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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.

Russia’s Election Was Rigged—And This Time It’s Official

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights—the highest judicial body for the 47 member states of the Council of Europe—handed down a cluster of decisions on various subjects, from land ownership in Poland to asylum procedures in Switzerland. One of the rulings concerned Application No. 75947/11, “Davydov and Others vs. Russia.” “The fairness of the elections…was seriously compromised by the procedure in which the votes had been recounted. In particular, the extent of recounting, unclear reasons for ordering it, lack of transparency and breaches of procedural guarantees in carrying it out, as well as the results whereby the ruling party gained votes by large margins, strongly support the suspicion of unfairness,” held the judges in Strasbourg. “None of the [domestic] avenues employed by the applicants afforded them a review which would provide sufficient guarantees against arbitrariness.” The seven-judge panel (that included a judge from Russia) unanimously ruled that there has been a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No.

Essay: Answering the Kremlin's Challenge

On December 20, 1991, NATO foreign ministers gathered at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels for talks with diplomats from the former Warsaw Pact countries were caught by surprise as the (still) Soviet ambassador, Nikolai Afanasievsky, began reading out a letter from Russian President Boris Yeltsin to NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner. “We consider these relations [with NATO] to be very serious and wish to develop this dialogue in each and every direction, both on the political and military levels,” wrote the Russian leader who, five days later, would take control of Moscow’s nuclear arsenal and its permanent seat on the UN Security Council as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics formally went out of existence. Yeltsin’s letter continued: “Today we are raising the question of Russia's membership in NATO.” Unlike the sham Soviet application to join the alliance in 1954, this one was clearly made in good faith, coming a few months after Russian citizens defiantly—and definitively—rejected the old regime, going out in the hundreds of thousands to the streets of Moscow to stand in the way of an attempted hardline coup d’état.

World Affairs Statement on Vladimir Kara-Murza's Hospitalization

For the second time in less than two years, Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza was suddenly stricken ill and hospitalized in Moscow this morning. At this moment, he is unconscious, in intensive care, and on life support. His symptoms today are identical to those of two years ago when he was hospitalized under highly suspicious circumstances with many believing he had been poisoned. His wife and three children live in a suburb of Washington D.C.

US Blacklists Top Putin Lieutenant

MOSCOW—Earlier this week, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced five new additions to the Specially Designated Nationals List under the Magnitsky Act—a federal law that provides for visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in human rights abuse. This decision brought the number of people sanctioned under the Act to forty-four. It also shattered an unspoken glass ceiling that had been in place ever since the Magnitsky Act was passed by strong bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, and over objections from the Obama administration, in 2012. All of those placed on the sanctions list—at least in its unclassified section—have been low- or mid-ranking officials well outside of Vladimir Putin’s close circle.

Until now. Among the new names announced on January 9th was General Alexander Bastrykin, chairman of Russia’s Investigative Committee and a close confidant of Putin’s since their university days in Leningrad.

Tiny Estonia Takes Tall Stand Against Russian Rights Abusers

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—“The adoption of the Magnitsky law in Europe would be an absolute catastrophe for Putin,” Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Russian opposition, said soon after the United States barred corrupt Russian officials and human rights abusers from entering its territory and using its financial system. “He finds the American law disagreeable, but he’s aware that it’s in Europe that the overwhelming majority of corrupt functionaries have assets, children, property and bank accounts...So tremendous force is being exerted to defeat the adoption of the Magnitsky law in Europe.”

Indeed, in the four years that have passed since the US Magnitsky Act came into effect in December 2012, no European country dared follow the example. There were motions, statements, recommendations, resolutions—but no practical steps.

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.

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