Saturday, January 31, 2015

Video New Pro-Putin Song Gets Panned Online

Dressed in the colors of the Russian flag, Mashani's musical ode to President Vladimir Putin has already garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube.

"My Putin, my darling Putin, take me away with you, I want to be with you."

So goes the refrain of the latest song waxing lyrical about Russia's president.

"My Putin," performed by a young Siberian singer known by her stage name Mashani, has already received tens of thousands of hits since being posted online on January 28.

Viewers, however, are not impressed.

The video has sparked of barrage of disparaging comments, with the vast majority of viewers "disliking" the clip and slamming both its political message and its tacky production.

In the clip, Mashani, who sings in a field wearing a dress evoking the Russian flag, praises Putin for "reclaiming" Crimea, entreats him to "revive" the Soviet Union, and calls on Russians to "run after him because he's Putin."

The video also shows her trapped amid the ruins of an abandoned home, dressed in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

"I would like to remind our dear Ukrainian citizens that the opinions of the singer may not reflect the opinions of all Russians" reads one comment.

"Excuse me for a moment, I'm feeling sick," another viewer wrote. 

WATCH: Mashani sings My Putin

Mashani has already been interviewed by Zvezda, a national television channel run by the Russian Defense Ministry.

Despite her apparent crush on the president -- the clip shows her poring over photos of Putin and drawing his portrait -- Mashani says that "singing only about love is boring." 

"The song supports the president and expresses my views as a citizen," she told Zvezda. "Our president is the only person who can help Ukraine."

She added that, apart from Russia, "no one in the world needs Ukraine."

Mashani is a latecomer to the pro-Putin pop scene.

One of the first songs idolizing the Russian leader was "I Want A Man Like Putin," a 2002 hit by the previously unknown girl band Singing Together. 

The lyrics described a woman who dreams of dumping her boorish boyfriend for a man "full of strength" like Putin. 

In 2012, just weeks before presidential elections, another music video heaping praise on Putin went viral. The song, performed by a Tajik immigrant, described Putin as a "godsend."

Two African rappers in Russia also gained notoriety last year with their ambiguously titled song "Go Hard Like Vladimir Putin."

Children are not exempt from the trend. This sugary ode to Putin sung by small children was released for his birthday in October 2014.

-- Claire Bigg

Photogallery Drive Any Car You Want, As Long As It's White

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has a penchant for white. (file photo)

You can have whatever color car you want in Turkmenistan, as long as it is white.

The government has suspended imports of black, dark blue, and red automobiles, and are telling exporters to ship white cars instead, according to a customs' official who spoke to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service on condition of anonymity.

Existing cars may also be in line for a whitening treatment. A police officer told RFE/RL that police been ordered not to grant required yearly inspection certificates to those who drive cars with the banned colors, although a second police officer denied this.

Repainting a car costs between $800 and $1,000 in Turkmenistan, while the average monthly income is about $200 a month.

The color white has long been a feature of the carefully constructed personality cult of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. The former dentist has draped his capital Ashgabat in white marble, rides white stallions, and makes appearances dressed in white amid white carpets and white flower arrangements.

He likes white.

PHOTO GALLERY: Turkmenistan's 'White' Revolution

  • Keeping it clean: Berdymukhammedov gives presents to children during the opening ceremony of a new presidential palace in Ashgabat last year.
  • White is a highly respected color in traditionally nomadic countries like Turkmenistan, where the color is associated with milk, a key staple of the nomadic diet. Here, Berdymukhammedov, in the white shirt, visits a shepherd's yurt in Ruhabat.
  • Berdymukhammedov at a cabinet meeting. The Turkmen president is frequently shown against a foreground of white roses, and is even the subject of an adulatory poem entitled "White Roses."
  • Berdymukhammedov participating in a government video conference from his presidential office. Even the traditional Turkmen carpet, usually woven in a range of reds, has been adapted to reflect the president's predilection for white.

  • No Turkmen presidency is complete without a photo on a horse. Here, Berdymukhammedov is pictured astride a white Akhal-teke stallion. Other equestrian portraits up the ante by adding a white dove landing on the president's shoulder.
  • Turkmen newspapers published identical photographs of a white-suited Berdymukhammedov on the occasion of his birthday, June 29.
  • The first day of classes at School No. 55 in Ashgabat. Many parents in the Turkmen capital have received school requests asking to provide their children with all-white outfits for performances and other special occasions.
  • Berdymukhammedov's predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov (left), favored white himself, both in architecture and -- for a while -- his own hair, which prompted a poet to dub him a "white-haired angel." Niyazov dyed his hair black soon afterward.
  • Young people carrying white balloons attend a 2011 inauguration ceremony for a public building recently erected in the Turkmen capital. The color white is frequently associated with cleanliness and good fortune in Central Asia.
  • Berdymukhammedov serving as master of ceremonies during the unveiling of a new palace in Ashgabat last year. If white has become the dominant color in Turkmen celebrations, the emerald green of the Turkmen flag still serves as a close runner-up.
  • Even in leisure time, white is the color of choice for the Turkmen president, shown here bicycling with black-clad minders. Berdymukhammedov is frequently seen wearing white sweaters and fleece jackets during casual public appearances.
  • The Turkmen president on holiday in the western Caspian Sea city of Turkmenbashi. Berdymukhammedov began his government career as a Health Ministry dentist. But he's since sought to build his own power base and shrug off Niyazov's legacy.
  • Berdymukhammedov has even performed pop songs in an attempt to build his own personality cult. Here, he plays an all-white guitar for a performance backed by singers dressed in white and playing white instruments.

But authorities say the president's fondness for white is not necessarily the reason for the new rules -- it's that the country's subtropical desert climate wreaks havoc with dark paint, creating an eyesore unbecoming of the autocratic republic. 

Calling himself the "protector," Berdymukhammedov, who has ruled Turkmenistan since 2006, has in the past frequently rewarded loyal government officials with fancy new cars. And he recently began using a convoy of white limousines to travel to public events. 

But he also supports more energy-efficient means of transport. 

He has been filmed bike-riding to encourage cycling (his white pants contrasting with the black garb of his cycling partners). 

And his fondness for horses is well known -- although sometimes they (at least the golden, Akhal-Teke, variety don't take quite so well to him. 

WATCH: President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov Falls Off His Horse


​-- RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Glenn Kates

The Week Ahead: January 26 - February 1

Saved By A Mistake In The Paperwork - An Auschwitz Survivor's Storyi
January 23, 2015
Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. (Ahmad Wadiei, Farin Assemi, RFE/RL's Radio Farda)
Saved By A Mistake In The Paperwork - An Auschwitz Survivor's Story
The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.
Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

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MONDAY, January 26:
EU/Azerbaijan: EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn meets with Azerbaijan's state-owned oil company SOCAR Vice-President Elshad Nassirov in Brussels.​
Iran/Armeina: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visits Yerevan (to January 27).
Lithuania​/Georgia: Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius visits Tbilisi for talks, including on Georgia's efforts to integrate with NATO and the European Union. 
PACEParliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) winter session opens in Strasbourg (to January 30).​
Syria: Moscow hosts talks between Syrian opposition groups and a Syrian government delegation (to January 29).
Ukraine/Poland: Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council chief  Oleksandr Turchynov visits Warsaw to discuss comprehensive cooperation in the security and defense sector and energy-related issues.
TUESDAY, January 27:
World: The Heritage Foundation, in collaboration with The Wall Street Journal, launches the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom.
WEDNESDAY, January 28:
EU: European Parliament Plenary Session starts in Brussels.
Iran/Azerbaijan: Iranian Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia visits Baku.
Russia: Russia’s Supreme Court is scheduled to consider a lawsuit on the dissolution of Russia’s Memorial human rights organization.
Turkey/Turkmenistan: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visits Ashgabat (to January 29).
U.S./UkraineU.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew visits Kyiv to meet with senior government officials and discuss additional U.S. assistance.
U.S.: U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hosts a hearing with Henry Kissinger titled The National Interest: Articulating The Case For American Leadership In The World.
U.S./South CaucasusWilson Center in Washington hosts a discussion titled Security and Energy Implications for the South Caucasus after Ukraine.
WorldFreedom House releases its annual Freedom in the World report.
THURSDAY, January 29:
EU/Serbia: EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn meets with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic in Vienna.
GlobalHuman Rights Watch releases its annual World Report.
IranBritish, German, French, and Iranian diplomats meet in Istanbul to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program.
U.S./EuropeWilson Center in Washington hosts a discussion titled Security Challenges in Europe in 2015.
FRIDAY, January 30:

Poisoned Family Pets, Strays Reported In Russia Amid Nationwide 'Dog Hunt'

Most Russian cities have a large population of stray dogs, which sometimes roam the streets in packs. (file photo)

Russian dog owners are on high alert. 

Internet-based vigilantes have announced a nationwide "dog hunt" starting January 20 to rid Russian cities of stray dogs. 

Reports of slain dogs are already flooding in, and family pets are among the victims.

"There are being poisoned," says Maria Zuyeva, who heads the Vita animal protection group in Chelyabinsk. "In one case, a pet died without even going outdoors, poison was thrown in through the gate of its home."

Most Russian cities have a large population of stray dogs, which sometimes roam the streets in packs.

Although "dog hunters" say they are acting to protect children from strays, they are also known to target family pets. 

In messages circulated on Vkontakte, Russia's largest social networking site, the vigilantes pledged to scatter poison in parks, squares, and playgrounds across Russia. 

The warning said their poison of choice this time would be an antituberculosis drug called Isoniazid, which is sold over-the-counter and is lethal to dogs. 

Animals can reportedly die from just sniffing the substance, and poisoned dogs are said to suffer agonizing convulsions before passing away.

Activists say pink traces left by the drug have been spotted in a more than a dozen cities from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.

"They've scattered rat poison and antituberculosis drugs everywhere, there are numerous pinks spots on the ground on playgrounds, around trash cans, and in parks where people walk their dogs," says Zuyeva in Chelyabinsk. 

In the Nizhny Novgorod region, witnesses in one town said vigilantes have been firing indiscriminately at all dogs, including family pets wearing collars, with pneumatic weapons loaded with ampoules containing poison.

Activists accuse authorities and police of turning a blind eye to such "dog hunts," which have spiked in recent years. 

They have launched an online petition calling on authorities to ban the sale of antituberculosis drugs without prescriptions.

It has already gathered over 7,700 signatures since being started on January 15. 

Russian law itself provides little protection for animals. 

Article 245 of the Criminal Code prohibits the "cruel treatment of animals," but activists say measures are taken only when the abuse is perpetrated in public and ends up drawing media attention.

"In other cases, it doesn't work," says animal rights advocate Irina Novozhilova. "The article itself has flaws. The definition of the term 'cruelty,' for instance, is very narrow -- only when injury of death ensues. It doesn't apply to a range of deprivations inflicted on animals, for example shutting them up in basements and depriving them of water and food for two weeks."

Novozhilova says the illegal culling of dogs won't stop until authorities start punishing abuses against animals. 

She also blames state television channels for regularly giving dog hunters airtime to promote their views.  

"This problem has long left the realm of the interaction between people and animals," she says. "This is about the degradation of our society. And backing the attitude that problems can be resolved through violence, through murder, only paves the way for further violence in society."

-- Svetlana Pavlova, Claire Bigg

Russian Military Insignia In Ukraine Spark Online Furor, Skepticism

Two men in uniforms bearing Russian flag military insignia were recorded by pro-Kremlin media in a separatist-controlled area of eastern Ukraine, images that Ukrainian supporters suggest is further evidence of Moscow’s support for the rebels.

Kremlin-friendly newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda filmed the two men in military fatigues as they unloaded items from a military truck surrounded by armed separatists in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. 

One of the men is shown with a patch of the Russian tricolor on the left shoulder of his jacket, while the other displays what appeared to be a Russian military insignia on his hat.

The footage was captured in the background of Komsomolskaya Pravda’s January 22 interview with separatist leader Aleksander Zakharchenko in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

Pro-Kyiv websites and social media users circulated the image of the two men as further evidence of Russian support for the rebels since the outbreak of the conflict, which according to the UN has killed more than 4,700 in eastern Ukraine since erupting last spring following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

“They’re not there,” the pro-Ukrainian @euromaidan tweeted to its nearly 300,000 followers on January 22, an ironic reference to the Kremlin’s repeated denials that Russia is sending troops to support the rebels.  

While rejecting accusations that it is backing the separatists, Russian officials have conceded that Russians are fighting alongside the rebels as “volunteers.”

Skeptics, however, said it is unlikely that active Russian personnel would operate in eastern Ukraine with Russian military insignia visible and that fighters in the area often wear a motley assortment of military dress of murky provenance. 

Combatants in eastern Ukraine “wear all kinds of stuff,” Guardian correspondent Shaun Walker tweeted in response to the image of the two men in Donetsk.

“Guarantee real [Russian] troops here don’t walk around with [Russian] flags,” he added.

-- Carl Schreck

Crisis Group: Central Asia Needs Credible Plan To Counter IS Radicalization

A video grab purportedly showing Tajik militants fighting in Syria. It is estimated that as many as 4,000 men and women from Central Asia have become radicalized and gone to fight with or support the Islamic State group in the Middle East.

Central Asian militants fighting with the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria and Iraq pose a major security concern in Central Asia, yet governments have as yet done little to address why their citizens seek to join IS, a new report by the International Crisis Group says. 

The 16-page report, Syria Calling: Radicalization in Central Asia, was published on January 20, and examines the sociopolitical context of the growing radicalization across the region. 

Deirdre Tynan, the International Crisis Group's Central Asia Project Director, said that it is easier for IS to gain recruits in Central Asia than in nearby Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Its appeal in the region is rooted in an unfulfilled desire for political and social change. Rich or poor, educated or not, young or mature, male or female -- there is no single profile of an Islamic State supporter," Tynan said.

According to the report, some 2,000-4,000 men and women from Central Asia have become radicalized and gone to fight with or support the Islamic State group.

Ethnic Uzbeks (including Uzbek citizens) are reportedly the largest group of Central Asians fighting with IS, and there may be as many as 2,500 of these, including from Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan.  The IS group has also attracted ethnic Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Turkmen, and Tajiks.

The report found that while there is no single profile for a Central Asian IS militant -- the group has attracted younger and older, richer and poorer men and women -- but one factor linking Central Asian IS supporters is "fatigue with social and political circumstances." 

IS appears to have exploited these sentiments, with the report noting that, particularly in Uzbekistan, individuals who would not have joined older jihadi groups like the Taliban or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have been attracted to IS, seeing it as having created a new and ordained political order. Islamic State is also seen as standing for a universal purpose, and being about "principles, not colonialism," according to one imam from southern Kyrgyzstan who is quoted in the report.

According to the report, Central Asian governments have frequently failed to recognize that the IS group appeals to a wide cross-section of citizens. 

"There are seventeen-year-old hairdressers, established businessmen, women abandoned by husbands who have taken second wives in Russia, families who believe their children will have better prospects in a caliphate, young men, school dropouts and university students. All are inspired by the belief that an Islamic state is a meaningful alternative to post-Soviet life. Some wish to fight, others to facilitate," the report said.

Push And Pull Factors

The report also found that one powerful recruitment tool in Central Asia is word of mouth: After one family member leaves for IS-controlled territory, several more follow.

There is no one single source of radicalization for Central Asian IS supporters. Some Central Asians have become radicalized in Turkey or while working (often illegally) in Russia, while others have been recruited while in religious schools in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Bangladesh.

For most Central Asian militants, entry to Syria is via Turkey, just as it is for many militants from other countries including European states.

Why do Central Asians want to leave their home countries and join the IS group in Syria? The report found that the main pull factor is an ideological commitment to the concept of jihad. Push factors include feelings of religious or ethnic discrimination by the state (this is particularly the case in southern Kyrgyzstan), as well as a background of alienation caused by poor state education and poor religious schooling.

Women who have joined IS have expressed their own reasons for doing so. One woman interviewed for the report said that her husband and those of her friends were "against religion, against Islam. My friends do not want to live with them anymore." Another woman and mother of three said that the IS group's fight was "for religion."

Possible Blowback

The fear of blowback from Central Asian militants returning home after fighting with Islamic State is a top security concern in Central Asia, the report found.

While many Central Asians militants in Syria will not return, because they will die fighting for IS, others who do wish to come home are too afraid because they do not trust the police.

Paul Quinn-Judge, International Crisis Group's Europe and Central Asia Program Director, said that while the risks from returning militants are "still in infancy," governments should "assess accurately the long-term danger jihadism poses to the region and take proper preventive action now, not brush the danger aside or exaggerate it in a way that will only make the problem worse."

In order to counter the threat of blowback and successfully rehabilitate returnees, the report recommends that Central Asian governments implement a program whereby European and Asian police share with Central Asian security services their experience in rehabilitating male and female former radicals. 

"However, the capacities of Central Asian police forces to absorb and implement lessons learned are undermined by weak state structures and distrust of the police," the report noted.

Furthermore, the "zero-tolerance approach" to returning militants expected of the security services in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan could push returning IS militants and supporters to go to Kyrgyzstan rather than their home countries.

Threat To Freedoms?

RFE/RL asked Deirdre Tynan about concerns that the responses by Central Asian governments to the threat posed by the Islamic State group could pose a threat to freedoms. 

In November, the government of Kazakhstan reacted sharply to the release by Islamic State of a video showing ethnic Kazakhs -- including children -- undergoing ideological and military instruction. 

Kazakhstan immediately banned distribution of the video and blocked sites that showed it. The Kazakh ban also affected neighboring Kyrgyzstan, with a Bishkek news outlet being blocked for showing the video. Earlier this month, Kazakhstan rushed to deny that a man shown apparently being executed by a child in a later video was a Kazakh national. (That video was also banned in Kazakhstan.)

"The response to Islamic State threatens a variety of freedoms, not just freedom of speech. The risk here is that, by creating less free societies, governments inadvertently push people towards radicalism. It could be argued that if Central Asian governments had prioritized freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and allowed for religious plurality at a much earlier stage, fewer people would have been marginalized to the point where Islamic State looks credible," Tynan told RFE/RL.

Despite the fears in Central Asia regarding radicalization, Tynan said that it is not too late for Central Asian governments to address this issue and come up with better responses.

"They would though need to examine their existing laws and question how effective their security strategies are. Better information sharing among Central Asian polices forces, and with their international counterparts, would likely produce more in the way of tangible security improvements than blocking videos," Tynan said.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

The Week Ahead: January 19-25

Azerbaijan -- Soviet tanks in Baku during Black January, Jan1990

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.
Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

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MONDAY, January 19:
KazakhstanUnited Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai visits Kazakhstan to assess the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the country (to January 27).
Kyrgyzstan: The UN Human Rights Council holds an universal periodic review of the human rights record of Kyrgyzstan.
Russia/Iran: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visits Tehran (to January 20).
Russia/Iraq: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov visits Baghdad.
Turkey/UK: Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visits London (to January 21).
TUESDAY, January 20:
Azerbaijan: The 25th anniversary of Black January events, in which Soviet troops opened fire on demonstrators in Baku.
EU/Armenia: Brussels hosts an EU-Armenia Cooperation Council meeting.
EU/Arab League: European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee holds a meeting with Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil El Araby, to discuss the situation in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt. 

Iraq: Iraqi parliament is scheduled to vote on the final draft of 2015 budget.
WEDNESDAY, January 21:
Switzerland: Davos hosts the World Economic Forum annual meeting (to January 24).
EU: European Parliament's Subcommittee on Security and Defense holds a discussion on the strategic military situation in the Black Sea Basin following the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia.
THURSDAY, January 22:
Moldova: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis makes his first official visit abroad to Moldova (to January 23).
NATO/Bulgaria: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stolenberg visits Sofia.
Russia/UkraineMoscow's Basmanny District Court is scheduled to hold a hearing into the case of the leader of Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Dzhemilev.
U.S.: Sundance Film Festival opens in Park City, Utah (to February 1).​
EU: European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee holds a discussion about the human rights situation in Hungary.
FRIDAY, January 23:
Sweden: Goteborg Film Festival opens (to February 2).
SUNDAY, January 25:

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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