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Putin's Word Not Always His Bond

In the past week, the Yukos affair has escalated dramatically. The Kremlin has seized Yukos shares, Putin's chief of staff has stepped down (apparently in protest), Mikhail Khodorkovsky has resigned as Yukos CEO and an American who was born and raised in Russia has taken the helm.

What’s next in this international saga?

An editorial in today's Moscow Times tries to predict. An excerpt:

Putin's Word Not Always His Bond

President Vladimir Putin's exercise in damage control last week, by meeting with top executives of major Western and Russian investment banks, would seem to have been an unmitigated success -- judging by the upbeat comments and the positive reaction of the market in the past few days.

Putin is, of course, a slick act and adept at tailoring his message to suit his audience.

At the meeting, he struck all the right notes by underscoring the importance of protecting minority shareholder rights and tossing bankers a tasty morsel in the form of a promise that the infamous ring fence on Gazprom shares would be dismantled in "months, not years." Perhaps, most importantly, marshalling all his powers of persuasion, he reassured the assembled execs that the attack on Yukos would not spread to other companies, and that there would be no general revision of privatization results.

However, beyond the president's way with words and undeniable ability to charm, what about Putin's record of making good on his word?...

...Take Putin's meeting with NTV journalists in early 2001 where he pledged his support for independent media and, in particular, for NTV remaining a non-government channel free to criticize the Kremlin. This was not exactly borne out by the later actions of the Putin administration.

And as regards Putin's assertion that the Yukos affair is an isolated incident, this is not entirely credible for at least two reasons.

In 2000, when Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky fell foul of Putin, few would have guessed that some three years later Mikhail Khodorkovsky would be going the same way. How can one say with any degree of certainty that the whole process will not be repeated against another oligarch half a year or a year from now? All the more so, as we still do not know exactly what Khodorkovsky is being punished for.

And second, it is based on the assumption that Putin is in full control of things, which is far from clear. As he relies on the hardline elements in his entourage to do the dirty work in taking out Khodorkovsky, he runs up debts. What's to say that he will be able to rein in those elements when the time comes?

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Lawless Russia

Another great op-ed from the Washington Post on the implications of this week's arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky:

Lawless Russia, October 31, 2003:

"The majority of the Russian public, meanwhile, may be pleased to see a fat cat in trouble with the state. But everyone in Russia is certain that the case against Khodorkovsky is politically motivated, and because of this the rule of law is undermined. The realization that law enforcers as well as the courts are manipulated by the state further deepens the mistrust between the Russian state and society.

The broad grant of power given the Prosecutor General's Office in the Yukos affair will be interpreted by prosecutors all over the country as a license for them to hunt local businessmen. A threat to jail them for real or imagined economic crimes will sound much more convincing after prosecutors have locked up the man who built the best-governed and most transparent of Russia's big businesses. This does not mean scores of smaller entrepreneurs will find themselves behind bars but rather that the "tariffs" they have to pay to be left alone will grow. Corruption will become even more blatant than it is today.

Putin should consider himself lucky to have a business elite that is subdued and easily intimidated: So far, Khodorkovsky's fellow tycoons have declined to stand up for him. Some of them leave the country, while others curry favor with the Kremlin. But pushing the nation's most active, efficient and achieving group into humiliation and passivity can hardly help Russia's economy. By bringing back fear of the state to public and political life, Putin is killing one of the most important achievements of Russia's post-Communist liberation. He may also be killing Russia's hope for a better future."

The Moscow Times reports of a warning from Russia's Economic Development and Trade Ministry that indicates the liberal faction in the Kremlin, which supports business and economic growth, may be fighting back against the anti-business tactics:

"In a pointed reference to the ongoing legal assault on Yukos and its shareholders by the Prosecutor General's Office, [Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Arkady Dvorkovich] said: 'One should only dig in the past if it is related to genuine crime, not to attempts to optimize tax payments.'

Prosecutors have jailed top Yukos shareholders Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

Analysts said Dvorkovich's remarks suggest that that the liberal faction in the Kremlin is not about to stand by and let the secretive Kremlin clan of siloviki run the country unopposed. This group of former and current agents of the security services were brought into the Kremlin by President Vladimir Putin and are reportedly behind the attack on Yukos, which began in July with the arrest of core shareholder Platon Lebedev."

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Ripple Effects

And it just keeps getting worse:

Washington Post, October 30, 2003

Russia Seizes Shares in YukosSibneft Oil Company

"Russian prosecutors seized control of a huge share of YukosSibneft oil company stock Thursday just days after putting its chief executive behind bars, a dramatic escalation in a highly charged case that has roiled Russia's political and business communities.

The prosecutor's office formally seized 44 percent of stock in Yukos oil company, which earlier this month bought and merged with rival Sibneft to create the world's fourth largest oil producer. The seizure prohibits the owners from trading the shares, although they could vote the shares and receive dividends, according to the company.

The seizure represented the first time that Russia has taken back control of a large company privatized in the 1990s, and immediately sent shudders through the investment community. Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin charged that the seizure would serve as precedent for authorities taking control of any former state assets that were privatized, down to the apartments given to ordinary Russians...

...The announcement sent the Russian stock markets nose-diving. At 5:30 p.m. Moscow time, as the news of the seizure began to spread, the benchmark RTS index was already down 5 percent for the day. By the time trading ended at 6 p.m., the RTS had fallen 8 percent, meaning that the market lost 3 percent of its overall value in just 30 minutes."

The rumor about the resignation of Putin's chief of staff is proven to be true:

USA Today, October 30, 2003

Report: Putin signs order relieving chief of staff of duty

"Voloshin, a top Kremlin advocate of big business, reportedly resigned to protest Khodorkovsky's arrest.

His departure would signal a strengthening of the security-service faction in the Kremlin, which is connected with Putin from his days as a KGB agent. The faction appears eager to stem the influence of magnates such as Khodorkovsky.

Top Russian media reported that Voloshin submitted his resignation to Putin on Saturday after Khodorkovsky's arrest, but agreed to wait a few more days to avoid inflicting political damage to the president. The Kremlin has refused to comment on the reports."

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Wreaking Havoc

The Saturday arrest of Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky continues to wreak havoc on Russia's economy and reputation:

  • Monday saw the Russian stock market take a 14 percent dive and, although it has recovered some of the losses, it is questionable that the market can recover, given the message this arrest sends to investors.
  • Rumors are swirling that Alexander Veloshin, Putin's pro-reform chief of staff, resigned from his post on Saturday after learning of Khodorkovsky's arrest. He is one of few left in the Kremlin from the Yeltsin era and has been battling against the Siloviki, a faction of former KGB agents who are believed to be leading the charge against Yukos and others in the business sector.
  • The Washington Post quotes Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who worked for Putin's successful 2000 presidential campaign saying that Putin's public statement on the arrest of Khodorkovsky was "a textbook argument from the Stalin era."
  • Canada's Globe and Mail is calling Khodorkovsky's arrest "a dangerous detour on the road to democracy."
  • A New York Times editorial, Putin's Old-Style K.G.B. Tactics, says: "Mr. Putin is being dangerously shortsighted. Whatever success Mr. Putin has had has come through showing Russia to be increasingly stable.
  • In the editorial "Russia's Political Prisoner," The Wall Street Journal calls for the world to help by "taking off its blinders about the alarming trends in Mr. Putin's Russia."

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

The "No Comment" Policy

The Russian Stock market reacted Monday to the weekend's arrest of Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky by plummeting more than ten percent. Many observers appear to be realizing what we have been saying all along -- Putin's "no comment" policy on recent attacks on democracy and basic human rights are undermining the Russian economy and the development and preservation of democracy in Russia. It appears that Putin's paramount policy is one that silences his critics and secures his reelection.

We have excerpted some of the day's coverage below:

  • Washington Post editorial "Pedaling Backwards" (emphasis added):

    The Bush administration's reaction to this arrest may determine whether it sticks. Just a few weeks ago, President Bush endorsed "President Putin's vision for Russia: a country... in which democracy and freedom and rule of law thrive." It's hard to see how President Putin's "vision" can include the rule of law if it also includes arbitrary prosecution. Certainly there are some within the administration who believe that a Russian strategic decision to start rolling back democracy and the rule of law will undermine the Russian-American relationship. But the president himself must now recognize that that is what now may be happening. Mr. Bush may be unable to persuade his friend Vladimir to behave differently, but it is vital that he try. The preservation of democracy in Russia is more than an ideal; it is a crucial U.S. interest.

  • Washington Post op-ed, "The Failure of Putin's Russia" by Bruce P. Jackson, president of the Project on Transitional Democracies:

    The arrest of one man has sent us a signal that our well-intentioned Russian policy has failed. We must now recognize that there has been a massive suppression of human rights and the imposition of a de facto Cold War-type administration in Moscow. It is not too soon to wonder if we are witnessing the formal beginning of a rollback of the democratic gains we have seen in Central and Eastern Europe, in Ukraine and elsewhere since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

  • BBC European Press Review:

    Mr. Khodorkovsky's arrest, Moskovsky Komsomolets says, is not just "a disaster" for the financial markets, but a "serious political crisis which could shatter the entire political order in the country."

  • A Financial Times article "Yukos affair signals influence of former KGB" quotes Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a Moscow political scientist, as saying the command to move against Khodorkovsky came from "the very top," according to her FSB sources. She also says:

    "The arrest of Mr. Khodorkovsky is a dangerous signal of the strengthening of the former KGB and growing totalitarian tendencies in the Russian political elite... In [the FSB's] view Russia is moving towards totalitarian capitalism."

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment


We are compiling the latest coverage on the Khodorkovsky arrest. Stay tuned.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

The Latest Arrest

We have included below thoughts on the recent arrest of Yukos CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, that we have been posting on our blog at the National Center website.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

AP: U.S. Warns of Trouble for Russia After Putin's Latest Move

The United States government is criticizing the Putin regime in a reasonably strong statement (by diplomatic standards) today, says the Associated Press.

The AP reports the arrest of the head of Russia's largest oil company, Yukos, in what are widely believed to be trumped-up political charges (the company contributes to two Russian political parties unaffiliated with Putin) will have significant negative ramifications for Russia's economy.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow was quoted speculating that Russia law is being used selectively to silence and inimidate critics of Putin. He also implied he was speaking for higher authorities in the U.S. government, saying Sunday that Washington "was disturbed by the escalation of tensions around Yukos" and concerned that "after these occurrences new doubts will arise among foreign companies that work in the Russian market and also among potential investors."

Saturday, October 25, 2003

When It Seems Like the Bad Old Days, Maybe It Is

Breaking news in Russia that seems to tell us a lot -- none of it positive -- about Vladimir Putin's commitment to democratic values and the rule of law. This exerpt is part of a long Associated Press report Saturday:

Russian authorities charged the country's wealthiest man and the chief of its largest oil producer with fraud and tax evasion yesterday, the culmination of a sweeping investigation decried by many leading business and political leaders as Kremlin-orchestrated and politically motivated.

Shortly before dawn, Russian special forces in black uniforms stormed Mikhail Khodorkovsky's private jet moments after it landed in Siberia, shouting, 'FSB, put your weapons down or we'll shoot.'

FSB is the abbreviation for the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB....

Khodorkovsky's arrest sent shudders through Russia's business community and renewed troubling questions about the Kremlin's commitment to a rule-of-law approach to governance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly promised Russians that he would steer the country toward democracy and foster conditions for its growth as a free-market economy. But the four-month investigation into Khodorkovsky's Yukos Oil has been widely viewed as the Kremlin's ham-handed way of reining in Khodorkovsky's political activities..."

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

The Rights of Citizens

The Yukos probe appears to be never-ending. Not only has the government been holding Alexei Pichugin, a Yukos security guard, in prison since June 19, 2003 on charges that he arranged three murders, the BBC and Interfax News Service are reporting that the Russian Prosecutor General's office may be trying to bring in Pichugin's priest for questioning.

The Prosecutor General's office claims that Father Ioann (Pichugin's confessor) was called in to discuss Father Ioann’s request to meet with Pichugin. However, Pichugin's lawyer claims that Ioann's request had already been denied. The lawyer says he is not sure what kind of "provocation" may take place during the priest's meeting with the investigators.

Russian law apparently protects the sanctity of the confessional and prevents confessors from being interrogated. However, very little in Pichugin's case indicates that investigators have been following the law. Pichugin has been held in prison since June, despite a reported lack of evidence that he had any involvement in the crimes of which he is accused. Moreover, it has been reported that he may have been physically and psychologically tortured, denied medical treatment for his diabetes and subjected to psychological evaluations without his lawyer's consent or presence (which is against the law in Russia). He also reportedly has been administered psychotropic drugs during interrogations.

The case has attracted the attention of human rights groups.

(Read our blog entry of yesterday for more information on the use of torture in Russia's penal system.)

The Kremlin must realize that continued use of intimidation and force to control the outcomes of its judicial processes is inconsistent with democracy. True democracies protect the rights of all their citizens.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 2 Comments

Bludgeoning Russian Democracy

The October 19 Guardian (UK) provide a disturbing account of the use of torture by Russian police. Russia's underpaid and overworked police force are under pressure to close cases and secure convictions and, according to Pavel Chigov, the head of the the Kazan Human Rights Centre, "Torture is the easiest way to close a case."

Other troubling facts included in the article:

  • A poll of 32,000 people from across Russia published last week showed a quarter considered their rights had been violated by the police or courts over the past year.
  • Russian law does not list torture as a crime and and police are tried for the minor crime of 'abuse of office'. Five years for electric shock torture is considered a long sentence.
  • 30 percent of convicts say they were physically or psychologically tortured into giving a confession.

Other Russia coverage this weekend included an editorial in The New Republic (subscription required) that calls Russia's disregard for basic human rights the "bludgeoning of Russian democracy." According to The New Republic, "If Putin has a 'vision' of 'a country in which democracy and freedom and rule of law thrive,' he has a strange way of showing it."

The article also criticizes Putin's role in the war on terrorism:

"Perhaps condoning the bludgeoning of Russian democracy would be a necessary price for securing Moscow's help in the war on terrorism and nuclear proliferation, if Moscow really were helping. Instead, Putin's government is providing the material and technical expertise for Iran's nuclear reactor at Bushehr. Though Putin has asked Iran to return spent fuel from Bushehr in order to help prevent the Iranians from developing nukes, Russia will complete the Bushehr project and is even insisting that it be allowed to build more reactors for Iran."

The article concludes: "[Bush's] ties are turning Putin into neither a democrat nor a moral or strategic partner in the war on terrorism. With allies like these, who needs adversaries?"

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 2 Comments

Russia Needs the Rule of Law

An article by Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation in The Washington Dispatch reports that the Communist Party is growing again in Russia.Specifically, he says, last year 18,000 new recruits joined, 80 percent ofwhom are under 40 years of age.

Most noteworthy, the "reasons given were to 'protest current conditions' andbecause of their 'dislike of [Vladimir] Putin and Company.'"

This is worrisome because, in historical terms, there may be only a shortwindow to convince the Russian people that democratic capitalism is theirbest option. No one denies that cleaning up after communism, especiallyeconomically, is difficult and can't be done overnight. But Russia needsleadership that -- in its words and especially its actions -- models thebest of what democratic capitalism can be.

Think of Konrad Adenauer, who helped turn West Germany into an economicpowerhouse after World War II, and reconcilled with Germany's neighbors tothe point that Germany was allowed not only to re-arm, but to join NATO aswell. Or George Washington, who could have become a King (or at the veryleast run for a third term), but chose instead to teach his people about anew way of thinking about political leadership.

No one can seriously say that the challenges facing Vladimir Putin aren'tdaunting, but he sought the job. Putin needs to do a great deal more toshow his people that the rule of law has been fairly and objectivelyestablished in Russia. Until he or another Russian leader does that, Russiawill not meet its economic goals nor will it establish a stable democracywhere human and civil rights are the norm.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 2 Comments

Military Training

The Moscow Times reports that the Russian Duma voted 338 to 42 to revive compulsory Soviet-era military training for students in their final year of school. Putin describes the training as "necessary and useful."


Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Fundamental Rights

On the surface it appears as a battle won against the Kremlin's efforts to stifle internal dissent — as this MSNBC report indicates, Greece has rejected Russia's request for extradition of Vladimir Gusinsky, saying Russia failed to supply evidence to back up its allegation that Gusinsky is guilty of fraud. However, President Putin and the Kremlin may secretly have sought this outcome, possibly preferring to remove the spotlight from Gusinsky, one Putin's most ardent critics, before the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

In other developments, the Russian government raided the office of the lawyer of businessman and Putin critic Platon Lebedev, who has been held in prison, officially on fraud charges. Lebedev's lawyer, Anton Drel, called the raid "a precedent-setting event, because nobody in the history of Russia or the Soviet Union has ever searched the office of a lawyer working on a felony case."

According to the Moscow Times, "Drel said he had managed to sneak into his office through a back entrance and found about two dozen officials inside and papers strewn everywhere. He said investigators told him they had a court order for the search but refused to show it. 'They threatened to physically harm me if I didn't get out,' he said."

The right to legal counsel is a fundamental human right. The Kremlin should respect this internationally-recognized fact.

If you haven’t already, please sign our petition. Help us ask President Bush to use his influence on behalf of full human and civil rights for the people of Russia.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Putin Democracy

More on Putin's version of democracy from the Moscow Times:

"In his enthusiasm to project the image of an enlightened ruler, Putin (no doubt inadvertently) ends up portraying himself a modern-day tsar, in whose gift it is to decide: who should be represented on the political stage and who not; which political parties should be funded and which not; and -- would it be stretching things too far to say -- which state-appointed billionaires should feel the heat of the prosecutor's office and which not."

Now, does that sound like a man with the soul of a democrat?

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 2 Comments

A Red Light for Democracy

Whatever was said during the Bush-Putin summit, it appears that it has only served as a green light for the administration to ramp up their efforts, evident in more raids last week on Yukos and Menatep (ironically timed to occur as Putin was preparting to give the keynote speech on Russian's committment to liberal reforms at a meeting of the World Economic Forum).

By continuing to move forward with fixed elections, egregious human rights violations in Chechnya, and a complete disregard for the rule of law, Putin is sending a clear signal that Russia does not need or care about approval--not from the outside world and definitely not from its own citizens.

Please sign our petition so that President Bush knows that American will stand behind him as he works to ensure that ALL our allies guarantee the most basic and critical rights of a true democracy--freedom of speech, freedom of religion, free elections, and rule of law.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

A Presidential Cover-up

An interesting article in the October 2 Moscow Times reviews longstanding allegations that Putin may not be just a former KGB officer, but have a history of affiliation with organized crime as as well.

The article describes a new book, “Die Gangster aus dem Osten,” or "Gangsters from the East," by Jurgen Roth that deals with Putin's tenure on the supervisory board of SPAG, a German real estate investment company that is believed to have served as a money laundering front for Russian criminal gangs and Colombian drug lords. The co-founder of the company, Rudolf Ritter, is awaiting trial in Lichtenstein for allegedly laundering cocaine money for the Cali cartel.

Highlights of the article:

  • The book's author was able to unearth taped conversations that suggest Putin's ties to SPAG greatly concern the Kremlin and that the Kremlin is taking steps to cover up any information that could further link Putin to SPAG.

  • A spokesman for Putin's administration has called the book's accusations "slanderous lies,” but Putin has not taken legal action against the author or publishing company.

  • SPAG downplays Putin's place on the board as "honorary,” claiming that he was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.

  • A transcript of taped conversations between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his security chief in 2000 suggest the Kremlin had been trying hard to cover-up all links between Putin and SPAG.

  • German prosecutors are conducting a massive investigation of the matter, raiding more than 200 homes and offices in May alone. But as the company is based in St. Petersburg, Russia, a complementary Russian police investigation is necessary to complete a full picture. Yet, little-to-no Russian investigation is taking place.

  • Roth alleges that the German government at the highest level has been afraid it will uncover damning information about Putin, thus damaging German-Russian relations.

No one is above the law. That’s an essential component to the rule of law and democratic government. If that’s not true in Russia — if Mr. Putin is above the law — then Russia’s not yet fully democratic.

I don’t know what Mr. Putin may have done as a member of the “supervisory board” of SPAG, but I do know that if an American president had served on the board of a company under investigation for crimes of this magnitude, American legal authorities would investigate everyone involved, and the matter would be page one, above the fold, all over the world.

That this is not the case in Mr. Putin’s situation makes one wonder if a cover-up — at the very least, a mighty convenient lack of curiosity by Russian prosecutors — is involved.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

We Should Keep Our Distance From the United States

As the summit between Presidents Bush and Putin fades into the sunset, pundits on both sides of the former Iron Curtain are offering their opinions of what was accomplished. Was it a success at enhancing relations between Russia and the United States?

As reported in the Novaya Gazeta, Pavel Felgengauer reports on a tone of distance reflected in the summit's outcome:

"As I see it, we should keep certain distance from the United States - not too close and not too far from it," a high ranking and knowledgeable official of the Russian Foreign Ministry said a week ago. "We should interact whenever our interests coincide and outline our differences wherever they do not."

Can the United States really forge a long-lasting partnership with a former KGB agent increasingly known for his disregard for the rule of law? Or a government that makes it official policy to shake down political opponents? Or one with a foreign policy that often contradicts America's vis-à-vis Iraq, Iran and North Korea?

It is more important than ever that as many of us as possible join the thousands of other Americans who have signed our petition to President Bush. If you haven't signed yet, please take a moment to read the petition, and please consider signing it.

President Bush should know that grassroots America is monitoring these issues and that we stand behind him as he works to promote global stability -- and our national security.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

A Democratic Vision

Today is the last day of the summit and both President Bush and President Putin spoke at a press conference earlier this morning. As expected, much of the talk was focused on working together to stem the spread of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. However, one of President Bush's remarks did stand out:

"Old suspicions are giving way to new understanding and respect. Our goal is to bring the U.S.-Russian relationship to a new level of partnership. I respect President Putin's vision for Russia: a country at peace within its borders, with its neighbors, and with the world, a country in which democracy and freedom and rule of law thrive. Because of the President's vision and his desires, I'm confident that we'll have a strong relationship which will improve the lives of our fellow citizens, as well as help make the world more peaceful."

Can we be so sure that this is still Putin's vision? Or has it been steered off course by a growing anti-West faction in the Kremlin?

We can't know what all that was said during the summit. But, we do hope that the strong relationship between the two leaders included a candid discussion about changes that must happen to reverse the alarming anti-democratic trends taking place in Russia today. Without rule of law, free speech, free and fair elections, a true democracy does not have a chance at survival.

Although the summit is near completion, please sign our petition so that President Bush knows that we stand behind him as he works to protect Russian democracy and our national security.

An official transcript of the press conference is available on the Whitehouse website.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Unacceptable Behavior

In the days leading up to the summit, the papers have been flooded with editorials and op-eds expressing the core sentiment of this site--that true "friends" speak honestly with one another and do not turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior. President Bush must take advantage of the unique opportunity presented by the summit to address the blows to democracy that have occurred under Putin's watch.

Join us in our petition and tell President Bush we want him to seize the opportunity at this week's summit to tell Mr. Putin in no uncertain terms to say "NO" to a return of the Evil Empire!

We have included below a sampling of the articles from the last few days:

Putin Foes See Erosion Of Liberties; Terror War Mutes Criticism by U.S. - The Washington Post, September 26, 2003.

"If by democracy one means the dissolution of the state, then we do not need such democracy." - Vladimir Putin

A Message for Mr. Putin - Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2003.

"Mr. Putin has been torn between two different sets of interests and advisers. He appears too often to be swayed by those who favor a more authoritarian and anti-American approach to domestic and foreign policy. Russians in the opposite camp have repeatedly, and increasingly, argued for a more vocal response from the U.S.

The restriction of Russian press freedom, the politicization of the judiciary, human rights in Chechnya, the absence of organized dissent and opposition in Russia and the growing influence of the security services are not simply matters of internal Russian concern. And in the wake of Mr. Putin's decision on Iraq, Mr. Bush's inclination to forgive and forget may well be interpreted in Moscow as sign of timidity. That was not the approach Ronald Reagan took.

If their friendship is genuine, Mr. Putin could stand to hear some of Mr. Bush's Texas candor this weekend. Specifically, he needs to hear that the continuing erosion of democracy in Russia is jeopardizing the stability of U.S.-Russian relations."

Putin's Choice - Wall Street Journal Europe, September 26, 2003.

"The state of press freedom, the politicization of the judiciary, the human rights situation in Chechnya, the absence of organized dissent and opposition in Russia and the growing presence and influence of the security services in positions of power are not simply matters of internal Russian concern. "Forgive Russia" suggests a certain timidity, one at odds with the Bush White House's firmness and principled stance on so many other important issues of the day. That was not the approach Ronald Reagan took, and his combination of toughness and engagement seems, in the light of history, to have been more effective.

Former U.S. CIA director James Woolsey -- who knows a thing or two about America's national interests -- wrote in the Financial Times this week that, "Stable relations with the U.S. depend on a reversal of Moscow's authoritarian drift." It's time for Mr. Bush to make clear that the continuing erosion of democracy in Russia is not something the U.S. takes lightly in its review of its own national interest."

Putin's Penchant for Control Crowds Out Reform - Wall Street Journal Europe, September 26, 2003.

"As he travels to meet President George W. Bush at Camp David, an old question hangs over Russian President Vladimir Putin: What kind of ruler is he? Authoritarian, reformer or guardian of the status quo?

The attempt to assess the Russian president has produced many competing views on what drives him. But a look at the key decisions he has made recently, and this summer's controversy involving oil giant Yukos, suggest that Mr. Putin's personality and policy-making style do more to degrade Russian democracy and the cause of reform than to advance it."

Under Putin, Russia's democratic movement is being strangled - a bad sign for U.S. - The Star-Ledger, September 25, 2003.

"The evidence of an erosion of democracy in Russia under Putin is now overwhelming. Since coming to power, he and his government have seized control of Russia's last independent national television networks and silenced or changed the editorial teams at several national newspapers and weeklies. Reporters Without Borders, which recently published its first worldwide freedom-of-the-press index, ranked Russia 121st out of 139 countries assessed.

On Putin's watch, state intrusion in Russian society has increased dramatically, from the arrest and harassment of human rights activists to the creation of state-sponsored "civil society" organizations whose mission is to crowd out independent actors. Even businesses are not immune from persecution: Over the summer, the state launched a politically charged criminal investigation into the giant oil company Yukos after its chief executive gave money to opposition political parties."

No Free Pass for Putin - Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2003.

"These anti-democratic developments are a sorry contrast with the heady visions of a decade ago, when the Soviet Union's collapse spawned hopes of a Russia free from wiretaps and government spying, with an independent judiciary, unfettered media and strong civil institutions. Bush should protest Putin's poor choices. Bush speaks often of his desire for a democratic Iraq; Russians deserve democracy just as much...

...Bush should not let Putin get away with interpreting opposition to terrorism as a pass to squash human rights. Moscow's support for nuclear nonproliferation is welcome and important; so are offers of petroleum and natural gas exports that can reduce U.S. dependence on OPEC supplies. But allies should not paper over disagreements; unacceptable behavior must be protested."

Putin's Russia must not slip into autocracy - Financial Times, September 25, 2003 (links to

"Stable relations with the US depend on a reversal of Moscow's authoritarian drift. With parliamentary and presidential elections looming, Mr Bush should make clear that Russia's growing democracy deficit is against Russia's best interests...

...After Mr Putin was elected president in March 2000, he acknowledged that the establishment of a democratic Russia was "far from complete" and vowed to build a nation that was "free, prosperous, rich, strong and civilised". US leaders applauded this pledge. Now, with Russia's progress towards democracy dangerously adrift, Mr Bush should press Mr Putin to honour his original promise, making clear that failure to consolidate democracy will have consequences for Russia's freedom, strength, prosperity and integration into the global community."

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Well, today marks the start of the summit and there has been a lot of coverage in the past few days on whether Bush will confront his friend Putin on the anti-democratic developments in Russia. We are working on compiling all of those articles and posting them later today.

In the meantime,an interesting article in today's (9/26) Moscow Times discusses a new bill being introduced into the Duma, adding an ID number to every Russian passport. So, what's the big deal?

When you realize that this ID number could be the gateway to private information (and the government has not yet said what private information can be accessed) and you look at the number of former customs officials who are former KGB...well, it is not a huge leap to assume that the interest in this ID number is bigger than the government's official reason--"to take better care of people's social security and provide better assistance in emergencies."

Better assistance in emergencies?

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

The Siloviki

Two more articles from today's Washington Post on the siloviki -- the ex-KGB officers who are filling the Kremlin--and the strong-arm techniques they use to control the media, public opinion, and business:

The West's Favorite 'Democrat', September 24, 2003.

Russia's fragile Russian democracy has collapsed under the pressure of Putin's "elite." Meanwhile, the world's most powerful democracies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, are turning a blind eye to these developments. Russian liberals are all too aware by now that no one will help them build democracy in their country. But leaders of the Western world ought to at least follow one simple rule: Don't make things worse by praising Vladimir Putin as a democrat."

KGB Veterans Bring Tradecraft To Elected Office, September 24, 2003.

"These guys are coming to power everywhere," said Nikolai Petrov, an expert on Russian politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "They bring with them the mentality and the methods they think are appropriate, and these methods are a continuation of old Soviet KGB techniques," such as consolidating control over the media and using material from secret files to compromise rivals. "They have abnormal resources. That's why they're so dangerous."

Inside the Kremlin, a power struggle has gone public between Putin advisers from the secret services and remnants of the Yeltsin team. It has reached the point that Gleb Pavlovsky, a Kremlin political consultant allied with the Yeltsin-era faction, recently circulated a report warning of a "creeping coup" by the siloviki, who are reportedly led inside the administration by KGB veterans Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin.

The summit is quickly approaching. We need to make sure that President Bush has our support in acknowledging that a threat to Russian democracy is a threat to our national security -- a threat we can not take lightly. Join us in our petition and tell President Bush we want him to seize the opportunity at this week's summit to tell Mr. Putin in no uncertain terms to say "NO" to a return of the Evil Empire!

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 1 Comment

High Tolerance

Great article on Slate--"Tolerating Putin's Evil Empire" that echoes a message seen again and again in the days leading up the summit--the United States can not be complacent as Putin turns back the clock on Russian democracy:

"Russia's evolving democracy is far from perfect, but Putin has abandoned even the pretense of striving for such a system. By closing its eyes to this, the United States is undermining the pretense that cultivating democracy is a foundation of its foreign policy. Ignoring the blatantly undemocratic governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is one thing, but giving Russia—which isn't as important an ally in the battle against terror—a pass as well carries the stench of flagrant hypocrisy."

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Factions at Play

Another call for President Bush to take action at the summit appears as an article in today's (9/23) Wall Street Journal Europe entitled "Putin's Foreign Policy Schizophrenia."

According to Pavel Felgenhauer, the article's author and an independent defense analyst, Russia has two "different and incompatible" foreign policies - one that the WSJ calls the "pro-American" and the other the "Russophile" faction. The former supports a "'controlled' democracy, a moderately liberal market economy, with a pro-American, pro-Western foreignpolicy." The latter, lead by Putin's former-KGB cronies, is focused on restoring "Great Russia," transforming Russia into an authoritarian police state reminiscent of the old Soviet Union. The WSJ describes the group as anti-American and anti-semitic -- convinced that "Russia's wealth has been stolen by rich Jews" (the so-called oligarchs) and that they "are reselling Russia's wealth and national destiny to their real Zionist masters from Wall Street."

The WSJ describes how these two factions are currently engaged in a battle for Putin's heart -- and that the anti-West Russophiles are currently winning, the first battle taking place last spring during the run-up to the Iraq war.

The apparent influence of the anti-West faction leads Felgenhauer to conclude:

So today Moscow frets over the possible follow-ups of the New York visit and the Camp David summit. Where will Mr. Putin turn? Will Moscow send at least a token force to Iraq? Will Russia put on hold its nuclear cooperation with Iran? Will it be more aggressive in trying to submit former Soviet republics into its sphere of influence? Mr. Putin's ultimate decision on where to steer the nation will be very much influenced by the attitude of Mr. Putin's American hosts.

But that does not mean that George W. Bush must indulge his guest's behavior. On the contrary. The West and the U.S. must not mince words when confronting Mr. Putin: A dictatorial, police-state, nationalistic Russia --a Nazi Russia in other words -- will become an international pariah, very much like today's Belarus. The present Bush administration policy of forgiving Russia at any price to gain immediate short-lived concessions only helps fascistic figures and forces trying to take over my nation."

Please join us and let President Bush know that we want him to seize the opportunity at this week's summit to tell Mr. Putin in no uncertain terms to say "NO" to areturn of the Evil Empire.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

A Trustworthy Friend?

In the current (9/23) edition of the Washington Post, New York Times, Financial Times, and Daily Telegraph, you will see a full-page advertisement that is causing quite a buzz.

Signed by five prominent Russians, the ad reads as a letter to President Bush and raises seven issues--issues also raised by this website--that President Bush can ill-afford to ignore at this week's summit. The ad echoes our concern that recent events in Russia indicate that Putin is no longer a "friend" of the United States and that allowing these events to continue will only put Russia's democracy--and our national security--at risk.

Read through the questions and ask yourself--can the United States stand by and allow Russia to return to the old ways of the Soviet Union?

The following text was taken from the September 23, 2003 edition of the Washington Post, Section A, page 13:

Seven Questions to President George Bush about his friend President Vladimir Putin

"Mr. President, are you aware...

1. ...that under President Putin the independence of the democratic institutions in Russia has been systematically undermined? That the Russian Parliament, courts and media have been brought under the virtual control of the Kremlin, and elections have turned into a farce? That the constitution of 1993 that established the democratic foundations of Russia has effectively been destroyed?

2. ...that the Putin government is responsible for war crimes and genocide in Chechnya?

3. ...that there are many indications that Russian secret services were complicit in the blowing up of the residential houses in Russia in September 1999, when 249 innocent civilians perished? That these terrorist acts became the justification for the war in Chechnya? That the Kremlin has suppressed any parliamentary inquiry into the attacks and classified all the information?

4. ...that in October 2002, during the hostage crisis in a Moscow theater, the secret services used deadly nerve gas which killed 129 innocent civilians?

5. ...that anti-Semitism and xenophobia are being exploited by the secret services for demonizing big business and creating militaristic hysteria similar to German under the Nazi regime?

6. ...that under the Putin government more than 50% of the most important government posts are occupied by people who came for the former KGB special services?

7. ...that the judiciary is used for political purposes to fabricate criminal cases and to involve the international community in suppressing political opposition through the extradition process? That Russian society is gripped by fear, and opposition politicians and journalists become victims of unsolved murders?"

We echo the final plea of the advertisement and ask again,

President Bush, when you look into Putin's soul now, do you see the heart of a straightforward and trustworthy democrat--or do actions speak louder than words?

Please join us in our effort to make sure that President Bush hears ALL our questions--sign our petition and let the President know he has our support in acknowledging that a threat to Russian democracy is a threat to our national security -- a threat we can not take lightly. Join us in our petition and tell President Bush we want him to seize the opportunity at this week's summit to tell Mr. Putin in no uncertain terms to say "NO" to a return of the Evil Empire.

Coverage of the advertisement can be found here:

Russian critics blast Putin's record - BBC News, September 23, 2003

Exiled Russian Tycoon Slams Putin in Newspaper Ads - Reuters, September 23, 2003

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Wake Up, Mr. Bush

An op-ed in this weekend's Los Angeles Times insists that the topic of Russia's retreat from democracy be discussed at this week's Bush-Putin summit. The editorial, written by James M. Goldgeier and Michael McFaul, argues that, should President Bush ignore the recent anti-democratic events in Russia, he will undermine the reputation of the United States as committed to building democracy abroad.

The editorial, entitled 'New Russia' Ailing; Stand up, Mr. Bush, states:

"This backsliding from democracy is a potential threat to American national security. In the 1980s, the United States helped to destroy the communist regime in Afghanistan but failed to finish the job of democratic state-building. The consequences, as we learned on Sept. 11, were tragic. The same will be true in Iraq if we fail there. And the same will be true in Russia.

Bush has little power to reverse internal Russian trends, but he should at least not exacerbate them by pretending they do not exist. Most immediately, Bush must communicate to Putin at Camp David privately and to the people of Russia publicly that he recognizes and worries about these signs that democracy is eroding...

...More than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the job of democracy-building in Russia is not only incomplete; it is becoming more difficult. This is no time for cutbacks. And if the United States abandons democratic activists in Russia now -- before democracy is firmly rooted -- what signal would this send to the democratic leaders we're trying to nurture in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in August, Rice argued: 'The people of the Middle East share the desire for freedom. We have an opportunity -- and an obligation -- to help them turn this desire into reality.' Russians also want freedom. We still have an obligation to help them, as well."

James M. Goldgeier, professor at George Washington University and Michael McFaul, a Hoover fellow and professor at Stanford University are co-authors of a book,"Power and Purpose: U.S. Policy Toward Russia After the Cold War" that will be published next month by Brookings Institution Press..

We need to make sure that President Bush has our support in acknowledging that a threat to Russian democracy is a threat to our national security -- a threat we can not take lightly. Join us in our petition and tell President Bush we want him to seize the opportunity at this week's summit to tell Mr. Putin in no uncertain terms to say "NO" to a return of the Evil Empire.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

Freedom and Mavericks

The Moscow Times reports that in Russia, where the government has tight control and works to eradicate anything that falls out of step with its policies, "maverick scientists" are believed to be providing nuclear know-how to Iran.

The scientists may indeed be “mavericks,” as the Kremlin claims, but Russia still intends to begin shipping nuclear fuel to Iran early next year, enabling that terrorist-supporting nation to make its 1,000-megawatt Bushehr reactor active.

Actions speak louder than words.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

The Time is Now

We couldn't have said it any better than an article in today's (9/18) Wall Street Journal article entitled, "KGB State.” Gary Kasprov writes:

"The bottom line is the collapse of infant democracy in Russia is contrary to vital U.S. interests. With de facto liquidation of the institution of a free press (hardly noticed by the U.S. State Department) and increasing power of the former KGB, now called the FSB, Russia is increasingly overloaded with anti-U.S. hysteria. State-controlled media have been competing with the ultra-nationalistic press in slamming American policies right, left and center. All this is breeding xenophobia and fascism. In the new election list of the Communist Party, lifetime leader Gennady Zuganov -- no friend to the West -- is joined by two Nikolays: Haritonov, proud KGB colonel, renowned for his demands to bring back the statue of KGB founder Dzerzhinsky to Moscow's Lubyanka square; and Kondratenko, the ex-governor of the Kuban region whose views on Jews and Caucasians would have made Jean-Marie Le Pen look like a liberal...

...Astonishingly, nearly 50% of the top positions in Russia's governmental structures are occupied by Mr. Putin's former KGB colleagues. This newly emerging Russian ruling elite (no longer content with having squirreled away billions of dollars in foreign banks), sits in ambush, anxiously awaiting the moment when it can cut the throat of U.S. imperialism. Five years ago, then FSB chief Vladimir Putin spoke the truth when he said, 'There are no ex-KGB officers!' Will the West ever learn?"

According to the article, the Bush administration's policy of "Punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia" has been taken by Putin as the go-ahead he needed to let the new KGB loose on freedoms that are at the heart of any true democracy -- freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion. We have seen the effects -- the shutdown of independent television stations, the adoption of restrictive campaign laws, the government takeover of a respected polling company, the imprisonment of Platon Lebedev, the vendetta-like attacks on Yukos, the obsession with hunting down Vladimir Gusinsky -- the list goes on.

The United States must exert the influence that it still has. With the Bush-Putin summit approaching, the time is now.

Join us in our effort tell President Bush that the world says "NO" to a return of the Evil Empire.

Tell the President that the American people will stand behind him in sending this message to Mr. Putin.

"We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings." - Ronald Reagan

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 5 Comments

Marching Together

If you haven't already, you should check out the Share Your Views section of the site--there are lots of great discussions going on. Folks are sharing more evidence to be concerned about.

Recently, for example, one user wanted confirmation that Putin was building up a group of youthful devotees:

Does anyone know if it is true that there is move to form "Putin Youth" group on the order of Hitler's youth program? - Charles, September 10, 2003

Unfortunately, Charles' suspicion is correct--such a group does exist. Known as "Walking Together" or "Moving Together", Putin's administration has nurtured a group of young followers to push out pro-Putin messages--a group akin to Komsomol, the former Soviet Young Communist League.

Are Putin's young followers just "Walking Together" or are they marching together over Russia's young democracy, under orders of the Kremlin?

Research revealed the following:

  • 80,000 members in 60 cities and towns across Russia. Members range in age from as young as 12 to as old as 30.

  • The group, passionately pro-Putin, held its first public action at a huge rally in November 2000 to celebrate Putin's presidency. They were addressed by the group's founder, Vasily Yakimenko, who reportedly called for "the removal from Russia of all of those who do not agree with policy of the new president."

  • The group has organized efforts to rid the country of "ideological rubbish", including a movement to get people to return books by modern writers in exchange for a book by Russian classical writer Boris Vasiliev. The campaign targeted three post-modernist writers, Viktor Pelevin, Vladimir Sorokin, and Viktor Yerofeev.

For more information on "Walking Together", please read the following articles:

  • Pro-Putin cult urges return to Soviet 'glory - The Weekly Telegraph, January 27, 2002

  • Demonstration: Walking Together on Red Square - The Jamestown Foundation, May 9, 2002.

  • Modernist books under threat - The Moscow Times, January 18, 2002.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | Add a Comment

To Tell the Truth

As the US-Russia summit approaches, the signs that Russia has veered sharply from the path to a true democracy are all too prevalent. Recent examples beg the question

Can a country that silences the voice of its own people be trusted to tell the truth?

Freedom of Speech Under Attack
The same arcane laws that allowed the government to shut down news organizations for providing "biased" campaign coverage also prevent an official from promoting a candidate unless speaking in a private capacity‹a law that Putin himself recently broke when he publicly endorsed Valentina Matviyenko, the Kremlin's pick in the St. Petersburg election. However,neither Putin, Matviyenko, nor the television stations that broadcast thecomments have been taken to task for it. According to The Moscow Times:

"While judgment must be suspended until the St. Petersburg election commission pronounces on this particular incident, the legitimate concern is that the new regulations are really targeted at intimidating those media outlets that the Kremlin does not control, and ensuring that they exercise a strict policy of self-censorship. Whether this is indeed the case will become increasingly apparent as the Duma campaign progresses."

Getting Chummy with the Axis of Evil
Is Russia still helping the Axis of Evil build a nuclear arsenal? The Center has already reported that Russia helped Iraq build and hide its WMDs, so it is no surprise that Russia¹s reluctance to end its nuclear co-operation with Iran may indicate the two countries have worked together on more than just power plants.

In a recent article, the Daily Telegraph outlines indications that Iran is hiding nuclear weapons, after having developed them in secret and with help, most likely, from Moscow. Russia's claims that its current co-operation with Tehran does not involve materials needed for nuclear weapons may be true, but it does not rule out the possibility that past co-operation was much more sinister.

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 1 Comment

Putin's Heart

More reports on Russia's "muzzled" democracy:

  • Christian Science Monitor,"Russia's Muzzled Democracy," September 8, 2003.
    Questioning whether Putin is still a "democrat at heart" and presenting the mounting evidence that renegade factions in his Kremlin are taking power from Putin and putting the country's democracy and economy at risk, CSM concludes:
    "Russia wants a modern economy, but its behavior creates uncertainty that drives away investors. It wants to be part of Europe and be treated as a democracy. Sooner or later, it has to start acting like one. That means leaving the press and opponents alone."

  • The Guardian, "Putin Puts 'Soviet' Bar on Poll Coverage," September 8, 2003.
    The Guardian reports on the adoption of a new law, approved by Putin, giving the Russian government the authority to close a media outlet if it reports on the personal lives of political candidates or analyzes a candidate's policies.
    The law also requires that media outlets cover candidates equally, which, the Guardian says, is a practical impossibility, as there are 44 parties.
    "The law substantially limits press freedoms," the Guardian quotes Alexander Shishlov of Yabloko, Russia's leading liberal party.
    Putin himself has run afoul of the law, the paper said, by using his official position to endorse a candidate for mayor of St. Petersburg. However, under the Russian constitution, some high-ranking officials are immune from prosecution.
    "The leader of the opposition Union of Right Forces, Boris Nemtsov, said: 'We live in a country where everyone from the president to the pauper does not follow the laws. While this continues, we will have big problems.'"

  • BBC, "Russian Pundit says Putin 'Biggest Loser' of Feud within Kremlin Team," September 8, 2003.
    In a recent interview, Mark Urnov, president of the Ekspertiza think-tank, discusses the factions within the Kremlin, describing them as being led by Viktor Ivanov, deputy chief of the Kremlin administration in charge of personnel, and Igor Sechin, Putin's chief secretary and deputy chief of the Kremlin administration:
    "They believe that the government should dominate the economy and control the key industries, officially or non-officially. They think that the government should control the media and the State Duma. The expediency of making an alliance with the world's leading powers is a big question for them, because they still see the United States as an enemy rather than a friend. Their ideology is a mixture of aggressive nationalism, populism and Orthodox religion."

Can we afford to trust that Putin has the heart of a democrat? Do actions speak louder than words?

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 1 Comment

Locked in a Cage?

The evidence has been piling up that Russia's president is having difficulty reining in renegade factions in the Kremlin and is losing control of his administration. An article in Friday's Moscow Times outlines it clearly, citing a recent report that claims Igor Sechin and Viktor Ivanov are "mounting 'a creeping coup' and creating a 'parallel center of power.'" Moreover, an editorial in the New York Times today highlights the messiness of the Russian judicial system, where guilty until proven innocent is the norm and the higher courts often attempt to overturn jury decisions when they are not in line with the vision of the court.

The Times says that in Russia now, a defendant's "defense lawyer tends to be a supplicant, pleading for a shorter sentence instead of advocating a client's innocence. In most courtrooms, the defendant is even kept in a large, locked cage, a powerful symbol of a conviction rate that runs at over 99 percent."

The larger question before us now: will true freedom and the rule of law break free in Russia, or will it remain where it seems to be today -- locked in a cage?

Posted by on Jun 03 2004 | 1 Comment

terrorism and intimidation

Those of you who know me understand that for years, I helped fight the threats of the old Soviet Union against America and her interests around the world. Nobody was happier than I was to see the Soviets overthrown by powers representing democracy and rule of law in the country.

However, things have not gone as planned. In 2002, I wrote an opinion editorial warning that a lack of respect for law and private property was undermining the future of a democratic Russia. The impetus for the editorial was a case involving SPI Group, the now private Russian company that distributes popular Stolichnaya vodka. At the time, the Russian state trademark industry turned SPI's vodka trademarks over to the Russian Ministry of Agriculture, which subsequently declared them void and ultimately seized the company's assets and trademarks for its own purposes.

While the SPI case was (and still is) troubling, it was only representative of a pattern of such activity by factions within the Russian government. Consider these examples of the emerging disregard for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law:

  • The free media, previously vibrant in the country, has been completely overrun and is now again controlled by the state.
  • The only independent pollster within Russia has now been "reorganized" under a state-run board of directors.
  • The Russians have shut down its ten-year-old Peace Corps program in the country by alleging its volunteers were acting as spies.
  • International human rights organizations are claiming there is a growing persecution of the Catholic Church and other religious minorities.
  • Irene Stevenson of the Solidarity Center, under contract by USAID to promote democracy in Russia, was detained and removed from the country.
  • Yukos, Russia's most open and transparent company, has been raided twice and had two of its executives detained because it gave money to opposition political parties.
  • Freedom of the press? Freedom of religion? Freedom of speech? It seems that there are few freedoms still protected in the country. Couple this with a deteriorating rule of law and lack of fundamental property rights, no less than an economically secure and democratically stable Russia is at stake.

Even more frightening is that a little research quickly reveals that the forces behind this campaign of intimidation and fear are the FSB, today's version of the old Soviet KGB.

We've known for some time that Mr. Putin came from among this group. Now it appears that his old-guard friends are increasingly influencing his policies. And now the threats appear to be directly impacting our interests here in the US.

It is not a coincidence to me that as the FSB has grabbed greater influence over policy decisions, Russia's cooperation on key geopolitical crises, such as Iraq,Iran and North Korea has deteriorated. Now rumors are circulating that Russia is threatening to sell nuclear material to America's enemies, such as Iran. Enough is enough.

In September, President Bush is meeting with Putin in a summit designed to promote joint economic development. Among other things, Putin is asking for Bush's support for WTO membership and increasing trade relations for Russia.

Bush needs to make it abundantly clear at the summit that America's support is reserved for those countries willing to align themselves with forces of democracy and freedom and against tyranny, terrorism and intimidation.

I decided to launch this new website to encourage others to help me send this message. Please take a moment to sign the petition and then tell as many others as you can to do so as well.

Amy Ridenour

Posted by Amy Ridenour on Sep 01 2003 | 1 Comment

Since the launch of the website, there have been a number of new developments, all of which point to a continuing deterioration of the situation in Russia.
Vladimir Gusinsky
Last Friday (August 22), Vladimir Gusinsky was picked up and detained in Athens, Greece on the same set of charges that originated in year 2000 and that Spain had ruled were insufficient to merit extradition in 1994. Based on news coverage about the detainment, it increasingly appears that this whole episode is a continuing personal vendetta against Mr. Gusinsky, who represents free and open media in the country, by the FSB faction of the government. Experts around the world appear to agree:

  • Alexander Rahr, director of Russian and CIS Programs, German Foreign Policy Council, Berlin: "...this is just an element of the election campaign...[Gusinsky is] a perfect choice for the role of a scapegoat."
  • Dario Tuburn, analyst, Center of World Market Studies, London: "The only question is why Russian justice is first and foremost after precisely the men known to be in the opposition to the regime."
  • Andrew Cachins, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Washington: "There were some indications indeed that Gusinsky was becoming more and more active in the Russian media again. It might have irked some state officials in [sic] Putin's administration."

Yesterday (August 28), there were two new developments on the situation involving Yukos and Menatep.Yukos security officer Alexei Pichugin was sent to a psychiatric center for an evaluation without his lawyers' knowledge or consent. This development certainly supports his wife's claim that the investigators have used psychotropic drugs during questioning, in clear violation of international and Russian human rights laws. In other developments, Moscow's Basmanny district court accepted a request by prosecutors to hold Platon Lebedev, chairman of Yukos holding company Group Menatep and one of Yukos' top shareholders, in jail through Oct. 30. According to the Moscow Times, Lebedev's lawyer said during a break in the closed hearing Thursday that the prosecutor told the court that Lebedev would flee the country and attempt to destroy evidence gathered during the investigation if he was released. "And how," Lebedev's lawyer questions, "would it be possible for any evidence to be destroyed if the investigation is completed and all of the materials already are filed?" The prosecutor refused to comment. Prior to today's hearing, newspapers and analysts had reported that Putin was planning to end the Yukos vendetta. Speculation was that Lebedev would be released today. This is increasingly troubling and point to the need for a redoubling of efforts to publicize these developments.
Major media outlets seem to be reaching a similar conclusion:

  • Steven Lee Myers in the New York Times (August 27) reported that Putin "has consolidated power in the center and weakened the independence of the media, especially television. [Putin's actions] bring back disconcerting memories of what came before, when one rose or fell on fear and favor of the man on top."
  • The Financial Times (August 27) reported that Putin's actions "[risk] undoing the improvement in the country's investment climate and its fragile democracy for little or no political gain."

So, I'll ask all of you out there to please help us take a stand. Sign our online petition and encourage all your friends to do the same. Tell everyone you know about the risks to our geopolitical and economic stability and the importance of developing and maintaining the rule of law in what once was the other superpower. This is a case in which all of us -- the people of Russia and Americans, too -- can benefit. But if we don't act, and Russia does not establish a reliable legal system with fair courts and a free press, we could soon return to the "bad old days."

Posted by on Aug 19 2003 | Add a Comment

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