EURASIA LIFT

Human Rights Issues in Eurasia / Правовые Вопросы В Регионах Евразии

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CAN RUSSIA EVER CHANGE?
By ASHOT EGIAZARYAN

Vladimir Putin’s decided to return to the Kremlin, he could be a president for full 24 years. After 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia remains unable to transform its political model. Russia retains a heavily centralized, highly inefficient state with weak institutions that do not represent the people. Property is still largely owned and controlled by government officials, civil society remains underdeveloped and consciousness of civic responsibility weak at best. Roughly 20% of Russian society is progressively minded and capable of driving change.

Russia has never been as rich as today and nor has it been as corrupt. But Corruption is only a symptom of the broader problem: a lack of functioning institutions to connect leaders with citizens based on respect for the law. Above all, Russian citizens need a system that allows for official accountability, the enforcement of their own rights and fair adjudication of disputes. ..more HERE

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HOW THE WAR ON TERRORISM DID RUSSIA A FAVOR

Ten years ago, on Sept. 20, 2001, President George W. Bush announced for the first time that in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the U.S. was starting a “war on terror”. Countries around the world realized the practical appeal of a war on terrorism. Over the past ten years, it has become a seemingly permanent call to arms, a kind of incantation used to dodge questions, build alliances and justify the use of force. No one, not even Bush, grasped this as quickly as Putin. Putin, who had been the first to call Bush with his sympathy after learning of the 9/11 attacks, graciously offered to help with the invasion of Afghanistan. He let the U.S. ship supplies through Russian territory and did not object to the U.S. setting up bases in Central Asia, where the local despots quickly caught on to the opportunity. Uzbek President Islam Karimov, for instance, allowed the U.S. to build a permanent base, perhaps hoping that his new alliance with the war on terrorism would help reduce U.S. scrutiny of alleged human-rights abuses in Uzbekistan…But the very idea of a war on terrorism had unnerved some officials inside Putin’s own government. “Terrorism is a method of waging conflict,” says Illarionov, Putin’s former adviser. “How can you fight a war against a method? The very idea is nonsense. It’s like announcing a war against tanks.” In early 2005, Illarionov resigned from his post in the Kremlin, citing the rollback in democracy that followed the Beslan siege. Kasyanov had resigned in early 2004 for similar reasons, going on to join the opposition….more HERE

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WHY HALF OF RUSSIANS REGRET THE 1991 AUGUST COUP

After the August Coup that dissolved the Soviet Union and secured democratic reforms, many Russians saw limitless possibilities. Twenty years later, many are disillusioned.

During the decade of the 1990s Russia lost nearly 50 percent of its Soviet-era gross domestic product, and the few profitable sectors of the old Soviet economy were sold off in murky auctions to a handful of Kremlin-connected insiders who became known as “oligarchs”. The country endured repeated economic shocks culminating in a 1998 financial crash that wiped out hundreds of banks, along with peoples’ savings, and left the rouble with barely a fifth of its former buying power. MORE HERE

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ABOUT DICTATOR ISLAM KARIMOV, UZBEKISTAN

Length of rule: 20 years. Karimov took power after winning by a rather large margin in the first post-Soviet era presidential election in Uzbekistan in 1991.

Most despotic acts: Karimov and his regime are frequently accused of harsh and arbitrary crackdowns on human rights workers, journalists and Muslim activists, all in the name of fighting terrorism. The United Nations called the use of torture in Uzbekistan “systematic.” A former British ambassador to Uzbekistan accused it of boiling dissidents to death. More recently, in 2005, hundreds of protesters were slaughtered in the infamous Andijan massacre, which included what some described as mass summary executions by state security forces. Reporters Without Borders calls Karimov one of the world’s “Predators of Press Freedom,” saying he “is still breaking his own records for repression and paranoia.”

Karmiov’s regime, including his own daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, and current Uzbek ambassador to UNESCO, has a lawsuit for libel against a French website underway in a Paris court after the website referred to her as a “dictator’s daughter,” and accused her of attempting to “whitewash her country’s image.” While it is apparent that Karimov uses radical Islamism as an excuse for political crackdowns, there is definitely plenty of spillover of radical elements from neighboring Afghanistan. Still, Karimov’s security forces have a pretty tight grip on the country, and the European Union has begun wooing Uzbekistan for its energy reserves, regardless of its human rights record. All that, combined with the Karimov regime’s firm control over internal media, make his reign very likely to continue for some time.

Population: 28,128,600; Uzbek 80 percent, Russian 5.5 percent, Tajik 5 percent, Kazakh 3 percent, Karakalpak 2.5 percent, Tatar 1.5 percent, other 2.5 percent; Median Age is 26.

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WAS IT SOMETHING I WROTE? by VALERY PANYUSHKIN

I am leaving a cafe in the very center of Moscow when I notice my car is missing its license plate. I know what this means: I am being followed.

Because the senior officers in the F.S.B. don’t trust their agents, they demand not only an account of the subject’s movements but additional proof, in the form of a license plate. I am afraid.I call my friend Marina Litvinovich, an editor who has had many years of experience dealing with the Russian security services. More than once she has been attacked on the street. When this happens they call you by name, beat you half to death, then leave you, taking no money or valuables, thereby ensuring that you never, even for a moment, think you have just been mugged.

“Marinka, what do I do if my license plate has been unscrewed from my car?”
“Look through the car. They could have planted a gun, drugs or extremist literature. But I wouldn’t particularly worry about explosives. They don’t usually blow up journalists.”

In conversations like these, “they” always means the same thing: the security services, the government, the ones in power.

I have been advised that it is best not to inform the police that my license plate has been removed, or that I suspect it is tied to my activities as a journalist. The police will not want to question the security services. They will simply impound my car for a few months, maybe a year. What would I do without a car? And so, in order to get a new license plate, I explain to the police that the old one fell off all by itself.

A few days later, I am detained at a train station. A policeman stops me as I am about to board, demanding to see my documents. I demand to see a warrant, and he displays a creased fax. I can’t make anything of it; it shows neither my name nor any cause of complaint. Ten minutes later he lets me go, just in time to make the train.

I try to make out what might have aroused the government’s interest. Was it my article about the shortage of medicine for people with H.I.V., or the one on how the police protect a studio that produces child pornography? Was it my report that the F.S.B. has forbidden the export of blood samples from Russia to protect the profits it makes from the market in donated bone marrow?

It must have been something I wrote a few years ago. I no longer write about politics because it increasingly feels pointless to do so in a country with no real public involvement in political life. But whatever it was that angered the government, as with many things in Russia, there is no way of knowing.

We do not know who ordered the killing of Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist and human rights activist, nor why. She accused the president of Chechnya of kidnapping and murder. Was this the cause?

We do not know who savagely attacked the journalist Oleg Kashin, nor why. He criticized a highway that municipal authorities planned to build through the middle of a forest, angering those who stood to gain by it. Was this the cause?

We do not know because the crimes were not fully investigated. In crimes like these, the hired killers can sometimes be found, but never the people who paid them.

Imagine that Bob Woodward reports on Watergate, and the next day there is only silence; no one responds, no one investigates. Anna Politkovskaya reported dozens of Watergates, but none of her revelations have been seriously pursued; the prosecutors, the Parliament, her colleagues at the official newspapers have remained silent. No one has fully investigated Oleg Kashin’s disclosures. An investigation did result from my reporting on child pornography, but someone tipped off those involved, and all the suspects disappeared.

In Russia today, journalists are murdered like Anna Politkovskaya, beaten like Oleg Kashin and intimidated like me, but — as terrible as this will sound — that is not the real problem. The real problem is that journalists are ignored. The risks they take in challenging Vladimir Putin and the Russian oligarchy have ceased to have meaning.

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RUSSIA’S RICH DOUBLE THEIR WEALTH, BUT POOR WERE BETTER OFF IN 1990S by Tom Parfitt from Guardian

Experts at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics (HSE) found that the purchasing power of the average Russian has grown by 45% since the early 1990s, but income disparity is widening by the year.

The report reinforces a widely held view that oligarchs got rich quick by snapping up the country’s choicest assets in the turbulent post-Soviet period.
The study indicated there were “two Russias”. The wealthiest fifth of the population received a pay cheque equivalent to 198% of its value in 1991, while the poorest fifth made only 55% in real terms. In total, 60% of the population has the same real income or less than the average 20 years ago.
“Many things are required to change this,” said Vladimir Gimpelson, one of the authors.

“We need more political and market competition, enforcement of property rights, rule of law, systemic change in labour market institutions and stronger social protection for the needy.”

The widening gulf comes as the World Bank recorded an overall drop in poverty. A report by the bank published on Sunday found the percentage of people in Russia living below the poverty line – meaning those who earn less than 5,900 roubles (£130) per month – fell from 13.2% in 2009 to 12.7% last year….

Two prominent Russians much richer today than they were 20 years ago have published income declarations, showing their earnings dropped between 2009 and 2010. Prime minister Vladimir Putin declared £104,000, compared with President Dmitry Medvedev’s £70,000.

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WHY DO EVEN POPULAR DICTATORS STEAL ELECTIONS? By William J. Dobson

On 3 april 2011, Nursultan Nazarbayev stood for reelection as president of Kazakhstan. He once again won in a landslide, this time apparently garnering 95.5 percent of the vote. But it wasn’t a stainless victory. Representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whom Nazarbayev had invited to monitor the election, reported ballot-box stuffing and duplicate voting.

Which brings us to the conundrum: Why do genuinely popular dictators engage in outright election fraud? Why would it not suffice for Nazarbayev to win 70, 60 or 52 percent of the vote? If he is so popular — which again, is what the evidence suggests — why not just win the good old-fashioned way and silence a hefty number of his critics at the same time?

Whatever Nazarbayev may say … he is no democrat. After 19 years in power, he has no interest in handing over the reins to anyone else. In fact, the only check on his ability to rule may be mortality (which explains why he has repeatedly called on his country’s scientists to discover an elixir of immortality). And the country’s uranium and oil finds may keep per capita gross domestic product on the rise, but the country’s record for human rights, press freedom and corruption is nothing to brag about. But however correct his critics may be, they must admit that Nazarbayev belongs to a special subspecies of autocratic leaders: the popular dictator.

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RUSSIA’S VERY SECRET SERVICES by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

…the unique status and financial resources provided to Russia’s secret services in the early 2000s by then-President Vladimir Putin makes them even more unpredictable than their predecessor, the KGB, which was a powerful organization, but came under the firm control of the political structure….over the last decade in Russia, the resurgent secret services have become a new elite, enjoying expanded responsibilities and immunity from public oversight or parliamentary control.
SVR, or Foreign Intelligence Service, operates largely in Western Europe and the United States. The gru, the old military intelligence service under the Soviet Union, remains intact, with virtually the same global portfolio. The FSB, or Federal Security Service, the most direct successor to the old KGB, operates principally in the former Soviet Republics, sometimes still referred to as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the loose confederation that was established to succeed the USSR after it collapsed. The FSB is also active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, both of which border the former Soviet sphere.
By 2000, the FSB was becoming the dominant intelligence player in what had been the Soviet Union. That year, Russia backed the establishment of a CIS Antiterrorist Center, headquartered in Moscow with a Central Asian branch in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. .. Some CIS states did not buy the notion that Russia had a sincere desire to help with counterterrorism efforts on their soil. Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan refused to send representatives to the center at all. They saw it, quite correctly, as a not very subtle Russian foot in their door. Still, the FSB’s timing was good. Under the umbrella of anti-terrorism, it soon had much more credible justification for its regional expansion.…more HERE

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RUSSIAN OMBUDSMAN SLAMS EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS IN NORTH CAUCASUS

In the annual report on human rights in Russia that he has reportedly recently submitted to the Russian State Duma, and of which the daily “Gazeta” claims to have obtained a copy, human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin condemns the ongoing “extrajudicial killings of members of illegal armed formations in the North Caucasus.”

Lukin stresses that he does not question the need for harsh measures in the fight against militants (in the extracts from his report cited by gazeta.ru and kavkaz-uzel.ru, he does not use the term “terrorists”). At the same time, Lukin reaffirms that the struggle against lawlessness must be waged using only lawful means.

Lukin further argues that the circumstances of all extrajudicial killings of militants should be carefully clarified, but acknowledges that doing so is not easy given that the law enforcement organs are unwilling to share the relevant information, even with his office.

From the published extracts of his report, it is not clear whether Lukin differentiates between the arbitrary detention, torture, and killing of law-abiding young men who have incurred suspicion simply by virtue of being practicing Muslims, or who are targeted for no valid reason whatsoever, and the use during counterterror operations of disproportionate force that results in unnecessary destruction of property and the death of fighters who, if taken alive, could have provided useful information about the network of which they were members and/or been brought to trial. Indeed, from his formulation it is not clear whether Lukin even admits to the possibility that some of the victims of the extrajudicial killings he deplores are not “members of illegal armed formations” at all.

Similarly unclear is whether Lukin touches in his report on other illegal reprisals, such as the deliberate torching of the homes of militants’ families.

Analysts and human rights activists agree that arbitrary violence by members of the police and security forces has been an important — possibly the most important — factor in generating a steady stream of volunteers to join the insurgency over the past decade. Many young men who participated in the June 2004 attacks on police and security personnel in Ingushetia joined the insurgency after their relatives were abducted and disappeared without a trace. Police brutality against young practicing Muslims similarly impelled young men in Kabardino-Balkaria to launch similar attacks in October 2005.

The human and civil rights activists who met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last May to discuss the situation in the North Caucasus made this point over and over again.

Medvedev, however, was apparently not convinced by their arguments. Meeting in Vladikavkaz last month with leaders of the North Caucasus republics, he took a less nuanced approach to the ongoing violence, calling for both “merciless reprisals” and “preventive strikes” against the insurgency. At the same time, Medvedev urged local officials to continue offering help to fighters who voluntarily surrender.

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POLITICAL REPRESSION IN UZBEKISTAN 2009-2010:
Some observations, considerations and conclusions

1. Governed for the past 22 years by the former communist leader Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan remains one of the most repressive states in the world . The country has no legal opposition or independent media. Civil society and religious communities are subject to severe pressure from the side of the authorities. Political repression is an inherent part of government policy. Torture is practiced systematically. Indeed, the number of political prisoners in Uzbekistan is considerably higher than in all the other former Soviet republics put together.

2. The practice of mass-repression introduced and sanctioned by President Islam Karimov in 1990s continues to this day. Several thousand political prisoners are held in Uzbekistan’s prison camps. The majority of these persons have been sentenced in dubious cases related to terrorism, Islamic extremism and illegal religious activities. More than 1200 people are currently wanted by the authorities on similar charges. According to incomplete figures, no less than 868 people were sentenced in politically motivated criminal cases in the period between 2009 and 2010…

Some of the concluding remarks of the UN Committee on Human Rights during the 3rd Periodical Review of Uzbekistan in March 2010 are important, but insufficient steps in that direction. ….MORE HERE

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MOLDOVA – A COUNTRY ON THE ROAD

Every year thousands of Moldovan citizens go abroad to try their luck in foreign countries. They send their hard-earned money back home, in an attempt to ensure their families have a life free from the daily pressures of life.

Statistics try to estimate this enormous movement of people leaving the country to work abroad; the official number is around 350 thousand but local NGOs suggest a number that goes up to 1.2 million (around a quarter of the total population or a third of the working population.) The latter number might be the more realistic one, as it takes into consideration both legal and illegal migration.
The most popular destination for male Moldovians is Russia, where 72.9% go. For females it is also Russia (40.7%), followed by Italy (32.1 %).
The large-scale movement of Moldovans willing to work elsewhere is not a surprise if you compare the average monthly salary in Moldova of around 103 US$ (this is the official estimate, others put the estimate at 30-50 US$)…The consequences of migration in such large numbers can be seen all over the country. The population in the villages increasingly consists of old people and young children whose parents went abroad. …more HERE

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RUSSIA’s RESET AND CENTRAL EUROPE

Nobody looking at Poland’s relationship with Russia over the past few centuries would counsel policymakers in Warsaw to adopt a sanguine attitude toward the east…. From 18th century to the crushing of the 1863 uprising against Tsarist autocracy, to the Red Army’s march on the infant Second Republic (foiled by the Miracle of the Vistula in 1920); to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 which divided Poland between the Nazi and Soviet empires; to the Katyń massacre in 1940; and the Soviet-backed imposition of martial law in 1981, the list is so long and tragic that pathological historical trauma seems the normal and inevitable response…

Other countries have not followed suit, although Poland’s history is broadly echoed elsewhere in the region. Czechoslovakia was spared the destruction of the war, but suffered a Soviet-led invasion in 1968. Hungary suffered both wartime destruction and an invasion. Romania lost territory to the Soviet Union (and unlike Poland, didn’t gain any). The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania lost the most, being literally wiped from the map after their forced annexation into the Soviet Union.

Russia bolstered perceptions that it retained old colonial mindsets and ambitions about the region between the Baltic and the Black Sea. It played games with natural gas supplies. Its spies were bold and energetic. Russian influence in media, politics and public life in general was sometimes conspicuous, sometimes clandestine and always unwelcome. …

Poland has given new weight to the previously moribund Visegrád Group (which also includes the Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians). Poland now sees it as a useful Central European caucus within the EU. Poland’s ties with the Czech Republic are excellent, and cooperation with Hungary on the rotating six-month presidency of the EU (held by Hungary now and Poland from July) has been smooth. Poland has also tried hard to engage the regime in Belarus. When that failed, amid the unexpected crackdown after the December elections, Poland has lobbied hard, and paid generously, to help the Belarusian opposition…..more HERE

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THROWING OUTSIDERS OVERBOARD: THE RISE OF NATIONALISM IN EUROPE

In a number of EU countries are recent talks about the failure of multiculturalism in Europe, the reason behind the surge of nationalism across the EU seems to lie deeper than cultural and religious differences.

In March 1990, Lithuania, the largest of the three former Soviet Baltic states, regained its independence. In March 2011, it is going to mark the 21st anniversary of the event by holding a rally in the capital Vilnius, with “Lithuania for Lithuanians” expected to be one of the dominant slogans.

Lithuania is a multicultural country and has been such for a long time. Besides Lithuanians who, according to the 2001 census, constitute more than 83% of the population, it is home to Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Tatars and Latvians.

The 1897 census in Vilnius found that natives accounted for only 2.1% of the population in their own country’s capital, and were a minority, especially compared to 40% of Jews, 30% of Poles and 20% of Russians.

Meanwhile, the rally in March will not be the first to be held in Lithuania under such controversial slogans. And this is given the fact that Lithuania is the least nationalistic country among the three former Soviet Baltic republics.
“This was the only republic where the native population constituted a comfortable majority when the USSR collapsed. There were about 80% of ethnic Lithuanians there. That is why Latvian and Estonian nationalists are traditionally more ‘hysterical’” .

In times of economic decline – and the economic crisis has struck the Baltic countries very heavily – the wave of nationalistic moods tends to grow, Babich points out.

“But actually such moods were always there – in Lithuania less than in Latvia and Estonia, but they existed,” he adds. “By the way, people in Russia know little about it, but in reality, problems between the Russians and the natives in Lithuania are less serious than problems between the Poles and the Lithuanians.”…more HERE

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LOSING TO TERRORISM
PUTIN’S GET-TOUGH POLICIES ARE A DISASTER, AS THE MOSCOW AIRPORT BOMBING PROVES. WHY ARE RUSSIANS SO UNWILLING TO ADMIT IT?

As much as she longs to avenge the killing of her husband, Taisa Satabalova needs to stay alive and look after their two small children. But her rage has not faded since he was beaten to death last May by police in the Russian Caucasus village of Dylym.When Marat Satabalov and two friends drove into town for bread and other items, they were accosted by two cops. A suicide bomber had just attacked a nearby police checkpoint, leaving two dead and 10 times that number injured. Satabalov looked suspicious, with the long beard… Egged on by onlookers, the cops allegedly bludgeoned the three men with rifle butts and then hauled them to the local police station. Hours later, Satabalov died in the hospital. Now his wife has nothing but their two children—and a bottomless hatred. Her husband was no militant, she says: “Damn the executioners of my husband, and everybody who runs this country. She’s not alone in her fury.

There were 29 suicide attacks in Russia over the past 12 months; 108 Russians were killed by terrorists, compared with only nine Israelis in the same period.

Terrorism in Russia is homegrown, and it’s rooted in the government’s own recent mistakes.
One of them was the ruthless but expedient way Moscow disrupted Chechnya’s secession movement: by arming one of the rebel groups and enabling its leaders to torture, murder, and intimidate their way to victory over its rivals, according to reports. The republic’s new rulers gained and maintained power with tactics that ranged from reportedly kidnapping suspected militants’ family members to extrajudicial executions, but the terrorist attacks didn’t stop. Instead, Islamic radicalism metastasized across the region and spilled into Russia in a succession of terrorist horrors such as the Moscow theater siege that left 174 dead in 2002 and the 2004 Beslan school massacre that cost 338 lives….more HERE

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A NEW DEMOCRATIC AGENDA by Mikhail Gorbachev

What happens in 2011 will, in my opinion, be even more important than the presidential election itself. Indeed, the evolution of Russian society could transform the country’s politics, despite those domestic opponents who deny change or those who unqualifiedly classify Russia as “incorrigibly authoritarian.” But for that to happen, a new agenda for Russia must be developed this year…..

I am convinced that Russia’s troubles all come down to politics. We need a democratic and competitive environment, initiative at all levels, an active civil society and real public control. Only under such conditions will difficult problems lend themselves to solution.…more here

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IS EUROPEAN COURT DECISION TO THROW OUT OSSETIAN CASES “POLITICIZED” ?

The refusal of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to consider 1,549 lawsuits against Georgia over the events of August 2008 is “unfair” and “politicized”, said South Ossetian FM Murat Dzhioyev.

COMMENT continuation from HERE:
Beyond the human rights debate, and speaking in terms of Realpolitik clash between two states, the story is indicative of Russia’s poorly organized work of state apparatus. It is obvious that the error, if speaking from the Russian state interests perspective, occurred.

The method how all those cases were at the time submitted to Strasbourg, shows that the applications themselves were filed for the political purposes ab initio. If we further imply that there might have been some guesses among the ECtHR people on the “role” the Kremlin played in the submission of those “individual” applications, it must be obvious for everyone that after a triple no reply the Court had to rule to strike out the lawsuits over a failure by legal representatives of the applicants to supply additional information.
This is not to say that among those 1,549 applicants there could not have been a people whose rights protected by the Convention were infringed by the actors whose conduct might be attributable to the Government of Georgia.

It seems that those five lawyers from Vladikavkaz on behalf of the applicants were only used by the Russian prosecutor’s office for the signature purposes at the time. Those who ever had any private legal practice will confirm that it is hardly bearable to represent, however similar their cases may be, 1,549 clients at a time. Thus, for whatever reasons, once the new communication from the Strasbourg Court has been received, when the Moscow team was obviously no longer in Vladikavkaz, the lawyers either had no longer an interest or could have possibly even lacked an adequate qualification to continue the written proceedings.
Here ends the first part of the unofficial story. Those who guess or know only this part, reach the conclusion that it is indicative of the loss of interest of the Russian authorities to continue these cases. However, the federal authorities of Russia have not lost it indeed. After the third not responded reminder to the five lawyers from Vladikavkaz, it seems that those in Moscow who forgot about these cases, remembered them. Hence, beginning from March 2010, the five lawyers resurfaced again and submitted a numerous communications to Strasbourg enlisting all possible reasons for their silence for so long. The reasons included lack of any command of English, change of the postal and e-mail addresses, etc. And though even the representatives of the respondent party have been sure that the ECtHR will rule for the restoration of the proceedings, unfortunately for the Kremlin, it turned out that the judges in Strasbourg were quite firm in their decision.

That is the story as a whole. Of course, all those angry on such an outcome, cannot do anything but label Strasbourg’s decision as “politicized”.

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RUSSIAN JOURNALIST MAKES RARE CRITICISM OF NATION’S PRESS SYSTEM by Tom Fenton

It is very rare for a working journalist to take a public stand against the media bosses and accuse them of failing to serve the public interest. It does not happen often because journalists are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them, don’t want to lose their jobs or simply don’t believe that complaining will do any good.
Leonid Parfyonov‘s stunning speech to Russian TV executives at an award ceremony in November was ignored by Russian state television, but you can watch it on YouTube. His black tie audience listened in deadpan shock as a very nervous Parfyonov said out loud what everyone in the audience, and indeed in all of Russia, knew to be the truth.

The story behind Parfyonov’s speech was even more disturbing because in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, journalists who reveal uncomfortable truths can not only lose their jobs. They can lose their lives. He told his audience he had just been to the hospital to visit Oleg Kashin, a journalist for Kommersant, Russia’s leading daily newspaper.

Kashin was brutally beaten in November by thugs with steel rods, presumably for writing articles about a controversial government highway project that would slash through a forest. Kashin’s assailants were never brought to justice; nor have any of the perpetrators of a series of murders of crusading Russian journalists in recent years.

Parfyonov concluded: “I speak with bitterness, having worked for Russian television full-time or freelance for 24 years. I have no right to blame any of my colleagues: Not being a hero myself, I cannot demand heroic deeds from others. But the least we can do is call a spade a spade.”

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TEN DAYS IN BAKU THAT SHOOK MY WORLD by Christel Fricke

Isn’t Azerbaijan a democratic republic? Constitutionally, it is, of course. But the constitution is one thing and the political culture and practice are something else. De facto, Azerbaijan is a totalitarian state with an almighty president at the top and political institutions that basically follow his orders.

All opposition is suppressed. There is no freedom of speech. There was no information in the official media about Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu. There is no rule of law. Human rights are constantly violated.

Pro-democracy dissidents pay a high price: They only jobs they can find are working for international NGOs. If they dare to attract any public attention to their cases, they risk being jailed under accusations of espionage or hooliganism.

Since 2006 there has been a program of Scandinavian studies at the University of Languages in Baku. This program is funded by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and is now organized by the University of Oslo. I recently went to Baku for 10 days to teach a course within this program.

While I was there, two young men were released from prison. The case of these two bloggers had attracted considerable international attention. As members of the democratic opposition, they had been beaten up and then, by some powerful but invisible authority, been transformed from victims into perpetrators: They found themselves accused of hooliganism. They were sentenced to 2 and 2 1/2 years in jail.
What upset the president was a video blog post of a fake press conference at which a donkey responds to questions concerning corruption in the country. Probably, the president misinterpreted this post and felt personally offended.

What finally brought the sentences of the two bloggers to an end (after more than 12 months in jail) was a second intervention by the president. Probably, he hoped to silence international criticism of the recent parliamentary elections for first suppressing any opposition campaigning and for then manipulating the vote count so that no independent candidate won a seat in parliament.

I had the opportunity to join in the celebration of the release of the two bloggers. The father of one of them is an old friend of mine. I shared his concern for his son. More than a year in prison had severely affected his health. But it was difficult to find a doctor who would treat him. Helping a democratic dissident can bring any doctor under scrutiny and expose him or her to difficulties.

Then my friend suggested that I ask my students in Baku what they knew and thought about the bloggers’ case. Since official media had reported nothing about the affair, I initially thought it would be a good idea to raise the topic. But in the end, I didn’t.
You see, I had been instructed not to discuss Azerbaijani politics in class.

At the moment that I failed to speak, I realized how close I was to the front line of the struggle for democracy and how hard it actually is to be there. At this most harmless moment, I nonetheless refused to take any risk. I was a visiting professor who had been told to keep out of local politics and not do anything that could provoke the authorities into shutting down the program. My friend was disappointed, but not really surprised.

Living the right life inside the middle of the right is easy. I wonder whether if I had had the misfortune to be born in a country without freedom of speech or the rule of law or respect for human rights, I would have the courage to live the right life within a wrong one. But I know that Baku changed me……more here

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HOW THE CHECHNYAN RED CROSS MURDERS AFFECTED CENTRAL AFRICA
In December 1996, Red Cross workers in eastern Congo were forced to quit the region, and refugees were left to their fate

A Russian special forces officer, Major Aleksi Potyomkin, has claimed that six Red Cross (ICRC) nurses killed in Chechnya in December 1996 were murdered by his FSB unit and not, as originally believed, by Chechen insurgents.

The story is horrible in every way. The nurses, who came from Spain, Norway, Canada, New Zealand and Holland, ran a medical centre south of Grozny. It was shortly after a truce had been declared. The hospital guards, in line with ICRC policy, weren’t armed and the nurses were murdered in their beds.

The FSB, Potyomkin told the Times, had seen Chechen insurgents enter the compound and went in after them. He says the killing of the nurses was a mistake and recalls the leader of the unit radioing back to say there had been a mistake: “No beardies – only foreigners.” But, he admits, this may have been a ploy from on high. The FSB had a policy to leave no witnesses.

All this seems long ago and far away; more deaths in a horror story containing endless, nausea-inducing atrocities. The massacre led to the ICRC pulling out of Chechnya and most of the other aid agencies following its lead. “It has had a lasting impact,” a spokesman said. That would be tragic enough for the region. more here

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RUSSIA TIMELINE A chronology of key events here

from
1237-40 – Mongols invade Russia, destroying all of its main cities except Novgorod and Pskov; Tatars establish the empire of the Golden Horde in southern Russia.
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till
2010 October – President Medvedev sacks the powerful mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, after weeks of criticism of the from Kremlin. Mr Luzhkov had been in office since 1992.

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CAPITALISM’S TOUGH REALITY FOR MANY RUSSIANSTRAGEDY – MEN DRINK, WOMEN TRAIN SEX PRACTICES

When the Soviet Union collapsed nearly 20 years ago, Russia emerged as an independent country that embraced capitalism but what has this meant for its citizens? by Rupert Wingfield Hayes

Our Westerns leaders told us the world had changed and that Russia would too.It would embrace democracy and join Europe.
Well they were wrong.Instead Russia has remained sullen and hostile, and re-embraced autocratic leadership in the shape of Vladimir Putin – and we wonder why.

What you realise, when you live in Russia, is that so many of our assumptions are wrong.While we were celebrating Russia’s release from Bolshevik tyranny, most Russians were being plunged into poverty, unemployment and misery, as unbridled capitalism was let loose upon an unprepared populace.

This year I went on a road trip. I drove through little towns and villages along the Volga valley…at end of a dirt-track four hours north of Moscow, I arrived in Budushchee ( Future). Fifty people live in the village now and, at two o’clock in the afternoon, most of them were drunk. The fields lay uncultivated. Many of the wooden houses were falling down. The tragedy of Budushchee is that it is not special – it is typical.
Since the collapse of communism, the Russian countryside has fallen apart.

The next day in Moscow, I had an even starker reminder of how different Russia still is.In a darkened room, a group of young women in very short skirts were being taught how to pole-dance and improve their sex techniques.
This was not a class for aspiring lap-dancers. The young women were learning how to catch a rich husband.
When I asked them why they needed such a class, I was given a coldly practical answer. There are very few rich men in Russia, they said, and the competition is intense.
So young Russian women are equipping themselves with a range of techniques to gain a competitive advantage in the mating game.

There are many things both wonderful and terrifying about Russia but, for millions of Russians, communism has not yet been replaced by something better.

Instead they struggle to survive in a thuggish, lawless society, where a few have a lot and where most have very little.
Given that, it is not surprising that some choose oblivion at the bottom of a vodka bottle and others trade their beauty for the chance of financial security.

Russia country profile (BBC NEWs)

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PUNITIVE HOUSE-BURNING IN CHECHNYA = http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/07/02/what-your-children-do-will-touch-upon-you-0

This 54-page report documents a distinct pattern of house burnings by security forces to punish families for the alleged actions of their relatives.

In 2008, high-level Chechen officials, including President Ramzan Kadyrov, made public statements stating that the families of insurgents should expect to be punished unless they convinced their relatives to surrender. Insurgents have also been using a variety of violent tactics, including house-burning, against members and supporters of the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities.

Press release read here

Report read here

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TAJIKISTAN HUNTS FOR ELUSIVE ISLAMIC MILITANT

In the wild mountains east of the capital Dushanbe, thousands of soldiers are on the hunt for a man authorities say is masterminding a plot to turn this impoverished and unstable country on Afghanistan’s northern border into a haven for Islamic terrorists.Tajikistan holds great strategic importance in the NATO military campaign in Afghanistan, serving as a link in supply routes – and news of an uncontained conflict here in the pursuit of a purported terrorist chieftain is causing alarm in Western capitals.

Tajikistan’s value as a supply channel has only increased in recent weeks as the main route through Pakistan has come under pressure by repeated militant attacks on tanker trucks carrying fuel.
An Islamic insurgency in Tajikistan led by Mullo Abdullo would therefore have deep consequences for the U.S.-led campaign against terror…..Some believe Mullo Abdullo has been dead for years and that his specter has been resurrected as an excuse to quash the remnants of armed resistance to the government….

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WHY ‘RUSSIANS’ IN ISRAEL DON’T WANT PEACE

Bill Clinton is right: Israelis from the FSU are not really interested in a peace agreement. Certainly not the kind of deal he helped impose on Serbs in Kosovo.

Former US president Bill Clinton’s claims last month that Russian-speaking Israelis are an obstacle to peace can be understood in different ways. But excluding their emotional component, it is necessary to recognize that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union are mostly opposed to the peace process (or what is implied by this term). Let’s look at the root of this phenomenon.

The rose-colored glasses of “multiculturalism” hide the fact that there are three civilizations in this world: postmodern liberal democracies, states of classical political culture and traditional patriarchal communities.
As Western civilization passionately abandons its national religious idea, so fervently the other two cultivate their values and originality.

In Europe, the ideological divide between these two cultures passes along the border of the former Eastern Bloc. Eastern European countries, irrespective of their economic successes or level of democratic development, are strikingly different from their neighbors in the West. Because of Nazism and communism, repressions and totalitarian ideology, they are hardened to senseless slogans, illusions and idealistic dogmatism.

Eastern Europe, Russia and the Far East countries derive vital strength from their history, mythology and tradition. They are developed communities but also inseparably tied to their past, and it is not so important whether this connection gets a religious or cultural frame.

THE MAIN issue is not politics. It is the cult of national dignity, mistrust of universalist theories and resistance to any trespassing on their living space, both geographical and spiritual.

It is impossible to imagine a Ukrainian leader bowing to a Middle Eastern sheikh, or a Polish prime minister kissing the hand of an African despot.

Hindus will not build a mosque near the site of one of the bloodiest terrorist attacks; Serbs don’t feel guilty toward the Albanians of Kosovo who deprived them of their heritage; Russian intellectuals, actors and academics don’t wish to “understand” the Chechen insurgents, who carried out terrible acts of terrorism in their country.

Have you ever heard about Czechs regretting the transfer of the Sudeten Germans? Are Bulgarians sorry for the exile of 250,000 Turks in the 1950s? AND, FINALLY, there is the third group of people in the world still living in the dynamics of patriarchal-feudal relations.

Take away all the trappings of Western civilization (cellphones, Internet, laptops, grandiose glass and concrete buildings, Mercedes cars) from much Arabian and African life, and you will largely see a gloomy and cruel world. This is a world where clan norms and blood feud laws rule, where, largely, women are considered inferior to men. It is here that adultery is punished by stoning, and rivals eliminated with explosives, “road accidents” and poisons.

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EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER CALLS FOR MORE HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA-GEORGIA POST-WAR AREAS

Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights called on Thursday for more access for international humanitarian missions to the areas affected by the 2008 Russia-Georgian conflict.There were over 100,000 people displaced by the conflict. However, the majority of ethnic Georgians have not been able to come back.

“All sides should ensure a faster improvement of the human rights situation” in the region, Thomas Hammarberg said in a report. “Hardly any progress has been achieved with regard to returns of these displaced persons,“. “Access to food, water, sanitation and basic services should be adequately secured as well as durable housing solutions for tens of thousands of internally displaced persons.”
Efforts should be made to release all remaining detainees apprehended while crossing the administrative boundary line since the end of the conflict.

Russia and Georgia faced off in a five-day war in August 2008, when Tbilisi attempted to bring the breakaway republic of South Ossetia under central control….

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PUTIN REPRESENTS WHAT IS WRONG WITH RUSSIA

All surveys show that Russia’s pervasive corruption is increasingly concentrated to the top.
What is the cost of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin? The stock market discount of Russia in relation to Brazil is 45 percent, almost $1 trillion. The Russia risk equals the cost of Putin. It reflects Yukos and other confiscations, as well as Putin’s interference in private business. For example, two years ago, Mechel’s stock price fell by half in the days after Putin’s reckless attack on its main owner.

Putin arrived at a table that was already decked out with an abundance of food. Impressively, Russia’s privatized oil companies raised oil production by 50 percent from 1999 to 2004 through modernization…. Half of Russia’s economy is now in state hands, but all efficiency gains have come from private enterprises. This is a big reason why the country’s economy contracted more than any other Group of 20 economy in 2009.

The purported stability is also a myth. The gruesome second war in Chechnya, which Putin started, has not led to any abating of terrorist acts, while Dagestan and Ingushetia have been destabilized. Repression and censorship do not equal stability.

No, Putin’s greatest legacy is corruption and the absence of accountability. Prominent observers such as Stanislav Belkovsky, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov have detailed how Putin has appropriated $40 billion to $50 billion of state property to his own benefit, which would render him the greatest thief in world history…..
……..In all these regards, Putin represents what is wrong with Russia. He does not solve problems but causes more of them.

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TERRORISM PREVENTS RUSSIA FROM BANNING THE DEATH PENALTY

So long as Russia is threatened by terrorism, the country has no plans to ratify the sixth protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which would ban the death penalty. Such was Tuesday’s announcement by State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov in a session with monitors from the Council of Europe.
Russia has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1996, when it joined the Council of Europe under the condition that it would work to prohibit capital punishment. Since then, however, the practice was never banned outright.
The Russian Constitutional Court ruled last November to extend a moratorium on capital punishment, which had been set to expire in January 2010. The move overruled the court’s original decision in 1999 to allow the introduction of the death penalty if every region of Russia had provisions allowing for jury trials, which Chechnya, the last region without them, was planning to introduce at the beginning of this year.
….for capital punishment to stand at 84 percent, 96 percent of respondents were in favor of using the death penalty as punishment for acts of terrorism.

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WHOSE GROZNY?
THE OLD TOWN OF GROZNY IS UNRECOGNIZABLE BUT PEOPLE ARE PARALYZED BY FEAR.

Corrupting compensation

“Everything that was built over tens of years in Grozny was destroyed in a couple of months of military activity. More than 39,000 apartments and about 17,000 private houses were destroyed in the city,” said Kuchiyev. “The biggest problem in Grozny is the lack of housing.”
….“When Grozny’s residents got running water for the first time in I don’t know how many years, everyone rejoiced in the reconstruction so much that they were actually ready to close their eyes to many of the unpleasant and scary things,” said Tanya Lokshina, a Chechnya expert for Human Rights Watch.

But rights activists say the cosmetic state effort is often in place only to hide crippling corruption. “Our local authorities are trying to put on a show. When people come from Russia, from abroad, correspondents, businessmen the authorities say—‘look how quickly we’ve built our country and created order’,” said Dik Altemirov, the chairman of the Chechen Republic’s Council for Non-Governmental Organizations. “We do need order—that I approve of. But if people don’t have rights, if people can’t freely express themselves, if a person doesn’t feel support from the authorities with poverty and problems, then that authority cannot have any respect for itself.”

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RUSSIA : LA TCHÉTCHÉNIE, ROYAUME DE RAMZAN KADYROV

La Tchétchénie, une république qui s’islamise sans bruit.
Après les deux guerres sanglantes, le calme règne à Grozny sous la poigne de fer de son président, qui impose une islamisation de la république caucasienne, alors que Moscou ferme les yeux

Sous la main de fer de son jeune leader Ramzan Kadyrov, la Tchétchénie est pratiquement devenue une république islamique. Premières victimes de ce « retour aux traditions tchétchènes » : les femmes. À un coin de rue de l’avenue Poutine, artère principale de Grozny, des jeunes hommes en tenue islamique ample et sobre interpellent des passantes. …..

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RUSSIA’S LONG (AND BRUTAL) WAR ON TERROR

The Kremlin’s brute counterterrorism tactics are rooted largely in the fact that there is little free press or political opposition to hold it accountable for the deaths of civilians.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2008890-4,00.html#ixzz0ysL2SvIe
…Barack Obama stressed unity with visiting Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, saying that “terrorists threaten both our people, be it in Times Square or in Moscow.”

But if Russia faces a similar threat, that does not mean it has the same approach to the war on terrorism.

In fact, in its long war against extremism, Russian leadership sometimes seems to act as the id of the global community–uninhibited, revenge-minded, saying things European and U.S. leaders dare not. The Kremlin and its generals have consistently prosecuted the war domestically in ways that seem both brazen and brutal by international standards.

Yes, the West has done its own rough work behind closed doors–CIA renditions, the prison at Guantánamo–but in Russia, this work is almost celebrated. A newspaper with ties to the Kremlin lauded a new state prosecutor as a “tough man” who operates “on the edge of legality.” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has made intimidation a large part of his political persona. But beyond the posturing lies a key question: Whose approach works better? If Western democracies are struggling to reconcile openness with vigilance, does the freer hand of the Kremlin, whose rule is closer to autocracy, give it an advantage in fighting its war on terrorism?

Russian law enforcement–unlike police in, say, New York City or London–has failed to cultivate informants and maintain other useful relationships. Svetlana Gannushkina, a human-rights worker and advocate for Moscow’s immigrant communities, says that after earlier attacks, it was “simply a hunt” throughout Moscow for Chechens, even Georgians–anyone from the Caucasus. … There’s no trust,” he says. “But if you want to fight terrorism, you have to work closely with those communities.” ….Read more

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IN RUSSIA THE INTERNET HAS BECOME A COLLECTIVE WATCHDOG – HAVING AN IMPACT ON HOW BUREAUCRATS WORK, CHANGING POLICE WORK..

…On Sept. 1, on the road between Yekaterinburg and Tyumen, a group of men jumped out of their cars and attacked another car. The suspects broke the windows with baseball bats and shot up the windshield with rubber bullets. …The blogger was enraged by the police’s inability — or lack of desire — to find the suspects. And so piligrim_67 decided to investigate himself.

A few clicks on Google turned up some clues. That day, two drivers had seen cars that seemed to match the description of the attackers’ cars. The cars had been breaking traffic laws left and right. Someone had even taken a photograph of the cars and posted it on Internet. In the photo, you can clearly see the license plate of one car that the traffic inspector’s version claimed was missing.

With the license plate number, it wasn’t hard to discover the identity of at least one of the drivers. … It turned out that he was the son of a local small-town oligarch, who was a deputy in the local legislature and a member of the ruling United Russia party.

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RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER VLADIMIR PUTIN TRIES TO CRUSH DISSENTERS

…Mr. Putin — former KGB agent and current de facto ruler, though President Dmitry Medvedev occupies the Kremlin — has made clear that constitutional protections do not extend to his political opponents. ….
Article 31 of Russia’s constitution guarantees freedom of assembly… the implementing law requires only that would-be demonstrators notify officials of their plans. But an organization that since 2009 has sought to hold rallies on the 31st day of every 31-day month, in honor of Article 31, has been denied permission every time — “with city authorities citing a wide range of pretexts, including previously planned car festivals, concerts and blood drives,” as the Moscow Times reported. And when hundreds gathered on Tuesday, Aug. 31, police again met them with force, arresting more than 100, according to newspaper reports. ..

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PRESIDENT DMITRY MEDVEDEV AND NORTH CAUCASIAN NGO’S MEETING

On May 19, 2010 President Dmitry Medvedev had a unique meeting with North Caucasian NGO’s and Russian civil society activists who work on issues involving the region. The closed-door meeting lasted for nearly three hours.
…..Svetlana Gannushkina of the Memorial human rights center informed President Medvedev about widespread and manifest abuses of power on the part of the security forces in the North Caucasus, including the practice of equating rights activists to the terrorists in Chechnya. Speaking about the illegal persecution of relatives of suspected insurgents in Chechnya, Gannushkina said: “The Chechen republic’s population lives in a climate of fear that can be compared only to the fear that citizens of the USSR felt during the years of Stalin’s terror.

Ella Pamfilova, who chairs a Kremlin-backed civil society and human rights commission, stated that in some North Caucasian republics the courts had completely discredited themselves because of being utterly corrupt. Medvedev felt he had to curb this negativism, saying that statements like that were inappropriate and would lead to a “breakdown of the legal system” (RIA Novosti, May 19).

Medvedev admitted once again that Russia was facing very serious problems in the North Caucasus. According to data he provided, there were 544 terror attacks and 750 attacks on security forces in the region in 2009, in which 235 servicemen were killed and 686 wounded and 235 died. Even more stunningly, he admitted that in the period 2008-2010, more than ten well-known journalists and rights activists were killed in the North Caucasus (RIA Novosti, May 19)…..

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WERE THE RUSSIAN SPIES WHO OPERATED FOR YEARS IN AMERICAN SUBURBIA BETRAYED BY A MOLE IN THEIR OWN SERVICE?

All eleven are charged with “conspiring to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the United States,” punishable by up to five years in prison, and nine of them have been charged with “conspiracy to commit money laundering,” which carries a 20-year sentence.

The spies from the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, were gathering intelligence on nuclear weapons, arms control positions, Iran, political changes in parties, and leadership changes within the CIA,according to documents drawn up over the course of a “multiyear” FBI investigation.

The SVR agents were working under false identities, often as couples, and had been living in the United States since the 1990s. To minimize contact between members of the spy ring, handlers communicated with operatives via closed wireless networks….one Russian agent, known as Anna Chapman, was seen “on multiple occasions” “in the vicinity” of “Russian government official number one” …..she was eventually caught on June 26 in an FBI sting operation, where an American agent known as “UC-1,” posing as a Russian consulate employee, arranged a meeting with Chapman to help her with technical difficulties that Chapman was experiencing with her laptop. ……..

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WHY IGOR SUTYAGIN, A POLITICAL PRISONERWAS FORCED TO SIGN AN ADMISSION OF GUILT IN ORDER TO BE PARDONED?

…In the situation of a looming exchange and after having sat behind bars for 10 years and 9 months, after it had become abundantly clear to everyone who knew the case that Sutyagin is not a spy, he finally adopted a decision to write a formal little letter about his guilt. This meaningless paper isn’t worth anything, but the chekists and Medvedev, perhaps for reasons of pride or arrogance, just had to have it that way for the swap to go forward. Fine, here you go. I understand, Igor. Would I have done the same? I don’t know. I didn’t sit in jail for 10 years as a political prisoner – I don’t think any of us can pretend to understand what that is like….

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WHY IS AZERBAIJAN STILL A MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE?

It’s always shocking to read about a journalist dying in jail for simply doing their job. A report released this week ( last June 2010) criticises one state in particular for allowing just this; an editor in his late 60s was imprisoned for ten years, following court proceedings held behind closed doors, on charges the Committee to Protect Journalists describes as “fabricated charges of treason and incitement to ethnic hatred”.He died last year in prison – there has been no independent investigation into his death.

In March, a court in the same country upheld four-year prison sentences for two young bloggers who made a YouTube video mocking the fact that their government spent money on importing two donkeys from Germany.

And in the same country, a journalist was sentenced to 2 and a half years in jail for terrorism after he wrote about a 1992 massacre. …..The whole point of regional co-oepration in Europe is the guarantee of minium standards of human rights protection for people living here, respect for the rule of law, and the promotion of genuine democracy.

But not in Azerbaijan – officially a European country, as far as the Council of Europe is concerned – but unrecognisable as such from a human rights perspective. Azerbaijan joined the 47 member-state organisation in 2001.

if Azerbaijan insists on treating its journalists this way, why is it still a member of the European club?..
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MY TURKMEN ODYSSEY

Since I left my motherland in July 1999, and was granted first Canadian permanent residency and then citizenship, I have tried to return to Turkmenistan only once, in early 2007, right after the death of the bizarre dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. Together with other journalists, I hoped to observe the so-called “free presidential elections.” But my request, along with those of some of my colleagues, was rejected without explanation by the Turkmen Embassy in Berlin.

No ‘Great Change’….On May 18, when I was already in Istanbul on my way to Turkmenistan, I received an urgent telephone call from the Turkmen ambassador in Vienna. The ambassador informed me sadly that the Migration Service had made a “final decision” about me and concluded “a visit has been permitted to an impermissible subject.” The news was like a proverbial cold shower. …

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RUSSIAN RELEASE OF SOMALI PIRATES DIVIDES LEGAL EXPERTS

Famous Russian lawers express totally contradicting opinions about the recent release of Somali pirates who seized a Russian tanker.
The Somali pirates seized the Moscow University on Wednesday, but it was freed in a 22-minute operation involving Russian Navy commandos from the Marshal Shaposhnikov.

The pirates were eventually released. A Defense Ministry source told RIA Novosti that they were sent off in a small inflatable boat, having been disarmed and stripped of navigational equipment.

Alexander Dobrovinsky, who represents Russian celebrities involved in divorce proceedings, said the Russian servicemen’s actions were in line with hands-on experiences.

“There are two cases when the legal norms expire – mutiny aboard ship and piracy. Wartime laws then come into effect,” he said. “According to the moral code, the captain and the crew have the right to act towards pirates in accordance with common sense.”

Ruslan Zakaluzhny disagreed, arguing that following legal norms must come first in any situation. “It’s difficult for me to comment on this situation in detail, but it is obvious that the pirates had to be dealt with according to international legal norms.”

“The Russian servicemen had to establish the facts of the violation of the law and transfer the detained with the gathered evidence to the law enforcement bodies of the nearest country,” said Omar Akhmetov, who defended one of the accused in Arctic Sea cargo vessel seizure in 2009.

However, Sergei Goltyayev, the lawyer of another of the accused in the Arctic Sea seizure, said there would have been a range of proceeding problems in attempting to bring the pirates to justice.

“It can be assumed that the seizure of the vessel was made in the territorial waters of Somalia, and then the law prohibits to judge the criminals in a third country,” said the lawyer, who also noted that identification of the suspects would have proved difficult.

Somalia has had no functioning central government for two decades.

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BOOK TALK: PUTIN-KHODORKOVSKY BATTLE A “BAR ROOM BRAWL”
Former oil baron Khodorkovsky was sentenced to eight years in a remote Siberian jail for fraud and tax evasion in 2005, and is now on trial for new charges of money laundering and embezzlement that could keep him in jail for 22 more years.

Former President and now Prime Minister Putin has always rejected any hint of politics in the case, but in December last year he accused Khodorkovsky of ordering the murders of business rivals and opponents.
Khodorkovsky has repeatedly stressed his innocence and says all the charges were cooked up by highly placed officials who wanted him in jail so they could carve up his multi-billion dollar business empire.

The main production assets of YUKOS were sold off in murky state auctions, winding up in the hands of state-controlled oil major Rosneft, and last year a Dutch court ordered Rosneft to pay 13 billion roubles ($389.3 million) to a former YUKOS affiliate.

This year Rosneft began asking traders to defer some payments after it became clear the company, which pumps a fifth of Russia’s 10 million barrels a day, was facing a possible export deadlock in light of U.S. and British court injunctions over the Dutch ruling…..more here

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MAJOR DYMOVSKY ON VIDEO TO PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV

Good morning, Dmitriy Anatolyevich [Medvedev], if it is good, of course!

This is the last time I am appealing to You. You know, 5 months have passed since my first video address. I think You could pay some attention to this throughout all the time, at least to recall that there was someone expecting your attention, that I am a former policeman…

You could think about it… reflect on it, instead of leapfrogging about foreign countries! You have Russia. First resolve all the issues here. I understand that there is Putin, Zorkin (The first and the current Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation) , Draguntsev (Head of the Inherent Security Department of the Ministry of Interior of Russia, general-lieutenant) … or what is the name of the Head of the FSB [Federal Security Service]? Nurgaliyev (Minister of the Interior of the Federation, General of the Army) ? I do not know, damn him!

I understand that their purpose is to ruin Russia. They are now fighting only for money, buying islands somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. But You are still a president! Let us put it pure and simple – do You have conscience? I don’t know how to call it = honor that every muzhik should have (‘Muzhik’ in the language of the people means ‘man’). Yes, You are a president, You have high titles! Don’t You feel hurt for your country because everyone wipes boots on it, including Putin, Nurgaliyev, Zorkin and all the others… Kudrin (Russia’s Minister of Finance) … they all wipe their boots on the Russian people!

Your family name is Medvedev! You understand that “medved” [in Russian] means “bear”, the tsar of the taiga. If You cannot rap the knuckles over … I do not know. Someone said that people are cattle, scum, herd and mob and now I can say that the cattle scum, herd and mob are sitting in the Kremlin all around You. Cannot You make this cattle, scum, herd and mob toe the line?

V.V. Regarding Putin, for example, You could study 117 volumes of criminal case files collected in his respect. Zykov Andrey Anatolyevich will help You to do it. Why not study them? Why not recall Kursk (K-141 Kursk was an Oscar-II class nuclear cruise missile submarine of the Russian Navy, lost with all hands when it sank in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000) ? Why not recall the terrorist acts in the Moscow Metro [underground]? Why not recall Beslan (The Beslan school hostage crisis (also referred to as the Beslan school siege or Beslan massacre) was a three day hostage-taking of over 1000 people which ended in the deaths of over 300)? Why not recall Nord Ost (is a Russian musical theatre production. The musical was first staged on October 19, 2001 in the Dubrovka theatre where it played over 400 performances. On October 23, 2002 Chechen terrorists took the audience hostage in the Moscow theater that was showing the production of Nord-Ost, threatening to blow up the building and demanding withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. Most of the hostages were released after the theatre was stormed by special forces. 130 hostages were killed?

I want to ask you a question now – why not recall all this? Has anyone been punished for it? Has anyone been punished for it… for this life? Someone should be punished for every drop of blood shed! Someone, who is responsible for this!

I am telling you officially now that there is no human intelligence network in the law enforcement agencies. All the agents, not all of them, but 90% are people who have no idea about this work! There is no human intelligence network! Even the FSB does not have it. The whole of the human intelligence network has been destroyed in Russia.

You are given different documents [to sign], You are told that everything is OK in our country, everything is just wonderful! Cannot You come down to earth? Just come down to some village… for example, a village in the Amusky Oblast, village of Vedenovka, Svobodnensky district, or the village of Sapronovo, or Vladivostok, Khingansky district, village of Khingan, the miners’ village. Cannot You just come there and see for yourself how people are living there, ordinary Russia’s citizens? How are Russian people living? You are now…

I have an impression that You are living in Rublevka, and in order to see how Russian people are living, You go to Rublevka? (Rublevka or Rublyovka is an unofficial name of a prestigious residential area west of Moscow, Russia. The residences of many Government officials and successful businesspeople are located along Rublevka. Real estate prices there are some of the highest in the world.) Maybe, You could still consider that we [the ordinary people of Russia] are still existent, that we make not more and not less than 140 million?! We are still existent and we want to live! We want to eat and we want our children to be safe! We do not want anyone to threaten us! We are human beings! Why cannot you understand it? Did you become a president overnight? Have You never lived in a multifamily unit? Have You never lived in an ordinary apartment?

I understand that Putin… he was a major, or what was his rank in the KGB? He did live in the multifamily unit, and now he has an island in the Pacific Ocean, something else, and else and else! People say that that he is ranking fourth in the world according to the amount of his wealth. But the question is where has the KGB major got all this from? Where from?

Could You consider this? I am addressing You once again. I am addressing You for the last time! Just think about the things taking place now! This was an emotional speech, in conclusion of which I suggest that the Government, starting with Putin, resign. They should resign before this situation creats more serious consequences. You know that Russians are slow deciders but quick doers. And no one, no one will forgive You for what is taking place now in Russia. They will remind You of every tear-drop of a mother, of every tear-drop of a child – starting with 1917!

The Russian people will remind You of everything! That is why my advice is that You either put things in order until 12 November 2010, or resign, together with Your Government. How many other facts do You need? How many other video clips do You need to understand what is taking place in Russia is nothing else but lawlessness? What is being done is genocide of the Russian people!

I think that by November there will be thousands of such video clips. And I will then ask people to come to the Red Square with these video clips. You know, this situation will remind You of the animated cartoon about Leopold the cat (Leopold the Cat is a Soviet animation series about the pacifistic, and intelligent cat, Leopold. Leopold always wears a bow tie even when swimming. He is always confronted by two mischievous mice, Grey and White.
His catchphrase is – “Let’s live in friendship, guys”. The catchphrases of the mice are “Come out, Leopold!” by one of them and “Come out, you foul coward!” by the other), but instead of mice, there will be screaming [in anger] Russian people. And instead of the phrase “Come out, Leopold!” they will be screaming “[Come out,] President”.

Think about this, and consider who You are, and who we are! Thank You for Your attention! I hope You will understand.

Honorably Yours, Major Dymovsky.

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IN CAUCASUS, TWO LEADERS VIE FOR LOYALTY – YUNUS-BEK YEVKUROV, THE PRESIDENT OF INGUSHETIA AND DOKU UMAROV, REBEL LEADER

Mr. Yevkurov and Mr. Umarov, 46, were born within months of each other, in closely related ethnic groups that share an archaic wariness toward Moscow. Both were in their 20s when the Soviet Union fell, forcing young men in the Caucasus to choose sides in a separatist war. There they diverged, and two decades later the loyal Russian soldier and the battered rebel are still fighting.

Mr. Umarov announced that he had ordered the bombings that killed 40 people in the subway.
Russian leaders scrambled to sever his links to the public by pressing Google to remove his video messages, and they circulated a bill in Parliament that would ban the media from quoting him.
“His time will come,” said prezident Yevkurov, who is scarred from an assassination attempt last June that Mr. Umarov claimed to have organized.

Today the prize is something more slippery than territory: the loyalty of a generation that grew up in the chaos of those wars.

Mr. Ugurchiev, like any young man here, had “gone to the forest,” or joined the rebels. He guessed that 15 percent of his classmates had done so, vanishing with so little warning that their parents could never accept that they left voluntarily.
Rebel recruiters like Said Buryatsky, killed in a special forces operation last month, tapped into the sense of injustice seething beneath the surface here, where the official unemployment figure is around 50 percent and young men chafe at heavy-handed treatment by federal counterterrorism troops.
“The harder you press down, the more we will press up against you,” Mr. Ugurchiev said. “It’s the Caucasus. It was always this way.”

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RUSSIA: SELECTIVE JUSTICE FOR YUKOS

Newly published memoirs by Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, cast new light on the Yukos affair just as Yukos shareholders filed a lawsuit for $98 billion against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights. The book includes an insider’s view of Russia’s oil oligarchs, which could hypothetically reinforce the claim that Khodorkovsky’s prosecution was politically motivated.
The European court held its first hearing on March 4. The basis of the lawsuit is that the law was applied selectively against Yukos with the aim of expropriating the shareholders.

Only days before the hearing, Lord Browne of Madingley, better known as John Browne, star CEO of BP from 1995 to 2007, published his memoirs, titled: “Beyond Business”. Browne had extensive dealings with the oligarchs in his attempt to expand BP into Russia, and met once with Yukos CEO and majority owner Mikhail Khordorkovsky.

“As the conversation progressed, I felt increasingly nervous. He began to talk about getting people elected to the Duma, about how he could make sure oil companies did not pay much tax and about how he had many influential people under his control. For me, he seemed too powerful.” ……the problem is not the lack of laws, but their selective application. This is what creates the sense of lawlessness. While bureaucratic legalistic processes are the hallmark of Russia, you never know whether someone will turn a blind eye or whether the laws will be applied to the hilt.”

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Kyrgyzstan: WHERE HAVE ALL THE MEN GONE?
By Cahal Milmo

A once-nomadic culture that has withstood Mongol hordes and Soviet armies now faces an exodus that could wipe it out.
With rural unemployment at epidemic levels and the once-booming economies of neighbouring Russia and Kazakhstan sucking in migrant labourers, some 800,000 Kyrgyz, in particular men aged 18 to 35, have simply left. The community of Temir Kanat, where 75 per cent of those of working age have already departed, is bitter testimony to what happens to those left behind.

At this time of year, in temperatures that average about minus 15C and regularly reach minus 40C, the burden of sustaining the village – a strip of tumbledown houses some 200 miles east of the capital, Bishkek, and reached by an icy track that twists through 2,000m mountain passes – falls on its ranks of wizened grandmothers or babushkas and their meagre pensions of barely £25 a month.

As a result, Temir Kanat, whose name translates as Wing of Metal, is a ghost village. There are thousands of places like it. These are places populated almost uniquely by the very old and the very young, where the certainties of an age-old existence defined by livestock and the production of such staples as kumys, a much-loved drink made from fermented mare’s milk, appears to be slowly dying out. ………………………………………………………………………………………..
DAGESTAN: RUSSIA’S MOST OVERLOOKED HOT SPOT

Historically, violence in Dagestan has stemmed from ongoing conflicts between its major ethnic groups — the Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins, and Laks — over political power, resources, and jobs. More recently, Islamist militant groups, such as Shariat Jamaat, have forged close ties with Chechen separatists to launch terrorist attacks against the government in an effort to unite Muslims across the North Caucasus. Islamist militants have also taken advantage of Dagestan’s high unemployment rate and staggering corruption (even by Russian standards) to actively recruit youth in the republic. …

On Feb. 8, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev selected a new president for the troubled North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. The lead-up to the selection was marked by an uptick in violence, and the political controversy surrounding the choice is likely to lead to even further instability. ..more here
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TEN YEARS ON – NO JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF CHECHEN KILLINGS

5.2.2010 Today when I walk through Grozny I do not see the rebuilt houses or shops, I still see the dead and the faces of those who killed them. Elvira Dombaeva, survivor of the Novye Aldy killings.
Ten years after the killing of scores of civilians in a suburb of the Chechen capital Grozny, the relatives of those murdered are still denied justice by the Russian authorities.

On the morning of 5 February 2000, at least 56 men and women were killed by Russian security forces in the settlement of Novye Aldy.
The residents of Novye Aldy didn’t bury their dead immediately, as they waited for the authorities to come and investigate the atrocity.

In the months after the killings, Chechen human rights activists and prosecutors collected reliable information identifying the troops responsible for the crime. In 2006, the Russian government confirmed that a “special operation” was conducted in the village on 5 February 2000 by a unit of OMON and that more than 50 people had been killed in Novye Aldy on 5 February 2000.

Throughout a decade, Russia has failed to hold anyone accountable, despite evidence connecting the crime to members of OMON, the Russian special police.

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GRIGORY PASKO: ON RUSSIA’S “UNSANCTIONED” POLITICAL RALLIES
31.12.2009 -…. The defenders of the Constitution were inside a tight ring of police and omon. The leaders of these defenders were literally physically unable to take a single step. What I’m driving at is that the actions of the «guard dogs» of the power have become much more thought through than, say, a couple of years ago. I recall when even at «unsanctioned» rallies it was possible to give speeches and unfurl posters. On 31 January, they didn’t even manage to unfurl posters: they were grabbed and forced into buses…

I noticed that from the police-and-operatives side, there weren’t merely many video and still cameras – there were very many. They were filming everybody. Moreover, also with the use of little ladders. The journalists later show what they’ve shot on television or publish it in newspapers-magazines-websites. What do the police-KGB «journalists» publish and where? ….

The police say: we’re carrying out an order.
Whose? After all, carrying out a knowingly unlawful order is a violation of the law and ought to be prosecuted under the law. …..

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F.B.I.’S TOP EXPERT: ONLY PSYCHOPATHS CAN TORTURE…

Joe Navarro, one of the F.B.I.’s top experts
in questioning techniques, told The New Yorker,
Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected. You don’t want people like that in your organization . They are untrustworthy, and tend to have grotesque other problems.

Torture and The Ticking Bomb Scenario

From Kathy Gill, All citizens should be asking themselves, “When, if ever, is torture OK”? What is our government doing in our names? And are we OK with it?
In the hypothetical classic ticking bomb scenario torture of one person (the bad guy) is positioned against saving thousands, a form of cost-benefit analysis. The person having to make the difficult moral choice is a law officer. This is recurring dramatic theme in popular culture (think Clint Eastwood..) where a) we (the audience) know that the bad guy has the needed information (no ambiguity) and b) the hero successfully saves the innocent(s) in less than 120 minutes.

But real life is not as black-and-white as Hollywood. Moreover, the hypothetical is fraught with flaws:
It presumes that there is a bomb that will explode if not neutralized; the suspect knows where the bomb is located and the bomb has not been moved since the suspect’s arrest; the suspect will provide the necessary information if and only if tortured; the information will enable us to discover and disarm the bomb in time, and so forth.

Research does not support the unstated thesis that torture elicits actionable information. Rebecca Evans reports that the literature suggests “coercive interrogations tend to elicit unreliable intelligence more than they do useful information.” Moreover, “many old hands in the business have pointed out that abusing prisoners is not simply illegal and immoral; it is also remarkably ineffective.
More over our options to find information are usually not bi-polar (either to torture or walk away).

Finally, Kieran Healy shows us the danger of the slippery slope hidden behind the ticking bomb scenario:
If you get me to agree to torturing someone when there’s a ticking bomb, then how hard is it to get me to agree to the following case: we’ve picked up ten guys for questioning but only one of them has the true information. We don’t know which one, so we have to torture the lot. Isn’t torture still justified? How many lives must be presumably saved, in order to torture how many suspects?
You, reader, would you like to be amount those 9 persons who may just be unlucky to be at wrong place at the wrong time and don’t have any business to do with any bomb? It could happen!

What About Public Opinion?
The BBC reports that most people in the world are “opposed to torture even if its purpose is to elicit information that could save innocent lives from terrorist attack,” that is, even in the ticking-bomb scenario.

US professor, Alan Dershowitz suggests that torture should be regulated by a judicial warrant requirement. Liberal Senator Charles Schumer has publicly rejected the idea “that torture should never, ever be used.” He argues that most U.S. senators would back torture to find out where a ticking time bomb is planted. By contrast, William Safire, a self-described “conservative . . . and card-carrying hard-liner[],” expresses revulsion at “phony-tough” pro-torture arguments, and forthrightly labels torture “barbarism.” Examples like these illustrate how vital it is to avoid a simple left-right reductionism.
To sum, most people reject expeditious torture.

The Law
What does the Constitution say? What does international law say? They forbid torture and related practices like “cruel and unusual punishment.”
What does the Constitution say? What the International Convention says? It forbids — forbids – “ torture” and “cruel and unusual punishment.” That should be the end of story.
During World War II, USA considered waterboarding to be torture, a war crime. “Therefore the beginning of any defense of torture needs to deal with why it should have been a war crime sixty years ago and not today.”

The UN Convention Against Torture, which became effective on 26 June 1987; ratified by 142 nations.

Although for example the US is one of those nations: “ we ratified it with plenty of caveats. Here are two: “We do not consider ourselves bound by Article 30. And although the UN declaration defines torture, we insert our own definition (“the United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm…”)

So where does this leave us in regard to the challenge about the alleged terrorist versus innocent victims? The hypothetical case is unrealistic and bears no relation to the real circumstances, the information extruded from tortured person is highly unreliable (we will never know if THIS is the right person and we will not know if what the person says under unbearable pain is true. The praxis proves that tortured people say what the tortures wants to hear, in order to please them regardless if it is true or not). More over there is always another option how to find information. How else could we have found this terrorist suspect? The police obviously needed information to find out about the right suspect, about existence of bomb, even the fact that the bomb may explode ect.

Brief Conclusion?
Torture does not result in obtaining truthful information, thus it does not help to stop anything even in a highly hypothetical “ticking bomb scenario”. Resorting to torture proves that intelligence services are not so “intelligent” as they are not capable to find more reliable ways to fight terrorists.

What can we achieve with torture?
WE will break national and international law. We will become morally ruined as once agreeing to torture will result in the continuation of this practice, and gradually result in losing respect for ourselves.
And when we let others (other countries and strict regimes) to see US torturing, this will create enemies and even terrorists…at the end of the day.

The officials who agree with torture are not any better than any terrorist as they use the same methods.
more here
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HOW MOBILE INTERNET COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “You cannot have Rwanda again because information would come out far more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would grow to the point where action would need to be taken.” ….
Technology’s Not The Answer…..
And as the blogger and author Yevgeny Morozov argued in a March/April essay for the “Boston Review,” “Cyber–utopians’ biggest conceptual mistake is treating cyberspace as some kind of anarchist zone, which the authorities dare not enter except to shut things down.”

The history of technological innovation has shown that tyrants and authoritarian governments have found that co-opting technology is often better than banning it.

Morozov continues: “The Soviets did not ban radio; they jammed certain Western stations, cracked down on dissenting broadcasters at home, and exploited the medium to promote their ideology. The Nazis took a similar approach to cinema, which became a preferred propaganda tool in the Third Reich.”

Increasingly, tyrants will find creative ways to co-opt the Internet,…more here
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THERE’S SOMETHING ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF RUSSIA
9.1.10 – President Dimitry Medvedev was supposed to clean up his country but, says Owen Matthews, feudalism, lawlessness and corruption suit all those keen to hold onto money and power

The nature of Russian governance has moved on somewhat since the 16th century. But one thing has remained the same: post-Soviet Russia is a profoundly feudal society. I don’t mean that as a generalised insult denoting ignorance and backwardness. I mean really feudal, in its most literal sense. Feudalism is the exchange of service for protection. In the absence of functional legal or law enforcement systems, people’s only real protection lies in a network of personal and professional relationships with powerful individuals. And so it is in Russia today — for every member of society with something, however small, to lose, from a market stall owner to the nation’s top oligarchs. Your freedom from arbitrary arrest, fraudulent expropriation and extortion by bureaucrats is only as good as your connections. more here
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PHOTOGRAPHING THE FIRST CHECHEN WAR (and Nevsky Express)
Fifteen years ago, photographer Aleksei Sazonov travelled to Chechnya to document the outbreak of war in the separatist republic. Looking back at those turbulent days, Sazonov recalls braving sniper fire and making tough ethical decisions to capture the conflict on film.
photos here

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TURKMEN HUMAN RIGHTS FOR ENERGY NOT A FAIR TRADE
By Inga Sikorskaya

European states, in particular, are interested in Turkmenistan because it offers the possibility of accessing Central Asian gas without going through Russia as broker and supplier.
One way of breaking Moscow’s stranglehold on gas supplies is the Nabucco pipeline, which is planned to run from eastern Turkey to southeast and then central Europe.
The United States, too, is clearly interested in Turkmenistan as an energy supplier.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, the European Commission, the United Nations Development Programme and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have increased their activity in the country. This includes projects related to human rights, implemented in cooperation with the Turkmen government.

Human rights observers both inside the country and internationally warn that the dialogue on energy has done nothing to promote openness in other areas.

In November the Norwegian Helsinki Committee issued an open letter calling on western governments and institutions like the EU to pay greater attention to human rights.

“We understand the concerns of western countries regarding energy security for Europe, concerns that have led to such intense interest in Turkmenistan’s energy potential,” said the statement. “However, we do not understand why the standards for evaluating human rights conditions in the country have been severely diluted, and the unwillingness of the international community to condemn fundamental human rights abuses publicly when they arise.”
more here

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EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AWARDS A SAKHAROV PRIZE FOR FREEDOM OF THOUGHT GOES TO MEMORIAL
By Cathy Young

EACH YEAR, the European Parliament awards a Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after the great Russian scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. Past recipients have included Chinese and Cuban dissidents, Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, and groups such as Reporters Without Borders. In a ceremony in Strasbourg this week, the prize was given to Memorial, a human rights group from Sakharov’s native country. It is symbolic, perhaps, that this award coincides with the 20th anniversary of Sakharov’s death – an anniversary on which his legacy is beleaguered and often neglected.

Sakharov’s death of a heart attack at age 68, at a time when the Soviet Union was on the cusp of collapse, is seen by many as an irreparable loss to the cause of freedom and human rights in Russia. Freed from internal exile and virtual house arrest in the city of Gorky at the beginning of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms, Sakharov threw himself into political activity and was elected to the Congress of People’s Deputies, where he joined the bloc of radical reformers in advocating for such controversial causes as the legalization of multiple political parties. With his sudden death, the democratic movement in Russia was left without moral leadership and authority. No other man or woman of such stature was around to oppose the backsliding to authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin.

Today, dissenters and human rights activists in Russia again face dire circumstances. While they have far greater opportunities to speak and publish than they did in the Soviet era, and are no longer threatened with years of imprisonment merely for criticizing the government, they are effectively barred from the airwaves and often subjected to arrest and police brutality when they try to hold protests in public spaces. They are mocked and smeared in the official media. They are harassed by the authorities. The organization Memorial spent nearly six months in a legal fight to retrieve important files and archives confiscated during an illegal police raid on its St. Petersburg office….more here

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RUSSIA IN 2009 – A YEAR OF LOSS
By Alexander Arkhangelsky

For the First Time in Years, We Are Starting to Realize That We Are Losing Things That Can’t Be Replaced.
….In August and in December, the number of accidental breakdowns certainly passed the normal level: tragic news came all too often, creating a feeling that, like an experienced sniper, fate keeps endlessly shooting us in the same spot. But other things being equal we would have whitewashed this observation and convinced ourselves that nothing follows from it, that the accidental accident will be forgotten tomorrow.

And it would have been forgotten. Just like Nord-Ost and Beslan, Kursk and polonium were immediately left behind, for the simple reason of there being demand for the positive. For the illusion of recovering from the painful experience of the 1990s. For charming history. For the magic of joyful self-denial. This wave washed events much more sorrowful than the Nevsky Express catastrophe or even the fire in Perm (with all of our deepest compassion for their innocent victims) into oblivion.

But symbolic reality has its advantages. For example, for the first time in some twenty years we began really thinking about the fact that the cultural resource is not inexhaustible. While criticizing Joseph Stalin for his atrocious saying “the women will produce more,” we still largely treat our scientists, writers, artists, performers and film directors in much the same way. We didn’t care for or value them much, didn’t demand the government we hired to establish the atmosphere needed for recreating leaders in the new generation, but calmly stood by while talent was being spread thin like butter over bread. Some went into soap operas, some disappeared, some were crushed by the yellow press, some were forced to emigrate because here there are no facilities and no infrastructure. And we just sighed: another one went abroad, another one got dissolved in soap-opera acid, another one was deprived of his share in his lifetime. Sure, that’s a pity, but no big deal…..more here

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MY VISION OF THE NEW RUSSIA
By Kasparov December 10th, 2009

…Kasparov discussed the goals of Russia’s united political opposition, the importance of Russia’s integration into Europe, and the futility of Medvedev’s plans for modernization.Garry Kimovich, in your opinion, how successful overall has the opposition been in moving forward in the development of its “way of the future,” given that it has been criticized for lacking one?

…. Preserving the status quo has lead to the ruin of our state. An understanding of the doom of this regime and of these other menaces – which invariably lead to an uncontrolled collapse through our rotten government agencies – formed the basis for the unification of the opposition.

From the moment of conception of the United Civil Front in 2005, I have not tired in repeating that dismantling Putin’s regime is an applied problem. Dismantling does not presume total destruction; on the contrary, in order to avoid tragic consequences, maximal moderation is necessary to analyze the elements of the faulty structure that may still be used when forming a new statehood…more here

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TURKMENISTAN: A RICH COUNTRY WITH POOR PEOPLE AND AN HEROIC DENTIST FOR A DICTATOR

It has the world’s fourth-largest gas deposits and its proud and poor population is ruled by one of the most oppressive and corrupt regimes in the world. A few kilometres south of the gas crater people sleep in yurts and drink rainwater. Scrawny children run about half-naked. Turkmenistan sells billions of dollars worth of gas each year. Yet the average income of its 5m people is under $300 a month.

The gas money goes into offshore accounts or into the fountains and marble palaces of the capital, a vision from “1984”. Its floodlit marble towers are occupied by the Turkmenistan equivalents of the Ministries of Truth, Peace and Plenty, all presiding over a low-rise Soviet town where people drink tea on the pavement and sheep nibble the trees….more here
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REFUGEES FROM UZBEKISTAN IN THE CIS (2005-2006) Memorial Society Human Rights Center – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ( also in Russian)

The wide-scale persecution in Uzbekistan on political and religious grounds in the late 1990s spawned a wave of refugees who for the most part settled in the countries of the CIS closest to Uzbekistan. On 13 May 2005, government forces killed hundreds of unarmed people who participated in a massive public protest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan. After the events in Andijan, refugees poured into neighboring countries. At the present time, there are large groups of Uzbek refugees who have settled in four countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine…..13 pages more here

Vitaly Ponomaryov, Memorial Human Rights Center
For complete Russian-language report: vponomarev@mtu-net.ru
For complete English translation: centralasia@ilhr.org

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RUSSIAN YUKOS COMES BACK TO BITE PUTIN
BY David Clark, GUARDIAN.UK

In an action brought by the former shareholders of Yukos Oil – the private energy company seized and dismantled by the Russian state in 2004 – the panel was asked to rule on Russia’s status under the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). ….. In a landmark decision, the panel ruled that Russia had accepted provisional application of the treaty when it signed and was fully bound by its provisions at the time of its expropriation of Yukos.

The decision opens the way for a claim of damages against the Russian state under the ECT’s tough investor protection rules. The shareholders dispossessed by the demise of Yukos will now ask the arbitration panel to rule on the merits of the case, with a compensation claim estimated to be in the region of $50bn-$100bn. Those hearings will probably take two or three years to conclude and the result cannot be predicted with absolute certainty. But to avoid a hefty bill the Russian authorities will have to do something they have conspicuously failed to do so far: to convince an independent court that the seizure of Yukos was a legal act and not a politically inspired violation of property rights….more here

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RUSSIA: WHO IS JUDGING WHOM?
By Alexander Arkhangelsky

The voluntary-compulsory dismissal of two judges from Russia’s Constitutional Court, who were harshly accused of violating judicial ethics, was overshadowed by other important news events—the tragicomedy in Geneva and the real tragedy on the railroad, as well as public announcements by members of the police, more reminiscent of a selective counsel.
As it is, there is only an interview on the derangement Russia’s judicial system, a demonstration of a personal stance on the issue. And the resignation is not really a resignation, but merely a long-term cessation of authority, as the announcement states. The pension privileges, the modest comfort, and so on are all retained. It doesn’t even begin to compare with the epidemic of policemen’s video announcements. A very far cry. There we had the most real law-enforcement spam, and here—a polite, balanced judicial direct mail. more here

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WHO WON IN UKRAINE? BANDITS!
by James Marson, Guardian

The Orange revolution aim of a democratic, ‘western’ economy has failed; the losers are the Ukrainian people.
As Ukraine approaches its first presidential election since the Orange revolution in 2004, disappointment runs deep. A recent survey shows that 75% of Ukrainians believe the leaders of the street protests, which overturned a rigged ballot and catapulted Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency, used it for their own ends and betrayed their supporters…..more here

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RUSSIA: LAW AND DISORDER 01 December 2009
By Alexei Pankin

In the past week, protesters have held a number of rallies calling for police reforms. Media coverage has included a spate of emotionally charged statements made by protesters. For example: “The sharp rise in police aggression over the past 18 months signifies the collapse of the social order;” “The police are little more than bandits;” and “Ordinary citizens shouldn’t fear the police.”

I wonder how effective these hysterical statements will be in achieving the desired reforms.

I have no doubts that Russia’s law enforcement system is inadequate, but the problems didn’t begin only 18 months ago. I have been a permanent jury member of the Andrei Sakharov Prize for journalism since its inception in 2001, and every year I learn about new, horrifying accounts in regional newspapers of police abuse of power…. more here

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RUSSIAN MEDVEDEV CONSIDERING MILITARY COURTS FOR CIVILIANS

On Thursday, President Dmitry Medvedev called interesting the idea initiated by [the party] Yedinaya Rossia [United Russia] regarding the possibility of jury trials of the cases involving terrorism by military courts. The lawyers’ community suggests that the idea be first verified as to its conformity to the Constitution.

At the beginning of September, the President introduced in the State Duma a package of amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, under which the cases involving terrorism could be transferred for consideration directly to the Supreme Court bypassing the local courts upon submission of the Prosecutor General.

At the Thursday meeting with the President, Boris Gryzlov, Chairman of the Yedinaya Rossia Supreme Council, suggested that the draft law be amended with the proposal that the jurisdiction in the cases involving terrorism be transferred not only to the Supreme Court but also to the district military courts. Such being the situation, the jury trial system shall be established for the consideration of such cases. Gryzlov clarified that this measure will make it possible to appeal against the decisions of the military courts in the Supreme Court since the sentences passed by the Supreme Court itself are not subject to the appeal.

Civilians Shall Be Tried by Courts Martial

“Let’s do as follows,” said the President to the Speaker of the Duma. “I will consult with the Presidents of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court to hear their views on how well this idea could fit with our court system’s overall organisation, and also on the constitutionality of this kind of amendments. If their response is positive, I will call you and propose making the improvements you have suggested.”

“The military courts system is not connected with any specific territorial formations,” says the First Deputy Chairman of the Committee Vladimir Gruzdev (Yedinaya Rossia), “and as long as the civil system has no district courts, the military system can help avoiding the territorial principle in the consideration of cases. At the same time, it is proposed that decisions on the change of case jurisdictions be made at the level of the Prosecutor General and the Supreme Court, which will become a kind of guarantee to safeguard the interests of participants to the proceedings.”

The Court Is of No Importance

The Chairman of the Public Chamber Commission for the control of the law enforcement bodies’ activity and legal system reform, lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, thinks it unimportant what court will be considering the cases involving terrorism –military or general civil. In any case, defendants themselves shall decide whether or not their cases shall be examined by the jury courts, naturally, if the crime category falls under the jury courts jurisdiction, explains the lawyer.

“The State Duma will be now trying to find the forms acceptable from the point of view of the law, but the fact that the jury should participate in the trial of cases involving terrorism is beyond any doubt,” said Kucherena to GZT.RU. “As to the legislative initiative itself, it should be discussed including by the expert community of the Public Chamber. As a result, we will draw a conclusion as to what form is acceptable from the point of view of the Constitution.”

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INGUSHETIA’S PRESIDENT PLEDGED TO STOP ABUSES AGAINST REBELS

(The Washington Post) posted on 12.11. 2009

…Now, a year after taking office, Yevkurov and his experiment in moderation are at a crossroads. Instead of retreating, the insurgents have stepped up their attacks, while the security services continue to kidnap and kill with impunity, activists say. With the assassination of a leading opposition figure last month, public anger is climbing toward a boiling point….more here
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WILL CENTRAL ASICA TURN TO THE WEST?

….Of course, all Central Asian countries are still tightly tied to Russia and its interests. But former common Soviet past as well as once common culture and presence of Russian language in the region (which is loosing its positions) do not determine today’s prospects for further development for the Central Asian states.

Meanwhile, the countries of Central Asia formed an implicit consensus on staying in the post-Soviet structures. No doubt they will continue their membership in CIS, CSTO and EurAsEC. And at the same time the leaders of the state will continue strengthening ties with the EU, NATO, and other Western institutions and associations, seeing future prospects for their states….more here
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NATO AND RUSSIA: WAR GAMES OF RUSSIA AND BELARUS
in The Economist
Big military exercises in western Russia and Belarus, which finished earlier this month, were based on the following improbable scenario: ethnic Poles in western Belarus rise up and “terrorists” from Lithuania attack the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. More than 10,000 troops from Russia and Belarus countered them, reinforcing Kaliningrad from the sea and sending special forces behind the enemy lines. Three NATO–like brigades, one visiting, one Estonian and one Latvian, then invaded western Russia, where they were successfully rebuffed by the elite Pskov-based 76th air assault division, reinforced by a motorised rifle brigade.Military exercises need a notional enemy and, from Russia’s point of view, NATO is the obvious choice. Because the alliance has expanded to Russia’s borders, taking in a dozen ex-communist members over strenuous protests from the Kremlin, it is all the more desirable to send a strong signal. What is more, Western countries have been urging (and helping) Russia’s military forces to become more professional….. continuation here
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EURASIAN REGION CONTINUES TO DISINTEGRATE
By Andrei Tsygankov

Evidence of rising instability throughout the region include the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war, renewed terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus, the persistent failure of Western forces to stabilize Afghanistan, the inability of Central Asian rulers to reign in local clans and drug lords, and the paralysis of legitimately elected bodies of power in Ukraine and Moldova.Violence is gradually spreading, waiting for an opportunity to erupt into a large-scale conflict. Transregional transportation routes may soon be choked due to Russia’s conflicts with Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkmenistan. more here

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THE EU’S LEARNING CURVE HERALDS BEGINNING OF END OF SANCTIONS
posted on 28.10.2009

……Over the past 10 years or so, the EU has developed a complex array of punitive measures, ranging from asset freezes for individuals and organizations believed to be involved in terrorism and denying technical assistance to governments whose actions are not in line with EU principles, to wholesale cutting of links to regimes which kill or imprison their citizens for political motives. Uzbekistan, Belarus, Burma, and Zimbabwe are the most prominent examples of the latter.

But the ultimate test of whether the EU indeed has the courage of its convictions is its readiness to pass judgment on sovereign states. In this respect, the bloc’s record is discouraging. A point seems to have been reached where interests take precedence over principles…..continuation here in Radio Free

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WHY RUSSIANS IGNORE BALLOT FRAUD
By Clifford J. Levy
in New York Times,posted on 27.10.2009

The thinking seems to be that Mr. Putin is in charge and the opposition is feeble, so there is no point in trying to get your voice heard, no matter that the country faces serious problems.

“People are passive because they feel that there is absolutely no opportunity to change the system,” Mr. Gerasimov said.
Mr. Putin is popular in part because he is given credit for the economic gains and stability of the last decade. He has also suppressed or co-opted the opposition. Fairly or unfairly, his party had enormous advantages in the Oct. 11 elections and was certain to triumph.
more here

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U.S. VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN IS A MAN “WHO CAN ASK POINTED QUESTIONS AND SAY UNPLEASANT THINGS
By Vaclav Have
l posted on 25.10.2009

Havel told RFE/RL it was time democratic nations showed firmness in dealing with countries like Russia rather than giving them any sort of special treatment.

Havel noted some “worrying signs coming from Russia,” adding: “I believe…it’s necessary to have partnerlike relations with Russia based on the principle of equality. But openness and frankness are part of this partnership, and you cannot see this partnership as meaning that we need to be blind or have blinders on and that we won’t speak about what we don’t like, when it seems to us fundamental, universal moral imperatives are betrayed.”

“We should apply the same standards to Russia that we apply to any country in the world, be it China or the Czech Republic or Uruguay,” Havel said. more here in Radio Free

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” CONFEDERATION OF NATIONS OF CAUCASUS HAS RECOGNIZED INDEPENDENCE OF CHECHNYA AND INGUSHETIA”
By Dmitri Oreshkin
posted on 24.10.2009

“Not right now, and not in this decade, but secession of certain republics of Northern Caucasus is quite possible, should the policy pursued nowadays in these regions continue.When people got finally disillusioned of the federal centre’s ability to control legality in these regions, and that everything is decided in places by those, who have more weapon and force, ideas of separatism may easily revive; unfortunately, we see that it happens. Because the ‘vertical of power’ is a myth based on corrupt purchase of loyalty. De facto, the Kremlin can’t manage, for lack of resources, the situation in Chechnya, or in Dagestan.”

Let us note here that a couple of hours ago major mass media of many countries disseminated the information that “the Confederation of Nations of the Caucasus” announced recognition of independence of Chechnya and Ingushetia and called the OSCE, United Nations, EU, Council of Europe and NATO to do the same.” This was stated by Zaal Kasrelishvili, Chairman of the Confederation.

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CHECHNYA’S SECRET WAR
posted on 13.10.2009

It is impossible to normalize the situation in the North Caucasus due to excessive militarization and a lack of social programs

In August, Russia’s president ordered the development of new methods of combating terrorism in the North Caucasus. This order seems to have been aggressively implemented in Chechnya. However, it would be a stretch to call it a “new method”.

Read more

An officer serving in the United Group Alignment (UGA) in Chechnya who recently returned from his assignment told Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG) that active hostilities have continued in the republic during the past two months (since the presidential order), and in its mountainous areas, – in Vedeno, Shatoi and Itum-Kali districts – the counter-terrorism operation plan (CTO) has been activated. Although, apparently, these methods has not been officially authorized……..The use of aggressive actions has been supported in a recent statement by the Deputy Minister of the Interior Militia, Colonel General Arkady Edelev, according to whom “more than 18 gangs of up to 200 militants are active in these districts”. However, similar situations exist in places other than Chechnya. Arkady Edelev believes “the total number of active militants [in the North Caucasus] and their supporters total more than 800 people”.….more here

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FIRE IN THE CAUCASUS OR RUSSIAN TERROR IN THE AGE OF PUTIN
By Owen Matthews
| NEWSWEEK

Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 on a promise to bring peace to the Caucasus. Almost a decade later, the region is once again on fire as a spate of suicide bombings and attacks on police and government officials have killed more than 400 people over the past three months.

This time, the killings are not the work of separatist rebels. .. Moscow has arguably triggered a new kind of conflict—a vicious cycle of violence between the state’s representatives and everyone they judge an enemy. In the partially self-governing republics of Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Chechnya, “a full-blown civil war is going on between law enforcement and the population,”.….. says president of the Moscow Helsinki Group. more here

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RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS STILL UNDER THREAT
By Adam Federman
, posted on 9.10.2009

…..” Speaking from Germany the day after her death, Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged the obvious when he said that the killing of Natalya Estemirova was “connected to her professional activities.“

President Vladimir Putin also happened to be in Germany, where he responded to the killing of Politkovskaya several days after her death and with thinly veiled contempt for the attention and honors her work had received abroad. Putin suggested that the assassination would do more damage to Russia than her writing ever did and that it had nothing to do with he work as a journalist. Although Politikovskaya was much better known than Estemirova and had a much larger following outside of Russia..” .more here

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RUSSIA : NEW WAR IN THE CAUCASUS?
By Vladimir Frolov

It has now become hard to deny that there is a relapse of terrorist activity in the Caucasus, particularly in Ingushetia and Dagestan, threatening to unravel the stability and calm that has emerged in this war-ravaged region in the last couple of years. What is the Kremlin to do? Has the policy of betting on Ramzan Kadyrov gone wrong, or is it still a reliable tool of fighting terrorism without provoking terror attacks on targets inside Russia? What are the real causes of terrorist activity in Ingushetia and Dagestan? ….more here

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TRIP TO ABKHAZIA
By Grigory Pasko

I recently found myself at a rather uneventful conference near the border of the world’s newest nation – .. and I thought to myself, why not see if I could hitch up with a tour across the border and do a report for the blog? What follows are some of my impressions from my first Abkhaz experience…

The Sovietness of the tour journey from Dagomys into Abkhazia was felt literally right from the start….. We arrived in Veseloye to the border. It’s a very funny border: lots of fences, but any sense of the security reality is absent..

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MARTIN SCHEININ ABOUT PROTOCOL 14BIS TO ECHR

Judging by headlines in the press, there appears to be quite a lot of confusion about the entry into force of Protocol 14bis to the European Convention on Human Rights, on 1 October 2009. Here are some technical clarifications:

(1) Protocol 14bis was applied, on a provisional basis, already before its entry into force. However, this was the case only in respect of those states that had explicitly accepted the Protocol’s application prior to its entry into force. These countries were Denmark, Georgia, Iceland, Ireland and Norway (5).

(2) On 1 October 2009, the Protocol entered formally into force in respect of Denmark, Ireland and Norway (3) and continues to apply provisionally in respect of Georgia and Iceland (2).

(3) On 1 November 2009, the Protocol will enter into force in respect of Iceland, Monaco and Slovenia (3), leaving Georgia alone with its provisional application.

(4) Until each country in one way or other accepts the application of the Protocol, the Protocol will not be applicable in cases against it.

(5) If and when the Russian Federation ratifies original Protocol 14, the new procedures will apply in respect of all 47 parties to the European Convention and Protocol 14bis will become redundant.

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RUSSIA’S WAR ON WORDS
By K. Anthony Appiah
posted on 7.10.2009

…….Westerners were inclined to think during the Cold War that a democratic Russia would be better for Russians and for us. Yet 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, hopes for genuine democracy in Russia remain unrealized. A major reason is the parlous condition of the Russian media.

In the United States, an investigative journalist who unsettles the powerful can win accolades; in Russia, such a journalist can expect to be gunned down…more here

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“IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO WORK IN CHECHNYA BECAUSE IT IS RUSSIA“
By Souyer Belassen,
posted on 5.10.2009

On 25 September, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) Souyer Belassen attended the Moscow court sitting that was considering a suit of the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov against the chairman of the Memorial Human Rights Center Oleg Orlov. After the sitting, the human rights activist gave her vision of this legal process and the overall situation with human rights in the Russian Federation.

………I was very moved by the fact that Estemirova addressed the problem of wearing headscarves in Chechnya, she refused to wear a headscarf, though she knew about the directive from Kadyrov on this point…

During today’s process it has also turned out that Kadyrov repeatedly offered Estemirova, as well as the Memorial representatives, to address him directly without covering in press the existing human rights problems of Chechnya. Thus – that is, through corruption and manipulation – he was trying to somehow tame them. …..

It is very important that the legal process was held in Moscow today. The suit was turned by Kadyrov, but today the situation has been turned “visa-versa” because in fact it were the Memorial members who were holding trial against Kadyrov. Everything that was said here could be interpreted as the Chechen President’s trial…more here

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GEORGIA – RUSSIA WAR 2008 – EU REPORT / LESS BLAME GAME, MORE HELP FOR WAR’S VICTIMS
posted on 5.10.2009

The investigation has reignited, rather than resolved, the dispute about who started the war. The Kremlin says the report proves that Georgia struck first. The authorities in Tbilisi say the exact opposite. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili even stated that the document was a “great diplomatic victory” because it exposed Russian “lies.” He described his decision to initiate combat operations in South Ossetia in August 2008 as a “holy duty” in defense of his homeland…

In the bomb-damaged villages on the fringes of South Ossetia, there was little interest in the report on the day it was published. In places like this, where camouflage-clad servicemen still maintain their checkpoints, burnt-out houses have become permanent reminders of the war. And in the drab refugee settlements along Georgia’s main highway, it matters little which side the European diplomats have blamed for starting the conflict. Unlike most of the politicians, the people living here will be suffering the consequences for years to come…

more here by Matthew Collins, journalist based in Tbilisi

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A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY. BESLAN AFTER 5 YEARS
By David Satterposted
on 2.10.2009 /Putin and terrorist act

Five years have passed since pro-Chechen terrorists seized School No. 1 in Beslan, a city in the North Caucasus, provoking a hostage crisis that ended in the massacre of 146 adults and 186 children…..

…Shamil Basaev, the Chechen terrorist leader who planned the Beslan attack and was killed on July 10, 2006, in a letter entitled, “We have a lot to tell about Beslan …” published on the separatist Web site Kavkaz Center, Aug. 31, 2005….

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MADELEINE ALBRIGHT’S JEWELRY-BOX DIPLOMACY.
WHAT SHE WORE WHEN SPEAKING TO PUTIN ABOUT CHECHNYA?

In her new book, Read My Pins, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reveals that she used jewelry as a diplomatic tool during her years with the Clinton administration.

“This all started when I was ambassador at the U.N. and Saddam Hussein called me a serpent,” she tells Susan Stamberg. “I had this wonderful antique snake pin. So when we were dealing with Iraq, I wore the snake pin.”…

…Albright’s pin with three monkeys, which she wore when discussing Chechnya, was meant to draw attention to the fact that Russia took a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” stance toward the Chechen atrocities…..read more here

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RUSSIA’S TRAGIC HERO, WHY DMITRY MEDVEDEV WILL FAIL

“It’s hard to see Dmitry Medvedev as a tragic figure. Russia’s president is, at least in theory, one of the world’s most powerful men. His demeanor is cheerful; his speeches are refreshingly liberal and increasingly bold in criticizing the new Russian state. But his vision will go nowhere as long as his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, remains the real power in the land…………….more here in Newsweek

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GORBACHEV DEFENDS CONTROVERSIAL LEGACY IN HIS INTERVIEW
By Brian Hanrahan
, BBC News

The last leader of the Soviet Union, Mr Gorbachev ( 78 years old) speaks: “I think that ‘89 was certainly change for the better – no doubt about it. We did not have… the necessary freedom, particularly freedom of speech.””One of the most educated countries in the world had elections that – let’s put it mildly – were not real elections, half-elections – because you had a choice of just the one candidate.”

He believes what Russia needs now is more democracy.

What does provoke him are recent hints from Mr Putin that he may be contemplating a return to the presidency in 2012 which could see him running the country for another 12 years.

Mr Gorbachev remarks :”I think that it should be decided by the voters – by the people, and I didn’t hear him mention the people. I don’t think that this is right.”………..more here

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RUSSIA’S JUDICIAL SYSTEM in graphics

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THE BATTLE OVER KYRGYZ MINDS
By Ben Judah

How Moscow Positions Itself in Kyrgyzstan Will Show How Effective It Is as a Global Force Where Its Interests Collide With the Chinese and American Superpowers…more here

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KYRGYZSTAN: A COLOUR REVOLUTION IN BISHKEK FADES TO BLACK
By Jeff Goldstein

Outside observers sometimes see what they want to see in Kyrgyzstan. In its early years of independence, some in the West called the country’s first president, Askar Akayev, “the Thomas Jefferson of Central Asia.” This overlooked the fact that as early as 1994, Akayev demonstrated a disturbing tendency toward authoritarian rule. By the time he was overthrown in the 2005 Tulip Revolution, Akayev’s rule was characterized by widespread corruption and clan-based political favoritism.

Observers saw the Tulip Revolution as another in a string of democratic movements sweeping the former Soviet republics. In reality, the Tulip Revolution was nothing more than a change of political regimes, from one corrupt leader to another……Last year, the government further restricted basic freedoms, leading Freedom House to classify Kyrgyzstan as a consolidated authoritarian regime for the first time. Government corruption and its assault on Kyrgyz citizens’ rights is exacerbating the serious structural problems the country faces and, most disturbing of all, violence and murder are now staples of Kyrgyz politics.

Unlike its vocal support for the Tulip Revolution, Western reaction to Kyrgyzstan’s democratic decline has been muted. Many see this as a desire not to upset Bishkek after it decided to allow the U.S. military to continue using the Manas base.

more here

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PRIDE AND POWER – RUSSIA IS CAUGHT BETWEEN CONTINENTS AND HAUNTED BY ITS PAST
By Richard Pipes

Russia is obsessed with being recognized as a “Great Power.” She has felt as one since the 17th century, after having conquered Siberia, but especially since her victory in World War II over Germany and the success in sending the first human into space. It costs nothing to defer to her claims to such exalted status, to show her respect, to listen to her wishes. From this point of view, the recent remarks about Russia by Vice President Joe Biden in an interview with this newspaper were both gratuitous and harmful. “Russia has to make some very difficult calculated decisions,” he said. “They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years.”

Russia’s influence on world affairs derives not from her economic power or cultural authority but her unique geopolitical location…Opinion polls indicate that most Russians regret the passing of the Soviet Union and feel nostalgia for Stalin. Of course, they miss not the repression of human rights which occurred under Communism nor the miserable standards of living but the status of their country as a force to be reckoned with: a country to be respected and feared…..

more here

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MEDIA-ONE VENTURE WITH DISNEY WAS BLOCKED THIS YEAR
By Simon Shuster

17.8.2009 -Russian broadcaster Media-One, whose local partnership with Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) was blocked this year by the government, is instead partnering up with an oligarch loyal to the Kremlin, said a source close to the talks.

If the partnership — which would jointly own and operate TV stations across Russia — between Media-One and metals magnate Alisher Usmanov goes through, it will again indicate Russia’s airwaves are a strategic asset in which foreigners are not often welcome to invest.

Late last year, a government watchdog called the Federal Anti-monopoly Service torpedoed Google Inc’s (GOOG.O) bid for a Russian Internet company, while in February it blocked the creation of a free, Disney-branded local television channel…..more here

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A DECADE OF PUTINISMIn Russia, self-censorship has become a matter of survival
By Christopher Walker for The Wall Street Journal

Ten years ago on Sunday, Russia’s Duma confirmed Vladimir Putin as prime minister. The vote took place only one week after then-President Boris Yeltsin had nominated the little-known former KGB operative for the post. Yeltsin’s surprise resignation only four months later left Mr. Putin as acting president and paved the way for his election as head of state in March 2000. This swift and far-from-transparent ascent to the pinnacle of Russian power was a sign of things to come…..The control of the mass media has become a top priority in the Putin era…..more here

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PROFESSOR M.SCHEININ, YOU AS THE UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND COUNTER-TERRORISM

are focusing on legal issues related to human rights in the fight against terrorism. The “Eurasia LIFT” would like to give you several question related to the situation in Russia and other former Soviet countries.

1) Many experts expressed serious concerns regarding the 2006 Law on Countering Terrorism and the Law on Extremism. What is your opinion about this legal framework and where do see the danger for the society?

I have concerns about that law and have addressed them in a letter to the Russian government. As in so many other countries, I am concerned of broad definitions of terrorism that may result in the use of force and special powers in respect of activities that cannot be described as terrorism. To me, terrorism means resorting to the unacceptable tactics of using deadly or otherwise serious violence against innocent ordinary people. Crimes against the state are not terrorism on their own, unless terrorist tactics are employed. Wide special powers should always be avoided, even in the fight against terrorism properly defined. And in no case may the conduct by state authorities be covered by a shield of impunity.

2) Please, tell us, what does it mean for the UN and its treaty bodies to receive the NGO reports about the situation in a country. Is it indeed important for the human rights activists to risk their lives while searching for human rights violations, interviewing victims and publishing the reports, as the last murdered Natalya Estemirova did?

Before becoming Special Rapporteur, I served eight years as a member of a treaty body, the Human Rights Committee. In both of my UN roles I have found submissions by NGOs extremely useful and valuable. They provide an important watchdog that allows us UN experts to make an independent assessment of what governments are telling us.

This said, I would nevertheless want to underline that human rights activists are much more important to us alive than dead. Commitment is extremely important in human rights work but patience is a part of that commitment. Usually there are no shortcuts or quick victories. For instance, work in relation to the UN will only be successful if it is systematic and pursued over a long period of time. Therefore, the loss of life or the closing down of an NGO is always a loss, not a victory.

3) One reads often in the news that those or that units of the armed forces killed several terrorists. Are those news correctly presented?

How can any soldier in the middle of “action” decide who is and who is not a terrorist? Is it not up to a court to decide it?

Armed force should not be used against criminals. Criminals should be apprehended, investigated, prosecuted, tried and punished – not killed. There are international guidelines concerning the use of firearms as an extreme measure in trying to arrest a person. But killing a criminal or fugitive must never be the aim.

For these reasons the armed forces are not well suited for the fight against terrorism. There role should be limited to situations of genuine armed conflict, and even then any use of deadly force should be governed by the principles of distinction, necessity and proportionality. Only soldiers carrying the uniform of another state in war, or other persons actively engaged in the conduct of armed hostilities may be subjected to deadly force, and even then under the principles just mentioned.

4) Where do you see the role of the UN and other international organizations? Did the Human Rights Committee ever found any violations in what the country did? Do you know about any positive developments because of action by the UN? You also can compare the cases of violation at the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights passes judgments that are legally binding. Their execution is supervised by the Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe. Compared to the European human rights system the UN machinery is still weak. We have letters from Special Rapporteurs and the examination of complaints by the treaty body. These findings have moral and legal authority, based on the correct determination of the facts and proper legal arguments based on internationally binding norms. For these reasons countries often decide to comply, as openly contesting their international legal obligations would damage their reputation. Only in exceptional cases such as genocide will the UN Security Council apply sanctions against countries that violate human rights.

Nevertheless, there are many positive examples of countries changing their laws or practices as a consequence of findings by United Nations human rights treaty bodies or special procedures. My own favourite example is capital punishment where the Human Rights Committee through individual complaints has helped to save dozens or even hundreds of lives, as countries almost without exception have complied with the Committee’s request for interim measures of protection or the final views that the person’s human rights were violated and he should not be executed.

5) Where do you see your own role as Special Rapporteur? What would you like to achieve with Russia and its legal system?

I am engaged in correspondence with the Russian government. I hope to achieve a level of professional and constructive dialogue where my advice and even criticism will provide momentum for at least some legal reforms. I don’t expect a miracle but would welcome even small first steps in improving the legal framework for countering terrorism.

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MOLDOVANS WANT TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS

According to opinion polls, 75 per cent want to join the EU, and 80 per cent trust Russia more than any other country. They want to have it both ways.

Moldova is a miserable country. It boasts the unenviable distinction of being the poorest place in Europe. The greatest ambition of most young Moldovans is to leave.

Until now, it was virtually the last European state (depending on how you regard its near neighbour Belarus) to have a Communist government in power, although it was elected, not imposed.

It is divided by an unresolved “frozen conflict” from the collapse of the former Soviet Union, with some 580,000 largely ethnic Russians living on the east bank of the Dnestr river in “Trans Dnestr”, refusing to recognise the authority of the Moldovan government. As a former Soviet republic, the country remains caught in a geopolitical contest for influence between Russia and the European Union, in which the US and China are also taking a very close interest. more here

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CONTROL OF JUSTICE

Nobody knows how many there are political prisoners in Russia. Most likely, the figure is lower than the opposition commentators say it is, but, of course, higher than the officials think, as the latter are sure that there are no political prisoners in Russia at all.

However, it looks like, besides political prisoners, a new kind of prisoner appears in Russia – the social one.

Valentin Urusov, a trade union activist from the Russian region Yakutia, is a typical example. There are no evidences that Mr. Urusov has ever come out against the current regime or schemed something against the authorities. More than that, there are no signs that the government functionaries have schemed something against Valentin Urusov. He is a member of “Sotsprof” trade union, which is considered to be quite loyal to the Kremlin, and yet, he is in prison now.

Trade union leaders are convincing that Valentin Urusov was arrested because of his conflict with ALROSA company where he had tried to make the workers go on strike. more here

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UZBEKISTAN IS ONE OF THE MAJOR DESTABILIZATION FACTORS IN THE REGION
By Dosym Satpayev

In my opinion, Uzbekistan is the major destabilization factor in Central Asia. Therefore, Uzbek isolation policy prevents the neutralization of risks in the region. Blaming everyone around in terrorism and extremism does not solve the problem. The domestic policy of Uzbekistan remains inefficient with high poverty level and low progress of socio-economic development. The extremism and terrorism are rooted in these factors and the problems are produced by Uzbekistan itself. …

more about Uzbekistan here

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THE KREMLIN’S VIOLENT UNDERBELLY

The Kremlin has been caught off guard by a spike in violence in the North Caucasus over the past few months. One reason for this: The Kremlin had believed its policies in the region were successful. After canceling its anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya (largely at the insistence of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov), the authorities were convinced that the situation there had stabilized.

It is clear, however, that the picture is far less rosy. …..As a result, Moscow is becoming increasingly annoyed with Kadyrov’s absolutism and the way his strong loyalty to the Kremlin is coupled with attempts to transform Chechnya into something bordering on an independent state. Neither can Russia’s leaders be too happy about the murders in Moscow and Dubai of the Yamadayev brothers, who had connections with the siloviki, or the recent killing of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova in Chechnya. All of these murders have been linked in one way or another to Kadyrov. … more here

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RUSSIA: PRESIDENT KNOWS BETTER

Judging by His Reaction to the Recent Murders of Public Figures in Russia, Medvedev’s Proclaimed Belief in the Rule of Law Is Hardly Genuine

It’s been another bad week for President Dmitry Medvedev’s drive to bring an end to legal nihilism in Russia, and introduce fair courts and faith in the legal system among the population. Not that this was ever going to happen overnight, of course, but the signs are not looking good. The president’s reaction to the murder of Natalya Estemirova suggests that he will not hesitate to influence the course of a criminal investigation, if need be.

After the murder of Stanislav Markelov in January, I wrote that Dmitry Medvedev, as a lawyer who promoted an increased respect of law, should have come out and condemned the killing. Not long after, he did indeed do so, explaining that his silence was due to, rather bizarrely, his not wanting to influence the investigation. Still, he condemned the killing, made some sensible sounding pronouncements and even gave a long interview to Novaya Gazeta.

But despite all of this, not much progress seems to have been made in the investigation. And last week, when yet another murder happened, Medvedev’s response was quite stunning. At a press conference in Germany, he labelled attempts to suggest that Ramzan Kadyrov might have been responsible as “primitive,” and said that he was certain they weren’t true. more here

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KADYROV NEARS ABKHAS-LIKE INDEPENDENCE
By Nikolai Petrov

Opponents of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov — both real and imagined — have been mowed down like grass in recent years. The victims include Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Chechen commander Movladi Baisarov, the brothers Ruslan and Sulim Yamadayev, former Kadyrov bodyguard Umar Israilov and now human rights activist Natalya Estemirova. The murders have taken place all over the world: in Grozny, Moscow, Vienna and Dubai. At the same time, a host of prominent Chechen expatriates have voiced support for Kadyrov and his regime. Even as the Kremlin continues to regularly allocate huge sums from the federal budget to finance Chechnya………..

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STATEMENT TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
By Garry Kasparov
– Chairman of the United Civil Front, Moscow, Russia,July 2009

On Tuesday July 7th, US President Barack Obama met with representatives of the Russian opposition in Moscow. The lunch meeting, which took place in the Ritz-Carlton hotel, brought together a wide group of politicians not connected with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Notables on the invite list included Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov, Right Cause chairman Leonid Gozman, and Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin. Each representative was given five minutes to speak.

Topics of discussion included the new trial against jailed Yukos oil company bosses Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, and the US missile defense system.

During his talk, Garry Kasparov presented Obama with a list of opposition figures who have been persecuted and killed recently, as well as a list of prisoners serving politically-motivated sentences in Russia.

Afterward, Kasparov gave this interview about his impressions of Obama and the meeting.

read here the TRANSCRIPT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INTERVIEW WITH NOVAYA GAZETA

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RICH ADVISE: MOSCOW NEEDS TO CHANGE
By Alexandr Lebedev

Lebedev, 49, — in the 1980s, Lebedev spied for the KGB while posing as an economic attaché at the Soviet embassy in London. At its peak, that fortune was believed to be around $3 billion, amassed after Lebedev abandoned espionage in 1992 in favor of a more lucrative occupation as a businessman. In partnership with Gorbachev, he also bought a large shareholding in independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which is often critical of the Russian government. Association with the daily is not for the fainthearted. Anna Politkovskaya wrote for the Gazeta until her murder in 2006; in January 2009, a young freelance contributor called Anastasia Baburova was shot dead.

“The system doesn’t work,” Lebedev says. “It has nothing to do with the ordinary Russian.I don’t think I’m an enemy of this state. I am a critic, yes. But they need an opposition who is going to correct their mistakes, and they need a different political system.”

“What is not simple is Russia. That quintessentially Russian query — What is to be done? — continues to bedevil the Kremlin. The country is, after all, falling apart. The price of oil is down sharply from its high of $147 a barrel in July 2008. The markets have been badly shaken by Putin’s attack on steel giant Mechel, the breakup of the oil conglomerate TNK-BP (during which the Russians none-so-subtly squeezed out their British partners), and last summer’s war with Georgia. And then, of course, there’s the global financial crisis, which has hit Russia particularly hard. On top of all the economic woes, there’s a shrinking population, a military that remains something of a joke and a problem with AIDS. Plus, you still can’t (or shouldn’t) drink a glass of tap water in central Moscow.”

All this has aroused Lebedev’s reformist zeal. More than ever, he says, Russia needs an independent judiciary and legislature, a free press, real elections, real political parties. The oligarchs, he says, understand that the system cannot survive forever. They are scared and looking for handouts. (At the top of the list is Oleg Deripaska, head of investment firm Basic Element, which has interests in the aluminum, energy and financial-services sectors among others, and recently received a $4.5-billion infusion from the state.) “Once they found themselves in trouble they started this sort of SOS signal, calling on Putin’s door, ‘Give us the money,’ ” he says. Lebedev says he is not receiving any government cash, and that the crisis and the bailouts are only widening the chasm between the “first tier” of people who own (and run) Russia and everyone else. “The first tier, this is where the crisis happened. As far as the second tier of the country is concerned, there could be no crisis because the crisis was there permanently, for 500 years.”

Russia’s problem, Lebedev thinks, is not Putin but the bureaucracy, which is sprawling and antidemocratic, and stymies reform. “As far as Putin is concerned, I’m not blaming it on him. I think he doesn’t see it. These TV channels pocket billions of dollars in exchange for flattering Putin.” Lebedev has hopes for Medvedev. He was impressed with the President’s decision to meet with Novaya Gazetta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov and Gorbachev earlier this year, following the killing of yet another Novaya Gazetta reporter. “Medvedev … said he’s a full supporter of the Gulag Memorial project,” Lebedev says. (Memorial was the most important human-rights group to emerge from the perestroika era. For years it has pushed for a monument in the center of Moscow recalling the victims of the gulag.) Putin, Lebedev says, would never back anything that subtracted from the Soviet record. “I think Putin thinks that this commemoration would spoil the everyday spirit,” Lebedev says. “Stalin, for them, represents the state, and sometimes you can see Putin as sort of — in that way.”

But is Lebedev the reformer he sees himself as, or does he play another role? “There’s a belief — and this existed in Soviet times — that allowing a pressure valve of dissent and allowing certain voices out there is important for legitimacy,” says Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian attorney in London who has represented Khodorkovsky and frequently blogs about Russia. “In a strange way, and whether or not Lebedev is part of this, he may well be seen as a demonstration of the regime’s legitimacy.” As long as he doesn’t “cross any of these invisible lines, Lebedev may actually shield the Kremlin from further criticism,” Amsterdam says.

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WHAT IS THE UN CONCEPT OF TERRORISM TODAY?
By Martin Scheinin, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism:

There is not an agreed universal comprehensive definition of terrorism, there are many international conventions against specific forms of terrorism and of course you can sum up existing definitions of particular forms of terrorism to form the notion of terrorism at the international level.UN Security Council Resolution 1566 takes this approach of referring back to existing counter terrorism conventions and then adding that terrorism means deadly or otherwise serious violence mainly against civilians and that is for me the decisive point, it is the targeting of innocent bystanders as victims of usually deadly violence, that is terrorism. Terrorism is a choice of tactics, a question of means and the aims are not decisive; there are often political or religious aims behind terrorism but those aims are shared between or among terrorists for the interest of political organizations, so the aims are not decisive, it is really the method of using deadly violence against innocent bystanders, which defines terrorism.

There is no agreement on this point because so many governments want to continue with their overly broad abusive definitions of terrorism, which usually means that a government can stigmatize as terrorism something it doesn’t like, for instance, political movement or minorities, or indigenous groups, or trade unions and that is one of the major problems in my work as special rapporteur on human rights and counter terrorism, that all too many governments in the world continue to abuse the notion of terrorism to stigmatize groups that do not properly fit under that notion.

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Martin Scheinin, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism:

“Many different approaches have been applied in the global fight against terrorism. Through trial and error governments and international organizations have gradually come to realize that full compliance with human rights while combating terrorism is not only the morally correct approach – it is also the most effective one.” “Some people blame human rights experts for ignoring the suffering of victims of terrorism. The truth, however, is that those governments that are ruthless in respect of the real or suspected terrorists are also ruthless in respect of the human rights of victims of terrorism.”

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Joanne Mariner,Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch

“Some SCO countries have conflated domestic dissent with terrorism, and used abusive means in combating it. While constructive regional cooperation could play an important role in defeating terrorism, there is good reason to worry that the organization simply reinforces members’ worst practices.”

4 Responses to “Views”

  1. […] Comments […]

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  4. Bree said

    I was happy to read your post on Views Eurasia Lift – Terrorism/ Extremism/ Human rights.

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