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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 433,491 346,520 310,000 16
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,610 2,140 1,750 97
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Russia


Update No: 362  (26/02/11)

Another Russian ‘revolution’ in the picture
There are signs, possibly premature, of a split right in the heart of the Kremlin, namely between President Dmitry Medvedev and his predecessor (and successor?) as head of state, Premier Vladimir Putin. The former is clearly a more liberal figure, the latter a caricature of Russian autocracy, with a latter day liberal-democratic dross of course.

There is a very important election coming up next year, a presidential one, that will decide who really rules Russia.

Medvedev is giving out indications that he wants to remain, not just formally, but actually in charge, namely winning the election in the autumn – and divesting himself of his nemesis, Premier Putin.

This would make a mighty difference were it to happen. At last Russia would perhaps sooner rather than later, join the true liberal democracies, with an independent rule of law, a crucial hallmark of the same.

A new event
Occasionally something happens that heartens the human soul. Somebody standing up for freedom and democracy, the rights of men - and those of women too, why not?

Nelson Mandela did it in his time. So does Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma in hers.

It can lighten up a whole political landscape. Why was she allowed to do so? The intriguing thing is that Medvedev may have had something to do with it.

This is happening in a dramatic way in Russia right now - and let us celebrate it as a wonderful exhibition and embodiment of the human spirit. It is a woman in fact who is standing tall.

Vasilyeva the valiant
She is clearly an utterly remarkable person. She is certain to lose her job - and suffer further afield, but is determined to speak the truth and say it out loud, whatever the consequences.

She is Natalya Vasilyeva, who is on the inside of a key trial of strength between the powers- that-be and those against.

She is - or rather was - an assistant to the legal stooge of the Kremlin in the business, Viktor Danilken. The trial was held in December.

The guilty verdict then against the oil tycoon and Kremlin critic was ordered from above and written by a judge who did not try the case, she said. Her natural indignation at unnatural justice is clear for all to see. Natalya Vasilyeva, in an interview she claimed was certain to spell the end of her career, said: "I can say that all of legal society understands perfectly well that this is a made-to-order case, a made-to-order trial."

Vasilyeva was assistant to Danilkin, who in December found Khodorkovsky guilty of theft and money laundering in the second case against the billionaire, who has been in jail on fraud charges since 2003. The tycoon's lawyers and supporters have repeatedly denounced the trial as a farce, alleging that Danilkin – who extended the prison sentence until 2017 – had been put under pressure by the Kremlin.

Vasilyeva's interview – published in, a respected liberal online news portal, and shown on TV Rain, a cable channel said to be close to the liberal circle around President Dmitry Medvedev – marks the first time someone from the court that tried the case has spoken out against the trial.

Vasilyeva said Danilkin was required to seek approval for every step he made during the 20-month trial with the Moscow city court. That included the writing of the verdict, which was initially set to be handed down on 15 December.
"Danilkin began to write the verdict," Vasilyeva said. "I suspect that what was in the verdict didn't suit the higher authorities. And that's why he got a different sentence, which he then had to read out."

"That the sentence was brought from the Moscow city court, I know for absolute certain," she added.

The reading of the verdict was delayed until 27 December so higher court authorities could write the new verdict, she said. Danilkin was summoned to the Moscow city court on 25 December and when he returned to his courthouse looked "very stressed," Vasilieva said, citing people who saw him that day. "He might have been physically ill and was clearly very depressed," she said, noting he had earlier shown signs of developing heart trouble.

She said Danilkin had become a changed man after the reading of the verdict. "He's become withdrawn, he's depressed and just sad."

Shortly after the interview was released, Danilkin described its contents as slander.

"I firmly believe that Natalya Vasilyeva's statement was no more than libel which can be refuted in an order established by the law," the judge told the state news agency, ITAR-Tass.

Anna Usachyova, a spokeswoman for the Moscow city court, said Vasilyeva had resigned before giving the interview and questioned her motives. "Natalya Vasilieva's statement is a provocation. It's clear straight away that the girl is unfamiliar with the procedural foundations of the law," Usachyova told RIA-Novosti, another state-run news agency. "Judge Danilkin heard the case for two years and could only write the verdict himself."

Vasilyeva said she was certain she would be fired after coming forward, and also said she feared for the fate of the judge. Explaining why she chose to speak out, she said it was because she was disillusioned. "I wanted to become a judge," she said. "But when I saw its internal workings, how everything happens, then the fairytale that the judge is answerable only to the law and nothing else melted away.

"I wanted people to understand that a lot of what is told to them is cleaned up and fixed up and doesn't always correspond to reality."

Critics of the Kremlin have held up the case against Khodorkovsky as a prime example of Russia's corrupt legal system. Medvedev, a former lawyer, has vowed to reform it but has taken few concrete steps to do so.

Khodorkovsky's supporters insist the case against him was orchestrated by Vladimir Putin, now prime minister. They have appealed the latest verdict. State prosecutors have hinted that they might seek a third set of charges against Khodorkovsky, which would extend his sentence even further.

Yet in recent weeks, Medvedev has ordered his human rights council, an advisory body, to look into several high-profile cases, including the one against the jailed oil tycoon.
Some analysts have posited a split between the circles surrounding Medvedev and Putin as Russia gears up for a presidential election early next year.

Yury Schmidt, one of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, welcomed the interview. "This is a woman speaking the truth," he said. "I don't see any other reasons for it."

Khodorkovsky has been in jail on fraud charges since 2003.

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