The Other Russia News from the Coalition for Democracy in Russia Thu, 31 Jan 2013 20:02:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Statement on Umarali Kuvvatov’s Arrested in the UAE Thu, 31 Jan 2013 20:02:50 +0000 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 31, 2013

In 2012 we invited our friends from the post-Soviet countries to speak at a number of mass rallies in Moscow alongside with the leading Russian politicians and prominent public figures. On December 23 Umarali Kuvvatov, leader of the Tajik pro-democracy alliance Group-24, was detained in Dubai airport and has been held in custody at Dubai Police C.I.D. for over a month now. Mr Kuvvatov was detained at the request of the Tajikistani authorities demanding his extradition. In case of a positive decision by the UAE authorities, Mr Kuvvatov will be imprisoned and tortured in an attempt to force him to make a public confession.

Although Mr Kuvvatov openly spoke against President Rahmon just a few months ago, he has already gained some publicity in Russia as well as in Tajikistan. According to the estimates, some 1 to 2 million Tajik currently live in Russia, and part of them already have Russian citizenship. Since more than half of all Tajik working-age men have to look for a job abroad, abuse cases and human tragedies are not infrequent in Tajikistan. This is one of the main reasons for an avalanche of criticism against President Rahmon, including on the part of the Tajik community in Russia. Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to support President Rahmon as before, just as many other oppressive regimes, despite a train of diplomatic failures caused by that support.

Officials and government agencies charged with Russian foreign policy are either unwilling to see the real challenges of the changing world or are unable to do so. The countries that have overthrown erstwhile dictators look at Russia with suspicion if not animosity, whereas our so-called allies keep on impudently demanding from Russia dividends for their loyalty. Yet, they are keen to turn their back on Russia whenever they have a chance, to the point that they conduct raids in the Russian territory. In January last year there was an assassination attempt on Dododjon Atovulloyev, a Tajik dissident; a few weeks ago at the very centre of Moscow in full view of dozens of people a trade-union leader from Kazakhstan Ainur Kurmanov narrowly escaped abduction.

Alliances between oppressive authoritarian regimes can be of no benefit even to themselves. International cooperation among various civil society organisations of our countries, on the other hand, is a good way for common advancement and a key to solving the existing issues. For Russian civil society Umarali Kuvvatov is one of dialogue partners. The predicament he finds himself in now requires a public expression of solidarity.

We would like to draw the attention of the UAE authorities and international human rights organizations to the fact that this is clearly a case of persecution on political grounds and that Mr Kuvvatov’s extradition would effectively mean his surrender for a brutal reprisal. Therefore, there is a clear threat to his health and life. We call upon all those who are to decide on Umarali Kuvvatov’s lot not to make a fatal mistake.

Alexander Belov, “The Russians” ethno-political union, Chairman of Supervisory Board

Denis Bilunov, 5 December Party, Member of Federal Council

Garry Kasparov, United Civil Front, Chairman

Ilya Ponomarev, Member of Parliament (the Russian State Duma)

Sergey Udaltsov, Left Front, Coordinator

Suspicious Death in Moscow Police Station Fri, 04 Jan 2013 21:19:51 +0000 Russian police. Source: ITAR-TASSA 43-year-old man arrested under suspicion of embezzlement has died in a Moscow police station, RBK reports.

The man was being held in a cell for administrative detainees at Moscow’s Khorosheva-Mnevniki station. A federal warrant had been issued for his arrest.

Federal investigators said an investigation into the incident was underway. They added that preliminary information suggested the cause of death was heart failure.

The detainee’s death is particularly suspicious because three police officers from the same station were arrested last October on suspicion of murdering a 22-year-old Muscovite. The officers allegedly had a conflict over money with the victim, whose body was found with nearly 80 stab wounds on September 11.

In connection with the murder case, the chiefs at the Khorosheva-Mnevniki station were summarily fired on October 31. A commission from Moscow’s central police headquarters was sent to reevaluate the station’s entire staff.

This latest death also comes one month after a man died in a Krasnoyarsky Krai hospital after providing evidence to investigators at a police station. During their discussion, police say the man acted aggressively and tried to leave the station. One of the officers forced him back into his chair. Soon after, the man began to complain that he felt ill. Police called an ambulance and he was sent to a hospital, where he died two weeks later. The cause of his death is still under investigation.

Deaths in police custody figured as one of the largest scandals of 2012 in Russia. In particular, a man detained for public intoxication died after police sodomized him with a champagne bottle, leading to the dismissal of Tatarstan’s chief of police. The cases also serve as a reminder of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose death in pretrial detention sparked a dispute that has evolved into a diplomatic firestorm between Russia and the United States.

Fatalists in the Kremlin Fri, 04 Jan 2013 08:54:04 +0000 In this column for Yezhednevny Zhurnal, journalist and military expert Aleksandr Golts sums up Putin’s first year of foreign policy upon his third return to the presidency – one dominated, in more ways than one, by international isolationism.

Results of the Year: Fatalists in the Kremlin
By Aleksandr Golts
January 2, 2013
Yezhednevny Zhurnal

The foreign policy of the first year of the third term of President Vladimir Putin was characterized by several common tendencies. First: a belief in realpolitik. But this is not the civilized realpolitik of Henry Kissinger. It is the simple – if not primitive – realpolitik of the 19th century. Different states, those egotistical animals, barter back and forth in an effort to further their own national interests. To that end, they create unions aimed at weakening the other main players. This bartering takes place during secret diplomatic conferences, when secret agreements are developed. Holding talks on democracy and human rights during such conferences is simply a joke. Putin sees these talks as propagandistic tools to weaken Russia. He is certain that he understands the rules of the game.

If one had to define the most important tendency within Russian politics on the international stage in 2012, it would be increased alienation from the outside world and less of a connection to reality. In the 21st century, there is less and less realism in the Kremlin’s professed 19th-century realpolitik. Putin’s single foreign policy goal is to prevent Russia from having a “colored revolution.” Our head of state genuinely believes that protests are the result of conspiracies between other powers, particularly the US, whose goal is to weaken our Fatherland, strenuously rising up from its knees.

Therefore, the main blow has to be against our enemies. And the State Duma, intoxicated by its own impunity, has stamped one monstrous law after another. Non-governmental organizations that risk telling the truth about the state of political freedoms, human rights, and corruption are synonymous with “foreign agents.” And if someone with American citizenship works at an NGO, that organization will be closed. And any citizen who talks to a foreigner can be charged with treason – here, it is enough for the security services to suspect a foreigner of belonging to an organization that wishes to harm Russian security. God knows how this chimes with the professed need for intellectual exchange with the surrounding world. Most likely, it does not chime at all. It is obvious that the essence of Putin’s international policy is maximally isolating the country from its insidious external surroundings.

The further it goes, the more this policy is going to harm Russian citizens instead of any cursed foreigners. The most striking example is the response to the Magnitsky Act, the American law banning corrupt Russian officials (most of all, the ones from the so-called law enforcement agencies) from indulging in the joys of the American state. More precisely: from going to the States, keeping money there, or buying property there. The response was definitely asymmetrical: for attempting to punish corrupt Russian officials, Russian children are going to foot the bill.

Our national diplomacy also works according to this same logic in discussions of one of the main conflicts of this past year – the one in Syria. It was announced a hundred times that Moscow is not holding out for Assad – and indeed, why hold out for a regime that will inevitably fall within the next few months (or even weeks). However, Russia has spoken out “decisively” against foreign meddling in its domestic affairs. And Russia has provided Assad with “entirely legal” services, giving weapons to a regime in the throes of death. If Moscow actually followed realpolitik, it could have just built up a relationship with the Syrian rebels in order to save its military contrasts and base in Tartus. Instead, Moscow has supported Assad in his insane war against his own people. Because, in reality, countering colored revolutions actually means countering the will of people who are sick to death of leaders who have taken it upon themselves to rule forever.

As a result, Russia today is the main international warrior not for the people, but for authoritarian and totalitarian rulers – in Syria, North Korea, and Iran. Russian diplomats scared to death at the prospect of winding up on the Magnitsky Act list threaten the US with a break in diplomatic relations. And Putin’s year-end press conference, full of absurd anti-American rhetoric, demonstrated that our national leader is entirely full of genuine indignation towards the United States. Washington, for some reason, is not playing by the rules. At least, not by the rules that Vladimir Putin thought up for himself. And that, I suppose, is the main problem in Russian foreign policy – its strategy exists in a separate world. A separate one from that of their partners. To put it bluntly, they are playing chess, but they think they are playing checkers.

And it is precisely here, I suppose, that the new trait of Putin’s foreign policy manifests itself: fatalism. Two years ago during his annual television show, Putin agreed that he was lucky. It appears that he indeed believes in his own incredible luck, helping him slip out of any situation.

Just like the Politburo elders in the Kremlin at the end of the 1970s, Putin is certain that oil prices are never going to fall. All leading states will be doomed to purchase oil and gas from Russia, regardless of how good their relations are with the Kremlin. If the market climate is good, these tools will allow Putin to implement his grand idea to reintegrate the former Soviet republics. I would like to note that these plans also fit nicely into the creation of unions as part of the realpolitik of the century before last. That is the case even if these projects, such as the Customs Union, for example, have an obviously harmful effect on Russia’s economy. Under these circumstances, the country’s leadership falls under the illusion that it can act on the international stage without any boundaries. The future is unpredictable, says the Kremlin. We cannot rule out that, as a result of forthcoming cataclysms, Russia’s place on the international stage could fundamentally improve. Moreover, the economic crisis engendered the illusion among Kremlin strategists that some kind of “new world order” could allow Russia to start from a blank slate and become a superpower once again. This is exactly what the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was talking about in his speech before the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy: “A majority of factors testify to the fact that a new historical milestone is beginning… Given such a radical ‘do-over,’ there’s a lot, probably, that can start from a clean slate, and far from all of the rules that define the international hierarchy today are going to apply in the future. There’s no ruling out that what’s going to be significant is not the place where this or that technology is created, but the ability to use it best. In this sense, Russia, with her intelligent and audacious population and vast resources enjoys obvious advantages.” The logic is stunning: because of forthcoming changes, Russia will be able to use the achievements of others on account of “audacity.” At the same time, there is no hint of how the country will mystically be able to solve its demographic problems or what these vast resources are that can be harnessed. This is not the logic of an analyst – it is the logic of a gambler in a casino.

In effect, the Russian government is admitting that it has no rational plan on how to “raise the country up.” All its bets are hedged on the idea that, when people standing in a line turn around 180 degrees, the last person becomes the first. These policies, obviously, will lead to nowhere. Which is to say: to international isolation.

Russian Activists Continue Legal Appeals Against Electoral Fraud Sat, 29 Dec 2012 20:21:14 +0000 Grigory Sheyanov. Source: Anna Razvalyaeva/Freetowns.ruFrom Kirill Poludon at

Russian voters are not interested in electoral fraud or campaign violations since they have no way of contesting election results. The efforts of one civil group that spent a year collecting signatures for a petition to have the 2011 State Duma election results declared illegitimate has thus been thwarted. Systemic oppositionists have not been any help, either: members of Yabloko, A Just Russia, and the Communist Party have refused to contest the election results and ignored the 13 thousand signatures collected by the group.

On December 14, the Russian Supreme Court threw out a request by five voters to disband the Central Electoral Commission, which confirms Duma election results. In addition to the signatures, the group of activists submitted 60 pages of evidence that the 2011 elections had been fraudulent. Federal Judge Nikolai Tolcheyev, however, was unconvinced, and rejected the request on the basis that the applicants “are contesting acts that do not affect [their own] rights, freedoms, or legal interests.” The activists disagreed.

The group decided to start the petition almost immediately after the controversial elections. “I was outraged,” said journalist Aleksei Torgashev. “But I didn’t want to just go to a rally and yell ‘Putin, go!’ Something concrete needed to be done.”

Leading activist Mikhail Shneyder of the Solidarity opposition movement introduced the idea to send a petition to the Supreme Court during a December 13, 2011, meeting with members of the first mass rally on Bolotnaya Square.

“We collected signatures by hand during rallies and marches. There was a huge torrent of pages of signatures for new elections after a blank form was published in Novaya Gazeta,” Shneyder told

In six months, the group has managed to collect 13,117 in-person signatures. Several hundred were rejected for having insufficient information. The group chose a paper petition instead of an online one to have the added emphasis of the sheer weight of the paper, as well as to prevent critics from complaining about automated electronic signatures.

The activists planned to submit the petition in conjunction with opposition politicians, but members of Yabloko and A Just Russia almost immediately declined to contest the election results.

“We tried to cooperate with the Communist Party. They told us that the suit was being prepared; they constantly dragged it out. But a few days before the one-year limit to contest election results was up, the Communists refused to submit the complaint, even though we know it was ready. And the Communist Party didn’t even accept the election results,” Shneyder said.

“It turns out that it’s not very hard for the Kremlin to make agreements with our oppositionists. The decision to not submit the application to contest the election results was a political one,” claimed activist Grigory Sheyanov.

To prevent the total loss of a year’s worth of work and to deal “humanely” with those who signed the petition, the group decided to turn in a petition with only their names. It was rejected.

“We didn’t expect a different outcome. Yes, there is a legal stipulation that election results can only be contested by candidates. But that’s absurd. We’ll get a definitive decision from the Supreme Court and go to the Constitutional Court so that we can dispute the constitutionality of this position. Nobody before us has done this,” Sheyanov noted.

The activists who have come together over this case are unsure if their group will stay united after the final court appeals are over. In this sense, they are an analogy for the crisis within the entire protest movement.

“At the end of 2011 we found one vector – to protest unjust elections,” explained Aleksandr Rzhavsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Since then, different events superseded this, and the movement fell apart since there’s nothing to unite around. Even the question of political prisoners clashes with other issues.”

Although they largely expect a disappointing court outcome, the activists do not believe they have spent their time in vain. “We brought attention to the lack of legal defense for voters, we showed just how ‘oppositionist’ certain parties are, and we brought the case through to the end.” And they are convinced that, regardless of what provokes the next wave of protests, the horizontal connections and experience with the petition will add “critical mass” to future projects.

Kremlin Summer Camp to Expand Overseas Thu, 27 Dec 2012 03:13:03 +0000 Seliger summer camp. Source: Robertamsterdamn.comA summer camp founded by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi will be held outside of Russia for the first time in 2013, in an effort to rally support from the Russian diaspora for projects back in their homeland, Izvestia reports.

Sergei Belokonev, head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs (Rosmolodezh), said that the Selinger summer camp would be held in one European and one US location in addition to the original Russian one. He named Strasbourg, where the European Court of Human Rights is located, as a possible European site.

The agency has already set up a special commission and working group to organize Selinger abroad. Organizers say the basic goal of the camp is “to rally fellow countrymen living abroad.”

There are an estimated 35 million Russians currently living abroad.

“We are actively working towards this and are planning to initiate work with our compatriots, especially those who did not personally migrate, but were moved out of the country when they were still children,” Belokonev said. “I’ve talked to people who are abroad but are bigger patriots than people here of their same age.”

The agency chief denied that the camp’s expansion was an attempt to bring young émigrés back to Russia. On the contrary, he insisted that it was necessary for Russians to “build up the country’s economic power” from abroad.

“We need to attract our people to economic projects in Russian so that they become intermediaries, earn money working on these projects, get technology and investment into Russia and send products and services overseas,” Belokonev explained. The camps abroad, then, are needed for émigrés to develop projects to aid Russia, he said.

Belokonev also stipulated that Rosmolodezh would not be organizing the overseas camps by themselves.

Dmitri Sablin, a State Duma deputy involved in relations with the Russian diaspora, said that such camps can help the Russian government exercise leverage over foreign policy towards Russia.

“This is a relevant necessity, our compatriots abroad are defending their rights,” he said. “We need to understand that they’re still Russian even if they have passports from different countries.”

“If Russians living abroad are brought together in some sort of organized form, then European countries and the United States are undoubtedly going to think harder and choose more careful statements when making decisions that go against Russian interests. Then we won’t have things like the Magnitsky Act, which doesn’t do anything but satisfy someone’s ambitions. It has no meaning besides to foment hostility,” Sablin explained.

Nadezhda Nelipa, executive director of Verrus, an organization that supports the Russian-speaking population in Europe, suspects that the camp is destined to fail if run by the Russian side.

“There’s a bunch of people in Germany who deal with the organization of such events, but the style of work and life differs so greatly in Europe that none of it was successful,” Nelipa explained. “Even the ones in the consulate don’t understand it, they look at it like this is Soviet territory. There’s an entirely different approach to things here: if they need a lot of students to participate in the camp, it requires a lot of time, you can’t do it in 3-4 months. These students have their own rhythm of life, they study very hard. They don’t have any vacation time before summer; sometimes they can allow themselves a couple of weeks in the summer. They plan their semesters a half year in advance.”

Political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov believes that Rosmolodezh is simply leeching off of the recent popularity in Russia of support for the Russian diaspora. He was also certain that Rosmolodezh’s strategy to stimulate entrepreneurialism among young Russians only has potential in Russia and will not be successful in the West.

“Rosmolodezh has a choice right now between two strategies: it can continue stressing political, ideological projects or it can attract young people by supporting their business projects. The agency has recently been drifting towards the second direction,” Vinogradov said.

The youth camp Seliger was first held at a lake by the same name in Tverskaya region in 2005. Founded as a training camp for Nashi, it only allowed non-members to participate starting in 2009. The camp has been heavily criticized for indoctrinating young Russians with a paranoid Kremlin ideology and comparing human rights advocates to Nazis, as well as for leaving a great deal of garbage at the lake.

‘Four and a Half Hours of Banality and Repetition’ Fri, 21 Dec 2012 00:23:02 +0000 Putin with journalists. Source: ITAR-TASSIn past years, Vladimir Putin has hosted an annual televised call-in for Russian citizens to ask him various questions. For the first time, this year’s conference featured no such citizens, and instead took the form of a four-and-a-half-hour press conference. While the general consensus seems to be that the event was overwhelmingly boring, reactions to some of Putin’s particular statements are worthy of mention. Below are some responses to the press conference by analysts, politicians, and journalists, all gathered from and

Aleksei Makarkin, Deputy Director of the Center for Political Technology:

The main thing in Putin’s address was the mass media. The questions did not used to be so incisive, and moreover, if the president responded, then it was a definitive response. He no longer observes these rules. Some of his answers contained counterattacks, and sometimes he said he wasn’t informed of the issue.

In regards to the anti-Magnitsky law, he gave the impression that he really wanted to sign it, but at the same time wanted to leave a little leeway to have the possibility of backing off from this law.

Not one of his statements was surprising. The goal of this press conference was to retain his supporters. When he answered a question from, he was not so much addressing the publication’s readers, but his own supporters, in order to demonstrate that the president is strong.

Mikhail Vinogradov, Director of the Petersburg Policy Foundation:

There was no clear message here.

The questions were more striking than their answers, just like during Dmitri Medvedev’s television interview. The main issue in the press conference was the rebirth of public political life; the press spoke up, and not just the servile ones like Izvestia. The situation is reminiscent of the end of the ’80s, when the press became the country’s key opposition force.

Boris Nemtsov, Co-Representative of Parnas, Member of the Opposition Coordination Council:

I really liked Putin’s statement about Serdyukov today. It turns out that he isn’t a swindler or a thief, since there hasn’t been a court decision yet. But Magnitsky is a swindler and a thief, and [Hermitage Capital Management head William] Browder is a swindler and a thief, despite the fact that there hasn’t been a court decision.

It’s obvious that the war on corruption is a complete fake; they won’t give up their own… I was also struck by [Putin’s statement] that Magnitsky had passed away, and hadn’t been tortured. Although it’s true that after his death they found marks of torture on his body, and his fingers had been crushed. These lies struck me deeply….

Sergei Obukhov, State Duma Deputy from the Communist Party:

Such boredom! Four and a half hours of banality and repetition. Nothing stuck in my memory, everything was predictable. Putin is maintaining the status quo.

In regards to the anti-Magnitsky bill – that which he organized, he answered. It is not as if the Duma came up with this bill; it was, of course, the presidential administration. All of this is psychotherapy that has nothing to do with real politics.

Ilya Yashin, Co-Representative of Solidarity:

Putin says: “We do not have authoritarianism.” And just as swiftly: “I could easily change the constitution.” This is some sort of comedy club, not a press conference.

Ilya Ponomarev, State Duma Deputy from A Just Russia:

The most striking thing to me was the female journalists who asked questions.

Katya Vinokurova, Diana Khachaturian, and Masha who said “Thanks, Vova!” all showed with the same conversational manner just how much attitudes toward the acting president have changed in this country. Secondly, it is very important that the issue of yesterday’s law [on banning US adoptions of Russian children] came up seven times, and the people who asked those questions deserve a gracious bow. Thanks to that, the chances of the president vetoing this bill have risen considerably.

Yevgeniya Albats, Editor-in-Chief of the New Times:

I was certain that he would act like this during the press conference. He basically said: we’re not going to cave to public opinion. The scariest part is that Putin genuinely thinks that how it is in Russia is how it is everywhere. That is unfortunate. He genuinely does not understand basic things.

Masha Gessen, Author and Journalist, US News & World Report:

The most common thing people say to me after my meeting with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin: “But no, it’s impossible that he didn’t know about you and your book. He’s a security services guy! They would have had to prepare him!” But did he have to prepare for today? To repeat facts and figures, to rehearse answers to totally predictable questions? Enough overestimating this guy. There are already plenty of people who agree that he’s a miscreant. What people still need to understand is that he’s not a very smart miscreant, standing at the head of a behemoth that is utterly casting off the last vestiges of professionalism and the general ability to function. It is a state apparatus built in the image and likeness of its leader: evil and stupid.

Kind Putin Will Save the Children Thu, 20 Dec 2012 02:50:28 +0000 From Ekho Moskvy:

On Wednesday, the Russian State Duma passed a bill to counter the Magnitsky Act in its second reading. This version of the bill contains amendments that ban American citizens from adopting Russian children and expands measures against any country – not just the United States – that violates the rights of Russian citizens. In addition, it would ban NGOs financed by the U.S. that deal with political issues or present a “threat” to Russian interests from operating in Russia. The bill needed 226 votes to pass, and received 400 for, four against, and two abstentions.

In this blog post for Ekho Moskvy, journalist Anton Orekh questions whether this bill is not itself a threat to Russian interests.

Kind Putin Will Save the Children
By Anton Orekh
December 19, 2012
Ekho Moskvy

The story of the anti-Magnitsky law and its anti-child amendment has revealed not only the true faces of these deputies, but their real purposes as well. It is not as if we ever had any illusions about this collection of mandated citizens. It is just that these scoundrels really showed the full extent of their foolishness when they started retaliating against America by harassing our orphans and the disabled. But it is precisely because of their foolishness that we keep them.

What a clever move for our top leaders. America passes a law to protect itself from our swindlers and killers. We have nothing to respond to this law with! We are going to hide our swindlers and killers to the very end, and we have nothing to present to the Americans. But we really want to. You cannot just brush yourself off and move on. And then four hundred clowns burst into the arena and scoff, throwing about all manner of drivel and demonstrating the outrage of the state. This is how we declare the awesome position of our state, its unanimous patriotism and other crap.

But if the anti-Magnitsky law really is passed as it reads now, then the rest of the world is going to think that our country has turned into a wild territory filled with crazy humanoids with balalaikas. But we are not entirely apathetic about global public opinion. We love giving foreigners a good impression. And right at the moment that this parliamentary rapture reaches its climax, it is time for completely different people to come to the fore. Ones who say something like: we share your sense of worry and dismay; we understand your emotions and indignation. But let us not react to this so harshly; let us smooth out our language. We can give the Americans and our other enemies and enviers one more chance to redeem themselves. Putin, Medvedev, Matvienko and whichever other big fish can softly temper our position. They play good cop.

And on one hand, we show our people that our deputies do supposedly care about our children and the future of our country; we show the world how the representatives of our people practically unanimously express their ire and readiness to tear to shreds these treacherous Yanks, and on the other hand, we make a conciliatory gesture. They will say: look, we are holding this national anger in check, but this is not easy to do, because national anger is great and all-encompassing.

That is the role of our deputies. When we need them to turn into silent punch card machines that stamp documents without looking at any actual laws. When we need to display them as wild monkeys, jumping high in the air. Regardless, they will to be displayed as morons who only do what their leaders tell them. And that is why they are deputies. The question is: how did they wind up in our Duma?

Translation by

Kudrin Calls 2012 ‘Year of Missed Opportunities’ Wed, 19 Dec 2012 20:49:52 +0000 Alexei Kudrin. Source: Regnum.ruRussia’s former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has named 2012 “a year of missed opportunities,” on the basis that the government failed to undergo democratic reforms and introduced further restrictions on civil society. Nevertheless, he believes that Russian society still has hope to transform for the better in the future, reports.

Over the past year, society has changed course and begun moving along a course towards increased political mobilization, Kudrin believes – one that is impossible to reverse.

“The decrease in protesters might give the impression that society is returning to political stagnation,” he said. “But that would be a mistake.” On the contrary, Kudrin predicts that civil activity is only going to increase in the coming year.

The year 2012 saw an upswing in calls for political action within society. Among the most prominent examples, Kudrin cited the volunteer camps in Krymsk after that city suffered a devastating flood this past summer and electoral observation organizations.

At times, these projects were developed in spite of government actions that stifle civil activity. “There is a series of laws, such as the changes in the definition of ‘state treason’ and the stricter law on mass protests, that has led to a rise in distrust in populist actions,” Kudrin said. “The chance to reduce the tension within society that followed the parliamentary elections [in December 2011] has been missed.”

Kudrin noted that the government did take some positive measures, such as easing political party registration and a introducing a mixed electoral system, but said this was not sufficient.

The ex-finance minister had a reserved opinion about the Russian opposition’s new Coordination Council, which held elections last October. “We were interested to watch the council’s elections. It was a good experience. However, in my opinion, they should have chosen a platform and then, after that, formed a structure. The Coordination Council did it the other way around,” he said.

Kudrin had even harsher words about the negative effect on the Russian economy of the Kremlin’s anti-Western rhetoric. He argued that it is impossible to talk about Moscow as an international financial center if the government remains so suspicious of foreigners.

“The largest companies already doubt whether it’s worth expanding their staffs of international employees or whether it’s better to cut them back. These businesses haven’t been given clear rules of the game,” he said.

He also strongly criticized the work of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev’s cabinet. “Instead of privatization, we’re seeing creeping deprivatization,” Kudrin said. “Although, the Rosneft deal to buy TNK-BP has led to the deregulation of 40 billion dollars in shares. That’s several times bigger than all of the government’s privatization plans.”

Kudrin said that Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization was a positive step, but noted that the decision had already been made under Medvedev’s presidency, not Putin’s. He declined to comment directly on Medvedev’s decision not to run for a second presidential term.

While the economic plan that Putin put forth during his December 12 address to parliament was good, Kudrin said, “there aren’t realistic ways to implement it.” He also believes that the president still has not firmly established policy for his third term and could still change course.

One important factor to support the country’s economic growth is migrants, the former finance minister added. “The state should strictly regulate migration. Today we issue about 2 million work migration permits, but in reality we have more than 10 million migrants,” he said. “This speaks to the fact that we have insufficient regulation. We need to help migrants become legalized and attract workers while taking local communities into account. The size of our working population is shrinking.”

Kudrin, who is considered one of Putin’s closest confidants, resigned as finance minister last year just days after Putin announced that he planned to return to the presidency. At the time, Kudrin complained that he could not serve as finance minister under a cabinet led by Dmitri Medvedev, who then suggested that he resign.

In the time since then, Kudrin has founded the Civic Initiatives Committee. “It’s not a political party and it has no goals of taking over the government,” Kudrin explained. “We opened the New Government School to teach those who are interested in working for local governmental agencies. People of entirely different convictions come here, from Parnas to members of United Russia.”

Kudrin also announced that the committee was going to work to support honest journalism, the defense of businesses, and social/cultural projects.

“Why am I, an economist, doing these things? Because economic reforms are hindered by an imperfect political system,” Kudrin explained.

Jailed Pussy Riot Member Decries Prison Conditions Tue, 18 Dec 2012 20:01:30 +0000 Maria Alyokhina. Source: Perm Regional Legal Defense CenterJailed Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina has written a column for the New Times about the harsh conditions in her penal colony, including how administrators constantly threaten inmates with the possibility of being deprived of the opportunity for parole.

“They ask you: do you want parole? Then you just adapt,” Alyokhina said in her article. “It’s not hard to get out on parole. You need to sew 12 hours a day for a thousand rubles maximum per month; you need to refrain from writing complaints; you need to make substitutions, snitch on others, tread upon the last vestiges of your principles; you need to shut up and bear it; you need to get used to it.”

According to the Pussy Riot member, the entire “corrective” system is built on the basis of forcing prisoners to acclimate to arbitrary conditions. All the inmates are forced to memorize internal regulations, and violations of these regulations result in punishment that forms the basis for turning down an inmate’s request for parole. “If you fall asleep while doing your corrective work, that’s a violation; a poorly sewn-on tag is a violation; having a loose button on your coat during lineup is a violation,” Alyokhina explained.

Alyokhina also described her living conditions. She particularly pointed out the inaccessibility of hot water and how different her hands look after months of washing them with cold water. As a vegetarian, she is also having an adverse physical reaction to the prison’s “meat-only menu.”

On November 29, Alyokhina received an official reprimand for oversleeping. Less than a week earlier, she had been moved to a solitary cell at her own request because of conflicts with other prisoners. Pyotr Verzilov, husband of fellow jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, said that Alyokhina’s lawyer is fighting the reprimand in court. The federal prison service said that it could be removed for “a positive attitude towards work.” As it stands now, the reprimand could prevent Alyokhina from receiving parole in the future, which she and Tolokonnikova are subject to review for in March 2013. The two are currently serving two-year sentences for “inciting religious hatred” in what has been globally decried as a politically-motivated case.

Nemtsov on Putin’s Address: They Will Not Break Us Thu, 13 Dec 2012 10:43:09 +0000 Boris Nemtsov. Source: Weather.tsn.uaOpposition leader Boris Nemtsov had these harsh words for President Vladimir Putin on the day of his annual address to the Russian Federation Council:

Approaching the President’s Address
December 12, 2012
Boris Nemtsov

The fact that Putin is going to give his address on Constitution Day is conspicuous and cynical. This man, who has persistently and purposefully destroyed our constitutional rights with remarkable diligence over the past twelve years, has now decided, in truly hypocritical fashion, to time his speech to coincide with this holiday.

He swore on the constitution – thrice – that he will fight for our rights, but really he was mercilessly trampling over it all that time.

Putin’s oprichniki continue to do this with growing intensity every single day. Take, for instance, December 11. Raids were carried out on the apartments of our fellow oppositionists Taisiya Aleksandrova, Anna Kornilova, and Yury Nabutovsky. The main reason for the raids was their participation in seminars on electoral monitoring. The seminars were in Latvia, which gave the Investigative Committee reason to see the event as preparation for a “colored revolution,” as General Markin, unblinking, announced in a measured tone.

Another thing happened as well – the release of all the figures in the so-called “gambling case,” including all the judges, investigators, and police officers who covered up illegal gambling businesses in outer Moscow, were declared to be “socially close” to the regime and sent home.

But do you remember theft of 5.4 billion rubles from the state budget that Sergei Magnitsky uncovered, instead of throwing the butchers who tortured Sergei in jail, these defenders of thieves and murderers are trying to scare Americans with asset freezes in the Russian Agricultural Bank and their property in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

A tough symmetrical response to the Magnitsky law would have been to immediately remove their children from American universities, immediately close their accounts in American banks, and immediately sell the property they own in the West.

Only then would I believe in the sincerity of the theatrical rage among these Zuganovites, Mironovites and Zhirinovskyists. The end of the day was marked by the absolutely prevocational, one hundred percent anti-constitutional decision by the government not to allow the Freedom March.

The provocateurs from the Kremlin and Moscow City Hall want clashes, they want arrests, they want to frighten free citizens. We have been through this many times before, on the 31st of the month and on other dates. They will not break us. On December 15 at 15:00, I will be on Lubyanka Square. The weather will be bright. Exactly for us free people.