MOSCOW, November 21 (RIA Novosti) Mass famine of 1932-1933: Russia ignores tragic anniversary/ Parliament speaker's statement could harm United Russia's rating/ Russian Defense Ministry prefers to upgrade old equipment/ Strike threatens Ford's plans to expand production in Russia/ Xenophobia in Russia finds a home in high places - human rights activists
Mass famine of 1932-1933: Russia ignores tragic anniversary
On Saturday, November 24, all Ukraine will observe the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian famine or Holodomor of 1932-33. The scale of mourning was made public both to Ukrainians and the world.
Nothing, however, is known about the famine, which also affected Russia, and how the date will be marked in Russia. There is no information available about any official events on either the Internet or from news agencies.
This oversight in the official response to the tragic date in Russia and Ukraine is unlikely to be due to the difference in the number of victims: between 3.5-4 million Ukrainians perished in the famine, while Russia lost hundreds of thousands.
Kiev believes that the extent of the losses from the famine surpasses even World War II.
But even if the number of Russian victims does not run into the millions this does not mean that Russia is incapable of honoring the memory of those hundreds of thousands on a nationwide scale.
The overwhelming fact is that Moscow is anxious to divorce itself from the 1932-33 tragedy for political reasons.
The Russian authorities fear losing the information war against Ukraine, which is demanding that other countries recognize the Holodomor as genocide of Ukrainians.
Although the regime guilty of the crime no longer exists, Moscow is concerned that if there was an admission it would have to bear the moral and maybe material responsibility for the millions of deaths 75 years ago.
Moscow is making every effort to block Kiev's plans to turn the Holodomor into an international issue like the Jewish Holocaust of World War II.
The authorities are also trying to wipe out all memory of the event that is now extremely unsafe politically.
There are, however, no documents testifying that the famine was deliberately engineered for ethnic reasons.
Moscow had to repay German industrial loans, and was forced to clear out barns in grain-producing areas.
At the same time, the geographical range of the famine shows that it hit mostly the Soviet Union's outlying ethnic regions. Aside from Ukraine the famine raged in the Kuban, Stavropol, Don, and the lower and middle Volga areas, which were part of the Russian Federation.
A year earlier, in Kazakhstan, which was also part of the Russian Federation at that time, one in three Kazakhs died from starvation.
In the Volga area the worst hit was the German autonomy, which was wiped out in 1941.
Parliament speaker's statement could harm United Russia's rating
The proposal by State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov to cancel pensions of Russians residing abroad, in particular in CIS countries, has upset residents of Abkhazia, Transdnestr and South Ossetia, who have received Russian citizenship.
"I understand that his proposal only concerns Russian citizens living in Western Europe, who do not need their Russian monthly benefits, and should not affect residents of Abkhazia," suggested Sergei Shamba, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed republic. He sees Gryzlov's statement as a pre-election gimmick.
Gryzlov must have meant countries outside the CIS, otherwise it would have been a violation of the bilateral agreement signed after the 2006 referendum when Transdnestr residents supported accession to Russia, echoed Svetlana Antonova, head of the information support department at the Transdnestrian Foreign Ministry. The agreement included joining in Russia's social projects, she added.
For a long time, Russian senior citizens were only able to survive because of Russian pensions, said Konstantin Kochiev, an advisor to the president of South Ossetia.
"There is a problem with paying retirement benefits to Russian citizens who have never lived in the Soviet Union, but there are very few of these. Gryzlov's proposal could limit the rights of a far greater number of people," said Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of Russia's CIS Institute.
Russian citizens residing abroad will be voting in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) has established polling stations even in self-proclaimed republics. CEC member Vasily Volkov said Abkhazia has 12,000 potential voters and South Ossetia, 50,000, or 80% of the republic's population. Another 300,000 or more Russian voters live in Transdnestr, which brings the overall number of people eligible to vote in all self-proclaimed republics up to 0.5% of the total number of voters announced by the CEC.
All of the republics except Abkhazia are likely to show strong voter turnout, according to political analyst Adjar Kurtov. However, Gryzlov's statement could affect the pro-Kremlin United Russia party's ratings in those republics, which for the most part prefer to support nationalist-patriotic parties in any case.
Russian Defense Ministry prefers to upgrade old equipment
On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin demanded that the national armed forces continue to be rearmed. However, experts said the defense industry was still unable to utilize the huge federal allocations properly.
This October, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, a likely candidate to succeed President Putin, said arms-procurement funding would go up by 20% next year. The entire defense order would probably increase from 302.7 billion rubles ($12.39 billion) this year to 350-365 billion rubles ($14.33-$14.94 billion) in 2008.
Dmitry Vasilyev, an expert with the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said the state defense order exceeded nationwide inflation, adding that the defense industry could not cope with such huge allocations.
This October, President Putin said the prototype project 935 strategic missile submarine Yury Dolgoruky would be commissioned and the keel of the fourth submarine in the series laid in 2008.
However, a source in the defense industry said the Yury Dolgoruky would only be launched next spring and commissioned in 2009-2010. The Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program has been delayed due to several unsuccessful tests.
The latest Bulava launch was a fiasco, experts told the paper off the record.
Vasilyev said Russian aircraft plants could export dozens of combat planes, but that the Defense Ministry still preferred to upgrade older models.
Although the Russian Air Force planned to buy six and 10 Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback tactical bombers in 2007 and 2008, respectively, the Chkalov Aircraft Production Association in Novosibirsk, Western Siberia, turned out just one Su-34 combat plane this year and will manufacture another two or three aircraft in 2008.
Colonel General Vladislav Polonsky, chief of the Defense Ministry's Main Tank-Automotive Directorate, recently said two, rather than one, tank battalions with 62 T-90A main battle tanks would be purchased starting in 2008.
But a manager of a tank component plant said on condition of anonymity that he doubted whether the order would be fulfilled because the military was continuing to upgrade old tanks.
Strike threatens Ford's plans to expand production in Russia
On November 20, workers at the Ford plant in Vsevolozhsk began an indefinite strike action, demanding a 30% pay rise. The current situation puts in doubt the auto concern's plans to expand production and launch its second model in Russia.
The official site of the plant's trade union contains phone numbers of the reception room and heads of most departments and shops, including their mobile phone numbers. The activists are calling on the workers to disrupt work at the plant; the phone line is constantly busy as they are sending faxes in support of the protest. Their appeal reads, in part, that the mid-February strike was a success due to such attacks, which forced the employer to seek a compromise with the strikers.
The plant's managers say they will not start negotiations during the strike. Each day of idle time means that the company is deprived of the production of another 300 cars. According to industry experts, a long stoppage will undermine Ford's status on the market.
"The Ford concern's losses will largely depend on how fast it redirects cars to the Russian regions which need them most and also increases the share of imported Ford Focus cars on the Russian market," said Natalia Sorokina, an analyst with the TsentrInvest Group.
Experts are unanimous that Ford's stubbornness with regard to the strikers may lead to financial losses. "The demand for Ford Focus cars is still very high. The producer could not meet it with cars produced in Vsevolozhsk alone. Now the share of imported Ford Focus cars will increase," said Ivan Bonchev, an automotive consultant with Ernst&Young.
At the same time, experts say that the Russian Ford plant is now operating at a loss. It does not receive the massive profits the workers claim it does. "To make a profit, a plant must produce more cars; 100,000-200,000 cars are not enough. The plant's task is not to earn money by producing cars but to secure a niche for Ford cars in the Russian market and, later, earn revenues for the company through providing services and additional equipment," the expert said.
Xenophobia in Russia finds a home in high places - human rights activists
Xenophobia has moved from "among the masses" to higher offices and is now entrenching itself there undercover of patriotic slogans.
This is the conclusion formed by independent human rights activists monitoring nationalistic trends in the country.
"The ideas of grass root ethnic nationalism are de-marginalizing and heading towards the mainstream of public consciousness," said Galina Zvereva, an analyst with the Sova Center for Information and Analysis.
"Xenophobic rhetoric is heard at all levels and is used practically by all parties and every bureaucrat," said Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy director of the center.
She said that over the past year this trend has found expression in an anti-Georgian and anti-Estonian campaigns, conducted if not on instructions from above, then at least with the tacit approval of the authorities.
"High-placed political activists and bureaucrats are increasingly using ethnic and even racist language," said Alexander Verkhovsky, the center's director. He thinks the ideological contest between two brands of patriotism - great-power patriotism and an ethno-nationalistic one - is being won by the second at the present stage of Russia's development.
"It is becoming an increasingly popular idea to establish an ethnic national state in place of the collapsed empire - of the kind that was accepted in Europe at the end of the 19th century and in the interval between the two world wars," Verkhovsky said.
Human rights defenders said that the nationalists, taking advantage of the election situation, would try to get out of their underground hiding places and virtual spaces to emerge in legal territory.
According to Kozhevnikova, there have been serious "mutations" among the skinheads in the last two or three years. While earlier that was a subculture of non-committed young people, the phenomenon is now metastasizing into a radical political movement.
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