hey provide a dignified facade for a corrupt, authoritarian, and aggressive regime.
Some are adept at cloaking blatant lies behind a veneer of soothing diplomatic language. Others are fluent in the lexicon of international finance.
Many speak foreign languages. And all are comfortable in polite global society.
They’ve been called regime liberals, technocrats, and reformers. Some are sincere and others are cynical; some are competent and others not so much.
But they all serve the same function in Vladimir Putin’s regime: giving it the gloss and veneer of reputability.
Meet Russia’s Respectables, the comforting front-men of the Putin syndicate.
Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin addressed the Federation Council this week to argue that Russia was in the midst of a full-blown economic crisis and the only way out was to implement deep structural reforms.
Days earlier, Kudrin told Interfax that he would consider returning to government under the right circumstances. This all got tongues wagging and tweeters tweeting about how a government shake-up was on the way and that Kudrin might be on the way back.
This may or may not be so. But it all misses a pretty important point. Vladimir Putin’s regime is incapable of implementing the kind of structural reforms Kudrin says are needed.
Doing so would threaten powerful entrenched clans in Putin’s inner circle. In order to reform and modernize this economy, you would need to effectively blow up the political system.
True reform, the kind Kudrin is talking about, would effectively mean regime change. Putin knows this and he is not going to let it happen.
Kudrin, who is close to Putin personally, disagreed with his decision to return to the Kremlin for a third term in 2011. He knew what it portended and he resigned over it.
And if Kudrin comes back now, he won’t be able to reform Russia’s economy. He would, in effect, be relegated to playing the role of a mafia accountant whose job is to keep the Putin syndicate’s books in order.
For somebody as capable — and, I believe, sincere — as Kudrin to play this role now would be sad to watch.
The Mafia Lawyer
Every time I hear Sergei Lavrov speak, I wonder how this guy manages to keep a straight face.
When the Russian Foreign Minister says things like he wants there to be peace and quiet in Ukraine and that the country should remain united, I can almost detect a slight smirk.
But just a slight one. As Russia’s chief diplomat, Lavrov has to be believable after all.
His role in the Putin syndicate is to obscure Moscow’s real agenda and intentions behind a veil of soothing diplomatic language.
Lavrov’s role is similar to that of a mafia lawyer. The buttoned-down public face of a mob family, whose role is to pretend that his clients are actually responsible businessmen.
Unlike Kudrin, it is hard to believe Lavrov is sincere. In fact, he seems about as cynical as they come. He convincingly passed himself off as a pro-Western liberal in the 1990s, when that was what was required to get ahead.
And because he is so cynical, because he can say utterly absurd things with a straight face and be taken seriously, he’s very good at his job — which explains why he’s been able to stay in it for 11 years.
Lavrov is indeed a skilled diplomat, just like Frank Ragano was a skilled lawyer. You could just as easily imagine him as Vaclav Havel’s foreign minister — or Saddam Hussein’s.
The Front Company CEO
Sure Dmitry Medvedev has become something of an international punchline. If Kudrin is capable and sincere, and Lavrov is just capable — Medvedev appears to be neither.
But Russia’s much-maligned prime minister has nevertheless served an important function for the Putin syndicate. Affable and nonthreatening, his role is akin to that of a bumbling CEO for a mafia front company.
His job is to keep the “legitimate” side of the operation running smoothly and to take the heat when things go wrong.
Indeed, Medvedev’s odd little “presidency” from 2008-12 is best viewed as the Putin syndicate flirting with the idea of “going legit.”
This may have been just a ruse. Or some of the syndicate’s “made men” might have this was a good idea — but lost the argument in the end. That’ll be one for the historians to figure out.
But the idea is clearly off the table now and Medvedev’s role is clear.
Kudrin, Lavrov, and Medvedev are just the tip of the iceberg. Russia’s elite is filled with similar, lesser respectables.
And as the nature of the regime becomes increasingly obvious, one has to wonder how many of the more sincere among them will jump ship — and become truly respectable.
by — Brian Whitmore — The Power Vertical — Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The rulers in Moscow demonize the West because of moral decay and loss of culture. But exactly where they let their sons and daughters to train and live. President Putin is the best example.
Vladimir Putin may have many bills with the West. Remains the collapse of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” for the former KGB officer. The Western democracy model considers the Kremlin rulers as a threat to his authoritarian leadership style. Reject all does not, however, want the West Russian power elite.
Especially not when it comes to their own children. Neither in Russia nor in Phantom Empire Noworossija (“New Russia”) would like Putin and his confidants send their kids to school, but in the West. Ie where Putin assumed a value decomposition, where supposedly moral decay and perish national cultures.
Putin saw the end of the Soviet Union with his family in Dresden – as a KGB agent. After returning to his hometown of St. Petersburg’s two daughters Putin visited the German-speaking elite high school Peter School.
When his father moved to Moscow to become intelligence chief, his daughters were also in the Russian capital in a German school. The elder daughter Maria Putina now lives with her Dutch boyfriend in a luxury penthouse near The Hague.
Three daughters of the elite school in Switzerland
After the launch of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 called for the expulsion of the Dutch angry 29-year-olds. Most of the victims of the tragedy in eastern Ukraine were Dutch.
Putin’s younger daughter Ekaterina should have a permanent residence in Munich. She is married to a Korean. Meanwhile, her father repeatedly complained that the “differences between nations and cultures washed out” are.
According to the Russian website “Open Town” there is virtually no family under the Kremlin rulers that can not be educating their children in the West. Accordingly, visited three daughters of the Vice President of Parliament Sergei Schelesnjak an elite school in Switzerland.
The cost per school year were about 50,000 francs. Schelesnjak to earn the equivalent of 71,000 francs a year, according to his tax return. Two daughters of high-ranking politician apparently now live in London.
What upset me the teachings of his father?
Also the sons of the Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak see their future rather in the West. Alexei, that’s the name of the elder son, is according to the “Open Town” known as Contractors in Russia and as a partner of international companies. His younger brother worked at Credit Suisse.
Against Dmitry Kozak, the EU imposed a travel ban shortly after the annexation of Crimea in the spring. The Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov daughter studied in the United States when her father was ambassador to the UN in New York. It is unclear whether she has since returned to Moscow.
The most vocal critics of the West heard in Moscow Putin adviser and head of the Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin. He says the West is a “vulgar ethno-fascism” back into fashion.
Yakunin vehemently defended the crackdown by the Russian authorities against homosexuals and finds it outrageous that the Austrian travesty artist Conchita Wurst was chosen as the winner of the Euro Vision Song Contest.
“The ancient definition of democracy had nothing to do with bearded ladies, but democracy is the rule of the people,” grumbled Yakunin.
His children and grandchildren seem to think nothing of such teachings: A son to work as a real estate agent in Switzerland, the other had long lived in London and now work as an investor, a British company, announces “Open Town”. Jakunins grandchildren study therefore in “elite education” in England and Switzerland.
Every five Russians want to emigrate
The Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Russian President, Pavel Astakhov has 2013 banning the adoption of Russian orphans to the US prevailed after cases of abuse had become known. For Astakhov and other Russian politicians of the so-called adoption scandal was a welcome opportunity for a cheap anti-Western polemics.
But so dangerous, the West seems also not to be Astakhov: His older son studied in New York and Oxford, a child was born in a villa in Cannes to the world. It is not only Putin’s closest confidant who let their young family members benefit from the Western education system. Many parliamentarians of the Kremlin United Russia party pay large sums to accommodate their children in western elite schools.
And the children of powerful politicians who are studying in Russia, want to get away one day. The son of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he wanted to attend a further education after graduation – in the United States.
A study conducted by the renowned Levada Center poll found that one in five Russians to emigrate. Among students, it is even half. In contrast, Putin struggles with Forbidden: Ministers and senior officials may not have accounts abroad.
The parliamentarian Vladimir Pechtin must have mandate to return after it became known that he had property worth two million dollars in US sunshine state of Florida. Pechtin was chairman of the ethics committee in the State Duma. (Tages-Anzeiger)
A lot of time has passed since Sergei Kolesnikov last saw Vladimir Putin face to face — six years, to be exact. But even then, he says, Russia’s most powerful man was showing signs of fatigue.
“Both then — and now, as I understand it — everyone was trying to shift all responsibility for making decisions onto him,” says Kolesnikov, a biophysicist-turned-businessman who profited as a Putin crony in 1990s St. Petersburg. “A single person simply can’t make an enormous number of decisions during a set period of time.”
If Putin’s power vertical is a company, he suggests, it’s starting to suffer from a case of bad management. “There are people at lower levels who should be taking responsibility for things but aren’t,” Kolesnikov says. “It’s a consequence of the system they created.”
Kolesnikov, 66, knows all about the system — and its consequences. He fled Russia in 2010 after publishing an open letter to then-President Dmitry Medvedev revealing the construction of a lavish Black Sea palace commissioned by Putin and funded with a billion dollars in illegally diverted funds.
Kolesnikov, who granted RFE/RL a face-to-face interview in an undisclosed location, now keeps his whereabouts private. But he continues to track the machinations of Putin’s inner circle, a corrupt club that has enriched its leader to the point, he says, where “money doesn’t have any meaning anymore.”
‘Mikhail Ivanovich’s’ Money
Among his points of interest is Bank Rossia, which the U.S. Treasury has called the “personal bank of senior officials of the Russian Federation.” Both the bank and a number of its shareholders have come under U.S. and EU sanctions imposed to punish Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Kolesnikov himself held accounts in Bank Rossia as a co-owner of Petromed, a medical-procurement company that won numerous government contracts during the years that Putin served as St. Petersburg’s external relations chief under then-Mayor Anatoly Sobchak.
Petromed performed legitimate functions — manufacturing much-needed medical equipment and refurbishing operating rooms in a number of regional hospitals.
But Kolesnikov and his partner, Nikolai Shamalov — now Bank Rossia’s second-largest shareholder and on the sanctions blacklist — were increasingly called on to help divert funds through a complicated network of friendly companies and offshore accounts on behalf of “Mikhail Ivanovich,” as Putin was known among his business partners.
Will Vladimir Putin and his inner circle ever be able to retire and enjoy their allegedly massive wealth?
Some of that money went toward buying Shamalov’s shares in Bank Rossia. And hundreds of millions went toward the construction of the so-called “Putin Palace,” a spacious mansion on the Black Sea’s exclusive Gelendzhik Bay.
Putin has always denied any connection to the Gelendzhik palace, which was later reportedly purchased by businessman Aleksandr Ponomarenko. Kolesnikov says the property is owned by a Cyprus-based company that in turn is owned by a firm registered in the British Virgin Islands.
“No one really knows who the ultimate beneficiary of that palace is,” he says.
So will Putin ever enjoy a Black Sea retirement palace or other fruits of his alleged corruption? Kolesnikov says that question is of paramount concern to the Kremlin inner circle, who have effectively painted themselves into a corner — albeit a very wealthy, powerful one — with no easy way out.
Kolesnikov, who published a 2012 article in “Vedomosti” titled “Putin Forever,” says the Russian leader’s controversial third-term reelection convinced him that after years of criminal self-enrichment, the only way to stave off prosecution was to remain in power.
“Putin’s entire chain of command is built on a foundation of corruption,” Kolesnikov says. “To see power go to another party or other people would be to put themselves under enormous threat of criminal investigation and inevitable punishment.”
So while Putin recently dismissed the possibility of seeking president-for-life status, Kolesnikov says he and his allies are definitely looking for an exit. They’re no longer focused on money or property. “What they’re thinking about now is their lives.”
Kolesnikov goes so far as to suggest that Russia’s campaign in Ukraine may be motivated not by imperialist nostalgia but by Putin’s desperation to keep critics distracted from his massive corruption.
If the Russian leader feels truly threatened, he adds, he may even resort to playing the nuclear card. “Two years ago, any suggestion that war would break out in the center of Europe and thousands of people would die seemed like absolute nonsense,” Kolesnikov says. “Today it’s an objective reality. And we can say the same thing about the possibility of using nuclear weapons. Maybe it’s unlikely, but it’s no longer nonsense.”
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — As he shared the stage with FIFA’s departing president Sepp Blatter, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s message was simple. FIFA may be in chaos, but Russia is getting on with the job.
“I’d like to emphasize again that all the plans to prepare for the World Cup will be fulfilled,” Putin said, standing alongside the embattled Blatter at Saturday’s preliminary draw for the 2018 tournament. “Hosting it is one of our key tasks.”
Against the backdrop of Swiss authorities investigating how the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia, the draw was held in St. Petersburg, both Putin’s home town and the site of the most troubled of all the 12 World Cup stadiums.
For years, the construction of St. Petersburg’s 68,000-seat arena — due to host a semifinal in 2018 — was a costly, repeatedly delayed symbol of Russian state inefficiency, so bad that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev publicly said it looked “disgraceful.”
Finally, almost a decade after construction began, it is close to completion. Estimated at 75 percent ready by project chief Vitaly Lazutkin, much of the remaining work is focused on installing seats and finishing off complex systems such as the retractable roof and movable pitch.
The final stages of the St. Petersburg build coincide with optimism that the 2018 World Cup, while beset by controversies over corruption allegations and racism by fans, will at least avoid the construction chaos that marred preparations for last year’s tournament in Brazil.
It’s a “relaxing situation,” FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, who expects to leave office in February along with his longtime boss Blatter, told journalists Friday.
“Russia is really way on track and I have no concern. The next FIFA secretary general should be happy with the work that I give him because he will have a very organized World Cup.”
The Petersburg stadium, provisionally titled the Zenit Arena, is set to cost 38 billion rubles ($650 million). Until the ruble dropped sharply in value last year against the backdrop of international sanctions and a low oil price, the same ruble budget was worth over $1 billion, which ranked it among the most expensive football stadiums in history.
Originally planned as a 45,000-seat arena by Zenit St. Petersburg’s owner — the Russian state-controlled company Gazprom — Russia’s successful bid to host the World Cup brought problems. Hosting a semifinal required an increase in capacity to 68,000, sending the partially-built project back to the drawing board.
“The main problem that delayed the construction was that the stadium was redesigned three times,” project director Lazutkin said Monday. “That required quite a long time for redesign work and also for rebuilding the stadium.”
Since a Soviet-era stadium on the site was demolished in 2006, the Zenit Arena project has seen not only cost rises, but fraud investigations into subcontractors, the death of Japanese architect Kurio Kurosawa and political disputes.
Now the stadium’s roof has been fitted and work is under way to put in the seats, Lazutkin says the first games could be held in little more than a year’s time.
Calling the stadium “disgraceful” is no longer possible, he insists, adding: “Mr Medvedev said that earlier. Now he has a different opinion, as far as I know.”
One of Russia’s 12 World Cup arenas is raising concerns, however. Construction is fully under way at every stadium but the one in the western exclave of Kaliningrad, near the Polish border.
That stadium was caught in a political tug-of-war between the regional and federal governments over its location. By the time the regional authorities’ costlier plan to put the stadium on an island prevailed, precious time had been lost.
The stadium’s design has only been signed off by a federal architecture watchdog in recent days, allowing work to begin. Worries over the stadium lying empty after the tournament also led to a cut in capacity by 10,000 seats to 35,000. Organizers say the reduced size will allow construction workers to make up for lost time.
“We have absolutely no doubts that the stadium will be ready on time and that everything will be up and running there soon,” organizing committee CEO Alexei Sorokin said Monday.
With less than three years to go until the tournament, Russian government revenues have contracted sharply under pressure from the low oil price, meaning that organizers are keen to save money.
A fall in the value of the ruble has meant organizers are swapping costlier imported materials and equipment for cheaper local alternatives, while many hotels and some infrastructure projects have been cut from Russia’s plans, reducing the total budget to 631.5 billion rubles ($10.8 billion).
The reason for removing the hotels, organizers say, was fears that luxury establishments could end up lying empty after the World Cup.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Friday that one of Russia’s main problems is that organizers don’t always know who to talk to at a rapidly-changing FIFA. At a time when officials are in custody and Blatter due to leave, Mutko said communication is “somewhat thwarted.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned that Ukraine could disappear from the map of Europe as Yugoslavia did, if Kiev does not “show some flexibility” and grant more autonomy to the territories in the east held by pro-Russian separatists.
Six countries currently on the map of Europe were once members of the Serb-led communist Yugoslav Federation before the Yugoslav wars in 1992, while Kosovo declared its independence from the territory of Serbia in 2008.
Ironically Russia has backed Serbia in not recognizing Kosovo’s independence and blocking a U.N. resolution recognizing the organised killing of ethnic Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces as “a crime of genocide”.
Speaking to Slovenian broadcaster RTV Slovenija ahead of his visit to the country, a former Yugoslav republic, Medvedev compared the conflict between pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions to Yugoslavia. The interview transcript was published on the Russian government’s website.
“Let us ask, for example, the Russian youth if they remember a country such as Yugoslavia? I think most young people would already be struggling to recall that this country was ever on the map of Europe,” Medvedev said. “It was a very difficult, harsh, painful and, unfortunately, unpeaceful process. Why am I reminding you of this? Because, when we are told that it is necessary to respect international obligations, it is something we completely agree with… but this approach must be applied to all states, in all situations.”
The early 1990s saw the Yugoslav conflict reach the height of its violence, specifically in Bosnia and Croatia where around 110,000 and 20,000 respectively have been reported killed.
Other states seceded more peacefully, most notably Montenegro which parted from Serbia in 2006 after a referendum agreed by both sides. Slovenia’s own war of independence lasted 10 days, during which around 100 people were killed.
“I am reminiscing about Yugoslavia, only because I hope that at some point in the future we will not have to remember the country which used to be called Ukraine in the same way,” Medvedev added. “The existence of Ukraine at the present moment depends on the wisdom, patience, tact, willingness to compromise and the desire to speak to everyone who makes decisions on the territory of Ukraine.”
“Mobile Photography Tips” is the blog run by Alex Markovich. It is so obvious that our smartphones have become, first and foremost, instruments for taking pictures and surfing the net, rather than tools for making calls.