RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – July 12, 2010

rally.jpgTODAY: New bill signals major blow to freedom of assembly; ‘light’ version of FSB bill passed; opposition activists arrested; corrupt officer law pushed through; law to keep deputies attending Duma.  Chechen president turnaround on Memorial.  Who won in the spy exchange?  The US, say several commentators.  Former spy Sergei Tretyakov has died; Russians see seeds of a Putin cult of personality

312 out of 450 deputies have approved in a first reading a bill which would severely limit the freedom to assemble, by disallowing anyone with a conviction, even as minor as a parking ticket, from organizing rallies.  The State Duma has passed the modified version of the FSB bill which caused a storm of controversy with measures that would have dramatically increased the power of the organization.  Six members of Yabloko have been arrested while protesting the bill outside the State Duma.   Members of the aforementioned opposition party along with Solidarity and United Civic Front activists have held a protest in St. Petersburg over the jailing of a demonstrator who was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in a labor camp for hitting a police officer, after seeing him allegedly abuse an elderly lady.  The Duma has also passed a presidential bill which extends prison sentences for police officers who are themselves on the wrong side of the law.  Ten people were arrested when police dispersed a rally on the Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod highway to demand the completion of apartments they had purchased.  The State Duma has also passed a bill that obliges deputies to be present at parliamentary sessions, unless they have a legitimate reason to be absent.

RFE/RL has a probing interview with U.S Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, the U.S.’ leading diplomat for human rights and democracy, on the successes and limitations of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Eastern Europe and the North Caucasus.  Having called rights workers ‘enemies of the people’ but last week, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov seems to have changed his tune, saying that the Chechen authorities are always ‘ready for dialogue’ with any rights organization working in the republic.  Memorial chief Oleg Orlov is reportedly somewhat mystified if happy with the volte-face.  The official number of hate crimes in Russia has fallen of late, but find out why this does not signal their eradication here.

The Moscow Times reports on the reticence of Russian officials regarding the spy scandal.  Questions remaining: where is the alleged paymaster Metsos after fleeing Cyprus?  Did Peruvian journalist Vicky Pelaez know that her husband was a spy?  Harley Balzer sees continuity in Russia’s practice of spending money on fruitless operations, in the tradition of the Soviet space program, or the recent misuse of funds at the Vancouver games.  ‘It was, by any standards, a win for the US – four high-profile characters in exchange for 10 nobodies’, says the Independent.  Intelligence expert Philip Davies has told BBC News he believes that the US had got the better end of the deal.  The Guardian agrees that the four were ‘far more serious individuals than the 10 agents handed over by the US’.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has defended the bargain saying those who were returned were of a ‘great deal of interest’; Joe Biden has expressed similar satisfaction.   David J. Kramer disagrees in an op-ed.  The poor performance of the spies makes Putin a target for derision too, says Vladimir Frolov.  Charles McCarry wonders if the ‘couple next door’ approach is as inept as it seems.  RFE/RL has an interview with the father of now released spy suspect Igor Sutyagin.  Ex-Russian spy Sergei Tretyakov died at the age of 53 one month ago, his widow has announced.  An obituary can be read in the Guardian.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has invited Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to birthday party.  Does Vladmir Putin encourage a cult of personality?  Four yeras ago only 10% noticed the signs of it: now the Levada Center has seen the figure shoot up to 27%.

PHOTO: Riot police officers detaining a Yabloko activist who rallied against an FSB bill outside the State Duma on Friday, July 9, 2010. (Sergey Ponamarev / AP)