Max Freidzon

I stumbled across Max Freidzon and his lawsuit in the Southern District of New York several months ago while researching Putin’s St Petersburg days.

So I was confused when Stanislav Belkovsky tweeted a link to a Svaboda interview with Freidzon yesterday.

“Businessman Maxim Freidzon talks about corruption schemes involving Putin and the union of KGB and thugs.”

Firstly, by Belkovsky calling Freidzon “Maxim” (he is named as “Max” in the court documents).  And secondly, by the timing, as Freidzon had filed the suit in July of 2014.  However, it turned out that Freidzon’s suit has recently been denied due to questions about jurisdiction.

To be honest, there was not a lot in the interview that was new for me.  Most of the information Freidzon revealed is online for anybody to find.  But that fact does not make it irrelevant.

To briefly summarize the lawsuit, Max Freidzon is accusing his former associates of stealing his shares in a company called Sovex, and then selling them on to Lukoil without his consent.  He also accuses Lukoil of not practicing due diligence when making the purchase.

Many people jumped on the portion of the interview where Freidzon accused Putin and Gazprom chief Alexei Miller of taking bribes.

Again, this is not really a revelation for people who have closely followed Putin’s years as Petersburg Mayor Sobchak’s deputy.

What was possibly more striking was the fact that both Putin’s Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, and the President’s Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov came out with statements denying accusations of corruption.

As Alexei Navalny pointed out:

By this morning, the interview had been taken down by Svaboda and is no longer available to read online.  However, an English language summary of the lawsuit is still available online*.

It is possible that Svaboda decided to practice self-censorship due to a threatened lawsuit.  Or it is possible that Freidzon was threatened after releasing the interview, and asked Svaboda to take it down.

Whatever the case, the information is now there for people to read and talk about.  And the protests from the Kremlin only make it that more interesting.

*For a background on Freidzon and his lawsuit in English:


Was Putin Born In Georgia?

Because so much is unknown about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his past (or his present for that matter), any rumor will be picked up and spread. One that makes an appearance every so often is the story that Vladimir Putin was born to a woman named Vera in a Georgian village.  A longer version of the story recently showed up in a German publication.

I cannot remember where I first read the Vera Putina story.  I won’t say I wasn’t skeptical.  But I do think any theory at this point has validity due to the mysterious way that Russia is governed.

The Kremlin is clearly lying about some of the more pertinent aspects of Putin’s background.  That is their prerogative.  Vladimir Putin was a product that needed to be sold to the Russian people in 1999.  One way that this was done was through a book that was co-authored by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s current press secretary, Natalia Timakova, and published after Putin became president of Russia.  The book, entitled “In the First Person” [I’ve linked to an excerpt here], is a series of interviews where Putin recalls his past.

The story people seem to find particularly compelling these days is the rat in the stairwell story.

In a book of interviews published when he first became Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin told a story of his early scares: a rat he had cornered had nowhere to go and jumped out at him. Having pushed himself into a corner, Mr Putin is now playing out his childhood nightmare.

Whether or not the narrative is true, it has recently been used by several different authors as a way to persuade people that Putin will lash out in response to any pressure placed on him.

Because a cornered prey is unpredictable. A memorable passage from Mr. Putin’s 2000 quasi autobiography, “First Person,” tells you everything you need to know. Growing up in a dilapidated Leningrad apartment building, Mr. Putin used to chase rats with sticks. “Once I spotted a huge rat and pursued it down the hall until I drove it into a corner,” he recounted. “It had nowhere to run. Suddenly it lashed around and threw itself at me. I was surprised and frightened. Now the rat was chasing me.”

Back in Georgia, the authors of the recent article write:

That Putin is capable of lying to the public has been widely apparent at least since the annexation of Crimea. But does the Russian president also use the political tool of deception when it comes to his own mother? Or is this old woman, who still lives in Georgia today, merely spreading a conspiracy theory?


The body language of the boy in the photo above on the right indicates that he is unfamiliar with the woman he is sitting with.  If the age is correct, this would be about the time he would have been sent to his ‘new parents’.

Several people have died, supposedly to suppress this story.  This makes it at least appear that there is something to hide.  But what?

One thing that has struck me about the Georgia story are the many parallels to Stalin:

  • The adopted family (Stalin was widely rumoured to be illegitimate);
  • the birth in Georgia (the village of Metekhi is only 18km from Stalin’s birthplace of Gori, and is in the same region);
  • even the detail of a handicap that makes it difficult to use one arm (Stalin was allegedly injured when his father beat him, while Putin cannot splay one hand for unknown reasons).

None of this is proof of anything, of course, but in such an opaque system any theory bears an in-depth examination.

Sergei Shoigu

Kremlinology is back in vogue and I have noticed recently that people have become quite interested in Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu.

One thing that has struck me is that nobody has noted that Shoigu is nomenklatura.  In a system where these connections matter, I find this surprising.

For the record, Sergei Shoigu’s parents were both Communist Party officials in the Republic of Tuva.  His father, Kuzhuget, held the position of Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Tuva ASSR, and allegedly a close friend of Boris Yeltsin.  His mother, Alexandra, held the position of deputy of the Regional Council of the Tuva People’s Deputies for many years.

In addition, Shoigu’s sister, Larisa, is a Duma Deputy.

The position of Defence Minister is merely an administrative position in Russia.  This is not to deny the importance of the post, particularly in time of war, but to clarify what is happening.  I very much doubt that Shoigu is the person drawing up plans or even ordering troop movement.

This is not to say his position is a sinecure one.  Shoigu is clearly trusted and his loyalty has never been called into question as far as I am aware.  There have also been rumors that he has managed to maintain some control of his former deputies at the Emergency Services Ministry.  Something that seems likely given the fact that he held that post since its creation in 1991. Shoigu held the same position, though it went through several name changes before landing on its current one in 1994.

However, none of these things make him a contender for President of Russia.  And in the end, as Stanislav Belkovsky pointed out, Shoigu is not Russian.  And this is the main argument against Shoigu.


After Secretary of State John Kerry’s seemingly less than successful trip to Sochi last week for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, a follow-up meeting in Moscow with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland was scheduled this week.

However, no progress was reportedly made during Nuland’s visit to Moscow.

The US appears to be looking for other ways to engage Russia as discussions also took place in Moscow this week over the crisis in Syria as well:

“The United States looks forward to working with Russia and the international community in the coming months on achieving a genuine, sustainable political transition as necessary to address the crisis and help defeat ‎the extremist threat.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin tried to spin the visit this way:

Voice of America asked:

For many observers, the increased activity of the United States in dealing with Moscow was unexpected. What is the purpose behind the intensification of contacts?

Stanislav Belkovsky noted that the recent flurry of contact between the two parties “means that the West has actually surrendered to recent statements made by the Russian president” about his readiness of use nuclear weapons.

“All of these negotiations are a clear consequence of the activation of this policy.”

“Vladimir Putin has managed to ensure that the Russian Federation is now considered to be a backwater [Belkovsky uses the phrase «медвежьим углом мира»], and is talking to her accordingly.”

“Whether or not this is a success for Russia is the main question.  Because actually if you smell bad, it is better to move away from you, than to have some kind of meaningful discussion with you.”

However, this situation will not last long, says Belkovsky.

“Russia’s financial and technological dependence on the Western world is very high… However, the West has decided to say to the Russian leadership: guys, do whatever you want, but when you finally return, then you will be crawling on your knees.”

Russia’s Rule of Law

Alfred Kokh asked today when the debate on Kheda Goilabieva had devolved into one about age difference from a discussion on polygamy.

To recap:

A 57-year-old police chief in Chechnya wanted a second wife, and chose a 17-year-old school girl, Kheda Goilabieva.  Threatening her family if they did not hand her over.  A social media campaign was begun to stop the marriage.

Unfortunately, the campaign was unsuccessful:

And now:

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov came out on his Instagram feed with a statement yesterday defending the decision, and making the issue the one about age that Kokh complained about, “people of all ages have been conquered by love”.

Back on Kokh’s Facebook post, Konstantin Sonin replied to Kokh’s question that it is “difficult for liberals to seriously condemn polygamy.   If all the parties agree, then why must anybody else (society, state) get involved in this?  But that fact that the girl might be forced to marry (a 17-year-old person, according to Russian law, is not able to independently make such a decision) — this is a problem.”

Sonin then pointed out that according to the law, you can marry at 18, but that before 18, you would be marrying “under duress”.

To me this discussion is not about polygamy, or about an age gap, or even about Chechnya’s so-called “special traditions”.  This is about an authority figure abusing his power.  And it is a symptom of not just what is wrong in with Kadyrov’s rule of Chechnya.  It is also a symptom of what is wrong with the system of rule in the name of Putin.  There is no rule of law in Russia today.  Everything is permissible if you have money or power.  This is the lesson of Kheda Goilabieva.

A Day of Grief

Russia is celebrating rather than grieving the lives lost in World War II, and this is a mistake, Mitya Turov writes.

Our country lost more people during the Second World War than all the other members combined.  Or more than England in all their wars in their history.  How can we be proud of this?  Today, on 9 May, should we not sprinkle ashes on our head, cry and hug the few surviving veterans who are still living?

Instead, I see happy people, festooned with St George ribbons.  People who find it difficult to set a date for the start of the war.  People this ribbon has been imposed upon.  The ribbon, which over the past two years has become a symbol of war.  They are provocateurs, dispersing rallies, they are the authors of the war with its closest neighbors, they are pseudo-patriot officials, delivering aggression and threatening the world with nuclear war.

He continues on:

I am ashamed because of this striped ribbon, I am ashamed because of this celebration — not because this day is not important, but because it is too important to be waving flags, and hanging ribbons on the mirror in the car.

I wish that my country would not sabre rattle like a manic, narcissistic psychopath, and humbly put flowers on the graves of the fallen.  And I hope that this will happen eventually.

Turov ends his post comparing how Great Britain commemorates their war dead with a moment of silence, then writes:

In the poem, “In Flanders Fields” which served as the inspiration of the tradition of red poppies in the beginning of the 20s of the last century, there is a paragraph:

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

For me May 9 is not a day of victory.  For me it is a day of memory.

Eternal memory to the victims.

Eternal grief.