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1376Bulletin 7:21 (2013)

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  • andreumland
    Oct 31, 2013
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      A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs
      Vol. 7, No. 21(209), 30 October 2013
      Compilers: Fabian Burkhardt, Parikrama Gupta, Vildane Oezkan & Andreas Umland


      I NEWS: 1 - 15 September 2013

      [When quoting from an article found here, please, mention the RNB, as the source. Thank you!]

      I NEWS: 1 - 15 September 2013


      Sweden bans rainbow painted nails for Russia Winter Olympics

      IceNews, 01 September 2013.


      After a number of Swedish athletes painted their nails as a show of support for gay rights at this month’s World Athletics Championships in Russia, the Swedish Olympic Committee has stated that athletes at next year’s Winter Olympics, also in Russia, will not be allowed to do the same.  Among the Swedish athletes who made the headlines for making the silent protests were sprinter Moa Hjelmer and high jumper Emma Green Tregaro, both of whom painted their fingernails in the rainbow colours of the gay pride flag to make their feelings known on Russia’s gay propaganda laws.  Hjelmer later told Swedish radio that it is not up to the athletes to decide where the games are held, but it’s sad that Russia has such an attitude. She added that everyone should have equal rights.  However, the Swedish Olympic Committee has since come out and said that in next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, athletes will not be permitted to act in a similar way.  Head of the committee Stefan Lindeberg said that just as athletes can’t display adverts, they can’t display political symbols either, adding that it’s completely out of the question. He went on to say that everyone is entitled to their view on what goes on in different countries, but athletes can’t be using sporting arenas to make their feelings known.  Olympic regulations state that competitors are not allowed to demonstrate political, ethnic or religious propaganda which, according to Lindeberg, means those with their fingernails painted in the rainbow colours risk disqualification.




      Foreign Ministry Warns Russians Against Travel Abroad

      Read RUSSIA, September 02, 2013


      The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a paper warning citizens against travel abroad “in case of any reasonable suspicions that the US law enforcement authorities have any claims against them”. The warning applies in particular to journeys to those countries that have signed the extradition agreement with US.  The Foreign Ministry’s warning comes after a slew of recent cases when the Russian citizens were detained abroad on the request of the United States authorities. These include Dmitry Ustinov (accused of arms trafficking, detained in Lithuania), Dmitry Belorossov (accused of fraud, detained in Spain), Maxim Chukharev (accused of money laundering, detained in Costa Rica), and Alexander Panin (accused of fraud, detained in Dominican Republic). Russian officials call these arrests “virtual kidnappings” and claim that the trials tend to be prejudged.  “The Russian embassies and consulates offer aid and advice in legal matters to Russian citizens in trouble, but the outlook of these cases is pretty dim,” the Foreign Ministry concludes.





      Obama To Include Gay Rights Activists In Russia Meetings

      RFE/RL, September 03, 2013


      U.S. President Barack Obama will include Russian gay rights activists among rights campaigners and leaders of non-governmental organizations whom he will meet later this week when he is in St. Petersburg for the Group of 20 summit on September 5-6.
      U.S. officials frequently meet with civil society groups when visiting Russia, angering the Kremlin. But it appears to be the first time activists of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights movement have been included in a presidential-level meeting.
      Russian rights activists said the meeting is scheduled for September 5.
      Obama and his administration have voiced concern over a law recently passed by Russia's parliament that targets "homosexual propaganda."





      Lukin challenges law on “foreign agents” in Constitutional Court

      HRO.org , 3 September 2013


      Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has lodged an appeal against the law on foreign agents in the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation. As Lenta.ru reported, citing an article in the newspaper Kommersant from 3rd September, the appeal was received by the Court on Friday 30th August.   In the appeal, Lukin calls the definitions of “political activity” and “foreign agent” used in the law “politically and legally incorrect.”   The grounds for the appeal to the Constitutional Court were a number of court decisions that found a series of not-for-profit organisations to be ‘foreign agents’, and imposed fines on their directors.   Earlier, the Kostroma Civic Initiatives Support Centre had asked the Constitutional Court to review the amendments to the law on non-profit organisations, claiming that that the law contravenes five articles of the Russian Constitution.   The law, which demands that non-profit organisations which engage in “political activity” and receive foreign funding register on a list of “foreign agents”, came into force in 2012. Leading human rights organisations have criticised the law. In particular, the human rights defenders pointed out that the law does not accurately define what is meant by “political activity.” During extensive inspections of non-profits, which began in the spring of 2013, more than fifty types of activity were considered to be “political” in nature, according to the Agora human rights organisation.





      Police detain director of museum that exhibited Putin in drag – reports

      RIA Novosti, September 3, 2013


      The director of a St. Petersburg museum from where police confiscated paintings last week, including one of Russia’s president and prime minister in drag, was briefly detained in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to media reports. 

      “I was detained at 4 a.m. without any explanation,” Tatyana Titova said, the BBC Russian Service reported. “And they didn’t explain anything after they took me to the local police precinct either.”

      St. Petersburg police said four people, who they did not identify, were detained early Tuesday morning outside the Museum of Authority following a complaint by a local resident. The documents of all four were checked, and they were released three hours later, according to a police spokesperson.

      Titova was working late to prepare the museum for a Thursday opening when the police arrived, the museum’s owner Alexander Donskoi said by telephone. “She was given no information, shown no documents and provided with no explanation,” he said about Titova's detention.

      Police shut the Museum of Authority on August 27 after confiscating several paintings by artist Konstantin Altunin from its “Rulers” exhibition, in response to a complaint by St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who authored controversial city legislation passed in 2012 banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors.

      The four paintings “withdrawn” by police include a portrait of President Vladimir Putin in a pink-white dress fondling the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev clad in nothing but a push-up blue bra and matching panties, a portrait of Milonov entitled “Rainbow Milonov” and painting of Moscow Patriarch Kirill sporting prison tattoos with skulls and profiles of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.

      Altunin, who said the police confiscations of his work amounted to censorship, fled Russia last week fearing he could be arrested. He has said he is seeking political asylum in France.

      The Museum of Authority is currently closed, but is scheduled to re-open at 3 p.m. on Thursday when it will show the remainder of Altunin’s works of art for one day before they will be packed up and sent to the artist in Paris, according to the museum’s website.

      Altunin has appealed to world leaders, who will be in St. Petersburg for the G20 summit hosted on Thursday and Friday, to raise the issue of censorship in Russia during discussions with Putin.

      Milonov, the St. Petersburg lawmaker, said Tuesday that museum owner Donskoi should try and put on an exhibition similar to Altunin’s in the United States, where he said the response by the authorities would be much harsher.

      “As art knows no borders, I suggest Donskoi put on a similar exhibition in the United States on the eve of an international event [like the G20] that shows the President of that country Barack Obama in a similar way,” he said, according to Russian media reports.

      Donskoi, a former mayor of the Arctic city of Archangelsk, received a suspended three-year jail sentence for abuse of power in 2008. He claimed that charges against him were concocted after he spoke about his presidential ambitions in 2006, Russian media reported. He currently owns two other unusual attractions – the "G-Spot" sex museum and the "USSR Museum" in Moscow that displays a “breathing mummy” of Soviet state founder Lenin.

      It is not the first time that Russian museums, and artists, have come to the attention of law enforcement officials for poking fun at the authorities.

      Two members of feminist rock band Pussy Riot are currently serving two year jail sentences for an unsanctioned punk prayer protest against Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012.

      Marat Guelman, founder of a controversial state-run museum in the Urals city of Perm, said in June that he was fired from his position as the museum’s head after staging an exhibition ridiculing the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a prestige project on which the Kremlin has reportedly spent over $50 billion.

      Police made a mistake in detaining Titova, Guelman said on social networking site Twitter on Tuesday.

      “I think that St. Petersburg police will achieve only one thing – any artists will simply be obliged to draw a picture of Putin and Medvedev in drag,” he wrote.





      Dozens of immigrants found in Russian military facility

      RIA Novosti, September 3, 2013


      Russian police discovered 42 immigrants living and working at a Defense Ministry facility in the Moscow Region, the Interior Ministry announced Tuesday.

      “Police officers have found 42 citizens of former Soviet republics living and working on the grounds of the facility. The building in which they were working was rented by a firm specializing in metal manufacturing,” the ministry’s statement said. The facility is located in Klimovsk, a town south of Moscow.

      The immigrants do not have the legal right to work in Russia, according to the police.

      The Russian authorities have recently been conducting a major cross-country crackdown on illegally working immigrants, with thousands detained so far.





      Russian gay rights leader takes hit for anti-Semitic tweets

      JTA, September 3, 2013


      One of Russia’s most prominent gay rights activists made anti-Semitic statements on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

      The tweets appeared last week on Nikolai Alexeyev’s account in connection with an article about him in OUT Magazine. Alexeyev re-tweeted comments calling the author of the article, Michael Lucas, a “Jewish pig” and “Israeli monkey,” and calling OUT Magazine a “Jewish slut magazine that supports Jews and their filthy faggotry propaganda.”

      In response to the comments, Human Rights First, an American nongovernmental organization, canceled a conference call featuring Alexeyev, prompting him to write on Twitter: “I [was] just denied to take part in a sham conference call with U.S. journalists tomorrow. Jewish lobby in U.S. worked well. U.S.A. is a totalitarian state with no freedom of speech! I have much more freedom here in Russia!”

      The tweets caused several prominent gay rights activists to distance themselves from Alexeyev, 37, who has won several awards for his activism, including from GALHA, a British group affiliated with Amnesty International. He also has filed precedent-setting lawsuits for gay rights in Russia and elsewhere in Europe.

      OUT magazine is a popular gay monthly publication in the United States.

      Gay rights in Russia have attracted international attention in recent weeks after the Russian parliament passed a law in June prohibiting the dissemination of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”





      Leading Russian rights activists not to meet Obama in St. Petersburg

      Johnson’s Russia List/Interfax, September 4, 2013


      The veterans of the Russian human rights movement, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Lev Ponomarev and Svetlana Gannushkina, have given up on taking part in a meeting with US President Barack Obama in St Petersburg since its date is constantly being changed.

      “They have changed all this business several times: at first 5 September then 6 September, then vice versa and again 5 September, then 6 September. Since this is a different city and this concerns (buying) tickets and putting off all other activities, we apologized and said that we would not go,” Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and veteran Russian rights activist, said.

      “As far as I know, no-one is going from Moscow,” she said.

      According to her, Obama’s meeting with the Russian human rights activists is currently scheduled for Friday 6 September and some representatives of the Russian civil society in St Petersburg may take part in it.

      “This is some kind of a dramatic story,” leader of the movement For Human Rights Lev Ponomarev told Interfax.

      He said that “they called today and said that the meeting had again been moved to 6 September”. “The meeting has been moved several times, I have already returned the tickets, now I will have to return them for the second time. I will not be able to attend the meeting in St Petersburg on 6 September,” Ponomarev said.

      He went on saying: “They called me from the US embassy and said that they understood the situation. I hope no-one takes offence. This is not a demarche, this is a set of circumstances.”

      According to Ponomarev, St Petersburg rights activists will take part in the meeting. “I consider this as a protocol event and hope that our St Petersburg colleagues will be able to represent all the Russian rights movement,” he said.

      Head of the Civil Assistance Committee Svetlana Gannushkina told Interfax that she would not go to St Petersburg to meet Obama as the meeting was constantly being put off. “I have refused. The meeting is constantly being put off and I have refugees,” she said.

      The St Petersburg LGBT rights organization Vykhod said on 3 September that it had been invited for a meeting with Obama who would be in St Petersburg at the G20 summit. Vykhod’s spokesperson told Interfax that only several St Petersburg public organizations had been invited for the meeting with the US President.





      Alexeyev’s anti-Semitic rant and Oppression Olympics

      Natalia Antonova

      The Moscow News, September 4, 2013


      "People on every corner are calling me a f*****, but I can't call some people yids?" With those words, uttered in an interview with Slon author Ilya Shepelin, Russia's most famous LGBT activist Nikolai Alexeyev may have truly ended his political career.

      After Alexeyev first went on an anti-Semitic rant via social media, using the word "yid" for Jew (the word is particularly insulting in Russian), some people had hoped that his accounts were simply hacked. Yet it turned out that this was the real Alexeyev all along - and he has continued to defend his behavior.

      Alexeyev went into meltdown mode after an article critical of him appeared in OUT magazine (Alexeyev referred to it as a "Jewish slut magazine"). Following his outburst, Alexeyev was disinvited to a human rights conference. Things only got uglier from there - with more hateful rants and even threats.

      Prominent journalist Oleg Kashin has since theorized that the security services forced Alexeyev to act this way - but I don't believe that. If anything, Alexeyev's behavior is similar to many other celebrity Twitter meltdowns. The fact that he holds prejudiced views should not be all that surprising - people who suffer from bigotry can still be bigots themselves.

      The truth is, not everyone in the Russian LGBT community is supportive of Alexeyev - particularly, many feel that his insistence that Russia should hold pride marches is wrong, as some people believe that pride events should not come before acceptance - and equally, some gay rights activists abroad have reservations about his tactics.

      Alongside his anti-Semitism, Alexeyev simply does not appear to be able to handle critique - even when it comes from allies.

      What's interesting about Alexeyev's meltdown is his willingness to engage in so-called Oppression Olympics, to insist that he has the right to insult others because he himself is frequently insulted. It's a philosophy one encounters often - and it is damaging and poisonous to any movement.

      What's particularly disappointing is that Alexeyev's meltdown came at virtually the same time as Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he would meet with members of the gay community to discuss Russia's controversial law banning "propaganda of untraditional relations to minors" - should they want to address the issue directly with him. 

      Alexeyev has now expressed his desire to meet with Putin, but somehow, I doubt that an invitation will come. It may be that a genuine opportunity for dialogue has been squandered, as it is yet unclear if other members of the LGBT community will be willing to come forward.





      Stalin Won’t Be Called a ‘Bloody Butcher’ in New Standardized History Texts

      Johnson’s Russia List, September 6, 2013


      The October Revolution will be considered a “process” and the term “bloody butcher” won’t be applied to Soviet leader Josef Stalin or his henchmen. Russian historians are on their way to creating a single standard for how history is taught to schoolchildren.

      Historians from the Russian Academy of Sciences reached several agreements on how to teach Soviet and post-Soviet history in schools, Kommersant reported Friday. Their recommendations are being weighed up by the Russian History Society as it finalizes a set of standardized history textbooks that will be sent to President Vladimir Putin for his consideration by Nov. 1.

      Controversial events from the Soviet period currently have different explanations in school textbooks so the government is working on creating a standard on how the events will be interpreted.

      Historians reached a consensus on Thursday that the 1917 October Revolution is not a concrete event but a process, said Sergey Zhuravlyov, deputy head of the Academy’s Russian History Institute. The events of February 1917, currently known as the February Revolution, should signify the start of the revolutionary process. The October Revolution would then be a second upheaval in the line of events and also the symbolic start of the Civil War.

      Stalinist repressions were not a spontaneous occurrence but were “in accordance with the logic of proletarian dictatorship that the Bolsheviks established in the country,” Zhuravlyov said. Historians also rejected bold characterizations such as an “effective manager” and “bloody butcher” with regard to the key personalities involved in the repressions.

      Historians agreed that the Soviet Union reached its peak in the 1960s and that Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms were positive, though too late.

      They disagreed, however, with the Russian Historical Society’s proposal to teach historical events that took place until 2000 and argued that school children must study events up to 2012 to get the necessary educational discipline.





      Gays' Kids Could Be Taken by State Under Proposed Bill

      By Allison Quinn 

      The Moscow Times, 06 September 2013 | Issue 5207


      A newly submitted bill that threatens gays' parental rights caused another wave of backlash from LGBT society. Ridus.ru  A newly submitted bill that threatens gays' parental rights caused another wave of backlash from LGBT society.  A United Russia lawmaker on Thursday submitted a bill that would make "nontraditional sexual orientation" a legal basis for depriving someone of his parental rights, the latest measure that would curb the liberties of LGBT people in Russia.  The bill, submitted by State Duma Deputy Alexei Zhuravlyov, would add a paragraph to Article 69 of the Family Code making sexual orientation a factor in cases when the government is deciding whether to take a child into state custody, Interfax reported.  Zhuravlyov said in an explanatory note to the bill that, according to experts, 5 to 7 percent of Russians have a "nontraditional" sexual orientation and a third of them currently have children.  The proposed legislation comes just a few months after the State Duma's approval of a law banning same-sex couples from adopting Russian children. Lawmakers said at the time that the legislation would help Russia develop its own system of adoptions.  Zhuravlyov did not provide a rationale for the new initiative, but it follows the passage earlier this year of the controversial "gay propaganda" law that ostensibly aims to protect minors from exposure to information about "nontraditional" sexual orientations. Officials have said minors' psyches are not yet fully formed and thus could be damaged by such information.  Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Kremlin's human rights council, responded to the new bill with indignation.  "Will we deprive left-handed people of their driver's licenses now too? They're left-handed, you know, and all our vehicles have the steering wheel on the left side, so it's harder for a left-handed person to drive," Fedotov said, the BBC's Russian service reported.  Many LGBT activists have expressed concerns in the past about the possibility of such a law after United Russia Deputy Yelena Mizulina said such legislation was in the pipeline. Lesbian journalist Masha Gessen, who has multiple children, issued perhaps the most stark warning by emigrating to the U.S. to avoid the potential fallout of such a bill.  But according to Nikolai Alexeyev, a prominent gay rights activist, Zhuravlyov's bill is unlikely to be signed into law.  "I think it's absolute nonsense. I can't imagine how this initiative would be accepted in the Duma. I think it's just the latest populist move to attract attention to a certain individual," Alexeyev told Interfax on Thursday, adding that the "deputies are competing to see who can come up with the most absurd initiative."  "I don't believe that things like this can end up in law and be signed by the president. The president says the rights of homosexuals are not infringed upon, but initiatives like this will create excessive tension between Russia and the West. It's a provocation against the Russian government," Alexeyev said.  If Zhuravlyov's bill is passed by the State Duma, it would then have to be approved by the Federation Council before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.





      Russian investigators to put Bloodhound Gang on wanted list

      RAPSI, September 9, 2013


      Russian investigators have launched a probe against the American rock group Bloodhound Gang who desecrated the Russian flag during a concert in Ukraine, Investigative Committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin said on Monday.

      Proceedings have been initiated against Franks James Moyer, Hennegan Jared Victor and other unidentified individuals who performed actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as abasement of dignity, Markin said.

      As previously reported, during a Bloodhound Gang performance in the Ukrainian port of Odessa on July 31, Jared Hasselhoff crammed a Russian flag inside his pants and literally wiped his behind with it, according to a video posted on YouTube. Russian authorities subsequently canceled the band's scheduled appearance at the KUBANA Festival near the southern Russian city of Anapa, and were deported from Russia.

      According to Markin, Hennegan, who was on the stage  with Franks and other members, desecrated the Russian flag.

      The display was earlier described as "disgusting" by US Ambassador Michael McFaul, as Russian lawmakers said that the group's actions could have consequences for other foreign musicians performing in Russia.

      "I find the actions of Bloodhound Gang disgusting. I also condemn the act of violence against them," McFaul tweeted, apparently referring to a subsequent incident in Anapa's airport when band members were assaulted by local activists before boarding their flight.

      A series of high profile Russian lawmakers spoke out against Bloodhound Gang, calling for harsh punishment and suggesting that banning them from performing in Russia could serve as a "precedent" for other foreign musicians.

      Desecration of the Russian flag is punishable by up to one year in prison, according to Article 329 of the Russian Criminal Code.





      Russian citizens are not ready to live with people from central Asia in one country – VTsIOM

      Interfax, September 11, 2013


      Less than 10 percent of Russian citizens are ready to accept people from Central Asia who have lived in Russia for a long time as equals, VTsIOM General Director Valery Fyodorov said.

      “Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kyrgyz – those who are in most cases called guest workers – only 8 percent of Russians agree to consider them Russian on condition that they have lived in Russia for a long time. That is, it is not true that we are ready to recognize them as part of our ethnos, even of these people live in the country for a long time, work, and even take Russian citizenship,” Fyodorov told a press conference on Tuesday.

      Fyodorov said 44 percent of Russians are ready to recognize Ukrainians and Belarusians who live in Russia. “Forty-four percent of Russians say a Ukrainian or a Belarusian person can be considered Russian if he or she has lived in the country for a long time. The territorial and linguistic looseness and factor like that play a role here,” he said.

      “The next people in the rating are Tatars and Bashkirs. Some 30 percent of the respondents said they agree to call these people Russian,” Fyodorov said.

      “This means we are currently not ready to live with people from central Asia in one family. The situation with Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese is similar: this issue is more vital in the Far East,” he said.

      “In addition, only 7 percent of the respondents are ready to consider residents of the Northern Caucasus republics – Chechens, Dagestanis, and Ingush – as Russians, and they live in Russia by definition. This division line is very dangerous, we should look closely at it,” the expert said.





      Russia Has Second Largest Number of Immigrants – UN Study

      RIA Novosti, September 12, 2013


      Russia hosts the world’s largest population of immigrants after the United States, according to a new UN study showing that the number of people living abroad across the globe has reached a record high.

      New figures released Wednesday by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) in New York indicated that 232 million people (3.2 percent of the world’s population) live abroad. Over 11 million of them live in Russia, the study found.

      The total number of international migrants has considerably increased over the past two decades, from 154 million in 1990 to 175 million in 2000.

      The US remains the most popular destination with a total 45.8 million migrants, while Germany (9.8 million) is ranked third after Russia, the UN study said.

      But while the number of foreign migrants has been steadily growing since 2000 in the US and other most popular destinations, Russia recorded a slight annual average decrease of about 0.6 percent in its immigrant population in that period. According to UN data, Russia hosted 12 million migrants in 2000.

      The immigration issue remains a contentious one in Russia’s politics and society, with surveys consistently revealing popular hostility towards the influx of people from abroad. Government migration officials estimate that most of Russia’s immigrants originate from the impoverished neighboring former Soviet nations that share a visa-free regime with the country and are mostly looking for work.

      “The former Soviet Union retains close migratory ties,” the UN study said, adding that “bilateral migrant stocks” are especially large in Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine.

      Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) said Thursday only a minor percentage of international migrants have permanently settled in Russia, unlike the situation in Europe, according to official data.

      The number of immigrants in Russia registered as temporary and permanent residents stands at 718,600, an FMS spokesperson told RIA Novosti.

      “Most of those people have integrated in our society and contribute to Russia’s economy. Experts estimate that Russia has a demand for more such people,” the spokesperson added.

      According to the study, the other world’s top destinations for people moving abroad include Saudi Arabia (9.1 million),United Arab Emirates (7.8 million), United Kingdom (7.8 million), France (7.4 million), Canada (7.3 million), Australia (6.5 million), and Spain (6.5 million).

      The data showed Asians account for the largest group of migrants in 2013, accounting for about 19 million people living in Europe, some 16 million in North America and about 3 million in Oceania.

      The figures were released ahead of a high-level global summit on migration and development to be held by the UN General Assembly in New York on October 3 and 4.





      Russians Have No Respect for Pussy Riot, Poll Says

      The Moscow Times, September 13, 2013


      Russians have no respect for Pussy Riot, a poll from Levada Center indicates.

      Out of a sample of 1,601 people surveyed in 130 urban centers, not a single respondent said they respected the band.

      In August 2012, band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in prison for their "Punk Prayer" at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral last year that denounced President Vladimir Putin.

      Of the 78 percent of Russians who knew about Pussy Riot's act of defiance, 27 percent expressed hostility toward the band and 19 percent said they felt irritated, according to the poll, which was published Thursday.

      Only 6 percent sympathized with the band.

      Slightly less than a quarter said there was nothing positive to be said about the girls.

      When asked what motivated the band's actions, 23 percent said they were directed against the church as an institution and against believers, Interfax reported Thursday.

      Seventeen percent felt the stunt protested the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in politics.

      As for the band's punishment, more than half thought Pussy Riot had been given a fair trial, while 22 percent said the verdict was politically motivated.

      No statistical margin of error was given for the Levada Center poll.




      Russians Sick and Tired Of Phony Democracy

      By Vladimir Frolov

      The Moscow Times, September 15, 2013 | Issue 5213


      For the Kremlin, there are several takeaways from the disastrous mayoral election in Moscow.

      President Vladimir Putin's endorsement is now an electoral liability, not an asset. Newly elected Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a political heavyweight and a rumored successor to Putin, was mortally wounded by Alexei Navalny, a political upstart who is now Putin's peer competitor. Transferring power to Putin's chosen successor could be problematic.

      Imitation politics, restricted access and tightly managed competition сan no longer safeguard Putin's system. People want the real deal and a part of the action. Crowding out strong challengers destroys legitimacy. Faking political competition turns people off. The only good way forward is to open the system completely and learn to win competitive races or lose graciously.

      The Ice Age parties sitting in the State Duma are a drag on the regime. The Kremlin-loyal opposition is a spent force. United Russia scares off its own candidates. An early parliamentary election that clears the slate may now benefit the Kremlin.

      Political repression against the anti-Putin protest is ineffective. The first post-Soviet generation does not know the paralyzing fear of a totalitarian state. To instill that fear would require Syrian President Bashar Assad's tactics in Syria. Navalny has demonstrated that his supporters would dare the riot police on the streets if the cause is right. Better to wind down the repression, free all political prisoners and strike down Navalny's verdict. This may strengthen the Kremlin's hand in future battles.

      Voters want to engage directly with their candidates and elected officials. Shunning television debates and street meetings is no longer a winning tactic. Unscripted engagement with people requires a new type of leader. Spreading monstrous lies about the opposition turns voters against the regime.

      The conservative revolution to rally the regime's base is a dud. It mobilizes the regime's opponents but leaves loyalists indifferent or disoriented.

      The Kremlin's conservative focus is at odds with the values of the most important electoral demographic — big-city Russians. These are the people who want to live in a European-style state with individual freedoms, equal justice under law, free media and free elections. They represent a new Russian nationalism that is about civic patriotism, not about ethnicity, race or religion. They want integration with Europe, not with Central Asia.

      Having hit the wall with repression, the Kremlin seeks salvation in managed openness. This could get quite unmanageable.





      Putin’s own Cold War: Russia is ever more hostile to the US. But the US no longer needs to care

      Owen Matthews

      The Spectator, 17 August 2013


      Whose side is Vladimir Putin on? It’s a question worth asking, because of late the Kremlin has come closer and closer to the tipping point between obstreperousness and outright hostility towards the West. Last week Barack Obama cancelled a September summit with Putin after Russia offered asylum to the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. But in truth the Snowden affair is only the latest and most trivial of a long and growing list of issues where Russia and the US are on radically opposite sides.

      Syria probably tops the list — at least in terms of urgency and human cost. Russia has offered diplomatic support to the Assad regime by using its veto on the UN Security Council to block sanctions and intervention. More seriously, Russia has become the arsenal of dictatorship, selling over $1.5 billion of arms to Assad since the start of the civil war. Last month Russia escalated its military aid still further after foreign minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Kremlin would deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Damascus — the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, visited Putin in May to beg him not to do that. Lavrov insists that only ‘defensive’ materiel is being supplied to the Syrians. But the S-300 missiles will change the balance of the war — for instance by substantially complicating any western effort to impose a no-fly zone.

      For the first time in a generation Russia and Nato find themselves backing opposite sides in a proxy war. Last June a Turkish jet was shot down off the coast of Syria by a Russian-supplied Panshir M-1 missile — possibly, according to Russian press reports, targeted by one of the Russian advisers sent to install the missiles and train Syrian operators. More Russian personnel are due to come and install the S-300 systems. At the same time the Pentagon confirmed in June that US F-16 warplanes and Patriot anti-aircraft missiles would remain in Jordan after the end of a joint drill this month, fuelling speculation that Washington was preparing for a no-fly zone. There’s debate over just what the S-300s can do, and whether they can be installed soon enough to make a difference. But the moment when a Russian officer aims and fires a missile at a Nato pilot — which almost never happened during the real Cold War — is likely to become a reality.

      The idea that Russia and the West are engaged in a ‘new Cold War’ was first floated six years ago in a brilliant book of that name by Economist correspondent Edward Lucas. Lucas argued that the Kremlin’s bullying of its neighbours by cutting off gas supplies, sending assassins to murder dissidents in London and invading Georgia constituted acts of war. By that logic, Russia’s subsequent behaviour — Syria, Snowden, banning Americans from adopting Russian children, shutting down USAID offices for alleged ‘subversive activity’, wild accusations that the US is fomenting a rebellion against the Kremlin — are more bellicose still.

      Except that I think it’s a mistake to call what’s happening a war. A war, by definition, has two sides — and the US simply isn’t interested. Putin has been turning up his anti-American rhetoric, but Washington has largely maintained a polite diplomatic deafness (even when Putin kept US Secretary of State John Kerry waiting for three hours during a visit to Moscow in May). Only in the wake of the summit cancellation last week did ‘no-drama’ Obama let a little irritation slip, accusing Putin of ‘slipping back into Cold War thinking’. You reckon?

      The fact is that, for Washington, Russia simply just isn’t that important any more — politically, economically or militarily. One old friend of mine, headhunted a few years ago from a prominent western bank in Moscow to join the US Treasury Department, marvelled that he never heard the word ‘Russia’ mentioned by anyone in Washington. ‘Not on the radar screen,’ he says. The US has much more serious differences with China than it has with Russia: over Tibet, for instance, copy-right infringement, trade balances, cyber-spying, Pacific security and the rest. But both Washington and Beijing have a big economic interest in reconciling their differences; they speak constantly, on a senior level.

      That can’t be said of Russia. Frankly, Russia no longer has much skin in the international diplomatic game. Even energy, its greatest asset, is no longer the tool it was five years ago when the Russian state monopoly Gazprom cut off supplies to Ukraine. The shale revolution has cut US gas prices by 70 per cent. Europe is likely to follow — and fear of dependence on Russia has fuelled heavy investment in liquefied gas and alternative pipelines. As a result Gazprom’s value has fallen from $360 billion in 2007 to $77 billion today: revenues are falling by 10 per cent a year.

      What Obama needs from Putin is for him to refrain from arming and protecting the world’s more dangerous rogue regimes (Iran, Syria, Hamas and so on) and, ideally, hold back on invading the neighbours. That’s pretty much it. Four years ago America launched a ‘reset’ of relations with Moscow, largely in an effort to gain Putin’s support for sanctions on Iran. Now, as after similar ‘resets’ by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (who looked into Putin’s eyes and claimed he could see his soul), détente has soured into distrust.

      Why does Putin seem so set on picking fights with the US? Partly it’s to play to a chauvinistic domestic audience — big men should have big enemies. But another important motivation is a kind of geopolitical attention-seeking. By putting himself on the opposite side to the West of every debate, Putin keeps himself relevant. His adviser Yury Ushakov has complained that the US ‘is still not ready to build relations with Russia on an equal basis’. But there is only one material parameter on which Russia and America are still equal, and that is on numbers of nuclear missiles.

      The last time Putin and Obama met, at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, both men slumped in their chairs, looking sulkily at the floor. Evidently both considered the meeting a waste of time. A communiqué was issued expressing ‘mutual respect’. But even that anodyne formula no longer applies. Since his return to Russia’s presidency in 2011, Putin has nosedived into repression and reaction, to the growing distaste of Obama and the world.

      The list of just the most recent crackdowns and abuses is long and alarming. In June Russia’s parliament passed legislation criminalising ‘homosexual propaganda’; outside the Duma police stood by as gay protesters were beaten up. A swath of non-governmental organisations — especially ones monitoring free speech, elections, police brutality and the like — have been closed as ‘foreign agents’.

      Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, whose rospil.ru website has exposed tens of billions of dollars in official corruption, has been convicted by a provincial court on absurd embezzlement charges and jailed for five years. Navalny, the poster child of the liberal opposition, has been allowed out on bail pending appeal and is standing for election against the pro-Kremlin mayor of Moscow — but given that the Kremlin’s website mistakenly posted a note of congratulations to the incumbent, complete with voting percentages, a month in advance of the vote, it seems that Navalny’s defeat is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Another whistleblower, lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, exposed the theft of $250 million in taxpayers’ money by corrupt police and tax officials — he was duly arrested by the same cops he had accused, and then tortured to death in prison. The regime’s reaction? To commend, decorate and promote the accused police. Magnitsky himself became the first person in Russian legal history to face a posthumous prosecution (for tax evasion; his corpse was found guilty). When the US Congress passed a law banning the Magnitsky suspects from travelling to the States, the Russian Duma reacted, in a piece of spectacular and illogical malice, by banning American parents from adopting Russian children.

      Having an outside enemy, especially one as familiar from Soviet days as America, is convenient whenever the Kremlin feels challenged. In the winter of 2011-2 a hundred thousand people came on to the streets of Moscow to protest Putin’s return for a third term: after the protests died down, senior Kremlin officials accused the US State Department of orchestrating them. Dozens of those protesters are still in jail, facing heavy sentences for resisting arrest.

      Moscow friends who once threw themselves passionately into the protest movement — such as the journalist, Putin biographer and gay rights campaigner Masha Gessen — have given up trying to change their homeland and left to work abroad. Emigration is once again a regular subject of kitchen -table-talk — though thankfully, unlike in the 1980s, the freedom to travel remains. Another friend, Anton Krasovsky, a popular television presenter, came out as being gay on live TV and was fired on the spot on orders from the Kremlin. ‘They immediately blocked all my corporate bank accounts, my email. Literally immediately, overnight,’ recalls Krasovsky. ‘They deleted not only my face from the website, but also all of my TV shows, as if I’d never existed.’ The Russian Orthodox Church — whose official teaching is that same-sex marriage ‘a very dangerous sign of the apocalypse’ — is becoming politically and culturally powerful.

      Last week Stephen Fry called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in protest at the anti-gay legislation; ‘the Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world’, he wrote. Putin clearly intends Sochi to trumpet Russia’s wealth to the world: he has already spent some £35 billion on the Games (compared with £8.92 billion for London 2012, or £670 million for the last Winter Olympics, in Vancouver).

      A full-scale Olympic boycott seems unlikely; thus far, both sides prefer to pay lip service to the idea that Russia and the West are ‘partners’, as Putin puts it with a curl of the lip. But the pretence is wearing thin. Talk-show host Jay Leno, in his recent interview with Obama, compared Putin’s Russia to Hitler’s Germany; Obama didn’t disagree. The ‘reset’ is over. Russia is sliding decisively towards obscurantism and nationalism, its only friends the world’s remaining dictators. Putin seems bent on reviving a Soviet past — and on putting himself and his long-suffering country once again on the wrong side of history.

      Owen Matthews, has reported on Russia since 1995, leading Newsweek’s Moscow bureau from 2006 until 2012. His latest book is Glorious Misadventures.

      This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated