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News Analysis: Putin’s Russia

Monday, December 4, 2006

There has been much news on Russian President Vladimir Putin after the deaths of former KGB official and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko and Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, also a fierce critic of Putin and of Russia’s war in Chechnya. Putin seems to be many things, a reformer of Russian politics and at the same time a person who is rolling back freedoms in Russia gained after the fall of the Communist Party of Russia, a man popular with his people and a man despised by many human rights workers and activists in Russia, a man who gives many Russians hope of a newer and better Russia and a man who instills fear into many immigrants and non-ethnic Russians for instilling a nationalistic Russian identity which is based on white supremacy and Orthodox radicalism.

Putin is definitely one of the worst presidents for a democratic and capitalistic state (for his own people). He’s rolling back press freedoms, making it harder for people to run against his party’s ruling coalition, got rid of elections of governors, and has made the Duma (the Russian parliament) his own personal rubber stamp of approval for all of his policies. During his administration he has saw over the political killings of many of his critics, while most of this can’t be traced back to him it seems that someone is trying to instill a fear in the people of Russia that criticizing the ruling party and the Kremlin is tantamount to, at the very least, political harassment and exclusion, and at worst, death by contract killing and assassination.

Below is some news I’ve been able to pick up over the past week on the situation in Russia today.

North Asia:

The Moscow Times
Nov. 29

Blair Vows Thorough Litvinenko Investigation

By Associated Press and The Moscow Times

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that police were determined to find out who was responsible for the death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, as five more people were sent to a clinic to be tested for contamination from radiation.

Blair also said he would speak to President Vladimir Putin about the case “at any time that is appropriate.”…(Read More)

The Moscow Times
Nov. 29, 2006


By Yulia Latynia

Alexander Litvinenko died last week in a London hospital from polonium-210 poisoning. I won’t waste time on the rumors that Litvinenko was poisoned by enemies of President Vladimir Putin. Or that Litvinenko, like the noncommissioned officer’s wife in Gogol’s play “The Inspector General,” “flogged” himself.

On a number of occasions in the last few years, we went to bed in one country and woke up in another. The first was the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. Then came the Beslan school siege in 2004 and the subsequent elimination of direct gubernatorial elections…(Read More)


The Guardian (UK)
Nov. 27, 2006

Corruption, Violence and Vice Have Triumphed in Putin’s Russia

By Max Hastings

The president may not have personally ordered Litvinenko’s murder, but he is overlord of a culture which legitimised it.

In Moscow shortly after 9/11 a clever Russian academic told me: “Don’t believe all that stuff Putin is dishing out about how sorry we all are about what has happened. A lot of people here are thrilled to see the Americans get a kicking.” A few months ago I heard a cluster of diplomats lament the difficulties of doing business with the Russians. “They still see negotiation in the old cold-war way, as a zero-sum game,” said one. “If the west wants something, it must be bad for Moscow.”…(Read More)

Der Spiegel (Germany)
Oct. 20, 2006

Is Russia’s Press Freedom Dead?

By Matthias Schepp, Christian Neef, and Uwe Klussmann

Journalism is a dangerous profession in Russia: No less than 261 journalists have been murdered there since the fall of the Soviet Union. The killers are hardly ever found. The recent murder of Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya may now become a major political issue.

The gathering of Russians looks small in the hectic commotion of a busy street crossing in the heart of Moscow. Fresh flowers have been placed by the building in front of which journalist Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down on Oct. 7, but the vigil doesn’t look particularly impressive. An old woman is there; so is an elderly professor with thick horn-rimmed glasses. Twenty people have shown up, which isn’t a great showing in a city with a population of almost 11 million…(Read More)

Der Spiegel (Germany)
Oct. 13, 2006

The Silencing of Anna Politkovskaya

By Michael Mainville

Russia’s great journalist was gunned down by killers who may have been contracted to snuff out her investigation of government torture.

On the cold, grey afternoon of Oct. 7, a modest Lada car loaded with groceries pulled up outside a central Moscow apartment building. An elegant figure with steel-grey hair and large glasses emerged, shopping bags in hand. Anna Politkovskaya, Russia’s most dogged investigative journalist, was facing a deadline and planning to finish her latest story by the next day. On her desk were photographs and notes about civilians who had been abducted by pro-Kremlin forces in Chechnya and tortured into confessing to crimes they had not committed…(Read More)

Le Monde diplomatique (France)
May 2006

What Does the Kremlin Want?

By Anne Nivat

The separatists’ victory at the end of August 1996 marked the end of the first Russian war in Chechnya. It resulted in a series of social and political agreements but the military campaign launched in October 1999 continues, despite repeated denials from Moscow. The conflict has gone on for so long that it raises questions. Can it be considered genocide? Have Russian objectives altered over the years? Does Islam play a role in the war or is religion being manipulated?

The UN convention for the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, adopted by the General Assembly on 9 December 1948, defines it as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. The majority of Chechens believe that what the Russians are doing to them falls in that category. They believe they are victims of genocide and cannot admit they might not have a legal case…(Read More)

North America:

The New York Times
Nov. 28, 2006

Radiation Found in Offices of Russian Billionaire

By Alan Cowell

LONDON, Nov. 28 — Boris Berezovsky, an exiled Russian billionaire and fierce opponent of the Kremlin, confirmed today that police found radioactive traces in his offices following the death last week of his close associate, Alexander Litvinenko, allegedly poisoned by radiation.

While the association between the two men has become widely known, the discovery of radioactive traces at Mr. Berezovsky’s Mayfair offices highlighted their close ties and offered one more clue about Mr. Litvinenko’s movements on the day he first reported feeling unwell on Nov. 1…(Read More)

The New York Times
Nov. 28, 2006

Three Sent for Radiation Tests After Death of Russian Ex-Spy

By Sarah Lyall

LONDON, Nov. 27 — Three people complaining of symptoms consistent with the radiation poisoning that killed a former Russian spy last week have been sent to a special clinic here for further tests, the authorities said on Monday.

They would not elaborate on the symptoms and said it would take a week before they knew whether the three had been exposed to polonium 210, the radioactive isotope found in the urine of the former spy, Alexander Litvinenko. But they said the danger to the public was minimal…(Read More)

The New York Times
Nov. 25, 2006

London Riddle: A Russian Spy, a Lethal Dose

By Alan Cowell

LONDON, Nov. 24 — Radiation poisoning killed Alexander V. Litvinenko, the former Russian K.G.B. officer and foe of the Kremlin, authorities here said Friday, further complicating a case that has taken on all the mystery and menace of a political thriller.

From his deathbed, Mr. Litvinenko’s family said, he had accused President Vladimir V. Putin of being behind his poisoning. Outside the hospital where he died late Thursday, alarm spread across London after the police found traces of radiation in three places the former spy had been: a sushi bar, a hotel and his North London home…(Read More)
Oct. 12, 2006

Slain Russian Journalist Remembered

Anna Politkovskaya, a U.S.-born Russian journalist known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead on Saturday, Oct. 7 in an elevator located in her central Moscow apartment block. Reports have indicated that it was a contract killing carried out by a professional. The mother of two, Politkovskaya was 48 years old.

Politkovskaya reported extensively on the Chechen conflict for Russia’s liberal newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. Her writing was often extremely critical of the Russian government, and fervent in its support for human rights and the rule of law. Her murder caused a strong international reaction…(Read More)

The New York Review of Books
April 27, 2006

Russia: The Persecution of Civil Society

By Aryeh Neier and Leonard Benardo

On January 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law ‘Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation,’ which radically curtail the independence of the country’s nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Russia’s parliament, the Duma, had passed the bill in its third reading in late December by a huge majority: 357 in favor and only 20 against. Recalling an earlier era, Putin’s signing was not made public until word of it appeared a week later in Rossiskaya Gazeta, the government’s official newspaper. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in Moscow for her first visit, and had publicly expressed her concerns about the bill’s impact on nongovernmental organizations, was unaware that the bill was already a law by the time she met Putin…(Read More)

Southeast Asia:

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Jan. 25, 2005
Russia’s Nationalists Call for a Ban on Jewish Groups
By Agence France-Presse

MOSCOW, Russia — Russia’s nationalist lawmakers have asked the prosecutor general to ban all Jewish organizations because of their “extremist” views in a vitriolic call coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

The letter was dated January 13 but only rose to public attention this week.

It shocked human rights defenders and even some of the original signatories told Agence France-Presse Tuesday they had changed their minds and were recalling their names.

But the seven-page call signed by 20 members of the 450-seat State Duma lower house of parliament that included the Communist Party and nationalist groups used some of the most profane language against Jews publicly published in the post-Soviet era…(Read More)


The Guardian (Nigeria)
Dec. 1, 2006

Spy’s Poisoning Death Threatens Britain, Russia Ties

THE poisoning death of a former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London has heightened tensions between Britain and Russia- an issue that could strain sensitive negotiations on issues as diverse as energy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) expansion, and the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

Britain has been careful not to blame the Kremlin for the death of the former KGB agent and fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But criticism of Putin’s increasing authoritarianism has intensified since the poisoning even within Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Cabinet…(Read More)

Middle East:

Al Jazeera (Qatar) Nov. 20, 2006
Russia Denies Poisoning Ex-Spy

By Agencies France Press and Al Jazeera

Russia has denied poisoning an ex-Soviet spy who was the target of an apparent assassination attempt in London.

“The Russian secret services have not in a long time carried out poisonings or any form of assassination,” a spokesman for the foreign intelligence service, the SVR, said on Monday…(Read More)

In Depth:

Asia Times Online (Hong Kong)
Nov. 22, 2006

The New World Oil Order, Part 1: Russia Attacks the West’s Achilles’ Heel

By W. Joseph Stroupe

Russia has found the Achilles’ heel of the US colossus. In concert with its oil-producing partners and the rising powerhouse economies of the East, Russia is altering the foundations of the current US-led liberal global oil-market order, insidiously working to undermine its US-centric nature and slanting it toward serving first and foremost the energy-security needs and the geopolitical aspirations of the rising East.

All this is at the impending incalculable expense of the West. What is increasingly at stake is secure US access to global energy resources – strategic US energy security – because the West’s traditional control respecting those global resources is seriously faltering in the face of the compelling strategies undertaken by Russia and its global partners…(Read More)

For Part 2 Click Here

Human Rights Watch (United States)
Nov. 13, 2006

Widespread Torture in the Chechen Republic

In 2006 Human Rights Watch conducted two investigative missions to Chechnya, focusing specifically on the issues of torture and unlawful detention. Based on interviews with victims of abuses, their relatives and, in some cases, their lawyers, we gathered information—and in some cases documented in detail—on the torture of 115 persons between July 2004 and September 2006. The present briefing paper summarizes this research.

In the majority of cases documented by Human Rights Watch, pro-Moscow Chechen forces under the effective command of Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov—known as “Kadyrovsty”—were responsible for the abuses; we also documented torture by personnel of the Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2) of the North Caucasus Operative Department of Chief Directorate of the Federal Ministry of Interior in the Southern Federal District…(Read More)

Carnegi Endowment for International Peace (United States)
Current History

Oct. 2006

Russia’s Ersatz Democracy

By Lilia Shevtsova

Russia’s political evolution has entered a strange stage. The ruling elite is trying to use popular elections to legitimize a regime that is based on personified power and bureaucratic authority. It is trying to buttress the social order by restoring Russia’s great power status while invoking nostalgia for a past that the elite itself rejects and fears. In all of these endeavors, Russia’s leaders are experimenting with a model of national transformation that attempts a unique fusion of conflicting elements: of tradition and postmodernity; of autocracy and democracy; of the market and state control; of partnership with the West and a rejection of Western values.

This experiment will not work. The hybrid is not sustainable. And yet, in part because high energy prices continue to prop up the regime, because an effective opposition has yet to emerge, and because the Kremlin seems determined to avoid a succession crisis, a kind of stagnant stability likely will persist beyond the 2008 presidential election. Apparently, Russia will have to pass through a period of disenchantment—and it must realize the impossibility of existing simultaneously in several different civilizational dimensions— before it can begin the search for a more effective system of social management…(Read More)

The Atlantic Monthly (United States)
March 2005

The Accidental Autocrat

By Paul Starobin

Vladimir Putin is not a democrat. Nor is he a czar like Alexander III, a paranoid like Stalin, or a religious nationalist like Dostoyevsky. But he is a little of all these—which is just what Russians seem to want.

Like many Russians, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a late riser. Sometimes he doesn’t roll out of bed until 11:00 a.m. Russia’s president lives with his wife, Lyudmila, and two teenage daughters, Maria and Katerina, about twenty-five miles west of the center of Moscow, at Novo Ogarevo, a country estate dotted with white birch and pine trees that was built in the late nineteenth century for a son of Czar Alexander II. The neighborhood is now a haven for wealthy Russians, who have constructed opulent and often tasteless dachas. Trim and fit for his fifty-two years, Putin usually starts his mornings with a vigorous workout in the compound’s small indoor pool. (The butterfly stroke is a favorite.) The grounds contain stables, a recently restored Orthodox church, a vegetable plot, and a helipad, and Putin sometimes spends the day working at Novo Ogarevo, receiving visitors there rather than at the Kremlin. In any case, he seldom leaves for the office much before noon.

Putin is a difficult character study. An ex-KGB colonel, he is at times deliberately indistinct. And his secretive and tight-knit court tends to operate according to the old Russian village principle of “Iz izby soru ne vynesi”—literally, “Do not carry rubbish out of the hut.” In the emerging school of Putinology, theories abound as to what makes him tick. Many analysts emphasize his intelligence training and his Soviet-era background. Alexander Rahr, the author of a biography of Putin calling him “the German in the Kremlin,” sees him instead in the context of his KGB posting in Dresden and his affinity for German culture (he speaks German fluently). Others see a somewhat ambivalent Putin, split—as Russians often are—between an outward-facing Western orientation and an inward-looking Slavophilic one. The boisterous, red-faced Yeltsin—that bear of a man—more naturally fit the Western idea of a Russian leader. But Putin is as much a product of the Russian environment and heritage as Yeltsin was. In fact, Putin’s Russianness, in the broadest sense, is the key to his character; in certain respects his rule is re-enacting distinctive Russian political traditions…(Read More)

Foreign Affiars (United States)
Nov./Dec., 2004

Putin and the Oligarchs

By Marshall I. Goldman

The jailing of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has revealed the fault lines running through the post-Soviet political economy. The reforms and privatization of the 1990s were so flawed and unfair as to make them unstable. A backlash was inevitable. Given Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian tendencies, that backlash has proved equally flawed and unfair-and perhaps equally unstable.

In mid-September, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans for a radical overhaul of his country’s political system, with the goal of centralizing power in the Kremlin. Acting in the wake of the hostage crisis in Beslan, during which Chechen separatists killed hundreds of children, Putin claimed that his power grab was necessary to help Russia win its own war on terrorism. Whatever his motivations, the move represents a major step backward for Russian democracy…(Read More)

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