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Daily Archives: March 24, 2007
SATURDAY MARCH 24 CONTENTS
Once again, the mighty Russian Kremlin shows its true cowardly colors. The Moscow Times reports:
A district court on Thursday rejected a request to permit a demonstration organized by The Other Russia, a coalition of opposition groups, in the city center here this Saturday.
Organizers said the so-called Dissenters’ March would take place despite a ban issued by the city government, however.
“The court didn’t rule in our favor, but it’s too late,” one of the organizers, Ilya Shamazov, told Interfax.
“We intend to hold the planned event in any case because the people of Nizhny Novgorod who want to take part wouldn’t understand. And we don’t want to agree on another site for the event with the Mayor’s Office,” he said.
The Mayor’s Office declined to comment on the court ruling. A police spokesman said only that everything would be done to ensure order on Saturday.
The planned march in Nizhny Novgorod follows a large unauthorized march organized by The Other Russia in St. Petersburg earlier this month that was violently dispersed by police.
The Other Russia, which includes Eduard Limonov’s unregistered National Bolshevik Party, Garry Kasparov’s United Civil Front and Mikhail Kasyanov’s Popular Democratic Union, also plans marches for next month in Moscow and again in St. Petersburg.
Also on Thursday, the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement that members of Limonov’s organization had violated the newly adopted law on extremism.
Moscow city prosecutors have ordered the unregistered party to suspend its activities and asked the Moscow City Court to declare it an extremist organization and to abolish it. (Story, Page 2.)
Activists in Nizhny Novgorod are expected to gather as planned at noon on Gorky Square in the heart of the city.
Organizers say police have visited apartments of local activists in an attempt to dissuade them from participating in the march. Police officers have also gone to local universities and institutes to pressure students into staying away from the march, Ekho Moskvy radio reported.
The organizing committee has issued daily news releases in the run-up to the march about detained activists, seized newspapers and an incident in which Tatyana Krasilnikova, editor of the Nizhny Novgorod edition of Kommersant, was questioned by local prosecutors.
Krasilnikova confirmed that she had been questioned, but denied reports that she had defied an order from City Hall not to publish information about the march. She said prosecutors only wanted to check the accuracy of a quote from a march organizer that was included in an article.
Yevgeny Prilepin, a well-known writer who was previously involved with Limonov’s organization, said he had also been questioned earlier this week and that prosecutors had attempted to provoke him into saying that the organizers were planning a confrontation with police.
Organizers say that even if they wanted to move the march to another location, they do not have enough money or time to get the word out. Their war chest has been emptied to pay for the printing of posters, leaflets and two special issues of the United Civil Front newspaper devoted to the march.
Police seized most of the second issue — some 60,000 copies — on Monday.
On Thursday, the court denied a petition filed by three local activists: Prilepin; civil rights campaigner Sergei Shimovolos; and Vyacheslav Lukin, head of the local branch of the Popular Democratic Union.
It is an open secret, however, that the march is being organized by The Other Russia, a point confirmed by Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the Moscow-based National Strategy Institute.
Belkovsky traveled to Nizhny Novgorod this week “to support the organizers of the march in terms of ideology and organization,” he said.
Belkovsky himself will not take part in the march, but he said a “hero” of the earlier march, Sergei Gulyayev, a member of St. Petersburg’s Legislative Assembly, would lead Saturday’s event.
The organizers hope that core supporters of The Other Russia will be joined on Saturday by local residents who are fed up with new construction in the city center and the destruction of green zones, by drivers outraged over new taxes on car owners, and others.
Some activists are steering clear of the march, however. Askhat Kayumov of the environmental group Dront said taking part in the demonstration would be counterproductive.
“I attended one meeting of the steering group to find out what the organizers were planning,” Kayumov said. “But until the march is permitted, our organization won’t even think about joining in. We’re pushing for City Hall to obey the law when it comes to the environment, so we can’t break the law by taking part in an unsanctioned march.”
When it denied the organizers’ request for a permit to hold the march in the city center, the Mayor’s Office proposed an alternative location on the opposite bank of the Oka River, which flows through the city. This change did not suit the organizers, and no compromise was found.
On March 15, the organizers filed a petition with the court to have the city’s decision overturned.
During the week that followed, City Hall announced plans for a full program of events for Saturday on Gorky Square and streets on the organizers’ planned route.Activists Say Ban Can’t Halt March
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday watered down plans to ban officials from using the word “dollar” after Kremlin bosses, and Putin himself, found it hard to kick their habit and use “roubles” instead.
Russian deputies last year gave initial approval to a draft law that would have fined government ministers for using the words “dollars” or “euro” when “roubles” could be used.
But the Kremlin’s top brass, including Putin and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, have continued using dollars to price major transactions and spending.
Putin signed a decree calling for officials “to refrain” from using pricing in foreign currency, with the exclusion of foreign deals, but the decree, published on the president’s Web site, http://www.kremlin.ru, said nothing about penalties or fines.
Deputies also heavily amended a draft law on using the word “rouble”, removing mention of fines for ministers before passing the bill, also on Wednesday, by a majority in the lower chamber, which is controlled by the pro-Putin United Russia party.
The U.S. dollar triumphed as the currency of choice in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union as roubles were so volatile that many Russians would change their wages into the currency of their Cold War foe as soon as they were paid.
Backers of fines for ministers said the rules would have boosted pride in Russia’s currency and draw a line under the chaos which accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union.
The rouble has risen against the dollar as the biggest oil boom since the 1970s has boosted Russia’s foreign revenues and swells government coffers.
Last year the rouble appreciated 4.3 percent against the central bank’s dollar/euro basket, and some Russian producers say the strong rouble is eating into export profits.
Some leading Wall Street banks have even advised buying Russian roubles, once seen as a highly volatile currency by traders after the 1998 rouble devaluation.
In his annual news conference in February, Putin used the word “dollar” nine times, according to the Kremlin. Ivanov has used dollars to price arms sales.
Last May, in a first reading of the law approved on Wednesday, ministers who used the word “dollar” could have been fined about 5000 roubles ($192) for each offence.
At the time, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin branded such fines as absurd, as so many international transactions are priced in dollars and euros.
Here’s Georgy Bovt’s take on the mysterious goings on between Iran and Russia. Bovt is editor of Profil magazine, and his comments come from the Moscow Times. Which is worse, LR dares to wonder: That Russia is humiliated by being duped by Iran or that Russia is exposed as selling out its so-called ally, or that Russia and Iran are engaged in a concerted effort to dupe the world? The mind boggles.
Russia’s relations with Iran have come to resemble its relations with Belarus. In both cases, the each side started out assuring the world of how much they had in common, how mutually advantageous their relationship was, and how they had established an equitable partnership. Most of all, they unfailingly added that all of this had been achieved in spite of the West, and the United States in particular.
Then these wonderful relationships unexpectedly began to fall apart. The declarations of love were replaced by accusations of underhandedness and evil intentions.
This happened with Belarus at the end of last year, when Russia got fed up with subsidizing its economy by selling it oil and gas at bargain prices. In a snap, all thoughts of Slavic brotherhood were forgotten as each side accused the other of acting in bad faith and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko attempted to blackmail Moscow by threatening to establish independent relations with the West. A similar problem appears imminent between Moscow and Tehran.
The problems with Iran date also to the end of last year, when reports began to surface that Iran was late on payments to Russia for the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Iran blamed the delay on its decision to convert its cash reserves from dollars into Euros. Two months have since passed without the promised payment, and Russia has declared it will halt construction on the Bushehr station. The Iranians provided assurances that some payment had been made, but that no further money would change hands until Russia delivered the first shipment of nuclear fuel. Moscow answered that deliveries of fuel were pointless at this stage, as the reactor was not yet ready to receive it.
This all look like political gamesmanship, especially given Washington’s support for Moscow’s calls that Iran stick to its contractual obligations. After all, business is business and the Iranians should accept that a contract is a contract.
There is also the creeping suspicion that Moscow is using the late payments as an excuse to pull out of the controversial Bushehr project altogether. Washington has long demanded just this, and blaming Tehran for everything would allow Russia to pull the plug without appearing to have bowed to U.S. pressure.
In a situation like this, most Soviet leaders would have waived the contractual obligations and finished building the plant just to spite the United States. But the current crew in the Kremlin isn’t as interested in “altruistic” projects, and when the price tag for opposing U.S. policy becomes prohibitively high, it tends to opt for pragmatism. Nobody — or at least nobody in Russia — is ready to foot the bill for the Bushehr power plant.
Iran’s motives are unclear at first glance. The Iranian government owes Russia something in the neighborhood of $200 million to $250 million, a sum it could produce instantly if it wanted to. The ultimatum regarding fuel deliveries appears to be deliberately impracticable, which gives the impression that the Iranians themselves are now less interested completing the construction at Bushehr. This could be because the project has become a political lightning rod. Iran doesn’t want to incur any increased obligations in its relationship with Moscow or join it in an anti-U.S. crusade. It doesn’t want to become dependent on Russia for its nuclear energy program as it doesn’t entirely trust Moscow. The money withheld from Russia will probably be set aside for a different plant or to enable the Iranians to finish the Bushehr project themselves.
Russia comes out the loser here. It tried to play the “Iranian card” by building a special relationship with an unpredictable, fanatical regime strongly opposed to the United States. This was Moscow’s way of demonstrating its independence or, using the terminology currently in fashion in the Kremlin, its “sovereignty” in foreign policy.
But one particular characteristic of authoritarian or dictatorial regimes — whether run by Iranian mullahs or by a former chairman of a Soviet collective farm like Lukashenko — is that they are unpredictable. They change the rules of the game according to their own whims and wishes, and without consultation.
Furthermore, they only understand one language — the language of force. Had Russia acted in concert with the large international group trying to bring pressure on Iran — as it did, for example, with the group of six nations addressing the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program — it would have left Tehran without maneuvering space and reduced its ability to blackmail others.
Whatever the case, canceling the Bushehr contract — a move that looks increasingly imminent today — would not have left Moscow in the awkward position in which it now risks finding itself. This is the result of naively placing all its hopes on Iran and vehemently rejecting every suggestion from Washington that Russia and the United States coordinate their policies toward Iran. Once the disagreement arose with Tehran, Moscow was stuck.
On February 4th, Robert Amsterdam posted a fascinated description of Chita, the nearest big city to Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Siberian prison, penned by hero journalist Grigori Pasko (LR cannot highly enough recommend Pasko’s column on Amsterdam’s blog, required reading for all Russia watchers). Anyone interested in Russian places should savor it slowly. Here’s Robert’s followup post where Grigori devastatingly reponds to a Russophile propagandist/commenter, who undoubtedly now wishes he’d never been born (or at least never opened his big fat mouth):
James Brooks (an Englishman living in Chita) left an extensive comment calling into question a number of the journalist’s assertions. Here is Grigory’s response to the comment in bold. (apologies for the delayed response – translation and other admin slows the process down a little bit)]
I was delighted to see an article about my sometime adopted hometown but the author has taken a lot of things at face value here. There is in fact plenty of construction going on, including along the main thoroughfare (Lenin Street),
Between January and March there has been virtually no construction in Chita. I visit many Russian cities and can say where it’s noticeable and where – like in Chita – it is in an unnoticeable state.
and to call the cathedral the “only decent building” suggests the author did not take the time to venture a short distance along the adjoining Amurskaya or Lenin Streets, or simply closed his eyes when passing the Shumov mansion. That’s not to mention the railway station, the Decembrists’ Church, the mosque…..
I agree with you fully: there are another 3-4 decent buildings of old construction besides the church. But in my article I was speaking about what has been built in recent years, and not in tsarist times. The church I mentioned – the Kazan Mother of God Cathedral – was in fact built recently. As concerns the mansion of the merchant Shumov, I am preparing a separate article about it: since 1937, the Administration of the NKVD/KGB/FSB had been located in it.
And if there are “more college places available than applicants”, why is there such competition for a place at Chita State University?
Because none of the surrounding regions (Buryatia, Amur Oblast) have their own universities; that’s why everybody comes to Chita. Besides, Chita Oblast itself has more than a million inhabitants.
The assertion that “only one of Chita’s hotels – and this one is located on the outskirts of the city – offers internet access” is simply wrong as the Hotel Zabaikalye, right on Lenin Square in the middle of the city, has a large and modern internet cafe.
Yes, that’s where I stayed on my second visit. The internet cafe is only open every other day, and only from 4 PM to 6 PM. And sometimes it’s just closed for no reason at all. And even when it is open, the internet connection is not reliable. The “Daurii” hotel doesn’t even have this. Internet is available at the “Panama-city” hotel – the one that is practically on the outskirts of the city. And that’s it. No other hotels. A new 30 room hotel is due to open soon. The rooms will be outrageously priced, but they are promising to have internet.
If you want a more considered perspective on Chita from someone who has actually lived there for some time, please visit my own page.
I will certainly visit your website.