The Astounding Stupidity of Optimism

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies."

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.”

If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism

I confess to a fondness for Oscar Wilde which extends far beyond his delightful nuttiness; he more or less wrote the book on cynicism. And cynicism, much more than negativity, is the polar opposite of optimism. Therefore, it is with a cynical eye that I’d like you to help me look at a couple of things I ran across which interested me, because I think you’ll agree there’s an awful lot of pretending-to-be-good going on over there. It’s instructive to remember what underrated comedienne Lily Tomlin had to say on the subject; no matter how cynical you get, you can never keep up.

“Over there” is a series of three articles over at Open Democracy Russia; all in some way connected with the new law regulating the conduct of NGO’s in Russia, all by different authors and all from a different perspective. I should mention, before we get too far from the title, that I am a believer in optimism, and hope. But I would be disingenuous if I did not point out that those who do not include cynicism in their portfolio along with optimism and hope seem to get taken for a ride far more frequently than might be accounted for by simple coincidence.

I should mention also that all three authors are involved, in some capacity, with NGO’s. Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to it. The first, by Almut Rochowanski, is rooted in the opinion that perhaps Mr. Putin should be thanked for the new NGO law, since it forces those civil-society organizations to wake up to the reality that the foreign lolly is all gone, and that they should be looking immediately to how they will get funding. The author is a co-founder and coordinator of Chechnya Advocacy Network, a U.S-based NGO, and argues at least to a degree from the foreign perspective; Russia’s recent spate of new regulations is a retaliatory measure against the U.S. Sergei Magnitsky Act, and as such, “reeks of mean-spirited hostility”. While the author does not attempt to pass off the Magnitsky Act as a noble piece of idealistic human-rights legislation, it is simply not accounted for at all. It is a given that the Russian government is being mean-spirited, without any mention that the Sergei Magnitsky Act was both unnecessary from an activist point of view – since plenty of legal boilerplate already provided for the denial of entry to anyone the U.S. government chooses to deny entry to and/or seizure of assets held in the USA – and a spiteful, mean-spirited measure to get a substitute for the Jackson-Vanik Amendment on the books so the USA could go on punishing Russia after Jackson-Vanik was sunsetted by WTO law. The temerity of Russia, to spit back after having its face spat in.

There’s a good deal more of this bilious bellyaching – and it’s worth noting that this is the most reasonable-sounding of the trilogy – including the suggestion the requirement to self-identify as foreign agents might be illegal, since it forces you to call yourself something you’re not, despite its being a virtual copy in that respect of the equivalent American law. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires registration as a foreign agent by “every agent of a foreign principal, not otherwise exempt, to register with the Department of Justice and file forms outlining its agreements with, income from, and expenditures on behalf of the foreign principal. These forms are public records and must be supplemented every six months…that informational materials be labeled with a conspicuous statement that the information is disseminated by the agents on behalf of the foreign principal. The agent must provide copies of such materials to the Attorney General…The agent must keep records of all his activities and permit the Attorney General to inspect them.” It’s curious, considering NGO’s in Russia and their supporters complained, way back in 2006 – when this law actually went into effect, it’s just that nobody paid attention to it because Dmitry “The Big Softy” Medvedev was becoming a big noise, and NGO’s and their supporters counted on him to render such laws toothless – that “burdensome reporting requirements”, “supervisory powers allowing for interference with internal affairs of NGO’s” and “The law allows the government to send a representative to all of an organization’s events, without restriction, including internal strategy sessions and grant selection meetings” as if the success of their activities depended on keeping those activities concealed from the government. That sound altruistic and in the best interests of Russians, to you? Also cited as an onerous requirement that is a barrier to advocacy was “The registration authority has authority to review the compliance of organizations with their goals – even though the registration authority itself lacks expertise needed to judge whether particular activities are designed to meet an organization’s goals.” I must say, that is cheeky of the government, to expect an organization to actually carry out charitable apolitical activities, if that’s what it said it was in Russia to do. Just register me, Comrade, and then get out of the way and mind your own business. Try and get away with that degree of freedom to advocate as a foreigner in the USA.

Scarce heard amongst the chest thumping and holier-than-thou blather is the apparent fact that the most support NGO’s were able to muster in a recent survey that deliberately excluded the qualifier “foreign” from the question, “Who does more to uphold the rule of law in Russia; governmental law enforcement agencies, or civil rights NGO’s?” was 17%. When “foreign” was added to the question, NGO support dropped to 12%. Even this dismal result is spun as a victory:  “…a significant proportion of the sample believe that there are some areas of life where organisations representing civic society and supported by foreign governments are not only useful but also more effective than their own country’s governmental institutions.” It’s curious to see organizations which claim to be the spearhead of democracy and the rule of law, stubbornly carving out a role for themselves where they have less than 20% public support, and cheering from the sidelines as Russian NGO’s like the Moscow-Helsinki Group announce they will ignore the law. If Putin had gotten less than 20% of the vote in the presidential election, would that have been spun as “a significant proportion of the electorate”? Ha, ha. He got more than 60%, and western reporting declared it a squeaker.

The next howler was not far away; Russian NGO’s that take grants from foreign donors are not agents, because their donors never tell them what to do. Never. I daresay you, like me, remember Golos getting caught red-handed in the last election, taking its orders from USAID. Numerous videos, allegedly showing “ballot-stuffing” – words which are now as familiar to Americans as “cheeseburger”, thanks to relentless negative coverage of Russian elections – were found to all originate from the same server in California. Hacked emails show conversations discussing payments between Golos executives and USAID administrators; Lilia Shevtsova of Golos attempted to brush this off by insisting the Golos contact was an attorney who was being paid to review complaints, but even if that were true, it still implies collusion with an agency of a foreign government. The Obama administration quickly rushed out a statement; “We are proud of our support of Golos, which is intended to strengthen democratic institutions and processes – not influence elections – and we believe that citizens everywhere should have a right to report concerns about their electoral processes. The United States has supported and will continue to support those citizens and non-governmental organizations working for free and fair elections in Russia, as we do globally”. Thus the Obama administration set up a big fat strawman – that Russian citizens have no right to report electoral concerns unless that right is fought for in their behalf by Golos and other foreign-funded organizations, as justification for its blatant interference it continues to deny . It is also bullshit; Texas Attorney-General Greg Abbott threatened to have OSCE monitors, invited by liberal advocacy groups to monitor the U.S. presidential election, arrested if they approached within 100 feet of a polling place, saying “your legal opinions are irrelevant in the United States, where the Supreme Court has already determined that voter ID laws are constitutional”, as he ignored judgments striking down the Texas law and pointed to a Supreme Court ruling for another state. Keep your democratic opinions to yourself, OSCE, fuck you very much. How’s that for working for free and fair elections, globally?

Perhaps this would be a good time to introduce a helpful graphic from RiaNovosti, which summarizes the new law and its effects. NGO’s in this instance have morphed into NPO’s, or Non-Profit Organizations, but we’re still talking about the same thing. As you can see, if your NGO/NCO/NPO “works in the area of science, culture, art, health care, health protection, disease prevention, social security and support for individuals, protection of motherhood and childhood, social support for disabled persons, promoting a healthy lifestyle, protecting the animal and plant kingdoms, charitable activity, or promoting charitable or volunteer activity”, the net change will be…nothing. If your NGO “receives funding from foreign governments, states, international or other organizations, individuals, legal entities or stateless persons”, but does notinvolve itself in political activity or carry out political campaigns in order to influence government decisions or form public opinion for its own purposes”, again, the net effect will be nothing. NGO’s do not have to forswear foreign funding, but those who accept it may not involve themselves in political activity. And it is this they are determined to accept no restrictions upon doing. If your NGO accepts foreign funding and insists upon engaging in political activity, then it must register as a foreign agent, mark its advocacy materials as originating with a foreign agent and obey special oversight requirements.

Having toed the party line thus far, the author proceeds to go off the rails, necessitating some quick damage control from NED, which you will see with the second article. She describes the phenomenon of “constituency confusion”, in which an NGO funded by foreign donors begins to forget who it was established to serve, and pay more attention to the interests of the donors than those it was set up to serve. For 20 years, she says, generous foreign funding allowed agencies to pursue programming for which there was little or no public demand – profoundly summed up, because it never had to be paid for by the public, it never had to be sold to them. This insight alone won the organization, and the author, my grudging respect. She winds up, and swings for the fences with “A human rights movement that fundamentally trusts that the people are with them in their belief in human rights, justice and democracy can survive these new laws.” Bravo, Almut; bravo.

The follow-up to get the narrative back onto familiar ground was not long in coming; the very next day, Mike Allen weighed in, from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); the Big Daddy of the NGO donors, and a prolific supporter of Russian NGO’s. Let’s get something straight, says Mike: Putin is owed no thanks for anything, and his administration is actively working to undermine civil society and make the public more dependent on the state. It’s just ridiculous, he continues, to expect organizations that are funded by a foreign government and who involve themselves in political activities to register as foreign agents, and “submit to onerous reporting requirements”. No civilized nation would stand for it.

He also quickly gets back to the familiar language with which the foreign press – and Open Democracy, I might add, which is why Ms. Rochowanski’s piece was an eye-opener – is so comfortable; Putin runs a tight authoritarian ship, he is persecuting gays and restricting internet freedom, and democracy for Russia under his rule is receding out of reach. NED loves all these domestic pitched battles, and does what it can to stoke the flames by coming down firmly on the side of the opposition every time. To hear him tell it, NED just loves homosexuals and only wants them to be happy, even though homosexual activity was legal in Russia for 10 years before it was in the United States, and the age of consent in Russia for both homosexual and heterosexual activity is the same – 16. Less than that age is a minor, so what ol’ Mike is advocating for is the freedom of homosexuals to pitch the gay lifestyle to children 15 years old or less. Because 16 years old and older is not a minor. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the internet law to take that one on, but I do know that if you are part of any social media network, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, the U.S. surveillance state is watching you. FBI agents are encouraged, in a Department of Justice report, to “go undercover” on social media sites with the aim of establishing contact with suspects and targets, mapping social relationships and gaining access to non-public information. No U.S. organization is in a very good position to preach about internet freedom.

NED has, however, not lost its power to surprise. I was amazed, for example, to learn that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s case was a “clear example of political persecution arising from private initiatives to assist civil society”. That Mr. Khodorkovsky is incarcerated for his philanthropic activities, I have to admit, was one of the last arguments I would have expected to see made. Right up there with him being jugged for secretly being a caped superhero who fought crime at night, I mean.

And, right on time, the obligatory reference to “the most extensive, sustained and dramatic protest movement in post-Soviet Russia.”. We are going to have to resign ourselves, I’m afraid, to the reality that this is actually how these people see it – an unstoppable protest juggernaut that fizzled because of Putin’s authoritarian crackdown, but which had him shivering in bed and racked by nervous, hysterical sobbing as he contemplated being run out of Moscow on a rail by an exulting mob of millions. It has no more relationship to reality than Obama being a secret Muslim who was born in Kenya, or the South Pole being hot because…well, because it’s in the south – but if it brings you comfort, knock yourself out.

Mike’s activists, we hear, just want to engage with the wider public. Is that a fact? Let’s look. Who’s funded by NED in Russia? Well, there’s the American Center for International Labor Solidarity. At a time when American conservatives are engaged in union-busting at home to a degree not seen since the dawn of organized labour – and behind the union-busting legislation stand the Koch Brothers with their Americans For Prosperity Group – NED figures trade unions are just what the Russian Federation needs. I can’t forbear from pointing out that it might be the acquired knowledge that unrest created and encouraged in labour unions can shut down whole sectors of the economy in collective-bargaining disagreements that is more attractive than the plight of the Russian worker. A plethora of human-rights NGO’s focus on training activists, training organizations how to petition the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), educating activists in how to use the Public Relations system to their advantage and providing legal aid to those who run afoul of the authorities, while others such as Golos receive foreign money to raise public awazreness of the shortcomings of Russian electoral legislation and training in how to lodge a complaint of electoral violation. I doubt the USA would appreciate an American NGO financed by Moscow whose portfolio was education in the unconstitutional nature of voter ID laws and how to register a complaint with the electoral commission; U.S. lawmakers are of the opinion their laws are the fairest in the world, and do not need any improvement. Americans might, in such a case, reach a conclusion the said NGO was only in place as a troublemaker, to stir up revolt.

Still others focus on the history of political repression in the USSR, just to make sure nobody forgets. Again using an analogy, would the USA appreciate a Moscow-financed NGO in Washington whose mandate was to study and report on white repression during the enslavement of negroes in America, and keep the black folk all stirred up? I doubt it. NED might have saved the money granted to the Committee Against Torture to address the issue of torture by representatives of its own government, since the effort at home seems to be focused on legitimizing it. As laudable as the work of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee might be, a civilian agency in the USA financed by the Russian government which interfered with recruiting for the U.S. Armed Forces would be short-lived indeed. Ditto any Russian organization set up in the USA to “conduct a survey of young soldiers to analyze conditions in the U.S. Army and disseminate brochures to military installations.” Yeah; I can see that not happening. Golos’ instructions with its grant are, besides analysis of the elections themselves and dissemninating their findings both nationally and internationally, to “monitor the press, political agitation campaigns, and the work of regional electoral commissions”. We’ve already seen how the USA welcomes international monitoring of its elections – why should Russia be a willing host to organizations committed to its destruction?

If the true raison d’etre of NED-funded organizations is to help all Russians achieve freedom and democracy, why are all these organizations devoted to development of the complainers, stroking of the elites among civil society (who were actually supposed to have left Russia several brain-drains ago) and promoting advocacy and dissent? Because they destabilize the population and create problems for the government, that’s why. The west has had any number of opportunities to declare itself with respect to partnership in Russia, in crises large and small, and it has set up its stool in the opposition’s corner, every time.

Next up, Pavel Chikov, Chairman of AGORA. In his article, last of the trilogy, he introduces an interesting angle I had not heard before, and makes a startling admission. The interesting angle was that Russia wants to dump all the NGO’s because of its consuming interest in joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Russia tried and failed to achieve membership in 1996, and a major reason given for refusal is that the candidate country cannot be in receipt of any foreign aid.

I am so calling bullshit. Israel is a member in good standing of the OECD, since 2010. In that year, Israel received  more than $2 Billion in aid from the USA. In this report on “Sustainability of CSO’s” (Civil Society Organizations, yet another mutation of NGO’s), along with the interesting statement, “CSOs themselves often play an important role in the election process, by pushing candidates to address issues important to their constituents, educating voters, and observing the elections” (according to repeated demurrals, NGO’s play no role in the election process) is confirmation that USAID remains active in Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia, all OECD countries. Evidently, being in receipt of foreign-aid grants is only a barrier to admissibility for the OECD if the decision-makers rule that it is. A new rule that says you are not allowed to have two “s’s” in succession in your name should be enough to exclude Russia without anyone else having to give up their membership.

The startling admission was that international sources were planning to pour 19 Billion rubles ($630 Million) into Russian NGO’s in 2013. Certainly doesn’t sound like a nickel-and-dime operation to me.

In story after story on the supposed booting out of American NGO’s from Russia, the source adopts a hurt tone of incomprehension, and wants to know what the USA has ever done to Russia, when these nice people only wanted to help cure Tuberculosis (still seen in Russia from time to time, I’m afraid, although nowhere near the killer it once was) and help find a cure for AIDS.

I emphasize once again, by slapping my palm with the back of my hand, those organizations are not affected. If an NGO is involved in medical research and not political activity, it is not threatened with anything and its status will not change, even if most or all of its funding is international.

Let’s roll that into a summary, just to hit all the high points before closing: (1) If your NGO/NCO/NPO/CSO – all of which mean the same thing for the purposes of the law – is involved in meaningful work and not involved in politics, nothing need change, and if it pulls up stakes and leaves it will not be because it was kicked out; (2) if your NGO is involved in politics but is staffed by Russians and does not receive any foreign funding, it can spout politics all the livelong day if it pleases; (3) If your NGO insists on being involved in political activity and receives foreign funding, it must register as a foreign agent and submit to Russian government oversight.  If it complies and remains within the law, there is no reason to believe it will be kicked out of the country; and (4) if your NGO insists on being involved in political activity, receives foreign funding and will not obey the law by registering as a foreign agent and submitting to Russian government oversight, its activities will be terminated. That last provision might not even have been necessary were it not for the irresponsible chinsauce thrown around by leathery chowderheads like Lyudmila Alekseeva, to the effect that her organization would simply ignore the law. Well, no, you won’t. Or you’ll show up in the morning and find a pet store where you last saw the Moscow-Helsinki Group’s offices. Same goes for you, Masha Lippman, oft-quoted expert in all things Russian for the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

I don’t want to leave this with the impression that NGO’s do no good in Russia. Some are actually under-appreciated, and could do with encouragement and cooperation. There are more than 200,000 NGO’s in Russia, and only a handful insist on the absolute right to diss the Russian government in the most ignorant and unambiguous terms, while western governments pick up the tab and chortle in appreciation, and their media outlets lovingly record every word for the entertainment of the rubes back home. Many of the same actors insist on openly supporting and encouraging the political opposition, regardless of how weedy they might be or how tiny a following they might have, and indeed some of that following might melt away when those figures are no longer perceived to be supported by bottomless pockets. Every political party in power needs an energetic and hungry opposition to keep it on its toes, but that opposition must spring from popular support of the populace, and not foreign intrigue.

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187 Responses to The Astounding Stupidity of Optimism

  1. jputley says:

    On the topic of cynicism, the “trial” in Moscow of Sergei Magnitsky is an insult to the memory of a dead man whose honour, courage and fidelity were unbroken at the time of his death. The charges against him were found by a presidential commission under President Medvedev to have been fabricated by the Russian police. The police officials who invented them are, of course, those who should be investigated. Only a deeply cynical, comprehensively corrupted state could stage the trial of a dead man of Sergei Magnitsky’s heroic stature.

    • AK says:

      As Mercouris has patiently clarified for us several times, this is not a “trial” in any meaningful sense of the word.

      • This is exactly right. Magnitsky is not being “tried” in any meaningful sense since as he is dead there is no question of his receiving any punishment if he is found guilty. What this trial is and is obviously intended to be is a judicial investigation of the facts of the case of the same sort as is carried out in Britain by a judge chaired public or judicial inquiry. The best way to establish the truth in cases like this is exactly through such an inquiry chaired by a judge who ultimately decides the case after examining the evidence and hearing the witnesses who are examined on oath by legal counsel in accordance with the rules of the court. Anybody who really wants to get to the truth of the Magnitsky case and who wants to see justice done (something which is overwhelmingly in the public interest) should be supporting this trial not ridiculing it and should be doing everything in their power to ensure that it is conducted in a proper, impartial and orderly way.

        • marknesop says:

          I agree. The polishers of Magnitsky’s largely-invented Mr. Clean image – thanks to Bill Browder’s relentless persistence, he must have felt he owed Magnitsky at least that – must be well aware that this is Russia’s last chance to prove that Magnitsky was in the tax scheme up to his neck, rather than an innocent and altruistic bystander. If Russia fails to make that case this time, and the judge finds the evidence either exonerates Magnitsky or is inconclusive, Russia’s name will be dung for dragging an innocent man’s name through the mire. Russia must know, too, from long experience at eating crow, that all it was expected to do was say we’re real sorry about that, here’s a whole bunch of money, Mrs. Magnitsky; we’ll name a bridge after your husband. You, you and you, you’re fired. Bill Browder, please come back and do business, we’ll leave you alone. The west would have chuckled to itself in moral certitude and self-congratulation, and then mostly shut up about Magnitsky except for a few nutty bloggers like La Russophobe. It didn’t need to get to this point. When it became clear that Congress intended to pass the Magnitsky Act, Russia took the extraordinary step of traveling to the west to try to dissuade them. When the USA passed it anyway, after refusing to consider the proffered evidence, Russia lashed back with the fury of someone wrongly treated rather than some hangdog riddled with guilt. The state must have something. It knows well that every day of the trial will see more ridicule and abuse heaped on Russia, with a good chance that a guilty verdict will be ignored by the west. Again, none of this had to happen and it is likely little or none of it would have, had Russia merely admitted guiltIt refuses to do that, and continues to weather the vilest abuse and virulent criticism. Why? Why is this case so important to Russia? I say again, the state must have proof. It would hardly pursue the action tirelessly if it was clear from the outset that they had nothing. Therefore, they must have something, and it must be something that will be convincing at least to Russians. Because a mistake risks turning public opinion against the government if the west is proven right, not only because it would be clear that Magnitsky really was innocent ball the time, but in resentment at the government for inviting even more western scorn and vilification. High stakes, and the state must know it. That’s why I’m sure they have something. They’re not putting Magnitsky on trial just so they can say sorry for killing him.

          • Dear Mark,

            Obviously I agree with all of this but I think it is also important to say that for many people the Magnitsky affair serves the same purpose as Voltaire’s God. If it didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent it. It is blindingly obvious to me that many western critics of Russia who write about Magnitsky know little about Browder or Magnitsky and care even less. The reason they hammer on about Magnitsky is because his case provides a convenient pretext to hammer Russia. If the Magnitsky case did not exist they would be hammering on about something else. What this unfortunately means is that even if every allegation that has been made about or on behalf of Magnitsky is proved to be untrue the effect will be small. Russia’s critics will not acknowledge their mistake but will simply move on to something else.

            • marknesop says:

              That is quite true – however, I submit the significance of conclusively proving Magnitsky to have actually been a con man acting to enable common fraud would be measurable, because the United States government saw fit to characterize him as a hero by naming its human-rights legislation the Sergei Magnitsky Act and the corresponding bill the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Bill. They took the unusual step of eulogizing a foreigner who had no connection to the United States except that he was the fall guy for another crook who was born American but who was at the time also a foreign citizen. This says much about the deep reach that corporatism has into the U.S. government, its influence on the U.S. government’s deliberations, and in the end, the tremendous embarrassment of having been manipulated into naming U.S. legislation after a crook. Admittedly, the standard of evidence would have to be very, very high indeed; otherwise, the U.S. reaction would be to go even more on the offensive, saying it wasn’t enough to degrade and vilify an honest, innocent man who exposed government corruption, but now they are trying to embarrass the world’s most honest democracy with their filthy fabricated evidence. This is why I find it remarkable that Russia is pressing on with it, because they must know the stakes and must think they can win. Although you are quite correct that the west will never acknowledge a mistake, they would not be able to rename their human-rights law without eating a huge portion of crow, because it would be an admission that they jumped the gun and were wrong, whereas leaving it as is would be a lifelong inside joke that would provide rich comic fodder for Russia. A successful piercing of the Sergei-Magnitsky-as-whistleblowing-lawyer-and-superhero meme would also contribute to the evisceration of Browder himself, because he has cast himself as a heroic “activist investor” completely on the corpse of Magnitsky. And I am starting to think that was an ill-considered decision, because he must have forgotten to tie off a lot of loose ends, as the insufferably conceited often do.

              • Dear Mark,

                The Magnitsky Law is the great hostage to fortune in all this. Should it indeed turn out that Magnitsky was not a whistleblower but was indeed a fraudster and should Karpov win his case in London then I can see how the Magnitsky law might start to come unstuck. I do not know much about US legal procedure but I strongly suspect that the US government might in that case find itself facing a cascade of legal challenges in the US courts from people who suspect their names are on the Magnitsky list. At that point I have little doubt that the US government could find itself obliged by the courts to make the Magnitsky list public, which could trigger even more legal claims.

                We are nowhere near that point yet but it is in the very nature of the Magnitsky law that it gives rise to these possibilities. That is why it should never have been enacted in the first place. What it means is that the US government now has a direct interest in seeing both the Magnitsky trial in Moscow and the Karpov trial in London fail. That is yet another reason why the Magnitsky law should never have been enacted (and why I think it may be unconstitutional) since where a powerful government has such a strong vested interest in the failure of a legal process there has to be a worry that it will try to interfere with that legal process in order to achieve that outcome. I am reasonably confident (though not completely confident) on the basis of my own experience that any pressure upon the British court to deliver a particular verdict in the Karpov case will fail and obviously the US government is in no position to control the outcome of the Moscow trial. However you will see from this why the Magnitsky law is wrong and is so in so many ways. Though it purports to support justice and the rule of law and due process its actual effect is to undermine both. If things turn out in a certain way there is a very real potential here for it all to become extremely messy and embarrassing.

                • AK says:

                  I dunno. J-V stuck around for two and a half decades after the USSR started allowing people to leave.

                • Dear Anatoly,

                  I don’t think Jackson Vanik and the Magnitsky law are really comparable. First of all the US was under no obligation to grant the USSR or later Russia most favoured nation status. Jackson Vanik did not therefore infringe on Russian state sovereignty and on the Russian court process in the way that the Magnitsky law definitely does.

                  Much more pertinently, Jackson Vanik was concerned exclusively with interstate issues and did not affect the rights of individuals in the way that the Magnitsky law does. It is always much more open to individuals to argue that their rights have been infringed than it is for states. I can however see how a Russian official who is able to prove that he is completely blameless of anything concerning Magnitsky might have a cause of action if he has good reason to think that he has been placed on a secret Magnitsky list. Of course the irony is that if there was no Magnitsky list and if the US simply decided to exclude him for no reason he would have no legal remedy.

                • marknesop says:

                  I was going to suggest an immediately-obvious difference was that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was not named for crooks, but perhaps that would have been inaccurate.

    • Wanderer says:


      We welcome discussion and debate.

      Snooty, dishonest expressions of unwarranted superior attitude=/=debate.

    • marknesop says:

      Well, Jeremy; I’m hoping none of that turns out to be so, but not being a judge myself, I think I’ll wait for the evidence. I think what is clear is that there are enough people who feel as you do – after months and months of having Browder’s version drilled into their little heads – that such is the way it will be spun no matter where the evidence leads. If there is compelling evidence that Magnitsky was in fact the originator of the tax scheme or at the least a willing participant, you (and the western press) will say, “Oh, it was all fabricated”, because the common belief now is that any and all evidence can be ginned up out of nothing by a fairly-imaginative child.

      I disagree with your closing statement. It seems more likely to me that it is stubbornness that compels the state to pursue the trial, because I’m sure I’m no more perceptive than the Russian authorities and they must see as well as I do that just letting it die would likely mean less bad publicity, although it would mean the continued canonization of Sergei Magnitsky. I suspect there are things neither of us knows yet, but it seems clear the Russian state feels there is a need to press on regardless the storm of western ridicule. Think, though, of how egg-faced the American Congress would look if it were proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the namesake of their human-rights law was a common crook and not a squeaky-clean boy wonder. They’d argue he still didn’t deserve to die, and that’s true, but I’m still trying to figure out why the state would deliberately murder its star witness, and can’t come up with a reasonable explanation. Even if they had to let him go because they didn’t yet have enough evidence to charge him, he still could have been prevented from leaving Russia and made to testify – just because they let you out of pre-trial confinement in no wise means you are innocent.

    • kirill says:

      The trial serves the purpose of laying down all the evidence against Magnitsky so that it is not consigned to the realm of media BS speculation and lies. The corrupt accountant Magnitsky will have his dealings exposed to the public via due process. His death does not remove the need for a trial and will serve as a base for further legal action to uproot the criminal Browder enterprise.

  2. yalensis says:

    Thanks for a superb post, Mark, this was worth the wait (and I was really sorry to hear about you losing 4 hours of work – ouch! — but that wasn’t noticeable in the result).

    It was very interesting to compare the three pieces. The middle one is the usual “same old, same old”, but the first and third do show different angles. Almut shows some real insight into the grinding process of pitching projects and writing tedious grants, in order to earn one’s daily bread. I have no doubt this is a bureaucratic nightmare for the grant hopefuls, and I thank my stars that I do not have to earn my own bread in such a demeaning manner.
    Chikov’s piece is also interesting, because he gets into actual dollar amounts and nittry gritty.
    Chikov mentions that his own group, AGORA, still holds on to its nest-egg of 10K euros, donated to them by Voina, who, in turn received the cash as a prize for their “Penis on the Bridge” graffiti. Instead of money, they should have received a prison sentence or fine for vandalism, IMHO. (I really cannot tolerate graffit makers, even those who claim to be artists.)
    Chikov touches on the issue of “Click here to donate” which is fairly new to Russian bloggers and dissidents. Navalny is credited with bringing this “small-donor” methodology to the Russian internet. It requires use of a third-party banking vendor, such as Yandex or Paypal. As Russians acquire more disposable income and more internet-savvy, this type of funding will probably increase. But it begs the question whether masses of ordinary Russians will want to contribute to perceived anti-social and anti-patriotic organizations. More likely they will want to donate to charities, for example, aid victims of natural disasters.
    Navalny only ever got any traction from Rospil, because Russians loved the idea of exposing crooks in government.
    In concusion, smart Russia-watchers will learn to FOLLOW THE MONEY….!

    • Misha says:

      “In concusion, smart Russia-watchers will learn to FOLLOW THE MONEY….!”


      A point that cuts across the political spectrum.

    • marknesop says:

      Thanks, Yalensis; indeed, there are a fair number of NGO’s who deserve medals for their perseverance in the face of adversity, and there are many who do out of genuine goodness of soul and with the earnest desire to better the lives of others. Those people should be encouraged. Public donations, yes, but they should also get grants from the state and, in the case of medical-research NGO’s, access to medical research facilities and professionals pro bono. Perhaps major charity events could be staged; I seem to recall Putin was at one to benefit the Children’s Hospital in Moscow when he had the immortal exchange with Yuriy Shevchuk which inspired western press organs to exclaim to each other in hushed tones of wonder, “He doesn’t know Shevchuk!!!!” Something like the New Year’s event, which is always a spectacle not to be missed; it is obviously held in some large facility and broadcast live for those who cannot attend – perhaps the entirety of the proceeds could be donated to fund NGO’s. But outside that, the state can afford to fund them easily; the $600 million or so international backers planned to dump into them this year is not only a drop in the bucket for Russia’s cash reserves, it was probably weighted heavily in favour of the biggest troublemakers, who will not need foreign funding any more; they can either raise their own funds – if they can find enough disgruntled elitnyy to cough up the money, which staggers the imagination since they have all fled Russia several times over – or be booted out since they will not cease accepting foreign money or curtail their political activities. In the brightest scenario, honest NGO’s who are doing no harm and some good might find themselves struggling less instead of more.

      • May years ago I used to be on the board of the Central London Law Centre, an NGO somewhat like Agora that did legal work in central London without of course attracting (or seeking) anything like the attention that Agora gets. It was a hand to mouth existence and applying for donations and grants was every bit as tedious as Yalensis says. Nonetheless we got by. I’m afraid investing time in fund raising and grant applications comes with the territory of being an NGO. I ceased to have anything to do with the Central London Law Centre long ago but so far as I know it’s still going strong so they are obviously managing to get by as they always did.

        I agree by the way that Russians are far more likely to donate money to genuine charities than anti patriotic organisations. That is why the white ribbon opposition needs to convince Russians it is not anti patriotic. Instead it is doing the opposite.

        • Incidentally Chikov’s point about Agora still retaining the donation from Voina is interesting since Khrunova who is now representing Pussy Riot is of course employed by Agora. Presumably a case of a favour being returned.

          • yalensis says:

            And Khrunova, in turn, is the COMPETENT lawyer. She is the one who got Samutsevich off on a technicality. She is also the one who does NOT (to my knowledge) threaten her clients, bully their parents, or break rules of confidentiality in order to score political points.
            I don’t know why such a gem ended up working for Agora?

            • marknesop says:

              I wouldn’t say AGORA is necessarily an idealist organization; it’s simply funded by idealists, and used for their own ends. Few would question many of the cases they probably handle – poor people who can’t afford legal defense at all, or middle-class people outmatched by a state organization which is using government lawyers to wear down the plaintiff until he runs out of money, that kind of thing. That’s all good. But I doubt the donors behind AGORA actually approved of Pussy Riot’s behaviour or valued their “art”; they simply saw an opportunity to make a bold stand against the ROC and the Russian government, and you’d have to admit that was money well-spent, because they not only got in on the ground floor of a case which attained international prominence and got a lot of people talking about Russia, its government and its principle religion, they also won.

              • I would say that my impression of Agora is that it is a rather less politically sinister NGO than some of the others. Chikov’s by no means unintelligent comments tend to bear that out. I suspect that unlike some NGOs (Alexeyeva’s for instance) Agora does do some important and useful work. The work Khrunova is doing for Pussy Riot is a case in point.

                The one thing that immediately puts me off Agora is its name. “Agora” is Greek for “market”. In ancient Athens the “agora” was also a public space in the middle of the city where people met and exchanged news but (like the Roman forum) it was also always the market. In modern Greek an NGO that called itself “Agora” would definitely be identifying itself with free market ideology. I suspect by the way that this is not true in Russia and is specifically not true of Agora but I do wish they had chosen a different name.

  3. yalensis says:

    And speaking of Astounding Stupidity, here are some Russian meteorite conspiracy theories:

    Folks such as Latynina and even Boris Nemtsov are questioning whether meteor really was a meteor, they suspect a government plot and a cover-up. See, it was really a Russian nuke that went astray. In Russia there is no such thing as natural disasters, everything is planned and done by Vladimir Putin.
    Recall that this is the same gaggle of trouble-makers who rushed down to Krymsk after the tragic flood there, getting in the way of rescue vehicles and sowing confusion and demoralization among the afflicted residents.

    Note: I can’t say that I have followed Western media in depth of this issue, but I did see a few pieces here or there in mainstream western media and, to my surprise, I didn’t even see any sneering implications or overt propaganda. Just factual statements: Meteorite fell. Glass shattered. Many people were injured. I was expecting at least, “Oh, authorities are so negligent, they should have warned people to stay away from the windows….”
    Well, in reality, people SHOULD have stayed away from the windows, they will have learned this lesson and will not make the same mistake next time this happens (which will be another hundred years from now, probably).
    Also, authorities really do need to fix that broken glass as quickly as possible. Just fix the glass, worry about bills and insurance claims later.

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, I mentioned that in a reply to Anatoly; I saw a very comical rendering of it at Sean’s Russia blog. Nemtsov in particular is held up to ridicule, because he did not rush something out in the heat of the moment, and there were considerably more facts available when he went on his rant about why Russia did not have some sort of anti-meteor system which would zap it like a pesky bug. Quite a few of those liberal loopy-doos made statements which revealed their complete ignorance of how a satellite system works, thinking that perhaps it would incorporate some sort of particle-beam weapon which would protect Russians from meteors. Latynina even had to write a follow-up, in which she confessed to being paranoid, although of course she went on to blame her paranoia on the state and its limitless cruelty.

      • yalensis says:

        An anti-meteor/anti-asteroid system is probably a good idea in the future, but somewhat utopian (and too expensive) in current conditions. Granted, eventually we (human race) will have to come up with something. The risk of extermination is simply too high.
        As a practical immediate measure, I would just urge people: If you hear an explosion that might be a meteor or nuke, please do not go to look out the window. Take cover underneath a table or chair. Any kind of cover or shield is better than nothing.

      • This is completely hilarious. I think where Latynina is concerned she is well overdue a visit from the men in white suits.

  4. Misha says:

    Touching on the subject of Magnitsky:

    An oblivious news person, as opposed to the overly partisan hack, with another category being that of a knowledgeable and relatively objective sort.

    • marknesop says:

      That is an interesting piece; perhaps that kind of test should be administered to would-be news anchors everywhere. It’s hard to believe anyone interested in the news business could be so generally ignorant of major events – perhaps they think they get some sort of briefing before they go on, so they won’t look stupid.

      In other news, out of the Twitter feed on that same site, another adopted orphan has died in the USA, this time in Texas. It appears Russia was waiting for something like this, and is prepared for a full-court press on it. As it should be, I suppose, since those are the tactics regularly used against Russia, but it’s still sad to see it become necessary. The accusations are that the child was free of any disabilities, yet his adoptive parents were stuffing him with all kinds of medications, and that his body showed evidence of abuse. I daresay we will know more soon, and I hope it is not an embarrassing rush to judgment, as this case will likely command a lot of attention due to its linking with the adoption ban.

      • Misha says:

        In the early days of RT, I recall one of the newscasters referring to an ice hockey puck as a ball.

        The idea is to be as knowledgeable as possible on as many topics. Having a good intuition can serve as better cover on subjects where one isn’t as knowledgeable.

        In terms of blogs with regular postings, Leos Tomicek’s is great because it substantively challenges views that generally get uncritically presented in Western mass media, academia and body politic. The follow-up discussions at Leos’ blog directly address and debunk the kind of arrogantly ignorant nationalist perspective, which openDemocracy among others have favored.

        I’m not into promoting venues that are essentially establishment approved and with shortcomings – not that anyone is perfect.

  5. Misha says:

    There was a time when the VoA was considered a definite improvement over RFE/RL:

    Talk about a misguided chest thumping jingoism.

  6. An observer says:

    May I simply suggest diving the text up to more paragraphs the next time around? ; ) I did get through all of this quite easily, but some portions were quite a mouthful, particularly the one that starts with “The next howlers were not far away…”. Just a constructive piece of advice.

    In an issue that has nothing to do with this article, Armenia held a presidential election yesterday and the incumbent seems to have secured himself a second term. From what I have gathered from talking to a few Armenians this election could have a big effect on whether or not Armenia tries to deepen its ties with the EU or tries to get closer to the Eurasian Union (as in, Armenia’s political class would apparently prefer EU integration but much hinges on how Europe assesses the “fairness” of this election). Should be interesting seeing as I have little doubt Russia would strongly desire to see Armenia in the Eurasian project.

  7. Moscow Exile says:

    Now they’re both acting stumm!

    According to a KP article, both Serdyukov and his paramour Vasil’eva “refused to cooperate” with investigators today, Tuesday, February 19th:

    “Former Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and the former head of the Ministry of Defence properties department,Yevgeniy Vasil’eva, were called on Tuesday to the Main Military Investigation Department (GVSU) for questioning.

    The investigators wanted to know the extent to which both were involved in a theft at the St. Petersburg Ministry of Defence Engineering and Technology Centre and the illegal appropriation of land at Bolshoi Utrish, where Serdyukov’s brother-in-law’s “Dacha Puzikov” is situated.

    Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Investigatory Committee, stated that both the witness (Serdyukov) and the defendant (Vasil’ev) had refused to talk about the dacha, citing Art. 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which allows a person not to testify against himself or his close relatives”.

    Don’t tell dem lousy feds nuttin’, Tolya!

  8. Dear Mark,

    This is indeed a superb post. You cover the ground masterfully.

    I would just highlight a few points about the NGO law, which you have already largely touched on:

    1. The NGO law affects a tiny minority of NGOs. I read a piece somewhere that listed the ones that are complaining about it to the European Court of Human Rights. All the usual suspects were there (Golos, Alexeyeva’s NGO, Agora etc). At a guess they numbered no more than a dozen. Once again a tiny group of self important people are demanding and getting all the attention whilst the rest of the country quietly goes on with its normal life.

    2. I think it is unlikely that the European Court of Human Rights will want to interfere with the NGO law, though the possibility cannot be discounted completely. Certainly I do not see how a simple requirement to register as a foreign agent and to accept some very light regulation breaches any of the articles in the European Convention of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights will anyway undoubtedly refuse to consider a challenge unless domestic challenges to the law have been exhausted. This begs the question: has the NGO law been challenged before the Constitutional Court? If not then I cannot see the European Court of Human Rights considering this application, in which case it is simply theatre.

    3. The NGO law benefits the Russian opposition. Here finally they have the opportunity to stand on their own feet and show that they are not what Kirill says they are, which is a western funded a fifth column, but genuine opposition movement that is loyal to the country. In their typically self destructive they not only refuse to make use of this opportunity but do everything in their power to prove Kirill right. In fact they are even going further than Kirill might have expecting by noisily annoucing that they are going to disobey the new law. Why they think that will gain them the sympathy of most Russians bewilders me. As you absolutely rightly say all the new law does is require NGOs that engage in political activity to register as a foreign agent and submit to some very light regulation if they receive foreign funding. What is that if not an admission that it is politically embarrassing and a mistake to accept foreign funding? Why do they expect Russians to sympathise with them if they engage in political activity whilst receiving foreign funding and then break a law that merely requires them to register the fact and to submit to some very light regulation? Does it not occur to them that such conduct is only going to convince even more people that they are disloyal to Russia and that they have something to hide?

    4. I detected some glimmer of understanding of this in what Nemtsov was saying in the hacked emails about his meetings with Fridman, Voloshin, Chubais, Koch & co of which Yalensis gave us translations. As I recall JLo and Yalensis both highlighted Nemtsov’s comment that at least he was getting money from Russians rather than from outsiders such as Targamadze and the State Department. This shows that Nemtsov at least has some elementary political understanding of the problem though to find the solution to the problem in taking money from a gaggle of corrupt oligarchs shows how even in his case this political understanding is limited. Anyway even this degree of political understanding suffers from the problem that no one else in the white ribbon opposition seems to share it.

    5. The same is equally true of the US. The US seems to find it impossible to understand that its funding of the Russian opposition does not strengthen the opposition. Instead it weakens it. I say this because we should be clear that US funding of the Russian opposition is exactly what this is all about. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of how US sponsored colour revolutions happen in countries like the Ukraine, Georgia and Serbia (and by the way government changes in Romania and Bulgaria) knows how utterly central US funded NGOs are. My brother has told me that within the European Commission Saakashvili’s Georgia was even mockingly referred to as “the NGO state”. There is absolutely no doubt that US funding to agencies like Golos is intended for exactly the same purpose. The dismal outcome of all of the colour revolutions ought by now to call into question this strategy. It should anyway by now be completely obvious that this strategy not only does not work in Russia but when attempted in Russia is totally counterproductive. The NGO law gives the US an opportunity to bail out of a failed strategy. Needless to say it refuses to learn its lesson and its effort to destabilise the political situation in Russia simply redoubles.

    6. There was one thing you said your post that completely took my breath away. You may recall that about a year ago Kievite, Yalensis and I had a discussion about how much money was being used to fund the protest movement. I don’t now recall the figure we all came to but I think it was somewhere in the region of $200 to £400 million. It was certainly not as high as the $630 million of international funds that were to be invested in Russian NGOs in 2013. Not all of this money is of course intended for sinister purposes. Some may genuinely be intended to deal with such things as tuberculosis and the like. However on the evidence of this figure Kievite, Yalensis and I obviously seriously underestimated the scale of the effort that went into the protest movement.

    7. Lastly, I don’t know whether you followed Putin’s recent comments in his review meeting with the FSB. About a week or so ago I speculated that the FSB would be the agency that would monitor compliance with the NGO law and that any NGOs that were not complying with it would be facing prosecutions by the end of the year. In his comments Putin confirmed that the enforcement agency is indeed the FSB and not the Justice Ministry and that he fully expects the NGO law to be enforced. I predict an Alexeyeva trial before the year is out.

    • marknesop says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Alex; it’s a good thing I was already at home before I read them, or I would have been late because I would have had to wait for the swelling to go down before I could put on my cycle helmet.

      If the complainant NGO’s can convince the ECHR that the new law is a violation of human rights – and I don’t see how, as they would have to demonstrate that they cannot operate without foreign funding at the same time as they demonstrated their work was vital to the country’s well-being – and convince the court that all domestic avenues of redress had been exhausted, I could see the court perhaps coming out with some sort of non-binding censure, purely as a sop to the dribblers. But I imagine you are right and the court will decline to hear the case as domestic avenues of appeal have been largely unexplored, never mind exhausted. NED should have poured more money into that NGO whose job was to teach activists how to make proper application to the ECHR. And while we’re talking about that, it also underlines what guff it is that donors do not tell their NGO’s what to do. NED not only tells them – their instructions as to what must be carried out in order to obtain grants is spelled out in print for all to see; complete reports about elections, make a documentary film about Soviet repression, bla, bla.

      It is indeed supremely comical to see what is supposedly the cream of the “protest movement” angrily shouting that they intend to disobey the law, when a staple of their protests is how much Russia needs the rule of law. Only laws that the opposition’s leaders like to obey, evidently, and what is the difference between that kind of leadership and what Russia has already, minus the leadership experience?

      Boris Nemtsov is sufficiently seasoned in politics that he knows what he should say, mostly, in order to convince people that he draws on a broad range of experience and wisdom. However, he cut the legs right out from under that impression with his maundering about why in hell didn’t Russia’s satellite system have the capability to shoot down a meteorite. After rabbiting on about how much money Putin wastes on the army, he demands the country waste money on an impractical capability which might protect the country from an event which occurs every couple of thousand years, assuming the meteorite would cooperate and not follow the highly unusual path this one did. Nemtsov is too much a pretty-boy grandstanding chowderhead to ever run the country, and I just wish he would put the idea right out of his head and take up a nice hobby. And the opposition alternatives are worse than Nemtsov.

      The western opportunities to destabilize Russia are going to be harder to come by and more difficult to execute in years to come, as Russia systematically cuts all ties with the west save for commercial alliances and the west finds its on-the-ground access much more limited. I hope people will pause to reflect in years to come that the passing of the Magnitsky Act caused all this, as that was the watershed moment when everything began to go bad.

      It was an eye-opener to see that figure, wasn’t it? $630 Million, when we were led to believe it was next to nothing, according to think tanks and the western press. I guess they just couldn’t resist dangling it, on their way out the door, to say, “See what you’re giving up, you Borscht-eaters?”

      I had not heard it would be the FSB who would be in charge of foreign-agent oversight, but I am not surprised. Another reason the west should be sorry it got all bolshie with the Magnitsky Act; now the FSB will be collecting information on foreign donors which probably far exceeds the scope of their NGO involvement. I think Alekseeva will fold. Although they would be unlikely to send a woman her age to prison, they would gut her organization. I don’t think she’ll risk that. I think she will register as a foreign agent, noisily and angrily. Especially if the ECHR does not come through in the short term, and I doubt they will.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        I find it amusing how Alekseeva so vehemently protests against the very idea that she is a foreign agent in Russia whilst at the same time being a US citizen resident in Russia.

        True, she is also a Russian citizen, but where does her fundamental allegiance lie? She was apparently granted US citizenship and allowed to reside in the USA for her own protection against the “Evil Empire”. After the demise of the Soviet Union, she returned to her motherland but has not rescinded her US citizenship. Does that mean that she and the US government believe that she still needs protection against the malevolent state in which she has chosen to live and of which she is also a citizen and if that be so, then why?

        Why should this protection be afforded her by the USA if she is not acting in the interests of the USA? If she wishes to act against the interests of the Russian state with impunity, why does she not continue to be a resident of the USA instead of effectively acting as a US agent within Russia?

        Does the US government think that nice little old ladies should enjoy permanent immunity from any legal action in Russia?

        • marknesop says:

          I can only imagine the reaction to a Russian citizen – even an old lady – living in Washington and running an anti-government think tank, having an article published under her byline entitled “A New Way of Containing America” which detailed how her host country could be weakened to the point that Russia could more easily control it. Americans like to think they are tolerant folk, but they’d have to go some to beat Russians on that score.

      • Dear Mark,

        I too don’t frankly see how the new rules on NGOs violate the European Convention of Human Rights. The argument one occasioinally comes across is that the law is vague about what constitutes “political activity” and that this could be used as a blanket device to force any NGO to submit to registration as a foreign agent and to force government regulation upon them. However laws of this sort are intentionally left vague since defining what is “political activity” is a question not for parliament but for the courts who will actually administer the law. The courts in turn will define “political activity” taking into account the legal and human rights provisions of the Russian Constitution and of the European Convention of Human Rights to which Russia is subject and in accordance with which the law must be applied. To say that any NGO can therefore be forced to register as a foreign agent and to submit to statutory oversight is nonsense.

        I truly, genuinely cannot see why the European Court of Human Rights would want to interfere with this process and I think it is extremely unlikely that it will. Frankly I think the application to the European Court of Human Rights is simply an act of political theatre made in the knowledge that by the time the European Court of Human Rights gets round to dealing with it the whole controversy will have died down.

        As for Moscow Exile’s point about Alexeyeva (or should I write her name Alekseeva?) being also a US citizen, that seems to me both apposite and unarguable. Here we have someone who is a citizen of a foreign state and who runs an NGO largely funded by that state. How she can realistically argue that it is wrong to refer to her as a foreign agent in the country in which she engages in political activity I simply cannot see.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          Алексеева to be precise!


          • Thanks. Alekseeva in English it now is.

            • Moscow Exile says:

              Dear Alexander Mercouris,

              Your version of spelling that old bat’s name is totally acceptable. You see, as far as I am aware, there are at least three “standards” for the transliteration of the Cyrillic alphabet into the Latin one. Furthermore, if there is an English equivalent to a Russian name, such as you have, then that may be used instead of the letter for letter transliteration from the Cyrillic, which in your case would be “Aleksandr” from the Russian “”Александр”.

              Then there is the question as regards the Russian hard and soft signs, “ъ” and “ь” respectively: usually they are omitted in non-academic transliteration, though this may sometimes cause problems. For example, “мать” means “mother” whereas “мат” means “obscene language” and both are usually transliterated into the Latin alphabet as “mat”.

              You can see the embarrassment that may arise if a symbol for the soft sign (usually an apostrophe) in “мать” is not added to the Latin transliteration.

              And I know a Russian “Olga” who gets rather annoyed at the mispronunciation of her name by her British/American colleagues, for it is spelt in Russian as “Ольга” and that soft sign makes all the difference: the “l” in the Russian is pronounced with a slight “yi” sound at the end, something like “lyi” and similar to the pronunciation of the second “l” in the British pronunciation of “lily”, its sound being softened by the following soft sign (and the “o” is pronounced more forward, in the British manner rather than the American one). Likewise the “t” in “мать” is softened by the “ь” sign to sound something like the letters “t” in the Scouse pronunciation of “tit”.

              • Misha says:

                There’s also the nationalist PC influenced transliteration regarding Kyiv, Volodymyr, Oleksandr, among others.

                This congregation hasn’t observed the memo:


                • Moscow Exile says:

                  They are certainly not toeing the Orthodox line as regards their USA style celebration of Hallowe’en either, albeit that All Souls’ Day (October 31st) and All Saints’ (All Hallows’) Day (November 1st) are feast days in the Western church; the greeting “Happy Hallowe’en!” would be lost on devout members of the Eastern Orthodox faith, as it is, indeed on me, follower of Woden that I am.


                • Misha says:

                  Pardon me for noting that particular center’s relationship with a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) in the same town. In that very same town is a Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with a nearby Polish-Catholic Church and Orthodox Christian Church of America congregation.

                  The St. Vladimir spelling stands out given a prevalent trend among UGCC. Then again, things can go only so far up to a point. Note how a certain Rutgers academic’s first name is spelled. I’ve come across Russophile folks whose surname ends in “o”, without having changed back to its previous (in history) end spelling of “ov”.

                  I don’t have a problem with the VoR panel moderator using the “Kyiv” spelling. However, that spelling in conjunction with giving an unchallenged platform to a Hrushevskyesque slant of Russo-Ukrainian history is a prime example of what’s wrong with the coverage.

                  At his Austere Insomniac blog, Leos Tomicek presented this issue, which prompted an informally informative point-counterpoint discussion, inclusive of the kind of underhanded remarks directed at those offering a substantive answer to nationalist anti-Russian leaning perspectives.

              • marknesop says:

                I enjoy the endless “tender words” which can be used as suffixes to personalize the names of your friends and family, because it seems to me completely different from the way it’s done in the Anglosphere. Here, “Katherine” is shortened to “Kat” or “Kate”, and “Susan” to “Sue”. But in Russia it is occasionally possible for the loose, friendly name your friends give you to be longer than your actual name, such as “Seryosha” for “Sergei”. My wife and her parents variously call our daughter, Alina, “Alusia”, “Alyusinka” and “Alinka”.

                I guess that degree of variety is possible with western names as well, although I never really thought about it. “John” is shorter than its casual counterpart, “Johnny”, although both are mutations of “Johnathan”; incidentally, the personalized “Zhenya” is casual for both Evegeny for a man and Evgenia, for a woman. And the girl’s name I can think of with the most permutations is Elizabeth, which can be “Liz”, “Beth” or “Betty”.

                Russian is often portrayed as a hard, emotionless language, as is German, both unfairly. Russian is full of emotion and feeling, and allows a great deal of room for the most sensuous romance and intimacy; it’s all in how you say it. Sometimes it’s just easier to pretend other people don’t have feelings.

                • Moscow Exile says:

                  An interesting point about these tender Russian diminutives is that sometimes a particular diminutive is used to show criticism or disapproval when used by adults – sometimes they have a course tone about them – whereas when used between children they just sound friendly, even though they may sound rather twee to English ears.

                  For example, from Ivan (John) we get Vanya (cf. Johnny in English) and Van’ka (apostrophe for soft sign: Ванька). However, Van’ka can sound rude (that bloody John!) There are many more diminutives for Ivan, of course, e.g. Vanyusha, Vanechka, Ivanka, Ivanya.

                  I find it strange that Mark thinks that Russian “is often portrayed as a hard, emotionless language, as is German”. I think Russian is an amazingly emotive language, and German too has diminutive forms for names, usually with the diminutive endings “-chen” or “-ling” or “-le”, the latter being especially common in the South and in Switzerland and Austria.

                  Swabians don’t talk of their “Haus” but of their “Häusle” and even “kleines Häusle”, which is like saying “little housikins” in English and which sounds so very childish to English ears.

                  These diminutives have their cognates in English as well: e.g. Peterkin and duckling and “maiden” from “maid” (cf the German Mädchen and Magd and the Russian “devushka” [девушка] and “deva” [дева]).

                  However, the diminutive usage of first name terms in English are nowhere nearly as frequently used amongst adult native speakers of English as they are used in Russian.

                  By the way, I’m known here as Дениска, but the last person to call me Deniskins in England was my mother when I was about 5 years old.

    • marknesop says:

      You really are in a daze today, Yalensis; that’s the second time you have re-reported something that was already mentioned. Are you in a dreamworld, imagining our trip to the Burgess Shale with Peter? It is going to be fun.

      • yalensis says:

        Ach, you nailed me, Mark. I am in a clueless daze and not paying attention. Mea culpa.

        Okay, next time I will find something completely new for you in my otherwise brilliant comments.
        And then we will go to visit the Burgess Shale and collect some fossils. Then we can sell them on EBAY to raise money for our TRIP TO THE SOCHI OLYMPICS!! Yay!

  9. Moscow Exile says:

    From Latynina in today’s MT:

    “Sometimes I think Russian liberals have lost the most basic understanding of the state’s responsibilities.

    For a certain segment of the population, any person convicted by the abhorred ruling regime is automatically innocent of all charges. For them, even discussing the evidence is anathema, and the only decent act is to repeat the words of a defense lawyer, no matter how shamelessly he lies”.

    Not only a self confessed paranoid, but a schizophrenic as well!

    (“A meteorite flew to Chebarkul region. Well? It happens. But incidentally, for me personally,what happened to me is interesting. When paranoia emerges in a person, he immediately begins to have accept any logical confirmation of this paranoia.”)

    • Misha says:

      Seeing how much effort is spent on her screeds, a legitimate marketing claim can be made to leave her on as a regular columnist, who was likely given a free trip to the US.

      On the other hand, MT readers haven’t seen a hard hitting and regular alternative to her at TMT and a good number of other reasonably well publicized organs.

      When the subject of “boycott” comes up relative to Russian issues, the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics has been brought up. IMO, some other matters are more deserving of a successful boycott, inclusive of promoting and funding different and valid options that remain under-represented.

    • marknesop says:

      Latynina blew any shreds of credibility she might have had – and in truth I don’t think there were any anyway, so she had nothing to lose – right out the window when she did her little fury dance over the government’s incompetence at losing control of one of its rockets over Chelyabinsk. She claimed to see all manner of rocket-like behaviour in its flight, thus sacrificing all her military chops as well in one cataclysmic mental burnout – apparently anything that flies more or less straight is a rocket to Yulia. She tried to recover, but that didn’t work, so now she’s just not going to ever mention it again. If there’s one phrase from that article that should be inscribed on her headstone, it’s “Insanity is no excuse”.

      Truly, Mr. Putin is blessed with his Keystone-Kops opposition; was ever a leader so lucky? He could have gone to serious opposition figures, pleaded with them to help him remain in power, and paid them enough money to keep them and their families comfortable and secure all the rest of their days: and if the money was juicy enough, this is exactly what they would have come up with – Navalny the crook, Udaltsov the Stalinist, Latynina the dotty scribe, Nemtsov the aging stud and Vladimir Ryzhkov the bitter wallflower. Chirikova the narcissist, and Kasparov the tragic brainbox. I left out Sobchak, because she’s the only one who can probably even spell “plan”, and consequently the most likely to command public support if she went about it the right way and left off hanging about with such self-defeating losers.

      • The bizarre thing is that what Latynina says about the Kvachov case is mainly right (though contrary to what she says insanity most definitely is a defence though not one that applied to this case). However as Moscow Exile says she refuses to apply the same logic to the prosecution of her white ribbon heroes. I am looking forward to the article Latynina writes that says the same about Udaltsov and the case against him.

  10. yalensis says:

    Okay, I found something “new”. Well, actually, it’s old. From 2009. This is from Politrash latest blogpost, an expose of Boris Nemtsov machinations to sabotage the Sochi Olympics and get the games moved to South Korea.

    Flashback to 2009 diddlydiddlydiddlydiddlydiddlydiddly Handsome Boris was running for Mayor of his hometown Sochi. His election committee was headed by Ilya Yashin. (Spoiler alert: Boris lost the election by a landslide.) Meanwhile, Boris private bodyguard (the paunchy guy in the blue jeans jacket) nowadays works as Navalny’s bodyguard:

    But going backk to Sochi 2009… In the course of his election campaign, Boris met with a Korean businessman, it was a political fundraiser, he was trying to get some money from the Korean.
    To keep their conversation private, Boris and the Korean met in the interior of a specially prepared and swept-for-bugs Gazelle (and I think by “Gazelle” they are talking about the van, and not the actual animal):

    But unfortunately for Boris, the KGB was too clever for him – mwa ha ha ha haha! What Boris had not counted on was that the Korean guy was a KGB plant, who taped the whole conversation.,i:186&iact=rc&dur=3285&sig=104699521567516946912&page=1&tbnh=128&tbnw=128&start=0&ndsp=37&tx=73&ty=56

    Politrash then proceeds to print fragments of the taped conversation proving that Boris will literally do anything for money, even sabotage his hometown Olympic games:
    Korean: I represent the Korean diaspora…
    Nemtsov: Never mind about that, how much money can you give me?
    Korean: Well, we were thinking around 200K
    Nemtsov: WHAT??
    Korean: According to your program, from what we heard, you want to transfer a portion of the Olympic structures…
    Nemtsov: Nobody here is going to do anything about that. Now, getting down to business..
    Korean: Concretely, we are prepared to offer a significant sum…
    Nemtsov: Okay, here’s the deal. [I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.] If I become Mayor, then I scratch your back, you scratch mine. We’ll move the Olympics to Korea, okay? Well, I can’t give you a 100% guarantee, but I can do a lot. At every (Olympic planning) meeting I’ll show how the preparations are failing on a grand scale, and therefore I’ll push to have it moved to Korea.
    Korean: But will the IOC actually go for that?
    Nemtsov: The budget for the Olympics is 15 billion dollars. He who pays the piper orders the song. I know for a fact that cash was brought to them in baskets. Now we are threatened with a crisis: a humanitarian catastrophe, collapse of transportation. [Boris goes on to describe his big election plan, which is to setup a call center and make robo-calls to voters. He wants the Korean to give him the money so that he can “bombard” the residents with robo-calls.]
    Korean: Okay, we’ll talk some more later this evening.
    Nemtsov: And then we’ll make a decision?
    Korean: Yeah, yeah, fine. So long.

    • yalensis says:

      P.S. I re-watched the video clip a couple of times. Boris entertainis 3 Korean guests inside his van for 3 minutes (1 minute per Korean) while his mobster friend stands outside, keeping a vigilant watch.
      Is it just me (or maybe a shaky camera), or is the van vibrating up and down the whole time?
      You know what they say, “When the Gazelle is a-rockin, don’t come a-knockin!”

    • marknesop says:

      Is this for real? I mean, it is cheesy as they come, but is there no possible misunderstanding? He actually offers to portray the Olympic preparations – from a time when there were essentially none yet in progress, as “failing on a grand scale”?

      What a turd.

      Something else it highlights is that the FSB is nowhere near as stumbling and inept as the liberals portray it, except when they are portraying it as malevolent and ubiquitous. I’m sure they keep an eye on Nemtsov as a matter of course, him being a political dissident and all, but they would have had to set this one up well in advance, with foreknowledge of Nemtsov’s aspirations and in a way which raised none of his suspicions. And you would think he would be very suspicious, he has been exposed over and over.

      Another corollary; the FSB did not even have to use this to make him lose the election, as you say, by a landslide. Bringing this out would have made him despised in Sochi, he probably wouldn’t have even been able to come back for a visit. But they didn’t even use it. He got wiped out totally on his own merit, or lack thereof.

      • kirill says:

        I will quibble on the definition of dissident in regards to Nemtsov. He is a foreign-sponsored seditionist and not a dissident. I guess I am romanticizing the notion of dissident, but to me it is someone who has substantial disagreements with the existing system and on account of the system itself is unable to operate politically/intellectually within it. The Russian system is open and democratic. Nemtsov is free to play by the reasonable rules and change the system via due process. He is free to appeal to the bydlo, oops public, for support and can run for office along with other members of the opposition. Nemtsov is not similar to Sakharov during the period of the USSR.

      • yalensis says:

        Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is for real. I heard of this scandal before (Nemtsov promising to move Sochi Olympics to Korea in return for electoral funding), but I don’t know if they published the audio/video evidence before now. FSB is starting to become more aggressive about publishing the “kompromat” on the dissidents. They sometimes use Politrash or Torquemada as portals to get the kompromat out onto the internet.
        The audio is poor quality, true, but there is no mistaking Nemtsov’s beautiful deep bass voice. Damnation, the man missed his true calling: with that pure deep bass/baritone of his, he could have taken voice lessons and become a famous opera singer. Instead, he wasted his life.
        If only he had studied music and trained his voice, he could have excelled on the stage by singing the following bass and/or baritone roles:

        Duke Bluebeard Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók
        Don Pizarro, Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven
        Count Rodolfo, La sonnambula by Bellini
        Blitch, Susannah by Carlisle Floyd
        Méphistophélès, Faust by Charles Gounod
        Don Alfonso, Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
        Don Giovanni, Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
        Figaro, The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
        The Voice of the Oracle, Idomeneo by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
        Boris, Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky
        Silva, Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi
        Philip II, Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi
        Count Walter, Luisa Miller by Giuseppe Verdi
        Ferrando, Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
        Daland, Der fliegende Holländer by Richard Wagner
        The King of Scotland, Ariodante by George Frideric Handel
        Igor, Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin
        Boris, and Varlaam, Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky
        Klingsor, Parsifal by Richard Wagner
        Wotan Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner
        Caspar, Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber
        Banquo, Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi
        Zaccaria, Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi

    • kirill says:

      In the first one:

      “But the central bank analysis appears to be an indictment of President Vladimir Putin’s brand of state capitalism, which critics say has allowed official corruption to flourish on a huge scale”

      What a load of non sequitur sh*t. First is the bald faced lie about state capitalism. Without a definition terms are meaningless. Are they talking about Gazprom being a monopoly? In the past “state capitalism” meant some sort of total control of business by the state. I guess you could call China a state capitalist country and you have generals, high ranking party members and their families owning a major chunk of the economy. Thailand is similar. Now looking at Russia I see no similarity: which generals run corporations in Russia, which politicians in Russia run corporations, which relatives of high ranking government members run the economy? I dare all these professional defamators to produce examples. Just because Rosneft and Gazprom are monopolies does not imply they are “state capitalist” assets.

      Second, where is there any evidence that corruption in Russia is associated with Gazprom and other monopolies (in the state capitalism sense)? These tens of billions have nothing to do with Gazprom and Rosnet since these corporations are under government oversight and are not free to defraud Russia like was the norm for saint Khodorkovsky’s Yukos. How do we know that TNK of TNK-BP is not involved in this money transfer? It would make sense that TNK would try to maximize its revenues via transfer pricing and other tricks like Yukos. As usual, the theory is not relevant to the practice: state owned corporations do not have the corrupt behaviour of private corporations since they are on a tighter leash. The USA and its worship of corporate Mammon is sick and obscene with drivel such as this article.

      Perhaps NBC can do a piece on the illegal transfer of tens of billions of dollars out of the USA to avoid taxation. You know, it is quite common.

      • Dear Kirill,

        I suspect that this story originates with a lengthy report that has recently appeared that claims that around 30% of capital outflow from Russia since 1994 is “illicit” (by the way I am not sure what that means in this context). The authors of that report have used this figure to prove that the back economy in Russia accounts for up to 46% of Russia’s GDP.

        I find these incredible figures. I have only skimmed the report and not read it properly so I don’t feel I can discuss it in detail. On a brief perusal the methodology seemed to me suspect. However until I read it properly (which I have not had the time to do because I have been inundated over the last few days) I think it would be wrong for me to judge it.

        As for Ignatiev’s comments, these too look on the face of it to be so incredible that I wonder whether Vedomosti is quoting him accurately. On the face of it he seems to be saying that around half of Russia’s capital outflow in 2012 was the work of a single criminal gang. That doesn’t accord with any other analysis of Russia’s capital outflow that I have seen and quite frankly it hardly makes sense. The story was all over the news agencies earlier today but I notice that despite its astonishing not to say incendiary content it seems to have been quietly dropped as the day has progressed. I wonder whether the news agencies haven’t perhaps been given a quiet steer that Vedomosti misunderstood and is misreporting Ignatiev’s comments, probably in good faith and because of confusion over the recent report, and that Ignatiev was simply discussing the effect of pending bank regulations and law enforcement actions in controlling illegal capital outflow.

        • marknesop says:

          One obvious truism in all of this is that it is extremely easy to get something published which originates with “Putin’s critics”. A popular news tactic is to introduce some fantastic claim, tie it to Putin, and then use statements furnished by his perennial critics to substantiate both. It’s not hard to see how such editorializing became popular, considering there is never any consequence attached to being wrong.

        • kirill says:

          One obvious distortion in this report (I have not seen it, just what you describe) is that it lumps everything from 1994 onward. This is mixing apples and potatoes and selling them as fruit. I have read plenty of articles (including academic ones) that estimated the black economy during the 1990s to be as much as 40%. This figure is credible for that time period. In no way is this figure credible today.

          One of the primary reasons for the size of the shadow economy in Russia during the 1990s was the idiotic tax system. In spite of all the adulation for Yeltsin as some sort of democrat reformer, he was in fact a stupid hack who was led around by the nose by his western-installed advisers. Corporate taxes during the 1990s were applied to gross revenue and not profit! So companies losing money during the Great Russian Depression were being suffocated by the state. This tax system in all likelihood boosted the spawning of mafia activity in the country since companies had cheat to survive and so were easy targets for extortion. But of course, the evolution of crime in post-USSR Russia is a complex subject with many other factors such as mass impoverishment, which is typically associated with increase of crime.

          A major success of Putin’s presidency was the tax reform introduced during his first term. Nobody pays it any attention today but it succeeded in getting Russian individuals and companies to pay taxes, by making them reasonable (a flat 13% tax on income as during the USSR era and corporate *profit* taxes around 24%). This, together with the booming recovery over the last decade has removed most of the shadow economy. I have not seen the estimates for the present period but they are likely under 15%. None of this can be attributed to Yeltsin’s regime.

          Their estimate of 30% “illicit” outflow seems like a lowball number to me. During the 1990s and even into Putin’s first term, the siphoning of money from Russia was enormous. We are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars and likely over a trillion. Yukos was playing the transfer pricing racket, etc. Again, the problem is making a convolution of two periods with vastly different economic and I would say criminal conditions in Russia. So this report smells of an anti-Putin agenda, trying to smear the 1990s Yeltsin era problems into his term.

        • marknesop says:

          It is strange that Ignatiev would say this – if indeed that is what he said – because according to Prosperity Capital Management’s chief economist, Liam Halligan, it was the Central Bank which called in heads of foreign banks in 2011 to tell them to “tone down the lending, or they might have to impose restrictions”. Also according to Halligan, half of 2011’s outflows – some $40 Billion of a total $80 Billion – were the proceeds of Russian banks lending to western partner banks. It’s hard to imagine that conversation took place on a day Igatiev decided to go fishing, or fell asleep in the barber’s chair while getting his hair cut.

          I’ve discussed before, substantiated by those who know considerably more about the subject than I do, that “Capital Flight” is a much-misunderstood term, and that capital outflow is not necessarily capital flight although those with an agenda to serve often refer to every bit of money that leaves Russia in any form as “capital flight”.

          There are a variety of reasons for capital outflows; one, as specified, is the deliberate movement of money between partner banks in different countries – others are servicing of foreign debt and foreign direct investment, both of which can be completely legitimate although the latter sometimes is not. The article lists 3 major business transactions – completely legitimate – which illustrate Russia’s developing investment muscle abroad: TNK-BP’s Brazilian oil and gas acquisitions ($772 Million), Sberbank’s purchase of Austria’s Volksbank ($585 Million) and Digital Sky Technologies’ 10% stake in Twitter ($563 Million), which account for another $2 Billion outflow right there.

          Those suggesting it’s all a big criminal enterprise seem to be pretty clear that this was “illicit” transfer of capital, and claim there is evidence which will be made clear. I recommend we wait and see if such is forthcoming. I predict it will not be.

          • Dear Mark,

            As I said before, I do seriously wonder whether Vedomosti is reporting Ignatiev’s comments properly. Alternatively if Ignatiev really did say what he is reported as saying I wonder whether it is intended as a signal of a need for a further crackdown on the financial sector. I know that the Central Bank has been pressing for tighter regulations for some time. Alternatively, if one wants to take a more conspiratorial view, it might be that Ignatiev who is now close to retirement is preparing the ground for a cushy job with some western think tank. I have to say that I think the latter unlikely. The Russian Central Bank has acquired a strong sense of corporate identity and I find it difficult to believe that Ignatiev would be prepared even in retirement to undermine it by spreading these sort of stories. On balance I think there has probably simply been a mistake in reporting. I stress a mistake since I don’t think Vedomosti is intentionally misrepresenting what Ignatiev said.

            • marknesop says:

              If so, it’s a pretty serious error; that’s a lot of “illicit” money, and where would the speculation come from that he was going to name the criminal group that spirited away those funds? That’s quite a bit more than you might expect to get from a simple mistranslation. In Stalin’s day, it might have signaled that somebody was about to be fingered for a large amount of money that somebody else who was important couldn’t account for. But that sort of breathtaking thievery rarely happens since the 90’s. I’m sure people still make money in crooked deals, but that’s a lot of money for crooked deals, and if you could just steal that kind of money, you’d think that person or persons would have so much clout that they’d be foolish to move it out of Russia, where the west might find an excuse to seize it. The USA in particular is always watching for purported ill-gotten gains in its own financial system so that it can freeze them until it finds a way to appropriate them, and even the vaunted secretive Swiss have folded like cheap suits under the right pressure in recent years. Besides, the west used to send money by the planeload to Russia to launder it – what fool would send money out of Russia to do the same thing?

              • Moscow Exile says:

                “The USA in particular is always watching for purported ill-gotten gains in its own financial system so that it can freeze them until it finds a way to appropriate them …”

                Yes, I first learnt of this tendency when I was working for the US pharmaceutical firm Schering-Plough here in Moscow. (Now since amalgamated, as is often the case with pharmaceutical companies, with another big firm – Merck.)

                The Plough part of the firm was the progeny of some Tennessee snake-oil salesman named Abe Plough: the Schering bit, Schering AG, however, was founded by German pharmaceutical chemist Ernst Christian Friedrich Schering in 1851. Schering AG was also operating in the USA until 1941, when U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered Schering AG’s U.S. assets be seized.

                • Dear Moscow Exile,

                  This is very true. The interesting thing is that though the US seizure of German companies and assets based in the US during World War II has never been reversed the same emphatically is not true of the German seizure of US companies and assets in Garmany during World War II. Both IBM and General Motors had big investments in factories and distribution chains in Germany. Both played an absolutely key role in sustaining the German war economy. Some years ago there were suggestions that the German subsidiary of IBM was involved in providing the card index systems that made the Holocaust possible. After World War II both subsidiaries returned to US control.

                  As we all know General Motors’ German subsidiary – Opel – was to be sold back in 2009 to a Russian industrial group in which Deripaska in a deal negotiated by the German government which would have safeguarded thousands of German jobs. Deripaska was apparently planning to start building Opel cars in the Gaz factories in Nizhny Novgorod and I have heard that there was even talk of restarting production at the old Moskvitch factory in Moscow using Opel models (the original Moskvitch model had been based on contemporary Opel models so this would have been a return to source). As we now know from Wikileaks the reason this deal (and the parallel sale of Saab to another Russian industrial group) didn’t happen is because the US government blocked the sale. The result is that Opel is now in crisis and Saab has closed. Two historic European car brands have been lost and with them thousands of European jobs.

  11. R.C. says:

    What’s the real story here? Even though I don’t know all the specifics here, I’m willing to bet that Reuters isn’t telling the truth, as they often never do about Russia.

    • kirill says:

      How can “the revelations be an embarrassment” when the law is only now being introduced? There was no restriction on foreign asset ownership before. This retarded logic of the western media is tiresome. The new law will obviously give government members a grace period to divest themselves of foreign property and bank accounts. Where’s the wrong doing?

      In the case of Vladimir Pekhtin there appears to be some sort of smear campaign involved. Like I said above, there is nothing illegal about these alleged assets so some documents posted on the web, even if they are real, are not showing me anything of interest. Perhaps, if they can show these assets are the result of corruption but then apparently anything the elected Russian government does is “Putin’s state capitalism corruption”.

      Also not the funny language: a member of United Russia is “Putin’s ally”. I have never seen some member of the Democrats called “Obama’s ally”. This is the same newspeak as calling all the parties in the Duma “pro Kremlin”.

      • R.C. says:

        Kirill, I thought exactly the same thing when I read that Pekhtin was a “Putin Ally.” employing this logic, one could easily refer to the very progressive Dennis Kucinich as “Obama’s Ally” since he’s also a Democrat. It’s simplistic nonsense. The more these western news services write on Russian stories, the more I truly think that their vast ignorance plays just as large a role as their concerted efforts to demonize Putin at every turn.

        • kirill says:

          My conspiracy theory is that such bashing of foreigners serves a diversionary purpose at home. I am judging by the Canadian media, but its pretty much integrated with the US one. For example, I have never seen any articles in Toronto papers about the property tax racket. They introduce so-called market value assessments during the 1990s and sold this “pragmatic system” with the claim that the mill rate would decrease as the the house prices increased (any deviation would be due to annual tax increases). Well, the house prices have doubled but the mill rate is not 50% lower. In fact, it is about the same at around 1%. So property taxes have basically doubled and there is not even a discussion about the scam aspect of the original promises to scale the mill rate.

          Meanwhile the Toronto Star, etc, have articles about Russian corruption. Seriously, WTF do I, as a citizen of Canada and a resident of Toronto, care about corruption in Russia. (That I do is for my own personal interests.) It is not a threat to my life in Canada. I and most of the other citizens would care about local corruption and government tricks to make more money, which they then squander on things such as grants (not loans) to condominium developers to set up “lower cost units” as some substitute for public housing projects. This is a total joke since nobody and I mean nobody even knew about these “lower cost units”. I have to give the local media credit for actually doing reports on this. It was likely too obvious a case of spending abuse to last long. But I wonder how many other such social programs exist and are being introduced under the radar to serve as corporate pork.

          The media is drilling it into our heads that we should be thankful for living in such a paradise surrounded by rotten 3rd world toilets with tyrants oppressing the people. Of course, this 2 minutes hate is reserved for Russia and not Saudi Arabia or some other “ally” du jour. If Russia was a 3rd world toilet run by tyrant, which it was close enough to being during the 1990s, then as long as the west creamed some easy coin off it and the local tyrant showed fealty to his overlords, then it would be painted as a “normal country”.

          • Jen says:

            Kirill: That process of Canadian papers describing Russian corruption as a way of deflecting public attention away from parallel forms of corruption at provincial and national government levels under your beloved Fuhrer Harper sounds like a classic example of the process Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman described in their media propaganda model in their book “Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media”.

            Fortunately here in Australia our news media ignores what goes on in Russia (unless to report on business opportunities for Australian companies) but this happy state of affairs will not last long. The Guardian is already spreading its tentacles to our fair shores to teach us all the right way to think! Already that rag poached Fairfax Media’s Canberra staff (one was working for The Sydney Morning Herald and the other for The Melbourne Age) and no doubt the reporters are now being taught to bucket Julian Assange and Russia generally whenever the opportunity arises.

            Got to wonder how many editorial post and other positions at The Guardian, The Observer and had to be cut to scoop up the money to hoover up good Fairfax Media staff in a bid to crack the Asian news market.

            Unfortunately Fairfax Media management have made it too easy for The Guardian to infiltrate here by cutting staff and services itself.

    • yalensis says:

      Dear R.C.:
      I’ve been superficially following the Pekhtin story, only because I try to routinely keep up with Navalny’s blog. Navalny is claiming victory for this one, saying he exposed Pekhtin’s corruption to the point that even Putin had to let him go. I hate to see his hamsters rejoicing so much, but it’s probably true, Pekhtin probably is corrupt as all get-out, just like Serd’ukov.
      If you’re interested in this story, let me know, and I’ll try to pay more attention to it.

      • marknesop says:

        I don’t know if I’d be so quick to assess Pekhtin as corrupt as Serdyukov; if for no other reasons, because their reactions on being accused are about as different as it is possible to be. Ditto the backing each has received from the government. Petkhin’s resignation until all this is sorted out is being treated as an entirely honourable action by what is presumably an honourable man.

        • yalensis says:

          Well, that’s true, what Pekhtin is being accused of is a much less order of magnitude than Serd’ukov, just basically owning some beachfront property in Miami and not declaring it on his taxes, or something like that. At first blush sounds like the usual politician scam, where they buy some real estate in the name of a spouse or (in this case) son, and then try to hide it from the taxman.
          Doesn’t seem like a big deal to me – just another corrupt or semi-corrupt politician. It’s good that he was made to resign. The only story here is the way the Navalnyites and RFE have seized on this minor victory like starving bears on a tossed candy bar. They are feeling very beat up recently and are hungry for a win, any win, however minor.

          • marknesop says:

            What if he’s guilty of nothing at all except having enough money to afford the purchase of a foreign property, and was used as a co-signer by a family member? I was a co-signer for a car loan once that was not looked after with the degree of attention it should have been, and my first indication there was a serious problem was a letter from the bank informing me my home would be sold at auction the following month in order to satisfy the debt, upon which satisfaction the remaining funds were mine to do with as I wished. Of course I paid the outstanding debt instead. But the point is that I realized no personal benefit at all from the car; I sat in it once while it was test-driven, and otherwise never drove it and almost never saw it. If it was seized and sold for whatever it would bring, I would not have gotten a penny from it. If Pekhtin says the property belongs to his son, it is entirely possible the circumstances are the same or similar. If so, he would not claim the property on his list of assets, because his only connection with it is as security; a liability, if the payments are not made. In that event, I suppose he could take over the payments himself and possession of the property in his own name if he wanted to, and at that point – if such was his choice – he would have to declare it an asset. As long as his son keeps up the payments, Pekhtin would be listed on the title as a co-signer but could realize no benefit whatever from the property provided it is used as a principal residence, and not rented out while father and son are splitting the money. I can’t see him making such a fuss about it if that were so, because it should be easy to discover.

            • kirill says:

              Thanks for the sober dose of reality. The airy fairy analysis of Russian corruption is ridiculous. Oh, he owns foreign property so he must be corrupt! What rubbish. Also, when was said property acquired? It’s current value is not an indicator of what was paid for it. Perhaps it was bought around 2008 at some foreclosure. So let’s get all the details before passing judgement.

              You know, western politicians, in spite of being disliked, do not get this sort of automatic assumption of guilt.

              • yalensis says:

                Well, just the fact that Pekhtin was thrown under the bus and asked to step down from his post seems like an indication of guilt… although I suppose it could just be a case of “uxor caesaris”.
                Mark, your example of co-signing for a car is a good one, but, again, orders of magnitude. Pekhtin family’s Miami property is said to be worth in the 6 digits. It just does not seem proper to me for a member of government to own, or have family own, such expensive real estate in a foreign country. Which is addressed in the current series of legislations.
                By the way, those co-signing deals almost always turn out to be a nightmare! I personally would rather just buy something outright and gift it to the other person, rather than sharing some future liability.

                • marknesop says:

                  Yes, I learned a valuable life lesson. And yes, there’s a big gap between buying a car and a multimillion-dollar beach house, although the principle is the same. However, it’s significant to note that what makes it stand out now is the steady deterioration in Anglo-Russian relations; once upon a time, Americans would be proud to point to Russians owning expensive American properties. It validates their belief that America is the greatest place in the world to live. But now it is a matter for deep suspicion, every Russian who owns foreign property is an oligarch or the child of an oligarch, and Russian liberal collaborators are anxious to stoke the fires.

  12. Moscow Exile says:

    Navalny is making hay while the sun shines over this Pekhtin issue, as reported here.

    However, I think that it will soon be the Basketmaker that’s doing time and not Pekhtin.

    • kirill says:

      Given the quality of the accusers, I will take Pekhtin’s statement that the property is under the name of his son at face value. Let’s not forget that Congress is full of millionaires who shuffle their companies and assets off into trust variants and then reclaim them later. Yet somehow some small time activity of the same sort in the case of a member of the Duma is proof positive of the inane allegations of the 5th columinsts. I like the Russian saying: the tongue has no bones (i.e. it can be contorted into anything and claims are not automatically true).

      • Navalny needs to be careful. If what Pekhtin says is true then he has struck down an innocent man. At a time when he needs all the support and sympathy he can get the last thing Navalny needs is to be made to look a persecutor.

    • marknesop says:

      To be fair, REF/RL has carried Navalny’s water since he first came to public attention, and probably tried harder than any other single entity to make that “party of crooks and thieves ” label take off; that source is a known Navalny booster that has never seen any action by Navalny it didn’t like. It’s also consistently over-optimistic in its outlook; suggesting that the Investigative Committee has “made Navalny a legend” is true only on the pages of RFE/RL. Outside his circle of adulation he remains nothing much of any significance, and if he ends up incarcerated there will be a blaze of outrage from his western admirers, but nobody in Russia – except, of course, for his family – will miss him. He’s quite a long way from a legend, except in the pages of an online newsmagazine which is in the business of creating legends.

      I don’t think Pekhtin ever claimed not to own any property in the U.S. What Navalny is trumpeting about is that he did not claim it on his income, and there might well turn out to be a reasonable explanation for that. If he does not realize any income from joint ownership of the property and does not stand to see any advance in his net worth upon its sake, if that were to happen, then he does not have to claim it as an asset. Perhaps he acted as some sort of co-signer so his son could buy the property, in which case he would have accepted liability if his son could not make the payments, but no benefits of ownership would otherwise accrue to him.

      • Looking at my earlier comment I don’t think I have explained my view about Navalny’s role in this incident well.

        Navalny as an anti corruption blogger is fully entitled to draw attention to the fact that Pekhtin appears to own property in the US. Where he is mistaken and unwise is to crow publicly about it. That is the one thing people neither forget nor forgive particularly where the target is a person like Pekhtin who seems to have been otherwise well liked.

        What brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s was not that he pursued Communists. There was no sympathy for Communists in 1950s America whether at elite or popular level and especially not in the Senate, which passed the key resolution that brought McCarthy down. What brought McCarthy down was that he appeared to be enjoying himself whilst destroying people he said were Communists. It is that which in the end turned people against him and that is the mistake Navalny is making now.

        • kirill says:

          If we go back to the French and Russian revolutions (and likely many others) there are these Grand Inquisitor types amongst the revolutionaries. This is one of the main arguments against revolution; such people need to be put in their place and not given free reign to do whatever they desire in the name of some pretext.

          • Jen says:

            The English Civil War of the mid-1600s threw up the self-styled Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins who persecuted people by accusing them of witchcraft and punishing them accordingly (burning, drowning). What’s known of his behaviour and activities suggests that in bloodthirsty zeal he was very like Senator McCarthy and those revolutionaries who brought the Reign of Terror to France in the 1790s and it will be no surprise to know that there was opposition to Hopkins and his methods in his time. He died of tuberculosis in 1647 but a legend grew up and spread that he was tried and found guilty of witchcraft himself and suffered execution as a witch. There was a film made in 1968 about Hopkins with Vincent Price playing the character; it’s completely fictional but it makes a point about how oppression creates social stress and causes even ordinary people to snap and commit unspeakable crimes like brutal murder.

            • Moscow Exile says:

              Mention of the English Civil War period and its aftermath, the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, reminds me that the former Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell, was put on trial for the murder of Charles I, was found guilty of all charges and condemned to death by hanging, drawing and quartering.

              Only problem was that Cromwell had already died in 1658.

              They still dug up his remains, though, and hanged, drew and quartered them.

              Just as a warning, like.

              Critics of the Magnitsky “trial” take note.

              • marknesop says:

                The “drawing” part must have been messy by that point. Ewww.

                • yalensis says:

                  Yeah, I bet Cromwell didn’t smell too good by that point.
                  Still, as other people point out, this is actually a brilliant legal point coming from MoscowExile. I mean, the bit about posthumous trials being legit in English Common Law. Not that gory thing about hacking at a corpse.

                • marknesop says:

                  Yes, I know. Going for the cheap laugh is low, but that’s just the way I roll.

              • kirill says:

                I forgot or missed that detail about Cromwell. Since British laws is primarily common law, this trial of a dead person sets a legal precedent. So it should be possible to do the same today. All the sneering at Russia for Magnitsky’s case is as usual so much hypocritical BS.

                • Dear Kirill,

                  Viz Cromwell’s posthumous trial you might even be making a valid point. One occasionally comes across claims that the trial of Charles I established important legal precedents. If so then why not Cromwell’s posthumous trial? Since I am not a legal historian I cannot say.

                • kirill says:

                  I think that trials of prematurely deceased defendants are perfectly legitimate if they are not spurious or without any value. So if some gang banger dies before he comes to trial for robbery then cancelling the trial is likely to be a useful thing which will save money since the case is likely to be open and shut. But if there is a murder trial and the defendant was not responsible then it makes no sense to close the case just because the defendant died before trial.

                  The sneering about Magnitsky’s case is obscene and politically motivated. Magnitsky is an accountant at the center of schemes by Browder’s enterprise to defraud the Russian state of taxes. This is serious and not some democracy and freedom issue. Unless engaging in theft is now considered to be a “human right”.

                  Magnitsky’s death is beginning to smell to me. It served two useful purposes for western meddlers: 1) It shut him up for good, which is a typical motive in a lot of movie and TV crime drama, and 2) it gave Russia’s western enemies pretexts to spew propaganda and pass laws such as the Magnitsky Act, this is also a clear motive as in the case of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya.

              • Jen says:

                Hanging / drawing / quartering was the punishment for High Treason (disloyalty to the Crown which threatens the security of the State) and since Oliver Cromwell had participated in the removal and execution of Charles I, along with several others, his remains were subjected to the punishment. Crimes that could be declared acts of High Treason in England used to include being a Catholic priest, counterfeiting money and undermining the law of succession which, among other things, extended to sleeping with the King’s wife, sleeping with the King’s eldest unmarried daughter and (erm) sleeping with the wife of the heir to the throne. Fortunately for the likes of James Hewitt, the dismemberment part of the punishment was replaced by beheading in 1814 and the whole punishment for High Treason was done away with in 1870. I think since 1988 the punishment for High Treason in the UK has been life imprisonment.

                It’s hard not to suspect that the full punishment for High Treason was reserved for people of ordinary social background, like Cromwell, Guy Fawkes and others who usurped or threatened to usurp the fixed order of society (king / nobles / everyone else) as a way of warning the King’s subjects to know their place in the world and never to rise (or think to rise) above it.

                One of the issues in Magnitsky’s posthumous trial must surely be the security of the State since taxes are one of the ways in which the State raises funds to maintain the institutions, structures and networks necessary for the proper functioning of society. Could that be one reason why the posthumous trial is going ahead?

                Anyhow, here is what I found on (

                Posthumous trial of Magnitsky to start on March 4 – court

                The trial of Russian lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, who died in prison three years ago, will begin next month, a Russian court ruled on Monday. Prosecutors have accused Magnitsky, a former Hermitage Capital lawyer, of tax evasion. Magnitsky’s colleagues said he was jailed after he claimed that officials colluded with organized crime to claim a $230-million tax rebate. He died in pre-trial detention in 2009 after being denied medical treatment. In Russia, posthumous trials are allowed in order to acquit the deceased. Magnitsky’s relatives said they will boycott the proceedings.

                • kirill says:

                  So even RT, the alleged propaganda mouthpiece of Putin, is using the BS “lawyer” label. That his accounting scams used legal loopholes does not make him a lawyer. I am sure he and others at Browder’s firm consulted for this legal advice from real lawyers.

                • Moscow Exile says:

                  He wasn’t denied medical treatment for the condition that he was known to be suffering from, His mother, who is boycotting the posthumous “trial”, has stated that she brought medicaments for him when he was being held on remand. Of course, she will not be able to state this at the “trial” as she has been instructed to boycott it.

                  When in prison, Magnitsky was allowed visitors from family members and legal representatives, to none of whom he mentioned, or there appeared, any signs of ill treatment. There were certainly not mentioned by his visitors any signs of “torture” either whilst Magnitsky was on remand. Since his unexpected death in prison, the talk off one side has been of nothing else but Magnitsky’s alleged ill treatment, torture, denial of medical treatment and “human rights”.

                  This alleged “torture” meted out to Magnitsky smacks to me to be of the same kind of “torture” that that soft arse Razvozzhayev bleated about to onlookers as he was being led away by the cops: “They tortured me!” he wailed as he walked by. Perhaps I just have a vivid imagination, but I can’t imagine that those who have just suffered physical torture have much to say to onlookers, least of all that they find themselves to be ambulatory. Maybe I’ve seen pictures of too many inmates of Guantanamo being dragged back to their billets after having assisted the authorities in their enquiries.

                  The medical treatment that was denied Magnitsky, the denial of which treatment, according to some, having led to his untimely death, was medicine for his fatal condition, about which doctors only found out after his death.

                  And that’s what Browder and chums really mean when they keep on banging on that he was denied medical treatment.

                • Moscow Exile says:

                  I’ve sent numerous postings to RT about their calling Magnitsky a lawyer. Another thing that RT does is continuosly to call Navalny and Co. “opposition leaders”. They’re not! The “opposition” in the parliamentary sense is the Communist Party. Furthermore, the “opposition” leaders have not been elected by a popular mandate by secret ballot: they were elected by electronic postal voting by less than 0.002% of the Russian electorate.

                • Jen says:

                  I’m just curious about’s assertion that posthumous trials are allowed to acquit the deceased. Does this mean posthumous trials are intended for this result only or that such trials give the lawyers for the deceased a chance to defend his/her reputation and obtain some justice and closure for the deceased’s family, friends and supporters?

                  BTW I found out that in 1999, President Clinton granted a posthumous pardon to Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper who had been court-martialled and dismissed from the US Army in 1881 for conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. Details of how the pardon was obtained are here:

                  In the UK in 1993, a teenager hanged in 1953 for the murder of a policeman was pardoned and his conviction overturned in 1998 when new evidence was presented that led to an appeal:

    • yalensis says:

      I just re-checked Navalny’s blog, this victory against politician Pekhtin has made the whole blog light up, Navalny is trending, his number of comments has tripled, and his followers are popping champagne corks all over the place.

      In the same manner, Napoleon’s infantry attack, led by Marshal Comte d’Erlon, has pushed Wellington’s men back on their heels, trending towards a Nepoleonic victory at Waterloo:

      At about 13:30, d’Erlon started to advance his three other divisions, some 14,000 men over a front of about 1,000 metres (1,094 yds) against Wellington’s left wing. They faced 6,000 men: the first line consisted of the Dutch 1st “Van Bijlandt” brigade (Bijlandt) of the 2nd Dutch division. The second line consisted of British and Hanoverian troops under Sir Thomas Picton, who were lying down in dead ground behind the ridge. All had suffered badly at Quatre Bras. In addition, the Bijlandt brigade, posted towards the centre of the battlefield, had been ordered to deploy its skirmishers in the hollow road and on the forward slope. The rest of the brigade was lying down just behind the road, where they were ordered to earlier that day at 09:00 hours (they camped the previous night on the forward slope).[57][58][59][60][61][62][63]

      As the French advanced, Bijlandt’s skirmishers withdrew to the sunken lane, to their parent battalions.[64][65][66]

      As these skirmishers were retreating through the British skirmish lines they were booed by some British troops, thinking they were leaving the field. At the moment these skirmishers were joining their parent battalions the brigade was ordered to its feet and started to return fire.[67] On the left of the brigade, where the 7th Dutch militia stood, a “few files were shot down and an opening in the line thus occurred” (original quotes of Van Zuylen, the chief of staff of the Dutch 2nd division).[68]

      The battalion had no reserves and was unable to close the gap. D’Erlon’s troops pushed through this gap in the line and the remaining battalions in the Van Bijlandt brigade (8th Dutch militia and Belgian 7th Line Battalion) were forced to retreat to the square of the 5th Dutch militia, which was in reserve between Picton’s troops, about 100 paces to the rear. There they regrouped under the Command of Colonel Van Zuylen van Nijevelt and general Constant-de-Rebeque. A moment later the Prince of Orange ordered a counterattack, which actually occurred around 10 minutes later.[69][70][71]

      In the mean time, d’Erlon’s men began to ascend the slope, and as they did so, Picton’s men stood up and opened fire. The French infantry returned fire and successfully pressed the British troops; although the attack faltered at the centre,[72] the line in front of d’Erlon’s left started to crumble. Picton was killed after ordering the counter-attack and the British and Hanoverian troops also began to give way under the pressure of numbers.

      In concusion: British troops retreated, Wellington was defeated. Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo. Vivat!

  13. Bastrykhin is reported by RAPSI to be making a very interesting comment about the British refusal to provide any assistance to the Russians in relation to Berezovsky’s cases. In making this comment Bastrykin also seems to be pointing quite clearly the finger at Berezovsky in relation to the Litvinenko case.

    Regardless of that, Bastrykin’s larger point about the British simply ignoring Russian requests for assistance with criminal cases is absolutely true. I know for a fact that the British simply ignore Russian requests for help in investigating pretty much any case. The British have for example ignored all Russian requests for assistance in investigating the tax fraud allegations against Browder and Hermitage Capital that are at the heart of the Magnitsky case.

    Going back to the Litvinenko case, the Investigative Committee will now be participating in the inquest so hopefully we will see there what evidence if any they have.

  14. yalensis says:

    The Maxim Kuzmin orphan case is turning into a diplomatic scuffle. According to this piece, the U.S. State Department is reacting defensively to accusations of negligence in regard to the death of the Russian child:

    [There is a factual error in above piece: Houston is NOT the capital of Texas. That honor goes to the city of Austin. However, Houstin is a much bigger city, and I believe that is where the Russian consulate is located.]

    More scandalous, to my mind, is this piece, reporting how American Ambassador Michael McFaul, refused a Russian request to appear before Duma and answer questions about Maxim’s death.

    This is rude and undiplomatic act of McFaul. Granted, everybody knows that he was sent to Russia to foment colour revolution. But still, he should at least PRETEND to perform normal diplomatic functions while in such a post.

    • marknesop says:

      It certainly would be rude and undiplomatic, but perhaps he only declined on the grounds that he had no new information to offer beyond what had appeared in the papers, and indicated that he would contact his government for information. I’d be surprised if that were not pretty much how it went, because it sounds as if Russia is getting extremely close to simply severing diplomatic ties with the United States, and that would be a pretty good excuse.

    • marknesop says:

      I’m afraid we’re going to have to wait for more information on this one as well, because right now it’s just a lot of shouting and accusations. But according to this report, Maxim’s mother found him outside in the yard, where he had been playing with his brother, unconscious. Could happen, I suppose, but there are repeated assertions of bruises, which do not form immediately. I’m sure there will be a frenzied search for information, since the USA desperately needs to show this was a completely anomalous accidental death and that abuse was not present in any way, while it would be very much in Russia’s interests – sorry to put it in such a cold way, because we are talking about the death of a child – to be able to show a textbook case of abuse just after shutting down adoptions, ostensibly for that reason.

      • yalensis says:

        Yes, nobody really knows what happened to Maxim. The adopted mother says she is innocent. She might be telling the truth, or she might be lying. Nobody knows, except for her. There will be an autopsy, and then more will be known.

        There are 2 different versions of what has happened with Maxim’s 2-year-old brother Kristopher, some of the links say he has been taken into state custody in Texas, but according to the link I give below, the baby remains with his adoptive parents. That seems suspicious to me, I would think there is some policy in place to remove the other child from the home until the investigation is complete and the adoptive parents are cleared of suspicion?
        In any case, nobody has the right to pass judgement on the family except for the officials and judges assigned to do that. Certainly not on the internet.

        However, my point was directed at McFaul: it was unprecedented for him to refuse to appear before the Duma when requested. He is the Ambassador, he must answer for his country. But yeah, I get that he simply didn’t know what he was supposed to say, and is probably waiting for instructions from his superiors. Who are in disarray, by the way, what with Kerry being so new to the job.

  15. Moscow Exile says:

    MT reports that the IMF has taken up “an optimistic stance at Russia’s prospects”.

    Only a couple of weeks ago PWC gave an optimistic very lng term report about Russia, which report was howled down in the UK papers.

    See: “Table 2 : GDP at MER rankings” in “The World in 2050”, beneath which is written:

    “Table 2 above summarises our GDP projections to 2050 measured at MERs. The most notable ranking changes are China moving into the top position above the US by 2050 and India rising to third position by that date just below the US. The next notable change in the rankings is Brazil and Russia rising above Germany. Mexico is projected to break into the top 10 rankings in seventh position as it narrowly edges out Germany, but this is subject to some uncertainty. Indonesia could potentially rise significantly in the ranks to tenth place, narrowly edging out France but this is also subject to considerable uncertainty. The UK, as expected, is projected to fall in the rankings but will just about remain in the top ten in 2050 based on these projections”.

    Clearly, Price Waterhouse Coopers is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Kremlin.

    • Dear Moscow Exile,

      I am a consistent optimist about Russia’s prospects (actually I feel I am a realist) but I consider any economic projection to 2050 completely worthless. Think back to what the world looked like 37 years ago and tell me whether anyone then would have foreseen how the world would look now?

      The only confident predictions I am going to make are that by 2050 China will be the world’s biggest economy and that Russia will be – by some distance – Europe’s biggest economy. Actually both of these things are going to happen much sooner than this.

      • kirill says:

        The people making such projections also show a profound ignorance of various processes that are in clear evidence today which will completely undermine their business as usual assumptions. One such process is the evolving fossil fuel crisis which is already in evidence as new oil supplies are supposed to come from hard and expensive to exploit dregs such as the Bakken and the Canadian tar sands. These non-conventional oil plays do not have the production size to replace even the natural decline from existing oil fields. We will see a dramatic downward ramp in global oil production in the next 40 years and that alone is enough to totally disrupt the global economy.

        We also have climate change. By 2050 the world will be in an agricultural crisis as all the major fertile zones settle into a new pattern of drought. This is the consensus of the IPCC model simulations that never got the media attention it deserved. Precipitation is very noisy and it would seem that such model predictions are worthless. But the fact is that rain is associated with large scale processes that models can simulate well. For example, storm tracks (statistical paths of low pressure systems which are really baroclinic eddies) and radiative transfer. A warmer atmosphere means increased soil drying rates from the downwelling infrared flux.

        The world is already at the edge in terms of food reserves. There are only a few months of spare capacity separating the world population from famine. The recent oil price increases have produced spectacular grain price inflation that has likely triggered revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere. So we will not have to wait until 2050 to be in serious global trouble. We are going to see drought events with increasing intensity in the next 40 years.

        In spite of that inane book title by Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History and the Last Man”, we are going to see major socio-economic disruption this century on a scale no less than the greatest upheavals in human history. In fact, are most likely to experience something akin to the Toba supereruption that nearly exterminated humanity. It sure as hell with *not* be business as usual and no forecasting based on current conditions has any value.

        • marknesop says:

          It’s like you guys are reading my next post before it’s up, because it will focus on James Brooke’s silly contention, at VOA, that Russia needs the USA more than vice-versa. Among the sillier reasons he uses to support such a notion is that knee-slapper that the USA is going to be the world’s biggest oil producer by 2030 – based on, you guessed it, massive production of shale oil and gas. I know, I know: it’s not only stupid, the International Energy Agency (IEA) fudged key figures in its report – which shale gassers are dancing with glee over and using as a reference – under U.S. pressure, according to an insider source. But please bite your tongue and hold your commentary on the issue for the post – it should be out in a day or two. Otherwise we will have talked the issue to death by then. It’s going to be fun.

  16. Moscow Exile says:

    In case anybody has forgotten, today is the first anniversary of that magnificent musical performance presented in the Moscow Christ the Saviour Cathedral by the feminist pink-rock band whose name I cannot remember.

    Lest anyone forget, today’s Moskovsky Komsomolets reports reports that two women have been arrested in that cathedral whilst making a demonstration in memory of those heroic women’s stance against the hateful regime that oppresses the long-suffering Russian people:

    “Police have detained two activists – historian Irina Karatsuba and philologist Elena Volkova – at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, reports the Russian News Service. The young women had gathered on the anniversary of the feminists’ punk prayer in order to lay flowers at the solea.

    According to Karatsuba, they had come to the cathedral in order to “pray for the girls and the long-suffering country”.

    “Today is February 21. It is exactly one year since the punk prayer. We came to the Christ the Saviour Cathedral so as to pray to the Virgin Mary. We were dressed in balaclavas and laid flowers. They immediately ripped off our balaclavas and we were led away. They almost tore off my colleague’s nose. That’s the story”, she said. “We were not told why we had been apprehended.”

    After having been apprehended, the women were sent to the “Khamovniki” police station, where they are still being held”.

    Interesting, that.

    I mean, surely two devout Orthodox Christian women who came to church simply to appeal to the Mother of God for her succour must have known that although they had to have their heads covered in church – as well as their arms and legs (with a skirt) – they would almost certainly have been considered to be inappropriately dressed if wearing a balaclava, most especially in the light of what happened exactly one year ago as regards the performance of another group of women who, whilst donned in balaclavas, came to “pray” in that cathedral to Christ’s mother .

    Perhaps they were unaware of the Orthodox dress code?

    If that be the case, then this is yet another example of the crushing of the freedom of expression that occurs daily in the Putin regime.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      According to Volkova the lawyer’s Tweet, both arrested supplicants have been released. Julia Volkova (the lawyer) seems to have been involved in today’s “event” at the cathedral.

      I wonder if Elena Volkova is related to Julia?

      Could be.

      Volkov (literally “Wolfson”) is a common Russian surname, though.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        Yep, one of them just might be Julia Volkova’s sister. Here’s a ,a href=””>picture of the daring duo heading for the paddy wagon. They seem to be in a rather jolly mood considering one has just almost had her nose ripped off from her face.

        • yalensis says:

          You need to remember to open and close your HTML tags correctly. This is what your embedded link should look like, except substituting square brackets for triangular brackets, because if I actually typed the triangular brackets then WordPress would RENDER them, in the same way that in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”, the Pharisees cannot inform people which words are tabu without actually pronouncing those words and thus becoming tabu themselves:

          [a href=””] blah blah blah [/a]

          The main philosophy behind HTML is that every tag (in this case the “a” tag, has an anti-tag, in this case “/a”. Hegel’s dialectic in action!

          • marknesop says:

            And be careful to follow instructions exactly, as it was intrepid programmer Yalensis who once accidentally italicized everything on the blog for a couple of days.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            It was a typo. I opened the tag with a single apostrophe rather than with a double one.

            • Moscow Exile says:

              No, I err: with a closing double apostrophe I opened the tag. A mere typo. When there has occurred a cock up such as happened above, it is always because I am logged in to wordpress and on pushing “send” I have no chance to review that which I have written, the comment being posted at once. It is far better, therefore, to write comments when logged off in order to review and then to log in and send.

      • peter says:

        Julia Volkova (the lawyer)

        The lawyer is Violetta. Julia Volkova is the ex-tATu girl.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          A Freudian slip perhaps?

          I must secretly yearn for pseudo-lesbian punk performers.

          I wonder what the delightful Julia is doing with her little self these days…?

          Last I heard, she got wed.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      Another couple of pictures: Volkova is the plump one.

      Elena Volkova is the head of the Centre for Religion and Culture in Moscow. (How many of these “centres of…” are there in Moscow?)

      Here is a reference to the following that she once said about the role of the Orthodox Church:

      Если руководитель пресс-службы Патриарха Кирилла священник Владимир Вигилянский говорит о информационной войне СМИ против РПЦ, то директор центра “Религия и культура” Елена Волкова рассказывает о случаях публичного проявления клерикализма и национализма в рядах Церкви.

      [If the head of Patriarch Kirill’s press service, Father Vladimir Vigilyansky, says that there is a war being waged by the mass media against the Russian Orthodox Church, then director of the “Centre for Religion and Culture”, Elena Volkova, talks about the incidences of public manifestations of clericalism and nationalism in the ranks of the Church.]

      • Moscow Exile says:

        Again, a couple of pampered bourgeois white ribbonists being presented as being representatives of the feelings of the Russian bydlo.

        • yalensis says:

          This is true.
          Anti-clericalism is a valid philosophy and political movement, but these chicks ain’t no Voltaire!

          • Moscow Exile says:

            They’re also no “dyevushki” as the Russian text describes them.

            • Moscow Exile says:

              As a matter of fact, I translated “dyevushki” in the text as “young women” because (a) I don’t like using the term “girls” when talking about adult women and (b) I hadn’t seen their photographs. If I had seen their photographs before I translated the text, I would have simply called them “women”.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            The thoughts of E. Volkova:

            Е. Волкова отметила, что у панк-группы Pussy Riot есть свое собственное, хорошо продуманное в философском и религиозном аспектах мировоззрение.

            Традиция юродства. По мнению Е. Волковой, выступление Pussy Riot имеет сходство с поведением средневековых юродивых. Панк-молебен группы был направлен против многих болезненных проблем современности — в частности, против стремления церковной верхушки служить власти, а не Богу, а также против пропасти между «богословским феминизмом» (почитанием Богородицы) и реальным положением рядовой женщины. По своему обличительному содержанию, считает Е. Волкова, панк-молебен вписывается в контекст средневековой религиозно-смеховой культуры.

            Художественная целостность панк-молебна. Е. Волкова выделила основные характеристики видеоролика с записью панк-молебна, которые, по ее мнению, придают ему классицистическую художественную целостность:
            Место действия. Храм Христа Спасителя, ставший символом цезарепапизма и слияния Церкви и государства.

            Время действия. Масленица — период, когда вступает в свои права смеховая народная культура, обличающая ложь серьезной официальной культуры.
            Форма и содержание. Протестная акция в жанре сакральной пародии, многовекторный обличительный текст в шутовской площадной форме.

            Значение Pussy Riot для современного искусства. Pussy Riot возродили мощную традицию церковного и народного протеста, следуя примеру юродивых, скоморохов и шутов, подчеркнула Е. Волкова. Кроме того, заключила она, благодаря мощному смысловому полю панк-молебен превратился в искусство-событие, которое привлекло колоссальное внимание всего мира к тому, что происходит в России со свободой слова и творчества.

            [The Pussy Riot protest action

            E. Volkov noted that the punk band Pussy Riot had its own, well-thought-out philosophical and religious Weltanschauung.

            The tradition of foolishness: According to E. Volkova, the Pussy Riot performance had similarities with the behaviour of medieval fools. The punk prayer group was directed against many of the social ills of present day society – in particular, against the desire of the church to serve the power elite and not God, but also against the gap between “feminist theology” (worship of the Virgin) and the reality of ordinary women. By its incriminating content, says E. Volkova, the punk prayer fits into the context of the medieval culture of religious humour.

            Artistic integrity of the punk prayer: E. Volkova highlighted the main characteristics of a video recording of the punk prayer, which, she said, gave it classic artistic integrity:

            Scene. Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which has become a symbol Caesaropapism and the merger of church and state.

            Action time: The pre-lenten festivities known as Maslenitsa in Russia – a period when the popular culture of laughter comes into its own and in lies a serious indictment of the official culture.

            Form and content: A protest action in the genre of a sacred parody, revealing a multi-vector text in the form of a mock marketplace.

            The significance of Pussy Riot for contemporary art: Pussy Riot has revived the powerful tradition of the Church and popular protest, following the example of God’s fools, buffoons and jesters, stressed E. Volkov. In addition, she concluded, there is the powerful semantic field of punk within a prayer-art event that has attracted the enormous attention of the world towards what is happening in Russia as regards the freedom of expression and creativity.]

            What a load of pseudo-philosophical horseshit!

            She fails to realize or acknowledge that the video of the “punk prayer”, over which she eulogizes so, was made up in a studio: the prayer was dubbed onto the “performance” in which the “musicians” just shouted vulgarities. (Shit, shit, shit of Our Lord!) Somehow, I don’t think that would have gone down well in a mediaeval pre-lenten street performance.

            Another point, the earlier newspaper photographs of the two women linked above in my earlier comments names the woman whose photograph is shown in the link in this comment as Irina Karatsuba, historian.

            Whatever! If she thinks that the “punk musicians” have a worthwhile, concrete philosophical and religious outlook on the world and are not just simply pampered , idle, bourgeois protest-brats, then I have grown too old for this world.

            (Exit stage left, sobbing.)


            • marknesop says:

              I suppose the two could start up their own church, where “God’s fools” were welcomed. It might even qualify for western financing, although they would have to register as foreign agents. Oh, wait – maybe not. The religious exception might apply. In any case, I doubt it would attract any but the genuine idiots. Anarchists have to be pissing someone off in order to feel any satisfaction with their “work”, and would have nothing but contempt for a facility that encouraged such behaviour and praised it as art or of genuine historical significance.

  17. Moscow Exile says:

    On February 15th the investigators accused Targamadze of inciting disorder in Russia and asked that a warrant be issued for his arrest. Today, February 21st, Komsomolskaya Pravda reports that a Moscow court has issued an international warrant for the Georgian’s arrest.

    “On Thursday, February 21, the Moscow Basmanny Court ordered the arrest in absentia of former Chairman of the Georgian Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee, Givi Targamadze, who is accused of organizing mass disturbances in Russia. The Investigative Committee of Russia believe that the Georgian politician remains, as before, in active consultation with oppositionists in the Russian Federation and in other countries”.

    They’re soooo paranoid these Russians!

    Why do they think everyone is against them?

    They must have one hell of an inferiority complex…..blah, blah, blah….

    • kirill says:

      He called Putin bad names, he should have been offed by Putin according to the prevailing western narrative.

    • marknesop says:

      Possibly the most ringing endorsement he could have received was to be labeled a dolt by Anatoly Chubais, who is himself such a dolt that other dolts stiffen to attention as he passes, in silent recognition of a doltishness which goes right to the bone. It’s hard to believe he was ever allowed to run anything ever again, after his embarrassing slobbering over the shock-therapy reforms which nearly pushed Russia over the edge to complete ruin.

      If Anatoly Chubais is opposed to it, that’s as good a vote for its likelihood of succeeding as I’ve ever heard. Put me down for Yes. Playing patty-cake with the west has gained Russia nothing but getting its chair pulled our from under it as it’s sitting down, and choruses of sniggering from the west – which appears to believe Russia exists only to provide it with sport or an enemy, as the situation requires.

      • The article that Misha has found may also provide an explanation for the frankly bizarre comments Ignatiev has made to Vedomosti. There is no doubt at all that there is an ongoing argument about the level of interest rates with the industrial lobby complaining bitterly that they are far too high. Deripaska for example gave a furious interview accusing the Central Bank of sabotaging the economy just a few weeks ago whilst Klepach of the Economics Ministry and Ulyukaev of the Central Bank argued openly at the Gaidar Forum about whether Russia’s growth is limited to 4% per annum (the view of the Central Bank) or could potentially be higher (as argued by practically everyone else). The article Misha has found places Ignatiev’s comments in the context of that quarrel suggesting that in classic Russian fashion the head of the Central Bank instead of arguing his corner intellectually is instead trying to discredit his critics by accusing them of corruption.

  18. yalensis says:

    This seems like a good idea to me:

    Some people in Chel’abinsk want to attract tourists to see the site of the meteor fall.
    Apparently a lot of foreign tourists are clamoring to make the trip and see with their own eyes. I think something could be done there, maybe put together an excursion package, build a museum with some meteorite fragments and astronomy exhibits. Maybe a hotel and some restaurants. Why not? Could be a boost for Russian tourist industry.

  19. yalensis says:

    And on a sadder note, more info about the Maxim Kuz’min tragedy. Apparently Maxim’s biological mother, who lives in Pskov, is petitioning the court to get her other baby back from the Texas couple. Her petition is being supported by the Prosecutor’s Office in Pskov, who has asked the court to nullify the adoption agreement with the American family and bring back to Russia the surviving baby, Kirll. (Although his name was put as Christopher in other pieces, causing confusion.)
    Pskov prosecutor claims that Kirill’s life is in danger in such an unsafe family. Meanwhile, some evil tongues in Pskov claim that the birth mother is no better, that she still drinks and is unfit.

    Still, the rights of the biological mother are usually respected, and if she wants the baby back from Texas, it seems like she should get him, even if there had not been a death. Presumably the court would assign her case workers to help her get off the sauce and fullfill her motherly duties if and when the baby is returned to her custody.

    • marknesop says:

      I’m afraid that’s not necessarily how it works. Maybe in Russia, but probably not there either; some children go to orphanages because their parents cannot care for them, and place them there voluntarily, but others are taken from the parents by the authorities because they are assessed as incompetent to care for children. In the U.S., children are likewise sometimes taken from parents and made wards of the court because their parents are judged unfit. I know the State Department has overall control of international adoptions, but cases involving domestic child placement and reallocation of care responsibilities may be performed by state authorities. In any case, they are not called orphanages in the United States, but are referred to as group homes or foster care, although it amounts to the same thing. Anyway, if Maxim and his brother were removed from their parents’ care by the authorities because they were unfit, she’s unlikely to get Kirill back. If otherwise, she would probably have to demonstrate she had the resources to care for him now, although the case is likely to become politicized and she might be offered help from the state. That’d be a slippery slope, though; they could hardly offer to help her without helping everyone in similar circumstances. I’d be surprised if they weren’t considering funding her – assuming she’s not a complete mess – and announcing the funds were put up by some anonymous benefactor.

    • cartman says:

      I don’t understand why they would even send children to another country if the state took custody away from an unwilling mother. What about the rest of his family? It sounds like another case of baby selling, like Dima Yakovlev who had his grandmother’s signature forged before he was shipped off.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        I agree. And this is an aspect of this tragic US adoption saga that is seemingly being overlooked by the media: there’s big money being made in both the USA and in Russia in this trading of children.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          Here’s a KP article that shows the deceased child’s natural parents and his adoptive ones. The article includes an embedded video with the title: “Yulia Kuz’mina declines to speak in front of the camera about why she had been deprived of her parental rights”.

          • yalensis says:

            Yulia Kuz’mina admitted in the interview that she went on a bender and caroused. (Probably more than once.)
            There may have been legitimate reaons for the state to take her children from her. But nothing justifies the fact that they shipped the babies off to America without even telling her. Like Exile says, a lot of money is being made off these innocent children. They are bought and sold like commodities. Russia should insist on bringing the younger baby back and setting up supervised visits with his mom. If she truly is an unfit mother, then they should try to find a foster home nearby, where she can still visit him or at least know that her child is safe. This is completely outrageous situation, and the American authorities are acting like dicks.

        • cartman says:

          She didn’t know they were not even in the country? That is even worse, and makes this look more like a child trafficking scheme. I noticed that Michael McFaul tweeted that the United States would no longer give consular access to adopted children when the agreement expires. That shouldn’t have to be part of an agreement. They should be cooperating since many of the children in the US are not true orphans. There may be a lot of parents in Russia who are unaware of the fate of their children, and they are about to have all their rights taken away.

        • marknesop says:

          That’s true, although for adoptive parents it is not always the motivation. You can adopt an American child in America for next to nothing in many circumstances, and in some the state will even help you out.

          International adoption from some countries was shut down specifically because of baby-trafficking, which had become so bad that new mothers were sometimes knocked down in the street and their children taken from them for the cash they would bring. That wasn’t the case with Russia, though. Russia is a popular adoption destination (and again, we were talking about less than 1000 children per year and getting fewer all the time) with couples who wanted a white child or children. And I don’t doubt that the possibility having money could help you magic your way through the process was a factor, because there must be white children available for adoption throughout Europe.

      • yalensis says:

        Yes, this case sounds exactly like baby-trafficking for profit. There is absolutely no logical reason these Russian babies should have been shipped off to Midland, Texas.
        As a sidebar, I have been to Midland, and the place is a hellhole.

        • Swoggler says:

          Yep…smells like baby trafficking. Oh wait, that’s the smell off the mom who couldn’t stay sober for more than a day after her tearful Channel 1 self-flaggelation. She got taken off the train to Pskov for being drunk (and you gotta be pretty freakin’ drunk for that). Well, at least she didn’t offer any bribes or threaten anyone that they’d sleep with the fishes if they messed with her and her powerful benefactor…d’oh!

          And how many times were these, probably FAS-suffering, kids turned down for Russian adoption? Six? Yeah…trafficking. That’s what it is.

          My bet is that Astakhov (and you guys) won’t say a word about this lady for a couple of weeks. That should give Fezzik plenty of time to go dunk her head in a barrel a few times and clean her up.

          Astakhov Sez: Find me a new American outrage! Stat!

          • marknesop says:

            Well, the child is certainly better off now, isn’t he? The saccharine advertisements that bighearted mommies and daddies await in America and evil Putin denied those dear children that peaceful surcease is every bit as hypocritical. I already said that it was quite possible the child was taken from the parent/parents because she/they were found unfit. Here’s a surprise – there are alcoholics in America too!! I also said let’s wait until we find out what actually happened, but apparently , “Gee, they were outside playing and suddenly Maxim died” is plausible enough for you. So don’t make out I never acknowledge Russia has any faults with one of your bilious rants.

            • Swoggler says:

              Putting words in my mouth AND whataboutism in one short post? Wow. Efficient. No, my post reflects my disappointment in the usual suspects on this site. Usually, you’re pretty good about shooting fish in a barrel: mocking the opposition; railing against the ignorant Western press’ take on Russia, etc. But every once in a while you guys hop on the propaganda train. The FIRST thing you suspect is an evil international trafficking conspiracy? Really? There’s no other, more plausible, explanations? Heart defects from FAS? Bad reaction to medication? Nah…gotta be Americans who spend months and thousands of dollars for the fun of beating a Russian kid to death in broad daylight.

              Hey, I don’t blame you guys for being embarrassed that you bought Astakhov’s fairy tale about a Disney princess who had her kids torn, screaming, from her mice-tailored bodice…but don’t take it out on bilious ol’ me.

              And, for the record, if the investigation shows that those oil-town Texans were negligent, I hope they get several books thrown at them.

              • marknesop says:

                Well, I forgive you for railing at me, because I realize you were actually talking to someone else. Because I never mentioned child trafficking until you did. Still, it’s undeniable that child trafficking was a big business in several countries – from whom international adoptions have since been shut down – who could name American couples as their biggest customers. I can show you the figures, if you like; it’s not like I’m making it up. I think I was quite clear that child trafficking was not the number one motivation for adoption from Russia – getting a white child is. And don’t pretend American adoption agencies are too pure to indulge in anything unethical, because international adoptions are pricey, and Americans are as quick to see the opportunity to make a buck as anyone else. Why do you think the state department took over international adoptions?

                Although I can’t vouch for it personally since I did not see the source, I read on here that there was nothing wrong with Maxim. His mother certainly sounds like a drunk, but the boys were supposedly healthy. I also understand your compulsion to indulge in over-the-top hyperbole about Disney princesses, because there’s plainly little we agree on about anything, but I don’t think I ever mentioned Maxim’s mother before – again, you did.

                Where are you getting this “FIRST thing you guys suspect”? I didn’t say anything about child trafficking. Until you did. Go back and look, if you like; I’ll wait. I also said I daresay we will know more in the days to come, as nothing much is clear at this point.

                However, we may yet see the couple at the center of this get several books thrown at them. I note from RFE/RL’s story – RFE/RL not being notably a shill for Russia, quite the opposite – that the Chief Investigator for the Medical Examiner’s office (which will carry out the autopsy) stipulates to the boys body being extensively bruised, “over a lot of his body”. That might not mean anything; kids play rough. But it sounds ominous to me, when coupled with the admission that Texas Child Protective services had received a complaint, around the time of the boy’s death, of “physical abuse and neglectful supervision”. According to the adoptive mother, she had been watching the boys playing outside and she just went inside to use the bathroom. In the time that took, Max just keeled over dead. Maybe the FSB assassinated him to make Americans look bad.

                • kirill says:

                  Actually, playing rough will not give you bruising over large parts of your body. But hitting someone would. So unless the kid got beaten up by some neigbourhood punk(s), it’s the parents that are prime suspects.

              • marknesop says:

                In anticipation of you not believing me, here’s some material by an author who has done considerable research on the subject. Please note that in many – perhaps most – cases, the adoptive parents are unaware the children are stolen or obtained by nefarious means, and are deliberately told a bogus story that the children were abandoned. Very far from all of those children were taken from mothers who were drunks and just needed to have their heads shoved in a barrel. Just because the nice Americans popping the cash for the adoption are ignorant of the child’s true recent history does not mean we should call it something other than “child trafficking”, and while the organizations on one end are dirty unscrupulous criminals who will do anything for money, so are the ones on the end that is as American as apple pie.

                In 2007, and in several years surrounding it, 1 in every 110 Guatemalan children born was adopted by American parents. In a country of only about 13 million, does it seem reasonable or believable that there would be that many orphans?

                • Swoggler says:

                  My initial response was to Yalensis and Moscow Exile who were waving the trafficking banner. You heroically came to their rescue by attributing the argument, “Gee, they were outside playing and suddenly Maxim died” to me. Do you deny that you said that that was my argument? Since you’ve suddenly gotten touchy about what people have precisely typed/have not typed, perhaps you’ll do me the courtesy of laying your cards on the table.

                  Max’s Mom – I did indeed bring her up. I think she’s pertinent to the case. Do you not agree? The Russian argument (at least until yesterday) was that she had problems but is now fit to raise her children. Even if she, as an individual, is a train-wreck, there are likely other moms in Russia who have cleaned up their acts. Should the two countries take that into consideration? Did a provision for such a situation exist in the (now abrogated) adoption agreement? Card on the table…do you think she’s relevant to Max’s future at this point or not?

                  Max’s Health – If we’re talking about understanding how the boy died, isn’t his overall health worth talking about? If he was suffering from some sort of chronic condition would that affect your views? If he was in perfect health…that would certainly sway my opinions against the adoptive family. No need to put your card down…even you couldn’t be so obtuse as to deny that the boy’s health factored into the way he died which is absolutely relevant to the situation.

                  Trafficking – Again, it was yalensis and Exile who were waving the “Alert! Trafficking Here!” Flag and my primary snark (other people besides you ARE allowed to snark here…right?) was directed at them. You were bravely making allusions to trafficking on the sidelines without making a stand. So, card on the table, you’ve established (convincingly!) that trafficking is a huge problem with Americans witting or unwitting adopters of kidnapped children. Is that what you think happened with Max and his brother? I don’t.

                  Here’s what I don’t get: I actually respect the decision to turn off international adoptions. The fight to clean up the Detskie Doma is long overdue and this will force reform and a nationwide reexamination of adoption in general. Well done. The mark of good leadership that. But even Putin has said that the majority of American adopters have their hearts in the right place…why then vilify the U.S. as a nation of child abusers and organ harvesters? Why the retroactive campaign? Isn’t it enough to say, “Thanks for helping out in the past…but we’re good now.”? Is the domestic orphan situation so bleak that it can’t be addressed without dusting off the ‘external enemy’?

                • marknesop says:

                  I’m not getting touchy about anything. I’m pointing out that I did not make the original argument for child-trafficking, but that was mitigated a bit by my responding when it was not I who was being addressed; I just sort of joined the argument. In any case, it rapidly went far beyond whether or not this specific case involved child-trafficking, although I am happy to stipulate it probably did not, to a position whereby Americans were being unfairly labeled as participating in child trafficking just because people love to hate on Americans. Therefore, by implication, Americans don’t do that sort of thing. And I’m taking the position that yes, they do, and that American citizens (although not characteristic of the American people generally) are involved in every sort of dirty crime and perversion you care to name that goes on in other countries and is reacted to with shock and horror back home. This, I think, is fundamental to my entire attitude: whenever a case like this one comes up, there is extensive reporting on what a souse the mother is, what a drunkard, what a piece of human waste. And thereby, stealthily, is introduced the template whereby this is typical of Russians, and portrays the norm rather than an aberration. You are reacting to precisely the counter-argument – just because a small proportion of Americans is involved in criminal activities or deliberately hurting and harming children does not mean that is the case here. And that’s true. However, the fact that the child’s natural mother is a useless drunk was introduced with a “surprise, surprise” fanfare, as if a distinct majority of Russian mothers are useless drunks who abandon their children, and if you jumped to that conclusion, well, no harm done because you would probably be right. That’s as cards-on-the-table as I am able to be.

                  It appears increasingly likely there is something odd going on in this case, and I do not see anything untoward in my suggesting sarcastically that the mother just popped out of sight for a moment, and the child fell over dead, because that so far is exactly her story. The only possible exculpatory factors introduced are playground equipment; a slide and a swing, perhaps he was hit in the head by the swing. Possible, I suppose, but how often is a child hit in the head by a swing (assuming it’s not made of cast iron) and is stone dead in the time it takes to go for a leak? I believe I can be forgiven for concluding that smells like bullshit. If Max had died in his natural mother’s care and that was her excuse, would you believe it? I’m quite sure you would not. But the mother in this case must be given the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because she’s American, and Americans don’t do that sort of thing.

                  Although I have yet to see the actual proof, there has already been a good deal of allegation that the dead boy for whom the adoption-ban law was named, Dima Yakovlev, was a case of child-trafficking. The signature of his grandmother, from whose care he came, is said to have been forged on his adoption documents. This suggests she would not have given her permission, although it does allow a very small possibility she was illiterate and asked someone to sign for her. In the former case, it would exactly fit the pattern of child-trafficking. And Maxim came from the same orphanage. That’s a bit too few degrees of separation for me.

                  However, I do not think that was the case here. I believe the entire adoption process was above-board, and the only possibility for child-trafficking skullduggery would be the agencies involved, and of which the parents were most likely entirely ignorant, as is nearly always the case; there could not be more than a handful of cases – ever – in which the parents deliberately colluded with a crooked adoption agency to steal a child. The child’s health is definitely relevant, and I have said only what I have heard thus far; that he had no chronic condition or significant disability which was likely to have killed him as a young child. The natural mother’s general worthlessness is relevant only insofar as it contributed to the child in this case being removed from her care by representatives of the state, as I imagine to have been the case, although I don’t know that for a fact. It is not a comment on motherhood in Russia in general. The drama about whether or not the remaining child should be returned to her, as I remember, was introduced by you, at least from the viewpoint of it being taken seriously; nobody else here is arguing that should happen, and it was the Russian papers which reported she was taken off the train hopelessly drunk shortly after her emotional interview. That suggests there is little sympathy in Russia for such an outcome either.

                • Swoggler says:

                  in the “Mom” para: I should have said, Max’s brother’s future.

                • Moscow Exile says:


                  This is what I first wrote wrote above as regards the recent death of a Russian adoptee in Texas:

                  “I agree. And this is an aspect of this tragic US adoption saga that is seemingly being overlooked by the media: there’s big money being made in both the USA and in Russia in this trading of children”.

                  That with which I voiced my agreement above was this statement by cartman:

                  “I don’t understand why they would even send children to another country if the state took custody away from an unwilling mother. What about the rest of his family? It sounds like another case of baby selling, like Dima Yakovlev who had his grandmother’s signature forged before he was shipped off”.

                  So @ Swoggler: What are you complaining about?

                  I said the recent death of the Russian adoptee in Texas was tragic.

                  Do you not agree?

                  I also commented on what I often feel is being overlooked by the media as regards these adoptions, namely that there is “big money being made in both the USA and in Russia in this trading of children”.

                  Do you not agree that this happens?

                  I have neither accused US citizens in general nor in particular the US foster parents of the child that died recently in Texas of participating in the trading of children; nor have I voiced any sympathy whatsoever for the dead child’s natural parents: in fact, of them I wrote the following:

                  “So the fact that the unfortunate child’s natural mother is a drunken slattern and that she and her husband, who is also very likely a social inadequate, might not have cared one fig about what happened to their children after they had possibly been engulfed in a child trafficking enterprise…”

                  which comment, I should imagine, clearly shows my contempt for the child’s Russian parents.

                  As regards the childs foster parents in Texas, I then wrote about the “maltreatment that he [the deceased child] may have received off his loving foster parents, which maltreatment led to his untimely death”.

                  I have not accused the adopted child’s US foster parents of of his murder. They may indeed be innocent of all the suscpicion directed towards them by some as regards their adopted son’s death: I only commented about maltreatment that the child may have received from them.

                  That which I have been criticizing all along has been what is in my opinion the strong liklihood that child trafficking might well have played a part in this and other tragic instances that have resulted in the deaths of Russian adoptees in the USA.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            So the fact that the unfortunate child’s natural mother is a drunken slattern and that she and her husband, who is also very likely a social inadequate, might not have cared one fig about what happened to their children after they had possibly been engulfed in a child trafficking enterprise totally throws a different light on the whole story?

            And does the fact that the child’s natural parents were socially irresponsible and inadequate exonerate in any way the maltreatment that he may have received off his loving foster parents, which maltreatment led to his untimely death?

            • Swoggler says:

              Not a bit. But it does make your trafficking theory less likely. Did you read the link I posted (can you?)? Rather than an evil cabal of child peddlers, when I read that story I see a bunch of people at the end of their rope. The mom, and grandma, were such slobbering drunks they couldn’t afford to buy brandy…they were at the end of their rope and couldn’t take care of those kids. The boys went into the system which tried…six times!…to place them with Russian families. But Russians didn’t want them, so when an American family with more money said they didn’t care about their problems….at the end of their rope, the Russian system agreed. Cut to America where we know next to nothing about the way the boys’ were cared for. If the medications the boy who died was on are any indication, it sounds like the parents there were at the end of their collective rope too.

              I’ll wait for the investigation’s findings, I’m sure they will reflect multiple American-side failings for you guys to latch onto…so don’t fret. But I doubt that many of those findings will support your trafficking charge.

              • Swoggler says:

                @ Moscow Exile.

                What am I complaining about? Well, I’m complaining somewhat less now that you’ve backed away from your prior tub-thumping, “It sounds like another case of baby selling,..” position to the somewhat mealy-mouthed, “in my opinion the strong liklihood that child trafficking might well have played a part in this…”. We’ll see if Yalensis stands by his, “Yes, this case sounds exactly like baby-trafficking for profit.”

                My complaint is that you two reached for this with nothing to back it up. Did I miss an article that laid out how much these West Texans laid out to adopt these kids? Was it more than usual. Were signatures forged? Did a judge get bribed? Were corners cut? Steps skipped? Follow the money etc. etc. Do we know anything about the money?

                In answer to your other questions: I do, indeed, agree that trafficking happens and that bad guys profit from it. I just don’t think there’s enough evidence to make that call here…though it DOES fit handily in ‘vilify America’ milieu that’s popular these days. And yes, I agree Max’s death is a terrible tragedy.

                My final complaint is that stuff like this:
                “Where’s the organs of our dead kids! What have done with them you Yankee finks!”

                Crazy like this is good for no one. And what possible purpose does it serve? Again, turn off adoptions to other countries…that’s completely appropriate and praiseworthy. But why, I implore you, descend into these tabloid idiocies? I’ve lived and done business in Russia for many years and things like this set Russia back. I’ll have to tell you about a recent business trip to Krasnodar one of these days…

                The accusations and insinuations in the NTV piece above are silly. So silly that I ask again, why bring America into the discussion at all? Why the need to vilify when the decision to take care of one’s own orphans is argument enough by itself?

                • Moscow Exile says:


                  I was NOT tub thumping.

                  I did NOT say: ““It sounds like another case of baby selling,..”

                  I am not backing away from anything.

                  Where have I attacked the USA and its citizens in my above comments and before your reaction to them?

                  What I DID write was that “an aspect of this tragic US adoption saga that is seemingly being overlooked by the media … [is that] … there’s big money being made in both the USA and in Russia in this trading of children”.

                  Your reaction to this comment is that I have “reached for this [the suggestion that child trafficking may have been involved] with nothing to back it up”.

                  For some reason, you think that commenting that “there’s big money being made in both the USA and in Russia in this trading of children” was an attack made by me against the United States.

                  Do you not think that there is child trafficking involved in foreign adoption programmes?

                  Do you not think that many children from third-world countries and Russia that end up as adoptees in the USA are often not orphans?

                  Do you not believe that some of the criminals involved in child trafficking may be US citizens?

                  I will categorically state here that I shall not be at all surprised if child trafficking was involved in this particular case that is being discussed, albeit that I have no evidence at hand to support my proposition, and that money went through criminal hands and into criminal bank accounts before the unfortunate child in question reached Midland,Texas. I will also state that if that be the case, then that does not mean that the child’s US foster parents were aware that they were in receipt, so to speak, of a trafficked child.

                  I have also not stated anywhere above that I believe such child trafficking is a criminal activity peculiar to Unite States citizens. I am quite sure that very many odious Russian citizens are involved in child trafficking world wide, as well as Bulgarians, Romanians and assorted South and Central Americans etc.

                  In general, I have nothing against Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian and assorted South and Central American citizens etc: nor do I have, in general, anything against US citizens.

                  I did not mention child trafficking simply because in doing so would be a convenient way to ‘vilify America’, nor have I stated anywhere above that the deceased orphan in question was murdered by his Texan foster parents.

                  I have not stated anywhere, nor do I believe, that US citizens are fundamentally criminal and corrupt and either turn a blind eye to or are busily engaged in trafficking children from less happier lands into the United States: on the contrary, I am of the firm conviction that the vast majority of US citizens are normal, sane, honest and law abiding people, an opinion that I have arrived at through experience.

                  I do not take some perverse pleasure in vilifying the United States because of some psychological urge of mine to detest all things American, although I have to admit that I dislike Coca-Cola and have done so since I was a child.

            • kirill says:

              I love how the birth mother’s character has been *ASSUMED* to be unworthy of guardianship. Perhaps she went on a binge *BECAUSE* of

              1) Finding out that her child has been shipped off to the USA without her consent.

              2) Being bitter for having her child stolen from her by the state in the first place. This is a very important point as there are examples of child seizure on extremely flimsy pretexts.

              So all this sanctimonious bitching about just America and worthless mother can only be taken seriously by idiotic saps.

              • marknesop says:

                I’m willing to stipulate the mother is a drunken scut. It’s unlikely the child would be living in an orphanage if he had competent parents, and anyone with the capacity to resist going on the piss would have known her behaviour had just achieved national prominence based on her interview. Getting loaded was just about the worst thing she could have done, short of losing her temper with some kid on the train and punching him in the face.

                • kirill says:

                  It’s easy to judge from afar. Perhaps the mother does not give a rat’s ass about her image. This is the Russian character at play, Russians do have different sensibilities than westerners. The other point is that some upstanding members of the US community who worry lots about their image but beat their child anyway are more worthless guardians than a drunk mother who does not beat her children. This point cannot be fobbed off.

                • marknesop says:

                  Perhaps not, and I don’t think any of us has enough actual facts to make a reliable judgment. It is merely an assumption on my part that the mother was relieved of custody by the state, and I don’t know for a fact what happened. But the boys did end up in an orphanage, and I have to presume they somehow ended up there – unless they were stolen from the parents, in which case they would not likely end up in an orphanage – owing to intervention by persons who are Russian, and understand the Russian character and sensibilities. If the mother just went on the occasional happy bender and never hurt a soul, but was otherwise a loving and devoted mother, there’s every reason to believe the children would still be living with her, and it is absolutely inconceivable to me that she would not know they were being considered for adoption unless she lost custody so long ago that she was not even considered part of the equation any more.

  20. Moscow Exile says:

    By the way, RT is still down – or is it? Have they revamped the site and made an end with readers’ comments? I shouldn’t be much dismayed if the comments have been done away with: for there had developed a coterie there of rabid russophobes – Poles and Baltic State citizens mostly, I guess, or emmigrants from those states to the USA – and loons that kept on howling about a Zionist plot to destroy Russia.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      This time signature confuses me sometimes! Is it really 12 hours ago yesterday, February 21st, in Vancouver? It’s 9:50 am, February 22nd here in Moscow.

      Just checked.

      Yes, it is yesterday in Vancouver now.

      Спокойни ночи, малыши!


      • marknesop says:

        Yeah, I was never very good at keeping two time zones going in my head at the same time, but Russia is around a day ahead of us. I think for the Far East it was +18, I remember Sveta used to go to an internet cafe to talk to me in MSN when we still lived in separate countries, and 8:00AM for her a day later than it was in Victoria would be 14:00 the day before for me.

  21. Moscow Exile says:

    Another typo!

    Too many late nights.

    Спокойной ночи, малыши!

  22. Moscow Exile says:

    Another woman put under house arrest as a result of inquiries into a Ministry of Defence related land scam, this time in the Leningradsky region. (I wonder why they still call it “Leningradsky” and not “Peterburgsky”?)

    The cruel swine!

    Komsomolskaya Pravda reports that the wife of the deputy head of the Leningrad Region Cadastral Chamber, Denis Kolovnyakova, was detained on Thursday, February 23, on suspicion of large scale land fraud involving a Ministry of Defence military range near St. Petersburg.

    The woman, Svetlana Pyatunina, who heads a real estate firm, came under suspicion after extensive investigation into a case involving the illegal procurement of 456 acres of federal land worth nearly one billion rubles, which land was in permanent use of the Ministry of Defence. However, according to preliminary data given by of law enforcement agencies, the criminal activities involve 1.2 billion rubles.

    Pyatunina’s husband, Denis Kolovnyakov, is also under suspicion of involvement in the fraud but is at present only classified as a witness to the case.

    The article makes mention of the fact that the 29-year-old Pyatunina is a “confident and sound business woman” who loves to party and that “she lives with her husband and daughter in a posh mansion in Vsevolozhsk, wears expensive clothes and takes good care of herself”.

    La dolce vita no less.

  23. Swoggler says:

    @ Moscow Exile

    You’re quite correct. It wasn’t you with the “Baby-selling” line, that was Cartman. I apologize.

    And, again, I’m in full agreement that child trafficking is a real, abhorrent, crime being perpetrated the world over…America included. I just don’t think it’s the case with the Shatto family. You, apparently, are more inclined to suspect them of hanky-panky. Perhaps it speaks to my own prejudices that I’m more inclined to suspect them of beating the child than in engaging in trafficking (wittingly or unwittingly). I could be wrong on both counts, we’ll see.

    The Stooge is perfectly correct to point out my own prejudices. I’m more inclined, based on my own experiences, to think that most of the parents in Russia who had their kids removed by local authorities are, more often than not, train-wrecks like what’serface who Kirill is wading in to defend. Not all of the birth moms can be disasters like she…the odds just won’t allow that…but I think it’s the way to bet. The argument that I’m guilty of the same rush to negative judgment that many here reserve for the U.S. is a good riposte.

    But, these things aren’t just happening in the abstract. This is the case, and these are the people, and these are the arguments that the vlast here has chosen to use as this week’s bludgeons against the U.S. I find their chosen tools and arguments weak and unconvincing. I question the benefit they are deriving domestically from their positions on Max’s death and his birth mom and adopted family.

    I’m glad the Stooge isn’t arguing for the return of the surviving son to the birth mom. Astakhov is (or was). What’s the benefit? What’s the end game? You think trafficking is a problem; so do I. What has the Kremlin said about trafficking in relation to this case? Anything? Will they? Should they? I think so. Find those traffickers and hang them higher than Haman! The Russians are demanding access and details of Max Shatto’s death. Is this appropriate? Maybe if the adoption agreement was still in effect, that would help them get a better idea of if it should continue. But that agreement is deader than chivalry…so what’s the point? Do the Russians want to bring criminal charges against the Shattos; maybe get them extradited? That’ll never happen. Maybe the master plan is to get another round of demagoguery going in the Duma? Again I ask, “Why?”

    Oh, and @ Moscow Exile, don’t sweat not liking Coke…it doesn’t make you an automatic Yankee-hater. I hope you’ll not think I’m a Russophobe even though I’ve lived here for years and never gotten the taste for kvas or holodets.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      Never had any problems with holodets as we have the same stuff where I come from, but we call it “brawn”. Kvas is unique to Russia, I should think, and I really like it. The real acid test, in my opinion, though, in order to prove who has gone native in Russia, is “vobla”, which I also used to like with a beer. I have never had the opportunity to try US food, though I really should like to sample “gumbo” and clam chowder.

      • marknesop says:

        What is vobla? I am far too squeamish to try anything too weird, and refused holodets without even tasting it (homemade, too) because cold jelly that tastes meaty grosses me out. It was likewise the temperature and texture that turned me off of kukumaria after the briefest taste, although my wife loves it – fortunately, you can’t get it or anything like it here. We used to come back from the market loaded down with containers of “Korean salads”, many of which were delicious, and I fancied myself a real internationalist until I was told Koreans don’t really eat that stuff – they just make them for Russians. I like Korean food, too, but most of what I ate there were hot dishes. I made the mistake of trying abalone porridge on a flight between LA and Seoul, and I nearly blew it into the hair of the person seated in front of me: revolting.

        I’m sure you could make a great clam chowder yourself, from a recipe; I’ll see if I can find mine, I like to cook. The secret is to use cream rather than regular milk, it makes the chowder beautifully thick and rich. For gumbo you need okra; I’m not sure you could get it there. But anyone who can follow instructions can follow a recipe, and the internet is the greatest recipe book ever.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          That’s why you can’t get gumbo in the UK, I believe: no okra, or at least it’s very hard to come by. And there’s another spice that some add to gumbo that’s unique to Louisiana and whose name eludes me at the moment. (Found it! It’s called filé powder and is made from dried and ground sassafras leaves.)

          There was an article in the UK Guardian recently on how to prepare “real” gumbo and most of the resident in the UK US commentators to the article bemoaned the fact that you can’t get these essential ingredients in the United Kingdom.

          Korean cuisine is very popular in Russia and Korean salad is always present with the more traditional Russian starters on a festive table. I was once acquainted with a Korean here and didn’t realize at first what his ethnicity was: I thought he was simply someone from the Far East of Russia. His name was Kim – hardly surprising – and when I finally found out that he was Korean, I thought he was an immigrant. It turned out that his great grandparents had been immigrants but he was a Russian citizen, born and bred. Apparently, many Koreans fled to the Russian Empire to escape the tender mercies of Japanese imperialists over 100 years ago.

          As regards “vobla”, it’s dried in the sun Caspian Sea roach. It’s the whole fish and is as hard as a rock when you get it and smells as one would expect dried-in-the-blazing-sun fish to smell.

          You grab a vobla by the tail and beat it on the table to soften it up if necessary, rip its head off then peel its skin from its sparse flesh.

          “Now set the teeth and stretch the nostrils wide, hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height” and bite into it – or better still, tear off shreds of its flesh with the fingers, as it is very bony.

          And quelle surprise! It’s really tasty.

          Well I think it is. And it goes down well with a beer or two or three, which is why Russians buy vobla: they seem to like drinking beer with fish and other creatures of the deep such as dried squid.

          Here are some interesting and at times amusing pictures of vobla and Russians.

          If you should wish to try vobla, it seems you can buy it and other Russia delicacies in the USA and, no doubt, in Canada as well, from this site.

          • marknesop says:

            I am generally a fan of fish, although I prefer it fried, baked or smoked. But I can’t get the Russian fascination with herring, and when Sveta first got here I underwent months of searching to find herring that she liked. The way it’s done here does not suit the Russian taste, as it is pickled in vinegar. In the end I bought fresh herring from the market and her mother put them up herself; I think the pickling was mostly salt and onions. They often make the popular herring-under-the-fur-coat, to great enjoyment, but I don’t eat it. I prefer milder-tasting fish like halibut, haddock, cod and salmon. We live in the right region to get all the fresh salmon we know what to do with.

            I suppose I might learn to like vobla or dried squid if I could ever bring myself to try them; I love calmari prepared the usual way. But I can’t. There apparently is a whole garden of delights I am missing out on, like salo, the gristle at the end of the bone on a chicken leg (my wife always gets mine, I could no more eat it than I could sing opera) and various other morsels my wife eats with gusto while I shrink away and curl my lip.

            Russians indeed are great seafood lovers, but even the smell of the fish market in Vladivostok put me off. I had said I liked fried fish, so we went there to get some. God, it stank. Having procured a quantity of some smaller trout-size saltwater fish, we took them home, whereupon she dusted them with flour and fried them up whole. I ate a little and said I liked it, but we just don’t do that here. Fish is always filleted (except for herring, which is just too bony, and I forgot that I do like kippers); you might do a big fish whole, like a baked salmon, although it would be gutted, of course. My mom did fry up trout with the bones still in, but we would always make a cut down the backbone with a fork and lift the whole skeleton out. Generally the trend is to get as much of the fish with as few of the bones as possible.

            I ate in a Korean restaurant in the Incheon airport on my way back from Vladivostok once, and part of the meal was a handful of tiny fish that were fried whole. I ate those, and they were good, but I eat a lot of things in foreign countries that I would not at home.

            I’ve never used file powder in gumbo, but then I have never tasted authentic Louisiana gumbo either. I’ve been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but just never had gumbo. It usually has andouille sausage, too, which used to be impossible to find but now is usually available. But I used to make gumbo without it or use any coarse pork sausage, and it was good. Okra seems to be the only ingredient that imparts an irreplaceable flavour, and you can usually buy that canned. It’s available here fresh, but it has a fairly short season and is only around for a few weeks. Some people believe okra ruins what would otherwise be a tasty soup, my son being one of them.

            Usually the version you taste first, and like, is the authentic version for you, so maybe you should just adapt a recipe and create Moscow gumbo! Most of the ingredients would be available, I would think. I could send you Creole seasoning.

            P.S. The mention of Vobla provoked a lively discussion over breakfast, and my father-in-law said huge quantities of it used to go to the submarine fleet. I’m not sure whether that would be because it keeps for a long time or because it contains some vitamin that makes up for the lack of sunlight (Vitamin D, I think).

        • Moscow Exile says:

          As regards the essential nature of cream when preparing chowder, that would be, I think, a problem in Russia. Although Russians enjoy a huge variety of dairy products, I have never ever found here cream comparable to that which you can buy in Western Europe.

          In England you can get cream, double cream and extra double thick cream: in Russia, however, the cream is always watery and thin. I guess it’s because they don’t have Jersey cows here: I’ve never seen them, nor have I seen full cream milk here – usually off Jerseys – that is commonplace in Europe.

          I should imagine that “tvorog” fills the gap left by the absence of double cream here.

          Dictionaries usually translate “tvorog” as “cottage cheese”, but I don’t think it is. As Indian market traders sometimes say, they’re “same-same, but different”!

          • Misha says:

            American expats have lauded the sour cream in Russia. As a young lad there, my diet overwhelmingly consisted of sour cream on black bread.

            • Moscow Exile says:

              Yes, “smetana” is usually translated as “sour cream”, but I don’t think it is really: close but similar.

              I feel that “tvorog”, however, is much the same as “Quark” in Germany.

              That reference above as regards how to prepare tvorog is the real MacCoy, by the way: that’s how my wife makes it at the dacha and those pictures in the linked article were taken in a Russian kitchen: I recognize the pans!

              It’s all great stuff though. Can’t get enough of it.

              • marknesop says:

                Don’t use tvorog in clam chowder, or any soup; it is cottage cheese and not the same thing as either cream or cream cheese. Home-made cottage cheese is basically the same thing as is commercially available here, but ours is generally wetter and has bigger flakes. Sveta had a hard time at first making those little pancakes like oladi, except they are made with cottage cheese, I forget their name, because our cottage cheese is too wet. Eventually she found a similar product that worked, also called cottage cheese but drier.

          • marknesop says:

            Sveta says cream is readily available there, it is called slivki. However, I also use cream cheese in mine, and I don’t think you could find that there. It’s not essential, though, and the liquid part doesn’t even have to be all cream although that makes it very thick and rich.

            Here’s a recipe, by a New Englander – the recognized experts of clam chowder – taken from “Cooking for Comfort”, by Marian Burros.

            1 large onion, chopped
            3 tablespoons butter or 2 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon butter
            1 1/2 cups clam juice
            2 medium large new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch dice
            1 bay leaf
            1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
            2 cups heavy cream
            1/2 cup milk
            1 tablespoon flour
            1 1/2 pints shucked clams
            Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
            Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

            Note: if you don’t want to use heavy cream you could substitute 2 cups half-and-half and 1/2 cup milk, or 2 cups milk and 1/2 cup half-and-half. Increase the amount of flour to 2 tablespoons. The flour is essential, otherwise the soup will curdle.

            1. Saute the onion in the butter over medium-high heat until translucent.
            2. Add the clam juice, potatoes, bay leaf and thyme and bring to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
            3. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Stir a little of the milk into the flour to make a paste. Add the paste to the remaining milk and stir into the soup.
            4. Reduce heat until it is as low as possible and add the clams for just a few minutes until the clams are cooked. Don’t overcook the clams. Discard the bay leaf. The chowder should be thick. Season with salt and pepper and serve sprinkled with parsley.

            The note is the author’s as well. This cookbook emphasizes fresh, quality ingredients, so you really should use fresh clams and I’m sure you could get them. If you have to use canned clams, you would add them at the last and just long enough to warm them through. If you can’t get clam juice or clam liquor, you could substitute a good chicken stock. If you don’t know how to shuck clams – and you’re asking to be short a thumb if you don’t – you could steam them beforehand, discarding any that do not open, and add them as for canned, just long enough to warm through before serving as they will already be cooked.

            • Moscow Exile says:

              It’s getting the clams that would be the big problem here. The nearest sea to Moscow is the Baltic, which isn’t all that salty past the Gulf of Finland. In fact, when you head up the Gulf of Bothnia past Stockholm, it almost becomes fresh. I’ve never seen oysters here, though I suppose you could buy them in some posh restaurant for a ludicrous price. Last time I was in the UK I bought my wife some at the seaside in the Northwest and three cost me over £5, and they weren’t half the size as I remember when I was a lad. Another fish that I never see in Russia is eel. You get them in Sweden – I lived there for a spell and often went fishing in the myriad of lakes and small rivers that are found there – and smoked eel is commonplace on the Scandinavian side of the Baltic, but not over here. I reckon it’s too polluted here. having said that though, the Moscow River near my dacha is clean and I see plenty of perch and pike caught from it. – but never eels..

              • marknesop says:

                You can use canned clams, but they tend to be a little tough compared with fresh. At this point I am going to go off the reservation and recommend pink clams if you can get them, like this. We used to be able to buy them here in Fairway, which is a market chain owned by Chinese. I haven’t seen them for awhile, but if you can get them they are very tender and excellently suited for both soups and pasta dishes which feature clams. That’s heresy because no New Englander would ever put foreign clams in clam chowder – it’s be a violation like putting Coke in scotch (something else I like).

              • marknesop says:

                Eels are often caught by accident, and usually while bottom-fishing or when fishing in slow water with a bobber while the line below it is long enough that the bait rests on or touches the bottom; eels are typically bottom-feeders. When I was a boy we used to catch them in the Annapolis in Nova Scotia (where I grew up), mostly to be frozen as trap bait for the winter; my friend’s father ran a trapline for foxes and such for a couple of winters. As far as I know, nobody ever ate those river eels, although you probably could. We would fish for them at night, and build a big fire on the riverbank; the light would draw them. I don’t suppose they ever got too much longer than your arm, they weren’t very big; at their thickest point they might have been as broad across the back as a medium-sized trout. I’ve seen them in other places as thick through as your arm at the shoulder, but these were nothing like that.

            • Moscow Exile says:

              “Slivki” (always plural) means “cream” in Russsian. The word comes from the verb “slivat'”: “to pour off”.

    • marknesop says:

      That’s actually an excellent point; Russia could demonstrate resolve by shutting down crooked agencies which handle their end of international adoptions. I’m not sure that hasn’t already been done; while the USA did not adopt the Hague Convention on Adoptions until 2008, the State Department was the lead on international adoptions well before that. Sometime in the late 90’s, if I remember correctly. The USA is a Hague Convention country; the Russian Federation is not, although it is a listed member of the organization and is not listed under non-member states. The State Department site points out that adoption between convention countries offers a greater degree of protection to the adoptive parents, in that convention countries “aim to prevent the abduction, sale of, or traffic in children, and work to ensure that intercountry adoptions are in the best interests of children.” The comprehensive plan for intercountry adoptions worked out between Russia and the USA only a couple of months before the ban was imposed was supposed to have obliterated the unscrupulous adoption agencies – in both countries – which were only in it for the profit.

      I wouldn’t put too much stock in that, though; those are good intentions, but often depend on the overall corruption level in the country being discussed. Romania, for example, ratified the Hague Convention and it entered into force for that country in 1995. It still had to be forced into an international adoption ban by the EU in 2004 owing to rampant and to all appearances unrestrained child trafficking, some of it on behalf of pedophiles. Interestingly, many of the same arguments on behalf of American adoptive couples being made now were made then, too: the American ambassador to Romania “described the law as a “tragedy”, which would bar thousands of childless couples legitimately providing some of Romania’s 40,000 orphans with a high standard of living in the US. But Emma Nicholson, the EU observer for Romania, has described the practice as kidnapping.” The U.S. Congress held hearings and passed repeated measures opposing the ban.

      Those who have been following the discussion here of the adoptions ban in Russia will recognize Emma Nicholson as Lady Nicholson, Baroness of Winterbourne, and a longtime advocate for human rights and child protection. She is the current Executive chair of the Associatia Children’s High Level Group. She is also, just as an aside, a descendant of the founding family of London gin distilleries J.W. Nicholson & Co.

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