The Reasoned Review

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Posts Tagged ‘Russia

Russian Journalists Pay For Their Craft in Blood

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Clifford J. Levy, The New York Times’ Moscow correspondent, has provided us excellent reporting over the years, and he really hit it out of the park today with an in-depth look at the violence and lawlessness muckraking reporters in Russia must contend with. We had heard for some time that Russia was a dangerous place in which to practice journalism (Reporters Without Borders just topped their list of worst media predators with Russia and China), and of course we knew the sad case of Anna Politkovskaya, a courageous reporter whom the Putin regime murdered in 2006 for her reports on Chechnya, but Mr. Levy’s report lays bare the pervasion of violence against reporters in Russia:

“Last spring, I called for the resignation of the city’s leadership,” Mr. Beketov said in one of his final editorials. “A few days later, my automobile was blown up. What is next for me?”

Not long after, he was savagely beaten outside his home and left to bleed in the snow. His fingers were bashed, and three later had to be amputated, as if his assailants had sought to make sure that he would never write another word. He lost a leg. Now 52, he is in a wheelchair, his brain so damaged that he cannot utter a simple sentence.


To the north on the M-10 highway from Khimki is a city called Solnechnogorsk, where a newspaper, Solnechnogorsk Forum, was publishing exposés about how local politicians were seeking to do away with elections to maintain power.

The newspaper’s editor, Yuri Grachev, is 73. In February 2009, several men assaulted him as he left his home, putting him in intensive care for a month with a severe concussion, a broken nose and other wounds.

Police officials first said he was drunk and fell down. Then they said he had been the victim of a random robbery, though all that was taken was a folder with material for the newspaper’s next issue. The muggers have not been found, and politicians from the governing party, United Russia, said the attack had nothing to do with Mr. Grachev’s work.

These are not isolated instances, and they serve as a grim reminder of the relative liberty journalists enjoy in America. Our media may be choked with propaganda, our reporters systemically lied to, our independent media ruthlessly crowded out of existence by the news-manufacturing combines, but to my knowledge, journalists in America, even decidedly inconvenient ones such as Glenn Greenwald or Naomi Klein, do not have to contend with car bombs and assassination attempts. This is something which I think we take for granted, and which I only think we will miss, if we do at all, once it has been taken away from us.

Written by pavanvan

May 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Trillions to Burn?

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(c/o Kevin Drum)

The Project for Defense Alternatives has just put up its 2011 guide to Pentagon spending, entitled Trillions to Burn – complete with nine handy charts which excruciatingly detail the United States’ military dominance of the world. We will be hearing a lot in the coming months about the US budget deficit – how this or that proposal will be “unfeasible” because of its budgetary implications, or how we must reduce social spending (via education, social security, medicare, etc.) in order to show “fiscal responsibility”. Just know that all of those statements are hogwash and bullshit (or hogshit, if you like).

In reality, the single biggest contributor to the United States budget deficit is so-called “defense spending”. We spend upwards of $5000 per second in Iraq (source) and spend a similar amount per unit time in Afghanistan. This spending does nothing for anybody. It does not make us “more safe”, it does not help these impoverished people “achieve democracy”, and it certainly hasn’t made oil any cheaper. The only thing – and I do mean the only thing – it does is transfer the nation’s wealth from the taxpayer to a select group of war profiteers.

That’s it. That’s all our “defense spending” does. The next time you hear some “Republican” or “Democrat” spout off about how we need to spend this money in order to “defeat our enemies”, check to see who their campaign contributors are (via OpenSecrets), and ask yourself if these people would still be our “enemies” if we weren’t spending the equivalent of South Korea’s GDP every year attempting to bomb them out of their homes. Remember the Fort Hood shooter, who specifically stated that his motivation was outrage over US massacres of Iraqi and Afghan civilians? Or the so-called “shoe bomber” who similarly claimed he was compelled to attack the US because of its ongoing support for Israeli atrocities in Gaza?  (Aid to Israel = “Defense spending”, in the eyes of our budget office). Osama bin Laden himself, assuming he was responsible for 9/11, repeatedly cited the US occupation of Saudi Arabia and its continued ‘aid’ to Israel as his primary beefs with the United States.

It is clear that the gargantuan sums of money we allocate for ‘defense’ have precisely the opposite of their intended effect. That we should spend our time squabbling over whether or not health care reform should “add to the deficit” demonstrates just how far removed from reality our discourse has become. Anyone who claims to worry about the deficit yet still thinks we need to prosecute our foreign adventures is either an idiot or in the pay of our ‘defense contractors’. Either way, we should all benefit from their swift and timely death.

Written by pavanvan

February 11, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Russia: Nuclear Dumping Ground?

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Greenpeace with some great original reporting:

Last night three teams of Greenpeace activists blocked a train transporting nuclear waste to Cherbourg, the heart of the French nuclear reprocessing industry. From Cherbourg it was due to be loaded onto the transport ship Kapitan Kuroptev, destination Russia.   We’ve taken action to tell them that “Russia is not your dumping ground.”

Six Greenpeace activists chained themselves to the railway, at two locations en route to the fuel reprocessing facility. A third team of Greenpeace activists placed a truck on the rails in the centre of Cherbourg, along with a banner saying “Russia is not a nuclear dumping ground”. The train came to a halt just 50 meters short of our activists. For delaying the transport of the illegal nuclear waste they were taken into custody by the police.

The blocked train was carrying 500 tonnes of depleted uranium, just a fraction of what has already been dumped in Russia. The French nuclear companies AREVA and EDF claim there is nothing wrong with these transports, that the material is not waste but a resource that will be processed in Russia, and returned to France as fuel. Unfortunately that’s just not the case.

France is running into the same problem we all will if we begin switching our electricity production from coal to nuclear. What to do with the waste?

Written by pavanvan

January 26, 2010 at 11:11 am

Dealing with the Axis

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Iran has agreed, at least in principle, to export its proto-nuclear fuel to Russia for inspection and enrichment. The deal would have Russia “re-format” Iran’s un-enriched nuclear fuel into a form which might be used for medical purposes. Although it still has yet to be finalized, most observers are hailing this development as a “positive step” in US-Iran relations.

According to The Huffington Post:

[The deal] would commit Iran to turn over more than 2,600 pounds (1,200 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium. That would significantly ease fears about Iran’s nuclear program, since 2,205 pounds (1,000 kilograms) is the commonly accepted amount of low-enriched uranium needed to produce weapons-grade uranium.

So the deal would force Iran to export almost exactly the amount of LEU (low-enriched Uranium) required to make a bomb. Of course this would not prevent them from acquiring even more LEU at a later date, nor is it clear precisely how much LEU Iran currently has. Leaked reports of the deal suggest Iran would export almost 70% of its Low-Enriched Uranium, but this still remains to be seen.

The decision to send the Uranium to Russia also comes off as a bit strange. It is well known that Russia has been providing Iran with nuclear secrets at least since the 1990s, though they claim to have stopped.

From the Mid-East Monitor:

Russian-Iranian cooperation has been driven less by parallel aspirations or a common worldview than by reciprocal accommodation on certain issues. In the 1990s, Russia began providing Iran with arms and assistance building its nuclear program, while shielding it from the threat of multilateral sanctions. In return, Tehran largely acquiesced to heavy-handed Russian domination of the six predominantly Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union in the Caucasus and Central Asia, in spite of its strong religious ties to the region (Azerbaijan, like Iran, is majority Shiite; the rest are majority Sunni), as well as significant ethnic and linguistic links (ethnic Azeris constitute a quarter of Iran’s population, Tajikistan’s official language is a dialect of Farsi)

So it’s easy to see why Russia would still want to have its finger on Iran’s nuclear program.

Ultimately I think this deal, assuming it passes, would constitute less of a victory for the US than its cheerleaders would suggest. But it does present a welcome change from the sheer bellicosity we have heard from the US on Iran of late.

Written by pavanvan

October 21, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Confessions of an Ex-KGB

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A former Soviet soldier in Afghanistan and subsequently, KGB special-agent. Rotund, heavily-accented, he chain-smokes throughout the interview:

“I fought in Afghanistan from 1979-1981. Two years – that was the mandatory service for all Soviet citizens. I was in the first detachment of soldiers sent to that desert.

(He pantomimes a machine gun, a bullet hitting his forehead, then collapses in a heap)

Ack-Ack-Ack! Woosh! BOOM! Forward, Forward! Kill them all! Ivan, Ivan, to the left! He’s hit!

Those were the bad years – we had no support, no supply lines; we were surrounded by enemies. You could be pass by a child of 10; maybe you think he’s cute, he looks like your son – then BLAM! That child just killed your best friend. So many died. You couldn’t trust anyone. I traded an old wizened man some food for a pack of cigarettes. He smiled at me, so harmless. Two seconds later I’m taking cover – that old man had an American rifle under his rags; he’s shooting at my company a few hundred meters away. We shoot back, of course. When the smoke clears, there is no old man. His cigarettes tasted like death.

And oh, the bombing campaigns. Any sign of Talibs, we couldn’t hesitate – we take our helicopters, destroy the whole village. Destroy! Destroy! We had to follow orders; we had no choice. Later we had to burn the bodies – you could smell them for miles.

I felt bad at first, but you grow used to it after a while. We really had no choice but to kill. It was them or us. Any sign of hesitation, any show of sympathy and you’d be shot on the spot as a traitor. This was during the first years of the war, back when we were sure of ourselves. Later, when our losses began to pile, we couldn’t afford to shoot traitors anymore.  We just beat them until the pain of not fighting outweighed the pain of battle.

Everyone gets used to watching their comrades die. So many of my friends were shot, blown-up. I had to carry a friend of mine two miles through the desert once. He had no face. Most of the soldiers turned to drugs to take their mind from the carnage. Marijuana at first, but Heroin later. Some were so despondent that they could only be induced to fight at the butt of a rifle.

And still, the Talibs came for us. They had no tanks, no helicopters, only rifles from America – but how tenaciously they fought back! They were like ants. When a single ant dies, the colony pays no mind. But for us, every loss was personal. I suppose it is always the same relationship between an invader and their victims.

In 1983, after rising to the rank of Army Captain, I joined KGB special forces.  I did all sorts of assignments: espionage, undercover, political arrests. We were the cream of the crop. The only rule was: Don’t ask questions! The only advice was: Keep your head down! Even though we were spetznaz (special forces), even though they always told us we were the “best of the best”, one mis-step, one wrong move, and away you go! You don’t just get fired from Special Forces. You get erased. This happened to me in 1992.

It was a few months after the failed August Coup. The parliamentarians were calling the shots. Nobody thought they could trust the KGB. I had to flee. My plane ticket for America was for February 12th. On the 10th, they seized me. They sent me to a psychiatric hospital. It wasn’t like what you have in America – nice padded room, friendly doctors. No, they only sent you there if you were a problem, if they needed to erase you. First they deleted my file. They deleted me! From then on I didn’t exist – I never existed, not in the eyes of Russia.

But it wasn’t enough, not for those devils. They gave me injections; they gave me electroshock. To destroy my mind as well.

(He indicates his arms, his legs, and his buttocks)

Here, here, and here. Six injections, every day! Do you know what that does to your mind? It makes you crazy – you don’t remember who you are, what you did in life; it’s a just a black spot. And the electroshock! Twice a day!

(He indicates his temples)

This is where they clamped the electrodes. Cold and wet. After the shock you feel like you’ve been at the center of an explosion; you see nothing but harsh, white light. You can’t remember anything, not even your own mother. They wanted to erase my memory, so I couldn’t say anything to the Americans. But I remembered. It took me years, so many years, but I remember.

I came to America with nothing. Zero dollars, and crazy to boot. It’s been 17 years since then. I want to go back. I want to get those bastards, and bring them to the FBI! Let them taste electroshock! I have contacts – Russian Mafia. Do you know how many killers there are in America? Soviet killers, come to the US after the cold war? Thousands, tens of thousands! Some stay in New York, most went to New Jersey. They’re everywhere.”

Written by pavanvan

August 4, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Interviews

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