Sunday, January 29, 2006

Snarling Winnie-the-Pooh

An experienced Soviet propaganda journalist had to go through a five-year university course as he needed extraordinary skills in order to have his articles published in Pravda. The most common requisition on “analyzing” international affairs was – (1) take facts about any event in the world, (2) consider conclusions that should always be like, “West is evil and is moving towards its collapse” and (3) construct any number of arguments to prove beyond doubt the inseparable link between (1) and (2). Anthony Robinson from “Prospect-Magazine” is doing the same. Only his task is to link (1) any facts on Russian politics and (2) Russia is evil and Putin is a war-mongering dictator. Here Mr. Robinson’s latest “commentariy” with the catchy head “Gazprom and the Snarling Bear”.

Whichever way you look at it, this was not just the action of a big gas company seeking to maximise profits – it was the Kremlin flexing its political muscles. Not quite the same, perhaps, as Khruschev rattling his nuclear rockets in Cuba, but a recognisable move from the same thuggish political repertoire.

Look at it straight. Market prices for gas means making Ukrainian politics independent from Russia. Low prices means flexing political muscles and keeping Ukraine dependent. Extra billion dollars revenue for Gazprom means economy. Giving away billions of dollars of a public coroporation to subsidize other countries means politics at the cost of shareholders. Not the other way round.

John Kennedy rattling his nuclear rockets in Turkey is conveniently dropped from analysis although it was Kennedy who first moved American nuclear missiles as close to the Soviet borders as possible.

This low price is part of the hidden cost of Moscow’s political support for central Asia’s authoritarian regimes and for allowing millions of "gastarbeiter" – mainly Uzbeks—to work on Russian construction sites, farms and factories. They send back remittances which keep their families alive and help dictators like Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov and Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov remain in power.

This part is disgustingly cynical. First, there are millions of Ukrainians and Georgian “gasarbeiter” working in Russia who send back remittances to their families. Does it mean that Putin helps “democratic” leaders of Ukraine and Georgia. Second, the perverse logic suggests that if Putin doesn’t want to help dictators he should let Uzbek workers and their families starve to death.

Gazprom’s compromise with Ukraine came at the expense of central Asia, whose gas can only reach western Europe through Gazprom’s Russian pipelines. While Russia is no longer subsidising Ukraine, the Turkmens and Kazakhs are.

Hold on, Anthony! Do you mean now that Ukrainian democratic government is helping dictators like Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov remain in power as you stated in the previous passage? Shouldn’t the civilized world punish Yushchenko for his support of dictators? Should we condemn Saakashvili the Georgian for buying natural gas from Iran?

For all Boris Yeltsin's faults, his presidency saw the rebirth of civil society institutions and attitudes. These green shoots have now been covered back up with snow.

The most memorable green shoots of Yeltsin’s democracy were shelling the Russian parliament with tanks (hundreds of innocent people died) and shamelessly rigging elections of 1996.
Pravda analysts are lamers in comparison with Anthony. “For all faults of the Latvian Communist Party, its rule in 1945-1991 saw the rebirth of people’s power, true freedom and socialist democracy.”

It is hard to remember that only a year ago Putin appeared to have been knocked off course by the orange revolution in Ukraine, a pensioners' revolt at home and the emergence of a potential challenger in Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister.

Mikhail Kasyanov – known to Russians as “Misha 2%” – is a potential challenger of Putin? Then Bobby Fisher is definitely the most dangerous challenger of George Bush. Knocked off course? By Orange revolution? By pensioner’s revolt? Tovarisch Robinson – you get only “C” for your propaganda class. Make your arguments look more probable.

and surveys show that it has increased dramatically since the Kremlin undermined the trend towards greater transparency and rule of law by its targeting of Khodorkovsky.

This is an outright lie. Although corruption in Russia is still unacceptably high it definitely decreased since thugs like Khodorkovsky could steal major energy corporations from the state, since he could buy entire parties and their votes, since he could pay as much taxes as he wished, since he could threaten Germann Gref, “You pass the energy bill the way I want or you’re destroyed”.

Recent events indicate that this is the way things are going. But two years is a long time in politics – especially in a country where even the past is so difficult to predict.

Yeah! Anthony Robinson has no problems predicting the past in the UK. Especially when it comes to finding WMD in Iraq.

I wonder, does Mr. Robinson understands that “analysts” like him are responsible for the fact that the majority of Russians treat Western “free thinking” as just another word for Soviet propaganda?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Anther color revolution

Just a couple of months ago every Western "analitist" was wondering - where the the next color revolution would take place? "Rose revolution" in Georgia, "Orange revolution" in Ukraine? Who will be next? Belorus or Russia? Where "true democracy" would win? It turned out the next color revolution - "Green Revolution" - took place in Palestine. In the most free and democratic manner. I wonder when EU and US stop subsidizing Palestine would Washington Post write about evil imperialists that try to destroy a young democracy?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Putin the Paranoid

From BBC News comes “Georgians blame 'GasPutin' for crisis”:

The crisis began on Sunday, when a series of explosions blew up two gas pipelines and an electricity power line in the North Caucasus, cutting off energy supplies to Georgia and neighbouring Armenia.

The explosions happened on Russian territory, but immediately Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili blamed Moscow for what he called a pre-planned act of sabotage, orchestrated by Russian officials.

He immediately flew to Europe and gave dozens of interviews urging the Civilized World to save his little but proud republic from Evil Empire before Putin nukes Tbilisi. Surprisingly mainstream media showed some common sense. Usually it takes Saakashvili’s words uncritically but this time they said, “Hmm. Putin is certainly a blood-hungry monster but isn’t it necessary to do some investigation before jumping to conclusions?” Among hysterical raves about Russia being an insecure gas supplier (it means Russia can’t stop Ukraine from stealing gas from Europeans) Putin only needs yet another scandal. Shooting in his own leg is very Putin-like. Everybody knows he’s a mad paranoiac.

Anyone who likes conspiracy theories should also consider other scenarios:
Saakashvili blew pipelines himself in order to boost anti-Russian sentiments among Georgians.
Georgian nationalists paid Chechens to blew pipelines because they hate the idea of selling Georgian pipelines to Gazprom.
Gazprom blew his own pipelines because he wants to buy Georgian pipelines cheap.

I think one should look to Abkhazia and Southern Osetia – two little but proud self-proclaimed republics who hate the idea of being a part of Georgian Empire. Unfortunately Georgia being ultra-imperialistic tries everything to bring Abkhazia and Osetia to its knees. No wonder Abkhazian and Osetian freedom fighters want to stop Georgian imperialism and together with Chechen freedom fighters do things in the name of peace and democracy, you know.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

General Frost

A couple of years ago I talked with one British intellectual about WWW2. As almost all British intellectuals younger than 50 he soon started talking about General Frost that saved Soviets from imminent catastrophe. I asked him, “What about Admiral Channel? If England were not separated from the Continent by English Channel it would’ve taken German tanks only a couple of weeks to roll over streets of Glasgow.” He went mad. Totally mad. He started raving about British patriotism, bravery, tenacity, professionalism, superb command, etc. etc. Admiral Channel saved Hitler, he said, as it also prevented Brits from rolling over Berlin in a week or so.

People who talk about General Frost somehow forgot that Russians are not superhuman and suffer from frost exactly the same way as Germans. Only Russians know Russians winters are cold but Germans (and French and Swedish before them) somehow forgot about it. It speaks a lot about German military professionalism.

General Frost defeated Soviets. Admiral Channel saved Brits. Colonel Tropical Rain devastated Americans in Vietnam. Mayor Heat supports Iraqi terrorists. Sergeant Nasty Balls prevented Johnny from becoming a dancing star.

PS. It’s -35F outside. Such a pity there are no enemies at the gate of Moscow. Frosts are wasted.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nice Exceptions

Sometimes I find articles that recover my trust in the freedom of press in Europe. In case with the Russian-Ukrainian gas conflict 99% of Western mainstream media were printing articles using blueprint: “Russia is imperialistic because it enslaves its neighbors with cheap gas. Russia is imperialistic because it enslaves its neighbors with market prices.” But from time to time one find out that there are some dissidents even in the UK. Here’s a articles published in The Times “Europe has left it too late to wrest back control from Russia over gas” By Carl Mortished.

It is brutal, but it is business. Gazprom’s imposition of an enforced new year energy slim on Ukraine brought a loud squeak from Kiev, followed by the sound of spanner on metal as Ukrainians tapped the Russian firm’s gas export lines to Europe.

If you think the Russians cruel for cutting off their neighbour, try the Ukrainian option when the gas bill next drops on your doormat (the price we pay in Britain, too, is about to soar). Tell the gas company that the price is unreasonable, refuse to pay and see what happens.

I can predict a flurry of indignant correspondence, the offer by the gas company of a brief period of relief and interim credit. Shortly thereafter, expect the arrival of a man in a little van to turn off your tap.

All this happened in Ukraine, except, unlike you, Ukrainians were enjoying very cheap gas, less than a quarter the price charged to most Europeans, a subsidy worth several billion dollars a year. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (a declaration of independence from Moscow that never mentioned the word “gas”) released Gazprom from the political obligation to support financially a former Soviet comrade. So it behaved like any dominant supplier of a vital commodity in huge demand — it jacked up the price, in this case fourfold.
Europeans ought to know that the gas price is a thorny problem. It was the European Union and the United States that held up negotiations over Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation, arguing that Russian industry was enjoying an unfair energy subsidy from cheap gas. Eventually, the Kremlin agreed that Gazprom would raise gradually its domestic fuel price from $27 per 1,000 cubic metres in 2004 to a still cheap $60 by 2010. It would be difficult for Washington and Brussels to argue, then, that Ukrainians should be treated with kid gloves. Do we really want cheap Ukrainian steel, subsidised by underpriced Russian gas, dumped on our markets?

Russophobes in Washington and elsewhere may find it difficult to accept, but this is business, albeit of a Godfatherish variety. It may be true that President Putin egged on the gas merchants, savouring the discomfort of the naive President Yuschenko, who a year ago thumbed his nose at the Kremlin. Amusing, perhaps, for Mr Putin to present gas bills to Ukrainians as they shuffle to the polling booth next March. But Gazprom has its eyes on something bigger than Ukraine.

It is all about pipes. The Russian company wants control of its export routes, hence its insistence that payment for gas transit fees across Ukraine would no longer be made in gas but in cash at market rates. Initial talks about bringing the transit lines into a German- Russian-Ukrainian consortium are off the table, Ukraine having realised that it would lose its last bargaining chip.

Good job, Carl! You are among the few who can see the problem with eyes not harnessed.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Who Is to Gain?

For those of my readers who wonder what kind of articles we read in Soviet newspapers some thirty years ago here’s a very good example – Jim Hoagland’s op-ed “Putin, Acting in Character” in Washington Post also known as Pravda on Potomac.
First, the premises -

National character continued to surface as the problem rolled westward. The Ukrainians -- reflexively portraying themselves as victims responding to the depredations of their more powerful neighbor -- responded by siphoning off their normal share of the gas flowing through the pipelines that cross their territory into Central and Western Europe.

And then the conclusion from it -

That inflicted the Russian cuts primarily on European Union consumers, who get about 25 percent of their natural gas supplies from Russia. Their howls of pain and outrage on Monday forced Putin to reconsider what he seems not to have considered at all: the likelihood that inflicting economic punishment could backfire on him. Russia promised to restore full supplies.

I suspect Jim Hoagland graduated cum laude with the degree in journalism from Moscow Communist Party School Higher School in 1981. I was sobbing. Russians are guilty that Ukrainians were stealing European gas. RUSSIA PROMISED TO RESTORE FULL SUPPLIES. Russia promised to compensate for the stolen gas. What an imperialistic monster!

This passage is the key -

Fearing that the Kremlin would use energy for political blackmail, Reagan focused American power on stopping the extension of Soviet gas pipelines into Western Europe. In 1982, I asked the French president about Washington's threats to sanction companies that cooperated in the project.

Jim clearly states that any cooperation between Europe and Russia is against American global interests. It was so in the Soviet times and it is so today. Keeping Europe and Russia as far away from each other is the best way to promote American world supremacy. Divide and Rule!

BBC forum on Russian Ukrainian gas war

Lawrence Jarvik cited my rants on total logical inconsistence of mainstream Western media in “analyzing” who is to blame in Russian-Ukrainian gas war. Lawrence commented

Now, if I could only find a non-Russian who saw things this way...

Actually just yesterday I found a lot of non-Russians who see things this way at BBC news forum. Click here to read it. Approximately 85-90% of non-Russian forum participants believe that Russia is right. It’s ironic since the BBC article they comment upon is definitely anti-Russian. I’m really glad to find so many people who think independently and don’t rely on Cold War “analysis”.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Juggling With Facts

It seems that Washington Post simple cannot write anything about Russia without juggling with a fact or two. In the article “Russia and Ukraine Reach Deal on Gas Peter Finn writes:

An uproar in Europe about dwindling gas supplies in the dead of winter, and pointed questions from European leaders about Russia's reliability as an energy partner, forced Gazprom on Tuesday to restore much of the natural gas it had cut off and restart negotiations with the Ukrainians.

And another passage –

Gazprom insisted it was putting enough gas into the system to meet the needs of Western Europe and accused Ukraine of stealing gas by siphoning it out of the system before it reached the country's western borders. Ukrainian officials denied they stole Russian gas. They also accused Gazprom of miscalculating the effects of its decision to reduce the volume of gas.

It was hardly surprising that Gazprom was ready that it would be accused of "miscalculating".
At every compression station on the Russian-Ukrainian border and at every station on Ukrainian- European border calculations were done by (1) SGS auditors and (2) German Ruhrgas auditors who stated without doubt that somehow 31% of natural gas was “lost” on the territory of Ukraine. On the other side Ukraine categorically refused to let independent expert control the flow and refused to state how much gas they received.
What’s more – yesterday Ukraine agreed that the gas was “lost” on its territory and agreed to pay for it. The fact that Yushchenko denied they stole Russian gas speaks about his inability to control Ukrainian gas oligarchs.

It seems that it was Gazprom that showed its reliability and Ukrainian Naftagas that demonstrated how shamefully it could steal European gas.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

On Russian Ukrainian Gas War

The way Western mainstream media “analyzed” Russian-Ukrainian natural gas crisis is the peak of idiocy. It simply incredible – a cocktail of logical inconsistencies, libel, juggling with fact and outright political propaganda. Just one “analytical” pearl that covers it all – Ukraine rightly refused to accept four times price hike as this price would ruin its economy. Does it mean that when natural gas prices would drop four times Russia would have the right to demand that Europeans pay the old price? Because such low prices would ruin Russian economy? Because well being of Russians depends on high gas prices? Because Evil West uses natural gas prices as an instrument of political blackmail? Because they want to put Putin on his knees? Would good Europeans agree with such arguments? I doubt it strongly. Actually I’m absolutely sure that Europeans would discard such arguments as stupid and silly. Somehow this perverse logic works well when it comes to Ukraine. It comes as a matter of fact that Russia must subsidize Ukrainian economy. It’s also funny that not a single “defender” of Ukrainian democracy offered a more simple way to help the Orange revolution – to compensate the variation of prices monetary not with putting more political pressure on Russian government.

Give me one good reason why Russian economy should suffer in order to promote anti-Russian “democracy” in Ukraine? Russen muessen sterbern damit Deutsche leben?