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Navalny's Campaign for Mayor Returns Politics to Russia

This summer, Russia has skipped its traditional political lull. As the September 8th mayoral election draws closer, Moscow finds itself at the center of a heated campaign that would seem more appropriate in the free-wheeling 1990s than in the era of Putin’s authoritarian stagnation. For the first time in more than a decade, real politics and real competition have returned to Russia’s capital. The “culprit”? Alexei Navalny, the 37-year-old anticorruption campaigner who has emerged as a leading figure in the Russian protest movement since the 100,000-strong pro-democracy rallies in December 2011, which signaled the long-awaited political awakening of the country’s middle class.

Kremlin Arrests Leading Opposition Mayor

The Putin regime has a multitier system of ensuring that no genuine opponent ever comes near a position of power. For the most part, opposition candidates are simply barred from participating in elections—as happened with Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Bukovsky in 2008; with the People’s Freedom Party in 2011; and with Grigory Yavlinsky in 2012.

Putin’s Police Raid Human Rights Group

“You are scaring the … public. Nothing like that is happening here,” Vladimir Putin told German ARD television in April. “There is no need to scare anybody [by saying] that someone is being seized, arrested, confiscated [sic] … There are some administrative sanctions, but I believe that they are absolutely within the bounds of civilized rules.” The Kremlin leader was responding to a question about the ongoing crackdown against Russian NGOs, which have been forced by a new law to label themselves as “foreign agents”—which, in the Russian language, is synonymous with “foreign spies.” Organizations that have refused to accept this slanderous label—including all of Russia’s leading human rights NGOs—are facing forced dissolution.

Why Is Putin Still in the G-8?

Fifteen years ago, the United Kingdom hosted the first official summit of the “Group of Eight.” The 1998 meeting in Birmingham marked the first time that Russia participated as a full member in the club of the world’s leading industrialized democracies—a unique international organization based not only on its members’ geopolitical influence, but also on their adherence to the values of political and economic freedom. Despite the many social problems at the time, Russia in 1998 clearly met the criteria for G-8 membership: It had free competitive elections, a robust independent media—including national television—and a genuine pluralistic Parliament.

Will Obama Ignore Human Rights in Talk with Putin?

On Monday, US President Barack Obama will meet with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland. According to the White House, their bilateral agenda will include Afghanistan, Syria, missile defense, counterterrorism, and economic cooperation. No mention, at least so far, has been made of anything relating to democracy and human rights—despite Putin’s unprecedented crackdown, which now includes not only fraudulent elections and media censorship, but also political show trials and state-driven paranoia about “foreign agents,” as the Kremlin is labeling independent NGOs. Several participants of a May 2012 anti-Putin rally in Moscow are in jail for “inciting riots”; Alexei Navalny, a prominent anticorruption campaigner and opposition candidate for Moscow mayor, is on trial; and a third criminal case is reportedly being prepared against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s best-known political prisoner, who has already spent nearly a decade behind bars.

EU Panders to Putin, Shelves Human Rights

On Monday and Tuesday, Yekaterinburg, Europe’s easternmost city, hosts the bilateral EU-Russia summit attended by the respective leaders—EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to Van Rompuy, “there remains a lot of untapped potential to deepen our strategic partnership in all areas,” and the summit will focus in particular on “modernization, visas and mobility, and trade” as well as “measures to stimulate economic growth and jobs.” One of the main issues at the summit will be the negotiation of a new bilateral agreement between the EU and Russia.

The Kremlin shares Brussels’ optimism regarding the summit: Vladimir Chizhov, Moscow’s EU representative, has spoken of “a unique historical chance for our cooperation to move to a new level,” stressing his expectation that human rights will not come up for discussion to avoid “making the atmosphere toxic.”

A Glimpse of Truth in the Kremlin's Democracy Charade

Most of the time, the Kremlin is trying to preserve a smokescreen of “legality” around its actions—and the Russian regime’s Western apologists are happy to follow suit. In their pretend world (the true worth of which is well known to them), Vladimir Putin and the current State Duma have been “elected by voters”; the government “does not interfere” with the courts or the media; and jailed opponents of the regime are not political prisoners, but “criminals.”

A Rare Case of Justice in Russia

Good news from Russia, politically speaking, is a scarce commodity—especially if it involves opponents of Vladimir Putin. On Thursday, a Moscow City Court judge overturned the extension of pretrial detention for Vladimir Akimenkov, one of 17 people who are currently being held behind bars in the so-called “Bolotnaya case.” According to the government’s version, the mass protests against Putin’s inauguration on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, turned into “riots.” An independent expert commission established by human rights groups has concluded that the violence was deliberately provoked by the authorities to create a pretext for the subsequent crackdown.

Russia’s Protests Resume Amid Heightening Repression

On Monday, some 30,000 people gathered on Bolotnaya Square—the site of the unprecedented anti-Putin protests in 2011 and 2012—in a rally that was marked, in the words of media commentators, by “hope without illusion” and “solidarity without euphoria.” This protest was not, as a year ago, directed against a fraudulent “election” that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin. This time, Muscovites came out to protest the looming transformation of an authoritarian regime into a full-fledged police state.

As Putin Avoids Navalny, the Reformer's Popularity Rises

Vladimir Putin rarely passes an opportunity to denounce his opponents, without much concern for reality. He has suggested that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was guilty of “murders” (despite the fact even the official Kremlin-inspired indictment against Russia’s most prominent political prisoner carries no such charges); accused Boris Nemtsov of stealing “billions … together with [Boris] Berezovsky” (although it was Putin, not Nemtsov, who was associated with Berezovsky in the 1990s), and criticized Garry Kasparov for giving an interview in English (even though the interview was for Western journalists).

Commission: Kremlin Pre-Planned Moscow ‘Riots’

On May 6, 2012, some 60,000 people marched through downtown Moscow to Bolotnaya Square to protest the inauguration of Vladimir Putin, “elected” to a de facto fourth term in office in a vote that international monitors assessed as not fair. The march had been officially sanctioned by City Hall, and nobody expected anything other than a peaceful rally—just like the ones in December 2011 and February 2012.

But as the protesters approached Bolotnaya, they were met by thousands of armed riot police who had blocked parts of the square, hindering access and creating an artificial stampede. According to the Kremlin’s version, what happened next were “mass riots” by demonstrators who attacked and assaulted police officers. Sixteen people are currently behind bars on this charge; 11 more have been indicted.

Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny on Trial

Judge Sergei Blinov, until recently little known outside his town of Kumyony, may well go down in history. At the very least, the laurels of Viktor Danilkin—the Moscow judge who issued the absurd, politically motivated prison sentence for Mikhail Khodorkovsky—could rightly be his. In the past 18 months, Judge Blinov issued 130 rulings; every single one was a “guilty” verdict. Last December, he was transferred from Kumyony to Kirov, a city of 500,000 people some 550 miles east of Moscow—it was here, at the Leninsky District Court, that, on Wednesday morning, Judge Blinov gaveled into session the trial of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent anticorruption campaigner and opposition activist and, as of this month, a declared presidential candidate.

Margaret Thatcher Understood Russia

It has often been said that Margaret Thatcher was more popular in Russia than she was in her own country. This was especially true in the late 1980s, when she, together with Ronald Reagan, played an instrumental role in the weakening of Soviet Communism, helping Russians liberate themselves from totalitarian rule. Having forced the Kremlin into an “arms race” it could not win, Thatcher and Reagan accelerated the demise of the Soviet system, making its political and economic bankruptcy evident to the entire world, including, not least, to the Russian people.

Putin’s Best Hope: A Fragmented Opposition

With public support for Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party falling by the month (according to the latest Levada Center polls, only 32 percent of Russians would vote for Putin in a presidential election, while 40 percent agree with the opposition slogan that United Russia is a “party of crooks and thieves”), the best hope for the Kremlin and its regional protégés to hang on to power is a fragmented opposition.

Boris Berezovsky, the Man Who Made—and Tried to Unmake—Putin

In the spring of 2000, after his favored candidate, Vladimir Putin, officially won the Russian presidency (having been acting in this capacity since December 1999), Boris Berezovsky came to the office of then-leader of the liberal opposition in the State Duma, Boris Nemtsov, to complain of boredom. There was nothing else to do, Berezovsky lamented—the presidency was in his pocket; everything was under control. “You won’t be bored,” Nemtsov retorted, “[Putin] will never forgive you for your support.”

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