Vladimir Putin the Taxi Driver

"Временами человек в темных очках и серой футболке за рулем искренне казался мне таксистом, к которому я подсел, разговорчивым таким человеком, которому хотелось скоротать время за длинной дорогой, потому он меня и подобрал."

[Прочитать статью на русском языке здесь.]

“Bashed over the head with a truncheon.” “A clubbing on their skulls.” “Beaten around the head with truncheons.” “A whack on the bonce.” “A club on your noggin.” “Hit in the head by a bludgeon.” “A whack on the nut.” These are just some of the ways that English language media perevodchiki have decided to translate Putin’s now infamous remarks about how Russian police respond to opposition protests. There are two phrases of particular interest: “Получите по башке дубиной” and “Получи, тебя отоварили.” The operative words here are башка (bashka), which is slang for the thing that sits atop your neck, and отоварить (otovarit’), which is a verb that basically means “to receive something, having paid for it.”

The other big thing Western journalists have highlighted as an important takeaway from Putin’s interview with Kommersant (see here for the original Russian and here for a complete English translation) is the notion that he’s preparing the way for a return to the presidency: “Putin gives strongest indication he will serve third term as president“; “Putin goes on the road – and plots his route back to power“; “Putin Hits the Road to Buff ‘Action Man’ Image With Eye on 2012 Election“; and “Putin Shows Russia He Is at the Wheel“. Continue reading ‘Vladimir Putin the Taxi Driver’ »

Full Translation: Oleg Kashin’s “A Translation from Prussian”

Oleg Kashin reports from Kaliningrad

Two days ago this week, the Kremlin announced that Dmitri Medvedev will be appointing Nikolai Tsukanov to fill the soon-to-be-vacant governor’s seat in Kaliningrad. I wrote about the ousting of Georgy Boos last week, but I thought it worthwhile to translate an analysis by Oleg Kashin, a seasoned Kaliningrad politics expert and native of the region. His article was also published this Monday, though before it became public that Tsukanov had been tapped as the next governor.

Kashin’s piece states unequivocally that “no one in Kaliningrad or in Moscow disputes that the [opposition] protests were the reason for [Boos'] non-reappointment.” This is rather different from the point I argued in my own post about Boos’ departure (which emphasized the intra-elite scandals that have plagued the governor in recent weeks), but Kashin’s interviews alone — primarily with members of the local opposition — make this an excellent read.

I’m not entirely convinced that the Kremlin was in such a panic when it decided not to reappoint Boos (after all, the protests have largely died down, and key organizers like Doroshok have been successfully co-opted), but Kashin does an excellent job making the case for this interpretation, all the same. Read on for my full translation of his article: Continue reading ‘Full Translation: Oleg Kashin’s “A Translation from Prussian”’ »

Jailbird Moms: Anna Shavenkova vs. Yulia Kruglova

Anna Shavenkova (left) & Yulia Kruglova (right)

It was just last April when Dmitri Medvedev approved revisions to Article 74 of the federal criminal code, supposedly eliminating pretrial detention for persons accused of nonviolent offenses. The stimulus for that move was the death of Sergey Magnitsy, a lawyer representing William Browder’s Hermitage Capital, which was the victim of a massive theft and extortion ring. This was meant to usher in an era of more humane treatment when it comes to “economic crimes,” as they’re called in Russian.

Skip ahead to the present time, when the 2010 summer’s sun is setting over a horizon of wildfire ash and subsiding heat-waves. Two court cases in recent weeks have given Russia’s bruised citizenry a few additional reminders that the world is a cruel, extremely stupid place to live. Both these cases involve mothers of young children, but the similarities pretty much end there. I’m talking, of course, about Anna Shavenkova and Yulia Kruglova. Continue reading ‘Jailbird Moms: Anna Shavenkova vs. Yulia Kruglova’ »

The Party Nearby

This party definitely isn't near power, but it is rather close to that porta-potty.

In light of the recent news about Georgy Boos’, I decided to translate an article that appeared last week in Gazeta.ru by Ol’ga Bolotova. The piece is about the electoral strategies of United Russia’s local party branches in Siberia and the Far East.

The gist of the text, as the title suggests, is that the EdRossy are shifting tactics when it comes to peripheral localities, trying to play down their ties to the political establishment in order to portray themselves as vehicles of people power and grassroots ingenuity.

A few brief remarks about the article: I wonder if Ms. Bolotova and others aren’t somewhat exaggerating the degree to which the EdRossy are pretending to be outside the Power Vertical. While there do appear to be efforts to promote ‘home grown’ projects (like remodeling cemeteries and gentrifying city centers), the foundation of even the regional party platforms remains firmly rooted in United Russia tenets: modernization, Putin/Medvedev, and anti-corruption. Continue reading ‘The Party Nearby’ »

Meet the Old Boss, Georgy Boos

Clear out your stuff, buddy. You're being promoted again.

Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos is out. This morning, United Russia unveiled its shortlist for governor candidates (from which Medvedev will select the oblast’s next leader), and Mr. Boos’ name was not on it.

Until just last week, most observers (including people who hated Boos) were confident that the governor would receive another term, despite mass protests earlier this year that were hugely embarrassing for the Kremlin and Russia’s most powerful political party. The likely media reaction to Boos’ ousting now will be to credit the opposition with having pressured a compromise from the president, whose office appointed Boos five years ago. Indeed, Vladimir Milov and Boris Nemtsov rushed to their LiveJournal blogs with updates. Nemtsov proclaimed it “a serious victory for the opposition,” whereas Milov qualified his celebration somewhat, saying “this is a big victory for the Kaliningrad opposition” (my emphasis).

So why did Boos lose his job? Continue reading ‘Meet the Old Boss, Georgy Boos’ »

The Federal Zakonoproekt 'On the Police'

Will Nurgaliev Be Next to Order?

A couple of weeks ago, I took some time to examine the important bits that did and didn’t make it into the FSB reforms that were eventually signed into law by President Medvedev. In that same spirit, I’d now like to turn to the latest splash in Russia’s world of legalism: the Federal Law Project ‘On the Police.’

For those who don’t already know, the Law on the Police is a 57-clause proposal from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) that updates the existing militsiia legal code from 1991. The project initially made headlines for two main reasons: (1) the legislation would change the name of the Bolshevik-named ‘milistiia’ (милиция) to the more standard ‘politsiia’ (полиция, or ‘police’), and (2) the entire text of the proposal has been posted online by the government (at http://zakonoproekt2010.ru), in an interface that allows citizens to comment on individual clauses, whether in high praise or sharp criticism. (Most of the commentary appears to be quite negative.)

Continue reading ‘The Federal Zakonoproekt 'On the Police'’ »

The Tale of How Aleksandr Pochkov Quarreled with Vladimir Vladimirovich

Aleksandr Pochkov (aka 'top_lap') & Vladimir Putin

The wild fires catastrophe has made this first week in August rather unpleasant for many in Russia. The death toll climbed to fifty people today, and more are likely to perish before the week’s end. Russia’s agriculture production is so threatened that the government is allegedly planning to ban grain exports. Hundreds of homes have burned to the ground and the ecological damage will last for decades to come.

In the whirlwind of all this destruction, a curious little episode emerged between Aleksei Venediktov (chief editor of Ekho Moskvy), an anonymous Internet-user, and Vladimir Putin himself.

A few days ago, Venediktov passed along to Putin an unsigned obscenity-filled open letter from a resident of the Tverskaia Oblast’ (since unmasked as Aleksandr Pochkov) criticizing the government response to the fires. It’s unclear why, but Putin actually responded to the anonymous letter — personally.

I’m sure many will read Putin’s response as another installment in his epic book of cool, but I happen to think this is only a plus for Vova insomuch as he wrote back at all. (If only we could all have our leaders for pen pals.) The actual content of his letter — its sarcasm and concluding offer to ‘return the fire alarm bell’ — seems to make light of a pretty serious problem, namely the embarrassing poverty of the Russian countryside. I enjoy the regular Putin wisecrack about American imperialism, but it seems like he should have left this one alone. At any rate, this is at least proof that the Kremlin’s top dog is paying attention.

As it turns out, Mr. Pochkov, aka “top_lap” on LiveJournal, is a 28-year-old Muscovite whose mother is rather ashamed that her son caused this whole scandal. (She pleaded with reporters not to make fun of him.) If that doesn’t discredit Putin’s ‘outreach effort’ enough, Pochkov also told Komsolmol’skaia Pravda that he plans to become president one day. He’s obviously a man of big ideas.

Read my full translation of the original exchange for yourself: Continue reading ‘The Tale of How Aleksandr Pochkov Quarreled with Vladimir Vladimirovich’ »