It sounds as though speakers had their work cut out for them at the recent All-Russian Civil Forum, hosted by former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin in Moscow, where discussion groups aimed to develop an ‘Agenda for Russia’. Vladimir Ryzkhov has a piece about the gathering in The Moscow Times, where he notes a cooling of the ‘old romance between the authorities and civil society’.
During the final evening session, the four moderators summed up the results of the discussions. The day of collective brainstorming produced numerous novel ideas for solving the country’s problems. [...]
On the whole, the forum participants’ diagnoses of society’s ills and their proposals for rectifying them fall within a social framework emphasizing liberal values, the rule of law, a social market economy, the precedence of the individual and society over the state, institutional reforms and the protection of human rights. Participants also devoted significant time to discussing the law requiring NGOs that receive even partial funding from abroad to label themselves as “foreign agents,” and gave a standing ovation to the suggestion that the forum appeal to Putin and the State Duma to repeal it.
TODAY: Putin backs amnesty for prisoners; Medvedev calls for order in Ukraine and Lavrov warns against interference; Kerry promises support for Moldovan winemakers; Supreme Court rejects Navalny election appeal; Serdyukov to be charged; Yota’s smartphone attracts attention; Duma fistfights, HRW.
The Kremlin’s human rights adviser Mikhail Fedotov apparently speculated that an amnesty for prisoners, publicly backed by President Vladimir Putin on television yesterday, could very well include former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the jailed members of Pussy Riot; but Putin’s spokesman warned that Fedotov’s suggestions were ‘premature’. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wants ‘stability and order’ in Ukraine; Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ‘encourage[d] everybody not to interfere’. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t merely show his support for Moldova by paying the country a visit; he visited one of the wineries whose imports Russia banned earlier this year, promising to bring Moldovan winemakers to the U.S. for marketing opportunities, and generally pledging U.S. support. Reports say Kerry and Lavrov greeted each other ‘warmly’ before talks in Brussels yesterday, but no details of their discussion have emerged. Regional elections watchdog Golos is one of the nongovernmental organisations to receive a Kremlin grant.
A translation from Vedomosti:
Putin has created a special department to combat corruption in the presidential administration. This, probably, can be considered as a tacit acknowledgment of the fact that the former actions failed in this regard, and the head of the state is trying to take the lead. Respective council under the President worked without fixed tenure. His aide Shkolov and his subordinates, overwhelmed with other work, are responsible for anti-corruption checks of all the branches and levels of the government.
Creating a body with high apparatus status and broad range of powers is a necessary step for the state, where law enforcement agencies are infected with corruption. Putin’s approval of the new agency provision is reminiscent of the international conventions on the fight against corruption and the OECD guidelines, requiring to create independent bodies capable to implement the first people’s will to win over the beneficiaries of informal public services.
TODAY: Economy Ministry sees two more years of stagnation; Ukraine economic crisis hits Russian banks; Putin pushes Arctic question; support for President at 12-year-low; courts denounce move to merge them; Nemtsov detained at pro-Ukraine demo; ballet star gets six years.
The Economy Ministry admitted that Russia’s economy will continue to stagnate over the next two years, and cut its 2013-2015 forecast for gross domestic product growth. ‘This is not an economic crisis: this is a crisis of an economic model.’ The Wall Street Journal notes that the new outlook puts growth at its slowest pace since President Vladimir Putin came to power. Ukraine’s political crisis is exposing the vulnerability of Russia’s banks, says Reuters, because Ukrainian borrowers owe them around $28 billion. As part of its reward for turning away from a free trade agreement with Europe, Ukraine will get a ‘massive’ credit line for its Russian gas imports this winter. Putin says that Russia needs to make the Arctic a defence priority in order to guard against threats from the U.S.: ‘So should we give away the Arctic? We should on the contrary explore it.’ Public support for the President appears to be at its lowest level in twelve years, according to a Levada Centre poll indicating that one-third of Russians do not support his actions. A pro-Kremlin pundit says the poll’s results are unscientific.
TODAY: Protesters greet Putin on his Armenia customs union trip; Putin slams Kiev ‘pogrom’; Navalny testifies at Bolotnaya Square trial; RDIF seeking regional opportunities; Central Bank intervenes in Samara; Arctic to become navy priority; Uralchem buys Uralkali stake.
President Vladimir Putin was welcomed to Armenia yesterday by hundreds of protesters, who demonstrated against their country’s plan to join Russia’s customs union with banners such as ‘Putin Go Home’ and ‘No to the U.S.S.R’. Putin’s attempts to woo Armenia included boasts of ‘tangible dividends’ for other members of the union, and the revelation that Moscow will drop Armenia’s 30% export duties on natural gas, oil, and diamonds. Putin also denounced the weekend’s Kiev protests, saying opposition activists were staging not a revolution but a pogrom, and accused them of ‘attempt[ing] to shake the current and, I want to emphasise, legitimate authorities’. He also blamed ‘outside actors’. Bloomberg wonders whether Putin is worried that ‘[t]he raw power of the Ukrainian protests could re-energize the Russian opposition movement, which he successfully quashed last year.’ Masha Gessen says the Kiev protests have inspired ‘envy’ in Russians. Ukraine has agreed with the European Union that it will resume talks towards association and free trade. This Guardian map shows Russia’s current actual and potential circle of influence.
There was a heartbreaking, albeit unsurprising, article in The Independent this weekend about the collapse of Russia’s Zero Waste Pledge for the Sochi Olympics. You may remember that part of Russia’s initial bid for the Olympics back in 2007 was predicated on an outlandish pledge to leave behind ‘an incredible environmental legacy for future generations‘? Well, it has succeeded. Although not in the way it set out to.
The original plan was as follows:
According to the plan Sochi says there will be a 100 per cent treatment of the solid and biological waste products in the city of Sochi which should significantly improve the environment of the resort and promote the introduction of modern “green” technologies across Russia.
TODAY: Putin’s Ukraine success challenged by hundreds of thousands of protesters in Kiev; Sochi stadium incomplete, residents talk of environmental damage; IOC President meets gay rights activists; Kudrin says 15 years to build competitive economy.
News sources are talking about Vladimir Putin’s success in winning Ukraine back into his dream of a ‘Eurasian Union’, but for Ukrainian citizens, the battle is not over – demonstrations in Kiev yesterday were the largest since the Orange Revolution, with many calling for revolution. Hundreds of thousands stormed government buildings and clashed with police, expressing anger at Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s U-turn on a trade agreement with Europe in favour of closer relations with Russia. But, as First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov pointed out to Bloomberg, ‘No one other than Russia can provide Ukraine with the necessary funds so quickly and in such a quantity.’ This piece says the EU is at fault for having no ‘proper tactics, much less a strategy concerning Ukraine’; another sees Europe’s varied official responses to the news as ‘loaded Cold War rhetoric’. (Such as those of Poland and Sweden, perhaps.)
TODAY: No holidays for Sochi organisers; MegaFon’s Olympic monopoly; at Vilnius summit, EU rejects Ukraine’s call for trilateral talks with Russia; Serdyukov charged with negligence; final Greenpeace detainee released; Gazprombank loan for Venezuela; television and tolerance.
There will be no holidays for the organisers of this winter’s Sochi Olympics, said President Vladimir Putin, indicating that the final preparations are running to meet the deadline. ‘For you, the New Year will be on March 18.’ MegaFon’s plan to disallow automatic roaming for other telecoms customers during the Sochi Games will likely compel visitors to buy MegaFon SIM cards, and may be in violation of anti-monopoly measures. An Olympic torchbearer caught fire in Abakan yesterday. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych failed to save his country’s planned deal with the European Union at a summit in Vilnius yesterday. Yanukovych apparently wanted Ukraine’s economic problems to be solved jointly by Russia and the EU, but summit leaders rejected his suggestion of trilateral talks. Anne Applebaum says the deal that Yanukovych didn’t sign was, in any case, ‘remarkably boring’. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe would keep the door open in hopes of an agreement in the future. The State Duma is pushing to have Russian recognised as an official EU language.
TODAY: Navalny exposes officials’ luxury dachas; commercial court abolished as planned; Putin’s high hopes for bilateral trade with Italy; economy slowing; former Prosecutor General employee alleges interference in Magnitsky case; Ukraine candymaker exports to resume; Russia vs. Europe; Amnesty calls to repeal ‘foreign agents’ law.
Cottages in a luxury dacha complex are supposedly owned by top United Russia officials including Vyacheslav Volodin, according to Alexei Navalny, who posted images of the complex online. In spite of warnings of severely weakening the court system, Russia’s highest commercial court was abolished yesterday, giving President Vladimir Putin more power over prosecutors. Putin expressed hopes that Russia and Italy will be able to reach bilateral trade volumes of $50 billion this year, as Rosneft and Eni announced a mutual supply deal. The rouble has hit a four-year low, and Sberbank’s increased loan provisions suggest that it is vulnerable to the slowing economy. Galina Tarasova, a former employee of the Prosecutor General’s Office, has accused her ex-colleagues of illegally intervening in the investigation into the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
TODAY: Gazprom boosts its media assets; bloggers charged; Azarov says Ukraine decision made at Putin meeting; police end Italian journalist gay rights demonstration; Politkovskaya delays are due to perpetrator’s power, says journalist; ‘Angolagate’ arrest; Abramovich investing $1bn in Skolkovo; giant suitcase offends deputies.
State-run Gazprom’s media arm purchased the Profmedia bundle of media assets from Vladimir Potanin for an undisclosed sum. A Russian journalist commented that the deal, which gives the Kremlin control of seven television channels, makes it ‘look a lot like Mediaset [Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire]’, given that Gazprom already owns considerable media interests. An anti-Kremlin blogger, charged with promoting extremism for retweeting a call to destroy the property of corrupt officials, has been assigned a $1.3 million debt, supposedly in order to freeze his bank account. Another blogger was sentenced to one and a half years for writing insulting blog posts about a judge. Mykola Azarov, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, says his country made its decision to abandon plans to forge a trade agreement with the E.U. at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin who, Azarov says, demanded a say.