Russian military stops issuing soldiers with cigarettes, offers candy instead

Russian military stops issuing soldiers with cigarettes, offers candy instead

Real changes in culture?  Or more cosmetic façades?

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Dmitry Bulgakov has announced that the Defense Ministry will no longer purchase cigarettes for soldiers, Russian website reports.

“There are no cigarettes in our new military allowance. We have replaced cigarettes for the army with caramel candies and sugar. However, we can’t prohibit smoking completely. If a soldier wants to smoke, he will have to buy cigarettes with his own money at a store during his period of leave,” Bulgakov said.

Bulgakov also announced that all Russian officers will change their footwear by 2013.

“We have developed special office shoes for officers. They are lightweight shoes made of high-quality leather, which let soldier’s feet breathe. Women’s boots will be substituted too. Now we will distribute refined shoes for our beautiful military women. And, of course, the unpleasant naval jacket with a high collar will be replaced by a convenient sweater.” Bulgakov said.

(Via MosNews)

Loss of Chechnya: the case for the defence

Loss of Chechnya: the case for the defence

Chechnya’s ex-foreign minister Ilyas Akhmadov has published a book chronicling the loss of his republic to Russia. Politicians from other countries with similar tales of loss and betrayal have tried to justify their actions in the same way. Oliver Bullough examines the current situation in the light of some of their accounts.

If a politician has lost an election, he writes a book about it. If he has lost a whole country, however, you might expect him to keep it quiet. Nonetheless, over the centuries, a few men have taken on the task of explaining away the most enormous failure that a political career can end with.

Russia has tended to be the villain in these memoirs because of its habit of periodically swallowing its neighbours. As a result, it looked as though the genre might die with the Cold War, when Moscow finally lost its empire. In previous centuries, exiled ex-leaders of briefly-independent Georgia or Ukraine committed their excuses to paper, but those states are free now. So who could be left to remind us how we abandoned their small nations to Russian vengeance?

Enter Ilyas Akhmadov, who ably fulfils that role on behalf of the Chechens – for whom he was briefly foreign minister, although he lacked a ministry even before he lacked a country. And his memoir does so in bewildering detail. I already knew the names and biographies of many of the people he mentions, but even I struggled with sentences like this one: “it must have been when I was praising his house that Aushev asked me about the cement factory in Chiri Yurt”.

From the progression of the exiles’ memoirs, you can trace the development of the world order, as the leadership of the Western world swings away from Europe. The Polish captain blamed the French in the 1830s, while Zhordania and many others blamed the British in the 1930s and after.

“For the 250,000 Polish Servicemen who fought under British command, the Yalta agreements came as an unbelievable shock,” wrote Kazimierz Sabbat, Poland’s last president in exile before the collapse of communist rule, in Polonia Restituta, with admirable restraint considering the vastness of Poland’s betrayal at the Yalta conference.

Writing today, Akhmadov blames the Americans.

“The lack of a principled assessment in the West contributed to the radicalization of the Chechen resistance; the West was seen as acquiescing to Russia, leaving only two available paths: submission to (Russia’s ally) Kadyrov or jihad,” he writes sadly.

“It is either Kadyrov or extermination and that choice is being hailed by the outside world, somehow, as a sign of progress.”

(Via Open-Democracy: Russia; Post Soviet World)

Medvedev sets sights on cleaner public procurement with new Russian laws

Medvedev sets sights on cleaner public procurement with new Russian laws

As three government departments set about drawing up a new Public Procurement Law, President Medvedev reiterated the need for more openness in the procurement system last week, calling for tougher anti-corruption measures.

“I repeat that we need clear, transparent and effective rules in the state procurement system, especially as concerns planning state procurement needs, setting the initial purchase prices for goods and services, and managing and monitoring the way contracts are performed,” he said at a meeting to discuss the execution of presidential instructions.

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, the Finance Ministry and Economic Development Ministry are drawing up new legislation that better regulates the state procurement process.

Kickbacks in state procurement programs have been a serious problem in Russia, with Konstantin Chuichenko, head of the presidential oversight administration, estimating last November that they amount to one trillion rubles ($32.5 billion) a year.

(Via Modern Russia)

Russia employs Arctic brigade to defend oil and gas reserves

Russia employs Arctic brigade to defend oil and gas reserves

The move follows a muscular series of comments from the deputy head of Russia’s Border Service Colonel-General Vycheslav Dorokhin who said the Kremlin planned to build up its forces in the region to better patrol its Arctic territorial waters.

The troops will be based in the far northern town of Pechenga on Russia’s Kola Peninsula close to the Norwegian and Finnish borders and will be combat-ready later this year.

Russian military planners said they had studied the way Arctic troops in Norway and Finland operated and had ordered in the necessary winterised clothing and arms for the new brigade which could number up to 8,000 troops.

In particular, he said Russia wanted to step up patrols of the strategically important North East shipping passage.

“Our potential there will be built up. We won’t let anyone feel themselves free (to move about as they please) in the Arctic.”

Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway are all locked in a race to grab a slice of the northern wilderness after US researchers predicted that global warming might leave the area ice-free, and therefore more easily navigable and explored, as early as 2030.

Experts say the region potentially contains one fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves and that the swath of Arctic territory claimed specifically by Russia could be home to oil supplies double the size of Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves.

(Via The Telegraph; by the interesting journalist Andrew Osborn)

The first and only national referendum in Soviet history

The first and only national referendum in Soviet history

Twenty years ago, on March 17, 1991, the first and only national referendum in Soviet history was held. Citizens of the Soviet republics were offered the opportunity to express themselves on the matter of the preservation of the union state in “an updated form.” And although six of the union republics refused to participate, the majority of the remaining population voted in favor of the preservation of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, only a few months later, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

Today, Rossiyskaya Gazeta experts (Gleb Pavlovsky [president of the Effective Politics Foundation], Valery Khomyakov [general director of the National Strategy Council], Dmitry Orlov [general director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications], Boris Makarenko [first deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies]) share their assessments of the event.

The referendum did not fail; it was the Soviet Union that failed. Of course, ultimately referendum results were annulled when Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down as president of the Soviet Union. It is also important that the referendum was the last collective expression of the peoples of the Soviet Union, which could have been something to rely on in certain actions. But the actions of the Soviet leadership were destructive.”

Many party members were categorically against this wording – they did not oppose preservation of the Soviet Union, but were against socialist values.

Most people voted ‘yes’ in the referendum. The same people who said ‘yes’ to ‘preserving the Soviet Union based on socialist values’ had forgotten everything and voted for independence.

The situation that happened with the referendum reaffirms the double-sided position of the Soviet leadership. If the Soviet leadership had conducted the referendum more precisely and acted more decisively in accordance with its results, without allowing for a collapse of the Soviet budget, for example, or unconstitutional actions by the Soviet republics, then it could have been a completely different situation. I agree with Vladimir Putin’s assessment that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Six of the 15 republics boycotted the referendum and unequivocally opposed the union. The referendum was not perfect, because the very wording – ‘Are you for or against the updated Soviet Union?’ – was unclear. A result of the referendum was a new union agreement, into which several union republics tried to enter in August.

(Via The Russia and India Report)

Activists want Russian language to have official status in Latvia

Activists want Russian language to have official status in Latvia

A campaign for a referendum on the Russian language is unfolding in Latvia, despite the government’s warnings that it will “worsen the split” in society.

The status of Russian as the second state language is dangerous for Latvia, the country’s Cultural Minister Sarmite Elerte said on Wednesday. She explained her position by “the split in the bilingual society,” which is stressful for ethnic Latvians, Russians and minorities.

Ethnic Russians make up about 30 percent of the Latvia’s population and more than 40 percent in the capital, Riga. The aim of the campaign launched on March 7 is to give the Russian language the status of a second official language. The referendum will be called if the required 10,000 signatures are collected. The campaigners have already managed to collect a thousand signatures.

The campaigners for the referendum on the Russian language followed the example of the opposition “For Fatherland and Freedom” party. Its members had collected signatures in support of switching over to Latvian at Russian-speaking schools financed by the state.

Elerte told journalists she considered ethnic Russians the national minority in the country. The minister cited the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to support her views. Minorities are ethnic groups who have lived in Latvia for generations and regard themselves as Latvian nationals Itar-Tass quoted her as saying.

The state language is the most important problem that divides ethnic Latvians, Russians and national minorities since Latvia became independent in 1991.

(Via Russia Today)