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Denied Asylum, Anti-Putin Protester Hangs Himself

Last summer, as Vladimir Putin’s regime was hardening its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, opposition activist Alexander Dolmatov fled to the Netherlands, where he applied for political asylum. His “guilt” in the eyes of the Russian authorities was his participation in the May 6th rally in protest at Putin’s inauguration, which was brutally dispersed by police. As of now, 19 people have been charged with “mass disturbances” in connection with the protest—despite the findings by the Kremlin’s own Human Rights Council that no such “disturbances” took place. One of the protesters, Maxim Luzyanin, has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Eleven more are currently in pretrial detention. Among them is Sergei Krivov, a 51-year-old scientist and father of two minor children, who is in the sixth week of hunger strike in protest at his unlawful arrest.

'Not in My Name’: Muscovites March Against ‘Herod’s Law’

On Sunday, some 50,000 people marched through the boulevards of central Moscow—from Pushkinskaya Square to Sakharov Avenue—in what turned out to be the largest protest in the capital since last summer. Perhaps the most emotional of all the rallies held since the rise of the Russian protest movement in 2011, the “March Against Scoundrels” drew not only committed Kremlin opponents, but also people who have never attended such events in their lives. The reason was too important to sit out: the march was held in protest of “Herod’s Law,” which banned adoptions of Russian orphans by American citizens in response to US visa sanctions against crooks and human rights violators among Russian officials.

Kremlin's Chief Attack Dog Vacations in US

In just one year, Alexander Sidyakin, a member of the Duma from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, went from little-known functionary to the regime’s most prominent attack dog on the Russian pro-democracy movement.

Standing Up to Russia's 'Herod's Law'

On January 1st, “Herod’s Law,” which bans all adoptions of Russian orphans by US citizens, officially came into force. Ignoring protests from opposition and civil society leaders—and, more generally, from everyone with a conscience—Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party has avenged corrupt officials and human rights violators who will be banned from traveling to the US under America’s Magnitsky Act by denying thousands of orphaned Russian children a second chance in life.

But just pushing the law through, it appears, was not enough. Now, Putin wants to make sure that other members of his ruling elite share responsibility for this moral crime.

Russian Dissidents Mobilize Against 'Herod's Law'

If anyone needed more proof that Russia’s current “Parliament” is neither a legitimate nor a representative body—beyond the mass fraud in last year’s election and the largest protest rallies in two decades—it came during the passage of the anti-orphan bill in both houses of the Federal Assembly. The bill, initiated by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in response to US visa and financial sanctions on corrupt officials and human rights violators from Russia, would ban all adoptions of Russian children by American families, thus denying thousands of orphans a second chance in life. It has been popularly dubbed the “Law of the Scoundrels” and “Herod’s Law.”

Putin Retaliates for US Sanctions—Against Russian Orphans

After long threatening unspecified measures in response to the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act—the new US law which bans corrupt officials and human rights abusers from Russia from traveling to or doing business in the United States—Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party has announced its idea of “reciprocity.” In return for targeted sanctions on Russian crooks and abusers, the Kremlin will retaliate against Russian children. To be precise, against the most vulnerable category of Russian children: orphans in need of adoption.

Putin's Empty State-of-the-Nation Speech

Vladimir Putin’s first state-of-the-nation address since his formal “return” to the Kremlin disappointed both his critics and his loyalists; the former had little to scorn, the latter, little to trumpet. It was a 90-minute speech about nothing, likely forgotten by most of those in the audience as soon as Putin finished reading the script. No central theme, no new ideas, no specific proposals—instead, general words about “patriotism”; vague promises to improve the social, economic, and housing conditions of state employees; meaningless statements about the need to reduce corruption among government officials; customary insinuations that the opposition is “receiving money from abroad”; and pledges not to accept “[political] standards forced on us from the outside.”

Principle over Realpolitik: US to Approve Russia Rights Bill

On December 20, 1974, as the US Congress, over the vehement objections of President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, passed the historic Jackson-Vanik amendment limiting trade with the USSR over its lack of the freedom to emigrate, Soviet political prisoner camps were in almost open jubilation. The United States has established a vital precedent: for the first time, economic relations with a country were linked to its human rights record.

Sergei Shoigu: Putin's Heir Apparent?

Vladimir Putin’s decision to appoint Moscow regional governor and former emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu as the new minister of defense has sent waves of speculation that Shoigu is being positioned to take over as Putin’s successor in the Kremlin—much as Putin himself was picked as President Yeltsin’s heir apparent in 1999.

Putin's Anticipated 'Sharp Turn'

The last few weeks have not been too successful for Vladimir Putin’s public image. In October, Reuters reported that the Russian president has serious health problems, which forced him to cancel a number of foreign trips. Around the same time, a poll by the Levada Center showed that only 34 percent of Russians want Putin to remain in power for another term. Perhaps for both reasons, the Kremlin decided to cancel Putin’s “direct line with the people”—the traditional television question-and-answer session that he has held every year for the past decade.

Fearing Upheaval, Putin Backers Urge an Exit Strategy

To an uninitiated observer, the Russian opposition might appear on the decline. A concerted Kremlin-led crackdown—which includes not only new laws curbing civic freedoms, but also criminal prosecutions of opposition activists and, more recently, Stalinist-style kidnappings and torture—as well as the reduced turnout at Moscow’s protest rallies (compared to the height of last December) could indeed give that impression.

But the impression would be false. And the most farsighted among the regime’s own supporters are trying their best to urge Vladimir Putin to prepare an exit strategy before it is too late.

Opposition Leaders Elected, Putin Cracks Down

Over the weekend Russia’s opposition held a primary election to pick 45 members of its newly established Coordinating Council, a collective leadership for the anti-Putin protest movement that sprang into national politics last December as tens of thousands of people went to the streets to protest a fraudulent parliamentary poll and demand democratic reforms. The Kremlin tried its best to sabotage the vote: the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against its organizers, while a coordinated cyber attack disabled the online polling platforms for almost the entire first day of voting. Russia’s current leaders, it seems, are opposed to competitive elections even when they do not threaten them directly—as a matter of principle.

A Russian Election Without Voters

The best assessment of Russia’s October 14th local elections was undoubtedly made by political analyst Alexander Kynev: commenting on United Russia’s “victory,” he observed that “the authorities formally receive a high percentage [of support], but there are almost no real people behind it. It is the rating of a void.”

Putin’s Defenders: Still Disconnected from Reality

Russia’s minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, is a self-styled historian who recently acquired a much-criticized and allegedly plagiarized Ph.D. in the discipline and has penned numerous publications on the political history of Russia. His knowledge of the basics, however, does not appear to be strong. In a recent blog post that instantly became an internet sensation, the minister called Vladimir Putin “the first Russian ruler since Nicholas [II] Romanov who came to power 100 percent legally … who preserves power 100 percent legally … the first [leader] in Russia’s history [to have come to power] in an honest universal-suffrage election.”

Regrettably, not one of the three parts of this statement is true.

The Council of Europe's Russia Failure

The autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, currently under way in Strasbourg, has been hit by a scandal involving the Russian delegation: the speaker of the State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, who had been invited to address the Assembly and had initially agreed, abruptly cancelled his trip, complaining that his “strategic proposals are unlikely to be heard by Parliamentary Assembly leaders and by Russophobe [sic] delegations.” (The speaker’s “strategic proposals” were aimed at “the serious problems with the development of parliamentarism in Europe.”) The Assembly’s president, French center-right legislator Jean-Claude Mignon, expressed “disappointment” at Naryshkin’s decision, reminding his Russian counterpart that “it takes two to hold a dialogue.”

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