The Real Russia

Western policymakers often say “Russia” when they really mean the Kremlin. This is often a convenient substitution—it is certainly more pleasant-sounding and politically appealing when the White House speaks of a “reset with Russia” rather than a “reset with the Putin regime” (which it, in fact, was). “There is a Russia of the Kremlin … and there is a Russia of civil society,” eminent political analyst Lilia Shevtsova reminded earlier this week at a Capitol Hill conference cosponsored by the Institute of Modern Russia, Freedom House, and the Foreign Policy Initiative. “And the West has to formulate finally a dual-track policy towards the Kremlin Russia and towards our Russia.”

Out of Arguments, Pro-Kremlin Voices Smear Opposition

Claims that the Russian pro-democracy opposition is working for the West to undermine Russia’s national interests—and is therefore nothing but a bunch of traitors—are a favorite tune of Kremlin supporters. The absence of any facts to substantiate such claims has never stopped them. In October 2011, the news website Infox.ru published a story with a truly sensational headline: “Kasparov Urges War Against Russia.” Those who read it learned that one of the leaders of Russia’s opposition, while speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, urged the West to “act against Russia … from the position of strength” and “reminded [the audience] of the ‘successful’ experience of democracy-building by military intervention in countries of the Middle East and Africa.” “Judging by this experience,” the story continued, “the most effective way to install democratic procedures is by ‘humanitarian’ bombing.”

Russian Blogger's Investigation Forces Senior MP's Resignation

On Wednesday morning, Vladimir Pekhtin, one of the most senior and longest-serving members of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in the State Duma, took to the floor to announce his resignation because of “controversial documents published on the Internet.” He did not mention Alexei Navalny by name, but it was indeed Russia’s leading anticorruption blogger who forced the Putin loyalist out of politics. Last week, Navalny published documents showing Pekhtin’s (undeclared) ownership of more than $2 million worth of luxury real estate in Miami Beach, Florida.

A Putin Flak and His Miami Villa

Vladimir Pekhtin is a quintessential loyal foot soldier of Vladimir Putin’s regime, having served as one of the leaders of the ruling Unity/United Russia party in Parliament since 2000. He has backed the laws labeling NGOs as “foreign agents” and banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans, called former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a “traitor” for having declared perestroika, and cheered the abolition of gubernatorial elections and the prison sentence for Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Resurrecting Stalin — Again

Russia’s ruling regime is persisting in its attempts to rehabilitate the name of Joseph Stalin. For Vladimir Putin, this has been a consistent course—from the reinstated melody of Stalin’s national anthem to new school textbooks justifying Stalin’s mass purges as “adequate to the task of modernization.” In 2010, as Russia marked the 65th anniversary of victory in the Second World War, the authorities attempted to “decorate” the streets of Moscow with portraits of the dictator—but were forced to back down in the face of strong opposition from veterans, civil society groups, and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Kremlin Breaks Pledge on Gubernatorial Elections, Protests Loom

At the height of its panic in December 2011, as tens of thousands of protesters in Moscow demanded free elections and political reforms, the Kremlin announced several concessions, the chief of which was the reinstatement of direct gubernatorial elections, abolished by Vladimir Putin in 2004. Having ceded ground to the opposition, the regime tried its best to limit the damage. Between January and June 2012, while the old rules were still in effect, the Kremlin made a slate of gubernatorial appointments, reducing the number of regions that were supposed to hold elections in October of that year from ten to five. Among the provinces that were denied the right to elect their governors in 2012 were the Yaroslavl and Sverdlovsk regions, where Putin’s United Russia party—even according to official results—received, respectively, 29 and 33 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary election.

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.


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