Streetwise Professor

September 3, 2009

Land of the Silenced, Home of the Dead

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:29 pm

I haven’t written that much about the Arctic Sea fiasco, because it makes Churchill’s riddle, mystery, enigma characterization of Russia look like the understatement of the millenium.  None of it adds up, least of all the the Russian government’s announcement of the need for a time consuming, thorough search of a small, 4000 ton vessel.

All of the bizarre official statements have done little more than shred further the Russian government’s tattered credibility, and feed conspiracy theories.  One that has gained considerable attention is that the ship wasn’t carrying timber alone, but was also smuggling weapons to a Middle Eastern country.  Some versions of the story claim that the ship was really seized by Israeli commandos, and that Israeli President Peres made a surprise visit to visit Medevev in Sochi in the immediate aftermath of the incident to inform him that Israel had evidence of weapons transfers from Russia to Israel’s enemies (h/t R):

When contacted by TIME, both the Israeli Prime Minister’s office and Mossad, Israel’s secret service, declined to comment.

But in an Aug. 18 statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Peres had discussed “the sale of Russian weapons and military hardware to countries hostile to Israel” with his Russian counterpart,  Dmitri Medvedev, on that day during four hours of closed-door talks in the Russian city of  Sochi. According to the statement, Peres “stressed that Israel has concrete proof of Russian weapons being transferred to terrorist organizations by Iran and Syria, especially to Hamas and Hizballah.” A spokeswoman for the Israeli President declined to elaborate on any connection with the  Arctic Sea. In a parallel statement, the  Kremlin did not mention weapons sales, saying after the meeting that “we more clearly and precisely understand each other’s positions.”

Well, one Russian who loudly called “bullsh*t” on the official “piracy” story has received a not-so-friendly visit from “some serious guys,” who threatened him with arrest unless he fled the country:

Mikhail Voitenko said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

The editor of Sovfracht, an online maritime journal, fled on Wednesday, saying he may not be able to return as his life would be in danger.

. . . .

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The caller told Mr Voitenko that those involved in the mysterious case of the Arctic Sea were very angry with him because he had spoken publicly, and were planning on taking action against him, he said.

“As long as I am out of Russia I feel safe,” Mr Voitenko told the BBC. “At least they won’t be able to get me back to Russia and convict [me].”

Voitenko was vague about exactly who visited him: go figure!:

“Some serious guys hinted to me yesterday or the day before yesterday,” Voitenko said. “They advised me to return in three or four months.”

Asked who the people were, Voitenko said simply, “Guess.”

Asked if it was because of his role in the Arctic Sea case, Voitenko said, “Yes, it was because of the Arctic Sea.”

Hell, if he did this in the US, instead of visits from mouth breathers, he would be besieged by Hollywood lefties offering a movie deal and asking for help on the screenplay.  But he didn’t do this in the US.  He did it in Russia, and the idea of publicly challenging the government on anything deemed remotely related to national security is a serious health threat.

Voitenko should consider himself very lucky.  Many others who have gained less notoriety than he for their revelations (e.g., numerous journalists or activists reporting on Chechnya, or the military reporter  Ivan Safronov  who blew the whistle on military corruption and problems with the Bulava missile) have wound up very dead.  Indeed, Mr. Voitenko’s very notoriety is probably his saving grace.  Given the international exposure of the Arctic Sea story, and his prominent role in reporting on it from within Russia, even Putin wouldn’t be able to blow off his death.

Maybe Mr. Voitenko was right.  Maybe he was wrong.  If he was wrong, the Russian government’s handling of the matter only bolstered his credibility, and immolated its own.  And his decision to flee the country after a visit from some wiseguys only adds more fuel to the pyre.   It all suggests that Voitenko’s greatest sin was getting too close to the truth, and in Russia that is a very dangerous place to be.

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  1. Why would Russia need to send a ship around the Atlantic Ocean to deliver weapons to Iran, when it could just use the Caspian Sea? Lol.

    PS. Re-piracy, you may want to post about Georgia’s illegal detention of a Turkish ship 96km off the coast of Abkhazia, the sentencing of its captain to 24 years in prison and its taking hostage of the rest of the crew, which is an act of war against Abkhazia, Turkey and Russia.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — September 3, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  2. It’s a bizarre story in which the official Russian version doesn’t hold water. Yulia Latynina has suggested that the ship was carrying arms to Syria:

    “The Arctic Sea was carrying some sort of anti-aircraft or nuclear contraption intended for a nice, peaceful country like Syria, and they were caught with it.”

    “Nuclear contraption” ought to scare the hell out of people. You’ve got to wonder what the Mossad and CIA knows. It all points to a Pootie who is out of control and not that bright by the old Soviet standards.

    Let’s review the obvious: Russia needs high oil prices to keep the Kremlin pigs in business without problems at home, stirring the pot in the ME creates an oil risk premium, pushing Israel into action against Syrian sponsored Hamas/Hezbollah or better yet Iran is desirable for the Russians.

    The crew most likely will be made forever inaccessible and probably disappear Putin/Soviet style. Voitenko was smart in running for his life.

    Comment by penny — September 3, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  3. S/O–read more carefully. The Time piece was not written that clearly, but it seems that the ultimate destination was Hezbollah and/or Hamas. Likely paid for/arranged by Iran, but Iran would no doubt prefer that these not go through its territory. A more indirect, obscure route would be preferable.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 3, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  4. And back in the real world…

    1. To get to the Levantine coast this ship would have needed to traverse Gibraltar and elude Israel’s coastal defense. That sounds rather hard.
    2. The much more rational route would have been to use one of those big Antonov transports to fly the material direct to a Syrian military airfield through the traditional intermediate transit points.
    3. Russia couldn’t care less about what Iran prefers anyhow and I don’t see it putting its neck on the line for Iran’s benefit.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — September 4, 2009 @ 12:25 am

  5. Israeli President Peres made a __surprise__ visit to visit Medevev in Sochi
    Yeah, right. It’s a pity that Time journalists do not have access to Google. This “surprise visit” was announced in the middle of July, and most likely it was planned in the beginning of June when Lieberman visited Moscow.

    Comment by boba — September 4, 2009 @ 10:37 am

  6. It doesn’t.

    Comment by boba — September 4, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

  7. S/O–

    1. These things have a tendency to turn into a Holmes & Moriarty and the train situation. Since X would the the most obvious way to do something Mr. Y will do not-X . . . but then Ms. A will conclude that Y will do not X, so then it would be smart for Y to do X after all in order to outsmart A. But A will realize that . . . . Put differently, I don’t think you can make very robust inferences/predictions on the basis of what would be the “rational” thing to do. There is no dominant strategy or pure strategy equilibirum here–no doubt mixing is the equilibrium.
    2. To add to the potential confusion, I think you are making the implicit assumption that the Russian gov’t is behind this, or that I am assuming that the Russian gov’t is directly involved. Both assumptions are dubious. I am certainly not assuming that. I don’t know what went on, but understand that given the track record, there’s a non-trivial probability that those connected to the government could be involved in weapons smuggling, without explicit permission. Just recently there was a story about an attempt to smuggle out some MiG-31s (if memory serves) (without engines, but still). There are a lot of free-lancers in Russia, and in the weapons markets in particular. Such an operation would require more subterfuge.
    3. As I said in my post, Voitenko could be wrong, and that the whole episode gives new meaning to the riddle/mystery/enigma thing. I have no idea what went on. The main point of the post is that the government’s handling of the situation was so incredible (in multiple senses of the word) that it only added credence to these conspiracy theories.

    And things only became more convoluted today, with Voitenko’s web site containing an article asserting that he had not been asked to leave the country. But an FT reporter (Belton) spoke to Voitenko and he said the site had routinely been hacked. Moreover, the story ran under a headline saying that he had fled. This provides further credence to the view that the government, or others with a stake in the matter, are trying to silence him and sow confusion.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 4, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

  8. “2. The much more rational route would have been to use one of those big Antonov transports to fly the material direct to a Syrian military airfield through the traditional intermediate transit points.”

    AK, most of the Antonovs are booked for hauling rigs to Sakhalin or boots and bullets to Aghanistan. Hauling stuff on an Antonov isn’t a very good way to move anything covertly. Those things are just too damn big and in too high demand by NATO and the US government, among others.

    The rest of this discussion is an argument between two sets of speculation with almost no facts. The IFs proposed just don’t add up for many reasons pointed out by AK and Boba (Latynina not going anywhere while publishing the same theories in The Moscow Times, Israelis planned Peres visit months in advance like any other head of state visit, Kaliningrad surrounded on all sides by NATO member countries/listening posts, etc.)

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — September 4, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  9. Maritime reporter Mikhail Voitenko, who fled Russia after receiving threats for his suggestions about the cargo of the hijacked merchant vessel Arctic Sea, has moved to Bangkok from Istanbul.

    If you want to find the truth about Russia, if you want to penetrate the reality of Russia’s KGB regime, then you should not seek the truth among the paid minions and military hangers-on of the Soviet past. The truth, in our time, is more likely to come from people who have no ties to Russian military intelligence, no professorships, no large book deals, and no part in Moscow’s ongoing disinformation campaign. On the American side, the situation is no different. The deepest truths do not appear in the major media, at the offices of the CIA or NSA, or within Congress, or the State Department.

    The fictionalization of minor events, and the building of myths from these and other building blocks, has become a way of life with us. Self deception is our preference. What we know about Russia is its role as the motherland of modern terrorism. What we know about Russia is that its economy is dominated by the minions of the KGB and other Soviet structures. What we know about Russia — and should never forget — is that America has been targeted for destruction by Russian strategists. This is not speculation, but fact. It has been testified to by defectors like Sergei Tretyakov, dissidents like Marina and Victor Kalashnikov, and by the Russian General Staff which confesses its hostility to the United States by war preparations that cannot otherwise be explained.

    To drive home the point, I would like to conclude with recent comments from a disillusioned Russian democracy activist, who described to a friend the political situation in Russia (in the following terms): “Putin and the opposition are part of the same team. To be exact, they are two teams, but they are sharing power. The borders between the first and second are very fuzzy.”

    Comment by Роберт Меркулов — September 5, 2009 @ 5:36 am

  10. So, umm, lemmee see if I understand SUBLIME DURAK:

    (1) Russians never do irrational things.

    (2) Therefore, if an irrational thing is alleged to have been done by Russians, it must be false.

    So that guy who took off his shoe at the UN wasn’t Russian?

    And all those people who voted for the KGB to rule Russia AGAIN after they destroyed the country weren’t Russians?

    And the folks who blew up apartment buildings in Moscow to blame it on the Chechens as an excuse for invasion——gq—

    weren’t Russian?

    And the fact that Russians don’t rank in the top 130 nations of the world for adult lifespan is only an accidental result of totally rational policies?

    Uh, OK. And when Russia collapses AGAIN for the FOURTH time in a century, that will be the final proof of how invariably rational Russia is.

    What a freak.

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 5, 2009 @ 10:03 am

  11. Like the Russian government needed to risk manufacturing an excuse for the second Chechen war of the last decade.

    Does the Polish fellow recently interviewed in RIA Novosti carry on in the same degree when characterizing a given ethnic group?

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 6, 2009 @ 12:43 am

  12. […] Hijacking of the Arctic Sea Murkier and murkier…. Land of the Silenced, Home of the Dead […]

    Pingback by Hijacking of the Arctic Sea - PPRuNe Forums — September 6, 2009 @ 3:30 am

  13. SUBLIME LIAR owes the readers of this blog an apology for his rancid lies:

    The ship was loaded with dangerous weapons bound for Iran.

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 6, 2009 @ 6:42 am

  14. What we know about Russia is its role as the motherland of modern terrorism.

    Well said, Роберт Меркулов.

    Look no farther than the terrorist rogue states that Russia has alliances and arms deals with: Syria, Iran, Venezuela, etc; the murderous freaks like Kadyrov that it keeps in place; add the murder of journalists in its own and neighboring borders. Russia has been using its judicial system as a punative weapon against its citizens. State terrorism has been employed against human rights defenders there, they’ve been threatened and beaten.

    The polonium incident in London with suspicious FSB fingerprints all over it as per Scotland Yard was a wake up call to anyone naive enough to think that today’s Russia doesn’t deal in terrorism on both a small and large scale.

    Putin’s Russia is a morally deformed place and so are his defenders.

    Comment by penny — September 6, 2009 @ 8:48 am

  15. Mmmm hmmmm . . . no apology from SUBLIME DURAK for his lies, I see. Can’t say I’m surprised.

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 8, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

  16. Erm,

    1. The article contains no proof there were arms.

    2. Even if there were, that would not mean I lied because lying implies intentional deception, which is quite impossible in my case since I was not present on that ship and as such have nothing more than logic to guide me in this case. (Which is more than one can say for some others).

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — September 9, 2009 @ 2:22 am

  17. Shameful and cowardly. A man who cannot admit when he is wrong is no man at all, but a mere neo-Soviet insect.

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 9, 2009 @ 5:24 am

  18. Almost as shameful and cowardly as hiding a professional black PR troll site behind a supposed run of the mill right wing activist from New York. Touche! Nothing so neo-Soviet as pronouncing who is the “hero journalist” of this week. Snore…

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — September 12, 2009 @ 12:10 am

  19. As if any more proof were needed of SUBLIME DURAK’s outrageous lies:,2933,549528,00.html

    I demand an apology and retraction. This freak’s lies are outrageous even by neo-Soviet standards. That he pretends to be some sort of “scholar” revealing the truth only makes it that much more outrageous.

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 12, 2009 @ 10:40 am

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