Moscow Endures the Snowiest Winter in 100 Years
MOSCOW, February 5 (RIA Novosti) Moscow has not witnessed such a snowy winter in the past 100 years, Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov said on Tuesday, after heavy snowfall hit the Russian capital last night.
"This is the snowiest winter in 100 years," Biryukov said, adding that 216 centimeters (85 inches) of snow have blanketed Moscow since the beginning of winter, which is 1.5 times above climatic norm.
The snowfall, which continued in and around the capital until the early hours of Tuesday, brought Moscow's traffic to a virtual standstill. The total length of traffic jams in the city reached 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles), which is equal to the distance between Moscow and Madrid.
The snowfall also caused the delay of 155 flights, while 56 planes had to seek alternative landing sites. Among them was that of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, which had to land in St. Petersburg due to weather conditions.
February 4, 2013
In Russia, Valentine's Day Is for Making Babies
By Kirsten Salyer
This Valentine's Day in Russia, do your patriotic duty and make a baby.
That's the message from President Vladimir Putin, who has invited the trio Boyz II Men to perform in Moscow on Feb. 6 as part of an effort to raise the country's birth rate. The group will sing romantic ballads, "hopefully giving Russian men some inspiration ahead of St. Valentine's Day," according to the Moscow Times. (Update: Putin "may or may not" have invited the band, as Foreign Policy reports. His campaign for more Russian babies, however, is longstanding.)
Russia isn't the only country that has tested creative ways to get its citizens in the mood. Falling fertility rates mean more elderly and fewer young people, causing economic pressure from diminishing labor and less tax revenue. And though baby-making marketing efforts are no substitute for addressing existing deterrents to having children in some countries, such as the high cost of child care and education, that hasn't kept officials from trying.
Putin's latest effort is part of Russia's ongoing (and occasionally eccentric) fertility campaign. In 2007, officials declared Sept. 12 the "Day of Conception" and gave couples time off work to procreate. If they had a baby exactly nine months later, the country's national day, they could win money, a car or a refrigerator.
In Singapore, which had a 2012 fertility rate of 0.78, Mentos mints sponsored a three-minute video on the country's national day last August, encouraging citizens to celebrate "National Night," too. A man in the video raps: "Singapore's population, it needs some increasin', so forget waving flags, August 9th we be freaking."
A few years ago in Japan, which had a fertility rate of 1.39 in 2012, university students created Yotaro, a giggling robot baby to encourage couples to want kids. In South Korea, where some estimates suggest almost 40 percent of the population will be 65 or older by midcentury, the Ministry of Heath created a monthly "Family Day" in 2010 by turning off the office lights at 7 p.m. and encouraging employees to "go home to their families and, well, make bigger ones," as BBC wrote.
Regardless of whether these not-so-subtle campaigns produce more babies, they are reminders of the long-term implications of demographic shifts. And, let's be honest, sex sells, whether the goal is a higher birth rate or more radio listeners. Last week WBEZ, a public radio station in Chicago, Illinois, began an advertising campaign with the slogan: "We Want Listeners Tomorrow. Go Make Babies Today."
Russia Beyond the Headlines
February 5, 2013
Life goes on in Russian ghost towns
Today, the provocative label of "dead town" smothers a thousand human tales of departure, relocation, and long waits in the hopes of a flat in a new city. Yet, not all residents of these nearly uninhabited places have the desire to leave. RBTH explores the lives of residents in the Northern ghost town of Korzunovo.
By Daria Gonzales
Russia has nearly 20,000 ghost towns places once built to serve strategically important locations or rich mineral deposits whose significance was later downgraded to unnecessary. The usual scenario: the incipient death of towns which were born during Soviet central planning, grandiloquent building projects or the Soviet electrification scheme. The implosion of the Soviet Union left many enterprises without viable funding. Patriotism the carburetor of Soviet progress could not kept them going either. A move to a new city is not unusual nowadays. Yet, unlike the majority of immigrants, people who come from ghost towns have no home to go back to.
There are almost more online communities about ghost towns than there are ghost-towns. Even so, there is almost no information about "dead" settlements like Korzunovo. Thirty kilometers (18.6 miles) away from the Norwegian border in the far-flung Russian Arctic, the settlement was left almost uninhabited after the Red Army garrison there was decommissioned.
However, it's a little-known fact that Yuri Gagarin, the world's first cosmonaut, served for three years at the military air-base located nearby. Alongside this fact come persistent internet reports that a "bunch of loonies" are still living in the ruined town, refusing the offer of better accommodation in nearby Murmansk.
Headlight beams pierce the oncoming snow along the ice-bound road. The wintery sub-polar landscape is filled with dark outlines of hills and military installations, mass-produced housing with square windows, and wind-blasted trees clinging to the frozen ground. It all looks like the film location from Stalker (a renowned sci-fi art film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky).
The ruins of Korzunovo seem to be preserved by the low temperatures: its broken-nosed statues and rusty cars have become a sort of Soviet-era museum display. There is a nearly-audible silence in the dark as the snow falls, and then suddenly laughter children in tracksuits, running indoors through the window of a single-story building. There are little girls with hairbands sitting on a bench, while a young blonde girl blows a whistle.
A small school bus brings children from nearby settlements and buildings (which initially appear to be deserted) for their lessons. Nearly 250 people live in Korzunovo. Buildings 42 and 43 are heated from a boiler room, and the lights are on in the primary and middle-school office around the clock: light comes up for just a few hours during the long Polar Night.
Soviet-era statuary across the road from the Town Administration reminds locals of Gagarin, the cosmonauts, and Communist Party big-wigs. There is a bluish-green plane that is traditionally decorated for the New Year by workers from the neighboring settlement, in a long-standing ceremony. Smiling kids stop to look at the lights. They mostly get around the village on ice-skates, because it's more fun that way; the snow-laden streets are lined with skate-marks. The abandoned houses and deserted buildings are just as much a part of their childhood as village or urban landscapes are for others.
"We stopped even noticing the ruins long ago. When the regiment was disbanded and people started leaving, things were grim, of course. But parting is always sad anywhere. Looters grabbed everything from the deserted homes," says Tatiana, the school headmistress. "Several years ago they offered relocation to my husband and me to a flat in Krasnodar. But instead we decided to stay here. We've got jobs here, I get three months' vacation in the summer, and we go to the South then. Actually we're really exhausted. Our little place is here, our home is here we don't want to move anywhere."
Korzunovo was built to serve the needs of the military: troops were posted here from different places in Russia, and their wives and kids came too. That's how Tatiana first arrived here, 35 years ago.
The people in Korzunovo have fond memories of the past: the grocery stores with "deficit" in Soviet-era goods, the community of young comrades-in-arms, the long Polar Day, when no one wanted to sleep until morning. In 1998, when the regiment was posted from Korzunovo to Severomorsk, no shops at all were left in the settlement, nor was there the old airfield from which you could fly to Moscow for peanuts in the old days.
"Why did we decide to stay? It's a tricky question. Everyone's got their own reasons. Nostalgia isn't enough to make that kind of decision," says Vladimir, a former military pilot who now works as a life-safety instructor.
"The young teachers at the school grew up here in Korzunovo, finished their studies in Murmansk, but came back here. There aren't many local kids in the school: most of them are bussed in from nearby communities where there are still military facilities running, but no schools. That's what keeps us going. Every year they keep telling us that the nearby bases will be shut down too, and we'll be jobless. But for now, we keep on as before..."
In summer 1965, Yuri Gagarin by then a famous cosmonaut made a visit back to his former base at Korzunovo. He had studied at School Number 7, which now has a small museum in his honor. The school kids are members of the School Space Museum Club. In the old Soviet tradition, they offer guided tours even for foreigners. Tourists from Norway, Finland, Britain and other countries come every year. Official delegations of Russians come too. For the rest of the time the Gagarin House remains unvisited and locked up.
Marina Popova, who runs the museum, followed her serviceman husband from balmy Alma-Ata and moved to Verkhnee Luostari a village near Korzunovo. "At first it was awful: I couldn't even get to a shop, or walk around the town. Alma-Ata is a big city with lots of people and cars. Here, there's nothing," says Marina.
"But each year it somehow got easier, and, now, we wouldn't want to leave here. It's like this: if a serviceman's wife doesn't go running back home after a few months, then she stays here for the rest of her life. There's something you can't easily explain about the North. It's inviting."
The sun fails to rise above the horizon, but that's the way it is in the Polar Night. After two hours of hazy twilight, the darkness sets in once again. A huge moon, as big as the sun, crosses the sky. Its beams light the ice-rink in front of the school two buildings with barely-lit windows. The kids are going home, pushing each other in the snow along the path and playing with the dogs. When the moonlight fades, Korzunovo once again becomes a line of dark shapes of houses with empty windows.
"Korzunovo will live, while we live here. It's all I can say," Tatiana says, summing it up.
The fact of Korzunovo's existence comes down to the work and sacrifice of its people. Persistence and determination have made its military families their own special kind of people, bred from nostalgia, a fear of uncertainty, habit, exhaustion, and a desire to live at peace with the world.
The low temperatures have not just preserved the village, but time itself frozen in the era of its Soviet relics. Perhaps their still-undiluted Soviet patriotism helps them to shrug off the cold and darkness, believing in their heroism and that their deeds have been achievements. But their sacrifices no longer command the slightest official recognition no medals, no Northern Hardship allowances. Perhaps real heroes do not require any allowances.
February 5, 2013
Looming Tobacco Crackdown Has Russian Smokers Fuming
By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW -- Denis Svidorov takes a drag on his cigarette, looks at the scene around him and wonders whether it will soon be a thing of the past.
It's lunchtime at a dingy cafe near Moscow's Belarussky train station and there are smokers at nearly every table. Even the no-smoking room is cloaked in thick tobacco haze as weary waitresses load up trays of beer and "chebureki," the meat-and-cheese pastries popular in Russia.
Svidorov, a 35-year-old salesman, has smoked a pack a day for the last two decades and has no intention of quitting. But he may soon have to forget about lighting up indoors, thanks to a stringent antismoking bill expected to pass its final parliamentary reading in parliament's lower house this month.
Svidorov says he believes the government should do more to protect children from secondhand tobacco smoke, but he complains that the legislation currently under discussion is draconian. "In Russia, we can't just pass a law in normal fashion; with us it's everything all at once," he says. "If you just have a look at it, frankly, they want to stop everything."
The bill certainly would mark a radical change. It would restrict Russia's ubiquitous kiosks from selling tobacco through booth windows. It proposes a blanket ban on smoking in public buildings -- anywhere from night clubs to apartment stairwells. It would outlaw shop displays of cigarettes in favor of price lists. And it envisages a total ban on tobacco advertising.
Vigorously opposed by the tobacco lobby, the bill would also be a shock to the system in a country that has one of the highest rates of smokers in the world and only rudimentary antismoking laws.
Stringent Measures, If Applied Fully
Health experts say smoking-related illnesses claim an estimated 400,000 lives a year in Russia -- a heavy toll for a country struggling to overcome demographic crisis and a contributing factor to low male life expectancy. Roughly 60 percent of Russian men smoke, as do 22 percent of women and a quarter of boys between the ages of 13 and 15.
The legislation sailed through a second reading with almost unanimous support in the State Duma on January 25. As it passed, lawmakers applauded in ostensible defiance of the overt -- and covert -- resistance from Russia's muscular tobacco lobby that is dominated by four big international tobacco firms.
It still must pass a third reading in the Duma, be approved by the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, and be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
Nikolai Gerasimenko, deputy chairman of the Duma's Public Health Committee and a member of the ruling United Russia party, praised the bill in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, but added that much will depend on how stringently it will be enforced.
He said that the legislation would bring Russia in line with the World Health Organization's antismoking convention, which it signed in 2008. "The law is fundamentally needed because it marks a new step to reduce consumption of tobacco and, most important, protect the country from tobacco smoke," Gerasimenko said.
The bill's measures would be phased in starting in June. The ban on smoking in public buildings would come into full effect next year.
Doing Enough, Or Too Much?
But the bill is divisive. Smokers like Svidorov believe it is too strict and focuses too much on prohibition rather than promoting health lifestyles.
A clear majority of Russians do believe that something needs to be done to curb rampant smoking, says Olga Kamenchuk of the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM).
But the specific provisions in the bill are highly unpopular. Some 80 percent of Russians believe there should be designated smoking areas in airports and train stations, according to a January poll by the Levada Center. Only between 18 and 31 percent support an all-out ban on smoking in restaurants and other public spaces, according to various polls.
Moreover, neither the tobacco industry nor antitobacco activists are content with the current draft of the legislation. Dmitry Yanin, who heads the International Conference of Consumer Societies and supported the first reading of the bill, said lawmakers watered down the bill in its second reading.
He said the current draft no longer grants the government power to regulate the minimum price of cigarettes, which could serve as a powerful incentive to curb smoking. Cigarettes in Russia currently cost less than $2 a pack on average. In the United Kingdom, for example, they cost $11.
Yanin called this a "very serious" concession, arguing that raising the minimum price would have the "largest impact" on consumption.
Lobbyists Powerful, But Not Supreme
Valued at almost $20 billion a year, the Russian tobacco market is the second-most lucrative in the world after China, and the tobacco lobby has thrown up strong resistance to the bill.
The lobbying frenzy has produced bizarre asides.
Last week, for example, some lawmakers demanded the Justice Ministry label chess prodigy and United Russia lawmaker Anatoly Karpov a "foreign agent" for allegedly lobbying against the bill on behalf of international tobacco companies.
Aleksei Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information, said the machinations around the tobacco bill had highlighted how much the State Duma has become an "arena for lobbying activity."
And yet analysts say the survival of major tenets of the bill has also signaled how power brokers behind the scenes are often impotent when the image of a powerful politician is at stake.
Both President Putin and in particular Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have thrown their weight behind the bill, notes Pavel Tolstykh, a Moscow-based expert on lobbying. "Medvedev put it correctly when he said that the tobacco lobby is powerful, but the government is stronger. To be honest, this is entirely true," Tolstykh says. "When a legal bill becomes a question of image for either Medvedev or Putin, then nothing can be done."
But back among those eating lunch at the smoky cafe near the Belarussky train station many -- but not all -- think the process is moving too quickly. One exception is Yelena Ivanova, a 55-year-old smoker who supports the legislation.
"I'm already old. I just want our young people to be healthy, at least," she says. "If the young follow this law, then it will make them healthy."
Yelena Polyakovskaya of RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report
Russia Beyond the Headlines
February 4, 2013
Remembering the final surrender at Stalingrad
Stalingrad, epicenter of the most epic battle, is a reminder to Americans of what Russia did for them.
By Martin Sieff
Martin Sieff is Chief Global Analyst at The Globalist Research Center and Editor-at-Large at The Globalist. He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting
Feb. 2 came and went unnoticed by most Americans, a very obscure date known only for groundhogs seeing their shadows to determine the length of winter. Americans in general remain unaware that this year was the 70th anniversary of the final surrender of German forces at Stalingrad the decisive battle of World War II.
Some 400,000 German soldiers died in the months-long battle for the city on the steep western banks of the Volga River. Another 265,000 Hungarians, Romanians and Italians from the armies of Germany's allies were killed or captured. The battle annihilated Adolf Hitler's Sixth Army, the most formidable infantry assault force the world had ever seen. Afterwards, the Germans managed only one more major tactical victory, around Kharkov. Russian casualties at Stalingrad exceeded one million.
Today, generations later, the extraordinary struggle for Stalingrad still defines 21st century Russia. Standing atop Mamayev Kurgan, the focal point of the battle of Stalingrad, it is easy to see why.
The colossal scale of the fighting between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War was well recognized by Americans and Britons at the time but it has been virtually forgotten since. It dwarfed every other battlefront of the war combined. Eight out of 10 German soldiers killed in World War II died fighting the Red Army.
The colossal total of nearly 27 million Soviet military and civilian dead was more than twice the death toll of all Americans, Britons, Commonwealth, French and even Germans killed in the war combined.
Named at the time after Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, the city was the dramatic last stand of the Soviet Red Army against an apparently invincible Wehrmacht that had conquered the entire European continent in less than three years. At Stalingrad all that changed.
"Beyond the Volga there is nothing!" went the Soviet rallying cry - and there wasn't. Even now looking east from the imposing heights of Mamayev Kurgan, it is eerie to see that on the other side of the great Volga, a river as broad and impressive as the Mississippi, the embodiment of the soul of Russia, there literally is - nothing. Just low sand dunes that gave the city its original name of Tsaritsyn, or "Golden Sand" back in 1589. And they stretch off for thousands of miles across the lower Eurasian steppe.
The war memorial on Mamayev Kurgan is like no other on earth - for it is dominated by an angry goddess. The most gigantic, impressive and eerie statue in the world, Rodina-Mat, the Mother Goddess of Russia, RISES up to 160 feet without any pedestal, 20 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. She weighs 1,000 tons, more than 15 times the Statue of Liberty. But all that is the least of it.
Lady Liberty is at ease and serene, but Rodina-Mat is dynamic and furious. Her beautiful, surprisingly girlish face conveys nightmarish shock, fury and rage. Her arm is not relaxed and passively extended, carrying a torch like Lady Liberty. It is upraised carrying a 70-foot long sword that soars so high in the sky it has to have a red navigation light on its tip to alert low-flying aircraft.
Seen from afar, the sight is even more impressive, even terrifying. For Rodina-Mat is on the commanding height of the ridge skyline above the city at its most fought-over point. You can see her from anywhere you drive along the main arterial north-south roads along the Volga. She always appears in movement, alive, striking down the invaders with her amazing sword.
During the 200 days of The Battle for Stalingrad, Mamayev Kurgan was fought over for 130 of them. Today, it is the resting place for 35,000 Soviet soldiers.
According to British military historian Anthony Beevor, author of the bestselling chronicle of the battle, "Stalingrad," 1.1 million Soviet soldiers died in the Battle of Stalingrad. That number does not include the at least 100,000 and possibly three times as many civilian inhabitants of the city massacred by the repeated waves of indiscriminate Luftwaffe air attacks.
More than twice as many Russian civilians perished in the first week of air raids as died in the Allied bombing of Dresden. When Soviet interrogators asked Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, the captured commander of the Sixth Army, why he had authorized such needless slaughter, he offered the stock response that he was only following orders.
Nazi losses were colossal, too. According to Russian estimates, 1.5 million German and Axis soldiers lost their lives in the entire campaign, more than five times the entire U.S. combat dead for the entire war. None of the Axis remains that were found and identified were buried within the city. It is sacred soil to the Russian people. Only the heroic defenders of Stalingrad and the Motherland, or Rodina, are allowed the ultimate honor of resting there.
Paulus' headquarters in the basement of Univermag, the Central Department Store of the city, is now a museum, too. It is one of the strangest exhibit venues on earth, and a striking contrast to the primeval, heroic, epic grandeur of the statuary and memorials at Mamayev Kurgan.
Univermag is a department store again now -- very reminiscent of the kind one might have seen in pre-Wal-Mart middle America.
The basement has been filled with reconstructions of Sixth Army's last defeat. Behind one door, models of two dying German soldiers lie in what really was an emergency operating room. Behind another, an animatronic Paulus endlessly rises from behind his office desk to hear the latest news of catastrophe from another officer. Everywhere, the whine of the unforgiving winter steppe wind and merciless whroosh of the Soviet Katyusha or "Little Katie" rocket mortars sound their accompaniment.
Ilya Ehrenburg, greatest of all Soviet war correspondents, wrote that the soldiers--in their basement and rubble strongholds clinging on to the banks of the Volga by mere feet and yards--loved those rocket mortars and it is still true today. Some years ago, the faces of 80-year-old highly decorated veterans of the battle would light up with boyish enthusiasm and joy when I asked them what their favorite weapon of the entire war was. "Katyusha!" they cried, jumping up and down, the years falling away from them by magic. "Katyusha!"
Some 70 years after Paulus surrendered, and more than 67 years since the Third Reich was finally crushed, the memories and scars of that struggle still define modern Russia. Communism is dead but Russian patriotism is not. And that is why in an era of growing differences and alienation between Russia and the United States, we need to remember the passionate intensity of that struggle, how much it contributed to The Allied victory and what it cost the Russian people.
New York Times
February 5, 2013
An X-Ray of Russian Corruption
Misha Friedman's Photographs of Corruption in Russia
By JESSE NEWMANhttp://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/an-x-ray-of-russian-corruption/
Before James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of DNA's double helix, "Photo 51? - an X-ray photograph - helped them identify the molecule's complex structure. And just as photography made visible what scientists suspected, Misha Friedman is training his camera on what seems like a common trait in his national genetic code.
Mr. Friedman has journeyed through Russia and created a series called "Photo51 - Is Corruption in Russia's DNA?" But his images are not documentary evidence of corrupt acts. Rather, they are a visual tour of the ways in which public corruption manifests itself in people's private lives, radiating outward through Russian society, touching ordinary men and women, and becoming the norm.
"The helix has two lines," Mr. Friedman said. "In a lot of situations, it is really the government that is at fault. But the other helix has to do with the private sector. It has nothing to do with the state. It's all about the behavior of individuals - their complacency and their acceptance of the unacceptable."
Wandering the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow last summer, and visiting small towns in Karelia and the Ural Mountains, Mr. Friedman found traces of political corruption everywhere, from a polluted nuclear complex (Slides 7 and 18) to a crooked festival (Slide 4) to a toxic slag heap at a copper smelting plant (Slide 12).
But what he was most interested in - and troubled by - was the social corrosion and decay that he saw on display, as when policemen and bystanders watched a man beat a woman in broad daylight (Slide 5). Or when a group of teenagers roped off their remote campsite with tape from a crime scene (Slide 2).
The biggest challenge, he said, was documenting how corruption plays out in people's everyday lives without condemning individual citizens.
"There's so much bureaucracy and inconvenience all around that all you want on a daily basis is to simplify," Mr. Friedman said. "Simplify your routine so you can get to work. So you can get anything done. To get most things done faster, or more efficiently, you have to navigate the system because the laws are so ambiguous."
Mr. Friedman, 35, is no stranger to the challenges of daily living in Russia. Born and raised in what is now Moldova but was then part of the Soviet Union, he remembers watching his father bribe traffic policemen. In 1991, when he was 14, Mr. Friedman immigrated to the United States with his family. He studied economics and international relations in school and went to work for nongovernmental organizations abroad, spending five years with Doctors Without Borders in Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union.
In 2005, while working for Doctors Without Borders in Darfur, Sudan, Mr. Friedman picked up a camera and began taking pictures. Three years later, while working in Chechnya, he started to pursue photography in earnest. He spent almost five years shooting a documentary project on tuberculosis and eventually quit his day job to become a professional photographer.
Last year, the Institute of Modern Russia, a United States-based nonprofit group that works to support democratic values and institutions in Russia, commissioned Mr. Friedman to make a visual record of corruption in Russia.
"Corruption is something you have to deal with from the moment you're born to the moment you die," he said.
This realization - that lawlessness, deceit, bribery, cronyism and impunity are deeply encoded within all aspects of Russian life - gave Mr. Friedman the idea to use a camera he had never tried before: a panoramic.
"I think it's important for projects to have appropriate technical solutions," he said. "I look at corruption as something that you are encircled by, surrounded by, your entire life. So I thought it would be interesting to use the panoramic format, with the idea of creating a spiral, connecting all the images into one."
The resulting photographs are stark, black-and-white images that each hint at something gone awry - in the body or soul - in Mr. Friedman's early home.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a photographer," he said. "Doing a project on tuberculosis is not answering any questions, it's documenting facts the best way you can. Here it is trying to tackle questions that I have not seen visual answers for."
Mr. Friedman hopes his project will be the beginning of a conversation about how to deal with corruption in Russia. That's why the title of his project is an open question, he said.
"Let's talk about this," he said. "Maybe the reason why we can't solve corruption is because our definition is too narrow."
An exhibition of Mr. Friedman's work will open on Feb. 15 and be on view through March 2 at 287 Spring in SoHo.
Police Held Over 5,000 At Russian Political Rallies - Report
MOSCOW, February 5 (RIA Novosti) - The police detained at least 5,156 people at political rallies in Moscow and its suburbs in the past 13 months, during modern Russia's most restive period since the end of the USSR, a new report said.
The detentions, often accompanied by violence, were made at some 228 rallies in the period between December 4, 2011, and December 31, 2012, according to research by OVD-Info, an independent rights group monitoring arrests at Moscow demonstrations.
The wave of protests started in 2011 following the December 4 parliamentary elections, which the opposition claims was rigged, prompting thousands to take to the streets in Moscow and elsewhere. Anti-Kremlin mass demonstrations continued throughout the following year, though the movement appeared to have lost impetus and attracted fewer protesters at its demonstrations as time went on.
Some 20 sanctioned demonstrations led to 1,079 detentions, while actions that were unauthorized or did not require official permission ended with 4,090 people in police vans.
The report noted the most popular form of protest was the picket, which does not require official sanction from the city authorities: 65 pickets were held ending with 682 detentions.
The most frequent motive for protesters was support for "political" prisoners, prompting 49 actions with 305 people detained.
Rallies protesting the rule of President Vladimir Putin, who was reelected for his third term in March, were held at least 44 times and resulted in 1,773 arrests.
"Most of the police detentions are carried out without a warning" according to witness accounts collected by OVD-Info, and "without any explanation from police officials" who, they claim, frequently use violence against the protesters.
The Moscow police spokesman could not be reached for comment on the report as of Tuesday afternoon. [return to Contents
Moscow Times/BBC Monitoring
What the Papers Say, Feb. 5, 2013
1. Sergei Mashkin article headlined "Freedom for word" says that the key figure in the case of major frauds with the Defense Ministry's property, Yekaterina Smetanova, has signed a pre-trial agreement on cooperation with the prosecutor's office and has been released under a written pledge not to leave the city; pp 1, 4 (754 words).
2. Vitaly Gaydayev article headlined "State banks help their [affiliates]" says that the management companies affiliated with the banks Sberbank and VTB have taken the lead on the market of collective investment; pp 1, 8 (586 words).
3. Irina Alexandrova et al. report headlined "Confidence shakes under Nikita Belykh" says that 19 deputies of the Kirov Region legislative assembly have called for an extraordinary meeting to put forward a vote of no-confidence in regional governor Nikita Belykh; pp 1, 3 (946 words).
4. Maxim Ivanov and Irina Nagornykh article headlined "Public initiative handled wrongly" says that the government and the Kremlin cannot agree on the mechanism of consideration of internet petitions; pp 1-2 (1,196 words).
5. Dmitry Butrin article headlined "Finance Ministry determines degree of toughness" says that Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has demanded that the budget rule policy should be followed and rejected the idea of reviving the Investment Fund in the form of the Development Fund; p 2 (523 words).
6. Taisiya Bekbulatova et al. report headlined "Governor elections gain new experience" says that acting Magadan Region governor Vladimir Pecheny has announced his intention to stand for governor in September. The Kremlin may use the same scenario in Vladimir Region and Transbaikal Territory, dismissing incumbent governors and appointing new candidates for the post; p 3 (593 words).
7. Vladislav Trifonov article headlined "[They] come to Marshall Capital for loan" says that law enforcers have searched the office of the Marshall Capital investment fund and seized documents in line with a probe into theft of a loan of 225m dollars from VTB; p 4 (665 words).
8. Alexei Sinilo article headlined "Adam Osmayev charged in maximum way" looks at the developments in the trial of Adam Osmayev charged with plotting the assassination of Russian President Vladimir Putin and head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov; p 4 (595 words).
9. Igor Lesovskikh article headlined "Officers listen to militia men" looks at the latest developments in the hearing of the case of three mutineers in Yekaterinburg; p 4 (474 words).
10. Alexei Sokovnin article headlined "Prosecutor puts Vladimir Kvachkov at head of riot" looks at the trial of retired colonel Vladimir Kvachkov and former Interior Ministry's officer Aleksandr Kiselev charged with preparing an armed riot; p 4 (734 words).
11. Grigory Tumanov article headlined "Opposition to touch on traffic jams" says that the opposition will start preparations for the election to the Moscow city duma with a march for Muscovites' rights on 2 March; p 5 (565 words).
12. Sergey Strokan article headlined "Fight against Taleban reaches London" looks at the London meeting of British, Pakistani and Afghan leaders dedicated to the security in the region amid the upcoming withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan; p 6 (528words).
13. Svetlana Styazhkina article headlined "Swedish army is not strong enough for Russia" looks at a scandal escalating in the Swedish leadership over joining NATO; p 6 (528 words).
14. Maxim Yusin article headlined "Ukrainian parliament unleashes presidential campaign" says that today the Ukrainian parliament begins its second session, which is expected to become even more scandalous than the previous one due to preparations for the presidential election; p 6 (861 words).
15. Kirill Melnikov article headlined "Rules of game" says that two weeks ago, Rosneft and Gazprom managed to get from the government at least 80 per cent of hydrocarbons offshore resources. However, LUKoil's president Vagit Alekperov has not abandoned the hope to persuade the government to allow private companies to develop offshore resources; p 7 (377 words).
16. Svetlana Mentyukova et al. report headlined "Gennady Onishchenko unseals Georgia" says that Russia's chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko forecasts that the import of Georgian wines, mineral water and some agricultural products may be permitted this spring; p 7 (703 words).
17. Pavel Belavin article headlined "Aleksandr Lebedev breaks through to broadcasting" says that Alexander Lebedev's son's company ESTV will launch the London Live TV channel in London; p 10 (492 words).
18. Alexander Petrov report "European football loses in stakes" looks at match fixing in European football; p 12 (700 words).
1. Sergei Kulikov article headlined "Salaries in capital approach 2,000 dollars" says that the average Moscow salary is expected to increase by 11 percent by the year end and reach R51,338; pp 1, 4 (576 words).
2. Yury Simonyan article headlined "Return of Saperavi" says that three-day talks between Russian and Georgian officials have started in Moscow, which may lead to the lifting of the trade embargo on Georgian wine and mineral water; pp 1, 6 (888 words).
3. Alexandra Samarina and Darya Garmonenko article headlined "Generator of fear" says that today, co-chairman of the RPR-Parnas party Boris Nemtsov will be questioned about the Alexei Navalny case at the Investigations Committee. The authorities are using the case to generate fear both among the protesters and its own establishment; pp 1-2 (953 words).
4. Valeria Khamrayeva article headlined "Good will in law" says that the Federation Council is putting finishing touches on the bill on volunteers, which is not supported by the majority of volunteer organizations as it bans official volunteering for NGOs; pp 1, 3 (622 words).
5. Darya Tsiryulik article headlined "Barack Obama appoints himself hacker number one" says that US President Barack Obama will soon sign a decree regulating the use of cyber weapons; pp 1, 7 (652 words).
6. Tatyana Ivzhenko article headlined "EU-Ukraine summit to be held against complicated background" says that the Ukrainian parliamentary opposition plans to push for decisions aimed to protect former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko whose health has significantly deteriorated; pp 1, 6 (1,109 words).
7. Editorial headlined "Washington turns face to Asia" says that judging by the statements made by US Vice-President Joseph Biden at the International Security Conference in Munich, Washington is striving to improve relations with Beijing and may alter its stance on territorial disputes between China and other Asian countries; p 2 (522 words).
8. Alexei Gorbachev article headlined "Deadly sluggishness of authorities" says that Dutch society has demanded that the authorities conduct a probe into the suicide committed by Russian opposition activist Alexander Dolmatov, who was denied political asylum in the country; p 3 (634 words).
9. Vladimir Skosyrev article headlined "Head of China encourages intelligentsia" says that General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping has called for observing the constitution, which Chinese intellectuals perceived as a signal for political reforms; p 7 (585 words).
10. Roza Tsvetkova article headlined "Victim of lawmaking ardour" says that the Criminal Code is turning into a mechanism of settling accounts with citizens; pp 9, 10 (1,401 words).
11. Alexander Ryabushev article headlined "Kaliningrad Region's business climate suffers from geopolitics" says that the business atmosphere in Kaliningrad Region has deteriorated; p 12 (408 words).
1. Maxim Tovkaylo and Filipp Sterkin article headlined "Votes in state networks" looks at the draft shareholders' agreement between the Federal Agency for the Management of State Property and Russian Networks about the management of the Federal Network Company; pp 1, 5 (722 words).
2. Olga Plotonova et al. report headlined "Trainee Abramovich" says that the Russian tycoon's 19-year-old son is working for the VTB group as a trainee; pp 1, 14 (408 words).
3. Editorial headlined "Understanding Soviet nature" says that strengthening the union of the state and the church will not benefit the church and may result in the rise in ethnic tension; pp 1, 6 (430 words).
4. Alexei Bayer article headlined "Martin Luther King's Russia" says that nationalism is on the rise in Russia nowadays and looks at the reasons behind it; p 6 (785 words).
5. Editorial headlined "Matter of trust" ponders over the article published by deputy finance minister Sergei Storchak about the Russian Financial Agency to be set up; p 6 (275 words).
6. Yelizaveta Sergina article "Special task force to arbitrate" says that the Moscow office of Konstantin Malofeyev's Marshall Capital investment fund has been searched again; p 11 (667 words).
7. Anastasia Kornya report "They do not recruit agents post factum" says that the Justice Ministry has told regions not to declare NGOs foreign agents without Moscow's authorization; p 2 (750 words).
8. Maxim Glikin report "Control, nor censorship" says that the authorities regard the Internet as a threat to stability; human rights activists believe that this is the cause of restriction of freedom in the Internet; p 2 (600 words)
9. Anastasia Golitsyna report "Shelter for pirate" says that the Russian Pirates' Party has suggested that the Internet resources that may be blocked should move to the foreign servers they lease; p 16 (950 words).
1. Interview with Far East Development Minister and presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Victor Ishayev headlined "Better you come to our Far East" where he speaks about the situation in the Far East and plans for the region's development; pp 1, 6 (3,700 words).
2. Interview with children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov headlined "Ranch of incorrigible" where he says that gay families from France will not be allowed to adopt Russian orphans and speaks about the ranch in the USA where the children, whom adoptive parents have given up, are kept; p 7 (1,000 words).
3. Alena Uzbekova report "Turkey: not destined" says that Russia has refused to purchase US meat; p 5 (600 words).
4. Unattributed article headlined "'Damascus to be left behind wall" says that Israel has admitted striking at targets on the Syrian territory as a preventive measure against arms supplies to Lebanese militants; p 8 (350 words).
5. Unattributed report "Got to Asia" looks at a match fixing issue in Europe; p 15 (150 words).
1. Ivan Cheberko article headlined "New manned spacecraft to cost Russia R160bn" says that the rocket space corporation Energia is working on technical parameters of a new manned transport spacecraft to replace the current Soyuz; pp 1, 4 (435 words).
2. Viktoria Minina article headlined "Caucasus trace found in Kvachkov case" says that the prosecutor in the trial of retired colonel Vladimir Kvachkov has voiced testimony of a secret witness, according to which the mutineers counted on the help of their supporters in the North Caucasus when planning an armed riot and terrorist attacks; pp 1, 3 (455 words).
3. Alexander Grigoryev et al. report headlined "Yekaterina Smetanova released on pledge not to leave town" says that the measure of restraint chosen for Yekaterina Smetanova, a key figure in the criminal case of embezzlement at Oboronservis, has been changed from an arrest to a written undertaking not to leave; pp 1, 4 (549 words).
4. Vladimir Dergachev article headlined "Opposition Coordination Council drafts new constitution" says that the opposition Coordination Council is working on a new constitution aimed at ensuring the transition from a "super-presidential" to parliamentary republic; p 2 (627 words).
5. Anton Lednev article headlined "USA calls Voice of Russia's partner foreign agent" says that US law enforcers suspect that the company LLC RM Broadcasting, engaged in broadcasting the Voice of Russia radio station on the US territory, is working for Russia; p 3 (482 words).
6. Igor Yavlyansky article headlined "Pyongyang prepares nuclear blast by eastern New Year" says that North Korea plans to conduct its third nuclear test by 10 February and features experts' comments; p 7 (488 words).
7. Yanina Sokolovskaya article headlined "Yulia Tymoshenko exchanged for Customs Union" says that the leaders of factions in the Ukrainian parliament are ready to sign an agreement envisaging that the ruling party will give up the idea of joining the Customs Union in any form, whereas the opposition will not oppose Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko's staying in prison; p 7 (409 words).
8. Article by political analyst Boris Mezhuyev headlined "Unsinkable Medvedev and unelectable Kudrin" speculates why the rumors about Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's resignation have not come true; p 9 (831 words).
9. Maxim Kononenko article headlined "Sergei Magnitsky's second act" says that lawyers of the founder of the Hermitage Capital investment fund William Browder have informed a London court that Browder will not reply to the libel and defamation lawsuit of former investigator Pavel Karpov whom Browder accused of corruption; p 9 (756 words).
1. Dmitry Popov report "Freedom in Oboronservis case" says that Yekaterina Smetanova, against whom charges have been brought under two articles of the Criminal Code, has been released; pp 1-2 (400 words).
2. Mikhail Zubov report "Russia against Stalin?" says that according to experts, only 17 per cent of Russians would vote for renaming Volgograd Stalingrad at a referendum; pp 1-2 (800 words).
3. Anastasia Rodionova report "Gozman leaves Bastrykin behind" says that opposition politician Leonid Gozman has published his evidence for questioning at the Investigations Committee beforehand; p 3 (400 words).
1. Ivan Petrov article headlined "Where Kolokoltsev's road goes" comments on the road map of reforming the Interior Ministry presented by its head Vladimir Kolokoltsev; p 2 (500 words).
2. Alexander Litoy article headlined "Prosecutive mitigation" says that opposition activist Daniil Konstantinov charged with murder will not be judged by the jury as the court has reduced the severity of charges against him. However, he will now be judged by professional judges, which brings the possibility of a non-guilty verdict to a minimum; p 2 (350 words).
1. Yulia Savina article headlined "Killer laces" says that the Interior Ministry is ready to spend R35.4m of the state budget on gadgets for conducting forensic tests; pp 1-2 (350 words).
2. Vera Moslakova article headlined "Season of appointees" quotes pundits as saying that low ratings of regional governors may result in their retirements ahead of schedule; p 2 (550 words).
3. Sergey Manukov article headlined "Without shooting or ransom" says that two Russians and one Italian citizen kidnapped by local militants in Syria have been set free, while the destiny of Ukrainian journalist Ankhar Kochneva still remains unknown; p 2 (350 words).
4. Nadezhda Krasilova article headlined "Forward thinking punch" analyzes the article in the Izvestiya newspaper, saying that opponents of the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, are trying to attack him by criticizing his press-secretary Natalya Timakova; p 2 (400 words).
1. Viktor Baranets article headlined "Military men are to be given money for buying property" comments on new initiatives proposed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu; pp 1, 4 (900 words).
2. Viktor Baranets article headlined "Smetanova chose pillow over jail bed" says that one of the key suspects in the Oboronservis embezzlement case, Yekaterina Smetanova, has been released under a written undertaking not to leave; it may not be safe for her to remain out of prison as former accomplices may try to contact her, the author says; p 9 (500 words).
3. Alexander Grishin interview with retired Maj-Gen Aleksandr Gurov on organized crime in Russia; pp 12-13 (2,200 words).
[return to Contents]
Pundit Suggests Direct Gubernatorial Elections May Happen 'Virtually Nowhere'
February 4, 2013
Report by Ivan Rodin: "Fear of Political Mistake. No Comment on Abolition of Gubernatorial Elections from Either Government or Regions"
Ramazan Abdulatipov, the acting leader of Dagestan, gave an equivocal answer to a question about whether it is for his republic's benefit that the State Duma is currently adopting the law on regions' right not to hold direct elections of their leaders. Actually everything relating to this the law is equivocal. For example, to this day it is not known what the government thinks about it. And legislative assemblies are almost not involved in discussing it.
On the News on Saturday Program on Russian television, presenter Sergey Brilov asked Dagestan's acting leader Ramazan Abdulatipov whether it is not for his republic's benefit that the State Duma is preparing a draft law on the possibility of regional authorities themselves deciding whether to hold elections for the leadership of the Russian of Federation component through a popular vote or a vote by parliament.
Abdulatipov responded in the spirit of -- on the one hand, while on the other.... Thus, he said that he himself has always advocated elections by universal suffrage. "But in this case in the current situation it is necessary to think about everything, to consult with the parliament, to consult with the public, and to make a decision that will correspond to the best extent to the interests of the citizens and the stability of the republic," Abdulatipov said, taking a step in the other direction. But then he again stressed that "in the long term we must all go through the mechanism of elections."
This most likely means that a definitive decision on this matter has not been adopted in the Kremlin. Both Moscow and the acting leader of Dagestan have a couple of months to make up their minds about the direction of the North Caucasus republic's political development.
Because the State Duma has more than a month until the adoption of the law on the regions' right to choose the way to elect their leaders. The document is scheduled to receive its second reading at the beginning of March, and therefore the document will come into force in the second half of March. We are currently at the stage of amendments being submitted for the second reading.
We would note that the government's opinion about the draft is unknown. The executive has not presented a response to the first reading, which took place on 23 January. Since the law does not envision additional expenditure from the federal budget, an official evaluation from the cabinet is not required. But hitherto the Duma majority has preferred to wait for even a nonbinding response from the government: In order to either consider a draft law if it is positive or reject it if it is negative. And indeed the cabinet itself has not previously ducked its traditional responsibility for regulating the legislative process. But this time not a word has been said about the attitude of Dmitriy Medvedev's government toward disavowing the law on direct gubernatorial elections that it submitted a while ago. Presumably for ethical reasons.
But what is totally unclear is why the actual regional authorities that have to adopt a decision on the method of electing governors have not expressed their opinion. For example, not a single regional parliament submitted its evaluation to the State Duma in the almost one month that passed from when the draft law was submitted until the first-reading vote. And now the lower chamber has in its files the opinions of only three Russian Federation components, which admittedly were sent either on or after the day that the document was adopted.
The St Petersburg Legislative Assembly sent its approval to Moscow on 23 January. The Kabardino-Balkaria Parliament adopted a positive evaluation on the same day, but it was received at the State Duma on the 24th. While Tambov deputies gathered to support the initiative relating to gubernatorial elections only on 25 January. A Nezavisimaya Gazeta source on Okhotnyy Ryad said that such dilatoriness means only one thing: The regional authorities had not want ed to assume responsibility for their own opinion and had been waiting for an order from the federal center.
Aleksey Makarkin, deputy general director of Political Technologies Center, does not doubt that this is the case. "The Kremlin's general line is unclear: That is to say, everybody realizes that the center does not want elections in, for example, Karachayevo-Cherkessia or Dagestan, but its opinion with regard to other regions is unknown. So people are afraid of making a mistake," the expert feels.
It is curious that the Tambov Oblast Duma's response indicates that it may adopt one decision or another on elections on the basis of "national traditions, inhabitants' attitude toward a vote, the experience of recent elections, and so forth." Without even mentioning that these conclusions are always going to look highly dubious, we would note that there is nothing about this in the text of the law. Moreover, although the State Duma Constitutional Legislation Committee had initially pushed for a definition of the "procedure and conditions" for a Russian Federation component to reject direct gubernatorial elections, during the first reading on 23 January United Russia deputies did not say anything even approximately about such conditions.
Makarkin predicts that there will be lobbying for the abolition of a direct vote from, on the one hand, weak governors and, on the other, from the federal center with regard to strong governors so they do not become even stronger. It could thus turn out this there will be elections virtually nowhere. "It is not surprising that Medvedev does not want to comment on what is essentially a counter-reform," the expert noted.
It is interesting that the adoption of the law on the possible abolition of direct gubernatorial elections will turn out to be a kind of counter-reform for Putin too. Because in this case it will be necessary to significantly change or even abolish the new procedure for forming the Federation Council that was recently adopted on his instructions. We would remind you that its main idea was as follows: When running for election, a candidate for governor submits several people as potential senators. And the winner of the elections makes one of them such. But now some governors are not going to be elected by universal suffrage and thus will not be able to submit future members of the Federation Council to the people either.
February 5, 2013
Anti-Kremlin opposition making 'new, improved' constitution
Russian Opposition's Coordination Council is drafting a new constitution that would grant the head of state fewer powers and turn the country form a "super-presidential" into a parliamentary republic.
Only that way, they believe, can "real separation of powers" in Russia be provided.
Under the plan, the new supreme law should be adopted through a referendum if Vladimir Putin resigns a move the opposition activists have been demanding since the protest movement sprung up in December 2011.
According to one of the authors of the bill, political analyst Andrey Piontkovsky, their main task is to deviate from "monarchical grounds" of the current constitution.
"It gives enormous powers to a president," the Coordination Council member told Izvestia daily.
Under a new version of the law, the president would still remain a symbolic head of the multinational state and the guarantor of citizens' rights and freedoms, Piontkovsky said. However, key functions such as the election of the government would be given to the parliament.
Additionally, the opposition is mulling over a cut of powers of republics within the Russian Federation. That would serve to prevent separatism, Piontkovsky noted, adding that republics would still have a right to a second language as a symbol of their national identity. However, he said, no consensus has so far been reached on the matter.
Instead of re-writing the entire constitution from a scratch, the Coordination Council plans to correct faults in the existing one, says another author of the draft, national-democrat Konstantin Krylov.
The council invited independent experts to work on the project. Among them is Mikhail Krasnov a former legal advisor to President Boris Yeltsin who also took part in the development of Russia's current constitution, adopted on December 12, 1993.
Vyacheslav Lysakov from the State Duma's Committee on Constitutional Law is confident that Russia's supreme law has absolutely no gaps: it defines all rights of citizens and state bodies as well as providing for a legal change of power. In his view, the opposition's project is "a broad hint" at an intention to stage a military coup, which is a crime, Izvestia cites him as saying.
The Opposition Coordination Council (OCC) was created back in October with a goal of bringing together leaders of street protests that followed parliamentary and presidential polls. Over 80,000 people took part in the internet voting to elect the 45-member body.
However, three month on after the start of work, the council members have doubts about its efficiency. Politicians whose views vary from liberal to leftist and nationalist can hardly find a compromise, even regarding internal rules.
"Everyone has noticed that the OCC performs badly," Boris Nemtsov, a co-chairman of Parnas party, noted at the council's gathering on January 20. "After three more meetings of the Council work will be paralyzed," added another opposition activist, Ilya Konstantinov, cited Itar-Tass.
Another member of council, Moscow Municipal Deputy Maxim Katz, is considering quitting the body, he wrote in his internet blog on Tuesday. He said the council's gathering only make sense ahead of large rallies, while gathering when there is "nothing to coordinate" is pointless. As a result of uncertainty of tasks, activists' powwows turn into "endless discussions" of ideology, "who's a true opposition member and who's not," and "what epithet should be given today to Putin."
President Putin has commented on opposition protests on several occasions and said that such people have a right to exist and should be treated with respect.
In his view though, "they have neither a single program, nor clear and comprehensible ways of the achievement of their unclear goal."
"There are no people who could do anything specific," he said right after the first street protests took place in Moscow in 2011.
The majority of Russians do not want revolution, he stressed during a meeting with his trustees in late 2012.
"Many ordinary citizens" in Russia believe that in case things go wrong, leaders of the protest movement would jump on an aircraft and flee, while "we will live here," Putin stated. "No one wants this," he added.
February 5, 2013
Communist party to celebrate birthday Soviet style
The Russian Communist Party (KPRF) is to hold a congress devoted to its 20th anniversary. About 3,000 guests, including comrades from 90 countries are expected to participate in the gathering in Moscow.
Members of at least 112 Communist parties from around the globe have been invited to join the KPRF's 15th Convention scheduled for February 23-25.
The format of the congress will be similar to those held by the Soviet Communist Party in the 1970s during Leonid Brezhnev's leadership, writes Izvestia daily.
Among the topics that are likely to be discussed, is 'the persecution of Communists' in Russia, Vadim Solovyov, an MP from the KPRF told Izvestia newspaper.
He noted that criminal cases have been launched against several Communist lawmakers, including Vladimir Bessonov. The KPRF member was stripped of parliamentary immunity over alleged use of violence against police during an unsanctioned rally in Rostov-on-Don in December 2011.
"We bear a lot more grudges against the ruling power [than they do against us.] All we've been doing in the past five years was defending ourselves," Solovyov stated. In his words, Communist deputies and mayors are being prosecuted for absolutely "made up reasons."
In that respect, the KPRF plans to urge international solidarity and ask their foreign partners to raise the issue in the parliaments of their countries, adopt respective resolutions and send them to the Russian government.
Besides that, at the congress the KPRF plans to approve its new party charter, which enhances discipline as well as strengthens the position of the leadership. Longtime Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov is likely to be re-elected as head of the party. He has been its chairman since the establishment of the Russian Communist Party in February 1993.
February 5, 2013
Justice Ministry Requires Approval for Use of 'Foreign Agent' Law
The Justice Ministry has called on the ministry's regional branches to get approval from the central office before applying the controversial law on "foreign agents."
The move was prompted by the Saratov branch issuing a warning to a local non-governmental organization that the central office considered "not fully lawful," Vedomosti reported Monday, citing Vladimir Titov, head of the ministry's department on NGOs.
The warning, issued to the "No to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction" organization in December, marked the first time that the ministry attempted to apply the law, which obliges any organization receiving foreign grants and engaging in political activity to register as a "foreign agent."
The ministry's Saratov branch reportedly demanded documentation on where the NGO had gotten monetary donations from in 2011 before the law came into effect. The NGO filed a complaint over the matter.
The ministry's central office responded with a letter saying the "foreign agent" law was not retroactively applicable and that the warning had not been issued in connection with the "foreign agent" law but another law requiring organizations to disclose the sources of their funding.
Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said earlier that the ministry would not participate in determining the sources of NGOs' funding, saying that task should be left up to agencies that deal with financial monitoring.
The law, which came into force in November, was met with a great deal of criticism and mockery for what many saw as a blatant display of political repression and a return to Cold War antics.
The law also sparked many protests and prompted some NGOs including the Moscow Helsinki Group to cease taking foreign grants.
February 5, 2013
Smut-Free Web Evokes Censorship Fears
By Jonathan Earle
The government's plans to protect children from harmful online content are causing increasing alarm among anti-censorship activists, who see one region's plans to introduce a smut-free version of the Internet as the latest move to banish distasteful speech.
Details of the Kostroma region's plan, which appeared in the media last week, sparked talk of a "white list" to accompany the federal government's existing blacklist of websites that are deemed to contain extremist information or child pornography, or promote bad behavior.
The plan would give net denizens in Kostroma, a mostly rural region about 190 kilometers northeast of Moscow, the option between using the existing Internet, with all its dangerous and unsavory corners, and a "clean" version, consisting of hundreds of thousands of inoffensive websites.
A non-governmental organization called the Safe Internet League, which has close links to both the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, has already picked 400,000 websites safe for children, and the number is growing, the Kostroma regional administration said Wednesday in a statement.
News reports quoting the league's acting director, Denis Davydov, as saying that a strict parental control option would be the default, meaning that users would have to opt out rather than in, quickly sent bloggers and free-speech activists into a frenzy.
Connectivity advocate Matvei Alexeyev said the initiative was probably illegal Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees the right to "freely seek, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way" not to mention technically unfeasible.
There are more than 633 million website in the world, according to a recent estimate, Alexeyev wrote Friday in a blog post on Ekho Moskvy's website. "When will the site-by-site check be finished? In 200 years?"
Even government ministers have entered the fray. Communications and Press Minister Nikolai Nikiforov implied that it was illegal for one region to limit web surfers to a "white list" of pre-screened sites, Interfax reported.
Furthermore, the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service's blacklist, which was expanded in November over critics' objections to include websites deemed to include child pornography or promote suicide and drug use, is the only legal vehicle for filtering out harmful content, he said.
Almost a hundred child pornography sites have been closed this year in Russia at the request of foreign law enforcement agencies, Russian Interpol official Tatyana Shishova said at a news conference on Monday, the day before Safer Internet Day, part of an European Union-backed international awareness campaign.
Some cast a critical eye on the Safe Internet League, the non-governmental organization that helped develop the November law, which Public Chamber member and journalism professor Ivan Zassoursky described as a "conservative lobbying structure," in an interview Friday with Ekho Moskvy radio.
The chairman of the league's board of trustees is Igor Shchyogolev, an aide to President Vladimir Putin who served as communications and press minister from 2008 to 2012 under then-President Dmitry Medvedev.
The league was founded by the Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, a group with close links to the Russian Orthodox Church and a $40 million yearly budget, whose board of directors includes Shchyogolev, Putin-friendly actor and director Nikita Mikhalkov, and chairman Konstantin Malofeyev, the largest minority shareholder of state-owned telecom firm Rostelecom.
But an official with the group denied that it is an arm of the church, which Putin has given an increasing role in dictating public morality, and said the media had missed the point of the proposal.
Several of the country's telecom companies, including Rostelecom, MTS, Beeline, and MegaFon, are league members, and their dues support the group's advocacy efforts, said Valery Ponomaryov, assistant to acting director Davydov.
"Parental control," not "white list," more accurately described the proposal, he said. On the more critical question of whether a clean Internet would be the default option, Ponomaryov deferred to Internet service providers, saying they would be the ones to decide.
Ponomaryov said he is personally in favor of the default option, arguing that it was "sensible" because opinion polls "showed that up to 70 percent" are in favor of it.
Asked to provide evidence of that claim, Ponomaryov directed a reporter to a January study by the Public Opinion Foundation, which found that 43 percent of Russians supported banning certain websites without court approval.
Parental control will only be turned on with the "permission of users," the government's press release said. Negotiations between the league, the Kostroma administration, and Internet service providers are ongoing, and an agreement is expected in the first quarter of this year, it said.
Earlier, Ponomaryov told Gazeta.ru that the league was in negotiations to have similar systems introduced in the Lipetsk, Ulyanovsk and Leningrad regions.
Window on Eurasia: Russian Government Now Views Internet as Main Threat to Its Position, Agora Says
Staunton, February 4 The growth in Internet use in the Russian Federation over the last year has meant that "for the first time, the Internet began to be considered by the Russian government as the main source of threat to its well-being and stability," according to the annual report of the Agora Inter-Regional Human Rights Organization.
The 12-page, heavily footnoted report by Damir Gaynutdinov and Pavel Chikov is at www.eliberator.ru/files/%D0%90%D0%93%D0%9E%D0%A0%D0%90.%20%D0%9D%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B1%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B0%20%D0%98%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%82%D0%B0%202012.pdf
. A partial summary of its contents can be found at grani.ru/Internet/m.211237.html
The report notes that there were both "an increasing number of cases" in which the state imposed restrictions" and "the growth by an order of magnitude of the number of proposals for regulating the Internet, not one of which contained a guarantee of freedom but rather were directed exclusively at increasing control ... and the introduction of new forms of censorship."
In 2012, there were 1197 instances in Russia of limiting freedom of the Internet, including 103 criminal prosecutions, 208 of administrative pressure, and 609 involving limiting access to sites. Each of these was significantly larger than the year before, with some of them having increased by more than two times.
Acts of repression against use of the Internet also spread across the country, with 38 regions now involved in such actions compared to 35 a year before. And the number of federal subjects where the authorities employed "serious pressure" increased from four to nine, with the most dangerous regions being Stavropol kray, Tyumen Oblat and then Moscow.
2012 thus became "a turning point for the Runet, which has rapidly gone from the periphery of social-political life to the center and demonstrated the broadest possibility for self-organization of active citizens," the report continues, and thus it "has attracted" more than ever before the attention of the authorities.
Gaynutdinov and Chikov say they are cerain that "this trend will continue" in 2013, and they express regret that "not a single organization represented in the Internet community in Russia is speaking out clearly and in a principled fashion in defense of the freedom of use and dissemination of information on the Net."
"The 'ostrich-like' strategy of Internet business and Internet community," they suggest, "is explained by their direct ... or indirect ... dependency on the Russian authorities." And that too, they argue, is unlikely to change, even though the issues are gaining attention with some high profile people like Aleksey Navalny affected and other Web activists fleeing abroad.
For the first time, last year featured "the massive flight" of such activists to other countries. At the same time, the authors of the report note, "the owners of sites also began actively to choose foreign jurisdictions" for their IPs.
No one should be under any illusion that this is a purely domestic problem, Gaynutdinov and Chikov argues. Moscow's policy at home increasingly during 2012 found expression in its foreign policy actions, even though it suffered defeats in 2011 at the UN and in December 2012 at Dubai, when its ideas on "net sovereignty" were rejected by the international community.
Indeed, they conclude, it is entirely fair to say that "namely Russia represents for the free and open Internet a global threat to the extent that far more than China it is interested in the adoption of international acts regulating the Net." That will continue and should provide common ground for Internet users inside the Russian Federation and those abroad.
Artists vs. Putin: Musicians' Spat Joins A Russian Tradition
February 4, 2013
By LAURA MILLS
MOSCOW -- When famed viola player Yuri Bashmet declared that he "adored" President Vladimir Putin, he stirred little controversy in a country where classical musicians have often curried favor with the political elite.
But political drama spilled into the orchestra pit last month when Bashmet refused to condemn a new law prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian children, and in response the beloved singer Sergei Nikitin canceled his appearance at a concert celebrating the violist's 60th birthday.
The spat joins a long Russian tradition of artists who have jumped or been dragged into the political fray. From composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who lived in fear of arrest under dictator Josef Stalin, to the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who returned to a liberalizing Soviet Union in 1991 and took up arms to defy Communist hardliners, Russian musicians and other artists have had a habit of becoming politicized figures.
At the core of the argument today is a question about what an artist's role should be in Putin's Russia: Attracting generous state funding for bigger and better artistic projects? Or challenging the political system in a way most ordinary citizens cannot afford to do?
Some of Russia's cultural figures brought their star power to the anti-Putin rallies that rocked Moscow last winter. Others were recruited to back up Putin as he ran for a third term as Russia's president. As the expression goes: "A poet in Russia is always more than a poet."
Actor and theater director Yevgeny Mironov appeared in a pro-Putin campaign ad in which he gave heartfelt thanks to Putin for keeping Russia and his Moscow theater afloat. Some of his fellow actors loudly refused.
Actress Chulpan Khamatova, who depends on government support for charity work for children, filmed a similar pro-Putin ad, but the delivery was tortured, as if she were speaking under duress. And she was one of the many cultural figures who signed a petition condemning the adoption bill.
The ban, which went into effect Jan. 1, proved controversial even among many Putin loyalists in the intelligentsia, who see the Kremlin as playing politics at the expense of Russia's orphans. Tens of thousands of people took part in a Jan. 13 protest march through Moscow, one of the largest anti-Putin demonstrations the city had seen in many months.
The adoption ban was in response to the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that imposes sanctions on Russians accused of involvement in the prison death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other rights abuses.
Yuri Norshteyn, Russia's most beloved animator, took Putin to task over Magnitsky during an awards ceremony on Jan. 19. Norshteyn noted that Putin had attributed Magnitsky's death to heart failure, but said that in fact the lawyer had died because of "a failure of Putin's heart."
The audience erupted with cheers and applause.
Discontent over the adoption ban entered the classical music world at a news conference Bashmet gave ahead of his birthday jubilee concert on Jan. 24. The floppy-haired violist, who is the conductor of two Moscow orchestras and a famed soloist in his own right, gave an equivocal answer when asked about his stance on the adoption ban, refusing to condemn the law in its entirety.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Jan. 27, Bashmet said he didn't think the fate of children should be decided by anti-American legislation, but he asserted that the adoption ban would end up helping Russia's orphans by raising awareness within the country about the tens of thousands of children in need of families.
"There are things that need to be decided within the country, and it's good that this question has been raised in such a controversial way, so that now the president has decreed that it will be at the center of attention," Bashmet told the AP. "Our government is now responding to this, to the betterment of these children."
That stance didn't sit well with Nikitin, a bard in the Russian folk tradition. He said that it didn't bother him if "Bashmet adores the president," but his ambiguous justification of the adoption ban took things too far.
"This (the adoption issue) doesn't have anything to do with politics," Nikitin said. "It's about being humane, being humanitarian, about morality."
Bashmet may be an extreme example of an artist showing affection for Putin, but classical musicians have rarely been immune to politics.
Valery Gergiev, director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, has been outspokenly supportive of the Putin regime. After Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008 over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, he conducted a concert in front of a destroyed government building in the South Ossetian capital.
The cellist Rostropovich, whose support for Soviet dissidents had led to his exile in the United States in the 1970s, returned to the Soviet Union as the Communist regime was crumbling. Wielding a Kalashnikov, he stood with protesters who had rallied around Boris Yeltsin in defiance of Communist hardliners trying to take power in the August 1991 coup.
Other musicians have been much less willing participants when it comes to politics, doing their best to avoid the political fray. This was particularly true when the risks were greater, as they were in Soviet times, when even a discordant note or a suggestive motif could bring accusations of deviating from the political line.
The composer Shostakovich received a scathing critique of his experimentalism in 1936, infamously titled "Muddle Instead of Music" and published in the Soviet Union's most important newspaper. With the Stalinist purges moving at full throttle, Shostakovich backed away from some of his more avant-garde music, taking more care to adhere to the political line.
But Shostakovich, like his contemporary Sergei Prokofiev, was also protected by his status. Great musicians of the Soviet period became a source of patriotism and a means of challenging the West's dominance. Despite the heavy weight of Stalinist repression, Shostakovich and Prokofiev created some of the most cherished, experimental and at times critical music of the 20th century.
After Stalin's death, many of Shostakovich's and Prokofiev's compositions that were interpreted as anti-fascist during the dictator's life were recast as artistic protests against the Stalinist terror.
Nikitin believes in the examples set by Prokofiev and Shostakovich great artists who were among the few people who could attempt to oppose, even if only through their music, the existing regime.
"The government and state officials, including the president, should be grateful to these artists, that they give them the opportunity to experience this kind of art, and in this way to make life in our country richer," he said.
In Soviet times, cinema also was under strict government censorship. When Stalin was in power, he decided personally which films could be shown and which were to be stashed "on the shelf." Despite this, the Soviet era is remembered as the height of Russian filmmaking, from the early experimentalism of Sergei Eisenstein to the charming, Oscar-winning "Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears."
After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, things changed drastically for the film industry. A style called "chernukha," or blackness, became the vogue among many Russian filmmakers, who made dark and violent movies showing contemporary life as a bleak moral vacuum. Others, like director Nikita Mikhailkov, took a different tack by producing upbeat, patriotic films, attracting generous funding in the process.
February 4, 2013
'I'm no Havel' says campaigning Russian author Akunin
By Ray Furlong
He is one of Russia's leading opposition activists and a best-selling crime writer, but Boris Akunin says he has gone off protest rallies and detective fiction.
Akunin - real name Grigory Chkhartishvili - has sold more than 18 million books, and played an influential role in anti-Putin demonstrations which have filled the streets of Moscow.
"Speaking in front of a demonstration is a nightmare to me," he told the BBC in London. "I did it twice last year and each time it was an ordeal."
Akunin abandoned a novel he was writing in France and flew back to Moscow in December 2011, amid mass protests against alleged fraud in Russia's parliamentary elections.
Last year there were more mass rallies, as Vladimir Putin was re-elected president in controversial elections. Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the votes were "skewed" in his favour.
But Akunin says he had felt uncomfortable, as if he were being drawn into the role of a dissident writer.
"The pressure was quite high. Everybody wants you to behave like Vaclav Havel, the [late] Czech president and writer. They say: 'Are you the Russian Havel?' I'm not. I'm not going to run for the presidency, to be a deputy or a minister or whatever. I want to stay a writer."
That does not mean Akunin is losing interest in Russian politics, merely that his approach is changing.
"I've now discovered that I don't have to speak before tens of thousands of people. I'm a writer. I have a blog which people can read."
Last week Human Rights Watch released a report saying the Russian authorities were launching their worst political crackdown since Soviet times. Akunin believes Russia is at a dangerous turning point.
"Putin's support is 62% in Russia. But trust in Putin is only 32%. It means people support him because they don't see a choice, but they don't trust him."
A new perestroika?
Is he disappointed that the mass protests that struck Moscow in 2011 and 2012 have petered out?
"Putin could survive for years, or he could go down in a couple of days. It could easily happen - just by accident they'll kill someone, and the next day there will be hundreds of thousands of Muscovites in the streets.
"But I'm afraid of abrupt changes in a country like Russia, which has nuclear weapons. I do not want revolution, even a peaceful revolution. We are not Czechoslovakia, we are Russia. I hope for something like a new perestroika."
Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika" reforms in the 1980s sought to pull Soviet society out of stagnation without dismantling the communist system.
Akunin is careful how he describes his stance. He says it puts him at odds with other opposition leaders, who do want more rapid change - but he does not want to criticise them, because they are being targeted by the authorities.
For example, the blogger Alexei Navalny is currently fighting a tax investigation, which is often seen as a deliberate means the authorities use to apply pressure on political opponents.
But Akunin says he does not fear repression himself.
"I do not really think they are going to do this to a writer, because the history of political persecution of writers in Russia is so big. But, it could happen. I have my readers and they write to me about everything that happens. I know I have secret checks on my income every now and then."
But Akunin, speaking over a gin-and-tonic in a London hotel bar, was perhaps about to disappoint some of his readers. He was in London to discuss an English-language TV mini-series based on his detective hero, Erast Fandorin.
The Fandorin novels, a glamorous romp through tsarist Russia, have been best-sellers since the 1990s. Other detective heroes, including the crime-solving nun Sister Pelagia, have also been hugely popular - and helped make Akunin such an asset to the opposition movement.
Nevertheless, when asked about the future, Akunin says there will be two more Fandorin books and then he will quit crime writing.
"I am changing. I am quite fed up with crime fiction. I'll finish the Fandorin series and then I won't do it any longer. I think I have drunk this bottle to the last drop. You cannot do the same thing over and over again."
He is deliberately vague on what is coming next.
"I've started working on a big new project for the years to come. It will consist of two parts - one fictional and one non-fictional. I don't want to be more specific. I've finished the first book and put it aside for a few months - to see with fresh eyes whether it's worth something or I need to throw it in the waste basket."
Key Facts: Boris Akunin
Born in 1956
Popular writer of crime fiction whose novels have been translated into 30 languages
Expert on Japanese literature
Abandoned novel to help spearhead anti-Putin protests in 2011
Co-founder of the Voters' League campaign group
February 5, 2013
The Siloviki's Front Man in Dagestan
By Nikolai Petrov
Nikolai Petrov is a professor at the Higher School of Economics.
One year before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and 12 months before the term of former Dagestani leader Magomedsalam Magomedov was to expire, the Kremlin appointed a new leader in the volatile republic. To make his dismissal look more like a promotion, Magomedov was given the newly created post of deputy head of the presidential administration in charge of national questions, an important-sounding job with vague responsibilities.
He was replaced by Ramazan Abdulatipov, a career politician who started out during the leadership of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Abdulatipov left Dagestan in the 1980s to successfully pursue a number of roles: chairman of the Council of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, first deputy minister of nationalities, senator, ambassador to Tajikistan and rector of the University of Art and Culture. Abdulatipov is equally distant from the various conflicting ethnic groups in Dagestan, although rumor has it that he does have ties to tycoons Ziyavudin Magomedov and Magomed Magomedov in the same way that his predecessor had support from billionaire Suleiman Kerimov.
Due to the extremely complex ethnic composition of Dagestan, direct presidential elections have never been held there, and a system of ethnic checks and balances is used. It is very unlikely that direct elections will be held this time, either. For such cases, amendments were proposed to the law on the direct election of governors that would allow the legislature to grant authority to the leader, a procedure practiced from 2005 to 2012. The amendments have only been through the first reading in the State Duma. It is worth noting that Magomedov was opposed to those amendments and advocated direct elections.
It would be wrong to say that Magomedov committed any serious errors while running Dagestan. It is the most unstable region of Russia, and it would be a mistake to conclude that Abdulatipov will do a better job. Why did the Kremlin make this change at what would seem to be an inopportune moment? Apparently, the goal is to change not only the individual in power but the whole model of government as well.
Neither Abdulatipov nor his predecessor is a strong figure in the region. But whereas Magomadev could rely on the reputation of his father, Magomedali Magomedov, who led the republic for more than 15 years and effectively built Dagestan's current political system, Abdulatipov lacks a strong leadership team.
By appointing Abdulatipov, who is definitely no strongman, in a region plagued by what is essentially a smoldering civil war between insurgents, siloviki and Islamic extremists, the Kremlin is admitting that its approach of relying on ethnic clans did not work and will now turn to the siloviki to rule by force. In the conflict between Magomedov and the siloviki, the Kremlin stands on the side of the siloviki and is essentially appointing a figurehead to lead the republic.
Abdulatipov will apparently act as a front for the siloviki, playing much the same role as Alexander Khloponin, who was appointed presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District in 2010. Hopefully, the siloviki, who are generally given carte blanche in such arrangements, will be deployed from the federal center and not turn out to be the more ruthless version employed by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
February 4, 2013
Is Putin afraid of the Caucasus?
By Daniil Kotsyubinsky
Daniil Kotsyubinsky is Russian historian and journalist based in St. Petersburg
Russian lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a law to allow governors to be appointed in the country's 83 regions, reversing last year's move to restore direct elections. As Daniil Kotsyubinsky reports, this issue is unimportant in itself, but it exposes the regime's soft underbelly, unrest in the Caucasus.
So, there are to be no direct elections of governors, or at least not in the Northern Caucasus. Without waiting for the Russian parliament to pass the law giving regions the right to decide whether to have their regional chiefs elected or appointed, the heads of Adygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kababrdino-Balkariya, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, north Ossetia and Chechnya masters of political synchronised swimming have collectively asked the government of the Russian Federation (RF) to spare them the dangers that might accompany the direct expression of the public will.
A reform that backfired
Vladimir Putin introduced Russia's crooked gubernatorial appointment system in 2004. Until then regional heads were directly elected, except in Dagestan where the governor was appointed by the local parliament. But after the terrorist attack on the school in Beslan (in north Ossetia) in September 2004, Putin suddenly came out against the election of regional chiefs, proposing instead that they be effectively appointed by the president, i.e. himself. Formally, three candidates' names would be put before regional parliaments for approval. Given the absolute domination of the president's United Russia party in all these bodies, the results of these 'elections' would clearly be a foregone conclusion.
However, the pros of this impulsive reform turned out to be outweighed by its cons. In the first place, the obviously spurious implied connection between elected governors and Chechen separatists in Beslan only strengthened public suspicion that the seizure of the school might have been secretly initiated by the Russian security services.
In the second, by abolishing gubernatorial elections, Putin dismantled a system that created a political buffer between himself and the voters. Elected governors served the useful purpose of deflecting the flak for any problems or failures away from the Kremlin now that option had disappeared.
Lastly, Putin destroyed any remaining illusions the public had about being able to influence government, even if only at a local level, and handed the opposition a new and highly popular rallying cry: 'Bring back governors' elections'. And the opposition, which until then had been unsure about what reforms to demand of the Kremlin, seized it with gratitude and made it one of its key slogans.
As a result, when in the autumn of 2011 the political situation in Russia suddenly began to deteriorate sharply and fearful government officials even began to pronounce the words 'political reform', first PM Putin and then President Medvedev spoke out in favour of reintroducing gubernatorial elections. On Medvedev's initiative the law was duly changed. The first elections, for those regional heads whose terms of office ran out between June and December 2012, were scheduled for autumn 2012. They took place without any hitches or indeed any unpleasant surprises for Vladimir Putin.
Not that any were likely! The Kremlin, after all, controls everything in Russia: money, abuse of police power, laws, local election committees, the judges, the elites, the TV channels...in other words, the regime has everything it needs to extend its rule ad infinitum. Or more precisely, until the moment when god finally decides to punish this arrogant power vertical by removing the last vestiges of political sense from its collective head, grown dizzy with its own success. It isn't yet clear when this will happen, but there is a growing feeling that it will be soon. Putin and all his initiatives are becoming increasing odious and unpopular among wide circles of opinion musicians, writers, actors, directors, journalists, popular bloggers etc. who for long years maintained a political neutrality but have now roused themselves into civic engagement. To give an example, the celebrated musician Yuri Bashmet has been universally ostracised for his implicit support for the recent Dima Yakovlev Law, which among other things bans the adoption of Russian children by US citizens.
How much longer will the regime last?
The current situation in Russia is beginning to resemble the years 1915-6, when the Tsarist government suddenly found itself the object of universal hatred and it seemed that it would only take one serious spark of revolution for all the Grand Dukes, generals and ministers to let go of power and leave the Tsar to his fate. Although of course the roots of that revolution didn't lie in 'the odd mistake' made by the government, but events stretching back over many years.
There are also objective and fundamental reasons for the moral and political decline of the Putin regime, the most significant of which is the public's weariness with the long years of economic and political stagnation which have not given them the stability and prosperity they were promised. Another important factor is Putin's increasingly obvious physical aging, magnified by the lack of a constitutional (rather than emergency) procedure for a handover from one ruler to another. Everyone, both those close to power and the public at large, is becoming increasingly neurotic about this state of affairs. Sooner or later, we shall see an inevitable split in the Kremlin ranks, followed by the fateful 'spark of revolution'...with Putin looking less and less immortal, it is only a matter of time before someone in his inner circle will risk gambling on a drop in his political stock, to avoid going down with the presidential Titanic. Putin's autocracy, in other words, is being eroded from within, and the question of how regional governors are selected is neither here nor there.
While the Dragon is still strong, he will make short work of any election campaigns, whether direct or indirect, as is clear from not only the last parliamentary and presidential elections, but also the direct gubernatorial elections that took place in five Russian regions last autumn. Unsurprisingly, these passed off in just as orderly a fashion as the previous indirect ones, with the sitting candidates duly re-elected.
What's more, should, heaven forbid (as has been known in some mayoral elections), the election winner be not the ruling party candidate, but some local Robin Hood or William Tell, he or she will be forced to fit into the existing power vertical. It is unthinkable for someone to successfully govern a region while at the same time voicing any disagreement with the Kremlin. The overwhelming majority of Russia's regions are reliant on central government hand-outs for their survival, and any official at any level can at any time be sacrificed to the latest ritual war on corruption everyone knows this, and knows to watch their step.
How the pyramid of power is constructed directly or indirectly is totally unimportant. What is important is for a prince to have received from the hands of the Great Khan a letter patent entitling him to 'govern, raise taxes and collect tribute'. If you have, then get on with it. Otherwise, join the Yuri Luzhkov Club for Retired Heavyweights.
But if that's the case, why did the Kremlin then make another U-turn and revert to an appointment system for governors (whether total or partial is still not clear)? Boris Nemtsov, leader of the opposition Parnas Party, blogged on the 'Moscow Echo' radio station website: 'Gubernatorial elections, which they had apparently just reinstated, were already emasculated by all kinds of municipal filters and innumerable ways of disqualifying 'unsuitable' candidates. Yet they are still being abolished. I predict that they will try to abolish any elections where there is even the slightest threat of their power being challenged.'
So, the Russian opposition is such a threat to the regime that even in its emasculated state it has enough political potential to have the Kremlin running scared? Alas, no. Sadly for Nemtsov and other professional opponents of the regime, direct gubernatorial elections as such present no danger whatsoever to either Putin or his electoral system. The clearest proof of this is that the opposition leader's contention has been echoed by a United Russia member of the country's upper chamber, Senator Vadim Tyulpanov, who has declared that 'the idea of abolishing the election of governors even in part of Russia could lead to the downfall of our country', and that it was 'a great pity' that Parliament had taken such a decision.
A Theatre of the Absurd?
So what is this Theatre of the Absurd, where Tyulpanov appears as Putin's antagonist and Nemtsov dramatically brandishes castrated revolutionary marionettes about? In fact there is nothing absurd at all. Or rather, the absurdity began last winter. At the very height of the street protests, the opposition missed the opportunity of demanding radical change (i.e. Putin's resignation and a full scale programme of political reform). Instead, all they could come up with was the nonsensical 'Churov Out!' (a reference to the Chair of Russia's Central Election Commission and Eminence grise behind election fraud) and a cry for new elections without any change of government or its regime. Among other patently dead horses being flogged was the idea of a return to the direct election of governors. And the Kremlin, terrified by the hell that was breaking loose outside its gates, quaked. And it promised to deliver.
What's more, the promise was kept! After which it resolved to dot all the 'i's, in case any doubt remained about the outcome of the previous political year. Then the new law was tabled. Its chief purpose is not to 'keep Nemtsov and Co. away from power' (there is no risk of that anyway), but simply to demonstratively draw a line under the phantom trials and tribulations of the opposition and its sympathisers among the public, all of it precipitated by the fuss around Putin and Medvedev's announcement of their job swap in September 2011. The message was clear: the boss was back in town and any Kremlin wavering and worrying in December 2011 was history. This is the reason for the opposition's present hopeless and needless anger as Putin dismisses them now as 'disqualified for total debility'.
Of course the Kremlin's rationale is not only an ethico-political one; an indirect form of election of governors is both simpler and cheaper. There is never going to be any problem about lining up a few dozen regional MPs to vote the right way. Sorting out the media, the police and all the local election committees before a direct election is a much bigger hassle, although all these issues are of secondary importance to the Kremlin. And the fact that Tyulpanov was joining with Nemtsov in criticism of Putin probably only means that the Kremlin hasn't yet made up its mind whether to reimpose the old indirect system everywhere or to invent a new game of 'letting a hundred flowers of regional freedom bloom'. In which case of course the regime's PR stress will be on the complete freedom of self development enjoyed by Russia's regions and any suggestions to the contrary come from the mendacious corridors of the US State Department.
The real truth behind the law
But this whole story nevertheless contains a 'moment of truth' which allows us to see which haystack hides the needle of Putin's downfall. It is obviously not Bolotnaya Square, synonymous with last year's protest rallies. It is not Moscow at all. It is the Caucasus. That is the area where Moscow will not even pretend to hold a dialogue with the public. That is the area where the President's men on the ground are starting to sound nervous. In December 2012 Aleksey Machnev, the speaker of North Ossetia's parliament, told Putin that direct gubernatorial elections would lead to 'an increase in social and political tension, a deterioration in the socio-economic situation, and escalation of inter-regional discord and a threat to security in the area'. And on the eve of the national parliamentary debate on the new Bill the President of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Yevkurov made an almost monarchist appeal in support of the appointment system: 'The President's administration will never appoint some good-for-nothing who won't be up to the job. What would be the point of that?' In the heat of the moment, Yevkurov seems to have forgotten that formally it is still local MPs who elect regional governors, and the President merely 'nominates three candidates'.
It is clear in any case that the vote after the Bill's first reading has ended the 'Moscow' stage of the anti-Putin revolt, and has effectively announced the beginning of a new stage in which we may assume that the revolutionary flame that has gone out in Bolotnaya Square will flare up in the Caucasus - where, of course, it has never been completely quenched.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
February 1, 2013
The Dynamics of Russian Islam
By Alexey Malashenko
Scholar in Residence, Religion, Society and Security Program, Moscow Center
[DJ: Notes not here]
The North Caucasus is typically mentioned as a major hotbed of Islamic radicalism in Russia. The religious and political situations in other Russian regions, however, have traditionally been relatively stable, so little consideration has been given to Islam's impact on those areas. But the situation has changed recently in southern Russia, the Urals, Siberia, and the metropolitan Moscow area. This shift poses real problems for the Russian state.
The Volga Region with its Muslim population (Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, and some surrounding territories with sizable Muslim minorities) has always seemed like an "Islamic island" in the vast "Orthodox Christian sea." A small, 18-kilometer-wide "isthmus" located in the Orenburg Oblast separates the Muslim-dominated part of Russia, specifically Bashkortostan, from Central Asia. Demographic changes and a spike in Muslim migration that are currently taking place in the Urals, the Volga Region, and Western Siberia now link the Russian "Islamic island" to the entire "Islamic continent."
In some previously docile Russian regions, parts of the Muslim population are becoming more radical and even extremist. Two watershed events occurred in Tatarstan in 2012: Mufti Ildus Faizov was seriously wounded, and distinguished Muslim cleric Valiulla Yakupov was killed.
Radicals also conducted a number of protests in Kazan and other cities where they expressed solidarity with Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, an Islamist organization that operates in Central Asia. Terrorist attacks carried out in Kazan have resembled extremist acts in the North Caucasus, and the media has even dubbed this phenomenon the "Caucasusization" of the Volga Region.
Muslim Migrants in Russia
The situation in the Ural, Volga, and Western Siberian regions is changing in part because both internal and external migration are on the rise, with migrants coming from the North Caucasus, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia. This means that the Muslim space in Russia is continuously expanding.
The precise number of immigrants from Central Asia is unknown because most still enter the country illegally. But estimates indicate that of these immigrants, there are 700,000 to 1.2 million Uzbeks in Russia1, 800,000 to 2 million Tajiks, and 400,000 to 800,000 Kyrgyz. The estimated number of immigrants from Azerbaijan fluctuates between 600,000 and 1 million people.2 The number of North Caucasian migrants is difficult to approximate, but it is certainly in the six-digit range.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has more than once put the number of Russia's Muslims at 20 million. According to the 2010 census, the "ethnic Muslims" who are Russian citizens number approximately 16 million (those who were born into Muslim families and follow the Islamic tradition are considered ethnic Muslims). To arrive at 20 million or higher, the migrant population has to be added to the adherents of Islam among Russia's citizens.
The Kremlin thus views Russia's Muslim community as a single entity without distinguishing between the country's citizens and foreigners. Such a view is justified insofar as the Islamic factor in Russia's cultural, social, and political life is a cohesive, indivisible phenomenon.
Of course, being a Muslim can mean very different things to very different people. In the 1990s, Russian politicians and the academic community came to divide Islam into "traditional" and "nontraditional" branches. Traditional Islam is understood as a religious tradition that intertwines with ethnic culture and adherence to "one's own" centuries-old theological and legal school of thought (mazhab). In Russia, Bashkirs and Tatars adhere to Hanafism, and the Muslims in the North Caucasus for the most part follow Shafiism. Different strains of Sufism (such as tariqatism in the North Caucasus) are also part of traditional Islam.
Nontraditional Islam encompasses the forms of Islamic views that began entering Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when the borders with the broader Muslim world were opened. It includes Salafism, fundamentalism, and Wahhabism; the one general term used to define all of these strandseven if not entirely correctlyis "Islamism."
The adherents of traditional and nontraditional Islam engaged in a fierce struggle in which the traditionalists were supported by the secular authorities. The Russian authorities have grown accustomed to the confrontation between the two factions of Islam and have always viewed nontraditional Islam as alien and hostile, as well as the ideological foundation for extremism and terrorism.
Salafism, however, is also a part of Islamic tradition. It originated as early as the ninth century and became a legitimate component of Muslim theology and religious ideology. Pitting Salafism against the native Caucasian or Tatar Islamic factions is primarily political.
Islam experts and some imams are coming to the conclusion that the dichotomy between "native" and "foreign" Islam needs to be abandoned. It is noteworthy that some Dagestani politicians knowledgeable in Islam are already cautiously abandoning such divisions. The local (mostly Sufi) traditionalists and their Salafi opponents, primarily from a moderate wing, are looking for and finding common ground on some issues.
In fact, both have the same goal of instituting Islamic order and introducing sharia law, differing only on the methods of accomplishing that goal. The Salafis are ready to resort to violence. The traditionalists believe in the possibility of peaceful evolution and claim that "re-Islamization" and instituting sharia law is possible within the framework of the Russian state.
Even though President Putin has stressed the necessity "of supporting traditional Islam," such statements do not reflect all the complexities of the internal struggle within Islam.
Becoming More Observant
In recent years, Islamization has been a distinct characteristic of Muslim migration. Obviously, the term "Islamization" is relative when applied to adherents of Islam. But it is meant in the sense that the earlier waves of Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek migrant workers that went to Russia often violated sharia dietary prohibitions (consuming non-halal food and alcohol), rarely visited mosque, prayed less than required, and did not always fast during Ramadan.
But as migrant communities in Russia became more organized and a Central Asian middle class and business elite emerged, Islam started playing a more prominent role in migrants' lives. This helps to consolidate the Muslim community, allows the community to retain its ethno-religious identity, and serves as a means of repelling the mounting attacks from the growing Russian nationalist camp.
Generally speaking, Muslim migrants from the North Caucasus are very observant. The more cosmopolitan Azerbaijani migrants to Russia have been less inclined to turn to religion, but they are also beginning to reclaim their religious identity. In a few instances, migrants from Azerbaijan petitioned the local Russian authorities to construct "Azerbaijani" (that is, Shia) mosques.
In some areas, migrants account for a good portion of worshippers. According to some Tatar imams, migrants make up more than half of worshippers during Friday general prayers in Chelyabinsk, Khanty-Mansiysk, Salekhard, Saratov, Yekaterinburg, and many smaller towns. There have been instances when Tatar imams who did not command the respect of their new congregants refused to conduct services in mosques and asked to be replaced. Some sources claim that Tajiks comprise at least 7 percent of Russia's imams, while the total number of non-native imams in Russia comes to 17 percent. Of the 80,000100,000 Muslims that attend Kurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha) celebrations at the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia account for more than half of the attendees.
There is a severe shortage of mosques in Moscow due to the migrant influx. Currently, only five mosques are in operation in the Russian capital. In recent years, the construction of mosques has been increasingly frequently financed by migrant businessmen. The first "Tajik" mosque opened its doors in Vladivostok in 2012. Migrants are raising money to build mosques in Naro-Fominsk near Moscow, as well as in Kurgan, Orenburg, Tyumen, and other Russian regions, with the mosque being both a place of worship and also a center for Muslims to socialize and discuss political issues.
Conversions to Islam
Further complicating the current situation, Slavs are converting to Islam in increasing numbers. There were between 2,000 and 3,000 Slavic converts to Islam in the early 2000s (excluding the Russian and Ukrainian women who married Muslims).3 Current estimates vary, but numbers in the tens of thousands are often cited.
Kharun (Vadim) Sidorov, the head of the National Organization of Russian Muslims, founded in 2004, and the head of the Community of Russian Muslims of the Urals, claims that in his region, every Friday's prayer service brings three new Russian converts to Islam. He also says that ethnic Russians comprise up to 40 percent of congregants in some mosques.4 In some cases, Russians establish their own congregations, while in others they join the already-established multinational communities.
Different reasons account for this phenomenon. Some Russians are disenchanted with their own ethnocultural and religious identity, and they respect Islam's special vigor, its global ambitions including Muslims' involvement in politics, and its capacity to challenge the West. The idea of Russia "withering" as a state, nation, and civilization first appeared over ten years ago, along with fictional literature on the subject. The central theme was the Islamization of Russia, which reinvigorates the country and leads it toward a triumphant victory over its adversaries. Some Russian nationalists also have quite a positive view of Islam, seeing it as their ally in confronting the West.
As of today, there is no reason to believe that Russian converts to Islam have become a mass phenomenon. Nevertheless, the number of such converts has been rising among Islamic radicals in the last few years. They participated in the Nevski Express high-speed-train bombing (2009), the terrorist attack at Domodedovo Airport (2011), the murder of Said Afandi al-Chirkawi, a spiritual leader of the Sufi Muslims and head of Naqshbandi and Shazali tariqas (2012), and other acts of terror.
The Radicalization of Russia's Muslims
Russian Islam experts and Russian politicians agree that Russia's Muslims are becoming radicalized. Bashkortostan's president, Rustem Khamitov, cautiously notes that religious radicalism also poses a risk to the republic.5 The Minister of Interior of Tatarstan Artiom Khokhorin states that "for thirteen years already an undeclared war has been going on in the republic."6 One commentator also claimed that "the future goal of Islamists is Siberia."7
An increasing number of Islamic radicals from Central Asia are especially active in the Russian regions that border Central Asia or are located nearby (including the Astrakhan, Chelyabinsk, Kurgan, Omsk, Orenburg, Tomsk, and Tyumen Oblasts as well as the Republic of Bashkortostan). Salafi circles dominated by local Muslims operate in the Volga Region, primarily in Tatarstan (Almetyevsk, Kukmor, Naberezhnye Chelny, and Nizhnekamsk), Bashkortostan (Agideli, Baimak, Oktyabrskoye, Sibaya, and Ufa), and in the Nizhniy Novgorod, Samara, Saratov, and Ulyanovsk Oblasts, as well as in Mordovia.
Some of the migrants to these regions belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami and recruit local Muslims into groups of three to five members that call for the creation of an Islamic caliphate and distribute flyers and radical literature, such as the Al Va'i journal. According to one analyst, "There is a significant number of Salafi communities, Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami cells and other radical organizations in the Ural Federal District. These organizations may follow the example of their counterparts from other Russian regions and carry out similar brazen attacks in the Urals."8
The traditionalists are gradually losing their popularity among Muslim youth in Russia. They have few charismatic and professionally educated clergymen and have been tarnished by collaboration with the secular authorities, to whom they remain loyal. They are seeking something new in Islam, something turned toward the current events in their republic, the country, and the world. The traditionalists, who are fixated on preserving the mazhab and ethnocultural traditions, are unable to provide satisfactory answers. Salafis and radicals, for their part, are often capable of offering answers to the questions that concern the youth.
Opinions differ on how much danger radical Islam poses to the stability of a particular region and of the country as a whole. Some believe that the "Islamic challenge" is overrated and poses little threat, while others claim that radicalization exacerbates the situation and is making interreligious and interethnic conflicts worse.
In this respect, the example of southern Russia is sometimes cited. Southern Russia, particularly the Stavropol Region, has experienced significant Salafization of its Muslimsprimarily Muslim youth. This change complicates the already-troubled relations between Muslims and Slavs and fuels Slavic migration into central Russia, thus shifting the demographic balance in southern Russia. Stavropol Krai, with Muslims accounting for 26 percent of its population, is not the only region affected by these shifts; Krasnodar Krai (over 20 percent Muslim), Astrakhan Oblast (30 percent), and Rostov Oblast (over 10 percent), and other areas are also impacted.
Islam and Politics in Russia
Islam has become a factor in Russian politics, and its presence in the country's political life is even more pronounced than it was in the 1990s. Muslim activism in Russia continues to develop and radicalize. It is easy for Islam to become a form of social protest and an instrument in the struggle for social justice. Reoccurring ethnic conflicts may ultimately lead to interreligious confrontation, and the Russian authorities are not prepared for such a course of events.
Both socially and ethnically, the ummah in Russia is very heterogeneous, and so far ethnic solidarity still prevails over religious unity. However, Muslims could potentially form a more consolidated front. Islam is specifically brought up when social and ethnic conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims escalate. Simmering Islamophobia could produce religious consolidation as well. And when Russian nationalists and certain Russian Orthodox Church ideologists periodically proclaim "Orthodox Russia" to be the best model for Russian statehood, this also contributes to a consolidation around Islam.
So far, the influence of the Arab Spring on Russia's Muslims has been rather limited. But eventually the events in the Middle East are going to affect the post-Soviet space, including Russia.
HRW report on Russia's human rights record biased - Naryshkin
LUXEMBOURG. Feb 5 (Interfax) - State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin said Human Rights Watch is a politically-biased organization.
"Human Rights Watch has long entered Russia on the list of countries with an inferior human rights record," Naryshkin told reporters in Luxembourg, when asked to comment on the HRW's most recent report.
The HRW's activities were discussed in the most general context, he said, speaking about a discussion at the Luxembourg parliament, adding that the report gives a "politically-biased and prescribed opinion of Russia."
"All of us should gradually leave the memories of the Cold War alone and rid ourselves of the philosophical and psychological aspects of that war," he said.
Elaborating on human rights abuses, Naryshkin said that Russia is concerned about the situation in some countries in Europe and Asia, first of all in the Baltic republics. "Hundreds of thousands of citizens in Latvia are deprived of fundamental rights, first of all the right to vote," Naryshkin said.
Naryshkin proposed that the observance of human rights be better addressed at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is to make decisions "on the most flagrant instances of human rights abuses."
The Russian parliament "strongly advocates respect for human rights," he said.
Commenting on the criticism of some bills passed in the State Duma, including the bill on foreign agents and on tighter requirements for organizers of mass rallies, he remarked that these bills should not be judged from media reports. "The bills you are talking about should be read first. You will get a clear idea of them, which is a lot better than listening to organizations with a dubious reputation, or non-experts," Naryshkin said.
Naryshkin said he had urged Luxembourg lawmakers to deal more scrupulously with laws. "Whenever you want to find out whether a book or a theater production is good or bad, you must read the book first, or go to the theater," he said.
January 31, 2013
Not A Pretty Picture
A new study of Russia's women's prisons is a gripping look at sadism and alienation.
By Galina Stolyarova
Galina Stolyarova is a writer for The St. Petersburg Times, an English-language newspaper.
In Russian society there is rarely much compassion for prisoners, even if they have served their time.
"They're criminals what did they expect, a sanatorium?" is the typical response to stories of overcrowded cells, inmates forced to sleep in shifts, lack of proper medical care, or even sexual assault by fellow prisoners that has gone unpunished because guards could not care less.
No compassion means no interest, no investigation and no improvement. And the issue of whether the prison experiences of women differ much from those of men in Russia has never really been discussed in public. The first attempt to investigate this field was made recently by a group of four St. Petersburg sociologists who have now published their research. It is likely to shock even some hard-hearted Russian readers.
The book, Before and After Prison: Women's Stories, so far available only in Russian, combines uncensored stories written by prisoners with a professional assessment of their plight.
The sociologists conducted 35 in-depth interviews with women who had served one or several terms in Russian prisons. The women varied greatly. They had committed a variety of crimes, with widely different sentences. They were all ages and from widely different personal circumstances. Yet they had suffered similar ordeals behind bars.
According to official statistics, Russia's prison population in 2012 totaled 714,000, of which 59,000, or 8.3 percent, were women. Conditions in Russian prisons have been examined before, but the research has mainly been done by lawyers and human rights advocates. The studies have also been general and have not touched on gender. However, as this study clearly demonstrates, Russian prisons seem almost to have been designed to ignore or even punish femininity.
A brutal lack of privacy and an inexplicable degree of humiliation are perhaps the most shocking elements in the women's accounts. One repeated complaint was the stark lack of personal space. As a prisoner, whether you are eating, working, sleeping, or using the toilet, you are exposed to others.
Toilets and showers in prisons do not have partitions. Remarkably, this nasty feature seems to be retained even when the buildings undergo renovation. The principle of full deprivation of personal space is adhered to.
Co-author Yelena Omelchenko described one toilet renovation that left her "stunned."
"In front of a row of holes in the ground not separated by partitions they placed a large mirror. I am still not fully convinced that the person who was responsible for that interior design solution was not in fact a moral sadist."
Another distinct feature of Russian female prisons and penal colonies is that they seem bent on systematically and severely suppressing femininity. Colored bed sheets are forbidden. And if you soil your bed sheets for example, with menstrual blood you can expect to be punished for it.
"When your period starts unexpectedly, you're not allowed to wash until your next allocated shift for showering, which could be the next day," recalled prisoner Galina in the book.
One drastic difference between male and female prisons is that there are always lines of visitors outside the men's jails. By contrast, visitor areas in women's prisons are said to be strikingly empty, as if abandoned.
And getting out of the league of outcasts and back into normal life is much more difficult for Russian women than for men.
"You immediately feel that loneliness abounds here. When a woman is given a prison term in Russia this inevitably means almost complete exclusion from society at all levels," said sociologist Natalya Goncharova, a contributor to the research.
"A sentenced woman is typically rejected by her husband or partner, her friends, her colleagues, and social circle. By contrast, women rarely abandon their men when they are put inside. On the contrary, women often give support to their partners who are put behind bars."
"Who visited me? If anyone ever came, it was almost always our mothers. Nobody else gives a damn," said Lyudmila, who served a five-year term.
It comes as little surprise that most women see giving birth as the surest way to regain some social standing. They seek, first and foremost, to show society that they exist and that they are normal, at least in the sense that they can be mothers, just like those who've never been behind bars. When the sociologists asked their subjects how they were planning to recover from the prison experience, and how they would make a fresh start, a typical answer was "having a child."
"Self-esteem is so low in these women, that they would usually even stress that they don't even dare hope to bring up a family with the father of their future child," said sociologist Guzel Sabirova, one of the co-authors. "They say that simply having a child would be a good enough achievement."
For most women who were interviewed for the book, being an outcast is something they've known since childhood. In the interviews, they often recall being abandoned by their parents and having to live on their own before even reaching their teens. And the women who end up in Russian prisons describe themselves as "strong" or "willful."
"My parents left me when I was a child, and I would always repeat to myself that I would be able to sort all my issues for myself," said Lera, 34, one of interviewees, who was sentenced to seven years.
"On the other hand, I was always afraid that my men would dump me just like my parents did. I was always on the aggressive side because I wanted to prevent the breakups, I didn't want to be kicked out again. But my attitude would always work against me."
There is one myth that the study dispels that relations among prisoners are gentler in female penal institutions.
"Women are cruel, and they are extremely nasty to one another, vicious as hell," said another prisoner, Yulia.
"If you are ill, or weak or old, they will be sure to exploit you, humiliate you, and harass you, sometimes just for fun," she said, recounting a snoring prisoner being hit over the head with a shoe, guards being bribed with candy bars to turn a blind eye to abuse, and even inmates sabotaging others' prison work.
The Russian penal system may be meant to deter crime, but it appears that for many women, it succeeds only in leaving them physically and emotionally traumatized.
Those feelings should strike a chord with Russia's legion of outcasts the disabled, the poor, the sick. For that reason, the book is likely to appeal to many Russians who have never set foot in a prison people who will, by the final page, hope fervently that they never have to.
G8 summit to follow Olympics in Russian resort of Sochi
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Russia will host world leaders at next year's G8 summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi a few months after holding the Winter Olympics there, President Vladimir Putin said in a decree on Monday.
The decree published on the Kremlin website set Sochi as the site of the meeting of the leaders of the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations in 2014, when Russia will hold the rotating chairmanship of the G8.
Russia will spend more than 1.5 trillion roubles ($50 billion) of public and private funds to stage the Winter Games in February 2014, including extensive upgrades roads and other infrastructure, a senior official said last week.
"The reasons for choosing Sochi are obvious," state-run Itar-Tass news agency quoted Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. He cited the need to provide adequate infrastructure, ensure security and "make the work of the summit fruitful".
"The infrastructure being created in Sochi for the Olympic Games is practically ready and meets those requirements."
Most of the venues have been built from scratch in the city stretching from the shore to the Caucasus Mountains, which was awarded the Games in 2007, during Putin's previous presidency.
Putin appointed his chief of staff Sergei Ivanov to organise the G8 meeting, dismissing Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin from the role. The decree gave no reason for the change, but Sochi is some 1,400 km (870 miles) south of Moscow.
There had been talk of holding the G8 summit at Skolkovo, a high-tech incubator being built just outside Moscow that has been championed as an innovation hub by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was president from 2008-2012.
Putin said in December that Skolkovo was too close to Moscow and that it would not be completed in time for the G8 meeting.
Ivanov is a former defence minister with a security background and Putin has stressed the need to ensure security at the Olympics in Sochi near the violence-plagued North Caucasus provinces.
The decree gave no date for the G8 event, but summits of the group - whose chairmanship rotates among members the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy and Russia - are usually held in late spring or early summer.
Putin skipped last year's summit, hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama. Putin said was busy forming a government shortly after his inauguration to a six-year presidential term but the decision was seen as a snub against the United States. ($1 = 30.0180 Russian roubles)
February 5, 2013
Russia Charts its Space Frontiers Up to 2020
By Anna Gryaznova, M.S.
Space is a dark and mysterious thing. In the case of Russia's exploration plans, this may be doubly so.
The government adopted the Russian Space Program in December and published it a few weeks ago. But apart from the ambitious plans, the program might also contain a defense-oriented classified section.
The Federal Space Agency, known in Russian as Roskosmos, drafted the plan and aspires to make Russia a leader in space exploration. It aims to foster a positive image of Russia as a high-tech country, and it is willing to go to the moon and back to make that happen.
The program materials state that Russia occupies the major position in space activities worldwide, but they lament that the country is still behind the United States and Europe.
The top priorities in the program are guaranteeing Russia's access to space for scientific research, securing its leading position in manned space activities and, as underlined by Roskosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin, keeping its space activities in strict accordance with international obligations.
The program's financing is set at 2.1 trillion rubles ($70 billion) and includes private investment, which so far is nonexistent. For 2013, financing for space-related projects was announced to be 128.3 billion rubles.
Some of the projects on the country's ambitious to-do list ones the state is willing to disclose are described below.
Launching space rockets
Developing the rocket industry is seen as a way to guarantee Russia's potential for future space exploration beyond the near-Earth orbits.
Roskosmos plans to accomplish this by restructuring the industry, and it will start by creating five to seven holdings and supporting small and medium-sized businesses and clusters, which would supply the components for space rockets.
A private-public partnership is mentioned as a solution for the commercialization of space-related projects, such as the use of space technologies for navigation and telecommunications.
Glitzing up the new spaceport and observatories
Construction of the Vostochny osmodrome in the Far East region began in 2011, and completion is planned for 2018.
Space officials say the first queue for launches from Vostochny will be formed in 2015 and the second queue in 2018, so anyone planning for a rocket launch around that time needs to apply as soon as possible.
Renovation of two spaceports, Plesetsk in the Arkhangelsk region and Baikonur in Kazakhstan, received the same amount of attention in the program.
According to the plan, Russia will build three new space observatories by 2020 to boost exploration of astrophysical objects in various electromagnetic ranges.
Cluttering up Earth's orbit
While Russia plans to get rid of some space junk around the planet, it also plans to crowd the orbit with space apparatuses. By 2015, there will be 95 new space vehicles, including satellites, and by 2020 this number will grow to 113.
Russia plans to have six modules at the International Space Station in three years and introduce another one by 2018.
Following the optimism around the Glonass navigation system, an improved group of satellites called Glonass-K is expected to heighten the accuracy of positioning to about 1.4 meters by 2015 and about 0.6 meters by 2020.
At present, Glonass is accurate within about 3 to 6 meters, which is slightly less than the average accuracy of a GPS device.
By 2020, the government plans to develop systems in the Earth's orbit to such a degree that it could provide stable telecommunications and television services across the country, including in the remote Arctic region.
Jetting to the moon and back
Luna-Glob, the first in a series of vehicles to go to the moon, will open the season for Russian moon exploration in 2015. The grand plans for the moon also include a manned mission to gather lunar soil and bring it back to Earth for a detailed analysis.
New York Times
February 3, 2013
Russia Must Choose: Low Tech or High?
By James Oberg
James Oberg, who spent 22 years in NASA Mission Control and is the NBC News space consultant, is the author of, among other books, "Star-Crossed Orbits: Inside the U.S.-Russian Space Alliance."
With the arrival of a new team of spaceflight players, and with the U.S. and Europe already transitioning to a new generation of space access hardware, Russia's dominant position in "spacelift" meaning big rockets looks more and more like a blind alley. Far-sighted Moscow space experts have expressed concern that Russia has boxed itself in as a low-tech truck driver for other nations' payloads, which then are performing the commercial space services where the real money is.
Moscow has consoled itself with lucrative launch contracts, which provide about a third of the space agency's annual budget. But when new U.S. commercial spacelift gears up, along with major booster production enhancements in China and India, even those could fade away.
As of now, Russia's only other claim to space pride is its role in the International Space Station. Its rockets carry all crewmembers from the partner nations, as well as a large fraction of the support cargo and equipment. NASA has agreed to a permanent crew ratio of three Russians to two Americans, with a sixth slot rotating among the other nations involved in the project.
But that's it. There aren't any other jewels left in the Soviet-era "space crown." Russia hasn't launched a successful interplanetary or lunar mission in a quarter century. Its navigation satellite system, Glonass, can compete only because of protectionist policies limiting foreign systems.
Russian weather satellites are practically nonexistent. The nation buys 80 percent of its earth observation data from overseas providers, and a similar fraction of its electronic components for its satellites. And even the space station's reputation may be overblown: last year a returning cosmonaut criticized the Russian module's marginal livability and obsolete science capability compared to the modern U.S., European and Japanese segments.
And even in the one category of space services that Russia does dominate, launchers which constitutes about 3 percent of the world's space commerce their management has seemed unable to stem an embarrassingly high failure rate brought on by an aging work force, an atrophied safety culture and decaying infrastructure. Grandiose plans for a new booster family called "Angara" have been delayed for years, and the rocket only managed to fly at all as the first stage of the South Korean launch vehicle a few days ago.
No longer even capable of going it alone, much less leading, Russia has become an enthusiastic proponent of partnering with other more technologically advanced and capable nations. And in such a role its islands of remaining expertise can contribute useful hardware and services here and there.
But it is in such areas that the greatest threats to the Russian space program are now looming. It's not just the new booster systems around the world that promise to outperform and undersell Russian rockets. Even in other remaining traditional Russian strengths, competition has appeared. China tested an embryonic but very sophisticated space station module last summer, and completed its first interplanetary mission in December.
With all these new options, there is less and less that Russia's space industry can produce that anyone else in the world needs to buy from Moscow.
How Russia reacts to this crisis in the coming years will determine what sort of space program it, and the whole world, will have a decade from now.
Business New Europe
February 5, 2013
MOSCOW BLOG: Russia's 5% GDP growth - fat chance, Mr Putin
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called on the government to pick up the pace of economic growth and raise it to 5% in the near future, which might "require some changes in the budget policy." The battle lines are being drawn for probably one of the most important policy debates in the country's modern history.
In one camp is President Vladimir Putin, whose popularity is entirely predicated on the fact that he has overseen a decade-long transformational boom. Putin needs fast growth like a glass of vodka needs a pickle to make it more palatable. In the other camp are the boffins in the Ministry of Economic Development and the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) that actually dream up the policies to enable the Russian economy to grow and hold the purse strings.
Put into simple terms, the issue is that the government wants to loosen those purse strings and release more money into the economy to boost growth (by cutting interest rates and tapping the reserve fund), while the CBR wants to keep the purse tied, as the bank has now fully switched to inflation-fighting mode. It is going to be a nasty fight, as these are two fundamentally different points of view when it comes to running a country: quick prosperity vs. prudence.
The problem is the economy hit a soft patch at the end of last year. Russia started 2012 recovering from the crisis nicely with growth running at a little under 5%. But by the fourth quarter it slowed to only 2.2% and is expected to slow further in the first quarter of this year to about 1.9%.
The good news is that much of this slowdown can be attributed to the panic attack that both the Kremlin and business had in the summer when fears grew of another meltdown in Europe. The crisis didn't materialize, but Russia's economy still suffered from this "phantom crisis": the affect is most clearly seen in the fact that companies began to sell off their inventories, rather than making things to sell, and corporate lending tanked despite booming consumer borrowing.
The CBR was also partly to blame for this slowdown with its surprise interest rate hike in September to 8.25%, at a time when pretty much every other central bank in the world was cutting rates to support growth.
The decision highlights the CBR's new concern with fighting inflation above all else and was meant to establish these credentials six months before Russia's bond market is hooked into the international financial system and all restrictions on bond trading are removed. Nominally, the CBR's decision should be welcomed, but the Kremlin is unhappy as it needs more growth.
Russia's average growth of 3.4% in 2012 and the 3.5% widely predicted for this year looks poor. Moreover, the economy ministry said in January that 5% growth will remain a dream without "accelerated reforms" and a looser monetary policy. Even with reforms, the earliest that Russia can return to 5% growth is 2016 and only if the roadmap reforms being introduced this year are made to work, the ministry said. The ministry has three scenarios for the next decade and none of them will please the Kremlin much.
Under the optimistic scenario, 25m new high-tech jobs are created and investment growth rises to 25% of GDP from the current 7% by 2015 and then again to 27% by 2018. In this case, average GDP growth will be 5.4% through to 2030.
But the economy ministry doesn't believe this will happen. In its "target" scenario, the ministry expects that the extensive infrastructure reforms and modernization of the power sector on the docket will be carried out, but there will be a lot less progress in developing new high-tech, competitive industries. In this case, average GDP growth will be 4.1% through to 2026, but after that it will fall to an average of 3.8% as Russia gets caught in the "middle income trap." This also assumes that investment growth remains stuck at current levels of 7.3% of GDP to 2015, and then slows after that.
Finally, the "conservative" scenario (a polite way of saying "total policy failure") says the energy reforms happen, but no high-tech sector of any sort appears. Investment then falls from 7.0% to 3.6% by 2025 and Russia is doomed to a miserable 3.2% average GDP growth rate to 2026, before it falls even more to 2.5%. In other words, Russia falls into the same sort of stagnation that Latin America suffered in the 1970s.
While the GDP figures are well below the 7-8% Russia enjoyed in the last decade, Ivan Tchakarov, chief economist for the CIS at Renaissance Capital, points out that last year's poor results are still actually pretty good amongst Russia's peer group and that the slow growth was not all Russia's fault. "While the official Rosstat figure for 2012 Russian GDP of 3.4% (4.3% in 2011) may not exactly conjure up images of dizzying heights, we are of the view that this is a solid and respectable performance given the significant headwinds that Russia faced last year," Tchakarov said in a note. "Russia outperformed [emerging market] peers with similar per capita income levels."
Russia is best compared with countries in the same per-capita GDP bracket, namely Poland and Brazil. India and China did a lot better than Russia, but they are also a lot poorer, so much earlier in the transition cycle where countries typically put in much higher "catch-up" growth.
Tchakarov concludes that currently the rate of Russian economic growth is being entirely set by external factors and if you buy into the theory that 2012 marks the bottom of the 2008 crisis, then the economy should start gathering momentum from here on in.
Still, the Kremlin is facing a scary outlook and unless it can actually pull off its promises of real change this time, then the "target scenario" does look the most likely. Given the government's previous form, the prospects for real and meaningful structural reforms are not good.
Most observers (including the economy ministry) are assuming Russia continues the typical "muddle through" progress. In the past, Russia could afford to waste time and money with at best pseudo-reforms thanks to its oil money. But for maybe the first time since 2000, the Kremlin actually has to deliver on its promise as the oil money can no longer deliver such growth. If it does, then this will be a sea change in the way ZAO Kremlin works. Certainly, the rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin not to mention the increasingly serious anti-corruption drive that started in November suggests they are going to make a go of it. Trouble is, after two decades of dithering, investors are going to need a lot more convincing that the Kremlin can actually pull it off.
February 4, 2013
Russia Hires Goldman as Corporate Broker to Boost Image
By Jason Corcoran
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (G) has been hired by the Russian government to burnish the nation's image overseas and attract more institutional investors.
The bank has signed a three-year agreement with the Economy Ministry and the Russian Direct Investment Fund to advise on issues such as communicating government decisions and setting up meetings with investors, according to Sergei Arsenyev, Goldman Sachs's managing director of investment banking in Moscow. large image
"The pool of investors that Russia talks to is the dedicated emerging-markets base, and it's been difficult for them to break out to a wider investor pool and a global base," Arsenyev, 41, who handles the bank's Kremlin relations, said in a telephone interview. "We think valuations in Russia remain very attractive, and there are many interesting opportunities for investors on the public and private side."
President Vladimir Putin last year ordered the government to improve Russia's standing in the World Bank's Doing Business rating to 20th by 2018. It climbed eight positions to 112 in the latest study in October. While that's better than emerging- market competitors India and Brazil, Russia remains the worst among major economies in graft, Transparency International said in December in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index.
"We don't know how to communicate with investors," Deputy Economy Minister Sergei Belyakov told reporters last week.
The world's largest energy exporter plans to raise a record $10 billion from asset sales this year, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said in an interview with Bloomberg Television last month. While corruption continues to be an issue, it's less so for foreign investors who have already committed to Russia, Shuvalov said.
Goldman Sachs is one of 23 foreign and domestic banks selected to advise Russia on its 1 trillion-ruble ($33 billion) privatization program. Last year it helped advise OAO Sberbank, Russia's largest lender, on a $5.2 billion equity sale.
The agreement with the Kremlin "is similar to a corporate broking arrangement, which every FTSE 100 company has," said Arsenyev, who switched to investment banking a year ago after 17 years in research. "It's to make sure the market message is crystallized. Our work is strictly limited to the investor base and making sure the government is meeting the right people."
British companies typically hire corporate brokers to serve as a liaison with investors and to help them comply with stock market rules. The assignments, compensated with a nominal fee or sometimes unpaid, can lead to more lucrative business such as managing share deals and advising on mergers and acquisitions.
The deal also includes advising Russia on its bid to transform Moscow into an international financial center and to attract more capital, Arsenyev said. Moscow ranked 64th on the Global Financial Centers Index in September, a survey compiled by Z/Yen Group, a London-based consulting firm.
The world's premier financial centers have succeeded because of "good rule of law," Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs chief executive officer, said at last month's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
"You want to go into a place that's fair, where if you make an investment you can recover your investment," he said at a panel discussion. "You can go into the U.K. and sue the U.K. government and have a reasonable chance that a court will decide that fairly. There are other places where I think people implicitly know they can't."
Blankfein, 58, who is a member of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's advisory committee for turning Moscow into a financial center, has struggled to build a business in Russia. The New York-based bank scaled back operations in Moscow soon after opening an office in 1994 amid a worldwide retrenchment. It returned in 1998, managing Russia's sale of bonds a month before the country defaulted on $40 billion of domestic debt. That prompted it to withdraw almost entirely before ramping up again in 2006.
Goldman Sachs, along with Blackrock Inc. (BLK) and Singapore- based Templeton Asset Management Ltd. signed an accord with the Russia's sovereign private-equity fund in June to invest in Russian companies preparing for initial public offerings. The fund is led by Kirill Dmitriev, a former Goldman Sachs banker.
The U.S. securities firm is led in Moscow by Paolo Zannoni, who took over last year from co-heads Chris Barter and Jean Raby. Barter left the firm to set up a private-equity group, while Raby returned to France with Goldman Sachs.
Zannoni, who had been chairman of Italian investment banking, previously worked in the former Soviet Union for Fiat SpA. He had been sent to Moscow in the early 1990s by then chairman Giovanni Agnelli to buy Russian carmaker OAO AvtoVAZ, which was supposed to be privatized.
The Moscow Exchange's valuations trail the biggest emerging markets, while Russian issuers prefer to sell equities in London. Russia's benchmark Micex Index (INDEXCF) has gained 4.7 percent this year, beating the MSCI's Emerging Markets Index (MXEF)'s 1.8 percent advance.
Andrei Kostin, chairman of VTB Group, Russia's second- biggest bank, said on Nov. 15 that the country was undervalued "because of its image of corruption and lack of necessity to comply with law."
Companies on the Micex Index have an average valuation of 5.9 times estimated earnings, compared with 16.6 for India's BSE Sensex Index (SENSEX), 19.9 for Brazil's Bovespa (IBOV) and 13.4 for China's Shanghai Composite Index (SHCOMP), data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Business New Europe
February 5, 2013
CORRUPTION WATCH: Putin calls for public oversight of power sector
After dubbing it the most corrupt sector in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved again to crack down on graft in the utilities sector by calling for public oversight of the sector.
Public councils are to be set up to oversee the sector and Putin said this will be done in cooperation with the opposition.
Utilities are a top three gripes with the current government, according to recent polls and the service is bad enough that protestors marched in December to highlight the issue. Indeed, the massive corruption surrounding the provision of power, heating and maintenance of apartment blocks is one of the very few issues that could unite the otherwise fragmented opposition as these are problems that nearly everyone in the country shares. De facto opposition leader Alexei Navalny has already demanded the same thing.
The public councils will "monitor tariffs inthe regions andcontrol thework ofapartment service companies," Putin said according to reports during agovernment meeting inSochi oneconomic issues inthe housing sector.
The Navalny effort, called RosZhKKh, encourages people tosend complaints about the poor work of utilities providers toa website, which alerts the proper authorities. Several of these websites have already been established and mirror similar sites in the west that have proven to be both effective and indeed, a boon to authorities as they provide efficient monitoring of housing and utility problems.
Wall Street Journal
February 5, 2013
Moscow Exchange Valued at $4.6 Billion
By LUKAS I. ALPERT
MOSCOWRussia's main stock exchange said Monday that it hopes to achieve a market value of about $4.6 billion in its coming initial public offering.
Moscow Exchange wants to raise more than $500 million from the IPO, which the company and the government hope will establish the Russian capital as an international financial center and stem the tide of domestic companies listing abroad.
The company set a price range of 55 to 63 rubles ($1.84-$2.11) per share for its Feb. 15 IPO, which would value the company at between $4 billion and $4.6 billion.
If the target is reached, it would make the company one of Europe's largest exchanges by market capitalization, coming in not far below the London Stock Exchange LSE.LN +2.32%its main rival for listingswhich has a market capitalization of about $5.3 billion.
Moscow Exchange, which was created by the merger of the Micex and dollar-denominated RTS exchange in 2011, announced its intention to float shares on its own platform in Moscow in late January. The listingand whether it is viewed to be a successhas emerged as a key component in convincing more Russian companies to float shares in Moscow rather than in other locations such as London. Some foreign investors also need to be convinced that market reforms are taking hold.
"The Micex is an interesting business but it is also a bet on financial reform in Moscow," said Bruce Bower, of Verno Capital, which holds a small stake in the exchange and is considering buying more in the coming offering.
Following the Moscow Exchange's IPO announcement, President Vladimir Putin said all future state privatization offerings should take place in Russia, rather than dual listings in Moscow and Londona structure many state companies have employed before. Most Russian companies, while listed in Moscow, new largely trade in the form of global depositary receipts elsewhere.
The exchange said it expects to raise up to 15 billion rubles ($502 million) in the offering, with 9 billion rubles coming from shares sold by existing shareholdersmostly former RTS shareholdersand the remaining 6 billion rubles to come through a new offering of shares.
The company could increase the new offering by up to 5 billion rubles based on demand. The exchange's two largest shareholdersthe Bank of Russia with a 24.3% stake, and Sberbank SBRCY -2.24%with a 10.3% stakehave both said they won't sell any of their shares in an IPO.
A person familiar with the exchange's marketing plan, said that the sale would largely target the same kind of institutional investors as offerings in London or elsewhere, and that officials didn't see listing in Moscow alone as a limiting factor. When it announced its plans to float, the exchange said it would offer shares to institutional and retail investors in Russia, as well as offshore investors and qualified institutions in the U.S.
Exchange officials say they hope a successful offering would encourage more investment through the Moscow Exchange, convince more Russian companies to list solely in Moscow, and sell the city as a center for international finance. Currently, 65% of Moscow-listed equities are traded directly through the exchange.
A number of state-run companies have listed stocks partly abroad in recent years, including the country's two largest banks, Sberbank and VTB Bank and its biggest oil producer, Rosneft. Privatizations that are expected this year are secondary offerings by VTB and diamond mining company Alrosa Co. Ltd. and the initial offering by tanker company Sovcomflot.
After Mr. Putin's comment on future privatizations, VTB Chief Executive Andrei Kostin, said he wasn't opposed to floating shares only in Moscow, but worried that it could postpone the timing of the bank's plan.
The investment banks handling the exchange's IPO are J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.36%& Co., Credit Suisse Group AG, CSGN.VX +1.72%Sberbank and VTB Bank. The bookrunners will be Renaissance Capital, Deutsche Bank AG, DBK.XE +1.88%UBS AG, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS -1.61%and Morgan Stanley MS -2.75%.
The last major IPO of a Russian stock was the offering of mobile phone operator MegaFon in late November, when it raised $1.83 billion in London and Moscow. In September, Sberbank raised $5.1 billion in a secondary offering.
February 5, 2013
Trial of Putin Foe Shows No Russian Investors Are Safe
By Henry Meyer
"Are you totally out of your mind?" Russian newspaper tycoon Alexander Lebedev exclaimed as he jumped to his feet. He stared combatively at property developer Sergei Polonsky, who had taunted Lebedev for ridiculing his claim to be a major charity donor.
As tempers flared during the recording of a TV discussion in Moscow, the host appealed for calm, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its March issue. Seconds later, the athletic Lebedev punched Polonsky, knocking him off his chair, as seen in a video of the Sept. 16, 2011, incident that became a YouTube sensation.
In September of last year, after a yearlong investigation begun days after then-Prime Minister and now-President Vladimir Putin singled out Lebedev for criticism, prosecutors charged Lebedev with hooliganism over the incident, which was broadcast on state-controlled channel NTV.
He is scheduled to go on trial on Feb. 7, facing a sentence of up to five years in prison. Long a thorn in the Kremlin's side, Lebedev could be sidelined as an opposition voice.
Moreover, a stint in jail could further erode Lebedev's fortune, which he says has shrunk from $2 billion two years ago to several hundred million dollars because of official pressure on his businesses.
As for Putin, the imprisonment of Lebedev would eliminate yet another in a string of wealthy opponents of his 13-year rule and his determination to extend it.
For the past six years, Lebedev, 53, has taunted the Kremlin with his relentless campaign against corruption and the lack of democracy under Putin.
The Moscow-based businessman, a maverick former KGB colleague of Putin's, finances Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that investigates graft and human rights abuses, and in the U.K. financially supports the Independent and London Evening Standard.
He says his Russian operations, which include potato farming, a bank and aviation holdings, are struggling to avoid losses because of government pressure. On Feb. 4, Russian aviation authorities grounded Lebedev's Red Wings Airlines because of safety violations after five people died in the crash of a Red Wings plane in December at Moscow's Vnukovo airport.
Doing business in Putin's Russia can be a risky proposition.
Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Russia as the world's most corrupt major economy; among all economies, it ranked 133 out of 176, alongside Honduras and below Uganda and Nicaragua.
"The overall investment climate is extremely difficult," says Christopher Granville, managing director of Trusted Sources UK Ltd., a London-based emerging-markets research group. "The basic problem is of a parasitic bureaucracy preying on business, which affects domestic business as much as or possibly more than foreign investors."
The Sergei Magnitsky case shows just how dangerous things can get. Magnitsky, a lawyer for London-based Hermitage Capital Management Ltd. who alleged that Russian officials carried out a $230 million tax fraud, died in jail in November 2009.
After being denied medical care during almost a year in pre-trial detention on fabricated tax evasion charges, he was beaten to death, according to Russia's Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights.
The only official to go on trial over Magnitsky's death, a prison doctor, was acquitted in December.
Lebedev is being prosecuted under an article of the Russian criminal code used to convict the anti-Putin female punk rock group Pussy Riot in August.
"They can put me in jail, destroy my business," he says. Lebedev, who owns a private jet and has properties in five countries, says he could have fled Russia before charges were filed, when he was barred from leaving the country, but he chose not to.
"Why should I emigrate?" he says. "I was born here."
The tycoon says he acted in self-defense during the TV studio fracas. Polonsky declined to comment. (Polonsky was detained in Cambodia over unrelated charges after allegedly threatening a boat crew with a knife on New Year's Eve, an offense he denies.)
Polonsky's Moscow-based lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, says Lebedev is a "fantasist" who deserves jail time.
Andrei Kostin, a one-time London-based Soviet diplomat and former Lebedev business associate who now heads state-run VTB Group, Russia's second-biggest bank, dismissed Lebedev's claim he's being persecuted.
"He's nuts," Kostin says. "He punched someone on television."
Putin, 60, saw his popularity slide to almost 40 percent in December from 70 percent in 2008, according to the Moscow-based Public Opinion Foundation.
In March 2012, he secured a new six-year term in balloting that was criticized by international observers such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
After the election, government authorities began prosecuting opposition leaders, including Alexey Navalny, a blogger and anti-corruption activist whose efforts to uncover wrongdoing at state companies have been supported financially by Lebedev.
Gennady Gudkov, a protest leader and ex-lawmaker who was stripped of his parliamentary seat last year and faces possible charges of "illegal business activity," says Putin's reaction to criticism recalls the dark days of Stalinist mass trials and repression.
"We are heading toward 1937," Gudkov says. "All that's left now is for them to shoot the opposition."
Lebedev doesn't place all of the blame on Putin, pointing out he has made enemies among members of the security services.
"I would say Putin's role is 5 percent, and 95 percent is these guys," Lebedev says. "He is not responsible for giving a command. He wouldn't stop it. He doesn't want to interfere. He is watching it."
Lebedev is smart to avoid direct criticism of Putin, says Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
"Once you cross this line, then you have nothing to hope for," she says.
The last billionaire who defied the Kremlin, former Yukos Oil Co. owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is still in prison, more than nine years after he was detained aboard his private jet on the tarmac of a Siberian airport.
Another Putin nemesis is Boris Berezovsky, a businessman and ex-politician in late President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle who helped Putin succeed Yeltsin in 1999.
These and other tycoons made their fortunes after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 by snapping up state assets at bargain prices.
Whereas Berezovsky fled to London in 2001 in the face of fraud charges he says were politically motivated and Khodorkovsky was behind bars by 2003, other oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich, owner of the English Premier League's Chelsea Football Club, and nickel mogul Vladimir Potanin have had no conflicts with Putin.
Lebedev has always been something of an outsider. He came from a middle-class Moscow family; his mother was an English teacher, his father a professor of optical engineering.
At the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Lebedev says, he felt inferior to classmates who came from high-ranking political, diplomatic and KGB backgrounds.
A gadfly even then, he slept during compulsory meetings of the Komsomol, or Communist youth league -- "when they gave you all this rubbish nobody believed in" -- and read books by dissidents Alexander Ginzburg and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
For all his rebelliousness, Lebedev decided to join the foreign intelligence branch of the KGB after graduation in 1982. He says it was attractive because it would give him the opportunity to travel.
"It was not about torturing people or killing them," he says.
In 1988, he was dispatched to London under the cover of economic attache. He remained there until 1992, when he quit the service.
Displaying an entrepreneur's spirit, he embarked on business in rough-and-tumble post-communist Russia.
He sold barbed wire to United Nations peacekeepers in Somalia. He earned his first half million dollars trading Argentine, Nigerian and Peruvian government bonds.
He used that money to obtain a state license for National Reserve Bank, which then bought up shares in state assets such as electricity company OAO Inter RAO UES.
In 1998, Russia defaulted on $40 billion in debt and devalued its currency, wiping out the life savings of millions of people.
"From $1 billion upside, in two years we went to minus $200 million," Lebedev says.
Lebedev says Putin was good for business following the upheavals of the 1990s, presiding over a period of political stability and economic growth that averaged 7 percent annually from 2000 to 2008.
Lebedev restructured his debts and started buying up cheap shares again, including a stake of more than 25 percent in flagship carrier OAO Aeroflot in 2003 for $150 million and holdings of 1 percent to 2 percent in Russia's biggest lender, OAO Sberbank, power company OAO Mosenergo and OAO Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas producer.
Lebedev says he found owning stock unfulfilling.
"These profits, they live their own life," he says. "I live my own life."
With Putin running a healthy economy, Lebedev decided to go into business on his own, cashing in most of his shares. He invested the $2 billion in proceeds in setting up a budget airline and companies engaged in farming, aircraft leasing and homebuilding, while turning his bank into a mortgage lender and retail operation.
In 2003, he entered politics and tried and failed to unseat Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. That same year, he got elected as a lawmaker in Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, for a pro-Putin party, Just Russia.
He says his relations with Putin were sufficiently close that when he went to see him in 2007 on a legislative issue, Putin raised the possibility of backing Lebedev for a senate seat.
Lebedev never saw Putin again -- possibly because a Lebedev-owned tabloid newspaper, Moskovsky Korrespondent, reported erroneously in 2008 that Putin had divorced his wife, Lyudmila, and was planning to marry Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva.
Lebedev says he also made powerful enemies when he bailed out OJSC Rossiysky Capital during the 2008 financial crisis: When he went through the bank's books, he discovered $200 million in missing funds that he said he suspected had been misappropriated by high-ranking officials of the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB.
"He got them incredibly angry," Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov says. "On the one hand, they are going after him politically because of us, and on the other hand, the most powerful security service in Europe wants to take revenge on him."
Lebedev's involvement with Novaya Gazeta -- and his prominence as a Kremlin critic -- began in 2006.
Together, he and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev acquired a 49 percent stake in the struggling newspaper to save it from closure; the employees own 51 percent.
Since Putin came to power, five of the paper's journalists and one of its lawyers have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot in her Moscow apartment building on Putin's birthday in 2006.
In December, a former police colonel was sentenced to 11 years in prison for helping to organize the murder.
One windswept day in November, Lebedev returned from a meeting with investigators to his office in a czarist-era mansion set amid modern tower blocks near the Moscow River.
Stylishly dressed in a black jacket, white shirt and leather ankle boots, he says the $3 million to $4 million a year he was spending to keep Novaya Gazeta afloat had become a burden by the middle of last year, so he reduced his support to about $100,000 a month.
He says he'll sell part of his art collection to raise $2 million. To boost liquidity, he says he cut his Aeroflot stake from 15 percent to less than 10 percent.
Lebedev, citing data from the Web-based Tax Justice Network, has said crooked businessmen in collusion with public officials with business interests have "embezzled and siphoned off" at least $700 billion from Russia during the past 15 years.
"Why do the authorities, President Putin, think that Novaya Gazeta is their enemy?" he says, complaining he's permanently tired and losing weight. "Wouldn't it be better to say it's a friend? By investigating corruption, it helps a lot."
Lebedev enjoys a higher standing in London than in Moscow.
At U.K. events that have attracted the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Hugh Grant and Naomi Campbell, he has raised 12 million pounds ($19.3 million) in cancer research funds for the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation, named after the ex-leader's late wife. His eldest son, Evgeny, 32, runs his U.K. papers.
"They've put their money where their mouth is," former Evening Standard editor Geordie Greig, now editor of the Mail on Sunday, says of the family. "They believe in the press as a crucial pillar of our democratic architecture."
Lebedev and his son, Evgeny, won the right to operate a new London TV station that will rely on content from the family's London Evening Standard and Independent newspapers. London Live TV beat four other applicants for the right to a 12- year license to broadcast to an estimated 4 million homes, U.K. communications regulator Ofcom said in a statement yesterday.
Evgeny, who was educated mainly in the U.K. and used to date British actress Joely Richardson, lives in a London apartment with a view of Regent's Park where a servant opens the door to visitors.
In December, he traveled to the Central African Republic on behalf of the Independent and Unicef to publicize the plight of child soldiers.
"It's a bit like my father," Evgeny says. "He needs his struggle. His campaigning, his fighting corruption, gives him some vitality, some will to live. For me, it's the same."
As his trial approached, Alexander Lebedev steeled himself for prison.
One evening in early December, at his home outside Moscow, he played with his 1-year-old son, Egor, while Egor's 3-year-old brother, Nikita, rode around the house on a toy horse. The boys were born to Lebedev and his second wife, 26-year-old model Elena Perminova.
"I would be happy not to be under attack permanently, not to be facing a jail sentence, definitely because of small kids," Lebedev says, adding that he's "prepared for the worst."
Two weeks earlier, Gorbachev, who turns 82 on March 2, got a rapturous reception at the run-down central Moscow offices of Novaya Gazeta.
The occasion was a private book signing for his latest memoir. The mostly young journalists, many in jeans, patiently lined up to get their copies signed. Gorbachev sat at a table beneath photographs of the six Novaya Gazeta employees who have been killed.
Lebedev was conspicuous by his absence -- tied up meeting with Kremlin officials to discuss his criminal case. If convicted and sent to prison, Lebedev will be missing many such events.
Russia Beyond the Headlines
February 5, 2013
Why Russia is losing in its soft power quest
The Russian media constantly reports about growing government interest in increasing Russia's soft power. Existing public diplomacy instruments reach a permanently growing global audience, but Russia's international image does not seem to be improving. The problem may be that people around the world understand Russia's values but still disagree with its policies.
By Alexey Dolinskiy
Alexey Dolinskiy spent several years working in Russian public diplomacy and taught a class on public diplomacy at the Moscow State University. His research experience includes contributing to Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society and United Nations Peacekeeping Situation Centre. Currently he works in corporate diplomacy in the Asia Pacific region and in Europe. Alexey graduated with a Master's degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School and later defended his PhD in political science.
During the Cold War, Soviet propaganda was a powerful vehicle of global confrontation. After the bipolar world ended, Russia switched off almost all instruments for communication with the foreign public: the country was on the verge of bankruptcy and there were more urgent agenda items to be handled. Besides, the new Russia was so euphoric about the future of global affairs that it hardly saw any use in yesterday's instruments of confrontation.
That situation changed several years ago when the new Russian leadership felt that their actions were misunderstood in the West. President Putin started a revival of the RIA Novosti state news agency and established a new international TV channel, Russia Today. With the establishment of annual meetings between Valdai club experts and Vladimir Putin, as well as the nomination of the Russian town of Sochi as the 2014 Winter Olympics host city, the number of foreign communication projects continued to grow.
In 2007, "Russkiy Mir" ("Russian World") Foundation was established to promote Russian language abroad. It was later joined by a foundation for public diplomacy that was named after the 19th-century Russian chancellor, Alexander Gorchakov. The Russia Beyond the Headlines media project also became a critical part of Russia's foreign communication system. All of these agencies report significant success in their domains of establishing broad contacts with foreign audiences. Are there any benefits resulting from those policies?
There are two main approaches to a country's international image. One approach is encapsulated in a term coined by renowned political scientist Joseph Nye Jr. "soft power." Soft power is defined as power to achieve political results by attraction, rather than by coercion or money; it works for countries just as well as popularity and reputation work for people. Another popular approach is called "nation branding." The same way a product brand brings with it certain perceived qualities, a brand of country impacts national exports, investment, talent and tourism attraction.
There is no evidence that either Russia's soft power or its brand have improved in the last few years, which raises questions about the effectiveness of national public diplomacy efforts. Neither public opinion polls nor investors' interviews demonstrate significant progress. Most companies can hardly boast of Russian image as a booster. According to Igor Balk, managing member at Global Innovation Labs, the IT industry is one of the few sectors of the economy that is not being damaged by Russia's poor international image.
"Kaspersky, ABBYY, Yandex are globally competitive. Usalytics will soon revolutionize the Internet marketing industry," says Balk. "How many global players of Russian origin can be named outside IT and natural resources?"
When a mechanism is not working the way it was expected to, there are two questions to ask. First, is it functioning? Second, is it being used the right way? The public diplomacy mechanism seems to be working well in terms of absolute numbers, as people all over the world are increasingly reached by Russian international print and broadcasting media.
However, it is hard to say that Russia's image is improving, despite increasing efforts. Growing viewership or readership numbers do not necessarily result in improved attitudes. The reason is obvious: media can be used as a tool of sharing one's perspective and eliminating misunderstandings, but what if there are no misunderstandings? Just like two people can understand each other quite well and still feel disaffection, foreign publics can understand modern Russia well enough and still dislike its policies.
The United States faced a similar problem shortly after the tragedy of 9/11. Trying to improve Muslim attitudes toward the U.S., the latter multiplied its public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East. However, the problem was not just a distorted perception, as American politicians had thought. As experts and practitioners later realized, many Arab audiences admired U.S. culture and the American way of life, but disagreed with U.S. foreign policy in the region. What the U.S. needed was a change in policy, not an explanation of it.
The same may be the case with Russia. Russian culture was ranked in the top 10 (out of 50) by respondents of the Simon Anholt Nation Brand Index, whereas Russian governance did not even make it in the top 20 (ranked 43rd in the U.S. in 2009).
Ironically, Russian public diplomacy is not focused on culture and values, which could create an atmosphere of trust. Instead, Russia's public diplomacy mainly concentrates on policy coverage, which may be helpful but insufficient. According to Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, between 2007 and 2012, the number of people saying they are largely favorable toward Russia decreased in 17 countries and increased in only three (out of 27 where data is available for more than one year).
Meanwhile, the number of people who have an unfavorable view of Russia increased in 20 countries and decreased in just two. This cannot be explained simply by a lack of mutual understanding or by media bias, since the same negative change was diagnosed even in Russia itself.
In trying to revive the Soviet international communication experience, modern Russia forgets a very important part: it was not the propaganda that made the Soviet Union popular in certain parts of the world. It was the policies international development, construction, education.
Communication tools were only a means of spreading the message. Rebuilding sophisticated communication mechanisms can help Russia to promote its culture and values, but not the policies. Those need to reflect other countries' views for the soft power quest to succeed. Russia has built an effective mechanism of distributing a message. Now it needs to enhance it by developing two-way communication with foreign publics and considering outsiders' opinions in the policy development process.
No 'reset' in sight amid US-Russia chill
February 5, 2013
Moscow - There are few hopes in Russia for another "reset" in relations as US President Barack Obama enters his second term, with bilateral disputes growing every month and mutual distrust increasing, analysts say.
Russia has welcomed the appointment of old hand John Kerry as US secretary of state while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held an apparently cordial meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a security conference at the weekend.
But analysts caution that mistrust runs too deep and disputes are too numerous for Washington and Moscow to make any headway in bringing about the transformation in relations that Obama hoped for when he first came to power in 2009.
"The Kremlin is now turning Russia towards a strategic confrontation with the US," said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Centre.
In its latest salvo in late January, Russia announced plans for bans on all US meat imports and the termination of a long-standing bilateral drug control agreement.
The US in turn pulled out of a joint working group on civil society. It also said it was "deeply concerned" by Russian draft legislation that would place a national ban on "homosexual propaganda among minors".
Full-on systems failure
The trigger for the standoff was the passing by the United States of a rights bill targeting Russian officials with sanctions over the prison death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
Russia responded with a ban on US adoptions, widely regarded as the toughest piece of anti-US legislation during President Vladimir Putin's 13 years in power.
The buzz of the "reset" that Obama launched in 2009 with Putin's predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev after nearly a decade of distant ties now seems far off.
"This isn't a reset but a full-on systems failure," Vlast weekly cited a highly placed official in the Russian government as saying.
At the first high-level contact on Saturday between the countries since Obama's second-term inauguration, Biden was conciliatory as he met Lavrov at the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
Biden told Lavrov he would like to take the countries' relations "back on track", a source in the Russian delegation told Kommersant business daily.
Alexei Pushkov, international relations committee chief at the parliament's lower house, told Vedomosti business daily that a US representative suggested "Let's separate the topic of developing democracy from the broader agenda."
But Obama's own travel schedule is indicative of the state of Russia-US relations - he appears to have dropped plans for a bilateral visit and will only come when Russia hosts the G20 summit in September.
"It looks like Obama won't come to Russia until the G20 in September since there are a lot of arguments and no topic for a breakthrough is in sight," Pushkov wrote on Twitter on Friday.
The former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton recently raised hackles in Moscow by accusing Russia of trying to "re-Sovietise" the region, a claim that Putin dismissed as "rubbish".
"The US is very disappointed - Obama is personally disappointed," Russia in Global Affairs editor Fyodor Lukyanov said.
"Obama won't come to Moscow because a visit has to give a concrete result and there won't be one. Now there is nothing that could justify this visit."
Russian officials have resorted to rousing anti-American rhetoric against anti-Putin protesters allegedly funded by the US Department of State.
Co-operation on crises
It banned USAid from Russia and ordered non-governmental organisations with international funding to call themselves "foreign agents".
"For Putin now, foreign policy is an instrument for internal politics," Shevtsova said.
Yet while playing the anti-American card at home, Russia has in fact co-operated with the US in international crises such as Iran and North Korea.
But the key sticking point in diplomacy is the conflict in Syria, which has turned into another thorn in the side of bilateral ties.
Washington has denounced Russia's opposition to UN Security Council efforts to reach a global consensus on the need for Syrian President Bashar Assad to quit.
Russia still holds strong cards in dealing with the United States but on a dwindling number of international issues, experts say.
"Relations are limited to specific diplomatic cases: On Syria, on Afghanistan and Iran. As a whole, the field of relations is narrowing," said Lukyanov.
US Arms Official Plans Moscow Talks
WASHINGTON, February 4 (RIA Novosti) The US State Department's top arms control official will visit Moscow next week to discuss a range of bilateral issues with her Russian counterparts, the State Department said Monday.
Rose Gottemoeller, the US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, is scheduled to hold three days of meetings with Russian officials, beginning Feb. 12, to "review key issues on our bilateral and international arms control, nonproliferation and international security agenda," the State Department said in a statement.
Officials in Washington did not give further details about the planned talks, but Monday's announcement comes amid signals from Moscow and Washington that both sides are open for talks about renewing a decades-old armaments disposal program set to expire in June.
Russian officials said in October that the Kremlin is not interested in extending the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR)broadly referred to as the Nunn-Lugar programin its current form.
The US-funded program dates back to the early 1990s and has helped decommission scores of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States has reportedly spent an estimated $8 billion the program, which was extended in 1999 and 2006.
The program is seen in Washington as one of the nation's most successful national security programs, and top US officials have publicly supported another extension.
At an event in December honoring the founders of the programformer US senators Richard Lugar and Sam NunnPresident Barack Obama indicated a willingness to negotiate with Russia on the terms of a new deal.
"Russia has said that our current agreement hasn't kept pace with the changing relationship between our countries," Obama said. "To which we saylet's update it. Let's work with Russia as an equal partner. Let's continue the work that's so important to the security of both our countries."
Citing a source in the Russian delegation at the Munich Security Conference, the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Monday reported that Russia may sign an extension if the new program is financed equally by both sides and "fairly distributes responsibility" between the two countries.
Moscow could also insist on limiting the access of Americans working on the program to Russian facilities, Kommersant reported.
Russia Beyond the Headlines
February 5, 2013
Kerry, Lavrov to practice same-sex diplomacy
For the first time since 2005, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's American counterpart will be a man. Will this change make it easier for the U.S. and Russia to see eye-to-eye on bilateral relations?
By Eugene Ivanov
Eugene Ivanov is a Massachusetts-based political analyst who blogs at The Ivanov Report.
Last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed John Forbes Kerry, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts (1985-2013) as the 68th United States Secretary of State. Kerry became the second U.S. senator in a rowafter Hillary Clintonto assume the top American diplomatic post. Both enjoyed impressive support from their Senate colleagues: the vote for Kerry was 94-3, an almost exact match to the 94-2 vote cast for Clinton four years ago. Characteristically, both Kerry and Clinton have had serious presidential ambitions: Kerry lost the 2004 general election to George W. Bush, whereas Clinton, defeated in the 2008 Democratic primaries by the current president Barack Obama, is still considered a formidable candidate for the Democrats in 2016.
Virtually all experts agree that Kerry's appointment to lead the Department of State means the continuity of U.S. foreign policy during Obama's second presidential term. Some differences in Kerry's and Clinton's approaches to world affairs are to be expected, though. Over the past couple of years, driven mainly by Clinton's personal viewsand, perhaps, future career considerationsAmerican diplomacy has been increasingly focused on humanitarian issues, including the issue of human rights. This trend is unlikely to be sustained under Kerry, who seems to prefer addressing more traditional international problems, such as the Middle East peace process and Iran's nuclear program.
Moscow was visibly pleased with Obama's choice of Kerry as the next American counterpart to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. In Russia, Kerry is widely recognized as a proponent of positive U.S.-Russia relations; everyone remembers his spirited support for the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty back in the fall of 2010, when Kerry was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Additionally, it is anticipated that Kerry, who is always in control of his words, will refrain from repeating the questionable statements allowed by Clinton in the closing weeks of her secretaryship, including her description of Moscow's efforts to promote greater economic integration in Eurasia as "a move to re-Sovietize the region."
The new concept of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation, a document yet to be signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, places Russia's relations with the United States as only a relatively moderate foreign policy priority third after political and economic integration in the post-Soviet space and relations with the European Union. But in reality, Russia's foreign policy is perennially locked on what is going on in United States, an unhealthy tradition sometimes bordering on obsession.
Two factors can account for this bias. First, the Russian leadership is still psychologically refusing to accept the fact that Russia lost its status of one of the world's two superpowers. One of the few things that in their mind keep supporting the notion of Russia's "greatness" is the fact that together with the United States, Russia possesses about 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. Moscow needs dialogue with Washingtonespecially at the highest levels to remind to the rest of the world (and its domestic audience) that Russia is still an important actor on the world stage.
The second factor is the persona of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Having spent the formative years of his diplomatic career in the United States as Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Lavrov tends to reduce the whole body of Russian foreign policy to a Moscow-Washington bilateral relationship, and so far has shown little desire to switch to the mundane task of integrating political and economic space in Russia's "near abroad." Interestingly, except for a few months in 2004, Lavrov has had to deal with two female U.S. Secretaries of State: first Condoleezza Rice, then Hillary Clinton. On occasions, his relations with the ladies were less than charming. In 2008, being reportedly offended by Rice's criticism of Russia's military actions in Georgia, Lavrov turned down her offers to meet to discuss a peace agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi. Last year, in a move that some Russian media interpreted as a show of strength, Lavrov refused to take Clinton's calls on the ground that he was "busy."
It remains to be seen which adjustments Lavrov will have to make to work with Kerry, given Kerry's somewhat aristocratic demeanor and a clout of a decorated war veteran. (Lavrov, for his part, never served in the military). Of course, Russia may try to preserve the gender balance and replace Lavrov with a female minister of foreign affairs. To be sure, this will not solve all the problems U.S.-Russia relations have been facing as of late. On the other hand, why not to try something new?
February 5, 2013
Russia Can Shoulder Obama's Challenges - After a BMD Deal
By Simon Saradzhyan
Simon Saradzhyan is a researcher at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center. His research interests include international security, arms control,
counter-terrorism as well as political affairs in post-Soviet states and their relations with major outside powers. Prior to joining the Belfer Center in 2008 Saradzhyan had worked as deputy editor of the Moscow Times and a consultant for the United Nations and World Bank. Saradzhyan holds a graduate degree from the Harvard University.
President Barack Obama's recent inauguration marked the 21st time that a US president has "renewed his lease" at the White House.
The record of second-term presidents has been mixed. Some were unable to accomplish anything historically meaningful while others failed to complete their second term. Two were assassinated. And, naming no names, one faced the embarrassing prospect of impeachment and resigned early.
Not all commanders-in-chief succumbed to this "second-term curse" governing actively right through to the end, whereupon they passed the presidency on to a fellow party member. I can think of three recent leaders who fit these criteria: Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan (although, perhaps, some long-retired Nicaraguan Contras still feel cheated Reagan never quite fulfilled their hopes).
Whether or not Barack Obama joins this small cohort of successful second-termers will largely depend on his ability to ride out Congressional gridlock and tackle the domestic challenges that most Americans view as threatening to their wellbeing. The country's anemic economy is chief among these with scarce jobs and soaring debt.
And if the American public were to judge Obama's second term intentions against the yardstick of his second inauguration speech, they would have little doubt that their president really means to get down to domestic business this time around.
In that January 21 speech, Obama put forth an artfully crafted argument about why the major publicly-funded social programs for the poor and middle class really are pillars of economic growth and individual freedom.
At the same time, Obama largely avoided foreign policy issues. His "signature" first term initiatives, such as achieving a "global nuclear zero" or strengthening nuclear security worldwide were conspicuously absent, apparently warranting not even a perfunctory mention.
However, no matter how grave and time-consuming the country's domestic woes might be, a contemporary US president simply does not have the luxury of being turning his back on the world, and hope to go down in history as a successful leader.
There remain a number of international challenges that directly impact (or could eventually impact) important US interests in this increasingly volatile world.
Iran and North Korea are relentlessly advancing their nuclear and missile programs. Afghanistan is far from being a viable state, and Al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents spread violence throughout the greater Middle East and Africa. And then, of course, there is the peaceful but relentless rise of China.
While struggling with these inherited foreign policy problems, President Obama has also seen new challenges emerge on his watch, such as the EU economic crisis. Some initiatives his Administration put in place during his first term are now stalling: the "reset" with Russia is just one example.
These issues will require constant attention from Washington throughout Obama's second term and beyond. Nevertheless, my bet is that Obama will be able to divert even more energy to the domestic issues, provided he manages to forge deeper partnerships with other countries that can shoulder some of the costs in the international domain. Russia, properly incentivized, is one such country it could do a great deal more to secure progress on a wide range of international issues that are vital to US interests.
The days when, in the words of Edward Abbey, humanity would not be free "until the last Kremlin commissar is strangled with the entrails of the last Pentagon chief of staff" certainly seem to have passed. But Russia still matters to the United States, and indeed the whole world, if only because of its geography, resources and other capabilities.
Post-Communist Russia's ability to advance (or disrupt) US-led efforts on non-proliferation, nuclear security, arms control, counter-terrorism, regional stability and energy supply is well understood.
Hopefully, Obama's selection of Democrat Senator John Kerry and former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for the posts of foreign and defense secretaries will help bring the two sides closer to reaching a compromise on the issue, notably it is one on which Obama has promised to display greater flexibility in his second term. Kerry and Hagel are viewed in both Washington and Moscow as pragmatists who advocate constructive engagement with Russia.
But with all the low-hanging fruit already picked, even these veteran politicians may find it hard to win Russia's cooperation on these issues, especially since what began as a pre-election spat between Moscow and Washington seems to have continued to escalate.
The main obstacle toward reversing the current backslide and securing Moscow's greater cooperation is obvious: America's ballistic missile defense (BMD) program in Europe, which Russian leaders claim will (eventually) be capable of targeting and intercepting their ballistic missiles.
This missile defense dispute can be resolved. But this would require both sides to display the goodwill needed to reach a compromise, possibly in the form of a founding act on missile defense cooperation which contains mutual non-targeting pledges, but which stops short of requiring ratification.
The act would emulate the 1997 NATO-Russia cooperation act, and establish continuing channels for sharing information, including radar data and interceptor technologies.
The BMD act should pave the way for complimentary capabilities of information and interception components of the US/NATO and Russian missile defense systems. One of the first steps should be introduction of continuous sharing of information, including radar data and interceptor technologies.
And to the conservatives who oppose such mutual exchange, I say this: remember that, even in the heat of the Cold War, the father of Star Wars (Reagan, not George Lucas) deemed it necessary to promise to share US missile defense technologies with the "Evil Empire," on condition that the latter agreed to bilateral nuclear cuts.
Of course, even deep US-Russian BMD cooperation will not be a cure-all. Russia's leaders may favor a transactional approach, bundling issues in negotiations with stronger counterparts, but I see no possible deals that could allow America to secure Russia's assistance in managing China's rise as Washington would, in an ideal world, prefer.
A BMD deal certainly could reverse the recent cooling in the bilateral relationship and ensure that the Kremlin remains a constructive partner on such issues of vital interest to the United States as deeper nuclear cuts, reinvention of the nuclear security partnership with Russia, and stabilization of Afghanistan. And, of course, such a deal will make America and its allies better protected against missile attacks. Moscow, which seems determined to terminate all the bilateral donor-recipient arrangements with the United States that date back to the 1990s, would also benefit from such a partnership of equals both militarily and geopolitically.
However, even the deep cooperation for which I (and others) hope, could prove unsustainable in the longer-term, unless it is put on solid economic foundations. As of 2012, Russia was 20th on the list of America's trading partners, while for Russia the United States came 8th. Indicatively, given this trade imbalance, the United States did not make it onto the list of the top ten investors in Russia that year.
How to develop deeper economic ties, especially given America's progress toward self-sufficiency in energy and Russia's investment climate, is an issue that Obama, Putin and their successors will have to grapple with.
February 5, 2013
The Days of Engaging Russia Are Over
By Alexander Golts
Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.
When a group of actors wants to portray a noisy crowd, they often say to each other, "What should we talk about when there's nothing to talk about?" It seems that U.S.-Russian relations are in the same state and that the only option left for the leaders of both countries is to behave like provincial actors repeating a meaningless jumble of words.
The security conference in Munich over the weekend provided a convincing demonstration of this. Both U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tried to put a positive face on things by emphasizing the New START, cooperation on Afghanistan and Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, but their words left no doubt that the two countries are at loggerheads and that attempts to break the impasse will be the main focus of U.S.-Russian relations for a long time to come.
No matter how many vague and evasive statements officials might make, it is obvious that U.S.-Russian relations have hit what is probably their lowest point in the past 20 years. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which the Kremlin considers an infringement on Russian sovereignty. For its part, in the span of just a few months Moscow evicted USAID, announced its withdrawal from the Nunn-Lugar program, prohibited individuals with U.S. citizenship from holding leadership positions in Russian nongovernmental organizations and banned U.S. citizens from adopting Russian orphans.
On the surface, it would seem that Washington is so frightened by the erratic behavior of President Vladimir Putin that it is ready to accept the rules of his new game and play the whipping boy, thereby lending credence to Putin's claim that he is a tough guy who has forced the U.S. to put up with his abuse. After all, Washington is willing to maintain the appearance of decent relations with Moscow because it desperately needs a northern transit route out of Afghanistan.
Many believe that the Obama administration will end up making concessions to Moscow in the next four years. After all, newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry and likely new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have consistently opposed the very type of global interventionism that infuriates the Kremlin. In this situation, it would be logical to assume that Kerry, Hagel and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon will push Obama to "appease" the Kremlin.
Concessions could take the form of an agreement not to deploy ships equipped with missile-defense interceptors in the Baltic and North seas, thereby relinquishing even the theoretical U.S. ability to intercept Russian nuclear missiles. What's more, the U.S. could announce that it will postpone for an indefinite period the implementation of the fourth stage of deployment of its missile defense system, a stage that will give the U.S. the ability to destroy long-range strategic nuclear missiles.
But even these bold efforts would be in vain because in reality, U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe are just a pretext. The real reason for Putin's discontent with Washington is based in his sincere belief that the Moscow protests against his regime were U.S.-sponsored. He is convinced that the U.S. State Department is out to stage a color revolution in Russia and deprive him of power.
This creates an obvious impasse. Washington cannot give the one guarantee that is most important for the Kremlin that there will not be any more mass protests for the simple reason that the State Department and CIA have no control over Russia's street demonstrations.
The Obama administration has recognized the futility of trying to appease Putin. For example, the U.S. announced that it was withdrawing from the Civil Society Working Group of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Melia did not mince words, saying the U.S. was withdrawing because "recent steps taken by the Russian government to impose restrictions on civil society ... called into serious question whether maintaining that mechanism was either useful or appropriate." In the end, Washington refused to take part in what had become a hypocritical farce.
If the decision to walk away from the civil society working group was linked to the new team in the State Department, then it is a clear sign of a major change in Washington's policy toward Russia. Biden's comments in Munich seem to confirm this. Yes, Russia remains a key player in solving global security issues that are important for Obama, but Biden made it clear that the U.S. has no intention of pretending for the Kremlin's sake that Russia is a democracy. "It's no secret that we have serious differences on issues like Syria, missile defense, NATO enlargement, democracy, human rights. These differences are real," Biden said in Munich.
Washington does not want to pursue its old policy of engagement, which was based on the assumption that by working with Moscow on issues important to both sides, the U.S. would gradually instill democratic values in Russia. This approach has never worked with the Putin regime. In Obama's second term, it seems that the U.S. will treat Russia as it does any other authoritarian government and will express its disapproval when the regime violates the rights of its citizens.
If the first result of that new approach is the withdrawal from the Civil Society Working Group, then eventually the question of Russia's membership in the Group of Eight will be called into question. Last year, Putin ignored the G8 summit in the U.S., and the day may not be far off when the presidents of the seven leading democratic countries decide they have nothing to discuss with their Russian counterpart.
Russian Weapons Sales Shift Away From East Arms Official
MOSCOW, February 5 (RIA Novosti) Russia is losing arms markets in Asia and the Middle East, two of its traditional strongholds, but gaining new ones in Latin America and Africa, a Russian arms official said this week ahead of an aviation expo in India, a major buyer of Russian weaponry that has recently been opting for Western hardware.
"While losing [some], we have gained new markets, like Venezuela for instance," said Alexander Fomin, head of Russia's Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service, who is leading Russia's delegation at the Aero India show, opening Wednesday near the city of Bangalore. "We are getting back forgotten, old Soviet markets, like Peru for example. In Africa Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda. In Asia Oman," he said.
Fomin conceded Russia had lost a number of clients for its weapons due to recent events in the Middle East and North Africa. "This is connected to the conflicts and wars [there]. Cooperation with Libya has stopped temporarily, and there's a slump in deliveries to Egypt and Iran; our work with Syria is being impeded. That's a fact. We've lost Iraq and we've almost lost Afghanistan," he told RIA Novosti in an interview Monday.
Fomin said the quality of products had gotten poorer, but this applied across the board, not just to Russia.
"There is a drop in quality, and this applies to our main competitors as well. It's absolutely the same. But these are one-off, occasional and solvable issues," he said, adding that Russian-made products remain much cheaper than their Western counterparts.
Fomin's comments come after India, which has traditionally bought the vast majority of its weaponry from the Soviet Union and then Russia, signed a string of deals in recent years with the United States and Western European nations for new hardware, in preference to Russian systems.
That includes Boeing C-17 Globemaster and Lockheed Martin C-130J transport planes, Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships, Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Boeing P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine warfare planes, and a massive $10 billion deal with France's Dassault for the Rafale fighter jet. Delhi also bought the UK's BAE Systems Hawk trainer, and last month selected Airbus A330 tanker aircraft in preference to the Russian Ilyushin Il-78.
India became the world's largest arms buyer in 2012, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks weapons sales. Earlier SIPRI had estimated that "India received 9 percent of the volume of international arms transfers during 2006-2010, with Russian deliveries accounting for 82 percent" of its imports.
Russia's overseas arms sales exceeded $14 billion in 2012, President Vladimir Putin said in December. Russia reported arms sales of $13.2 billion in 2011, enough to maintain its position as the world's second arms exporter after the United States.
February 5, 2013
Georgian Wine Could Be Allowed by Spring, Onishchenko Says
By Nikolaus von Twickel
Georgian wine and mineral water could return to Russian store shelves as early as this spring, Russia's chief sanitary official said Monday.
Moscow will send teams of sanitary inspectors to facilities in Georgia, Gennady Onishchenko told reporters. If they approve local quality levels, producers can register in Russia and resume imports, he said in comments carried by Interfax.
Onishchenko was speaking after talks with Georgian officials in Moscow. Speaking at a joint news conference, the head of Georgia's national wine agency, Levan Davitashvili, said he hoped that imports could resume by the end of spring. Onishchenko added that this was realistic. "Maybe even earlier," he was quoted as saying.
Moscow imposed a wide-ranging ban on food imports from Georgia in 2006. The ban was officially explained as having to do with quality concerns but was widely believed to be political.
Its lifting would mark a major breakthrough amid the recent thaw between Moscow and Tbilisi that followed the defeat of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement in parliamentary elections last October. Georgia's new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has pledged to improve ties severed after the 2008 war over Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Experts have also said Moscow would be forced to lift the ban anyway because it joined the World Trade Organization last year. When the ban was originally imposed, it was seen as a reaction to Tbilisi's demand during WTO talks over Russia's accession that Moscow open customs checkpoints in South Ossetia and fellow breakaway region Abkhazia.
Davitashvili said that both sides had agreed on how to lift the ban for wine and water and that talks about fruit would follow.
Analysts say Georgian wine producers might face an uphill struggle if they were to return after an eight-year absence, because imports from regions like Latin American have made massive inroads during that time.
But Mikhail Khubutia, president of the Union of Georgians in Russia, said Georgian products would not need much promotion upon returning to the Russian market. "Russian consumers are still in love. They have been waiting patiently," he told The Moscow Times. Khubutia said wines from Georgian would also profit from quality improvements made during the past few years.
Such improvements were "forced upon them because they had to focus on exporting to Western markets," he explained.
However, Khubutia was cautious in estimating future market share. He said Georgian wines would probably first capture 2 percent of the Russian market.
Georgian wine and mineral water, popular in Russia since the Soviet era, made up almost a third of total Georgian exports before the ban.
February 5, 2013
RUSSIAN PRESS REVIEW
Georgian wine may return to the Russian market
Three-day talks between Rospotrebnadzor representatives and a delegation of the Georgian Agriculture Ministry began in Moscow on Monday on return of Georgian products to the Russian market. The guests are planned to meet with the federal agency's head, chief sanitary inspector Gennady Onishchenko. According to the participants, the talks are of a technical character. During the meetings, they will discuss issues related to quality of Georgian products and forms to control it. A date may be agreed on for arrival of Russian specialists in Georgia to inspect the technologies of wine and mineral water production.
Georgia waited for the day since 2006, when the federal agency for consumer rights protection and public health control (Rospotrebnadzor) stated that the quality of drinks and farm products imported from the country did not meet the Russian standards, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The unilateral break of trade relations coincided with a spiral of political tension between Moscow and Tbilisi.
Tbilisi leaders refused to accept the Russian side's official version about the ban, stating that Moscow tried to economically strangle freedom-loving pro-West Georgia. "It will fail. We will find new markets. Western friends will help us. Our businessmen will not leave our peasants in trouble," Mikheil Saakashvill said at the time.
However, little of the president-declared programme was implemented, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes. The Georgian government's main hopes -- to find a market to be an alternative to the Russian one -- have not come true. Losses due to the halt of supplies of vegetables, fruit, mineral water and soft drinks were minimized largely with increased exports to Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Turkey. But the wine situation remained uneasy. Attempts to conclude agreements for mass Georgian wine supplies failed, though the promotion was declared to be a state objective. It is explained by the wine market conservatism and wine consumption traditions.
At present, when power has changed in Georgia, signs of warming are seen in bilateral relations. So, it is highly probable that the embargo will be lifted. But the Russian market changed in the past six-seven years. Tbilisi, according to specialists, at first can hope to return no more than a 2-3-percent segment of the Russian wine market. And this is the most optimistic forecast.
At the meetings in the Rospotrebnadzor agency, the Georgian side will raise not only the wine problem, but a wider range of trade issues, the newspaper notes. What products will be approved to be presented at the Russian market will be known after the talks. For the present, it is known that Moscow keeps to a differential approach to Georgian wines. The market may be opened only for bottled products, but closed for wine materials.
February 5, 2013
Saakashvili's epoch of lies is over new Georgian leader
Summing up the first 100 days of heading the country, Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili blasted the "lies and slander" campaign waged by his opponents and reported success in the economic and social spheres.
Ivanishvili said in his Tuesday speech that the people must not pay attention to the fact that President Mikhail Saakashvili's team continues to spread lies as they did for the whole nine years of their governance. "Their time is over," the Georgian prime minister stated.
Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream party, although launched only in 2011, managed to win the parliamentary elections in October 2012. This ruined Mikhail Saakashvili's hopes of remaining in politics after the expiration of his presidential term. Saakashvili is still Georgian president, but his powers are very limited and his United National Movement party is a minority faction in the parliament.
The PM told reporters that his government had managed to achieve even greater success than expected. In particular, he noted the drop in energy tariffs, such as the 21-27 per cent drop in electricity prices, 10 per cent drop in motor fuel prices, and the 10 per cent drop in natural gas prices expected in February. The prices for pharmaceutical products dropped by between 30 to 50 per cent, the Georgian leader said.
Ivanishvili stressed that in the nearest future Georgian goods, in particular the popular Georgian wines, will re-enter the markets of the Russian Federation. He added that he possessed information that proved Russia did not prevent Georgian wine imports over the past years, but it was the previous Georgian administration which chose artificially to limit the trade.
He added that the knowledge about these artificial barriers had always allowed him to promise with confidence that the Georgian goods would at some moment return to Russia.
Ivanishvili also told the press that he did not intend to listen to Saakashvili's annual address to parliament which will be delivered on February 8, because he was sure that the entire speech would be comprised of lies.
However, in earlier statements representatives of Georgian Dream promised to give Saakashvili a hard time during the address as, unlike the previous parliament, they intended to make the president speak the truth.
Earlier, Georgia's former prime minister and the leader of the United National Movement party, Vano Merabishvili, accused Ivanishvili and his allies of political repressions and economic collapse, adding that the amnesty declared by the new authorities seriously worsened the criminal situation in the country.
In reply Ivanishvili noted that he fully understood Merabishvili's concerns as the former PM is under investigation. Georgian law enforcers suspect him of abuse of office and document forgery and, after several questionings, stated that he may also be charged with giving false testimony.