Not-Quite-Secret Agents: the Spy Scandal

Anna Chapman, one of the 11 accused Russian spies.

The “Russian spy ring” story has been alternately thrilling and boring the news-reading public for nearly 48 hours now, and it’s safe to say that — until the FBI or U.S. Attorney’s Office or the Justice Department releases any new information — there’s not much left to say. There wasn’t a whole lot of journalism to be had from the start, in fact. Most reporters seem to have merely read over the DOJ’s formal charges (made available online in two PDFs, here and here), offering colorful retellings of whichever nutty details they liked best.

There have been some additional newsworthy remarks by Foreign Minister Lavrov, who questioned the timing of the arrests (which immediately followed Medvedev’s North American tour), and Vladimir Putin, who told visiting former president Bill Cliton that “his police got out of control.” The really tasty quote from the Russian side of the pond, however, belongs to Vladimir Kolesnikov, deputy chairman of the security affairs committee in the Duma, who told RIA Novosti that anti-Obama elements in the U.S. government were trying to undermine the president’s U.S.-Russia reset agenda. Continue reading ‘Not-Quite-Secret Agents: the Spy Scandal’ »

The Sad State of Gay Rights in Russia

Russian Expats in Berlin Turn Out 2x More than Muscovite Activists

At the end of last month, just two days before the infamous May 31st Triumfal’naia Square rally, Russian gay rights activists conducted a small, brief march down Staryi Arbat. Thirty people participated, all of whom, the organizers reported relievedly, “successfully escaped arrest.” The police did close down the road at the end of Arbat, to prevent the march from continuing on, but the protesters would have dispersed anyways, cutting their loses and counting their blessings, happy to have walked a few blocks without being attacked.

Just this last weekend, more than 600 thousand people gathered in Berlin to watch the 32nd Gay Pride Festival. This year, a group of as many as sixty LGBT Russian expats joined in the parade for the first time. (See some of their amazing pictures here.)

That’s right: twice the number of Russians marched for gay rights in Berlin last weekend than did Muscovites in May. Continue reading ‘The Sad State of Gay Rights in Russia’ »

Solidarnost'. Itogi. 2 goda. (Solidarity. The Results. 2 Years.)

Solidarnost'. Itogi. 2 goda.

Vladimir Milov has enjoyed a great deal of limelight over the past couple of weeks as Boris Nemtsov’s co-author of “Putin. Itogi. 10 let,” a 48-page anti-Putin book that’s caused something of a media storm. In the Russia-Blogger Anglosphere, Sean Guillory and Anatoly Karlin have already dedicated entire posts to the content and public reception of this political text, but no one seems to have noticed that, in a series of open letters and blog posts, Mr. Milov has produced another altogether different political exposé … this time aimed squarely at the heart of contemporary Russian liberalism itself: Solidarnost’. Continue reading ‘Solidarnost'. Itogi. 2 goda. (Solidarity. The Results. 2 Years.)’ »

Russia's Osh Test

Source: WSJ

The recent violence in southern Kyrgyzstan — a nation whose integrity desperately relies on spell-checkers around the world — has dramatically altered American talking points on Russia. It was just two months ago that frazzled foreign policy observers wrung their hands in anguish about the latest collapsed color revolution. “Russia’s done it again” was the consensus, as the U.S. watched Moscow rush to normalize relations with the new provisional government. Many viewed the deployment of reinforcement troops to the Russian base in Kant (like Manas, well to the north of Osh) as the beginning of a larger military influx of Kalashnikov-carrying Ivans. That the additional soldiers dispatched were fancy paratroopers, two extra companies, somehow added to the impression that Russia had again out-maneuvered the United States in the former Soviet periphery, scoring for itself a new spheres-of-influence victory. Continue reading ‘Russia's Osh Test’ »

Oleg Kashin on 'Strategy-31' (Full Translation)

The following is my translation of Oleg Kashin’s firsthand account and private ruminations on the May 31, 2010, opposition rally in Triumfal’naia Square in Moscow.

Oleg Kashin

This article was published two days ago in Kommersant’s ‘Vlast’ edition on June 6, 2010. Kashin does an excellent job dissecting the pageantry on all sides of the ‘Strategy-31′ Movement, sparing neither the Moscow police, the press, the pro-Kremlin youth groups, nor, of course, the liberal opposition itself. That said, I find his conclusion to be somewhat unclear: he seems to believe (or is at least willing to entertain the idea) that Medvedev is likely to soon spearhead a “thaw” that will allow the несогласные the right to demonstrate at Triumfal’naia. Kashin apparently considers this a possible consequence of the external, real politics of the Kremlin — and that the decision to allow the marches will have nothing to do with what goes on in the marches themselves. This sounds like a reasonable point, though I don’t entirely understand why Medvedev would bother disrupting the status quo for an irrelevant political force. It seems to me that Medvedev and Putin will either (1) continue to ignore and harass the ‘Strategy-31′ protestors (who appear to rather enjoy their infamy) because the liberals are an unimportant fringe society, or (2) grant them legal access to Triumfal’naia because they’ve been embarrassed too many times by the negative press every crackdown generates.

But read and decide for yourself:

BloodDeclaration [Кровоизъявление], by Oleg Kashin

To see how Moscow’s residents and authorities understood the conversation between Vladimir Putin and Yuri Shevchuk, ‘Vlast’ correspondent Oleg Kashin observed the Triumfal’naia Square rally on May 31st.

Truly and unquestionably pitiful are the teenagers who stand around the Mayakovsky Statue and pretend to demonstrate in support of a blood drive. Truth be told: they were bused in from schools and institutes outside Moscow, and they know nothing about “Strategy-31,” nothing about the conversation between Putin and Shevchuk, and generally nothing about anything. But they still understand that something isn’t right. They understand that ‘donating’ is just make-believe, that no one there is giving any blood, and that before their very eyes their pamphlets about donating are trampled by policemen — policemen who surround them for a purpose other than defending this idiotic rally in support of a blood drive. Continue reading ‘Oleg Kashin on 'Strategy-31' (Full Translation)’ »

Russia's Sick Police

What Сноб.ru thinks of Russian cops.

The reform of Russia’s Interior Ministry (MVD) produced some news this week in the form of an amusing interview with Rashid Nurgaliev, the ministry’s chief. Nurgaliev called the MVD “the very poorest of current law enforcement agencies” and voiced concerns that many officers are “very deeply sick,” explaining that traffic patrols last 50% longer in Russia than in other countries, exposing men to car pollution and increased strain. “This is a very serious problem,” he said.

Not surprisingly, newspapers the next day ran headlines like “We’re the very poorest” and “Nurgaliev found the cops’ main problem: they’re all ‘very deeply sick.” Сноб.ru, the classy e-journal that it is, published an article titled “The pathological physiology of the Russian Police Officer,” and included a photo of an unidentified cop resting his weary, fat body, while on a smoke break (see photo). The sub-header reads: “Minister Nurgaliev claims that police officers suffer from lead poisoning. Accordingly, ‘Nauka’ blog moderator Ilya Kolmanovskii analyzes the epidemiology of this difficult profession.” Kolmanovskii goes on to explain that lead hasn’t been used in automotive fuel for a decade, and that it’s far more dangerous to children than adults. “Their chief problems,” he proposes, “are obesity and alcoholism.” Before posting another image of a chubby cop, Kolmanovskii adds, “When I was in jail [he was arrested during the May 31 Moscow protest], I was literally surrounded by fatties.” Continue reading ‘Russia's Sick Police’ »

The Putin-Shevchuk Commentary Roundup

As expected, figures in the Russian liberal community reacted harshly to Vladimir Putin’s comments in an exchange with Yuri Shevchuk last Saturday. Also unsurprising, journalists unfriendly to the opposition responded as they do by defending the actions of the authorities and questioning the motives of the liberals.

All in all, it was another day in Russia. That is to say: it was an interesting day. Continue reading ‘The Putin-Shevchuk Commentary Roundup’ »

"Excuse me, but what's your name?" (The Full Translation of the Putin-Shevchuk Showdown)

Shevchuk toasts the nation's children, attacks "totalitarianism" and Vladimir Putin.

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin met with the participants and organizers of charity event for sick children. The event included various famous members of the Russian artist and intellectual community. The most animated guest at the table was Yuri Shevchuk, lead singer of the rock band DDT and well-known liberal activist. Just a few months ago, Shevchuk made headlines for a viciously-worded speech against Putin. Last night, he repeated many of his criticisms of the Prime Minister, but this time he was sitting three seats away from the man.

What follows is a full translation of the public conversation between Vladimir Putin and Yuri Shevchuk. For the original Russian transcript, see here.

Putin: We can discuss any topic related to today’s theme. It’s up to you.

Shevchuk: Vladimir Vladimirovich, may I?

Putin: Yes.

Shevchuk: It’s just that the day before yesterday, one of your aides called me (I think — I don’t remember his name), and he requested that I not ask you any tough questions — political and so on…

Putin: Excuse me, but what’s your name? [А как Вас зовут, извините?]

Shevchuk: Yura Shevchuk, musician.

Putin: Yura, that call was a provocation. Continue reading ‘"Excuse me, but what's your name?" (The Full Translation of the Putin-Shevchuk Showdown)’ »