This week, the Russian parliament’s legislative committee rubber-stamped a bill granting former presidents lifelong immunity from prosecution. According to the proposal by members of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, a former president cannot be indicted on criminal or administrative charges, detained, arrested or searched — and the same status would apply to his residence, communications and documents. This all-encompassing immunity can only be overturned by agreement of the supreme and constitutional courts as well as two-thirds of the vote in both houses of parliament. In other words, it would be practically impossible.
The move follows another legislative initiative that would make any former president a senator-for-life, a practice associated with the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.… Seguir leyendo »
Last week, Russia once again observed an annual ritual known as “Return of the Names,” a nationwide act of remembrance for millions of victims of the Communist regime. Every year, Russians gather near the former KGB headquarters in Moscow and in cities across the country to read out the names of relatives and others who perished under Soviet rule.
This year, the pandemic meant that the ceremony had to be shifted online, but thousands still tuned in all over Russia. The civic group Memorial, which oversees the commemoration, issued a statement noting that, “the totalitarian state did not just kill people — it also wanted to erase their names from history.… Seguir leyendo »
The death of renowned Russian physicist and human rights advocate Yuri Orlov last week prompted tributes from governments across the world. The one notable exception, unsurprisingly, was Orlov’s own, in Russia, whose record on human rights is almost indistinguishable from that of the regime he defied in the Soviet era. Knowing Orlov as I did, I think he would consider this silence a more fitting recognition than any hypocritical statement the Kremlin could have made.
Born in 1924, Orlov witnessed firsthand what the 20th century had in store for our country — from Stalin’s forced collectivization, which Orlov saw as a child, to World War II, where he distinguished himself in combat against the Nazis.… Seguir leyendo »
On Aug. 19, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was meeting with local activists in the Siberian city of Tomsk. “Someone asked him the traditional question why he had not been arrested or murdered,” recalls one of those present, referring to the fates often suffered by Kremlin opponents. “He made a joke in response, as usual. The next day, there was no room for jokes.”
The next day, as the whole world now knows, Navalny collapsed from poisoning on a plane back to Moscow. The cause, according to German medical experts, was a nerve agent closely related to the Novichok substance used in the attack against former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain in 2018.… Seguir leyendo »
Europe’s two remaining dictators, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Vladimir Putin of Russia, have always had an uneasy relationship. Yet despite their personal animosity, their regimes have depended on each other in important ways. Over the years Minsk has received support from Russia in the form of cheap energy and export markets, while the Kremlin has used Belarus as a model for its own authoritarian consolidation.
Lukashenko had a five-year head start. After coming to power in a free election in the mid-1990s, he succeeded in dismantling democracy by the end of that decade. His government silenced independent media outlets and cleansed the opposition from parliament.… Seguir leyendo »
Russian politics has always been made in the capitals. Even though the country spans 11 time zones from Eastern Europe to northeast Asia, St. Petersburg and Moscow were the starting points of the three Russian revolutions in the early 20th century — as well as the fourth at the end of it. In August 1991, some remote regions learned about the start of the attempted coup d’état in Moscow only after it had already been defeated.
In the 21st century, this capital-centrism no longer seems to hold true. Whatever the reasons — the nature of modern communications surely being chief among them — Russian politics is becoming truly national.… Seguir leyendo »
Joseph Stalin was reported to have said, at a Bolshevik party meeting in 1923, that voting is “completely unimportant” — “what is extraordinarily important is … who will count the votes, and how.” Except for a brief democratic interlude in the 1990s, this maxim has governed the Soviet and later the Russian government’s approach to elections ever since.
It was also on full display last week as the Central Election Commission announced the official results of a recent plebiscite that waived Vladimir Putin’s presidential term limits, allowing him to remain in power until 2036. Evidently unconcerned with appearances, the commission began publishing the tallies before voting has ended.… Seguir leyendo »
Russians began voting Thursday in a week-long plebiscite intended to ratify a series of constitutional amendments, the most important of which would waive presidential term limits and allow Vladimir Putin — in power for 20 years and already the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin — to extend his rule until 2036. After considering more sophisticated options, such as becoming chairman of the newly constituted State Council or creating a new country through a merger with Belarus, Putin took a simpler road traveled by dictators all over the map, from Egypt to Venezuela.
Last weekend, appearing in a documentary about himself on state television, Putin confirmed that he “does not rule out” running for president in 2024, should the constitutional amendments be approved by popular vote.… Seguir leyendo »
Last month, Russia’s Justice Ministry registered four new political parties, giving them the right to take part in scheduled regional elections in September and potentially in next year’s national parliamentary vote as well. All the new groups fulfilled the cumbersome requirements for registration in record time — even though most of the country remains under strict quarantine measures. Registration officials voiced no concerns.
Neither the ease nor the speed should give cause for surprise: As reported in Russian media, the new parties — like most of the nearly 50 political parties now on the register — were created with the political blessing of the government.… Seguir leyendo »
Last month, UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights group, released a report on the upcoming election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. According to the group, governments seeking a place on the top human rights watchdog at the General Assembly session in October will include some of the world’s worst human rights abusers — among them Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Russia’s candidacy did not come as a surprise. The government in Moscow has long been eager to return to the forum, from which it was dropped nearly four years ago. In February, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used a speech in front of the council to excoriate Western democracies for “meddling in the domestic affairs of sovereign states” and imposing “highly dubious ‘values’ .… Seguir leyendo »
Opinion polls and authoritarian systems don’t go together. However professional or independent the pollster, any results are necessarily skewed as people weigh their responses — especially to questions about the regime — against potential consequences. Political scientists refer to this as “authoritarian bias.” A late 2015 poll by the Levada Center, Russia’s most reputable polling agency, found that 26 percent of respondents were afraid to answer political questions — and this was just those who were not afraid to admit their fear. And then there’s the perception of prevailing social trends artificially created by government monopoly on television — in Russia’s case, for nearly 17 years now.… Seguir leyendo »
This week, Russian lawmakers decided to postpone legislation aimed at ushering in sweeping constitutional changes announced in January by President Vladimir Putin.
The delay is the result of an influx of proposals from organizations and individual citizens. The suggestions, many of them bizarre — ranging from replacing the president with a “supreme ruler” to formally codifying the need to “counter the falsification of history” — will be considered by a specially created working group that will make its recommendations to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament. “We must be patient,” Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov counseled journalists who inquired about the timeline.… Seguir leyendo »
Dictatorships and term limits rarely go together. It has been clear since at least 2003 — when Vladimir Putin shut down the last independent television network, expelled the pro-democracy opposition from parliament, and jailed one of his main rivals — that he intends to stay in power for as long as he stays alive.
In 2008, at the end of his second term, Putin easily got around Article 81 of the Russian constitution, which limits the president to two consecutive terms, by installing Dmitry Medvedev as puppet president — while continuing to wield power from the position of prime minister.
In 2024, when Putin turns 72, such an arrangement will no longer be an option.… Seguir leyendo »
Last week, the Council of Europe, Europe’s oldest intergovernmental body and its main watchdog on human rights, handed the Kremlin a huge victory — and a stinging rebuke. At its session in Strasbourg, the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly voted 118 to 62 to reinstate the full rights of the Russian delegation that were suspended after President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Delegates from Russia looked triumphant as they took their seats in the chamber of the Palace of Europe.
The delegation appeared intentionally designed to offend every European sentiment. Even the most despotic regime, if it tries, can find half-respectable people to represent it on the world stage; here, it seems, every effort was made to achieve the opposite.… Seguir leyendo »
In separate interviews over the past few days, two Russian officials — Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin — have indicated that Vladimir Putin’s government may be preparing to pull Russia out of the Council of Europe. If enacted, “Ruxit” — as the council’s secretary general, Thorbjørn Jagland, termed it — will mean much more than denying Russian citizens the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights and access to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. It will also be a continuation of Putin’s attempts to reorient Russia away from the very concept of Europe that is the antithesis to the current regime in the Kremlin.… Seguir leyendo »
Last week, Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading anti-corruption campaigner, completed another month-long administrative jail term for one of the many anti-Kremlin rallies organized by his supporters. In the eyes of the Russian authorities, these protests are not free assembly protected under Article 31 of Russia’s Constitution (and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights) but “unsanctioned demonstrations” punishable by fines or jail under the Code of Administrative Offenses. Repeated “violations” under this clause can give the authorities ground to press criminal charges under Article 212.1 of the Penal Code — and would carry the punishment of up to five years’ imprisonment.… Seguir leyendo »
Six months after Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered 100 yards from the Kremlin, his killers — let alone those who directed them — have yet to face justice. The investigation appears to be stalling. One by one, the suspects have retracted their confessions. Investigators have been unable to question high-profile persons of interest from Chechnya, who appear to enjoy special protection.
Yet many of those who share responsibility for this crime are well known. The gunshots that ended Nemtsov’s life were not fired in a vacuum. They were enabled — indeed, encouraged — by an environment of hatred, violence and intimidation of those who oppose Vladimir Putin’s repressive policies and corruption, and his war on Ukraine.… Seguir leyendo »
Vladimir Bukovsky , the legendary Russian dissident who spent 12 years in prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his “anti-Soviet activity,” famously faulted Western media in the 1980s for their confusing terminology, which resulted in curious statements about the “Russian” invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the protests against it by “Soviet” academician Andrei Sakharov . This linguistic mix-up between the oppressor and the oppressed is resurfacing with Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine: Many analysts and journalists cite “Russian” threats, the “Russian” invasion and the need for sanctions on “Russia.”
The truth is that most Russians oppose intervention in Ukraine.… Seguir leyendo »
On July 12, as I stopped at the gate of the Russian Embassy compound in northwest Washington, the on-duty officer had some unexpected news. “I cannot let you in,” he said through an intercom. “You are forbidden to enter the embassy.” Being a Russian citizen and a credentialed Russian journalist, and having been to my country’s embassy on numerous occasions, I was naturally curious. Yevgeny Khorishko, the embassy’s press secretary, whom I called for an explanation, was brief: The directive to “strike” my name from the list of credentialed Russian journalists came from Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. No reason was given. In an interview later with Slon.ru,… Seguir leyendo »