Accessibility links

Russia Report: August 30, 2007


Disarmament Advocates Call for More Nuclear Dialogue

By Chloe Arnold

Lugar described the U.S.-Russian relationship as 'critical to the security and prosperity of the international community' (file photo)

MOSCOW, August 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A roundtable discussion to debate U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation has painted a bleak picture on the future of arms control.

Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Richard Lugar today called for further debate between Moscow and Washington on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which is due to expire in 2009.

The senators are the authors of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, known as the Nunn-Lugar, which was signed into U.S. law in 1992. The program aims to dismantle stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union. To date the program has decommissioned more than 2,000 intercontinental missiles, 1,000 missile launchers, and 7,000 nuclear warheads.

New START Needed

Today's debate marked the 15th anniversary of the Nunn-Lugar program. Lugar, a republican from the state of Indiana, is a member of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.
"The current Russian-American relationship is complicated enough without introducing more elements of uncertainty into the nuclear relationship." -- Lugar


"While we have much to be proud of, we should not think of this anniversary as only a time of mutual congratulation," he said. "Rather, it should be a time to highlight the new steps that must be taken to consolidate the gains we have made, and to launch initiatives necessary to meet new proliferation challenges. The United States-Russia relationship is critical to the security and prosperity of the international community."

He urged the Russian and U.S. presidents to work on new areas of cooperation on weapons of mass destruction and called for the two governments to extend elements of the START treaty.

"Weapons of mass destruction remain the No. 1 national-security threat to the United States and to Russia," Lugar said. "Strong cooperation in addressing these common threats provides a foundation for broader cooperation. Success in this area would be a critical boost to international security and put the United States-Russian relationship on a firmer footing that would enhance the prospects of solutions in other areas."

New Agreement Instead?

The U.S. administration has indicated it does not plan to extend START in 2009: it says it wants to replace it with a more relevant agreement. Russian President Vladimir Putin too has called for negotiations on a new treaty.

Vladimir Orlov, the director of the Center for Policy Studies in Russia, says he sees little chance that START will form the basis of a new or revised agreement:

"Strengthening the START treaty process, either in the form of extending its time limits or in writing another treaty based on START, I believe is a very important task," Orlov says. "To be realistic, I have to say that the U.S. administration is not that interested in activating dialogue on a START process, and so we will have to unfortunately wait until a new administration [is] in the White House."

Risks Of No Agreement

Participants in the debate warned of the dangers of allowing the nuclear pact to lapse at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are at their most strained for more than a decade.

Earlier this year, Russia reacted angrily to U.S. plans to deploy parts of a missile-defense shield in Central Europe. More recently, Moscow suspended its participation in a key arms treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, in protest at what it sees as a NATO arms buildup in Europe.

Lugar called for discussion at the most senior levels. "The current Russian-American relationship is complicated enough without introducing more elements of uncertainty into the nuclear relationship," he said. "Negotiating a legally binding regime is a challenging and time-consuming affair, but it is well worth the effort."

Meanwhile, former Georgian Senator Nunn, who is currently co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, appealed to the U.S. administration to consider Putin's offer of sharing information from a Russian-run radar station in Azerbaijan.



Russian Officers Among Suspects In Politkovskaya Slaying

Protesters rallied in Moscow after Politkovskaya's murder in 2006

August 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika announced today that 10 people have been arrested in connection with the October 2006 slaying of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.


Chaika also suggested that "individuals located outside the Russian Federation" who seek to discredit Russia were ultimately behind Politkovskaya's death.


Chaika announced the arrests in a televised meeting today with President Vladimir Putin.


"As of today, in the criminal case of the murder of journalist Politkovskaya, we have arrested 10 people," Chaika said. "In the near future, they will be charged with committing this grave crime."


At a press conference after his meeting with Putin, Chaika said the suspects included a member of a Moscow criminal group and a migrant from Chechnya. He added that among those arrested were "retired and acting members of the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service" and that they "took part in shadowing and gathering information on Politkovskaya."


Chaika said the motive behind the killing was to destabilize and discredit Russia, and suggested that the masterminds of the crime were based outside Russia.


"Concerning the motives for the murder, the investigation's results lead us to the conclusion that only individuals located outside the Russian Federation can have an interest in eliminating Politkovskaya," Chaika said. "This is particularly advantageous for those people and structures who seek the country's destabilization, the change of constitutional order, the creation of a crisis in Russia, the return to the previous administrative system when money and oligarchs decided everything, the discrediting of government leaders, and who seek to provoke external pressure on our country's leadership."



Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika in Moscow today (epa)

Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of Putin who wrote extensively about human-rights abuses in breakaway Chechnya, was shot dead in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006.


Politkovskaya would have turned 49 years old on August 30. Rallies are planned in Moscow to commemorate her birthday.


Chaika also said there was also evidence that the group that allegedly killed Politkovskaya was also involved in other unsolved murders in Russia.


"During the investigation into this criminal group's activities, we gathered evidence that its members were also involved in the murder of the editor of Forbes magazine's Russian version, Paul Klebnikov, and in the murder of the first deputy chairman of the Russian Federation's Central Bank, [Andrei] Kozlov, and his driver [Aleksandr] Semyonov," Chaika said.





Politkovskaya's Colleagues Dispute Official Investigation

By Brian Whitmore

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya in an undated photo

August 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika says foreign-based enemies of the Kremlin were behind the October 2006 murder of reporter Anna Politkovskaya.


But the crusading journalist's colleagues have been conducting their own probe into the killing -- and accuse Chaika of playing politics instead of solving the crimes.


Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor of "Novaya gazeta," where Politkovskaya worked, told RFE/RL that "the scenario that Mr. Chaika put forth is just a scenario which has no basis." He accused Russian authorities of politicizing the investigation into the journalist's murder.


"We have a different scenario that we are working on about who ordered this [murder]. We think we still need to investigate this more, and do so professionally. We don't want to turn this into a political event," Sokolov said.


Officers Implicated


Chaika announced on August 27 that 10 people had been arrested in connection with Politkovskaya's murder on October 7, 2006.


Among those accused of organizing and carrying out the killing are a Chechen crime boss, a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, a police major, and three former police officers.


"Novaya gazeta" has been conducting its own investigation into the murder. Sokolov says the paper's findings supports Chaika's allegations -- to a degree.


"As far as those who have been detained are concerned, we believe that they most likely were involved in this crime," he said.


But there is an aspect of Chaika's theory that Sokolov says is not at all supported by the "Novaya gazeta" investigation -- the allegation that "foreign-based" forces were behind the killing.


Chaika claims the masterminds behind Politkovskaya's assassination were living outside of Russia, and that the murder was part of a plot to discredit President Vladimir Putin and destabilize the country in the run-up to national elections.


'Foreign Enemies'


Sokolov noted that Chaika's comments nearly exactly echoed a statement made by Putin shortly after Politkovskaya's death. At the time, Putin claimed that "people who are hiding from Russian law enforcement have been hatching plans to sacrifice someone and create an anti-Russian wave in the world."


The prosecutor-general didn't name names when referring to the Kremlin's alleged foreign enemies, but he appeared to be referring to one person: Boris Berezovsky, the former Kremlin insider turned fierce Putin critic who is living in exile in London.


Berezovsky called the apparent effort to link him to Politkovskaya's death "sick," adding that it was a "hysterical reaction" to his opposition to Putin.


Politkovskaya -- a frequent critic of Putin whose journalism chronicled the killings, kidnappings, and torture of civilians in Chechnya -- was gunned down in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006.


Her reporting had angered the Kremlin and the Moscow-backed Chechen leadership.


In his interview with RFE/RL, Sokolov declined to say who -- according to the "Novaya gazeta" investigation -- was behind Politkovskaya's murder:


"Unlike lawyers such as Prosecutor-General Chaika and those in the FSB, we don't want to reveal secrets of the investigation and violate the presumption of innocence. This would only harm people's understanding" of the case, he said.


Suspicious Timing


Press-freedom advocates have also said the timing of Chaika's announcement -- three days before Politkovskaya's birthday on August 30 and just over a month before the first anniversary of her murder, October 7 -- is suspicious.

Oleg Panfilov of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations says the Kremlin is trying to preempt the inevitable criticism that would have come if the investigation lasted a whole year without yielding results.

"Putin's administration and many officials know that on October 7 in many countries, especially in the West, there will be various events in support of Politkovskaya and events that criticize the poor results of the investigation," he says. "I think that Chaika is trying to preserve Putin's image."

Panfilov adds, however, that Chaika's attempts to score political points by blaming the killing on shadowy foreign-based plotters may have undermined the whole undertaking.

"Like always, this was done stupidly. It was stupid in the first place because unfortunately Chaika's announcement contained a lot of politics and very few legal aspects," Panfilov says.

Wider Conspiracy At Work?

Observers also cast doubt on Chaika's allegations that those behind Politkovskaya's murder were also involved in the killings of deputy Central Bank head Andrei Kozlov last year and U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov in 2004.

Igor Trunov, a lawyer for one of the suspects in Kozlov's murder, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that Chaika's attempts to connect Kozlov's killing to Politkovskaya's made little sense to him.

"As lawyers who are involved in the case of Kozlov's murder, it seems strange to connect the murders of Politkovskaya and that of the deputy Central Bank head," Trunov says. "We received a lot of material that the prosecutors have gathered and there was nothing indicating a connection."

Chaika said those who carried out Politkovskaya's slaying were part of an organized-crime ring that specialized in contract killings. In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Dmitry Muratov, the editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta," says hit squads that include members of the security services are not uncommon in Russia, and Politkovskaya was most likely not their only victim.

"Our boys in the security services look at this like it's a business," Muratov says. "They have done this more than once. It isn't like they just started to kill beautiful women for money on October 7. They have long been serving people with epaulettes."

Chaika said the Politkovskaya murder was meticulously planned with two groups keeping her under close surveillance.

Footage from a surveillance camera on the day of Politkovskaya's murder showed the suspected gunman and a woman in her 30s following Politkovskaya through a supermarket. No women, however, were among the 10 people arrested in connection with the case.





Putin May Go, But Can 'Putinism' Survive?

By Brian Whitmore

Will 'Putinism' survive Putin?

August 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A popular spoof currently available on the youtube.com video-sharing website shows a real-life television journalist asking Russia's Vladimir Putin the question on everyone's lips: who is qualified to serve as the country's next president?

"Who can be the president? Who might be the president?" Putin asks rhetorically, as a hip reggae beat plays in the background, before giving his answer: "Me!"

It's a parody of course and the Russian president's response is clearly edited into the video. In reality, Putin has repeatedly pledged not to seek a third term, and to leave the Kremlin when his term expires next year.

What Comes After Putin?

But the youtube.com spoof of Putin reflects growing interest in -- and anxiety about -- Russia's future. Guessing who will be the Kremlin's next occupant has become a favorite parlor game among Kremlin-watchers.
What Putin has been doing in the past two years is creating fences around the way which his successor will go, so he will not be able to depart too far to the right or too far to the left." -- Rahr


Analysts, meanwhile, say there is a question even more important than who comes after Putin -- and that's what comes after Putin. More precisely, will "Putinism," the political and ideological system the president has spent eight years perfecting, survive Putin's departure from office?

Analysts say the Russian leader is doing everything in his power to assure that it does. Alexander Rahr, a Russia expert with the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations, says one of Putin's "major priorities...in installing the right successor" is guaranteeing "a continuation of Putinism" after Russia's March 2008 presidential elections.

"What Putin has been doing in the past two years is creating fences around the way which his successor will go, so he will not be able to depart too far to the right or too far to the left," Rahr said.

What Is Putinism?

Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has implemented a system known alternately as "managed democracy" or "sovereign democracy."

Its essential features are a strong and unaccountable executive, a subservient legislature and judiciary, stage-managed elections with predictable results, and a so-called "power vertical" in which regional and local elites are subordinate to the Kremlin.

Civil society has also been weakened, public liberties restricted, and the media tightly controlled. Putin has also tightened Russia's macroeconomic policy and stabilized the country's once-turbulent finances.

In foreign affairs, Putinism favors a muscular global stance in which Russia is not afraid to use its energy wealth to get its way in the international arena -- particularly with the former Soviet republics.

Putin and his inner circle say such a system is necessary to preserve Russia's sovereignty against the forces of globalization and the spread of Western-style liberalism, which they believe leads to chaos.

Strong Inner Circle

Putin wants his political and ideological legacy to survive, and is working furiously to orchestrate its transition to a new Kremlin leadership.


FSB chief Patrushev (left) and Deputy PM Ivanov are among the inner circle (ITAR-TASS file photo)

This means not only choosing the correct presidential successor. It also means making sure the current elite -- Putin's so-called "St. Petersburg team" -- remain in positions of power.

Political authority in Russia is currently concentrated around Putin's cronies from his days as an officer in the KGB. It's a long list that includes two deputy Kremlin chiefs of staff, Igor Sechin and Viktor Ivanov, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, and Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB's successor agency.

In addition to holding key state posts, these so-called "siloviki" -- Russian slang for veterans of the security services -- also wield formidable corporate muscle.

Sechin, for example, is chairman of Rosneft, Russia's massive state-run oil company. Sergei Ivanov heads the United Aircraft Building Corporation, Russia's newly formed aircraft industry monopoly. Viktor Ivanov chairs the board of directors of both Almaz-Antei, a state missile-production monopoly, and Aeroflot, the national airline.

A New Politburo

Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, says these officials, and others like them, are likely to keep their positions -- and their loyalty to Putinism -- after Putin leaves office.

"The elite, the personnel, will not change after the presidential election," Ryabov says. "We will see the same people. Some of them may be in new roles. These people, of course, come from the current president's team. They are people who are close to him. They share his approach and ideology. And this will lead them to follow the same course."
"There will be, at least in the first one or two years, a collective leadership in Russia, like after Stalin's death, like after Lenin's death." -- Rahr


To keep the next president from straying too far from the tenets of sovereign democracy, Putin is already attempting to instill a form of collective leadership -- which is in some ways similar to an informal version of the old Soviet Politburo.

"There will be, at least in the first one or two years, a collective leadership in Russia, like after Stalin's death, like after Lenin's death," Rahr of the German Council of Foreign Relations says. Putin "will try to install a president and he will try to encircle him [with] a collective leadership. Whether this will function is a different matter," Rahr adds.

Putin, who will be 55 when his presidency ends, is still relatively young. And by releasing shirtless pictures of the president recently, the Kremlin appears to be sending a message that he is robust as well. Most analysts expect Putin to wield considerable influence even after he leaves the Kremlin.

Can Putinism Last?

So is the fix in? Is Putinism poised to endure for generations as Russia's ruling ideology, like Soviet communism before it? Ryabov and other Kremlin watchers say it is a bit early to start building pantheons to Putinism.

"In my opinion, the system will continue for one or two years at the most in its current form. It will have the same priorities, the same verbal style, propagandistic methods that we see now," Ryabov says. "But then, due to the influence of a series of factors and challenges that will arise before the next electoral cycle, it will start to change."

Analysts cite Russia's crumbling infrastructure, energy-dependent economy, vague property laws, and looming demographic crisis as factors that could force the political system to become more flexible -- and possibly more pluralistic.

"The Russian elite right now is not aware that there will be a need for change," Ryabov says. "They are preoccupied with preserving the status quo. But when real challenges appear -- challenges that are only theoretical today -- then the system will undergo serious changes."

Economic Challenges

Putin's power -- and Putinism's appeal -- rests in large part on a Russian economy that is flush with cash from high energy prices. But observers say even a strong economy is not enough to guarantee Putinism's long-term health.

Steven Pifer, a former Russia expert with the U.S. State Department who is now a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the system Putin built may become a victim of its own success.

A significant portion of the Russian population, still jittery from the economic roller-coaster ride of the 1990s, is satisfied with the current state of affairs. Whether that satisfaction will last, Pifer says, is another story.

"The question in my mind is: does that change, perhaps, as the economic circumstances change?" Pifer says. "As more Russians achieve middle-class status, as more Russians become confident in their economic circumstances, do they start to become more politically aware? Do they start to push a little bit more to have a greater political say?"

There is also the risk that a drop in world energy prices or a global recession could shake public confidence in the Russian government. Daniel Treisman, a professor of political science specializing in Russian affairs at the University of California at Los Angeles, says an economic downturn could also endanger the current system.

"If growth were to slow, if personal incomes were not rising at 11 percent a year anymore, then it is possible that there would be more pressure to change course," Treisman says. "And then things could change in various different ways: either toward tightening control, or toward loosening it -- a kind of re-democratization."

Bureaucratic, Generational Threats


Beyond economic challenges, Putinism could also fall victim to bureaucratic factionalism among the Russian elite. Putin has been able to manage such schisms so far. But Treisman says it is unclear whether his successor will be able to do so.

"The other big uncertainty is whether the different groups within the Putin establishment will end up in conflict with one another, and whether Putin, behind the scenes -- or the new president, assuming it's not Putin -- will be able to manage those conflicts as effectively as Putin appears to have done during his time in office," Treisman says.

There is the possibility, for example, that the military will begin to covet the FSB's leading role in politics, or that FSB officials outside of Putin's circle will begin to resent the dominance of the St. Petersburg team. There is also the risk that conflicting economic interests among the ruling elite will put intolerable strain on the system.

And ultimately, generational change among Russia's leadership could create pressure for change in the long run.

Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations says Russia-watchers should keep a close eye on what he calls the "new elite" -- the Western-educated children of Russia's current leaders, many of whom live abroad, who will return home to inherit power in five to 10 years

"They have a different view. They are half-Westerners," Rahr says. "They may not be, deep down in their hearts, democrats or liberal thinkers, but they don't want to live in an authoritarian Russia. I think this will be the biggest push for changes toward a more modern and somehow democratic and market-economy system."

Many scholars, after all, say it was the rise of a new generation of leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev that hastened the decline and fall of communism in the late 1980s after seven decades as the Soviet Union's ruling ideology.

Few analysts believe that Putinism, given the challenges it faces, will last so long.



Is Russian Language Dying Out In Former Soviet Republics?

By Chloe Arnold

Yury Gagarin helped the Russian language achieve an otherworldly influence

MOSCOW, August 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- At the official opening of the Year of the Russian Language in Paris earlier this year, a giant banner proclaimed: "Russian Language: The First Language Of Communication In Space."


Organizers boast that Russian is one of only six official languages at the United Nations, and say that events held through the year are aimed at encouraging foreigners to learn Russian, and promoting the Russian language and culture abroad.


Universal Language?


As Andrei Busygin, Russia's deputy culture minister and one of the event's creators, said: "Russian is Russia's state language, and Russia is a multinational country. The Russian language unites all these nationalities, these peoples who live in Russia. And in addition, we should remember that the language, as an indicator of popular culture, is not only concentrated within the country's borders, it's also important abroad."


But experts say in many former Soviet republics, where Russian used to be widespread, the language is starting to fall out of use.

"It's very possible that in a few decades, Russian will no longer be spoken there. Or, at least, it will exist, but only as a foreign language that is taught in schools like any other."

Leonid Krysin, the deputy director of the Russian Language Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, warned that the use of Russian language is waning in former Soviet republics.


"Firstly, the number of people who know the Russian language is definitely falling. Secondly, the younger population doesn't know the language as well as the older one, who learned it under the Soviet rule. And thirdly, of course, the number of schools [teaching Russian] has been dramatically reduced," Krysin said. He also claimed that "in the sphere of education, schools which taught Russian during the Soviet period have lost their status."


Losing Status


Only five former Soviet republics now have Russian as an official language alongside their own: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.



Students in Grozny learning the Chechen language (EPA)


But even in these countries, the issue of language remains contentious. In Belarus, the political opposition accuses the government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka of "Russifying" the country and have called for a return to Belarusian as the sole official language.


In Turkmenistan, the Russian language is actively discouraged. In some regions Russian schools have been closed, and the department of Russian philology at Turkmen State University was shut down in 2002. All teaching now takes place in Turkmen, which means Russian-speakers often lose out on getting a full education.


Even within Russia's borders, the issue of language remains divisive. Writing in "Prague Watchdog," an online service dedicated to the conflict in Chechnya, journalist Ruslan Isayev remembers his schoolmistress in Grozny smacking him with a ruler for speaking Chechen, which she called a "dog's language."


Today, he writes, the Chechen language is reappearing, but most Chechens still speak Russian or a complicated fusion of Russian and Chechen.


But according to Leonid Krysin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, there are objective reasons why former Soviet republics shouldn't turn their backs on the Russian language.


"In the sphere of education and the sciences, there is a whole vocabulary that simply doesn't exist in those [native] languages, " Krysin said. "Either it is international vocabulary, with its roots in Latin or Greek, or it is of Russian origin -- for example, financial vocabulary or computer terminology."


As Andrei Busygin said, "we have ties that go back many centuries. There is no point in destroying them." Busygin pointed out that "geographically, these countries are close to Russia. And many people understand that if their country has a border with Russia, or if it is close to it, economic ties [between their countries] are unavoidable."


A Foreign Language


In some respects, the economic opportunities mean Russian is still spoken. Millions of people from countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States work in Russia -- some temporarily, others permanently -- and the vast majority use Russian on a daily basis.


Still, Krysin said that is not always the case. "I've heard about the situation in, let's say, Uzbekistan, where knowledge of the Russian language has sharply declined -- as has the need to use it," Krysin said.


He predicted that "It's very possible that in a few decades, Russian will no longer be spoken there. Or, at least, it will exist, but only as a foreign language that is taught in schools like any other."


Krysin said in former republics like Uzbekistan it is possible that within a generation, the Russian language could be just a memory.




XS
SM
MD
LG