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In Russia, a First Official Tribute to Boris Nemtsov

NIZHNY NOVGOROD—Sometimes it is good to be wrong. For the friends of Russia’s slain opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov—certainly including the author of this blog—it was difficult to believe that he could be commemorated on an official level while the current regime remains in power. Indeed, several public initiatives calling for a memorial to him in Moscow have been bluntly rejected by the authorities, who also continue to allow the ravaging of the unofficial “people’s memorial” on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge where the opposition leader was killed in February 2015.

Russia’s 2016 Election: Despair, Apathy—and Hope?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—The biggest winners in Sunday’s election for the Russian State Duma were despair and apathy. The years of manipulated elections and overwhelming government control over politics and media under Vladimir Putin have convinced most Russians that voting is meaningless. The turnout on September 18 was the lowest on record: the official (and likely inflated) figure was 48 percent, with the turnout in Moscow and St. Petersburg—the most politically active parts of the country—at a dismal 35 and 33 percent, respectively.

Kremlin’s Election Games Provide Opening for Opposition

IRKUTSK, RUSSIA—This Sunday, Russians will vote in their seventh parliamentary election since the fall of the Soviet Union. The last three of those elections—all of them under the government of Vladimir Putin—were assessed by Western observers as falling far short of European standards of democracy. The last vote, in 2011, was marred by especially high—and especially blatant—manipulation and fraud, as some 14 million votes were estimated to have been “stolen” in favor of Putin’s party, and was followed by mass protests across the country, when tens of thousands of people went to the streets to demand free and fair elections. This was the first time Putin’s Kremlin was not in control of the political agenda—and, for a short while, it seemed that the regime was beginning to crumble.

Russia's Parliament Ends Term with More Repression

Last week, the Russian State Duma of the sixth convocation held its last plenary session, breaking up ahead of the September 18 parliamentary election. The end of this legislature was fitting: its very last act was to adopt a draconian package introduced by United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya that lowered the age of criminal responsibility for some offenses—including “mass disturbances” (Kremlin speak for street demonstrations) and failure to report a crime—to fourteen, and required cellular and internet providers to help security services with deciphering all messaging applications.

Inaugural Nemtsov Prize Awarded to Lev Shlosberg

On June 12—Russia’s national day that has its origins in a 1990 parliamentary declaration that asserted Russia’s sovereignty over the Soviet government and promised its citizens political rights and liberties—the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom held its inaugural ceremony to award the Nemtsov Prize. The event took place in Bonn, Germany, where the foundation is based and where its founder, Zhanna Nemtsova, resides after fleeing Russia last year following her father’s assassination on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, in plain sight of the Kremlin.

Kremlin Leaves Nothing to Chance as Election Nears

MOSCOW—As Russia’s September 18th parliamentary election draws closer, the Kremlin is busy preparing the groundwork. In the last few weeks, the Duma—itself a product of the fraudulent 2011 election that drew more than 100,000 protesters to the streets of Moscow—rubberstamped a slate of new draconian laws targeting the electoral process, from campaigning to observation.

No Impunity for Boris Nemtsov’s Killers

Last week, the European People’s Party—the largest political group in the European Parliament that holds 215 of its 751 seats—endorsed the idea of extending EU visa sanctions to employees of the Russian propaganda machine who were involved in state-sponsored incitement against Boris Nemtsov, the leader of Russia’s pro-democracy opposition gunned down in February 2015 in plain sight of the Kremlin. Earlier, the same initiative was backed by the parliament’s fourth-largest Liberal group, which holds seventy seats.

The Kremlin and Chechnya: A Cruel Irony

Of all the historical ironies, the one surrounding the Kremlin’s relationship with Chechnya must surely be one of the cruelest. 

When Chechens fell victim to Moscow’s heavy-handed campaign of force to reestablish control over the restive region, it was Russian democrats who protested the loudest against large-scale human rights abuses that accompanied the “counterterrorist operation.” Yegor Gaidar and Grigory Yavlinsky, the leaders of the rival liberal parties in Russia’s parliament, who agreed on little else, stood side by side in their opposition to the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. In January 1996, Boris Nemtsov, the newly reelected governor of Nizhny Novgorod, collected 1 million signatures (in a region of 3 million) under a petition against the war in Chechnya and brought them to President Yeltsin’s desk in the Kremlin. “Are these signatures for or against me?” an irritated Yeltsin asked Nemtsov. “That depends on what you do, Mr. President,” the governor replied audaciously. “If you continue the war, they are against you. If you end it, they are for you.

Putin ‘Outlaws’ European Justice in Russia

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Last week, Vladimir Putin signed a law that effectively banishes international legal norms from Russian territory and denies Russian citizens access to European justice. The measure, overwhelmingly passed in both houses of Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament, gives the Constitutional Court—whose chairman, Valery Zorkin, recently called for “transforming the legal system in the direction of military harshness”—the right to ignore rulings by the European Court of Human Rights by declaring them “non-executable.”

Putin, Opposition Leaders Open Yeltsin Presidential Center

MOSCOW — Seldom is such duplicity found in today’s Russia as in the official attitude to the country’s brief period of democracy in the 1990s and the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. As far as lip service goes, Vladimir Putin is careful to emphasize his respect for his predecessor’s “forceful, direct, courageous character… thanks to which our country did not turn away from the democratic path.” In practice, in the first few years of his (now nearly 16-year) rule he has steadily dismantled all the major hallmarks of Yeltsin’s Russia, including freedom of the media, political pluralism, and genuine competitive elections.

The Kremlin's Continued Attack on Dissent

The upper house of Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament will shortly consider a request to extend the list of so-called “undesirable foreign organizations” that supposedly threaten state security and constitutional order and are prohibited from operating in the country. The list, adopted unanimously by the Federation Council in July, currently includes 12 foreign and international NGOs, among them the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House.

Kremlin's Dubious Opinion Polls

If one is to believe VTsIOM, Russia’s state-run polling agency, public support for Vladimir Putin has reached “a new record height” and currently stands at 89.9 percent—a figure obligingly trumpeted by official television channels.

Outspoken Russian Lawmaker Expelled for Truth

In the tightly controlled and airproof “vertical of power” that is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, even a handful of dissenting voices in legislative institutions—especially when they are loud and persistent—can present a serious threat to the system. Such was the voice of the late Boris Nemtsov, who, during his short time in the Yaroslavl Regional Duma, successfully challenged official corruption and put the authorities on the defensive. Such is the voice of Lev Shlosberg, a regional lawmaker in Pskov, who has been a constant thorn in the side of the regime with his refusal to stay silent over its power abuses.

World Affairs Welcomes Vladimir Kara-Murza's Return

Undeterred and Defiant, Vladimir Kara-Murza Returns

We at World Affairs are very pleased to announce that our friend and colleague, Vladimir Kara-Murza, has returned to his weekly blog after prevailing through the enormous challenges of recent months. We are most grateful that he is safe, healthy, among loved ones, and ready to resume his important work to help bring freedom and justice to Russia and expose those preventing it.


— James S. Denton, Publisher and Editor
 

World Affairs Statement on Vladimir Kara-Murza's Hospitalization

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a leading opposition figure in Russia. On Tuesday, May 26, 2015, he collapsed suddenly and lost consciousness in his office at Open Russia in Moscow. He was rushed to Pervaya Gradskaya (First City Clinical) hospital where he remains on life support, unconscious with an undiagnosed illness of undetermined origins.

Given the sudden, mysterious, and incapacitating nature of the illness, and the Putin regime’s appalling record with respect to the murders and mistreatment of prominent dissidents, there is widespread concern that Vladimir has been poisoned. His doctors have not ruled it out though one can imagine the pressure they are under. 

Vladimir’s wife, Evgenia, has attempted to have him evacuated for treatment outside the country. However, it has been determined that his condition is too fragile for him to be moved. 

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