Monday, March 28, 2005
The idea that Gorby's Politburo was thinking, "Oh, no, they are going to put lasers into space and shoot down all our missiles! We better give up and declare the end of Communism" is beyond preposterous. This could only occur to somebody completely ignorant of how the Soviet system worked. Since the Washington plutocracy was never short on ignorance, this is not particularly surprising.
Also, Gary Brecher (aka "War Nerd") knows how to use Okkam's Razor when dealing with Lebanon problems - "Lebanon II: Hezbollah Boom!"
It took the Israelis a while to realize what a disaster the invasion really was. Like us in Iraq, the first stage was such an easy victory that they thought they could do anything. Turned out that by booting the PLO out of Lebanon, they'd tilted the gang-bang balance in favor of the Shia, the newest, most ready-to-die gangbangers on the block. And the Shia didn't stop hitting the IDF until it abandoned its last "buffer zone" in South Lebanon in 2000.
Dr Wicke remains uncomfortable about the role played by the Rudolfinerhaus in the drama. "The first two times Mr Yushchenko was examined, there was no evidence of poisoning whatsoever," Dr Wicke, 64, said. Yet, to his dismay, persistent leaks from the clinic suggested that the politician had indeed been poisoned.
Dr Wicke told reporters that a "medically forged diagnosis" had been circulated by someone "not permanently employed in this clinic". This was taken to refer to Nikolai Korpan, a Ukrainian-born surgeon who had been treating the politician in Vienna.
Three days later, Dr Wicke received a written request from Dr Michael Zimpfer, the president of the clinic's supervisory board, to retract his remarks.
Dr Wicke marked the memo with the word "Acknowledged". It was after this that a man speaking accented English rang Dr Wicke and introduced himself as "a friend from the Ukraine". He said the man told him to "take care. Your life is in danger". Dr Wicke and his family were then put under 24-hour police guard.
So, who really poisoned Yushchenko and was he poisoned at all?
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Five months ago I found this book at an English/American Bookstore on Myasnitskaya. I read only a few pages from it at the store and was immediately swept away by its uncommonness. Unlike most books on Chechnya it was incredibly well-researched, sincere, detailed and not one-sided at all. Vanora covers 600 pages with descriptions of her life in Moscow and travels to the Caucasus: interviews and private talks, historic references, quotes from the classics, personal opinions and opinions of other people, newspaper clippings. Nothing is left behind. The best part is certainly Vanora’s epic-like personal accounts of her highly dangerous trips to war-torn regions in Armenia, Karabakh, Ingushetia and Chechnya. I read the whole book in two days.
But it also brought the sense of uncertainty, like it was not really completed. Something was missing – the moral, probably. If you skip Vanora’s personal opinions and just read her detailed accounts of what is going on, you would become a misanthrope. There’s this vicious cycle of infinitely growing racism, blind hate, madness, blood, death, suffering that carries away everyone: Russians, Chechens, Osetians, Armenians and Azeris alike. Nice and peaceful men are turning into blood-thirsty monsters. Loathing and thirst to revenge make otherwise rational people think like fanatical madmen. In Vanora’s book there are no good or bad guys in the war – almost all think and act like wild animals, gloating with joy when they win or whining maliciously when they lose. It’s impossible to take sides, to be pro-Russian or pro-Chechen, or anywhere in between. What’s the moral of the story? Is it the idea that when any stable social system is destroyed people loose all the humaneness they had? Is it the idea that any war, be it fair or not, irretrievably destroys the human soul? Is Vanora the follower of Leo Tolstoy’s theory of non-resistance to evil? Tolstoy illustrated his ideas with the story “Hadji Murat” that I already wrote about. Actually Tolstoy’s theory is not as idealistic as it sounds. Mahatma Ghandi, a passionate follower of Tolstoy, made India independent with the help of it. He was confident that once you resist evil by force or violence, your soul is damned. Isn’t Iraq or Chechnya a good proof that he was right?
Incredible, but Vanora is taking sides – she is definitely on the side of Chechens, Russophile turned Russophobe just in one day. That makes her book so weird. I simple couldn’t understand why. Her descriptions of Chechens gave absolutely no clue for her reasons.
Three days ago I took the book again and read several random pages from different parts. And I think I solved the mystery. Vanora is totally devoid of empathy, the human talent to feel what other people feel. She is emotionally handicapped like there are musically handicapped people. What is music for everyone, for them is simply noise made with a vast variety of instruments. Such people can try hard to understand what’s there in music that makes others dance, laugh or cry, why this kind of noise is so popular but another is called trashy. They can take great pains to decode music. They can actually go so far as to learn to play music but even then they couldn’t get it – why people listen to the noise I make. That’s what Vanora is trying really hard, driven by incredibly reckless curiosity, - to decipher the noise that other people call emotions. In this quest she rushes without doubt to any region where there’s war and eagerly interviews people who just undergone unbelievable sufferings.
Vanora is very observant. She covers pages with descriptions of people she met to the minutest detail: every wink, gesture, smile and change in voice. Nothing is left unnoticed. Sometimes I wanted to say, “Stop here, Vanora, I already got what you mean!” but she goes on and on and on. Like a musically handicapped person painstakingly dissects the noise to every single sign and note, then looks stupidly at them and says, “Hey, that was polka!” No, that was not polka. That was rock’n’roll. It doesn’t take so much pain for an ordinary person to see the difference. Vanora covers five pages with extraordinary vivid and detailed description of her bus ride to Karabakh with broken-hearted, crying, trying to be understood Armenian refugees and then unexpectedly she goes, “Hey, they were manipulative!” No, they were not.
This emotional backwardness is probably the reason behind so many contradictions in the book. For example, she describes a talk with her Russian “friend” and makes a conclusion – this man is a racist. That’s right. I agree. Then some fifty pages later she describes an almost identical talk with a Chechen and concludes – this man was hurt so much by Russians. No, Vanora. That man is also a racist. He’s as disgusting as his Russian counterpart. A truly pro-Chechen writer, like Politkovskaya, would simply omit such an interview from the book. She would certainly see that it doesn’t fit and breaks the integrity of the book but Vanora doesn’t get it. There are dozens and dozens of such contradictions throughout the story. They make the book so much misanthropic – all humans are beasts. Although Vanora leaves her opinions here and there – Russians are evil but Chechens are noble – but one simply doesn’t believe her. My recommendations – skip Vanora’s personal comments and you get the most detailed, well-researched and un-biased book about the war in Chechnya.
Those who want to go straight to the point can skip three initial passages of the article.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Naturally, Mr. Brzezinski is expecting that Russians, upon contemplating on his question, will repent of their Motherland’s sins and ask their neighbors for forgiveness. The irony of this request is that Russia already publicly and officially recanted in its sins in 1991-1993. “Blame Russia first” was and still is the main slogan of Russian liberals and democrats. Every FSU state is a successor of the USSR, not just Russia. As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong) Russia is the only state that, not being occupied by foreign troops, voluntarily repented for historic sins of the country it isn’t a sole successor of. It was a sincere feeling – not the expression of Russian “natural” inferiority complex and not the Russian “genetic” masochistic love for self-abasement. Just two weeks ago in Russia we celebrated the Forgiven Sunday (Прощенное Воскресенье) – the last Sunday before the Lent. On this day everyone should ask all relatives, friends and even people one doesn’t like, to forgive all the bad things one did to them in the last year. People kiss each other, embrace, forgive and forget. Now, Russians expect mutuality. When someone on the Forgiven Sunday asks you for forgiveness, you don’t say, “Ok, give me 100 rubles for a start and later I tell you if you’re worthy of my forgiveness.”
I don’t want to speak for all Russians but I personally 14 years ago was one of those young pro-Western idealists who regarded Russia’s agreement to take all Soviet debts upon itself as a sign of repentance and generosity, a noble impulse. The Soviet Union was a union of 15 republics after all and ethnic Russians suffered most under the Soviet rule. The crush of the USSR was not about minor republics “leaving” Russia. Russia was the first to leave the USSR. Then other followed. Gorbachev resigned and the Evil Empire disappeared. All international agreements, conventions and obligations of the Soviet Union were confirmed by every FSU state. Wasn’t it fair that every republic took its share of the Soviet debts? I didn’t expect a year later to see millions of ethnic Russian refugees flooding from almost every “friendly” republic. Anti-Russian pogroms were everyday affair in the FSU states. I couldn’t imagine that “civilized” Latvians and Estonians would declare ethnic Russians ‘civil occupants’ who have no right to vote. That in Ukraine Russian would officially become a “foreign” language. Yeltsin’s concessions were regarded as unconditional surrender. Huge discounts on prices for oil and gas exports to “friendly” republics were treated as reparations and indemnities. In 1993 I had a talk with an old Soviet ex-diplomat who was outraged at one-sided concessions Yeltsin and Kosyrev made. “In the international affairs all concessions must be mutual, albeit not always equal. If you don’t bargain you’re treated as a dweeb. You’ll never get anything in return but your partners will become more and more vulgar. One day when you stop and ask for mutuality you’ll hear such indignant and spiteful howls from you “friends” you couldn’t imagine”. Seems like he was right.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
For the last couple of months, I have been wondering what is wrong with theUnlike Mr. Kovalev I don’t find any reason to wonder. This irrational from the first sight behavior has very sound explanations – this kind of “recognition” of Stalin’s crimes will have very dire consequences for ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who live in Latvia and Estonia. About 30% of Latvian population and 15% of Estonian population are so called ‘non-citizens’. They pay all taxes but are not allowed to participate in elections including municipal elections at small towns and villages where sometimes ‘non-citizens’ make up to 90% of population. That’s right – in some towns officials elected by a very small minority decide how to use taxes collected from the majority. If I’m not mistaken at the end of the 18th century taxation without representation was one of the main reasons for the American Revolution. At the same time any EU citizen can vote at municipal elections in Latvia if he or she lives for more than 3 months at one place.
Russian political elite. Its members are behaving like obstinate donkeys and
stupidly dragging their heels on any reconciliation with the Baltic states.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have one simple request: that Russia recognize
that Josef Stalin committed crimes against their citizens. In other words, they
are asking the Kremlin to do exactly what Germany did decades ago in relation to
The reason why ethnic Russians and Ukrainians are ‘non-citizens’ is because they are ‘civil occupants’ even if they were born in Latvia or Estonia and lived all their life there. Being exemplary European democracies Latvia and Estonia let ‘non-citizens’ gain full citizenship if they learn the language and pass a constitution and a history exam. The history exam means accepting the official version of history. For example, some people can believe that Latvian SS-men were not really Nazis but freedom fighters; some can believe they committed war crimes killing Jews at Salaspils concentration camp. When it comes to getting Latvian citizenship only the first answer is correct and of course Salaspils was a reformatory. But that’s not the main point. The main point is the knowledge of the language – the perfect knowledge of the language is required. For example, I study English for more than 30 years but if I knew Latvian as well as I know English I wouldn’t pass the exam because I still make mistakes and my grammar is rather shaky.
What are legal grounds that make ‘non-citizens’ legitimate in the eyes of European human rights watchers? The Geneve Convention. According to the convention an invading state and an occupant is not allowed to settle its civilians on the territory of the occupied nation. This way ‘non-citizens’ are somewhat very close in status to Jewish settlers on the West Bank. Thus the “reconciliation” actually means not just shaking hands, forgiving and forgetting. It also means that Russia recognizes the fact that Latvia and Estonia were occupied territories with all the consequences.
So why is this hysteria NOW? Why is it necessary to make Russia blame Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact TODAY? The Baltic Republics are safely in NATO and EU. Isn’t it time to settle down, think about good home-keeping and put the Book of Baltic Grudges somewhere into the dusty corner? The problem is young ‘non-citizens’. Before 1991 for ethnic Russians or Ukrainians the knowledge of the language in the Baltic Republics was not a problem of survival. But since 1991 it is. Almost all teenage ‘non-citizens’ are bilingual, they speak perfect Latvian or Estonian – they had to learn it and for young people it’s always much easier. Three or four years more and Latvian/Estionian officials would have no formal reasons to flunk ‘non-citizens’ at language and history exams. Young ‘non-citizens’ have their own Big Book of Grudges – they remember well all the humiliations that had to pass throughout their childhood in the 90s. When you are only five and kids at a kindergarten bully you and call you 'dirty Soviet occupant' you don't forget it easily. This young generation is a real threat to the present political elites in Latvia and Estonia. At the same time young ethnic Latvians and Estionians don't remember the "horrors" of the Soviet occupation. They are not such Russophobes as their parents and they don't see their ethnic Russian contemporaties as a threat to national sovereignty. Not that long ago at the parliamentary elections in Lithuania a "Russian" party got most of votes even though ethnic Russians make less than 9% of Lithuanian population. Unless Latvian/Estionian political elites restrain their nationalistic ardor they could loose power pretty soon.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Mark Ames this week wrote a very interesting and insightful (for many Russians) article on the same matter - "Dubleya Standards". Recommended for the guys who post comments on my blog, like "We have freedom, you don't".
“Kasparov, one of Putin's most vociferous liberal critics, released a statementIt seems like Kasparov decided to join Bobby Fisher in the crusade for freedom and democracy. Only Fisher is fighting against bloodthirsty Zionist American tyranny but Kasparov, not surprisingly, wants to fight bloodthirsty Anti-Semitic Putin’s dictatorship.
Friday on his web site, kasparov.ru, saying that Russia was "moving in the wrong
direction," and that he would "do everything possible to fight Putin's
"I did everything that I could in chess, even more," he said
in the statement. "Now I intend to use my intellect and strategic thinking in
I always thought that there’s very little correlation between intellect and success in chess. Smart people like to play chess but some best chess grand masters are either na?ve or real dumb. Kasparov’s columns in the Wall Street Journal are a good example. Of all the analytical instruments available in social sciences Kasparov’s intellect prefers just one – metaphor. His every column starts with comparing Putin to some gruesome tyrant or dictator. Then from this metaphor he derives his basic premises and starts ‘logical’ deductions. Like, Putin cancelled gubernatorial elections and Hitler cancelled elections altogether. Putin is a dictator and Hitler was a dictator. So Putin is like Hitler. Hitler was Anti-Semitic. Thus Putin is also Anti-Semitic. Remember, last week a group of punks in Moscow attacked two Jewish rabbis? Europe couldn’t stop Hitler. So the WWII started. If we don’t stop Putin now he’ll start the WWWIII. Here Kasparov leaves us wondering – should NATO nuke Moscow right now or wait for a week?
I think Kasparov made a big mistake when he compared Putin to Hitler right from the start. Imagine next time Putin makes again something undemocratic. Whom could you compare him to? Not to Mussolini or Franco as they were definitely ‘milder’. If you first compare Putin to Hitler and then a week later to Franco then people would believe that Putin is becoming less dangerous and more democratic.
This way Kasparov run out of the XX century metaphors pretty quickly. In his last WSJ column he compared Putin to Caligula. Not bad. In the Roman history there’s a good pool of gruesome and mad tyrants. Next comes Sulla, Nero or probably Messalina. Imagine Putin giving orders to set Moscow on fire as he cannot find inspiration for a speech at the parliament. That’s about Kasparov’s strategic thinking.
I lost any respect for the WSJ readers who find pleasure in reading Kasparov’s mad rants. I also don’t think much about people who like Chris Floyd’s columns about Bush in the Moscow Times. What really irritates me about Kasparov is his rigid peremptory view of democracy. The American model of democracy is a fetish for him and every deviation from this model is treated as barbarism, dictatorship and tyranny. Governors are elected in the US so if Russian heads of provinces are not elected that’s dictatorship. It doesn’t matter that in democratic France or in Poland heads of provinces are appointed by presidents.
When many years ago I studied chess, my tutor used to say, “As a novice you should remember that a knight at the edge of a board is always bad. Later when you learn to play good chess and get experience you will understand that it all depends” For Kasparov a knight at the edge of a board is always bad irrespective of conditions, situation or context.
Monday, March 14, 2005
So while the tyrant is evil, what's really dangerous is that half-assed attitude that seems to permeate every sphere of life in Russia - from customer service to law enforcement. From not paying your writers on time to drinking cognac in the canteen instead of finishing the copy by deadline - everyone's to blame. You want democracy? Start washing the dishes on both sides.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Do Western democracies put it as a ‘must’ that Chechnya should be an absolutely independent state? Mustn’t Russia even raise the question about Chechnya as a Russian autonomy? If one answers these questions positively then Russian nationalists are right – the West is interested in dividing the Russian Federation into many small parts. Is it possible to bring peace to Chechnya without making it an independent state? Can Russia negotiate the degree of Chechnya autonomy? Like, almost any degree of autonomy? If this question is answered positively then Maskhadov is not ‘moderate’ but radical. At the same time Aslakhanov and Kadyrov become not ‘Kremlin side-kicks’ but moderate separatists. Even today the Chechnya constitution allows it so much autonomy that no other republic in Russia has. Just a month ago Aslakhanov proposed new conditions for Chechnnya autonomy that exceed those of Dudaev in 1991. Can you imagine that? In 1991 General Dudaev asked Yeltsin for LESS!
Anyway I don’t believe in the possibility of peace in Chechnya in the next 10 or 20 years. The exception is the regions north of the Terek River that were always peaceful. Kadyrov will not stop his fight for power. Basayev will not stop his terrorist attacks. Chechen clans will not be able to make permanent peace with each other. First, because they never did in the last thousand years. Second, because the ancient system of teips and councils of elders is destroyed.
Monday, March 07, 2005
The reasons as to why Russians are spoken of in this manner is not because theyA great Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev wrote to Russian liberals who then tried very hard to meet the higher European standards in 1867 – almost 150 years ago:
have or do not have greenskins or black or yellow (ie that they're white) it is
because of frustration regarding the Russian lack of progress on so many issues
regarding human rights and the rule of law. I do not speak of harrassment of
ethnic minorities but of ethnic Russian upon ethnic Russian
Russia is held to a higher standard than the third world or the
developing countries of Asia or the abysmal nation states in Africa. But you
know it is Russia herself that says they are better than those countries. And if
Russia is held to a higher standard than these other regions of the world it is
because she says she of that higher standard.
Having travelled entirely
around the world I find most people are not racist and that most racists are not
truely racist they are simply fearful. When you can walk the streets in Russia
without fear, to do business in Russia without fear, to participate in politics
without fear, to peacefully protest without fear only then will Russia acheive
that higher standard she claims to belong to. Only then will Russia be discussed
with the respect as you wish her to be.
Напрасный труд — нет, их не вразумишь,—
Чем либеральней, тем они пошлее,
Цивилизация — для них фетиш,
Но недоступна им ее идея.
Как перед ней ни гнитесь, господа,
Вам не снискать признанья от Европы:
В ее глазах вы будете всегда
Не слуги просвещенья, а холопы.
Here’s my lame word-by-word translation of the verse:
Wasted labor – no, you cannot make them understand –
The more liberal we become, the more they become vulgar,
Civilization is a fetish for them,
But its idea is beyond their reach.
No matter how low you bend before them, gentlemen,
You will never be recognized by Europe.
In their eyes you will always be
Not servants of Enlightenment but serfs.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Later, another journalist friend gave a nice eulogy. "It's a common scheme.
Say, you start a magazine or a newspaper. Get a big loan for it.
office. Then you write bad stuff about Putin. Suddenly, the loan runs out and
the magazine closes. Then you can say that they closed you down because you
wrote bad stuff about Putin."
It should be added that this works with politics as well. The moment the ex-PM Kasyanov (aka "Misha two percent") sensed that the origin of his wealth (materialized two percent) attracts too much attention from the Office of Public Prosecutor, he immidiately became the leader of anti-Putin political opposition. Beware evil taxmen! The West won't fogive another crackdown on freedom fighters!
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Isn't it ironic: after the "steady erosion of democracy" in Russia and the
"new, democratic chapter of Ukraine's history" the political structure and
economic policies of Russia and Ukraine look more similar than ever!
The book written by Matthew Brzezinski, “Casino Moscow”. He devotes an entire chapter to Timoshenko under the heading, “Eleven-Billion-Dollar Woman.” Brzezinski, who writes: “The US government has proof of money transfers which she personally made to Lasarenko when he was prime minister.” This suggests that the US administration can put pressure on Timoshenko, should she fail to faithfully follow Washington’s orders.
Selected quotations from the book:
“The file on her was maddeningly thin, consisting of a few rumpled Ukrainian press clippings of dubious veracity and a number, underlined twice and adorned with large question marks. The number was $11,000,000,000, the gross revenue of Timoshenko’s virtually unknown Ukrainian company. … Not even Coca-Cola earned that much from its combined international sales.”
“Along the way, she struck up an alliance with Dnepropetrovsk’s regional governor, a wily former collective-farm boss by the name of Pavlo Lazarenko. (This was the very same Lazarenko who would end up in a San Francisco jail, charged with large-scale money laundering and receiving seventy-two million dollars directly from Timoshenko ….” “Lazarenko granted Timoshenko the provincial energy concession, making her de facto boss of hundreds of state enterprises, which functioned or shut down operations at her whim.”
“Timoshenko’s big break, however, came on the day of my mugging, when Lazarenko was appointed prime minister of Ukraine. One of his first moves in office was to wrest half a dozen lucrative energy concessions from several big private groups and give Timoshenko a nationawide monopoly on the import and distribution of Russian natural gas. “
“Thus UESU was born, and Timoshenko gained control over nearly 20 percent of Ukraine’s gross national product, an enviable position that probably no other private company in the world could boast.”
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
In an odd exchange during the private meeting that preceded their joint news
conference on Thursday, a defensive Putin reportedly expressed his belief that
Bush fired CBS News anchor Dan Rather. 'Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather,'
says a senior Administration official. 'It was like something out of 1984.'
Something I don’t understand. If the meeting was private then this Putin’s phrase is nothing but a paraphrase heard by ‘a senior Administration official’ or bad translation. I’m absolutely sure that Putin could not be that stupid as to believe in Bush’s ability to fire journalists. I’d sooner believe that Bush speaks perfect German. No matter what people say about Putin, he is known as a man of great learning with incredible memory and pedantic love to details, statistics and exact definitions. It comes without doubt – he couldn’t believe that Bush fired Dan Rather. So what could possibly happen there at the “private” meeting? Putin could say: “А вы уволили Дэна Ратера” In this context “вы” means “you, Americans” not “you, President Bush”. There’s a very old Soviet joke. An American is criticizing the Soviet Union and the Communist Party and a Russian at last adduces a counter-argument: “А вы негров линчуете!” (But you lynch black people!) Here the Russian didn’t mean that his opponent personally lynched anyone. He meant that his opponent is a citizen of the country where black people are lynched. Putin could mean the same – in America journalists are also fired. At the press conference Bush said:
“People do get fired in the American press. They don't get fired by government,Now in Russia journalists don’t get fired by government either! Never ever a single journalist was fired by government. Never ever Putin fired any journalist himself. Never ever did he say openly: “I don’t like this or that journalist” or “I want him get fired”. I understand that he didn’t need to do it directly. He could tell his aide to settle the release of someone. Then the aide could make a phone call to the owner of the newspaper. Then the owner of the newspaper calls the editor. It all seems like idle talk to me. When you read “The Nation” magazine or Chris Floyd’s columns you get an impression that Bush used the very same scheme to fire Dan Rather.
however. They get fired by their editors or they get fired by their producers,
or they get fired by the owners of a particular outlet or network.”
Do I believe that the media is really free in Russia? No, I don’t, but I also don’t believe that Putin hates and suppresses free press. As far as I can see he doesn’t give a damn about the stuff Russian newspapers write or what radio stations broadcast. And at the same time he always reacts angrily when he sees (or thinks he sees) some sleazy oligarch using money, stolen from the state, to buy TV journalists at state-run networks (ORT and RTR). He also hates pro-terrorist (or what he regards as pro-terrorist) reports. If there’s no oligarch behind, networks can be as free to criticize Putin as they like. But networks don’t want to. I’ll write about their reasons next time.