Monday, August 3, 2009

The Space Race and Russia: a History of Undisclosed Failures

My favorite songwriter from the University of (Leftist) Leeds has graced us with an engaging and newsworthy article worthy of a Pulitzer. Englishman Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey writes on the recent fortieth anniversary (July 19th) of the American landing on the Moon and its miniscule impact in comparison to Russia’s longstanding and venerable record. He writes that Russia’s reputation has suffered an international smear campaign, referencing the ‘defeat’ of the USSR’s space program as nonsensical.

How can the Soviet program have been defeated when the United States currently relies on Russian space vehicles for entry into space? And who will continue to bring people and cargo to the ISS after 2010? Bancroft-Hinchey may not be a Russian, but he understands a historical Russian pretext: that Mother Russia endured Mongol invasions for two centuries so Western Europe could flourish and develop faster than their eastern brethren. The same concept continues to be applied today. How can NASA survive in space unless Russia assists it?

Russia has clearly bore the brunt of space endeavors. As if every Soviet accomplishment in space needs to be noted, Pravda’s star writer writes a litany of firsts. These include the launching of the first satellite (Sputnik, 1957), the first animal in space (Laika, 1957), the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin, 1961), the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova, 1963), and the first space station (Salyut, 1971). These were indeed firsts for humankind. However, Russia’s historical record is riddled with inaccuracies and little-known details that are best left unmentioned in Russia’s textbooks.

Sputnik might not have left ‘the American people so psychologically vulnerable’, as Eisenhower put it, if they knew the circumstances around its construction. Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, American engineers, had supplied the Soviets with military secrets for years before they defected to the Soviet Union in 1950. The information they provided helped construct the first artificial satellite and build a new arena for the Soviets to prove that they plainly did not have an inferiority complex. Additionally, Laika the dog, the first animal in space, did not survive in space for nearly two weeks, but was dead on arrival.

The permanent member of Pravda’s editorial staff tactlessly suggests that the United States engineered the Moon landing. While Bancroft-Hinchey’s claim is laughable, it is nevertheless hackneyed, having been postulated many times before. American conspiracy theorists, probably at the insistence of a Soviet active measures campaign, continue to doubt the lunar landing. Never mind the fact that there were five consecutive landings after this one. However, this conspiracy ranks alongside some of the more unusual (proven) Soviet insults, including the U.S. military invented the AIDS virus to infect Third World countries and American parents adopt foreign children to harvest their ‘baby parts.’ Bancroft-Hinchey serves two purposes in life: to promulgate Russian propaganda and continue to excuse past grievances against the noble Soviet Union. If Pravda and The X-Files had an illegitimate child, he would be that unfortunate offspring striving to work farther from the truth.

Space exploration in the 21st century is a microcosm for its quarry: vast and empty. With President Obama’s ambiguous stance on space, the future of NASA is unknown. The Constellation program and its new launch vehicle and spacecraft (Orion) might not go into effect for years now and space funding may be significantly slashed. The American people will have to wait until a solidified plan is implemented, if at all. Meanwhile, Russia maintains that she has no intentions of a lunar mission with Mars shining brighter. Indeed, we can all assume that in the post-Soviet age, Mars just might be that better shade of propaganda-red for Russia to pursue.

Russian Military Chorus Belittles Europe's Energy Dependence

Moscow's Military District is known for much more than ensuring public order. Their ensemble of Slavic singers apparently can carry quite a tune for audiences. One recent song showcases the insinuations of Russia's foreign policy. Their musings of the challenges to come are both captivating and alarming for the contiguous countries and those affected by Russia's energy monopoly.

The song begins with the question of Ukraine's eventual entry into NATO. Russia's response? Cutting the gas for all of Ukraine. While the audience cackled, they most likely were recalling Gazprom, the Russian energy monopoly cut off supplies of natural gas to Ukraine after a payment deadline expired in January. Relations have been icy ever since Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 launched the pro-Western career of President Viktor Yushchenko. Since then, Putin's relationship with its neighbor has deteriorated and continues to do so.

The next stanza details the recurrent everyday problems of Europe. It says that American Special Forces are already there, implying it is Europe's prerogative to have them there. Russia's military is not distressed, however, as its prescriptive policy calls for the gas to be cut for Europe too.

The singers state that the Belorussians are the only normal, peaceful people. They make this claim because the neighboring country drink's vodka to their health. Russia and Belarus continue to maintain an amiable relationship in the post-Soviet sphere. As a memorial to their infatuation of all things Soviet, Belarus has even kept its name for their secret service: the KGB. Belarus continues to rely on Russia for virtually all of its natural resources, enduring the politically compatible relations between Putin and Lukashenko.

The piece continues in Russia's desire to lead the long list of European countries; a fact demonstrated by it's frustration of having been denied the number one spot. Russia's Napoleon complex made itself evident in the innate necessity to be considered significant after the culmination of the Soviet Union. This explains the reasoning behind others allowing it to become member to the G-8, partner with NATO, and maintaining its chair on the UN Security Council. With an out-of-touch military that desperately needs to modernize and its economic difficulties, Russia will always seek ways of seeming important, if only outwardly.

The chorus of the song repeats the following line: "...and suddenly a shade of smile will touch your eyes, and the good mood will never leave you." Indeed, this verse seems to acknowledge that Russians will always be cognizant of and appreciate their energy power over Europe. This mocking will no doubt continue to surface in both Russian concert halls and inside Kremlin walls.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mutiny at Georgian Base Averted

In what officials have called a small mutiny with links to Russia, the Georgian military averted what would have been an embarrassing crisis just a day ahead of joint Georgian-NATO exercises. Exactly what was the link to Russia remains to be seen, but it would not be surprising to discover that Russia planned a little bit of cross-voennaya dezinformatsiya (military disinformation), a mode of operational maskirovka.

While usually consisting of false information about one's OWN troops, it is now possible that Russia is trying to seed deliberate disinformation among its neighbor's troops for the purpose of deceiving them and NATO allies in a vain attempt to discredit the exercises only miles away from Tbilisi.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Georgian Song Mocking Putin to Compete in Eurovision Contest in Moscow

Georgia's official entry for the 2009 Eurovision song contest is making more headlines than it anticipated. The country selected We Don't Wanna Put In by Stefan & 3G out of ten entries from a combination of televoting and an expert jury. Due to compete in Moscow between 12 and 16 May 2009 at the Olympic Indoor Arena, the song has upset some in Russia, notably Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself.

Some have called the disco-funk song a play on words of Putin's name. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman of the PM, commented that "...if it is really so, we should only regret that the contestants from Georgia[,] instead of concentrating on the art, use such a popular contest in Europe for demonstrating their pseudo-political ambitions, or - simply speaking - their hooliganism." This slur is likely to follow the group when they enter the Russian capital.

While some claim that it could fall foul of Eurovision's rule against political content in entries, a spokeswoman for Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB), who are organising the country's Eurovision bid, told Reuters: "This song is not about politics, it has nothing to do with politics and politicians." Lyrically, the song's political references are minimal, if not nonexistent. Some target words might include "the negative move/It's killing the groove," but nothing more to indicate that it is directed at Russia.

The song's acclamation came about after the August 2008 Russian-Georgian War, in which Russia successfully invaded parts of Georgia, eventually recognizing the sovereignty of the two de-facto Georgian territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Although members of Stefane & 3G initially did not conceal their entry's political context, on February 20, Kristine Imedadze, one of the singers in the band. While Stefane Mgebrishvili, another member, publicly acknowledged the title reference to the Russian PM, the group is now eschewing any abhorrent assertions.

This move, however it is derived, is largely astute on the group's part. Reception to Georgian nationals ever since the 2004 Rose Revolution has been inimical, but now more than ever in light of the recent war. The largely Russian audience to attend Eurovision this May is not likely to be jumping up and getting into the groove when the song is played. If anything, the safety of the group members might be of more concern, especially now, considering Putin's disapproval of such hooliganism. Despite their best efforts at mitigating the political examination for their song, Stefan & 3G will no doubt be attracting more attention in the time up to the contest.

Eurovision is the annual competition held by member-countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Joined by Stefane Mgebrishvili, the trio 3G consists of Nini Badurashvili, Tako Gachechiladze and Kristine Imedadze.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Russia to Build a Berlin Wall in Georgia?

Several reports have shown up on Georgian news sites concerning the possibility of Russia constructing walls around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. InterPressNews and The Georgian Times both speculated that the building of the walls would aim to prevent the local populations and stationed Russian soldiers from fleeing to Georgian territory. Three days later, Mikheil Saakashvili stated at Parliament that Russia was planning to build a wall in Abkhazia.

The reports coincide with the recent case of Junior Sgt. Aleksandr Glukhov, who fled the Russian-occupied Tskhinvali region and sought asylum in Georgia. While predominantly Russian news agencies maintain that the 21- year-old Russian conscript was subjected to psychological pressure or threats, the international case has largely fallen quiet.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has stated that it is unaware of any plans for the construction of a fence on South Ossetia’s border with Georgia. However, the ministry also said that the government of South Ossetia would have the right to erect an infrastructure on its border with adjacent states for national security reasons. Russian statements on the creation of a wall on the Abkhazian border with Georgia remain nonexistent for the time being.

The assertions on the Russian side evoke the same made by East German officials in 1961. That year, GDR Chairman Walter Ulbricht categorically stated in an international press conference that “No one has the intention of erecting a wall!” Two months later, a wall was constructed separating East Germany from West Germany for more than a quarter-century. November 9th of this year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lamentable though it may be, but it appears that its anniversary might signal the beginning of a new Wall in Georgia for years to come.

Why Nurture Russia's Illusions?

One of the best articles I've read on the current analysis of US-Russian relations and Russia's status quo: their intentions, objectives, and prospects. Perfect for anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Eurasian affairs.


Barack Obama wants to make friends with Russia, "press the reset button" as his Veep proposed the other day.

Sounds familiar. Bill Clinton bear hugged Boris Yeltsin and George W. Bush peered into successor Vladimir Putin's soul. Yet relations haven't been this bad since Konstantin Chernenko's days at the Kremlin.

So what? America is on a roll in Eurasia. Democracy, open markets and stability spread across the region in the Clinton and Bush eras. From Estonia to Georgia to Macedonia, free people want to join the West.

At every step of the way, Russia sought to undermine this great post-Cold War project. Grant that the Kremlin acts in defense of its perceived interests but so should the U.S., and continue down this same path.

Here Foggy Bottom's finest chime in: Yes, but imagine a world with a friendly Russia, able to help us, say, stop Iran's atomic bomb program. So let's not push so hard to deploy anti-Iran missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia hates -- use, if necessary, the excuse that costs and feasibility require further study. Back off on closer NATO ties for Ukraine and Georgia. Make Russia feel important and consulted. Joe Biden sketched out this sort of bargain at last weekend's Munich security conference.

The conceit is we can win the Kremlin over by modifying our behavior. Before Mr. Obama tries, he should be aware of recent history. On missile defense, American diplomats spent as much time negotiating with Russia as with the Central Europeans, offering Moscow the chance to join in. Nothing came of it. On Kosovo independence and Iran sanctions, Russia blocked the West at the U.N.

Last spring, NATO snubbed Georgia and Ukraine in a signal of good will to Mr. Putin. The day after, Mr. Putin privately told Mr. Bush that Ukraine wasn't "a real country" and belonged in the Russian fold. Five months later, Russia invaded Georgia and de facto annexed its breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr. Obama may be tempted to think Russia can be won over. After all, they would seem to need America (short for the West) far more than America needs Russia. We're not the enemy. Russia's real strategic challenges are in the East: China looks ravenously at the vast, mineral-rich, lightly populated Siberian steppe cut off from Moscow (to this day, you can't drive across Russia). And to the South: The arc of Islamic extremism, starting with a possibly nuclear Iran, a competitor for Caspian energy and influence.

And as Mr. Putin discovers each day his economy sinks further, Russia failed to take advantage of sky-high oil prices to diversify away from energy. It sells nothing of value to the world aside from gas, oil and second-rate weapons. Its infrastructure is decaying and its population in decline.

A Kremlin leader with a long-term view would see these grave threats to Russia's future and rush to build a close partnership with the West. But the interests of Mr. Putin and his small, thuggish, authoritarian clique don't necessarily coincide with that of Russia.

The Obama magic dust doesn't seem to work on a regime defined and legitimized by its deep dislike for America. Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin underling in the president's office, moved the state of the nation address to the day after the American election to spin the outcome for the domestic audience. The U.S., he said into the winds of pro-American sentiment sweeping across the world in the wake of the Obama win, was "selfish . . . mistaken, egotistical and sometime simply dangerous."

The Kremlin then welcomed Mr. Obama into the White House with the administration's first serious foreign policy headache. Taking $2 billion from its fast-depleting reserves, Russia bullied and bribed Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S. military airfield, the main transport hub for supplies going into Afghanistan. Russia's desire for a "sphere of influence" trumps the threat of resurgent extreme Islamism in its southern underbelly.

The thinking here is Cold War porridge. But the Russians were never offered a new narrative. Mikhail Gorbachev's idea of a "European family" and Yeltsin's reforms foundered. Mr. Putin went back to a familiar recipe: Russia, empire-builder and scourge of the West.

A Cold War mentality lingers in America, too. A foreign policy caste rich in Sovietologists by habit overstates Russia's importance. The embassy in Moscow is huge; bilateral meetings inevitably become "summits," like in the old days.

Mr. Obama's fresh start is a good time for a reality check. The U.S. can work with Russia, seen in its proper place. To even suggest that the Russians have a special say over the fate of a Ukraine or our alliance with the Czechs lets Mr. Putin nurture the illusion of supposed greatness, and helps him hang on to power.

Ultimately it's up to the Russians to decide to be friends. One day, someone in the Kremlin will have to confront a hard choice: Does an isolated and dysfunctional Russia want to modernize and join up with the West, look toward China, or continue its slow decline? Until then, Mr. Obama better stock up on aspirin and dampen his and our expectations about Russia.

Georgia wants Abkhazia to be 'weapons-free' zone - minister

10/02/2009 15:11 TBILISI, February 10 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia is to demand that Abkhazia be declared an armaments-free zone, a Georgian minister said on Tuesday.

Russia and Abkhazia have agreed to open one military base in Gudauta, in the west of Abkhazia, and to establish a Russian Black Sea Fleet base in the coastal town of Ochamchira. No official documents have been signed, however.

"As for the deployment of Russian military bases in Abkhazia, Georgia will demand that Abkhazia be proclaimed a weapons-free zone, and that international police forces be deployed there," Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister on issues of reintegration, said.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states last year on August 26, two weeks after the end of a five-day military operation to "force Georgia to peace" which began when Georgian forces launched an attack on South Ossetia to try and regain control of the region.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia split from Georgia in the early 1990s, and most residents of both republics have had Russian citizenship for a number of years.

The chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, said in November that the Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be fully staffed with 3,700 personnel each by the end of 2009.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No More Brotherhood Between Ukraine and Russia

Good for Ohryzko and the much-needed official statement on the state of historic and cultural relations between Ukraine and Russia from the Kyiv Post.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko thinks that the period of "brotherhood and the unity of Slavic people" has been gone for a long time in Russia-Ukraine relations.

"The time has come to get rid of stereotypes and stamps of brotherhood, historic unity and other things. We are the two sovereign states and we should build our relations on the basis of the international law," Ohryzko said at a news conference in Kyiv on Monday.

"When one speaks about the Slavic unity, an interesting question arises: how many Slavic countries are NATO members and how many are not," the minister said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry can take "no red lines and no distribution of continents at the guidance of certain leaders" in the international security issue, the minister said.

"Each state has the right to choose its national security," Ohryzko said.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Espionage Scandal: US Father and Son Charged With Spying for Russia

The following is an abridged version of an original article from KVAL news station in Eugene, Oregon. Matthew Olsen, acting assistant attorney general for national security, summarizes it best when he said that "These charges underscore the continuing threat posed by foreign intelligence services and should send a clear message to others who would consider selling out their country for money."

EUGENE, Ore. -- A 24-year-old Eugene man faces federal charges he traveled the globe to get money from Russian spies and disperse the money to family members at the direction of his father, a former CIA spy and Chief of Station in Bucharest, Romania, imprisoned in Oregon since 1997 for espionage.

Nathaniel James Nicholson, 24, of Eugene, Ore., and his father, Harold James Nicholson, 58, who is incarcerated at a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., face arraignment Thursday on two counts of conspiracy, one count of acting as agents of a foreign government and four counts of money laundering, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The federal charges announced Thursday allege the son met with the father in prison on several occasion to obtain information with the intent to then meet with representatives of the Russian Federation.

The indictment alleges the son then brought the money, paid by the Russian Federation for the father's past espionage activities, back to Oregon to disperse to family members at his father's direction.

The two were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Portland at 1:30 p.m.

The indictment says Harold Nicholson, who pleaded guilty in 1997 after being paid $300,000 to pass secrets to the Russians, wanted to receive additional payments for his work, and used his son as a go-between.

Officials charged that Nathaniel Nicholson collected another $35,593 in a series of recent trips to meet Russians in San Francisco, Mexico City, Lima, and even a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Cyprus in December.

On each return trip to the United States, the messenger son would declare less than $10,000 in cash to avoid federal law requiring him to disclose the source of the money, authorities said.

Harold Nicholson is currently serving a 23-year prison term in Sheridan after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit espionage. As a trainer of CIA personnel, authorities say he gave the Russians the identities of the young CIA recruits he was training, and the identities of other high-level CIA officers.

According to the new indictment, the Russians still thought Harold Nicholson might be able to give them valuable information — specifically, how he had been discovered and how much the investigators had learned about Russian spying.

The father told his son he was due a "pension" for his past work for the Russians, and even dropped hints that he would like to live in Russia when he was freed. To that end, investigators say, he once relayed his age, height, weight, and other relevant personal data that would be required for a Russian visa.

Georgian PM Mgaloblishvili Resigns; Saakashvili Nominates Nika Gilauri

Grigol Mgaloblishvili has resigned his post as prime minister citing deterioration of his health condition. At a special press conference, he said that he must continue intensive treatment for two more months. Mgaloblishvili had been in Germany for most of January undergoing medical examination for kidney problems.

The former prime minister said that "Today, Georgia can not afford itself a prime minister, who can not be in usual working mode for three months. The country needs the cabinet and the Prime Minister capable of working round-the-clock." Mgaloblishvili reiterated his desire to serve the country on any position after his treatment. "In any capacity, I will stay in [the] Georgian state and people's service. We will do everything, with the president and our friends, to accomplish the plans we have aimed together," he said. Mgaloblishvili was Mikheil Saakashvili's fourth PM in his five-year term.

Saakashvili has followed Mgaloblishvili's nomination of deputy premier and finance minister Nika Gilauri as new prime minister. The Georgian president said that there would be no more changes to the cabinet, which will face a confidence vote in Georgian Parliament.

Unlike Mgaloblishvili, who had little political experience except his post as Ambassador to Turkey, Gilauri is the longest-standing government member, serving as both an energy and later a finance minister since February 2004. Saakashvili has expressed his confidence in the prime minister-designate, relaying that he will first have to tackle the country's medical insurance system.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Russian Military Suicides Still Remain High

Russia Today (RT) was very quick to make an article entitled "US army suicide highest in 3 decades" the first viewed after its main story. From an unnamed source at the Department of Defense, RT reported that at least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008 alone (13 more than in 2007). The English language news-service from Russia ended the piece by suggesting that:

"American troops are under unprecedented stress because of repeated and lengthy tours of duty due to simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

This is in stark contrast to figures coming out of Russia's armed forces, where a total of 341 military personnel committed suicide in 2007, the equivalent of an entire battalion of Russian soldiers. Fortunately, that high figure is a reduction from 15% the previous year. Analysts credit the number with the process of dedovshchina - literally, rule of the elders, in which young soldiers are often violently bullied into killing themselves.

With morale low, corruption among senior staff high, and violent prostitution all common themes, the hopelessness of military life in Russia is reason enough for many families to pay bribes to keep their children away from conscription. RT should not pretend that the US Army has an extensive problem when they themselves have been struggling for over a decade to improve their excuse for a modern military.

Cyber Assault Cripples Web in Kyrgyzstan

It's almost like I'm watching Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, only it's actually Russia repeating their cyber attacks on post-Soviet countries. Read this piece from DefenseNews by William Matthews.

Kyrgyzstan, a former member of the Soviet Union, is the latest victim of a cyber assault that appears to originate in Russia.

Distributed denial-of-service attacks that began Jan. 18 have crippled Internet service in the mountainous Central Asian nation of 5.2 million on China's western border.

The attacks have been traced to Russian Internet addresses, according to Internet monitoring organizations and network security firm SecureWorks, based in Atlanta.

Denial-of-service attacks use a multitude of computers to contact Web sites simultaneously, overwhelming them and blocking legitimate traffic. The attacks have shut down most Internet service in Kyrgyzstan, according to the Information Warfare Monitor, a joint project of Cambridge University and the University of Toronto.

"The motivation appears to be political," the Information Warfare Monitor's Web page said.

The attacks may be intended to silence opponents of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who are active on the Internet. They may also be intended to pressure Kyrgyzstan to close an air base that is used by the United States for the war in Afghanistan, an arrangement Russia opposes.

The attacks on Kyrgyzstan are similar to attacks launched from Russia against Web sites in Georgia, before Russian troops invaded last August to drive Georgian troops out of two breakaway provinces sympathetic to Russia.

Those attacks shut down Web sites of the Georgia Ministry of Defense and other government agencies and defaced sites of Georgia's national bank and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. News sites also were attacked.

Although the cyber attacks did little real damage, the fact that they were coordinated with military operations appeared ominous.

In 2007, more extensive cyber attacks on Estonia disrupted banking and shut down Web sites of the Estonian parliament, government ministries, banks, newspapers, broadcasters and others.

Those attacks, too, were traced to Russia and came amid a violent Russian reaction to an Estonian decision to move a memorial to Soviet soldiers out of the central square in Estonia's capital, Tallinn.

With a third denial-of-service attack traced to Russia, "my guess is that the Russians, having gotten away with it twice, and generally enjoying it, have made it part of their operations," said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"It's also possible," he said, "that others are copying them or even hiring Russian hackers" to carry out the attacks. "If there is no risk and no penalty, countries will do it."

So far, the attacks have not been traced directly to the Russian government.

But Martin Libicki, a military and cyber expert at Rand Corp., cautioned against concluding that the cyber attacks are serious enough to be "a harbinger of 21st-century warfare."

Rather, "they are, perhaps, something to be concerned about," he said.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ukrainian Security Service To Make Secret Soviet Documents Public

Finally, a post-Soviet country that has the sense to do what the Germans did following the dissolution of the Berlin Wall: publicize all classified documents to be readily available to the public. I wholeheartedly laud Ukraine's SBU (Служба безпеки України) for this decision, something that will undoubtedly add mountains of information to the history of the injustices of the Soviet Union. One can only hope that other post-Soviet countries will follow suit. The following article appeared today in RFE/RL.

KYIV -- Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has said it will hold a lustration process this year with previously classified documents, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

SBU spokesman Valentin Nalivaychenko has said that all secret files from the Soviet period in Ukraine between 1917 and 1991 will be made available to the public.

He said beginning on January 21, "Ukraine does not keep the secrets of the Soviet Union's repressive system."

Nalivaychenko added that there are currently more than 800,000 cases of files sealed as "secret" or "top secret."

The SBU said it will eventually set up a website that will contain all lustrated documents.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Saakashvili Holds His Own Call-In Show

Irrespective of the views of the opposition to Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, this Moscow Times article proves to be very perceptive. Saakashvili held his first marathon call-in for citizens of Georgia to ask the leader questions concerning a variety of issues. While this may seem like an effective and creative way to reach out to the people, it borders on pure imitation of his former counterpart and current prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

Putin's presidency was marked by the banal use of annual phone-in events with the public on Russian television. Addressed reverently as "Vladimir Vladimirovich," citizens continue to ask very insightful questions to the current prime minister. Such excerpts include Putin's thoughts on Christmas trees, the whereabouts of his former pet tiger, and the best method for hanging Saakashvili's genitals.

Why, then, is Saakashvili mimicking Putin's media ruse? The opposition to the Georgian leader rightly criticize him for this stunt. Saakashvili should know better than to repeat the actions of his contiguous arch-rival, especially one with a KGB-idolizing monopolistic government under his control.

26 January 2009 TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili rejected opposition calls to resign during a marathon call-in show Friday that took a page from the political playbook of the man he has mocked as his enemy -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The four-hour televised show was broadcast on all three Georgian TV channels and featured Saakashvili sitting at a semicircular table with a handpicked audience seated behind him. Images of Georgian flags and photographs of monuments appeared on a backdrop.

A mixture of prerecorded and live studio questions were dominated by social issues, concerns about the economy and the plight of Georgian villagers displaced by fighting between Russia and Georgia in August.

But there was little scrutiny of Saakashvili's decision to launch an assault on breakaway South Ossetia on Aug 7. Russia's devastating counterstrike drove the Georgian army from the region.

"It was a great personal tragedy for me," Saakashvili said. "I received the strongest blow in August, and they were the most difficult moments of my life.

"This evil force invaded my country and killed my children," he said, adding, "I am a refugee together with you, and I am a father of killed children along with you."

Saakashvili also lashed out at Russia, accusing it of destabilizing Georgia during the August war and calling Putin "an uncompromising enemy of Georgia."

Dozens of opponents demonstrated outside the television studio and accused the president of mimicking Putin, who has held an annual phone-in with the public on Russian television for several years. "What does Saakashvili have left to learn from Putin?" opposition Republican Party senior official David Usupashvili said. "He should stop ruling the country with PR stunts and allow free and fair election."

The 41-year-old president said he had no intention of wasting time and money on early elections. He said he was "in great shape," exercised everyday and started work at 11 a.m.

"I'm not planning to die nor to step down," Saakashvili said, looking tanned and generally relaxed.

"My main task right now is to save the country from economic crisis and to unify it," he said.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Latvian President Snubs Russian Language

Not that the discontinued use of the Russian language in the post-Soviet countries is noteworthy news this day in age, but this article renewed a spark of interest in the degradation of its linguistic legacy. Latvia's president, Valdis Zatlers, has announced that he will refuse to use the Russian language with Russian journalists. Announced today, his decision coincides with an amendment approved by parliament last week that now raises fines for the use of nonofficial languages by employers and employees. Zatlers commented on his decision by declaring that "Latvia has only one state language and it is Latvian."

While the move has irked some human rights groups, it will undoubtedly have more of a diplomatic discommode for Russia. Russia's Foreign Ministry, on Saturday, has called the adoption of the amendments as verging on the "point of absurdity." Russia demands better Latvian treatment of ethnic Russians. One-third of Latvia's 2.2 million population already uses the Russian language. Pockets of ethnic minorities there use the former lingua franca of the Soviet Union, having yet to adapt the Latvian language.

This is part of a perpetual trend for former Soviet countries: abating the Russian language in lieu of national ethnic languages. It has held true for Estonian, Georgian, Polish, Latvian, and many others. When these countries individually reformed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, they de-Russified themselves linguistically and culturally.

Zatlers is not unique in his move, but this action does serve as a reminder of Russia's precedent in the 2008 Russian-Georgian War: that Russia can still use its ethnic language as a tool against neighboring countries. What Zatlers has done may in the long-run ensure that none of his citizens will ever be manipulated as Georgia's ethnic Abkhaz and Ossetian populations have been.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Historic US-Georgian Partnership Charter Signed

Earlier today at the US Department of State, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze signed the first Charter on Strategic Partnership between their two countries.

The document affirms the importance of the relationship between the US and Georgia, emphasizing that this cooperation between the two democracies is based on shared values and common interests, and stresses the mutual desire to strengthen the relationship across the economic, energy, diplomatic, scientific, cultural and security fields.

A Georgian official called the charter an important "stepping stone" for the Caucasus nation into NATO and the "family of Western and civilized nations."

The non-binding document is yet another reminder of the strong commitment between the two countries. This past September, US President Bush pledged $1 billion in aid to Georgia in light of Russia's violation of Georgia's territorial sovereignty.

The full text of the charter may be found at Civil Georgia.

The full video of the signing of the charter can be found below courtesy of The Department of State.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Years Resolution: Russian Space Agency Will Compensate More

The head of the Russian Space Agency, or Roskosmos (RKA), plans to set a world record by launching 39 space launches in 2009. Anatoly Perminov said Monday that the schedule will include the transportation of commercial and civilian satellite launches and six Progress cargo vehicles, four manned space missions, and a host of other aeronautical missions. The Russian Duma has already approved overall space expenditures in Russia totaling about 425 billion rubles ($14.5 billion) for the 2006-2015 period. It would seem that Russia is becoming the world leader of space travel, as RIA Novosti states.

What is evident, however, is that the press agency failed to account for American space endeavors. The US has already allocated a proposed budget for NASA of $20.21 billion (up $2.89 billion from 2008) for 2009 alone. While Russia has been busy with its space tourism industry, collecting millions of dollars from persistent civilians, the US has been focusing outside Earth’s orbit. Under current NASA Administrator, Michael D. Griffin, the US is already watching over the New Horizons mission to Pluto (launched 2006/ETA 2015) and supporting President Bush’s 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, which aims to:

- Complete the International Space Station by 2010;
- Retire the Space Shuttle by 2010 and develop and conduct Orion’s (its future descendent) first human spaceflight mission by 2014;
- Develop Shuttle-Derived Launch Vehicles;
- Explore the Moon with crewed missions by 2020; and
- Explore Mars and other destinations with robotic crewed missions

Russia’s projected military expenditures for 2009 are $50 billion, several hundred billion shy of the US budget of $515.4 billion. In recognition of the dearth of Russian military spending in the post-Cold War, Russia is desperately trying to maintain its image of a superpower. Such obvious signs like the continuation of the Soviet tradition of arms parades in 2008 point to an acerbic and resentful country that relies of compensation to mitigate its citizens’ fears.

Cold War-like information warfare campaigns are becoming ubiquitous since Putin’s ascension to the presidency in late 1999. In the wake of the Columbia disaster, RKA has been reaping in the spoils of space devoid of a major US presence. Propaganda like that of RIA Novosti is commonplace and will only continue even after the US launching of the Orion program.