The serial posts I wrote a few years ago about the time I spent in Moscow as a research student during the late 1960s and early 70s are still on the Blogger server. They can be accessed here and here. The last posts in each series come first – links to the earlier posts are listed at the bottom of the relevant pages. I think these accounts still give a fair reflection of what it was like living in the Soviet reality, even for a relatively short period of time.
Recent news from the Russian Federation suggests that in spite of evidence of superficial change, life in Russia remains at bottom much the same as ever – not only as it was in Soviet times, but even longer ago. For one thing, there are the same sudden anomalies of behaviour in a government which on the face of it seems mind-crushingly authoritarian, yet occasionally makes room for flamboyant, incongruous forays into the denunciation of past wrongs. Such, for example, is the recent visit of President Dmitry Medvedev to the remote Magadan region on Russia’s Pacific coast, where he laid flowers at a memorial built to commemorate the victims of the Soviet Gulag prison camps, and described the whole era of Stalin’s deportations and purges as “a tragic page in our country’s history”.
Only a couple of days later, the United Kingdom’s outgoing Moscow ambassador Tony Brenton was describing to a British newspaper how he was personally made the target of a nightmarish, Gogolian campaign of intimidation when his car was
tailgated at high speed through the streets of the Russian capital by militant members of Nashi, Vladimir Putin’s zealous youth movement, who went on to harass him in shops and restaurants and intimidate his family.
In the long interview, Ambassador Brenton says thatduring his period of tenure the British Embassy “has come under a greater barrage of bugging and espionage from the Russian secret service than at any time since the end of the Cold War.” Describing some of the bugging methods used, he alludes to some curious details:
Sir Tony – who will next week be replaced by Anne Pringle, Britain’s first female Ambassador to Russia – denied rumours in Moscow that his two cats were regularly checked for bugging devices. The suggestion may seem fanciful, but the Soviet KGB once successfully implanted a listening device into a US ambassador’s dog.
It’s the promotion – even in theory – of cats and dogs to the rank of intelligence officers that is so quintessentially Russian. I would submit that in no other country of the world could one expect to discover such things.
On Chechnya-sl, Norbert Strade has translated the text of a recent appeal by Akhmed Zakayev, chairman of the ChRI Cabinet of Ministers:
Appeal by the Government of the ChRI
CHECHENPRESS. Publications and Media Department. 26.09.08
CHECHENPRESS received by e-mail the following appeal by the Government of the ChRI to the EU Headquarters, the President of the General Assembly of the UN, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the International Criminal Court and leaders of democratic countries.
Ladies and gentlemen!
The Government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, which is obliged to democratic values and considers human rights, the rights of nations and peoples to be fundamental achievements of civilization, addresses itself to you with the following:
– Taking into account the inhuman suffering of the Chechen people during the entire period of its history when it was under the control and influence of the Russian Empire in its different political manifestations (the USSR, the Russian Federation), such as the repeated deportations and the incessant military actions during the last 14 years, which demanded more than 200,000 lives, including 40,000 children, according to authoritative international non-governmental organizations;
– taking into account the zeal and the readiness for self-sacrifice of the Chechen people in the name of achieving freedom and independence, a convincing proof of which is the substantial support by the citizens of the ChRI for the Resistance forces, despite the fact that they thus subject themselves to terror from the side of the Russian military formations and special services;
– taking into account the numerous and unpunished war crimes committed by the occupation forces on the territory of the ChRI;
– taking into account the unquestionable right of the Chechen people to national sovereignty and independence, not only within the framework of the declarations of the United Nations “About the Rights of Nations and Peoples”, but also according to the decision of April 18-20, 1990, by the supreme body of power in the USSR, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (whose legal successor is the RF), which defines an unequivocal treatment of the rights of the Autonomous Republics: “In the case of a union state leaving the USSR, an Autonomous Republic which is part of this union state has the right to determine its future independently”, a statement which precisely was the justification for the Russian authorities in their decision to recognize the independent statehood of Abkhazia and South Ossetia;
– taking into account the unquestionable fact that Russia acknowledged its military aggression against the ChRI in 1994, Russia’s defeat in this war and the signing on May 12, 1997 of the “Peace Agreement” between the RF and the ChRI, in which the sides determined that the peoples of the RF and the ChRI are ending their century-old conflict and that the relations between the subjects of this agreement from now on and forever will be based on international law and that the application of the armed forces will be categorically excluded from the solution of disputes;
– and finally, taking into account the existence of attempts by the RF side to take revenge for the lost war of 1994-1996, the incessant military operations and punitive actions, as a result of which thecitizens are suffering, as well as in view of the irreconcilability of the Chechen people with the conditions of the occupation, which are aggravated even more by a feeling of desperation over the absence of truth and justice with regard to the war criminals who committed war crimes in the Chechen Republic during the last 14 years, and furthermore in view of the alienation between the sides in the military conflict and the impossibility for the Chechen population to live in freedom and without fear in its historical native land, we request the creation of an international military tribunal for the Chechen Republic.
The Government of the ChRI believes that the absence of juridical and political consequences of Russia’s terrorist policy in the North Caucasus only discredits the entire world system of democracy and provides totalitarian regimes with a feeling of impunity and omnipotence, visible evidence of which are Russia’s latest actions against sovereign Georgia.
Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of the ChRI Ahmed Zakayev
PACE Session to Focus on Georgia-Russia War
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 28 Sep.’08 / 18:17
The August war in Georgia will be the main focus of the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE), which opens in Strasbourg on September 29.
The debates will be held in two parts: on September 30 and on October 2.
A group of 24 members of PACE submitted a request for the reconsideration of the credentials of the Russian delegation to PACE “on the grounds of serious violations of the basic principles” of the Council of Europe.
Vice-Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Mikheil Machavariani, who is a member of the Georgian delegation to PACE, told journalists before departure to Strasburg that it was not yet possible to predict the outcome of the request and whether the credentials of the Russian delegations would be suspended or not.
As part of the run-up to the debates, an ad hoc committee will paid a fact-finding visit to Georgia and Russia. The group called for an international probe into the events that led to the war.
Meanwhile, on September 24, Foreign Ministers of Council of Europe member states met in New York on the sideline of the UN General Assembly to discuss Georgia-Russia war and its consequences.
This informal meeting was initiated by Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, who is now a chairman of the CoE’s ministerial committee.
The Swedish Foreign Minister said in the report submitted to the ministerial committee that as far as South Ossetia and Abkhazia are “integral parts” of Georgia “the military actions undertaken by Georgian forces during the conflict thus concerned Georgian territory” and should no way be seen “as an aggression towards the Russian Federation.”
“It is furthermore clear, that since it contravenes International law when a state uses military force to protect its citizens in another state, the Russian large-scale military actions in Georgia can not be justified as self-defense,” Carl Bildt said.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that when Russia invaded Georgia last month it acted like a colonial power, Reuters reports.
We have recently witnessed systematic provocations and finally military aggression of a powerful country, a permanent member of the Security Council, against its small neighbor with the aim to carve it up,” Karel Schwarzenberg told the U.N. General Assembly.
“This action was designed to create two tiny entities totally dependent (on) its administrative, economic and military structures. Colonial powers used to act this way.”
Schwarzenberg also suggested that Moscow had violated a fundamental principle of the U.N. charter and international law — that disputes should be resolved peacefully and without resorting to military force, except in self-defence.
On September 25 the Ingushetian authorities closed down the Ingushetiya.ru web site, which was owned by Magomed Yevloyev,the Ingush journalist, lawyer and businessman who on August 31 this year was murdered, it is believed, on the orders of President Murat Zyazikov. However, the site immediately changed its domain name and switched to a server the United States. It can now be accessed at the new URL Ingushetia.org.
At Window on Eurasia, with particular reference to a recent interview with Russian security and intelligence expert Anatoly Soldatov, Paul Goble demonstrates how Moscow is currently struggling in its attempts to control the Internet,
… senior Russian intelligence officials have repeatedly called on Western governments to reach an agreement with Moscow to close sites that the Russian government has identified as connected with extremism or terrorism. But to date, no Western country has agreed to do that.
Great Britain had been edging toward an accord, the Agentura.ru editor says, but backed away after the Litvinenko murder. And as a result, “it is possible to register in England, to put out a Russian Internet publication and no requests from the Russian side will be considered. Simply because there is no legal basis for this.”
As a result, Soldatov concludes, Moscow will not be able to continue its struggle with independent-minded Internet sites without the use of hackers, a conclusion that the experience of other Russian sites tends to confirm (www.forum.msk.ru/material/news/533859.html and www.compromat.ru/main/internet/filter.htm).
FinRosForum, citing a report in Nasha Abkhazia, writes that Russia’s 58th Army, which played a major part in the recent invasion of Georgia, is being transferred from North Ossetia to Ingushetia, noting that the situation in Ingushetia is becoming more complicated and that there is a fear that after the end of Ramadan the Ingush will start an uprising.