Thursday, February 16, 2012

9:12 AM 2/16/2012: Time for Putin 2.0 via Financial Times - Editorial on 2/14/12

Time for Putin 2.0

via Financial Times - Editorial on 2/14/12

The task facing Russia can be summed up in one word – heard often from the current president but rarely the prime minister himself: modernisation

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February 14, 2012 7:01 pm

Time for Putin 2.0

Vladimir Putin has spent thousands of words in Russian newspapers setting out a manifesto ahead of the presidential poll next month that, despite the protests against him, he is still all but certain to win. Yet the task facing Russia can be summed up in one word – heard often, though with little real effect, from the country’s current president but more rarely from Mr Putin himself: modernisation.

Modernisation requires far more than overhauling Russia’s creaking, resource-dominated economy. It means, above all else, replacing the arbitrary and often corrupt rule of the Kremlin and local bureaucracies with the rule of law, reinforced by the checks and balances of a modern democracy. Russia faces numerous handicaps in making that transition – in its history, its culture, its mind-boggling vastness. But with nominal output per capita topping $13,000 last year, it is at the level where many other countries have achieved it.

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Steering the country to this point is, for all the repellent aspects of his system, Mr Putin’s undoubted achievement. “Putin 2.0” must move to the next stage. Russia needs an independent, well-trained judiciary; a functioning, competitive parliament; and free media. These, in turn, could boost protection of property rights and begin to combat corruption. That could encourage foreign investment and help small businesses, outside the extractive industries, to start to flourish. In economic policy, Mr Putin would be well advised to adopt the detailed “Strategy 2020” plan drawn up at his request by experts last year.

The prime minister’s articles contain elements of such a programme. But similar promises have been made before. The pressure revealed on Tuesday on Ekho Moskvy, the admirably independent radio station, is more reason to doubt his sincerity. The risk is Mr Putin again ducks the big reform challenges and goes for the ostensibly easier option. This would include some political liberalisation to appease the restive middle class, plus high-spending populism to retain the loyalty of his more working-class and rural “base”. With an already bloated budget, Russia cannot afford such largesse.

Real reforms will be tough, and potentially unpopular. But Mr Putin should expend his remaining political capital on setting them in train. He should, too, allow new leaders to emerge, both within and outside the Kremlin system, able to take up the challenge. He conducted an essentially sham handover of power in 2008; now he must begin preparing to do so for real.

Kosovo shows how the west can intervene in Syria

via Financial Times - Comment on 2/14/12

Fears of fuelling sectarian tensions are misplaced. Inaction, not intervention, will inflame the region’s divisions, writes Radwan Ziadeh

Responsibility and press freedom

via Financial Times - Editorial on 2/13/12

Any journalist attempting subterfuge to obtain a story has a hurdle to jump. In the case of paying police, it should be very high indeed

Xi Jinping’s US coming out party

via Financial Times - Editorial on 2/15/12

US-China relations are in an awkward holding pattern. There is little evidence that Mr Obama is shifting the position of the China supertanker

Obama attacks Chinese business practices

via Financial Times - US homepage on 2/15/12

US president and China’s leader in waiting travel to Midwest with contrasting messages. Xi tries to mend fences with American business

Facebook plays ball with Madison Ave

via Financial Times - US homepage on 2/15/12

Its relationships with advertising agencies are critical if the company is to justify its market valuation given that it relies on advertising for 85 per cent of its revenue

Assad announces reforms as crackdown continues

via Financial Times - Europe homepage on 2/15/12

State TV talks of referendum on constitutional changes while troops storm a Damascus suburb and extend bombardment to Hama

8:23 AM 2/16/2012: NYT on Russia: “The Enablers - Letter: Russia’s Veto on Syria - Op-Ed Contributor: Putin’s Critics Hit Big With YouTube via NYT > Global Opinion by By SAMUEL RACHLIN on 2/16/12

The Enablers

via NYT > Editorials by on 2/13/12

China, Russia and India are resisting international action against Syria and Iran.

February 14, 2012

The Enablers

China, Russia and India see themselves as global leaders. So why have they been enabling two dangerous regimes, Syria and Iran, to continue on destructive paths?

On Tuesday, President Bashar al-Assad showed again his willingness to use brutal force to crush the pro-democracy opposition. He brushed aside stinging criticism by Navi Pillay, the top United Nations human rights official, and resumed the shelling of the city of Homs. The government has barred independent reporting for most of the yearlong unrest, but activists said rockets and tank shells had pummeled the city.

The violence has gotten worse in the 11 days since Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by the Arab League, calling for a peaceful transfer of power. India was on the right side that day, voting for the resolution. But, for months, it had worked to block action. The resolution was no panacea, but, if it had passed, it would have sent a compelling message of international solidarity against Mr. Assad and the elites who keep him in power.

Many Syrian deaths later, China may be reconsidering its stance. As an oil-hungry nation, it could not have failed to hear the rebuke issued to China and Russia on Friday by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for opposing the resolution. “We are going through scary days and unfortunately what happened at the United Nations is absolutely regrettable,” he said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China, speaking at a European-China summit meeting in Beijing, said, “What is most urgent and pressing now is to prevent war and chaos” in Syria. There is no evidence Russia has had similar second thoughts, but China is showing renewed interest in working with the Arab League. Beijing’s shift could shame Moscow into reconsidering its support for Mr. Assad, and approving United Nations action, including sanctions.

China and India are also hampering the effort to ratchet up sanctions on Iran even as penalties imposed by the Security Council, the United States and the European Union appear to be affecting Iran’s economy and politics. (The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is expected to announce on Wednesday that a new uranium enrichment plant is fully operational.)

China cut its purchases of Iranian oil this year and secured alternative supplies from Russia and Saudi Arabia. But it is still a major purchaser. India is also still buying and is now Iran’s biggest oil customer. Because of American sanctions, these deals are not as lucrative as they could be for Iran.

The two countries’ need for oil is real, but they should take full advantage of Saudi Arabia’s offer to ramp up production to offset any losses from Iran. The International Energy Agency says there is enough oil supply worldwide to prevent a price shock from an embargo.

We do not know if sanctions can force Iran to give up its nuclear program or force it to negotiate a compromise deal. But the international community is finally at a moment when serious sanctions are in place and beginning to bite. Iran is finding it hard to pay for food imports and has resorted to bartering. It’s time for Russia, China and India (which desperately wants a Security Council seat) to meet the test of leadership.

That means all three need to work to find ways to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. For Russia and China, it means standing against Mr. Assad’s siege on his people.

Op-Ed Contributor: Putin’s Critics Hit Big With YouTube

via NYT > Global Opinion by By SAMUEL RACHLIN on 2/16/12

Putin and his supporters should spend more time watching Russian YouTube to understand what's really brewing in the country.

February 15, 2012



The problem that Vladimir Putin and his team face is that they, quite simply, just don’t get it — they’re stuck back in the U.S.S.R. while an important and growing slice of Russia has moved firmly into the 21st century and, with tongue in cheek, is humming the latest YouTube hit: “Our madhouse votes for Putin / Our madhouse is happy with Putin.”

When a political leader becomes the laughing stock of such a huge share of his country’s 142 million people, he should start paying attention.

Some of the strongest acts on Russia’s YouTube are bands and performers who have taken rock, rap, parody and satire to a new level in Russia’s political culture, delivering their anti-government messages with irony and biting humor.

A shining leader among them is Rabfak, the band behind the now famous lines “Our madhouse votes for Putin.” Led by the songwriter Alexander Yellin and the guitarist-singer Alexander Semyonov, the band has released a string of outrageous and hilarious political songs.

Their madhouse patient complains that everything is so complicated and screwed up, but nobody cares to clean up the mess. He asks why there is such fraud, neglect and debauchery everywhere. For an answer, he gets an injection in his behind.

The Internet crowd loved the song and its madhouse metaphor — its directness and its absurdity. So much so, they voted it the best song in a YouTube competition announced by Aleksei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and one of the organizers of the recent demonstrations.

Pro-Kremlin bloggers are not sitting on their hands, and have created YouTube videos of their own. Some claim the opposition is plotting a coup concocted by Hillary Clinton. One is a scary apocalyptic vision of Russia without Putin: a country torn apart by civil strife with opposition leaders, nationalists and separatists at each others’ throats and citizens overwhelmed by refugees, war and famine.

But in terms of popularity and artistic creativity, YouTube belongs to singers and rappers who have rallied against Putin, President Dmitri Medvedev and their party, United Russia — the “party of crooks and thieves,” as it is labeled by bloggers, speakers and singers alike.

One of the other songs from Navalny’s competition, “A Song about Bears,” shows an image of Putin being transformed into Dobby, one of the elf characters from the Harry Potter films. Dobby is a recurring figure in songs by rappers who also like to show Putin with the hair and mustache of Hitler. Seemingly there are no boundaries for free speech on the Russian Web.

Since the dissidents of the ’70s and ’80s, Russia has not heard such daring voices reflecting the mood and misgivings of the nation. The difference is that today’s singers and bands have millions of listeners on the Web. Rabfak’s songs alone have received more than 4 million views. Other groups show similar numbers, and their Web audience has embraced them with likes, shares and LOLs, spreading the message in tweets and retweets.

In another hit, “A Cross for Everyone,” Rabfak displays a generous use of four letter words along with a play on words: the cross that voters use to mark their ballots and the Russian idiom, to “put a cross” on someone, meaning to take him out.

The words are put into the mouth of a regular voter, Ivan Nobody, who is fed up with all the candidates. Over images of the political leaders, he makes fun of how they try to charm him to get his vote. “A cross for everyone, a cross for everyone,” he declares.

In their newest YouTube song, “A New Song about Truth,” Rabfak mixes images of Moscow protesters with images from the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement.

Rabfak is knocking on the Kremlin’s door. Maybe Putin and his supporters should spend more time watching YouTube to understand what’s really brewing in their country.

Samuel Rachlin, a journalist and writer based in Washington, is a former Moscow correspondent for Danish TV.

Letter: Russia’s Veto on Syria

via NYT > Opinion Sun. 1pm by on 2/15/12

A Human Rights First official calls for sanctions against Russia for providing arms to Syria.

February 15, 2012

Russia’s Veto on Syria

To the Editor:

Re “Iran’s Achilles’ Heel” (Op-Ed, Feb. 8): While the Syrian regime methodically goes about the business of killing, arbitrarily detaining and torturing its citizens, Efraim Halevy explains Russia’s veto of Security Council action with the observation that “Russia simply wishes to maintain its access to Syria’s Mediterranean ports in Tartus and Latakia and to remain a major arms supplier to Damascus.” Access to ports, O.K. — but supplying arms?

Fortunately, even most casual observers recognize the link between the Syrian government’s atrocities and its enablers, including Russia. The United States may have little influence over the Assad regime, but it does have leverage with Russia. It must use that leverage to promote policies that increase the cost to Russia and others that enable the continuing Syrian atrocities.

More targeted sanctions against Russian companies that provide arms to the murderous regime are an immediate course of action that the Treasury should pursue.

International Legal Director
Human Rights First
New York, Feb. 10, 2012