Russia: a hint of ape-shit mental
Following the confirmation that Russia is not a free country after ongoing rumours of dodgy dealings in the run-up to the Russian presidential election, allegations of cover-ups to prevent knowledge of the true nature of the Beslan tragedy spreading, and suggestions that Russian troops were present in Ukraine to help enforce fraudulent election results last month, now it seems Putin is turning his beady, ex-KGB eyes on the economy.
Russia's second-largest oil company, Yukos, has been in trouble for a while now, and was finally declared bankrupt a couple of months ago. Its troubles began in October 2003, when its multi-billionaire owner (and harsh critic of Putin), Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested onboard his private jet by masked members of the Russian security forces - he has been held in gaol ever since. His crime? Well, there are allegations of fraud (quite likely to be true in post-Soviet Russia), but many feel his biggest crime was buying up an anti-Putin newspaper and then using it to attack the government. But hey, Russia's all for freedom of the press... that CAN'T be true, can it?
Over the last week, Russia has started to sell of chunks of Yukos, despite court injunctions, and looks set to be by far the biggest beneficiary - it has just emerged that the state-owned oil firm Rosneft (which has one of the most brilliantly futuro-fascist corporate flash sites I've ever seen) has bought a sizable chunk of its erstwhile rival at a knock-down price. So the state has caused the bankruptcy of a company, and then bought up some of the assets. Lovely...
Oh, and lest I forget, should you be Russian and wish to elect a representative to the Duma who shares your views, tough. Today it is likely that Putin's plan to remove the right to vote for candidates will be rubber-stamped, leaving Russians the choice of voting for parties only. Sound familiar?
What to learn from all this? Simple - don't fuck with Putin, he's a vicious bastard. Yes, we knew that already, but this is just another prime example that Yeltsin knew very well what he was doing when he promoted Putin from nowhere to head the largest country in the world. This man is ideal dictator material - cold, calculating, ruthless, and with a hint of ape-shit mental about him.
After a lifetime of fascination with Russian culture (and the near inevitable off-shoot of political and historical interest), from Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Checkov through Solzhenitsyn, Eisenstein and the harsh beauty of Soviet propaganda posters, it seems that despite the end of the Cold War the closest I am likely to get to visiting is flying over St Petersberg at 30,000 feet on my way to Japan (see pic). Russia is right up there with Iraq and Zimbabwe on my "places not to visit in 2005" list.
For more reasons to be scared and depressed about Russia, try Siberian Light's superb weekly news round-ups.