Yakunin Rails Against Russian Protestors: “No Connection with Democracy”

From a 28 December article by Alexander Golts in the Moscow Times:

Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin sent a strong message of support last week to Russia’s leaders through the company’s newspaper Gudok: “On behalf of the entire management of Russian Railways, we support the course of democratic development in Russia, and we consider it impossible not to respond to the unprecedentedly shameless campaign to discredit the Russian state. … The filth that has been poured on the state and its leaders [from various opposition groups] has no connection with democracy. Moreover, it is a direct threat to the sovereignty of our country.”

Yakunin’s hard-line stance is not a surprise: back in March he presented a “Dialogue of Civilizations International Prize” to Nursultan Nazarbayev, just prior to elections in Kazakhstan; there is no indication that Nazarbayev’s recent bloody crackdown against strikers in Zhanaozen has led to any sort of re-think.

Yakunin runs the St Andrew the First-Called Foundation, which recently brought the Virgin Mary’s belt from Mount Athos to Russia for a special tour; the Foundation also organises the “World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilisation”, which holds international-level conferences in Rhodes and other locations. Among those involved with the Forum is former Chancellor of Austria Alfred Gusenbauer, who represents another link to Nazarbayev, as well as various dignitaries and academics. The Forum also has links with the US Christian Right – one of the “co-chairmen” is a businessman named Nicholas Papanicolaou, who is involved with the Oak Initiative alongside neo-Pentecostal evangelist Rick Joyner and Gen. “Jerry” Boykin. At the most recent Rhodes event, Yakunin’s wife co-moderated a session on “Maintaining Family Values in the 21st Century” with Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families.

Yakunin regards himself as a social commentator, and the Forum has published some of his speeches and articles; in his opening speech at the most recent Rhodes conference, he noted “incompatibility between the neo-liberal interpretation of the system of human rights and the system of human values”, and that “the universal urge to have the ‘freedom’ to say ‘anything and in any form’ has a temporary character and is beginning to fade away”. The WPF website also carries a more recent article, in which he discusses “Dialogue of Civilizations in the Times of Global Transformations”. Here, he shows a bit more sympathy for Russian discontent:

As I view it, lying at the basis of the events taking place in Russia – events of which we are both witnesses and participants – there is a maturing feeling of all-embracing injustice. This injustice or unfairness concerns the life we are leading; this injustice pertains to the arbitrariness of official functionaries; this also holds true of the unfairness concerning the blatant disregard on the part of the oligarchic elite of business circles for their country and their people; and, of course, this concerns the impermissible property inequality that we are witnessing.

However:

…having come face-to-face with a systemic crisis in the USA itself, a crisis that has swerved out of control of the financial system, the Americans, especially on the threshold of elections and with the unemployment rate hopping above 8%, must, by hook or by crook, shift the point of tensions to another place. The ways and means of attaining these goals are only too well known – a triumphant but not very blood-spilling war, destabilization and conflicts further away from the borders of the USA and Europe, shaping and molding the scarecrow of a threat (read: enemy) for general public consumption (such scarecrow candidates, as is known, are always close at hand).

Whether accidentally or not, but the crisis of the world social system is accompanied by a cold-blooded destruction of ancient centers and monuments of Ecumene – the cradles of the whole earthly civilization, and this includes the museums in Iraq and Libya, manuscripts in Egypt and architectural monuments of Carthage in Tunisia, to say nothing already of the destruction of the Orthodox Holy places in Serbia and Pristina.

It’s difficult to reconcile this lofty criticism with Yakunin’s role in the political realities of modern Russia, as described in Golts’ Moscow Times article:

During Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s annual call-in television show two weeks ago, employees of Uralvagonzavod, a factory in Nizhny Tagil that manufactures train cars, called in and offered to help break up the Moscow demonstrations, if necessary… Valery Yakushev, a Uralvagonzavod factory worker and State Duma deputy for United Russia, showered Putin with support during the call-in show.

…This is no surprise considering that the bright prospects for Uralvagonzavod recounted by factory worker Yakushev are a direct result of state subsidies — 2 billion rubles ($64.2 million) last year and 64 billion rubles ($2.1 billion) that Putin has personally promised for this year.

…One other interesting tidbit from the whole Uralvagonzavod affair: The factory’s chairman of the board is Yevgeny Shkolov, who, according to news reports, worked in the 1980s alongside Putin at the KGB station in Dresden. What’s more, Russian Railways head Yakunin, whose subordinates so strongly express their support for Putin and who loves to buy up tens of thousands of train cars from Uralvagonzavod, also worked for the KGB. Yakunin, together with Putin, was also one of the founders of the Ozero dacha community in the Leningrad region in the 1990s.

And by a strange coincidence, most members of Ozero, who showed little business talent in the 1990s, suddenly became some of the country’s most successful millionaires and billionaires at the same time that Putin rose to power. Meanwhile, Uralvagonzavod reached record levels of production when Putin’s friend and colleague, Yakunin, took over Russian Railways and started ordering train cars as if they were hot piroshki.

Meanwhile, the St Andrew Foundation is currently leading protests against the recent arrest in Greece of Archimandrite Ephraim, abbot of the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos (and home of the Virgin Mary’s belt).

UPDATE: Meanwhile, a minion working for President Medvedev gave his own opinion of the protestors in December. According to The Week:

RUSSIA’S unfolding political crisis has descended into farce after President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to take to Twitter to accuse opposition activists of being “stupid sheep getting fucked in the mouth”.

…Nobody believes the president is responsible, but it is a blow to his image as a tech-savvy leader. The Kremlin blamed an unidentified official and said: “The guilty will be punished.”

I suspect that a story doing the rounds (e.g. Private Eye 1305 p. 12) that Vladimir Putin had refered to protestors as “sodomized sheep” during a TV phone-in is a garbled version of this story, conflated with an incident in which Putin mocked protestors’ white ribbons as being “condoms”.

*Spelling variation (cough): “Putin had refered to protestors as sodomised sheep”.

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