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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Draft Dodging, Khodorkovsky and Pensioners

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In response to "Minimum Wage Hike," a news brief on Dec. 20.

You reported that Russia, flush with oil revenue windfalls and massive hard currency reserves, has decided to raise the minimum wage starting in the new year to a whopping 5 rubles or 15 cents per hour. The Kremlin claims this is a living wage but wisely doesn't define what sort of life a person earning 40 rubles, or $1.50, per day, would have.

By spring 2006 the Kremlin promises that the minimum wage will rise to 7 rubles per hour, up a further 40 percent. Of course, between now and then Russia will have been experiencing double-digit inflation for almost two years. Nonetheless, I'm sure those making minimum wage in Russia are dancing in the streets.

The Kremlin is engaging in nothing more than cheap publicity stunts designed to further line their own pockets and to dupe guileless Westerners.

Lois Jane Murphy
Almaty, Kazakhstan

In response to "Drafting Students Means Trouble," a column by Pavel Felgenhauer on Jan. 11.

Pavel Felgenhauer's column this week is a good reform journalism piece as far as it goes, dealing with allegations of "draft dodging bribery" in the Russian military. Clearly, President Vladimir Putin and the State Duma should crack down on this issue. However, it would be a more complete picture if Felgenhauer also recognized that Russia, like the United States and the rest of the world, is caught up in a long-term war against terrorism.

It does take more and better educated manpower to "man" a modern military, as Felgenhauer admits. The Russian military draft without deferrals should not be a 100-percent call-up of all young men. Perhaps use of a draft lottery, as in the United States toward the end of the Vietnam War, could, if properly managed, help end draft payoffs and corruption.

If money can be found in what I hope is still an emerging free market economy with a growing tax base, paying enlistment and reenlistment bonuses to and for those whose aptitude test scores prove they can do the sorely needed technical work in the military would be a good idea, too, along with "civilianizing" key technocratic jobs in the military under competitive salary contracts or long-term career Russian government civil service hires.

George L. Singleton
Hoover, Alabama

In response to "Putin Should Pay One More Visit to Kiev," column by Lucian Kim on Jan. 11.

Lucian Kim's snide commentary against Russian President Vladimir Putin conveniently overlooks several key factors.

Kim links the present Ukrainian predicament to the movements in Poland and Czechoslovakia 15 years ago. This is particularly unwarranted, as Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel were political outsiders, who led popular revolts against tyrannical regimes.

Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yushchenko is very much a political insider with a circumspect past and present. As prime minister, Yushchenko willingly approved the sale of key economic assets to foreign interests at bargain basement prices. During this period, unemployment and unpaid wages were noticeable as oligarchs like Yushchenko ally Yulia Tymoshenko amassed even greater wealth under dubious circumstances. Yushchenko's continued close relationship with Tymoshenko is proof that he hasn't separated himself from a corrupt past.

Kim's highly idealistic portrayal of the people's will prevailing ignores the over 40 percent who voted against Yushchenko in the last two recent attempts to elect a Ukrainian president.

You can be sure that Walesa and Havel didn't have over 40 percent of their respective electorates opposing them.

Contrary to Kim's spin, Putin has proven to be a far more progressive figure than Yushchenko. The democratically elected Russian president has significantly scaled down the role the oligarchs play in government. Imagine the outcry if Putin was frequently seen with a wealthy oligarch like Tymoshenko at his side.

Michael Averko
New York

In response to "Putin Misses Diaspora Opportunities," a comment by Alexei Bayer on Jan. 12.

While in general I agree that the Russian government might greatly benefit from setting relaxed business rules and regulations for businesses run by Russian repats, I want to point out that the general mood of the Russian diaspora in different parts of the world is somewhat different from that of the young Israelis that Bayer spoke with.

In fact, I suspect Bayer tried to generalize too much about the Russian-speaking population abroad.

Among my many Russian-speaking friends, I have met only a few who feel dismayed and upset over the recent policies of Russian government.

The storm of vehemently anti-Russian and sometimes openly biased, even Russophobic, Western propaganda causes many of my friends to become strongly patriotic and skeptical of information from English-language sources.

There is still great enthusiasm regarding business possibilities in Russia among many Russians living abroad.

Janetta Bogatchenko

In response to "Khodorkovsky, the Dubious Martyr," a comment by Eric Kraus on Jan. 14.

Bravo to Eric Kraus. Unlike the mass of Russophobic experts whose reaction to almost any event in Russia is a knee-jerk hysterical prediction of the imminent intensification of dictatorship, Kraus has precisely identified the actual sources of the conflict.

A much more realistic and complex moral picture emerges. The overwhelming majority of Russia experts constantly strive to foment simplistic moral indignation; they find moral complexity is quite unpalatable.

Since criminal empires like Khodorkovsky's are artfully constructed by very well paid lawyers, it can prove nearly impossible for justice to be done even in courts of law for serious real crimes like contract killings and massive profiteering on the needless sell-off of strategic national assets to rapacious foreign interests.

Finally, Western governments are not above using tax policy selectively to punish the most dangerous criminals: Al Capone and other gangsters of the "Roaring Twenties" could only be jailed on tax charges.

Thomas Fennell

It is difficult not to feel sympathy for a man facing the destruction of his life's work as a crude neo-Soviet regime consolidates power. Encouraging investment by hapless foreigners in the always-doomed Russian economy.

Yet Eric Kraus' comment can be seen as neither a plea for leniency nor an acknowledgement of past errors. Kraus prefers to devote his crucial economic analysis to explaining why holding Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail without bail on trumped-up, selective charges isn't really as bad as it seems.

Even sympathy for Kraus' plight is no excuse to allow him to engage in increasing hysterical and blatant shilling for the Kremlin. When Kraus writes,"the Duma is not for rent," he forgets to say it's because Vladimir Putin owns it and he does not share.

Let's not be disingenuous, Eric: The game is nearly over. You didn't tell us about "Russian political realities" when you were telling us what a great deal Russia was, but we know now.

Alexis Doubleday
Springwater, Ohio

In response to "Benefit Protests Bring Concessions," an article by Oksana Yablokova on Jan. 17.

The Putin model of the one-party state wants the elderly to think clearly about their economic entitlement. The regime wants to assume that the thoughtful among the protesters are not saying, "Bring back the Soviet pension system!" but rather, "Please reconsider the methodology of the new one," a plea with which it is hard not to sympathize.

How does the state balance sympathy and the demands of expediency? Throwing a month's worth of free bus rides back to the gray mobs seems to be the initial tactic in some areas. But what next?

The images we are seeing now of elderly Russians blocking highways represent more than the obvious: They are, indeed, an understandable and commendable cry for local justice. But they are also more than that. The movement is only beginning. It is certainly growing, and there are different directions it may go from here. These scenes, in the end, may be variously instructive for various different futures, perhaps ultimately delivering a critical and clear message, both for local consumption and for export.

M. I. Titov