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    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    The Baltic Times reviews The New Cold War(s)

    Just a quick note to highlight a new review of The New Cold War (now available in paperback!) that was just published in The Baltic Times.

    As I've said before, it's nice to get a flattering write-up a newspaper in Canada or the United States, but I think it means more when it comes from a newspaper like The Baltic Times or The Georgia Messenger (or Itar-Tass) because it was written by those living on the front lines of this new conflict.

    "When reading through this well-researched work, it’s hard not to think of two sides engaged in a chess match, or better still, a game of Risk," is my favourite line in this review.

    The Baltic Times also has some nice things to say about Edward Lucas and his own similarly titled book.

    We're both now bracing (well I am, anyway) for the judgement that Kim Zigfield of La Russophobe fame has promised to deliver .

    Sunday, January 27, 2008

    A sign of the falsified times


    Predictably, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov has been disqualified from running for president by Russia's Central Elections Commission. The move clears the way for a nice smooth run for Vladimir Putin's chosen successor, Dmitriy Medvedev. He will now run virtually unopposed in the Russian Federation's fifth presidential elections since the fall of the Soviet Union.

    Yes, there will be opposition, but only of the token sort. Medvedev's remaining "opponents" are a pair of multi-time losers in Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as well as a virtual unknown, Andrey Bogdanov. Kasyanov was the only figure Russia's fractured liberal opposition could potentially have rallied around.

    Opinion polls showed him trailing badly with less than 2 per cent support (compared to somewhere between 60 and 82 per cent for Medvedev, if the numbers are to be believed), but Kasyanov and his supporters never expected to win power through the Kremlin-controlled ballot boxes.

    Though the odds were long, their aim was always to replicate Ukraine's Orange Revolution, with masses crowding Red Square on election day to peacefully protest a vote that everyone knows in advance will be deeply flawed. For that to have any chance of working, they needed a Viktor Yushchenko, a popular candidate to rally around.

    One by one the other potential Yushchenkos dropped out or were forced out of the race by the Kremlin: Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Boris Nemtsov. Now Kasyanov's gone too. So, by and large, is any lingering hope of peaceful democratic change in Russia in the near future.

    (It's worth noting here that even Belarus's tyrannical Alexander Lukashenko at least allows an opposition candidate or two to run for president every five years... as did Putin in 2004 when he was confident of his personal popularity. It appears that despite the opinion polls, the Kremlin is less sure than it's letting on about Medvedev's real popular appeal.)

    The Kremlin understood the stakes, which is why it pulled out one of the most farcical excuses in their playbook: the falsified signatures charge.

    Anyone who doubts this is a canard only has to look back at how it's been used in Russia and across the former Soviet Union over the last 17 years. Either there's a very organized ring of international signature forgers at work (usually in league with those opposed to oppressive regimes) or the autocrats are scared to put their so-called popular support to a real test.

    Here's an incomplete list of the invalid signatures phenomenon in post-Soviet elections:

    November 1993: The Russian All-People's Union, which included elements of the old Communist Party, is barred from running in the first post-Soviet Duma elections due because of 20,000 falsified signatures.

    July 1995: Eight parties barred from Armenia's first post-Soviet parliamentary vote because of falsified signatures.

    March 2000: Konstantin Titov, Yevgeny Savostyanov, Ismail Tagi-Zade, and Umar Dzhabrailov are all barred from running for president over allegations of, well, falsified signatures. The elections, you may have heard, were eventually won by a Vladimir Putin.

    October 2000: Citing falsified signatures, Azerbaijan's Central Election Committee bans the National Democratic Party from taking part in parliamentary elections .

    September 2003: Malik Saidullayev disqualified from Chechnya's presidential elections over falsified signatures. Eventually all serious candidates are forced out of the race, clearing the way for the pro-Kremlin Akhmat Kadyrov (the deceased father of Ramzan) to run almost unopposed.

    July 2004: Belarussian human rights group Viasna-96 (or Spring-96) loses its legal standing over charges that it falsified signatures on its registration papers.

    December 2004: All opposition parties (all the real ones, anyway) in Uzbekistan are barred from parliamentary elections over signature issues.

    November 2006: Opposition candidate Andrei Safonov is barred from running for the post of "president" in Moldova's pro-Russian breakaway province of Transdniestria. Wanna guess the reason?

    March 2007: The liberal Yabloko party is barred from running in St. Petersburg municipal elections over falsified signatures.

    October 2007: Russia's Green Party, along with the People’s Union and the Party for Peace and Unity, is barred from running in Duma elections over illegal John Hancocks.

    January 2008: Kasyanov disqualified.

    The list speaks for itself. Managed democracy, indeed.

    Ah hell, why not take credit on this rare instance that it's due? As the Why Democracy? website notes in its weekly news roundup, "Canadian journalist Mark MacKinnon predicted Putin's falsified signatures approach a week ago." (See last post.)

    I wish it hadn't been so easy. Like I said at the start - sigh.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    S Novom Godom!

    Я желаю Вам хорошее здоровье, удачу и успех в новый год!

    Now back to business. I went silent for a little while. Very, very silent. Largely because my day job has been all-consuming of late, what with President Bush's tire-spinning visit to my current home, the Middle East.

    That said, I'm off to Baku tomorrow for a weekend of pure relaxation by the Caspian Sea. The thought of returning to even the edge of the old USSR has me thinking:

    Candidate Kasyanov - He's got the two million signatures. Does the Kremlin have the courage - and the barest commitment to democracy - to let him run against their man, Dmitriy Medvedev? Or are we going to see another "falsified signatures" charge in the coming days that will again prove that Russia is not inching towards democracy, but sliding back towards authoritarianism.

    While we're at it, will Yavlinsky, Nemtsov and co. have the good sense to put their egos aside and back the only man with a hope of giving the Kremlin machine a run for its oil money?

    Oleg Kozlovsky - His story is a warning, not only about fading freedom of speech in Russia, but about the biggest peril that many talented young Russians face - the draft. Many of my Russian friends spent most of their 20s doing anything - anything - to avoid being sucked into the dark and dangerous pit that is the Russian army. I've seen kids press-ganged off the streets of St. Petersburg while out walking with friends, and met soldiers in Chechnya whose parents didn't even know they were in the army, let alone stationed in Grozny. I'll wholeheartedly sign on to the Free Kozlovksy campaign, but add a note that there are thousands more like him, leading lower-profile lives, who also deserve our concern.

    Much More Misha - Four more years of Saakashvili starts off with his government laying charges against tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili. Patarkatsishvili's no saint, but neither are Vladimir Gusinsky, Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. If this was Putin laying charges against another oligarch, wouldn't we all be asking questions about whether the President isn't really just trying to quash all political opposition?

    British Council tomfoolery - If the Russian government thinks the British Council is a den of spies, it should produce the evidence and expel those it no longer wants in the country. Otherwise, it should sending spooks to follow Council staff around St. Petersburg. It's an embarrassing saga, and not for the British.

    Kosovo: I've asked the question before: why is the West so insistent that Serbia is divisible, but not Kosovo? (And not Georgia or Moldova?)

    Azerbaijan 2016 - C'mon, really? This what President Ilham Aliev wants to spend all the oil money on? An expensive, sure-to-fail Olympics bid? What about the hundreds of thousands of Azeris who live in poverty, just outside the Baku bubble?

    February 5: If it was the $26.95 that was keeping you from buying The New Cold War, never fear. The paperback edition hits bookshelves Feb. 5.