Friday, March 30, 2007

Putin still opposed to third term

6 MOSCOW, March 30 (RIA Novosti) - Vladimir Putin has not changed his position on a possible third presidential term and has no intention of running again, the Kremlin press service said Friday.

"The Russian president has repeatedly commented on the issue, and his position remains unchanged," the presidential press service said in response to a proposal voiced by Sergei Mironov, speaker of parliament's upper house, Friday to extend the presidential mandate to five-seven years and add a third term. "I propose you consider amending the relevant constitutional provisions," Mironov told the upper house, which approved him as speaker earlier Friday.

Mironov said he proposed that local legislatures across Russia discuss the issue in April and May, with the president himself making the final decision. Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of Russia's lower house, said Friday that he disagreed with Mironov's proposal "I do not support statements about amending the Constitution," Gryzlov said. "United Russia, which holds the majority in the Duma, will guard the Constitution's inviolability."

The prospect of President Vladimir Putin remaining in power for a third presidential term when his current term runs out in 2008 has been widely debated in Russia, although the president himself has repeatedly said he will not run again. Speaking at his annual televised question-and-answer session in October 2006, Vladimir Putin said: "I think I will manage to maintain the most important thing for a politician - your trust. And, using this, together we can influence life in our country."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Transfer of Power in Russia: Authoritarian or Democratic?

By Peter Fedynsky Washington, D.C.29 March 2007

Russia holds a presidential election in less than a year. If the nominating process, campaign and vote are transparent and fair, Russians will witness an unprecedented democratic transfer of power. But some political analysts are concerned this will not happen, and that instead incumbent president Vladimir Putin will find a way to remain in office despite a constitutional prohibition against a third term.

Vladimir Putin came to power as acting president in 1999, when his predecessor Boris Yeltsin suddenly resigned. Mr. Yeltsin expressed confidence at the time that Russia would develop as a democratic nation. At a recent Moscow news conference, Mr. Putin assured skeptics that the 2008 presidential election would indeed be democratic.

"We shouldn't fuss about future elections, but as I already said they provide an opportunity for objective choice. We should provide free democratic choice,” Mr. Putin said. “I am also a citizen of the Russian Federation, and I'm proud of that. I reserve the right to express my preference [for the next president], but this will be done only in the pre-election period."

Political observers say the current favorites are First Deputy Premiers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev. Some, however, would like to see the popular Mr. Putin remain in office, despite a constitutional prohibition against a third term.

"We should have had a president like this a long time ago," said a Moscow pensioner who identified himself as Yuri. "Maybe [Putin] will run again, and if not then we will have a worthy successor who will continue Putin's work."

David Satter, Hudson Institute"It would in no way be surprising for a way to be found for Putin to extend his period in office," said David Satter, a Russian expert at a Washington, D.C., think tank. Satter, from the Hudson Institute, notes that a constitutional ban did not prevent the Kremlin leader from appointing the country's governors.

"A judicial branch of government in the hands of the presidential administration confirmed what was obviously contradicted by the letter of the constitutional provision for the election of governors,” he said.

The direct appointment of governors is but one aspect of what is called a vertical, or highly centralized, power structure in Russia. But some analysts speculate that Mr. Putin could be introducing his country's ruling elite to a degree of decentralization. Lilya Shevtsova, of the Carnegie Moscow Center, spoke at a recent Russia conference at the Hudson Institute.
Lilya Shevtsova of the Carnegie Moscow Center"He is great at the mechanism of 'horizontality' – where all people, all groups, all institutions will balance each other: [the] Duma is being balanced by the Council of Federation; United Russia by Just Russia; Medvedev by Sergei Ivanov; and all people, representatives of power structures, the siloviki, they are balancing each other," she says. Shevtsova cautions, however, that the balancing act could backfire after the election, leading to a harsher, more authoritarian regime.

Recent Kremlin crackdowns on independent media and political parties, as well as non-governmental organizations, are viewed abroad as moves toward authoritarianism.
Former U.S. National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski says he is troubled by that, and warns that the Russian presidential election is likely to be managed by the state. "I hate to say this, but I think to some extent that's a step towards the eventual institutionalization of democracy. It will take time,” Brzeninski said. “But if Putin doesn't run again, that in itself is a step forward. One has to acknowledge that, even if the process of selecting his successor is not going to be generally democratic."

The Russian presidential election is set for 9 March 2008. An actual transfer of power is scheduled to take place about two months later.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

U.S. Intelligence Official Says Putin’s Advisers Threaten Democracy in Russia

Russia has taken a step backward in its democratic progress and could be heading toward a controlled succession to President Vladimir Putin, the Reuters news agency quoted U.S. director of national intelligence as saying.Retired Navy Admiral Mike McConnell, installed as U.S. director of national intelligence last week, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Putin has become surrounded by “extremely conservative” advisers who are suspicious of the United States.“The march to democracy has taken a back step. And now there are more arrangements to control the process and the populace and the parties and so on, to the point of picking the next leader of Russia,” McConnell said at a hearing to discuss world threats to the United States.

“That’s my worry: Is the march toward democracy, the way we understood it ... now being controlled in a way that it is less of a democratic process?”He suggested that aggressive Russian rhetoric toward the United States in recent weeks could reflect the direction of political influence in Russia. Putin, who has called Washington’s plan to put a missile defense system in central Europe a threat to Russian security, accused the United States of wanting to dominate the world during a February 10 speech in Germany.

Nine days later, Gen. Nikolai Solovstov, commander of Russia’s strategic forces, warned that Russian missiles could target Poland and the Czech Republic if they accepted parts of the U.S. missile system.“Those that (Putin) is listening to ... interpret things through a lens that portrays Russia as the downtrodden or (shows) we’re trying to hold them back to the advantage of the United States,” McConnell told the Senate panel.“My reading of that is they’re not interpreting the lens correctly. But they have renewed energy and vigor because of the high price of oil.”U.S. intelligence depicts Russia as a country that sees itself as an energy superpower.

But Russian leaders still view a strong military as a necessary element for its return to great-power status.Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, who heads the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, said Russia spent about $90 billion on defense in 2006, compared with China’s $80 billion to $115 billion.U.S. defense spending for the current year is estimated at about $500 billion, or more than two-thirds of the $738 billion spent in 2006 by all other countries combined.

Putin’s Former Classmate to Run Russian Elections


A former classmate and workmate of Russian President Vladimir Putin will run next year’s crucial presidential election, the Reuters news agency reports.
Putin’s opponents say the Kremlin will try to use its power to influence the result of the election and they allege it is stacking the Central Election Commission with its loyalists.
Putin says the election will be free and fair.
Vladimir Churov was elected Tuesday as commission chairman in a vote by members of the body. Thirteen members voted for him with two against.
Churov, 54, worked alongside Putin in the 1990s in the external relations department of the St Petersburg city administration.

A former colleague of the two men told Reuters they were also classmates at school in the city.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Russian Killed Outside Trial in Ukraine

Russian Businessman Shot Dead by Sniper Outside Extortion Trial in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- A Russian businessman allied with Ukraine's president was killed by a sniper Tuesday as he was escorted from a courthouse during a break in his extortion trial, a government official said.

Maksim Kurochkin, 38, was hit by a bullet fired from a building next to the court, said Volodymyr Polishchuk, an Interior Ministry official. A police officer guarding the businessman was seriously wounded.

Ukrainian media reported that Kurochkin had repeatedly asked the court to release him on bail, saying he feared for his life and claiming that he had survived 18 assassination attempts, including a November 2004 car bombing that seriously wounded his bodyguards.
Kurochkin had been charged with extortion in connection with a fight for control of a southeastern Ukraine goods market.

Three other businessmen connected to Kurochkin and the market were shot dead earlier this month as they rode in a car, Polishchuk said. The director of the market was killed in October.
Kurochkin's trial had been closely watched because of his ties to pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. During the bitter 2004 presidential campaign and Orange Revolution protests, Kurochkin ran an organization called the Russian Club that supported Yanukovych.
Kurochkin, who was arrested in November at Kiev's airport, had said the charges against him were fabricated.

Soviet-style abuses 'reappearing'

By Bethany Bell BBC News, Vienna

An international human rights group says Soviet-style human rights violations have reappeared in a number of former Soviet Republics.

The International Helsinki Federation for Human rights (IHF) also criticised established Western democracies for challenging the prohibition of torture.

The report said many human rights groups were under severe pressure in Central Asia, Belarus and Russia.

The IHF is marking its 25th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1982, at a time when it says the Soviet authorities were engaged in massive and systematic human rights violations, and focuses on countries in Europe, Central Asia and North America.

'Poor example'
In its latest report, the IHF says although important progress has been made in many countries since 1982, similar violations are still taking place.
It said the human rights situation in Russia was deteriorating as the government clamped down on its political opponents. And it said that gross abuses of human rights were continuing in Chechnya. Western democracies which challenge the prohibition of torture in the name of fighting terrorism were also targeted in the report. The IHF said the policies of the US with respect to torture were of particular concern because of the example they set for other countries.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The changing nature of Russia's Gazprom

By Emma Simpson
BBC News, Yugorsk, Western Siberia

Geographically, Yugorsk is in the middle of nowhere, yet it is at the heart of Gazprom's pipeline network.

Not only does the Russian energy giant produce most of the country's vast reserves of natural gas, it also controls the pipeline infrastructure and gas exports.

In this corner of Russia, there are 17 underground pipelines pumping gas across the country and to Europe, some 5,000 kilometres away.

This part of the Gazprom empire is run by Tyumenstransgaz.

"We transport 80% of all the gas Gazprom produces today," says the company's deputy boss, Oleg Vasin, as he looks across the world's largest compressor station, surrounded by fir trees in the Siberian countryside, where they monitor the flow of gas.

"The gas comes from the fields in the North and it's sent as far as Germany, Holland and Italy," he says.

"You can hear the sound of it now. We have 210 of these compressor stations all along the route maintaining the flow of gas so our customers get a clean supply."

Central power

It is not an easy job to supply gas 24 hours a day, 365 days a year without a hitch when the temperatures can drop to as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius.

"We're certainly proud of what we do," says Mr Vasin.

"It's a special feeling to be part of this work. The responsibility is too enormous to think about."

Gazprom is more than just a business.

It is Russia's most important company, with more than 300,000 employees, and it provides the state with half the energy it needs to run the country.

It also accounts for at least 15% of Russia's hard currency earnings.

"It's a very unusual company," says Jonathan Stern from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

"As of 2005, it became majority owned by the Russian state and therefore de facto, and by law, controlled by the Russian government, particularly by the Russian president.

"Because gas is so tremendously important to the Russian economy, Gazprom has a tremendously important position, and I think President Vladimir Putin views it as too important a company for foreign or even private Russian interests to get control of."

Benefits for workers

Gazprom is often referred to as a state within a state.

Here in Yugorsk you can see why.

There are more than 31,000 people living here and almost every worker is employed by Gazprom.

The company has a string of places like this all along the pipeline network.

Karl Ott helped to build those first pipelines more than 40 years ago.

Back then, it was the Soviet Ministry for the Gas Industry that employed him.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the gas industry was partially privatised and turned into a company called Gazprom.

But even today, it's still expected to provide the kind of benefits that hark back to the past.

Over a meal at his apartment, Mr Ott tells of how Gazprom provides workers with cheap housing, utilities and free flights.

"Gazprom not only preserved the best features of socialism, they've actually doubled them," he says.

"Every month I'm subsidised. I get an extra Gazprom pension as well. I'm paid like an Olympic champion.

"That said, I've given away not only my health, but also that of my wife through 40 years of work, so that has to be compensated."

Global giant

Gazprom certainly knows how to take care of its own.

It has to in order to attract skilled workers here.

At the local sanatorium there is room after room full of hi-tech equipment and staff offering a multitude of treatments from colonic irrigation and laser therapy to oxygen cocktails to revive weary workers - and all of it virtually free for Gazprom workers.

The company itself has also undergone something of a transformation, explains Chris Weafer, chief strategist of Alfa Bank in Moscow.

"From a technical point of view, the company has completely changed," he says.

"The share price has almost tripled in the last two years as the Kremlin removed previous restrictions on foreign investors buying the 49% of shares not owned by the Russian state.

"As a result, Gazprom is now one of the largest companies in the world."

But even more important than that, he says, is how the state is now using Gazprom as it capitalises on its energy resources.

In the last few years, Gazprom has bought an oil company from the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

It is getting into the coal business and it is buying up electricity power generating companies.

Gazprom also controversially secured a controlling stake in Shell's Sakhalin 2 project in Russia's far east.

Corporate governance

President Putin has turned Gazprom into a national energy champion, a company that has become an important political tool as the Kremlin pursues its global energy ambitions.

But the question that is now increasingly being asked is whether Gazprom is now more about politics than profit.

At Gazprom's grand headquarters on the outskirts of Moscow, President Putin ally Alexei Miller is in charge.

Another of President Putin's old colleagues, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's Deputy First Minister and possible successor to Mr Putin, is the chairman.

Yet Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom's head of exports, rejects any assertion that Gazprom is an arm of the Russian state.

"I think that's a very primitive view," he says.

"We are obviously a company with the state owning 50% plus one share.

"The majority of the seats on the board of directors are occupied by representatives of the state, but it's not the only example in the world.

"The state is executing its rights through the rules of corporate governance, not through telephone calls from the Kremlin.

"The management committee of Gazprom is responsible for the day-to-day running of the company but the strategic decisions are made by the board of directors. We are following a policy of transparency."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Zarya song

Interesting commentary on the state of the Russian Federation. Basically the message is how can Russia succeed when everything is for Sale and the oligarchs are ruining anything. Very interesting, very well done.

Solav'i (Nightingales)

An older tribute to the troops, a classic.

Kombat (Combat)

More recent tribute to Russian troops.

Russian forces break up opposition rally

By IVAN SEKRETAREV, Associated Press

Anti-government activists said police arrested hundreds of protesters in this central Russian city on Saturday in the third major crackdown on a demonstration in recent months as the country prepares for parliamentary elections and a presidential vote.
Authorities had not given permission for the rally in a central square in Nizhny Novgorod, saying a demonstration could only take place far from the city center. Hundreds of riot police in full gear cordoned off the central square. Still, organizer Natalya Morar said, several hundred protesters managed to hold a short rally — dubbed the March of Those Who Disagree — near the central square until police dragged them into buses that took them to police stations.

An Associated Press photographer saw only dozens of protesters before he was briefly detained by police, who later released him, saying there had been a mistake.
The activists focused on local issues such as housing reform, but they also accused the Kremlin of stifling free speech, silencing dissent and depriving them of free and fair elections.
Oksana Chelysheva, another organizer and rights activist, said her group had received complaints from hundreds of people heading to the rally who said they were blocked by police from entering the city center. Morar said hundreds of activists had been pulled off trains and buses and detained on their way to the rally.

She said several dozen journalists, including foreign reporters, were also detained.
Among those arrested was Marina Litvinovich, an aide to liberal opposition figure Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion turned fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin.
Litvinovich told The Associated Press that she was detained, to prevent her from protesting, as she was driving into the city, on the grounds that her personal car was on a list of stolen vehicles. She was released several hours later, only to be arrested a second time for the same purported reason. Morar said two other organizers detained ahead of the rally were in custody on suspicion of terrorist activity. She said they have been accused of distributing pamphlets with instructions on how to become a terrorist.

Regional police spokesman Alexander Gorbatov said that only about 30 people had been detained for holding an unauthorized protest. It was unclear what would happen to the protesters who were detained. Under Russian law, police can hold suspects for up to 3 days, after which they must either be released or a court must sanction their arrest for a longer period of time, pending investigation.
The local news agency, Nizhny Novgorod, cited deputy governor Sergei Potapov as saying protesters were receiving funding from the United States and several European countries.

"They are looking for pretexts for discontent for money," Potapov was quoted as saying.
Organizers denied the allegations.

"The authorities are afraid of people, they feel highly insecure," Chelysheva said. "They fear that people will express their discontent" during elections.

The rally in Nizhny Novgorod, about 250 miles east of Moscow, was the third such protest in recent months. While the first was allowed to take place in Moscow in December, police detained dozens of participants before and during the rally, according to organizers. Protesters then gathered for a second March of Those Who Disagree earlier this month in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, but the rally was violently broken up by police. Since taking office in 2000, Putin has made steps to centralize power and eliminate democratic checks and balances. He has created an obedient parliament, abolished direct gubernatorial elections, tightened restrictions on rights groups and presided over the reining-in of non-state television channels.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

One more nail in the half burried coffin of Russian Democracy

Putin media decree arouses press freedom worries

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has decreed the creation of a new super-agency to regulate media and the internet, sparking fears among Russian journalists of a bid to extend tight publishing controls to the relatively free web. Putin signed a decree this week merging two existing agencies into one entity that will license broadcasters, newspapers and websites and oversee their editorial content.The move, which comes before national elections next year, unites Rosokhrankultura, the organisation supervising media and culture, with Rossvyaznadzor, the federal body controlling telecommunications and information technology. Officials said this would improve efficiency by putting a single entity in charge of media content and technology but some of Russia's top journalists expressed concern. Under Putin's rule, independent publishers have been mostly taken over by Kremlin-friendly businessmen. Domestic media are under heavy pressure not to criticise the government, making journalists suspicious of any new official initiative.Raf Shakirov, who was dismissed as editor of the Izvestiya daily after critical coverage of the 2004 Beslan school siege, said Putin's decree could extend Soviet-style controls to Russia's online media, which have been relatively free to date. Media control"This is an attempt to put everything under control, not only electronic media, but also personal data about people such as bloggers," he said.Tired of stifling official control over mainstream television and newspapers, Russians have increasingly turned to the internet to find independent sources of information. Russians are the second largest group represented on the big US-based blog Their blogs often feature political debates and advertise protests by opposition leaders. But authorities have already fired a warning shot across the bows of one leading news website,, which got an official warning last year for "extremism" after writing about cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammad.Super agency might put the squeeze on mediaRoman Bodanin,'s political editor, said the new super-regulator could make it easier for the government to track and pressurise independent media because the same agency would control the granting of licences and the supervision of content. Andrei Vasilyev, editor of Russian daily Kommersant, saw the move as part of a Kremlin drive to consolidate power before parliamentary and presidential elections in the next 12 months. "It is very dangerous (for the Kremlin) to scatter the ownership of broadcasting frequencies and licences between different institutions," he said, saying he was speaking in a personal capacity. "There might be a loophole for some alternative information channel," he said.Government officials said Russia's media would benefit from the new body, due to start work within three months. "The question of regulation will now be easier," said Yevgeny Strelchik, a spokesman for Rosokhrankultura. He dismissed worries about more control over the media as "journalists' fantasies". No official announcement on who will head the media super-regulator has yet been made. - Reuters

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Putin, "Who Can Be President, ME!"

Putin's reach in the suburbs of Maryland?

A prominent Russian scholar in the DC area, and an outspoken critic of the Putin Administration is shot in the groin by two men in his drive way at 7:30pm....... nothing is stolen, a message perhaps?

Kremlin critic shot in front of his Maryland home
By Jason DeParle

WASHINGTON: A few hours after meeting a former KGB general outside a spy museum here, a Russia scholar and outspoken critic of the Kremlin became engulfed in the kind of intrigue he studies, when he was shot outside his suburban Maryland home.
The shooting Thursday occurred four days after the critic, Paul Joyal, warned on "Dateline NBC," the television news magazine, that a "message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: 'If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you and we will silence you in the most horrible way possible.' " Joyal was speaking about the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a KGB defector, who was poisoned last fall in London.
A spokesman for the Prince George's County Police Department declined to say whether the police viewed the shooting as a reprisal or a coincidence. The spokesman, Corporal Clinton Copeland, said the police had "a vague description of two black males" fleeing the scene.
The federal authorities were leaning toward the view that Joyal was the victim of a street crime unrelated to his opinions of Russia, said a federal law enforcement official. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is incomplete, said the crime scene did not point toward professional assassins.
Joyal, 53, who was shot in the groin, was in stable condition on Saturday, the police said.
Joyal was an aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee from 1980 to 1989 and edited a business newsletter about Russia throughout the 1990s. He has criticized President Vladimir Putin for reversing democratic reforms.
In the mid-1990s, Joyal went into business with Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general who became a leading KGB critic and moved to Washington. The venture failed.
The two men met Thursday afternoon at a restaurant next to the International Spy Museum in downtown Washington. Soon after Joyal arrived home at 7:30, Kalugin got a panicked call from Joyal's wife, Elizabeth, who had found her husband shot in the driveway. "She called me and said, 'Oleg, Paul is shot, I want to warn you,'" Kalugin said. "I couldn't believe my ears."
Despite Elizabeth Joyal's warning and his dim view of the KGB, Kalugin said "my suspicion is that it's not linked to anything international."
As described, he said, the crime did not bear the fingerprints of Russian agents. He also said their enemies' list had more prominent names on it than that of Joyal.
Joyal was featured prominently in the "Dateline NBC" segment about Litvinenko, who died in November after ingesting a rare radioactive substance, Polonium 210, the bulk of which comes from Russia. Litvinenko fled the country after accusing superiors of ordering him to kill Boris Berezovsky, a wealthy Russian business executive.