Writing in ej.ru, analysts Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan suggest that by placing the blame for the Domodedovo tragedy on lax airport security, the Kremlin has finally come out into the open and has opted to classify terrorist acts of this kind as natural disasters rather than planned attacks. The security services will no longer work to find the culprits, but will hide behind a mask of official impenetrability, making the guardianship of “security” their number one priority instead.
Letter from Committee to MBK and PLL 30 December 2010
Dear Mr Khodorkovsky, dear Mr Lebedev
We have read today with gratitude your message of encouragement to your supporters: “Our combined efforts have not been without success. A regime without the law is like a stool without legs. It looks foolish and the future is unpredictable.” Yours is the moral victory.
The rulers now in power in the Russian Federation have subverted the rule of law, but that is not all. They have betrayed the high ideals set forth in the Constitution. They have subverted democracy itself. They have installed and maintained a corrupt kleptocracy and brought dishonour on their country. By their misdeeds they have brought Russia into disrepute among the nations of the world. They have reinvented the mock trial for our new century. They are the men of yesterday.
The regime has demonstrated its lack of conviction, its absence of courage, by the decision to defer the announcement of the sentences until the last moments of the year, in the hope that the news of this renewed injustice will not be much noticed.
Your supporters around the world have not been discouraged by the weak, illogical decisions of the judge in your case, since it is clear that he has not been able to withstand the pressures imposed on him by those in power. Instead, we take encouragement from the moral pressure now on President Dmitry Medvedev to exercise his prerogative and to use the constitutional Presidential Pardon available to him, as is his undoubted right and his clear duty.
We take courage also from the idea that the overwhelming struggle of humanity is for justice and morality everywhere, and the weight of all humanity cannot, finally, be defeated by perverted men temporarily in positions of power.
We thank you for the moral stand you have taken against injustice, and the courage you have shown during your long ordeal. We wish you health and good spirits to enable you to withstand the difficulties ahead of you; and we assure you of our continuing support until the day when you are set free and can return to your families and loved ones.
On behalf of the Committee to Free Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev
Jeremy Putley, United Kingdom
Maren Koop, Germany
Cliff Esler, Canada
The Telegraph reports that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has launched an outspoken attack on the USSR, calling it “totalitarian” and criticizing its human rights record. The text of the Izvestia interview can be read in Russian here. Money quote:
Если говорить прямо, тот режим, который сложился в СССР, иначе как тоталитарным назвать нельзя. К сожалению, это был режим, при котором подавлялись элементарные права и свободы. И не только применительно к своим людям (часть из которых после войны, будучи победителями, переехала в лагеря). Так было и в других странах соцлагеря тоже. И, конечно, из истории это не вычеркнуть.
It turns out that “Ikramuddin Khan” is the pseudonym of Vadim Sidorov, a Muslim convert also known as Kharum ar-Rushi, head of the National Organization of Russian Muslims.
Many commentators in the West tend to forget that Russia has a steadily growing number of ethnic Russian converts to Islam. Specialist observers have documented the trend, however: in 2007, Paul Goble quoted a figure as large as 20,000, and by now the numbers are likely to be even higher. Daniel Pipes has a useful and interesting survey of the subject on his website, where he quotes President Dmitry Medvedev as saying:
“Russia is a multi-national and multi-confessional country. Russian Muslims have enough respect and influence. Muslim foundations are making an important contribution to promoting peace in society, providing spiritual and moral education for many people, as well as fighting extremism and xenophobia. There are 182 ethnic groups living in Russia, and 57 of them claim Islam as their main religion. This figure speaks for itself.”
It does indeed.
Reports say that family members of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been secretly flown to Russia. Via Arutz Sheva:
The Iranian Students Solidarity organization, representing tens of thousands of students in Tehran and other major cities, claims that contacts within the regime leaked the information to them. According to these sources, members of Khamenei’s family, including his daughter-in-law and grandson, have been evacuated to Russia in a private plane. In their secret trip, the Khamenei family members were accompanied by special security personnel assigned to maintain their safety.
The pro-democracy organization further claims, quoting the same alleged regime contacts, that Khamenei dispatched a close confidante to Russia to explore the possibility of the Russians hosting the Khamenei family. According to the student solidarity movement sources, the emissary met with various Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The source added that Putin’s wife offered the Supreme Leader’s relatives an estate near Moscow to “accommodate [them] for as long as it is necessary,” according to an Iranian Students Solidarity statement.
The trip to Russia allegedly took place in the wake of violent clashes between regime forces and protesters on December 28.
Tobias Ljungvall took notes during a recent speech given at a Stockholm seminar by Russian political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov. As Tobias observes, Lukyanov more or less reproduces the Kremlin’s current view of world affairs and of Russia’s role in them [my tr.]:
1. Russian foreign policy under President Medvedev has not undergone any fundamental change compared to the foreign policy that prevailed under Putin. The differences in nuance can be partly explained by the fact that Medvedev is a different sort of person.
2. Russia is not like the Soviet Union, partly because it lacks an ideology.The loss of empire in1991 was worse than other countries’ similar experiences (e.g, Britain’s loss of its colonies) as the lost areas were extensions of the country and some were a part of the national identity. The building of the Russian state began many centuries ago in Kiev, and therefore Russia finds hard to accept that Ukraine should join NATO.
3. A key concept is the so-called multi-polar world. The United States’ attempt at hegemony has failed but has made the world more unstable because it cannot rely on international law any more. Relations between emerging new poles will shape the present century.
4. While in the West the Kosovo war of 1999 was perceived positively as proof that it was possible to defend human rights by force, Russia’s interpretation of the Kosovo events was that national sovereignty no longer applies in the world. Russian public opinion turned its back on integration with the West and Western ideas of morality.
5. Instead, Russia was forced to strengthen its own capability. The only real guarantee of sovereignty for Russia is its nuclear weapons. In the absence of the former capabilities of the Soviet Union, Russia has also politicized gas and oil, in a way that Lukyanov thinks ultimately does most harm to Gazprom itself. The Soviet Union never mixed business and politics in the way that is now happening.
6. So now Russia is trying to avoid new gas conflicts with Ukraine. Today it is only Ukraine’s President Yushchenko who tries to provoke them. But hopefully after the elections which are due to take place in two months’ time Yushchenko will go into political retirement.
There is more.
At Prague Watchdog, Andrei Babitsky and German Sadulayev comment on President Medvedev’s new North Caucasus policy, announced in his recent address to the Federal Assembly, and his appointment of an “overseer” for the region, which is now for the first time being perceived by the Kremlin as a political entity. Also, a new Reuters report quotes ChRI leader Akhmed Zakayev as saying that Russia intends to significantly increase the numbers of its troops in the North Caucasus, as part of a planned surge.
Mikhail Sokolov: So you mean that in the coming decade Russia is doomed to give the world yet another negative lesson of the kind it gave in the past: we’ve had Communism and Stalinism, and now Russia is to be run by the secret police, or corporations composed of Putin’s managers?
Yuri Felshtinsky: In your question I hear a note of sad reproach, but in fact one can take a slightly different view of the way the world sees Russia. It’s really a matter of comparisons. The West and the whole of the rest of the world have to compare Russia’s present leadership with, for example, Stalin and Khrushchev. Of Stalin, of course, the less said the better.. Khrushchev beat his shoe on the podium. Brezhnev – also the less said the better. Now and then Yeltsin was drunk in public. Listen, against that background, Medvedev is quite simply the flower of the Russian intelligentsia. And against that background even Putin, on the whole, is a young progressive politician who knows how to smile, talk, behave himself more or less, not always, not everywhere, we know about all the blunders he committed as leader of the country: like when he joked about the sinking of the “Kursk” submarine, or when he told a journalist to go and get circumcised, and when he talked about flushing the Chechens down the toilet. We know about all that, the list is too long to enumerate. But even so, if we compare this with Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, then sorry, it’s not surprising that the Western community thought Putin was the best Russian president it had ever had to deal with.
On this level Medvedev is even better, because they don’t even have to deal with him, because they know that he doesn’t decide important policy matters in the country. So in that sense what awaits the West is not such a bad option.
The West takes a cautiously sceptical view of Russia. Russia is like the classroom bully. Between ourselves, no one ever expects anything good of Russia. Everyone expects something bad. When bad things happen, like the war in Chechnya or the war in Georgia, everyone says: “Yes, well, of course, what else can you expect of them? And when bad things don’t happen, they put a tick in the checkbox: “Listen, it could have happened and it didn’t.” In other words, Russia is treated like this naughty boy who is a member of the family but whom no one can do anything with, he’s just there.
And (this is a serious point, by the way) they all understand that that Russia is there, that it was there in the past and that it will go on being there in the future. Russia will be there both as a participant in all the political dialogues [with the West] and as a very important economic partner, especially for Europe. So we all have to live with Russia. And it is absolutely the task of everyone to make life easier for ourselves, to make this life together with Russia as easy and painless as possible.
Georgia’s President Saakashvili has pointed to the irony of the presence of Russia’s President Medvedev at the recent anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:
“What does it mean – welcoming the Russian President in Berlin as if he were a big democrat to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, while Erich Honecker [the last leader of German Democratic Republic] was not doing even one tenth of what [Russia] is doing now; Honecker was eventually apprehended by the Europeans… And now they [the Europeans] have him [Medvedev] sitting smiling next to them; it won’t work – shaking one hand with them [Europeans] and capturing children with the other.”
By “capturing children”, Saakashvili was referring to the recent detention of four Georgian teenagers by South Ossetian forces. Saakashvili appealed to leaders of the countries of the EU to react more decisively to Russia’s provocative actions:
“The Russians are testing the reactions of others, what others will do in response to Russia’s provocations. What happens next will depend on cases like this.”
RFE/RL’s Caucasus Report examines the abrupt change of tack on the part of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who had earlier said he would welcome the return to the republic of ChRI head Akhmed Zakayev, now exiled in London. But last week Kadyrov branded Zakayev a “liar”, and accused him of misrepresenting the situation in Chechnya. Now Chechen parliamentary speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov has joined the anti-Zakayev campaign, calling him a “traitor”. RFE/RL notes that
If Zakayev’s hypothesis that the “hawks” in Moscow were behind Kadyrov’s criticism of him last week is indeed correct, then Abdurakhmanov’s November 2 interview leaves no doubt that, for whatever reason, they are out to destroy Zakayev’s reputation and influence both within the diaspora community and in Chechnya.
At Prague Watchdog, German Sadulayev has some further reflections [in my tr.] on the subject.