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Western Leaders Congratulate Putin for Stealing Another Election

On March 4, 1979, citizens of the USSR went to the polls to elect the Supreme Soviet, on paper the country’s most important governing body. According to the official returns, 99.89 percent of the votes were cast for candidates of the Bloc of Communists and Non-Party Members, who ran unopposed in every district. At its first session, the new Supreme Soviet formally re-elected Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev—who was overwhelmingly returned in Moscow’s Baumansky district—as the USSR’s head of state.

Two Memorials Unveiled On Anniversary of Nemtsov Murder

This afternoon, Members of Congress and leaders of the DC Council will join friends, family, and colleagues of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was assassinated on a bridge in front of the Kremlin exactly three years ago, for the unveiling of the world’s first official memorial to him: Boris Nemtsov Plaza in Washington. The street naming was enacted by a DC law passed unanimously by the Council and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser; an earlier initiative in Congress had been supported by senior legislators on both sides of the aisle. Boris Nemtsov Plaza directly fronts the Russian Embassy in Washington, which thus becomes the first Russian diplomatic mission abroad to be standing on a street named for a Russian statesman. One day, Russian diplomats working here will be proud of it.

In Washington, the World’s First Official Tribute to Boris Nemtsov

On January 25, Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Boris Nemtsov Designation Emergency Act of 2018 into law as Act Number A22-0235, officially naming “the 2600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, NW between Davis Street, NW, and Edmunds Street, NW in Ward 3, as Boris Nemtsov Plaza.” The block fronts the embassy of the Russian Federation. The mayor’s approval followed an earlier unanimous vote by the DC Council. The “emergency” law ensured that the unveiling of Nemtsov Plaza—the first official commemoration for the late Russian opposition leader anywhere in the world—can take place on February 27, the third anniversary of his assassination in Moscow. The parallel permanent legislation, which will take effect after a mandatory 30-day congressional review period, is scheduled for the final vote in the council on February 6.

Kremlin Blocks Political Opposition Websites

The Kremlin has a peculiar sense of humor. Of all the days to issue a sweeping Internet-restricting ordinance it chose the eve of the Day of the Russian Constitution; a document that still maintains, in Article 29, that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought and speech” and that “censorship shall be prohibited.” On Monday night, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office ordered the blocking of more than a half-dozen websites belonging to Open Russia, the pro-democracy movement founded by the now-exiled former oil tycoon and political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and its affiliated groups. Ostensibly, the move was made under a recent law targeting “foreign undesirable organizations.” In reality, most of the blocked websites do not belong to the foreign NGOs designated as “undesirable”; they include the website of the Open Russia movement, a Russian political entity; and the personal website of Khodorkovsky, a Russian citizen.

What Putin Isn’t Learning From His Role Model, Czar Alexander III

On November 18, Vladimir Putin traveled to Yalta in the annexed Crimea to unveil a new monument to Czar Alexander III. The bronze statue of the Russian monarch, who reigned between 1881 and 1894, is adorned with a stele depicting what are supposed to be the symbols of his rule, including the Tretyakov Gallery and the History Museum, and the images of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Dmitri Mendeleev, and other Russian intellectuals of the era. The pedestal features one of the czar’s famous phrases, that “Russia only has two allies: her army and her navy.”

Putin Unveils Memorial to Victims of Soviet Repression, While His Own Repression Continues

On October 30—the day that had been unofficially marked in the Soviet Union as Political Prisoner Day and was later designated by Russia’s first post-Soviet parliament as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression—a new monument was unveiled in downtown Moscow. Standing on the corner of the Garden Ring and Sakharov Avenue, the memorial—called the “Wall of Grief”—commemorates those who had perished at the hands of the totalitarian system and its repressive structures over the seven decades of communist rule. The stones for the memorial had been brought from former Gulag camps across Russia; the word “Remember” is written on it in 22 different languages; the faceless heads adorning the memorial symbolize tears. “This is an uncomfortable monument,” said its sculptor, Georgy Frangulyan. “It sends shivers down the spine.”

The unveiling of Russia’s first national memorial to the victims of communist terror was long overdue. It is astonishing that, 26 years after the end of Soviet rule, there was no such memorial honoring the millions of its victims.

Canada Adopts Version of Magnitsky Law, Shuns Global Outlaws

It took six years of work, tireless public advocacy, and overcoming powerful interest groups—both within and without—but a crucial milestone was finally reached in Canada this week. On October 18, the country’s Governor General, Julie Payette, gave royal ascent to Public Bill S-226, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, better known as the Magnitsky Law, making Canada only the third country in the world to enact what should seem like a straightforward principle: that foreign government officials who abuse and steal from their citizens should not be allowed to take advantage of the freedom and opportunities of Western societies.

After Years of Battling Nemtsov, the Kremlin Battles His Memory

For more than two years now, anyone walking across Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge—steps away from Moscow’s iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral and a few hundred yards from the Kremlin wall—passes by a small makeshift memorial made of a few buckets with fresh flowers by the sidewalk, handwritten posters, candles, Orthodox icons. A confident man smiling from the photographs. This is the spot where, on the night of February 27, 2015, Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down, five bullets to his back, by an Interior Ministry officer subordinate to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s man in Chechnya. While the hired guns have been convicted, no one is really pretending to look higher up the chain of command.

Russia’s Opposition Gets A Foothold in Moscow Elections

The Kremlin’s control over the electoral process in Russia rests on many factors, but the most important one seems to be ballot access. “The main mechanism for the government’s electoral ‘victories’ is not fraud, but the disqualification of [opposition] candidates,” notes anticorruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. “When everyone can participate in the elections, ‘Putin’s majority’ falls apart.” His own mayoral campaign in Moscow in 2013 was a case in point: after the authorities allowed him on the ballot to demonstrate the supposed lack of support for the opposition, Navalny scored a stunning upset, receiving nearly 30 percent of the vote. That same year, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov actually won an election in the Yaroslavl Region, becoming the first “non-systemic” politician in Russia to secure a seat in the legislature.

The August Vote That Changed Russia’s History

If anyone had told members of Russia’s lower house of parliament on August 16, 1999 that the vote they were about to take would shape events in their country and much of the world for the next two decades, they would have been very surprised. A week earlier, President Yeltsin had dismissed Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and nominated Russia’s domestic security chief to take his place; the extraordinary session of the Duma was called in the midst of the August recess to consider the nomination. The candidate’s name was Vladimir Putin, and he was little-known even to many in the establishment, let alone the public at large. Yeltsin’s announcement that he would like to see the premier-designate succeed him in the Kremlin was met with ridicule.

Enforcing the Travel Ban on Putin’s Deputy PM

The biography of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin reads like a guide to whatever is trending in Russian politics: a rising star in Communist Youth in late Soviet years; a defender of democracy at the White House barricades and cofounder of a liberal party in the early 1990s; a nationalist and imperialist firebrand from the mid-1990s as President Yeltsin’s policies became increasingly unpopular. With Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and the consolidation of authoritarian rule, Rogozin firmly allied himself with the Kremlin. Though he continued with nationalist rhetoric—speaking and throwing neo-Nazi salutes at far-right rallies—he has consistently defended Kremlin interests, whether as head of the Russian delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or as leader of the hastily created Motherland bloc that was (successfully) designed to divert votes from the opposition in the 2003 parliamentary elections.

As the Kremlin Tightens the Screws, It Invites Popular Revolt

Perhaps the most important requirement in an election is that voters have a choice. It sounds trivial, but that is something that has been lacking in most Russian elections held under Vladimir Putin’s rule. In both the latest presidential elections that the Kremlin decisively “won”—in 2008 and 2012—genuine opponents (including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and veteran liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky) were disqualified from the ballot before voting even started. Those who repeat the Kremlin’s talking point about Putin’s “popularity” would do well to remember that, after 2000, it has never actually been tested in a real election against real opponents.

Russian Lawyer’s ‘Trump Mission' was to Dump Magnitsky Act

Largely overlooked in the heated discussion of last summer’s meeting between Natalia Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump’s campaign executives, and whether or not it constituted “collusion,” is the reason the Kremlin-connected lawyer and lobbyist sought the meeting in the first place. By her own admission, it was to try “to get the United States to reverse the Magnitsky Act” in the event of a Trump victory. Whatever else this story reveals, it is an important reminder of the Kremlin’s priorities—and of its continued attempts to undermine the 2012 US law that authorized targeted visa bans and asset freezes for Russian officials complicit in “gross violations of human rights.”

A Guilty Verdict in Nemtsov Trial, But Impunity Reigns

On Thursday, the 12-person jury sitting at the Moscow District Military Court rendered its verdict in modern Russia’s most high-profile political assassination. By a majority vote, the jurors found five men—all of them linked to the Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov—guilty of the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down on a bridge in front of the Kremlin on February 27, 2015. Zaur Dadayev, a Kadyrov associate and, at the time of the murder, an officer serving in Russia’s Interior Ministry, was convicted of pulling the trigger. The sentence will be handed down in early July.

Russian Opposition Protests in Twice as Many Cities Than in March

For those in the Kremlin who hoped that anticorruption protests on March 26 were a random episode, June 12 must have come as an unpleasant surprise. On Russia’s national holiday—marking the 1990 parliamentary declaration of sovereignty from the Soviet Union—tens of thousands of people went to the streets across the country to repeat their “No” to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism and corruption. Just as in March, most of those who took part in the rallies represented Russia’s young generation—university and high school students; those in late teens and early twenties; those who were raised (and in many cases born) under Putin but who are increasingly rejecting the nepotism, the lack of accountability, and the sheer arrogance of the small group that has now held power for nearly two decades.

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