A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Putin's purge in Parliament"
December 6, 2007
BECAUSE RUSSIA is becoming a key player once again in global geopolitics, the United States and its European allies need to develop a clear-eyed vision of the new system Russian President Vladimir Putin is constructing. The conduct of Sunday's parliamentary elections offer a clear - and unpleasant -indication of where Putin's "sovereign democracy" is headed.
The destination is not a revived version of Stalinist despotism. But neither is it a system that bears any resemblance to the liberal democracies of Europe and North America.
The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe only grazed the target when they lamented Monday that the balloting for the Russian Duma failed to meet their "standards for democratic elections." Their joint statement criticized the use of administrative resources for Putin's party, government-controlled media coverage that strongly favored his party, and electoral rules that had the "cumulative effect of thwarting political pluralism."
The crucial result is that all the parties opposed to Putin's power system have been eliminated from Parliament. Putin's United Russia party will have 315 of 450 seats in the new Duma, and the other three parties that qualified all play ball with the Kremlin.
Putin portrayed opposition parties as tools of Western secret services. He likened them to the democratic movements that won recent elections in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan - former Soviet Republics that became independent after the Soviet Union's demise in 1991. This was more than the sort of appeal to patriotism that conservative politicians commonly use in the West. Putin turned the parliamentary election into a vehicle for completely expelling his liberal opposition from participation in governing Russia.
There is no gulag in today's Russia, no daily executions of class enemies in the cellar of the Lubyanka, the old KGB headquarters. But with the opposition removed from the Duma, Russian democrats wishing to work for pluralism and the rule of law must operate outside the power system, as dissidents.
Then there is the question of Putin's hold on power after he cedes the presidency next March to a successor, as he is constitutionally required to do. He has publicly defined the victory of United Russia as a vote of confidence in himself. He has hinted that he will lead the party after March, and that his party will supervise the government - even if, as expected, Putin anoints his own successor.
The picture that emerges is of a party-state in the political mold of the old communist system. A crucial difference is that Putin's role will be to keep peace between the Kremlin factions who control not only the government but also Russia's fabulously lucrative oil and natural-gas conglomerates. Putin is shaping a Godfather-state in Russia.
Bush can answer his own question
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Monday, December 10, 2007
The Bush administration wants Russia to investigate how Vladimir Putin manipulated the vote in Russia's parliamentary elections. Bush should know all about vote manipulation from the U.S. election in 2000.
OSCAR M. OLSON
THE BOSTON GLOBE - Op-Ed
In Russia, a democratic message blurred
By Nicolai Petro | December 10, 2007
SEVERAL ATTEMPTS by the alliance known as Another Russia to organize protest rallies in Russia's most populous cities, including the recent fiascoes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have revealed an indisputable truth - those who call themselves the liberal opposition in Russia are neither competent nor popular.
Their most respectable showing last summer garnered at most 5,000 participants. Since then, these numbers have dwindled into the hundreds, with local police officers and foreign journalists usually far outnumbering the actual demonstrators.
Why have Russia's self-proclaimed liberals done so badly at attracting popular support? Granted, the country's booming economy hasn't made their arguments for removing Vladimir Putin an easy one. Still, with potential support of up to 40 percent, well-known cultural and political figures in their corner, and plenty of money from business elites, it is astonishing how badly the liberals have performed.
Part of the reason goes back to an early decision to enter into alliances that severely tarnished the reputation of many of Russia's leading liberal politicians. In a misguided effort to gain more visibility, several moderate politicians - including Vladimir Ryzhkov, Irina Khakamada, Grigory Yavlinsky, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Boris Nemtsov - embraced two highly questionable figures: the entrepreneur/chess champion Garry Kasparov, who, as a former member of the advisory council of the US-based Center for Security Policy, has longstanding ties to a number of vociferously anti-Russian American neo-conservatives, and Eduard Limonov, the leader of the ethno-nationalist National Bolshevik Party.
Limonov, who has called for the use of "Serbian tactics" to regain regions of the former Soviet Union with large Russian populations, is much more than an "accidental ally" of the liberals, as The Washington Post has reported. He approached the group that spawned Another Russia soon after it was established in March 2004 and suggested that the committee might be able to put the expertise of his "fighters" to good use. That expertise includes brandishing a fake grenade to occupy St. Peter's Church in Riga, Latvia, for which several NBP members served prison time. Limonov himself was convicted of illegal arms purchases in April 2001 and served two years in prison.
While some former allies, including Yavlinksy and Kasyanov, have since parted company with Another Russia, others - like Kasparov, Ryzhkov, and Nemtsov - continue to justify the alliance, with its prominence in the West, as necessary to circumvent the Kremlin's control of the media. But it is hard to believe that there are many people in Russia who have no inkling of what this opposition stands for. More than a quarter of the population has regular access to the Internet, which remains totally unfiltered in Russia, and 13 percent deem it their main source of information - double that in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The problem, it seems, is not that the opposition cannot get its message to the Russian public - nor even the message itself. The problem is with the messengers, who have managed to alienate their natural constituency - Russia's growing middle class.
What you would do if faced with the following choice: a political movement that unites a former chess champion whose family resides overseas, a former prime minister popularly nicknamed "Misha 2 percent" because of alleged kickbacks for authorizing government-backed loans to private firms, and an ex-punk rocker released from prison a few years ago who vows to restore the Russian empire by any means necessary; or the party of Vladimir Putin, which has pledged to continue the policies that have increased average salaries from $81 a month to $550 a month, and which has dramatically increased social spending and reduced the poverty level from 27 percent to 15 percent.
Then there's the damage done by the opposition's apparent contempt for the very people whose support it seeks. Boris Berezovsky, who claims to be financing the opposition from his exile in London, has said: "The problem is that, for centuries, the Russian authorities have been violating the Russian people, turning them into cattle." This bovine image of the Russian electorate is a favorite of the country's liberal elite. Their cynical assumption seems to be that politics doesn't need to appeal to the people at all, that it is really about replacing bad people-herders with good people-herders.
What does it matter how people vote, or even if they vote at all, as Limonov vowed at the last Moscow rally before the elections, if Another Russia does not intend to accept any results as legitimate? Is it any wonder that most Russians view the opposition as simply wanting to take away the prosperity they have worked so hard to obtain? Is it any wonder that the Western media's uncritical adulation of this opposition, and of Another Russia in particular, is regarded by many Russians with deep suspicion?
Far from indicating a retreat from democracy, the Russian electorate's rejection of the current opposition may be a sign of the country's progress toward a mature democracy.
Nicolai Petro teaches international politics at the University of Rhode Island. He served as the US State Department's special assistant for policy on the Soviet Union under President George H. W. Bush. This article first appeared in the International Herald Tribune.
Medvedev, 42, is considered relative liberal
"Putin pledges to support protégé as successor: Medvedev, 42, is considered relative liberal"
By Peter Finn, Washington Post | December 11, 2007
MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that he will support first deputy prime minister Dmitry Medvedev as president, ending years of speculation about his choice and all but ensuring that his longtime associate and young protégé will succeed him in the Kremlin next year.
"I have known him very closely for more than 17 years and I completely and fully support this proposal," said Putin, speaking to the leaders of four political parties, including the ruling United Russia party, who said they would nominate Medvedev as their candidate.
Medvedev, 42, a lawyer by training who is also chairman of the energy giant Gazprom, is regarded as a relative liberal among the constellation of political factions in the Kremlin. Unlike many in Putin's immediate circle, he has no background in the KGB or the security services. He is believed to be open to constructive relations with the West and greater political pluralism at home.
"It's a signal to the West that we want to continue communication and cooperation," said Igor Bunin, head of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow, in an interview. "There won't be any radical changes in his presidency, but I believe Medvedev will be milder than Putin. He will largely follow the course set by Putin, but he is more oriented towards the Western model, building a democratic tradition."
Medvedev owes his political life to Putin, and the two are said to have a father-son relationship, according to Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Moscow-based Center for the Study of Elites.
"It's almost a monarchial succession," she said in an interview. "He nominated his 'adopted' son."
Formally, Medvedev was nominated by United Russia and three other parties that informed Putin of their decision yesterday.
"The next four years should pass under the slogan of improving living standards," said Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the lower house of parliament and head of the United Russia party. "Medvedev is the most socially oriented of all possible candidates."
But, despite the political theater of the parties presenting their choice to the president, the decision was always Putin's alone.
With the backing of his longtime sponsor, Medvedev, who has never been elected to any political office, will almost certainly coast to victory in the March 2 elections. Most Russians have told pollsters that they will back the president's choice. And the full retinue of state power, including control of broadcast media, will be deployed to ensure victory for Medvedev against a likely fragmented field of weak candidates.
Kryshtanovskaya said Medvedev's dependence on Putin also means that he will enter the presidency a weak figure. Putin will play a major role as adviser and protector while the elite reconcile themselves to a candidate who was not their first choice, she said.
The choice of Medvedev, however, is unlikely to end speculation that Putin will ultimately return to the presidency.
"If Putin wants to return in two, three years . . . Medvedev will be the person who will without a doubt give up the path for him," opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov said on Ekho Moskvy radio yesterday.
But Bunin argued that "he will be a real president. He is not a keeper of Putin's seat. Of course, he will not be as powerful as Putin, at least not in his first term."
Medvedev's star, which was considered high earlier in the year, appeared to have faded in recent weeks.
Speculation about Putin's successor had focused on two perceived hard-liners - the newly appointed prime minister, Viktor Zubkov, and another first deputy prime minister and former KGB agent, Sergey Ivanov.
But Putin, in the end, turned not only to a trusted adviser but the one with whom he has the closest personal bond, a man he addresses with the diminutive, Dima.
"Let's agree that there is such a thing as comradeship," said Putin in a book-length interview called "First Person," published at the start of his first term. "I get that feeling with Dima Medvedev."
Both of them hail from St. Petersburg, and they first worked together in the city administration there in the early 1990s. Putin headed the city's committee on external relations, where Medvedev was a legal consultant.
"President Putin trusts him entirely," said Valery Musin, one of Medvedev's former law professors who also served with him as one of Putin's legal advisers in St. Petersburg. "They are very close."
Musin, in an interview yesterday, described Medvedev as "very communicative with a very good sense of humor. He is flexible but firm enough to persuade you of this line. He is young, but very capable and, most important, has gained enough experience to serve in this position."
The only child of university professors, Medvedev entered Leningrad State University, also Putin's alma mater, in 1982. He eventually earned a doctorate in law.
Medvedev, who is married with an 11-year-old son, taught law at the university until 1999, when Putin, then prime minister, brought him to Moscow as deputy head of the government administration.
Within a month, President Boris Yeltsin resigned and Putin was propelled into the Kremlin. Medvedev went with him as deputy head of the administration, and he also headed Putin's first election campaign in 2000.
Three years later, Medvedev became head of the presidential administration.
In November 2005, Medvedev left the presidential administration to become first deputy prime minister.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Anointed by the Kremlin boss"
December 11, 2007
FEW COMPONENTS of liberal democracy are more indispensable than the right of the citizens to choose new leaders. Something very different was on view yesterday in a televised charade staged by Vladimir Putin. The Russian president made a show of accepting a recommendation by four compliant political parties to back his protege, Dmitri Medvedev, in presidential elections next March. The Kremlin boss was demonstrating that the highly centralized power system he has built lacks the marrow of a genuine democracy.
Among Putin's likely successors, Medvedev may be the most pragmatic. He is also the only one unaffiliated with an old-boy network of KGB veterans atop government agencies and government-owned energy conglomerates. His public statements and past deeds point toward a belief in free markets, a desire to tackle the corruption that infects Russian officialdom at nearly all levels, and an interest in improving the living conditions of Russians at the bottom of the economic ladder.
But even if Medvedev is the best choice among Putin's possible successors, there is nothing to celebrate in the way he was chosen or in the apparent reasons for that choice.
Medvedev has been Putin's companion and collaborator since their days together in the St. Petersburg mayor's office circa 1990. Putin is anointing Medvedev as his dauphin not just because he trusts him, but also because this faithful protege gives Putin his best chance of preserving his own influence and maintaining the power balance among different Kremlin factions.
Kremlin-controlled TV has created a czar-like aura around Putin, burnishing Medvedev's reputation as dispenser to the common people of Russia's energy windfall. So there is little doubt that Russian voters will dutifully do Putin's will next March and confirm his choice of a successor.
As chairman of the energy giant Gazprom as well as first deputy prime minister, Medvedev incarnates one of the worst aspects of the corporatist state Putin has built. Yet this will hardly stand in the way of his ascension to Putin's perch.
On the contrary, Medvedev will benefit from the Kremlin's deft cultivation of public assent to Putin's conception of what Russia most needs: a strong state. The image Putin has molded of a leader who concentrates all power in his own hands, purging disloyal media moguls and energy barons while standing up to meddlesome Western countries, has fostered an idolatry of the state and its master. In this political climate, a vote against the master's chosen successor becomes an act of disloyalty to the state that has made Russia rich and powerful.
If Putin has anything to worry about, it is that Medvedev will now have all the power accrued to the boss of Kremlin bosses. Czars and godfathers don't share power willingly.
THE BOSTON GLOBE - OP-ED: BY CATHY YOUNG
"Putin's hold on Russia"
By Cathy Young | December 13, 2007
FOR AMERICAN liberals who like to compare the rise of authoritarianism in Vladimir Putin's Russia to the "imperial presidency" of George W. Bush, this month's political events in Russia - the rigged "elections" in a de facto one-party system, and the emergence of Putin's handpicked heir, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, as the next president with Putin himself the likely prime minister - should serve as a reality check. And yet Russia remains a land of paradox; amidst bleak news of democracy's last rites, one sees small signs of hope.
Even the ruling party's landslide victory with 64 percent of the vote seems less than overwhelming, considering how unequal the contest was. United Russia hogged close to 100 percent of the media coverage and the campaign publicity. Most of the opposition parties were kept off the ballot through the manipulation of election laws; the ones permitted to run were barely allowed to campaign.
Imagine a professional basketball team playing against an amateur club and not only bribing the refs but denying its opponents access to training facilities and using trickery to disqualify the rival team's best players,
A vote for United Russia was widely touted as a mandate for Putin to remain a "national leader" after his second term as president expires in 2008 and he is required to leave office under the Russian constitution. Yet, with a 64 percent turnout, this endorsement comes from an unimpressive 44 percent of eligible voters. Andrei Piontkovsky, a columnist for a liberal website, Grani.ru, suggests that it is the weakness of this "mandate" that prompted Putin to make the final decision to step down rather than seek an overhaul of the constitution and a third term.
The Putin cult rampant in today's Russia does not suggest a leader on his way out. The United Russia election campaign was a gigantic Putin public-relations campaign, with ubiquitous posters, billboards, and booklets promoting the mysterious "Putin Plan": "The Putin Plan Is Russia's Victory!," "The Putin Plan Is Working!," and "You Are Part of the Putin Plan." This cult has sinister overtones reminiscent both of Stalin worship in Soviet Russia and of 1930s Germany, with Hitler as the strongman who raised a humiliated country from its knees. In latest news, the Putin-loving youth movement, Nashi ("Our Guys"), now has an auxiliary for the 8-to-15 set, Mishki, "The Little Bears," that designates Putin as its Chief Bear. At a recent rally, the Mishki sported jackets with the slogan, "Chief Bear, please take care of the kids!" and carried signs that said, "We thank Putin for our stable future." For many, this evoked memories of an infamous Stalin-era poster, "Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our happy childhood."
And yet Putin is not Stalin, and not everything is harmonious in Putinland. For instance, the Mishki movement has been widely ridiculed, and even a member of the Moscow City Council, Evgeny Bunimovich, has denounced it as a "horrifying" attempt to drag children into politics. Some independent media outlets remain, and it's likely that the state cannot shut them down without destroying at least the veneer of a civilized society. Thanks to them, solitary protests and brutally dispersed unsanctioned rallies do not happen in a void - and people fed up with the Putin cult can not only speak their minds but, sometimes, make themselves heard by vast numbers of their fellow citizens.
Thus, last September, the pro-government daily Izvestia killed an article by its television columnist scathingly critical of a sycophantic Putin birthday special (directed by renowned Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov). This would have been unremarkable - except that the incident received enough coverage on the Web and the radio to shame the editors into reversing themselves and running the column.
In October, a leading newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, published a letter from Mikhalkov and the heads of three major cultural organizations begging Putin, in the name of Russia's art community, to stay (not run, but stay) for a third term. The public reaction was not an outpouring of support but a vocal backlash. Prominent artists, actors, authors, and entertainers publicly lashed out at the letter-writers, castigating them for presuming to speak in the name of others, for addressing Putin in a slavishly fawning tone, and for encouraging the president to flout the constitution. When Mikhalkov faced writer Viktor Yerofeyev on a popular television debate program, three of the four in-studio judges declared Mikhalkov the winner, but the call-in vote went for Yerofeyev, 90,000 to 52,000.
All things considered, the Putin regime's increasingly brutal pre-election tactics toward the opposition - the intimidation, the arrests, the hysterical rhetoric about foreign-paid "jackals" - may have been a sign of fear more than arrogance.
As Russia heads into 2008, its future remains murky. Will Medvedev prove to be a more liberal president, or a front for the "Chief Bear"? Will Putin remain in power - or fall from grace and become a scapegoat, like some other dear leaders in Russian history? No one knows. Most likely, not even Putin.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: Op-Ed
"US, Russia as partners"
By Melanie Getreuer and Susan Sypko | December 15, 2007
AMERICANS and Russians have grown accustomed to hearing two distinct narratives about the post-Cold War world. As the sole superpower, the United States is the "indispensable nation." Little can be accomplished without our input. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia is the indispensable nation, too. Indeed, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev recently said that ridding the world of nuclear weapons could be accomplished only through US-Russian partnership.
US-Russian efforts vis-a-vis Iran suggest otherwise. Iran may have halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, but its enrichment activities continue. If the world community is serious about preventing Iran from acquiring a breakout nuclear weapons capability, it will have to seek other states' sustained involvement, starting with China and Saudi Arabia.
Iran's refusal to suspend its enrichment may stem from factors beyond the stated goal of building a civilian nuclear energy program. Iran needs not only to avoid losing face at home, but may also wish to signal a change in the world order - one in which former imperial powers cannot dictate its terms and multistate engagement is key. Getting Iran to stop enrichment will require a partner who would allow Tehran to address these concerns.
Initially, the United States thought ignoring Iran could convince it to stop enriching uranium. Stubbornly defiant, Tehran demonstrated that the former superpower's cold-shoulder punishment would not turn a naughty child into an obedient one. Notwithstanding the NIE's revelations, it does not look like the Bush administration will change this strategy.
Russia, in turn, hasn't fared any better. Despite Putin's landmark visit to Tehran in October 2007, it is not yet clear that he actually accomplished anything. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad immediately denied that a "secret proposal" had been offered to Supreme Leader Khamenei, and the Iranians have refused to accept a Russian proposal to enrich uranium on Russian soil since December 2005.
Iran could also be suspicious of Russia's proposals. For one, old habits die hard: Russia's support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war is a potent memory that plays to Iranian fears of imperial domination. Both countries are frustrated by the delayed construction of the Bushehr reactor (ostensibly due to late payments on Iran's part) and disputes over Caspian Sea rights. Iran also distrusts Russia's intentions in the broader Middle East. Those who have argued that Russia will successfully negotiate with Iran on our behalf might well be thinking wishfully.
Enter China, which clearly represents a challenge to US supremacy and has continuously showed support for Iran's right to enrich uranium. China's trade with Iran has grown and is likely to reach $20 billion this year. China's dependence on Iran's energy resources ensures that China and Iran will remain partners for some time to come. If China were to help defuse the crisis by actively using its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Iran's leaders would be satisfied that they were negotiating with a partner, rather than with "imperial" powers.
China has been reluctant to join the sanctions bandwagon on Iran, but it proved to be an essential player in resolving the nuclear showdown in North Korea. If the United States and Russia were to flatter China's sense of its role in the world, Beijing could once again be just as effective.
Saudi Arabia also provides Iran with another out. Although the Saudis have a history of enmity with their Shiite neighbor, in recent years relations between Riyadh and Tehran have warmed. For example, Ahmadinejad became the first Iranian president to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit. This good will could be used to Saudi Arabia's benefit by preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
The Saudi foreign minister outlined a recent council offer that was not much different from Russia's. Iran's acceptance would imply that the Middle East no longer needs its former colonial masters to come to the rescue.
In the end, the post-Cold War world isn't about an indispensable nation or two, no matter what leaders in Washington and Moscow think. While the promise of a security guarantee to Iran gives the US a card that only it can play, the influence of nontraditional powers should not be automatically discounted. To prevent an Iranian bomb, the US and Russia need to be more imaginative and less self-centered. Encouraging China and Saudi Arabia to take the initiative and offer their own solutions could hold some promise.
MELANIE GETREUER AND SUSAN SYPKO:
Melanie Getreuer and Susan Sypko are researchers at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Russia beyond the pale"
January 19, 2008
COMMUNISTS LOST power in Russia a long time ago, but some things haven't changed. The halls of the Kremlin are still haunted by the thuggish mentality of the KGB.
Those old reflexes were on display this week when the Kremlin bullied the cultural organization known as the British Council into closing its offices in Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg. This was the latest episode in a confrontation between Russia and Britain that began in 2006, when former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin who had been living in London, died grotesquely from poisoning.
After Russia denied a British request to extradite murder suspect Andre Lugovoi, another former KGB agent, Britain expelled four Russian diplomats. The forced closing of the British Council offices is retaliation for the expulsion of the diplomats and for Britain's refusal to stop asking for the extradition of Lugovoi, who acquired immunity from prosecution by winning a seat last month in the lower house of Russia's Parliament.
The tactics the Kremlin used to intimidate the British Council offices were rightly denounced as "reprehensible" by Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband. This unusually undiplomatic language from the foreign office was provoked by the Kremlin's harassment of the council's Russian employees. Some received late-night visits from the tax police. All the staffers in St. Petersburg were interviewed by agents of the FSB, successor to the KGB.
"We saw similar actions during the Cold War but frankly thought they had been put behind us," Miliband said. "Russia's actions therefore raise serious questions about her observance of international law, as well as about the standards of behavior she is prepared to adopt towards her own citizens." There was nothing exaggerated in this condemnation of the Kremlin's conduct.
The indictment of Lugovoi after an intensive investigation by Scotland Yard suggests British authorities have solid evidence implicating him, and may also have intelligence tracing the crime to higher-ups in the Kremlin. The Russian refusal to extradite Lugovoi and the Kremlin's blatant attempts to make the British drop their extradition request paint a nasty portrait of Russia under Putin.
The murder of Litvinenko echoes the 1976 assassination in Washington of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier by agents loyal to Chile's then-strongman, Augusto Pinochet. In both cases, an authoritarian regime was accused of killing an inconvenient critic in the capital of a foreign country. This is what happens when the rule of law is supplanted by the ruler's laws.
In its confrontation with the autocrat Russian liberals call Putinochet, Britain deserves the solidarity of all democratic societies.
"Putin: New arms race is unfolding in world: Major speech cites US missile system"
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, February 9, 2008
MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that "a new arms race has been unleashed in the world" as the United States moves forward with a missile defense system in Central Europe. And he dismissed American assurances that the system was not directed against Russia as nothing more than "diplomatic cover."
"It's not our fault. We didn't start it, . . . funneling multibillions of dollars into developing weapons systems," Putin said in what might be his final major address before he leaves the Kremlin after presidential elections March 2.
"Russia has and always will have a response to these new challenges," he said. "Over the next few years, Russia will start production of new types of arms, with the same or even superior specifications compared to those available to other nations."
He said, however, that Russian military spending should not come at the cost of economic and social development.
Putin noted that Russia has joined "the ranks of the seven biggest economies in the world." But he said the country should diversify and wean itself from dependence on the sale of oil and other natural resources to fuel growth.
Putin spoke yesterday to Russia's State Council, a gathering of ministers, regional governors, and members of parliament. Among those watching was Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's chosen successor as president, who faces little opposition in next month's vote.
Putin struck the now familiar theme that the West, resentful of Russia's resurgence under his stewardship, is encircling Russia through NATO expansion and attempting to subvert it internally by funding opponents of the Kremlin. Although the West speaks of freedom and democracy, Putin said its real agenda is access to natural resources.
Putin said Russia had received no response to its concerns about US plans to deploy missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and new military bases in Romania and Bulgaria.
"We are categorically being told these actions aren't directed at Russia, and therefore our concerns are completely unfounded," he continued. "That's not a constructive response."
The speech, which drew frequent applause, also enumerated what Putin saw as his achievements. "We have returned to the world arena as a state that is taken account of, and that can stand up for itself," he said.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Russia's make-believe election"
March 4, 2008
IT WAS always a sure thing that Dmitry Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin's protégé and designated successor, would win Sunday's election for president. The new ruling class that has congealed around Putin took no chances. They disqualified Medvedev's most formidable challenger on the pretext that too many of his nominating signatures were forgeries. They used state-run television to wrap Medvedev in a cocoon of fawning coverage. They observed democratic formalities but drained them of any genuine popular sovereignty.
President Bush and his successor must have no illusions about the authoritarian state Putin and his entourage have created. It braids together political, corporate, and secret-police powers. The public has accepted this new order as a corrective to the chaos of the 1990s, when pensions and salaries went unpaid, the ruble collapsed, and well-connected insiders bought up Russia's most valuable energy assets at rigged auctions.
Medvedev's low-key manner may differ from Putin's swagger, but his stake in the Kremlin power system is just as great. He has served not only as Putin's first deputy prime minister but also as chairman of the board of the mammoth energy conglomerate, Gazprom. With Putin moving to the office of prime minister, there is even a chance he will remain the Kremlin's ultimate decider while Medvedev, his new title notwithstanding, continues to carry out his mentor's orders.
Whoever calls the shots will have to cope with serious challenges. To his credit, Medvedev has shown an awareness of the need to reverse Russia's demographic decline. Like a candidate in a real democracy, he has pledged to devote resources to prenatal care, create incentives for families with children, and improve Russia's woeful provision of medical care for children. Despite its windfall from high energy prices, Russia has a great need for foreign investment and, as an erstwhile law professor, Medvedev has to understand that without legal protections, foreign investors will not risk their money in Russia.
American policy makers need to find ways to cooperate with the Putin-Medvedev team without abandoning support for Russian democrats and human rights activists. This is doable; Russia and the United States share an interest in countering jihadist networks, preventing nuclear proliferation, and fostering global economic stability.
The Bush administration has too often alienated the Kremlin needlessly, as with its extension of a faulty missile defense system to Central Europe and its backing for Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. The next US president would be wise to avoid unnecessary provocations of this sort and draw Russia into a true strategic partnership, even while recognizing that Russia's new rulers represent only themselves.
(A Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Bush makes trouble in Kiev"
April 2, 2008
AS PRESIDENT BUSH'S second term winds down, this is no time for him to be making trouble for his successor. Yet that is exactly what he was doing yesterday in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. In an appearance alongside that country's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, Bush declared that NATO should begin the process of admitting Ukraine and Georgia as members.
It is understandable that anti-Russian leaders in both of these former Soviet republics want to join NATO. They have bitter memories of past domination by Moscow and suffer today from Russian bullying and blackmailing. In Ukraine, however, the government's pursuit of NATO membership is starkly at odds with popular opinion. Opposition runs especially high among Ukraine's huge Russian minority. But the main reason not to grant NATO membership action plans to Ukraine and Georgia is to avoid new conflict with Russia. This is why Germany and France oppose the idea.
Bush is planning to sign a so-called strategic framework with Russia's outgoing President Vladimir Putin when the two hold their final summit Sunday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Codifying areas of agreement while both presidents are still in office makes sense. But when Bush said in Kiev that he wants the NATO accession process to start immediately for Ukraine and Georgia - "no trade-offs, period," he said - he contradicted the basic premise of a strategic partnership.
Such partnerships can only be based on trade-offs and consideration for each other's interests. A crucial Russian natural gas pipeline crosses Ukraine; components of Russian nuclear missiles are produced in Ukrainian plants; and Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based in Ukraine. So Russia won't accept a move by Ukraine into US-led NATO without getting any concessions in return. After seven years in power, Bush ought to have learned that there is no such thing as diplomacy without quid pro quos.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN
"Ukrainian famine not a genocide"
By Alexander Solzhenitsyn, April 5, 2008
FROM AS far back as 1917, we Soviet citizens had to hear and obediently swallow all sorts of shameless, not to say meaningless, lies. That the All-Russian Constituent Assembly was not an attempt at democracy but a counterrevolutionary scheme (and was therefore disbanded). Or that the October coup (this was Trotsky's brilliant maneuver) was not even an uprising, but self-defense from the aggressive Provisional Government (composed of the most intelligent Cadets).
But people in Western countries never became aware of these monstrous distortions of historical events - neither at the time nor later. So they had no chance to immunize themselves to the sheer impudence and scale of these lies.
The Great Famine of 1921 shook our country, from the Urals, across the Volga, and deep into European Russia. It cut down millions of our people. But the word "Holodomor" (death by hunger) was not used at that time. The Communist leadership deemed it sufficient to blame the famine on a natural drought, while failing to mention at all the grain requisitioning that cruelly robbed the peasantry.
In 1932 and 1933, when a similar Great Famine hit Ukraine and the Kuban region, the Communist Party bosses (including quite a few Ukrainians) treated it with the same silence and concealment. And it did not occur to anyone to suggest to the zealous activists of the Communist Party and Young Communist League that what was happening was the planned annihilation of the Ukrainians. The provocative outcry about "genocide" only began to be take shape decades later - at first quietly, inside spiteful, anti-Russian, chauvinistic minds - and now it has spun off into the government circles of modern-day Ukraine. Russia's parliament was correct this week to vote that the famine should not be considered genocide.
Still, defamation is easy to insinuate into Westerners' minds. They have never understood our history: You can sell them any old fairy tale, even one as mindless as this.
Soviet-era dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a novelist and historian
"Few signs Putin relinquishing power as term comes to close"
By Clifford J. Levy, New York Times News Service, April 17, 2008
MOSCOW - Will Dmitri A. Medvedev ever be his own man?
That question, which arose soon after President Vladimir V. Putin named Medvedev as his successor, has yet to be settled. If anything, the notion has only deepened in recent weeks that while Medvedev will occupy the Kremlin after May 7, Putin will continue to control it from his new post as prime minister.
Still, whether or not this will be a proper or effective arrangement, it seems to be one that many Russians want.
In December, Putin, who is limited to two terms under the Russian Constitution, endorsed Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister and longtime aide. With the Kremlin championing his candidacy and using its authority to squeeze the opposition, Medvedev coasted to victory on March 2. Since then, he has unveiled no major staff appointments, changes in the structure of government or strikingly new proposals.
While heir to czars and general secretaries, Medvedev comes across as the dutiful senior bureaucrat he once was, a former law professor who seems more interested in doing a line-by-line budget analysis for fiscal 2010 than in rousing this nation forward.
He gives speeches calling for more housing and less corruption, faster Internet connections, and an assortment of other unobjectionable measures. He reviews legislation with aides and greets an occasional head of state. Sometimes, he is shown on television mustering up a public scolding of a ham-handed government agency, as if he were trying out a few tough-guy mannerisms picked up from his mentor, Putin.
It is an oddly low-key performance, yet one that seems to be in tune with Russians' preferences.
Medvedev is taking office against the backdrop of a Russian resurgence that contrasts with the financial tumult in much of the world.
Spurred by revenue from high oil prices, the economy grew by 8 percent last year, and foreign investment in Russia has soared. Once a pauper, Russia has squirreled away hundreds of billions of dollars in hard currency reserves.
Consumer confidence in Russia has reached its highest level since before the financial collapse of 1998, according to new government data.
In light of all this, the public's most pressing demand, it seems, is that the government not disrupt the relative stability. If that means that Putin dominates a puppet presidency, then so be it.
And there are signs that things are headed that way. Consider this week's events, when it was hard to tell which leader was the president-elect and which was the lame duck.
At a convention of the ruling party on Tuesday, Putin announced that he would become its chairman, giving him another power base. Medvedev was on the sidelines, delivering one more testimonial to Putin.
Putin's leadership of the party, Medvedev declared, will "serve to strengthen and develop the main democratic institutions of our society."
Putin did not exactly return the favor. He mentioned Medvedev in his speech, but lingered mostly on his own accomplishments and the successes of the party, United Russia, which he created. He vowed to bolster the party, which already dominates nearly every lawmaking body in the land.
(A Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"New title, same old Putin"
April 25, 2008
IF POLITICAL leaders were ranked for originality in their pursuit of power, President Vladimir Putin of Russia would be world champion. First he designated his loyal sidekick, Dmitry Medvedev, to be his successor. Then he had Medvedev announce that - surprise! - Putin would become prime minister after May 7, when the new president takes the oath of office.
Finally, last week Putin had himself unanimously acclaimed chairman of the dominant United Russia Party - but without soiling his immaculate czar-like authority by allowing himself to be made a party member.
Putin is playing his own riff on an old conservative dictum that says: In order for things to remain the same, they have to change a little. While taking new titles, Putin has been able to keep himself the unchanging repository of all the power that counts in Russia.
The trick is to have accomplished this feat while respecting the constitutional rule that prohibits a president from serving for three successive terms. His predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, created a constitution that endowed the Russian presidency with enormous powers. During Putin's two terms as president, he expanded those powers by doing away with the election of regional governors and appointing them instead; having the state take charge of national TV networks; placing his Kremlin cronies in control of state-run energy conglomerates; clamping down on nongovernmental organizations; and molding a pliant United Russia Party that now controls 315 of 450 seats in the Duma, or Parliament.
Today, Putin's transparent aim is to retain real power over the affairs of Russia until the day when, under the Russian constitution, he can legally return to the Kremlin as president. Medvedev is to keep the throne warm for his master. Addicts of power in other political systems can only envy Putin his ingeniousness.
(A Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"A red light for Putin"
September 16, 2008
RUSSIA'S MILITARY success against tiny Georgia is having repercussions that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his stand-in president, Dmitry Medvedev, probably did not anticipate and surely do not welcome. Simply put, Putin has alienated China and other countries that share his interest in countering American power.
On Friday, the Asian Development Bank, in which China plays a leading role, extended a $40 million loan at the lowest possible rate to Georgia, weighing in against Russia's attempt to alter borders by force.
Earlier, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - which includes China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as well as Russia - refused to countenance Russia's recognition of the independence of two breakaway regions of Georgia that Russian troops now occupy. The rebuff of Putin is all the more striking because - at least from Putin's perspective - the central purpose of this group was to form an eastern counterweight to NATO.
China and the Central Asian states may share the Kremlin's resentment of American dominance in the world, but they are not so eager to construct a multipolar world that they will act against their national interests.
Beijing has marshaled enormous resources to keep other countries from recognizing Taiwan as an independent country. China's entire propaganda campaign against the Dalai Lama is based on the false claim that he wants to split Tibet off from China. The Chinese leadership has also fiercely repressed any sign of separatism among the Muslim population in the north-western region of Xinjiang. China, in short, opposes all outside interference within its borders and extends the same privilege to other governments, however odious.
Putin upheld the same principle when he objected to President Bush's recognition of Kosovo's independence from Serbia. But in declaring that South Ossetia and Abkhazia were no longer under the sovereignty of Georgia, Putin forced China to choose between its alliance with Russia and the principle of noninterference and fixed borders. China chose the principle.
The other Shanghai group members have their own reasons for refusing to support Russia's redrawing of the map. As former republics of the vanished Soviet Union, they all have ethnic Russians living within their borders. The last thing they want is to encourage the Kremlin to go about "liberating" these communities.
Putin may want to avoid a unipolar world order centered in Washington. But like Bush, Putin is discovering there is a price for resorting to unilateral force to remake a region of the world.
"Putin: Ukraine aided Georgia during war: Moscow is seen to seek leverage over neighbor"
By Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press, October 3, 2008
NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of sending weapons and military personnel to help Georgia during its war with Russia.
The accusation came as Russia announced a memorandum of understanding for handling natural gas sales to Ukraine after Putin met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is locked in a political fight with her nation's pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko.
The timing of Russia's statements underlined Moscow's drive to increase its leverage in the neighboring former Soviet republic of Ukraine.
Without referring to Ukraine's president by name, Putin suggested Yushchenko authorized weapons supplies to Georgia before and during Russia's war there in August. He also alleged that Ukrainian military personnel fought on Georgia's side during the conflict.
"When people and military systems are used to kill Russian soldiers, it's a crime," Putin told reporters after meeting with Tymoshenko at his residence outside Moscow. "Only a few years ago, it could not even come to mind, even in a nightmare, that Russians and Ukrainians would be fighting each other. But that happened, and it is a crime."
Russian officials and some Ukrainian lawmakers have said Ukraine helped arm pro-Western Georgia before the war. The Russian military has said anti-aircraft missiles supplied by Ukraine shot down four Russian warplanes during the conflict.
Putin said arms sales may have continued after the war began, and he charged that some of the weapons were operated by Ukrainians during the fighting.
"The weapons could have been supplied during the military action, and it was operated by Ukrainian specialists," Putin said. "That is a crime. That's an attempt to set Russian and Ukrainian people against each other."
Tymoshenko, who is vying for power with Yushchenko, said a parliamentary panel in Ukraine would investigate allegations of arms sales. She said that under Ukrainian law, the president and his Security Council are in charge of arms sales abroad and her Cabinet has no say.
Russia's use of force in Georgia has deepened nervousness among many Ukrainians about their larger neighbor, whose leaders are vehemently opposing Yushchenko's efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO. The Kremlin has warned NATO against admitting Ukraine or Georgia.
Moscow could use the price for its natural gas as a bargaining chip in its effort to stem Ukraine's strengthening of ties with the West.
The gas cooperation memorandum signed yesterday leaves ample room for wrangling over prices in actual contracts. But Tymoshenko said she won a Russian commitment that prices would rise only gradually.
"The parties confirmed their desire to gradually move to free-market prices over the next three years," Tymoshenko said. "We have reached an agreement that our countries don't need shock therapy."
The dealings with Putin are something of a turnaround for Tymoshenko, who has strongly criticized Russia in the past.
She allied with Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution that propelled him to the presidency in 2004 over a pro-Russia candidate, and she said last year the West should thwart Moscow's ambition to regain influence over countries that were once part of its empire.
But Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have been feuding and she has increasingly talked about the need to improve ties with Russia.
"Putin's Intentions Debated After Shift on 4-Year Term"
By Philip P. Pan, Washington Post Foreign Service, Friday, November 28, 2008; A12
MOSCOW -- Not so long ago, a relatively young, newly elected president of Russia was presented with a proposal to amend the nation's constitution and extend the four-year term of the presidency.
His response was unequivocal. "The terms of presidential authority will not be changed under the current president," Vladimir Putin said in 2001, his second year in office, arguing that amendments to the constitution "dictated by political considerations" were dangerous. "Even in the most difficult times and times of crisis," he said, "those in power did not succumb to the temptation to correct the constitution for themselves. In the end, this was for the good." Putin repeated the pledge on the eve of his second term, saying the constitution should be left "untouched."
Now, months after leaving office and becoming prime minister, Putin is helping another relatively young, newly elected Russian president do exactly what he promised never to do himself -- rewrite the constitution to extend the presidential term. The abrupt reversal has sparked speculation in Moscow about whether Putin is preparing to take back his old job as president, and why.
Three weeks after President Dmitry Medvedev raised the issue in his first state of the nation address, lawmakers are rushing to approve the first substantive amendments to Russia's post-Soviet constitution since its adoption in 1993. The proposal would extend the presidential term to six years and that of members of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, from four years to five. A separate measure would give the Duma greater oversight over the prime minister.
Given Russia's increasingly autocratic political system, there is little doubt the amendments will pass. There is also little doubt that Putin, who picked Medvedev to succeed him and remains the dominant figure in the Kremlin, is behind the plan.
In making the proposal, Medvedev said longer terms are needed to ensure that the president and members of the Duma "have enough time to put their promises into practice" between elections. Putin also endorsed the change, saying it was part of "a package to improve the structure of government."
But because the six-year term would go into effect after the next presidential vote, scheduled for 2012, many analysts contend that Putin is laying the groundwork for an early election and a return to the presidency, as soon as next year. They speculate that Medvedev could use the constitutional change as a reason to resign, triggering a special election that Putin would easily win.
Putin stepped down as president in May because the constitution barred him from seeking a third consecutive term. But nothing in the constitution prohibits a return to the presidency after an interregnum.
Appointed prime minister by Medvedev, he is still seen at home and abroad as Russia's top leader. But analysts say that there are advantages to holding the presidency and that Putin may be engineering an early return as a way to remain in power during difficult times ahead.
After presiding over nearly a decade of rapid growth, Putin now confronts the prospect of a severe economic slowdown. The stock markets are down 70 percent from their May highs, oil has fallen to $50 a barrel, and the government is struggling to defend the ruble and is spending its huge foreign-currency reserves faster than expected. As the crisis spreads to the rest of the economy, many expect public discontent to climb with unemployment and inflation.
"He knows how serious it is, and he's not sure that he will survive three more years without damaging . . . his chances of being elected again," said Nikolai Petrov, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "From that perspective, it makes sense to have the election sooner, and it's more attractive to have a guarantee of six years."
He added that Putin would be better positioned to ride out the crisis as president because management of the economy has traditionally been seen as the responsibility of the prime minister. Putin could take credit for the government's successes while blaming problems on his prime minister, as he has done in the past, Petrov said.
Putin has not ruled out another term as president. Asked at a Nov. 12 news conference with the visiting Finnish president whether he planned to return to the presidency, he said the constitutional amendment had "no personal dimension."
"As far as I know, the president of Finland is elected for six years. From this point of view, there is nothing unusual in what Mr. Medvedev has proposed," Putin said. "As for who could run for the next term, and when, it is too early to speak of this," he added, leading pundits to wonder whether he had inadvertently confirmed that the 2012 election could be moved up.
Medvedev, too, has avoided a categorical denial. Asked in an interview with the French newspaper Figaro whether he might leave office early, he replied: "I am in the process of working right now. Why are you pushing me into certain decisions?"
Both the Russian Communist Party and the fractured democratic opposition have been vocal in condemning the proposed changes to the constitution. If Putin serves two additional six-year terms, on top of the eight years he just finished, he would become the longest-serving leader of Russia since Joseph Stalin.
The Kremlin has moved unusually quickly on the amendments. The measures sailed through three votes in the Duma less than two weeks after Medvedev proposed them, and the parliament's upper house, the Federation Council, passed them Wednesday. The required approval of two-thirds of Russia's regional legislatures could be completed by year's end.
"It's a disgrace to pass a constitutional amendment at such a pace," said Kiril Rogov, a political analyst at the Institute for the Economy in Transition who wrote a column in July 2007 predicting Putin would return as president after a brief stint as prime minister. "The urgency means Putin is nervous. He's unsure how the economic situation will develop."
In addition, he noted, the global financial crisis has shifted international attention away from Russia's war with Georgia, making it easier for Medvedev to develop relationships with other world leaders. As the new president gains international respect, his clout at home will grow as well, Rogov said, adding, "It's another reason Putin wants to hurry."
There has been little hint of friction between Putin and Medvedev, a former aide. But analysts say the presence of two senior leaders at the top of Russia's centralized political system can be destabilizing, no matter how well they work together.
Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister now in the opposition, said the political landscape has already begun to shift. Putin remains on top, but Medvedev has amassed more influence than all other second-tier figures in the Kremlin, he said.
In a sign of political uncertainty, two powerful regional leaders recently made statements unusually critical of Kremlin policy. One of them, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, called for reviving the system of direct elections of local governors that Putin abolished. Medvedev abruptly rejected the idea the next day.
Nikolai Svanidze, a journalist who was given special access to Medvedev and recently published a collection of his interviews with him, said he was doubtful the new president was planning to step down and make way for a Putin comeback. "Medvedev may have a low profile, but he's not a little boy," Svanidze said. "He doesn't leave the impression of a man who just follows orders."
Analysts say Putin often prepares several options and makes a decision at the last minute, a management style that keeps people guessing. He may be considering a return to the presidency, but the amendment strengthening the powers of the Duma suggests he could also be thinking about becoming chairman of the parliament, a position that would also allow him to exercise power while avoiding blame for the economic crisis.
Svanidze said even top government officials are uncertain of Putin's plans. "People are very nervous," he said. "They're nervous because they don't know what to do about the economic crisis and because they don't know who's going to be sitting in the Kremlin."
"Mr. Putin's Cold War: The Russian leader orders the suspension of gas deliveries to Europe. Is Ukraine really to blame?"
Thursday, January 8, 2009; A14, Washington Post, Editorial
RUSSIA HAS been piously insisting that its latest midwinter cutoff of gas deliveries to Ukraine -- and now the rest of Europe -- is the result of a commercial dispute and not a part of Moscow's long-standing campaign to undermine Ukraine's pro-Western government. So why, then, would Russian state television have devoted prime time on both Monday and Tuesday to broadcasting staged meetings at which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ostentatiously vilified Ukraine's president and ordered the state gas company to cut off deliveries?
Mr. Putin's televised "working sessions" with Alexei Miller, the chairman of the state gas monopoly Gazprom, were scripted with ludicrous heavy-handedness. In each, Mr. Putin disingenuously inquired about details of Russia's dispute with Ukraine, and Mr. Miller replied by portraying the Ukrainian government as thieving, deceptive and unreliable. On Monday, Mr. Putin cynically sympathized with the consumers of Ukraine, then ordered a reduction in the gas that transits Ukraine to other European countries. On Tuesday, he decreed that the pipeline be shut down altogether -- a measure that left not just Ukraine but a dozen other countries without energy deliveries.
Is this really the way to resolve what has been a byzantine bilateral argument over prices and transit fees? Of course not -- but that's not Mr. Putin's objective. The real aim is to advance Russia's aggressive strategy of using its energy exports to divide Europe and undermine those states it still considers its rightful subjects, beginning with Ukraine. Listen to Mr. Putin's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin: "It's clear that if Europe wants to have guaranteed natural gas supplies, as well as oil in its pipelines, then it cannot fully rely on its wonderful ally, Mr. Yushchenko." Viktor Yushchenko was democratically elected Ukraine's president in 2004 after a Moscow-backed vote-rigging operation backfired. Like Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, the Ukrainian leader strongly favors the entry of his country into NATO. Mr. Putin responded to Mr. Saakashvili with an invasion last August; now he has launched an offensive against Mr. Yushchenko.
Some in Europe will no doubt buy Mr. Rogozin's argument, just as they blame Mr. Saakashvili for the Russian troops still entrenched on Georgian territory. Like its Georgian counterpart, Ukraine's government has many weaknesses, which Mr. Putin has ruthlessly exploited. But the real message of this cold week is the same that European governments have repeatedly received -- and largely ignored -- in recent years. Mr. Putin's regime plainly intends to use Europe's dependence on Russian energy to advance an imperialist and anti-Western geopolitical agenda. The only rational response is a dramatic acceleration of the European Union's search for alternative sources of energy -- and greater support for those countries that Russia seeks to subjugate.
"Report: Cuba, Venezuela could host Russian bombers"
By DAVID NOWAK, Asssociated Press Writer, March 14, 2009
MOSCOW (AP) -- A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered an island as a temporary base for strategic Russian bombers, the Interfax news agency reported.
The chief of staff of Russia's long range aviation, Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, also said Cuba could be used to base the aircraft, Interfax reported.
The Kremlin, however, said the situation was hypothetical.
"The military is speaking about technical possibilities, that's all," Alexei Pavlov, a Kremlin official, told The Associated Press. "If there will be a development of the situation, then we can comment," he said.
Zhikharev said Chavez had offered "a whole island with an airdrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers," the agency reported. "If there is a corresponding political decision, then the use of the island ... by the Russian Air Force is possible."
Interfax reported he said earlier that Cuba has air bases with four or five runways long enough for the huge bombers and could be used to host the long-range planes.
Two Russian bombers landed in Venezuela last year in what experts said was the first Western Hemisphere touchdown of Russian military craft since the end of the Cold War.
Cuba has never permanently hosted Russian or Soviet strategic aircraft. But Soviet short-range bombers often made stopovers there during the Cold War.
Russia resumed long-range bomber patrols in 2007 after a 15-year hiatus.
Independent military analyst Alexander Golts said from a strategic point of view there was nothing for Russia to gain from basing long-range craft within relatively short range of U.S. shores.
"It has no military sense. The bombers don't need any base. This is just a retaliatory gesture," Golts said, saying Russia wanted to hit back after U.S. ships patrolled Black Sea waters.
Moscow and the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama have appeared to want to mend their relations, which reached a post-Cold War low last year when Russia's invasion of U.S. ally Georgia compounded disputes on security and democracy.
U.S. plans initiated under former President George W. Bush to position defense missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic had particularly irked Russia, which has welcomed his successor's apparently more cautious approach to the divisive issue.
Venezuela and Cuba, traditionally fierce U.S. foes, have close political and energy relations with Russia.
"Mr. Medvedev's Test: Will the Russian president who swore to defend the rule of law allow another Moscow show trial?"
The Washington Post (Online), Editorial, A12, Saturday, April 11, 2009
IT'S BEEN nearly a year since Dmitry Medvedev took office as Russia's president following a much-publicized vow to attack what he called the "legal nihilism" of his country. His record so far is not looking good: Murders of Kremlin opponents have continued, both at home and abroad, without any action against the perpetrators -- even though two of the suspects named by foreign police agencies sit in the Russian parliament. Mr. Medvedev raised some eyebrows when he met privately this year with the editors of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta following the broad-daylight murder of a reporter just blocks from the Kremlin. He told President Obama that he was concerned about the beating of human rights activist Lev Ponomarev on the night before last week's summit meeting. But Mr. Medvedev's words have yet to be followed by any tangible actions.
Now the former law professor faces a test that should settle whether he is capable of altering the authoritarian regime established by Vladimir Putin. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil magnate whose 2003 arrest and subsequent trial marked Mr. Putin's pivot away from Russia's experiment with liberalism, is on trial again. As in the Soviet era, the case is both a blatant setup and a grand piece of political theater intended to demonstrate the regime's ability to crush its opposition. If Mr. Medvedev allows it to go forward to its scripted conclusion -- a lengthy extension of Mr. Khodorkovsky's sentence to a Siberian prison camp -- the point will be proved that Russia still has no rule of law but only a ruler.
The charges against Mr. Khodorkovsky are so convoluted, the defendant said in his opening statement this week, that "I was completely deprived of the right . . . to know what I have been charged with." In his previous trial, Mr. Khodorkovsky and co-defendant Platon Lebedev were accused of directing tax evasion by their Yukos oil company, which was eventually confiscated and sold off to state companies. Now they are charged with "embezzling" the same oil that they supposedly failed to pay taxes on. If they are convicted, they could be sentenced to another two decades in prison.
Mr. Khodorkovsky's first trial did much to damage Mr. Putin's image in the West and to poison his relations with Western governments. So why another show trial? One reason is that Mr. Khodorkovsky's current sentence is due to expire in 2011, just before Russia's next presidential election -- in which Mr. Putin, now prime minister, may reclaim the nominal top post. Another is that the European Court of Human Rights, which Russia belongs to through the Council of Europe, has agreed to hear an appeal of Mr. Khodorkovsky's earlier case and could conceivably rule in his favor.
But it may also be that Mr. Khodorkovsky's trial is a means of crushing any reformist impulses Mr. Medvedev might have. If so, the president has the means to fight back: He could call for the charges against the defendants to be dropped or issue pardons to Mr. Khodorkovsky or some of his associates. If he does nothing, those in Russia and the West who have looked to this president as a liberal alternative will know that such thinking was wishful.
"Medvedev slams US plans for missile defense shield"
By Associated Press, Monday, April 20, 2009 - www.bostonherald.com - Europe
HELSINKI — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said today that U.S. plans for a missile shield in Europe threaten to disrupt the weapons balance between the two countries.
During a visit to Finland, Medvedev noted that Moscow "could not reach agreement with the previous U.S. administration" on missile defense, but said he expected to begin talks on the issue soon with President Barack Obama.
When they met in London earlier this month, the two presidents did not address American preparations to deploy parts of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, but in their joint statement the United States acknowledged Russian concerns.
"Russia is very concerned about unilateral efforts to develop missile shields that decidedly pose complications in the mutual balance of weapons," Medvedev said at the University of Helsinki.
He said that "a truly global missile shield" should not serve the interests of only one country or alliance.
"One party should not decide the properties of such a shield but unfortunately that is happening now when decisions are being made in Europe," Medvedev said, in a speech translated to Finnish.
Medvedev repeated plans, agreed with Obama in London, to begin talks soon to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expires at year’s end.
"We believe that this treaty should also limit nuclear warhead delivery systems, meaning intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-based ballistic missiles and heavy bombers," the Russian president said. "We believe it necessary to rule out the very possibility of deploying strategic offensive weapons outside national territory."
Earlier, after talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen, Medvedev said he would present new proposals for energy cooperation with Russia’s partners, insisting Russia was not bound by previous agreements, including the European energy charter.
Russia has refused to sign the 1991 agreement, designed to give foreign investors a fair shot at its sizable energy sector and to respect market rules in gas and oil pricing and distribution.
Medvedev gave no details about the new proposals but said he would send them to the G-8 and 20 leading economic countries.
"Russia has often raised problems concerning the transport of energy. Unfortunately, many international documents, including the European energy charter, have not brought solutions to these problems," he told reporters. "We have not ratified those documents, and we don’t believe we are bound by them."
Most Russian gas supplies to Europe were cut off for weeks in January because of a price dispute between Moscow and Ukraine. The stoppage left millions of Europeans without heat during a cold spell and angered the European Union, which accused Russia and Ukraine of holding its citizens hostage to their standoff.
Medvedev and Halonen also discussed security, Finnish-Russian border trade and a proposed gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea.
On Tuesday, Medvedev was scheduled to visit the town of Porvoo near Helsinki, where Czar Alexander I declared Finland an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire in 1809.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that enables authorities to ban "undesirable" foreign NGOs (AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov)
"Putin enacts law banning 'undesirable' NGOs"
AFP, May 23, 2015
Moscow (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin officially enacted a controversial law banning "undesirable" non-governmental organisations, the Kremlin said Saturday, in a move condemned by human rights groups across the board.
The law allows authorities to bar foreign civil society groups seen as threatening Russia's "defence capabilities" or "constitutional foundations" and go after local activists working with them, the Kremlin statement said.
Supporters presented the law as a "preventative measure", necessary after the wave of Western sanctions put in place over the Ukraine conflict.
Under the law, passed by the Russian parliament this week, authorities can ban foreign NGOs and go after their employees, who risk up to six years in prison or being barred from the country.
It also allows them to block the bank accounts of the organisations until the NGOs "account for their actions" to the Russian authorities.
Lawmakers cited the need to stop "destructive organisations" working in Russia, which could threaten the "value of the Russian state" and stir up "colour revolutions", the name given to pro-Western movements seen in some former Soviet republics over the last several years.
Critics have said that the vague wording of the law -- which gives Russia's general prosecutor the right to impose the "undesirable" tag without going to court -- could allow officials to target foreign businesses working in Russia.
Amnesty International called it "the last chapter in the unprecedented repression against non-governmental organisations."
The measure complements legislation already passed in 2012, which forces NGOs that receive foreign funds to register as a "foreign agent."
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
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