot of western MSM journalists don’t have a mild form of schizophrenia. These illogical themes that tend to crop up again and again in their articles is disturbing – so an organization can at the same time be super efficient and completely incompetent; voters can “slap Putin in the face” while apparently knowingly voting for his “puppet” parties; they (journalists and protesters) can call for democracy while in essence advocating for minority rule akin to what happened in South Africa and Liberia in the past; Russians (journalists and ordinary citizens) are apparently putting their lives in danger by openly protesting and writing anti-Putin critiques even though the vast majority of those who do such things never end up in jail or dead; Putin still enjoys the support of the vast majority of Russians but his regime is weak and he could be on his way out because a minority called the “creative class” is opposed to him……..it goes on and on. And that is only about Russia. We haven’t even looked on the illogical positions regarding the rest of the world (like Egypt, Libya, other parts of Africa, Iran, etc).

                • Dear Hunter,

                  I think you are on to something with this duality thing. It does repay study.

                • Hunter says:

                  Actually it was Mark who used the term first and pointed out the duality “of opposition figures whining that Putin stamps out every flickering spark of free will, yet [being able to] openly call for violent overthrow of the government on a foreign news service”. I just pointed out other instances. But as you can see there does seem to be something to it. You pointed out the duality in that article about Putin being simultaneously strong and weak and the opposition being weak and strong.

                • yalensis says:

                  Maybe their feeble attempt at Hegelian dialectic?

            • Neil McGowan says:

              Shaun Walker (or, as he is correctly spelt. Shaun Wa*ker) has recently been more notorious for his claims that he ‘witnessed a column of Russian tanks crossing the Ukrainian border’ (along with fellow neocon plonker “Roland Oliphant” of the Telegraph). Mysteriously, neither of these respected (ehem) scribblers managed to take a single photograph for the entire 30 minutes that the alleged tank column rolled past them.

              Wa*ker began his scribbling career at the Moscow Times, quickly going on to write a weekly column of cobblers in The Independent. There his talent as a rightwing loony was spotted by Simon Tisdall of the Guardian – a pathetic Chatham House shill who ran factless Russia-hating ‘stories’ in the Grauniad every Tuesday throughout the 2000s – mostly reposted junk from the Carnegie Foundation. These days Tisdall is “Foreign Editor” of the Gruaniad – where he has actually subbed-out all news-gathering on Russia to the Carnegie Foundation (that famous Russia-based organisation) and its clone identities – the Calvert Journal, the Moscow Times, and “The Interpreter”.

              The latter is the latest piece of garbage to be edited by Michael Weiss – another name which deserves mention in the annals of Russophobe Whackjobs. Weiss allegedly studied “Soviet Studies” at some kind of college in America, but it’s unclear whether he ever actually visited. He wrote a column in the Daily Telegraph about Russia that was so hilariously bad that even the Telegraph had to fire him. But, like a floating turd, Weiss has shown up once more at “The Interpreter” – a laughable piece of russophobic crapola sponsored by anonymous Cold Warrior loons in the United States.

              There is, in fact, one decent British reporter covering Russia – Tom Parfitt. However, his even-handed coverage and tenacious use of factual material has made his reporting unpalatable to the New World Orderers at the Grauniad, Times and Telegraph, and he mostly seems to appear when their own scribblers are too clueless or hung-over to be able to report enough to cover the column inches needed.

  9. yalensis says:

    On the Western media’s search for Putin’s “hidden wealth”, I wonder sometimes maybe they actually believe their own lies. Because in a world where Goldman Sachs calls air strikes against a sovereign Arab nation, the line between personal wealth and sovereign state wealth has gotten so blurred. So maybe this is a case of Freudian projection. I suspect that Putin, like many other heads of state in Europe, is rich, slightly corrupt, people give him expensive gifts, and he enjoys many perks; but this is not the same thing as, say, personally owning Gazprom or being able to pass all of Russia’s natural resources along to his daughters. (The way Khodorkovsky would have been able to pass them along to his son, Pavel, had Putin not intervened to put a stop to that.)
    To compare with Libyan situation: Western governments maliciously accused Gaddafi of basically “owning” all of Libya, including its oil. This was untrue (Gaddafi, once again, was rich and corrupt, his children lacked for nothing, but this is not the same thing as actually owning the oil), but maybe they actually believed their own lies. Because the Western governments put out the word to assassinate not only Gaddafi, but also his children and grandchildren, even the littlest toddlers. (In the end only 3 grandchildren have survived, in exile in Algeria, and not for NATO lack of trying to kill them.) Why would NATO bother killing the little kids? Because they may have actually believed that these kids had some legal basis to inherit Libya’s sovereign billions in gold, cash and shares in Goldman Sachs? Which is ridiculous, because the loot did not belong to Gaddafi personally or to his family. But again, maybe the West believed that it did, because they themselves no longer know the difference between private and public wealth?
    Just speculatin’ …

    • marknesop says:

      Maybe, but I’m going to go against the flow and say Putin is not wealthy at all in the cash sense, since his preferred currency is power. There’s no doubt he likes to be on top, and I challenge anyone to show me a successful leader who is not so minded. There have been leaders who liked to remain in the background; what’s that old Lao Tzu maxim? Oh, yes;”… but of a great leader, when his task is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will say ‘we did this ourselves”. Well, that’s nice in the abstract of oriental philosophy, but in practice if a leader is a shrinking violet who shuns the limelight and empowers his own people, other nations quickly move in to empower them to overthrow him. It’s helpful to think of the electorate not as comprised of philosophers who take the long view, but of whiners who think only of themselves and how policies will affect them personally. That’s not a pretty thought, but it’s what keeps leaders in power, over and over. The ones who do take the long view and speculate on whether policy is good for the country’s direction and for future generations are often thought of as elites or intellectuals, and there are not enough of them to keep the leader in power; hence the necessity of populist gestures.

      Putin knows how to play politics perhaps better than anyone in Russia, and has had the international masters of dirty tricks try to take him down. But I’m sure they’re not finished yet. They’ll simply move the goalposts, to trying to restrict Putin to one term and to make that term as turbulent as possible. It’s a pity things have to be that way, because a lot of money that might be spent on liberalizing reforms – which Putin has hinted there will be less of anyway – goes to those populist gestures that are necessary to stay in power. There’s much of self-fulfilling prophesy in this.

      Anyway, you’re right that there is a huge distinction between personal and state wealth. I’m sure the state pays for Putin’s fancy watches that he likes to give away, and that western journalists are forever using as a sign that he has access to a motherlode of cash that nobody knows about. But really, those are his only affectation. For all the bibble-babble about his “palaces”, has anyone ever actually seen him living in one? He doesn’t wear pricey suits or shoes that cost a couple of months salary (like John McCain of “hey, Vlad” tweeting fame). As far as I know he’s not a coke addict or a wearer of underpants made from rare endangered species. He just doesn’t live like a rich guy, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s not. He has plenty of rich friends, but I wonder how long they will stay so when he’s no longer in power, and might have time to tool around in an M5 with alligator upholstery.

  10. Moscow Exile says:

    “I suspect that Putin, like many other heads of state in Europe, is rich, slightly corrupt, people give him expensive gifts, and he enjoys many perks…”

    Same goes for the British head of state, who got the job because her dad had it before her, and his dad before him…

    Until quite recently the British head of state didn’t pay any tax thanks to a nice little deal that her granddad had fixed up between the British government and “the firm”, as the present British head of state calls her head-of-state family business. About 20 years go, the British head of state at last agreed to pay some tax on her income (she is one of the richest people in the world), but only one person knows exactly how much. That person is one of Her Majesty’s tax inspectors appointed to deal with her taxation and who has an office in Swansea, Wales. After agreeeing to pay some tax, the British head of state also promised to support her four children, who are called “prince” or “princess” by her subjects.

    The British head of state receives numerous expensive gifts off other heads of state, which she says do not belong to her, but to “her people”. They are all stashed way in various head-of-state residences in the UK. These residences are called “palaces” and “castles”. Nevertheless, it was only after great pressure had been put on the British head of state by a British parliament that a very small part of those artefacts that she says belong to the nation were made available for public viewing in her London town house, Buckingham Palace.

    The Russian president-elect seems to have a fondness for wearing expensive Swiss watches. A few years back, when the then Russian head of state, now president-elect, was making a factory visit, he was asked by a disgruntled Russian worker if he could have his watch as he was a bit strapped for cash. The impudent prolatarian was immediately, there and then, granted his wish. A few days after this, the Russian president-elect was seen sporting another very expensive Swiss watch, which caused some clucking in the Western press.

    I should imagine that if one of the British head of state’s subjects asked for one of the very expensive baubles that she is accustomed to adorning herself with, you would not see him or her for dust. In fact, when in the presence of the British head of state, a British subject is only allowed to address her if spoken to by “her majesty”.

    • yalensis says:

      History has recorded only one instance of a politician who cared nothing about money or material things and was completely ascetic in that regard. That was Robespierre, who led the French Revolution, he was known as The Incorruptible.

    • apc27 says:

      I wish you would have chosen somebody other than the Queen to make your comparison, not because you are essentially wrong, but because she is probably the ONLY member of the British political class who deserves at least some measure of respect. Its annoying enough to see the Guardian and its idiotic commentators, who collectively in their entire lives haven’t done even 1% of what she did for her country, trying to denigrate her personally and her service to Britain. Look at her biography, look at her present timetable which would exhaust a man in his 20s, not to mention a woman in her 80s, and you would see a woman who’s life was and is dedicated to the service of her country. That is why I am willing to cut her a LOT of slack, despite my intense dislike of many aspects of British royal family, and I wish others would do the same.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        “…the Guardian and its idiotic commentators, who collectively in their entire lives haven’t done even 1% of what she did for her country…”

        Know them all, do you? Do you know what they all have or, as the case may be, haven’t done for their country?

        “…look at her present timetable which would exhaust a man in his 20s…”

        You must know some pretty weak and feeble men who are in their twenties.

      • yalensis says:

        Yeah, poor old Queenie has to bust her hump to earn that modest crust.

  11. cartman says:

    This article by Edward Lucas seems more critical of the media portrayal of Putin:


    (Find it on Google and use the preview button if you cannot read it.)

  12. Moscow Exile says:

    Where does it say that Lucas wrote it? It says at the bottom that the writer was the Economist Moscow bureau correspondent, but is it really Lucas that wrote it? If it is, then he has shown an amazing about face as regards his opinion of Russian president-elect.

    The writer says that Putin’s reaction Politkovskaya’s murder was “despicably casual”: what Putin actually said on October 10, 2006 about that murder was :

    “With regards to the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaia, then I have already said and I can say once again that this is a disgusting crime. To kill not only a journalist but also a woman and a mother. And the experts know well… that perhaps because Ms Politkovskaia held very radical views she did not have a serious influence on the political mood in our country. But she was very well-known in journalistic circles and in human rights circles. And in my opinion murdering such a person certainly does much greater damage from the authorities’ point of view, authorities that she strongly criticized, than her publications ever did. Moreover, we have reliable, consistent information that many people who are hiding from Russian justice have been harbouring the idea that they will use somebody as a victim to create a wave of anti-Russian sentiment in the world. I do not know who has carried out this crime. But whoever they were and whatever their motives, they are criminals. They must be found, brought to justice and punished. The Russian authorities will do everything they can to ensure that this takes place.”

    I find that what Putin said about that unfortunate woman was very magnanimous, considering the way she had attacked him when she was alive, such as:

    “We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it’s total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial—whatever our special services, Putin’s guard dogs, see fit”.

    See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/09/russia.media

    • marknesop says:

      I agree it’s a puzzler; a related article I found was written by someone called Toby Vogel. But this sounds much more like Lucas, is completely different in tone from the article on Putin’s leadership, but is identified as also having been written by The Economist’s “Central and Eastern Europe correspondent”.

      If you can believe it, it goes after Russia for “supporting dictators”. It’s enough to make a marble statue laugh.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        ” …[I]f you want to go on working as a journalist, it’s total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial—whatever our special services, Putin’s guard dogs, see fit” wrote Politkovskaya.

        What always puzzles me about these words that Politkovskaya wrote, together with similar sentiments uttered by many critics of Russia, is how she could explain why her colleague at Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a certain Yulia Latynina, was, at the same time as the words quoted above were written, relentlessly dishing out the dirt on Putin; indeed, she continues to do so now. So why hasn’t she been liquidated by the “ex-KGB thug”?

        • The latest word on the Politkovskaya case is that the corrupt policeman who is supposed to have organised her murder is telling the cops that he did it on Berezovsky’s and Zakayev’s instructions. If this turns out to be true (and it is a big if) then both the British and US governments could be in for a very rough ride: the British because Berezovsky was granted not just political asylum but British citizenship, the US government because at the time of her death Politkovskaya was a US citizen holding a US passport. Since Politkovskaya was a US citizen the US authorities are under a legal duty to bring her murderer to justice if he cannot be prosecuted in the place where the murder happened, which is Russia. This means that they may have to go after Berezovsky whether they like it or not with Politkovskaya’s family or other interested parties being in a position to bring against the US government a judicial review if they do not. Whilst the British have consistently refused to extradite Berezovsky to Russia under the terms of the extradition treaty between the US and Britain they would have no choice but to extradite him to the US if the US demanded it for him to stand trial there. The Russian government and/or Politkovskaya’s family might then apply to join the trial as interested parties and the fun and games would then really begin. Far fetched I know but not impossible,

          • Hunter says:

            Why would Russia request Berezovsky’s extradition though? I don’t think there is an extradition treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom, so why are they making extradition requests of each other?

            A Berezovsky trial in the United States though would be REALLY interesting. Unlikely to happen, but then stranger things have occurred.

            • The UK and Russia do not have an extradition treay. In the absence of an extradition treaty the decision whether or not to extradite is at the discretion of the British government. As is always the case such exercises of discretion are supposed to be carried out in a fair way, which in practice means that they are decided by a court. Previous Russian requests for the extradition of Berezovsky and Zakayev have been dealt with in this way. In reality as everybody knows extradition decisions are highly political in nature and in the earlier cases involving Berezovsky and Zakayev they certainly were.

              By contrast there is a very tough though completely unbalanced extradition treaty in existence between the US and Britain. Whilst it is virtually impossible for the British to get US citizens extradited from the US to stand trial in Britain, it is extremely difficult for the British to refuse to extradite British citizens who the US wants to stand trial in the US. If the US wants Berezovsky extradited to stand trial on a murder charge where the victim was a US citizen (such as Anna Politkovskaya or Paul Khlebnikov) it will get him.

  13. sinotibetan says:

    Dear Mark,

    Thanks for the post. A good one – not only with regards to the who’s who among the Russophobes, I think it helps to improve my English too. Ha!


  14. yalensis says:

    Speaking of biased journalism, here is an interesting article from RT about some dissension within Al Jazeera, over their biased coverage of the Syrian conflict:


    • marknesop says:

      “…the channel had become a one-sided voice for the Qatari government’s stance against Bashar al-Assad…”

      Gee, d’you think? When you start getting kudos from all the western news bigs, whereas formerly they wouldn’t cross the street to spit on you if you were on fire and said that you were a mouthpiece for terrorism, you kind of figure you’re doing something they like. And if you’re doing something they like, you can saw “Independent” off the station sign.

  15. yalensis says:

    Hey, everybody, check out Alex Jones’ latest rant against Angelina Jolie. Alex really goes medieval on Jolie’s skinny ass. (“Angelina, you are a globalist whore!” etc etc)
    I know he seems a bit harsh, but Alex makes a great point: that West is positioning for new “humanitarian” invasion of mineral-rich countries of Central Africa (Uganda, Congo), under pretense of bringing down this two-bit warlord Kony:

    • marknesop says:

      This Kony thing smells like a big fake to me.

      • yalensis says:

        Yeah, it’s too convenient. I think Alex Jones is onto something: Western propaganda machine is building up to get public buy-in for “humanitarian” invasion of Uganda. Last I heard, Kony wasn’t even there any more, he is either dead, or in Congo. But Uganda is showing up more and more on NATO’s radar. I think they have some valuable stuff there – oil? uranium? whatever. These neo-colonialist bastards are NEVER going to leave Africa alone.

        • Hunter says:

          Uganda? I don’t think there would be any invasion of Uganda, humanitarian or otherwise. Uganda has a decent little army. It fought the Rwandans in the Congolese city of Kisangani after all and the Rwandans are bad-ass after all the experience they accumulated in the 1990s-2000s.

          • yalensis says:

            Thanks for info, Hunter. I just double-checked General Wesley Clark’s famous “hitlist” of (7 countries in 5 years), and, to be sure, Uganda is NOT on the list. So, I guess they are safe, with or without Warlord Kony. To review, the list of nations to be invaded and regime-changed by USA is: (1) Iraq (2) Syria (3) Lebanon (4) Libya (5) Somalia (6) Sudan (7) Iran.

            • I am not sure that Uganda is in the clear. The Pentagon has recently set up an Africa Command and supposedly the US is concerned to target what it sees as the dangerous growth of Chinese influence in Africa. The Museveni government in Uganda is on good terms with China and was a fierce critic of the attach on Libya so it is by no means impossible that the Koni video was intended to trigger a demand for intervention (in the form of “help”) to that country. It is a little odd that such a big fuss is being made about Kony now given that he seems to be essentially a spent force.

              I ought to say that the video has been unbelievably effective. My own 14 year old niece is showing it on her Facebook page and was very upset by it.

              • marknesop says:

                Yes, that video is popping up everywhere, which is why it has the scent of a setup for me. The U.S. has had an “Africa Command” for some time, but to the best of my knowledge it is still headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, because they could not get an African nation to agree to host it. This is why there was considerable speculation upon the invasion of Libya that a move to Libya afterward would be one of those “accidental benefits” (along with plundering the Gaddafi treasury to put to use in EU bailouts and the like) of the military action. And it may yet, although Libya would have to quiet down considerably first.

                The U.S.’s blinkered view where Russia is concerned has led them to ignore the massive increase in Chinese global influence over the last decade, and even to downplay it when specifically drawn to their attention. I’d question of what value it is to wise up now that they have mortgaged the farm with heavy borrowing from China to finance their “muscular” foreign policy. The bill will doubtless be patiently and politely presented whenever it is strategically advantageous so to do.

                • Hunter says:

                  “The U.S.’s blinkered view where Russia is concerned has led them to ignore the massive increase in Chinese global influence over the last decade, and even to downplay it when specifically drawn to their attention.”

                  Yes, I’ve noticed that too. For instance in the UN Security Council vote on Syria the western MSM always harps on and on about Russia vetoing the resolution and kinda tack China’s veto on as an after thought. Given what happened in Libya, I wouldn’t be surprised if China wielded its veto on Syria even if Russia abstained or voted for it.

              • yalensis says:

                @alexander: I am sorry your niece got upset by the video. I hope she wasn’t traumatized. I haven’t seen it myself, but I know the gist. Seems like the message is targeted at the natural humanitarian instincts of youth, to outrage them and get them to do something, or support something. No doubt this Kony is a monster, but we know that is not the issue. As Alex Jones points out, there are a hundred such monsters operating in the world. The issue is: who picked this guy as the Demon du Jour; and why? The Africa Command thing might be a clue, as Mark points out. I read that Americans were planning to set up shop in Libya, once things stabilize, in order to better control the entire African continent.

  16. PvMikhail says:

    I feel relentless anger against these people and I don’t know how can you read them regularly… You have great patience tolerating them. Good post BTW, when I read your posts I always get stunned about the wide range of options in English language. It helps me to realize, that I don’t know too much about literary language and I have to improve myself. 🙂

    • marknesop says:

      Oh, I don’t know….you speak at least 3 languages already and you speak English better than some people I know who can’t speak anything else, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

      Most of these people I do not read regularly, just stumbling across a post here or there, and some are referrals. I had never heard of Nicholas Eberstadt before I read something about him on Mark Adomanis’s blog, if I remember correctly, and I’ve never read his book (Drunken Nation). I see very little of Fred Weir, and probably the only one I used to follow fairly regularly was Julia Ioffe. And that was mostly to argue with her on her blog, which I quit following when it would sometimes go a month or two without an update. I usually find them when I am searching for a specific subject, say, “alcohol consumption in the Russian Federation, trend 2000 – 2011”. In that case I would probably get Nicholas Eberstadt raving about how the whole Russian adult population – men and women – puts down the equivalent of a liter of vodka every day, maybe Fred Weir, probably Simon Shuster and Miriam Elder pretending to be sorry for the poor drunks of Lopotova, that kind of thing. And I sort of learn about them as I go; I don’t have time to follow all their silliness. If something they say intrigues me or infuriates me, then I look for more of their material, maybe ask a few questions of more experienced bloggers. And, as I say, a lot of them are referrals from people who know their work. Shaun Walker, for example – I’ve never read a word he’s written. But you can bet I will by the time we go after him in the next post.

      • PvMikhail says:

        Speaking about Yevsei Gurvich… Look at this!


        The RIA Novosti article says, that Kudrin prepared his article about Pension Reform plans together with a so called “Yevsei Gurevich”, which – I assume – is the misspelled name of Gurvich. I have two notes for that: I thought (think) the Kudrin is a respectable economist and a cold headed pragmatist. I also think, that his recent behavior is explainable with the Kremlin’s need of a credible (economically) liberal face, who can calm down the discontent of rich middle class. BUT I don’t think he should do anything together with Gurvich, if your opinion is true and he is a Russophobe. In this case Kudrin is not right. However if Kudrin is right, is this Gurvich guy so totally idiotic as the other Russophobes you have mentioned? I mean, how credible this guy is?

        • marknesop says:

          There appears to be an alternate spelling of his name, because if you search under either “Gurvich” or “Gurevich” and “Yevsei” or “Yevsey”, you get the same guy, head of the Economic Expert Group.

          Gurvich wasn’t always a Russophobe – truly, he isn’t, because he believes he wants what is best for Russia, but he is one of the “elite intellectuals” who believes Putin is an authoritarian boor because he isn’t an academic. But it’s important to remember a couple of things: one, all these elitny were once Putin fans, as long as they believed he was going to carry on Yeltsin’s program of extensive privatizations. Two, all of them, to varying degrees, have made economic predictions that turned out to be catclysmically incorrect. You could argue that economics is a science of educated guesses – I certainly wouldn’t need much convincing – but in the final analysis Putin guessed right every time and they guessed wrong. And again, Putin rarely makes these decisions “from his gut” as George Bush used to do. Instead, he listens to everybody and then goes with the most convincing argument that feels right to him – major detractors now, such as Vladimir Mau, once lauded Putin for his attentive listening to his experts before making a decision.

          Gurvich has probably been right a few times – it’s hard to be wrong all the time in economics, but as I’ve often argued, anybody can analyze a trend that has already happened and say, there’s where they went wrong. You don’t even need any special economics education to do that. But making a guess that could affect the lives of millions is where we separate the men from the boys – so to speak, no disrespect intended, ladies – and Putin has been right when it counted, such as gambling oil prices would stay high when the Maus and Gurviches and Inozemtsevs said they were about to tank. You can say he’s just lucky, or whatever you like. Doesn’t matter. The results speak for themselves, and if Putin had followed Gurvich’s advice in the past he might have made some serious economic mistakes.

          • Hunter says:

            I’ve never heard the name “Gurvich” before. I knew of “Gurevich” though from the MiG design bureau (Mikoyan-Gurevich). If PvMikhail hadn’t pointed it out, I would have thought Gurvich was the misspelling and Gurevich was the right name.

            • Yevsey Gurvich is a free market economist, a group of people who have acquired all the qualities of devout believers in a new religion of their own invention which has an ever decreasing connection to fact. They love guys like Gaidar and Kudrin because they share their beliefs. They hate Putin because (as his seven articles show) he doesn’t and because he has consistently proved them wrong.

            • marknesop says:

              Yes, I’m not sure myself because most of the references I’ve seen regarding him are from English sources, which often tend to misspell Slavic names. I too thought of Gurevich of MiG fame.

    • yalensis says:

      @PvMikhail: I agree that Mark is a very good writer in English language, he is creative and funny, and you can learn a lot of expressions and idioms from reading his blogs. As for you, your English is very good. I wish I could read Hungarian, but I can’t. It is on my list of things to learn, but I am still struggling to learn a little Arabic, as my first non-Indo-European language.

      • PvMikhail says:

        thanks, good luck with Arabic… I would never under any circumstances learn another non-indoeuropean language… I mean Arabic, Chinese are very important, but next to Hungarian, it is just too much for me 😀 The logic of the grammar in Russian and German is similar to Latin, German and English has lot in common when it comes to vocabulary and sometimes grammar (because of that, when I try to speak German, I accidentally mix up the two). I cannot even imagine, how could anybody start a totally new language with no help from already known languages… Seems to me difficult

        • yalensis says:

          Hi, @PvMikhail, well, to my surprise, I come to find out that classical Arabic (as in the Koran, not in modern dialects, though), had nominative, accusative, and genitive cases, as in Indo-European languages (I-E had lots more cases than just 3, though). Here is an example from the textbook I am using: daar “house” دَار, nominative daaru دَارُ, genitive daari دَارِ, accusative daara دَارَ. Pretty cool, no? I have a hunch (and many historical linguists agree) that Indo-European and Semitic languages stemmed from a common ancestor many many many eons ago.
          I am also finding that, just by chance, Arabic pronunciation is more similar to English than to Russian. For example, there is the glottal stop, which is a certified consonantal phoneme in most English dialects but does not exist in Russian phonology. Also, “stop” consonants such as “b”, “t”, “d”, “p” are pronounced in Arabic as in English, with a little puff of air. As an experiment, pronounce the word “papa” with an English/American accent while holding the palm of your hand up to your mouth; you will feel two puffs of air. Next pronounce the same word with a Russian accent; no puffs, or very little puffs. And so on. Many similarities with English pronunciation, although there are a handful of Arabic consonants that have no equivalents in English dialects.
          I wanted to learn a Semitic language, and I think Arabic was a good choice. It is difficult, of course, but seems easier than Hebrew. It is also actually quite a nice-sounding language, except for a few harsh guttural sounds, but they are no worse than the guttural “kh” sound in Russian.

          • Sam says:

            That’s funny, I’m doing the opposite:) I’m learning Russian and my native language is Arabic. Good luck with studying it, and I think you’re right to start with classical Arabic. It’s common to and understood by all arab speakers and the dialects are in fact just simpler versions,for instance, in your example you would say “‘dar” in the three cases because everyone can get from the sentence whether the word is a subject or an object. Have fun learning:)

            • yalensis says:

              Thanks for encouragement, Sam! Good luck with your Russian too. I hope you find it enjoyable!

              For everyone: Arabic alphabet is not too hard to learn, especially with the help of adorable children: Hamza-yaa! (“Hamza”, by the way, is the glottal stop. English has this consonantal phoneme too, but does not have a letter, or a name, for it.)

  17. Looks like even the Guardian is now giving up on the Snowflake Revolution http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/13/russia-hard-graft-starts-here-editorial

    Notice the admission that the protest was confined to Moscow and that Putin won more than 50% of the vote everywhere else.

  18. kievite says:

    It’s a very good and important job to describe those nasty creatures but they are trench solders as such are as interchangeable as they are mean. It’s more interesting to see the hands behind the curtain. For that it is important to understand that the cold war never ended and that the USA still wants to completely decimate former enemy.

    That’s why there is ample financing which makes Russophobia a profitable business for those hucksters (with alarmingly large fraction of female psychopaths). If you have some talent and no morals it’s easy to get a piece of the pie enough for comfortable living.

    Fundamentally the USA elite failed to understand the importance of the USSR for world stability. Now they repeat the same mistake with Russia. They also have no clue about power of Russian nationalism, because I think the only realistic alternative to Putin are ultra-nationalists (Weimar republic scenario). In fact now we can see that in the past the evil USSR provided stability and prosperity to Western block by blocking the USA elite suicidal tendencies.

    In any case visceral Russophobia is a distinctive feature of four last USA administration including current. It sometimes really reminds me Kafka. They fear Muslim fundamentalists, but are happy to cooperate with it against a common enemy (with especially soft spot for Caucasian jihadists). Actually Bin Laden is a creature created by Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. The invasion that created a secular state that the USA now try to recreate at significant cost.

    It also might be that Russia serves as a convenient smoke screen to hash internal problems under the table and provide nice life for military-industrial complex. The USA “democratic process” is run by the elite in such a way as to make secondary issues important and to treat important issues as irrelevant or illegitimate.

    So in the current situation it is unrealistic to expect the West to stop treating Russia as “the Other,” and to stop wishing for its disintegration. Russophobia is an integral part of such a treatment. So Stanislav Belkovsky, Masha Gessen and other Russophobia warriors are just a natural part of the scene: solders of the propoganda war…

    BTW the unilateral continuation of Cold War (Cold War II) by the USA part means that the term “democratic Russia” has nothing to do with democracy and means the the completely conquered state subservient domestically and externally to Western demands. George Soros has said that “a strong central government in Russia cannot be democratic” by definition, and further says that “Russia’s general public must accept the ideology of an open society” meaning of course “casino capitalism”.

    At the same time Russia is an easy target. Multinational, multiconfessional states are always inherently unstable, and if Islam is a significant part of the equation, with sufficient external pressure they are doomed. Currently Russia has small scale war in Dagestan and stability in Chechnya and Ingushetia is marginal. Recent election had shown that the country has substantial fifth column. Actually in Moscow Putin did not manage to get 50% of votes. So it might well be that Russia is doomed.

    Here is a old, but still current and very sobering assessment by Dr. Cohen of the actual USA policy toward Russia

    The stability of the political regime atop this bleak post-Soviet landscape rests heavily, if not entirely, on the personal popularity and authority of one man, President Vladimir Putin, who admits the state “is not yet completely stable.” While Putin’s ratings are an extraordinary 70 to 75 percent positive, political institutions and would-be leaders below him have almost no public support.

    The top business and administrative elites, having rapaciously “privatized” the Soviet state’s richest assets in the 1990s, are particularly despised. Indeed, their possession of that property, because it lacks popular legitimacy, remains a time bomb embedded in the political and economic system. The huge military is equally unstable, its ranks torn by a lack of funds, abuses of authority and discontent. No wonder serious analysts worry that one or more sudden developments–a sharp fall in world oil prices, more major episodes of ethnic violence or terrorism, or Putin’s disappearance–might plunge Russia into an even worse crisis. Pointing to the disorder spreading from Chechnya through the country’s southern rim, for example, the eminent scholar Peter Reddaway even asks “whether Russia is stable enough to hold together.”

    As long as catastrophic possibilities exist in that nation, so do the unprecedented threats to US and international security. Experts differ as to which danger is the gravest — proliferation of Russia’s enormous stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological materials; ill-maintained nuclear reactors on land and on decommissioned submarines; an impaired early-warning system controlling missiles on hair-trigger alert; or the first-ever civil war in a shattered superpower, the terror-ridden Chechen conflict. But no one should doubt that together they constitute a much greater constant threat than any the United States faced during the Soviet era.

    Nor is a catastrophe involving weapons of mass destruction the only danger in what remains the world’s largest territorial country. Nearly a quarter of the planet’s people live on Russia’s borders, among them conflicting ethnic and religious groups. Any instability in Russia could easily spread to a crucial and exceedingly volatile part of the world.

    There is another, perhaps more likely, possibility. Petrodollars may bring Russia long-term stability, but on the basis of growing authoritarianism and xenophobic nationalism. Those ominous factors derive primarily not from Russia’s lost superpower status (or Putin’s KGB background), as the US press regularly misinforms readers, but from so many lost and damaged lives at home since 1991. Often called the “Weimar scenario,” this outcome probably would not be truly fascist, but it would be a Russia possessing weapons of mass destruction and large proportions of the world’s oil and natural gas, even more hostile to the West than was its Soviet predecessor.

    How has the US government responded to these unprecedented perils? It doesn’t require a degree in international relations or media punditry to understand that the first principle of policy toward post-Communist Russia must follow the Hippocratic injunction: Do no harm! Do nothing to undermine its fragile stability, nothing to dissuade the Kremlin from giving first priority to repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructures, nothing to cause it to rely more heavily on its stockpiles of superpower weapons instead of reducing them, nothing to make Moscow uncooperative with the West in those joint pursuits. Everything else in that savaged country is of far less consequence.

    Since the early 1990s Washington has simultaneously conducted, under Democrats and Republicans, two fundamentally different policies toward post-Soviet Russia–one decorative and outwardly reassuring, the other real and exceedingly reckless. The decorative policy, which has been taken at face value in the United States, at least until recently, professes to have replaced America’s previous cold war intentions with a generous relationship of “strategic partnership and friendship.” The public image of this approach has featured happy-talk meetings between American and Russian presidents, first “Bill and Boris” (Clinton and Yeltsin), then “George and Vladimir.”

    The real US policy has been very different–a relentless, winner-take-all exploitation of Russia’s post-1991 weakness. Accompanied by broken American promises, condescending lectures and demands for unilateral concessions, it has been even more aggressive and uncompromising than was Washington’s approach to Soviet Communist Russia. Consider its defining elements as they have unfolded–with fulsome support in both American political parties, influential newspapers and policy think tanks–since the early 1990s:

    A growing military encirclement of Russia, on and near its borders, by US and NATO bases, which are already ensconced or being planned in at least half the fourteen other former Soviet republics, from the Baltics and Ukraine to Georgia, Azerbaijan and the new states of Central Asia. The result is a US-built reverse iron curtain and the remilitarization of American-Russian relations.

    A tacit (and closely related) US denial that Russia has any legitimate national interests outside its own territory, even in ethnically akin or contiguous former republics such as Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. How else to explain, to take a bellwether example, the thinking of Richard Holbrooke, Democratic would-be Secretary of State? While roundly condemning the Kremlin for promoting a pro-Moscow government in neighboring Ukraine, where Russia has centuries of shared linguistic, marital, religious, economic and security ties, Holbrooke declares that far-away Slav nation part of “our core zone of security.”

    Even more, a presumption that Russia does not have full sovereignty within its own borders, as expressed by constant US interventions in Moscow’s internal affairs since 1992. They have included an on-site crusade by swarms of American “advisers,” particularly during the 1990s, to direct Russia’s “transition” from Communism; endless missionary sermons from afar, often couched in threats, on how that nation should and should not organize its political and economic systems; and active support for Russian anti-Kremlin groups, some associated with hated Yeltsin-era oligarchs.
    That interventionary impulse has now grown even into suggestions that Putin be overthrown by the kind of US-backed “color revolutions” carried out since 2003 in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and attempted this year in Belarus. Thus, while mainstream editorial pages increasingly call the Russian president “thug,” “fascist” and “Saddam Hussein,” one of the Carnegie Endowment’s several Washington crusaders assures us of “Putin’s weakness” and vulnerability to “regime change.” (Do proponents of “democratic regime change” in Russia care that it might mean destabilizing a nuclear state?)

    Underpinning these components of the real US policy are familiar cold war double standards condemning Moscow for doing what Washington does
    — such as seeking allies and military bases in former Soviet republics, using its assets (oil and gas in Russia’s case) as aid to friendly governments and regulating foreign money in its political life. More broadly, when NATO expands to Russia’s front and back doorsteps, gobbling up former Soviet-bloc members and republics, it is “fighting terrorism” and “protecting new states”; when Moscow protests, it is engaging in “cold war thinking.” When Washington meddles in the politics of Georgia and Ukraine, it is “promoting democracy”; when the Kremlin does so, it is “neoimperialism.” And not to forget the historical background: When in the 1990s the US-supported Yeltsin overthrew Russia’s elected Parliament and Constitutional Court by force, gave its national wealth and television networks to Kremlin insiders, imposed a constitution without real constraints on executive power and rigged elections, it was “democratic reform”; when Putin continues that process, it is “authoritarianism.”

    Finally, the United States is attempting, by exploiting Russia’s weakness, to acquire the nuclear superiority it could not achieve during the Soviet era. That is the essential meaning of two major steps taken by the Bush Administration in 2002, both against Moscow’s strong wishes. One was the Administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, freeing it to try to create a system capable of destroying incoming missiles and thereby the capacity to launch a nuclear first strike without fear of retaliation. The other was pressuring the Kremlin to sign an ultimately empty nuclear weapons reduction agreement requiring no actual destruction of weapons and indeed allowing development of new ones; providing for no verification; and permitting unilateral withdrawal before the specified reductions are required.

    The extraordinarily anti-Russian nature of these policies casts serious doubt on two American official and media axioms: that the recent “chill” in US-Russian relations has been caused by Putin’s behavior at home and abroad, and that the cold war ended fifteen years ago. The first axiom is false, the second only half true: The cold war ended in Moscow, but not in Washington, as is clear from a brief look back.

    • marknesop says:

      This should have been a post on its own – remarkable. I’m speechless.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      I bet Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 are favourite games amongst the push-button warriors in the Pentagon.

      • Dear Kievite,

        I am afraid I agree with you. As you know though I was sure this latest attempt at an Orange Revolution in Russia would fail I was under no illusions that it was being attempted. There is no room for complacency and there is no doubt that the people behind this latest attempt have not given up and given another opportunity they will make another attempt again.

        One thing I would say is that the more they try to launch their colour revolutions the more dificullt over time the exercise becomes. What the last few months have shown is that the Russian government recognises such attempts when they happen and is intelligent enough to respond to them and, more importantly, so do the Russian people who so far from being the mindless sheep this election shows are as an electorate politically sophisticated and well informed,

        Having said this there is no room for complacency and the government must ask itself why things on this occasion went as far as tney did. In my opinion the explanation lies in the steps towards liberalisation that Medvedev undertood. As a reaching out to the liberals they were a complete failure as both of us could have told him. These guys take no prisoners. What Medvedev’s steps towards liberalisation instead did was weaken the government’s position lending space to the opposition.

        I hope and trust that Putin understands this and now takes the urgent steps that are necessary to reverse the problem. I am not callng for a crackdown, for which there is no need and which would anyway be counterproductive, but for certain basic steps of which the most important are:

        1. The purge from the government of the Orange elements that have (as you have previously correctly pointed out) been allowed to infiltrate it. This is elementary. People who serve in a government must have as their primary loyalty that government rather than the people who want to overthrow it. You are better at identifying these people than me but I would single out Medvedev’s Human Rights Council, which as well as repeatedly misrepresenting things Medvedev has said, has issued reports that undermine the government’s position on the Khodorkovsky and Magnitsky cases, both of which are before the courts.

        2. Reversing Medvedev’s disastrous decision to relax the rules on foreign funding of NGOs. The result is that we now have US funded organisations like Golos setting themselves up as rivals to the Central Electoral Commission and even going so far as to publish resulls down to a fraction of a decimal point that they claim are more accurate than those of the Central Electoral Commission.

        3. Re balancing the news media. Here I do not mean imposing censorship or banning newspapers or closing down the Moscow Echo radio station though Moscow Exile is right that that newspapers and radio stations would not be allowed to operate in Washington and London the way they are allowed to do in Moscow. However the liberal opposition has been able to achieve a position in the news media that is wholly out of proportion to its numbers whilst by comparison in media terms the Communist party, whose candidate Zyuganov polled as many votes in the Presidential election as all the other opposition candidates combined, is practically invisible. It is imperative that new media outlets be established to balance out those controlled by the liberal opposition and to give a proper reflection of the country’s political balance. I am afraid this also involves taking a look at some of the journalism and economics departments in some of the country’s top academic institutions, which seem to have become hotbeds for opposition activity. The government must also work hard to establish a proper internet presence so as to challenge attempts at popular mobilisation made through social network sites and to keep a track on what is going on.

        4. Lastly, the government must continue to work hard to clean up the electoral system since such electoral abuse as takes place does not assist the government but helps the opposition.

        • marknesop says:

          Here’s NBC’s take on it; the headline (“Calm for Now, Russia seems Certain to Boil Over”) is a bit Guardian-like in its ominous tone, while the content is perhaps best represented by Vladimir Ryzhkov’s bitter, weary, “Yes – I’m afraid there’s no other way” in response to the reporter’s question as to whether he thought there would be violence. It goes without saying that if an “opposition leader” said anything like that in London following an election, he’d be getting a visit from the security boys. As so he should. You’d think reporters would pick up on the duality of opposition figures whining that Putin stamps out every flickering spark of free will, yet they can openly call for violent overthrow of the government on a foreign news service – do they think he believes he’s speaking in confidence, or something? Off the record? Off his head, more like.

          This duality is on show again, further down; there is the chagrined admission that Putin won – if not fair and square – with such a convincing margin that no amount of fraud could account for it. Vladimir Putin, NBC reports, “still enjoys the support of the vast majority of Russians”. Yet only a couple of paragraphs later the author reports that unfortunately for Putin, the opposition consists not only of a clutch of extremists, but of a whole emerging middle class which feels it is denied a voice.

          We are left with the conclusion that Russia’s population is mostly made up of the poor, since the rich of Moscow’s Great White Circle voted for Prokhorov and the whole emerging middle class just wants rid of Putin.

          I invite you to speculate what the media response might be if RT wrote that Barack Obama’s landslide victory in 2008 was a repudiation of democratic values, that the poor must have voted him in since the rich voted against him and the middle class just wanted him gone, and characterized his offering of the SecState post to Hillary Clinton as “doing everything he can to diminish the opposition’s authority”, as NBC characterizes Putin’s offer of a political post to Prokhorov.

          • Dear Mark,

            Every single point you make here I completely agree with. That people who even so much as contemplate violence or other criminal activity in order to overthrow a popularly elected President should be embraced by the democracies of the west is little short of appalling. Given that Russia is a nuclear armed power it is actually madness.

            I would point out that the flood of speculation in the western media just before and after the Presidential election, which was apparently actively spread by western government officials, that Putin might not survive his full 6 year term is also in the worst possible sense an act of subversion. Disregarding accidents and health issues the only way Putin can be removed from power before the end of his term is by assassination, revolution or a coup. That is what some people in the west “predict”, which is another way of saying that it is what they aim for and want.

            • sinotibetan says:

              Dear Alexander,

              “Disregarding accidents and health issues the only way Putin can be removed from power before the end of his term is by assassination, revolution or a coup. That is what some people in the west “predict”, which is another way of saying that it is what they aim for and want.”

              You are completely right. For example, this website:-

              Such blatant website that urges ways to topple supposedly ‘undemocratic’ leaders. The fact that Putin does interact coolly with Western leaders who wish(and plan for) him the worst is very generous of him indeed!


              • Hunter says:

                Wow. I want my time back from that guy. He literally stole minutes from my life because he wrote that crap. Once he started writing about “massive fraud – a lot of it well documented” I realized most of the article was fiction. So I wouldn’t put much stock in the idea that some of the “elites” in Putin’s government will ally with the opposition and force him out in a palace coup.

                • Not to mention the duality you referred to. Though Putin won the election he is strong but is actually weak. The opposition lost the election but though weak is really strong. Therefore we must do what we can to facilitate Putin’s overthrow. Now that you’ve spotted the point I’m going to look out for it.

          • Hunter says:

            “This duality is on show again, further down”

            Mark, if the western MSM was a person it would surely have been diagnosed with schizophrenia by now. After all this duality is a kind of disconnect from reality. Delusional and incoherent theories. I’ve pointed out instances of this duality before, like when the western MSM were all raving about the Duma election results being a “slap in the face” for Putin because it showed he was “losing support”, yet at the same time (and quite often in the same articles) claiming that the parties which “gained” support were all puppets of Putin and thus he retained full control over the Duma. There was also the recent Economist article on the elections detailed over in AK’s blog where the Economist talks about the need for democracy but heavily implies that it’s preferred form of governance would in actuality be minority rule (and I’m not talking about a minority government 😉 )

            We could make a game out of this now that I think about it: “Spot the duality!”

        • Hunter says:

          “closing down the Moscow Echo radio station though Moscow Exile is right that that newspapers and radio stations would not be allowed to operate in Washington and London the way they are allowed to do in Moscow..”

          In that case what Russia’s government should do is to take a look at the regulations in effect for the United States and UK concerning the operation of radio stations and just import the regulations and (this is the important part) stress that they are following the example of radio station regulations elsewhere in the world, particularly the USA and UK. With that kind of line the radio stations and western MSM would be in a quandary as they would then be forced to protest against the shutdown of radio stations based on regulations found in those great bastions of democracy and the rule of law; the USA and UK. In so doing of course they would in effect be protesting against the regulations in the countries that they say Russia should emulate…..

  19. Moscow Exile says:

    So, although the editorial does not admit as much, in the final analysis, the Guardian has been seriously out of touch about what is going on in Russia.

    Why has this been so?

    Disinformation from Russians themselves?

    Disinformation from their Mosow bureau or simply incompetence?

    Or was it simply a case of the Guardian reporting as fact something that it wished to believe?

    As regards disinformation from Russians, a couple of days back the UK Daily Telegraph presented the following story about election rigging in Russia. The source of this story was a certain Irina Levinskaya, a “St. Petersburg historian”:


    Note that at the end of the article there is written:

    “Dr Irina Levinskaya is a senior fellow of St Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University’s Centre for Advanced Theological Research ”

    So the source of this damning evidence is now temporarily resident in the UK and it seems that she must have returned to her home city to vote.

    This academic also writes in her exposé concerning election fraud:

    “I have years of experience, not only of Putin’s Russia but also of our former Soviet paradise. The difference between them is growing harder and harder to determine”.

    As it happens, I too have years of experience (over 20 actually), not only of the Soviet Union but also of Yeltsin’s Russia and Russia under Putin’s presidency and premiership. Funny thing is, I find it rather easy to list the differences between life in the USSR and present day Russia. So do all of my Russian acquaintances and so does my Russian wife. No matter, though: the historian Irina Levinskaya is entitled to express her own opinion about this matter. But is it her own opinion, or is it opinion that some would like her to present to Westerners in an attempt to persuade them that what she says is irrefutable?

    If you scroll down the comments beneath Levinskaya’s article, after Ak’s comment, you’ll find interesting comments from “buggerlugs”, whose first is:

    “To describe Irina Levinskaya as a “citizen observer” is more than slightly disingenuous; she is in fact a leading member of the Tyndale Group at Cambridge University, which includes a number of prominent and outspoken US and Canadian protestant fundamentalists.

    She has numerous published works and is a long standing critic of Putin, and appears subject to conflicts of interest similar to those which which ultimately exposed the New York Times’s reporter Regine Alexandre as a paid mouthpiece of the US State Department – http://www.sourcewatch.org/ind… & http://www.haitiaction.net/New

    Here is the NED’s own (very extensive) list of of news channels and political organisations it currently funds in Russia http://www.ned.org/where-we-wo… Why? This attempt to undermine the credibility of inconvenient election results has been seen before in the case of e.g Eduard Shevednaze in Georgia, and is pervasive to the point where Egypt has also recently expelled several dozen activists funded by the USA and embedded in pro-democracy NGOs – http://hosted2.ap.org/ALDEC/TD
    If it was just a single instance you might consider it an anomaly; Ukraine, Nicaragua, Georgia, Egypt, Tibet, Syria, Papua New Guinea and the abovementioned example of Haiti indicate that this is the standard modus operandi of the US State Department in trying to foment instability and dissent http://www.americanfreepress.n…”

  20. yalensis says:

    People always say in their comments that these “ideological warriors” such as the Russophobic chorus, earn great money writing propaganda for their masters. But do they really? Does anybody know? Do they get paid by the piece? Annual salary? How much $$$ are we actually talking about? Unless they have another gig, like being a salaried professor or something, I am guessing most of them just scrape by. Maybe that is their fate, because many of them are not smart enough to master a real skill. But some of them are.
    I remember once on Julia Ioffe’s blog she was bitching about not having enough gigs to earn a decent living. I wrote a comment to her (a very friendly one), advising her to use her phenomenal language skills in the growing field of bi-lingual medical interpretor/technical writer. With just a couple of extra courses in technical translation and medical terminology, she could earn up to $80,000 (American dollars) annually. Then, if she continued further on that career track, she could obtain additional credentialing in various medical technologies, like X-rays and so on. I wish she had taken my advice, then she would have a respectable well-paying career by now instead of being an America propaganda wh*r*

    • marknesop says:

      You give and give and give…..and then they call you Russophile scum. Sometimes the injustice just takes my breath away.

    • Hunter says:

      She can’t be that strapped for cash if she turned down advice that would have given her $80,000 annually. Hell I haven’t seen the full advice you gave her, but now I’m interested in learning a few languages to get a gig like that.

      • yalensis says:

        My advice to Julia Ioffe came from seeing some web advert somewhere, it was a major hospital somewhere in America, I don’t remember any more, but I believe in Massaachussetts, and they were desperate for Russian/English bi-lingual people. Reason being, I believe they have a lot of Russian-speaking patients and U.S. federal law (I believe recent law, based on new health care reforms) mandates they must communicate with patients in their own language, or face penalties. However, it is not enough to be bi-lingual: the interpretors must also be fluent in medical terminology, which is why they must take some courses and also pass some exams. But well worth it to obtain a decent and honorable career. The $80K is not the starting salary, but I think they could work their way up. (I was exagerrating the salary a bit to entice lovely Julia.)
        In my infinite love for humanity, I felt that this would have been a perfect career for Julia, because she is an American citizen, so this gig would get her out of barbaric “Evil Empire” and back to civilization. However, I see that she turned down my advice and decided to stay on in Mordor plugging away as an underpaid fake journalist.

  21. Moscow Exile says:

    I think that very often those Russian “intellectuals” who in the Western news media continuously pour bile over all facets of life in Russia often quite simply do so in the hope of getting fast-track UK or US – or whereever in the “free world” – citizenship.

    “My life is in danger because I have written x-number of anti-Putin articles”, they can claim in their application for political asylum, and then Bob’s your uncle! After all, the Western propaganda machine has proven to be immensly successful in convincing the “international community” that freedom of speech does not exist in the “former Soviet Union” and that open criticism in Russia of the “ex-KGB thug” tyrant that rules over the cowed Russian masses will result in the almost certain death of whosoever dare criticise Vladimir Putin. I mean, look what happened to Politkovskaya! And now, when the Western media is all to reluctantly conceding that the recent “democratic opposition” protests in Russia have failed, I often see comments made by rabid Russophobes to reactionary Western newspapers, where they write: “The opposition failed, but these people that protested on the Moscow streets were very, very brave”. You see, parading around in Moscow with a nationalist or communist banner or “opposition” flag or slogan means that you are seriously risking your life. Everyone knows that.

    She who provided the UK Daily Telegraph with alleged evidence of vote rigging in St. Petersburg (see my post above) is a Russian academic who is already a visiting professor at Oxford University, England. When it’s time to go back home to the Evil Empire, if she should not wish to do so, she can always play the my-life-is-in-danger-in-Russia card and her asylum in the UK will be assured.

    Another Russian professor, whose name I cannot recall, also occassionaly sends “good copy” to the Guardian “Comment Is Free” feature, She’s the top person at some Moscow School of South African studies or whatever, and has already spent several years in South African academia. I suspect that her Guardian articles critical of the “Russian regime” might be an investment into her early retirement in Merrry England. I should think that she would prefer to spend her twilight years in the UK rather than in South Africa.

    As regards Ioffe and Gessen, they have dual US/Russian citizenship and, having spent their formative years in the USA, are more North American than Russian.

    They’re here for the money, I’m sure, no matter how much Ioffe may bleat about her being short of readies.

    • Dear Moscow Exile,

      I agree with you with the sole qualification that we are not talking about anything like the majority of Russian intellectuals but only a very small and very angry minority of (to say it frankly) second category figures. I pointed out some time ago that the intellectuals who support the liberal opposition do not seem to be intellectual heavyweights or anything like that. It is not as if Akunin and Shevchuk are the latter day equivalents of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Sholokhov or Bulgakov or even Solzhenitsyn, Grossman or Pasternak. Peledin, who is surely a more substantial literary figure than Akunin, is not a liberal.whatever else he is.

      If one is talking about classical music culture a very dear friend of mine who works for the Bolshoi Theatre (as an administrator not as a performer) tells me that the people who work there support either Putin or the KPRF. Gergiev who runs the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and who is possibly the country’s finest conductor, supports Putin whilst Svetlana Zakharova, the Bolshoi’s top ballerina, is a Duma deputy for United Russia, Grigorovitch, the country’s leading classical ballet choreographer, apparently supports the KPRF though he does not publicise the fact. I do not know the politics of Ratmansky, the country’s other leading choreographer, but his interest in reviving Soviet era ballets like Bolt, the Flames of Paris and the Bright Stream and the interviews I have heard him give do not suggest that he buys in to the liberal view of things in part or perhaps at all. Anyway he too has held aloof from opposition activities even though he has a firm base of work in the US to which he could fall back to if things in Russia became difficult for him. The country’s leading composer is Sophia Gubaidulina. I do not know her politics other than that she is a devout Christian, but she too has certainly not involved herself in any opposition activity.

      There are more liberals in the cinema and theatre world but many others who are not and Bortko, who is in my opinion at the moment the country’s finest film director, is a member of the KPRF. Of Nikita Mikhailkov it is perhaps better to say nothing. None of the country’s leading film or theatre actors has involved him or herself in opposition activity to any prominent degree. This is despite the fact that the repertory system that operates in Russian theatres ought to provide a degree of job security for any prominent theatre actors that felt tempted to do so. Of film actors we have seen nothing to compare with the strong political stances many prominent Hollywood actors take in the US.

      I cannot speak about science but certainly there is no Andrei Sakharov or even a Zhores Medvedev. Someone wrote on Anatoly’s Facebook page who says that he translates Russian science articles for a living. On the basis of the articles he has translated he said that his impression was that the political allegiances of current Russian scientists divide 70:30 for the KPRF and United Russia. The results of the parliamentary elections at MGU put the KPRF first, (Yabloko was second) which tends to lend support to this view on the assumption that scientists working in the provinces are more likely to support United Russia than are scientists in the opposition hotbed of Moscow.

      As for Voina and Pussy Riot (which I am coming to think are essentially one and the same group) they are certainly passionately anti government but I am not sure that they are liberal. Anarchist seems to describe their views better. Anyway I find it impossible to take their exhibitionist antics seriously or to think of them as true intellectuals.

      The view that the country’s intellectual and creative classes are therefore liberal seems to me to be quite wrong. Some of course are but as I have said they seem to be second category figures and even there the majority are not. Of course if you equate “creative class” with the sort of people who write for and read Marie Claire (whose editor has a column on Novosti) then the results you will come up with are different.

      • I have just checked and found that since 1992 Sofia Gubaidulina has been living in Hamburg. This follows a pattern in the 1990s for Russian composers like Alfred Schnittke and Edison Denisov to leave Russia and work abroad (principally in Germany) presumably because of the very harsh conditions in Russia at that time. The fact that she is living in Germany does not mean that she has cut her links with her country. Given that she must be now in her 80s it is not surprising that she finds it difficult to make the move back. Bear in mind also that Akunin also lives most of his time abroad. Anyway she remains a devout Orthodox Christian and continues to identify herself as a Russian composer (just as Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff once did) but has given no indication that she supports the liberal opposition even though from her base in Hamburg she would have no difficult in doing so if she wanted to.

    • yalensis says:

      @Exile, I think you’re onto something: that many of these Russian dissidents ply their peculiar craft with the hope of obtaining U.S. citizenship. They are probably worried that things might go south for them in Russia, so in a pinch they might need to pull a Von Trapp family escape in the middle of the night, hence they have a backup plan to emigrate to America. That probably explains a lot of them; but it still doesn’t explain the ones who already have U.S. citizenship. Why are they in Russia sliming a country that is no longer theirs? Well, maybe they couldn’t find a good job in America (American economy is a bit tight now, anybody can find a crappy job, but nobody can find a good job any more.) Or, maybe they COULD find a good job in America, but they are just lazy! (’cause it’s easier to spend a couple of hours a day writing crap than 8 or 9 hours a day doing actual useful work…)

  22. Here is a blog post Novosti has published by a liberal opposition supporter by the name of Anna Arutiunova.


    Am I the only person who finds this kind of commentary absurd? Reading this post one might think that the “grey mass” of the Russian people last Sunday of its own accord voted Stalin not Putin for President. Who are the “hundreds of opposition supporters” who are being rounded up from across Moscow? What evidence is there that anybody intends to close down or suppress liberal media outlets like Novaya Gazeta or New Times or Moscow Echo? Why fret about an internet crackdown when the authorities have categorically ruled it out? Why scare people with the OMON riot police when the police behaved impeccably throughout the demonstrations and only acted when individuals within the crowd turned to violence and other criminal acts?

    The one thing that comes across vividly from this post is the shock opposition supporters feel when confronted with the reality of Putin’s popularity. It seems that some of them honestly believed their own propaganda that the only people who supported him were those who were either bought or forced to do so. More fools they.

    • marknesop says:

      If you click on her picture – which I admit I did because of her looks, and in hopes it would give me a bigger photo – you get a bigger choice of her articles. Check out, “Respect the Revolution”. She speaks of “collective excitement sweeping over the Russian-language Internet” and “thrilling times indeed”. Lots of boilerplate about it all coming down to one common denominator: self respect, and the usual “shameless, barefaced manner in which the elite few stuff their pockets at the expense of the many, the loss of all sense of decency, however illusory and artificial it may have been when it was still there.” These are the people who wanted Prokhorov to win, and somehow thought putting a billionaire in charge of the country would mean he would simultaneously refrain from stuffing his pockets while giving them back their self-respect and dignity.

      You know what it boils down to? A group of people that angrily stand on their right to install a government that might be many times worse than the present one, simply so that they can say they made it happen; they exercised their right to choose, by God!! And if they voted for Prokhorov and can bring themselves to believe their vote was counted and tabulated against his total, then they are simply furious he didn’t win, damn the majority that voted for someone else.

      And yet they scream, “Give us democracy!!”

  23. Moscow Exile says:

    “The protesters”, says Arutiunova, “weren’t around ten, five, even one year ago”.

    They were around in 1993, though, and in far greater numbers too. That was when YeItsin ordered that the White House be bombarded.

    I had never heard of Arutiunova before, but as soon as I read her blog post written in impeccable US English, I thought that if she really was Russian, then she must be another Ioffe, namely a US citizen with Russian roots.

    Here’s her profile:


    Slumming it in Russia?

    For those who may not be aware of the meaning of “slummimg”, this was an activity that some members of the 19th century British middle classes used to engage in, namely visiting the slum quarters of the industrialised cities, where they could gaze in horror at the way the impoverished proletariat lived in squalor and wonder aghast at how what appeared to be human beings lived like beasts. Then the duly shocked, as well as often titillated and entertained, bourgeoisie would return to their considerably more salubrious and comfortable domiciles in order to continue living their lives in the manner to which they had been born or long grown accustomed to.

    Slumming seems to have been a 19th century variation of a popular 18th century bourgeois pastime, namely visiting the London Bedlam asylum for the insane in order to be shocked and at the same time entertained by its inmates.

    I wonder why Arutiunova decided to return to this hell hole, this land of her birth, where she seems to look down in contempt at most of its population?

    Did she return to the land of her birth in order to save the Russians from themselves?

    Did she come here with missionary zeal in order to to spread the good news about “freedom and democracy” US style?

    Did she come here because she had a yearning to be back amongst her own folk and to seek out her roots?

    Or did she simply come here because she saw the opportunity to make plenty of money whilst pontificating over her erstwhile and base fellow countrymen from what she believes to be the moral high ground occupied by highly educated and politically savvy US citizens?

    Having very recently been duly shocked by the Russian “bydlo”, the “cattle” that Chirikova so despises, I have no doubt that in the probably not too distant future Arutiunova, the executive editor of RIA Novosti “Russia Profile.org”, will return to live the life that she is accustomed to in that state of which she is a citizen; or if she also has Russian citizenship, which I doubt, for she does not mention that she cast a vote, to that country in which she prefers to live and to which she emigrated with her family 16 years ago.

    • sinotibetan says:

      Dear Moscow Exile,

      Nevertheless, Arutiunova’s rant garnered some opposing comments including one from the creator of this current blog I’m commenting on. 😉


      • marknesop says:

        Actually, I found all the comments were in opposition to one degree or another. I don’t expect enthusiastic agreement with my own views; I just hate comments like, “Oh, Anna, you are so wise – Putin is indeed a slobbering madman and should be shot down like a dog”. I’m perfectly prepared to accept Putin is not perfect, maybe not even brilliant. But he has the pragmatism and the detachment necessary to lead Russia through what remain troubled times, down a road sown with minefields. No other individual who has stood for leadership has those qualities to anything like the same degree. The argument seems to be, we would prefer a weaker leader in exchange for being able to say we put him in the leadership position, rather than that he chose it for himself.

  24. Moscow Exile says:

    Bum link above because of typo. Here it is again:


    • Moscow Exile says:

      Linked below is a blog showing photographs taken in Moscow at the 4th February Bolotnaya Square demonstration.

      Supporters of the “democratic opposition” that gathered that day in Moscow, when the temperature was -22C at 2pm, in order to protest against irregularities in the Duma elections of last December and Vladimir Putin’s presidential candidacy, supported many factions.

      These are not the “gray mass” of Russians that supports Putin and who are, therefore, despised by the likes of Arutiunova (see above): many of them, as the photographs show, supported Prokhorov, who was present at the demonstration, but did not speak publicly.

      Take a look at the 26th picture and the flag, the red and black one with the Ukrainian trident symbol. Which flag might that be? Which faction is that flag the symbol of?

      See: http://macos.livejournal.com/691856.html

      It is the flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukrainian:Українська Повстанська Армія [УПА] – Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya [UPA]).

      See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_Insurgent_Army

      Who says that freedom of expresssion is forbidden in the Evil Empire?

      Thanks to Leoš Tomíček at Austere Insomniac for spotting this:

      See: http://www.austereinsomniac.info/blog/author/austereinsomniac

      • yalensis says:

        The Wikipedia entry starts off in a misleading manner: The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukrainian: Українська Повстанська Армія (УПА), “Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya”, or UPA) was a large and well organized Ukrainian nationalist military and later partisan army that engaged in a series of guerrilla conflicts during World War II against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and both Underground and Communist Poland. …
        This is the official “cleaned-up” version of UPA which tries to blur over the fact that they were allied to Nazis. The “cleaned-up” version implies that Banderites fought against all and sundry: Nazis, Communists, Poles, everybody and their grandmother. (Geez, could these guys not get along with ANYBODY?) In reality, Banderites were simply a branch of the Nazi invading army. Same as the Russian Vlasovites, who also pretended to just be impartial nationalists fighting against anybody who showed up in the arena.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          Right! And the inclusion of Banderites in the “opposition” protests apparently went uncommented upon because “anybody but Putin” became one of the unwritten catchphrases of the “democratic opposition”, “anybody” including fascists as well.

  25. cartman says:


    Putin, Yanukovych, and Chavez (all legitimately elected) are on the dictators side.
    Papademos, Monti, and Lagarde (wtf?) who were selected by unelected intergovernmental bodies are on the democrats side.

    • yalensis says:

      Ahmadinejad (Iran) is also a legitimately elected President, which these FP bozos gratuitously put on the “dictators” side of the ledger. Ahmadinejad had a tough competitor, but won a decisive majority in his last election. He. is apparently very popular in the Iranian hinterland, among the Persian “silent majority”.

      • Problem is that the Islamist vetting of the Guardian Council is so extreme that Ahmadinejad cannot truly be regarded as a democrat. Then there’s the mass executions. Say what you want of them but neither the US nor Russia hang their protesting discontents.

        Of course, neither can the other people cartman mentioned.

        I participated in this FP competition yesterday, and to make fun of them I had the “dictator” Yanukovych face off the unelected Monti in the finals.

        • hoct says:

          Say what you want of them but neither the US nor Russia hang their protesting discontents.

          Both have been known to sack cities however.

        • yalensis says:

          Well, is true that Iran is not a “real” democracy, because they have this Islamic Council thing, which is an unelected body. But Ahmadinejad himself won an actual certified election and is popular among more than half of his country’s citizens.
          A couple of weeks ago there was something in the news about Islamic council (Khamanei) calling Ahmadinejad on the carpet, and maybe he was going to be sacked. Some kind of serious Iranian power struggle going on. Has anyone heard more recent news? This is potentially big deal, but is not getting much play in media.

          • Dear Yalensis,

            The point to understand about Iran is that it is an Islamic Republic. In traditional Islam the people who set the rules (Sharia) by which Muslims live are Islamic scholars (ulema in the Sunni world. The Shia hierarchy is more complex). It is important to say that these scholars though always referred to in the media as clerics are not in any sense priests. The scholars do not however constitute the executive power. The function of the executive power is to protect the Muslims and to enforce the Sharia. Traditionally this has been the function of an individual known as an Emir or ruler. In the early Islamic Caliphate this person achieved his rank by consensus amongst the Muslims but more often he achieves it by hereditary succession making him in effect a king. This is the arrangement that exists in Saudi Arabia and which the Taliban created in Afghanistan (where Mullah Omar was the Emir) and which the jihadi insurgents are trying to create in the northern Caucasus and elsewhere including in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

            The great achievement of the Ayatollah Khomeini (whatever one’s other views of him) was to try to reconcile traditional Islamic ideas about how a state should operate with the modern concept of democracy. Whereas previously the Islamic scholars appointed each other he introduced a limited form of popular election in their appointment making them at least notionally accountable to the mass of Muslim believers. In parallel he created popularly elected parliamentary and Presidential structures to form the executive power. Since however their primary function remains as before to protect the Muslims and to enforce the Sharia as it is interpreted and defined by the scholars senior holders of executive posts must by definition be Muslims. This means that candidates for the Presidency and for parliament (except for a restricted number of seats allocated to religious minorities) have to be vetted by the scholars before they can stand for election.

            Iran is not therefore a democracy in the secular sense and has never pretended to be. However it does have a much more open and accountable politics than do other Islamic states and conflicts between the scholars headed by the Supreme Leader or chief scholar Ayatollah Khamenei and holders of executive posts like Ahmadinejad are common. This creates a bewildering and confusing picture for outsiders especially those who do not understand the nature of the system and assume that it is either a democracy or a dictatorship. Similarly elections in Iran, though real enough in their own terms, are not identical to elections in secular states.

            Though Iran is not therefore a democracy one should not underestimate the explosive i mplications of this system to the great Sunni autocracies of the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia. The arrangements Khomeini put in place imply that it is possible for a true Islamic state to be organised as a kind of Muslim democracy. This is a potentially deadly challenge to the Muslim autocracies and is a reason for their extreme hostility to Iran, which goes far beyond any question of historic Sunni/Shia divisions.

            I ought to add that like many revolutionaries Khomeini in many of his attitudes and beliefs was also a rigid conservative. The result is that we have the situation, which is fairly common in revolutionary states (and which would be familiar to anyone who lived in the Soviet Union) of a supposedly radical or revolutionary state that is at the same time intensely conservative and conformist on social questions.

            • sinotibetan says:

              Dear Alexander,

              Thanks for your elucidating the political system in Iran.

              Some thoughts:-

              1.)”This is a potentially deadly challenge to the Muslim autocracies and is a reason for their extreme hostility to Iran, which goes far beyond any question of historic Sunni/Shia divisions.”
              I am not too sure about this. I think those autocrats in the Sunni Arabic states would not view Iran’s ‘quasi-democracy’ as a threat to their conservative strong-hold than the more enticing, ‘sinful’ secular democracies. It might be in states with significant Shiite communities(like perhaps Yemen – but then Yemen is not as autocratic as Saudi Arabia) but not in overwhelmingly Sunni states. I am not sure if we have ‘moderates'(less conservative groups who wish for more reform/modernization) in significant numbers in states like Saudi Arabia vs ultra-conservatives who even view the current regime as ‘too liberal and accommodating to Israel and the West’. If these are of significant number, then these would even prefer some form of ‘limited democracy’ like that of Iran, although ultra-conservatives only view ‘democracy’ as a means to further their own authoritarian rule. The minority Shiite community in Saudi Arabia would hardly have any political impact within that state even with some kind of ‘quasi-democracy’.
              I still think that the main reason is the Sunni/Shiite division and perhaps there is an underlying racist reason for this as well. Saudi Arabia would like to see itself as THE fountainhead(or ‘the Rome’) of the Muslim world. She sees Iran as a rival and leader of the opposing Shiite sect. Both have claims as legitimate ‘successors’ to Muhammad. The underlying racialistic Arab vs Persian view of both Arabs and Iranians adds to the rivalry – as I once spoke to some Sunni Arab Iraqis who explained that the Islamized Persians later converted to the Shia sect(during the Safavid epoch, if I’m not mistaken) because they could not come to terms to their subjection and conquest by the elitist Arabs and hide behind the notion of ‘a more divinely ordained and purer sect’ (i.e. Shia) as a matter of national or racial pride. In a way, being a Shiite becomes synonymous with ‘Persianism’ in contradistinction with the predominantly Sunni Arabs. Saudi Arabia and Iran are rivals of their claim of ‘legitimate Islam’…hence the animosity. A ‘successful Iran’ -regardless of the political system is unacceptable to Saudi Arabia and I would not be surprised if the reverse is also true.

              2.)”at the same time intensely conservative and conformist on social questions.”
              This(social conservatism) is NOT the point of contention between predominantly conservative Shiites and Sunnis(even among ‘moderates’ – or at least, even if they don’t practice what they preach, they view conservatism with utmost reverence).

              3.) I do not think that the West has a coherent view of the Islamic world. The TENDENCY is to be opposed to Iran – and that is perhaps because the nation is seen to be ‘supported by rival’ Russia and because Iran’s ‘rival’ is Saudi Arabia – ‘an American ally’. The Islamic injunction to convert the whole world into Islam – by any means(including political, military) remains elusive to the Islamic world due to their disunity. There are calls for unity among the two sects – an Islamic ecumenical movement- but I think they are a minority(see: http://komuniti.iluvislam.com/topic/16291-kesatuan-antara-shiah-dan-ahlil-sunnah/). Only unite(and I know you and many will disbelieve this)and Islam as a POLITICAL force(and not just religious) can be very powerful due to the sheer number of adherents. I do not think that the West actually ‘supports Sunni against Shiites’ as some advocates of Sunni-Shiite rapprochement claim. Western actions in the “Arab Spring” so far have only handed Libya, Egypt and the likes not only to destabilization but to the potential rise of Islamists. And to me, that’s as worrisome as the destabilization that continues unabated. Will a Hitler-like leader arise in the Muslim world due to the hunger of destabilized Muslim communities for such a leader?


              • Dear Sinotibetan,

                Thank you for this. If I may take your points one by one.

                1. Bear in mind that the Saudi monarchy derives its legitimacy from its status as the defender of Islam within Arabia. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state. The Saudi King’s official title is “Custodian of the two Holy Mosques” (ie Mecca and Medina). This incidentally is a title that was once associated with the Caliphs and in effect amounts to a claim by the Saudis to lead the Muslim world. To suggest that there is an alternative way of organising an Islamic state that excludes monarchy but which instead involves some element of democracy and which places even the religious scholars (ulema) in a position where they accountable to Muslim believers as a whole constitutes for the Saudis an existential challenge. By contrast western secular democracy can always be rejected if only because it is by definition un Islamic.

                I do not want to deny the conflict that exists within the Muslim world between Sunni and Shia. However its importance can be overstated. It was not of central importance in the modern Muslim world until Khomeini'[s revolution in Iran, which massively exacerbated it precisely because it associated Shiism with a set of revolutionary ideas the Saudis and their supporters consider dangerous. The doctrinal differences between Sunnism and Shiism are small and much less than between Christian denominations.

                Shiism by the way was not originally an Iranian ideology. Iran only became fully Shia as recently as the sixteenth century whilst the Shia tradition traces its origins to conflicts within the Muslim community that emerged shortly after the death of Mohammed the Prophet. Originally it was simply a dispute about whether or not leadership of the Muslims should be confined to members of the Prophet’s family. It is true that a degree of nationalism has been introduced into the Sunni/Shia conflict in recent years with the Saudis and their allies (such as Saddam Hussein) seeking to differentiate Iran by emphasising its Persian character so as to distance it from the Arab world. However Khomeini’s message was (and was intended to be) pan Islamic and many Shia are not Persian but Arab.

                2. Social conservatism is not a source of conflict. Political radicalism is. The Saudis are not in conflict with Iran because of its social conservatism but because it is an Islamic Republic. Having said this Iran is a much more socially liberal society than Saudi Arabia or many of the other Sunni Muslim autocracies.

                3. I completely agree with this point. The west does not understand Islam or the Muslim world at all. Nor does it try to.

                I would just finish by saying that Khomeini though an implacable anti Communist seems to have had friendly feelings towards Russia. He entered into a very strange and really quite remarkable correspondence with Gorbachev before his death, something which he would never have done with any US leader. The present Supreme Leader and chief scholar Ayatollah Khamenei once studied in Moscow at the Patrice Lumumba Friendship University and speaks Russian.

            • yalensis says:

              Thanks, @alexander, that is a fascinating discussion of Islamic law; and Iran in particular. Helps explain how that society works (or doesn’t work). So, it sounds like there is a division of powers between the popularly elected executive (President Ahmadenijad) and the unelected but powerful judiciary (council of Islamic scholars).
              Actually, I see a (kind of) similarity with USA, they have a 9-person unelected Supreme Court which interprets and can override legislation. They are not nearly as powerful as the executive, but still fairly powerful, in one case (2000) even selecting the President (George W. Bush) in a tightly contested election. Of course, the situations are very different, because USA has separation of Church and State, so Supreme Court interprets SECULAR law. Being an atheist myself, I have no concept how religious law even works. For example, how would you interpret a law about traffic regulations when automobiles were not even invented yet in Muhammad’s time? Do you basically just ponder “WWMD” ? [what would M. do?]

              • Dear Yalensis,

                The comparison with the US is a good one but there are important differences. One is that in the US it is the President who with the approval of the Senate appoints the members of the Supreme Court. In Iran the Assembly of Experts (the body of religious scholars that elects the Supreme Leader and chief scholar and which has ultimate control of the legal system) is elected by the people. Obviously one has to be a recognised scholar to be eligible for election but it is precisely this element of democracy in choosing the religious scholars who have the ultimate control in the development of Islamic law that the Saudis and others find so unsettling. Remember that in an Islamic state it is the religious scholars rather than the parliament that is the ultimate maker of law.

                I would just add that the body that vets candidates for the Presidency and the parliament is the Guardian Council, half of whose twelve members are appointed by the Supreme Leader and chief scholar and half by the parliament, which is of course itself directly elected.

                I am not a Muslim (obviously) and I do not want you to think that I am a supporter of Khomeini. I have no interest in living in an Islamic state such as Iran where as a non Muslim I would not have full civil rights. Also there are many aspects of modern Islam, including Islam as practised in Iran, such as the subordination of women (which finds only partial authority in the Koran), which I think abhorrent. Nor am I in any way a supporter of the policies of the Iranian government. The one thing I would say is that Khomenei at least attempted a creative adaptation of Islam to the conditions of the modern world. What other Islamic leader has done so?

                • yalensis says:

                  @alexander: Thanks again for your interesting discussions of Iranian history and politics. Don’t worry, I never had you pegged as a mullah apologist. You shouldn’t even have to stipulate that because you know a lot about a particular system and see its positive aspects as well as flaws, that does not make you their tool. Also, I am somewhat strangely sympathetic to Iran myself, I think many Russians feel an ethnic sympathy for Persians, or if nothing else on a geo-political basis. Maybe because Iranians are anti-American, and the enemy of my enemy is…
                  Anyhow, Iran does seem a better country in many ways than, say, Saudi Arabia. Iranians live better and are well educated, if you see photos everybody is well dressed, the girls don’t have to wear burquas. But it goes without saying I would not want to live in a society ruled by any religious elites, Sunni or Shiia (or the Catholic Pope, for that matter), because there would be NO place for a person like me in such a society. I would have to hide my natural skepticism and pretend to be devout, just in order to get by without being flogged on a daily basis. I read in a science magazine that atheism is probably a genetic trait (of a minority of people, granted), people like me were just born this way not inclined to believe in invisible things or accept as authorities men who pretend to have special powers to communicate with invisible beings. Having said that, I would become a believer in a heartbeat if somebody presented me with some real proof; but they never do, it’s always just, “Oh… you have to have faith and just believe in what I am telling you, without any evidence or proof…” They are appealing to a “believe in invisible things” chromosome (or perhaps an “obey authority” chromosome) that I simply do not possess.

              • sinotibetan says:

                Dear yalensis(and Mark….you’ll understand why I included your name later),

                “For example, how would you interpret a law about traffic regulations when automobiles were not even invented yet in Muhammad’s time? Do you basically just ponder “WWMD” ? [what would M. do?]”
                Interpretation of ‘religious laws’ into our modern times remain the occupation and preoccupation of scholars and Syariah interpreters with varying conclusions. Some may try to reconcile incompatible ideas – eg democracy with Islamic theocracy. While some goes to the extreme of emulating Muhammad in every way knowable.

                To yalensis(because you are atheist) and Mark(because you said this:
                “Because the west cannot seem to leave Islam alone, persisting in trying to sort the “good Muslims” out from the “bad Muslims”, I am forced into defending freedom to worship a faith I really could care less about.”)….

                I don’t know if the following incident happened according to this report:-


                Any comments?


                • marknesop says:

                  I also have no way of knowing if the incident took place as described, and I would question whether the “winner” of the legal action actually used the defense described (as an immigrant, I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to attack anyone who insulted Mohammed, and sharia law requires me to do so). I’m fairly sure the U.S. citizenship process is sufficiently detailed that new citizens are aware of assault laws and the requirement for tolerance. I’ve also noticed the regular injection of the words “sharia law” in certain parts of the country used purely as a manipulation to inflame passions; in fact, you might recall lifetime assrocket and crazy Islam-hater Pam Geller – of “Atlas Shrugged” fame (her nutty anti-Islam blog, not the book) – heading off on a quixotic campaign last Thanksgiving against Butterball turkeys. The popular brand, she assured her breathless audience, was forcing sharia law down America’s throat…because it offered halal turkeys. She went on to ramble about the cruelty of the slaughtering process, after Sarah Palin had given an impromptu speech at an Alaska turkey farm which had featured a background of turkeys having their heads forced into cones containing whirling blades which tore their heads off. No mention throughout, of course, of the kosher process, in which presumably the birds or animals are allowed to die of old age under the most loving conditions before being consumed.

                  The free-speech and freedom of expression tenets enshrined in American law have to be tempered with common sense. I note the author of the piece you linked seems proud that her compatriots are “free to act like idiots”. There’s a nice endorsement for you. I wonder if she would be as enthusiastic a defender of freedom of expression if I were to march up and down in front of her house wearing a T-Shirt that read, “Jenny Erikson’s Mom is a Fat Bitch”, and addressing Ms. Erikson herself as an “ignorant sow” in the interview that would likely follow. Why not? I should be free to say whatever I think, whenever I think it, right?

                  White Americans are perfectly free to address everyone they meet in heavily-black neighbourhoods as “nigger” if they like. Do they? Hardly. Common sense tells them it would be deliberately offensive and tantamount to inviting, “Please knock my teeth out”. Society is in no way bettered by defending people’s right to act purely for their own interest and amusement, inciting rage and hatred wherever they go just for kicks. Again, Islam is not for me, and in fact I am not highly motivated toward any religion in particular. I privately disagree with many of the restrictions imposed by Islamic law – what I know of it, which is not much – but disagree more with forcing people who practice it of their own free will to abandon it because it offends me. That’s just spitting on freedom in the name of protecting freedom.

                • yalensis says:

                  Hi, Sino-T:
                  In the clash of “rights” and “cultures” that is described, I would personally have to come down on the side of the atheist. He had every right to wear a zombie-Muhammed Halloween costume. In America the line is drawn at public nudity, but anything short of that is permitted, especially at Halloween. Since America is not a Muslim country, the Muslim guy did not have the right to attack him for his choice of costume, and should have been charged with assault. I don’t agree with the judge who let the Muslim guy get away with assault. Thankfully nobody was killed. People who want to see the worst results of Muslim religious fervor should study the horrible violence that befell Theo Van Gogh. And, just to prove that I am consistent, I also loathe the Russian Orthodox Church’s persecution of sassy, iconoclastic Russian artists.

                • cartman says:

                  I disagree with this. Pussy Riot is not being persecuted for their performance. The venue they used matters in this case. A church service, a board meeting, a funeral – those are all inappropriate places for this. A live television show too (Janet Jackson, anyone?)

                  Where they did it is inseparable from the facts of the case.

                • marknesop says:

                  I wonder what the press would say if a Nashi rock group set up in a public square where Boris Nemtsov was holding a rally, and played so loud he could not be heard. I wonder how many sympathizers for freedom of expression would be on show then.

                  I agree, though, that prison would be a bit much. But the punishment should be severe enough to discourage other such outbursts of artistic expression. People don’t go to church to listen to Pussy Riot, any more than Nazareth would be welcome at the library.

  26. marknesop says:

    In one of those random items that invokes a visceral reaction – in this case, making me want to wave the maple leaf and cheer – Dick Cheney has cancelled a speaking engagement in Toronto because Canada is “too dangerous” for him. More dangerous than Iraq, I guess, since he has visited there.

    This should not suggest we do not welcome Americans, because we certainly do and enjoy an excellent relationship with the great majority of them. But Dick Cheney is one of those who can just stay away unless he’s willing to be dragged through the streets in a tumbrel (a means of transport you just don’t see that much any more) while the populace pelts him with rotten fruit and vegetables and offal and curses him to eternal damnation.

  27. Hunter says:

    Not sure what to make of this myself; the leader of the British equivalent of Zhirinovsky’s party (sorta) thinks that Russia is more democratic than the UK:


  28. yalensis says:

    Here is an RT piece on the Kony video. They claim U.S. has already sent American soldiers into Africa supposedly on the pretext of catching this bad guy:

  29. My own view on Pussy Riot largely coincides with Kononenko’s.


    What they did should be punished with a slap on the wrist, i.e. an administrative fine and perhaps a week or two of community service – as would presumably happen in most civilized secular countries.

    Recommending years of imprisonment is ridiculous and unfair.

    • yalensis says:

      I agree with that.

      Also, my above comment about sassy iconoclastic Russian artists was misinterpreted to be about Pussy Riot. I should have disambiguated more, I was not alluding to Pussy Riot, I was actually alluding to the “Forbidden Art” incident from 2007:


      • I also agree. What was done was an exercise in stupid and grossly insensitive exhibitionism but no one was killed or injured and no property was stolen or damaged so a prison sentence or even a heavy fine would be disproportionate.

        I gather that there is considerable overlap between Pussy Riot and Voina and that one of the arrested girls is or has been a member of both. Initially I was quite supportive of Voina but I have become concerned with some of their antics which look to me to be becoming increasingly reckless and violent. I have been told (I am not sure about this) that one event involved gratuitous damage to police cars and another the throwing of live cats at people working in a fast food shop. If this is true then the moment has come to call time on this sort of thing. I consider myself a libertarian but I draw a line at actions that seem designed to cause needless upset to people going about their ordinary lawful business whether they are fast food workers, policemen or even cats.

        Russia in the first thirty years of the twentieth century until the imposition of Stalinist controls was the world centre of what might be called street performance art. I wonder whether the people who make up Voina and Pussy Riot are aware of this?

        PS: I watched the video on FEMEN that Anatoly has posted on his blog. Am I right in thinking that the entire dialogue was in Russian?

        • marknesop says:

          I agree that such actions are getting pretty close to the definition of terrorism since, by such actions, people are compelled to make decisions they would not otherwise have made or they would have chosen differently if not pressured. If falling short of terrorism (which might be a bit extreme as people are mostly annoyed rather than actually terrified), then certainly coercion. But I chose to relate it to terrorism because it forces the government to take action which is then used by the perpetrators to substantiate “an authoritarian crackdown on freedom”. If the government fails to respond to the population’s application for relief, the government looks weak and ineffective and is voted out. Competing candidates see which way the wind is blowing and promise to reach an understanding on artistic protest displays. Goal achieved.

          • “… a week or two of community service as would presumably happen in most civilized secular countries”.

            This may be true of the Pussy Riot incident. However I have to say that having now checked up on Voina it is quite inconceivable that its actions would have been tolerated by the British authorities to anything like the same extent as they have been tolerated by the Russian authorities. On the contrary if any group of people whether calling themselves an art group or anything else behaved in Britain in the way that Voina behaves in Russia its members would certainly by now be in prison serving long sentences given the string of criminal offences they would have committed.

            If we start with the “Fuck the heir huggy bear” incident in 2008 in which Voina performed or simulated nude public sex in the Timiryazev Biological Museum, any group of people doing anything like that in Britain would certainly be prosecuted for the offence of gross indecency in a public place. If the sex orgy happened during the museum’s opening times so that it might be viewed by ordinary visitors (who might include children) this would be a serious aggravating factor. If it was done when the museum was closed then the group would almost certainly be charged with burglary as well, since they would have broken into and entered a building with a criminal intent (which does not have to be the intent to steal). Either way it is difficult to see how this incident could have ended without a prison sentence.

            The incident which involved the overturning of a police car amounts to straightforward criminal damage. British law treats this like all other offences involving property damage extremely seriously and the fact that the car which was damaged was a police car would again be a seriously aggravating factor. Once more it is difficult to believe that the persons involved in such an incident would escape in Britain without a prison sentence.

            The most disturbing incident is the incident involving the live cats that were thrown at the staff of MacDonalds. Not only is this a serious assault in itself but it is also the offence of animal cruelty, which is a very serious offence under British law. Given the passionate love the British notoriously have for animals any group that mistreated cats in this way would instantly forfeit all public sympathy. I have no doubt that any group of people who behaved in this way would in Britain face lengthy prison sentences certainly amounting to several years.

            Russia is normally considered a deeply conformist and even authoritarian society. Britain by contrast is supposed to be socially very tolerant. To a very great extent this is true but what makes that tolerance possible is that there is a very clear understanding by people of how far it is permissible to go. A group that behaved in Britain like Voina has done in Russia would be considered to have gone far beyond the limit of what was acceptable and would surely by now be in prison.

            As for what Pussy Riot did, in Britain we still have laws against blasphemy and obscenity but thankfully they have not been enforced for a very long time. However an attempt to revive these laws in a new and more sinister form was made some time ago by the Blair government, which has passed legislation criminalising behaviour that was felt to insult religious believers. Thankfully so far as I am aware no case has been brought under these new laws but presumably if anything like the Pussy Riot incident were to happen in Britain it would be possible to do so.

          • yalensis says:

            Well, I suppose Russia could be blamed for inventing the concept of “anarchism”. (Allude to Bakunin.)
            P.S. My beloved cat Grim is outraged by the notion of cats being tossed or otherwise harmed in the pursuit of performance art.

  30. yalensis says:

    Putin offers olive branch to Americans:


    Yesterday he offered them help in extricating themselves from this pickle they have got themselves into (=Afghanistan).
    The Americans have previously antagonized Pakistanis by bombing and droning them so much that even this allied nation got sick of them and shut off their southern supply route. Leaving PIndosi troops almost completely dependent on Russia for their northern supply route. If Russians were crafty, they would cut them off NOW and watch them scramble, trying to escape from this debacle in Afghanistan by evacuating 100 men at a time in helicopters while leaving all their junk behind.
    Instead, Russia comes to the rescue of her sworn enemy. Once again. WHY?
    I am sure that Lavrov is way smarter than me and knows what he is doing, but I do NOT like this idea of giving the Pindosi a military base on the Volga River. Ulyanovsk, of all places (= Lenin’s birthplace!) What next? A Kentucky Fried Chicken inside the Tretiakov Museum?
    If it were up to me I would let the Americans stew in their own juices and try to get out of this Afghanistan predicament on their own. Lavrov wants to stop narco-traffic? Ha! Everywhere they go around the world, Americans bring narco-traffic and Al Qaeda terrorism with them.
    I am disappointed in Putin, I thought he would be macho tough guy and stand up to Americans. Is he hoping they will become nicer now and stop calling him names? They won’t..

    • Sam says:

      I don’t think it’s true. Rogozin twitted this about it yesterday: Я вам русским языком в сотый раз объясняю, что никакой базы НАТО в Ульяновске нет и не будет! Как же вы легко ведётесь на провокации?

    • Hunter says:

      It’s not an airbase:


      It makes sense though – Russia has literally nothing to lose. The agreement will probably involve some kind of rental (so Russia gets cash) and it would only be about transporting ” mineral water, napkins, tents and other non-lethal cargo”.

      Plus if the Americans ultimately reject it, it won’t be Russia that would be looking obstructionist.

    • marknesop says:

      One of the figures quoted on RT – I can’t recall her name or even the name of the article, except that it was a woman – said, “We only have one globe”. True enough, and it fits neatly with arguments I have made elsewhere that no matter how provocatively the west talks, unless Russia crumbles and allows itself to be dominated, accommodations will be made so long as a petroleum-based economy prevails in the west. As I believe it will until oil is exhausted and no new supplies can be found. Green initiatives are picking up slowly and we are learning as a species to be more efficient, but many societies – chiefly the west – are profit-driven and could not remain viable in that posture if they switched to a completely-green economy. At present, green energy products are mostly break-even at best, but they can also be produced pretty much anywhere and do not rely on one country or an exclusive coalition controlling strategic areas of the globe. If green energy gained prominence, strategic areas would likely shrink once again to the trade routes. That’s making a number of assumptions; looming large among them that global warming will not have made some areas uninhabitable, in which case water will become of major strategic importance as well.

      The net and fairly immediate effect of attempting to embargo the world’s largest energy producer would be a jump in energy prices the like of which has not yet been seen. And in the end it would be mostly faith-based, since oil is sold on the open market and no embargo to date has been able to shut it off completely. The trade just goes through third-party brokers via more complex delivery routes, and therefore, the objective would not be achieved because any reduction would be more than compensated for by sky-high prices.

      • This business of the transit facillity (let’s not call it a base) tells us a great deal about public feeling in Russia. I agree with Hunter that in and of itself it amounts to nothing at all and that Russia even materially even benefits from it. Bear in mind that it also gives Russia potential leverage over the US. However the hostile reaction tells you everything you need to know about how Russians feel about the US.

        • yalensis says:

          One thing I would be interested to know is this: If hypothetically some American soldier in Ulyanovsk went off base and committed a crime against a local native, say, rape or murder, then would he have to stand trial in Russia, under Russian law? I doubt it. Wherever American military goes, they always insist on criminal immunity for their military personnel. They have a very “Roman Empire” attitude about this sort of thing.
          Rogozin says the American grunts will only be there to load bales of toilet paper onto planes. But still, these will be military personnel with all associated privileges, however lowly their functions.

          • marknesop says:

            I think the USA will likely decline the offer in any case. I can see few other interpretations of it than Putin laughing at the U.S’s discomfiture over his election, and I believe the U.S. will compromise by finding some reason Ulyanovsk is unsuitable rather than a flat refusal, which would look spiteful.

            Similar cases involving American military members have occurred in both Okinawa and Sasebo, and in one case the perpetrator was tried under Japanese law and imprisoned. Often the American response is a security crackdown and restriction to base property for all or most of its members. To be fair, American forces deployed abroad supply policing for their own forces and, although I do not personally know of any such cases, likely back up local law enforcement and perhaps even help them solve crimes. Additionally, U.S. forces deployed abroad undergo cultural sensitivity training and it is made very clear to them how important basing rights abroad are to the U.S. government’s foreign policy. The rash of atrocities that occurred in Iraq can be largely put down to an overstretched military whose soldiers had to do multiple tours and a relaxation of the Army’s recruiting standards in an attempt to get the needed troops.

  31. Moscow Exile says:

    Here we go again!

    “Kozlov Loses Court Challenge” shouts a Moscow Times story headline concerning a Moscow court upholding Alexei Kozlov’s 2008 conviction on fraud and money-laundering charges.

    Kozlov’s wife, Olga Romanova, is a “prominent journalist” says MT and is also “a key figure in the opposition movement against president-elect Vladimir Putin”. Therefore, according to MT, many believe that this judgement indicates the possible onset of reactionay policies that the tyrant is preparing to impliment.

    The court was full of the white-ribbon people, and, on hearing the judgement, Romanova shouted at judge Vasyuchenko: “Damn you, bitch!”

    The “opposition” people in court also chanted: “Vasyuchenko, get behind bars!”

    As regards the crimes for which Kozlov was convicted, MT briefly skims over the details and implies that Kozlov was set up.

    So there you have it! A clear example of a corrupt judiciary and another innocent Russian businessman in gaol because of the evil machinations of the Tyrant.

    Something that intrigues me about this story, though, is that without any shadow of a doubt whatsoever Romanova and her white-ribbon-bearing pals would emphatically claim that there is no freedom of expression in the Evil Empire: I wonder what she thinks might have happened to her if she had shouted out in a British court to a British judge “Damn you, bitch”; I wonder what would happen if visitors to British court started chanting to a British judge “Get behind bars”?

    See: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/kozlov-loses-latest-court-challenge/454834.html

  32. Moscow Exile says:

    Oh, and another point concerning the lack of freedom of expression and freedom in general in Russia: Kozlov has gained a certain popularity because of his blog, where he writes about his experiences in prison. His “Butyrka-blog,” named after the notorious and ancient (it was originally a fortress built in the reign of Empress Catherine the Great) Moscow remand prison facility “Butyrka”, have become “must-reads” for online oppositionists.

    For me, the curious thing about this is that Kozlov wrote and still writes these blogs whilst incarcerated, either when he was on remand in Butyrka or now, whilst serving a custodial sentence.

    In the UK, a prisoner has his outgoing and incoming mail scrupulously checked and, where necessary, censored. A UK prisoner is absolutely forbidden to describe in his mail the conditions in his prison or his fellow inmates or their crimes, nor is he allowed to keep a diary, or make notes, written observations or comments concerning his and/or his fellow inmates’ circumstances in custody. If he does this and if any such documentation written by him is discovered, he is punished. Furthermore, before his discharge, every prisoner is interviewed by a senior prison officer and asked over and over again if he has any complaints to make concerning the period of his incarceration. He then makes a statement concerning any complaint he has made or, as the case may be, that he has no complaints to make. And finally, he is warned that he is forbidden to write about his or his erstwhile fellow inmates conditions of imprisonment even after his release.

    As a former “guest of Her Majesty”, I therefore find it amazing that certain sections of Russian society complain about the paucity of basic freedoms in their motherland, whilst at the same time reading blogs of the likes of Kozlov and articles penned by and newspaper interviews given by Khodorkovskiy, both of which convicted criminals are at present serving custodial sentences in Russia.

    • Dear Moscow Exile,

      On the Kozlov case itself I can say little because I do not know enough about it.

      On your other point about the much greater leniency of “authoritarian” Russia than “liberal” Britain I completely agree. See also my comment above about the far greater tolerance the Russian authorities have shown to Voina than the British authorities would show to such a group behaving in the same way in Britain.

    • What happens if you do have complaints?

      Also, what happens if you nod yes to the above, and then proceed to write about the prison anyway? Would you be prosecuted for that?

      • I don’t think you would be prosecuted but you might be subject to administrative penalties by the prison authorities. If you persisted in doing it you might lose your chance of obtaining early release through parole. The ultimate sanction would be to move you to a more secure prison and to restrict your contacts.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          I made a complaint after repeatedly having been asked if I was sure that I hadn’t any to make. The complaint was duly entered into a large book by the Chief Prison Officer and I signed. And then I was told that I was henceforth forbidden to write about prison etc., as I have explained above.

          If diaries, notes etc. are found during spot searches, the prisoner has at the very least “priviliges” removed, eg being forbidden books to read, and may even lose remission.

          The question concerning what should happen to a former prisoner if, after his release, he should write about his incarceration, has often intrigued me. I should think that if a prisoner has material published about his prison experiences, then the shit really would hit the fan. In this respect, I don’t think publishers would accept any material that is an indictment of Her Majesty’s prisons and Her Majesty’s Prison Service.

          It’s the usual sly British way of doing things: there’s a hidden system whereby pressure is applied by the “system” in order to deter malcontents. And remember, British libel laws are amazingly powerful.

          To give an example of what I mean, try and buy a copy in the UK of biographer Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized biography of the British head of state. You won’t have much luck in this respect for you’ll not find it on sale anywhere there because no British publisher would touch it with a barge pole.

          Now I do not doubt that Kelley’s Queen Elizabeth II biography is as scurillous as any of her other works (she wrote that the UK monarch had a strong insatiable sexual appetite), but the point is, Kelley’s QEII biography has, in effect, been censored in the UK – after a very gentlemanly fashion, of course.

          Members of the royal household, I believe, have to sign, as a condition of their employment, a statement that they won’t blow the gaff on the comings and goings of their employers. There have been cases, however, where former royal lackies have decided to make a few bob by dishing the dirt on what they have witnessed through the keyhole, as it were. By and large, they have not been successful in having their memoirs published and what stories that they have been able to recount have been systematically rubbished by the media and organs of the state. For example, the former equerry to the former Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer, and, allegedly, the father of that woman’s youngest son, known as “Prince Harry” by the sycophantic British press, was a major source to a biography of Spencer “Princess in Love”, not a thing that a former cavalry officer and gentleman should do. He also tried to sell intimite letters that he received off Spencer when he was her paramour. Nobody would touch them. I wonder why?

          He has now long been declared persona non grata by his former regiment, the Life Guards. In short, he has been ostracized by his peers; he is now regarded by other “officers and gentlemen” as “non-person” and articles about him such as this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1299076/From-cad-sleaze-merchant-How-James-Hewitt-went-Princess-Dianas-lover-sending-explicit-pictures-strangers-online.html appear in the British gutter press.

          See also:

          All this in a country where, unlike in the Evil Empire, freedom of expression and information is a given.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            I’ve just recalled a smart trick that they play in the UK as regards complaints made in prison: you have, as a prisoner, the right to lodge a complaint about the food, and you are even told that you have such a right by the prison officers. However, you are, in this respect, also informed that if you should make such a complaint, the food in question shall be tasted by a senior prison officer, and if, in his opinion, the food is satisfactory, then you will be punished for making a spurious complaint. Result: few, if any, complaints.

            I should add, however, that the food I ate whilst a guest of Her Majesty was fine: it was basic fare that consisted of potatoes, cabbage, beetroot, corned beef etc. and porridge, of course. The tea, however, was bloody awful. The old lags maintained that this was because of the addition to it of “bromide”, more commonly known to the inmates as “killcock”, in order to quell the libido of the incarcerated. I never believed that yarn: it was just crap tea in my opinion.

            The only complaint as regards the food that I could make is that there was too little of it: I was always hungry in prison, which, after having seen the girth of Kozlov in pictures of him that have appeared in the Russian media, made me wonder if he had enjoyed the privilige of having food brought into nick for him.

            This certainly was the case with Kaparov, who, after having spent a couple of weeks in a lockup the other year after having been arrested at one of the unsanctioned Triumfalnaya Square demonstrations, told Fox News that the food that he was served in gaol was so disgusting that he had to have food brought in for him.

            Poor, poor Gary! My heart bleeds for you!


            • yalensis says:

              Maybe that is why Udaltsov went on a hunger strike when he was in the pokey, because the food was so horrible. As soon as he got out, he went on an eating spree and beefed up again.

              • Moscow Exile says:

                Udaltsov got 10 days in the slammer the other day, causing geriatric human-rights activist Lyudmilla Alexeyeva to say: “I consider his arrest politically motivated. The authorities are violating our constitutional right to peaceful protest”.

                Well she would say that, wouldn’t she?

                I think she’s losing her marbles, I really do.

                There’s printed an interview with her in today’s Moskovskiy Komsomolets (see below) in an article entitled “Why Lyudmila Alekseeva No longer Goes To Meetings”, in which the first question and answer are as follows:

                — Людмила Михайловна, считаете ли вы правомерными и оправданными действия полиции при задержании участников акций протеста после митингов на Пушкинской площади и на Новом Арбате?

                — Не считаю, потому что полиция превысила свои полномочия. По закону задержание граждан происходит, если они нарушают общественный порядок. А формулировка «несанкционированная акция» — это такой милицейский новояз вроде «лица кавказской национальности». Человек находится на улице, никого не трогает, за что его арестовывать? Это абсолютно политическая акция, направленная на устрашение оппозиционеров.

                My translation:

                — Lyudmila Mikhailovna, do you consider the police actions in arresting protestors following the Pushkin Square and Novy Arbat rallies to have been legitimate and justified?

                — I do not, because the police exceeded their authority. According to the law, citizens can be arrested if they cause a breach of public order. However, the expression “unauthorized action” is a new kind of police-speak, like “a person of Caucasian nationality”. A person is in the street, he doesn’t touch anyone, so what can he be arrested for? This action is is totally political and directed at intimidating the opposition.

                Is she right in the head? Does she really not know that the vast majority of demonstrators at the “authorized action” had left the authorized area designated for the meeting at the time agreed, namely at nine o’clock in the evening?

                Does she not realize that Navalny and Udaltsov had previously urged people to stay on the square after the termination of the time allocated to hold the meeting and agreed upon between the authorities and the “oppositionists”?

                Does she not know that the rabble rousers Navalny and Udaltsov, together with their hardcore of supporters then “occupied” the square – more exactly, the fountain basin therein – with a view to setting up a camp there, where they were urged to remain “until Putin goes”.

                All of this took place after the meeting, and the old and respected human rights activist still does not consider this to have been a breach of the peace and that none of them should have been arrested because none of the protesters had touched anybody; that what the police did in clearing the square was in excess of their legal authority?

                I should suggest that she try and share her opinion as regards such matters as crowd control and clearance with the Metropolitan Police, Scotland Yard, London and the New York Police Department, USA.

                There’s no fool like an old fool!

                See: http://www.mk.ru/politics/article/2012/03/16/682514-pochemu-lyudmila-alekseeva-bolshe-nehodit-namitingi.html

                • Moscow Exile says:

                  And it continues. From today’s Komsomolskaya Pravda:

                  На Пушкинской площади полиция задержала двух людей, пытавшихся устроить несогласованный митинг.

                  «Сегодня на Пушкинской площади для встречи с депутатом Госдумы собралось более 200 граждан. Кроме того, пришло около 100 представителей СМИ и блогеров», – сообщила пресс-служба ГУ МВД России по Москве.

                  [On Pushkin Square the police have arrested two people who were attempting to set up an unauthorized meeting.

                  “Today more than 200 citizens gathered on Pushkin Square for a meeting with State Duma deputies. There were also present about 100 representatives of the mass media and bloggers” announced the press service of the Moscow Main Directory of the Russian Ministry of the Interior.]

                  See: http://www.kp.ru/online/news/1107458/

                  And I suppose Alexeyeva would say, if asked her opinion on this matter, that the apprehended organizers of this meeting were illegally arrested, that their actions were not causing an obstruction to those who wished to exercise their right to access the square and that the presence of over 200 people on the square together with journalists and other hangers-on would not have been likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

  33. kievite says:

    Interesting video

  34. kievite says:

    Another interesting contr-propaganda move


  35. yalensis says:

    Great video, @kievite, thanks for posting.

  36. Moscow Exile says:

    And the “opposition” bloggers’ contra-contra-propaganda move, as reported in yesterday’s Moscow News:


  37. Moscow Exile says:

    And here’s a nice line from today’s Moscow Times:

    “Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a change in the May national holiday schedule that could shatter plans to hold a large opposition rally around the day of his inauguration as president.

    He ordered an extended break for the Victory Day holiday, a development that gives malcontents a tempting option to spend that time out of town, catching some fresh air.

    A large turnout would encourage anti-Putin sentiment and increase pressure for an earnest crackdown on corruption and greater democracy.

    Instead of one day off on Wednesday, May 9, people will have four days that week to celebrate and tend to their dachas.

    Time off will start May 6, which as a Sunday would have been off anyway.

    But the following two days before Victory Day will provide unexpected downtime for businesses, including the day of Putin’s inauguration as president on May 7.

    As compensation, people will have to work two Saturdays, May 5 and May 12”.

    So the devilishly sly Putin gives an extended holiday so as to reduce opposition protests on presidential inauguration day, May 7th?

    Everybody will be at their dachas rather than protesting against the tyrant’s inauguration, right?

    So the million turnout of “opposition” protesters, as promised by their leaders, will be thwarted?

    What a cunning dog is that Vlad Putin!

    I suppose it has gone unnoticed by MT that the number of opposition protestors has been in decline since December of last year and that, in any case, their numbers amount to less than 1% of the number of Russian citizens entitled to vote (120 million).

    If the weather is fine during the weekend of May 5th and 6th, there will be a mass exodus out of Moscow to dacha land, as there always is after spring has sprung and the May holidays have begun. I know that my family and I shall be at the dacha that weekend and that we, together with millions of other dachniki, shall return to our town houses on Thursday, May 10th.

    Such extensions of holidays here are the norm. Hasn’t MT ever noticed that? The last time this happened was International Women’s Day, March 8th, which fell on a Thursday. The holiday was extended to include Friday March 9th, which extra day off work together with Saturday, March 10th, thereby gave Russians a long holiday weekend, with Sunday, March 11th, a working day in lieu of Friday March 9th.


  38. Moscow Exile says:

    That should be much less than 1% of the 60.10% turnout of the 109,237,780 Russian citizens eligible to vote in the Russian legislative election of December 2011 and less than 1% of the 65.2% turnout for the presidential election earlier this month. (From Central Election Committee statistics)

    Even if one accepts the most liberal, and, in my opinion, highly inflated figures given for attendance at recent “opposition” demonstrations, that number of “opposition” demonstrators amounts to only 0.001% of the total electorate. And as I have noticed with my own eyes, and as Mark has pointed out elsewhere, not all who attended the demonstrations were eligible to vote: many of them appeared to me to be under 18 years of age.

    My thirteen-year old son’s schoolpals, for example, went just for a laugh. He wanted to go as well, but I forbad him.

    Does that mean that I am a despot?

  39. Pingback: The Guardian’s Russophobia | ludwitt

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