Monday, February 25, 2008

Latynina: Estonia taught Russia a lesson

Julia Latynina (Wiki), the leading opposition opinion-writer (after Ms Politkovskaya, assassinated) published a piece about the results of pro-Kremlin movement's Nashi anti-Estonian campaign (

"Разновидность Новости Без Продолжения - осада эстонского посольства "Нашими". Нам показали очень увлекательный мини-сериал на тему: "Как "Наши" победили Эстонию". Съемки закончились, статисты разошлись, и нам забыли рассказать о последствиях. А они весьма серьезны. В частности, Эстония запретила строить по своему дну трубопровод, а Михаил Маргелов не стал главой ПАСЕ. Таким образом, зрители сериала остались в неведении относительно цены, которую Россия заплатила за съемки. В последнее время Новости Без Продолжения посыпались, как из ведра."

"A kind of a "News Without Followup" was the siege of the Estonian Embassy by "Nashi". We were shown quite entertaining miniseries on "How Nashi defeated Estonia". After the end of the film they forgot to tell us about the results. But the results were serious. In particular Estonia forbade construction of the pipeline in her seabed and Mihhail Margelov did not become the head of PACE. Thus, the viewers again were left clueless about the price Russia had to pay for shooting the film. Lately these News Without Followup became frequent."

Ms Latynina is opposition opinion-writer and as such she tends to see things in a way not favourable to Kremlin and his puppet youth movements. There are signs however, which strongly back up her assessment. One of such signs could have been the sacking of Modest Kolerov from the Kremlin administration in Fall of 2007. Mr Kolerov was the person responsible for various activities related to "sphere of geopolitical influence", including those of the youth groups, perpetrated in the countries of the so called "near abroad", including Estonia. Some analysts saw Mr Kolerov as too confrontational figure.
Finally he was denied entry into Estonia. Then, after some time, the Kremlin fired him. Mr Kolerov wouldn't have been fired had his efforts of bringing the Baltics back into the Russian sphere of influence been successful.
Second sign was "re-structuring" of the youth movements, including the one, which became infamous for anti-Estonian attacks, Nashi. This "re-structuring" was aimed at getting rid of their political role as it was announced in January. Again, the Kremlin did it. For details see past entries of this blog.

Of course, Ms Latynina was right in saying that Estonia rejected, bluntly, the pipeline Nord Stream, viewed as strategic project both in terms of energy and politics by the Russians. Estonian rejection caused losses in billions of dollars in both direct construction costs and time related costs, as admitted by certain commentators in Russia.

Of course, Ms Latynina was right in saying that Estonia did everything to undermine Mr Margelov's position in PACE, despite Mr Margelov's standing as a moderate among the foreign politics figures in Putin's party and the fact that Mr Margelov may otherwise have influential friends among Estonian political establishment (we know their names). Thus, a historic opportunity for a Russian to become a head of an important independent Western organization was lost.

Of course, Ms Latynina would be right if she said that Estonia threatened the Kremlin's youth movements by blocking certain vocal anti-Estonian leaders, with a tendency to break Estonian laws, from traveling abroad. The threat of getting cut from traveling in the Schengen increased the costs of involvement in this organization for promising Russian young public figures.

Of course, Ms Latynina would be right if she said that thanks to Russian cybernetic attacks, Estonia now has unique NATO cyber defense centre under command of maj-gen Johannes Kert (read this lengthy overview in British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph). For the Kremlin this is significant as under the pattern of thinking of the Russian generals the Western willingness to protect its Eastern European allies is directly connected to the existence of military bases, established in each particular country.
So, thinks Kremlin, once Czech Republic obtains a significant USA military base (missile shield installations) the USA will have to go to war on the Czech side - against anyone - if there's a direct military conflict. This rule in the rule book is the one, which is crystal clear for the generals. That's why in their view Russia should oppose such military bases, because once established they would cut Russia off from possible intervention or exercising softer forms of influence in particular region.

Estonia now has got its first and so far the only official NATO base, in which a number of NATO countries participate. To put it bluntly, the Russians can't seriously think anymore about bombing Tallinn, without having to consider the repercussions of the risk of killing several senior NATO countries' military officials, in addition to the usual toll in several thousands of our friends from Finland, touring shopping malls and Keskturg, daily. They know they can do it - fire missiles - in the case of Georgia, where there's no such risk present. So they do. But in the case of a NATO member country, a formal ally, a part of a bigger picture, it is impossible.

It sounds cynical and even primitive, but that's how our Russian "friends" see it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Death of Nation

Google video of a British TV reporter traveling to Mordor Russia, telling a sad story about the end of the former empire.

Regards to La Russophobe.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Russian Army Analyst to the World: You are defenseless against a cyber attack

Surprising, but true, the Russian militarists seeing a sign of weakness in the reaction of NATO to the cyber threat are coming closer to actually claiming responsibility for April and May Cyber Assault on Estonia. Even more, one of them is threatening NATO with such cyber attack inflicting "enormous losses" on the West.

According to one of the major Russian news outlets, Gazeta, which is associated with the British papers The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph, colonel Anatoly Cyganok, the head of the Russian Army Centre For Military Forecast (In Russian: Центр военного прогнозирования) made the following comment:

"Руководитель российского Центра военного прогнозирования полковник Анатолий Цыганок считает, что кибератаки против Эстонии не нарушали никаких международных договоренностей, потому что таковых просто нет. "Эти атаки были вполне успешными, и сегодня альянсу нечего противопоставить российским виртуальным атакам, - заявил Цыганок в интервью «Газете». - В принципе потери вооружений НАТО могут быть огромными, если в результате таких атак вывести из строя компьютерное военное управление»"

"The head of Russian Centre For Military Forecast Anatoly Cyganok says that the cyber attacks against Estonia did not break any international agreements because no such agreements exist. "These attacks were quite successful and today the alliance (NATO) has nothing to put against them," - Mr Cyganok said in the interview to "Gazeta". "If as the result of such attacks computerized military control were disabled the NATO military equipment losses would in principle be enormous."

Colonel is coming as close as possible to what Estonia has been saying for months - Russia is behind the attacks. This statement, together with the previous one by a high ranking Russian military official disclosing the existence of the cyber weapons program (see quotations from the Russian press in this blog) underlines the naivety of those few analysts looking for a cheap sensation like placing the blame for the whole saga on a lone hacker in Estonia, as more and more evidence of Russia's involvement emerge.

True, all the existent evidence is circumstantial. It is going to stay this way as Russia is not responding to the joint investigation requests and most of the places and persons wanted by the investigation are in Russia, except the one unfortunate Sergey, Ivan or whatever his name, apprehended in Estonia, who probably worked just as the fire corrector for the main hacker groups, feeding them the necessary IP addresses from inside a foreign language segment of the internet.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

AFP video on Estonia's e-services

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Russia: A Guide for the Cautious Traveler

by Ivan vs Jaan

(first appeared in La Russophobe)

“I don't reproach the Russians for being what they are; what I blame them for is their desire to appear to be what we are. They are much less interested in being civilized than in making us believe them so. They would be quite content to be in effect more awful and barbaric then they actually are, if only others could thereby be made to believe them better and more civilized”
-- Marquis de Custine, “Russia in 1839

A mindful international traveler should be aware of the risks and dangers associated with visiting foreign countries. There's pickpocketing, mugging, infectious deceases and tortuous bureaucracy. Russia is not exception. Planning a trip, and even more so when considering relocation or doing business in Russia, one should consider the relevant risks and prepare to face them, starting with choosing reliable travel agent and ending with getting one's travel documents in order. The following guide is designed to prepare those with such intentions, and may be seen as a bit critical or conservative, but it is in fact quite realistic. The country at issue is infamous for lawlessness. Lack of attention to local requirements may just lead to increased chances of experiencing the reasons for that infamy, which could be unfortunate, unnecessary or even tragic.
Russia is hardly a featured destination promoted by many travel guides or the subject of much promotional advertising, and in fact regularly vies for many titles in the league of the “world's worsts” often finding itself near the very top of that dubious heap. Examples of several of these instances are given in this overview.

Violent Crime

Russia has got one of the highest murder rates in the World. According to the latest available statistics (PDF) on Russia from the UN crime watchdog, in 2000 the country held 5th place among the most murder-friendly countries, with 20 persons out of every 100,000 killed intentionally every year. A significant portion of the Russian press is permanently dedicated to news about violent crime. Robberies and homicides play prominent role in the lives and in the deaths of Russians. However, as the capacity of the press is limited, only the most significant cases get coverage, with most of the attention going to mass-murders, acts of terrorism, assassinations as well as attacks and accidents involving prominent people and celebrities.

Every year serial killers with body counts reaching dozens are discovered. One of the most prominent of them is Alexander Pichushkin (see his Wiki entry), charged, convicted sentenced to life in prison for murdering 48 persons in Moscow -- with his actual toll said to be significantly higher. Of course, it's not just serial killers; gangs terrorize the population too. Crime in Russia includes everything you have seen in the action films. While at the lower levels the country is infested with street thugs, drug dealers and armed robbers, higher profile groups, such as gangs of professional assassins long ago became part of the Russian landscape. Russia is infamous internationally for political killings, particularly the assassination of prominent opposition journalists, but on the local level it is mostly businessmen and local government officials who are preyed upon.

One such criminal group originates in the town of Kingisepp just several kilometers away from the Estonian border, the so called Kingisepp gang. Over the past decade the gang has been officially connected to assassinations of dozens and dozens of businessmen and business managers (see in Russian). In 2007 members of the group were convicted of assassinating 6 business executives, with that number allegedly reflecting only a small part of their actual operations. The group was able to function without punishment because of its connections. The prosecution claims one of the key clients of the gang was Russian Federation Council member (similar to the U.S. Senate) Igor Izmestyev
(see in Russian), now under investigation for his alleged involvement. Members of Russian anti-narcotics police were also convicted of aiding the gang (see in Russian). Most other assassinations, though, remain mysterious to this day.

Although scores of foreign visitors fall prey of theft and violence, crime against tourists does not receive special attention unless it is outstanding, as was the case of recent beatings of British football fans in Moscow (see in English: Kommersant and BBC News). Specific dangers tourists can face in Russia include police harassment and, provided the visitors are unfortunate enough to have the necessary facial features, violent attacks by neo-Nazi and skinhead groups.

Law Enforcement

If you decide that the prime source of danger in Russia is crime, let me tell you about those charged with protecting law and order. It is widely known that Russia is not just one of the most criminal, but one of the most corrupt countries in the World. The scale of the problem is so enormous that this issue, unlike some others, is recognized as serious one even at the top level of the country's secretive and defiant leadership. It is not without reason "Transparency International," the global corruption watchdog, ranks Russia among world's worst countries in societal corruption. Some African and many Latin American countries routinely considered as "corrupt" are in fact more honest than Russia. Experts estimate that the Russian black market and bribes related to it attain a share of GDP of almost astronomic proportions, with many layers of society and government drawing their main income from such shadowy activities.

The problem is not limited merely to bribes, extortion and other garden variety corruption; the situation is much more sinister. To get an idea of the true extent of what is going on, let's turn to public opinion surveys. Opinion polls indicate that it is not the criminals the people of Russia fear the most, but Russian police themselves (curiously in Russia police is officially called "militia," милиция, a word typically associated in the West with an army). Russia's inhabitants (see these news sources in Russian: 1, 2) consider their police the most dangerous organization among the forces of organized crime in Russia. Russians characterize their police in following terms (Public Opinion Foundation, in Russian):
"Тот же преступник, но в форме и под защитой закона"
"They are the same criminals, but under protection of the law"

"среди них - сплошь преступники, которые насилуют, крадут, убивают безнаказанно"
"Criminals throughout the force, they rape, steal and kill at will"

"часть криминала"
"Part of criminal elements"

"бандит по сравнению с милиционером - святой человек, даже у бандита есть какие-то обязанности перед своим патроном, а у милиционера - вообще нет".
"Compared to a member of militia a bandit is a saint, at least he's got some responsibilities before his superiors, militia member has none"
73 per cent of Russians believed in 2005 that they could become victims of police force despotism, while only 4 per cent completely ruled out this possibility, according to a poll by "Public Verdict Foundation." As much as my personal opinion can be of interest, the 4 per cent confidence figure seems awfully close to the number of law enforcers and their associates in the country. One can watch videos on police force brutality if so inclined.

Law Enforcement Case Study: Rape

If you think "robberies, rape and murder" being committed by police forces is an exaggeration, think again. It is not without good reason that Amnesty International calls the situation in Russian police stations a "litany of horror," citing "regular beatings rape and torture" according to BBC News. The Russian press is full of reports on the criminal activities of the police force. I wouldn’t attempt covering the full range of it in this overview, turning instead to one of them, rape. In certain regions rape seems to have become almost like police official business. Unfortunately for tourists Moscow are not excluded. One can read pieces like one found on regarding policeman charged with raping and robbing dozens of women in Moscow. This is just one example, the sordid and shocking details of which I will decline to repeat. Those with an interest may explore them.
Two years ago the media exploded in stories about gangs of Moscow metro (subway) police engaging in regular rapes. According to the reports of the press “normally” Moscow police limit their sexual prety to prostitutes and immigrants, but by 2004 more and more cases of mainstream women being raped emerged. The activities of a "police rape ring" or "rape club" were chronicled, as they engaged in picking random females for rape in Moscow metro, by human right activist German Galdetsky and his associates. Soon after this he was taken out of equation by a gunshot to the head (sources in English 1, 2; in Russian 3). The scandal faded as Moscow police responded to the accusation decisively, namely by cracking down on human rights groups who were reporting the news.

Despite everything said above the most visible and widespread criminal activity of the police remains bribes and extortion. The participants see immigrants from Central Asian and Caucasian countries as their primary source of income, with tourists left intact if they have their papers in full order. This conclusion is supported by message boards and Internet forums by travelers with experiences in Russia. Unfortunately, foreign tourists are also usually "left alone" when it comes to their reports of crimes being committed against them.

Various online guides are available to laymen who may need to deal with interactions involving the Russian police (see in Russian), but it is generally assumed a simply negotiated "donation" will help to soften the strict eye of the law in most cases.

Health and Disease

It's not a secret that the Russian habit of heavy drinking adds to the general unhealthiness of the population. For a tourist, of course, this should not be a problem in itself, though there are always some “buts” to consider. Just one drink of unchecked quality can create problems for an incautious tourist. Some scientists estimate that fake spirits, a cheaper and more unhealthy replacement for legal spirits, cause up to one third of the deaths in the country (see, in Russian). Acute cases of alcohol poisoning can dwarf the impact of many known infectious diseases, with alcohol emergency situations sometimes declared in the federal regions. Imagine a horror movie about an unknown virus sweeping the country, with an army of doctors cordoning off the area, replace "virus" with cheap vodka and you won’t find yourself too far in the realm of Sci-Fi where Russia is concerned. For example, one piece (in English) reports that "dozens of Russians have died and more than 1,000 received hospital treatment in a wave of alcohol poisoning sweeping the country" and tells about emergency situations declared throughout several regions, while another piece (in Russian) gives some more details from ground zero in three Russian regions becoming catastrophe zones because of massive poisoning in bad spirits.

As the German publication Die Weft puts it:
"Doch Schwarzbrenner sind immer noch ein großes Problem. Experten schätzen, dass der Inhalt jeder dritten Flasche illegal ist. Die Ärmsten greifen sogar zu hochprozentigem Badewannenreiniger."

"Fake vodka is still a major problem. Experts estimate that every third bottle in circulation is illegal. The poorest people even drink high alcohol content bathtub cleaners"
According to the German paper, Russians hold first place in the world when judged by the amount of alcohol consumed, with each inhabitant imbibing 17 liters of pure spirits annually, both clean and illegal. A foreigner attempting to introduce himself to this lifestyle would surely find himself shortly in need of urgent medical aid.

Medical aid

As cold, northern country, Russia doesn’t have many threatening or easily communicable infectious diseases. But if you get sick and must see a doctor don’t hold high expectations for your recovery. As a Western travel guide puts it:
Medical care is usually far below western standards, with severe shortages of basic medical supplies. Access to the few quality facilities that exist in major cities usually requires cash payment at western rates upon admission."
In other words, if you are unlucky, you may die of lack of aspirin in a Russian hospital.

A summary of some of the worst examples of medical treatment can be found in the reportings of the Russian major portal, with reference to the German journal Focus. In short, many doctors in Russia have little respect for professional ethics and are either unprofessional or won’t stop at killing or mutilating their patients if it brings in more money than keeping them alive and healthy. For example there are media reports (see in Russian) about doctors in Khabarovsk who are under investigation for killing 56 of their patients for the purpose of organ removal and sale as well as for cutting out organs from the bodies of hundreds of more patients who were lucky enough to be released alive. One should not think that this phenomenon is limited to remote provincial locations; one can read (see in Russian) about organ removals from live patients in Moscow as well. Here, again, medics are under official investigation for their activities, having been caught red-handed. In particular case a patient A. T. Orekhov was discovered by the police during an anti-organ trade “dawn raid,” in act of organ removal, with the patient's guts lying open. Mr Orekhov, a victim of an accident, was already prepared to be registered as “dead” by the medics. But as police and police medical experts were looking at Mr Orekhov’s body, the body looked back at the police, figuratively speaking. He died shortly after (see an overview of the Orekhov’s case in English). As a traveler you should take care of assuring the medics you can pay them. If you don’t want to end up as Mr Orekhov did, that is.

Skinheads and Nazi groups

In this domain too Russia has a prominent position. Russia's racist and neo-Nazi groups are recognized as world's strongest, with 50 thousand fanatical members. A report by the San Francisco Chronicle states that nearly half the world's skinheads live in Russia. Last week, the Moscow Times reported that race crimes increased 13% in Russia last year.
Not only are the Russian Nazis numerous, but their cruelty is legendary. Their second favorite activity after greeting each other with Nazi salutes is beating up people who appear to hail from Central Asia, Caucasian republics of the former USSR, former African satellite countries, former East Asian allied countries and Jews. They don't have the habit of checking passports first, but rely on looks. Therefore a traveler with facial features like the people of the above mentioned countries should take good, very good care. Better still, consider not going. The Russian public remains somewhat unaware of these events, learning only about sensational incidents that involve celebrities, such as Zair Tutov, the singer and holder of the "People's Artist" designation, a high Russuan honor, and of the position of minister of culture in the North Caucus Region, who was beaten famously up by skinheads (see this overview in Russian).

Foreign embassies may file official protests to the Russian government demanding protection of their citizens all they want, as does Amnesty International and the United Nations’ refugees body, but little is achieved on positive side.

Some of the more cruel cases of Neo-Nazi assaults have included:
1. Murdering anti-Nazi activists such as anti-Nazi expert Nikolai Girenko. See the overview of Mr Girenko’s case in Time Magazine as well as this overview (PDF) of attacks on human rights activist in St Petersburg by the World Organization Against Torture.

2. Beheading immigrant workers and posting the video of their execution on the internet (BBC News). Warning: Very bloody.

3. Capturing a woman looking like an immigrant in the street, dragging her away to a cemetery, cutting chunks of her flesh while she is alive, cooking the meat over the fire and eating the meat. No kidding. See the full story in, in Russian.

4. Instantaneous gang-style attacks on pedestrians in the streets of major cities in broad day light, including the killings of 5 and 9 year-old children (San Francisco Chronicles, BBC News, video).

5. Pogroms. BBC News reports that "an estimated 300 skinheads attacked market places in Moscow two years ago, killing three people." See also a video on skinhead attacks in Russia (video). Or the video on the pogrom in the city of Kondopoga (video).

6. Advancement in the neo-Nazi hierarchy ranks according to the number of foreigners "executed." The most prominent known case is 18 year old Artur Ryno, who is under investigation for murdering 37 persons, both foreigners and people from ethnic minorities in Moscow (see Russia Today in English).
But how about police, don't they do something? Of course they do, as demonstrated by the case of Magomet Tolboev (Wiki). He was beaten up in the street of the capital by the police, for being ethnic Chechen (see in Russian). He was stopped for a routine document check (“face control”). With the worst ethnic case confirmed, the cops went nuts on him. Unlike thousands of others Tolboev’s story became a scandal, because Mr. Tolboev is a highly decorated Soviet test pilot and astronaut, holder of the title of “Hero of Russia” and adviser to a member of the parliament.
Finally, one should not relay too heavily on the idea that getting into trouble with skinheads would create sympathy within the rest of the population. The share of public support for the skinheads’ chauvinist ideas goes to 61 per cent (Time Magazine). Therefore what can actually happen is that instead of helping a victim the people around would rather help the attackers with an extra kick or two.

In the last decade terrorist attacks have claimed hundreds of lives in mainland Russia (the number would go into thousands if the Caucasian region of the country was added). Under the leadership of president Vladimir Putin the country saw hostage taking incidents with probably the world record for fatalities during so-called rescue operations. Because these events are as gruesome as they are well publicized, I’d leave this subject out of this overview.

It should be mentioned though, that foreign tourists too get killed and injured during terrorist attacks in Russia. For example, in one of such crisis, Moscow's Dubrovka theater siege, 9 out of total of 129 hostages killed by the poison gas released by the police were foreign nationals. A Wikipedia article lists a specific detail of the incident. According to Wiki the terrorists, who probably wanted to minimize their negative media coverage in the West, offered to unilaterally release the foreign hostages, but the negotiators refused to allow the foreigners to leave. To explain this decision, one might reference the foregoing section.

Lack of safety and catastrophes

Deadly accidents and catastrophes are everyday affairs in Russia as most of the country’s infrastructure is inherited from the times of the USSR and hasn’t seen any significant repairs since. There are accidents in the mines, gas explosions, building collapses and much more. Some of the most troubling to the authorities are breakdowns of central heating systems in apartment blocks, as they happen every year in Sibirian cities in winter, with outside temperature in dozens of degrees below the freezing point. These accident have sometimes lead to riots and clashes with the police.

Bloodier however are the cases of airplane crashes. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports:
"If you're planning a plane trip in Russia this summer, you might want to think again. A study released this week by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows that Russia and other former Soviet countries are the world's most dangerous places for air travel"
Reuters seconds:
"Russia remains the most dangerous place to fly despite global improvements that made 2006 the safest year on record, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported on Tuesday. Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had an accident rate 13 times the global average, IATA said."
"In the CIS the rate was 8.6 accidents per million flights, or twice the rate of Africa, where the level fell to 4.31 from 9.2."
As opposed to air travel, trains are safer on the operational side, though they are bombed more often by the terrorists. Road traffic can be characterized as chaotic and very dangerous with Russia competing with other C.I.S. countries for the title of the country with the highest rate of deadly car accidents per capita in Europe.

Despite the obvious lack of modernization of the old Soviet infrastructure, the situation can actually be seen as even worse in the case of many newly erected facilities and buildings, constructed without competent, honest supervision. reports in a story titled “Experts: living in Moscow skyscrapers is extremely dangerous” on the unsound engineering design of most new housing structures in Moscow. According to the report, Moscow's skyscrapers, hundreds of which were and are erected at an amazing speed, are unsafe. Safety experts warn that living in one of Moscow numerous newer apartyment towers is dangerous. Caverns are constantly forming in the wet soil beneath the structures, with cracks appearing here and there as the first sign of the danger. To make the case worse, the skyscrapers aren't equipped for evacuation in case of possible emergencies, with Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu calling existing staircases inadequate. To have a sense of the situation take a look at some fresh photographs taken under the foundation of one of Moscow’s new "elite" apartment housings by a Moscow blogger.

Examples of deadly construction accidents include the collapse of an arch in Transvaal Park (an aqua park) in Moscow in 2004 (Wiki), which killed 28 guests of the facility and the collapse of the roof of Moscow’s Basmanny market (Wiki) in 2006. Erected in 19074 and thereafter neglected, 66 people were killed in the accident inside the Moscow-owned market when it collapsed.

The Army

Foreign visitors are largely safe from the danger of being drafted into the Russian army, which otherwise has dreadful reputation (see report by Human Rights Watch) with scores of draftees killed and mutilated every year. See photographs of private Andrei Sychev, before and after or videos on hazing. The fear of being drafted into the army is so strong that only 9.5 per cent of males of draft age are actually conscripted into the army, as revealed in 2004 by then minister of defense Sergey Ivanov (see in Russian). According to the minister, this figure, 9.5 per cent is a "world lowest rate" and it is several times lower than the number Russia was pulling into the army in the beginning of the 90s. Young people and their parents stop at nothing to escape the draft with many Internet forums dedicated to exchange of best practices. Thus the army relies on the peasantry, representatives of ethnic minorities as well as of non-mainstream groups now forming the bulk of soldiery.
While soldiers of many armed forces are accused of using prostitutes for their needs, Russian soldiers are accused of being prostitutes. Indeed, the Russian media widely reports on male prostitution in the army with underpaid officers forcing the soldiers subject to their authority engage in acts of homosexual sex, with their officers as pimps. According to the media (see in Russian) soldiers are widely forced and coerced to prostitute themselves en masse. Advertisements for army sex services are found on the Internet’s gay forums.
According to the media, in Russia even a slave trade in draftees is possible. Drafted soldiers sometimes disappear from their barracks. These cases are normally blamed on escapism. However, cases exist when the soldiers later appear in the mountainous areas of the Russian North Caucasus, mainly in Chechnya, as farm slaves (slavery is common in that area), instead of their homes, accusing superiors for selling them. Press reports on these cases include this opposition site.
When I said that foreigners are "largely protected" from the threat the army poses to the local male population I meant that a foreign citizen is unlikely to end up as a soldier in the Russian army. But theoretically it is possible. The press, including daily Komsomolskaya Pravda reported in December about a new wave of young male citizens snatched on the streets of Moscow. Kidnappings were done by the police to fulfill the annual draft plan with the year’s end approaching. This is a periodic occasion in Russia when the police is out looking for men of draft age to force into conscription. Foreign citizens can be drafted into the army as well if they lack proper IDs. A foreigner lacking proper ID in Russia is in trouble despite his nationality.
On political side-effects of this military environment see this article by Washington Post.

Other Army-related threats include getting too close to its bases of operation, given the paranoia towards foreigners. Or accidentally running into army representatives, anywhere. Especially bad timing would be on and around the annual celebrations of the “Airborne Troopers Day” (2nd of August) when there are violent attacks by veterans of the special airborne forces on the general population. Attacks by celebrating veterans mainly concentrate on males “too civilian” in appearance, wearing glasses for instance, and people looking like they are of ethnically non-Russian (Caucasus mountains or Central Asian) origin. An overview of the situation is provided by Russian Muslims portal (“Airborne Troopers Day: Survival Guide for Persons of ‘Muslim Nationality’”, in Russian). On positive side it should be mentioned that the airborne veterans don’t seem to actually kill their victims, just severely beat them up with the police pursuing its usual non-intervention policy. There’s no actual advice in the article on how to survive an encounter, however.

Chechnya and North Caucasus

I intended this overview to be based on and accurately reflect the facts in mainland Russia, thus not addressing the area of North Caucasus. But a word to the wise may not come amiss. From Wikitravel:
WARNING: Chechnya is most emphatically NOT a tourist destination and not safe for independent travel or sightseeing. Most foreign governments advise against non-essential travel. Those visiting for business, research, or international aid purposes should consult with their organization and seek expert guidance before planning a trip. If you must go, see War zone safety.“

Conventional Wisdom Travel Advice
(and why it won’t work in Russia)

1. Don't trust people who look like they may be criminals
(Hard to follow as it could cover large part of the population)

2. Stay away from anyone in uniform
(Again difficult as they are too many. Your success may depend
on whether you look like a source of income.)

3. Always have your documents in order
(Think of a country famous for its bureaucracy, to get a sense
of Russia multiply by two – chances are you’ll miss a
document or two.)

4. Move in groups, try not to get separated from the others
(There are always places to get you when you are alone, like public
toilets or if you are smoker.)

5. Avoid medical facilities not in the Embassy-recommended list,
private ones are marginally better than government ones

(As opposed to public hospitals private clinics will put you to
rest with equipment and pain killers.)

6. Exercise caution eating and (especially) drinking
(It's a lottery unless you brought your own food field tests.)

7. If inside, check escape roots in case of emergency
(Absence of escape roots in the building is what

concerns the Emergency Ministry officials, remember?)

8. Be careful upon seeing a celebration with
music and happy people

(If it is a gathering of army veterans chances are they can easily outrun you.)

9. Follow traffic signs and regulations
(There are scores of pedestrian victims who did nothing wrong.)

10. Go somewhere else
(Likely the only advice that counts if your
prime concern is personal survival.)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The documentary The Singing Revolution explained

See Jim Tusty, director of the film explaining the story of Estonian struggle for independence, here:

Also, in a separate video Mart Laar is speaking about history of Estonia.

Friday, February 1, 2008

In cooperation with La Russophobe

La Russophobe:

We are especially proud to publish entry #1 above, a meticulously researched and sparklingly well-written essay from a blogger/reader with penetrating insights about real life in Russia.

Obligatory reading for those interested in getting a sense of the atmosphere in the Russian society.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Breaking News! Russia Reveals Cyber Wars Program

From the Russian press:
Russian military admits developing information warfare arsenal

According to Vedomosti:

"Первый заместитель начальника Генштаба ВС РФ генерал Алексей Бурутин на заседании Национального форума информационной безопасности сообщил, что Россия приступила к разработке «информационного оружия»".

"First assistant chief of the Russian Armed Forces High Command general Aleksey Burutin (Алексей Бурутин),
in the meeting of the National Information Security Forum said that Russia has begun developing «information weapons»".

According to news article titled "
Armed Forces High Command: Russia has to prepare for information warfare":

"Генерал-лейтенант Алексей Бурутин, первый заместитель начальника Генштаба Вооруженных Сил РФ, заявил на ИБ-форуме «Информационные решения для безопасности России», что Россия должна готовиться к глобальным информационным войнам, сообщает Прайм-ТАСС."

"Lieutenant-General Aleksey Burutin (Алексей Бурутин), first assistant chief of the Russian Armed Forces High Command (первый заместитель начальника Генштаба Вооруженных Сил РФ) said during the National Information Security Forum's conference «Information solutions for the security of Russia», that Russia has to prepare for global information warfare, according to Russian leading state press agency Prime TASS".

"Итар-ТАСС пишет с его слов: «победы в возможных войнах будут достигаться путем уничтожения ИТ-управления государством и вооруженными силами. «В ближайшем будущем достижение побед в войнах и вооруженных конфликтах будет решаться за счет подавление государственного и военного управления противника, его навигации и связи, воздействия на ИТ-объекты, от которых зависит стабильность управления страной»"

"According to Itar-TASS with reference to the general: «victory in possible future wars will be achieved by destroying IT management structure of the state and its armed forces. In the nearest future victories in wars and armed conflicts will be achieved by suppressing state and army management of the enemy, his navigation and communications, by affecting IT entities, on which state's management stability depends»".

Despite the fact that the general isn't giving many details on what methods of subduing enemies' IT infrastructure or what kind of "information weapons" are in development by his army, instead doing something similar to quoting random geek's magazines, technically there's hardluy any other possible way than applying, and massively applying hackers' techniques, spam, DDOS, viruses etc, perhaps combined with some hardware on the military and intelligence side. The general says in one of the quoted articles, that achieving the goals of the information war wouldn't require crossing the border into enemy territory.

From this point it seems to me that Mr Burutin's presentation may in fact be too modest as compared to actual capacities of his subordinates. After the Russian cyber blizkrieg in late April and early May I can only wonder if the announced "information forces" already possess in their CV not unsuccessful IT weaponry test.

Rosbalt: Russian Political Hacktivism Concept Explained

The threat of cyber attacks is promoted as political conspiracy tool?

Russian news portal Rosbalt, which is managed by the wife of a top ranking FSB official and close associate of "you know who", Victor Cherkesov, published an interesting opinion about the events of April and May in Estonia, including the famous cyber attacks (emphasize added):

"Случаи массовых D-dos-атак и ранее неоднократно случались; сами по себе они не считаются чем-то из ряда вон выходящим. Но именно идеологическое противостояние Рунета и эстонских властей приобрело размах настоящей войны, так как Рунет в тот момент фактически взял на себя функции субъекта мировой политики. В глобальной информационной среде возник прообраз экстерриториального и негосударственного цивилизационного единства всех русских. Были налажен обмен информацией, выработаны общие ценности, обозначено пространство национальных интересов, сигнальная система оповещения об угрозах. Началась и международная деятельность — разъяснение своих позиций и формирование групп поддержки в иноязычных сегментах Интернета".

"Cases of massive DDos attacks had happened many tiimes before; by themselves they aren't considered significant. But it was precisely ideological clash between the Estonian authorities and Russian internet (RuNet), which lead to a real war, because at that moment RuNet in fact undertook functions of a player in the World politics. Prototype of an extraterritorial and non-governmental civilization-like unity of all Russians has been born in the global information environment. As result, exchange of information, common values, common area of national interests and threats monitoring system were developed. International activity was created as well - explaining own positions and forming support groups inside foreign language segments of the internet".

"А в момент кризисной ситуации пользователями Рунета были приняты меры по защите своих ценностей и моральных приоритетов, оказавшиеся весьма болезненными для небольшого государства. Рунет проделал работу, которую российское государство должно было проделать еще до Бронзовых ночей, но по каким-то причинам этого не сделало".

"In time of crisis the users of RuNet undertook measures to defend their values and moral priorities, which appeared to have quite painful effect for a small country (Estonia - editor's note). RuNet did the job, which the Russian state should have done even before the Bronze Nights, but chose not to, reasons unknown".

"Фактически Рунет по своей воле без чьего-либо указания коллективно принял решение и вступил в партизанскую войну за ценности русской цивилизации. В этом бою Рунет оказался гораздо более эффективным средством прямого действия, чем пожирающие огромные средства российские молодежные организации. Партизанские действия рунетчиков, конечно, не могли принести победы в борьбе со страной-членом НАТО. Но мы должны признать, что Рунет стал субъектом мировой политики. В боях за Бронзового солдата появился прообраз международной социальной структуры русского мира. Эта глобальная сеть, объединяющая русских разных стран, может выполнять важнейшие функции в тех сферах, где у государства по каким-либо причинам связаны руки".

"In fact RuNet, acting on its own and without any leadership decided collectively to start a guerilla war in the name of the Russian values. In that battle RuNet proved to be much more effective as compared to insanely resource hungry youth organizations. Guerilla activities of the members of the RuNet couldn't, of course, bring the victory against a NATO country. But we have to acknowledge that RuNet became a player in the World politics. As the result of the battle for the Bronze Soldier a prototype of the global social network uniting all Russians appeared. This global network, uniting Russians from different countries can fulfill different tasks in those areas, where the state has its hands tied".

These ideas can clearly be seen as an attempt to explain and promote the thinking of those who, in the opinion of the author of the article, Dmitri Varfolomeyev (Дмитрий Варфоломеев, sp?), stand behind the phenomenon of the Russian hacktivism, best known examples of which are DDOS attacks against Kremlin's adversaries including the campaign against the web sites of the Russian opposition political movement "Other Russia", as well as the carnage unleashed upon the communications of the Estonian government, the press and the banks in 2007 Spring Cyber War.

One could expect a concept like this, with its conspiracy-style wording ("global network of Russians" acting in the Kremlin's interest when "the state has its hands tied") would rather come as an accusation by some of the victims of the DDOS and spam attacks, not as a triumphant story in a major Russian news portal perceived as pro-Kremlin.

Pieces like these demonstrate once again how little the opinion leaders in Russia are concerned about something, which has been seen as an issue across whole range of the World press, facilitated the launch of a new, cybernetic type of defense forces in a number of countries, and cast a shadow on the relations between the EU and Russia (look for key words similar to "cyber attack" in the EU parliament's resolution condemning Russian aggression against Estonia).

While the World, at least its Western part is discussing defensive measures against the attacks, Russians are discussing the benefits of attacking. So much about finding common ground with Russians.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Estonia crushed Nascism

Picture by a Russian blogger.

From today's Russian news it seems that pro-Kremlin movement "Nashi", which gained notoriety mainly for the siege of the Estonian Embassy and participated in the organization of April 2007 mass riots in Tallinn, faces disbandment. and Novye Izvestia report about the imminent decline of the organization, served as “restructuring” by its leadership.

According to, which cites well informed business daily Kommersant, the conference of Nashi leadership announced disbandment of 45 out of 50 regional offices, with some activists, now jobless, being re-directed to “special projects”. According to the press the Krelmin decided to put an end on Nashi's political role.

Famous political scientists with connections to the Kremlin is quoted as saying that Vladimir Putin himself is discontent with the results of unleashing Nashi against Western countries. When Nashi were refused Schengen entry, according to Stanislav Belkovsky, Russia was put into difficult position because she had to put up “a symmetrical response”. Here Mr Belkovsky obviously refers to a well known Russian foreign policy doctrine. However, responding with contre-measures in case like that would not be beneficial to Russia, the expert explains. Refusal of Schengen visas turned the games of the Nashist into dangerous ones for the interests of the Kremlin.

It goes without saying that the country in question, which added select Nashi activists into the Schengen black list (1, 2) was Estonia. Thus, in just several weeks of effect Estonian reaction turned the organization, hailed as “the forge of new Russian elite” by the Kremlin PR people, into political corpse.

Novye Izvestia journalists reporting on the development cannot restrain themselves reminding about the incentives the Kremlin promised to its poodle organizations. There were speeches by high ranking functionaries about the Nashi activists forming new or rejuvenating old political and economic elites of the country. Speeches about government's holdings like giant Gazprom needing young, modern thinking people to fill in managerial positions. Speeches about the importance of organizational skills and skills in political competition gained as member of youth movement for opening the doors of the Kremlin's political parties.

This all turned a lie.

Instead of the doors opened, there are doors closed, for all but few select organizers. For some of the fooled activists the closed doors not only include those of the the Kremlin, but, for a number of years, of most of the European countries.

Just 7 representatives of the four pro-Kremlin youth organizations such as "Molodaya Gvardya", "Mestnye", "Rossiya Molodaya" and of course 100.000 strong "Nashi" received positions in the offices near or inside state apparatus, the paper reveals. Initial promises turned a PR trick, according to an opposition politician commenting on the fate of the movement. The whole proclaimed “revolution of the cadres” ended up with just a handful of leaders receiving government positions, the rest to be disbanded and sent back to the countryside. In a manner reminiscent of the fall of the Chinese “cultural revolution”.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Citizenship discounts: black maket put price tag on Balts and Russians

Soon after Latvia joined the free travel area known as Schengen at the end of 2007 the country's authorities revealed, with a sigh of relief, existence of a major passports falsification scam, involving significant number of third countries' nationals illegally obtaining Latvian passports.
According to the Russian and Baltic press corrupt officials from the Latvian equivalent of the bureau of citizenship and migration have been dealing on black market issuing fake Latvian IDs. Major Moscow radio station Eho reported on the scandal as follows (from Jan 7th, 2008):

"'Паспорта изготавливались и продавались в основном россиянам и гражданам Белоруссии и Украины', - сообщает министерство"

"'The passports were generally manufactured for and sold to the citizens of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine' -- ministry says"

The story goes on disclosing some financial and marketing elements of the deal, in which 19 Latvian state officials are under investigation:

"Список лиц, получивших поддельные паспорта, пока не разглашается, однако все эти люди правоохранительным органам известны"

"The list of the persons, which received falsified passports has not been disclosed, all these persons, however, are known to the law enforcement authorities"

"Сеть работала в 2004-2005 годах, и незаконно было выдано более 100 паспортов. По данным латвийских СМИ, среди "покупателей" паспортов могут числится известные в России люди. Покупка "легального" паспорта обходилась заказчику в 70-100 тысяч евро"

"The network operated in 2004-2005 and more than 100 passports were illegally issued. According to the Latvian media famous Russians can be found among the "buyers" of the passports. For a "legal" passport a buyer had to pay between 70 and 100 thousand EUR"

Thus, for a Russian a foolproof Latvian passport would cost between €70.000 and €100.000. No wonder then there are wealthy people among the buyers.

Yesterday the press revealed the names of some of the Russians yearning for unhindered travel within the borders of Europe (Delfi):

"За незаконное получение паспорта летом прошлого года была осуждена гражданка России Наталья Рукина, которая после уплаты штрафа была выслана из Латвии и, скорее всего, включена в "черный список" Шенгенской зоны"

"Russian citizen Natalia Rukina was convicted in the summer of last year for illegally obtaining a passport; after paying a fine she was released and deported from Latvia, as well as most probably inserted into Schengen's 'black list'"

"Латвийские паспорта были у всех членов семьи Рукиных — у родителей, а также у детей"

"All Rukin's family members had Latvian passports - the parents as well as the children"

The story goes on saying that the Rukin family, as testified Mrs Rukina, bought fake Latvian passports in order to travel throughout Europe, unstopped. Mrs Rukina husband is Russian millionaire, dealer in expensive cars, BMWs and Rolls-Royces as well as food businessman, producing Russian pelmenes (spelling?) and other brands of food, according to the news.

These facts established let's turn to the Russian black market on documents. Russian search engine provides abundant facts for comparison.
This story in major news portal tells about a criminal gang, operating in Moscow, which dealt in citizenship and other forms of document falsification:

"Сыщики УБЭП ГУВД Москвы обезвредили организованную преступную группу, члены которой всего за 2 тысячи долларов помогали всем желающим получить российское гражданство"

"Detectives of Moscow's Central Department of Internal Affairs' Department of Investigation of Economic Crimes (УБЭП ГУВД) have disarmed an organized criminal group, whose members provided anyone with Russian citizenship for just 2000 dollars"

According to the story the Moscow gang offered to the interested parties any documents, diplomas, certificates, military certificates, including unfilled blanks of the documents from the presidential administration.

The referred case in Moscow is really on the upper part of the price curve. On the lower part of the curve stand the cases where a passport is obtained for a couple of hundreds of bucks. Funny one is the case from Volga region in Southern Russia, where the IDs are sold and bought at inexpensive prices if not to say at significant discounts.
Of course, local registration is an important part of the price because Russian citizens who aren't Muscovites can't legally stay for long in Moscow without having to register themselves, which is expensive. This makes Moscow documents outstanding.
So, how much is for non-Moscow, distant region passport? Pravda has the answer (Pravda):

"в Заволжье гражданином можно стать за десять баранов"

"in the Volga region you can become a citizen for ten sheep"

Finally one can see what is the difference in price between Russian and Latvian passports. Latvian passport is 50 to 75 times more valuable than Moscow's. In Volga region, however, for a price of one Latvian passport one could get settled a shipload of emigrants from Africa. That is if they'd agree.

I guess, this also reflects the difference between living in a normal country and in Russia.

Joke of the day: Kosachev won't let me into... Russia!

Russian news portals in the Baltic states, including Delfi make headlines reporting on the newest round of Russia's threats against Estonia, this time by Konstantin Kosatchev, chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee and a major foreign policy actor in Russia's parliament, speaking at European parliamentary discussion club, PACE.

He astonished the public with Kremlin's latest mind blowing idea, a punish package for Estonia and Europe - blocking Estonian and other Schengen citizens access to a criminal, despotic entity, known as Russia. Had the reasons given to justify this step not been presented by a Russian, I wouldn't have believed them. According to pro-Kremlin Russian news portal:

«Такими действиям Россию осознанно подталкивают к тому, чтобы она закрыла въезд на свою территорию всем, кто протестовал против ее контртеррористической операции в Чечне или выступал в защиту российской оппозиции»

«These actions deliberately push Russia towards banning entry to Russian territory to all those who protested against contre-terrorist operation in Chechnya or spoke in defense of Russian opposition»

In short, the madman, drunk with oil dollars, demands entry ban to the democratic World starting with your blogger and ending with countless European politicians and representatives of various civil defense bodies, such as the judges of the European Court of Human Rights, who ruled that the actions of the Russian "army" of butchers in the region constituted war crimes. Again, that's what he said according to Russian news portals.

But what would Europeans themselves make out of this threat, USA paper Christian Science Monitor offers one answer (2005):

"In the last ten years, foreign tourism to Russia dropped by 70%."

Moscow Times suggests another (re-print, 2006):

"The slide in the number of foreign tourists visiting Russia appears to be accelerating, with the number of people entering the country on tourist visas falling by almost a half-million in 2005 to 2.3 million, according to government statistics released Thursday."

Because of the horrific conditions, Russia offers dubious attraction to non-extremal travelers. In 2006 the country earned from tourism just 7 billion dollars. The number originates from World Tourism Organization statistics (PDF). On the other hand Estonia, a country 100 times (sic!) smaller than Russia and without access to any of such natural resorts as skiing mountains or warm seasides, which Russia does have, is able to pull 1 billion dollars from tourism annually!

Why are things so bad in Russia? After making
acquaintance with the country in question citizens of Finland provided following key words (according to Baltic Russian Delfi):

"преступность, бедность, грязь, бюрократия и плохое обслуживание"

"crime, poverty, filth, bureaucracy, bad services"

The poll was conducted by a Finnish newspaper.

So, I guess, Kosachev is just doing Europe a favor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today Russian Headlines

Reading genuine Russian news daily is a necessary excercise for understanding Russia. Today I felt like posting my readings in this blog.

I ran the Russian news section taken from a major online news portal,, through Google autotranslator. Then I edited the text making it more comprehensible. It is far from grammatically perfect, but it is readable. I also included the original text in Russian.

These are the today's morning headlines as they appear on the portal.


Applications from the Ingush voters who ignored the elections could be left without official proceedings in order to avoid the loss of the republic’s MP

The opposition fears that the lack of single-member districts can cause the republic to lose its single MP if the court finds the results invalid. Meanwhile, an elected deputy from Ingushetia, Belana Hamchiev is considered as a possible mediator between the residents of Ingushetia, the current authorities, the security forces and the Kremlin.

Sharing Medvedev: the parties, which nominated the successor, want to participate in the preparations for the elections together with the "United Russia"

Leaders of Sverdlov offices of "Fair Russia", "Civilian force" and the Agrarian Party of Russia suggested setting up a regional headquarters of the electoral coalition candidate. So far, Medvedev’s headquarters on the ground are created on the basis of United Russia, and three other parties are allowed to work only formally.

Participation in the elections is threatening Kasyanov with three years of imprisonment

This can be the effect of the facts of falsification of signatures in the two entities of the Russian Federation (in the Yaroslavl region and the republic of Mari El). Experts explain that accusing or not accusing Kasyanov of criminal intent depends on the attitude of the prosecution.

In Moscow, an Armenian was knifed by a group of adolescents. He is in critical condition

Law enforcement has not yet said whether the motivation was racial hostility, but all the details point to it: on the Bolshaya Academicheskaya street, Vladimir Karamzhyana was attacked by five persons, without any reason, he was stabbed in the heart area.

In the Chelyabinsk region more than 20 garages dynamited, rescuers searching for a victim

Explosion in Troitsk thundered on Thursday morning. According to the rescuers, the search for the victim started from the three garages forming the biggest group of ruins. There the force of the blast raised and put back the roofs. At the explosion site the entire composition of Troitsky detachment of the Regional Rescue Service is operating.

A bus and a trolley bus full of passengers fell into a hole formed because of the aqueduct breakthrough in Blagoveshchensk

No one was hurt. Road is blocked, traffic is sent around the emergency zone. Water supplies had to be completely disconnected from the major water lines. 27.5 thousand people remain without hot and cold water. The consequences of the bridge accident are planned to be eliminated by noon.

Central Election Committee will declare the results of the second verification of signatures in support of Kasyanov

After the first verification of the signatures given in support of Kasyanov the percentage of falseness exceeded 15%. Preliminary results reviewed again - 13% of falseness. Thus, given that the decision in a similar case is based on the results of verification of two samples, the chances of a successful registration of Kasyanov remain relatively small.

Fire occurred in a school in the North of the Irkutsk region

According to preliminary data, the cause of the fire has been shorting of electrical wiring in the cupboard on the first floor, which occurred as a result of a breakthrough of the heating system on the second floor.

In Ingushetia armored personnel carrier with the military ambushed: there are dead and wounded

The incident occurred in the village of Troitskaya in the area near where the forces of the Ministry of Defense Regiment are deployed. Unknown assailants fired at the car with automatic rifles. A fight started, which lasted about 10 minutes. In the shooting two soldiers from armored carrier were killed. The prosecutors have the same information, but without the victims.

Kasyanov was urgently called to the Central Electoral Committee in the night. But he did not go

Representatives of presidential candidate were given a copy of the telegram: he was invited to 11:30 PM in order to receive a protocol on the results of a secondary stage of the verification of signatures. The headquarters of the ex-premier called this "humiliation". Meanwhile, the head of the CEC Churov found in Kasyanov’s signatures sheets the names of fictional characters from Saltykov-Shchedrin’s books.

Original Russian texts