October 2012

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?

The much maligned former head of RAO UES Anatoly Chubais, who played up the role of democrat under President Yeltsin and morphed into a leading government figure under President Putin, before accepting a cushy position as head of Rusnano, a state corporation tasked with investing in nanotechnologies, appears to be hedging his bets.

In an interview with Itogi magazine in October 2012, Chubais said that the protest movement, which erupted after the falsified parliamentary elections in December 2011, only to go to ground after the presidential elections, was not dead and that on the contrary it was merely slumbering and would rise with new strength, with future protest meetings attracting up to half a million people.  He also intimated that demand for political transformation and the reaction of the powers that be would play a decisive role in Russia’s future development, adding that a middle class has been formed in Moscow, St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg, but lacks clear leaders.

Chubais did not go any further, so he is clearly hedging his bets. He has in the past harboured political  ambitions, leading as he did the United of Rightist Forces in the 1990s until 2003, before focusing on completion of the reforms at the electrical power monopoly RAO UES until 2008, whereupon he was appointed to Rusnano.

If he still harbours political ambitions, then he would clearly love to lead such a protest movement of a burgeoning middle class and might well understand their concerns and demands. However, he would clearly have to demonstrate independence from the powers that be and criticise the Kremlin.

It remains to be seen whether Chubais is ready to make such a break.

So the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s regime can be content, demonstrating their lack of compassion or any conscience in their decision to exile two of the member’s of Pussy Riot to colonies in Perm and Mordovia for mocking Putin in a so-called place of worship. As reported in The Guardian, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will serve sentences far from home.

How can the Orthodox Church pretend to be a church when it lacks such compassion? How can Putin claim to rule for all the Russian people when two young girls are exiled to harsh prisons?These girls didn’t kill anyone or cause anyone to be killed, whereas the powers that be in Russia and various republics have blood on their hands.

It is a sick joke, made all the sicker in that the powers that be, the powers defining state policy and issues of religious tolerance don’t care about their own people.

Both Alyokhina and Tolonnikova have young children of their own.

Shame on you, Putin, shame on you, United Russia, and last, but not least, shame on you, the Russian Orthodox Church.

As Kremlin’s regime tries to tighten the screws, leveraging the services of an increasingly obliging and servile State Duma, there are now plans to introduce amendments to the Criminal Code that expand the concept of treaty and introduce a new crime – “illegal receipt of information constituting a state secret.”

As reported in the Russian business daily Kommersant, assisting international organisations, even Amnesty International, could soon be perceived as a crime, if it is proved that such assistance was detrimental to the Russian Federation.

Taken together with the increasing crackdown on the opposition, the proposed amendments will only serve to isolate Russia even further and lead the country to fall even further behind the West.

In an amusing lead article in Russian business daily Kommersant on 19 October 2012, Andrei Kolesnikov provides an overview of a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and the movement that he put together to support his re-election as Russia’s President for an unprecedented third time.

The movement is made up of a motley of characters, from the chairman of the Kremlin’s United Russia party Boris Gryzlov to former “red’ film director Stanislav Govorukhin. And it also includes trade unions with members who “like a drink”. So the rabble of supporters will prove no opposition to Putin,   as they will be intoxicated or otherwise brought into line.

Incidentally this was the movement that alleged victim of Putin’s regime oligarch Alexander Lebedev indicated that he was joining back in May 2011 though his Our Capital movement.

President Putin indicated that he planned to hold a foundation congress in spring 2013 for the movement, which will bring together both political parties (presumably the current servile set in the State Duma) and also NGOs (presumably NGOs that also refrain from any criticism of Putin and his policies).

According to today’s Vedomosti (16 October 2012) Minister for Regional Development Oleg Govoryun is on his way out. He was allegedly upset when he received a public reprimand from President Vladimir Putin for failing to discharge Presidential instructions signed shortly after his inauguration as President for a third time. He was castigated for failing to draft a range of measures to improve housing conditions for large families. The former Presidential plenipotentiary for the Central Federal District had only been in his position for a few months!

Unable to persuade him to change his mind, the Kremlin told him to take a break on grounds of health, so that they would have time to find an appropriate replacement. According to unidentified sources at the Ministry for Regional Development, it had been expected that Govoryun would radically change tactics, strategy and staff.

As the article notes, however, these would appear to have been impossible demands, given that the functions of the Ministry have not been clearly defined and given the disparities in income levels and corresponding issues faced by different regions.

The best solution would no doubt to decentralise control and provide more powers to each specific region. However, that would require the Kremlin to cede control and develop a long-term development strategy at eradicating poverty in the Caucasus and other areas…., something that it has ignored for the past 12 years.

The first gubernatorial elections for a while have proved the increasing apathy of the electorate, with 30 per cent the mean. in the given circumstances, the Kremlin’s United Russia Party enjoyed a clean sweep in all five regions where gubernatorial elections were held.

United Russia also won all the elections to local parliaments. In all instances the opposition parties (parties that are not part of the servile State Duma) failed to pass the seven per cent barrier).

While electoral fraud no doubt played a role, the low level of voting is naturally a concern for the opposition, indicating as it does that the population doesn’t believe in the possibility of change or in the worse case scenario, doesn’t really care.  The concept “Better the devil you know” has prevailed for a long time. As long as life is bearable and corruption doesn’t interfere too much with daily lives, the general public appear ready to accept their fate.

The situation should also be perceived as a disturbing development by the powers-that-be: if 70 per cent of the population choose not to vote, the regime’s legitimacy per se is cast in doubt.