Tuesday Russian News Items

Russian news items posted to Russian Notes by Dr. Bruce Holl

BBC: “Two men wearing spacesuits have walked across a sandpit at a Moscow institute in a simulation of a mission to Mars. The pair – both volunteers – have spent eight months with four other men locked away in a series of windowless steel tubes representing a spacecraft.”

Interfax: “Two suicide bombers have been killed in Grozny, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, told Interfax.” Interfax also reports that “The investigative bodies of the Stavropol territory have opened a criminal case on the basis of the recent clash with militants on the border of the Stavropol territory and the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic, in which militants and law enforcement officials wee killed.”

Reuters India: “Russia will send new air defence systems, possibly including S-400 rockets, to islands at the centre of a territorial dispute with Japan, RIA news reported on Tuesday, citing a General Staff source.”

RFE/Radio Liberty: “Two separate bombings on February 14 in the Daghestani village of Gubden have left two policemen dead and 26 others wounded. A female suicide bomber detonated explosives outside the police station in Gubden, killing one policeman and wounding four.”

RIA Novosti: “Russia’s top election body has ordered a local election commission in Western Siberia to accept Dmitry Stalin’s candidacy for regional parliamentary polls. The Central Election Commission has upheld an appeal filed by Stalin, who says he was barred from running in the election because of his surname which is the same as that of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, one of bloodiest in world history.”

Би-би-си: “Выступая в Лондонской школе экономики глава МИД России сказал, что Россия избавилась от амбиций супердержавы. Во вторник Сергей Лавров проведет переговоры с британским премьер-министром Дэвидом Кэмероном”.

Лента.ru: “В Ленинском районе Грозного подорвались два боевика, сообщил РИА Новости глава Чечни Рамзан Кадыров”.

Новая газета: “На границе Ставрополья и Карачаево-Черкесии в перестрелке погибли трое милиционеров“.

Полит.ru: “По последним данным в результате двойного теракта в селе Губден Карабудахкенского района Дагестана пострадали 27 военнослужащих внутренних войск МВД, один военнослужащий и милиционер погибли, сообщает пресс-служба Министерства внутренних дел по республике”.

Monday Russian News Items

Russian news items posted to Russian Notes by Dr. Bruce Holl

BBC: “A British journalist barred from Russia last week after reporting on Wikileaks cables containing criticism of Russia’s leadership has been allowed to return. The Guardian newspaper’s Moscow correspondent Luke Harding had reported on US cables describing Russia as a ‘virtual mafia state’.”

Bloomberg: “Russia’s economy may expand next quarter at the quickest pace since 2008 as companies boost investment and higher oil prices help the government ramp up spending before national elections, Renaissance Capital said.”

Interfax: “Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will for the UK for a two days’ visit on Monday. This will be the first visit to London by a Russian government official of this level since the relations between the two countries aggravated following the killing of former Federal Security service official Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.”

Reuters India: “A former judo sparring partner of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his younger brother have advanced up the list of Russia’s richest people compiled by a respected national magazine.”

RFE/Radio Liberty: “The assistant to the Moscow court judge who convicted Mikhail Khodorkovsky says the judge was pressured from on high to deliver a guilty verdict and a jail sentence.”

RIA Novosti: “A lawyer for Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has requested Moscow’s judicial panel to strip Judge Olga Borovkova of powers over a ‘chair incident.’ Nemtsov was arrested after an anti-Kremlin rally on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square on New Year’s Eve and sentenced to 15 days in jail for ‘disobeying police instructions.'”

Би-би-си: “По числу миллиардеров Россия побила докризисный рекорд. Но стоимость компаний первой десятки в списке “Финанс” все равно ниже, чем в 2007 году”.

Газета.ru: “Загруженность московских автодорог в понедельник утром достигла максимального уровня второй раз за год, сообщил РИА «Новости» аналитик сервиса «Яндекс.Пробки» Леонид Медников”.

Лента.ru: “Правоохранительные органы в ходе обысков обнаружили материалы, свидетельствующие об устойчивой связи руководства прокуратуры и ГУВД Московской области с организаторами подпольного игрового бизнеса. Об этом говорится в пресс-релизе Центра общественных связей ФСБ, поступившем в агентство ‘Интерфакс'”.

NEWSru.com: “Приговор по второму делу ЮКОСа, согласно которому экс-глава компании Михаил Ходорковский и бывший руководитель МФО МЕНАТЕП Платон Лебедев получили по 14 лет тюрьмы, был написан в Мосгорсуде и насильно навязан председателю Хамовнического суда Виктору Данилкину”.

Полит.ru: “Пресс-секретарь управления делами президента Виктор Хреков отказался комментировать статью «Новой газеты» о том, что на побережье Черного моря строится роскошный дворец для личного пользования Владимира Путина, сообщает «Эхо Москвы»“.

Benefits For Russian Veterans

Last week, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Dozens of veterans of the 1979-1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan and more recent fighting in the North Caucasus rallied in southwestern Russia to demand they receive state housing and other social allowances.” As further noted in the article, the veterans “added that they want other social privileges restored, namely free public transportation and reductions on their utility bills — perks that were abolished several years ago.”

It’s not surprising that veterans make such demands, because they only reflect what the government itself has proposed. Housing and other benefits for veterans have been a constant theme in the public pronouncements of both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. On January 19, for example, RIA Novosti reported that “The government of the Russian Federation in 2011 will designate 10 billion rubles for the provision of housing for veterans of the great patriotic war, Prime Minister Putin announced on Wednesday at a meeting with representatives of veterans’ organizations” [The translation is mine]. This promise in particular, to provide housing for all surviving veterans of the Great Patriotic War, is repeated several times a year by one or the other of the nominal Russian leaders.

Promises to veterans might seem reasonable on the surface, and perhaps not dissimilar to calls in the United States to provide more help for our service men and women and their families. The situation is quite different in Russia, however, if only because of the sheer immensity of the veterans’ demands. Several points come to mind:

Point 1: To provide free lifetime housing, transportation and public utilities for all veterans of foreign wars is wildly beyond the means of any government, including and especially that of the Russian Federation. Everyone in Russia knows this. If one really could secure free housing for life by serving a hitch in the army that included a deployment to the Caucasus, then young Russians would be beating down the doors of recruitment offices, but in fact the Russian military is staffed with reluctant conscripts, and draft evasion and desertion are so common that the annual recruiting period must routinely be extended to meet the staffing requirements of the armed forces. As to the veterans of the Great Patriotic War, they may some day receive their free apartments, but only (to put it bluntly) because their numbers have diminished to the level where providing them with housing will not strain the national budget.

Point 2: The expectation that the government will and must provide for all one’s needs is an unfortunate by-product of the Soviet experience. Russians (including veterans) need at least to entertain the possibility that they can provide their own housing. The government needs to focus its attention not on pouring money down the black hole of limitless free services and amenities, but rather on facilitating the rule of law, i. e., stable, predictable laws that allow businesses to make a profit and workers to save money for mortgage payments. Of course, there are some individuals — elderly disabled veterans of the Great Patriotic War, for example — who need help, and the government should provide it. This will be more feasible if the government is able to set some limits on the help it provides.

Point 3: The housing industry might be a good target for government tax breaks and incentives, but one shouldn’t expect a quick fix. The housing shortage in Soviet and now Post-Soviet Russia has been evident for decades not only in the discourse of politicians but also in the dark humor of writers like Mikhail Bulgakov, Vladimir Voinovich and Yuri Trifonov. No government subsidy will solve it.

Point 4: That the government continues to make promises to veterans, and spend billions of rubles in a vain effort to keep them, is further evidence that the military is in charge in Russia. As I noted last week, it would be politically untenable for figureheads like President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin to propose any substantive reduction in benefits to the military. It is therefore absolutely certain that in Mr. Medvedev’s next annual address to the nation or Mr. Putin’s next call-in confab with citizens around the country it will be solemnly stated that this is the year when all veterans of the Great Patriotic War finally receive their free housing.

Saturday Russian News Items

Russian news items posted to Russian Notes by Dr. Bruce Holl

Interfax: “Fourteen people were detained by police following repeated warnings for trying to conduct an unauthorized march after the authorized opposition rally in Moscow’s Teatralnaya Square, Yelena Perfilova, an official with the interior affairs department of the Moscow central Administrative District, told Interfax.” RFE/Radio Liberty had reported that “Several hundred protesters gathered in central Moscow today to participate in a sanctioned ‘Day of Wrath’ opposition rally.

RFE/Radio Liberty: “Dozens of veterans of the 1979-1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan and more recent fighting in the North Caucasus rallied in southwestern Russia to demand they receive state housing and other social allowances, RFE/RL’s Russian Service reports.”

RIA Novosti: “The Russian president will visit more of the disputed Kuril Islands, despite growing anger from Tokyo, the Kremlin chief of staff said during talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Saturday.”

Лента.ru: “Дальнейшее обсуждение территориальной принадлежности Курильских островов с Японией является для России бессмысленным, сообщает ‘Интерфакс’ со ссылкой на главу администрации президента РФ Сергея Нарышкина”.

NEWSru.com: “После завершения согласованного митинга оппозиции на Театральной площади сотрудники милиции после неоднократных предупреждений задержали 14 человек, пытавшихся устроить несанкционированное шествие”.

Новая газета: “11 февраля 2011. Манежная площадь (ФОТОРЕПОРТАЖ)

Friday Russian News Items

Russian news items posted to Russian Notes by Dr. Bruce Holl

ITAR-TASS: “Dagestani police are trying to establish who were instigators of the mass brawl between supporters of two Islamic trends in the city of Yuzhno-Sukhokumsk.”

RFE/Radio Liberty: “An active member of the Save Khimki Forest movement has been arrested near Moscow, RFE/RL’s Russian Service reports.”

RIA Novosti: “There is no sense in holding peace talks with Japan as long as Tokyo holds radical views over the issue of the disputed South Kuril Islands, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.”

Би-би-си: “По заказу международной общественной организации ‘Балтийский мемориал’ в Эстонии выпустили марку с изображением Михаила Ходорковского и Платона Лебедева“.

Лента.ru: “Сергей Лавров считает бесперспективным вести с Японией переговоры о мирном договоре, пока в Токио преобладают ‘радикальные подходы’. Об этом сообщает РИА Новости”.

Эхо Москвы: “В случае обострения ситуации в связи с возможными несанкционированными акциями в Москве для пресечения беспорядков будут задействованы почти 2,5 тысячи сотрудников милиции“.