Daily Archives: October 1, 2010

“The New Nobility” Exposes the Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB

The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

Misha Glenny on a brave book that lays bare the political dominance of Russia’s secret service

The Guardian | Sep 29, 2010

by Misha Glenny

The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia's Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

The Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, has recently had one of his periodic spurts of positivist thinking. His two watchwords, “modernisation” and “democracy”, have been echoing across the local and international media as he seeks to ward off persistent accusations that Russia has returned to its bad old ways. “I know the shortcomings of our system better, perhaps, than anyone,” Medvedev told an international forum, the Valdai Club, at the beginning of September. “But I categorically disagree with those who say that there is no democracy in Russia; that authoritarian traditions still rule.”

Stirring stuff, but before the president throws his cap in the air and an emptied vodka glass into the fireplace, he may like to flick through the pages of The New Nobility, which charts the brief decline followed by the resolute resurrection of the KGB as a primary political force in the country. Or rather, he may not like it. Because every page in this book gainsays his claim in the most forceful fashion imaginable that democracy is now decisive in defining Russia’s political direction.

The authors describe how the KGB (or FSB as its primary reincarnation is known) suffered an acute trauma in consequence of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1990 and the failed coup of August 1991 designed by hardliners in the KGB and the military. Dazed and disoriented by the brave new world of capitalism, a majority of generals and other senior ranks scuttled the Lubyanka, the KGB’s sepulchral HQ in central Moscow, and placed themselves at the service of the new moneyed class, the oligarchs and their imitators. There are apocryphal stories of how the skeletal remnants of this previously terrifying security service were compelled to sell off the Lubyanka’s lightbulbs and toilet paper supply to ward off extinction.

The moment that symbolised the organisation’s breathtakingly swift collapse occurred just after the 1991 coup fizzled out, when protesters hauled down the statue of Feliz Dzerzhinsky that dominated Lubyanka Square. Dzerzhinsky was the founder of the Cheka, the first post-revolutionary secret police, which was largely modelled on the Ochrana, its tsarist predecessor.

In one of countless fascinating details, Soldatov and Borogan describe how, in the wake of this event, a group of officers snuck out of the Lubyanka and unscrewed the plaque commemorating Yuri Andropov, ex-head of the KGB and briefly, in the early 1980s, general secretary of the Communist party – that is, the most powerful man in the Soviet Union. It turns out that today members of the FSB still revere Andropov as the man who could have steered the Soviet Union out of the torpor of its later years and into a dynamic future without having to experience the chaos of the 90s and gangster capitalism. Andropov, they are convinced, would have followed a Chinese model: economic transformation while retaining complete political control.

As the oligarchs started ruthlessly hoovering up the wealth of Russia’s rich natural resources, they also succeeded in exerting almost total control over President Boris Yeltsin, then sinking into the final stages of alcoholism and heart disease. Under this influence, the KGB was broken up and restructured, partly in the genuine hope that the security force would never again enjoy its lost influence but partly to ensure that the new, even smaller and less representative oligarchic elite were unthreatened. It was the oligarchs who promoted a little-known apparatchik from St Petersburg, Vladimir Putin, into the centre of the Kremlin’s power on the assumption that this former KGB officer would be as malleable as his predecessor. Soldatov and Borogan demonstrate just how misguided this was.

Once elected president, Putin set about quashing the political dominance of the oligarchs. They were given a choice: buckle under, go to Siberia or leave Russia. With purpose and determination, he then embarked upon the restoration of order. His old pals from the KGB (especially those from his home base) were given the keys to the Kremlin and just about every other important building in Moscow.

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Australian nun ‘to be made patron saint of abuse victims’


A painting of Australian nun Mary MacKillop. MacKillop  Photo: AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY

An Australian nun who will be canonised by the Pope next month should be made the patron saint of clerical sex abuse victims, Catholics have suggested.

Telegraph | Sep 30, 2010

by Nick Squires in Rome

Mary MacKillop, who was born to Scottish parents, worked in often harsh conditions in the Outback and will become Australia’s first saint during a special Mass at the Vatican on Oct 17.

An Australian documentary due to be aired a week before her canonisation claims that she was persecuted by the Catholic Church for denouncing a priest, Father Patrick Keating, who was abusing children.

In 1871 MacKillop, then 29, was excommunicated by her bishop in South Australia for five months but it has never been clear exactly why.

The priest was disciplined but then simply moved back to his native Ireland, where he took up a job in a new parish.

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The claims that she was shunned by the Church for speaking out against paedophile priests have led to calls from some Catholics for her to be made the unofficial patron saint of victims of clerical sex abuse around the world.

The Rev James Martin, an American Jesuit and an expert on Catholic saints, said the nun should be regarded after her canonisation as the patron saint of whistle-blowers.

“Now victims of sex abuse and their families and friends, and all who desire reconciliation and healing in the church, can pray to Mary MacKillop, who understands them perhaps better than any other saint,” he wrote this week in “America”, a respected Catholic news magazine in the US.

But sex abuse victims angrily denounced the suggestion, saying that the story of MacKillop demonstrated the Catholic Church’s entrenched hostility to anyone who exposed paedophile priests.

“This priest was moved back to Ireland with no chastisement whatsoever – imagine the damage he may have done to countless more lives,” said Bernie McDaid, 54, the founder of Survivor’s Voice in the US, which is organising a candlelit vigil by sex abuse survivors in St Peter’s Square on October 31.

“Instead it was MacKillop who was punished. It shows me that the Catholic hierarchy has been doing this for a long time, and their attitudes have not changed today. The Church is trying to move on from the sex abuse crisis, but right now it is blowing up in their face.” The documentary will be screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on October 10.

Chinese teen ‘beaten to death in boot camp for troubled youths’

A Chinese teenager was allegedly beaten to death at a boot camp for troubled youths that his mother had lured him to attend by promising he was going to study IT, state media said on Thursday.

Telegraph | Sep 30, 2010

Chen Shi, 16, died two days after enrolling in Beiteng School in Changsha, capital of central China’s Hunan province, having been beaten up when he refused to run during training, the “Beijing Times” reported.

According to witnesses, an instructor – helped by two others – beat him with a plastic pipe, handcuffs and a wooden baton when he refused to run.

The incident comes amid controversy over China’s hundreds of boot camps that aim to discipline unruly youths or wean them off web addictions.

His mother, Tang Yulin, decided to enrol Chen Shi to toughen him up because he was “afraid of hardship, had weak willpower and not enough self-confidence” and had failed a school exam, the newspaper said.

They both travelled to Changsha from their home province of Jiangsu, in the east.

The school’s admissions director had advised her to lure her son to the camp by saying it was an IT school, saying 90 per cent of students who attended were given a false reason for attending and the remaining 10 per cent were “kidnapped” by their parents or school instructors, the paper claimed.

Ms Tang paid 22,800 yuan (£2,300) for one semester and went home after being told she would not be able to contact Chen Shi directly, and would have to use a teacher as an intermediary, the report said.

Two days later, she received a call from the school saying Chen Shi was in hospital in critical condition “possibly from sunstroke”, and asking her and her husband to come immediately.

They jumped on a plane but their son died before they arrived. They managed to see his body – which was covered in blood and bruises, while his underpants were torn.

The report quoted police as saying that three people had been detained on suspicion of killing Chen Shi. The school has now been closed amid disciplinary measures, the report added.

In August last year, the beating to death of a teenage boy enrolled by his parents at an internet addiction camp provoked outrage across the country.

Summer snow in Scotland could be signal of another bitter winter for the UK

September snow in Cairngorms could be signal of another bitter winter

dailyrecord.co.uk | Sep 28 2010

By Laura Coventry

SNOWFALL in the Cairngorms on Saturday – before the end of offical British Summer Time – have sparked fears we could be facing another long, cold winter.

Temperatures in the Highland mountain range plummeted below freezing as a couple of inches of snow fell at the weekend despite it still being September.

Other parts of Scotland also suffered their coldest September temperatures for nearly 30 years as double figures sank to below zero and frost appeared.

Kinbrace in the Highlands was the chilliest place, recording a temperature of -4.4C, while Loch Glascarnoch had its lowest September since 1993, at -2.6C.

STV weatherman Sean Batty says we must look at what’s been happening during the summer months as well as what’s happening now to predict the type of winter we have in store.

He said: “Whether we have a mild, wet winter or a cold and dry winter is down to the jet stream.

“Last year it was mostly down towards the Mediterranean, which gave places like Gibraltar their wettest winter on record. That was the weather we would normally get but it was driven south. Everything to the north of us came down, hence it was colder.

“Generally during the summer we’ve had ‘blocking highs’ – areas of high pressure – sitting close to the UK. That could mean there could be a disturbance to the jet.

“If things don’t change over the next month or so, the way things are set up just now, there’s a fairly decent chance we could have another cold and possibly snowy winter ahead of us.

“We will need to keep an eye on the jet stream to see where it’s going next. If it goes south over the Mediterranean, we’ll get a cold winter but if it stays over the UK we will get mild and wet.

“At the moment it does look like there’s a good possibility we’ll have another cold, snowy winter.”

A couple of weeks ago, Positive Weather Solutions’ Jonathan Powell predicted Saturday’s snow.

He said: “It’s rare for snow to fall in September, but we’re seeing the mirror image of the late winter snow we had in May.”

The weather patterns we are experiencing are similar to that of September 1919, when there was a cold snap with snow on low ground.

Just last week the cold weather saw the two-mile swimming event at Loch Muick on Balmoral Estate cancelled due to “unseasonable” water temperatures.

Last year was the coldest winter Britain had experienced in 31 years. Then, the first snow of the season fell on October 4 and paved the way for one of the more severe winters of the last 100 years.

Winter 2009-2010 was exceptional in terms of severity and duration and saw temperatures drop to -20C. But it wasn’t all bad news, it was perfect skiing and snowboarding weather.

CairnGorm Mountain reported their best Christmas holiday season in 14 years. Colin Kirkwood, marketing executive at CairnGorm Mountain, is hoping it will be another successful winter.

He said: “Everybody else’s bad winter is a good winter for us.

“We’d have 50,000-60,000 skiers in a normal year – we had 145,000 last year, so that gives you a measure of how exceptional it was, and yet three years ago we only had 38,000. Having had the best and worst in a four-year period makes it difficult to forecast.”

Supermarket tells Norwich toddler – take your hood off “for security reasons”

eveningnews24.co.uk | Sep 29, 2010

by Jon Welch

Two-year-old Corey Read in his hooded overcoat. His mother Stacie was asked to remove the hood when they went in their local Co-op shop in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

A Norwich two-year-old was asked to take down the hood of his anorak when entering a city convenience store – for security reasons.

But the two-year-old’s family have angrily accused shop chiefs of a lack of common sense after he was asked to take down the hood of his anorak for security reasons when entering a city convenience store.

Corey was shopping at the Co-op store on Earlham Green Lane with his mum Stacie and brother Finley, five months; their dad Shane, 22, and uncle Chris Read, 21.

“We’d just gone into the shop to get a few things for our Sunday roast. Corey had been complaining of earache, so he had the hood of his coat up,” said Mrs Read, 23, of Beverley Road, Norwich.

“We were just near the door when the manager said ‘Do you mind pulling his hood down? It’s just that eight-year-olds will moan that he’s allowed his hood up but they are not.’ It was especially cold that day and the doors are always open in the shop. I didn’t want Corey getting cold as he is prone to ear infections.

“We went into Tesco next door straight afterwards and the security guard there didn’t say a thing about Corey’s hood.”

Miriam Harrup, spokesman for East of England Co-op, said: “We are investigating what happened.”

She said the company had a general policy of asking customers to remove helmets and hoods for security reasons, but that a common-sense approach was usually taken.

It is understood that because the incident took place on a Sunday, the store’s regular manager would not have been on duty.

Hoods, hats and other headgear are banned by many shops due to fears over crime and anti-social behaviour, as it makes it harder to identify offenders using CCTV cameras.

Mrs Read said her husband, a factory worker, was annoyed but she urged him not to get involved in an argument over the issue.

Later that day Corey’s grandfather Alan Barker, 41, telephoned to store to complain and spoke to the duty manager.

Mr Barker, of Stylman Road, Bowthorpe, said: “He said, ‘We have 90-year-olds who come in and we have to tell them the same thing. This is a bad area and we have a lot of stealing.’ Corey is quite a skinny little chap and feels the cold. He’s two years old, and he’s hardly going to rob the store. We go in all the local shops and that’s the first time this has ever happened. The manager should have used some common sense.

“I’m so angry at the Co-op’s attitude, especially as the weather is getting worse and Corey has to stay warm to avoid getting ear infections.”

Do you have a story about a bizarre decision by a Norwich business? Contact Evening News reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email jon.welch@archant.co.uk.

Russia hails Prince Michael, the British Royal Family member with Tsarist blood in his veins


Prince Michael of Kent meets dancers at the Saratov Opera and Ballet after an exclusive performance  Photo: JULIAN SIMMONDS

Prince Michael of Kent is admired throughout Russia – and not just for the Tsarist blood in his veins. On a visit last week he was building bridges to Britain, says Andrew Alderson.

Telegraph | Sep 30, 2010

By Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter Saratov

It was Prince Michael of Kent’s short aside, delivered before he began his official speech at the Saratov Opera and Ballet Theatre, that was the crowd-pleaser for his predominantly Russian audience.

At the end of a lavish three-course dinner that acted as the extended interval for the night’s entertainment, the Queen’s cousin said a single sentence in English before delivering an address in word-perfect Russian.

“Every time I hear Russian music, I feel very emotional and fired up because I have Russian blood in my veins,” he said to loud applause.

Only here in Russia does Prince Michael receive the respect – even adulation – that eludes him back in Britain. Perhaps it is his fluent command of Russian and his uncanny physical likeness to Tsar Nicholas II, the last of the ruling Romanov dynasty who was ousted in the February Revolution of 1917 before being executed the next year. The Tsar was Prince Michael’s grandmother’s first cousin.

Or it might be that Prince Michael clearly loves the country that he has visited almost 50 times since 1992, shortly after the fall of the old Soviet Union. Russians say that the Prince is the only member of the British Royal family who understands the “spirit” of the country.

Last week, Prince Michael was in the city of Saratov, deep in the south of Russia, and Moscow, the Russian capital, for a four-day business and cultural visit, as the guest of Vostok Energy, a British-based gas and oil company set up in 2006.

Prince Michael, 68, set up his own charity foundation in Russia six years ago and believes his visits have helped improve relations between the two countries.

“I try to break down the prejudices and allow the two sides to get to know each other better,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

Arriving last Monday evening at Saratov airport, he walked down the steps of his host’s private jet to be honoured with a “salt and bread” ceremony, a traditional Slavic greeting kept only for the most revered guests.

By early next morning, the Prince, patron of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, was oiling the wheels between British and Russian businessmen, who have for long been wary of each other.

The Russians have vast untapped gas and oil reserves; the British have the expertise, machinery and billionaire investors to enable the natural resources to be brought up from deep within the earth’s crust.

As Prince Michael opened a new gas plant, near Saratov, workers greeted him like a Hollywood movie star, asking him to sign their yellow and white hard hats and pose for photographs.

When I asked Alexander Zhandarov, the Deputy Chairman of the Saratov Government, whether Russians respected the Prince, he replied: “Respect is not the right word. He is loved and adored.”

At Saratov war memorial, the Prince spoke with local leaders of his sadness that 20 million Russians – including 380,000 from this small region – had lost their lives in the Second World War.

Prince Michael told The Sunday Telegraph: “They are a very resilient people and they have suffered a great deal under communism and before that. I admire their steel and resolution and resilience.”

Resilience is something the prince knows all about. In Britain, the grandson of King George V and Queen Mary, has only a walk-on part in the Royal family. When he does make news, it is normally for the wrong reasons. Dogged by “Rent-a-Kent” headlines, he has been accused of exploiting his royal connections for commercial gain.

His marriage to German-born Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz in 1978 has been equally controversial. When she became Princess Michael of Kent, she was not only a Roman Catholic but also a divorcee. Detractors portray her as “Princess Pushy”, and claim the couple are locked in a loveless union.

In 2002, the Kents were asked by the Queen to vacate their grace and favour five-bedroom apartment at Kensington Palace – or pay a market rent.

The couple, who had been given use of the apartment as their wedding present, were devastated. Eventually, they were permitted to stay and the Queen agreed personally to pay their rent – now £120,000 a year – for seven years. Since last January, the couple have paid it themselves.

“It was an ugly period for us, but thank God that is now in the past. It was resolved with the help of the Queen,” said Prince Michael.

But four years ago, facing increasing financial pressure, they were forced to sell their beloved country home, Nether Lypiatt in Gloucestershire, for £5.75 million.

“It was very, very sad because we loved the house,” he said. “My wife had taken a lot of trouble to make it a lovely family home. But our lives became more and more in London, and our children wanted their own apartments in London, so sadly we parted with it.”

What of the portrayal of the Kents’ marriage?

“I think people put two and two together and make five. We spend a lot of time apart. The Princess is a writer and she likes to get to write. We both have different interests and, although some coincide, this makes for a much richer life than always doing the same thing. So we have a tremendous life and we enjoy practically all of it.”

What is his reaction to the steady stream of negative stories about him?

“It’s unhelpful and occasionally hurtful. But if you believe in what you are doing, it gives you a solid base from which to operate. So when the knocks come, unpalatable and disagreeable though they may be, you just get on with it. You have to resist the temptation to get affected by it.”

The Prince carries out an average of 229 engagements a year and is patron or president of 99 charities, while his wife is linked to a further 45. This year he is promoting the work of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA). “It’s a first-rate charity,” he said.

The Prince’s private secretary, Nicholas Chance, a former Financial Times journalist, has done much, since taking up his role in 1997, to put the Kents’ once-troubled finances on a sounder footing, quietly establishing a portfolio of business, charitable and cultural interests.

As the younger son – his elder brother is the Duke of Kent – Prince Michael was not expected to take on public duties. However, after leaving the Royal Hussars with the rank of major in 1981, he decided to take on an unpaid public role. With no vast family wealth behind him, he has combined these duties with commercial business consultancies.

Robert Cathery, a British entrepreneur who co-founded Vostok Energy, said he had invited Prince Michael to open the gas plant – unpaid, he stressed – because of his standing in Russia. While there, the Prince announced a new Vostok charity trust, while his established Russian charities also received a contribution from the firm.

After spending four days with his royal guest, Mr Cathery said: “Everyone here [in Russia] knows him. They like and appreciate him, but they know the admiration goes both ways.”