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Bulletin 7:7 (2013)

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  • Andreas Umland
    THE RUSSIAN NATIONALISM BULLETIN A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs Vol. 7, No. 7(195), 10 May 2013 Compilers: Fabian Burkhardt, Parikrama Gupta, Vildane
    Message 1 of 1 , May 10, 2013
      A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs
      Vol. 7, No. 7(195), 10 May 2013
      Compilers: Fabian Burkhardt, Parikrama Gupta, Vildane Oezkan & Andreas Umland

      I NEWS: 1 - 15 April 2013
      III PRIMARY SOURCES (Izborsk Club report on Russian break-through strategy)

      [NOTE: When viewing an RNB issue in the Messages archive of the homepage and the end of the text is truncated, scroll to the end of the message and click "Expand Messages." Only then, the whole text of the - otherwise truncated - issue will appear. When quoting from an article found here, please, mention the RNB, as the source. Thank you!]

      I NEWS: 1 - 15 April 2013

      Interests of all religions must be ensured in Jerusalem - Russian Foreign Ministry
      Interfax-Religion, April 3, 2013

      Moscow, April 3, Interfax - Palestine and Israel should guarantee free access of followers of different religions to the holy places in their settlement of the Jerusalem problem, the Russian Foreign Ministry information and press department said in a commentary.
      "The media reported that President of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan signed an agreement in Amman on March 31 to confirm the role of the King of Jordan as the keeper of Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem. Russia traditionally attributes special significance to preservation of the holy places in Jerusalem and peace and tranquility on the Holy Land. We value relevant Palestinian and Jordanian efforts," the commentary said.
      The Jerusalem problem has been recognized as one of the most complex in the Arab-Israeli conflict due to its close connection to other crucial questions of the Middle East peace process - borders, settlements and refugees, the Russian Foreign Ministry noted.
      "It should be resolved at Palestinian-Israeli negotiations with understanding that guaranteed free and unhampered access of followers of various religions to the holy places is an invariable task of all the concerned parties. It is of paramount importance to preserve the unique historical and cultural image of the city, which is of key significance to world religions and entire humanity," the ministry stressed.
      Russia will continue its active assistance in the just settlement of the Jerusalem problems in various formats, the ministry said.


      Prosecutors seek to transfer Pussy Riot's Alyokhina to different prison
      Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI), April 3 2013

      MOSCOW, April 3 - RAPSI. The Perm Territorial Prosecutor's Office has asked for Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina to be transferred to a different prison for safety reasons, the Kommersant business daily reports on Wednesday. Alyokhina is serving a two year sentence for hooliganism after taking part in Pussy Riot's "punk prayer" at the Christ the Savior Cathedral. She and her attorneys have complained that her section is comprised of both hard-core criminals and individuals imprisoned for the first time. In November, Alyokhina was moved to solitary confinement. The prison administration allowed her to remain there for another 90 days after her first maximum term in isolation expired. The prosecutors, however, considered that decision a violation of the rules, because the law does not allow a repeat transfer to safer quarters in the same prison. As a result, the prosecutors have suggested moving Alyokhina to a different prison instead. The local state penitentiary department said no decision has been made on Alyokhina's transfer. In late February 2012, five young women wearing brightly colored balaclavas staged a "punk-style" political prayer in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. An edited video of their performance was posted on the Internet and caused a public uproar. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and fellow band member Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested shortly thereafter. On Aug. 17, 2012, the Khamovnichesky District Court sentenced them to two years in a prison settlement for hooliganism. On Oct. 10, 2012, the Moscow City Court changed Samutsevich's sentence to a suspended sentence, and released her immediately, based on her new attorneys' argument that she was seized by security guards prior to reaching the altar and did not actually take part in the demonstration. Alyokhina's and Tolokonnikova's sentences were upheld.,© 2010 RIA Novosti


      Ombudsman Lukin calls for freeing Pussy Riot members on parole
      Interfax-Religion, April 3, 2013

      Moscow - Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin has called for granting parole to the women from the Pussy Riot female punk band, who were earlier sentenced to two years in prison each for their stunt at the Christ the Savior Cathedral.
      "We expressed our disagreement with the court ruling convicting these two ladies, because we consider this conviction excessive," Lukin said at a press conference at the Interfax main office.
      "Certainly, we do not support people asserting themselves in their way at prayer houses. There are a lot of other places for this, and we do not approve of this kind of activity," Lukin said.
      However, such stunts, if they do not cause significant damage to people or property, "should be regulated at the administrative level, not the criminal one," he said.
      "Surely, we believe the sooner they are freed and the sooner they think about their further lives close to their families and their children, the better and more humane," he said.
      Lukin said his attitude toward the sentence has not changed.
      "We are doing what we can, using the levers available to us according to the law," he said. Two Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were sentenced to two years in prison each for a performance at the Christ the Savior Cathedral on February 21, 2012. Another Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was given a suspended sentence. The women do not recognize their guilt, and human rights activists have insisted that their conviction is too severe a punishment for what they did.


      FSB questions 2 Azeri functionaries of extremist Nurcular in St. Petersburg
      Interfax-Religion, April 5, 2013

      St. Petersburg, April 5, Interfax - The Federal Security Service has done a series of searches in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region to investigate operations of the Nurcular extremist organization, a service representative told Interfax on Friday.
      "The searches were done at several places in the city and in the region yesterday. More extremist books were seized. Two citizens of Azerbaijan were taken for questioning. They were set free after a debriefing," the source said.
      The questioned citizens came to St. Petersburg to help their associate, arrested in previous searches, he said. "They came from the "center" as representatives of the organization to understand what was happening, to assist in the release of the arrested man and to restore the organization," he said.
      The arrested man will stay in custody until late April; he has been charged with organizing operations of the extremist organization, the source said.
      The Nurcular international religious organization advocating for Islamic fundamentalism has been branded extremist and outlawed in Russia by a ruling of the Russian Supreme Court of April 10, 2008.


      Putin says 'liked' Femen activists' bare breasts show
      Aleksandras Budrys
      The Moscow News, April 8, 2013

      Activists from the feminist group Femen launched a trademark bare breast protest on Monday targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin who unexpectedly said he liked the show.
      Four women, with obscenities in English and Russian daubed on their breasts and backs, broke through security as Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were examining a stand at the opening of an industrial fair in Hanover, Germany, but were soon carried away by security guards.
      "As far as the action is concerned, I liked it," Putin told reporters when asked for a comment during a news conference that followed. "However debates on political issues proceed better when participants are dressed."
      Photographs published by German media showed Putin and Merkel reacting to the unexpected protest with an apparent mixture of surprise and mirth.
      Putin came under sharp criticism in Germany ahead of his visit over unannounced inspections of foreign-funded NGOs. Merkel asked Putin to "give NGOs a chance," earlier on Monday.
      Femen members previously bared their breasts in protest at Putin's policies in March 2012, when three activists stripped to the waist at the polling station where Russia's national leader had cast his vote at presidential polls.


      Anti-Semitism spreads among Russian Muslims - report
      Interfax-Religion, April 8, 2013

      Moscow, April 8, Interfax - Authors of a research on the level of anti-Semitism in Russia in 2011-2012 concluded that animosity toward Jewish people in the country is fairly uncommon, although they mentioned worrying manifestations of it among some nationalists, Muslims and government officials.
      "The level of crimes motivated by anti-Semitism continued to be relatively low in 2011-2012. Five attacks, one insult, and 38 instances of vandalism based on anti-Semitism were recorded in the two years. Compared with the leading countries of the West, Russia can be described as 'an island of peace'," says a report presented in Moscow on Friday by a group of experts from the Jewish community in Russia set up by the Eurasian Jewish Congress.
      The document suggests that so-called 'new anti-Semitism' based on fierce criticism of Israel's policy is virtually absent in Russia.
      At the same time, at least 8% of Russians are sure that Jews are among Russia's main enemies, the report found. Anti-Semitism is quite common among people adhering to nationalistic views, and "anti-Semite rhetoric is being exploited by two parliamentary parties, the Communist Party and the Liberal-Democratic Party."
      The experts were also alarmed by behavior of some provincial public officials "trying to directly deny the fact of the Holocaust."
      "The anti-Semitic ideology is being gradually instilled in the minds of Russian Muslims and migrant workers from Muslim countries. It is symptomatic that one of the two serious attacks on synagogues in 2012 was committed in Derbent, a city in Dagestan, where there is a significant number of radical Islamists," the report says.
      The authors of the report said 20 instances of distribution of anti-Semite leaflets and graffiti and 41 instances of anti-Semitic vandalism were recorded in Russia's provinces, and 46 people were convicted for crimes based on anti-Semitism.
      Although law enforcement agencies are combating xenophobia and anti-Semitism quite actively, some of these officers do not possess "elementary knowledge necessary to counter anti-Semitism" and therefore they actually turn a blind eye to this phenomenon.


      Alexander Nevsky church to be built in Kosovo
      Interfax-Religion, April 8, 2013

      St. Petersburg, April 8, Interfax - A church named after Alexander Nevsky may be built in Kosovo, Bishop of Kronstadt Nazary, vice-rector of the Alexander-Nevsky Monastery, said in an interview with Interfax.
      A photo exhibit devoted to the monastery is being held in Moscow to mark its 300th anniversary, he said.
      "In fall, we plan to take it to Belgrade. There is a church named after Alexander Nevsky there too," the bishop said.
      The bishop said there are 1,500 churches named after Alexander Nevsky in the world, of which 900 are working.


      Putin Defends Russia's Treatment of Gays, NGO Raids
      RFE/RL, April 8, 2013

      President Vladimir Putin says Russia does not discriminate against homosexuals.
      Putin was speaking at a press conference in Amsterdam, where he had been greeted by gay rights activists and other protesters critical of Russia's gay-rights policies.
      Putin said it should be "clear to everybody" that the rights of sexual minorities are not being violated in Russia, adding, "These people...enjoy all the same rights and freedoms as everyone else."
      In January, Russian lawmakers approved a bill that makes gay public events and the dissemination of information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000.
      It still requires final approval by parliament, and would have to be signed into law by the president.
      Defending NGO Raids
      Putin arrived in the Netherlands from Germany, where he held talks earlier on April 8 with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
      After the talks, Putin spoke in defense of a recent wave of much-criticized state inspections of Russia's nongovernmental organizations.
      Speaking at a joint press conference with Merkel in the German city of Hannover, Putin said Russia has a right to monitor the funding those groups receive from abroad.
      "I would like to mention the numbers once again. Within four months after the relevant law has been enacted in Russia there has been -- and I want to draw your attention -- 28.3 billion rubles transferred into the accounts of NGOs from abroad," Putin said. "This is almost $1 billion. Just within four months. It cannot leave us indifferent. Our people are entitled to know where this money comes from and what it is used for."
      Putin also suggested the money could have been better used to help financially troubled countries like Cyprus.
      Merkel said she had expressed Germany's concern over the NGOs inspections and reiterated her support for a strong civil society.
      Two German think tanks were among the scores of NGOs subjected to inspections in recent weeks across Russia.
      Trade Focus, Too
      Earlier in the day, Putin and Merkel visited the Hannover trade fair where Russia is this year's guest country.
      A group of bare-breasted women activists from Ukrainian women rights group Femen confrounted Putin at the fair.
      The women shouted "dictator" before being taken away by security personnel.
      Putin quipped that he "liked" what he saw, but added: "To be honest, I could not figure out what they were shouting because the security stepped in really harshly. Huge blokes jumped on the girls. I don't think it is right, they could have been treated more gently. We have already got used to such actions and I do not see anything terrible in them. Of course, it is better not to violate public order. If somebody intends to discuss political issues it is better to do so with one's clothes on, without undressing."
      Putin's arrival at the trade fair on April 7 also drew protesters, some of whom were dressed in striped prison uniforms.


      Putin: Ban on homosexual propaganda initiated in regions, reflects public opinion
      Interfax-Religion, April 9, 2013

      Amsterdam - The ban on homosexual propaganda, introduced in some regions, reflects public opinion, said President Vladimir Putin.
      "I would like to note that this ban is initiated in the regions, which reflects public opinion. This is in no way being provoked by the federal authorities," he said at a press conference after talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
      Such a sentiment cannot be disregarded, Putin said.
      "If we are talking about liberalism and democracy, we must treat each other with respect, including in the international arena," he said.
      The rights of sexual minorities are not curbed in Russia, he said. "These people, like all others, use all the rights and liberties," Putin said.
      "As president of the Russian Federation I think that they, as Russian citizens, have no other president. So, it is my duty to defend their interests and rights," he said.
      Representatives of sexual minorities, like all other Russian citizens, make careers, and get state awards and bonuses, Putin said.
      "All this is part of our political practice. I'm sure this is the way it will be," Putin said.
      He has called for a "civilized" deal between sexual minorities, on the one hand, and the rest of Russian society, on the other.
      "It seems to me that we need a kind of consensus with that community, to reach an agreement with them on joint work, that we shouldn't wrangle with each other but should reach an agreement, understand each other and evolve certain rules of conduct, civilized rules," Putin told a news conference in Amsterdam. "I think this is possible."
      Putin added that same-sex marriages fail to solve demographic problems.
      "I have already said that I believe it's necessary to defend the rights of sexual minorities. But you will agree that same-sex marriages don't produce children. We are coming up against demographic problems both in Europe and in Russia," he said.
      The problem can be solved through immigration, Putin said. "But I would like raising the birthrate in Russia to be the job of the so-called titular ethnic groups, such as the Russians, Tatars, Chechens, Bashkirs, Dagestanis, Jews, and so on, and so on. In other words, those who consider Russia their home," Putin said.


      Patriarch Kirill says feminism offers wrong priorities for woman's role in society
      Interfax-Religion, April 10, 2013

      Moscow, April 10, Interfax - Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia said he criticizes feminism.
      "I consider this phenomenon called feminism very dangerous, because feminist organizations proclaim the pseudo-freedom of women, which must appear firstly outside of marriage and outside of family," the patriarch said at a meeting with members of the Ukrainian Union of Orthodox Women in Moscow.
      Patriarch Kirill said that the center of the feminist ideology was not family and the upbringing of children "but another function of women, which is often opposed to family values." It is no coincidence that most feminist leaders are unmarried, the patriarch said.
      "I noticed this when I worked in Geneva, at the World Council of Churches, when the feminist theme was just beginning to develop," he said.
      Patriarch Kirill said there was nothing wrong with women pursuing careers, politics, business and many other spheres, "which today involve men mostly", but the system of priorities should be straight.
      A woman is first and foremost "a guardian of the family fire and centre of the family life," the Patriarch said.
      "A man is gazing outwards, he must work and make money, while a woman is always gazing inwards, where her children are, where her home is. If this incredibly important function of a woman is destroyed, then everything will be destroyed - the family and, if you wish, the motherland," Patriarch Kirill said.
      The patriarch said that today "the opinion is being imposed that woman's calling to be a mother is humiliating, that there are higher and more honorable duties and that fulfilling woman's natural devotion - and I would like call this devotion - puts a woman in an inferior position to a man."
      "I have a lot of contact with married people. I have seen very few families where a woman was in an inferior position. If one puts a powerful microscope and looks closely, in particular at a husband, and then analyzes the information, it will become clear who the head of the family is," the patriarch said.
      Patriarch Kirill said women's organizations were the ones to pay attention to such issues as divorces, orphans and birth rate decline.


      Moscow seeks to toughen passport regime for migrants
      Aleksandras Budrys
      The Moscow News, April 10, 2013

      Moscow authorities will seek to ensure that citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent states of the former Soviet Union (CIS) countries are allowed to enter the capital only if they produce a valid foreign passport, Deputy Mayor for Social Policy Leonid Pechatnikov told reporters on Wednesday.
      "We will insist on entry [into Moscow] only with passports. And we'll go there (to CIS countries) ourselves with passports," he said. "This will reduce illegal immigration in Moscow."
      He estimated the current number of migrants legally allowed to work in Moscow at 400,000, without specifying the number of illegal workers.
      President Vladimir Putin in his state of the nation address in December 2012 called for tighter passport regulations for citizens of former Soviet states.
      "Entrance to Russia must be allowed for holders of international passports only, and not the national passports of other countries, by no later than 2015," Putin said then.
      The number of migrant workers in the whole of Russia is estimated at around 5 million, including 3 million residing in the country illegally, according to the Federal Migrations Service's data published in March.


      TV Director Interview Causes Media Outcry
      The St. Petersburg Times, Issue #1754, April 10, 2013

      MOSCOW - A controversial interview with Konstantin Ernst, general director of state-owned Channel One, has caused a scandal on social networks and in the media, raising questions of press freedom and journalist ethics.
      The interview was conducted in 2008 by Yevgeny Levkovich, who was a freelance correspondent for the Russian edition of Rolling Stone magazine. He had tried to publish it for five years before posting it on his blog on website Snob.ru on Thursday. No other major media outlet accepted it for publication.
      In the interview, Ernst, who is running Russia's most popular television station and is seen as the country's media demiurge, touched upon sensitive issues such as the pro-government bias on television, regular meetings between Kremlin officials and top editors, as well as the murder of Vladislav Listyev, a famous TV anchor who was often compared with American television star Larry King and who was shot in the head at the entrance to his apartment building in March 1995.
      The murder of the beloved television celebrity deeply shocked the nation, with President Boris Yeltsin making an emotional statement and several thousand people attending his funeral.
      The interview was interrupted at times with Ernst's requests to stop recording in order for him to make a comment off the record.
      Despite Ernst's requests, Levkovich did include one of the excerpts that was not meant to be published. According to Levkovich, Ernst named Sergei Lisovsky, one of the powerful advertising magnates of the 1990s and currently a Federation Council Senator, as the one who ordered the murder of Vladislav Listyev.
      Listyev was one of the most popular TV anchors and managers in the 1990s and is widely associated with the rise of independent media in Russia. Following his assassination, Russia's main TV channels shut down for a whole day, only displaying a picture of Listyev and the words, "Vlad Listyev has been killed."
      Ernst's accusation caused a scandal to erupt as media actors began to question its credibility and whether Levkovich's decision to publish bits that were "off the record" was ethical. The head of Channel One is seen as a powerful figure close to President Vladimir Putin.
      Speaking to Ekho Moskvy radio, Lisovsky denied the accusation, saying: "It's futile to comment on nonsense."
      According to the radio station's editor-in-chief, Alexei Venediktov, Ernst denied making any accusations, both while the interview was recorded and during the off-the-record periods.
      Levkovich claimed that what he said was true, saying there were at least two witnesses to the conversation, photographer Igor Rodin and his colleague Pavel Grinshpun.
      Touching on other topics, Ernst said it was his personal decision not to let such opposition leaders as Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov appear on his television station because he "doesn't take them to be politicians."
      Despite admitting that regular meetings between Kremlin officials and top media figures do take place, Ernst underlined that he did not think they undermine media freedom.


      Bill defending believers' feelings passes first reading in Duma
      Interfax-Religion, 10 April 2013

      Moscow - The State Duma has passed a bill in its first reading that would introduce prison confinement for insulting believers' feelings and for vandalizing holy places.
      Chapter 25 of the Criminal Code dealing with crimes against citizens' health and ethical norms would be supplemented with an article on criminal liability for insulting the feelings of religious people and for vandalizing holy relics, places of pilgrimage and other places intended to be used for religious rites and ceremonies.
      Publicly insulting or humiliating participants in church services or other religious rites and ceremonies, or insulting citizens' faith or feelings would be punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 rubles, or mandatory labor lasting up to 200 hours or prison confinement of up to three years.
      Vandals could be fined from 100,000 to 500,000 rubles, or be punished by mandatory labor lasting up to 400 hours, or prison confinement of up to five years.
      The administrative offence, stipulated in Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violations of the laws on the freedom of conscience, religion and religious organizations) would incur a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 rubles for private individuals and 50,000 to 100,000 rubles against officials.


      State Duma adopts bill banning abortion ads
      RAPSI, April 10, 2013

      MOSCOW - The State Duma has adopted a Healthcare Ministry sponsored bill in the first reading which bans the advertisement of pregnancy termination by medical services or traditional practices.
      The bill also amends 56 legal acts so as to bring them into line with the new law on healthcare which came into effect on January 1, 2012.
      The bill lists the types of institutions authorized to provide psychiatric services and the conditions for rendering them.
      It also proposes raising the age at which minors no longer need a parent's consent for medical screenings from 14 to 15, while the age at which consent can be given for medical intervention, such as drug treatment and for drug or alcohol screenings, will be raised from 16 to 18.
      Furthermore, the bill also regulates the provision of HIV patients with free medication administered on at federal and regional outpatient clinics.
      According to the bill, medicine producers and distributors are not allowed to encourage physicians to prescribe specific drugs, including by offering them gifts or monetary remuneration, paying for their vacations or entertainment, signing agreements with them to recommend specific medicines to their patients, or by giving them samples of drugs to pass on to their patients.
      The bill also proposes raising the age at which minors no longer need parental consent for medical screenings from 14 to 15, while the age at which consent can be given for medical intervention, such as drug treatment and for drug or alcohol screenings, will be raised from 16 to 18.
      Abortion was a common method of birth control in the Soviet era and Russia still had the highest number of abortions per woman of child bearing age in the world in 2004, according to UN data. Abortion is legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions up to 22 weeks for some medical cases, according to a new law passed in 2011.
      The government has campaigned against abortion in a bid to increase the country's flagging birthrate, which is one factor in the nation's demographic crisis. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's wife Svetlana has backed the pro-life movement in Russia since 2008 with her Foundation for Social and Cultural Initiatives, according to the World Congress of Families.


      Experts forecast nationalist caucus in next Duma
      RT, April 12, 2013

      Russian nationalists could attract up to 10 percent of the vote in next the parliamentary elections and representation in State Duma would allow them to become even more popular, according to experts attached to Russia's Public Chamber.
      In the near future Russian nationalist parties would be able to successfully compete with the established political parties and in 2016 a nationalist party could get up to 10 percent of the votes, according to the working group for analysis and settlement of ethnic conflict set up within Russia's top consultative body - the Public Chamber.
      The head of the working group, Mikhail Romanov, told Izvestia daily that the analysis was based on interviews with experts, media analysis and public opinion polls. The conclusion was that the nationalist ideas are gaining popularity in Russia.
      The official said that at present the nationalists cannot claim any serious public support, but the situation will radically change in the near future.
      Presently a united nationalist party could not secure 5 percent of the votes required to pass the election threshold, but in four years up to 10 percent of Russians could cast their votes for politicians with a strong nationalist agenda.
      Last fall the Levada Public Opinion Center studied the political preferences of Moscow residents and included the non-existent "Nationalist Party" in the polling sheet. Surprisingly, nationalists ranked second in popularity, losing only to the parliamentary majority United Russia and surpassing the Communist Party, the openly populist Liberal Democratic Party and veteran liberals Yabloko.
      However, experts from the Levada Center said that the nationalists must turn down their aggressiveness if they want to succeed on the political arena.
      The last time nationalists occupied parliamentary seats in Russia was after the 2003 elections when the Motherland Party, founded and headed by Dmitry Rogozin got 9 percent of the vote. The party later merged with center-left party Fair Russia and almost completely abandoned the nationalist agenda.
      The situation is also complicated by the fact that the Russian authorities are extremely cautious over any nationalist ideas fearing that raising such issues could be dangerous in a multi-ethnic country, like the Russian Federation. Courts give harsh sentences to members of radical nationalist cells and authorities allocate money for public projects promoting tolerance and ethnic peace.
      At the same time, some officials often use nationalist rhetoric in their public speeches, like Dmitry Rogozin who is currently Deputy PM in charge of the defense industry. Rogozin has abandoned the Motherland project, but is fully engaged in the Congress of Russian Communities - the organization that protects the rights and interests of ethnic Russians who live abroad.


      Russia responds in kind to US Magnitsky list
      BBC, 13 April 2013

      Russia has published a list of 18 US officials barred from the country, in response to a similar US list published by the US Treasury on Friday. A statement described the US move as a severe blow to relations, and said blackmail could not be ignored. The US published its list under an act named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail in 2009 in disputed circumstances. It includes officials who jailed him after he accused them of corruption. But senior officials from President Vladimir Putin's entourage who had been expected to be included were left off, including Russia's top police official Alexander Bastrykin. Russia's list, announced by the foreign ministry, includes two former Bush administration officials who are said to have advocated harsh interrogation techniques and two former commanders of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. David Addington, chief of staff to former Vice-President Dick Cheney is one of them. The other 14 were named as having violated the rights of Russian citizens abroad. "The war of lists is not our choice, but we cannot ignore outright blackmail," a statement from the Russian ministry said. "It's time for Washington politicians to finally understand that there are no prospects in building relations with a country like Russia with the spirit of mentoring and undisguised dictating." Itar-Tass news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying there was also a secret section to the list with more names, as the US list had. A Russian law barring Americans from adopting Russian orphans, regarded as a response to the US law, has already been passed.,Visit overshadowed,Sergei Magnitsky The row over Magnitsky threatens to cast a shadow over US-Russia relations The final US list published on Friday included people born in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, 16 of them linked to the Magnitsky case. Some 250 names had originally been put forward by US politicians. The others are officials deemed to have participated in recent Kremlin moves to restrict Russians' political rights. Mr Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 for tax evasion after accusing Russian police officials of stealing US $230m (£150m) from the state through fraudulent tax rebates. His family and rights groups say he was badly beaten and denied medical treatment in custody. The Magnitsky Act passed by Washington in 2012 blacklists Russian officials accused of involvement in his death. All the names on the list had until Friday been kept secret. Those affected by the American measures have had their US accounts frozen and have been added to a list of people who will be denied US entry visas. Some European nations are taking similar measures. Correspondents say that the argument threatens to cast a shadow over a visit to Russia by President Obama's National Security adviser Tom Donilon, who is to hold high-level talks in Moscow on Monday. The posthumous trial of Mr Magnitsky - who died aged 37 in pre-trial detention after developing pancreatitis - opened in Moscow in March but was adjourned shortly afterwards. Legal experts say they are unaware of any precedents for the trial of a dead man in Russian history.


      Kremlin advises officials to start closing foreign accounts, including those in CIS
      JRL, April 13, 2013

      (Interfax - MOSCOW, April 11, 2013) Russian state officials, reporting their income and expenses exceeding joint income of their families for three years, will have to declare foreign bank accounts and securities kept not only in foreign banks but in banks of the Customs Union and the CIS as well, aide of the Russian State Presidential Legal Directorate, Valentin Mikhailov, said.
      "In terms of the ban on accounts, this is abroad. We are building the Union State with Belarus and legal standards on certain aspects related to citizens' moving, their employment and pensions have already been unified. However, there is no unification on the issue of foreign assets. So the demand in the decrees to declare them applies to Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan same as to Germany, France and so on," Mikhailov said in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, which will be published on April 12.
      Mikhailov said that the law banning major foreign assets would definitely be passed. High-level state officials to whom the law will apply should not wait until it comes into force and start getting rid of the assets the sooner the better, Mikhailov said.
      "It is compulsory to report property and accounts abroad in the income reports the officials have been obliged to submit for several years. The law banning foreign accounts will be passed sooner or later so state officials better start closing these accounts now. If the law comes into force, they will have just three months. This is very short period. Who needs extra hustle?" the official said.


      Dutch attitude to sexual minorities unacceptable in Russia - Peskov
      Interfax-Religion, April 15, 2013

      Moscow, April 15, Interfax - The attitude of the Netherlands to sexual minorities is not acceptable to Russia; this is not criticism but the recognition of an actual fact, presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov has said.
      "It is not our business to criticize the Netherlands for the way they live, for the way they regard or disregard sexual minorities. But it is our business to recognize that such phenomena are absolutely unacceptable in this country," he said on a Sunday night current events show on Russia 1 channel.
      "Our culture, our history, our religious and ethnic diversity, the foundations of our society are in conflict with these phenomena," he said.
      "As we understand it, this is not freedom, as we understand it these things are unacceptable for us," Peskov said.


      Karimov Warns Russia Over Growing Dangers Of Extremism
      RFE/RL, April 15, 2013

      Uzbek President Islam Karimov has warned Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the increasing dangers of extremism in Central Asia.
      Karimov, who is on a rare trip to Moscow, said the "consequences of the expansion of terrorism, extremism, and religious radicalism could be far worse than open war."
      Russian-Uzbek ties have been strained over Uzbekistan's decision last year to withdraw for a second time from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.
      Putin said the two presidents have agreed on the conditions of Uzbekistan's joining the free trade zone of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
      Putin said the relevant protocol will be signed during the CIS prime ministers' meeting in Minsk next month.
      Based on reporting by AFP and Interfax



      Russia: Putin's personal vendetta - Editorial
      The Guardian, 1 April 2013

      Always remember that Vladimir Putin could have reacted differently. He could have acknowledged that, after 13 years in power, his brand is tarnished and Russia is changing. It now has a middle class that ridicules the division between a Kremlin-licensed opposition and an unlicensed one that craves fair elections, independent courts and public accountability - that craves, in short, civil society. Instead, Mr Putin's reflex reaction to such change (with his uneasy confection of Christian Orthodox and conservative, xenophobic nationalism, Mr Putin is as much a pre-Soviet figure as a Soviet hangover) is to go after the very people who remind him how unpopular he is. A notorious law passed last year required Russian NGOs that receive foreign funding and are engaged in "political activity" to register as "foreign agents" - words in the Russian language that are tantamount to "spies". For eight months, little happened. The levers of the security state are sometimes so rusty that they require several tugs to shift. The president had to go in person on Valentine's Day to the federal security service (FSB), to remind his former comrades that the "law had to be complied with". For the past two weeks at least 30 raids have been launched on Russian and international NGOs alike in Moscow, and many more in the provinces. Distinguished names appear on the FSB hitlist - the Memorial human rights group, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Lev Ponomarev, the head of For Human Rights, which itself was targeted, said this was the start of the planned destruction of the NGO sector in Russia. The raiding party typically consists of three people from the prosecutor's office, one from the tax office and, often, a camera crew from the pro-Kremlin NTV station. They demand to see registration documents, tax submissions and computer hard drives. The whole televised charade seeks to portray Russia's political opposition as foreign-sponsored. But, as the majority of Russian NGOs have refused to register themselves as "foreign agents", these raids may just be the start of a campaign to put them out of business. Germany, whose manufacturers have heavily invested in Russia, is greatly irked. It rightly interprets Mr Putin's action as revenge for the embarrassment that the election-monitoring body Golos caused him in the Duma elections in 2011. Russian humiliations in Cyprus at German hands have not helped. Berlin has formally expressed its "concern". But it should do more. With the advent of shale gas, and cheaper natural gas, Russian gas has lost its status as a monopoly supplier. Now, Gazprom needs the west for its profits. Mr Putin should be told that his vendettas will prove costly.,What's this?,More from the Guardian All women gain from feminism - even Diana Rigg 01 May 2013, Cycling is good for you… and other peddled lies 28 Apr 2013, Charged triple for my children's swimming lessons 29 Apr 2013, What will £500,000 buy you in the UK property market? 01 May 2013, François Hollande: a year of living dangerously 02 May 2013 Related information,World news Europe, •, Russia, •, Vladimir Putin, • Axed Russian Winter Olympics official 'poisoned' Axed Russian Winter Olympics official 'poisoned' 28 Apr 2013 Akhmed Bilalov, who fled Russia after Vladimir Putin blamed him for cost overruns, says he has raised mercury levels in his blood 28 Apr 2013 Anti-Putin protesters detained in Moscow - video 25 Apr 2013 Vladimir Putin outdoes himself with 'record-making' televised Q&A 25 Apr 2013 Mother of Boston bombing suspects regrets moving to US Vladimir Putin's five-hour question and answer session - in tweets Vladimir Putin's five-hour question and answer session - in tweets 25 Apr 2013 Highlights and lowlights from the Russian president's marathon engagement with his public


      Repression in Russia, in Black and White
      The New York Times, April 1, 2013

      MOSCOW - They came for the human rights activists, the environmentalists, the L.G.B.T. activists, the Catholics and every other nongovernmental organization they could find. Throughout the last week and a half, authorities all over Russia have been conducting raids on nonprofit groups. There have been at least a hundred raids, and hundreds more are expected. The raids usually involved the prosecutor's office and the tax police, but some organizations have also been visited by the fire marshal, health inspectors and even the Emergencies Ministry. The authorities have demanded financial documentation but also sifted through the trash and taken apart air-conditioners. NGO staffers have been posting on their blogs pictures of stacks of binders and papers - the thousands upon thousands of pages of documents assembled to satisfy the authorities' demands. The work of the nonprofit sector has been effectively paralyzed and, if the raids continue, will be for months. "Why now?" Western media have asked. Were the Russian authorities this scared by last year's protests? Has the liberal part of the elite lost out to the hard-liners? President Vladimir Putin has in turn issued an obtuse defense of the raids, claiming that they are at once routine and a response to an extremist threat. With the Kremlinologists trying to read meaning into nonsensical attacks and the Kremlin obscuring any sense that can be found, Russia has never looked more like the Soviet Union. And as in Soviet times, the search for hidden meaning or complicated signals is misguided. The Putin administration's rhetoric, practice and law have been remarkably consistent - and the agenda for the months ahead is laid out in plain sight. In December 2011, responding to the emergence of the protest movement, Putin accused the U.S. State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of personally inciting the unrest. Once he was re-elected president, the Kremlin shepherded a succession of new laws through Parliament. These included a law requiring nonprofits that receive funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents" and submit to debilitating reporting requirements; amendments allowing virtually anyone to be prosecuted for high treason; a law restricting the civic activities of Russians who have U.S. passports and giving the authorities discretion to shut down any nonprofit that receives money from the United States. A law on "foreign agents" in the media is in the pipeline. The current spate of raids has been linked to - and largely explained by the authorities as stemming from - the law on foreign agents. Literal and liberal enforcement of the other laws will follow. Organizations will be forced to shut down. Some of their leaders and other activists will be accused of high treason. Russians who have links to the United States will be strong-armed into leaving their jobs and, often, the country. Civil society in Russia will be crushed. None of this should surprise anyone. It's all there, in black and white, in Russian law.


      Putin Adopts Stalin's Style, but Remains a Late Oligarch's Legacy
      By: Pavel K. Baev
      Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 60, April 1, 2013

      Boris Berezovsky, an entrepreneur and politician who personified the loaded term "oligarch," effortlessly dominated the political debates in Moscow last week after his mysterious death in a mansion outside London on March 23. His 12 years in exile had been lonely, but hundreds of friends who barely knew him have been eager to share their reflections on Berezovsky, portraying his character as fiercely competitive and utterly unprincipled. Whereas, the concerted effort of the Russian state TV channels made Berezovsky into a larger-than-life figure who allegedly spun every political intrigue of the late-1990s. Present-day Russian politics, dominated by hundreds of self-serving bureaucrats and corrupt parliamentarians where power and money are in constant fusion, have become a close approximation of Berezovsky's world as described by Russian television (Gazeta.ru, March 24; Forbes.ru, March 25). But this fixation on the failed political mastermind reflects rather poorly on President Vladimir Putin who keeps trying to erase the fact that it was, in fact, Berezovsky who chose Putin as Boris Yeltsin's successor. Putin had planned to make his visit to South Africa the central event of the past week, counting on the world's high interest in the proto-organization known as BRICS (from the names of member states Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The gathering, however, yet again disappointed those who expect the "emerging powers" to take on greater responsibility for overcoming the crisis of global governance aggravated by an economic slowdown (Gazeta.ru, March 28; Kommersant-FM, March 29). The five states position themselves too differently vis-à-vis the United States and its key allies in the most challenging conflicts, from Syria to North Korea, and cannot reconcile their diverging interests (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 28). What made it hard for Putin to pretend that he performs an international role similar to former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's shrewd bargaining at the meetings of the "big troika" during World War II, was the fiasco over Russia's inability to contribute to sorting out the financial disaster in Cyprus (Vedomosti, March 28). The Kremlin expressed great displeasure with the European Union plan for rescuing the Cypriot banks specializing in processing Russian money of different shades of gray, but that opinion was flatly turned down (Polit.ru, 28 March). Chinese President Xi Jinping, visiting Moscow a week prior to the BRICS summit, did not fail to register that inability to make a difference. Irked by his weak hand in economic diplomacy, Putin decided to play up the dependable part of Stalin's legacy-Russia's status as a military superpower-and issued (in the middle of the long flight from South Africa) an order to launch large-scale military exercises in the Black Sea area (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, March 29). The usual spectacle consisted of a marine battalion from Sevastopol hitting a beach near Anapa and an airborne company from Tula performing a jump for the commander-in-chief-but the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia's neighbors (Turkey said nothing) were not exactly entertained (Kommersant, March 30). Such an old-fashioned flexing of rather feeble muscles could have been far more impressive in the Far East, where North Korea drives itself into a frenzy by an ugly war dance, but Putin prefers to play it safe, not wanting to risk even a frown from Xi. In the same day that he posed as a Generalissimo, Putin sought to boost his role as the "father of the nation," conveying a conference of the Popular Front, which had been a vehicle of his electoral campaign but now is mobilized to demonstrate broad Russian support for the stern but benevolent leader (Gazeta.ru, March 29). This Front will constitute itself as a "public movement" so that it can retain a separate identity from the United Russia party, which is severely compromised by a chain of scandals. Furthermore, United Russia is formally led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who seeks in vain to dissuade the enraged apparatchiks from blaming the media for uncovering their transactions in Cypriot "off-shores" or their expensive condominiums in Miami (Moskovsky Komsomolets, March 30). Putin wants to distance himself from this mess and sets for his Front the task of "building" (which is certainly an odd choice of word) social justice, symbolized by the reinvention of the Hero of Labor title, with the same five-pointed star medal that Stalin proudly displayed on his khaki jacket (Kommersant, March 30). Calling for the hard-working "patriots" to rally under his wise leadership, Putin seeks to strike fear into the wavering elites and to suppress the propensity toward dissent among the disloyal middle classes. Toward the latter, dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGO), including such respected institutions as Memorial and Transparency International, were subjected last week to massive searches by the tax police and state prosecution-certainly a far cry from Stalin's brutal repressions, but quite disruptive to the organizations' work and frightening for many volunteers (Grani.ru, March 29). Characteristically, a firm protest from the German foreign ministry, which is preparing for Putin's visit in early April, was enough to stop the "routine checks" of the activities of the German foundations, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, but the concern expressed by the US State Department was rebuffed as "interference in domestic affairs" (Novaya Gazeta, March 28; ITAR-TASS, March 30). After so many years of reigning over a sycophantic court, Putin has probably lost the ability to see how pathetic are his attempts to copy the style of the dictator who is so powerfully present in the Russian political psyche, despite his disgraceful death 60 years ago. Rather, Putin is inescapably the heir to a different legacy-that of harvesting financial dividends from political projects, manipulating and falsifying elections, turning TV channels into tools of dirty propaganda-all tactics traceable to Berezovsky, the current Russian president's former benefactor and arch-enemy. Berezovsky was a man of dubious virtue and problematic ambitions, most of which have failed. But his natural ardor for intrigue, freedom from vindictiveness and unpretentious generosity were rather attractive. Putin, to the contrary, does not seem to enjoy his power, which tends to dissipate into the corrupt bureaucracy. Instead, he appears trapped in his position, from which he can only be toppled by a street protest attracting another hundred thousand unruly Muscovites-or else be gently removed by his courtiers fed up with living a lie.


      No future for Mosque
      Kristen Blyth
      The Moscow News, April 1, 2013

      Years after she was brutally attacked, Milyausha Safiullina still harbors a sense of culpability. "It's possible that I was to blame, because I was coming back very late at night from the metro," she said.
      Safiullina, a Muslim woman in her 30s, was beaten by a stranger on the street in Moscow while on her way home in 2008.
      "I was walking, and there was a man walking near me," she told The Moscow News. "At first he walked past me, then something must have shot through his head."
      "He turned around and, without saying anything, attacked me," Safiullina said. "He struck me across the face several times. I fell, my glasses flew off and I couldn't see anything. My whole face was covered with blood."
      Her anonymous attacker left, leaving Safiullina lying alone on the street. She went to the hospital two days later to discover he'd broken her nose.
      Safiullina still wonders what would motivate a strange man to wordlessly beat her in public, then walk away - and she's concluded that part of the reason must have been her attire.
      "I was wearing a long black skirt and a black headscarf," she explained. "As I understood, his aggression wasn't directed at me personally - just at a woman wearing a headscarf, dressed as a Muslim."
      Safiullina is one of a number of Muslim women who've become victims of their choice to observe traditional standards of Islamic dress.
      "I've heard of many incidents where people attacked a young woman, just to snatch away her headscarf," she said.
      A strong and sometimes-violent aversion towards Islamic headscarves is gaining steam in Russia. This trend is manifested in part by recent well-publicized bans on religiously affiliated head coverings in schools around the country.
      The movement against the right of Muslim women to wear religious headscarves is one symptom of a larger resistance towards the growth of Islam in Russia, said Hilal Elver, a research professor at the University of California Santa Barbara and an expert on religious freedom.
      "[This is] a strong symbol of anti-Muslim attitude," Elver told The Moscow News.
      No home for hijab here
      The Islamic headscarf controversy drew national attention last October. A teacher in Stavropol, a region in Russia's southwest, forbade several girls from coming to school wearing hijab - a traditional Islamic head covering. Islam's holy text, the Qur'an, does not explicitly require women to wear headscarves, but directs both men and women to dress modestly. Wearing hijab is a matter of Islamic custom, which depends partly on region.
      Local officials applauded the teacher's position and instituted a region-wide dress code in Stavropol public schools, which forbids any article of religious clothing.
      Muslim parents of the students filed a lawsuit, claiming that the dress code violated their daughters' constitutional rights. A Stavropol court, however, ruled to uphold the ban two weeks ago.
      In a separate instance, Krasnoyarsk media reported last week that a third-year medical school student had been expelled for wearing hijab to class. The university website states that students are forbidden to wear religiously affiliated clothing items on school grounds. RIA Novosti reported that the university confirmed the student was thrown out for "violating internal regulations," but did not specify which ones.
      When asked about the appropriateness of hijab, President Vladimir Putin expressed support for the ban.
      "There are no hijabs in our culture, and when I say 'our,' I mean traditional Islam," he told journalists at a question-and-answer session in December. "Shall we adopt alien traditions? Why would we do that?"
      Putin also inferred separation of church and state as a justification when meeting with members of the All-Russia People's Front two weeks earlier. "We have a secular state, and we must proceed based on that," he told reporters at the event.
      State vs. religion
      According to its Constitution, Russia is a secular state. Yet Article 28 of the Constitution guarantees citizens "the right to profess...any religion...to freely choose, possess, and disseminate religious or other beliefs, and to act in conformity with them." Article 43 also protects the right to education.
      The combination of the two articles, some say, could technically render a ban on religious dress in schools unconstitutional.
      "The people who are against [wearing headscarves] are actually forcing women to sin," Nafigulla Ashirov, co-chairman of the Russian Muftis Council, told The Moscow News.
      "It causes great psychological trauma, because they have to choose between submission to their beliefs or those decisions of the court," he said. "This violates the constitutional rights of believers and causes great torment. Of course, it's unfair."
      Disapproval of headscarves is not ubiquitous among officials. A January decree by Federal Migration Service Chief Konstantin Romodanovsky made it legal for people to be photographed with head coverings for work permits, if required by religious beliefs.
      Opinion about the practice also depends on location. While some areas of Russia - such as Krasnoyarsk and Stavropol - are enforcing spiritual 'objectivity' in schools by banning religious clothing, others are pursuing the opposite.
      Islamic dress is forcefully recommended in Chechnya. Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, issued an order in 2007 commanding women to wear headscarves in government buildings, in direct violation of Russian law. Despite being technically illegal, the rule is still widely followed.
      No more mosques
      The headscarf debate is just one aspect of a broader struggle against the spread of Islam in Russia.
      Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin announced at the beginning of March that he would allow no more mosques to be built in the capital in the near future - despite the fact that the city has only four and they are heavily overcrowded.
      "These [four] mosques can contain maybe 20 percent of Moscow's Muslims," said Ashirov, the Muftis Council co-chairman. "So if 2,000 can pray inside the mosques, four or five thousand are forced to pray in the streets."
      This becomes a problem not only for worshipers, but the rest of the city too. On Islamic holidays like Eid al-Fitr, the feast which breaks Ramadan, crowds of thousands obstruct the streets of Moscow for several blocks around mosques to pray.
      Ashirov expressed a desire for continued dialogue on the issue. "We hope that Muslims will be able to convince the Moscow government that, like other religions, we need to construct a sufficient number of places of worship," he said.
      By his own words, the mayor's reasoning is ethnically motivated. "It has turned out that the praying Muslims are not all Russian citizens. They are migrant workers," Sobyanin told Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy in March. "Muscovites now get irritated by people who speak a different language, have different manners, and act aggressively."
      Sobyanin's attitude appears to be supported among city residents. The Islamic United Center of Muslim Organizations obtained permission in September 2012 to construct a massive new mosque, capable of accommodating 60,000 worshipers, in the city outskirts. But plans were canceled after thousands of locals gathered to protest.
      Fear of foreigners
      The capital is a magnet for millions of foreign migrants from around Central Asia, who are attracted to the relative amount of money available in Moscow - even through menial labor jobs - that can't be found at home. The true number of Moscow migrants is unknown, since many of them are unregistered, but some estimates put it around five million. A majority of them are ethnically Muslim.
      The sheer number of incoming foreigners can promote a sense of defensiveness among Russian natives, said Safiullina. "Russians are scared that their normal living spaces are being taken over [by migrants]," she said.
      Fear of religious radicalism is another factor.
      Islamic radicals were involved in several major terrorist attacks in recent years - including two Russian aircraft bombings in 2004, the Nevsky Express train bombing in 2009, two Moscow metro bombings in 2010, and a bombing at Domodedovo airport in 2011.
      "The attitude toward Muslims is more negative in Moscow than in other regions, because of the fear of being attacked," Safiullina theorized. "If you see a girl in hijab in the metro, it can be very scary. It means that she has a relationship to Muslims - she could be a terrorist."
      More churches, more unity
      The Russian Orthodox Church may also be a driving force behind rising Islamophobia.
      Islam in Russia constitutes a small minority compared to Orthodoxy. In a December 2012 survey by the Levada Center, 74% of respondents claimed to be Orthodox believers.
      Yet Islam is the second most professed religion in the country, and growing. The same poll found that Muslims made up 7% of the Russian population, up from 4% three years ago.
      While the mayor forbids Muslims any new mosques, the Russian Orthodox Church is in the process of building 200 new churches in Moscow as part of an initiative instigated by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2010.
      "The Orthodox Church is trying to build support and a common identity," Denis Volkov, a social expert at the Levada Center, told The Moscow News. "We must take into account the recent activity of Orthodox activists who promoted these heated social issues - like Pussy Riot. They forced people to take a position."
      Activism by Orthodox believers, in bringing a fight for 'traditional values' to the social forefront, is helping to solidify public sentiment against Islam, Volkov said.
      "Obviously Islam is a minority," Volkov said. "This is an issue of conflict between religions and associated cultures."
      Russia should take care in its treatment of Muslims, warned Elver, the religious freedom expert.
      "European countries and the United States are very careful to respect human rights principles," she said. "If Russia wants to be a democratic neighbor to Europe, it also has to set positive examples."


      The Hunt for Foreign Agents Has Begun
      Victor Davidoff
      The Moscow Times, Issue 5099, April 1, 2013

      March 25 has already gone down in the Russian blogosphere as the Russian "Kristallnacht" for its nongovernmental organizations. On that day, officials from the Prosecutor General's Office arrived to inspect several prominent NGOs in Moscow, including the Russian branch of Amnesty International, For Human Rights and Agency for Social Information. In St. Petersburg, officials made unannounced visits to the environmental NGO Bellona, the LGBT organization Vykhod, the Automotive Workers Trade Union and the human rights group Memorial.
      The nationwide inspection campaign went on all last week. Russian representative offices of well-known international organization also had unexpected visitors: Transparency International, Human Rights Watch and the Moscow Helsinki Group were inspected. In Samara, the prosecutor's office inspected the Alliance Francaise, which was opened in 2001 personally by then-President Jacques Chirac.
      The inspection campaign didn't bypass religious organizations. In Rostov-on-Don, inspectors dropped in on the local Baptist church, and in Novocherkassk they visited the local Roman Catholic parish. It would have been strange if they ignored the Jews, so in Volgograd officials from the prosecutor's office inspected the Center for Jewish Culture.
      A total of 94 organizations in 28 regions have been checked to date. In each case, the group of inspectors was daunting. It included representatives of the prosecutor's office, the Justice Ministry and the tax inspectorate. Sometimes these officials were joined by colleagues from the Federal Security Agency, the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Federal Immigration Agency, as well as the fire and health inspection services. There was plenty of work to go around. In one NGO, health officials found a serious violation: The organization had no articulate plan for rodent control.
      These mass inspections were explained in various ways. President Vladimir Putin told Interfax that the inspections were meant "to determine if the actions of NGOs were legal and in compliance with the laws of Russia." The president seems to have been referring to the law requiring NGOs with foreign funding to register as foreign agents. Several organizations, including Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Group, have openly boycotted the law because, as one of Memorial's directors, Oleg Orlov, explained on his Facebook page, "We aren't going to register as foreign agents for one simple reason: We aren't foreign agents."
      But the president's version has been contradicted by officials in the Prosecutor General's Office. They maintain that the inspections were being carried out to ensure that NGOs weren't a screen for banned ext<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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