FREE GEOPOLITICAL NEWSLETTER

russia  

For current reports go to EASY FINDER

RUSSIA


  
  

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
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: 385  (26/03/13)

Summary: Relations between Moscow and the US remain sour over the Magnitsky law, adoption and missile defence. The Kremlin continues to gain unenviable attention for corruption cases involving high-ranking officials. Meanwhile the protest movement, which to some, seemed to offer so much in the immediate aftermath of Putin’s return to the presidency, appears to have lost momentum, with its leaders routinely harassed and intimidated.

The past month has seen a number of international and domestic developments attract the attention of Russia’s strongman President, Vladimir Putin. Relations with the US, which became frosty over sanctions directed at Russian officials and Moscow’s subsequent ban on US adoptions, have not necessarily thawed despite the arrival of new Secretary of State John Kerry, Moscow’s preferred choice for the position. The two nations remain at loggerheads over Syria, missile defense and democratic standards concerns. Russia’s opposition, galvanized after a winter of discontent in 2011, is flagging under immense pressure from the Kremlin. Prominent opposition leaders such as corruption busting Alexei Navalny are facing intimidation tactics from the Kremlin and it is feared that the appetite for mass unrest has floundered. Stories of corruption at the top remain as frequent as ever, and concerns about accountability remain largely unanswered.

Relations with Washington remain cool as a result of the Sergei Magnitsky sanctions, passed last year, which prevent a number of Russia officials involved in the death of the Hermitage lawyer from travelling to the US. Effectively in retaliation, at the end of last year Russia banned the adoption of Russian orphans by American couples. Russia continues to wage a rhetorical war against Washington on the issue of adoptions, lambasting the US when it discovered that the parents of Max Shatto, the Russia toddler who died in mysterious circumstances last month, would not face charges in his death. The adoption ban does seem to have some popular support in Russia. On March 2, as many as 12,000 people marched in Moscow supposedly to ban all foreign adoptions. The adoption ban is not the only tit-for-tat measurement adopted by Moscow. On February 28, Chris Smith, a prominent U.S. congressman and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights, who has frequently travelled to Russia in the past, was denied a visa. He says this is clearly a response to the Magnitsky list.

There were recently suggestions that bilateral relations could improve as a result of Washington’s decision to change its plans for missile defense. Russia had long contested the controversial plans (drawn up back in the Bush era,) to station a missile defence system in Poland. Moscow had maintained that the system was directed against it and not against Iran as Washington claimed. At the start of March, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that these plans had been abandoned and instead interceptors would be placed in Alaska. Moscow, however, was clearly not appeased. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by the Kommersant newspaper as saying that, "We feel no euphoria in connection with what was announced by the U.S. defense secretary and we see no grounds for correcting our position." One deputy, Aleksei Pushkov, went so far as to tell the Vedomosti newspaper that the move from Europe to Alaska “proved” that the U.S. missile-defense system was aimed at Russia and not at Iran.

The change of Secretary of State to John Kerry, the Kremlin’s favoured choice, has not necessarily heralded any greater breakthrough in relations. After North Korea’s most recent nuclear test at the start of March, Kerry placed phone calls with all regional foreign ministers. Sergei Lavrov was the only one why did not answer immediately. At their first meeting, at the end of February, Russia media enjoyed relaying Kerry's comments to students in Germany in which he told them that freedom of speech meant the right to be stupid. Official government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta regaled in the statement with the headline "U.S. Secretary of State: Every American Has the Right to Be Stupid." Kerry has however gained praise for agreeing to personally intervene in the investigation of deaths of Russian adoptees. Another sign of positive cooperation are apparent plans to help protect the polar bear through a joint proposal to increase their levels of protection.

Regarding the Magnitsky case, which prompted international outcry and the dispute between Washington and Moscow, it was announced on March 20 that the official investigation into his death has been closed, because there is, according to the Russian authorities, no evidence of a crime. Meanwhile it was contested by numerous parties (and admitted by previous investigators themselves,) that Magnitsky’s body has evidence of torture. Putin critics were unsurprised by the verdict since denial of any wrong doing is the hallmark of the regime, and acknowledging that he was tortured would undermine the legal nihilism that inheres in the system as a whole. The posthumous trial against Magnitsky for tax evasion continues though it has been repeatedly postponed. There is apparently growing momentum for the idea of a European Magnitsky sanction list. Kristiina Ojuland, a member of the European Parliament from Estonia who is leading the fight for European sanctions says, “Russians consider themselves, really, like a part of Europe – Europeans […] And therefore it's significant that Europe reacts, not only [to] the Magnitsky case, but in broader terms, reacts against this corrupt, black money that is flying into the EU countries."

Additionally, new charges have been brought against against Bill Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital and Magnitsky's former employer. Mikhail Alexandrov of the Interior Ministry's Investigative Department announced on March 6 that there were plans to charge Browder with misappropriation of funds, over his alleged use of subsidiary companies to gather a 3 billion ruble stake in Gazprom between 2001 to 2004. He has described the charges as “absurd.” He is already on trial in absentia along with his deceased lawyer for tax fraud. Corruption allegations leveled against Russia’s political elite, mainly from indefatigable oppositionists such as Alexei Navalny, continue to surface. Navalny published documents last month revealing that senior lawmaker Vladimir Pekhtin owned undeclared foreign property abroad, prompting his resignation. This month he has exposed that Pskov Governor Andrei Turchak's wife owns real estate in France that Turchak did not declare until this month. Whether his allegations lead to changes depends to a much greater degree on whether Putin considers those targeted expendable than on any genuine acceptance of the accusations.

Navalny is himself under increasing pressure from the government as a result of his activities as a whistleblower and activist. The most recent attack is an attempt to discredit him as a practitioner of the law. The Investigative Committee says that Alexei Navalny fraudulently obtained his legal credentials and is not in fact, a real lawyer. Navalny promptly denied the accusations. The Russian Investigative Committee claims that the opposition figurehead provided inaccurate information when applying to become a lawyer. The Kremlin’s human rights council has unexpectedly defended the Rospilinfo founder, saying that the current fraud allegations against him are an attempt to punish him for his political activity. The opposition as a whole is under great pressure. A recent March for Muscovites’ Rights attracted only 2-3,000 people. Last year in the wake of mas protests, opposition rallies could command as many as 50,00 people. It seems that the movement is losing dynamism. The Kremlin is nonetheless as fearsome as ever in its attempts to ensure dissenting voices are crushed.

Earlier in March, opposition gay rights activist Mitya Aleshkovsky was detained, harrassed and strip-searched at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport after refusing to cease filming an interview in the arrivals hall. Activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, who was arrested on charges of inciting mass riots has reportedly disappeared from the Irkutsk prison where he has been incarcerated since January, his lawyer said, with his whereabouts unknown to relative, his lawyers or any journalists. Meanwhile two well-known figures from with the ‘managed opposition’, Dmitry and his father Gennady Gudkov have been expelled from their party, ‘A Just Russia’, after they refused to leave the opposition Co-ordinating Council, which brings together all strands of the opposition movement. This confirms, many analysts say, that the three official opposition parties (the Communist, ‘A Just Russia’ and Yabloko) in fact have no real power, nor any desire to contest Putin’s ruling party, United Russia, or undermine the status quo. The Coordinating Council has announced plans to hold two major rallies in April and May. We shall see whether they attract the same level of interest as before.

Vladimir Putin has other international concerns. The situation in Syria remains a source of conflict with the US and Western allies. Additionally there are concerns as to how instability in this region might tally with instability in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus. It was reported on March 6 that militants from Chechnya were participating in the rebel forces against the Al-Assad regime which Russia has firmly supported. One Syrian source apparently commented that the hardline Chechen Islamists are the second largest foreign group in operation in Syria after Libyans. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov reflected his loyalty to Putin when he firmly denied all reports that there are any Chechens there.

With the upcoming withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reports surfacing from a number of countries In Central Asia that Islamic extremism is on the rise, Moscow will doubtless be mostly concerned about its own home grown Jihadists. This will likely lead in turn to more repressive measures. A recent Amnesty Report noted that human rights activists and lawyers in the North Caucasus are routinely intimidated and repressed and it seems that the restiveness of the region has provided a pretext for limiting government criticism of any sort.

Protecting the state from enemies from within and without is an important facet of Putin’s leadership. His strong man image is inexorably linked to a sense of patriotism, and he has never shied from invoking the image of Stalin to justify his belief in a strong leadership. He does his utmost to promote physical prowess, traditional values and heterodox beliefs and is not afraid to use force against those who challenge this, no matter how much the international community decry it. In fact he is assured of Russia's independent place in the world and of his own mastery of the nation, looking back at the post-communist shambles he inherited. In the face of western criticism he is always quick to retaliate with examples of western hypocrisy -for example the year 2000 US Presidential election being decided in the State of Florida (by means almost certainly corrupt), which he points out, when he seeks to illustrate that he won't take criticisms about democracy from that quarter. In fact the fundamental problem with him is that he belongs to a school of thought where the individual counts for very little, and the interests of the institution are everything. A view diametrically opposed to the western elevation of the individual, with the state as its servant which in fairness itself took many centuries to evolve in the western nations.


 

« Back

 


 
Published by 
Newnations (a not-for-profit company)
PO Box 12 Monmouth 
United Kingdom NP25 3UW 
Fax: UK +44 (0)1600 890774
enquiries@newnations.com