It has been fifteen years since the August Coup attempt, almost fifteen years since the end of the Soviet Union, but most of recent Russian history is a story dealing with decline, discomfiture and disintegration. Things have not been good in Russia for some time now.
Evidence about the sorry state of affairs--not to even mention the pilfering of the economic resources of the country, the flight of Russian money abroad to safe havens, the destruction of some of the country's cultural treasures in the name of making a quick ruble, the increasingly authoritarian nature of domestic politics and the emergence of organized crime families that put the mafia to shame--can clearly be seen in the health crisis that has engulfed the CIS. Just look at some of these headlines.
- Life Ebbs away from Russian Villages by Damian Grammaticas, BBC correspondent in 2004, "There are growing fears that Russia is facing a population crisis that could see the country lose up to 50 million people in the next 50 years." See also in this regard, Russian Men Become Extinct--This is no joke--"There can be some regions in Russia where there will be no men at all."
- Statistics on Russian male life expectancy (now at about 59-60 years) show Russia as ranking 85th in the world in 2005, below Guatemala and North Korea and just above Guyana and Bolivia. For reference sake, Germany is 14th and United States in 20th. Moreover there has been a precipitous decline in life expectancy over the last fifteen years. Russians have terrible health problems, largely because of alcohol consumption and cigarette use.
- More Abortions Than Births in Russia
- Look at the hundreds of websites (None listed here.) with ads for Russian women wanting to get married to anyone outside of Russia so that they can leave the country.
Although I don't monitor current events in Russia as much as I should--it is too depressing to read it all--one thing that I have been aware of is the catastrophe that is the Russian experience in Chechnya. From my point-of-view, it symbolizes all that has gone wrong with Russia since the end of the communist regime.
All of these websites dealing with Chechnya deserve a short look. (I've listed them according to my order of preference, i.e., please start at the top.)
- Battle for Chechnya: Special report (BBC News, 2000) has excellent background articles on the participants and conditions in the Caucasus
- Crisis in the Caucasus: History of the Conflict in Dagestan by Sarah Miller, 1999 (also see her article, Russia vs. Chechnya: Round Two, the Crisis Moves West, 1999)
- Brief Timeline of Key Events in Chechnya, 1830–2004 by David Johnson and Borgia Brynner
- Crisis in Chechnya (short review of the situation by Anus Shah, 2004)
- Chechnya, The endless war, two photo galleries
- Chechnya (The Guardian)
- Endless Brutality: Ongoing Human Rights Violations in Chechnya, A Report by Physicians for Human Rights, 23 January 2001, is a detailed summary of the atrocities that have occurred in Chechnya
- Kavkazcenter.com has some really graphic videos detailing violence, murder, etc. in Chechnya. Please be forewarned before you watch any of these.
- Chechnya Advocacy Network, a volunteer organization, maintains this page with links to all sorts of useful information about the conflict.
There is no doubt in my mind that Russia has its hands full dealing with the situation in Chechnya; it does not matter that Chechnya is a flea in comparison to Russia as an elephant (Hope you get my comparison.), and I am also quite sure that things will end badly for everyone involved. They already have for the inhabitants of the Russian town of Beslan (population about 30,000) in North Ossetia in the Northern Caucasus. On 1-4 September 2004 terrorists took over a thousand children, teachers and adults hostage on the first day of school. Over three hundred died, including 186 school children according to official figures. Please read the excellent, exhaustive Wikipedia article on the Beslan School Hostage Crisis. There is also an excellent article in Esquire (June 2006), "The School" by C. J. Chivers--I think that you can log on to read this article. I really can't add much more to this; it is emotional enough reading about it. What an absolute disaster, but you know, the questions about what really happened at Beslan and the role of the Russian security forces in perhaps causing the disaster remain unanswered to this day, although the report of the parliamentary commission, recently released is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the complete truth will be revealed one day.
- Special Report: Beslan: the aftermath by the Timesonline.com, 12 December 2004
- Thoughts on Beslan by Dan Darling, 5 September 2004. See also, Beslan: the real international connection, Western intervention helped to create the new ruthless cross-border terrorism by Brendan O'Neil of Spiked Online, 8 September 2004
- Russia: One Year After Beslan Tragedy, Questions Remain By Jean-Christophe Peuch (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), very good article
- One year on, Beslan mourns its dead and demands the truth, Anger grows over Kremlin's official version of siege by Nick Paton Walsh in Beslan, 31 August 2005 (The Guardian), very good article
- There is much about Beslan on The Jamestown Foundation website.
- It took quite awhile before Putin finally agreed to meet with a delegation of Beslan mothers, but he did not offer any apologies for the hostage crisis. See, in this regard,"Beslan Mothers Blame President Putin for 331 School Siege Deaths," 31 August 2005, by Mosnews.com (no longer available for free online), and Who's To Blame for Beslan? At the trial of the sole surviving school hostage-taker, families lash out at the Russian authorities by Kelly McEvers of Slate, 22 July 2005.
- State forces blamed over Beslan, Russian security forces were partly to blame for last year's school hostage crisis in Beslan, investigators from the North Caucasus have concluded, 29 November 2005, BBC News
Some recommended books
- Max J. Okenfuss and Cheryl D. Roberts, eds., Reemerging Russia: Search for Identity (1995)
- Michael McFaul, Russia's Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin (2001)
- Anna Politkovskaya, A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya (2001)
Some recommended websites
- The Soviet Union Disintegrates is a good, short overview of the Brezhnev years
- There is very little information available about Vladimir Putin. For something interesting, see Kate Weinberg's article Could This Woman Be Vladimir Putin's Real Mother? in the Telegraph. If the link doesn't work, I have a *.PDF copy.
- Reform, Coup and Collapse: The End of the Soviet State by Archie Brown, 5 November 2009
- Ofitsialnaia Rossiia (official site of the Russian Federal Government, in Russian); check also the The Constitution of the Russian Federation (12 December 1993) (also at www.constitution.ru/)
- Vladimir Putin
- Contemporary Russian Art and Russian galleries of modern paintings
- The Last Tsar (and his final burial)
- Alan Kimball, University of Oregon, NATO Expansion
- Alan Kimball, University of Oregon, Are Russians Ready for Democracy? and Could James Madison Help Them?
- Josh Calder, Challenging The Assumptions About Russia's Future (2 January 2009)
- Russia’s Future: From Research to Reality, Russia Today (3 February 2010)