Here it is:
Here it is:
Earlier today, Navalny received a custodial sentence of five years for the theft of 15 million rubles ($500,000) worth of timber from Kirovles.
It is simply not true to say that there was “no case” against Navalny, as the Western and Russian liberal media insists on doing. There is wiretap evidence and witness testimony that Navalny and Ofitserov exploited their official positions to rewrite Kirovles supply contracts so as to have them go through VLK, a shell company that took a signicant cut for its “services.” It is also a fact that VLK was indebted to Kirovles, the state lumber company that was allegedly defrauded, to the tune of around $100,000 upon the latter’s bankruptcy.
But that, at worst, would fall under Article 165 (“causing financial loss by way of deceit and misuse of trust”), and not under Article 160 (“theft”) on which Navalny was actually convicted. At the most elementary level, how can one “steal” $5 from someone, and yet only owe him $1 at the end of it? The evidence in support of this is that Navalny actually was charged in relation to Kirovles TWICE before, but under Article 165; it was also dropped twice, which perhaps indicates that the prosecutors didn’t believe the evidence was sufficient to secure a conviction. Until, presumably, a certain political decision was taken to go ahead with the prosecution after all. A decision that Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin himself all but admitted: “But if the person in question draws attention to himself with all his strength, or we can even say, teases authority – saying that oh I am so white and flawless, then the interest in his past increases and the process of exposing it to the sunlight, understandably, accelerates.“
So let’s put aside concerns about legal process, morality, and justice for a moment. Let’s even assume Navalny really was guilty of ”causing financial loss by way of deceit and misuse of trust.” In short, let’s posit the most favorable possible interpretation and frame of reference as far as the Kremlin was concerned. What, exactly, does it gain by jailing Navalny on an article (“theft”) that couldn’t possibly have applied to him?
Well, let’s make a list, shall we.
(1) Proudly confirm Russia as a country where legal nihilism reigns. With Khodorkovsky, it was eminently credible that he was guilty of the charges made against him – an assessment later confirmed by the ECHR, even if neocons, faux-leftist liberals, and political shysters posing as human rights lawyers like Robert Amsterdam begged to differ. No such “defense” applies to Navalny’s conviction. Not to mention, of course, the conflict of interest involved in the IC deciding to prosecute Navalny – for real, this time – soon after he accused its head Alexander Bastrykin of having owned properties in the Czech Republic.
(2) By even further delegitimizing the Russian courts system – as if it didn’t have enough image problems already – it also undermines any other prosecutions the state might carry out. There is video evidence of Urlashov taking a bribe (even the NYT acknowledges that the case is probably legitimate); of the Bolotnaya “political prisoners” hurling stones and beating up policemen; of Udaltsov planning riots and taking money from a pro-Saakashvili Georgian. The Pussy Riot sentence of two years may have been extremely harsh, but it was undoubtedly legal; there was, furthermore, a roughly analogous case in Germany in 2006. But thanks to the Navalny mess, these cases are all going to be even further discredited together with the judicial system in general.
(3) There appears a man with a Messiah complex who claims he has “millions” behind him, but in reality enjoys the support of no more than 10% of Muscovites (and 5% of the entire country). He can’t gather enough signatures to pass the municipal filter required to participate in the Moscow elections, so you order your United Russia flunkies to help him out. He gets registered. You now have the prospect of a truly “competitive” election in in the capital – thanks to Navalny’s participation – but one that you are nonetheless all but guaranteed to win. Surely this would calm down the “hamsters.” And then, “BAHM!” Wave goodbye to that new aura of legitimacy you’d hoping for. In fact, you are now regarded by some people as a manipulative scumbag for “helping” Navalny in the first place. That is the story of Sobyanin. One almost feels sorry for him.
(4) Make a martyr out of a man with 5% approval ratings, who’s popularity has been decreasing even as his name recognition spread through Russia. It couldn’t matter less whether or not he “deserves” that status. The reality is that the PR efforts to portray Navalny as a timber chief have been entirely unsuccessful – not that surprising, really, considering the Kremlin cares so little for its image that it left its propaganda to bloggers like Stanislav Apetyan - and as such, according to opinion polls, more than half the Russian population views the Navalny case as politically motivated.
Navalny is not tainted by the mass theft and thuggery of the 1990s. He is a member of the upper middle-class who drives a fairly modest car, lives in a good but not luxurious apartment, and has a lot of things to say about corruption and bureaucrats. Yes, not all those things might be true; and you are also free not to like him for his “nationalism,” or any one of his various other political stances. Nonetheless, the fact remains that as far as most normal Russians are concerned he still cuts a vastly more sympathetic figure than Khodorkovsky, the first “martyr” of the non-systemic opposition.
(5) The street opposition has split into squabbling groups and petty infighting. The Coordinating Council has become something of a byword for ineffectiveness and political impotence, with its recent chief Treasurer suspected of stealing its funds and making off with the proceeds. So what’s a great idea? Give them something to rally over!
(6) Attendance at the Moscow protests has been dying down ever since the rally at Prospekt Sakharova in February 2012. It entered freefall since the May 6th riots, when the protesters lost a lot of goodwill from the population by getting into scuffles with the police. So what’s a great idea? Jail Navalny and incite them all out into the streets again! Why not, LOL?
(7) In recent weeks, Russia got the image and propaganda coup of a decade thanks to Snowden’s decision to stay and seek asylum there. It was entirely undeserved, of course, given the status of whistle-blower protections in Russia; that is to say, they don’t exist. Though granted, Russia was was singularly sluggish about taking full opportunity of the windfall, e.g. aggressively positioning itself as a safe haven for Western dissidents. After all, “our relations shall not be the hostage of Snowden or other US or Russia extravagant persons,” according to certain influential people linked to the Russian government.
But he might not have worried overmuch. Sandwiched as Snowden was in between the conviction of Magnitsky’s corpse and the jailing of Navalny, he might as well not have existed so far as the media narrative will be concerned in the next months. He will become one of those “extravagant persons” at the center of US – Russia relations, the latest in a long line that stretches back to encompass Magnitsky, and before him, Litvinenko, Khodorkovsky, and Berezovsky (funny, and sad, how that list progressively goes from oligarchs, to their employees, and finally to just an ordinary citizen). Defending the Kremlin’s clawback of the state from the oligarchs in the early 2000s was reasonable and proper. As regards Litvinenko and Magnitsky, the situation was a lot less clearcut, but still far too murky to make any clear judgment one way or the other. With Navalny, however, the Kremlin is now clearly in the wrong.
And so it will be Navalny! – Navalny! – Navalny! for the next months and years to come, in the absence of an (improbable) acquittal in an appeal. And unlike in earlier years, no longer unjustifiably so.
(8) But what about Serdyukov? So unfair *wah* *wah* *wah*. Well, look, unless you suffer from some infantile disorder of idealism, you will know that society is corrupt, hierarchic, and unfair. In some countries the law levels the playing field to a greater or lesser extent. In Russia, the emphasis is very much on the latter: “For my friends – everything; for my enemies – the law” might be cliche, but it is impossible to deny its continued relevance. It sometimes seems that the more you steal in Russia, the better your chances of getting away with it. Ordinary bureaucrats who have stolen orders of magnitude more than Navalny – even if we take at face value the $500,000 he was convicted of – typically get suspended sentences for their efforts (gazeta.ru has compiled a detailed list). Akhmed Bilalov, the fall guy for the Olympics cost overruns that made them the most expensive games in history, was “allowed” to emigrate to Britain. Former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov walks freely, commuting between Moscow and his mini-palace in London. The Oboronservis scandal that developed under former Defense Minsiter Serdyukov, where losses are at more than $100 million and counting – that’s more than 200 times greater than the most than the least favorable possible accounting of Navalny’s demeanours - remains at liberty as a mere suspect to the case, while his lover Elena Vasilieva who did the dirty work is under “house arrest” in a central Moscow luxury apartment with 13 rooms, and gets three hours off per day to do boutique shopping. This is all not so much even a question of “morality” as of basic legitimacy and whether such a state of affairs will continue to be tolerated indefinitely. When Putin was asked why Serdyukov wasn’t in jail at his annual Q&A by a Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter, he replied, “We don’t want another 1937.” Because, of course, imprisoning types like Luzhkov and Serdyukov for corruption is totally equivalent to rounding up and shooting hundreds of thousands of saboteurs and spies. At this rate, sooner rather later people will be DEMANDING a new 1937.
(9) Even the Prosecutor-General Office thinks Navalny’s immediate jailing is way over the top and uncalled for! So on top of reigniting opposition protests, the conviction may well have provoked an inter-siloviki scuffle as well.
(10) Last, and admittedly least, a note to the Kremlin: If you ever end up following La Russophobe’s advice, chances are it’s time to stop, and reconsider.
Power summary: If the Kremlin wanted to provoke instability both within the elite and without, invite contempt from broad swathes of otherwise neutral or apathetic social groups, and sully its image both internally and in the West for many more years to come, then jailing Navalny was a great idea. It could have hardly have chosen a better way to go about it.
The verdict is worse than petty and hypocritical. It’s incredibly stupid. I do not think it was so much a “Kremlin” decision as an initiative of the siloviki around Bastrykin, the IC, and Sechin (suffice to say that even the Prosecutor-General’s Office isn’t all that happy about it). One need hardly mention the liberal/technocratic wing of the Kremlin, which actually helped Navalny get past the municipal filter to participate in Moscow’s elections. Why would Sobyanin do that intentionally, just to come off looking as a total scumbag when Navalny was jailed and arrested? Sobyanin doesn’t need it. Even Putin doesn’t need it! As he himself might say, jailing Navalny is a lot like shearing a pig: Little fur, and a lot of squealing.
This June I had the pleasure of once again attending and speaking at the World Russia Forum. The event now happens twice a year, in Washington DC and Moscow, and is intended to draw together Russian and American experts, academics, journalists, and policy-makers in an effort to improve relations between these two nations. An account of it, and the subsequent reception at the Russian Embassy to mark Russia Day, follows below:
It was raining with near monsoonal intensity when I disembarked off the train*. I have no complaints; these downpours dispel the sultry oppressiveness inherent to a city originally built on swampland, so far as I was concerned the more rain the merrier.
The Qataris sure know how to get their message out!
Four of the WRF’s speakers in the hotel dining room. From left to right: Pamela (Patrick’s wife); Martin Sieff; Patrick Armstrong; William Dunkerley; your humble servant.
Natalia Zubarevich’s concept of “The Four Russias” is one of the most reasoned and perceptive political analysis from the liberals, and as such I think it important enough to translate it (mostly I disagree with its core assumptions and conclusions though I do think it is a useful way of envisioning Russian politics). As such I am translating Четыре России from Vedomosti (there is also a longer version, translated here).
The events of 2011 demonstrated that the authorities’ habit of looking at the country through a “vertical incision” played a cruel joke on them. In reality, there is not one Russia, but rather three or even four. And this is a reality with which both the government, and the opposition, will have to come to terms with.
The Four Russias: First Russia – urban, educated (white); Second Russia – urban, industrial (blue); Third Russia – rural, apolitical (green); Fourth Russia – ethnic, poor (red).
The First Russia is a country of big cities. They aren’t great in number, but the 12 city-millionaires as well as Perm and Krasnoyarsk, which have close to a million residents, constitute 21% of the country’s population, i.e. every fifth Russian, while Moscow and Saint Petersburg by themselves account for 9%. In the past 20 years, the biggest cities cities ceased being industrial – only in Ufa, Perm, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and Volgograd do Soviet industrial enterprises continue to dominate the economy. Although the fastest post-industrial transformations are observed in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Rostov-on-Don, all the city-millionaires have seen a change in employment patterns: The percentage of qualified “blue collar” workers rose, there appeared more employees of small businesses, and even the public sector attracted more qualified workers. There is quick adoption of the metropolitan model of consumer behavior, even though earnings are 1.5-2x lower than in Moscow. It is precisely in the bigger cities that we see a concentration of those middle class “disgruntled urbanites.” Migration flows in Russia are directed towards these bigger cities, so their share of the population is growing. The only difference is that the two federal cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and their adjoining agglomerations, attract migrants from all over the country, accounting for up to 80% of net migration in Russia, while the other big cities for the most part draw migrants from their own regions.
From their latest Editorial / anti-Putin rant, via Mercouris. It is not with the ideological rhetoric that I have an issue with; it’s The Guardian, after all. Nor am I especially interested in defending Pussy Riot’s prosecution (my own views on the matter jive with Kononenko’s). I do however have an issue with the The Guardian explicitly misrepresenting or outright lying to support its agenda – a modus operandus that is now all too common to it and makes a mockery of the “facts are sacred” values it claims to uphold. In this “fisking”, I will only highlight the most egregious violations of basic journalistic standards.
“Their protest is not made of slogans and placards, but is crafted from art, dance and performance. Putin and his henchmen know how to deal with the former – the hundreds of thousands who have spilled into the streets in the last eight months – but their handling of the these women is much less assured.”
The Protests for Fair Elections got at very, very most 100,000 at the biggest such rally, the one on Prospekt Sakharova in December – a count made by Russia’s most liberal mainstream newspaper. (Other estimates ranged 60,000-80,000). That is, they numbered in the tens of thousands. If they want hundreds of thousands, they had better look elsewhere… say, Spain.
“The trial takes place in the same courthouse where alleged fraudster and billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former boss of the Yukos oil company and Putin’s political enemy, was tried.”
Not an alleged but a CONVICTED fraudster, in a judgment ruled sound by the ECHR.
Two months ago I wrote an article in which I used data and statistics to show that Russian journalists today under Putin are, contrary to extravagant claims in the Western media, far safer than in several acknowledged democracies such as India or Brazil; far safer than ordinary Russians; and indeed, far safer than they were under Yeltsin. Why then does one get the exact opposite impression from reading the Western media on this subject? Mainly that is because they lean on rhetoric and hyperbole over fact; they deny the utility of comparative perspective; and in some cases, they outright lie or make things up. The Guardian is an example par excellence of all this. On reading a certain Guardian editorial, longtime DR commentator Alex Mercouris noticed that its figure of 200 journalist deaths under Putin clashed irrevocably with ALL estimates from reputed press freedoms watchdogs, most of which converged on a figure of 40 deaths or less. Did The Guardian just make up its own facts? Unable to rest without an answer to this question, Mercouris embarked on an investigation to find out the origins of this massively over-inflated figure… and why The Guardian left it up on their site unchanged for SIX MONTHS after having become aware of their mistake. I am happy to present:
As readers of the British newspaper the Guardian know, the Guardian has conducted for many years a fierce campaign against Vladimir Putin. This began almost from the moment of Putin’s appointment by Boris Yeltsin as Prime Minister in 1999. I still remember an editorial the Guardian published at the time which called on Yeltsin to sack Putin just a few weeks after he had appointed him.
On 18th December 2011 the Guardian published another in its long line of anti Putin editorials under the provocative title “Truth is being murdered in Putin’s bloody Russia.” The language used in this editorial was extreme even by the Guardian’s standards. I was particularly shocked by the final sentence, which referred to the Russian state as “slack, slimy and savage”. Such language seems to me completely inappropriate in an editorial in a serious newspaper with an international readership.
The editorial appeared in print form in the Guardian’s Sunday supplement the Observer and online in the Guardian’s website on “Comment is Free”. The timing of the editorial on 18th December 2011 is important. Parliamentary elections took place in Russia on 4th December 2011 over the course of which the pro Putin party United Russia suffered a substantial loss of support, triggering protests amidst allegations of vote rigging. An unauthorised protest took place in central Moscow on 5th December 2011, which turned violent. A much bigger peaceful protest took place in Moscow on Bolotnaya Square within sight of the Kremlin on 10th December 2011. This was followed by a further big protest in Moscow on Sakharov Avenue on 24th December 2011. The editorial therefore appeared at a tense time in Russia, when the protest movement in Moscow against Putin was at its height and when the Russian and international news media were buzzing with speculation that Putin might be on his way out with rumours circulating of troop movements in Moscow and of a violent crackdown being planned against the protest movement.
The editorial was supposedly written in connection with the murder in Russia’s southern republic of Dagestan in the northern Caucasus of a journalist called Khadzimurad Kamalov. In emotional and angry language the editorial condemned Kamalov’s murder, which it linked to the murder of what it said were “around 200” other journalists who had supposedly been killed in Russia since Putin came to power. Amongst the murdered journalists named in the editorial was the famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was killed outside her apartment in 2006. The editorial accused Putin and his government of complicity in these murders as part of a “bloody” campaign to “murder the truth”.
In other words at a time when Putin was facing a challenge in Moscow from the protest movement and at a time when speculation of a violent crackdown on the protest movement in Moscow was rife the Guardian published an editorial that accused Putin and the Russian government of complicity in the murder of “around 200” journalists and which referred to Russia as a “slack, slimy and savage” state.
I really can’t figure what this Economist editorial reeks more of: Hypocrisy, mendacity, or pure delusion?
That is as it should be, for since his decision last autumn to return to the Kremlin, Mr Putin has been stridently negative and anti-Western, most recently over Syria (see article)
Being anti-Western is “negative”, even for daring to oppose Western-backed Islamist crazies who will back-stab their handlers as soon as they’re able to.
But the reset was based in part on two misplaced hopes: that Dmitry Medvedev, who had been lent the presidency for one term by Mr Putin in 2008, would genuinely take charge of the country, and that some in his government had sound liberalising, pro-Western instincts.
Note how “liberalizing” and “pro-Western” are conflated, because one can’t possibly liberalize without kowtowing to Western interests too. Furthermore, bear in mind the unspoken assumption that normal relations (“the reset”) are only to be rewarded for said kowtowing to the West. The concept of equality and reciprocity is alien to the minds of Western chauvinists.
For all the hype the “March of Millions” was missing a couple of zeros.
(In the video above, the left pane shows the march along the Yakimanka on February 4th, where there were about 56,000-80,000 protesters; the right pane shows the “march of millions”, in reality about 20,000-30,000, along the same street on May 6th).
They tried to compensate with paving stones and Molotov cocktails. In doing so, they lost what dwindling stock of sympathy they still had.
Here it is: Reading the Russian election.
Please comment at their site, rather than here, if possible.
The above photo, part of a photo report by Ridus, shows the Anti-Orange protest at Poklonnaya Gora in Moscow on February 4th. Does that look like 35,000 people to you, let alone 20,000 or 15,000? Because those were the most commonly cited figures in the Western media, apart from those cases where they ignored them altogether (The Guardian) or even tried passing them off as a ANTI-Putin rallies (e.g. Le Parisien).