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Freedom in the World 2018 is out now: “Democracy in Crisis.”

Political rights and civil liberties around the world deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade in 2017, extending a period characterized by emboldened autocrats, beleaguered democracies, and the United States’ withdrawal from its leadership role in the global struggle for human freedom.

This makes the deep state neocon goons who run that outfit very sad.

My prediction from 2017:

Freedom House lowers United States Freedom Rating [no longer think this will happen. But as promised, carried over as-is from last set of predictions; will know in early February]: 50%

Last minute misgivings aside, this has indeed happened.

While FH still thinks Civil Rights in the US are at 1/7 (where 1 is best and 7 is worst), while Political Rights have been downgraded to 2/7, making for a total score of 1.5/7.

Why? Well, partially thanks to the Russiagate conspiracy theory;

[Electoral Process] Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign and a lack of action by the Trump administration to prevent a reoccurrence of such meddling.

Incidentally, I will note that – and my observations and analysis carry great weight, since I have been officially recognized as a human rights authority by Freedom House itself – that Russia now scores 6.5/7, down from 5.5/7 even just a few years earlier, a score I ridiculed in my 2013 article What I Learned From Freedom House.

Suffice to say that Freedom House now believes Russia is as unfree as the following polities: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burundi, Chad, China, Congo (Kinshasa), Cuba, Ethiopia, Laos, Libya, Russia, Swaziland, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

It is also apparently less free than Qatar, Iran (!), Belarus, Egypt, and a plethora of 1980s US-friendly Latin American and Asian juntas.

Crimea, which is treated as a sub territory – like Chechnya was until the late 2000s – scores 9/100 on the Aggregate Score, which puts it on a par with the Central African Republic and Libya. Apparently Freedom House believes Crimeans are as unfree as a country that is in perpetual civil war and hosts African slave markets years after the Americans were done with bombing them into freedom.

Meanwhile, the Ukraine scores a not entirely unrespectable 3.0/7, despite it hosting hundreds to thousands of political prisoners.

Finally, Turkey has declined from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” – it appears that being a record holder in numbers of imprisoned journalists started to matter more after they pivoted against US interests.

 
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For what my views are worth – which is very little, especially in China – I am always for freedom of speech.

That said, it’s worth clarifying that the late Liu Xiaobo was much more a Western nationalist than a genuine humans right activist.

“[It would take] 300 years of colonialism. In 100 years of colonialism, Hong Kong has changed to what we see today. With China being so big, of course it would require 300 years as a colony for it to be able to transform into how Hong Kong is today. I have my doubts as to whether 300 years would be enough.”

“Modernization means whole-sale westernization, choosing a human life is choosing Western way of life. Difference between Western and Chinese governing system is humane vs in-humane, there’s no middle ground… Westernization is not a choice of a nation, but a choice for the human race”

In his 1996 article entitled “Lessons from the Cold War”, Liu argues that “The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights … The major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.” He has defended U.S. policies in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, which he thinks is the fault of the “provocateur” Palestinians.

Liu also published a 2004 article in support of Bush’s war on Iraq, titled “Victory to the Anglo-American Freedom Alliance”, in which he praised the U.S.-led post-Cold War conflicts as “best examples of how war should be conducted in a modern civilization.” He wrote “regardless of the savagery of the terrorists, and regardless of the instability of Iraq’s situation, and, what’s more, regardless of how patriotic youth might despise proponents of the United States such as myself, my support for the invasion of Iraq will not waver. Just as, from the beginning, I believed that the military intervention of Britain and the United States would be victorious, I am still full of belief in the final victory of the Freedom Alliance and the democratic future of Iraq, and even if the armed forces of Britan and the United States should encounter some obstacles such as those that they are curently facing, this belief of mine will not change.” He predicted “a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq will emerge.”

His closest equivalent in Russia would probably be someone like Valeria Novodvorskaya, authoritarian neocon “liberals” who in net terms set back the cause of liberalism and human rights rather than advance them because of the negative reactions their Western cargo cultism and photo ops with John McCain provokes amongst the patriotic toiling masses.

Moreover, just like Novodvorskaya, he was a creation of not so much China itself as the sovok/Maoist system that he pretended to despise:

“I realized my entired youth and early writings had all been nurtured in hatred, violence and arrogance, or lies, cynicism and sarcasm. I knew at the time that Mao-style thinking and Cultural Revolution-style language had become ingrained in me, and my gaol had been transform myself [...]. It may talk me a lifetime to get rid of the poison.”

Unfortunately, a lifetime was not enough.

He was also a strong critic of Chinese nationalism, believing that the “abnormal nationalism” existed in China over the last century had turned from a defensive style of the “mixed feelings of inferiority, envy, complaint, and blame to an aggressive “patriotism” of “blind self-confidence, empty boasts, and pent-up hatred”. The “ultra-nationalism”, being deployed by the Chinese Communist Party since the Tiananmen protests, has also become “a euphemism for worship of violence in service of autocratic goals.”

Contra Alt Right rhetoric, China is one of the least nationalist entities on the planet. What other country legally restricted the birth rates of its indigenous majority while letting minorities have second and third children to their hearts’ content? Even Sweden has yet to “cuck” itself that hard.

Netizens on the Chinese Internet constantly lambast the PRC for its limp-wristedness in responding to foreign provocations.

However, not even all this was enough for Liu Xiaobo. So far as he was concerned, only unequal treaties, only hardcore.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: China, Human Rights, Neocons, Obituary 
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In the wake of blatantly political voting during Eurovision 2016, which Ukraine’s Crimean Tatar representative Jamala won despite losing both the popular and the jury vote, to Russia and Australia respectively, the debate has been dominated by the following two positions:

Russia supporters – It was a political song, and as such inadmissable under long-standing Eurovision rules. The voting hewed to geopolitical lines – there was a remarkable correlation between the jury votes for Russia, and the levels of antipathy towards Russia amongst their respective national elites. Indeed, prior to the event, a Eurovision source told a British paper that “the feeling is that the European Broadcasting Union know how unpopular a Russia win would be and will do everything possible to help the other favourites to victory.” As soon as the conspiracy theory proved itself true, the official NATO Twitter account sent its congratulations to Jamala just to let the point sink in. One need hardly ask what relation an organization that calls itself a defensive military alliance has to a singing contest in which the main players – Russia, Ukraine, Australia – aren’t even members in it.

West/Ukraine supporters – Haha, suck it Russia! Why don’t you give back Crimea to its rightful owners and then we’ll talk? Or according to Refat Chubarov, the head of the old Mejlis and self-appointed spokesman for all Crimean Tatars: “”Inshallah, one of the beautiful days we will gather together in a free from the Russian occupiers Crimea, in the ancient and glorious Bakhchisarai! Today another important step to this day has been taken!”

Personally, I am not interested in Eurovision, and never have been. Nor am I interested in banning songs about historical events, least of all songs that have zero relevance or bearing on modern day Russia. Moreover, Russia’s representative Sergey Lazarev had gone on record in 2014 saying that for him, Crimea remains Ukrainian, so even if there was a conspiracy to cheat Russia out of a Eurovision win, it rebounded on entirely the wrong (or right, depending on your viewpoint) person.

So normally I wouldn’t be wasting column space on this – if it hadn’t raised a much more important and serious misconception: Underlying the general Western line on Eurovision is a singular lack of concern not just for the opinions of Crimeans in general (which is already well established), but of the Crimean Tatars themselves.

The unedifying reality (for Ukrainian nationalists) is that not only did the Russo-Ukrainian majority in Crimea overwhelmingly support its return to Russia but it was not even opposed by the Crimean Tatars, a minority that has been lazily assumed by many Western commentators to be uniformly and irreconcilably opposed to Putin and Russia.

In a VCIOM opinion poll asked in February 2015, one year after the referendum in which Crimeans voted to rejoin Russia, around half of Crimean Tatars said they’d support the majority decision if the referendum was to be repeated. Only a quarter said they’d vote to remain in Ukraine. To be sure, this is significantly more than in the case of Crimean Russians and Ukrainians, amongst whom Ukraine patriots constitute a fraction close to the poll’s margin of error, but they are by no means a majority or even a plurality.

vciom-poll-crimean-tatars-referendum-2014

Now to be sure one might rejoinder that VCIOM is a state-owned polling firm and as such can’t be relied upon to present an objective picture of Crimean Tatar opinon. Let us then turn to that famous Kremlin mouthpiece, The Washington Post, and its political science bloggers Gerard Toal and John O’Loughlin writing in January 2015. On the basis of surveys they conducted in Crimea in December 2014, they found that a slightly more Crimean Tatars approved of Putin than disapproved of him; for comparison, less than 10% of them liked Obama, while almost 60% of them “disliked” or “strongly disliked” him.

crimean-tatar-political-opinions

Although this question was not strictly about the status of Crimea, it is unlikely, to say the least, that a people who viewed Russia’s actions as a brutal annexation would be willing to reward the man most responsible for it with a positive net approval rating.

EDIT 2016/05/18: As it turns out, in a Reddit discussion subsequent to the publication of this post, I was alerted to the fact that the authors had followed up their Washington Post article with a post at Open Democracy in March 2015, in which they presented the responses of the major Crimean ethnic groups – Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tatars – to a question about whether the decision of the Crimean authorities to join Russia was correct or not. As you can see from the graph, slightly more than half of the Crimean Tatars replied that joining Russia was “generally” or “absolutely” the right decision, which matches the 49%-in-support results of the above VCIOM poll perfectly.

poll-crimean-tatars-support-joining-russia

Incidentally, these figures are backed up by anecdotal evidence.

The Dutch Russia expert Nils van der Vegte was closely following the Crimea situation in early 2014 and around the time of the referendum informed his Twitter followers that “about 50% of the Tartars want to become part of Russia” and that they are split “20% pro-UKR, 20% pro-RU, and the rest are apolitical.” The exactitude with which subsequent polls would confirm Nils van der Vegte’s impressions is nothing short of remarkable.

But surely things could have changed in the past year to make the Crimean Tatars suddenly hate Russia. What about all the persecutions and the disbanding of the Mejlis, the main representative body of the Crimean Tatars?

Well, let’s talk about that. As part of Ukraine’s project to bind a restive Crimea to itself, the Mejlis was selectively filtered to be universally loyal to Ukraine to the point where its political inclinations came to fundamentally diverge from those of its supposed constituents. This was made most plainly evident in November 2015, when Mejlis-affiliated “activists” cut the light to 90% of the world’s Crimean Tatars for a PR stunt presented as an “energy blockade” of Crimea. This, unsurprisingly, was not all that popular amongst Crimean Tatars themselves, according to that other great Russophile propaganda organ The Kyiv Post:

Sure, one resident said, Putin may not be the best leader, but he at least kept his word – he had sent generators to the peninsula to save the day. The Ukrainian authorities, on the other hand, spent months railing against numerous human rights abuses on the peninsula … only to commit their own human rights violation in response.

It is in this context that Russia’s banning of the Mejlis has to be viewed – an organization that owes its loyalty to a foreign power and which despite having zero democratic legitimacy, and not only pretends to not only speak for every Crimean Tatar but engages in quasi-terrorist actions against Russia and ultimately its own people.

Set against that, the Crimean Tatar language has been made one of three official languages in the Republic of Crimea – a status that it never enjoyed in unitary Ukraine. This was part of a package of reforms that guaranteed and expanded their political and civil rights as an ethnic minority.

They have also been able to share in the steep improvement in living standards that all Crimeans have enjoyed since joining Russia. Western headlines such as “The Misery and Terror of Life Under Putin in Crimea” regardless, economic statistics indicate that wages have stayed well ahead of inflation; not only did Crimeans escape the vast contraction in living standards that occured in Poroshenko’s Ukraine, but the introduction of Russian-grade wages and pension payments even allowed them to bypass the (much more minor) recession taking place in Russia itself. Although this development has been very mystifying to some, such as the economist Dave Dalton and “Crimea expert” Ellie Knott both of whom have insisted that the economic statistics are falsified – as people who dislike dislike data that fails to reflect badly on Russia are wont to do – it is a reasonable and logical enough occurence for people familiar with the very considerable gap between Russia’s and Ukraine’s GDP per capita and the concept of “convergence” in economics.

All things considered, it is highly unlikely that Crimean Tatars have sharply turned against Russia in the past year, however much the neocons, the Poroshenko regime, and their pet Mejlis might wish it were otherwise.

In the spirit of tolerance and social justice that Eurovision represents, I would suggest they check their privilege and stop appropriating the voices of Crimean Tatars.

On a less hyperbolic note, I am certainly not trying to argue Crimean Tatars are very enthusiastic and happy about Crimea’s return to Russia (though that should be obvious enough from the data). But nor are they particularly aggrieved about it; that describes a very modest minority, while the majority are basically apathetic (and another small minority are volubly Russophilic). Any talk of using them as a fifth column, let alone a partisan underground, belongs to the realm of fantasy – which is irresponsible but understandable, since their emigre Mejlis politicians have nothing else to offer.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Crimean Tatars, Human Rights, Russia, Ukraine 
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This is an argument that is doing the rounds on the Internet after Iran’s condemnation of the Saudi execution of 47 people (including at least 4 “politicals”) to mark the New Year and the ensuing breakdown in Iranian-Saudi diplomatic ties.

After all, they say, Iran executes a lot more people than the Saudis.

saudi-iran-executions

 

One example is Peter Tatchell, the British LGBT campaigner, whose ideas of promoting gay rights in the Middle East center around the toppling of its secular autocrats (the only significant political forces there who aren’t much interested in throwing homosexuals off the top of high buildings).

There are more than a few problems with such simplistic soundbytes.

The most obvious one is the difference in population: Iran – 77 million; Saudi Arabia – 29 million. Adjustment for capita values alone narrows the execution disparity from sixfold to just a bit more than twofold.

Second, and even more significantly, Iran is a considerably more criminalized society than Saudi Arabia. Its homicide rate of 3.9/100,000 is 5 times bigger than Saudi Arabia’s homicide rate of 0.8/100,000. Ipso facto, as states that both prescribe the death penalty for murder, Iran will have many more executions just on that account, by an order of magnitude or so. Since the world’s two largest developed democracies – the US and Japan – both have the death penalty for murder on the books, you can’t view this as uniquely barbaric.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran also has a massive heroin epidemic; by some measures, the world’s largest. By far the largest share of Iran’s executions are in fact related to drug trafficking. To be sure executing people for drug traficking might be viewed as overly draconian in liberal Western societies, but it is still not exceptional by developed world standards – as a matter of fact, Singapore’s drug traficking laws are if anything more hardline than Iran’s. In any case it is not political.

Here is a breakdown of Iranian executions in 2015 by type of crime according to a resource that tries to tally unregistered executions and is not friendly to Iran by any stretch of the imagination.

iran-executions-2015

The vast majority of executions are for “normal” capital crimes like murder, armed robbery, rape, and drug traficking that are not atypical for tough law & order-type states. One guy was executed for corruption (“peculation”).

Of the 22 Iranian executions that touched on political matters, six of them were for “assassination,” and one was for “kidnapping,” so they can be reasonably excluded. Of the remaining 15 cases, one was marked “political,” and 14 were marked Moharebeh (“war against God”) of which 5 were for belonging to armed separatist groups. These are also the specific cases which make Iran truly distinct in a human rights sense from typical liberal democracies, which it shares in common with Saudi Arabia, and with which the figure of 47 executed in Saudi Arabia several days ago should actually legitimately be compared to.

This is not to imply that Iran is awesome, but it is important to keep things in perspective – no, Iran is not worse than Saudi Arabia from a human rights perspective when adjusted for demographic and criminological factors, and probably significantly better. And far more importantly, it has now largely ceased trying to export its deranged ideology to more civilized parts of the world, while Saudi funded madrassas and mosques promote hate from Luton to Lahore. It is necessary to repeat these things so long as they help to subvert the propaganda efforts of Western neocon elites who will be happy to grasp at any straw if it helps them bring down Assad.

 
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In the past few days there has been a sort of alt-singularity as Putin and Trump exchanged compliments, as one might think befits mature heads of powerful states (one actual, one potential). Naturally, one of these men has been taking a lot of heat for it from all the empty suit punditry and the Cuck-in-Chief himself:

Far from apologizing and backing down, Trump has instead doubled down. This is really encouraging, because it suggest that his opposition to invade/invite the world is borne of genuine convictions, and that increasing numbers of Americans are beginning to wake up to the scams the elites run on them. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the facts are solidly, incontrovertibly on Trump’s side, regardless of how much the presstitutes might hate it.

(1)

Putin’s approval rating, from National Review:

Donald Trump: Well, he is a strong leader! What am I gonna say, he’s a weak leader? He’s making mincemeat out of our president. He’s a strong leader. You would like me to call him a weak leader. He’s a strong leader, and I’m not gonna be politically correct. He’s got an 80 percent approval rating done by pollsters, from I understand this country, okay? So it’s not even done by his pollsters, he’s very popular within Russia!

That is correct. A Gallup survey conducted in 2014 showed Putin with an approval rating of 83%. The latest poll from the (liberal-leaning) Levada Center gives him 85%. A recent study by four American political scientists confirm his genuinely high level of support at around 80% or more.

(2)

No evidence Putin kills journalists, from Breitbart:

Stephanopoulos said, “Here’s what Mitt Romney tweeted, ‘there’s an important distinction, thug Putin kills journalists and opponents our presidents kill terrorists and enemy combatants.”

Trump said, “Does he know for a fact? It’s possible that he does. I don’t think it’s been proven. I’m not trying to be –”

Stephanopoulos interjected, “Allegations he was behind,” then Trump continued, “Sure, there are allegations. I have read those allegations over the years. But nobody’s proven that he’s killed anybody … If he has killed reporters, that’s terrible. He’s always denied it. He’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody. You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty at least in our country. He’s not proven that he’s killed reporters.” …

Trump answered, “I’m not saying anything. I’m saying when you say a man killed reporters I’d like you to prove it.I have never seen any information or any proof that he killed reporters, George, you’re just saying, he killed reporters. You and other people killed reporters. I don’t know that. I haven’t seen it. If he did it’s despicable. It’s horrible. You’re making these accusations, I don’t see any proof. By the way, he totally denied that he killed reports are. He totally denied it.”

This particularly enraged Establishment commentators, but once again Trump is completely right and cannot be stumped. There is absolutely no evidence that Putin ordered the assassination of a single journalist.

Moreover, according to figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists – hardly a bastion of Putin apologists – journalist murders have plummeted in Russia under the reign of the Dark Lord of the Kremlin relative to the “free” and “democratic” 1990s when the US was best buddies with Russia, or at least the oligarchs pillaging it, and for that matter whacking any journalists who dared report on their activities.

Literally MORE Russian journalists were murdered for their reporting under 8 years of Yeltsin than 15 years under Putin.

cpj-journalists-killed-in-russia-1992-to-2015

Note also the following:

(1) Russia has a lot of journalists – according to UN data, it has twice the number of newspaper journalists as the US (despite having half the population). Adjusted for per capita rates, Russian journalists have always been far safer than any number of “democratic” countries that get on with the US such as Brazil, Mexico, India, Colombia. Even in the 1990s. And this is despite the fact that under Putin, the CPJ has been actively trying to tie any murder of a Russian journalist it feasibly could to his or her professional activity, even where such connections are questionable or altogether non-existent. According to a 2008 analysis by blogger Fedia Kriukov, considerably more than 50% of the Russian journalists the CPJ claims were killed for their professional activities – that is, angering business interests, local authorities, etc. – actually turned out to be wholly or partially falsified. Note that Putin doesn’t even begin to enter into this.

(2) As of this year, Russia imprisons only one journalist. It usually veers in the 0-1 range. Although even one is too much, but within the 1-3 range that even developed Western countries occasionally stray into. That consistently includes Israel; Italy in 2013; and for that matter, the US itself in 2013, though for some reason, the CPJ doesn’t count Barret Brown. (Another curious exception is Ukraine and the case of Ruslan Kotsaba, who is in prison and almost a year on still awaiting trial for calling the war in the Donbass a civil war and expressing his opposition to conscription). In contrast, Erdogan’s Turkey imprisons 14 journalists (an improvement from 40 in 2013). Of course that minor matter didn’t stop Jeb Bush from enthusiastically affirming his support for them when the Turks knocked a Russian warplane out of the sky for an accidental infringement of their territory for a few seconds.

On Russia as on most other things Trump steers a blazing path through Establishment lies. If he or his aides read Steve Sailer, as seems to be within the realm of possibility, it is perhaps not an entirely empty fancy of mine that they might have skimmed over a bit of my stuff as well.

 
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In Western popular culture, and to be honest most of the rest of the world, Kazakhstan is most commonly associated with Borat and his putative homeland of slapstick provincial troglodytes. And following Nursultan Nazarbayev’s 98% win in the recent elections, and his reaction to it

I apologize if these numbers are unacceptable for the super democratic countries but there was nothing I could do.

… the casual observer might feel that it has some elements of truth to it. He would be wrong, and in reality, Nazarbayev has nothing to apologize for.

To be sure, the recent Kazakh elections were neither free and fair, and his 98% win was completely made up – no concrete voter numbers were given, just the percentages of turnout per hour by region, which fluctuated in statistically impossible ways. But there’s no question that Nazarbayev would have won regardless. Western opinion pollsters have consistently established his approval ratings at around 80%-90% of the population, which is not that surprising considering the immense progress the country has seen under his stewardship.

It is not at all obvious that it should have been this way in 1992. On the plus side, it had ample oil reserves, though as yet little production. But it was also landlocked, afflicted with the structural economic distortions common to the whole ex-Soviet space, and most worryingly, riven by pent up ethnic divisions and historical resentments. There was no particular good reason why Kazakhstan should not have pursued a politics of vendetta against Russian speakers and its Russian legacy; all the prerequisites for it were there.

Though Cossack penetration dates back centuries, much of what is now northern Kazakhstan had only been settled by Russians (and Ukrainians) from the 1880-90s, when the area was first opened to mass cultivation; this demographic shift was given a further impetus under the Soviet industrialization campaign, which saw the appearance of major new cities like Karaganda on the steppes. A traditionally nomadic people, the forced settling of the Kazakhs into the new cities and farms in the early 1930s might have destroyed as much as a quarter of their population. As with Ukraine, however, it was only during the Soviet period that the Kazakhs truly came into their own as a modern nation, to the extent that there was mass rioting on the part of Kazakh nationalists when Gorbachev appointed an ethnic Russian to head Kazakhstan for the first and last time from 1986 to 1989. What if one of those “activists” had come to power in 1992?

Well, assume that the Russian military would not have set up military surplus stores near the Kazakh borders, and ended up annexing northern Kazakhstan and reducing it to a rump state around Almaty. At a minimum, even more Russians would have emigrated from Kazakhstan in the 1990s, whose population dropped from a peak of 6.3 million in 1989 to 3.8 million by the time of the 2009 Census. At first glance, this might appear to be a good thing, at least from the Kazakh nationalist perspective. The problem is that they would have also lost most of the people staffing critical technical positions in industry; according to a joint study by Richard Lynn and Andrey Grigoriev, the mean ethnic Kazakh IQ is around 82, which would make the Eastern Slavs there a kind of cognitive elite.

The Russians have a mean British IQ of 103.2 and comprise 23.6% of the population; the Kazakhs have a mean British IQ of 82.2 and comprise 63.1% of the population; the Uzbeks have a mean British IQ of 86.0 and comprise 2.8% of the population. Weighting the IQs of these three groups by their percentages of the population gives an IQ of 87.9 for Kazakhstan. These three groups comprise 89.5% of the population. The remaining 10.5% consists of Chuvash, Tartars, Uyghurs and other south Asian peoples. Early studies of intelligence in the former Soviet Union found that these peoples had lower IQs than ethnic Russians (Grigoriev & Lynn, 2009). Their IQ is likely about the same as that of Kazakhs (82.2). On this assumption, adding this fourth group and weighting the IQs of the four groups by their percentages of the population gives an IQ of 87.3 for Kazakhstan.

Without them, their GDP per capita (PPP adjusted in 2011 US dollars) would have likely been closer to that of Uzbekistan ($5,000 and 5% Russian population share) or Tajikistan ($2,500 and 1% Russian population share) than to their current $22,000, which is similar to that of Russia, Poland, and the Baltic states.

kazakhstan-gdp-growth-1990-2014

Above is a graph of GDP per capita (PPP adjusted in 2011 US dollars) in some of the biggest and most representative former Soviet states. Since independence, Kazakhstan has virtually converged with Russia – a not unimpressive achievement, taking into account the population cognitive gap which if anything widened with the large-scale emigration of Russians, Ukrainians, and Germans – and has even overtaken Latvia, one of those Baltic “star reformers” which joined the EU and NATO and gets good scores all the usual democracy and economic freedom NGOs. It has also left Ukraine in the dust, it being evident that hard work and good management are for some reason better for economic growth than quacking about European values and having color revolutions every decade.

kazakhstan-gdp-growth-relative-1990-2014

And here is another graph, showing Kazakhstan’s performance relative to its position in 1990. Barring Belarus, yet another unlikely success story, it has performed better than both Latvia and Russia, and incomparably better than Ukraine. No wonder that Nazarbayev has 90% approval ratings!

What is the secret of his, and Kazakhstan’s, undeniable success?

In short, it is pragmatism over ideology. The narrow-minded nationalist would have demanded Russians learn Kazakh or go home. Nazabayev made Kazakh the official language, but at the same time denoted Russian as “the language of interethnic communication,” a status not unlike that of English in Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore. Incidentally, and unsurprisingly, Nazarbayev is a big fan of LKY, naming him as one two “eminent founding statesmen” (the other is Charles de Gaulle), and his policies reflect these beliefs: Low level economic liberalism, high level state industrial policy and financial management (the oil windfall has not been squandered, but stored up in an investment fund), and a commitment to intelligent authoritarian leadership that does not however overspill into the tyrannical brutality that you see in neighboring Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan.

The middle class will not emerge without a sustainable economy which cannot exist without a sufficiently strong and wise leadership capable of getting the country out of free-fall.

Unlike LKY’s Singapore, corruption is pretty high; then again, pretty much no strongman apart from LKY ever managed to solve this. Even so, corruption in Kazakhstan is managed and contained – i.e., it is a “known quantity” – so it does not really scare away businessmen and foreign investors. Revolutions bring with them redivisions of the spoils, so elites are very hesitant to commit to long-term development projects in unstable countries like Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan; instead, their incentives are to maximize extraction in the here and now, before new people take their places at the trough. In stable authoritarian polities like Kazakhstan or Belarus, the people in power have more of an incentive to promote development because they have a reasonable degree of confidence that they will still have access to a what would be a much bigger pie a decade hence. It’s basically Mancur Olson’s theory about “roving bandits” vs. “stationary bandits” – the latter tend to be much better, because they are invested in the longterm success of their demesnes.

This pragmatism extends to foreign relations. Kazakhstan is on good terms with pretty much everyone who matters. It is in good standing with Russia; Nazarbayev was, in fact, the first post-Soviet leader to propose something along the lines of the Eurasian Union. But he is no Russian stooge either. Separatism and even talk of separatism are harshly suppressed, and all the more remarkably, this was done with Russia’s willing acquiesence: Eduard Limonov, a National Bolshevik and once Putin opponent, served two years in prison for allegedly trying to raise an army to “liberate” north Kazakhstan in the early 2000s. The capital was moved from Almaty to ethnic majority Russian Astana in the north, which gave Russians more of a reason to feel invested in Kazakh statehood while at the same time filling up a strategic city with ethnic Kazakhs to the extent that it now has a big Kazakh majority. This is a microcosm of changes taking place across the country as a whole, as highly fertile Kazakhs push up their share of the population back to where it was before Stolypin’s time. Over the longterm – i.e., another generation or so – this will likely solve Kazakhstan’s demographic/ethnic Russian northern majority problem in its entirety.

As the incarnadine cherry on the cream and custard pie, this careful equidistancing between Russia and the West, and his economic liberalism, has made Western elites very much appreciative of Nazarbayev. No American NGOs bother pushing for patently ridiculous concepts like free elections, or human rights, while holding them near sacrosanct in less wholesome countries, like Russia or Ukraine.

Here is Dick Cheney in 2006:

A day after scolding Russia for retreating on democracy, Vice President Cheney flew to oil-rich Kazakhstan yesterday and lavished praise on the autocratic leader of a former Soviet republic where opposition parties have been banned, newspapers shut down and advocacy groups intimidated.

Cheney stood next to Kazakhstan’s longtime president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in a marble hall of the presidential palace in Astana and congratulated him on his country’s vibrant economy. His tone was markedly different from the tenor of his remarks about Russia a day earlier during a stop in Lithuania, when he accused Moscow of violating its citizens’ rights and using “intimidation or blackmail” against neighbors.

In the course of a 395-word opening statement, according to a White House transcript, Cheney pronounced himself “delighted” to be a guest of Nazarbayev, saying “I consider him my friend” and adding that “the United States is proud to count Kazakhstan as a friend.” Cheney professed “great respect” for Nazarbayev and said that “we are proud to be your strategic partner” and look forward “to continued friendship between us.”

Asked about Kazakhstan’s human rights record, he expressed “admiration for all that’s been accomplished here in Kazakhstan” and confidence that it will continue.

Up to 70 striking oil workers killed in 2011.

Who cares? Who even knows about the Zhanaozen massacre? Of course the Russian protesters who threw rocks at the police in the Russian Bolotnaya protests in May 2012 were a much more grievous violation of human rights. After all, Brussels, Washington, and Freedom House all tell us so, and surely they wouldn’t be doing it anything but the most altruistic and humanistic reasons?

Just a couple of days ago in Salon: Our stunted democracy could learn from Kazakhstan: Another Bush/Clinton race doesn’t look free to the rest of the world. There are of course many things Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan has gotten right, but democracy isn’t one of them… unless you wish to abolish it entirely.

 
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I have no idea what possessed Putin.

Did he think that it would spare him Western criticism in the run-up to Sochi? Of course not. Khodorkovsky was on the back-burner. LGBT rights are West’s stick du jour to beat up on Russia.

Did he think it would improve the legal and investment climate? I sure hope not, because it would mean he is an idiot who laps up the propaganda of those who loathe him.

Did he think it would reflect well on him? Journalists are rushing in to confirm that Putin’s pardon is just as arbitrary as the original indictment. (They have a point – about the former). Even pundits who once excoriated Khodorkovsky as the criminal he was, such as Mark Adomanis, now talk of the “trumped-up charges of fraud and tax-evasion” that put him in prison.

Did he think Khodorkovsky would shut up in gratitude? There was no admission of guilt involve, and the Menatep bandit has begun agitating from his 5-star Berlin hotel already.

Russia desperately needs more Westernization. In any truly civilized country, YUKOS’ campaign of tax evasion and contract killings would have ensured Khodorkovsky would have been locked up and the keys thrown away forever.

Instead, he will busy himself with plotting intrigues, as oligarchs are wont to do in banana republics. The only difference is that Russia doesn’t have bananas.

12/22/2013 EDIT: Alexander Mercouris has penned what I consider to be the defining article on this: Khodorkovsky – The End of the Affair? Go, read.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Crime, Human Rights, Law, Politics 
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james-kirchikHe got invited to RT to talk about Bradley Manning and his impending sentence. The gay journalist James Kirchick got invited to argue his viewpoint that Manning wa a traitor who deserved to be put to death. (I wonder what his newfound liberal groupies would make of that?).

Instead, he used his airtime to go off on a tirade about how Russia has criminalized homosexuality (no, it hasn’t – but who cares about facts?) and to recycle all the canards about how RT is a Kremlin mouthpiece.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoSIpeTsXbQ

His rant lasted a whole two minutes, before RT’s host – having failed to steer Kirchick back on topic – finally kicked him off the channel. After rudely hijacking the show, the troll even had the gall to complain that RT wouldn’t pay for his taxi ride back.

There are many things one can say of this episode. One can highlight Kirchik’s sheer rudeness, chutzpah, and presumption. One can point out that Kirchick is only preaching to his own crowd here, while doing his utmost to validate the stereotype of the hystrionic homo as far as people who don’t much like homosexuals and need to be persuaded otherwise – that is, the majority of Russians – are concerned. Alternatively, one can note that Nikolai Alexeyev, the leader of Russia’s LGBT movement, basically calls him out as a hypocrite and then pens an article for RT with his own, far more nuanced views on the challenges facing the LGBT community in Russia.

I for one will note that if cutting off someone for incessant trolling makes RT a Kremlin mouthpiece, then…

… what does this make the “free” Western media?

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Earlier today, Navalny received a custodial sentence of five years for the theft of 15 million rubles ($500,000) worth of timber from Kirovles.

It is simply not true to say that there was “no case” against Navalny, as the Western and Russian liberal media insists on doing. There is wiretap evidence and witness testimony that Navalny and Ofitserov exploited their official positions to rewrite Kirovles supply contracts so as to have them go through VLK, a shell company that took a signicant cut for its “services.” It is also a fact that VLK was indebted to Kirovles, the state lumber company that was allegedly defrauded, to the tune of around $100,000 upon the latter’s bankruptcy.

But that, at worst, would fall under Article 165 (“causing financial loss by way of deceit and misuse of trust”), and not under Article 160 (“theft”) on which Navalny was actually convicted. At the most elementary level, how can one “steal” $5 from someone, and yet only owe him $1 at the end of it? The evidence in support of this is that Navalny actually was charged in relation to Kirovles TWICE before, but under Article 165; it was also dropped twice, which perhaps indicates that the prosecutors didn’t believe the evidence was sufficient to secure a conviction. Until, presumably, a certain political decision was taken to go ahead with the prosecution after all. A decision that Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin himself all but admitted: “But if the person in question draws attention to himself with all his strength, or we can even say, teases authority – saying that oh I am so white and flawless, then the interest in his past increases and the process of exposing it to the sunlight, understandably, accelerates.

So let’s put aside concerns about legal process, morality, and justice for a moment. Let’s even assume Navalny really was guilty of “causing financial loss by way of deceit and misuse of trust.” In short, let’s posit the most favorable possible interpretation and frame of reference as far as the Kremlin was concerned. What, exactly, does it gain by jailing Navalny on an article (“theft”) that couldn’t possibly have applied to him?

Well, let’s make a list, shall we.

(1) Proudly confirm Russia as a country where legal nihilism reigns. With Khodorkovsky, it was eminently credible that he was guilty of the charges made against him – an assessment later confirmed by the ECHR, even if neocons, faux-leftist liberals, and political shysters posing as human rights lawyers like Robert Amsterdam begged to differ. No such “defense” applies to Navalny’s conviction. Not to mention, of course, the conflict of interest involved in the IC deciding to prosecute Navalny – for real, this time – soon after he accused its head Alexander Bastrykin of having owned properties in the Czech Republic.

(2) By even further delegitimizing the Russian courts system – as if it didn’t have enough image problems already – it also undermines any other prosecutions the state might carry out. There is video evidence of Urlashov taking a bribe (even the NYT acknowledges that the case is probably legitimate); of the Bolotnaya “political prisoners” hurling stones and beating up policemen; of Udaltsov planning riots and taking money from a pro-Saakashvili Georgian. The Pussy Riot sentence of two years may have been extremely harsh, but it was undoubtedly legal; there was, furthermore, a roughly analogous case in Germany in 2006. But thanks to the Navalny mess, these cases are all going to be even further discredited together with the judicial system in general.

(3) There appears a man with a Messiah complex who claims he has “millions” behind him, but in reality enjoys the support of no more than 10% of Muscovites (and 5% of the entire country). He can’t gather enough signatures to pass the municipal filter required to participate in the Moscow elections, so you order your United Russia flunkies to help him out. He gets registered. You now have the prospect of a truly “competitive” election in in the capital – thanks to Navalny’s participation – but one that you are nonetheless all but guaranteed to win. Surely this would calm down the “hamsters.” And then, “BAHM!” Wave goodbye to that new aura of legitimacy you’d hoping for. In fact, you are now regarded by some people as a manipulative scumbag for “helping” Navalny in the first place. That is the story of Sobyanin. One almost feels sorry for him.

(4) Make a martyr out of a man with 5% approval ratings, who’s popularity has been decreasing even as his name recognition spread through Russia. It couldn’t matter less whether or not he “deserves” that status. The reality is that the PR efforts to portray Navalny as a timber chief have been entirely unsuccessful – not that surprising, really, considering the Kremlin cares so little for its image that it left its propaganda to bloggers like Stanislav Apetyan – and as such, according to opinion polls, more than half the Russian population views the Navalny case as politically motivated.

Navalny is not tainted by the mass theft and thuggery of the 1990s. He is a member of the upper middle-class who drives a fairly modest car, lives in a good but not luxurious apartment, and has a lot of things to say about corruption and bureaucrats. Yes, not all those things might be true; and you are also free not to like him for his “nationalism,” or any one of his various other political stances. Nonetheless, the fact remains that as far as most normal Russians are concerned he still cuts a vastly more sympathetic figure than Khodorkovsky, the first “martyr” of the non-systemic opposition.

(5) The street opposition has split into squabbling groups and petty infighting. The Coordinating Council has become something of a byword for ineffectiveness and political impotence, with its recent chief Treasurer suspected of stealing its funds and making off with the proceeds. So what’s a great idea? Give them something to rally over!

(6) Attendance at the Moscow protests has been dying down ever since the rally at Prospekt Sakharova in February 2012. It entered freefall since the May 6th riots, when the protesters lost a lot of goodwill from the population by getting into scuffles with the police. So what’s a great idea? Jail Navalny and incite them all out into the streets again! Why not, LOL?

(7) In recent weeks, Russia got the image and propaganda coup of a decade thanks to Snowden’s decision to stay and seek asylum there. It was entirely undeserved, of course, given the status of whistle-blower protections in Russia; that is to say, they don’t exist. Though granted, Russia was was singularly sluggish about taking full opportunity of the windfall, e.g. aggressively positioning itself as a safe haven for Western dissidents. After all, “our relations shall not be the hostage of Snowden or other US or Russia extravagant persons,” according to certain influential people linked to the Russian government.

But he might not have worried overmuch. Sandwiched as Snowden was in between the conviction of Magnitsky’s corpse and the jailing of Navalny, he might as well not have existed so far as the media narrative will be concerned in the next months. He will become one of those “extravagant persons” at the center of US – Russia relations, the latest in a long line that stretches back to encompass Magnitsky, and before him, Litvinenko, Khodorkovsky, and Berezovsky (funny, and sad, how that list progressively goes from oligarchs, to their employees, and finally to just an ordinary citizen). Defending the Kremlin’s clawback of the state from the oligarchs in the early 2000s was reasonable and proper. As regards Litvinenko and Magnitsky, the situation was a lot less clearcut, but still far too murky to make any clear judgment one way or the other. With Navalny, however, the Kremlin is now clearly in the wrong.

And so it will be Navalny! – Navalny! – Navalny! for the next months and years to come, in the absence of an (improbable) acquittal in an appeal. And unlike in earlier years, no longer unjustifiably so.

(8) But what about Serdyukov? So unfair *wah* *wah* *wah*. Well, look, unless you suffer from some infantile disorder of idealism, you will know that society is corrupt, hierarchic, and unfair. In some countries the law levels the playing field to a greater or lesser extent. In Russia, the emphasis is very much on the latter: “For my friends – everything; for my enemies – the law” might be cliche, but it is impossible to deny its continued relevance. It sometimes seems that the more you steal in Russia, the better your chances of getting away with it. Ordinary bureaucrats who have stolen orders of magnitude more than Navalny – even if we take at face value the $500,000 he was convicted of – typically get suspended sentences for their efforts (gazeta.ru has compiled a detailed list). Akhmed Bilalov, the fall guy for the Olympics cost overruns that made them the most expensive games in history, was “allowed” to emigrate to Britain. Former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov walks freely, commuting between Moscow and his mini-palace in London. The Oboronservis scandal that developed under former Defense Minsiter Serdyukov, where losses are at more than $100 million and counting – that’s more than 200 times greater than the most than the least favorable possible accounting of Navalny’s demeanours – remains at liberty as a mere suspect to the case, while his lover Elena Vasilieva who did the dirty work is under “house arrest” in a central Moscow luxury apartment with 13 rooms, and gets three hours off per day to do boutique shopping. This is all not so much even a question of “morality” as of basic legitimacy and whether such a state of affairs will continue to be tolerated indefinitely. When Putin was asked why Serdyukov wasn’t in jail at his annual Q&A by a Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter, he replied, “We don’t want another 1937.” Because, of course, imprisoning types like Luzhkov and Serdyukov for corruption is totally equivalent to rounding up and shooting hundreds of thousands of saboteurs and spies. At this rate, sooner rather later people will be DEMANDING a new 1937.

(9) Even the Prosecutor-General Office thinks Navalny’s immediate jailing is way over the top and uncalled for! So on top of reigniting opposition protests, the conviction may well have provoked an inter-siloviki scuffle as well.

(10) Last, and admittedly least, a note to the Kremlin: If you ever end up following La Russophobe’s advice, chances are it’s time to stop, and reconsider.

Power summary: If the Kremlin wanted to provoke instability both within the elite and without, invite contempt from broad swathes of otherwise neutral or apathetic social groups, and sully its image both internally and in the West for many more years to come, then jailing Navalny was a great idea. It could have hardly have chosen a better way to go about it.

The verdict is worse than petty and hypocritical. It’s incredibly stupid. I do not think it was so much a “Kremlin” decision as an initiative of the siloviki around Bastrykin, the IC, and Sechin (suffice to say that even the Prosecutor-General’s Office isn’t all that happy about it). One need hardly mention the liberal/technocratic wing of the Kremlin, which actually helped Navalny get past the municipal filter to participate in Moscow’s elections. Why would Sobyanin do that intentionally, just to come off looking as a total scumbag when Navalny was jailed and arrested? Sobyanin doesn’t need it. Even Putin doesn’t need it! As he himself might say, jailing Navalny is a lot like shearing a pig: Little fur, and a lot of squealing.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Though I know I missed the train on this news, one point in particular is worth drawing attention to as regard the stabbing of (the half-Tatar) paratrooper Ruslan Morzhanov by a 16-year-old ethnic Chechen, which incited the small town of Pugachev to stage a peaceful mini-revolt against the feds.

The town has seen similar tragedies before. A brutal murder was committed in very similar circumstances in 2010. Twenty four-year-old Chechen Beslan Mudayev fatally stabbed twenty eight-year-old Nikolai Veshnyakov five times during a fight that broke out right in front of Zolotaya Bochka. Locals claim that the Chechen community, consisting of a dozen families in total, has been harassing the local population. According to official statistics, there are about 80 Chechens living in various parts of the Pugachev District.

So. Two murders, committed within the space of 3 years, from a group of 80 people belonging to a “repressed” minority. The town’s population is a mere 41,000 and in such places, a lot of people do know each other.

I would be angry as well. Moreover, I would feel unsafe. If 2.5% of a certain group are murderers, then complaints that many of the rest are thugs in general become all that more credible (at least for minds not dominated by political correctness). The popular demands made by Pugachev residents to expel those local Chechens that are not employed or registered in their city – that is, merely enforcing the law on residence, as opposed to the ethnic cleansing it has been portrayed as – though perhaps quite harsh, is not obviously unreasonable given the horrifying circumstances.

One can have some issues with Navalny, co-signing a petition condemning the federal government’s limp-wristedness on ethnic crime, its opposition to legalizing self-defense isn’t one of them, and its at times heavy-handed response to airings of legitimate ethnic Russian grievances isn’t one of them.

The Western media doesn’t see it that way of course. To left/liberals, the small-town Russian protesters are chauvinist troglodytes – with Putin at times even held responsible for this “xenophobia,” despite the government’s avowed opposition to all expressions of russki nationalism; while the conservatives/neocons salivate over the prospect that the Pugachev Affair is but the prelude to Russia’s disintegration.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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(1) Just as with Manning, it is beyond dispute that Snowden broke US law. As such, the US government is perfectly entitled to try to apprehend him (on its own soil), request his extradition, and prosecute him. This is quite perpendicular to whether Snowden’s leaks were morally “justified” or not. In some sense, they were. In my opinion, privacy as a “right” will go the way of the dodo whatever happens due to the very nature of modern technological progress. The best thing civil society can do in response is to make the lack of privacy symmetrical by likewise exposing the inner workings of powerful governments, the increasing numbers of private individuals connected to the government who enjoy its privileges but are not even nominally accountable like democratic governments, and corporations. In this sense, I agree with Assange’s philosophy. That said, it’s perfectly understandable that the government as an institution begs to differ and that it has the legal power – not to mention the approval of 54% of Americans – to prosecute Snowden. But!

(2) It preferably has to do so in a way that’s classy and follows the strictures of international law. As I pointed out in my blog post on DR and article for Voice of Russia, treason is not a crime like murder, rape, terrorism, or theft which are pretty much universally reviled (though even these categories have exceptions: Luis Posada Carriles – terrorism; Pavel Borodin – large-scale financial fraud). One country’s traitor is another country’s hero; one man’s turncoat is another man’s whistle-blower. So throwing hysterics about Russia’s refusal to extradite Snowden isn’t so even so much blithely arrogant as it is stupid and cringe-worthy. Would a Russian Snowden, let’s call him Eddie Snegirev, be extradited back to Moscow should he turn up at JFK Airport? To even ask the question is answer it with a mocking, bemused grin on one’s face.

(3) It is true that the US, as a superpower, can afford to flout international law more than any other country. There is no point in non-Americans whining about it – that’s just the way of the jungle world that is international relations. Nonetheless, it can be argued that making explicit just to what extent the European countries are its stooges and vassals – as unambiguously revealed in the coordination between France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy that created a wall of closed off airspace preventing the return of Bolivian President Evo Morales to his homeland on the mere suspicion that Edward Snowden is on board – is perhaps not the best best thing you can do to draw goodwill to yourself. While European governments are by all indications quite happy to be vassals and puppets, many of their peasants don’t quite feel that way – and having the fact presented so blatantly to their faces is just going to create resentment. Why such a drastic step is necessary is beyond me. Why pursuing Snowden so vigorously, who has already leaked everything he has to leak, is in any way desirable beyond the fleeting thrill of flaunting imperial power must remain a mystery.

(4) While Snowden personally comes out as sincere and conscientious, he is profoundly lacking in political awareness. Unlike Snowden and Correa, the Russian authorities have apparently correctly guessed that the US wouldn’t balk at grounding aircraft if they suspected the fugitive was on board; hence, according to British lawyer (and occasional AKarlin contributor) Alexander Mercouris, why Correa ended backing off the asylum offer – getting to Latin America is simply surprisingly difficult. Same as regards Maduro. Russia all but offered Snowden asylum on a platter. Putin’s condition that he “stop hurting the US” was but a formality for Western consumption – considering that Snowden had already, presumably, divulged everything to Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald, and in any case it is standard practice for political asylum claimants to clear anything they wish to say with the authorities of the country offering them sanctuary so as to avoid hurting their interests.

But Snowden, perhaps driven by some mixture of personal principles as well as his perception of Russia as a non-democratic country, withdrew his application for asylum in Russia, and proceeded to send applications to dozens of other countries – including outright vassals like Poland, which wouldn’t bat an eyelid at extraditing him (the country’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski is married to Anne Applebaum, a US neocon). That was completely unprofessional, a cheap PR stunt that doubled as a slap in the face to Russia and a display of legalistic ignorance (many countries require the political asylum claimant to be physically present on their territory). I concur with Mercouris’ assessment that Snowden appears to be getting appallingly low quality legal advice from Sarah Harrison/Wikileaks, at least if and insofar as getting real political asylum is his actual goal.

(5) Where can Snowden get asylum? Russia would be the obvious choice, but he seems to have ruled that out as mentioned above. He probably regards it as a non-democratic country, and took Putin’s stated conditions of asylum – no more leaks that embarrass the US – a bit too literally. I originally thought Germany might be feasible – tellingly, it *didn’t* close off its airspace to Morales’ airplane – but then they refused anyway. Venezuela, which is now touted as the likeliest destination, is a fair choice, but it will be difficult to get there, or to Latin America in general. Giving Snowden a military escort to get asylum in a foreign country would be impractical and unseemly in the extreme for Russia. And if European countries are prepared to overturn decades of international legal conventions to – for all means and purposes – hijack the plane of a national leader, even if of a weak and unimportant country, they would have no qualms whatsoever about doing the same to commercial airliners.

An additional problem is that Bolivia, and to a lesser extent Ecuador and Venezuela, are politically unstable – with the opposition consisting of hardcore Atlanticists. Should there be a change of power in those places – be it through the gun or the ballot box – the new authorities would send the likes of Snowden back to the US within the week and apologize for their shameful earlier lack of subservience to boot. Russia too has Atlanticist elements within their opposition, but they enjoy the support of only about 10% of the population – while almost half of Venezuelans voted for Capriles in their last two elections. Besides, as WaPo’s Max Fisher points out, Russia has never extradited any Western defectors – not even during the rule of Gorbachev or Yeltsin. Finally, while being confined to just Russia for decades or even the rest of one’s life is hardly the best of prospects, it surely beats Venezuela not to mention Bolivia (no disrespect to those two fine nations).

(6) There have been calls, including from The Guardian and his dad, for Snowden to show he’s truly a whistle-blower and not a traitor or spy by returning home. The choice is presumably his, of course, but if he heeds them, then more idiot he. While it is perfectly reasonable to say that Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic or free or whatever than the US, that’s kind of beside the point; what concerns Edward Snowden specifically is whether Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic and free than a US supermax prison. And the answer to that is blindly obvious to all but the most committed freedumb ideologues. Even North Korea would win out on that one.

(7) The final thing I would say about this is episode is that it has really demonstrated the breath-taking scope of US power. Power that is not wisely wielded, perhaps, but power nonetheless. It is absolutely impossible to imagine so many European countries jumping through legalistic hoops, burning bridges with one of the world’s major economic and cultural regions, and drawing the massed ire of their own citizens at the request of any other country. And that’s assuming the US even made that request in the first place, i.e. could they have merely been trying to curry favor with their master?

At some level it has always been clear that the Euro-Atlantic West acts as a united bloc – see a map of (1) the recognition of Kosovo and (2) the non-recognition of Palestine – for visual proof of that. Or read the Wikileaks cables for an insight into how European politicians stumble all over themselves in their eagerness to tattle on everything in their country to American diplomats. Still, the grounding of Morales’ jet makes plain the sheer depth and scope of official European subservience better and more concretely than any other event or affair that one can recall. It also makes a mockery of their stated “concern” over NSA spying, deserving only ridicule and mocking dismissal. This is not a moral failing of the US, in fact it can only be commended and admired for bringing so many countries into complete political and cultural submission to it. It is only the lack of backbone and of the will to establish national sovereignty that is contemptible.

While it’s beyond dispute that the Europeans are complete doormats, it’s still worth noting that cautious, business-like China was eager to get rid of Snowden as quickly as feasibly possible – despite the major propaganda coup he delivered unbidden into their hands by demonstrating that computer hacking wasn’t just a one-way street between China and the US. Putin, too, is notable unenthusiastic. One can’t help but entertain dark speculations about the kind of dirt the NSA might have on him should he ever become too enthusiastic about that whole sovereign democracy thing. Counter-intuitively, it is Latin America – the land explicitly subjected to the Monroe Doctrine – that is mounting the most principled stand in support of government transparency and against Western exceptionalism and double standards.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for Experts Panel/Voice of Russia:

The Panel states, “On future occasions, Russia might well require Washington to cooperate in similar circumstances; and if such is the case, its handling of the Snowden affair could prove decisive as to how Washington chooses to respond.”

Well, let’s imagine this scenario. One fine day, an FSB contractor named Eduard Snegirev takes a flight out to Dulles International Airport and proceeds to spill the beans – though as with PRISM and Boundless Informant, it’s pretty much an open secret anyway – on SORM-2 and how the Russian state spies on its hapless citizens. Would Immigration and Customs Enforcement turn him away? Would the FBI rush to honor a Russian extradition request on the basis of his violating Article 275 of the Criminal Code “On State Treason”? It is impossible to even ask this question without a smirk on one’s face.

Don’t get me wrong. It is entirely reasonable to agree to and honor extradition treaties covering “universal” crimes such as murder, rape, or – shock horror! – financial fraud (even if official London would beg to differ). But this approach breaks down when we get to “crimes” such as those of the real Snowden or the hypothetical Snegirev because it is not universal, but asymmetric and relational: Asymmetric because a traitor in one country is a hero (or at least a useful asset) in another, and relational because a traitor to some people is a whistle-blower to others.

Sergey Tretyakov, otherwise known as “Comrade J,” betrayed his sources and fellow agents in the SVR when he defected to the US in 2000. Yet on his death, many of the people discussing his life at the blog of Pete Early, his official biographer, called him a “patriot.” Not just an American patriot, mind you, but a Russian one as well – as if he had done his motherland a favor. They are free to think that but it will not change the fact that in his homeland about 98% of the population really would think of him as a traitor through and through. Or take Vasily Mitrokhin. In the West, he is overwhelmingly considered as a heroic whistle-blower, risking his life to chronicle the crimes committed by the KGB abroad. But he neither concealed the identities of Soviet sources and existing agents – unlike Snowden or Assange, nor did he reveal his documents to the entire world – opting instead to give them wholemeal to MI6. Nonetheless, demanding the repatriation of either one would be inherently ridiculous and only make Russia into a laughing stock – which is why it never even thought of doing so. No use crying over spilt (or should that be leaked?) milk.

The US, too, was usually reasonable about such matters, quietly accepting that their espionage laws have no weight outside their own territory and the territory of their closest allies – as has always been the case in all times and for all states since times immemorial. This is why the hysterics this time round are so… strange. While John “I see the letters K-G-B in Putin’s eyes” McCain is a clinical case, it’s considerably more puzzling to see similar fiery rhetoric from the likes of Chuck Schumer or John Kerry (although the latter soon moderated his tone). Such attitudes probably proceed from official America’s tendency to view itself as a global empire, not beholden to the normal laws and conventions of international politics. Now while its closest allies (or clients) might humor it in such delusions, even its “third-class” allies like Germany do not* – not to mention sovereign Great Powers such as China and, yes, Russia.

In any case, as far as the Kremlin concerned, it is now almost politically impossible to extradite Snowden even if it so wishes. Though they have been no official opinion polls on the matter, online surveys indicate that Russians are overwhelmingly against expelling Snowden. 98% of the readers of Vzglyad (a pro-Putin resource), and even 50% of Echo of Moscow’s readers and listeners (one of the shrillest anti-Putin outlets), support giving him political asylum. Apart from that, it would also destroy Russia’s incipient reputation as a sanctuary for Western dissidents – a great propaganda boon against the legions of Western commentators who vilify it every day as a ruthless autocracy.

To his credit, Obama seems to more or less realize this: He knows that he can’t issue orders to Russia or even Ecuador, and that it is not worth threatening sanctions or “scrambling jets” just to “get a 29-year-old hacker.” While the neocons and “American exceptionalists” will get their 15 minutes of blowing hard on TV and the op-ed pages, the episode is – and has been from the get go – likely to end in just one way: A quiet and untrumpeted retirement for Snowden in Quito, Caracas, or Barvikha.

* So what on Earth’s up with that anyway? Here is the most worrying theory I’ve been able to come up with:They actually take George Friedman seriously.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Mark Adomanis thinks Russia should extradite – or at least expel – Edward Snowde n because… get this, it’s current stance (i.e. leaving him in at Sheremetyevo Airport, an international territory) constitutes “trolling” of the US.

This is, to be quite frank, a rather strange argument. Would the US extradite a Russian Snowden? To even ask the question is to mockingly answer it. Said Russian whistleblower would not only be sheltered by any Western country, but awarded with all kinds of freedom medals and lecture tours. It is commonly expected for defectors from not entirely friendly powers to get sanctuary and both Russia and Western countries regularly practice this. If anybody is trolling anybody, it is the UK which gives refuge to Russians who are patent economic criminals so long as they bring some money and claims of political repression with them.

Furthermore, he believes (a faint and vague) promise of improved Russia-US relations is worth sabotaging Russia’s incipient reputation as a sanctuary for Western “dissidents” – a status that is extremely valuable in international PR terms. It is a lot harder to argue with a straight face that West – Russia disagreements are a standoff between democracy and autocracy when for every Russian political exile there is an Assange or a Snowden. But Adomanis would like Russia to forego this advantage and betray the trust of any future exiles or defectors just to please a gaggle of perennially anti-Russian blowhards in D.C.

This is not to mention the fact that many other countries are peeved off by Snowden’s revelations, so if anything it is the US that is internationally isolated in demanding his extradition. Even ordinary Americans are somewhat split on what to do about him, with 49% believing his leaks to be in the public interest and 38% against prosecuting him. The Chuck Schumers not to mention the McCains (does Adomanis seriously think that John “I Saw the Letters K-G-B in Putin’s Eyes” McCain would suddenly become well-disposed to Russia if it were to extradite Snowden?) do not even have the overwhelming support of their own constituents.

Adomanis’ argument ultimately boils down to “might is right”:

But a country like Russia, a country that is less than half as populous as the United States and which is much, much poorer, can’t afford to deal with the US as an equal because it isn’t. You can fulminate against that fact all you want, but in the world as it exists in mid 2013 Russia simply can’t afford to go all-in on confrontation with the United States because that is a confrontation it is guaranteed to lose. The Russians usually do a reasonable enough job of picking their battles, but they’ve suddenly decided to go 100% troll for no obvious reason. As should be clear, Russia doesn’t actually gain anything from helping Snowden,* all it does is expose itself to the full wrath and fury of every part of Washington officialdom. Unless you’re defending a national interest of the first order, exposing yourself to the full wrath and fury of Washington officialdom is a really stupid thing to do.

Here is what La Russophobe wrote in her interview with me, on another matter in which Russian and American interests (in her opinion) diverged:

Now please tell us: Russia has risked infuriating the world’s only superpower and biting the hand (Obama’s) that feeds it. … Are you suggesting that you believe Russian power is such that it can afford to act however it likes regardless of the way in which its actions may provoke the USA and NATO?

When you are starting to sound like La Russophobe, it’s probably a good time to stop and reconsider.

The answer to this objection – apart from the entirely reasonable one that kowtowing to the demands of a foreign power is a contemptible thing to do period – is that the Russia doesn’t need the US any more than the US needs Russia. And clumsily attempts to equate “need” with economic/military beans-counting (Adomanis: “Someone just commented on my blog saying “the West needs Russia as much as Russia needs the West.” Yeah, that’s definitely not true… The West, taken together, is so much more wealthy and powerful than Russia it’s actually kind of a joke… You can dislike the West as much as you want, but if you think Russia and the West are equally powerful then you are simply wrong… And if Russia creates policy based on the assumption that it’s equal to the West in power and influence it will fail catostrophically”) isn’t going to fool many people. Because, you know, the level of a country’s “need” for another isn’t a direct function of how much GDP and tanks it has relative to the other. And yes, while I am a realist, it’s a position tempered by the observation that today’s world is a wee bit more complex than it was in the days when the guy with the biggest club set the rules for everybody.

The US is of course a lot more wealthy and powerful than Russia. Nobody is arguing the reverse; it’s a strawman set up by Adomanis himself. What is however of some relevance is that the US has real need of Russia on some issues (e.g. Iran and nukes; transportation to Afghanistan) while Russian economic dependence on the US is actually very small (trade with the US accounts for something like 5% of its total). Both countries benefit from anti-terrorism cooperation. I think it is ridiculous to believe that US politicians will torpedo all that in a hissy fit over Snowden. I give them more credit than that.

UPDATE: Just recalled that Mark Adomanis works for Booz Allen Hamilton, the same consultancy that employed Snowden – and which happens to get 99% of its business from official DC. So it may well be that Adomanis’ opportunities for saying what he really thinks on the Snowden affair may be… rather limited. While I am not saying this necessarily influenced his articles – as regards this, we can only speculate – it would have probably been appropriate for him to mention this considering the obvious conflict of interest.

UPDATE 2: This article was translated by Inosmi.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I will be going on a “working vacation” this Sunday, so I’m publishing my weekly contribution to VoR/US-Russia experts panel early:

Okay, let’s get one thing clear from the get go: The Russian law requiring NGOs to declare themselves “foreign agents” if they engage in political activities and receive financing from abroad, is not illegitimate. At least, not unless you also consider the US’ Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) – which does practically the same thing – to be also illegitimate.

Which is just fine, mind you! But only as a universal value judgment, and not as a tool to selectively beat Russia over the head with.

Or you can shrug it off as paranoia. But bear in mind that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to topple you. The color revolutions were in significant part funded from abroad, and there has recently appeared witness testimony (backed up by video footage) of Udaltsov, one of the most prominent leaders of the street opposition, receiving money from a Georgian politician. So there is a case to be made that a certain amount of paranoia is necessary to preserve Russia’s sovereign democracy.

As such, a foreign agents law is not a bad idea per se, at least assuming it is applied rigorously but fairly. That may be too much to expect of Russians, though.

Problem is that said paranoia, while healthy in modest doses, may end up impinging on the “democracy” part of sovereign democracy. While labeling a crane reserve as a foreign agent might be more farce than substance (if so then what would that make the “alpha crane,” that is, Putin? – as the Runet jibes go), the same cannot be said of the pressure applied to the Levada Center.

Foreign financing only accounts for 1.5-3% of its total, according to its director, Lev Gudkov. Furthermore, he argues, the political and sociological research that Levada does is not politics, period. Certainly that would appear to be the case in the US, where it is virtually impossible to imagine the Department of Justice going after PEW, Gallup, or Rasmussen if they happened to take a few contacts for foreigners.

So while the laws might be similar on paper, the Investigative Committee is taking a much, much wider interpretation of what falls under the rubric of politics. And I would say that this is not only unjust but ultimately, stupid.

Levada does not fudge its results. They typically fall in line exactly with those of FOM and VCIOM, the two state-owned pollsters – including on the most politically significant indicator, Putin’s approval rating, which was an entirely respectable 64% as of this May. And while Levada does have an undeniably anti-Putin editorial slant, this is arguably all the better – from the Kremlin’s perspective – since it makes it seem to be “independent” and hence reliable in the West. FOM and VCIOM, as state-owned entities, would never be able to muster the same degree of credibility no matter the integrity with which they conduct their surveys.

From the meaningless police confiscations of Nemtsov’s “white papers” (which are only ever read on the Internet) to the harassment that frightened the economist Sergey Guriev into exile in Paris, petty authoritarianism on the part of lower level police and investigators is one of the most reliable manufactories of the ammunition that the “anti-Russian lobby” in the West uses to take potshots at Putin.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Apparently he fled to France after senior “systemic liberal” sources in the government told him he was not safe staying in Russia. So he played it safe.

Interpretations about. The return of Stalinism; a new critical phase in the siloviki vs. civiliki clan war; Putin’s vindictiveness against a supporter of Khodorkovsky.

The only problem, at least with the latter explanation? Sergey Guriev himself denies it is so, according to Ben Aris at the FT:

The whole episode is embarrassing for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been calling for improvements to Russia’s investment climate. According to Guriev, Putin has reassured him that he will come to no harm, but clearly Guriev was not confident that even Putin could protect him. …

While Guriev has been outspoken on economic issues and warned that the current policies will lead to economic stagnation, he is usually a lot more circumspect when it comes to politics. He was again on Friday when asked who was to blame for the attack.
“I have no complaints about either Vladimir Putin or Dmitry Medvedev. I heard them say that nothing is threatening me and that they will not interfere in the work of the investigative committee. I respect such an approach and believe that it is wrong to ask the president of the country to interfere on each occasion,” Guriyev told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

So unless you believe Ben Aris to be making this up, or consider that Guriev is trying to inveigle himself back into favor (“No hard feelings! It was all just a misunderstanding”), his words have to be taken at face value.

That leaves us with over-enthusiastic investigators who went way beyond the remit of legal acceptability – at least if Guriev’s version of his interactions with them (e.g. the demand to hand over the last 5 years of his emails, etc.) are likewise correct. Investigators whom Bastrykin or Putin are, for whatever reason, either won’t, can’t, or just haven’t yet reined back in.

PS. The Presidential Committee on Human Rights under Medvedev became something more accurately described as the Presidential Committee on Khodorkovsky’s Rights. Why and how an official tax-payer funded grouping devolved to lobbying the interests of a single private individual is, in my view, an entirely valid matter for investigation. AFAIK, however, Guriev himself was only tangentially related to it however, doing little more than giving his “expert opinion” on the issue for their consideration.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Russia is to spend 1.5 billion rubles building “Centers of Tolerance” to improve inter-ethnic relations in the next few years. Is this a good use of resources? Pyotr Kozlov examines the issue.

The Ministry of Regional Development to Build Centers of Tolerance for 1.5 Billion Rubles

The Ministry of Regional Development plans to start constructing Centers of Tolerance all across Russia from 2014, where anyone can go to learn more about the culture and traditions of Russia’s peoples. These learning centers will appear in 11 regions of the country: Saint-Petersburg, Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Irkutsk, and Birobidzhan. According to preliminary calculations, as we were told by the Ministry’s head Igor Slyunyayev, the problem will require about 1.5 billion rubles in financing, with the first centers slated to open by the beginning of 2015.

According to the Slyunyayev, all the sites will be built to one standard design. “The main task is to revive the traditions of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence that have always characterized Russia,” he clarified.

“These Centers will help promote dialog, discuss hard issues, and tell people about how Russians live in Dagestan, Jews in the Far East, or Ukrainians in Tatarstan. We need to talk more about religion, culture, traditions, and to once again return to the roots of things – that we are one people, who have always lived as one family,” the Minister says.

The work of these Centers isn’t only connected with teaching people how to have tolerant relations with other religious confessions. It is about tolerance in the widest sense of the word, clarifies the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) Alexander Boroda, who is involved in discussing the project concept.

It’s planned that the standard Center will consist of two or three rooms, one of which will contain a screen showing example reels of tolerant and intolerant behavior. Apart from that, there will be venues for discussion and interactive voting on the educational material, continues Boroda. Yet another room will be used for exhibits on the discussed topics.

Thanks to the wide spectrum of possibilities they offer, the Centers of Tolerance may become popular among pupils and students, the head of the FJCR believes. In addition, he considers that their work will be synchronized with Departments of Education in the regions. All the Center’s study materials and other content will be available for downloading from the Web.

“Of course this place has to become fashionable, in the best sense of the word. Above all, though the various exhibits and expositions. At least that’s our hope,” Boroda says.

The Head of the Public Chamber’s Committee for Inter-Ethnic Relations Nikolai Svanidze is happy about the Ministry of Regional Development’s initiative, but cautions that it’s still too early to judge the effectiveness of the Centers.

“The whole question here is in the content. Money isn’t an issue. Better to invest in Centers of Tolerance, as opposed to stuffing it into officials’ pockets. The main thing we have to avoid is formalism. How effective will this project be? That’s a valid question. But it will only be possible to determine this after the project starts,” Svanidze notes.

The head of the Duma’s Committee for Nationalities, Gadzhimet Safaraliev, also supports the idea, but believes that the project’s name choice could have been better.

“I don’t like the word tolerance. Maybe we can think a bit more on this and choose something like, for instance, Houses of Friendship, Houses of Nationalities? After all, we live in Russia. Is this to say we are, translating into Russian, building Houses of Tolerance? {Translator: A “house of tolerance” (“дом терпимости”) is, lit., a “maison de tolérance”, that is, a brothel} We’re better off learning to be friends, as opposed to tolerating each other,” the deputy remarked sardonically.

The Chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee Kirill Kabanov believes that problems of tolerance aren’t going to be solved by building Centers, but by ideological work with people.

“Whenever discussions of construction sites spring up, bureaucrats suddenly get the desire to make it into their personal project. And we know well how things are built here on the government’s account – we have repeatedly seen this in Sochi, and other places. This problem is ideological, therefore the product too has to be ideological,” he says.

The Ministry of Regional Development began developing plans for Centers of Tolerance after October 2012, when Vladimir Putin issued instructions to develop the federal target program “Strengthening the Unity of the Russian Nation and the Ethnocultural Development of the Peoples of Russia,” which is to run from 2014 to 2018.

Prior to this, the issue of inter-ethnic relations in Russia was raised in one of Vladimir Putin’s pre-elections article, in which he referred to the necessity of creating an organization responsible for “questions on national development, inter-ethnic prosperity, the interactions of ethnic groups.” The Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations was formed in summer 2012, while by the end of the year a concept for inter-ethnic relations had been developed to the year 2020.

Reader comments

Alexandr Kupriyanov: The morons don’t have anything better to do with the money? Only educational tourism in Russia’s republics could help with this issue, such as student exchanges with families, student assignments on the history of certain republics, etc., whereas these Centers are yet another money laundering operation.

Leutnant von Berg: A brilliant raspil/kickback scheme. Better to build true houses of tolerance, in the original meaning of the word {Translator: Maisons de tolérance, aka brothels}: The people will go there, and there will be a high return on investment. But if we are to speak seriously, a person who is interested in another culture will find the time and means to study it by himself, without any Centers.

Алексей Матанцев: Is it so that Russians themselves could discover explanations for why other RF nationalities behave so badly?

Дарья Костычева: Better to call them houses of tolerance from the get go. It makes more sense that way. And of course there’s nothing better to spend 1.5 rubles billion on. There are no problems in Russia at all, apart from russkie!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Education, Human Rights, Society, Translations 
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I think the real situation is somewhere in between the Kremlin’s position and Mark Adomanis’ and the rest of the Western and Russian liberal media’s alarmism. So as far as this is concerned, I really do think Gudkov is exaggerating, not to even speak of the inevitable and hysterical comparisons to Stalinism cropping up in some quarters.

So what if Levada registers as a foreign agent? The fact will remained buried in the paperwork. Clients won’t care, so long as the sociological work is good.

Or it can simply refuse foreign financing, which according to Gudkov himself accounts for 1.5%-3% of its total.

The only danger to Levada is if it openly defies the law, and commits seppuku out of spite, so to speak. Which is not impossible, if very unlikely.

This does not however mean that the application of the foreign agents law to it is justified. As Gudkov himself argues, political research is not politics, period. While I do think comparisons of Russia’s law to FARA are valid, on paper, the application of them is not. Can you imagine US prosecutors going after the likes of Gallup or PEW if they do some contracts for foreigners?

The reason the witchhunt is stupid (in addition to being wrong) is that Levada actually supports the Kremlin’s record. 70% approval ratings for Putin coming from a state-backed pollster like FOM or VCIOM is one thing – the same numbers from a private pollster that gets money from Soros or the NED is a whole other level of credibility, at least so far as Western audiences are concerned.

If Bastrykin was wise and aware, he would waste no time reigning in the enthusiastic lower-level prosecutors going after Levada and other non-political NGOs. I am not sure he is either though.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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The Latvian President has signed a law allowing Latvians to have double citizenship with other countries… except Russia. Moscow cries foul and calls on the EU to take action. Maria Efimova has the story.

Latvia Signs a Citizenship Law

Latvian President Andris Bērziņš signed the law “On Citizenship,” adopted by the Sejm on 9 May. This law allows Latvian citizens to have passports from other countries. Russia is not included in this list. Going against the recommendations of international organization, the law likewise doesn’t include the automatic conferral of Latvian citizenship to the children of “non-citizens,” which would have set a prospective endpoint to the phenomenon of “non-citizenship.” Moscow considers the law discriminatory, calling it an “ethno-political experiment” that is “unprecedented by modern European standards.”

According to the document signed by President Bērziņš, the list of countries whose citizenship can be obtained without loss of the Latvian passport include the member states of the European Union, NATO, the European Free Trade Association, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and some other countries with which it has agreements on double citizenship. Russia, the other countries of the CIS, and Israel are not on the list.

In addition, the law tightens the naturalization rules: People older than 45 now have to prove that they were permanently resided in the country for the past five years.

Although the new version of the law doesn’t provide for the automatic acquisition of citizenship for the children of non-citizens, as recommended by international institutions – including the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities – the procedure for doing this was simplified. Now, citizenship can be granted at the request of one of the parents right after birth.

The law was signed by President Bērziņš despite the request of the biggest opposition group Harmony Center, which represents the interests of Latvia’s Russophone residents, to return it to the Sejm for further work. However, according to ITAR-TASS, the President soon after the signing of the law sent a letter to parliament calling for its further improvement, so that the list of states with which Latvians are allowed to have double citizenship can be expended in the future.

“The Latvian authorities continue to exacerbate the self-created problem of mass non-citizenship, which is unprecedented by modern European standards, and to ignore Riga’s international obligations,” according to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commenting on the adoption of the law “On Citizenship” by the Latvian Sejm. “This latest ethno-political experiment by Riga, which turns national minorities into permanent outcasts of a country in which they were born and lived all their lives, clearly demonstrates the democratic deficit in Latvia. We hope that the Europe Union, which took upon itself the responsibility to safeguard human rights and ethnic minority rights in Latvia upon the latter’s accession, can give its objective assessment on this.”

Reader comments

From Facebook:

Nicolas Borissov: Some countries exist only to engage in petty spitefulness. And not only towards Russia. There are these small slavering dogs, which bark all the time and strive to sneakily bite you the heels – they bear a strong resemblance to some countries.

Karina Kurchan [replying to above]: And of course it’s better not to do things the petty way, but to slam them with an Iskander straight away.

Tatyana Shunto: How long can one bear a grudge? Against whom? The government isn’t the people. How did Russia hurt them?

Karina Kurchan [replying to above]: Tatyana, it’s not about grudges. Tomorrow, Russia will say that it wishes to defend its citizens, and will start to “force them to peace,” carry out ethnic cleansing, insert military bases. It will say that it is on the request of Russian citizens. This has all happened before…

Yani Petkov: Wages are now higher in Russia anyway, so who cares.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Baltics, Eurasia, Human Rights, Translations 
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From a Freedom House publication:

quoted-by-freedom-house

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Blogging, Elections, Human Rights, Humor, Politics 
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Hard as it is to believe, but in the wake of the Boston Bombings, many Western commentators actively trying to find the roots of the Tsarnaev brothers’ rage in Russia’s “aggression” or even “genocide” of Chechnya.

This is not to deny that Chechens did not have an exceptionally hard time of it in the 1990s. That said, what strikes one is the pathological one-sidedness of some of the commentary, such as this vomit-inducing screed by Thor Halvorssen, a self-imagined human rights promoter from Norway. In their world, it is a simple morality tale of small, plucky Chechnya being repeatedly ravaged by the big, bad Russian imperialist – and it is one that many people, conditioned in appropriate ways for two decades by the Western media, swallow hook, line, and sinker.

It’s not that simple. But rather than (re)dredging up many words and sources, let’s just suffice with one of the most telling graphs on the matter: The population graph of Chechnya since 1989.

chechnya-population-by-ethnicity-to-2010

Some people are certainly getting ethnically cleansed there alright, but it’s not who you might think it is. So this, essentially, is what the Russian “genocide” of Chechens boils down to: 715,306 Chechens & 269,130 Russians in 1989; 1,206,551 Chechens & 24,382 Russians in 2010. Russians almost entirely gone from there, even though the lands north of the Terek River – that is, about a third of Chechnya – were first settled by Cossacks during the 16th century and had never been Chechen until the 20th century. Those Russians (and other minority ethnicities) were terrorized out of Chechnya during the rule of “moderate nationalists” Maskhadov and Zakayev, whom the likes of Halvorssen describe as the “legitimate government of Chechnya,” with several thousand of them murdered outright. This ethnic cleansing continued unimpeded into the 2000s with the complicit silence of the “nationalist” Putin regime.

I really wish all the (non-Chechen) “Free Chechnya!” people could be reborn as minorities in 1990′s Chechnya in their next lives so that the likes of Halvorssen can experience firsthand the extent to which Chechens “share the democratic values of a Western civilization.”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.