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Europe: Deny the Vote to Putin’s Outlaw Regime

Earlier this month, the leaders of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)—the oldest and largest pan-European organization that brings together national lawmakers from across the continent—visited Moscow for talks with State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin. The principal topic of discussion was the restoration of voting rights for Russian delegates, which were suspended in April following the annexation of Crimea.

The talks brought good news for the Kremlin. According to Andreas Gross, a Swiss lawmaker and the Assembly’s rapporteur on Russia, most leaders of the European parliamentary body want to see “a full restoration of the rights of the Russian delegation” at the PACE’s upcoming session in January. The next round of negotiations will be held in December in Vienna.

If this agreement takes shape, it will represent one of the biggest acts of hypocrisy in the history of the Council of Europe.

Kremlin Returns to Soviet Practice of Stripping Citizenship

MOSCOW — One of the ways of punishing political dissenters under the Soviet regime—alongside prisons, labor camps, and “special psychiatric hospitals”—was forced exile accompanied by a loss of citizenship, to ensure that “offenders” would never return to their country (in practice, “never” was curtailed by the collapse of communism in 1991). This was done, among others, to Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, samizdat publisher Alexander Ginzburg, and Moscow Helsinki Group founder Yuri Orlov.

The writer Vladimir Bukovsky—one of the most prominent figures in the Russian dissident movement—was a rare exception. Forcefully exiled from the USSR and exchanged for Chilean communist leader Luis Corvalán in December 1976, Bukovsky was not stripped of his Soviet citizenship. The Politburo decision on his release and exile did not mention such a sanction, and the senior KGB official who accompanied Bukovsky on the flight to Zurich, Switzerland, handed him a new Soviet passport, with hair and civilian clothes drawn on his prison photograph.

50,000 March in Moscow Against Putin's War

MOSCOW — Last Sunday, Russian citizens once again refuted the Kremlin’s propaganda image of a nation united behind the aggressive actions of a dictator. Some 50,000 people, according to media estimates, marched through downtown Moscow to protest Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine and his escalating crackdown on what remains of civil liberties in Russia. For the first time in many months, the demonstration was backed by all of Russia’s pro-democracy parties, including the People’s Freedom Party, Yabloko, and Progress Party. Demonstrators were chanting “Peace to Ukraine, Freedom to Russia!,” “No Putin, no war!,” and—by far the most popular slogan—“Russia without Putin!”

Muscovites Use Vote to Say ‘No’ to Putin’s War

MOSCOW — Russia’s regional “elections” on September 14th—cleared ahead of time of most Kremlin opponents—predictably ended with Soviet-style 80-to-90 percent approval figures for the incumbents. In St. Petersburg, where some pro-democracy candidates managed to make it onto the municipal ballot, their actual results were drowned in the thousands of “early voter ballots”—outside of the control of independent monitors—almost all of which, by pure coincidence, were cast for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. As a result, the liberal Yabloko party—always a strong presence in Russia’s former capital—ended up with zero seats on municipal councils. Meanwhile, the Kremlin-installed St.

More of the Same: Kremlin Suppresses Candidates

MOSCOW — On September 14th, dozens of Russian regions, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, will hold elections on different levels, from municipal councilors to regional legislators and governors. Supporters of Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party will score landslide victories across the country. This will not be because, as the Kremlin propaganda claims, the regime has widespread popular support—but because all contenders that could pose even potential danger to pro-Kremlin candidates have been removed from the ballot in advance.

Is Russia Suited for Democracy?

MOSCOW — One of the key themes of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine—both for domestic and for foreign consumption—has always been the supposed lack of a better alternative. However unattractive Putin’s corrupt and authoritarian regime, the implicit reasoning went, its replacement would be worse—radical nationalists or leftists. It was no accident that, during the mass anti-Putin protests in 2011–2012, state television channels went out of their way to pick out communist and nationalist flags in the crowd—even though communists and nationalists accounted for, respectively, 13 percent and 6 percent of the demonstrators, while the vast majority expressed pro-democracy views.

This “argument”—from a regime that routinely labels Russia’s democratic opposition “Russophobic”—assumes that, given a choice in a free election, the Russian people would inevitably vote against democracy; that Russians are somehow uniquely “unsuited” for a democratic system that has proven perfectly workable in other post-communist (including Slavic) states.

Harshest Sanctions on Russia Yet—From Vladimir Putin

MOSCOW —When, earlier this year, policy experts suggested that the aggression against Ukraine would be the undoing of Vladimir Putin’s regime, they could not have imagined the speed with which the Kremlin will be sowing the seeds of its own destruction. As Russian analyst Maxim Samorukov has noted, dictatorships often get away with the severest repressions at home—as long as they do not attempt to upset the international order. Vladimir Putin has stepped over the line. His chosen path of confrontation with the entire Western world, his regime’s blatant disregard for international law—accompanied by lies and hypocrisy on a scale not seen since the Soviet days—has already resulted in hard-hitting US and EU sanctions not only on senior Kremlin figures, but also on state-connected banks and corporations.

Putin’s Chess War

MOSCOW — Just as during the Cold War, when sporting competitions between the free world and the Communist camp inevitably acquired a political dimension, big sport is increasingly becoming big politics for Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the ongoing campaign for the presidency of FIDE, the World Chess Federation, that will be decided at the congress in Tromso, Norway, on August 11th.

Police Raids, Intimidation Greet Moscow's Campaign Season

MOSCOW — The campaign for the 2014 Moscow legislative election began, as has become customary in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with police raids. Last week, Russia’s Investigative Committee charged Konstantin Yankauskas, a Moscow municipal legislator and a candidate for the City Duma in the September 14th vote, and fellow election contender Nikolai Lyaskin, with “fraud,” conducting searches in their apartments. Lyaskin was released under prosecutorial recognizance; Yankauskas was sentenced to house arrest and will be unable to file his nomination papers at the electoral commission.

Kremlin Prepares Election Farce in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — This week, the Kremlin-appointed governor of St. Petersburg, former KGB officer Georgy Poltavchenko, became the latest in a string of Russian regional leaders who formally “resigned” their posts in order to seek early reelection on September 14th. Of the 30 gubernatorial polls to be held this fall, 19 will be early elections called because of the resignation or dismissal of the incumbents. The Kremlin and its regional henchmen want to capitalize on the temporary spike in support for the regime after the annexation of Crimea, and ensure reelection before approval ratings start falling again.

Europe's Nationalist Right Votes for Putin

MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin may have suffered a setback with the successful presidential election in Ukraine, but he can claim a significant consolation prize. Elections to the European Parliament, held simultaneously with Ukraine’s presidential vote, resulted in a surge of far-right and nationalist parties—many of which are vocal allies of Putin’s Kremlin.

Crimean Tartars Remember Exile—in Kyiv

The 70th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars—when some 200,000 people were rounded up and expelled from their homeland in the space of two days, between May 18 and 20, 1944—was a much more subdued occasion in Crimea than previous memorial dates. For the first time in years, the Crimean Tatars could not hold their traditional rally in the central square of Simferopol and had to gather on the outskirts of the capital after the Kremlin-installed authorities banned most public meetings. Worse still, the Crimean Tatars marked the date in the absence of their leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev—who was deported from Crimea as an six-month-old and later spent 15 years in Soviet prisons for his campaign for the return of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland—because the Kremlin had banned Dzhemilev from entering Russia and Crimea.

Alexander Yesenin-Volpin, Father of Russia’s Human Rights Movement Turns 90

May 12th marked the 90th birthday of Alexander Yesenin-Volpin, a towering figure in the Russian human rights movement—indeed, its founding father. A renowned mathematician, poet, and philosopher who was arrested and sent to psychiatric prisons three times—under Stalin (1949), Khrushchev (1959), and Brezhnev (1968)—Yesenin-Volpin successfully convinced his fellow dissenters in the early 1960s that the right way to resist Soviet totalitarianism was through a peaceful, nonviolent, law-based human rights movement.

Kremlin Moves to Silence Last Dissenting Lawmakers

Independent-minded lawmakers have been an endangered species in Russia since 2003, after the heavily manipulated parliamentary elections cleansed the Duma of pro-democracy parties. Few dare to voice and vote their own opinions. Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has been a case in point. The annexation of Crimea was rubber-stamped in the Duma by 445 votes in favor—with only one deputy (Ilya Ponomarev) voting against, and three others (Dmitri Gudkov, Sergei Petrov, and Valery Zubov) refusing to vote.

Russian Democrats Offer Support in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine, April 27th — As Vladimir Putin’s regime continues to foment unrest and stage armed provocations in eastern Ukraine, hundreds of prominent Russians—cultural and intellectual figures, civil society leaders, journalists, pro-democracy politicians—gathered here last week to express solidarity with the people of Ukraine and voice their support for a democratic and European future for both countries.

The forum, titled “Ukraine-Russia Dialogue,” was initiated by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of the Open Russia Foundation and, for more than a decade, Russia’s most prominent political prisoner. The event was intended, above all, to demonstrate that Putin’s unelected regime and Russian society are two very different things.

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