[lbo-talk] Why Bother? (Was "Critical Support")

Chris Doss lookoverhere1 at yahoo.com
Sat Dec 23 19:46:16 PST 2006

--- Yoshie Furuhashi <critical.montages at gmail.com> wrote:
> Brian says that the Cuban government massacred
> homosexuals.
> You say Putin had apartment buildings blown up,
> killing hundreds.
> Some American leftists believe in "peak oil," 911
> conspiracy theory,
> and so on and so forth.

Incidentally, here's Kirill Pankratov (currently at the eXile) on the subject of the (in my view loopy) "the FSB blew up the buildings!" conspiracy theory, in the context of discussing Satter's book:

#11 - JRL 7284 From: Kirill Pankratov <kirjana at fiam.net> Subject: Re: 7727 #11, Jeremy Putley's review of "Darkness at Dawn" by D. Satter Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003

I’d like to comment on the J. Putley’s article about Satter’s book, which is frequently mentioned in media and apparently is the latest installation in the “Russia is finished” series.

To make it perfectly clear from the beginning, I don’t agree with D. Satter and J. Putley at all. The book itself is an eclectic collection of litanies and horror stories, most of which, even if true, could happen practically in any country in the world.

The author begins his account with “Kursk” submarine disaster. For him this case somehow acquires larger-than-life proportion and symbolizes everything that is wrong with Russia. A tragedy, no doubt. It is clear that many mistakes were made and most Russians rightfully questioned the performance of Navy brass, the government and Putin himself. Yet among worldwide disasters at sea during 90’s, I doubt that “Kursk” will even make a second dozen in body count. In the last few years there were many much deadlier catastrophes, in particular with overcrowded ferries in Bangladesh, Indonesia, China, Latin America and many African countries.

And if we limit ourselves within the former USSR, by far the greatest maritime tragedy happened in 1994 when “Estonia” ferry sunk. Relative to this Baltic country’s size, that accident alone was much bigger than all man-made disasters that happened in Russia since 1990 combined. It could not even be blamed on “soviet legacy” – the ferry itself was only a few years old, German-build. This catastrophe showed abysmal failings on the part of new Estonian authorities, yet, unlike anything that happened in Russia, I hardly ever seen even a hint of a blame in the account of this affair in western media.

Incidentally, in the same few weeks as “Kursk” tragedy, more people than on “Kursk” died in the “Concord” plane crash in Paris and in the terrible fire in the Alpine tunnel in Austria. Each of these accidents revealed glaring technological and human errors. Yet I don’t remember many proclamations that this somehow signifies the complete breakdown of French or Austrian governments and societies.

That the Russian Navy commanders didn’t immediately ask NATO for help, in David Satter’s interpretation, imply only one thing – that they (typical Russians, of course) could not care less for lives of their people. Presumably if the most modern American submarine was in big trouble, say, near Russian shores, to ask Russians to get it would be the first thing on the US Navy minds? In any case, foreign help eventually took four days to arrive since the moment of being requested, so for the purpose of saving lives it was pretty much irrelevant.

And Russians also had the temerity to consider the collision with a foreign submarine as potential cause of the catastrophe. This, of course, shows their unchanged Cold War mentality and incurable hostility to all things western. Or could it be because in the last ten years there were actually two cases of collisions with US submarines in the same region of Barentz Sea where Kursk sunk (on the American side the sub “Baton Rouge” in 1992 and “Grayling” in 1993), one case as close as 10 miles from the Russian coast?

And now the main accusations by both Satter and Putley, that a series of bombings throughout Russia in September 1999, culminating in so-called “Ryazan incident”, which they unquestionably blame on heinous conspiracy by Russian authorities themselves.

These allegations are not new, and were kept afloat for a long time already, mostly by people close to Berezovsky and his money.

I know it is very hard for people like David Satter and Jeremy Putley to understand, but I actually do believe there aren’t many people in Russia willing to purposefully kill hundreds of their own citizens for some political cause. I have several arguments much in favor of the official version of events, rather than the “conspiracy theory”.

First. Did Russian authorities (however D. Satter believes them to be “evil” and “criminal”) need another pretext for military operation in Chechnya at the time of the “Ryazan incident”? Absolutely not. Chechen militants supplied plenty of reasons for decisive military response long before that. Main rationale was repeated large-scale invasions by more than a thousand of well-armed militants into Daghestan in August. But multiple armed provocations, with increasing frequency and audacity, were going for a long time before that. Thousands of people from Russian territory were kidnapped and held in inhuman conditions in Chechnya for ransom; hundreds of them were eventually murdered. The list of hostages included high-level Russian representatives who were under personal guarantees by Maskhadov (such as Vlasov and General Shpigun). In Grozny and other cities “slave markets” openly functioned where hostages could be resold many times between different gangs, and videos showing tortures and killings of hostages and prisoners of war were openly circulated.

In fact the real wonder is that why Russian authorities were so extraordinary patient, facing so much lawlessness, violence and crime emanated from Chechnya for years. Right after Khasavurt peace treaty many militants didn’t bother to conceal that their goal was far reaching – to have the whole Caucasus under their control, and move even beyond that to the north. As early as December 1996 I remember seeing on Russian TV a smirking warlord Raduyev (btw, yes, I am glad I won’t see him smirking anymore), boasting how easily he was able recently to attack and capture Russian border post in Daghestan, and he promised to do it more often and with larger forces.

The bombing itself: it is conceivable that the first, and may be the second bombing in Moscow was playing into strengthening the cause for war. It was more than enough. Any additional bombing only showed government ineffectiveness in countering terror, and at the same time greatly increasing risk of uncovering conspiracy (if there ever was one).

Second. Was FSB or other security services institutionally capable of such conspiracy? Even putting aside the “evil” and “criminal” rhetoric, I am strongly convinced the answer is negative. Such a plot required an organization with rigid discipline and coherence, devotion and conviction by absolute majority of all involved that they were doing the right and necessary thing, even in perpetrating such violent act. This was hardly the case in 1999 – after many years of underfinancing, chaotic reorganizations, losses of qualified personnel, factional and bureaucratic struggles.

Third. Did it look like “conspirators” were really trying to blow a building in Ryazan? In fact even in the Satter’s description of the event’s timeline it seems that the “perpetrators” were deliberately sloppy, almost wanted to be caught. An unfamiliar vehicle with taped over (!!!), apparently out-of-town, license plate, arrived near the house around 8 PM, when most people are back from work but not yet asleep, maximizing number of potential witnesses. Occupants of the vehicle carry some bulky items into the house and behave “nervously” and “suspiciously” (!!!) and then quickly disappear. Eventually, when alarm is raised, somebody allegedly traced a phone call to Moscow FSB headquarters (!!!), long enough to be located and the caller allegedly talked about urgent need to “split” and “scramble” (!!!). Hello? Is this a devious conspiracy? Did FSB outsource the bombing to the slower shift of the Keystone Cops, or some posse of teenage street roughs?

But this deliberate sloppiness is, in fact, consistent with the “training exercise” version of events. The Russian law enforcement organs did encourage the formation of “neighborhood watch committees” (not unlike in US after 9/11) and it was quite rational to test their effectiveness, even full cycle from detection of suspicious activity to the police response, including evacuation, disarming the “device”, and analyzing its content (this required fairly realistic timing device and may be even traces of explosives). There is no doubt that a very skilled and careful perpetrator could gradually accumulate necessary amount of explosives in hard-to-reach places in the house, so the purpose of “watch committees” was to uncover the plot in case of some carelessness and mistakes. Therefore, to give the appearance of some slack, sloppiness, was a fairly sensible tactics, although the wisdom of the whole exercise, with panic and controversy arising from it is debatable.

Finally. Had FSB any need to declare this a “training exercise”, if it wasn’t one, thus arising suspicion and controversy? No. It was much easier to show great relief that the bomb has been discovered and didn’t explode, and continue trying to find the “perpetrators” of bombing attempt.

Jeremy Putley does not even consider any interpretation alternative to the “criminal conspiracy”: “No one who reads Satter's account of the events will find it possible to believe the training exercise explanation. The only serious question is whether Putin, who was the prime minister at the time, knew of the intended explosions beforehand; there can be little doubt that Patrushev knew.”

Oh, really? And I wonder why I am not so convinced of Satter’s interpretation. Could it be because his writings are full of logical contradictions, non-sequiturs, factual untruths and bizarre leaps to conclusions?

Consider just one example, what he wrote about the Nord-Ost hostage crisis (”Death in Moscow”, National Review Online October 29, 2002), available here: http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/6521-10.cfm

First, Russians, of course, were liars, any statement or proposals coming from them during the crisis was pure demagoguery, not to be believed, since Chechen militants didn’t care at all for their own lives: “The only known Russian counterproposal came from Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), who promised that the terrorists' lives would be guaranteed if they freed their hostages. Insofar as the terrorists had already announced that their own lives did not concern them and they were as "keen on death as you are on living," Patrushev's proposal resembled a deliberate non-offer.”

Then, several paragraphs later, hostage-takers suddenly became perfectly rational potential negotiating partners, nothing suicidal, apparently only waiting politely for their concerns to be addressed: “Although the terrorists threatened to blow themselves up, they were not committed to taking their own lives. With the exception of the leader of the gang, Movsar Barayev, all of the terrorists were masked. It made no sense for them to conceal their identities if they intended to commit suicide. It is much more likely that they hoped to achieve their purposes by forcing political concessions from the Russian government.”

If Mr. Satter was a bit less obsessed with his hatred, he could at least notice complete mutual exclusivity of these two statements, separated by just a few lines. I can easily find plenty of other such contradictions and plain nonsense in D. Satter’s book and articles.

Sincerely, Kirill Pankratov, Ph.D. Acton, MA. pkirill88 at hotmail.com

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