Stark Humiliation for Michael McFaul in Russia

5103-p-03-ngosOn March 27, 2013, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (pictured above) published a blog item on Russia Beyond the Headlines, a website bought and paid for by the Russian Kremlin to disseminate propaganda to the West. The item was headlined “Experience the U.S. for Yourself” and boldly declared:

Almost one year ago today, I was celebrating the selection of the U.S. as the “dream country” according to an online poll of Russian travelers conducted by respected travel web site In the year since that announcement, the U.S. Embassy, especially our U.S. Commercial Service and Consular Section, has worked hard to ensure that more Russians have the opportunity to experience the U.S. first-hand.

Just one week later, he had egg on his face that it would take a bulldozer to remove. On April 4, 2013, the Moscow Times reported:

Without warning or explanation, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has rejected an unprecedented percentage of Russian university students applying for visas to take part in the State Department’s popular Summer Work and Travel program this year, dashing hopes and placing the program’s future in doubt. About 80-90 percent of the estimated 1,000 applicants who have applied for visas in Moscow since mid-March have received a green rejection slip, according to five Russian agencies that arrange the interviews. Last year, the number was 35-40 percent, they said, and more than 6,300 in all were approved.

The U.S. Embassy refused to comment.

This incident is just the most sensational example of a Russia policy that stands in ruins because of the stark incompetence of McFaul and his boss, Barack Obama.   They began with a “reset” policy that ignored horrific Russian human rights violations in pursuit of vainglorious appeasement, and then were humiliated when the U.S. Congress forced them to accept the Magnitsky Law banning dozens of Russian government figures from U.S. shores because of crimes against humanity.

Now, McFaul stands humiliated before the world, hoist with the petard of his own words. This man clearly has no idea what he is doing and should never have been appointed, just as Obama should never have been elected.

Shocking Backwardness in Putin’s Russia

Vedomosti reported on February 14, 2013, as follows (original DR translation, corrections welcome):

Russians live in a constant shortage of municipal infrastructure.  For example:

  • Central heating  is lacking in 8% of homes.
  • About 11% of homes in cities nationwide do not have a water supply
  • There are no sanitation services in 12% of residences.
  • There is no hot water in almost 20% of homes.
  • Over 30% of urban housing has yet to be gasified.

For 10 years these figures have remained unimproved.  The general deterioration of the utilities sector infrastructure has reached 70%.

These were the conclusions of the Russian Union of Engineers (RCI), analyzing the state of housing in 164 cities across the country. It is easiest to cope with these troubles residents suburbs. Eight of the top ten cities for infrastructure, nine were Moscow’s satellite cities.

The eight cities were Lyubertsy, Pushkin, Krasnogorsk, Podolsk, Odintsov, Balashikha, Shchelkovo and Zhukovsky. Lyubertsy took first place in rankings; it has 14 kilometers of heating network and 16 kilometers of water and sewer network for every square kilometer of urban territory.  This is the highest result in the country. In total length of gas pipelines (12 km/sq. km) the national leader is Barnaul , where 1 square kilometer of the city has 53 km of gas networking. In second place in that category comes Pushkino, where one square kilometer of territory contains over 23 kilometers of such networks. Neither Moscow nor St. Petersburg made the top ten. Other cities showing good performance were Kaluga, Morom, Stary Oskol and Novoy Urengoy.

The worst cities in nation were Samara, Essentuki, Tyumen, Novokuznetsk  and Chita.  In some cities, the situation is close to critical, according to RCI. For example, in Leninsk-Kuznetsk and Essentuki  the deterioration of water and sewerage network is close to 90%.

According to Rosstat, on January 1, 2012 (data through January 1, 2013 has not yet been published):

  • 22.2 million Russians have inadequate heating
  • 29.2 million Russians have inadequate water supply
  • 34.9 million Russians have inadequate sanitation
  • 47.1 million Russians have inadequate hot water supply

Rosstat found that 28.3% of Russians must use supplemental heat sources to warm their homes, and 13.3% rely on their stoves alone.  27.5% of households have inadequate electricity supply, with 8% seeing power failures more than once per week.

Russian Corruption, in Black and White


The photo above is one from a stunning series by photographer Misha Friedman titled “Photo51 — Is Corruption in Russia’s DNA?” and touted recently on the “Lens” blog operated by the New York Times. Click the image to see it full size.

In the image, a Russian man beats a woman in broad daylight in the streets of Moscow, as policemen look on with disinterest.  In Russia, one woman is murdered by her spouse every hour on the hour.

An exhibition of Friedman’s work will open on Feb. 15 and be on view through March 2 at 287 Spring in SoHo in New York City.

Julia Ioffe’s List of Bad Things About Russia

Upon leaving Russia, here is Julia Ioffe’s list of the nation’s faults:

(1) Horrific drinking, including drunken “journalists”

(2) Psychotic “thinking” and “debating”

(3) Racism

(4) Antisemitism

(5) Misogyny

(6) Purging of Jews, lack of diversity in religion and race

(7) Total distrust of institutions and people

(8) Lack of fathers/husbands

(9) Virtually no good bars or restaurants even in giant Moscow

(10) Paranoid fear of cold water and other Medieval belief systems

(11) Bad plastic surgery and incompetent medical treatment

(12) Need to prove identity everywhere you go

(14) Totalitarian bureaucracy

(13) Aggression

(14) Rudeness

We find it rather odd that in leaving Russia Ioffe does not feel compelled to reflect even for a second on how badly she misreported the Russian protest movement, which she said was changing Russia forever when in fact it was disappearing. We also find it very strange that she doesn’t list Russia’s #1 fault, its people, people who have blithely handed power for life to a proud KGB spy and looked the other way at the murder of Ioffe’s colleagues, like Anna Politkovskaya.  People who embrace racism and misogyny and the invasion of Georgia and the Cold War and who will not exert themselves for freedom or democracy.

But we are comforted by the fact that the world’s Russia IQ will now rise considerably with Ioffe no longer reporting on the Land of Putin.

Putin Turns Russia into a Medieval State

Here is Victor Davidoff’s view of the Pussy Riot atrocity, writing in the Moscow TimesHe says it has discredited Russia’s public image, the Orthodox Church, its judicial system and its citizens.  This is, of course, exactly what we’ve been saying Putin would do for the past five years.

 * * *

For many years, the Darwin Awards have been given to people who self-select out of the gene pool by voluntarily and unnecessarily placing themselves in danger. It has been bestowed only on individuals, but if it could be granted to institutions, the Kremlin would surely be awarded it hands down for creating the Pussy Riot case.

In February, when three of the four Pussy Riot punk band members were arrested for their 41-second performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, no one foresaw the consequences. Everyone thought it would end quickly and quietly, and the “criminals” would be simply fined or, in the worst case, given a week or so in detention on misdemeanor charges. But the Kremlin’s insistence on criminal punishment for blasphemers who pronounced the criminal words “Mother of God, cast Putin out” turned into a public relations disaster. Today, the Pussy Riot case is famous on every continent and has captured the attention of intellectuals and politicians up to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and some of the world’s most popular musicians, like Madonna and Paul McCartney.

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Pussy Riot will Serve 2 Years in Prison, Over 1 Year at Labor

This afternoon Moscow time Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in a labor camp because they sang for 30 seconds in church.

It is a new low in Russian barbarism.

The trio will serve their time starting March 4, 2012 (Russian-language link) and get double credit for each day of pretrial detention, meaning that just over 1 year will be at labor. The sentence was imposed for their “crime” of “hooliganism” and “homosexual propaganda.”

Everyone knows that if they had been singing Putin’s praises, they would not be going to a labor camp. To the contrary, the’d probably be featured on national TV and get a record contract.

Everyone knows that if they had been singing in a mosque, synagogue or protestant temple, they would never been been arrested.  Nobody would have cared.

But because they appeared in an Orthodox Church and criticized Putin, they do two in prison.  This includes two mothers with young children.

Just a few months ago, idiotic MSM journalists like Miram Elder and Julia Ioffe were breathlessly reporting that Russia had been “changed forever” by the protest demonstrations organized by Alexei Navalny. Now, not only have those protests entirely dissipated but Navalny himself is on his way to prison, maybe a cell right next to Pussy Riot or Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Russia has not changed. The vast majority of Russians will not bat an eyelash at the incarceration of these young artists, who now must spend what will seem to them to be a lifetime behind bars.  Indeed, many will cheer.  Hardly any will go to the streets to demand justice.

And so Russia’s fate is sealed. It will go the way of the USSR.

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The Horror of “Life” in Putin’s Russia Exposed

According to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, if you live in Moscow, one of the world’s most expensive cities, and have an income of $250 per month (that’s less than $10 per day), you are NOT living in poverty, but are well above that level.

According to Putin, if you are a Russian your income must be below 6,369 rubles (i.e., about $200) per month in order to claim poverty.

Putin claims that since the number of “poor” people has fallen from roughly 40 million to roughly 20 million since he took power, he is entitled to credit as a economic genius.  There are four gigantic problems with this “logic.”

First, the poverty data is being reported by Putin’s own government. Could they be trusted to report facts that were adverse to Putin? Unlikely.

Second, nobody can live on $200 per month in Moscow or any other cosmopolitan area of Russia, it’s an absurd and bizarre fantasy to suggest that someone who earns $210 per month is “not poor.”

Third, any changes in Russia during the Putin years are due to just one factor:  The rising price of crude oil.  Were it not for this factor, over which Putin has no control whatsoever, Russia would be in stasis.  If anything, Putin’s lack of experience with economics and business has only meant that Russia has reaped far fewer benefits from the rising price of oil than it would have if it had been led by a more competent ruler.

And fourth, most importantly, the notion that someone who moves from $190 per month to $210 per month has now experienced a life-changing alteration of living conditions is literally insane.  The fact that 20 million people have done this in Putin’s Russia, even if true, means absolutely nothing.

As has always been the case in Russia, because the people of the country demand nothing more, the Kremlin prefers to spew forth lies and disinformation rather than to pursue real reform that would actually make Russia a better country.

Blowing the Lie about Russian Internet Access Away

Photograph taken by blogger-activist Roman Dobrokhotov showing an area of Astrakhan opposite his hotel in the center of the city.

Washington Post reporter Michael Birnbaum is in Astrakhan this week, and has filed two devastating reports that drive the final nail into the coffin of the lie that Russia has a vibrant Internet.

First, Birnbaum reports on how nobody outside Moscow has the vaguest clue who Alexei Navalny is, then he reports on how nobody in Astrakhan knows that mayoral contender Oleg Shein is on a hunger strike to protest what he believes was a rigged election that caused him to lose.

He notes that people in Astrakhan, a giant city of 500,000, have virtually no viable access to the Internet, hence they know neither Shein nor Navalny — and Astrakhan is of course a typical Russian city, not an aberration, which is why nobody anywhere outside Moscow knows Navalny.

This comes as no surprise to us, of course, since we’ve been reporting on Russia’s Potemkin Internet for years now. And it should surprise nobody else either, not if they are aware of Russia’s puny household incomes and creaking infrastructure.  Most Russians simply can’t afford Internet access, and even if they could their browsing experience would not encourage them to use it and their level of civic activism would make it even less likely that they would use Internet access to defend their citizenship rights.

It is, quite simply, a myth that freedom on the Russian Internet may save Russian democracy. In fact, exactly the opposite is the case. It’s because the Russian Internet is accessed by virtually nobody that there is some freedom there, more at least than in the rest of neo-Soviet Russia. The Kremlin simply doesn’t care much about the Internet because it knows hardly anybody can or will use it. Were it otherwise, the Kremlin would quickly snuff it out.

Through the Looking Glass in Russia

Remember when the Russian opposition was telling you that their inability to get crowds on the streets in cities outside Moscow didn’t matter, because the capital city was where power changed hands and it was fine to focus on Moscow?

That was then.

Now, the Russian opposition is telling you that Moscow doesn’t matter at all, because they can win mayoral races in obscure minor cities like Yaroslavl, in the frozen north above Moscow, and thereby seize power from Putin.  How exactly this will happen when (a) they’ve never yet won even one such race and (b) mayors have no power whatsoever is not something the opposition cares to discuss.

The opposition also apparently thinks it can bring down Putin by convincing the world not to buy Pringles, Pampers and Tide from Procter & Gamble. But the opposition has no network of relationships with forces outside Russia which could generate international support for such an effort, and these days they can’t even get 1,000 people on the street for a protest demonstration so it hardly likely they can dent P&G’s revenues inside Russia.  Even if they could, the point of the boycott is to punish NTV for its brutal documentary smearing their protest efforts, and being controlled by the Kremlin NTV can easily replace such revenues from a myriad of sources.

It seems like was only weeks ago that he opposition was talking about forcing a new Duma election, pressing Putin into a runoff election, and bringing hundreds of thousands of supporters onto Moscow’s streets.

That’s because it was only weeks ago.

Now, they are talking about mayors and soap.


All That’s Left is Crumbs

Vera Kichanova

Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported last week that 71 of 1,560 seats on Moscow’s district councils went to independent candidates, a small fraction of whom were members of the opposition protest movement. If you are counting, that’s 4.5% of the total.  There are 125 of the councils spread across Moscow with an average of a dozen members each, and the opposition didn’t even come close to placing one member on each of them. The net result is that there is one “independent” vote on about half the total councils in Moscow, one vote out of twelve.

Both papers chose to focus on Vera Kichanova, who is just 20 years old, studies journalism, and is one of the opposition members. She tweets and blogs on ZheZhe. She professes to be a libertarian and a supporter of bringing Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” to Russia. Her ZheZhe blog refers to herself as: “Radical, liberal, fanatical, criminal.” In English, yet.

It is all much ado about nothing. Not only is the size of the independent contingent microscopic and irrelevant, as the WSJ explained the councils have no power:

The 1,560 deputies elected in Moscow on Sunday serve one level below the city legislature, in the capital’s neighborhoods, and have little formal mandate beyond organizing sport and social activity. They can challenge, but not block, rulings by the district’s appointed executive bosses, who control land use, construction tenders and spending, and are often criticized as mini-autocrats, answerable to only to the mayor.

The NYT added: “Most major decisions in Moscow are made by unelected bureaucrats at agencies beholden to the city’s unelected mayor. The district councils, which are made up of elected volunteers, barely have enough authority to decide on the location of a park bench or the planting of a tree.”

Given this, one has to wonder why this story is worth writing about.

The answer is clear: Because it’s all that’s left.  The street protests led by Aleksei Navalny have fizzled just as we said they would, and have achieved nothing.  But the MSM is desperate to keep its pulse-pounding story of “revolution” in Russia alive by any means possible.

Does Vera Kichanova really have the energy and dedication necessary to spend decades toiling in thankless obscurity in order to teach Russians some civil lessons in the vague hope that one day some of them may do her one better? And if she does, can Russia preserve itself long enough for that to make any difference? If it could, will someone like her, who used to work for Voice of America, be allowed to take and hold any kind of real power, any more than was Mikhail Khodorkovsky?