Activists of the youth wing of the People’s Democratic Union, an opposition group of ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, hold portraits of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a protest in Moscow November 17, 2007. The activists were denouncing what they call a Putin personality cult. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov
With several weeks still to go before the Dec. 2 parliamentary elections, voting has already begun for the reindeer herders of Russia, despite criticism of the canceled OSCE election monitoring mission. One editorial said “By stiff-arming the OSCE, the Kremlin isn’t hiding its electoral imperfections as much as flaunting its contempt for the very concept of a free society.” A statement from the U.S. State Dept. backing the OSCE decision to withdraw the mission reasoned that “Invitations with such conditions undermine the integrity of ODIHR and its ability to adequately perform its responsibilities, which we and other countries have vigorously supported as the international “gold standard” in election observation.” A a new movement founded in the provincial town of Twer is calling itself “Pro-Putin” and claims to have collected 30,000 signatures in support of President Vladimir Putin serving a third term, although the constitution prohibits it. “We see an opportunity for Vladimir Putin to stay on as head of state,” said Pawel Astachow, one of the movement’s 600 founding members. A more creative effort to circumvent the constitution was put forward by the NGO “Women of Vladivostok,” who said that Putin’s wife Lyudmila Putina should be nominated to allow continuation of policy, prompting Vladimir Voitovsky to quip “This is some sort of ladies’ fuss about the election. It’s all just for fun.” Meanwhile the Communist Party is looking to make huge gains from the state’s squeeze on the democrats. The 94-year-old party leader Gennady Zyuganov said that “When Putin came to power there were seven oligarchs. Now there are 61” and told a joke about Roman Abramovich: Roman arrives in heaven only to find his way blocked by St Paul. St Paul asks Abramovich: “Do you own Chelsea, five yachts, and a 5km stretch of beach in the south of France?” Abramovich replies: “Yes”. St Paul replies: “I’m not sure you’re going to like it in here.” The Guardian has published the full, unedited text of an interview with Alisher Usmanov about his share in the football team Arsenal, relations with the Russian and Uzbek governments, his support of Vladimir Putin, and his previous arrests and trials. He said “I do wonder about the thought process which makes you think that a person who spent 6 years in prison after a framed-up case by the KGB, has any relation to KGB. The answer to each and every question like this is simple: I have never been a KGB member.” In sport, the British celebrated vicariously through Israel after their defeat of Russia, throwing their national team a lifeline in the Euro 2008. Even the FM David Miliband joined in with an official gesture of gratitude: “Now every Englishman is cheering the Israeli nation for their great service to help us.” Although some Israeli players praised the historical legacy Russia’s Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, whose family played a major role in helping Jews during the Holocaust, others speculated that the defeat of Russia was going to have negative political ramifications in the two nation’s relations. The Doomsday Cult continues to stay holed up in a cave near Penza, awaiting the apocalypse. Authorities have left some food and supplies near the cave’s entrance. Cult leader Pyotr Kuznetsov has been allowed to talk to the media from the secure psychiatric hospital in the Penza region where he’s being held: “We were divinely instructed to move into two caves. The local people created too many problems, they constantly drank and fought each other. So we decided to leave.” Alexei Kudrin, whose #1 colleague in the government Sergei Storchak was arrested on Friday, announced that he expects $45-$50 billion in annual foreign direct investment over the next three years. Other investors are looking to cash in on huge infrastructure projects, as the president has backed plans to pour $191 billion in the power and railway sectors. “If you are looking for access to the story, the steel sector is one of the few liquid stories you can play,” said Michael Kavanagh, a metals analyst at UralSib. Greece and Turkey have inaugurated a new gas pipeline from Azerbaijan which will act as an alternative to Russian-controlled supply. Gazprom Neft has appointed two high ranking executives from the Italian energy firm ENI to its board, which acquired a stake in the group from controversial Yukos auctions.