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Politics today

According to the most recent reports, the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in police custody, has been delayed further to a request from the defence for more time. What defence you ask? Well obviously defence attorneys selected by the state, so you can be assured of their objectiveness….

It beggars belief that President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev and other cronies would want to raise the spotlight on one of the most blatant instances of state corruption, when various state officials, including from the police, scammed tax payments to their benefit and then laid the blame with a foreign investor. Magnitsky had uncovered the crimes, only to be arrested on trumped-up charges and to die in mysterious circumstances in prison.

Medvedev, who was President at the time, promised to look into his death and to punish those responsible. Nothing has happened since. This led to sanctions on travel imposed by the USA against various Russian politicians

And now in response, the Russian authorities have decided to try a Russian citizen who died in police custody in Russia, an individual who had uncovered corruption, a well educated lawyer trying to make things better for everyone in Russia, representing a foreign investor (Hermitage Capital).

You would have thought that the Russian authorities, the Sechins of this world, would want to put this episode behind them. You would have thought that the powers that be in Russia would understand the adverse impact on Russia and the country’s investments.

You would have been wrong. This regime doesn’t care. The various clans in power have already stolen so much that they really don’t care what happens to Russia – they have already got their escape routes should they be required, buying property in Florida, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece.

If they did care, they wouldn’t try a dead man who was killed by the regime.

According to Russian business daily Kommersant (10 November 2012), Russia’s Investigative Committee has now commenced a third criminal case against former State Duma deputy Ashot Egiazaryan. This time it is claimed that he laundered more than RUB 700 million (approximately GBP 14 million) in embezzled funds through a transaction involving the theft of 460 uncertified shares of Centurion Alliance owned by his former business Vitaly Smagin.

Egiazaryan, who is on the wanted list and is currently residing in the USA, rejects the charges.  Smyagin is also a shareholder with Egiazaryan in the Europark shopping complex.

 

As reported by the BBC on 6 November 2012, President Vladimir Putin has sacked Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, with immediate effect. Serdyukov had become one of the clan at the top through close personal links, but recently fell out with his father-in-law, former Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. These could have planted the seeds for his downfall.

Brought in to run the Armed Forces despite a lack of experience in the sector, it had been claimed that he would root out corruption, using his knowledge from running the Federal Tax Service.

Unfortunately it now appears that he may only have exacerbated the already high level of corruption in the Armed Forces, with Russian investigators raiding the offices of a military contractor (Oboronservice) in connection with allegations that the state-owned firm had been selling assets to for-profit organisations at a loss (amounting to an estimated GBP 62.5 million).

Serdyukov has been replaced by a Putin ally Sergey Shoigu, previously Minister of Emergency Situations (from 1994 to 2012) and until now Governor of Moscow Oblast. He holds the military rank of General of the Army.

It should be noted here that Serdyukov was sacked by Putin, and not Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

This is no doubt the preferable development in view of the alternatives – stagnation or civil war. In this case, as predicted by numerous commentators on left and right, and also by certain individuals, who change their spots in line with the current mood, aka former RAO UES head and current Rusnano head Anatoly Chubais, the lull in existing protest marches will be replaced by a renewal of peaceful protest first seen following the plainly fabricated parliamentary results in late 2011.

Notwithstanding the current crackdowns on protest through new legislation and on expression of alternative views through legislation allegedly implemented to combat treason and child pornography, but highly cynical, given that Orthodox monasteries are in the habit of harbouring brothels in Moscow these days, it is indeed possible that large-scale protests will keep happening. Indeed, the more the Kremlin cracks down on the opposition, the more people will come out on the streets. I find it hard to believe that Russian soldiers would shoot on their own people, so the current regime is more likely to fall like a pack of cards.

If a repeat of 1991 is possible, then hopefully there will be a transfer of power without the loss of too many lives. The question is who will emerge in charge? It is highly unlikely that Navalny, Nemtsov or Udaltsov will garner the support of the majority of the decision-makers to take over, so they can be ruled out for the time being. They would be more likely to come to the fore in the event of a more bloody scenario.

This leaves us with people that are trying to maintain in the electorate’s eyes some distance from the powers that be, in other words billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and the reformer of the electricity sector, Anatoly Chubais. They would be able to cajole and persuade the powers that be that they need to stand aside, in some cases emigrate (i.e., President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, as their actual role in the plight of the Russian nation and the level of their personal corruption would make their continuing presence in  Russia a destabilising force. It would be good to see them exiled to North Korea for their sins, but that appears unlikely. It is more probable that some accommodating European country would take them in).

It is another question whether the general public would allow them to stay in charge for too long, as they would represent a quasi democracy. However, they might prove useful as transitional characters, as other more worthy candidates emerge.

Some people would say that civil war has been a constant for the past two decades contrary to the views of State Duma speaker Naryshkin, who believes that this is an idyllic time in Russia’s history. In actual fact parts of the Caucasus have been in a state of perpetual unrest ever since late President Boris Yelsin launched the first onslaught on Chechnya in the 1990s.

If the current stagnation intensifies and more and more people end up poor, while the Kremlin cracks down severely on all forms of dissent either through crippling legislation or through arrests and violent responses to any street protest, a large number of uncontrollable forces could take centre stage, primarily right-wing nationalists, an extension of the nascent fascism among the powers that be. Given the ethnic composition of the Russian population, even minor incidents could trigger a violent reaction throughout Russia, leading to civil war and to secessionist movements. Given that the Russian authorities have aided and abetted secession in other former Soviet republics, they will have no leg to stand on if Tatarstan, for example, sought secession, in particular if violence is erupting in other parts of Russia.

Against the backdrop of bloody and repressive crackdowns, the lack of media outlets providing a picture of developments due to the Kremlin’s shutdown of all opposition voices, violence would be likely to erupt in different republics, leading to various terrorist acts and hampering production and exports of Russia’s natural resources, which are key to federal revenues.

Investment will dry up, the federal centre will lose control and different factions will fight for control in what could be, as Naryshkin might put, a new Time of Troubles, the result of the current policies implemented by Naryshkin and the Kremlin.

This is the most harrowing potential development in Russia, a development that is feared more and more by people in Russia. Indeed such fear may be the only sentiment that is preventing the worst-case scenario from coming to fruition – at least for the time being.

As reported in the Russian media, on 31 October 2012 the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s Federal Assembly, approved amendments to the law on treason that effectively makes virtually any interaction between Russian citizens and international agencies, such the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, a treasonable offence.  A number of international organisations have already taken the hint and shut up shop. Naturally such developments are negative for investment, signalling as they do that independent thinking is tantamount to betrayal.

So now it will become even harder to criticise the powers that be. The Kremlin may believe that it has now found a way to silence all opposition to its policies and thereby pacify the population through continual propaganda on state TV channels. However, this will merely push the protest movement underground and brings back memories of the Soviet Union and double speak, with the people spouting the party line in public, but the truth back home in disputes and discussions in their kitchens.

And as everyone knows, the Soviet Union collapsed like a deck of cards, luckily without significant bloodshed. The next time round could prove more bloody, as protesters have seen how former Soviet citizens have exploited the system to the benefit of a few and the detriment of the majority.

So President Putin should think twice before signing such amendments to the law. Surely it is better to know what people think and thereby release the tension, rather than to  seek to silence opposing voices and thereby legitimise protest in the people’s eyes?