Month: August 2008

Putin’s 40 billion plus

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick has some clear-headed insights into the nature of Russia’s unstable and venal power structure, which is now analogous to those of North Korea and Iran: Excerpt:

…as Pavel Felgenhauer noted on the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor Web publication, Russia’s government-controlled media is engaged in Soviet-like frenzied demonization of US leaders. In one prominent example this week, the government-mouthpiece Izvestia launched an obscene broadside against US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The newspaper referred to her as “insane,” and then crudely demeaned her as “a skinny old single lady who likes to display her underwear during talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov.”

As the West scrambles to build a strategy for contending with Russia, many writers and policy-makers have pointed out that Russia is fundamentally weak. As my former Jerusalem Post colleague Bret Stephens noted Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, Russia’s demographic projection, like its oil and gas production, forecasts, is dim. The CIA has pointed out through demographic attrition, Russia’s population will decline more than 20 percent over the next 40 years. And due to “underinvestment, incompetence, corruption, political interference and crude profiteering,” Russia’s oil production will decline this year for the first time. Its production rates are expected to drop precipitously next year and in the coming years as well.

Cognizant of these negative trends, US and European leaders are hoping that Russia’s bleak prospects will convince its leaders to step back from the precipice of war with the West to which they are now hurtling. On Wednesday, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried warned, “Russia is going to have to come to terms with the reality that it can either integrate with the world or it can be a self-isolated bully. But it can’t have both.”

WHILE IT remains to be seen if the West will agree to isolate the Russian bully, it is certainly the case that Russia’s leaders are not blind to their country’s weaknesses. This is so because to a large degree, Russia’s dim long-term prognosis has been caused by the domestic policies of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his cronies. And in light of this, it can be safely assumed that far from causing them to avoid confrontation with the West, their cognizance of Russia’s problems is what caused them to adopt their belligerent posture.

In December, Russian political insider Stanislav Belkovsky told the German media that during his two terms as Russia’s president, Putin amassed a fortune in excess of $40 billion, making him the wealthiest man in Europe. Putin’s wealth has been built through his ownership of vast holdings in three Russian oil and gas companies.

Were Putin invested in the long-term prosperity and strength of his country, he would have invested that money in Russia. Instead he has squirreled it away in bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. And of course, Putin is not alone in betting his wealth against his country’s future. Like him, his cronies in the Kremlin and the FSB (Federal Security Service) have accrued their wealth through their ownership in Russian companies that Putin has nationalized. And like him, they have taken their loot out of the country.

The behavior of Russia’s rulers makes clear that they do not concern themselves with the long-term health of their country as they construct their policies. And their concentration on short-term gains makes their decision to confront the US and Europe inevitable. It is now, when Russia’s oil wealth is at its peak, that they are most powerful. And with their current power they seek to maximize their personal gains while justifying their actions in the name of Russian glory.

The Five Principles

The first two are:

1) Russia recognizes the priority of the fundamental provisions of international law, is opposed to a unipolar world order, and avoids confrontation with other states.

2) Russia will protect its citizens wherever they are, and will defend their interests in regions where there are countries friendly to Russia. These are not only states which have a common border with Russia.

Yevloyev assassinated reports that Magomed Yevloyev, owner of the web site, which is critical of Moscow-backed President Zyazikov, has been shot and killed in Nazran.

According to the web site’s staff, Yevloyev arrived on the same plane as Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov. After the president left, men from the bodyguard of the Ingushetian interior ministry surrounded Yevloyev, made him get into a car and drove him away.

According to the editors of the site, on the way from the airport Yevloyev was shot in the head, and then thrown out of the car. The seriously wounded man was found by his relatives, who had come to meet him. They took Yevloyev to hospital, where he later died. 

Reuters has a report here.

RFE/RL has another Reuters report here.

Life or sausage

There are signs that the Kremlin’s current obduracy in the face of the international reaction to its invasion, occupation and partial annexation of Georgian territory has roots in something other than a desire to show the world how big its muscles are. On Friday, Vladimir Putin gave another interview to German television, in which he speculated on the likely economic consequences of Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and its military presence on the ground.

“What, can we not protect the lives of our citizens there? And if we defend our lives, will they take away our sausage (kolbasa – the word also has the connotation of “bread and butter”). What is our choice – between life and sausage? We shall choose life,” Putin exploded.

This response appears to indicate that Putin inclines towards the anti-modernizing Kremlin trend recently alluded to by Pavel Felgenhauer:

…presidentlal adviser Gleb Pavlovsky has said in a radio interview (on Ekho Moskvy) that there is a “party of war” inside the Kremlin – a group of high officials that are pressing for a direct attack on Tbilisi to overthrow the Georgian government. Pavlovsky states the alleged “party of war” wants to use the conflict with Georgia to undermine President Dmitry Medvedev’s plans of modernize Russia, that “they say we must go further than Tbilisi,” apparently indicating possible plans of further military action to subdue other pro-Western Russian neighboring nations like Ukraine.

If Russia continues along the path of international isolation, the economic consequences for the country are likely be catastrophic. In a recently-published article in Grani, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov outlines some of the probable results:

In all likelihood, we can expect a decline in the volume of purchases of imports, our dependence on which has grown strongly. in recent years. The risks are growing. Once again, as in the 1990s, there is a flight of capital from Russia. The banking sector will not be able to supply our industry and middle class with the credit they need.

Meanwhile the rate of inflation will not grow less because of these actions. Moreover, I am certan that from January 1 next year, the tariffs for gas, electricity, and transport will once again be increased. The increase in tariffs will automatically affect all other goods in production. As soon as the authorities feel the worsening of economic situation, as it will be necessary to maintain the profits of the state corporations, we will all be told to tighten their belts, and come together, because we now live in a state of cold war. And then we will all be summoned to the trenches.

It is probably safe to assume that the tightening of the belts will apply first and foremost to Russia’s enormous, hard-pressed civilian population, and last of all to its small, affluent political and financial elite.

Russia’s invasion welcomed in Middle East

Via the Washington Post. Excerpt:

For some in the Middle East, the images of Russian tanks rolling into Georgia in defiance of U.S. opposition have revived warm memories of the Cold War.Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew last week to Moscow, where he endorsed Russia’s offensive in Georgia and, according to Russian officials, sought additional Russian weapon systems.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s influential son, echoed the delight expressed in much of the Arab news media. “What happened in Georgia is a good sign, one that means America is no longer the sole world power setting the rules of the game,” the younger Gaddafi was quoted as telling the Russian daily Kommersant. “There is a balance in the world now. Russia is resurging, which is good for us, for the entire Middle East.”

In Turkey, an American and European ally that obtains more than two-thirds of its natural gas from Russia, the reaction was more complex. Turks watched as the United States, NATO and a divided European Union hesitated in the face of Russian military assertiveness, leaving them more doubtful than they already were about depending on the West to secure U.S.-backed alternative oil and gas supply lines.

The role of the OSCE

AFP and BBC say that ahead of Monday’s EU emergency meeting Russia has called for more OSCE monitors to be sent to Georgia. It needs to be recalled that what Russia is currently doing in Georgia is essentially a large-scale, multi-layered spetsnaz operation, in which actions on the ground are combined with propaganda that is interwoven with sudden and apparently unpredictable switches of “policy”, designed to confuse and distract. At the same time as Medvedev’s call for extra monitors (relayed in a statement and also by Medvedev to Britain’s Gordon Brown) went out, Der Spiegel published the news that OSCE monitors have accused Georgia of triggering the crisis on August 7. As Russia is a member of the OSCE, the release of these two pieces of news at the same time is probably no accident.

Update: The Spiegel claim has been rejected by an OSCE official:

The German weekly Der Spiegel separately reported that OSCE observers were blaming Georgia, whose bid to join NATO is championed by the United States, for triggering the crisis in a series of unofficial reports presented to the German government.

However, OSCE spokesman Martin Nesirky later rejected the claim, saying “none of” its regular reports distributed to 56 members through diplomatic channels “contains information of the kind mentioned in the Der Spiegel story.”

Data on Russian troops in Georgia [, mia]

MIA Issues Data on Russian Troops in Georgia
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 30 Aug.’08 / 13:33

The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) released date on deployment of the Russian military on various locations on the Georgian territory as of August 27. 

“All locations and numbers given here are double-checked,” the ministry said. “MIA could not verify all information available and the actual number of both Russian military equipment and personnel on the ground may be much higher.”

Below is the data as provided by the Georgian MIA:

Russian Illegal checkpoints in Georgia

Locations of the Russian illegal checkpoints in the Eastern Georgia, including Shida Kartli, other adjacent areas of “South Ossetia” and “South Ossetia” itself according to the MIA sources as of August 27 2008:

1. Perevi (Sachkhere district)
2. Ghodora (Sachkhere district)
3. Muguti (Znauri district)
4. Ali (Khashuri district)
5. Ptsa (Kareli district)
6. Variani (Gori district)
7. Karaleti (Gori district)
8. Shavshvebi (Gori district)
9. Ergneti (Gori district)
10. Tsiara (Java  district)

Note: There are approximately 60 Russian servicemen and 4 armoured vehicles stationed in each place. The vehicles often move from one place to another “patrolling” the nearby territories and villages.

11. Ikoti in Akhalgori district (7 infantry combating vehicles, 1 armoured vehicle, 6 Ural-type vehicles, 2 Gaz-66 vehicles, 1 military power shovel, 1 mobile medical unit, 2 granade-launchers, trenches are dug, 100 Russian servicemen)
12. Approximately 150 armoured vehicles are stationed on the territory between villages Meghvrekisi and Brotsleti in the Gori district.
13. 1 km North of Odzisi in the Akhalgori district (1 armoured vehicle, 15 Russian servicemen)
14. Village Mosabruni in the Akhalgori district (1 armoured vehicle, 15 Russian servicemen)

Note: Russian servicemen and armoured vehicles on newly opened check-point north of Odzisi and Mosabruni were redeployed from other checkpoints.

Locations of the Russian checkpoints in the Western Georgia according to the MIA sources as of August 27 2008:

Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Region

1. Village Teklati (near city Senaki), on the territory of the former mechanical plant (5 armoured vehicles, 1 crane, 2 Ural-type vehicles, 1 vehicle with communication systems, 1 UAZ-type vehicle, 1 Vilis-type car, 1 large army tent, trenches are dug, 40 Russian servicemen)

2. Village Pirveli Maisi (Khobi district), near former Georgian police check-point (2 armoured vehicles,  2 Ural-type vehicles, 1 UAZ-type vehicle, 1 large army tent, trenches are dug, 40 Russian servicemen)

3. In Poti between villages Shua Khorga and Chaladidi (Khobi district), so called Poti Minor, near the turning to Kulevi oil terminal (4 armoured vehicles, 2 Ural-type vehicles, 1 large army tent, 30 Russian servicemen)

4. Village Menji, Bakaraia neighborhood (Senaki district), on the territory of sanatorium “Menji”, 10 meters from railroad (3 armoured vehicle, 4 Ural-type vehicle, 2 cranes, 1 military power shovel, 1 large army tent, 40 Russian servicemen)

5. Village Kantisubani, between Tsalenjikha-Chkhorotsku road section (3 armoured vehicles, 2 Ural-type vehicles, 1 large army tent, trenches are dug, 30 Russian servicemen)

6. Crossroad at the entrances of villages Chale and Muzhava in the Tsalenjikha district (3 armoured vehicles, 1 Ural-type vehicle, 20 Russian servicemen)

7. Town Chkhorotsku, on the territory of former airfield, near Senaki-Chkhorotsku highway (3 armoured vehicles, 2 Ural-type vehicles, 1 vehicle with electricity generator, 2 large army tents, 40 Russian servicemen)

8. Nabada settlement, at the entrance of Poti (2 armoured vehicles, 1 Ural-type vehicle, 1 UAZ-type vehicle, 1 military power shovel, 1 large army tent, 30 Russian servicemen)

Upper Abkhazia/Kodori Gorge

9. Gentsvisi
10. Omarishara
11. Sakeni
12. Chkhalta
13. Kvapchara

Note: Due to the extremely difficult situation in the region, obtaining accurate numbers on Russian and Abkhaz military deployment is difficult. All sources report substantial Russian and Abkhaz deployments in the region.

In addition, deputy head of the Russian General Staff, colonel-general Anatoly Nogovitsin stated during the press-conference on August 22, 2008 that the Russian armed forces established new checkpoints in the following locations:

14. Khudoni
18. Meore Gudava
19. Anaklia
20. Mount Kvira

Note: The Russian side has not denied existence of the abovementioned checkpoints throughout Georgia.

Total number of personnel and vehicles:

• Russian servicemen: 970
• Armoured vehicles: 66
• Infatry combating vehicles: 7
• Grenade launchers: 2
• Ural-type vehicles: 22
• UAZ-type vehicle: 3
• Gaz-66 vehicles: 2
• Vilis-type car: 1
• Military Army tent: 8
• Crane: 3
• Military power shovel: 3
• Vehicle with communication systems: 1
• Vehicle with electricity generator: 1
• Mobile medical unit: 1

Patriotic acts

President Mikheil Saakashvili is proposing a Georgian version of the USA Patriot Act in order to deter possible attempts by Russia to overthrow him and his government, Civil Georgia reports:

“It obvious that their goal was not taking over Tskhinvali, which is Georgia’s provincial town – only few people in Russia may know where it is located,” Saakashvili said at the meeting, which was televised live by the Rustavi 2 TV. “Their [Russia’s] goal was to take over Tbilisi and to overthrow the government.”

He said that Russians made it clear even publicly few days ago – apparently referring to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s August 26 statement in which it said “the Saakashvili regime does not at all meet the high standards set by the world community” and added it was sure that “sooner or later” the Georgian people would have “worthy leaders.”

Saakashvili said that he planned to propose the parliament to develop “the patriotic act” and added that this new legislature – details of which he did not elaborate – would no way infringe the civil liberties.

“This will be carried out under the condition of maintaining democracy, freedom and liberties,” he added and repeated it for couple of more times. 

Meanwhile in Russia, influential voices are being raised with calls for government measures that certainly will infringe civil liberties:

The fallout may be felt most inside Russia itself. Hopes for liberalisation and modernisation under Mr Medvedev have evaporated. In the past few days the Kremlin has rejected Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s parole application, refused to grant Russian citizenship to an investigative Moldovan journalist from Russia and briefly detained protesters in Red Square who held a banner “For Your Freedom and Ours” in a repeat of a protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia staged by dissidents 40 years ago. Views once considered extreme are creeping into the mainstream. For example, Alexander Dugin, a nationalist ideologue, greeted events in Georgia by celebrating the removal of the previous “masks”. “We are at war,” he proclaimed. “Now the country should fight not only against its external enemies but also with the fifth column. Pro-Western liberals …should be interned. War is war. The time of patriots is coming: the time for revenge for all the humiliation from these people that we have been suffering for years.”

Putin and the bad advice

That there is at present something seriously wrong with the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is demonstrated in no uncertain manner by prime minister Putin’s latest outburst suggesting that the United States helped Georgia for domestic political reasons – as White House Press Secretary Dana Perino pointed out.

“To suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate – it sounds not rational,” she said.

“Those claims first and foremost are patently false, but it also sounds like his defence officials who said they believed this to be true are giving him really bad advice.”

Moscow and its siloviki had better get their act together – or they risk finally losing the information war in the same way as they have already lost the diplomatic war. There’s a limit to how far a disinformation campaign can rely on word of mouth, gullible journalists and pass the parcel to distribute its messages – if their content is simply too outlandish, the messages become at best self-defeating satire and fantasy, and at worst, dissolve into mere gibberish.