Archive for the ‘Kremlin’ Category

Russia, Ukraine reach gas deal; Europe still waits

January 18, 2009

Ukraine is pro-West and pro-U.S.  Russia wants its own Kremlin empire to remain in power.  The victims have been Europeans.  But maybe also Russian credibility….

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Russia and Ukraine announced a deal Sunday to end the bitter dispute that has blocked Russian natural gas from Europe for nearly two weeks and deeply shaken Europeans’ trust in the two as reliable energy suppliers.

The early morning agreement between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko came after intense negotiations.

By LYNN BERRY, Associated Press Writer

Still, relief for millions of frustrated consumers and businesses could be days away. The deal on 2009 gas prices is not likely to be finalized until at least Monday, when Tymoshenko returns to Moscow. If Russia turns on the taps immediately after the signing, it could take another day for the gas to travel hundreds of miles through Ukrainian pipelines to eastern Europe.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, greets Ukrainian ... 
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, greets Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who is in Moscow for talks aimed at restoring Russian natural gas supplies to Europe, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009. Yulia Tymoshenko met with Vladimir Putin briefly before they both headed to the Kremlin for a broader conference. Ukrainian, Russian and European officials held talks in Moscow on Saturday in an effort to restore Russian natural gas supplies to Europe after a damaging 11-day halt in deliveries piped across Ukraine.(AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

The European Commission welcomed the announcement cautiously.

“We have seen many false dawns in this dispute, and the test in this case is whether the gas flows to Europe’s consumers,” the commission said.

Russia stopped selling gas to Ukraine for domestic use on Jan. 1 in a dispute over prices. On Jan. 7, Moscow then halted all shipments to Europe via Ukraine, alleging that Ukraine was siphoning off Europe-bound gas. Ukraine disputed this, claiming that Russia was not sending enough “technical gas” to push the rest further west.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090118/a
p_on_re_eu/eu_ukraine_russia_gas

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Crisis puts Putin’s power “tandem” in doubt

January 12, 2009

A plunging rouble, ravaged stock prices and rising unemployment are threatening to upset the delicate power structure used by Vladimir Putin to rule Russia from beyond the Kremlin. Skip related content

When Putin left the Kremlin for the modest confines of the prime minister’s office in May, he still controlled a vast flow of petrodollars that helped keep everyone from senior generals to factory workers firmly behind his leadership.

But as a growing economic crisis touches ever more Russians, analysts are starting to question the sustainability of the two-man “tandem” that Putin has built to share power with his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev.

“There are very serious grounds for a plunge in the ratings of Putin and Medvedev, which are now too high for such a crisis situation,” said Nikolai Petrov, a Moscow-based political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

“This is very dangerous for the whole political system,” he said.

In one of the first hints a gap could be opening up between the two men, Medvedev on Sunday criticized Putin’s government for not acting quickly enough to deal with the fall-out from the financial crisis; though he did not mention his mentor by name.

Read the rest fro Reuters:
http://uk.news.yahoo.com/22/20090112/tpl-
uk-financial-russia-politics-analysi-39349ed.html

Russia: Medvedev’s assertiveness troubles Putin

January 1, 2009

It was an innocuous sounding comment in what appeared to be a routine television interview. But in the six days since Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, described his feelings about taking the oath of office in May, the corridors of power have been buzzing.

“The final responsibility for what happens in the country and for the important decisions taken would rest on my shoulders alone and I would not be able to share this responsibility with anyone,” Mr Medvedev told an interviewer.

From FT

For a normal president in a normal country, such a remark would have been a statement of the obvious. But to a select few, it was a “dog whistle”, a message audible only to those Mr Medvedev wanted to hear.

Usually when discussing such matters he stresses his “consultation” with Vladimir Putin, the prime minister and former president, who all but installed Mr Medvedev in his job and is thought to take most of the big decisions. But this time Mr Medvedev stressed that he was the single constitutionally empowered decision-maker.

Putin Medvedev
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Above: Vladimir Putin speaks with his presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in parliament May 8, 2008. Medvedev has proposed a longer term for Russia’s president and it is no secret that Putin wants to come back as President of Russia.  Photo: Sergei Chirikov AFP/Getty Images

Kremlin watchers say this assertiveness seems to be part of a new pattern, with Mr Medvedev appearing frustrated that, in spite of his constitutional power as commander in chief, he is stuck in a subordinate role.

Read the rest:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cfa5d7
88-d697-11dd-9bf7-000077b07658.html

Russia: President By “Remote Control”?

December 30, 2008

When President Barack Obama meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, will Mr. Medvedev have the power to negotiate and speak for Russia?  Or is Medvedev a figure head; a creation of Vladimir Putin?  Who rules Russia and when signals come from the Kremlin who are they coming from and can one trust their instincts?  This is now a growing dilemma for Russia; and for Barack Obama and the United States….

Related from CNN:
http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/12/30/r
ussia.presidential.term.extension/index.html

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This year is ending as another watershed for Russia, on a par with 1990 or 1998.

2008 started with great expectations for the country’s future as the Kremlin engineered a seamless political transition from Vladimir Putin to Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev was elected to implement Putin’s Plan — a strategy of rapid economic modernization through 2020 that would wean the country from its dependence on oil and other commodities and make innovation the driving force of the economy. Russia needed only 20 years of peaceful, undisturbed development to make a breakthrough, Medvedev proclaimed in early 2008.

Vladimir Frolov
The Moscow Times

That prospect faded in August, when Georgia invaded South Ossetia. Medvedev responded with a strong show of force and moved to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, a move denounced by all major powers.

Putin Medvedev
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Above: Vladimir Putin speaks with his presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in parliament May 8, 2008. Medvedev has proposed a longer term for Russia’s president and it is no secret that Putin wants to come back as President of Russia.  Photo: Sergei Chirikov AFP/Getty Images

Related:
Russia, Obama and the Strategic Chess Tournament

Suddenly, Moscow was facing global isolation and pressure. By October, Russia discovered the truth in the old saying that if anything can go wrong, it will. The price of oil fell from a high of $147 a barrel in July to less than $40 a barrel in December, sending the country’s trade balance and the budget into deficits, the ruble into devaluation and the economy into recession.

Medvedev’s presidency is changing from the management of a modernization policy to the management of an economic collapse. The financial crisis is also testing the viability of the Putin-Medvedev “tandemocracy,” as painful, unpopular decisions need to be made to save the country. The two centers of power promised a gradual evolution of Russia’s political system toward more pluralism and public accountability.

The crisis is now changing the dynamics and the direction of this process, as Medvedev’s own center of power has been too slow in developing while Putin, exercising ultimate authority, is wary of taking full responsibility for crisis management.

It is now an open secret that Putin has been running the government by “remote control” through his two ambitious first deputies — Igor Shuvalov and Igor Sechin. Both wield enormous power and ultimate responsibility for managing the crisis.

Putin’s White House is now the political center of gravity, while the Kremlin is gradually turning into a backwater. Nobody there seems to be in the crisis mode, with the exception of Arkady Dvorkovich, economic adviser to Medvedev. When someone as astute as Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin first deputy chief of staff, starts holding policy meetings on U.S. President-elect Barack Obama as a political phenomenon, instead of focusing on the country’s crisis, this is a glaring sign of trouble.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.
http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/1
016/42/373438.htm

Putin’s Plan To Govern Russia Again Hits a Glitch: Law

December 30, 2008

One of Russia’s opposition parties has challenged the Kremlin‘s whirlwind legislative campaign to extend the term of the Russian presidency, saying it violates a law requiring parliament to wait a year before ratifying a constitutional amendment.

The protest by the pro-democracy Yabloko party could prove an unexpected hurdle for President Dmitry Medvedev‘s plan to extend the presidential term from four years to six years — a proposal that has prompted widespread speculation that his patron, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, is preparing to return to the nation’s top post.

The Kremlin has moved unusually quickly to enact the amendment, pushing it through both houses of parliament and all 83 of the nation’s regional legislatures in less than 50 days. The upper house of parliament confirmed the votes from the regions and sent the measure to the Kremlin for Medvedev’s signature last week.

By Philip Pan
The Washington Post

But in a statement issued the same day, Yabloko objected to the move, pointing out that a clause in the 1998 law setting procedures for amending the constitution says the regions must be given a year to consider proposed amendments. Another clause says the upper house should confirm the votes by the regions in its first meeting after that year has passed.

“They’re completely ignoring the law,” said Sergei Mitrokhin, chairman of Yabloko. “Unfortunately, this happens quite often, but this is the first time the process has been ignored for such a significant issue as a constitutional amendment.”

Mitrokhin noted that the 1998 law does not provide an exception in the event the regions approve an amendment before a year has passed, and he argued it was written that way to prevent “legislators from making such important decisions so quickly.”

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/art
icle/2008/12/29/AR2008122902474.html?hpid=artslot

Russia Riots: Largest Anti-Government Demonstrations in Years

December 21, 2008

Riot police have beaten and detained dozens of people who gathered for a holiday celebration in Russia‘s largest Pacific port.

The incident in Vladivostok comes one day after hundreds rallied to protest a government decision to increase car import tariffs.

Police detains participants of a protest against the authorities' ... 
Police detains participants of a protest against the authorities’ plans to raise tariffs on imported used Japanese cars in central part of the Pacific port of Vladivostok, about 6,400 km (4,000 miles) east of Moscow, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008. Some 500 motorists rallied in Russia’s far east Saturday to protest the government’s decision to raise car import tariffs, and thousands others are expected to stage similar demonstrations across Russia Sunday.  Photo: AP

By LIYA KHABAROVA, Associated Press Writer

Riot police clubbed, kicked and detained dozens in the Pacific port of Vladivostok on Sunday in a harsh crackdown on a protest that was one of dozens across Russia by people outraged over an increase in car import tariffs.

With unemployment spiking, prices rising and the ruble sliding, the protests over a seemingly mundane tariff appear to be broadening into a wide expression of public discontent — and beginning to present a genuine challenge to the Kremlin.

“The Russian people have started to open their eyes to what’s happening in this country,” said Andrei Ivanov, a 30-year-old manager who joined about 200 people at a rally in Moscow. “The current regime is not acting on behalf of the welfare of the people, but against the welfare of the people.”

The government announced the tariffs on imported automobiles earlier this month to bolster flagging domestic car production and try to head off layoffs or labor unrest among the country’s more than 1.5 million car industry workers.

But imported used cars are highly popular among Russians, particularly throughout the Far East, where private cars imported from nearby Japan vastly outnumber vehicles built in Russia. Protests against the tariffs, which are scheduled to go into effect next month, have been most vehement in Russia’s largest Pacific port — Vladivostok.

Hundreds rallied in the city Saturday for the second weekend in a row, and demonstrators hoped to rally again Sunday. But authorities refused to authorize the demonstration and hundreds of riot police blocked off the city square where it was planned.

Soon after, several hundred people gathered on Vladivostok’s main square — not the planned site of the demonstration. Waiting riot police ordered them to disperse, saying the gathering was illegal. The group refused and began singing and dancing around a traditional Russian New Year’s tree on the square.

Police — some shipped in from Moscow, 9,300 kilometers (5,750 miles) to the west — began hauling men and women into waiting vans as people chanted “Fascists!” and “Shame! Shame!”

An Associated Press reporter saw police beat several people with truncheons, throw them to the ground and kick them. Several parents were detained as their children watched.

“Riot police encircled the group … even those just passing by, and they started taking people away without any sort of comment,” said Olga Nikolaevna, a 62-year-old retiree who witnessed the incident.

An AP reporter saw at least 10 journalists detained by police, who demanded that several journalists turn over videotapes and photo memory chips. Police wrecked a Japanese TV crew’s video camera, and some journalists were beaten and kicked, including an AP photographer.

Vladimir Litvinov, who heads a local rights group, said police behaved “like beasts” and had no right to break up the gathering, since it wasn’t overtly political.

“We support a civilized resolution to all the problems but when they send Moscow riot police to break up a gathering in our city, and they start breaking arms and legs and heads…,” he told AP. “People are very, very angry. It’s hard to predict what might happen now.”

Regional police officials said they were forbidden from saying how many people had been arrested. Protest organizers and witnesses counted more than 100.

Protests over the car tariffs, which take effect next month, were held in more than a dozen cities, with motorists driving in long columns with flags waving. National TV channels, which are state-controlled, ignored the demonstrations.

Read more:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081221/ap_o
n_re_eu/eu_russia_protests_7

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Police on Sunday thwarted a second attempt to hold protests.

Later, riot police broke up a gathering of around 500 people who were singing and dancing around a decorated holiday tree on a central square. Dozens of men and women, including some journalists, were arrested, some beaten with truncheons.

More rallies are set for Sunday in what are expected to be the largest anti-government demonstrations in years.

Associated Press

Russia, Obama and the Strategic Chess Tournament

December 19, 2008

Within hours of Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States a kind of Slavic chess tournament opened in the Kremlin to defeat the new American president.  Whether it is because he is Black or for whatever reason (and we might not know the Russian reason exactly for some time) Russian President Dmitry Medvev and his predecessor, mentor and Foreign Minister Vladimir Putin, began to pressure, cajole and coerce Mr. Obama.

The chess pieces include the U.S. missile defense plan for Europe, which includes ten or so interceptor missiles and a radar site, both in Poland and the Czech Republic.  Russia wants to checkmate these and get them off the European (and Kremlin) chessboard.

Putin and Medvev have as kings nuclear weapons of their own.  The day after Obama’s election, in an opening move, Medvedev offered to really provide a geographic move of short range nuclear-tipped Iskander missiles closer to Eastern Europe.

The U.S. yawned.

Medvedev backed off this idea largely due to world-wide condemnation at his dangerous bluster.

Today Russia says it will stop developing “some” strategic nuclear weapons if the U.S. halts it European missile shield plan.

This seems to us at Peace and Freedom to be a play by Russia to guarantee future Russian superpower status.  Eastern European (and former Soviet) nations like the Czech Republic and Georgia are gravitating toward the West and NATO, and Russia cannot accept their loss.  That’s why Russia invaded Georgia and South Ossetia last summer….

Related:
Russians Say Medvedev, Obama to Meet “Soon After Jan 20 Inauguration”

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Vladimir Putin is a world-class chess master at getting what he wants.  The former KGB man now  seems poised to return to the presidency of Russia for another term in a few years and he seems to have convinced many, by deception, that missile defenses in Europe are a threat to Russia.

What Putin wants is control of Russia — and a Russia of long term dominance on the world stage.

Conceived way back during the Ronald Reagan presidency and often derisively called “Star Wars” or the missile shield, U.S. missile defense is no threat to Russia or anyone else.  Like a defensive basketball or football player, missile defense is designed and used to block destructive attacking missiles from reaching their goals.

Russia has manipulated the world media for almost two decades to create the illusion that missile defense is some threat to Russians.  In fact, no missile defense missile has the capability of harming Russia or Russians: the “kill mechanism” of a missile defense interceptor is the kinetic energy or crashing into the attacking missile.  The missile defense missile has no warhead — unlike intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry 10 or so nuclear warheads, each capable of annihilating millions of people and entire cities.

The U.S. missile defense effort for Europe has been a long and painstaking discussion going back two decades.  Along with thousands of others, I participated myself in these discussions, forums and conferences, in the early 1990s, on two levels: first as co-chairman of a NATO study (one of several) to determine the efficacy and implications of a European missile defense to stop missiles like those being developed by Iran targeted on Europe; and then on U.S. government missions to Moscow to show with credible evidence that a U.S. missile defense was no threat to Russia — or anybody.

By the middle 1990s, the Russians seemed to agree that U.S. missile defenses, even in Europe, were no threat to Russia or Russians.

In 2002, the United States, after years of notification to Russia and discussions with Russia, withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which had been made with the Soviet Union.  This action was necessary to permit testing of U.S. missile defenses — which had targets and interceptors that could have posed an international legal discussion vis-a-vis the treaty.

Then an interesting thing happened.  Vladimir Putin in Russia decided that he wanted a resurgent Russia with renewed superpower status, like that enjoyed during the Cold War Soviet era.  As Russia developed its oil reserves, exports gave him the financial clout he needed despite an aging and creaky military machine.  But an expert at media and public manipulation, Putin went to work to achieve his goals and to stifle U.S. objectives on many fronts.

Putin Medvedev
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Above: Vladimir Putin speaks with his presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in parliament May 8, 2008. Putin brought Medvedev from the post of Charman of Gazprom, Russia’s oil giant, to become his chief of staff and later preident.  Now Medvedev has proposed a longer term for Russia’s president and it is no secret that Putin wants to come back as President of Russia.  Photo: Sergei Chirikov AFP/Getty Images

The suave, handsome and articulate Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev are also quick to reveal clumsy bluster and intimidation — which is what the recent threat to move Iskander missiles closer to Poland seems to have been.

Russia also attacked neighbors in Georgia and South Ossetia — quickly turning ignored intimidation into acts of war.

Russia continues a very aggressive trade relationship with Iran, which continues to develop more capable ballistic missiles, nuclear technology (with Russian help) and sends verbal assaults at least weekly at Israel and the U.S. (”Israel should be wiped from the map,” said Iran’s President Ahmadinejad).

Efforts to slow or stop Iran’s nuclear development in the United Nations are routinely thwarted by Russia and China.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz uranium ... 
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.(AFP/File/Atta Kenare)

Now a global media tired of George W. Bush and enamored by Barack Obama has absolutely no time for the truth of the missile defense situation.  This weekend Agence France-Presse (AFP) wrote a photograph caption on a picture of French President Sarkozy and Russian President Medvedev which read, “Sarkozy urged Russia and the United States to stop threatening each other with missiles and missile shields.” (see below)

The fact is that U.S. missile defense threatens nobody — with missiles incabale of landing on Russian targets and without warheads.  The U.S. has even offered Russia the opportunity to place Russian inspectors at U.S. missile defense sites, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year to ensure no sneaky bad guys alter these defensive systems for attack.  The difficulty of converting a missile defense system for attack is, well, like secretly and quickly rerouting the Space Shuttle from a mission to the International Space Station and then attempting a manned landing on Mars.  Russia knows this is a crazy notion — but many in the media and others have swallowed this brainless Russian borscht.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) speaks with President of ... 
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) speaks with President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, before the Europe-Russia finance reform summit in Nice southern France. Sarkozy urged Russia and the United States to stop threatening each other with missiles and missile shields Friday and called for talks on Europe’s future security. (AFP/Valery Hache)
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NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the Russian remarks on moving missiles in Europe unsolicited, unnecessary and unhelpful.

Russia has also said that a missile defense system in Europe will “negate” its thousands of nuclear armed missiles.  But the European missile defense system is only intended to have 10 interceptors — which would be easily and quickly overwhelmed by a Russian attack.

Russia's "Iskander" missile system on display ... 
Russia’s “Iskander” missile system on display at a military exhibition in the Siberian town of Nizhny Tagil in 2005. President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia will place short-range missile systems on the EU’s eastern border to counter planned US missile defence installations in Eastern Europe.(AFP/VEDOMOSTI/File/Evgeny Stetsko)

Threating people in Europe with nuclear destruction is a gossly over the top Russian act of instigation and intimidation — and it makes no sense in the post-Cold War world.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ribert Gates said the threat from Russia, made just after the U.S. election of President-elect Barack Obama, was “hardly the welcome a new American administration deserves. Such provocative remarks are unnecessary and misguided.”

“Quite frankly I’m not clear what the missiles would be for in Kaliningrad, after all the only real emerging threat on Russia’s periphery is in Iran and I don’t think the Iskander missile has the range to get there from Kaliningrad,” Gates added. “Why they would threaten to point missiles at European nations seems quite puzzling to me.”
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Medevev and supposedly Putin have now backed away from their threat to move Iskander missiles but they have created an incredible fog of lies in the air — which many in the international media and elsewhere have swollowed.

U.S. missile defense, and the European effort with Poland and the Czech Republic, is no threat to Russia or anybody else.  It is a system to bat down incoming nuclear warheads from long-range missiles, like those Iran continues to test.

By John E. Carey
Wakefield Chapel, Virginia

Putin and Medvedev Face Trouble: More Authoritarian Control Due From Kremlin?

December 16, 2008

Putin and Medvedev are in trouble – and the result may be the return of the Kremlin’s authoritarian streak…

By James Marson
The Guardian (UK)

Vladimir Putin’s power and popularity in Russia was built on a simple political model: a large carrot and a large stick. The carrot was Russia’s consumption boom fuelled by oil revenues. The large stick was his centralised, authoritarian control over political life, from the quashing of other political voices to the control of the media, which has painted an excessively rosy picture of the country, linking Putin with all the successes and blaming the west or Yeltsin’s so-called democracy for all the problems.

These two factors came together to destroy politics in Russia. No one was interested in options other than Putin’s plan, as people could see on the TV and feel in their pockets what a good job he was doing. Putin didn’t even have to crush all voices of dissent – there are a small number of magazines and newspapers that have critical coverage of the authorities, but hardly anyone reads them. Nor did anyone pay much attention when other voices were crushed. Why rock the boat when it’s sailing along so nicely?

But the crisis is hurting Russia, and threatening this political model. The country’s foreign currency reserves have dropped by a quarter, GDP growth is slowing and there is talk of a budget deficit next year. According to a recent poll, 20% of the working population have been laid off, faced cuts in their salaries or delays in getting paid during the crisis. The carrot is fast disappearing.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Prime Minister Vladimir ... 
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meet at the presidential residence Gorki outside Moscow, earlier this year. (RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov/Reuters)

The stick is also beginning to look increasingly flimsy. Control of TV coverage is all well and good when what is shown bears semblance to reality. But it’s hard to play down the present crisis, although the Kremlin is doing its best by heaping criticism on the US, while blacklisting certain words, such as “crisis” and “collapse,” from coverage about Russia. But is it possible to believe there is no crisis when your friend loses their job, your salary is cut and your neighbour’s home is repossessed?

The crisis threatens to reveal the glaring failure of Putin’s reign to take advantage of strong economic growth and relative stability to push forward with modernisation and reform. While Putin’s “power vertical” allowed him to take credit for the country’s economic progress in the last few years, the situation is now reversed. As the Kremlin is the only political and economic decision-maker in the country, the blame for the problems could begin to fall on the same man as the praise did.

It is not clear how society will react to the consequences of the crisis. How will the newly wealthy middle class react to losing their jobs, cars and foreign holidays? Will it encourage them to push for economic and political reform? Social and political scientist Yevgeny Gontmakher caused a stir with a recent article in the respected daily Vedomosti, in which he imagined a scenario he called Novocherkassk-2009. (Novocherkassk is the city where protests against food price rises led to a massacre in 1962.) Gontmakher’s scenario begins with the shutting down of a large local factory, which leads to protests that the local authorities are unable to deal with. Moscow – Russia’s only real decision maker in the “power vertical” – is forced to make a decision: negotiate or use force? As a result of the article, Vedomosti was censured by the Federation on the Supervision of Communications and Mass Media for publishing material that may be interpreted as inciting extremist acts. “Extremism” is the Kremlin’s word for any kind of protest or opposition.

An indication that politics may be returning came from an interesting recent spat between president Dmitry Medvedev and Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, a leading member of Putin’s United Russia party. Luzhkov recently called for the return of direct gubernatorial elections (under Putin, regional governors were appointed). He was on solid ground, given that a recent survey revealed 63% of Russians are in favour of returning to a system of elections.

Medvedev’s response was to say that anyone who wants to see elections return can tender his resignation.

The censuring of Luzhkov and Vedomosti demonstrates the inflexibility of Putin’s political model and gives us an idea of what to expect in the next few months. There is no space for any voice other than the Kremlin’s. Any differing opinions or protests will be swiftly shut down. No one knows how long the crisis is going to continue or how bad it’s going to get. But the messier things get, the more Putin and Medvedev risk being left with a heavy reliance on the uglier side of their political model: less carrot means more stick.

Read the rest:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/200
8/dec/11/russia-dmitri-medvedev

Kasparov starts new Russian anti-Kremlin movement

December 13, 2008

Former chess champion Garry Kasparov and other prominent liberals launched a new anti-Kremlin movement in Russia on Saturday.

The organization, called Solidarity after the victorious Polish anti-communist movement, aims to unite the country’s dysfunctional liberal forces and encourage a popular revolution similar to that seen in other ex-Soviet countries.

By PAUL SONNE, Associated Press Writer

“We are fighting for victory because we have something to say to our people and something to offer them,” Kasparov said at the founding congress Saturday in a Moscow-region hotel. “On this very day, we are in a position to take stock of past mistakes and act differently,” he said.

Opposition leaders Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion, ... 
Opposition leaders Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion, left, and Boris Nemtsov, right, attending the founding congress of a new opposition movement called ‘Solidarity’ in Khimki, outside Moscow, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008.(AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

With a parliament now dominated by Kremlin-friendly parties, Russia’s liberals have found themselves marginalized. Yabloko and SPS, the two main democratic parties to emerge after the collapse of the Soviet Union, lost their State Duma representation in 2007 after failing to garner at least 7 percent of the vote.

Much of the Russian public has lost faith in liberal democracy, which remains associated with the chaos, poverty and corruption that emerged in Russia under President Boris Yeltsin.

“One of the tasks of the Solidarity movement is to rehabilitate those basic principles that, unfortunately, for a significant or even overwhelming portion of our fellow citizens, have become associated with failure, misery or reduction of freedom,” Kasparov said.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081213
/ap_on_re_eu/eu_russia_opposition