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New Yorker Publishes Opus on the Dissident Murders of Russia

This week’s New Yorker is running a long article by Michael Specter titled “Kremlin, Inc.: Why are Vladimir Putin’s Opponents Dying?” newyorker.jpg Read all 14 pages here. Some excerpts:

Despite the fact that Politkovskaya was articulate, attractive, and accomplished, she was barred from appearing on television, which is the only way the vast majority of Russians get news. To the degree that a living woman could be airbrushed out of post-Soviet history, she had been. “People call the newspaper and send letters with one and the same question: ‘Why are you writing about this? Why are you trying to scare us?'” she wrote. “‘Why do we need to know this?'” She provided an answer as much for herself as for any reader: “I’m sure this has to be done, for one simple reason: as contemporaries of this war, we will be held responsible for it. The classic Soviet excuse of not being there and not taking part in anything personally won’t work. So I want you to know the truth. Then you’ll be free of cynicism.” (New Yorker, Jan. 29, 2007, pp. 52) The 1996 election “put a poison seed into the soil,” Andrei Norkin, a former anchor for NTV, told me. Norkin now works for the satellite network RTV1, which is owned by Gusinsky. “And, even if we did not see why, the authorities understood at once: mass media could very easily be manipulated to achieve any goal. Whether the Kremlin needed to raise the rating of a President or bring down an opponent or conduct an operation to destroy a business, or a man, the media could do the job. Once the Kremlin understood that it could use journalists as instruments of its will, and saw that journalists would go along, everything that happened in the Putin era was, sadly, quite logical.” (New Yorker, Jan. 29, 2007, pp. 56) In the corporatist, semi-authoritarian structure that Putin has created – the Kremlin refers to it as “sovereign democracy” – what is good for Gazprom is good for Russia, and no Russian television station would have dared to present the Ukrainian side of the story. (in reference to the New Year’s gas cut off). (New Yorker, Jan. 29, 2007, pp. 56-57) No company, foreign or domestic, can prevail in an argument with the Kremlin. That became clear on October 25, 2003, when armed and masked F.S.B. agents stormed a private jet and arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky as he was about to depart from the Novosibirsk Airport, in Siberia. Khodorkovsky was Russia’s richest and, after Putin himself, easily its most influential man. He ran Yukos, the largest – and, by most assessments, the managed – oil company in the country. Khodorkovsky had failed to honor an unspoken pact with the Kremlin: stay out of politics and stay rich. Instead, he had begun to speak out, act independently, and support Putin’s opponents. He even started showing up in foreign capitals – often acting more like a head of state than like an oil magnate. Khodorkovsky was charged with fraud and tax evasion, and was then convicted in a trial that few observers, in or out of Russia, believed was fair. He was sentenced to nine years in prison and is serving them at Prison Camp IZ-75/1, in Chita – one of Siberia’s most remote and inhospitable regions. The Kremlin then set out to destroy his company, suing Yukos for billions of dollars in what it said were unpaid taxes. Yukos’s assets are being distributed among the President’s allies, the biggest beneficiaries being the two companies that are sometimes referred to as the only meaningful political “parties” left in Russia: Gazprom and Rosneft, the state-run oil concern. (In December, the Kremlin began to assemble yet another case against Khodorkovsky, this time involving money laundering.) (New Yorker, Jan. 29, 2007, pp. 58-59)