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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.

New Cold War Could’ve Gone Hot

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Remember that little war between Russia and Georgia last year?  You know the one that sparked the endless playground debate of who started it?  Which ramped the rhetoric of a New Cold War to an all time high?  Well, that little war could have become a very big one according to Ronald D. Asmus in A Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia and the Future of the West. In his review of the book for Bloomberg, James Neuger reports:

“Several senior White House staffers” urged “at least some consideration of limited military options,” such as bombing the mountain tunnel that served as Russia’s main supply line.

Luckily, cooler heads in the Oval Office prevailed. Namely, George W. Bush, of all people, who put the kibosh on the idea.

Four days after the war started on Aug. 7, 2008, Bush cut off the discussion. A top-level White House meeting produced “a clear sense around the table that almost any military steps could lead to a confrontation with Moscow,” Asmus writes.

“Confrontation with Moscow”?  They wish. How about a WAR with Moscow.  I can’t believe that anyone in the White House actually thought the Russians would accept American bombing like so many other countries around the world.  That is to say, complain but do nothing because there isn’t really much you can do.  Given that the Russian’s already see Saakashvili as an American puppet, military interference in Russia’s “near abroad” would have caused Putin, not to say the Russian people, to pop a gasket.

The fact that there was some consideration to bomb the Gori Tunnel gives further proof to what many have speculated: Saakashvili received some kind of “green light” from inside the White House to provoke Moscow, possibly with a promise of military support.  In the end,  Putin’s warning to Saakashvili was more to the point.  Putin told Saak: “You think you can trust the Americans, and they will rush to assist you? Nobody can be trusted! Except me.”  Well, I don’t know about the “except me” part, but even Sarkozy was with Putin on the first part.  To pressure Saak into signing a cease fire, the French President barked at the tie-eater, who many European officials considered “an American-backed hothead who spelled trouble,”:

“Where is Bush? Where are the Americans?” Sarkozy is quoted as snarling at the Georgians. “They are not coming to save you. No Europeans are coming, either. You are alone. If you don’t sign, the Russian tanks will be here soon.”

Realizing he was the loneliest number, Saak reluctantly signed.  Sarkozy was hailed in the streets of Tbilisi.  And the Americans? So much for all of us being Georgians. Thank God for empty gestures.