Squandering Its Way to Superpowerdom

“Squandering”: Did the US Secretary of State Grasp the Russian Approach to Budget Spending?
The Kremlin Accused the State Department of Tactlessness and Unprofessionalism, Yet Pompeo’s Remarks Were on the Mark
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
December 13, 2018

padrino.jpgVenezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino gives his thumb up as he sits on the cockpit of a Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range heavy supersonic bomber after it landed at Maiquetia International Airport, north of Caracas, on December 10, 2018. Courtesy of Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

Russian’s decision to send strategic bombers on a junket to an airport near Caracas elicited a curious reaction from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who publicly expressed his pity for Russian taxpapers, whose money the Kremlin, habitually disregarding the costs, has been spending on its geopolitical moves.

“The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo wrote.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by calling Pompeo’s statement “utterly unprofessional” and even “villainous.” Pompeo’s remarks, which the Kremlin, in turn, dubbed “inappropriate” and “undiplomatic,” were apparently really lacking in nuance: the hardships of Russians, fortunately, cannot yet be compared with the suffering of Venezuelans. But, hand on heart, was Pompeo so wrong when he talked about the losses to the Russian federal budget and lack of oversight?

Russian society has an extremely vague notion about how much the Kremlin’s expansionism has ultimately cost the country. According to calculations made by IHS Jane’s at the outset of Russia’s operations in Syria in autumn 2015, Russia could have been spending as much as $4 million a day. Later, the Yabloko Democratic Party, which is not seated in the Russian parliament, estimated the Kremlin had spent a total of 108–140 billion rubles [between $1.6 and $2.1 billion] on Syria. A more accurate assessment would be difficult to make. Experts doubt that anyone, including the Finance Ministry, keeps tabs on such expenditures. Thus, nobody knows the real cost of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, argues the Gaidar Institute’s Military Economics Laboratory.

The budget’s fading transparency has been a trend in recent years. In 2016, secret and top-secret allocations accounted for 22% of total federal budget expenditures, a record for the entire post-Soviet period, and much higher than secret allocations in comparable countries, according to RANEPA’s March 2015 report on the Russian economy.

Quite naturally, this state of affairs has not improved the quality of the state’s financial decisions. In terms of effective state spending, Russia ranked nineteenth in a new rating of twenty-five countries, compiled by the Higher School of Economics using data from the World Bank and OECD. Since they are not priorities for the current regime, problems with child mortality and life expectancy were among the reasons Russia ranked so low in the survey: the government spends more on the army than on healthcare—4.3% of GDP versus 3.8% of GDP, respectively. In these circumstances, the chances the Kremlin’s strategic projects in the Middle East and Africa (e.g., the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique) will be decently funded are always much greater than the national healthcare project, which stipulated increased government spending on cancer treatment. The government nixed the plan over summer.

Since it remains largely Soviet in spirit, Russia’s foreign policy has been categorically blind to history’s lessons. The Soviet Union’s exorbitant geopolitical ambitions and support for fringe regimes around the world left the country with a legacy of mostly toxic multi-billion-dollar debts. The process of writing them off has been disguised as a form of international charity or, speaking diplomatically, official development assistance (ODA). According to RANEPA, writing off the debts of developing countries accounted for 35% of all such “international aid” last year or $425 million. It has been the Russian government’s usual way of doing business. Previously, the Russian government wrote off the debts of Nicaragua ($6.3 billion), Iraq ($21.5 billion), North Korea ($10.9 billion), Syria ($9.8 billion), Afghanistan ($11 billion), and Cuba ($29 billion), among other countries. Venezuela risks joining this sad list. Over the past twelve years, Russia has invested a total of $17 billion in the country.

Russia’s Expenditures on Official Development Assistance (Excluding Humanitarian Aid), 2005–2017, in Millions of Dollars. Sources: OECD, Russian Finance Ministry. Courtesy of Republic

Since it was paid for by the Russian federal budget, which has been running a deficit for the last seven years, Russian officials probably did not see the transatlantic flight of its strategic bombers as too expensive. On the contrary, they saw it as a flashy display of Russia’s military prowess and proof of its influence in the region. However, the government of Nicolás Maduro signed off on the stunt. Subject to growing pressure from creditors and an angry, desperate population, it lives day by day. In all likelihood, it will soon collapse, leaving behind a mountain of unpaid bills and unfulfilled obligations to its allies. If this is the case, can we evaluate the Russian government’s action better than the tactless Mike Pompeo did? Probably not.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Mercy

clean

I’m really surprised by people who think it’s an important development that Lev Ponomaryov, the veteran Russian human rights activist who was sentenced to 25 days in jail the other day for, essentially, no particular reason, had his sentence reduced to 16 days in jail.

This is not a meaningful distinction. He shouldn’t have been detained, hauled into a kangaroo court, and jailed in the first place.

Don’t let the Putinist vampires fool you with their little acts of “mercy.” They don’t mean well—ever. And if push comes to shove, God forbid, the judges amongst them will hand out death sentence after death sentence just like in the 1930s. And the FSB will carry out the executions as happily as their esteemed predecessors in the NKVD did in the 1930s.

It’s hard for any society to learn anything from its past and arrange things in the present so the past doesn’t repeat itself, so to speak, but Russian society has every chance of showing us, in the very near future, that it has learned nothing from its past.

The Putin regime has spent the last twenty years doing absolutely nothing but priming the populace for a wholesale bloodbath against the Motherland’s numerous enemies. Let’s keep hoping it has just been “kidding” all this time. {TRR}

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Network Case Suspects Go on Hunger Strike

Network Case Suspects Go on Hunger Strike
OVD Info
December 2, 2018

andrei chernovAndrei Chernov in court. Photo courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

Dmitry Pchelintsev and Andrei Chernov, residents of Penza and suspects in the so-called Network case, have gone on hunger strike, claiming remand prison officials and FSB officers have intimidated them during their review of their criminal case file, something to which they are entitled by Russian law. Several Penza suspects in the case have claimed they have been put in solitary confinement, handcuffed to radiators, and threatened with violance.

Pchelintsev and Chernov went on hunger strike on November 29, as reported by the Parents Network, a support group established by the mothers and fathers of the young men, who have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” that, allegedly, was planning an armed uprising during the March 2018 presidential election and 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Russia this past summer.

It was on November 29 that wardens put Pchelintsev in solitary, demanding he admit to breaking the rules by talking with other inmates during yard time. He responded by going on hunger strike, and Chernov joined him as a token of support and solidarity. On November 30, wardens again tried to bargain with Pchelintsev and threaten him.

The Parents Network notes that the pressure on their sons has increased now that the suspects are officially reviewing the case file.

Lawyer Anatoly Vakhterov told the group that Network case suspect Ilya Shakursky had been been visited by Penza Remand Prison Warden Oleg Iskhanov, who asked him how quickly he was reviewing the file. On November 20, immediately after the incident, Shakursky was reprimanded for greeting other inmates during yard time. The alleged violation was written up, and the same day Shakursky was issued a special uniform for his upcoming stint in solitary confinement. He managed to avoid going there by filing a complaint with Penza Regional Prosecutor Natalya Kantserova.

Earlier, Maxim Ivankin spent five days in solitary. This was proceeded by a visit from Warden Iskhanov, who likewise asked Ivankin how quickly he was reviewing the case file.

As the defense lawyers explained to the Parents Network, the suspects had been reviewing the case file not only at the remand prison but also at the local FSB office. Under Russian law, suspects may review case files for up to eight hours a day. Allegedly, the Network suspects were handcuffed to radiators and stairway railings the entire time. Vasily Kuksov and Arman Sagynbayev were handcuffed to each other. As the Parents Network has noted, the suspects not only experienced physical discomfort but were also unable to examine the case file freely and take notes.

Shakursky and Pchelintsev refused to go through the procedure in such conditions. In turn, they were threatened with violence. According to them, the man who threatened them was a certain A. Pyatachkov, who had been involved in torturing them when they were initially detained in the autumn of 2017.

Mikhail Kulkov said that after handcuffing him to the staircase, FSB officers videotaped him. As they filmed him, they said, “Look at Network terrorists reviewing the case file.”

The suspects requested their lawyers be present during the review. Consequently, the authorities stopped taking them to the FSB office. Currently, all case file materials are brought directly to the remand prison.

kuksov and pchelintsevVasily Kuksov and Dmitry Pchelintsev in court. Photo courtesy of Rupression and OVD Info

“Obviously, all these measures are methods of mental and physical violence,” argues Vakterov. “There are signs that the group of FSB investigators, led by Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev, have been putting pressure on the suspects. Why? To speed up the review process and make it impossible to verify the complaints of torture made by the suspects. They want to intimidate the lads, who are fighting back any way they can under the circumstances.”

These events have spurred the Parents Network to issue a communique, which we publish here in an abridged version.

We, the parents of the suspects in the Penza Case, bear witness to the numerous violations suffered by our children during their review of the case file.

To avoid allowing the time necessary to investigate the claims made by our sons that they were tortured by FSB officers, the group of investigators, led by Valery Tokarev, has done everything possible to speed up the process of reviewing the Network case file. To this end, the investigators have engaged in daily acts of emotional and physical violence against the suspects, to wit:

  1. Our sons have been prevented from reviewing the case file with their lawyers present. When they have attempted to refuse lawfully to review the case file, they have been subjected to physical preventive measures: they have been handcuffed to whatever metal structures came to hand and handcuffed to each other. During the review of the case file, at least one hand of each suspect has been handcuffed. These actions have prevented them from concentrating on reading the file and thoughtfully preparing to defend their rights in court. This testifies to the fact that investigators have doubts about the case, and so they would like to hand it over to the court as quickly as possible. 
  2. FSB field officers who were involved in torturing our sons have been among the people allowed to be present during the investigative case file review. They have been brought to the review to exert pressure on our children. The FSB officers in question have threatened them with physical violence if they refuse to continue with the case file review. The point of their actions is to speed up the review process, intimidate the suspects, and interfere with a potential investigation of the acts of torture they perpetrated. 
  3. Our demands that a lawyer be present during the proceedings and that the act of reviewing the case file not be hindered by handcuffing the hands of the suspects to tables, chairs, radiators, and stairways have led to our children being placed in solitary confinement, where they have once again been visited by FSB officers and investigators, who have tried to speed up the review process by threatening them. 

We speak constantly of incidents of torture. They say there is no smoke without fire. We are unfamiliar with the contents of the criminal investigative case file due to the nondisclosure agreement signed by all the defense lawyers. If our children have violated the law, they will answer to society to the full extent of the law. In the present circumstances, however, they are unable to answer to society. They answer to people who believe that physical violence, beatings, and electric shock torture can be legally used to make other people’s lives conform to the canons and stories that will get them new assignments and promotions.

It is impossible to defend the rights of our sons in the current circumstances. We cannot prove they were tortured. We have exhausted all the legal resources we have in Russia. But we, our sons, the Public Monitoring Commissions, reporters, civil rights activists, and politicians must and will go on fighting for the sake of one big goal: making the Russian legal and justice system more humane.

We call on Russian Federal Human Rights Ombusdman Tatyana Moskalkova, Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human  Rights, and Yevgeny Myslovsky, a member of the council, to visit the Penza Case suspects. You are our last hope for help in combating torture in Russia. This joint task is our primary responsibility to society.

As we face the inevitability of double-digit sentences for our sons, we hope that all of us will have someone whose example will inspire us. It will be not the people who tortured our sons. Then none of this would make any sense at all.

The lawyers of the Penza suspects in the Network case say their clients have reached out to Tatyana Moskalkova and Mikhail Fedotov, asking them to visit and requesting their help in investigating the incidents of torture. Moskalkova and Fedotov have not yet replied to their appeals, although in November a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights did visit the Petersburg suspects in the Network case.

[…]

Translated by the Russian Reader

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and disseminate recent articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Andrei Kolesnikov: Hooked on Militarism?

new hope“New Hope. All drug addicts quit using. Some manage to do it while alive.” Photo by the Russian Reader

Where Militaristic Infantilism Leads
Society’s Losing Its Fear of War Is More Dangerous Than What Happens in the Absence of an Anti-War Movement
Andrei Kolesnikov
Vedomosti
November 28, 2018

The “polite people” in the Russian military have taken to ramming ships, shedding their politesse. A military coming out has happened. Either so-called hybrid war has become more hybridized in terms of the variety of its methods or it has become more like good old-fashioned war, involving actual armed clashes. Politically, Russia has become not merely toxic but hypertoxic. A premonition of war prevails among more timid folks, although the footage of the ramming at sea, as painless and triumphal as a military parade on Red Square or a football match (“Crush him!”), still make military operations appear unscary and toylike. We will carry the day in any case, sans victims and blood (ours, that is), as in a cartoon by Putin.

This militaristic infantilism—the loss of the fear of war, the loss of the idea that war is terrible—is the worst outcome of our country’s daily intoxication with the thought of its own greatness for several years running. The army is greatly respected nowadays. People need to trust someone, and the armed forces have bypassed another institution, the presidency, in trustworthiness ratings.

Does this mean Russians are ready for a real war? To put it more plainly, are Russian parents willing to let their eighteen-year-old boys be called up to fight Ukrainian boys just like them? Does anyone understand what they would be fighting for? Is it really all about cementing the nation, “Crimea is ours!” and the personal ambitions of several high-ranking figures in the Russian establishment?

Since 2012, Russia’s collective identity has been built on negative foundations, on awakened resentment, which had been dozing, but had no thought of waking up. The plan has worked quite well. This resentment, however, is verbal and fictitous. Public opinion supported “coal miners” and “tractor drivers” verbally. In Syria, the official army and private military companies fought, or so Russians imagined, at their own risk. The proxy war with the US has gone very far at times, but in the summer of 2018 it did not stop the majority of Russians from abruptly improving their attitude [sic] to the States and the west in general.

But suddenly there is the threat of a real war. On the other side of the border, in the country [i.e., Ukraine] that the Russian imperialist mind never really considered sovereign, a mobilization is underway and martial law has been declared. Is this reality capable of changing popular opinion and rousing Russian civil society, which has a lot going for it except an anti-war movement? No, because so far the war has not been regarded as real.

Identification with the military is the last bullet in the Russian regime’s gun, but it is a blank or, rather, a prop. Exploiting what Russians regard as sacred—i.e., privatization of the memory of the Great Patriotic War [WWII] by a particular group—is a tool that is still in play, but militarism as such has lost its power to mobilize and consolidate Russians. If “German POWs” are marched around Novgorod on January 20, 2019, in an absurd attempt to reenact the NKVD’s Operation Grand Waltz, and on January 29, a military parade is held in St. Petersburg to mark the latest anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad, it will not raise Putin’s approval rating from 66% to 80%. Those days are gone. So, the props have been dropped in favor of direct action in the Kerch Strait, but its power to mobilize people is not at all obvious.

You can cynically throw the ashes of those who perished in the Siege of Leningrad to stoke the furnace of fading ratings as much as you want. You can march people dressed up as German POWs round Novgorod as much as you like. When, however, pollsters ask Russians between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four what countries they regard as role models, they list Germany, China, and the US. This is not because young Russians are unpatriotic, but because not everything comes to down to the top brass feeding on the poisonous corpse of the Stalinist past. The present day, progress, and visions for the future matter, too.

Can we do it again? We cannot. Nor is there any reason to do it. Infantilized by the regime, Russian society’s maturation will be measured by the numbers of people who are convinced that we cannot and should not do it again.

Andrei Kolesnikov is program director at the Moscow Carnegie Center. Translated by the Russian Reader

Anton Mukhachov: Life after Prison

anton mukhachov-facebookAnton Mukhachov. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

Anton Mukhachov
Facebook
November 26, 2018

Life after Prison: Second-Class Citizens

I’ve already written about how a bank refused to exchange $100 for me.

Today, I was at notary’s office making out an ordinary power of attorney. The tired woman was typing my passport date into the computer when, suddenly, her eyes widened.

“It says here you’re on the list of terrorists!”

I corrected her.

“You probably mean the list of extremists. Rosfinmonitoring’s list and all that. What does it have to do with a power of attorney?” I asked.

“I can’t do anything for you,” she said, adding, “I’m obliged to report you!”

She did not issue me the power of attorney, ultimately. She said the program would not let her go any farther, and that all notaries used the same database.

I asked her what I should do. How can an adult get by in life without notarizing contracts and major transactions?

She shrugged.

Here are my preliminary conclusions. I did time for a crime to which I did not confess. I was released from prison. Now, seemingly, I am a free man, a citizen and taxpayer. But I cannot open an ordinary account in a bank. I cannot ask a notary to notarize a transaction, agreement or deed. Theoretically, I will have problems finding a job due to the fact that it will be impossible for an employer to open a payroll account for me.

What should we call this state of affairs? An incentive to recividism? Or an incentive to emigrate?

P.S. When I asked both the bank and the notary to give me written explanations for their rejections, they claimed they were having technical difficulties with their systems.

P.P.S. When I was in prison, I had no problems drawing up powers of attorney, and I had my own bank account.

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

I have published several articles in the past on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “extremists” and its crippling effects on people’s lives: