TODAY: Medvedev predicts long-term struggles in Arab states; denies possibility that similar fate could befall Russia; advocates freedom of Internet. Russian citizens on trial in Belarus; rights ombudsman says awareness of civil liberties is increasing among Russians; photos of Kirill’s alleged palace; Voina to take case to Strasbourg
‘These states are not simple and it is quite likely that complicated developments may occur, including the rise of fanatics to power — this would mean decades of flames and the spread of extremism’: President Medvedev foresees ongoing strife in restive North Africa and across the Middle East, in his first televised comments on the political upheavals shaking the region. The Washington Post has pointed out that Medvedev’s words contrasted strongly with statements issued by the European Union, which fervently condemned the violence. Medvedev reportedly asserted that no such regime-toppling could occur in Russia, if a revolt was planned by an enemy he only called ‘they’, leaving it unclear as to whether he was referring to Islamic extremists, or the political opposition. At a National Counterterrorist Committee meeting, the President asserted a commitment to developing the terrorized Caucasus republics, including its burgeoning tourism sector, as well as affirming that cuts to the police force would not affect the region. In what has been described as a ‘thinly veiled reference to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya,’ Medvedev affirmed the necessity of a free Internet, arguing that ‘blocking the Internet’ and instead ‘attempting to reach agreement with one’s own people by force of arms’ is a futile strategy. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Deputy Prime Minster Igor Sechin blamed Google for fomenting the protests that ousted the Mubarack regime in Egypt.
The trial of two Russian citizens arrested following the December post-election protests in Belarus has begun in Minsk, with both defendants pleading not guilty to participation in ‘mass disorder’. One of the pair, Artyom Breus, claims he was severely beaten by police. Yevgeniya Khasis, the co-defendant in the trial over the murders of journalist Anastasia Baburova and lawyer Stanislav Markelov says that her husband, the other defendant, was framed.
According to Ria-Novosti, rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin says there has been a 10% increase in the number of complaints made about rights abuses, which he has attributed to growing awareness and an increasing number of violations. President Medvedev has apparently proposed changes to the law to allow holding court trials outside an area where a crime has been committed, in the hope of reducing pressure on courts.
Environmental activists have posted a series of photos of the construction site for Patriarch Kirill’s controversy-sparking alleged new residence, to be seen on RFE/RL. It is reported that a member of Russian art group Voina who has been detained since November has lodged a case against Moscow at the European Court of Human Rights ‘Voina has inherited the tradition of the Russian futurists from the early 20th century. This isn’t just art, but revolutionary art‘: the Independent has a report on the work of the enfants terribles of the Russian art world, whose risk-taking works are being met with increasing repression.
PHOTO: A view of the construction site posted by environmental activists in Russia of the Black Sea mansion they claim is being built for the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (photos by Dmitry Shevchenko of Environment Watch North Caucasus)