Friday, February 20, 2015

What World the EU’s Russian Embassy lives in?

These days Europe is gearing up for war. Defense budgets boosted. Shelters painted over. Drill plans re-filed. Brigades sprung to life.

The weaker are elbowed aside as countries rush to place emergency equipment purchases.

Merkel and Hollande are out spending 17 hours in God-forsaken Minsk on a fake hope of peace, instead of talking economics on the phone, “saving as” Greece and visiting baguette factories – all the things they should be doing in these, times otherwise uneven. This is how bad things are.
There is one place, however, where sings of trouble are hardly seen. There, the sun is shining with Europe’s warmth and brotherly love to our Russian brethren. It is the EU’s Russian Embassy’s Facebook.

This fresh posting congratulate our Muscovite “friends” on an amazing sunshine in Moscow and wishes them a fruitful week. Seriously? Well, let me try balancing this pretty picture a bit. I do not feel like wishing Russians, busy on their killing fields in Ukraine, a fruitful week. In this disagreement with Putin and apparently with the Embassy that I have, I am strangely, backed by Merkel, Hollande and perhaps half of the World of worried people. This is why sanctions are imposed: to cripple the Muscovite's working week, not to make it fruitful.

The sunshine can stay.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Current conflict can be setting a stage for millions to perish

Several postings below I issued a vague warning, in which I promised to unveil the real danger behind unhinged Russian TV propaganda.

Today, a number of recognized thinkers arrived to the same conclusion, explaining the menace in details. One of leading American and former USSR experts on things post-Soviet, Paul Goble, translated large excerpts from a solid Russian source on ethnic relations, prof. V. Solovey (see The Interpreter). The professor is warning about the grave dangers of ethnic unrest, which the former USSR could now be facing.

In a nutshell, the good professor is saying that Russians and Ukrainians are getting more and more "angry" at each other, up to the point when they would become as vengeful as it had been happening time and again in this part of the World. When a nation was pitted against another nation. In professor's view, a parallel to watch out for would be Serbs and Croats during the Yugoslav war 20 years ago. If you haven’t done so, I suggest you re-read wiki pages on this particular conflict. The overview of this bizarre, chaotic and bloody war could provide a useful insight into who we, the Eastern Europeans are, and what are we capable of.  To summarize, in that war, the self-appointed anti-fascists of Yugoslavia - Serbs - had gone bigot. They brought upon themselves an eternal and painful shame by staging a mindless massacre of their fellow neighbours, Bosniaks, in a unimaginative Nazi-style death-camp of Srebrenica. This was a Red-Wedding style bloodbath, which no one believed possible beforehand, despite the signs. In the good professor's analogy, Ukraine and Russia are on the verge. And can slip at any moment.

In comparing today’s crisis with former Yugoslavia's, another thing to remember is the size of the countries and territories involved. Russia and Ukraine are large. They more or less dwarf any of the Eastern European countries having times and times larger populations than those of all of the former Yugoslavia. If things go really sideways between those two, it would be on the same shelf with the WW2.

Despite what experts, far smarter and credible than myself, are saying, I don’t believe we are there. All of the destruction and casualties so far have yet been modest, comparing the scale of the conflict. If we consider that the area in question, where the current predicament takes place, is by far larger that any of the hotspots of the former Yugoslavia or even of the hotspots of the former USSR - with sprawling, million-strong cities, minig and manufacturing areas, it is clear enough that the region has escaped the extinction. From what I read in Russian-language Social Media of Donbass things go on largely almost as normal with many offices, as well as schools and hospitals at the cities in question still open and working daily, with kids and strollers filling the parks and recreation zones during some of the calmer days of the conflict. The reason for that could be that Ukrainian authorities or, for that matter, the rebels, show restraint in their military operations. Or, it could as well be plain lack of genuine hatred between the loyalist and separatists soldiers and populations.

But this could change. Russian TV propaganda machine is relentlessly at work, painting a hellish picture of fake-and-false atrocities and calling for a Holy War to “defend Russians”. Unlike country’s abroad-looking news outlets, these domestic ones don’t have to be smart and subtle. The recent Lie-Grandios about child-crucifixion by Ukrainian government troops is just the top of the iceberg of loathing. For some time now the hot steam has been infuriating scores of obscure far-right and far-left movements across vast territory of Russia, where national broadcasts are the only true mass source of information. War veterans, Cossacks, RNE-shniks, Oplotniks as well as countless of firearm-fanatics, “historical re-enactors” and hard-core Ortodox faithfuls are being whipped up into frenzy by the anti-Western teachings and conspiracy theories, lining up at semi-official recruitment offices to be sent into this fake battle. The fighting they are preparing for can well go on oversightlessly, militia-style. How much of their nationalist fever will settle once they arrive to their destination and discover the absence of the infamous “crucified child”, is unclear.  

Funeral of an Ortodox fighter killed in Ukraine, in Russian region of North Ossetia.
photo URL-d from

When you take a country 6 times bigger and 10 times angrier than Texas, with even larger amount of firearms and under little control, you can get armies of fanatics. In Ukraine, those people and their hatred can easily spell disaster last seen in the Yugoslav war and in Checnya, but in the scale of a Holocaust.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Steven Seagal should not come

Out of blue, criticism - verging on, and perhaps boiling over the limits - exploded at around Noon today, in the Estonian-language social media, against an American. The American in question is the US action-film star of the 90s, Steven Seagal. 

Apparently the endless repetition of the paraphrase that the war in Ukraine changed everything bears a lot of truth at least in Eastern Europe. Amazingly, just in an instant, with a lash of the media whip, it managed to turn this good, though forgotten, blue screen kung-fu fighter from the politic-less, ethnic-less and religious-less, entertaining figure, into “a KGB co-worker”. The local media just informed us of coming of a foreign TV star and posted pictures of him, endorsing Vladimir Vladimirovich’s annexation of Crimea. It has Steven Seagal of the 90s destroyed, and reborn, evil. Perhaps like any proper media should have.

Tensions remain high everywhere in the Europe's parts of the former USSR, perhaps even further than that. Smaller clashes and fights are breaking out over Ukraine here and there, numerous examples abound. With everything exceptional that we have, that we have built in our country over the last 25 years, in Estonia, where it is now sometimes hard to recognize the signs of the former sovietness anymore, we are not as exceptional as we would like to think. We are not coming out of this gargantuan crisis unscathed.

It does not matter how much the organizers of a public entertaining event of sorts, in Haapsalu, an Estonian city, try to portrait Steven Seagal’s coming as just that. Both Ukrainian-sympathizers and Russian-sympathizers are mobilizing. I follow, in the social media how Russian-sympathizers gear up to show up at the show-entertainment, many of them the only time in their lifetime, to get to this Western-Estonian city, to show support to the man, who their media just introduced as a staunch supporter of the Kremlin.
Ethnic non-Russians discuss options how to stand up to what they consider a Russian stooge, an enemy, in their home soil.

Although somewhat surprised by this development, still, I unite with my compatriots asking the film star to turn back. Mr Seagal, spare us some broken glass.
This is not the time for you to come. This is not the time.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ukrainians eat salo, Russian broadcater says. And they killed Jesus.

Nation-covering TV stations in Russia are government-controlled. The news they broadcast about Ukrainians are not only fake, but also stupendous. Unlike Russia Today, the news outlets, which are intended to the proper Russians, do not have to resolve to “little lies”. There, everywhere is thick red blood and bodies. There are massacres, mass-executions. There are horror-film-like gut-cuttings. There is even Jesus-style child-crucifixion on the main plaza of a city witnessed by crowds of people, fainting and crying in sheer desperation. The picture you get from Russian TV is an Apocalypse-like, where servants of evil are Ukrainians, and the innocent sheep slaughtered in the thousands are the ethnic Russians.

Yes, really. The main TV channel has indeed crowned itself by broadcasting a bizarre story about Ukrainian troops monstrously torturing and crucifying a Russian child before a crowd of terrifying locals, rounded up and forced to watch by the sadistic junta soldiers. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes“.

The story was told to the TV channel’s camera by a refugee from the now infamous city of Slavyansk, where this heinous mass-terrorization of the residents allegedly took place. This is the city, which used to be the separatist stronghold, but which recently fell from the hands of the pro-Russian rebels into the hands of the loyalist troops.

photo url-d from

In case there is any need to disproof this bogus journalism, one can follow what the real Slavyansk residents, now safe and sound, even having electricity, are saying, in Russian:

In short, the slightly shocked by this level of lying locals are dismissing the story, as completely bogus and plainly impossibly.
(link subject to archiving:

This is from tightly-controlled forum, intended exclusively for the Russian-speaking residents of Donbass region, the region where cities such as Slavyansk and Kramatorsk are situated. The forum has been in operation for a decade. It is dedicated to issues of children and family, such as purchases, day-care and schooling. Almost all of the users are females. In today’s over-politicised situation where tensions are tight, non-locals, as well as new, bogus users and trolls, are not allowed. In addition to the places where cheap strollers can be purchased, today in that forum you can find countless disproofs of the Russian news-stream, which is fake more or less in its entirety.

What are those ethnic Ukrainians really like, if not the monsters as painted in Vladimir Vladimirovich’s pet-media? You have probably seen dozens, or hundreds of them. As their language, as well as their look and habit, are very similar to Russian, you probably thought they are. In short, they are sweet, harmless people, not known in history for being especially murderous or sadistic. Although their dancing is really wierd. As it turns out those supposed war-mongers haven’t even had a real army, as demonstrated by a bloodless disarmament and seizure of Crimea by Russia.

Unfortunately you and me knowing the lies of Kremlin propaganda does not make a useful difference. It may well be doing its intended job. But why and how it works, this is a story for another time.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Confusing: Estonia is "USA", Finland is "Russia". Advanced case of Finlandization

photo url-d from

When Estonia’s president Ilves chastised “empire savers, pillagers and terrorists” in his Victory Day Defence League Parade speech he meant Russians.

So, in accordance to what I wrote in a posting below such rhetorics would spur corrupt politicians and businessmen, people in Western countries on Russia’s payroll, to come out in defence of their oil rich “Motherland”. One would rightfully expect they would not miss a chance to take a swing at president Ilves. What was not quite expected and therefore came as a surprise, that it was Finland’s foreign affairs minister Erkki Tuomioja, perhaps more properly named Эрик Туомиёвич. A cabinet minister from a neighbouring European country who on behalf of our other neighbour, Russia, interfered with Estonia's president's second most important public address. And this is sad, because so far the man wasn’t on the list of well-known Russian stooges like Germany’s Gerhard Schröder.

Of course, comparing Finland's cabinet member to a known FSB/GRU informant is no small deal. But there's simply no other explanation one can think about, surprising as it is. At least I cannot think of no legitimate reason requiring Finland’s foreign minister to step in by  throwing himself in front of Russia (against Estonia!). It should normally be a paying job.
Despite so far flying under the Russia watchers’ radar comrade Туомиёвич is no small man. He is Foreign Affairs Commissary of something that in those circumstances can only be called Finnish People’s Republic and therefore member of bunch of influential EU bodies where foreign policy is formed. So if on the basis of president Ilves’ speech he produced pro-Russian (or anti-Estonian) foreign policy comment, surely it was at least somehow sophisticated? Sadly, no. According to EER our Finnish comrade’s message was surprisingly simple. He just does not like Ilves, because – wait for it – America!

“Ilves's worldview was formed in Munich and the United States, while others have lived and survived here,” the minister said, alluding to Ilves spending his childhood in the US and later working for Radio Free Europe.

Finnish language Wikipedia tells us that comrade Туомиёвич’s father was prime minister. His mother was country’s Member of Parliament (although she was briefly arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia USSR before she became MP and Editor-in-Chief of Government Broadcasting Corporation). It all makes sense if one remembers that it is usually incredibly rich and influential people in the West who today play for Vladimir Vladimirovich’s team. Their post-communist hypocrisy, on the other hand, can be deafening: in the quote above prime-minister’s son, raised in luxury, blames war-refugee Ilves  whose parents fled GULAG with nothing and who had to toil for themselves, for “not living and surviving with the people”! What would comrade Туомиёвич most frequently survive, caviar overdose?

How Туомиёвич’s criticism compares to what Kremlin is saying? Expectedly, it happens to be exactly, almost word-to-word the same:

“Ilves is former USA citizen born in Sweden, but he was raised and worked in the US in anti-Soviet propagandist radio station “Free Europe” (Estonian-language edition).”

Unfortunately, comrade Туомиёвич, despite being a whole foreign affairs commissary which even in people's republics sometimes comes with some level of finesse, appears to be no different than even our favourite Kremlin mouthpiece in an average quote.

The question here, rhetorically, with such foreign affair’s minister does Finland need to be an independent Republic or Oblast would suffice?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Uprising in Ukraine has no cause you think it has

Only a lazy political blogger had not thought and written about the causes of the current security conundrum originating in Ukraine. A lot of reading materiel out there explains how the West upset, made Russia angry. This anger and frustration made Russia lash out causing lots of trouble.

The list of things went wrong include the following favourites:
·         Extending NATO close to the Motherland’s borders. This created insecurity among Russia’s elites. Hence beating up the weird boy Ukraine, to prevent it from joining NATO;
·         Extending the EU into Ukraine via trade deal, with something mostly ineligible added about disrupting a bunch of obscure former USSR integration projects;
·         Americans doing wrong things. Though Ukraine and the USA are not really close friends, the former is much easier to beat;
·         Kosovo, a frequent guest in “West against Russia” debate;
·         Oil/gas, predictably in the sense of controlling the flows”.

 Those reasons are mostly bogus.

Let me give you an example concerning the wide-spread notion of NATO expansion. Allegedly, NATO, with its relentless encroachment to Russia's borders is what upsets Russia.
Indeed, not a day went by during the last 20 or so years when Russia wouldn’t complain about “NATO expanding to its borders”. While the complaining was deafening, the thinking behind it was something else entirely. Russia had never been truly concerned about NATO. Just consider the USSR. Bear in mind that the Soviet Union is just extinct and oversized original to what is today Russia, like a cave bear. The USSR used to survive NATO extending to its borders just fine when Turkey accessed the Treaty in 1952 in a huge, World changing event in military terms about doubling NATO on this side of the Atlantics. Stalin was still alive. The USSR tolerated having enormous stretches of border with NATO countries. The Warsaw Pact was at the same time completely surrounded by armed to the teeth NATO in Europe. If you believe USSR was essentially any softer, more humane or friendlier to the West than Putin’s Russia today, you are gravely mistaken. Having NATO just outside borders of Soviet and former Soviet countries like today Russia has been a standard for decades. When Russia complains about NATO expansion she has reasons. But they are not “security concerns”.
I could go on explaining why everything else on the list of most common explanations on what went wrong with Russia is useless. Whatever everyone else wants to think, the fact is that there’s nothing tangible you could grab and squeeze or point a finger at. Nothing the West, Ukraine, Obama or bunch of random politicians did caused the conflict. But even though there is no cause, there is an explanation.

Russia has been evil for a long time. Until recently she lacked the strength to make others’ life miserable. Things changed in the year 2005, give or take, when the energy-benchmark oil prices went up. Suddenly, Russia did not have to hold herself back anymore and could - if she so chose - unleash her true self. Since then she did, in spectacular manner. You can make a timeline if you want, piling events like Putin’s Munich speech, War in Georgia, assassinations of opposition figures and cyber-gas on-and-offs. This would be timeline of Russia resurging hand in hand with oil prices. But when I say Russia did hold back until the time was right I don’t mean she hid what she is. She was honest about it.

She had us warned during early Putin’s and even during Yeltsin’s time. We just wouldn’t listen. She always maintained networks of spies, assassins, corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen in the near and far abroad. She always broadcasted anti-western hate to the public. She always held troops, uninvited and barely masked as “local insurgents” in a bunch of countries Russia did not like and could get to.

For the time being things were kept local. There was just enough on the table to go on.

For the time being the assassins would not strike Hollywood-style for the Motherland. For the time being the bought off politicians and businessmen in your country would not open up a choir of praise for the Motherland. For the time being the Motherland’s hate TV would not explode in a bizarre-billion-dollars global conspiracy channel. For the time being the “insurgent” troops would stay ragtag occupying ridiculously named off-the-map countries. Everything Russia brewed were just starter courses in imaginary Cookbook of Evil. For the time being.
Now it is time for you to get out in front of your house and check if Russia has her hate-list pinned at your door. If one is there do not think Mother-Russia is just kidding. If Russia is not around to get you, it is not because she doesn’t want to, but because she does not know how.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Well, look who is back

Isn't it our "friend", former Estonia-critic Lars Christensen giving interview to Postimees' economy news section?

Danske Banki peaanalüütik Lars Christensen peab praegustes sündmuste keerises tõdema: jumal lõi ökonomistid ja eriti pangaanalüütikud vaid ilmaennustajate rõõmuks – et keegi teeks neist veel ebatäpsemaid prognoose.
Lars Christensen: Euroopa saatus sõltub suuresti USA Keskpanga otsustest (28)
11.11.2011 08:40
This is my question:

Could you explain what happened to Estonian currency devaluation, which you have so well predicted back in the days, on absurdity of which this blog had commented a few years ago?

I can't see whether this question has been posed in this fresh exposee of Mr Christensen's mindwork as the online edition is cut and the paper has to wait till tomorrow, but in a previous opinion from January this year, also referred, Mr Christensen was so kind or so smart as to burst in praising the Estonian economy. And that is the whole story, there's nothing else what matters, but a commentary.

Now I am able to offer two possibilities why the analyst's mood turned from so sour in 2007 to so sweet in 2011: First option is that he is just a snake very flexible person and his answers depend on who's asking or, more likely, what his bosses expect him to say as dictated by the current strategy. Second option is that he actually put the years which passed from his previous entree into the Baltic world to good use and grew himself some baggage of useful skills.

In the half of the today's inverview that I can still see our good "friend" from Danske bank explains how much easier his job was in 2007 as "big risks over Estonian economy" were visible to "every taxi driver". Now, he goes on to admit, predicting the state of the economy is impossible. But this is just God's will that analysts' prognosis, especially those in the banking, are so bad. You see, dear reader, Mr Christensen admits - jokingly - that the sole usefulness of having analysts is that "weathermen feel better".

I am not sure though if I agree with the good mister. He outdid most of the analysts and surely all of the weathermen in his attacks on Estonia's economy. With our credit rating sky high, much higher now, in the midst of World crisis than it used to be in the "booming years", the true resolve of our working people and businesses became yet more apparent on the background of cheating and lying politicians, bankers and analysts across the globe.

It seems that in this story Mr Christensen has nothing better to offer than to explain that his job is completely useless as nothing can be predicted anymore. Well, Mr Christensen, I have some news: for you nothing really changed.

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.)