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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

The Withdrawal Method

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The Russians say they’ve pulled out of Georgia.  George Bush and Nicholas Sarkozy charge they didn’t pull out.  All this talk of pulling out sounds like they’re arguing whether Russia knocked up Georgia.

Well something is certainly gestating in Georgia. And the Russia-Georgia love child appears to be occupation.  Russia’s gradual pull out has left a string of posts along the border of South Ossetia as part of a plan to leave 2500 peacekeepers inside a security buffer zone.    The zone, according to Deputy Commander Anatoly Nogovitsyn, will be 6 to 18 kilometers thick, and will effectively allow Russian troops to occupy Georgia. The Guardian reports that Russian troops were seen digging trenches 7 km. outside of the port city of Poti.  Hundreds or thousands of Georgians (it depends on who you listen to) demonstrated against the presence of twenty Russian troops yesterday, shouting at them to go home.  You gotta love the protest signs in English. What a publicity stunt.

The Russian security zone and beefed up peacekeeping force will certainly pour gasoline on the theories about how Russia planned all of this from the beginning.  The main proponent of the master plan thesis is none other than Pavel Felgengauer.  Felgengauer agues, first in Novaya gazeta and then in the Eurasian Daily Monitor, that Russia’s war against Georgia was concocted as far back as April.  Why did the Russians “provoke” this war?  Why Georgia’s aspirations to join Nato and geopolitical positioning, of course.  Felgengauer writes,

It seems the main drive of the Russian invasion was Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO, while the separatist problem was only a pretext. Georgia occupies a key geopolitical position, and Moscow is afraid that if George joins NATO, Russia will be flushed out of Transcaucasia. The NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, last April, where Ukraine and Georgia did not get the so-called Membership Action Plan or MAP to join the Alliance but were promised eventual membership, seems to have prompted a decision to go to war.

According to Felgengauer, the goal of the Russian invasion was to knock out Georgia’s military and maintain a permanent military presence in Georgia.  Medvedev and Putin must really love it when a plan comes together.  It happens so rarely.  Most of them time they can’t get anything right, let alone effectively rule their own country.  Now the diarchy are master manipulators of not only the hotheaded Saakashvili, but the world. I can imagine Putin explaining to Medvedev his role in the whole plot like Ed Wood did to Bela Lugosi (played brilliantly by Martin Landau) in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994):

Bela/Medvedev: Eddie/Vanya, what kind of movie is this?

Ed/Putin: Well, It’s about how people have two personalities.  The side they show to the world, and then the secret person they hide inside.

Bela/Medvedev: (delighted) Oh, like Jekyll and Hyde!  Ah, I’ve always wanted to play Jekyll and Hyde!  I’m looking forward to this production.

(Ed/Putin stops typing.  He pours Bela/Medvedev a drink.)

Ed/Putin: Ehh, your part’s a little different. You’re like the God that looks down on all the characters, and oversees everything.

Bela/Medvedev: I don’t understand.

Ed/Putin: Well… you control everyone’s fate. You’re like the puppetmaster.

Bela/Medvedev: (getting it) Ah, so I pull the strings!

Ed/Putin: Yeah.  You pull the strings — (he suddenly gets a look) “Pull the strings”… hey, that’s pretty good!

(Ed/Putin quickly starts typing again.)

That is the real beauty the Russians.  When we need them to be incompetent bunglers who are mired in perpetual backwardness, they’re there to play the part.  When we need them as conniving, master plotters with their evil claws ready to “pull the strings,” they play that role too.  You gotta love their dramaturgical range.